Actions

Work Header

Playthings of Eris

Chapter Text

Ratchet was extremely glad to be leaving Iacon.

Accepting this posting would have been social suicide for anyone but him. Instead Ratchet saw it as an escape. A chance to leave the past behind for good and start over with a blank datapad, right out on the edges of Autobot space where nobody had heard him or his nickname in Iacon.

I can finally leave that fragging nickname behind.

Despite his best attempts during his final year of Medschool and his probation period the rumours about him hadn’t faded at all. Sometimes it had even seemed like they were getting worse as time went on. Every time he thought they’d finally been forgotten the dreaded phrase ‘Party Ambulance’ would rise from the Pit to follow him again.

Ratchet cycled his vents in a sigh and looked around the spaceport, hoping to see a distinctive and familiar Flightframe silhouette pushing through the crowds. He knew his mentor was busy but had hoped the jet would at least be able to make it to the spaceport in time to see him off.

Pharma’s probably going to be the only person I miss.

He didn’t know if he would have made it through the few years without for Pharma’s support. From the first day a bright-opticed and inexperienced young ambulance had set foot on Iacon’s metal CMO Pharma had gone out of his way to give him special mentoring. The older medic had taken Ratchet under his wing both literally and figuratively. Seeing this, people had expected great things of Ratchet, even taking bets that he’d be Autobot CMO when Pharma offlined or lived long enough to retire.

All of that stopped abruptly the instant rumours about Ratchet had started.

It’s just not fair, dammit.

Medical students worked hard and played just as hard and Ratchet was no exception to that rule. He studied his aft off and cut loose on free days the same as everyone else did. Unfortunately it seemed that he was the one to be made to suffer for it.

Then some envious aft suggested that Ratchet was fragging his way to good marks.

And everyone believed it.

Horrified by the accusation, Ratchet had thrown himself into his studies. He shunned any University-based party and ventured out into the nightlife of Iacon proper when he needed to blow off steam. He never spent a klick more than he had to with any of his teachers, only talking to them within sight of others or during office hours with the doors wide open.

It hadn’t helped.

The rumours still followed him and continued to get worse as his marks improved.

So he’d withdrawn from University social circles entirely. When that hadn’t helped Ratchet had signined up for an elective course in Vos. Despite the extra time it added to his studies It did buy Ratchet glorious year-long respite from the rumours.

Of course they were waiting to pounce when he got back to Iacon.

During this time Pharma had not only provided academic guidance, he’d also offered a supportive shoulder and sympathetic audial to the distressed young trainee medic.

During Ratchet’s final year the rumours became particularly savage, especially when Honours candidates were announced. He hit his lowest point a week or so after finding a reprogrammed cleaning drone painting vicious insults across the walls of his dorm room. The instant he discovered that particular prank Ratchet had gone to Pharma and announced his intention to drop out and enlist himself as glorified cannon fodder.

Pharma spent that entire night talking Ratchet into staying and finishing the advanced medical training he’d originally planned to do.

Reluctantly, Ratchet agreed to stay. He’d finished his studies. Somehow.

If it wasn’t for Pharma I would never have made it this far.

When the postings were announced Ratchet had accepted the offer gladly, acknowledging the commiserations his classmates offered even though it was painfully obvious they didn’t really mean them. The false sympathy hadn’t even grated; by that point Ratchet was too happy to be leaving the rumours behind to give a stripped screw about the mechs that had spread them.

So when it came to farewells at the spaceport there was nobody waiting with Ratchet, no friends to make bad jokes and wave goodbye while he departed for places unknown. There was only one mechanism he wanted to see and it didn’t that Pharma was going to turn up. Disappointment rose in Ratchet’s spark and he stepped on it, hard

Pharma’s a busy mech. I should be grateful he gave me so much of his time while I was studying.

By the time Ratchet’s shuttle arrived Pharma still hadn’t come.

The inbound passengers disembarked and shuffled past in small flood of tired Fields and closely-held plating. Ratchet lined up to board, ignoring the way his spark twisted as he caught sight of other passengers being farewelled by friends and loved ones.

Ratchet boarded in a little cloud of loneliness, settled into his seat and offlined his optics, determined to nap until they reached the orbital space station where he would transfer to the Ark-3 for the next stage of his journey.  He’d already learned to grab recharge when and where he could. With this outpost’s proximity to Decepticon space, Primus only knew what his chances for decent rest would be like once he got there.

Transfer to the Ark-3 went smoothly, his luggage already waiting in the room assigned to him for the duration of the trip. They would be making several interdimensional jumps to shorten their journey and he looked at the bunk he would occupy for those jumps with more than a little trepidation.

Ratchet hated interdimensional travel with a passion, hated even more that everyone aboard would spend the jumps in stasis to reduce the risk of spark destabilisation during interdimensional travel. He’d heard rumours that the best scientific minds known to the Autobots were working on something involving quantum drive engines and some potentially universe-ending bending of the laws of physics in order to replace their current methods.

In Ratchet’s opinion a breakthrough in interstellar travel couldn’t come soon enough.

Primus, I hate ‘Jumping.

Unfortunately for Ratchet, the Ark-3 had been docked at the spaceport just long enough for the crew to have heard some of the less virulent Party Ambulance rumours. He got to spend the time between jumps fighting tedium by reading medical journals and fending off advances from mecha who thought he might like to kill some time by spending it in their berths.

By the time they arrived at Outpost Whero Ratchet had managed to get the message through to everyone except one annoyingly persistent rotor-frame. When Ratchet finally figured out that the mech was only propositioning him for the entertainment value of Ratchet’s scathing rejections he knocked the mech out with an expertly thrown stein.

Admittedly they were both overcharged at the time, but Ratchet was still mortified by his own behaviour. Even the lack of resentment from the rotor-frame and the increased respect from the rest of the crew didn’t dull his embarrassment. He hadn’t reacted that violently in years, not since Vos! The rotor-frame had given him some good advice, delivered around gales of laughter while the mech lay on the floor.  Even though Ratchet had been drunk and the rotor drunk and laughing so hard his vocaliser mangled half the words he still filed it away for future reference.

Throw something more aerodynamic next time… Huh.

Ratchet disembarked the Ark-3’s nonsparked transport shuttle to find a small welcoming committee waiting for him. It surprised him when it probably shouldn’t have. For some reason his solitary departure from Cybertron lead him to assume that this end of the journey would be the same.

Three mecha were waiting for him; one large Convoy-class mech, a brightly-coloured femme and a visored minibot. The smaller bots made the Convoy-class mech look unnaturally tall for his frametype and Ratchet couldn’t help but wonder if this was an accident or a deliberate attempt at intimidation as he approached them. Swallowing a surge of nervousness he stopped within easy speaking distance of the trio. Determined not to look intimidated he stood precisely as close as would be considered polite for the smaller frametypes of the femme and minibot, well inside the rage where most mecha would become intimidated by the massive convoy-class frame looming over them.

I’m not going to waste my time on petty little power games.

“Medical officer Ratchet reporting for Duty.” He said crisply, not entirely sure of the military protocol for the situation.

I’m an Autobot but I’m a medic, not a soldier. They’re just gonna have to deal with that.

 “Welcome to Whero Outpost, Medic Ratchet.” The convoy-class mech said. His voice was deep and strong with a clean Iaconian accent like Ratchets’. “I am Ultra Magnus, officer in charge of this base. With me are Mystère, my second-in-command and the head of Special Operations for this sector,” Magnus indicated the brightly-coloured femme, “And Agent Jazz,” this was apparently the minibot’s designation. “Who has been assigned to guide you until you are settled in with us.”

I’ve got a SpecOps mech for my sparkling-sitter? Interesting.

Mystère gave Ratchet a politician’s smile and a nod of greeting. Jazz’s smile was far more open; denta flashing merrily beneath his glittering blue visor. He flicked Ratchet a casual salute that earned him a glare from Ultra Magnus.

“Agent Jazz will show you to your quarters so you can get settled in.” Mystère said, neatly cutting off Ultra Magnus before he could voice the reprimand that was obviously burning the tip of his glossa. “It is currently mid-morning local time. You have the rest of the day to get acquainted with the base; your rotation on the duty roster begins tomorrow. We are very happy to have you on the team, Medic Ratchet”

“Thank you, Officer Mystère. I’m happy to be here, as well.”

Happier than you can imagine.

The officers moved off and Ratchet was left standing with Jazz, who spread his arms wide and spun on his heel.

“Welcome to our own little slice of paradise, Ratchet.” The minibot declared. “Come on, I’ll show you where your berth is and then we’ll start the grand tour.”

“Lead the way, Jazz.”

Chapter Text

Jazz kept a careful optic on the newest member of Team Whero as he conducted the tour, observing the medic’s reactions and storing them in his memory for later analysis.

Unlike some of the others in his department the saboteur was actually glad to be assigned ‘babysitting duty’, even with the extra work generated by the associated secondary mission. It meant he wouldn’t be sent on any deep-cover missions until Ratchet was properly integrated into life at the base. Jazz’s last few missions hadn’t gone as planned and he was honestly looking forward to the chance to relax a little instead of being sent back out.

Not that this is a holiday.

It was rare for someone of Ratchet’s potential to be sent so far away from the centre of Autobot territory and Jazz was tasked with finding out why this had happened, in Ratchet’s own words.

The young medic’s records were impeccable; he had some of the highest scores ever recorded in his general studies, truly exceptional surgery skills and an elective Flightframe specialty that made him invaluable to Whero with its small contingent of Shuttle-frames.

It just didn’t make sense that Autobot High Command would allow someone so promising to come all the way out here. Ultra Magnus and Mystère were suspicious; suspicious enough to assign a high-ranking Ops mech to spy on the youngster while he settled in.

He’s going to be on his best behaviour for a while. Won’t be until after he’s gotten used to us and started relaxin’ that we’re gonna start seein’ his true colours.

That’s when Jazz’s job would really begin. By then he would friendly enough with Ratchet that the ambulance wouldn’t think it at all strange that his former guide still kept tabs on him whenever Jazz was on base.

They’d already gotten as much information as they could from the head of Intel in Iacon. According to Mirage the rumour mill had decided that Ratchet’s berth habits –which were no better or worse than any other medical student- were fair game for some pretty savage gossip.

Analysis showed that the rumours surrounding the young mech followed patterns typical of backbiting by mechanisms that envied the success of others. So, Ratchet either consistently outperformed the wrong people or was so generally unlikable so that revenge was sought, no matter how petty the method. Mirage had noted that the elective year in Vos was a failed attempt to escape the rumour-mongering.

Interestingly, both CMO Pharma and the Prime had approved sending Ratchet to Whero, which was not far enough from Decepticon lines to be entirely safe for such a promising medic. Someone apparently thought it worth the risk, thought that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ would apply here and help both Ratchet’s reputation and his mental state, which both CMO Pharma and Mirage agreed had been deteriorating under the strain.

Personally, Jazz approved of the idea. Get the young mech out here where nobody knew him, give the rumours time to die a natural death and then take him back with first-hand experience of what it meant to be a medic on the front lines and he’d be a better wartime CMO for it.

Because if Ratchet’s academic results were to be believed then Jazz had little doubt that this red-and-white ambulance was a shoe-in for CMO, no matter what his personality was like.

It looks like a bunch of jealous fraggers taking down the tall poppy but we won’t know until we’ve seen how he behaves when he’s feelin’ more at home.

None of this was common knowledge, of course. It was still odd that they’d sent Ratchet all the way out here for the fresh start he obviously needed. There were plenty of other places –safer places- such a potentially valuable medic could have been sent, places that would have made far more sense than Whero. Thus the medic had been assigned a SpecOps babysitter. Jazz would be able to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle while ensuring that Ratchet integrated smoothly into base life.

“So what’s your specialty, Agent Jazz?” Ratchet asked as the saboteur led him through the warren of corridors that made up the non-combatant residences, “Or is it one of those things you’re not allowed to say.”

There were large parts of his job that the mechs around him weren’t supposed to know about, but his official use was well-known and fit with the persona they know.

“It’s just Jazz, mech.” He grinned at the ambulance to take the sting out of his words. “’M a Saboteur. It’s my job to go and make life difficult for the ‘Cons. Blow up th’ things they’d rather keep intact, cause mayhem in places they want to keep nice and quiet, generally make their lives as difficult as possible.”

His choice of glyphs was a deliberate probe and Jazz wasn’t disappointed by the reaction. Ratchet’s optics dimmed slightly, the open expression on his faceplates clouding as a quick flash of something bitter flickered through his EMF.

In-ter-es-ting. Let’s see what else I can get.

“What? You don’t like a nice, well-set explosion?” Jazz pretended to be offended, wondering how easy it would be to get Ratchet to admit to the persecution he was trying to escape.

“I don’t like what they do to mecha caught in them.” Ratchet said bluntly. “No medic does.”

Well that one was a long shot, anyway.

“I can’t promise not to blow up anyone you’ll have to fix,” Jazz flicked his visor in a wink. “But I can promise to try to bring the original limbs with me if it happens.”

Ratchet’s mouthplates quirked up in a smile and the troubled look vanished from his optics.

“See that you do, then.” His tone was dry, confirming he already had the dark sense of humour most Autobot medics were forced to develop in self-defence.

Laughing with more force than was probably needed, Jazz reached up to slap the younger mech on the backplates in a friendly gesture that the ambulance tolerated. The amusement in Ratchet’s Field deepened, becoming more genuine.

“I like you, Ratchet. I think you’re going to fit in here just fine.”

 

~V~V~V~

 

By the time Jazz finished giving his tour Ratchet had decided he rather liked the Ops agent, in spite of his profession. The minibot’s job didn’t seem to affect his popularity at the base. He seemed to have a friendly greeting for everyone and they were all returned. Jazz was friendly, funny and despite some accidental remarks that brought unpleasant memories to the front of mind, Jazz seemed genuinely invested in making sure Ratchet felt comfortable around him.

Or at least as comfortable as he could be around someone whose job description included harming mecha by dishonest methods.

These are soldiers; this is war. Not everyone fights the ‘Cons head-on.

The quarters Ratchet was assigned were nothing fancy; perfectly adequate for a single mechanism. In fact, apart from the layout it was almost identical in size and basic furniture content to his old dorm room back in Iacon. Maybe one third again as large and he was lucky enough to share a tiny washracks with the mech next door, a weapons researcher who was currently off-base. There was a larger communal washrack for this sector of the base, but apparently Whero was an older design from when those who weren’t active fighters might be disturbed by the sight of fighters scrubbing off after close-quarters combat.

Or so Jazz claimed.

Ratchet would know unless he went digging in the archives and he honestly had better things to do with his time. Like try to figure out why First Aid had let so many get away with skipping their routine physicals and what he could do about catching up on the backlog. He discovered the situation when Jazz allowed him a brief poke around in the Medbay (‘You’re gonna have plenty time to get to know the place, starting tomorrow. Right now it’s just enough for you to know where it is’)

Frontline warriors were some of the worst offenders and Ratchet just didn’t understand it. Surely they would want to make sure they were in peak condition to increase their odds of survival? Mystère’s agents had the right idea; they were all up to date. Everyone in Ops and Intel had both physical and psychological evaluations logged and up-to-date.

He planned to ask Jazz about that apparent incongruity when they reached the large hall that served a good chunk of the base population as a cross between a cafeteria and a rec-room.

According to Jazz there were several of these in Whero and this one was the closest to Ratchet’s quarters and the Medbay, so he’d probably end up here a lot. Without wasting a second the saboteur hustled him inside, found them a table, sat Ratchet down and went to collect some fuel at the energon dispenser.

Ratchet stomped down his mild annoyance at Jazz’s suddenly bossy behaviour and stretched in his seat, well aware that he was the centre of a lot of covert interest from other mechs in the room. The last few years had made the medic extremely aware of when others were looking at him. It was almost like he could feel their optics on his plating, phantom touches that made him want to tuck his armour in tight and slouch in the chair in a pointless attempt to hide.

Get over it, Ratchet.

Pulling up a memory file of Pharma jokingly calling him ‘paranoid’ made Ratchet feel a little better. He clung to the memory for courage as he waited for Jazz to return, settling himself comfortably and pretending to examine the rec-room décor. Or what passed for decor, at any rate.

“Here ya go.”

A cube of clean mid-grade energon appeared on the table as if by magic, Jazz’s visor flashing merrily away over the top of his own cube as he took a sip.

“Thank you.”

Ratchet picked up the cube and had it halfway to his lipplates when Jazz snapped his fingers in a display of manual dexterity that made Ratchet twitch, even though the saboteur’s hands probably weren’t anywhere near as sensitive as his own.

“Almost forgot!” Jazz fished about in subspace and withdrew a datapad, sliding it across the table to Ratchet. “Message came for you. It was sent just after you left Cybertron so it arrived well before you did. From the Mr Ego himself, CMO Pharma”

A sudden surge of hope blazed through Ratchet’s systems and it was all he could do to force himself to swallow his mouthful normally before rising to his mentor’s defence.

“It’s not all ego, it’s completely justified pride.” Ratchet said, picking up the datapad and flicking it on. “He really is as good as they say, Jazz.”

The saboteur’s sceptical noise was nowhere as interesting as whatever Pharma had said and Ratchet ignored the minibot in favour of finding out what was on the datapad.

 

Ratchet,

Sorry I couldn’t make it to the spaceport to see you off. Had an important meeting I could get out of. Best of luck at Whero, I’m sure you’ll do well.

Signed, Autobot Chief Medical Officer Pharma

 

It was appallingly short and Ratchet felt an irrational surge of disappointment well up in his spark that he struggled to suppress.

Pharma was a busy mech and being CMO was no easy task; the Flightframe had complained about the workload often enough. Of course Ratchet hadn’t really expected his mentor to be able to come say goodbye back on Cybertron, and it was good of him to take the time to send a message apologising for it when he hadn’t promised anything definite in the first place.

He’d said he’d try to come, not that he actually would.

Ratchet read over the glyphs again, committing them to memory before putting the datapad down with a sigh. His babysitter was apparently too busy eyeing up a rather regal-looking black-and-white Praxian to have noticed anything in Ratchet’s EMF while he read Pharma’s message.

“So, Jazz.” Ratchet said a little more loudly than normal in order to get the saboteur’s attention. That visor snapped back to him so fast he wondered if the mech had just jammed some cervical joints. “What do people do for fun at Whero?”

Chapter Text

 

Since Ratchet had asked him to, Jazz finished up the tour of Whero by showing him around what recreation facilities available. It was about what Ratchet expected, with focus split between activities what would help keep battle reflexes honed and others that would help a stressed mech unwind. Nothing really appealed to him, but he could hardly expect dance parties and music this close to the edge of Autobot territory.

Oh well, I’ll get used to it.

As they wandered the base Ratchet felt his plating begin to crawl. Optics were watching the medic and his SpecOps escort everywhere they went, the almost imperceptible buzz of encrypted comms chatter following them like fresh paint fumed. Even though Ratchet knew their curiosity was only natural and there were no cruel intentions behind the chatter it still put him on edge.

When the weight of all the optics following them finally became too much for the medic he claimed to be worn out and fled for his quarters. Jazz seemed a little disappointed that he’d decided to turn in early, and if Ratchet was being honest with himself he was, too. Despite his odd intonations and glyph-choice the minibot was good company; it wasn’t Jazz’s fault that the simply curiosity of others brought up bad memories that weren’t as far in the past as Ratchet wanted them to be.

I’m going to be posted here for a while. There’ll be plenty of time to hang out later.

He still had the datapad with Pharma’s letter on it in his subspace. Ratchet flopped onto his berth, pulled the datapad from subspace and re-read the short message, one finger running over the edge of the datapad as he tried to pull some feeling of comfort from the terse, businesslike glyphs.

Best of luck at Whero. I’m sure you’ll do well.

It didn’t work and eventually Ratchet put the datapad aside with a sigh, rubbing at his faceplates.

I’ll send him a reply tomorrow, after my shift.

Thinking of his shift, Ratchet figured that work would be the best cure for his incipient attack of homesickness. He got the datapads he’d taken from the Medbay and moved to his desk, laying them out and contemplating the information they held. He’d had several background algorithms working on what he’d been able to glean before Jazz had pestered him into putting them aside earlier in the day.

One thing was obvious: his first priority would be catching up on overdue physical evaluations. According to the notes First Aid had left in medical shorthand glyphs on their files the warriors were going to be his biggest problem.

Sunstreaker, Drift and Ironhide are apparently the worst offenders.

Ratchet tapped his chin thoughtfully, raising an optical ridge at the additional notations next to the second of those names.

Huh, that’s odd. Ex-Wreckers are usually better about their checkups than that.

There was supposed to be a chair for the desk. A very brief search –more of a glance around- showed Ratchet that it was currently supporting one of the smaller crates of belongings he’d brought with him from Iacon. The young medic hesitated for a moment, torn between the knowledge that he should unpack and the desire to avoid the homesickness and loneliness that would inevitably come from doing so.

It would be much easier to occupy his processors with something constructive instead.

I can always unpack tomorrow.

Feeling relieved and a little guilty about his decision, Ratchet turned his back on his luggage and the desk chair. Bending over and resting his forearms on the desk, he began to work.

 

~V~V~V~

 

Jazz let the new medic make his excuses and retreat, playing up the disappointment just a little to see how Ratchet would react. He sensed a bit of regret and guilt in the mech’s Field as they parted ways, but relief was the most prominent emotion Ratchet projected as he hurried through the door of his quarters and closed behind him.

He’s been getting’ twitcher whenever we’ve got more people lookin’… Is that just new guy nerves or a result of what was goin’ on back in Iacon?

It was a pretty little set of problems; almost but not quite enough to keep Jazz from becoming bored while waiting for Ratchet to drop some more information in his lap. Information, or answers. Answers were what Jazz’s superiors preferred, even if it wasn’t as fun for him as it would be to figure it out himself from the little hints his target let slip.

I hope Mystère has something else for me to do while this plays out otherwise I’m gonna die of boredom.

Jazz wasn’t sparked with the patience to endure a long-running information gathering job in neutral or friendly territory, and safe inside the boundaries of Intel and Ops he freely admitted it. He needed danger, excitement, chaos around him to truly thrive. Without it, all of the colours drained out of life until it became dull grey tedium he simply endured. He suspected that need for him to develop patience was one of the unspoken reasons Mystère had for keeping him here and sending Bumblebee to Cybertron.

He turned the idea over in his processors as he made his slow, roundabout way to Mystère’s office to give his initial report on the newcomer. The more Jazz thought about possible reasons for being assigned this Operation, the more convinced he became that he was on the right track, even though he knew there would be flaws in his reasoning that he wouldn’t be able to identify without an outside perspective.

We both needed the time and ‘Bee’s public face is just as likable as mine. He’s got the patience for this kind of thing but the little slagger gets to go party in Iacon after updating Mirage on happenings out here.

With that fun little analysis running alongside processing threads devoted to compiling his initial report for Mystère, Jazz was paying less attention than usual to where he was going.

Of course, he was always more relaxed when within the domain of SpecOps; all the agents were. It was their home, the place where they were safest and surrounded by the closest thing to a family their kind could have. Mechanisms who understood what it was to be an Agent and knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

So the last thing on Jazz’s mind was the possibility of encountering someone who definitely wasn’t an Ops mech inside SpecOps territory.

He rounded the corner into what was officially known to be their office corridor (the real offices were elsewhere, but only the agents knew that) and almost ran right into a tall black-and-white frame that -so far as Jazz was aware- shouldn’t have been there.

The other mech stopped, wide sensory panels flaring out and tilting to focus the broader information-gathering surfaces at Jazz as the agent jumped back, swearing and falling into a defensive crouch. The minibot wanted to swear again when he realised who the other mech was. Prowl was from Tactical, from what Jazz knew about ongoing operations the Praxian shouldn’t have a reason to be in Ops, not even in the office corridor where an Agent could reasonably expect to encounter mechs from other parts of the army.

I didn’t hear him. How the slag does he move so quietly?

Prowl was still looking at him, doorwings spread and oriented on Jazz, blocking the saboteur’s view of the corridor behind him. One optical ridge rose slowly towards the Praxian’s red chevron and Jazz realised he was still crouched in a fighting stance with a knife held aggressively; and that it was several seconds too late to make a joke and play the incident off as an accident or a failed attempt at a prank.

“Agent Jazz?”

Somehow Prowl put a world of meaning into those two glyphs, breaking the uncomfortable stalemate and allowing Jazz to straighten up with an exaggerated sigh, returning the knife to its hiding-place with a deliberate motion that Prowl tracked with optics and a subtle shift of his sensory panels.

“Sorry Prowler, I’m still a bit jumpy.” Jazz grinned sheepishly and shrugged, keeping his frame-language as casual and relaxed as possible. “Wasn’t expectin’ to see anyone from outside of Ops around here this time of the cycle.”

It wasn’t the best apology in the universe but the Praxian seemed to take it at face value, sensory panels slowly easing down from their alarmed position as he appeared to take Jazz at his word.

“I see.” Prowl’s voice was completely without inflection, allowing Jazz to interpret the Praxian’s words however he chose.

Jazz chose to interpret the lack of inflection as interesting, raising an optic ridge of his own behind the safety of his visor. For once Prowl hadn’t corrected Jazz’s use of his nickname for the Praxian, which was another oddity in a day positively overflowing with them.

“I hope you are able to become less jumpy in the immediate future, for the sake of everyone around you.” Prowl’s voice was decidedly cold now and he flicked his sensory panels back in an obvious dismissal. “Good evening.”

With that Prowl swept past the saboteur and out of sight. Jazz was irritated by the exchange, fighting the immature urge to give the Praxian’s sensory panels a retaliatory pinch as the larger mech passed him.

When the sound of Prowl’s pedesteps faded beyond his ability to detect Jazz resumed his journey to Mystère’s office to deliver his initial findings on their new medic.

Maybe I can find out what Prowl was doing down here while I’m at it.

Chapter Text

“I wanted to stay for a few weeks to help smooth the transition for you.” First Aid was saying as he introduced Ratchet to the Medbay that would be his realm for the duration of this posting. “This place is not what I would recommend for a first posting, especially as the sole trained medic. But orders are I’m to ship out on Ark 3 when it departs. I’ll be having a word with your superiors when I get to Iacon, you can count on it.”

Ratchet’s spark warmed at the show of concern even as he felt a twinge of discomfort at the way First Aid so casually criticised his mentor.

“Pharma knows what he’s doing.” Ratchet said stoutly, leaping to Pharma’s defence almost automatically and pretending not to see the sceptical look First Aid shot him from behind his visor. “And I enjoy a challenge.”

“Some of these mechs are more than a challenge.” First Aid said wryly. “They’re the spawn of Unicron himself; especially the frontline warriors.”

“The ones that keep dodging physicals?” Ratchet asked shrewdly, knowing he’d hit the mark when the older medic winced. “I have a few ideas on how to deal with that.”

He handed First Aid a datapad and proceeded to set up the Medbay for the first of the days’ patients while the older mech read. Ratchet’s spark soared when he heard First Aid snickering and glanced over to see him nodding approvingly to himself as he read over Ratchet’s plan to deal with Ironhide and the rest of the troublemakers.

~V~V~V~

“How often are you flying in an atmosphere of 0.088 kg/m(3) or greater?” Ratchet asked, examining the buildup on Skyfire’s plating.

“Not often or long.” The shuttle replied, optics dimming as he calculated something. “I would say about 10% of my current flight time.”

Ratchet hummed, prodding carefully at a thickened patch where the shuttleformer’s dermal nanites were apparently overactive, producing more protective enamel than they should. This was a chronic problem that was now having a serious impact on the shuttle’s social life and by extension his mental health. Mechs on base were starting to worry that Skyfire’s condition might be communicable and were starting to avoid the quietly friendly mech.

“I think that’s the cause of your problem here.” The young medic said confidently. “I saw it a few times in Vos, in atmosphere-adapted flyers that couldn’t get in the air very often. This stuff is supposed to provide a cushion against atmospheric abrasion that you're not actually encountering, so it's just building up." Ratchet explained. "This condition is also known to show up occasionally in Praxians. If we can’t get you more flight time in denser atmospheres I can put together something for you to soak in that will make the excess easy to remove with a good scrubbing, or we can simulate re-entry by pointing flamethrower at you every few weeks.”

Skyfire made a thoughtful noise while Ratchet continued checking him over.

“I would prefer more flight time.” The shuttle said with a self-deprecating chuckle. “Failing that, the soak sounds nice. I had no idea this condition affected groundframes.”

“Praxians share more similarities with flightframes than you’d think.” Ratchet said distractedly, checking chis chronometer and his HUD feed to the waiting room camera.

The next appointment was supposed to be Ironhide, and the mech was late.

Probably not going to show up. Again.

This would make appointment number three that Ironhide had simply not shown up to. With a silent sigh, Ratchet rescheduled the warrior’s appointment to a free slot after midday in two days’ time and silently blessed First Aid for advising him to schedule Ironhide for directly after a mech who would probably need extra time. Skyfire could definitely use the extra today.

Skyfire gratefully accepted the suggestion that they take care of some patches of nanite overgrowth immediately. Apparently the shuttle didn’t have much of a social life; a situation Ratchet could empathise with far too well after the way Medschool had gone. As for Whero, he was still very much the new person and the focus of curious optics that still made his plating crawl. Conversation with people besides Jazz and First Aid were still awkward, but the politeness didn’t seem to be hiding any malice so far.

We’ll just have to see what happens after I’m done with Ironhide…

~V~V~V~

First Aid left the day before Ratchet’s planned confrontation with the recalcitrant Ironhide. By that time Ratchet had completed physicals for most of Whero’s shuttles, all of the Spec Ops mechs (The ones Mystère would admit to currently being on base, at any rate) and even Ultra Magnus.

“I really wish I could be here to see this.” First Aid said regretfully as Ratchet helped him pack the last few things from his office. “He’s been such a pain in my aft. Please say you’ll send me video of this.”

“Jazz already has it covered.” Ratchet gave the older medic a thoroughly wicked grin. “I think he’s looking forward to this almost as much as you are.”

“Not possible.” First Aid grumbled. “And he’d be as bad as Ironhide if he didn’t have superiors who pull Agents from fieldwork if they skip medical appointments.”

Ratchet mulled that over as he took the last sealed box from First Aid, putting it with the others. The stack of neatly packed things by the door reminded him of the untouched crates in his own quarters. He still hadn’t found time to unpack.

It’s not even been a week. And I’ve been busy.

Pushing his guilt aside, Ratchet turned to see First Aid putting his last few knick-knacks into subspace pockets. Stripped of all his things the office looked rather bare. Even though First Aid had insisted that Ratchet use the room too he hadn’t wanted to give the impression of pushing the other mech out. So far there was only a copy of his graduation documents on one of the walls and half-a-dozen of his hardcopy reference texts looking lonely on the shelves without First Aid’s to keep them company.

“There, all done.” The older medic said, looking around the room with an air of satisfaction before turning to Ratchet with a warm smile lighting his visor. “The office is all yours, Medic Ratchet. I leave both it and my patients in your capable hands.”

Somehow Ratchet managed to smile and thank the older mech gracefully despite the anxiety churning in his tanks.

Chapter Text

Jazz did see the logic in tackling the worst offender first.

If Ratchet succeeded then he’d have next to no problems with either of the Twins or Drift; all three of them would show up out of sheer curiosity, if not some grudging respect for the young medic’s steel nerves. On the other hand, if Ratchet failed then his reputation would take one Pit of a hit before he even met most of the mechs on base.

He seems pretty sure he can pull it off, though.

Jazz himself wasn‘t as sure as the young medic but he kept his doubts to himself. Ratchet seemed to have enough confidence issues following him from Iacon without Jazz adding to them.

As the Agent slipped into the mess hall where the warriors congregated he scanned the room from behind his visor. Spotting his target, Jazz seated himself in a corner with a good view of the room and signalled Ratchet over comms.

Ironhide was deep in conversation with one of the snipers, halfway through his lunch ration and oblivious to the rest of the room. Jazz had picked a good vantage point and settled in by the time Ratchet entered and headed for the dispensary. The young ambulance wasn’t very subtle about the way he looked around for Ironhide but he didn’t really need to be. Just for the amusement factor, Jazz started up a subroutine to evaluate Ratchet’s performance in the same way he would with a new Agent. He smirked to himself as Ratchet headed straight for Ironhide’s table, not even trying to stay out of the warrior’s line of sight.

Heh, failing spectacularly so far.

Ripples spread through the room as mechs inevitably noticed the new mech, ripples that became excited muttering as they saw where Ratchet was headed and figured out that a confrontation was coming. Nothing thrilled the residents of Whero like fresh grist for the gossip mill, and their untested new medic taking on one of the most notorious Medbay-dodgers promised to be juicy no matter who came out on top.

He’s definitely failing by Ops standards, but Ratchet wanted an audience for this. I hope for his sake he can pull this off.

Jazz was surprised by how well Ratchet handled the weight of all those optics, given his normal reaction to attention in a crowd. The young medic was calm and poised, exuding confidence where there was usually definite discomfort. So far nearly everyone in the room was watching either overtly or covertly and it didn’t seem to faze Ratchet in the slightest.

‘Course, the more optics see this, the better…

At the target table so far only the snipers seemed to notice Ratchet’s approach. Jazz knew Ironhide was a cunning old soldier so he wasn’t going to assume that he was unaware. Still, Ironhide let Ratchet get all the way up to the table without so much as twitching an armour plate his direction. Locking down his vocaliser, Jazz smothered a snort of disgust and rested his chin on his palm

Overconfident. That’s not First Aid he’s dealing with.

The young medic stopped just behind Ironhide, somehow judging the mech’s range perfectly and stopping just out of striking distance.

Good instincts…

“So; you’re the one called Ironhide.” Ratchet said just loudly enough to interrupt the warrior’s current monologue.

Ironhide pretended to jump, then turned on his bench and slowly looked Ratchet up and down, blatantly ogling the younger mech.  He wasn’t the only one doing so; almost everyone in the room had given Ratchet an appreciative once-over since this little drama began.

Although Jazz’s own tastes ran towards a markedly different set of frametypes, even he had to admit that Ratchet’s comparatively slim red-and-white frame was well-proportioned. The medic’s lack of thick war-grade armour and lack of visible weapons made him unusual and especially attractive out here where mechs hadn’t seen anything but specialists and other warframes for longer than they could consciously recall. Under Ironhide’s appraising stare that lighter plating ruffled and smoothed again in a wave motion that could have meant any one of a dozen responses.

“That’s my name.” Ironhide drawled casually, still ogling Ratchet. A flicker of discomfort flashed across the young mech’s so fast only an operative could have caught it. “And you must be the new medic. Pretty little thing, aren’t you?”

This time Ratchet raised an optic ridge but Jazz didn’t like what he could see in the subtle tension of red-and-white plating.

Was it a jealous ex-lover spreading those rumours?

“So it’s the scenery and not a fear of big bad medics and our big scary needles keeping you out of Medbay unless you’re falling apart at the seams?” Ratchet delivered the mocking line flawlessly, just loud enough to be heard by those closest to him but quiet enough that those a few tables away had to strain to listen in. And strain they did as he continued with condescension clear in his voice. “You certainly fooled me; I thought it was the other way around.”

Ironhide spluttered, engine growling dangerously. The warrior preferred to fight with fists rather than words and it was clear to everyone listening that he was outclassed, especially since Ratchet had wisely used his time to prepare for this confrontation.

The hint of smirk on Ratchet’s faceplates as he sipped his cube was the expression of a predator stalking its prey, an expression that clearly confused Ironhide. A confused Ironhide off the battlefield was an Ironhide who tended to react without thinking. Safe in his corner Jazz hid a smirk behind his hand, relaxing into his seat to enjoy the show.

He’s got this.

“You’re wrong all round, medic.” Ironhide snarled, bristling aggressively.

“I see.” Ratchet smiled pleasantly, sauntering into range so he could lean on the corner of the table. “So you’ll be coming to your appointment this afternoon, then?” He made it more of a statement than a question.

Ironhide snorted and turned away from Ratchet. Jazz’s sharp optics caught the flicker of plating that meant Ironhide was suppressing the urge to move away from where Ratchet deliberately encroached on his personal space.

“Not slaggin’ likely.” Ironhide growled, turning away from Ratchet in blatant dismissal. “Got better things to be doing.”

Watching like a cyberhawk Jazz saw the minute flicker of red fingers as Ratchet dispersed his now-empty cube and readied his attack.

“Given how long it’s been since your last full checkup, I don’t think so.” Ratchet said pleasantly, reaching out and taking hold of Ironhide’s upper arm as if to physically turn the mech back towards him.

Ironhide snarled, shrugging Ratchet’s hand off.

Then his optics flickered.

In the next instant several tons of scarred, battle-hardened warrior slumped face-down on the table, knocked out cold.

Smirking, Ratchet raised the hand that had been on Ironhide’s arm, allowing everyone to see the flexible mico-injector he’d snaked between thick armour plates. The tip still gleamed with sedative even as it folded back into the fine plates of Ratchet’s wrist.

Nobody made a sound as Ratchet bent and grasped one of Ironhide’s forearms, effortlessly lifting the larger mech and balancing the dead weight easily across his shoulders.

“I hope the rest of you will learn from this.” Ratchet said pleasantly, addressing the room at large before turning and walking out of the room with Ironhide draped across his shoulders.

Game, set and match to Ratchet on this one.

The stunned silence lasted just long enough for the sound of Ratchet’s pedesteps to fade before conversation erupted across the room. From the expressions on most mechs’ faces, Jazz was sure they would think twice before going up against their new medic. A keenly interested glance shared by a certain pair of frontline warriors caught his optic. These two were difficult to read at the best of times so he made a mental note to recommend that Mystère kept extra optics on them, just in case.

Primus I hope they didn’t take that as a challenge…

 

~V~V~V~

 

Mystère scrutinised Jazz carefully as the operative gave his verbal report. The written one lay on the desk between them, covered in deep scratches to show just how much Jazz hated writing reports.

Close observation of Ratchet hadn’t revealed any of the answers she and Magnus sought… yet.

Patience was one of the keys to solving this puzzle, Jazz’s ability to charm and manipulate was another. So far he’d done exceptionally well on his assigned task of winning Ratchet’s friendship. Given enough time Mystère was confident that he’d gain the trust necessary to winkle out the information they sought.

Gain his trust and he will give us what we need.

The flair with which the young ambulance had handled Ironhide and served notice to the other resident Medbay-dodgers made it even more important that they find out what precisely had been going on in Iacon.

Brilliant, creative, determined and a gifted surgeon. Someone like that should have been kept closer to Cybertron, but Mirage’s recommendation was overridden.

It was the careless treatment of a valuable tool that irritated Mystère more than anything else. The Autobots simply couldn’t afford to waste someone with that much talent, no matter what their personal failings happened to be. Accommodations had been made for worse than the rumours of berth-hopping that followed Ratchet around. As for more egregious failings… there were ways to deal with almost anything.

One quick visit from a Mnemosurgeon is usually all it takes.

“The plan for dealing with Ironhide, you said he came up with that by himself?” Mystère asked, clicking her claws against the surface of her desk.

Jazz nodded.

 “Yup.” A wide grin bloomed across the face visible beneath the bright glow of Jazz’s visor. “Ran it past First Aid before showing me. Apparently all ‘Aid needed to do was give him tips on approach.”

“Which you helped refine.”

Of course.” Jazz’s smile was pitiless. He openly resented anyone who got away with doing what he couldn’t. Namely, getting out of regular medical checkups.

“Without informing Magnus or myself.” Another neutral statement of fact

Mystère honestly hadn’t expected Jazz to pass on more information than he had, but his justifications would be informative.

“I told you he was dealing with it and when he planned to.” Jazz’s voice remained pleasant while his smile vanished.

“Having you or Magnus override his plans without having told you himself would have broken Ratchet’s trust in me and told him you didn’t trust him to do his job.” Jazz leaned forward in his chair, visor bright and focused. “Given what I’ve seen so far that would have about broken him.” He reached out and tapped his written report meaningfully. “You know Magnus would have tried to stop him. ‘Sides, Mags can’t act for scrap and we needed his reaction to be convincing.”

Excellent. He’s learning.

“What did Ratchet say about his encounter with a Magnus Detonation?” Mystère was honestly curious. She’d heard audio capture of the confrontation in Magnus’ office but hadn’t gone prying after Ratchet’s actions post-dressing-down.

Radiating extreme satisfaction, Jazz jeaned back in his chair and repeated Ratchet’s own private tirade to him verbatim, right down to Ratchet’s Iaconian accent and some peculiar tonal nuances that sounded Vosian.

While she listened, Mystère fed the information Jazz had given her into a set of background algorithms she had working on analysing their new medic. After dismissing Jazz she used the new information to craft her own official reaction Ratchet’s little stunt.

 

Medical Officer Ratchet;
I applaud your handling of Ironhide, that was very well done.
If you need to do something similar in future, please inform me first so I can re-schedule any safety drills Ultra Magnus has planned.
~Mystère.

Chapter Text

Ratchet couldn’t help reading the message from Mystère over and over again, not quite able to bring himself to believe the evidence of his optics. The mere fact that this message had come from the local head of Special Operations was enough to make him think that there were layers of meaning here he simply wasn’t equipped to understand.  Even if he took it at face value –as he was no doubt intended to- there was no way he could believe that the praise was completely genuine.

But that was the kind of thing those sneaky Intel types like.

And the results had been exactly what Ratchet had hoped for –so far, at least. There had been no problems with anyone ditching their appointments or disobeying medical instructions since he’d carried Ironhide out of the mess hall. In fact, he’d become something of a minor celebrity.

Wincing at the pile of recent memory fragments threatening to flood his current processes, Ratchet closed the base intranet messaging system and pulled up patient files to review. He would need to be as prepared as possible for the afternoons’ patients.

Sunstreaker and Sideswipe…

They were split-spark twins, ex-Gladiators whose true origins were unknown. Given the limited information available about split-spark mecha and the notes left on their file by First Aid, Ratchet made a mental not to avoid sedating either ‘twin’ without warning the other first if at all possible.

Along with Ironhide and a mech currently not on base these two had aparrently been the banes of First Aid’s existence. Ratchet was under no illusions about the current hot topic of Whero’s gossip mill. The only unknown was how people would react when meeting the instigator.

I wonder what they’re going to do?

Whatever they did, Ratchet was just going to have to deal with it and react accordingly. He wasn’t going to use the same trick he’d pulled on Ironhide; something like that wouldn’t work twice in a row and it wasn’t a good idea to become predictable, especially not with the calibre of mech on the roster at Whero.

Once I’ve seen what they’re like I’ll figure something out.

The pair arrived precisely on time, which was a pleasant surprise.

While Ratchet hadn’t exactly been expecting them to be early, he certainly wouldn’t have put it past them to be a few minutes late on purpose.

The pair all but prowled across the Medbay and stopped precisely far enough away from Ratchet to be just on the other side of polite; keeping their distance literally as well as figuratively. Daring him to react.

Without so much a twitching an armour plate Ratchet simply exuded calm and waited for them to act.

This didn’t seem to faze either of them, although Sideswipe looked vaguely amused as the pair of fighters proceeded to something that was a cross between a stare-down and a potentially hostile evaluation. Their Fields were non-existent; either withdrawn for the extra intimidation factor or else shut down entirely.

That’s right; they’ve still got some of their arena mods.

Two sets of piercing cobalt optics studied Ratchet in minute detail, subjecting him to an exacting scrutiny that made him feel like he was up on an auction block.

Ratchet had the social protocols all Medics were equipped with, and added to that was everything Jazz and First Aid had been able to tell him about these particular mechs. All together it didn’t exactly produce a great deal of understanding about Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, but he did know that showing weakness would be a deadly mistake.

At the same time, he didn’t want to let them maintain the upper hand in this encounter.

The way Ratchet saw it, his main problem was that if he broke the silence too early it would make it screamingly obvious how badly they’d gotten to him; but if he waited too long they would assume he was easily intimidated. Then he’d lose any respect he might have gained by pulling that stunt with Ironhide.

I wish I had more practice with this kind of slag…

But before the standoff could reach a critical moment, Sideswipe relaxed a fraction. He cocked his helm to the side, optics not leaving Ratchet for an instant.

“So, whaddaya think?” He sounded conversational, although he obviously wasn’t speaking to Ratchet.

There was an odd combination of accents layering Sideswipe’s glyphs. It threw Ratchet’s linguistic programming into a brief tizzy as it tried desperately to parse meaning from conflicting harmonic layers. Eventually it came up with a best-fit guess, but it was too late for Ratchet to say anything without looking like a total fool.

“He’ll do.” Either Sunstreaker’s accent wasn’t as thick as his brothers’ or Sideswipe was just playing it up to mess with the newbie. In any case, Ratchet found Sunstreaker far easier to understand when he opened his mouth again to add. “For now, anyway.”

“Always the optimist, aren’t ya bro?” Sideswipe said as he grinned easily, nudging Sunstreaker familiarly with an elbow before finally addressing Ratchet directly.  “We had the pleasure of watchin’ ya take out Ironhide the other day, kid. It was an absolute treat.”

The approving tone went sailing right over Ratchet’s head as his processors locked on one particular word and the way Sideswipe had said it.

Something half-remembered from a brief set of lectures on base-coding types and gladiators in particular surfaced in memory and met his annoyance at Sideswipe’s patronising tone. The vaguely condescending smirk on Sideswipe’s face was the last straw.

Ratchet lost his temper.

“Call me ‘kid’ again within the walls of this medical facility and I’ll reformat you into a belt sander.” He said calmly enough, but he couldn’t quite keep his anger hidden. It showed in the low rumble of his engine and leaked out into his Field as he enunciated every syllable as precisely as he could. “Do I make myself clear?

The twins froze and stared at Ratchet with unreadable expressions.

Huh, their optics are different shades.

Pinned by those predatory optics Ratchet got ample opportunity to catalogue the differences between the two as tension filled the silent Medbay.

Already appalled at himself for his outburst, Ratchet waited for the axe to fall.

First I’m throwing things at drunken idiots, now I’m mouthing off to two of our deadliest mechs. What is wrong with me?!

Just when the young medic thought one of them was going to go for his vitals their optics flicked sideways, communicating something in the briefest of glances.

They relaxed, armour fluffing out as a slow grin crept across Sideswipe’s face. Then he burst into peals of delighted laughter while Sunstreaker just smirked, the expression no less eloquent in its silence for expressing his amusement.

Primus; you’ve got some steel in ya, Doc.” Sideswipe wheezed when he got himself back under control. “You’re gonna do well here; real well.”

Forcing his ventilation system to cycle properly, Ratchet relaxed slightly. Apparently he’d done the right thing by snapping at Sideswipe.

Go figure.

The Fields of both mechs bloomed into life, extending to a polite social contact that thrummed with strong approval. It did nothing but confuse Ratchet, but now wasn’t the time to figure it out. Deliberately putting the whole processor-boggling mess aside to deal with later, he engaged the façade that had helped him survive Med School. If some of his confusion still made it through however, neither of the fighters said anything.

“If you say so.” Ratchet said dryly. “Now are you planning on behaving yourselves today or was a punctual arrival all I get?”

“Oh I think we’ll give you one appointment’s grace, right Sun?” Sideswipe said genially, mirth still vibrating through his voice. “Ta say thanks for the show and all.”

Sunstreaker’s harrumph might have been non-committal, except Ratchet was still watching them closely enough to catch the minute twitch of golden-yellow armour as it relaxed further away from his substructure.

Pretty sure that’s a yes.

His guess was correct.

The twin warriors cooperated beautifully, if First Aid’s reports on their previous behaviour were anything to go by. Ratchet almost couldn’t believe that these two were the exact same mechs the older medic had warned him about.

So far at least Sunstreaker was turning out to be laconic as everyone said, but the open hostility Ratchet expected just wasn’t there.

He’s suspicious, which is normal. But he’s not flat-out antagonistic like Jazz said.

In fact the closest Sunstreaker got to ‘antagonistic’ was at the end of the appointment, after Ratchet cleared the warriors to leave the Medbay.

The golden mech stalked over to where Ratchet was standing, reached out and took his forearm in a surprisingly gentle grip. His Field was calm but when Ratchet tried to tug his arm back Sunstreaker made a disapproving noise low in his vocaliser and tightened his grip. Staying obediently still, Ratchet projected patience. With a start he realised that he could actually hear Sunstreaker’s optical mechanisms whirring as that vaguely reassuring Field filled with an intensity of focus that made him feel like he was on an auction block all over again.

Sideswipe was no help. He was currently leaning against the doorframe, looking very put-upon as he waited.

“You’ve got a nice shade of white.” Sunstreaker said at length. “Blue-silver base.” His optics flicked up to meet Ratchet’s confused gaze and this time Ratchet could see them shifting as tiny transformation sequences took place. “Most of the mechs here have the calcite-based shades.”

Apparently that was supposed to mean something, so Ratchet nodded.

Sunstreaker let go of his arm then, stomping out past a smiling Sideswipe.

“Better not let yourself get gunged up or Sun might show you what it felt like to be in Ironhide’s plating.” Sideswipe sounded amused. “Except we don’t have fancy syringes so it’ll just be a plain old clonk t’ the head for you, Doc.”

With that he swept out of the Medbay, leaving a stunned Ratchet standing in the middle of the room with his arm still hovering in the air.

What in Primus’ name was that all about?

Chapter Text

Ratchet’s notoriety had only just begun to fade from nigh-celebrity status when a shipload of warriors who’d missed the Ironhide Incident returned to Whero and kicked the whole thing off again.

Jazz overheard many gleeful -and only slightly embellished- versions of the story being told over fuel in cafeterias and tossed backwards and forwards in the washracks. He found the whole situation highly entertaining, almost good enough to make up for missing Iacon’s nightlife.

Nah, being on the ground was worth it. Bee is gonna be so slagged he missed it!

It more than piqued his professional interest when he discovered that Ratchet’s surprised and uncomfortable reaction to the notoriety was genuine. He watched carefully, taking notes as the young medic tensed up under direct stares and visibly steeled himself before entering rooms that contained more than a handful of mechs, even flinching occasionally when his designation could be picked up from nearby conversations. These signs were subtle, of course. Only someone with Jazz’s training or the observation programming of a high-level diplomat would have noticed it.

And it went on, exactly the same way it had during the first round of gossip as the returning team slowly assimilated back into the daily routine of life at the base.

There was nothing in Mirage’s report about special training…

Jazz knew there was no way an ordinary mech could sustain an act this seamless. The frustration, disgust and concealed fear he detected in Ratchet at this sudden revival of his notoriety just as it was beginning to taper off was too genuine for it to have been a performance for their benefit.

So Jazz continued to prod.

Since the young ambulance’s arrival on base Jazz had been making a point of dragging Ratchet to different refuelling stations all over the base, partly to get him seen by the inhabitants and partly to observe how Ratchet reacted around different sorts of mecha. So far as he could tell no particular frametype or colour scheme had provoked a more intense reaction than others, downgrading the possibility that it had been a jealous ex-lover behind the vicious rumours surrounding Ratchet in Iacon.

Or if it is, he doesn’t know which Ex it was…

Given the signs of building stress in the young medic, Jazz decided to let up a little for a day or two by letting Ratchet drag him to the canteen nearest medical for midday fuel. While putting a target under stress was standard procedure, the anxiety sings Jazz had picked up recently meant he was pressing too hard. As much as they wanted answers, keeping Ratchet functional took priority.

Not to mention that Mystère would be supremely annoyed if Jazz accidentally broke the medic.

 I don’t wanna find out what kind of remedial training I’d get for fragging this up… 

Not surprisingly, their conversation quickly strayed to the rumour mill’s revived interest in the ‘Ironhide Incident’.

Or rather; Ratchet was complaining about it in quiet glyphs while Jazz provided a sympathetic audial. The younger mech was doing a very good job of sounding like it didn’t bother him as much as it did, but Jazz had some of the sharpest person-reading skills of the Agents stationed at Whero.

Surely they have something better to talk about.” Ratchet groused, optics dimmer than they should have been as he looked down at his half-empty midday ration. “What about that round of shuttle-chicken Ultra Magnus had to break up last week?”

“Ironhide’s had it comin’ for centuries. No way they’re gonna let him live it down any time soon.” Jazz projected reassurance and smug satisfaction that was completely genuine. “An’ look on the bright side, mech.” He leaned over the table, grinning conspiratorially. “This new lot’s been forewarned so you shouldn’t have any trouble with them.”

Ratchet’s optics cycled, his Field going thoughtful as he tried to find a hole in Jazz’s logic.

Eventually he sighed, relaxing slightly.

“I guess you’re right. Just so long as that slagging video doesn’t show up again where I can hear it.” Ratchet said with self-consciousness and disgust in every line of his frame. “Jazz, you are an evil mech.”

Privately Jazz disagreed; as the producer of the video he felt the assessment of his character to be wildly off-mark. Lacking in morals he may be, but even in his role as Meister he didn’t personally think ‘evil’ fit.

At least, not the specific glyph-variant Ratchet used.

“You can’t say it’s not funny, though.” He said instead, catching sight of some familiar sensory panels in his peripheral.

Well look who finally left Tactical...

The mech had become rather well-known for being reclusive and happiest in his own company, which perversely made Jazz all the more determined to draw him out. Even though he hadn’t seen the Praxian anywhere near Ops since the first time he was still suspicious.

“Ya reckon, Prowl?” Jazz raised his voice to address the Praxian, forcing him to join the conversation.

“Do I think what, precisely?” There was definite annoyance in his posture and tone.

Jazz grinned hugely, projecting all the mischief and charm he could muster. ‘Prod the Prowl’ was quickly becoming his favourite way to keep himself entertained while his official mission dragged on in week after week of careful, slow, dull-as-rusted-slag earning of Ratchet’s trust so he could fish for those little grains of information his boss wanted. Fun as it was, this new game still wasn’t quite enough to keep him occupied. Jazz could feel the need for excitement steadily building in background processes, a quiet warning.

If I don’t get a trip off-base to blow something up soon I’m gonna lose my mind...

“That video of Ratchet here teachin’ Ironhide a lesson about messin’ with medics; it was funny, yeah?” Jazz stifled a snicker at the irritated expression slowly manifesting itself on Prowl’s faceplates, catching the way sensory panels oriented themselves towards Ratchet even though pale blue optics never left Jazz.

“Only mildly diverting for the first viewing.” Prowl declared, sipping slowly from his midday ration before continuing. “During the second viewing and all subsequent repeats errors in editing become gratingly obvious.”

Thank you.” Ratchet sighed with obvious relief, offering Prowl what looked like a genuine smile of gratitude.

“Prowler, how could you?!” Jazz reeled in his chair, putting a hand over his spark as deliberately he over-acted an imaginary wound. “Ya were supposed t’ help me!

Prowl’s frown deepened, his armour rattling faintly in annoyance. One sensory panel flicked in Jazz’s direction before focusing on Ratchet again.

“I am supposed to do no such thing during my off-duty hours.” He said crisply, Field lashing out in a brief, stingingly cold contact. “Especially for those who do not bother to remember my designation.” With that said he turned to Ratchet, everything in his posture announcing that he now considered Jazz to be beneath notice. “My apologies, Medic Ratchet; I must return to Tactical.”

Jazz let Ratchet’s voice wash over him, hardly paying attention to the ambulance scolding him as he watched Prowl sweep out of the commissary.

That’s the liveliest I’ve ever seen him…

 

~V~V~V~

 

Ratchet shuddered with relief as he closed the door of his quarters behind him at the end of the day. He’d thought he had a handle on things; that after what he’d lived through in Iacon he’d be able to deal with anything that happened after he tackled Ironhide.

It was much, much harder than he’d expected.

Ultra Magnus’ wrath was expected and Ratchet had crafted his defence and justification while refining his plan for dealing with Ironhide.

The minor celebrity status was flat-out weird. All the glances and muttering making him nervous until the generally positive tone of the reaction finally sunk into his processors. Jazz releasing an edited version of the footage he’d sent First Aid had just prolonged things. The whole situation wore on Ratchet’s nerves worse than he’d anticipated.

Just as it was starting to fade, just as he thought everything was settling down a shipload of fighters returned from a long off-base mission and it started up all over again.

Except this time it was curiosity about the new mech combined with the notoriety and it was chillingly familiar. Ratchet had encountered the exact same thing on the return to Iacon after his elective year in Vos. If possible, he was more on-edge now than he’d been when he first arrived.

Ratchet went through each day now more than half expecting to hear that nickname again, to discover that the rumours had finally caught up with him. Each day they didn’t was a minor miracle, one he whole-heartedly thanked Primus for each night as he fell into his berth. More often lately he also found himself offering thanks for

And… I have friends here. More than I ever did on Cybertron.

Back in Iacon the only friend he’d ever really had was Pharma. But here there was Jazz, who had turned out to be a better friend than Ratchet ever expected. (Although he really could do without the saboteur dragging him all over the blasted base for their midday rations.) Sunstreaker and Sideswipe had been a blessing unlooked-for, somehow finding Ratchet on days Jazz wasn’t around and keeping him company while they fuelled. Since the shipload of battle-twitchy warriors returned they had been showing up more often, putting their heavily-armoured frames between Ratchet and the pressure of too many optics while Sideswipe deftly distracted Jazz.

Sunstreaker doesn’t like to start the conversation but he’ll participate if he wants to say something…

As if thinking about the warriors somehow summoned them, Sideswipe pinged Ratchet’s comms just as the door chime sounded. It wasn’t enough warning to keep Ratchet from tensing up, but he was at least able to calm the frantic whirling of his spark before going to open the door.

The warriors he expected; the grease, oil and training paint covering their frames he definitely did not. Ratchet stared, trying to find enough words to put a coherent sentence together.

The slag?!

 “You have been using the wrong supplies.” Sunstreaker spoke first, sounding almost vindicated.

“Huh?” Turned out to be the only response Ratchet could muster.

“Come on Doom Junior; it’s bathtime.” Sideswipe said amiably, somehow getting Ratchet out of his quarters and sandwiched between the twins’ filthy frames in moments. “Just finished training. We know it’s your night off so we figured it was time to let Sun do something about your polish before you stain yourself too badly.”

Sunstreaker hummed an agreement, glancing askance at Ratchet as they effortlessly steered him through the corridors.

“Don’t feel like wasting time later stripping you to primer to fix the damage.” He said with a subtle gleam of humour in his optics. His Field felt strange, prickling with non-specific discomfort despite the amusement also threading through it. “I’m prescribing some prevention. It’s better than the cure.”

Armour ruffling with embarrassment, Ratchet huffed and growled in response as Sideswipe laughed and Sunstreaker’s Field filled with mirth. The good-natured banter continued as they entered one of the washracks nearest the Medbay, one that wasn’t used much except by medics and those recently released from medical care.

This meant it was empty except for the three of them as Sideswipe wandered casually along the long, open shower wall, switching on every spigot and shivering under the spray until the solvent warmed up.

Twitching with impatience, Sunstreaker pulled a kit of brushes from subspace and tossed one to Ratchet, throwing another at his brother’s helm, only for it to rebound harmlessly off the wall when Sideswipe ducked. Happy, relaxed Fields flowed out from the pair of fighters, filling the room as Sideswipe made a rude gesture at Sunstreaker, who bounced the next brush expertly off a paint-splattered red aft.

“Don’t go putting more dents in him.” Ratchet said as the playful behaviour and the lack of other mechs staring at him soothed away some of the stress he’d been living with. “I won’t be fixing those, or the ones he puts in you.”

“More likely to break the brushes against his thick helm than dent anything.” Sunstreaker said, ignoring Sideswipe’s responses until the red warrior bent, scooped up a handful of greasy solvent and tossed it at him.

With reflexes born of long experience Sunstreaker avoided all except a few stray droplets. Ratchet –who didn’t have the kind of upgrades and combat experience the twins did- ended up with lukewarm greyish liquid dripping down his frame.

Processor lagging slightly and unable to quite comprehend what had just happened, Ratchet looked down at his frame and back up again at a laughing Sideswipe.

Moments later a deep growl rumbled from his engine and he stalked forward, grabbing a brush from Sunstreaker’s hands as he passed.

“You need to clean up your act, Sideswipe.” Ratchet mock-snarled. “Hey, Sunstreaker?” A smile crept onto his faceplates as he felt assent/laughter/itchy in the golden warrior’s Field. “Hold that idiot still while I help him get started on that.”

Chapter Text

[Several Days Earlier]

 

After months stuck on a battleship with the same mechs day in and day out Drift was extremely glad to be back at Whero.

Not only were there more people around, but there were also the tracks so he could go for a good hard drive without being landed in the brig for speeding in the corridors. Small and simple driving tracks, true, but it was better than nothing. As they made the final approach to dock with the station Drift had already planned out his first week back on base. He had it fine-tuned down to the hour with his First Aid Avoidance looking almost perfect as they filed off the ship into Whero’s docking bay.

Scrub the ship-stink off first, then laps, the obstacle course, a proper detailing and see who wants to frag.

All his plans were derailed the instant his pedes touched outpost flooring with the rest of the crew to see the tiny, dancer-framed femme who happened to be the local Ops Commander and Ultra Magnus’ 2IC waiting for them. Drift’s armour twitched with unconcealed distaste.

Couldn’t we have gotten someone less creepy for the Welcome Home speech this time?

“Welcome back.” Mystère said clearly, her gaze sweeping over them all impartially. Somehow the warmth in her voice and Field never reached her optics. “I’m very glad to see you have all returned in one piece. We have had one major change since you left. First Aid has been recalled to Cybertron, the mech filling his position is a recent graduate, designation ‘Ratchet’. “

The entire crew suddenly started paying attention to the speech, something that made Mystère smile in an odd, knowing way. As she continued. “Please check the Infonet for your debriefing and medical checkup appointment times and note that attempts to avoid either of these without compelling reason will result in disciplinary action.”

Drift didn’t hide his smirk at that comment, nor did several others near him. The brig was as good a place as any to nap. In fact, it was actually better than a lot of the places he’d recharged in over the course of his life. Oversized blue optics narrowed slightly as Mystère focused on each smiling mech. Drift almost told her not to bother trying to watch individual troublemakers and just accept the fact that the entire crew would probably spend time in the brig before the month was up.

It’s been a slagging long mission.

“Please keep that in mind.” The femme said, resignation flickering over her features as she probably came to the same conclusion Drift had. “Once again; welcome back to Whero, soldiers. You are all officially on leave from now until Ratchet clears you for duty. Enjoy the rest time while you can.”

The instant they were released Drift heard conversations spring up around him, speculating about the new medic and possible reasons for First Aid returning to Cybertron. They dispersed quickly; individuals and small groups merging seamlessly back into the flow of foot traffic as if they’d never left. Drift was heading in the direction of the nearest washrack along with several others who had been vocal about missing the amenities of a proper base. Familiar with Ultra Magnus’ attention to detail he idly accessed the intranet and checked to see if his timetable had been uploaded.

It was already up, as he suspected it would be.

As he had also guessed, his medical checkup wasn’t for a couple of days. Enough time for him to wind down, lose the claustrophobic jitters of being confined shipside and be maybe slightly more amenable to enduring a medic’s poking and prodding.

Not that I have any injuries worth the waste of time.

But he’d been familiar enough with First Aid’s foibles and had known how to handle him no problem. A certain smile, a bit of the old Wrecker Charm and the medic had been putty in his hands. It was laughably easy to slide out of a checkup when he had decades of Wrecker stories under his wrist plating.

Mystère said he was a recent graduate…

When they entered the washracks Drift found a nice quit corner and relaxed under a hot solvent spray, considering the problem of an unknown medic and wondering if it would be worth showing up on time just to see the shiny, newly-minted medic before he got all battered and scarred from living out on the hard edge of nowhere.

Not that there’s anything wrong with scars; its just rare to see someone without scars these days…

Then a couple of voices rose above the general background sound of splashing and scrubbing, mentioning a pair of designations that had Drift’s audials twitching with interest.

Ironhide… and the new medic?

As the mechs continued speaking Drift was stunned, then amused, shaking his head and smiling to himself. There was absolutely no way that the story could be true and he said as much. Then to his surprise every single Whero-based mech in the room piped up in defence of the first speaker. Several even pinged him with offers to share a short file.

Curious, Drift accepted one of the offers, leaning against the wall as he let the video play against his HUD.

As it played Drift started laughing. By the time it was done he was cackling so hard he nearly collapsed, sliding down the wall to sit heavily in a pile of suds.  He watching it several more times, laughing so hard his vocaliser clicked and shut down to leave him convulsing in silent hysterics on the floor. Someone poked him with a careful pede when he wheezed, vents sputtering on the foam.

“I’m fine, ‘m fine.” Drift gasped, wiping tears of mirth from his face as he slowly got himself under control.

A glance around the washrack showed Drift that he wasn’t the only one who’d been so strongly affected; nearly everyone else who’d been out with him was sitting on the floor or bent over at the waist, laughing themselves hoarse at Ironhide’s expense. It was catharsis, an instant release of tension, the laughter somehow easing the prickling vigilance that had been very noticeable in all of their Fields on the long weeks trekking through contested territory to reach the safety of Whero.

When Drift was fully recovered from his giggle-fit he accepted a hand to get to his pedes and hurried through the rest of his wash. Then he pinged the intranet for Ironhide’s location.

Grinning fit to split his faceplate in half and only just remembering to close his lips over fangs at the last moment, Drift went in search of his prey.

 

~V~V~V~

 

Ironhide was at the weapons’ range.

“So what are all these rumours I’m hearing?” Leaning against the wall, Drift didn’t even try to hide how funny he thought the situation was. “About you and our new medic.”

Ironhide growled, suggesting that Drift do something obscene and anatomically unlikely as he annihilated a target drone with more force than strictly necessary.

“Sounds fun.” Drift purred, waggling his optical ridges saucily at Ironhide’s back. “Another time, maybe.”

“Slagging speedster.” Ironhide spat the word like it tasted bad, lowering his cannons and turning to face Drift. Embarrassment was written across his faceplate clear as anything. “Go on then; you do your usual dodge routine. Kid won’t try the same trick twice.”

“Come on, it can’t have been all bad, ‘Hide.” Drift finally remembered to extend his Field, too used to keeping it to himself after the months aboard ship. “I know you like someone who can give you a run for your money.”

The mixture of horror/flat rejection/embarrassment that surged from the warrior at the suggestion was definitely interesting. It told Drift everything he needed to know about Ironhide’s opinion of the events in that video.

“Oooooh, new kid got you good.” Drift crowed, right before Ironhide threw a punch at his face.

Laughing, Drift dodged and willingly fell into a defensive stance, more than ready for a good-natured scuffle and maybe a frag after. Somewhere in the back of his processors, he had already half-decided to show up to his medical appointment.

Just to see if this plucky young medic really was as good as the video had made him look.

 

~V~[Present]~V~

 

For something to do between patients, Ratchet re-read the files of mechs who were still overdue for physicals. As he’d already learned, unless certain mechs were physically dragged into the medbay they wouldn’t show up for anything less than a life-threatening injury.

Or the threat of one.

One of them was scheduled to arrive in the next few minutes. Ratchet knew the mech had already heard about him. It was next to impossible that they hadn’t, not with the looks and whispers and sly grins still following him around the base like a bad smell.

At least everyone from that mission has been showing up on time. So far…

This one was the last on First Aid’s list of problem patients, a melee warrior by the name of Drift who was noted for being just as deadly with bladed weapons as he was with a blaster. Ratchet hadn’t seen him in any of the fuelling stations Jazz had taken him to, or anywhere he’d gone during the rare off-shift times he wasn’t working in his own quarters. Despite what Jazz had said, it wasn't getting any easier to handle all the attention. A quick check of the chronometer confirmed that this ‘Drift’ was running late, so Ratchet pulled up the warrior’s file to go over one more time before sending the mech a reminder.

He’s fragging slow for a speedster.

Putting the datapad down with a frustrated sigh Ratchet rubbed the base of his chevron. A noise caught his attention and he looked up to see an unfamiliar speedster lounging comfortably on one of the empty medberths, grinning at him.

“It’s about time you finished that. I was about to fall asleep!” Drift said cheekily, propping himself up on an elbow, “Must’ve been enthrallin’ reading if you didn’t notice me come in.”

For a full minute all Ratchet could do was cycle his optics and vent slowly as he stared at the visual feast of sleek lines and shiny red and white plating that had invaded the medbay.

Oh, slag me. The image captures didn’t look like this!

From the tops of his audial flares to the soles of his feet Drift was absolutely the most gorgeous mechanism Ratchet had ever seen. The warrior appeared to be in immaculate condition, moving with the soundless grace of a predator as he slid from the medberth and sauntered towards the young medic.

Ratchet’s mouth went dry as he automatically ran motion data through medical programs that identified potential injuries based on the way a mech moved. Drift’s smile grew wider the closer he got and Ratchet fought the urge to back away. His hands rose in an automatic motion to defend his spark and he covered it by crossing his arms over his chestplates, giving Drift the slag-you-where-you-stand glare he’d learned on Emergency Department rotation and perfected in Vos.

“Alright; nothing shows up in your motion-capture data.” Ratchet said brusquely, forcing his armour to stay relaxed instead of clamping down defensively. “Get your aft back on the berth. The sooner we get this over with the sooner you’re out of here.”

Drift’s smile didn’t falter for an instant. He fired off a mock-salute and turned to head back to the medberth he’d just vacated. Ratchet’s vents hitched and his mouth went dry all over again.

The view was even better from behind.

If he’s stationed here I’m so slagged.

Chapter Text

Drift slipped into Medbay precisely one minute early for his appointment, utilising every last ounce of his stealth abilities just on the off-chance he could sneak up on the new medic. When he saw the young mech leaning against an empty circuit slab, completely engrossed in a datapad he froze, ventilation systems stalling as he stared. He rebooted his optics and tweaked a cable in his wrist, just in case he was dreaming.

He wasn’t.

No way.

The new medic wasn’t just good-looking: he was gorgeous.

Pristine armour gleamed with health under the harsh medbay lighting; a true crisp, snowy white that made a stunning contrast with the warm red and deep grey accenting his frame. The new medic had the smooth lines and simple silhouette that spoke of of an entirely practical ambulance mode –something that evoked relief and hope in any frontline fighter and made what could have been a fairly plain altmode into the most beautiful sight on a battlefield.

It’s a good thing ‘Aid never found out that most Wreckers end up with a fetish for Ambulance Alts after a while…

From this angle Drift couldn’t make out much of the young medic’s face, but he definitely liked what he could see –especially the sweeping line of cheekstruts on either side of a strong olfactory bridge. Just in case the younger mech looked up and caught him staring, Drift leaned casually against the doorframe. Confident in the aura of amused boredom he was projecting, he continued to ogle the medic.

Another long minute passed, one that Drift spent quite happily admiring smooth planes of unblemished armour and trying to figure out where Ratchet kept his strength in that deceptively slim frame. He just didn’t look like the kind of mech who was capable of carting Ironhide around without visible effort, but he could and had and Drift had seen the evidence.

Suddenly wanting the mech to notice him, Drift deliberately let some of his stealth mods drop, to see what would happen.

… Nothing.

Curious now, Drift let the rest of his stealth mods cycle down. He was careful to keep his Field to himself, grinning at the oblivious medic as he all but buzzed with mirth against the doorframe

He’s just like Percy used to be. This is priceless.

There were many, many pranks that could be pulled on a mech who got so absorbed in their reading they became unaware of the world around them. As his optics swept admiringly over Ratchet’s frame, Drift suddenly knew precisely which sorts of ‘pranks’ he’d like to pull on the younger mech. All sorts of tingly little ideas popped into his processor, forcing him to cycle his vents and bring his spark and frame back to calm with a well-practiced mantra.

Deciding to see how far he could push his luck, Drift pushed himself away from the doorframe and sauntered over to the nearest medberth and vaulted lightly up. In an instant he was reclining on his side, smirking at the medic still engrossed in his datapad.

That’s slagging cute.

It was more than cute; it was downright adorable.

Especially now that Drift could see how the younger mech was frowning down at the datapad. He bit his glossa to keep himself from teasing the mech about it at the same time as he overrode a purr that threatened to escape his engine.

No idea yet how he’ll take a bit of friendly teasing. Be patient, you degenerate squaddie.

Besides being absolutely hilarious, the fact that the medic got like this while he was reading was deeply worrying to Drift. Still running on mission protocols as he was, he couldn’t put the breaks on his processor when it started spitting out scenarios in which Decepticon assassins slipped into the Medbay, an office or wherever the handsome young mech had been quartered and took advantage of his obliviousness.

We’re gonna have to break him of this habit.

He didn’t get a chance to think about whom that ‘we’ was supposed to include. The thought had barely formed when Ratchet suddenly came to life, putting the datapad down beside himself with an annoyed sigh. Drift swallowed a strangled little moan as Ratchet straightened up, rubbing at the base of his chevron as if it ached.

Gorgeous…

Whatever sound he made then finally got Ratchet’s attention. The medic glanced over at him and froze, staring with an unreadable expression on his face as a light infrared glow spread across the smooth dermal metal of his cheeks.

Primus frag me, he’s gorgeous!

“It’s about time you finished that. I was about to fall asleep!” Drift aimed for bold confidence, propping himself up on an elbow and hoping he wasn’t drooling too obviously. “Must’ve been enthralling reading if you didn’t notice me come in.”

Ratchet didn’t respond.

Mildly annoyed by the younger mechs’ silence, Drift grinned at him for a long, silent moment. He took complete and unashamed advantage of the opportunity he created to admire the young medic’s classically handsome features. He positively luxuriated in the way those overbright optics followed his every move as Drift used all the grace he possessed to slip off the berth and stroll towards the young medic.

That seemed to snap Ratchet out of whatever trance he’d been in. He folded his arms across his opaque glass chestplate, giving Drift an unfairly adorable glare that had the potential to acutally be intimidating if the younger mech hadn’t been armoured like a Civilian Medic.

“Alright; nothing shows up in your motion-capture data.” Ratchet’s voice was rich and smooth when he finally spoke; his cultured Iaconian accent touched with something exotic that had Drift paying more attention than he ever had to a medic outside of a life-or-death situation. “Get your aft back on the berth. The sooner we get this over with the sooner you’re out of here.”

Dozens of comebacks to that ranging from playful to the outright obscene flashed through Drift’s processors in half a second.

Biting his glossa on all of them, he gave Ratchet one of his most charming smiles and flicked the younger mech a cheeky little salute and executed a crisp about-face.

He made sure to put a little extra sway into his walk as he returned to the medberth he’d just been lounging on. A low rev from a strong, low-speed engine came from behind him and Drift smirked at the empty medberth.

Do you like what you see, little medic?

Long experience let Drift control his Field and keep the purring of his own engine under control as the young medic approached and started to check him over.

Ratchet’s hands whispered over Drift’s frame like the plasmatic shimmering of an aurora, sparking light from his sensors in a symphony. Somehow the medic managed to stay firmly professional and soothing despite the occasional rumble from his heavy engine. Quiet rumbles that gave fuel to the increasingly dirty thoughts running through Drift’s processor.

It was a slagging long tour…

Drift didn’t know what the new medic had heard about him yet, but he figured First Aid had probably given him the worst of it all, given what he’d had to endure with Drift’s appointment-dodging. And then some more; just for revenge.

The way Ratchet had handled Ironhide definitely argued in favour of that theory.

With this in mind, Drift launched an all-out charm offensive.

Despite the small voice of Knightly Virtue lurking somewhere in the back of his processor he just couldn’t keep himself from flirting. Just a little. Not even when that little voice of conscience took on a decidedly New Crystal City accent.

Well, maybe he wasn’t flirting all that subtly after all. He did have a reputation to maintain.

All Wreckers did; it didn’t matter if they were currently serving with the unit or not.

He’s gonna have to learn about it at some point, if he hasn’t already. Better me now than someone all hopped up after a fight…

Ratchet didn’t acknowledge the flirting, to Drift’s obscure disappointment.

In fact, the more Drift tried to be chrming and funny the grumpier more abrupt the younger mech got, becoming downright surly by the end of Drift’s checkup.

Perversely, this reaction just made Drift even more determined to win the young medic over. He’d never been able to resist a challenge.

Especially not one as good-looking as Whero Outposts’ new medic.

Primus, if this is Aid’s permanent replacement then I’ll definitely be keeping my appointments from now on!

Chapter Text

Drift affected Ratchet’s composure far more than the young medic wanted to admit.

If he was going to be honest, the speedster shook him to his core.

Deliberately turned his back instead of watching the mech leave, Ratchet added some notes to the file he’d been reading before the older mech appeared.

Well… that went better than I thought it would. And worse.

It had just hit the middle of the afternoon shift but he wouldn’t have much time to recover his composure. There were still had two more checkups and a follow-up appointment with Skyfire before his workday officially ended. Sighing to himself, Ratchet finished updating Drift’s file and sealed the updates away behind his medical code. The changes would automatically upload to the base server where Magnus and Mystere could review them at leisure.

With that out of the way Ratchet poked his mid-term memory, trying to remember who had the next appointment. There weren’t many mechs left needing checkups, but there were enough that after the encounter with Drift he couldn’t immediately recall who was supposed to be next on the list.

When he checked the schedule Ratchet swore.

Jazz was next.

There was no way the Agent would miss how rattled he was, no way Jazz wouldn’t know just who’d been scheduled immediately before him. Something told him Jazz would be very interested in why Drift had him so flustered.

I’m slagged. I’m so slagged.

There was no way Jazz would leave things alone if he got the idea into his head that there was something going on. Ratchet knew a meddler when he saw one and Jazz was a meddler right down to his toepieces. He was fairly confident by now that any meddling Jazz did on his behalf would have Ratchet’s best interests at heart, but it wasn’t very reassuring to the young medic.

I really don’t need that right now.

Even just thinking about the speedster in passing made Ratchet’s plating twitch.

Don’t think about it right now. Put it aside. Focus on the job.

Lessons reinforced by experience in both Iacon and Vos rose to the forefront of his processor, letting him stuff all the uncomfortable and too-personal lines of thought into a little mental box and shove it aside for later. After a couple of false starts, he managed it.

With any unprofessional thought processes safely suspended and compartmentalised, he finished tidying up with a few minutes to spare before Jazz was due to arrive.

It didn’t surprise him at all that Jazz showed up on time.

The minibot who’d started out as Ratchet’s SpecOps babysitter had quickly become one of his friends at Whero. In the process the young medic had learned some interesting things about Jazz and what made him tick.

One of the most important was that Jazz absolutely hated being restricted to base. He had an almost pathological terror of boredom that outweighed his distrust of medics by a very slim margin.

There were many helpful little notes in Jazz’s medical file from both Mystere and First Aid about the science of herding a reluctant and uncooperative Jazz.

It was clear from Mystere’s additions that she knew her Agents and how to handle them – and was absolutely ruthless about doing so. Threatening Jazz with a lack of fieldwork seemed to be the best way to force the minibot to do something he loathed.

I’m glad I’m not working for the femme…

Other methods First Aid and Mystere used to keep Jazz behaving well ran through the back of Ratchet’s processors as he ran through the range of tests the minibot’s systems one by one. Everything came back in acceptable ranges, Jazz keeping his grumbling to a minimum.

Everything was absolutely routine right up until he had to check the minibot’s optical systems. This part could have been tricky, given that Jazz was Polyhexian and had retained his original, unaltered optics behind the visor.

Could have been but wouldn’t be, because First Aid had programmed a range of frametype-specific levels into the lighting systems of the entire medial wing. All Ratchet had to do was send a shortwave radio command to the Medical Wing control systems when he asked Jazz to remove his visor.

He did this almost without having to think about it, ordering the examination room lighting down to a comfortable Polyhexian setting as Jazz raised his hands and removed his suddenly dull visor without a whisper of complaint. Ratchet’s own optical sensors struggled to calibrate to the sudden dimness -night vision modifications weren’t needed by the average medic and he hadn’t been equipped with any.

A flicker of discomfort passed through Jazz’s Field as the neural relays detached. Ratchet chose to ignore it as he accepted the thick crystalline-composite visor with steady hands.

Trying to hide the time needed for his optics to adjust as much as they would, Ratchet used his inbuilt scanning systems to check Jazz’s visor for flaws and problems. Nothing registered after the second check so he set it safely on the cart beside him, relying on proximity pings and an acute spatial memory to not drop anything.

It was an agonizingly long two minutes of fudging but Ratchet’s optics finally settled into their best low-light input configuration. Active treatment protocols helped suppress a sigh of relief and kept his EM Field solidly professional as he queued up what he’d need to run through to check Jazz’s (Polyhexian, Unmodified, SpecOps, Visor-Integrated) optics.

When he looked up from the cart Ratchet realised Jazz had his optics offline.

The minibot was sitting patiently, apparently perfectly comfortable sitting on the edge of a rather high berth with his pedes swinging through clear air and no visual input whatsoever.

That would freak most groundframes out… Then again, he is Ops.

“I’ve got the lights on Polyhex Standard settings.” Ratchet said, sliding reader pads into place over the visor’s neural connection points. “You can bring your optics up if you feel like it.”

The distinctly uncomfortable prickle of Jazz’s EMF was there and gone in an instant.

“I’m happy like this.” The Agent said, too quickly.

“Mmm-hmm. And why’s that?” Ratchet asked casually. “I will need to check optical responsiveness while this runs, you gonna have an issue with that?”

Black-and-white plating twitched in the dim room. Ratchet wondered how much of the reluctance was genuine and how much was put on for show.

I’m new but I’m not a soft touch; you should know this by now.

“Well, no. Not really.” Jazz said, rubbing the cabling at the back of his neck with one hand while his pedes swung through the air well above the floor. “It’s just a bit embarrassing, ’s all.”

“And what’s that?”

The minibot aimed a sheepish, dead-opticed grin in his direction.

“Promise you won’t make fun of me for it?”

There was just enough genuine vulnerability in Jazz’s tone to kill the sarcastic response forming on the tip of Ratchet’s glossa. Something about it flagged his patient-care protocols, prompting Ratchet to alter his initial knee-jerk response to something a little closer to what he’d say to the kind of friend he half-hoped Jazz might end up being one day.

“As your Medic? Never. As your friend I promise I won’t unless you have equal dirt on me, and I will never mention it in public.” Ratchet promised.

He placed a hand over his spark as he said this, even though Jazz couldn’t see him. Absolute sincerity flavoured with the barest trace of unprofessional teasing threaded through his Field.

Jazz’s helm tilted to the side, biolighting showing clearly in the gloom as he stared at Ratchet with his optics still steadfastly offline.

A full minute passed in silence before a grin spread across Jazz’s face and his rich chuckle filled the room.

“Ya know what? For some reason I think I actually believe ya.” The minibot returned Ratchet’s teasing as gratitude/relief trickled into his Field. “It’s a Polyhexian thing, ya know?”

Well, that was helpful.

“Frametype-specific?” Ratchet asked cautiously.

“Yeah, more or less.”

The response was as frustratingly vague as the first ‘explanation’.

“That only gets me so far.” Ratchet said dryly, raising an optical ridge even though he knew Jazz couldn’t see him. “Care to enlighten me a bit more?”

Aware of the time passing, Ratchet started on a series of reflex tests while he waited for Jazz to respond. He kept a few background threads focused on the conversation and let the bulk of his processing power move back to the medical exam.

“Well, you know how with Grounders it’s common to have a thing for flightframes or winglike kibble?” Jazz said after a while, barely twitching as Ratchet pinged false motion data into the sensors of his pedes.

“Yeah.” Ratchet responded absently, analytical programs chewing through response data.

“With our visual range it’s common for Polyhexians to have a thing for colours. Taste varies from mech to mech but it’s mostly the bright, shiny colours you non-Hexians wear a lot of.” Jazz grinned at Ratchet’s rumble of pretend insult. “Refraction from surface nanites and all those high-gloss polishes really doesn’t help the situation.”

The tone of voice and subglyphs triggered something and Ratchet was treated to a sudden memory dump from visits to one of his favourite Rev-clubs in Lower Iacon. The one with all the sleek, high-speed altmode dancers who wore light performance plating that showed a lot of protoform.

If every other mech wandering around here looked like that

“Cooling fans are the one of the least distracting things in a med bay.” Ratchet decided to tackle the potential awkwardness head on, more than a little exasperated by the way Jazz was behaving. SpecOps were supposed to be made of sterner stuff than this! “So long as you don’t pop your panels in my face I think we’ll be fine.”

 

~V~V~V~

 

Jazz’s optics activated and unnshuttered in a split second.

They opened to find the young medic watching him with wry amusement, an expression that matched the tone of his voice and Field.

Belatedly, Jazz realised that the lighting was quite comfortable by Polyhexian standards -just as Ratchet had promised.

The laugh that spilled from his vocaliser was a genuinely delighted response to Ratchet’s dry humour while deeper, mission-related processes running in the background exulted at having conclusively achieved one of his current mission objectives.

While they’d been interacting at the level of ‘friends’ for quite some time now, but the verbal confirmation from Ratchet was a crucial first.

Friendship irrefutably established. Continue to strengthen it and build his trust.

“Not without a couple of drinks an’ at least one pickup line first.” He said with a wink, leaning back at Ratchet’s direction so the medic could begin inspecting his optics for damage and checking responsiveness to stimuli. “Dunno what those Twins have been tellin’ you, but I know how to treat a mech.”

The sceptical noise Ratchet made spoke volumes and the conversation petered out as the medic continued to poke, prod and scan.

Privately, Jazz was relieved to see that even with his natural, unaltered sight Ratchet’s enamel was fairly bland for a non-Polyhexian medic. Finding himself attracted to the mech would have been annoying and added an unnecessary complication to his mission. His red was a bland, matte thing and while his white enamel was pretty enough, it didn’t do anything for Jazz.

Sunstreaker’s right, he’ll go yellow with the standard polishes here. Hmm, speaking of the Twins…

Jazz made a mental note to sound out Ironhide with an optic to finding out if the warrior was holding a grudge for the way Ratchet had singled him out for special handling. The last thing Whero needed right now was a pair of protective ex-Gladiators putting one of their best fighters in medical for real or imagined slights against someone they had adopted as family.

Heh, I wonder if Ratchet’s figured that out yet?

 

~V~V~V~

 

As much as Ratchet wanted to linger in the comfortingly familiar surroundings of the Medical Wards when his shift finished, he forced himself to leave more-or-less on time. He might have been guilty of dragging out the cleaning and double-checking that important equipment was back where it should be.

In his defense he was working the kinks out of his work routine.

That evening Sunstreaker and Sideswipe were scheduled for training and Jazz was off doing something with explosives in one of the blastproof labs. With those three otherwise occupied there was nobody to force Ratchet to stay and have his evening ration in one of the cafeterias, pinned under the curious optics of what felt like half the base.

Intending to take full advantage of this unexpected reprieve, Ratchet slipped into the nearest cafeteria as discreetly as he could. Somehow he grabbed his ration and left without anyone seeming to notice that he’d even been there.

Everyone here is friendly enough, but I need peace and quiet sometimes, dammit!

Planning to drink his fuel while reading one of his favourite story ‘pads, Ratchet almost made it back to his quarters without running into anyone. He was in the process of typing his code into the lockpad of his quarters when the next door down slid open and a stranger emerged.

Well, not a stranger exactly. Ratchet had scanned the mech’s medical files in passing but they hadn’t actually met in person yet. The engineer was supposed to be another part-time Wrecker who’d been out on the same mission as Drift. Ratchet’s processors immediately slid back into work-shift subroutines that had barely started to close down.

Wheeljack… Appointment is the day after tomorrow?

“Hey you’re the new medic, right?” Broad biolights panels along the sides of the mech’s helm rippled with cheerful colours as he spoke, closing the distance with his arm outstretched in greeting. “Nice to finally meet you, neighbour!”

The mech’s masked faceplates and abnormal lack of electromagnetic presence despite an otherwise friendly greeting confirmed the mech’s identity.

“Yes; you’re Wheeljack, right?” Ratchet took the mech’s forearm in a brief grip, noting the lack of EMF projection above the plating. “I hope you don’t mind me taking over the empty shelf in the washracks.”

“Not at all! That’s what it’s there for!” The dermal metal around Wheeljack’s optics crinkled up as he smiled, the biolights fins framing his helm sustaining a bright surge of generally cheerful colours. “Before you ask; I rinse off before leaving the lab. I make it a point to never track explosives or dodgy chemicals outside laboratory space. So does my roommate, whenever he’s in. We’re never rostered to cohabitate for more than a week or so, tops. So you’ll be safe.”

That last thing was a strange thing to say. An extremely strange thing to say. Without an active EMF to read for context it was downright scary. Ratchet created an internal memo to remind himself to ask Jazz what Wheeljack might have meant by it as he answered.

“And I never leave Medical areas without removing any and all biohazards from my frame and systems.” Ratchet offered what he hoped was a matching smile and brush of his Field. “You won’t catch anything from me that standard medical procedures can prevent.”

Wheeljack laughed, his helm indicators flaring bright and amused. At least, Ratchet thought that was what those colours meant. A faint tingle against the sensors of his fingers confirmed it as he finally detected a faint trace of the engineer’s Field. Relief surged through the young medic, then shame at the relief.

It’s not his fault, dammit!

“Good one! That’s a good one, mech.” Wheeljack was definitely beaming now. “You’ll get along fine here. Sorry but I gotta cut this short; I have to report to Magnus in five.”

Memories of Ultra Magnus’ rant about how he’d dealt with Ironhide flashed through Ratchet’s processors and he found himself grinning in a way he hadn’t done for years.

“I understand.” Ratchet finally released Wheeljack’s forearm and relinquished the faint contact he’d managed to make with the engineer’s Field. “We’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other later, I’m sure. It was good to meet you.”

“Nice meeting you too, Ratchet.” Wheeljack said cheerily, waving at him. “Catch you later, mech!”

Ratchet cycled his vents in a long sigh as Wheeljack vanished around the end of the corridor, letting tension run out of his frame before he re-entered his code into the lockpad that had timed out and entering his quarters.

He felt a little silly doing that little routine, but there were things he didn’t want to take inside with him. ‘Things’ that were mainly though processes and emotional baggage that he needed a refuge from. It was something he’d learned during training, in Iacon; the lessons had proven their worth in Vos and Ratchet had deliberately chosen to implement them right from the start of his deployment here at Whero.

When he was fairly sure he had his processor under control, Ratchet hit the confirmation key on his code and entered his quarters.

As soon as he was inside Ratchet was greeted by the sight of a pile of as-yet-unpacked transport crates. He had yet to unpack anything but the bare minimum of what he needed on a day-to-day basis, the vast majority of the belongings he’d brought from Iacon still packed up for transport.

As if I’ll be leaving any day… but I’m not. There’s nowhere for me to go back to.

There might have been Vos, but the City-State wasn’t exactly a good prospect. There were no job openings for Medics with a non-flight altmode in the City. This wasn’t likely to change for at least another couple of centuries, barring a major incident.

Vos was nice…

Memories and guilt forced Ratchet to suspend his original plans for the evening and head towards the crates that still needed to be unpacked. Almost as if they had a mind of their own his hands moved towards one he knew held datapads and things from his year of placement in the Flighted city-state.

Moving almost on autopilot, Ratchet opened the crate and removed the contents one piece at a time, processor working far harder than it should have as he tried to find places for his possessions in the quarters that had been assigned to him. A particular image capture of beautifully compact red-and-white stunt-flyers he’d taken during one of the celebration days reminded him irrationally of Drift, sending his thoughts back down a path he’d hoped to avoid for as long as possible.

Forever, if I could.

The speedster was incredibly attractive. Very much Ratchet’s ‘type’. When you added the mysterious allure of a Wrecker and the charisma Drift wore like his own armour to the physical attraction and Ratchet knew he was in trouble.

Ratchet continued to unpack the crate as his processor spun possibilities. He had no way to tell if the older mech had already heard the rumours about him from some mysterious friend-of-a-friend or if he’d just been acting the same way he would have done with First Aid. Ratchet shivered with the memory of Drift’s Field, armour flaring to let cooler air underneath.

Not genuinely, not since… Primus, the last time must have been in Vos!

It didn’t matter. Ratchet knew he didn’t dare act on his attraction to the older mech. No matter how gorgeous, charming and funny Drift was. Even if the attraction turned out to be mutual. He knew all too well that this might be his only chance to prove the rumours false and salvage something resembling a useful functioning from the ruin of a reputation he’d had on Cybertron.

I… I can’t. I just can’t.

There was simply too much at stake.