Joining a new team was generally not very difficult. As long as Altær would wander far enough that the leaders who had heard of him before had only heard the good things, very little persuasion was needed.
Unfortunately, actually staying part of the respective team was where all the trouble and difficulty lay. Finding acceptance and appreciation was hard for every machine. Even harder than for most, it was for SPGs. And in particular for poorly behaved SPGs like Altær, it was extraordinarily difficult.
It was something he had learned to cope with pretty well by now. In his time, he had seen plenty of tomfoolery, and at some point he had started considering most if not all adverse events affecting him the direct or indirect result of such. An example - and in Altær's mind, watertight proof - of this conviction would be idiotic team leaders constantly failing to recognize the potential and opportunity they were removing from their future by kicking out the most competent SPG in the known world. And it always was over completely trivial concerns, as well.
What was he doing to the team but a favor if he ended up taking out an ally who didn't even possess the wit to stay out of an artillery shell's trajectory? How would such a dull tool ever be anything but a burden, anyway?
Ah, but it was a matter of opinions. Not everyone could have the right ones. Trying to change that would without doubt be an endeavour even more impossible than travelling to the moon. It also wasn't the problem at hand... for once. Insults, accusations, rejection,... well, those were things that the leFH was used to. These wouldn't faze him.
There were, however, other things. Things that, by virtue of simply being too absurd, would make horrible campfire stories. Things that had rustled Altær's leaves severely. Things that had happened earlier that very day.
* * *
The mechanic was done with his work and gathered up his tools in preparation for his imminent departure. His optics rested on the light tank he had been repairing for a bit longer, but as this was only requited with a glare by the AMX ELC, he gave a weary sigh and turned to leave.
Further in the back of the marquee, Altær was only paying partial attention to these proceedings. While repairs had been necessary for him as well, they hadn't been nearly extensive enough to require the mechanic's help or even being fixed right away. No, the physical damage wasn't that bad.
His main focus currently was stuffing the few things he owned into a bag. He, too, had a very immediate intention of leaving this place.
Voices outside the tent made him look up briefly. At the entrance, he caught a glimpse of the Excelsior who was leading this team and currently handing over payment to the departing mechanic. Then, the Excelsior's gaze met Altær's. The leFH frowned and turned his attention back to his belongings, but could sense the other tank approaching. He didn't look up when the Excelsior stopped next to him, and neither when he cleared his vents.
But Altær was listening, whether he wanted to or not.
"Look, I know that this battle went... not the way it should have gone. In the name of my whole team, I'm sorry for that," the Excelsior rumbled in a reluctant tone. "I sincerely hope you didn't get the impression that it was representative of our normal performance."
Altær didn't make any attempts to mask his displeasure, but he also didn't care enough to have this discussion.
"It could have gone better, truly," he said while rolling his optics.
"It could have gone worse," the Excelsior replied. He added an awkward chuckle, probably in hopes of emphasizing that he was joking. Altær joined in for a moment, but his completely dry laugh was a clear indicator of how little it amused him.
"I wish you and your team the best of luck with your future battles," he concluded soberly and tied his bag shut. Fastening it to the back of his hull, Altær kicked his engine into gear and started trundling towards the marquee's exit. Unfortunately, the Excelsior didn't seem willing to accept this unambiguous notice of resignation. He kept up with the leFH easily.
"Wait! Reconsider your decision," the heavy insisted.
Altær scowled at him, but didn't even reply.
The Excelsior shook his turret and kept trying to change his mind.
"Is there nothing we could offer you that would help you reconcile yourself w-"
"Oh please, cut it out with that heavy sweet talk. You couldn't pay me to stay."
That made the Excelsior do a double take. He slowed down a little, falling behind just as they reached the entrance of the tent. But before Altær was through the door, the team leader apparently felt the need to make this conversation a lot more unpleasant than it already had been.
"Well, you're very choosing for a beggar. Aren't you?" the Excelsior scoffed.
Altær stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around slightly, catching a glimpse of the other tank's frown and returning it.
A few moments passed in silence. To an onlooker, it might have been the signs of a silent conversation going on between the two tanks right now - perhaps an attempt to settle this matter in a way that wouldn't allow the whole camp to listen in. It would be the most polite thing to do. It would spare the heavy tank the embarrassment of having his authority challenged. But Altær wasn't exactly known for valuing customs and traditions higher than his own ideas of social rules. And that meant he wasn't going to grant the leader the kind of quiet submission that was expected of him in this situation.
"And for a circus director, you are very averse to admitting your employees are clowns," Altær hissed.
He could hear the other tank exhale sharply - in the sudden silence that had mysteriously befallen the whole tent and camp, it was hard to miss that noise.
"...What are you saying?" the Excelsior eventually asked. His voice was clearly restrained, but if he was trying to give the leFH the benefit of the doubt by asking for clarification, he had missed the broad hint.
Altær turned around fully and stared the heavy tank down.
"I am saying exactly what you think I'm saying," he growled firmly. "I was made to believe that I was joining a team, not a freakshow. But I guess I should count myself lucky that it only took a single battle for the veneer to crumble completely."
"We won, though!" the Excelsior shouted.
"Too bad I wasn't able to witness it!" Altær retorted in the same volume.
"Is it my fault you were knocked out?!"
"How is it not your fault?" Altær snapped. He angrily gestured at a duct-taped hole on the side of his hull. "Are you really struggling to understand how your shell fired by your cannon could lead to you being blamed-"
"Shut up! I was literally trying to save you!"
At this point, both tanks were bristling with rage. It had already drawn in the rest of the team, which were by now gathering outside the marquee and spectating with morbid curiosity.
"And you seriously see nothing wrong with- with-" Altær barked, stumbling over his words for a moment as he noticed that they were attracting a whole audience. "-having to save me from your own tanks??"
Somewhere from inside the tent, another angry voice piped up.
"I already apologized for bumping into you?? What else do you want to hear?!" the ELC whined.
"Nothing!" Altær said in the most diplomatic tone he could muster. "I don't want to hear anything! I'm just trying to leave a team that seems to consider their lights going postal on not only their artillery but also each other... a little- uh- bump in the road? Mishap?? Shenanigans...? I don't even know what to tell you if you aren't thinking of quitting as well!"
"It was a loon, you giant imbecile!" the light tank yelled from the back.
"And wasn't he in good company here!" Altær yelled back and immediately regretted this as the assembled team had just been waiting for that kind of permission to send multiple shells his way...
...well, no. Of course he didn't say that. As much as he'd have loved to. Even Altær knew better than to call out an entire team worth of trigger-happy blockheads as what they were. At least when he was currently physically surrounded by them.
An SPG always has to pick his battles wisely.
Looking around quietly for a moment, Altær finally sighed deeply and turned to the Excelsior again. Before he could say anything, the team's leader gestured at him impatiently.
"Well? What are you waiting for?" the Excelsior growled. "Scram already!"
Whatever words Altær had strung together for the heavy in his mind, he completely lost that thread in that moment. It took a moment of sitting still with an idling engine until it dawned on him that he had already achieved his goal. Somehow.
"Uhm. Yeah. Whatever. Cool beans," he said, giving the leader a little peace sign with his claws.
He turned towards the door again, and drove off. None of the team members tried to block his path, instead backing aside as they saw him off with glares. The leFH just kept driving, mumbling a non-committal "See ya, guys" as he passed the last tank.