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Teaching Young Bots Old Tricks

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If there hadn't been the death of a comrade, a few slagged Decepticons needing proper disposal, an entire species of understandably nervous organics, and newly arrived Autobots to deal with, the problem would have occurred to Ironhide sooner. As it was, well over a year on the tiny, cluttered, noisy world had passed before the pieces suddenly clicked into place in his processor. He immediately went to see Ratchet.

The medic was busy in the converted airplane hangar that made up his medbay, taking inventory. If Ratchet had been a shorter mech, Ironhide would have loomed over him; instead, he was restricted to hovering pointedly.

"Ratchet," he said, gravely serious, "The AllSpark is gone."

Ratchet switched his optics from the pile of wires he was sorting through to Ironhide. He made a disgusted noise. "Oh good, you noticed."

Ironhide ignored the jibe with the ease of considerable practice. "Have you thought about what that means?" he demanded.

"No more chasing across the galaxy? No more resurrected homeworld? No future generations?" Ratchet shoved the coils of wires back onto their shelf with more force than was necessary. "Yeah, lets talk about that Ironhide. It's not as if I don't dwell on it enough to make my processor short-out as it is." His voice grew increasingly sardonic.

A brief flicking of guilt and sympathy passed across Ironhide's circuits. He'd seen the quiet grief among his teammates and knew that as necessary as it had been, the destruction of the AllSpark had weighed heavily on all of them. Somewhere deep in the back of his spark, there had always been the faint, illogical hope that they'd be able to get to the AllSpark before the Decepticons and bring it back to Cybertron. That there was still the possibility of going home. But that hope had at last been completely extinguished, leaving only a sad ache in its wake.

He determinedly pushed aside the melancholy. This was not the time.

"There's more than one way to make a sparkling, Ratchet. The AllSpark wasn't our only option."

Ratchet went still. After a long moment of startled silence he pulled away from the storage shelves to stare at Ironhide. "The reproductive systems," he said in amazement and scrubbed his faceplates with his hand, "I'm an idiot, why didn't I think of those?"

Ironhide politely restrained from answering that question.

Ratchet spun around and headed toward his desk. A previously neat tower of datapads collapsed as he yanked one out.

"It'll take some modifications," Ratchet said, mostly to himself as he typed away at the pad, "Especially on the younger mechs. None of them had it built into their frames by default like our generation did. Shouldn't be a problem, what with our trade alliance with the humans. Just need some... and also..."

As the distracted muttering continued, Ironhide realized that Ratchet had failed to grasp the true severity of the situation.

"It's more than just frame mods and program installs, you glorified arc welder," Ironhide rumbled, "Don't you remember what it was like having a fully activated reproductive system?"

Ratchet's retort died before escaping his vocalizer. His faceplates took on a faraway look as he accessed what were undoubtedly many, many memories. Ratchet had been a party mech in his youth and his reputation before the mandatory deactivation and banning of bot-to-bot reproduction had been legendary.

His expression shifted to one of horror. "Slag."

"And we've got a couple thousand virgins - " Ironhide used the all-too-fitting human word with extra relish, "- who think the organics' obsession with physical contact is a sign of low intelligence and will probably blow a processor the first time they get a thrill out of a little fondling. There's only a handful of us in the entire army with any experience."

"Double slag," Ratchet said with great feeling, "We're going to have to teach them."


Ironhide and Ratchet had something important to tell him. Optimus Prime could feel it in his pistons.

They were avoiding it, though. Anyone who hadn't known them for tens of thousands of years wouldn't have picked up on it. But Optimus did and had and their barely-there hesitations and preoccupation was starting to wear on his gears.

He gave them a month to come clean. At the end of the month, with nothing more relevant than a periodic status report crossing his comm, he cornered Ironhide in the warehouse they all slept in. It was currently empty except for the two of them and the newest arrival, Jolt. Jolt had shown up out of the blue yesterday, scaring the living energon out of Ironhide and the Arcee triplets while they were heading back to base after a mission. Optimus checked over the small soldier and determined that Jolt would be offline for a few more hours, before focusing his attention on Ironhide.

::Good morning, Ironhide,:: Optimus said agreeably over an encrypted comm channel when his weapon specialized came out of recharge.

Ironhide straightened up on his axle in surprise. Optimus had parked diagonally across the nose of his alt-mode, leaving him trapped between the back and side wall. He couldn't even back up to angle out around Optimus's front end without going through the wall.

::Sir?:: Ironhide answered back, cautiously.

::How are you doing?:: Optimus said, ::We haven't had a chance to really talk in a while.::

He kept the same casual, personable tone throughout the entire conversation, undaunted by his subordinate's unenthusiastic answers. Ironhide may have been several times his age, but Optimus had the vast experience of many Primes at his disposal and the patience to wait for suns to die.

Ironhide lasted half an hour.

::I'm not explaining this mess without Ratchet,:: Ironhide said.

::Traitor,:: Ratchet said when he accessed the frequency. He was off lending the base personnel a hand with the construction of the new barracks. Why the medic had volunteered for this, Optimus wasn't entirely certain, but he suspected it had to do with Ratchet's raging fury over their human companions' "grossly inadequate living quarters" during renovations.

::How major of a concern is this?:: Optimus said. He trusted them enough to know that they wouldn't have put off telling him this long if it had been a true emergency. Which probably meant it was part of a really annoying inconvenience they wanted to get out of handling. ::Is it restricted to us our will it affect our allies?::

::Just us,:: Ironhide said, ::It... it's about the future of our people, Optimus.::

::What Ironhide is being deliberately obtuse about,:: Ratchet said, ::Is that we recalled a way to create new sparklings without the AllSpark.::

Shock rocked through Optimus's systems even as Ironhide grumbled that he would have gotten to that part eventually.

"That - " he started to say out loud and belated switched back to the encrypted transmission, ::That's the best news I've heard in ages!:: Could they really have sparklings again? A quiet longing tugged at his spark. It had been ages since he'd seen a child of their kind.

::Why did you wait so long to tell me? I can't tell you how relieved I am.:: His wonder and delight gave way to concern when the two didn't respond immediately. ::What's the bad news?:: he asked gravely.

Ironhide vented a noisy huff of air through the grill of his alt-mode. It tickled across Optimus's atmospheric pressure sensors. ::It's not 'bad news', Optimus, just... slag it. The budding process is not the best option. It was banned over a million years ago for many reasons -::

::Excuses, Ironhide,:: Ratchet interjected, ::Calling them 'reasons' implies that logic factored higher than the rampant propaganda.::

::-and even 'fore that, only half the population ever used it. Not as efficient as AllSpark reproduction and the frame and software mods it requires can be rather, hrrm, distracting. Just ask Ratchet.::

::You fragger, my personal time never interfered with my duties. Unlike a certain mech who twisted a back strut plugging his team leader in a storage unit right before an Academy presentation -::

::Later you two,:: Optimus said, cutting off the scuffle before it could escalate, ::Ratchet, do you have any documentation on this process I can review?::

Ratchet obediently sent him a file. "Overview of the Budding Process, Intended Function of Standard Issue Reproductive Systems, and Basic Instruction on the Act of Interfacing"

Optimus read through it, focusing on the key points.

When a significant influx of energy is introduced to a spark, there is a 69.008% probability of it budding a secondary spark, the file stated, Provided with sufficient energy, this second spark will develop into an individual life unique from that of its originator. This was followed by calculations to determine the ideal amount of energy to begin the budding and to support both sparks until 'separation'. The next few bytes of data were about research done to explain how and what causes the budding. Optimus skimmed to the next section.

The repair nanytes that inhabit a Cybertronian body are hard-coded to respond to the presence of a spark by creating a protoform to support it. They will cannibalize the structure of the originator and begin building the new shell near the spark chamber. Once the secondary spark is strong enough to disengage from the originator, it will be absorbed into the new shell.

In the majority of cases, the nanytes will gather their raw materials only from non-vital frame sections, such as exterior armor. Providing an outside source of materials will prevent any frame absorption. However, glitches that cause vital sections to be cannibalized, or the protoform shell to be built where it will interfere with the originator's' internal systems, or to be so large as to prevent mobility, have been recorded. To protect from this, utilize a properly calibrated reproductive system.

Reproductive systems serve two purposes. First: to enable two or more individual mechs to create the charge necessary to begin the budding process. Second: to make the process and subsequent carrying of the immature protoform safe for the originator.

Forms and diagrams were included with this section, detailing the modifications needed to create a reproductive system. Among these was ports and cables added to the spark chamber to allow energy to be exchanged between two separate sparks and to transfer a new spark to its growing shell. Software mods included a safety override that would allow internal power plants to temporary exceed normal operating parameters, and recalibration of sensors to -

Optimus paused and read back over the last part a couple times.

::What's the point of re-coding sensor analysis to read physical stimulation as pleasure?:: Optimus asked in confusion.

::Friction increases the charge,:: Ratchet said, sounding both amused and resigned, ::The logic was that if we honestly enjoyed rubbing against each other for breem, we'd be more willing to do it. It's a slagging dull procedure otherwise.::

::But to this extent?:: Optimus said. He sent over the parameters suggested by the file to emphasize his point. Sure, he liked the feel of a hand on the shoulder or sitting next to a friend as much as the next mech, but this would make the sensations overwhelm his processor. How could anyone function like that?

::Believe it or not,:: Ironhide said dryly, ::You desensitize over time. Emotions play heavily, too. I spent centuries thinking my settings were too low because interfacing was less fun than shooting up a gun range. Then I fell for Chromia. Nevermind frame play, she could short out my entire system from across the room with nothing more than a click and a smile.::


::Figure of speech, boss.::

::Oh. Good,:: Optimus said faintly. He shook off his doubt and took a moment to analyze the information he'd been granted.

The immediate concern was for the emotional and mental impact on his soldiers. This reproduction method had been gone from their culture a very long time, long enough that Optimus hadn't had a frame of reference for what "plugging" might entitle or why it could result in twisted back struts. And even now, he wasn't entirely certain he got it. There was undoubtedly going to be an adjustment period as it was reintroduced, both for individuals and their society as a whole. (Be honest now Optimus, for what's left of their society.) There was a high chance several mechs would refuse to participate. Or, for that matter, would have to be prevented from participating; Optimus dearly loved every member of his army, but some of them weren't the most stable of individuals. It would be best not to subject them to something that could push them over the edge. Then there were the inefficiencies, with how much time it took and the danger, even minor, presented to the carrying mech.

Well, Optimus was willing to make the effort to surmount these issues. He would get the mods, even if no one else would. It was worth it, to have children again.

::Ratchet, how soon will you have the supplies to make these modifications and what needs to be done to aid mechs that under go the procedure?::

Ironhide spoke up before Ratchet could answer. ::Boss, you don't honestly plan to start reproducing right away, do you?::

::Actually going through the budding, no,:: Optimus said, ::But there's no reason we can't integrate and start adapting to these systems now, since it's been so peaceful. Once we have adapted...:: He let his words grow earnest, serious. ::Old friends, I don't believe we've seen the last of the Decepticons. There are too many that fight for personal reasons for the war to end all at once. Our numbers will only continue to grow smaller if we don't do something. Yes, it hurts my spark to think of children being created and raised while the war still rages, but we can't put off living forever. We should seize what we can of the future while we have the chance.::

Next to Optimus, Ironhide revved his engine in a decidedly peeved manner. ::Slag it Ratchet, I can't argue with him when he gets all noble like that.::

::It's why he's the Prime,:: Ratchet grumbled. Optimus transmitted amusement over the connection. ::As for the mods; I already have everything I need when it comes to hardware. The software will have to be copied from Ironhide and I and edited for grafting onto other systems. Either way, Ironhide and I will have to reactivate our systems first so we can help the rest of you with yours. There's a... learning curve,:: he said with such tired disgruntlement that Optimus realized that this must have been what made them put off telling him so long.

He ruthlessly stomped out the hint of apprehension that gave him.

::I'll send you a suggested course of action for after that later today,:: Ratchet finished.

::Very good,:: Optimus said. He disengaged his parking brake and rolled forward, freeing Ironhide from his corner. He chuckled to himself as Ironhide finally relaxed back onto his axle. ::Keep me updated.::


"Why do I have to go first?" Ironhide demanded from the other side of the room.

"Get on the lift, you big sparkling," Ratchet said.

Ironhide folded his arms and cycled his cannons menacingly. The two glared at each from across meters of scarred cement.

It had been four days since their discussion with Prime. Ratchet had spent the time running diagnostics, updating old software to prevent conflicts with newer modules, and replacing a few worn parts. Ironhide tolerated Ratchet poking around his systems and internals in the same stoic manner he greeted all routine maintenance. It only figured that he'd start balking at the official reactivation.

"I can activate my own programs," Ratchet explained, "But you need someone with medical clearance to do yours. Do you really want me jacking into your cortex while I'm itching for my first overload in hundreds of millennia?"

"While you're ... Pit-spawned glitch, you just want to interface me!"

Ratchet allowed himself to smirk. "I promise to respect you in the morning. Get on the lift."

Ironhide growled, grumbled, shifted his weight, and finally stalked over to the hydraulic lift Ratchet had raised out of the floor for him. A flare of nervousness disrupted his energy field as he lay down on his back.

Ratchet didn't get his tools right away. "Joking aside," he said, "We have to do a test run to check for errors. And to make sure we remember what we're doing before subjecting the younglings to our fumbling." When Ironhide didn't respond, Ratchet added, "Tell me honestly if you aren't up for this, my friend. Optimus will understand if I tell him I need to wait for Kup to arrive instead. I'm not going to ask you to do anything you're uncomfortable with."

Ironhide squirmed around a little to get comfortable, the lift being a couple feet too small for his frame. At first he wouldn't meet Ratchet's optics. Then, with a venting of heated air, he said, "Slag it to the Pit and back, I'm not going to let you get away with having all the fun. Do your worst."

Ratchet chuckled and picked up a datapad and cord. He jacked into a medical access port on Ironhide's chest with a quiet snick. Having accessed them recently, it took a matter of moments for Ratchet to pull the programs from Ironhide's back-up drives, install the patches he'd written, and start the whole set-up integrating into the rest of Ironhide's OS. The weapons specialist stared fixedly at the ceiling the entire time.

The datapad beeped to let Ratchet know the install was complete. "Rebooting," he said and typed in the required sequence.

Ironhide's optics blinked off and his internal systems cycled into silence. A second later, they purred back to life. His optics remained off even as everything else powered up to its normal setting. Ratchet had the datapad run a scan, but found nothing unwarranted.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

Ironhide grunted. "Table seems a little rougher. My atmospheric moisture gauge is cranked higher than usual... s'bout it."

"Hmm. I'm going to turn off your internal force field." He entered a command into the pad. Ironhide stiffened, a natural response to being deprived of the field's protection, but showed no other reaction. Ratchet leaned over sideways to slide his fingers around the top of an ankle joint, searching for the proximity sensor he knew was located there. Tall models like Ironhide had higher concentrations of sensors in their legs to make it easier for them to maneuver without stepping on anything important. Like Sam Witwicky and other irreplaceable organics.

Ironhide let out a burst of startled static that quickly escalated into a yelp when Ratchet found the sensor and rubbed it. He jerked up into a sitting position and grabbed Ratchet's wrist in a tight grip, halting further stimulation.

"Oh," he said quietly. And then with a sudden, sharp flux of his energy field and a rev of his engine, "Oh."

"I barely copped a feel, Ironhide," Ratchet said. He glanced at the pad to make sure he hadn't set Ironhide's sensitivity too high.

He got a growl for his efforts. "Don't flatter yourself. I was remembering... my last interface. With Chromia. Been thinking about it all month. Knew it was a big deal at the time, just couldn't quite recall what the feeling was." His engine revved again. "Now I do."

"Ah. Good sign," Ratchet said, "Means the software is applying to existing data." Something like anticipation tingled across his circuits. He, too, had been dwelling on old memories of long-past exploits and while most of them were undoubtedly good memories - one incident taking place under the main communication console in Iacon during a staff meeting being particularly fun - he knew something was missing. He couldn't explain why he'd enjoyed interfacing so much, or sought out so many partners to do it with, or found the urge to do it distracting at times, only that he had. He still had the sensory input, but without the right software to translate, it was just gibberish to his processor.

Ratchet twisted free of Ironhide's grip. "Lie back and tell me if you get any warnings. I want to check the feedback you're getting."

"If you're trying to seduce me, it's not working," Ironhide said gruffly. Despite his words, he continued to hold himself tense as he settled back down, his armor clamped tight over tender internals and his power plant working at a higher capacity.

Ratchet set the datapad to alert him if any errors cropped up and secured it to Ironhide's frame, just above the chest port, so it was out of his way. He turned his attention to Ironhide's legs; like the rest of him, they were heavily armored and large, equipped with powerful hydraulics and reinforced joints to support his considerable weight. His massive peds hung off the edge of the lift, the jointed ends of the forward support struts flexing back and forth. Ratchet consulted his medical records - and considerable personal experience with mechs of Ironhide's model - and then drew his finger tips lightly along the arched underside of a ped.

Ironhide let out a curse and jerked his leg, trying to escape the teasing touch. "Fragger, don't -"

"Does it feel good?" Ratchet demanded. He repeated the motion, concentrating his efforts on the sensor node where Ironhide's heel strut was attached to his arch.

"iYes/i," Ironhide ground out, peds twitching, "Primus, I'm not going to be able to iwalk/i if they're that -"

"You managed before," Ratchet said, dismissively. He didn't bother to explain that there was a big difference between deliberate stimulation and general use. He continued his touch over the side of the ped, heading back up to the ankle. Ironhide tensed, but Ratchet ignored the main proximity sensor and reached under armor plates instead. He found a length of cables and rubbed them, sliding them through gaps in his finger plating to get the full effect. Each cable was threaded through with thin fiber optics that transmuted tactile data, normally meant to alert Ironhide if one had been cut or was twisted out of place.

Now, it drew a stuttered moan from Ironhide's vocalizer. His back struts arched, rising his chest off the lift, before he collapsed again, muttering to himself. Satisfied that the software was correctly handling tactile information, Ratchet moved up to the knees, intent on the sonar emitter installed there.

"Are the energy receptors in your spark chamber responding?" he asked. He tapped the emitter, but didn't seem to provoke much of a reaction. Not Ironhide's thing, apparently. He reached into the nearby wires instead.

"Yes, they're - " Static cut off Ironhide's voice as Ratchet found and stroked an energon line. "Frag. I'm getting cascading requests for energy increase."

"Good. Are your -"

"Ratchet!" Ironhide snapped, yanking his knees away, "Activate your slagging software!"

"I need to make sure - "

"Single-processor Pit-spawn, if you can't monitor everything while actually doing it, you aren't qualified to repair a human bicycle!"

Well, slag that.

"Get off the lift," Ratchet growled, pulling his fingers free.

"Get on, get off, make up your - whoa!" Ironhide scrambled off the lift as it began to lower in response to Ratchet's remote command. He pounced slightly on his peds and relaxed, apparently relieved that his newly hyperactive sensors weren't going to drive him to complete distraction.

"None of the lifts are big enough for the both of us," Ratchet said, "We'll have to do it on the floor."

Ironhide groaned. "This is so undignified. You did lock the door, didn't you?"

"Yes, as much good as it'll do us if one of them gets determined," Ratchet said. He lowered his aft to the cement with the hiss of hydraulics, whirl of servos, and one or two embarrassing squeaks where he clearly needed more oil. "Think positive. They won't know enough of what we're doing to properly make fun of us."

He locked his joints to keep himself sitting upright and turned on his fail-safes. They would help protect him if the install went wrong. He wouldn't say it aloud, but technically, even he shouldn't be doing this without a monitoring technician to make sure he didn't frag his operating code. Of course, he was also the only one on Earth with those qualifications right now.

"You're underestimating Sideswipe's capacity for mockery," Ironhide said, but joined him on the floor.

Ratchet grunted, distracted by the programing bundle unfolding and going to work. As with Ironhide, it took a couple minutes because of the sheer size of the thing. Almost immediately, he started getting alerts in his HUD as his current systems disagreed with the new program on how to handle input. He ignored them and initiated a reboot to complete the process.

When the world faded back into existence, the first thing he noticed, strangely, was Ironhide. The weapon specialist's energy field was pulsing in response to his erratically rising energy output. It rolled over Ratchet in hot waves, making his receptors tingle and his engine jolt oddly. Lacking any recent data to understand the feeling, his subroutines accessed his memory files to find a frame of reference.

And all at once, Ratchet remembered what lust and arousal felt like.

"Oh," he said faintly.

"Yeah, 'oh'," Ironhide said.

They stared at each other.

It was Ratchet who moved first, levering himself over with one hand and reaching for Ironhide's hips with the other. Ironhide met him halfway and kept going. He pushed the medic down against the ground and straddled him. The feel of Ironhide above him and the heat from his plating and faint vibration from his engine sent a shudder of longing through Ratchet's frame. The monitors in his spark chamber that tracked energy flow came alive, demanding more, making his systems race. The sensation distracted him long enough for Ironhide to press blunt fingers in under his grill, pinching at the lines leading out from his spark chamber. Ratchet let out an involuntary cry.

"Primus," he said, the word strangled.

"Getting any errors?" Ironhide drawled, sounding distinctly smug. It gave Ratchet's medical programs a kick and he'd done a quick analysis of himself and the read-out from the datapad still clipped to Ironhide's shoulder, before he realized that Ironhide was taunting him.

"From that?" he demanded as scornfully as he could. He continued his halted assault on Ironhide's hips, managing to get his fingers under the protective plates. Once there, he split his fingers open, extending the filaments he used for extremely delicate surgery. Ironhide's moan turned into a yell as Ratchet separated wires from their bundles and coiled around them, stroking.

"S-slagging m-med-" Ironhide's attempted insult cut off when Ratchet found and teased a normally well hidden sensor node. He sagged forward against Ratchet's chest, his face plates pressed into the curve where Ratchet's neck met his shoulders.

Ratchet wanted to say something snide back, but the feel of the larger mech squirming on top of him sent a surge of pleasure across his circuits. He felt himself arching up in response, trying to rock against Ironhide and get the friction his motion sensors itched for. Primus, how had he gone so long without this?

Ironhide grunted and laboriously pushed himself up on his free arm. Oh, that didn't fit with what Ratchet wanted at all. He pulled up his leg and dragged his heel strut along the back of Ironhide's leg, between two plates of armor. Triggering all those lovely, lovely sensitive places. The squeal of grating metal filled the medbay and Ironhide shuddered, his fingers curling against the cement before that arm gave out entirely. The fingers still in Ratchet's grill twisted, pulling on the wires in a way that should have been painful, but instead made his entire frame burn. One of the ports on his spark chamber come online with a flurry of urgent requests to establish a connection; his processor translated this as an ache, desperate and begging. A needy keen had escaped his vocalizer before he could stop it.

Well, there went his reputation from now until forever.

It was a testament to how far gone Ironhide was that he didn't take the prime opportunity to mock Ratchet ruthlessly. In fact, his response was more along the lines of a low groan that made his armor vibrate and to grind against Ratchet harder. Sparks of building energy flashed around in their internals, special channels guiding them away from fragile circuits and toward their spark chambers.

Ratchet yanked one hand free of Ironhide's hips and grabbed the weapon specialist's helm, holding him in place to prevent him doing anything stupid. Like moving away again.

"Plug into me," Ratchet growled into Ironhide's nearest audial.

Ratchet felt a transfer cable drop to his chest seconds before Ironhide said a staticky, "Ya sure?"

Ratchet had a policy of ignoring dumb questions. His fingers were still open, so he extended two slender lengths of metal into the mesh covering Ironhide's audial. He lay them against the extremely sensitive membrane found there and, activating the small motor in his wrist, made them vibrate.

Ironhide's yell shorted out his vocalizer. Only Ratchet's hold on his helm kept him from jerking away and taking the surgery instruments with him. Rendered voiceless, he commed Ratchet a mangled message that was either "stop stop stop not there" or "oh please please more more never stop". Probably both.

Unfortunately, he used the main comm channel to do it.

They both realized the error at the same moment and froze. Ratchet quickly tugged free his tools. Nearly the entire team was on base, well in range of being able to receive that transmission.

A conspicuous silence followed.

"(...Ratchet, I want to cancel my maintenance check for tomorrow,)" Sideswipe announced over th line.

"I'm going to remove his tires to use for wall decoration," Ratchet snarled out loud. He transmitted over the comm; "(Prime, permission to drag Sideswipe to his appointment by any means necessary.)"

"(Granted,)" Optimus said over Sideswipe's squawk of protest. On an encrypted line, he added, ::Is everything all right?::

::It's fine,:: he snapped, a little too distracted by the haze in his processor to be anything close to reassuring, and broadened the connection, "(I'm repairing a glitch in Ironhide's radio, go back to work -)"

He'd been fully intending finish up with a spark-felt "you nosy, lazy slaggers", except that Ironhide decided now was the time to comply with Ratchet's earlier demand and slide his transfer cable under the armor plates. As the blunted plug head, already sparking with energy discharge, scrapped along his internal wires, Ratchet slammed the comm closed before his transmission could dissolve into something even more embarrassing than Ironhide's.

He onlined his optics - when had those gone off? - to scowl at Ironhide's unrepentant smirk. "Fragger."

Ironhide only chuckled and pressed his cable in deeper. Ratchet's already erratic intakes stuttered. He extended his own cable from its coil and wrapped it around Ironhide's, pulling them both closer to his throbbing port. The light brush of the plug across Ratchet's port drew a whine from him. Ironhide quivered. Another, firmer, brush as he lined it up. Ratchet's frame grew taut with anticipation, arching up into Ironhide as if that could make his cable move those last few millimeters. Old images of doing this with other mechs flitted through his processor, teasing flashes of sensory data reminding him of how good this would feel, how much he'd loved it each and every time.

A hard push.

The plug slid over the rim of the port and clinked against Ratchet's spark chamber instead of connecting.

Ratchet very nearly killed him. "Ironhide -"

"Shut up. It's been a while."

Ratchet could feel as Ironhide tried again to get his cable into the right position. The tantalizing hints of contact were maddening.

"Do you need a map?"

"You're going to need a new partner if you keep that up," Ironhide said warningly. Despite the threat, he activated his arm cannon and pressed the barrel along Ratchet's side.

The heat and vibration sent his sensors into a frenzy. Ratchet scrambled at Ironhide, drawing him as close possible with with hands and legs. "H-hurry, please.."

This time, thank Primus, the plug snapped into place. A burst of pleasure seared through Ratchet and he howled. Energy pulsed in, making his spark blaze and throb, and sending alerts of impending overload flashing across his HUD. "Oh yes," he babbled, senseless, "Yes, there, right there."

He bucked against Ironhide urgently, feeling the charge build and build. Distantly, he was aware of Ironhide's systems on the peripheral of his own, a network connection allowing their reproductive programs to sync. Ironhide uttered rhythmic bursts of static as he rode out Ratchet's frantic movements, every brush of his frame triggering hyperactive sensors. Their tangled cables flexed, rubbing against each other.

Almost, almost, please I need it…

The charge in Ratchet's power cells reached its peak first and his reproductive system sent out eager signals to Ironhide's. Desperate little whines escaped Ratchet's vocalizer has he hung, trembling, right on the brink.

He felt it the second that Ironhide reached the same peak. The larger mech froze above him and then, with a yell, the built up energy discharged. It slammed into Ratchet like a tidal wave, triggering his own release. His sensor-net lit up like a firework display. Pleasure streaked through him, alighting every circuit, and his spark gave a hard, sharp throb from the influx. Almost too late, the inhibitor he'd set in place flicked on, shunting a portion of the charge away to disperse into the ground. He convulsed, caught in the grip of sensation, and then all at once, the world went black.

Moments later, Ratchet booted back online to find that he was, in fact, still alive. A cheery little note from his reproductive system told him that the amount of energy his spark had absorbed gave him a 20% chance of budding.

"Slag me," he groaned aloud. Clearly the inhibitor needed to be recalibrated. He made that first priority on his "to do" list and wrote up a couple protocols to watch his energy consumption and alert him if it started to hike. Not that it would do any good if he did start budding, but it would give him plenty of extra time to throw a good screaming fit and he liked that.

That done, he just lay there for a while, Ironhide a dead weight on top of him, the buzz of their cooling fans the only sound in the medbay. He felt very... relaxed. Like there was a bunch of gel where his joints used to be. It was unspeakably nice. He looked forward to doing it again. Many, many times.

There was a few clicks and an increased hum as Ironhide's systems activated. Ratchet carefully removed the hand still tangled up in Ironhide's hip wires and pushed Ironhide up enough read the datapad clipped to his shoulder. Its lower right corner had gotten cracked during their activities, but the rest worked fine. Ironhide's reproductive systems rated him at 0% chance - naturally, as he'd been the "plugger" rather than the "plugged".

"Ratchet," Ironhide said.

"Hmm?" Ratchet said, still analyzing the data read-out. No major errors, just a little fine-tuning needed. Another corner of his processor, however, was very seriously debating the merits of nuzzling Ironhide's neck, to see if that would get him going for another round.

"How the slag did we ever get anything done?"

Ratchet thought about it. "Primus knows."

Ironhide groaned and set about the tricky task of disentangling himself, unknowingly squashing Ratchet's hopes of a second go of it in the process. He paused in the middle tucking his transfer cable back into its storage place. "So. Two thousand virgins."


Silence reigned for a moment.

"Dibs on Bumblebee," Ironhide said.

"You slagger."

Chapter Text

His life being what it was, Ratchet was deeply familiar with the urge to knock Sideswipe to the ground and either step on him repeatedly or bludgeon him about the helm with the nearest tool, depending on how deeply the frontliner had managed to frag him off this time around.

The urge to knock Sideswipe to the ground, fall on top of him, and rub against him with great vigor though? That was new.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Sidewsipe demanded from the other end of the medbay.

Ratchet muted a groan and was sorely tempted to reschedule Sideswipe's appointment for next week, when he stopped feeling like brushing against a wall was going to set his circuits on fire.

No, he decided, this is no excuse not to fulfill my duties. The Autobots still need their medic and there isn't anyone else around for that role. He'd known going into this that the adjustment period was going to be harsh. The closer he kept to his original schedules, the faster his newly activated systems would integrate and adapt.

Actually, speaking of medics -

::Hoist,:: he transmitted to Ironhide. In the medbay, he ordered Sideswipe onto the nearest lift and glared as the frontliner made a big show of giving him a wide berth.

Really, Ratchet wasn't any happier about expressing interest in Sideswipe than Sideswipe was in receiving it. While not exactly unattractive by any standards, Sideswipe was as far from Ratchet's type as was possible without him being an insentient lump of lead. At the moment, though, Ratchet's systems could give a turbo shaft about "type", as long as he got to experience that wonderful rush of sensation again. And again. And preferably sooner rather than later.

::Figured,:: Ironhide responded, blessedly cutting into Ratchet's thoughts before his energy field could flux noticeably and disturb Sideswipe further. ::You medic types should stick together anyway. You taking First Aid, too?::

::That's a little more complicated,:: Ratchet said and focused on getting Sideswipe hooked up to the proper monitors. The familiar, methodical motions helped settle the little jolts he was getting from having warm metal under his sensitive fingers. ::I don't know how much risk there is of the programs copying over when First Aid combines with his team. Most of the Protectobots are fine, but Blades is right up there with Sunstreaker and Slag for being the last mechs I want to see with an interface drive.::

::Slag? Wasn't his designation changed to Snarl? Also, Trailbreaker.::

::Other way around,:: Ratchet said, not particularly surprised by Ironhide's newest claim. Besides being a genuinely fun person to be around, Trailbreaker's force-field had saved their afts more than once and endeared Ironhide to him forever. ::Wheeljack has been trying to call him 'Snarl' since the day he adopted the crazy Pit-spawn. Slag decided he liked what the Decepticons screamed when they saw him coming better. Frankly, we're all lucky he didn't decide to call himself "Oh Primus That Was My Leg".::

Ironhide transmitted a burst of wry amusement. It abruptly turned to panicked dismay. ::Slaggit, Optimus found me.::

::Were you hiding from him?:: Ratchet asked and scowled at the data read-out telling him that over ten percent of Sideswipe's motor relays weren't connecting properly.

::Not exactly,:: Ironhide grumbled.

In other words, yes and with much determination.

::He wants to talk to me about the reproductive systems, I just know it,:: Ironhide continued, ::Why doesn't he go to you about these things?::

::You break faster,:: Ratchet said. He ignored the resulting protests and had Sideswipe turn over onto his front.

The overhead lights rippled along Sideswipe's freshly waxed armor, dipping into the gaps between plates and hinting at the delicate wires protected underneath.

Ratchet's fingers twitched involuntarily. He offlined his optics and counted down from ten-thousand. Slag Optimus and his noble speeches about perpetuating the species anyway. Hadn't Ratchet sworn he was never going through this again the ifirst/i time around?

"You know if you want to take a nap, I can just leave," Sideswipe said.

Ratchet clicked his optics back on in order to scowl at the other mech properly. "How considerate of you," he growled.

"You know me, Ratchet," Sideswipe said, practically dripping with false sweetness, "I only have your best interests at spark."

He cast a wide-eyed look over one shoulder, head cocked guilelessly, and shifted the armor along his back to expose vital areas. It was their species equivalent of "look, I'm harmless and helpless and innocent!" On Sideswipe, it was about as believable as Megatron rising from the dead to offer a peace treaty. This did not stop Ratchet from wanting to shove both hands into those newly revealed sections and tug, tweak, rub, and titillate every single wire, piston, servo, node, and connector he could find until Sideswipe was wailing his name and begging him to, to -

-stop it, because Sideswipe didn't have a reproductive system yet and he'd get nothing out of it and even thinking about doing it was highly unprofessional and frag this nonsense to Unicron's waste tank and back.

Ratchet blocked off the impulses with sheer, single-minded determination. He would get through this exam without any inappropriate contact if it killed the both of them. And then, provided they survived, next week he was going to install ports all up and down Sideswipe's spark chamber and overload him until he couldn't slagging move.

::I changed my mind, I'm taking Sideswipe,:: Ratchet snapped at Ironhide. In the medbay, he grabbed Sideswipe's helm, turned it face-forward, and pushed his forehead down against the lift with a 'clank'.

"Ow!" Sideswipe yelped, "A little tender mercy if you don't mind, Hatchet."

"Shut up, or I'll disconnect your vocalizer."

Sideswipe's only response was a faint squeak as Ratchet went after the malfunctioning relays in his shoulder structure.

At the same time, Ironhide said, ::I thought you didn't like Sideswipe.::

::Beside the point,:: Ratchet said. He filled his processors with schematics and medical texts and a couple hundred human word puzzles he'd been amusing himself with recently; anything not directly related to interfacing. Sometimes being able to multi-task wasn't a good thing. ::Unless you got your spark set on him, he's mine.::

For a moment, it seemed like the other mech was going to argue. Ironhide wasn't a naturally demonstrative person, so Ratchet wasn't sure how much of his offer to take Sideswipe had been out of fondness for the frontliner, or as a courtesy to Ratchet. Ironhide had trained Sideswipe in the past, after all, and they frequently enjoyed very enthusiastic conversations about guns, explosions, and dead Decepticons.

::Primus save me, he wants to know if we can make instructional vids for the rest of the army,:: Ironhide said instead. It took Ratchet a second to realize Ironhide was referring to a concurrent conversation with their Prime. Apparently, loosing the chance to educate Sideswipe wasn't an issue for him. Good to know.

::Tell him it's not a bad idea,:: Ratchet said, ::We'll still have to do hands-on training for safety sake, but an introductory video should help calm the newbies.::

Horror roiled over the uplink. ::I refuse to let anyone record me interfacing!::

::Honestly. You're slagging prudish for someone who once twisted a back-strut doing-::

::Once, Ratchet, it happened once and Chromia had talked me into it,:: Ironhide interrupted him sharply.

Ah. Ratchet should have known she was the adventurous one in the relationship. ::Don't get your pistons in a twist,:: Ratchet said, ::A couple of the others can act it out once their systems settle. We'll just guide them verbally, like a training sess-::

Ironhide slammed the comm link closed so suddenly Ratchet paused and checked the security network to make sure they weren't being attacked. It turned up an 'all clear', but suspicion bubbled in the back of his processor. It was confirmed a short while later when Optimus sent him a comm request.

::Ratchet, I'm concerned about Ironhide,:: Optimus said, his usual grave tone tempered by confusion, ::His systems have been running unusually hot since we started talking today and he suddenly stormed off -:: The distant boom of munitions fire reached Ratchet in his medbay. ::- to shoot up the gun range. I've never had him do that to me in the middle of a sentence before.::

::I'm sure he's fine, but I'll double-check.:: Ratchet said, not bothering to filter his dry amusement, and pinged Ironhide's comm. It was a few minutes until Ironhide responded, long enough for Ratchet to move on to Sideswipe's pelvic structure and growl over the worn gears he found there.

::This better be -::

::So you like to watch, huh? Or is it the training part that got your engine running? And here I was calling you a prude.::

::Die. Just die.:: A particularly big boom rattled the windows.

Before Ironhide could shut the line again, Ratchet added quickly, ::Meet me in the medbay in two hours.:: He didn't bother to make it a question.

::...I'll be there.::

After the fourth day of 'adjustment', Ratchet submitted an addendum to his original timeline, requesting a set of private quarters to be built before anyone else underwent the process. There were no explanations provided, but Optimus strongly suspected it had to do with how often Ironhide and Ratchet locked themselves in the medbay recently, and the time Jolt went there to get a loose circuit board checked and came out complaining about people being too busy wrestling to provide quality medical care.

This left it to Optimus to come up with suitable justifications for their liaison to the government. (Or, as Sideswipe had oh-so-charmingly called him when he thought Optimus wasn't listening, "the squishy that signs the checks".) Optimus did so...delicately. As in, without mention of reproduction or any plans related to such. Optimus honestly respected and adored their human companions, but as a species, they had a strange preoccupation with the subject of procreation. He didn't want to upset them.

The man's response started somewhere at "the budget this year", went on to a series of awkward noises about "deficit" and "tax payer's money", and finally rounded up with "submit these forms and tell you what, I'll see what I can do about getting it on the table by next year". Optimus, in turn, talked Political at him soothingly and peppered it with "happy to share advancements in-" and "my medic has been researching-". The liaison rallied himself and coughed "budget" with greater determination. Optimus offered "solider morale" and "free labor" and stared meaningfully off in the distance at the renovated human barracks that they'd been able to build at a third of the cost because of the help the Autobots had provided. The liaison capitulated not long after and promised to have the supplies on base within the next few days.

"I wish you'd brought this to me sooner," Optimus said to Ratchet, once everything had been settled. He had Arcee working with a government-cleared architecture firm to draw up the plans - and not for the first time, he wished that Grapple was already on Earth. Arcee had a good enough understanding of what they needed in a building to pass it on to the humans, but she didn't have Grapple's creativity or flare for design. "Construction will put your timeline back several more weeks."

"Eh, I didn't think of it," Ratchet admitted with a shrug, "I've gotten so used to having one of you yahoos on my bumper every time I turn around, I'd forgotten what privacy is. I can still get everyone's hardware upgrades done in the meanwhile. And it'll give Bumblebee more of a heads-up to make it out here. He'll want to bring Sam along and the boy has all that -" Ratchet made a vague gesture. "-school and social life and who-knows-what that has to be put on hold."

"Hmm," Optimus said, watching his long-time friend. It hadn't escaped his notice that Ratchet was standing a good half-dozen meters away from him, about as far as one could get and still be in polite conversation range.

Ratchet had told him that the behavior was expected and a natural part of adapting to reproductive systems.

This did nothing to placate Optimus's lingering anxiety. The feeling was not driven by a tangible danger; he knew that Ratchet wouldn't preform the modifications or install the programs if there was the slightest risk to their health. Instead, it was the ever-present worry of "what if there's a battle and our strength is compromised? What if there's a battle and I can't be what they need? What if someone is injured because I-"

He shut down that line of thought. "Ratchet, I wish you would allow me to observe you and Ironhide before I undergo the upgrades."

Ratchet snorted. "I wouldn't mind," he said and his heat signature flared noticeably to Optimus's infrared scanner, "It's Ironhide you'd have to convince. But frankly Prime, you'll have an easier time getting him to give up his cannons."

"I don't find that very reassuring," Optimus said.

Ratchet just chuckled. "You'll understand."

Construction was slotted in between training sessions with the human soldiers, recon missions, and ongoing improvements to base security. Initial grumbles over the increased workload quickly gave way to excited plans of what to do with the new space. It had been a long, long time since any of them had a place to call their own.

After making himself scarce for the better part of two weeks, Ironhide charged into the hanger one morning, grabbed Sideswipe with one hand, two of Arcee with the other, and hauled them off to the practice ground, where he proceeded to chase them from one end of it to the other until they admitted defeat. Optimus was relieved to see him back to normal.

Ratchet followed that up by having them - and Bumblebee, via satellite - join him for a debriefing in the newly constructed conference room.

Ratchet stood at the far back of the room as they got themselves settled, next to a huge LCD screen. The image on the screen was split, showing Bumblebee in the Witwicky's cramped, cluttered garage on the left and a presentation called simply "The Talk" on the right.

While Optimus had found it an odd title, he didn't keep Ratchet around for his clever writing. It wasn't until Bumblebee started giggling that he had thought to research the unusual capitalization. He would have to make sure Ratchet gave the lecture a more appropriate title later, to ensure that future arrivals would take the issue more seriously.

Optimus claimed a large, empty steel crate toward the front of the room. Jolt sat on the floor nearby with his knees pulled up to his chest and Arcee's pink protoform perched on his shoulders. Her purple and blue bodies, both heavily scratched and dirty from her impromptu practice battle, had claimed chairs from the human mess hall to rest on. Sideswipe, also a little worse for the wear, straddled another, much smaller crate in the center of the room, kicking his tire-equipped peds back and forth. Ironhide came in last and took up residence against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. And on the other side of the country, Bumblebee lay on the floor of his tiny garage, legs tucked up under him and face turned toward his portable vid-cam.

"Thank you for coming," Ratchet said, "I know we're all busy, so lets get through this as quick as possible."

On screen, Ratchet's presentation switched to a new image; the AllSpark as it had once existed in the temple at Simfur. The great cube hung in the cavernous space, dwarfing the mechs that gathered around it and glowing faintly with ethereal energy. Optimus felt a familiar sting in his spark. How many cycles had he spent in that temple, watching as future generations were granted life and led off by their new families? How many young mechs had he the pleasure of greeting in their first breem of life? He could pull the memories from his archive - see them again as clearly as he had then - but it would mean recalling how many of them were gone now, too.

"As you all know," Ratchet continued, "The AllSpark was the primary form of reproduction for our species since Primus-knows-when. We built the shells, funneled AllSpark energy into them, and some lucky glitches got to look after the results until they were fit for society. However." Flick, new image; a diagram of a spark in the earliest stages of budding, according to the title. "It wasn't our only method of reproduction."

The others shifted, either glancing toward each other or sitting up straighter in surprise. Or, in Sideswipe's case, pulling up a leg to dig gravel and mud from between his tire tracks. If he saw the frown Optimus sent his way, he didn't acknowledge it.

"There was a second, less common method called budding." Ratchet drew their attention to the diagram with a wave of his hand. "It's a natural reaction of our sparks to sustained energy surges. Unlike the splitting that occurs with twins or can be induced to create clones, budding results in a unique spark with no link to the originator."

"Why haven't we heard about this before?" Bumblebee asked. His voice still bore the faint, scratchy feedback it'd had in the wake of Mission City. Originally it was a side-effect of his old vocalizer injury; now it was a speech quirk, much like his habit of using human sound-bytes when he was trying to be funny or obtuse.

"For one, it's not something that can happen by accident," Ratchet said, "The amount of energy needed to start budding will turn most circuits a nice, crispy black and the mech in question would be dead long before any plans for a baby shower. Frames have to be specially designed or modified to allow successful spark budding. Which leads to the second reason you've never heard of it before; it was banned. Many, many vorn before the lot of you came online. Given the AllSpark's destruction, Ironhide and I have been working to bring it back."

There was a split second pause and then they all tried to talk at once.

"So that's what you've been up to," Jolt said in dawning realization.

"That's great news!" Bumblebee said, his round optics extra bright. "I never thought we'd have sparklings again. How soon can we-"

"Great, like we need kiddies running around underfoot," Sideswipe said without looking up from his cleaning.

"Wait, wait," Arcee-blue raised her voice over the others. "Ratchet, why was it banned in the first place?"

This brought a sudden quiet, equal parts curious and wary. Ratchet vented a loud huff of air and met Optimus's optics, briefly. The three of them - himself, Ratchet, and Ironhide - had discussed the issue at length, until Optimus was convinced the banning hadn't been for provable physical, mental, or emotional health reasons. It had, instead, been both political and highly ideological - and after watching Megatron whip Cybertron's armies into a murderous frenzy with rhetoric on the need for order, control, and galactic dominance, Optimus knew exactly how potent that could be.

Neither of which was a subject for this particular meeting. Optimus sent Ratchet a short comm burst, expressing this sentiment. Ratchet inclined his head slightly in acceptance.

"The short answer is 'politics," he said. Against the wall, Ironhide snorted. Ratchet visibly ignored him. "The long answer... will have to wait until you have the right context."

And with that, he began to lecture in earnest. Diagrams and specs and stages and rules. He started with what happened to a spark during budding and went on to the hardware and software configurations.

"You're going to love them as much as you hate them," Ratchet said bluntly.

Sideswipe made a faint sound and a final, good-sized rock popped free of his treads and ricocheted off of Ratchet's shin armor. "Much better," he muttered.

"Sideswipe," Optimus said warningly.

Sideswipe's sensor panels twitched at the commanding tone. He slid his leg off his lap and stiffly faced forward, not looking at Optimus or directly acknowledging the implied order. Jolt did, though, pivoting on his pelvic structure to look between the two with blatant curiosity until Arcee-pink pointedly tapped the side of his helm.

Ratchet waited with arms folded across his grill. When he saw he had their attention again - and with a last, baleful frown at Sideswipe - he resumed.

"The primary function of the mods is to allow two or more mechs to generate the energy needed to bud, to ensure that their systems safely handle that energy, and to protect both carrier and sparkling until separation. The secondary function," Ratchet said and grinned in a not-entirely-comforting way, "Is to make generating that energy the time of your slagging life."

"See, now I'm listening," Sideswipe said.

Optimus resisted the urge to cover his face and revised his mental note to have Ratchet's entire lecture overhauled before letting anyone else hear it.

Ratchet's clear amusement didn't diminish. "The act of interfacing is, by itself, about as exciting as getting a maintenance check. By amping our sensitivity to tactile stimulation and having it register as pleasure, interfacing becomes something enjoyable and worth seeking out. Presumably so we'd be encouraged to use budding over AllSpark reproduction and eventually supplant it, but frankly, for most of us it was more of an entertaining pastime than a way to make sparklings. I knew some mechs who had active reproductive systems and still preferred to commission protoforms for the AllSpark, and other mechs with active systems that never wanted sparklings in the first place. But I digress.

"When your reproductive systems are first brought online," Ratchet continued, "Everything will set off the interfacing protocols."

His voice took on a sardonic edge. "And I do mean everything. The first few days are the hardest; you'll want to do it constantly, you'll have trouble focusing, and believe me when I say this gets tiresome real fast. But just like any newly installed module, you will adjust to it. It'll integrate with the rest of your behavioral programing and you'll develop priorities and situational criteria so that the urge only activates in the right context. In addition to the initial training to show you how to use your new hardware, Ironhide and I will be available to help you during the adjustment period."

He paused to let that sink in, then asked, "Any questions?"

"You mentioned mechs using their systems - interfacing - without producing a sparkling," Bumblebee said, "How does that work?"

"For one, there is a margin for failure," Ratchet said. He turned enough to address the recorder directly. "A margin that varies between mechs. Some will begin budding after the first attempt; others will need to make multiple attempts over a period of time in order to trigger it. For two, there is an inhibitor program that prevents budding altogether."

"It will when used properly," Ironhide spoke up, "Interface with a dozen mechs in a row and it can glitch on you rather spectacularly."

"Speaking from personal experience, are we?" Arcee-pink asked teasingly around Jolt's helm.

Ironhide grinned. Slowly. "No, but there's this story I could tell you -"

"Any other questions?" Ratchet demanded, cutting Ironhide off. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I do have other plans for today."

Jolt lifted his hand slightly to call attention to himself. "Can we start making sparklings right away? Not that we should," he added, optics flicking around the room, "I mean, it sounds like a hassle and there's a lot of other slag going on. I'm just wonderin'."

Optimus felt a mild fission of surprise. He wouldn't have pegged Jolt for being interested in sparklings The soldier was part of a younger generation activated during wartime and his exposure to the domestic side of Cybertronian life was depressingly limited. Jolt had earned a reputation on the Ark for being a chronic attention seeker and adrenaline junkie - also typical for his generation, but not as bad as some of the more infamous Autobots in the ranks. He hadn't shown much of either trait since his arrival on earth; going about his duties with minimal complaint and sticking close to either Arcee or Ironhide. Which meant he'd either matured in the centuries since his team was dispatched to explore a mostly-unknown solar system for the AllSpark, or he was being low-key until he got more comfortable in the new situation. Sideswipe had been a delight when he first landed, too.

"More than a 'hassle'," Ratchet said, "We don't have the resources or the troops on earth to begin working on the next generation yet. Not for another decade at least. So technically, yes, you can, but for practicality reasons, no."

"Do we ever have to make them?" Sideswipe asked with unexpected sharpness, "It's a waste, far as I can tell. There's still Primus-knows how many Decepticons who wouldn't mind seeing us on the business end of a pulse canon. And maybe I'm the only one who's noticed, but this planet -" He made a broad gesture to include the Earth as a whole. "- isn't home. Who knows how much longer the locals are going to let us stick around?"

An automatic denial came from Bumblebee, though it was hard to tell whether he was protesting Sideswipe's assessment or the idea of leaving Earth. Of all of them, Bumblebee was the most fond of the planet and its inhabitants.

"That's a good question, Sideswipe," Optimus said, before anyone else could respond. This earned him an odd expression, as if Sideswipe were torn between being pleased at the acknowledgment and arrogantly accepting it as his due. "One that we've taken into consideration and is why I have standing orders to wait until our situation stabilizes. In the end, each of you are free to decide what you want to do. Whether to have children of your own or not, but it is a choice that I want all of our people to have. A future of growth for our species is worth the work and the risks."

"You don't have to get the system at all if you don't want it," Ratchet said, taking up the thread of the conversation, "I'm also willing to install the upgrades without activating them until you're comfortable with the idea. But I recommend doing so sooner, rather than later."

Sideswipe continued to stare silently at Optimus, his arm mounted blades sliding back and forth between retracted and ready position. It was hard to tell what he was thinking. Not that this was new for Sideswipe; for all his boisterous behavior elsewhere, he was intensely private and at least half the problems with leading him came from his refusal to be forth-coming with his commanders. Optimus did know that centuries before, while the Ark was trailing after the AllSpark, Sideswipe had been a protector of a small colony of displaced Autobots and its sole survivor when it was attacked by Decepticons. The experience wasn't something Sideswipe had opened up to anyone about, except possibly his brother, but it was easy to imagine the mark it had left on him. Did the disapproval of sparklings come from a genuine disinterest in being a caretaker, or fear of being burdened with charges he may once again fail?

One of Sideswipe's shoulders and sensor panels jerked up in an awkward shrug. "Whatever. As long as I'm not saddled with babysitting," he said and turned away.

"Perish the thought," Ratchet said. He sent Optimus a questioning ping and Optimus responded in kind, encouraging him to continue. "Any more questions?"

"I got one," Arcee-blue said from next to her purple unit. Unlike Sideswipe's laid-back slouch and Jolt curled up huddle, all three of Acree's forms, even the one on Jolt's shoulder, sat with spinal struts straight, optics bright, and audio receptors angled forward. "How exactly do you interface someone? I keep imagining data swapping and energon transfusions and I don't think that's what you're going for."

Optimus's interest perked

He'd been wondering the same himself for a while now. As technically accurate as the instructions "establish hardline connection between spark chambers utilizing medically approved cables and allow reproductive systems to synchronize. Energy transference will trigger automatically" were, he suspected key points were missing.

"It's not," Ratchet said, "Interfacing tends to be more... enthusiastic, to start. Ironhide." He crooked one finger in a 'come hither' gesture. "Come up here and open your chest, so I can -"

"I'm out," Ironhide said, and turned around to escape through the door.

"Hold on, Ironhide," Optimus said. He kept his exasperation out of his voice by force of will alone. He knew them both well enough to realize that Ratchet was deliberately giving Ironhide a hard time - which would have been permissible if it weren't regarding such a serious issue or wasn't so clearly amusing to the youngsters.

Ironhide obediently halted his retreat and returned to his former position, a dark frown marring his faceplates.

"Ratchet," Optimus said, ::Stop teasing him.:: "Is it possible to explain the procedure without a physical demonstration?"

Ratchet sighed, looking disappointed. The presentation screen behind him flicked and switched over to an image of two mechs, fairly generic worker models that hadn't been utilized since they switched to more military builds, pressed against each other.

"The goal with interfacing is to produce excess energy that's going to be discharged into your spark. Your and partner's power plants being set to exceed their normal operating limits is the main way. The other way is physical contact." The two mechs began to rock against each other very awkwardly.

"Rubbing, petting, touching each other - all of it will generate a static charge that will be shunted to your spark. Any position that puts your spark chamber in reach of your partner's power transfer cables is sufficient, but everyone will develop their own favorites."

The two mechs went through a series of what were apparently said 'positions'; back to front, with hands rubbing up and down each other's chassis; one mounted on the other's hips, with cords swinging between them in time to their movements; facing again, but sort of shimmying side to side rather than rocking together. The mechs themselves changed, representing different models and sizes. A microbot writhing against the arm of someone Optimus' size was followed by a quadraped unit squatting down to drag its undercarriage along its partner's body. The animation itself was little more than rough-edged 3D renders in garish colors, seemingly put together by someone more concerned with illustrating movement than looking good or realistic.

A tangible silence filled the room.

"The usual way to start is with light touching that will activate your reproductive systems," Ratchet said, either oblivious to their bemused reactions, or deliberately ignoring them, "If you're enjoying it, you'll naturally desire more physical contact and more friction. Once the electric charge in your reserves reaches a certain level, your spark chamber ports and transfer cables will begin sending you connection requests."

On screen, the bizarre gyrations of the animated mechs were replaced with a much more sane diagram of a spark chamber. The reproductive mods were outlined in red.

"At that point you can plug in. It can be one-way, with one cable going ito one port, or a dual hook up with both of you plugged in, or a chain connect if we're talking multiple partners. In terms of sparkling production, one-way hook ups tend to have a higher success rate because one spark is getting the benefit of two power systems, but it hardly matters if you're just trying to get off."

Two more spark chambers appeared on the diagram and flipped through illustrations of the different types of connections.

"Once plugged into each other, your reproductive systems will synchronize and begin communicating. The energy discharge triggers as soon as your reserves reach the right level and is accompanied by an intense feeling of pleasure. This is referred to as an overload or climax."

The earlier animation popped up again, drawing a faint, dismayed squeak from Jolt. For his part, Optimus found he couldn't look away. It was like watching an impending collision and, at the same time, startlingly reminiscent of the human pair-bond rituals Sam and Mikaela were known to enact in and around Bumblebee.

"There are codes that you can use to self-trigger an overload, that you'll get after program integration. Otherwise, overloading requires being networked into at least one other mech's reproductive system. And that," Ratchet said with finality as the screen went black, "Is interfacing."

No one seemed to know how to respond. Finally;

"Is it supposed to look that stupid?"

Sideswipe, naturally, but it set off the others.

"I'd just thought the reference to human intercourse was a joke," Bumblebee said in a small voice.

"Maybe if there was a higher pixel render..." Jolt offered uncertainly.

"Not the animation, bit-brain," Sideswipe snapped.

"Honestly you lot, if it's all about building friction, it's not supposed to look pretty," Arcee-blue said. Arcee-purple added "What were you expecting?" and Arcee-pink finished with "The Nova Cronum annual dance pageant?"

I really should've made Ratchet show me this first, Optimus thought. The meeting was quickly falling apart, so Optimus rallied himself to once again get them back on track. They were all in this for the future and if that meant he had to short-out their audials with speeches, than Primus help him, he would.

Chapter Text

"I want you to set my sensitivity lower than the standard," Optimus said.

Ratchet shook his head before Optimus even finished. It was a few weeks since the now infamous "The Talk" and they were in Optimus's recently finished quarters for final install and training. As much as Optimus had been looking forward to finding out first-hand how his new upgrades operated, he couldn't shake his lingering sense of uncertainty.

Everyone had ended up agreeing to get the mods installed, even the reluctant Sideswipe, somewhat to Optimus's surprise. He couldn't tell if it was genuine interest or morbid curiosity driving them at that point, and he didn't care. He did know that once he'd gone through his own adaption period, he and Ratchet were sitting down for a nice long talk about better ways to introduce the salvation of their species to the uninitiated.

"It doesn't work that way, Optimus," Ratchet said, "You'll be just as distracted while your systems adapt no matter how low I put your settings. Besides, what's the point of going through all the hassle of adjustment if you're not sensitive enough to enjoy interfacing at the end, anyway?"

Optimus vented air. He wasn't sure that enjoying interfacing was a goal to reach for. Yes, Ratchet had explained the reasoning behind the design, but ultimately, this was to make sparklings. Optimus would do it even if it was as exciting as poking a stick in the ground for hours.

"In that case, I want to state again my concern over lowered battle efficiency," Optimus said. They had worked together long enough for Ratchet to know that he wasn't backing out of the procedure. It was just a reality of their world, even now, that battle-readiness had to be at the forefront of their minds.

"Duly noted," Ratchet said, "The rest of us will be here to back you up, whatever may happen." A hint of a smirk entered his tone. "Besides, I have absolute faith that if any enemies show up, they're in for a Pit of a surprise."

"As you've said," Optimus said, not bothering to hide his suspicion.

Ratchet chuckled and patted the berth. "Come on, let's get you up and running before Ironhide wears a hole in the floor with his pacing."

Optimus obligingly crossed the few feet to the padded surface. His room was larger than he'd expected, given the limited space and resources the humans had provided, but still much smaller than his officers' quarters back on the Ark. An elevated berth with a thick rubber mat and storage space underneath occupied the right side of the room, while the left was open for small gatherings. An archway in the back lead to a private, well-stocked maintenance station. Most of the other apartments had been designed along similar lines.

"Ironhide will be training me?"

"Yes, and he's slagged nervous about it too," Ratchet said. He waited for Optimus to lie down before approaching to attach the datapad. "Be gentle with him."

"...Ironhide seems unusually reticent on the entire subject," Optimus said, relaxing against the berth despite himself. He hadn't recharged in a few days and it was a relief to ease the pressure off his joints and hydraulics. "Was this... common for your generation?"

"Depended on where you came from." Ratchet tapped the pad and an access request flashed across Optimus's HUD. He granted it with a short command. "Some cities were more conservative than others. But I'd say it has less to do with that and more with it being you."

The install started up and allocated a chunk of Optimus's resources before he could question that further. He tracked its progress silently, alert to any possible errors, but he wasn't surprised when the execution finished without a hitch. Ratchet had been modding programs for individual use for a long time, after all.

The world wasn't noticeably different when he cycled back to awareness after the induced reboot. He lay still for a few milliseconds, waiting for a change to manifest. Nothing. Well, the system did alter his perception of physical stimulation, so... Optimus ran a fingertip between the seams on his thigh, testing. There was a... a feeling. A tingle? A jolt? Whatever it was, it made him relax the armor along his leg without thinking about it, giving his finger room to press in deeper.

"Any discomfort?" Ratchet interrupted his self-exploration. "Conflicts? Numbness?"

"No..." Optimus said, distracted, "The programing seems to have integrated well." He curled his finger, hooking it on a neural line and tugging slightly.

The feeling burst across his sensor net like the aftermath of a concussive blast. His vents snapped open in a gasp to combat the sudden temperature hike and his hips jerked involuntarily. He yanked his hand away, startled by the suddenness of the sensation.

"That -" A screech of feedback distorted his voice. He quickly rebooted his vocalizer.

"Yep, its working fine," Ratchet said.

Optimus gave him a sharp look. "Are you certain it wouldn't help to lower -"

"I've comm'd Ironhide to let him know you're ready," Ratchet said and reached out to remove the data cable from Optimus's side access port. Ratchet's energy field, usually nothing more than a faint buzz to Optimus sensors, was a hot wave that seemed to sear across every sensory fiber. It was... nice. Very nice.

Optimus had his hand half-lifted to pull Ratchet closer before he realized it. He forced his hand back down.

"Thank you for keeping an optic on everything while I'm occupied," Optimus said, as much to distract himself as from sincere gratitude. A restlessness filled his limbs, making him want to shift and squirm.

Seeking friction to increase the charge, he realized. Somehow, that didn't make it any less strange.

Ratchet grunted, his usually response to appreciation. He hesitated over storing away his datapad in a chest compartment. "Optimus," he said, "Don't think too hard. Don't try to stay in control. Just enjoy yourself and trust Ironhide."

Optimus struggled with a response to that for a moment. He knew what his friend was saying, but it wasn't that simple. "Ratchet," he said at last, "Either touch me or tell Ironhide to move his aft."

Ratchet laughed and a beat later, the automated door mechanism responded to a remote command.

Ironhide normally entered rooms like he was invading them. Now, he skulked in with all armor clamped closed and shoulders hunched, trying to make himself as small as possible. A familiar flood of fondness filled Optimus's spark, fast followed by a startling surge across his circuits. Primus.

"I'll leave you two alone," Ratchet said. Optimus sensed a quick, encrypted comm pass between them and whatever it was caused Ironhide to shove Ratchet on his way out the door.

But that hardly mattered. All of Optimus's attention was centered on Ironhide as the door slid closed. Ironhide was fiddling with the plating on his right hand and flicking his visual range uneasily around the room. It was... endearing. Much like Optimus himself, the old soldier so rarely showed such vulnerability.

Now, if only it wasn't stopping him from doing something about Optimus's increasing restlessness. The weapons specialist's energy field was just beyond the reach of Optimus's sensors and with the memory of how Ratchet's had felt fresh in his mind it was an effort not to lunge at Ironhide in order to experience it again.

"I want you to know," Ironhide said, his voice gruff, "I've never done this in a teaching capacity before, so don't expect... well, just keep that in mind."

"Understood," Optimus said, keeping his own tone grave. Now wouldn't be the best time to give into impatience and scare Ironhide off.

"Right," Ironhide said.

The fortunate thing about Ironhide was that no matter how he might dither and hesitate over doing something he wasn't comfortable with, once he'd made the decision to do it, he was as unrelenting and unwavering as one of his own missiles. All hesitation dropped from him as he covered the distance between them in a few broad strides and hoisted himself up onto the berth.

Optimus shivered. It was as much relief as the sensation that shimmered along his sensornet.

"What you're feeling right now," Ironhide said, "Is 'arousal'. In a bit, you should be getting alerts to increase your energy output. Now, you let me know the instant you start to feel uncomfortable, alright?"

Optimus made a faint sound of acknowledgment. He realized he was flexing the armor on the leg nearest Ironhide, torn between wanting to be touched there and unnerved by the intensity of the feeling he'd generated touching himself. He forced a ventilation cycle in a grasp at calmness.

Ironhide laid both hands on flame adorned panels of Optimus's thighs and stroked down. Armor itself was largely insensitive; approaching objects were picked up by proximity sensors long before making physical contact and anything that hit hard enough to cause damage would impact on the tactile sensors under the armor. Still, Ironhide's hands generated a series of static shocks and Optimus felt that. It was like a tingling flood over his sensors. He shivered again, his fingers curling against the berth padding.

At Optimus's knees, Ironhide paused and ran his hands back up. "This, is 'foreplay'. It's important to prepare your partners, and yourself, before plugging in. Let's you build up more of a charge, gives you a chance to get to know each other, and - it feels good."

Optimus had a hard time attaching 'good' to this, if only because it was so new. Ironhide continued going up, from Optimus's thighs to his hip panels, to the split grill adorning either side of his abdomen. Ironhide accompanied the motion by swinging one leg over Optimus and straddling him. Another hard jolt lanced through Optimus at the feel of Ironhide's weight, his heat, the pulsing flare of his EM field, settling on his hips.

His hands jerked up involuntary, grabbing hold of Ironhide's forearms. The large cannons normally mounted there were folded inward, tucked into their smallest forms. He forced his fingers to unclench and dragged his hands up and down the compacted mechanisms, cautiously mimicking Ironhide's petting.

"Like this?"

"Yes, good," Ironhide said. A pleasant, deep rumble underscored his already gravelly voice. He rubbed his palms just below Optimus' windshields; his thumbs brushing the curve of the engine mount that thrust between them. "It's fine to take your time and just get to know your partner. Get each other wound up. Figure out each other's hot spots."

Optimus automatically started to run "hot spots" against his translation programs to check whether Ironhide meant it in the human context of a place of political unrest, a point of intense heat and radiation, or an irregularity in metal casting. There had to be some slang reference he hadn't picked up yet, because none of those really -

Ironhide's fingers curled under the outer edges of his chest plates, grazing the wires along his flanks. Optimus's back arched and he offlined his vocalizer against the cry that tried to come out. Ironhide gave him a sharp look, optical ridges bent inward suspiciously. He reached deeper under Optimus's plates, finding a sensor node to pinch. Optimus was prepared this time and his firmly locked joints didn't do more than twitch, but oh Primus. His engine kicked up into high gear and his vision fuzzed to white static from the sensory overload. When he could see again, a frantic cascade of alerts flooded his HUD. Two of the new components in his chest were online and tingling urgently.

The majority of the alerts could be summed up as; more, more, more.

"All right?" Ironhide asked cautiously. His caresses had stopped. Optimus forced himself not to squirm in frustration.

"Fine, I'm fine," he said, after rebooting his vocalizer.

Ironhide was still hesitating, smelt it. Optimus's restlessness was returning and, as unsettling as the intense surges were, this was worse. Desperate, he reached up past Ironhide's cannons to his upper arms. There wasn't as much armor there, mostly exposed struts woven through with fluid lines and data cables, and his urgent touches were rewarded with a low grunt.

That was... an interesting sound.

Optimus took hold of a tight bundle of cables and stroked it back and forth with his thumb. Ironhide groaned. His pelvic structure grated against Optimus's as he rocked forward. His energy field flared and settled into a rapid, rhythmic pulse.


The expression on Ironhide's face plates - mouth open and optics flickering as energy diverted elsewhere - was entrapping. Optimus touched him with greater deliberation; petting and tugging at wires and lines, wanting to see the way it would make Ironhide move, the noises he would produce.

"Optimus," Ironhide said, thready and distorted by static, "You shouldn't -" He cried out when Optimus gently pinched two lines and Optimus again restrained himself from bucking.

He couldn't figure out why that sound should make the heat in him flare higher, but it did. His longer arms gave him the advantage, allowing him to reach up under the empty wheel-wells that protected Ironhide's shoulder joints and gently rub the normally hidden shoulder pivot. Ironhide's frame shuddered, optics flicking again before going completely dark.

"You know," he said, "This is supposed to be about making it good for you."

Optimus probed carefully along the pivot and savored another pleasant surge when Ironhide arched forward. Focusing on the other mech was so much easier than trying to sort out and categorize his own new sensations.

"I call this good," he said.

Ironhide stiffened, and then flicked his optics back on. The look he gave Optimus was wry and much like his early nervousness, the familiarity made Optimus warm with affection. "You would."

And with that, Ironhide started moving again. The fingers still buried in Optimus's flank twisted and took hold of the node he'd pinched earlier. He rubbed a slow circuit around it, over and over, putting pressure along the edges of the connection, instead of in the center where it was the most sensitive. Optimus shifted, helpless, his fingers unconsciously flexing in time to that steady, maddening motion. It was so close, so very close, and every time Ironhide skimmed the wires instead of pressing the point where they twisted together, made him want it there all the more.

"Ironhide, please..." The words slipped out his vocalizer, unbidden.

As if that was the cue he needed, Ironhide finally, finally stroked across instead of around and sent a burst of searing heat through Optimus's lines. The additions to his spark chamber abruptly switched over from tingling to throbbing.

I want, I want- "My systems say they're ready for connection," Optimus said.

Ironhide chuckled and rocked forward again, sparks flying. "I noticed."

It took Optimus a moment to realize he'd unconsciously shifted his chest plates to give better access to his spark chamber. His immediate reaction was embarrassment at the loss of control, but it was swept away by Ironhide's continued movements. No matter how strange and new, he wanted it, wanted to feel grating of metal against metal and the lighting of his proximity sensors as they tracked the motion. He relaxed enough to let his own body shift, carefully, in echo. The rubber mat caught and dragged at his armor protrusions, but he hardly noticed as Ironhide let out another of those intoxicating noises in approval.

"Release your cable," Ironhide said. He slid his hands back toward Optimus's chest, only this time the feeling was even more intense against the delicate, now exposed machinery making up the outer shell of his chamber.

Optimus spent a few seconds locating the right command. He'd never had self-guided cables installed before and the processes were a long way from being instinctual. A sort of aching anticipation filled him as he extended the cable from its coil and past the last bit of protective plating.

"Now we get to the tricky part," Ironhide said. Blue sparks danced around his fingers as he took hold of Optimus's cable and pulled it gently to stretch out the still coiled length.

Optimus's intakes hitched - oh, that was sensitive.

"Tricky?" he rumbled. He continued to roll his hips in time to Ironhide's steady rocking and let his fingers wander a bit. He found the edge of a weld just above Ironhide's shoulder joint, undoubtedly one of many, and traced it lightly. Of all of them, Ironhide had been pulled apart, patched up, and completely over hauled the most. His exoskeleton and whole sections of his protoform had been replaced more times than Optimus cared to remember. It was easy to think of him as immortal - Primus's own warrior, forever dragging himself through one firefight only to jump yelling and shooting into another - but Optimus had seen him split open under Ratchet's tools far too often to hold on to that illusion.

Ironhide reached up with his free hand and curled it over Optimus's wrist.

"No getting distracted on me now, Optimus," he said in a low, gruff voice and tugged pointedly. Optimus took the hint and left the weld line alone. "Tricky," he repeated, "You have to get this -" he held up the plug, "-into my spark chamber port. Blind."

Optimus took a shuddering in-vent. He wasn't certain why they weren't hooking up the other way, given Ironhide was the more experienced, but he wasn't going to question. "I will do my best."

Ironhide's back arched as he pressed Optimus's cable against his chest and urged the plug to slide in with urgent nudges. "The connector is... here," Ironhide said, comming Optimus with an image of his internal schematics, "Line up your cable and push in."

Easier said than done. Optimus could barely seem to hold onto the cable guidance commands through the clamoring urgency that was overwhelming his processors. It didn't help that Ironhide couldn't seem to hold still or that the sight of him squirming and arching and tugging slightly the extended cable between them was making Optimus feel like he was going to fly apart at the seams. He forced himself to focus.

"Take... you can take your time," Ironhide said. His voice was thick with want, underscored by the frantic, irregular revving of his engine. "No need to rush."

Taking his time was the very last thing Optimus wanted to do right now. He struggled with impatience, a rare state for him, and managed to push his cable in deeper under Ironhide's chest plates, maneuvering it around a pipe and through what felt like a mass of tubing. A small cry escaped Ironhide when Optimus felt his plug bump across a rounded rim. Encouraged, he pulled in a draft of air in a vain attempt to cool his overheated frame and aimed for the rim again.

It took a bit more fumbling and Ironhide came very close to bending back a piece of flank plating with how tight his grip was, but when Optimus's cable at last snapped into place, all thought was lost in a wash of burning sensation. The energy that had been building in his power cells shunted down the cable, setting every circuit alight as it went. Ironhide thrashed and without thinking, without even a hint of hesitation, Optimus tightened his hold on Ironhide's shoulders and dragged the smaller frame down against his own.

Ironhide grunted as their chests clanked together, but only braced his knees on the berth padding and ground against Optimus, the sting of his bumper catching on Optimus's wires only adding to the heightened pleasure. Optimus pulled and pushed at Ironhide's shoulders, heedless of the desperate sounds escaping his vocalizer. Code flew between their processors as their reproductive systems synchronized, sending alerts he barely understood darting across his HUD. He felt like he was reaching for something, straining for it with every tightened joint and frantic buck, every scrape of Ironhide's burning hot armor. If he moved just a little more, pushed his engine just a little harder, he could, he could -

It peaked all at once. Ironhide stiffened above him almost at the same moment pleasure burst across Optimus's entire sensor network, an internal implosion that whited out his vision and shuddered through every inch of his frame. His engine gave a final scream as it strained its limits in release and then sputtered down into its lowest gear. A profound sense of relaxation rolled over him. Joints unlocked, hydraulics depressurized, springs loosened. He was aware of Ironhide collapsing on him, but he couldn't seem to make his limps move to do anything about it.

Frankly, not moving at all for a few hours seemed like a really, really good idea.

Optimus was jerked out of his somnolent mood by his OS attempting to cycle down into power saver mode. It was a common reaction of an overtaxed system and especially one that had recently emptied its energy reserves. Ironhide's was probably doing the same, assuming he hadn't been kicked entirely offline. However, in addition to height and bulk, there was one other big difference between his and Ironhide's model types.

In response to his low energy state, Optimus's secondary power plant growled to life.

"Oh Primus," Ironhide groaned into Optimus's shoulder.

Optimus made an uncomfortable noise at the now-familiar pulse that passed through him. He hadn't been aware that it was something that could activate again so soon. "My apologies," he said, almost on reflex.

Ironhide grunted. He was clearly worn out, but the pleasant, post-overload tingling of Optimus's sensor nodes was quickly priming into something a little more... needy.

"Do you think we could..." Optimus said after a few seconds of struggling with himself.

Ironhide groaned again. "Yeah, yeah... gimmie a minute."

It took longer than a minute. When he finally showed signs of being willing to move again, Optimus immediately rolled them over.

"Allow me, my friend," he said, laying Ironhide's arms firmly against the berth and running reverent fingers beneath flared armor.

Ironhide sighed gustily. "I should have known you'd get me like this eventually. Just - go slow on an old bot."

Optimus's only response was to put his newly acquired knowledge to good use.

An hour later, Ratchet's curiosity got the better of him and he opened a private comm line to Ironhide. ::So, how'd it go?::

Ironhide's response, which took him an unusually long time to send, roughly translated as "ffftttpzz".

Ratchet prudently closed the line.