a/n: Please pay attention to the warnings.

Title: Dear Lies

Characters: Jazz/Ratchet, Wheeljack, Others

Rating: M

Genre: Angst, Horror

Warnings: dubcon, noncon, bondage, interfacing (spark, tactile, pnp)

Summary: It starts, as horrors are known to do, with the little things.

Other Notes: Written for competition-fun on livejournal, the "love abounds, Valentine's horror" prompt. Very dark. Very twisted. Very read-at-your-own-risk. Though I've been reassured it's okay for posting on here.


The quiet hours after a battle are simultaneously the worst and the best. Good because they are quiet. Terrible because they leave Ratchet with nothing but silence and time to think. Time to ruminate on the injuries he's recently treated, to worry about what he might have to fix in the future, to fear that next time he might not be able to save one of his patients. His friends.

He fills those hours with scut work. Cleaning the berths and spilled energon, along with his many tools and pieces of equipment. Restocking his cabinets with much-needed supplies. Taking stock of what was used, what can be refurbished, and so on. He updates medical files and ignores the fatigue tugging at every strut, every hydraulic line, and has so much practice ignoring the warning pings for recharge and a cube of energon that he doesn't hear them anymore.

Behind him, Ratchet does notice the chime for the medbay seconds before the door whooshes open. The absence of footfalls identifies his visitor as one of three mechs. Fortunately, Ratchet doesn't need those three guesses.

"I'm almost done."

"Wrong!" Jazz says cheerfully, swinging into the edge of Ratchet's vision. "Yer done now."

For a teetering moment, Ratchet considers defying him. He's never been one to be cowed into anything before. But Jazz isn't one to be ignored. He can be slaggin' relentless when he puts his mind to it. And right now, Ratchet doesn't have the energy to put up a resistance.

With a sigh, he sets down his tools. Even as he silently promises to finish organizing first thing tomorrow.

"Very well," Ratchet allows with all the dignity he can muster and turns around. "As you say, I'm done now."

Jazz breaks into a grin, visor brightening with his glee. "Good. Then ya can come with me." Agile fingers curl around Ratchet's hand as the shorter bot pulls him from the medbay without so much as a by-your-leave. "Ya work too hard, Ratch mah mech."

"Someone's got to," Ratchet retorts. "You accident-prone slaggers aren't going to fix yourselves."

Jazz laughs. He hooks an arm in Ratchet's elbow and escorting him down the hall like the humans do in all those movies.

"I try not ta get slagged too often," he says, and his voice is so mild, so calm.

Ratchet all but snorts even as he hears it.

"It's not you so much as those pit-born twins," he grumbles.

But by now, no one takes him seriously anymore. It's an inevitable truth with this war now. Frontliners get slagged; medics fix them. A never-ending cycle.

Jazz chuckles softer this time, then rounds the hall toward the officer's barracks, deftly steering Ratchet to his own quarters. They've only been dating, as the humans call it, for around two Earth years. Cohabitating has yet to really permeate Ratchet's mind; he's too stubborn to cross that line. Not yet. Not this early.

He's not like Prowl for sure. Prowl who, against all logical odds, took Wheeljack to berth one month and bonded him the next. That had certainly been something to power the gossip mill at the Ark. Mechs talked about it for weeks, months even, afterward.

Whereas Ratchet and Jazz's burgeoning relationship had started so quietly that it still shocked some of the bots to see the two of them together in any capacity. Even casually walking down the hall, as they are now.

"This is getting to be a habit," Ratchet comments, memory core flagging several files and bringing them to the front of his cortex. As a matter of fact, he'd have to actively search to find a shift where Jazz hadn't escorted him back to his quarters afterward. At least, when he wasn't out on a mission of some kind.

"What is?"

They pause in front of Ratchet's quarters, and he keys in the code, the door sliding open to admit them.

"You bringing me home, so to speak."

Deft fingers tease at a gap in his hip plating, stroking briefly over buried cables. "How else am I gonna get ya outta that medbay?"

Ratchet shivers as a wash of heat floods his systems. His systems are well-accustomed to Jazz's all-too-skilled touch.

"I can think of a few methods," he replies, though the fatigue in his struts seemed to belie the tease.

"Yeah?" Jazz grins at him again. "So can I. Sit." His tone brooks no argument, though amusement glimmers in his visor as he points at the berth.

Shaking his head, Ratchet does as he's told. His frame relaxes almost immediately when he does.

"You staying?" he questions, pulling a half-empty cube out of his subspace. It wouldn't hurt to top off before heading into recharge.

He lifts the cube to his lip components, but before he can so much as catch a whiff of the energon, Jazz whisks the cube away from his hands.

"Don't drink that." He promptly plops a full cube into Ratchet's hand. "Use this one instead."

Ratchet huffs. "What was wrong with the one I had?" he demands but takes what Jazz offers anyway. It tastes no different than the one he already had though.

"It's not mah special blend," Jazz responds almost dismissively and tucks the half-empty cube away in his subspace. He smiles then, approaching directly, hands reaching for Ratchet's thigh and ghosting upward.

It shouldn't feel so good, but it does. Ratchet's a medic and not even programmed to be a war-time one at that. His armor isn't built to withstand heavy damage, so even the soft scrape of Jazz's hands over his plating sends pleasant buzzes of sensation through his sensory net. His fingers curl tighter around his cube, a rumble of appreciation building in his vocalizer.

"Poor Ratch," Jazz all but purrs, stepping even closer, perched between Ratchet's legs. His hands slide a tantalizing path over metal and wires, fingers dipping into grooves. "Ya look exhausted."

Ratchet's fans kick on with an interested whirr. He hastily drinks another third of the energon Jazz had given him.

"Are you trying to get me to relax?" he inquires and surprises himself with the edge of static his voice has adopted.

Jazz chuckles and leans closer, nuzzling against Ratchet's windshield. His mouth components track downward and over the Autobot symbol displayed so prominently. Ratchet has to fight not to arch into the touch completely, even as he feels Jazz smirk.

"I dunno," a seductive voice whispers. "Is it workin'?"

One deft hand slips into a gap in Ratchet's back armor, tweaking several wires that make him cry out. He arches forward, free hand flailing a moment before landing on Jazz's helm, finding and stroking his sensory horns. Jazz's engine gives an appreciative rev.

"I'll take that as a yes," the Porche replies mischievously, and his glossa traces over Ratchet's headlights.

The medic groans, fingers threatening to shatter the energon cube. Heat rushes through his systems like a tidal wave, setting every circuit aflame. Fragging Special Ops mechs knowing just when to take advantage! He's always more sensitive when he's in need of a good recharge and a serious defrag, and Jazz knows it. Conniving slagger!

"Finish your energon," Jazz orders, but it's almost covered by the sound of an engine revving further. His hand is now buried in Ratchet's cabling, tweaking and stroking mercilessly. "Wouldn't want it ta go ta waste, would we?"

It's almost an automatic response to do as Jazz says, and Ratchet gulps down the cube, shoving it aside the instant he finishes. As if approving, Jazz dips his head. His mouth attacks a seam in the medic's side, glossa barely brushing a bundle of wires buried beneath.

Ratchet shouts, arching forward, a heavy charge crawling across his circuits. His free hand clamps down on Jazz's shoulder, fingers digging into hydraulic lines. If he's going down, he's going to drag Jazz with him. He feels a shudder race over Jazz's plating, the saboteur's engine giving another heated noise.

"Mmm. Good try," Jazz teases, drawing back with a parting nip to Ratchet's plating. "But I've a few tricks up my sleeve."

His free hand snaps out, grabbing Ratchet's own from his shoulder, and before Ratchet can so much as speak, a warm glossa snakes out over his index finger. The heat swamping his systems flares brighter, electricity snapping across his frame. Jazz is merciless, the fragging tease, drawing each and every finger into his mouth. Denta grace over sensitive paneling, glossa teasing at the tiniest gaps between each point.

A wordless burst of static escapes Ratchet's vocalizer as the charge in his systems snapped, sending him into a cascading overload. He jerks and writhes, Jazz's glossa relentless on his fingers, his circuitry crawling with bright sparks of electricity. His fans struggle to cool his heated frame, and he sags, twitching as lingering pleasure sparks his body.

Jazz, looking terribly smug about it all, drags his denta one last time over Ratchet's fingers before letting them slip from his mouth. He looks at Ratchet then. Visor unreadable. But the smirk is all too obvious.

"Nice."

Ratchet, systems frantically trying to cool him down and HUD pinging him for long overdue recharge, makes a noncommittal noise. Like Jazz needs any more stroking of his ego.

Jazz frees his fingers from Ratchet's plating and pats him on the aft. "Don't fall inta recharge on meh yet, Ratch. We're not through."

Primus! So it's to be one of those nights then. Ratchet groans, torn between dragging Jazz on to the berth beside him for a night spent fragging each other's pedes off and rolling over, sliding into a wonderful, relaxing recharge.

"I'm not," Ratchet mutters and drags himself fully onto the berth, not at all surprised when Jazz deftly and immediately straddles him. "Are you trying to interface me into an early grave?"

Jazz laughs. His fingers find Ratchet's windshield. His aft grinds down against Ratchet's hip with a teasing slide of plating on plating.

"Would be a pit of a way ta go, wouldn't it?"

Groaning, Ratchet can only surrender as the low burr of pleasure starts to build within him again. This time, however, he sets his own hands to work. If he's going down, he's going to take Jazz with him. For certain.

It's going to be a long, exhausting night. But oh, so worth it.

o0o0o

He emerges from recharge the next morning feeling like he'd spent the night before guzzling gallons of high grade. Like he'd been trampled by Grimlock and then run over by Astrotrain for good measure. Every circuit aches from being subjected to delirious amounts of pleasure, and his systems are pinging him alerts, energy levels dipping into a low thirty percent.

Primus! Jazz was insatiable!

Groaning, Ratchet rolls out of his berth, every move sluggish and achy. He has to be on-shift in an hour. Which is enough time to grab a cube of energon in the rec room and try to prod his processor into something more coherent.

His quarters are empty. No surprise there. Jazz recharges little, rises early, and isn't one for lingering around idly. Ratchet has grown used to waking alone. Not all the time but often enough. Also, to no surprise, there is a cube of energon waiting for him on his desk. Which means he won't need that trip to the rec room.

A message has been left on his terminal access.

Ratchet slumps heavily into the chair at his desk, dragging the cube toward him and downing it in several gulps. He has to reboot his optics twice before they agree to focus on the message Jazz left for him. Slag but he's getting too old for this.

He quickly scans the datapad. Jazz is going to be on a mission for the next couple of days. And he's been ordered to not be lonely in his lover's absence. Ratchet chuckles softly and tucks the datapad away.

He drinks the cube Jazz left for him, luxuriates in the meditative silence in his quarters, and only rises from his seat when his HUD pings him with a shift reminder. Ratchet rises to his pedes, flicks the cube into a recycle chute, and heads for the door. He reaches for the panel, and notices the scrape of black paint on his arm.

Frag.

He looks down. Streaks are all over his thighs and hip, too.

Double frag.

And he doesn't have enough time to stop by the washracks now. He'll have to try his best to buff them out in the medbay. Slaggin' stupid lover. Might as well have painted "Property of Jazz" on his aft if the saboteur wanted to stake a claim.

Ratchet shakes his helm. Point of fact, he wouldn't put it past Jazz to do such a thing, mildly possessive bot that he is.

Ratchet sighs. Wheeljack's going to tease him mercilessly.

Oh, well. A few carefully aimed wrenches should take care of that.

o0o0o

Fatigue tugs at his strut, at every hydraulic line, as Ratchet drags himself to the rec room. All he wants is a quick cube before he retires to his quarters for a much needed break. He swears that he can't remember what it feels to be properly energized. If it's not the Decepticons causing carnage, then it's the Dinobots being clumsy or Sideswipe's prank gone awry. Or on the rare occasions such as earlier this afternoon, Perceptor accidentally mixing chemicals together and causing an explosion of Wheeljack proportions.

Perceptor of all mechs!

And to think, Ratchet had always thought the soft-spoken scientist the careful, logical one amongst them all. Perceptor is supposed to be one of the few Ratchet doesn't have to worry about.

Instead, he's spent most of the afternoon putting a very embarrassed, very apologetic microscope back together. 'Jack had been inappropriately ecstatic for the simple fact that it wasn't him in pieces for once.

It had been a long day for everyone.

On the bright side, Jazz would be returning from his mission any hour now. He'd have to deliver his report to Prowl, get cleaned up, and see Hoist in the medbay for a quick systems scan, but afterward Ratchet can be assured that the saboteur will seek him out. It's nearly always the first thing Jazz does once the official business has been handled.

It's somewhere between the end of the second shift and the beginning of the third, which probably accounts for the fact the rec room is so slaggin' packed. Ratchet groans, wishing not for the first time they had energon dispensers in the officer barracks. He can only hope the two banes of his existence aren't somewhere in the crowd, just waiting to pounce and annoy the slag out of him.

Ratchet attempts to slip unobtrusive through the crowd, aiming to grab a cube and leave before he can be roped into socializing in his exhausted state. Unfortunately, stealth is neither in his programming nor one of his acquired skills. Before he makes it three steps toward the dispenser, Smokescreen spots him. The tactician smiles and immediately comes Ratchet's direction.

Scrap. He's been caught.

"Ratchet!" Smokescreen greets, clapping a hand to Ratchet's shoulder with a companionable squeeze. "You look exhausted. Having trouble keeping up with the Jazz-man?"

If he weren't so tired, Ratchet probably could have come up with a sufficiently witty and barbed reply to that. Instead, he offlines his optics with a huff.

"Jazz is on a mission," he says. "And my systems have been pinging me for energon for an hour, so if you don't mind..."

Smokescreen pushes a cube at him. "Here. Take mine." He slings an arm over Ratchet's shoulders, tugging him close. "Got it before I realized I didn't need it. Come on. Bee was just telling us an interesting story about Perceptor. He fragged up all of the betting circles around here."

Ratchet tries to dig in his heels, knowing that if he gets dragged into their friendly, conversational circle, it'll be awhile before he can excuse himself free. And then someone will mention high grade, and he's never been that good at self-control – case in point his numerous trysts with Jazz. Next thing he knows, he'll wake up tomorrow with a processor-ache, very little useful recharge, and an unpleasant gurgle in his tanks.

Better not to be lead into temptation.

"Actually," Ratchet inserts, trying to duck out from under Smokescreen's arm, "I'm thinking to head back to my quarters."

That earns him a grin and gleaming optics.

"The better to wait for Jazz?"

"Wait? I'm already here."

Ratchet half-turns, and Smokescreen looks over his shoulder. Both of them see Jazz standing there, a mere half-pace behind them. He has an odd expression on his face, one Ratchet can't recall seeing before, but in another moment it's wiped away, replaced with his usual smile.

"Jazz," Ratchet greets warmly. And no, he's spark doesn't give a happy tremble. It doesn't!

"Hey, Ratch." Jazz beams, but it fades a tad. "Smokey."

"Welcome back," Smokescreen replies and gives Ratchet a little shake. "We were just talking about you."

"I noticed." Jazz deftly slides into between them, an interesting feat of physics that dislodges Smokescreen's arm as the saboteur slides his own around Ratchet's waist. "Missed me, did ya?"

Smokescreen gives them some space. "Only because you're always the life of the party."

"Smokey! Leave the lovebots alone!" Sideswipe suddenly calls out, much to Ratchet's mortification and a small scatter of laughter from the room. "No one likes a third wheel."

Smokescreen holds up his hands, backing up another step as he shifts toward the group he'd left earlier. "He's got a good point. Don't let me get in the way."

He grins mischievously, and Ratchet can practically see the wheels turning in Smokescreen's processor. How can he work this to his advantage? What kind of bets can he get the bots to place?

"Two years later and they still haven't run out of jokes," Ratchet says and pulls the cube Smokescreen had given him toward his lips. He's still running low after all.

He reboots his optics as the cube is plucked from his fingers and whisked away, only to be replaced by another. Again.

"This one's better," Jazz says and deftly steers Ratchet toward the door. "Who knows what Smokescreen put in that one?"

Ratchet gives his lover a pointed look. "Spiking the energon? He doesn't hang out with Sideswipe that much. Besides, I've enough secondary and tertiary systems that one cube would hardly affect me."

They leave the rec room, nodding a greeting to a pack of minibots that is just entering.

"Not the point." Jazz's hand strokes along Ratchet's back. "Mech's gotta learn some boundaries."

"Boundaries?" Ratchet pauses in the hall. "What in the pit are you talking about?"

That odd look is in Jazz's face again, though it can be hard to tell with how inscrutable his visor makes him.

"Nothin'," he replies, fingers curling around Ratchet's hand and tugging the medic closer to him. "Don't worry 'bout it. Been a long day is all."

Ratchet can agree with that much. "Tell me about it," he grumbles with a sigh. "How did your mission go?"

Jazz's visor lights up. "Ya won't believe the cracked up plan Megs is cookin' up this time."

"Another brilliant scheme from the Decepticon commander, Primus forbid!" Ratchet sips at the energon Jazz brought him.

Chuckling, Jazz tugs his hand and they pick up the pace again, heading no doubt to either of their quarters. Which is a good end to the night in Ratchet's opinion. Though Jazz's behavior does nag at the back of his processor, he shutters it away. Jazz always was a bit tense after returning from one of his infiltrations.

o0o0o

Jazz was right of course. Not but two days after his return from scoping out the Nemesis, the Decepticons attack with their most recent weapon of mass destruction. It's some kind of matter eradicator to the best of Ratchet's estimation, but it works as well as one of Wheeljack's least successful endeavors. That is to say, it explodes the first time Starscream tries to use it.

Admittedly, part of Ratchet wants to attribute that to operator malfunction rather than an error in the weapon's design.

Megatron, infuriated by yet another failure, attempts to take out his anger on the Autobots. With two gestalts at his command, the battle is fierce but thankfully brief. Still, the injured are carted into Ratchet's medbay with wounds raging from laserfire to a missing limb in Ironhide's case. Ratchet is kept quite busy, though that doesn't keep the idiot twins from annoying him, which is their usual standard when only one is injured.

"Ratchet, I'm in need of some attention over here!" Sunstreaker complains loudly, the dent in his chestplate hardly even worth the effort in Ratchet's opinion.

Ironhide's still clutching the remnants of his leg after all, and though his pain sensors have been shut off, it's unsettling for anyone to be lacking a limb. The rebuild and reattachment is also among the lengthier repairs, but since 'Hide's not in any pain, he and Sunstreaker both can be dealt with later.

"Your slaggin' paint job can wait!" Ratchet growls and bends over Sideswipe's flank again, continuing the delicate process of removing bits of splintered shrapnel from the red twin's innards.

Sides chuckles, arms folded behind his head. He's as relaxed on the medberth as someone might be on a beach vacation.

"He just wants you to kiss it and make it better," he teases.

Sunstreaker, very unamused, seethes at his twin. "Suck my tailpipe," he snarls.

Smiling sweetly at his brother, Sideswipe drags the back of his knuckles over Ratchet's arm. "Ignore the surly sunflower, Ratch. What do ya say? Everyone says a quick overload cures all that ails a bot."

"Everyone?" Ratchet snorts, tweaking a frayed wire with a bit more force than necessary. "Try another one."

The red twin chuckles. "You wound me in my very spark," he says, free hand groping at his chestplate and making him twitch under Ratchet's ministrations. "And with me being so free with my affections."

"Yeah, we all know how free ya are, Siders."

Ratchet startles, jerking out a piece of shrapnel in his surprise and making Sideswipe yelp. He hastily puts a clamp on a suddenly spurting line and then glances over his shoulder.

"Jazz!" He divides his attention between his lover and Sideswipe's quickly patched leak. "I thought you were in ops."

"Prime sent me ta check on 'Hide," the saboteur answers, but he's not even looking at Ratchet. His focus seems to be on Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, who are both suddenly much quieter than before.

Ratchet huffs. "He could have commed me and saved you the trip. Primus save me from guilt-struck Primes!"

If not for his proximity sensors, he would've startled again when Jazz placed a hand at the small of his back. It's rare that Jazz gets so close when Ratchet is in the middle of performing repairs after a battle. In fact, it's even rarer that Prime would send Jazz of all mechs on a courier run. He'd normally grab Bee or Grapple or pits, even Mirage.

Jazz makes a noncommittal noise. His fingers rap over the berth, mere inches from Sideswipe's knee.

"Nasty wound ya got there, Siders."

"It's what I get for standing too close to Megatron's latest weapon of doom," Sideswipe replies with another chuckle, but it sounds forced. Nervous even. His optics don't meet Jazz's visor. "Guess I should be more careful from now on."

"Haven't I been saying that all along?" Ratchet demands, tugging out the last of the shrapnel and leaving only patches left. Well, those and a few dents but Sideswipe can bang those out on his own, and Ratchet's quite sure Sunstreaker will see to the scratches in his brother's paint.

"Yeah," Jazz agrees, and his fingers rap over the berth again, almost contemplative. "Ya should really watch where yer goin'."

Final patch applied, Ratchet straightens. He snags a cloth from his subspace and wipes the fluid spatters from his fingers. There's a tension to the air around him, but he ignores it like usual. The twins are always good for making things uncomfortable anyway.

"You're good to go, Sideswipe. And Sunstreaker, not a word about your slaggin' dent, or I'll give you another one!" he hastily adds just as the yellow twin opens his mouth to complain again.

Ratchet turns toward his lover, who's watching Sides slide from his berth and hobble after his brother out of the medbay. Amazingly, neither of them have further argument or complaints to give. Ratchet half-expects them to linger, if only to offer up more aggravation on his part.

"Ironhide's going to need that joint reconstructed. It wasn't a clean tear," Ratchet says when they don't and glances at the mech in question. "You can pass that on to Prime."

Jazz stirs, finally turning to look at him. "What?"

"Ironhide. Leg. Long time to fix?" the medic arches an orbital ridge. "Prime wanted you to check on him, remember?"

A smile curves the saboteur's lips. "I'll deliver th' message. I'm sure it'll relieve poor Prime." He leans closer, brushing his helm and hand over Ratchet's shoulder. "Comin' over tonight? I got time b'fore mah shift."

"Mmm. If I can."

Ratchet's optics sweep through his medbay, automatically cataloging all the repairs still in need of attending. Wheeljack almost has Cliffjumper good to go, but there are still so many others. Huffer, Air Raid, Gears, Powerglide. Bluestreak would probably need his entire arm rewired, but that could wait until the next day. And Skyfire has already moved on to help weld Hound back together.

Jazz squeezes Ratchet's hand then. Which effectively distracts him as surely as if he'd leaned in for a human kiss.

"I'll be waitin'," he say in a low and seductive voice. He offers a smile before whisking an energon cube out of his subspace like magic. "Here. I'm sure yer gettin' low."

Primus! Does Jazz keep a dispenser in his subspace or something? Every time Ratchet turns around, there his lover is with a cube or two.

Nevertheless, Jazz is right. Ratchet simply hadn't noticed the alerts popping up in his HUD until now. Strange that Jazz should know. Or perhaps by now he's gotten familiar with the parameters of Ratchet's frame and his general lack of self-care.

"Thanks," Ratchet says with a wan smile of his own. "See you tonight. Hopefully."

"Count on it." Jazz tosses Ratchet a cheery, playful salute and bebops out of the medbay like it's nothing.

Shaking his head, Ratchet turns toward his next walking wounded, who happens to be a very surly-looking Gears.

"It's about time," the minibot huffs. "I think my arm's about to fall off."

Ratchet rolls his optics. Some mechs never change.

o0o0o

Despite Jazz's earlier declaration, the moment Ratchet steps out of the medbay, he finds the saboteur waiting for him. His position seems nonchalant, head tipped back against the wall and arms crossed, but Ratchet knows better. Jazz is always ready for action at a moment's notice.

"Tired?" the Porsche asks, straightening as the door slides shut behind Ratchet.

"Not as much as you'd think," the medic replies with a wry grin. He looks down at his chassis, brushing at a splatter of energon and some sooty residue. "More like in desperate need of a good scrubbing."

Jazz chuckles. "I can help with that." His visor brightens in a pointed look, one that sends a tingle of arousal through Ratchet's circuits.

"Don't you have to be on shift soon?"

"I've enough time fer this," Jazz all but purrs and pulls out a cube. "Here. Brought this fer ya, too."

Ratchet shakes his head but takes it anyway. "You spoil me too much. I can get my own, you know."

"Better if I bring it to ya."

There's a stubborn set to Jazz's mouth. One that means they could spend hours debating this and in the end, neither of them will concede.

Ratchet decides just to let it go. Jazz constantly bringing him energon is hardly a bad thing, and it seems to make the saboteur happy. Ratchet's not complaining, though it means his trips to the rec room happen less and less. Just last week 'Hide had teased him about being sequestered in the medbay too much or "tied down ta Jazz's berth" as he'd so elegantly put it.

The washracks are surprisingly deserted when they arrive. Jazz herds them toward the back corner, out of view of the door, and Ratchet can read the intent in his body language. Can already feel the tension sizzling between them.

Ratchet cuts on the spray, stepping under the warm solvent. He reaches for washrag – amusingly something the humans use on their non-sentient vehicles. However, Jazz gets there before he does, snatching it out from under his hand.

"Allow me." One hand strokes down Ratchet's side as he steps around the front, swiping the damp cloth over the medic's windshield.

He can hardly argue with such an offer. Instead, Ratchet shutters his optics and surrenders to the sensation of the warm water pattering over his plating and Jazz's deft, sure strokes.

The saboteur leaves no inch of his plating untouched. His fingers dip into tiny crevices between his joints and armor, each teasing tickle building a slow heat in Ratchet's systems. His fans kick on with a whirr that echoes in the empty room, and Jazz chuckles, sounding smug.

"Good?" he questions, vocalizer soft and purring.

Ratchet lets out air unsteadily. "You know that it is."

Jazz sweeps around to Ratchet's back. Slowly. So slowly.

"Lean forward," he murmurs, vocals still soft and seductive. "Put yer hands on the wall."

"What if I want to touch you?" Ratchet asks, his fans kicking on louder.

He does as Jazz wants though. Lifting his hands. Succeeding in opening up some gaps in his armor. Allowing the solvent to seep into every nook and cranny.

"Maybe I jes wanna touch ya right now," Jazz replies, and his hands sweep over Ratchet's back, a place not crowded with sensors but evoking a pleasured response nonetheless.

Heat creeps over Ratchet's circuitry. His entire frame buzzes with rising charge.

"Here? Where anyone can walk in?"

"Not like everyone doesn't already know yer mine."

Jazz presses himself against Ratchet's back, revving his engine hard. The vibrations travel through his frame and into Ratchet's, igniting a thunderstorm of sensation through plating already sensitized from Jazz's thorough cleaning. The medic gasps, arching against his lover, fingers scraping the metal of the wall.

He wants to argue against Jazz's blatantly possessive tone, but his thoughts bounce back and forth inside his processor, scurrying away from any coherency with every broad sweep of Jazz's hands. With every tweak of skilled fingers and the rhythmic patter of the solvent spray over his body.

His sensor net is aflame with pleasure, energy crackling across his circuits. Ratchet's overload takes him by surprise, and he jerks in Jazz's arms, heat crashing through him. He twitches, legs turning useless beneath him. Ratchet sags, only to be caught by Jazz and gently lowered to the damp floor.

"This is hardly conducive to getting clean," Ratchet manages after several ragged ventilations.

Jazz laughs against the back of his head, fingers lazily caressing his hip assembly. "What's the use of getting' clean if yer not dirty in the first place?"

Ratchet laughs himself and eventually grows quiet to the feel of Jazz looking at him. But Jazz doesn't say anything further. He just keeps stroking Ratchet with the cloth. Slowly. Possessively.

Ratchet lets him.

o0o0o

"Have you noticed anything… odd about Jazz lately?"

Beside him, Wheeljack arches an orbital ridge. His indicators flash an incredulous yellow.

"You're his lover. Shouldn't you know better than me?"

Ratchet huffs. "You'd think that, right?" He bends back over the solar panel they've been working on all afternoon. "But you've known him longer than I have."

'Jack seems to consider the question for a moment.

"What do you mean by odd?" he finally asks.

This is hard to put into words. Ratchet doesn't have anything tangible to cite. Just... little things. Impressions. Strange tics, one could say.

His hands pause as he searches his databanks for the right explanation. But there isn't one.

"He's... always there."

Wheeljack looks at him, confusion in his optics.

"Is that a bad thing?" he muses aloud. "It's kinda what happens when two bots are in a relationship, you know?"

"I know that!" Ratchet snaps and vents air out of frustration. "I mean that he always shows up out of nowhere. I swear whenever I need energon, he's there with a cube. Or when I want to go the washracks, he's there with a helping hand. He comms me the exact moment before I go into recharge. Like he knows. Like we're already spark-bonded or something."

"And that's weird?"

Wheeljack seems honestly confused. But then, he would be. He and Prowl live that weird wonderland of theirs where it's all rainbows and overloads and the experimental gone wrong.

Ratchet tosses him a cross look. He stubbornly picks up his soldering rod again.

"Now you're making me feel like I'm paranoid," he mutters and tries to concentrate on his work again.

But the whole situation is nagging at him. He doesn't quite know why it strikes him as off, but it does. Ratchet hasn't made it this far as the Autobot's CMO without knowing when to listen to his instincts, and right now, they are telling him that something's not quite right. Either that or he's losing his processor.

That's also a distinct possibility.

"You know," he says after a long moment. "I honestly can't remember the last time I drank a cube he hasn't brought me or left for me or given me. I'd have to actively search my memory banks to find it, and I'll bet you, it was only when he was on a mission."

Wheeljack looks at him. "Ratch-"

"And yesterday, Bluestreak brought me a cube after I finished his arm, but before I could so much as look at it, Jazz was there. Telling me to take his instead."

"So he's a bit possessive." Wheeljack shrugs, turning back toward his work, indicators flashing softly. "Everyone knows Spec Ops is wired a bit differently. And Jazz is the best at what he does."

Ratchet shakes his head, abandoning his own tinkering and leaning back against the table. "Possessive, I get. Possessive, I can handle. This... I don't know what to call this."

That is, of course, when his comm chooses to ping him. He doesn't need more than one guess to identify the originator, and there's a weird stutter in his systems when Jazz's transmission comes across the line.

-Ratch?-

"Speak of the mech," Ratchet mutters.

"Hmm?"

"Nothing." Ratchet waves his best friend off. "Give me a moment."

He turns his attention to the comm just as Jazz pings him again.

-Where are ya?-

He's surprised Jazz doesn't already know.

-In the lab with 'Jack. Why?-

There's a noticeable pause as though Jazz is distracted.

-No reason. Just wonderin'. Ya comin' to the party tonight?-

-Party?-

A trickle of amusement filters through the transmission.

-Vorn majority fer th' Protectobots.-

-Oh, that.-

Primus, how had he forgotten? He swears he's getting out of touch with the goings on around the Ark these days.

-I'll be there. First Aid will give me that pathetic look if I don't at least make an appearance.-

Jazz laughs.

-Kid looks up to ya like a creator.-

-I noticed, Ratchet replies dryly. I'll meet you later, Jazz.-

-It's a date.-

The comm ends with a cheerful chime, and the normal conversation only adds to the other nagging belief that he's maybe being paranoid. His processor is of two minds about it. Part of him feels that he should be concerned, that this just isn't normal behavior. But then Jazz is nothing if not devoted. Loving. Doing nothing but taking care of Ratchet at every turn, and how can he find that worrying?

"Jazz, I take it?" 'Jack drawls, amusement making his indicators flash a happy blue-green.

"Yeah." Ratchet picks up his soldering rod and stares resolutely at the unfinished solar panel. "Let's just get this done."

Maybe Wheeljack's right. Maybe there is nothing to worry about. So Ratchet will push that all aside for now. There's work to be done.

o0o0o

Unlike humans, Cybertronians have nice little alerts in their HUD which tell them when they've reached their high grade limit and increasingly noisy, aggravating warning pings after that informing said bot of impending danger. Though like humans, despite having those warnings, there are plenty of mechs that simply ignore them and keep on chugging down the good stuff. Especially when friends are there to goad them along.

Ratchet is thoroughly convinced his current overcharge can be blamed entirely on Jazz. Jazz who kept pressing cube after cube into his hands tonight, encouraging him to drink, drink, and drink some more. It's the only explanation for why Ratchet has allowed the saboteur to drag him onto the dance floor where Ratchet is quite sure he made a stumbling fool of himself.

Well, the Protectobots are delighted and amused, so Ratchet supposes that is all that matters. The party is in their honor after all. Vorn majority is a pretty big deal, symbolizing that they are considered adults by their fellow bots now. And though the Protectobots don't have the physical years behind them, they've certainly matured fast enough here on Earth. Ratchet ascribes it to the fact that they've have all but adopted the humans' way of measuring time.

Still, Ratchet isn't sure which exactly it was that finally does him in. Whether it's the ninth cube or the tenth. Either way, he's finding it a little difficult to keep his pedes beneath him. He stumbles, the floor rolling and tossing beneath him. His gyros refuse to stabilize, and all he's getting from his HUD are error messages.

Huh.

"Easy there, lover." Jazz puts a stabilizing hand against Ratchet's chest. "Don't fall over on me now. Yer a bit heavier than I am."

Ratchet outright laughs and sways to the right, hitting a wall and deciding that it's a good place to rest for a minute. "If I were human I'd accuse you of calling me fat."

"But I like ya just the way ya are," Jazz says, his voice dropping low as he wraps an arm around Ratchet, pressing their frames together.

Ratchet can feel the heat radiating from Jazz's plating, sure to match his own. Both of them are overcharged, both of them running hot. Jazz's visor is bright with charge and desire. His mouth is oh-so-tempting. If only they didn't have so much kibble. Ratchet has wondered a few times what the deal with kissing is.

Clumsily groping at his shorter lover, Ratchet tries to hook fingers under Jazz's plating, reaching for a sensitive wire bundle that's sure to make him moan. But his hand scrabbles at thin air as Jazz suddenly drops down onto one knee, nuzzling against Ratchet's pelvic area.

What the frag? That's not sensi-

Ratchet hisses, bucking up against Jazz as a deft glossa traces slow circles over his pelvic paneling. Jazz slides his glossa to the left, hands pushing Ratchet's legs aside and widening the gap between his armor. Pleasure bursts across Ratchet's sensory net as Jazz's glossa traces rarely touched wires and cables.

Primus! He hadn't even known he could be sensitive there!

Laughter floats to Ratchet's audials, and his optics unshutter with a snap. He turns his head, mortification biting at the edge of his desire, as Smokescreen and Blaster round the corner in the hallway. Both bots draw to a halt, optics wide as they stare at the scene in front of them.

"Jazz!" Ratchet hisses, clumsily groping at his lover's helm.

Jazz's only response is to amp up his pleasurable torture. That makes Ratchet moan and twitch against the wall before he can stop himself.

"Sorry, mechs," Blaster quickly inserts, holding up his hands and backing away. "We'll take another route."

"Never knew Ratchet had it in him," Smokescreen comments, but he lets Blaster drag him off anyway.

Embarrassment wars with arousal, and Ratchet isn't sure what he wants to do first. Yell at Jazz or cry out in pleasure. His fingers scrabble over Jazz's helm in indecision. Should he let loose his fearsome temper or –

Primus!

Ratchet moans, curling forward. Jazz's fingers dig into his wiring harder, the sharp edge of pain only sweetening the pleasure. Charge shoots through his systems, sweeping like wildfire, and another staticky sound escapes Ratchet's vocalizer.

He shudders, overload crashing down over him. His mouth locks open on a silent cry. He shakes from head to toe, electricity crackling over his plating. The edge of his vision goes white and then black, and his fans work furiously to cool his heated frame.

He comes to barely a minute later according to his chronometer with Jazz holding him close. His revving engine is an indication of his still-present arousal.

"That was the hottest thing, I swear ta Primus," Jazz murmurs, his hands roaming over Ratchet's hot paneling.

Ratchet groans, lingering charge making him over-sensitive. He grabs Jazz's arm, squeezing.

"It was embarrassing," he argues with every intention of getting up, moving. But he feels limp and lifeless. Limbs don't want to respond, too overcharged by the high grade and relaxed by his overload. "You could've at least waited until we got back to my quarters."

Jazz's visor darkens. "What fun is that? Mechs got ta learn ta keep their hands off."

His mouth is already moving for Ratchet's neck.

"What the frag are you talking about?"

Ratchet wonders if his bewilderment is as clear on his face as it is in his processor as Jazz pauses. The Porsche just lifts one hand, fingers stroking across Ratchet's chevron before sliding gently down the side of his cheek. His visor lights up then, but it isn't a bright as it should be.

"I guess ya wouldn't see it. Ya can be pretty oblivious sometimes."

Jazz's tone is playful, but there's an edge to it. Sharp beneath the teasing.

Ratchet stares at his lover. "You're not making any sense."

"That's just th' high grade talkin'." Jazz works himself free and rises to his feet with a graceful motion that completely belies how much energon he's consumed. "To the berth, yeah? I'm not done with ya yet."

o0o0o

It starts to nag on Ratchet, all the little things that paint a larger, more worrisome picture. He likes Jazz; he holds a deep affection for the saboteur. Maybe even loves him. But he's beginning to think that they aren't on the same datapad. That what he wants and what Jazz wants are two entirely different things.

It would be easier, he supposes, if he could just talk to Jazz about it. But if there's one thing that Jazz excels at better than anything else, it's keeping his secrets. He's a pro at changing the subject, producing vague answers, or distracting Ratchet with a processor-blowing interface that leave him pleasantly achy and still lost.

Maybe the problem isn't Jazz but is in fact Ratchet himself. That thought has also crossed his mind. Any normal mech would be thrilled by all the loving affection, the energon every morning, and the complete usurpation of his free time and attention. Maybe Ratchet's the one who's changed and is acting a bit odd.

Except...

Except a week later, he bursts out of recharge halfway through a defrag cycle and finds Jazz watching him.

That, by itself, wouldn't be so unusual. Ratchet has woken a few times from recharge to find his lover curled against him, hands softly stroking his plating, perhaps Jazz is even humming one of his favorite tunes. When Jazz doesn't leave early, he usually wakes Ratchet with caresses and some cuddling. Those instances are common enough to be comforting even. Those instances are also, however, preceded by the fact that Jazz had been in his quarters with him when he fell into recharge in the first place. He'd been invited then.

Jazz, by virtue of his vocation, can probably hack the lock of any mech's quarters on the Ark with the possible exception of Red Alert or possibly Prowl. Point of fact, he doesn't do it. Why should he? They none of them are enemies. Ratchet has invited Jazz into his quarters enough time that hacking isn't necessary.

Except apparently, for the times when Jazz wants to visit and Ratchet isn't alert to let him in. They haven't exchanged door codes; that's akin to moving in together. And that... that step Ratchet just isn't ready to take.

It's unnerving, and it shouldn't be. There's an unsettling feeling somewhere in Ratchet's spark. He can feel Jazz's gaze on him, the saboteur's head tilted thoughtfully as he leans back in his chair. The unwavering gaze makes something in Ratchet's plating crawl.

But why should it? This is his lover. More than that, Jazz is a friend, an ally, someone Ratchet has trusted with his very existence on more than one occasion.

"It's the middle of th' night," Jazz says, casual as he pleases. "Ya should go back ta recharge. Ya got shift in the mornin', remember?"

Ratchet has to cycle his vocalizer twice before he can make himself speak. It still fritzes a bit too much.

"I remember," he says softly. "What are you doing here?"

Jazz shrugs. "Got back from my mission early. Wanted ta see ya."

Any normal mech would be flattered by such an admission. Ratchet isn't sure what to think.

"Oh," is Ratchet's rather lame reply. "You didn't get yourself fragged up, did you?"

"Not a scratch. Promise." Jazz leans forward, fingers stroking over Ratchet's helm. "So go back ta recharge."

The uneasiness doesn't leave no matter how much Ratchet tries to bury it. It's several long minutes before he manages to power back down. He can't shake the sensation of Jazz's optics on him. And he wonders. Wonders just how often has this happened without him noticing before?

o0o0o

"I think I'm losing my mind, 'Jack."

The door slides shut behind him with a definitive thud, announcing his presence with as much noise as his words. Wheeljack startles, nearly dropping a stabilizer from the newest invention.

"You... what?" He hesitates, peering at Ratchet. "Is something wrong?"

Ratchet ventilates loudly and runs a hand over his face. "Yes. No. I don't know. Maybe I'm the one who's going crazy."

"Ratch, calm down. Talk ta me." Wheeljack swivels around in his stool, facing him directly. "What's going on? Is this about Jazz?"

"Yes."

He can't help himself. There's an uneasy surge in his spark, and he starts to pace, feeling unbalanced.

"He... I don't know. Fraggit!"

He snarls, more at himself. It sounds silly when he tries to put it into words. It sounds like he's majorly overreacting. And maybe he is.

Wheeljack raises his hands. "What happened?"

Ratchet's shoulders slump. He can feel himself curling in on himself.

"You're going to think I'm crazy."

"You came here because you want my opinion," Wheeljack inserts. "I can't give ya one if I don't know what's going on."

Shaking his head, Ratchet continues to pace. "It's probably nothing."

"Ratchet."

He throws up his hands, the unease in his spark traveling to his plating. Where a shudder of discomfit races over his frame.

"He was staring at me. I woke out of recharge, and there he was. Staring at me."

Wheeljack doesn't say anything. Again, Ratchet feels like a mech who's crossed a few wires or who has a glitching processor. By Primus, he feels like Red Alert!

"We haven't exchanged door codes, Jack. I didn't let him in. And I know, I know, that it's sparkling play for him to crack any lock, but it was... I don't know how to put it." He abruptly stops his pacing and turns to face his best friend. "Help me, Wheeljack. Something's got to be wrong. I'm glitching or something."

"You're not glitching," Wheeljack says firmly, though there's a thread of worry in his voice. "Sit down. I'll scan you, and we'll get to the bottom of this."

Ratchet sits, a bit heavily at that, feeling like he's losing control. It doesn't make any sense really. Jazz is his friend, his ally, his lover.

He feels a slight tingle spread over his sensor net as Wheeljack starts the scan, and Ratchet sits as still as he possibly can. If he has to, he'll demand that Wheeljack plug in and page through his coding, too. Something must be wrong.

"Huh," Wheeljack comments as he completes the scan. "Weird."

Ratchet straightens. "What is it?"

"Hold still." 'Jack leans closer, his face mere inches from Ratchet's windshield as he peers at Ratchet's plating.

One hand lifts, finger shifting into something like tweezers, which he then works into the gap at Ratchet's helm. There's a tickling sensation before Wheeljack draws back, something glinting between pointy tips. It's tiny. So tiny. Too tiny. Barely visible.

Ratchet reboots his optics. "What the frag is that?"

"Near as I can tell at first glance... a tracker and transmitter." Wheeljack shifts, giving him an uncomfortable look. "It's Spec Ops design. And I don't mean Decepticon."

Ratchet's spark lurches. "Are you telling me...?"

He can't even find the right words. His processor stutters at the mere idea of it. He can only look up in horror as Wheeljack completes the thought for him.

"Unless Mirage or Bumblebee suddenly want to keep tabs on you… then yes, I'm telling you that Jazz put it there." Wheeljack turns toward his desk, sweeping aside some clutter to set the transmitter near a magnifier. "Let me take it apart to be certain, but… I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong."

Ratchet tries to say something. It comes out as static. He waits for a minute and tries again.

"Why... why would he do that?"

Wheeljack glances over his shoulder. "You tell me. I mean, you're right. Being possessive is one thing. Putting a tracker on your lover?" His indicators flash pink. "That's beyond weird."

Strangely, it doesn't relieve Ratchet one bit to know that the issue isn't one of his own devising. It means something else he'd rather not consider. To be fair, the Autobots as a whole are one grand collection of glitches, issues, and barely sane mechs.

Ratchet doesn't wish to think the worst. He doesn't. But he can't help himself.

There's nothing left to do but talk to Jazz. He can't allow the Porsche to squirm out of the questioning this time either. No more distractions. No more subject changes.

Ratchet wants answers. Now.

He straightens. "Let me have the transmitter, 'Jack. There's only one thing I can do: ask him."

Wheeljack gives him a look that's almost apologetic.

"It may be nothing, Ratch," he tries, but it's weak. So weak. "He might just be paranoid and worried, wanting to keep an optic on you to keep you safe."

"Yeah," the medic finally allows, taking the tracker into his subspace. "Maybe."

But Ratchet doesn't really believe it. And neither does Wheeljack.

o0o0o

A ping to Teletraan 1 informs him that Jazz is in his personal quarters, which is a good thing as Ratchet doesn't want to make this confrontation public. Standing outside the door, Ratchet hesitates, but the tracker in his subspace spurs him to ping Jazz for entrance.

Unsurprisingly, he's immediately granted entry, and Ratchet steps inside, greeted by the strains of a piece of music from Cybertron. A pang of homesickness grabs his spark like a vise. Earth is decent, but it'll never the same as home to him.

"Ratch!" Jazz greets, turning the music down to a more tolerable level. "Thought ya were on shift?"

"Something came up," Ratchet replies, and his optics wander around the room before settling on his lover. "Jazz, we need to talk."

The saboteur tilts his head. "Sure. What about?"

Before he can convince himself otherwise, Ratchet pulls the transmitter out of his subspace and tips the tiny thing into his palm. He holds it out.

"This," he says. "What is it, Jazz?"

To his credit, Jazz doesn't betray an ounce of surprise or guilt. He's too good for that. And maybe that worries Ratchet more than anything.

"A transmitter."

"I know that," the medic snaps and forces a ventilation to calm himself. His famous temper will do him no good here. "Why was it on me?"

Jazz rises to his pedes, plucking the tracker from Ratchet's palm and examining it. "How else was I supposed to keep an optic on you?"

"Keep an..."

Words fail him, and all he can do is splutter. He can only make staticky noises as seconds stretch to minutes.

"You've been watching me?" he manages to demand sometime later.

Jazz just looks at him. Visor bright but unreadable.

"Do ya want ta sparkbond?"

The frank question throws Ratchet off guard.

"I... What?" He shakes his head. "No. No, I don't want to sparkbond." He stares at his lover like he's a complete stranger. "Have you lost your Primus-be-damned mind?"

Jazz's visor doesn't so much as flicker. His smile doesn't even twitch.

"Then yeah, I was watching ya." He shrugs like he hasn't a care in the world. "Can't trust anybot these days. I'm surprised ya found it."

He almost sounds proud, too. As if it were just a game and he'd wanted to see how long it would take Ratchet to play.

The medic resets his audials, only because he's certain they must be glitching. This conversation isn't going at all the way he thought it would. Isn't going at all like sanity should.

"Wheeljack helped me," he admits. "But that's not the point, Jazz."

The Porsche frowns a bit then, but it isn't quite directed at Ratchet.

"Ya know, I don't think ya should spend so much time with Wheeljack. Mech is after yer affections," Jazz replies, tapping his chin as he shifts his weight to one hip. "Bad enough I gotta watch out fer the other ones, too."

Ratchet's mouth works soundlessly. "You... He's bonded to Prowl!" He makes a gesture that means everything and nothing. "To your best friend! And… What do you mean the other ones?"

The saboteur's shoulders lift in another dismissing shrug, but he ignores the last part entirely.

"That doesn't stop him from spendin' too much time with ya." Jazz tilts his head thoughtfully. "Mebbe I better warn Prowler, too."

Bewilderment battles with anger, which is too busy fighting shock while a hint of fear creeps up behind. Why isn't Jazz getting this?

"Wheeljack is not after me, and he's certainly not cheating on Prowl!" Ratchet snaps, patience reaching its limit. "What the frag is wrong with you?"

Jazz pauses and looks at him. "Nothing. Why?"

He's honestly puzzled. Like Ratchet isn't making any sense at all. Like this conversation is about nothing stranger than their usual banter.

Ratchet sighs then. He's suddenly very, very tired.

That's it. He's had it with this. With them. He can't do this anymore. It's too much. It's all too much.

"Jazz... I'm not… I'm not doing this anymore," he murmurs and gazes right into the saboteur's visor. "You're a great mech, but you need something from me I can't give."

"What're ya sayin', Ratch?"

There's a strange tone to Jazz's vocalizer. Almost but not quite disbelief.

His shoulders sag and he lowers his hands. "I'm saying that this is over. Our relationship is over. You need to find someone who needs you. I don't think I'm that bot."

Jazz stares. He's surprised. But he really shouldn't be.

"Are ya serious?"

He takes a step closer. Ratchet takes a step back.

"Yes, I am." Ratchet moves closer to the door. "I'm sorry, Jazz. But it's over."

He leaves before he can convince himself to stay. Before he can go back to trying to understand. Before the look Jazz gives his back persuades him to change his mind.

He leaves before he'll let himself admit it's a mistake. Before he can truly wonder if it isn't.

o0o0o

Ratchet onlines the next morning feeling out of sorts and off balance. It's logically improbable for his world to feel so different so soon, and yet, it does. He's starting to second guess himself already. Maybe he overreacted?

"Good mornin'!"

Ratchet nearly leaps out of his plating, and he does slide off his berth with a loud slap of pedes on floor. Jazz is standing there, smiling, holding out a cube of energon.

"Recharge well?"

For a moment, Ratchet wonders if he's been trapped in some sort of memory purge. He looks at Jazz. Checks his memory files. Rechecks them. Runs a quick self-diagnostic just to be sure.

"What are you doing here?" he finally asks.

Jazz pushes the cube of energon toward him again. "I brought you some energon."

"Why?"

"Because I knew you'd need it. You do every mornin'." Jazz tilts his helm, looking more confused by this reaction than the bewilderment Ratchet himself feels. "That's what lovers do."

Ratchet retreats a step before he can convince himself there's no danger to be had here. "I ended things yesterday, Jazz."

The mech waves a dismissing hand. "Ya didn't mean it."

"I... what?"

His vocalizer fritzes on the last syllable, his incredulity making his words too sharp. Yet, a part of him wonders... had he not been firm enough? His decision must have seemed to come from nowhere considering how long they'd been together. Not too long by their standards but long enough.

"Ya didn't mean it," Jazz repeats and finally sets the energon aside on Ratchet's desk. "Besides, I can tell ya miss me."

Part of him wants to scream out "No, I don't you psychopath." Another part of him remembers how long it had taken him to fall into recharge last night. How echoing and empty his quarters had seemed, despite the fact Jazz only shared them two nights out of seven.

"I miss a lot of things that aren't good for me," Ratchet hisses. "That doesn't mean I want them back!"

"Ya were just angry. Ya always say things ya don't mean in a fit of temper." Jazz's visor flickers amusement at him. "I mean, ya haven't actually turned Sideswipe into a toaster yet, have ya?"

For the second time in as many days, Ratchet splutters.

"This and that are two different things, Jazz! I meant it. We're over. Don't bring me anymore energon and don't sneak into my quarters."

Jazz actually has the gall to look offended. "I wasn't sneaking."

"Out!" Ratchet points toward his door, insides a knotted mess of emotions he can't possibly sort with Jazz standing right there in front of him. "Right now!"

An audible rev of Jazz's engine is all the indication Ratchet has of the saboteur's own irritation.

"Fine. But we're not done."

"Yes, we are!" Ratchet's argument, however, is spat at a closed door.

Of all the stubborn, delusional-

Primus! Ratchet throws up his hands, stomping over to his desk and snatching up the energon. He downs it in three quick gulps before it occurs to him that he's doing exactly what Jazz wants. Letting the bot take care of him.

A growl of irritation escapes him, and he turns, whipping the empty cube at his closed door. It shatters into bits, raining down upon the floor. He stares at the broken pieces for several long moments, vents echoing in his room, before he moves to clean up the mess he made.

It's only then that he notices his hands are trembling.

o0o0o

Ratchet has never considered himself a coward. But it's no coincidence that he all but runs to the rec room at the end of his shift, glancing over his shoulder uneasily as though Jazz is going to pop out from around the corner with a cube of energon. After all, that has been the routine. Ratchet gets off shift; Jazz brings him energon and takes him to either of their quarters.

Primus! How hadn't he noticed it before?

He steps into the rec room and it feels a bit odder than it did before. Like he should have someone latched onto his side. There's a crowd of mechs spread around the room and it's almost too much.

It's also exactly what Ratchet needs. He needs company. He needs to stop acting so slagging paranoid.

"Ratchet!" Bluestreak notices him lingering in the doorway. Beaming, he bounces over to the medic with all the exuberance of a youngling, though it's been vorns since he's had his majority. "Wow! Feels like I haven't seen you in while. You look tired still. Not getting enough recharge? Where's Jazz?"

For the sake of his sanity, Ratchet ignores the last question. "I'm permanently tired, Bluestreak," he answers, and heads for the dispenser, Bluestreak on his heels. "How's your arm?"

The sniper rolls his shoulder, optics bright. "Better than before it got slagged, I promise." Some of his enthusiasm dies a bit, concern overriding his good humor. "Maybe you should ask Prime if you can take a vacation? I mean, I'm sure 'Jack and Hoist and Grapple can take care of us for a few weeks. And if I ask nicely, I'll bet Sides won't prank anyone so you can relax for a bit, too."

"Sideswipe not prank anyone? Primus forbid!" Ratchet actually manages a light chuckle, taking his cube and stepping out of the way, following Bluestreak toward the group of mechs he'd been chatting with earlier. "That would be too good to be true."

Bluestreak laughs. "Prowl would be pretty happy, too. He'd think it a vacation for himself as well." His doorwings lift perkily. "Hi, Jazz! We were just talking about you!"

Ratchet stiffens, plating clamped tight to his frame. He almost doesn't want to turn around, but he can already feel Jazz's gaze burning into the back of his helm. And he's not a coward.

The saboteur slides up beside him, taking the cube from Ratchet's hand and replacing it with another, like so many times before. "Really? I hope it was only good things," Jazz replies with a playful flash of his visor. Then he turns to Ratchet, sliding a palm down his arm. "Was lookin' fer ya, lover. Ya must've left the medbay early."

Bluestreak chuckles, clapping Ratchet on the shoulder. "Guess that's my cue to leave, huh? Wouldn't want to get in between two lovebots. Unless you want me to, of course."

He leaves them with a teasing flutter of his doorwings that would have enticed any other mech, the twins especially. Ratchet watches him go with no small hint of longing, if only because Bluestreak would be a nicely shaped buffer between he and Jazz.

Jazz who is actually doing a fair approximation of a feline-like growl with his vocalizer.

"Stop that," Ratchet hisses in a low tone, whirling on his former lover. He pushes the cube Jazz had given him back toward the saboteur. "We're not together anymore!" It's a battle to keep his words soft in order not to draw attention to them.

"Ya need me, Ratch," Jazz says, trying to push the energon back toward Ratchet. "Ya need someone ta take care of ya and I'm the perfect bot. Ya can't deny that."

"I already have!" Ratchet forces a systems check, trying to rein in his temper. "Look, Jazz, it was good while it lasted, but it's over. I'm done. We're done. You have to understand that."

Jazz's lips form a thin line of obstinance. "No." He shoves the energon toward Ratchet and then lets it go, forcing Ratchet to catch it or spill it over the floor. "This isn't over."

"It is!" Ratchet snaps, his patience reaching its limit. He spins on a pede, heading for the door, for the moment not caring that the other mechs will notice.

Ratchet has a temper. Everyone knows this. And he hopes that it is what they will all assume.

He can't shake the sensation, however, of Jazz's visor on his back plating, watching him leave, and he doesn't fail to notice that he's still carrying the cube Jazz gave him, which he now has no choice but to consume.

o0o0o

Recharge becomes frag near impossible.

Ratchet finds himself laying on his berth, staring at the ceiling, wondering where he'd gone so wrong. He starts taking on extra shifts, if only to exhaust himself until a forced shutdown becomes necessary.

Jazz is making this harder than it needs to be.

Ratchet has never been a fan of making his personal affairs public. He feels no need to announce to the gossip mill that he and Jazz have ended their relationship. Which makes things rather awkward when Jazz continues to act like nothing has changed. Bringing him energon while he's in the medbay, knowing Ratchet won't make a scene and refuse. Offering to give Ratchet the Cybertronian version of a massage courtesy of his magnetic pulses. Genuinely being nice and cheerful and the all-around fun mech that everyone loves and adores.

Genuinely being the mech that Ratchet fell for in the first place. If it weren't for the fact that Jazz's stubborn refusal to accept the termination of their relationship is so slaggin' creepy, Ratchet would've regretted his choice. There is still a part of his spark that does regret his decision. A part of him that remembers many, many nights of pleasant recharge, playful interfacing, intelligent conversation, and simply connecting with another mech on such a level.

At least Jazz hasn't crept into his quarters without permission since that first day. Which makes Ratchet wonder if perhaps he had overreacted. And Wheeljack has been no help on the matter, preferring to defer to whatever Ratchet wants for himself. Easy for the slagger to say. He's got Prowl, and that bot wouldn't know an irrational action if it jumped up and punched him in the face.

Whereas Jazz is the verifiable king of the unexpected and illogical.

Sighing, Ratchet keys in the code to his quarters, preparing himself for another long night of staring at his ceiling, contemplating why on Cybertron Grapple had chosen such an awful color for the Ark. He'll be glitching soon if he keeps this up. He hasn't had a full defrag cycle since he made Jazz leave.

The lights are low, and Ratchet sends a ping to the systems. As his quarters brighten, Ratchet resets his optics and then his sensors, too.

Maybe he's glitching already.

Because there's nothing here. His berth is folded back up into the wall. His desk has been swept clean. His shelves are empty. The room has been dusted, cleaned, and polished. Like no one has ever occupied it since they crash-landed here on Earth.

Silently, Ratchet turns around and leaves. He stands outside of his quarters and looks at the door. His name isn't exactly on it, but his title is. Chief Medical Officer. Definitely his room then. For a moment there, he thought perhaps he'd entered the wrong room using his overrides while in a slagged-circuit fog.

He goes back into his quarters. They are still empty of all his personal possessions. Something is not right.

Ratchet brings up the current shift schedule and then comms Red Alert.

-This may sound like a trick of Sideswipe proportions, but I have reason to believe that I've been robbed. -

It sounds ridiculous even to him, and Ratchet winces as he says it.

-Nonsense.- Red Alert uses his familiar, practical tone. A sure sign that Ratchet was right about how he sounded -Jazz informed me that you two agree to cohabitate. All of your belongings have been shifted to his quarters per your agreement. -

Ratchet's entire frame goes still.

-I see. Thank you, Red Alert. -

He waits until the line has completely closed before letting the growl escape his vocalizer. He never thought Jazz would go this far. Had he been that misunderstood? Had he not been clear?

Whirling on his heel, Ratchet strides from his quarters, making a beeline for Jazz's. The schedule indicates that Jazz should be on base and his next shift isn't for another few hours. He had better be in his quarters because Ratchet is ending this. Today. With no room for misinterpretation or error or confusion.

Three doors down the hall, Ratchet doesn't bother with the politeness of a gentle ping. He raises his hand and pounds on the door, at the same time sending a barrage of demanding pings at the stubborn saboteur. There is no verbal acknowledgment, but the door does open, and Ratchet storms inside without any ceremony.

Sure enough, Jazz is in the middle of unpacking a box of Ratchet's belongings, carefully setting them out on a shelf that has been cleared. He looks up as the medic enters, smiling, cheerfully oblivious to the stormcloud of fury spitting fire in all directions.

"What the slag do you think you are doing?" Ratchet demands, stomping across the room and snatching the box from the saboteur's hands. His belongings rattle and clank inside, precious mementos all that he has left of Cybertron.

"I thought it would be easier if I just took care o' all this fer ya," Jazz replies with a shrug and reaches for the box again. "I was tryin' ta be thoughtful."

Ratchet's fingers grip the box so tightly that the metal crumples. "We're not together anymore! I don't want to move in with you, Jazz! I don't want any of this!"

Seemingly realizing that Ratchet's not going to give up the box, Jazz reaches for the items already on the shelf, casually rearranging them. His voice is even, reasonable. His words aren't.

"Ya say that now, but I know ya don't mean it. We're meant ta be together, Ratch. Ya just don't see it yet."

A flutter of unease tugs at Ratchet's spark at Jazz's rather frank tone. He takes a step backward, still holding the box.

"Jazz, I do mean it. I'm absolutely serious. We're over. We have been for weeks. And nothing's going to change that. Nothing."

Jazz stills, going so very motionless that for a moment Ratchet wonders if the saboteur's pumps are even working. Like the truth is finally hitting home, penetrating through whatever mulish block he's set on his processor. His hand drops from the shelf, and he half-turns, visor a bare glow as he looks at Ratchet.

"Nothing?" he repeats, and his vocal tones are softer than Ratchet would expect. Not exactly broken or disappointed but shuddering somewhere in between.

Another cautious step backward takes Ratchet closer to the door. "Yes," Ratchet confirms and performs a systems check because this kind of unease in his spark is certainly unwarranted. "I'm sorry. But that's the way it must be."

He waits, but Jazz says nothing else. It's eerily silent in the room, and Ratchet suspects that now is the time to beat a hasty exit. Perhaps he'll even comm Blaster or Bluestreak once he leaves. Surely, Jazz will need some comfort, and either of the aforementioned mechs will be willing to provide it. And afterward, Ratchet will comm Wheeljack. The need to lose himself in a batch of high grade has suddenly become overwhelming.

"Nothing?" Ratchet hears Jazz repeat yet again, as though stuck on an infinite loop. "Ya see, Ratch, that's where yer wrong."

Something cold drops into Ratchet's spark. He turns, battle systems suddenly screaming into bright alerts, and all he sees is a black-white blur before his world fades to nothing.

o0o0o

Ratchet onlines with a cloudiness in his processor and a distinct sense of unease. Half of his systems remain muted to him, some of his motor functions off-line and his external sensors tuned down. His comm systems are out as well, and there's another person connected to his systems. He can feel the alien entity rifling through his coding and systems, blithely applying blocks and dancing through firewalls.

A bit more clarity cuts through the fog, and Ratchet lurches, battle systems telling him to flee, fight, get away. There's a dull clank as his frame refuses to obey his commands. His legs aren't listening to his commands at all, and his wrists have been bound to the berth above him. There's also a noticeable weight on his hips.

Finally, Ratchet's optics online. It takes a perilously long time for his vision to sharpen, but he doesn't need the black-white blob to focus to know that it's Jazz. It's Jazz paging through his command codes, and it's Jazz who has plugged into him.

In all likelihood, Jazz is also the one who cuffed him down to the berth as well. There can't possibly be any other perpetrators.

The saboteur is humming, Ratchet belatedly realizes as his audials are the last thing to start functioning. He's humming, and one hand is gently stroking over the windshield on Ratchet's chassis, a finger tracing the seam of his chestplate.

"Jazz," Ratchet says, vocalizer fritzing and glitched. "What are you doing?"

He has to be calm because panicking is not going to help him. No matter how frenzied his spark is right now, twisting and churning inside him.

For a moment, Jazz says nothing, his fingers drumming an off rhythm on Ratchet's plating. Then he straightens, both palms flat on Ratchet's abdominal armor.

"Do ya know what I was before th' war, Ratch?"

Okay. Better to play this game with Jazz. Better to let him talk while Ratchet figures how the Pit he's going to get out of this.

"Your file says you were a systems analyst," Ratchet hedges and glances to the right.

They are still in Jazz's quarters, no surprise there. He sees his internal weaponry sitting on an end table. Jazz must have removed it all when he was unconscious.

Jazz smiles. "Yeah, somethin' like that. I was a hacker. Systems Analyst is just a euphemism the Enforcers cooked up for those in their employ."

Ratchet casually checks the restriants on his wrist again. Magnetic cuffs, he thinks. Hard to tell since Jazz took his fraggin' scanners offline, too.

"Hacker?"

"I was paid ta break codes. Ta punch through firewalls no one else could. Ta get inta places with all the best securities." Jazz's hands continue a soft caress over Ratchet's plating, easily stimulating all the sensitive areas he's grown to recognize over their period as lovers. "Prowl's the only one who knows. He caught me. Gave me a choice. Work with them or get slagged. It's pretty obvious which one I picked, isn't it?"

Ratchet shifts his optics back to Jazz. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I love ya, Ratch. Always have. Always will." He confesses so boldly, as though

It's no difficult thing for him to admit. "I can't have ya leavin' me," he adds, and one hand returns to Ratchet's chassis, a finger dragging down the nearly invisible seam in his chestplate. "Ya don't understand. I want ya ta understand. So I'm gonna show ya."

For the first time, Ratchet admits to himself that it is fear and not just apprehension clawing at his spark. Surely, Jazz wouldn't do this.

"Show me?"

Jazz's smile is softer this time. Gentle and full of affection. Also, quite possibly tinged with insanity, but Ratchet may be biased in thinking this. He leans forward, both hands cupping Ratchet's helm, thumbs stroking over his cheek.

"We're gonna sparkbond. Ya'll belong to me forever. Just the way things're meant ta be." His engine gives a soft purr of anticipation. "Then, I'll never have ta worry about ya leavin' me again."

Yes, it seems… Jazz really would do this. There is nothing but determination in his visor and his voice.

Frantically, Ratchet starts shoring up the defenses around the commands for his critical systems – namely his spark and processor protocols. He uses all the firewalls he has in his arsenal, the ones Perceptor has given him, one Wheeljack created himself, and even one Prowl had devised in that scheming, logical processor of his.

Ratchet's starting to run hot. He can feel the heat in his plating. But nonetheless, a sensation of icy-cold starts to run through his lines, and he knows that's only an imagined sensation brought upon by his sudden fear.

"Jazz. You can't do this."

If he's pleading, close to begging, no one else has to know. Spark bonding is permanent! Ratchet is nowhere near ready to make that kind of commitment, especially without his consent!

Jazz leans closer still, lips brushing over Ratchet's chevron, before he draws back again. Ratchet can't see his optics, and for once, he's glad.

"It's not a matter of can't," Jazz declares then. "I have ta. I can't let ya leave me."

The datastream that is Jazz's presence within Ratchet's systems suddenly starts to actively rifle through Ratchet's coding once again. He heads unerringly toward Ratchet's spark chamber protocols, slicing as easily through most of the medic's firewalls as though they were mere suggestions rather than layers and layers of protective commands.

"Jazz!" Ratchet hisses and starts to struggle in earnest as much as his limited mobility will allow him. He lurches his upper body upward, straining at the magnetic cuffs. "Stop!"

His words and actions have no effect. Jazz simply shifts his weight, pinning Ratchet down firmly, leaving little room for the medic to leverage him off. He says nothing either, awareness obviously turning inward as his datastream balks at Ratchet's last defense – Prowl's protocols.

"Prowler's work, huh?" Jazz says with an amused, approving chuckle. "He's good; there's no doubt. But not as good as me."

"Jazz, please don't do this." Ratchet's vents kick on with a panicked whirr, sucking in air to dispel the heat clouding up his frame. His thoughts feel so slagging slow and sluggish from whatever Jazz must have uploaded to him. "Please."

Jazz cups Ratchet's cheek with one hand and makes a shushing noise. "It's okay, Ratch. Promise. This's gonna make everythin' better. Ya'll see." He pauses, and then, his smile brightens. "Got it."

His announcement is accompanied by the telltale click of Ratchet's chestplate cracking open, completely without his permission. The soft glow of his spark starts to illuminate the room, and Jazz gently coaxes Ratchet's plating to completely split. His fingers gently stroke over the thinner, translucent material of Ratchet's spark chamber, the last yet meager line of defense.

Jazz's visor brightens, and he strokes the chamber lovingly.

"C'mon. Open up fer me pretty."

As if Ratchet has any choice with Jazz jacked into his systems, overriding any commands Ratchet might personally send and turning his firewalls to useless dead code.

Ratchet's vocalizer spits static. Jazz doesn't listen, deactivating the last barrier and commanding the casing to slide aside. Ratchet's spark flutters, energies surging through the opening, eager as they spill over Jazz's talented fingers. Pleasure teases itself over Ratchet's circuits, and he shudders. If from fear or unwanted desire, he can't be sure.

"See?" Jazz purrs, dipping deeper, caressing the inner corona of Ratchet's spark. "Yer spark knows better than yer processor about these things."

Ratchet's frame arches toward Jazz, autonomic systems eager for more of the pleasure-inducing touch. "Involuntary reaction, you glitch," he manages to grit out, straining at the magnetic cuffs again. Heat pulses across his circuits, static energy crackling across his frame.

The saboteur makes a humming noise of content. "All I want is fer us ta be together," Jazz says, and his vocal tones take on a measure of hurt of all things.

Horror wars with arousal as Jazz's chestplate splits open, the blue-white of his spark illuminating the space between them. It would be beautiful to Ratchet's optics, if he weren't so repulsed by Jazz's actions.

The saboteur leans closer, casing sliding aside to let the energies of his spark spill out, impatient tendrils licking out, brushing over the very edges of Ratchet's own spark. In that brief moment of contact, Ratchet gets a glimpse of Jazz's feelings for him.

Love. Or obsession rather. The desire to possess. That there is no cruel intent does not make this any easier to bear.

At the first gentle pulse of Jazz's spark, Ratchet tries to resist. He thinks of all sorts of unpleasant things, anything to keep the exchange of energies from beginning. Anything to forestall the pleasure Jazz's fingers are wringing from his plating and the incredible sensation of near spark-to-spark contact. Primus! Ratchet can't remember the last time he merged for sheer pleasure. Surely before they ever left Cybertron.

"C'mon, Ratch," Jazz murmurs at him, his soothing tones doing little to calm the increasingly frantic medic. "Don't be like that. I don't want ta hurt ya."

"Then stop!" Ratchet all but shouts, the last syllable crackling with static.

It hurts; it truly does, to resist the call of Jazz's spark. His memory core is being unhelpful, dragging up vidfiles of past merges and the unimaginable pleasure that can be had.

It won't be so bad, a part of him whispers. Jazz would be devoted.

But it's not what Ratchet wants!

"Ya know I won't do that," Jazz replies without a hint of regret. Determination lights his visor. "Yer goin' to be mine, Ratch. Mine and no one else's."

An interface cable snakes out of Jazz's open chassis, heading straight for the port in Ratchet's own frame, to one side of his spark chamber. A one-way connection isn't enough to initiate the bond, but that won't stop Jazz. He simply breezes through Ratchet's systems like he has the rest of them, triggering Ratchet's own interface cable to link into Jazz's interface port.

Arousal and pleasure slam into Ratchet's systems. He writhes on the berth, trapped between the solid frame beneath him, and Jazz's weight above. It feels so fragging good, for all the revulsion that swamps his thoughts, and he's nothing but a bundle of contradictions. He wants to beg for more. He wants to beg for Jazz to stop.

Jazz presses closer, the outer edges of their sparks coming into terrible contact, and an onslaught of pleasure-pain sends a hot charge through Ratchet's circuits. He keens, frame lurching upward. His resistance is crumbling. Jazz is still talking to him, crooning, encouraging. He pulses love and possession into the half-merge, trying to coax Ratchet into letting him in. Into making it easier.

He can do it. He can force it. Too many years in Spec Ops means there are a lot of things Jazz can do and has done before. Forced spark merges are only a drop in the bucket.

He's not going to stop. No matter how much Ratchet begs. No one is coming to rescue him. No one knows he needs to be rescued.

Ratchet knows what he has to do. What other choice does he have?

Ratchet keens again; this time out of sheer grief. Jazz is his ally, companion, loyal friend. The affection is still there, hard to ignore.

He onlines his optics, wondering when he'd offlined them, and sees Jazz over him. Their spark energies lashing together, starting to pulse in sync. Their interface connections are exchanging data at a rapid rate. Ratchet's going to lose his chance. It'll be too late.

"Jazz. Stop. Please."

His former lover's answer is to pulse harder with his spark, bring them closer together. Until the taste of Jazz is all that Ratchet knows, both with spark and data cables.

Resignation swamps Ratchet from head to toe. He grits his denta, a shudder wracking through his frame.

He has no choice.

With what little control over his own body Ratchet has left, he taps into his emergency protocols. Ones he created for himself long, long ago, when Megatron first put out that capture order on all high-ranked medics and scientists of the Autobot army. Perceptor and Wheeljack have it, too. He's been planning to load it into First Aid and Skyfire as well. It's a contingency plan. A last resort on the possibility of capture by the enemy.

They've told no one else. Not even Prowl. Not even Prime.

It's a virus. It won't kill. But it's almost a fate worse than deactivation.

With Jazz connected to Ratchet as he is and completely open to the medic, he's defenseless to it. Ratchet might not have the hacker experience to break through Jazz's firewalls and take over his motor functions – even with his medical overrides. He doesn't need it; this virus will do all the work for him. It's the most insidious thing Ratchet has ever seen. It's more Decepticon than Autobot.

It's the only option he has left.

Between one pulse of pleasure and the next, Ratchet uploads the virus and hides the action by easing back on his resistance. He moans, letting himself feel the pleasure, letting some of the heat suffusing his frame make his circuits tingle. It isn't even pretend because it does feel good.

He only needs half a minute, perhaps less, before the virus is so rooted Jazz will either be forced to stop in order to counter it or will be unable to do anything to remove it.

Half a minute, however, may still be too long. Jazz is as skilled in the berth as he is everywhere else. He knows Ratchet's frame too well. Knows how to make him cry out with pleasure, how to set his circuits ablaze. The charge in his frame translates to brilliant arcs of static that leap between his and Jazz's frame. Their spark energies twine and weave together.

Ratchet moans, a sound that is in no way reminiscent of pleasure. Is it too late?

Above him, Jazz suddenly goes very still. His visor dims.

"Ratchet?"

His tone is uncertain, wavering.

Sick to his very spark, Ratchet turns his head. "You didn't give me a choice, Jazz."

Disbelief and betrayal pour from Jazz's spark, twisting Ratchet's own emotions until he's seeded with guilt.

"Ya... this... Why can't I stop it?"

"I can't even stop it," Ratchet says, unable to hide his misery.

Jazz's hand slams into the berth, and he tries to pull back, cables snapping taut between them. "What's it doin'? Ratch?"

Fear. For the first time, Ratchet hears fear in Jazz's voice.

Jazz's free hand starts clawing at his own open chest as though he can rip the intangible virus out by his fingers alone.

"I don't understand," he cries, voice approaching a keen. "This's s'posed ta be a good thing! Yer supposed ta love me!"

His terror and agony transmits across the link between them, chasing away the pleasure, infecting Ratchet's own systems. He grits his denta, turns off his audials, but it doesn't help. He can still feel Jazz's panic and confusion.

Jazz shrieks, loud enough that Ratchet can feel the vibration, and then his weight shifts. He jerks backward, snapping cables from their ports, their sparks breaking apart so quickly that a violent, stab of pain slams into Ratchet. He jerks on the berth, mouth opening in a pained scream of his own. Too much, too much, too much-

His world turns black all over again.

o0o0o

Ratchet onlines with none of the muzziness of the last time he came to awareness. His thoughts are clear, his motor functions are his own again, and there are no foreign entities leafing through his processes.

There is, however, a strut-deep fatigue that he just can't escape. He's achy in all the wrong places, his spark is twinging with off-rhythm pulses of discomfort. There's a lingering sense of loneliness hovering over everything. He's aching from more than just physical loss, though Ratchet can't place a name to it.

His proximity sensors register the presence of another mech. One who is approaching slowly, like one might a grounded Seeker.

"You're online," Hoist observes.

"I feel like slag," the medic grumps and tries to get up from the berth, but his arms and legs won't rise. They've been secured down. "What the frag?"

Hoist steps into Ratchet's view, reaching for the restraints on his right wrist. "You fought us. When we tried to pull you away from Jazz."

That doesn't make any sense. Then again, Ratchet can't remember anything beyond Jazz's betrayed confusion and his own horrified regret. He remembers Jazz jerking away from him, battling against the malignant virus. After that?

Nothing.

Ratchet's spark gives another lurching pulse of agony. The loneliness returns again, clawing at his energies. The urge to keen rises within Ratchet, but he forces it down, locking it behind medical protocols. His spark feels like it's reaching, straining for something, but there's nothing there.

"My spark..."

Hoist pats him on the shoulder and moves to Ratchet's other side, undoing that restraint as well. "The feeling will pass in time. It's a residual effect. Consequence of the-"

"-interrupted bond," Ratchet finishes. "I know."

He slumps against the berth. Jazz had very nearly succeeded.

"Jazz?" he manages to ask.

From the end of the berth where Hoist is removing the leg straps, the engineer glances to his left. At another berth. Ratchet follows his gaze. He almost wishes he didn't.

Jazz is lying there, motionless and obviously offline. He has been repaired, cleaned, and polished. Much like Ratchet himself has.

"He's not deactivated. But he's not the same anymore." Hoist unlatches the last strap, which gives Ratchet room to sit up. "My scanners indicate that his memory core's been wiped clean. He's practically a sparkling. At least in mind." His optics are too blue and worried. "What happened, Ratchet?"

What happened?

Ratchet's head dips, the memories too fresh. His spark aches, calling to finish the incomplete bond rather than keep the pain of it slowly dissolving. He can still feel the echoes of Jazz's shock and despair, the utter desolation. His fingers curl around the edge of the berth, tightening until it dents.

"I didn't have a choice," Ratchet whispers at last. "He didn't give me any other choice."

Hoist puts a hand on Ratchet's shoulder but hastily removes it when Ratchet flinches away. "What did you do?"

"I think that explanations can wait, Hoist." Optimus Prime's voice cuts into the tension-filled atmosphere, the door sliding shut behind him.

Ratchet's scanners hadn't even sensed Optimus approach. But now, his spark does, lurching toward the calming presence of their Prime, eager to be soothed. Healed even.

"At least until his spark is not so damaged," Optimus adds, coming to a halt near to Ratchet's berth but not close enough to touch. His gaze is unreadable, expression hidden behind his battle mask.

Damaged? Yes. Ratchet can agree to that. Broken, too. He feels strained, too large for his frame, and part of him wants nothing more than to collapse back into recharge. Another part of him wants to leap off the berth, cross the floor, and join Jazz on his. He's torn in too many directions, spark churning indecisively within him.

Ratchet's shoulders slump. "I don't know what to say, Prime."

"Right now, you need say nothing," Optimus replies with his unfailing calm and patience. "This matter will be looked into, and the circumstances will be investigated. But for now, rest. Rest and recover."

He sounds tired then. Tired and very sad. Ratchet doesn't blame him.

"If such a thing is even possible."

Ratchet shutters his optics then. He doesn't look at Hoist. Or at his Prime. Certainly not at Jazz.

He just keeps them offline and looks at nothing. Says nothing. Feels nothing.

Or at least, he wishes he didn't.


a/n: Yes, there is a sequel in the works. It will answer many, many questions.

Feedback is welcome and appreciated. Thank you.

EDIT: The sequel has been written and can be found as a separate oneshot entitled "Half-Truths".