Trembling, Wheeljack heaved a heavy groan and turned over, each inch of his frame agonizing at the beating he had taken. A low, unearthly growl sounded, and he tried to lift his head to see the Insecticon prowling towards him through staticy optics.
Strength failing at the moment, Wheeljack collapsed back down. He shook, body struggling for function as it recalibrated. He looked up, behind his head to the Mattock sitting idly at the edge of the battlefield.
His spark bled.
Miko . . . I'm sorry. Go on; go ahead and get out of here, Babe. You'll be all right. I promise . . .
Wheeljack struggled to lift his arms, to defend himself, but by the time he had had the thought, Hardshell was above him with a raised claw.
"Your spark now belongs to Megatron—!"
The kick of the Mattock's engines interrupted Hardshell's words, and Wheeljack gave a weak, albeit smug smirk from behind his battle mask. Miko had gotten away. There was no way for the 'Con to get her now—
A close range explosion rocked in his audio receptors and heat swamped over him as he heard Hardshell screech. For a second, white-hot ringing filled his audio receptors, and he waited impatiently for his optics to recalibrate. As his hearing slowly returned, he heard the Mattock's engines dim and idle.
Wheeljack pushed himself upright, groaning, and he knocked off a piece of Hardshell's armor. His battle mask retracted as he looked back at the Mattock, and a rueful little smile touched his mouth plates.
"Nice work, Babe."
And then, he heard it—a thunderous rumble of Insecticon wings, slowly becoming louder and louder. He looked across the field of battle, finding Topspin several yards away, face-flat and unmoving.
Wheeljack's legs shook as he got his peds beneath himself, and he staggered over to him, feeling several wires seizing in his right leg. Wheeljack fell on his knees, shaking the Wrecker and duly noting his weak leg that had been ripped open by the blast.
"Spin! Spin, get up! This is no time to be napping!"
The blue and white bot moaned, shifting weakly, and his visor flickered on, a crack running through it and glitching. Wheeljack slapped his face, before discounting it all and forcefully heaving him to his feet.
"C'mon! We've gotta get out of here!" The Insecticon wings were getting louder as he hefted Topspin along, limping as much as he was supporting, and he cast a glance behind his shoulder to see—
Scrap. He bet that was half the entire swarm of Hardshell's little lackeys.
When they got within meters of stagger-hopping/limp-running to the Mattock, the Insecticons open fired at them. Wheeljack ducked beneath a wing and shoved Topspin inside before he hurried after. A couple of bolts shook the Mattock.
Topspin collapsed tiredly in the passenger seat, groaning and nursing his leg that had been torn back open to the burns again. "Thought I told you to hit autopilot," was his candid response, proving that he wasn't horribly hurt. Still, he hissed when he shifted his leg.
Wheeljack flopped down into the pilot seat, thankful to get some weight of his aching leg. Stoutly ignoring the pain shocking up his leading arm, Wheeljack took the controls, saying lightly, "Let's get the hell outta this place."
Still, the takeoff was shaking, the Mattock being a more maneuverable and agile ship than the tough and heavy-hitting Jackhammer. Wheeljack tried to watch his heavy handling of the controls, muttering, "Primus-slagged thing is touchier than Twin Twist drunk off high grade . . ."
The ride was a bit jerky, but when the Insecticons kept pecking at their tailpipes the whole time, Wheeljack narrowed his optics at the rear camera view that showed the massive amounts of Insecticons. There was no way he'd be able to pick them all off. He needed something with a wider blast radius.
The plan formatted into his processor quickly, the only thing he could do. Setting the Mattock on autopilot, Wheeljack got up out of his seat, walking gingerly to—aha! So the twins kept the extra grenades where he kept them!
Miko frowned from across the ship. "I thought you only—"
"Carry one AT A TIME," he stressed with a roll of his optics. He gave a slight shrug as the ladder to the top of the ship dropped down. "Besides, these are Spin and Twist's!"
Wheeljack climbed to the top haltingly, favoring his left side over his ENTIRE right side, so hefting the box of grenades up was a challenging feat, but he managed. The winds whipped at him the moment he stuck his head out of the top hatch, and he flinched when several bullets shot close, one even managing to graze the top of the Mattock.
Well, that wasn't a pretty sight. All those ugly bugs in one massive swarm. He reached for a grenade, about to pull the pin out, when it suddenly occurred to him exactly how little that one measly grenade was going to do to a swarm that size.
Aw, to Pit with it.
He stuck he grenade back, picked up and threw the entire cache out into the midst of them, took aim, and shot it.
The resulting explosion had Wheeljack ducking back into the Mattock as it shuddered, the turbulence rocking the ship, but the self-destruction of all those Insecticons at once had Wheeljack grinning and running off a high like no other. He plopped down in the driver's seat, grinning over at Miko.
"Welcome to the Wreckers, Babe! You guys did Twin Twist proud!"
Topspin didn't say anything; just shifted uncomfortably and turned his face away. Miko curled up into a ball on the dash, before looking up at him.
"Then why don't I feel any different?"
Honestly, Wheeljack had never even considered it. Miko looked away, ducking so her chin rested on her knees as she looked down at her feet. Wheeljack looked over at Topspin, but the Wrecker refused to meet his optics.
" . . . Spin?"
Topspin flinched before his visor flickered, a visor Wheeljack wished he wasn't wearing so that he could see his optics. "Nothing's changed," he finally whispered. His shoulders shook a moment, and then he shook his head. "Twin Twist's still dying. There's still nothing I can do. He's still slipping away from me . . ."
Wheeljack didn't touch the controls of the Mattock, just let the ship fly itself. Instead, he reached out, gripping Topspin's shoulder. He didn't move. "He's GONNA wake up, Spin."
"You don't know that!" the medic hissed back at him. He shook his head, turning his face away again. "You don't feel his life force slipping away from you . . ."
For once, Wheeljack had nothing to say. He didn't know what to say. Instead, the ride back to the base was a silent one, each wrapped up in their own ruminations, Wheeljack struggling to comprehend why they didn't feel better knowing they had avenged the unjust sucker-punch Twin Twist had suffered.
He didn't think about how his own spark felt.
The Mattock landed outside of the entrance to the silo. All three slowly tromped out that night, Miko dragging her feet she was so tired, both Topspin and Wheeljack limping, Topspin more so than Wheeljack.
It was so silent that Wheeljack's dragging ped scraped and echoed in the silo. Topspin's heavy stagger cut it even more. As expected, they were all there, all looking at them, most likely having congregated at the computer for any contact. Wheeljack held his arm, aware he was leaking, and he could feel the leaks running down his chassis. His leg seized and his ped wouldn't respond correctly—he had taken the brunt of the battle, though Topspin couldn't put any weight on his already-hurt and hurt-again leg. The burns on his protoform had to be agonizing.
Wheeljack staggered a couple more steps before he stopped, but Topspin continued to stumble across the base, moving slowly, but steadily towards his brother. A thin trail of energon followed behind him.
Arcee knelt in front of Miko, putting a hand lightly on her shoulder. "Miko? You okay?"
Wheeljack looked down on them. "She's fine. Babe's a pro at this slag by now—"
"I wasn't asking you!" Arcee snapped harshly. She seemed to catch her tongue, because she flushed slightly and looked away.
Miko shook her head, eyelids heavy with exhaustion and hunger. "I'm fine." She looked up to Ratchet. "How is he?"
Ratchet seemed to hesitate, and the only sound that filled the silence was Topspin's halting steps. "Twin Twist . . . will survive. He may . . . never be fully functional again."
They all paused, looking over as Topspin sat heavily on the floor at Twin Twist's head. A sad, strained smile touched his face as he looked at Bulkhead purring contentedly curled up at his brother's audio receptor.
"Hey now, see? You didn't like the little feline organic, but he sure likes you." His finger reached out, rubbing lightly on the cat's back. Bulkhead purred more. Topspin's throat bobbed. "Hardshell's dead," he rasped quietly to him, but it was so quiet any conversation no matter how quiet could be heard from one end to the other. "I—It wasn't me, Miko did it, our very own Wrecking girl . . . I mean, I didn't really care who killed him, just so long as he was dead, but . . . I mean . . . I thought I was going to feel better, but . . . I don't . . . I—Twist . . ."
His hands stole up to clutch at his twin's audio receptors, and he bowed his head over Twin Twist. Soft sounds of weeping crossed the silo, and Wheeljack winced at the sound.
He shifted, turning away. "I . . . don't want to see them like this."
Arcee glared up at him. "So you're not even going to try to help him?"
Wheeljack shook his head. "Not like I could anyway. Nothing I could do or say at this point could make him feel better."
Arcee seemed to capitulate to that point, and Wheeljack grunted, shuddering at the idea of transforming. "C'mon, Babe. I need to take you home. Mrs. Davis is booting up my comm. link."
"I'll take her home," Arcee replied a little snappishly.
Wheeljack just nodded. "Good. I don't trust myself trying to transform at this point or even driving straight." He bet he wouldn't be able to get past twenty miles an hour at this point.
Arcee's jaw clenched. "I wasn't meaning to be helpful."
Wheeljack vented sharply, glaring down at her before looking up at Ratchet and Optimus. Bumblebee shimmied to the side. "What? You guys think this was my idea? You think I'd HONESTLY take Miko along after what happened last time?" When no answer was forthcoming from them, Wheeljack snorted angrily, and he staggered backwards a step, shaking his head. "You guys got a malfunction or something? When we took on Hardshell I didn't let Miko step foot out of the Mattock and I would have chained her to the driver's seat if she tried. We had the autopilot set to the base if something happened to us. She was safe."
Optimus stepped forward, and though his voice was gentle, it was grave. "Wheeljack, it is not a question of if you kept her safe. It was letting a child go with you—"
"And if I didn't go with Topspin and Miko, they'd BOTH be dead by now," Wheeljack muttered snappishly. His cold optics dug into Optimus, and after a moment, he shook his head. "Frag this, I don't have the energy . . ."
Miko cut in.
"Look, I chose to come myself." All the attention shifted to her. She glared up at them as fiercely as Wheeljack had. "And if they hadn't taken me along, I would have stowed away. And I was the one who killed Hardshell! So if I hadn't gone then they would BOTH be dead, Twin Twist too!"
Her voice choked on a hard sob, and she turned her face away, shaking with stifled tears. Wheeljack felt his spark seize in pain. Primus, she had just KILLED a mech! A sickening feeling grew in Wheeljack's chassis. He could still remember his first kill, a mech he hadn't even known, twitching and choking beneath him as Wheeljack struggled to get his blade deep enough into his chassis to offline him.
Miko shouldn't have to deal with something like that. She was still just a kid; they had crossed a line today.
"Take me home, Arcee," Miko finally hiccupped, wiping her eyes. Arcee spared a glance at Wheeljack before she transformed down. Wheeljack watched them both fade from sight, knowing he and Miko had some things to talk about.
He gave a vague jerk towards the ground bridge. "I need a bridge back to the Jackhammer. I won't get that far on foot. I can take care of myself. Besides, the Jackhammer still needs work."
Ratchet opened the ground bridge up, and wordless, they let him limp from the silo. Wheeljack tried to ignore the sounds of Topspin's crying vainly until he was back in the cool air of the forest, the half-rebuilt Jackhammer meeting him.
He stumbled his way into his berth room, taking his medical kit and popping it open on his berth. He took off his dented-in chest, hissing at the pain and relief both when the metal wasn't grinding into his protoform and inflaming his spark.
Wheeljack set to work on himself, repairing his arm first, welding closed the scorched patch and sealing the leak shut. He was so exhausted at this point his servos didn't even shake—every movement seemed sluggish and taxing. Worse was the silence. His every movement seemed overly loud inside the still air of the Jackhammer, and it caused his spark to start every time he heard the sounds carry.
He pushed away his unease. His self-repair systems had worked themselves thin, and now he was feeling the effects. Compound his fatigue with the stress of worrying over Topspin and Twin Twist, he was sure he was going to be jumping at every turn. He just needed some recharge once he got his leaks stopped. That's all.
Steadfastly working, Wheeljack ignored his panicky spark and instead moved on to take all the armor off his right leg, prodding and touching, pulling wires here and there as he determined which ones were afflicting the malfunction in his ped. He found the problem, in his knee, and his foot twitched as he pulled the cinched wires apart from their tangle, double-checked cable integrity, and reset the calibrations. With a wince, he set his ped into all the standard motions, making sure he had full function before he mopped up the energon leaking down his chassis.
The aches and pains in his body made themselves known as he moved, putting away his medical kit and sinking down with a quiet groan on his berth. Damn, he hurt. He stretched, feeling ligaments pop and strain deliciously before he relaxed back down on the berth for his recharge, but . . . he couldn't power down just yet . . .
Wheeljack shifted uncomfortably, feeling the shadows pressing in around him. Hardshell's deep growl echoed in his processor, and he clenched his fists. That close. Again, that CLOSE he had come to death. He somehow managed to love to tempt fate, and it was getting riskier and riskier the more the days went. It was disturbing. Pit, he had even hurt Arcee again—scared her, because she was scared to lose another partner, and he promised he wasn't going to do that to her.
An unsteady vent filtered slowly from his fans. And Miko. She killed a mech. She killed him—Pit, she KILLED him! That made Wheeljack the sickest, to know he had inadvertently pushed her that far, pushed her to the point that she had had to step in and save them and mutilate her own innocence to save him from his own mistakes.
His dim optics flickered in the darkness. His fists tightened until he was sure his fingers would dig holes into his palms. It had been a long time since he had been afraid. It had been so long, he had almost forgotten what it felt like, to have that fear slowly slither in like a snake, curling and suffocating. The weight on his shoulders seemed to grow heavier, crushing, and he moved uncomfortably onto his stomach, little winglets perking stiffly.
That overwhelming trepidation slowly overtook him as he lied on his berth fighting it. His rapidly percolating processor tried to find the source of the fear, but it didn't quite stem from the fear of losing Twin Twist—Ratchet had given him a sketchy bill of health. His survival was accounted for, just not what challenges he could face because of how the Tox-En had been detrimental to his neural conduit.
Was that it? Was it that he was just afraid of how Twin Twist would be affected? Deal with a close brother-in-arms crippled? Would he ever transform again? But no, it wasn't even that. He knew Twin Twist could deal with whatever was thrown his way. He was tough, and he had always taken things in stride. A thin vent shook his body. Hardshell? He had nothing to fear from someone who was dead. He regretted that Miko had to bear the burden of killing him, but there was nothing to be afraid of . . . nothing to be afraid of—
The blast of the ground bridge caused Wheeljack to jerk to his peds with a cannon raised to his doorway. After a moment, he heard the bridge outside close and Arcee to call out, "Wheeljack?"
After a moment of standing so stiffly he thought his spark would rupture it was beating so rapidly, Wheeljack lowered his weapons. He mildly cursed himself. Primus was he jumpy. He took a steady in cycle to still his wired nerves before he cleared his throat and called, "Arcee?"
He heard her come in, and she stepped into the doorway of his berth room. She stood, holding an elbow, looking uncomfortable and halfway between angry and worried. Wheeljack's throat bobbed. He knew what was the matter. After a moment more of silence, Wheeljack couldn't take it anymore—just as he opened his mouth to tell her he was sorry, she said,
"Why'd you have to do it?"
His optics popped. There was no sadness in that voice. Just frustration. She was still angry that he had gone. He stiffened, saying, "Did you honestly think I was going to let Hardshell get away with a cheap shot to the back?" He scowled, turning his face away. "That was low, Arcee, and you know it."
"Isn't revenge even lower?"
Wheeljack winced and hissed. He stepped away from her, turning his back. "Look, you don't understand us."
"I do," she said quietly. She shifted and shook her head. "But . . . I understand now that it's not going to help things."
Wheeljack gave a bitter laugh, planting his hands on his hips. "Yeah?"
She pressed her lips together. "Yes. For one, you won't be heedlessly putting yourself in danger. But—" and her voice faltered and stopped. She looked away from him, softening. "Look. I had my rows with Airachnid. But . . . Optimus was right. It . . . wasn't going to help anything. Tailgate would still be dead, I would still have nightmares of her, nothing would change. And nothing did. But, I am glad I didn't kill her."
Wheeljack gave the bark of a disbelieving laugh, and he turned and pinned her with a sarcastic look. "That so? Mind explaining that one to me?"
Arcee frowned at his cruel tone. His optics jumped unnaturally in the dim lights of the Jackhammer. "Why? First, because it always backfires." She arched a brow, and Wheeljack just scowled, turning away. She stopped and softened again. "Besides. It—It was a foolproof way to let her know that she got to me. That was her entire means for harassing me so much—it was because she KNEW she got to me, and she wanted to exploit that weakness to the fullest. She wanted to know she could break me down, make me break my own Autobot morals." Arcee lifted her chin, jutting it up. "And I wouldn't let her. I grew stronger in myself."
Wheeljack set his jaw, her words hitting a little too close to home. Her luminous optics blinked in the quiet. "All revenge does is beget more revenge. You cause another loss; you commit another crime; you just become a reflection of your enemy, and . . . probably worse."
Wheeljack turned away, scowling to himself. He clenched his fists. "What do you know?" he muttered. "You never actually pulled through with it. I have. I've taken my revenge plenty of times before. Hardshell including."
"And has it made you feel better?"
He hinged up like he had been attacked. He whipped around, right in her face, snapping, "And what do you know? You don't understand anything!"
Arcee blinked, and she just gave a soft sigh, shaking her head. "Wheeljack . . . Has it ever occurred to you to just let it go? Do you HAVE to get revenge on Dreadwing?"
The anger warped his face further. "You kidding me? You've got to be fragging with me!" He threw an angry arm out. "You've seen what that Pit-spawn's done to me! He killed Seaspray! He murdered Bulkhead! He nearly killed me, and he hurt Miko! Do you think I could HONESTLY let that go?"
Arcee pressed her lips together. Then, after a moment, she reached out, touching his chassis tenderly. Her worried optics looked up into his. "Wheeljack . . . This is warrior against warrior. War. This . . . This isn't Crystal City and the slaughter of innocent scientists."
Wheeljack froze. That anger spread like a plague through his chassis with the fear, and he gritted his teeth. His optics glinted as he shoved her away.
Arcee blinked wide, shocked. She started to open her mouth to respond, but he bellowed, "GET OUT! GET OUT, DAMN YOU! GET OUT!"
When he took a step towards her, she bolted from the Jackhammer. A second later, he heard the ground bridge open and close again, taking her with it.
With a roar of anger and fear, Wheeljack slammed the door to his berth room shut so hard the door rattled on its hinges. His hands scrabbled at himself, gripping his helm, throwing the rest of his armor off in a frenzy, and he overturned the berth with a loud crash. Shaking, he groaned, clutching his helm and bending over his agonizing spark and sinking to his knees; he hands covered his face, pressing. He rocked, the full source of his fear coming around full face.
He had caused Bulkhead's death. His anger. His rash actions. His lust for revenge. He had taken them out, gotten them so thick into trouble that nothing could save them. He had killed Bulkhead trying to satisfy the dark desires of his own sadistic spark. Miko's pain and that blood were laid on his hands, and no one else's.
He rocked, so guilty he couldn't breathe around his tears.