"To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To hope is to risk pain.

To try is to risk failure,

But risk must be taken,

Because the greatest hazard in life

Is to risk nothing."

---Leo Buscaglia

He wasn't sure when exactly he'd ended up on the slippery slope of falling in love. Primus knew he'd never wanted to experience such a convoluted and ultimately disappointing emotion ever again. Of course, the mech known as Mirage had half convinced himself that he was his God's own personal bitch (as the humans so eloquently liked to put it).

Okay, maybe that was the energon talking.

Mirage couldn't really tell anymore. His cerebral cortex was practically floating and even simple commands and thought processes were getting hard to do. Like walk in a semi-straight line. Or to even walk in general without swaying into the wall every step for support for that matter. Whenever he moved his head or body too quickly, the spy's equilibrium servos turned on their sides and left him swaying and dizzy.

Yep, definitely the energon coming back to haunt him; and he didn't care a whit. It had been vorns since Mirage had allowed himself to do something so gauche as to get over-energized. Noble-mechs did not get over-energized. Such common and sloppy behavior was frowned upon in the Towers. And a mech who could not hold his high-grade was looked down upon as being of sub-standard and inferior design.

No one was harsher on the upper class than their own kind.

Much like the Ton in Terran England, the residents of the Towers could turn upon their own at the drop of a pin. Mirage had seen more than his share of mechs and femmes who made one social error be snubbed and cut until their standing was precarious at best. Some had recovered from the crippling blows to their reputation, most had not.

No, he'd navigated a far different kind of mine-field since his inception. But one that (at the time) had been no less dangerous than the physical, and literal, ones that he walked now. Well, maybe not right now. In his over-energized state, he could probably walk right into a Decepticon trap and not even realize it.

It was a good thing he was safely inside the Ark where he didn't have to worry about Decepticons.

"Well woudja look at that," a sarcastic and snarky voice wondered aloud from somewhere behind him.

Nope, he just had to worry about his other enemies--his fellow Autobots.

Mirage turned bleary optics on the owner of that snide voice. He was not surprised to see the two garishly colored Lamborghini twins standing there with predatory expressions on their faces. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe rarely passed up the opportunity to prove their superiority over their fellow 'bots.

"I think Primus is coming," Sunstreaker drawled.

"Oh? Why's that?"

"Because rich boy here actually pulled the silver sparkplug outta his trap long enough to get over-energized like the rest of us common scum. Surely that means the world is going to come to an end or something."

"Better make our peace now, yeah." Sideswipe smirked. It wasn't a pleasant expression. The Twins had a long-standing dislike of the spy. They thought Mirage considered himself better than the rest of them. And for the most part, they were right. The Mirage he was at one point would have thought a pair of speed freak Lamborghinis as being just upstart commoners.

And while Mirage had been attempting to make amends for his arrogance and past behavior, the Twins were nothing if not great at holding onto a grudge. In short, they were two of his greatest retractors. Of course it had to be them. This was just more proof that Primus hated him. Or that their God had a seriously warped sense of humor.

"What's the matter, rich boy? Cat got your tongue?" Sunstreaker taunted.

"Maybe he thinks he's too good to talk to the likes of us." Sideswipe growled and pinned the slightly swaying Mirage with not-quite-sane blue optics. "Is that the problem? Are you too good to talk to us?"

Sunstreaker cracked his knuckles menacingly. It was a completely unnecessary but effective intimidation tactic. No doubt, if Mirage hadn't been over-energized, he probably would have been wary. As it was, Mirage was learning the wonders of a certain phenomenon known as Liquid Courage.

"Why would I want to talk to you? You've never had a single civil thing to say to me." Even ridiculously over-charged, Mirage managed to enunciate and speak perfectly. Too bad he didn't realize his haughty words just fed an already smoldering and dangerous fire in the two melee warriors.

"Oh, you really need an attitude adjustment," Sunstreaker snarled. Like turbo-wolves closing in for the kill, he and his Twin moved together with a fluid and deadly grace. It only now occurred to Mirage's energon-soaked processors how precarious a situation he was in. But by that time, it was too late. Sunstreaker lifted him up by the struts of his neck and Mirage found himself dangling off the ground and faced with two snarling Lamborghini Twins.

'I'm going to die.' His energon-soaked mind thought dispassionately. 'Hopefully it's quick.'

"Sunstreaker!" A sharp bark cracked through the air. The Twins found themselves faced with an absolutely wrathful-looking Ratchet. The medic was probably the only mech the melee warriors truly feared. Of course, Optimus Prime probably feared his own CMO when Ratchet really got his servos in a tizzy. "Put him down, now!"

They dropped him.

Mirage fell like a stone and landed gracelessly right on his aft. The metal clang reverberated through the hallway but did little to mask the furious stomping of Ratchet as he crossed the distance between he and the Twins at a surprising speed.

"Are your CPUs always disconnected from your logic circuits or are you two really this fragging stupid!?" The boxy medic smacked them both upside the helmets, sending their heads bouncing against one another. "You rough up another Autobot and Prowl's going to throw you into the brig and throw away the key. And that's after I get through turning your sorry afts into spare parts for the minibots. Now make yerselves scarce and maybe I'll forget I ever saw this! Get! "

His tirade earned him sullen glares. But just like the proverbial stern father figure they never had, the Twins submitted to Ratchet's will without a word of protest. They slunk away with one last sullen glower at the downed spy.

Ratchet took one look at the pathetic looking Autobot and shook his head. "Primus preserve me from slagging idiots." He growled under his breath. "Up you go." With about the same amount of gentleness that Sunstreaker had used, one giant red hand reached down and hauled the disoriented mech to his feet. "Ugh. How much energon did you drink."

"Huh?" Came the intelligent reply as Mirage stared up at Ratchet uncomprehendingly.

The CMO eyed the obviously over-charged spy with undisguised disgust. "Come on, let's get you to your quarters before you fall on your head and create more work for me," he sighed with a long-suffering expression. Ratchet frog-marched Mirage to his quarters. He had to support, grab onto and prop up the blue mech more times then he would have thought possible.

"Primus. You spend vorns repressing, shutting down and acting like an overly controlled stick-up-the-aft Tower brat and now you decided to turn into a sloppy drunk?" the medic groused.

Mirage refused to meet the medic's piercing glare. "Every mech is allowed to cut loose every now and then, isn't he?" the spy muttered sullenly. It took him four tries to punch in the code to his quarters. And he did it so clumsily that Ratchet had no trouble watching over his shoulder and memorizing the code. For a spy to let such vital information (the kind that could get you killed in less than friendly territory) was shockingly unheard of. Just more proof that something was weighing heavily on the mech's mind.

Ratchet wasn't sure he wanted to know or involve himself in such a mess. Call him cold-sparked, but Ratchet had little interest in taking on this troubled mech's demons. Not when he had his own that haunted him at night. Every mech on the Ark had his own troubles and demons and Ratchet could not just go around and burden his own spark with their pains.

He wanted to just let it go. But the healer inside him, the annoyingly persistent and stubborn voice of his conscience couldn't let him watch another mech suffer without trying to offer aid. Snarling mentally at himself for being an absolute fool, the boxy medic half-carried Mirage across his quarters and poured him into the recharge berth.

Sparing a look around him, the CMO wasn't surprised to find Mirage's quarters sterile and lacking much of a personality. It seemed to suit the solemn spy's attitude. Though there were a few touches and colors that seemed almost out of place. Shards of metal and pretty rocks were displayed in a few strategic places along with a few holographs. Curiosity ate away at the medic but he restrained himself from looking at the pictures. It would be an unforgivable invasion of an already obsessively private mech's life.

Besides, he had other concerns. Like finding a receptacle large enough to catch the contents of Mirage's fuel tanks when they inevitably purged themselves later. Judging by the fumes alone, Ratchet could tell the spy had downed at least three or four times the recommended limit of energon. It was literally leaking from the seams and gaskets. "Are you trying to kill yourself?" he asked severely once he located a large enough trash bin.

Mirage stared up at him with an inscrutable look. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"It's this nasty little condition every Cybertronian knows about. Something called 'energon poisoning'? So don't try and pull that innocent act with me. What the slag were you thinking?"

"…I was trying not to," his 'patient' muttered and tried to roll over so he could ignore Ratchet.

"Uh uh, I don't think so." The CMO was far stronger than the smaller mech and he forced Mirage to roll back over. "We need to let out some of that energon or you're going to be begging me to kill you come tomorrow. And I don't want to deal with yet another case of energon poisoning when all that excess goes toxic."

Bending over Mirage, Ratchet transformed his right hand into its multi-tool and he started to work on one of Mirage's arms. The main energon line was removed and he began to precarious task of draining the excessive amount of energon from Mirage's system. Right now, the mech might be high as a kite but once his energon pump started to fail and became unable to process all the energy then the circulation would grow poor and the energon itself would turn toxic.

He'd seen plenty of cases like this back on Cybertron but not very many since they'd awakened on Earth. For the most part, the Autobots as a whole knew how to cut loose and certainly enjoyed their energon. Few actually abused it to this level, however. And considering this wasn't a mech like Sideswipe or some of Ratchet's other more frequent patients, the medic could only assume the spy had done this out of stupid desperation.

The ambulance knew how unpalatable Mirage found the energon they could produce here on Earth. The snooty mech rarely took more than he needed to survive and generally sought supplementation in other ways. "So why exactly are you trying to fry your circuits with raw mid-grade?" Ratchet asked in an irascible tone.

"None of your business." Mirage slung his free arm over his optics and refused to look at the bossy medic.

"And you wonder why the Twins were ready to use you as their own personal wishbone."

"…the fact that they're violent sociopathic psychotics wouldn't have anything to do with it, would it?" the Ligier shot back sarcastically.

"Well, probably." Couldn't argue with that one. "But your constant pushing everyone away doesn't help matters."

"Feh." Even around the armor of his forearm, Mirage's sneer was visible.

Ratchet looked up from his monitoring of the mech's energon levels and studied him silently for a long moment. "I take it things are rocky between you and Hound?" He drawled.

It got a satisfying reaction. Mirage's arm fell away and he nearly yanked the energon line out of his arm as he sat up abruptly. Unmistakable shock was visible along with dismay on his face as he started at the medic.

"Primus! You fragging idiot! Don't jerk around like that." He smacked the spy upside the head with a loud clang. "Lay back down!"

"How did you know!?" Mirage hissed.

"Oh, please." It was impossible for a Cybertronian to roll their optics but Ratchet managed to convey his disgust easily enough. "It doesn't take a genius. I've seen you two talking and hanging about." When Mirage made no move to lay back down, Ratchet used one large hand to force him back down. He pinned the smaller mech there and continued with his monitoring. "This might come as a surprise to you but having friends is not a bad thing."

"Oh. Friends, yes." Came the distant answer. Mirage did not fight him anymore and he relaxed beneath Ratchet's grip.

"What happened between you two, Mirage?" Ratchet probed quietly.

"Do you think…if you do something truly despicable… something truly unforgivable that others can ever truly trust you again?" the spy whispered softly.

"Well, I suppose it depends on the crime." On uncertain ground, Ratchet offered a vague answer in hopes of Mirage giving more information.

"It doesn't matter. I screwed things up." Despondent now, Mirage cycled air raggedly and covered his optics again.

"I don't think you're giving Hound enough credit," the medic chided. "I've never met a mech with a spark bigger than Hound's. He's just one of those genuinely good mechs."

'Yes he is,' Mirage agreed silently. 'Far too good for me. Oh, Primus, what was I thinking. I truly am a fool.' Now that the excess energon was siphoned out of his system, the nice bleary numbness was fading and Mirage found himself lost in a endless cycle of self-defeating thoughts and recriminations.

"Did you try to apologize?" One ironic optic ridge was cocked. "I hear it does wonders."

"What? Like humility in medics?" Snappishly, Mirage fell back on his time-honored 'people skills' to keep Ratchet from getting too close. "And you can't apologize to someone who is avoiding you."

"Avoiding you?" Unwilling to admit it, Ratchet found his curiosity piqued. What could the Ligier done to make Hound avoid him? Since Mirage wasn't prone to random acts of destruction or violence, he could not think of a single reason for the gentle-sparked tracker to avoid his friend.

"It was a stupid mistake. We were just a little over-energized and I made a stupid assumption." Restlessly, Mirage tried to pull away. This time, Ratchet sealed off the energon lines and started to replace the bits of armor he'd pulled off to get at the delicate wiring.


"Yes, I--" All at once, Mirage seemed to realize he was babbling on like a drunken minibot and his mouth closed with an audible click.

Ratchet just threw his hands up in disgust. "Oh, would you relax, it's not like I'm going to be airing your private business on Teletraan 1's central broadcasting channels. There is that whole concept of doctor/patient confidentiality."

"…yes, it's a human concept, not a Cybertronian one." His cynical patient pointed out sourly.

"Be that as it may, I swear on my spark that I'll never utter a word about what we've discussed tonight. Being a medic doesn't always mean you have a patch up a mech's body. Sometimes just being there to listen is the best course of action."

"It's…embarrassing." Mirage shook his head and once his arm was free, he turned onto his side. "I cannot talk about it. I don't even want to think about it, not to mention parading my idiocy around like a badge of honor." Ah yes, the sticky and stifling code of honor that the noble class prided themselves on.

"You're a first class idiot, you know that?"

There was a long silence before Mirage offered him a mirthless smile. "Of course," he agreed without a fight.

"Just so we're clear on the subject. And I mean that not because you did something you deem as terrible but because you're letting that damned stubborn pride of yours get in the way."

"There is nothing wrong with living by a code of honor or behavior." The noble-mech looked offended and a little hurt by Ratchet's words.

"No there is not. But don't you think you're taking this a little too far? When you let your fragging pride and so-called 'honor' stand between you and a good friend then you're an idiot in my book."

He only received chilly silence in reply.

"Well, I'm about done with you here." Dusting his hands off, Ratchet climbed to his feet and winced as gears ground and joints popped. He was getting too old for this slag. "Ahhh, Primus," the medic groused and picked up the now nearly full container of drained-off energon. "You're going to feel like complete slag. Even with the drain-off your pump isn't going to be loving you in a few hours. And I'm not inclined to feel overly moved by pity. So you just stay here in your quarters and purge your own tanks when it comes to that. If you can't keep any energon down by tomorrow, then you can come whining to me."

"Has anyone ever told you that your bedside manner sucks, Ratchet?" Mirage asked caustically.

"All the time, makes my day. Almost like it's my own personal ray of sunshine," the medic replied with a taunting smirk. To prove he was a kind and understanding mech, Ratchet even walked over to the comm and roused a sleepy looking Prowl out of his recharge bunk.

"Hmng?" Prowl grumbled sleepily into the camera. Behind him, Ratchet could clearly see a black hand stealthily glide up his waist only to be slapped away impatiently.

"I'm taking Mirage off the active duty roster tomorrow. The slagger's going to spend the better part of the night heaving his fuel tanks out, I think."

Prowl cocked an eye-ridge but did not ask. Sometimes, you just didn't want to know. Besides, he could feel Jazz trying to sneak his way onto the view-screen just for shock appeal. The Datsun arched his door-wings further to take up the entire view-frame and nodded curtly. "I'll be sure to enter that into the duty logs. Will he be able to return to active duty the next day?"

"Most likely."

"Prowl out." And with that brusque exchange, the comm unit went dark.

"See, aren't I a nice medic?" Ratchet purred with a narrow-eyed smirk.

"Well at least one of us is amused by this debacle." Listlessly, Mirage rolled over and presented his back to the medic.

"Are you going to be okay if I leave? Or are you going to do something stupid like try and drown in energon again?" Dropping the act, Ratchet stared at the graceful and untouchable figure lying sullenly on the recharge bunk.

"No, I'm done with trying to drown my troubles in disgusting mid-grade."

"But are you done punishing yourself for your imagined crimes?" Ratchet pried shamelessly. "Because nothing pisses me off more than self-destructive passive suicide. And I would really hate to have to undo all my work by turning you into a living scrap heap just because your stupid noble pride demands you do something suitably noble in order to regain some slagging concept of honor."

Mirage did not bother rolling over, but the stiff sense of outrage and disapproval radiated from the noble-mech in palpable waves.

Ratchet's next words were interrupted by a timid knock at the door. Turning, the CMO walked to it and opened it faster than Mirage could roll out of his berth.

"No!" His strangled cry was cut off when the door slid open to reveal a hesitant-looking Hound.

The scout was visibly surprised to see Ratchet standing there and he fell back a step. "R-Ratchet."

"Don't mind me, I'm just leaving," he muttered caustically and stepped around the surprised scout. Hound eyed the container of drained off energon with a puzzled look. "Mirage decided to overdo it a bit with the mid-grade."


Mortified, Mirage sat down heavily on his berth and looked at the floor-plates as Hound let himself in. The door whooshed shut behind him, thus sealing the spy's fate, so to speak. "Hi," Hound started shyly.

"…hello." He still did not look up at the scout. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. It was stupid." Now that he was sobering up, the reality of his actions were crashing down on Mirage and weighing heavily on his shoulders. "I was over-energized."

Had it only been less than twenty-four Terran hours since he'd royally screwed up the most fulfilling friendship he'd ever had? All over a stupid whimsical assumption; what kind of fool was he?

"No." Hound broke in, effectively shattering Mirage's vicious cycle of thoughts. "I should apologize. I shouldn't have run off like that without an explanation." He cycled air heavily and sank down onto the recharge berth next to a suddenly tense-looking Mirage.

"What?! Are you crazy? I fragging came onto you! I shouldn't have presumed and kissed you like that. There is no excuse for my unsightly behavior. " Outraged now, Mirage stared up at Hound with barely restrained consternation. "So don't you dare try to apologize for--"

His tirade was interrupted when lips covered his own in a sudden, unexpected kiss. That effectively shut him up. And sent his barely-functioning logic circuits spinning out of control as sensation after sensation bombarded his fuzzy cerebral cortex.

Hound was kissing him. Hound was kissing him. It took Mirage a disgustingly long time to process that little factoid. Thankfully, the scout didn't seem to be in much of a hurry. Actually, he didn't seem all too certain on what to do now that he'd fit his lips over Mirage's.

Both of them had only seen kissing demonstrated in human behavior and entertainment so neither was all too certain how things were supposed to carry on. The spy decided that there had to be something more to it than just this because the humans were just way too enthusiastic about it. Not that he was going to run off and ask Spike point-blank why humans were so fascinated with this kind of stimulation, of course.

Pulling back, Mirage felt the pleasing tingle of rasping metal and the sensors embedded into his skin sent feedback to his cerebral cortex. So the trick was in friction. Hound cycled air hesitantly and pressed forward, obviously wanting more. That was when the two 'bots realized that pressure when mixed with friction made for a very pleasant sensation.

'Oh, so this is what kissing is supposed to be.' Mirage thought distantly. He began to experiment with movement and pressure just to see what would happen. Sometimes it was hit or miss but all in all, he couldn't say he minded.

Hound's blunt fingered hands had somehow found his shoulders and were resting there tremulously on Mirage's shoulder armor. The scout shuttered his optics because it was getting dizzying to be so close to Mirage and because the sensations were starting to mess with his equilibrium servos. This was unlike what he'd thought it would be. Humans were so enthusiastic about it but Hound had not counted on such a simple affectionate gesture having such an effect on a Cybertronian.

When he'd made his rash decision to kiss Mirage, it had been to shut him up and to try and prove to him that Hound did not mind. Unfortunately, Hound had not counted on Mirage's inbred adaptation and sensuality. Suddenly, the scout found himself being pulled head long into a haze of lust and desire.

Somewhere along the way, Mirage found himself pinned to his bunk by Hound's much heavier frame as the tracker revealed yet another side of himself that the spy had never seen. Apparently, a lot more passion lurked beneath Hound's kind and gentle demeanor. Because once he got comfortable and loosened up, the Jeep was practically ravaging Mirage's mouth with his own.

Not that the noble-mech was complaining in the slightest, mind you. Who in their right mind would complain about having their most secret fantasy and the object of their lust suddenly turn around and molest the slag out of them? No, Mirage might not have been able to think clearly but he certainly wasn't insane and he accepted Hound's sudden passionate aggression happily and returned it with some of his own.

Mirage was hardly a complete stranger to interfacing. Back on Cybertron he'd had a long line of lovers but it had been…a while for him. That was the only explanation he could find for how overwhelmed he was at the whole experience. Every touch, ever kiss, every scrape of paint against paint just felt more sensitive then he could recall ever feeling. It was almost as if he was hypersensitive to the entire situation and the sensors buried in his metal skin were alive and shivering with every touch.

Just when things were getting good, Mirage felt a sudden sharp twist in his fuel tanks and he yanked away from Hound with a gasp.

"What?" Desire had made Hound's optics dark but concern showed on the green mech's face.

Mirage grimaced and started to crawl away, scramble really, out from beneath the suddenly fearful looking Hound. Cramps churned painfully in his tanks and Mirage twitched.

"What's wrong?! Mirage!?" Hound let him up and watched in horror as Mirage stumbled over to the waste bin and started to heave. The spy's engine grated in a sickly and unhappy way as half-processed energon was expelled from his tanks.

Ratchet had warned him that this would happen, but he'd been so lost in the moment that he'd forgotten. Well his body certainly had his attention now! Miserably, he sunk down to the ground and weakly supported himself on shaking arms. "Shhhh…" Hound sighed and wrapped an arm around the shaking mech.

If he wasn't too busy heaving up what felt like had to be every ounce of energon he'd drunk in the past year, Mirage would have been mortified at this. As it was, he'd have to crawl under a rock and sulk with embarrassment later. If he lived that was. Right now, his chances of survival seemed sketchy at best.

To his credit, Hound took this all in stride and continued to stroke and sooth Mirage as he emptied the contents of his fuel tanks into the waste bin. Let it not be said a true friend didn't stick it out with you through thick and…well, he'd just as soon not think too hard about categorizing the contents of that bin.

"I'm going to go die now," Mirage muttered once the cramps had faded. "Words…do not describe…"

"Oh hush," Hound chuckled and nestled the still unsteady spy against his side. "Just…makes the night more memorable."

"Oh Primus, take me now." His friend moaned and buried his face in his hands. "Could this day get any worse?"

"Well, if you're determined to invite disaster in with challenges like that, yes it can." The Jeep chided softly. "Though I have to admit, I don't think that has ever happened to me before."

Mirage just whimpered and curled in on himself.

Hound seemed to find the entire situation amusing and took it all in stride. "There, there." He soothed and rocked Mirage gently. "It's not so bad. Do you think you can get to your feet?"

"What? Why?"

"Well, I think you could do with a trip to the wash-racks." Smirking gently, Hound used one blunt-fingered hand to tilt Mirage's face up so he could look into those mortified features. "Because until you wash out that mouth of yours, I'm not kissing you. Sorry."

His humiliation temporarily forgotten, the blue mech leaned into that dark hand and shuttered his optics briefly.

"Mirage?" Hound prompted softly.

"Yes? Sorry, was just…spacing out."

"Well let's get to the wash rack and you can space out all you want." Crawling to his feet, Hound gently lifted Mirage up. It was the gentlest way he'd been pulled to his feet all night long. And after a night of being rough-handled by less than gentle mechs, Mirage was starting to think he was becoming an expert on the subject! The spy was still a little unsteady and listed to the side a bit as Hound helped him down the halls towards the wash-racks.

At this time of night, no one else was out and about so they had the halls to themselves. It was the same with the wash racks. When the room began to steam up and the air grew humid, Hound helped guide his recovering friend under the hot stream of water. Mirage hissed a bit but did not pull away. He could feel the sticky remains of energon begin to melt away and he tilted his face upward to meet that hot spray. It felt rather pleasant against his faceplates. But the sensation paled in comparison to the pleasure of having Hound smooth soapy and detergent-filled hands up his back.

A quiet groan was pulled from Mirage when Hound started to wash the bits and pieces of armor he just never could seem to reach on his own. "You realize you probably have a quarter inch of gunk in these couplings back here?" Hound chided gently.

"Ohh, don't stop." The spy moaned. He literally shuddered as Hound pried at the last few stubborn clumps of congealed oil, dirt and Primus knew what that had worked its way in between Mirage's armor plating. "Okay, it's official, I'm keeping you." He sent a blissful smile over his shoulder and was gifted with a shy smile in return.

"So the truth comes out, you're only after my back washing abilities," he teased but continued to soap up and carefully clean every crevice in the spy's armor.

"Well that's certainly a perk," the Ligier admitted shamelessly as he turned around and caught Hound's hands in his own. The water now hit his back and washed away the last traces of grime, leaving the armor there shining and cleaner then it had been in a while. "But mostly it's because you're the most amazing mech I've ever known in my entire life."

Hound was never one to play coy or falsely modest but Mirage's words had him squirming uncomfortably. He was not used to being praised, not in such an effusive manner like that. "You're too much," the Jeep muttered gruffly and concentrated on his self-appointed task of washing away the bits of grime and dirt from hard to reach places like Mirage's shoulder assemblies and the base of his back.

"There. Feeling better now?" The green mech asked with a faint grin when he noticed the half-dimmed, blissful expression on Mirage's faceplates. "…Apparently so, huh." He waved a hand back and forth in front of the spy's optics. "Cybertron to Mirage, anyone in there?" A playful knuckle wrapped on the blue mech's helmet.

"Huh? Oh sorry, spaced off again, didn't I."

"I think it's time for you to get some recharge. All that energon seems to have gone directly to your processors." Hound shook his head with a mixture of wry amusement and censure. "You shouldn't have done that, Mirage. You could have hurt yourself."

"Yes well, it seemed like a good idea at the time." The spy sighed and shuttered his optics. "I couldn't bear the thought that I'd ruined our friendship because of a misinterpreted signal."

"You didn't. I'm still here, aren't I?" The Jeep reminded him softly.

"Yes, you are." Darkened optics came back online and brightened to a happy cerulean blue. "Promise me to tell me when I over-step my bounds rather than running off like that again? I completely thought the worst after you'd left."

Hound had the grace to look abashed. "I'm sorry about that. I just…"

"Panicked?" The spy supplied helpfully.

"Heh, yes, that's as good a word as any, I suppose." Shrugging helplessly, Hound fought to find the correct words. Mirage simply fixed that problem by laying his crested forehead against the tracker's bulky chest. Not for the first time that evening, Hound was overwhelmed by the fact that this mech, this beautifully crafted and graceful mech was attracted to a common, roughly hewn mech such as himself.

Surely there had been stranger pairs before but Hound was hard-pressed to think any at the moment. Compared to Mirage's clean and patrician features, Hound was terribly plain and unappealing. He just couldn't understand what it was that Mirage saw in him.

"You're thinking too hard. I can smell the gears burning up inside your head from here." Mirage muttered into his wet chest. The water continued to beat down on them but neither mech was paying too much attention to it.

"Are you a telepath now?"

"No, but I can feel the tension and I know you." Raising his head, Mirage wrapped his arms around Hound's neck and pulled him down to nuzzling range.

The Jeep let himself be pulled down and leaned his cheek against Mirage's in a quiet sort of affection. He was surprised to find Mirage was so openly affectionate. The former noble-mech put out such an air of aloofness and untouchable hands-off attitude that he'd just assumed he would not be demonstrative. Apparently, he was wrong. But it was a discovery he happily exploited. "Let's go, you need to recharge."

"Of course." Mirage pulled back with a faint smile and turned off the water. One delicate finger was run down his forearm and Mirage seemed pleased when the metal squeaked.

Oddly charmed, Hound just stared at him with an amused gleam in his optics.

"What?" A bit self-conscious, Mirage dropped his arms. "It's how I was taught to test for cleanliness. 'Squeaky clean'?" He turned it into a question. "Haven't you ever heard of it?"

"Yes, I'm just amused to see you do it is all."

He feigned a put-upon expression. "You don't know everything there is to know about me yet, Hound."

"I'm aware. I just can't wait to learn all your cute and odd idiosyncrasies is all."

"Hmph!" Despite his haughty tone, there was a gleam of mischief on his face and a smile threatened to curve the corners up his lips upward in a wry grin. "Just like I can't wait to learn yours."

Hound rumbled in agreement and let himself be pulled through the hallways back towards Mirage's quarters. The scout was coming to realize this newfound affection and unexpected turn in their relationship was coming surprisingly naturally to him. Perhaps they'd laid the groundwork for this new turn long before and he'd just been oblivious. Because it took little effort on his part to envision himself recharging next to Mirage and sharing the most secret parts of himself with the spy.

In all actuality, he was rather looking forward to it.

Once they reached Mirage's quarters, the spy kissed him briefly. "I'll be right back." Grinning with an odd mixture of sweetness and playfulness, the blue mech gathered up the ruined energon and left to dispose of it.

Left to his own devices, Hound looked around and was pleased to find the shard from Cybertron he'd given Mirage on his previous Sparking Day was sitting on his desk. Climbing to his feet, the Jeep walked over to pick up the metal. It was blackened on the edges but there was a rainbow shimmer of oxidation where the blackness faded to produce rich shades of sapphire and the darkest amethysts.

The shard had fascinated him when he'd picked it up on Cybertron. But he'd known it was truly meant for Mirage the first time the spy started to tell him about his home. The wistful longing in his voice for their home-planet had clutched at Hound's spark. He could not give Mirage back his home or position on Cybertron but he'd been able to at least give him a little piece of Cybertron.

"That's my favorite piece." Mirage had sneaked up soundlessly behind him. Even without his cloaking abilities, the spy's near silent treads made it easy to startle other mechs and Hound was no exception.

The scout jumped and nearly fumbled the shard but managed to grab it out of thin air. Mirage laughed softly at his surprise but there was no derision or ill will in that merry sound. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, I suppose I should probably be used to you doing that by now." Hound said glumly and offered Mirage a guilty grin. He held out the metal to the spy. "Here, take it before I manage to drop it and bend it or something."

"I'm not worried about that. You're not nearly as clumsy or as unwieldy as you think yourself to be, Hound." He did accept the shard and set it down reverently in its spot on his desk. "Whenever I look at it, I can almost imagine myself being back at home. I don't know how you managed to find a shard of the Towers of all places but I'm grateful for this one small keepsake of what home used to be like."

"Perhaps Primus had a hand in it."

"Perhaps." Mirage agreed and moved to embrace Hound from behind. His cheek rested against the tracker's back and the two mechs just stood there like that for a moment. Emotions they weren't quite comfortable with admitting to yet resonated between them and the sense of peace and tranquility that radiated from the normally tense and melancholy spy was palpable.

Unconsciously, Hound realized he was drawing from that peaceful air and he leaned back into Mirage as his blunt-fingered hands closed over the Ligier's to complete the embrace.

"Thank you." The words finally broke through the quietness.

"For what?" Hound asked, powering up his optics slightly. He'd almost been lulled into a pleasant half-recharge.

"For not laughing at me."

"Mirage…" He started.

"No, seriously. I know I acted like a complete slag-head. Even if you'd never come here tonight, at least you didn't laugh at me."

"I would never do anything that cruel." Turning in the embrace, Hound cupped the spy's chin in one of his hands and tilted it upward. The Jeep stared down at the blue mech's optics for a long, silent moment. "Did someone do that to you?"

"Not me, but I've seen it happen. Back home, that is." He looked away, unable to meet Hound's optics. "Back then, people were so driven by their social standings that if someone were to presume to rise above their station, the rest of us would cut them back down again. Usually to a lower level than they already were. Entire mechs' fortunes were ruined if they said the wrong thing to the wrong mech."

"Doesn't sound like a very nice way to live your life."

"Heh, that's a polite way to put it. It's ironic really. If given half a chance, the so-called sophisticated 'elite' of Cybertron would fall upon a weaker member just like the very animals we'd hunt in the afternoons." A mirthless little laugh, his cold, haughty smile was back. Mirage had no idea that whenever he talked about his past, he tended to fall back on the impassive, aloof expressions and self-defenses he'd used to protect himself from his peers.

Hound didn't like that particular smile, especially when he knew it was empty. "Well, you're here now and I'll never do that to you, I promise." To punctuate his words, he pressed a firm kiss to Mirage's lips before releasing him.

Flustered for a moment, Mirage finally shook himself out of it and pulled Hound back towards the recharge berth. "Stay with me tonight?" He entreated. "I mean, we don't have to do…er…anything. Just…er…gah." He shut up before he shoved anymore of his foot in his mouth.

The scout seemed to understand what the flustered noble-mech was getting at and let himself be pulled along. "It's okay, Mirage. We'll take it one step at a time. No need to rush anything."

"I know," Came his painfully mortified admission. "I'm just…really, really bad at this." And horribly out of practice. Not that he'd ever admit that even under pain of death.

"Pfft. Ain't nothing to it. Like riding a turbo-bike." Hound crawled up onto the recharge berth and helped settle Mirage next to him on the plate.

"I never owned a turbo-bike," his companion muttered.

"Never?" Both amused and scandalized, Hound curled on his side and shot Mirage a playful look. "You obviously had an under-privileged Sparkhood." Such a statement was patently ridiculous. Mirage had obviously had a much more affluent Sparkhood and had been more 'privileged' than Hound ever could have been. "I mean, half the fun of Sparkhood is getting into trouble and banging into things on your turbo-bike."

"My creator didn't think it was seemly for his progeny to tear up the gardens and bother the servants with such ridiculous shenanigans."

"I repeat, under-privileged." Hound chuckled softly and wrapped an arm around Mirage's waist to pull him closer. He was pleased when the spy immediately snuggled into him heedless of the minute scratches to their green and blue paint when they shifted. Hound got the feeling that come tomorrow, he'd end up wearing blue paint and Mirage would end up with green scratched into his own paintjob.

"Only from your point of view." Mirage sniffed but shifted until he was in a comfortable position. "You'll be here in the morning, right?"

"I promise." Hound murmured fervently, and was surprised when he realized he meant it. There really wasn't anywhere else he'd rather be than right here. With that vaguely surprising thought, the scout keyed into his messages when an alert went off telling him he had a new inbound communiqué.

From: Autobot Ratchet

To: Autobot Hound

Re: A certain lugnut servo'd aft-head.

This is the one and only time I'm cleaning up after yer messes. Next time the two of you can suffer for all I care.

- R

And attached to the bottom was the duty roster for tomorrow. Hound was surprised to find himself and Mirage both struck off of it due to 'medical reasons'. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the humans were fond of saying, Hound decided not to ask and just let it drop. If Ratchet wanted to give him a free day to spend time learning the nuances of his new relationship with Mirage, who was he to complain?

In all honesty, he relished the new challenge. He was already learning cute little tidbits about the spy. Like how he tucked his hands under his chin when he recharged. And that he was an unabashed snuggler. The snuggling part was both amusing and endearing. Perhaps they'd all misjudged the former noble-mech. Beneath the aloofness and the unapproachable attitude, there seemed to be a mech just begging for affection and to be touched. Hound found himself oddly humbled that out of all the mechs on the Ark, it had been himself that Mirage had chosen to open himself up to.

It had been him the spy had chosen.

And with that slightly possessive and proud thought, Hound settled his cheek atop Mirage's head and powered down his optics. In the morning, they could continue to explore this new facet of their friendship. In the morning, he'd be allowed to smile and nuzzle that cool metal cheek.

There was no tossing and turning tonight, no self-doubts and pensive thoughts to haunt him this night. He wasn't alone anymore. And neither was Mirage, the loneliest spark he'd ever known.

'It is ironic,' Hound's last thought trailed off as he initiated the last protocol before slipping into recharge. 'By trying to save him from his loneliness, I ended up curing my own. Primus sure does work in mysterious ways.'