Because it's the in/it thing to do, dammit.
Warnings: nothing much, really, but you never know; spoilers for Dark of the Moon
Summary: Post-DotM. Ratchet lays things to rest. Ratchet/Ironhide
Notes: This fic heavily references one of my very first TF fics, Consuelo, which you can read here on my account. I recommend reading that first, but it's not entirely necessary, I suppose. Still, it helps?
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Disregard your inner monologue
Don't try to drown it out, 'cause it'll only wear you out
Sometimes things are just beyond control
That has to be okay, you don't have a choice
Everything Is OK - Halou
The Matrix of Leadership was arguably one of the most potent and immensely powerful relics of Cybertronian past, on par with the Allspark itself. What the Allspark breathed into life, and what time and violence took away, the Matrix could return. In the wrong hands, it could corrupt and destroy, but those who earned the right to bear it would bring forth nothing but a future of glory and peace. Souls lost could be guided back by the light of the artifact, as it reached into the darkness beyond and paved a way back to the land of the living.
It was almost too good to be true. That's what everyone had said when they heard or saw the Matrix for the first time. With its godlike abilities and powers, it had to be a myth. The idea that a simple Cybertronian could wield such power seemed utterly ridiculous. Some believed it was a matter of who was worthy of carrying the burden. For all the stars in the sky, unable to touch or hold, even from distances far away, perspective could easily make believe you hold one of the balls of brilliant light between your thumb and forefinger. A myth, maybe, but still a theory.
When the Matrix was uncovered after years of hibernation in the Tomb of Primes, many were in disbelief. The moment it settled in Optimus Prime's hands, everyone knew there it belonged. Watching it revive fallen soldiers, bring life back into the comatose and half-dead Sentinel, there was no questioning its unlimited prowess.
But there had been a time when many believed the cube was indestructible. Now it was nothing more but a shard carried in the back pocket of a young, human boy. A great fall from its pedestal, birthing an entire planet and its race; probably millions more in galaxies far and wide from their own.
Ratchet had come across websites regarding figures of worship of humanity's ancestors. There were hundreds, thousands, and they each had a role to play and a purpose. They were all powerful, almighty; gods were gods, after all. But what humans deemed untouchable, they really had been quite flawed. Some of them were even killed, cast into pits; some were corrupted, tormented, manipulated. Many that boasted peace also threatened; some that loved also raged and hurt. There was no distinct black or white, all of the powers in shades of gray.
So Ratchet supposed it wasn't entirely unusual that the Matrix, indeed, had its limitations. Nothing was perfect, and so it might as well be applied to even powers beyond their comprehension. While the Matrix had revived many in the past, it had the materials it needed to mend.
"The cosmic rust annihilated his spark."
The concept of destroying sparks seemed foreign to him. The spark was just a physical manifestation, a chamber. When it was extinguished, the power and energy would return to its creator, the world where the dead found peace. Right? After all, in some human religions, when man died, his 'soul' was everlasting and depending on how its host lived its life, went to either paradise or eternal torment.
"That seems too strong a word," Ratchet replied. 'Annihilated' would suggest nothing remained. He refused to believe there wasn't something left of his old comrade.
Optimus understood, nodded once. The two stood before the berth, a large tarp stretched over its surface. Beneath, the remains of their fallen soldier and friend. The Autobot leader glanced down at Lennox, watching from nearby. "Are you sure you want to stay?" he asked.
Will was hesitant. "He was my friend," he said quietly.
Optimus looked to Ratchet. The medic pulled back the tarp. Ironhide's remains were scarce. Most of his body had been turned to stains of acid on the pavement. Still, there were bits and pieces of metal and armor that were left untouched. Barely, but at least there was something. And just as Optimus said, there was no spark - both it and the chamber wasted away.
Ratchet felt something in his core processors click and skip a signal. The equivalent to hitching a breath, a heart missing a beat. Will swallowed the lump in his throat, his gaze carrying both sorrow and fury. The medic quickly ran a diagnostic scan over the remains, making sure the cosmic rust was now dormant and harmless. Everything checked out, for what it was worth.
Ratchet knew what Optimus meant, and yet it didn't register. He looked up from the berth, into his leader's pale optics. Even though he had been repaired and returned to full health, he still looked tired and wounded. There were some things Ratchet could not fix, and it would appear there were some things Optimus could not do. "The Matrix," he murmured, "it requires a spark."
The universe balances itself out. What the Matrix gave to one thing, it took from another. Someone's wish would come at someone else's price. Ratchet repressed the urge to give a bitter chortle. "I understand," he replied.
"There's nothing you can do?" Will asked, stepping forward. He looked between the Autobots. "I mean, if the Matrix won't work, what about the Allspark shard? I know we still have it secured at the Delta base."
Optimus frowned. "I understand your frustration, and your pain," he said, "perhaps even more so." He placed a hand delicately on the autopsy table. "Ironhide was my closest and oldest of friends. Just as no one person can be replaced, nor shall he. What he contributed to the Autobot cause was just as great and valuable as his loyalty and friendship." He glanced up at the CMO. "To me, to all of us."
Ratchet's optics remained on the ruins. His digits faintly brushing against a sliver of armor from Ironhide's chest. To touch, but hesitant.
Will inhaled sharply. "I know a place," he said, and Optimus looked down at him, "where I think... I think he'd like to be buried."
"About a year ago, Ironhide and I were doing some scouting out in the Nevada desert. 'Round the borders of Arizona and Utah," the soldier explained. Ratchet twitched just slightly. "We had been driving for little over an hour before he insisted we stop at the Consuelo hot springs."
Ratchet felt something well inside him.
Will looked his way. "Ironhide said you both visited Consuelo a few years back. Wanted to do some research with the water there," he said.
"That is correct," the medic retorted, standing straight. He sounded almost defensive, uneasy. Optimus seemed to sense it, casting his friend a weary, concerned look.
"Well, we stopped there for a while. We were on break anyway," the human continued. He cracked a tiny grin. "He told me the place was special to him. The hot springs beyond the mountains surrounding Consuelo had done something he assumed impossible: actually relax him." He chortled, shoulders bouncing. "I can't remember what I asked him then, but he told me the details weren't open to discussion. But whatever the reason he loved those springs, even if it was just because he liked lounging in them, it brought a... twinkle to his eye, I guess."
Optimus kept his gaze on Ratchet, waiting for a response. The medic said nothing, his optics averted. He stood too stiff and rigid. "It sounds like the perfect place for burial, Will," Optimus said finally. "However, I think it would be best if Ratchet were to lay Ironhide to rest."
Ratchet looked up, optics wide. Will was just as shocked. Before they could speak, the Autobot leader raised his hand and explained: "We will hold a funeral ceremony, and a monument shall be placed in his honor amongst his fellow fallen comrades."
"And so his remains...?"
"They will be placed in Consuelo," Optimus stated. "By Ratchet."
Ratchet fidgeted. "Optimus," he said, voice almost anxious, "that seems unfair-"
"On the contrary, it would be unjust for anyone else," Optimus insisted. The two Autobots locked gazes. The medic almost felt overpowered. "Consuelo had not only been special to Ironhide, but to you as well. And it would appear he preferred to keep what made it so special between you two alone."
Will blinked. "I..." He shook his head. "No. I'd ask why it's so important, why it's gotta be Ratchet by himself, but..." He shrugged. "I respect Ironhide not to ask again."
Ratchet stared at his fellow soldiers. He felt uncomfortable, itchy and anxious. He wanted to transform and drive, just drive, to anywhere and nowhere, all at once. But he had to keep his emotions in check, planting his hands hard against the steel table. "The others may not understand," he murmured.
Ratchet lifted his head. "Are you sure you want me to do this?"
Optimus nodded. He reached over and placed his hand over the medic's. "It is not only Ironhide that must be laid to rest," he said softly.
Ratchet understood, all too much. He sighed and closed his optics. "So be it."
It took nearly half a day before the plane arrived at the desert. Its cargo lowered carefully to the ground, bay door opening. The H2 Hummer's engines purred before it drove off the loading platform and into the dirt and sand. The cargo plane would land on a strip nearby some miles away to refuel. Will sat in the now empty bay, opened a commlink with Ratchet. "Contact us as soon as you're ready. We'll meet back here at these coordinates."
Will went to end the link but paused. "Hey," he said, and earned a small 'hmm' in response. The wrinkles around his tired smile were becoming obvious now. "Take your time, okay?"
I... Thank you.
The Consuelo hot springs was a short drive from the pick up point. Dust settled in Ratchet's grill, coated his headlights and windshield. It was dry out here, the wind hot and burning his frame to the touch. The conditions did not hinder him, but served only to remind him of a time so long ago but not at all. Only there was a presence beside him that time, and the yawning open desert felt like a chilling void. His engines snarled as he increased speed, felt dirt and rocks spit beneath his tires and bounce off his chassis.
Fifteen minutes later, the Hummer's gears and armor shifted and churned and Ratchet stood, staring up the length of the familiar mountainside. It was almost daunting, less of an adventure as it was then. Making sure he was still hydrated, the medic huffed and began the ascent.
The area within the surrounding circle of mountains was mostly bare, full of shrubs and patches of red dirt and gnarled, prickly weeds. A few cacti scattered in various directions, even a skeletal tree. It was nothing impressive, nothing they- he hadn't seen before. But further in, the heart of the Consuelo springs made all the effort worthwhile.
The walk was much shorter than the climb, and in three minutes, Ironhide and Ratchet stood side by side before the largest hot spring in the sector. It was nearly twenty feet long and fifteen feet wide, with six smaller splotches of water barely the width of a grown man dotting alongside it. Steam rose in thick clouds from the water's dark blue bubbling surface, the sun reflected in each of its seven faces.
"Nothing has changed."
Ratchet smirked. The pools were in the same condition as they were so many years ago. No apparent difference in length or depth, still billowing steam carelessly like a chimney in winter. His footfalls were heavy on the ground as he neared the edge of the largest hot spring. Ratchet's reflection was dark, shivering along its surface. "I have to wonder..." he hummed, squatting. He dipped a finger into the hot water, swished it in circular motions. His reflection was shattered in ripples. "If anyone has been here since then. Humans or otherwise. There doesn't seem to be any signs that would suggest it." He glanced around, doing a quick scan; besides a few lizards and insects, the place was devoid of sentient life.
Ratchet scooped some of the water up in his large hand. "The temperature appears to be the same as previously inspected," he noted. If not for the hint of nostalgia in his voice, it was almost as if he were recording a log. "Warm, not too hot." He turned his hand, watched the liquid pour back into the pool, drip and curl in rivets around his shimmering fingers. The medic listened to the drip-drip of the water, watched droplets hang from his digits before stepping back and inhaling. "Unfortunately, weather conditions are inappropriate for a dip. I'd overheat with the combination of temperatures." He checked his core temperature: 79F, but outside it was a sweltering 120F.
The Autobot circled the hot springs in silence for a minute or two. He watched his reflection follow, bouncing from one pool to another. He stopped and turned, catching a small area just nearby. Approaching it, Ratchet halted and eyed the ground. Nothing extraordinary, but he remembered this spot well. They had taken shelter here when the rain settled in, argued some as they usually did before recharging a while.
Nothing remained of their visit. No impressions or tracks. The wind had swept everything away. Everything seemed just as fleeting; great statues and landmarks of the finest and toughest properties were worn down by the elements over time. The ground crunched beneath his pedes, and it was almost heartbreaking how he heard only one set.
For a while, Ratchet wandered the area. He kept quiet, making an occasional noise of interest or curiosity when he noticed something new or different from before. He had made his way around the springs a handful of times, losing count of just how many. Soon, time was draining, and he knew he was keeping the others waiting, but... Well, Will wouldn't mind, at least.
Finally, Ratchet came to a halt. After his umpteenth time around the springs, he finally turned and stood his ground. Once more meeting the mirror of indescribable expression in the largest pool. "I'm... avoiding it, aren't I?" He wasn't sure if he was amused or disgusted. Bitter, there was definitely that.
Ratchet reached into one of his compartments before removing the palm-sized object. A shard of Ironhide that the rust had not touched. Across the scratched, speckled surface, half the face of the Autobot insignia. Much more than a patch or an alliance, but a life Ironhide had lived and died by. A warrior, something Ratchet had not always been. Still not much of one to this day, he mused to himself.
"You are probably laughing at me, wherever you are, at how I seem to be talking to just a piece of armor," Ratchet snorted. He tilted the shard, watched sunlight bounce off it. "But I'm old, and my CPU isn't what it used to be. You complained about it all the time. About the both of us, and how we seemed to be the wisest of all the foolish, upstart younglings around us." He chuckled. "And you'd get mad when I pointed out you were a few cycles older than I."
The medic slowly took a seat on the ground. "If you were wondering about your funeral procession, it had been a little too flashy for your taste, I'd imagine," he said. His optics shuttered as he glanced toward the sun. "But the others felt it was only appropriate. Will had insisted on going all out." He smirked. "The look on Mearing's face when she found out everything for the funeral was paid for using N.E.S.T.'s funding. As Sam would put it, 'freakin' priceless.'"
Ratchet didn't speak for another minute. His forlorn optics fell back to his hands in his lap, cradling the fragment. "It was beautiful," he murmured, "it really was. Underneath all the details and standard military dirge, it was a funeral most fitting for you. Everyone you loved and cared for, all the people you protected, they were all there. A massive cortège. They paid you their greatest respects, they wished you farewell, and many shed tears." His vents cycled warm air. "I might have, but I'd know you'd just be scowling."
The Autobot sighed. "When Will said you would be greatly missed, it was a large understatement," he continued, "everyone will agree with me on that. And, maybe I'm only thinking of myself here, but..." He shook his head. "No. I won't invalidate others pain over your loss. Though our relationship might have been deeper than most others, we all hurt and I can't compare. I'd only anger myself." Ratchet chortled. "I'm all ready angry enough. But Optimus has assured me that, with time, the anger will heal over like some old wound."
Ratchet's optic ridges furrowed. "I told him I didn't want to stop ever being angry," he explained, "but I must swallow the same bitter pills I prescribe others. I've told many who lost their friends and loved ones the same as Optimus has told me. Now on the receiving end, I can see no matter how much reassurance you get, it doesn't help much. Not right then and there." He turned the piece over on his palm. "Humans have this phrase. 'Do as I say, not as I do.' Validates hypocrisy, I guess, but... The tired speeches I've given and have been given are all true in the end. It just takes time to sink in. And in order for them to do so, I have to let the anger go."
The medic scowled. "But- Your passing did not entirely surprise me. We were always prepared to die every single day we walked out on that battlefield. We knew it was inevitable, that we were living on sheer dumb luck some days. It's not just you... dying that hurts the most, but..." Ratchet raked a hand down his face. "You should have died in battle, not how... Not by that... Hell! Even dying old and weak and tired in your berth seemed more suitable than what brought your end."
Ratchet bit his denta together. "It is something I hope you never dwell upon in your endless afterlife," he said, "I hope it's something that did not cross your mind in those final moments. I was told it was quick... I'm not sure if it was painful. No one quite knows, and we're all too cowardly to wonder and imagine." He shifted in his seat. "If I... If I could experience the pain, just once, to under-" The Autobot shoved the heel of his palm against his forehead. "Primus, doing it again. I'm hurting and thinking only of myself." He frowned, the sadness suddenly washing over him in a wave.
"I'm selfish," Ratchet murmured. He crouched forward, the setting sun framing his drooping, rattling chassis. "I'm so selfish." He clutched the sliver tightly. "I hope you can forgive me. Can you blame me, though? I miss your ornery, stubborn aft." He managed a small titter then went silent for a long, long minute. "As I said, you prepare yourself for this," he murmured, "but it still feels like a shock to the spark. Death has so far never been mastered, by any race we've encountered. It is always there, and we know it, but it's never easy, never stops..." He trailed off, quieted.
The sun was shattered in the hot springs before Ratchet. He watched as it began its descent, disappearing behind the horizon. Colors painted the skies in orange, red, yellow and purple. The veil of night and her stars lingered on the edges, and the moon, distant in the paling azure, would be at her full glory soon.
And it was all so beautiful. And it was all so unfair that he wasn't here to see it.
Ratchet sighed again. "Perhaps where you are, you will see sunsets of every planet, of every hue and shade and intensity," he said. "And if you could, perhaps watch Earth's a little closer."
The Autobot reached forward, large hand shoveling up the Earth. He continued digging in silence, the hole growing deeper and deeper. Not a word was spoken, the fragment in his other hand held tight. It didn't take very long; the hole was at least five feet deep now. Ratchet sat back and inhaled clouds of dust he had startled.
This was it.
Ratchet turned his hand over, fingers falling back. The shard, nestled perfectly in his palm. He felt his breath hitch and a shiver run through his spark. A bond that did not respond, but would forever imprint itself on his soul. Ratchet swallowed down the rising sickness that threatened to double him over into tears. Ironhide would just be embarrassed anyway.
Delicately, carefully, Ratchet placed the fragment in the hole. The half-Autobot symbol facing the bleeding skies. Ratchet brushed his fingers across its damaged surface. "Goodbye, old friend," he said, quietly, solemnly and withdrew his hand.
The Autobot was slow to fill the hole again. Moved the dirt back in place with heavy hands. There was a slight tremor in his joints, but he ignored it. He'd blame the gritty sand for the coolant glossing over his optics. A few minutes later, Ratchet patted the mound down, made sure it was secure. His hand drawn back, he stared at it for a moment, his spark pulsing slower than usual.
Ratchet gathered back to his feet, shaking and brushing off the dirt. He looked up from the burial mound and to the skies again. From his peripheral vision, he could sense the darkness beside him. A shadow, cast long at his side.
And the hurt finally became too much, and it was the final blow to the pain that threatened to consume and conquer him. He could not live with this forever, else it would be his undoing.
Ratchet knew what Prime meant about lying more than Ironhide to rest. The grief would stay for much longer, he knew that. But everything else, the rage, the pain, the very things Ironhide would want to take from him and toss away and tell him to let go, you old mech, you're getting too sentimental in your old age...
The Autobot glanced down at the largest hot spring.
Ratchet had come across websites regarding figures of worship of humanity's ancestors. In some religions, water was said to cleanse the soul. Free it from sin or sadness. And whatever it was that made the liquid so precious and holy to these inferior creatures of great potential didn't seem to matter. Ratchet approached the edge of the pool. It wasn't as if he believed in any of their flawed religions ideologies, old or new, but as he had countless times in the past, he could afford to humor them and their customs.
Will had all ready returned to the coordinates where his team and Ratchet would rendezvous a little over an hour ago. Though the pilot and co-pilot were complaining about the heat, Will ignored their whining. He sat on the edge of the open bay door, leaning forward. The desert didn't remind him of the chaos and tragedies that surrounded him, but of the day where he and Ironhide had stormed through the sand, free of any restrictions, enjoying this short, blissful break from all the insanity of war.
"Lennox! Doc's back!"
Will turned, and in the distant, the heat waves shimmered off the Hummer's surface. He appeared almost as a mirage. Will smiled and jumped out of the bay, eyes squinted as he stepped out of the shade. Three minutes later and the Autobot in disguise pulled up to the N.E.S.T. plane. "You ready to go, buddy?" he asked.
Ratchet transformed, and the soldier felt water sprinkle his face. He blinked and eyed the giant Cybertronian. He was glistening from a thin coat of liquid. "You'd think the heat would have dried everything up by now," Ratchet snorted and kicked clumped mud off his foot.
Ratchet smiled as he crawled into the giant cargo plane.
"Closure, I suppose."
And you are
Nostalgic while you are still living this
And it all
Snuck up while you weren't looking
And you are
Nostalgic while you are still living this
And you're sure
This is how you know you're living
I Am Warm - Halou
From Spanish descanso ("place of rest, as of a funeral procession")/"rest" - wiktionary