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Bright Spark

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Skids was always far too awake, afterwards.  Exhausted, but jittery; his entire body felt the way his tanks did when he was running on fumes, as if his limbs were scorched from the inside, his processor clogged with smoke.  Skids threw himself into battle completely, no hesitations and nothing held in reserve.  That had probably kept him alive more than once, but it left him a mess of dragging limbs and overworked circuitry once the danger had passed.

And in that forced wakefulness, sometimes, he could feel long-buried memories beginning to scratch at the walls he’d built to contain them.  Consciously, he knew that those parts of his life were thoroughly blocked off.  But from time to time, when he was too worked up to recharge and too tired to reason, he remembered only that the walls were old and worn, and the memories behind them had sharp claws, sharp as a mnemosurgeon’s needles.

Once he’d given up on rest, he’d usually find his way to Swerve’s.  The buzz of conversation soothed his frazzled mind while the engex did its work, taking the edge off his hyper-awareness and gradually lulling him to sleep.

He’d already noticed that Rung, who often spent his evenings locked away in his quarters, would almost always make an exception on the nights after the crew had seen combat.  He would not only turn up at Swerve’s, but skip his normal corner table in favour of a seat at the bar.  Mostly, Rung would perch there and smile fondly as he listened to the heroes of the day recounting their exploits, but occasionally, a member of the crew would slip quietly onto the stool next to him, not quite making optic contact.  They would have a hushed conversation, right there at the bar, any confidences safely masked by the noise around them.  Once or twice, Rung and his not-quite-patient would be the only ones left when the bar closed, Swerve whistling as he pointedly wiped down the end of the bar furthest from them.

But what surprised Skids was that lately, Rung seemed to seek Skids out on nights like these.  Skids would wander in and grab a seat, exchanging a few fistbumps, shouting, “Hey, nice shooting back there!” at a mech across the room, laughing a little too hard at a scrap of gallows humour.  And at some point, he’d glance around and find Rung quietly settled near him, nursing a mineral oil.  What made it strange wasn’t so much Rung’s presence as the fact that the therapist was normally more hesitant, waiting for Skids’s invitation before accepting a seat next to him with a shy smile.  On combat nights, though, he simply stepped into that position without a word, as though Skids were back on the battlefield and Rung were guarding his flank.

Whatever the reason for it, Rung’s presence always seemed to flip a switch in Skids.  He could feel his limbs grow heavy, his rictus grin start to soften.  His wound-up chatter would gradually wind down, and he’d find himself listening instead, letting his friends’ stories and jokes wash over and around him, holding him up.

And over the course of the evening, Skids would start to inch closer to Rung, usually without realising he was doing it, until they were actually plating-to-plating.  Rung would rest a hand unobtrusively on Skids’s arm, or lean up against him.  Rung ran hot; he blamed it on his antique ventilation systems.  Skids never actually minded, and he downright enjoyed it in more intimate moments… but the heat was never so welcome as it was on combat nights.  With a pleasant buzz of engex running through his lines and Rung’s warmth tucked against his back, Skids would start to feel his optics dim, and the world would drop away.

More often than not, he’d wake up to find that he’d drifted off with his head nestled into the crook of Rung’s neck, or slumped in his chair with Rung half in his lap.

It was with a certain trepidation, like someone afraid of accidentally breaking a spell, that Skids asked Rung one night whether he minded the quiet little vigil he kept over Skids after a battle.

“My dear Skids, you really must stop imagining that you’re the only one getting something out of it,” Rung replied, taking his hand.