Title: Soldier

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: After surviving a landmine explosion, Ironhide begins his recovery working at the Academy to train new recruits.

Ironhide had to work to keep his processor carefully blank as he waited for Swerve to reappear from his office with the latest results of Ironhide's mobility tests, ignoring both the throbbing ache in his hip and the implications of bad news.

The Lieutenant Generals had done no such thing. Already, Ironhide knew that he had an office waiting for him on the other side of the Academy's complex, with a class scheduled to start with the beginning of the next solar cycle, unless Swerve came back bearing a miracle. The blank sterility of the medical ward was doing little to help with Ironhide's confidence in this unlikely scenario, its particular brand of quietness worse than exploding shells and gunfire. Even after trying to recite the military code by memory, Ironhide found that all he could do was stare at the wall, attempting and failing to keep from remembering the one, hidden landmine that had not taken his life but had taken all that mattered about it. So, it was with a vertigo-inducing mixture of relief and dread when Swerve came back, datapad in hand and Ironhide knew.

"I'm taking you off active duty."

It was said so casually that Ironhide paused, his anger failing to take hold in that crucial moment needed for full expression while Swerve sat in a chair across from him.

"I thought you said you could fix it," Ironhide finally said, and Swerve quirked an optical ridge.

"I think what I said was that you were lucky to be alive." Here, Swerve looked down at his datapad and scrolled through the notes. "Stepped almost directly on a live mine, which blew your leg nearly completely off at the hip joint, with shrapnel severing your main fibular energon line, destroying your rotors and several transformation cogs, with some of it even piercing your spark chamber." Swerve looked back up at him. "I'd say 60% motor capacity for your leg along with the ability to transform in under half a stellar cycle is pretty impressive."

"So, what? I should be grateful?"

"Wouldn't hurt. Not that getting to hear you complain about every little thing ever since you came out of stasis hasn't been its own reward."

Ironhide shifted on the edge of the berth, done with listening to the medic and ready to just leave, but Swerve leaned forward, blocking any forward motion and his expression clearing of anything except honesty and seriousness. At the very least, it made Ironhide remember that they were friends.

"Listen, Ironhide. I know the General is looking to step down from his position, and there's not a mech on Cybertron who doesn't know that everyone, even Lord High Protector Vermillion, has been expecting you to replace him. And honestly, I don't think that this is going to stop that from happening."

Ironhide could not keep himself from snarling as he shoved himself off the berth, his hip wrenching with a flash of pain that sent at least two warning messages across his optical feed and had Swerve rise to his feet and make a concerned reach for him. Greatly missing any functional weaponry, Ironhide instead stepped quickly out of the way and circled around, positioning himself towards the door.

"You of all mechs do not need to pander to me," Ironhide said, his mouth plates pulling back across his denta. Swerve shook his head.

"I'm not. Look, I've been honest with you since the beginning. The damage was extensive. As things currently stand, it's impossible to replace some of your parts and even harder to fix them. The patches and welds and synthetic energon pumps can only last for so long before they need to be redone, and they certainly can't withstand any sort of combat conditions."

"I'll remember to add that to my list of qualifications during my Senate confirmation."

"But," Swerve interrupted fiercely. "There are some new procedures being developed out of the Medical Guild in Antihex. They're only experimental right now, but so far the preliminary studies have had promising results. We simply don't have the technology to restore you to 100% mobility right now. Maybe we won't ever will, but if you'll just be patient, I know we'll get pretty fragging close, and I'll be sent straight to the Pit if General Spar won't wait a few stellar cycles for it to happen."

It wasn't enough. But, as always in his dark moments, his old staff sergeant's voice made itself heard in the back of his processor, followed on its heels by memories of long and brutal training sessions which tested the metal of even the toughest mechs.

We are the military. We are Cybertron's strength. If we doubt, so does Cybertron. If we succumb, so does Cybertron. If we fear, if we fail, if we retreat, if we surrender, so does Cybertron.

Swerve nodded, his shoulder struts relaxing as he took a step back.

"I've sent your next appointment time to your datapad. Call me in the meantime if you have any problems. And good luck. Primus knows that these new cadets are going to need someone competent to beat them into shape."

He should have said something, but Ironhide trusted Swerve to understand when he instead simply turned and left.

888888

While an official visit by Lord High Protector Vermillion or Sentinel Prime was undoubtedly a grander affair, it would not be able to match the noise and chaos that filled the Academy during Orientation, when new cadets were moving in, getting settled, registering for classes, taking their evaluations and capabilities tests, getting assigned their barracks and squads, and saying goodbye to their caretakers, their friends, and their bondmates.

Even this late in the solar cycle, cadets were still roaming the halls, conversing with each other and speculating on their instructors and schedules. It would all change within just a few more mega-cycles, when curfew and rules were enforced with the beginning of a new academic calendar, but Ironhide was grateful for their distraction. He had had enough of the curious stares and questions from colleages, civilians, and reporters alike as he suffered through his highly publicized injury and recovery. For awhile, it seemed all the holographic news feeds could report on was the potential ruination of his career, and it had only been the regular messages and occasional visits from Chromia, patient and understanding and supportive as she was, that had kept him going.

Ironhide was sorely tempted to return straight to his quarters—if he was lucky, he could probably still catch Chromia out of recharge and they would be able to talk over their private holographic feeds, but he was so near the refectory, and he had not had any energon in a while. On top of that, he very much did not look forward to spending a restless recharge cycle alone, with nothing but Swerve's decision to keep him company.

Stepping into the canteen, Ironhide made his way straight to the energon dispenser and focused solely on entering his pass code for his alloted rations before grabbing the cube and moving to one of the tables that had some of his fellow officers and the more experienced orientation workers sitting around it. He was getting good at ignoring the way that several pairs of optics turned to the heavy limp in his step.

One of the orientation workers, a mech named Clutch and whom Ironhide knew well, was speaking as Ironhide approached, but he quickly cut himself off.

"Ironhide, good. I was going to need to speak to you soon. I have a cadet for you."

Ironhide shook his head as he sat. "No. My classes and squad are already filled to two mechs above capacity. I don't need any more."

"Trust me, you'll like this one. I was just telling everyone else about what he did earlier. It was unreal. I've never seen a cadet do what he did."

"What happened?" Ironhide questioned.

"The cadet apparently took it upon himself to complete a group test by himself," Airblast responded, and Ironhide frowned in automatic disapproval.

Among the basic features of Orientation was capability testing, which included not only computerized exams but also physical tests of strength and endurance and how well mechs with no previous experience performed in group military exercises. The tests worked to identify each cadet's strengths and weakness and helped to place them in the branch of military that they would best be suited for. As Ironhide mentally reviewed the Orientation schedule, he looked back at Clutch in mild surprise.

"Not the Obstacles Test," he said. Clutch nodded.

"Sure was."

"It's impossible to do Obstacles by yourself," Recoil scoffed.

"Apparently not. His team, which, admittedly, was full of the most sorry-looking, Towers-sparked brats you have ever seen, was running way behind the others when he just left them and went on alone," Clutch answered, unable to hide his amusement.

"And with the results to show for it, I imagine," Recoil said. Clutch laughed.

"Hardly. Not only did he complete it faster than three other teams, but he did it more efficiently and accurately, too. I almost forgot to punish him for it."

"How did he do it?" Ironhide asked.

"The proctors themselves are still trying to figure it out. But I think it might have something to do with this," Clutch responded and handed over a datapad. Up at the top, the cadet was identified simply by his Orientation number, D-4, and below were the results of the cadet's computerized exams. Airblast leaned over to look as well, and Ironhide could practically hear the other mech's processor stall in surprise.

"His capacity scores are off the charts in almost every field," Clutch said. "Strategy, offensive and defensive maneuvers, communications, code breaking, mathematics, history, data analysis, critical thinking, you name it…all of them well above any score previously recorded at the academy. His weaker fields were some of the sciences, especially medical procedures and engineering, but even those were average. The only test he underperformed in was negotiaton and diplomacy. He also didn't do well in alt. mode battle synching, but I think that's just because he hasn't found the right fit, yet."

As Recoil stood to look over Ironhide's shoulder, his optics narrowed at the data projected on the screen. "There must have been a computer error."

"No, we checked that," Clutch answered. "The proctors even went through and examined his keystroke sequences. Those scores are his. And you know the exams are taken in isolation and rotated at random every Orientation. There's no way he could have cheated."

Ironhide stared down at the datapad, as equally impressed by and somewhat skeptical of the scores as his fellow officers, but of even more concern was the vague sense of familiarity he felt for such undeniable genius that sat on the edges of his processor. "Did you show these scores to the Dean?" he asked.

"I did. He said to show them to you."

"And where's the cadet, now?"

"Training room five. I told him he had to learn patience and remain there until an officer came to dismiss him. It's been about two mega-cycles, now. I was about to go release him."

"Hmm." Ironhide ran his thumb across the edge of the datapad, unable to deny his curiosity. He handed the datapad back to Clutch and stood, shrugging off the thankfully subtle motion of assistance from Recoil. "I'll do it."

"Aren't you going to at least sit and finish your energon with us?" Airblast asked.

"Save it for me," Ironhide replied. "I'll be right back."

8888

The west wing of the Academy was dark and silent, with both old and new cadets more than happy to take advantage of the relaxed Orientation regulations and leave the expansive training rooms abandoned. They would remain that way well into the next solar cycle, but nonetheless, as Ironhide entered Training Room Five, he was somewhat taken aback that they had turned the lights off here as well, with nothing but the low-pressure sodium lamps to cast a dim orange glow over the center of the room, and Ironhide would not have been entirely surprised to see if the cadet had already left.

But there he stood, swaying slightly on his feet after having been forced to remain in one place for so long, and Ironhide did not dare to name the emotions that were quickly coiling their way through his spark. He was…big. More so than Ironhide would have expected and for which dim memories failed to provide justification. He was all powerful lines and sharp angles, but his armor did appear to fit awkwardly on his frame—he was unbalanced and the plates looked uncomfortable—and Ironhide thought that Clutch may have been right about the cadet having adopted an incorrect alt. mode. But even more than that, the plates were covered in massive dents and deep scars, each one marked by shoddy welding that Ironhide knew had to be pulling the metal too tightly. It would make the cadet unable to move as freely as he otherwise could, and the repairs would have to be corrected before the cadet began his training. Ironhide pinged Swerve with a new appointment request as he stopped just inside the doorway and decided to concern himself later with the brutality the cadet needed to have experienced to earn those scars.

The cadet continued to stare directly forwards, red optics focused on a spot above Ironhide's shoulder, but Ironhide had no doubt that the cadet knew exactly who he was.

"Designation," Ironhide said, his voice echoing slightly against the shadowed walls.

"Cadet D-4," came the response, carried on a deep, smooth voice.

"Your name," Ironhide corrected somewhat harshly, uninterested in receiving any attitude.

"I am Megatron."

"And why have you been told to remain here, cadet?"

"I don't know, sir," Megatron answered, and Ironhide could only approve of the way that Megatron kept his tone perfectly neutral.

"You don't know that you received the worst score on the Obstacles test?"

It was a slight gesture, almost invisible, but Ironhide caught the way that the corner of Megatron's mouth plates twitched downwards.

"I passed—"

"No, you failed the test, cadet!" Ironhide interrupted, voice raising in rebuke, and this time there was no mistaking the flinch, the narrowing of bright red optics, and Ironhide knew he had found the source of this mech's motivations. "You abandoned your teammates in the middle of a mission. If you want to be a soldier, cadet, you understand this right now: our principles are strength, valor, courage, and honor. A mech's strength comes only with the help of others; your valor and courage will manifest only in the serving of the greater good; and there is absolutely no honor in deserting your comrades for the sake of personal gain. Do I make myself clear, cadet?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

Ironhide fell silent, and, despite Megatron's answer to the affirmative, let him think about it for a moment before moving again and stepping out into a slow, wide circle around him. There were a hundred—a thousand—different questions that Ironhide wanted and needed to ask, but this was no time to lose his composure. He concentrated on keeping his processor clear and calm, and focused on the basics.

"Where are you from, cadet?"

"Kaon, sir."

That much Ironhide knew, even if Megatron's accent had not been a dead give-away. Why did you leave?

"What is your professional experience?"

For the first time since Ironhide entered the room, Megatron hesitated, and while Ironhide instinctively balked at not being answered immediately, he knew to let this one slide.

"Mining, sir."

Perhaps Ironhide could for once be grateful for his limp, as it hid any potential faltering in his step, the grinding of his hip joints covering the hiccough in his fuel lines and the twitch in his fingers as he automatically sought the comfort of his guns. Several stellar-cycles spent in the mines would certainly account for Megatron's build—bulk and weight was needed for the type of physical strain that was placed upon the miners—and it would also account for at least some of the scars. Some, but not all.

"Is that it?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

And that was a lie. But there would be time. Ironhide would make sure of that. In the meantime, there were other things he needed to know.

"Why did you enlist?"

This time, Megatron answered more promptly—a sign that he that thought about it, was satisfied with his answer, and was not ashamed of it.

"I wanted to make things better, sir."

"Things?" Ironhide repeated back to him. Things was more vague than Ironhide would have expected from Megatron. He might have thought the term as a sign of carelessness had it come from any other cadet, but even if all Ironhide had of Megatron's character were the exam results he had seen earlier, it had not been simply a poor choice of words. Still, things could mean anything: his life, the lives of others, the Pit that was Kaon, the conditions of the mines, the military itself, the well-being of Cybertron…

"Sir, yes, sir."

Ironhide stopped his sweep around Megatron, and, having not found anything immediately worth inquiring about, stood in front of him. Megatron continued to stare resolutely forwards.

"Are you prepared to be a soldier, cadet?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Are you? Are you really prepared to serve Cybertron? Are you prepared to suffer, to bleed, to leave everything behind you? Are you prepared for the commitment, the dedication, the toil, the pain, the exhaustion, the doubt, and the sacrifice? Are you prepared to sacrifice everything you are for the sake of Cybertron?"

"Sir. Yes. Sir."

Ironhide felt the same thread of pity for Megatron as he did for all of the cadets.

"No, you aren't." He reached into his subspace and pulled out an extra datapad, quickly inputting his password to access his rosters.

"I have an extra space in my class and squad. You interested?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

Nodding, Ironhide pulled up a registration form and signed it before locking the screen and handing it over to Megatron.

"Take this to the Registrar and have them enroll you in my sections. Don't leave the office until they do. If they still give you trouble, have them message me. Other than that I expect to see you in eight mega-cycles. Class begins on time and I do not tolerate lateness. Understood?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

Ironhide turned and walked away, pausing at the threshold and turning slightly to look back over his shoulder.

"It's good to see you again, kid. You doing okay?"

Megatron finally shifted, gaze dropping to meet Ironhide. Perhaps it was only a trick of the light, a shadow, but Ironhide could see his expression and should struts soften, and he was glad that he wasn't the only one affected by this reunion.

"Sir, yes, sir."

Ironhide had to turn away, had to leave before his spark caught up with him and he did something.

"Dismissed, cadet."

At the very least, tomorrow would be interesting, and Ironhide thought that he could tolerate having an office and a bunch of know-nothing cadets at least for a little while. In the meantime, however, he very much wanted to return to his energon, to his rooms, and get some rest.