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Echoes of the Past

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Ratchet saw Rung the next day, and Rung insisted on reviewing his coding. Ratchet bore the intrusive review of his innermost self with gritted teeth. He wanted to get back to work, he wanted to be productive ... though that fierce desire seemed somehow muted, and he knew it was the new code.

He expressed his concerns to Rung.

Rung took them seriously, somewhat to his surprise, and regarded him through the thick optical glass of his spectacles. "As the code learns and adapts, that effect should fade. It's real, though, you are not imagining things."

"It would be remarkably unpleasant," he said, after a moment's thought, "Except that I don't even even feel upset about it because of the damned code."

Rung shrugged. "It's necessary, for now, and you know that."

He did. "I'm ... thinking clearer, I think. Yes, I see the need. From a strictly logical standpoint, this is necessary so that I can work. I just don't have to like it."

Rung's field brightened, and he flashed Ratchet a quick smile. Ratchet got the sense that he'd passed some sort of test, though he wasn't sure what that test was. "We'll review your processing abilities in a few days. They do need you in the medical center, so as soon as I can clear you for work, I will. I expect it will feel good for you to get back to work, too."

"Yeah. I want to work." He needed to feel useful, if nothing else.




Three weeks later, Ratchet was cleared for duty and returned to the medical center. It was early, and Rung made it clear he wasn't happy, but Ratchet was needed.

He still felt ... not like himself. The crippling anxiety (and now he realized how irrational it had been, and how long he'd been that way) was gone, and he found he was far more patient and even-tempered. He grieved, but distantly, and thoughts of Resonance and Optimus did not fill his every waking moment.

However, the same coding also meant he didn't feel eager anticipation, excited joy, or the spark-deep drive to succeed that had always defined who he was. There was no elation, nor even relief, at being allowed to work again. His emotional response was simple and robotic acceptance, and the knowledge that he should be happy, and nothing more.

On the whole, it was an improvement. Rung pointed out that he'd been suffering to the point of being unable to function, and now he was able to work, to interact normally with his friends, and to get on with his life. Rung, and every friend who had known both of them, kept reiterating that Resonance would have wanted him to go on with his life.

He lived on emotional auto-pilot, performing his duties every shift and then going back to his tiny room and recharging. His recharge was full of shockingly vivid dreams, however. Many of those dreams consisted of him trying to find Resonance, or Optimus, or a weird hybrid of the two ... and being unable to do so. Often, he woke convinced to the core of his being by the dreams that Resonance was alive and he needed to find him, only for the reality to come crashing down. Bonds could only be broken by death, and therefore, he knew Res was dead.

Sometimes, Anodyne was there when he woke, and the young Host would jolt awake with him, startled to consciousness by his empathic gift and the wave of shattering grief from Ratchet that overrode even the numbing affect of the psychiatric coding. Then, Anodyne would press a cube of energon into Ratchet's hands and they would talk for hours about inconsequential things.

When Anodyne was away working, Skitter was there and then she pressed into his lap, and he held her close and tight, grateful for her warmth and her tactile nature. They would watch movies together until he fell back into recharge.

Sometimes, he woke alone, when both of them were away on duties. Then he often went out for a drive around the base, racing too fast down dark roads -- but always careful to keep a conscientious hyper-awareness of all his sensors, so as to avoid another accident. He got a few speeding tickets from the base cops, and paid them promptly; Prowl said nothing, and neither did Rung.

Anodyne, for his part, spent more and more time with Rung and Smokescreen, as well as with Jazz. Ratchet knew he was learning advanced coding techniques from the still chair-bound Jazz, and Cybertronian psychiatric medicine from the other two. All three claimed the kid had a remarkable mind for code.

Resonance had been the same way; incredibly talented. Ratchet couldn't help but wonder what might have been, had Resonance lived. The crippling guilt accompanying those thoughts was gone, but he still wondered and grieved and pondered, just distantly. Res and Anodyne, working together, might have been one Pit of a powerful team.

Despite the respect and trust he'd earned from the command staff, Anodyne remained an outsider with only a very few handful of friends. In addition to Jazz and Rung, those included Slamdance mechling spark twins and two humans who'd started hanging out with him. One of the humans was Spike Witwicky's great-great grandson; the other, just a random medical center employee who shared 'Dyne's love of martial arts.

Anodyne still practiced martial arts for an hour or two every morning. Both Prowl and Mirage were giving him lessons, and occasionally Drift; for an avowed non-combatant, he had remarkable and growing skill with a blade and in hand-to-hand. He also carried Optimus's blade openly on his back at all times, and Ratchet knew that this was in memory of Resonance. Anodyne cleaned and maintained that blade nightly with determined devotion.

Despite all the good he did, and despite the fact he had done nothing to provoke their mistrust, Anodyne was not tolerated, nor even liked, by most mecha.

Ratchet did not understand this. 'Dyne was one of the best mecha he knew. There were other hosts -- Blaster among them -- who were accepted by Cybertronian society. Even Soundwave had a close circle of friends, including a few Autobots.

Yet, most viewed Anodyne with deep suspicion. They accused him of using psionic talent to gain favor from the command and medical staff; they questioned why a mere youngling who refused to fight in time of war would be given a former Prime's sword, and they called him coward, and spy.

Ratchet's fierce and frequent protection of the young Host did not seem to help.

Rung said it was as much because of Anodyne's personality than his frame type. Ratchet failed to understand this.

Annette had shrugged at him one day when he'd grumbled about it. "Our history's full of decent, kind, intelligent people who were hated by the masses. Your friend, I think, is the same. He's an existential threat to some of them, some are jealous, and some just can't accept anyone can be that smart and that good and so they invent crimes he hasn't committed and see evil where there is none."

He hated it, but he didn't see a way to change it.


 


A few weeks after his return to the medical center, he found himself making a tricky repair to an old friend. Cliffjumper, who'd taken a Quintessan round to the back, was face down on a repair slab while Ratchet tediously reconnected the very complicated and numerous nerve wires attached to his spinal strut.

Anodyne, sitting on Cliffjumper's other side, watched closely as Ratchet soldered each hair-fine wire into place.

Cliffjumper, conscious for this repair as they were short of sedatives and anesthesia wasn't necessary, commented casually, "So, ya two are a couple, eh?"

"Huh?" Ratchet replied, intelligently.

"No," Anodyne said, calmly. "We're not lovers." He held out the container of flux across Cliffjumper's back. Ratchet dipped the tip of his soldering iron in it on autopilot. He was shocked by the question.

"Aw, c'mon. Everyone knows ya like the young ones, Ratchet. And nothing wrong with that. He's legal age, so it's all good." Cliffjumper said, amiably. He was, Ratchet realized, quite full of pain medication.

"Anodyne is not my lover." Ratchet gave Anodyne a sharp look; Anodyne's field was unreadable. "He is my friend."

"But he sleeps in ya quarters, even though he's got a berth of his own in the barracks. He's never slept in the barracks."

"There are those who would slag me in my recharge, Cliffjumper," Anodyne's words were steady, but now his field flared with concern.

"Liar, liar, pants on fire ..." Cliffjumper sang, in a cheerful sing-song, and Ratchet knew this was definitely the pain control affecting his processor.  Cliff normally wasn't that cheerful, and his singing voice was awful.

"Ratchet is my Amica, not my lover. I'm safer sleeping on his floor than I am in the barracks." Anodyne said, calmly.

"Yeah? Bet he wants your plating. We all know he was fragging that pretty young shuttle, the one with the pretty gold plating ..."

"Cliffjumper," Ratchet said, hesitated, then continued steadily, "Cliff, at the end of the war I bonded with Optimus."

"Ya did? Good on you, doc! Any of us would have. Optimus was a fine specimen of a mech ..."

Ratchet rolled his optics at Anodyne. He saw no reason to keep Res's identity secret now. "Optimus died at Titan, because his processor was destroyed. However, his spark lived on, and that spark became the mech you knew as Resonance."

Cliffjumper was silent, for a moment, then said, "Oh. So ya were bonded to the shuttle? Because he usedta be Op?"

"I was."

"That's messed up."

Ratchet grunted. Anodyne pinged Ratchet with a private comment that Ratchet ignored for now. He already knew Cliffjumper was a moron, and didn't need Anodyne's moral support.

"An' he died. Recently. Oh. Uh." Cliffjumper fell silent. "That's messed up." A pause. "He was really Optimus? Ya never told us he was Op!"

"He didn't want to be treated differently than any other mech. And he wasn't Optimus, he was Resonance."

"... why didn't they make him Prime when Rodimus died?"

Anodyne answered this, because Ratchet hesitated. He couldn't think of a way to respond that wouldn't sound sacrilegious. 'Dyne said, in what Ratchet thought was a remarkably tactful display of subtle snark, "I believe that Res and Primus had an irreconcilable difference of opinion."

Cliffjumper snorted. "So the glittery flyboy told Primus to shove it up his exhaust port? Good fer him."

Ratchet laughed, and gave up on diplomacy on this subject. "Yeah, apparently it was a pretty heated discussion."

He then felt a flash of guilt, because it felt like he was trivializing something that had been so devastating to Resonance. Irritated, he told himself not to be stupid. Resonance himself had a dark enough sense of humor to have laughed at Ratchet's words (and he would have loved Anodyne's take on the situation.)

"Primus is more concerned with his own survival than ours, as far as I can tell." Cliffjumper stated, flatly, field suddenly both bleak and angry.

Anodyne sucked in a sharp breath -- despite his friendship with Resonance, he was a Believer. Ratchet, however, simply shrugged. "You're not the only one to think that way. I suspect the issues are more complex than that, though."

"Slag complex. I just want to kill Quints." Cliffjumper added quickly, "But! We can kill 'em better if we retreat, regroup, and grow our numbers for a buncha generations."

"I'm sure those generations of mechanisms will enjoy knowing they are being raised specifically for a future war," Anodyne commented, voice sharper than Ratchet remembered hearing.

"Ya got a problem with fightin', youngling?" Cliffjumper's field flared aggressively. "Hear tell you've never spent a day in combat. You're one to talk."

"Cliff, Anodyne can't fight."

"Right. He's disabled by his gifts." Cliffjumper snorted. "Never stopped Blaster. Never stopped Soundwave, either, and I ain't forgotten that creepy spook was on the wrong side of the last war, an' the only explanation for his rank was because he got there either on his backplates or by being a creeper of a 'path, and ..."

"My carrier," Anodyne said, "was Megatron's third-in-command because he was very, very, good at what he does."

"Seems like I hear you are very, very, good at what you do, too. Huh, doc? You like what the kid does? That why he's your pet student?"

Aaaaaand, they were right back to incorrect assumptions about Ratchet and Anodyne's relationship. Cliffjumper was heavily medicated, and Ratchet had certainly heard worse from medically judgement-impaired mecha, but his assumptions and words stung anyway. In part, this was because he knew Cliff likely truly believed his words, just, under normal circumstances even the irascible little minibot knew better than to confront Ratchet directly.

:You okay, doc? Cliff's high as a kite,: Anodyne commed him.

:I'm fine,: He said, though he just felt numb. :'Dyne, I can finish up here.:

Anodyne hesitated.

:Go, Cliffjumper will be less likely to say obnoxious things with you gone.:

Anodyne nodded curtly, and left, and after a few false starts Ratchet managed to get the minibot redirected to chatter about his favorite sports team. Then, after completing his repairs, he sent him off to the surgical ward to be observed by human techs for the next few days and went in search of Anodyne.