Shockwave was dead; his lab still stood, reasonably airtight and warm.
Jazz stepped into the surgical suite. "Ratchet. He's ... going t' die, isn't he? The Matrix left ... the Matrix left him. And yer tryin' t' fix 'im, but ..."
Jazz's voice tone held real, raw, concern.
Ratchet sat on a stool, bent over Optimus's spark chamber. There was blunt force damage to the chamber itself that needed to be repaired. He was trying not to think about anything about the task at hand, and trying to ignore the choking grief in his own spark. Once he was done here he could go get very drunk on Shockwave's eons old and extremely expensive and rare high grade, but right now, he had a job to do. His answer was extremely curt. "No."
"Ratchet ... ah know what ah saw."
"Optimus is dead." Ratchet said. He didn't appreciate the interruption, or the reminder (as if he could forget) at all. When Jazz's expression remained skeptical, he added firmly, "I can save his spark. His processor is slagged."
"What?" Then Jazz scowled. "Ratchet, Skyfire told us ya'd bonded with him. If his processors are slagged, Op's gone. You know that. You'll be bonded to a sparkling."
"I'm aware of that." Ratchet matched Jazz's scowl with an utterly frigid tone of voice. Any colder, and he might shatter into a thousand pieces. He wanted Jazz to go away and leave him alone to work. "And Skyfire shouldn't have said anything."
"Most mecha survive a broken bond, Ratch. You know that. Dying of grief, that's a fairy tail. We'll ... we'll be here for ya. Ya don' have to do this t' yerself."
"I'm already grieving. You're right, it wouldn't kill me." A tiny voice whispered that was unfair; going on with his life without Optimus at his side didn't hold much appeal. They'd planned on a life together; now those dreams were destroyed. Why had he even bothered to dream?
Ratchet clipped a wire in half and taped it off it to prevent it from shorting out. A few more connections to go, and a few more dents to fix, and he'd be able to lift the spark chamber right out of the slagged chassis. And Jazz was still standing there, clearly at a loss for words. "Jazz, don't accuse me of saving Optimus due to the bond. If anything, this is going to be worse than if I just let him go. If I let him go I could slagging join him and we'd be together. I won't ... I won't inflict that kind of actual pain on a youngling, so I'm stuck here. Broken bonds are physically painful and I won't do that to a child. And the bottom line is, I can save his spark. He -- his spark -- will become the first of a new generation of younglings. It would be medically unethical of me to terminate a healthy spark when I have the materials at hand to save him. From a practical standpoint, this spark has some profound gifts that it would be criminal to waste. We'll need the mech that the youngling will almost certainly become as we rebuild."
Jazz opened his mouth.
"And don't remind me that we euthanized mecha with severe processor damage it during the war." Ratchet fixed Jazz with a sharp glare. "We only let them go when we didn't have the resources to fix them. Shockwave's lab has vats to grow a new protoform in, some pretty fancy mods in storage, and living quarters for Wheeljack."
"Jackie's volunteered to raise him and he's raised plenty of other children, including other reformats." Ratchet blew out a sharp, angry, sigh. "Distance will help mute the bond. It will never be gone, but it will be better if I am as far away as I can be. I intend to be, that's for sure."
"Ya'll never be able to bond t'another."
"Neither will he." Ratchet scowled fiercely, and gestured at the battered spark chamber on the table. "For myself, I spent most of my life single. I can go back to that. For the kid ... well." Ratchet rubbed his forehead with two fingers, wearily. "I suppose a life without a bondmate is better than never existing at all. I expect he'll be the same self-sacrificing idiot he always was. That's a spark deep trait, I'd swear on it. He'll cope."
Starscream found him, some hours later, just after he'd eased the entire spark chamber into a containment field. It would take several years to grow a protoform from Optimus's CNA, and until then, his spark would need to be kept from joining the Well by the brute force method of keeping it in a physical cage.
"Make him a flier."
"What?" Ratchet blinked at the seeker.
Starscream shrugged. "I've seen him with that jet pack. Make him a flier. He's got mixed CNA with a hefty dose of shuttle, yes? It's why he's so tall and powerful. So make him a shuttle. Should be easy enough to tweak the protoform."
Ratchet considered that, silently.
Starscream added, "He's always had flight hunger. You could see it in his gaze when he watched fliers. Make the kid a shuttle . Then he won't look like Optimus anymore, and he can live in anonymity. It'd suck for him if everyone expected him to be Prime, and he preferred to be a scientist or a medic or a ..." Starscream's lips curled up into a sneer, "... dock worker."
"Good point." Ratchet agreed. "I'll talk to Wheeljack. And since you brought it up, yes, the kid's identity is classified. Official story is that we found him in a vat after we took over the lab."
Two weeks later, they went home, leaving behind Wheeljack to raise the child. Jackie also thought he could turn Shockwave's lab into a much-needed energon plant; Titan certainly had both a ready supply of energy and raw hydrocarbons. The kid would be raised in a small community of scientists and miners and their families, and Ratchet thought that sounded like the perfect environment for the youngling.
Ratchet didn't think his own spark would ever be the same.
Jazz tried to put an arm around his shoulders.
He got up and stalked across Skyfire's hold to a seat as far from the others as he could manage.