It was sixteen and a half minutes to the drop.

"SHUT UP!" And even through the reinforced doors of The Leading Light, Rodimus's demands for attention came through loud enough.

Then again, the back section of the shuttle housed the less rowdy crowd and was naturally the quieter end. Aside from the low murmur of conversation between the stray pairs, Chromedome and Rewind were the only two with raised voices. Everyone else pretended to ignore their argument; domestic affairs were entirely none of their business – or at least nothing to get involved in fifteen minutes prior their first real battle in ages.

Perceptor was focused on adjusting the precise calibrations of his rifle. Beside him, Highbrow clutched his own weapon, staring blankly into the space vaguely surrounding Ambulon's right foot. Cyclonus had his arms folded and nothing to say as he scowled at the wall a metre above Rewind's head. This of course wasn't unusual by any stretch given how Cyclonus never had much to say to anyone. Chromedome and Rewind were still going at it, and besides Ambulon, Xaaron shifted. The yellow Autobot looked up across the small space of the hold like he might have been about to say something, shut his mouth, looked down, and shifted again instead. Xaaron's next fidget jarred his shoulder against Ambulon's and instead of apologising or breaking the rest of the room's courteous silence for the squabble, Xaaron simply leaned away against the railing on his other side.

For his part, Ambulon angled forward, bringing his fingertips together. He was thinking about Delphi again, and couldn't stop the grimace that pushed against his mouth. To be fair, Pharma did always have that effect on people whether he be a memory or not.

Ambulon's grimace deepened. They didn't even know if Pharma was dead. Well, that wasn't true: it was practically assured he was, but no one had had the time to look for a body – they'd been too busy trying to save lives. One blizzard later, when things had finally calmed down and patients were no longer in jeopardy of fading, Ambulon had considered going for a walk to confirm whether Pharma had indeed flown or fallen.

There was too much snow though, which really wasn't a surprise. Delphi's output of the stuff was astronomical and shovel duty had always been the staff's least enjoyed chore. But as Ambulon had looked across the uninterrupted white of the landscape, he wasn't sure he wanted to disturb it. Somewhere out there was Pharma, either dead, or still clinging to some sad thread of life. Ambulon knew it was possible – better than most, actually; he'd seen how some of the plague victims could so resolutely endure even after their eyes, brains, and insides had liquified, leaving not much more than a poor collection of parts that sometimes blindly reached out for him as he passed.

He'd seen what the plague could do, yes, and though he wished he hadn't some days, he'd seen what people could survive too. Pharma might have still been alive at that point, and for some reason Ambulon had never been able to lay that thought to rest.

No one had had any pity to spare for the mad surgeon, and Pharma certainly wasn't entitled to any either, not after what he'd done to the miners, the staff, and to everyone that hadn't deserved a slow, painful death as their body rusted to pieces around them. But that wasn't the problem, or at least not the one still bothering him.

He and Pharma had never been particularly close and it was no secret Pharma tenderly fostered his hatred towards Decepticons – be they turncoats or not. Now that Pharma's collaboration with the DJD had come to light, the reasons for that bias were more than obvious, but Pharma's inability to separate Ambulon from the true Decepticons wasn't... well, it didn't matter now. The only reason Pharma had kept him on at the clinic was due to his own merits. Ambulon was a decent doctor and he worked hard. For all that Pharma had tried, those were two qualities that couldn't be downplayed forever and eventually Pharma was forced to concede that Ambulon was actually good at his job.

Ambulon knew he deserved his position as ward manager at the hospital – he'd earned it – and he'd learned early on too, to stop trying to earn Pharma's approval. In the grand scheme of things, so long as he did his work well, he didn't care what his superiors thought of him. All that mattered was navigating the staff's collection of idiosyncrasies to make sure their patients got the care they needed. Even First Aid's annoying penchant to quote the violent idols he was so infatuated with was nothing compared to Pharma's obsession with control. The latter made sense too, now that Ambulon realised just how much of it had being wrested away from Pharma on that slippery slope that was dealing with the DJD.

And even though it was a minor thing, Pharma not giving him the pass codes to the ward he was supposed to be managing still rankled Ambulon a bit – probably more than it should have, but he had hoped – something which bothered him even more – that after all their years of working together, Pharma might have trusted him an iota more than that. Or at the very least given his authority a little more credit. Then again Pharma had made a bargain with the DJD – the DJD – and that spoke volumes more about his psyche than anything, really.

Still, and what was the worst, was that for all of Pharma's failings – up to and including his sudden propensity towards sadism and insane megalomania – he was still someone Ambulon couldn't help but respect. And that bothered him. First Aid had taken their boss's mental attrition in stride, but Ambulon could tell it still didn't sit well with Ratchet either. After all, Ratchet and Pharma had been friends once upon a time, and though he had no idea what had happened when the two confronted each other, everyone knew Ratchet was an excellent judge of character.

That meant that at one time Pharma surely had to have been better than the sorry, desperate shell of a murderer he ended his life as. Ambulon could say with completely honesty that Pharma had been the most brilliant doctor he'd ever had the pleasure of watching operate, and more than that, the surgeon had been dealing with the DJD. Alone. That took an unimaginable amount of steel.

But more than even that, all of this was dancing around one key point that had Ambulon at a loss about how he felt. Because when you got right down to it, when you got down to why Pharma had first made his doomed secret deal, he'd done it in an effort to protect his clinic, patients, and staff. At one point he had to have meant well. At one point Pharma must have thought he was doing the right thing. But the worst part was... the worst part was that this disease Pharma had so ingeniously manufactured targeted the transformation cog. There was no way to know whether this was one last jab at Tarn, or whether there was more to it. Ambulon wasn't sure he wanted there to be more to it, but it was hard not to read into the coincidence that both of Pharma's main medical officers were unlikely to ever transform – and therefore, down this dangerous line of reasoning – unlikely to ever endure the symptoms.

Maybe there was something else though. Maybe the two of them had been meant to be the plague's last vectors; Ambulon and First Aid being meant to transmit the disease to the DJD in the event they ever came calling. Then again, maybe not.

All of this changed nothing obviously, and Ambulon was secure in the fact that he certainly didn't regret his actions either. If anything, being a Decepticon had taught him–

"Time to weapon up, wallflowers!"

Everyone in the room jerked at the sudden intrusion of Whirl brandishing a large gun, and somehow managing to kick open a sliding door. Whirl kept talking as he made a grab for Rewind, hauling the little Autobot off towards the front of the ship with him.

Well, it looked like the peace was officially over.

Calmly standing up, Perceptor followed Cyclonus out. Xaaron, who had finally caught Highbrow's eye inclined his head, and then the two of them left together, something in Xaaron's posture relaxing.

That left only Chromedome and Ambulon, the two last flowers on this particular wall, and neither seemed inclined to break the real silence that had only now descended. Eventually the mnemosurgeon turned to him and might have been about to say something when at just that moment, Swerve strolled in through the open door.

"Aren't you guys going to 'weapon up'?" he asked, cheerfully doing a poor imitation of Whirl's voice.

Chromedome slowly got to his feet. "I was just leaving," he said, moving to the door to do exactly that without a backward glance.

Ambulon watched Swerve hop up beside him in the spot Xaaron had once occupied. "So, what about you, Legs, not gonna go for a gun? Don't tell me this has anything to do with your medical oaths because I've seen both Ratchet and First Aid packin'. Are you getting cold feet?"

"I'm waiting for the queue to die down," Ambulon replied evenly. "Everyone's going to be out there waiting in line for a weapon, and I–"

"Hey, I've got a question for you," Swerve interrupted. "Do you feel at all funny coming along? I mean, in here and now."

"Why should I?"

"Well, you know," Swerve said with a vague gesture, "we're about to head into the great unknown of battle. Enemy territory. And we're going to be fighting, well, you know, Decepticons."

Ambulon gave him a look but he was sure it went over Swerve's head. Or possibly more likely, the metallurgist-turned-barkeep was just ignoring it. "I know," Ambulon said. "Rodimus made that more than clear, and I don't think I could ignore Whirl's battle chants even if I wanted to."

"Ha ha, right! 'We kill Cons!' Gotcha. But... it doesn't bother you at all?"

"Why should it?" Ambulon asked again, wondering where this was all going. If it turned out to be the set up to a prank, now was definitely not the time.

"You're, well, you know..."

Ah. "I'm you're field medic," Ambulon finished for him.

"Yeah." Swerve tried again, "But you're also a –"

"And I'm also an Autobot, Swerve."

Swerve didn't say anything for a second but then his face split in a grin and he gave Ambulon's knee a pat. "Yeah, guess you are." Getting up, Swerve finally made his way to the door like all the rest but turned around at the threshold. "Good luck, buddy," he said, a hand on the door frame.

Ambulon nodded, offered a something approaching a smile, and watched him leave.

.

.


Notes:

What would I do for a Crit?
More like what wouldn't I do.

Comments are always good too~.