A while back, femme4jack and I had a conversation about STDs Transformers might be subject to. She came up with "cybercrabs." Brilliant.
The folk remedy herein referred to really does address many kinds of bug itch - some from visible bugs, some not. Can I just say up front that I hope you never, ever need to know that?
Ratchet and Sideswipe are my personal favorite pairing. There really is a deep affection between them, at least in fanon.
If a certain four-letter word beginning with "f" offends you, stop reading here.
... frag, too late.
Not mine, not for profit.
Ratchet's duty shift began with a bang that day, so to speak. "What do you want?" he said, glower attached.
"I got trouble, Ratchet."
The medic blinked at Sideswipe. It was very rare to hear Sideswipe complain of anything. Getting put into the brig? Pish and likewise tosh; all that did was give him time to plan some new mischief. Having a practical joke backfire painfully? To Sideswipe that was only part of the fun. Not getting enough face time with the 'cons? Well, occasionally, yes, he did complain about that; but never in this wistful tone of voice.
Therefore the medic blinked again, and said to Sideswipe, "What have you done?"
"Um. Nothing that I know of. I just ... itch."
It would be inaccurate to say that dread rose up in Ratchet's pump. No, it was more like resignation, with a thick outer coating of rage, than anything else.
Sides told him, and braced his neck cables for wrench impact. But Ratchet only sighed. "Lie down, Sideswipe. I'm going to have to have a look." He pulled the curtain around the exam berth, isolating it visually from the rest of the med bay.
Sideswipe did as he was told without comment, even though Ratchet expected one after he said, "Flex the leg away from me, and angle your knee out. Pop your spike cover."
But no, Sideswipe did not leer at hm or make any sort of Sideswipean comment. Given what happened every other time Ratchet treated the red twin, he'd expected that, and its absence was alarming.
The evidence revealed, Ratchet found it necessary to say, "Frag. You've got yourself a nice infestation of cyber-crabs, Sides."
Because the kid was a mess. Ratchet could see where he'd been scratching (marks), and where he hadn't dared to (weeping pools of exudate around bite wounds), on both valve and spike: and he also saw the telltale presence of little white moving things that sure as slag weren't nanites. Nanites were never big enough to be visible with normal sight.
Ratchet turned the pain receptors down gently, and as gently did what he could about the damage. Sideswipe made no comment, outside of the occasional muffled snort and whimper.
When Ratchet finished, he said, "Now go to the patient shower in the corner and wash your valve and spike, using the green solvent, you understand? It will hurt. If it's too painful, you come back, and I'll put you offline to do it. After that, you are staying right on this berth, got it? You are going absolutely nowhere until I say you can. I need some information from you, and you quite obviously need some information from me. I'll pull you from duty for this orn, tomorrow, and the next orn. After that, we'll see how it goes."
Sideswipe got up, pivoted to face Ratchet, and said in tones of displeasure, "Three full orn!"
"Three full orn. Are my instructions clear?"
Sides' helm bowed, and he said in the tone Ratchet was waiting for, "Yes, Ratchet." His gait on the way to the showers was that of a chidden sparkling, not so much properly cowed as fully resigned.
Damn' kid trusted him, and the weight of that trust nearly broke Ratchet's spark.
Sideswipe did manage to wash himself, though not without some surprising sound effects. Ratchet ignored them, while noting that Sideswipe actually did know how to yodel, and suppressed his desire to interrupt and turn his patient's pain receptors all the way off. Bad acts should carry a consequence.
Fraggitall, anyway. Ratchet got out the datapads, the bag of medical-grade energon, the hanger, the sterilized needle, a gallon jug of Will Lennox' Secret Weapon (vinegar), the sterile syringe, the sterile tubing, the thingummy that would serve as the on-ramp to the freeway of Sides' energon stream, and last the really precious stuff, the (slightly radioactive) boron, an antibiotic analog.
He returned with his burden, and put all of it but the hanger on Sides' berth, which he clipped to the side nearest himself. He fished one datapad out from under everything else, and handed it to Sideswipe. "Read this. I'll need your arm out straight for the tube in a couple of breem."
Sides frowned at him, picked up the pad, and put one arm down beside himself. Ratchet put the other datapad on his chest, and arranged hanger, bag, tubing, thingummy, and radioactivity. Last he attached the needle.
He sterilized the inside of Sideswipe's elbow, found a line through the red plating, and put the needle in, ignoring Sideswipe's wince. (He'd said once to the red frontliner, "You get shot by the 'cons and you keep fighting but you wince for a little needle?" And those big blue eyes had looked into his and the voice said, small and scared, "Yeah." Kaon, Ratchet figured, and kicked himself for not remembering that vorn of first youth spent in the gladiator rings. He never brought it up to Sideswipe again.)
Ratchet adjusted the drips. Watched everything work for a couple of breem, little bubbles of atmosphere rising to the top of the bag.
After that he applied The Secret Weapon Will Lennox had told him about to Sideswipe's valve and spike, which brought forth a fresh set of yodels, but stopped the itching dead in its tracks. Sideswipe sighed with relief once the pain had faded.
Ratchet drew a stool over to Sideswipe's berth. "Now. You have to tell me the name of every 'bot you've slept with over the last four decaorn. Start with the latest ones."
It took three decaorn for cyber-crabs to land on a victim and fully establish the sort of residency Ratchet had just razed to the ground, so to speak. So four would tell Ratchet who else was likely to be involved.
Having a processor is different from having a brain. The possessor of a processor calls up the date, subtracts thirty of the orn units from the current count, without having to count on the digits of servo or pede, and cross-references the memory files, all of which are date-stamped.
The possessor of a brain has to check his or her datebook, log, diary, or journal. Some have to go finger the wood chips cut out of the bedpost. The brain-user would have said, "Mary Jones, Eliza Ying, Teddie Black... what was her name? Oh. Susan, Susan, Susan ... Mason! That's it ... Maria Martinez ..." and gone on more and more slowly, the more distant the memory.
Whereas Sides said immediately, no pauses between, "Sunny, Blue, Prowl, Hound, Sunny, Prowl, Sunny, Hound and Trailbreaker and Sunny, Sunny, Blue, Starscream, Sunny."
Had Ratchet had a head, and a desk handy, he would have headdesked. He had to settle for helmberthing. "Idiot!"
Sideswipe shuttered his optics. "I know."
"No, I don't think you do know! You've fraternized with the enemy, and you will now be subjected to a hacking to discover what secrets, if any, you shared with the 'cons! Idiot!"
Sideswipe sighed and made optic contact with Ratchet, which stopped Ratchet cold in mid-rant. "I didn't share any secrets, and I didn't share my spark. We just ... uh."
"Yeah, well, protocol is that we can't take your word for 'uh,' Sides. About all I can do is take you offline for the hacking." The medic sighed himself, and with unusual gentleness, taped the line to Sideswipe's forearm plating. "If this begins to hurt, comm me right away. I have some reports to file."
Prowl, much as Ratchet expected, was not terribly gracious about the responsibilities that fell upon him as a result of Sideswipe's disclosure. "I can understand having to hack that bright-red idiot, and a little brig-time after you get through with him in med bay will do him good. But why do I have to tell you who I 'face with?"
Ratchet took a very deep breath. "Because Sideswipe has contracted cyber-crabs." He remembered the condition of Sideswipe's spike and valve, and shuddered. "The timing just about ensures that he got it from Starscream, and he's a generous 'bot: he's shared it with five others among us. So I need to know who else you 'faced with over the last three decaorn."
Prowl shrugged, his gaze sliding down to the datapads in front of him. "Jazz."
Ratchet let a very long silence stretch out, and when it was apparent that no one else was forthcoming, asked in a spirit of scientific enquiry, "Have you two bonded?"
Prowl glared at him. "When we make that decision, you will be the second to know."
"After Optimus. Who may very well order you not to."
"An order we would obey. But that's why you're second, yes."
"All right. Do you want to talk to Jazz, or should I?"
"Go ahead. Do we have to get treated?"
"I'm afraid I must insist; they're damn' contagious. If one of you has given them to the other and both of you don't get treated, you'll just trade them back and forth. And they may mutate, whereupon you'll both get the mutation as well as the initial infection. And as I said, they're very contagious. Sideswipe got them in a single contact, or so he says."
"How long will treatment take?"
"The first strike takes about a joor initially, with three shorter follow-up visits. And you know I have to ask you not to 'face until that's complete, although you can spark-share if you manage that without spike-and-valve contact ..."
"Yeah, yeah." Prowl completed a quick canter around his commitments, said, "Tomorrow morning do you, right at your shift change?"
"Yes. Thanks, Prowl." Ratchet knew that would allow Prowl to start his own shift at the usual time.
Prowl struggled for a moment, and then said honestly, "I can't exactly say 'thank you' in return, Ratchet. But I'm grateful."
The medic rose. "See you in the morning," he said, and Prowl's office door shut behind him.
"Well sure I'll be glad to tell you although I'll have to remember first and I think it was Sides, Trailbreaker, Hound, Mirage, Sunny, and ... nobody else, and I don't have to tell them, do I, because I think it'll be much better if you tell them, really, that kind of news coming from me, I mean, it won't be exactly welcome, will it, and -"
"- because I really don't want to tell them unless it's absolutely necessary to hear it from me, because really that's pretty bad news, I mean I'm all upset and everything just thinking about it and they will be too, and they'll be upset with me if I - I mean it's part of your job, isn't it, and - "
"- besides if you tell them they'll know what they have to do, where all I can do is tell them that they have to report to you, and if you tell them you can say when and I can't do that and -"
"- anyway I don't know any of their schedules, and mine doesn't itch yet so maybe I didn't-"
The young gunner blinked, and looked at Ratchet for the first time since his mouth had achieved orbital velocity. "Yes?"
"I'll tell them. You show up in med bay tomorrow one joor ten breem before your shift starts, and we'll take it from there."
"Thank you, Ratchet, I really appreciate that - and I'm on mid-shift if that helps and I'm so glad I don't have to tell anybody else because that was going to be really awkward and -"
His voice cut off as the door shut, and Ratchet wondered how long the young gunner would continue to talk before he realized he was alone.
Hound, who had contact with no one but Trailbreaker, blushed. "Sure. What time tomorrow?"
Trailbreaker,who had contact with no one but Hound, blushed. "Sure. What time tomorrow?"
Ratchet had mercy, and told him when Hound would be in, but not, of course, who would be there. Patient confidentiality wins over kindness, hands down, every time.
Jazz bellowed with laughter, and pounded his desk.
Ratchet, who expected it, sighed.
When Jazz sobered, the medic said, "Want an appointment at the same time as Prowl's? I can even give you side-by-side berths."
"Sure," the saboteur said with a grin. "There's some human love poems I been wantin' to read him, and he'll be a captive audience."
Ratchet sighed again. "Even if I knew what to do with you, I couldn't do it. Medical ethics. You had intimate physical contact with anybody else over the last six decaorn?"
"Aw, Ratch. That's the closest you've ever come to sayin' you love me. No, just Prowler." Jazz grinned even more widely. "You can come listen if you want."
Ratchet knew when to call "getting the Pit out" a "beating a strategic retreat." He beat a strategic retreat.
Or that's what he told himself, anyway. He knew he really just got the Pit out.
"Sunny, I won't have you near him. He's got a private room until he can go. You'll come in and be treated in the common area. You can slag each other up in training when you're both healthy again."
The other half of Sideswipe's spark folded his arms and glowered at the medic.
They were in the twins' airy, messy quarters. Ratchet, a senior officer, was carefully ignoring the presence of a working still in plain sight.
"Look. He feels bad enough about it as it is. You will not humiliate him over this, do you understand? It could have happened to anybody Starscream set his sights on, and that happened to be your brother. In other words, Sunny, I could be treating you, and you'd have to tell Sides. Understand?"
Sunny glowered more deeply. "I wouldn't have 'faced the Screamer, no matter what!"
"Probably not. I'm choosing to believe that Sides' sense of humor got the better of him, and I think you should too. You know he'll have to be hacked over it; I'll lessen the unpleasantness of that as much as I can for him. But it'll serve as a cautionary lesson."
Sunny snorted, and unfolded his arms. "I'll be sure it's beaten into him."
"I can't stop you. But if the damage you inflict gets too severe, I'll install limiters. Got it?"
"Yeah, I got it." Sunny brooded at the floor for a moment. When the floor appeared to survive, he raised his optics to Ratchets', and said, "You got any idea what it's like to share your spark with a mech who's never gotten beyond being a sparkling?"
Ratchet's pump clenched. He remembered those wet eyes, and the wince: Sides had never been allowed to be a sparkling, really. "Sunny. All you can do is love him."
"I do, once I'm over being so frustrated by him that I could twist his head off."
"Actually," Ratchet said, rising, "feel free. That's an easy repair."
Ratchet's last little bit of on-base non-medical duty that orn involved a meeting to which both Prowl and Optimus were invited.
"So you see, it's a unique opportunity to really adversely affect Megatron's forces," he said, with that bright-and-shiny smile both Optimus and Prowl had come to dread.
Maybe, Prowl thought, it was all the kindness Ratchet worked so hard to hide on a day-by-day basis. The mech's hands were so gentle when they had to be, and so fierce when that was required, that maybe ... this ... was what he had to do to keep those traits in balance.
Optimus, on the other hand, was grinning.
"I'm sure I should say no, Ratchet. But I'm going to say yes."
Prowl fritzed, but that delayed Ratchet's departure only by ten orn or so.
Starscream waited, one pede tapping.
The middle of fraggin' nowhere. Surrounded by widely-spaced dead human vehicles, a few very old and dilapidated wooden buildings, and organic slag of various kinds, some of which was not kind to the finish. Other kinds were mobile and occasionally made output. Some of it was a noise like "Moo," which he did not understand and had little interest in responding to anyway. The rest seemed to be brown and squishy, and he'd stepped in it twice already.
Waiting on a fraggin' Autobot. But not for too much longer, fraggit
He scratched, wished he hadn't, and kicked the nearest abandoned human vehicle.
Which said, "Knock it off, for Primus' sake!," stood up, revolved its outer plating, and proved to be a robot in disguise: Ratchet, the Autobot on whom he was waiting.
Starscream, for whom self-control was roughly 191st on the list of top 10 things he wanted to do, reached for Ratchet, but the noise made when the smaller 'bot's cannon charged stopped him.
The Air Commander dropped his servos and snarled, "It's impolite, Autobot, to keep your host waiting!"
"It's even more impolite to have an ambush laid for your guest when he arrives." Ratchet dusted himself off.
Starscream took another step backward, and managed a hurt tone of screech. "You don't trust me?"
"To paraphrase Captain Jack Sparrow, 'Hello? Decepticon.'"
"Who?" said Starscream, browplates wrinkling.
"Never mind. It's a human reference. – I called you here because you've given Sideswipe cyber-crabs."
"I have not."
"Oh yes you have. Let me put it to you this way: every Autobot who had 'facing contact with Sideswipe after his little visit to you has them, and none of the 'bots who 'faced him before he 'faced you have them. Now, need I explain to you the scientific method, or that the strong inference here is that it is you who infected Sideswipe?"
Starscream glowered at him and tried to scratch, covertly, because his valve and spike had apparently caught fire. But Ratchet grabbed his servo.
"Don't scratch. Not only does it make it itch worse, it spreads it."
Starscream snarled and broke free of the other. "Fine! Have you come to treat it?"
"No. I've come to ask you what the frag, Starscream? 'Facing one of us? And when I have a good answer to that question, I'll tell you how to treat it yourself. What I can do for my guys is give them a healthy dose of radioactive boron intravenously, but I'd be kind of surprised if Hook was willing to do that for you. And even if I were willing to share the boron, which I'm not, the humans count and weigh that stuff obsessively. They're pretty leery of radioactivity, haven't figured out how to handle it yet. So why?"
Starscream shrugged. "He's a good-looking 'bot, and whenever he jet-judoed me, it gave me the hots."
"For Primus' sake. Is that all? You had the hots and decided to go for it? Megatron would have you shot out of hand, you know that."
Starscream smirked. "He was worth it."
Ratchet never was sure how he got the blow in afterward, but Starscream sat up, and wiped his mouth. He climbed to his feet, and said, "What's the matter, Autobot? Tapping that yourself?"
Ratchet moved away. "Itch to death, you piece of slag," he said over his shoulder. "You've just talked yourself out of any help at all from me."
"No, please! I'm sorry I said that! Please help us - me! Please help me!"
"Moo," one of the mobile organics put in. But this was ignored.
"Oh, so you've infected others? Class act there, Starscream. Who?"
The Air Commander folded his arms, and subjected his own pedes to a fierce scrutiny. "I got it from Dirge. The Command Trine all have it. Soundwave's been after me to face with him, and I will, before I treat myself."
"No you won't. Instead, you will go to your trinemates and get the names of everyone they slept with, and you will make sure that each and every one of those contacts treats the affected area with acetic acid, in the solution which humans call 'vinegar,'"said Ratchet. "It stops the itching immediately, but it won't kill the crabs. To do that you'll have to apply it three times a day for six decaorn. So will everyone you've had sexual, or even close physical, contact with. You might want to stop polishing your finish right now, anywhere, because the vinegar will strip the shine. And if you wax or polish over crabs, they'll bubble and whiten the finish, as well as multiplying like crazy underneath it. No valve-or-spike contact with anyone else until you've been rid of them for eight decaorn, during which time you have to keep up the treatment, since the nits take six to seven decaorn to hatch. Same's true for everyone you've had sexual contact with, and everyone they've had sexual contact with."
"Fourteen decaorn? No waxing, no polishing for fourteen decaorn! That's almost a full solar orbit!"
Starscream wailed, and to Ratchet's amusement, actually wrung his servos.
"Yep. Although you can wax and polish everywhere else, I sure wouldn't try showing up shiny everywhere but a dull crotch around Megatron." Ratchet grinned at the discomfited 'con 2IC. "You can find acetic acid at chemical supply houses, or the vinegar dilution at grocery stores."
That was going to be a problem, Ratchet knew, because Megatron paid in Cybertronian credits, but it wasn't his problem. He did wonder vaguely if there would be a rash of Decepticon vandalization of grocery stores, and whether the humans' response would be to research the weaponization of pickles.
Starscream blasted off, spewing sand all over his benefactor.
Ratchet, on the other hand, transformed and rolled out, waiting five breem to send on the comm frequency they had used to set up this meeting, ::Oh, and Starscream?::
::The moral of this story is, don't frag with the Autobots.::