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The first time it happens is right after a three-day long battle with the ‘Cons that left all the Autobots about ready to fall into recharge where they stood. No fatalities, thankfully, but twelve hours later all the medical staff were still working, the most seriously injured only just stabilised.

First Aid, having worked nearly nonstop since the battle's beginning except for a few snatched hours of recharge here and there, had sunk into the odd half-aware state of the truly exhausted, EM field pulled tight to his frame and every iota of spare processing power on the task at hand. It was almost a zen-like state, completely unaware of outside concerns, and it made him twitch in surprise when a hand dropped onto his shoulder.

Ratchet peered over him at Sunstreaker's exposed chassis, the unconscious warrior’s armour peeled back in half-melted clumps, circuitry fused together. His bared spark shone softly, weak but finally stable, and the blue light made the energon splattered across his internals glitter strangely.

“Leave him for now, First Aid.” Ratchet instructed quietly. “You’re too tired to do work you’re unfamiliar with. Go to Optimus instead – he’s mostly fine, but his arm needs rewiring and recalibrating before he has to go make nice with the humans tomorrow. Get some recharge when you’re done.”

The apprentice medic moved off without complaint – one of the first things Ratchet had drilled into his head was when it did more damage to work on a patient, and he knew he was rapidly approaching that point where he’d be more hindrance than help. Grabbing a different set of tools, he set what he’d need beside Optimus. The Prime was still awake, working one-handed hunched over a datapad even though he must need recharge as much as everyone else.

Tapping on Optimus's damaged arm lightly to get his attention, First Aid pulled out the supplies he’d need to do the rewiring and found himself soothed by the routine. Optimus gave him a faint smile and a warm brush with his EMF, although deadened as the medic’s field was for working with the wounded all he felt was a slight tingle before the Prime turned back to his datapad. First Aid made a mental note to take it away from him later; the Prime wouldn’t recharge otherwise, and he needed time to defrag before more meetings with the human government. Beginning the exacting task, he methodically stripped back armour plates and burned out circuitry, fixing components where it was possible and replacing them where it wasn’t.

They sat working in silence, the metallic sounds of the medical staff still working on repairs and the ventilations of the offline mechs who were recovering from their injuries the only background noise in the darkened medbay. An hour passed, then two, before First Aid straightened up and set his tools aside.

“You’re done.” First Aid told him curtly, pinging Ratchet. “Go recharge.”

“My thanks.” Optimus rumbled quietly, mindful of the recharging patients. Behind First Aid, Ratchet rounded the corner, pinging back acknowledgement and instructions. “I will rest soon.”

His servos twitched, started to tuck the datapad in his subspace, but First Aid snatched it before the motion could be completed, tossing it over his shoulder to Ratchet and leaving Optimus no time to try and recover it. The CMO subspaced it with a smug grin as Optimus gaped at them, pleased about one-upping the Prime.

“You can have it back in the morning.” Ratchet said mercilessly. “When you come to the medbay, first thing, so I can check that your repairs are holding.” When Optimus opened his mouth to protest, Ratchet bulldozed on, “and since you’re so eager to do something useful, you can escort my apprentice to his quarters on your way to your own.”

Opening his mouth to protest that he didn’t need the help, First Aid nearly sank to the floor in embarrassment when all that came out was a burst of static – his energy levels were so low that he’d unconsciously routed power away from non-essential systems like his vocal processing unit and EM field projection unit. Ratchet turned his smug grin on First Aid, unceremoniously shoving an energon cube into his servo. “Refuel, recharge, refuel some more.” Ratchet said sternly. “I don’t want to see you back here until your efficiency levels are back above 75%, I don’t care how long it takes.”

First Aid and Optimus stared at one another helplessly as the CMO stormed off, summarily dismissed, until Optimus chuckled gently and heaved himself off the berth gracelessly. “I do believe we’ve been given our marching orders.” He looked down at First Aid warmly. “Shall we?”

First Aid downed the cube that Ratchet had shoved at him and nodded in agreement. He really wanted the rest and ditching Optimus to walk back to his quarters alone just wasn’t worth the trouble – not once Ratchet found out, anyway.

The corridors were dim and quiet, the only bots still awake on watch. No longer focused on performing precise repairs, First Aid found himself stumbling every few steps, optics blurring from overuse. More than once, the only thing that stopped him from falling over was Optimus's warm hand on his shoulder, gently keeping him upright. He found himself glad that his quarters, like Ratchet’s, were only a couple of corridors away from the medbay in case of emergency.

It took him a second longer than usual to ping the entrance codes to the door, and he felt he’d never been so glad to see his quarters in his life. Stumbling inside, he didn’t bother to make for the berth room, dropping face-first onto the far closer sofa with a groan. With reluctance, he had to concede that Ratchet was right, as usual – he'd have probably ended up recharging in the corridor if he’d tried to walk back alone.

He was vaguely aware of Optimus hesitantly entering the room behind him and groaned in protest when the Prime’s gentle servos insistently turned him over. “You'll be uncomfortable if you recharge there.”

“Don’t care.” First Aid retorted fuzzily, the cube from earlier enough to restore normal power levels.

Optimus chuckled gently before lifting First Aid straight up off the sofa, to the protectobot's sleepy indignation. Wriggling in the Autobot leader's arms, he peered up at the larger bot and tried to express through glare alone how much he didn’t appreciate being picked up.

Optimus's lip plates twitched up. Sighing in defeat and embarrassment, First Aid let his head thunk back onto the Prime as he was carried to his berthroom. Above him the Prime laughed softly and First Aid giggled along, enjoying the simple comfort of having another EM field warm and heavy against his own.

The berth is warm, soft, and it’s an effort of will to keep himself from falling into recharge then and there. Pressing his EM field into Optimus', heavy with gratitude, First Aid earnestly says, “Thank you, Optimus.”

“You’re very welcome.” Optimus says without hesitation, but his optics are a little wide and his field nearly lurches with pleasure at the gratitude, crowding around the edges of First Aid's EMF like he’s trying to soak up as much of the emotion as possible.

First Aid invents sharply, startled, and a second later that thick field is drawing away, the Prime visibly remastering himself. Before he can think too much about what he’s doing, the medic flings his field out at Prime’s, pressing against the other in a wave of wait/reassurance/comfort.

The Prime freezes looking down at the smaller bot, field inscrutable where it’s pressed against First Aid's.

“You must be really tired too, huh.” First Aid blurts out the first thing that reaches his vocaliser, because Optimus would never have lost control of his field like that unless he was exhausted. The mortification at saying something so useless helps to blot out the sudden pings from his medical database, demanding that he do something about the problem before him. What the hell is he supposed to do about this, anyway? He’s had about ten hours recharge in the last eighty hours, total. There is no way he should have to deal with this.

Unfortunately, there’s no-one else around to do it for him so he forges on recklessly. “When’s the last time you just sat down with someone and let your EM fields mingle?”

He doesn’t receive an answer, but he does catch a flash of embarrassment/chastisement/guilt through that frustratingly difficult to read field. With Optimus, that's really answer enough, and he raises an unimpressed eyebrow.

“You do realise that we need EMF contact the same way humans need touch? With similar negative impacts to mental health if we don’t get it.”

“Not everyone needs it.” Optimus said, and it was only the fact that this was Optimus that kept First Aid from calling it sulking.

“A minority that I’m sure you’re not part of, given the way your EMF reacted the second you stopped actively controlling it.” First Aid says dryly. He can’t stop the sudden wave of exhaustion that sweeps through him from reaching his EM field, doesn’t even try; from the way Optimus's field trembles against his own, he’s not the only one who’d rather be recharging.

Impulsively, First Aid grabs Optimus’s wrist, tugging gently towards him. “Recharge here tonight.” He offers, EM field projecting warmth/safety/companionship.

Optimus visibly does a double take, and First Aid winces as he realises how that could be taken, suddenly hyperaware of their respective positions. Optimus is seated on the edge of the berth, body turned towards it’s occupant; First Aid is spread out, limbs askew, lying strutless in the centre of the berth. It’s the perfect position for a larger lover to lie over him, press him into the heated mesh of the berth with frame and field, and First Aid hurriedly buries that line of thought before it could cause more than embarrassment to seep into his EMF.

“To recharge.” He adds quickly. “Contact with someone's EMF, even in recharge, should help you, and you’re just as tired as I am; you might as well save yourself the walk back to your quarters.”

Optimus stays immobile for another long moment before relenting, and First Aid shuffles away to give him room as he stretched out and lay down. His EMF doesn’t recoil from First Aid, but it doesn’t relax either.

First Aid doesn’t push. He wriggles around, gets into a comfortable position, and lets his EM field rest against Optimus’s as his shutdown protocols initiate and he finally drifts into recharge.

When he wakes, Optimus has definitely relaxed. His EM field is wrapped around First Aid, a cocoon of warm, fuzzy feelings pressed right through First Aid’s own field - the two intermingling completely - and up against his armour. Much the same way Optimus himself is.

Blearily trying to move, if only to figure out a way to wriggle free and grab a cube of energon, First Aid discovers that there’s not much give at all. Optimus’s arms are wrapped around him, holding him tight to the Prime’s chest. His helm is tucked under Optimus's chin, and the way that Optimus is leaning into him, long, long legs pressed against First Aid’s and body slanted over him so that the Prime is resting as much on him as on the berth, is enough to convince the apprentice medic that he’s not going anywhere without waking Optimus.

Humming quietly to himself, First Aid turns towards Optimus as much as he can and snuggles closer. It’s been a while since he’s been able to do this with his gestalt, as much due to his duties in the medbay as his gestalt's tendency to interface rather than simply cuddle, and he misses the closeness of relaxing enough with another bot to mix EMFs like this. He'd like nothing better than to stay here all day.

His chronometer indicates that it's nearly time for the day shift to start, though, and he knows that Optimus needs to visit the medbay before meeting with government humans. Ratchet probably hasn’t recharged since First Aid left the medbay, either, so he’ll need to kick the CMO out as soon as he’s finished fussing over Optimus. That will leave the usual post-battle clean-up to First Aid and probably Hoist; the wounded should all be stable, but First Aid will need to double-check their repairs and then start writing the reports on who is damaged and how badly for Ratchet to read and sign off on once he’s rested. And then he’ll need to do inventory to see how many parts they used and what they’ll have to figure out a way to replace later ...

A warm chuckle jolts him out of his increasingly worried musing, and he tilts his head back until he can meet Optimus’s optics.

“You're worrying already.” The Prime rumbled, gazing down at him kindly.

“There’s a lot to worry about.” First Aid defended weakly. He’d been too tired last night to wonder what Optimus's reaction to waking up in a berth with one of his medical staff would be, but if he’d thought about it he wouldn’t have guessed that the Prime would continue hugging him, both with his arms and his field, dear primus. His field made First Aid want to curl up and never move again, perfectly content. “For starters, I have to kick Ratchet out of the medbay so he’ll actually rest.”

“That is indeed a task worthy of worry.” Optimus teased lightly. “Nevertheless, you shall not have to face the beast alone for I have an appointment with the mighty dragon first, if I wish to reclaim my lost treasure.”

“I’m not sure your treasure is worth facing the dragon to reclaim.” First Aid teased back.

“Aye, you are right.” Optimus said mournfully, optics sparkling with mischief. “But should I fail to confront the dragon, I fear he shall leave his lair in search of me, threatening all who cross his path; I cannot bear to endanger my people so.”

“That is indeed a noble goal, but you shall not face your fate alone.” First Aid smiled up at him, dropping the exaggerated speech. “You’re kind of a nerd, aren’t you?”

“I have been called that, from time to time.” Optimus admits. “You don’t seem to mind.”

“Who’d mind? It’s cool.” First Aid retorts. “Fuel for those who face the dragon?”

“Please.” Optimus said, EM field radiating pleasure and thanks at the offer. Feeling the arms that held him loosen, First Aid wriggles carefully free and slips from the room, heading for the tiny kitchenette. Behind him, he hears Optimus stretch, joints creaking, before following.

Unlike the berthroom, the kitchenette is far too small to fit a bot of Optimus’s size. He sits on the sofa instead, knees closer to his chest than they should be because the furniture is meant for someone smaller. It reminds First Aid of pictures they’d found on the internet of adults crammed onto furniture sized for children, and he smiles as he passes over an energon cube to Optimus, clutching another for himself.

They drink in a comfortable silence, EM fields still touching reassuringly. By the time they finish, First Aid has compiled a list of things he needs to do in the medbay. After-battle clean up is always a busy time, and he’s got a long list.

Optimus gets his attention first, though, with a deliberate ripple of his EMF against First Aid's. When First Aid looks up at him the Prime is watching him warmly. “Thank you for allowing me to stay with you, First Aid.”

“It was no problem.” First Aid replies, pleasure flushing through his field. “You-u can, uh ...” He trails off, suddenly nervous, but Optimus's undemanding curiosity shores up his determination. Sitting like this, with their EMFs so immersed in one another that it’s beyond difficult to hide what they’re feeling should make him feel exposed, open – well, it does make him feel like that, actually, but it doesn’t feel wrong, or dangerous, to leave himself so easy to read, and that’s why he continues. “You can stay again, if you need to. Or want to, I suppose. I don’t mind.”

Optimus's field wraps around First Aid, full of appreciation and gratitude and caring, an answer in its own right and worth more than simple agreement would ever be. First Aid can’t help the swelling of his own field in response, warm and light and happy, as the Autobot leader reaches over and pulls him into another hug.

“You honour me with your willingness to allow me into your home.” Optimus rumbled above him. “Thank you for offering me this, First Aid.”

They sat like that for long moments before Optimus finally pulled back, hands resting on First Aid’s waist. “I have duties to attend to.”

“Me too.” First Aid sighed, thinking of his list of chores. “Time to face the dragon?”

Optimus chuckled fondly. “Indeed.”

Kicking Ratchet out of the medbay didn’t go nearly as badly as First Aid feared. He went almost quietly, aside from a quick double take shortly followed by a vicious scowl aimed at Optimus when the two of them walked in. First Aid knew from experience that meant that Ratchet was truly exhausted, and would be back to using his biting temper long before he’d be fully recovered.

A newly awakened Jazz seemed to find the whole thing hilarious, holding in his mirth for only as long as it took Ratchet and Optimus to leave audial range.

“What is so funny anyway?” First Aid groused as he double and triple checked the TIC's health.

“‘is face.” Jazz gasped out. “Poor Ratchet, so defensive ‘f ‘is underlin’.”

“Why would Ratchet be defensive of me around Optimus? He’s the one who made Optimus walk me back to my quarters in the first place.” The apprentice medic demanded, bewildered.

For some reason, that had sent Jazz into another fit of giggles, and with a sigh First Aid gave up on forcing Jazz to make sense and kicked him out of the medbay. If Prowl hadn’t succeeded in finding logic in the saboteur in several thousand vorns of trying, there was no point in First Aid even attempting it.

There was far too much to be done to worry about Jazz's strange behaviour, anyway, and it was soon pushed from his mind. His morning was a blur of checking on patients, releasing who he could after giving them a follow-up appointment and threatening them with Ratchet’s fiery wrath if they didn’t return promptly at the given time. The medbay was a mess, and every moment not consumed by looking after patients was spent cleaning the berths, walls and floor, not to mention the tools and spare parts that had been left out or tossed aside in the fight to save lives. After that it was delegating the task of taking inventory to Hoist and Grapple, who grumbled about it endlessly, whilst First Aid got started on the frankly enormous pile of reports he had to write. Or, well, he didn’t have to, but if he left them for Ratchet then the CMO would try to do all of them. Probably in one go, and then the twins would be after his helm for letting Ratchet take on that much work.

It was a complete madhouse, and First Aid couldn’t have been more grateful when Ratchet arrived, took one look at his frazzled apprentice and ordered First Aid out for the day. He barely stopped long enough to tell Ratchet that he’d done most of the reports on the way out, although he couldn’t escape fast enough to avoid the datapad that his mentor shoved at him – no doubt it was full of information he was expected to review, memorise and possibly answer a quiz on.

Tucking away the datapad for later reference, First Aid made his way to the rec room to make use of his free time. It was busy, but his gestalt had managed to snag a free table and First Aid joined them cheerfully, grabbing his own cube on the way.

“You’ve certainly been busy.” Blades cackled as First Aid sat down. “Didn’t know you had it in you!”

First Aid, who'd been about to take a sip from his cube, lowered it without drinking. Eyeing his gestalt-mate warily, he enquired, “Do I want to know what you think I’ve done now?”

Waving his hands about in what could loosely be termed a conciliatory gesture, if this wasn’t Blades, the other protectobot said, “Hey, we don’t have a problem with it, but if you want to play it like that, fine.”

Hot Spot, Streetwise and Groove all murmured their assent, and First Aid glanced around at them. On the one hand, he had no idea what they were going on about and should probably get them to fill him in. On the other, if they realised that he didn’t know what they were talking about, they’d be just as likely to keep it a secret for a joke as explain.

“You shouldn’t worry about it too much, Aid. We’ve got your back no matter what, anyway.” Hot Spot says earnestly.

“Just let us know if you need anything.” Streetwise says with an intensity that First Aid doesn’t know what to make of, clapping a hand on First Aid’s shoulder. “Anything at all.”

... Besides, most gossip doesn’t last longer than a couple of days in the Ark. This would all blow over soon.

“Thanks, guys.” First Aid says weakly, silently wondering what rumour could possibly cause this reaction. “I really appreciate it.” And he does, even if he doesn’t know why they feel the need to make their support clear.

“No problem!” Hot Spot said brightly. “Listen, we were going to go down to the shooting range and practice for a bit, wanna go with?”

After a moment of thought First Aid shook his helm, only slightly regretful. “Ratchet gave me a datapad to study. I really should get a start on that.”

“No problem.” Hot Spot said.

“We’ve got a while before we were going to head out, we'll sit with you until you’re done.” Groove added, gesturing at First Aid’s forgotten cube.

First Aid smiled back at them. “Yeah, that'd be nice, thanks.”

Flopping down onto the sofa in his living quarters with a smile on his face, First Aid sighed happily. The opportunity to spend time with his gestalt in a completely non-threatening situation didn’t come along as often as he liked, and he cherished it when it occurred. The closest thing was usually their trips to help the humans with whatever mundane trouble they got into nearby, but even then, they had to maintain a level of caution – some of those situations could prove life threatening to humans if the Protectobots weren’t careful.

Settling in to study the datapad that Ratchet had thrust at him, First Aid’s vents stuttered and he turned the offensive thing upside down almost as soon as the first page had loaded.

… Why, in the name of Primus, did Ratchet give him this to study?

Picking the thing up gingerly, First Aid scrolled through it, confirming that it was what he thought it was.

A compendium of interfacing-related injuries and ways to treat them?

His entire frame hot with embarrassment, First Aid stared at the datapad like it was about to bite him. On the one hand, he really didn’t want to read it. On the other, it would be just like Ratchet to quiz him on it – and if he failed the quiz, he’d probably be subjected to something even worse. Like Ratchet teaching him in person, possibly on whatever poor spark came to the medbay with these particular injuries next.

That was a humiliation First Aid didn’t intend to subject himself to. No, it was time to put into practice the first lesson he’d ever learned with Ratchet; being Ratchet’s apprentice was infinitely more bearable if he did what the CMO wanted the first time round.

… He still didn’t want to read that datapad though.

Steeling himself, First Aid picked up the datapad and set himself to the task of memorising everything on it.

It was harder than he thought to remember everything he read. For one thing, it didn’t just cover the injuries, it also described what probably caused it. First Aid now knew more about different interfacing positions and practices than he ever wanted to. For another, for each injury there was advice listed on how to avoid that in future, things the interfacing bots could do to make it more pleasurable. It wasn’t like First Aid didn’t know that Ratchet believed in giving people the tools to avoid getting hurt, especially when the injuries were small and easily avoidable, but really, this basically just amounted to giving interfacing advice to patients!

All of this meant that by the time he’d read all of it and was confident that the important bits were stuck in his memory, several hours had passed and First Aid was burning up with embarrassment. Gratefully turning the datapad off and flinging it to the side, First Aid stepped into his private washrack.

It wasn’t very big, more like a small cubicle than anything, and it only just gave him enough space to turn around in, much less wash himself, but then he only had his own washrack because the medbay didn’t have its own set, and his shift often left him covered in energon from injured soldiers. Someone, at some point, had decided that making all the medical personnel leave the medbay after their shift, go all the way to the other end of the ship where the private washracks were and then walk all the way back to their quarters near the medbay was stupid, and First Aid was eternally thankful.

Letting cool water run down his plating and soothe his overstressed systems, First Aid rested his helm against the wall. He could see why Ratchet had included all the extra information about ‘facing in the datapad – less work in the long run from idiots who hurt themselves, even if as Ratchet so eloquently put it, there would always be another idiot who wanted to blow himself up, but one thing was bothering him.

Why exactly did Ratchet feel the need to add, in his own handwritten scrawl, notes on how best to make sure no injuries occurred to the small bot in a pair with a not insignificant but not too extreme size difference, complete with truly horrific diagrams of preferable positions for safest penetration and a list of activities that would help stretch the smaller bot beforehand?

Groaning, First Aid dunked his helm back beneath the spray, praying fiercely that Ratchet would forego the quiz for this subject. One thing was certain; he was never, ever going to ask what his mentor’s reasoning for this was.

Smokescreen resisted the urge to cackle as the small gathering around him grew tighter. “So, gentlemech, what do we think?” He asked genially.

“No way.” Sideswipe disagreed immediately. “I’m surprised as the rest of you that Prime took someone to the berth, but he won’t continue it. It’d be putting poor First Aid in danger from Decepticons and he’s way too full of self-sacrificing slag for that.”

“First Aid’s medical personnel, there’s no-one safer for him to frag except perhaps the science mechs.” Inferno pointed out.

“And we work with Wheeljack.” Perceptor added dryly, to a round of laughter.

“They’re probably together.” Hot Spot decided impulsively, throwing himself into a chair in the ring they formed, gestalt-mates looming behind. “Aid’s definitely not the kind to go sleeping around.”

There was silence for a moment as they contemplated that. The whole Ark knew that First Aid kept out of his gestalt’s berth as much as their bond allowed, after some disagreement that had led to First Aid spending a week recharging in Ratchet’s quarters and unleashed the CMO on four very shamefaced gestalt-mates, shortly following which First Aid had received his own quarters near the medbay. Even now, the details were kept between those six, but rumours had run rampant for a while until First Aid had started talking to them again.

“I don’ think ‘e’s ever ‘faced wit’ anyone beside you, ‘as ‘e.” Jazz said thoughtfully. “An’ now Optimus.”

“Nope.” Hot Spot confirmed.

“Did you feel it when he was with Optimus?” Perceptor asked curiously, never one to miss out on science.

Streetwise shook his head. “Nah, but then First Aid usually keeps his end of the bonds locked down pretty tight, ‘specially when he’s on duty. Patient confidentiality and all that. We can block each other out, you know.”

“So, you can’ feel ‘t when ‘e gets charged up.” Jazz said wonderingly, before grinning. “Shame tha’. Be useful.”

“We might not feel it when he gets charged up, but he can feel it when we do.” Groove pointed out. “Even through his shields, if it’s all of us, and there’s enough charge.”

“So, if First Aid was on a shift in the medbay and you four got happy…” Sideswipe said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“No way!” Hot Spot said immediately. “It’d take Ratchet all of three kliks to figure it out and then he’d come to kill us, mid-interface or not. So not worth it.”

“It might be if First Aid was with Optimus.” Ironhide rumbled.

Sideswipe gasped exaggeratedly, leaning away from the old warrior. “Ironhide, I never would have figured you for it.”

“I’m for the boss relaxing, which he has stubbornly refused to do for more vorns than I care to count. If the little medic is the one he can bring himself to frag, then he can have the little medic.”

“I think Aid should have a say in that.” Streetwise added. “That being said, what he has to say would probably be ‘yes’.”

"Or 'yes, yes more'." Sideswipe added with a wink.

“Yeah, but fragging – even regular fragging – does not a relationship make.” Inferno pointed out. “I’m all for the boss being happy at the end of the day, First Aid too, but there’s just no evidence that they’ve been meeting regularly, or done anything other than fragged, once, after a long battle.”

As one, optics turned to Red Alert who shifted uncomfortably under the regard. “I am not going through joor upon joor of security footage, just so you can decide if two bots are in a relationship.” He said flatly. “I have actual threats to be watching for.” Optics rolled and turned away as Smokescreen clapped his hands for attention.

“Alright then, who’s going to bet first? In a relationship, regular frag buddies or one-night stand?”