Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not own Hound and Mirage. This is just me trying to share my love of these two under-appreciated mechs and one of my favorite unloved pairings. I make no money nor profit off this work, just my own fannish glee for pimping this pairing.

Dedication: Huge thanks for yankeesailor who is an amazing beta and a wonderful inspiration. There is nothing better than the realization that your work can sell someone on a pairing they didn't consider before so thanks so much! I'm delighted you enjoyed it so much!

"We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over."

-- Samuel Johnson

Mirage knew better than to let himself get baited. He should have learned long ago to let the nasty and suspicious looks from his fellow Autobots roll off his back. Even now, he was an outsider among them. The former rich brat, the one who'd been born with a silver sparkplug in his mouth--and the one who had no idea what sacrifice truly was.

That was the one that really got to Mirage. Because while he may not have had to scrounge out a living before, he'd lost and sacrificed more than most of them; he'd lost everything. No, he'd never fit in with them. It just wasn't in his programming to be a social chameleon like Jazz. Truthfully, Mirage would have been content to go through his days with little interaction or spending them on solo missions.

It was part if his initial programming but his loner tendencies were only exacerbated by the mistrustful and guarded looks that followed him when he entered a room. The blue mech had just about resigned, and nearly convinced, himself that he was content with his solitary life.

But then, a knock was heard on his door.

Mirage stared at the metal with a brooding look. The bitter loner inside him wanted to ignore his would-be visitor, while common courtesy stated he find out what they wanted before he was allowed to shut the door in their face. Sighing quietly, the blue mech climbed to his feet. He ignored the twinge of the bum knee joint that had begun to act up in the last winter.

He initiated the view-screen and stared blankly at a nervous looking Hound who stood on the other side of the door. The tracker looked around self-consciously and shifted uncomfortably. Mirage rubbed the bridge of his nose briefly but opened the door.


"Hi." A hesitant smile broke across Hound's face when he turned warm blue optics on the wary looking mech. "Err…you got a few breems?"

The spy spent a moment longer than was socially acceptable trying to puzzle out what Hound's motive was, what he wanted from him. "Of course, come in." The blue mech stepped to the side and motioned for Hound to step inside. His quarters were not any different from the others on this deck. It held a recharge berth, built-in desk and bookshelf but that was about it.

Some mechs had an overflowing of items and mementos from their various escapades. In contrast, Mirage's quarters were sterile and barren. He had no decoration or personalization aside from a single hologram of himself and his creator above his desk next to assorted weaponry and a spare holo-generator.

"It's…clean." Hound was at a loss for words on how to describe the sterile quarters.

Mirage smirked mirthlessly as the door hissed closed. "Did you need something?" Feigning nonchalance, he walked over to his desk and picked up the discarded datapad he'd been reading. "Have a seat." Good manners dictated he offer a seat to a guest he was not certain he wanted. The spy was a very private person. In all actuality, this was the first time he could recall letting another mech into his quarters ever since they'd crashed down on this accursed planet.

"Thanks." The ever-cheerful and pleasant Hound seemed subdued by the intimidating doom and brooding unhappiness filling the air. "Am I interrupting?"

He wanted to say yes and get rid of his unexpected visitor but Mirage controlled his antisocial ways. "No, I was simply catching up on some reading." He didn't have another place to sit so he stood against the wall and watched Hound with piercing optics. "Was there something I could do for you?"

For a moment, Hound looked pensive and refused to look directly at the blue mech. "I…err…well…I thought you might want some company."

He missed the suspicious look on Mirage's face and the way his optics faded to a flat dim color. "Where's your shadow?" Wincing mentally, he cursed the way his voice sounded tense with a faint hint of a tremor.

"My shadow?"

"Yes, big, hulking black mech. You can't miss him." He knew Trailbreaker's name, of course, but it fit with his whole stuck-up noble-mech image to feign not remembering half the names of the various Autobots.

"Trailbreaker? He's out on patrol. 'Sides, I don't think he can appreciate this as much as you could." Hound grinned a lop-sided little grin and pulled out four cubes of what looked to be very fine high-grade.

Mirage was openly surprised. "Wh…where did you get that?"

"I know some humans who happened to have some laying around and they thought I might like to take it off their hands. I just err…didn't tell Red Alert how I came across this stuff. But I figured it'd be a good idea to get rid of the evidence as quickly as possible." He granted Mirage one of those patented charmingly sweet smiles. "So, you interested?"

Against his will, Mirage found himself smiling back. "I most certainly am." Earth's ability to produce powerful energon was undisputed. But its ability to process the liquid energy into its more palpable and purified form was infamous for its primitiveness. Human machinery and technology just weren't advanced enough for that. So the energon they pulled was crude at best, an insult to Mirage's rarified sensibilities.

"Great." Hound grinned and held out the richly colored energon. Mirage accepted it with the reverence it deserved. Silence settled between the two 'bots as they sipped the potent mixture. Surreptitiously watching the spy, Hound copied the noble-mech's movements as best he could without appearing like he was trying to. There was a graceful serenity that surrounded Mirage, the kind that came from exclusive planning and only the best fabrication.

Hound knew he came across as nothing more than a bumbling and rough-hewn commoner when compared to the much more refined mech. But Hound for all of his homeliness and common breeding had something Mirage did not have. Friends. And to a socially oriented mech like Hound, not having friends was a concept that was truly worse than any stretch in the Pit.

There was a fine line between self-sufficiency and loneliness and he had seen them both. The tracker suspected Mirage was truly very lonely beneath his aloof façade. So he'd set out to remedy that. Hound knew his creator would have chastised him for interfering where he did not belong but he just didn't have it in him to watch another creature suffer when all it needed was a helping hand.

"At the risk of sounding unappreciative and boorish," Mirage finally broke the silence without looking up from his energon, "why are you here?"

Hound started guiltily, the unhealthy sound of two gears grinding as his fuel pump near jolted out of its casing. "I beg your pardon?"

"Why are you here." The blue mech looked long and hard at the guilty looking tracker. "You and I do not travel in the same circles nor do we converse on a regular basis." His cube was about half empty but Mirage could feel the affects beginning to course through his system. It was smooth and stealthy in its strength and sent warm tendrils running through his fuel lines.

"I just…thought you might want to talk." Hound wanted to offer some half-truth but found himself blurting out the truth unexpectedly.

"Talk?" Mirage cocked an optic ridge. A smirk twisted the corners of his lips, granting a mocking look to his patrician features. "Ah, Hound, ever the peace-maker aren't you."

"That's not very charitable," Hound frowned slightly. "As you stated, you don't know me and vice versa. I never see you talk to anyone aside from Jazz and maybe Bumblebee. And they are co-workers so it doesn't really count as a friendship, does it?" Ordering himself mentally to back down, Hound forced the tension to drain from his shoulders and took another sip from his cube. "And I know that sometimes, a mech just needs to sit down and talk to someone. But you've spent your entire time here pushing people away. That doesn't stop me from wanting to extend my hand in friendship to you all the same."

"Well, I'm not like most mechs," Mirage stated flatly. He set his cube to the side and granted his guest a inscrutable look. "I am perfectly fine with not being all overly friendly with every mech on this ship. Friendship is a liability at best and a betrayal waiting to happen at worst. So you'll forgive me if I'm not cheerfully letting anyone into my life, sniffing out all the juicy details so they can blab it away to whomever they see fit."

"They sure have ground you down, haven't they." Hound sighed and shook his head. The bitter words did not surprise him. He had his theories about how a former noble-mech like Mirage had ended up amongst the common ranks of what looked to be the wrong side of this war. But he also knew that if Mirage was half the opportunistic turncoat people made him out to be that he would have joined the Decepticons and not the losing faction.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Whenever he was on the ropes, Mirage could always fall back onto his haughty and callous airs. "But I think it's time we end this pleasant little soirée-"

"It's not going to work. Trying to push me away because you think I'm getting too close." Hound interrupted. "I've seen what you're trying to do but I'm on to you now, Mirage. I know why you're doing this, too."

The blue mech sneered. The contemptuous expression came easily enough. Primus knew he'd worn it more than he preferred to think about in his previous life. "I assure you that you don't have the faintest clue. You don't know anything about me, Hound. And that's just the way it's going to stay."

"Is it?" Not one to resist a challenge, Hound set his own cube down and stood up. His bulky and ungracious frame seemed out of place in the sterile and cold quarters of their resident spy. "Did one of them sell you out to the Decepticons? Is that how you came to lose your affluent lifestyle?"

Mirage rocked back on his heels in surprise.

"Heh, I can see from the surprised look that I was on the mark. Let me guess, you thought to join the Autobots because it was fun. That it would be a good way to rebel against the stiffing constraints of your position. Then the attack came and you found yourself standing in the rubble of your previous life without any real prospects or friends. Who would help an outlawed mech? Someone maybe hunted or wanted by the 'cons, so all your previous friends turned their backs on you."

If it had been possible for a mech to blanch, Mirage would have. Instead, all he could do was stand there like some foolish Terran creature about to get run over. He was frozen helplessly as he listened to Hound rather accurately guess nearly every part of his previous life and shameful fall from grace. "Be. Quiet." Mirage whispered hoarsely.

Hound's lip components were set into a thin, grim line by now but he continued on resolutely. "You think just because I can lose myself in this world I can't see what goes on beneath my very nose? We all know you don't like being here and that you wish you'd never joined the war. No doubt it was easier to be a Neutral but the choice was made for you and now you're stuck living with a bunch of grunts. Mechs you would have sooner spat on than acknowledged in the past. But hey, you couldn't join the 'cons because they thought you were an Autobot sympathizer and you can't stay a Neutral so you joined the Autobots. This sound about right?" He hadn't meant for it to come out quite so sarcastically and Hound realized his mistake when he saw genuine anger in Mirage's face.

"Be quiet. You have no idea what you're talking about." The spy stalked over to the larger mech and Hound found himself taking a step back in surprise, unconsciously giving precious ground and appearing submissive to the unconscious cortex. But in that instant, Mirage resembled the turbo-foxes and turbo-wolves his peers had hunted back in the Golden Age.

"Do I? Or am I just striking a bit too comfortable to home?" Hound countered and set his jaw with a steely sort of determination. "I've got no interest in prying into your past, Mirage. But I do want you to realize something that a brilliant mech like yourself still just hasn't seemed to snap to about."

"Oh? And what is that?" Derision dripped from his voice like venom.

"That you have more friends and allies among the Autobots than you realize."

"Right," he scoffed. "I'm just an all around loved mech."

"I didn't say that," Hound drawled. "But you have the respect and trust of more mechs than you think. Take Prime for example. Not once has he doubted your loyalty or listened to Cliffjumper's ridiculous accusations."

It was obviously an uncomfortable subject because Mirage's features twisted up into a scowl. "He has to do that."

"He does not. Do you honestly think for one nano-click that he'd let you join if he thought you'd side with the 'cons?"

"Okay, so that's one 'bot out of how many?" Mirage snarled and turned away from Hound. He stalked back over to where his discarded cube sat and took a hefty gulp from it. The high-grade jangled through his system much like the welcomed hit from a human's alcohol or even drugs. It gave Mirage the false courage he needed to turn around and glower at Hound. "Is this why you came here? To just rub it in my face?"

"Don't be ridiculous." It was Hound's turn to frown now. "I came here because I was concerned. And because I do care and trust you. So that's two mechs you have on your side."

"Oh goody." More sarcasm was used as a distancing tactic. But Hound would have none of that. He'd seen past that particular ploy and refused to let Mirage's jibes find their mark.

"You're doing it again," the green Jeep chastised. "I can understand you not wanting to let anyone close to you; especially if you were betrayed by a friend or someone close. But I want you to realize that not everyone is out to get you or is going to betray you if given half a chance."

"And you know this from your vast experience with the intricacies of the higher social classes?" Mirage drawled laconically.

Hound just leveled a censorious look in Mirage's direction. "Believe it or not, but petty betrayal and back-stabbing happens in the lower classes as well. Probably more so than the higher classes considering it's more of a eat or be eaten world in the slums." He reprimanded quietly.

"Oh, so is that why you prefer this dirty world to Cybertron?" Mirage needled.

"Perhaps," Hound acquiesced. "If you were treated so badly by your own class, why are you so eager to go back to Cybertron?" He countered.

"Because it's my home!" Mirage just gave him a look as if he thought his logic sensors had completely offlined.

"Is it? What kind of home do you have to return to? The Towers were destroyed, there's no power to fuel Cybertron and it's under the Decepticons' stranglehold."

"That doesn't mean we should just give up on it!" The spy countered hotly. "Don't you feel any loyalty to your own home planet?!"

"To a dying world?" Hound asked quietly.

"Yes! Especially to a dying world," Mirage scowled darkly and looked away. "It's our duty to revitalize Cybertron, to bring life to it again."

"And that's why you joined the Autobots, right?" Came the oh-so-innocuous question.

"Of course. I couldn't just stand back and do noth-" Mirage broke off abruptly and turned outraged optics on Hound. "You…tricked me!"

"Not really, I just made you admit something you didn't want to admit." His manipulator shrugged innocently.

"You tricked me," Mirage repeated.

"If you want to look at it that way, sure."

"Heh, you missed your calling in life, Hound. You should have been an interrogator." There was a distinctly ironic tone in Mirage's voice. But there was also a trace of admiration. It was rare for anyone to catch the spy unawares and to get him to blurt out his thoughts unwittingly. "You act all innocent and unassuming but you're secretly manipulating those around you."

"Not a very charitable way of putting it." Hound shrugged helplessly and picked up his own cube. It was his turn to gulp down a few fortifying swigs of the potent energy. "Any trained idiot can track someone's footsteps but a real tracker has the ability to get into the mindset of their quarry. I was programmed with advanced psychology, awareness and profiling adaptations in order to better serve my purpose."

"I repeat, you missed your calling." That grudging respect was growing bit by bit.

"I wouldn't want to do that. Yes, there is a certain…satisfaction in finding whomever I'm tracking. Even in knowing that I was able to successfully profile their thought patterns and tactics--but I would not find any pleasure in torturing another being for information." A self-deprecating smile curved Hound's lips. "And I'm no Smokescreen, not by a long shot. I've seen him crawl into another mech's mind so skillfully that the mech didn't know he was being manipulated until it was too late."

"Still, I am…impressed," Mirage grudgingly admitted. "It's rare that another mech surprises me."

"Especially one you deemed to be soft-sparked and weak because he is…oh, what's the Terran term…a 'tree-hugger'?"

The spy was openly confused by the human vernacular but he didn't let that stop him. "I don't think you're soft-sparked. You can't look at the dark side of life unflinchingly without having steel-cast ball bearings."

It was Hound's turn to look away in embarrassment. "How crude. Better watch out, next thing you know you'll be chugging down mid-grade with the rest of the mechs."

Mirage smirked faintly. "Must have a bad influence in my life somewhere."

"Heh. Must have." A more companionable silence stretched out between the two of them. Each mech finished off their cubes and some of the dark tangle of bitterness flushed from their systems in the face of the warm glow of high-grade. They even managed a few strands of civilization conversation despite the huge differences in backgrounds and social standings. Before either realized, it was well past midnight by the time their second and final cubes of energon were consumed.

"I should get going. It's late." Smiling shyly, Hound disposed of his cube and climbed stiffly to his feet. The energon made him light-headed for a moment and he offlined his optics while his equilibrium servos found their balance. "Thanks for the company."

"Er…" At a loss, Mirage froze when Hound stood to excuse himself. Propriety dictated that he should be the one thanking Hound for the company. But the scout just didn't seem the type to stand on propriety. And Mirage found himself tongue-tied for a moment, as the humans would say. "Thank you." The noble-mech finally murmured. "For everything. Especially the excellent energon and…conversation."

Hound's smile turned distinctly playful and charming in its own sweet way. "Not a problem. Just keep in mind what I said. And know that I'll always be there if you need someone to talk to."

"Er…sure." Mirage murmured weakly. Hound was almost out the door before the spy moved to get his attention. "If you…er…find some more energon, be sure to let me know. It's nice to share a cube or two with good company. And of course, I'll return the favor should such a wind-fall find me."

Hound grinned and held out his hand in Terran fashion. "Deal. And believe it or not, there are some pretty decently brewed mid-grades out there."

"Heh, that I'll believe when I see it." But the blue mech did extend his hand hesitantly and clasped his slender hand to Hound's for a brief moment. The handshake barely even counted as one but it was the gesture it represented that sealed the deal.

With one last encouraging smile, Hound nodded his head and walked down the hall towards his own quarters. He left behind a bemused and introverted Mirage. The blue mech wasn't sure what exactly the surreal visit had meant but he had the strangest feeling pulsing in his spark. For the first time in countless vorns, he'd willingly let another mech close to him, had accepted his offer of friendship.

With a frown of consternation, Mirage looked down at his hand before shaking his head in disgust. If he kept this up he'd end up over-thinking things like Prowl did and melt his logic circuits. He kept staring down at the unassuming limb before he forced himself to turn his attention back to preparing for recharge.

There would be time enough later to mull over what happened. For now, it had been a long day and tomorrow looked to be just as long. His recharge berth was calling his name and Mirage found himself following its siren's call with a tired sigh.

He would deal with this tomorrow. It would make more sense by then. It had to.