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Fragile

Chapter Text

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the color of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay

- Sting: Fragile -

 

This was a bad idea. He’d known it from the moment Ironhide had tugged him inside, the grin on the weapon specialist’s face reflected in the grimy windows.

A look across the bar showed him that the warrior was enjoying himself, bantering playfully with the smiling, blue bartender. Ratchet snorted, downing the last of his cube of high-grade. Well, at least one of them was having fun.

He moved, intending to get up and get himself another cube, when the light in front of him was blocked by two approaching figures. They were exquisite - all soft curves and smooth angles, delicate colors polished to perfection, slim shapes just meant to put one’s arms around, and they stopped in front of him.

Typical. He’d attracted the attention of a pair of pleasurebots. Not normally something he’d object to, but today… Nothing was quite right today.

 “Hello,” the cloudy grey one purred, pulling up a chair and sitting down in front of him. “You look like you could use a break from the world.”

“I’m Lustre,” the other one added, kneeling down on the floor in front of the other. His frame was predominantly dark green, with silver thighs, hands and helm, blue optics twinkling. “This is my brother, Sheen.” He tilted his head, giving Ratchet a smile that was at once both cheeky and shy. “You’re a medic.”

 “I am,” Ratchet confirmed. He had no intentions of going anywhere with these two tonight, but talking to someone might be pleasant. At least for a while. And then he would send them on their way to find another patron. Wouldn’t be fair to cheat them out of their income just because he wasn’t interested. “And you two are twins.”

Lustre giggled, leaning back against his brother’s knee. “Yes, we are. How could you tell? Did you scan us just now?”

Ratchet shook his head, smiling back. Primus, these two seemed so young. Born and bred in wartime. “No. I have some experience with twins. I can see the signs.”

The dusky green mech grinned, a slow, languid expression with specific intent behind it. “Really? So you know how good we can make it for you?” His cloudy grey brother leaned back, intentionally giving Ratchet the best possible view of his frame.

Ratchet snorted. “Not that kind of twin experience. The kind that knows how to put them back together when they slag themselves up almost beyond repair.”

Sheen stood up, walked smoothly over to lean against Ratchet’s side. “You’re an Autobot,” he said softly, dark fingers touching the emblem on Ratchet’s chest, and Ratchet nodded. No point in denying it, really. Iacon was still safe enough for that, at least.

This close, Ratchet could tell that the grey twin’s highlights, which he had thought were black, weren’t as dark as that – they were the same green color as Lustre’s abdominal plating and legs. The brothers matched better than he’d noticed at first.

 “No wonder you need a break,” Lustre said, leaning forward to place both hands on Ratchet’s knee. “You must be overworked, with all that fighting lately.” His grey helm, crowned with silver ridges, tipped forward slightly until his chin was resting on his hands, and soft blue optics gazed up into Ratchet’s own. “Want us to take care of you? We can make you feel all better.”

“You can’t fix this, mechling,” Ratchet replied – as gently as he could, but he still sounded gruff to his own audials.

Sheen made a sympathetic sound, leaning in to caress Ratchet’s neck. “Want to talk about it?”

“No,” Ratchet replied, and this time he made no effort to soften his tone. “I don’t. Besides, you’re far too young for me.” He scoffs at himself. “Or I’m too old for this.”

“You’re not that old,” Lustre said, pulling one hand away so his cheekplate came in direct contact with Ratchet’s leg. “Though I’d bet you could show us a thing or two.”

Ratchet looked from the playful, devious look on the face of the green twin in front of him to the cloudy grey form leaning up against his side, still stroking him gently with slim fingers. “Primus. How did you two end up doing this anyway? There has to be better options for you out there?” He managed, just, to insert a smidgeon of wry humor into the questions. No point in offending them – they probably got enough of that anyway.

“Better than giving pleasure?” Sheen grinned, his fingers stroking and petting at Ratchet’s neck cabling. “Better than getting it?”

“I don’t know,” Lustre continued. “It seems like a pretty sweet deal to me. We get to meet interesting mechs like you every day.” Very discreetly, he let his mouth slide down towards Ratchet’s pale plating. “We get to have fun with mechs like you every day.”

“Pretty Autobot,” Sheen crooned, running elegant fingers down Ratchet’s chest. “Pretty medic. Come with us.”

Ratchet ex-vented heavily. “I’m sorry, mechlings. I’m not what you’re after today.” Gently disentangling dark fingers from his neck, he stood. “Tell you what, though. See that red mech at the end of the bar?” Sheen turned, looking at Ironhide. The weapons specialist was apparently downing his third cube, and his smile had grown for each one. Not that three was much, for him, not with the swill this place passed for high-grade. The mech was probably barely even feeling it. “His designation’s Ironhide,” Ratchet said, “and he’s a friend of mine. He’s had a bit of a rough time lately and could do with some cheering-up.”

“He’s strong,” Lustre said, admiration in his voice. “Look at his shoulders.”

“Thanks,” Sheen murmured, leaning in and planting a kiss on Ratchet’s white cheek. “I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thank you,” Ratchet replied, a slight quirk to his mouth plates. “Listen, if you want to get out of this at any point, come see us. We can teach you other skills.”

Lustre twisted to look up at him. “We’re good. But thanks.” He started walking towards Ironhide, then turned back. “Hey, you never told us your designation.”

“Ratchet,” the medic replied after a moment. “I’m Ratchet.”

“Bye, Ratchet,” the green mech smiled. “Nice meeting you.”

Ratchet watched as the twins walked towards his red-plated friend. Although, ‘walked’ might be too plain a word for it – undulated, maybe. Sashayed. Glided, definitely. And Ironhide watched them appreciatively as they approached.

Yeah. Good solution there, Ratchet. ‘Hide would get his gears stripped, and the twins would have a caring, careful lover for the night.

He raised his hand to wave at Ironhide, so the red mech would know he was leaving. The responding comm was not entirely unexpected.

::Callin’ it a night?::

::Yeah, ‘Hide, I’m done. I’m going back.::

::Can’t put it down, huh,:: Ironhide replied, and there was more than a trace of sympathy in there.

::You know I can’t. I’ll see you.:: Almost as an afterthought, he added ::Be good to them, ‘Hide. They’re young.::

::I’m always good,:: the red mech sent.

It was true, Ratchet knew. That’s why he’d sent them over there. ::Yeah. Yeah, you are.::

 

It was dark enough outside that the less appealing parts of the city were concealed by shadows, and you couldn’t tell the look on the faceplates of passing mechs until they were right by you. It suited Ratchet just fine. Shadows seemed to fit the day.

He contemplated transforming into his alt mode and driving home, but decided against it. Walking had its own value, and the medic alt mode always got too much attention. Besides, he needed the time to think. Ironhide would probably say that that was the last thing he needed and that he should stop wallowing and start doing, but Ironhide had other things on his processor at the moment.

Thank Primus for that.

He set off at a slow but determined pace, taking the easiest route back to base. Iacon was still pretty, still home, but it was starting to show the wear and tear that war and too many inhabitants could put on a city. It was enough to make Ratchet frown, and he blamed the Decepticons with all his spark.

He blamed them for everything these days.

It hadn’t been a bad battle really, as battles went. Barely more than a skirmish. Hear the klaxon, see the troops off, listen to the comms going between troops and command, cheer when the snipers shot the Seekers out of the sky, wait anxiously for the returning victors.

Prepare for the inevitable. Two berths, closer to each other than most of the others, close enough that the mechs on them could touch each other if they so chose. With no machinery between them, so the mechs on them could see each other at all times. Set up in the end of the medbay, so the mechs didn’t have to be disturbed in their inevitable convalescence.

Ratchet had thought he’d been ready. And he had, for treating them at least. Because in the end, the twins hadn’t been slagged any more than usual. Certainly not enough to worry him – he’d seen Sunstreaker pull through clean shots to his spark casing and Sideswipe with most of his limbs arriving on a separate gurney, already graying. This wasn’t anywhere near that bad.

But it was bad enough.

Sideswipe had needed transfusions, since the shots that had peppered his abdomen had punctured his tank and caused leaks. Both his shoulders needed careful reassembly, stripped wires and torn lines repaired, broken gears and cabling replaced, struts welded. The red twin had been wrestling with a tetrajet, it seemed, and paid the price with his rotator cuffs. But at least he was awake, joking and swearing at Ratchet with equal abandon, grinning one minute and snarling the next, and cursing the Decepticons, their carriers’ lineage, their sires’ lineage and the hole they crawled out of until Ratchet had muted his vocalizer. And even after that, the frontliner had been running his mouth silently. But he’d looked at Ratchet with trust in his optics.

Sunstreaker… Sunstreaker always managed to get himself slagged up worse than one would expect. He never held back, not in anything, and that intensity was both his best and worst trait. Like when it caused him to throw himself at a triple-changer. Or jump onto a tetrajet’s back and hanging on for dear life, tearing and pulling at wires and cables until his ride crashed to the ground and took him with it.

This time, he’d been crushed.

Ratchet didn’t know how. He didn’t ask, and no one told him. It made no difference to the work required.  His torso was okay, thankfully, but his frame from the hips down was a mess. Someone had clamped the major energon lines before he leaked out, but Ratchet would need to remove all the external plating and rebuild the golden twin’s legs from the inside. Delicate, finicky work, requiring all his concentration, and needing to be done in a series of repairs, each new layer only doable when the previous one had set.

Sunstreaker would be in for a long stint in the medbay. Sideswipe, too, since Ratchet never could manage to throw the red twin out when the golden one was still there.

Still, he was at least online. And would be functional given some time. The injuries, horrific as they were, hadn’t been what had thrown Ratchet for a loop.

No.

That had been when he removed the first layer of Sunstreaker’s thigh plating to find the weld lines and half-healed injuries from just a couple of orns ago.

And his hands had started shaking.

He didn’t know why that had hit him so hard. He knew they went to battle still injured – pit, he was the one who sent them out there half the time. With the Decepticons moving towards Iacon every day, there just wasn’t time for capable fighters to lie around waiting for injuries to heal up all the way before going back out to fight. Part of Ratchet’s job was to get them fight-worthy.

Not healed. Not in perfect condition.

Fight-worthy.

Meaning, make sure their lines didn’t break apart on their own when they were out there. That their struts and plating could withstand most of what would coming at them. That they wouldn’t leak out from old internal injuries before having the chance to get some new ones.

He knew that.

Still, seeing the weld-lines angling across the golden twin’s main femoral strut from where an energon blade nearly took his leg off in the battle that Ratchet was still cleaning the energon out of his finger joints after…

He didn’t know what to feel. So he’d panicked.

Oh, he finished the first of the delicate repairs first, once he got his hands back under control. And he made sure no one was in critical condition, and that whatever repairs that were left could wait. But after that, he went back to his room and went to pieces in the wash rack.

And that’s how Ironhide had found him. His friend had known, somehow, that Ratchet was in trouble. That he needed help. So he’d used his own override code on the medic’s quarters, and walked in to find him shaking and sobbing in the flowing cold solvent.

It had taken some time to talk him back together. And then Ironhide had decided that Ratchet needed a break away from base.

Not that it had helped that much. But at least his hands had stopped shaking.

Ratchet took a left turn, crossing the open road in front of an old building that had once held a filial of the Iacon Archives. The air felt heavy, oppressive, and he knew he had to get inside before the rains started. Pity the mech left outside on a night like tonight, when the acid rain would burn through armored plating and protoform alike. Thankfully, it wasn’t so bad yet that there were mechs having to spend their nights in the street. There may be both two and three frames to a berth, if one could be found, but still all of Iacon’s population had shelter of sorts.

That wouldn’t last. As the Decepticons pushed closer to the capital, the influx of refugees would increase and shelter would be hard to find.

Mechs would start dying in the streets.

Not that he could focus on that now. It was bad enough inside his head today, he didn’t need to add to it.

He walked up to the entrance, pinging his code to get inside. The first drops of rain hit the ground as the door closed behind him.

The hallways were empty and silent this late in the cycle. Ratchet treasured the solitude as he made his way down to medbay, enjoying the fact that in here, at least for now, he could forget about the war. Walking in silence like this, he felt as if he was somehow suspended – he’d seen the war outside, and he would see it again in the twins’ resting frames in a moment, but right here, right now, there was peace. Even if it was the peace that came from the brief absence of any other living being.

The medbay was empty, and seemed deserted. Not the case, of course – Ratchet knew the medic on call was holed up in the office in the back, keeping an alert audial out for the monitors hooked up to the two patients still there.

There were just the two of them, naturally. As usual in the skirmishes they’d seen recently, no one else had gotten slagged to such a degree that they needed to stay overnight in medbay. That would probably change when the blasted Decepticons got closer to Iacon. But for now…

For now, Ratchet pulled up a chair, sitting down between the ends of the two berths, looking from the red twin to the golden one and back until he was satisfied that they were as he had left them: deep in stasis with stable vitals.

“Nice to see you two glitches didn’t wreck my medbay while I was gone,” he says wryly, quietly, into the silence. “Not that you can get up to much right now. Neither of you are exactly mobile. Then again,” he added, thinking back, “it’s not like that ever stopped you.”

They didn’t reply, of course. Mechs in stasis never did.

Which was why he felt comfortable talking to them. They couldn’t hear him, and they wouldn’t remember.

“You’re going to be the end of me at some point,” he sighed, running a hand across his helm. “You’re not careful. You don’t take care of yourselves – well, aside from the obvious,” he snorted, eyeing Sunstreaker’s finish. Even now, when he was half smashed to smithereens and covered in stains and dents, it gleamed under the filth and dust. “You don’t take backup. You don’t hesitate. You don’t think.” One red hand moved to rest on the red twin’s berth, near his foot. “And I don’t know what we would do without you. So please don’t get slagged up bad enough that I can’t fix you. I’d rather keep you around functional, if you don’t mind.”

The only response was the beeping of the monitors, telling him that Sunstreaker was stable and out of danger, that Sideswipe’s repaired tank was healing nicely. As it should be – Ratchet had fixed it himself, after all.

The other red hand moved up to gently touch Sunstreaker’s mangled right foot. Ratchet had disabled the sensory receptors, of course, or the golden twin would have been in a lot of pain. Sunstreaker wouldn’t feel it, but the medic still kept his touch gentle, soft.

“I set up Ironhide with a pair of twin pleasurebots tonight,” Ratchet murmured. “They came to me, first – I don’t know why. Maybe they thought I had lots of credits, being a medic. They were nice, really… Polite, pleasant, knew how to behave and how not to behave. But I looked at them, and even though you look absolutely nothing alike, I was reminded of you two.” Gentle red fingers moved on crimson and gold leg plating. “Mainly because they were so young. They’re going to get caught up in this war, and they won’t know what to do about it.” He sighed, pulling his hands back. “At least you knew what to do. You had a valuable skill set, you could protect yourselves.” A small half-smile made its way onto his faceplates. “I suppose it’s up to us to protect them.” Leaning forward, he let the berths support his weight as he stood up. “Like you protect us. Like I make sure you’re okay.”

He pushed the chair away quietly, gave each twin a gentle pat. “I’ll see you two tomorrow.” Then he walked out of medbay and across the hall to his own quarters.

 

He didn’t see the slight glow of pale blue as Sideswipe’s half-open optics followed him to the door.