Title: Lullaby for Ratchet
'Verse: Cybertron pre-Movie, still fairly early in the war.
Characters / Pairings: Ironhide/Ratchet, First Aid, a moment of Smokescreen
Summary: Ratchet's had a bad day, Ironhide's wasn't much better. Exploration of them, life and history.
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Post-battle repairs, comfort. Lots of talking.
AN: In pre-Earth stuff I make up words for (and my friend Ruu makes fun of me about) things that they won't have encountered or would have a human-type analog for, but I'm sure you can figure what I'm talking about.

The door between the medbay and recovery slid aside with a soft hiss.

Ironhide was pulled out of recharge once again, blinking momentarily in the dim light. The weapons specialist was attempting to shake off the aftereffects of a mortar round to the chest, which had also left shrapnel imbedded in his neck and shoulder. Once the plating and underlying components had been mended and the foreign scrap removed, he had been laid out in recovery to let his self-repair systems finish the job. Recharge cycles post-op were always restless and fraught with breaks; pain, some error or alert, system demands for energon or the rounds from the medics.

Other recently repaired warriors had slowly been brought in, filling the room. The black mech had come to when most of them were escorted in and settled onto a berth by the unassuming figure of First Aid. Yet again, the slight noise of the door was enough to penetrate his consciousness. That in and of itself did not shock him too much. However, he was surprised by the sole figure silhouetted by light streaming in, long, lean legs, strong chest and broad shoulders, a smooth noble helm. Ratchet.

'Hide shuttered his optics, feigning recharge after the nanoclick required to identify the medic. The mech stood a moment in the doorway, all alone, then moved into the room. If Ratchet had finally been separated from the operation tables, he must have made it through triage and all the wounded. Ironhide was aware of some of the others in recovery shifting, and tracked Ratchet's movements by audio and passive sensors from behind shuttered optics. Smokescreen's dorsalwings flitted a few berths away and a groan eked out from his vocalizer. The medic keyed to the sound and moved to check him first. Laying on ventral plating as Smokey was, a few deft pressed at relays hidden beneath armor at the diversionist's back blocked more pain signals, quieting the messages from newly settled joints in the sensory panels.

Even in the dim light of the recovery room, after nearly an orn and a half of straight repairs to warrior after warrior, the old black frontliner had to marvel at the medic. Ratchet should be getting some much needed rest himself, but exhaustion could barely mar the CMO's natural grace, he was fast for his bulk, inordinately skilled and a genius in his field; let alone besting many mechs in other areas. Ironhide was consistently in awe of that beautiful, stubborn slagger of a mech, whose only flaw was possibly his rather dubious choice of armor coloring. But even that was forgiven in 'Hide's optics, as the former Head of the Guard was too enamored of the mech as a whole; his best friend, sparring partner, and sometimes lover.

He tracked the CMO as he padded from mech to mech, pausing to trace each downed warrior with a scan, adjust something or other and comm a quick note to First Aid. Ratchet circled, giving each patient his full attention for a few breems. Circumnavigating the room, he last came to Ironhide.

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Ratchet was exhausted. Force of will kept the light tremors from stressed hydraulics at bay. He looked down at that idiotic lunk, and hunched over the berth with a near inaudible sigh through his vents. The traditional scan was forgotten, and he found chartreuse fingers reaching out, tracing over black crest, reading signals and feedback. Ratchet slid his fingers down over scraped brows and cupped 'Hide's audio. His thumb tracked over the rise of the warrior's cheekplate, feeling the ebb and flow of data through the black mech's frame before moving lower, along Ironhide's jaw and down neck cabling. Here the medic stopped, and the slightest of trembles snuck into the fine mechanics of his hands. He traced over marred plating, welds in sensitive neck cabling and divots where shrapnel had been dug from his friend's throat. Ratch gasped as his sensors picked up pain signals singing in relays, and he barely suppressed the growl that the boltbucket had not said that anything was still hurting. Things would not be perfect until Ironhide's frame settled and reestablished the normal levels of mech fluids and signal relays, but Ratchet could at least numb the pain. If he had been told.

Worry wormed its way through the CMO's processors, and he slipped his hand down over chestplating. He frowned, feeling the near-microscopic ridges left after reshaping warped armor, but below was infinitely more important - the energy pulse, strong and steady, of Ironhide's spark. The feel of rising and falling energy soothed him, and Ratchet softly let his fingers play over armor, following the pulses of Ironhide's spark as they radiated out from his chamber. Shoulder struts loosened and the medic almost relaxed, until he realized two optics were glowing in the darkness.

"'Hide," the medic gasped, starting and almost pulling his hand away. But as the weapons specialist was simply looking at him, Ratchet did not move.

Fingers tightened on ebony plating. Ironhide glanced down, still silent, and peered at the medic's hand. The sleeker mech nearly snapped at him, and only the other recharging mechs present stayed his vocalizer.

Instead, the CMO choose to mask his concern by hissing through his dental plates at the warrior. "Primus forsaken scrapheap, why didn't you say something still hurt?"

Ironhide made a slow shrug. "Not that bad." He was still staring at Ratchet's hand, and generally doing a good job of being unnerving.

"What do you mean 'Not that bad.'? Ironhide, I know exactly how bad it is, you misclocked- And 'Hide! Will you at least look at me while I'm-"

"You cleaned up your hands." The prone mech rumbled simply, interrupting the tirade he knew could go on for ages. He reached and took Ratchet's free hand in his, cradling it in his palm and studying it with the same intensity.

"Wha- 'Hide? What are you on about? Of course I cleansed my hands, I was done- with…" but he trailed off into a pleased little engine purr as the blunt gray thumb massaged the center of his palm. Ratchet looked down, more than slightly confused, but enjoying the pleasurable and relaxing ministrations being bestowed on his hand. He opened his mouth to say something else, but ended up muting his vocalizer to spare the other patients a rather loud and very undignified garble of sound when Ironhide yanked on him. The chartreuse mech sprawled over 'Hide, quickly trying to drag his other hand away from chestplating to prop himself over the patient.

"Ironhide," he hissed, attempting to keep his weight off the soldier, and judging by the tight connections around the dim blue optics he was looking into, 'Hide was debating the sanity of his recent action. "What the frag! I just reshaped your plating, do not tempt me to reformat you into a garbage hauler."

"You need to stop now, Ratch." the former Guard rasped, steeling himself and ignoring any comment on his own condition.

"Stop! What? I'm fine, and I am finishing rounds."

All Ironhide did was glance at the mech fluids and energon smeared across Ratchet's chassis, a gruesome counterpoint to the pristine hand he held. Then he returned his optics to brighter blues and loosened his grip on that hand. Just enough, it was just enough that the tremors in the medic's sleek hands made plating rattle between chartreuse and gray with a low buzz.

Ratchet snarled, gripping Ironhide's hand to silence the noise. "Alright, idiot. Point, I am tapping reserves. But none I don't have-"

"Shift is changing. You're off duty. Done for the orn."

The CMO huffed. If Ironhide had his way, Ratchet knew that he would be chained to a berth for cycles, until the soldier deigned him recovered and fit to let him back to work. There were reports, cleaning, continued therapy plans, all manner of duties still to be done. It was not that he lacked trust in his team, but… the Chief Medical Officer's duty was to supervise. All he needed was to escape 'Hide, and he could return to his post, friend none the wiser.

"Fine, 'Hide," the medic acquiesced. "I shall take a break. As whatever-the-frag rank you are demands it." The soldier simply chuckled darkly as Ratch continued. "Now as you have pointed this out, I need to get the energon off my plating before it degrades paint."

He tugged against the weapons specialist's hold, attempting to go through the motions to slink back to work. But Ironhide just leveled the most slag-eating smirk up at him that made Ratchet's energon run cold.

"Looks like I need to hit the washracks, too," 'Hide growled softly.

"Huh?" The upper mech looked flabbergasted. "Give me one good reason why you are not remaining on this very berth and resting."

"Transfer," was all Ironhide said, holding the medic to his chest as he levered himself upright.

Ratchet finally noticed the energon now smeared over the other mech's chassis. He had no idea how 'Hide managed to look so smug, considering he was holding a deathgrip around the CMO's waist. But looking about ready empty his tanks was all that saved the soldier from an arc welder to the cranial case. Scooting over from half-propped on Ironhide's lap, Ratchet glared at the mech. Finally, he rolled his optics and huffed in resignation.

For a few breems they remained, sitting hip to hip, leaning against each other, holding each other up. The weapons specialist rumbled lightly when Ratchet delicately snuck his helm into crook between his newly repaired shoulder and neck. The area was currently as hypersensitive as his chest, but Ratch was nothing if not gentle - when he wanted to be. The old Guard found the smooth shift and careful nuzzle against the wounds soothing, and he leaned his jaw against the crown of chartreuse. Ratchet purred, barely a sound in the dim quiet, relaxing under the arm wrapped around him. He could sense Ironhide's systems cycling down from the brief exertion. 'Hide could be stubborn, but the tenacity with which he fought these medbay debates bordered on the insane. As the medic focused an audio, listening to his companion's fuel pump and systems, he did understand. Deep down, he even appreciated the sentiment behind the concern.

As much as they both needed the quiet moment together, when the medical officer twitched for the third time, Ironhide snorted. "Better get you cleaned up, big sparkling," he murmured with a soft headbutt against the other helm.

"Sparkling?" Ratchet fumed, barely keeping the volume down. "Glitch, it's not my fault this blasted slag itches."

"As if I don't know," came the wry reply.

"Never thought your rusty old circuits would notice," the medic snarked back as he sat up, pushing to stand. "Besides, some of this is probably yo-" he was cut off as the soldier surged to his feet, smooth and quick enough to belie size and injury.

Ironhide cupped a hand along Ratchet's jaw and brushed lip components quickly across his, effectively side-tracking that train of thought. Then, before giving a moment to protest, he nudged chartreuse hips towards the door. Growling softly, the recalcitrant medic slipped an arm around the black waist and moved.

First Aid barely batted an optic as the two made careful progress from the recovery room and through the medbay proper. "I will ensure the supplies for your redundant systems are on hand for your next shift, sir," he stated mildly, focused on restocking the kits.

Ironhide quirked an optic ridge at his companion, and Ratchet looked indignant. "Thank you, First Aid," the CMO replied. "I'll install the replacements when I return."

"Which won't be till next shift," 'Hide rumbled.

The bulkier of the two medics snarled.

"Sir," First Aid replied, still not looking up. It was a positive response, but safe from agreeing with one mech or the other and finding himself in the middle. The young mech was quietly one of the brightest recruits on base, and not simply in the medical field.

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The path to the washracks was a little much for 'Hide so recently from an operating table, not that he showed it more than gritting his jaw tighter and tighter as they walked. Ratchet bit his glossa and found it in himself to let the mech have a sliver of pride, simply holding more securely onto the frontliner's waist and propping a hip against his. Once they entered a stall, he feigned ignorance of Ironhide leaning his back heavily against the wall and started the flow of cleansers before turning back to Ironhide.

Warm cleaning fluid rained over both their frames.

Optics looked deeply into optics through the cascade. Ironhide stepped from the wall, a touch unsteady, and reached to settle a big gray hand on a shoulder, "I know."

Ratchet slid his hands to grip over 'Hide's hip joints, making a barely audible warble of distress. He only saw the ugliest portions of the war. He never saw civilians pulled out before a Decepticon attack. He never saw a successful flanking maneuver turn the tide of battle away from a small stronghold of determined Neutrals. He never saw how many were saved by the sacrifices of the few.

He saw those few; sparks returning to Base sputtering, or not at all. He saw mechs surprised by ambushes, trampled in a fumbling retreat, shattered by the worst weapons that Cybertronian minds could devise and unleash against their own.

"Ratch," 'Hide murmured, almost a croon, "I know." He had promised that Ratchet wouldn't have to be alone in that world. He was one of them, one of the warriors out there causing the destruction that Ratchet fought with all his skill and all his spark. Ironhide had once been Head of the Guard, a position to protect the Prime himself. Now he was a frontliner, in charge of battalions and in the thick of the hardest fighting. His visage was feared on the battlefield for the damage he and those cannons could inflict. But here and now, he wiped grime from the CMO's chassis with a tenderness few but Ratchet knew still resided in those hands.

There was a soft play of blunt fingertips working in and around protective bars, coaxing fluid into seams to work dried remnants out of the complex contortions of the medic's frame. It took a surprising amount of time to ease all the evidence of grueling work from the faintly glowing plating, but 'Hide worked with infinite patience when it came to Ratchet. Once he was sure everything physically had been washed away, he massaged over the medic's chassis with relaxing touch meant to soothe stressed relays. The chief medic's engine purred, and he let optics drift shut, clinging lightly to the soldier's hips.

When the chartreuse mech seemed sufficiently calmed, Ironhide rubbed at Ratchet's shoulders. Then he stepped back and listlessly splashed cleanser to swipe at the final remnants of energon from his own black plating.

"Back to quarters, medic," rasped the weapons specialist, intakes starting to run higher in light pants of exhaustion.

Ratchet slowly onlined his optics, gracing the burlier mech's frame with the slow glide of a scan. "Not yet," he chitter-clacked.

Ironhide wavered, halting in reaching to turn off the flow of cleansing fluid. Optics narrowed at the chartreuse mech; fighting words, but not exactly a fighting tone. The frontliner didn't have much more in him to debate with the CMO, he just wanted to get Ratchet settled then collapse in his own weary heap. "Ratch?" he asked cautiously.

The only reply was a low treble, and subtle pressure on hip servos that had the taller mech stepping back until his back met the wall. Ironhide couldn't help but sag against it, and Ratchet, energy drained in his own right but undamaged, coaxed him to settle to the floor.

He could only stare as the pristine and shining medic helped him stretch out his legs, then smoothly moved to straddle his lap. Ironhide's optic ridges remained quirked in a general question as the medical officer explored over his frame with finely tuned fingertips.

While Ratchet had already done everything needed for Ironhide's self-repair systems to bring him back to functionality, he could not resist double and triple checking on his friend. The hands of a medic were among the most sensitive of any mech's, and the Chief Medic softly ran his fingers over every repair he'd made in the last orn. Ratch smoothed over welds in the delicate components of the soldier's neck; susceptible to damage where they slip out from under protective armor plating, and temperamental post-op because the servos need to work in so many planes of motion. Soft presses coaxed the black mech's systems to relax, increasing the flow of energy and encouraging the production of lubrication and hydraulic fluid to replace that which was lost. Lower, he rubbed in slow, easy circles, filing smooth any of the odd metal burrs from bending shoulder armor, even though those would be worked out by repair nanites with time.

Black arms slipped around Ratchet's frame, barely gripping. Warm cleanser and soothing touches helped Ironhide slip towards a light recharge. The medic churred, sliding closer to the broad chassis; he watched shutters slip to half cover darker blue optics and a grin flicked over the edge of his lip components. Slowly he leaned in to shift plating.

The old guard tipped his head up, optics onlining when Ratch moved shoulder armor and rinsed free battle grime, grit and solder from repairs. He hummed softly.

"Easy, 'Hide," the CMO murmured, letting receptive fingerpads trace from shoulder and down over the weapons specialist's chest. Ironhide let his helm fall to rest back against the wall, those elegant hands were working their magic, and he trusted his friend with his very spark. His engine rumbled slightly when Ratchet guided chest armor aside. At that moment, 'Hide could not have done that on his own, but with skilled chartreuse hands, there was no pain in the motion.

The trust inherent in the mech before him touched Ratchet, and he shivered. His hands slipped into the sturdy black chest, motion and touches spoke of comfort, relief and repair. Receptors picked up signals and even the steady pulse of 'Hide's spark, safe within the chamber.

The sensation could have felt very clinical, but it far from it. Ironhide could tell that Ratchet was doublechecking on his repairs, confirming for himself that he was whole and alright. The concern and affection was every bit as healing as the touch itself. The old warrior purred as a touch delved over his sparkchamber, tender and reassuring. Then, as smoothly as armor was shifted aside, the plating was replaced.

"Back to quarters, idiot." Ratchet purred, nuzzling against an audio.

Ironhide blinked, leaning to return the gesture with a growl. The medic helped ease the old warrior to his feet, then reached and deactivated the cleansers. A black arm looped around the CMO's shoulders, and chartreuse arm circled the frontliner's waist as they moved from the washracks.

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"Mine, old mech." Ratchet commanded as they entered the quarters wing, preempting a 'my place or yours?' debate. "You need to refuel and your quarters are only stocked with that oh-so-secret stash of Twin-brew. I am not subjecting myself to your grumbling over the processor-ache that would come of it."

The other mech whuffed, but submitted to being led to the doorway of Ratchet's quarters. The Chief Medical Officer, of course, made sure his rooms were set closest to the medbay all of them. While Ratch slid fingers over the keypad and unlocked the door, Ironhide noted that in coming nearly full circle they had probably walked a good portion of the base.

When they entered the outer chambers, the chartreuse mech pulled away, heading to his sideboard for some energon cubes. Ironhide eyed one of the chairs near the main table, but Ratch glared at him, "No, you're slipping into recharge the moment you stop moving, I know it. Berth. Get." He pointed at the recharging room in the back with all the authority of an angry creator.

The darker optics rolled in annoyance, but he put up with it. As irritating as it was being treated like a sparkling, he knew that caring for and fussing over someone else helped Ratchet keep his thoughts from dwelling on things. Particularly after a rough battle, 'Hide knew the medic could be susceptible to the gore, the darkness and ugliness of the war, the sparks crying out for his help…drowning his processors. Aside from offering his presence, being there and listening, the soldier also knew that there was little he could do.

After Ironhide had tipped his helm with a grunt and made his way to the back room, the CMO turned and filled a cube for himself and his friend. Starting in on his own as he walked, he found the weapons specialist sitting on his berth, hunched over and resting massive forearms on his thighs. Ratchet sank beside him, handing the bulkier mech the container of fuel. Ironhide accepted it, and for a few moments they sat in silence.

Each finished their energon and Ratchet took both empty cubes, setting theme aside. He sighed, exasperated, when the black helm dipped and snapped back up; Ironhide's expression was a pathetic combination of shocked that he had been slipping into recharge, and pain from sore neck cables.

"Lay down, boltbucket," the medic snipped, pushing on the frontliner's good shoulder. "Recharge already, for my sanity's sake."

'Hide growled, but complied. He shifted over and lay back, then grimaced and rolled onto his side to elevate the repairing components. "Fine. Get over here, for mine," the soldier rumbled, slipping his hand around the sleek waist and pulling lightly.

"Do I look like a softform turbofox to you?" Ratch snapped without heat, optics shuttered. "I am not some- sparkling recharge pacification item."

That gray hand tugged on the other's abdomen, "No, but you'll do anyway," he murmured in reply. This time the medic complied, settling on the berth. Ratchet lay with his dorsal plating pressed against 'Hide's chest; the black mech rumbled lightly, holding the lithe frame of the CMO to his own bulk. He moved his hand to rest on abdominal plating, thumb slowly rubbing back and forth just beneath the lower edge of the chartreuse mech's protective chest bars.

Ratchet focused on the thumb slipping back and forth against plating, noting that as the motion slowed, he heard the old Guard's systems cycle down. When the blunt gray digits stilled, the Chief Medic placed his own hand over Ironhide's and gently wriggled back to press more against the warrior's chest.

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"Ratch…" the frontliner groaned as he was jostled back online. His processors were fogged by lack of any real recharge, but his internal chrono told him they'd been laying together for about three cycles. "What the frag? You're twitching like a nervous glitchmouse."

The medic hissed and squirmed some more, this time in an attempt to pull away. When 'Hide snorted, not letting him, Ratchet just curled defensively in on himself.

Ironhide tightened his arms around the writhing mass of chartreuse, moving slowly to lip at the back of the medical officer's exposed neck. Despite the shiver that 'Hide felt race down the frame in his arms, Ratchet snarled and slapped at an ebony hip. The soldier grumbled against neck cabling. "Ratch-"

"Mute it."

'Hide growled, letting Ratchet move away just enough that he could roll to his back and pull the CMO over his frame. He slid a slow probing scan over the sleek mech; Ironhide knew that the medic had not recharged, but the scan confirmed it. It also drove the point home that the warrior was aware that something was wrong. An optic ridge arched, not an elegant gesture, but it was the black mech's prompt for a discussion.

Ratch made sure he was not putting too much weight on the frontliner's chest, and scowled down at his companion. For a moment he glared into deep blue optics, then glanced away.

There was a rumble and rub of crested helm under jawguards. Lip components pressed against a snarling vocalizer. "Words, Ratch," the former Guard murmured.

A sigh from chartreuse, but he tipped his head aside to give the weapons specialist easier access. Ironhide made a wisp of a chuckle and obliged, nibbling along the normally vociferous throat. Then Ratchet pressed his jaw against the frontliner's temple. "Bonds are sacred," he began tentatively. "The bonding of two sparks is most beautiful connection our species is capable of..." the medic trailed off, optics dim and pained.

'Hide looked up at him, beginning the process of putting puzzle pieces together. He made a low soothing treble, settling hands over smooth back plating as he waited for his friend to continue.

"Losing the one was bad enough, the damage was too... I couldn't do anything, shattered casing. I couldn't- 'Hide, I couldn't..."

The soldier shifted to stroke over Ratchet's shoulder, light circles along the transformation seams. When the CMO's energy field settled, Ironhide nudged at his cheekplate with his brow. He made a soft warble coda, encouraging Ratch.

"Then his bonded-" Ratchet's voice cracked, barely audible. "I sensed every one of his peripherals shut down. He grayed before our optics, but didn't... didn't fall… just, turned and walked out of my medbay. Like a phantom spark." Light blue optics looked unseeing at Ironhide, but the medic was somewhere further away.

He drew a ragged intake and continued, desperation coloring his tone. "In all our history, it's never been like this. The bond is shattered when one spark gutters… but the mate can recover. But this. 'Hide, now I'm seeing violent deactivations that…" The medic quivered and tightened his fingers against black plating, "This Primus-forsaken war, damned Decepticons get one, and that drags the other… A bond isn't... should never be a... a liability."

The weapons specialist cradled the CMO against his chassis, crooning wordless little chitter growls and rocking ever so slightly. It had been vorns since the last sparkling, pairs had begun forgoing bonds. Had history and the war not stood in the way, the medic and warrior would likely be bonded mates. Unspoken words hung heavy in the air, and the wordless negation. Like so many others had realized, it was too much of a risk. They both worked the front lines, different capacities, but each had one of the most dangerous duties among the Autobots.

Neither was willing to endanger the other in the event that they were lost.

"I know," Ironhide buzzed, while Ratchet nuzzled his face against his neck. "I know, I know." He traced glyphs over the medical officer's plating. Barely a touch, but he was aware that Ratch's sensitivity would let him make out the words. They were a slightly random assortment, 'honesty,' 'together,' 'light,' 'share.' Ratchet clung to 'Hide's chassis, focusing on the caress of blunt gray fingertips.

"You feel everything magnified, the highs, the lows," the warrior whispered. Ratchet's field regulated and his frame started to go lax under Ironhide's hands. "I know that ugliness in the dark. Rest, medic. Let it go, for a few cycles. It's not a bond… but a promise. You're not alone."

Ratchet whuffed and snuggled more against the sturdy frame. "Idiot, I know that."

The old Guard snorted and hummed against the Chief Medic's brow until Ratch drifted into recharge, then he let himself slip back under as well.