Transformers © Hasbro.

AN: AU DOTM. In order for this to make sense, please imagine that Ironhide, upon death, did not disintegrate into nothing like he did in the movie (I'm still pissed at Bay for that). Imagine instead that he simply stayed in one piece, like Queue and Jazz. (I'm still pissed about Jazz as well.)

My Soul to Keep

Lennox stood outside of the city, staring up at the sky. The stars were bright, the moon full, and he had never felt more empty in his entire life than he did at that moment.

His soul hurt.

"It's cold out tonight." Optimus Prime sat down beside him. The area was secure and well-hidden, a good place to escape and clear the mind. Prime could stay in his normal form as long as he stayed seated. "Are you sure you should be out?"

Lennox smirked. "Prime, I've sat outside playing guard in 20 degree weather. I've played guard in 130 degree weather. Rain, snow, sand storm – doesn't matter. There isn't much I haven't done yet. This – this is nothing."

Nothing compared to the coldness inside. He thought it would go away once Sentinel Prime was gone – once he lost his reason to keep moving, but it hadn't. Four weeks, and nothing had changed.

Prime hummed in agreement. "What are you doing?"

"Praying for souls." Lennox replied, his voice harsh. His eyes stung. "To whatever god looks after stubborn Autobot warriors."

For a long moment, there was silence. Then Prime spoke again.

"Primus. That's our god."

"Then I guess I'm praying to Primus then."

"It hurts us as well."

Lennox shook his head. "Ah, Prime, I know it does. I saw the look on Bee's face when it happened – hell, I saw the look on everyone's faces. I think the only one who didn't blink was Mearing. I know you guys are hurting too."

"Then why are you the one trying to deal alone?"

"Because I'm the one who didn't see it." There was a brief pause, but Lennox kept going before Optimus could protest. "I know why you guys didn't. Sentinel was a living legend – he was one of the good guys. He was your personal hero. Of course you aren't going to see anything wrong. You shouldn't."

"But you should have? You, who knows nothing about our past and almost nothing about our culture?" Optimus said quietly. "As much as you have tried to learn, we are a civilization that has existed longer than your solar system has. You could not possibly have the background – "

"It's not about background." Lennox stood and started pacing. "It's about common sense."

Optimus shuttered his optics. "Pardon?"

"Soldier's instinct. You have to know when the shit is gonna hit the fan if you want to be a good soldier. I should have known there was something wrong with Sentinel. I've seen enough good men go bad – I should have seen the signs." He kicked at the ground. "I failed him."

"No."

"I did. He protected me, and I should have protected him."

Optimus reached out and placed a careful finger on Lennox's shoulder. "Stop, please. I know what you're going through – I've been there myself more times than I care to count – but you cannot blame yourself for this."

"Why the hell not?"

Prime chuckled, startling Lennox. "If Ironhide refused to let me blame myself, then I can refuse to let you blame yourself."

Lennox grinned despite himself. Tears burned his face as they finally escaped. "Man, he'd get a kick outta that one."

"Yes, he would." Optimus stood up. "Come back to the base when you're ready. I'll keep Mearing from sending out a search party."

"Thanks big guy."

Optimus nodded and collapsed back into his alt form. He didn't stop until he reached the base. Ratchet was waiting for him at the door.

"You didn't tell him?"

Prime shook his helm. "There is no sense in getting his hopes up if it doesn't work."

"It should. It worked with you and Sentinel."

"We're both Primes. We have a connection with the Matrix that Ironhide does not have."

Ratchet shrugged. "Well, he's fixed. If his self-repair systems are going to do the rest of the work, he needs to come back online. The only way that's going to happen is if we try."

Optimus nodded. "Lead the way, old friend."

/-/

Lennox didn't come back to base until dawn.

He expected Mearing and Epps to be all over his ass once he walked in, demanding to know where he'd been and what had happened, if he was okay, yadda yadda yadda. He didn't want to deal with it. He considered moving to the back entrance and avoiding the crowd all together, but a commotion inside stopped him.

It was Mearing. And she was screaming her head off at Optimus over something.

Well, he couldn't let the big guy face her all alone. Grumbling under his breath, he walked inside.

And froze.

"Why didn't you tell us the Matrix could do something like this!" Mearing really was in an uproar. "And to do it without our permission – "

"We weren't aware we needed your permission to heal one of our mechs." Ratchet growled.

Seated in the middle of them, alive, was Ironhide, glancing uneasily at Ratchet. "Um, Ratch, ya think you can get away from me with that wrench? I'm still a little sore here – "

"Ironhide!"

Before any of the mechs could react – and completely throwing Mearing off her rant – Lennox darted forward and did something he had never done before.

He hugged Ironhide's arm.

Ironhide smiled. "What – did you think I'd up and die when there were 'Cons to kill?"

"Dammit, you scared me!" Lennox backed away, grinning up at the old soldier. "Don't you ever do that to me again!"

"Not part of the plan." Ironhide assured him.

Optimus turned to Ratchet, optics positively glowing. "Take the Wreckers and get to the Vault. I want you to begin repairs to Jazz."

Ratchet nodded. "Yes sir."

/-/

AN: I just realized I ignored poor Queue, and the Arcees. My bad.

Slag, this is depressing. But kinda happy. I could write a whole different one-shot series (why am I volunteering this?) about Ironhide and Lennox's relationship. If that sounds like something up your alley, let me know in your reviews.

Enjoy!

Shadowblade-tara