Notes:

OoOoOoOo Denotes breaks within scenes

~ Chapter 15 ~

Cybertron - Distant Past

"Well, that's something you don't see every day," Ironhide muttered. He scrubbed a hand slowly over his jawplates and took a seat in one of the larger chairs in the Second's quarters.

"What's that?" Jazz passed the big mech a cube of high-grade and sat back expectantly. Information was a valuable commodity and always welcome. He watched Ironhide empty half the contents of his cube in one swallow, and rub his jawplating again.

"Prime, looking like he was in full seduce-and-conquer mode with our medic. I caught them in the hallway just now."

The information wasn't nearly as interesting as Ironhide's reaction. Jazz's visor shimmered amusement at the growling tone and deep throbbing hum of Ironhide's systems. "Must a been quite a scene. How'd Ratchet handle it?"

Ironhide smirked. "Not a protest out of him; might have heard some moaning though. Thought they were both overcharged, but Optimus said they'd only had a couple of cubes. Not that it's anyone's business if the Prime wants a quick frag to flush out his systems but still."

Jazz laughed. "You got a way with words, 'Hide."

Ironhide snorted, entirely unapologetic. "We all need that from time to time, especially after a battle. Point is, Prime should have learned by now to keep his little trysts quiet."

"Nah, the point is, when have you ever seen Optimus so interested? And how about the way Ratchet looks at him?"

Ironhide grunted and downed the rest of the high-grade in his cube. "Have to be blind not to notice. I'm shocked it took them this long."

"Prime doesn't act like he wants just a quick round in the berth with Ratchet. He got Prime's attention, and without even half tryin'."

"So he's interested. Doesn't count for anything." Ironhide looked up from his cube. "The Council has the final say, and never in a billion vorns will they think Ratchet's a good choice to bond with the Prime."

Jazz grinned before schooling his field into a complete aura of innocence, wide sparkling optics and flicking back his finials like a turbopup. "Are you implying that Ratchet is not the pinnacle of a demure and humble little crystal flower to adorn the Prime's arm?" Jazz asked, visor glistening earnestly.

Ironhide snorted. "The day I see that is the day I scrap my cannons. He hasn't forgotten about Heatseek. Little 'bot shows up with a few dents and suddenly I'm staring at that big saw of his. "

"I think it was the reason behind the dents that torqued him off, 'Hide."

"Slag, that was 3 vorns ago and he's still torqued at me. And there's another thing that makes him completely unsuitable. Consorts are to be seen and not heard and definitely never in a million vorns should they be calmly informing the Weapons Master that his cannons will be forcibly removed and he'll be charging into battle with nothing but- I think his words were 'damn thickplated rattling empty helm.'"

"Our medic's got a way with words too. Any regrets?" Jazz drawled, amusement sparkling in a swirl of colors across his visor.

"Frag, no, worth every round. All 5 of them." A smug optic wink and Ironhide drained his cube, engine giving a very satisfied rumble.

Short of being slagged and in the Medbay for repairs, there were certain frametypes always ready and eager to go a few rounds in the berth after battle. Heatseek was one such. Small and agile and built for speed, whether in battle or in the berth the mech had a reputation for running fast and hot. He would quite literally roll off the battlefield and right into his berth, dragging whichever willing mech he could find along for the ride.

One of the willing mechs had been Ironhide. Heatseek more than lived up to his reputation, and Ironhide had been grateful for it. The mech had been a much-needed distraction, and a very pleasant one.

"He should know what goes along with a frame type." Ironhide snorted and thumped his cube down on the table. "Anyway, you know how this goes, Jazz. Ratchet's name comes up, the Council laughs their afts off, then ignores the whole thing. Business as usual."

"Business is glitched and so is the Council. Every mech on Cybertron gets ta choose their bondeds, except the Prime. Optimus should have a say-"

"You know Prime as well as I do," Ironhide interrupted. "He's a traditionalist and tradition is on the side of the Council. He'll do as they tell him." He looked pointedly at his empty cube. Jazz pushed him another.

"Mechs can change. And ya gotta admit, 'Hide, Prime's been handlin' things easier since Ratchet got here."

"He's a good medic."

"He could be an even better bonded."

"Bonded, my aft. Even if the Council agreed, he'd be nothing but cannon fodder, Jazz, and you know it. Prime does too, and he may be interested, but he's not likely to put Ratchet in harm's way anytime soon. He should enjoy what the medic's offering while he can, before the Council shoves another properly demure little crystal flower at him."

Ironhide's plating flick was dismissive, his field signaling clear frustration, and Jazz let the subject drop. They had much more entertaining things to do this evening than argue over stubborn councils and the love woes of their Prime.

He eyed the level in Ironhide's cube and slid another over, giving the big mech a sly, sidelong glance. He would bet five kliks at most to get their evening back on track.

"Prime and Ratchet. Bet that was something ta see. Were they goin' for the floor or wall?"

Not even two kliks. The change was instantaneous. Ironhide grunted, optics flashing. He drained his cube and rose to his feet, clearly done talking. He looked down at the smaller mech. "You ready?"

Jazz chuckled. "I'm ready." When it came to something he wanted, Ironhide believed in the direct approach.

Ironhide pulled him up and into his arms, rumbling a purr. His chest plates were hot, his fans already whirred rapidly. Jazz's engine revved a welcome at the hard embrace.

"They got ya going, didn't they?" he murmured.

Ironhide responded with a hungry growl and a push up against the wall. He held the smaller mech easily, feet off the floor and big arms wrapped around him, and nipped at the little smile on Jazz's lips.

Jazz's visor flickered in a wink. "No foreplay?" he teased, flaring his field in invitation.

A wicked smirk was Ironhide's answer, that and the sudden hot thrust of the bigger mech's energy field. Jazz clamped down his vocalizer, smothering a moan as that powerful field locked with his, branching out like a lightning strike, power and heat and the unmistakable presence and aura of Ironhide meshing in tight.

He couldn't stop the slow writhe, held fast in the big mech's arms. His helm fell back.

"I- Iro- Primus."

Ironhide nuzzled against his exposed neck plates, a rumbling laugh vibrated between them.

Jazz's helm lifted, visor glinting. "Alright, old mech. This is war."

"Perfect." Ironhide nipped at a sensitive cable, chuckling when Jazz made an inarticulate sound and clutched at his shoulder armor. "My favorite game to play."

OoOoOoOo

It wasn't war, but it was definitely a battle, fought not with weapons but with sparks and fields and the hard press of armor against armor. Ironhide kept Jazz in a tight grip, pinned to the wall. Jazz remained a willing captive, gasping and twitching at the rough strokes of large fingers over his circuits, the wicked play of Ironhide's field over his.

Ironhide's field was all restless energy, a relentless onslaught every bit as overwhelming as he was on the battlefield. Vents blew harsh, friction heated metal, sparks struck off silver plating as armor creaked under his fingers.

Jazz retaliated, his field brilliant and sly, coy and teasing. Quicksilver pulses tangled with lightning strikes, sending blue ribbons of energy coiling and streaming over armor. They arrowed into seams, targeting the spark energy behind Ironhide's shields. The big mech shuddered with pleasure. His control slipped, a mere fraction of a nanoklik, but more than enough time for Jazz to counterattack. He danced his field out of resonance and planted his hands firmly to Ironhide's armor, sending pulses of magnetic force through him. Ironhide stiffened, groaning, his helm dropping to Jazz's shoulder.

Jazz grinned, visor a swirl of colors, flaring his plates in a preen of satisfaction. "Give it up, old mech. I've got youth and speed on ya. Not to mention beauty."

"I'll give you beauty. For the rest? We'll see."

Ironhide took his time, revving his engine hard until the vibrations were traveling clear through Jazz's frame. His field pulsed in steady waves, hard edged with lust, giving way to deeper rolling subharmonics: Remembered pleasures, trust earned together in battle, the release of pain and the utter joy of sharing again. That earned him a startled chirrup-whistle and some dented armor as Jazz gripped his shoulders, wrapped legs up over his hip struts and went immediately on the offensive.

Ironhide paused under the onslaught, rumbling appreciation as slender knowing fingers delved under his plates and that quicksilver field looped back desire a hundredfold, but the wall had been breached and they both knew it. Jazz parried his field pulse for pulse, refusing to synch but unable to hide his own growing lust, the hint of impatience swirling through his field.

Ironhide renewed his attack, nuzzling and nipping, leisurely exploring the length of one silver antenna. Jazz's mouth was just as busy, his hands buried under Ironhide's plates up to his wrist joints, his visor glinting triumph when Ironhide shuddered and growled. Then the big mech neatly outmaneuvered him by blowing out his field. A thousand sensations swirled and feathered over circuits and silver armor until Jazz gasped and shivered and finally moaned out a surrender.

It actually sounded more like, "Slagger…", but his field altered resonance and rapidly synched up, curling out to weave through Ironhide's, brilliant and blue and sparking with lust.

Jazz shivered again and Ironhide took him in a firmer hold, admiring the feel of the sleek frame in his arms. Ribbons of blue fire were already traveling over their frames, spark energy hot and restless sent waves of heat shimmering across armor plates.

"Still a thing or two I can teach you young ones," Ironhide murmured.

"Ya got me there. And here." Jazz bumped his helm affectionately against the big mech. "Now get us t' the berth, 'Hide, before we melt the wall."

OoOoOoOo

Jazz's deep cries and his own gunning engine were still loud in his audials when Ironhide finally called truce. He shifted to the side, loosening slender digits still dug deeply into his backseams and tucked the smaller mech next to him. Jazz was offline. Ironhide rumbled contentment, systems buzzing from the rush of spark energy. Fans whirred in unison, cooling the overheated mechs.

Jazz had been a surprise, one of the more welcome ones in Ironhide's existence. The others had been too often made up death, death, and more death, interspersed with wholesale destruction on a planetary scale.

The war entered a new, more vicious phase. The Decepticons relentlessly hunted down the remaining Neutrals and dispatched them as potential threats. Prime devoted what resources he could to defend the more helpless citizens but city after city fell to ruin in the Purge. Ironhide's bonded was a casualty, as was the village and crèche of Neutrals they were guarding. A few Neutrals fled offworld, others were forced into choosing a side, and in the end there were no Neutrals left, only Autobots and Decepticons.

The war raged on. Entire cities were depopulated through death or attrition, while others were razed to the ground. Trade ceased; the infrastructure of an entire civilization collapsed. The Cybertronian Empire shook in its death throes, and nothing the Council or their new Prime could do would stop it.

By the time Jazz was made Prime's Second, Ironhide's loss was vorns behind him. It took a sharp mech to notice the occasional limp in a weakened bearing, or the sudden distressed flare of his field that was contained just as abruptly.

Ironhide wasn't particularly surprised that Jazz had attained such a rank. No one who knew that mech ever underestimated him. Not after the first time, anyway.

He also wasn't surprised when Jazz noticed. The silver mech caught up with him, visor soft-hued with sympathy, trilling concern. Ironhide waved him off and limped to his quarters, pain eating at his spark, his field a tangle of conflicting pulses.

It was after the fifth battle since his promotion when Jazz did surprise him. The battle had been won—barely—with heavy losses on both sides. Ironhide limped through the Base, the bright flash and brutal roar of an enemy's plasma weapon discharged at point blank range echoing and re-echoing through his processors. His field writhed in a painful flare, signaling distress to the empty corridors. Ironhide snarled and yanked it back as he turned the corner, then stopped short to stare at Jazz.

Until the day he offlined permanently this was how Ironhide would remember him, the memory etched deep into his module.

Jazz was lounging against the wall, all bright silver and smooth grace, his mouthplates curved in an easy smile. His field sang with energy, the subharmonics brilliant and joyful. And strong. Primus, but there was strength to this mech. Prime chose well, Ironhide thought, while Jazz's field sent out delicate questing tendrils to flicker against his own tattered field, beckoning and coaxing, inviting him to share.

The relief that swept over Ironhide was palpable, but he hesitated, looking down at the Prime's Second and ready to decline the offer to share a berth for the evening.

"We have nothing in common."

"Wrong. We have a Prime in common. That and a mutual love of highgrade says we'll get along just fine."

Ironhide stroked gentle fingerpads over silver armor, tracing the contours and seams of Jazz's chestplates. There was no movement his sensors could detect, only a subtle shift in the field still locked with his to signal Jazz was online again. He looked down to see the silver mech's visor shading to deepest blue, drawing him back to the present.

Ironhide brushed mouthplates against Jazz's helm.

"Well?" he asked gruffly.

Jazz tilted his head and looked up at him with a lazy smile. "You win."

Ironhide chuckled. "Saw him, did you?"

The Second nodded. "Uh-huh. Sure did. I definitely saw Primus. That's a case of my finest I owe you."

Ironhide waved it off. "We'll split it. I saw him, too."

Jazz smirked, his field reaching out in a coy flirt. Ironhide put a hand on Jazz's shoulder and pushed him to his back. Fingers parted his hip seam seeking out sensor nodes. Jazz gasped, his frame jerked under the rough touches, but his field was already warring with Ironhide's. The big mech liked a challenge and Jazz was happy to oblige.

Ironhide leaned over to rumble in an audial. "Another case says I can make you see him again."

"Primus," Jazz moaned, quivering beneath Ironhide's hands.

"Not yet, Jazz. Give me a few breems."


Medbay - Present Day

Barricade wasn't online, not in any meaningful sense. Most days it took a scan or three to make sure he was even alive, the Decepticon was that heavily shielded. The Medbay had been transformed, its ample space taken up with a vast array of conduits and cables weaving through the thousands of filaments of a hastily constructed monitoring net. At the center sat the ruined Saleen, slouched and sullen looking.

Ratchet labored to stabilize him, removing as much as he dared of armor and plating in an effort to get at core systems. His efforts were met with subtle resistance. Intruding on a system in one section resulted in a cascade failure of another system elsewhere. His medical directives and nanobots met with the same result.

It was deliberate; it was sabotage. Ratchet had barely contained the complete purge initiated by the Decepticon and was still cleaning up the mess left behind. One all important question remained: Was there enough left of Barricade to bring back?

Ratchet couldn't rely on the resistance as proof; much of it was automatic, a failsafe against capture and typically Decepticon. Faced with waning resources and ever fewer troops, more than a few Autobots had resorted to similar tactics in the last vorns on Cybertron. Better to offline by their own hand than be forced into a reformat to serve a hated enemy.

He was tempted more than once to free Barricade from the maze of regulating lifelines and feeders and let him slip into a slow but relatively painless death in stasis lock. By every scan and the best professional opinion of his medical AI, Ratchet should have done just that.

Barricade's odds of survival ranged from slim to virtually none depending on the day, but there was one thing, a small thread of hope that kept Ratchet working and refusing to give him up.

Ironically, that hope was named Ironhide.

Ironhide was a sorely needed extra pair of hands in the Medbay, helping to maneuver, lift and hold the injured Saleen while the medic worked on hard to reach areas. More than that, he was at spark and core a Guardian, and in his presence the change in Barricade was remarkable.

Gone was the sullen withdrawal, the subtle resistance. The entire Saleen vibrated with a silent welcoming hum. Barricade's field would flutter to life, a desperate spastic flare as it reached for Ironhide, seeking a Guardian, pleading for help.

Ironhide had been less than pleased. His field deflected the plea firmly and added a strong warn-off to the intruder for good measure. The Decepticon's field retreated, rippling disappointment before ebbing away to a pallid glow. It hovered around the Saleen like a mournful ghost, edges wavering and tattered.

Ratchet could almost hear the plaintive wail as Barricade broadcast for a Guardian.

It was moving and pitiful, and the medic couldn't find any satisfaction in seeing an enemy brought so low.

Other mechs though, had no such problems. Mechs with their helms up their afts, Ratchet grumbled to himself.

Grateful as he was for the big mech's help, the constant rebuffs from Ironhide were irritating and set off his medical sensors with warnings and alarms as Barricade's life signs went on the decline again. He didn't want to think what it was costing his patient.

In spite of the rejections Barricade didn't give up, continuing his dogged pursuit of the Guardian. That more than any other sign tipped the odds in Barricade's favor as far as Ratchet was concerned.

Beneath all the failsafes and corrupted programming, the ruined systems and shattered infrastructure, Barricade wanted to live, the medic was certain of it. Ironhide might be able to ignore all the attempts, but Ratchet no longer could.

After several more such encounters, Ratchet calmly folded his saw away-the better not to tear the stubborn old mech a new exhaust port—and broached the subject of Guardianship to Ironhide.

It was a spark-felt and deeply meaningful conversation:

"He seeks a Guardian."

"He'll have to seek elsewhere."

"We have no other—"

"Not my problem."

"Stubborn old aft, he wasn't the one who—"

"He's a Decepticon."

"You'd let him die for that?"

"I won't help him, medic."

Ratchet glowered at him, fuming quietly.

Ironhide gave him a stony look and stalked to the door. "I'll bring you a construction drone on my next trip out. You can reformat that into an assistant. I'm done here."

And that was that and Ratchet had accomplished exactly nothing. He had more of a chance of moving the planet's moon than persuading Ironhide to let go of the past and accept Barricade.

Ratchet watched Mikaela threading her way through the maze of slender filaments and thicker cables, the sudden disquieting image of a small hapless prey approaching a giant waiting spider intruding on his processors.

"Mikaela!"

She froze in her steps, craning her head to look up at him. "Ratchet…? What is it?"

Yes, what? Ratchet looked from her to the Saleen, uncertain what had triggered his alarm.

"I- Please be careful."

She held up cloth and cleaning fluid. "I will. Just finishing up on the spots I can reach."

He watched her slowly thread her way through that spidery web until she reached the hood of the Saleen, dumped fluid into the cloth, and began wiping out crusted dirt and grime embedded in the seams. The Saleen never moved.

Ratchet gave an all-over shake of his plates, trying to dislodge that elusive warning. Probably nothing. Likely a glitch. When had he last refueled?

Too long ago. His systems scolded him over depleted reserves. He really needed to get an energon station set up in the Medbay.

Ratchet bent to his own work again, steadfastly ignoring another shudder of plates and the dull ache of his spark, the nagging reminders of just whyhe was avoiding the Rec Room.

The war had long since drained every resource Cybertron possessed including the ability to requisition supplies. Ratchet still mourned that loss, now more than ever. The injured Decepticon was straining every resource the Autobots had, including the not inconsiderable skills of their CMO. Ratchet's breaks in the Rec Room became infrequent. When he did show up, he sat and brooded over a barely touched energon ration, oblivious to his surroundings. The humans were only half joking when they said they could hear his gears turning.

But when he and Optimus happened to share the same space at the same time, things grew rapidly worse. The friction between them was a living thing, coiling and heavy, seething with tension.

Bumblebee skirted them with anxious looks and door wings hiked high. Ironhide side eyed them, wanting nothing more than to toss them both into a room together and weld it shut until they got it out of their systems. Jazz could only wait for the bot sized train wreck he knew was coming.

Ratchet had continued to be distant and unavailable and Optimus grew increasingly frustrated. His demeanor remained calm and patient, only his optic ridges betraying the frustration and worry that rode him. They drew down into a puzzled frown when he looked at Ratchet, who looked away or pretended not to notice at all.

Optimus often failed to give attention to personal matters. The war took priority, Ratchet had known that from the beginning. The gears could sometimes grind a little slowly when the Prime's focus encompassed entire worlds and the span of half a galaxy of wide-ranging conflict. Those gears did grind exceedingly fine though. When Optimus' focus finally turned close to home, and the weight of Prime's full attention settled on Ratchet, the shock of it shuddered through plating and core and straight to his spark.

Prime's frown lifted, his optics on Ratchet were intent and appraising, and it was that look that sent Ratchet retreating to the Medbay. The medic's ploy for time would not last much longer.

A confrontation was inevitable sooner or later, but Ratchet would far rather it be later. He couldn't trust his field not to betray him, nor keep his yearning spark from reaching out, and he was very much afraid he wouldn't have the strength to refuse Optimus again.

In the Medbay, his own personal space and world, he could forget the constant battle with his spark and focus on what he did best: a wounded mech in dire need, the urgent demand on his every skill.

Ratchet gave an all-over plating rattle, Ironhide's warning from months ago a quiet echo in his processors.

"It's starting again, isn't it."

"I can stall it."

"Not forever, you can't."

"No… Not forever."

The construction drone was nearly ready, transcanned from his files and refitted to serve as a medbot. Ratchet's systems buzzed as he sent a purge directive into the drone preparing it for reprograming.

Across the Medbay, Mikaela was stretched nearly prone across the Saleen's broad hood, scrubbing cleaning solvent into exposed seams and joints. She hummed as she worked, a sound he found decidedly pleasant.

If Barricade was aware, he gave no sign.

OoOoOoOo

He wandered, bewildered and lost, looking for…. something. He had lost something, somewhere. The thing he had lost was troubling, but dim and distant, like so much else around him.

Dreams unfurled before him as he moved, or maybe they were memories, he was never sure and there was no way to distinguish one from another. Somewhere deep down was the knowledge that this should have been troubling, but it was too far down and too vague to be of any help. Everything was vague, even his thoughts. He watched the dream memories play out, detached and only mildly curious. There was cold rage in them, hunger and lust, and pain too-the ache of loss, the spark-deep chill of death-but none of it touched him. He knew them as abstracts only, and something buried deep insisted that this too was troubling.

The images drifted into mist and ended. He moved on, still searching.

At times his search brought him to a place of bright lights and low voices. Pain came with that place, pain that was vicious and unrelenting, wracking his frame until he was screaming with it. The others came then, hard and warm, soft and warm. He didn't like the hard one, the hard one brought even more pain. But the soft one… ahh.

Soft digits, softer touches, maker of pleasant soothing sounds. This one he welcomed, this one pleased him. Did it belong to him, was it his? No, it came and went at will. If the soft one were his, he would never let it leave.

There was one other… or had been. Large and powerful, one he needed, one he was desperate for, and for the life of him he had no idea why.

But the large one's rejection was bitter and final, and then it was gone, out of his reach.

He drifted away again, a disappointed engine whine trailing in his wake.


Cybertron - Distant Past

The hallway was dim and dark and completely empty, an older section of the Decepticon Base, now abandoned. At the scrape of a rusted door, the echo of light footsteps, infrared sensors came online and tracked his prey as it moved closer. A muffled scan. His prey was tense. He tapped a finger against a pipe, and smirked as his prey startled and looked around wildly. The prey moved, took a step. He tapped again, and his prey stopped. Another step, another tap, and the prey froze, whimpering, intakes pulling in air rapidly. He growled softly and heard a moan, the smell of fear and excitement heavy on the air. He came up behind without a sound and caught the small mech up in an iron grip.

"Back for more?" a growled whisper, voice disguised. The mech tried to turn his head around and gasped as the Hunter tightened his hold. "You know the rules. No names, no talking, optics off. Obey them or leave."

Barricade smiled as the small mech in his arms hastily nodded his helm and offlined his optics, whining a little. He could already feel the heat through the mech's chest plates. This one was his favorite, a fast starter, exquisite responses, sensitive to his slightest touch. He shifted his arm and tapped the small chestplates with a finger, purring his approval as they sprang open for him. The small mech hung in his grip and waited, shivering.

Barricade stroked slow fingers inside the mech's chest. He always took extra time with this one, made sure he was ready. Barricade's own need rode him hard, his energies wild and violent and barely contained, but the small mech never hesitated at the demands his shadow lover made of him. After the first few times, the Hunter grew concerned enough to bend his rules and whisper to him as they interfaced.

Talk to me, tell me… I don't want to hurt you…

Give me more, I want more, I want you…

He was a rare one, and Barricade could pretend for a short while that the small mech belonged to him, let the feeling soothe the wild thing and fill up the empty places inside. The mech started to struggle, a ploy, a demand for attention, and the predator rose up, raging with lust. Take him, take him! Barricade took him down in one fluid motion, held him face down on the floor, wrists pinned to either side. He lowered himself, let his weight settle, and the small mech groaned.

Too much? Am I hurting you?

No… take me like this… I want you to…

Garbled pleas and moaning sobs from the small one he held trapped and helpless. Barricade groaned, shuddering, barely in control.

I don't want to hurt you.

More, give me more…

Spark energy poured out of him, wild and furious, and he pressed hard against the smaller mech with harsh cries of relief.

The small one screamed in overload. Barricade snarled and bit down on a soft throat plate. A final violent thrust of energy, a roar of climax as his frame heaved over the small mech beneath him, his hands gripping the delicate wrists, more screams as the mech's fingers clawed and left gouge marks in the floor.

Cooling metal ticked quietly, the darkness was lit by two glowing sparks. Barricade recovered first, pulling the still shaking mech close. A single clawed digit touched sensitive spark casing, then his hand closed over it. The small mech moaned helplessly, pushing up and into his touch. Barricade smiled, satisfied, and helped the small chest plates to close. He would be back, and soon.

He curled around the small one, drawing out their last few moments together. His field had opened up from its usual tight coil and was firmly enmeshed and synched with the small mech in his arms. Barricade was surprised, but only a little. This mech was the only one he ever held, the only one he didn't push away and leave as soon as he was through with him. This one brought him comfort, relief from pain, lulled the wild thing inside of him into calm. That his field joined in only added to the encounter and left him sated and purring contentment.

He tipped the small mech's head up and looked down into the dark blind optics. His thumb stroked over beautiful mouthplates that parted beneath his touch. An odd, wistful feeling came over him then, the desire, just once, to see his favorite gazing up at him, optics fiery with passion, to hear his name moaned out and feel the touch of those mouthplates to his.

Arms crept up around his neck; Barricade rumbled at the needy whimpers.

"Stay with me." The beautiful tones were a sigh, a whisper of longing.

He nuzzled sensitive neck plates. "I'm right here."

"Stay with me, bond with me."

Barricade stiffened and pushed the mech away; his field dropped out of synch and snapped back and away from the other's as though burned. He got to his feet and turned towards the exit, his frame tense, vents blowing harsh rushes of air.

"Bond with me," came the whispered plea once more. "My spark calls for you. I- I don't even know who you are, and already you are a part of me."

Barricade froze, faceplates twisting with pain and a longing that took him by surprise. He shook for long moments, fighting, despairing, you have to give this one up, you know this, you have no choice. Barricade snarled silently; there were never choices he could make, only need and a dead Guardian's directive.

Pain finally gave way to anger and grim determination. His only goal was survival; his only need, to stay alive. It beat through him, filled him up, pushed everything else away.

"Do not come to me again." Tones icy cold, stripped of the deeper harmonics that would give him away. Rejection and warning pulsed through his field. "I have nothing to give you."

The wild thing clawed viciously at his spark and howled in protest as he turned away, the spark-broken moans of the small mech fading to silence.


Medbay - Present day

Something was calling him, nagging and insistent. He resisted, stubbornly clinging to visions and dreams and his foggy refuge. He knew that call and where it would lead, but when the call became a tug and then a steady pull, he was helpless.

He landed abruptly back in the bright place, with pain raking sharp claws over internals, the deeper ache of hunger grinding through him.

He shuddered as the hard one grunted and crouched over him, making its usual deep thrumming sound. He did not like that sound but detected no immediate threat and turned his attention to the presence of the other one all but draped over his hood.

It was small, this one, surprisingly so. Soft touches moved over him, small digits delicately questing, an intriguing sensation. Olfactory sensors detected the smell of cleaning solvent. His sensor net had pinged repeatedly-and annoyingly-about the dirt and grime that coated his frame, the foreign matter contaminating his internals. Now, the small soft one was cleaning him. He purred silently, welcoming its efforts.

The small one had an odd energy field but it blazed like a beacon, strong and welcoming. He struggled with resonances, his own field wavering and hardly the strength to attempt a synch up, but still he tried, quivering with those soft touches, trying to pinpoint that elusive field with his own. He gave it up with a ragged vent of air, engaging what was left of his sensor net instead, the better to enjoy more of the soothing, pleasurable sensations. Its ministrations pleased him. Perhaps he could lure the small one into remaining with him.

Hunger gnawed at him again. Some alarm somewhere was going off and the hard one was making sounds, noises, nonsense he couldn't understand. He wanted the big hard one to go away. The small one could stay.

"...ready... slow... shock...careful..."

The soft touches of the small one became a stroking motion that set his frame quivering. Something cold and smooth was slipped into him and then liquid heat was pouring into him.

He shuddered as it spread through him, systems running hot and hard. The surge of heat and energy, the soft strokes of the small one, blended together into one. His entire frame quaked, consciousness blanked out with the force of his overload, a small miracle in his pit of pain.

It left him full and sated and free of pain for the moment. Such relief. The small one had cleaned him, fed him-and the pleasure it brought. He wanted more of that, much more. The Saleen's demanding engine growl ended in a rattling cough.

Mikaela winced and laid a hand lightly on the hood of the hulking wreck. "That sounded painful, Ratchet, he's running really hot."

"System surge as he took up the fuel. Continue monitoring the flow, I will inform Optimus."

Ratchet stood, visibly relieved, and began to open his comm to Prime. He paused, staring fixedly down at the Saleen, torn suddenly between guilt and duty. If he informed Prime, he would be there in moments and Ratchet would have no more excuses.

Barricade had been a ready excuse and an outright escape from the confrontation he knew was coming; the Decepticon was a mess and no one had questioned the medic's singular focus on repairing him. Prime had left him undisturbed, the Medbay had become a refuge, but now... Optimus would want to know. With the Matrix informing him of each and every spark returned to its Maker, Optimus needed this. A slim hope, the chance to reclaim just one.

A subsonic wail pinged his audials, Barricade broadcast his need again and Ratchet vented a sigh. His path was set, nothing would change that now. But the Decepticon's path...

Why not let him try?

Ratchet gave a resigned flick of plating and then locked it down tight and opened his comm.

"Optimus, Barricade is online."

tbc


A/N: Happy New Year! My deepest thanks to my lovely beta, quidamling for ideas, suggestions, plot and scene development, and overall flogging me with whips to keep me focused. Much love, hun. ;)