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Echoes of the Past

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Ratchet carried his human through the space bridge, and up a flight of stairs to a loading dock, where he deposited her in the arms of a wide-eyed ambulance crew. More first responders -- an army of them -- were arriving. Word of the attack had reached Earth's authorities.

"Err, sir, do you need assistance too?" The human leader of the crew said, staring at Ratchet.

Ratchet knew he was covered in soot, with his nanytes singed off to bare metal in spots, and his armor dented and scuffed. He was leaking hydraulic fluid from damage to a reservoir that had been caused by the over pressure wave and there was a big dent in his helm that he had no memory of getting. Still, the question took him aback. What could mere humans do to help him?

Earth was ... quiet. The sky overhead was blue. The air was warm. There were no Quintessons here. It was peaceful ... at least until he listened to human news broadcasts. The humans were calling for blood donations, mobilizing their troops, and generally reacting with all the fury of a smashed hive of bees. Cybertron had become a de facto human colony, and Cybertronians were loved on Earth, and humans took the attack quite personally. It probably also helped that Quintessons bore a striking resemblance to B-movie horror monsters, what with their tentacles, five eyes on stalks, and savagely toothy and inhuman mouths. 

"I'm fine," he said, curtly, and turned around, and pushed his way through the arriving crowds of Cybertronians to return to Iacon. Humans might be willing to help, but he didn't need it. Others needed their assistance more.

Their concern surprised him. It had been genuine.

As soon as he stepped through the event horizon on the far side the rank scent of burnt flesh, burnt metal, and burning fuels hit him like a slap in the face. He ex-vented wearily, transformed, and drove for entrance to the tunnels. There were more wounded humans to retrieve. Many were college kids, Earth's best and brightest.

"Ratchet!" Prowl said, sharply.

"What?" He didn't bother to transform back. He was in a hurry. He just angled an external alt-mode visual sensor (humans would have called it a "mirror") in Prowl's direction so he could see the tactician hurrying his way.

Prowl's limp looked worse, but somebody had wrenched his dislocated door wing back into place.  The tactician was various shades of black and grey except for a patch of bright red human blood splashed on one thigh and multiple fingerprints on his wing. Some of those white spots, where the soot had been rubbed away, were from Ratchet's own hands and some were probably from whoever had reduced the dislocation.

He was only recognizable by his silhouette and his voice. Most of the other Cybertronians were the same way -- all black and grey, except for bright smears of human and Cybertronian bodily fluids, and the occasional smudge where the soot had been rubbed away to show bright paint or silvery bare metal.

"You can't go out there."

"The Pit I can." Ratchet objected.

"Orders, Ratchet. Mine. We've got a med bay set up down the hall from the bridge, Bee will show you where it's at."

Bumblebee had just stepped through the bridge. Against the soot-stained locals, Earth's resident Cybertronian scout was brilliant gold.

"I ..."

"Do NOT argue with me." Prowl didn't raise his voice, but he added a few glyphs that indicated sharp stress. Then the tactician ran a hand over his face. "Look, Ratchet, losing Roddy wasn't in the plan. I don't have enough processor power to run this show and deal with you. Just, for once, do what you're told."

Bumblebee, clearly having overheard and able to infer the subject of the discussion, added in a very low tone, "Ratchet, you've got the Matrix. And if you get hurt, it affects Resonance. We can't risk you being captured."

"I ..." He stopped. He hadn't considered that. He'd been narrowly centered on doing his primary duty, which was saving lives. Combat, tactics, that was not part of his programming, particularly when he was hyper focused by his own code on his job. He huffed. "Fine. But our first priority is going to be to get the humans to safety."

"The humans are sending troops to help with the evac." Prowl tilted his head, and touched one helm fin, clearly signalling that he was listening to something. His comms, this far under ground, might be working, but Ratchet's were still mostly offline. All he could hear from his own comms was a horrible screech of static. Aside from the effect of the ionizing radiation, he expected the squids were scrambling everything they could. And the repeaters were all fried.

He wondered, not for the first time, if Prowl wasn't bonded to at least one other mech. He didn't know who, if that was the case -- it wasn't in anyone's medical records. Jazz would be a good guess, and possibly Bee himself, or Maggie. More than one was entirely possible -- not a love bond, surely, but a clan bond, similar to the platonic bond between symbionts and hosts.

Bonds could not be blocked.

Prowl said, after an apparent conversation, "It's too radioactive above ground for the human first responders, for now. I'll allocate you ten transports to retrieve humans and Cybertronians until the gamma levels drop to safe levels."

"That's not enough," he growled.

Prowl said shortly, "It'll have to do, Chief Medical Officer Ratchet."

That sharp reminder of his wartime title rocked him back on his shocks. This was war, and Prowl was Head of Tactics for a reason. Likely, Prowl was now head of the whole damned army until they got a new Prime. (And Ratchet had a hard time envisioning Resonance leading an army. Resonance's wordless mental snort, in the back of his mind, told him Resonance didn't think Resonance could lead an army either.)

Ratchet was also well aware of Prowl's own affection (understated, but very real) for humans. Prowl would want to rescue as many as possible too, but he probably had bigger concerns.

With a huff, Ratchet transformed, and stood up. His struts ached; he hadn't taken any serious damage, but everything in his frame was stressed. When he took a step forward, he realized he had a numb patch on one pede. Sensor damage from the radiation, likely. Circuitry was vulnerable, though not as vulnerable as delicate organic flesh.

"Yes, sir," he said to Prowl, and sounded respectful even to his own ears. "I'll protect the Matrix. Sir."

Prowl replied, "Dismissed."

He turned to go.

Prowl added, softly, "Thank you ... Ratchet, thank you, for back there."

"Huh?" He turned back.

"Roddy ... Rodimus was my friend. I would have been the next target. I was about to glitch, when I saw he had died. I didn't expect to ever lose him like that. It wasn't ... it wasn't something my logic centers wanted to accept."

Just for a brief moment, he saw grief, and pain, and anger on Prowl's normally coolly controlled features. Then the tactician said, "Dismissed, Ratchet."

Bumblebee, after they had hurried off in the direction of the medical bay, said softly to him, "Was it quick? Roddy, I mean?"

"Yeah, it was, kid." Bee hadn't been there. He hadn't seen.

Bee sighed miserably. "At least there's that."




The medical bay was not remotely adequate for the level of casualties they expected. Ratchet surveyed it, frowning.

The emergency room, in the front, was for the treatment of minor casualties. There were three Cybertronian sized gurneys, assorted tools, a cabinet of basic repair supplies, and medical grade energon piled against one wall. Two drums of coolant and one of hydraulic fluid sat next to the gurneys.

He padded into the back room. It was an operating theater, with a single table, more basic tools, and a cabinet containing medications and anesthetics.

It reminded him of the med bay on the Ark. Basic, functional, but lacking in many areas. He'd saved a lot of lives in that med bay ... and lost a few, for want of the right gadget or medication. That bay had been meant for a crew of a few dozen, not for an entire shattered city.

Where were his colleagues? Alive? Dead?

They were probably headed for the medical center above ground -- Iacon's hospital -- if they'd survived. He should be there, too, but he'd been ordered to stay here. He didn't like it, but he understood the reasoning.

Bee, watching him survey it, said, "I think they were going to ask you and First Aid to collaborate on a better setup. Jazz said something about thinking this wasn't enough."

"This isn't going to be even close sufficient." Ratchet rubbed two fingers to the bridge of his nose. He should have been paying more attention to the military side of things. Roddy was a good administrator, but he wasn't -- hadn't been, slag it, he needed to remember to use the past tense! -- a war leader. "Bee, you think you can scrounge me up some more supplies?"

"... No." Bee said, very reluctantly. "I got orders, I'm s'posed to go organize the scouts and infiltrators. Mirage is missing an' until we find him, I'm taking over his tracks for Jazz."

"Ratchet, we'll get you more supplies," Jazz said, as he walked through the doorway. His youngling was following close on his heels.

"Jazz," Ratchet said with some relief. "I'm going to need ..." he looked around the spartan room. "... everything."

"Ah'll do what I can. Ah just got back t' hosp'tal. It's slagged, but weren't there supplies in the tunnels underneath?"

"Yes."

"Sides and Music'll get 'em."

Ratchet frowned dubiously at the kid. Music had a reputation for being an incorrigeable and sadistic bully. Sideswipe he could see; he had no idea why Jazz was sending his son.

Music grinned, a grin that didn't reach his optics. Those optics were flat, and calculating, and his field equally unpleasant: no emotion touched it. Ratchet frankly found the kid creepy. He'd nearly killed Anodyne, but even if he hadn't, Ratchet knew he would have reacted the same way.

"... Sure. I'll give you a list of what I need." Ratchet rubbed his forehead with two fingers. "And Jazz, see if you can't get Anodyne directed my way as an assistant. I know he's warframed, but I think he's more valuable as a medic in training than a troop transport. He's just going to get slagged as a transport."

Jazz nodded. "Ah agree, ah'll talk t' Maggie 'n Prowl. It'll be a hard sell, 'cuz we are gonna need fighters, but that kid's got talent we can't bear to lose."

"Jazz, the other thing I need is the medical staff." Ratchet ran another hand over his face. "I know that's stating the obvious, but I need them yesterday. I'm guessing they're headed for the medical center -- we never discussed protocol in a situation like this."

They were, Ratchet realized, horribly unprepared. They'd thought they had vorns. They'd been war-weary and exhausted, and had only wanted to focus on a bright future. They hadn't done one thing to the Quintessons to incite this attack, and had never expected an unprovoked assault out of the blue.

Fury rose. He slammed a hand down on the top of the operating table. The crack made Music jump; Jazz just reached out, however, and put a hand on Ratchet's arm.

Ratchet yanked his arm away. He didn't want Jazz's sympathy. "Don't. I've got to focus. No time for emotions."

With perfect timing, Silverbolt burst through the door with Sunstorm in his arms. Sunstorm was out cold, leaking energon, and the Quintesson laser cannon had put a hole in his abdominal that Ratchet could see light through.

Ratchet snapped, "Put him on the table.  Jazz, get me Anodyne."

"Yes sir!" Jazz said, without irony. That was an old, old, joke between them. Jazz outranked Ratchet, but in Ratchet's med bay, Jazz called Ratchet sir. Jazz had spent a lot of time in Ratchet's med bay during the civil war.




An hour later, he'd pulled a miracle out of his aft and saved the seeker's life. That was all he did; he stabilized the seeker, then left him in medically induced stasis for further repairs later, and hurried on to the next.

By the next day, the mecha hooked to drips and stacked like unconscious cordwood, with various half-treated injuries, numbered fifty. Ratchet was exhausted, and working alone, as none of his staff had showed up.

Unexpectedly, Resonance said, ~One of my humans died.~

A wave of grief struck Ratchet -- grief, and horror, and terrible confusion. Resonance was alone, and scared, and he'd failed to save one of his humans. He was reaching out to Ratchet, seeking some kind of comfort, trying to feel not so very alone.

Ratchet, in the middle of a surgery, up to his elbows in somebody's sparking and leaking guts, snapped, ~Not now.~

Resonance recoiled. Shock and hurt and fear and more of that awful confusion battered Ratchet. A sense of betrayal, of broken trust.

Ratchet responded with the best explanation he could manage, which was an image of the surgical field: Somebody's cracked fuel pump, mangled energon lines, and Ratchet's own vision occasionally sparkling and flickering from the gamma rays from the fallout-contaminated wound. He had to be quick on this one, both to save the patient and to try to avoid damage to himself. This particular patient was very hot, but they couldn't send him to the decontamination showers until Ratchet fixed the critical injuries.

Resonance said tersely, ~I understand.~

~People are going to die, Res. Including your friends. Learn to deal.~ His words were hard, and less tactful than they might have been at another time, but it was a truth he felt he needed to press home.

Ratchet clamped off another leaking line. This mech probably had fallout all through his circulatory system. Coolant system too, since it was compromised as well. Decontaminating him was going to a royal pain. Ratchet hoped he'd survive without major neurocircuit damage, but experience told him that was doubtful.

Resonance didn't say anything. After a moment, he put his formidable mental shields back up, and Ratchet was alone again in his own head.

An alarm went off on one of the medical monitors.

Ratchet swore.

His patient's spark guttered out.

Ratchet took a few seconds to verify he'd lost this one. He glanced up at the mech's face, untouched by the violence of the bomb. He must have been looking away when the airburst had happened, and he'd had the sense to dive for immediate cover. It hadn't been enough to save him from the blast wave.

It was one of the younglings, Ratchet saw. Not even fully grown. Maybe three-quarters of a vorn. A whole life ahead of him, ripped away. He'd had a bright and peaceful future in a rebuilt Iacon, and the Quintessons had destroyed everything.

Ratchet didn't have time for anger or grief. He simply unhooked the corpse from the equipment and carried it to the door. "Bulkhead, take this one to to the hazardous waste room. He's too hot for recycling without decon."

Bulkhead had lost a hand and part of his hip plating to a Quintesson laser cannon shot, or he'd have been up above right now, fighting. Ratchet hadn't yet found a hand to fit him; Bulkhead was built on massive lines. Until he did, however, Bulkhead was useful as an orderly.

The big soldier nodded, and slung the corpse over his shoulder.

He was heading out when Anodyne tried to  enter at the same time. "Ratchet, I found her!" Anodyne shouted.

Bulkhead and Anodyne, both mecha who were nearly as wide as they were tall, tangled up in the doorway. Then Bulkhead hastily dropped the corpse and reached for something in Anodyne's arms. "Got wounded here, doc!"

Anodyne snarled.  

Bulkhead backed up, hands upraised, "Woah, Host, easy. I'm trying to help. You're hurt too."

"Anodyne," Ratchet said, "Don't damage my orderly."

"I found Skitter," Anodyne limped in. Bulkhead, well aware of the protective nature of symbiont hosts, stayed out of his way. He was walking on an iron i-beam that he'd welded to the end of his severed leg strut. That had to be painful, but was as good a field repair as Ratchet had seen many soldiers make. "Found her in the rubble."

"Get her in here. Bulk, get that corpse out of here."

Bulkhead disappeared with the body. Ratchet hastily mopped contaminated biofluids fluids off his surgical table. He deposited the rag into a metal barrel on the far side of the room even as Anodyne set his symbiont down on the table.

Symbionts normally were not the highest priority during a fight; combatants were ranked much higher. He had several fighters sitting out in the hall, some of them in danger of extinguishing. However, he needed help, and Anodyne could provide that help. Anodyne would be useless if Skitter died.

He jerked his head at the cabinet, now sorely depleted of supplies. "Anodyne. I'll work on Skitter. You go stick drips into anybody out in the hall who's leaking, then start energon drips on the rest because they're going to be low on fuel from the stress of all this. I don't want them refueling until I check the integrity of their systems. Then stop any leaks you can. Yell if it looks like anyone's bleeding out. If any mobile patient has medical training or, you know, seems especially competent, get them to help you."

The young host hesitated.

"Go."

It was a measure of his trust in Ratchet that Anodyne was willing to leave. He wanted to hover over her protectively, as any host would.

He sighed, and surveyed the symbiont. Skitter was a mess, as it appeared she'd been crushed by falling debris. Her fuel tank was ruptured, either from the force of the impact or from the blast wave. She had multiple other serious injuries, including a hairline fracture to her spark chamber.

He should have triaged her as the lowest priority -- a non-combatant with no vital skills, and with critical and time consuming injuries, with a very slim chance of survival. Instead, he folded out the smallest of his tools from his hands and got to work.

Anodyne, he told himself, was important, strictly from a tactical standpoint. If Skitter died, it'd likely send the fool into shock and then weeks or months of disabling grief. He needed to save the symbiont to keep Anodyne functional. And that was all there was to it.




He succeeded. Skitter would live.

Hours later, Ratchet pressed her half-repaired frame into Anodyne's arms and said, "We'll do the rest of her repairs when people stop coming in critical. In the meantime, put her in your quarters -- you've been assigned quarters, yeah?"

Anodyne shook his head in a negative. "Just barracks. They don't like me there."

Ratchet swore. The med bay was so crowded with patients that the unconscious ones were literally stacked up along the walls, and some of the conscious ones were leaning against each other because there wasn't room for them to lie down. If not for bullying the walking wounded into hauling the dead off, there wouldn't be space to turn around. "Put her in my quarters.  How long's it been since you recharged, kid?"

"Two ... two days."

"Recharge. Then report back here."

"There are others who are hurt ..."

"I know. But you'll glitch without some rest."

"What about you?"

"I'll survive." Ratchet said, curtly. "Go. You're wasting my time."

Anodyne gave him a small, shy, but very real smile. "Thank you, Ratchet."

"Don't. I can't put you to work if someone slags you where you recharge."




Much to his relief, First Aid, Hook and his gestalt, Hoist, and Glit showed up two hours later. They were accompanied by several hundred wounded mecha. Some were carried by soldiers, some were walking wounded, some of the walking wounded were carrying other wounded.

He hadn't seen anything like it since the early days of last war. And he'd had more help then.
 
Prowl directed them to put the wounded in the next corridor over. They promptly overflowered into several storage areas, a sub basement that was only slightly damp, and even a few storage closets. Ratchet suggested they take over a barracks, too, but Ultra Magnus shot that idea down when he explained that the soldiers were already sleeping three to a berth, and on the floor, in rotating shifts. Civilians were jammed in like sardines in the cafeteria. There wasn't anywhere to send the soldiers or civilians if they were moved to make room for the wounded without breaking a few laws of physics.

Still, despite the overwhelming numbers of badly injured mecha,  he greeted his colleagues with relative enthusiasm. "Primus, I thought you were all dead."

"We've been treating patients at what's left of the medical center. Figured you'd show up there. When you didn't we thought you'd bit it."  Hoist glanced around the small bay with a doubtful look. "Prowl ordered us to relocate here."

"Med center's gonna be a target." Ratchet's shoulders sagged. "And I'm under orders to stay here, in the underground base."

"... Because of Res?" 'Aid asked.

"Not like you to follow orders that are stupid. We could have used you out there," Hook added.

"Trust me, I've been busy enough here." He gestured at the piles of stasis-locked wounded. "Haven't seen a mess this bad since Tiger Pax."

Ratchet knew without being told that the Matrix he carried was top secret. Few had seen what had happened; nobody except Prowl, a few need-to-know commanders and spec ops mecha, and a handful of random civilians knew he carried the Matrix. Prowl, or more likely Jazz, had undoubtedly impressed upon those civilians the need for secrecy.

Glit said, "Medical staff are a rare, precious commodity. We should all be confined here. Much as I hate it, this is probably the safest location. Escape is only a corridor away, through the space bridge. Or go deeper into the tunnels, if we can't go through the bridge."

He glanced down at the cybercat med tech, then nodded. "There's that. -- Anyone see if Soundwave survived, or Percy, or Skyfire?"

"Skyfire's alive, for now. He's pretending he's a seeker and dogfighting quint jets," First Aid offered. "Didn't know he could fly like that."

Ratchet grunted. He didn't like it, but the scientist was probably needed more in the air than in his med bay. Wheeljack, similarly, was somewhere out in the field, blowing up or booby-trapping unneeded tunnels and bridges to slow Quintessan advances. He confirmed, "He can fly like that. And the others?"

Unexpectedly, it was Res, forever lurking in the back of his head, who answered. ~Perceptor's here. He's helping with the humans, then once we get them evacuated, he and Blue are going to go snipe Quint jets. And Soundwave was here, he was looking for 'Dyne. I told him Anodyne was with you.~

Ratchet passed this on, to the relief of the others.

"Res okay?" First Aid asked. Apparently, it had ben obvious that he'd been talking to his bondmate. "I'm surprised he's not out fighting."

"No." Ratchet shook his head. "He's under orders to lay low. Until ..." Ratchet trailed off. He didn't want to think what lay ahead. Resonance was in no way ready to lead.

"Is it true Roddy's dead?" Hoist asked.

Ratchet nodded, curtly.

First Aid, who knew all of Resonance's secrets, gave Ratchet a sharp look.

"Yes," Ratchet confirmed First Aid's unspoken question about Resonance.

"Who's got it? The Matrix, I mean?" First Aid asked.

"Classified," Ratchet replied, even as the Matrix was a warm, oddly living weight in his spark chamber. If he moved too quick he could feel it rattle about, since it hadn't anchored itself.

"Res?" First Aid mouthed, persistant.

"Classified, First Aid," Ratchet snapped, "And so's what you're asking about, right now."




An hour afterwards, they learned he hadn't recharged since the blast. It didn't take much convincing for Ratchet to stumble to his quarters. He had been assigned a room just down the hall from underground base's med bay. He hadn't even seen it yet, he had just been told about it.

He was so tired that he had forgotten he'd sent the kid there, so when he opened the door to the small and spartan room and found it occupied he, at first, thought he'd opened the wrong door. Or was somebody sleeping in his berth that wasn't supposed to be? Maybe they were expecting him to hot bunk?

He snapped on the light, a bit rudely, but he was exhausted.

Anodyne jerked upright, staring at him.

Skitter, wrapped in a soft velour blanket of Terran origin, lay on the desk beside the bed. 'Dyne had hooked her up to an energon-and-nanyte drip, and it appeared he'd done a few repairs himself before lying down. Yeah. He'd definitely done some repairs, because the cybercat's head came up too. She had been in stasis lock when he'd handed her over.

Ratchet would have yelled at his apprentice for the unauthorized work, except -- when he scanned the symbiont -- it was obvious that the work had been done well. Neatly welded plating, carefully soldered wires, and even a crushed shoulder that had been stripped down for later rebuilding. Her pain sensors were turned off, her tanks were full, and he'd patched all her coolant and hydraulic leaks. He'd done all that in under three hours.

"Good job. Next time, have someone supervise. Me, your carrier, I don't care. Don't do it alone."

"Soundwave was here, he helped," Anodyne said, a bit sleepily. "Do you need me in the med bay?"

"No. I'm off duty."

"Oh. I'll 'charge on the floor."

"Move over, kid. Neither of us have rust and I've recharged with a lot worse bunkmates during the war."

"You don't mind that I'm a telepath?"

He stared. He'd thought that Anodyne knew he was trusted by Ratchet. "Why would you think that?"

"Back in the market, you didn't want me touching you."

"Huh?" All he could remember about the market was Roddy's head going splat. And the bomb. And a lot of dead people. Blackness. Fire. Smoke. The ground shaking under his feet with the force of the explosion.

"Before. After Res left, but before."

He had no clue what Anodyne was talking about, and was too tired to decipher it. "Move over. Skitter, go back to recharge or I'll put you there by medical override. You should still be in stasis, anyway."

The symbiont put her head down.

Anodyne scooted over. There was just enough room on the berth for both of them if neither of them minded touching. Ratchet didn't mind; he just wanted to recharge.

Oblivion claimed him about a fraction of a nanoclick after the back of his helm hit the hard surface of the berth.



He woke after four hours of recharge to Anodyne's screaming nightmare. Or more precisely, Anodyne's nightmare and his symbiont's screaming.

"'DYNE!" Skitter yelled. She wasn't able to move due to the degree of her remaining damage, but she was definitely able to be vocal. "ANODYNE!"

Anodyne was groaning, twitching, trembling. Ratchet made out a few words, most of them variations of 'no!' or 'stop!'

"Anodyne," He grabbed the host by the shoulder and shook him. "Anodyne, wake up."

Anodyne jerked awake then, nearly knocking Ratchet onto the ground in the process. He let out a cry, and sat up, and the scrubbed his face with both hands. "I ... sorry, doc."

"Don't apologize." He checked his chronometer. Four hours of recharge was more than sufficient, given the circumstances. "I need to report back to duty anyway."

"I keep ... I can feel them, doc."

"Yeah. I imagine you can."

"All the pain. The grief. Even now. I can feel it." Anodyne hunched down in his armor, somehow managing to look like a gigantic Earth turtle.  "It's too much for my shields. I've never been good at shields and ... and this is awful."

He didn't know what to say.

~Tell him he can make the pain better, as a physician."

Ratchet sent a wordless impression of gratitude to his bondmate, accompanied by a sparkfelt miss you, and then told Anodyne, "Kid. You might not be able to block it all out, but you can take that pain and use it to give you the energy and drive to fix them."

Anodyne favored him with a bleak look.

"Besides that, I know you can take a little pain. I watched you clamp off your own energon lines. Most mecha couldn't do that."

"It's different when it's other people's pain."

"Imagine so. Suck it up anyway." Ratchet stretched, then offered him a hand up. "C'mon, I'll put you to work repairing the unconscious mecha. At least they can't emote at you."

"No," Anodyne agreed, but then he added,  "They're just creepy."

---

Despite his words, however, Anodyne set to work making structural repairs on the unconscious mecha. He offered no further complaints and he worked hard.

Ratchet was surprised by how easily he fell into the role of CMO. He ordered First Aid to take four hours of recharge, teamed Hook up with Anodyne, put the rest of the Constructicons to work on enlarging the med bay, assigned Glit to the detailed, delicate neural repairs that the symbiont was good at, and put Hoist to work tending to the convalescent mecha.

By this time, most critically injuried mecha had either already expired or would live. What remained was a mountain of repair work, and when two others from Ratchet's fall class showed up, he greeted them  with a real grin.

Skyfire's elder youngling, Photon, was first through the door. Verve, short and dark, her glossy black paint dulled to dark grey by heat and ash, followed. Jazz and Music brought up the rear. "Brought you help, Docbot."

Ratchet glanced around the exceedingly tight confines of the med bay. Photon was one of the few mecha both taller and broader than Resonance; he had Astrotrain's bulk and they'd kitted him out with a heavier warframe and armor than Res's protoform and spark could support.

Verve, in sharp contrast, was about the same size as Jazz, but she had a personality that could fill a room to overflowing.

"Got help," Ratchet said. "Where am I going to fit more?"

Jazz shook his head. "I know you need the help, Ratch."

"I do. I also need a fully equipped hospital, and support staff, and ..."

"We're going to start sending the wounded through the space bridge," Jazz interrupted. "Kids'll help you move them out, help you decontaminate 'em first, do any repairs that need to be done before they can be moved."


"And do what on the other side?"

"Humans'll help."

"The wounded are hot. Radioactive as hell." Ratchet, who liked humans, didn't want any more humans getting sick. He also didn't think humans had the knowledge to operate on Cybertronians.

"Humans got waldos," Jazz made a floppy motion with his hand, likely trying to indicate a remotely operated robotic arm. "We'll run them through the wash racks here first, Ratch."

He wanted to say no to the help from his students. He didn't have time to train trainees. Anodyne was sharp enough that he didn't need much supervising, but these two didn't have 'Dyne's natural skills. And he didn't think they'd work nicely with Anodyne, either. He'd noted in class that Verve was cool towards him, and Photon outright nervous.

Jazz sighed. "We need fighters. That means every mech that can be repaired is critical. We're going to lose the city -- lose Cybertron -- in a few weeks if we don't have a fighting force to meet the Quints when they invade. You can't fix enough Cybertronians in time, Ratch. We gotta do this."

Ratchet started to scrub at his face with a hand, realized it had energon on it, and huffed another sigh. "Yeah, okay, I get it. I need more supplies, though. Maybe send Verve with Music to get more stuff? They're both short, they can fit through the tunnels."

Verve looked up at Photon, who frowned back at her.

Jazz ignored their unspoken communication, though, and clapped his son on the shoulder. "Music, you up for that?"

"Yeah, sure."

--

Ratchet assigned Photon to work with Anodyne.

He was unsurprised when, an hour later, Photon caught him as he was stepping into a supply closet in the hall and said, in a low voice, "Doc, Anodyne's listening to my thoughts."

"Anodyne's too busy to be listening to your thoughts," Ratchet replied, somewhat irritated, "And he wouldn't do that anyway."

"He keeps handing me tools before I ask for them."

Ratchet quirked an eyebrow up. "I'll tell him to stop helping you."

"It's creepy. And -- and he tried to tell me that we were safe here. I think he knows I'm scared."

Ratchet clapped a hand over his face. "You don't have to be psychic to know you're scared half to death, Photon. I can feel it in your field. And Anodyne's having trouble with his empathic skills, which are not the same as telepathy. Trust me, he'd rather not be catching everyone's feelings right now. He's waking up screaming from nightmares."

"So he says."

"So I know. He recharges in my quarters, if you haven't noticed."

Photon looked a lot like Skyfire in that moment, as he pulled his wings back and straightened his back struts. "You ... recharge with him?"

Ratchet snapped, "Yes. I don't trust his safety in the barracks. He's been attacked once in the last year, and people are on edge. Photon, he's a good mech."

"He's Soundwave's son."

"... the war's over, Photon. The war was over before you were born."

"My sire says Soundwave did things. That he was a traitor, in the end. A spy."

Ratchet blinked. He wasn't aware that there were rumors about Soundwave's activity during the war, and he hadn't expected a negative opinion to come from a former Decepticon, in any case. As far as he knew, Skyfire had no problem with Soundwave. Astrotrain, though, would have been in a position to see things that others didn't and might have realized (perhaps in retrospect) that Soundwave had very likely been a mole. Ratchet wasn't going to confirm that rumor, however, as it would do the host no good. "And so? Your sire was -- still is -- an asshole. You don't see me holding that against you."

"Astrotrain was a hero."

Ratchet decided not to argue that point with the kid, though he dearly would have loved to. Instead, he snapped, "Just do your job. Anodyne isn't reading your mind. No point, when all that's in your helm is vaccuum."

Photon rocked back on his thrusters.

Ratchet brushed past him. Only when he'd stomped out into the hall (stomping required stepping over a few pallets with wounded on them) did he realize Anodyne was just outside, and had likely heard.

Anodyne gave him a very small, strained smile.

Loudly enough for Photon to hear, Ratchet added, "No point in reading your mind when you're dumb enough to complain about him in Anodyne's earshot. C'mon, 'Dyne. I've got a mech that needs his knee rebuilt."

Anodyne said nothing, but once Ratchet was by himself, Resonance commented, ~Did you have to embarrass Anodyne?~

~How did I embarrass him? I was defending him!~

~You just ... oh, never mind. Photon isn't going to forget that, though.~

~Good. He shouldn't.~

Resonance seemed unhappy, but he didn't say anything else. He just lurked, shields down, profoundly miserable, but not actually saying anything.

~Stop it.~ Ratchet didn't have time to deal with a brooding bondmate. He had a job -- an overwhelming, impossible, staggeringly huge job to do, and if he got things wrong, mecha died. He didn't want to deal with anybody's drama, not even Resonance's. ~Go away if you can't be useful. You're distracting me.~

Resonance put his shields back up without a word.