WARNING!: This piece of fanfiction has SPOILERS from TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. If you have yet to see the film and don't want it to be ruined, do not continue!

As always, reviews and comments are very encouraging!

A red sunset, the humans had said, was an ancient legendary symbol of spilled blood. Sideswipe considered this as he watched Earth's life giving star drop steadily toward the horizon, only lending credence to the human's theory that the color was significant of the earlier battle and the blood that rose high on a tide of screaming innocents, falling rubble and all-consuming explosions. The humans, bathed in the color that their legends spoke of, went about collecting their dead and searching for survivors around the frontliner. Their world had been rocked, Sideswipe knew. But they were a resilient people… he had no doubt that they would rebuild. That was the human way, he had learned. Fight, mourn, rebuild. He wished the same could be said for his remaining comrades.

They were, beyond any shadow of doubt, victorious.

So why didn't it feel that way?

The fact that they would lose some of their own in these final days of the war had been unavoidable. But knowing it would happen did nothing to lessen the fatal blows that had fallen. They were so low in numbers now that every extinguished spark ripped through the entire faction like a scythe, leaving a ragged, gaping hole in its' wake.

Ironhide and Wheeljack had been invaluable members of the team. They had been rock solid presences in the Autobot faction, seemingly unbreakable and perhaps sometimes, Sideswipe thought with a tinge of guilt, taken for granted. He missed them. Both were so starkly different in their talents and personalities, the frontliner reflected. The Weapons Specialist had been trigger happy, gruff, and imbued with an undeniably dark sense of humor. He was fiercely protective of his comrades, his Prime and the medic he was bonded to. He had not died in combat, as everyone had expected he would. He had not died with his cannons roaring, as he would have wanted. He died a treacherous death… shot in the back by his own teammate and leader. Sideswipe frowned angrily, hatred bubbling in the depths of his spark.

His thoughts drifted to Wheeljack, who, on the other hand, had been somewhat of a pacifist and had preferred making weapons to actually using them. He was open, cheery (almost annoyingly so) and absolutely mad in the processor. His inventions had saved their afts in battle more than once. Sideswipe sighed. The engineer's death had been completely innocent. He had been completely defenseless, his weapons confiscated, when he had been dragged to the forefront of the group by the cons that had taken them hostage and shot twice, pointblank, while trying to barter for their lives. Sideswipe resisted the nausea the rose in his tanks at the memory, shaking his helm to will the images away.

It would be hard to continue without them.

It was with these thoughts swirling in his processor that he had gone in search of their currently missing Chief Medical Officer. After reattaching Optimus' arm and tending to the Autobots' more serious wounds with deft hands and an abnormally silent vocalizer, Ratchet had wandered off toward the lake shore at the edge of the city. That was several hours ago, and now that the sun was setting and the CMO had yet to return, Sideswipe began to worry.

As he rolled slowly up to the boardwalk, his keen optics scanned the shoreline and found Ratchet standing, alone at the edge of the pavement, staring silently over the lake. Sideswipe approached him carefully, taking care to make enough noise so the medic wouldn't be startled by his sudden presence, although he knew that Ratchet's keen senses had probably picked him up long before he'd been within normal audio range.

"Hey, Ratch," Sideswipe said meekly, a tone of voice that lacked his normal teasing gate toward the CMO. Ratchet turned and regarded him with a slight nod and then turned back to looking out over the lake, his back to the setting sun.

"How are you…" Sideswipe hesitated, shuffling nervously on his peds, "How are you holding up?"

Ratchet tensed almost imperceptibly. "I'm fine."

Internally, Sideswipe cursed Ratchet's strength. How could the mech manage to remain so stoic in the aftermath of what had happened, after what had been taken from him… torn from him? He could not imagine losing a bondmate, let alone losing a bondmate and a best friend all inside of a few cycles. Sideswipe, if in the medic's position, would certainly be wanting to offline himself from the sheer sorrow at this point. The thought alarmed him, and he fixed his optics again on Ratchet's face, seeking any outward sign of the medic's inner turmoil. Something in frontliner's spark shattered then, as he registered the look of utter devastation hiding in the CMO's normally brilliant optics. He was terrified at the sheer thought of the fiery, temperamental terror of a mech that was Ratchet being so broken and beaten. He feared, not only for Ratchet, but for them all. If the CMO lost himself to this, where would the rest of the faction end up?

In the smelter, for sure, Sideswipe thought humorlessly. He continued to shift his weight, his peds digging into the pavement like the hooves of a skittish horse.

"Ratchet," he said, surprised at the pleading tone that had somehow wormed its way into his vocalizer. "Talk to me."

Ratchet tossed him a sharp look over his shoulder, shaking his helm quickly. "No."


"I can't," Ratchet's words fell off into static and the medic shuttered his optics. "I just…"

"I know," Sideswipe said softly, edging slowly closer to the CMO.

It took several resets of his vocalizer before Ratchet could speak again. "I lost them both."

"I'm sorry," Sideswipe said. He flinched inwardly at how hollow those two words must have sounded. He longed to be of some comfort to the CMO, but no more words came. He was not encouraging like Optimus, wise like Ratchet, gentle like Bumblebee, humorous like Wheeljack or gruffly moralizing like Ironhide. What could he say to someone who had seemingly lost everything?

Ratchet, optics still trained on the water, never moved. Sideswipe's spark twisted behind his armor. "Please just tell me that you'll be okay, Ratchet."

Ratchet gave him a surprised look, optics searching the frontliner's face for something unbeknownst to him. After a moment, his features slackened and his optic ridges tilted upward and Sideswipe was somewhat stunned to see a small smile tugging at the corner of the CMO's lip plates.

"Sideswipe," he said softly, but there was a slight teasing overtone that crept into his voice, "I didn't know you cared."

Sideswipe blinked for a moment, dumbfounded and feeling awkward.

"Of course I care," he blurted, then snapped his mouth shut immediately, scrambling for a response. "Who would be there to drag my smoking chassis off the battlefield and repair me if not the Hatchet?"

Ratchet abruptly smacked him upside the helm with the palm of his servo and Sideswipe yelped in surprise more than pain. He turned narrowed, indignant optics on the medic, who stood with a hip cocked, both servos placed on his waist, looking menacing.

"I told you not to call me that, you little Pitspawn," Ratchet growled. Sideswipe barked a surprised and somewhat relieved laugh, rubbing the dent on his helm sheepishly.

"Sorry, sorry! I had to say something to get your attention."

Ratchet 'hmph'-ed. "You came all the way out here just to say that?"

"No," Sideswipe said, his face suddenly turning serious. "We were worried when you disappeared after Optimus' repairs."

"I'm a big bot, I can take care of myself," Ratchet insisted, shaking his helm, but Sideswipe heard the gratitude masked behind the words.

"Maybe so," Sideswipe teased, "But you're getting senile in your old age."

Ratchet gave him a look that could melt steel. "Old, I may be. But at least I'm not the one stumbling into the repair bay needing energon transfusions every other slagging cycle."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Sideswipe said, waving the larger mech off nonchalantly. "Gotta keep you on your toes, otherwise you'd probably get bored and start falling into recharge standing up."

Ratchet's optic ridges furrowed and his voice was quiet as he spoke. "Ironhide said something like that, once."

"Oh," Sideswipe's face fell. "Sorry, Ratch."

"No," Ratchet said quickly, shaking his helm. "No, don't be. Just an old memory, that's all."

"You've got a lot of them," Sideswipe ventured uncertainly. Ratchet nodded.

"Yes. Thousands of years worth of memories, from both Ironhide and Wheeljack. It's the greatest gift they could have given me."

"Nobody expected them to get killed," Sideswipe said suddenly. "Especially not Ironhide. We… the soldiers, I mean, seemed to think he was immortal, the way he acted. He seemed untouchable."

"Yes," Ratchet whispered, his hand rubbing subconsciously at his chest plates, over his spark. "I know."

"I don't know what to say to you, Ratchet," Sideswipe mumbled, "Other than that you'll see them again someday."

Ratchet gave the silver mech another long, calculating look. "I am impressed with you, Sideswipe. You've matured quite a bit since landing on this planet. I am…" Ratchet hesitated, "I am honored by your concern."

"It's not just me," Sideswipe said humbly. "Everyone is worried that-…"

"Worried that I might 'go off the deep end,' so to speak?" Ratchet guessed, smiling wryly when Sideswipe nodded almost imperceptibly. "Don't worry about me, youngling. I have seen and endured much in my lifetime."

"I know. I'm not really doubting your ability to cope," Sideswipe responded, still feeling out of his element. It didn't seem right for him to be having this kind of conversation with Ratchet, whose normal extent of 'conversing' with the silver mech included shouting, cursing that would make even the most dedicated sailor blush and several wrenches to the cranium. "But this is different… I just wanted to check on you."

Ratchet lifted his servo to squeeze the younger mech's shoulder in a gesture that was half reassurance and half thanks. "I will be fine, Sideswipe. I'm a tough old mech, and don't you forget that."

"How in Pit could I forget that when your wrenches and tantrums remind me so regularly?" Sideswipe ribbed, then tilted his head to the left slightly as he received a comm. transmission. "Bumblebee is looking for me."

"Well go on then," Ratchet groused, shooing the other mech away with his servos. "Get!"

"Alright, alright, I'm going, gheez!" Sideswipe moved away from the edge of the pavement, grumbling something about grumpy old mechs under his breath and taking one last look at the water before turning back toward the setting sun and inner Chicago.

Ratchet watched him go with brighter optics, grateful in his spark that the troublemaker had survived their last battle to see another day. Nothing would mitigate the empty space in his spark left by Ironhide and Wheeljack, but he at least had the consolation of knowing that the majority of their faction still lived. The CMO realized he had been absently palming his chest plating again and snapped his arms to his sides in annoyance.

"Ratchet," Sideswipe said suddenly, stopping and turning to look at the medic over his shoulder with abnormally soft optics. "I am, truly, very sorry."

Ratchet nodded his thanks, forcing a small smile onto his faceplates, his muscle cables suddenly going taught again. The frontliner gave him a small salute before turning away and heading back toward the inner city and the remainder of the group. As soon as he was out of sight, Ratchet vented a huge gust of air out of his intakes. His chassis shook with suppressed emotion as he made his way over to one of the few buildings that remained intact along the shoreline. The sun, in its last moment of light, washed everything in one final shade of deep red before finally dipping below the horizon, shrouding the ruined city in black.

Bracing himself on the wall of the building and lowering his forehelm to the brick, Ratchet keened his sorrow openly to the darkness.