Chapter Eleven

Optimus had insisted on waiting a week before Ratchet could set up a 'session' to give enough time for the Decepticons to take their leave of the planet. His protests to a counselling session had not been as strong as the medic had expected, and nothing close to his adamant refusal to talk about anything relating to the attack before the party. Apparently some High Grade and finally unwinding a bit with the Autobots had done him a lot of good, Ratchet mused to himself as he regarded the mech sitting across from him.

They'd elected to do this in Prime's quarters, sat opposite each other in the main living space that opened off from the entrance and led to the berth-room on the left. Ironhide was repairing training drones and the Medbay had been left to First Aid to run for the next few hours. Sitting back in the chair, Ratchet traced a hand across his jaw. "I think it'd be best if you retracted your mask, Optimus," he intoned softly.

The mech blinked out of whatever reverie he'd fallen into at the statement, frowning briefly before assenting with a schlucht of metal that left his scarred mouth exposed. "Better?"

"Much," Ratchet replied with a slight nod. "You've been wearing it almost constantly for the last few weeks." He didn't need to voice his speculations as to why Optimus would be shielding his face, disguising any sign of his emotions that may escape through his internal barriers. Instead he chose a different approach. "How are things between you and Ironhide at the moment?"

Optimus shifted a little, resettling his hands on the chair. He'd resolved himself to be as forthcoming as possible for this conversation, in the vague hope that it would exorcise the twisting images and emotions from his processor. "Better than I'd hoped," he replied at last, assessing their contact to be about the equivalent of how they'd been when they were still only friends and comrades. That was mostly down to Ironhide, though, and he shook his head at the thought. "It's awkward sometimes."

Ratchet shifted his hands to fold across his middle. "How so?"

"He's keeping his distance," Optimus replied matter-of-factly, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and rub his exposed jaw, his hand taking over from his absent faceplate. "If it weren't for the sparkbond I'd be concerned that it was because he didn't want…" 'Me' hung like a dead weight and he shook his head, shrugging it off. "Ironhide's treating me as if I might break at any moment."

The medic offered a soft smile having already seen as much. Ironhide had spent the last week hovering over his sparkmate, watchful and protective, but hadn't actually come within four feet of him of his own accord. It was always Optimus who brushed their fingers when exchanging a cube of energon, or came to sit next to him in the rec room when the Commander had sought the company of bots who didn't know how their perpetual 'down time' had truly come about.

"He's giving you space because he fears that you may still be uneasy about physical contact," he replied, noting how Optimus's optics shifted to the floor between them. "He doesn't want to force you into closeness until you're ready."

"I can see why he's doing it," Optimus admitted evenly, brow knitting in a frown. "But it's not what I want. I'm not, anxious about contact. I miss it."

Ratchet arched a brow at that, surprised to hear as much. From his own training and what he'd read from the humans about treating subjects of such an assault, he'd been anticipating the mech to be wary of physical contact for several months. But Optimus had always been one to work through his thoughts privately, seeking out what he needed to resolve as much as he could alone before really asking for help. It was what he'd done when he'd made the jump from a simple dock worker to Prime, and what he was doing now. Quickly and effectively. He'd seen him follow Mikaela into the woods at the party and re-emerge some time after she had with an obviously loaded processor. About the same time that Ironhide had vanished with Lennox, in fact. It seemed fitting somehow that the ones Prime had sacrificed himself to protect were the ones being turned to now for advice.

To Optimus's admission, he simply asked, "Why haven't you told him?"

A quirked smile and those bright optics remained averted. "Just in case I am, actually, still anxious," he replied quietly, inwardly bemused at how few words it took to express the jumble of things he felt on the subject. He missed how they'd been with each other, the little habits and rituals that came with being sparkbound, but at the same time he was terrified of reinitiating such closeness only to find that it disturbed him in some way. That it could potentially frightened his processor back into memories he was keenly trying to ignore. Nothing would be worse than transferring that fear across to Ironhide, associating him with such intimate distress.

Ratchet waited until Optimus's body relaxed from where it had tensed upon itself in the chair, his posture curved and apprehensive. Finally the tall mech blinked out of his thoughts and slid his hand up to pinch at the space between his optics, regaining his composure and finally straightening a little in the chair. Ratchet made a soft sound. "He's feeling the same apprehension, I'm certain, but the bond will actually help you in that respect. You'll be able to gauge one another instantaneously."

Optimus nodded though his head remained bowed, his countenance thoughtful. He hadn't thought of that. It was obvious really. Ironhide couldn't deceive him without completely shutting down the bond, and it would be the same for him, so the waters could be tested without fear that one of them was disguising their own feelings. Rushing themselves into something they weren't ready for yet, either from fear of hurting or fear of being hurt.

Sensing that he'd given Optimus enough to think about in that respect, Ratchet made a small gesture of moving on. "How are you in yourself? Are you recharging okay? Any fluxes?" As soldiers they were programmed to rarely dream – to do so nightly was a potentially nightmarish existence, but sometimes it still happened.

"No, my processor has remained blank during recharge." Vents hummed in a tremble of thought, his optics narrowing fractionally. "I sometimes get, flashes of what happened, but nothing in particular triggers them."

Ratchet tipped his head at that, his plates arranged in concern when Optimus fixed his gaze down again. "Flashes of what, exactly?"

A long silence drew out as if Optimus simply hadn't heard the question, but from the tension that haunted his shoulders he was clearly giving the question a lot of thought. Not that it was hard to find an answer: it was a hard answer to give. But he'd resolved himself to honest disclosure for the sake of resolving this in his processor. "Megatron using that thing," he finally uttered, forcing weight into his voice when it threatened to come out tenuous. The words still came slowly, though, every syllable a battle to force out. "Watching the ceiling because he'd forbidden me to shutter my optics. Feeling him move, his hands, his mouth everywhere. In my mouth. My parts splitting, grinding apart every time he moved against me. In me." A hard shunt of hot air. "Ironhide's voice, talking me through it across the bond. "

The medic couldn't help but notice the absence of the one thing he'd really expected to come up – the obvious trauma in these attacks. When Optimus fell silent, he pressed, "What about him forcing you to expose your spark?"

Optimus's mouth twisted downwards in a grim smile at the question, and he shifted to sit back in the chair with a sigh. "Him touching my spark bothers me the least."

The remark took the medic by surprise, and he allowed it to show only momentarily. "Why?"

Optimus met the other's gaze squarely, his expression open. "He didn't expose his spark, only manipulated mine. I had anticipated him seeing my spark from the moment I agreed to his terms," he explained with a genuine peace. It had taken a while for him to find solace in this detail, and now he held onto it fiercely as his first acceptance of the event. "We didn't touch sparks and trade feelings or memories. It was more detached than that, and I've let it go."

Taking a moment to absorb that, Ratchet steeled himself for the hard question that would likely land him in unfamiliar waters. "What is it that you can't let go?"

"The way he breached my body. The parody of human sex," Optimus admitted bluntly, hearing Ratchet's vents sigh in confirmation. His hands slid into fists, gaze flickering about the floor before he forced it back to the would-be counsellor, wanting an answer to this. "The act in itself should be meaningless. It shouldn't bother me because I'm not human, but it does."

"Because it does have meaning, one that Megatron twisted to use against you in as destructive a way as possible," Ratchet replied in a tone of firm consolation. It was important that the mech realised and accepted this; accepted his feelings as valid and not to be disregarded as unfounded. "He did it to physically invade you, to make you feel submissive."

Optimus's gaze shifted down again, a tremor passing through his frame strong enough to make his fists clench.

"He called me a fleshling whore."

The admission was so soft that Ratchet almost didn't hear it, and he had to fight his own instincts not to get up and simply put his arms around the trembling mech. He forced himself to wait, frozen in the chair.

"He said that he didn't want a spark merge, but to…" A hard sound through his vents, and his optics shuttered firmly. "To fuck me. He did it to humiliate me. To shame me."

"It's only humiliating if you allow yourself to perceive it as such," Ratchet replied softly, sitting forward in the chair in some unconscious need to offer comfort through proximity. "The shame should reflect on him, not you. It was a vicious, underhanded, cowardly attack, and there's nothing shameful in being disturbed by it." He shook his head, voice adopting its usual dryness. "Pit, I'd be surprised if you'd been as unaffected as you'd said you were."

Optimus's fists relaxed, one hand holding the arm of the chair whilst the other came up to brush his jaw. His optics remained occupied with the floor, voice soft. "He broke into my body and derived pleasure from it. I can still feel it, even though you've replaced everything."

Permitted by his patient's averted stare, Ratchet shuttered his own optics and surreptitiously touched at the space between them as those first scans flashed across his processor. The wound hacked and bored out had been so deep, like nothing he'd ever seen before. So much had had to be picked out a fragment at a time from the soup of what little fluids remained. "That will pass," he finally assured, though it wasn't something he could be certain of. Some bots had claimed that parts that had been replaced after a battle had hurt decades later, ghost pains from glitches in their processors. It usually stopped after a period of time. "Overwriting it with more welcomed sensations and experiences will help."

"I hope so. Ironhide and I haven't… since." Optimus shook his head, helpless, and looked back to Ratchet. "I can't bring myself to start anything, and he refuses to initiate. But I want to." His gaze hardened. "I don't want the last mech to touch my spark to be Megatron."

"Is that all?"

A thin, almost regretful smile. "And I want us to get better. To be sparkmates again."

Ratchet smiled warmly at that, confidant that, sooner or later, that would be the case. "He waited for you for centuries before telling you how he felt. I think he'll wait a little longer for an interface."

Optimus matched the expression with additional relief, resting his jaw on his fist. "True."

The medic sat back again, thinking on the other element that he'd wanted to cover. Supporting Prime right now was a priority, and one that Ironhide, Prowl and himself were trying to do to the best of their ability. But as everyone else on the Base had remained in the dark as to what had happened, there'd been more than one instance where an innocent action had caused unneeded harm. The Twin's violent boisterousness shattering the quiet that had previously reigned in the rec room that had made Optimus jerk like a plasma bomb had gone off; Bumblebee getting behind the tall mech and playfully holding him by the hips as a barrier against Wheeljack whom had been approaching him with a spiked implement, earning a panicked whine from his weapons systems; little things that would never have bothered Prime before but now jarred him.

"What about everyone else? Are you still content that they don't know?"

"It's complicated," Optimus admitted, uneasy. "This isn't information I would wish them to have, and there is no need for them to know. But I also feel as if I should make some kind of confession." A hand moved across his armour to tap at a point over the Matrix, an entirely unconscious action. "I feel as though I have betrayed the Autobots as Prime by, giving myself to Megatron, even though I did what I thought was right for them."

"You thought it was right at the time." Ratchet frowned, having wondered on this point himself. "Do you think you would have done differently if you'd had time to think about it?"

"No." The reply was flat and solid, without apology. Clearly it had been dwelt upon for a long time already. "Even though I realise now that it was a mistake, I wouldn't have chosen to do anything other than to ultimately meet Megatron's terms for peace. But, I should have thought about the wider repercussions. Prepared myself better so that it wouldn't be affecting me so much afterwards. Prevented it from weakening me as a leader for the Autobots. I-"

"You're still a mech, Optimus," Ratchet broke in before the commander could continue tearing strips off himself and rebuild the armour about his emotions, undoing the progress he'd made so far. "Everyone makes mistakes, gets hurt, and everyone takes time to recover. And you're not letting them down now by needing to recover from this."

Optimus's jaw had hardened, one hand clenched into a fist. "I'm Prime. There's a limit."

"I think you're letting the symbol get in the way of yourself here," Ratchet stated with narrowed optics, injecting more sympathy into his tone than he had in the past when he'd reminded Optimus that he didn't need to act as untouchable as his title suggested, and that it was detrimental that he try. "You were once just Orion. A part of you still is. The only way you're going to get past this is if you let yourself be just a mech. You're not invulnerable, and you can't expect yourself to be."

The Autobot leader looked away at that truth, bitterly noting that before Megatron had walked him to his berth on the Nemesis that he'd sorely needed reminding of that. He'd felt himself die in the woods, still had the nauseating memory of seeing his spark chamber shatter outwards as he was impaled and of the trees slowly tipping as he crumpled. But then he'd gasped back into a world of heat and pain, his injuries screaming at his systems that were now burning with unexpected life at the same time as Sam screamed at him to get up and to fight. He'd come back from the dead, hadn't even gotten off the ground before his body was encumbered by more armour and weapons than he could ever be comfortable with, and charged into one last savage fight with the Fallen barely a minute later.

Though Sam's trials to bring about his resurrection had humbled him, the fact that even death hadn't kept him down for more than a few days had gone to his head a little. It was why he'd been so confident to go to the Nemesis knowing what would happen, had consented easily to Megatron's terms in the arrogant assumption that he would just accept it into his processor as he had dying. He hadn't expected it to hurt this much, and to be rippling out to affect others. Especially Ironhide, whom after trying to shut him out of the bond he'd clung to like a lifeline whilst the Decepticon satisfied his whims. At first he'd blamed Ironhide for not allowing his mind to go blank and his body passive on the berth, for encouraging him to speak and think and feel. To acknowledge what was happening to his body. But now he was grateful. It was very likely that it was what had allowed him to survive it now. Because he wasn't invulnerable. And he was hurting.

Being reminded of that again by Ratchet caused his optics to darken, mouth tightening into a thin line. The medic watched the internal tirade silently, noting how Optimus's cooling systems had come online to soothe his agitated lines. "It's okay to hurt, Optimus. It doesn't make you weak," he murmured, shifting forwards again when the mech moved to cup his face in his hands, fingers meeting in a point between his hazy optics.

Hands issuing a tinny rattle as they shook, Optimus pressed them harder against his face to silence the noise and made a soft sound of acknowledgement. It felt like his spark had just cracked in half, and it was a relief as much as it was agony.

Casting aside professionalism as he saw the last armour plates slide down from the mech, Ratchet closed the space between them to kneel before his Prime. Placing his hands gently about the broad wrists, he met the blue optics as they flickered back to meet his stare.

"It's okay."

The blue light wavered at the edges again before the shutters came down, and the plates of Optimus's face shifted together tightly. His head bowed deeper, resting fully in his hands as his fingers pressed into his helm. Ratchet kept one hand about a wrist and moved the other to cup the nape of Optimus's neck, his touch strong against the trembling lines.

"It's okay."

A shudder at that and his vents hitched, fans whining jerkily behind them. Ratchet shuttered his own optics and concentrated on regulating his own intakes, retracting the internal mufflers so that the sounds of his systems working came out louder through his frame. He sighed inwardly as he sensed Optimus instinctively catching onto the sounds and beginning to force his own systems to imitate, regulating them. Their vents shared warm air in reflected eddies, one trembling on the out and the other bearing itself as the steady model. The sound of air moving between them, through them, filled the room with a busy silence, offsetting any oppressiveness.

The medic's comm. chirped at an obscene volume, causing Optimus to straighten instantly out of the consoling hands and draw his composure back about him. Within moments he appeared stoic and regal again, his countenance strong though his optics remained hazy at their borders. Ratchet sighed and sat back on his haunches, allowing the message to come through aloud.

First Aid to Ratchet, you're needed in the Medbay.

Gritting his dental plates and pinching between his optics, Ratchet tried to temper his tone. I'm in the middle of something. Can't you and Wheeljack take care of it?

Uh, I really think we're out of our league here, Sir.

Ratchet looked up and found Optimus's concerned optics fixed on him. What's happened?

It's Starscream. He's been brought in by the Seekers. A hesitant pause. Do you want us to wait for you?

Optimus made the decision for him by rising to his feet and making for the door, his features tight and all sign of unease from his body gone. With a long-suffering sound, Ratchet got up and followed at an equally hurried pace.

Starscream moved like a wild animal against the back wall of the Medbay, trampling the items that had fallen to the ground with sharp metallic squeals beneath his feet. His nul ray was raised and tracked manically back and forth between the two Autobots trying to placate him, his face a twisted mask of fury. A steady trail of energon was running down his back and legs. First Aid had a sedative poised in his hand but didn't dare get any closer, and Wheeljack simply held his hands up with wide optics.

A little way back and facing the standoff, Ironhide stood behind the two other Seekers, a firm hand on each of their shoulders whilst his cannons tracked their leader. His gaze didn't move when the doors opened to admit Optimus and Ratchet, the former stopping to assess the scene.

"Starscream, Ironhide, stand down. We are at peace," Optimus snapped, looking between the two mechs.

"He shot at Wheeljack," Ironhide replied flatly, cannons twitching to the right as Starscream moved to put a berth between himself and the Autbots.

Skywarp looked to the Prime. "It was a warning shot."

"No, he just missed," Thundercracker corrected with an arched brow. To Optimus's gaze he nodded to the berth beside them, specifically to the ragged metal sheets that lay atop it still dripping fluids. "Megatron tearing his wings off sent him a bit… We didn't know where else to go."

"Understood," Optimus intoned with a nod, looking to the wounded Seeker again. Starscream's wild gaze locked onto his with a flicker of recognition though the nul ray remained raised.

An unspoken exchange. Did he?

Starscream's arm wavered on the mech. Finally he shook his head and lowered the weapon. Not this time.

Optimus took a step forward to test the waters, satisfied when the Seeker didn't take a step away. He didn't move his gaze as he spoke. "Ironhide, take Skywarp and Thundercracker out to the yard. Wheeljack and First Aid go with them and attend to any repairs they may need. Ratchet and I will remain with Starscream."

Ironhide's cannons powered down with a whine. :You sure about this?:

:Don't worry, 'Hide, it'll be fine. There are just too many bots in here right now.:

The dark mech waited for Wheeljack to move towards the door and lead the Seekers out, looking to Optimus with bright optics before following on. :Thought you were talking to Ratchet.:

A faint smile. :I was. Don't worry, 'Hide, it's alright. I'll see you tonight.:

The room emptied of all but the three mechs, and a subtle gesture from Optimus stayed Ratchet's instinct to administer a sedative. He began examining the torn wings on the berth instead, running his fingers along the damaged struts. "They can be reattached, Prime, but I'll need to see to his back now. Several main lines have been severed."

Optimus tipped his head to Starscream but maintained his distance. "Will you permit my medic to help you?"

Starscream looked between the two before giving a slight nod, re-holstering the nul ray in a jerked motion and moving to rest his hand on the closest berth. Optimus came to stand in front of him, watching Ratchet move behind the damaged mech to assess the damage. "Megatron tore your wings off?"

A sneer that turned into a hiss as he arched away from Ratchet's fingers. "He wasn't pleased with our wanting to stay behind."

Optimus shuttered his optics with a rattling sigh through his vents. He'd expected some sort of punishment to be dealt out on Starscream for wanting to leave, but this kind of damage was beyond cruel. Taking a Seeker's ability to fly was like withholding energon, and it was a double blow now as their incentive to remain had been having the freedom to fly about Earth's atmosphere. "He stripped you of the very thing you wanted to stay for."

There was a crack of a soldering iron from behind as Ratchet closed up the weeping lines, and Starscream dug his claws a clean inch into the berth. His optics narrowed on Optimus, blood red and seething. "You really think that Megatron would just let us go without any repercussions? It could have been any of us who he turned on. I just happened to be in the way."

"No you weren't," Optimus replied quietly, just loud enough for Starscream to hear. "It was always going to be you who paid for it."

Starscream didn't seem to know what to do with that statement, clicking his gaze downwards and keeping it there. He grunted as Ratchet made the short-term repairs, his slighter frame twitching with exhaustion and pain.

Ratchet deactivated the solder and looked to Optimus over the Seeker's shoulder. "He's going to need a transfusion," he stated simply, mouth a grimace as he continued to catalogue the damage.

Wordlessly Optimus drew out a fuel line from his midsection, reaching for one of Starscream's hands clutching at the table. Meeting no resistance from the stiffly trembling mech, he forced the end into a slot in his wrist and began to pump energon through once he felt the connective seal fall into place. Starscream could just be given energon to replenish his systems, of course, but with this much damage a charged supply was needed, one which Prime could amply provide with very little effort.

"I could have done it," Ratchet murmured as he came about the berth to run a quick scan on the fluids being passed. He could detect Optimus's spark energy curling through the connective line, causing Starscream to utter a relieved sigh as some of the burning sensations plaguing his core systems began to abate.

"No, I trust Prime," Starscream spoke up, his gaze still averted though his body was beginning to relax.

"And I don't mind," Optimus assured, resettling his weight on his feet for a longer stay as his energon was drawn into the Seeker's parched systems. He took the cube of energon that Ratchet handed him with a grateful smile, taking a sip as he looked back to the feeding mech. "The Nemesis left two days ago. Where have you been?"

Starscream glanced up, grimacing. "We've set up a temporary shelter on the volcano." A hiss as Ratchet began to pick at his wounded parts again. "It was Thundercracker who insisted on bringing us here. Apparently my… injuries outstripped the supplies we have."

"I'm glad he did," Optimus replied, exchanging a glance with Ratchet. The medic's brow was tight with concentrating, suggesting quite clearly how bad the mech's condition was. With the amount of energon that was being drawn out of his systems to stabilize him, he guessed that the Seeker would only have managed to survive another day without help. "Is that where you'll be wanting to return to?"

"That'd be pure negligence," Ratchet snapped quietly, extending a probe from his thumb into the neural line inside the mech's backstrut to ease off his pain sensors.

"It's an optimal site to produce energon," Starscream replied flatly, ignoring the medic. "And we don't require looking after by the Autobots."

"It wouldn't be caretaking if you remained," Optimus said as he rose the cube to his mouth again and drained it, though Starscream was vastly outstripping his intake. "Without the war we are no longer a part of enemy factions. You'd simply be joining fellow Cybertronians. More than likely we'll be moving to that site on the volcano as a more permanent home, which you would be welcomed to join."

Starscream gave a vague nod to indicate that he'd listened but gave no sign as to whether or not he agreed with it, his optics shuttering slowly and his head cocking as if listening to something on the edge of hearing. "You're transmitting, Prime."

Optimus shifted a little at that, though he'd already known that emotions could be passed along through bio-electrified energon in a transfusion. He looked to the medic, his unseen gaze met with a dismissive shrug.

"It's a side-effect of the charge," Ratchet explained smoothly, his focus still intent on his work. "Prime can't help it."

Lips parting a little, Starscream clicked softly at the thin ribbon of feeling that seeped into his spark as the donated energon soaked into his systems. "You're sparkbound."

There was nothing in the tone that indicated anything other than it being a statement, and Optimus gave a slight nod when red optics relit on him. "I am."

Starscream shifted a little on his feet, gripping the berth and bowing his head as Ratchet pulled something now useless free from his body, and what remained of the stabilizing wing strut was laid on the berth next to him. "You're lucky."

Optimus smiled a little at that, his voice equally soft. "I know."

Ratchet stepped back with optics bright and flickering in a scan. Finally he looked to Optimus and gestured to the fuel line. "Alright, that's enough to stablize him. No sense in getting you so low that you need a berth as well. I'll need to put him under for the rest of the work."

The tall mech saw the burning question lurking in the red eyes that watched him. "You'll reattach his wings?"

"By the end of the day they'll be sore but working," Ratchet assured, offering Starscream a thin smile. His gaze shifted back to Optimus. "Retract the line and go have at least four cubes before resting. And that's an order."

It was a grizzled kind of affection was Optimus was very familiar with it and smiled at the genuine concern that lay within it, obediently sealing off the connection before drawing the fuel line back into himself. "I'll check in on you tomorrow, Starscream."

The Seeker made a vague sound, lifting a knee up onto the berth and moving to lie on his stomach under Ratchet's guiding hands. The medic tripped his processor to put him under as soon as he'd settled, his complex hands sliding on his hips as he arched a brow at Optimus. "Go rest – I mean it. You've done more than enough today."

Optimus's optics narrowed in thought at that, though he did take his leave of the Medbay to allow Ratchet to work. He smiled unseen in the corridor outside. "Almost enough."

Ironhide returned to his shared quarters with one hand still pinching his optics from a very long day. Skywarp and Thundercracker had been queerly amicable about his supervision, waiting to hear word on Starscream as Wheeljack and First Aid made minor repairs and calibrations. His own processor had been occupied with his sparkmate, making him particularly glad of their complete co-operation, though he'd been mindful not to encroach on the bond today. He didn't know where Optimus's mind was going to be given his counselling session that morning, and he didn't want to encroach unwanted.

Finding the lights off as he stepped inside, he assumed himself to be alone and moved into the berth room for a quick recharge before he'd check in on his sparkmate's office with the intention to drag him out. Instead, he found himself pausing in the doorway watching Optimus's recharging form on the berth. Obviously it had only been a light rest as the sound of him coming into the room brought the mech's optics online.

"Go back to recharging," Ironhide murmured as he came about the berth, rolling his shoulders with loud pops and clicks as he loosened himself up to do the same.

Optimus sat up with a thin smile, moving down the berth to sit on its end beside where Ironhide stood watching him with a quizzical expression. "I think I'm done," he replied simply, slipping his hand about the darker mech's and drawing him closer. "I think I want my sparkmate now."

Ironhide made a soft sound of assent, mingled with approval though his optics narrowed as he came about to stand before the other mech between his legs. "You sure?"

:Yes: came the simple reply, flowing warm across their bond on a tide of affection for him and want to reaffirm -them-.

With Optimus sat on the edge of the berth, long legs parted to run alongside Ironhide's as he stood, their jaws were equalised in height. One hand thumbing the central seam of the larger mech's chassis in slow, sensual touches, Ironhide ran the other about Optimus's neck, stroking the neural lines offered up between plates. Optics shuttered and cheek resting against the dark mech's, Optimus ran his hands slowly about wide hips and up along the thick backstrut, tracing familiar paths and feeling the heavy engine vibrate through his fingertips.

On their own the touches were comforting, isolated gestures of affection that they had given and taken away from the berth in public. Handing in a pad in Prime's office, Ironhide would come about the stand at his shoulder and rub a hand along the tense lines in his neck just as he was doing now. Passing each other on patrol there'd be a glancing touch to chassis or back, a brief instance where they were openly sparkmates on duty. It was only in the sanctity of privacy that they permitted the small touches to come together, to unite in close mutuality and lead them to the logical destination of interface and heady overload. Such touches hadn't been a part of their lives since Megatron, and the rediscovery was cautious yet sensational.

The bond was wide open, exposing every flitting anxiety that encroached upon the warm eddies of arousal building and flowing from both mechs. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement not to question or apologise for them, rendering them incidental though they remained mindful of their presence.

Apprehension was keeping their arousal tempered now, mostly Ironhide's to the specialist's own surprise. His touches restrained to two areas on the mech's body spoke of his fear of pushing Optimus too far, or making him feel obliged to go faster than he was comfortable from feeling his own desire. It was very obvious over the bond, and Optimus smiled at the concern, hands sliding up about the mech's broad sides to touch his neck.

:I trust you, 'Hide.:

A rumble through billowing vents, and Ironhide pulled back a little to meet relit optics. :We go at your pace.: It wasn't a suggestion, coming as a promise through the bond. When Optimus shuttered an acknowledgement Ironhide laid a brief kiss, as soft as their substance could be, and slid his hands downwards to the slim waist. With a quirked smile, he knelt at the foot of the berth and chuckled at the surprise that bubbled back at him. :Relax. I want to try something.:

Optimus gave a shaky nod, finding it an effort not to keep his unease from transmitting now as blunt fingers traced about his hips, down his thighs and finally swept down to his interface panel. Since bonding a year ago they'd rarely used their cables and ports, finding that they weren't a patch on spark merges in terms of pleasure and relief. Megatron's hand had been the first to encroach on that panel in almost a year, and he'd destroyed it. The replaced unit was sharply sensitive, sliding open easily at a requesting touch from Ironide's thumb to expose bundles of cables that split to feed into his legs, all shiny with lubrication for movement. The new neural lines twitched with the exposure, sending a cold wave through his legs that warmed when Ironhide's vents breathed heat over them.

Unbidden the memory of claws splitting the delicate feeds swelled up in his processor, and Optimus's hands moved to grip the edge of the berth as he willed them back. The tirade didn't subside, and immediately he could feel a ghost pain from the serrated implement that Megatron had forced inside, sawing into his parts and butchering systems that had always been too deeply placed to sustain injury in the past. As Ironhide pulsed warm air onto the open ports and glowing lines, he couldn't suppress a hiss as his hands tightened, denting the berth.

:Trust me, love: Ironhide murmured, his hands moving to rest on taut thighs as he brought his mouth to touch at the open panel. Running his glossa over the trembling ports, he registered bitterness from the lubricants but a sweet buzz from the exposed tips of neural lines in the interface cables. Bringing a hand to a sensitive point in the pit of his throat, he teased one of his own lines between thumb and finger, grunting as a hot swell passed through his systems and forcibly down the bond.

Stunned and bewildered by the act, Optimus was caught-off guard by the wave of pleasure that passed into him without warning down the bond, arching with a gasp through his vents that was strong enough to draw sound through his vocal processor. :What're you doing?:

:Overwriting something: Ironhide replied flatly, catching a cable between his dental plates and teasing it out, flicking it with his glossa as he continued to self-stimulate with trembling hands. Encouraged by Optimus's groan and the hand that moved to touch his helm, he sent a soft charge through his mouth to race down through the heated ports. Another low sound of pleasure, and the mech thanked Primus that this was working for his lover: displacing the memory of how Megatron felt butchering his interface unit in a foreign act by associating pleasure with another that would be meaningless if it weren't for his fingers working over his own sweet spots.

More than that, his attention to the previously destroyed area on the mech's body sent a message of acceptance, and reclaimed it as theirs again. Theirs for mutual pleasure alone, no matter how much the memory of Megatron's body might try to keep a hold of it. Taint it.

He felt as much as heard Optimus's chassis split above him, shuddering at how the exposure enhanced the feeling coming from his own working hands, and again at how the tall mech jerked when the sensation was shared. Bringing his hand from his neck, Ironhide traced the bottom of his own chassis in a teasing stroke before parting the thick plates, tripping over his parts just as his partner had hundreds of times before.

:'Hide, if you don't get up here now, I'm putting you on monitor duty for a month: Optimus growled tightly over the bond, the hand on the kneeling mech's head tightening in spasm as he tried to bring his body away from that keen mouth.

With a dark chuckle, Ironhide came up obligingly and crawled up onto the berth as Optimus shifted back on it to lie, finally settling astride slim hips with his feet tucked back under his thighs. He looked down upon darkened azure optics, smiling at the fuzzy edges to the light and shuttering his own when strong hands slid into his waist, ghosting upwards.

:You doing okay?: he asked down the bond as a low moan was drawn from his vocals, shifting his body as a heady charge started to thrum in his chassis.

Optimus wrapped his hands around the bases of his sparkmate's cannons to draw him down, arching when the proximity made their sparks pulse towards each other. :Yes. Just don't stop.:

:Wasn't planning on it: Ironhide replied darkly with a slick grin, resting on his knees to run his hands along the broad chassis, shivering when the throbbing spark sent tendrils out along the warm metal to chase his fingers. Usually it was about now that he fixed his hands somewhere on his sparkmate's body to hold him: wrists, shoulders, neck. Inherently dominant gestures. Resisting the habit now, he found himself at a loss as to what to do with his hands. :You want to top for a change?:

Stilling at the soft inquiry, Optimus put a hand to Ironhide's jaw to draw his focus. :It's just us here, 'Hide. You don't need to do anything differently.: The dark mech frowned, vents thrumming. Optimus smiled. :I like what you're doing, and I'd tell you if I didn't. I love you.:

:Love you too,: Ironhide rumbled back, strong hands schluchting up to grip the mech's shoulders, slowly bringing one to lay under his neck and brace him against the berth. The other traced a long arm down to the hand, their fingers intertwining as he finally brought their chassis together.

Optimus bucked with a shout, optics shuttering and systems exploding in on themselves in a flurry of sensation, his free arm wrapping about a broad shoulder. Against the drunken heat of arousal was a cold stream of panic, but it seemed to only hone the edge of want as Ironhide's grip on him tightened and the mech groaned long and loud against his finial.

Legs tangled and vents billowing hot, copper-scented air, they ground to slot their bodies even closer to one another, sparks pulsating in thick waves and nearly synchronized. The bond sang, their vocals hovered at the deepest timbres and their limbs grappled for even more closeness. Pinned and heaving, Optimus forced his optics open to see Ironhide's head bowed over his, dentals gritted as he lost himself in the nova of their shared sparks now close to merging. Love, need, relief, protectiveness, possessiveness and devotion filled his processor from the bond, and he found himself letting go off the last hook's of fear from the memory of Megatron's body over him. It was enough to shatter the final lines separating him from overload, and his own shout of ecstasy dragged Ironhide over the precipice. Their sparks flashed between them in a molten explosion that ran on and on, seizing their bodies before stealing all strength from their systems and leaving them collapsed around each other.

Optimus regained himself first some time later, bringing the hand that Ironhide wasn't holding to the mechs face and tipping his head to kiss him. It was a slow kiss, gradually deepening not from want but from a communication of what this meant across the bond. A message that couldn't be articulated. When their glossa finally parted and Ironhide rested his helm against his, Optimus ran his fingers down the mech's cheeks and shuttered his optics with a sigh. :I never thanked you. For what you did.:

Ironhide smiled a little, flexing his grip on Optimus's hand to squeeze it. :You never had to.:

Usually they would shift now to allow their chassis plates to reseal and cover their sparks, but for now they enjoyed the proximity of each other's souls. Optimus sighed through his vents, bringing his hand from Ironhide's cheek to cup the nape of his neck. :I think we're going to be okay.:

Propping himself up on his elbows, Ironhide regarded the younger mech beneath him with dim optics in a soft, searching gaze. Finally his mouth quirked into a smile, sated and content. :Yeah: he breathed down the bond, bowing his head to lay another kiss. :Yeah, I reckon so.:

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed it. A review, either good or bad, would be fantastic and much appreciated.

Thank you again. Though challenging, it was a pleasure to write this and see what people thought of it as it developed.

~ Borath