Hoist believed there was something cathartic about wiping down his instruments after the last batch of maintenance appointments had been concluded. It was as if he confirmed to himself he had truly finished his task.
Or perhaps it was the still and silence that wrapped around him, giving him a sense of calm before the next disaster.
Though not entirely silent. Hoist chuckled to himself as the other on-shift medic – Catscan – dropped yet another scanner and cursed to himself. Catscan was hilariously clumsy, except when it mattered. The only steadier surgery hands were Ratchet’s. Or perhaps Pharma’s, though Hoist had never met him. He’d heard stories, however.
“That’s only the seventh time today,” Catscan muttered as he picked up the scanner and carefully checked it over. Four optics focused on the device.
“Better luck tomorrow then,” Hoist replied with a little laugh.
Catscan tossed him an amused look and replaced the scanner on the shelf, giving it a quick swipe with his cloth. As per the usual, it hadn’t suffered any damage for his clumsiness. He remained lucky in that regard.
Hoist shook his head and returned to his own cleaning. He wiped down the last of his instruments and slotted them in his cabinet. Each medic had their own station, for lack of a better word, which they were responsible for keeping clean and stocked. Hoist prided himself on maintaining his in perfect condition. Or at least as close as he could manage.
It helped that his usual assistant also preferred an immaculate work-station. It meant they didn’t waste time tidying up after one another.
Ah. There was First Aid now.
Hoist wiped his fingers and tucked away his cleaning pad. He turned to greet the medic-in-training. “Finish scrubbing the regeneration pods already?”
The light behind First Aid’s visor shifted guiltily. “Yes,” he answered, and Hoist immediately knew it to be a lie. Or perhaps a partial untruth.
Oh, well. It was a task Hoist had given simply because it needed to be done, and there was nothing else pressing. It was also tedious and could easily be handed over to another mech, perhaps one who was unruly and required punishment.
“I will inspect them later then,” Hoist replied, and his gaze landed on the datapad clutched in First Aid’s hands. “Did you have a question?”
First Aid’s fingers flexed around the device. “I’m struggling with repairs to cooling systems in nonstandard frames. My practicals keep overheating and slipping into stasis lock.”
“Oh, my. That is not healthy.” Hoist reached for the datapad. “May I see?”
First Aid handed it over, and Hoist powered it on, skimming through the logged keystrokes of First Aid’s practical. It was the closest they had to actual training without an injured mech in front of them.
First Aid performed well up until a certain point, but there were several obvious errors he’d made. These were the cause of his repeated failures. There were simple fixes. Easy, in fact. Standard procedures he should have been taught ages ago.
“Did Ratchet not explain how spark types affect the coolant systems?” Hoist asked, unable to hide the surprise in his voice.
“If he did, I don’t remember it.”
Hoist bit back the sigh before he could give it voice. This was the reason he’d requested Ratchet, again and again, that Hoist could take First Aid. Ratchet was simply too busy to give First Aid the instruction he needed.
“Then allow me to explain it to you,” Hoist said, and gestured for First Aid to follow him. “Catscan, I will be in the lounge with Aid if you need assistance.”
His co-worker waved a dismissive hand, and fumbled the headlamp he used for surgeries in the process. “It’s almost end of shift anyway. I’ll be fine.”
Permission given, Hoist led First Aid to the staff room, for once empty of any other medics or assistants. He didn’t know where Catscan’s assistant was. Perhaps off doing inventory.
He and First Aid took a seat at the table in the corner, where they could hopefully go undisturbed. Hoist didn’t intend to offer a complicated explanation, but it would require full attention. Hoist returned First Aid’s datapad to him and withdrew his own, calling up several diagrams that would be of use.
“If the war continues – and I pray every day that we reach an end soon – non-standard frames will become more commonplace,” Hoist said and gestured to the first diagram, which was the tangled system of an outlier, one who was known to produce forcefields. “We are going to be adaptable like we have never been before.”
First Aid nodded solemnly. “Though, it’s kind of a good thing isn’t it?”
Hoist tilted his head. “How so?”
“Well.” First Aid fidgeted in his chair. “Before, we wouldn’t have bothered, right? If someone didn’t fit the manual, they had better hope they were wealthy.”
Hoist stared at his assistant, realization trickling in at the edges before it settled home in his spark. “You are absolutely right. And while I hate to give this war any credit, it has put many of us on more even ground.”
First Aid beamed with delight. It took so little to encourage him. He needed only the slightest praise. It was one reason why Hoist adored training him so much.
First Aid was eager. To learn. To practice. To be better and do better. He was flexible, where so many of the interns Hoist mentored in his private practice were not.
“Anyhow, back to the spark traits.” Hoist gestured to his own datapad again, one finger tracing the convoluted path of a coolant line. “They tend to affect energon consumption, which also effects coolant use. This mech in particular goes through coolant nearly twice as fast which means that his coolant system wears down at a quicker rate.”
First Aid nodded. “So instead of replacing damaged parts with the standard, he would require specialized equipment.”
“Exactly. Of course, in his case, his ability is partially to blame.” Hoist tapped the screen, zooming in on the placement of the force field generator. “It’s double-edged. His spark type makes it easier for him to bear the burden of the unit.”
First Aid scribbled down a note on his datapad, humming thoughtfully. “Each spark type affects coolant use differently then,” he murmured. “Will you go through them one by one?”
The door whipped open.
Both Hoist and First Aid turned to look as a head popped into view, one that did not belong to a medic. Hoist, however, recognized the owner of the head, and swallowed down an inward sigh.
“Can I help you?” Hoist asked in what he hoped was a polite tone.
Gears – resident complainer – stepped fully into the staff room as though he’d been invited. “I’m looking for Ratchet. He here?”
Obviously not. As Hoist and First Aid were the only ones present. And if Gears had come to the staff room, that meant he’d already been turned away in the main medical center.
“Gears, this is the staff room,” Hoist said as politely as he could manage. Medics had little privacy as it was. “For medical staff only.”
The minibot looked at him as though he were speaking another language. “Yeah? And? That still doesn’t answer my question.”
Hoist barely kept from huffing a ventilation. “No, Ratchet is not here. Is there something I can help you with?”
Gears glanced between Hoist and First Aid. His scowl deepened. “No,” he said finally. “Is he coming back soon?”
“He’s off-shift,” First Aid offered with a sidelong glance to Hoist. “Are you sure we can’t help?”
Gears revved his engine. “Only Ratchet can fix this,” he declared, and spun on a heel, stalking from the medbay in much the same way he had stormed into it in the first place.
The door rattled shut behind him.
Hoist sighed a ventilation. Part of him was relieved. Gears’ gripes were, most of the time, an imagined ill, and no matter how carefully he was repaired, he remained convinced it was sub-standard care.
“Rude,” First Aid muttered, and shifted back toward Hoist. “As if we’re not perfectly capable.”
“Yes, well, it is only to be expected. Ratchet carries more weight than either of us,” Hoist replied with what he hoped was a dismissive tone. He gestured toward the datapad in First Aid’s hands. “Now, regarding the differences a ferrum positive spark has–”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
Hoist shook his head. “No, this was one of the first systems I learned. It is actually rather simple once you learn a little trick. I’ll show you.”
“No, I mean….” First Aid paused and fidgeted in his chair, his shoulders hunching until he seemed almost hidden behind his tires. “When they dismiss you like that.”
Hoist cycled a ventilation. Instead of brushing off First Aid’s question, he opted to take it as a teachable moment. Because the truth as it stood was yes, it did bother him. Though he also couldn’t blame their fellow Autobots. If he was injured and needed care, he would want the very best as well.
He wouldn’t want to settle for second-rate.
“Patients deserve the very best care,” Hoist said, gentling his tone. “They have a right to choose who offers them that care.”
“Except that he’s not,” First Aid retorted, and he sounded bitter about it. Hoist wondered, in that moment, who had made him feel less than worthy, and vowed to have a word with that mech. “How does he even know what the best care is anyway? He’s not a medic.”
Hoist looked down at his datapad, the old lesson ringing a nostalgic bell for him. “If it were a situation of life or death, perhaps I’d be more assertive,” he said, fingers tightening around the device. “But still, in the end, I can’t force a patient to accept my care. It is not my right.”
First Aid huffed, but his righteous anger deflated out of him just as quickly. “I know.” He rolled his shoulders, regaining a touch of his confidence. “It’s still aggravating. You have training, too. And I’d argue that you are better than Ratchet at a lot of things.”
“There are a few,” Hoist conceded. “But not many. He is Chief Medical Officer for a reason.”
“Yeah, but that also means he’s busy,” First Aid argued, his shoulders getting that stubborn set they often did when he wasn’t willing to let something go. “He shouldn’t be bothered by a patient who could have received proper care from any one of us.” He huffed, frustration eating into his field. “I swear, it’s like they look right through us. Like we don’t matter because we don’t have a fancy title.”
Bitterness swept in on the wake of frustration. First Aid’s fingers tightened around the datapad until it creaked, his visor turning a flat shade. There was truth in his words. And a terrible honesty.
This must have been bothering him for some time.
Hoist set his own datapad aside. “Ratchet casts a very large shadow,” he admitted quietly as he rested his hands on the table, folding one over the other. “He is the face and the name of the Autobot Medical Staff, so he is the one whom the average mech thinks of. It is simply the way things are.”
“I know that.” First Aid ex-vented in a loud burst and lifted his head. “And don’t think I’m ungrateful, because I’m not. He saved my spark. Saved lots of sparks. And he is that good. I just–”
“Wish to be seen that way as well,” Hoist finished for him. He understood. It was a secret wish he nestled deep into the smallest corners of his spark.
Most of the time, he was content to be as he was. He performed admirably and adequately. He kept the Autobots as properly maintenanced as he was capable. He could soothe hurts and mend tears and seal lines and repair plating.
For all that, however, he would never be the name or the face others remembered. He would always be the quiet one, dependable and little else.
“Yeah,” First Aid admitted and his fingers eased their hold on his datapad. “It’s awful selfish of me, isn’t it?”
“No more than the rest of us,” Hoist replied honestly. “Everyone has an innate need and desire to be recognized. We all want others to recognize our worth. What matters is that we continue to provide the best care we possibly can. That can have its own reward at times.”
First Aid huffed a small laugh. “True. I do have a few patients who seek me out sometimes.” He lowered his voice and gave Hoist a conspiratorial look. “Rumor has it that I don’t yell as much for stupid injuries.”
Hoist chuckled. “Indeed. We all have our own charm.” He shifted his weight on the chair and reached for the datapad again. “Would you like to continue this lesson or is something else bothering you?”
“I want to keep going.” First Aid straightened, some of the bubbly cheer returning to his field, his enthusiasm like a soothing balm to Hoist’s exhaustion. “The sooner I can pass my practicals, the sooner I get my full-fledged badge.”
The door opened again. Hoist tensed, bracing himself for Gears’ return, but no, this time it was Ratchet who came stumbling inside.
Well speak of the Unmaker.
Ratchet’s field was a wild, tangled mess that quickly contained itself once he caught sight of Hoist and First Aid. His optics brightened a few degrees, though they still edged toward the dim of exhaustion. He’d been on an extended off-shift, an attempt to encourage more recharge, but from the looks of it, he’d not rested at all.
“Evening, Ratchet,” First Aid chirped as their chief officer made a beeline for his locker, the one closest to the door.
“Hey, Aid,” Ratchet said, fingers punching in his key code as though the panel had offended him. “Hoist.”
The locker door clattered open with a screech of unoiled hinges. Ratchet rifled through the contents like one might an energon storage bin – an unconscious inclination to look at it, but no real desire for anything inside.
“Good eve, Ratchet,” Hoist greeted. “Recharge well?”
A grunt was his answer. “If you can even call that recharge,” Ratchet retorted. He pulled something out and shoved it into his subspace before slamming the door shut. It beeped obstinately at him and locked with a clunk.
“What are you two doing?” Ratchet asked, his vocals as sour as his field, both thick with fatigue.
Hoist knew better than to prescribe rest. When Ratchet was in such a mood, all attempts to guide him toward better personal care were for naught. One was better off shoving Wheeljack into his path.
“Studying,” Hoist answered, tilting the datapad for demonstration. “Gears was looking for you.”
Ratchet snorted. His armor clamped even tighter, scuffed in some places, dull in others. “About that shoulder of his, I’m sure. I don’t know how many times I can tell him I don’t have the fragging parts before he’ll listen.”
Hoist made a noncommittal noise.
“What’s wrong with his shoulder?” First Aid asked, leaning forward.
Ratchet shot the young medic-in-training a sardonic look. “The joint’s shot. Needs to be replaced. There’s only so many times you can refurbish it.” He paused to rub the back of his neck with a sigh. “Gears complains a lot, I know. But in all fairness, that kind of constant scraping hurts. Like a mild acid burn.”
First Aid’s optical band paled.
“Indeed.” Hoist inclined his head. “Which is why we must continue to insist that our Prime either work harder to re-establish supply lines or….” He trailed off, giving First Aid a hesitant look.
“Or?” First Aid prompted.
Ratchet’s hand dropped with another heavy sigh. “Or let us salvage what we can from the dead.”
The air went still, as it always did, when the suggestion arose. One had to be practical, in the midst of a war that seemed to have no end. Yet, too many of their fellow Autobots who struggled with the daily loss of life. Friends and family, lovers even. Falling one by one. They could not fathom robbing from the dead, for lack of a better word, even if it meant assisting the living to survive.
“The time will come when there will be only one option for us,” Hoist said quietly. “When it is no longer a matter of discomfort, but survival.”
Ratchet rubbed a hand down his faceplate. “Yes, I know.” His engine rumbled, with that annoying ker-clunk at the end that Hoist continued to try and convince him to get looked at.
“Anyway, you two can go if you want. I’m on-shift now,” Ratchet said with a gesture of dismissal. “Another wave of refugees are going to hit in three orns so get whatever rest you can.”
“After this lesson,” First Aid said with a determined look Hoist’s direction, his posture firming. “I want to be ready.”
Ratchet’s expression softened around the edges, as it always did when he looked at First Aid. “I already know you will be.” His optics briefly flicked to Hoist. “Let me know if you need anything?”
“Only if you do the same,” Hoist replied.
Ratchet barked a laugh and excused himself from the staff room, taking with him the weight of his presence. It was moment’s like these where Hoist understood exactly where First Aid was coming from.
Ratchet often came across as larger than life. Untouchable and unreachable. Everything seemed effortless. Until one looked close at the cracked facade. The wobble of exhaustion. The pinch of distress. The tremble to fingers, at least until it mattered.
Yet, despite all that, Hoist still envied him. For the talent Hoist himself would never have. For the respect, the admiration, the trust.
Hoist was a medic, and only just. Ratchet was a paragon who stood above him.
“He looks tired,” First Aid said quietly, his attention drifting back to Hoist.
“He often is,” Hoist replied. “With great responsibility comes a certain amount of self-sacrifice. Yes, injured mech go to him first, and he rarely finds it in himself to turn them down. Worse are the times when he cannot. So he relies on us to do what we can.”
First Aid’s shoulders straightened with visible resolve. “We’re like unsung heroes then, huh?” His visor brightened as though an idea had come to him. “That’s not so bad, I suppose. I mean, not that I don’t want the recognition, because I do. But I guess that has its downsides, too.”
“It does. There are times I am envious of Ratchet’s skill,” Hoist admitted, but only to shake his head. “And then there are times that I am most glad I am not in his place.”
“You wouldn’t want to inherit his post?” First Aid asked, sounding surprised.
“No. I have no interest in such a thing.”
First Aid’s tires wriggled. “Oh. I guess that’s the difference between you and me then. I want to be chief someday.”
Hoist chuckled. “We all have our different aspirations. I am content to be what I am. But if you want to be chief, you need to know this.” He tapped the datapad again, an attempt to steer them back on track.
“Then Instructor Hoist, I am ready to learn.” First Aid leaned forward, his field full of enthusiasm.
It was nearly infectious. Hoist’s own field rose, cheered by First Aid’s, and he directed their attention back to the datapad at hand.
This, on its own, was reward enough for him.