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Sparkbreaker

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After the war, Pharma stepped off the military transport on Tetrahex and right into a job interview. With his ex.

"Well, well, well," said Pharma. "So 'I never want to see you again' only lasts until peace breaks out?"

"You broke up with me," growled Ratchet. "The first time, anyway." He looked as good as he ever had—which was to say, he was ideal of mechanical kind if you liked exhausted workaholics who cared too much about their patients and didn't have time for anyone else. Sometimes Pharma despaired of his own taste.

At least he could laugh at himself now. That was progress, wasn't it? It no longer felt like he was dying, every time he looked at Ratchet and remembered that they weren't together.

"The hospital needs you," said Ratchet. "There aren't enough medics, and there definitely aren't enough surgeons. You're one of the best—"

That made Pharma laugh. "Not the best?"

"One of the best," repeated Ratchet, stubbornly, "and I'm not going to let a personal problem get in the way of saving mechs' lives. If you can let go, move on, and not cause problems, I'll do the same."

"Fine," said Pharma, and smiled as he lied through his teeth. "I'm over you."

Ratchet gave Pharma a narrow look, like he didn't quite believe it, but he didn't press. He'd never understood how special he was, anyway.

Standing here, on the shuttle port tarmac, he was a beacon of the life Pharma had once thought he could have. The white of his plating was marred by a thin layer of dust, and Pharma ached to reach over and wipe it away.

Instead, Pharma leaned back and scanned the skyline of the rebuilding city. "Where's the hospital, anyway? Do I have a nice office?"

"It's still under construction." Ratchet started walking without looking back, just assuming Pharma would follow.

Pharma did.

He would've liked to stretch his wings, after long weeks cooped up in the transport, but walking was interesting in its own way. Tetrahex was busy and bustling, everything in various stages of excavation, restoration, or being scavenged for raw materials. Bands of Autobots, Decepticons, and neutrals roamed the streets, not mixing but all working toward a common cause. Pharma straightened his back, displaying the Autobot brand on his chest. Even if they were supposed to be one big happy planet again, it felt good to be on the winning team.

"You'll need to meet with the hospital director before you're officially hired," said Ratchet. "It's a formality, he trusts my recommendation. Just don't be rude to him."

"Me? Rude?" Pharma laid his hand above his cockpit. "Ratchet."

"He's a Decepticon," said Ratchet. "Rung. He was their CMO."

"You're letting a Decepticon dictate to you?" Pharma fought down a wave of outrage. "You should be the director!"

Ratchet snorted. "Come on, you know I hate paperwork."

"Then you could've just asked Ultra Magnus to—”

"He's a good medic, Pharma," said Ratchet. "And if you can't work with him, then you can start your own clinic."

Pharma scowled. It rankled, the way Ratchet didn't care. The way he never put himself first, never realized his potential.

It didn't matter. Pharma's star wasn't tied to Ratchet's, not any more.

They'd reached the construction site. The bones of the hospital rose up above them, swarmed with mechs busy carrying and welding. It looked ambitious, especially juxtaposed with the squat concrete building lurking in the future hospital's shadow, the one with the 'free clinic' sign on the front. There was a little orange mech sitting outside, peering up at the work above.

"Rung!" called Ratchet, waving an arm. "Rung, here's the surgeon I was telling you about."

Rung stood up as they got closer, a smile playing across his neat, old-fashioned face plate. "Pharma, isn't it?" he offered a hand. "I'm Rung. With a 'u'? Like a ladder?"

Pharma shook his hand. "Yes, got it. Not every surgeon is a forgetful egotist, that's just Ratchet."

"Watch it," growled Ratchet.

"It really is a pleasure to meet you," said Rung. "I'm so glad we'll have a real surgery staff. It's entirely out of my expertise—I'm sorry, did Ratchet tell you my area?"

"Rung," said Pharma, and then had to pause for a moment to appreciate the way Rung just lit up when Pharma said his name. He really was a striking mech. Not beautiful, or at least not in fashion—he looked like a mech out of an ancient holo, with his glowing spark window and his oversized eyebrows. Classical features. And the way he looked at it you, so warm, like you were the only mech in the world...

"Rung," said Pharma, "I'm afraid I hardly know anything about you at all. Would you please tell me about yourself?"

"Oh!" Rung covered his mouth, as if he were embarrassed of his own smile. "Oh, I'm not that special."

"You're director of the hospital," said Ratchet, and Pharma had to suppress a jump. Funny, he'd almost forgotten Ratchet was there.

---

It was odd, the way Rung's name kept slipping out of Pharma's memory. He could feel it start to go, like a energon leaking out of a pinhole wound, and then he'd reach for the name and there would be... not nothing. An incomplete memory, a shape of a mech. Was the director orange or red? What had been so fascinating about his face? What was his clinical specialty again? Something about mnemosurgery?

Luckily, Pharma had the photos.

He took image captures of everything he liked. He had thousands of images, some stored in his processor, others in his external memory packs. He'd taken one of Ratchet, when he first walked off the transport. He liked the play of light on Ratchet's face, the way it highlighted the new lines around his optics. He'd taken several of Rung (Rung, Rung, Rung), and now, lying on the government-issued berth in his bare apartment, he flipped through them, memorizing Rung's features. The arch of his brows and the quirk of his mouth. The kindness that shone through, even in the frozen confines of a photo.

If he concentrated, maybe he could wear a groove in his processor where Rung could live forever.

---

It only took a few days for Pharma to settle in to his work at the squat little clinic. When the hospital was finished and Pharma took his place in the surgery floor, it hardly even felt like a change. It was simply like coming home.

Rung made sure of that.

Normal hospital directors sat up in their offices, untouchable, too good for the doctors who did the real work. But Rung wasn't a normal hospital director. He'd pop his helm into Pharma's office, into the break room, into the surgery waiting area. He'd smile at Pharma in the hallways, and every time he'd ask "do you have everything you need?"

And if Pharma said 'yes,' Rung would beam, so delighted, and tell Pharma how valuable he was to their important work, how everyone was depending on him. If Pharma said 'no,' Rung would drop everything to get him the tools, the medical berths, the assistants he needed.

It was intoxicating, being so appreciated.

---

Pharma felt a little pang when he heard that Rung was getting conjunxed.

He wasn't sure that he was happy to be invited to Rung's conjunxing reception. He would have liked to think that Rung thought of him in particular, but more than half the hospital was there too. Pharma sat at a table with a few ward managers and that trainee medic First Aid, and tried to at least enjoy the free engex.

The ward managers were enjoying the engex a bit too much, in Pharma's opinion. The singing was giving him a headache.

"Hey Pharma," whispered First Aid. "Who's the conjunx, again?"

"Megatron," murmured Pharma. He supposed it made sense—they'd run the Decepticons together, after all. He hoped Megatron would be a good primary conjunx. He wasn't setting a good example so far, late to his own reception and letting Senator Starscream tow Rung around in his absence.

"No, yeah, I mean, I knew that." First Aid waved a hand at one of the tables packed with Decepticon foot soldiers. "But who's the other conjunx? I thought it was Starscream, but then why was I invited? Is it someone from the hospital?"

Pharma stared. "Rung, it's Rung. The hospital director, Rung?"

"Oh, right!" First Aid smacked his helm. "I don't know how I forgot. Rang, of course."

Pharma started to correct him, but just at that moment Senator Starscream climbed on a table and started shrieking a toast. Surely no one could forget Rung's name when they were all drinking to it.

Pharma looked at Rung, so small in the distance, so beautiful with his delicate shawl and his bright-blazing sparklight. How could anyone forget him at all?

---

Pharma found himself watching Rung at work quite often, noticing all the little details that everyone else seemed so determined to miss.

Rung liked sweets, and energon tea. He fidgeted with his hands if he felt uncomfortable. He remembered everyone's name, even the lowest of the orderlies.

Rung liked interfacing. He wasn't inappropriate about it, but it was obvious if you just paid attention. The way he'd light up when Senator Starscream came to visit the hospital, the way they'd stand oh so close together. The way he sometimes rushed into work with gray fingermarks on his hips. The way he'd breathlessly answer his comm when you called him after hours.

Pharma came up with excuses to call him a lot. Sometimes he managed to keep Rung on the comm for five, ten, fifteen minutes, until there was an indistinct murmur in the background and Rung made a hasty excuse. Sometimes Pharma imagined what it would be like, if Rung forgot to turn off his comm. If Pharma could sit there, listening to Rung gasp in his audial. Rung's voice was already so lovely, it would be exquisite in pleasure.

But Rung already had his partners. His massive tank of a warlord, his deadly nature only tenuously leashed by the confines of peace. His vicious jet, hiding his thirst for energon behind political acumen and a textbook case of frame dysphoria.

Pharma wasn't interested in being some sneaky affair, something to be ashamed of and whispered about. Certainly he didn't want to be murdered by a cuckolded Decepticon. But he wanted Rung, with an intensity that felt even greater than his old desire for Ratchet.

It hurt, this longing. Like scratching on a locked door until your fingers bled.

---

Pharma was taking a break outside, waiting for Rung to arrive for his shift so he could say a casual hello, when it happened.

That brute of a Decepticon medic Flatline showed up with Rung, Flatline's arm curled around Rung's shoulders. They got into the elevator, and Pharma threw off the shock and shoved in after, flicking his wings out of the way of the closing doors.

"Pharma," said Rung, so sweetly. "Good morning!"

"Good morning," said Pharma. There was a smear of orange on Flatline's thigh. "Have a good off-shift?"

"It was great," rumbled Flatline. He patted Rung on the shoulder. "Dinner and a... show. Real nice, getting to know your colleagues."

Rung's antenna wiggled happily. "Yes, it was a pleasure! Pharma, how was your off-shift?"

"Fine," said Pharma. He hadn't done anything after work yesterday. Just sat in his apartment and watched old videos. He'd tried to call Rung, with some flimsy excuse about patient records. Rung hadn't answered, and now Pharma supposed he knew why.

When the elevator opened on the ER, Flatline bumped Rung with his hip and waved goodbye as Rung giggled. Pharma hurried out of the elevator after Flatline, only barely remembering to spare Rung a glance and a smile over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?" he hissed, once the elevator was closed.

"Hm?" Flatline stopped in the hall and turned to look at him. "You got a problem?"

"Do I have a problem?" Pharma felt his hands ball into fists. "He has a conjunx! And a Senator! And he's your boss!"

"Aw, we just had some fun," said Flatline. "He's not a real boss, he can't have me executed or anything."

"You think Megatron wouldn't rip your helm off?"

"Don't Autobots have open relationships?" Flatline smirked. "Here, I'll explain. When one mech likes another mech in a strictly carnal way, sometimes they have a few drinks and—”

"Frag off," said Pharma. He was uncomfortably aware that his biolights were flushed. He'd known Rung liked interfacing. Did he like it that much, that he'd seen Flatline's broad shoulders and handsome mask and just, just opened his panels for him?

Flatline was giving Pharma an assessing look. "You know," he said, "I could arrange for a practical demonstration..."

---

Flatline's spike was big. It hurt a little, as Pharma eased himself down on it, his valve not used to the stretch. Rung was such a small mech—did he really enjoy this?

"Did Rung ride you like this?" asked Pharma, looking down at Flatline as he took the last of Flatline's spike. "Did you make him moan?"

"Hey, I don't want to talk about him right now." Flatline reached up to run his fingers over Pharma's cockpit. Pharma only barely managed to turn his flinch into a sultry shiver.

"Let's talk about you," murmured Flatline. "Bet I can make you moan."

If Pharma dimmed his optics, he could almost pretend that Rung was sitting in the corner, watching them. Enjoying the show of Pharma's valve split open by a hulk of a Decepticon. Maybe Flatline was working under Rung's orders? Maybe Rung wanted to see Pharma wrecked?

"Mmm." Pharma swayed his hips, feeling that too-big spike jostle inside him. "You can try."

---

Pharma kept looking at those photos of Rung, cataloging his features, staring into the optics Rung kept hidden away behind glasses. Pharma wanted to pluck them from his face, to see Rung the way he knew Rung saw him.

Sometimes Pharma palmed at his array panel as he flicked through the photos, just as he had with Ratchet's photos long ago. He didn't open them—that would just lead to mess, and the odd aching emptiness that always filled him in the wake of an unobserved overload. But he enjoyed the sweet build of pleasure in his array, the way his spike pressed against the confines of his panel and his valve clenched hard against nothing at all. Sometimes he imagined that Rung was watching him squirm, that Pharma would have to gain his permission to overload, and until then he would teeter on the edge of fulfilment.

It was too much to bear. Pharma had to have him.

Well, now that Pharma knew Rung was open to a mech on the side, he just had to show Rung that he was interested. Simple.

Pharma spent a few days looking longingly at Rung, flicking his wings up whenever Rung glanced his way, and making excuses to stop by Rung's office every time Rung was on shift.

Rung didn't react outside of his usual warm smile. To be fair, Pharma had been doing all of those things before he knew Rung was available.

Pharma tried to remember how he'd seduced Ratchet, only a few days after finishing his medic training and earning his crosses. Alcohol had been involved, hadn't it? And then he'd crawled into Ratchet's lap and put his hand on Ratchet's cheek...

That was it. He needed to be more direct.

The next day, Pharma found a datapad for Rung to sign, went up to the top floor, walked past Rung's pet bodyguard masquerading as a secretary, and let himself into Rung's office. Rung smiled him, as usual.

"You're very attractive," said Pharma.

Rung's mouth popped open, but no words came out.

"I've had a hopeless little crush on you for ages." Pharma crossed the room, fetching up against Rung's desk. "I thought you were taken and I just had to get over it, but—”

"Crush?" choked Rung. "On me?"

"Yes, Rung," said Pharma, allowing himself to linger on Rung's name and the little flare of pleasure it always seemed to inspire in Rung. "I talked to Flatline, I know I'm not the only one. But knowing you were open to Flatline, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe..." He trailed off, hoping that Rung would finish his sentence.

Rung didn't disappoint. "Oh! If, yes, I mean, I am conjunxed, but if you're interested in a more casual relationship, I would love to get to know you better."

It felt like a supernova in Pharma's spark. Like he was emerging whole and new, into a bright and wonderful world. "Yes," he breathed. "Yes, I'd love that too."

---

They had drinks. They had dinner. They went to a concert. Rung said it was fun, having a friend to go out with, when Megatron was busy with his plays and Starscream with his politics.

"I don't mean friend as if there's no possibility of anything else," he said, always so careful of Pharma's feelings. "Only that I enjoy your company as a friend. You're so nice to talk to. Flatline, bless him, has a rather one-track mind."

Pharma preened. Yes, he was so much better than Flatline, so much more available than Megatron or Starscream. Rung had to see that Pharma would be perfect for him. That Pharma would make himself into whatever Rung needed.

Sometimes Pharma thought about what it would be like, just to be Rung's friend. To have meals together, and talk together, and be satisfied with the Rung's optics, always hidden behind his glasses. With the smile he gave everyone on Cybertron.

But Pharma had never been satisfied with 'just.'

---

Crawling into Rung's lap at a bar wouldn't work. Rung was too dignified, his partners' reputations too lofty.

Instead, Pharma invited Rung over to his apartment after their third or fourth night out.

"What a nice place," said Rung, with apparent sincerity. In reality, Pharma's apartment was fine. It had a berth and a few shelves packed with medical downloads, and a cooler where Pharma kept extra energon rations. Pharma had tried to remember what he'd liked before war broke out and he moved into cramped military quarters, but his memories of places were always a little fuzzy and out of focus. Not like his memories of people. He didn't take pictures of places.

He had a couch, that was the important thing. Rung was sitting on it.

Pharma put his hand on Rung's knee.

Rung looked down. "Pharma," he said, "would you like to—”

"Yes," said Pharma. "Yes."

---

Pharma had been wrong when he'd thought that Rung liked interfacing.

Ratchet had liked interfacing. He'd expected it as a sign of a healthy relationship, and he'd felt good when he overloaded. He enjoyed it when Pharma initiated, and he worried that they were losing interest in each other if they went more than a week without a few mutual overloads. Pharma had often felt like it was a mildly tedious chore that just needed to be taken care of so he could enjoy the rest of their relationship. Sometimes he wondered if Ratchet felt the same way.

Rung loved interfacing. His optics were joyful as he slid into Pharma's valve, and his hands were busy teasing along Pharma's vents. He actually managed to find a sensitive place in Pharma's side that made a bolt of pleasure shoot down Pharma's spine.

It was intoxicating. To have all of that knowledge, all of that attention, to have Rung in him, taking him, owning him, keeping him. To have Rung's optics on him, unencumbered by the glasses he used to distance himself from the rest of the world. Pharma wanted to live in this moment for the rest of his life.

"Pharma, Pharma, you're so wet." Rung's helm dropped down to rest against Pharma's chest as his hips continued to move. "Do you feel good? Tell me how to make you feel good."

"You always make me feel good," said Pharma. He dug his fingers into the seams of Rung's shoulders. "I love—I love the way you make me feel, Rung."

Rung shuddered. "I love the way you say my name."

"Rung," said Pharma, and jolted as Rung thrust in deep. "Rung, Rung, Rung—”

Pharma didn't need to fake his overload, which was unusual. He tipped over in a haze of pleasure and satisfaction, the aching in the pit of his spark quieted by the way Rung felt against his plating. And afterward Rung laid in Pharma's berth and stroked his wings. Bliss.

But then Rung stirred with a little 'oh!' and cries of disbelief at the time.

"I'm sorry," he said, as he extracted himself from Pharma's arms. "I have to get home, I didn't think I'd be out so late, and if I don't get back Starscream will try to make dinner, and—”

And Pharma was left alone.

---

Pharma was working in his office when Ratchet stormed in. He didn't look up from the frame restoration he was planning. Some construction mech who'd gotten crunched under a stray beam. Luckily for him, Pharma was going to rebuild him even better than new.

"What do you think you're doing?" demanded Ratchet.

Pharma shrugged. "My job, I think?"

"I mean, with Rung." Ratchet slammed his palm on the door control, sealing them into the room.

Funny. A few months ago, Pharma would've killed for the chance to be alone in a room with Ratchet. He'd always thought that if they could just talk, if he could just explain

Now Pharma looked at Ratchet and felt only a mild annoyance that he'd been obsessed for so long. How much time and energy wasted on someone who didn't return the depth of his feelings?

"Rung is happy," said Ratchet. "I can't say I understand it, but he's happy and he doesn't need all your—” he waved an articulate hand. "Your, your, you."

"Oh?" Pharma leaned back in his chair and started to cross his legs, then had to stop and squirm into a more comfortable position. His valve was sore. He'd interfaced with Rung four times, now, and his array wasn't accustomed to regular use after a few centuries between partners.

Rung had asked Pharma if he'd like to spike, but Pharma had said no. Spike overloads were quicker and easier to elicit from a partner; valve overloads were easier to fake. And Rung was such a considerate lover—he cleaned Pharma up afterward, murmuring soft praise and stroking over Pharma's array with a cloth so Pharma didn't have to touch any... fluids.

Ratchet was watching Pharma narrowly. Pharma refocused.

"I don't think Rung has to get permission from you to interface with me," said Pharma. "Or are you in a relationship with him too?"

Ratchet scowled. "No. Someone in this hospital has to stay objective. I told him all about us, by the way."

Pharma felt like his spark was freezing, guttering. He forced a smile. "Digging up old gossip."

"It's not gossip, it's a warning," said Ratchet. "Rung said you two are only casual partners, and I told him you don't do casual. You just sink your hooks in, and then you pull and tear until—”

There was a horrible screeching noise of metal on metal. Ratchet jolted back a step, and Pharma realized that he'd dug his fingers into his desk.

Casual. He hated that word, casual. Rung had explained it so carefully. Rung had his important partners, his serious partners, his conjunx and his Senator. After them were the casual partners, the ones that were fun for a little while, for a little investment, for a little play. Pharma was swimming in that broad pool, trying to snag the ladder and clamber up into 'serious' before the tide swept him away.

"Have you considered," said Pharma, "that things change? That I'm not the same mech you knew before the war? That I might not want my ex flitting around telling tales to my new partner?"

Ratchet frowned. "You haven't changed, Pharma. You've just shifted targets."

Pharma sighed. He carefully lifted his fingers from the desk. "I'm sorry."

"What?" said Ratchet.

"I'm sorry," repeated Pharma. "I was young, and I'd never loved someone before. I'd never been in a relationship, I'd never interfaced, I didn't know anything, and you treated me like I was worthwhile even though I was just a jumped-up medical transport. Can't you forgive a little hero worship?"

"I'm not talking about hero worship," said Ratchet. "You tried to get me—” He stopped. His mouth worked. "I was your first? I thought you said—”

"I wanted to seem experienced." Pharma chuckled. "I don't think you would've fragged me that hard, if you knew."

Ratchet's anger dissolved in a wash of guilt. He didn't linger, after that, just muttered some vague threats and accusations and then fled. Pharma wondered what he'd say to Rung now.

Pharma didn't care. Ratchet's opinions weren't the ones that mattered.

---

Rung invited Pharma to the premiere of Megatron's play. He wondered if that was still casual, or if Rung was beginning to ever so gently blur the lines.

It wasn't only Rung and Pharma, of course, they weren't anywhere near that point. Senator Starscream was there, and one of Rung's old students. Egglet? Egglet. Pharma didn't have much time for him, not when he was busy winning over Starscream.

It was so easy, Pharma almost felt guilty. Starscream preened every time Pharma used his title, and he flushed every time Pharma complimented his new body work. Pharma cooed over his thrusters, and his hip cut outs, and even the talons that had clearly been done by some hack of a technician instead of a proper surgeon.

Rung smiled every time Pharma said something nice. Pharma tried to pay attention to the play, so he could compliment that as well, but it was hard when Rung was sitting beside him, his frame so luminous in the dark of the theater.

---

Pharma laid in berth, alone in his apartment. Rung had a date night with his conjunx and his senator. Pharma was left out in the cold, as usual.

At least he had his photos. He'd taken some new ones from the last time they interfaced, and he could lose himself in looking at Rung's face, optics bare and unfocused, lips half-parted on a moan.

Pharma's panel snapped open unbidden. He was already beginning to lubricate, and it only felt a little uncomfortable when he ran his fingers around the lips of his valve.

He liked to take pictures of himself, sometimes. He'd sent them to Ratchet, back when they were welcome and sometimes when they weren't. Ratchet had usually seen them as an invitation to interface, and he'd been annoyed when Pharma wasn't as eager as he expected. Pharma didn't mean to tease. He'd only wanted to be appreciated.

Hmm.

There was a full-length mirror on the wall, the only indulgence Pharma had managed to dredge up. He stood up and turned so his back was to it, then slowly bent over. He put his fingers in his valve and spread them, imagining that it was Rung's slim fingers and Rung's voice in his audial. He looked over his shoulder and flicked his wings out of the way so he could see.

He had to contort himself a little to get the best angle, where his valve was fully on display and you could just glimpse the sheen of lubricant on his knuckles. He took a few image captures, then a few more of him sucking the lubricant off his fingers. It tasted terrible, but the effect was worth it.

He bundled the nicest shots into a data packet and sent them along to Rung.

The reply came only a few minutes later.

Rung: I'm at dinner and I nearly choked on my fuel.

Pharma: Did you like them?

Rung: Sweetspark, I'm trying to have a meal with my partners.

Pharma: You can show them, I don't mind.

Rung: That's not—

Rung: ...

Rung: Starscream likes them.

Pharma: What did he say?

Rung: Something vulgar.

Pharma: Oh, you have to tell me. That's the rule when I send you photos, you have to tell me what everyone thinks.

Rung: He whistled, said 'look at that sweet aft,' and then gave me a high five.

Pharma: Tell him thank you :) What does Megatron think?

Rung: Are you fishing for compliments, Pharma?

Pharma: I'm just bored and lonely...

Rung: He likes your wings.

Pharma: I'll take some better photos of them next time ;)

---

Rung invited Pharma to dinner. The invitation was informative without being blunt—Pharma spent some time in the washracks before he went over, shuddering as he buried his sensitive fingers in his valve and tried to stretch it. At dinner he sat and watched Megatron watch him as they sampled Starscream's new (and terrible) energon blends, and drank imported coolant.

Megatron and Starscream cleared the table when they were done, and Rung pulled Pharma aside.

"You don't have to do anything," said Rung, so softly. "No one will be upset with you for deciding to have an early night. Or you could have a drink with Starscream, maybe talk about—”

Pharma laughed. "Megatron's been staring at my wings all evening. You don't want to disappoint him, do you?"

Rung smiled, but it wasn't the full, open smile Pharma had gotten used to. "It doesn't matter what I want," he said. "It's your frame, Pharma. Your decision."

"Well, I want to share it with your conjunx," said Pharma. "And Starscream. Wouldn't that make you happy? Watching Starscream and I play with each other's thrusters?"

Rung's optics flared bright for a moment before he forced them to dim. "I just don't want you to do something you're not comfortable with."

"I'm comfortable." Pharma looked over his shoulder, to where Megatron was watching them intently. He twitched his wings. "Anyway, you love them. I want to be part of anything you love."

Some odd tight expression passed over Rung's face. It popped up, from time to time, when Pharma said the wrong thing. He bent down to kiss Rung's cheek and smooth the lines away.

"Do you want to watch your conjunx frag me?" he whispered in Rung's ear. "Split my slutty valve open? Or would you rather watch me swallow Starscream's spike, all my vents open and straining as I try to—”

Rung kissed him, deep and hungry. Behind them, Pharma could hear Megatron's heavy engine kick into a higher gear.

---

Megatron's massive hands were on Pharma's hips. Starscream's slim fingers held his wrists. Both of them stained with the energon of countless Autobots. Both of them hungry for Pharma's frame.

Pharma looked up to where Rung was sitting against the headboard of the berth, his knuckles stroking absently over his closed panel.

Pharma vented, even and slow, and smiled at the gatekeepers to his beloved's spark.

---

Megatron's tongue was wet and thick in Pharma's valve, two of his fingers almost broader than Pharma could bear, and Rung crept down from the headboard so he could watch Megatron stretch Pharma wider.

---

Starscream pinched Pharma's wings, but a reproving word from Rung and Starscream became gentle, gentle, he took instruction so well. Pharma wondered what it would be like to play actor and director with Starscream, contort their frames into the perfect tableau for Rung.

---

Megatron eased his spike into Pharma, each ridge taking an eternity to pass Pharma's tight outer ring. Rung was lying with his helm pillowed on Pharma's thigh, cooing admiration and praise. Pharma arched his back and tried to take Megatron deeper.

---

Megatron's pounding rhythm changed, sped up, like he was searching for something. Rung's thumb worried at Pharma's node. Pharma spread his wings, tipped his helm back to bare his throat, and moaned as he carefully contracted and released his valve. Megatron slowed, and Pharma relaxed against the berth like a marionette with its strings cut.

"Very pretty," whispered Starscream, in Pharma's audial. "You do know how to flatter a mech."

Starscream took him when Megatron was done, his spike slipping through Megatron's transfluid. Pharma pretended an even stronger overload for him.

---

Two fake overloads and a loose valve bought Pharma a place in the berth. It bought him Rung pressing kisses to Pharma's hip as he cleaned Pharma's array. It bought him Rung, curled with his back against Pharma's cockpit. Yes, Megatron was facing Rung, smiling indulgently at them both, the expression sitting oddly on the face that had haunted Autobots' nightmares for centuries. Yes, Starscream was at Pharma's back, the hands that had torn apart the old senate still playing with Pharma's wings.

But Rung was warm against Pharma's plating, and his engine thrummed smooth and calm.

It was a start.

---

"Megatron's new premiere is next week," said Rung, over lunch. "He's been so worried about it, poor thing."

"I'd like to see it," lied Pharma. "The last one was so fun. Are you going? Could I possibly tag along?"

"Of course, Pharma." Rung smiled warmly. "It would be lovely to have you."

---

"There's this restaurant I want to try," said Pharma, his circuits still tingling from one of his rare overloads. "In the outer city, they're recreating Vosian cuisine?"

"Oh, Starscream wanted to go there." Rung stretched. "I think he just wants to complain about what they do wrong."

"We could make a trio of it?" suggested Pharma. "The more the merrier?"

Rung hesitated, just for a moment. But then he said "Yes. Yes, I'm sure Starscream will be pleased to see you again."

---

They were getting closer, always closer to Pharma's dream. Starscream was on his side now, loving his new frame and grateful to Pharma for it. Megatron was fading ever more into the background, only occasionally present to press his clumsy hands to Pharma's hips. Rung commed Pharma unprompted, sometimes asked if he had a fun photo to share.

Once, just once, Rung sent Pharma a photo of his own. He was wearing some transparent organic fabric, in shades of deep purple. His spark chamber glowed through the material, and his valve and spike were only visible as outlines through a tight strip of cloth.

Pharma burned that image into his processor, right next to the groove labeled 'Rung.'

---

Pharma popped his head into Rung's office, ignoring the dagger glares thrown at his back by Rung's pet secretary. "Are you coming over this weekend?"

"Hm?" Rung looked up from his paperwork. "Oh, no, Pharma, I'm afraid I can't. I have plans with Megatron and Starscream—it's our anniversary."

"Oh." Pharma forced a smile, ignoring the clawing in the pit of his tank. "Of course it is! Have fun. Excuse me, I just remembered that I have an appointment."

He turned and walked out, wings high and shoulders tight. It was fine. He should be grateful that Rung had any time for him at all.

Maybe he'd send him a comm later. Just to see how the anniversary was going. Oh, he could send him some pictures! That would be a nice little gift.

---

They were in Pharma's apartment. Alone. This was supposed to be Pharma's time.

"And then Megatron said—” Rung cut himself off with a frown. "Pharma, is something wrong?"

"Wrong?" Pharma didn't look up from his hands. There was a chip in his index finger, he'd need to fill that. "What could possibly be wrong?"

"I don't know." Rung inched closer on the couch, his knee bumping against Pharma's thigh. "That's why I'm asking you, dear. I thought maybe we could communicate about—”

"I'm not your patient," said Pharma, coldly.

Rung flinched back. "Oh. No, of course not. Never mind. What was I saying? Megatron said that only refugees of the embattled middle castes want—”

"Megatron," spat Pharma. "I'm sick of hearing about Megatron. Can't we talk about something else?"

"Pharma," said Rung, his optics full of pain. It made Pharma both sick and triumphant. At least he'd put that pain there. At least he was feeling something, anything at all.

"I didn't bring you here to talk about your conjunx." Pharma slid from the couch onto his knees, put his hands on Rung's thighs to spread them. "Why don't we do something more interesting?"

Rung twisted out of Pharma's grip, nearly kneeing Pharma in the face. Pharma jerked away, his wings hiking up in shock.

"No," said Rung, his voice unsteady. "No, we need to talk about what's going on here. Are you unhappy with our relationship?"

"We don't have a relationship," said Pharma. The desire, the need to wound was rising in him again. "I know, you explained so carefully. We're casual. I'm just the jet you frag around with when Starscream's not available."

"Oh, no, no, that's not," Rung sucked in a shallow vent, "that's not what I meant at all."

"Then what does it mean?" demanded Pharma. "Am I just supposed to be happy for you, when you go off to your other apartment with the people you care about? Am I supposed to be content with the scraps of time that you have left over?"

"It's supposed to be fun," said Rung, in a small voice. "I thought you were having fun."

"Fun?" Pharma laughed, but the sound of it was so jarring that it shocked him out of his dark mood. He couldn't act like this around Rung. It was too much, too fast—he'd drive him away. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know what came over me. I had a bad day, my code is acting up—”

Rung bit his lip and pulled his glasses out of his subspace, settling them over his optics like a shield. "I ought to go home," he said. "I think we need a little break, don't you?"

---

Pharma got up in the morning and went to work. He performed three surgeries and five consults. He filled out his paperwork. After his shift, he slumped forward onto his desk and laid there for a little while, face down and wings flat to his back.

After an hour or two, the door opened. Pharma didn't online his optics.

"Moping in your office in the dark," said Ratchet.

Pharma didn't say anything, either. There was a small electrical pulse, and then Pharma heard the faint buzzing of the overhead light. He still didn't look up.

Ratchet sighed. "You worried First Aid."

"I didn't say anything to First Aid," mumbled Pharma.

"Exactly." There was the scrape of a chair and the hissing of Ratchet's hydraulic system as he sat down. His compressor needed tuning. "He says you're usually pretty chatty. Lots of patient observations, useful advice—you're not a bad teaching doctor. Better than me, probably."

"Oh." Pharma tried to feel good about that, but there was an aching pit in his spark that nothing so petty could ever fill. He hadn't even tried with First Aid, that didn't count.

"I tried to tell Rung," said Ratchet. "I told him you were an all or nothing kind of mech. I told him you didn't understand casual."

"We already had this conversation," said Pharma.

"Yeah. I remember." Ratchet's compressor clicked and whirred. "Did you really think you'd changed? Or did you think you could change Rung?"

Pharma didn't have an answer for that question. He wanted to change. More than anything, he wanted to stop feeling the way he did now, like his struts were filled with lead and his spark was a dying star. But he didn't know any relief except what he felt when Rung smiled at him, when Rung held him, when Rung—

Something brushed the edge of Pharma's wing, and he flinched away.

"Hey, hey." Ratchet's hand smoothed over Pharma's back. "You're shaking. Have you fuelled today?"

Pharma couldn't remember. "Yes," he said.

"I think I've got emergency gels in my subspace," said Ratchet. "Yeah, here we go. Pharma, can you online your optics and look at me?"

"Yes," said Pharma, and didn't.

"You're such a brat," huffed Ratchet. "Were you this bad every time we broke up?"

"I wanted to be dead," said Pharma, too exhausted and miserable to be anything but honest. "Sometimes it felt like I already was."

Ratchet sucked in a vent, too loud—he probably needed a full systems overhaul, he never made time for basic maintenance. He didn't argue, though. He just nudged Pharma's hand with a gel.

Pharma took it and put it in his mouth, chewed mechanically until the gel returned to its energon base. He swallowed. Ratchet nudged his hand with another gel. Pharma took it, but he didn't try to eat it yet. His tank was already cramping from the concentrated and reconstituted fuel. It felt good, actually. The physical pain was so much simpler.

"I just want to be loved," he said. "Is that too much to ask?"

Ratchet was quiet for a long time. "No," he said, at last. "That's not the part that's too much."

---

The comm message came in the early hours of the morning. Pharma hadn't been recharging—he'd only managed to recharge a few hours at a time for the last week. He took a steadying vent and opened it.

Pharma,

I've been thinking a lot about our relationship. It's now clear to me that you've been unhappy in the confines of a 'casual' relationship. I think I wanted to believe that you were happy—self-delusion is the only explanation I can give for how many signs I ignored or discounted. I hope you will accept my sparkfelt apology.

When our relationship began, I believed that it was necessary for myself and my partners to set clear boundaries on the amount of emotional intimacy I would be able to give. I still value these boundaries, and I hope you recognize their importance. However, I also see that we have crossed those boundaries many times—that you have reached out to me again and again, and that I have encouraged this. That I would continue to encourage this, because I care for you and I want you to be close.

I miss you. Some of our mutual friends have told me that you seem unhappy, and I wish that I could comfort you. I want to sit with you, and stroke your back, and tell you that everything will be all right.

Would you come and talk to me? Could we revisit our boundaries? I think I can do more than casual, if you can be patient with me.

Hopefully yours,
Rung

Pharma felt something odd, fluttering in the back of his spark. It took him a few moments to recognize it. He'd forgotten what joy was like.

---

"...And of course I understand why you reacted badly, when you were already feeling insecure about our relationship," said Rung.

"Mhmm," said Pharma. He was sitting on the couch in Rung's apartment. Megatron and Starscream had gone out for dinner; Rung's hand was resting on Pharma's knee. He was floating.

"But you understand my reaction, don't you?" Rung squeezed Pharma's knee. "I—Pharma, I do love you, but I also—”

Pharma's spark swirled in his chest, and he had to fight to keep the euphoria off his face. Rung loved him! Rung loved him!

"It was so painful to know that I'd made you miserable," said Rung. "First Aid said that you looked like you were going to collapse."

First Aid had talked to a lot of mechs. Pharma supposed he should thank him.

"I want you to be happy," said Rung. "Do you think you could be happy with me?"

"Oh, Rung," breathed Pharma. "Always."

---

Reconciliation led to kisses, kisses led to petting, petting led to Rung's fingers in Pharma's valve and his spike leaking against Pharma's thigh. They fragged in Rung's berth. Pharma didn't overload this time, but he gave the performance of his life, moaning and arching and calling out Rung's name again and again.

"Rung!" he said, as he carefully squeezed his valve. "Rung, Rung, I love you!"

Rung panted and overloaded into Pharma's valve, marking him inside and out. If Pharma concentrated on that, it almost overwhelmed the unpleasant sticky feeling as Rung pulled out.

Afterward Pharma laid in the berth, curled around Rung, and felt, just for a moment, like they were the only two mechs in the entire galaxy.

He wondered if Rung would like it, if he stripped off his Autobrand. He didn’t think he could ever take the Decepticon sigil, but—well, Rung didn’t wear it either, did he? They could be a matched set, bare of affiliations, loyal only to each other.

"Megatron and Starscream will be back soon," said Rung. "You should talk to them, but it doesn't need to be tonight. Would you rather leave before they get here, or stay and talk, or—”

"I want to stay," said Pharma, muzzily. The euphoria still hadn't worn off, and he was running on so little sleep. "If I let them frag me, can I stay?"

Rung didn't respond. Pharma twisted awkwardly to look at him and found Rung frozen, a look of horror on his face.

"Rung?" said Pharma.

"Pharma," said Rung, in the careful voice he used during staff meetings when he wanted to make absolutely sure he was understood, "you don't ever need to trade interfacing for, for relationship concessions. Have you been doing that?"

"No," said Pharma, immediately. "No, sorry, I misspoke. I'm very tired."

"Do you want to interface with Megatron or Starscream?" pressed Rung.

"Yes," said Pharma, but he must not have sounded very convincing because Rung's expression was collapsing in on itself, his optics flickering as he took Pharma in.

Pharma seized Rung by the shoulders, clutching him tight, willing him to understand. "It's fine," he said. "They're mostly gentle and it doesn't bother me and then afterwards I get to be with you, and that's all I want, I don't mind if—”

"Oh no." Rung was actually tearing up, coolant welling in the corners of his optics. "Oh, darling."

"It's fine!" snapped Pharma. "I mean it!" He was sitting up now, dragging Rung up with him, and sticky unctuous transfluid was seeping out of his valve and onto his leg. His plating shuddered, and later Pharma would blame that little distraction for what he said next: "It's not that much worse than interfacing with you."

Rung's engine hiccupped. "With—” He had to stop and clear his voicebox. "Pharma, sweetspark, do you like interfacing with me?"

Pharma stared at him. "Of course I do! I like the way you touch me, and the way you talk to me, and the way you clean me after. I like holding you, and—”

"Yes," said Rung, "yes, but do you like the part where I touch your array?"

Pharma had a sudden premonition that nothing he could say would be right. He tried anyway, grasping for the truth if nothing else. "Sometimes," he said. "It always—it usually feels good. I'm just—particular. But it doesn't matter, I like the part afterward, I don't mind—”

Rung was crying in earnest now. "I'm sorry," he choked out, between half-stifled sobs. "I'm so, so sorry."

"What?" Pharma stared at Rung, who was apparently having a breakdown over something that was so trivial when they'd just been reunited. "Why?"

"For making you think that our relationship was, was conditional." Rung wiped ineffectually at his optics with his hands. "You don't ever need to interface with me if you don't want to."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Pharma. "You love interfacing."

"I don't need interfacing," said Rung. "We can be romantic without interfacing, or we could be friends, we could be intimate in whatever way you want, if—”

"Your only friends are your students, your secretary, and Ratchet," said Pharma.

"That's not true," said Rung. "There's, there's—”

"I can't be any of those things," said Pharma. "I'm your lover, that's my place. You just let me back in, you can't shut me out again!"

"I can't do this if you won't tell me what you want," said Rung, his voice high and thin and panicked. "If I'm just taking from you all the time!"

"You won't give me what I want!" snapped Pharma. This conversation was agonizing, it was like he was standing on a conveyor belt watching the smelter get closer and closer. "I want to be everything for you! I want to wake up with you and live with you and see you thinking about me like I think about you all the time. And if fragging gets me a step closer to that, you can frag me as hard and as often as you want!"

"Pharma, I can't do that." Rung's beautiful optics were so wide, so sad. "Megatron—”

"I don't care about Megatron!" Pharma was going to explode, he was, he was, he was going to shatter into pieces and kill everyone in the blast radius. "I don't want to share you, do you understand that? I want you!"

Rung just stared at him. Pharma turned his helm away and shoved himself out of the berth. He was so angry, part of him wanted to leave before he did something he'd regret and the other part wanted to lash out, to make Rung hurt as much as he had been hurting for months. For his entire life. To make Rung feel the ache in the pit of his spark. He'd tried so hard. He'd let Rung do whatever he wanted, he'd let Megatron, he'd let Starscream

The whole room was littered in their filth. Megatron's datapads, Starscream's mechanical scrapings. Everywhere reminders that this was their place. That Pharma was only a hapless, hopeless interloper.

"I hate this place," he whispered.

He hadn't meant for Rung to hear, but Rung made a lost and wounded noise anyway. "I thought, I thought you liked visiting me here."

"I'd like seeing you anywhere," said Pharma. "I'd do anything for you, Rung, don't you understand that? And I know you'd do the same for me, if you were just free of these chains!"

He kicked on his thruster and watched it sputter harmlessly against the polished metal of the bedroom floor.

"What chains?" Rung reached out to him. "Pharma, please, I don't understand what you're saying."

There was a carpet in the living room.

The future unspooled in front of Pharma like a bright copper wire leading to a perfect, shining city. They could be happy.

Pharma heard Rung scramble after him as he left, stalking through the hallway in search of his target. He passed Starscream's room where Starscream almost never slept, and Megatron's office stacked high with yet more datapads. The living room was just the same, a monument to Rung’s conjunx and his senator, to the life that didn't have room for Pharma.

He'd make that room.

"Pharma?" called Rung. "Pharma, what are you doing?"

"I have to set you free," said Pharma. The certainty of it was like steel along his spine. "We can't ever be happy until you're free, Rung, don't you understand?"

"No, I don't understand," said Rung, his voice somehow soothing even when it was shaking. "Could you stop and explain it to me, please?"

"You'll see," said Pharma. "I'll make you see."

He ignited his thruster again and put it to the carpet. It caught easily, the fire devouring the imported organic fibers. It felt clean, so clean, the smoke rising and carrying the stench of Starscream's polish and Megatron's engine away.

Rung yelped and ran from the room. That was fine. Change always hurt at first. You just had to push through, and then things would be better. Rung would be so pleased when it was just him and Pharma. When he understood what Pharma would do, just to be near him.

Pharma set the couch alight next. He'd knelt before it once, putting his mouth to Megatron's spike. It would be ash, soon, along with everything else from Rung's past life. And then they could go away together, start over, find a new place to live where they could just be, where they could love in the way Pharma knew they could—

Something slammed into Pharma's back, knocking him to the ground. He tried to get up and found his helm held down by a massive hand.

"Stay put," growled Megatron, "or I'll tear this off."

With his head twisted to the side, Pharma could only watch as Starscream appeared with a fire extinguisher. Rung stood behind him with his hands over his mouth, his optics hidden this time not by his glasses but by the tips of his fingers and new, welling tears.

He’d made Rung cry. He’d made him cry twice now, once by lying to him and once by telling the truth.

Pharma opened his mouth, but he was filled with a wash of dread. He couldn't think of a single thing to say.

"You're leaving," said Megatron, and picked Pharma up by the wings. It hurt and Pharma twisted, trying to break free, but Megatron held him implacably as he carried Pharma out into the hall, through the apartment door, and finally threw Pharma into the elevator.

Pharma didn't even think of protesting. Megatron's face was murderous, every inch the Decepticon warlord. Hadn't Pharma always known that this would end with Megatron's hands around his neck? It would almost be worth it to force the confrontation, to make Megatron kill him... But no. He couldn't do that to Rung.

Instead, Pharma watched as Megatron hit the button that would send the elevator down. Like he was simply trash that needed to be taken away.

"Tell Rung I'm sorry," said Pharma, just before the doors closed. Megatron's expression didn't change.

The elevator moved smoothly between floors, landing on the ground without even a bump. Pharma didn't get up when the doors opened, just laid where he'd been thrown in a heap. The elevator chimed at him a few times, then gave up.

After a while, Pharma realized his panel was still open. He closed it. That was the only part of him that moved until the enforcers arrived.

---

In the aftermath, Rung stared at the smoking, ruined couch, dripping with foam from the fire extinguisher Starscream still held in his hands. He felt numb.

"Fragging gearstripper," muttered Starscream. "Trying to set my home on fire. You're not allowed to bring him here anymore, Rung, I'm putting my foot down."

"No," said Rung. "No, I think it's all over between us now. Oh, I'm so sorry about this. Our poor apartment."

Starscream tsked. "Please, Megatron and I break something every other week, at least."

"That's not the same," said Rung. He couldn't even make the comparison. Megatron and Starscream enjoyed their little conflicts, and Rung was always there to step in if they began to turn from playful to vicious. Pharma hadn't even talked to Rung, he'd simply assumed that Rung would—what? Follow him gladly from the wreckage of his home?

Starscream sniffed. "Well, Pharma should have known that arson wasn't a winning strategy with you. Good riddance. I never liked him anyway."

"What?" Rung tried to cudgel his processor into working. It kept pulling up the memory of Pharma with the flames licking his plating and shining in his optics, telling Rung that they would be happy together. Pharma on the berth, telling Rung that he could tolerate interfacing if only it would keep Rung in his life. Rung telling Pharma that he loved him, and Pharma looking as if he'd been given the greatest gift in the world.

"Pharma," said Starscream. "He sucked."

"Starscream," said Rung. "That's not true. You two were friends."

"We were friendly," corrected Starscream. "I knew what he wanted me for. He was always staring at you, asking about you, wanting to know what you liked. It'd be sweet if it wasn't for the whole, you know, arson thing. Speaking of, I should get some body work done."

"No!" Rung's spark wobbled dangerously. "Darling, you love your new frame. Don't let me ruin it for you, I couldn't bear it—”

"Oh, the frame is staying." Starscream set down the fire extinguisher and admired his long, slim fingers. "But I'm not comfortable with Pharma knowing where all my erogenous zones are. And I told you about the overload switch, didn't I? He put an overload switch between my wings! I mean, I wasn't the one faking half my overloads."

Rung felt like he was going to purge. "He was faking overloads?"

Starscream glanced at him, then grimaced, dropped to his knees, and gathered Rung into his arms. "Sorry," he said. "Uh. There, there."

"I don't understand," said Rung. Primus, he was fighting back tears again, what was wrong with him? Surely the interfacing didn't matter when so much else had happened. "Why did he do this? Just for me?"

Starscream patted Rung's back. He seemed to know that Rung didn't really want an answer.

"I told him I loved him tonight," said Rung, into the cradle of Starscream's neck. "And I do, I want him to be happy so badly, and I was making him miserable—”

"He started out miserable," said Starscream. "You've got terrible taste in mechs, have I told you that? Megatron, Jazz, Pharma—it's like you see someone with broken glass in their spark and you think 'oh, I need to hit that.'"

Rung tried to laugh and sob at the same time and choked, air hitting his engine and making it sputter.

"I'm not including myself in that list," said Starscream, loftily. "I've always been a beacon of stability in your life."

"Of course," said Rung, hoarsely. "Of course, darling."

There were a few heavy footsteps, and Megatron joined them in the living room. "The enforcers want to know if you'll press charges," he said. "Otherwise they'll escort him to his apartment building and drop him off. We can file the paperwork for a restraining order tomorrow."

Rung jerked away from Starscream. "Oh, no, I don't want to get him in trouble. I'll go and talk to them, this is all a misunderstanding—”

Megatron caught Rung's chest in one hand as Rung tried to hurry into the hall. "Rung, I promised I wouldn't try to control your relationships, but I draw the line at this. You're not talking to anyone until you've had time to compose yourself. Certainly not if you think this was a misunderstanding."

Rung bit back his automatic retort and took stock. He was shaking, his vents sucking in air in uneven gulps. There was smoke residue all over his plating. He still had Pharma's paint transfers on his hips.

"No," he said, and slumped into the support of Megatron's hand. "No. Of course, you're right."

"I'll tell them to just take him home," said Megatron. He looked over the smoldering remains of the couch and curled his lip. "And I'll order a replacement for that."

Rung stiffened. "Oh, my dear, please, it's my responsibility."

"I'll take care of it," insisted Megatron. "Starscream—”

"Yes, yes." Starscream got up and put his hands on Rung's shoulders. "Come on, sparkbreaker. Let's hit the washracks."

Rung meekly followed Starscream out of the room. With enough solvent and soap, maybe he could wash the whole day away.

---

Rung went to the hospital the next morning with a plan and a sheaf of datapads cradled in his arms. His spark twinged as the elevator passed the surgery floor, but he didn't cry or wail or collapse. He stayed still and upright, riding the elevator until the doors opened on the long-term care ward where Ratchet kept his office. He walked down the winding halls, and finally he knocked, very gently, on the door.

"Come in!" yelled Ratchet. Rung endeavored to reach the entry pad with his hands still full.

"Oh," said Ratchet, when the door finally slid open to reveal his overstuffed office. "I figured I'd have to come to you. I had Deadlock on watch, all ready to comm me when you got in."

"You already know," said Rung. Oh, of course he did. "That, that makes this easier." He set his datapads on the desk, pointing them out one by one. "I'm resigning myself from a set of responsibilities, mostly to do with the surgery floor. This is a new organizational chart—I've left the surgery representative blank, I'm delegating the appointment to you—and this is the foundation for a proper Mechanism Relations department, which can handle complaints without any involvement from me. And this—”

"Hey, hey," said Ratchet. "We don't need any of that. Well, the MR department maybe, that sounds useful. But you don't need to recuse yourself from the surgery department. Pharma resigned."

Rung sat down in Ratchet's rickety guest chair, feeling like his joints had simply rusted away. "He resigned?"

"Came to my office right at the beginning of shift," said Ratchet. "Divvied up his scheduled surgeries between me, First Aid, and Flatline, then packed up his office and left. Usually I'd be mad about the short notice, but... Well, he gave me the short version and I can read between the lines."

"No," said Rung. Oh, wasn't it enough that he couldn't love Pharma the way he wanted, did he have to ruin the mech's life too? "No, no, I didn't mean for—”

"He'll be fine," said Ratchet, soothingly. "He's landing on his feet, already got a job lined up at Knock Out's elective surgery clinic. So let's put all of that," he shoved Rung's meticulously crafted datapads into a heap, "to one side and focus on you."

"Me?" squeaked Rung.

Ratchet handed Rung a new datapad. "That's paperwork for a restraining order. You'll need to file it at the precinct, I can walk over with you during the lunch break."

"I already talked to Megatron about that," said Rung. "I don't want to—”

Ratchet cut him off with just a look. "I know it doesn't feel necessary, and yeah, Pharma did look pretty sorry this morning. But he's going to forget about all the bad things and start daydreaming about the good things, and then he's going to come around and try to convince you to take him back. Either he's a fragging expert at that or I'm a soft touch, because it worked on me five times. Block his comms, file the restraining order, and tell Megatron and Starscream that you did it. They're not in any danger of being called soft."

"Yes, Ratchet," said Rung.

"Good." Ratchet pinged Rung's comm with a data packet. "That's the contact info for a therapist. You didn't train her—she's a neutral from the colonies. Her references are good, but I've got a list of other possibilities if she doesn't work out. You've got an appointment for tomorrow."

Rung felt tears welling up again. They'd been plaguing him off and on since the incident, and he couldn't find a line of code that could turn them off. "Th—Thank you, Ratchet, I—”

"Aw, Rung." Ratchet stood up and leaned over, wrapping Rung's shoulders in an awkward hug. His hips had to be jammed against the desk, but he didn't make a single sound of complaint. "I know it's hard. I'm sorry."

"You tried to warn me," sniffled Rung. "You said it wasn't going to work."

"I know, but I wanted to be wrong." Ratchet shifted and managed to pull Rung a little closer. "I know you liked him. He really liked you. It's not your fault he's a black hole of a mech."

"Don't be cruel," said Rung, clinging to Ratchet's arms.

"I call it like I see it," said Ratchet.

"I think you're my only friend," said Rung. "My only proper friend, not someone I employ or teach or, or seduce—”

"Now, that's not true," said Ratchet. "But I'm happy to be a friend." He patted Rung's back and then straightened up. "Now come on, let's go up to your office. Deadlock was pretty worried about you. I had to take his shiv away until Pharma was out of the building, and I think you need to tell him to stand down or he'll go hunting once he's off shift. Fragging Decepticons."

Rung managed to summon a smile. It felt wobbly, but it was there. He was there.

"All right," he said. "Let's go."

---

"Sorry, doc," said the bartender. "Either engage your FIM chip or I'm cutting you off."

"But I'm trying to get drunk!" said Pharma.

"You've succeeded," said the bartender. "Here, I'll get you some coolant."

"You don't understand," whined Pharma. "I'm, I'm broken, I'm empty, I'm—” the room swayed abruptly, and Pharma grabbed the counter in an effort to stay upright on his stool. "My gyros are mal, malfun... My gyros."

"Yeah," said the bartender, cheerfully. "That's why I cut you off."

Pharma stared morosely at the coolant that was placed in front of him. It wasn't working. Nothing was working. He'd worked a double shift at Knock Out's clinic, he'd gone for a three-hour flight, and he was aggressively deleting any thought about Rung or that reminded him of Rung. So, most of his thoughts. The drinking was supposed to help with that, but instead it made it harder, turning his thoughts slippery and impossible to catch. He'd worn a groove in his processor for Rung, and there was nothing he could do to fill it in.

He was going to just have to live like this forever. A husk of a mech. An empty, empty thing where once there had been love.

He'd deleted all of his photos of Rung that evening, when he was only two drinks in. Even the photo Rung had sent him, posing in the sheer purple fabrics. It had hurt, so, so much. He'd tried to comm Rung before he did it, but his messages were still bouncing.

He'd received the restraining order notification two days ago. He'd been expecting it. He didn't deserve to be near Rung, not when he'd, he'd—

"Don't you dare purge on the counter," said the bartender.

"Go away," hissed Pharma. "Either bring me a drink or go away!"

"Hey, Pharma," said a voice. "Are you okay?"

"No," said Pharma, and then turned to look. The owner of the voice was a scrawny green mech, with red optics and a radio dish folded up against his neck.

"Uh, yeah," said the green mech. "I didn't think so. Do you need help getting home?"

"That's so nice," said Pharma. He tried to let go of the counter to pat the mech on the head, but the room swam and he held on tighter instead. "You're nice... Do I know you?"

"I'm Aglet," said the mech. "I work at the hospital? We've met at least half a dozen times."

Pharma frowned, but light slowly dawned. "Egglet!"

"Aglet," corrected the mech, patiently.

"No," Pharma assured him. "Egglet. I remember. Aren’t you a ‘Con? This is an Autobot bar, what are you doing here?"

Egglet grit his teeth. “Striking out, mostly. I didn’t want to bother you, but you look kind of-”

The fragging bartender was back, without another drink.

"Are you a friend of his?" she said.

"Uhh." Egglet looked Pharma up and down. "Ex-colleague," he decided.

"Great, take him home," said the bartender. "And make sure he doesn't fall asleep in an alley or something."

Egglet sighed and offered Pharma a hand. "Come on, I was going home anyway. I'll walk with you."

Pharma carefully transferred his grip from the counter to Egglet's hand. He almost fell when he tried to stand—Egglet caught him with an arm around his waist.

"Oh!" said Pharma, as Egglet guided him out of the bar. "I don't want you to get the wrong impress. Impresh. Idea. I'm not on the market, got it?"

"Got it," said Egglet, easily. "I'm not looking for a date. Just trying to help."

"Good." Pharma felt his fuel tank sink and sag. "I'm an awful person to date."

Egglet neither agreed nor disagreed. That was good, Pharma liked that. It was easier not to argue. The night air was cool on Pharma's wings, and he flicked them out to catch more of the breeze The street was mostly empty—just the late-night stragglers and a few mechs trying to get to their shift early and beat the rush.

"What building are you in?" asked Egglet.

"You can't frag me either," said Pharma. "New policy. I'm only fragging when I want to frag."

"Yeah, that's a good call," said Egglet. "Here, I found your address on the old hospital directory. Are you still in Protihex Court?"

"You can look at me, though." Pharma leaned a little more on Egglet, enjoying the warmth of another frame. "You're nice, Egglet. I wouldn't mind if you looked at me. I'll send you some photos, how about that?"

"Uhuh," said Egglet. "I have no idea what you're talking about, but maybe you can explain it to me when you're sober. And it's Aglet."

"Oh." Pharma sighed, and felt a little thread of misery leave him. "That's a good name."