A/N: Well folks, this is the last chapter of Cave Canem. (Unless there is something that I've completely and totally forgotten to explain, which is possible, but may still be relegated to the next story in the arc, which is currently in the planning stages.)

I apologize for the length of time that this has taken to post, but the holidays have gotten the better of me, and it took a while to get this one up to snuff. .;

Anyway, thanks once again to everyone who reviewed and the wonderful VAWitch for beta reading; couldn't have done without you. XD

And without further ado, the fic:


Sideswipe had come to the conclusion that Ratchet was completely cratered.

Of course, it was largely his fault that the medic was in said state—he'd diligently made sure that his lover always had a full cube of high-grade, and the party had been Sideswipe's idea in the first place—but it was still funny as slag to see Ratchet babbling brightly to Prowl, who nodded politely and discreetly glanced around to see if Jazz would come save him. The saboteur, of course, was sitting in the corner laughing himself sick at the whole thing.

This was exactly what Ratchet had needed, Sideswipe thought smugly, watching Prowl finally escape, which prompted the medic to make his unsteady way over to the red Lamborghini. Sideswipe glanced at his brother, noting that Sunstreaker's optics also tracked Ratchet's weaving progress with the intent gaze of a raptor on the hunt. When he looked back he nearly yelped in surprise; he was nose-to-nose with the medic.

"Hello," Ratchet drawled. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Hmm, yeah…" Sideswipe paused. "You know, you're a little overcharged."

The ambulance peered at him blearily. "Are you sure?" he asked, plopping himself down to sit beside his lover. "I can still walk and talk. I must not be too overcharged," he added cheerfully. His current mood was a distinct improvement over the one he'd been in before Sideswipe's impromptu party; the past few weeks—the past few battles, actually—had really taken their toll on the CMO, and the usual methods of calming him down had ceased to work. It had gotten to the point that no one had any desire to venture into the medbay (newly dubbed the Hatchet's Lair) except in dire need.

They had all, including Prime, rediscovered the fact that getting things thrown at your head was detrimental to your health—and Ratchet rarely missed his target.

And, since any comment made to Sunstreaker that could be construed as a complaint about Ratchet had the lamentable tendency of resulting in bodily harm, everyone had gone to Sideswipe to beg for something—anything—that might take the edge off of Ratchet's anger at the ability of the average Autobot to get himself slagged good and proper. Now, Sideswipe didn't really give a flying frag what misfortunes befell his comrades-in-arms at Ratchet's hand (they probably deserved it anyway), but his bondmate's growing agitation was beginning to worry him.

Thus the party.

Of course, the official reason was to celebrate a recent victory over the 'Cons, but that was a minor detail.

Everyone who wasn't on-duty at the time was there, and Sideswipe spared a moment to think that it was a pity they didn't do this more often—they had all needed a little morale boost, it seemed.

"Oh, you're pretty overcharged," Sideswipe told Ratchet calmly. "'Course, so'm I."

The medic leaned his head on Sideswipe's shoulder. "Hmm. Is that why you've just been sitting here?"

"Mm-hmm. 'M not so sure I wanna try walking."

Ratchet nodded sagely. "It's a little tricky."

"Yup."

They fell silent for a few moments, just watching the party going on around them, until Ratchet heaved a sigh of contentment. "You planned all this for my sake, didn't you?" he asked sleepily, shifting to get a little more comfortable against the red warrior's side.

"You were gettin' a little grouchy," Sideswipe said mildly, not wanting even an overcharged Ratchet to take a swing at him. Ratchet hit hard.

But the medic just made a soft noise of protest. "Can't help it if I work with a bunch'a incompetent idiots that can't seem to keep th'mselves outta my medbay."

"Hmm."

"Sideswipe?"

"Yeah?"

"…Thanks."

Sideswipe just smiled. "No problem."

Silence between them once more; Sideswipe snickered when Wheeljack and Bluestreak, neither paying attention to where he was going, tripped over each other and fell in a tangle to the floor. They could barely hear Bluestreak's babbled apologies and Wheeljack's "It ain't nothin', kid, it ain't nothin'!" over the sound of the music as they righted themselves. Ratchet snorted at how flustered his friend was getting, which caused Sideswipe to go from snickering to an outright chuckle.

The red Lamborghini raised his energon cube to his lips, planning on taking another sip, only to look at it mournfully and shake it when he realized it was empty. "Hey," he said, shrugging his shoulder to dislodge the half-awake medic, who bolted upright, startled. "'M gonna go get some more high-grade. Want another cube?"

Ratchet blinked at him in confusion for a moment before peering into his own half-full cube and shaking his head. "Nah, 'm good."

Sideswipe nodded and, using his bondmate's shoulder to steady himself, stood up. "Woah," he muttered. "The floor's movin'."

Ratchet sniggered. "It is not, bolt-bucket."

"Watch who y'r callin' a bolt-bucket—"

"Or you'll what?"

"I'll—I'll—I'll think of somethin'," the red twin mumbled, trying to clear his head by shaking it. "Later, when I'm not overcharged." After standing there for a few minutes to regain his equilibrium, he made his way over to the energon dispenser. Somehow he made it there without falling, and decided to go ahead and retrieve two cubes—Ratchet would probably be out by the time he got back.

Suddenly there was a thread of anger running through his mind from Sunstreaker's end of the bond, and when he turned around his own energon nearly boiled when he saw why. An obviously overcharged Smokescreen sat with his arm slung companionably across Ratchet's shoulders and was talking with the medic animatedly.

Overcharge burning away in the light of his anger, he somehow managed to convince Sunny not to throttle Smokescreen and stalked over to loom over the mech encroaching on his territory.

"You're in my seat, Smokey," he said in a deceptively pleasant voice, glowering down his nose at the smaller 'Bot.

Smokescreen blinked up at him innocently. "I didn't see your name on it," he quipped, but he prudently removed his arm from around the white and red shoulders. "Besides, Ratchet and I were just talking—" he cut off with an 'eep!' when Sideswipe's expression darkened further and he took a menacing step forward. After a few more moments of glaring and looming from the red twin, Smokescreen finally seemed to get the hint, and took off for friendlier climes. Ratchet stared after him with an odd look on his face.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, "I think he was flirting with me…"

Sideswipe growled. "He better not have been," he snapped, glowering at the maroon and blue Datsun, now conversing with Powerglide and shooting nervous looks at the bristling Lamborghini twins.

The medic jumped a little when Sunstreaker flopped down on the seat next to him and wrapped him up, tucking Ratchet's head under his chin. He rumbled a warning growl when several mechs gave them odd looks, and everyone quickly left them alone. Mine, his optics seemed to say, daring anyone to gainsay him.

Ratchet 'hmphed' and pushed Sunstreaker off of him. "If you two are getting this possessive over stupid slag like a 'Bot that's had more high-grade than is good for 'im, then it's time to go," he said firmly, and stood despite Sideswipe's protest that he was not possessive, and they didn't have to leave. Ratchet snorted. "The party's winding down, anyway," he told them, indicating the mechs leaving by ones and twos.

"I guess it is pretty late," Sideswipe admitted, surveying the shrinking gathering.

"I vote we go back, too," Sunstreaker added, clambering to his feet. "I've had enough of making nice with these losers," he whined.

Sideswipe sniffed. "Like you were doing anything but sitting there moping and downing high-grade," he retorted, smiling a little to take the sting out of his words.

"Yeah, well, I didn't kill Smokescreen, at least. I deserve a fragging medal for the effort it took, too," Sunny grumbled, and Ratchet arched an optic ridge at that.

"Please don't maim anyone while I'm too drunk to fix them, if you please, Sunny," the medic said dryly, wobbling a little as he led the way to their quarters. "You two have made enough work for me lately as it is, considering your tendency to be the worst wounded after every battle."

"Sorry," the yellow twin muttered sullenly, though both Ratchet and Sideswipe caught the guilt floating through the bond.

"'S not our fault we were designed to be frontliners," Sideswipe said reproachfully. He paused, blinking, then giggled. "Is that a word? Frontliners?" he asked rhetorically, cocking his head to one side.

Ratchet turned to look at him quizzically. "I guess it is now, if it wasn't before," he replied, amused. They finally reached their door and he keyed in the code, marveling that he was still sober enough to remember it. He had the distinct impression that Sideswipe had forgotten, and he caught a quick flash of Sunstreaker silently ribbing him for it.

He smiled a little where the brothers wouldn't see it; this joking, laughing side of Sunny had been one he would never have guessed at before becoming involved with the twins, and it warmed him to know that the yellow 'Bot felt safe enough around him to let him see it. Sunstreaker, sensing that warmth and the fact that it was directed at him, gave him a brilliant grin, and the medic's fuel pump skipped a beat. The grin transformed Sunny's features from simply lovely into spark-shatteringly beautiful.

Sideswipe snickered as his brother preened under their lover's admiration. "You shouldn't think things like that. It'll swell his head up even bigger than it already is," he chortled, ducking his twin's fist when he took a swing at him. Unfortunately, both of them overbalanced and they landed in a tangled heap on the floor of their quarters. When Ratchet tried to help them up, however, they just dragged him down with them, laughing.

"Get him!" Sunstreaker cried, and suddenly he was pinned to the floor under two more heavily-armored mechs, struggling to get free and wondering what in the world they were going to—

The medic shrieked when both twins mercilessly dug their fingers into every ticklish spot they could find. He writhed away from the searching hands, laughing so hard that his vocalizer squealed as he begged for them to stop, stop, stop! and he couldn't even draw air into his intakes to cool his overheating systems.

When it finally seemed as though they might be winding down, and Ratchet cautiously began to relax, they abruptly switched tactics to lightly caress the same places they had been attacking, and the change in sensation ripped a deep, throaty moan from the CMO. The brothers grinned at each other in triumph at that—then Sideswipe, now sitting up with Ratchet's head in his lap, swooped down to claim the white lips in a fierce, albeit upside down, kiss, while Sunstreaker—oh, Primus!—pressed his fingers into the seam between his waist and hip.

Even without the hardline connection, he could feel his bondmates responding to the way they had him writhing between them, and the knowledge heated his circuitry even more than it already was. Ratchet suddenly realized that, as overenergized as all of them were, none of them were going to last long enough to actually connect to one another physically—though the bond made it so that it didn't really matter. A hardline connection was fantastic because there was no interference with the flow of data, but simply immersing themselves in the bond was nearly as good.

The sensation tripled as their minds fully merged, each feeling everything the other two were, and it was enough to shove them all headlong over the edge. They cried out with one voice as energy crackled and danced along their frames, and then all went silent as they fell offline.

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When Ratchet woke, his head was pounding thickly, and his body felt unnaturally heavy.

Then he realized that Sunstreaker was still laying half on top of him.

He raised his head and looked around, wondering when in the world they had managed to climb up onto the berth, and—where the slag was Sideswipe, anyway? His optics lit on a note on his desk, and he somehow crawled off of the 'charge pad without either waking Sunny or purging his tanks and made his way over to read it. On it was Sideswipe's careless scrawl:

Gone to get energon. Be right back. –Sides.

Ratchet dropped the note back on the desk and sank into the chair beside it with a groan because something told him it would not be a good idea to remain upright unless he wanted half-processed fuel all over the floor. After the world obligingly stopped spinning, he hazarded a glance back at the berth to see Sunstreaker looking back at him with too-bright optics.

"'M gonna be sick," the yellow 'Bot moaned, and Ratchet stared at him in horror.

"Don't you dare, Sunny," the medic said faintly. Sunstreaker just stared back with a glassy look before an alarmed expression crossed his features and he bolted for the door.

Damn you, Sunny, was all Ratchet had time to think before the sound of the Lamborghini emptying his tanks out in the hall sent him scurrying for a waste receptacle.

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Feeling marginally better now that his tanks were empty—he had refused the offer of the energon that Sideswipe had brought back, despite the red twin's insistence that it would make him feel better—Ratchet had forced himself to suffer through his duty cycle in the medbay. The only thing that made it tolerable was the fact that Wheeljack felt just as bad as he did, and was there to commiserate with him.

Of course, the odd looks he kept getting—even from Wheeljack—were definitely not helping his mood. It wasn't until Swoop and First Aid came into the medbay that he realized why everyone kept staring.

"Why you Ratchet have that written on your back?" the Dinobot had asked innocently, not noticing Wheeljack's not-so-subtle attempts to shut him up. Ratchet glowered up at him.

"Why do I have what written on my back?" the CMO asked in a dangerously gentle voice—and though the question was directed at Swoop, the unspoken menace behind it was unmistakably meant for Wheeljack, who cringed.

Swoop blinked at his mentor in surprise and a little hurt at the tone that he had used. Ratchet's expression softened a little at the big 'Bot's genuine confusion. "I'm sorry, Swoop," he said reassuringly, then glared at Wheeljack. "I just wasn't aware that there was anything written on my back, since certain engineers neglected to tell me."

Ratchet suspected that First Aid only managed to keep a straight face because of the mask and the visor he wore—the Protectobot fairly vibrated with suppressed amusement as he manipulated one shining repair table so that it stood upright for an impromptu mirror, and then maneuvered Ratchet to stand with his back to it before pulling a small handheld mirror out of subspace and moving it around until the reflection of his reflection shone in the small mirror, and the medic could see what had been left in black magic marker on his back.

Printed in Sunstreaker's graceful script across his shoulders and down his back was the message "Property of The Twins. Unauthorized touching may result in loss of limbs." They had signed it at the bottom, each in his own hand. Ratchet growled and shoved the little mirror back at First Aid, who subspaced it without a word. He whirled on Wheeljack.

The engineer was laughing his head off by this point, fins flashing bright blue in his amusement—and then Ratchet leaped on him, wrestling him to the ground yelling obscenities. "You sorry fragger!" the medic screeched angrily. "You could have told me what they had written all over my back instead of letting everyone and his brother see it!"

Wheeljack was laughing so hard he couldn't defend himself, weakly holding his hands up to ward off his friend's blows. It took both Swoop and First Aid to pull the furious white mech off of the Lancia, and Wheeljack sported several new dents when they finally managed it.

The inventor's guffaws slowly tapered off as Ratchet yanked himself free of his students and crossed his arms across his chest in a huff. "I wondered how long it would take you to notice it," Wheeljack chortled from his position on the floor, unfazed by the death glare the ambulance gave him. "Hey, don't look at me like that, your bondmates were the ones that did it, not me!" he added, 'ears' flashing merrily. Ratchet just grunted sourly.

"Don't remind me," he muttered, looking away.

"You knew what they were like going in," Wheeljack told him calmly. "You were aware that Sideswipe has the maturity of a ten-year-old human, and Sunstreaker is the most antisocial mech on the Ark—you had to have guessed that they'd eventually stake their claim in some way. I saw you talking to Smokescreen, by the way—you might want to keep an optic on your boys, or you'll probably be seeing more of a certain Datsun. And it likely won't be pretty."

"Primus," Ratchet growled. "I thought I told you not to remind me."

The engineer heaved himself up off of the ground and laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Do you regret them, now that it's too late to change anything?" he asked sharply. "'Cause that would be a real pity."

"No!" the CMO snapped before his expression softened and he sighed. "I don't regret them. I just didn't expect them to be so jealous. And they're so damn blatant about it!"

Wheeljack snorted derisively. "They're blatant about everything they do, unless they're trying to be sneaks; then even Red Alert has a hard time catching them. What made you think this'd be any different?" Suddenly he realized that Swoop and First Aid were still listening to them; he glared at them until they found themselves something else to do across the room.

"Yeah, but writing 'Property of the Twins' on my back?" Ratchet asked helplessly. "I'm bonded to them, not their property!"

"Oh, they were being facetious and you know it," the Lancia replied dryly. "Don't be so sensitive. Personally, I'm surprised they didn't just ravish you in a public place to prove their point. I thought that this was actually pretty mild."

Ratchet's optics widened as he processed that idea, and he had to admit to himself that Wheeljack was probably right. He opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted when Sideswipe burst into the medbay being chased by a furious Ironhide.

"I swear I didn't do it this time!" the Lamborghini yelped, catching Swoop and using him for an improvised shield.

"Ya won't get away that easy!" the weapons specialist snarled, chasing Sideswipe 'round and 'round the protesting Dinobot. Finally Swoop had enough.

He grabbed both smaller mechs by the scruff of the neck and held them apart, bellowing, "You Sideswipe and Ironhide stop making me Swoop dizzy!" He glared at each of them equally, and even Ironhide flinched under the pterosaur's gaze. He put them down with a little shake once he felt he had them sufficiently cowed.

Upon being let go, Sideswipe promptly put Ratchet between himself and the still-angry Ironhide, eyeing the red van warily.

"Just what in the Pit is going on here?" Ratchet asked icily. He took a moment to actually look at Ironhide, and had to do a double take when what he was seeing registered.

"'Hide," he said hesitantly, "how did you get covered in silly string?"

The weapons specialist crossed his arms huffily and glared at Sideswipe. "Ah walked outta mah quarters this mornin', an' the damn stuff just exploded. Ah just know that that one was behind it, too," he growled, stabbing an accusatory finger at the red Lamborghini.

Sideswipe shook his head vigorously. "No! I swear I didn't do it this time Ironhide—ask Ratchet! I was with him last night, him and Sunny!"

Ironhide opened his mouth for a scathing retort, but Ratchet interrupted him with a long-suffering sigh.

"For once, 'Hide, he's telling the truth," the medic said dryly, ignoring Sideswipe's sputtering and gesturing for the weapons specialist to sit on one of the repair tables so that he could begin digging the silly string out of Ironhide's armor and joints. "Hewas with me all last night. I've got the graffiti—and the paint scuffs—to prove it," and he turned around to show his friend the new addition to his paintjob.

"The bit about th' paint scuffs was more than Ah wanted to know," Ironhide said absently as he read the message on Ratchet's back. His optics widened as he realized what it said, and he turned to gape at Sideswipe. "Ya know what, kid? Ya got some real ball bearings to pull somethin' like that," he said, astonished at the twins' cheek.

"You're tellin' me," Ratchet muttered, pushing Ironhide to lie back on the repair table and starting to pull the worst of the silly string off. "Ugh, what is with you pranksters and pink?" He shook his hand to rid himself of the clingy stuff.

"I didn't do it," Sideswipe protested automatically, but without any real heat. "Some folks were getting grabby," he told Ironhide, "and Sunny and I don't really like to share." He paused, then added, "Except with each other." Ratchet shot him a sour look.

Ironhide's optics opened wide. "Y' mean to tell me that both o' ya—"

Sideswipe nodded solemnly, optics mischievously bright.

"Ah didn't need t'know that," Ironhide said, equally solemn.

"Are you two through embarrassing me?" Ratchet asked irritably, not looking up from rooting around in Ironhide's chassis for the elusive bits of silly string. "Oh, stop squirming, would you?" he barked, slapping the red van's chest and startling him into stillness.

"Actually, I haven't embarrassed you nearly as much in the past few weeks as I had been," Sideswipe quipped happily. "I can remedy that, though—" and he waited till Ratchet had his hands free of the other mech and yanked him around for a thorough, passionate kiss.

The medic made a small involuntary noise of pleasure before he shoved Sideswipe away, glaring at him in fury. "You slagger," Ratchet snarled. He poked Sideswipe in the chest angrily. "Don't do that again," and he turned back to finish with Ironhide, who wisely didn't comment.

The red Lamborghini just stared for a moment in surprise—that wasn't Ratchet's usual response to a kiss. He reached out to the medic tentatively through the bond, and was surprised to find anger swirling around with the misery of a lingering hangover and empty fuel tanks.

"Look, kid," Wheeljack said quietly at his elbow, startling him, "he still doesn't feel too good right now, and it makes him hateful. Not to mention the fact that he's still ticked off about what you two wrote on his back."

Sideswipe turned to look at the engineer. "Yeah, I just figured that out," he murmured softly. "We don't really think that we own him, 'Jack," he added, as though pleading for Wheeljack to understand. "It's just that Smokescreen—"

"I saw what Smokescreen did," Wheeljack interrupted. "And don't you think that Ratchet could have taken care of it? Or did you think he would just let Smokey do whatever he wanted, considering he's bonded to you two? By the way, don't think I'm not well aware that Smokescreen was one of your flings." Sideswipe flinched at that.

"That was before—" he protested.

"I know that, too."

For a moment they just listened to Ratchet and Ironhide squabble over whether a trip to the washracks would get rid of the silly string or just wedge it deeper, thereby making the medic's job harder. Ratchet won, and Ironhide stayed.

"You do realize that Smokescreen is jealous?" Wheeljack asked finally, peering up at the larger warrior.

Sideswipe blinked at him. "Smokescreen? Jealous? Why would he be jealous?"

The inventor huffed air through his vents in an exasperated sigh. "Are you really this dense, or do you practice at it?" He ignored the red twin's affronted expression. "Look, it's not a secret that several of your one night stands would like to repeat the experience," he said dryly. "Smokescreen's one of 'em. Neither he nor any of the others interested in you can figure out why you might stay with Ratchet, of all mechs. To be honest, that's something I'd like to know myself," he added. "I don't doubt that you care about him—the fact that you're bonded to him proves that—but why did you stay with him in the first place?"

The Lamborghini thought about that for a minute, then fidgeted when he realized that Ratchet and Ironhide were intently listening to their conversation. He could feel the thread of curiosity and—was that fear?—from Ratchet's part of the bond. "I… Well, uh, you see…"

Three sets of optics fixed on him expectantly. Thankfully, Swoop and First Aid were out of easy audio range, so he didn't have to worry about this whole mushy episode getting back to their brothers and spreading to the rest of the Ark, thereby ruining his reputation as a hard-aft. Finally he just sucked it up and said it. Ratchet deserved this, at least, and he had the feeling that the medic would be hurt if he just blew it off.

"Look, he's saved our afts more times than I can remember, and he's one of the few mechs that actually gave a frag whether Sunny lived or died—and that alone was a major selling point. I think…" he faltered momentarily, "I think that I was already half in love when I agreed to the bet that started all this, and I just didn't realize it. He was important to us because he made us feel like we were important to him. And when—well, when we, uh—"

"Interfaced?" Ratchet suggested softly, never taking his optics off of Sideswipe, who ducked his head in embarrassment.

"Yeah, that. Anyway, the first time it happened, I knew I was gone, that it was so much more than a bet—that I had to have you again. I'd never wanted anyone like that before." His optics burned into Ratchet's with an intensity that nearly made the medic come undone. "It wasn't a matter of skill, either; I have had more experienced lovers—not very many, I admit, but… That's not to say it wasn't intense," he added hastily, seeing the look on his bondmate's face. "I've learned since then that there's a difference between someone you interface with and a lover. Oh, Primus, I've stuck my foot in it again, haven't I?" he asked wretchedly, seeing Ratchet's expression getting darker despite his desperate attempts to explain. "Frag this," he muttered, and yanked the medic to him, kissing him hard and reaching out to him through the bond at the same time, letting him know exactly what he meant—the way that his spark thrilled at Ratchet's touch simply because it was Ratchet touching him rather than the way that he did it.

"You idiot," Ratchet murmured affectionately, pulling away from the red twin. "You never were very good at explaining things like this, were you? I already knew what you meant," and he kissed Sideswipe again, tenderly this time. "You're a horrible closet romantic, you incorrigible creature."

"Oh, get a room, you two, b'fore ya short someone's optic sensors," Ironhide grumbled in mock disgust, and Ratchet chucked the closest tool he could scoop up at his friend's head. Ironhide cursed when it clanged against his helm. The noise attracted the attention of the two junior medics, and they stared at the four older mechs with unabashed interest until Wheeljack glared at them.

"You made 'em too nosy, 'Jack," Ratchet said, amused.

Wheeljack snorted. "You helped build 'em," he reminded the medic.

Ratchet laughed at that. "Yeah, they probably would have exploded by now if I hadn't."

"Oh,shut up," the inventor snapped, optics narrowing while the others had a good laugh at his expense.

"Well, Ah hate ta break up this little party, but are ya done with me yet, Ratch?" Ironhide asked once everyone had calmed down. "Ah'd like ta go find out the culprit behind this here prank." Ratchet gave the weapons specialist another once-over before nodding, and Ironhide excused himself with a cheerful pat on the medic's shoulder.

Sunstreaker peeked through the doorway not long after Ironhide cleared it. "You might as well join this circus," Ratchet told him, smiling, and he cautiously eased into the room.

"You're not gonna throw anything at me?" he asked plaintively, and the medic snorted.

"Do you want me to?"

"Well…no…"

"Then no, I'm not gonna throw anything at you."

The yellow Lamborghini watched him warily for a few moments before allowing himself to be convinced and approaching close enough to brush his hand against Ratchet's. "Sorry about, you know, this morning," Sunstreaker muttered, low enough that only the medic could hear it.

::Not your fault,:: Ratchet sent back, and Sunstreaker favored him with a slight smile. ::However, you two owe me a good scrub for writing all over my back,:: he added, a good-humored scowl across his face.

The golden mech snorted disdainfully. ::We'll see about that,:: he retorted. ::Smokescreen has to see it first. I dare him to come within ten feet of you unless his internals are spilling out.::

Ratchet blinked at that. ::Well you're morbid today.::

"I'm not feeling very charitable right now," Sunstreaker said aloud in an irritable voice.

"Obviously," Ratchet murmured. Wheeljack arched an optic ridge at them.

"Why do I get the feeling that I just missed something?" he asked dryly.

"Aww, poor 'Jack's left out of the loop," Sideswipe crooned, patting the inventor on the head patronizingly. Wheeljack glowered at him and batted at the offending hand.

"Keep your hands to yourself," the Lancia grouched. "Ratchet, you know I love you dearly, but you should probably get your two hooligans out of here before they annoy the slag out of the rest of us. I do still have a hangover, you know."

"Aww, but Wheeljack! Who will we annoy if we can't annoy you?" Sideswipe whined, giving him the most pitiful look he could muster.

Wheeljack sniffed disdainfully. "You can annoy Ratchet. He seems to like it." He ignored the medic's irritated "Hey!" However, he couldn't help but laugh at Sideswipe's suddenly gleeful expression as the red mech turned to his bondmate.

"Didja hear that, Ratch? I've got permission to annoy you!"

"Goody," Ratchet muttered half-heartedly—though they could see the grin trying to spread across his face at Sideswipe's antics. Sunstreaker arched an optic ridge as though all this were beneath him, and Wheeljack shook his head—just a few short months ago, Ratchet would have had what Sparkplug called a 'shit-fit' at this kind of behavior from the twins.

Oh, how times change.

"C'mon, Ratch," Sideswipe was saying, tugging the medic along behind him as he headed for the door. "If I'm gonna annoy you, you're gonna have to refuel—and no buts! You'll do it if I have to tie you to the damn chair and stick a funnel in you."

"That sounds fun," Sunstreaker said in a sultry voice from where he was trailing along behind the other two. "Can I hold the funnel?"

"NO!" Ratchet snapped, twisting his hand free and attempting to escape, but he had no sooner gotten away from Sideswipe than he ran smack into Sunstreaker—who went to one knee, put a shoulder against Ratchet's midsection, and hoisted him up in a fireman's carry while the medic snarled the vilest curses in his vocabulary and beat his fists against the yellow 'Bot's back.

Only Ratchet or Sideswipe could get away with scuffing that yellow paint like that, Wheeljack mused.

First Aid came up to stand beside his creator as the trio vanished through the doorway. Wheeljack looked at him inquiringly, and the Protectobot murmured, "I'm glad they make sure he takes care of himself, even if their methods are underhanded sometimes."

Swoop squawked in agreement, startling the engineer. "Him Ratchet work too hard. You Wheeljack not able to keep optic on him all the time, but it hard to lie to bondmates, and them Twins overprotective. They take good care of him."

The engineer nodded, feeling pleased that his oldest friend had found such devoted—if exasperating—bondmates. "Alright, boys," he announced cheerfully, trying to ignore the stab of loneliness in his own spark, "what say we finish cataloguing those new supplies?" Twin groans of dismay answered him as they got to work.