The twins' adventure continues ...

0-0-0-0-0-0

This time it was Sideswipe who sat bolt upright, trailing wires and cords, optics wide but obviously not seeing the med bay.

"Okay," said Wheeljack, pushing the injectors that put both Autobots back into a sleep cycle. "Two down, one more to go."

"That's how it should work, if I designed it right." The inventor smiled.

"If you designed it right, says the mech who blows hell out of half the lab deck on a twice-weekly basis," Ratchet snorted, and sat back down to watch Sideswipe's monitors.

Wheeljack grinned. "Every failure is only a roadmark to success," he said.

Ratchet snorted again, eyes trained on Sideswipe's monitors.

0-0-0-0-0-0

A deep hum permeated the dark space Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, and Mirage occupied.

"Occupied" here being a rather tenuous word. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe were used to physical closeness, and in fact seemed to require it of one another: twin bond and all that. Mirage, on the other hand, was practically trapped between Sunstreaker and the wall, and to get all three of them out of sight, Sunstreaker had put one arm around Mirage's shoulders, and the other around Sideswipe's. Who, predictably, had whispered, "Aw, I didn't know you still cared."

Predictably, Sunstreaker hissed, "Shut up!"

Predictably, Mirage should have rolled his eyes.

He didn't.

Mirage was not used to being scared right out of his paint job, but here they were in the Nemesis, and there, right outside their little broom closet, or whatever the hell it was, were a whole bunch of Decepticons he did not wish to meet again. He could hear the rumble that was Motormaster's vocalizer, and a group of, Primus help them, Starscream's clones, along with the original, never-to-be-fully-duplicated-and-thank-Primus-for-that, Starscream.

Starscream's clones. Bitchy, whining, egotistical Starscream's bitchy, whining, egotistical clones.

Starscream, going on and on (and on) about how this was his least favorite thing in the world to be doing; Ramjet, lying about something, you could just tell it from his voice; Skywarp, sniveling about something else; Slipstream, shutting Starscream himself down with bare politeness, unless Mirage was much mistaken; Sunstorm, saying, "Yes, of course!" to Motormaster; and last but hardly least, Thundercracker, doing his Sunstreaker imitation: they moved very slowly down the hall outside the Autobots' prison, quarreling, quibbling, sniping at each other, and, so far as he could tell, doing very little actual searching for the three Autobots, as they went.

What more could you possibly want out of life.

A hand rattled their doorknob, unlocking it.

"Sst!" Mirage said. "Close your optics!"

Of course they would have quarreled with him, these were the Lamborghini twins after all, but the door to their prison began to creak open, and they understood: Close your optics, they give us away. All three closed their optics and bowed their heads.

The door hinges screamed, and Mirage felt a prickle of light falling across his arm, and then Starscream's voice loudly penetrated their cozy hideout.

"But I told you, no, they wouldn't! After all, the slaggers're Autobots! And did you listen to me? No, you didn't! And then they didn't, so we won't find them, just like I said we slagging wouldn't, and everything I had planned went up in smoke because you didn't listen ..."

Judging from the acoustics, he never looked into their doorway. The door itself slammed and the light went away and the voices receded.

The twins and Mirage remained immobile, and quiet. Their enemies were still too close.

0-0-0-0-0-0

One hour (during which they had not spoken, and moved as little as possible; Mirage's plating was still warm from contact with Sunstreaker) later, Sideswipe cautiously creaked open the door.

No Decepticons pounced on them from the hall.

In fact, no Decepticons seemed to be in sight.

Mirage, still feeling the pressure of the elder twin's chestplate against him, that arm about his shoulders, made a head gesture, and they followed the slight spy down corridors whose floors were not clean.

So here they were deep in enemy territory, where if they were unlucky they would be captured and tortured, or if only averagely lucky shot on sight, and Mirage was wondering to himself why he thought of Sunstreaker as the elder? Autobot twins were extremely rare, but not so rare that it was known that one spark kicked its chassis to life first. Was that, in fact, Sunstreaker? Was he so much more mature than the ebullient Sideswipe that -

Mirage came out of his head long enough to peer down one corridor, then down another set at ninety-four degrees to the first. Why these mechs could not build square was beyond him.

Those two directions were bare of Decepticons. The way they had come had no Decepticons in hot pursuit; the other way, at eighty-six degrees to theirs, was also unpopulated.

He jerked his head toward the target corridor, and they went, silently as might be.

Spy first, elder next, junior last.

What the hell did it matter? Mirage wondered. Sideswipe was infinitely the better-natured of the two ... protective of his brother, although from time to time it seemed he had difficulty putting up with him.

Of course, that one ran both ways. But Sideswipe was never on one side of an argument, Sunstreaker on the other. Or if they did have opposing points of view, their disagreements were not put on display for the other Autobots. All for one and one for all, that was Sides and Sunny.

The open air duct, its grating on the floor below it, that they wanted into loomed ahead.

Mirage said to himself that it was time to stop talking to himself about someone he had a crush on who had never shown any sign whatsoever of returning it. Sunstreaker had never sought him out, never so much as sat at the same table to have morning energon.

Slag it, anyway.

"Give me a leg up," he hissed to Sideswipe.

"What?"

"Give me a leg up. Then Sunny boosts you. Then we both pull up Sunny." Because I don't need any more distractions, like lying here beside your brother!

Sideswipe grabbed Mirage by the leg and shoved him up; Mirage dived into the duct, and Sunny boosted Sideswipe.

And that's when their luck went sour. The bare floor resounded to the clang of multiple metal pedes.

"Sunny! Sunny!" hissed Sideswipe, reaching down.

But Sunstreaker, looking down the corridor, backed away, and raced to the corner, moving quickly into one of the not-quite-ninety-degree cross-corridors. He went as stealthily as he could, and the heavy feet of the group of Decepticons approached.

"Sunny!" said Sideswipe, despair in his voice.

"Come on," Mirage said, edging away on elbows and knees. "Best thing we can do for him is stay free ourselves. We don't want to get caught here. Come on. You first."

They scooched themselves down the duct, finding refuge in another cross-duct.

Lights were shown down their alleyway. "Don't see nothin'," a bored voice said.

"No scratches in th' dirt?"

"Naw, nothin'. Look fer yerself."

Sides looked at Mirage, who was folding a small polishing cloth with concentration. He understood suddenly that the haste had not merely been to get themselves out of sight, but to eradicate their tracks, which Mirage had done through the simple expedient of dragging the cloth after himself.

"Hey," said one of the 'cons at the opening, "what's going on down there?"

"Don't know," said the other. "Let's go see."

The two fugitives were behind the next grate over when Sunstreaker, head drooping and hands shackled behind him, was carried past them. Small drops of energon marked his passage down the corridor; the yellow twin's trailing pedes dragged them into lines.

Mirage grabbed the red twin in a grip both of them knew could disable Sideswipe in a nanoklik if Mirage chose, and kept his eyes off Sideswipe's face.

Mirage watched until a turning of the corridor took them out of sight. Sideswipe, too. He hadn't fought to get out of Mirage's grasp, even though there were only eight 'cons with Sunny, and it was possible they could have killed them all. Possible, not likely, and almost certainly they could not have done it fast enough to prevent them from raising the alarm.

"Let's go get him before they've tortured him so badly he can't walk," Mirage said. "But first, we've got to find what we were sent for."

"And you can't tell us - me - what that is."

"Sunny can't tell them because he doesn't know. He'll use that to stay alive," Mirage said quietly. "You can too. It's safest that way. Help me do this, we get Sunny, we all get out of here. The faster we do this, the faster we get to Sunny."

"They won't be gentle with him," Sideswipe said, his handsome face looking less lost.

"No. Reason to hurry, don't you think?"

0-0-0-0-0-0

About a half-joor later, after he posted Sideswipe on guard near the entrance to a grubby and anonymous engineering department, Mirage found what he was looking for.

It was not locked up, which surprised him.

He subspaced an untidy pile of papers and several jars of goo with arcane labels. Let 'Jack sort it out ... maybe Perceptor would help.

"Come on," he said, touching Sideswipe's arm. "This way."

They shuffled a grating back into place over the duct they had used to get to the lab; they had no way to replace the screws, so Mirage subspaced them too.

Mirage was concerned for the red twin. He wasn't focusing well; his eyes were consistently internal. This is not optimal functioning for any undercover agent. "Sideswipe, you okay?"

"They're torturing him," Sideswipe said expressionlessly.

"How can you tell?"

"He's shut me out. They hurt him, and then they left him alone in the dark and the cold. He's shut me out because it was so bad. Not entirely, that's impossible ... "

"Can you lead me there?"

"What can you do?" Sideswipe said bitterly. "We're built for combat. So are the mechs with him. You're ... not."

Mirage smiled a smiled that should have scared Sideswipe witless. "That's right. That lets me do things you and Sideswipe, and they, can't."

0-0-0-0-0-0

Sunstreaker dangled from chains that had been welded to his wrists.

The Decepticons hadn't bothered to shut off any sensation receptors before they undertook this operation. And they had not been gentle with the Autobot, either in capturing him, or in the encouragement they administered to encourage him to answer their questions. He had burn marks all over his finish. Nothing deep, no smoke or sparks, but he'd lost quite a lot of energon and cooling fluid, to judge by the color of the pools of liquid he stood in.

His optics were dark: disconnected, most likely. A little fillip of cruelty.

Autobots are less flexible than humans: tendons and muscles can stretch and be lengthened. Cables, not so much. An Autobot in yoga class would be the one the teacher spent the most time with, the one all the other students watched with a pitying smile. (And, if that student were Sunstreaker, the one who said, "Fuck you, and your Down Dog too!" when he caught the smile.)

An ordinary human bound as Sunstreaker was would have been able to raise his arms a little above waist level by stretching the shoulders; a practitioner of yoga would of course have been able to do better. Sunstreaker, like Sideswipe, was built heavily with combat in mind. So he had bent at the waist - it was that or allow his shoulder joints or upper arm beams to fracture as the Decepticons pulled his wrists as far up and back as possible, and then a little farther ... and then left him.

Mirage had seldom been so angry in his life. Sideswipe gave him a startled glance; the rage must have been rolling off the spy in waves, he realized. "You keep watch," he said curtly to the red twin. "I'll cut him down. You take point while we get to the pickup point. Yeah?"

Sideswipe growled, and moved forward.

"Sunstreaker. It's Mirage."

Sunstreaker made no reply, and Mirage wondered if he were unconscious. He shrugged, and went back to using a very fine torch on the joint of the bracelets, using one cut to free Sunstreaker's arms of both the weld and the chain.

When the chain came free, Sunstreaker staggered forward, unable to get his arms out in front of himself to catch his balance. Mirage grabbed him, as gently as possible, around the waist, and supported him until he caught himself: but Sunstreaker began to struggle, pushing at Mirage's hands, doing his damaged best to fight.

"Sunstreaker!" he said, quietly, deflecting two blows from brawny arms. "Sunny! Sides is here, and I'm Mirage. We're getting you out of - slag! Sides! Sides! Speak to Sunny through the bond! I can't use the comm, the 'cons will hear it too!"

Because he realized suddenly that the Decepticons had disconnected not merely Sunstreaker's optics, but his audio, too, and then left him strung up in pain, cold, darkness, and silence. To save Sideswipe from undergoing the same experience, Sunstreaker had cut the bond between himself and his twin.

Left totally alone in pain, blind and deaf ...

Without warning, Sunstreaker went almost limp under Mirage's hands. He got him over to a bunk, or something, sitting down anyway, and had a look at him: nothing he could fix here. They'd had a medic in to do the work, it looked like.

Sunstreaker was moving his arms experimentally, getting back some motion.

Sideswipe said suddenly, beyond them, "I hear someone coming."

Mirage made the split-second decision he had to. "You take Sunny and get out."

Sideswipe said, "What? No! You go!"

"Don't argue, Sides. I can't communicate with him. You can."

"But -"

"Go. Now."

"What will you do?" Sides asked, heaving his brother up into the grating.

"Make them sorry they were ever sparked," Mirage said quietly. He pulled on the black gloves he never used except for what humans would call "wet work" or "termination with extreme predjuice."

Sideswipe gave him a wild look as he jumped into the duct, and Mirage put the grate back over the hole. "Get," he said.

He turned back to the empty brig, and began to think through his lines of fire.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Some three cycles later, Mirage made it back to base.

"You have some slaggin' nerve, showing up here like this," Ratchet said, grumbling as he took a metaphorical wrench to various dents, dings, bullet holes, scratches, over-tensioned cables, and nicked lines.

"It's not so very bad," Mirage said, and closed eyes that he hadn't known were that weary.

Ratchet snorted, but got gentler.

A few minutes and turnings-off of receptors later, Mirage said, "Sides and Sunny okay?"

"Sideswipe, for some reason, had no injuries at all. He complained that the trip home was boring. Sunstreaker, once I put his optics and audio back online, was his usual charming self. I also replaced a few cables and the ball joints in his shoulders. Rest of it was pretty minor." The medic paused, and put a sensor off-line. "It's good you got him out as fast as you did. Sunny isn't programmed to endure long patches of solitude ... not in silence and darkness."

"And pain."

"No. And Sideswipe told me the slagging idiot severed the bond temporarily, too."

"He tried to, to spare Sideswipe. Apparently it wasn't totally successful."

"No. I bolted that red idiot to the bed next to his brother for a good three cycles, made them both rest and recharge."

"Must have been fun in here."

Ratchet grinned. "Will be for you too. Prowl asked to debrief you the minute you return. I just paged him."

0-0-0-0-0-0

"I took the first three out with single shots," Mirage said quietly, "as they entered the brig. Their command center in the brig offered the best line of fire. After I had killed the rest of the team, five more, I put a few rounds into the computer to slag things up throughout the ship."

The recording device had a red, red eye, just like the Decepticons'. Mirage glanced at it and then away. Optimus Prime, Prowl, and Ironhide sat quietly beside his bed, Prowl occasionally making notes on a datapad.

"The duct system was off-limits to me, since Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were using it, and I was acting as cover for them. I followed the smell of energon through the halls to the rec lounges on each deck. I put sixteen of the eighteen energon dispensers out of commission. At the seventeenth they were waiting for me, so I went to the cargo bays and rewired their logging system to dump future data into our system. It won't be traceable until they have to reprogram the primary cargo data dump." Mirage smiled. "It also alters their course by one-point-seven degrees at unpredictable intervals. It's programmed to look like a missed call line in the astro tables. And as a last little gift from us to them, every fifth breem it deletes a half-kilo from the total cargo load. Ten groon later, I stole a runabout, and made rendezvous."

He was particularly happy with that cargo-load adjustment. It meant that the central computer, lied to about the cargo weight carried in the Decepticon's ship, would undercalculate the amount of fuel needed to get the 'cons' ship through space. Between that and the endless course corrections, the 'cons ran a real risk of being stranded.

Optimus tilted his head. "What did they do to you, to make you so angry?"

Couldn't hide much from the boss. Mirage dropped his eyes, anyway. "It was the cruelty of the torture, Optimus. They found that Sunstreaker had no information, kept him in pain anyway, added to it conditions they knew he could not endure, for no point."

Optimus, not fooled, frowned. "I caution any mech who embarks upon a vendetta with the enemy. It's likely to make them careless. Do you need to hear that speech, Mirage?"

"I don't believe so. I don't work with Sunstreaker very often."

Prime stared at him for a very very long moment. Mirage bore the weight of that blue gaze calmly, waiting for it to end ...

"Very well." Prime rose, collected Ironhide with a glance, and left the med bay.

Mirage sighed, and stretched. He needed to recharge for, say, a vorn or so.

"He saw right through you," Prowl said. "You wouldn't have been so angry if it were anyone but Sunstreaker."

Mirage studied his hands. "Probably not."

"You going to do anything about that?" Prowl said. He had known Mirage better, far longer, than anyone else on the Ark; their friendship had survived battle, argument, and love. Or whatever that was, all those vorn ago.

So: Mirage raised his head, and looked his closest friend in the optics. "I'd feel kind of silly if I didn't."

"Good. I'll be around to collect the pieces and bring them back to Ratchet," Prowl said, and grinned at Mirage.

"Uh, thanks."

0-0-0-0-0-0

"Well, then, my lovelies, are we awake?"

Two sets of blue optics blinked very, very slowly at Ratchet. Sideswipe was the first to speak: "Yeah, sort of." He blinked again. "That's a dream? Humans have this kind of nonsense running around their heads at night?"

"Every night, as I understand it," Ratchet said cheerfully, unfastening the monitors and recorders from Sunstreaker, who sat up and flexed the arm Ratchet had used to access his coolant lines. "Most nights, though, they don't remember it."

"Hunh," the yellow twin said. He looked across at the other Lamborghini. "Kinda like watching television."

"Except we were there."

"Really?" said Ratchet. "It felt like an experience, not a movie?"

"Yep." Sideswipe sat up. He looked at Sunstreaker. "That horse crap - you get that from watching ESPN?"

"BBC Sports. They got a lot more horse stuff than the American channels. –And all that spy weirdness? You've been watching NCIS, haven't you?"

Sideswipe swung his legs over the edge of the table. "Burn Notice, too."

Sunstreaker snorted, and said, "Excuse me. Somebody I gotta go see."

The other three watched him walk out of the med bay. "Who's that?" Ratchet asked.

"Didn't you download these? You'll see."

Wheeljack picked up the cassettes and walked in the direction of the door, whistling, but Sideswipe said, "'Jack. Would you help me with something?"

"It legal?"

"Yeah. Well, it ain't illegal yet. I want to make myself a skateboard."

Wheeljack shrugged. "We'll talk." He exited the med bay, resuming his whistle.

Ratchet worked at putting back the cables and monitors. He looked up to find the red twin still watching him. "You feeling all right?"

"Sure."

"Why aren't you gone, then, like your brother?"

Sideswipe smiled gently. "Sunny needs to go see Mirage. I know Mirage has been watching Sunny, and I know Sunny has - feelings - for Mirage."

"Huh," Ratchet. It wasn't the weirdest thing he'd ever heard of, and therefore required no further comment, to Ratchet's way of thinking.

"Those two think more alike than any two mechs I know." Sideswipe bent one knee sharply enough to put the pede on the edge of the table, and wrapped his arms around his shin. "He got to like Mirage when they were assigned to spar together."

"Was it the dream?" Ratchet said, coiling cables. "That finally got him to say something, I mean?"

"Probably. You watch the tapes. That'll make it all clear."

"All right. Off with you, now. Go find the person you need to see."

Sideswipe smiled again. "He's right in front of me, Ratchet."

0-0-0-0-0-0

Wheeljack, Ironhide, Prowl, Jazz, and Optimus shared some energon and a little bit of a game humans might have recognized as a poker variant from time to time. Usually, Ratchet was present, but this time, he'd begged off.

"So the dream induction worked, 'Jack?" Optimus said, distributing game pieces. "I saw your brief, but I haven't had time to read all the notes yet."

"Yes, better than my expectations. I expected at least a few glitches, but there weren't any." Wheeljack picked up his hand. "It's a technique I would suggest we use again when any of the other younger mechs enter their first heat cycles."

"It's a good technique to have handy, but thank Prime it happens only once every twenty vorn or so." Jazz smiled, and picked up his own hand. "Those two're uncomfortable to be around when they're in heat. They're such pretty models that the other youngsters feel themselves gettin' all hot and bothered just bein' in the same room with 'em." He paused for a moment, but gossip was meat and drink to them all. And frequently, it helped you to know how to interact best with your suddenly-assigned combat partner. "Who're the twins attracted to?"

"Sunstreaker has a thing for Mirage, from the tapes," said Wheeljack. "I wasn't aware that Mirage had any feelings for Sunstreaker, but then I don't see either of them very often."

"Ah've seen 'em aroun' tagether since ya did yer little experiment," drawled Ironhide. "He does. They're enough ta make ya purge yer tanks."

Prowl might have grinned. Hard to tell, with Prowl.

Wheeljack, sorting cards, continued, "Sideswipe outwaited me to talk to Ratchet. Last I knew, Ratchet was fighting a rearguard action, but losing."

Optimus chuckled, and placed the last card face-up on the table. "Twenty's on the Lambo," he said. "I've never known anybody as determined as Sideswipe. Any takers?"

Four mechs exchanged eyeballs as they accessed their knowledge of the red twin, and Jazz was the first one to speak up. "Nah," he said.

0-0-0-0-0-0

"For the last time, no! You're my most frequent patient! You want to be lying on that table, scragged to scrap, and see me lose it so bad I can't repair you, because we're interfacing?"

"So you do feel something for me." Sideswipe smiled at Ratchet, and refilled the medic's cup of highgrade, then his own.

"Irritation." The medic tossed back yet another cup.

If Sideswipe had ever held designs on Ratchet's virtue, like getting the irascible medic drunk to take advantage of him, those plans were being rapidly derailed.

Ratchet's capacity for highgrade was legendary. So was Sideswipe's, but Ratchet was just at the irritable-drunk stage, while Sideswipe could feel the floor beginning to get twisty under his pedes, and the chair wobbling under his aft. Ratchet, in short, was drinking Sideswipe under the table.

Strategy was called for. This seduction was going to be very hard work, but all the sweeter when he succeeded, Sideswipe thought, and grinned to himself.

Strategy in this case consisted of taking a sip when Ratchet emptied his cup. If Ratchet were too drunk to notice, it might work.

"There's First Aid." Sip.

Ratchet snorted, knocked back the cup, and pushed it across the table. Sideswipe promptly refilled it. "He's a junior medic. Let me break him in a little further before you scare him sightless."

Sideswipe raised his optic ridges. "You've got staff."

Ratchet paused with his highgrade half way to his mouth. "Sideswipe. Listen to me. I am the Chief Medical Officer of this circus of Optimus', and that means I get the worst cases, the guys who might die, and that includes you. Almost always, that includes you. I can't be involved with you and treat you as a patient at the same time. I need to look at a damaged body as a system, and then put that system back together. If I have feelings about the spark that's inside that system, I - I can't be objective. Can't do what's needed."

"Seems like I have greater faith in you than you do," Sideswipe observed, and smiled gently at Ratchet.

It wasn't, of course, possible to keep feelings this strong out of the twin bond. Aware of Sunstreaker's feelings for Mirage as his twin was of his own for Ratchet, Sideswipe had been very surprised when Sunny laid a hand on his arm one morning before they went on duty, and made direct optic contact. "Look, Sides ... with Ratchet ... don't get hurt, okay?"

"No, I won't. I'll persuade him," he'd said confidently. "I'm not going to lose this one, Sunny."

Sunny surprised his twin by saying, "I hope you don't. And not just for you, for him too. Ratchet's got the most -" Sunstreaker paused for a moment, wrinkling his beautiful brow - "the cruelest job in this outfit. I wonder how many friends he's watched die. He deserves someone special to spark-share with, or even just to sleep beside. I hope you're it."

Me too, bro, Sideswipe thought now, watching the medic across the table.

Ratchet was staring at the nothing just in front of him, beyond which lay his cup, untasted.

"So you won't spark-share with me," Sideswipe said. He was going to adopt his hurt-immature-canine look, but gave it a miss. This was not about emotional manipulation. (And if he didn't use it now, he could use it later. )

"No, kid. I won't spark-share with you."

"Friends, then?"

Ratchet knocked back his cup. "Depends on your definition thereof." He stood. "I gotta go. Thanks for the highgrade."

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

And that's where it stayed, until the next time Sideswipe caught it.

The twins had been on recco. It was Sunny who arrived in the med bay, just after Ratchet's shift had begun, Sideswipe in his arms ... systems and internals that Ratchet was all too familiar with dangling from the crumpled red burden he cradled.

Ratchet had taken one look at them both and come running. "You," he said to Sunny, "on that bunk, now, and recharge. About the time you come out of it, he'll be awake again, and I'll have him at least partly put together. Do it. Now."

"My finish -"

"Later. Recharge now."

Ratchet didn't often use what he himself referred to as his "voice of Primus" tone, but when he did, it worked. Every time, on every mech, and Sunstreaker was no exception.

When he could spare a moment from Sideswipe, he had Fixit hook up the Autobot equivalent of an energon IV for Sunny, and send him down into a second recharge cycle. Then he and Fixit returned to Sideswipe, beginning Ratchet's second shift at the repairs table.

Many orn later, Fixit ran the last pair of tests on Sideswipe's legs, and said, "There. All complete. He's up again."

"Good. I'm about done here myself. Make the notes for me, will you? When Patch gets here, I'm going to get a cup of energon."

"Get some sleep too?"

"Probably," said Ratchet.

When he returned, Sunstreaker was awake, and standing by his twin's bed, one hand twined in his twin's, the other stroking his brow.

"He's going to be all right," Ratchet said.

"I know. When I got him here and he was still respiring, I knew he'd be all right." The yellow Lamborghini straightened himself. "Thanks, Ratchet."

"All part of the service," Ratchet said briskly. "Now get out."

Sunstreaker grinned at him, put down the hand he'd been holding, and absented himself.

The sleep took place some time later, on the repair table nearest Sideswipe's, and over Patch's protests.

"C'mon, Ratchet, I can watch him as well as you can."

"And if something goes wrong, I'm in my quarters. No, I'll stay here."

Ratchet set himself to rouse if there was a change in any of Sideswipe's vitals; as close as the twin had come to cracking his spark casing, Ratchet was taking no chances.

He yearned, for a moment, for a cup of highgrade. But with a critical patient in the bay, he'd never yet touched a drop, and he wasn't going to start now.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Ratchet woke with a start and a snort. He was barely fully functioning when he focused on Sideswipe's monitors - and then beyond them, to Sideswipe himself, optics open and focused on him. "How're you feeling?" the medic rasped.

"Crumpled."

Ratchet snorted. "Tell me, how'd it happen this time?"

"I was skateboarding through the halls of the 'con HQ, and ..."

Ratchet rolled his eyes. "Primus!"

"It was a new 'con. I don't know his name. Carries a big-caliber on one arm. He put one near us when we were movin', but I didn't think anything of it, didn't think he had our range. Next one was right on top of me, about fifty feet from Sunny." Sideswipe wrinkled his brow. "He all right? It knocked me offline. I don't remember seeing if he got hit."

"He's fine, apart from a few scuffs. So for once, you were just unlucky."

"I'd say it made a nice change, but I really can't tell the difference from this end." Sideswipe grinned at the medic, who was methodically freeing him of the lines attached to monitors and fluids-access. "Except you haven't hit me with a wrench this time."

"No point. You were out." Ratchet patched the last of the lines he had accessed to give fluid and energon, and stood back. "You're outta here. Light duty for fourteen sun-cycles."

Sideswipe stood up, and up - Ratchet forgot from time to time how much taller than he the younger mech was, as he most often encountered him when he was horizontal - and then, to the medic's shock, took Ratchet into his arms.

Ratchet stiffened. "Sideswipe, no."

Sideswipe didn't let go of him immediately. "Better get used to it, Ratch. It's going to happen a lot more frequently from now on." Then he stood still for a moment or two, with Ratchet in his arms, no pressure, no other communication than the reassurance of touch. And then he let go, and stepped back. "I have confidence in you, Ratchet."

Shaken, Ratchet looked up at him. "You have a hell of a lot of nerve."

"So they say, often to my face. But what you've got is courage. You've got enough of it to do this, and let yourself love too." Sideswipe smiled down at him, put a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe not me. But you can do this, Ratchet, and you know it. So I'm going to keep trying. Who knows, I might be lucky." He let his hand fall, turned for the door of the med bay.

Ratchet said desperately, "I've seen the tapes, you know. I know you didn't dream of me."

Sideswipe stopped, but didn't turn around. He said, "I didn't have to, Ratchet. Sunny dreamed of Mirage because Mirage wasn't there. You were right beside me."

And that's when Ratchet knew he was sunk, and resorted to his old tactics. "Get out of my med bay."

Sideswipe did turn at that. "Sure. Dinner, later?"

"Yes. Goodbye."

Sideswipe, grinning, turned and left.