Chapter Nine

And here we learn just how much Nightshade pissed Ratchet off.

Ratchet was not having a good day. First, Sideswipe had deemed it necessary to try and 'lighten the mood' around the base. His prank would have been funny if it had worked properly. Sideswipe had rigged one of the ceiling tiles to drop water balloons on anyone who walked underneath. It was a simple device intended for Ironhide, who coincidentally, was covered in mud and twigs. But with all things mechanical came the possibility of failure, and this device was no exception. It had failed to deploy at the correct time.

Instead of thoroughly soaking Ironhide, Sideswipe had nearly ended up drowning Mikaela and Samuel. Not only did Ratchet have to check the humans for damage, he also had to reassure Bee that they had not drowned. Secondly, Nightshade had skipped out on a third physical. The mech had seen the schedule posted on Ratchet's door and immediately called in one of the favors that some mech owed him. Now Nightshade was nowhere to be found. Scanners couldn't – or wouldn't, as Ratchet's luck would have it – locate the little fragger, and Ratchet was now stuck in the medical bay with nothing to do.

Prime had also skipped out on his physical. Ratchet wondered if he and Nightshade were taking notes from one another – they both disappeared at around the same time. Ratchet's frown deepened. He would have to stop using names on the schedule. Finally, Ratchet could not focus on the task at hand. He was too disturbed by the turn in events. Nightshade had made a suggestive comment towards him. That in itself was enough to put Ratchet off, but throwing in the fact that Nightshade was still a subadult was nearly enough to make Ratchet purge his fuel tanks. He had immediately changed the schedules so that he wouldn't have to see Nightshade more than once or twice a day until he could figure out what had actually happened.

There was also that strange fluttering in his spark box. It still hadn't gone away, even with the extended period of rest that Red Alert had suggested. Ratchet absently pressed his hand over his spark box, wincing as it fluttered again. It wasn't painful, it was just there. He would never admit it, but he was frightened. Did he have some sort of deformity of the spark? Or was his spark about to fail on him? He shuddered. He hoped not – he was too young to die! He still hadn't bonded, though he was ready to give up on that, too. No femme was interested in more than a night or two with him.

Eh. Whatever. Their loss.

Mirage had also been giving him strange glares. Ratchet, for the life of him, could not understand why Mirage would be fragged off with him. Maybe it was because Mirage was Nightshade's guardian. Ratchet shuddered again. The little mech needed a thorough examination of the logic center. With his exhaust sighing gently, Ratchet made up his mind. He would have to chat with Mirage. His open hostility was starting to draw attention from even the most dimwitted of Autobots – Ironhide had even commented on teaching the "rich spoiled sparkling" a lesson in manners.

It was a beautiful morning outside. The sky was peppered with white fluffy clouds and brilliant sunlight, but Mirage did not pay attention to any of that. Nightshade, the precious little femme he had been assigned to guard and protect, had just confided in him that she had a bit of a crush on Ratchet. Mirage sneered. Of all mechs, that one? The little femme was pretty enough to have almost any mech at her beck and call, and she had settled on him?

He would have to 'suggest' a more suitable mech. Sunstreaker would be good for her – not only was he independently wealthy, he was approachable and trustworthy once he was completely relaxed around someone. He and his brother, though immature, would be able to take good care of Nightshade and provide the lifestyle she was used to and that she deserved – being waited on hand and foot. His thoughts turned back to the mad medic. Ratchet was good looking and all, but by Mirage's opinion, he was a disgrace to medics and all of the alpha class.

Mirage had heard all of the rumors about Ratchet's femme interns. He had heard it from their own vocal modulators of his talent in areas not in the medical bay. He had heard from Firestar that Ratchet had interfaced with nearly all of his interns, which was a record number unto itself. Mirage vowed to keep Nightshade away from Ratchet, especially since Sideswipe had been spreading rumors of Ratchet's newly ressurected ways of teaching.

Primus only knew what Ratchet would do if he got his hands on her!

Mirage wrapped an arm around the femme seated beside him, gently rubbing her arm.

"What is it, Mirage? You've got that look on your face," Nightshade said, glancing up at her guard.

"Nothing, nothing."

Nightshade knew that Mirage was lying but did not speak. She knew better than to ask. He wouldn't say a word. Mirage went back to his thoughts. The first time he had ever met Ratchet, he had had nothing but respect for the young medical student. Then, not two vorns later, Firestar had bragged about her short lived relationship with him. Mirage's nasal plates crinkled in disgust. If Ratchet was running about with a lower Delta class femme, who knew who else he was with and what he was doing with said femme?

Such disgraceful behavior.

Mirage's grip around Nightshade tightened marginally – the medic wasn't going to get close enough to her to even speak to her.

"Thank you for coming, Mirage. I wanted to speak with you," Ratchet said, sitting down at his desk. The haughty mech only nodded, his cool gaze traveling around the office.

"I've always sensed some hostility from you, Mirage – quite frankly, I don't care why you dislike me. But I would like to know why you're suddenly being so open with your dislike," Ratchet said, folding his hands across his desk top.

"Nightshade is my charge, Ratchet, and you would do well to remember that," Mirage spat out, his glare turning vicious. Ratchet sat up, startled. He had expected something more than that statement.

"What on Cybertron are you talking about, Mirage?" Ratchet asked.

"Firestar told me all about your teaching methods, Ratchet, and I'll be damned if you employ those methods on he - him! And don't even get me started on what Sideswipe has been saying - " Mirage snarled, his spark going cold at his almost slip-up. Ratchet's optics narrowed to slits. He didn't notice the fact that Mirage had almost said 'her'.

"You of all mechs should know better than to believe every rumor that you hear," Ratchet warned quietly, "I may enjoy interfacing, Mirage, but I am not a sick glitch! How dare you think that I would even look at Nightshade in that manner?!"

Mirage blinked. He'd forgotten that Ratchet didn't know about the femme-in-hiding. He tried to speak, to apologize, but Ratchet would have none of it.

"No, Mirage, do not interrupt me. I've been more than patient with you and your unwarranted case of self-superiority, but you have crossed a very fine line. I take my job very seriously, and I obey and respect every law written by our Prime. You have no right to even insinuate that I would do something like that," Ratchet hissed quietly, "I am beyond insulted. I am disgusted, Mirage."

When Mirage did not speak, he continued on a different train of thought. His voice was gentler. "Though I have no reason to explain my actions to you, I will do it if it will set your spark at east."

Mirage nodded hesitantly.

"The 'teaching method' that you referred to was one time with Firestar and another femme. That was vorns ago when I was still at the Academy."

"But Firestar said – "

"Since when has Firestar ever been a reliable source of information?"

"She said you slept with every female intern, and I've heard it from those femmes, too!"

"I've had eight female interns over the course of almost six hundred vorns, and yes, I admit that I slept with all eight of them. Am I a horrible mech for accepting what they offered me freely and willingly? Or am I a horrible, horrible mech for satisfying their needs as well as mine?"

"No, it does not, but I am still concerned," Mirage admitted quietly. He himself had been with more than a few of his female friends. He almost winced at the angry glare from Ratchet.

"I know that I am not the kindest mech in the world, and I know that I tend to say things that I should not say, especially regarding my interface partners. Those femmes were willing, if that's what you are questioning," Ratchet said, his voice going frigid.

"I was not questioning whether or not the femmes were willing, Ratchet, and I think you know that. I was, however, questioning your intentions with Nightshade – "

"Don't you dare ask me a question like that, Mirage. He is a child," Ratchet snapped, his voice growing louder as he grew angrier. He stood up, looming over the mech seated in front of him, "I don't know what your problem is, but I can assure you that the only thing I expect is from him is nothing less than perfection in my medical bay."

Mirage rubbed his aching cranial unit. He never meant to question Ratchet's ethics and morals. Now he only hoped that he hadn't fragged up too badly with the medic.

"I apologize for making that statement, Ratchet. I often forget that he is still a child and not a fully grown mech capable of making his own decisions. Please forgive me," Mirage said quietly. Ratchet nodded, slowly sinking back into his chair. His anger began to dissipate when Mirage admitted to his mistake.

"Is there anything else you would like to know about my past?" Ratchet inquired quietly, "And I've already dealt with Sideswipe. He's apologized for spreading those rumors."

"What happened with Firestar, Ratchet? I know you and she were involved for a few vorns, but she never told me why your relationship ended…or why she was so angry with you," Mirage asked. Ratchet sighed softly, his shoulders drooping slightly.

"She reminded me too much of a femme that I nearly bonded with. And Firestar spread those rumors because she thought that I ended our relationship for another, which was completely untrue," Ratchet said, his spark twisting sadly at the memory of the femme he had nearly bonded himself to. Her betrayal had happened almost a thousand vorns ago, and the wound was still as fresh as the day it had happened.

"Very well, Ratchet. I admit that I was wrong in questioning your morals. I should have known that you were nothing less than honorable," Mirage admitted disdainfully, "But whatever happens in the future, you are to stay away from Nightshade."

"I accept your apology, Mirage. Thank you for taking the time to come to me instead of asking someone else. And though I am confused as to why you are warning me to stay away from Nightshade, I will."

Mirage nodded, satisfied with Ratchet's admission.

"Thank you, Ratchet."

"I would appreciate it if you sat down with Nightshade and explained that the comments he made last week were entirely inappropriate, especially in that situation. Those video files that he watched were purged from my memory banks and were supposed to be destroyed. Those were also personal memories and I would appreciate it if he did not mention them to anyone."

"What video files?" Mirage asked, his optic ridges furrowing.

"Nightshade…he watched some of the old interface videos from my wild Academy days," Ratchet said wryly. Now he was definitely going to destroy those videos. Except for the one with Firestar and that other femme. He was too fond of that one to let it go. Mirage choked.

"He what?!" Mirage exclaimed, standing up. Ratchet nodded, one optic ridge rising.

"Yes…I do not know how he managed to get into the back of my library, Mirage. Here is a datapad containing references to informative interface encyclopedias if he really wants to know about the act," Ratchet said dryly, unsubspacing a datapad and handing it to Mirage, "Or you could give him that talk. I don't care, as long as he doesn't rifle through my personal videos again."

"I will have a chat with him," Mirage said, his voice ominous and low. For a moment, Ratchet pitied the mech.

"Thank you, Mirage. Do you have any more questions for me?"

"Yes, actually, I do. What exactly did Nightshade say?" Mirage asked, his optics narrowing slightly.

"Oh, Primus…I was…uhm…interfacing with Firestar and I…asked her if she liked the practical exam I was administering. Nightshade made a reference to that," Ratchet said quickly, embarrassed with sharing that memory. If Mirage was human, his face would have blanched before turning bright red.

"I…see," Mirage said haltingly, blinking once or twice. Was Nightshade feeling more than a crush for Ratchet? She had better not be!

"I hate to ask so much of you, but Nightshade has ignored my every page. I'd appreciate it if you told him to see me once you are finished with him," Ratchet asked. Mirage nodded, stiffly getting to his feet.

"Thank you for explaining the situation to me, Ratchet. I wouldn't have known otherwise. As for Nightshade, I'll personally escort him here."

Ratchet nodded, turning back to his computer screen. Mirage left the office, his optics narrowing. Now, where was Nightshade so that he could let the femme know exactly how displeased he was?

"Nightshade, get your aft over here now," Mirage said coolly, crossing his arms over his chest plates. Nightshade whirled around in the booth, ignoring the snickers from the mechs around him.

"Go on, Nightshade, daddy Mirage wants to speak with you," Sideswipe teased gently, shoving Nightshade over in the seat. Nightshade growled quietly before obediently walking over to the seething mech.

"Yes, Mirage?"

"We need to talk. Now."

The barely restrained anger in Mirage's normally cool voice was enough to frighten Nightshade. Mirage walked out of the room without even speaking. Nightshade scampered after him. Once outside, Mirage grabbed Nightshade's arm and dragged him into a conference room. Mirage locked the door and turned the sound dampeners up as high as they would go. Then he turned to the femme sitting in the chair.

"Nightshade, I cannot even begin to articulate how upset I am with you right now," Mirage said, his voice as cold as ice.

"What did – "

"Do not interrupt me, Nightshade. You've disappointed me. You truly have. What on Cybertron were you thinking when you made that comment towards Ratchet?" Mirage asked.

"It slipped out, Mirage, I don't understand what the problem is," Nightshade said.

"Ratchet thinks you're a subadult."

"…and? What does that have to do with anything? He didn't say anything back to me - "

"I went to his office and nearly accused him of coming on to you, Nightshade. You may not be as old as the rest of us but you know our laws very well. Thankfully, he set things straight," Mirage said, rubbing his head. Nightshade only looked more confused.

"What are you talking about, Mirage? He never said anything back to me, he pushed me away! I apologized for mentioning that - "

Mirage ignord her, glazing over her statement with an annoyed wave of the hand.

"That brings me to my next concern, Nightshade. Ratchet informed me that the video file that you watched was private. Why on Cybertron did you watch it?" Mirage asked, his voice dangerously low as he ignored Nightshade's every attempt to defend the medic. It was his job to keep Nightshade as shielded from the world as possible.

"I wanted to know what interfacing was," Nightshade said, blinking, "Ratchet said I could watch any of the video files in the library."

"You have no need to know what interfacing is. And I highly doubt that Ratchet meant that you could watch video files labeled as private," Mirage said.

"But I only wanted to see, it's not like I want to actually do it! And they weren't even labeled as private – "

"No, Nightshade. You don't understand – you shouldn't even know what interfacing is, not until a suitable mate has been selected for you. And you had better not even be thinking of interfacing," Mirage warned quietly. He was very strict with his charge, especially when it came to interfacing. She may have been a fully grown femme in her own right, but Mirage still believed in some of their old social beliefs. Day Lily had been very specific in her instructions – Nightshade was to be kept as shielded as possible.

"Mirage – "

"Do not argue with me. This conversation is over. I expect you to write a letter of apology to Ratchet for watching his private videos and for causing this misunderstanding. I will also be escorting you to the medical bay. Ratchet wants to speak with you," Mirage said, opening the door. Nightshade obediently stepped out, a frown on his face plates.

"Now, come along. We can't keep him waiting."

Nightshade followed him to the medical bay, not even daring to look up. Red Alert gave them a questioning glance as they passed by, but Mirage didn't even speak. He stepped past Red Alert and rapped twice on Ratchet's door. When Ratchet called them in, Mirage pushed Nightshade into the room before following him in.

"Ah, good that you're here, Mirage. Since you're his guardian, I'd prefer that you had an opinion in the matter," Ratchet said, turning to them both. He motioned for Mirage to sit down. Nightshade made to sit down but was stopped by a glare from Ratchet.

"Did I say that you could sit down, Nightshade?"

"N-no sir," Nightshade whispered, hanging his head.

"Mirage and I had a discussion this morning regarding the inappropriate comments that you made last week. I wouldn't be so upset with you had you not been heard by Sunstreaker and Sideswipe. Now there is a rumor going around the base that I've reverted to my old ways. You've ruined my reputation, Nightshade, and I am not pleased. Prime has called for a meeting with me to discuss the situation," Ratchet said quietly, his optics narrowing up at the rookie. Nightshade gulped. Prime was involved?

"I'm s-sorr-"

"Were you given permission to speak?" Ratchet asked sharply.

"N-no sir."

"Then keep your vocal processor off. Compute?"

Nightshade nodded weakly.

"You've known from the beginning how serious I am with my job as chief medical officer. Prime knows I would never do anything to jeopardize my position as such - my promiscuity while I attended the Academy was questionable, I know, but I was nothing more than a basic physician. That, however, is not tolerated from someone in my position. That is why he is allowing me to punish you appropriately. You will be reporting to Prime and explaining to him why you made those comments."

Nightshade nodded slowly.

"You've betrayed my trust and friendship," Ratchet said quietly, "And you've disappointed me, Nightshade. I had higher hopes for you, but I'm beginning to doubt your position in the medical bay. Due to what's been happening, I've come to the conclusion that I've been far too lenient with you. I've been too friendly. You're the first intern that I have ever taught that has needed to be put on the demerits system. There's always a first, I suppose."

"Demerits? What do you mean?" Mirage asked curiously.

"Every time he does something wrong, he gets a demerit. For your comment last week, you will receive two. For bribing an officer with high grade, you will receive three demerits – and yes, I've told Prime. He has punished me according to our rules. You are subject to the same rules. Since you are a child, you cannot serve time in the brig. You will be receiving demerits instead. You will receive one demerit for every time you ignored my page. That puts you right at nine, Nightshade."

Nightshade looked up.

"But – "

"That's another demerit for arguing with me. I am chief medical officer of this medical bay and you are an intern. You will do well to learn your place," Ratchet snapped at him, "You are now at ten demerits."

Mirage winced out of sympathy.

"For earning five, you will receive a verbal warning. You are not to engage in any more questionable behavior in the medical bay or outside of the medical bay. For earning ten demerits, you are now suspended."

At his words, Nightshade's optics widened. Her spark fell, contracting in an icy block of numbness. She was suspended? How could he suspend her? He didn't even give her a chance to explain her side of the story. She had watched the first few minutes of the video, watching as the couple touched one another, but once the male had made the comment about the 'practical' and Nightshade had recognized his voice, she had turned the file off. Nightshade felt sorrow well up inside of her. After all she had worked for, she was being punished without being allowed to even defend herself. Even though Mirage expressly forbid her from even looking at the encyclopedias, she was very curious about interfacing, and she had reasoned that Mirage had forbid her from looking at the holocubes, not the vid. files.

"For how long is he suspended, Ratchet?" Mirage asked.

"One week. Your position as an intern in the medical bay has been compromised. Any more questionable behavior and you will be kicked out of the medical bay. You are also ineligible to apply for further training for one year," Ratchet said, signing off on Nightshade's suspension sheet. Nightshade nodded miserably, struggling not to burst into tears. Is this what she got for being so curious?

"Oh, and make sure to keep up your studies. I want you to write a two thousand word essay on trust and why it is important in the medical bay. I also expect worksheets number two hundred and forty three to two hundred and ninety five completed upon your return, as well as a short essay over each of the three required readings. You'll also have an exam over chapters twelve through nineteen when you come back into the medical bay. Be prepared to do a verbal and visual presentation over digital maintenance by the twenty third, too. I might have extra assignments for you, so do not ignore any of my pages. Oh, and since you're so interested in astrometrics, go ahead and write an essay on the components of a wormhole and the physics that go with it. Got it?" Ratchet had taken on a sarcastic tone by the end of the sentence. A little voice in the back of his processor was telling him that there was no way that Nightshade was going to be able to finish all of that, but he pushed it away angrily. Nightshade had very nearly cost him his license to practice, and he'd be damned if he didn't punish the rookie accordingly.

Nightshade nodded, looking like he wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

"And about the demerits, Ratchet. Do those ever go away?" Mirage asked.

"Yes. I can clear them whenever I feel like it," Ratchet said absently, turning back to Mirage.

"Do you understand and agree to the terms of your punishment?"

"Yes, sir," Nightshade mumbled quietly.

"Very well. Prime is on his way and you will be explaining your reasoning behind your actions. He will be here in one minute," Ratchet said, his voice frosty. Nightshade nodded, fidgeting slightly. Ratchet pitied the mech for a moment. He knew how hard it was to keep up with studies as an intern, but his comments had been entirely inappropriate. Especially since he was still a subadult. The door opened not a minute later, and Prime stepped in. He automatically glanced over at Nightshade, concerned for the young mech. Prime knew how Ratchet could get when he was in one of his moods. He sighed.

"Well. What have you got to say, Nightshade?"

"I…it just slipped out, I'm sorry. I was stupid in thinking that we were friends and that we could joke around, sir. You told me that I could watch any of the video files in the library, so I figured those would be alright. They weren't labeled or anything, so I didn't think much of it. I was only curious."

Prime winced on Ratchet's behalf. The rookie sure knew how to make a mech feel guilty for punishing him.

"There's a difference between joking and making inappropriate comments, Nightshade," Prime said gently.

Nightshade nodded, his gaze still locked on the floor. Nightshade wanted to rip off her armor and scream that she wasn't a child, that she was a fully grown femme capable of making her own decisions, but refrained from doing so.

"Is there anything else you would like to say, Nightshade?" Mirage prompted sharply.

"I'm sorry, sir, for watching your private video. I shouldn't have been in the interfacing section of the library in the first place," Nightshade mumbled quietly. Ratchet nodded dismissively.

"You are not allowed in the shooting range, sparring rings, general library, or recreation room. You are restricted to your room and your room only for the duration of your suspension. I will bring you your ration," Mirage added. If it took a serious 'grounding' to make the mech behave, so be it.

"Is that satisfactory, sir?" Mirage asked Prime.

"It's your call," Prime said neutrally. He was here only for mediation, not doling out punishment.

"Very well. You are dismissed," Ratchet said. As Nightshade turned to leave, Ratchet looked up.

"I need your identification chip before you leave. If you need access to any study materials, you may send me a note with the materials that you need and I can schedule a pick up time for you. If you have any questions, you will need to schedule a meeting."

Nightshade nodded and dropped the chip into his waiting hand.

"Will that be all, sir?" Nightshade asked quietly. Ratchet nodded, waving him away. Nightshade disappeared through the doors. Mirage stared after Nightshade, his spark twisting. Optimus looked over Nightshade's supension sheet, reading the terms and requirements. He winced at seeing the massive workload Ratchet had assigned.

"Was I too harsh on him?" Mirage asked Prime after a few moments.

"It isn't my place to interfere with whatever punishment you deal out, Mirage, but I will tell you this: suspending him from the medical bay was probably not the best course of action nor was confining him to his room for a week. The latter, with some concessions, would have probably sufficed," Prime said quietly, watching as Ratchet almost looked guilty.

"You must remember that he is still a child. His behavior, though questionable, was only natural. He is very curious and I don't want him to think that he is being punished because of it," Prime continued slowly, "You should have come to me before suspending him, Ratchet. I can only hope that Nightshade hasn't lost his will to explore new things and expand because of your punishment."

Ratchet sighed.

"Should I speak with him?"

"That is your decision, Ratchet. I can't make it for you," Optimus said gently, "Though I would highly suggest explaining why you were so harsh with him. I remember when Bumblebee watched one of your old videos and told everyone on the ship that he had done so in vivid detail. Your punishment was nowhere near as severe. You only grounded him for a few days. You didn't give him an impossible amount of work, either." Prime's tone was slightly accusatory.

"Alright, I'll talk to him when I have time," Ratchet grumbled quietly, wishing that he could delete his guilt subroutines.

Oh snap.

Nightshade is GROUNDED.

And she has a ton of homework.