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Part Three

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There was only so much dodging he could do, at his new rank. All of Autobot High Command outranked him, now. They could call at any time, demanding he pick up the calls, and eventually, it came down to creating excuses for why he didn't.

Ratchet was usually too straightforward to feign communication problems, but his new team pulled his weight on this one. First Aid could fake a mean dropped call.

"Oh, rust, I'm so sorry!" spoken in the nurse's most earnest tone mollified Optimus Prime three times before the he finally took a hint and stopped calling back.

They eyed the communication console in united suspicion. "The timing's right for last-minute mission prep," Ratchet suggested. "He's busy or learned his lesson." Either was a possibility. The Prime was persistent, not an idiot.

"We can 'accidentally' disconnect the camera," Ambulon said thoughtfully. He tapped a forefinger on his chin as he stood there with one hand supporting his elbow and optics studying the console like it was a problem to be solved. "Let me handle any incoming calls here. There's a whole file of prerecorded static we can layer over voice-only calls."

Ratchet looked at him. "Prerecorded static?"

"Mm. The storms cause a lot of interference."

"No, I get that. But why do you have prerecorded static?"

Ambulon and First Aid exchanged a speaking look. "You haven't met the head of the mining operation yet." The ward manager clapped a hand on his new boss' shoulder. "Don't worry, you'll catch on to how to break up a call when you need to."

Two days in Delphi, and Ratchet had learned more about ducking unwanted contact than he had from two thousand years working at the Deltaran Medical Facility. He hadn't expected his subordinates to be masterminds of snubbing Autobot High Command, but then again, he hadn't expected Autobot High Command to have systematically screwed them over. Something disciplinary should be done about that one way or another, but given his lack of rank, what could he do? Protest that they were helping him? Not likely. Rail at the higher-ups? It wasn't as though they hadn't tried that themselves.

He settled on a neutral, "I see." Good enough.

No, wait. "Thank you," he added. There. Much better. "I'll be in my office sorting out financial records if anyone calls," he said as he turned to go.

Ambulon might have said something about, "None shall pass," as he left, but Ratchet figured it was another in-joke. He was getting a feel for how this place operated, and it wasn't nearly as colorless, cold, and barren as the world outside the walls.

The hallways, if not the treatment rooms, were decorated in bright lights and framed Wrecker recruitment posters. First Aid insisted, and Ambulon hadn't found a regulation forbidding it, so he'd grudgingly let it slide. The ward manager himself seemed sour, an emotionally stunted part of bureaucratic middle management, but the stoic impression only lasted until the first time he cracked a joke. It had been a terrible pun. It took Ratchet ten seconds to catch on, as Ambulon had said it without changing expression, in the same voice he used to drone on about patient charts.

"He does that," First Aid told him later. "Don't worry. He's not a mindless machine. He goes high-pitched and sarcastic when the slag hits the fan."

Well, that would be something to look forward to, at least. Ambulon had already pulled him aside to warn him about First Aid's obsession with faction insignia, so the concentrated staring at his Autobot badges didn't unnerve him much past the first day. Nurse and ward manager had obviously had a lot of time to get used to each other, trapped in the medical center with nobody but the miners and a constant cycle of short-lived medical personnel for company. There was tension between them that Ratchet hadn't had time to sort out yet, but they had been running the facility by themselves since the D.J.D. took out the rest of the staff four months ago. Whatever problems they had, he was fairly confident they could sort it out themselves.

Leaving Ratchet to handle the clinic's neglected administrative tasks. Whoever the last head of Delphi had been, he'd left the finances gutted with no explanation as to where the absent funds had vanished to. No receipts, no notes, not even a history of supply requisitions. The money could have just as easily been spent on personal indulgences as medical supplies, for all the records left behind. From what Ambulon had said, however, the mines received the majority of supply drops. Delphi received a crate in the general cargo, maybe two if they were lucky, and that's how it had always been for as long as the ward manager remembered. Ratchet's arrival had coincided with one of the rare medical supply drops, and the crates had all fit on a single sled.

Where had the money gone? Ambulon didn't know. First Aid didn't know. There were no records of the missing shanix, just a drained account. It would stay empty until the next budget cycle. That meant Delphi had to make what was here stretch to last.

First Aid and Ambulon had shrugged, unsurprised, when he'd broken the news to them. They were resigned to things beyond their control. Ratchet had the frequent, rather uncharitable thought that he'd have tossed the last head of the facility out into the snow himself if the mech had still been around.

He'd been calculating operating costs down when the personal console on the desk chimed.

A wave of horror crashed over him. Aw, slag him. He hadn't disconnected the office comline. And he didn't know how to engage First Aid's clever little automated system to filter incoming calls, either. This could be some miner screaming for emergency medical help, for all Ratchet knew.

It chimed again.

Since he could, he turned off the console screen. It was a silly little precaution that wouldn't help much, but it was better than nothing. Already flinching, he pressed the Accept Call button.

The speakers fizzed online. Familiar engines growled through the static, angry as Pharma's snarled, "Ratchet."

So much for the slight chance of Decepticon attack in the forecast. Weather prediction was now 100% chock-full of enraged surgeon. "Thank you for calling the office of Ratchet," Ratchet began without hope. "I'm not in at the moment. If this is an emergency, please dial - "

Jet engines howled. Pharma yelled as much to be heard over them as because he was just that rusted angry. "You miswired moron! I'm not going to fall for that when you didn't even bother to turn off the blasted camera!"

Ah. Oops.

Ratchet carefully didn't look at the camera mounted over the console screen. Well, that hadn't worked.

He hesitated before turning on the screen. Loud, angry engine noises didn't do much to blot out the increasingly foul language being flung at him through the speakers. Pharma was in fine form. The pile of unopened messages in Ratchet's inbox might have something to do with that, or maybe the calls from Optimus Prime. It didn't bode well for Pharma's pride that the Prime had attempted to contact Ratchet. Autobot High Command didn't want to switch Chief Medical Officers for a score of personal reasons, but ego didn't account for such things. Probably all Pharma cared to notice was that the higher-ups weren't swooning at his feet in gratitude that he'd taken the position.

It wasn't nice of Ratchet to think that about his lover and partner, but he knew the mech well enough to know what was going on in that hard head. This wasn't going to be a fun conversation to have. Could he fumble at the power button convincingly enough to claim an 'accidental' disconnect?

"Don't you dare! Don't you even dare, and that's an order you fragging glitchead bumper-junked gearstick-licker!"

Frag him. Pharma ranked him now, and wasn't that an unpleasant reminder of that fact? "Didn't take you long to start ordering me around," Ratchet snapped, stung. He thumbed the console on and frowned at the surgeon glaring back at him. "I know you've just been waiting to boss me around."

It was an unfair accusation, but the truth in it verbally slapped Pharma hard enough he jerked his head back, shocked. The flash of hurt surprise passed as quickly as it'd come, and the surgeon launched immediately into an attack of his own. "What did you expect?! You're acting like an irresponsible medtech student dodging your professor! You blew all your collected downtime on swapping out your shifts on the schedule and took off before anyone could notice. You're not answering any of my messages, at least," and he sounded quite offended about it, possibly suspecting Ratchet had been answering other people, "and you haven't been picking up your comms - "

"Oh, so now it's my fault that you never respect my wishes, I see how it is. You'll leave me wondering where you are for hours after a recovery mission because you just have to have your meddling wings in that surgical suite all the damn time, you can't spare a single minute to even text me saying you made it back fine, everything's okay but you won't be back to our quarters until late - "

Feedback whined from the speakers as Pharma hiked his volume up another notch to overpower Ratchet. "It is not the same thing! Forgetting a date isn't even close to the same thing as resigning from your position and moving half a galaxy away in the dead of night. How can you even say that, you - you know what, no." Scowling, the fuming mech pushed back from the desk and raised his hands in a classic Hands Off gesture. He wasn't touching that. "I refuse to dignify that steaming pile of garbage with an argument. You cut and run, end of story. You didn't even tell me you were going, and I had to find out where you went from your transfer ticket. You ran, you coward, you always do, you never even try to talk with me - "

Harsh laughter shut the surgeon up, his lips pressing together into a thunderous frown as Ratchet loudly belly-laughed in open derision of what he'd said.

"Me?" Ratchet managed through the laughter. "You're the paragon of approachability, yep, you got me. You make it soooo easy to sit down and say, look, this has to happen and I don't want to drag it out. Stop being ridiculous! Why is it so slagging hard for you to get it through your head that you can't control me? Most people would interpret transferring out without a word as a hint to stop riding my bumper, but apparently that's not clear enough communication for you."

He regretted it the second he said it, but too late to take that back.

It was the second time he'd truly struck a blow to Pharma's spark. The surgeon worked his mouth, unable to find words around the hurt showing clear, pale blue in his optics. At the edges of the screen, his wings slowly sagged.

"Pharma…I didn't mean to say we're…well."

The apology, as always, stuck in his throat, and Pharma's pride recovered faster than a Wrecker in Intensive Care. "You want to talk about respect and control?" the surgeon said in a deadly soft voice. His optics darkened, pits of burning rage, and his wings bristled. "Do you really want to have that conversation? Really?" His voice climbed, heading for the angry howl his engines were accelerating toward. "Don't start that with me! What kind of 'respect' is throwing me to the cyberhounds? Answer me that, Ratchet!"

Being put on the defense tied a knot in his transmission, his engine grinding between gears as he sputtered for an answer. "You - oh, stow the show. You always wanted my position, don't lie. It's not like I couldn't tell what all those snide little remarks were about. 'I deserve more!'" he mimicked in a sniveling voice while Pharma's armor puffed up in outrage. "'We'll see which of us is the better surgeon, eh? Eeeeh?'" He dropped the mockery and scowled. "Well, you got more, you are the better surgeon, so stop acting like you're not relishing having everyone's attention on you."

"I do deserve it! I deserve to be CMO and you know it! I've had the Prime and that afthead Prowl crawling through my credentials comparing me to you for a week straight talking about how maybe I'm not qualified, and they don't listen to a word I say! The only one they listen to is you. Why the frag did you leave if they're just going to call you back?!"

"I'm not coming back!"

"You took a fake retirement - "

"That's utter slag, I didn't fake a retirement, I stepped down." Ratchet found he'd brought his hands up in frustrated claws at the screen, reaching out to grab and shake some sense into the entire universe. "You earned it, and they'd be idiots to promote someone less qualified against my recommendation! What more do you want from me? I knew they wouldn't let me retire easily, so I got the frag out of the way so they'd have to accept you!" He dropped his hands to the desk. Primus, this whole argument exhausted him. "You wanted my job. I gave it to you."

But that seemed to upset Pharma even more. "I didn't want you to give it to me, I - " He stopped. "I didn't want. I." Ratchet vents closed as he waited for the words struggling to come out. Pharma forced them out almost reluctantly. "I wanted…to be better than you."

The connection almost rang empty in the silence. In the absence of angry shouting, layers of old arguments peeled back, flaking away as the underlying truth was finally brought up to the surface after too long buried. Despite yelling over and at one another, that one, quiet statement struck true to the struts.

Ratchet stared through the screen at his old protégé, partner, friend, and lover, and the words ached like an exposed wound.

Pharma didn't meet his optics. He shifted restlessly in front of the camera, rage and hurt twisting his expressive face into a changing landscape of betrayal. "I wanted to be better than you," he repeated as if touching a sore spot. "I never wanted it given to me. I was supposed to be better." His words felt it out, his optics wandering over an internal landscape like he was realizing the extent of the damage.

This was an old wound, older than their relationship, and it had been festering under the surface for a long, long time by now. It hurt. It hurt them both, but there was a certain kind of relief in opening it up to air. This was something a long time coming, and there was a sense of inevitability to bringing it to light in the middle of this train-wreck of an argument. Why not now, right?

Ratchet hurt more for his distant partner than he did for himself. Their relationship had been a complicated thing from the start, their careers always coming first even when it shouldn't have. Pharma's jealousy had been there from the start, but so had Ratchet's arrogance assumption that he could do this, he could balance his personal and professional life, he could find a middle ground where their relationship could become something healthy. He never quite had. It had never been good for them, but what kept them together was how it was good enough.

Pharma had to be the best in everything he did. He was addicted to perfection, prodded to ever greater feats by his overweening ego, and he'd clung to Ratchet first as a student admiring a teacher, then as a colleague recognizing superior skill, and eventually as a lover. If he couldn't have Ratchet's job, it seemed, he'd been determined to have Ratchet himself.

And Ratchet had been hardly better. He was as addicted to being needed as Pharma was to being desired, and their relationship fed that sick cycle. Break one side of their unspoken bargain, however, and what was left between them?

Ratchet had never really been able to if they were together from affection or competition. The pain in his spark answered the question on his end. From the lost look on Pharma's face, the surgeon was asking himself the same thing.

"You are better," Ratchet said gruffly. "You're better than I am. There. I've said it. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

Pharma's hands were works of art. The surgeon traced patterns on his desk using them, fingertips making aimless doodles that he studied intently. "It's not a fair competition anymore, is it?"

It was Ratchet's turn to wince, stricken. Right in the pride, that one. He had been trying to resign himself to reality, but ouch.

Pharma's optics sought Ratchet's own hands. Ratchet refused to hide them under his desk. "I read your file."

No doubt about that. Pharma had a liking for the trappings of power, and for throwing his weight around. Ratchet was sure he'd been riffling through classified files opened by his rank for the past week, snooping where he hadn't been allowed before. Everything he'd always wanted to do but couldn't because of their respective ranks was his to do, now.

"And?" Ratchet said, since Pharma seemed to be waiting for a response.

"I know why you retired."

He couldn't stop the slight curl of his fingers. "Do you."

Pharma looked straight at him again. "You can say I'm better, but your hands throw the contest. Who knows how long they've been degrading?" He waved away Ratchet's objection before it started. "I know, I know, they're your hands. You probably felt the effects long before now, but - I didn't even notice." A disconcerted look crossed his face as the more personal aspect of that hit home, but he dismissed the thought a moment later. This was about him, fraggit, not them. "I've been comparing myself to you when you're well past your peak for who knows how long - "

"Hey!" He wasn't that far past the prime of his life!

The protest was ignored. " - and I still came up second-best. I'll never have the chance to see how we compared as equals." The degradation of the older medic's hands would skew any sort of comparison made between them now. Pharma was heading into the prime of his own life, hands functioning at their best, right as Ratchet headed downslope.

He'd taken first place by default. From the oddly bewildered expression on his face, it wasn't satisfying to win without actually winning.

Lifting his optics to the screen, Pharma met Ratchet's gaze with almost an accusing look. "I'm never going to impress you."

"You impress me all the time," Ratchet said softly. "How many times do I have to say I'm proud of you before you believe me?"

"That's not - " His mouth snapped into an unhappy line. That wasn't what he meant. He meant that he'd never be so overwhelmingly awesome that Ratchet stepped aside because of his glorious accomplishments. No matter how proud he was, he couldn't say that out loud. "You know what I meant."

Ratchet did, but he wasn't about to coddle Pharma over this. Primus alive, this was exactly why he'd left without a word to anyone. This kind of confrontation left him helpless. It was a peril of the job, he thought sometimes. Medics were so used to being able to fix people physically that the emotional side of things fell right through their hands.

He aimed for casual disdain, hoping to lighten the mood. ""You got the job because I know you can handle it, not because I compared the two of us and decided you're the superior. It's not how you wanted to take over, but, well. Now you can have your dream life. Congratulations."

Pharma's wings flinched. "This isn't my dream life."

Ratchet frowned, stomping on his bruised pride, but resentment bubbled over. "What? Because I'm not there fawning over you?" The flinch repeated, and Ratchet's engine grumbled. "That's what you wanted, isn't it. That's it. You wanted to beat me. You wanted to be lauded as the winner, like this is all a big contest! What did you think would happen, Optimus would give us each a patient and time how fast we repaired them? Split a mech in half and see who welds the prettiest? Pharma - "

"No, I - "

Ratchet ground gears hard enough a sharp pang went through his chassis. Pharma drew back in surprise, and Ratchet charged into the interruption to finish speaking. "Don't be stupid! I've never promoted anyone because they're any better or faster or - or anything more than someone else! That's not how promotions work, not in a medibay, and if you haven't figured that someone's merit depends on them alone, you're the last person I should have put in charge."

Pharma waited a moment, mouth pinched into a bitter frown. When Ratchet didn't continue, he sneered, "I'm well aware that there wouldn't have been any sort of open competition for CMO. I simply wanted…" He hesitated, his haughty mask faltering to show a yawning hole of vulnerable insecurities waiting underneath, and Ratchet pressed his lips together to keep from interrupting this time. Pharma shook his head, a furrow digging deep between his brows. "I wanted acknowledgement."

"You wanted fame," Ratchet corrected. "You wanted everyone to see that you'd beaten me."

"Hmmph. As if there was ever question that I could." Pharma snorted.

"You couldn't beat me and you know it."

Pharma stayed silent, however, and it was Ratchet's turn to flinch. That was Pharma, alright: sound of body, large in ego, impossibly fragile at spark.

He softened his voice, intentionally pushing some of his own sparkache into his words. "What's done is done, Pharma. Does it matter how it happened? I resigned. You got the position you wanted."

Pharma's shoulders slumped out of their stiff set. "I did, didn't it?" He smiled a bit, optics lowered to stare down at the desk, but it wasn't a happy smile. Black humor shaded his voice bleak. "I have everything I wanted. Your job, your rank, your office. Even your chair." He shifted around on it. "No wonder your back hurt."

"What would you know? You're bigger than I am. That chair's fine for someone my size."

"Hmmph."

"Oh, get it replaced if it bothers you that much."

"I can do that now, can't I," Pharma said thoughtfully. He put his elbow on the desk, chin perched on the heel of his hand as he looked through the screen at Ratchet. "I'm the Chief Medical Officer, now."

"Yes, the Chief Medical Officer in a war," Ratchet agreed, voice desert-dry. "It's not as much fun as it sounds."

The needling comment poked Pharma into shooting him a glare. "And you're the director of a hovel in the middle of D.J.D. territory. That sounds just wonderful."

Ratchet shrugged. Pharma had a point.

Being Pharma, the surgeon kept pushing. "You're working with total incompetents, too. Your resident nurse was demoted from full medic for obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and worse, that cogsucker of a ward manager is a former Decepticon! Have you read his file?"

"No, for some reason none of that information made it into my transfer packet. I've been too busy putting out fires and dodging calls to read up on my people," he said, leveling a meaningful look at Pharma.

"At least half of that could have been avoided by an aft-to-head transplant before you left."

He understood the point, but how rude. "You'd better not be verbally abusing other people this way," he said lightly, but there was a note of steel under the warning. He was fairly sure part of First Aid and Ambulon's willingness to help him evade commcalls was from Pharma yelling at them before he arrived on Messatine.

Pharma didn't do 'shamefaced,' but he avoided Ratchet's optics. "I thought I'd take advantage of rank to tell you what I really think." Ratchet barked a laugh at the idea of Pharma censoring himself, and the surgeon half-smiled. "Might not have another chance."

Ratchet's laughter stopped short. "I'm old, not dead."

"Yet."

"I have no intention of dying anytime soon."

A nameless tension around Pharma's optics released. Winglets flicked in relief, and Ratchet suddenly felt terrible that he'd left without a word. How long had Pharma been worried about him? Messatine exported more corpses than nucleon, after all.

The surgeon didn't show any of that worry right now. "Can you blame me for writing you off? You cut and run off to a deathtrap of a posting like you're making a martyr of yourself!" Pharma's voice dropped half an octave, taking on a mocking mimicry of Ratchet's own voice. "Oh, woe is me, my old age is catching up with me. I must now flee the shame of being overshadowed by my magnificent younger colleague - "

"Magnificent?! I'll show you magnificent, you winged scrapheap!"

" - and since I have the sensitivity of a decrepit MARB, I'll go for maximum dramatic effect by taking off without a word so everyone will automatically think the worst and fly into a panic. Yes, that sounds delightful. I shall do that."

Ratchet really had no rejoinder for that. Overly pompous imitation of him or not, Pharma wasn't saying anything that wasn't true from his side of things.

The surgeon paused, waiting for a retort that didn't come, and his optics held flouted pride. The pouting frown was pure hurt, however. Ratchet knew the shape well. It was the same pout Pharma wore whenever he'd come in late after a meeting with Autobot High Command, one of the meetings a mere surgeon didn't qualify to attend. He knew what it was like to run his thumb along it, coaxing the pout slowly into a smile. It was so familiar it made his spark ache for the distance between them.

They hadn't stayed together so long because they were a beautifully harmonic couple. They were terrible at communication. The both of them, so it wasn't as though the blame for their lack of meaningful talks fell on one or the other, but they had managed work-arounds for handling each other that didn't involve hashing out the underlying issues. When Ratchet snarled biting remarks at Pharma for pushing too far, or when Pharma's ego got singed, they knew how to deal with the aftermath.

They worked well together as medics and partners, but their personal lives were a hot mess. It was a mess they could depend on in the midst of the larger chaos of war, which felt a lot like security in a way. What kept them together outside of a professional context was sheer passion. They broke up often, more than once just so they could make up.

Ratchet wanted to reach through the screen, hold Pharma's face in his hands, and kiss that pout away. He wanted to kiss it until it bit him back, and then the tight anger turning the air to a wall between them would crack. Once he made the first move, they could nip and curse and breathlessly say things that meant everything under the cover of impassioned groping. They could pretend nothing had changed if they were doing the same dance as always.

He couldn't do that, here. The fine tremble of his fingers surprised him as he laid the tips on the console screen. Unease flickered in Pharma's optics, but Ratchet wasn't gathering words to unleash in a sudden torrent. He was old. He was tired. He was retired. The consequences for those facts had been dumped square on his partner's shoulders, and yes, he'd deserved a kick in the tailpipe for that.

"I wish I could kiss you," he said, surprised all over again by the hoarse rasp in his voice.

Optics flaring in shock, Pharma sat back. Honest emotion showed through for just a second.

"Yes. Well. You can't." He turned his head and reset his vocalizer, and when he looked back at the screen, the familiar cocky smirk was in full display. "You did that to yourself, you know."

Ratchet smiled a trifle sadly. "I know."

Pharma stared at him. He stared back. Neither of them knew where to start, but hanging up didn't seem like an option either.

Pharma's smart mouth could always be counted on to divert an awkward moment. "You're not allowed to die," he ordered out nowhere, and Ratchet twitched. One elegant surgeon's hand pointed at him. "You hear me? I'm going to see this war ended, and I want you alive to watch me do it."

Ratchet blinked, smiling despite himself. "Oh, will you? I see how it is. I leave, and you'll single-handedly end the war. Then what?"

"Then I'll reopen the Academy, of course," Pharma said, nose in the air, "and I expect you to be at my side."

"I'll be no good in a - "

Pharma snorted, interrupting him. "You'll be useless in a hospital, yes, I know - "

"Watch it!"

" - but you'll be worth your weight in shanix as a professor. You'll make a fine academic instructor for the new medical program, and I expect you to reserve at least three nights a week to accompany me to events."

Ratchet worked his mouth for a moment. "Events."

"Galas, political meetings, academic functions. The usual." Pharma waved a hand. "There's no point in wasting your experience or influence keeping you in some sort of ice-locked nowhere. If I'm going to support you as my kept mech, I expect you to repay me by playing the room at my side."

He…what? A quick reset of his vox box came out sounding like a laugh, and Ratchet found himself smiling again. "I'll make terrible arm candy, you know."

"Nonsense. You'll be a lovely paid companion. My salary will be enough to support you in style, and you'll be shown off at all the finest establishments. Why retire from the public optics when you could rule the socialites with a malfunctioning but experienced fist?"

Definitely a laugh, now. "And I suppose you'll also expect all of my classes to graduate with a degree in buffing your aft."

"Mm, a goodly amount of respect is only my due. Someone will have to do the practical demonstrations for them, since you won't be able to." Pharma cocked a knowing look at him.

Oh come on, his hands weren't completely useless. "I don't know, you may regret taking me out with you. I never learned to keep my mouth shut."

Pharma's optics narrowed in juvenile amusement. "What, you can't be seen and not heard? Is that a requirement? Yet I have clear memories of you encouraging me to talk at those hospital meet-and-greets you used to drag me to. Why, Ratchet, were you using me to distract those Senators with my charm and good looks?"

"I'm not saying you were just an ornament, no" Ratchet teased, and Pharma scowled, caught between indignation and preening at the backhanded compliment. "Are you saying you'll set me loose on your enemies?"

"Hmmph." Pharma slouched back in his seat, crossing his arms to sulk. "Maybe you should stay silent."

Ratchet leaned his elbow on the desk, propping his chin on his hand. This kind of back-and-forth put him back on solid footing. It felt right, and a comforting warmth filled his spark chamber as he smirked at the camera. "Maybe you'll have to make me."

Pharma's optics slid to the side. The small motions of his wings, the little adjustments to his shoulder vents, they all stopped. For a few seconds, the surgeon sat peculiarly still, as though Ratchet's words had struck straight to his spark. Before Ratchet said something, however, Pharma rolled his shoulders back, blinking rapidly. The devilish grin he pasted on hid a plethora of emotions, but Ratchet caught a glimpse of worry.

"I suppose I will, at that," the surgeon drawled. "It means you'll have to stick around to be a pain in my afterburners, now won't it?"

"Ha! I'm not the one who's heading into danger alongside Optimus Prime, now. I should be the one making you promise to come back alive!"

"Pfah. I'll live." Pharma tossed his head.

"Or maybe I should be concerned you'll find someone new and exciting. You'll be out there meeting all these young doctors and nurses in the line of duty, now."

"Oh, for Adaptus' sake."

"Cavorting with the young and impressionable graduates intent on using you to climb the ranks. You'll forget all about me in a week."

Pharma glared so hard the lenses in his optics flashed white. "I'm not going to forget you."

Ratchet refused to label what he felt as relief. Instead, he spread the fingers of his hand in a 'Sure you won't' gesture. "So you say. We'll see how that's changed by the end of the war. I'll get off the transport to an empty arrival dock, and you'll be gadding about with some jumped-up general practitioner with a wing fetish."

Pharma narrowed his optics. "With a - I see. So that's what you think of me." Ratchet eyed the jet's wings meaningfully, and a nasty grin quirked the ends of Pharma's mouth. "So it's a date, then."

"Agreed."

"On the dock, end of the war."

"I'll see you then."

"Yes, you will."

Pharma glared at him a moment more, mouth attempting to smile despite his offended pride, and Ratchet sternly told his own lips to stop trying to turn up. One of their ventilation systems fuffed, the vents coughing a precursor to helpless laughter.

They nodded sharp agreement at the same moment, reached out, and ended the call as one.

"Goodbye," Ratchet said to the blank screen. For the first time since he'd signed the transfer, the future didn't come to an abrupt, vague end in his mind. There was a deep, heavy weight in his chest for that, but he felt strangely light nonetheless.

His hand rested against the screen, right where Pharma's face had been. He missed the frustrating glitch already. "Wait for me."


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