Resonance's relief was palpable across the bond as soon as Ratchet crossed the event horizon.
:I missed you,: Resonance almost gasped out. Ratchet was more than a little startled by Res's reaction; he'd expected his bondmate to be a little less ... emotional.
:Slaggit.: Resonance swore at him, actually offended by his surprise. :I'm all alone in the ruins of the dorm.:
He was embarrassed by his initial reaction, and apologetic, and on reflection, he did understand Resonance's feelings. Optimus had been a soldier, and was thousands of vorns old. A few days stuck alone, hiding, would have not have left Optimus quite so scared. Optimus had megavorns of life experience, plus the Matrix. Resonance was young, had never seen so much as a moment of combat, and he had recently seen some of his closest friends -- including the Prime -- killed. :Sorry, Res. That wasn't very sympathetic of me.:
:I'm just glad you're back.: Resonance opened the bond fully, so that Ratchet could feel him. Resonance's desperate loneliness and fear rattled Ratchet to his core.
Anodyne planted a hand in the middle of the medical pack on his back and propelled him away from the crowded space bridge by sheer brute force. He was halfway to the small command staff conference room buried deep beneath the base when he realized that Anodyne knew where they were supposed to go.
He commented on this, even as he reeled under the assault of Resonance's emotions. Resonance was terrified, and grieving for the dead, and Ratchet's absence had affected him more than Ratchet would have believed.
"I asked Prowl where you were supposed to go," Anodyne said, in a tone that said, 'duh' without him actually saying it. "I'm an empath, remember? I can feel your reaction to whatever it is that Res just said. C'mon. We're almost there."
The room was empty. Anodyne guided him into a chair, crouched, and looked him in the optics. "Tell Res I'm looking forward to seeing him soon, and that I'm very glad he's my friend."
Unspoken was, make sure he knows I care about him, in case anything happens. Ratchet didn't need to be a telepath to recognize this.
:Nothing is going to happen!: Resonance snapped, in reaction to Ratchet's thoughts. Because the bond was completely open, Ratchet also got a strong impression of can't let Ratchet down and the sparkling, I need to be there to take care of her! from Resonance. The young mech felt fiercely responsible for both of them, and most of his extreme levels of anxiety was caused not by fear for his own safety, but fear for their welfare. There was also the knowledge that he was to be Prime, and without him, their entire world might fall. There were no other grown Primal candidates. Everything hinged upon him.
Dealing with emotions -- his own or anyone else's -- was not was exactly one of Ratchet's greatest skills He snapped, :Prowl and Jazz will get you back safe. Calm the slag down.: And to Anodyne, he said aloud, "Res already knows you love him."
"Platonically!" Anodyne replied, rather sharply, even as Ratchet registered that First Aid had just entered the conference room. It was somewhat reassuring to Ratchet to learn that Anodyne was as concerned about the correct perception of their relationship as he was.
:There may be some unpleasant assumptions if people believe I am his lover.: Resonance added, sounding a bit worried.
Ratchet hadn't even considered that. Ratchet cursed his impulsive answer to Prowl even more, now. He was an elder, in a position of power, with high status and education. He shouldn't need an Amica who was barely older than a youngling. That the youngling in question was a telepath could also raise questions about Ratchet's competence, and the possibility of psionic influence from Anodyne. Likewise, all sorts of negative rumors could start if mecha believed that Res and Anodyne were lovers, ranging from 'poor Resonance, he's trapped in a bond with the ancient medic and finding comfort where he can' to 'Anodyne is controlling the future Prime.'
:You're worrying too much,: Res said.
:You're one to talk,: he shot back.
'Aid crouched beside them, "Ratchet, how's Res doing?"
"... I'm not going to crash. Even if something happens to him." Ratchet folded his arms across his chest.
"You are too important to take that risk." First Aid reached out, and grabbed Ratchet's wrist. Ratchet, reluctantly, let his protege have his arm. First Aid inserted an energon drip as preparation for possible medication intervention. Over his shoulder to Anodyne 'Aid said, "Anodyne, go get us some fuel."
"How many will be here?"
"Six. Get twelve cubes. It might be a long night. Sideswipe's acting as our quartermaster; tell him I requisitioned them." First Aid sent Anodyne towards the door with a gentle push on one of his broad pauldrons.
A medical detail from one of the many, many, reports in his inbox surfaced in his memory. "Sideswipe has no legs." They had been crushed in a building collapse.
"Which is why he's managing the supply chain and not killing Quints." First Aid grimaced. "Sunny's down for the count, too. He's going to Earth as soon as I'm sure he's stable. He took some heavy damage yesterday. I'm sending Sides with him, but it's to all our benefits -- and his -- if Sideswipe is busy until they both go."
Ratchet turned, immediately intending to check on both twins. He managed to take two steps towards the door when Res said, :Ratchet, Jazz is here.:
He stopped short, deeply torn. He could feel the real fear in Resonance's spark. He wanted to focus on Res; Resonance needed him. But his function was that of a medic, and he'd been patching the twins up for thousands of years. They were needed for the war effort, aside from any emotional attachment he had ...
"Sit down, Ratchet," First Aid said, firmly. "The twins are fine."
He wanted to argue.
Res needed him.
"Orders." First Aid added. "You're under orders, Ratchet, to help recover Res."
"... right." He fluffed and settled his armor, then flung himself into a seat. :Talk to me, Res.:
:I'm scared. They're shooting down any fliers they can with lasers.:
:Starscream taught you to fly, and he's the best.:
:I can't outfly a laser!:
:Does Jazz know where the installation is?:
:Jazz ... Jazz says they're going to hit one installation, but they can't get the other. I'm going to have to fly through the ruins of old Iacon to avoid exposure to enemy fire. At street level, Ratchet. I'm not a seeker! I'm not designed for that kind of acrobatic flying!:
Res added in a small voice, :Jazz is riding with me. If I crash, I take him out too.:
:You won't crash.: He said the words, but Res felt the worry in his own spark. That magnified Resonance's own concerns; Ratchet couldn't help but think if he was that scared it would make him more likely to crash, and of course, Resonance immediately reacted with even more fear.
Ruthlessly, he blocked Resonance. He wasn't good at mental tricks, but he could at least keep the block up for a short period of time. Anodyne had returned while he was focused on Res -- he suspected the big host must have transformed and roared through the halls at top speed to get back that fast. Now he shoved a energon cube into Ratchet's hands and said, "I won't ask if you're okay; you feel absolutely vile right now."
"We're feeding off each other." Ratchet scrubbed at his face with his hands. "Res is terrified that he's going to hurt Jazz, who's riding with him."
"Sounds like Res." Anodyne cracked open another cube, sipped it, then made a face at the cube in his hand. Ratchet might have laughed under other circumstances. He had to wonder if it was Anodyne's first experience with classically flat, tasteless, low-energy emergency rations -- Ratchet was tempted to tell First Aid to just give him his morning fuel via drip since he already had an IV!
Anyone added, aloud, for Resonance's benefit, "Res, you're important, and worth the risk. Jazz knows what he's getting into. He's been fighting since before most mecha alive were born."
Ratchet started to relay those words to Res.
:I heard.: Resonance interrupted. :I can hear what you hear because you think about it as soon as it happens. Seriously, Ratchet, you have no shields or firewalls up between us, whatsoever, most of the time.:
He couldn't help but think that Resonance must enjoy it when they were separated by light years. Then, distance would give Resonance some peace and quiet.
There was a flare of hurt from his bondmate. :I enjoy being in your presence. You never seem to believe that.:
:Sometimes, I wonder why.: Ratchet scrubbed at his face with his hands. :I always manage to put my foot in it. But Res, 'Dyne is right. Jazz knows the risks and you're worth them. We need a Prime.:
He wondered how much the new Prime would be like Optimus. He did miss Optimus.
Res flinched, emotionally.
:Resonance!: He protested. :That doesn't mean I don't love you!:
:Taking the Matrix will change me. I will no longer be me. I may well be ... him. I will have his memories. Doesn't that make me him again?:
:You'll still have your memories, too.: It was the only argument he could make.
:And the memories of hundreds of other Primes. What if I'm lost in the shuffle?:
:Orion wasn't. Optimus, at his spark, was still Orion. He was the same mech. He was just ... more.:
:And at a spark level I am also Orion. How will we be able to tell the difference?: Resonance replied.
It was, actually, a valid concern. Ratchet might long for Optimus's strength and wisdom, but Res was his bondmate now, and his instincts screamed at him to defend Resonance. Yet, he didn't know how. They needed a Prime, and Resonance was literally the only mech who could carry the Matrix. For the good of them all, Resonance had to become Prime.
:I know that!: Resonance snapped. :And I won't refuse it!:
:You are a self-sacrificing idiot.: Ratchet snapped back. :You will accept it. And ... I'm sorry you have to.:
Faintly, he was aware of Prowl entering the room. The tactician said something to Anodyne, whose answer penetrated Ratchet's focus on Resonance.
"Yeah, my sire's good at that stuff."
Ratchet hadn't heard what Prowl had said, but Resonance supplied helpfully, :He said Soundwave got the communications network back up. Umm, I can access your audio and visual sensors sometimes even independent of your own thoughts. You knew that, right?:
Ratchet wasn't surprised by Resonance's words, though he hadn't explicitly been aware that Res's skill extended that far. A more immediate concern was that he had been summoned to communicate with Res during the rescue, but if the radios were functioning he wasn't actually needed. And there were mecha who were critically injured ... or whose function was critical to the war.
:I need you!:
... in his spark, he wanted to be here, on Cybertron. He didn't think he could focus knowing that Res was in critical danger. He didn't even want to work, not when Resonance needed him so very badly, but then he felt guilty, because his first and primary function was that of a physician. He'd taken oaths and had served as such his entire existence. His own desires had always been secondary to his obligation as a doctor; even his desire to help Res should be secondary.
But he also had an obligation to Cybertron, for Res was their Prime.
However, if the radios were working they didn't truly need him here, Resonance's emotional state notwithstanding.
Anodyne put a hand on his shoulder and said quietly, "You are in no shape to work, and the radios could fail. He needs you."
He realized he'd been muttering aloud.
Resonance was silent, but was radiating anxiety, fear, and hurt, and a sense of real rejection.
:Damnit,: Ratchet swore at him, :I'm not going anywhere. You are going to follow Jazz's orders to the letter, and you will be fine.:
At his other side, First Aid rested a hand on his arm with wordless support. His protege said softly, "They're about to start."