When he woke, his first awareness was of emptiness.
Gaping, lonely, dark pain. This wasn't like being separated by thousands of light years. This was different. The bond was gone, Resonance was gone -- for nothing known to Cybertronian science could break a bond save death -- and Ratchet was alone.
He wanted to sink back into oblivion. He didn't want to feel the pain in his spark. However, a gentle voice called his name and he realized that he was surrounded by the field of another. He opened his optics and found that he was on a comfortable berth, in a comfortable room, and he had his head in someone's lap. For a moment, he was desperately hopeful that despite what his spark told him, Resonance was holding him.
He wanted it to be true, even though the field did not belong to Resonance. Denial surged in his spark. There was no way known to Cybertronian science to break a bond, but he still wanted to deny the truth.
"Anodyne," he murmured, when his processor caught up with is senses and he recognized the other mech's field and deep voice.
"I'm here, doc." Anodyne stroked his helm gently. His hands were large, but nimble and gentle for all their size. "I'm so sorry."
He was, Ratchet realized, fully repaired. His chronometer said he'd been unconscious for two weeks.
He tried to sit up.
"Easy, doc." Anodyne said, but he helped Ratchet upright. Ratchet swayed a bit with vertigo; he'd been in stasis for long enough that the tiny gyros that helped with balance had spun down and would take a moment to restart. "You're on Earth. First Aid wanted you fully repaired before you woke."
First Aid likely knew Ratchet would throw himself into work with single-minded determination, never mind his own damage, and the other medic had decided to repair him first, while he had the chance. Ratchet grunted in annoyance, then said, "'Dyne, Res's gone, but I think you knew that."
"Yeah." Worried blue optics studied him. "Why did they kill him, rather than just code him?"
Ratchet shrugged dispiritedly. "Experiment gone wrong, maybe. Or torture for torture's sake, because that's what Quints do. They were doing something to his spark."
"... slag them." Anodyne said, with uncharacteristic viciousness. Then his expression softened, and he said, "Doc, Ratchet, we need you. Badly. You can't ... you can't leave us. I know how badly you miss him, them, and their spark will always be waiting for you, but we need you here, and now."
He shuttered his optics. His spark still yearned to follow Resonance, but he knew that Anodyne was right. He said, softly, "Thank you, Anodyne. For everything."
Anodyne said firmly, "I will be here for you, for the rest of my function. That's part of being Amica. You can rely upon me, and trust me, and look to me for whatever you need."
Ratchet felt he should deny this. He didn't need help. He was tough enough to ...
Anodyne reached out and pressed a hand to Ratchet's jaw, tilting his head up so their gaze met. "You are strong and you can do it alone, but you don't need to."
Ratchet couldn't help but think that someday Anodyne would realize Ratchet was not the hero, not the friend, that 'Dyne thought he was, and leave him, particularly if Ratchet was too needy, or asked too much of him. He didn't deserve this kind of a friend, and it would hurt too much when Anodyne realized how undeserving he was, and abandoned him.
He wanted Resonance so badly. He hadn't been the lover, the bondmate, that Resonance had wanted or needed, but Resonance had been bound to him, and couldn't leave him. Resonance had deserved so much more
And the thought, so crystal clear now that Resonance was gone, that Resonance had stayed with him only because he had to and had no other choice, seemed so obvious. Pit, should he even crave returning to him in the Well? Optimus might have wanted him, but Res ... Res could have found someone better.
Never should have even bonded with Optimus, he thought. Optimus had deserved better, and Resonance would have had better. Maybe even Resonance and Anodyne would have ended up together -- they were both such good mecha, and they would have deserved each other. They could have been Endura, rather than Amica. He felt guilty they'd never had the chance.
Anodyne said, firmly, "Stop that."
"Stop reading my mind." He met Anodyne's steady blue gaze with a hot glare.
"I'm not." Anodyne's field didn't flicker. He was steady as a rock.
"You did!" and it was an accusation, for, of course, Anodyne had been the kind and gentle voice in his processor.
"I'm not even sorry about that," Anodyne replied, still calm. "You'd have followed him to the Well. What kind of an aft would I be if I let you die? Pit, Resonance wanted you to live. He didn't want you to follow him -- he was terrified you'd be alone, and have to raise your sparkling alone, but it didn't even cross his mind that you would follow."
"You saw that." Belatedly, he remembered the sparkling. She was calm now, when she had been so very distressed before. He had to live for her. Had Anodyne saved him because of the sparkling? A treacherous voice whispered that she was the main reason anyone would want him to survive -- that, and his medical knowledge. Nobody wanted him, just the knowledge in his helm and the sparkling he carried in his chest.
" I was riding your processor from almost as soon as we hit Cybertron." Anodyne met his gaze without flinching. "You know it was necessary."
"We needed any intelligence we could get from Res," Ratchet said, "and there wasn't a guarantee my spark wouldn't gutter if he passed. You saw what I saw, and passed it on to Prowl, yeah?"
"I let Prowl and Jazz assume that's why I 'pathed you." Anodyne reached a hand out and stroked Ratchet's jaw with one large thumb. "But the real reason was that I knew he was in trouble from your reaction and I knew you might try to follow. Also, if he was coded, he could have tried to hurt you across the bond. You were my focus, Ratchet. Saving you. Protecting you. You deserve it, and Res would have wanted it."
He remembered the gentle, kind, protective feeling of Anodyne in his processor, and knew Anodyne was telling him the truth as he saw it, though he wasn't so sure about deserving it. "'Dyne, you did the right thing," he said, softly, "and ... thank you."
Anodyne's shoulders sagged in obvious relief. He had, apparently, been worried Ratchet would be mad. "Ratchet, I ... need you too. You need me, but I need you too. They're using me to hack coded mecha, and a lot of people have seen me ... take them down. Word's gotten around about what I can do."
"Nobody's gonna touch you," he promised, instinctively. "I'll dismantle them if they do."
Anodyne leaned forward, and buried his face in Ratchet's shoulder, and wrapped his solid, powerful arms around Ratchet. "You're not allowed to leave me. I've lost so many people I love and I refuse to lose you too."
The following morning, he woke to find Anodyne in a deep defrag cycle on his floor. He slipped silently out of the quarters, unable to bear inactivity any more, then transformed and headed for the medical center.
He was half a block away with Anodyne sent him a questioning ping.
:Going to work, kid. Go back to sleep.:
:Slaggit, Ratchet!: Anodyne snapped. :That's not a good idea!:
He cut the connection, suddenly angry. Anodyne had no right to tell him what to do, or how to grieve.
First Aid was waiting at the medical center door, and Anodyne rumbled up behind him as he transformed. He tried to brush past First Aid, but 'Aid stuck an arm out and diverted him from the emergency bay to a conference room with a sharp, "I'm not arguing with you in public. Let's do this in private."
"I am going back to work," he told 'Aid, as soon as the door was shut. Anodyne had followed them in, and now stood with his back to the door.
"We have it under control." First Aid said, very firmly. "You are on medical leave until you are cleared for duty."
"I'm fully slagging repaired!" He exploded.
First Aid snapped back, "I'm not talking about the physical!"
"Oh, don't even tell me I'm not fit for duty!" He slammed both palms down onto the table, making First Aid jump. Anodyne, by the door, did not react.
"Your psychological assessment is ..." First Aid's expression softened. "It's not good, Ratchet."
"I need to work." He needed to feel useful, to distract himself. He wanted to work until he collapsed from exhaustion, because that was the only way he'd be able to recharge without nightmares and without waking up to anxiously miserable racing thoughts. He'd screwed up so badly, in ways he couldn't even articulate, and he wanted Resonance back so damned badly, and ...
Wait a second. His psych assessment?
"I haven't even talked to Rung!"
First Aid's gaze flicked in Anodyne's direction.
"You spoke to Rung?" He bellowed at his Amica.
Anodyne held his hands out, fingers spread wide, in a helpless shrug. "For your own good, Ratch."
Ratchet reacted reflexively, and threw a chair at Anodyne -- who ducked with remarkable speed. For all his bulk, Anodyne was fast when he had to be. The metal chair bounced off the wall with a horrendous clattering noise. With a furious snarl, he tried to storm out past his Amica -- his Amica who thought so little of him that he'd tattled to the base shrink -- and Anodyne held his ground and blocked his path. Anodyne was several times Ratchet's mass, and he wasn't going to be able to shove him aside
Ratchet balled his fists.
Anodyne, in front of the door, said, "Will hitting me make you feel better?"
No. It would make him feel worse.
He threw a punch anyway, even as his medical protocols screamed at him not to do damage, and guilt threatened to choke his spark.
Anodyne ducked under the fist, and with blinding speed wrapped his arms around Ratchet in a hug that did nothing to make Ratchet feel better. Anodyne held him close, and Ratchet snarled and struggled and swore. Anodyne said not one word, simply sank to the ground. "You are my friend, Ratchet ..."
"Clearly not much of one, if you think so little of me!" Ratchet spat. "I'm not your Amica! This is a farce! You're just a child!"
Anodyne hugged him tighter.
"I'm a worthless old glitch and you're wasting your time with me!"
Anodyne said nothing.
"You're only here because you had the hots for my bondmate! Damnit, leave me alone!"
Anodyne did not let go. "I am your friend, Ratchet."
"So now you're what, trying to get Resonance's leftovers?! Res was a fool to want me, and you're twice a fool to be chasing after me now!" He tried to shove free.
Anodyne let him push back only far enough to meet his furious gaze. "Do you trust me, Ratchet?"
"No!" He screamed, because he knew it would hurt Anodyne, and for reasons he couldn't even explain he wanted to hurt him. Also, he didn't trust him. How could he trust anyone?
Anodyne, calmly, answered as if he had screamed 'yes' instead. "Then trust me to love you as my Amica."
"I said that was a farce!"
"Was it?" Anodyne asked.
"There's a thing about empaths," Anodyne said, quite calmly. "We always know when people are lying."
"Then you knew I was lying about being your Amica!"
"No. You weren't. You are lying to yourself now. Not to me, because I will always know the truth about you, Ratchet, but you are lying to yourself."
Ratchet recoiled, and tried to thrash free. He got a good blow in to Anodyne's throat with his elbow, and Anodyne coughed but didn't otherwise react. "You can't know the truth about me!"
The truth was that he was a terrible person -- weak, self-centered, with a horrible temper, an addiction to high grade, and he'd been a bad bondmate. He didn't want anyone to know that, even though he was certain everyone did.
Anodyne's calm voice cut through his hysterical denials, "The truth I know is that you care about me deeply, and that is why you deny me now -- you are trying to protect me from the demons you carry within your spark, Ratchet."
Ratchet stopped cold, frozen by the certainty in Anodyne's voice.
Anodyne added, in a firm but not unkind voice, "Ratchet, just stop it."
Ratchet stared at him.
"I do not want you to protect me. I want to be your friend. I want to be your Amica. And I know you want the same."
"You went to Rung," he hissed.
"Ratchet," First Aid spoke for the first time since he'd blown up. He crouched next to them now, and Aid's hydraulics groaned and whined -- a reminder that the medic was no longer his young apprentice, but a fully trained middle-aged physician in his own right. "Ratchet, look at me."
"I cannot trust you around patients right now. You are close to suicidal, and as you just showed very clearly, you can be provoked into a violent temper. You threw a chair at Anodyne. Anodyne was correct to come to us with his concerns, and even if he had not, we would still have required considerable evaluation before allowing you to treat patients. You have gone through a terrible trauma."
Anodyne pressed his helm to Ratchet's chevron. "Ratch. You try to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Sometimes it works; that sense of deep responsibility and dedication is what makes you who you are. It's what makes you a brilliant physician. But when things go wrong, because you try to be so responsible, you feel guilty, terribly so, and often with little logic behind those feelings."
Ratchet met Anodyne's even gaze, then glanced over at First Aid, who nodded his agreement to Anodyne's words.
He wanted to keen.
He would not. Not in front of others. Anger was easier.
Anodyne finally released him, and rose, and offered him a hand up. His Amica then put an arm around his shoulder, and guided him out the door. "C'mon. Let's go home."