Title: Collective Bargaining
Author: Keelywolfe

As old as he was, Ratchet had had his share of humiliating experiences. There was the time when he had still been studying to be a medic and had overslept, resulting in his short-lived roommate repainting his helm a brilliant shade of pink. His mad scramble to his classes meant he hadn't noticed that little fact until halfway through his day, after watching the stifled laughs and odd looks of his peers with no small amount of confusion.

Somewhere in his file archives, he still had a picture.

A few thousand years of living and things did have a tendency to pile up. Ratchet had learned that at some point, he'd really stopped caring. At his age, things that would have a younger mech cringing in a corner, vowing to never go into the light of day again, had him shrugging and moving on. The humans had something of a saying for that outlook and it went by, 'whatever'.

It was one of the few things about humans that he actually agreed with.

Be that as it may, waking up alone to find that Optimus had carried him to his berth was not on his 'whatever' list and he was still seething about it hours later, forcing himself to be gentle as he worked on the delicate calibrations to the ground bridge controls. Every time he thought he'd gotten it settled, sparks would fly. The same way sparks were going to fly when he saw Optimus again. He'd had just about enough of this nonsense.

Every time he thought he had a handle on things, that slagging mech threw another bucket of bolts into his lap. He wakes up with Optimus, and suddenly, they're fragging. He wakes up without Optimus, and now they're in a relationship. They start to recharge together, and Optimus drops a Pit-forsaken bombshell on him, and then has the audacity to power down before Ratchet could even say anything. And then, oh, and then, carrying him through base while he was still in recharge, where any damned mech could have seen him, or any little human for that matter, oh, yes, they were going to have a talk about this or, more likely, a shouting match, and Optimus was going to keep his hands to himself while they were doing it.

Frankly, Ratchet was seriously considering skipping out on recharge for the next week. Every blasted time he powered down something else happened, another part thrown on the delicate balance act he and Prime had going. Ratchet was many things but he was no fragging acrobat and he was starting to get tired of pretending he was. If Ratchet hadn't been such an honest to Primus pacifist, he would have been out looking for a Decepticon to frag up, if only for the stress relief.

Not that Optimus's method was so very terrible; Primus, that mech had stamina...

No. No, no, no. Ratchet firmly put a block on that line of thought, stifled his cooling fans before they could even attempt to online. No more of that, not until he figured out just what in the name of Primus he was going to do.

The outer door opened with a soft swish and Ratchet jerked his head up, glaring at the entrance. Whoever it was, Optimus or not, had better be prepared to bear the brunt of his temper. To his bemusement, it was Jack, looking vastly uncomfortable as he shuffled his feet, looking at Ratchet with the bare minimum required to actually see him.

Well, two tragically embarrassing situations in one day. That was one for the log books.

Deliberately, Ratchet set his tools aside and gave Jack the full force of his attention. If he had to suffer then he was slagging well going to make sure the human came along for the ride.

"Hello, Jack," Ratchet said evenly when it became apparent that Jack was going to simply stare at his shoes for as long as possible. Really, he did have things to do and he'd rather get his humiliation out of the way early in the day. "You do seem intent on speaking to me today, what can I do for you?"

The little human winced, scrubbing a hand over his hair as he finally said, "Look, about earlier—"

Ratchet interrupted that little tidbit before the kid could go on. He was already so red that Ratchet was automatically monitoring his blood pressure. "I'm quite sure that there is nothing about earlier that needs to be discussed," Ratchet informed him firmly. Discussion over, he picked up his tools and went back to work.

Only Jack seemed to be just as thick as taking hints as a few Autobots Ratchet knew, because he went right on anyway, "I just wanted you to know, I'm cool with it."

"And I was just telling myself that I wasn't certain how much longer I could go on without your approval," Ratchet said blandly, optics still on his work. "Thanks be to Primus that you came to me when you did. I'll rest well tonight." Hm, the calibration was still off. Blasted scraplets. Carefully, he made a few minor adjustments.

"I didn't mean it like that!" Jack protested. Now he had both hands in his hair, twisting in a way that Ratchet guessed was probably painful. Humans were so strange. "I just...I didn't know about you two, and I didn't want you to think that I was, you know, and-

"Jack," Ratchet sighed as he leveled a look at the little human. "Do you really want to have this conversation?" To his surprise, the human actually considered for a moment before he shook his head.

"Not really," he admitted.

"Good. I believe between the two of us, we can pretend this never happened and move on."

"Deal," Jack said, his relief evident. Behind him, the door opened again, Miko and Raf strolling in, Bumblebee trailing behind them. Lovely, he had a whole set today, his collection of insane-makers was complete.

Miko gave him a bright grin before chirping happily up at him, "Heard you and Optimus were clanking in medbay earlier."

The utter silence following that was broken only by Jack's horrified gasp, his color switching from a rather brilliant shade of crimson to a grayish pale that simply had to be unhealthy.

For once, Ratchet set aside his medic nature and concern and Looked at Jack, who had the grace to look sheepish before he covered his eyes with a hand. "I may have mentioned it to Arcee," he admitted.

"Who mentioned it to Bulkhead, who mentioned it to me," Miko said cheerfully. "Didn't think you had it in you, Doc Bot."

"What makes you think I was the one who did?" Ratchet shot back coolly and there was some satisfaction in watching Jack attempt to gag on his own saliva. Ah, the petty revenges were the best.

Raf blinked at them all through the thick lenses of his glasses, large eyes confused, "What are you talking about? Clanking? Is that some kind of medical procedure?"

Behind him, Bumblebee made a frantic cut gesture across his throat, shaking his head feverishly.

Ratchet only rolled his optics, "Yes, a medical procedure. Let's go with that."

As proof that the universe had something against him, Raf only gave him a bright, interested smile. "Really? What did you have to do?" His smile faded, a bit, as he added tremulously, "It didn't hurt, did it?"

"Of course not," Ratchet sighed. What had he done in his life to deserve this? No amount of brilliant fragging was worth this…well, maybe if…no. No, bad Ratchet! "I don't like to hurt my patients, no matter what Bulkhead says about his articulators."

"Yeah, Ratchet," Miko said, her tone sweetly mocking as she snagged a stool and pulled it up. She hopped up on it, propping her chin on both hands as she gazed up at him raptly. "I think you should tell as all about it. It would be educational, don't you think?"

"I'm not sure your fleshy human brain could handle that sort of education," Ratchet said, glaring at her. He ignored the increasingly garbled sounds from Jack; he'd lost his chance to banish the mental images the second he'd passed on the gossip to Arcee.

Come to think of it, where were she and Bulkhead? In about thirty seconds he was going to com them and demand they come take their wayward charges. Optimus was already convinced they'd done some kind of mental damage to Jack, he'd hardly appreciate it if Ratchet scarred the other two. No matter how much joy Ratchet would get out of it.

Miko only rolled her eyes, "Hello, Japanese, here? I probably have comic books under my bed with worse in them than you could put out. Ooooh, I might have a few on my phone, hold on, I can show you…"

Now would be the time for a tactical retreat. "I think you can spare me," Ratchet said drolly, then with a burst of inspiration added, "I'm sure that Jack would enjoy them, though, he seemed quite interested in the subject matter. Why, we were just discussing it before you came in."

"Really, Jack? Awesome! Check this one out, this is one my friend sent me, I don't think anyone could even be that flexible—"

Ratchet didn't even bother to hide his beatific smile as he strolled away, leaving an alarmingly red and sputtering Jack to Miko's tender mercies.

It didn't count if he wasn't the one doing the scarring, now did it.

When Ratchet first entered his quarters, already looking forward to a few hour of peace where he might gather his data processes into some semblance of sense, his first ridiculous thought was that he had been robbed. All his things were gone. He had few possessions as it was, mostly tools, a few projects that he was working on in his spare time. None of that was desperately important; losing his tools would be a frustrating inconvenience but they were all things that could be replaced with time and effort.

What were irreplaceable were the few, tiny items he'd carried with him from Cybertron. A crystal from the long since destroyed gardens of his home city, a small figure carved of Cybertronian; little more the vulgar souvenirs but they were from home, and though Ratchet would never admit it, the thought of losing them made his spark seize painfully.

Everything was gone.

It was a prank of some sort, he decided, and his earlier irritation was a puff of air in comparison to his pure, clean rage right now. Someone had dared touch his things and Ratchet was of a mood to make them sincerely regret it. He stormed out to the main area to find it mostly empty, only Bulkhead in sight, sneaking in an evening snack.

"Bulkhead!" he bellowed.

The larger mech startled so badly that he had to juggle his cube to keep from dropping in, optics brightening in alarm as he whirled towards Ratchet, his optics vivid with shock, "What, what? It's just one cube, I checked, we can spare it!"

Ratchet took a deep, cooling vent of air before he said, coldly, "Where are my things?"

"Your things?" Bulkhead repeated, his optic flickering in confusion.

"Yes, my things!" Ratchet snarled, impatiently, "My possessions, my tools. Surely you've heard of such things. Where are they? Did you have something do to with this? I swear, if you did, I am going to-"

Bulkhead didn't wait to for him to finish his threat, only shrugged. "Nah, Prime was moving it all earlier."

That...was not what Ratchet was expecting to hear, his anger fizzling like a blown circuit only to be replaced by blank confusion of his own. "What?"

"Yeah, I saw him earlier." Happy to not be in trouble, Bulkhead sipped at his pilfered cube.

"Why would he do that?" Ratchet asked, bewildered. For once, he wasn't even worried about their energon.

Bulkhead's smirk very nearly earned him a dent in the helm. "Probably got tired of trying to fit on that little berth of yours."

Ratchet pressed his lips together before he could say anything else and add to his humiliation of the day, turning on heel and storming back towards the living quarters. Perhaps it was time for him to have that talk with Optimus.

After all, he'd be too busy tomorrow to do it. By morning, Bulkhead would be shrieking about the color of his waste fluids and Ratchet wanted to enjoy every moment of it.

Ratchet supposed it shouldn't have been a surprise to find the door to Optimus's quarters was now keyed to him since it would seem that he lived here now. Or he would for the next few minutes at least.

Bracing himself, Ratchet stepped in. All their quarters were similar; size varied only due to their frame types and Optimus's quarters were no more luxurious than any other. It would surprise no one who knew him that Optimus would never consider accepting those simple amenities due to him by his rank and it was only through the secretive persistence of his troops that Optimus had both larger quarters and a berth sized to be comfortable for his frame, not simply adequate.

Ratchet and Arcee had been the ones to arrange that by the expedience of just not telling Optimus. Mech couldn't protest what he didn't know about, after all.

He hadn't seen these quarters since then and he took a moment to look around. His tools were arranged neatly on a work table in one corner, along with the fuel dispenser he'd been tinkering with on in his spare time, assuming that they were ever able to readily dispense energon. A shelf on one wall held a few sparse items, his own crystal along with others that must belong to Optimus, their colors already shifting to meld together like a proper garden would. With care, they might even begin to grow again.

Ratchet stepped in, slowly, towards the berth room. It was no surprise to see Optimus sitting on the berth, the only place to sit, a data pad in hand. He looked up as Ratchet halted at the doorway, his smile welcoming, warming something deep in Ratchet's spark.

"Are you finished working for the day?" Optimus asked, affectionately, already setting aside his data pad and reaching out a hand. That Ratchet resolutely did not take because he slagging well knew where that ended. Instead, he stood in the doorway until Optimus lowered his hand, some of the happy warmth in his optics dimming. "Is something wrong?"

"You moved my things," Ratchet said with uncharacteristic hesitance.

"Oh, that," Optimus said, his optics brightening again. "I know how busy you are. I didn't want to trouble you with it." He added, a little anxiously, "I was very careful, nothing was damaged."

Yes, because that was Ratchet's concern. Not that Optimus had managed to not only wrangle him into a relationship, sidestepping the task of actually asking him, and now he had them cohabitating, all their possessions snuggled together the same way Optimus was wont to do after interfacing, and every argument Ratchet had against this was shrieking in his processors, boiling over as he tried to sputter them out.

"You can't…we…you…!" A garbled mess was all that emerged, senseless and unintelligible.

Optimus gave him a concerned look. "Are you all right?"

For a few kliks, Ratchet stood there, wavering, before he finally slumped in defeat and stepped into the berthroom. "Yes. I'm fine. It's fine."

He didn't even protest when Optimus reached out and pulled him in, relaxing into the gentle touch of lips against his own, the heat of a warm body covering his. It was difficult waging a battle in a war that even Ratchet was willing to admit he didn't really want to win. What few ludicrously thin protests he'd had were wearing through beneath the sweet affection of Optimus's touches, stroking along delicate sensors, gliding over his armor and beneath, seeking out sensitive cables and energon lines.

Ratchet was already spreading his legs, sighing into Optimus's mouth as the larger mech settled between them. If he could admit to nothing else, he could admit he wanted this, wanted the heady, thick pressure of Optimus's spike pushing into him, a long slick inward glide coupled with a slow withdrawal. Each slow, careful thrust made him clutch at Optimus's armor, a faint sob of pleasure escaping him that was hushed, instantly, by a gentle mouth against his own.

As old as he was, Ratchet couldn't remember any of his past partners making love to him with this tenderness, large hands touching him, arms cradling him as though he were delicate and worthy of such a touch. Nothing in the way Optimus held him indicated that Prime saw him as a grouchy old medic, equal parts sturdy and temperamental.

With effort, Ratchet unshuttered his optics to find Optimus watching him, that same warmth, that tenderness, shining down on him, and he had to look away from it, unsure, unready, but still selfish enough to want this much.

"Ah," Ratchet cried out, his thighs tight against Optimus's hips as he arched up in overload, shaking with it, his valve clenching around the thickness of the spike within it. He felt as Optimus gasped, felt the warm wetness of Prime's overload slicken his valve and the sensation was enough to push him over again, the last quivering thrum of pleasure pulsing through his neural net.

It was only later, resting in Optimus's embrace with his cooling fans slowing, that Ratchet finally asked a question he'd been wanting an answer to for two weeks now.

"Why are you doing this?" Ratchet asked, softly.

"Hmm?" Optimus murmured. He grunted in surprise as Ratchet shoved an elbow into his abdomen, staving off his recharge.

"Why are you doing this?" Ratchet repeated, letting his irritation seep into his voice.

"Doing what?" Optimus yawned, rubbing the spot where Ratchet had elbowed him absently.

"This!" Ratchet gestured impatiently at the berth, the room, the world in general. "Why me?"

"Mm, you told me I could," Optimus mumbled, nuzzling at the cords at Ratchet's throat.

He struggled to ignore the thrill it sent through his neural net. "I told you?" Ratchet repeated, a little fuzzily. If he'd told Optimus he was welcome to move all his possessions, he was fairly sure he'd remember that.

"That first night," Optimus clarified. Oh, well, then, that explained it. He might have said any number of things that night. Had his luck been a little poorer, he might have been pleading with Bulkhead for more.

"You told me that you'd take whatever I'd give you," Optimus told him, softly. "I want to give you this."

His last thought, as Optimus slid down his body, his mouth warm and slick against eager sensor nodes, was that he really needed to be more specific when he said things like that or at least give a statute of limitations. Then his processors refused to allow for higher thought cycles and all Ratchet could do was whimper, his fingers scrabbling desperately over Optimus's helm as Optimus gave him, again, far more than he'd bargained for.