Disclaimer: I didn't make them and I don't own them. No profit was made from this silly, little fic.

Whatever Works.

by Epona Harper

At some level, all medics are detectives.

It doesn't matter if the patient is biological or mechanoid. In order to be a good doctor, mechanic or what have you, you have to have a mind set for solving mysteries. After all, malfunction of a system is a mystery, either easily solved or a massive conundrum. Which is why First Aid couldn't get those little reddish-brown smears out of his mind.

He had noticed the first one about two weeks after he had joined the Autobot forces on Earth. A Decepticon raid had filled the repair bay with casualties. Fortunately, they had been relatively minor, but you wouldn't have known it from the tirade Ratchet launched into when presented with Sideswipe's mangled leg. First Aid had done his best to tune his senior officer out as he repaired some cracked minor energon conduits in Bumblebee's midsection. His patient, pain sensors mercifully deactivated, chuckled quietly as he listened to the CMO read the riot act to his arch-nemesis.

"Almost done," he asked as First Aid began his final check.

"Nearly," the medic responded as he ran a diagnostic. "You're lucky that blast hit you a little off center. If its angle had increased by 5 degrees, it would have punched through your armor and taken out some major systems." His scanner beeped at him. "Wait a minute..."

Bumblebee raised his head off to the table to try to see what was going on. "Something else get jolted loose?" he asked.

First Aid frowned. "There's a smear of organic material near the first lower division of your main circuitry conduit. I can't imagine how it got there. Hang on while I clean it off."

"Whoa! Wait a second," Bumblebee said sharply and grabbed the medic's hand. "It's not gonna cause any problems, is it?"

First Aid looked down at the mark. No, it wasn't causing any difficulties, but it went against his programming to close up a patient on anything but a "clean field".

"Well," he finally said, "no, but..."

"Then just leave it alone, Doc," Bumblebee said firmly.

That had been the first. Over the next few months, First Aid had stumbled across more of these marks on the interior structures of other Autobots. They were in different places: Ironhide's left arm, Jazz's chest, right next to Track's fuel pump for Primus' sake, but the same material, ionic iron with a mix of amino acids and other material. Each time, he had offered to remove the contaminant but had been firmly (sometimes almost violently) refused. And any inquiries he had made as to the nature of the mark had been ignored.

So here he was, skimming Teletran-1's database looking for compounds that approximated the mix found in his cursory scan of the marks. There were many, many options, but he knew this mystery would nag him until it was safely solved.

"You're up late, kid. What are ya' doing?"

First Aid looked up to see Ratchet standing over him and favoring his junior officer with a rarely seen look of calm curiosity. He smiled and gestured at the screen. "Attempting to solve a small mystery," he said.

Ratchet leaned in and skimmed over both the search parameters and the list of results. "Looks like you're hunting a needle in a haystack," he commented. "What's this about?"

The Protectobot suddenly realized something. Many of those marks must have been made long before his arrival. Ergo, Ratchet must have seen them and probably knew something about them. Feeling sheepish that he'd not brought this too his superior's attention sooner, he said, "I've been noticing some trace biological contaminants in several Autobots when they come in for repairs. I was just wondering..."

"What the scrap they were and why in Primus' name they're so attached to them?" Ratchet finished with a smile of comprehension as First Aid's voice trailed off in embarrassment. "Well, Dr. Watson, I think I have an answer for you."

Ratchet leaned over and quickly typed a new command into the terminal. A large schematic of a molecule appeared on one half of the screen. A cluster of scarlet, concave disks with a few lighter, globules appeared on the other portion. "Those boys have all been blooded," the medic said by way of explanation.

First Aid skimmed the text, but it still made no sense to him. Human blood. It was dried human blood he was finding. He knew full well that the Autobots' human friends often received minor injuries in the course of helping with repairs. Their tiny, soft hands which allowed them to work on delicate circuitry in areas so tight that normally they would require a complete disassembly to repair were exquisitely vulnerable to the jagged shards of metal common in most wounds. He'd often heard Spike, Sparkplug or Carly yelp or smother a curse as a stray edge sliced through skin. But, as fond as many of the Autobots were of their allies, it did not explain the fervor with which they preserved those dried traces of fluid.

He finally turned to Ratchet, completely at a loss. "I don't understand."

The CMO grinned and wandered over to the energon dispenser. "Well, there's a bit of history you'd have to know to get it," he said as he ordered two drinks. "It all started pretty soon after Spike and Sparkplug joined up with us. We were still trying to get used to each other and stuff. Anyway, one day Sunstreaker was dragged in to the repair bay with his aft shot off by a Seeker ambush."

Ratchet returned to First Aid's seat and handed the junior officer his energon. "Sparkplug offered to help, of course," he continued as he sat down and put his feet up on the table with a clunk. "He was still trying to get the feel of working inside an awake Autobot. It took him a while to work out 'the Zen of Cybertonian repair' as he calls it. Poor guy was right in the middle of reconnecting a crucial circuit board when a piece of shrapnel finally jarred loose and damn near impaled his arm." Ratchet took a drink and was silent for a moment. "Gotta admire his guts. Didn't drop a thing. Just hissed and made that final connection. I didn't know what happened until he pulled his arm out, bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig. None of us knew Jack about human medicine back then, so I yelled for Spike . He came a-runnin' and managed to get a good enough bandage on Sparkplug to keep him from bleeding to death while Bluestreak rushed them to the ER."

First Aid frowned. "But what does this have to do with..."

"Quiet, son," Ratchet cut him off with a mock scowl. "I'm about to get to the point. Well, you know how 'Streaker is. Oh, he just couldn't have all that vile protoplasm defiling his perfect interior. Oh, no. He kept bitching at me to get every trace out of him. And, since we're supposed to leave a clean field, I obliged." The medic leaned forward with a devilish look in his optics. "However, Jazz just happened to be nearby and couldn't resist commenting on 'Streaker's lack of appreciation for Sparkplug's efforts. His exact words were, 'would serve you right to get a hole blown in your sorry carcass for every drop of blood you're picking out'".

Ratchet leaned back, casually quaffing his energon while the silence stretched. Finally, First Aid sighed and took the bait. "Okay, Ratchet. What happened to Sunstreaker?"

"Well, the Lambo Twins don't have the best record for injury-free battles in the first place," Ratchet continued with a smirk. "But for the next three weeks, it seemed like Sunstreaker couldn't get within half a mile of a Decepticon without winding up with major repairs. Next time a human managed to mangle himself on his sorry insides...I think it was Spike that time. Not bad enough for stitches, but messy all the same...Anyway, the little prima dona all but insisted we leave the blood where it was. Funny thing is, his injury rate went dramatically down after that. Since then, it's been SOP to only clear the blood if it's gonna cause system problems if a human cuts him or herself in the course of repairs."

"You're saying that those blood smears are a...good luck charm?!" First Aid was flabbergasted. The idea that an advanced race such as the Autobots were subject to such silly superstitions was...well, it was appalling, but Ratchet only laughed.

"Hey, if it gives one of these boys enough to keep their nerve in this hellhole of a war, I'm all for it," he said. "Primus, I half suspect our friends of nicking themselves on purpose when one of the guys needs a little confidence boost. I'll go with whatever works. Besides, how do we know their blood isn't lucky? For the hell of it, Perceptor calculated their chances of surviving from the time we met to the time he joined us. According to his figures, they should all be dead five times over." He tossed off the dregs of his energon and leaned in conspiratorially. "Medicine ain't all schematics and circuitry, kid. You've got to treat the mind as well as the body here. Remember that and you'll turn out to be a medic that will leave me in the dust."

Another day, another repair session. The Decepticons had hit a hydroelectric plant and had hit hard. It was late, but the major casualties had been stabilized. First Aid and Spike were now trying to rebuild Trailbreaker's arm. Their patient's mood was morbid to say the least.

"The same slagging shoulder," Trailbreaker grumbled. "That's the same shoulder that was hit last time. Only instead of a laser blast, it was a scrapping missile. I swear, I felt like a turbo fox in hunting season out there..."

First Aid caught a quick movement out of the corner of his optic and turned just in time to see his partner jump.

"Oh, shit!" Spike swore as he laid down his tool and pulled his hand out of the mangled metal. "I swear, I'm gonna lose fingers in here someday."

Trailblazer turned to him with a look of concern. "How bad you hurt yourself, Spike?" he asked.

The human held up his hand which had a small rivulet of blood trickling down the back. "Eh, I've had worse. I'm starting to think we need gloves with kevlar backs to work here or something."

The Protecobot medic carefully controlled his expression as Trailblazer laid back on the table. No, he wasn't imagining it. The Autobot was much more relaxed than he had been a minute ago. His conversation with Ratchet moved to the fore of his memory banks...one bit in particular.

"Primus, I half suspect our friends of nicking themselves on purpose when one of the guys needs a little confidence boost."

He turned a questioning look on the tiny human. Spike met his gaze steadily and winked as he discretely wiped his bleeding hand on the inner wall of Trailbreaker's armor.