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Echoes of the Past

Chapter Text




The battle was won.

The war, too, though that would take awhile to sink in.

Fingers shaking from exhaustion, and body so weary it felt as if his struts were bending under the weight of his own frame, Ratchet rose from examination of the dead, grey, corpse lying in the mud. One of many, this terrible day, but this one more politically important than any other.

Into his comm, he pronounced, :Prowl, Megatron's dead. Put the time of death down as 23:25.:




Optimus didn't celebrate.

The others did, but Optimus was somber and serious. He hadn't cracked so much as a smile in several days.

Ratchet had the code to Optimus's quarters, and not just because he was the Autobot's Chief Medical Officer. He used it now.

The door slid open, revealing that Optimus was seated on his berth, back to the wall, and half a cube of Sideswipe's strongest in one hand. Optimus had the cube halfway to his mouth, and he froze in surprise as the door opened. "... Ratchet. You generally knock first."

"Would you have answered?"

Optimus stared into his high grade. "Likely not," he admitted, then downed the entire cube in one long swallow.

Ratchet stepped into the room, and then, after the door had closed behind him, crossed to the berth and took the empty cube fom Optimus's hand. "Starscream called. He wants to talk peace."

"That is expected."

Ratchet put the cube down onto the berthside table, next to three similarly empty cubes. That amount wasn't enough to incapacitate a mech of Optimus's size, but he certainly was working his way towards drunken melancholy. Ratchet, who was well acquainted with that particular mood himself, sat down on the berth beside him and rested a hand on Optimus's shoulder. "It's over, Optimus. You won."

"I didn't win." Optimus sighed. "This is no victory. Our world, destroyed. Our people, decimated to near extinction.  Our future is uncertain, and we are desperately vulnerable to outside aggressors. This isn't a victory. It's a tragedy."

Ratchet couldn't argue with that assessment. Instead, he slid closer to Optimus, and leaned his own back against the wall. "You tried to prevent this. You tried so very hard."

"Perhaps if I hadn't tried at all, it would have been better." Optimus's voice was very small. "If Megatron had taken power in the beginning, he would have led a brutal regime, certainly, but it would not have physically destroyed our world, nor would there have been so very many deaths."

"Mmm. As soon as he had control over Cybertron, he would have turned his aggression outwards. The Galactic Counsel would not have stood for Cybetronian expansionism, and the end result would have been the same. The galactics would have destroyed our world, and our people. That is why you didn't surrender to Megatron when it was clear that we couldn't win a clear victory -- I sat in on that meeting, if you recall."

That was the simple truth, too. They'd seriously discussed surrender, when it became clear that the only other option was a horrible war of attrition. However, one of Jazz's moles had sent them Megatron's post-war plans. Megatron intended to invade several innocent neighboring worlds, and was already putting the resources in place to do so. Ratchet had a sneaking suspicion that the mole in question was one of Megatron's upper level commanders, too, but he wasn't certain which one.

Optimus merely sighed at this reminder, however.

Ratchet regarded the dim optics and slumped shoulders of the mech who was his leader, best friend, and closest confidant for a long moment. Then, slowly, he did something only did when they were absolutely sure of their privacy. He leaned over sideways, resting against Optimus. He was so strong.

The bigger mech wrapped his arm around Ratchet's shoulders, and rubbed a gentle circle with one thumb on Ratchet's pauldron.

They weren't lovers. They'd never been lovers. But Ratchet thought they might have been, if it weren't for ... everything.

Chapter Text

Starscream, wings held high, paced irritably back and forth in the conference room. "Where is he? Doesn't he know this is important?"

Optimus sat in his chair at the head of the long table. Starscream normally held court at one end, with Thundercracker at his right hand, and Soundwave at his left. Optimus had been ignoring Starscream's pacing with imperturbable calm until now; the subject of Starscream's irritation was Jazz's absence at Optimus's right hand.

The Prime answered Starscream's demand by asking, "Starscream, would you like a drink? Sideswipe just brewed a rather good batch of high grade."

"Don't patronize me, Prime!"

Ratchet huffed. "Starscream, sit down. He's not patronizing you, you're annoying the rest of us."

Starscream started to protest, vents flaring wide and optics narrowing in real anger.

Skyfire, who sat somewhere near the middle of the table, with Ratchet on one side and Mixmaster on the other, offered, "He's not wrong, Star."

Starscream ... froze. And stared at his former lover. "Am I being annoying?"

"Yes, you are. Sit." Skyfire said, firmly. Ratchet thought that Skyfire was perhaps the only person in the entire universe who could get away with chiding Starscream on bad manners. Since the end of the war, the two had collaborated on a few projects and seemed to be working out a new iteration of their old friendship. Ratchet, who had known both before the war, was gratified to see that Skyfire was nowhere near as passive as he had been before ... and Starscream seemed to value Skyfire's friendship just a little more.

Sheepishly, Starscream sat. "My apologies. I just don't like to wait."

Jazz bustled into the room, carrying a tray of sweets and several datapads. "Sorry for the delay, peeps," he said, depositing the sweets in the middle of the table. "But ah come bearing offerings!"

"Vosian Truffles!" Starscream said. He leaned across the table and snagged several candies. "Jazz, you're my favorite person ever. Where did you find the recipe?"

"Mixmaster." Jazz said, grinning at the large mech, who grunted acknowledgement.

Ratchet relaxed, just a little bit. Starscream was beaming, Jazz smiling, and the rest of the table looked reasonably pleased. Perhaps nobody would try to kill each other today.

Optimus claimed that Ratchet was there as his trusted adviser. In private, he told Ratchet he deeply valued his political acumen and his tendency to get right to the point and bluntly speak the truth when needed.

In private, Ratchet had snarked back at Optimus that the real reason he was there was so he could deal with any ... casualties ... of the peace talks. Optimus hadn't disputed that point, either.

Chapter Text

Starscream was willing and eager for peace. Most of the rest of the Decepticon officers were likewise tired of fighting and ready to talk about an end to hostilities.

There was one holdout, however. Shockwave, whose war crimes were so horrific that he faced likely execution rather than amnesty, was holed up in a lab on Titan and he wasn't going to come out willingly. The moon was swarming with drones and bristling with automated defenses. They knew he'd booby-trapped the whole area around his fortress, and it promised to be a brutal fight.

"Optimus," Ratchet said, aware that he was fussing and not caring in the slightest, "you don't need to go on this mission. It's ... it's not necessary. Send Ultra Magnus and Jazz, include Starscream to make it a joint op, and that's enough!"

"I will see this through to the end," Optimus said, gravely.

They were alone in Optimus's quarters. Since the end of the war, Ratchet had found he was spending more time there. He was worried about his friend, on a deeply personal level. Everyone else, even people who should know better like Jazz or Ironhide, only saw Optimus's strength. Ratchet thought that strength was perilously close to cracking.

"We cannot risk losing you. Not now."

"If there was ever a time we could risk losing me, it is now." Optimus turned away from Ratchet. He stood straight, and stared at a framed print of Iacon at the height of the golden age that hung on his wall, and said nothing more. Ratchet, however, knew what he was thinking: That with the war over there were others more qualified to lead a peace time world.

Ratchet could have argued that point all day long, but what actually came out of his vocalizer was, "I don't want to lose you. Not now!"

He snapped his mouth shut, shocked by his own words. Optimus seemed equally surprised; the bigger mech turned and frowned down at him.

"Nevermind." Ratchet waved a hand at Optimus, as if to shoo him on his way towards the utterly foolhardy mission. "There's nothing that I could say to change your mind. I'm just your 'old friend' and I'm good with that, and you probably should go -- you can keep Ultra Magnus from killing Starscream. I'm sure it'll be fine, just like every other time you've gone on some foolish mission and I've worried myself into fits over it."

Bitterly, Ratchet added, "Most of the time I was right, too. Always seems like when I have a bad feeling about something, you come back in pieces. One of these days, I won't be able to put those pieces together again. And then you'll be at peace in the Allspark, and I'll be left behind ..."

Optimus silenced him by asking, "Ratchet, what are you saying?"

Now that Optimus was actually asking him to articulate his feelings, he found he couldn't say a thing. He stared up at Optimus, aware his optics were likely huge, and frightened, and not because he was scared Optimus might not come back from the mission that was still two weeks away. He'd said more than he intended. More than he ever should have.

Optimus took two long steps towards him. Ratchet fought the impulse to back up in reaction.

"You have feelings for me."

"Yes. Always." And now he couldn't meet Optimus's gaze. "Always have. That changes nothing, though. I know I'm a cranky old mech and ..."

Optimus kissed him.

He hadn't been expecting that, not even in his daydreams. He knew his place, and his role: the wise old adviser. The hero never kissed the wise old adviser -- if this were one of those stupid romances that the younger mecha devoured (and which he would never admit to reading), Optimus would have fallen for Starscream, or perhaps Skyfire, or even Jazz. Not Ratchet. Not the cranky old mech. Never the cranky old mech.

He responded, however, with a needy noise, and eagerly deepened the kiss. Maybe he hadn't let himself dream of this, but his frame wanted it. His spark desired it. His reaction was instinctive and powerful.

And it seemed Optimus was just as interested.

--

Much later, he roused to find Optimus was holding him close, and ventilating quietly but steadily. He guessed Optimus was awake, a supposition that was confirmed when Optimus pressed a kiss to his chevron.

"Round two?" Ratchet suggested, with a smirk.

Optimus ignored the suggestion, but tightened his embrace. "I never realized you felt this  way."

"That makes two of us." Ratchet snorted. "However you want to interpret that." He'd never admitted even to himself how much he'd desired Optimus. He had not thought there was a chance, so why torture himself with impossible dreams?

Optimus chuckled softly. "Ratchet, I've been attracted to you for a very long time. I seriously considered ... approaching ... you, but I didn't think I could keep it casual if I did."

"Casual? What do you mean, casual?"  He didn't do casual. Optimus knew that; Optimus had listed to him rant and rave about past relationships that had gone sour on many occasions. And his trust in Optimus was so deep that it hadn't even occurred to him to question Optimus's intentions. They'd known each other far too long, and valued each other's friendship far too much, for there to be that sort of misunderstanding between them.

But now doubt crept into his voice. "Casual?" He repeated. "This better not be casual on your part, Optimus Prime."

"Of course not. Easy, Ratchet." Optimus kissed his chevron again. "I wouldn't ever hurt you in that way. I never acted on my feelings for you because both of us might have been hurt, and badly. During the war there was every chance I might need to seal peace with a bond to another. You know that."

"With Megatron," he said, flatly. He couldn't, or at least didn't want to, envision that, though on some level he knew it had been possible. Optimus was prone to dark brooding as it was. Bonding him to evil incarnate didn't sound like a very good thing for Optimus, though it likely would have lightened Megatron's fouler moods. Bondmates always picked up some of the traits of their partners. It was one of the points of bonding.

"Perhaps." Optimus pressed another kiss to his helm, something that shocked Ratchet to the very core of his spark. He'd never expected Optimus to nuzzle anyone.  It felt nice. It felt like he was loved. Optimus continued, in a low voice, confessing something that had been both very classified and very private, "A bond was ... suggested."

"You suggested it to Megatron?" He said, incredulously.

"Yes," Optimus replied. "I brought it up as an option on a few occasions."

Ratchet snorted. "I'm glad he declined."

"Quite honestly, so am I. However, Starscream was discussed on multiple occasions as well, in the context of him succeeding Megatron. We proposed that to Starscream as recently as a few earth years ago. He took it seriously, and the option was on the table. Unfortunately, his attempt at a coup two years ago failed ... and now, he's just as happy not to bond to me. He asked, and I quote, 'Do we have to? I fancy Skyfire far more than you.'"

Ratchet chuckled. Starscream, allowing for his naturally high strung personality, had been eagerly cooperative with the peace process, so it seemed as if they hadn't actually needed to bond him to Optimus to seal the truce.

Optimus continued, voice soft and steady, as he admitted to private matters in the darkness of his quarters, "... Perhaps I should have been offended, but I was merely relieved. I have given him my blessings to pursue a courtship with Skyfire."

"Is Skyfire aware?" Ratchet asked, with some bemusement.

"Yes, I've warned him."

"And what did he say?"

"That it'd be a cold day in the Pit before he bonded to Starsceam."

"Ouch."

"Indeed."

Chapter Text

They merged for the first time a few days later, and to both of them, it was like coming home. They found acceptance, love, and understanding in each other's spark. They saw a future togethe. Children, perhaps. Someday, a retirement from politics. Perhaps that someday might even be 'soon'. They saw the rest of their lives intertwined together. It was a compelling vision of a future that neither had dared dream of alone, but together, they both knew they could make it happen.

They bonded then and there, tying their sparks together on a quantum level forevermore.

Perhaps they should not have acted so rashly, but both agreed they needed and wanted each other.

Ratchet woke the following morning to the awareness that he was not alone, and that he was deeply loved. He'd spent a lifetime being respected for his work, but rarely getting close to anyone. It was a revelation.  Optimus woke to the awareness that he no longer needed to shoulder the burdens of leadership by himself, and that someone loved him for himself and not for what he represented.




"I'm going," Ratchet said. He stood in the middle of Optimus's office.

"No," Optimus said, as he rose from his seat at his desk. "I need you here on Earth."

"First Aid's competent enough." Ratchet folded his arms across his chest and glared up at his lover across the desk's wide expanse. Lover. Bondmate. He still hadn't gotten used to that, three days after the night that had changed everything in his life. He was also determined to fight to keep that relationship. The thought of trusting Optimus's care to one of the other medics terrified him. He was the best, he damn well knew it, and he'd never forgive himself if something happened to Optimus because he wasn't there.

"I don't need you in the med bay so much as I need you keeping an eye on the politics." Optimus frowned back down at Ratchet.

"Starscream's going with you, and Soundwave's about as apolitical as they come. Prowl can handle the Autobot side of things." Ratchet wasn't swayed. "The politics will keep until you come back."

Optimus quirked a corner of his mouth up in an amused smile. Very few people were honored with that expression. He saved it for his closest friends. "Very well."

"And furthermore, you need a qualified field medic with you, and ..." He stopped arguing, realizing Optimus was conceding.

Optimus felt wryly amused. He said, over the bond, ~I agree. We do need a field medic. I didn't want you to come because I wanted to protect you, but I must consider the bigger picture. You are the most qualified field medic we have, and we will have multiple high ranking officers on this mission. I would prefer not to lose anyone.~

~Yeah.~ He sighed. Their numbers as a people were so low -- by some estimates, only a few thousand Cybertronians remained alive in the whole universe-- that they had to send their command staff on missions like this. Both Starscream and Jazz were utterly critical to the peace process, but they were going. So was Optimus, and losing Optimus didn't bear thinking about. It was why he wanted to go; Optimus was his first concern, but he was worried about the whole damn mess.

Optimus stepped around the desk and pulled him into a hug. ~Ratchet, I love you.~

~Love you, big guy.~ It was a hollow victory. He didn't want Optimus going at all. He had a sick feeling about this mission. But what could he do? Absolutely nothing, except go along and try to pick up the pieces after the damage was done.

Chapter Text

Ratchet fretted in Skyfire's hold as Skyfire orbited the icy moon. He could feel Optimus's emotions as he fought drones on the surface below, and Optimus was full of focused anger and cold analysis. That was Prime in combat mode, and Ratchet knew from past observation that this was normal. So far, things were going smoothly. He wasn't going to ask any questions for fear of distracting him at a critical moment, however, and he couldn't help but worry.

"I'm sure they're fine," Skyfire said.

"I know they are," Ratchet said, without thinking. They had not disclosed the bond to anyone.

Something in his tone alerted Skyfire, who said, softly, "How would you know, Ratchet?"

Ratchet clapped a hand to his face. "Some days, I wonder why they give me the fancy top secret security clearance."

"I've suspected." Skyfire acknowledged. "You and Optimus have been spending a great deal of time in each other's company over the last few weeks. And you've started completing each other's sentences, and you also keep looking at each other and then smiling."

"Don't tell anyone."

"Of course not." Skyfire sounded vaguely offended. "Not unless it's critical to your welfare or his."

At that instant, the bond flared wide open with unexpected terror and a fierce rush of combat protocols. Ratchet gasped, as he saw a ... device ... in the distance, mounted on a tower in the middle of a flat plane of ice.

Sudden crushing impact and searing heat.

Then nothing.

He screamed.




Optimus wasn't dead.

Perhaps he should have been.

"Ratchet, Ratch' m'man, there's nothing you can do!" Jazz said, insistently, as Ratchet's hands flew over Optimus's chassis. "Let him go!"

"Shut up, Jazz," Ratchet growled, focused on the task at hand. Optimus's processors were slagged, and his chassis was crumpled. Worse, the EMP from the nuclear strike had ruined most of his circuits. They'd thought he was dead until Ratchet had burst onto the still-hot battlefeed and splashed at a dead run through melted icewater to the charred remains tossed by the blast on an open patch of ground. He'd been dizzy and weak, his own spark in shock from the damage to Prime's frame, but he knew his job.

The others had been behind a ridge. They were fine, other than a few blown audials and damaged fluid reservoirs from the blast wave.

But Optimus ...

Energon flowed from his frame from a thousand places. Ratchet worked with relentless speed and patched and plugged and sealed and crimped.

A fire sparked;  a catalyst from Optimus's power plant did not mix well with the moon's methane atmosphere. He extinguished it with the rapidly refreezing water, removed the entire tank, and chucked it as hard as he could into the hills. It caught fire again, and then exploded, and he ignored the noise.

He couldn't find a place to plug his diagnostic cables in. He hard wired them into place.

There was no communication between Optimus's spark and his processor. He tried to hardwire that connection into place, and discovered that Optimus's processor was gone. Fried. Nothing left. Between the heat, the concussion damage, the EMP burst, and the water that Optimus's shattered body had fallen into ... there was nothing left to save.

Ratchet rocked back on his heels. He'd done enough field repairs to ensure that Optimus would live, or at least, his spark would. His processor was gone.

The others must have seen it on his face. He looked around at them: Starscream, Ultra Magnus, Jazz, Hot Rod, Bluestreak,  Starscream's trine, Wheeljack, and Perceptor. Skyfire loomed behind them, his expression pinched with grief and worry.

He shook his head anyway. Somebody sobbed -- Roddy. Ultra Magnus wrapped his arms around Bluestreak. Jazz -- Jazz! -- was crying silently. Wheeljack took a step forward, as if he wanted to hug Ratchet, but some expression on Ratchet's face stopped him.

Optimus was gone. His spark lived, but Optimus was gone.

Something glowed in the Prime's chassis. For a moment, he thought it was another fire, and he took a step forward with the intent of fighting it, but the Matrix rose up and floated in the air. Ultra Magnus, a known alpha spark, took an alarmed step back, as if he was afraid that the Matrix might chose him against his will. Starscream took a step forward, eyes bright and greedy. He didn't have the right kind of spark to support the Matrix, but he would clearly have tried anyway.

It was Hot Rod, however, who held his hands out in awed supplication. Young Hot Rod had been included only because he was fast on his wheels and good at close-quarters fighting. Now he gasped as the Matrix turned to sand and flowed between the gaps of his armor. It was Hot Rod who dropped to his knees as the change overtook him. When it was done, he was twice as large, twice as brightly painted, and utterly silent.

"Didn't see that coming," Starscream snorted.

Chapter Text



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."

"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."

"Figured."


 

 

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.

Chapter Text


Five years after Optimus died, Wheeljack decanted a shuttleframe youngling who stood no higher than Jackie's knees. He would grow (and grow and grow!) but for now, he was all optics and chassis,  with stubby limbs and over-large hands and feet.

Ratchet didn't help, even though the engineering and medical staff occasionally tried to get his input on the kid's design and mods. Every time he saw a report from Wheeljack in his inbox, he thought his spark would break. He filed them away without ever looking at them, and trusted Jackie's judgement.

Wheeljack sent him personal image capture of the kid wearing his very first armor.

He looked at it once, then deleted it. It hurt too much.

Wheeljack named him Resonance, for reasons that Ratchet didn't want to think too much about. Resonance's identity itself was top secret, but everyone knew Jackie had a kid he was raising on Titan. The other Autobots often talked about Resonance in terms of "awwe he's so cute" or "such a bright child!" or "so very polite!" -- he was the darling of every mech who visited Titan, and some who didn't. Ratchet had to hide his emotions lest mecha wonder why he turned cranky and curt whenever Res's name came up. He wasn't entirely successful at this, but he let them assume he simply disliked younglings. (He, who had once considered pediatrics the best part of his practice!)

He started drinking more. If he was drunk, he didn't have to think about Res.

On Earth, Ratchet had a dim awareness of the youngling, growing up on Titan. Optimus had been somber and serious. Resonance was bright and cheerful. His moods grated against Ratchet's increasingly sour temper. He wasn't sure if the fact that Resonance and Optimus were very little alike made it better or worse.

Ten earth years after Optimus died, Ratchet retired from his post as CMO returned to Cybertron. Rodimus tried to convince him to stay, on the grounds that he was still needed ("and you need us!" Roddy had said.) He'd put in enough time to retire, and he treated Rodimus's appeals with indignation. Jazz tried next; Ratchet threw a wrench at him. Rung then came by, and tried to tell Ratchet that everyone was worried about him. He ordered Rung out of his office, left early, and drank more high grade in one sitting than he had since he'd been in university.

On Cybertron, he could barely feel the youngling at all. It was better that way.

And most of his friends were on Earth. He was tired of their patronizing concern and their nosy inquiries about what he did in his private time. He just wanted to be alone.

 

They didn't even need him anymore. It wasn't like there was a war on.

 




When he reached Cybertron, he didn't know what to do with himself.

Rodimus, to the surprise of everyone (including possibly Roddy himself) had risen to the challenge of being a peacetime Prime. Ratchet, cynically, considered peacetime politics to be more difficult than wartime politics. There were fewer outside distractions to keep the politicians from eating their own.

Roddy was charismatic, in a youthful way, and enthusiastic, and he had good ideas. He quickly attracted a following of competent mecha. There were leaders from both sides of the war, including Soundwave, Starscream, and Ultra Magnus. There were complete newcomers, pulled from the rank and file. There were a few aliens, both human and not. All of them were fiercely determined to leave the war behind, and to rebuild Cybertron.

Ratchet did not join them. Roddy tried to involve him. He ignored the Prime's emails, avoided him in public, and made sure he wasn't home when Rodimus came by to visit. Eventually, Rodimus cornered him on his way to buy high grade. They had a tremendous fight, and he publicly demanded that Rodimus, "Leave me alone, I'm retired, damnit, and you're not Optimus! You're not my friend!"

Roddy told him, "I'll respect your wishes, but I'll be here if you need a friend, too."

He didn't see Rodimus again for a long, long, time after that day. He told himself it was what he wanted.




Around three thousand Cybertronians returned home after the war. Their world was a devastated, ruined shell; few areas were inhabitable. Most settled around Iacon. Procreation was very strongly encouraged, and even single mecha with no partners were having multiple offspring. There were creches, primary schools, and financial assistance for anyone who couldn't support their families. Cybertron needed a much larger population, and they needed it as rapidly as possible. However, nobody even hinted to Ratchet that he should reproduce. He'd developed a reputation for being a drunken and foul-tempered old curmudgeon.

Mecha who couldn't carry donated CNA. Despite his intelligence and skills, nobody even asked Ratchet to sire their offspring. The scientist in him, well aware of spark genetics, took this as a major rejection. His spark was just a few points shy of the frequency of an alpha spark; there was a very good chance that Ratchet could sire a Prime-candidate. They were extremely short of mecha capable of hosting the Matrix. He wasn't so lost in his own fugue as to be unaware of this, and he'd dutifully registered himself as a CNA donor for the singles. Not one mecha had contacted him.

Once, he'd considered pediatrics the favorite part of his practice. Now, people pulled their bitlets aside when he passed. Now, despite very real and very valuable spark traits, they scorned him as a sire.


Ratchet had found a relatively intact and utterly abandoned warehouse on the edge of the Sea of Rust, an hour's drive from the tiny capital. The desolate, windswept, bitterly cold coast suited his mood, and he told himself that the spartan dwelling was all he needed. He slept in alt mode on the floor, and he piled up emptied cubes of high grade in front of the broken windows to block the drafts.

He went into town every few weeks to replenish his supplies.

After he'd been there a year, he ran into Smokescreen. Smokie tried to invite him to a party, then said, "... please, Ratchet. We're worried about you. Do you think Optimus would want you to do this to yourself?"

He started getting his high grade at night from an automated storefront. His friends just didn't understand, and if they kept nagging him, he'd probably hurt one of them. They would worry less if they just didn't see him, and he didn't want them to worry -- or to patronize him with their ideas of what Optimus would want.

 

Optimus wasn't here. He gotten himself killed. That meant he didn't get a vote.

Chapter Text

The only reason he ever read his email was because, sometimes, Spike Witwicky sent him emails. Some genius had managed to create a Cybertron-to-Earth internet bridge. Sometimes, he responded. He missed Sparkplug and Spike.

The emails contained pictures. Spike's son Daniel, entering high school. Daniel's newborn sister,  who arrived as a surprise when Daniel was sixteen. Daniel's own firstborn son, several years later. The kids, growing up. Carly, at her fiftieth birthday party. More grandchildren. Spike and Carly, at their fiftieth wedding anniversary, both grey and wrinkled. A great-great-grandchild, in Spike's arms, and Spike was now so very frail. Cybertonians were not considered adults until they were one vorn old. One vorn -- eighty-three years -- was nearly the length of a human lifetime. Even with Cybertronian tech, few humans lived much longer than a century.

Still, he was surprised that just  a few human years past a vorn after Optimus's death, the emails from Spike stopped coming. Human lives were so damned short and he'd deluded himself into thinking that Spike might live at least a little longer.

All Ratchet really wanted to do was to drown himself in high grade, but for reasons even he couldn't explain, he attended the funeral.


There was a space bridge, now. It took half a stellar cycles' worth of his pension to pay for a ticket to Earth, but what did he need credits for? Besides high grade, he didn't spend much money on anything. Basic energon rations were now free and plentiful. (Wheeljack, Starscream, and Perceptor were behind that, and Titan's wealth of petrochemicals and wind energy) . He had to pay for high grade, but it wasn't overly expensive even in the volumes he drank. He bought the cheap stuff. He had a vorn's worth of pension accumulated in his bank accounts.


 



The kid was an adult. He realized that as soon as he stepped through the bridge and felt the sudden awareness of other in his spark. The kid had grown up, and he was on earth.  For a startling instant, it felt as if Optimus was in his spark. It was just the kid, he told himself, and he tried to ignore the unwelcome sensation. It was a bitter reminder of Optimus, however, for he had deeply welcomed the love and trust and companionship that had once, for a brief few days, accompanied that bond. He'd thought he would never be alone again.

Resonance felt so very much like Optimus. It was hard to ignore him, and it was a bitterly painful reminder of what he had lost.

As it turned out, the kid was attending the funeral. He wasn't safely away on Titan, where Ratchet would only distantly feel him. He was physically far closer than Ratchet had ever intended to allow. 

He had assumed that Resonance was cloistered away on Titan, but it turned out that Res had made friends with the Witwicky family and, as a shuttle, he was making a weekly supply run between Titan and Earth. He was on Earth quite a bit. Nobody had mentioned this to Ratchet, quite possibly because they knew Ratchet would have never have come to the funeral if he was aware that Res would be there. He'd made his feelings about meeting, or even talking about, Resonance very clear.

Well, he was tough. He'd gritted his denta and soldiered through the days before the funeral, and managed to be elsewhere than where Resonance was for the entire time. He paid his respects to Daniel and Daniel's children and grandchildren (even the grandchildren were grown!), then hastily left when he felt Resonance approaching.

He initially agreed to go out to dinner with some of Spike's friends and Jazz and Bee, then changed his mind when he learned Res that was planning to go too. When he told Bee that he 'needed to run some errands' and he wouldn't be at the dinner, Bee gave him a dirty look and muttered under his breath, then refused to repeat what he said.

He even ducked into a parking garage when he detected Res flying overhead, so that he wouldn't have to see the kid. He didn't want to know what Resonance's alt mode looked like.

Now, however, after the funeral, a mixed crowd of Cybertronians and humans stood around and made somber small talk. The funeral had been held outside in a park due to the large number of Cybertronians. Ratchet had not been able to avoid seeing Resonance, and he was vaguely surprised that the kid was gold, not red. Gold, with red trim and blue biolights that were the same shade as his optics, and a graceful  and alert upwards sweep to his wings. He had to admit, the kid had turned out rather well. Those wings were striking, and he was so very tall ...

Wheeljack was with the kid. Wheeljack saw him, and Primus damnit, headed in his direction with the kid in tow. Ratchet considered hiding behind one of the many small pine trees that dotted the park. However, Res was taller than the trees and had already seen him.

The 'kid', a vorn old now, was bigger than Optimus had been. He was the same height as Skyfire, and he appeared to have some growing left to do, as he was all long limbs and overlarge hands and feet.  He'd just about outgrown his current set of armor, which was too short for his arms and legs. In wartime, that might have been an issue, but they'd been at peace for a vorn. Ratchet suspected Wheeljack would replace the kid's armor once this last growth spurt was done, but there was no point in doing so now.

Wheeljack embraced Ratchet. Ratchet awkwardly returned the hug. Wheeljack gestured at the kid and said, "Res, this is Ratchet."

Res nodded slowly. He wasn't nearly as bubbly as he had been as a sparkling. His spark felt twisted with grief. Ratchet tried to block him, and failed. He'd never been good at mind tricks.

~Can ... can you hear me?~ The kid asked, tentatively. There was real concern in his spark, despite his grief, and that concern was aimed squarely at Ratchet. Ratchet couldn't block the bond, and the kid was certainly feeling every bit of Ratchet's dread and misery and grief -- grief that wasn't just about Spike. ~Ratchet, could we talk? I want to talk to you about ... some matters.~

~Don't talk to me!~ Ratchet snapped. He recoiled, taking two big steps back. Then he spun around, leaped into alt mode, and fled.

The kid called after him, ~It's okay. I understand!~

The worst part of it was, by Ratchet's reckoning, that Resonance felt like he did.

Chapter Text

The groundbridge had a firm schedule, and it wasn't scheduled to take him home for two days. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't go straight back to his warehouse.

He found an appropriately isolated overlook on a remote highway high in the mountains. It was cold and windy, which suited his mood; he stayed in root mode and parked under a tree.

If he'd had high grade, he would have consumed it all, but there was a frustrating shortage on Earth and he hadn't been allowed to take more than a small amount through customs. Every Autobot he'd asked had been "all out." He'd even looked up Swindle (Swindle lived on Earth), and Swindle had said, "Don't got none -- ask Jazz about that!" in a rather nervous tone of voice.

Ratchet had assumed Jazz had bought Swindle's supply out, but when he had asked Jazz the saboteur had simply shrugged and provided him a single cube the night before from his own stash. "Don't want you going into withdrawal, doc, but this is really all ah got. I'm savin' the rest for the wake tomorrow. Ya are invited, mind."

He was skipping the wake, which was tonight. He assumed Resonance would be there. That meant he was fighting withdrawal and very unhappy about it.

After he'd been brooding in an unhappily sober state for a few hours, tires crunched on the gravel behind him. He scanned backwards, without acknowledging the other mech; it was Bumblebee. Bee had never left earth. He'd remained close to the Witwickys and seemed destined to settle forever on the planet. Ratchet hadn't spoken to him in a vorn, even though Bee had once been a good friend.

Carly sat in his passenger seat.

Bee opened his door, and Carly climbed out. She was stooped, frail, and dressed all in black.

"Open up, doc." She slapped his driver's side door with the palm of her hand.

He did. Anyone else he might have refused, but Carly had always been a force of nature. Besides, it was cold out there, and she was over a century old and so very frail, and he had not forgotten his primary function was that of a doctor. He could not do her harm by denying her shelter from the elements.

She climbed into the seat, and he closed the door after her, and Bumblebee drove away without a word.

"Bee's pissed at you," she said, after a few moments.

"Tell him to join the club. I hear they're giving out membership badges, charging dues, and issuing a weekly newsletter."

"You never answer any of his messages."

"I don't answer anyone's message. He's not special."

"You answered Spike's messages."

"He never asked questions." Which was true, though not the only reason why he had responded to Spike and nobody else. He had a lot of reasons for talking to humans when he wouldn't talk to other Cybertronians. The fact that Spike had simply sent casual notes with pictures of his family and news about Earth, however, had certainly encouraged Ratchet to respond to him. Spike wasn't going to ask him any anything awkward.

"You loved him, didn't you?"

"Yes, woman, Spike was a friend."

"Not my husband. Optimus."

"... yes." He didn't want to talk about this. Not at all. But she was sitting in his seat, and he couldn't exactly toss her out. She was over eighty years old. She might break something if he physically removed her. So he literally cringed down on his shocks and wished he was anywhere but here.

She said softly, "And Res isn't Optimus."

"You're not supposed to know about that!" he objected.

"I wasn't sure," she said, "but you just confirmed what I suspected. I thought it was rather suspicious that you found a mechling in a vat on the same moon that Optimus died on. Particularly when that little mechling has grown up to be such a handsome fellow who acts so very much like Optimus. He's a leader among the younglings here on earth, and he's always the voice of reason. He's way more responsible than any other Cybertronian of his generation, and has been since the day I met him, seventy years ago."

Miserably, Ratchet said, "He doesn't feel like Optimus. He feels nothing like Optimus."

That wasn't strictly true, but in all the ways that mattered it was close enough.

Her eyes widened. "Oh, 'Ratch. You were bonded? I never suspected that."

"We had eight days, before he died." Ratchet let out a long, slow, ventilation. "I've felt Res since I came out of the bridge. He's ... he's sad, because Spike died, but underneath that, he's a bright, optimistic, cheerful kid. Optimus was none of those things."

She snorted, inelegantly. "He's bright and he's cheerful and he's optimistic because of the universe he's growing up in. Credit to his elders, for that. Not, apparently, to you. You've been hiding in a hole somewhere, not talking to anyone. Bee says nobody's seen you for over seventy years."

"That's not true." He saw people in Iacon when he got his supplies. Sometimes, he even grunted at them when they said hello.

"Uh-huh."

He sighed deeply. "You don't understand, Carly. Res is not Optimus. He didn't agree to bond to me. I'd never have chosen to bond to that ... that ..." he struggled to find a description, and settled on the earth term, "Polyanna. That's what he feels like. He's too slagging happy!"

"You barely know him." She leaned back in the seat, arms folding across his chest. "You've avoided him. That's unfair to him, you know -- he didn't ask to be bonded to you, and he can't bond to anyone else. At the very least, you could try to get to know him. He's a great deal like Optimus. On a spiritual level, he is Optimus, and by refusing to even see him, you are spurning Optimus himself."

He scoffed.

She sighed. "You loved Optimus, Ratchet. I know you did. Perhaps you owe it to Optimus to be kind to this young mech who carries his spark. Think about it."

"Why are you even talking to me?" He complained, petulant.

"Because I know what it's like to love someone very deeply, and lose them. And because I've gotten to know Res, and he's a good man. He deserves better than to be bonded to a mech who won't even acknowledge he exists."

"Believe me, I never forget he exists."

"Take me home," she said, simply. "And turn the heater up, will you? It's cold in here."


 

Resonance sent him an email, a day later.

He saw Res's name in the header and deleted the email without opening it.

Chapter Text


His warehouse felt emptier when he returned.

He was anxious, acutely unhappy, and stir crazy. Instead of spending the days in recharge and the nights drinking, he found he was uneasy. He felt he should be doing something. Also, he was bored. He'd never been bored before.




Still, he was a stubborn mech. He stuck to his routine. Recharge, wake, drink himself into recharge again. Every thirty days or so, when the high grade ran out, he drove into Iacon to replenish his supply.


A few of the mecha he'd seen at the funeral tried to contact him. He ignored them. If they hadn't had time for him before, why were they bothering now, except out of pity? He hated pity. They got the message and they stopped messaging him soon enough.

Several months after he returned to Iacon, he was aware of a mech on the road behind him, at the very limit of sensor range. Old habits from a war died hard, and he scrutinized his sensor readings. The mech had a civilian frame, was lightly armed, and seemed to be about convoy class in size. He saw no obvious threat, and he told himself it was a random traveler, as there were a few small settlements cropping up to the north of him. The traveler didn't overtake him, and he eventually relaxed. When he turned up the long drive to his warehouse he lost track of them, as there were low dunes of oxidized metal powder at the shore that scattered his radar.

An hour later he was seated on a mineral outcrop on the shore, staring out at the waves and the setting sun and working on his second cube. He heard the sound of footsteps on the heavily oxidize slabs of slag and metal power that made up the beach. He turned, surprised. Nobody bothered him out here. Nobody dared. He'd been known to send visitors fleeing with a volley of acidic remarks and calculated insults.

"Got a spare cube?" Rodimus asked. In the red light of the setting sun, Rodimus was as bright as Optimus, and he was every bit as tall and broad. There was no mistaking Roddy for anything but a Prime.

He glared. "What do you want?"

Rodimus sat down next to him. The young Prime had come alone; he had road dust on his armor, and a tired expression on his face.

"I said, what do you want? Is there something wrong with your audials? If there is, don't expect me to fix them. I'm out of the medical business. Or haven't you heard? I'm retired, frag you."

Rodimus looked down at his hands, then over at Ratchet. "Do you know what Optimus's very last thought was?"

"Probably, 'Oh, slag' though he might not have had time even for that. His processor was fried instantly." Ratchet flipped a piece of slag at the waves. It skipped several times before sinking. He hadn't been intending to skip it, but he felt strangely proud when it did. He tried not to remember the burst of fear he'd felt from Optimus. Optimus had died terrified, even though Optimus had no actual fear of death. Optimus believed in the Well of Allsparks to the very core of his being, with a deep, unwavering, and absolute faith.

"I have his memories. All of them. Because of the Matrix." Rodimus tucked his knees to his chest. For a moment, he looked like the young soldier, barely more than a child, that Ratchet had once known. "His last thought was fear for you. He expected to die. He did see the device a fraction of a second before it detonated. He terrified you would not take it well."

"He was bloody right."

Unfair, he thought, that Roddy had Optimus's memories and Optimus's own processor had been destroyed. He hated the damned Matrix. If only the Matrix had stayed with Optimus's frame ... Optimus might not have been lost. Optimus could have accessed his own memories from the Matrix. Primus was never fair, but in this, Ratchet felt there had been an acute injustice.

Rodimus picked up a piece of slag and flipped it at the waves. It only skipped once before disappearing into a swell. "Optimus was right about a lot of things. He knew the peace process would continue without him, but he was worried about you."

"So Rodimus Prime has come all the way out here to rub the fact that my bondmate loved me and worried about me in my face. He's gone. You really think I want to hear about how much he loved me? I don't have that anymore. I don't have anyone that loves me. Next you'll tell me he would disapprove of me now. That he'd want better for me. You think I haven't heard that? You think I haven't thought that? Well, slag you too."

He'd said too much. He shut up.

"I am not here to judge you." Rodimus flicked another piece of slag at the sea. It went plonk and sank.

"So why the scrap are you here?"

Rodimus propped his elbow on his knee, and his chin in his hand, and stared at the sunset. After a long, long, moment, he said, "I'd rather have stayed home, actually. You've become a real aft, and I don't particularly care to spend time in the company of afts."

"So you've come out here to insult me." He wasn't surprised. At this point, he doubted he had any friends left. Friends didn't take it very well when you ignored them, or sniped at them until they went away. Maybe Rodimus would go away, too, if he could be sufficiently offensive. "Go home, Roddy. You're late for a date with your detailer."

Rodimus gave up trying to skip chunks of slag across the oily red waves. He chucked a fist-sized piece as hard as he could. It went an impressive distance and raised a huge splash. "The Quints are coming."

"Huh." Big surprise. They'd been expecting that. It was why there was such a push to procreate. They didn't have the numbers to defend Cybertron.

"Maybe not this year, or next, but soon. Surely before the end of the next vorn."

"So you want me to, what, rejoin the military? I highly doubt I'd pass the mental health exam."

"No. I want you to teach the kids. Your knowledge is too valuable to lose. I want you to pass it on to the next generation. We'll need trained medics."

"Primus. You've got to be joking." Nobody wanted him around their kids. He did miss kids.

"Nope." Rodimus grinned at him. "One class. Trauma surgery. Nobody does it better than you. Nobody knows it better than you. We need you, Ratchet, and you slagging well know it."

Rodimus rose, with a palm-sized flake of slag in his hand. He flung it at the sea. This time, it skipped a good dozen times before it finally slowed and sank.

Then the Prime wiped his hands off on his armor, and said, "I'll see you in Iacon next week. Semester starts in a few days."

Before he had a chance to say no, Rodimus leaped into a showy transformation to his alt mode and roared off.  Ratchet threw a chunk of slag after him, but not as hard as he could have. It didn't connect, and if Roddy knew, he didn't comment on it before he disappeared over the dunes.

Chapter Text

Ratchet told himself he was not nervous as he headed down Iacon's wide main boulevard.

The city was still small, but it was clean, and laid out well, with shining new buildings and carefully engineered roads. Normally, he went to town late at night and turned left just after entering the town, where he proceeded down an alley to a small, automated, storefront. There he purchased his high grade and supplies through a small window without needing to speak to anyone sentient.

Today he swallowed hard and turned right, towards the university. He prayed, the whole way, that nobody would notice ...

"Hey, newbot!" A two wheeler shouted, as he zoomed past. On a general comm frequency, the bike added, :Newbot newbot, welcome to Iacon!:

Well, as greetings went, it could have been worse. He supposed everyone in Iacon did know everyone -- the population was only around fifteen hundred for the town -- and the younglings could be forgiven for not recognizing him. Given their critically low population numbers, new mechanism would be cause for real curiosity and interest, and perhaps a genuine welcome. He was aware that a few Cybertronians trickled in from the far corners of the universe every year, mostly neutrals returning home. They probably assumed he was just another refugee returning home.

:Yo, doc!:

And that was the sort of greeting he'd been dreading. Sideswipe pulled alongside, flashing his lights in recognition.

:What is it, Sideswipe?:

:You lost? The liquor store's behind you.:

:Fuck off.: If Sideswipe was going to favor him with earthly slang, 'liquor store', he could give it right back. He only regretted that in alt mode he couldn't flip the speedster off.

:Seriously, Ratch, you need something?: Sideswipe's tone turned concerned. :You never come into town.:

:I obviously am today.:

:Bee told us about what happened at Spike's funeral.:

:Bee talks too much.:

:You're a real aft, you know that?:

:So Rodimus tells me.: He sighed over the comm in the form of a fuzzy burst of static. :Go away, Sideswipe. I'm going to work.:

:Whut?: Sideswipe replied. :Wow, that is news. What'd Roddy do, blackmail you? Where ya working?  The University or the Medical Center? Can I drop in and harass you?:

:Sideswipe, if you don't go away, I'm going to hurt you.:

Sideswipe replied, :Smell my exhaust, docbot!: and then accelerated hard, leaving Ratchet far behind.

Chapter Text

He pulled into the transformation lot of the new university less than an Earth minute later. Like the the rest of the town, it was sparkling new and spacious.

There were just two buildings: a residence hall and a tower that held classrooms. Between them there was a wide expanse of open ground. There, a dozen younglings were playing something that appeared to be a directly modeled on Earth soccer and small swarm of organics, perhaps a hundred of them, streamed between the buildings on hoverbikes. He wondered if the humans were visiting dignitaries.

Nobody greeted him.

He was relieved by that.

He walked through the tall open doors and into the lobby of the tower. A receptionist looked up as he did and said, "Can I help you?"

"I suppose I should check in with the dean."

She blinked, stared at him for a minute, then said, "Oh, you're the newbot that Rodimus found to teach the trauma class. Right. Roddy said you'd be coming by today."

He grunted acknowledgement, though the moniker 'newbot' did sting. He wasn't new, damnit. "Do you always call the Prime by a nickname?"

She beamed. "Roddy's awesome. You'll see. You're a newbot; all the newbots ask the same thing. They expect the Prime to be stuffy and stuck up, but he's just one of us."

"I'm not a newbot," he growled.

"Really? I've never seen you around." She wrinkled up her nose at him. If she was three quarters of a vorn old, he'd be surprised. Teenagers. They were hiring teenagers to staff the university desk. Suddenly, he felt very old.

"Just ... just tell Skyfire I'm here, will you?"

She waved a hand at the elevator. "Go on up. He's expecting you."




Skyfire was sipping a mug of warmed, spiced, energon and reading a datapad when Ratchet knocked on his office door's frame. The door itself was wide open. The shuttle looked up, and then smiled broadly. Ratchet, a soldier for most of his life, had started to salute the mech who his social protocols now recognized as 'superior officer' and he terminated the impulse before his arm could do more than jerk slightly. He probably should have smiled back, instead, but before he could force the expression onto his face, Skyfire said cheerfully,  "Ratchet! Roddy said you'd agreed to the post."

"Hnnh." Ratchet shook his head. "Not even sure why." Some vague impulse towards common politeness caused him to add, "The university looks good."

"Everyone's worked hard on it. The eldest of the children are old enough for higher education, now. We want the very best for them."

"Can't see myself with brats," he said, and then mentally winced at the memory. Once, for a very brief handful of days, he'd dreamed of just that kind of future.

Skyfire's optics wrinkled around the edges when he grinned again. "You'd be surprised at the mecha who have made rather good parents."

"Did you have kids?"

Skyfire nodded. "I have two."

"With Starscream?" He had to ask.

"Primus, you've really been out of the loop. No, Starscream and I have reached an understanding, and it does not involve romance. He has a kid, but Quasar was sired by Skywarp." Skyfire's expression was wry. "Astrotrain and I created offspring together, though our relationship is strictly for the purpose of procreation. He and I, Resonance, and Alpha Trion, are the only adult Cybertronian shuttles in existence. We need more."

He hadn't seen that coming, not at all. Stiffly, he said, "Congratulations."

"You'll meet our eldest youngling, he's in your class. Photon is almost a vorn old. Our youngest, Indigo, is on earth right now, working with Bee. " After a moment, Skyfire added, "Res and Indigo are friends. You did a good thing, Ratchet, when you saved him."

"I don't want to talk about that."

Skyfire rose from his desk, stepped around it, and said simply, "Let's go take a quick tour of the university."




Despite himself, Ratchet was impressed by what they'd accomplished. The university tower was spacious and well appointed, with extensive labs, an enormous machine shop, libraries, and more. Everything was sparkling new.

It wasn't until he saw the his classroom and realized that there were six seats for Cybertronians, and a second level balcony with around thirty seats for smaller organic species, did he realize that the university was for far more than just Cybertronians.

"We're teaching organics?" He asked, surprised. He wasn't sure what to make of that. Could organic species handle Cybertronian college-level courses? Was he supposed to teach organic species? He hadn't even thought to ask; he'd assumed all his students would be Cybertronian.

Spike and Sparkplug had never had a problem understanding Cybertronian engineering and medical issues. They'd always been a huge help in med bay. Perhaps they could.


Skyfire nodded. "Our numbers are so few ... There's only twelve thousand Cybertronians alive, and seventy-five percent of those are under one vorn of age. Most much younger. Most of us have had several children apiece, because we must repopulate, but even so, there are not enough younglings of college age to justify creating a university just for them."

Ratchet tilted his head sideways. "How many Cybertronian students are there?"

"About a hundred. We have around three hundred younglings who have completed their primary education, but only about half are pursuing higher education. A third of those are going to school elsewhere, mostly on Earth. Of the rest, some are going into the military, either here, in our global defense force, or in assorted Terran branches of their military. Some have elected to start small businesses. Some were not a good fit for higher education, but we need workers, and even our laborers are well paid now. Everyone gets a living wage."

"Sounds like a paradise." He stared up at the sky, which in recent years had become a pretty blue streaked with white clouds. For his entire life, Cybertron's atmosphere had been heavily polluted and toxic to most organics, and it had always been very low in oxygen. Oxygen levels were higher now, and a vorn without heavy industry or the ravages of war had allowed the world to heal itself. Cybertron's survivors were modifying the atmosphere for the comfort of humans, too; they called it "terraforming." The added oxygen had both benefits and drawbacks for Cybertronians; energon consumption would be more efficient in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, but they would have greater problems with corrosion.

Skyfire led the way out through the university tower's front doors and across the open area towards the dorm. He continued to talk as he walked. "We couldn't justify a university for the younglings with our current population base, but we have to educate our children. We also needed outside income. We decided we would create a university open to all galactic species that could pass our entrance exams. That has been very well received, and the tuition they pay has been very helpful."

Ratchet had known none of this. Suddenly, he felt real shame. Everyone else had been working to rebuild their world, and what had he been doing? Sulking in his old warehouse, usually drunk, and mad at Primus. He'd been a rather useless old cog for the last vorn.

Skyfire continued, "We have around two thousand galactic students. About three quarters of those are human. Our entrance exam is strenuous, and a challenge even for many Cybertronians, but we have found there are ample numbers of organic species who can pass."

"How is ... are there any problems with the organics? They're so small."

"We've had a few injuries, mostly from falls." Skyfire admitted. "My human colleagues assure me that injuries are to be expected on a university campus. The galactics, particularly the humans, seem to think that this is a phenomenal chance for their children and our injury rate is in line with human institutions. Earth is just beginning to become a galactic presence, so for their children to study on another world ... it's a tremendous opportunity."

"And it brings in income," Ratchet said, dryly. He knew Skyfire well enough to know that the Dean would be distressed by any injury to a fragile organic youth, but he also knew that there were plenty of Cybertronians who were far more callous.  He resolved to keep an eye on the organic kids because squished squishies was an absolutely unacceptable cost of doing business.

"Very much needed income." Skyfire nodded. "Cybertronian credits do not do well on the intergalactic exchange."

"Trust me, I know. I spent a three days on Earth recently." His pension was generous, but he'd still been left much poorer after those few days.

"Many of our people go to Earth to work for a few years, then return. Earth dollars go a lot farther than Cybertronian credits, even if we do try to pay everyone a true living wage."

"What kind of work do they do on Earth?"

"A little bit of everything. Some end up working in extreme environments that are unfriendly to humans -- vacuum, extreme heat, extreme cold, or under water. Some are involved in engineering and construction -- Jackie and Grapple went into business together building designing lunar and Martian habits for humans, and they hire quite a few Cybertronians. There's one young rotary who's running an air show that's quite popular with both humans and Cybertronians, and he hires other fliers. Oh, and there's a seeker who founded a cult on Earth, but we don't like to talk about him."

The latter comment, delivered in a complely dry tone of voice, surprised a laugh out of Ratchet. "Let me guess which seeker."

"Don't. You'd be right, and I don't even want to hear his name. We've bashed helms over the University's curriculum more than a few times. Most Cybertronians know he's nuts as soon as he opens his mouth, but there's something lost in translation when he speaks English, and he has far too many human followers -- some of whom are on my board of directors." Skyfire entered the dorm. "Are you going to stay in town?"

"My hovel isn't that far from Iacon," he rolled his optics. "And I'm only teaching one class."

"Five days a week," Skyfire pointed out.

"When did we adopt earth timekeeping?"

"About the same time humans started to outnumber Cybertronians on Cybertron by a ratio of ten to one."

"We're letting that many settle here?"

"It's a large world, it's unfortunately unpopulated, humans need space to expand, we need the manpower to rebuild, and we like them." Skyfire's answer was very firm. "Really, Ratchet, I never took you for an isolationist."

"I'm not. But humans get heavy metal poisoning, and Cybertron is full of toxic metals. Not to mention dioxins, and mercury, and extremes of temperature, and rain that would kill a human just by breathing the vapor from it, and our sun has dangerous outbursts of gamma rays and ..."

"They've developed solutions to all of those problems. Most like it here." Skyfire shrugged with both his wings and his shoulders. "They've settled on Titan, there's a research station on Venus, and there are even humans living in the atmosphere of Jupiter, on floating platforms. Cybertron is easy, compared to some of the other challenges they've faced."

"I suppose."

Still chattering about the campus, Skyfire showed him a dorm room. It was designed for one or two Cybertronians, plus several small organics, all living together. "We try to ensure that the species mingle. That avoids cliques, and helps prevent cultural misunderstandings. All the species we allow at the university are highly social, so most do well when grouped together in units of about half a dozen each. We do psych testing to make sure the roommates are compatible."

"Huh."

They rode a lift up to the top of the tower. Ratchet assumed he would see more student rooms, but instead, the elevator opened up onto a wide hallway. Skyfire palmed open the nearest door, and gestured inside. "Staff quarters. Quite a few instructors choose to live on campus."

"You're showing me this why?"

"Just letting you know it's an option." Skyfire glanced at him, and he realized for the first time that the shuttle was nervous -- and was covering it with chatter. Skyfire was not normally a mech who chattered. "This one's empty, and it's a nice room. It's got a great view of the campus, and the neighbors are quiet. Well, for certain values of quiet, but they don't party."

He let out a long, slow, sigh. "I'll keep it in mind."

It was at that moment that a door down the hall opened. He realized what Skyfire had meant by 'certain values of quiet' when Bluestreak stepped out.

Bluestreak looked older, though only a vorn had passed, and he'd changed his paint a bit. His formerly red and grey armor had black trim, and his primary color was less matte grey and more silvery now. He looked striking, and his field was far less jagged than Ratchet remembered.

"Oh! Ratchet!"

Ratchet steeled himself for a nonstop verbal avalanche from the mech. However, Bluestreak simply said, "I haven't seen you in so long. Roddy said you'd agreed to teach a class."

He nodded. "Are you teaching ..." he struggled to remember what the kid was good at. "... shooting?"

"Oh, Pit, no." Bluestreak grinned. "I haven't picked up a weapon since the end of the war, and haven't missed it. Nah. I'm a language arts teacher. Hey! You could sub for me for the module on profanity, and the ways different species use it ..."

He growled. "I don't swear that much."

Bluestreak giggled. "Yes you do. I'll see you around, Ratchet. I've got to get to my first class."

He was gone, just that quick, but in passing them he briefly rested a hand on Ratchet's shoulder and squeezed. It was a casual, friendly, supportive gesture, and Ratchet very nearly swatted his hand away. After the lift doors slid shut, Ratchet growled, "Cheeky slagger."

"He is that." Skyfire said, tolerantly. "Come, you should see the view from the roof. You'll be amazed at how much we've rebuilt ..."  




He had six young Cybertronian students, twenty humans in assorted colors of skin and both sexes, three Nebulans (with blue skin and white hair), and a creature that described herself, in English, as a 'Jurassian' -- the latter appeared to be an excellent example of parallel evolution. If earthly bipedal dinosaurs had evolved intelligence, they probably would have looked a lot like her.

The Cybetronians younglings were ... young.

"Newbot," they called him, and "docbot," and, in English, "Professor."

He found the Cybetronians almost as alien as the aliens.

They'd grown up in a world that was without war, and where everything was built for them. The adults were wholly dedicated, it seemed, to building a new world for their offspring. The kids had taken that to spark, and while not precisely spoiled (except for a few notable exceptions) they seemed to expect that adults were there to feed them, house them, and keep them safe. They had no jobs, just leisure and school, and they had few responsibilities.

He was used to a world where if you didn't work, you starved, from a very early age. Cybertronians, from a very young age, were capable of performing at least routine menial tasks, and were expected to do so. Younglings were created for specific jobs, and not simply to preserve the species. Cybertron had been very overpopulated, not underpopulated, and mecha were allowed to starve while, simultaneously, others were created. And most of those younglings had been vatlings, not primally created, as few mecha had the time or energy to devote to actual offspring. It had been a hard world, and even those mecha with jobs struggled to make ends meet.

There had been so many injustices in that world.

He had some concerns about current Cybertronian society, but nobody was going hungry and everyone had housing, medical care, and basic maintenance taken care of. If they wanted anything else, they worked.

Their innocence and naivety made it easier for him to remain civil with the kids. He knew he wasn't ever going to win an award for Most Loved Professor, but he wasn't the Most Hated, either. That honor, apparently, belonged to a certain gold Seeker (Skyfire's own personal "He Who Shall Not Be Named") who taught theology when he wasn't off on Earth brainwashing humans into thinking he was the savior of the universe.


A week after the start of his first semester as a 'professor', Rodimus was waiting for him outside his door at the end of class. The kids streamed by their Prime; a few high-fived him and Verve, a green and black speedster who was Groove's kid, actually paused to hug Rodimus.

Roddy clapped Ratchet on the shoulder. "What are you doing this weekend?"

He decided on honesty, simply to see how Rodimus would react. "Grading papers and getting drunk."

Rodimus snorted. "Well, before you go back to that shack you call a home, got a minute to talk to me?"

"Do I have a choice?" His surly growl was in Cybertronian, but the tone made even the humans look his way in alarm. He didn't snark at the kids, but they'd certainly heard him snarl at other staff members. Nobody got mad at Roddy, however, particularly to his face. Rodimus was just too charismatic to inspire any level of anger.

"Yes, actually. I'm not even your boss. That would be Skyfire."

Once, the Prime would have been his 'boss.' He'd retired from the military, however, and Rodimus had zero authority over him save the spiritual kind. 'Spiritual' authority was debatable, too, because, while Ratchet wasn't an atheist, he didn't follow Primus's teachings with any degree of devotion. Primus was a cold-sparked old slagger and therefore Ratchet didn't see any reason to be loyal to the ancient God.

"... Fine," he huffed. "You want to talk now?"

"Now," Rodimus confirmed.

"You could have just commed me, you know."

Rodimus shrugged. "I was on campus anyway."




Rodimus's office was at the top of the tallest tower in Iacon. It was large and spacious, but not pretentious. The furniture was pre-war and comfortable, there were viewscreens on the wall, and photographs of past Primes (Ratchet averted his eyes from one of a laughing Optimus with an arm thrown around young Hot Rod's shoulder), and assorted knick-knacks on shelves. The knick-knacks appeared to be gifts from other galactic leaders, as each had a little plaque underneath identifying the gift giver.

Apparently, Rodimus collected flashy mineral specimens, and foreign leaders knew this. There were a lot of minerals. A recently dated one from Earth was a fossilized dinosaur skull, complete with teeth, turned opalescent by some strange mineral process.

"Grimlock likes that one," Rodimus said, following Ratchet's gaze.

"I bet he does. How's that rusty crankshaft doing?"

"Good. He owns a construction company."

"... really?" That was a surprise. The dinobots had always been better at destroying than fixing.

Rodimus shrugged. "He grew up. He was just a child when you knew him, with good reason to be angry.  -- Ratchet, have a seat."

He sat. He didn't like it, but he sat.

"We need your help."

"No, you just invited me here to have tea. I assumed  you needed my help." Ratchet scowled at Rodimus.

Rodimus clapped a hand to his face. "Okay, I walked right into that one. Ratch, in all seriousness, First Aid's going to Earth next month. Skyfire asked me to talk to you. Ratchet, there's only a handful of physicians on this world -- Skyfire will have to give control of the department to Starscream unless ..."

"Oh, Pit no." The idea of Starscream, who wasn't even a doctor, running the university's medical department horrified him. "What about Hook?"

"He's the Global Defense Force's CMO. He doesn't have time to do both jobs, and he's also currently on Earth, training some of their medics. I suppose he could take over the University, but that would leave us without a CMO, and there's nobody remotely qualified for that job unless he hired a human ..."

Ratchet's snort, this time, was nearly explosive. "By the time you got the squishy actually trained for the job, it would die of old age. Seriously. Hook's it?"

"Hook's the second-most experienced physician on Cybertron after you, Ratchet."

"He's a hack. First Aid is far better."

"And First Aid is going to earth for several years to be with his gestalt. They live there, and a couple of them are about to have children.  They need him."

Ratchet slumped back in the chair. "Nobody else?"

"No. That's why we need a medical department. There are a few partly trained field medics who can handle trauma, and single-specialty technicians, but you are it as far as a fully trained physician with multiple specialties and actual real-world experience."

"Slag."

Roddy's expression softened. "You don't have to do it forever. Aid will be back in a few years."

"You realize I'm a drunken hermit who lives in a hovel?"

Roddy shrugged expansively. "Half the old veterans are drunks.  Even so, you are extremely talented. Many veterans, on both sides of the war, are alive because of you and your knowledge."

He considered that. Then he said, "Like rusty scrap I'd let Starscream run the department."

"Thank you for accepting, doctor."

--

Two weeks into the term, he'd settled into the office. For the most part the kids had stopped calling him "newbot" and the elders had stopped doing double-takes when he walked by. He was beginning to enjoy the younglings, had identified one stand-out youngling who needed further mentoring and might be his next apprentice, and he was actually looking forward to each day in the classroom. The administrative side of his position was familiar; everyone on his staff was formerly military and most knew him. He was relieved to be dealing with old soldiers and not academics. He snapped and snarled, but no more than he had as the Autobot CMO; they did not snap back, and there was less Academia Drama than he had been expecting. (Ratchet had spent far too much of his early life around both politicians and academics, and he was of the opinion that there was less drama and theatrics in politics). Somewhat to his surprise, and possibly the surprise of his staff, nobody died from the Wrath of Ratchet in the first two weeks.

Starscream came by to congratulate him; they'd seen each other around campus before, but Starscream had been busy, and Ratchet antisocial, and they had never actually spoken. Starscream taught several classes plus a required combat flight class for all Cybertronian fliers.

"I figured you'd be pouting." Ratchet said. He'd been buried in administrative tasks all day save for the welcome hour long break of his single class, was not particularly happy to see the seeker. He didn't bother to be polite. He'd never been nice to Starscream. Why should he start now?

"Pouting?" Starscream asked, clearly baffled. His tone wasn't angry or irritated, just confused. Ratchet thought that peacetime had been good for the seeker, as had Skyfire's friendship -- the "arrangement" that Skyfire had referred to was apparently that they had become very good friends, no benefits included.

"You know, they were considering you for head of Medical and all ..."

Instead of the scowl and snarl he expected, he got a completely innocent, and confused, look. "What are you talking about?" Starscream demanded, then he added, "Why would I want to be head of Medical?"

Ratchet stared.

"I'm head of the Physics department and Air Commander." Starscream added, a bit peevishly. "There are not enough hours in a day to do both jobs and head up medical too."

Ratchet realized that Rodimus had played him for a fool. He growled. "Slagging Primes."

Starscream started cackling. "Welcome to the team, Ratchet."

Chapter Text

A month after he'd accepted the job as department head, Sideswipe entered his office without knocking.

He hadn't forgotten the warrior's earlier 'greeting' on his first day of work, and he growled, "Out."

"Hello to you, too."

"We're not talking. Out."

"Kinda hard to talk to you when you're never around," Sideswipe rolled his optics. "You still drinking yourself into oblivion every night?"

"Out of my office, Sideswipe, or I'll call security."

Sideswipe grinned. "Campus Security's Jazz. He sent me here. Jazz is, by the way, how I know you are still drinking yourself into stasis on a nightly basis."

Jazz, apparently, was spying on him. That sounded typical. He hadn't even spoken to Jazz since the funeral, but Jazz was watching him. He glowered, and said nothing.

"Look, if you're going to drink, at least come by my bar. My high grade's a lot better than the vend-o-matic sludge you buy, and Smokie's tending bar tonight, so I'm free to ... socialize."

"Why should I accept?"

"Because I'm going to stand here until you do."

"Why do you even care?"

"You're pathetic, you know that?" Sideswipe snapped. "You're a coward. Slaggit, Ratchet, I don't know why I am bothering."

"Fine." He huffed. "Everyone will be so glad to see me, I'll be the life of the party, and it'll be all hearts and roses. Then I'll drink a bunch of energon, and go home alone. Sounds like a fun time to me. I'll be happy to stop in."

"Good. See you there." Sideswipe took his sarcasm at face value, tossed him a salute, and sauntered out.
 




Sideswipe's bar was located in a nice neighborhood of mixed species, both Cybertronian and human, not far from the university. He'd pictured a dive bar, with regular fights, sticky tables, seedy customers, and an unlicensed (and untaxed) still out back, but Sideswipe's place was actually a nice, friendly, neighborhood tavern. Live music played from inside, and he carefully picked his way around a pack of squishies on ubiquitous hover bikes as he entered.

The humans had a raised platform at the far end of the room. As he watched, several human college students zoomed up a ramp on their bikes and claimed a table. Not all the humans were in the 'human area' however. He spotted the very promising Cybertronian from his class, a gold and brown host youngling. The kid was dining with two humans, a cybercat, and Slamdance, who were all seated top of his table. They appeared to be playing a card game. The youngling was one of his, and the kid waved. He nodded back in acknowledgment.

Sideswipe saw him, collected two cubes of high grade from behind the bar, and joined him at a table.

"I didn't come here to monopolize your company," Ratchet objected.

"Drink your high grade, Ratchet."




Two hours and five cubes later, he walked with Sideswipe to the latter's small apartment. It was better than going home alone, and he was honestly too drunk to drive safely.

The next morning, he woke to find red arms around him and Sideswipe pressed against his back, with only hazy memories of what had happened the night before. Sideswipe's fingers are skilled, and his lips warm against the back of his head.

Ratchet grunted. "I shouldn't be here."

"Live a little, doc."

"I'm bonded."

Sideswipe reared back, then propped himself up with one hand and stared down at Ratchet. "What?" Then, "What? How dare he -- where is he? He's left you all alone? Is that why you're so miserable?"

"I'm not miserable --!" Sideswipe 's initial shock at his disclosure that he was bonded turned into a skeptical look, and Ratchet huffed an aggravated sigh. If he hadn't been lying flat on his back in Sideswipe's berth, legs still sticky and frame sore, he would have smacked the warrior on general principles. Insteady, he huffed again, then  explained reluctantly, "He was reformatted -- his processor was destroyed in a battle at the very end of the war. The kid doesn't know me."

"Oh, pit. I had no idea."

Ratchet shook his head. "He'll probably never know me. I can't ... Sideswipe, I lost him forever, and I'm all alone. This can't go anywhere between you and me. I'll never be able to commit to another mech, and I don't think I'll ever want to."

Sideswipe slumped back down to the berth, threw arm arm across Ratchet's chest, and held him tight. "You're forgetting I can't bond either."

Oh. Right. Sideswipe was a split-spark twin; the only bond he'd ever have was with Sunstreaker.

Ratchet rolled over and made love to Sideswipe for a second time. He knew this wouldn't last, but it had been so long since he'd had any sort of connection with another mech. He didn't do casual, but beggers couldn't be choosers.

Chapter Text

Sideswipe proved to be more annoying than Ratchet could ever have imagined. The warrior seemed to think that just because they'd clanged components a few times that he had a right to interfere in Ratchet's business. Ratchet made a half-hearted effort to drive Sideswipe away, but Sideswipe had seen him at his worst during the war, and he was not intimidated or surprised.

He seemed to think that it was a fine plan for Ratchet to live in university housing, and he started showing Ratchet catalogs of furniture and introducing him to young artisans who crafted one-of-a-kind pieces. When Ratchet grumbled he couldn't afford hand made furnishings for an apartment that he didn't own yet, Sideswipe offered to buy them ... which disturbed Ratchet deeply, for reasons he couldn't begin to name. He tried to distance himself; Sideswipe clung to him like a space barnacle, meeting him after work and dropping into his office in the middle of the day with fuel in hand.

When Ratchet tried to out-stubborn him and snuck out early, Sideswipe promptly showed up at his warehouse with several cubes of his finest high grade.

Ratchet eyed the stack of cubes and then said, "I'm trying to cut back, you know."

Sideswipe shrugged. "Hope you're not planning to withdraw without medical supervision."

Sideswipe had seen his share of withdrawal symptoms; the warrior had lived a rough and tumble life from a very young age. He was right. Ratchet would need medical supervision to stop safely. Ratchet wasn't good at asking for help, particularly from his colleagues. Even if he wanted to stop, which he didn't, he wasn't sure if he could face the shame of turning to First Aid or Hoist to detox.

"Drink the cube, doc." Sideswipe pushed high grade into his hands. "When you're ready to stop, you should, but until then, you need to stop buying Swindle's sludge from that vending machine on Gear Street. That stuff clogs your filters and corrodes your tank."

Sideswipe wasn't wrong. And it was good high grade.

Ratchet told himself that the warm feeling in his spark was from the high grade, and not a reaction to the fact that Sideswipe was aggressively seeking out his company and cared about his welfare.

They sat together on the shore, sharing the high grade and watching tall waves crash on a slaggy shore. Neither said anything, though after a bit, Sideswipe leaned over sideways and rested his helm against Ratchet's shoulder.

"Wanna frag?"

"Not yet." It was a beautiful evening. The sky was as red as the surf, and a few stars were coming out. He just wanted to sit here and relax for a bit. He put an arm around Sideswipe's shoulders, and pulled Sideswipe closer. Ratchet didn't do 'cuddling' but it felt good to curl up with a mech who was his friend and lover. He pressed a kiss to Sideswipe's helm, and traced an old scar, barely visible, on Sideswipe's cheek. In a low voice, he said, "You are ridiculously good looking, you know."

"I know," SIdeswipe assured him, with a grin.

"You mean a lot to me. I want you to know that. I know I'm difficult, and ..."

Sideswipe interrupted him, "Yeah, you're an aft, but you're a handsome aft. I could frag you ten times a day."

He frowned, vaguely hurt.


Sideswipe didn't like to sit still for long (somewhat to Ratchet's irritation) but the view was good when he jumped up and started exploring the rocky coast. He was athletic, agile, with long legs and a pleasing height -- Ratchet was unabashedly attracted to tall, brightly colored, mecha.

It also turned out he was a lot better at skipping slag across the waves than Rodimus.




Ratchet woke the following morning to the sound of pounding, and the crackle of a welding torch. He sat up, peered into the gloom of his ramshackle warehouse's cavernous interior, and saw two bots doing something to a broken window.

Sideswipe.

And Sunstreaker.

"What are you doing?" He demanded, grumpy. They were modifying his home. He reached down and saw red paint nanytes on his chassis; he licked a thumb and impatiently scrubbed them off with a bit of oral lubricant before getting up.

"This place is a disaster." Sunstreaker said. He was never one to mince words. "It's filthy, the roof leaks, and it's structurally unstable."

"Yes, I am aware of that. What are you doing?"

"Fixing it." Sunstreaker said. "If my brother's going to be spending time here, I'm not going to have him exposed to the elements and sleeping on the ground."

"..." He really should have repaired the place, at least enough so that it wasn't a health hazard, many years ago. Instead, he'd just let it decay further, and used the storage areas to dispose of his trash. There were seventy years of empty energon cubes tossed into back of the warehouse, in addition to those piled up in front of the broken windows. He swept the dirt away from where he slept because it was uncomfortable to recharge on and got into his joints, but otherwise, he just didn't bother with housekeeping.

Acute, horrible, shame welled up. They must think the worst of him.

Even a month ago, he would have ordered them out in indignant rage. Now, however, the thought of the hurt in Sideswipe's optics made him bite his tongue. It took real effort, but he managed to finally respond to them with civility. "Don't bother fixing anything, Sunny. I'm moving out anyway. Sideswipe and Rodimus have both been after me to live on campus."

He didn't tell them that Rodimus wanted him living in town because Roddy was fearful of a Quintesson attack. They didn't need to know that; neither had the security clearance or a current need-to-know. Rodimus had spoken to him a few times since he'd been hired by the university, and had expressed concern that if a surprise attack came at night he'd be shut out by the city's automated defenses. Ratchet, for all that he was a cranky old curmudgeon with a bad drinking habit, still had a familiar desire to fix mechanisms when they were damaged, and he couldn't do that if he was on the wrong side of the city's force shield. It had been the best argument that Rodimus could have made.

He'd resisted anyway. He didn't want to live around his old friends. Seeing the Autobots' inner circle, without Optimus leading them, was just so very painful. There were too many memories, too many reminders, in everything they said and did.

But Rodimus's concerns were valid, and his logic inarguable.

And now, with the twins fixing up his warehouse, he was embarrassed and ashamed by his current residence. He had two options: kick them out, or move. Moving seemed easier since Sideswipe couldn't be chased off with insults or threats, and anyway, he was getting attached to Sideswipe. The mech was a skilled lover, easy on the optics, and he didn't seem inclined to go anywhere. Maybe they couldn't make the ultimate commitment, but he dared to hope they might have something long-lasting.
 
Both Sides and his brother brightened up as he mentioned 'moving.' Ratchet was relieved; he wouldn't have them poking through his warehouse and seeing just how bad some of the darkest corners of it were ... and that staff apartment on the top floor of the tower did have a fantastic view. He could see himself sitting in a recliner by the window and watching the sun set while sipping an elegant cube of fine high grade.

Sunny said, "Can we help you move in? No offense, Ratchet, but this place is disgusting."

He took offense. He was very bad at accepting help.

In the end, however, they gave him no other option. By the following day, he was moved into the tidy little apartment next to Bluestreak on the top floor of the residential tower. He didn't exactly have many possessions to move that were worth the effort, so all he really had to do was complete some paperwork and put a deposit down.

Sideswipe gifted him with ten cubes of the very finest aged high grade from one of his refineries, and the twins picked out his furnishings and proved to have very good taste. After a vorn spent sleeping on the floor, the gel-filled mattress on the extremely oversized berth was an unaccustomated luxury. He also had a proper wash rack with steaming hot solvent instead of buckets of soapy water and sponges. It didn't escape his notice that the berth that Sideswipe chose was big enough for two large mecha, or that Sideswipe was willing and eager to spend money on him. (He did have money in savings, but Sideswipe refused to let him pay.)

Perhaps Sideswipe was thinking about moving in with him? He wasn't sure; he didn't dare ask, but it looked hopeful.


Sideswipe had business on Earth that night, though they 'tested out' the berth before he left. The apartment was too quiet, and he wasn't sure what to do with himself after Sideswipe was gone. He was tempted to go bug Bluestreak or look up his old friends, but he doubted they'd want to spend time with him -- they had their own lives now, and he'd managed to alienate every mech he'd ever been close to. His fault, that.

In the end, Ratchet simply drank all ten cubes of high grade by himself and was hung over and extra-cranky in class the next day.

Chapter Text

One of his students stood out as exceptional.

His name was Anodyne. 'Dyne, as everyone but his parents called him, was tall and swiftly powerful, his build the result of being a mix of host and warframe transport. The combination resulted in a a mecha with as much mass and height as the late Megatron, though Megatron would never have been caught dead wearing Anodyne's snazzy chocolate brown and bright gold colors. From Soundwave, Anodyne had inherited both a host's symbiont docks and Soundwave's steady disposition. His sire (Soundwave was his carrier) was an engineer who was nearly as calm as Soundwave. Both his creators were startlingly intelligent, and that, too, showed. He also a powerful spark; not quite an alpha, but very close to that spectrum, which meant he had the power to support substantial mods.

Besides formidably heavy armor, multiple weapons mounts, and a jet pack, his family had invested in extensive neural upgrades. Like many mecha with powerful sparks he was a natural empath, and they'd enhanced that with a chip so that, if and when he chose, he had true telepathy. (He rarely chose. He claimed most mecha were boring, and anyway, they noticed if he started poking around in their heads, and besides that, it was wrong to do so without consent.) He had expanded memory and a tactical sub-processor that rivaled Prowl's. He also had a spatial calculator that could be used in the future to support either a hard light generator or a warp drive, though he had neither yet as the spatial calculator mods had only recently been installed  and the neural connections to his primary processor were still forming.

Still, he wasn't the only mechanism with neural mods in the class (Groove's kid had similar upgrades, minus the telepathy; Skyfire's son had even more neural upgrades and fewer weapons mounts) and yet Anodyne was the only mech in the class who still had a hundred percent test scores after the mid terms. His felinoid symbiont, who was only allowed to audit the class for political reasons, had scored exceptionally well also. Both had been wearing neural inhibitors during tests, so they had not been cheating by collaborating with each other.

Ratchet pulled him aside after class, on a day when Anodyne had given some exceptionally keen answers to Ratchet's typically pointed questions. The feline symbiont wordlessly leaned against Anodyne's knees, watching him with interest. "Kid," he said, "you ever think of actually going into medicine? Not just training as a medic, but as a physician?"

Anodyne had amber optics to go with his gold-and-brown frame paint; they were midpoint on the spectrum between his bright gold trim and his dark brown armor. He blinked twice at the question, and said, "I'm an telepath. Soundwave warned me that might not go over well with patients. He's encouraging me to go into the military."

So the kid had thought about it. Ratchet grunted. "Beggars can't be chosers. In the golden age, when there were tens of thousands of physicians on Cybertron, I'd have agreed with Sounders. Right now, I'm the only fully qualified physician on the planet, and there's only one of me. We have single-specialty techs and trauma medics, and me. And there is a place for telepathy, and most certainly for empathy, in medicine."

Anodyne tilted his head sideways, very like his carrier, as he considered.

"You have the mental aptitude," he prompted. "You'd be wasted in the military unless you went into tactical and we've got a lot more tacticians than we do medics. Smokescreen's trying to breed a whole division by himself."

Anodyne frowned, and ignored the comment about the notably fertile Praxian. "You're not bothered by the fact I'm a telepath?"

Ratchet's snort was nearly indignant. "I'd know if you were reading me, and I'd kick your aft across the room. It's not exactly a subtle talent."

Anodyne's smile was nothing at all like his carrier's. Ratchet had seen Soundwave smile a few times; when Soundwave smiled, it was always genuine, but so fleeting one might miss it. Anodyne's grin was big, and broad, and open; an honest, happy expression. He favored Ratchet with that expression now. "I forgot; you have intelligence training."

"Damn straight. I know that telepaths can't scan someone without creating an obvious processor lag, and unless they're incredibly skilled at hacking, they also create an obvious trail of search queries and directory access in your processor logs. At any rate, I could probably fight you off, too, if I had to. Jazz taught me quite a bit." Well, he was probably exaggerating his talents a bit there; Jazz had been pretty blunt in his assessment that Ratchet was one of the least mentally disciplined mecha he'd ever had the privilege to work with. But Anodyne didn't know that. And Ratchet did know the theory on how to defeat a telepath, he just wasn't the most talented at implementing it. He had neither the spark talent nor the right type of processor for literal mind games.

Optimus, by contrast, had been one of Jazz's best students. Few had realized just how very disciplined Optimus's mind was, or how truly intelligent the Prime had been.

Ratchet continued, in full snark mode, "But, I bet half the kids these days think you can simply look at them and know their darkest innermost secrets ... of which, most of these kids have frighteningly few."

Anodyne nodded. His mouth twisted down a bit, though the smile stayed on his face. "Yep. If you will ... help me ... I'd like to study medicine."

Ratchet said, "Good. You put in the effort, and I'll open the doors for you. You ever start slacking or take this opportunity for granted and I'll kick you into orbit and find some other idiot to take your place. You are not the only little genius on this campus, you're just the one I like the best today."

Anodyne saluted him. "Sir, yes sir!"

"And don't be a smart aft. That's my job."




Iacon University's medical department was structured to teach medical technicians. Cybertron truly had a shortage of skilled and experienced physicians, with Ratchet, Hook, and First Aid being the only three physicians with full accreditation -- and the latter two were currently on Earth. The rest of the mecha in the medical field were technicians with a narrow and highly focused specialty in one area, and scant knowledge of others. (Some of the techs had picked up a working general knowledge of Cybertronian medicine during the war, but Ratchet had found that knowledge to be frighteningly full of the holes and false assumptions that came from informal, on-the-job training.)

Ratchet summoned the rest of the medical staff together to discuss Anodyne's education. Even before they arrived at the meeting, they peppered him with questions about why he wanted to expend so many precious resources on one student.

("And he's a telepath! He should go into intelligence like his carrier! He'll scare his patients!" Hoist had objected.

Ratchet had replied, "I scare my patients, but that doesn't stop them from healing."

Hoist had answered, "Yeah, they heal faster just so they can get out of your ward."

"You're not supposed to snark at your superior officers."

"And I'm very glad you're just my boss and not my CO these days," Hoist had replied. "Sir!")

Now, at the meeting, there were frowns all around. Ratchet glared right back; this was his department-head scowl, not his go-away-and-die-in-a-fire scowl, though only the mecha who knew him best would have been able to distinguish the two expressions. Unfortunately, both Hoist and Swoop fell into that category and knew they could risk arguing with him, and Rung would argue with him regardless of his mood. Rung was older than he was, not afraid of anything despite the little mech's notable lack of height, and the only thing that kept Rung from being a candidate for department head was that he was far too busy treating the war's psychological casualties. (Which was basically every surviving mechanism on the planet; the neutrals had seen their world destroyed, and the soldiers had done the destroying, and both groups were traumatized.)

Rung was a shrink, not a physician, but he was fully qualified in his field and anyway, Ratchet knew that the ancient mech could wield a laser scalpel with the best of them if push came to shove. You didn't survive a few hundred thousand vorn without picking up a few extra skills.

Hoist, ignoring Ratchet's not-quite-deadly glower, said, "With all due respect, Ratchet, if the kid's interested in medicine I won't stop him. I had him in Hydraulic Field Repairs last semester and he's sharp as a laser scalpel. But he should focus on one area first, and then work on other specialties later."

"Faster that way," Glit agreed. Glit, being a Decepticon who'd never fought against or alongside Ratchet, didn't know him very well, but he was taking his cues from the two  former Autobots. "We'd get a fully qualified tech in a few years. Then he can go back and study other fields, as he has time."

Hoist nodded at the cybercat medic, then added, "We could use a good processor tech, to install upgrades and expansions, right away. First Aid and Wheeljack are the only mecha I'd trust to do a mod right now, or replace damaged components, and they're on earth."

Ratchet huffed a sigh. "I know. But I'm one mech. If anything happens to me, there's nobody left qualified in any number of specialties. The fastest way to get him up to speed on multiple disciplines is to teach him multiple disciplines at once. The reason I picked him out is that he has a phenomenal memory and formidable information processing capability. A lot like his carrier, in that regard, I think. It's a spark trait; he has excellent mods, and the personality to use them fully."

Rung said slowly, "Do you think we will need more physicians?"

Rung was frighteningly perceptive, and old enough to have lived through not just the last war, but several before it. He was studying Ratchet with worried look.

"We always need more docs." Ratchet said. "And you can draw your own conclusions about why."

Rung clearly got it, because he looked around the room at the others: Swoop, Hoist, Glit, the rest of the Constructicons, Scalpel, Nickel, and others. Then he said, "I think Ratchet is correct ..."

Glit interrupted him. "If someone's going to be up-trained to be a full physician it should be one of the staff. I'll volunteer -- I'm most of the way there anyway, and it wouldn't take much to get full certification."

Ratchet shook his head. "Because you are most of the way there, you are capable of studying for the tests yourself, in your free time. I'll assist if you want, as will everyone else. Ultimately, however, we will be mentoring Anodyne, because he has the processor mods and the spark gifts to become another fully trained physician in less time than any other student. As you said, you're mostly trained. He's not. Tactically speaking, and this is a tactical decision ..." he let them, all old soldiers, draw the inferences they should from that phrasing, "... it's most logical to train him. And that's what we'll do."

"But ..." Scalpel objected. "There's also a kid in one of my classes ..."

"Radar, yes, you've pointed him out a few times," Ratchet said, with rapidly slipping patience. "Anodyne's technical scores are better, and his mods more advanced."

"That's functionalist thinking," Scalpel objected, and several mecha sucked in breaths at his words. That was an insult; a grave one. Ratchet wasn't exactly known for tolerating insults. "My student would be just as good as Anodyne if he had the same mods!"

"Your kid doesn't have the spark strength to support the same level of modification that Anodyne has." Ratchet's voice was icy cold. Later, he would throw a few empty cubes at the wall and rage in private before drinking heavily. Being accused of being a functionalist did not sit well with him; he'd fought against their way of thinking for most of his life. "Tactically speaking, we have to deal in hard facts and reality. Anodyne was gifted by Primus with abilities your student doesn't have. Could your student be as good as any of us someday? Certainly. But Anodyne will get there faster. Meanwhile, your student is one who should be taught a technical specialty and certified as quickly as possible. I believe you've proposed that he be trained to be a combat medic in the past, so I do expect to see him in my trauma class next semester."

In the end, he had to pull rank on his subordinates. They grumbled, but he was resolute, and he won this round ... though he had no doubt that the subject would be revisited again.

Anodyne's schedule was changed: He would spend half a day in classes, and the other half shadowing one of a dozen technicians at the medical center, or in one-on-one tutoring with Ratchet. The precious time each day he would get with Ratchet or the other staff would set him apart from the other students, but Anodyne was eager enough to learn that he said he didn't care. And Ratchet didn't give a scrap what anyone else would think.




"Ratchet, thank you," Anodyne said, as he sat down on the other side of a table from Ratchet.

"You can thank me by not screwing up. I stuck my neck out for you, kid. I'll look a fool if you don't live up to my assessment of your potential." Ratchet growled at him, then set a datapad down, before Anodyne could stammer out a response to that. "Here, this is a lecture I recorded about fifty thousand vorns ago, and I mean that literally. It dovetails with the trauma class you're taking -- it's on extremity crush injuries, and how to fabricate field repairs. Watch it. Do whatever secondary research you think is appropriate. Then," he pulled somebody's actual arm from his subspace and plunked it down on the table, "make a field-expedient repair to this that could hold a bladed weapon or shoot a blaster."

Anodyne blinked at the arm, which was thoroughly smashed from the wrist down. Then he looked up at Ratchet.

Ratchet added, "You have two hours."

"... what?"

Generously, he added, "The clock starts after you finish watching that video. You have five minutes to watch the video."

He peered at the datapad. "That's a six hour lecture."

Ratchet shrugged. "So use those fancy mods of yours to jack in and watch it on fast forward."

"I ..."

"Are you going to tell me you can't do it?"

"I'll try," Anodyne said, a bit dubiously.

"Fail now, and I'll just mock you. Fail in the field, and the consequences are a helluva lot more dire. Trauma medicine isn't just about saving lives, it's about getting soldiers back into fighting condition as fast as possible, which also saves lives and sometimes wins battles."

It wasn't exactly a traditional method of teaching students, but it was one which Ratchet had used for a few of his better proteges, including First Aid and Swoop.

Anodyne created a functional three-fingered claw of a hand in an hour and thirty minutes. He seemed surprised by his success. Ratchet wasn't, however.

"Congrats, kid," he said, "you've managed to impress me. I did the same thing with First Aid during the war, and he threw up the contents of his tank all over the table."

"He did?" Anodyne said, startled.

Ratchet smirked. "Of course, his gestalt had killed the mech who'd owned that arm ... Never did understand why he took a vow of pacifisim the next day."

Chapter Text

Three days later, Anodyne didn't come to class.

Ratchet pinged him.

No answer.

It wasn't like his star pupil to be absent. He was worried, but he had a class to teach.

Anodyne still wasn't responding when the class was over.

Ratchet worried for a bit longer, then finally pinged Soundwave.

:Department Head Ratchet.: Soundwave responded immediately.

:You hear from your kid lately?:

:... Reference intended: Anodyne?:

Belatedly, he remembered that Soundwave had numerous children. Anodyne was the eldest.

:Yes, that one. Your little brown genius, the one I'm tutoring every day. Have you seen him?.:

:Negative.: Soundwave wasn't emotive under the best -- or worst -- of circumstances. Still, Ratchet thought he heard a hint of concern in the old host's voice.

:Any idea where he might be?:

:Negative. He is reliable. Contact attempted via Skitter?:

Skitter was his symbiont. It hadn't occurred to him to even try. He should have known better; symbionts were fully sapient, and as Skitter's test scores showed, she was on the 'genius' level of the sentience spectrum herself. He growled aloud, but not over the comm, at his own stupidity.

:Skitter, Anodyne, not yet sparkbonded. He is too young.: Soundwave said, then he elaborated, and dropped his customary extreme formality as he did so, :I just spoke to her. She is worried, as he left for class at dawn. She skipped class to care for an ill human friend; she was unaware he was missing. Search initiated by my clan now. I will notify authorities. Will you check the medical center and speak to his friends?:

:Will do, Soundwave.:  Anodyne didn't have any other full-frame Cybertronian friends that Ratchet knew of, but he did have a handful of human and symbiont friends.

 




It was Ravage who found Anodyne a few hours after dark, unconscious in a culvert. It appeared that the large young host had wedged himself into an improbably small place to elude pursuers, then very nearly bled out from internal injuries. He was badly beaten.

Ratchet got a ping from Iacon's medical center shortly after they found him. Glit, on duty, said, :I know you're not on the staff roster, but this is serious. We need your skills.:

Anodyne nearly died anyway, but Ratchet worked into the night, and pulled off a miracle, and the kid was still ventilating come dawn.

Ratchet washed the energon, coolant, hydraulic fluid, and joint lube from his frame, and then found Skyfire.

"I got him conscious for a bit," he said, without preamble. "He says he was attacked by a couple other students -- he's being bullied. He never said a word. I had no idea."

Skyfire blew a sharp, angry, gust of air out of his vents. "I experienced much the same, and likely for the same reasons. He is getting special treatment, and others resent it. This is compounded by the fact that he is different by virtue of his frame type, and of what many consider a lower class of mech, and many find him threatening due to his ... culture."

"I don't care about the reasons." Ratchet snapped. "I want them expelled."

"Did he give you names?"

"Music."

Skyfire clapped a hand to his face. "Quasar, too?"

"He didn't mention a Quasar."

"Starscream will kill him anyway ..." Skyfire mused. "Quay is Starscream's only kid and lately, he's been running with that slagger. Music is Jazz's, believe it or not, but I swear he's just wired wrong. He's been breaking Jazz's spark since the day he was born."

"Slaggit. Jazz is a dangerous little fragger, but he's never been a bully." Jazz never spoke about his child; all Ratchet really knew was that he was a single parent, and that Jazz currently ran campus security. This was going to be awkward.

He hadn't realized he'd said the last bit aloud until Skyfire shook his head. "Jazz will be harder on him than he is on anyone else. He has no illusions about that youngling. He's tried so hard ... I wish we had a mnemnosurgeon, but we don't. Rung isn't sure if it's a spark trait or a wiring problem, but he's the worst kind of narcissistic sociopath. Our tactic with him, of late, is to simply make getting in trouble too much of a hassle. He has zero empathy for others."

"Sounds like he got a dose of what makes Jazz effective as a spy, but he's missing Jazz's empathy, and his sense of integrity, honor, all that slag." Ratchet folded his arms across his chest. Pit, he could use a drink, but it was so late -- early -- that he'd never sober up in time for class. "Tell you what. He's still a minor, right?"

"Unfortunately, no. He just turned one vorn."

"Slag. Well, if I can get permission to review his medical records, I'll do it. Maybe we're missing something that can be fixed."

"Sure. Aid's scanned his processor a few times and nothing comes up, but you're welcome to look if he'll okay it." Skyfire said. Then he added, "Think you could find time for a few shifts at the medical center? They could use you."

While Anodyne's injuries had been horrific, returning to the operating theater had felt like coming home. He nodded, without giving it much thought. "Certainly. No offense, but you need me."

"None taken. We do."

--

After class, and after he'd finished his administrative duties for the day, he headed off to see Anodyne. It was just barely dusk when he entered the medical center and rode the lift up to Anodyne's second-floor room.

The young host was awake, and his carrier was with him. Skitter was curled up in deep recharge next to Anodyne on the berth, and Ratchet wasn't surprised by that, as the symbiont had actually attended class and recorded the lectures for him after being up all night while her host-to-be was in surgery.

Soundwave regarded Ratchet with a level gaze for a long moment then said, simply, "Thank you. For my son."

He nodded and replied in a soft voice. "Just doing my job."

Soundwave inclined his head in acknowledgement. "I must go."

After Soundwave had departed, Anodyne rolled his optics. "Sorry. His social skills suck."

"What? Oh. Yeah, I've known Soundwave for a very long time, kid. Long before the war ever began. For him, that was positively chatty."

Anodyne reached to stroke Skitter's sleeping form, then winced as the motion stressed his brand new repairs. Ratchet said, "You're going to be sore for awhile -- the slagger really did a number on you. I'm going to scan you, and then I've got some work left to do on your right hand. I can tell you lead with your right, by the way."

The host smirked. "I wish I could say I gave as good as I got, but I didn't. I decked him a few times before he took me down."

They talked, quietly, as Ratchet worked on Anodyne's battered knuckles. "You should take some self-defense classes."

"My parents said the same thing." Anodyne frowned. "Empath, you know. I don't like hurting people."

"Me neither, but I like being hurt even less."

"Fair point."




Ratchet intended to go straight home, but he got to talking shop with Swoop instead, and then he ended up consulting on a few difficult orthopedic cases that were beyond the medical tech's expertise in frame repairs. By the time he headed home, it was well after midnight.

He collapsed into the berth face-first. There was a weird buzzing in his circuits,  he felt vaguely agitated, and he had a fierce craving for high grade. However exhaustion and stubborn pride (he would never teach his morning class drunk) won out and recharge claimed him almost instantly.

Chapter Text

Ratchet woke to pain.

He tried to scream.

His vocalizer spat only static. He couldn't draw air through his intake. He was so damned hot. The lights overhead were far too bright.

"He's awake!" Somebody shouted.

"What do we do?" Somebody else screamed.

"Put him back under!" That was First Aid, who followed that up with, "Idiot! Out of my way!"




It seemed like no time had passed, but when he opened his optics again, he was staring up at the thin pressed-tin drop ceiling in the intensive care ward at the medical center.

"The slag?" he said. Or tried to say. He couldn't speak.

"Easy, Ratch." First Aid's voice came from nearby. The younger doctor's hands folded around one of his, and gave a comforting squeeze. "You're in Iacon Medical Center. You've been  here a week. Your vocalizer is offline because you kept screaming and you were damaging it. You also have IVs in your arms."

He focused on First Aid's face. 'Aid looked very tired.

"I'm going to turn your vocalizer on, but if you start screaming, I will shut it off again. "

Aid fussed at a bedside datapad. Ratchet realized the device was wired directly into one of his dataports. This meant he was getting external life support, so something had damaged his autonomics so severely that he wasn't able to maintain his own critical functions. First Aid could also use that 'pad to mute him, and evidently did.

He had no memory of screaming.

He had no idea why he was here.

Still, the first thing he said when he could operate his own vocalizer again was, "Aren't you supposed to be on Earth?"

"I was," Aid's face showed frank relief. "Do you know what day it is?"

He checked his chronometer, and gave an accurate response.

First Aid nodded. "Who's ..." He paused. Likely, the next question he asked most mecha would have been, "Who's the Prime?" but First Aid had better tact than that. He said, "Who's the University Dean?"  

"Skyfire."

Something felt weird about his spark. He was not alone; there was a presence in his subconscious. An artifact of the equipment, perhaps? He'd heard some mecha complain that spark-support equipment felt like being hacked, though this was different.

"Excellent. And I was on Earth, but they called me back when you had an arc-out. You nearly died, Ratchet." First Aid sat down on the side of the bed, and gripped his shoulder. Ratchet realized his medical pack, a mod that he'd had since he was a youngling, had been removed from his back, and his arms were missing their guns. "It was touch and go for several days. You ... you are a colossal idiot."

"I'm old. Arc-outs happen."

"You know better." First Aid glared at him. "You've been drinking yourself unconscious for over eighty earth years, every. Single. Night. If you want to detox, you need to do it under medical supervision. You didn't. You had a severe glitch because of the energy imbalance, and it turned into a major arc-out due to thermal damage to your processor."

"Slag. What'd I lose?" His spark felt so strange. He reached up and rubbed at his chest plates. It felt ... the machinery he was hooked to felt ... scared. And his hand thumped hard into his chest, flopping like a fish against the plating.

"Motor functions." First Aid glowered. "And you damaged your spark, too, due to the level of stress, and you bent a rod in your power plant. We had to strip your mods off because you can't support them until your spark recovers. And then you hallucinated for six days straight because we had to detox you the hard way so we could repair the neural damage. You didn't just hurt yourself, you hurt Resonance, too -- I knew something was wrong with you because he collapsed right in front of me for no reason. He has no experience with the pain from damage, and he felt yours like you were in the same room with him despite being halfway across the galaxy."

He growled. It came out as scratching static.

"Oh, no." First Aid stood up, both hands folding over his chassis. "Don't you snarl at me. You're going to listen to me. You get to do whatever the slag you want to do to yourself, but if you start doing stupid things that hurt Res, I swear to Primus I'll have you forcibly committed."

"I doubt that will be necessary, 'Aid." A deep voice said, from the room's doorway. "Ratchet, I am glad to see you awake and cognizant. I was very afraid you would die."

He tried to sit upright, and realized for the first time that he was strapped down.

Resonance padded closer.

The shuttle was taller than Skyfire, now; he'd had a growth spurt in the last few months. He'd turned into a very handsome young adult; Ratchet thought he looked strikingly gorgeous, and then got angry at his own treacherous interface drive. He wasn't supposed to be attracted to Res, who represented everything he'd lost!

"What are you doing here?" He spat.

Resonance shrugged, and sat in the spot on the edge of the berth that First Aid had vacated. He reached out, and put a hand on Ratchet's arm. "I know you find my presence ... distasteful ... and for understandable reasons. However, you will need care for a long while. Until you are back on your feet, I have agreed to care for you."

"I don't want you!" He realized he sounded like a petulant child as soon as the words left his vocalizer. That he was hoarse did not help the effect.

"We are bondmates. Not only is it my place to assist you, I am actually legally obligated." Resonance said, utterly calm and with a determined glint to his optics that promised he could match Ratchet's own stubborness and, if necessary, surpass it.

"I bonded with Prime. Not you."

Resonance shrugged. "Be that as it may, here I am. "

Chapter Text

His hands shook, his fingers curled into useless claws. When he tried to move, every motion was comically exaggerated. His legs neither willingly bore his weight nor did what he told them. He sat in a float chair in the hallway, waiting for First Aid to take him down to the gym for physical therapy, and fumed at the world.

The damaged motor control circuits had been replaced, but his auto-repair still had grow neural connections to the new parts. That meant weeks, if not months, of disability and hard work to regain what he had lost.

He really wanted a drink. He didn't want to contemplate the embarrassment and inconvenience and absolute slagging misery that his near future held. He would be reliant on others until he was back on his feet (literally, back on his feet) and one of those 'others' was Resonance. The absolute last thing he wanted to do was spend any time at all in Resonance's company. Pit, he wanted a drink. He wanted a drink now, and then several more.


Resonance, who hadn't left his side in several days, and who was almost unnaturally patient with him, clearly overheard that thought. He gave Ratchet a sharp look, then said, "Is that wise?"

"No," he replied, truculent, and annoyed by his inability to maintain shields. Resonance seemed to have phenomenal mental discipline. The only thing he detected from the big shuttle were the occasional flickers of emotions and his sheer presence. He glared up at Resonance (looking up made his head bob erratically due to his damage) and tried not to notice that the shuttle was too handsome for his own good. Ratchet had always liked tall mecha, and Resonance, from the angle of Ratchet's position in his float chair,  was a long-legged and broad-shouldered giant, with upswept wings and shiny, shiny, paint.

Irritated at himself for noticing Resonance's gorgeous frame, he snapped, "Nobody ever accused me of being wise. I'm smart, not wise. "

His answer earned him a flicker of irritation from the shuttle, but no real anger.

"You're running clean," the shuttle pointed out. "If you start drinking again, you'll have to detox all over. That was absolutely no fun; you were hallucinating that there were scraplets under your plating for several days straight. You gave me hallucinations, and it was a literal nightmare."

"I don't remember that, and I don't want to be sober. I don't have to detox if I never stop drinking again."

Resonance sighed. "Are you always this angry?"

"Pretty much, yes."

"Oh, don't let him lie to you." Anodyne's voice carried the length of the hall. "He exaggerates. He's only pissed off about fifty percent of the time."

Ratchet didn't want to be seen in a float chair, particularly by his youngest protege. He started to struggle to his feet. Resonance planted a hand on his shoulder and forcibly kept him in the chair. He growled, but subsided. It wasn't worth making a public scene over, though he'd be sure to give Res a piece of his mind later.

"I'm Anodyne," the host said, as he approached. He looked up at Resonance, and Ratchet didn't miss the way that Anodyne's eyes scanned the handsome young shuttle's frame. "I haven't seen you around before ... are you Resonance? Skyfire's sons have mentioned you a few times."

There were only so many shuttles left alive.

"I am Resonance, yes."

"What are you doing with Ratchet?" If Ratchet was reading him right, 'Dyne was being protective. Hosts were programmed to protect those they considered weaker than themselves. That Anodyne felt like he had to protect Ratchet grated. He snapped, "Anodyne, why are you even out of bed?"

"First Aid cleared me to resume normal activities two days ago, old mech." Anodyne said, genially. To Resonance, he repeated, "Resonance, how do you know the good doctor?"


"Cool it, 'Dyne." Ratchet said, firmly. "Resonance is a friend of mine. I know him from Earth."

"You haven't been on Earth in almost a vorn." Anodyne said, stubbornly skeptical. "And Resonance is a youngling -- I know he was found in a vat, because everyone knows his story. He's not any older than I am."

"He's had a total frame rebuild. He's older than he looks." Ratchet growled.

Gratitude pulsed across the bond, which he could have done without. He hated that bond. Every time he felt it, it reminded him of what he'd lost. However, Resonance said ruefully to Anodyne, "I've also had a processor replacement, so I am a youngling."

"I thought you were found in a vat." Anodyne repeated.

"There's more to that story. I was indeed grown in a vat, but my spark is older than that." Resonance glanced down at Ratchet. "Ratchet and my predecessor were friends before that happened -- good friends, apparently. I'm still legally his next of kin as he's never named another. They thought he might die, so they called me here to handle his affairs, if necessary."

All of that was the complete truth. Ratchet marveled at Resonance's talent for dissembling. Optimus had always been brutally honest. Ratchet, once a politician, had considered Optimus's inability to tell a lie, or even imply an untruth, to be one of his bigger weaknesses as a Prime.

Resonance added, "I expect we're about the same legal age -- about a vorn for you, right? I'm just over that."

"Yes -- I just turned one vorn. You know my age?" Anodyne said, curiously.

Resonance inclined his head in acknowledgement. "First Aid mentioned that you were Ratchet's apprentice. I asked around about you. Ratchet is vulnerable, so I wanted to make sure there would be no ... issues."

Anodyne bristled. "I may be a host, but I'm not the villain of the story. I'm sure they told you all sorts of horrible things about me. You'd have been better off asking Ratchet about me."

Resonance blinked at him in surprise. "I suppose I should have mentioned I trusted the intel I got from Blaster, Jazz, Skyfire, and Steeljaw. There were a few students who said uncomplimentary things about you, but that's just the usual prejudicial crap that you probably have to put up with every day. Did you know they think you're excelling in your classes because you're reading the professors' minds?"

"Yes." Anodyne answered that with a roll of his optics. "I've had it said to my face. Ratchet says if I ever try that with him that he'd throw things at me."

"I would, and you know it." Ratchet was annoyed by the way they were talking over his head. "'Dyne, why don't you take Res and show him around Iacon a bit?"

Anodyne had very few close friends. Resonance was just as intelligent as Ratchet's protege, and Ratchet judged they had compatible interests and personalities. Plus, if Resonance hung out with Anodyne, it would get him out of Ratchet's way.


"I am not going to leave you alone," Resonance said.

"Anodyne, help me out here," Ratchet said, a bit imperiously. "Res thinks I'm an invalid and he refuses to let me have any time alone. If I weren't stuck in this chair, I'd have strangled him by now."

Anodyne traded a look with Resonance, then lifted an optic ridge. "Perhaps we should give the good doc some time alone."

Resonance shifted back and forth, apparently torn. Then he said,  "I promised First Aid that I'd watch him. He's not supposed to be unsupervised. Perhaps another time. I would like to see Iacon."

"I am not a sparkling. I don't need babysitting."

Resonance rested a hand on his shoulder, and said, in a firm voice across the bond, ~Ratchet, I gave my word to First Aid. I'm not going to break it, particularly when I agree with the need.~

He sounded achingly like Optimus. Ratchet knew, from long experience, that when Optimus thought something was a matter of honor, he was utterly inflexible. Ratchet slumped in his chair, kicked irritably at the foot rest, and lapsed into stubborn silence.

Resonance added, ~I am sorry.~

~You shouldn't even be here. I'm not YOUR responsibility. You're a kid. You should be off doing kid things. Not taking care of a tired, bitter, angry, crippled old drunk.~

The hand on his shoulder squeezed tighter. ~I'm here because I want to be. And as you've observed yourself in thoughts you can't seem to keep shielded, I am an adult, not a child.~

He had no answer to that. However, he did have a reasonable suggestion to get Resonance out of his hair. ~Res, call Sideswipe. He can ... babysit ... my aft for a bit, and you can get some free time. You should see Iacon while you can. I expect you'll be going home in a few days.~

~Am I really that annoying?~

~Everything annoys me. Get used to it, kid, or get out of my life. The latter would be preferable.~

Resonance huffed. But he did call Sideswipe ... after calling First Aid to okay the change in 'babysitters'.

Chapter Text

"He's Optimus, isn't he?" Sideswipe said, after Ratchet's physical therapy, and after they'd split a plate of jellies and watched an hour of imported Earth TV in his hospital room. Ratchet was still fuming that Sideswipe had needed to feed him the jellies; he'd tried to feed himself and had smacked himself in the face several times. He was getting all of his nutrition through a port, and this was the first time he'd tried to eat on his own. It had driven home how helpless he was.

"He's not Optimus." Ratchet snapped, angered. "He'll never be Optimus."

"Woah, docbot. I meant, Resonance has Optimus's spark." Sideswipe held his hands up defensively. "I heard he was supposed to be found in a lab on Titan, same time and place Optimus was killed."

"Yeah. He has Optimus's spark." Ratchet  stared across the room at his float chair. He had been absolutely humiliated when Sideswipe had seen him in the chair, and then embarrassed even more when Sides had needed to pick him up from the chair and carry him to his medical berth. His lover wasn't supposed to see him disabled.

"He's a good mech. I've known him on  Earth for awhile.  I do business with Titan Industries, and he's Wheeljack's buying agent, as well as transporting deliveries for him," Sideswipe said, then added, "So ... you and Optimus, huh? 'Dyne said you were bonded to the kid."

"He's young," Ratchet objected. "He's a kid."

"In some ways. In others, he's an old soul. Jackie says he's involved in politics on Titan, and he's well known for being a peacemaker.  And he's so mature -- if I didn't know he was a youngling, I'd swear he was from our generation, not one of these kids."

"He needs to go home. I don't want him here. He reminds me too damn much of Optimus, and it hurts, Sides. It hurts." If Sideswipe had not been his lover he would never have admitted this. He still said it with gritted dental plates.

"Here's the deal with having a bondmate, even one you're only platonically bound to -- he has a part of you in his spark, and you have a part of him. If you send him away, it's like sending a piece of your spark away, Ratchet, and if you hurt him, you are also hurting yourself. Don't hurt him. For your own sake. And for his."

"I don't like relying on people."

"So I've noticed." Sideswipe leaned back in his chair. "But you relied upon Optimus."

"That was different. Optimus was ... Optimus was everything I wanted. And I lost everything I ever wanted." He turned his gaze to Swideswipe. "At least I've got something with you. I didn't even expect to have that much with anyone. I can't bond, who else would want me?"

Sideswipe leaned over from his chair, which was beside the berth, and rested a hand on Ratchet's arm. "You should know, I'm going to Earth for several years. Sunny's got work at a gallery, and I have factories to audit. We'll be back eventually, but ... but we're not exclusive, right? We never have been. I've got ... friends ... on Earth."

Ratchet jerked his arm away. "You're telling me this now?"

"I didn't want you having false assumptions! Besides, I'll be back. I'm not rejecting you, Ratchet. We're just not a couple, not that way. Never have been. I didn't know ... I didn't know you thought you had something with me."

"But you ... you ..." He snapped, "You bought me things. I thought that meant you cared!"

Sideswipe's brows drew together. "I do care. I like buying things for mecha I care about. You're my lover. It's just not exclusive. I thought you understood that. I can't bond with another mech, but I can sure as hell have fun with them. I have fun with lots of mecha."

"Go away, Sideswipe."

"Can't. Promised Res I'd sit with you." Sideswipe said, "And don't be like that, Ratchet. You knew going in that neither of us could commit to the other. We can't bond to other mecha, you and I. It's best if you don't get too close to them."

"Then shut up and watch TV." He reached out and turned the volume up, with a hand that didn't want to cooperate. He out-stubborned the tremors and succeeded, then sat there in fuming silence. He was angrier at himself than at Sideswipe; Sideswipe had never once said anything to indicate that they were exclusive, or that he was interested in commitment. Ratchet had simply assumed the best, given Sideswipe's behavior, and had let himself trust ... just a little.

Foolish, that. Every time he trusted, every time he loved, he had his spark broken.

Pit he wanted a drink.

%MCEPASTEBIN%

Chapter Text

"Did you have a good time with Anodyne?" He asked, when Res returned less than twenty minutes later.

Resonance gave Sideswipe a foul look as he left (Sideswipe looked startled, and then hurried away), then sat down in a chair. "I never would have left if I'd known he was going to break your spark. He could have at least waited until you were stronger, or better yet, never have led you on in the first place.."

"I led myself on. Sideswipe never said a thing about commitment; I just assumed. I was stupid. And how did you ..."

Resonance pointed at his own spark. "You're not very good at blocking anything. I heard and felt it all, from your perspective."

"You're not jealous?"

Resonance shrugged. "I've known about you and Sideswipe since it started. Jazz told me. Jazz knows all. And then when I arrived here on Cybertron, you did think about it a few times without shielding your thoughts. I was glad you'd found a friend, though if I'd known he was such a jerk, I'd have come here sooner and kicked his aft for you proactively."

"He's not a jerk," Ratchet said, softly. "He told me it was casual in the beginning. What's the expression? 'Friends with benefits', the humans say. I was unrealistic to want more."

"No." Resonance reached out and folded his own large hand around Ratchet's. He slid his fingers between Ratchet's digits, and held it tight. "No, you weren't. Why would you say that?"

"I'm old, and I'm cranky, and I'm a drunk and I'm stuck in a bond I don't want. Who else would want me?" He clutched at Resonance's hand without realizing what he was doing at first. Then he stared at the hand, surprised by his own actions, unsure if he wanted to pull away or not.

"Optimus did."

"Optimus was once in a lifetime. I'll never meet anyone like that again, ever." He thought that when Sideswipe came back to Cybertron he might hook up with him again. He'd enjoyed having ... something ... even if it wasn't enough, with another mech. It hurt to know there were other mechanisms in Sideswipe's life, but it hurt more to contemplate being utterly alone. He let go of Resonance's hand.

"You're not alone."

"Stop reading my mind."

"Not like I have a choice; you're loud. Pit, Ratchet, sometimes I could feel you all the way on Earth."

He looked up at Resonance in surprise. "I didn't know that. I can't feel you."

"Jazz says I have very good natural shields. He says you don't."

"Yeah, so did Optimus. He was remarkable in a lot of ways."

"Optimus," Resonance said, reaching out for Resonance's hand again, "must have seen something wonderful in you. Jazz told me that he waited until the end of the war to bond, but as soon as it was clear he wouldn't need to make a political bond, he chose you. He likely could have had his pick of many mecha, and he picked you over all others. That says something about you."

He started to snarl something rude at Resonance. Resonance rested one digit of his free hand over Ratchet's lips and said, "Shh. Don't say it. Just think about what I just said, hmm?"

Resonance's optics were very blue, and very close to his. His finger was warm, and the dermal layer was soft and pliant against the protoskin of Ratchet's lips. Slowly, Ratchet nodded, and Resonance pulled his finger away. "I also think you have more self respect than to continue an affair with Sideswipe simply because you're lonely."

He sighed. "Self respect ... I think I've forgotten what that's like."

Resonance cupped Ratchet's cheek in his warm, firm, hand. "No, you haven't. You can't lie to me, Ratchet. You have never liked casual relationships, and continuing with Sideswipe would only be more self-destructive behavior."

He huffed indignantly, but Resonance was right. So he said nothing.

"Now, Jazz says you like romantic stories. There's a movie I think you might like ..."

Resonance was right about the movie, too. It was stupid and sappy and silly, and he pretended to hate it, but Resonance knew the truth, because Resonance knew his spark.

Ratchet wasn't ready to admit that he was right about other things, but Resonance's words had been nice to hear.

The big shuttle sat in a too-small chair beside his bed, in the same place he'd been for over a week -- for over two weeks, apparently, counting the time that Ratchet had been unconscious or delirious. His long legs spread out across the floor, and his wings spilled over the arms of the chair. When Ratchet glanced over at him, and really looked at him for the first time, he noticed that his expression was tired and his optics just a little unfocused.

"When was the last time you recharged?" He asked, suddenly.

Resonance gave him a surprised look. "I'm fine."

Ratchet focused on that feeling of Resonance in his spark, and tuned into the bond that he normally tried to ignore. Resonance, he could tell, was exhausted. No wonder the shuttle didn't want to go out on the town with Anodyne, he thought, with sudden perception.

Resonance chuckled. "Anodyne offered to let me nap in his room for a few hours when he heard I hadn't recharged in a few days. He's a good mech."

"Oh, Pit. I didn't even notice." Ratchet tried to wipe his hand across his face, and only managed to slap himself in the nasal bridge instead. His motor controls were seriously skewed. "Pit. I'm sorry."

Resonance shrugged.

"Look, why don't you go up to my apartment and recharge there?"

"I promised First Aid I wouldn't leave you unsupervised."

"First Aid is worried I might do something to hurt myself." Ratchet scowled. "I can't say as that wasn't a possibility in the past, but ..."

He trailed off; Resonance seemed to understand what he meant anyway, and nodded. That was a relief. He just didn't like putting his mood into words, because it felt like admitting to a weakness.

Resonance reached out, and squeezed his hand. "I can tell that you're not suicidal. You're angry, but that's justifiable, and you're upset about Sideswipe, but it's a healthy upset. I'll talk to 'Aid. If he okays it, I'll give you some time alone."

"Thank you."

"And a good night's sleep in a proper berth would be wonderful, and I suppose the medical staff can be trusted to fetch you anything you need if I'm gone," Resonance added. "But for now, since I happen to know that First Aid is off shift and probably asleep, you watch the movie and I'll doze in this chair. I'll take you up on an offer of a nap at your apartment later."

"That chair's got to be uncomfortable."

"I grew up on a mining colony. I'm used to confined spaces."

He gave Resonance a startled look, noticing again how small and cramped the chair was and how large Resonance was. The shuttle grinned at him. As jokes went, it wasn't much, but it made Ratchet chuckle and Resonance grin back at him.

Pit, he was so damned handsome when he grinned.

Chapter Text

Skyfire came to see him the next day, while Res was there. It didn't escape Ratchet's notice that Skyfire hugged Res, rather than shaking his hand, and Res contracted his name to 'Fire'. Only Skyfire's closest friends called him 'Fire.' Skyfire and Res, apparently, knew each other fairly well.

"I'll turn in my resignation," Ratchet said, when they turned towards him, not even bothering with 'hello'. He knew why Skyfire was here. He just wanted to get this over with.

Skyfire, to his surprise, gave him an affronted look, and said, "You can still teach when you recover, yes? First Aid will cover your classes through the end of the term, and that will give you time to get better. 'Aid believes you will recover fully."

"I'm a drunk." He slouched in his chair.

Skyfire let out one of his patented long, slow, expressive ventilations. "I'd rather you didn't drink, because it's not good for you, but you're still a good teacher, one way or another. What you do on your own time isn't actually my business. We need you."

"Ratchet," Resonance said, "Skyfire is here to visit you as a friend, not fire you. Skyfire, he thought you were going to terminate him while he was still in his hospital bed."

Skyfire looked hurt.

"And don't be offended by that assumption," Resonance added. "Ratchet's dealt with some pretty big scrap in his life, and he's got a habit of rejecting other people before they can reject him. He actually really wants to stay and teach."

~Stop reading my mind and telling the rest of the world my darkest secrets, idiot youngling,~ Ratchet snarled at him.

~Stop being a jerk, and I won't have to. I'm trying to smooth things over with your friend.~ Resonance said, then added, ~Skyfire cares about you. A lot. We get together several times a year, every time he comes to Earth.~

~He's been gossiping about me to you?~ Ratchet asked, suspiciously.

~Not much to gossip about, until recently,~ Resonance said, ~Every report was pretty much the same -- that you were drinking yourself stupid every night in a run down warehouse on the Rust Sea. Rinse, lather, repeat. For decades. Weren't you bored?~

He considered several answers, including acknowledging that Resonance was right and that it had gotten boring. Finally, however, he settled on a partial truth that seemed like the most disturbing answer, and therefore the answer most likely to encourage Resonance to go away. He told himself that he wasn't enjoying Resonance's company at all. ~My demons keep me entertained.~

~I expect they do.~ Was Resonance's bland answer. Then he prompted, ~You might apologize to Fire.~

"I ... am sorry, Skyfire. Res is right. Sometimes, I expect the worst out of people when I don't have any reason to." His mouth snapped shut. He was surprised at himself. Why had he taken Resonance's advice?  

Skyfire smiled hesitantly. "It's okay, Ratchet. You've got a right to be grumpy and irrational right now."

They made brief small talk, and then Skyfire excused himself. Ratchet slumped back in his bed, shuttering his optics. However, when Resonance reached out and squeezed his arm comfortingly, he automatically jerked it away.

Resonance sighed, and then lowered himself to sit on the floor beside the bed. Due to their great difference in height, this put Resonance's head at the same level as Ratchet's. "Ratchet. Look at me."

Ratchet considered childishly squeezing his optic shutters shut. However, Resonance's spark felt ... warm. Worried. Gentle. Patient. Very much like Optimus.

He couldn't bring himself to hurt the kid any more than he already had simply by existing (and being an idiot) and ...

~You're not an idiot.~ Resonance met his gaze, and smiled hesitantly. ~I need to apologize. I called you a jerk, and I called you stupid. That was rude of me.~

~I was ruder.~

~Yes, you were, but that is not an excuse.~ Resonance smiled hesitantly.

~Put a movie on, kid. Another stupid, brainless, romance.~

Chapter Text

Resonance took him home a few days later. He still wasn't able to walk on his own, and he cringed all the way to his apartment. He hated being seen in the float chair. People did, stare, too. He caught the buzz of encypted comms between mecha and the humans whispered to each other; he knew they were talking about him and his damage.

Inside the apartment, Resonance parked the chair just inside the door. "If you hate that thing," Resonance said, sensibly, "You need to walk ask much as possible and build your strength and coordination up. Take my arm."

He glowered.

"Or sit there. Your choice."

He grabbed onto Resonance's arm, and Resonance helped him stand. They walked to the window, with its spectacular view of Iacon. It wasn't easy, but he made it. There, Resonance put an arm around Ratchet's broad shoulders and said, "See? Not so bad."

That touch was purely platonic, but other than Sideswipe, he hadn't had many people touch him since Optimus had died. Optimus had been known for touching people -- hugs, arms around shoulders, hands on forearms. It felt so much like Optimus was standing beside him that he automatically leaned into the arm around him, relaxing a bit.

Resonance gave him a startled look, and Ratchet realized what he was doing and started to pull away. His knees sagged, and he nearly fell. Resonance caught him, and said, "Let's sit, for a bit."

His couch was big enough for two large mecha, but only barely. He nearly protested when Resonance sat down beside him, but Res put his arm back around his shoulder, and he could feel real concern, honest concern, flowing across the bond.

Moreover, there was respect there.

Ratchet hated sympathy, and he hated accepting help, and he hated 'support' from others, because he hated being pitied. He was not some pitiable wreck. (And he feared he might be a pitiable wreck.)

Resonance, for reasons that perhaps even Res himself couldn't explain, respected him. He didn't see him as weak, or  pathetic, or useless. He didn't see him as a burden. He respected Ratchet, at a spark deep level, despite everything that Ratchet had done to shove him away.

Ratchet keened, softly, and twisted around, and clung to Resonance's chest as the younger mech held him close and rocked him like he was a sparkling. Resonance didn't say a word, for words were not necessary. He simply let Ratchet cry, for all he had lost, and for all he suddenly realized he had ... and had been mistreating.

"I'm not a jerk," he said, finally.

"I never thought you were." Resonance met his gaze. "I thought you were hurting more than any mech should ever have to bear, but never a jerk."

"I acted like one, though. To everyone. To you."

"Mmm. I'm a grown-up. I can take it."

"You shouldn't have to."

"No, I shouldn't," Resonance agreed. "It would be nice if you were less rude."

He had ... he had a bondmate. Not a lover, not Optimus, but he realized he had someone he could rely upon utterly, forever, and for anything he would ever need. Resonance understood him, on a spark deep level, and was, as he'd said, an adult. He had someone in his life he could rely upon.

And Resonance would be going home, soon. That was a terrible realization. Ratchet briefly entertained the thought of following him to Earth, but he also knew, with bitter certainty, that he was needed on Cybertron. Their lack of medical professionals was a real issue. Cybertron, which had already taken so much from him, needed him to rise to the challenge again, and sacrifice again, and he couldn't help but be bitter about it.

"No," Resonance said, answering his unspoke thoughts, "I'm staying. Skyfire says if I can pass the admissions test, I can attend the university next semester. I'd like that. Jackie's already hired Indigo to take my place as Titan Industry's delivery boy."

"But Earth ..."

"Titan is my home, not Earth," Resonance corrected, gently. "And Titan will still be there vorns from now. You need me here, and therefore, here I am."

Chapter Text

He called Jazz the next morning with his apartment's video unit, while Resonance was taking a shower.

"Yeah, docbot?" Jazz looked exhausted when he answered the call. "How ya doing? We've all been worried."

"I'm fine, Jazz. Getting stronger every day." He held his hand up, demonstrating that he was no longer violently shaking when he tried to move. "My coordination is good enough that I can feed myself without giving myself a broken optic. Small victories."

Jazz snorted. "So wassup?"

"Couple of things. One, I told Fire I'd look at your kid's medical records, if you can talk him into it."

"That'd be appreciated. He's going to be doing some time over what he did to 'Dyne. But once he gets out ... well, ah'd like for him to be fixed before he's released. He's a menace."

"Sure, no problem. I wish I'd known there was a suspicion of a medical issue before now. Get him to give permission, and I'll be happy to look them over. I can't promise anything, but it's worth a shot."

Jazz was very quiet, for a moment, and he studied Ratchet intently. "You look good, doc. That handsome shuttle taking care of you?"

"He's annoyingly good at it." Ratchet rolled his optics. "And the second thing I meant to ask you was if you could come over here a bit."

His spark seemed to freeze inside his chest as soon as the words left his vocalizer. If Jazz said no ... well, he wouldn't he surprised, but it'd hurt. A lot. Jazz had once been his friend, but he hadn't done much for Jazz lately, and he didn't know if their friendship still stood.

"Ah, sure. When? Wassup?"

"I can't walk yet, and Resonance won't leave me alone in my apartment unless there's someone else he trusts here, just in case I need something. He's gotten annoyingly protective after one of my babysitters hurt my poor little feelings." He huffed his opinion of that. He could take care of himself, thank you very much. "Think you could come over for a few hours this evening? I'll have some quality munchies delivered, and we can watch a movie or something."

Jazz looked at Ratchet over the top of his visor. "Sure. Ah guess ah'm free tonight. What's Res got planned?"

"Nothin', yet, but he's a young mech and he needs time t' get out and be young. It's Friday. I'm sure he can find something."

"Ah'm not so sure that kid was ever young." Jazz chuckled. "He's not the go-out-on-the-town-and-party kind."

"It's not fair to him be cooped up with just me for company. I'm afraid I'm not very good company." He was embarrassed by the way he'd cried on Resonance's shoulder the day before. He needed to make it up to Res somehow, and kicking the kid out of the house for a few hours seemed reasonable. "I'll ... I'll ask Bluestreak to show him around. Blue is young enough to be fun."

Jazz snorted. "You sayin' ah'm not young enough to be fun? Old mech, I'm older than you and ah'll have you know ah'm the life of a party. Age is all in your head, Ratchet, particularly for us. Ya could live another fifty thousand vorns. Or far more than that, if you actually take care of yasself. How old's Alpha Trion? Something close to two million, isn't it? Next to him, yer just a baby. So knock off the 'old mech' slag. It's getting OLD."

He leaned back in his chair, startled by Jazz's vehemence.

"But yes. Ah'll come over. If only because if ah were in Resonance's treads, ah'd be ready for a break from cranky old you."

---

Bluestreak was busy, it turned out -- he had a lover, and they'd planned a long drive for the weekend. While Blue would normally have been a good companion for Resonance (by Ratchet's estimation)  Blue was busy.

Jazz showed up to find Ratchet yelling at Resonance that he should go out anyway and just 'go exploring and meet people.' Resonance wasn't shy, exactly, but he was not keen on going places in a new town without a local as a guide. He made it clear that the guide he actually wanted was Ratchet, even though Ratchet knew next to nothing about the new Iacon and Ratchet was distinctly unwilling to go out in public in his chair.

"Ah think ah know a solution," Jazz said, and comm'd 'a friend.'

Fifteen minutes later, Rodimus showed up. "Hey, kid," he said, to Resonance. "You've sure grown in the last several months."

"Roddy." Resonance's shoulders sagged in relief. He swept the Prime into a hug that Rodimus matched with enthusiasm. They pounded on each other's backs a bit. Ratchet tried not to be envious of the easy friendship Res had developed with so many mecha. Res made friends as easily as other mecha ventilated air. Resonance added, "Roddy, I haven't seen you since Spike's funeral. That's too long!"

"How are you doing, kid?" Rodimus said, sounding genuinely concerned. "C'mon, let's go and leave the oldbots to rust in peace."

"Rodimus!" Res protested. "That's rude!"

Meanwhile, Jazz was cackling and Ratchet was trying to struggle onto his feet so that he could properly yell at the young Prime from a standing position. Sure, he was an 'oldbot' but he didn't appreciate the reminder! Before either of them could actually say anything, however, Rodimus whisked Resonance out the door.

Jazz, still laughing, flopped on the couch. "Ratchet, sit down before you fall and hurt yourself."

"Rodimus is a disgrace to his predecessors," Ratchet said, indignantly. He stumbled to his recliner and collapsed into it.

"Rodimus," Jazz propped himself up on one elbow and regarded Ratchet over the top of his visor, "Is exactly the Prime we need right now. Optimus, Primus bless 'im, woulda been lost in a world where seventy-five percent of the population is under a vorn of age and all of t' elders are soldiers or refugees. Roddy manages to bridge t' gap between both generations, an' he does it with flair."

"Optimus was going to retire." Ratchet hunched in his chair. "He was going to pass the Matrix on, as soon as the peace talks were completed and things had settled down. He knew he wasn't well suited for peace."

"He was a truly wise mech."

"And he was just tired, too. Tired of the fighting. Tired, and broken, and he felt so guilty about the outcome of the war, even though he tried so hard to make peace so many times. We were ... going to have a life together."

"Ah, Ratch."

"So -- movies. What do you want to watch?" He changed the subject abruptly.

Jazz shrugged, apparently as glad for the change in subject as Ratchet was.  "Don't really care, as long as it's not something horribly sappy."

They watched a comedy from Earth, with humans, and said nothing more about the past.

--

Ratchet nodded off in his recliner; he seemed to need more recharge than he'd ever thought possible as his body healed. Besides the injury to his processor, he'd also damaged a rod in his power plant and they'd had to nearly eviscerate him to access it. His protoform had multiple incisions in it, and numerous bruises, so he had a lot of healing to do. And his spark had been stressed badly enough that it lacked the strength to fully power his autorepair nanytes, so self-repair was taking a painfully long time. He'd never been this badly damaged in his life.

When he woke, it was to Resonance gently shaking him and Jazz exiting the apartment with a jaunty wave in Res's direction. Resonance said, "You'll be stiff in the morning if you recharge all night in a chair. C'mon, Ratch."

"I don't need you to put me to bed."

"Need, no. But it's nice to have someone taking care of you, isn't it?" Resonance said, as he helped him to his feet. "C'mon. You don't need the float chair for this. It's not that far."

It wasn't, and he made it, and then slumped down in a semi-controlled fall onto the edge of the bed.

"Need a drink before bed?"

"A drink, yes. But not what you mean." Ratchet rolled his optics. He'd love to have a real drink, not a drink to top his tanks off before bed like he was a sparkling. "I'm fine, kid. How was your night out with Rodimus?"

"... illuminating."

He quirked an eyebrow up.

"We talked about Primes. About who I was." Resonance shook his head slowly. "About who I might become someday. If anything happens to Roddy, he says he's putting me down as his heir for the Matrix. I don't want it ..."

"Pit slagging idiot." Ratchet said, and then proceeded to swear at full volume and force, and with creativity, until he realized that the kid was staring at him in alarm. He subsided.

"Am I to understand you don't approve?" Resonance said, with a grin.

"Optimus wanted to give the Matrix up. He knew he wouldn't be good at peacetime matters!"

"Rodimus doesn't think we will stay at peace. He is worried that war is coming." Resonance scowled. "Besides that, you'd get Optimus back. His memories are in the Matrix. There's no way to transfer them to me now, but if I accepted the Matrix again, I'd ... I'd know them."

"I don't want Optimus back, not that way. Kid, at the end of the war, he was so very broken. Roddy has no clue."

"Roddy probably does," Resonance countered. "Matrix and all. He's wiser than you give him credit for."

Ratchet let out a long, slow, sigh. "Resonance, there are others who can take the Matrix, and who can lead us. Ultra Magnus, for one."

"He doesn't want it."

"Neither should you!"

"That's a decision I get to make for myself, and I will make it with the greater good in mind."

He recognized that mulish look, jaw set, optics narrowed. For a moment, it was as if Optimus himself were looking out of Resonance's eyes. He shuddered.  "Go away, kid."

Resonance patted him on the shoulder, and left.

Ratchet curled up on the berth, tried to ignore the fine tremor in his limbs, and tried to sleep.

His routine for powering down, for many decades, had been to drink seven or eight cubes of high grade and then fall into a very intoxicated state of recharge. Now, without high grade, and after a nap of a few hours, he couldn't seem to relax enough to recharge.

He lay on his back, wide awake, for close to an hour, staring up at the ceiling and listening to the distant noise of the TV. Resonance was watching some silly drama with lots of violin music. Probably meant for human females, he thought, and he told himself firmly that he wasn't at all interested.

He wanted a drink so very bad. He craved it. If he'd been able to walk, he would have already have had that drink. He supposed he could have high grade delivered, but Resonance would intercept the order. The thought of Resonance's disapproval made him anxious and miserable, and that meant he craved the oblivion of high grade that much more.

Resonance must think him an old, miserable, drunken fool.

He felt guilty. Miserable. Anxious. He wasn't even sure why he was anxious. Lingering withdrawals? Or was it the fact that he simply could not be the mech that Resonance deserved, and the thought of even trying made him want to scream and run away?

He couldn't leave. He couldn't go anywhere. He probably couldn't get out of bed without help.

If he could just have a cube of high grade, he wouldn't be so anxious about his lack of mobility. The thought of anyone seeing him wouldn't be so humiliating.

Resonance had never agreed to bond with him. It was so unfair that the kid was trapped, stuck in a bond he hadn't wanted and had no choice. The young, handsome, charismatic mech would never have agreed to bond with an old, cranky, drunken fool who had no close friends and who was mocked in the streets by his former acquaintances.

He wanted a drink, damnit. Then he could sleep, and he wouldn't have to face the truth, which was that his life sucked and he'd caused most of the suckage himself.

Damnit, he just wanted a drink. His life sucked. He wanted ... he was so upset ... he was going to scream ... if he made a sound, it would bring Resonance running, and Resonance deserved better ...

"Hey." Resonance was in his doorway. "Ratchet, I can't stand listening to you anymore."

"What?"

Belatedly, he realized he'd been broadcasting everything across the bond. He'd forgotten, as usual, to shield. He wanted to crawl under the berth and hide. Resonance must think him an idiot. A stupid, drunken, idiot. It was shameful.

Resonance simply opened his side of the bond, while still standing there.

Ratchet felt ... worry. Concern. And more of that deep respect.

"Roddy told me a lot about you, too. Things I hadn't known."

"Rodimus doesn't know me all that well."

"No, but Optimus knew you very well, and Roddy has those memories." Resonance sat, then laid, down next to Ratchet on the berth. There was nothing but platonic intent in his field, even as he reached out and wrapped his arms around Ratchet. "I'm sorry, Ratchet. You're miserable, and there's nothing I can do to fix it. A lot of this is still withdrawal -- Rung and First Aid both mentioned that the first few weeks are the hardest. It makes you depressed, and magnifies anxiety."

Resonance ventilated softly, waiting for Ratchet to say something. Ratchet stayed stubbornly silent. Finally, Resonance offered a change of subject. "Roddy and I did see a movie. You want to hear about it?"

It took Ratchet a long time to fall asleep. Resonance held him far into the night, and told him about the movie, and then talked randomly about earth music, and then about other movies he'd seen. His voice was a lifeline; when Ratchet focused on it, it seemed as if he was instantly calmer. It was a distraction from all the darkness in his life, and the literally painful physical craving for high grade, and if he didn't think too hard about how embarrassing this all was, it was a welcome distraction indeed.

If Resonance was aware that the distraction, to Ratchet, was also physical, he didn't give a sign. Resonance was a gorgeous mech, and he cared, and Ratchet thought it was rather pathetic that his interface drive reacted to that with longing so strong that it was very nearly like the craving for drink. He told himself that he had to be satisfied with what he had; it was unfair of him to lech on the younger mech. Ruthlessly, he tried to ignore the feelings, and mostly succeeded.

Mostly.

Anyway, he wasn't even sure he could interface, given his physical condition.

Best he ignore those feelings entirely.

Chapter Text

"He had a rough night."

Resonance's voice woke Ratchet the next morning, despite the fact that it was pitched very low. Resonance had a deep voice that carried, and the apartment had thin walls.

Rung answered, "I expected as much. How'd you deal with it?"

"I talked to him until he finally fell asleep."

"About what?"

"Movies, mostly. I wanted to distract him."

"Good, good. You've got good instincts, kid."

He heard Resonance sigh. "He's awake, too, and he can hear us."

"Hello, Ratchet," Rung called, even as Ratchet realized, belatedly, that Resonance could tell he was listening in. So much for eavesdropping on his bondmate. "Resonance cares about you, and he asked my advice on how best to help you."

Both of them appeared in his doorway; Rung only came up to Resonance's mid-thigh. "... And," Rung added, "I worry about you too. We almost lost you."

"Yeah, yeah, it'd be a terrible thing for Cybertron if I died. Irreplaceable and all that."

Rung shook his head. "I'd miss you. Why would you think I wouldn't?"

He started to open his mouth and describe himself as an old, decrepit, rusted, ancient fool ...

"Don't say it," Resonance growled at him, in a command tone that would have made Optimus proud.

Ratchet shut his mouth. He'd been in the military for megavorns; responding to Command Voice was sheer instinct. By the time he realized Resonance wasn't actually his commanding officer, he'd forgotten what he was about to say.

Rung looked between them, and then said brightly, "Res, why don't you tell what you see in Ratchet?"

"I see," Resonance said, "a handsome mech who has a tremendous amount of potential, for many things, and who can live up to that potential -- when he chooses. It's up to him. And I will do whatever I can to help him, as I expect he'll help me."

"Sounds like you're completely willing to help him, and you like his company."

"I'm willing, and I'm not going away, because I know he will live up to my expectations." Resonance's confidence and faith in him shone across the bond. "I can feel it, in his spark. I can feel what he will be. So yes, I'm helping him now, but he won't always need that. And yes, I like being around him. He's a cranky old bastard, but he's my cranky old bastard."

"You're both fraggers," Ratchet said, but this pronouncement lacked his usual venom, and simply made Rung smile and Resonance grin at him. Resonance thought he was handsome? Resonance called him 'my cranky old bastard'? Pit, that wasn't going to help his efforts to ignore his treacherously lecherous interface drive.

However, he responded to that bright grin from Resonance with a genuine smile of his own before he even knew what he'd done.

--

Rung, somehow, talked him into going out into public with Resonance. Afterwards, Ratchet wasn't sure exactly how Rung had done it. Resonance seemed amused, so he suspected Rung had manipulated him and he'd missed the act of manipulation. Rung was good at that.

It was a lovely fall day, crisp but not yet cold enough to freeze water. Humans were everywhere on hoverbikes, zipping past them at Res's waist height. There was humidity in the air, but it wasn't yet raining, and the sky was the bluest he'd ever seen. Cybertron's sky had always been a deeply polluted brown; it bemused him that in post-apocalyptic Cybertron, they now had blue skies. Shouldn't it have been the other way around?

His float chair bobbed along beside Resonance, and he resolutely ignored the mecha (friends, students, and strangers) who were staring at him. Not only was he a "newbot" to many of the kids, but he was a crippled newbot in a float chair, with the chevron of a medic and the facial features of an elder. The novelty certainly caught their attention.

One of the new generation of younglings had opened a cafe near the edge of town, on a bluff that overlooked the city. They settled there to eat, surrounded by tables full of masses of younglings and their guardians. Iacon had turned into a city of families. He remembered it as the ravaged and war-torn capital, but now there were three times as many minors as there were adults, and that ratio was widening rapidly.

"'Chet!" A voice said, insistently and loudly, and it took him a moment to recognize his name as pronounced by a very young sparkling.

He looked and saw that Anodyne had just come in. Anodyne waved. The "Chet!" had come from Anodyne's youngest sister, who was barely old enough to toddle about on stumpy legs.

"Babysitting," he mouthed. Then he commed, :We won't bother you.:

"Chet!" The kid repeated, waving frantically.

"Oh, join us." Ratchet gestured at his table. He liked Anodyne, and he'd missed talking to his protege. He was also certain that Resonance and Anodyne would get along well, and should be friends. Any chance he had to push them together, he was going to take. Plus, he had calculated political reasons for pushing the two together, as well. He wasn't blind to the possibility that Res might end up Prime someday ... he didn't like it, but he knew it could happen.

"Chet, chet!" The kid said. She promptly climbed up the float chair and plopped herself in his lap, with a loud rattle of loosely fitting armor. She must have been recently upgraded into new armor, because it seemed too big for her body. It also had signs of wear -- the armor she was wearing was likely a hand-me-down from an elder sibling. "Why you drink a straw 'Chet?"

His cube was on a tray on the chair's arm, and he did, indeed, have a straw. "Because I'd make a mess if I tried to hold the cube," he said, honestly.

"Oh. Why?"

"Because my hands tremble." He held them out, demonstrating.

She giggled. "That's funny. Why?"

"Because I got hurt."

"Oh." She bounced in his lap, making the float chair bob. "I want a chair like this. It's fun! Dyne, I want a chair like this!"

:Sorry, Ratchet,: Anodyne apologized.

:It's okay. She's fine.: Ratchet stroked the child's small helm with a trembling hand, as she helped herself to his cube with his straw. Anodyne looked vaguely horrified; Ratchet could detect the buzz of a comm coming from the young host as he rebuked his sister. His sister ignored him, and kept drinking Ratchet's energon. He didn't mind at all, and he said candidly to Resonance, :I miss being around children.:

~She's cute,~ Resonance said, smiling. ~I didn't know you liked children.~

He glanced over, startled by the warmth and approval coming from Resonance. Resonance opened the bond on his end a bit more, and he could sense what Resonance was actually thinking about: That he thought Ratchet and the kid looked adorable together, and that it was the first time he'd seen Ratchet really happy since they'd met.

Chapter Text

Nights were the worst.

At night, that terrible little voice in his head reminded him that he was a drunk, and useless, and a burden, and nobody loved him.  He'd lost his bondmate in the worst possible way, and could not even bond again. He was old, and washed up, and the only reason that people tolerated him was that he had a processor full of irreplaceable and valuable skills.  ("We need your knowledge, Ratchet!" was a lot less complimentary than, "I like being around you," if you really thought about it. And he did. He was fully aware that most people disliked him, and he was self-aware enough to understand it was because he was a jerk to most people, but in the dark of the night he was still bitterly lonely.)

If not for his medical knowledge nobody would want a thing to do with him. And even then, that voice insisted, nobody actually wanted him around.

Resonance was there, though, and Res kept him distracted. Resonance was warm, and accepting, and any time Ratchet listened to the bond, he knew that he had at least one friend who genuinely, truly, liked him for who he was.

The first time Resonance made him laugh, really laugh, it startled both of them. Resonance had dryly observed that of course Verve was Groove's kid, because it made sense that the old hippie had a punk kid.

He'd laughed, and laughed, and then had stopped when he'd registered Resonance's surprise. And then Resonance had chuckled, and they'd both started laughing for reasons neither could actually explain.

Later, he realized it was something that Resonance would say ... and Optimus never would.




He often had nightmares.

Of the war.

Of losing Optimus.

Of patients, lost and barely saved, long ago.

Of being rejected; of real rejections, and of people who had never rejected him.

One night, he woke with a shout, and automatically reached out, and only after he'd latched onto Resonance's armor did he realize that he was no longer surprised to find Resonance there and waiting beside his berth. Resonance held him as he cried, and neither of them said a single word.

 

Chapter Text

Jazz commed him a week later, as Ratchet was consuming his morning energon. He'd never seen the little black-and-white mech look so downcast in the entire time they'd known each other, which was very long indeed.

"How's Music?" Ratchet asked, instantly.

"Alive." Jazz's response held a flavor of grim humor. "He may not be, when I get my hands on him."

"What did he do?"

"So far? Nothing." Jazz shrugged. "That I know about. Sneaky little fragger that he is ... you would never know he was my son."

Ratchet snorted, because he could hear the black humor in Jazz's voice. Even in the pits of depression, Jazz would joke. He was tremendously depressed, too, a mood that was obvious from the drawn set to his facial features and the laxness of his armor.  Yes, Jazz was sneaky, and treacherous, and many other things that had made him an effective saboteur and dangerous spy. However, he was no sociopath, and he had morals. Everything he'd ever done had been for the greater good.

"He won't let you look at his medical records," Jazz scrubbed his face, visor and all, with one hand. "Pit, Ratchet, I don't get it. There's something wrong with him."

Ratchet said softly, "There is no guarantee that the problem is medical."

"No guarantee it isn't."

"And even if I can find it, when First Aid and Hook and Rung couldn't, there is no guarantee that it is repairable. We do not have a mnemnosurgeon left alive. Both Rung and I know a little, but we have neither the tools nor the knowledge to do many complicated or delicate repairs." His words were hard, but there was compassion behind them. He didn't want Jazz building up false hope.

"I know." Jazz shrugged. "And it could be a spark trait, which makes me wonder why Primus would send us such a dark spark ..."

Ratchet snorted again. He couldn't help it. He didn't exactly believe in Primus's grace, or lack thereof, and he knew Jazz was a doubter too. Oh, there was something alive at Cybertron's core, but he didn't think it was an ancient and all-powerful God.

Jazz sighed at him. "You know what I mean."

"I do. I just don't want you getting your hopes up too high."

"I know. He's my son, though. I can't stop fighting for him."

Unspoken was the fact that Tracks was Music's CNA donor, and Tracks had completely disowned Music. He and Jazz (while never lovers) were not even on speaking terms now.

"I know, Jazz. Pit, I'll fight for him too, if I get a chance, and he's not even mine." Ratchet folded his arms across his chest. "If it is a medical issue, then he can't help what he is and we have to fix him."

"But he won't give consent. And Ultra Magnus has judged him competent." Jazz ground the last out. Ultra Magnus was Cybertron's Chief Judge. Ratchet realized Jazz had likely spent the last several days fighting his way up through layers of bureaucracy, trying to get himself declared his adult son's court-appointed guardian so he could get around the mech's refusal to release his medical records to Ratchet.

Ratchet sighed. "Maggie's fair, Jazz. You know that. I don't like it either, but if Music is refusing to let me look at his records, and he is competent -- and we have no reason to believe he isn't -- then we have to accept that. I'm sorry. If things change, let me know."

"If war comes," Jazz said, with his shoulders hunched and his arms folded across his chest, "Roddy said he'd override Maggie's decision. He said that the best interest of Cybertron would prevail, then. But for now, he says Cybertron's best interests are in respecting personal privacy. But what about my son's best interests? There is something wrong with the way he thinks. He's so damned paranoid -- anyone with properly functioning logic circuits would never have believed Anodyne was telepathically stealing test answers from him, which is why he attacked 'Dyne."

"I know. It's hard." Ratchet rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Look, talk to him. See if you can change his mind. If he does, get those records to me that day, and I'll look at them immediately. I want to help, Jazz, but I have to do so within the boundaries of the law."

"He won't even see me."

"Does he have any friends?"

"Quasar." Jazz made a face. "And I am not sure I approve of that friendship, for Quay's sake. Quay's got Starscream's temper and Skywarp's brains, but he's not actually a bad kid."

"See if Quasar can talk to him. Maybe have Rung talk to Quasar first, to give him some pointers on what to say."

Jazz looked unhappy, but he nodded. "I'll do that."

---

Two days later, Jazz sent him a note: Music wasn't speaking to Quasar, now.

Ratchet would have had nothing more helpful to say if not for Resonance. Resonance, who had been unavoidably listening in to his thoughts, spoke up.

"Tell Jazz that Music needs a new friend."

He'd stared blankly at Res.

Resonance had shrugged. "He didn't infiltrate Decepticon installations as himself, did he?"

Ratchet blinked, then stared, startled into silence for a long moment. Then he sputtered, "How did you even know about that?!" As far as he knew, most of Jazz's activities as a spy were still classified.

"I assumed it was obvious. I knew he was an infiltrator during the war, and he couldn't have been doing it while wearing his own armor."

Ratchet grunted. "Yeah, he's a phenomenal actor. Half the time, all he did was change the color of his nanytes."

"Figured. I've seen him play charades with the younglings.  Though to fool his own son, I'd assume he'd need to make bigger changes to his frame. Anodyne should help him with the disguise, so you aren't actually involved. Anodyne can get away with scrap right now if he gets caught. He's a kid. You're supposed to be too professional for that."

A week later, a "newbot" arrived in a rickety escape pod that had been jury that had been rigged with warp engines. He was a scrappy little neutral arms dealer who voiced his (unfavorable) opinion of Cybertron's government quite loudly while (apparently) deeply intoxicated and then, when Rodimus entered Sideswipe's bar, he had assaulted the Prime himself.  The newbot, Hasp, was promptly incarcerated.

Ratchet assumed the newbot was Jazz because Jazz was "away on a mission."

If Rodimus was in on Jazz's actual mission, he gave no sign when he showed up at the medical center to have his busted optic repaired. Ratchet, however, had his suspicions.  Rodimus seemed far too smug for a mech who'd just been slugged in the face by a random stranger. Jazz's flair for the dramatic was certainly undiminished. 'Hasp' was locked away for several months.

Anodyne was shadowing Ratchet that day. Ratchet turned to Anodyne, "'Dyne, it's a perfect time for you to learn to replace optical glass."

Anodyne stared at Ratchet, and then at the Prime, and then back. "Okay," he said, a bit uncertainly.

Rodimus grinned, an expression that was rather macabre given the optical  cleanser fluid streaking down his cheek and tilted his face up to Anodyne. "Have at it, kid. Best you learn on me rather than some random civilian who's never been whacked in the face by a drunk before."

Anodyne snorted. "And you have?"

 

"Oh, sure." Roddy's grin was huge. "Half the time, I was the drunk. I wasn't always the regal, dignified Prime ..."

 

"Regal, dignified, Prime," Anodyne mused. "Pick which two words do not actually describe Rodimus."

 

"Hey!" Roddy protested, then he let a slow smile cross his face. "I resemble that comment."

 

Anodyne grinned as he worked. He said conversationally, "So Res says you're dating First Aid. How's that going?"

 

"Shhh! How'd you even find out about that?" Rodimus said, with exaggerated panic, even as Ratchet suddenly got very interested in their conversation.

 

"Ha, ha. I don't actually have to read your thoughts to know when you're giving me slag." Anodyne flicked the Prime in the forehead with one finger.

 

"It's going well." Rodimus shrugged. "He's a good mech. And stop glaring at me, Ratchet. First Aid hasn't been a youngling since shortly after I stopped being a youngling."

 

Chapter Text

A month after his arc-out, he was back on his feet with the aid of a cane, and Resonance suggested they go for a flight.

They flew low over the Sea of Rust, skimming the waves.

Then Resonance took him into orbit, and playfully turned off the artificial gravity. He shouted in surprise, and then smacked a bulkhead in rebuke, and then, somehow, he ended up spinning and tumbling and playing. He hadn't played, freely, unselfconsciously, for megavorns. Yet he swooped through Resonance's hold like an acrobat, urged on by Res's laughter, dignity replaced by sheer, unadulterated joy.

Res went on a canyon run, diving and rolling through narrow passages in the badlands, and Ratchet held onto the arms of the copilot's chair and whooped with excitement.

Then Ratchet he took the controls, and he showed Resonance that he knew how to fly as well as any flight frame. Ratchet had always loved flight, and it was a valuable skill to master for a mech who routinely treated flight frames. Resonance willingly, trustingly, gave over control and Ratchet did barrel rolls and corkscrew dives, and then, at Res's urging, roared down the twisting and turning confines of one of Vos's famous echoing canyons.

When they returned home, it was very late at night, and they ran into Bluestreak in the hall. Blue gave him an odd look, and he had no idea why until Resonance said, ~It's because you're still smiling, Ratchet. Nobody's used to seeing you smile.~

--

Slowly, the nightly cravings for high grade eased. However, he and Resonance had fallen into a habit of talking late into the night and they continued to do so.  He enjoyed that time with the younger mech more than he would ever have believed. Not only was Resonance gorgeous, but he was well educated, keenly intelligent, and able to talk in depth on any number of subjects that Ratchet was also interested in.

Resonance told him about Titan, and Earth, and brought him up to speed on pop culture and current Terran politics. They discovered that they shared interests in frame engineering, physics, and flying, and they found much to talk about.

One evening, Ratchet pulled out a datapad containing his plans for a phase shifter mod that was small enough for a human or symbiont to use and showed it to Res. He'd toyed with the concept during the war, but had never had the resources or time to make it happen. He and Resonance spent a satisfying week bent over his kitchen table every night, assembling the device; by the end of that week, Ratchet was convinced that Resonance should be teaching engineering, not studying it, at the university. He was every bit Wheeljack's kid. They made the shifter work, and then they let Skitter test it out. She still had it, and Ratchet wasn't sure they'd ever get that prototype back from the feline symbiont, but they could make more.

He talked about the war, too, and Resonance listened without judgement. Sometimes, those tales included stories about Optimus, ones that no textbook would ever contain.  Resonance listened patiently, and did not comment on the grief that he must have detected. Ratchet soldiered through it. Slowly, talking about Optimus became easier. Eventually, he could mention Optimus's name without his optics reflexively closing, his vocalizer seizing and his spark clenching with actual pain.

Resonance, he could tell, truly appreciated learning about his past. He wanted to hear about Optimus as a mech, not as a Prime or as a commanding officer. Ratchet could tell him those stories.

Sometimes he talked about other horrors. It had been a long war. He'd never told anyone about many of the things he'd witnessed, or done, or which were done to him.

One evening, he unbolted most of the armor on his frame and showed Resonance just how many scars were deeply marked into the shimmering silver of his protoform.

Resonance had traced a particularly deep, sooty black, gnarled scar with one finger, and then pulled Ratchet into his arms and held him close. Ratchet caught a whisper of a thought: That many of those injuries could have been fatal, and that if Ratchet had died, Resonance would not have him now.

~You wouldn't exist either, if I wasn't there to save Optimus's spark,~ Ratchet pointed out.

Resonance had hummed softly, a sound that might have been agreement, and they'd fallen asleep in each other's arms. Ratchet wasn't wearing most of his armor, and perhaps he should have been more cautious, but in Resonance's embrace he felt as safe as he ever had in his life.




Ratchet grew stronger still.

He still needed a cane to walk any distance, but his hands were steady. He started taking shifts at the medical center. He would teach again at the start of the next semester, too, but for now, two shifts a week at the hospital were enough to exhaust him.

One night, after work, First Aid and Swoop asked him to join them at Sideswipe's bar.

He nearly said yes.

Then he realized he'd been two months sober. Not long ago, he would have jumped at an opportunity for a drink. Now, however, he ... didn't want to see the look of disappointment on Res's face, and he didn't really want to go through several weeks of detox again, either. He knew if he took one drink, he would feel guilty. The guilt would then overwhelm him, and he'd try to drown it with more drinks, and soon he'd be lost.

"Dinner, instead?" He suggested.

"Oh." First Aid blinked, and remembered that Ratchet had issues with high grade. "Right."

~I'm proud of you.~ Though Resonance was nowhere nearby, he had overheard Ratchet's side of the exchange.

He was unexpectedly pleased by the pleasure and pride in Res's spark. He said, ~Want to come?~

~Nah. 'Dyne and I are going to go do some target shooting. Have fun, Ratch.~




When he returned to his apartment, Resonance wasn't there.

~I'm at Anodyne's.~ Resonance answered his question before he even had a chance to ask it. Hesitantly, Resonance asked, ~Will you be okay without me? I'm helping Anodyne rebuild an old pulse cannon.~

~Yeah, that's fine. You two need any help?~

Ratchet was pleased that Resonance seemed to have found a good friend in Anodyne. He'd been right about their compatibility.

~Nah, I got this. Wheeljack's kid, remember?~

~Jackie blows things up.~

~And I don't. I'm fine, Ratch. Will you be okay alone?~

~Resonance, I'm a big bot. I'll be just fine.~

It wasn't until he'd showered, and then crawled into his berth, that he realized what Resonance had meant: He would be alone at night when they normally sat up, talking or working on projects to keep his demons away.

Night was the worst time for him.

And for a moment, he was tempted to go out and buy a few cubes. Just a few. Just this once. Because he hated being alone, and the high grade would be company, of a sort. For a moment, he resented Anodyne and Resonance's friendship.

However, the temptation wasn't all that strong. He discovered, somewhat to his surprise, that he was able to resist the temptation. And then he was proud of himself, and Resonance felt it, and Resonance was proud too. He wanted to make Resonance proud of him, to feel that warmth echoed across the bond into his own spark, and that was powerful incentive to stay sober.

Res certainly knew about this realization. However, all Res said was, ~See you in the morning, Ratch.~

Chapter Text

Later that week, Ratchet stumbled into his kitchen with only his morning fuel in mind, and there he found Resonance hunched over a datapad.

"What are you so focused on?"

"Spring semester classes."

"... You're still thinking of enrolling?"

"I think so. I've signed up for the placement test."

Ratchet, reflexively, started to suggest that Resonance could go home now, if he wanted. He didn't have to stick around just for Ratchet's benefit. Ratchet was healthy, clean, and in a far better state of mind. He meant to tell Resonance he wasn't needed anymore.

Resonance fixed him with a hard stare. "Do you want me to go? Because you're right, you'll do fine without me. I'll go now. However, I would like to stay."

Ratchet blinked. Resonance actually meant it. He wanted to stay on Cybertron, with Ratchet.

He glanced from the table, to Resonance's pallet in the middle of the living room floor, then back to the table.

"I'll need to find a bigger apartment."

Resonance's grin bared even, and very white, denta and lit his entire face lit up. "I have been getting tired of sleeping on your floor."

Primus, Ratchet thought, he was so handsome when he smiled like that. Resonance looked like a young god in that instant. He was stunning, with his gold armor, metallic red trim, upswept wings and long limbs. Ratchet's interface drive roared to life, quite literally, as a fan clicked on somewhere deep in his chassis.

The grin disappeared from Resonance's face.

~Sorry.~

"Don't apologize." Resonance smiled again, a bit hesitantly. This time, he looked shy, not radiant.

"Pit. I'm not blind. Resonance, you look like a young god. I try not to think about it, because I know you can hear my thoughts." Ratchet said. He harrrumphed. "This is awkward."

"It doesn't have to be." Resonance indicated the chair next to him. "Want to help me pick some classes out? I'm thinking of a degree in anatomical engineering. It'd compliment your career."

"Compliment my career?" His processor was left reeling by the abrupt change in subject, though he rallied gamely, recognizing that Res was trying to help him. Resonance seemed to be a master of what Spike had termed the, 'Ooh, look, a squirrel!' redirect. Wheeljack had a tendency to change subjects the same way, though for different reasons -- Res used it when Ratchet was feeling awkward or embarrassed while Wheeljack used the same tactic to avoid questions he didn't want to answer.

"Sure. Physicians work with anatomical engineers all the time, right?"

"... Yeah. They do."

"I'm thinking if the Quintessons do attack, then having complimentary careers means we have a better chance of being stationed together. I'd hate to be sent to the other end of the galaxy where I could barely even feel you."

"I see. Yes, that makes sense."

"And I already know a fair amount, so I should do well in the classes."

"True."

For a few moments, they discussed the available options for classes. Then Resonance scheduled a meeting with a guidance counselor, and Ratchet rose to fix his breakfast. He normally just poured himself a cold cube of energon, but a sudden bust of energy inspired him to pull out the ingredients for hot spiced energon.

"Want some?" He asked Resonance.

Resonance's optics visibly brightened. "I love carbon in my energon. Sure."

"Sweet tooth," he accused, "Optimus was the same way. He was as bad as a sparkling when it came to sweets."

Only after he turned around did he realize he'd mentioned Optimus and had not felt the long-accustomed stab of pain in his spark, nor felt even a trace of numbing grief. He still missed Optimus, and would forever, but it was a distant ache, not a fresh wound.

He was standing at the counter, his back to Resonance, waiting for a cube to warm on the  hot plate, when Resonance dropped the bond on his side.

Resonance was far, far, better at blocking the bond. His mental discipline was phenomenal. Ratchet just wasn't wired that way. Therefore, Resonance usually picked up far more from Ratchet than Ratchet felt from Res, unless Res specifically wanted him to know something. Clearly, Resonance wanted him to know what he was feeling.

He saw, through Resonance's eyes, a handsome older (but not old!) mech, with a deceptively powerful frame hidden under tidy and compact armor. He almost didn't recognize himself, because Resonance's appraisal of his physical traits was so vastly different than how he saw himself. (Stout, sturdy, and unremarkable.) Resonance liked Ratchet's colors, and his aft, and the way he was standing just now, alert and confident, as he waited for his energon to heat. Resonance was attracted to him physically, without a doubt, and Ratchet froze.

He felt Resonance's bubbling amusement, so unlike Optimus's generally dry humor, and when he turned, Resonance's admiration turned to frank arousal. Resonance liked the look on his face (stunned shock) and he liked the feel of the pleasure in Ratchet's spark.

Ratchet gaped. "You can't be serious."

Resonance shrugged, then treated him to a rapid-fire montage of images of himself. Ratchet bouncing a child in his lap. Ratchet, laughing. Ratchet, debating the merits of an old earthly TV show late one night. Ratchet, floating in freefall in the middle of Resonance's passenger cabin. Ratchet, scolding Rodimus over neglected personal maintenance. Ratchet, curled up with a datapad, smiling as he read a novel. Ratchet, snarking with enthusiasm about a staff meeting that had gone badly because people were stupid. All were moments when Resonance had found him particularly attractive. He even liked Ratchet's normally blunt demeanor and sarcastic sense of humor, and found Ratchet's fiery disposition downright sexy.

"Watch it, kid." Ratchet folded his arms across his chest. "Don't tease unless you mean to carry through."

"Who says I'm teasing?" Resonance replied, expression gone dead serious.

"It's the bond." Ratchet couldn't meet his gaze. He tried to explain the impossible. (Because Resonance couldn't possibly want him.) "It makes you see me as desirable. That's how bonds work. You can't tell me I'd be your first choice. Truth is, kid, I'm your only choice."

"Not true. There's always another choice." Resonance felt hurt, and he shot back with uncharacteristic anger, "There's always Sideswipe."

The young mech lunged to his feet, and stormed out the door.

"For his own good," Ratchet muttered. Then, "I need a drink."

It was very tempting.

Resonance would be disappointed.

He stayed sober.

Chapter Text

Ratchet couldn't sleep that night, and Resonance didn't come home.

He wasn't worried about the Res's safety. He could feel that Resonance was physically okay. Res was somewhere that music was playing, and younglings were dancing. Res wasn't dancing, but he was watching the other kids. Ratchet could tell that much, because the Resonance was uncharacteristically careless about maintaining his side of the bond.

He could also tell that Res was truly upset.

Which meant that Ratchet was unable to sleep. He hadn't meant to upset Resonance this badly, and it bothered him. He felt horrible. He was not a nice mech, and he knew it. Point of fact, he was an aft. He'd been known to be an aft for most of his life. He was hot-tempered, brutally honest, and arrogant, and he didn't care what anyone else thought.

But he'd never meant to hurt Resonance.

He could have been more tactful. He could have introduced Res to more younglings; Resonance needed to find a lover his own age. He couldn't bond with another mech, but that didn't mean he couldn't have fun. Instead, Ratchet had monopolized his time, had apparently led him on, and now Resonance ... wanted ... him, and it just wasn't fair to Res.

Ratchet lay awake, working himself into an exceedingly miserable mood.

Morning came, and Resonance was recharging fitfully somewhere close, perhaps in this same tower ... Ratchet had not slept at all.

Anodyne knocked on his door sometime just after dawn.

"What?" He said, without any other greeting. "'Dyne, it's early."

Anodyne stepped through his door, and then palmed the switch to shut it. "Res is asleep on my dorm room floor. What did you do to him?"

"It's none of your business."

"He's my friend." Anodyne said, stubbornly. "You are my professor, but I also thought we were friends. I don't like my friends fighting."

"Anodyne, it's private."

"Resonance is just about the most forgiving mech I've ever met. He puts up with you." Anodyne crossed his arms over his broad chest and glared down at Ratchet. "He said something about you not wanting him."

'It is an issue that would be totally inappropriate to discuss with a student."

Anodyne lifted one optic ridge. "Let me guess. Interface, right?"

Ratchet growled. Wordlessly. He didn't want to discuss this with a one-vorn-old youngling!

Anodyne clapped a hand over his face. "Ratchet. Let me keep guessing. Resonance desires you, right?"

Unwillingly, he admitted, "Yes."

"And you desire him. Don't answer that, I know the answer to that. He's gorgeous."

"I'm not." And he was pretty sure that, despite all the recovery he'd managed, he would have technical trouble with the act of interface.

"To quote my human friends, bullshit."

"I'm not going to be his pity frag, and I'm not going to let him be victimized by the bond!" Ratchet snapped his mouth shut, and then pointed at the door. "Out. This isn't an appropriate discussion with a student. You're overstepping."

Anodyne looked like he wanted to argue, but at that moment, the door slid open to reveal Res. Ratchet suspected his own temper had woken the mech. Res had a thunderous expression on his face, and it was aimed squarely at Anodyne. "'Dyne, OUT."

"I'm just trying to help!"

"You're not! The more someone argues with Ratchet, the more stubborn he gets. This isn't helping. It's making things worse."

Anodyne opened his mouth, shut it, and then said, "Sorry, Res. He's just ...  oh, slag both of you."

Resonance slapped the 'close' button on the door with a little too much force, and then, as soon as Anodyne was gone, rounded on Ratchet. He pulled himself up to his full height, which was a good ten feet taller than Ratchet, and then he snapped, "When you behave like this, you are not attractive."

"Yeah? This is the real me." He couldn't keep a sullen snarl out of his response.

"You can't lie to me. It's not the real you."

"And what do you mean arguing with me makes me more stubborn?"

Resonance snorted. "Ratchet, you are an aft."

He gaped, startled. Resonance's voice tone was not angry. It was matter-of-fact. Resonance had never called him out before, and at least some of his surprise was because Resonance sounded exactly like Optimus in that moment. Optimus had, occasionally, told him, "Ratchet, don't be an aft," in a matter of fact tone of voice, usually followed by a precise and blunt analysis of exactly how he was being an aft.

Resonance didn't disappoint there, either. In the same calm tone of voice that Optimus would have used, he continued, "You are rude to your friends. You are so selfishly wrapped up in your own problems that you are oblivious to anyone else's. You think you're the only person who misses Optimus? Jazz knew him longer than you, and I think the only reason Jazz puts up with you at all now is because he loved Optimus to the very core of his spark -- he'd have bonded with Optimus in a nanoclick, and he's told me as much. However, he not only respected Optimus's choice, but he's looked out for you because that was what Optimus would have wanted. So yes, at times, you are an aft."

His mouth stayed open. Resonance was angry, and he wasn't even trying to hide it. That cool tone of voice was deceptive. He knew a wealth of cold anger lurked behind it. Optimus used the same tone when dealing with senate meetings.

"Jazz kept me in the loop, as far as you were concerned, because he knew someday I'd need to deal with you and I needed the whole picture."

"That nosy little spy ..."

"No, Ratchet. Don't you dare get mad at him. The only reason he had to resort to surveillance was because you wouldn't let anyone in your life, much less him. If you'd had an arc-out while you were alone, or had gotten hurt, or had Primus forbid tried to commit suicide -- and he was terrified you would -- he'd have been there."

"I'm not going to kill myself."

"No. But he didn't know that." Resonance's voice was still dangerously cool. Ratchet wanted to shrink down inside his own plating until he completely disappeared from view. "You are an aft. You had friends, Ratchet, good ones. Not just Jazz. What about Wheeljack, or Percy, or First Aid? Skyfire thinks the world of you and he's scared to even talk to you for fear he might make you upset. Pit, Prowl was your friend, and that mech doesn't trust anyone. You broke his trust in you. And Bumblebee! Bee looked up to you like you were his surrogate sire!"

Resonance wasn't done. "And you have treated them all like they didn't matter because you got hurt. Ratchet, damnit, I get it. Something really bad happened to you. But instead of facing up to it like an adult and then moving on, you disappeared into a cube of high grade for over a vorn, and when anyone tried to help you, you drove them away by being as much of a jerk as possible to them. Deliberately!"

His voice rose on the last word for the first time. Optimus had used that tactic, a cool and collected tone ending, at the very last, with a sharp exclamation, in speeches and political arguments, and it was a stabbing reminder of just who Resonance was.

"You think I'm not aware?" Ratchet ground out. "I know, Res. I know I've been ..."

"Shut up, and listen to me!" Resonance interrupted. Ratchet wanted to apologize, and the sharpness of Resonance's voice brought him up short. He returned to that calm, controlled, tone of voice, and sounding remarkably reasonable, Resonance said, "You haven't been treating me fairly."

"Probably not," he agreed, in an ominous growl of his own that used to send interns and walking wounded scrambling for cover. The only reason he hadn't exploded at Resonance was that he was too shocked by the suddenness of Res's temper. And Resonance was extremely angry, despite how cool he sounded.

"It's not sudden, damnit." Resonance bit out, answering his unspoken thoughts. Now he sounded angry. "You have your head so far up your aft you haven't even wondered why you can't feel my moods most of the time! It's because I didn't want you to know just how pissed off I was!"

He stared. The kid had phenomenal mental control. Optimus had been similar, but he had always assumed that was a side effect of the Matrix and not a spark trait.

"I am not a child." Resonance threw his hands into the air. "I'm seventy-six years old. If I were human, I'd be considered a venerable elder, full of wisdom. Seventy-six years is plenty of time to learn about life. I'm physically mature, as well, so stop thinking about me as a child, because I'm not! Damnit, Ratchet, you're the one who acts like a petty little brat most of the time!"

WItness: Cold anger exiting stage left, justified outrage entering stage right. Resonance's words were different, he did not have Optimus's formality, but this pattern was incredibly similar to how Optimus had argued. He half expected to hear his own name roared in the same tone that Optimus used to snarl, "MEGATRON!"

"I'm sorry." His own temper abruptly disappeared. He could hear the truth in Resonance's words, and feel the sense of justified outrage in his spark. "I'm sorry. You didn't chose me. It's not fair to you."

"No. I didn't." Resonance also huffed a deep sigh. "And don't you dare go off and have a private pity party inside a cube, either. I won't let you. We're stuck in this together, you and me, and you're right -- the bond probably has something to do with how I feel about you, but I do not care. Those feelings are still genuine. I am still deeply attracted to you, as a mech, and I admire you greatly, and you know what? There are times when I'm completely pissed off at you, but I never stop caring about you even when you are being a total aft. Having spoken to a few mecha who are bonded, that seems to be pretty damn normal for a relationship."

"I'm sorry. For being a stubborn aft." He had been rude.

"I actually like your determination. It's what's made you the best physician on Cybertron, it's what kept you alive -- and saved the lives of tens of thousands of mecha -- through the war. It's integral to your spark. But sometimes, it is also frustrating, when you're being stubborn about something stupid."

"That's real honest of you." He raised an optic ridge at Resonance. He was trying not to get angry again.

"And," Resonance continued, "I really am attracted to you. Pit take it, Ratchet, maybe I didn't have a choice in this, but I am not unhappy about it! I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but you won't have me, and I don't have the option of chosing someone else! That is NOT FAIR to me!"

"You know what? Just leave me alone." He turned to stomp off into his bedroom. He didn't want to hear any more. He couldn't take any more.

Resonance caught his arm.

He spun back, real anger lighting in his optics.

Resonace had droppd down to one knee. Their considerable height difference meant this made him just a little taller than Ratchet. Before Ratchet could process what Resonance had planned, Res simply kissed him.

He started to push away, but Resonance had opened his side of the bond fully. Ratchet could feel everything in the young mech's spark, including both real desire and a true sense of vulnerability, overlaid with lingering irritation. Resonance was taking a tremendous risk, and he was terrified of being rejected by the one mech -- Ratchet -- he truly wanted. He was also still pissed off at Ratchet, but he was trying to push his way through that and make peace. He didn't want to fight with Ratchet.

If Ratchet rejected him, he had no other options. Not only did he desperately want Ratchet's approval, and love, but he was being dangled over a yawning abyss. His fate would be to live a life forever lonely if Ratchet denied him.

Resonance wasn't a mech who fought with others, unless he was fighting for something. In a shining moment of clarity, Ratchet realized that Resonance found him worth every minute of unpleasant anger.

Resonance was also ... clumsy. It was very clear that he was inexperienced. He was trying, certainly, but he didn't seem to know what to do with his hands, and his lips were too soft, and what the heck was he doing with his tongue?

Ratchet leaned back, but only far enough to look Resonance in the optics. "Res, have you ever kissed anyone before?"

Resonance sounded, and felt, just a little embarrassed, but only a little, "Is it that obvious?"

Ratchet snorted in sudden amusement. "You win, Res."

He thought, could not help but think, that Optimus had been the only mech he'd ever allowed to win a fight.

Res pressed his helm to Ratchet's chevron. "I'm not Optimus."

"I know that."

Resonance stroked Ratchet's cheek with his thumb, and said not a word.

"I ... am horribly attracted to you." Ratchet admitted. Resonance was so vibrant, handsome, tall, beautiful, and kind without being patronizing. He was brilliantly intelligent, responsible, and he had  wisdom far beyond his youth. Ratchet would never have been attracted to a 'kid' who was still immature in behavior, but Resonance's combination of youthful vigor combined with adult maturity was incredibly attractive.

"It's not horrible to be attracted to me. I promise." Resonance smiled at him.

Ratchet huffed. "This is inappropriate."

"Says who? I am an adult. I consent, and if I didn't consent to this, I could walk away and you would let me -- you'd not only encourage me, you'd probably pay for my ticket back to Earth and wave me on my way."

Ratchet chuckled. "You know I'd throw you a farewell-and-good-riddance party, and then pretend I was happy you were gone."

He was making fun of himself. He hadn't done that in too many years. Optimus had always had that effect on him; had made him see his own foibles and see the humor in them.

Resonance snorted a laugh that was very un-Prime-like and yet, somehow, sounded exactly like a noise a very young Optimus might have made before dignity and gravitas overwhelmed his naturally well-developed sense of humor. "Seriously, Ratchet, I like that you are attracted to me. We are bondmates. There is no moral nor practical nor legal issue with us having a relationship. I've even discussed it with Rodimus and Jazz and Alpha Trion."

"You what?"

"I didn't want any sort of a scandal. You teach younglings; that could be very bad. However, Roddy says if anyone has a problem with our relationship, he will bop them on the head with a clue bat. A direct quote."

Ratchet shook his head in mild disbelief at Rodimus's threat. Roddy was amazingly effective as Prime for a mech who had none of Optimus's dignity and far more energy, enthusiasm, and youthful charm than any Prime should possess.

Decided, Ratchet pulled Resonance back to his feet with a tug on his arms. "C'mon. If we're going to do this, let's do it right." Privately, he was terrified he wouldn't be able to ... perform ... but he could at least give the kid a good time.

He led the way to his room, trying to hide his nervousness. Resonance was such an amazing mech, and this was his first time, and Ratchet didn't want to screw up.

"Relax, Ratch." Resonance said. Despite his inexperience, he seemed far calmer than Ratchet was. He sat easily down on the edge of the berth, then reached out and pulled Ratchet towards him by the hands. "It'll be fine. If this doesn't work, we can just do it again and keep practicing and someday you'll heal fully. Right?"

He shot Resonance a startled look, then frowned. "You're reading my mind again."

"I can't help it."

"I give up. I'm just going to assume you know all my deepest and darkest secrets."

One corner of Resonance's mouth turned up in half a smile. "Probably for the best if you do."

Ratchet smiled back at him. Of the two of them, it amused him that Res, despite his lack of experience, was far calmer. "What ever did I do to deserve you?"

"Stop worrying so much. This isn't about impressing me," Resonance said, then added, "I want to touch you."

"That's pretty much the idea."

Resonance's chuckle made Ratchet grin. He reached up, took one of Resonance's hands in his, and guided Resonance's fingers from a chaste handhold on his arm to a much more intimate caress of his hip joint. Resonance promptly gripped both his hips, then slid his hands back and stroked Ratchet's aft. "Been wanting to touch this ..."

Ratchet ran a hand down Resonance's chest, fingers expertly finding transformation seams and half-hidden sensors. Resonance gasped in both surprise and pleasure, and pressed into his hand.

In his own youth, Ratchet had been known to party, hard, and he'd had any number of lovers. He couldn't remember the last time he'd simply explored another mech's frame with curiosity and real interest. It took him a moment to realize he was acting this way because he was picking up on Resonance's sparkfelt emotions. Resonance was genuinely curious, not at all anxious, and not in any particular hurry. He was aroused, yes, but his formidable self-discipline translated to incredible patience in the berth.
 
"You are amazing," Ratchet murmured at him, as he pushed Resonance onto his back. His spike was definitely not going to come online, and the jury was still out on his valve, but that didn't mean that he couldn't appreciate the fact that Resonance wanted him and was in his berth. His mind and spark were certainly interested, even if his frame was refusing to cooperate.

Most younglings were overly eager, extremely excitable, and clumsy.  Resonance was none of those. In this moment, he seemed far, far, older than his years. Perhaps, in some ways, he was. He had no memories of his past, but they claimed the spark had a sort of memory of its own. Optimus had been the best lover of Ratchet's life, for the eight days they had together.

It didn't take him long to find Ratchet's most sensitive spots. There were nerve wires and sensor clusters and exposed patches of protoform that were deeply erogenous, and which made Ratchet groan when touched, even if his actual array was missing in action. Resonance was a bit clumsy, and inexperienced, but he wasn't rude, or grabby, or selfish. Also, he wanted Ratchet, in ways nobody had wanted Ratchet since Optimus had died. Resonance, sensing Ratchet's reaction to his honest desire, let the bond between them open fully.  He let Ratchet's reactions guide him.

He could feel Resonance's feelings, and even hear his thoughts now. Resonance's entire focus was on him; his thoughts were full of desire, and admiration, and ... real love. Resonance saw something in his spark that not even Ratchet himself understood, and Resonance loved him for it.

"If you want to spike me," Ratchet gasped, as Resonance nuzzled his throat, nipping and kissing, "you'll need to ..." He provided a mental image, overlaced with raw need that he couldn't contain and didn't try to hide. He wanted this. Primus above and below, he wanted this.

Resonance's hand cupped his panel, then when it slid aside, slipped a single finger inside him. He was dry; his interface equipment was, damnit, just not cooperating. Those motor circuits were way down the priority queue for repair and reintegration, particularly since his frame and protoform itself wasn't entirely healed yet.

Ratchet reached into his subspace and produced a tube of medical grade joint lubricant, which had a few well-known off-label uses. He provided Resonance with another mental image, with minimal actual embarrassment -- he was a physician, and he'd known this would be an issue from the moment he'd agreed.

Resonance looked him in the optics. ~We can wait.~

~Pit. I'm not some damned invalid.~

~But you won't be able to ...~

~So? I can still enjoy the intimacy.~

~I assumed you'd spike me, anyway.~ The much larger shuttle was worried he'd hurt Ratchet. Ratchet had always liked big mecha; he provided wordless assurance, backed up by experience, that Resonance wouldn't damage him. He also let Resonance feel just how much he really desired the intimacy and the tenderness, and how much he would enjoy bringing Resonance to a climax.

Then Resonance was atop him, heavy weight pressing Ratchet into the firm surface of his berth. Res propped himself up on his elbows, but he was still massive, and it was wonderful. Ratchet had always loved big mecha, at least partly because of the illusion of loss of control ... just for a bit, he could give up all responsibility, and simply let Resonance take over.

Resonance pressed into his valve; he was hot, and large, and the stretch hurt. Resonance tried to stop, but Ratchet shifted the angle of his hips, and spread his legs wider, and before Res could pull back, he rocked his hips upward. Resonance, reacting to the heat, and to Ratchet's clear intent, responded with a firm thrust. The change in position was all it took; there was no more pain.

Resonance was careful, and had more stamina than Ratchet expected.  Despite the fact that Ratchet's equipment remained stubbornly offline, Resonance showered him with mental praise and compliments and incredible desire. He responded with how much he was enjoying this, and he was -- even if Ratchet couldn't overload himself, watching Resonance come undone was amazing and to know that he was behind Resonance's arousal was truly overwhelming.

There was a burst of heat, of fluid, of mild pressure, and Resonance called his name in a choked, overwhelmed voice, then slumped to one side and threw an arm over Ratchet's chest. Resonance pulled Ratchet close, sliding down a bit so their heads were at the same level as he did, and then he pressed a kiss to Ratchet's lips and looked him in the optics. "I can't wait until you can spike me."

Ratchet's interface drive liked that, even if his equipment refused to respond to his processors' insistent pings.

Even so, doubt crept into Resonance's expression. He said, ~I feel selfish.~

~So do I.~ Ratchet retorted. ~I've got a mech who's as handsome as a young God all to myself, and I refuse to share him with anyone.~

Resonance grinned at him, and then his expression changed to one of surprise when Ratchet wriggled down a bit, reached a hand out, and closed it around Resonance's now-flaccid spike. ~What are you ...~

Ratchet's smirk turned positively mischevious. ~There's a young god in my berth. I think I want to play with him a bit.~

~Oh!~ Resonance's reaction was wordless, and very surprised, when Ratchet rose up on his hands and knees, then closed his mouth around his now not-entirely-limp spike.

~Flight frames have a rather minimal refractory period, particularly young ones,~ Ratchet said, conversationally, even as he showed Resonance just how very much experience he had. He might not do casual relationships, but he was old enough to have had many lovers all the same. He knew what he was doing in a berth. Age did have some benefits.

~Oh ....~

Resonance threw his head back, and clenched his hands into fists in reaction to Ratchet's tongue hitting a certain sensor bundle just so. Ratchet chuckled deep in his throat, and considering what else he had down his throat, the effect on Resonance was spectacular. Resonance pounded the berth with one fist and clutched at Ratchet's shoulder pauldron with his other. Ratchet, pleased by the sounds coming from his bondmate, slid his thumb into Resonance's valve and pressed down on a particularly sensitive node while simultaneously sucking hard.

This time, he knocked Resonance right offline.

Ratchet, quite smug, was straddling Resonance's thighs when he rebooted. Resonance blinked down at him. Ratchet smirked. "I'm curious how many overloads I can get out of you ..."

~You're enjoying this far too much,~ Resonance said, tone playful.

~Why yes, yes I am.~ Ratchet decided he didn't feel guilty about this at all. Resonance had started it, had made his interest clear, and now Ratchet had one of the most stunning mechanisms he'd ever seen in his berth. Resonance was all his at this moment, and Ratchet saw no reason not to have a good deal of fun.

Chapter Text

Ratchet woke some hours later,  deliciously sore (he'd straddled Resonance several times, and both his hips and his valve were complaining about it) and very aware of Resonance's presence in his berth. Res was spooned around him, one large arm thrown across him, and one leg over his knees.

Resonance was deeply in recharge, and his spark felt calm and peaceful.

Ratchet stroked the fingers of his large, powerful, hand for a moment, and then let his mind drift back towards recharge. It was the best rest he'd had in over a vorn.




Over morning fuel, they talked.

"... Res, I know you love me, and believe me, I love you ..." At this pronouncement, Resonance's face and spark lit up with delight, and Ratchet couldn't help but grin back. "... crazy as it seems to me. But didn't you ever want to chose someone for yourself? We were bonded before you were ever even created."

Resonance gave Ratchet's question some serious thought. His large hands folded around his cube of heated and spiced energon, and he stared into the shimmering purple depths for a long moment. "I guess I'm lucky."

"Lucky?" He didn't see it as lucky. In Resonance's treads, he'd have been resentful and angry.

"Well, some mecha spend their entire lives searching for a bondmate." Resonance reached out and rested a hand over Ratchet's fingers. "Sometimes, they never find them, and they live and die alone. Or worse, they live a life filled with a string of mecha who break their sparks."

Ratchet turned his hand over and squeezed Resonance's. Resonance's grip was potentially crushingly powerful, but his touch was so gentle. The contrast, to Ratchet, was intoxicating.

Resonance continued, "In my case, I came online already bonded. I didn't have to look for you. You were already there. Even when you were on the other side of the galaxy, I had a sense you were there."

"I was a complete aft to you."

"You were hurting." Resonance squeezed his hand. "And I knew why. And the first time we met, I could see right into your spark and see that you were the right mech for me. Optimus chose well, and on some level, we are the same person. That means you and I are also compatible. It's as if I chose you for myself before I was ever created."

Ratchet sighed, and looked away, no longer able to meet Resonance's gaze. "But you're not the same person. It was easier for me when I stopped seeing you as an imposter Optimus. You have the same spark, and sometimes you feel very much alike, but you are so very different in other ways."

"We're products of our times. He was born into a world of deprivation, that quickly became one of war. I've only known peace, and I've never had to worry about my safety or my future. I've been blessed by so many opportunities in my life. It's inevitable that we are different."

With a strictly mental wail of frustration, Ratchet thought, But the Quintessons ... The Quintessons will steal that peace from him. It's so unfair.

Resonance jerked his head up, looking Ratchet square in the eyes. "Quintessons are coming?"

He gritted his dental plates for a moment, anger rising at the squids, then said, "It's classified, but yes, it's rather likely. Maybe not this year, maybe not for many years, but we think before another full vorn has passed. That's why I ... came out of retirement ... to teach medicine. We're going to need medics."

"Pit." Resonance said. Ratchet could sense fear from him. Hesitantly, Res askd, "Do we have any chance of winning that fight?"

"... I don't know," he said, aloud, even as he thought, Probably not.

Resonance stared far off into the distance for a long moment. Ratchet could a sense him thinking hard. "II'd like to talk to Prowl, and Rodimus."

"You're not Optimus. Not anymore." Ratchet objected. He didn't want Res to lose his innocence. Resonance, so bright and happy, forgiving and gentle, was a creature of this bright new peaceful world they'd created.

"I'm Roddy's heir, and I'm also a shuttle, and I have a processor capable of advanced tactical simulations. I'd like to help them with contingency planning ," Resonance said, decisively."I know I'm young, but I need to help."

"You shouldn't even know about this." His protest was weak. He could feel Res's powerful sense of responsibility coming to the forefront, and it was accompanied by the knowledge that they were perilously close to extinction. Res was running tactical simulations that didn't just include their options for fighting off the Quintessons, but their likelihood of surviving a war at all. Ratchet realized, abruptly, that Resonance's shields were lower than they'd ever been before, and he was seeing actual glimpses of Resonance's thoughts.

Resonance's guard was down. Resonance had cared for him from the very beginning, but he'd also been actively protecting himself. He wasn't doing that anymore. And Resonance could sense his recognition of this, and agreed with it; on a deep level, he was coming to trust that Ratchet wanted him to stay, and be a part of Ratchet's life. Also, while Resonance was emotionally very strong, he had been aware of Ratchet's tendency to lash out, and he'd not wanted Ratchet to see anything in his thoughts -- anger, or a stray snarky thought -- that the older mech could use as ammunition to attack him. Ratchet saw all this as Resonance thought it.

Resonance didn't comment aloud on Ratchet's burst of shame at the way he'd treated his bondmate. That he forgave Ratchet, however, was obvious, and it didn't make Ratchet feel much better.  Resonance simply continued the conversation about Quintessons, after a moment, by saying, "We're bonded. I am pretty sure that the general assumption is that bondmates always know their partner's secrets, even classified ones."

"True." And Resonance would be accepted into Rodimus's fold because Rodimus both liked him and saw (justifiably) many of Optimus's strengths in him. Also, Rodimus and his advisors would be training Res as a potential Prime even as they made use of his very real skills.

"And do not try to tell me not to worry about it because I am young." Resonance frowned down at him. "I've spent most of my life being tutored on military history and combat by some of the best mecha the Autobots and the Decepticons could produce."

He saw glimpses of a life he'd been utterly unaware of, as Resonance deliberately pushed those memories to the forefront.

Starscream and Alpha Trion had taught Resonance to fly, and then dogfight. Res, while not a seeker, could put up a credible fight in the air.

Most of the nerds from both sides of the war, both aware and unaware of his history, had taught him science and engineering. Almost as soon as he had been decanted, he'd started toddling around the labs on Titan, and later, on Earth. He'd grown up being tutored by Wheeljack and Perceptor, corresponding with Skyfire, and trying hard to impress Starscream (and sometimes succeeding).

He'd sparred with a wide range of mecha from a very young age, ranging from Starscream to Jazz to Ironhide, and including Soundwave's symbionts and at least two different gestalts.

Prowl still played war games -- tactical simulations -- with Res, and Resonance was incredibly proud that he'd recently beat the tactician in a space-battle simulation.

He had cannons designed by Ironhide and Wheeljack, and Percy and Prowl had taught him to shoot. While he was too tall and his power plant too large, with too much torque, to be an effective sniper, he was a very good shot -- better than Optimus had ever been.

He'd discussed politics not just with Cybertronian leaders but human as well. He'd run for, and won, multiple public offices on Titan, including a position on Titan's senate that he'd held for eight years. Statutory limits written with humans in mind had prevented him from running again, or he might still be a Titan senator. He had been loved by his people -- and he definitely considered Titan his first home, and its citizens his people.

Resonance had risen from the table. He rinsed out his cube in the sink, and Ratchet followed, holding his own dirty dish.

Ruefully, Ratchet realized that Roddy's choice in making Resonance his heir wasn't just nostalgia and sentimental affection. Resonance was a credible Prime-candidate, and if they went to war, he was also likely to end up a high ranking officer. It wasn't something he wanted for Resonance, as he felt Optimus had given enough, but they might not have a choice. They might need him too much.

He was young. But he was no child.

In some ways, Ratchet thought, Res was more mature than he was.

Resonance snickered. "I've thought that a few times. And you wonder why I guard my thoughts from you at times ..."

"I would have deserved to hear that." Ratchet rested his head against Resonace's broad chest. Resonance wrapped his arms around him.

"Perhaps. But it would have helped nothing. I want to see you thrive again, not beat you down." Resonance pressed his helm to Ratchet's chevron.  "I love you, Ratchet."

With completely honesty, he said, "I love you too." Then some playfully mischievous impulse caused him to add, "Kid."

Resonance didn't bother to hide his irritation at the diminutive, and that made Ratchet laugh. It felt good to laugh, and after a moment, Res chuckled too.

Chapter Text


"Yes."

"No!"

"Yes, Ratchet."

"Resonance!" Ratchet snapped, arms folded across his chest. "No! He can stand out there until he rusts in place!"

"Ratchet, there's stubborn and then there's silly, and you're just being silly." Resonance pronounced. "We are going to answer the door. Besides, he'd make a funny looking statue and he'd be in the way."

It hadn't escaped Ratchet's awareness that Resonance was Wheeljack's youngling, and he was fragging that youngling ... and now Wheeljack had just interrupted a good frag. It was not really one of the high points of his life.

~Mmm. And maybe tonight I will wax you from head to toe before we frag again.~

Ratchet probably would have reacted to that suggestion with a little more lust and a lot less mortal embarrassment if Resonance hadn't chosen that exact moment to palm the door open. Wheeljack, who had pinged them nearly five minutes ago, stood outside.

He stepped through the doorway, cast Ratchet a mild look, and said, "You've got my youngling's paint nanytes on your chassis."

"Given what you interrupted, you're lucky that's all he has on his chassis," Resonance rebuked his guardian.

"Jackie! Res, damnit, don't encourage him!" Ratchet exclaimed, then headed for the wash racks at a near run. Inside, he turned the solvent up to its hottest setting and in a near panic, scrubbed at the tell-tale grey marks on his frame. They were grey, not gold, because nanytes greyed out as soon as they were scraped  from a mech's armor, but they were still obviously not Ratchet's own.

Resonance said, loud enough for Ratchet to overhear even over the rush of hot solvent as he frantically scrubbed himself. "You could have called ahead."

"And ruin the surprise?" Wheeljack also lifted his voice. "Think we should tell him?"

"Tell me what?" Ratchet burst back out in absolute record time, dripping steaming hot liquid on his clean floor. Most, but not all, of Resonance's nanytes were gone. He was deeply afraid that there were some on his aft and back that he'd need help scrubbing off, and because of this, he kept his back to the wall.

Wheeljack shrugged.

"He told me months ago that you needed a good frag, and I should be the one to do it. Right after that debacle with Sideswipe." Resonance smirked at Ratchet.

Ratchet fixed Wheeljack with a dangerous glare, the one he normally saved for Decepticons and recalcitrant patients. If the Autobots had been able to weaponize that look, they would have won the war far sooner. "I have no idea why we trusted you to raise a sparkling."

Wheeljack's grin was unrepentant. "Notice you're not denying I was right. And he's not a kid."

"Hello, Jackie, how are you doing today?" Resonance said, in a bright, chipper, tone, before Ratchet could snarl an obscenity. "Welcome to our apartment. What brings you to Iacon this fine afternoon?"

Wheeljack rolled his optics. "Res, I don't know where you got your sense of humor, but it wasn't me, and it sure as Pit wasn't Prime."

Ratchet wasn't so sure. He knew for a fact that Optimus could be far more irreverent in private than he ever was in public, and his public persona was at least partly an act for the masses. Optimus had very rarely let that dignified mask slip, but Ratchet had seen and heard him say enough over the megavorns they'd known each other to have a very different picture of what Optimus was truly like.

~Heh. You'll have to tell me some stories.~

~I'd rather tell you a different kind of bedtime story ...~ Ratchet replied, with a strictly mental leer. Resonance responded with worldless interest, but to Ratchet's disappointment, no embarrassment and no outwardly visible reaction.

Oblivious to, or perhaps simply willfully ignoring, the byplay Wheeljack said, "Anyway, this isn't strictly a social call. Res, Titan's long-range sensors picked up a large ship on a trajectory heading for Earth today."

~Quintessons?~

~Or any one of an infinite number of other galactics.~

Wheeljack sat down at Ratchet's kitchen table and showed them pictures of the ship, the trajectory, and Prowl's threat assessment -- Prowl was very worried.

"So what do you need from us?" Ratchet was a bit confused.

"He needs me to warp out to get a better look at that craft." Resonance said this casually, then tilted his head as he studied an image of the ship. "It has formidable weapons."

~You can't!~ Ratchet said, startled by the near panicky feeling in his spark. He couldn't lose him, not again, and this could be dangerous.

~Relax, Ratch. I have a better idea.~ Resonance replied, then said aloud, "Wheeljack, I know that Earth requested me, but I think you should send Indigo."

"He's a minor!" Wheeljack objected. Even Ratchet thought this was a weak objection, given the fact that Indigo was over fifty earth years old. Minor, yes, by Cybertronian standards, but not really a child anymore. They'd sent far, far, younger into combat towards the end of the war, out of sheer necessity.

"Yes, but he's faster than I am, and he has heavier armor. You did send plenty of children during the war ..." Resonance said this with a narrow look at his guardian. "... and Indigo is almost a legal adult."

Wheeljack hesitated, then said, "I trust your judgement more."

Resonance nodded. "So send Bumblebee with Indigo. He's an experienced scout -- far more experienced than I am, by a few light years."

"What about Cosmos?" Ratchet put in.

Wheeljack blinked. "He's on Cybertron."

"So's Res," Ratchet pointed out. "And so are you, right now. Aren't space bridges wonderful things?"

"I ..." Wheeljack hesitated.

"He isn't Prime," Ratchet ground out in a fury. "Wheeljack ... he's not a soldier, he's not had any training as a scout, and while he's smart and skilled and he's a fantastic flier for his size, there are better choices who are not Roddy's heir."

Wheeljack took an alarmed step back.

Resonance blinked a couple of times more and then said, "I was thinking more along the lines of Ratchet's lost enough. I'm not going to risk my life when there are others who are better qualified to go. Ratchet is right about Cosmos being a very good choice for this."

Wheeljack rocked back on his heels and stared up at Resonance.

Ratchet said, "Who's requesting Res, anyway?"

"Earth Defense Force. They know him better than Cosmos," Wheeljack mumbled. "And Cosmos isn't a Terran citizen. Res is."

"Mmm. Next time, run this sort of thing by Jazz or Prowl. They may be Cybertronian, not Terran, but they'll give you a better analysis of the best mecha to send." Ratchet folded his arms over his chassis. "You have Jazz's comm number, right?"

"Yeah." Wheeljack sighed, then abruptly held his arms open. "Hug, Res? It is good to see you looking so good."

Resonance embraced his creator briefly, then aimed Wheeljack at the door with the comment, "You should hurry, the sooner you talk to Jazz, the quicker you can get someone dispatched to check it out."

Privately, he was surprised that Res hadn't immediately volunteered to lead the charge into battle. As soon as the door slid shut after Wheeljack, Resonance turned to him and let out a long, slow, ventilation. He answered Ratchet's unspoken thought with a rueful look. "Believe me, it was tempting, Ratchet. But ... that is what got Optimus killed, wasn't it? Not only did he chose to go into a battle when others could have led, he was the first to approach Shockwave's fortress while he ordered the others to wait behind a ridge."

Ratchet winced at the reminder, then spat out, "He was a self-sacrificing idiot, yes."

"If ... if I ever end up Prime, or we go to war, there will be times I will have to risk myself. I know that. But I promise I will never do so recklessly."

"Optimus always valued his own life less than others under his command."

Resonance nodded. "I have the same inclination. Rung's talked to me about it."

"You ... talk to Rung?" Res was the least crazy person he knew.

Resonance lifted half a shoulder up in a shrug. "Several times a year, since early childhood, when I first learned about you. They thought it wise I have counseling, because my bond to you was something I would need to come to terms with. Rung's very good at what he does, and sometimes I do need a professional sounding board." He tilted his head sideways. "I don't think Optimus had that, ever."

"No." Ratchet confirmed. "I was his usual confidant, and Pit knows I'm no shrink."

He felt guilty, for that. Perhaps if he'd offered better counsel Optimus would have chosen differently, at the end. On the other hand, another mech might have died in his place. Was he selfish to place Optimus's welfare above others?

"I'd suggest you could use a few sessions with Rung yourself," Resonance said, softly, "except I think it'd be unlikely you'd agree0."

He grunted agreement with that. He didn't talk about his feelings, to anyone.

Resonance caught Ratchet's chin in his hand and tilted his head up. "Look at me, Ratchet. You matter. You matter to me, and you matter to Cybertron. I know what losing me would do to you. I will never recklessly risk myself."

"You're also the heir," he pointed out, "for the Prime. Wheeljack was wrong to ask you to go, but I suspect he is unaware that you are the only suitable mechanism to carry the Matrix."

"I am aware of that, too." Resonance nodded. "I will admit it was also a consideration, but even if I wasn't the heir, I would have made the same decision. You matter, Ratchet. To me. And to Cybertron. And if I die in spark as well as frame, you'd follow me into the Well, however much I wish that wasn't so."

It was a blunt, but honest, assessment. Ratchet grimaced. "I can't say as you're wrong."

Resonance pulled him into a hug, and held him for a long time.  

--

They went for a flight that day, a long and leisurely one, with Ratchet curled up in the copilot's seat. They talked about nothing important, made no great plans, and did not discuss the future.

The following day, Resonance brought a datapad to Ratchet and showed him plans for a youngling frame.

Ratchet blinked at it, then realized what he was seeing. He lifted an optic ridge at Resonance. "Isn't it a bit early?"

Resonance crouched to look him in the optics. "We have to increase our numbers, Ratchet, and you and I have a fifty percent chance of creating an alpha spark. If the sparkling inherits my size, he could also be a shuttle, and we need more shuttles almost as critically as we need alpha sparks. You and I would be good parents. "

Ratchet sighed. "It'd have to be a test tube brat."

His interface equipment remained stubbornly offline. He'd run a few diagnostics, which verified what he suspected: His new motor control chip hadn't finished integration.

"I think it would best if the child were grown in a vat, anyway." Resonance shook his head. "If war comes, the child will be safest if he is gestating in a secure lab."

"I don't think I'm ready for this, Res."

"I know you aren't." Resonance agreed. "Nor, frankly, am I. But we need to procreate. It's a responsibility of all Cybetronians, right now, to create offspring, and we have a greater responsibility than most."

He sighed. "I'll ... I'll talk to First Aid. He'll need to extract the nanytes from me. It's a minor medical procedure, but I'm sure not going to be able to expell them the old fashioned way."

He really didn't want to tell his protege that he was having interface problems, but Resonance was correct. Every Cybertronian was strongly encouraged to create offspring. It was a vital need.

"Want me to go with you?"

He started to say no.

Resonance rested a hand on his back. ~Remember, you can rely on me, for anything and everything.~

He nodded curtly. "Yes, come."

Resonance crouched to be on his eye level. "You know, I want you to spike me."

"Yes, well, that isn't going to happen."

Resonance produced something from his subspace and held it up, dangling from his fingers. It was a false spike, with a powerful magnet attached to the base. The dildo was meant for mecha with much larger partners (size didn't matter unless you were a symbiont fragging a heavy transport) but there were, obviously, other applications.

He stared.

Resonance grinned.

Prim and proper Optimus would never purchase a "sex aid." Resonance, apparently, had no such reservations.

Ratchet grabbed for it. Resonance let him have it, then darted across the room before Ratchet could grab him too.

It wasn't just about the climax. Ratchet couldn't overload, but he could sure as hell catch that incredibly handsome young shuttle and give him the fragging of his life anyway.

Chapter Text


They got a much larger two bedroom apartment down the hall the next week. One bedroom was for their berth; the other they turned into a shared office.  The furniture that Sideswipe had purchased Ratchet was given to Anodyne, who happily carted it off to his dorm room nine floors below them. Ratchet held no grudges towards Sideswipe, but he wanted no reminders, either. He'd been in a terrible place, then, and his future was much brighter now.

Resonance loved the color red, even though his armor was gold. ("I remind people a bit too much of Optimus when I wear red," he'd explained. ) Ratchet let him pick out their new furnishings, and Resonance selected furniture that was sturdy yet stylish, with red accents. A few lamps with blue shades lit the corners of the room, and Resonance had also purchased some potted plants. All of them were Terran. Some of them were big enough that humans would have called them "trees." Resonance, who had grown up tending hydroponic farms, seemed determined to turn their quarters into a giant greenhouse.


(Ratchet, in his snarkier moments, called their quarters "the terrarium, complete with local fauna" -- the local fauna being a pack of humans. Ratchet could barely tell them apart, and he was not inclined to befriend creatures whose lifespans left him grieving their loss in less than a vorn, but Resonance adored humans and humans adored him right back. He grumbled sometimes about having to watch his step in his own quarters, but he knew Resonance had made real friends among the human population on Cybertron and so he tolerated their presence. He felt it was good for Res, young and vibrant, to have a life beyond his affair with one curmudgeonly old medic.)

And thinking of 'affairs' reminded him that their berth was enormous, with a springy rubber mattress. Resonance had imported the mattress, at great expense, from Earth.

Ratchet's contribution to the apartment's design was to install a very good sound system. He wasn't much of a music connoisseur but Res was, and this was a gift to his bondmate.

And then he learned that he and Resonance did not share the same taste in music. Wryly, he thought he should have expected that. He and Optimus had disagreed on music too. Ratchet didn't like music with words. He found words in his music distracting when he was trying to concentrate. Resonance had never met a long ballad he didn't like, regardless of musical style. Anodyne, who helped them move, found this disagreement hysterical, and then as an apartment-warming gift, he had sound-proofed their shared office.

After the new apartment was set up, and everything in its place, and Anodyne had left, Ratchet cornered Resonance in their berthroom. Res felt his intentions as he approached, and turned with an open smile on his face. Ratchet, wordlessly, attached the false spike to his interface panel and then advanced on Resonance with focused purpose.

He wasn't tall enough to pin Resonance's hands over his head, but he held them down at Res's sides with a good bit of his weight. Grinning, he proceeded to pound into Resonance, punctuating each stroke with words. "You. Are. Mine. Forever. Mine. All. Mine."

Resonance's heels scrabbled at the berth's mattress, and he arched his back against Ratchet's weight. He cried out, panted, gasped. Ratchet had no mercy, and since it was a false spike and not his own, it would never deflate. He drove into Resonance until Res had climaxed a good four times, and then he collapsed across the mech and said with satisfaction, "I will never get tired of that."

Res stroked his helm with a large hand and said softly, "I love you, Ratchet."

--

It was Quintessons, at Earth. Ratchet didn't think that anyone was surprised by this development.

They never actually reached Earth orbit. This seemed to surprise everyone but Resonance and Prowl. (And likely Jazz, but Jazz was still away on his "mission." Music had never approved the release of his medical records, so Ratchet assumed that Jazz's mission was a failure.)

To everyone's else's surprise, and certainly that of the Quintessons and their galactic supporters, Earth's Defense Force came boiling out to meet the advancing Quintesson dreadnought with unmatched ferocity. The Quintessons were ancient, and had the technological advantage, but they could not win against tens of thousands of human drones each remotely piloted by a human or a Cybertronian expat. Each craft was very heavily armed, courtesy of their Cybertronian allies, and incredibly nimble, and they tore the attacking Quintessons to shreds within minutes.

Then the humans boarded Cosmos and Indigo plus six Terran-made unsparked transports and took the fight to the nearest Quintesssan military base. There, they proceeded to to beat the Pit out of the Quintesson's army, blow up a few bases, and utterly destroy two orbital defense stations out of nine.

Indigo saw his first combat, and by all reports, did quite well. Skyfire was disturbed by this; Astrotrain, delighted. Prowl, ever pragmatic, made plans for the young shuttle to get formal combat training with the seekers and his sire, Astrotrain. Cosmos had apparently been tutoring the kid, but Cosmos was a large courier, not a warframed shuttle.


Point made to the Quintessons regarding human military competence, the humans returned home two weeks later, victorious and more than a little smug.

Prowl's assessment, to Ratchet, was that the Quintessons would probably be back ... but not for a very long time. Multiple human lifespans might pass before the Terran system saw them again.

All bets were still off for Cybertron.

--

Resonance sat crosslegged on the floor, watching the sun set over Iacon from their lofty apartment. When Ratchet walked by he reached out, caught Ratchet around the waist, and pulled the medic effortlessly into his lap.

It was undignified ... Ratchet thought, for a moment, then he realized the benefits of this position. His back was to Res's chest, and Resonance was easily able to loop his arms around Ratchet's frame and hold him close. Resonance rested his chin on the top of Ratchet's head, and Ratchet could feel the heat of Resonance's interface panel against his own pelvic cradle.

Resonance absently stroked Ratchet's legs. His touch was platonic; Res wasn't thinking about interface (yet, the mech had a very healthy drive) but they'd been lovers for long enough that Resonance rubbed the inside of Ratchet's thighs as a casual form of intimacy.

Ratchet relaxed into the touch, leaning back against Resonance's chest. His equipment remained resolutely offline, but he sent Resonance a very clear visual of what he'd like to do, had he been able to. It involved Resonance on all fours.

~There's the false spike,~ Resonance suggested. He liked the idea. His fans clicked on instantly. So much for non-sexual touches. Resonance's long fingers stroked the edges of Ratchet's panel.

~Nah. I'm liking your lap too much. Maybe later.~ Ratchet said, then rose briefly, but only to turn around so he was straddling Resonance's legs. It didn't take long for Res's spike to stand tall and proud and large between them, and Ratchet lowered himself onto it. He was thrilled with his ability to cause Resonance to come completely undone.

After, he remained leaning against Resonance's chest, and looked up at his lover. Resonance smiled down at him, expression very tender. "You are the center of my world," Resonance said, "And I wouldn't have it any other way."

Ratchet stroked Resonance's chest. "Sparks?" He suggested, almost shyly. What he was suggesting was incredibly intimate, beyond merely the bond, and also fraught with possible complications. Ratchet wasn't ready for those complications, but he felt it was a risk worth taking. He wanted to feel Res.

"Can you?" Resonance hesitated. They'd talked about procreation a few times, and that meant spark merges, but they'd never tried it yet.

"Not without your help." Ratchet guided his hand to the manual latch to open his chest plates. He could have flipped the latch himself, but he couldn't do the rest. He explained, "You'll need to retract the iris on my spark chamber, too. It won't open unless I'm physically aroused or I trigger the release sequence, and I can't do either until my motor repairs finish."

Resonance's fingers were nimble, despite their size, and he was careful. Cool air wafted across the inside of Ratchet's spark chamber as his spark was bared. The glow lit Resonance's face from below; Ratchet's spark was just a few shades shy of the clear crystal blue of a Prime.

His lover's fingers brushed his spark, and Ratchet gasped as an electric feeling more intense than mere arousal seized his frame. "Primus!" He hadn't been expecting that, somehow, even though he knew that a climax from a spark merge was not the same as an overload from interface.

Resonance cried out too,  as he caught an echo of that sensation across the bond, and he yanked his hand back in surprise. Then a slow grin spread across his face, and he ran a finger right down the edge of the chamber, just out of reach of the corona, with real intent. The touch was intoxicating, and Ratchet arched his back, trying to force Resonance's hand closer. Res obliged, teasing the very tips of the tendrils. Ratchet groaned, "Resonance ... Pit, I want you so bad ..."

Resonance guided him backwards to lie on the floor, and then lowered himself to meet Ratchet. His own spark was bare, and filled the rapidly darkening room with brilliant clear blue light, and then they came together and it was like coming home.

If he hadn't already been bonded to Res, he would have chosen to do so in that moment. Resonance was steady, and calm, and he considered Ratchet his, and it was incredibly clear, with no barriers between them, that Resonance not only wanted but expected to spend the rest of his life with Ratchet. He was operating from a basic assumption that they would never be parted, and that they were going to build a life together.

Ratchet was terrified he would lose that future. He had, once.

He wanted it enough to seize it and make it his own. If he lost Res tomorrow, today would be worth tomorrow's pain.  

Resonance ground against him, pushing their sparks closer, with urgent need. Neither of them ever wanted to be separated. This was perfection, the two of them together.

But physics intervened at last, as a ripple of potent energy radiated out through their circuits, forewarning of the climax to come. It rolled over them like a tide, like an avalanche, and then coallesced into a singularity of energy between them.

Oh, thought Ratchet. It was beautiful, and the tiny sparkling floating between them had a spark frequency very close to Resonance's. The color was close to identical.

Oh, Resonance thought. Beautiful. Beautiful child.

Brief communication passed between them. One of them would have to host it, until a protoform could be initiated in a lab. Ratchet was not in the best physical condition, while Resonance was young and healthy. It  made more sense for Res to carry it. However, Ratchet was startled by the fierce longing in his spark to be the carrier. He'd never really thought about it before, but he loved children, and he wanted this child.

~Can you safely carry?~ Resonance said.

Ratchet, physician, checked his own stats. ~Yes, but it will delay my final motor repairs for a significant amount of time. Sparklings draw a lot of energy and get priority over everything else.~

Ratchet cupped the floating ball of energy in his hands and guided it into his own chamber.  He now had options. It could gestate there for months until the protoform for it was forged in a lab from their nanytes, and the sparkling's growth could then finish in a vat. Alternately, he could trigger his own gestation chamber to begin constructing a protoform for it using a combination of his CNA and Resonance's.

Most mecha opted for the latter choice. While there was less control over the results, primally created mecha were generally psychologically healthier (they were exposed to subliminal socialization cues while still in the gestation chamber rather than being isolated in a lab vat) and the whole process was simply much more personal. The child belonged to the couple from the very beginning. It was also, frankly, cheaper.

This child, however, would be a Primal candidate. So many Primes went to war that Ratchet was inclined to have her protoform grown in a vat simply to ensure that she was physically as strong as possible. She needed every advantage she could get. Few Primes had psychological issues.

The sparkling nestled against his spark, and the feeling was electric. There was an awareness of other ... not sentient thought, but consciousness. She, and he could tell it was definitely a femme by the polarity of the spark, was brightly curious and instantly affectionate. She wrapped herself in the tendrils of his own spark, responded to their connection with bubbling joy and deep trust. He fell in love at once, even before Resonance gently pushed the iris of his spark chamber shut.

Resonance said softly, "I wasn't expecting that on the first try."

"Only takes once, kid. And that is one reason why merging isn't common." Ratchet spread his hand over his chest. He could feel her. He loved her, selflessly and without qualification. The intensity was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before, yet it was not frightening. It felt natural. It felt right.

And though the sparkling would not have conscious thought until she had a processor and protoform, she loved him back with the entirety of her limited awareness.

Resonance shifted, and sat up, and then when Ratchet sat up too, he guided Ratchet into his lap in a mirror of the position that had started it all, half an hour before. Ratchet nestled in his lap, back to Resonance's chest, and with hands still over his spark. They were silent, for a long moment.

"I'm not ready," Resonance said, ruefully. "But ... but I can feel her, through you. She is mine. And I will be hers."

"We'll have about five years to get used to the idea," Ratchet said. He admitted, "I'm not ready either."

"Ratchet," Resonance said, softly, "I never realized sparks could love without conscious thought. Optimus loved you. As do I. Perhaps my love for you has been unwavering, despite everything that has happened, because sparks love."

Ratchet didn't know how to answer that.

"Don't." Resonance's grip on Ratchet tightened. "Just accept it. But -- I do have a question. Why do I feel so different from Optimus?"

"Optimus was emotionally exhausted, Res. He'd not only seen the destruction of his world, and his people. It wasn't true, but he did, and nothing I, nor anyone else, could say would convince him otherwise. Not only was he a self-sacrificing idiot, he had delusions of grandeur, too."

"You sound far too fond when you say those words," Resonance chuckled.

Ratchet snorted. "Only Optimus would blame himself for the destruction of our entire world when there were so many other mecha involved. Every single mech who pulled a trigger, threw a bomb, invented a device, or even healed a soldier, and yes I'm talking about myself! was responsible for that. It took all of us, and quite a bit of mutual effort, to destroy Cybertron. So yes, Optimus had a few delusions of grandeur when he held himself solely responsible."

"Surely not 'solely' ... there was Megatron."

Ratchet snorted. "Optimus always thought if he could just find the right words, he could talk Megatron into agreeing to a peace treaty. So he felt responsible there, too."

Resonance rested a hand on Ratchet's thigh, and Ratchet covered his hand with his own. Resonance said, a bit wryly, "That explains a few things Rung likes to focus on with me."

"I'll bet."

"You loved Optimus so much, though."

"Oh, so very much. Res, he could have healed. Getting him to talk to a shrink would have been about as easy as getting me to talk to a shrink, but I knew he had the capacity within himself to find peace, and redemption. And he was just ... he was my everything, my entire world. Now you," Ratchet poked Resonance in the leg with his index finger, "you are about the last mechanism I would have chosen for myself. You are way too cheerful and optimistic. But I think you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I needed you, and I never even knew it."

Resonance kissed the back of his helm, a lingering touch. ~Yet I am him on core level, and he could have been like me.~

~Yeah. I know. In another universe, Optimus might have been just like you. Strange to think of that. I will miss him to the day I die, but I am very glad I have you.~

Chapter Text

"Hands lower." Resonance padded around Anodyne. "Bend your knees a bit. Feet wider ... there."

Anodyne, who normally appeared a bit awkward, balanced comfortably on his feet as Resonance studied him. Circuit Su training with Resonance was slowly giving him more grace and physical confidence.

Ratchet watched them both from the edge of the quad; the two large mecha had marked a circle out in chalk. Over the last few days, Resonance had begun to teach Anodyne basic katas. Res himself was not a master, but he was a fairly advanced student courtesy of several dedicated Autobots. He knew enough to teach another the basics even as he sought more advanced training from others. (Currently, those tutors included both Prowl andMirage. Mirage, surprising only to those who didn't know his early childhood training matched the quality of his mods, was exceptionally gifted in multiple martial arts. Prowl was just Prowl; of course he could fight, and fight well.)

Anodyne and Res were attracting a crowd, largely because Anodyne had always been a deeply pacifistic mech and it surprised everyone to see him choosing to fight. Ratchet was uneasy with that crowd; he hadn't forgotten that Anodyne had been attacked, and this demonstrated just how little 'Dyne knew about fighting. Unfortunately, there was no protected indoor space big enough and structurally sound enough in Iacon that allowed for privacy. There were a few gymnasiums and training centers, but they were just as public as the quad.

His anxiety made the sparkling nestled against his own spark twitch a bit, then snuggle closer to his core. He sighed and put a hand over his spark chamber, and tried to think happy thoughts.

At one-quarter speed, Resonance walked Anodyne through several basic defensive moves. Anodyne had the potential, Ratchet could already tell, to be fairly good someday. He was clumsy now, but he still had a little growing to do, and he would fill out his final set of armor better and be more coordinated in a human year or two.

"Anodyne, learning quickly. Gratitude to your bondmate," Soundwave said, from right beside Ratchet, at the same time as a much younger voice said, "Chet!"

Ratchet literally jumped sideways. His sparkling spasmed in fright, with an almost painful wash of fear. He glared at the host, who'd come up beside him silently, and said, "You do that deliberately." To Soundwave's child, he added, "Hello, Brissant."

Soundwave smiled at him. Brief, fleeting, but it was there. The host's optics flickered down towards his spark chamber and up to his optics. They'd told no one about the child he carried, but Soundwave, empath as well as telepath, would know. (Ratchet realized Anodyne probably also knew, but the young host was too tactful to say anything.)

Anodyne's little sister, meanwhile, held her arms out towards Ratchet. Ratchet obligingly took her from Soundwave's arms and held her up to inspect her. "Hmm. Growing fast. She's about big enough to be sharkticon bait. What do you think, Soundwave?"

The child shrieked, "Noooooo!" and then giggled wildly. Soundwave's mouth tightened into what might have been another smile. Like her elder siblings and Soundwave she, too, was an empath and she knew he was teasing.

Ratchet tossed her up into the air a couple of times, eliciting more squeals of joy, then slung her up onto his shoulders. She proceeded to pound on his helmet and kick her heels into his shoulders, making an incredibly loud racket. Likely, the whole point was the noise.

"Hey, hey!" He objected, tickling the bottom of her foot. "My audio sensors are never going to be the same!"

She shrieked, yanked her foot away, and hit him harder (and louder).

"Kid's going to be a drummer when she grows up," Ratchet said, as he pulled a couple rust sticks out of his subspace. He concealed them in his hand so that only Soundwave could see, and raised a questioning eyebrow in Soundwave's direction, seeking permission to give the kid a goodie. Soundwave nodded, almost imperceptibly, and Ratchet handed the snack up to her.

"Russ tick!" She said, grabbing it. Then, around a mouthful of crunch candy, she asked, "Where's your chair, Chet?."

"I don't need the float chair anymore." He pulled her down off his shoulder and flipped her upside down. "I wouldn't be able to do this if I were in a chair, would I?"

She shrieked, spitting out crumbs and slobber, and then screamed in delight when he held her by her ankles . He righted her before she purged, and tossed her back up on his shoulder. "No chair?"

"Nope."

"Can I have it?" She asked, innocently.

Anodyne's splutter of disbelief alerted him to the fact that he had an audience. Anodyne and Resonance had stopped sparring, and everyone watching them was now looking at him and the kid. Anodyne said, "Hey, bratling, that was rude!"

"I gave my chair back to the hospital, so that other mechanisms who get hurt can use it," he said, as he poked her with a finger and made her squeal again. "So no, you can't have it. But I have another rust stick."

"Tick!"

"Yes, stick." Brissant, like her carrier, seemed to have a speech impediment. Ratchet strongly suspected that Soundwave's taciturn nature was at least partly caused by his difficulty with vocal speech. It was probably a CNA trait, and they could have corrected it in the controlled environment of a vat -- but he fully understood, now that he had a sparkling pressed up against his own spark, the appeal of a primal birth. He really, truly, did not want to give his own child up to the cold and sterile environment of a lab vat. Even though he logically knew that would be best for his own sparkling, doubt kept creeping in.

"Didn't know you liked kids that much, doc," someone said -- he looked over, and saw it was Groove. He hadn't spoken to Groove since the end of the war.

"Ratchet, has always liked children," Soundwave said, as he reclaimed his youngling back. She didn't go willingly, and screeched an entirely unintelligible objection that Soundwave quickly silenced with a firm, "Hush." 

Ratchet grinned at Soundwave. "Yeah, not many mecha remember I was known for my pediatric practice, once upon a time."

"Soundwave, remembers."

Anodyne was not Soundwave's first child. Soundwave had lost several children to the war. Ratchet had personally offlined one of Soundwave's offspring, who happened to be a mech he'd once treated in the pediatric practice, when the young mech had attacked him on a battlefield. He'd been fighting for his life, but after he'd killed Soundwave's son all he could see was that mech as a child, in his pediatric clinic, before the war.

Nausea roiled his tank, as he looked at Brissant in Soundwave's arms. He was suddenly terrified it might happen all over again. And ashamed and horrified by his past.

The sparkling snuggled into the tendrils of his own spark was terribly upset by his sudden burst of emotions. Ratchet, a carrier for the first time in his life, couldn't imagine losing his child. How could Soundwave forgive him? How could Soundwave trust him with Brissant, or Anodyne? Soundwave had surely known who'd pulled the trigger.

How could Ratchet forgive himself?

~Ratchet, we all have things to atone for.~ Resonance came up behind him, and wrapped his arms around Ratchet's shoulders and pulled him tight against his chest. Aloud, to Soundwave, he said, "Holding Brissant reminded him of playing with your son Entropy, in much the same way, a long time ago."

He was thankful for Resonance. He didn't have the words himself. His expression must have terrible, too, because they were all staring at him.

"Entropy, an adult." Soundwave said, his voice far softer than usual. "We must forgive, all of us. Forgive each other, and forgive ourselves. We have all done things we regret."

Behind his visor, the host's eyes were two bright spots of red.

Soundwave added, "I regret ... much."

Ratchet fled. He couldn't face them. In Soundwave's position, he did not think he could forgive. Anodyne called his name out as he hurried away. Resonance, however, stopped the host from following and said firmly, "Let him go. I will follow him later, when he is ready to talk."

---

In the end, however, they didn't talk about it.

There wasn't anything that Res could say that would change what had happened during the war. Entropy's killing had only been one of many horrible things that weighed on Ratchet's conscience. Ratchet would always feel guilty, and angry, about what the war had forced him to do. He wasn't the only one; he was one of many elders with similar nightmares in their history.

Resonance simply held him tight that night, and made slow and tender love to him (it didn't matter that he couldn't respond; it was the intimacy that mattered) and promised him that he'd do everything in his power to make sure the future was brighter than the horrors of his past. He couldn't change the past, Res reminded him, but he could live for a better future.

When Resonance made promises like that, Ratchet believed him.

--

A few days later, accompanied by Res, he slunk into his former apprentice's clinic for the first of many checkups prior to his child's extraction. He also brought up, somewhat unhappily, a certain ... dysfunction ... that was not going away as fast as he'd like. They would need to artificially collect his CNA from his reservoirs. 

"You should have come to me before now." First Aid glowered at Ratchet.

Ratchet matched and exceeded First Aid's glare.

First Aid threw his hands up. "It'll heal. Of course it'll heal. You know that."

"I knew that, yes." Ratchet bit out. "There's zilch all anyone can do until those connections form on their own. There's no skilled mnemosurgeons left. This might take vorns. Interface is the last thing in the priority queue after the very last bit of protoform repair, and protoforms heal far too slowly."

First Aid huffed. "I should make you extract your own damned CNA."

"When did you turn into such a aft?" Ratchet said, even as Resonance made a suspicious sound that might have been a muffled snicker. His bondmate was trying not to laugh; Ratchet's sense of Resonance was better than it had been before they'd merged. He still couldn't sense words through Resonance's natural shields, unless Res deliberately dropped them, but emotions were much stronger.

"You quit and ran away. Somebody had to step into your tracks." First Aid was unrepentant, at first. Then his expression softened, and he smiled. "You always did love children. Including me, and for that, I am still forever grateful. Congratulations on the bitlet. I look forward to seeing you go soft and gooshy over her."

"I do not goosh."

FIrst Aid looked up at Res. "Five credits says he gooshes within the first day of her birth."

"If he does, I'll record it for all to see and marvel out," Res replied, then hastily ducked away when Ratchet slapped at him.

"Stop that! You're not supposed to side with him!" 

"If you can record it, I'll give you ten credits." 

--

Chapter Text


Res and Anodyne moved up to actual fight training, and started sparring using simple iron bars. Res thought Anodyne would be good with a bladed weapon, and was teaching him the basic moves. Ratchet, having little else to do, stopped to watch. Resonance was a pleasure to behold; he was quick, and agile, and clearly very well trained. Anodyne, by contrast, was raw talent and promise; anyone who knew anything about martial arts could see he had the processor for it.

Anodyne was big by any standard; he'd inherited his sire's bulky protoform and his creators had given him a powerful warframe. His alt mode was a heavily armored troop transport, capable of carrying four good sized warriors and with powerful rear mounted guns. In root, he was spiky and broad, with tank treads crossed across his back and broad shoulder pauldrons that were balanced by sturdy pedes. One wouldn't expect a mech like 'Dyne to be able to move well, but he did -- he was fast and well balanced, with excellent coordination and a surprising amount of aggression for a mech who hated violence.

Watching Anodyne, Ratchet was reminded of gladiators of long ago -- 'Dyne would have looked at home facing off with Megatron, or the twins. He had that assertive, fierce style. Even as Ratchet mused on this, Anodyne took advantage of an opening to deal Res a smart blow to the upper arm.

"Sorry!" Anodyne apologized, stopping. He probably hadn't intended to hit Resonance that hard.

"Good job," Res said, not even glancing at the scuff on his plating. Then he smacked Anodyne in the abdominal plates with the end of the bar. "Don't stop."

"But I hurt you!" Anodyne protested.

"I'll survive." Res clipped Anodyne on the hip. 'Dyne hastily blocked his next blow before Res could whack him in the elbow. Conversationally, Resonance added, "It's a long way from my fuel pump. I don't think I'm going to bleed out. Teach me to let my guard down around you, buddy. You're getting good!"

Ratchet was impressed, more by Resonance's reaction than Anodyne's ability to land a few blows. 'Dyne had hit Resonance hard enough that it had smarted; he could feel it over the bond. Res, ever cool and controlled, hadn't even blinked. Anodyne was more upset than Resonance!

They continued to trade blows, and both were starting to leave trails of vapor from their vents as they heated up. This morning was frosty; winter was here, and the temperature was well below the freezing point of water. In the weak winter sun, the two mecha glittered and shone as they sparred.

The crowd watching had grown quite large; Res and Anodyne did this every morning, and there were students who stopped every morning to watch. Against the bitter cold, the humans and other organics were bundled up. His Jurassian student, who wore only her own scales in summer, was buried up to her chin in a huge parka, and had knitted legwarmers from her feet all the way up to her hocks. Big fuzzy mittens covered her clawed hands. Birdlike, she was standing on first one foot and then the other in an attempt to keep the cold ground from freezing her clawed feet.

The humans had frost on their eyelashes and on the males' facial hair, and whenever they breathed their breath left trails of white vapor.

It would rain, later, and then likely freeze. Frozen acid rain was in the forecast, and wasn't that going to be fun. He could already smell the tang the coming storm, both ozone and a sulfurous stench. It wasn't strong enough to drive the organics into the many hermetically sealed shelters around the city yet, but that was coming. He fully expected the advance warning sirens to go off soon.

Resonance demonstrated a new block to Anodyne, and then drilled him on it a dozen times.

"This works particularly well on a smaller mech," Resonance explained, then turned to Ratchet. "Hey, Ratchet, you want to demonstrate this to Anodyne?"

Ratchet, while no Circuit Su master either, could hold his own in a fight. He grunted, sub-spaced the datapad in his hand, and then padded over to join them in the middle of the circle. "Like this, kid," he said, demonstrating the stance that Anodyne needed to take, and then let Anodyne topple him a few times before he planted a foot squarely between Anodyne's, twisted, and with a strategic hold on Anodyne's armor, he tossed his taller and much more massive student to the ground with an enormous clatter of armor.

Resonance snorted. "That's a useful one in the med bay, isn't it?"

"Very. Not all patients are ... cooperative. Sometimes they're delirious or, in the war, they're the enemy. Even if you never see a battlefield, you need to learn how to fight, Anodyne, and fight well. Sooner or later, you'll need it." Ratchet turned to Res. He'd never sparred with Anodyne, and he was curious to find out how he would do. "So, think you can take me down, kid?"

Resonance disliked being called 'kid', even by Ratchet, and his optics sparked with determination. "Bring it, you old bastard."

The insult had no literal translation into Cybertronian, but he understood the intent and figurative meaning of the English word, and he growled in mock outrage.

They were evenly matched, a; Ratchet had slightly greater skill and a lot more dirty tricks courtesy of eons of war as a battlefield medic, but Res had longer reach and far more mass. It took several minutes before Ratchet managed to take Resonance down and pin him, and Res laughed when he did. "I am going to need to spar with you again. That was way too much fun, Ratchet."

Ratchet hoped their audience assumed the roar of both of their cooling system was purely a result of the exertion. Verve was dramatically fanning herself, and pretending to swoon, and it was icy cold out, however, so perhaps not. They were both steaming far out of proportion to the amount of energy they'd actually exerted.


 

By evening, it was pouring so hard that he could hear the pounding of water against the building. Wind howled, and a faint sour tint of rotten eggs wafted through the apartment despite the fact that they'd shut everything up tight. There was a continous strobe-like flash of lightning. The thunder was muffled by the volume of rain coming down, but a steady rumble still shook the apartment and it was punctuated by the occasional louder clap when a bolt struck the building's lightning rods.

On earth, this volume of water would not have resulted in freezing rain. The water would have warmed the ground enough to avoid that fate.

Cybertron was made of metal, and before the storm had arrived, the entire city had been locked in a deep freeze for weeks. Any heat that the rain contained was instantly sucked away, and the water froze hard, in thick layers.

He did not remember ever having seen a storm of this ferocity before. Ratchet stood by the window and watched the water (and small pellets of hail) beat against it. Ice was not forming on the glass, but it was freezing around the edges of the frame. Icicles dangled from above, partially blocking the view.

"It's the terraforming," Resonance answered his thought. "We're injecting water, and both oxygen and carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. That holds heat in, and it is creating climate change. And with more humidity, obviously, it rains more."

He shuddered at the thought. And somewhere deep inside, he hated the idea that they were changing Cybertron.

"Cybertron is an artificial world to begin with." Resonance replied. "We have always changed it to suit our needs. Our need now is human settlers on this world, because we need their aid in rebuilding. We must change Cybertron to suit their needs, as well as our own."

He was being lectured at.

It reminded him of Optimus.

Resonance huffed a sigh. "Sorry. I know you know this."

"I know it. I don't have to like it, even if I do accept it."

Resonance padded over, put his arms around Ratchet from behind, and pulled him back against his chassis. The top of his head only came up to Resonance's elbows, but it was still a comfortable embrace. Resonance covered Ratchet's chest over his spark chamber, containing their child, with both his hands and they stood together, watching the rain beat against the window, for a long time.

Ratchet didn't want this moment to end. It was perfection.

 


 

He woke to no power, and a bitterly cold room. Everything was tinted with blue light; when Ratchet lifted his head, he realized that ice had covered window during the night. It was thick enough to mute the light.

Resonance reached out and trailed fingers over his hip. His bondmate murmured, "Spike me?"

There would be no classes today. Every able bodied Cybertronian would be expected to help with the massive cleanup, but for now, they had a few moments to themselves.

Ratchet rolled over and, after finding the necessary interfacing aid in his subspace, he slipped between Resonance's legs. Tenderly, gently, intimately, he made love to Resonance. He took his time, murmuring words of praise that matched the desire and appreciation in his thoughts. In time, brought Res to a rolling climax while never taking his optics off Resonance's handsome features.

It would have been nice if he could overload with him, but he truly enjoyed watching Resonance. Resonance, always so very controlled, was at his most stunning when he lost himself in a climax.

Afterwards, they lay together. He rested his head on Resonance's shoulder, and Resonance stroked his arm as they talked about nothing and everything.


 

The storm had done substantial structural damage.

They volunteered for the repair crews, as did every other able bodied mech in the city.

Ratchet couldn't help but admire the way that Resonance worked. He didn't hesitate to wade into acidic melt water, despite the foul stench and acid concentrations high enough to sting areas of exposed protoform and kill paint nanytes. He labored hard, for long hours, at physically demanding and uncomfortable tasks, and never once complained.

~Back at you,~ Resonance said, when he caught Ratchet's thoughts. Ratchet was helping down at one of the smelters to produce magnesium oxide. Magnesium oxide was useful for neutralizing the ph of the sulfuric acid laced water, and it also chemically melted water ice, but the quick and dirty method of creating it (burning magnesium) was hot, dirty work.

The storm had been larger than any on record. They had quickly used up their stockpile of mag ox. Fortunately, Cybertron was a world of metal, and magnesium was abundant. A supply of the raw metal had been found, and several elders were burning it down to ashes (the ashes being the desired magnesium oxide) in a clearing behind the town's primary school. The brilliant white light emitted by the fires could be seen all over town, and when the wind shifted just right, Resonance could feel the heat, as well.

Ratchet listened in, bemused, as Resonance absently considered the merits of using magnesium fires to superheat the ground and alter storm patterns. There was bound to be another storm, Resonance thought, and Ratchet caught a glimpse of complex calculations involving increased humidity and changing atmospheric chemistry that would affect the world's weather.

Magnesium burned at a tremendously high temperature. Resonance, while Ratchet listened in, considered the merits of using that heat to power steam turbines. They could generate power without the use of energon. There wasn't a shortage of energon now, but energon stored well in crystalline form, and if there was a war, they might need it for fuel. Better to burn magnesium than energon.

~Awful hot fires,~ Ratchet commented. The fire he was tending had melted a hole in the ground several feet deep, and it wasn't all that big of a pile of mag shavings. His optics were contracted down to pinpoints to prevent damage from the intense white light, and the radiant heat was so significant that despite the frigid weather all his heating fans were howling. ~What would you use to contain it?~

Resonance showed him several mental images of possible reactor designs. Essentially, he was thinking of giant steam engines.

~Huh. Could those be miniaturized?~ Ratchet said. Small steam engines could come in handy in a battlefield situation, if he needed electrical power. They were almost painfully simple in design, but sometimes simple was best. He could fix a steam engine in moments with tools he carried as a matter of course in his medical pack on his back. Because they were strictly mechanical without a single circuit, they couldn't be hacked and they'd impossible for a hostile Cybertronian to mimic. (He'd been surprised twice by assassins in his med bay that had slipped in disguised as equipment. The second time, he'd reached for a laser scalpel on a tray and the scalpel, actually a heavily modified minicon, had gone for his throat and severed his hand instead. He'd survived, but the patient on his operating table hadn't.)

~Sure.~ Resonance's keenly analytical mind mulled the idea over for a moment, and then Ratchet lifted an optic ridge when he came up with what looked like a workable design for an electrical generator that also had a PTO attached for tools.

~I could really use an air compressor for pneumatic tools. Could you design one that would attach to that PTO?~

~Piece of cake, Ratchet.~

Ratchet's pile of magnesium shavings had burned down to a pile of hot magnesium oxide ash. He produced a shovel from his subspace and started transferring it to a hopper, pausing once to wipe white dust from his face. ~Once we finish thawing out the city, we'll need to create a prototype.~

Resonance reacted to that suggestion with enthusiastic interest. He liked building things.

Ratchet found himself smiling. Res was just so wonderful in his enthusiasm. Ratchet had no other word for it. Res was intelligent and curious and hard working; he was everything that Ratchet liked, and Ratchet didn't just love his bondmate, he adored him, too. He was, he realized, the happiest he'd been in a very long time. Maybe the happiest in his entire life. 


 

Ratchet, still damp from a shower they had shared, sat on the edge of the berth with Resonance's foot in his lap. WIth a soft organic brush from Earth he reapplied paint nanytes to Resonance's ankles. The water that Resonance had been wading in had not been acidic enough to damage his armor or do more than give his protoform the chemical equivalent of a sunburn, but paint nanytes were delicate things. Both of them were covered in blotches and streaks of bare metal, but Resonance was definitely far worse off.

When he was done, and the nanyte suspension had a little time to dry, he waxed Resonance's entire frame. Resonance lay still, utterly relaxed and very near recharge, as Ratchet worked.

Resonance was just so gorgeous, Ratchet thought, as he worked on the shuttle's back. Res's long limbs and carefully sculpted armor were beautiful, and he had the most appealingly placed gaps in his armor. Ratchet paused to slid a finger between two plates on Resonance's back. Res's protoform reacted to the touch with a ripple of metallic derma, and Res groaned sleepily.

Ratchet found another gap and teased another area of exposed silver derma.

Resonance reacted by flaring his wings wide and spreading his legs in invitation, without ever rolling over. Sleepy, but interested still, Resonance pillowed his head on his arms and relaxed utterly as Ratchet produced the false spike.

Ratchet entered him from behind, sliding into his valve with practiced ease, and made long and slow and leisurely love to him. Resonance climaxed three times, and the last time, he sobbed Ratchet's name and then said he was the happiest he'd ever been in his life, in an echo of Ratchet's earlier thoughts. Afterwards, Ratchet fell into recharge while draped across Resonance's back, arms tucked under Res's wings and knees on either side of Resonance's surprisingly narrow hips.

Resonance was his, forever, for the rest of their existence. And he was good with that.


 

The following morning, Ratchet returned home from the first day of the spring semester to find Res seated at the table. He had an energon sword dismantled on the table, and the air was full of the sharp scent of cleaning solution.

"That's Optimus's," Ratchet said, a bit surprised. He hadn't seen Optimus's sword in over a vorn.

"Mine, actually. Legally, I ended up being Optimus's heir, after all." Res sighted down the blade, then ran a rag soaked in cleanser down it.

"Are you ... planning on carrying it?"

"Me? No. The hilt's too short for my hands, and if I lengthen it, it screws up the balance too much." Resonance said this even as he reached for a power cell and slotted it into the hilt. "Anyway, I've got a pair of swords that I'll use if I ever end up in combat. Optimus liked a broadsword, but I'm better with twin blades. Has to do with my balance and the articulation in my shoulders, and something to do with a slightly faster processor."

"Oh."

"I was going to donate it to a museum," Res sighted down the blade again, then tweaked a setting on the handle. Ratchet had no idea what he was doing, but it seemed to be important. "But I mentioned that to Alpha Trion and he said that this was a blade that was meant to be used. He apparently was the one to give it to Optimus, and he says it's from golden age and there aren't many like it left. He said I should find someone to give it to, worthy of it. I think it'll serve Anodyne well. His hands aren't as wide as mine."

"Anodyne?" Ratchet said, thinking that Anodyne hadn't actually done anything to be "worthy" of the sword.

"He doesn't have to do something significant, it's not a prize to be won." Resonance said, with a sideways look at Ratchet. "He just has to be worthy. He's a good mech, Ratchet. He's got real potential as a martial artist and he needs a weapon to match that promise."

"He's smart. I don't know about character." He didn't know the kid well enough, he told himself.

Resonance shrugged. "I like him."

"And Optimus, when he was your age, was Megatron's biggest fan," Ratchet snapped.

Resonance's eyes flashed with sudden anger. "I'm not Optimus. Anodyne's not Megatron; if anything, he's about as apolitical as you can get. And you're jealous."

"What? No!"

"Yeah. You are." Resonance called him out, with more than a little anger in his voice. Resonance could feel nothing of him across the bond, which was as good as feeling towering rage anyway. Resonance didn't share when he was unhappy. However, he said with cool warning in his voice, "You're scared that I've made a good friend my age, that I'm spending a lot of time with, and you think I might decide I like him more than you. Ratchet, what do I have to do to prove I love you?"

He growled, "If you want to give a historic relic of a sword to a vorn-old youngling who has an aversion to conflict, don't let me stop you."

"This whole planet is a relic." Resonance scowled at him. "The museums don't need another old weapon. They have Optimus's battle axe, blaster, and two other swords he bore -- both of which are more historically relevant. One was made by Prima! They don't need this one. Anodyne does. And I have faith in him; he'll bear it well."

He grunted. "Fine, fine, fine."

Resonance rose, crossed the room in two long strides, pressed a hand to Ratchet's jaw, and guided him to look upwards. "Why did Optimus love you so much?"

"What kind of question is that?" He said, defensive and irritated.

"Just answer it."

"Because he did!" Ratchet snapped. "He trusted me above all others, and I wanted him -- not the Prime, but Optimus. I cared about him, personally, always did, always would. I loved him as a mech. He was ... he was amazing. But I wasn't afraid to tell him when he was wrong, and he was mortal. He screwed up. Regularly. I think he appreciated that I understood he'd screw up and he knew I'd forgive him if he did. We ... we wanted a life together. Just the rest of our lives, together. We ... we were comfortable with each other. And I'm babbling, slag you."

"Ratchet," Resonance said, "has it ever occurred to you that I desire that life with you too? And that I trust you, and I know you'll forgive me when I make mistakes -- and that you anticipate that I'll make them. Because I'm mortal, I might note, not because I'm young."

"Not much of a basis for a lifelong relationship," he sighed. "Optimus and I had eons together."

Resonance cupped his jaw again and thn leaned over and kissed him. "And we'll have eons together too. You needn't worry about losing me, Ratchet. I'm giving Anodyne this sword because he needs a good blade, and he is my student and my friend. Not because I'm trying to win his affections as a lover." Resonance's grin reached his eyes. "Besides that, if I actually wanted 'Dyne as a lover, I'd only have to ask. He's pretty, um, relaxed, about his interfacing habits. He'd cheerfully frag both of us together if we asked. No fancy gifts needed."

He couldn't help it. Jealousy and worry filled his spark.

Res kissed him on the forehead. "You're not made for a trio. I'm not either, frankly. I'd worry too much about losing you to him. He's got far more in common with you than he does with me, and he thinks you're hot."

"... what?" He sputtered.

"He told me that himself. Said I was the luckiest mech on the whole planet to have you, that you're gorgeous. He speculated you'd probably be really good in the berth, too. He's not wrong, on any count. Including my luck at having you."

"Huh." He wasn't sure if be believed that.

Resonance dropped his guard. He caught a sense of residual anger, but it had been replaced by worry ... and a strong sense of truth. Res wasn't lying. And not for the first time, he saw himself from Resonance's point of view, as Res pushed sensory information from him, but this time it was a view of himself through Res's eyes in this moment. He saw his own jaw set in a stubborn clench, and his optics narrowed, and his frame tense.

The big shuttle pulled him close, hands resting on his hips. Res kissed his helm again, then said softly, "I want you, Ratchet. Not Anodyne. But 'Dyne is my friend and this is a gift I want to give him.."

"I wanted you two to be more than friends. I thought you'd make a good pair." He said this softly, with more than a trace of guilt. He remembered that he'd actually hoped Res would find ... romantic ... interest in the young host.

Resonance shook his head. Ratchet couldn't see that,since he'd rested his head against Res's chest, but he could feel the motion. "I don't think that would ever have happened. I am ... someone who desires commitment, as you are too, Ratchet. Anodyne isn't. He probably has a dozen lovers, and he'd take another without a second thought. That's not the kind of relationship I'd want, and Anodyne would be unhappy with monogamy. So we are friends, and will likely be good friends for the rest of our lives, but nothing more."

He felt, because the bond was open, the conviction in Res's spark. Ratchet was old and cynical enough to know that just because Resonance believed something today with all his being didn't mean that he would feel the same way vorns from now. However, the fact that Resonance only wanted a platonic relationship with Anodyne right now was a reassurance.

"Shoulda just showed me how you felt when I first started getting snarly," he grumbled.

"Nobody likes it when their partner mistrusts them," Res said, softly. "Not even me."

"I trust you." He said, even though he knew this was a weak protest.

"In that moment?" Res leaned back to look him in the optics. "No. You didn't. But you're mortal, Ratchet, as am I. Neither of us is perfect."

 

Chapter Text

"Come on." Anodyne grabbed Resonance by the forearm and gleefully towed him out into the street. Resonance, who had a stuffed bear nearly the size of the real animal in the crook of his other arm, followed somewhat reluctantly. Ratchet, bringing up the rear, fought back a grin. Res had won the bear; therefore, as far as Ratchet was concerned, Res could carry the bear. He could tell that Res wanted to retreat to their apartment to stow the bear safely away, because Resonance was worried somebody might tease him.

A neutral merchant ship, run by a mix of Cybertronian and Nebulan traders, had come to town and Iacon's main drag had been turned into a street fair. Throngs of humans and other organics were out, despite the crisply cold air and faint stink of sulfur in the air.

Resonance, taller than every mechanism in the city except for the gestalts, padded down the main street, following his shorter friend. His stuffed bear, which he had won at a fair booth, was definitely earning him some amused looks. Ratchet knew that Resonance, for all his dignity, had a soft spot for Terran animals, and he was secretly delighted by the bear. His expression, however, dared anyone to comment on it. Ratchet would not tease him, despite a strong desire to do so; Resonance would probably ditch the bear with the first available youngling out of an abundance of dignity if Ratchet said anything.

(He'd already saved an image capture to send to Wheeljack. Just because he wasn't teasing him now didn't mean he couldn't harass Res in other ways, later.)

Anodyne, significantly shorter but much wider than Resonance, and still larger than nearly everyone but the biggest warframed elders, gleefully led the way to the first booth selling rust sticks. There he purchased a large bag to share. Ratchet grinned at this, too, because Anodyne looked like a fierce warrior and the candy was an amusing contrast to his appearance.

His new sword was mounted on his back, and besides being recognizably Optimus's blade to every warrior who saw it, that sword was simply a very large and deadly weapon. He had blasters half concealed by the armor on his forearms, missile launchers (part of his alt) attached to his legs, and a glittering energon knife mounted to one hip. The latter was a gift from Jazz, who seemed to have the same opinion of Anodyne that Res did -- Jazz had lately been teaching the big mech knife fighting skills.

Juxtoposed against Anodyne's apparent menace was his expression -- bright, open, grinning -- and his bag of candy. One did not expect a fierce warrior to have a sweet tooth that rivaled any sparkling's. Or to look that happy.

~Now, now,~ Resonance said, following Ratchet's line of thought. ~Starscream loves candy too.~

~Starscream's not a fierce warrior, he's a banty rooster with guns and thrusters.~ Ratchet accompanied this statement with mental images of male chickens he'd seen on earth -- proudly posturing for each other, squabbling without any real reason, mating with anything that stopped moving long enough, and fussing over random and inconsequential issues.

~I'll tell him you called him a flying chicken.~

~I've said worse to his face.~

For reasons that Ratchet had never been able to understand, Res liked Starscream, and defended him without hesitation. Resonance chuckled. ~He's said worse about you, too.~

~No doubt.~

Resonance absently dropped a hand to Ratchet's shoulder and caressed it -- a casual gesture, one that said 'I love you' as much as any words did. Ratchet relaxed into the touch, and glanced up -- way up -- at Res. His grin turned into an open smile at the fondness he saw in Resonance's optics.

Resonance responded with wordless affection, and wrapped his arm around Ratchet's shoulders, resting his forearm between Ratchet's newly reinstalled medical pack and his neck.

Ratchet, next his bondmate and Anodyne, felt like a minibot. The top of his head only came up to Resonance's elbow, and was well below Anodyne's shoulder. This was driven home when Anodyne threw a casual arm around him from the other side -- Anodyne, it turned out, was touchy-feely in the extreme, even aside from his ... proclivities ... in the berth. (And for a mech who was still extremely unpopular with his peers, he seemed to have no problem in finding lovers. Most were older; Anodyne had several lovers who were old soldiers, as well as a few symbionts who seemed just as happy to frag him as to court him.) 

Ratchet, walking between them, was dwarfed by both of them. In the last several months, he'd gotten used to that feeling. Mostly. He still, in the depths of his spark, wasn't entirely happy with Resonance's friendship with Anodyne, but he made a real effort to accept it. And he did like Anodyne, who had come to mean far more to him than most apprenticies. Anodyne was genuinely a nice mech. Ratchet, however, just couldn't conquer the demons in his own spark on some days, even though intellectually he knew that it was normal and healthy for mecha to have large circles of friends. And that Anodyne was a good friend, for both of them.

However, despite his misgivings, it did feel good when the pair of them included him in their activities. It was, essentially, a normal life. It had been a long time since he'd had a ordinary and normal life, with friends and social activities and a job, and nothing more demanding on his schedule than grading the the upcoming spring semester finals.

Anodyne and Res slowed their strides so the shorter-legged Ratchet could keep up as they walked three abreast down the road. Ratchet, his own hands free, grabbed a rust stick from the bag that Anodyne was holding. He broke it in half and reached up and offered part to Anodyne; Ratchet was saving room for other treats. 

Though Ratchet liked sweet rust sticks he was looking forward to an energon crunch on a stick -- the half-crystallized, half gelled, gooey, very crunchy, excessively sweet candy was terrible for one's filters, and sold at every fair he'd ever been to. Somebody would be making them. Guaranteed. 

~And you were just thinking that Anodyne has a sweet tooth.~

Ratchet sent a mental laugh across the bond to Res. ~Oh, I make no secret that I like sweets.~

Anodyne consumed his half of the stick with enthusiasm, and was still crunching when they reached a row of hawkers selling everything from Terran textiles to Nebulan music. Ratchet, finally released from their clutches, licked rust from his fingers, took a seat on the edge of a fountain in the middle of the road, and watched as his bondmate and student split up to inspect the offerings.

Anodyne quickly began haggling over the price of a huge pillow; Ratchet assumed it was a courting gift for Skitter. Res, for his part, found a stand selling potted plants; he quickly added to his collection with the purchase of a large prickly pear cactus, a rose bush, and a small flowering tree that Ratchet earnestly hoped wouldn't grow fruit or seed pods later. Falling blossoms was going to be bad enough.

The tree was too big to fit in his subspace, so Resonance decided to drop it off at their apartment, along with the stuffed bear. Courtesy of the bond, Ratchet sensed this decision and Res didn't actually need top say anything to him. (Rodimus, passing by with a retinue of advisors -- and Starscream -- had shouted, "Nice teddy bear, Res my man!" at him. Res had grinned, and waved, but Ratchet could feel his embarrassment.)

"You and your plants," Ratchet shook his head. Resonance was slowly turning their apartment into a jungle. "Go. We'll meet you down by the acrobats."

Anodyne said, after Res left, "And I can't even keep a crystal garden alive."

Ratchet nodded. "Res was in charge of the hydroponic gardens on Titan. He misses that."

Anodyne tilted his head to one side, considering. "He ought to see if the humans need any help with the hydroponic farms here."

The big host came closer. Ratchet, despite his own affection for Anodyne, hoped that Anodyne didn't intend to walk arm-in-arm with him now that Res was gone. It would send the wrong signals to the wrong people; he was not fragging his student, thank you very much, and didn't want anyone to think he was. He'd hear about it from Skyfire and, likely, Rodimus, if they gave that impression. There were already rumors about his relationship with Anodyne as it was, because Anodyne was close friends with Res and touchy-feely with both of them.

Fortunately, Anodyne seemed to either realize the potential implications or, more likely, recognized that Ratchet was uneasy. Anodyne's natural empathy was quite powerful.

"No time." Ratchet said, answering Anodyne's comment about the hydroponic farms a bit late. He'd been thrown off his stride by the force of his reaction to Anodyne's proximity.

Res didn't have time for another project. Resonance was getting more and more involved in politics, as well as studying for his degree. Ratchet was torn about the latter; he didn't want to see Resonance sucked into Iacon's petty political squabbles, but he knew Res needed experience just in case he inherited the Matrix someday.

Anodyne sighed, and to Ratchet's relief, he kept his hands to himself. "He works too hard."

"That's Res. He always works too hard." Ratchet agreed with Anodyne's assessment.

"Was he that way before?" Anodyne asked. "I mean, when he was ... his past life?"

At some point, Resonance had told Anodyne about his past. Ratchet didn't second guess that choice aloud, though Resonance was certainly aware of his misgivings. Res had a right to tell whoever he chose about his past -- but if his identity became widely known, they would treat him differently. Ratchet was enjoying their nice, quiet life, and he didn't want to see it disrupted by old history.

Ratchet nodded, though, and answered Anodyne's question. "That hasn't changed much. He's always worked hard, regardless of his job. Even when Orion was very young, before he got into politics at all, he worked hard on the docks, then studied in his spare time."

"How come he ended up an archivist back then, and he's going into the sciences now?" Anodyne said, with a small frown. He guessed, "He was a dock worker, before ... Processor limitations?"

"Financial limitations. He had a natural processor that was significantly more complex than average for a vatborn laborer -- a fluke, that, and a lucky one. The bottom line was, though, that while he certainly had the intelligence for any field he wanted to enter, he could afford to become an archivist. That took a fraction of a vorn of study, and the Hall of Records wanted him badly enough that they gave him a partial scholarship."

Ratchet huffed a sigh. " Back then, getting into the sciences took vorns of schoolwork and then vorns of unpaid apprenticeship. The functionalists provided grants to anyone from the right caste," like himself, Ratchet thought, with a trace of shame, "but anyone who wanted to study for an occupation outside their caste? First they had to get permission, and then they had to pay for it themselves. He could have gotten the permission -- his test scores where phenomenal -- but no funds. He barely got paid enough to cover his energon, and he paid for his part of his training as an archivist by giving up his room and sleeping on my clinic floor."

"You knew Orion that long ago?"

"Oh, yes." Ratchet smiled faintly. "He was a regular in my clinic. Typical overworked laborer; he was always getting stress injuries to his hydraulics. The clinic was in a lousy neighborhood. We struck a deal -- he kept the junkies from breaking in, and he could sleep on a gurney in the back room. It was probably the only way he could have afforded those classes he was taking. They certainly didn't give loans, much less grants, to working class mecha -- and the Hall of Records was forbidden from giving him a full scholarship. Alpha Trion might have, if he could have. However, they could only cover half the costs."

"I don't understand that. If they needed him, why make him pay for the training?"

"Because, you see, certain influential segments of the population -- rich ones -- believed that if you gave a working class mech a grant, it was a free handout,and they'd 'take advantage' of it and somehow become lazy and unappreciative. They saw it as immoral, or at least, that's what the functionalists said. Nevermind that the same mecha who made those rules were disgustingly wealthy from birth and didn't have to work a day in their lives if they didn't want to."

"That's unfair ... and that can't be good for society."

"Tell me about it. But Orion was bred for heavy labor. That was his class, and it was almost impossible for a mech to change classes. It was actually seen as a waste of energon for a large mech with large engines to study the sciences, no matter how good his processor was. There were actually those who advocated pruning the processors of laborers, as they claimed that too much processor activity was a waste of energon among the working classes ... conveniently, pruning them would have made the working classes more compliant. Anyway, the only reason that he was even allowed the partial scholarship he received was that Alpha Trion himself had requested a few large framed mecha. Sometimes, they have to move very large and delicate antiquities or help at archeological sites and the laborers he normally hired were not careful enough."

"Couldn't Orion have downsized his frame, if that was the problem?"

Ratchet shrugged. "Well, there is a limit to how much smaller you can go without risky surgery to reduce the bulk of your protoform. And protoforms grow back, so the surgery has to be repeated. Look at how big Res is -- Orion, who was only a little taller than I am, was as small as he could safely go to begin with. Plus, it was also seen as a waste of resources to downsize a mech who could provide manual labor when there were many other mecha available who could fulfill the role of scientists. It was about the good of society, not the good of the individual, and society, at that time, was struggling to continue. We had far too many mecha and not enough resources."

Anodyne scowled. "But he's an alpha spark."

Ratchet shrugged again. "There were around a hundred thousand alpha sparks back then. If he'd wanted to go into the military, the functionalists would have easily approved of that. They needed soldiers. But Orion was, as his name Pax implied, a mech of peace. He didn't like fighting, and much like you, he never wanted to learn until he experienced the need first hand."

"Starscream."

"Mmmhmm. Early in the war. Starscream shot Ariel, who later became Elita One. It amazes me sometimes that Optimus was able to work with Starscream after the war, but he considered that incident part of the war, and Ariel was a legitimate target. He also said that Starscream grew up and and gained wisdom during the war and was not the same mech he was when it began."

Anodyne snorted. "This would be the same Starscream who got in a screaming fight with Ironhide last week?"

Ratchet barked a laugh. He was a bit relieved by the change in subject. "Oh, that's not immaturity, that's just foreplay."

Anodyne stared at him. "Really?"

"You didn't hear it from me." Ratchet grinned. The kid was old enough that Ratchet didn't feel guilty about including him in adult gossip, but young enough that he seemed startled to hear it from an elder. And Ratchet had gotten that juicy bit of gossip from Rodimus himself, during their once-a-week intelligence briefing; who was fragging who was, actually, considered important intelligence, both because it could affect their plans during a hypothetical war and because Ratchet might need to know who to notify if someone was injured or killed in combat. 

Of all the mecha in all the multiverses who might hook up with Starscream, Ironhide was just about the very last one on Ratchet's list. Rodimus seemed to think that was the entire appeal for both of them; nothing permanent could possibly come of it, and neither was looking for permanency. It was all about the fragging.

Ironhide-and-Starscream wasn't a secret, anyway. He'd heard the same juicy tidbit from First Aid, a few days after the intelligence briefing.

Anodyne rolled his optics. "Starscream is about as mature as Trapper."

"Trapper?"

"Skitter's little sister. She's about an earth year old. And that's the empath speaking, regarding Starscream." Unlike his telepathy, Anodyne's empathy was passive. He always knew the moods of everyone around him. Most mecha could read a lot from EM fields, but Anodyne's gift went beyond that. His spark was able to sense other sparks, and he could tell the character and emotional state of any other mech he was close to. "I've had Screamer for a few classes. I don't know how my carrier stood being near him; he's chaotic, petty, excessively emotional, and always in a bad mood."

Ratchet shrugged. "Sounds about right. You should have known him as a youngling. He was worse."

"No thank you. I have enough trouble being in the same room with him as it is."

"I'd think you would have the same reaction to me," Ratchet said, lightly. He was still astonished that Anodyne liked him. And pleased. Very, very, pleased. He liked Anodyne.

Anodyne shook his head, and gave him a surprisingly honest answer. "Res is right. You've got darkness in you, but it's balanced by lightness and goodness. You're also rock solid on your ethics and your sense of responsibility. And I like your sense of humor. Sometimes you get, umm, irrational, or jealous, but there are others who are a lot worse. Thing about being an empath is, you learn everybody has issues."

"Thanks. I think."

"Res, now -- he's something special. But you know that. He's so steady, and calm, and he's kind all the way to his core. I never want to feel him angry at me again."

"When was he angry at you?" Ratchet said, startled.

"When I yelled at you that one time for being mean to him." Anodyne grinned. "I forgot one of the basic rules of bondmates -- you poke one, the other punches you."

Ratchet snorted. "I don't need Resonance to defend me."

"No, but he will, to the last flicker of his spark." Anodyne said, expression more serious. "He told me once that he always knew that anyone Optimus chose was worthy of his own respect and care, but he didn't actually expect to love you. He said he fell in love with you the moment he saw you as an adult, on Earth, from a distance."

Ruefully, Ratchet said, "And I still don't know what I did to earn that love."

"Maybe it wasn't something you needed to earn. He loves you because of who you are, not what you've done, not done, or the particular mood you're in at the moment." Anodyne, still in serious-mode, added, "You don't think much of yourself, do you?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?" He knew better than to try to lie to Anodyne, so he defaulted to sarcasm.

Anodyne blinked at him a couple of times, then said, simply, "Don't you trust Resonance's judgement? He thinks the world of you."

"One would think you've been apprenticing with Rung, not me," Ratchet grouched back at him. "Save the platitudes for your patients."

"Yes sir."

He was about to say something else snarky to the kid when white light washed his vision out. He could see nothing; for a moment, he stood, frozen and startled, but even before the burning heat registered, he was moving. Eons of war had taught him a few basic reflexes.

Nothing good ever came from light that bright.

The light was brighter than a thousand magnesium fires.

Duck and cover was, actually, a valid survival tactic.

He flung an arm out, grabbed Anodyne by his elbow, and threw the kid into the shadow of a booth. At the same time, he could feel Resonance's startled panic.

He had time to push Anodyne out of the bright light and throw himself on top of the kid (with his medical pack facing in the direction of the light to absorb as much of the brutal radiant heat and oncoming blast as possible). He clamped his optics shut, slammed his hands over his audio sensors, and opened every orifice that he could including fuel intake, waste oil valve, hydraulic fluid reservoir caps, and joint lubes. He sent silent instructions to Resonance to do the same.

Res already had responded appropriately.

Res had been raised by Wheeljack, on a planet with a slagging explosive atmosphere. He knew blast protocols.

"Blast wave!" He screamed, both for Anodyne's benefit, and anyone else in earshot. "BLAST WAVE!"

The light faded. The after-images were green and purple; he ruthlesslessly reset his optic sensors in an effort to clear them. He could tell by the stinging pain that he'd had most of his paint nanytes charred off every exposed bit of his armor. Fortunately, he had not been facing in the direction of the light, or he would have been blinded.

His spark froze when he remembered the organics. The humans. They were far more sensitive to radiation -- photons, thermal rays, gamma -- than any Cybertronian. Any human exposed to that light within a few miles of the blast was either dead or dying. The survivor's thermal burns would be horrific, nevermind the damage radiation did. Even before he saw the casualties his medical protocols roared to life; he started analyzing possible treatment protocols against available resources. The blast had come in the direction of the medical center, which meant the best option might be to get the injured (both human and Cybertronian) through the space bridge as quickly as possible to Earth. The space bridge was deep underground and heavily fortified, and the medical center wasn't, partly because 'evacuation' was preferred to 'sheltering in place' for mass casualties.

He had activated a count of the time on his chronometer, almost by reflex. At thirty seconds, the blast struck. That told him that bomb had been roughly six miles away, and the length that the white light had lasted gave him a clue about the size of the device: small, as such devices went. Smaller than the one that had killed Optimus.

The blast, when it hit, blew the booth he'd sheltered beside over on top of them. Anodyne screamed in terror. Humans wailed, swore, and howled in terror or pain. Somewhere, someone's sirens whooped -- he thought that might be Prowl's. That guess was born out when Prowl barked nearby, "STAY DOWN!"

Anodyne was trying to get up. Ratchet jerked his hand out from under him with an impatient sweep of his hand. "Stay down!" He growled.

Anodyne whimpered, but didn't try to push himself up again. Ratchet, sprawled over his back, shifted so that the medical pack mounted to his back would take the force of the return wave.

Ratchet remembered his young protege was an empath. "Shield!" He said, and then when Anodyne continued to sob, he thumped him hard between the shoulders with a fist. "SHIELD!"

"Pain!" Anodyne gasped. "Scared!"

"Shield, damnit!"

The kid's spark shields had never been tested. He was struggling to cope with an overload of emotional input.

"Ground!" Ratchet knew nothing of Cybertronian psi abilities save a rough working theoretical knowledge. That meant he had a general idea of what Anodyne needed to do, though no specific. Had Soundwave been here, he could have uplinked with him and shown him what needed to be done. Feeling somewhat helpless, Ratchet said insistently, "Focus on your spark! Focus on it! Block out anything that isn't yours!"

Anodyne let out a sharp gasp, "Skitter! She's hurt!"

How the hell did the kid know Skitter was hurt? He wasn't bonded ...

"Skitter!!!!" Anodyne wailed.

Then Ratchet was distracted by Resonance's wail of mental terror as the blast wave hit the dormitory, ten seconds after it had hit the market. Ratchet was aware of crushing force, and flying debris peppering his bondmate's frame, and then a terrible, frightening absence.

He'd lost Optimus to a similar device.

He screamed Resonance's name and didn't even realize he had until his vocalizer fritzed with a painful burst of static. Horror, terror, memory struck. He was all alone ... he was going to be all alone again ...

"Ratchet!" Anodyne shouted at him, just as the return wave hit them from the opposite direction. Ratchet reflexively flattened out as best he could as shrapnel pounded into his frame.

The noise.

Now that he was reasonably sure he was going to survive at least a few minutes longer, that death was imminent within seconds, he became aware of sensory input.

The noise was unbelievable. Destruction, on a city-wide scale.

The smells.

Soot.

Burnt flesh.

Spilled energon.

Burning energon.

Ozone.

Sulfur.

Hot metal.

Moisture.

It was going to rain ... the fireball had triggered storm clouds. Over the continuing noise of falling debris and crumbling buildings and the terrified screams of humans and the wails of Cybertronians he could hear the rumble of thunder. The rain would be both acidic and radioactive; likely, the radiation levels would be high enough to be dangerous even to Cybertronian neurocircuits and sensors. They had to find shelter in a hurry.

And Resonance ....!

As quickly as it had disappeared, the awareness of Resonance returned.

~Resonance!~

~I'm okay.~ Resonance felt frightened, but his response was far more coherent than Ratchet's current state of mind. ~I hit my head and glitched out.~

~Run a diagnostic.~

~I am already. That was a nuke?~

~No shit.~ He peered around. Everything was blackened, anything flammable was burning, and a soot-covered human was staring at him from a pile of rubble near a burning cube of dropped energon. No, not soot-covered ... burnt like a piece of barbequed meat. And 'staring' was dead, motionless, blank eyes.

He gulped.

Anodyne whimpered. Anodyne was seeing the same things. Anodyne was feeling the terror of every Cybertronian mechanism within his range, because he was certain the kid wasn't adequately blocking anything.

Ratchet sat up, taking stock of his own injuries as he did. His medical protocols were damping down his emotional response. He needed to be efficient, analytical, and professional for the forseeable future. Anodyne had not yet developed those protocols, and as soon as Anodyne pushed himself up to his hands and knees he gagged, then purged the contents of his fuel tank.

Prowl's siren cut off with one final warble.

Ratchet determined he was not injured badly himself other than singed paint nanytes and a few dents (wartime medics were modified to be exceedingly sturdy) and stood up. From this perspective, he could see that market was flattened and blackened by the heat. Mechanisms that could move were getting to their feet now. Most of the younglings had no idea what had just happened, and were talking loudly, agitated and confused. The elders had a very, very, good idea, and had already activated their combat protocols. They were grimly efficient in their reaction. Many had injuries from flying debris; some had been blinded by the intense light and the air was full of subsonic sonar pings as they fell back on secondary systems to orient themselves.

Over the continuing noise of collapsing buildings and falling glass and the crackle of thunder, he could hear the whine of weapons capacitors and amped-up hydraulics. His own hydraulic pumps were howling at full capacity, and when something went POP loudly in a fire, he jumped right along with all the other old soldiers.

His sparkling was terrified in his chest. He couldn't do anything to comfort her; couldn't spare the time, or emotional energy, to calm her down.

The medical center was likely gone; the blast had come from that direction, and the distance he'd calculated meant that it was near the epicenter. So was the government complex, but by dumb luck, most of the government had not been there --- he could see Rodimus's distinctive frame nearby; the Prime was helping Prowl to his feet. Prowl's femoral strut was visibly torqued, and it appeared he'd been hit by falling debris.

They saw him. He reached down, yanked Anodyne to his feet, then headed in their direction at a trot. Anodyne stumbled after him, wiping purged energon from his mouth with the back of one hand. Ratchet shouted at Rodimus, "Roddy! We need to get all the organic survivors underground! Now!"

The ones that had survived the thermal burns and blast wave overpressure and shrapnel might survive the radiation too if they could get them below ground.

Anodyne said, "My comms are out!"

"No shit sherlock!" He told his student, falling back on human profanity. The ionizing radiation would block any radio waves from equipment that had survived the EMP. Ratchet hadn't even bothered to try his comm unit.

"Where's Res?" Prowl demanded, ignoring his comment about the humans.

~Res? Where are you?~ He demanded.

Resonance didn't answer Ratchet's terse demand for his location with words, but he shot Ratchet a mental image of the fourth floor of the dormitory. The dorm had survived the blast, minus some window glass, and Resonance was shepherding humans (some bleeding or burnt) into the shelter of an interior stairwell. The dorm was directly downwind of the plume, and Resonance apparently already knew that getting above ground level was as good of a protection from gamma rays as going down -- and time was critical, as the plume was rapidly approaching his location. The Cybertronian sized stairwell, with its thick walls of metal, would be good protection for the humans.

It was already designed to be airtight; the humans used it as a shelter against acid storms. He could smell the sulfuric acid and knew that a storm was coming. That could kill the humans as quickly as radiation.

~Res, as soon as the gamma rays outside drop below critical levels, you need to get those humans to the space bridge. The Quints will try to take it and we may have to blow it to keep them from invading Earth through it.~

~Understood.~ Res responded. He was quite calm now, and Ratchet knew that was a spark trait. He'd seen Optimus, surrounded by the savage destruction of a ferocious battlefield, with actively sparking or leaking injuries of his own, calmly peruse datapads of field reports. That natural ability to remain levelheaded under even the worst of circumstances was one reason Ratchet had been attracted to him; Optimus had always been a center of firm competence in a sea of chaos.

~Your damage reports?~ He asked, knowing Res would answer without drama. He loved that ability to focus on what was important.

~Comm's offline. My optics are cracked; I got whacked in the face by something. I'll survive.~

~You got spare optical glass in your subspace?~

~Yeah. I'll get Blue to replace it.~

~Good. Bluestreak should be able to do that; it's not a lot difference than maintenance on his guns. Get one of the humans to help you if there's any fine work Bluestreak can't manage. Human fingers are great for detail work. Blue got a gun with him, by the way?~

~No. I gave him my rifle. He's a better shot than I am, figured he could make better use of it than me. It fit his shoulder mount well enough.~ Res was already thinking strategically. He also had a pair of pulse cannons mounted to his forearms, several missiles, and his twin swords, so he wasn't unarmed.

~Good thinking. Res, I love you.~

~Love you too, Ratch. Go focus on what you need to do. We'll be fine. And tell command Bluestreak wants directions on what to do -- stay here or find a place to snipe at Quints?~

"He's at the dorm," Ratchet, aloud, to Prowl and Rodimus. "He's not badly hurt and he's got Bluestreak with him. Bluestreak wants orders soon as they do some field repairs. If you want my opinion, he needs to sit tight until the gamma ..."

Rodimus's head and shoulders exploded.

Ratchet reacted a fraction of a second faster than Prowl; he grabbed Prowl by the nearest appendage, a door wing, and used it to throw the Praxian into the shelter of a half-collapsed and burnt wall. Prowl landed on something that went squish wetly, and Ratchet tried not to think about it. He was too busy shoving Anodyne after the Praxian.

"Skitter's hurt," Anodyne whimpered, next to Ratchet, as Ratchet crowded in next to them.

"How the hell do you ... you bonded with her." Ratchet said, even as he forcibly shoved Anodyne farther into the relative cover of a pile of debris. "Slaggit, you're not old enough ... pit, nevermind. Is she alive?"

"She's hurt." His optics were huge.

He'd get no help from the kid for now. "Stay put."

"I need to find her!" Anodyne bolted from the shelter of the rubble, right into the open.

Ratchet grabbed for him, too late. He wasn't about to chase after the idiot, so he stayed down. He was furious, and terrified, and the sparkling in his chest reacted by painfully bouncing off the walls of his spark chamber. His spark was no refuge for her, not now.

Every other soldier had reacted the same as he had -- they'd dove for cover. Nobody had really had time to emotionally process the fact that Rodimus was lying in a puddle of energon in the midst of the charred and rubble-strewn street, minus his head and a chunk of his upper body, but every soldier had ducked. Most had taken a few younglings with them; the remaining kids were seeking shelter out of sheer mob mentality.

There was a sniper with a high power laser cannon somewhere nearby. Their reflexive reaction was to get out of the way. And "nearby" could mean anywhere from a quarter mile away on a rooftop (Ratchet considered the ragged town's blasted skyline and decided that was doubtful) to an orbital platform.

Prowl, one door wing now canted at an angle to match his twisted leg, but alive, said, "They're up in the mountains."

Ratchet took his word for it. Prowl had probably already analyzed the vectors. Ratchet had been too busy ducking to calculate where, precisely, the gun was. He crawled closer to the tactician, however, as long experience had taught him that Prowl was very good at ensuring his own survival -- which was not particularly self-serving, given his value to the army. If he stuck close to Prowl, his own odds of survival went up dramatically. Ratchet planned to survive, thanks.

"Tell Res to get to the space bridge," Prowl said, lowly, "I want him offworld for now. He'll be a primary target."

"His status as Roddy's heir is classified," Ratchet replied, at an equally soft volume. "Though if their intels's any good, I'm sure they've figured out he's Optimus's reincarnation, and that alone would make him a target. And they could guess that he'd be on the short list to inherit the Matrix."

"All that doesn't matter. They'll shoot him because he's a shuttle."

An explosive, thunderous, crack shook the market. Ratchet peeked over the top of the pile of rubble.

Rodimus's body had disappeared from the waist down to his knees.

"Slag. The Matrix." Ratchet knew they had to save it. The Quintessons were trying to hit his spark chamber. The Matrix was not indestructible, and a Quintesson laser cannon might just have the amount of energy needed to destroy it.

Roddy's chest had opened on its own. The Matrix floated above what was left of his mutilated body. Ratchet, acting on pure instinct, beckoned it with his hand. The device should not have responded to a hand gesture -- it was not sentient on its own, supposedly -- but it floated in his direction, first slowly, then faster.

The ancient device nestled into his grasp neatly. It was warm. He was surprised by how alive it felt.

He had to get it somewhere safe. Safer. Someplace where it would be protected, sheltered, kept secure until they could get it to Resonance.

~Rodimus ...~ Resonance whispered in Ratchet's thoughts, his very consciousness choked with horror. Ratchet couldn't let himself mourn, or react with too much emotion, but Resonance had seen what had happened through Ratchet's own optics.

~Res, you can't break down.~

~Not going to.~ Resonance said, then added, ~Primus, Roddy was supposed to lead us ... oh, Primus, what do I do now? I don't know half what I need to ... I'm not ready ... what do we do now? He wasn't supposed to die!"

Resonance wanted to turn back time ten seconds, undo what had happened. If only he could step back in time, he thought, and tell Rodimus that he'd be a target. Or step back in time five minutes, and stop the squids from detonating the bomb. If only. If only. He was so rattled that Ratchet could hear his thoughts clearly.

~Res. Focus on what you need to do now. Your priority number one is keeping your own aft alive right now.~ Ratchet snapped at him.

Resonance threw up a block on the bond, likely because he recognized he was distracting his bondmate. Possibly also because he was mortal, and he'd been offended by Ratchet's impatient words. Well, Ratchet couldn't let himself be distracted right now. He had ... things ... to do.

Still acting without much thought Ratchet opened his own chest plates. The brief burst of brilliant spark light made several nearby survivors flinch. Ratchet, for a smallish mech, had an extremely powerful spark, and he was carrying a sparkling who would be an alpha, and between the two of them, they gave off a lot of light. The others had thought it was another blast.

He shoved the Matrix inside the most protected part of his frame, slammed his armor shut, and stared defiantly at Prowl. "I'll get it to Res."

"It's not connecting to you ...?" Prowl asked, uncertaintly.

"I'm not an alpha spark," he ground out. "I'm not trying to steal it. But I've got more armor than most of you and it's safest there."

Prowl nodded curtly -- Ratchet was above suspicion in matters such as these. And it was a good plan.

However, despite his words, Ratchet felt a suspicious ... warmth ... in his chamber. He might not be trying to connect to the Matrix, but the Matrix was certainly checking him out. And the sparkling was no longer bouncing off the insides of his spark chamber like a rubber ball. The feel of her was more distant, which alarmed him, but reassuringly, she was also much calmer.

CRACK.

Sourly, Ratchet thought that they'd need to shovel what remained of Rodimus up off the pavement to inter him. Ratchet, running on medical protocols, could not really react emotionally when the corpse was hit again. Others screamed, wept, shouted angrily. Rodimus, bright and young and charismatic, had been beloved. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Resonance was crying silently. Res had known Rodimus all his life; had looked up to him as an older brother and good friend.

Ratchet didn't know half of what Res and Roddy had done together when Res was young, but he got, despite the block, a quick flurry of memories from Res -- fishing trips on Earth, air surfing on Titan, and lots of laughter and affection between them. 

CRACK.

Anodyne, half a block away, tumbled to the ground with part of his lower leg missing. He screamed.

"Slag, I knew that was going to happen." Ratchet, emotions shunted firmly to the background, was furiously, if distantly, horrified in some part of his spark. His voice was calm. He might as well have said, "Pass the spanner," to one of his medical assistants. His immediate concern was practical: How were they going to get Anodyne out of harm's way? He didn't want to lose the talented young mech; in the war that would inevitably follow this terrible day, Anodyne would be a valuable resource.

Resonance's relative calm (he was steady and stable and thinking clearly despite his deeply emotional reaction) was natural; Ratchet's was all coding. Had he not been operating under wartime medical protocols, he would have been shrieking with horror right along with all the civilians.

"Don't you dare go after him." Prowl snapped.

"Don't worry." He had every intention of sticking closer to Prowl than Prowl's own paint. "I'm already running war code. From the first moment, actually."

"Good. Keep it up."

Anodyne started rolling, and rolled himself sideways off the street and under the protection of a half-collapsed fair booth. Ratchet, cautiously peering out, saw Anodyne sit up and start clamping off his own spurting energon lines. That was a bit of a trial by fire, to have to implement his recent training in field trauma on his own amputated leg. That he seemed to be doing so successfully increased Ratchet's cold, code-influenced estimation of Anodyne as a resource to be used in the inevitable war to follow.

"How's Res doing?" Jazz said, even as he flung himself over the pile of rubble and landed beside Prowl. "Hasp" had apparently managed a jail break, and Jazz was back from his "mission." Music, looking scared and small, scrambled after his carrier.

Prowl didn't jump at their sudden appearance. By contrast, Ratchet's saws flared out of his arms, and his hydraulics pressurized to their maximum setting; he was primed to react to a perceived threat with blinding speed. Jazz didn't even respond to Ratchet's startled reaction. Instead, he scanned the ruined street, and then the too-close-for-comfort mushroom cloud, a few miles away.

The cloud was growing vertically at a tremendous rate, and was lit from within by brilliant oranges and reds. It was, Ratchet thought as he followed Jazz's gaze, pretty. In a sickening sort of way.

"Ratchet?"

"Oh. Res. He's ...." He pinged Res wordlessly.

Res responded with an image of chaos. The humans were hurt. Both he and Bluestreak were trying to render aid. His vision was now clear; Bluestreak had apparently managed to replace Res's optical glass with remarkable speed.

~Get below ground!~

~The humans need me!~

~Cybertron needs you!~ Ratchet objected. Despite the restrictive coding limiting his emotional responses, he added, ~I need you.~

Resonance, wordlessly, refused to retreat to the shelter of the tunnels beneath the city. He was concerned that if he left, the humans would not stay put. They were panicked, and many seemed to think they needed to flee the building despite the radiation that the Cybertronians could detect coming from outside. The height from the ground (where fallout was collecting) and the distance from the roof (another area coated with fallout) rendered their current location relatively safe-ish. They'd be fried by gamma rays if they tried to travel at ground level any time in the next several hours. Radiation levels would drop very rapidly as the half-life on fallout was short; however, for now, the safest location was exactly where they were.

Ratchet ground his dental plates together for a long moment before relaying this to Jazz and Prowl. Like Optimus, Resonance's choices under stress were sometimes questionable; he tended to view the lives of the people he could see with his own optics more than the lives of an abstract greater population. It was a weakness that had often frustrated the command staff.

"Tell 'im to stay put." Jazz countermanded Prowl's earlier order. "It'll be a few days before they get to student housing because they won't expect to find anyone important there. They'll capture the tunnels as a priority. No good choices here, let's let 'im help t'humans. Better for his spark if he does, y'know, and they do need help. Tell him, by the way, if he does get captured, he needs to play stupid and pretend he's just another student. T'Quints'll hack him, sure, but that'll buy us time to rescue him. They won't kill 'im unless he fights them an' we need him alive at all costs. Even if that means we gotta retrieve him from a Quint prison camp later. Tell him that. Tell him his priority number one is staying alive, at all costs."

Ratchet huffed, and passed this on.

"Ah," Jazz murmured, "Leave it t' a truely devout religious fanatic t' play t' hero. Every single time."

At first, Ratchet thought that Jazz was referring to Resonance, and he was about to snap something irritated. Optimus had never been a fanatic of any sort; he had died because he was a self-sacrificing idiot, not a religious nut. Resonance, for his part, was downright skeptical about religion. He believed in Primus, but was impatient with the associated superstitions and unsubstantiated myths.

A golden streak crossed the sky. That wasn't Res -- the color was far too light, and bright, and the flier too small and shaped wrong. A seeker, a golden seeker, one who was seen as a nuisance at the best of times ... but one who truly believed his own religious doggerel ... roared across the sky with two Quintessan jets in hot pursuit. Sunstorm might be an idiot, but he was an idiot who would die for Cybertron if necessary, because he did believe he was Primus's own disciple. He'd do it for his people.

Despite knowing the likely source of the bomb was squids, Ratchet's spark clenched anyway at the sight of those sleek, deadly, pitch black craft. Sunstorm was leading the Quintesson jets on a merry chase, and shortly, Starscream and his trine joined him. But there were more Quint jets too.

If the Quints had more bombs ...

"We need to get below ground," Prowl said, clearly afraid of the same thing that Ratchet was. The fallout plume was not headed in their directionn (it was drifting towards the dormitory), but they were vulnerable to additional nukes, traditional artillery, or snipers with a different angle on their current location.

Sunstorm separated from the tangle of fighting seekers and Quint jets and roared low across the city. He fired at a location in the mountains with several of his missiles, then rolled sharply away. As he did, an energy weapon struck him. There was a spectacular blast from the seeker's secondary fuel tank, then an explosion in the mountains caused by his missiles. Sunstorm spiralled towards the ground, trailing dark smoke. Whatever he'd targeted burned happily. Ratchet saw Sunstorm transform just before he reached the ground; his medical coding calculated that, likely, that was a survivable hit and the seeker would probably land on his feet with a blast of his thrusters to slow his fall.

"Go!" Jazz vaulted the rubble pile, and Music, small and scared looking, leaped after him.

At Jazz's shout, the Cybertronians followed him. Ratchet, spotting an injured, but still living, human in the street, snagged her up and clutched her to his chest with careful fingers. Others followed his example, even the younglings. With frantic haste they scrambled for the protection of the nearest entrance to one of the myriad of tunnels that riddled Cybertron's crust.

Some corner of Ratchet's mind noted, as he ran, that there had, indeed, been an energon crunch vendor. The booth was just around the corner, and the flammable candy was now burning with intense fury. He twisted sideways as he passed it so that his back took the brunt of the flames, thereby protecting the anonymous human girl in his arms. 

Chapter Text



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.

Chapter Text




"Ratchet, we need to talk," Jazz said by way of greeting, ducking into the slightly less crowded med bay two days later. There were still mecha on the floor, but they were no longer stacked up.

Ratchet looked up from his work, too tired to react with irritation to the interruption. A semi-conscious, half-sedated and not quite fully grown youngling on the gurney had a deep gash in his side. It had severed multiple energon lines and gone protoform deep. Dying protomass wept from the wound, forming a silvery puddle under the mech, and an infection had clearly set in. The kid was groaning occasionally because Ratchet was running out of anesthetics. "What?"


"Verve and Music got bagged by the Quints."

"Slag." He didn't pause his work on the wound even as he talked. The kid squirmed in discomfort; he held him still with one hand even as he asked, "Quints are in the city now?"

"In the tunnels, yeah. Surface is still too hot. We've been fighting them for a day."

"... and nobody told me."

Jazz shook his head. "Sorry, we weren't sure until just now. We intercepted a transmission, though, and decoded it. They've got several kids. We think they're looking for younglings to ... keep. You know how they treat captured Cybertronians."

Ratchet growled. "Res needs to move. He's still in the dorm."

"We're working on that, but right now he's safest where he's at. Tell him to sit tight,"

Ratchet nodded curtly, even as Resonance let him know he'd heard.

---
 
~Res, I need to go through the space bridge.~ Ratchet said, several hours later, unhappy but accepting of this necessity. His function dictated that he follow the wounded. Also, he still had the Matrix and Prowl wanted it kept safe. Earth was significantly better protected than the underground base, since the Quintessons were highly unlikely to directly attach Earth again any time soon. Getting Resonance safely to the bridge was easier said than done; Prowl was undoubtedly working on it, but he didn't fit through the tunnels they still had control over, and he was at the mercy of Quint laser cannons on the planet's surface.

~I will follow you when I can. Gamma levels are dropping to the point where Blue and Percy are going to get the humans out. I ... will see you on Earth.~ Resonance felt scared; he would be alone in the ruined dorm tower until they rescued him ... or until the Quints found him. With his bulk, he couldn't follow the two smaller mecha through the service tunnels they were using to escape.

~I love you.~ He said, then added apologetically, ~I am sorry for being short with you. You needed me and I couldn't be there.~

~You have a function to perform, and I got in the way of it. I understand that.~

~Still wasn't right.~

~I won't disturb you again when you're focused on a medical case, at least not without very good reason, so it won't be an issue in the future.~ Resonance didn't sound offended, though he was also tightly blocking his emotions. Ratchet couldn't tell if this was just Resonance's usual very good shields or if he was hiding hurt feelings.

Resonance clearly heard Ratchet's thoughts because he deliberately lowered his shields so that Ratchet could feel that he was not, in fact, upset. He said gently, ~You are the center of my world, Ratchet. You are loved. Never doubt this.~

Ratchet wanted nothing more than to curl up in Resonance's arms in that moment, and bask in his bondmate's warmth and strength. He had a job to do, though, so he settled for briefly shuttering his optics and just feeling the bond that tied them together forever.




On the far side of the bridge, as soon as he stepped across the event horizon, there was a sudden and awful hole in his spark. He could only dimly sense Resonance's presence. The warmth and love that he had come to take for granted was abruptly gone, and he wondered how he'd ever survived without him.

His sparkling was extremely agitated, and bounced with painful force off the walls of his spark chamber.

He ignored the near physical pain caused by Resonance's absence as best he could, and ignored the sparkling's gyrations too, and walked steadily forward. He was sturdy

"Ratchet!" A human ran across the concrete floor of the space bridge facility. He didn't know the human, but she evidently recognized him, because she called the English version of his name. "You're with me!"

He moved out of the way of a steady stream of wounded, ferried by soldiers, and frowned down at her. "I'm with you?"

"C'mon, follow me. I'm Annette Isabeau, but just call me Anne."

"What is your function?"

"I'm a mechanical engineer." She trotted next to him, waving a bright yellow geiger counter in his general direction. "You, my friend, are glowing in the dark."

"Fallout. It's on everything." He wasn't literally glowing in the dark, but he understood the human euphemism well enough. He was covered in ash from the blast, and some of it was no doubt still radioactive despite the short half-life of typical fallout. It was not enough to be a danger to a Cybertronian, or even present much of a threat to a human in the short term, but it was detectable.

"Yep, and we need to get you cleaned up before you can work around humans. C'mon." Apparently, his estimation of the threat of the fallout to humans differed from hers.

"Aren't you a bit overqualified for ... car wash ... duties?" He demanded, even as she flung herself into an electric golf cart. He wanted to go straight back to work repairing mechanisms -- he'd just get contaminated again anyway by grunge on the wounded -- but Prowl sent him a wordless, but by the context clearly warning, ping.

Oblivious to the annoyed ping that Ratchet shot back at his commander (who was watching from a position right by the bridge), she stomped a foot down on the cart's accelerator. He jogged to keep up, feet clanging loudly against the asphalt roadway.

"Probably!" She shouted over her shoulder. "But I couldn't say no to a chance to work with Cybertronians."

He grunted, and followed her to a concrete wash bay. It was not, as he feared, a literal car wash. Several robots -- the human made, sparkless, kind -- had wands that sprayed warm, soapy, water. They weren't very bright, but they were suitable for the job of washing in places he couldn't reach.

She threw him a large brush and said, "Start scrubbing, buddy. Faster you get done, faster you can go help your patients."

He didn't want to flare his armor and reveal his vulnerable protoform in front of a stranger, but that was necessary in order to really get clean. However, to his gratitude, she turned her back and walked away, taking shelter behind a concrete wall from the minor levels of gamma radiation coming from his frame.

The robots did a pretty good job at reaching what he couldn't. For the first time in over a week, he wasn't filthy.

Limping a bit on his numb foot, he walked up to the wall and peered over it. She'd sat down on a chair and was playing with some sort of electronic device. "All clean."

She scanned him with a geiger counter. And scowled. "Mostly."

She was, he judged, being paranoid. The level of radioactivity lingering on his frame was negligible. She'd probably get a higher dose by standing close to a granite counter top or an old-fashioned tube TV than by standing near him. However, she made him wash twice more, and then helped him flush his coolant and hydraulic fluid. When he protested to Prowl, Prowl ordered him to 'allow the humans to do whatever required to alleviate their concerns.'

She was, at least, competent at the fluid flush. When he commented on her clear knowledge, she grunted, "I've helped Wheeljack a few times."

"You know Jacky?"

She glanced up at him. "Well enough to know only his friends call him Jacky."

"I've known him for most of my life," Ratchet said. "He's an aggravating fragger, but yes,he's my friend."

"Then we have something in common. You okay with giving me a lift to the hospital?"

He dropped down into root mode, and popped his door open. His insides were dripping wet, as he'd scrubbed out his passenger cabin too, but she didn't seem to mind. It was fairly warm out by human standards. She clambered in, plopped down in passenger seat, and buckled herself in. "It's just up the road. They're taking the patients there for decon."

"You can't wash them if they've got open wounds!"

"Sure we can, if we seal the wounds first." She said, with a snort. "And if you want human help, you're gonna have to cater to human phobias about radiation. We are terrified of the stuff. Mind you, I agree, the bath you just had was a bit overboard. But the techs freak if their meters beep, so we're scrubbing everything and everyone that comes through the gate."

He huffed. "Better be sealing the wounds damn well."

She nodded. "That's what I said. And they are. Trust us, Ratchet. We're not stupid, and I've got a good team here."

Something about the way she said "I've got a good team" made him search the Web quickly. He found her biography online with very little effort.  Annette Isabeau had a doctorate in engineering and had spent the last several decades of her life designing space habitats for humans. He determined she knew Jacky because she'd worked with him on Titan when she was a young college student.

"You know Res, then," he realized, after he told her he'd just looked up her history.

"Uh-huh. Good kid. He keeps in touch."

She was, he realized, fairly elderly by human standards, despite her athletic build. She was certainly enough to have known Res when he was a literal child. He had difficulty gauging human ages but she had wrinkles, grey hair, and age spots on her callused hands. She was also fit, with ropy muscles stretched over a thin body.

A quick scan of her body indicated she was carrying classified Cybertronian nanytes in her system. They would both greatly extend her age and her athletic abilities. She was somebody important, then. Those nanytes were a state secret, shared only with a very few humans -- and given that Prowl, Percy and Ultra Magnus were the ones who decided which humans got them, there was no chance of corruption in their use.

"Not so much a kid anymore." Ratchet grunted.

She laughed. "So I hear. Jacky says you two hit it right off. Good for him. And you."

Somewhat to his relief, when he arrived at the vast hanger they'd converted into repair bays for the wounded, things looked like they were going smoothly. There were a few Cybertronians wandering around -- he saw both Bee, and in the distance, Jacky -- and swarms of humans.

She led him to an area she termed "intake."

They'd set up wash racks over the top of metal grates at the entrance to the hanger. "We collect all the water," she said, absently. "It's contaminated. Not sure what we're going to do with it ..."

"Ship it to Quintessa," he suggested.

She gave him a look that said she wasn't sure if he was joking or not.

"Realistically, " he ignored her confusion, "just send it back through the space bridge to Cybertron.  Pit, we can just dump it into the Rust Sea. Solution to pollution is dilution and all that, and it's not like we didn't nuke each other plenty of times during the war -- the sea's got enough isotopes in it already that a few more are not going to make a bit of difference. And there's not exactly much in the way of an ecosystem to frag up. "

She said, "Seriously?"

"Have you seen the pictures of post-war Cybertron?" He countered.

"Pit. That'd solve a lot of red tape." She seemed nonplussed by the idea. Then, after what he suspected was a bit of mental math, "And the cost of sending it through the space bridge in some tankers would be less than the cost of disposal here."

He rolled his optics. Space bridge travel was not cheap, but he was well aware that hazardous waste disposal on earth was both complex and extremely expensive.  "Probably."

"Here comes a patient," she said, as a flatbed truck arrived at Intake with a Cybertronian on it. A seeker, Ratchet saw, and his fingers twitched as he itched to move to start repairs. The seeker had massive injuries, and was a youngling. However, a quick scan verified that the young mech was not critical. He was one Ratchet had partially repaired already, and then left unconscious until they could finish the job later.

As she'd alluded to, the first thing that humans (in protective suits) did with the arriving wounded was to seal any leaks. Before scrubbing the wounded, they had to make sure water wasn't going to get into fuel systems because water, in sufficient quantities, could cause immediate death if it infiltrated a primary energon line of a mech who had compromised filters.

For sealing minor energon leaks they used, to Ratchet's bemusement, some sort of carbon-based polymer that was stuck like glue to anything it touched. On contact with energon, it hardened to form a tough yet pliable temporary patch. It was effective enough that he asked for the formula. Humans, he thought, were altogether too clever in their mastery of organic chemistry. They understood carbon the way Cybertronians had an intuitive grasp of metallurgy.

"Carbon isn't exactly an abundant element on Cybertron, though we can always import it," he said, after he requested the formula. With his arms folded across his chest, he watched a crew of about twenty humans and an equal number of their dumb little drones tackle the mangled frame of the seeker. Several times, they stopped to scan the kid for radioactivity as they stripped off plating and revealed the filth underneath. The humans only did the fine or delicate work that the drones couldn't, and they worked as fast as possible. Then they immediately retreated into a protective booth.

Hydraulic leaks were dealt with by draining the hydraulic fluid completely (it was also treated as radioactive, and wheeled off in barrels). Water in a hydraulic system wasn't wonderful, but it wasn't catastrophic either. They could flush and patch hydraulic systems later, at their leisure. Getting the wounded clean was their first priority.

Coolant was water based, and the humans rightfully ignored all but the worst coolant leaks. Coolant got drained into separate barrels and taken away by a forklift, then the seeker's system was flushed and refilled. When it was pressurized, the result was a fountain of neon colored fluid from a broken line in his chassis. A human swore, manually shut off the relevant coolant pump and while an increasingly impressed Ratchet watched, efficiently replaced the ruptured line with temporary rubber tubing. The second time around, there were no more gushers, just a few drips and trickles here and there.

"They'll get the minor stuff later," she said, "we're just making sure they're clean and as stable as possible before the mechanics get hold of them."

The intake crew then sealed the youngling's secondary air intakes with spray foam, and slapped an oxygen mask over the mech's face.  Though Cybertronians needed minimal oxygen, they did require some to metabolize energon and generate electricity. In what was more likely a case of deliberate design in the ancestral past rather than evolution, Cybertronians took in most of their air the same way most organics did: through their mouths and nasal passages.

More oxygen meant faster healing, as repair nanytes ran on energon and extra oxygen would given them a boost. A metal oxygen cylinder was attached to the mech's helm with magnets, and the mask duct taped in place. They started an energon drip (the humans had to whack the cannula into a fuel line using a rubber mallet, but they managed to do so without too much difficulty), then plugged in a human sized hand-held medical scanner and verified that the seeker was still stable.

Only once he was thoroughly sealed against the potentially damaging water did they begin to scrub the stasis-locked seeker clean. They stripped the rest of his armor off, and anything mods that were readily removable, and started scrubbing him right down to the protoform. There was a lot of soap with embedded abrasives involved, but no harsh chemicals; the soap came in giant drums and smelled faintly of citrus. By the time they were done, Ratchet figured the seeker hadn't been this clean since the day he was decanted.

His armor and weapons were loaded into crates labeled with his name in both Cybertronian and English and carted off. Ratchet hoped they'd bring it back before the mech was roused from stasis.  Cybertronians were far more sensitive about nudity than humans were, since lack of armor left them critically vulnerable to damage.

Ratchet wasn't about to wake up an armorless mech, and he hoped the humans took his advice to never do so. Their reaction would likely be a good bit worse, and more violent, than that of a human who woke up after surgery without clothes on. Humans, somehow, always seemed to have trouble grasping that Cybertronians weren't just ashamed of being seen without their armor on, but that they were taught to fear nudity from a very early age.

Working quickly, the humans then drove the truck, with its seeker cargo, to a repair bay and used a very large forklift to move the seeker from the flatbed to a repair cradle.  A human wearing an exoskeleton for added strength manipulated the seeker's limbs into place, and his stats were verified again. He was, as Ratchet could have told them from his own scans, still stable.

They were, at all times, respectful and gentle. It was clear they knew they were handling an unconscious person, not a piece of broken machinery.

Ratchet grunted, satisfied that they did seem to know what they were doing. He thought the whole rigmarole with cleaning and decontamination was on the excessive side (and Ratchet was a mech who prided himself on cleanliness), but he could live with it. He expressed this opinion, grudgingly, to the human general.

"Be easier to repair them when they're clean, right?" Isabeau said. "I'll show you the rest of the facility."

Through a growing fog of exhaustion he toured it, and as he did, the anxiety and fear in his spark lessened. The humans had something Cybertronians didn't: Sheer, raw, numbers. There were billions of humans, living on a resource rich world, and what had been impossible for Cybertronians to do wasn't even particularly taxing for their tiny but amazingly resourceful allies.

In just over a week they'd put together a task force of thousands humans: Computer techs, mechanics, engineers, electricians, pipefitters, welders, heavy equipment operators, even dedicated janitors and gofers. There were humans whose sole job was fixing the human equipment when it broke. There were several food trucks outside the hanger, presumably to keep the humans fueled, and a first aid station to treat minor injuries. It was all incredibly efficient, and he couldn't help but think that there were more humans working on this one task -- repairing the injured Cybertronians -- than there were actual living Cybertronians.

He hadn't even had enough people to keep the dead hauled away. He hadn't been able to wash his wounded, much less decontaminate them. He'd piled his injured up in stacks of unconscious mecha for lack of room, deliberately keeping them in stasis lock. The conscious patients hadn't been able to lie down at times, due to the numbers. Mechanisms had died in his med bay while all alone, of things he could have treated, because he hadn't had enough people or equipment to monitor even critical cases. Despite his best efforts, his work had been inadequate.

Anne patted his leg. He didn't realize his ... relief, grief, gratitude, and a million other emotions he couldn't name ... were visible in the expression on his face until she did.

Ratchet's shoulders slumped. "You hardly even need me."

"Nonsense. There's a lot we don't know. We'll get the easy stuff, you get to tackle the complex repairs and anything involving neurocircuits, because we don't touch Cybertronian brains. And sparks. They give off x-rays. Sound like a deal, big guy?"

He nodded slowly. "Fair enough."

--

There had always been a population of Cybertronians near the bridge; there was, as a consequence, Cybertronian scale housing already on site. The humans were rapidly building more, but his rank got him a small, private, room rather than a bunk in the barrack. Ann sent him off to his assigned quarters with a friendly wave, telling him they'd take good care of his patients and she'd see him in the morning.

The room was basic, but not uncomfortable. It had concrete floor, a berth with a thick rubber mat on it, a desk, a few shelves, and electric lights hanging from the ceiling. The door locked, the com unit worked (though he wasn't sure who he'd call on Earth who wasn't already at the base), and there was a basket of supplies on a small berthside table.

The basket contained more of the citrus scented gritty soap, an assortment of waxes, a large chamois, sponges, brushes, and an enormous sheet of terry cloth that the humans probably meant to be used as a towel.  There was also a gift card to a local detailer who specialized in Cybertronians, another to a Cybertronian diner, and a packet of applications for Terran residence papers, bank accounts, a driver's license, and the like. Apparently, they assumed he'd be staying for awhile.

He wanted to go home.

He wanted Resonance. He wanted Resonance fiercely. He wanted Resonance so badly it hurt.

He got Anodyne, instead, who knocked on his door and then pinged him before he could respond to the knock.

He palmed the lock. Anodyne blinked at him. "You okay, doc?"

"Not particularly, no." He was fighting down a desire to curl up in a ball and cry. He couldn't cry in front of his apprentice, and wasn't sure if that meant he was glad for Anodyne's appearance or not. He didn't particularly care to break down, period, and Anodyne's presence would give him the strength he needed to avoid that momentary weakness.

The next time he was alone with Resonance, he knew he'd probably collapse into a puddle of grief. He wasn't sure if he was dreading or looking forward to Resonance's embrace.

"Umm. Can I come in? Umm ..."

"Somebody giving you slag?" Ratchet demanded. He'd welcome the chance to bust a few helms, if it came down to that.

"The usual." Anodyne clearly didn't want to elaborate. "Nothing unexpected."

Ratchet stepped aside, with a roll of his optics to indicate his disgust at bullies in general. "Fine, I can't fix it if you won't tell me about it."

Anodyne shrugged. "Not asking you to fix it."

Ratchet sighed, deeply.  "Fine, fine, fine. You can crash here, but this berth's not big enough for two and I'm not sleeping on the floor. Where's Skitter?"

"Right here." Anodyne patted his chest, indicating his docking ports. Skitter pinged him a greeting, which he returned.

"Photon giving you slag?" He hazard a guess at the identity of the most likely slagger. Anodyne and Photon had been moving the wounded all day together, along with Verve. Verve didn't seem likely to pick on Anodyne, though.

"I can handle it."

"Clearly not, if you're here instead of there. Ever consider just beating the slag out of him?" Photon, in Ratchet's estimate, was not much of a fighter. He was big, and like many large mecha he relied on his height to intimidate, but Anodyne was used to sparring with Resonance. Anodyne, though not as big as a shuttle, was plenty large enough and plenty skilled enough and could take him.

Anodyne sat down crosslegged on the floor. "Many times, but that wouldn't actually solve anything."

"No, but it would make me feel better." Ratchet scratched his helm. "I'd love to see you kick their sorry afts into orbit."

Anodyne smirked, but the expression didn't quite reach his optics.

Ratchet huffed, as exhaustion replaced his own flare of humor. He pinged the light, and then scowled when it didn't turn off in response to the very standardized Cybertronian radio command. The light switch was manual, and it was also no bigger than the tip of his smallest finger.

Anodyne reached a hand out, and with a very delicate touch for a mech his size, he flipped the tiny switch.

Ratchet thought he'd fall asleep immediately. He was exhausted, and he needed recharge. However, he lay for hours in the berth staring at the wall. The blue light from his optics cast gentle shadows; when he finally rolled over, he was unsurprised to see that Anodyne's own optics were casting their own golden glow against the ceiling.

Anodyne rolled over too. There truthfully wasn't any room in the berth for him, but he pressed as close as he could to the edge of the small metal platform. Ratchet could have reached out and touched him. Their fields were intermingled. Abruptly, he felt less alone. Only then could he power down.

Chapter Text

A ping to his communicator woke Ratchet the next morning, very early. He terminated several defrag routines early, blinked sleepily, and realized he'd had the longest unbroken period of recharge since the attack -- all of six hours.

The ping was insistent, and carried with it Prowl's com code. He answered hastily, as soon as the identity of the caller registered, :Yes, Prowl?:

:Need you back on Cybertron. Jazz and Skyfire are about to extract Resonance.:

:... and he may be injured,: Ratchet didn't realize he'd said this over the comm frequency until Prowl replied.

:If Resonance is injured, First Aid and Hook will work on him.: Prowl replied, firmly. It was, after all, not a good idea for a physician to treat his own injured bondmate.  :Your sole responsibility will be to provide real time communication with Res. The repeaters are still down.:

:Oh.: He decided to chose his battles -- he would argue about his ability to assist with Res's repairs if it came to that point. He had, after all, successfully saved Resonance's spark after Optimus's processor had been slagged. However, unless he needed to, he'd save his breath. Arguing with Prowl was generally an exercise in futility. :I'll be there in a few minutes.:

:In case something does happen to Resonance,: Prowl said, :You should have a friend with you. Should I call Skyfire  in from the field?:

:I'm fine.:

:Ratchet, you need a friend. This is going to be a dangerous extraction. We are only attempting a rescue because it is more dangerous for him to remain in his current location. Perhaps Sideswipe?:

:I'm fine,: he insisted, a bit grumpy.

:I must insist, and Rung will back me up, that you have emotional support ready. You are a physician. You understand the need for someone who can take responsibility for your welfare, should the worst happen. Res is your next of kin, and you have nobody named after him in your files.:

Anodyne sat up, blinking muzzily, and his movement drew Ratchet's attention. :Anodyne, then. He's not critically needed anywhere and he's a friend.:

:... Soundwave's youngling?: Prowl said, dubiously. :Your student?:

:If you haven't noticed,: Ratchet ground out, :Anodyne is a friend to both of us. If the worst happened ... I'd want him there.:

And that was the startling truth. He fell silent, surprised by how much honesty was in his words to Prowl. He liked the kid, and worried about him, but more to the point, he knew that Anodyne was somebody he could trust if he was ... unfortunately incapacitated. Deny it as much as he wanted, his medical training told him that if Resonance's spark was extinguished, the effects on his own health and mental state would be far more dire than the loss of Optimus. Though Optimus had died by the legal definition of the term, the destruction of a bondmate's processor was not the same, on a medical level, as the disruption of a bond. Plus, he'd only been bonded to Optimus for eight days. He'd been bonded to Resonance for over a vorn, and the bond had had time to settle and mature.

Prowl apparently heard something nakedly truthful in Ratchet's words to, because his response was softer this time. :Should I update your personnel records to reflect that he is your Conjunx, as well as Res?:

Of course Prowl would jump to the wrong conclusion! :We're not lovers! Primus. He's just a friend. Amica to us both, perhaps someday.:

:Apologies for the incorrect assumption, Ratchet. I  will put him down as your Amica.:

Ratchet deeply suspected there was a 'for now' unspoken in Prowl's reply, but he simply rose from the berth and offered Anodyne a hand up from the floor. "We need to go to Cybertron."

"... What's up?" Anodyne helped Skitter into his dock, hands gentle as they folded the wounded symbiont through a transformation before sliding her into place. He didn't bother to turn away from Ratchet's optics, even though most hosts were nervous -- for safety reasons -- around others when they opened their docking port doors.

"They're rescuing Resonance," Ratchet explained.

"Oh. And they want you there so you can talk to him?" Anodyne said.

"... yeah. 'Dyne, listen. Prowl insisted I have a ... friend ... there, in case this goes badly."

Anodyne simply looked at him, uncomprehending.

"'Dyne, I told him I wanted you there."

"What?" Anodyne's optics spiraled wide. "Why me?"

Why, indeed?

"Legally, he's going to list you as my Amica Endura. I know that's not really our relationship, but he's worried about what would happen to me if Res ... if anything bad happens to Resonance. I'm tougher than Prowl thinks, Anodyne, and I don't actually expect you to support me in that way. I just wanted you to know that's in my files if it ever comes up."

He expected questions. He expected confusion. What he didn't expect was for the big host to reach out and pull him into an unexpected hug, then murmur low and close to his audio receptor, "You forget, I'm an empath. I happen to know you're not as tough as you act, Ratchet. Also, if anything happens to Resonance, he's already asked me to be there for you. I think the only reason he hasn't declared me as Amica is that he didn't think you would accept it."

Anodyne's arms were warm, and strong, and the young mech's field steady and calm.

"Come," Anodyne pulled back, but then steered him towards the door with a hand on his shoulder. "We shall wait for them to rescue Resonance together."




By the time that he was halfway to the spacebridge, Ratchet was beginning to regret his impulsive words to Prowl.

He'd never actually had an Amica, not formally, though he and Optimus had once been so close that if Optimus had not been Prime they might have formalized their relationship. Optimus had always held himself a little apart, but Ratchet would have gladly accepted had Optimus ever raised the subject. Ratchet himself had never dared bring it up, because to be rejected by his closest friend would have hurt far too badly. Yet, later, on the night they had bonded, he'd learned that Optimus had assumed Ratchet's silence on the matter was out of a lack of desire for more responsibility when the Autobot CMO was already burdened with so much.

There were ... obligations ... to being an Amica, both legal and ethical.  In the absence of a bondmate or Conjunx, an Amica would be asked to make medical decisions. Anodyne would be first in line for custody of their child after Ratchet and Res, unless they declared otherwise, and Ratchet was well aware that this meant Anodyne could end up the legal guardian of an alpha-sparked Primal candidate.


Day to day, an Amica was supposed to be his confidant, his platonic companion, and his most trusted friend. The social expectation was that they would protect each other, look out for each other, and confide their sorrows in one another. In wartime, Amicas were often stationed together whereas pure strategic need often meant that bondmates -- due to their ability to communicate with one another over long distances  -- were deliberately placed far apart.  

Ratchet walked beside the young host, scowling and angry at himself. He'd put Anodyne in a bad spot. Anodyne could either reject him (which would likely make the host feel uncomfortable) or silently accept an Amica-that-wasn't on his records.

Anodyne reached out and rested a hand on his pauldron, startling Ratchet. The big host stopped, and dropped to one knee so that they were at the same height. He did this out in the open, on a sidewalk beside a busy road, for everyone to see. Ratchet squirmed, aware that people might draw the same erroneous conclusion that Prowl had from their body language, particularly when Anodyne gripped his other arm.

"Ratchet," Anodyne said, "it'll be okay."

A message dropped into his inbox.

Anodyne, it turned out, had just updated his own personnel file. There, just after Skitter's name as his bonded symbiont, was Ratchet, as his Amica.

"Whatever happens with Res," Anodyne said, quietly, "I'm your friend."

He couldn't meet Anodyne's worried gaze. He was asking too much of the kid. They should have discussed this. They should have ...

"I have very few close friends, Ratchet," the host said, "... through no fault of my own. I deeply value the few I have, and I am willing to make the commitment Amica implies. I know I am young, but I am not immature and I know what Amica implies."

He let out a somewhat wavery smile touch his lips. It was true that they needed each other, but more than that, he and Anodyne did genuinely like each other. He enjoyed the time he spent with the young host, and he trusted his judgement and integrity. A little of the guilt and embarrassment and anxiety in his spark eased. He reached out, impulsively, and hugged Anodyne.

"Let's go," he said, roughly. "Res is waiting. I want to talk to him a bit before they start the extraction."

Chapter Text

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."

Chapter Text

Jazz glanced up at the big shuttle, who was silently determined despite palpable fear in his field. He thought that Resonance was eerie, sometimes, in his resemblence to Optimus. He had moments of grave dignity, deep wisdom, and firm authority that were as familiar to Jazz as Prowl's quiet smiles or Sunstreaker's short temper. At other times the big guy was all youngling. Before a battle, Optimus would have been amped up, field full of aggression and righteous anger. Resonance was just simply scared to the very core of his spark, though he was doing a good job at keeping a clear head.

Optimus had worried before a battle, but Jazz kept expecting to see the kid upchuck.

"You're really going to ride on my plating?" Resonance repeated.

Jazz held his hands up, displaying the maglocks embedded in his palms. "The twins aren't the only ones that can play jet judo. Ah'll be fine."

"You'd be safer inside me. If I crash ..."

"Ah'll jump clear. Don' worry, ah've done this before. Ah c'n shoot at things, too, remember, if ah'm on yer back. Jus' follow m' instructions t' the letter, get me?"

"Yeah. I wish we could have practiced this, though." Resonance glanced through the blown-out windows of the top floor apartment. The apartment had been Skyfire's; Jazz's elbows barely reached the top of the arm of the couch.

Jazz got a ping on his communicator, then said, "Everything's in place. Remember, don't fire ya thrusters until yer at street level. Ya keep those wings pinned back so ya can stay lower. If ah can fit a piece a' paper between ya and t' ground, ya too high."

Resonance nodded. What Jazz was asking for was trick flying for any flier; it was going to be terrifyingly difficult for a mech the size of a shuttle. The only way Res would fit down the street in some of the narrower places was by rolling over on his side, and he would have to pin his wings back into the position normally reserved for atmospheric reentry to slip under some of the bridges and power cables.

"Enough talking. We've gone over this half a dozen times. Ya know what ya gotta do and ya gonna do it right." Jazz clapped a hand on Resonance's forearm, stretching up so he could reach. "Let's go."

Jazz, too, wished they could have rehearsed their exit from the building. Still, he had faith in the kid, who was remarkably coordinated and athletic (like Optimus!) for such a big mech.

The Quintesson's lasers were automatically drawn to the exhaust heat of a jet engine. There were two installations they hadn't been able to knock out, and both definitely had a line of sight on the dorms. They weren't sure how many laser cannons the Quints actually had, however.

Jazz spoke into his newly restored comm, :Skywarp, yer on.:

Skywarp responded with a whoop of glee over the comms, and roared into flight out of an abandoned building in old Iacon. As Jazz expected, his ascent was marked with laserfire, but Skywarp started warping every few seconds in a carefully timed pattern. His flight was too erratic for them to get an accurate target lock.

Jazz glanced up at Resonance again. The young shuttle looked resolute, terror replaced with a familiar focused determination. Good. Res was not going to allow his fear to cripple his actions.

"We're on." The laser fire had stopped. Skywarp had successfully provoked the Quints into discharging all their remaining weapons with a few strategic passes over their heads; by his cackling glee over the comms, it sounded like he'd taken out a few squid gunners when the opportunity had presented itself. It would take them a few critical moments to recharge.

Res would reach street level before the weapons could fire again. There would be a relatively exposed stretch of street -- the same one that Rodimus had died on, and Jazz resolutely refused to think of that -- and then a circuitous route through old Iacon to the tunnels.

Jazz clapped the mech who would become his Prime on the arm again and said, "On three. One ... two ..."

On three, they both leaped forward and jumped out the window.

Wind whipped past Jazz, even as he watched Resonance transform. The kid was big in shuttle form; he subspaced seventy percent of his mass. Aerodynamic drag meant that Res briefly fell slower than Jazz, but then the kid went into a nose dive with his wings pinned back and Jazz spread his arms and flared his armor and Res caught back up.

Jazz reached out, activated a maglock, clamped on with one hand, and let the wind fling him onto Resonance's back just behind his cockpit glass. He impacted with a jarring thud that probably bent a few struts and chipped some dental plates, but he'd worry about that later. He clung with mags to Res's armor, wind howling over his plating.

What felt like a nanoclick later, Res fired his engines and he came out of the dive with enough inertial force that Jazz's hydraulics redlined. The kid streaked between two buildings, engines roaring, dove under an overpass, rose slightly to clear a toppled building, and then swore loudly over the comm as he clipped the very tip of a wing against some debris. He maintained control, despite the pain and change in aerodynamics  -- when Jazz looked over he could see Res was missing the last couple feet of that wing. They leveled out in a wide area, and Resonance cleared the charred and blackened remains of the street fair by a scant few feet. They passed a few troops under cover inside a building at their eye level, much to the wide-eyed surprise of the soldiers.

Res flared his wings and deployed one reverse thruster in a move that was textbook Starscream. The challenging manuever let him make a seeker-worthy turn at an intersection. The gee forces were so extreme that Jazz felt something pop in his internals, and his optics went temporarily black from lack of energon flow to his processor.  His maglocks screeched several feet across Res's back but he managed to stay on.

Frantically, he reset his optics and routed more power to his maglocks. When he could see again they were deep in one of the war-blasted canyon-like streets of a long abandoned part of old Iacon.

:Don't pass out on me!: Res said sharply, as he performed yet another high speed maneuver: A rapid corkscrew roll to fit down between two crumbling buildings and then sideways flight into a literal alley.

Res didn't quite make the next turn; his belly clipped a building on the far side with just enough force to send sparks spraying and make a terrible noise. It was one of the more terrifying moments of Jazz's long life as they were going fast enough that a crash would be fatal for both of them -- despite Jazz's promise to jump clear he knew he'd splat against the ground like a bug on a windshield.

Resonance recovered with a gasp audible over the open comm line, and then made one last near-impossible turn and dove down into a tunnel that was so small that the only way he could fly through it was to pin his wings and tip diagonally to one side.

Inside, he transformed, with Jazz still clinging to his back, and fired his foot thrusters to brake. He didn't stick the landing, but he did manage to flip over  to avoid squishing Jazz. He slid on his belly in a spectacular hundred-yard-long spray of sparks down the floor of the tunnel, occasionally bouncing off the walls before finally coming to a halt. The noise was incredible.

"Let's do that again!" Jazz said, with a giggle worthy of a sparkling.

Resonance said, "You are a crazy mech."

"So ah've been told. How much is Ratchet yelling?"

Resonance sat up, and inspected his hands, which had gotten banged up. He had some rather spectacular scrapes and gouges to his armor, a few bits of missing kibble, and some broken fingers. "You don't want to know what Ratchet just called you."

"Probably not." Jazz cautiously stood up. An energon line had burst somewhere in his inner workings -- probably the pop he'd felt -- and a slow trickle of fluid ran down his leg. His internal diagnostics didn't think the damage was serious.

Res rose too, a bit stiffly, though all his limbs seemed to be working. The superheated thrusters in his feet came in contact with a puddle of water and it flashed to steam with a loud hiss; Res jerked in surprise, then winced.

"Any serious injuries?"

"Hydraulic leaks, mostly." Res grinned, clearly still a bit amped up from the flight. "I think I exceeded a few design tolerances."

Res produced a plasma gun from his subspace; it wasn't much of a weapon,  and dangerous to use for the bearer as well as enemies in close confines, but it was better than nothing.

"I knew ya could pull that off. C'mon, let's get movin' before the squids send in drones lookin' for ya. They don' know yer our new Prime, but knowin' yer a shuttle'll be enough fer them t' kill ya."

"Or capture us," Resonance said, darkly.

Jazz nodded curtly. Resonance was the only mech alive capable of becoming a Prime, so Jazz's orders from Prowl were to let the squids have Res if it came to that. An enslaved mech could be recovered; a dead Prime could not be brought back from the well. He wasn't sure he could follow those orders. Jazz had been a Quint slave, early in his life. He knew what would come back from the squid labor camps would not be the same mech. Very few mecha recovered to the point that Jazz himself had.

The tunnel had once been an underpass beneath Iacon's spaceport. He led the way a few hundred yards down to an access hatch. The hatch opened up to reveal a ladder that descended down a narrow shaft.

Resonance gave the ladder a very dubious look.

"Ya'll fit. Ah measured it. C'mon," Jazz said, cheerfully.

"Ah'm not worried about the fit. Will that ladder hold our weight?"

"Should."

Resonance crouched and studied it. "My weight is outside the design tolerances for that style of ladder."

Wheeljack's kid, Jazz remembered.

"It might hold me, but it won't hold both of us."

"It goes a half mile down. We shouldn't split up."

"Use your mags on the shaft wall." Resonance suggested. "And let me go first. If it fails, I do not want to take you with me, and I cannot engage my thrusters if you are below me."

Jazz had intended to bring up the rear anyway -- Mirage and Wheeljack where guarding the bottom of this tunnel, and he would protect the rear as they descended.  He nodded, glad that Resonance wasn't claustrophobic like most fliers. The kid had grown up on a Titan mining colony. He'd been underground most of his life.

Res cautiously started down the tunnel, movements slow and measured. The tunnel smelled of age and decay; twice, Resonance judged a section of ladder to be too weak to support him and fired up his thrusters to float to a lower level. He couldn't use the thrusters to descend the entire length, unfortunately, as they would make the air in this confined space too hot. As it was, Jazz had to descend past areas of heated metal in a sliding rush to avoid burning himself.

They made it without any major issues, and finally reached an ancient subway track that was full of ankle-deep nastily acidic and foul smelling murky water.

Wheeljack lit his headlamps and surveyed them, even as Mirage handed Resonance a heavy laser pistol that was better suited for his size and safer to use in close quarters. Wheeljack said, with a grimace, "Res, you look like the Pit."

"I'll definitely need some body work but it's nothing major." Resonance said,then bent over and swept his mentor into a very brief hug. Greeting out of the way, he competently inspected the gun before plugging the power leads into his wrist ports. Again, Jazz was reminded Res was Wheeljack's kid. Resonance might never have been in combat, but he definitely knew how to handle a weapon. He was a very good shot, too -- better than Prime had been.

Jazz clapped Res on the back as high as he could reach, and then said, "Get movin'. Mirage, you take point. Jacky, bring up the rear."




They made it less than half a mile before they ran into their first fight.


Resonance crouched low behind a pile of rubble that had once been a mine's roof, wings pinned flat to his back, face a snarl of anger as plasma fire crackled down the narrow tunnel. Jazz wasn't sure where Mirage was, but Jacky was right next to Res, with an acid grenade in one hand.

Unfortunately, the drones were too far away for even Jacky's formidable throwing arm to reach.

The problem with big mecha in combat was that they were big slagging targets. Resonance was pinned down, unable to move, because the Quint drones were targeting him and he was too large to take advantage of cover that would easily protect the smaller mecha. However, there were also advantages to being big. Res took the grenade from Wheeljack, and after a wordless moment of communication the engineer popped up briefly, drew their fire, and then Res lunged tp his feet, cranked his arm back, and flung the acid grenade with every bit of strength he possessed.

Basic physics. Significantly longer arms meant more force in the throw, all things being equal. Though, by the way Res was rubbing his shoulder, he'd probably damaged his rotator cuff.

The grenade detonated with a low whump. The drones wailed as the sticky gelled acid in the grenade spattered them; the things had a decent level of artificial intelligence, and like any sentient being, they didn't want to die.

The acid was also flammable. Jazz learned where Mirage was when there was a sudden burst of laser fire from a side tunnel and the drones went up in flames. Mirage shouted, "This way! I found a way around!"



"Ratchet says that Soundwave's down." Resonance told them, as they crawled down a storm drain full of puddles of noxious, paint-strippingly acidic water.

Jazz had already assumed that; their radios were out again.

"Dead?" Wheeljack asked.

Resonance shook his head. "Pretty bad, though. Skywarp's retrieving him."

Jazz snorted. "That flyin' menace gets an award for MVP after we're all done here. Too bad ya mass is too much for him to jump with."

"That would have made things easier," Resonance agreed. If Skywarp could have teleported with Resonance in tow, everything would have been much simpler.

"Glad he's on our team, this time around," Wheeljack said, then put a hand up for silence.

Jazz froze, trusting Wheeljack. Megavorns of fighting beside the inventory had taught him that Jacky sometimes caught things that others missed, even Jazz himself.

Resonance crouched down on his heels and said, "Do you feel it?"

"... what?" His sensors were keen, but he didn't detect anything but normal tunnel noises -- dripping, the occasional creak of metal, and the skitter of small cyberlife.

"Wind," Resonance said.

"... yeah?" There wasn't any.

Wheeljack said softly, "The air is still. It's never totally still down here?"

Jazz's plating crawled. They were right, and he'd totally missed it. Later, he would learn that Wheeljack had played war games with Res in Titan's mining tunnels for decades. Both of them were attuned to the slightest change of air current. It saved their lives, this time.

:Mirage, stop,: he commed ahead, using a short range frequency. :Something's wrong.:

The storm drain looked empty. However, it was long and straight -- a situation that made him nervous, because if they were ambushed they'd be in the middle of a perfect shooting gallery.

Wheeljack produced a tiny remote control drone copter from his subspace. It was barely more sophisticated than a human toy, and appeared to have been cobbled together from spare parts and glue.  Jacky sent the copter buzzing down the tunnel. It passed Mirage's location -- Mirage was invisible, but they could see the ripples his feet left in a puddle -- and then, not unexpectedly, two hundred feet further down the tunnel, the drone smacked into a force field and triggered a roaring explosion of fire.

Afterwards, they would figure out that the Quints had booby trapped the tunnel with a force field to direct a blast towards anyone who tripped it. Touching the field was the trigger, and the field itself was some sort of quantum discontinuity that was almost impossible to detect with a scan. Wheeljack's little drone copters would become standard equipment for scouting teams in the future.

For now, however, they were just grateful to have survived.




"Pit take it," Jazz hissed, in absolute frustration. As extractions went, this was turning into a complete clusterfrag.

First the Quints had blocked a key passage they needed to get from old Iacon to the deeply buried base. Then, massive numbers of Quint drones had forced them to the surface.

Resonance, whose field was patently exhausted, hunched down in the shelter of a crumbling building. They'd been forced to the surface by enemy activity below, and Res was having difficulty finding good cover due to his size.

Jazz wasn't sure if the squids were actively after them -- possible, given the tactical advantage of a shuttle to either side -- or if they were just trying to deny all Cybertronians access to the tunnels. It was possible the extraction had simply been unfortunately timed to coincide with Quintesson area denial plans.

Now, however, they huddled in the dubious shelter of what had once been Sideswipe's bar.

"It's only half a mile to alpha-gamma-four tunnel entrance," Wheeljack said, referring to a passage that led directly to the underground base. "We may have to make a run for it."  

Jazz hesitated. It would be simpler if Res could fly, but the kid had taken enough damage earlier that he couldn't transform. Res didn't have a ground alt, so he'd have to run on foot. He would be exposed, in the open, with Quint snipers still in the hills, for almost a mile. That wasn't a long distance for a species with legs as long as the average Cybertronian's, but it was still too slagging far.

"Res," he said, "ask Ratchet to ask Prowl again about air support."

Resonance shook his head after a moment. "He says the Quints are shooting anything with wings down as soon as they see it. Skywarp got hit; he's in the med bay."

"Pit." Jazz said, then added a few choice curse words from a variety of languages.

When the front of the building exploded, Jazz wasn't even surprised. The next ten nanoclicks were full of shouting and shooting and violence. Resonance screamed in pain and went down. Wheeljack roared in outrage and hurtled over his body. Jazz, deadly silent, just launched himself at the first of too slagging many Quintesson drones pouring into the building.

Heat, pressure, impact told him he was hit, and it was bad. No pain. Not yet. He kept fighting, but he was too damned slow ...

Res rose up out of the smoke and dust, and like some ancient avatar of Primus, slashed his sword completely through the nearest drone.

Jazz was hit again, a searing blow to the back of his head, and completely against his will, despite stubborn intent to fight, he crumpled to the ground and could only watch.

The kid could fight. Resonance spun and danced, now back to back with Mirage, both moving with the grace and skill of masters of martial arts. Jazz had never been more proud -- or impressed -- in his life. Unfortunately, he was out of the fight himself, and panic quickly filled his spark. Jazz's limbs were not responding, his motor core refused his orders to reboot, and his HUD was full of a cascade of error messages.

Wheeljack rejoined the fray with a literal explosion as he chucked a grenade under the drones. It was too damned closed to them, and Jazz felt shrapnel shred into his frame. He knew he was leaking badly. He tried to reach down to check the extent of his damage. He ... couldn't move. Not at all.

Resonance lunged over the top of him and slashed and spun, roaring with fury at an opponent that Jazz couldn't see because he couldn't turn his head.

The fight was ... protracted. Jazz had never felt more helpless in his life. Res was the future of their world, and he could do nothing but lie and watch. He could not move, could barely see due to the angle he'd fallen at ... he could only watch, helpless to defend, to lead, to save his charge.

When it was all over, Resonance stood tall, though one wing had been shorn off and he was leaking energon from a dozen shrapnel wounds and plasma burns. He had to be in pain, but he was still focused and alert.

He knelt. "Jazz, can you hear me?"

"Ah can't move," Jazz said, and even that took too much effort.

"You've got a head wound."

"Res, we've got to go." That was Mirage, looking nearly as battered as the shuttle. "There's more coming."

Resonance started to pick him up. Jazz spat an unintelligible buzz in protest. Mirage, now in command, said sharply, "Res, leave him."

And that was right. Resonance was the mission, and nothing was more critical than getting Res to the base, and to his meeting with destiny. Mirage knew that. He knew that Prowl had deemed casualties acceptable, and had given them very clear priorities. They all agreed with Prowl. They needed a Prime!

Resonance snarled, "No!"

"You're the mission, kid, not the hero." That was Wheeljack, tugging hard at Resonance's arm. "Jazz understands. We'll send someone back for him."

"He'll bleed out before help gets here!" Resonance shoved Wheeljack away with considerable force -- Wheeljack hit a wall with a thud -- and then grabbed Jazz and rather effortlessly slung him over his shoulder. Kid was strong as well as tall. Jazz got a good close-hand look at the extent of the damage to Resonance's wings, from and upside down vantage, and was somewhat surprised that Res wasn't down for the count. One wing completely gone. The other was shredded. His back plating didn't look much better.

"Damnit!" Wheeljack snapped.

"I will not leave him!"

"He'll slow us down!" Mirage roared. "We cannot risk it! Not when your life is at stake!"

Jazz was ... floating. Feeling strangely detached. He felt he should tell Mirage not to waste the time arguing; Optimus would have made the same choice that Res had, and been just as stubborn about it. However, Jazz could not summon the energy to say anything.

Resonance snarled at an unseen voice, "Shut the frag up, Ratchet!"

Apparently, Ratchet was yelling at him too.

"We're gonna have to run for it," Resonance said decisively. "I'm going to fly in root with Jazz. You two, transform and follow me as fast as you can."

Flying in bipedal mode, particularly with his wings missing and mangled, was dangerous in the tight confines of the city streets. Resonance wasn't exactly aerodynamic in bipedal form, even without Jazz over his shoulder, and when he fired his foot thruster for horizontal flight he was basically a large and clumsy rocket. Steering could only be accomplished by changing the direction of the thrust -- in other words, by bending his legs -- and one fraction of an degree of miscalculation meant he'd slam into a building. Given the beating he'd taken it was certain he had calibration issues now, too.

Jazz would have protested. He couldn't summon the energy. He seemed to be drifting, aware but not able to react.

"Damnit," Wheeljack said, but he transformed. "Go, kid!"

With a tremendous roar of engines, Resonance  shot out into the street. He flew only feet above it, and as close to the buildings as he could manage, even as both racers struggled to keep up behind him.

Resonance was being smart about his flight, Jazz realized. His speed, and direction, were erratic. He zigged, and zagged, and slowed down and sped up. He zoomed through the burnt-out husk of a building, at one point, taking a bit more damage when the remnants of his wing clipped a wall, but making no sound of pain.

The Quints tried to hit him. Jazz, from his helpless vantage in Res's arms, saw a deep crater open in the street a few feet to their right. Blistering heat washed over them. Another time, rubble rained down on them, nearly driving Resonance into the ground.

It was only half a mile. At the speed they were traveling it took seconds. It seemed like a lifetime.

The tunnel entrance was dark, but well guarded from within. The guards scattered as Res streaked over a pile of destroyed drones -- apparently, the Quints had recently attacked here -- and shot through the entrance. Out of control, he duplicated the sliding crash from earlier. They fetched up against a far wall with strut-bending impact.

Resonance, Jazz in his arms, was on his feet in an instant with a shout, "Ratchet, he's badly hurt!"

Ratchet was there.

Ratchet scanned Res first then apparently concluded he could wait. "Res, sit," Ratchet snapped, even as he grabbed Jazz from the young shuttle.

Jazz had a moment to appreciate that his mission was a success ... they'd gotten Resonance back alive. And then Ratchet's hands were on him, moving with urgency as they hooked up one, then two, energon drips.

"You're gonna be okay," Resonance said, crouching beside him. Jazz realized Resonance was patching one of his leaks, and with some skill, too, despite his own injures.

"I'm putting you under," Ratchet said, and then ... Jazz knew only black nothingness as the sedation took instant effect.

Chapter Text

Six hours of emergency surgery later, and Ratchet finally stepped out of the operating theater.

Resonance was waiting outside, as he'd already known. His bondmate was in pain, but none of his injuries were life threatening -- there were advantages to being big and heavily armored, and one of them was that you could take a pit of a lot of damage and it would still, as the saying went, be a 'long way from the spark.' Resonance was going to need a ton of body work, new wings, a rebuild of his rotator cuff (he didn't even remember how he'd blown it out; Ratchet, who had been a fly on the wall to the fight via the bond, thought he'd done it during the final sliding crash into the base's tunnel), and assorted and sundry other repairs, but he was not even close to being critical.

Ratchet surveyed him for a long moment, noting and cataloging all the damage by reflex and coding. Finally, he said, "You should have left Jazz behind."

"He risked his life to save me."

"And you will be Prime and we need you more than Jazz. Jazz knows that. Jazz would willingly die for the future of Cybertron."

"It worked, though. I got him out." Resonance snapped.

Ratchet scrubbed at his optics. "But it might not have. Slaggitall, I know you are aware of your own importance to the cause. We've had this discussion."

Resonance ... faltered. He looked down. "I know, Ratch. I know. Logically, I know. But out there ... out during the fight ... I just couldn't do it. I couldn't. Maybe I made a wrong call, but he'll be okay and I'm not sorry. I've known Jazz since the day I first came online. He was there when I was decanted, Ratchet! I can't imagine a world without him in it."

"He's known you for two lifetimes. I imagine he feels the same about you," Ratchet said, gruffly. "How do you think he'd feel if you died?"

"We're in a war. Some of us will die."

"But not you. We need you."

Silence. Then, "Optimus fought."

"Yeah. Yeah, he did, Res. We couldn't keep him out of battle either." And that willingness to recklessly risk his own plating was why Res was standing here, and not Optimus himself, Ratchet couldn't help but think, with a trace of bitter anger at the Prime.

Res flinched.

Ratchet snapped, "And I'll think the same of you if you die unnecessarily, slaggit."

"How is Jazz?" Resonance changed the subject.

"You've been riding my thoughts while I work. You already know the answer to that question."

Resonance flinched again, mentally and visibly. Ratchet, belatedly, realized he was trying to change the subject, not just asking a stupid question. Ratchet scrubbed at his face with his hands and said, "Sorry, Res. And yes, as you know, he's got processor damage. I don't know how bad it is. We're sending him off to Earth and I'll look into it more when we get there. He would be dead, though, from that ruptured line, if you hadn't carried him out, so you did save his life."

Resonance hesitantly nodded. He felt a brief ... longing ... from his bondmate, and then Resonance put up a rather solid barrier between them. "How's Soundwave?"

Soundwave was Anodyne's carrier; he caught a distinct impression of worry for Anodyne in that question before Res blocked him out. He tried not to feel annoyed at the barriers that Resonance kept throwing up. It was probably just reflexive on Res's part.

"First Aid's working on him. He'll survive -- he's a tough old glitch." He poked at Res's barrier. Res didn't lower it, and Ratchet decided he didn't want to know what Res was thinking anyway. "C'mon. We're both supposed to go to Earth, and then you've got a date with slagging destiny."




Earth's sun made Resonance's injuries look worse. He stood tall, the shredded remnant of his single remaining wing held proudly, as he stepped out into daylight, but he was even more obviously battered and dented and had one arm in a sling.

Ratchet felt a surge of attraction in response to Res's proud bearing, never mind his injuries. He couldn't tell what Resonance was thinking, but Res definitely felt Ratchet's emotional state. He gave Ratchet a sharp look, and didn't smile.

He wanted to tell Resonance that he loved him just as he was. Resonance needed to hear that, he thought. But he didn't know how to put the sentiment into words ...

Resonance glanced at him and said, :I hear you.:

:Then hear the truth.:

:You miss him, though.:

And that, too, was true. Some terrible, treacherous, broken part of Ratchet's spark wanted Optimus back. They needed Optimus right now, too, purely from a tactical standpoint. And with Resonance getting the Matrix, something of Optimus would be back. Resonance, at the very least, would have Optimus's memories, and would know the very long and very close history that Ratchet had with his late bondmate and near lifelong friend.

Prowl dropped into step beside Ratchet and said to both of them, "I'm afraid we don't have much time for ceremony."

"... Yeah, I know. It's okay." Resonance said. He added with macabre humor in his field, "Anyway, I think if I tried to polish myself up right now, it would be an exercise in futility."

Prowl's lips curled up into what might have been a smile. "More Primes than not have ascended during times of crisis. Perhaps it is traditional for it to not be a ceremony, but rather a type of field promotion."

"That's a disquieting thought," Resonance replied.  

They had set an underground hanger aside for this. There needed to be witnesses, but there weren't many -- just a few trusted insiders who knew of Resonance's history.

Resonance's past was a closely held secret still, and Ratchet knew from a few reports he'd seen that there was panicked speculation among the masses over who the next Prime would be. He hoped they would accept Resonance, who was both young and not a Cybertron native.

Prowl had called Ultra Magnus, Wheeljack, and Ironhide for this, and Resonance had added Anodyne to the list of witnesses with a firm, "He will be among my advisors as Prime."

That, too, worried Ratchet. He trusted Anodyne to the core of his spark, but Anodyne, by the very nature of his frame type, was mistrusted by nearly everyone else. While Ratchet assumed that his psionic abilities were well developed and that he had excellent training from Soundwave, Anodyne was demonstrably reluctant to use those gifts. He'd nearly died at Music's hands rather than lash out with his telepathy. He was also very young and Ratchet feared he lacked world experience and therefore the perspective that an advisor to the Prime needed.

:It will be fine, Ratchet.: Resonace murmured. :Anodyne will defend others where he will not defend himself, plus I want his opinion on the character of mecha, not his tactical or political advice. Anodyne is the best judge of character that I know.:

Of course, there was the small problem of retrieving the Matrix. Opening one's spark chamber was an intimate thing, not normally done outside of interfacing or medical procedures. Ratchet summoned every bit of his dignity and resolve, and triggered his plates to part. The others were crowded around him on all sides, and they averted their eyes, except for Res, who stared with fascination into his chamber.

:I can see her.:

The sparkling. She had been quiet for days, and felt very withdrawn. He didn't blame her one bit. Ratchet's emotions had been vile. He felt guilty, for that, but he didn't know how to change it. They were in a war.

The Matrix floated out on its own, somewhat to his relief. He'd been worried that he would need to somehow extract it.

Resonance reached for it, gently, reverently, and it settled smoothly into his good hand. Behind his sling-wrapped arm, his own chest plates slid open.

Ratchet couldn't watch. This meant an end ... an end to what he'd had, and damnit, he didn't want Resonance to change.

That thought provoked a spike of anxiety from Res, who both didn't want to change and was worried Ratchet would see him differently as a Prime. Ratchet had fallen in love with Resonance, the young shuttle -- would he feel the same about Resonance Prime, a leader with vast responsibilities and the weight of eons of history and wisdom in his processor?

It was a clear sign of Res's level of anxiety that Ratchet even saw those thoughts. Resonance's control was slipping.

The matrix settled into place.

Ratchet had seen a few ascensions of Primes. He expected Resonance's injuries to heal, his frame to alter to suit the whim of a capricious God, his field to expand and somehow become more. Instead, Resonance simply dropped to his knees with a groan.

Ferocious emotions battered Ratchet, and they weren't the ones he was expecting. Anxiety was replaced by shock, then rapid fire, anger and defiance and more anger and then outright fury. Optimus had once told Ratchet that, as Orion became Prime, he'd seen all of Cybertron's history flash before his eyes, and had engaged in deep philosophical conversations with their god, all in the space of a few nanoklicks of time.

The sparkling's mental shriek of terror made him gasp aloud; she, too, was feeling everything that Ratchet did, and his responding anxiety and fear. He snapped his spark chamber closed and then reflexively clapped his hands over his chest as she ricocheted off the walls of his chamber with painful force. Instinct led her to try to escape whatever was making her carrier so upset, but she couldn't actually flee because she was far too young to separate; she could only fling herself around in a blind panic.

Resonance, meanwhile, clapped his good hand over his spark and shouted aloud, "No! They need me! I must!"

He was, Ratchet realized, likely arguing with Primus himself via the Matrix.

Resonance snarled in a tone of rage that didn't even begin to match the outrage in his spark, "Slaggit, Primus!"

That provoked a gasp from Ultra Magnus, a smirk from Wheeljack, and flared doorwings from Prowl. Anodyne laughed nervously, a sound that held no real amusement, just shock. Sacrilege, but Ratchet knew that feeling. He'd certainly cursed Primus out himself many times.

"But you cannot leave us without leadership!" Resonance's single damaged wing was lifted high and wide, his optics blazed, his hands fisted, his fans howled and capacitors whined. He was the angriest that Ratchet had ever seen him, matching only Optimus's explosive rage during a few choice moments of the war.

Ratchet took a step back, battered by the strongest emotions he'd ever felt in his life. Resonance's literal towering fury made Ratchet's own cranky temper look and feel insignificant. It frightened him. He wasn't scared of Resonance, but rather, terrified of whatever had provoked Resonance. The sparkling was zinging around inside his spark chamber so hard and fast that he could feel his chest vibrate. She would have looked like a blur, had he been able to see her in that instant.

The Matrix fell, with an audible clink, to the floor. Resonance snapped his spark chamber closed with an actual bang of colliding metal plates, picked up the Matrix, and shoved it back to Ratchet with zero ceremony or respect in the gesture. Ratchet took the Matrix by reflex, then nearly dropped it as he registered a distinctly angry EM field coming from the ancient holy relic that matched Resonance's temper.

"Apparently," Resonance spat, not feeling any calmer, "I'm not suitable to be Prime."

"But Optimus was!" Ratchet said, in confusion, and no small amount of anger himself. He wished he could yell at Primus himself. They needed a Prime.

"Primus," Resonance said, "would leave us without leadership rather than allow me to at least try to fix things."

He stabbed a finger at Ratchet's chest, single shredded wing still flared as tall and wide as it would go, "Primus says she will be suitable."

"Our sparkling?" The sparkling who, at this moment, was still in a panic.

"Yes." Resonance ground out, "Everything was for nothing."

He turned on one heel and marched out, every line of his frame radiating fury.

"Resonance!" Wheeljack shouted, and started to follow.

Ratchet put a hand out to stop him. "Let him go, Jacky. He's like Optimus -- he'll need time to cool off before he'll actually talk to anyone."

The Matrix suddenly ... moved. It twisted in his hands, and turned to sand and the sand flowed through the cracks in his armor. He swore, and pawed at it frantically, but to no avail -- deep in his chest he felt his own spark chamber crack open against his will.  The Matrix settled back in his chamber, nestled up against the femme spark it had chosen. She didn't seem very pleased, at first, but then quickly calmed.

He wanted to rip it away from her, but he knew that was a fight he couldn't win ... and perhaps shouldn't. They needed a Prime; he might think Primus was a complete slagger, but the Matrix held the accumulated wisdom of a thousand past Primes. Some of them had been scientists, engineers, and many had been warriors. They needed a Prime who could access that information and help them fight the Quints (if that was even possible), and then rebuild Cybertronian society (and Ratchet couldn't help but think that Cybertron might already be lost. He'd seen what was left of Iacon through Resonance's optics.

Prowl sighed. "Best that you hold onto it, then, if that's where it wants to be. You won't be in combat and you're going to be mostly on Earth, but you can fight capably to defend it if you need to. And Ratchet ... make sure Res knows he's got a role to play in this fight even without the Matrix."

Anodyne, who had been very quiet, added, "Ratchet, let me know if I can do anything to help either of you."

He looked over at the young host. His first impulse was to say he'd be fine, but he found himself saying, instead, "I will, 'Dyne. I will."

Chapter Text

Ratchet wanted to go to Res, but duty and obligation took him to the med bay instead. Anyway, he didn't know where Res had gone, though he suspected a long walk was involved. Had Res been able to fly, he would have been doing laps around the globe.

In the med bay the humans were working on mechanical repairs to Jazz, and he stepped into the operating theater to check on their work. Getting Jazz repaired was on the very short list of priorities. As much as he wanted to go hunt Res down they were fighting a war. He had priorities that superseded his own desires

The little human engineer, Annette, was up to her armpits in Jazz's chassis, and he said, "Are you working on the fuel pump relay?"

"... yes," she said,without looking up. "Mounting brackets got torqued somehow. They're fabbing me replacements in the shop, but I want to get these cut out now so we can swap in the new ones right away. Prowl said he's our number one priority to get operational."

He peered over her shoulder. Jazz had gotten hit with a big piece of shrapnel, which had done internal damage. The humans had already replaced the damaged energon lines, and done a good job at it.

"What happened with Res? I saw him storm off base a half hour ago," she asked.

"Res isn't talking about it," Ratchet replied, carefully. The Matrix, and the lack of a current Prime, were deeply classified. Mecha were already wondering where the next Prime would come from, and Prowl would have to say something, but Ratchet was perfectly happy to let the command staff deal with that headache.

"He's such a sweet mech. What could have gotten him that angry? I've never seen him pissed off like that before."

Ratchet shrugged, and then padded around to Jazz's helm. "It's classified, Annette."

She accepted that, though she frowned as she changed the subject, "How long will it take you to repair Jazz's motor circuits?"

Thankfully, Jazz's higher mental functions were completely intact. The connections to his motor circuits were slagged, however, as were many of his autonomic functions. It was the equivalent of a brain stem injury to a human, and far worse than the damage Ratchet had suffered during his recent arc-out.

Ratchet explained, "I'll need to find some modules for the repairs -- probably have to source at least one of the parts I need from the dead, because Jazz has an unusual processor design."

"Tell me what you need and I can have my people start looking. We're setting up a morgue." She shook her head. "And if you hear anyone call it a junk yard, tell me. I keep telling my people that your dead deserve as much respect as human organ donors do."

"... thanks," he said, a bit surprised by the sentiment.

She snorted, but didn't add anything else.




~Where are you at, Res?~ Ratchet asked, after nearly twenty hours of work on Jazz and other mecha. Soundwave was in rough shape, with massive internal damage from a close explosion, and Skywarp had taken a direct hit to the thrusters. Skyfire had cracked some struts performing acrobatic maneuvers outside his design tolerances. All four were critical to the war effort and at the top of the priority list to repair.

He was simply exhausted, but he wanted to at least see Resonance before he caught a few hours of recharge. Res, he judged, had ample time to cool off.

it took Resonance a long while to answer. Finally, however, he said, ~Talking to Starscream.~

~... Screamer?~ Ratchet said, in surprise, and a little suspicion. Clearly, there were witnesses to Res's stormy departure from the base. He wouldn't put it past Starscream to try to take advantage of Resonance's temper, particularly since Starscream did know about the past incarnation of Resonance's spark.

Starscream had a very long history of deliberately sowing division in whatever command structure he belonged to purely for the purpose of his own advancement ... and he would be drawn to a pissed off Resonance like glitchmice to a short circuit.

~Starscream's behaving himself. Believe it or not, he sees the big picture, and he desires victory over the Quints more than he desires power right now. He respects Prowl, and Jazz, both. Ratchet, I'm being assigned to air support. As soon as I'm flight ready ...~ Resonance trailed off, then said, :They're going to enlist me as a junior officer.:

Academically, Ratchet understood this -- that Resonance was still officer material, just not command staff material. Not yet. While Resonance wasn't acceptable as a Prime, he was a demonstrably skilled flier with a large frame and substantial flight skills. He had a solid education, could shoot straight, and was a born leader. He'd even held public office on Titan and he got along well with humans.

His dismay, however, flashed across the bond. He didn't want Resonance in combat. 'Junior officer' meant time in the field before any advancement to 'senior officer' could happen.

Res snapped, ~Yeah, well, I have to do something.I can't just sit on my aft while our peope die.~

~I get it!~ Ratchet snarled back. He might have been more diplomatic if he hadn't been utterly exhausted. ~I just don't want to lose you! The damned Quintessons are going to target you especially. They're after every flier, but you will be a priority! Damnit, Res, fighting the Quintessons is suicide! It's suicide on a species level! We need to retreat from Cybertron and seek shelter on Earth!~

To his surprise, he didn't feel a flare of furious outrage from Res at his sacriligious words. Instead, there was weary acceptance. ~I know. I agree. That's one of the things the Matrix didn't like hearing. It ... and Primus himself ... don't want to give the planet up. Treason, Primus said.~

Ratchet vented a long, long, sigh. ~Meet me at my --our-- quarters. I need to ...!~ Hold him, touch him, make sure he was really alive, and safe, for the moment.



While Ratchet had been tending to critical (and mission critical) patients, someone had rebuilt Res's damaged shoulder. His arm was no longer in a sling. They'd also removed his badly mangled wing and the other had been lost in the fight. He was missing enough armor plating that it was almost scandalous, with large areas of bare protoform exposed. Ratchet wanted to grab him and hustle him off to the med bay for an immediate completion of the repairs and body work. His love for Res seemed to feed his spark-deep coding to repair.

"You've been going nonstop for well over a day," Resonance said, softly. "You need to take a break before you glitch. I'm not in any pain and Jacky's helping the humans with my body work."

Ratchet sighed, then pushed the door open. "Berth is tiny. I'll recharge on the floor.  You're injured."

"I'm younger," Resonance said, mildly, then both of them stopped short, because the berth wasn't tiny. A berth twice the size of the old one filled the room. It left less space to move around in the small room, but it was almost the same size as their berth on Cybertron.

There was also a human in the room, with an arm full of cleaning supplies and a pallet of energon cubes. She looked up at them and said, "I'm all done here. Have a good night, Doc. Resonance."

The human -- who neither of them knew -- pushed the pallet jack out, after depositing the energon in a stack on the floor. The door shut after her.

"... they're very efficient," Resonance said, mildly, and reached for an energon cube.

Ratchet grunted, "Don't drink that. I want to make sure she was supposed to actually be here."

The human had, in fact, been assigned to housekeeping. Apparently, they had a maid. Ratchet, bemused, looked the pallet of energon over. It was mostly solar mid grade, but one bright fuschia cube was clearly high grade. He ... didn't want to start drinking. Not right now. He was tired and stressed and he knew high grade could help with both, but he wouldn't be abe to stop, and he really did want to grab that cube and down it all and just stop thinking ...

Resonance picked up the neon colored cube, walked to the door, and thrust it into the hands of the first passing mech with a friendly, "We don't need this."

"You could have kept it for yourself," Ratchet said, after picking up a cube of regular fuel.

Resonance shrugged, and sat down on the edge of the berth. He held his arm out, and Ratchet, eager to feel Resonance's field, settled down next to him. Resonance wrapped his arm around Ratchet's shoulder.

Resonance's field was ... unsettled. It felt a lot like Optimus in a broody mood, quite honestly.

~Is our responsibility to our people, or to Cybertron itself?~ Resonance asked, suddenly.

~Our people,~ Ratchet, medic, replied instantly. He loved Cybertron, but he'd spent nearly his whole existance repairing Cybertronians. For him, the choice was easy.

~I've ... lived among humans for most of my life.~ Resonance tucked one long leg up to his chest and wrapped his other arm around it. He stared out into space, and didn't complete that thought aloud, but it was clear what he was thinking: That a life among humans was worth living. That the human's star system could be home. That it was defensible. That humanity welcomed, and liked, Cybertronians. That they could form a symbiotic culture with humans, each species bringing something important to the table, to the benefit of all of them.

Cybertronians had been living on Earth for over a century now. Four or five human generations had grown up knowing nothing but a world with friendly alien robots in it, alien robots who worked hard to fit in.  Few humans left alive remembered a world without Cybertronians. Cybertronians had recently helped defend Earth against the attempted Quintesson invasion of the planet.

They would be accepted on Earth, and welcomed.

Ratchet let out a long, slow, sigh. ~What does Prowl think?~

~I don't know. I'm ... just another youngling, without the Matrix,~ Resonance's voice was wry.

Pit. Ratchet started to object. Resonance was far from just another youngling.

~I think they see the Matrix's rejection of me as a vote of no confidence by Primus.~ Resonance tucked his other knee to his chest and rested his chin on them, letting go of Ratchet in the process. ~They're not wrong. Primus ... was very disappointed in Optimus, because Optimus could not win the war with the Decepticons. He seems to think that Optimus handled it badly, but I also got the distinct impression that Primus was behind Optimus's refusal to ever surrender or compromise with the Decepticons.~

Resonance continued, ~I always thought our God would be perfect, and kind, and holy and merciful. He's a bit of a vengeful bastard, actually. I would have told him 'this needs to stop' long before our world was destroyed. The Quints would not be invading our world now if we'd compromised with the Decepticons and made peace. But Primus was ... uncompromising.~

Ratchet snorted. He'd come to that conclusion a long time ago. Primus was the God who'd created Cybertronians in his own image, after all, and Ratchet was all too familiar with his peoples' warlike tendencies.

~And then I told Him I thought we needed to retreat from Cybertron. Primus made it very clear that He created us, and He expected us to defend Cybertron in His place against the Quintessons. I said it might not be possible to win. He said ... He said that we should die trying. He sees us as His servants, he does not care about our future if He cannot survive Himself! I always believed we were his Children and a good creator will die for their children! I called Him selfish, and that's when He rejected me.~

Ratchet's response was angry and profane.

~He rejected me, Ratchet, because I cared more for the fate of our people than about His survival.  He said I'd grown up offworld, too, and that was why I didn't understand the importance of saving Cybertron. He said that was why I didn't love Him enough to be willing to die for Him. He said without Cybertron there would be no Cybertronians!~

Ratchet put an arm around Resonance's shoulders, and tugged, gently. His bondmate let out a ragged sigh, collapsed into his arms, and began to sob broken sobs.

He'd lost so much. His friend and mentor, Rodimus, dead before his eyes. His world, attacked. The city he'd just begun to know as his own, gone. Human friends, dead. A human, dead in his very hands, and no way to save her.

His future was forever and irrevocably changed. He'd grown up knowing he would be Prime, but their very God had rejected him and called him traitor, had disowned him.  To the very core of his spark, Resonance was a deeply loyal and caring mech. His spark wailed denial at that label, his logic told him it was wrong, but how was one to truly disagree with a God?

Ratchet held him long into the night, even after his keening had ceased. Resonance clung to him, and could not recharge. Resonance's thoughts were his own after that point, but his field felt chaotic and sparkbroken.

Chapter Text

The next morning, after doing rounds at the medical center, Ratchet sought out Prowl. Prowl, it turned out, was on earth for the moment, and was hunched over a table of datapads and holomaps in an office deep below the surface of the human base.

Ratchet stepped into the room and cleared his vocalizer.

The tactician -- now the leader of all Cybertronians by default -- looked up and said without preamble, "How is Jazz?"

"I'm having difficulty sourcing the parts I need to repair his processor. His higher functions and memory are intact, but motor functions took a hit."

"I need him," Prowl growled, with more emotion than Ratchet was used to seeing from him.

"I'll wake him from stasis as soon as I can find the parts."

"... can he be woken now?" Prowl's optics narrowed. His doorwings were stiff, betraying nothing, but he wasn't actually an unfeeling drone, and Ratchet knew Prowl would not ask if it wasn't important.

Ratchet hesitated. "He could be. His autonomics are functional. He would not be able to move however. Those connections are severed."

"But he could think, and communicate."

"Over comms, yes. He won't be able to speak aloud. Prowl, I normally keep mecha in this condition in stasis for a reason."

"A psychological one," Prowl said, optics narrowing.

"... well, yes, but a good one. He won't be able to do anything other than blink his optics. Also, there are logistical issues -- he would require a personal attendant with at least some basic medical training."

Prowl shook his head. "I need his knowledge and expertise. Wake him. Requisition the staff you need to care for him from the general labor pool, or from the ranks of the convalescent."

Ratchet sighed and acknowledged the inevitable.  He didn't think it would be psychologically healthy for Jazz to be awake, but he was aware the battle for Iacon was not going well. "Very well. I'll set up a team to care for him -- If you don't mind, I'll assign Anodyne to babysitting him any time he's somewhere that requires a security clearance. Of the junior staff, I trust 'Dyne to keep his mouth shut the most, and he'd be the hardest to hack. You'll need to give him the clearance, but I'll vouch for him, and I already know his record's clean."

Prowl shook his head. "Anodyne's being assigned to Cybertron."

Ratchet folded his arms across his chest and jerked his chin up at that news. He might be willing to wake Jazz, but sending Anodyne to the front was a whole different story. He would fight over this. Prowl's wings lifted in reaction to Ratchet's demeanor, even before Ratchet started to speak. When he did, Ratchet's voice was slow, measured, but his tone promised fury. "Anodyne is more of a pacifist than First Aid, and he's an empath. He can barely function around the wounded in the med bay. How do you think he's going to handle combat?"

Rational arguments always worked better with Prowl than justified outrage, and he tried to stay calm when talking to the tactician. They'd known each other a very long time. What Ratchet really wanted to do was scream, "Not Anodyne!" at the top volume of his vocalizer.

"... he'll have to learn. Soundwave did." Prowl's wings lowered a bit, though.

Ratchet said, slowly, in a tone one would use on a small sparkling, "Anodyne. Will. Be. A. Liability. In. Combat. He's not Soundwave. He's the most psionically gifted mech we have alive right now, and he does not have full control over the receptive aspect of his gift."

Prowl opened his mouth to protest.

"And if you claim I'm protecting him because he's my Amica, I will feed you your chevron," Ratchet added, crossly, letting a bit of his anger out even though he knew it would make no difference to Prowl. "You don't see me standing in the way of sending Resonance into combat, do you? I think it's a slagging waste to risk Res's life and that he's better used elsewhere but he'll rise to the occasion. Anodyne would just break down. He can't handle it."

Prowl again tried to say something, and Ratchet talked right over the top of him.

"... and before you say Anodyne's a coward, I would remind you that he's an empath. It affects him. Deeply. He is unwilling to even defend himself from the attacks of others because he feels their pain as if it were his own."

Prowl was actually scowling. Ratchet was secretly proud of the fact that he was one of the few people in existence who could provoke emotional reactions from Prowl. He chose his battles with the tactician, sure, but he won many of  them.

Ratchet continued, "And because he has psionic gifts, most mecha don't trust him -- though personally, given his deep seated dislike of causing pain, I find him one of the most trustworthy mecha I've ever known. However, people are fools and they don't see it that way! He'll sow division in the ranks simply by existing, I guarantee it. At least I can smack any medical staffer upside the head who objects to him. And anyone who wants to hurt him will have to come through me."

Prowl pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ratchet, we do need heavy warframes, but very well. You make a convincing argument. Just ... tell the repair teams that heavy mecha are a priority for repair."

Ratchet nodded shortly. He carefully concealed his giddy delight at having won -- he couldn't imagine sending Anodyne into combat. It would change Anodyne for the worse, even if he survived. Survival was questionable, since he suspected 'Dyne would simply shut down into a state of catatonia if anyone tried to force him into actual battle. Anodyne might be able to function in the military as a comms mech or tactician, working behind the lines, but not on the front -- and they were looking at him as a frontliner solely due to his frame type.

Ratchet huffed, "... Thank you. Prowl, I actually came to see how much Resonance told you about his discussion with the Matrix, and Primus."

"I debriefed him." Prowl folded his arms across his chest. "I ... see the merits in Resonance's viewpoint, that we should abandon Cybertron, but remember that he grew up offworld. He doesn't understand yet the importance our homeworld has to our people."

"You're going to continue fighting for Cybertron." Ratchet pinched the bridge of his nose.

"... we can't win with our current resources," Prowl's optics glittered with sudden cold anger. "But I will make sure the Quintessons can't have the world either."

Ratchet started to comment, but it was Prowl's turn to speak over him. In a rare show of real anger, Prowl's voice rose. "Our world has millions of years of history, technology, weaponry, secrets! We cannot let the Quintessons have free reign to explore it! They would learn things that would make them a greater threat not just to us, but to the entire universe! I will not allow that to happen! So yes, Ratchet, we will continue to fight."

Ratchet shut his mouth. Put that way ...

"... it's what Optimus would have done," Prowl added, with less fury. "And it's what I believe is right. It's what you believe is right, I can feel it in your field."

Ratchet nodded curtly.

Prowl said, in a low voice, almost in a tone of confession, "Resonance suggested we ... destroy it. Destroy Cybertron. But utterly obliterating a world would require more raw power than our scientists know how to generate. Starscream and Perceptor have both, independently, confirmed that."

So Prowl had actually considered that option ... Ratchet wondered if he would have carried through with it had it been possible.

Ratchet's spark hurt at the thought. He couldn't imagine destroying Cybertron. Cybertron was home, a living world with a living God at its core, and all Cybertronians owed their existence to that God. He said, in a subdued tone, "No wonder Primus rejected Resonance. It would mean Primus's own death. And never count a Prime's plan out entirely: they have a tendency to make things happen that defy logic."

Prowl grunted. "Just so."

Ratchet scrubbed his face with his hands. "Look, Prowl, I know he's young and he lacks experience, but Resonance is ... special. He's not just another young grunt, and you can't treat him as one. I understand you may need him to fly missions -- but I think you're also aware of how bright he is, and what a good leader he is. Like I said, I won't stop you from sending him into combat. He'll be good at it. But please ... consider the future too. We will need him, and mecha like him, to rebuild."

Prowl nodded. "I'm aware of both his mental and physical gifts. That is why he will report directly to me. We will use him as the command staff's personal shuttle, and send him on truly critical missions only, though he will see combat. I will ensure that he is not ... wasted ... and not allowed to waste his own life in tactically unsound defense of others,  as I believe he would be liable to do in the heat of a battle

Relief surged in Ratchet's spark. "Yeah, he's a self-sacrificing glitch. That's a spark deep trait, believe me. You intend to mentor him?"

Prowl's lips pressed together in a thin, hard, line. "Yes. I believe what you say is correct that he has great potential. Purely from a strategic standpoint, I can and will justify extra caution in his deployment. I cannot treat him any differently than other junior officers, otherwise."




Ratchet headed back to the medical building a few minutes later. As he approached, he saw Anodyne's personnel carrier alt mode trundling down the road -- with Resonance seated in the gunner's chair. Resonance was big enough that it looked a little silly, but neither of them seemed to care, and Ratchet got a vague impression of a deep emotional discussion with Anodyne over the bond.

When Anodyne stopped, Resonance easily vaulted to the ground. Despite the loss of his wings and the ravaged condition of his plating, the young shuttle seemed as athletic as ever.

Both of them turned to greet Ratchet as he transformed and stood up. Anodyne said, "Prowl just sent me my new assignment."

"Did you want to go to the front? I asked him to assign you to medical myself." Ratchet asked, a bit cranky.

"No! ... I'm not a coward, Ratchet," Anodyne added, a bit too quickly. Likely, he'd heard that accusation recently, from others, when they learned of his reluctance to fight. "I just can't."

"I know, Anodyne." Ratchet clapped him on the back. "And I need you here. Res, I think the humans about have your wings done. Go check in with them and see. If they're not ready for you, make yourself useful with incoming wounded. Some of them are still too hot for the humans to handle."

"Can I be there when you wake Jazz?" Resonance asked.

"Yeah, but it'll be a few hours."




Jazz woke to a scrolling array of errors as his reboot sequence repeatedly failed to activate motor systems. The errors were both painful and distressing and he tried to cry out, "... Ratchet!" only to discover his vocalizer wasn't working either.

A gentle hand gripped his shoulder. Ratchet could be a hard-aft bastard in the med bay, but his touch was unfailingly kind, and his field familiar, and Jazz knew immediately that it was Ratchet who stood beside him.

:Your comms work,: Ratchet said, voice sounding genuinely worried. :Look at me, Jazz.:

He opened his optic shutters to the bright lights of a med bay ward, and found Ratchet was leaning over him. The medic stroked his forehead and said, aloud, "Relax. You can't move. You're not going to be able to move for awhile."

He was ... unable to move.

What if he were attacked?

Jazz, a soldier for most of his life, panicked. His field flared wildly. His ventilations increased in an autonomic response. He tried, wildly, despite the ominous error messages, to move, but only succeeded in making his fans spin up with a wild whine.

"I know." Ratchet squeezed his shoulder harder. "Prowl says he needs you."

Prowl ... probably did.

Prowl ... Prowl probably needed him on more than just a tactical level, though few likely realized that. Maybe not even Ratchet. They weren't bonded, but Jazz had been Prowl's friend and sometimes ... more ... for a very long time. Jazz shuttered his optics briefly, and fought for calm. There was nothing he could do to defend himself if he couldn't move, but he also told himself he was safe on Earth (he could smell Earth's rich atmosphere), in a base, and he trusted his friends to keep him safe.

The latter ... should have been true. It wasn't. But he told himself it would have to be enough.

The last thing he remembered was being carried in Resonance's arms through the gate to Earth. The mission had succeeded, he realized, despite his own injuries. Res ... Res must be Prime now.

:How's Resonance doing?:

:I'm sorry, Jazz. Your mission ... you got hurt for nothing.: That was Resonance, and the tall shuttle (somewhat worse for wear, and  with a brand new pair of primer-grey wings) moved into view.

:We got you out.:

:But the Matrix rejected me,: Resonance said. :I'm sorry. You're more important to our people than I am, it turns out. I'm just ... I'm just another youngling. You risked everything and it was for nothing!:

Jazz blinked. That was unexpected. It had never crossed his processor that Resonance wouldn't become their next Prime.

:Ya are still tactically significant, kid,: Jazz said, with a mental shrug. He didn't feel a trace of regret. He also knew that Resonance, the self-sacrificing glitch that he was, needed to be given a reason not to feel guilty. :Yer a shuttle. We need shuttles. An' yer Ratchet's bondmate. Anythin' happens t' yah, Ratchet's not gonna take it well. He thinks he'll be okay, but ah don' think so.:

Resonance glanced over at Ratchet.

Ratchet growled. :It'd tear my spark apart to lose you, kid, but I would do my duty to my people. I'm not going to follow you to the Well. You keep that thought in your processor when you're fighting and you do what you need to do. I will survive you.:

Jazz said, :Ah'm sure you would, Ratch', but we need you to do more than just yer 'job'. So -- ah'm awake because Prowler needs me? How long am I stuck in the med bay?:

He wanted to move. Instinctively, he kept trying to. Each attempt caused a cascade of errors down his HUD. He wanted to scream, tried to grit his denta, and that triggered another wave of errors. Panic filled his spark; he wrestled it into submission. Panic would do nothing to help him.

:You're here on monitors another day to make sure you're stable, and then you'll have an attendent with you during the day. At night, you come back here to recharge.:

Jazz would have nodded, but couldn't. Another flare of fear-anxiety shot through his spark. He focused on the fact that he was needed ...

:Sorrry about waking you up. I'd have kept you in stasis but they need you.: Ratchet squeezed his shoulder, and he realized he could feel for the first time, even if he couldn't move.

:Nah, it's okay.: Jazz was actually horrified by the idea of being unconscious as well as helpless. That was worse! Some mecha preferred that when they were injured -- but not Jazz. :Prowler does need me.:

He was needed. He would help. In whatever way he could.

Chapter Text

Anodyne was truly a large mech, Jazz thought; he subspaced a good chunk of his mass when in root mode, and still towered head and shoulders over the average soldier. He was broad through the chest and shoulders, with powerful legs and big feet.

Yet, he didn't lumber. His waist was comparatively narrow, and his shoulders and hips set so that his limbs were unrestricted in their movement. His hydraulics were powerful and blindingly fast in their response. He was, for all his size, agile and fast on his feet. At a distance and without anything to show scale, it would have been easy to mistake Anodyne for somebody much smaller.

Jazz, floating behind him in his chair, couldn't help but appreciate the view. Anodyne reminded him of the gladiators of ages past -- an impression that was only increased by his choice of weapons. He was handsome; Jazz told himself the kid was far too young for him to be noticing, though there was nothing juvenile about his behavior or appearance. Then, mentally, Jazz shrugged. There was no harm in looking -- especially since he could only look and not touch. Black humor curled through his processor. It would probably be a long time until he touched anyone. He might as well enjoy the view.

Anodyne's alt mode had tank treads; he wore the treads so that they swept over his shoulders and trailed down his back in root. They swung gently when he moved, and the effect was akin to a human's cape. In combat, those treads could be a formidable weapon; they were jointed metal, heavy, with serrated edges.  The blackness of the bare metal treads was a subtle contrast to his dignified dark brown paint. The splash of bright gold trim on a few bits of kibble, and his amber biolights, were tasteful and mature, and served only to accent his appearance.

He wore Optimus's old energon sword between his shoulders, mounted upside down so that he could draw it with his right hand. His left arm had an energon shield hidden under his gauntlet; he could deploy it with a thought, and Jazz knew -- from discrete observation and the occasional actual match with the kid -- that Anodyne was startling good at close-quarters fighting for a noncombatant. He had natural instincts and athleticism to match.

Jazz knew that sword well -- he'd trained Optimus to fight with it, megavorns ago. It was a very good blade, the first one Optimus had carried before finding an assortment of powerful weapons, and it only added to the impression he gave of being a warrior.

"You doing okay?" Anodyne asked, slowing down so that Jazz's chair skimmed beside him.

The mech's voice was deep, fitting his size. His field, when it brushed up against Jazz, was precise, steady, and calm. Jazz wanted to look up at him and flash him a reassuring smile; the mere thought of motion sent errors scrolling down his HUD. Panic swirled through his spark, and he ruthlessly suppressed it. He turned his attention again to the distraction that was Anodyne's appearance. No harm in looking, right? And it was a good way to keep himself from panic.

He was very, very good, after all, at being not-afraid even under the worst of situations, and finding distractions was one method he used. He could sneak into enemy bases, could remain cool under any sort of fire, could handle the most volatile of explosives, could survive the worst interrogations without breaking. He could deal with this, too.

Anodyne's look was worried.

:I'm fine,: he said, and steered the float chair forward with a commands sent over his comm. Prowl needed him. He would fill that need.



Prowl was waiting for him in a conference room. The Praxian's expression was unreadable, and he simply said, "Anodyne, thank you. Please wait outside."

Anodyne saluted him crisply. "Yes sir."

Once the door slid shut after Anodyne, Prowl's expression changed. "Jazz ..." he said, voice low, even as he dropped to one knee so they would be at the same height. "Jazz, I'm sorry."

Jazz was one of the very few who knew just how guilty Prowl felt for every casualty. Prowl took his role as tactician and commander very seriously. He felt guilt, every time anyone was injured -- or, worse, killed. He was so very strong, Jazz thought, in his ability to keep going and perform his duties regardless of his private feelings.

:Doc'll fix me up. Dontcha worry, Prowler.: Jazz could only meet Prowl's gaze, or try to. Prowl wouldn't look back.

Prowl leaned forward, hands rising to rest on Jazz's shoulders. The float chair swayed gently as it took his weight. Prowl, wordlessly, pressed the side of his face to Jazz's chest, and gripped his arms, and held tight.

Jazz could have died. He'd come so very close. And then Prowl would have been alone with his duties, his responsibilities, and his guilt.

He wished he could hold Prowl close. He wished he could speak aloud. He wished he could stroke Prowl's back. He wished he could kiss his chevron. He wanted, desperately, to hold Prowl until Praxian's tremors stopped and the soft, muted, clicking of his vocalizer eased.

He could only sit there motionless, while Prowl clung to him, while every molecule in his body screamed to reciprocate.

Finally, though, Prowl stood up. The tactician visibly pulled himself together as his armor settled into place and his doorwings lifted to their usual formal -- and unreadable -- position. "I need your opinion on a raid," Prowl said, voice flat, "... the Quints are building an orbital laser cannon platform and we cannot let them succeed. There's a few options for destroying it -- can you look them over for me?"

:Yah, ah can do that.:

"Ah'll send the data to your HUD." Prowl frowned at him, now. "There's also a briefing at 1400 I would like to to attend, and I want you to get with Starscream and Wheeljack regarding the plan to insert Mirage and Hound behind the lines with a demo kit."

:Will do.:

And he would ... even if every nerve fiber in his body was screaming in horror. Briefly, he shuttered his optics and then forced his field to assume a state of artificial calm and floated after Prowl.

Prowl needed him.

Cybertron needed him.

And ... this was better than the alternative. He did not desire oblivion. Not even the oblivion of stasis.

Chapter Text

They didn't have the parts Jazz needed anywhere in the morgue or any of the storehouses on Earth. Ratchet was reasonably sure that there might be some on Cybertron ... in a warehouse in Quintesson controlled territory.

Ratchet expressed his frustration with the problem to Wheeljack, who tilted his head sideways, considered, and then said, "Did you check the Ark? Remember we stocked it up with everything we thought we might need before leaving Cybertron, and some of that stuff is still there."

There were no manifests of the Ark's contents anywhere that he could find on Earth. Likely, there had been some records at Iacon's medical center, but that information was  obviously inaccessible if not outright slagged. Someone would need to physically check the ship's med bay store room.

Ratchet was also exhausted, and knew he needed a mental break before he started making critical errors. The space bridge was slated to be shut down for maintenance, so no new patients would be incoming for a period of about twelve hours. It was a convenient chance to leave the base, clear his head, and hopefully resolve a few issues between himself and Res. He desperately wanted time alone with Resonance.

That was how Ratchet found himself riding with a (mostly) repaired Resonance to the Ark.

Resonance had been very quiet for the last few days. His field was as broody as ever, but he wasn't saying much to Ratchet -- not even over the bond. He'd been in recharge the night before when Ratchet had come home, and he had left early in the morning for a meeting with Jazz and Starscream.

As soon as they were airborne, Ratchet said, "You gonna tell me what you're thinking so hard about?"

Resonance's sigh rattled through his vents. "You're busy, Ratchet. It's nothing you can help with."

Somehow, that stung more than Ratchet would have expected. "I deliberately made time for you, Resonance," he pointed out, not entirely able to keep the hurt from his voice. "This is a supply run. I could have sent one of the med techs and actually gotten some unbroken recharge."

Perhaps, if he hadn't been so short on recharge, he might have been more diplomatic. Resonance's reaction slagged him off, however. Both Res's field and the bond were locked down tight, so he didn't know how Resonance had responded to his hard words.

"There's nothing I can say that I haven't said already." Resonance replied finally, voice firm. Ratchet recognized that tone, though he'd never heard it from Res before -- it was stubborn, dignified, and maddeningly like Optimus.

He wanted to respond angrily, and while he managed to bite back any truly harsh words, Resonance certainly felt his initial flare of temper.  There was, again, no response from Res.

Ratchet heaved a sigh, folded his arms across his chest, and stared moodily out the window. If Res didn't want to talk, there was nothing he could do right now to change his mind. The wasted time irritated him, and the sense of rejection outright hurt.

They rode in silence to the Ark. Perhaps he could have caught an hour of recharge while Res was in the air, but he was just too angry. So he sat and fumed, and Resonance kept the barrier up on his end. He had no idea what Res was thinking and he wavered between being too pissed off to care and being truly worried.

The Ark was guarded by a few younglings that Ratchet didn't know, but Res greeted them briefly by name. Once they'd entered, Res said, "You know I've never been inside here before?"

"You haven't?" Ratchet seized at the chance to make conversation. It felt like a relief to talk. Things weren't okay between them, but talking was good. Resonance apparently felt the same way, because Ratchet felt a flare of relief leak across the bond.

"Wheeljack was busy on Titan and had no time to travel when I was young. By the time the mines could run themselves for long enough for us to travel to Earth, the Ark was mothballed. I've overflown it a few times, but never been inside."

Ratchet led the way down a corridor that felt as achingly familiar as the day he'd left. So many memories filled these walls. Many of them were of Optimus, and the others. He tried not to remember, but wasn't entirely successful.

There was Red's security center, and if he looked inside he could almost see the director frowning at the displays.

That dent on a hallway wall was from Sideswipe racing Rodimus; they had crashed, and the resulting damage to both young soldiers had taken days of body work to put right. Pit he missed Rodimus -- young Rodimus, Hot Rod, who'd been such a bright and mischevious kid, and Rodimus Prime, who'd lived up to every bit of his potential.

Optimus wasn't the only one who'd had faith in the young racer. Ratchet had seen it too.  Had known, deep down, that if Rodimus survived the war he'd be a leader, and not just because of the strength of his spark.

And now Rodimus was dead, his fluids spattered and burning brightly in a blackened street. The Matrix rode as an unwelcome passenger in Ratchet's chest, doing Primus knew what to his sparkling.

A new memory chased that dark thoughts away. They turned into the med bay, and it was easy for Ratchet to remember Optimus there. There were bad memories, of Optimus wounded, but also good ones, of his beloved friend walking in when nobody else was around, and keeping Ratchet company when he worked late shifts.

Sometimes, Optimus had spread his own work out on a table and busied himself with his never-ending admistrative duties while Ratchet focused on his own chores or the repair of a part.

Once in awhile, Optimus had fallen into recharge in a chair or in alt mode in a corner.

Sometimes, he'd just watched Ratchet work, while brooding.

Sometimes, Ratchet gave him lessons on first aid and basic field repair. Optimus had occasionally put them to good use in the aftermath of battle. He was a quick learner, and good with his hands.

Rarely, Optimus had used those late nights to vent, or express grief, or ask for Ratchet's counsel on a tough decision.

He missed that time in his life, he missed it fiercely. And then he felt guilty for missing it, because they'd been locked in a bitter civil war and his friends had been dying all around him, and the only reason he missed it was because he'd known his place and he'd been confident in the close friendship he had with Optimus.

He missed Optimus so badly, though.

Resonance said softly, "I can't be him."

"What?" Ratchet said, surprised, then snapped, "Damnit, Res, just because I'm moping about the past doesn't mean I don't want you now. C'mon, this way. Let's check the parts storeroom."

Nobody had been in the med bay in a long time, and a thick layer of dust covered everything. He'd forgotten how small it was. A handful of berths, an exam room, an operating theater, a machine shop, and past the machine shop, the science lab where Jackie, Perceptor, and later Skyfire had worked. That was the extent of the repair facilities. He'd worked miracles here, and sometimes, he wondered how.

The store room was cramped, particularly when Res pressed in after him. Processor parts were stored in vacuum canisters, all on one shelf. There, he did find the motor control unit he needed. To his dismay, however, the vacuum seal was broken. Time had eroded the gasket, and earth's corrosive atmosphere, laden with oxygen and humidity, had flooded in. The degree of damage was unknown, but that didn't look promising.

Resonance frowned, then turned and accidentally knocked a box off the shelf.

Ratchet bent to pick it up, and then nearly dropped it when he peered inside. It held as a painfully familiar cranial case, complete with dark optics. When Optimus had died, they'd still been struggling for survival at the end of the war, and unsure if the peace would hold. Just like all the other mecha who had died in combat, his frame had been cannibalized for organ donation.

Resonance's sparkling protoform had been grown from cloned tissue in a vat, and Wheeljack had fabricated or sourced mostly new components as he grew, which meant that all of Optimus's frame had been available for use by others. The damage had been surprisingly minimal, and Ratchet knew for a fact that Skyfire, Silverbolt and Ultra Magnus had all benefited from his parts.

Optimus would have wanted it that way.

Resonance looked over Ratchet's shoulder, then gently reached around him to take the box from Ratchet's hands. "They should have disposed of this," he murmured, "or at least not left it where you would find it."

Ratchet shook his head. "It still has good parts -- the optics, the audio sensors, some of the facial struts. If I'd needed to, I would have taken them for someone else. Better than not having them. I just forgot his parts were still here." He frowned, remembering that some of the other boxes held other bits from Optimus, though his spark chamber itself was entombed in a memorial on Cybertron. He continued, after a moment, "Many of his parts are a match for Ultra Magnus, and for a few other other older and larger mecha. As you know, he had seeker genetics, and that meant some of his internals were also compatible with the larger fliers ... including you, if it comes down to that. We should take all the parts back to the base, just in case ..." he trailed off, then added sturdily, "Help me gather everything here up. We'll take it all back."

Packing the parts up took them several hours. There was a considerable amount left from Optimus and several other mecha, as well as a random assortment of unused bits. It was enough to make a full cargo load for Resonance. Resonance worked in silence as he crated up bits and pieces of dead mecha, and strapped them to wooden human-made pallets, though he was both efficient and careful. When they were done it was very late, and Ratchet could tell that Res was exhausted. He'd been through a Pit's worth of trauma in the last several days.

Resonance shot him a look at that thought. "And you haven't?"

But Ratchet hadn't had to flee for his life through the streets and tunnels of Iacon.

~No, but you were riding my thoughts. You felt my pain as if it were yours, and my terror as if you were there,~ Resonance snapped back.

"Why are we even fighting?" Ratchet said aloud. "Slaggit, Res, don't take your angst out on me."

Resonance started to bristle with anger then, abruptly, deflated. He huffed a huge sigh out his vents, and scrubbed his hands over his optics, and said, "I'm sorry, Ratchet."

"So am I. I don't like fighting with you. I don't even understand why we are."

"I do not know." Resonance folded his arms over his chest. Even though Resonance was still blocking his side of the bond, Ratchet knew that look: Resonance was trying to find a logical explanation and not coming up with one.

Ratchet's old quarters were just across the hall. He gave Res a hard push and propelled him out the med bay door. His old password worked on the door, and the room was as he'd left it, plus an eighty-some year layer of desert dust.

Ignoring the dirt, he firmly guided Resonance to the edge of the berth and said, "Sit. Down."

Resonance sat.

Ratchet wasn't really a mech who liked to talk about feelings. Give him a mechanical problem to fix, and he was brilliant. He wasn't a shrink, didn't want to be one, and preferred physical problems to emotional ones.

Ratchet's first impulse was to tell Resonance to knock it off, grow up. Slag happens. Plans don't go as expected. People die. Primus is a slagsparked glitch. Welcome to the real world.

He didn't, though by the hurt in Resonance's field, he certainly felt Ratchet' sentiments.

What Ratchet did do was nudge Res's legs apart with his knee, and then press as close as he could to Resonance's broad, tall, frame. With Resonance sitting, they were almost the same height. He wrapped his arms around Resonance's shoulders, pressed his forehead to Resonance's helm, and held him close. "I love you, Res. I love you."

Resonance clung to him, and then, to Ratchet's surprise, burst into sobs. Resonance's arms held him so tightly it was almost painful, and he cried almost hysterically.

Ratchet could only hold on, as a tidal wave of emotions burst over him. Resonance dropped the barrier, let loose everything he'd been holding in, and Ratchet didn't have a clue what to do or say.

Grief, for Rodimus ... truly, a tremendous amount was for Roddy, who had been a pivotal figure in Resonance's world his entire life. Rodimus hadn't just been his Prime, but had been a big brother and idol for the young shuttle. His grief was physically painful and overwhelming.

There was guilt, for what had happened to Jazz.

And there was still a good bit of still white-hot anger, at Primus. He'd been rejected by his God.

His anger at the Quintessons, for what they'd done, was different. He was furious, and yet mixed in with the rage was an odd sense of guilt ... at his core, Resonance believed in the equality and freedom of all sentient beings, and to hate an entire race of people went against that. Primus had not liked this, either, and had condemned Resonance for his unwillingness to blame all Quintessons for the actions of their government.

At the end of it all, however, there was resentment and jealousy, directed squarely at Ratchet.

That latter sentiment rocked Ratchet back on his heels. Why?

~I know it's wrong!~ Resonance said, instantly. ~But you have a duty, and all Cybertronians need you, and I feel guilty even about having this little bit of time with you because you could be spending it fixing someone, but I also need you. You're mine, my bondmate, I need you, I need you so bad, but you can't be there ...~

Ratchet reacted with guilt right back, but also a bit of vexed impatience, despite the honesty in Resonance's words. He couldn't be in two places at once.

The barriers were entirely down between them. In his emotional state Resonance had dropped everything. Ratchet saw, loud and clear, that Resonance in this moment regretted the bond. Resonance wanted a bondmate who could be his partner all of the time. He had never fully appreciated the responsibilities that Ratchet's occupation entitled, and how they might interesect with his own needs.

"I'm sorry," Ratchet said, aloud, guilt assaulting him. "Res, this bond between us -- it wasn't your choice."

"It wasn't yours either." Resonance said, fiercely, meeting Ratchet's optics with a burning gaze. "We both have to make the best of it. You'd rather I be him, and I'd rather ... I'd rather have made my own choice."

Ratchet didn't know what to say. It was, on some core level, true. He missed Optimus and always would. On the other hand, the thought that Resonance regretted their bond was horrifying, but he didn't want to lose Res! His feelings were complex, to say the least.

Resonance pressed a hand over Ratchet's chest. "And I haven't forgotten ... I haven't forgotten the time we merged. We created her, the sparkling, but we are also so compatible. You completed me and I want that sense of equal partnership back. You do love me, even if it's not the same as what you had for Optimus ... I get that. It's just times are hard right now. Ratchet, I don't know what to think. I don't know what to do. It seemed so simple, just a few days ago, but now ... damnit, I need you."

Ratchet remembered that merge, too, and the moment of utter perfection between them. He pressed a kiss to Resonance's forehead, and said softly, "I want you to talk to Rung."

Optimus would have argued, fiercely, that there was no need to involve a shrink. Resonance's shoulders just slumped in defeat. He nodded. "I will, if he's got time."

"He'll have time. You're important."

"Am I, though? I'm just another youngling."

"Idiot. Prowl isn't personally mentoring you because you're just another youngling."

Resonance let out a long, low, keen. "But I'm no better than anyone else and somebody else might need Rung more!"

"You will talk to Rung," Ratchet said, with a growl in his voice and determination in his spark. "I am not qualified to untangle the emotional mess you call a spark."

And there, again, was the hint of ... unhappiness ... in Resonance's spark. Apparently, Res thought Ratchet should help him with his angst. Wouldn't Ratchet have helped Optimus that way?

Ratchet felt like beating his head against the wall. "Optimus usually dealt with issues by brooding in his quarters with a cube of Sideswipe's finest. Optimus certainly didn't talk to me, unless he was looking for practical solutions, or if he just wanted to vent. I'm good at fixing problems that can be fixed, and I'll be happy to vent right back at you. You want to hear my opinion on everything that's happened? I'll be happy to oblige, at great volume, and with some profanity."

"But ..."

Ratchet snarled, "But I'm not a shrink! Damnit, Res, you make me feel so inadequate."

Resonance said, "That's not what I mean!"

"I feel like a failure, slaggit. I can't give you what you need!"

Resonance, to his shock, kissed him. He froze in surprise, then pulled back and demanded, "What the slag!"

 "Just for a bit. Make love to me. Please."

"The damn dildo's back in our apartment in Iacon!" he growled, a rather practical concern. His equipment still wasn't functional. However, he could feel Resonance's real need for intimacy, and a profound need for touch, and closeness, and affection. He didn't feel much desire himself, but Resonance needed him. Ratchet huffed, and said, "I'll use my fingers, then."

Resonance laughed, and kissed him again, this time with more participation on Ratchet's part. Ratchet thought he really should be feeling something -- not arousal, for he couldn't, but desire, and attraction, and affection.

He didn't.

Resonance's fingers were practiced, sliding over Ratchet's plating, dipping into transformation seams, stroking wires. He knew how to get Ratchet's interest, and what simply felt good.

Ratchet wanted to enjoy it. However, deep inside he was just numb, and exhausted, and still crankily irritated at Resonance even though he knew they were both being irrational.

"Just ... just frag me," he said, finally, pulling away and intending to lie down on the berth,.

"Frag me and get it over with, you mean?" Resonance said, standing up. "I don't want you like that!"

"That's not what I said."

"It's what you meant."

"I don't mind. I'll hold you," he offered, but it was an empty offer. It wasn't what Resonance needed.

"I ... I can't do this." Resonance headed for the door. "I'll go find somewhere else to recharge."

Ratchet was closer, beat him there, and slammed a hand down on the switch to lock it. "DAMNIT."

Resonance stopped short, surprised into a flare of actual fear in reaction to the anger in Ratchet's voice. "Don't you dare try the guilt trip on me!"

Faintly, barely audible, Resonance asked, "Are you describing me or Optimus?"

Ratchet snorted. "Oh, him, too, he was a master of the guilt trip, but right now? You. I've had a pit of a bad week. I've had maybe ten hours of recharge in the last seven days, and none in the last forty eight hours! I'm tired, I'm emotionally spent, I'm away from my patients that need me because repairing Jazz is a priority, and if I don't get some slagging recharge now I'm going to start glitching. And you are not helping."

Resonance stared at him.

"You need me? Yeah, you do. But get your head out of your aft and consider that I need you too."

"How so?" Resonance asked, now cautious. Ratchet couldn't feel a damned thing over the bond, but Res's field was exceedingly wary.

"I just ... I just need you." He couldn't fully put that into words.  "But from a purely pragmatic standpoint, I need you refrain from dumping emotional crap on me that can wait until later. You are not going to die of angst and if you're that upset, you don't have to talk to me. You have the option of talking it out with Rung, or with one of your friends -- Anodyne would  probably vent right back at you, he's got a lot of reason to be pissed at the world -- or even Wheeljack,  or one of the commanders. Pit, go talk to Jazz. He could probably use the distraction and he's good at emotional crap."

Resonance blinked in clear surprise at Ratchet's sentiment.

"And don't say 'but you're my bondmate' -- I'm your bondmate but I'm also the CMO of this entire lunatic asylum and I refuse to let you compromise me. I don't care how bad it is, my duty and function is to repair people. Mecha. Will. Die. If I'm not at 100%."

Resonance rocked back on his heels.

"Self-sacrifice that, Resonance. I cannot always spare time for you because I'm too busy saving lives."

Resonance's wings were drooping lower and lower. He stared at the ground. Then he mumbled, "... sorry."

"Yeah. I am too. I can't be the bondmate you want and deserve. Optimus knew what he was getting into. He also had a lifetime of experience behind him. He knew what could wait. He didn't mind waiting to talk to me, to spend time with me."

Ratchet stopped, remembering something. Res was very young ... and his entire life, he'd been the center of attention.

He hadn't been spoiled. Jacky would never have allowed that. Ratchet knew damned well that Jacky might be a permissive parent, but the old engineer was far more likely to tell a sparkling 'You want it? Figure out how to earn it yourself!' than to shower privileges and luxuries on a youngling.

However, Resonance had certainly been sheltered, and he'd never seen a bit of actual deprivation in his entire life. Plus, he'd been the only youngling on Titan, and for the earliest part of his life, the only child -- humans had not started reproducing on Titan until he was in his early teens. That early life experience of being the only child of an entire resource-rich colony had certainly affected him.

Resonance whispered, "That's not true."

"What's not true?"

"You're thinking of me like I'm a child. I am not a child."

"No." Ratchet agreed, quietly. "You aren't. You are an adult, but I keep making the mistake of seeing you as a young Optimus, and you aren't that, either. Optimus was a working class batch mech who knew hardship from the day he was born -- and he onlined in an adult frame, and he was expected to work and behave as an adult within months of his first moment of awareness. You were an incredibly privileged child, by comparison."

He could feel Resonance thinking hard.

Ratchet huffed. "I am exhausted. I'm going to go try to get some recharge. You can join me, or you can go sleep somewhere else. Your choice."

"What ... what do you want me to do?"

Ratchet brushed past him. "I'd like to recharge in your arms, not fighting with you. You've got exactly six hours before we have to leave for the base. You might want to make good use of the time we have and get some rest too."

Resonance followed him to the berth.

Ratchet didn't expect to be able to actually recharge -- not after that fight -- but when Resonance held him close, something in his spark calmed.

~Look, Res, no matter what happens ... I do love you. I will make time for you whenever and wherever I can. It might not be enough for either of us, but I will give you as much of my time and of myself as I can. We will work this out.~

~I promise the same,~ Resonance murmured, arms tightening. ~Intellectually, I know you're doing the best you can. Emotionally ... I'm sorry if sometimes I am jealous of your patients and your job, but I cannot help it. I apologize, profoundly, for that.~

Chapter Text

His internal chronometer woke Ratchet before dawn -- he was scheduled for a surgery in two hours, and they had just enough time to load up the parts they'd salvaged and fly back to the base.

 

Resonance was subdued, but no longer quiet. Instead, he asked questions that showed he'd been thinking about Ratchet's comments on his childhood.

 

"Do you think I'm ... less than ... Optimus? Because of the way I grew up?"

 

Ratchet huffed a sigh. "No. I think it just changed who you are on a basic level. I don't think I'm being patronizing, Res, but it is simple fact that your upbringing and Optimus's were very different."

 

Resonance field held a frown. After a moment, though, he changed the subject, "I always thought my destiny was to be Prime in some distant future, assuming that Rodimus ever died. It was hard to conceive of that happening. He was not that much older than I am. I had a mental image of becoming Prime megavorns from now, after Roddy had lived a good long life and I was elderly myself."

 

Ratchet shook his head sadly. "Life never works out how we expect, Res."

 

"... and then suddenly I was going to become Prime basically immediately." Resonance mused. "And then I wasn't. Primus rejected me. Now I have a whole future of my own ahead of me, if I don't die in combat. I can be ... well, not whatever I want right away because of the war, but I am not tied to a future as Roddy's heir."

 

"What do you want to be?" He chose not to think about Resonance dying. I was too hard to even contemplate that. 

 

"Probably study frame engineering, like we discussed." He could hear the shrug in Resonance's voice. "Once we have a university to, you know, study it at."

 

Ratchet's second sigh shook his vents. "You'll be assigned to the command staff as a junior officer, so that means we'll likely be on the same base. You already know enough that I can actually put you to work in the med bay now, when you're not playing air taxi or page. You'll pick up more on the job."

 

"... I've heard you criticize the quality of work by mechs who learned in that fashion."

 

Ratchet shrugged. "Better than not learning at all. Besides, you have me to ask questions of, and it does work out if a mech is willing to study on his own -- it's how First Aid was trained by me. And I'm pretty sure that I saw Percy pulling an entire trailer of datapads full of science texts through the space bridge. You're self-motivated enough to borrow them."

 

"But Percy's not an engineer or a medic ...?"

 

Ratchet snorted inelegantly. "Percy's whatever we need him to be. His first love is quantum physics, which is why he's got a library of other texts on other subjects. He could write physics textbooks. He just has to grab a datapad and check his assumptions for most other fields."

 

"Oh."

 

"You'll do fine, Res." Honestly, if it didn't mean that his sparkling would likely be the next Prime, Ratchet would have been relieved that Resonance had been rejected. He had deep misgivings about his sparkling's proximity to the Matrix, but there was also little he could do about it: The Matrix was where it wanted to be, and he knew from past experience dealing with it that the (un)holy relic wasn't about to let itself be removed without more of a fight than his own spark could safely withstand.

 

Besides, being Prime was far from the worst fate that could befall a youngling. He had misgivings, but he had known multiple Primes in his life and would be proud to be a parent to the next one. If he could influence her into being less of a glitch than Sentinel or Nova, and more like Optimus, all the better.

 

"How's she doing, anyway?" Resonance asked. His own thoughts on Primus, and the Matrix, were rather less pragmatic and more torqued off than Ratchet.

 

He cupped a hand over his chest. "She's been very quiet. Sparklings react like that to times of trauma. She should be fine, as a few bad weeks will be outweighed by the rest of my carry."

 

Unspoken went, As long as the next five solar years don't go like the last week did. Primus help him if they did; he didn't think he could handle that, nevermind what it would do to the kid.

 

Resonance's field swelled, somehow, and projected warmth and concern. He relaxed a bit in sheer reflexive response. Res felt protective, and affectionate, and loving, and powerful .

 

Resonance subtly altered the shape of his seat, making it softer and wider. He reclined it back a few degrees. Ratchet knew exactly what he was doing, but let him fuss without comment, and shuttered his optics. Pit, but they'd both had a rough time of it.

 

And all the dead and the wounded and they were probably going to lose Cybertron ...

 

:Ratchet,: Resonance said, in an equally obvious attempt to distract him, :Tell me about your next case.:

 

:Medical confidentiality, kid.:

 

:Not if I'm a student and you're teaching.:

 

He grunted. True enough. and Res had the mind for medicine. "He's a tank and he's a priority to return to full functioning because of that. Has a mechanical injury to the spinal strut. The goal today will be to stabilize the strut and expedite self-healing of the neural fibers by application of nanyte scaffolding. You got a schematic of tank frame type epsilon-alpha-four neural wiring in your files?"

 

"I do." Resonance said, and projected a holographic image of the relevant parts in the air in front of Ratchet.

 

"Okay, this particular tank has a couple of mods we need to factor in -- and pay attention, because if you're interested in frame engineering, this is exactly the kind of mod you'll be creating. He's got reinforced shoulder struts and fairings here ..." Ratchet projected his own hologram, overlain on Resonance's,  showing the added metal, "... and they connect to the spinal column here . Slagging poor design if you ask me, and it's why he broke his neck, but I didn't make the mods."

 

"His shoulder strut should have given way first, but because it was reinforced, it transferred the kinetic energy to his spinal strut and fractured it?" Resonance interpreted.

 

"Exactly. This tank likes to carry very heavy weaponry -- his cannon of choice is meant for a gestalt -- and the recoil broke his left clavicular strut on several occasions. He had some unqualified engineer," Ratchet's expression and field made his opinion of the work clear, "Reinforce both struts, but they didn't modify his spinal column at the same time. In the end, the damage was worse than just a busted shoulder that could be welded up in a few minutes."

 

Resonance said, "There's been a shortage of qualified medical engineers for a very long time."

"And this mod was done during the last war, too. And I'll tell you how hard up were for medical staff -- he's broken that spinal strut twice before, but never bad enough to impact the neural wiring. I can see the scars on the scans the humans sent me. He likely didn't even report the pain to a doc, and it healed on its own, but the way it healed created a weakness that further exacerbated the inherent flaw in the design."

 

"Why wouldn't he tell a medic?"

 

"Because he's a tank," Ratchet said, with a roll of his optics. "They're designed to take a beating, and most of them are in a lot of pain from minor stress fractures and dents and other small injuries after combat anyway. He probably would have assumed the pain in his neck was more of the same, and if nobody scanned him after a fight, it wouldn't get caught. He's a former con frontliner, too, and their culture discouraged admitting pain."

 

"... it's also possible they did know and were understaffed and let him heal on his own. Starscream has told me some rather bleak stories of what it was like to be a 'con ..." Resonance frowned. "I wonder how many of our troops are walking wounded right now, and we don't even know about it? Plus the ones I know we have sent into combat with injuries that would normally mean berth rest ..."

 

"Exactly," Ratchet agreed. He couldn't help but think of the list of mecha they had sent back into combat.

 

Soundwave had protoform deep burns and multiple fried sensors from a close plasma blast, but was already back out in the field. Hook had released him, but Ratchet likely would have made the same call given Soundwave's critical roles. He'd seen Skyfire limping around on a field-repaired ankle, the tack-welded splint obvious even from a distance. Grimlock currently only had one functioning optic. Bumblebee was missing a sensory horn, and all the armor on one arm from gauntlet to pauldron. Trailbreaker, who had been far too close to the blast, had EMP damage, protoform burns, and armor that was literally warped from the thermal pulse. He'd survived only because he'd activated his forcefield just before the blast wave had hit. Ratchet's message queue held a list of other non-critical injuries, and it read like a roll call of the entire Cybertronian population. Everybody was injured. And all of them still needed to fight.

 

Resonance reverted to their bond to say, very quietly, :I know it is sacrilege but I wish that we could simply destroy the space bridge and let them have Cybertron.:

 

The shuttle rolled on his side deliberately, so that Ratchet would have a better view through the copilot's window of the land below. They were currently flying over Las Vegas and it was just before dawn. From a few tens of thousands of feet up, they could see the vibrant city with bright lights, wide boulevards, and towering buildings. Even at this hour there were humans out and about in throngs. Ratchet, well aware of the human viewpoint from decades of life on earth, knew that Vegas wasn't that compelling of a city to humans ... but it actually was to Cybertronians. It looked, at first glance, with the towering skyscrapers and busy streets (even at this early hour) to be more than a little like a Cybertronian city.

 

:It's a living world, Ratchet, and we could have a home here -- a good life, on a civilized world, with a vibrant economy, good medical care, education, and security. Our children could grow up free of fear, with far more opportunities than they would ever have on Cybertron. We could live long and full lives here.:

 

A good life.

 

He had a point. And it was why there were so many Cybertronians already living on Earth, or other solar system worlds. Security, prosperity, opportunity. All things Cybertron didn't have, and might not have again for many Cybertronian generations. But Earth wasn't Cybertron, and aside from the very real security concerns inherent in surrendering Cybertron to the Quintessons, there were emotional ties, too. Ties that Resonance, raised on Titan, just didn't have to Cybertron.

 

:Other young mecha feel the same as me, even those raised on Cybertron. Elders ... remember what once was. But the younglings have only known a blasted post-apocalyptic world of limited resources, vile weather, and deprivation. All their lives, they have visited Earth and then returned to Cybertron, and they have seen the opportunities here.:

 

He was right. Ratchet sighed. "However ... don't forget that the Quintessons don't want just Cybertron. They want Cybertronians . They view us as escaped war machines gone feral, that rightfully belong to them, and a good number of galactic civilizations share that viewpoint. They fear us, with some justification given the behavior of the Decepticons during the last war, and they have been pressuring Quintessa to capture or eliminate all Cybertronians as a perceived galactic threat. If we all move to Earth, Quintessa will come here eventually, possibly with galactic allies, and likely try to claim before the galactic counsel that Earth is now in possession of stolen Quintesson technology and military secrets -- in the form of Cybertronian life forms. Grounds for war, and they'd do it, too."

 

"Earth would win." Resonance said.

 

"But is it fair to ask the humans to fight a war on our behalf?" Ratchet honestly wasn't sure of the answer himself.

 

Resonance was silent for a long moment. "Quintessa has already tried to invade Earth once. With or without our presence, Quintessa will be back. With Cybertronian help Earth stands a better chance of survival."

 

Again, he wasn't wrong. Quintessa was notorious for conquering less advanced civilization. If they lost the fight, Earth would end up an impoverished colony. Quintessa would cull the human population until there were only a few hundred thousand humans left, and then force the remnant population to work in their factories and mines. Once Earth was stripped of all mineral resources, the Quints would sterilize the planet.

 

Ratchet ... didn't want that to happen to Earth. Cybertron was a dying world, but Earth was alive and vibrant.

 

Ratchet continued, "We have to defend Cybertron. There are weapons and technology on our world that we cannot allow into the hands of Quintessa. It would give them a profound advantage in any future fight with Earth or with anyone else they chose to invade."

 

"I know." It was Resonance's turn to sigh. "I know, Ratchet. But ... I don't think we can win, I don't think it's possible to defend Cybertron, and I don't think Prowl believes it either. We're just wasting lives and energy defending Cybertron. I think we just need to retreat and cut our losses and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to Cybertron. The only difference in the end is going to be the number of Cybertronians who survive because we are dying on Cybertron right now."

 

Ratchet grunted. Resonance wasn't wrong.

 

"What I want to do," Resonance said, "what I think we should do, is to salvage as much of Cybertron's tech as possible, bring it to Earth, and help the humans develop better defenses and advance their weapons manufacturing abilities."

 

Ratchet cringed, not just mentally, but physically. His plating clamped tight and his optics shuttered. "Pit, Res. I can hear Optimus's reaction to that idea now ... he'd have never sanctioned giving Cybertronian weapons tech to humans."

 

"That was almost a century ago. Humans ... are more unified now than they've ever been in their history. I think they can handle it, particularly given that Quintessa actually attacked Earth recently and the humans are fairly unified in their fear of a repeat of that. I think they must handle it, or Earth will be lost too."


Resonance ... likely wasn't wrong. Ratchet didn't have to like it, but Resonance was right.

Chapter Text


Jazz’s backstruts sent a warning ping; he’d been sitting too long in one position and he needed to shift his weight. Minor energon lines were being crimped, the warning said, and if he didn’t move the result would be energy starvation of some important sensors. 

Normally, he would have moved without a thought. Small movements to redistribute weight were handled by subconscious autonomic routines, and alerts only popped up if a mech was deliberately still for long periods. His paralysis had complications he’d never even realized existed.

For a bit, Jazz ignored the warning. Mirage was giving a report to the command staff on Quintesson drone locations, and Jazz didn’t want to interrupt it. The problem wasn’t critical yet.

“...we believe they are setting up a prison camp in old Vos,” Mirage said, and pointed at a point on a holographic display. “Jazz, I think somebody could slip in through the tunnels here and take out their generators before we raid it. Punch, maybe? He just got released from medical and he’s almost as good at sneaking into things as you are.”

:Not Punch,: Jazz disagreed. Punch was certainly a skilled infiltrator, but he was better at espionage than sabotage. :Those generators will have failsafes and booby traps. Best to send someone with a science background who can spot rust plague spores or an EMP generator before sticking their fingers in the works.:

Mirage frowned. There were a few science or engineering geeks who had combat experience. Wheeljack, the Constructicons and Percy numbered among them, but none were good at sneaking . Hound could have done it, but he was out of commission for weeks with a spark chamber injury. Mirage himself was leaning on crutches, one leg blown off at the knee, and his specialized mods were currently spread out on Wheeljack’s workbench for repair.

Prowl, who had been studying a datapad with a map of the Quint construction site, looked up. “We will send a human team.”

“What? No!” Ironhide protested.

“They have volunteered use of their military resources,” Prowl said, calmly, “And some of the special forces teams have trained saboteurs with engineering backgrounds. Jazz, please put a team together and brief them on Quintesson-specific design issues.”

Jazz didn’t like it either. He would have frowned if he could have. :Humans will die.:

“Humans will die if Quintessa is allowed to capture Cybertronian tech, as well,” Prowl said, with implacable cold logic. “The military forces in question are comprised of all-volunteer soldiers. None were created solely for the military, or drafted. You may verify they are willing to go on this mission and are not being sent under duress, but we will be sending a human team.”

Optimus would have been horrified. Jazz, knowing just how vicious human warriors could be, and just how many Cybertronian warriors were injured, dead, or captured, resigned himself to the inevitable. :Ah’ll get a team t’gether.:

Better a few human soldiers die now, he supposed, than many billions of human civilians in a successful Quintesson invasion later.

The warning alerts from his back were now registering as real pain. He tried, by instinct, to shift his weight, which triggered a cascade of error messages across his HUD.

With resignation, he said, :Just a minute, guys.: Then he pinged his current assistant. In meetings like this where classified information was discussed, the assistant was always Anodyne. ‘Dyne had the discretion to keep his mouth shut, plus he was never sent into combat where he might be captured and interrogated or hacked by Quints.

Anodyne, at a nearly silent parade rest behind him, responded to his ping by stepping forward. The host dropped to one knee beside Jazz’s float chair and asked, :What can I help you with, sir?:

:My back’s bothering me. Can ya shift my position?:

Anodyne, empath, had probably known Jazz was hurting long before Jazz had admitted it, but was too tactful to say anything.  

All the other officers were staring at him. Jazz hated that.

Anodyne’s hands were skilled and confident as he shifted Jazz’s position in the chair and tilted the entire seat backwards several degrees. For now, Jazz’s back pain eased, though he was sure the pain would come back in a bit.

:I have sensor blocks if you need them,: Anodyne said in a very encrypted transmission. Anodyne treated Jazz’s medical issues with the utmost confidentiality.

:They make mah thoughts fuzzy. No, not while ah need to work.:

Anodyne straightened up and resumed his parade rest. Jazz couldn’t see him, and couldn’t turn his head to look, but he could easily imagine his appearance. Broad shoulders and chest, narrow hips, powerful long legs, tank treads swinging over his shoulders and down past his waist like a cape. Deep chocolate color, shiny gold trim. He was striking in appearance, and his field was strong, confident and steady.

If he had to be an invalid, Jazz thought wryly, at least the nurse was handsome ...


After the meeting, Anodyne escorted him to the medical center for one of his multitude of weekly appointments. Jazz had resigned himself to spending as much time in the med bay as the command center; he had at least one appointment per day, and often several. His health was precarious, according to Ratchet, and he was very prone to infections, glitches, and hardware failure .

Anodyne wordlessly took up his usual position behind the chair.

Ratchet was somber and serious during the usual round of scans, poking, and prodding, and Jazz knew that the mech would not be giving him good news. However, Ratchet started out with a polite, “How are you feeling?” Even as he plugged a ‘pad into Jazz’s cranial dataport.

:Ah didn’t realize how much this would hurt,: Jazz said, candidly. His back was already cramping again. His femoral pistons ached from being compressed all day. He desperately needed to stand up and stretch them out, but couldn’t. His neck, frozen in one position by the magnets that held his head to the back of the chair, throbbed. His right arm ached; his left was numb from compromised circulation. He couldn’t move anything to ease the pain. 

He would have gritted his teeth in reaction to the intrusive feel of the datapad accessing his OS, but couldn’t even do that.

:I can give you pain meds. And don’t hesitate to ask your attendant to reposition you.:

:No drugs. And ah do ask ‘em to move me.: 

Anodyne cleared his throat. “You wait until you’re in agony, sir.”

Ratchet grunted. “I’ll give the rest of the attendants a time table. ‘Dyne, if you know he’s hurting, just help him. Don’t wait for him to ask, because he won’t.”

Anodyne said, “Yes sir.”

“You know how to do massage, right?” Ratchet asked Anodyne.

“Yes sir, I took some classes my first year of university. It’s a valuable skill for a host with symbionts.”

“That should help ease some of his pain.” Ratchet said, then turned more serious. “Jazz, we retrieved the processor parts from the Ark and the news isn’t good. The parts aren’t salvageable.”

He’d known that was a possibility. His spark seemed to seize in his chest, though, in reaction to Ratchet’s blunt words.

“We... have some options. I know we’ve discussed this before, but... we need to go over it again.” Ratchet fiddled with a bolt in his hands, not meeting Jazz’s gaze. “The first is to... copy your core coding, personality matrix, and memories to an entirely new neural cortex.”

:Which would change who ah am. There aren’t any processor modules like t’ one ah got.: And his current processor module wasn’t compatible with any existing motor function modules.

He already knew, from discussions with the medical staff, that copying his code to an entirely new cortex meant he would wake up with significantly different abilities. There were two possible cortexes in storage that were compatible with his decidedly odd spark frequency, but neither was truly suitable for him.

One had only fifty percent of his parallel processing ability, a below standard auditory network, and an absolutely massive amount of RAM. That processor had been designed for a symbiont, and placed a high priority on threat detection and situational awareness. Soundwave had built it during the war, but had never used it as. He had explained he hadn’t found a symbiont with a steady enough spark to handle the processor’s inherent priority tree without massive glitchy paranoia. Soundwave liked his symbionts sane.

Both Soundwave and Rung felt that, combined with Jazz’s OS and spark traits, the result would be real mental health issues -- the Cybertronian equivalent of PTSD with a heaping ton of hypervigilance. Soundwave had suggested restrictive psych coding to compensate. Rung had flat out refused, saying it was medically inadvisable. Ratchet had refused and said they had one Red Alert and didn’t need another!

The other processor, a reconditioned one, had ample split processing ability, more than he actually had now, but at the expense of clock speed. His reaction time would be much slower. It would also be hardwired to put a preference on analytical thought over emotional reactions. It was a processor for a scientist or a tactician. It was very similar to Prowl’s and would undoubtedly change the way he processed emotions. Furthermore, while he would never know for sure who the donor was (as this information was never revealed in the case of processors) he suspected it was probably Shockwave’s, by simple process of elimination.

:No.: Jazz responded, firmly. The idea of inhabiting Shockwave’s former brain was just too creepy to contemplate. Besides, as much as he loved and respected Prowl, he didn’t want to be him.

Ratchet nodded. “I... would side with you on that decision. It would be a risky transfer, and you would be at high risk for glitches related to operating system-hardware incompatibility. And I don’t think you would be happy with either option.”

Jazz shuttered his optics behind his visor, the only movement he could make in his whole frame.

“Another option is to put you in stasis. Jazz... I know they need you, but if you want to rest until we can find a solution, I would support that. We have a safe facility in Oregon...”

:NO!: He burst out. :They need me!: And that wasn’t the whole reason. He wanted to live! Slaggitall, he didn’t want oblivion. What if he never woke? No matter how bad things were now, he wanted to live . This wasn’t forever, anyway. He had complete faith in Ratchet. Ratchet always came through and found a way. He could endure until Ratchet found a way to fix him. He had to.

Anodyne’s large hand gripped his shoulder.

“The third option, obviously, is to continue as you are until we can find or build replacement parts,” Anodyne rumbled, “...and if you’re willing to fight on like this, we will support you every step of the way.”

The big host crouched beside his chair. “Jazz, we do need you,” Anodyne said, covering one of Jazz’s hands with his. “But we also love you. What you are going through is horrible. I can feel your pain, and your fears, and your strength of spark astounds me every day. I will do everything I can to make it easier for you. We all will. We will care for you, because we love you. You’ve done so much for us...”

Ratchet stood, looking a bit awkward, behind Anodyne. The medic said, “Yeah, he’s right, Jazz. If you want to live like this, we’ll take care of you. I just... most mecha wouldn’t want to live like this.”

He wanted to move. He wanted to be able to dance and sing and fight and ‘face. He couldn’t do anything.

But he did not want oblivion.

And... he could hear the sincerity in Anodyne’s voice.

Anodyne added, “You would be missed, if you chose stasis.”

Ratchet coughed. “And... this isn’t forever. Jazz, I swear I’ll figure out a way to fix this. I promise.”

:I’ll hold ya to that promise, doc.:


 

Anodyne’s shift ended shortly thereafter, and a half-grown seeker youngling named Swift took over. The seekerling wasn’t quite old enough to fight, and like many of the younglings was being trained to work as a nurse. 

:Hiya, kid,: he greeted Swift. :How’s Dirge doing?:

Dirge was her carrier. Her sire had died in the first moments of the Quintesson attack. She gave him a wide-optic’d look, then stammered, “He’s fine. Uh. You need anything, sir?”

:Ah’m due for fueling,: he said, a bit reluctantly. It was embarrassing to be fueled through a port in his side. She also knew his fueling schedule, but he knew from past experience that she waited nervously to be prompted on everything. Anodyne would just matter-of-factly say, ‘time for fueling’, connect a bag of energon to the port, and hang it from the back of his chair. The host would casually chat with him while he worked, on subjects that actually interested Jazz. Anodyne had some fascinating opinions on music and culture. He wasn’t much for gossip, though.

“Oh. Okay.” She fumbled in the chair’s storage compartment, found one of the energon bags, and in dead silence connected it, then stood there awkwardly holding it and staring at him.

:How’s yer classes going?: They’d set up a school for the younglings who weren’t old enough to fight. It taught practical stuff: emergency medicine and repairs, combat principles and tactics, communications skills, and the like. He already knew that Swift was excelling in communications and that Soundwave had singled her out for further training as communications satellite tech, but he figured getting her to talk about her classes would relax her a bit.

“I’m learning comms. With Soundwave.” Her field flared with sudden distress.

:Woah, kiddo. Sounders likes you.:

She gave him a startled look.

:Ah know he can be hard t’ read, but that’s not all his fault. Remember, he’s got a glitch with language. ‘E’s a good mech.:

“He’s a Host.”

Oh boy. Jazz knew all about the fear many mecha had of Host frametypes, and it seemed this kid was definitely scared. Though Jazz and Soundwave had been on opposite sides of the war, Jazz had come to respect the mech now. Soundwave was brilliantly intelligent, devoted to his family and symbionts, and had worked as hard as anyone else towards the reconstruction of their world.

She wrapped her arms around herself, still holding the bag of energon. This brought it down below the level of Jazz’s fuel tank, which meant he wasn’t getting fuel anymore. He was starving after a day of meetings, but said nothing for now.

:Aw, Soundwave won’t hurtcha. Ah promise. Pit, even when we were on opposite sides of the war he had ethics and wouldn’t have hurt a kid.:

Silence. She realized energon wasn’t flowing to his tank, and hastily hung the bag on the back of the chair, but didn’t say a word.

:Kiddo ... he’s one of the best scientists our people have ever had -- and ah say scientist, not tech or engineer because he’s as good as Wheeljack when it comes to makin’ stuff. It’s hard for ‘im to talk, so if he’s takin’ the time t’ teach ya, he thinks yer worth his effort. That’s high praise. Ya listen t’ me now. Ya need t’ learn everythin’ ya can from him. Even if ya don’ like him, even if ya scared of him, ya learn from him. Someday what ya learn might save lives, or even win a battle or a war. Ya learn everything ya can.:

She swallowed hard, and nodded.

She was his caretaker until midnight. After that exchange, he tried hard to engage her in any conversation, on a range of topics, but all of her answers were monosyllabic and nervous. She was, he judged, nearly as intimidated by him as she was by Soundwave. Eventually, he gave up and turned his full attention to his work. He had a huge number of field reports to go through, and briefings to prepare for Prowl and his field commanders.

Swift pulled out a datapad loaded with games, sat in a chair in the corner, and ignored him except when he prompted her for assistance. Since he could not move, he needed her to plug the ‘pads into his HUD’s dataport. She jumped to her feet like a startled deer every time he pinged her, and then nearly ran across the room.

It was well after dark -- and he had just about run out of data to crunch -- when Anodyne knocked on his office door’s frame. “Hey, boss,” Anodyne said, cheerfully, then to Swift, “I’ll take over here.”

:Ya’ve been working all day,: Jazz objected. :Ya need rest!:

:Do you really prefer Swift’s company to mine?: Anodyne replied, tone teasing, and transmission thoroughly encrypted.

:Put that way...: Jazz replied, :Twist mah arm, will ya? But ya sure ya don’ need recharge?:

:I’ve got the next two days off. It’ll be fine. And Prowl and the human brass need to talk shop with you yet tonight over video, which is the real reason I’m kicking the seekerling out.:

Swift didn’t have clearance. Right. Jazz mentally sighed, and dismissed the rather relieved Swift. After she’d hurried out of the room, Anodyne shut the door and then rolled his eyes.

:Scaring the kids again, Jazz?:

:A difficult job, but somebody’s gotta do it.:

Anodyne flashed him a grin, and then checked the level of energon left in the bag without comment. Finding it empty he disconnected it. He wadded it up and chucked it across the room into the waste basket. “Score!”

The big host then flipped on the video conference screen as Jazz turned his chair to face it. Prowl answered immediately when Anodyne dialed him, and the tactician had a half dozen human leaders with him. He’d flown to DC earlier in the day to talk war effort with the human brass. When Jazz checked his chronometer, he realized it was nearly one AM their time. This must be important.

The meeting went on for hours. The humans consumed copious amounts of coffee. Around three AM, Anodyne offered Jazz a war-grade stim chip, which he reluctantly accepted. The Cybertronian version of caffeine made his inability to move even less tolerable, but it did drive away his growing exhaustion for a bit.  

These humans were in command of their version of special ops, and Jazz was pivotal in developing some joint plans. As he’d surmised, this particular meeting was important, and his expertise was very much needed. He had to be on his A-game, no matter the degree of personal discomfort.

Much, much, later, after the meeting concluded, Anodyne walked with him back to the medical center. The host was quiet, and his field felt tired, but the young mech helped prepare Jazz for recharge without complaint.

First was a shower, and Jazz was very glad it was Anodyne and not Swift bathing him. Anodyne was matter of fact about even the most intimate details; Swift tended to scrunch her optics shut and avert her face when cleaning certain areas of his anatomy.

On a practical note, Anodyne easily picked Jazz up, first to transfer him to a shower chair, and then to carry him to his berth for therapy and a daily routine of maintenance. Jazz always worried that the much smaller Swift might drop him.

While ‘Dyne worked they talked about music and martial arts and human culture. Jazz enjoyed talking to Anodyne, and it made for a welcome distraction when Anodyne had to do less pleasant bedtime rituals like cleaning Jazz’s oral cavity or degaussing his t-cog.

Finally, it was all over, and Jazz was settled into his medical berth.  

“That massage Ratchet mentioned...” Anodyne hesitated. “I am good at it.”

He wanted to say no.

He hurt . The physical therapy had not helped much.

:Yah, ah’m on the schedule early tomorrah. Ah don’t want to drugs tonight. If it helps with the pain...: he said, finally, acquiescing to the lesser of two evils. Better a massage than sensor blocking and mind-dulling medication.

“It should.”

Anodyne was as skilled as he’d promised, and it did help. The young mech used a combination of magnets, gentle compression, and manipulation of Jazz’s hydraulics, and the deep ache faded.

The Host’s hands were all over his frame, and while Anodyne was nothing but professional, Jazz couldn’t help but notice that touch. ‘Dyne was big and handsome, and Jazz enjoyed his company, and Anodyne was touching him...

Despite himself, attraction flared in his field. He struggled to get it under control even as Anodyne’s hands stilled on his back.

:Sorry.:

Anodyne said quietly, “It wouldn’t be a good idea right now, Jazz.”

:And I’m about as appealin’ as a broken drone. Ah know. Sorry.: He was mortified by his reaction. There was no possible way that Anodyne returned his desire, given he was a crippled wreck... and one of the oldest Cybertronians living.

Anodyne sighed. :More along the lines of, it’s ethically wrong for either of us to act on it. You’re my patient. And my CO. And, also, I get enough scrap from people without facing accusations that I’m influencing my commanding officer by ‘facing with him.:

:Wise mech.: And, Jazz thought, and an ethical one. There were quite a few mecha who would have cheerfully tried to influence their commanders with fragging. He couldn’t frag right now, but his mind helpfully provided some creative ideas on what ‘Dyne could do... ranging from much more sensual massages to Dyne seductively dancing for him.

He found he couldn’t recharge after that realization, despite profound exhaustion, and Anodyne kept him company without further comment on his treacherous field, or any sign of awkwardness.

 


 

Prowl looked up at the knock on his office door frame. Anodyne stood there, frowning at him. “Shouldn’t you be in recharge, sir?” 

“I could say the same for you,” Prowl replied, with a small smile. Anodyne’s shift must have just ended as it was barely dawn. “Do you need something?”

Anodyne stepped into the room, and shut the door after him. “It’s about Jazz.”

Alarm flared through Prowl’s spark. “Is there something wrong?”

“No, and Beachcomber took over for me. He’s in good hands for now.” Anodyne folded his arms. “But Prowl... he’s struggling.”

“Emotionally.” Prowl said this flatly.

“Yes.”

“That is to be expected. His condition is not an easy one to bear.”

“He... needs friends.”

“He has friends. He’s Jazz.”

“Sir, he’s all alone except for his attendants most of the time, and many mecha are uncomfortable with interacting with him. He needs to be treated as normally as possible by those closest to him.”

Prowl’s optics narrowed. Anodyne’s comments made him uncomfortable, and felt suspiciously like a lecture... from a very junior officer this was not at all appropriate. He told himself that was the only reason why his plating was trying to bristle.

Anodyne continued, “You and he are intimate, correct?”

“You are overstepping, soldier.” Now Prowl’s doorwings did jerk upright, and his armor flared. It was no real secret that he and Jazz were occasional lovers, though they weren’t exclusive. Jazz didn’t want commitment, and Prowl didn’t have the time in his schedule that a relationship would demand.

Anodyne stood his ground, and didn’t react like Prowl expected. Any other young officer in the army faced with that kind of an outraged display from the Praxian commander would have reacted with clamped armor, a submissive field, and a good bit of grovelling and apologizing. Anodyne, however, flared right back at him with both his field and his armor. “Sir. This is not a military issue. This is a personal issue with a mech I consider my friend and whom I know is yours as well!”

Prowl had never heard Anodyne raise his voice before. He was suddenly aware of the sheer size of the mech, and of the youngling’s growing skill at martial arts. Anodyne, if he wanted to, could be deadly dangerous; he simply chose not to be. Prowl’s threat assessment subroutines surged to life and he rapidly saw the mech in a whole new light. Anodyne should not be this assertive with a superior; he was both young and a junior officer.

Oblivious to Prowl’s concerns, Anodyne huffed, “He needs you, sir.”

“I am extremely busy.”

Anodyne met Prowl’s optics with a sharp look. “Then let me express myself in terms you will understand. He is an extremely important asset that requires your personal attention. I would suggest you make time for him.”

Prowl bristled. “Anodyne, you are out of line!”

“Yes sir, I am.” Anodyne did not sound apologetic. “This does not change the fact that Jazz needs a friend. I would gladly be the friend he needs, but it would be far more inappropriate than my words are now. Sir!”

The kid was right, slaggitall. Also, Prowl noted he had a rather poetic turn of language even when clearly upset. He might see how the kid did writing propaganda and speeches.

“I... have probably been overworking him. I can revise his schedule.” Prowl offered, wondering why he was conceding to a very junior officer who was barely legally an adult, and who had never once seen actual combat. The thought crossed his mind that Anodyne might be influencing him psionically, but Prowl knew he’d sense any telepathic meddling. Anodyne was just that compelling, and worse, he was right .

“Sir, the work is a welcome distraction, and he needs to feel useful. He doesn’t need a reduction in his work schedule. He needs you .”

Prowl snapped, anger flaring, “Again, this is none of your business.”

Anodyne met Prowl’s angry glare with an irritated look of his own.

“I am busy, Anodyne. If you haven’t noticed, there’s a war on!”

“You do recharge. Sir.” Anodyne said, voice still sharp, and field containing a good deal of annoyance. “You used to do so in Jazz’s berth on a regular basis.”

He missed that, too. Sometimes they’d interfaced, but more often, he’d just enjoyed Jazz’s field and presence. He’d known Jazz for a long, long time, and trusted him more than any other mech alive... fear flared in his spark at the thought of spending time alone with Jazz now, and he knew that Anodyne sensed it.

“He’s your best friend and he’s all alone in a medical berth at night. He got bad news from Ratchet today -- I’m sure you’ve already seen the report -- and he needs a friend.” Anodyne stared Prowl down for a long moment, then said, “I have never heard any indication that you were a coward.”

Prowl had no idea what to say to that.

“May I be dismissed? Sir.”

Prowl realized he had two options: either dress Anodyne down for being rude but right, and look like a fool who couldn’t handle a harsh truth, or let the kid get the last word in. He had to admire the young Host’s social assault tactics even as he quietly seethed. “Dismissed,” he ground out, finally.

“Thank you, sir,” Anodyne replied. His tank treads swayed gracefully over his shoulders as he walked away, and Optimus’s sword rode easily between his shoulder blades.

“Anodyne,” Prowl said.

The kid turned around, walking backwards away from Prowl even as he answered. “Yes sir?”

There were many things he could have said, some of them cutting, angry and cruel. In that instant, however, the kid looked both young and heroic with the pommel of that sword rising over his shoulder and the bright look in his optics. He reminded Prowl of somebody, but Prowl couldn’t say who. A ghost of the past, perhaps. Prowl had a lot of ghosts on his conscience, these days.

All Prowl said was, “Get some recharge, kid.”

Anodyne saluted him, and then in a swish and swirl of loosely hanging treads, spun back around and walked away. 


 

Jazz heard the door open, but he wasn’t in a position to see who had entered his room. Still, he would recognize the mech’s footfalls and the quiet sounds of his systems anywhere. :Prowl!: He said, glad for a distraction. Recharge just wouldn’t come, and it was almost two AM now.

“Beachcomber, you’re dismissed,” Prowl said.

“Yes sir,” the soldier said, saluting and then hurrying out.

Prowl was where Jazz could see him now, and he looked tired. Jazz comm’d him, :Uh-oh, what happened?:

Surely, there had been some sort of emergency to bring Prowl to his quarters this late.

Prowl’s hesitated for a nanoclick, then said, “I thought you might need company.”

Jazz blinked behind his visor in surprise, then replied, :Well, yeah, but ya need some recharge more’n I need ya around right this second.:

Prowl seemed surprised, then uncertain. Most people would have said there was no expression on his face, but Jazz had long ago mastered the art of Prowl-reading. Prowl was seldom unsure, but the clues were there now, in the subtle rising of his wings, the faint tensing of his jaw, and the way he folded his arms across his chest. If Prowl wasn’t certain of something, he tended to get defensive and wary.

:Ah was just about t’ try t’ get some recharge,: Jazz said, finally, trying to give Prowl a graceful escape.

Prowl huffed, finally, then said, “I’ve missed you, Jazz.”

Confused, Jazz replied, :Ah’m right here.:

Prowl took a step closer, then two. Now he stood right next to the berth, so close that Jazz could smell his wax and hear the soft hum of his electrical systems. “Jazz, I need you.” The words were said with dignity, but Jazz couldn’t help but think they’d been blurted out anyway.

:And ah’ll help ya any way ah can... Prowl, are ya okay?:

“No.” Prowl said, and then he reached down and picked Jazz up and moved him to the far side of the medical berth. He ignored Jazz’s confused question, and the surprise in Jazz’s field.

Jazz could feel the grief and stress and anxiety in Prowl’s field now; Prowl was no drone, but these were the strongest emotions that Jazz had ever felt in his field.

Prowl climbed into the berth, and pulled Jazz into his arms. Jazz was stunned... but not unhappy about this. He welcomed Prowl’s embrace. It felt so very good to be held, and Jazz had not expected this at all. :Prowl...: he said, as he heard Prowl’s systems hitch in a silent sob. :Shh. It’ll be okay.:

He wanted to hold Prowl back, but he couldn’t move. He wanted to cry, but he couldn’t even make a noise. He wanted the pain in Prowl’s field to stop, but there was nothing he could do except lie there.

Prowl reached down and moved Jazz’s arm so that it was around his waist. The tips of Jazz’s fingers brushed, unmoving, against one of Prowl’s doorwings. Prowl buried his face in Jazz’s neck, and threw a leg over his knees, and just held him close. Prowl keened softly.

Jazz couldn’t cry back, but his spark was wailing.

They lay together for a very long time. Prowl stroked Jazz’s frame with tender fingers, and pressed the occasional kiss to his helm. He covered Jazz’s chest with his palm, feeling the warmth and vibration of his spark. He traced the line of his visor with gentle fingers, and cupped his palms to Jazz’s silent speakers.

Jazz wanted to touch back, wanted to kiss away the grief in Prowl’s spark, but all he could do was lay in Prowl’s arms. Prowl, finally, said, “I’ll... I’ll be here for you, Jazz. Whatever you need.”

:Ah need you so much,: Jazz admitted, because it was true. He’d needed to be held, and touched, more than he’d appreciated. He added, :And ah’ll always be here for ya, Prowl.:

Prowl held him tight and close. Eventually, wrapped up together in each other’s arms, they both drifted into a much needed recharge.

Chapter Text

By Cybertronian standards the hangar at the edge of a private airfield, not far from the base, was small and primitive. Anodyne was aware that by human measure it was a vast space -- and it was certainly costing his creators a small fortune to rent -- but he couldn’t help but frown as he landed out front. It looked so small.

The noise from his jet pack echoed off the walls of the hangar, and in response, a knee-high whirlwind of energy exploded out from the interior. Brissant, her short legs pumping hard, ran to him and launched herself into his arms.

Anodyne scooped his youngest sibling up and hugged her tightly. “Hey, kiddo! Where’s the twins?”

“A’din! A’din! A’din!” She chanted, her version of his name. She probably hadn’t understood his question. While this was primarily a social visit to check on his younger siblings, he needed to talk to the symbionts.

All five of his siblings had varying degrees of difficulty with speech, though Brissant was the worst affected. Anodyne sometimes felt guilty that he not only had no difficulty with communication but actually scored in the top percentiles for language abilities. That talemt was doubtless due to a quirk of genetics, but it still pained him to hear his siblings and sire struggle with what came so easily to him.

He tried again, speaking slowly and clearly. “Brissa. Where are Rumble and Frenzy?”

Brissant understood him this time, and obligingly pointed towards town. "Him and him shop!"

Rats. They might be all day; they were currently on leave, and they had a love of shopping. He considered calling them, but it wasn't that important and they would have to return home to talk. His alt mode was too big for human streets.

“Is Stormy around?”

She nodded. “Stormy recharge!”

“Not any more,” a voice said, wryly. “Jet packs, noisy.”

His younger brother Earthstorm was the middle child of five. At twenty-five earth years of age, he was physically too young to fight, but more than mature enough to run a household while his creators and elder siblings were away at war. That household included Brissant and their brother Flute, who was fifteen earth years, plus three symbiont younglings -- Rumble, Ravage and Frenzy's kids -- who were all nearly identical in age at fifteen earth years.

Stormy held his arms open and Anodyne obligingly bent over and hugged him. His younger brother was growing again; it seemed like only yesterday that his head had been waist high. Now, he came up to Anodyne’s elbow. He was slenderly built, like Soundwave, and bare protoform was showing around his joints. He needed an upgrade, but with a war on getting the parts manufactured was impossible.

“How’s everything going?” Anodyne asked the youngling.

Stormy let loose, stepped back, and shrugged. He gestured into the interior of the hangar, and said in a questioning tone, “Inside?”

“Yeah, I can stay for a bit. I’m off duty.” Anodyne padded into the cool, and relatively dimly lit, interior.

Flute was on his knees in the middle of the space, attention entirely focused on some sort of project. Schoolwork, Anodyne realized as he came closer -- there were two older teenage humans, plus Frenzy’s eldest youngling, with him and all four were working on a tiny drone. Flute, at fifteen, had been enrolled in the local high school. Cybertronians did not physically mature at the same rate as humans, but for socialisation reasons most creators elected to enroll them in same-age classes with humans. Mentally, there were strong similarities by age, so it did work out well enough.

Anodyne knew that Resonance, raised on a human colony, still kept in touch with many of his human classmates -- and their descendents. Some of his classmates had already died of old age and he was barely a vorn old.

“Hey, Flute, Twister," he said.

Flute looked up, waved, and returned to his work. Twister, Frenzy's youngling, flashed him a grin, then carefully slotted a chip into place in the drone’s processor.

“You gonna introduce me to your friends?” Anodyne asked. Both humans were staring at him, one with what he suspected was a little alarm. Flute was twice the height of a human, but he wasn’t nearly as imposing as Anodyne. The humans barely came up to Anodyne’s knees, and Flute was tall and thin whereas Anodyne was massive and powerful.

Flute said, “Samantha, Justina.”

“Hey.” Anodyne sat down, in an effort to loom less. “You guys all classmates?”

“Yeah.” Twister flashed him a grin. “We are.”

Twister was smaller than the humans. He only came up to their waists. Symbionts grew very slowly, like any Cybertronian, and he wouldn’t hit physical maturity until his seventh or eighth decade. He was currently seated in Samantha’s lap, and somebody had painted glittery stripes down his helm with what looked like nail polish. It would come off with a bit of acetone, but Anodyne could only smile at the thought of the twins' reaction when they saw that.

Twister grinned back, and deliberately cuddled a little closer to Samantha. His field was an interesting mix of smug and besotted. Apparently, he’d found a friend, and he was old enough to be ‘interested,’ to use human slang -- at about seventeen years of age, he’d definitely hit the Cybertronian version of puberty, even if he wasn’t any bigger than Anodyne’s hand.

:Does the human know?: Anodyne asked Twister. She was a teenager; she could be cuddling him like that because she found him cute, or because she was romantically interested. It was hard to tell from the body language.

:She’s my girlfriend, dude! My carrier doesn’t know. Don’t tell him.: Twister replied, with a bit of alarm in his voice. Most Cybertronians disapproved of cross-species relationship, including Frenzy. Anodyne, however, had no issues with humans in any capacity.

:Don't worry, kid. My lips are sealed.:

Still, they’d been on earth only for a few weeks. It seemed early to declare any formal status. On the other hand, Anodyne knew humans very well -- and he knew their adolescents were impulsive and quick to form attachments. Cybertronians tended to be slower in such matters, and warier.

Honestly, he liked humans. and had often been frustrated by the size difference between himself and his human friends. He’d dallied a few times out of curiosity by using virtual reality, but he preferred Cybertronian lovers. He couldn’t empathically read humans without a few more mods. He mentioned this to Twister, in an attempt to put the kid at ease.

:I want pretender mods. My joints can pinch her skin, so we still gotta use VR to do anything intimate.: Twister said.

:You will look like child,: Flute told the tiny teenage symbiont, :You're only as tall as a first grader.:

:Humans come in all sorts of sizes,: Twister said, unruffled. :I’ll just look like a dwarf.:

The human -- Justina -- flicked him in the helmet with her finger. “You’re doing that thing where you talk over the radio. Dork. Are you going to introduce the big guy or just make me guess?”

Twister said, “Sorry. Justina, this is Anodyne, my carrier’s Host’s son. He’d be like a cousin, I guess.”

“Close enough,” Anodyne agreed. Humans didn't really have an analogy to Host-Symbiont relationships. “Call me ‘Dyne. So you guys have classes together?”

She giggled; her friend grinned. Justina said, “Everybody was freaked out by Twister at first because he’s so tiny. We’re used to bigger mecha! He got to really be in the classroom instead of attending with a hologram, and it was so cool. We got assigned to the same science project ...” she pointed at the half-assembled drone, “... and the rest is history. He’s my best friend ever!”

“I thought I was your best friend!” Samantha protested, pushing her playfully.

“You’re both my bestest friends.”

Flute said plaintively, “Jealous, am I. My status nothing?”

“You’re our bestest friend too!” Justina proclaimed, and reached out and patted his knee. “You’re our own Yodabot.”

Flute grinned.

“So we have it all planned out,” Samantha said, cheerfully, and playfully. “Justina’s going to marry the midget machine there, and he’s gonna bond with Flute, and I’ll marry Yodabot, and we’ll be together forever and ever ...”

From behind Anodyne, the only slightly older Stormy commented wrily, :What I put up with! Them attending school for three weeks then the sappy crap began. After two days.:

:Younglings.: Anodyne replied. He had never personally gotten wrapped up in any of the obsessive relationships that young Cybertronians were prone to. It had just never appealed to him. Had he ever been that young? It didn’t feel like it.

Still, he was pleased to see that the young ones were fitting in. They were refugees from a traumatic attack on their homeworld, and he had no doubt they had some of the same nightmares he did. He suspected that the two “teenage” Cybertronians had leaped headlong into a relationship with two human girls as an escape and distraction from the “real world” but at least it could be worse. One of Smokescreen’s younglings, traumatized by the loss of an Amica to the war, had recently overdosed on homemade Syk and was stll in stasis lock with permanent spark damage.

:I was never like this. So silly!: Stormy grumbled.

:Let them be,: Anodyne counseled his younger brother. :I doubt any significant harm will come of it, and they are getting comfort from their friends.:

“You two are talking about us,” Justina said, and stuck her tongue out at Stormy.

:Impertinent.: Stormy grumbled, unamused by her boldness.

:She is a perceptive one.: Anodyne replied. He turned his full attention to the children. “So what is your science project?”

“We’re designing a drone that can draw pictures with chalk on concrete.” Flute explained, an answer that didn’t surprise Anodyne at all. Flute was the most artistically inclined of all of Soundwave’s children -- he’d been obsessed with both music and visual arts since the day he’d onlined. All of Anodyne’s siblings had profound artistic gifts, though ‘Dyne himself didn’t. It was odd; he’d always been good with language, but he was no better than average when it came to fine art. A quirk of his CNA, perhaps.

The “pictures” turned out to be optical illusions. The drone was programmed so that they could upload a three dimensional image and it would then draw the image on the ground so that if a person stood in the right location the image appeared to be “real.” They could make it draw fake stairs, or a hole in the ground, or even a swimming pool with fish in it.

The kids had the project well in hand, so Anodyne excused himself and after a bit, picked Brissant up, and headed towards the back of the hangar. There, a hall led to several small berthrooms. He wanted to check out their home. Stormy seemed to have everything well in hand, but as the eldest, he felt it was his duty to make sure they lacked for nothing.

They’d partitioned off rooms for the kids with flimsy sheets of plywood and two-by-four framing, and he checked them the construction out quickly. The walls would work for now, he supposed, but he made a mental note to see to some upgrades as soon as he could source the materials.

Flute’s room was neat and tidy, Stormy’s was a disaster of half-finished projects, and Brissa’s was full of toys. The symbiont kids -- Ravage, Frenzy and Rumble each had a fifteen year old youngling -- shared a room, and it looked like Rocket, Leo and Twister were fighting again because they’d marked off areas of their room with duct tape lines. One third for each of them, and ‘Dyne suspected if he measured the square footage it would be identical down to the inch.

There was no room set aside for Soundwave and Treadwell as they were both assigned to the front on Cybertron and rarely home. Stormy was in charge here, as the eldest at home. Anodyne stayed on base, because he needed to quickly respond to emergencies, so he didn’t recharge here either. None of the adults felt this was an ideal situation, but it was necessary, and Stormy had risen to the occasion.

Two of Anodyne's elder siblings, Sharpshot and Link, were old enough to fight, and Anodyne found he missed them acutely. Sharp’s keen sense of humor, and Link’s brilliant intelligence, had always been a part of his world.

Sharp was in stasis, at the moment, injured and waiting for repair. Link was somewhere on Cybertron, working on the comm network. Link was barely two thirds of a vorn old, but his knowledge and skills were indispensible -- and unlike Anodyne, he was not crippled by the empathic awareness of others. Anodyne did not understand this, since his sensitivity to emotions, and Link's, were roughly equal. Soundwave claimed it was because of subtle differences in their spark. He said that Link was more of a "natural" empath, and Anodyne's sensitivity was heavily augmented by mods.

At least he knew they were both alive. They were missing one brother, Array, who had not been seen since the attack. They feared he was dead; they hoped he was simply buried in rubble or hiding in one of the multitude of underground tunnels. Nobody knew. Anodyne wasn't holding out much hope, however.

Stormy had mounted pictures of the entire family on the hallway wall, with Array's portrait prominent among them. He recognized Flute’s handiwork in the design of the frames: simple, elegant, made of etched metal. Link, on one of his rare visits to earth, had installed lights over the photographs. Family was important, and family photos got a place of prominence in their household.

Someone -- probably Treadwell -- had mountained a shelf below the image captures, and small lamp burned energon of pure Cybertronian origin. A Primal flame, meant for worship and prayer, and Anodyne did not stop to pray. Treadwell might believe in the benevolance of their deity, but Anodyne had heard first hand from Resonance about Primus's real nature. He wasn't going to beg for help from that slagger, particularly since he highly doubted Primus could do anything that mortals couldn't.

If Primus was all powerful, and all knowing, why in the Pit hadn't he dealt with the Quintessons long ago, or stopped the war himself, or rejuvinated Cybertron's ravaged ecosystem? Right. He couldn't.

“‘Ray!” Brissa said, from Anodyne’s arms, pointing at the picture of their missing brother, Array. “Ray ray! Want!”

“I know, kiddo. I wish he was here too.” He never made the mistake of thinking Brissant didn’t understand him. She struggled to speak, but she wasn’t lacking in intelligence.

“Want. Sad.” She buried her face in his shoulder.

Then, unexpectedly, he heard the roar of familiar thrusters. Soundwave! Soundwave was supposed to be on Cybertron where, despite serious injuries, he was helping to reestablish a communications network. If he was home, something was likely wrong, but Anodyne knew that the kids didn't realize this.

Anodyne hurried back to the front door, even as his younger siblings darted past him. Brissant demanded, “Down, down!” and barreled after them when he lowered her to the ground.

Soundwave was, at all times, a dignified mechanism. This did not stop his younglings from crowding around him in excitement, and Brissant launched herself into his arms with a shout of, “Wave wave wave wave!”

“Soundwave,” the elder Host corrected, even as he lifted her to his shoulder. As they entered the privacy of the family dwelling, he retracted his face mask,

“Sow-wave!”

“Good.” His praise made his youngest grin broadly. He hugged Stormy with one arm, stroked Flute’s helm, and smiled briefly but genuinely at Anodyne. All three symbiont younglings joined Brissa on his shoulders, and then he led them inside.

“We weren’t expecting you back from the front for several days,” Anodyne said, even as he corralled Flute by wrapping his arms around his brother’s shoulders and pulling the kid into an amiable hug. Stormy would happily climb all over Soundwave if allowed, and Soundwave was too nice to tell him to back off. Flute, of course, could sense his carrier’s discomfort but just didn’t care.

Fresh from the front, Soundwave would be twitchy and wary and would not appreciate a larger youngling blocking his movements. The tinies on his shoulders were one thing, but Stormy was big enough to get in his way if he had to fight!

“Treadwell, badly injured.” Soundwave’s words were blunt, but were accompanied by a sharp flare of distress that all four Host younglings felt. “In surgery. Soundwave, recalled.”

“Slaggit!” Anodyne ground out. It had to have been a critical injury if Soundwave had been recalled from the front. “How bad?”

“Spark, stressed by concussive injury. He will survive. Recovery, long.”

“He can have my room!” Flute said, instantly.

“Mine!” Stormy said.

“Me me me!” Brissa waved her arms in the air from Soundwave’s shoulders.

“I’d offer my bunk in the dorm,” Anodyne said, wryly, “but it would probably make the most sense for Brissa to share with the symbionts, and for Sire to have her room. I’ll help with moving the furniture around.”

“Me!” Brissa said, triumphantly. Then, with a frown at the symbiont younglings, “Twist, bossy,”

“Aw,” Twister said, “only because I love ya, kiddo.”

Soundwave said to Brissa, “Obedience towards older younglings, expected.”

“Bossy,” she frowned. Then, “Sire home, when?”

"Unknown. Visit to medical center, allowed for all, later.” Soundwave passed her to Anodyne, who lifted her up to his shoulder, then headed for the kitchen. The kids trailed after him as Soundwave retrieved a cube of plain solar energon from the cabinet.

“Want me to heat that up for you?” Anodyne offered. Plain energon was something most mecha -- including Soundwave -- considered to be dull fare. Plain cold energon was even worse.

“Negative.” Soundwave said, and then drank a quarter of the cube in one long draw.

Anodyne assessed his sire as he drank, frown growing. Soundwave’s field felt utterly exhausted, and he was covered in fresh dents and scrapes. Under his armor, his previously burnt protoform was only half healed, and it was painful: Anodyne could sense the low level discomfort that occasionally spiked when Soundwave moved. He was clean, courtesy of the human decontamination protocols, but he had multiple small injuries that hadn’t been tended.

After a moment, Soundwave finished the cube, and Anodyne pulled his repair kit out. “Sit down,” he suggested, “and I can patch you up. You’re leaking in at least three places.”

“Private discussion: With you.”

The other younglings who were crowded around started to protest. They were worried about Treadwell, and missed Soundwave, and were not happy about being excluded from the ‘private discussion.’

Soundwave said, firmly, “Private discussion. Exit, now. Time for family, later.”

As soon as the others had left -- and were out of earshot -- Soundwave lowered himself into a chair and wordlessly began detaching the armor from one forearm. As he took the plates off they faded to grey; his paint nanytes were controlled by his nervous system. Energon smeared on the metal was clear evidence of an injury concealed by the battered and dented plating, though Anodyne already knew about it. This close, could feel the pain radiating from Soundwave’s spark.

Under the armor, Soundwave’s frame was not in good shape. The energon itself had come from a damaged line feeding a transformation node; that was an easy fix. It currently had a temporary patch on it, placed by the cleaning crews, but it needed a quick replacement of the blown section. It looked like the damage was caused by extreme exertion, which was not a surprise given the conditions of war.

However, woven between and around the nerve wires and energon and hydraulic lines, and under a protective layer of thick translucent grease, his protoform was dark with burns and subsequent dying tissue where it should have been bright silver.

Soundwave should have been in the hospital, in a regeneration tank, not out fighting.

“Survival: Possible without any protoform.” Soundwave wasn't actually reading his mind, but he was good at sounding like he had.

Anodyne made a face. “Yeah, but there’s a cost to that.”

A mech could, in theory, survive with no protoform, but that meant no auto repair, no natural immune system to defend against metal-eating microbes, and no ability to reproduce naturally. It also meant a complete frame transplant, because natural frames were not meant to function without protoforms.

“Samples, taken. Regen of damaged protoform possible via tank.” Soundwave said, then paused and added, “Damage, not critical. Natural healing, also possible.”

Yeah, there were visible areas of regrowth under the grease. Protoform regrew from the struts out, and he could see small areas of healthy silver in between the dead, dull black. Still, the damage was extensive, and this was just Soundwave’s forearm. He knew that Soundwave had taken a glancing blow from Quintesson plasma fire and his burns were far more extensive.

Soundwave reached up with his spare hand and touched Anodyne’s shoulder. “Repair leak.”

Right. Soundwave was telling him not to dwell over injuries he couldn’t fix. He worked efficiently to cut out the damaged section of line and then solder in a replacement. Working in worried silence, he proceeded to repair a few other problems: Damaged sensors, other blown lines, and a jagged bit of shrapnel buried deep in the protoform of his carrier's calf. None of it was serious.

When he was done, Soundwave was still quiet. Anodyne wasn’t surprised. His carrier often said more with silence than other mecha could with hours of pontification; however, he thought this was the sort of silence that Soundwave fell into just before he said something significant. Soundwave never found speaking easy, and would plan words before he actually spoke.

He offered his carrier a hand up, and pulled him to his feet. Soundwave’s field felt even more exhausted, but there was something decisive about it now. Anodyne, recognizing that Soundwave was ready to talk, suggested, “Why don’t we go for a walk?”

He didn’t trust his siblings not to spy, and he definitely didn’t trust the symbionts. He could empathically sense Frenzy at a distance, so the elder symbiont had come home while he was working on Soundwave’s damage. Frenzy could be as bad as the kids when it came to being nosy, and not respecting boundaries.

Soundwave inclined his head, “A walk, affirmative.”

Outside, the sun was just as bright, and warm on their plating. Anodyne was conscious of the shiny perfection of his own paint, in contrast to Soundwave’s dented, scraped and gouged armor. Some of his panels were outright mismatched, likely hastily fabricated after he had been injured and with only a rudimentary attempt to match.

Anodyne, in good repair, uninjured save for the leg he’d lost in the first moments of the fight (and which had been replaced by Ratchet’s careful work during a few spare hours of down time), could not help but feel inadequate. The thought of going into combat, surrounded by the agony of the wounded, was nauseating, yet, somehow, Soundwave did it. He didn’t understand how.

They walked in silence, following a back road on the base. Soundwave clearly had something to say, but he was taking his sweet time to say it. Anodyne knew his carrier; knew he had to wait, and eventually, Soundwave would speak. Still, it took half an hour before they reached the coast, and another five minutes of walking before they stood near the crashing surf, surrounded on all sides by dunes, before Soundwave finally voiced his thoughts.

“Out of sensor range, here,” Soundwave said, quietly, his voice low and full of static.

This, then, was a secret. Anodyne wondered if it was about Resonance, and his failed attempt at Primacy, or about Cyberton itself, or some terrible event during the war? Soundwave was old, and had been involved in intelligence his entire life. He knew things no other living mech did.

“You,” Soundwave said, and stopped. He looked away, optics staring out into the distance from behind the glass of the screen he used to hide his expressions from the world. Then he retracted the screen, something he only did in the company of close family or friends. “You, Anodyne, are my child.”

Anodyne blinked. Not the words he’d expected. He’d assumed Soundwave was going to impart some secret on him such as the location of a powerful weapon, a space bridge, or perhaps the location of a stasis-locked combiner or ancient titan. Anodyne was perfectly willing to play the hero if asked, and there had to be some sort of quest that he could go on to be useful to his people.

“My eldest,” Soundwave added, then he exvented a long and slow sigh. "Anodyne, skilled, heavily modified, designed for war."

Anodyne wasn't surprised to hear Soundwave say this. However, his carrier's next words surprised him. "Quintessons," Soundwave said, "expected. Anodyne ... meant to be soldier. This, planned."

"I can't fight," he objected. The thought of being surrounded by the pain and fear of wounded mechanisms was horrifying. He could barely tolerate the surgical wards.

"Your empathy, unexpected," Soundwave said, wrily.

"Why? Because you're able to block it out better?" Anodyne shrugged. "I'm more sensitive than you are, and my mind bends in other ways."

"Much of your talent, artificial," Soundwave said. "Latent gifts yes, and very strong spark. Outlier. Your spark supports modification powerful, but imperfect. However ... fact remains, Anodyne built for war."

"You want me to go into combat."

Soundwave was silent for a long moment. "This, intended to be your destiny. Aptitude, yours."

"Heh. You know about Res, right?"

"Many facts known regarding Resonance."

"You know what I mean." Anodyne shot his carrier a dark look.

"Which fact, pertinant?"

"You know he was Optimus?"

"Affirmative."

"Are you aware the Matrix rejected him?"

"Confirmation, appreciated," Soundwave said, tone a bit dry even by Soundwave's standards. "Fact, assumed, as he does not carry the Matrix."

"Yeah. You'd think his destiny would be to lead us all. Be the brand new Prime. All that stuff. But Primus rejected him, and I'm pretty sure Resonance told Primus to go slag himself, too."

Soundwave smiled, very briefly. "Optimus, occasionally rude to Primus also. Recordings exist."

"Really. -- And you're trying to distract me. My point is that Resonance's assumed destiny was wrong. How the slag do you know what mine is?"

Soundwave was silent for a long, long, long moment. Then he said simply, "Alpha Trion."

"You think I have a destiny because of something the master archivist said?"

Soundwave reached a long-fingered hand out and gripped Anodyne's shoulder. "Affirmative. Alpha Trion aware of all facts regarding Anodyne. Refused to discuss details of visions of future."

"He hasn't been seen since the attack," Anodyne said, unhappily.

And he knew just how much his carrier loved 'details' -- Soundwave was a spy and an analyst to the core of his being. It had to be driving Soundwave crazy if Alpha Trion knew something about Anodyne, and for that matter, Anodyne wasn't real happy about it either. Slagging unnatural former Prime -- Anodyne never had really liked Alpha Trion much.

Though, if Alpha Trion thought he had some sort of important destiny, he wished he knew more! Why couldn't the mech have just come out and told him what that destiny was? It would have been much simpler. Anodyne prided himself on being pragmatic.

"He could be dead," Anodyne said, reluctantly. He'd overheard Prowl talking about the missing archivist with Jazz; they both felt that Alpha Trion should have made an appearance by now. Prowl suspected he was either in stasis or deceased. Jazz said he had reason to believe the mech was alive, but hadn't elaborated. Anodyne, mindful of security, knew he couldn't mention that overheard conversation to his carrier.

"Perhaps," Soundwave let go of Anodyne. "Alpha Trion specifically said: You and Resonance, forever entwined fate."

"I can't fight."

"Perhaps you must." Soundwave hesitated a very long moment, then bowed his head, and produced something from subspace. It was a plasma cannon, and a rather distinctive one at that.

"Where did you get that?" Anodyne recognized the weapon from images he'd seen from the war. That gun was meant to be mounted to one's forearm, and would intergrate with his protoform and struts. When deployed, it transformed around one's hand. The scrollwork and glyphs on it were distinctive.

"A good weapon."

"It's his." Megatron's. Anodyne wasn't surprised that Soundwave had Megatron's cannon; for reasons that he didn't understand, his carrier had liked the mech. All Anodyne knew about the mech seemed to be negative.

Resonance compared him to the human's Hitler. Anodyne thought that Pol Pot was more accurate, however: A charismatic peasant who had led an uprising against the elite, which had ultimately caused the deaths of millions.

Anodyne retreated a step and held his hands up in a horrified gesture of warding against the cannon. It was tainted in ways that made his armor crawl. "I don't want that thing."

"You carry Optimus's sword," Soundwave said, patiently. "Carry Megatron's cannon, also."

"No!"

"It will fit your frame. Excellent weapon." Soundwave hesitated. "Markings: Can be removed. Modifications made. Common weapon, cosmetic changes sufficient to hide identity unless closely examined."

"... I'm not able to go into battle, Soundwave."

"You will. You must."

Soundwave suddenly tossed the gesture towards him. Anodyne, reflexively, caught it.

Soundwave inclined his head.

"But I don't want it. This thing should be thrown into a smelting pool!" He held it gingerly, as if the metal might burn him.

Anodyne caught a flash of grief from Soundwave, and deep sorrow, and ... guilt? This was followed by anger that never touched Soundwave's field, and then resignation. Soundwave said simply, "Megatron, complex. He is your past. You will be his future."

"Oh, now you're the Yodabot." He hated it when Soundwave spoke in riddles.

"Meaning, unclear," Soundwave replied, and Soundwave was confused by his reference, right back.

He huffed. "You're not talking sense."

"Soundwave's meaning, clear."

"How am I his past and me his future?"

"You: His redemption. Must fight. Save Cybertron."

"I don't understand you!"

Soundwave's exasperation could be plainly felt in his field as well as by Anodyne's empathic sense of his spark. Soundwave said, "Plainly stated: You are child of my frame, but his spark."

"Oh. Oh. I'm Megatron's son?" Anodyne recoiled. Megatron. Megatron the slagmaker was his sire? "You ... he ... not Treadwell? Treadwell is not my sire?"

"No! Not meaning. Though ... accurate. Treadwell loves Anodyne, but he is not your sire."

Anodyne, frustrated and confused said, "I don't understand you."

"Am attempting." Now Soundwave felt angry to Anodyne, who retreated another step back. Soundwave was famously even tempered, and to feel a flare of temper from his carrier was startling. "Anodyne, not listening. This, your weapon. Your weapon, in war. Have kept it for the day you will bear it again."

"Yeah, you're giving it to me. I don't want it. I might just go drop it in a smelting pool." The thing was creepy. How many mecha had died at Megagtron's hands? Anodyne had been raised on horrific stories of Megatron's evil.

"Anodyne, like Resonance."

"Yeah, we're a lot alike."

"Sparks alike." Soundwave made a frustrated gesture with his hand in a rare show of emotion. "Word, missing. Cannot find."

Normally, Anodyne would have attempted to help Soundwave find the "missing word" -- one symptom of his family's hereditary communication deficit was pronounced aphasia, particularly in times of stress. Sometimes, Soundwave just couldn't produce the word he needed. He often resorted to communication clips and sound effects.

Now, Soundwave played a recording of Anodyne's earlier words, "You know he was Optimus."

"He's a reformat, yeah."

Relief flared in Soundwave's spark. He played Anodyne's word back at him, "Reformat."

"Yeah. You knew that. He's a reformat."

"Anodyne, reformat."

"Yeah, Resonance is a reformat."

"Anodyne, obtuse."

"You can find the word 'obtuse' and can't find the word 'reformat?'" Anodyne snapped, irritated at the insult, and a bit worried about just what he wasn't getting. "And why didn't you tell me my sire was Megatron?"

Soundwave was silent for a long moment, but his processor was working hard. Anodyne waited, ventilating hard, and mind working furiously. He refused to believe he was tainted by his ancestry, horrific though it was. Was he Megatron's offspring? It would explain his size and his athletic gifts. And if he was, had his carrier been forced? What was it like to share one's spark with the brutal dictator who had driven their world to absolute ruin?

Anodyne, jaw set, fists balled, told himself that his ancestroy didn't matter. He was who he was, and he was not going to let Megatron's genetics affect him. Though, it was best if nobody knew. He was already mistrusted and disliked. This would give everyone an even better excuse to hate him.

Slowly, deliberately, after more than a minute of silence, Soundwave said, "Anodyne is also a reformat. Your sire was not Megatron. You were Megatron."

Anodyne recoiled. "What? No! You're lying."

"Truth, told."

"Why? Why would you save ... that mech?"

"You, his redemption. Cybertron needs you." Soundwave added, "Anodyne, result of saving. Anodyne, beloved. Anodyne, everything he could have been."

Anodyne, in a startling rush of shock, realized his whole life had been a lie. He wasn't Soundwave's child. He wasn't a Host -- Skitter's frantic pings aside. He wasn't born to the family he loved so much. He was the Slagmaker and Soundwave had never told him.

Slowly, deliberately, he snarled, "Slag. You." And turned and stalked off.

Only when he was nearly a half mile away down the beach did he realize he still had the plasma cannon in his hand. He considered throwing it into the surf, then with an angry snarl he subspaced it. It was too good a weapon to actually discard, and if anyone was going to bear it, it might as well be him.

Chapter Text

It was raining.

Ratchet drove right through the doorway to his quarters, and only transformed once inside. Dripping water, he rose and in the dark of the room he headed for the energon cubes he had stored in a corner. He was hungry, cold, and tired because they'd had so many casualties that they'd staged them outside the medical center, and then the weather had turned vile.

He realized he wasn't alone when Anodyne opened his optics and the golden glow lit one corner of the room. Anodyne, it turned out, had was huddled into as small a ball as the big mech could manage, with his biolights off and his optics shut.

"'Dyne?" Ratchet said, his own discomforts forgotten. "Are you okay?"

"Fine." Anodyne said, clearly a lie. He stood up.

"Did you hear about your sire?" Ratchet said, assuming this was the issue. 'Dyne was close to his family.

"Soundwave told me."

"You could go visit him if you want," Ratchet suggested. "He's not conscious, but he's stable."

"He's not my sire." Anodyne scrubbed his face with both hands. "They both lied to me my whole life, Ratchet."

Ratchet blinked at Anodyne stupidly for a couple of seconds, then said the first thing that came to mind, which was, "Huh?"

"I'm a reformat."

"... huh? I distinctly remember Soundwave carrying you. You were conceived right at the end of the war. He was gravid before I even left Earth for Cybertron."

"I imagine that was a ruse." Anodyne sat back down on the berth. "They're not my parents."

Ratchet said, with an effort not to roll his eyes at Anodyne's dramatics, "Well, then. You're not the first or the last mechanism to be raised in a vat. So what if you're adopted? Soundwave and Treadwell love you."

"I'm Megatron, reformatted."

Ratchet took a surprised step back, and looked up -- way up -- at his protege. Somehow, deep down, he wasn't actually surprised. The size was right, and the bearing, and that innate confidence. Nothing else said 'Megatron' about Anodyne, however, and anyway, there was another issue. "I was the one who pronounced Megatron dead, kiddo. I saw his corpse. I saw his spark chamber. Empty."

Anodyne shrugged. "It's Soundwave. He's as good a quantum engineer as any. Just because his specialty is quantum comms equipment doesn't mean he doesn't dabble in other fields, and by dabble, I mean he designed my frame from the struts out. And those of my siblings. And all the symbionts. He's slagging good at what he does, and I'm certain he could create a portable spark containment field."

Ratchet opened his mouth, shut it, and then reopened it to say, "Don't tell anyone else."

Anodyne gave Ratchet a bleak look. "My whole life has been a lie."

Ratchet could have responded to that in any number of ways, most of them profane. Anodyne, however, was standing there with his field full of misery. 'Dyne started to turn, likely to head for the door. Ratchet intercepted him with three quick strides and caught his wrist. Anodyne spun about, field hostile and defensive, and Ratchet ignored that and hugged him.

Ratchet was normally a prickly and cranky mech himself, and never touchy-feely, but this was Anodyne. He liked Anodyne a good deal, and he could hear the horror in Anodyne's voice. He didn't know what to say, but he wanted to help, and he could hug. Hugging was easier than finding words of comfort.

His head only came up to Anodyne's elbow, and his arms wrapped around the other mech's waist. For a minute, it was like hugging a particularly angry wall, but then Anodyne's hand came down to rest on his back and Anodyne dropped to one knee and folded Ratchet into his arms. "I thought you'd hate me," Anodyne murmured. "You hated him."

"Megatron was a very complex mechanism." Ratchet said, softly. That was true. He also meant what he said next, which was, "And I know, more than anyone, that a reformatted mechanism is not his predecessor."

Some of the fierce tension left the young mech's rigid frame. Anodyne's arms tightened and he pulled Ratchet closer. "I don't know what I would do without you, Ratchet. I really don't."

Ratchet didn't know what to say to that, so he simply leaned back to look up at Anodyne. Anodyne continued, "I'm an empath. I know when people hate me. You don't. You don't. You ... you don't care who I was."

Ratchet supposed that was true, though partly because this was so surreal. He just couldn't reconcile the reality of his brilliant young friend and protege, who was one of the kindest mechanisms he'd ever known, with the Slagmaker who had destroyed countless worlds and who had the deaths of billions on his hands. "I don't," he said, honestly. "I only care who you are now, and I like who you are."

Anodyne keened softly and tightened his grip.

Ratchet held him until his sobs stopped, and then rose, and retrieved energon for both of them. It was cold and plain, but both of them were starving, and they consumed it without comment while sitting on the edge of the berth.

"How was work?" Anodyne asked, finally.

"Brutal. I'm glad you were off. We had a lot of casualties. There was a fire bombing on Cybertron, and a scraplet attack, and a lot of mechanisms in pain, and I don't think you could have handled it." Ratchet said, honestly.

Anodyne's ventilations hitched. "Why did he do this to me? My gifts are ... they're artificial, Ratchet. I think that may be why I don't have full control over the receptive end. He said I had latent abilities, but they're enhanced more than my siblings. Do you know what it's like to know what everyone is feeling, all of the time? It's awful! And they hate me for it because I can't always hide my reactions, and then people think I'm reading them deliberately, and reading their thoughts which I don't do, and ..."

Ratchet hugged him again, though this time he did have the words. "I think I understand Soundwave's logic, 'Dyne."

"Yeah? Because I don't."

"Soundwave ... knew Megatron longer than anyone. He knew him when he was young, and innocent, and brilliant. Somebody once said that Megatron was dangerous not because he was the best fighter, but because he was the smartest ... however, Megatron lacked something, and I'm not sure if it was because of his upbringing or because of something in his spark."

"What was that?"

"Compassion." Ratchet tucked a leg up to his chest and wrapped an arm around it. Anodyne still had an arm around Ratchet's shoulders, and tightened his grip in reaction to Ratchet's firm words. "Megatron was many things, but kind and empathetic wasn't one of them."

Anodyne looked up sharply, startled. "But ..."

"By giving you empathy, kiddo, you have literally been aware of the feelings of others since you were a tiny sparkling, and of their reaction to your actions. Megatron was charismatic, but he was never particularly empathatic. If anything, he verged on sociopathy. Soundwave, for better or worse, gave you a true gift with that fancy processor he designed for you."

Anodyne muttered, "I think he overdid it."

"Perhaps." Ratchet leaned his head back against Anodyne's arm, and looked up at him. "But it made you who you are. And now that I think about it, you are much like Megatron in many ways. He was brilliant, and unswerving in his beliefs, and he would not compromise for anything. You're like that."

"I'm not!" Anodyne objected.

Ratchet smirked. "Says the mech who let Music beat him nearly to death when he could have 'pathed him into submission with a touch."

Anodyne fell silent for a moment, then shook his head. "If I'd fought back with telepathy in that moment, I would have destroyed him. I won't do that. I refuse. It's wrong. It's not the right use of my gifts."

"Even if they're trying to kill you."

"Even then. It's not right."

Ratchet was really grinning now. "Ah, 'Dyne. I'm amazed I didn't see it before. And with your size, and the way you fight, and your natural abilities with all weapons -- it's all so obvious, now."

"Soundwave says I need to be a warrior. That I should be fighting for Cybertron because I have the physical ability."

"Is that what you want?"

"Maybe it's what I need to be."

"Kiddo," Ratchet's smile slipped from his face, "Maybe it's not. Look, Soundwave obviously had a vision for you, and knowing Sounders, it was probably based on an idealized version of what he thought Megatron should be like. However, you are your own mechanism, and your future is your own."

Anodyne sighed. "I'm a war frame, with an aptitude for combat. I should be out there. I just ... I just can't. I can't even stand to be in the medical center if there's a lot of casualties. He meant to make me a better mech, but I think he may have just crippled me. And now he's telling me I'm ... I don't know, he thinks I'm a coward and weak for not fighting? But he did this to me."

"Not deliberately, I don't think." Ratchet glanced up at Anodyne's face. His expression  echoed his field: Both were utterly miserable. "'Dyne, have you ever considered dialing back your empathy? If it's artificial, that means we could alter the hardware for less sensitivity. Rung and I could work together if your carrier won't help us."

Anodyne was very, very quiet, for a long moment. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because it will make me a better physician. And that's what I want to be." Anodyne's words were firm and decisive, and sudden resolve filled his field. "Slag him. He did this to me, so he'll just need to be happy with who I am. Or not. It's his problem."

"Okay." Ratchet quietly accepted this; it was Anodyne's decision to make. It would limit Anodyne's usefulness in the trauma center, but outside it, he held considerable promise in other areas. "Anodyne, something else -- you cannot tell anyone about this. There are too many mecha who will not understand. You're not Megatron, but they won't get it."

"No slag. I wasn't even going to tell you, but ... but I had to tell someone." Anodyne sighed deeply. "Will you tell Res? I'm not sure I want him to know."

Ratchet made a face. "Resonance will know, because I am apparently incapable of keeping secrets from him. I'll impress upon him the need for secrecy."

"I don't want anyone else knowing. I would have to work ten times as hard to prove myself, even if someone didn't actually hate me. As it is, they think I'm stealing knowledge from the heads of others, or that I'm psychically influencing my mentors. I'd always be under a cloud of suspicion if they knew I was Megatron. Damnit all."

"I doubt it will make you feel better to know that I think that you're right. However, nobody else needs to know about your history. It's none of their business who you were in a past life."

Anodyne suddenly hugged Ratchet close. "No matter what happens, at least I have you, Ratchet. At least I have you."


Ratchet talked long into the night with Anodyne about things both consequential and minor. He told him war stories, sparing nothing, and then pre-war stories of a young Megatron who had once been a regular visitor in Ratchet's clinic. He talked about things completely unrelated, too: shop talk, gossip, earth culture, Cybertronian culture.

Much later, Ratchet jolted awake with a start, and realized he'd fallen asleep on the berth with Anodyne. 'Dyne was still out cold, on his side. They had gone into recharge facing one another on the berth, and sometime during the night Anodyne had moved so that one of his hands was now resting on Ratchet's hip.

When Ratchet lifted his head he realized that Resonance now stood in the room, and he was sipping a cube of warmed energon. He'd been there awhile: Ratchet could hear the rain thrumming against the thin walls of the human made building, but Resonance had already dried.

~Nothing happened!~ Ratchet said, realizing suddenly how compromising their positions looked.

Resonance replied impatiently, ~I know that. You can't keep secrets from me.~

~How much did you catch of what he had to say?~

~Enough.~ Resonance managed to squeeze onto the berth on the other side of Ratchet. Ratchet, sandwiched between the two, found himself looking into Anodyne's optics -- 'Dyne had woken, and was looking at them with an alarmed gaze. 

"It's okay," Ratchet said, calm because Resonance was unruffled. "Resonance knows nothing happened. Just go back to recharge."

There was room on the berth for all three of them, if they didn't mind some close contact. Ratchet honestly didn't; it felt good to have Resonance pressed against his back, and Anodyne surely could feel that Ratchet was only a platonic friend. Mostly. Okay, the young mech was gorgeous and brilliant and exactly the kind of mech that Ratchet was attracted to, but he was exclusive with Resonance and he told himself that he would never pursue the tiny kernal of attraction that he felt. Neither he nor Resonance, he reminded himself, were interested in a triad.

Too many complications. Ratchet knew himself, and he didn't think he could handle the emotional minefields of poly relationships. He was bonded to Resonance, and that was that, Resonance was his partner, and would be for the rest of his functioning. For better or worse.

Anodyne, however, sat up and then slid off the berth. "There's more room on the floor, guys."

Resonance slid an arm around Ratchet's waist and spooned close. "Thanks, 'Dyne," he said, a bit too casually, over Ratchet's shoulder. Ratchet couldn't read what Resonance was thinking at all. Resonance added, "We'll see you in the morning."

It took Ratchet hours to power down after that.

Chapter Text

Anodyne rose early, and left for his shift at the medical center before Ratchet could speak to him.

Resonance said, after he was gone, "He loves you, you know."

"Anodyne?" Ratchet scoffed. "He's just a friend. I'm ancient. He's barely more than a youngling. And I'm bonded to you."

Even as he spoke, however, he knew he was denying the obvious. Anodyne did love them, and likely had for awhile. The young mech, however, had been nothing but respectful of their relationship. He had carefully played the role of their Amica without ever once crossing any boundaries.

Resonance sipped a cube of heated energon and regarded Ratchet with a tired expression. "Precisely because he loves you, he'll never come between us. He won't ever do anything to hurt you, or me, and that includes harming our relationship."

"Are you jealous?" Ratchet snapped.

"No." Resonance's answer was honest. "I'm not. He probably also loves me, to the same degree he loves you. I'm just pointing out that you need to be careful of his feelings, and we might want to encourage him to find another interest besides us. We are his only close friends other than Skitter. He had some symbiont and human friends, but they all died in the initial attack. He doesn't talk about them at all, which I don't think is healthy either."

Ratchet poured himself a cube of energon. He considered heating and sweetening it, then decided that sounded too much like work. He drank a long swallow of it cold and plain. "Res, are you interested in him?"

Resonance looked away, sharply, but a flare of anxious denial across the bond was proof enough. Res did have feelings for the young mech.

"I haven't forgotten that you didn't chose this bond," Ratchet said, picking his words carefully. "It would be wrong of me to hold you to promises you never actually made freely. We are conjunx by circumstance, not by choice and vow."

Resonance shook his head. "You are carrying my child."

"And so?" Ratchet said, though his words hurt to say. "Look at how many mecha have born children by arrangement, not from love matches. You want a mech who can be there for you? Anodyne's a student. He doesn't have my responsibilities or duties. He works long hours, yes, but we actually give him time off. You could have a partner who is much more available than I am."

"But Ratchet," Resonance said, "I do love you. And we merged, and we are so very compatible ... I want to try to make us work."

There was naked honesty in his words, and a swell of emotion in his spark.

Ratchet exhaled, long and slow, through his vents. "Resonance, I love you too." And that was the truth, no matter how complicated things had gotten between them. "C'mere."

He intended to hug Resonance, but Res bent over to kiss him instead. What started out as just a kiss turned into more, quickly, as Ratchet set his half-consumed energon down on a desk without ever losing lip contact, and then pushed Res back towards the berth.

Resonance sat.

Ratchet, after a grin upwards that promised many things, began to kiss his way down Resonance's chest. Resonance gripped his helm and gasped aloud as Ratchet found sensitive seams and sensor nodes. Neither of them had planned this, or even contemplated it, it just happened.

Both had shifts starting in a few minutes. Ratchet, aware of this, was careful to leave no incriminating marks. His touch on Resonance's thighs was light, and his mouth hot but careful. They didn't grind together or grip each other with damaging force, but Ratchet could sense that what Resonance really wanted to do was throw him down on the berth and pound hard into his valve until they were both exhausted, scuffed, and dented.

When Ratchet reached Resonance's panel, it was already open, and his spike standing tall and hot and hard. Ratchet took him in, hands gripping the generous shaft, mouth skilled. Resonance whimpered, and stroked Ratchet's helm with gentle fingers.

Resonance came quickly, with a low groan and a hard shudder, but Ratchet did not let up until Resonance was done and begging for mercy. Ratchet rose, swallowed, wiped his lips with the back of his hand, then said with a teasing grin, "Eh, maybe I'll keep you around. That's a good look for you."

Resonance, hands planted behind him, legs spread wide, optics only half lit, limp spike half retracted and sagging across his thigh, returned Ratchet's grin with a crooked smile. "Love you, 'Ratch."

"Mmmhmm. And now I have to report to the med center. I've got a surgery scheduled for fifteen minutes from now."

"Damnit," Resonance said, suddenly jerking upright. "And I've got a preflight inspection to attend in ten. I'm going to the moon today. Do I have anything on me? Starscream would never let me live it down."

"You're fine. Go." Ratchet laughed, but then he groped Resonance's aft as he hurried past.


 

Two surgeries and three exams later, Ratchet had enough of a break in his schedule to pursue the subject of Jazz's repairs. He was determined to find a solution for Jazz that didn't involve downgrading him to unsuitable processor. His search, in desperation, now included consulting with the human staff.

Annette, the human mechanical engineer, sat in a chair on top of Cybertronian sized work bench, reading a human-sized datapad of reports. "I don't know what to say, Ratchet," she said, looking up from an inventory of newly available parts. "I don't think any of the parts donors ..." which was what humans had taken to calling the dead, "... that we got from that last battle have a compatible motor function module for Jazz."

He'd come to that conclusion already, and agreed without looking up from an optical array he was rebuilding while they spoke. "I know. There's some warehouses on Cybertron we could check, but they're in Quintessan held territory. The one mech who might be able to raid them without getting slagged in the process is the one we're actually trying to fix."

She sighed. "It feels awful, waiting for someone to die so Jazz can have his parts ... Ratchet, are you aware of human research into quantum printing?"

He wasn't. He googled it, then made a face as some concepts that were complex even by Cybertronian standards came up. Humans never failed to amaze him. Despite their short lives, and brains that were severely limited in certain areas, humans were fully capable of holding their own with Cybertronian science. Rather than generalizing in a whole field, individual humans often specialized and devoted their entire short lives in one small area of research. This approach worked for them as a species, though it seemed so limited on a personal level to Ratchet.

He took a few moments to bring himself up to speed on what she was referring to. Making quantum prints required an improbable amount of power as well as some incredibly precise engineering. Cybertronians certainly could grasp the science, and had probably utilized similar technology during the Golden Age, but they hadn't had that much sheer electrical power to spare for as long as Ratchet had been alive.

Humans, with their resource rich world, and their bright and stable sun, had ample power to spare. In the last two or three decades they'd even gone to clean power, in the form of orbiting photovoltaic cell platforms connected to the ground with long (and conductive) carbon-fiber tethers. They had clean, efficient, abundant power.

Cybertron's chaotic and unpredictable white dwarf star had been harnessed for far less usable for power, and Cybertron's marked lack of carbon for manufacturing had meant that such tethers were cost prohibitive. Cybertron could no more build a carbon nanutube space elevator and power lines than Earth could manufacture a similar size structure out of irridium.

Annette was grinning when he finally looked over at her. "I don't pretend to understand quantum crap, but I have a colleague who might. He's been agitating to work with you guys anyway. I can make an introduction ..."

He rolled his task chair back and stared at her as he considered the likelihood that her suggestion might work. Cybertronian processors were quantum computers that were far more complex on a nanoscale than anything that humans had ever manufactured. However, there was another issue, "There's also Jazz’s operating system to consider. We don't have a copy of it; those files are all on Cybertron. That’s part of the compatibility issue we’re facing."

Due to the complexity of Cybertronian operating systems, simply writing a new OS wasn't an ideal option. It would take years even if a dedicated team of Cybertronian techs worked on the problem, using Cybertronian computers to compile it. Humans, as sharp as they were, would be far slower.

"Yes, but I know another engineer who could probably get the OS off the damaged module. He might even be able to recover Jazz's settings and preferences." Annette said this after a moment of thoughtful silence.

He stared at her even as he googled to verify what he was hearing. That was cutting edge and he wasn't aware that humans had developed their skills to that degree. In disbelief, he said, "Humans could do that?"

"It's very complicated but I think so." She hesitated. "We might need Jazz's help to get past the firewalls on the damaged module, but yeah, I think they can. I've talked to a few people and they're pretty optimistic."

Ratchet blew out a sharp exvent. "That would be very helpful if they could make it work. Perceptor could be assigned to help, too -- I'm sure he understands the science better than I do, we just haven't had the technical abilities for a very long time."

He still had his doubts, but what did they have to lose?


 

A wave of casualties came in from a nasty round of fighting on Cybertron over the next several days. Ratchet found himself swamped with critical cases, interspersed with only slightly less urgent repairs on mission-critical mecha.

Resonance, meanwhile, was pressed into duty transporting Cybertronian command officers around the globe to meet with human heads of state. Here, his history as a Titan senator became useful as he personally knew some human politicians, plus he was friendly with a plethora of human business leaders. Jazz, still utterly unable to move, was the best option for meeting with humans aside from Res himself. Anodyne, acting as Jazz's personal assistant, also went.

Ratchet wasn't happy about sending Jazz off, and Rung was even less happy. From a strictly medical standpoint, Jazz was stable, but Rung worried that from an emotional one, Jazz wasn't doing well. Not that Jazz would talk to a shrink; he was even less likely to open up to Rung than Ratchet was. However, Jazz was the highest ranking officer that they could spare from the war effort, and they needed human military assistance if they wanted any prayer of winning against the Quints.

Ratchet got numerous impressions across the bond of Anodyne and Res, talking and Jazz sometimes joining in. Resonance's fury at Primus, and his general sense of inadequacy and angst, eased a bit. Jazz’s affection for Resonance and Anodyne was, however, clear. He’d known Jazz considered Res a friend, but that Jazz had an easy camaraderie with Anodyne was a revelation. He knew, from what Resonance shared across the bond, that Jazz frequently spoke to Anodyne about the young host’s social problems.

Anodyne, Jazz seemed to think, was seen as a bad combination of teacher’s pet and dangerous threat. The general assumption among the other younglings was that Anodyne had slept or ‘pathed his way to success. It didn’t help that Soundwave was mistrusted and hated by mecha on both sides of the war, and with good cause.

Anodyne’s reaction to people who disliked him was to avoid them when possible, or treat them with cool reserve if he couldn’t. This didn’t help win him friends. He was simply seen as arrogant at best; suspicious, at worst. That he favored the company of humans and symbionts just added to his appearance of being an outsider.

Ratchet earnestly hoped that Jazz could help ‘Dyne with his public image. The young mech didn’t deserve the scrap he dealt with on a daily basis.

Jazz did send him an image capture of Resonance in recharge with his head on Anodyne's shoulder. Anodyne was awake, reading a datapad, with Skitter in his lap. The image was sunlit, there was a rock wall behind them, and green grass beneath them. Jazz's note with the picture said, simply, We're taking care of him for you.

Ratchet wasn’t sure who was taking care of who, really. He supposed it didn’t matter.

He responded, and CC'd all of them, with a reply, Wish I was there with all of you, and then tried to ignore just how lonely he felt -- and how much he wanted to be the one taking care of Resonance. He had, he told himself, responsibilities.

Meanwhile, the human scientists carted off Jazz's damaged motor function modules, and promised to get back to Ratchet in several days with a plan. They also asked for several other samples of damaged brain modules to run tests on; at Ratchet’s request Perceptor selected a few from the parts that Ratchet had brought back from the Ark.

Ratchet worked himself to the point of exhaustion; only when First Aid threatened to declare him temporarily incompetent due to lack of defrag did he stumble back to his quarters. Resonance was off ... somewhere, he wasn't even sure where ... and Ratchet simply collapsed face down onto his berth and passed out.


Resonance, who had been a politician for decades on Titan (while still legally a youngling on Cybertron, but humans reckoned maturity differently) knew all about political dinners. Add in another few decades acting as Wheeljack's buying agent (years which had sometimes overlapped with his political activism) and he'd been to his share of ... bonding experiences ... between powerful people. The current event felt familiar.

They'd rented a conference center with a high roof for this event, and a Cybertronian sized table had been constructed. Atop the Cybertronian table, there were several human sized tables. This was the universally accepted way for large mecha and humans to dine together. There was also a stage, and the humans had promised live music after the meal. Resonance knew that Jazz in particular was looking forward to the music.

This batch of politicians were of a culture that put an emphasis on drinking. They had gone out of their way to acquire very rare and aged Cybertronian high grade; the steel barrel was probably older than Resonance, and the liquid decanted from it glowed a deep magenta.

Resonance had no objection to high grade, but he'd avoided it since becoming closer to Ratchet. He didn't think it appropriate to drink in front of a mech who had addiction issues.

Ratchet, however, wasn't here, and it would be rude for Res refuse. He sipped his cube, and then glanced over at Jazz. Jazz, motionless in his float chair, sat next to him at the table. The human servers had brought him a cube, just like everyone else.

:That stuff smells amazing,: Jazz comm'd him and 'Dyne. Anodyne, as Jazz's personal attendant, was standing behind him at a polite parade rest. :Anodyne, gonna need your help.:

Jazz's field felt embarrassed, for a second, and then Res couldn't read it at all.

Anodyne picked up the cube, and with a gentle and dexterous touch, lifted it to Jazz's lips. Jazz couldn't swallow, but he could certainly taste a small amount dribbled into his mouth. Anodyne dabbed up the amount that dribbled back out of his mouth with a soft cloth, without comment.

:Mm. Think it'd offend the docs if ah got to experience that 'grade?: Jazz asked.

:No actual medical reason not to, except that we'll have to skip any sensor blocks tonight,: Anodyne replied.

:Works for me,: Jazz said, optics brightening. :Probably should go off somewhere private for you to top my tank off; it'd be rude table manners to do it here.:

Anodyne nodded, then advised the humans quietly, "Jazz will return in a minute."

Jazz floated off towards a more private location, with Anodyne (holding the cube of high grade) following.

One of the humans -- a middle-aged matron with her hair in a bun and a no-nonsense attitude -- looked up at Res and then said, "How's Jazz doing? I've known him for years. He's a good mech."

"We're still working on repair parts for his injury," Resonance replied, "but I have faith they'll figure it out soon. -- He likes the high grade, by the way."

"We weren't sure if we should serve him any," the woman admitted.

Res shook his head, "Because he's disabled? No, treat him just as you would the rest of us. Anodyne is actually helping him ingest the 'grade now. He can't swallow, so he has a tube surgically inserted into his tank."

"... oh." The woman blinked and looked a bit startled. Resonance wondered if he'd committed a social faux pax; human cultures were complex, but as far as he could remember, this particular country tended towards matter-of-fact acceptance of medical issues. He decided it was okay, and the woman proved his assumption correct when she asked quietly, in a tone of concern, "He's that bad off?"

"He'll be better eventually. And there's nothing wrong with his mind." Resonance answered, then flashed her a grin. "He proves that regularly when he beats me at strategy games."

Time, Resonance decided, to change the subject. "So," he said, "I hear you have a new grandchild."

The woman beamed. "Yes, she's a month old now."

"Your first?"

She nodded.

Resonance grinned at her. "I remember when her mother was just a toddler. She was adorable."

The woman looked surprised again, then said, "That's right, you were at that trade conference in Tokyo and met her then ... wow, that was over twenty years ago. I'm amazed you remember. I was just a junior assistant, then."

Resonance said, "I make a point of remembering people I like. You're always somebody I've enjoyed spending time with, Madame Secretary."

She dimpled, looking years younger than her sixty-some years, "Oh, now you're flirting."

Resonance chuckled. "It is true, however."

"How's that partner of yours doing, anyway? I heard you had hooked up with Ratchet."

"He's doing well." Resonance said, after sipping his high grade. He wondered if he should mention the child, then decided it was okay -- the sparkling was not a secret and, indeed, as Ratchet's carry progressed, would not be something that could be concealed. "And our sparkling is three months along now. A femme."

"Congratulations, Res!" That came from one of the other dignitaries. "Are you the first of the younglings to procreate, then?"

"Oh, no, not by far. There are several others who are already parents." Resonance shook his head. He would have said more, but Jazz returned then, optics a good bit brighter, and field a bit buzzed. Anodyne resumed his position behind the float chair, for all appearances equal parts bodyguard and nurse.

The discussion then turned towards more serious subjects; Anodyne spoke for Jazz as necessary as Jazz could not operate his own vocalizer. Jazz still managed to make the humans laugh several times, and charm the humans even more than Res did.


 

Res had consumed enough high grade to be genuinely intoxicated. The human servers had repeatedly topped his cube off, there had been many toasts, and it would have been rude to refuse them. He concentrated on walking carefully and not tripping as he followed Jazz's float chair back to the retrofitted hangar that visiting Cybertronians used.

Ratchet, grumbling, said, ~I'm getting a contact high across the bond, Res.~

Ratchet's words were joking, but behind them was real stress. Resonance did not appreciate the lack of control that went with intoxication; Ratchet, by contrast, craved the sense of well-being and lessening of anxiety. He'd kept those urges at bay, but Resonance realized that Ratchet was struggling with the rather potent reminder of what high grade was like.

Ratchet was very, very, tempted to go indulge. Just once. He was jealous of Resonance's indulgence, resentful of the reminder, and all-around pissed off at the world.

~I'm so very sorry,~ Resonance said, stopping short in the middle of the road. Anodyne, walking next to him (and completely sober, in his role as "nurse" to Jazz) gave him an alarmed look. He hadn't even considered how Ratchet might react. Resonance had been able to avoid high grade entirely, or consume it in extreme moderation, at previous functions.

~Part of your job, kid,~ Ratchet said, roughly.

~Are you ... are you going to be okay?~

~Am I going to go get drunk off my wheels, you mean?~ Ratchet replied, with a low growl. ~No. I have incoming wounded. And I'm carrying, Primus damn it! I wouldn't do that to her! However, I would appreciate it if you would shield. I'm going to be craving high grade for the next month now.~

~I'll try.~ Shielding was much harder when he was intoxicated; he had a hard time maintaining the focus required for it.

~Bah. I'll survive. Hope you had a good time at that party.~

~... it was productive. We are negotiating an arms deal with the local government.~

~... arms deal?~ Ratchet said, in confusion.

~We need them to manufacture munitions for us.~

~What good would human munitions do us?~ Ratchet asked, in confusion. Then his thoughts turned from human small arms to some of the bigger missiles and conventional bombs that humans were capable of making. Grudgingly, he thought they might be useful against Quints ... humans had flatly refused to provide Cybertronians nukes to use on Quintessons, and were strangely reluctant to deploy nuclear weapons themselves.

It was a cultural thing, Anodyne had tried to explain, but Ratchet wasn’t sure he understood the culture. Humans just got irrationally weird when it came to radiation.

~We're giving them Cybertronian plans.~

Ratchet was immediately horrified, and his dismay rang loud and clear across the bond. Optimus, he thought, would never have given Cybertronian weapons plans to humans. They might misuse them against their own kind!

~That was a hundred years ago, Ratchet. Human science has advanced dramatically. I expect they can, and have, figured out how our weapons work. We're just giving them plans to build us weapons, made to our specs. That's it.~

Ratchet still didn't like it.

~Besides, it's been a generation since the last large scale human war, but only a few months since they fought off the Quints. I think they're much more focused on external threats than internal ones. And -- they may need advanced weapons if the Quints come back.~

He heard Ratchet's thoughts loud and clear: Ratchet thought that it was wrong, and that humans were not ready.

Had he been sober, Resonance would have been able to manage his irritation better. Ratchet definitely felt his annoyance this time, however, and reacted with a flare of anger. Resonance gritted his denta and said, ~Ratchet, go focus on your patients. I'm not arguing with you right now.~

He felt Ratchet struggle mightily not to snap and snarl. His bondmate's private thoughts -- not-so-private right now -- were rather uncomplimentary.


 

Resonance woke the next morning to the awareness of Ratchet’s exceedingly foul mood. Ratchet’s presence on the other end of the bond was a bleak, dark, angry mess.

~What happened?~

In response, Ratchet sent him an image of a mech whose processor was torn apart, left open to the air, and still had cables and cords hanging out of a gaping hole in his helm, and energon trickling down his back. His injuries were the result of Quintesson experiments as they’d rescued the mech from a prison camp. He would never be the same again.

~They corrupted his coding,~ Ratchet said, ~And I don’t think we can fix it. His memories are gone, his personality matrix is damaged, and big chunks of his OS are just scrambled. He’s got three younglings -- the eldest is about your age.~

~Pit.~

~His kids ... his kids authorized a partial reformat and a copy-paste of what’s left of his code to a new processor. We aren’t sure how much we’ll be able to save, but we aren’t expecting a lot. Their carrier died in combat last week. Res, I’m so sick of this.~

Ratchet sounded truly depressed. All Resonance could do was send wordless feelings of support and sorrow. He wished he could be there, for he knew Ratchet needed him, but they were half a world apart.

Chapter Text

Ratchet woke several hours later when the door opened. He'd had enough recharge to be pleasant again, though it was extremely early in the morning, and he knew by instinct that the very large shadow in his room was Res. He rolled over onto his back on the berth and said, "They ever going to give you any down time?"

Resonance had been working as hard as Ratchet, though his work was of a different nature -- lots of mind numbing flights from point A to point B, carrying cargo and personnel, in between being a junior diplomatic envoy. He had uploaded a number of datapads worth of medical texts, and was studying them in flight, but he was still bored.

"I had to make a run to Beijing to pick up some parts from a factory." Resonance had a cube of energon in each hand. "I recharged in flight and had Anodyne pilot."

"Oh."

Resonance held a hand out, and pulled Ratchet up into a sitting position. "Sorry to wake you, but you didn't refuel before recharging, and there's casualties incoming in a few hours. Prowl said to warn you, and make sure you fueled up before they got here."

Ratchet said a vile word regarding the prospect of yet more wounded, but reached for the cube and downed it quickly. Resonance did the same with his.

At some point in the last several days, Resonance had acquired some very large plasma cannons and several missiles. The cannons were mounted to his shoulders; the missiles on his arms. He also had a dozen Wheeljack-style grenades at his waist, and his swords were mounted between his wings. He looked every inch the young warrior.

"They sending you into combat?" Ratchet said, with resignation, after taking in his appearance. Res had always been armed, but the degree and quality of his weapons almost guaranteed that Prowl had decided that it was a tactical necessity to send Res to Cybertron. They were running short on arms, and they wouldn't have kitted him out to this degree if they didn't expect him to need the guns.

Resonance pressed his lips together for a moment before replying, "Not yet, but likely. All of the other heavy fliers have taken some major damage, and Starscream has been agitating to have me fly bombs into Quintesson territory. I'm one of the few mecha in good repair who can carry the payload needed."

Ratchet shuttered his optics. He didn't want to hear that. He understood, but he didn't want to hear it. Resonance could die ... and it wasn't even for a cause he believed in.

Resonance sighed softly. "I am loyal. I may disagree with Prowl, but I am just another soldier. It is Prowl's function to make tactical decisions, and to triage who is sent where. I will do as commanded, Ratchet."

Ratchet rose from the berth, and simply pressed himself into Resonance's arms. He didn't have words.

"And if something happens to me," Res said, as he stroked Ratchet's helm with long fingers, "you will continue to function. Your people, and our sparkling, need you."

"Nothing is going to happen to you!" Ratchet said, suddenly fierce. "Slaggit, Res, don't talk that way!"

Resonance pressed a kiss to Ratchet's helm.

"How long until the wounded get here?" He asked.

"Several hours. The extraction will take some time; the Quints aren't making it easy."

He should go to the medical center and start preparing for the incoming wounded. However, the center was as well stocked as it could be, and he might not see Res again for days or weeks ... or maybe never ... and Res was in his arms. He wanted, desperately, to be intimate with his bondmate for just a little while. They had time. He wanted to hold him close and look in his optics and reassure himself that their bond remained strong.

Resonance stroked his jaw with a tender touch, then released him with a little push. "Not now, Ratchet."

Ratchet stared at him in disbelief. "Why?"

"I can't ..." Resonance stopped, and shook his head. Ratchet felt a wave of guilt across the bond before Res clamped down on it.

"Can't is my problem," Ratchet snapped a bit sharper than he'd intended.

Resonance looked at him with wide eyes. His bondmate's normally impenetrable control slipped again, and Ratchet caught a glimpse of his thoughts: That he felt inadequate, useless, because the Matrix had rejected him, and that he wasn't living up to other's expectations, and somehow, this was rolling right over into his love life. Guilt, too, for making Ratchet uncomfortable a few days earlier when he'd gotten drunk, and more guilt because Ratchet had gotten him off days before that but he had been unable to reciprocate.

He'd said nothing at the time.

Ratchet growled in wordless indignation. He'd enjoyed that brief moment. He was annoyed that Resonance felt guilty about it.

Resonance looked sharply away, shoulders hunched. "You shouldn't have seen that. You have other things to worry about than me. I know I shouldn't dump my slag on you. My issues, not yours."

"And you need to get your head out of your aft. I enjoy intimacy with you. It's not just about the damned orgasm." Ratchet was pissed enough that both his armor and his field flared angrily. "Resonance, damn it. We've had these discussions. We've merged. Want to merge again? I can come from that and it might help get your slagging head screwed on straight! And it's not like I can get knocked up twice!"

Even as he snarled the angry words, he regretted them, but it was too late. Resonance had slammed shut his side of the bond, and but his field was jagged with anger. "Oh, that's real seductive, Ratchet."

He huffed. Then he reached for Resonance. "Come. Here. You need this. I love you, slaggit, and I want this."

Resonance took a step backwards. His field held an unmistakable NO.

Ratchet dropped his hands. The rejection hurt more than he would have expected. It wasn't about the interfacing so much as the fact that Resonance didn't want to find comfort in his arms. Ratchet said, sharply, "I need you too."

"I know," Resonance whispered, and then turned, and left.

Ratchet grabbed the first thing that came to hand -- a tub of citrus scented soap -- from the berthside table. He threw it hard against the wall, where it hit with a loud splat. "Damn him!"

In his anger, he was loud enough that whoever was in the next room shouted back, "Shut up! It's three in the morning!"

Pit, he needed a drink. Had there not been incoming wounded, he might have succumbed to the urge in that moment. Resonance would disapprove, but he seriously did not care what Resonance thought. The sparkling would not be harmed, he told himself, by one drink. And then he felt shame, at that thought, because it wouldn't be just one.

He wanted to chase after Res.

He heard the unmistakable deep roar of shuttle sized thrusters engaging. He couldn't follow, wherever Res was headed.

After a long moment of stewing in his anger, he stomped for the door. There were incoming wounded. He had a job to do.


 

Rung was working in the medical center when Ratchet arrived ten minutes later. Rung wasn't formally a medic, but he had a decent amount of medical knowledge, plus he was working as both chaplain and counselor for the troops. At the moment, though, all he was doing was sweeping the floor.

Ratchet's chaotic and angry field likely preceded him through the door since Rung was looking up when he entered, with optic ridges raised. "Ratchet, what happened?"

"Resonance," Ratchet growled. "He's being a complete glitch."

Ratchet didn't do shrinks himself, but he figured that Res needed one, so when Rung leaned the broom against the wall and headed for a private room with a beckoning wave, he followed. As soon as the door shut, Ratchet expressed his frustration by throwing his arms into the air, rolling his optics, and snapping, "Doc, you need to talk him."

Rung hitched himself up to sit on the edge of a desk. This put him just less than optic level with Ratchet. He said, "What happened?"

"You know the Matrix rejected him, correct?"

Rung nodded. "I am need to know. Prowl has asked me to counsel him. I've tried to get Resonance to come in to talk to me, but he says others need me more. I suspect Prowl will make counseling sessions mandatory for him, shortly."

"Slagging moron." Ratchet slapped a hand down on the top of a berth with a ringing clang of metal on metal. "He's all messed up in the head."

"Can you tell me about it, or is it private?"

"Oh, I'll tell." Ratchet growled.

Rung held up a hand to stop Ratchet. "Do not forget that he is your bondmate, and by definition, a bond is private. Do not tell me anything that he would consider confidential without very good reason. It will be of no benefit if he feels betrayed by you."

Ratchet snapped, "That's not a problem. He doesn't really confide in me the way a bondmate should. He keeps a block up all the time, except when he deliberately lowers it because he wants me to see something, or when he's extremely stressed and something slips."

Rung blinked. "I see. Was Optimus similar?"

"No. Optimus never blocked me out unless he was trying to avoid distraction. We were only bonded for eight days before ... but I don't think he ever would have blocked me the way Res does." It hurt to admit that. For the very first time, he let himself feel resentment.

"And I assume you block Resonance the same way he blocks you."

"No. I can't. My mind doesn't bend that way. I can put a block up temporarily, but the moment I'm distracted, it comes right back down. It's actually a hardware design issue, I think ..."

Rung nodded in comprehension; he knew more about processor design, and how it affected a mech's mental abilities, than anyone else alive. Ratchet, at least, knew enough to be aware that a flier's processor was designed for high level multi-tasking, and Resonance had some added upgrades that put him on par with most dedicated tacticians for the ability to do multiple mental tasks at once. Ratchet, by contrast, had been designed as a medic, which meant he was very good at doing one task at a time, and anything related to that task, but he couldn't dedicate multiple processing routines to various unrelated things. Keeping a block up and focusing on anything else was not a natural ability for him.

He continued, a bit sourly, "And Resonance can see all my thoughts, all my emotions. I wish he'd share more with me, since he sees everything I feel, but he doesn't."

"... Have you ever told him how this makes you feel?" Rung didn't have to be a trained shrink to read Ratchet's field and body language. Ratchet was more upset than he'd expected. His question, however, was all psychiatrist, and Ratchet gave him a suspicious look before continuing. He didn't need his head examined!

Reluctantly, he said, "I've never really thought about it that much. Besides, he knows how I feel. He knows everything about me." Ratchet folded his arms over his chest. "It normally isn't that big of an issue, but lately, I've been stressed, and he has ... unrealistic expectations. You need to talk to him about that, Rung. I don't hold it against him, but I am worried about him. I can't be everything he wants me to be."

"How are his expectations unrealistic?" Rung asked, lifting one optic ridge.

Ratchet sighed. His anger was fading as he talked. "He ... wants more support from me, he says. I think he wants me to help talk him through emotional problems, but I'm just not wired right to help people with mental issues. I have enough trouble with my own! Optimus understood this, and he didn't bond with me because he needed a shrink, he bonded with me because he loved me for who and what I am, and for my strengths."

Rung pinched the bridge of his nose. "Optimus was almost as old as you when you bonded, and he had a far different life than Resonance."

Ratchet nodded agreement. "I know, I've actually discussed this with Res."

"They are still more alike than different, by my observation."

"Yeah, I know -- Optimus could brood with the best of them. He had almighty guilt complex whenever things went badly -- I used to have to yell at him regularly about it because otherwise he'd obsess over the smallest things. They're both perfectionists, too."

The little psychiatrist frowned at Ratchet for a moment. "I expect Optimus got more out of those ... yelling sessions ... than you realize. Not many mecha dared speak crossly to him."

"Ironhide got in his face regularly," Ratchet said, because he didn't think his relationship with the Prime had been all that unique. "Jazz and Prowl didn't yell, exactly, but they certainly argued with him, and both were aware that he needed regular reality checks. And Ultra Magnus, too. Maggie knew Prime even longer than I did -- they came from the same batch of vatlings."

"They might have argued with him over points of policy, perhaps, or actions he needed to take, but your relationship with him was different. Between you and him, it was personal, correct?"

"Yeah." That was a difference -- Jazz and Prowl, collectively, fought over political policy or war plans with Prime, and Ironhide's usual disputes with Optimus involved the Prime's own safety. Ultra Magnus had been the one who enforced the need for protocol and procedure. Ratchet had been the one who had confronted Optimus whenever he got too emotionally glitchy -- a task the others had been glad to leave to him, and which he'd grumbled about and dealt with impatiently and with great irritation. However, he was the only mech who'd actually dared to confront Optimus when his brooding exceeded healthy levels.

There had been times that Ratchet had enjoyed giving the Prime a swift kick in the aft, too. Prime had a tendency to put himself up on a pedestal of self-sacrificing holier-than-thou sanctimony, and Ratchet had been delighted to knock that pedestal right out from under him. Optimus had been willing to carry the weight of the guilt of their entire species on his shoulders because the Matrix made him special; Ratchet had made an effort to remind him that he wasn't that special or that unique, and he was definitely both mortal and imperfect.

Ratchet knew damn well that Optimus had valued those arguments, too. He had often claimed 'I'm just a mech ... and you remind me of that. Regularly. And I have the dents to prove it.'

Rung, with a knowing look in his optic, observed, "And he knew you'd be there when he needed it. Even if you were busy for the moment, Optimus knew -- from very long experience experience as your friend -- that as soon as was feasible, you would make time for him, and get his head straightened out. Knowing you as well as I do, I expect you did the head-straightening at great volume and with some fury on your part, but that might have been what he needed. He also had a lifetime of experience in setting his own needs aside, including his psychological needs. All that added up to a mech who could wait to talk to you later. I believe you were his ... sounding board ... long before you ever bonded with him."

Ratchet grunted. "Yeah. Or as Carly would say, his clue bat."

"Res, now, is far younger than Prime. He might be an adult, but he's still very young. He doesn't have Optimus's life experience, but that doesn't mean he won't grow into someone just as remarkable. I've known Resonance his whole life, and he has always impressed me."

"I ... sometimes wonder if I did the wrong thing," Ratchet said, softly, "in ... pursuing a relationship with him."

Rung tilted his head sideways, then shook his head. "Only you two can answer that question. Do not let anyone else pass judgement on your relationship. And give yourself time -- your relationship with Optimus was established over eons; you have known Resonance a scant few months."

"Have I ever worried about what others think?" Ratchet rolled his optics. "No, it's not about public appearances. It's ..."

Rung held a hand up, stopping Ratchet. "You say you do not worry about what others think, yet I have seen you reluctant to appear in public because you were confined to a float chair, and I have seen you act defensively when your medical skills are challenged."

Ratchet rocked back on his heels and looked down his nasal ridge at Rung. "This is about Resonance, not me and my ... emotional inconsistencies." He didn't need counseling, and he resented Rung's clear attempt to provide it. He wasn't a fool. He knew what Rung was trying to do.

Rung flashed him a smile and held both hands up in surrender. "Of course. You want me to focus on helping Resonance. We can do that. I agree that Resonance needs counseling. However, I think he will do well -- He is empathetic, giving, and self-sacrificing to his very core, and at a spark deep level, he is also quite stable and quite self-aware. However, I think he also has never had to truly set his own needs aside for others, and while he consciously understands that he must do so, it is hard for him to adjust his expectations. Mentally, he gets it. Emotionally, it will take time."

Ratchet grunted.

"Is he actually asking you to sacrifice your duties?"

Ratchet sighed. "Not ... really. Not excessively. But I can tell what he wants."

Rung shrugged. "And you resent his desires because they conflict with your responsibilities?"

"Yeah, I suppose. A bit."

"And he knows that you resent him, because you aren't blocking him out. Do you want him listening in to your thoughts?"

Ratchet admitted, "No ... not all the time. I don't think it's healthy for him to sense my immediate reaction to everything. I can't help my emotional responses, sometimes. Just like I guess he can't help his."

Rung gave him a bright smile. "So tell him you don't want him listening in."

"He says he can't help it. That I'm really loud."

"... I see." Rung folded his arms across his chest. "He clearly has some powerful mental gifts. He needs to work on deliberately blocking you out except when he is actually invited to view your thoughts. I will discuss that with him, and other things. Meanwhile, I'm also going to give you a homework assignment."

"This isn't about me," Ratchet said, deeply suspicious. He didn't have time, and Rung was probably trying to counsel him too.

"Oh, this is all about Resonance. I want you to think up something special to do for him. He'll probably protest, but do it anyway."

He could do that. And that was for Resonance's benefit.

"Also, you need to work on your shields. That's also for Resonance's benefit. Right now, you have an imbalance in your bond, and it's not healthy."

"I'm not good at mental voodoo. I'm not built to be good at mind trick."

Rung said, "You don't need to be perfect, just better. Ask Jazz or Soundwave for help. Or Anodyne -- the kid's got an incredible amount of psionic talent for his age, and I suspect he's fully trained."

Ratchet nodded slowly. "I assume that Anodyne is very well trained, given the investment his creators made in his hardware and who is carrier is, though he's wary of discussing his abilities with anyone. Even me."

"You're his Amica, you should know more about what he can do." Rung pointed out.

"Yeah, I know, and I expect he'd tell me if I put him on the spot. I just ... I don't want to pry." Ratchet huffed. "It's his business."

"Well, it's his business until you need a trained telepath in the med bay," Rung pointed out. "Pit, Ratchet, there are times I could use someone with his gifts, if I'm not sure a mech's mental issues are hardware, psychological, or coding. A telepath can tell that kind of thing, and if he's got that kind of training, we ought to know."

"That reminds me -- he's apprenticed to me, and that is a bit of a conflict. Not as much as if he were a lover, but I don't like it."

"Have you considered reassigning him to First Aid?"

"I have," Ratchet rubbed his nasal arch with a finger and thumb. "But 'Aid's working on Cybertron more than Earth. There's ... reasons that are classified that they don't want me on Cybertron, Rung, good ones. Assigning him to 'Aid means that Anodyne would end up on Cybertron fairly frequently too, and he's a noncombatant. Worse, he's a noncombatant that people will mistake for a warrior because of his alt, his creators, and that damned sword he lugs around."

Rung rolled his optics behind his glasses, expressing his opinion of everything that Ratchet had just said. "He's worse than First Aid ever was, and for better reasons. Yes, I see your point. All I can say is that with our population this critically low, ethical compromises will need to be made. Train him. Do it as his friend as well as his mentor, and do it to the best of your abilities. And trust your spark, Ratchet. You're one of the most ethical mecha I know, when you put your mind to it."

The little mech then touched his fingers to his forehead in the universal sign for an incoming comm. "Ratchet, I have to go. They're bringing in a seeker who lost his trine. Let me know if you need any more help with Resonance, though. He's a good mech."


He was up to his elbows in the internals of the surviving seeker -- after Rung had installed restrictive psych coding to keep the seeker from suiciding from grief -- when Resonance pinged him to ask if he was available. At least it was a comm call, and not a far-more-distracting question over the bond. Belatedly he realized that Res, most likely, had been listening in to his chat with Rung.

:I'm very busy,: He replied, even as coolant spurted unexpectedly from a line and threatened to flood the mech's open spark chamber. Quickly, he worked to clamp it off. The seeker wasn't actually critical, but he was in the class of mecha who were critically needed for combat, and he was therefore a very high priority for repair.

:I know.: Resonance sounded contrite. :I'm about to go through the bridge. I just wanted to tell you I love you.:

He didn't have time to worry about Resonance. It seemed that they needed Res on Cybertron. He simply replied, :I love you too. Be careful.:

And then Resonance's presence in his spark was gone.

He couldn't think about it. He returned to his work.


 

He realized Resonance was in combat an hour later when sharp pain seared through a wing he didn't possess. At a distance of hundreds of light years their bond was attenuated, but certain things -- pain among them -- transmitted better than others. Ratchet was glad the surgery was done; he gasped aloud, dropped a spanner on the floor, and saw a fuzz of static across his vision.

Immediately, he pinged Prowl. :Something's gone wrong with Res!:

:Reports are coming through the bridge,: Prowl replied, calmly. :He's been wounded but he's still flightworthy; and he's continuing the mission.:

:Slag. It.:


:Ratchet, I don't have time. Block him out if you can. There's nothing you -- or I -- can do right now.:

He couldn't block the pain, but it faded on its own, and for lack of anything else to do, he picked the spanner back up and returned to examining patients.

 

Chapter Text

Ratchet was in surgery on a different mech when Resonance returned to Earth five hours later. He acknowledged Resonance with a quick pulse of affection and worry, but couldn't take his attention off the task at hand.

Perhaps he should not have been operating with his own bondmate in combat, but the patient had arrived in critical condition, bleeding out and with a cracked spark chamber, and nobody else had been available to help. First Aid and most of the techs were on Cybertron, Hook in a critical surgery of his own, and due to the damage to his spark chamber and subsequent radiation, the humans could not come near the patient. Despite the possibility of Ratchet's sudden collapse caused by damage to Res he'd been the best, and only, option.

An hour later, his patient was stable, and his spark chamber sealed. He let the humans take over the more mundane (and less radioactive) repairs to the mech's frame.

His stride lengthened as he headed for the emergency room where he knew that Resonance was waiting. Despite knowing the human techs had Resonance's repairs well in hand, he wanted to see Resonance with his own optics.

Res was seated on a gurney when he stepped through the doors. Several patients, recognizing Ratchet, shouted out for him, but Ratchet -- after a quick look to make sure nobody was in extreme distress -- ignored them. He hurried across the room and wrapped his arms around his bondmate, buried his face in Res's shoulder, and just held on for a moment.

"Ratch, I'm okay," Resonance said, softly.

"I know." Ratchet stepped back, then, and surveyed him. He had far too many dents and dings from flak, and a large and obvious hole through one wing. Ratchet could have put his fist through that wound with room to spare. Energon from a severed line dribbled from the wound, and puddled on the floor. By the stains on his frame, he'd been bleeding a lot worse earlier.

"It'll be a quick repair. I've had worse training with Starscream as a kid," Res assured him. "The humans can handle it."

"... I don't even want to know what Screamer did to you," Ratchet scanned the wound, confirming it was relatively minor. No major structures had been damaged and the severed energon line was already sealing itself. Somebody had already rewired some neural lines and scrubbed the dirt off the edges of the wound.

"Well, if he hadn't taught me to fly and fight with unexpected wounds and pain, I'd have been dead several times over during the last few weeks," Resonance shrugged. "Hard lessons, but good ones. I think they saved my life a few times."

He'd been unaware of those lessons: Either Resonance had been able to block pain better when he wasn't distracted by life-or-death combat, or their bond was strengthening due to proximity. He suspected a mix of both.

Ratchet reached up and pressed a hand to Resonance's face, and stroked the arch of his cheek with his thumb. "Res, I'm proud of you." He said, then looked away and dropped his hand, suddenly aware that they had an audience. The curtains were not drawn around Res's gurney, and dozens of curious human repair techs, patients, and the Cybertronian medical staffers were watching.

"... thanks." Resonance said, sounding a bit uncomfortable too. "Look, they're sending me back into the field as soon as that hole's fixed. I'm needed to drop troops behind enemy lines. Skyfire and Blast Off are both down with serious injuries. I ... love you, Ratchet."

"I know." He sighed through his vents. There was a lot he wanted to say, but now was not the time. "Res, I need to get back to work. I just needed to see you for a minute."

And with his words came the familiar flare of pain-hurt-longing-loneliness from Res.

~Damnit, Res!~ He snapped, ~People are wounded! Dying!~

~I know! Slag it, Ratchet, I'm not that selfish! Go! Save lives!~ Resonance planted a hand in the middle of his chest and pushed. Ratchet rocked back on his heels, shocked, and looked up at Resonance. It was his turn to feel hurt at Resonance literally shoving him away.

~Damnit, Ratchet, just go. Anodyne's here. He'll keep me company.~

Ratchet didn't like that much either; an unwarranted burst of jealousy filled his spark. He should be grateful that Anodyne could wait with him and keep him company, not jealous!

He looked around, though, in time to see Anodyne walking up with Skitter at his heels. Anodyne said something that Ratchet didn't catch, and Skitter cheerfully hopped up onto the gurney and made herself at home in Resonance's lap.

Res hugged the cybercat and then gripped Anodyne's hand in friendly greeting.

"Go," Resonance said, his spark feeling lighter now that his friends were here. "We'll talk later. I love you, Ratchet, and I know -- intellectually -- that others need you far more than I do."

Hesitantly, he took a step back, nodded once, then turned to go back to work. As he turned, he saw a blur of motion and heard screams of alarm. Anodyne, now behind him, shouted a warning that Ratchet didn't actually need.

He ducked as laser fire strafed across the room. Resonance's gurney went flying as the shuttle leaped off it and flattened him; Res's full weight drove him into the ground with painful force. The shot that had been aimed at his torso hit the gurney that Res had just been sitting on, and and continued through a wall. Screams of surprise and pain filled the air -- there was an operating theater just on the other side!

"Get off me!" Ratchet shouted, even as Resonance was already lunging to his feet. Together, Res and Anodyne, tackled a huge tank. As if they'd choreographed it ahead, Res went for the feet, and Anodyne, with his greater mass, grabbed the tank mech around the helm -- he had no neck to speak of -- and bore him to the ground. Weaponsfire from a very large cannon strafed the ceiling until Ratchet tackled the weapon-mounted arm and disabled the gun by plunging a laser scalpel into a critical power connection.

The mech screamed wordlessly, though, and thrashed. Resonance lost his grip on one leg, and it connected with First Aid with crippling force. Jazz's float chair shot into the room and Resonance rolled aside as Jazz dropped the full weight of the chair, and himself, onto the mech's legs. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough; the tank was fighting with the strength of ten mecha his size, and he kicked the float chair into the wall. It came to a rest on its side, and Jazz's furious swearing cut into the comm chatter.

Anodyne and Ratchet grappled for control, and Res rejoined them, then Hook and -- out of nowhere, and minus a hand -- Grimlock. It wasn't enough. The tank bucked and rolled, nearly fighting free. Frantically, Ratchet groped in his subspace and found a syringe of fast-acting sedative, but the mech was armored from head to toe, and there wasn't an obviously accessible line to inject it into.

The tank got an arm free, and lashed out, swinging a length of metal tank tread like a weapon. It caught somebody in the optics with a crunch of glass and shattering face plates. Swoop, Ratchet realized, as he identified the pain-filled voice and vocal patterns of the injured med tech.

And then ... the mech simply froze in place.

Ratchet looked up to see that Anodyne had both hands clamped on either side of the mech's helm and a curiously unfocused expression on his face. The tank was rigid, his back arched up off the ground, his mouth open in a rictus of a silent scream, his optics blazing a blue so fierce it was white.

Anodyne said, "He's been slave coded by the squids."

The young host's voice was quiet, but the emergency med bay was nearly silent. Except for Swoop's pained keening and the ticking of overheated metal, there was little noise. His words carried to every set of audio receptors in the room.

"Where's Jazz?!" Somebody -- one of the patients -- said.

:Right here,: Jazz replied, from beneath his toppled float chair. :Anodyne, ya know whatcha gotta do. Ah can't deploy my data connectors w' t' damage ah got, an' yer carrier's on Cybertron.:

Anodyne nodded grimly. "Ratchet, I'm going to hack him. If I let go he's going to try to kill us all again -- they sent him back as a trojan horse to try to take out the medical staff. Watch my back, will you?"

Without waiting for a response, Anodyne got to work. A whisper of shock rose from the room, from the multitude of mecha who feared telepaths, as Anodyne pressed his fingers a bit more firmly to the mech's helm.

Most mecha who were trained at hacking required cables. They needed an actual connection through a dataport. Anodyne didn't, and in fact didn't even need physical contact, though touching the mech did help center him. The fact that he didn't need to access a dataport made him that much creepier to the watching mecha.

Ratchet wondered if they should draw curtains around the scene. It was too late, though, to avoid this very visual demonstration of Anodyne's powers, and perhaps the unknown would be worse.

The tank twisted and thrashed, and cried out in wordless pain, then, rather than freezing, went limp. He still whimpered, though, and his field was full of agony and fear and confusion as it lashed through the crowded room.

Anodyne let go of his helm and slid backwards on the floor away from the tank until his back bumped up against a toppled gurney. He was still working, however, and this was a clear demonstration of his raw power. 'Dyne sat with his massive arms wrapped around his knees, optics focused on the motionless form of the mech, his expression intent. Once, he said aloud, "Slag it!" and the tank mech twisted in agony before slumping again to the ground.

It took a good fifteen minutes before the tank suddenly whispered, "... thank you," and his optics went dark.

Ratchet scanned him, fearful that Anodyne had lost the battle with alien code and that the mech had died. The squids were known to boobytrap their code, and later, he would learn that Anodyne had, in fact, defeated several traps to save the tank's life. He was pleased to find that the tank was in deep recharge and entering a defrag cycle.

Anodyne, looking like he needed considerable recharge himself, lurched to his feet. He said, "He'll live," and then promptly bent over a waste basket and purged.

Resonance ignored the shocked stares and growing whispers in the room and limped over to rest a hand on Anodyne's shoulder. "You did good, 'Dyne."

"... he didn't even need cables," somebody said, loud enough for the entire room. "Did you see what he did? He could do that to anyone!"

Resonance pinned the speaker with a hard blue gaze. "Shut the frag up, Tracks. If you recall, Anodyne was attacked by your youngling, and beaten nearly to death, and he didn't fight back with his psionic gifts then. I think he should have. It might have done Music some good to get his circuits reset by a pro."

Tracks started to open his mouth.

"And yeah, Music is yours too. You may have disowned him, but that just leaves Jazz with the full burden of dealing with that glitch."

"Res ..." Ratchet put a hand on his arm.

Across the room, Jazz opened a comm connection, which Ratchet could detect, but then closed it without a word.

Resonance shrugged Ratchet's hand off. To the room at large he said, slowly and with a tone that was more 'lecturing' than 'angry', "Anodyne has more integrity and courage and intelligence than anyone I know. I'm proud to call him my Amica and if anyone has a problem with him, they're going to need to come through me."

Ratchet grinned, mostly because Anodyne was looking up at Resonance like he'd never seen the shuttle before. "And me," Ratchet added. "He's a good mech and my Amica. He just saved Mortar's life, and he did it with no regard for what you lot would think."


 

Ratchet, unfortunately, was needed in the medical center for several more hours, and was not actually able to talk to Anodyne after the incident. Around midnight, he finally got ahead of the incoming casualties and was able to break away and see his bondmate.

Resonance met him at the door to their quarters, newly repaired wing still primer-grey. Ratchet pressed into his arms, then stretched up to kiss him, and only after he came up for air did he say, "I'm proud of you, today."

"I didn't think you wanted it publicly known, about me being your Amica," Anodyne said, from behind Resonance.

Res let Ratchet go, and Ratchet eyed Anodyne for a long moment, full of hesitation, before he finally hugged him too. Anodyne felt solid, with his familiar calm field, but there was a flicker of uncertainty there too.

"Bah," he said, into Anodyne's very sturdy shoulder. "I don't care what they think. You're my friend and I don't care who knows. I'm all out of fucks, as the humans would say. Nice going today, kid. I'm proud of you."

"Thank you," Anodyne said, squeezing him tightly before letting him go. And then, a bit uncertainly, he said, "Ratchet. I don't ... for obvious reasons, I don't have a lot of real world practice, but I've got the technical knowledge I need. Jazz says I'll be better than Soundwave with some practice. I just ... I just don't like talking about it. Or telling people."

"You were afraid we'd be scared of you if we knew you were a powerful telepath?" Ratchet snorted. "I already knew that, you stupid glitch. And I assumed you were trained, because I couldn't see that drone-sparked fragger of a carrier of yours not training you. I've been meaning to talk to you about it, but I've just been too damned busy."

"Only Ratchet could make 'stupid glitch' sound like an endearment," Resonance said, with a chuckle. "Anodyne, Jazz told me a long time ago that you had decent training. I knew too."

"... why did Jazz tell you? And how did he know?"

"Jazz told me because he wanted me to consider you for my ... for an advisor, and bodyguard, if I was ever Prime. Bodyguard, because you could stop psionic attacks. Advisor, because you can read mecha empathically. As for how he knew, he's Jazz."

"They were spying on me?" Resonance said, a bit suspiciously.

"Jazz spies on everyone." Ratchet shook his head. "But all hosts are telepathic to some degree. I'm sure Jazz came to the same conclusion I did, given your carrier, which was that you were trained, and heavily upgraded, to support the gift."

"Anyway, we knew," Resonance said. "We knew just how powerful you were likely to be -- that it wasn't just raw talent or a little training."

Anodyne's shoulders slumped in very visible relief. "You guys ... I don't even know what to say."

Resonance clapped him on the back. "Just say you'll watch out for Ratchet when I'm not here."

"Hey!" Ratchet protested, because he figured he could look out for himself.

"Of course I will." Anodyne said. Then he straightened up, and touched his helm with two fingers. "I'm being hailed -- I guess they need to debrief me."

"We'll talk later," Ratchet said, gripping his arm briefly as Anodyne walked past. "Watch your back, kiddo."

He was worried about Anodyne. Rumor would spread fast around the base, no matter how hard command tried to squelch it. Just the knowledge that Anodyne was a telepathic frametype had caused considerable trouble for him. Now that there was proof that he was dangerously skilled, there would be mecha who would never trust him.

"Always," Anodyne said, and flashed Ratchet a quick smile as he walked out the door.

Ratchet turned to Resonance, and said, "I'm scheduled for four hours of down time. I'm planning on spending at least one hour making you scream my name."

Resonance said with interest, "... Reallly?"

"Really." He advanced, hands reaching for Resonance's waist, fans spinning up in a blatant display of intent. He might not be able to spike his bondmate, but he fully intended to use his fingers and his mouth to bring Res to multiple overloads ... and his vivid imagination was likely providing Res with all sorts of images of what he had in mind.

"Oh, slag." Resonance made the same fingers-to-helm gesture that Anodyne had, a moment earlier. His lover gave him a rather strained smile. "I'm being summoned to ops for a mission briefing. Sorry, Ratchet ..."

"Slag it." Ratchet facepalmed. "Go. And be careful. I love you, Res."

Chapter Text

Ratchet couldn't recharge.

 

His quarters were dark, but not silent. Somewhere nearby, he could hear two mecha giggling despite the late hour -- Bluestreak, he identified, and Bluestreak's lover. Outside, a human vehicle with with a bad muffler drove by. A human yelled; Eject answered with a crude obscenity, then both laughed.

 

He wondered where Anodyne was sleeping. Had anyone thought to assign 'Dyne his own quarters? Was the kid safe?

 

He pinged Anodyne before he thought it through, then immediately regretted it. What if his Amica was asleep? Or still in a meeting?

 

:Yeah, Ratch?: Anodyne answered immediately.

 

:You done with that debriefing?:

 

:Yeah, Jazz did it. He's ... scary. Knew what I could do already; just asked about what I'd learned about the Quintesson code. You'll get a report in the morning on it.:

 

:Where are you recharging, kid?:

 

:I was keeping Jazz company at the med center, but he finally passed out a few minutes ago. I don't think he's recharging very well ... First Aid should be back from Cybertron soon, and I was going to ask him when he got out, see if I could crash on his floor:

 

:SLAG IT.:   Ratchet snapped into his comm.

 

:Sorry?:

 

:Not you, damnit. Me. And Res. We should have realized you had nowhere safe to go.:

 

:It's not a problem, you needed time alone. I don't even need empathy to see that you two are angsting at each other again.:

 

:Well, we didn't get that time together.: Ratchet practically growled. :They called Res to a briefing. He's headed for Cybertron in a few hours. So my floor's free, if you need it.:

 

:... Thanks.:

 

----

 

Ratchet gave Anodyne (and Skitter) the passcode to the room when he arrived, and said somewhat grumpily, "I will talk to command about getting you two your own quarters -- it's not appropriate for you to be bunking in the dorms. Somebody will hurt you sooner or later, that's just inevitable."

 

Anodyne nodded quietly, but Skitter said, "Thanks, Ratchet. 'Dyne picks up on everyone's emotions and we know that the grunts really don't like him."

 

"Some of them are okay," Anodyne said, mildly. "I've known most of the other younglings all my life. Some hate me, some ... tolerate me."

 

Skitter snorted. "And then there's your fragbuddies."

 

Anodyne shrugged easily at her. "I like interface."

 

"Yeah, but they don't really like you . And you know it. It's ... it's twisted."

 

Suddenly realizing that Ratchet was watching in appalled silence, host and symbiont both looked in his direction. Anodyne scratched his helm and said mildly, "I have ... buddies, and anyone else would call them friends, but ..." He looked sharply away from Ratchet. "I don't trust them, mostly because they're afraid of me. I don't think they like me all that much."

 

Ratchet grunted. "Welcome to the club. Not many mecha like me either, if you haven't noticed."

 

"That's not actually true," Anodyne said, slowly. "You're hard to get to know, Ratchet, and you keep a distance from everyone ... but mecha do like you. I don't think you see it, but you have friends."

 

He shrugged. "Maybe."

 

He sat down on the berth, and to his surprise, Skitter jumped into his lap. He sat there, hands raised, unsure if he should touch her or not. She was a fully sentient Cybertronian, adult, and he hadn't had nearly the contact with her that he had with Anodyne. He didn't know her all that well. On the other hand, from experience with symbionts over the years, he knew that most of them were very tactile in nature.

 

"I'm your friend," Skitter proclaimed, then turned around in his lap to present her serrated back plates to him. "Scratch, please."

 

Hesitantly, he reached down to do as she'd asked. She promptly relaxed into his touch, optics closing, and then slumped comically into his lap.

 

Anodyne grinned at his dumbfounded expression. "Skitter's liked you since the first time she met you, she was just never sure how to approach you."

 

He didn't know what to say to that. Fortunately, Anodyne didn't seem to expect an answer. He said, "If you don't mind, I'm going to crash out. Skit, you want to dock for the night?"

 

"Don't need to," she said. "Ratchet, don't stop scratching. That feels good ."

 

And that was how Ratchet ended up falling into recharge later with Skitter curled up on his chest.

 

-------------

 

Resonance was gone when he woke three hours later; he checked his messages, and found that Res hadn't left him a goodbye note. Somehow, he wasn't surprised. Something was ... wrong ... between them. It bothered him deeply, but he didn't know how to fix it.

 

--------------

 

There were no critical patients needing his immediate attention, and he needed a distraction, so Ratchet took the opportunity to do rounds of the medical facility.

 

The humans had built row after row of berths for the wounded, all in a vast hangar. Ratchet strode down the aisles, checking on his patients and reviewing the entire facility.

 

It was clean, efficiently designed, and packed with swarms of human repair techs. The humans sped about on float bikes, or clomped around in minibot sized exoframes. The latter reminding him of bad Cybertronian horror movies involving parasitic organics enslaving mecha -- a reaction he told himself firmly was irrational. It was logical for humans to extend their abilities with machinery; he was only surprised they used temporary exoframes and not permanent cybernetic enhancements.

 

He had to admit that the humans were doing a very good job repairing armor, exostructures, and on basic non-critical internal repairs. Without their help, the war would already have been lost.

 

He'd gotten a report indicating that humans would be fighting on Cybertron as soon as Iacon had cooled down enough. His first impulse was to think that humans were going to die in vast numbers. Optimus would have disapproved, in the extreme. However, Prowl was far more pragmatic, and while humans would die, the fiesty little human soldiers were tougher than they seemed, and Ratchet knew better than to underestimate them. Perhaps, with human help, they had a chance to save their world ... he couldn't help but hope, though his gut feeling was that it was a slim hope.

 

He wasn't a tactician, or even one of Prowl's advisors, however. So all he could do was his job, and let the military command do theirs.

 

He found Sunstreaker at the end of a row of convalescing mecha; Sunny's legs had been replaced, but he had severe protoform damage from the waist down. A quick check of the facility's medical records told Ratchet that it would be a few days before he would be released from the facility and a few weeks before he could go back into combat. The risk of further protoform necrosis was just too great.

 

Sideswipe, less severely injured, was already back on Cybertron.

 

"How ya doin', kiddo?" Ratchet stopped at his berthside.

 

"Ratchet!" Sunstreaker greeted him with a smile. "How are you and the big guy gettin' along?"

 

Most mecha did not actually know about Resonance's past life, or even that Ratchet was actually bonded to his young lover; Sideswipe, however, had figured it out. That meant Sunstreaker knew too.

 

Ratchet sighed. "He's off on Cybertron."

 

"... oh." Sunstreaker looked acutely disappointed and worried, and for a moment, Ratchet didn't understand why. Then Sunny said, "I really wish Optimus was here right now."

 

"Yeah, well, that isn't going to happen," Ratchet snapped. He suddenly understood that Sunstreaker was wondering why they didn't have a Prime yet.

 

Sunstreaker gave him a genuinely startled look.

 

Softer, Ratchet said, "... Optimus is not coming back."

 

"But ..."

 

"The details are classified, Sunny," Ratchet sighed. "But he's not coming back."

 

Sunstreaker shuttered his optics. "Oh."

 

"But," Ratchet said, "don't forget we have Prowl and Jazz in charge, and between the two of them, they can pull off some remarkable ..."

 

There was a sharp rumbling crack of sound. Ratchet reflexively hit the deck; so did any mobile Cybertronian and a few of the humans who recognized the sound of an explosion. The noise of a few hundred Cybertronians suddenly diving for cover on the concrete floor of the medical center was deafening. A few nanoclicks later, the hanger rattled noisily as a small blast wave rolled over it.

 

"What the slag?" Sunstreaker, who had rolled off his berth and landed next to Ratchet. He started to rise, somewhat slowly.

 

"You, stay ."

 

"Like slag I'm staying here!"

 

Ratchet swore at him in what he knew was a fruitless effort to keep Sunstreaker from rushing outside. All he could do was produce his own blaster from subspace, and then hurry out to get there first.

 

The explosion had come from the direction of the low slung concrete building that held the space bridge. He stared horrified disbelief for a long moment before throwing himself into a transformation and racing, lights and sirens on, in the direction of the growing fireball. His sensors assured him it wasn't nuclear; it was, however, slagging enormous.

 

He never made it.

 

One moment, he was pushing his power plant to the max to get their quickly. The next, a paroxysm of pain seized his spark and he had a nanoclick to scream in terror before darkness .

Chapter Text

"He'll live," were First Aid's first words to Anodyne, several hours later, when he emerged from surgery.

Anodyne let his shoulders slump with relief. He didn't think he'd ever forget the awful sight of his mentor and amica careening off the road and slamming into the side of a concrete culvert at well over a hundred miles an hour. Though he feared he knew the answer he asked anyway, "... What caused it?"

"The obvious, probably," First Aid looked -- and felt, to the empath -- exhausted. He leaned back against a wall, optics shuttering. "It wasn't another arc-out."

"Resonance?" Anodyne asked, fearfully. He had feared the worst since Ratchet had unexpectedly passed out en route to the explosion. He'd hit that wall with so much force that his structural injuries had been devastating. He'd been at the top of the list for immediate reconstructive surgery, both because he was needed as a surgeon and because they weren't certain his spark chamber would maintain integrity if they stored him in stasis for later repairs.

First Aid  said, to Anodyne's relief, "Resonance not dead. You know we can detect the bond on a scan, so we know his spark still lives. But Resonance is probably critically injured, and when he went into stasis lock, he took Ratchet down with him. Those two have a Pit of a strong bond."

"Slag." That was both good and bad news. Not dead meant there was still hope, but he was frightened for his friend.

"That's what I said," First Aid slumped a little heavier against the wall.

Anodyne could sense the exhaustion in the medic's field, even without his empathy. He said, "'Aid, if he's no longer critical, I can sit with Ratchet tonight. I'm off shift."

First Aid frowned at him, field clearly broadcasting a negative and emotions twisting towards anxiety and suspicion.

Anodyne had not even really considered that 'Aid would say no, but it seemed he was about to. Hastily, finding he desperately wanted to be there for the elder medic, he added, "He's my Amica!"

First Aid considered him for a long moment in silence, emotions suddenly heavy with mistrust and caution. 'Aid's optics narrowed over his blast mask before he finally asked, a bit sharply, "Ratchet's file does say you're his Amica. When did that happen?"

"Recently?" Anodyne said, then bit his lip when he realized his attempt at a guileless response sounded a bit too flippant.

"You've only known him a few months. You were -- are -- his student." First Aid's words were blunt, and his field flared with real irritation.

"We hit it off. However, Ratchet can't exactly reassign my training to another mech," Anodyne pointed out, as mildly as he could. He tried to modulate his field to be as unassuming as possible. This was dangerous territory to discuss; he had been made aware -- by Jazz -- that some mecha were accusing him of using telepathy to control Ratchet. Jazz had also added that, while Ratchet would be a relatively easy target to 'path, Resonance was not and Resonance would know if anyone messed with his bondmate's mind.

Jazz seemed to think that Resonance would be nearly impossible to permanently control with telepathy, and would be highly resistant to telepathic suggestion.

"There are other medics who could take your training on." First Aid's optics were still narrow with suspicion.

"You're on Cybertron most of the time, and all of the other medical personnel opposed my training in the first place." He shrugged. That was true.

"How did you know about that?" First Aid demanded. "That meeting should have been held in confidence!"

The unspoken implication was that he'd read somebody's mind.

Anodyne shrugged. "I drew a logical conclusion. I can sense everyone's opinion of me and I'm not exactly stupid. They don't trust me. You don't trust me."

"I ... also opposed your selection." First Aid admitted. His field softened and he looked away. "Though since I've seen how quickly you learn, and how hard you work and ... that demonstration of your skill in the med bay ... I do understand Ratchet's choice in choosing you to train. It still seems a conflict of interest for you to be amica and apprentice and mentor, however."

Anodyne wasn't surprised by this revelation. He had simply been trying to save First Aid some face. Now, he held his hands out, palm up. "I ... understand. It is a recent development and perhaps as soon as things settle down I can be reassigned to someone. I just don't know who -- all are suspicious of me except for Ratchet. That includes you."

First Aid started to object, perhaps to the implication that he had unwarranted fear of telepaths. Anodyne added, voice rising a bit, as sudden anger surged in his spark, "I have practiced and perfected my skills only with willing volunteers, 'Aid. I've never done anything morally questionable with my skills, and never will. I've practiced with symbionts of my clan and my own carrier and sire, and with Blaster and his symbionts! I vowed, even as a child, to do nothing which would harm another mech. Yesterday was the very first time I ever used my gift on an unwilling subject and it was to save his life and ours!"

"The tank --" FIrst Aid's field was unreadable, but he added, "He's a good mech, you know."

Anodyne sighed, deeply, and informed First Aid, "He's actually been an aft to me my whole life. We're within a solar year of each other in age, grew up together. His sire -- Brawl -- never liked my sire, and encouraged Mortar to bully me and my siblings. But I couldn't let him die. Or hurt someone else!"

First Aid blinked. "I was unaware that you were being bullied. Somebody should have done something ..."

Anodyne replied, "...  and done what? Changed the way mecha feel? Soundwave was hated and feared as a Decepticon, and likely for good reason. We are his children, and both I and my younger siblings have psionic spark gifts, augmented by processor mods."

"You should not be punished for the sins of your carrier! Allowing others, encouraging others, to bully you ... that's wrong!" And there was the idealistic mech that Anodyne knew First Aid to be. He sounded genuinely indignant on Anodyne's behalf.

Anodyne smiled faintly. "Is bullying me more or less wrong than denying me opportunities because of my spark gifts, and my mods? In truth, denying me the opportunities that others would easily be granted were to have my intelligence and work ethic is no better than bullying."

First Aid's field flared like he wanted to object, but he said nothing. He was looking at Anodyne very warily, however.

"'Aid, I have the best test scores, best grades, and the highest processor rating of any of the younglings of my generation. Were I anyone else, there would be no question of granting me my chosen course of study."

First Aid's spark was filling with sudden, dawning, dismay.

"And, as far as my telepathic abilities are concerned -- I suspect my ethics are similar to yours, First Aid, in that I chose not to cause any mecha harm, regardless of the circumstances. I feel it's wrong to take any action that harms another. I could have stopped Music from assaulting me in a few nanoclicks. I didn't, because I categorically refuse to use my gifts in such a way."

The dismay in First Aid's spark changed to something near horror, along with a deep sense of embarrassment. Anodyne suspected First Aid had just realized how much he'd betrayed his own beliefs about the equality of all mecha. "I'm ... sorry," the young physician said, "You are correct. You were the most qualified."

Anodyne replied, meeting First Aid's gaze firmly, "And thus, you understand why I am Amica with Ratchet. Ratchet -- and Resonance -- have never doubted me. Ratchet singled me out to become his apprentice based on my test scores and aptitude. I've never felt one bit of fear or mistrust from him. He sees me for who I am, and he calls me Amica, and First Aid, I'd simply like to sit with him until he regains consciousness. I am off shift for the next twenty-four hours."

First Aid reached out, suddenly, and drew a rather startled Anodyne into a hug. "I'm sorry, kid," he said, voice very soft. "It's just that Ratchet is my mentor, too, and someone I care deeply about, and I love him."

"Oh."

"And ... and ... Wheeljack raised me, which means Resonance is effectively my little brother. I was also Res's primary physician when he was little. I'm protective of both of them, I can't help it."

"You thought I would hurt them?"

"I ... didn't know what to think. I know that two of them didn't actually chose to be bonded, and you're the sort of mech that Res is attracted to. He likes big boys. So did Optimus. And Ratchet, for that matter." First Aid said, with a low chuckle. "And just so you know, among the senior staff, it's not just your telepathy that makes people hesitate. You remind more than a few mecha of Megatron, believe it or not, and everyone knew Optimus and Megatron were involved, at one point, before the war."

"... Me?" It was Anodyne's turn to laugh, in rapid and surprised denial. How had it been so obvious? And Optimus and Megatron had been involved? He'd missed that juicy tidbit in his history lessons! That shed a whole new light on their easy friendship -- it was said that sparks knew one another, regardless of memories storied in the processor. Hastily, he added, "I'm a pacifist! I'm nothing like Megatron."

"Megatron," First Aid said, with a roll of his optics, "was an idealistic slagger who refused to compromise on his beliefs. And you move like him when you're sparring with Res. That much is obvious even to me."

"Megatron wasn't a host. Or an empath!"

First Aid gave him a long, measuring, look. His spark was clearly full of conflict, and no small amount of irritation, but his words were steady when he said,  "Megatron could have been many things besides warlord, gladiator and miner, if fate had allowed it. Be glad you were created in this time, kid. You have many luxuries that mecha of his generation never did -- including the luxury of being able to dream idealistic dreams."

He did n't know what to say to that.

"Go, sit with Ratchet. Comm me -- and Jazz -- if he wakes up."

-----

Anodyne sat in a too-small chair beside Ratchet's medical berth, and tried to focus on the datapad in his hand rather than his dual worries about Ratchet and about his own secret identity. The datapad, from Perceptor, was actually fairly interesting and he attempted to put his full attention on it.

Most of what Perceptor had rescued from the flames of Iacon were esoteric, complicated treatises on rare specialties or forgotten information from the golden age's most cutting edge research. Much of it was beyond him. Some was written in glyphs he couldn't even read.

Among the files, however, had been a few volumes aimed at first responders. They were training texts aimed at the Cybertronian equivalent of paramedics, and he was finding the information in the first volume invaluable.

He needed every byte of data he could memorize if he wanted to be useful to the medical staff.

Despite the size of the medical center, they still didn't have enough room to give Ratchet a truly private room. They had hung up curtains between berths, but the curtains were open at the end facing the aisle. Repeatedly, he was distracted from his study by passing people: patients, the handful of Cybertronian medical staff, and swarms of humans zipping about on float bikes or hurrying past on foot or lumbering in bulky exoskeleltons.

Too, there was the oppressive atmosphere of the facility. Anodyne's psionic gifts were so powerful that he could not block the awareness of others entirely. There was pain in the air, and anxiety, and grief; anger, fear, and desolation.

When Wheeljack padded by, he exuded an air of absolute black depression.

Anodyne, startled by the level of Wheeljack's foul mood, said, "Jacky."

The engineer turned sharply at his name, spotted Anodyne, then lowered his gaze to Ratchet in the berth. Wheeljack was silent, and gloomy.

"Res is still alive, you know."  Anodyne said this tentatively. Where there was life, there was hope, Anodyne figured, but Wheeljack knew this as well as anyone else.

Wheeljack entered the cubicle, and regarded Anodyne with a flat gaze for a long moment. "Quints have him."

"... oh." He figured there was still hope, but that confirmation of their worst fears explained Wheeljack's bleak mood.

"That explosion was a suicide bomber, trying to take out the gate. Didn't work," Wheeljack explained, "because we had blast baffles up between the event horizon and the mechanical works. Killed a bunch of mecha and a few hundred humans, didn't destroy the gate."

"The bomber was coded."

Wheeljack grunted, "Yeah."

He'd just untangled a slave-coded mecha's processor. If Res was slave coded, Anodyne figured they could fix him. They just needed to capture him, and hold him still long enough for Anodyne to work. Wheeljack surely understood that, so Anodyne didn't say anything.

Wheeljack just stood there, arms folded across his chest, and staring at Ratchet's still form. "Doc looks like slag."

"He'll live," Anodyne said, softly.

"Res told me you were their Amica."

He nodded. It still felt unreal to Anodyne, but he was determined to live up to the responsibility. An outsider all of his life, he had resigned himself to never having that kind of a relationship with anyone. To have Ratchet and Resonance as his Amicas was beyond anything he'd ever dreamed of.

"Hnh. Doc's an independent old glitch. Hope he lives up to your expectations."

Anodyne was surprised by that sentiment. "He's Ratchet. Why wouldn't he?"

Wheeljack just grunted again, spark flaring with horribly bleak distress. Anodyne rose, and padded across the room, and pulled the old engineer into a hug.

Jacky was of the old school of mecha, the ones who had worked with psionically gifted soldiers (including Blaster) during the war. He'd never been afraid of Anodyne; now, he returned the hug tightly for a brief moment. Then he stepped back, and said, "Whatever happens, take care of Ratch, will you?"

"Of course I will."

Wheeljack nodded, then sighed, shoulders slumping. "Talk to you later, kid."

He left, and Anodyne tried without much success to return to his studies.

---

Chapter Text

Anodyne was trying, with difficulty, to focus on a chapter of a manual entitled, Methods for field-expedient catalytic bypass. 'Methods' ranged from quick and dirty surgery to remove the organ in question to actually ramming a pry bar right through it. A catalytic converter wasn't actually critical to survival, but the effect of removing it was that the mech then had socially unacceptable levels of exhaust -- and Cybertronians viewed excessive fumes the same way that humans viewed farts.

Smelling exhaust vapors, however, was preferable to a mech dying from an inoperable power plant, so if a catalytic converter was damaged in combat (usually by a crushing injury) it was necessary to bypass it. One way or another.

He had a 3D representation a typical convoy class mech's exhaust system pulled up and floating in the air over the data pad, and was tracing possible surgical routes to access the catalytic converter with a finger. The pad's text indicated he could go in below the scapula, or if the mech's scapula was too large, he should be able to get to the exhaust system by an abdominal route that would require removing the fuel tank.

"You'll find the most common injuries involving the cat in grounders happen when the mech is in root mode. Usually an IUD tears up their undercarriage. As long as they're still in root, or they can transform, just flip them upside down and take it out when they're in vehicle mode."

Startled, he jerked his head up at Ratchet's voice. "Ratchet!"

Ratchet, optics now lit and head raised from the berth to look at Anbodyne, asked softly, "Did I arc out again?"

"No! No -- can't you tell ... can you tell anything about Resonance?" He rose, shutting off the pad.

Ratchet, who had been propped up on one elbow, slumped back in the berth as comprehension filled his spark with dread. He asked in a low voice, "How bad is he?"

"We don't know. He's captured." Anodyne just wanted to hug Ratchet, but knew there was little comfort he could really offer. Besides, prickly as Ratchet could be, he might just shove Anodyne away.

Ratchet's reaction was a single expletive of human origin, and then he tried to sit up. Anodyne scrambled to his feet, subspaced the datapad, and after briefly considering and dismissing the idea of holding Ratchet down, offered him a hand up. Restraining Ratchet would only result in a fight, and was not medically necessary. He helped Ratchet into a sitting position, even as he pinged First Aid.

"Help me up."

"Ratchet, no." Anodyne crouched, and looked Ratchet in the eyes. "Resonance is on Cybertron. You cannot do anything to help him."

"I know that," Ratchet ground out. "I'm not a combatant. What I can do is go through the gate and talk to him." He paused, then asked plaintively, "Please tell me the gate wasn't damaged ...?"

"It's still functioning."

At that moment, he got a ping from Jazz. Anodyne rested a hand on Ratchet's shoulder in a gesture of comfort, tapped his helm with a finger on his other hand, and then answered, :Anodyne here. What's up, Jazz?:

:We need Ratchet on Cybertron immediately.:

:Is it urgent? Ratchet just woke up.:

:Is he medically stable?: Jazz's response was terse.

:Yeah, probably.:

:Then quit trying to stop him. It's futile anyway. Just give him a lift.:

:Jazz, he just woke up ...: Anodyne didn't want to let the battered, badly damaged Ratchet out of bed, much less out of the medical facility. He was probably stable, but even Anodyne knew that he should be under medical observation for a few days.

:I'll run interference for you with First Aid.:

:He can't transform. I'm not even sure he can walk.:

Ratchet promptly proved he could walk by heaving himself to his feet, and grabbing Anodyne's arm for support. And Jazz proved he had the medical center cameras hacked by saying, :He can walk, I see. Doc's a tough old 'bot. Anodyne, I need both of you on Cybertron for a bit. Go. And ... take care of him for me, will you? :

Anodyne huffed aloud, just as First Aid entered. 'Aid rolled his optics when he saw Ratchet on his feet, then quickly scanned him, even as Ratchet started shuffling towards the door. First Aid said, "Anodyne, he's stable. The sparkling's stable too. I'll leave it to you to bang the dents out of his armor. He'll need some of his sensors and nerve wires replaced -- he can walk you through doing it. Ratchet, I will send over some supplemented energon -- Anodyne, make sure he fuels properly, because he can't support the sparkling's growth and his autorepair without both."

Ratchet said, "First Aid, thank you. Anodyne, give me a lift, will you?"




Ratchet hurt, but the pain was a distant reality compared to the crushing anxiety in his spark. Resonance. Something bad had happened to Resonance, and now the Quintessons had him ...

Anodyne trundled towards the bridge, treads humming loudly on the asphalt road. His alt mode was frustratingly slow; he had been designed to be powerful and rugged, not fast. Ratchet, seated in the gunner's chair on Anodyne's deck, couldn't help but think that his apprentice's alt mode would be practical for transporting wounded mecha ... with some modifications. Anodyne's suspension was non-existent. The personnel carrier rattled over a speed bump going into the bridge complex's parking lot, jarring Ratchet's injuries painfully.

"Sorry," Anodyne said -- no doubt he'd felt the flare of pain from Ratchet.

"Thanks for the lift." Ratchet replied, as he painfully climbed down the ladder.

Anodyne dwarfed the small human-made vehicles all around them. He transformed, sub-spacing a good chunk of his mass as he did, and then offered Ratchet his arm.

Ratchet almost refused on principal, but then thought twice, and took the offered support. He hurt; he still had some damaged hydraulics in his back, and every joint in his frame was out of alignment. Anodyne was solid, steady, and strong.

Slower than he would have liked, and clinging to Anodyne's arm, Ratchet limped towards the gate.

Evidence of the earlier explosion was there, in the form of piles of mangled debris and a sharp smell in the air. Inferno, datapad in hand, and field dull with exhaustion, appeared to be taking measurements. Bulkhead and Wheeljack were excavating a trench; Ratchet wasn't sure if they were installing improved blast protection or accessing damaged infrastructure.

"How many did we lose?" Ratchet asked, as the thought occurred to him for the first time. That he hadn't thought about it immediately rattled him -- he'd been single-mindedly focused on Resonance. Pit. His responsibility was to his patients, and this wasn't the first time he'd been injured during a crisis. Always before, he'd woken up demanding data and agitating to get back to work.

The thought triggered his hard coding and he almost turned around and headed back to the base.

"Woah, doc." Anodyne put his arm around his shoulder in a sideways hug that also steered Ratchet on towards the gate and Cybertron beyond, "'Aid's got it under control. Your job is to help Res right now."

"Res is one mech," he ground out, and it was the truth. His duty was to do the greatest good, not go haring off on some wild and crazy mission to save his bondmate. The life of one mech never outweighed the lives of many. Plus he had the Matrix in his chest, and he was carrying a sparkling (who was currently so distressed she was frozen with fear and misery, not even moving in his spark chamber).

He could not justify his actions; he could not go to Cybertron.

He had to go. Resonance was there.

"It's not just Res," Anodyne steered him towards the gate. The bigger mech's voice was calm and sure. "Going is the right thing to do. You won't be allowed to go on any actual missions, but I'm sure they need you to talk to Res to find out more about the situation with the captured mecha. And I bet Res would like to hear from you."

That settled the conflict in his code. He hurried again, as fast as his painful strides could carry him, towards the gate. They did need to know,.

Res could, Ratchet realized, be coded and directed to attack his own people. Resonance was large and heavily armed and could do a pitload of damage before he was stopped. Res might also know who had been captured -- in the chaos of the nuclear attack and subsequent fighting, it wasn't clear who was dead, who was still laying wounding somewhere, and who was captured.

Res might have critical information on the enemy, too: Quint numbers, plans, tactics.

WIth a shudder that rattled his plating, Ratchet fought his core programming and eons of ingrained conditioning and moral imperatives that all told him he needed to go fix people to a standstill. He then said darkly, "Let's go, 'Dyne. Let's see if he's even still Resonance."




As soon as Ratchet crossed the event horizon, Res's emotions sent Ratchet reeling. He staggered, and only Anodyne's arm around his shoulders kept him from collapsing. The big mech pulled him tight against his chest, field solid and stable, and Ratchet found himself unashamedly clinging to Anodyne's armor.

Terror, the kind of fear that promised imminent death and no hope of salvation. Terror, not just for himself, but for others. For Ratchet.

Agony. Strut-searing blinding pain.

Fury -- a righteous rage he recognized.

:Resonance!: he howled across the link, only dimly aware as Anodyne simply picked him up and carried him further into the base. :Resonance!:

Resonance didn't answer with words, but rather with images and impressions. He was strapped to a table, and could only see a bright light overhead and the occasional movement of a sucker-laden tentacle.

And, pain. Violation. Fear. Apprehension.

His chest plates were torn open, the latches cut through and the hinges shattered.

Ratchet screamed at that realization, screamed aloud, and Anodyne's arms tightened about him and pulled him close. That was his only awareness of the outside world -- Anodyne, protective and gentle, surrounding him with a field full of competent, anchoring, calm. Ratchet had no idea where he was, didn't care, couldn't think of anything else, but he knew he was safe, and that let him focus on Resonance.

:Resonance! Listen to me!:

Resonance responded with awareness and horror that Ratchet was there, but not words, and now Ratchet realized that his helm was cut open, without a sedative, without even a local anesthetic, and even as he tried to struggle he could feel the tug and pull of cables attached to his very processor. He was scared to fight too hard, for fear he would damage himself.

Damage himself further.

Resonance couldn't think straight, but he could fear.

:I love you!: Ratchet shouted across the bond, with every bit of energy he had. :I. LOVE. YOU.:

:Ratchet ...!: That got a response, and an acknowledgement. :I know. I know you love me. I don't want to leave you, or our child.:

Resonance thought he was going to die, Ratchet realized.

:They're going to slave code you, Res. They won't kill you.: Ratchet said this firmly. :Slave coding is reversible. Whatever it makes you do is not your fault, and it is reversible. We'll get you back and we'll save you ...:

:... I'm sorry, you'll have to raise our child alone, they're going to kill me ... I'm sorry, I'm sorry ...:

Resonance sounded so sure, and so terrified, that Ratchet could only offer words that might bring some comfort. :Anodyne is our Amica. I won't be raising the kid alone. But we will get you BACK.:

:Anodyne! Anodyne is with you even now! You won't be alone...: Resonance fixed on that with a sense of fierce relief, even as new pain tore through his chest. They were prying open his very spark chamber, Ratchet realized, with a cold chill of his own fear. There was basically no reason for the Quintessons to do that except for the purpose of execution. Though why, he wondered, were they dragging it out? Why not just shoot him through the chest with a plasma rifle instead of prolonging it by cutting him to pieces first before destroying his spark chamber?

:... I didn't dodge fast enough, they shot me down, my fault, I'm sorry ...:

:I LOVE YOU!:  Ratchet screamed across the bond as, through Resonance's optics, he watched a sharp, spiky tool descend from the brilliant light above them. Tentacles moved in his vision. He caught a glimpse of an eyeball on a stalk, and could smell the sharp salty tang of Quintesson ...

Resonance screamed in agony like Ratchet had never felt before, and the agony went on and on and on and enveloped his own spark and on and on .... they shared the pain, both of them howling in agony .... why, why? Why do it this way? Why not just shoot him and be done with it?

... And then, nothing.

Nothing at all.

No Resonance in his spark.

An awful abyss, black and cold, empty, and yet somehow achingly painful.

The bond was gone. Resonance was gone.

He didn't want to live without Resonance.

Resonance-Optimus (for at spark, they were the same) would be alone in the Well.

He wanted ... he wanted his bondmate to be not-alone. He wanted to go to him, to hold him, to love him, and to be at peace together.

He had never done enough for Resonance. He had neglected him for a vorn, refusing to even look at his images as a youngling. He had tried to pretend he didn't exist. And then when Resonance had finally broken through his resistance and he had fallen in love again with the spark who was Resonance-Optimus and the sparkmate he loved with everything he had in him, to the core of his being ... he hadn't done enough. Resonance had needed him; he had turned away. Repeatedly.

He could make all the excuses in the universe, but the fact remained that he had not done enough.

He wanted to follow. To make it up to Resonance-Optimus, to the spark that would go to the Well, to the spark that he loved regardless of incarnation.

:No, Ratchet.: A gentle voice said in his mind. :You cannot follow him.:

:Revenge,: his spark whispered. He wanted to stay for that. To kill Quintessans, who had attacked an entire planet without provocation and tortured Resonance for no reason.

The gentle voice seemed to surround his awareness, even as the mech who spoke so kindly reached into his very memories and forced him to look. That voice was strong, calm, and full of unshakeable confidence. :Ratchet.: You are carrying a sparkling. And ... we need you.:

Full stop, he could not follow Resonance. Not while he carried. He had, very briefly, forgotten about her, and now he felt horribly selfish for having done so. His sparkling was terrified, too; she'd felt everything he had, and had only emotional awareness of the word, not sentient thought. She couldn't understand anything save that she had felt pain and now he was terribly distraught.

Patiently, the gentle presence in his mind continued, pulling up images, and memories.

His patients. A med bay full of patients.

He was reminded of the triumph he felt when he saved a life, of the joy on the faces of others when he saved their loved ones. Of all the mecha, now living, who lived because he had saved their lives.

His coding and his spark rallied. He had a duty and a responsibility to heal them, for they were critically short of medics and no one alive had his skill as a trauma surgeon. He had a life to live, and it was -- the Other reminded him -- not disloyal to Resonance to feel pride and joy and enjoyment of life when he fulfilled his function. Resonance-Optimus would be waiting for him someday, but until then ...

He. Had. Duty.

Duty.

Duty.

A duty he enjoyed, and which filled his spark with joy and pride, for all the grief and sorrow that went with it.

:Rest, for now. I will be here when you wake.: The mech in his processor triggered a recharge cycle, and Ratchet knew only darkness for a long while.

Chapter Text


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.

His patients!

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.

"Yes!"

"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."

He looked.

"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."

----------

Chapter Text


Anodyne walked him back to his quarters without a word, though his field was full of sorrow and worry.  Only when they were back within the confines of the small room did Ratchet slump to the berth and say, "I don't even know what to do with myself."

He wouldn't have admitted that to anyone else, but Anodyne was different.

Anodyne crouched, and met his gaze. "Ratch, you'll be back at work fairly soon. They can't spare you forever. There's currently a lull in the fighting, though, so they can give you some time to recover."

"Anodyne ..." Ratchet stopped, not even sure about what he wanted to say.

"Shh, Ratchet. You don't need to apologize. I can already feel that you are sorry for what you did and said earlier."

He looked sharply away, no longer able to meet that kind gaze. However, he realized that he had been thinking about an apology.

"Ratchet, I am going to be around for you. I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me. But .... I won't be here as often as I'd like. They are using me quite a bit to scan mechs for slave coding. My carrier and Blaster and I are taking shifts." Anodyne frowned. "And Jazz needs an attendant at all times, so sometimes they assign me that duty, when they require someone with my level of security clearance."

He would be all alone ... he didn't think he could bear the silence.

Anodyne's chest plates shifted open; he deployed Skitter with a quick clatter of gears. Skitter transformed in mid-air, landed on her feet, and promptly leaped up into Ratchet's arms.

He caught her in mid-air out of sheer reflex, and she snuggled into his arms. He held her stiffly, unsure what he was supposed to do with an armful of cybercat.

"Skit will stay with you when I'm not here." Anodyne smiled at his symbiont, who nodded firmly.

"I don't need a babysitter!"

Anodyne just looked at him. "You can insult me, but don't insult Skitter. She likes you, and she's not nearly as tough as I am."




True to his word, when Ratchet woke the next morning he found a message in his queue from Anodyne. 'Dyne had been called off to 'path some incoming soldiers.

Skitter was sprawled on the bedside table, head on her paws.

"So ..." he wasn't sure what to say to her. Despite his friendship with Anodyne, he just hadn't had much to do with Skitter. 'Dyne and the cybercat were bondmates, but she'd often only returned to Anodyne to recharge. When she was around, she frequently had her nose in a book in some out of the way corner of the room. For lack of anything else to say to her he said, "How are your repairs holding up?"

She blinked at him, and for a moment he thought she was going to pull a Ravage and pretend to be mute. "I'm fine," she said, after a moment, "and Anodyne reminds you that you are not to be doing medical stuff until cleared by the base psychologist."

"I was just asking," he grumped at her, and then just to be contrary, scanned her. He scowled, "You have a few unhealed microfractures of your struts."

One good blow and her pelvic girdle would shatter. He recalled she'd had a wall fall on her when Iacon had been leveled.

"Which is why I'm on medical leave still," she replied, calmly. She shared Anodyne's unflappable disposition. "I am not considered critical to the war effort, so we cannot spare the resources to repair damage that will correct itself with time."

True enough. The repairs would be easy to make, however -- he could do it in his quarters. He had a nanowelder in his subspace, and a couple vials of local anesthetic ...

"Ratchet," she said, sitting up, "No. I don't have to be 'Dyne to know what you're thinking.”

Petulantly, he said, "You wouldn't even trust me to fix you?"

"It's not about trust, it's about rules." She stretched, moving with fluid grace that showed she was not in any actual pain. "I'm on restricted activity too, which means I can't go for a run. Why don't we go for a drive?"

He didn't want to, not least of all because people would see him away from the medical center and wonder why he wasn't doing his primary duty. None of the other medics were able to take any free time for themselves, so if they saw him going for a pleasure drive they would -- he told himself -- know he was on a psych leave.

Shame filled his spark. He should be stronger.

"No," he said, shortly.

She frowned at him. "Okay, then, let's go to the commissary, at least. I'm craving energon goodies."

"No!" That would be worse. To be seen goofing off, buying frivolous things, when he should be working?

She sat down on her haunches and regarded him with a scowl. Her field was very hard to read, even allowing for how tiny she was. Then she sighed. "Anodyne says you're probably worried about what people will think of you."

"No!" He denied that a bit desperately. "I don't give a damn."

"Bullshit." The human profanity came easily from her vocalizer. "Don't you care what Anodyne and I think? Because I think you're being a weenie, and Anodyne is angry that you're not willing to go places with me. He's trusting you to take care of me and expecting me to sit in your quarters all day is not nice."

He bristled. He was not a coward. And he wasn't being deliberately mean to her!

"Anodyne says our opinions should matter more than other people's," she added.

He wanted to snap that she wasn't his friend, but that wasn't fair to Anodyne -- or to her. He huffed a sigh, reminded himself that he was old and cranky and didn't give a damn what most people thought. In his entire life, he'd only really respected a few mecha -- Optimus, foremost among them -- and only their opinions should matter.

He missed his bondmate so badly. Grief suddenly welled up, so sharp that he very nearly cried aloud. His spark hurt.

His sparkling, who had been very quiet, suddenly flared into his awareness with a fierce spike of anxiety.

"Ratchet?" Skitter said, and then suddenly jumped into his arms. He caught her reflexively, and her field was full of comfort and sorrow, and he couldn't help but hold her close. She was small, and warm, and relatively innocent in her youth, and he found himself wanting to cling to that.

He wanted ... he wanted to make her happy. He didn't want to see her upset, or bored, or lonely. She was, he realized, probably chafing at her own medical restrictions.

"C'mon, kid," he said, finally, heading for the door. "What do you like to do for fun?"

Chapter Text

It turned out that Skitter liked to go to the beach, and so they did.

Ratchet sat on the shore, aft in the sand, and watched the young cybercat play in the shallow, warm water. The waves were gentle, and the sea birds loud, and it was nothing at all like his run-down warehouse on the shore of the Sea of Rust.

Still, he couldn't help but recall the utter loneliness and misery of that time. He'd had no one -- not Resonance, not Optimus, no friends. He'd wanted to be alone, because he couldn't bear the company of others. They might have seen how ... inadequate, a failure, a loser ... he was. Easier, less painful, to be alone.

Now, he suspected if he tried to isolate himself Anodyne would scruff him and drag him back by brute force.

He wondered what it would take to make Anodyne go away and then concluded there was likely nothing he was willing to do that would drive the host off.  There was that, at least, though now he had to worry about living up to Anodyne's expectations and being the Amica that 'Dyne deserved.

Being a drunken hermit in the middle of nowhere was much easier, but it held little appeal now. He'd miss Anodyne too much. Somehow, Anodyne had become the Amica he'd always wanted.

"You look like you're thinking deep thoughts, doc," Skitter said. She flopped in the sand beside him. "Resonance was a good mech. He took me flying with him a few times -- I love flight, and it was so kind of him to do."

"I miss him," he said, softly.

"You always will, I expect." Skitter rested her chin on his thigh and looked up at him. "But he'll wait for you in the Well, and until then, there's nothing wrong with letting yourself enjoy life."

"I wasn't actually thinking about Res," he admitted. "I was thinking about your boss."

Her head came up. She demanded, "Who?"

"Anodyne."

She corrected swiftly and a bit sharply, "He's not my boss."

Every other symbiont he'd known had referred to their host as 'boss' or 'master' or similar. His surprise bled into his field, and she chuckled and seemed to take pity on him. "He's my partner. He doesn't want subservient symbionts. He proposed bonding to me over several other options -- including Slamdance -- for his first and maybe his only  symbiont because I didn't want a master and had a long history of telling every other eligible Host to go stuff their hierarchical power games up their exhaust ports. The rest of them were looking for somebody to provide and care for them, protect them, and tell them what to do. They didn't want to think for themselves."

"Oh."

She put her head back down on his leg for a minute, then said softly, "We make each other better people, 'Dyne and me. Better at doing stuff, and better in general."

Impulsively, he stroked her neck, and she arched into his hand, enjoying the touch. Symbionts, he knew, were tactile creatures by coding, but it still felt a bit weird to be touching an adult Cybertronian in such a way. Not so strange, however, that he didn't continue. She was clearly enjoying the neck rub.

"You and Res were like that," she added.

He shook his head. "I'm not so sure."

"I am. You stopped drinking because you didn't want to disappoint him, right?"

"... I did, yeah. How did you know?"

"Res and 'Dyne talked about you all the time."

"Oh." He didn't know what to think about that. Probably, the discussions hadn't been complimentary about him.

"Resonance loved you so much. He wasn't perfect either."

"I'm not sure how I helped him, though."

"Sure you did." She eyed him for a long moment.

"How?"

"He told Anodyne once that he wanted to become a frame engineer because you inspired him, with your desire to heal people, and your enjoyment of the job. He would have been a very good engineer."

"That's as much Jacky as me," Ratchet scoffed.

"Nah. Wheeljack is a mechanical and chemical engineer. He builds stuff and then blows it up.  He can fake it as a frame engineer if he has to, but it's not his first love. Res wanted to help people meet their fullest potential or make their dreams come true, and that's why he wanted to make frames or mods. You inspired that."

"Oh." He peered down at her. "How did you get so wise, kid?"

She blinked back up at him. "Dunno. Rub my shoulders, will you?"




He didn't see much of Anodyne over the next week. Anodyne didn't talk about the work he was doing, beyond saying that they had to scan every mech who came in from the field, and every casualty found in the rubble of Iacon, for Quintesson coding. The young telepath always came home exhausted, and collapsed into recharge on Ratchet's floor. Ratchet made sure he fueled, but could do little else to help him.

Sometimes, Andoyne would be roused out of recharge by an emergency ping and would lumber off in the direction of the space bridge.

Skitter, by contrast, was Ratchet's near-constant companion.

He discovered the young cybercat had a sharper mind than he'd ever imagined, and she was deeply interested in quantum physics. Ratchet had a decent grasp of the field -- he had to, to work on Cybertronian systems-- but he'd never met anyone with the intuitive understanding she had.

After answering, "I don't know, I'll have to look that up ..." for the tenth time during a discussion with her, he stopped short, and looked down at her, and then put his hands on his hips and said, "There's some humans you should meet."

During peacetime, he would have introduced her to Perceptor or Skyfire, but both were occupied by the war. Ratchet, however, had been monitoring the progress of the humans tasked with repairing Jazz's processor. They impressed him, and he thought it was time he paid them a visit.




Nanoworks, Inc, had set up shop in a steel building that had been quickly erected across the parking lot from the Cybertronian Medical Center. Ratchet had seen the small -- by Cybertronian standards -- building going up, but it had been completed while he was in stasis for repairs.

He transformed in front of it, after letting Skitter out of his cab, and approached the entrance. Two armed guards, both of which were Cybertronian younglings not yet in their adult frames, stood at alert attention in front.

Adolescents, tasked with a job of significant responsibility, tended to react one of two ways.  Either they didn't take it seriously enough, or they had far too much enthusiasm. Ratchet knew immediately that these two fell into the latter category. One was a host youngling named Tenor -- one of Blaster's, he thought -- and the other was Perceptor's kid, Pi.

He wondered if the half-grown host had the same kinds of problems Anodyne did with bigotry. Probably. Pi, at least, likely had no problems with Tenor's frame type, given that Ratchet had seen him hanging out with the other youngling on a regular basis.

Perhaps he should arrange for Tenor and Pi to work with Anodyne. Ratchet was worried about his Amica, who had so few friends. Both younglings were far younger than Anodyne, but perhaps he could be a big-brother figure for them, too.

The children straightened up as he approached. Pi's fingers tightened around the gun he held; Ratchet recognized that gun as one that had once belonged to Perceptor. It wasn't his sniper rifle, rather, a short-barrelled blaster that the scientist had carried in his subspace for most of the war. The kid looked nervous, but he held the gun safely, and Ratchet judged the nerves were simply the reaction of a child soldier in a position where he had to confront a very senior officer.

"Sir!" Pi said. "F-First Aid said you are not to be allowed in the Medical Center."

"This isn't the medical center," he said, patiently.

"It is, Sir!" Tenor looked a bit calmer, though his field was anxious and his plating clamped flat. "C-considered part of it. First Aid's orders were really clear, sir. Specific. About you."

The kids then fell silent, staring at him.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, then said, "You two are doing a good job. I'll talk to 'Aid and get this sorted out."

First Aid didn't answer his pings, however, even when he attached a blunt demand that 'Aid respond. He was just about to jump the chain of command to Prowl when First Aid himself pulled up, transformed, and met his angry gaze with a small, apologetic, smile. "Ratchet, you're on leave."

"I know that," he snarled, then switched to comms. He didn't want to give the base any more gossip than necessary. :I was going to ... review ... their work, and introduce Skitter to the scientists in question in the process. She's got a real aptitude for quantum maths and engineering.:

First Aid frowned at him. :Teaching apprentices is work, Ratchet.:

:What do you want me to do? Sit on the beach and get drunk while you lot have a war?:

:You're potentially carrying the next Prime!: First Aid replied, a bit too sharply. :High grade is not good for sparklings!:

:I am aware of that! Why do you think I'm not over-energized off my aft?:

That was, apparently, not the right thing to say. First Aid snapped back, :If that's the only reason you have to be sober, Ratchet, you are in worse mental shape than I thought.:

:It's NOT the only reason,: Ratchet replied, anger rising now. :Pit take you, First Aid!:

First Aid rocked back on his heels, field flaring with upset. "Ratchet, go back to your quarters."

He started to growl. First Aid had said the last bit aloud, and Ratchet -- still technically CMO of the army -- did not appreciate being sent to his quarters by his former apprentice in front of a pair of younglings and his Amica's symbiont. Pride bruised, he bristled visibly, armor rising and optics beginning to brighten with temper.  

"I'll take the kid for a tour." First Aid said, placatingly, even as he dropped a hand down to pat Skitter on the head. "You go back to your quarters. Don't push me, or you'll find yourself confined there."

Ratchet sputtered in outrage.

"I'm not supposed to leave Ratchet alone," Skitter said, stepping out of reach of First Aid's hand and pressing against Ratchet's leg.

Ratchet pulled himself up to his full height and said, "We are quite done here, I believe. Skitter, take the tour with First Aid. I am going to the beach."

It was petty and minor but the bit of rebellion felt good. He started walking in the direction of the road that led to the coast.

Skitter joined him, and he stopped short and pointed imperiously back at First Aid. "Take the tour, Skitter."

"No." Her ears were pinned flat to her head. "I won't leave you alone."

First Aid was still standing by the entrance to the facility, now looking a bit lost and very, very, upset. Skitter glanced between them, and then commed something to First Aid. It was encrypted, but whatever she said caused First Aid to frown and quickly reply.

She ducked her head, and responded with a long transmission.

First Aid huffed. "Ratchet, come back. Your friend there suggested I accompany you through the facility."

"I don't need a guide."

"You don't currently have the security clearance, 'Ratch. And that's per Prowl, so don't yell at me about it."

"I'm going to kill Rung." And First Aid, for saying that aloud in front of the kids.

"Jazz, actually." First Aid's smile was brief, but he clearly knew that a Jazz was on the very short list of mecha who Ratchet wouldn't cross.

"Jazz isn't a shrink."

"No, but he does the security assessments for the army right now and he knows you damned well. Ratchet, c'mon." First Aid pinged the sliding door open. "I don't need any more drama this morning."

:What,: Ratchet replied, angrily, :Does he think I'm going to do, run to the Quints with all our state secrets?:

:That's not his concern.:

Skitter bumped his knee with her nose, drawing his attention down to her. :I imagine he's afraid you'll leave the base, and be captured by the Quints. You have a history of being a bit of a loose cannon anyway, and a history of running from your problems.:

:And how in the Pit is keeping me from performing my primary function going to help me?:

:I think,: Skitter said gently, :that in addition to their concern for your well being, they must protect the Matrix and the sparkling, and they must be aware of the safety of your patients.:

:So that's my only value to this army? Pit slag!:

He stopped short, startling First Aid. Skitter, however, reared up on her back legs and rested her paws on his abdominal plating so that she could look him in the eyes better. :I can't speak for the rest of the army, but that is not your only value to me, or to Anodyne or, I suspect, to First Aid, who loves you like family.:

First Aid's expression softened, and he realized that Skitter had included the younger physician in her comments. 'Aid sighed and said, "She's not wrong, Ratch."

"About what?"

"About all of it."

They were alone in a hallway now, and First Aid suddenly hugged him. Ratchet stiffened at first, but then returned the hug.

Into Ratchet's shoulder, First Aid said, "I'm sorry you lost Resonance, Ratchet. I'm sorry about everything. But I cannot take a risk you'll do something stupid that will cause harm to a patient, to yourself, or to the war effort."

First Aid was shorter than he was; Ratchet rested his chin on 'Aid's helm for a minute, then let him go. "Kid," he said, an endearment he hadn't used for many, many vorns, "can you at least find me something ... useful ... to do? Because I'm wired from the core out to work and sitting on my aft drives me crazy."

"You sat for a vorn in a shack, drunk." First Aid pointed out.

"Key word, drunk," Ratchet replied, with a snort, as he let First Aid go. "Which is not an option right now. And not just because of the sparkling. Resonance ... I'm staying sober for him, too."

"You need to learn to stay sober for yourself," First Aid rebuked, but gently. "Very well, Ratchet. I'll talk to the command about finding you something to do."




The facility was small, by Cybertronian standards, and just held the offices of the researchers plus a large lab full of research equipment. In the center of the building, a reactor of some sort hummed at a frequency nearly below the level humans could perceive.

As soon as Ratchet stepped into the lab, his plating prickled with the most powerful EM field he'd ever felt. It made his optics fuzz and his sensors malfunction, and he quickly retreated, with First Aid and Skitter close on his heels. Any Cybertronian lab would have had heavy shielding on that device!

A human, noticing their presence, hurried after them on a float bike. The man piloted the bike -- which looked like a small motorcycle with grav thrusters instead of wheels -- up to Cybertronian eye level, and hovered there, facing First Aid. "Sorry, 'Aid. I didn't know you were coming to visit or we would have turned the condenser off."


"It's fine, and don't shut it down now, we don't need any delays with the testing," First Aid said. He explained to Skitter, "The quantum condensor they're using requires immense amounts of power, and causes the fields we felt. They're not harmful to Cybertronians -- and barely detectable to humans -- but they are very uncomfortable."

Ratchet grunted understanding. "The bigger the mech, the more charge they'll pick up, too." Skitter hadn't reacted nearly as badly as the two medics had.

"Yeah, I was fine," Skitter confirmed. "Felt a bit of a buzz, but not too bad. Ratch, pick me up, will you? I'm talking to your knees."

Ratchet obligingly scooped the cybercat up. As he'd noted before, she was warm and relaxed when held. He supported her back feet in one hand, and she leaned comfortably against his shoulder.

First Aid introduced her to the human, "Antony, this is Skitter. She's Ratchet's apprentice, and she wanted to see the facility here. She's got a talent for maths and is interested in quantum engineering as a career."

The man guided his float bike closer, and to Ratchet's bemusement, leaned out and held a hand out to Skitter. Skitter stuck her paw in it, and said cheerfully, "You're Tom Antony. I've read some of your papers. Learned a lot from them."

Antony grinned. "And you're Glit's kid. He was here yesterday. He never mentioned you were interested in science, though."

Ratchet had not known that, though it explained where Skitter got both her intelligence and her independence. Glit had never bonded with a host, and while Ratchet considered the symbiont medic to be a glitch and a half on a personal level, he was skilled. He was currently on Cybertron, working in the field.

"Yeah, he's my sire." Skitter's field flickered with something that felt a lot like irritation, though her voice remained friendly. "I never see much of him, though. My carrier's Steeljaw."

Also something that Ratchet hadn't known. Vaguely, he remembered Blaster mentioning that Steeljaw was carrying almost a vorn ago -- and that the sire was simply a spark donor, not a partner. Apparently, that donor was the Decepticon Glit, and that would explain why they'd kept the sire quiet. Tensions had eased quite a bit between factions, but in the early days of the post-war period relations hadn't been nearly as friendly.

Steeljaw, and the rest of Blaster's pack of friendly symbionts, were likely where Skitter had learned her social skills.  Glit was an unfriendly aft on the best of days.

"Glit's been helping us with some technical details," the human explained. "I never knew he had a kid."

Skitter's field sharpened briefly, but she shrugged. "He didn't raise me, and doesn't claim me as his kin. It seems I did inherit his spark gift for analytical thinking, though, and I am very interested in quantum science. It's ... fascinatingly complex."

Ratchet listened, pleased, as the human and his apprentice started a discussion that quickly evolved into fairly technical territory. Antony, evidently aware of how Cybertronian culture worked, finally said, "You know, I suspect the reason your elders brought you down here was to try to get you an internship. We do have a position open for a student ..."

Skitter lit up, both her expression and field delighted by the offer.

Ratchet grinned, genuinely happy ... then couldn't help but think it was the first moment of real happiness he'd felt since Resonance's loss, and he wondered if he should be happy so soon. Shouldn't he be mourning still?

He'd seen bondmates who never smiled again after a loss of an Endura. There were also those who recovered well, and went on with their lives, all on a varying timetable.

He'd always known he would be the latter kind, who would eventually recover ... he'd loved Resonance, but he had a job, and duties, to keep him going, and he wasn't the sort of self-centered glitch who would wallow in grief for the rest of his function. Still, it seemed too soon, and sudden guilt seized his spark.

Skitter, in his arms, looked up at him, then commed him, :You okay, Ratch?:

:Yeah, just ... went to a bad spot there, for a moment.: He took a deep invent. This, at least, was something he had an answer for, because he'd counseled many of his patients on it. There was no set formula for mourning, and no right or wrong way to do it. However, Resonance wouldn't have wanted him to grieve for the rest of his life. It was okay to laugh and to experience joy, even now, so soon after.

It was what he would have told a patient, and it was what he told himself, now.

He still felt overwhelmingly guilty.

Skitter, to the human, said, "I'm really interested, but I'll need to work a schedule out. I have other responsibilities."

The human nodded blankly, but Ratchet, comprehending what those responsibilities were, said over  the comms, :Tut! Tut!  Kitten, I do not need a pint sized babysitter every minute of the day. I'll be fine. This is about your future, and it's a fantastic opportunity.:

Not only was it a chance to further her education in a field he was not an expert in himself, and which no living Cybertronians had specialized in, but it was a way for her to secure a career on Earth. Cybertron, he feared, was lost. The survivors needed to start looking to integrate with humanity. They needed to forge new lives and futures on Earth.

Pit, but he wished Res was here. Resonance would agree with him, and would have concrete ideas on how to manage integration. As far as Ratchet could tell, the command staff were still focused on the hopeless battle to defeat the Quints. Ratchet was as much a patriot as the next Cybertronian, if not more, but he was also a pragmatist. The thought of pointless injuries and death in a war they could not win suddenly darkened his mood.

:I don't want to leave you alone!: She sputtered, perhaps sensing his depression.

First Aid broke in. :Ratchet, tell you what -- you seem to be doing okay right now. I'll authorize you to work in the machine shop with Jacky and Percy during the day, and we'll see how that goes. That frees Skitter up to intern here.:

It was ... useful work. He couldn't help the flush of gratitude that filled his spark, even though he also felt he should resent his former apprentice and colleague's patronizing attitude. He was still -- on paper, anyway -- the CMO. He grunted aloud. "Fine. Works for me."

First Aid clapped him on the shoulder. "I've got to get back to work." To Skitter, he added, "Kiddo, let me know if you need any help with this old glitch."

"Hey!" Ratchet protested, even as Skitter giggled.

Chapter Text


Skitter did secure the internship, and between her studies at the lab and Anodyne's responsibilies at the medical center, Ratchet didn't see either of them for more than a few hours at a time over the next few months.

Anodyne settled into his role well; he spent many hours every week screening incoming troops, but also at least a few shifts in the medical center. Many of those shifts were with Rung, who was teaching him everything he knew about how Cybertronian neuroscience intersected with Cybertronian psychology, though he was also studying general repairs with First Aid and Hook.

Despite his duties, Anodyne made a point of checking in with Ratchet at least once a day, though. Ratchet at first resented the effort that the kid put into seeing him, suspecting Anodyne was under orders to check his mood, but Anodyne was unfailingly cheerful and upbeat. He came to look forward to the big mech's friendly greetings and big hugs, even if he pretended to be annoyed by them.

He ... found he didn't mind working in the machine shop.

It was mindless work, but it was necessary. His only complaint was that the work did not occupy enough of his processor and so he found that his thoughts wandered down dark paths. He missed Resonance to a degree that it was painful. The thoughts of Resonance intruded into times when he should have been focused on work, and then threatened to swamp his processor entirely. Sometimes, he found himself standing motionless, optics staring at nothing, as memories of their too-brief time together took over his thoughts.

There was so much guilt, so many things he thought he should have done differently.

He made mistakes in the machine shop, because he was distracted.

He couldn't help but think he'd screwed up, somehow. He should have argued harder for Res to stay on Earth, and perhaps Res would still be alive. He should have been a better bondmate. He never should have rejected Res in the first place -- it would have been inappropriate for him to have spent time with the child, given their almost inevitable relationship when Res reached adulthood, but he could have sent correspondence, and gifts, and welcomed Res into his life.

He could have comforted Res more, in his final minutes, instead of simply screaming denial.

He was ... not a good mech, he concluded, and then he tortured himself thinking about all the ways he was bad, broken, damaged inside. He had a temper, and he drank too much (even if he wasn't drinking anything now, he would if he could and if Resonance wouldn't have been so disappointed) and wasn't even emotionally stable enough to fulfill his primary function. And wasn't that a failing too -- he should be stronger than this!

Even in the simple work in the machine shop, he made mistakes. He programmed milling machines incorrectly, and inserted blanks of the wrong metal, and his welds were sloppy and his cuts imprecise.

He attached a wiring harness backwards, and then couldn't figure out why a motor wouldn't run. Wheeljack determined the error in less than ten seconds, gave him a look that was full of deep doubt. Ratchet hid his embarrassment with a nearly incoherent snarl, "But-but-it WAS right, I don't know what happened, I don't understand!"

Wheeljack frowned at him. "Are you drinking again?"

"No!" He paused, then added in indignant outrage, "And my drinking never affected my job, and you know it, Wheeljack!"

Wheeljack simply handed him the pneumatic pump he'd been working on, and said, "You're way off your game, doc."

"I am not!" He denied, even though he knew it was true.

"After you put that pump up," Wheeljack said, "There's some parts that need cleaning in the store room."

Scut work. Work they normally assigned to younglings and uneducated laborers. Punishment work, too, for mecha who'd screwed up. He'd certainly put Sideswipe to work in his med bay often enough, scrubbing grease and grunge off recycled parts. He bristled, anger flaring, field hot with embarrassment.

"Don't," Wheeljack warned. "Just ... don't, doc."

He didn't. He took a deep invent, and then went and got a bottle of detergent and a handful of rags. The work needed doing and, he told himself, it was all he was good for.




Rung tried to schedule an appointment with him.

He refused.

Prowl threatened to have him confined to quarters if he wouldn't talk to the shrink, and CC'd Rung on that message.

Rung intervened, stating he saw no harm in allowing Ratchet to continue to work in the machine shop, and that this was not a matter that should become a disciplinary issue.

Ratchet thanked Rung in a quick email, but still refused to talk to him.




The war was not going well.

Incoming casualties were many. He saw them being carted to the medical center. He tried to convince First Aid to let him help. First Aid, citing his recent history of plentiful mistakes in the machine shop, refused.

Ratchet ... rather saw First Aid's point. There was no denying that something in Ratchet's spark had become fundamentally broken. He could no longer perform his primary function and, really, he was only good for manual labor.

Ratchet couldn't help but feel that most of his life had probably been a sham. He'd managed to fool everyone for thousands of vorns, but now they were all seeing the truth about him. He was useless and old, and nobody liked him except for Anodyne and Skitter ... and neither had time for him. He could not bring himself to seek them out, either. He didn't deserve their friendship. Not really.

Chapter Text

Skitter's weight in his seat was comfortable, and her field friendly. Ratchet listened to her chatter about her internship and the humans she was working with while he negotiated the roads to the beach. It was his day off and Skitter had insisted they go. He had not been able to say no; in the bleakness that was his universe, she was a bright and shining spot of joy. He genuinely, truly, liked her.

He wished that Res could have known her better. That would have happened, he was sure, if Resonance hadn't died.

Pit, he missed Res.

If only he'd been a little more aggressive in demanding Res be stationed on Earth. Res would still be here, and Skitter and Anodyne would still have their friend. Res would still be alive It was all his fault, for not being persuasive enough ...

Unexpectedly, his comm went off with a base-wide emergency alert, warning of massive incoming casualties. Ratchet reacted with an enormous spike of anxiety, all his attention focusing on the alert, to the exclusion of everything else.

He needed to be there. Mecha might die because he couldn't be there. He was a failure, there was something wrong with him, and because he wasn't strong enough to do his primary function mecha would die ...

He never saw the human vehicle pull out in front of him until it was too late to stop. Had Skitter not been in his cab he might have been able to transform and vault over the vehicle. Instead, he could only slam on his brakes and slide on his tires. He hit the truck at forty-five miles an hour.

Skitter, although she was seat-belted in, was jolted hard. Her pelvic girdle, already damaged, shattered into several pieces with a spanging noise of breaking metal that Ratchet would never forget. She screamed in agony.

Ratchet transformed, catching her carefully as he did, and laid her down. His medical protocols surged to the forefront and he verified she wasn't critically hurt -- then turned his attention to the human, who was climbing out of his truck. Blood ran down the man's face. "I had the green!" the man exploded at Ratchet. "God damnit, I thought you robots were supposed to be better drivers than that!"

He was right, Ratchet realized. In his distraction, he'd run a red light.




Skitter was admitted to the med center in serious condition. The human was unhurt, other than bumps and bruises and small cuts, but Ratchet's processor couldn't help but supply him with ample possibilities for severe injury. Humans were just so damned fragile that Cybertronians could never be inattentive around them, not even for a moment.

Ratchet himself had dents and strained joints, but nothing serious. He banged the dents out of his armor himself.

As soon as Anodyne showed up at the medical center, Ratchet went to his quarters. He figured he'd lost the last friends he had, and he was sitting on the edge of his berth in the bleakest mood of his life, when Rung opened the door.

"I'm not talking to you," Ratchet snapped, at Rung.

"You don't have to." Rung padded into the room. "Anodyne just asked me to let you know Skitter's going to be fine."

"My fault."

"Yes." Rung agreed, causing Ratchet to look up sharply.

"... Well, you don't have to worry. I won't be driving again. I'll walk everywhere." Ratchet glared at the floor. He was just so damned screwed up. He should be better than this. Stronger. More competent.

Rung tilted his head to one side. "If you feel that is a necessary precaution."

"I do!" Ratchet snapped.

Rung sighed. "Ratchet, look at me."

With mulishly contrary stubbornness, and entirely aware of how childish it was, he stared at a point on the wall well above Rung's head and said nothing.

Rung shook his head, then said quite reasonably, "Ratchet, don't be an aft."

"... what did you just say?" Now he looked at the psychiatrist. He was pretty sure that 'don't be an aft' was not in the usual playbook of comforting phrases that shrinks were supposed to offer.

"I've. Lost. Everything." Ratchet replied, in a brittle tone that promised a raging fit if Rung didn't go away. "My bondmate. My occupation. My friends. My ... mental abilities, apparently. I have nothing. I'm just a failure of an old glitch-addled drunk. And you're telling me not to be an aft? I think I have plenty of reason to be angry, Rung."

Rung  said softly, "Would Res want you to act this way?"

"Res is dead, and his opinion doesn't matter anymore!" Ratchet grabbed the tub of citrus-scented cleanser from his desk and threw it at Rung. Rung dodged, and the tub splattered on the wall a few inches from where a similar container had struck weeks before. Ratchet remembered throwing it at Resonance -- who hadn't deserved his anger any more than Rung did -- and sucked in a great invent of air.

Rung said, tone rather dry, "Feel better now?"

Ratchet might have struck another mech, but Rung was small, and defenseless, and that prevented Ratchet from escalating his anger to real blows. Ratchet, instead, tried to head for the door. He just wanted to get away.

The door opened as he hurried towards it, and he literally ran into Anodyne's broad chest. "Let me past!" he snarled.

Anodyne's arms went around him, and the big mech backed him up by brute force.

"Let me go!"

"No." Anodyne's voice was gentle. "You need to listen to Rung."

"No."

"Yes." Anodyne's arms were tight. He was solid, an immovable object, and Ratchet was not -- in this moment -- an unstoppable force.

To his deep shame, Ratchet's anger turned to keening cries. "Let me go! Let me go!"

"No." Anodyne guided Ratchet to the berth and then said, firmly, "Sit."

Ratchet sat. He was so full of anxious, whirling, angry, chaotic emotions that he couldn't even name everything he was feeling. He wanted to run. But Anodyne was in his way, and Rung was closing the door.

"Skitter will be fine. So will the human soldier you hit." Anodyne crouched down to look him in the optics. "I'm worried about you, Ratchet."

"I. Am. Fine." He spat out, even though he knew that wasn't true.

"You're not."

"Don't patronize me, child!"

Rung walked forward, rested a hand on Anodyne's arm, and said quietly, "You can't lie to an empath, Ratchet. You know that. I asked him to be here for this, specifically for that reason. However, if you are concerned about confidentiality you can ask him to leave now. It is your decision."

"What is this?" Ratchet tried to rise, but Anodyne didn't move out of his way. The young host was so close to him that he ended up dropping back onto his aft on the berth, unable to rise without shoving Anodyne out of the way. Given Anodyne's bulk, that wasn't a fight could win. Anodyne never touched him, just frowned down at him.

"Ratchet," Rung said softly, "your field is tells me all I need to know, even without 'Dyne's input. You are deeply stressed, anxious to the point of being disabled by it, very angry, and understandably so."

"You're all treating me like a sparkling," he complained, peevishly.

"Ratchet." Rung's voice held compassion, or more likely -- Ratchet told himself -- pity. "What do you want the most?"

"I want to work," he said, without even hesitation. Then he added bitterly, "But I can't even assemble the most basic of components without screwing up, and even the thought of dealing with ... anything remotely mentally taxing ... makes me furious."

"No tolerance for frustration," Rung supplied, and Ratchet hated that gentle tone.

Anodyne crouched now, looking Ratchet in the optics. "Ratchet. You've had multiple severe injuries in a short period of time ..."

"I was only dented." In the recent crash, he meant. The one that had left Anodyne's bonded symbiont in serious condition in the med bay, and how could Anodyne look at him with such gentleness? He couldn't even meet Anodyne's gaze, thinking about it. He'd been stupid and careless and negligent and it could have cost her life or the life of a human.

"Mmm. You had an arc out," Rung said, "that was severe enough that it nearly killed you, and from which you are still healing ..." To Ratchet's everlasting humiliation, he could tell, by the look in Rung's optics, that he knew what was still not functioning correctly.  "And then you had a very severe crash in which you hit a concrete wall at an extremely high rate of speed, shortly followed by the death of your bond mate. The latter causes physical trauma to the spark, the seat of all our emotions, in addition to the emotional trauma itself."

"Those medical records are confidential!" Ratchet objected, meaning the damage to his interface system.

"Resonance and I discussed some delicate matters, a few times." Rung shrugged. "He had difficulty, at times, with feelings of guilt. I am bound by patient privacy, however, as you well know."

"Oh, Resonance should not have talked about, about, that!" Ratchet snarled, embarrassed and furious. He didn't want to discuss this in front of Anodyne, so he snapped, "And that's confidential even if Res told you!"

Rung shrugged. "I haven't given Anodyne any specific details. From a medical standpoint, what Res told me implied that you probably have underlying processor damage that is yet to repair itself -- minor, in the grand scheme of things, but very real, and a possibke cause of processing difficulties as well as physical ailments."

Ratchet knew that, but he couldn't help but snap, "And we're still talking medical confidentiality here."

"... would you like me to ask Anodyne to leave?" Rung offered.

Ratchet glanced at his Amica, and Anodyne offered immediately, "I will go, if you want."

"No." He sighed. "Stay, 'Dyne." He knew where this was going -- they were going to medically retire him -- and suddenly, he was just too tired to fight it. It was inevitable that they would no longer want him now that he was flawed. Likely, the only reason they were even paying for his fuel was the sparkling in his chamber and the Matrix riding with her.

He knew damned well that nobody liked him, and the only reason he'd ever been tolerated by anyone was that he was the best at what he did.

"You were also in a severe accident that caused significant physical damage, less than an Earth month ago. Shortly thereafter, you suffered extreme emotional trauma with the breaking of your bond." Rung's voice was very soft, very gentle, and Ratchet hated it. He just didn't have the energy to tell Rung to quit with the pity.

"If you're going to decommission me, just tell me. Get it over with." He tried to glare, but couldn't summon the energy. He wanted to transform and power down and stop feeling for as long as possible. If he rusted in place, all the better.

"Ratchet." Anodyne caught his hands; Ratchet's comparatively delicate medic's fingers were engulfed by Anodyne's huge, grip. "Ratchet, no. Let Rung finish."

"I would also note that you spent most of a vorn extremely intoxicated and this, too, does damage to coding and processor." Rung's words were very calm. "The effects are subtle, but very real, and you have not had sufficient time sober to fully recover -- though I commend you for the fact that you have remained sober despite everything that has happened."

"So it's my fault I'm a glitch."

Anodyne ignored that, instead saying, "Ratchet, we need you. You have, for your entire life, dedicated yourself to healing us, treating us, saving lives. You are important, and valued, and you have friends, though I know you do not believe me right now."

"I'm needed. Nobody likes me."

"I do." Anodyne's grip on his hands tightened. "I like you."

"I hurt Skitter."

"And Skitter adores you and is worried you'll feel guilty. Ratchet, it was an accident. We forgive you. Now you need to forgive yourself." Anodyne leaned forward and pressed his forehead to Ratchet's. "Amica, you need help, and deep down, you know that, but we still love you. If you won't accept help for yourself then do it for us, because we're hurting with you."

Guilt seized his spark. He was hurting them ...

Rung said in that same soft, patient voice, "Ratchet. We'll need to do some scans to confirm it, but I believe you have some malfunctioning emotional coding, most likely caused by very long periods of stress during the war and exacerbated by recent physical and emotional trauma."

"Emotions come from the spark," Ratchet snapped.

"You know what I am referring to." Rung's words were a bit firmer now.

He did, though he didn't want to admit that there was anything wrong with his coding. Emotions came from the spark, but the spark responded to input from the processor. If a mech's logic coding was coming to incorrect conclusions, then the false data could trigger irrational emotional responses. Humans had a phrase, garbage in/garbage out, that described the problem very accurately.

However, Ratchet was certain this wasn't the problem in his case. He was simply defective: not strong enough, not good enough, not brave enough, not compassionate enough. He'd failed as a bondmate, and now he'd failed as a medic and he'd failed by getting Skitter and a random human hurt because he'd been distracted. He'd failed, he was a failure, and it wasn't about any sort of damaged coding. He was so certain of this.

Anodyne said softly, "Do you trust me, Ratchet?"

He... didn't, largely because Anodyne was telling him things he knew weren't true.

"Does your logic tell you that you can trust me?"

That was, somehow, easier. Logically, he should be able to trust Anodyne. The young mech had proven himself over and over again, and was nothing but a force of good. He was ethical, compassionate, and kind, and yet he was also strong enough to risk deactivation rather than go against his moral beliefs. He's a better mech than I will ever be, Ratchet's processor whispered.

Jerkily, Ratchet nodded.

"Then trust me in this, Ratch. Trust me when I tell you that you need our help, and that you can trust we have your best intentions at spark."

He didn't want to trust them.

He didn't want to stop hurting. He deserved it, for being the failure that he was.

"Ratchet?" Anodyne said, "C'mon, man. Your people need you, and you need to let us fix you so that you can help them."

He looked up, sharply, at Anodyne, then over at Rung. Rung nodded, and said, "It is very likely that you could return to work, Ratchet."

He had a duty. He also had a profound desire to help and to heal others.

"Yes," he said, very softly, even though that one word was the most terrifying syllable that he'd ever uttered. He keened a hiccuping cry, and Anodyne pulled him into a tight hug and sank to the floor with him.

Rung said, "We can do it right here, if you want, Ratchet. 'Dyne can stay with you, or he'll leave if you want privacy."

"Stay," he whispered. Anodyne's arms were tight. He couldn't help but think he didn't deserve Anodyne, but he wasn't complaining.

Rung's long fingers stroked his arm briefly, drawing his attention. "Ratchet, the coding I am going to install is adaptive. It will take a few months to fully take effect, as it requires time to analyze the root of the problem and remediate it, but you will feel some effects quickly."

"I don't have a problem!" he snapped, on pure reflex.

"Ratchet," Rung said, "why do you think everyone is so worried about you, if you do not have a processing problem?"

Several snarky responses crossed his processor, but they all rang false. He sighed. "I'm a screwed up old glitch who's ready for the scrap heap, aren't I?"

Anodyne said, "If you'll trust us, and let us help you, the scrap heap will be a very long way away for you. You're not that old, and you're not a glitch, and we need you." Anodyne's arms around him tightened. "And I want my friend and mentor to be happy again."

He didn't know what to say to that. He finally grumped, "Fine." And then bent his head forward, and triggered the cover on his cerebral port to open. In theory, Rung could have accessed his processor from any dataport, but the one at the back of his neck was always best for this kind of thing. It allowed for the fastest data transfer with the least amount of lag.

It was also a very vulnerable position, and his instincts screamed at him to flinch away. Rung, however, rested a hand on his shoulder first, and warned him, "I'm plugging in now."

He wanted to deny this was happening, but he didn't react at all, outwardly. Inwardly, his spark was screaming refusal.

Anodyne pressed his helm to Ratchet's chevron. "It'll be okay. Shh."

"You need to lower your  firewalls," Rung said, voice calm.

Anodyne murmured, "Remember, this is so you can work again. They need you, Ratchet."

He knew it was true. He was letting everyone down by succumbing to the weakness in his spark. He gritted his teeth together and did as Rung had said: lowering the firewalls that protected his very coding.

Rung's touch in his processor was clinical, and competent, and self-assured. He hated it, resented Rung, and was jealous of Rung's competence. Rung, who certainly felt these emotions as he accessed Ratchet's processor, made no comment.

The code slipped easily into his very operating system. He grimaced as his HUD displayed a report showing it was successfully installed. He couldn't feel it; it was as sneaky and well-cloaked as anything he'd ever known. It might as well not even be there.

"I hate this," he said, aloud, as Rung disconnected.

"Ratchet, it is necessary." Rung squeezed his arm. "And this won't change who you are. You know that. This is a fairly subtle program that will just assist you in better processing everything that has happened. It doesn't affect free will or choice; we save restrictive coding for the real problem cases, mwhich you are not."

"So I'm only a little bit broken." His words were bitter.

Anodyne rose, and offered him a hand up. "And you're going to put your life back together."

A life without Resonance. It felt bleak. He'd planned on a future with children, with a partner who was also in the medical field. He had planned a career teaching at the university, and would have had a family, and peace, and prosperity. It would have been a happy, contented life.

He'd assumed that war would come again, but not until some nebulous point in the future. He'd assumed that Resonance would, someday in the far future, be Prime, and maybe their child after that, but only in a far-away future so distant that it seemed like it would never come.

He hurt. The loss of his partner and the dream he'd dared dream was incredible. Now he was broken, a failure, and that dream was gone, Resonance was dead, and the sparkling in his chest had an unknown fate tied intimately to the Matrix and to the god that Resonance himself had repudiated.

Anodyne, most likely responding to his wave of grief, put an arm around his shoulders and held him close. Rung gripped his arm briefly, then said, "I'll talk to you in a few days, Ratchet. And ... we care about you. I care about you."

Rung slipped out, then, leaving them alone.

Anodyne curled up on the berth with him, and held him long into the night. Ratchet clung to him, and did not say a word.

Chapter Text


Ratchet woke the next morning alone, and that he was alone was a reminder that he'd hurt Skitter. She'd been there the past several mornings, waiting for him.

Wearily, he rolled over, then sat up, and discovered that Anodyne had left him a cube of sweetened energon on a warming plate. Feeling a bit guilty that his apprentice was going to so much trouble on his behalf, Ratchet sipped the energon and checked his messages.

He had a queue full of condolences  that he'd never answered; he skimmed past those, and started reviewing more recent communication. He was still getting a few basic briefs from the command staff; those contained data on depressing losses in combat, and very few victories.

There was also an updated list of fatalities.

Silverbolt was dead.

Ratchet's spark seized with startled grief; he had known the young aerialbot since the day he'd first onlined in Wheeljack's lab. He, and his brothers, had been vatborn, created in the last few vorns of the war, and had been sent into combat far too young -- but had been no less loved for all of that. WHeeljack had considered himself their parent. Jacky had cared for them and prepared them for combat to the best of his ability.

Wheeljack had, Ratchet realized, had lost two children in the last few weeks: Resonance and Silverbolt.

Ratchet finished his energon on autopilot, and then went in search of Jacky.




He found Wheeljack in his lab. The engineer had a half-finished cannon on his work bench, and he was soldering connections in place with a quietly determined air.

He looked up as Ratchet entered the room, however, and said, "You're on medical leave, Ratchet."

"I am aware of that," Ratchet replied, with a bit more snark than he'd intended. However, he then sighed, and added, "And I heard about 'Bolt. I'm just here to say I'm sorry."

Wheeljack's shoulders slumped. "We can't win, Ratchet. We can't. We need to retreat, blow the gate, and prepare to defend Earth. We're just wasting lives trying to defend Cybertron."

"Resonance believed the same thing."

"And you?"

Ratchet shrugged. "There are no good options."

Wheeljack scrubbed at his blast mask with both hands, and then said, "Yeah. I don't want the Quints to have access to Cybertron's ancient tech either. But retreating to Earth buys us time ... after the way the humans routed them the first time they tried to attack, they won't be quick to attack again here. Might be thousands of years before we have to deal with them. I'll take that. And I'll be building weapons the whole damn time, too."

"Yeah, maybe."

"Fireflight ... he was on Cybertron. He said they captured him, cracked 'Bolt's spark chamber open, and destroyed his spark. He saw it all across their bond."

"That's what they did to Resonance too," Ratchet said, voice hoarse and tight with the memory. He wouldn't start keening in front of Wheeljack!

Jacky shook his head. "I don't even understand why they would kill him.  You would think they would have made strategic use of 'Bolt -- he had darklight engines, they could have used him for interstellar travel."

"Same with Res," Ratchet said, wearily, but voice suddenly steadier. Maybe it was the code, maybe it was just time, but he found he could talk about Res without a completely humiliating attack of anxious guilt and utterly choking grief. "Maybe a failed experiment? I don't understand either."

Wheeljack leaned back against the work bench and retracted his blast mask into the sides of his helm. He frowned, the scarred protoform around his mouth tightening. "The only problem with using 'Bolt or Res would be that they were both bonded. I don't know if the Quints can tell if a mech is bonded, though. Maybe that was what they were trying to measure."

"We can detect a quantum bond, so I would assume they can." Ratchet shrugged dispiritedly. "Their tech is generally better than ours."

"Tell me something I don't know." Wheeljack looked for a long moment at Ratchet, then said, "Your field feels better, doc."

Ratchet grunted, not wanting to admit he'd gotten help from Rung. He should have been stronger than that.

"You know Resonance loved you." Wheeljack reached a hand out and gripped Ratchet's arm. "He wanted you to go on with your life if he died."

Ratchet shook his head slowly, not a denial but a general expression of negative feelings. "I've got to get it together. I've got responsibilities, people that need me."

"And friends who care about you." Wheeljack's hand on his forearm tightened before he let go. "We've got the med bay handled. Don't worry so much."

He thought he should feel guilty that they were shouldering his share of the work, not to mention the guilt that came with knowing that he was the best living Cybertronian trauma surgeon and that patients were potentially suffering because less-skilled mecha were doing his job.

He only felt numb.

Because it seemed the socially appropriate thing to do, he said, "Thanks, Jacky."

Wheeljack flashed him a quick, small, smile, and pulled him into a loose hug.

"I'm sorry about Silverbolt. And Resonance." He said, still falling on his admittedly awkward social graces. The words passed his mouth, but he just couldn't feel them, and he knew the delivery was clumsy.

Wheeljack said, with sorrow in his own field, "They will be missed, by both of us."




Skitter was released from the medical center the next day. Anodyne was working on a slave-coded mecha, so Ratchet picked her up.

Perhaps he should have been anxious about driving with her, and he knew he should feel guilty when he saw her, but he just felt ... tired. Flat.

She curled into the passenger seat, and said cheerfully, "Ya did me a favor, doc. They fixed all the microfractures in my frame. I'm cleared for duty now."

"Feh. Forgive me if I don't share your joy," he said, and then was startled by how normal he sounded.

She shot back, "Oh, don't you dare go all guilty on me, doc. It was an accident, pure and simple. Even you make mistakes sometime."

"Feh." He spat static at her, then changed the subject. He didn't want to talk about it, but the strange thing was that he didn't feel guilty though he thought he should. He just felt flat.

Chapter Text


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.

Chapter Text

He found Anodyne in their shared quarters -- he'd stopped thinking of them as 'his' quarters months ago.

"Sorry about Cliff," Ratchet said, as he shut the door behind him. "He's always an aft, but if I knew he was going to go there I'd have gotten someone else to assist."

"... It's nothing I haven't heard before." Anodyne sat cross legged on the floor, sipping a cube of solar midgrade.

"You shouldn't have to hear it. People shouldn't think that way." Ratchet settled down on the edge of the berth, and scrubbed at his face with his hands. He knew he should be angrier than he felt, but he'd gotten used to the numbness. It was as if his processor was disconnected from his spark.

Anodyne sighed. "They assume we're sleeping together. You know that, right?"

Ratchet snorted. "I don't do casual, and that's all you do."

He hadn't meant the words to be cruel; rather, he was trying to tease. Anodyne was well known for his willingness to roll into berth with anyone who liked him enough to ask. He said he simply liked interface and he normally wasn't shy about it, either. He could be remarkably blunt and matter of fact about his interfacing habits.

So Ratchet was a bit surprised when Anodyne flinched, and his plating slicked down.

"What did I say?" Ratchet blinked at him.

"... sometimes," Anodyne said quietly, but then he looked up and fixed Ratchet with a sharp golden gaze. "I wish I I could have more than just a casual fling with somebody."

Ratchet frowned at his Amica. "With me?"

" I'm happy to be your friend," Anodyne tucked his knees to his chest. "You're not ready -- you're grieving Res still. And you see me as a kid."

It had been six earth months since Resonance had died. Ratchet also hadn't seen 'Dyne as a child ... basically, ever. Anodyne was too responsible and mature for Ratchet to ever see him as childlike. He seemed far, far, older than his years, and anyway, he was almost the same age as Res. Megatron had actually died first by a few weeks, but apparently, it had taken Soundwave a few earthly months to find a vat for Megatron's spark.

'Dyne was, also, the type of mech that Ratchet fell in love with. He was big, heroic, and full of unshakeable convictions.  

"I'll always grieve," Ratchet said, softly, looking down at his hands. The psychiatric code was particularly annoying tonight; he thought he should have a stronger reaction to Anodyne's admission. He responded, eventually, "A part of me died with Resonance, I think. 'Dyne ... have you desired me all this time?"

Anodyne shook his head quickly. "No. Well -- yes, you're pretty damned attractive, but I wouldn't have come between you and Res. The idea of hurting you two was a bit of a mood killer."

He really looked at Anodyne, and tried to feel the desire he knew that Anodyne ought to inspire in him. He had powerful limbs, broad shoulders, a comparatively narrow waist, big hands and feet. His treads were slung over his shoulders. A helm, unadorned and elegant in its simplicity, framing strong features with high cheek struts and amber optics. Anodyne was dark brown except for a few gold highlights, and his biolights were the exact same shade as his gaze. He felt a flicker of interest, and seized on it, knowing it would have been a burning fire if not for the code. Anodyne was gorgeous.

They were in a war. Even on Earth, they weren't really safe ... Ratchet shuttered his optics, and thought that if anything happened to Anodyne he would someday, when the code was not blunting his feelings, regret not acting on the warmth rising in his spark. He cared about the young mech so very much. He ... wanted him. Even now, he wanted him desperately.

When he opened his optical shutters again, Anodyne had risen. "I should go."

"No!" Ratchet held a hand out. "Come here. Stay."

Anodyne hesitated. "I don't want you to regret this later."

But he took a step closer.

"I won't." Ratchet thought that was true. "I'll regret it if I don't, Anodyne."

Anodyne dropped to one knee and swept Ratchet into a kiss that seemed to go on and on. Even with the effects of the code affecting his emotions, it felt so good to be held, and caressed, and kissed until he was breathless. He clung tightly to 'Dyne's shoulders, and returned the kiss with eagerness that he didn't need to feign.

The world spun abruptly, as 'Dyne scooped him up, turned around, and sat down on the edge of the berth. Ratchet found himself straddling Anodyne's lap, pressed against the mech's hot interface paneling.

'Dyne's optics were bright with arousal. His fans were howling, his power plant rumbling. "... Ratchet," he groaned, hands sliding over Ratchet's plating and fingers dipping into sensitive channels. "Oh, Ratchet. I don't ... I don't even have words."

"Anodyne," Ratchet pressed a kiss to his lips, then withdrew, though he slid his own fingers under Anodyne's pauldrons and teased sensitive nervewires. "Listen to me for a moment."

Anodyne blinked at him, then said uncertainly, "... what?"

"I can't ... I can't, sexually. Those circuits are damaged. They won't come online. I can't get aroused, much less climax. But I can enjoy this anyway."

Anodyne blew out a sharp breath.

"It's because of the arc-out I had." He pressed his chevron to Anodyne's helm.  "And the code doesn't help.

"I ..." Anodyne frowned. "Ratchet, I get turned on by bringing pleasure to others. It's how I'm wired. It's never about me when 'facing."

They looked at each other, dumbfounded and at an unexpected impasse. Then Anodyne laughed, suddenly, "Bet you're the same."

Ratchet considered, then snickered. "Yeah, pretty much. I get off on watching my partners come undone."

"I want to feel you lose control." Anodyne's thumb stroked his jaw. "Ratchet, you do so much for others, and you're so selfless, and I have this incredible desire to make you completely forget anything but pleasure for a few moments. You deserve it."

"Not happening." Ratchet felt inadequate, and useless, in that moment.

Anodyne cupped his hands around the back of Ratchet's neck, and looked him in the optics. "Do you trust me?"

"Yes," he said, without hesitation.

"You have the right pleasure centers, the connections are just broken, right? And the code isn't helping, it limits how much your processor is aware of your spark's emotional responses."

"... yes?" Now he was wary.

Anodyne said, "I've never used my gift outside a professional capacity. It would ... make me very happy ... if you would trust me now."

The big mech's fingers were warm against the back of his head. Ratchet couldn't help feel a curl of apprehension, but he also did trust Anodyne, and he knew how important it was to Anodyne to be trusted and accepted. This mattered to the Host.

He nodded, a bit jerkily, and said, "Go ahead."

Anodyne's touch in his mind was gentle, as always, and very focused. Ratchet gasped as pleasure curled through his frame while, simultaneously, the effect of the code disappeared. It felt exactly as if he were aroused, even though he knew it was impossible. His spark was full of excited joy and eager anticipation, and burning, ferocious desire. He'd known those feelings were still there, but now they washed over him in a tidal wave that made him cry out in surprised pleasure.

Anodyne pressed him back to the berth, one hand cupping his helm, and the other dropping down to stroke his hip. Ratchet willingly spread his legs, baring his interface array, groaning as the pleasure turned to hot and urgent arousal.

"Oh, Primus!" He cried out, wrapping his legs around Anodyne's waist. "Oh, that's good, that's so good ..."

The mech pressed into him, a hard stretch accompanied by a flare of pain. He was dry -- he wasn't truly aroused -- but due to the stimulation of his processor it felt so real.

The friction alone triggered lubrication. The pain faded quickly. Anodyne, who had started out slow and cautious, gasped and groaned. His field was electric with arousal, and his optics flared bright. "So good, so good, oh Primus, Ratchet, so good ..."

Ratchet reached the heights of the greatest pleasure he'd ever felt in his life, then went ever higher. He screamed, and sobbed, and clung desperately, all awareness lost except for Anodyne. 'Dyne reacted with shattering intensity of his own.

"Never been like this with anyone!" Anodyne gasped, "Oh, Primus, Ratchet, Ratchet, Ratchet!"

He wasn't gentle. Anodyne set a pounding hard pace, and Ratchet met him with full cooperation. It felt so very good to be taken like that, like he wasn't fragile or breakable, and Anodyne knew it and didn't hesitate to drive into him with enthusiasm. They both flew higher and higher, lost in mindless pleasure ...

... and then when he overloaded it was explosive, shatteringly good. He'd never come like that before in his life.

When he came back to himself, minutes later, Anodyne's bulk was pressing him into the berth. The big mech was ventilating harshly, and holding onto him with a fierce grip. At the same time, the look in his amber optics was one of stunned realization, more than anything else.

"Primus, Ratchet. I knew it would be good. I didn't know it would be like that."

"Direct stimulation of the pleasure centers. Of course it was mind-blowing." Ratchet grinned at him. "Pit, 'Dyne, I'm surprised you never tried that with anyone before."

"It ... is really intimate." Anodyne rolled off him, but promptly wrapped an arm around him and held him close. Ratchet, who was not normally a touchy-feely mech, relaxed into his embrace. It was Anodyne, and he found it easy to drop his defenses around the mech. "I wouldn't do it with just anyone. You, though ... you accept me."

Ratchet covered Anodyne's hand with his own. "More than accept you, 'Dyne. You are really special. I don't ... I don't deserve you, but by Primus, I want you."

After a minute, Anodyne withdrew from his mind, and the numbness returned. Ratchet sighed, and snuggled into Anodyne's arms. He could still feel a ghost of an afterglow, and the trust and affection he had for Anodyne was pleasant.

A bit later, Anodyne tried to return to his pallet on the floor. Ratchet stopped him by simply saying his name, "Anodyne," and scooting over on the berth. He patted the space he'd made.

Anodyne didn't have to be invited twice. They talked long into the night and then he slept in Anodyne's arms; for once, he had no disturbing dreams.

In the morning, they updated their personnel files to reflect they were Endura.

 

Chapter Text


The space bridge was busy this evening.

Anodyne stood close to the event horizon, but to all intents and purposes he seemed to be paying little attention to the comings and goings of mecha and humans.

He was, in fact, ignoring the humans. One of the advantages to human soldiers was that they could not be slave coded -- rumor had it that the Quintessans were trying, but they hadn't figured out a way to hack human brains yet. This did not stop the squids from killing humans in very large numbers in an amazing variety of creative ways, but it did mean that they couldn't turn human soldiers back on their own side easily.

However, despite the datapad in one hand and the cube of spiced energon in the other, his attention was on every single exiting Cybertronian. He tried to look nonchalant, because when he focused his full attention on others it caused paranoia. His gift was wide open at the moment, and he was looking for the combination of deception, panic, pain, rage and fear that most coded mecha exhibited. He just tried hard not to look like he was studying them.

"'Dyne," Jazz's hardlight avatar called from the control deck above the gate, "We've got incoming. Confirmation six are rescued POWs, all are coded."

"Gotcha." He threw a salute in Jazz's direction, which Jazz answered before disappearing back among the humans that the avatar was modeled on.

The avatar was Skitter's doing, and he was incredibly proud of her for working out the details. Most mecha used their spacial and motor processors to generate hardlight avatars. They were rather processor intensive constructs if they had any degree of complexity and a human avatar was wildly complex.

Jazz's avatar was generated by a stand-alone computer and emitter mounted on his chair, which meant Jazz himself had to be somewhere nearby. Since Jazz's new motor processor was still sitting in a lab, he couldn't create the avatar himself. Skitter's workaround was to create an avatar that functioned like a drone; it was semi-autonomous, and had basic, routine movements scripted in. Jazz simply commanded those movements over a commlink.

The avatar was human. Skitter had offered to make him an avatar that looked like Jazz's Cybertronian self, however, Jazz said the idea creeped him out a bit too much. The human avatar worked well enough, and it certainly gave the commander better ability to interact with others. It also gave him autonomy over his own self care. He could fuel himself with it, reposition himself in his chair (the avatar was far stronger than any human) and perform his own basic maintenance.

It had also allowed Jazz to resume a more active role in base operations. If Jazz said that the incoming mechanisms were slave coded, that wasn't speculation. He was in direct communication with the commanders on the other side.

Anodyne moved a bit closer to the bridge, and shed his usual guise of casual disinterest.  Now he stood with sharp interest focused on the gate, hands loose at his side and feet spread widely.  He lowered his shields in preparation for 'pathing  the incoming mecha, and sent a warning to Skitter.

~Be careful.~ She thought.

~Always am, darling.~

~Mmmhmm. And I always worry. Ratchet says to pass his love on, by the way.~

~You two together right now?~

~Lunch with some human colleagues.~ She sent him a brief mental image of Ratchet seated on the ground beside a picnic bench, sipping a cube of mid grade, and chatting with a couple engineers. Ratchet looked relaxed, and was grinning. Skitter was sprawled beside him, and he had a hand casually resting on her shoulders.

Before he could react to that image (and it was so good to see Ratchet so relaxed!), First Aid stumbled through the gate with a large flier leaning heavily on his shioulder. Anodyne saw long limbs and a thin frame, all the color of burnished steel, and recognized Silverbolt ...

... and then his power pump stuttered in his chest, followed by a roar of battle protocols coming online out of sheer reflexive shock. Silverbolt was dead. That had to be a drone with an artificial processor, programmed as a trojan horse. He couldn't 'path a drone and it was likely an immediate threat! Nobody had forgotten the time the Quintessons had sent a mech wired with a bomb through the gate.

Except his gift told him that it was Silverbolt, and Silverbolt was alive, albeit highly stressed. The mech was clearly fighting slave code; that was obvious to Anodyne's empathic senses.

First Aid saw his stunned look, then said with a grim humorless smile, "Look behind me."

Anodyne's gaze jerked up, from the half-dead jet leaning on First Aid to the sight of a battered and exhausted shuttle, gold paint shining brightly from beneath years of filth. Resonance had just stepped through the gate, and when he saw Anodyne, he stumbled forward with a cry. "'Dyne! I'm so glad to see you!"

Anodyne found himself pulled into a fierce hug, even as he frantically 'pathed the mech holding him. Resonance didn't have the feel of a mechanism who'd been coded. He didn't have that terrified edge at all.

It was Resonance -- it was really Resonance! -- and Res felt the psionic scan that Anodyne directed at his processor, and said in mild reaction, "Dyne, I'm still coded, but it's suppressed, for now."

"Pit!" Anodyne turned to First Aid, "Assume 'Bolt's coded too."

First Aid said, "They all are ... Res did something. Something about bogging it down with calculations, he says."

Others came through the gate, then. Music was one of them -- Jazz saw him and his avatar gave a surprised cry and vaulted over a railing from the observation platform above the bridge. Verve followed Music, then a tiny mechling youngling that Anodyne had never seen before, and bringing up rear, a minibot femme he vaguely recognized as being born on Earth. He couldn't recall her name, but then again, his focus was on the shuttle who was still holding him in a fierce embrace.

He 'pathed Resonance again, well aware that he was vulnerable in this position. Resonance could turn vicious in a nanoclick if they were wrong about the slave coding being locked down.

"The code's suppressed, 'Dyne." Resonance sounded utterly exhausted when he said it. "I worked something out with a friend's help. I'll need help completely removing it, but we figured out how to temporarily disable it."

Resonance was correct. The code was not deactivated, but it was being controlled by methods Anodyne wanted to look at further, later.  He backed out of Resonance's mind immediately; since Resonance's mental faculties were completely intact, he'd need Resonance's consent to take any further action.

"... we?" He asked. Of the mecha he could see, none of them knew much about coding or had the clock speed and parallel processing ability -- and creativity -- to defeat Quint coding. He wasn't surprised that Resonance had pulled such a trick off, but the rest of them had no more than average processors, at best. Music was exceptionally brilliant, but Anodyne doubted he had the focus or strength of character to win a mental fight with slave code.

"How's Ratchet?" Resonance said, not answering Anodyne's question.

Ratchet. Anodyne froze with horror.

Oh, Primus.

Primus.

"He must have thought me dead," Resonance prompted.

"... he did. He didn't take it well, but he's been doing a lot better." Anodyne answered numbly. Ratchet. Ratchet. Pit. He didn't even know what to think. Ratchet was doing so much better, and this would shake Ratchet's world to its core. He didn't want to see Ratchet hurt again.

Resonance rested both hands on Anodyne's shoulders. "You took care of him for me?"

Anodyne wanted to giggle like a guilty youngling. He simply nodded. "He's ... he's my best friend," he said, which was totally true. "I can't imagine a world without him in it." Which was also true, though he feared now he'd find out what that absence-of-Ratchet was like. "Of course I took care of him."

Resonance hugged him in a tight, fierce, close embrace. "I've missed both of you so much."



Ratchet was finishing up a surgery when he got an urgent ping from Anodyne.

:... What's up?: He said, assuming it had something to do with incoming casualties. Anodyne saw them first, as they came through the gate, and often sent Ratchet reports on injuries.

:Ratchet, I have some ... news ... you need to know.: Anodyne sounded strange. :You know how we thought spark bonds were forever and unbreakable?:

:Yeah?: He said, unsuspecting. He'd been somewhat hoping 'Dyne would bring up the idea of merging and possibly bonding as Ratchet had been too chicken. This, however, seemed a strange way to broach the subject.

:Apparently, the Quints know how to break them.:

At that moment, an updated casualty roster popped up in Ratchet's HUD. Silverbolt's name was at the top.

:Silverbolt's alive?:

:If it was just Silverbolt, I wouldn't be hesitating to tell you,: Anodyne said, with dark humor evident in his comm voice.

:Resonance.: Ratchet said, flatly. Resonance's name was at the bottom, as he had no major injuries.

:Yeah.:

:Resonance is ... alive? You're sure?:

:Yeah. Seen him, touched him with my own hands, 'pathed him to make sure. He's alive as you and I, Ratchet, and I'm looking right at him. He's here at the command center, talking to Jazz and Prowl.:

Ratchet dropped the wrench he was holding, and said, :But I thought he was dead.:

:No shit, sherlock.: Anodyne's voice turned a bit brittle. Ratchet knew the feeling. :Get down to the command center. He's asking for you.:




Ratchet burst through the doors of command center, impatiently shoved past a startled intern, and took the stairs three at a time to the second floor briefing room.

Resonance.

Was.

Alive.

He didn't quite believe it until, vents puffing, he hurried into the room and saw the shuttle with his own optics.

Tall. Strong.

Gold and metallic red paint, covered in dark grease and soot but still shiny in spots where it the dirt was rubbed away. Blue biolights, so familiar. He remembered how much he'd loved Resonance's colors, and had never thought he'd see them again.

Blue optics, expression noticeably harder than he remembered.

Field, closed off and tight, jaw set, with lines that Ratchet hadn't remembered around the corners of his optics and mouth.

He looked vorns older than Ratchet remembered -- older, by far, than his years.

Ratchet scanned him.

He was in rough shape, with signs of profound neglect and malnutrition, and low energy levels, but nothing critical.

"Ratchet?" Resonance finally said, taking a step towards him. "Pit. I've missed you so much."

Ratchet let himself be hugged, though he honestly didn't know what to feel. He thought he should be ecstatic, but then he caught Anodyne's gaze, and saw the forlorn look on his Endura's face.

Was 'Dyne his Endura? Resonance was his bondmate.

A bond that had been broken, and bonds could only be broken by death. A bond neither of them had chosen, and which both had sometimes resented. And yet, he loved Resonance, and could never forget the utter joy he'd felt in their single sparkmerge.

He said in a whisper, "... but how? How can this be?"

"Resonance was just telling me that they managed to suppress Quintessan slave coding enough to escape, and take the others with him." First Aid said. "I'd like to know how he managed that trick. Nobody else has ever done that."

"I mean, how ... we thought you were dead. I felt you die." Ratchet stared up at him. He felt guilt for all kinds of reasons; he should have known Res was still alive.

"You felt the bond break, but I did not die ... the Quintessons have ways to manipulate quantum fields that we can only dream of." Resonance let him go, but gazed down at him with bright optics. "Ratchet, you must have been devastated ... how have you been? You thought I was dead!"

Ratchet shrugged. He didn't want to talk about it. "I'm doing okay now. You're suppressing the coding, you say? Is that even safe?"

Resonance rumbled, "I will very much appreciate when Anodyne can remove it. However, it would be best if they treated the others, first. I am ... stronger. It is unpleasant, but the code is at no risk of escaping my control at this time."

Resonance's optics looked ancient, in that moment. Then he glanced around the room, taking in those present: Ratchet, Prowl, Jazz, Ultra Magnus, Skyfire, Starscream, Soundwave, Hoist, and Wheeljack. Resonance spared a brief but genuine smile for Jacky, who grinned proudly back, and then addressed the room at large, "I have missed all of you. It is good to be home."

In that moment, he didn't look like the young shuttle Ratchet had known. His posture, and his voice, were very much Optimus.

"As you are aware, Silverbolt and I led an escape from a Quintessan prison camp. What you are not aware of is that we had Quintessan assistance."

A murmur went through the room.

Resonance bowed his head briefly, then held his hands out, palm up, and said, "Freedom, as Optimus would say, is the right of all sentient beings. That belief is the core of our civilization, but we are not the only people to hold that belief. The Quintessans have a saying, that chains on one are chains on all."

"But they don't believe we're sentient," Jazz growled, "they see us as machines!"

"... not all Quintessons." A small smile touched Resonance's lips. "Just as Cybertronians are individuals, so are Quintessans. I have the privilege to call one such Quintessan, who believes in our freedom, a friend. He is -- was -- a lead researcher -- and he came to know me, to call me friend, and to see the truth. He came to realize that we are not mere machines, and that a grave injustice had been done, and that his role in those crimes was significant. And so, he seeks redemption,"

Absolute silence.

"Please don't shoot him," Resonance added, and then reached into his subspace and produced a Quintessan. It took him a moment to pull the blinking, tentacled creature entirely out of his subspace; it promptly cringed back against Resonance's legs.

Bedlam.

Jazz's hardlight avatar produced a very real human sized plasma gun. Starscream screeched and jumped up on the table, then aimed a blaster at both Resonance and the squid. Ratchet swore, and grabbed for a laser scalpel. Prowl's doorwings flared aggressively, and one hand disappeared into his subspace, though he didn't actually draw a weapon. The rest of the room reacted similarly.

Resonance visibly winced and clapped a hand to his head; likely, Soundwave had just 'pathed him under the assumption that he was acting under active slave code.

"Are you crazy!" Ratchet shouted at him, also wondering if he was acting under code.

"ENOUGH!" Resonance roared, hitting Optimus's exact timbre and intonation. Ratchet wasn't the only one in the room who had a reflexive spark-deep reaction to that commanding tone, though he rather thought the Decepticon associations were different than the Autobot ones. In any case, it got everyone's attention.

Resonance added, in a deep rumble, "Etric is not a threat!"

The Quintessan cowered, all five eye-stalks retracted into his head, tentacles wrapped around himself and Resonance's ankles, and chromatophores flashing the same colors as Resonance's legs and the concrete floor. He was unarmed -- though Ratchet knew just how strong those tentacles could be -- and he was visibly shaking.

Resonance glared hotly. "You will not harm him. He is our greatest hope for absolute victory -- and one of the most decent people I have ever met."

Silence. Utter silence filled the room.

Jazz was the first to speak. "... Etric, is it? Not Etric d!kl!k, head of the Quintessan University of Mechanical Technology?"

One eyestalk poked out, and with evident wariness, the Quint studied Jazz. "Resonance promise safety," the Quintessan said -- in slow Cybertronian.

"You are Etric?" Skyfire stepped forward. Apparently he also recognized the name.

"I am he you speak of." Another eyestalk slowly emerged. One pointed at Jazz, who did not look happy. The other fixed on Skyfire.  When a third eyestalk appeared, it focused on Prowl, and then the creature's chromatophores all produced swirling lines pointed in Prowl's direction. "Sir, Commander Prowl, I surrender to your mercy."

Prowl's doorwings flicked. "Why?"

"Because ... I must help you. I must."

Resonance stroked a hand down Etric's head, and met their stares with a challenging look. Quintessans were large for an organic species; the top of his head reached the middle of Resonance's thigh in his current cringing position. Ratchet estimated that if he actually pushed himself up to stand on his tentacles, he'd be elbow height to Resonance -- or equivalent to Ratchet's own height.

"I believe you must have a tale to tell," Prowl said, finally, to Resonance. "Ultra Magnus, place the Quintesson in secure quarters and post a guard you trust. He is not to be harmed. Jazz, you will be responsible for interrogating him. Resonance, I will be debriefing you shortly, along with Soundwave. Ratchet, please see to the care of the other POWs. We will dismiss Resonance into your care as soon as possible."




"... space bridge codes?" Jazz's avatar looked up from the datapad in his hand to the Quintesson next to Resonance.

Res sat in a too-small briefing room chair, and had one hand resting on the Quintesson's bulbous body. There was no mistaking Resonance's affection for the creature, nor that he felt protective of him. Etric had flatly refused to talk unless Resonance was there, out of justifiable fear of strange Cybetronians.

"How did you get the space bridge codes?" Jazz asked, voice gentle. Etric was willing to talk, but scared to death. Jazz hated Quintessons as much as the next Cybertronian, but this was less an interrogation than an interview. Resonance knew that Jazz was faking a kind tone for the moment, because it would get better results. Resonance hoped that once Jazz had the whole story he might have genuinely warmer feelings for the Quintesson scientist.

"Another friend." Etric clicked a couple of times, a sound of distress. "Unaware of my theft of information from him. Quintessan command should remain unaware bridge is compromised."

"... We could destroy your world with this." Jazz pointed out, eyes narrowing.

Etric's eyes closed, all five of them. "I am aware."

Resonance comm'd Jazz, :We can conquer Quintessa without destroying it. We're better than they are. It's what we WILL do.:

Jazz ignored Resonance for now in favor of Etric. He demanded, "Why would you give us that information?"

"My people ... not all are evil. Our commanders are. Quintessa is being run by evil people. We destroy other worlds. Enough death. It is time to stop it. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings, is it not? Optimus Prime said this. Optimus also made the same choice as I did, to sacrifice his world and his people as the lesser evil. Humanity lives free, because of Prime. I make the same choice, to save Cybertron, at the expense of my own people."

Resonance gave Jazz a look, then comm'd him, :Etric is one of the greatest heroes I've ever known. You will understand more ... when you see my memory dumps of our entire captivity.:

Jazz was looking forward, with real intrigue, to dissecting those files.  




They finally released Resonance from debriefing several hours later, and Jazz was replaced by Soundwave. Jazz hurried away with urgent information to impart -- Resonance had come home with game-changing data. Not just space bridge codes, but maps and locations of key Quintessan resources.

Resonance regarded Soundwave with real relief as the host entered the interrogation room. The slave coding was an angry, heated buzz in the back of his processor, and he wanted it gone. However, he said, "You're going to do it, not Anodyne?"

"Anodyne, will talk later." Soundwave regarded Resonance with impassive optics for a long moment. "Soundwave will remove coding."

"... thank you." Resonance said, "I trust you, Soundwave."

"Most mecha do not." Soundwave's voice was flatter than usual.

"You would not have raised a child like Anodyne if you were not a good mech."

"Anodyne is ... more than he seems." Soundwave said, a sentiment that Resonance agreed with. "His strength of character, strong beliefs, no surprise. His loyalty to friends, no surprise. His unwavering pacifism, very unexpected."

"... why?"

But Soundwave would not say. Instead, the old Host changed the subject. "We believed Resonance deceased. Ratchet, suffered greatly."

"I know. I couldn't escape. I tried. Then ... other things became more important than either of us." It had been a hard-learned lesson, but one that felt like it had always been part of his spark now. He had needed to sacrifice not only his own well being, but Ratchet's as well, for the greater good.

"You were coded." Soundwave said, simply. "Code, will be removed now."

Soundwave's touch on his processor was light at first, but then the code registered it and he understood why Anodyne's patients so often screamed. Horror and fear and terror, artificial but as strong as if they had come from his own spark, ripped through his processor. He tried to flee, but Soundwave had an iron-hard grip on his motor cortex. Instead, he crumpled to the ground.

The Host knelt beside him, and pressed long clawed fingers to his helm.

No no no no! Fight fight fight fight! The code screamed, defending itself, and forcing him to struggle with it. It was horrible, but he was long used to the effect, and simply endured while Soundwave worked.

It was very evident that Soundwave had considerable practice removing Quintessan slave code. Resonance felt relief when the horrible pressure in his mind was gone, then immediately darkness took him as he fell into a medical defrag cycle.

Soundwave regarded the young shuttle for a long moment before summoning an orderly to help move him to the room's berth. His had not been a typical slavery under Quintessans, and the damage done to his mental state should have been far worse than it was.

Resonance was perhaps the strongest mind he'd ever touched.

 

 

Chapter Text

Resonance woke to the awareness that he wasn't alone. Anodyne sat at the foot of his bed, reading a datapad; when Resonance moved, and his power plant cycled up, 'Dyne looked up sharply.

"Where's Ratchet ...?" Resonance asked. Ratchet was foremost on his mind.

"He has an emergency surgery." Anodyne rose and moved to his side. "I offered to sit with you. Res, don't hold it against Ratchet that he's not here -- we're trying to take the Quint space bridge and it's pretty bad. Ratchet wants to be here, but he has other duties."

"That was fast." Resonance understood, though he was aching to see Ratchet. He'd spent so long waiting and worrying, he just wanted to fold Ratchet into his arms and hold him forever.

"Indeed. They decided to act decisively." Anodyne crouched beside the berth. "You ... made a tremendous difference, my friend."

"How is Ratchet doing?" Resonance knew Ratchet had suffered. He felt horrible about that.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about." Anodyne shifted uncomfortably. "Res, he thought you were dead. For three years, he thought you were dead."

"It couldn't have been easy thing for him." That had to be an understatement. Resonance remembered Ratchet's desperation and horror in reaction to his apparent dying. Before the bond had broken, he'd felt just how much he meant to the older medic. Ratchet had to have been devastated.

"It ... wasn't a good time for any of us." Anodyne folded his arms across his chest, and wouldn't meet Resonance's gaze. "We all thought you were dead. And Ratchet ... Ratchet didn't take it well, as I am certain you know. Quite honestly, there were times I feared losing him. If not to death, for he was never suicidal except in the first moments, I feared he might lose that certain spark that makes him special."

"You feared ..." something about Anodyne's tone made Resonance look up.

"Res, it's been three years since we thought you died. He mourned you, he grieved hard ... but then he moved on. Though we have not merged nor bonded, we have been formally and legally Conjunx Endura for six months."

Resonance made a small, quiet sound of surprise. He looked genuinely startled.

Anodyne scrubbed at his face with his hands. "I love him with all my spark, Res. He's everything I ever dreamed I would have. And ... and I want more than anything that he be happy. He has a choice to make, now -- me, or you. I'd suggest trine, but I'm not sure you could handle it ... or Ratchet, either, quite honestly."

Resonance opened his mouth, shut it, then looked sharply away. That Ratchet would have moved on, much less done so with Anodyne, was something he hadn't even considered. He didn't touch on Anodyne's comments about him being unable to handle the complexities of a trio; Anodyne, he feared, was right. He had difficulty with just one partner on a good day.

Anodyne said, voice firm, "I am going to encourage him to chose the mech who will make him happy, and I will do my damndest to make him feel good about that choice, regardless of my own feelings on the matter. If he chooses you, so be it. I know you love him too ... and he is carrying your child. She is due in less than a year now. I had planned to claim her as my own, and raise her as my child, but she is yours."

Resonance shuttered his optics. He had spent the last three years in a Quintesson prison camp. He didn't even want to think about the things that he had been forced to do to survive. The thought of Ratchet -- of returning to Ratchet, because Ratchet needed him -- had been his primary motive for survival. All he wanted to do was to fall into Ratchet's arms for a month and forget the rest of the universe existed; he desperately craved his bondmate's touch in his spark. He'd fantasized about renewing the bond ... and this time, it would be their choice.

And ... the child. His child. He just felt numb when he thought about her. He'd lost so many. It hurt too much.

Anodyne added softly, "I don't know what he'll choose, Res. I can only hope he makes the decision for himself, not for us."

"I ... love him." Resonance whispered this. He wanted him so badly.

"So do I." Anodyne's voice was very firm. "And because I love him, I am willing to let him go if that's what he wants. But only if that's what he wants."

Resonance had survived in the camps because he'd been willing to sacrifice everything, including himself. This was just one more sacrifice. He bowed his head and said, "I expect he's happier with you, anyway. He didn't actually chose me and I know there were days when he was profoundly unhappy."

Anodyne gripped Resonance's shoulder. "I expect there are days when Ratchet is pissed at me, too. That's a normal part of any relationship. He loved you, Res -- and still loves you. I know that for an absolute certainty. Never forget that."

Resonance went rigid at the touch; Anodyne pulled his hand away hastily. "I'm sorry."

"... it's not you." Resonance reached deep down into his spark and found the strength to say, "I'll talk to Ratchet, and I'll listen to what he has to say. And ... Anodyne, thank you. For taking care of him."

The words tasted bitter; he was angry and hurt and he didn't really want to hear what Anodyne had to say. He just wanted Ratchet to be his. But ... he could be graceful. From Ratchet's standpoint, he had been dead; Ratchet had been strong enough to move on, and to start to heal. It was, he told himself, a good thing that Ratchet had found a partner in Anodyne.

He tried to ignore the selfish twist of pain and betrayal that filled his spark.



Ratchet got out of surgery nearly a day later. He had deliberately avoided thinking about Resonance, focusing instead on the critical need to save lives.

Somewhat to his surprise, the reports coming from Quintessa indicated that Cybertron and Earth had established joint control of the Quintessan side of a spacebridge. He didn't know how, didn't particularly care, but for now they had direct access to the Quintessan homeworld, and human troops and their weapons were streaming across as rapidly as they could be deployed. It was an unexpected and game-changing development.

Resonance had made this possible.

He stared up at Earth's stars for a moment. It was a dark, clear night. Earth was peaceful, and safe, and it was his home now. He'd planned on a future with Anodyne, who he didn't think would ever be sent into the war zone. Anodyne was a rock: steady, calm, and unswerving in his convictions. He was everything that Ratchet had ever needed in his life.

As if thinking of him summoned him, Anodyne stepped out of the shadows. His dark paint made him well suited for sneaking, and years of martial arts training and a few recent mods let him move with startling silence. Ratchet jumped in surprise.

"Apologies. I wasn't sure if you wanted my company right now."

Ratchet held his arms out and Anodyne obligingly swept him into a hug. Anodyne was warm and powerful, with a calm field. He smelled of his favorite soap and polish. Ratchet never wanted to let him go, and Anodyne seemed to feel the same way, for he held Ratchet close and tight and murmured, "Ratchet, if I knew he was alive, I never would have let this happen between us."

He sighed, and pressed into the strong field that he'd grown so accustomed to. The sparkling, reacting to Anodyne's familiar field, moved actively in his gestation chamber. "Anodyne, I'm exhausted. I don't want to think about it now."

"Resonance ... is asking for you." Anodyne released him.

"Does he know about us?"

Anodyne's field flared with anxiety. "I told him, yes."

Which saved Ratchet that angst. He tried not to feel guilty about his relief at not being the one to break the news. "That couldn't have been easy."

"No, but he's my friend, and I owed him the truth ... I don't know what happened in that camp, but he's hurting."

"It was probably a breeding camp," Ratchet said, a bit reluctantly. "He's an alpha spark with outlier gifts. They would want more like him."

"I figured. I've seen enough of that in the processors of others. Ratchet -- he's so strong. He's hurting, yes, but he's incredibly resilient. I see Optimus in him now, more than ever."

"You never met Optimus."

Anodyne pressed a kiss to Ratchet's chevron. "I've met him through your memories."

Ratchet turned his face upwards, and caught Anodyne's lips with his own. He reached for his endura, fingers sliding under Anodyne's armor and frame arching into his touch. Anodyne was the best lover he'd ever had, and he just wanted to go home and fall into his arms and forget the world existed. For a moment, he lost himself in Anodyne's embrace.

"I should go talk to Resonance," he said, with very mixed feelings, finally, when they parted.

Anodyne stroked his helm with long fingers, then said, "Yes, you need to speak to him. Ratchet, you've got a choice to make, and I don't envy it. I would ... miss this ... very much. What we have. I'd planned to ask you to bond with me, and to be my partner for the rest of our lives. I never thought I'd find someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but you are that mech, and I wanted that, I want you. I planned to raise the child you carry as my own, and I saw a future for us together, here on Earth."

Ratchet's embrace turned to desperate clutching, holding tight to the young mech who'd become his world. He shook his head in silent denial. He had desired that future, too.

Anodyne's arms tightened around him. "But Resonance expected much the same, and ... he was first, and you love him. I will go on, and perhaps find love again, should you chose him. I will be fine. I am strong."

Ratchet shook his head. He didn't know what to do. He said, simply, "I'll talk to him."

Anodyne tipped his head up with a gentle touch to his jaw. "Ratchet, make the choice for yourself. I'll be okay. I'll grieve but ... but life goes on, and I want you to be happy more than anything else. Resonance is strong too, and he has many friends. He'll go on with his life without you as well. You need to choose for you."

Ratchet said softly, "'Dyne ... I love you."

"And you love him too. And that's okay." Anodyne pressed another kiss to his helm. "Go. Talk to him. I know you will make the right decision. And ... I will always be your friend, and will always support you, regardless of your choice."




Ratchet decided to go home and refuel and shower before facing Res. He was exhausted, but knew he wouldn't recharge until they talked. He was stalling, and he admitted it to himself, but that didn't stop him from turning toward the officer's barracks.

Earth's sun was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky when Ratchet sent a databurst with his code to his front door lock. Humans had completed a low-slung block of Cybertronian apartments the year before, and Ratchet had been assigned a spacious two-bedroom flat on the first floor. He and Anodyne shared one bedroom; Skitter had turned the other into a workshop with a small berth that was her size in one corner.

The front door was large enough for Ratchet to drive through, which meant that he could respond to middle-of-the-night emergencies that much faster. It wasn't entirely unusual for him to roll out of bed, transform, and screech out of the building in alt mode. This time, however, he rolled through the front door on his wheels before transforming and rising. He didn't see that Resonance was on the couch until he stood up.

Res was in uneasy light recharge, no cleaner than the last time Ratchet had seen him, and a quick scan confirmed he was running on fumes. His vents were rattling as he slept, and he moved frequently.

 After watching him for a minute, Ratchet called his name. There was no response, so he touched Resonance gently on the arm, then stroked the grimy plating. "Res, wake up."

He should have known better. Resonance exploded into consciousness. His fist connected with Ratchet's mouth, and the force of the startled blow knocked Ratchet onto his aft.

Resonance ended up in a defensive crouch halfway across the room, fans screaming and capacitors whining with maximum charge. His hydraulics were overpressurized, his optics blazing, his wings pinned flat to his back.

"Res?" Ratchet said, knowing he'd been very stupid. He knew better than to wake some warriors up that way, but it was Res and the Resonance he'd known had not been even remotely twitchy. Even Optimus had not been apt to react with violence.

"Pit." Resonance said, then, "Slag. Ratchet. Sorry. Did I hurt you?"

Ratchet could taste energon from a bitten lip, but he shook his head. "I'm fine. I'm sorry to startle you."

Resonance scrubbed at his face with his hands, "Sorry. It's been ... it's been hell. They used recharge as a reward for good behavior -- and if we fell into recharge when we weren't supposed to, they'd wake us up with shock sticks. I don't think I ever got enough recharge until I met Etric."

"Your ... Quintesson friend." It felt strange to modify the glyph for Quintesson with the possessive suffix that meant friend in Cybertronian ... he couldn't ever remember doing so in his entire life. He'd only ever heard that combination used as an insult or sarcastically.

"Yeah." Resonance slowly straightened up, then padded over. Ratchet, heavy with child, still sat on the ground. His torso grew wider by the day; his hydraulics weakened by the stretch, and his center of gravity shifted lower. Getting up from the ground wasn't easy anymore.

Resonance offered him a hand up, and Ratchet gratefully took it. The shuttle, with a grunt of effort, pulled him to his feet. "Do you have lead for struts?" Resonance said, surprised by his new weight. "Pit, Ratch."

"Just a sparkling," Ratchet said, "I'm denser than I used to be. And you -- you need fuel and you need a shower."

Resonance blinked at him. "I knew you were that far along ... but she was just a flicker next to your spark the last time I saw you. Pit. It's been too long."

"Yeah." Ratchet eyed Resonance. The mech was filthy, head to toe with greasy black grunge. He'd left stains on the couch where he'd been sleeping, and would do the same to Ratchet's kitchen chairs. His tanks were very low, though, and Ratchet judged that he needed fuel more than he needed a bath in this moment.

Ratchet reached into his subspace and produced a cube of medical grade energon. The stuff was almost universally loathed -- it was so full of mineral supplements that some compared it to drinking the rust sea, while simultaneously lacking any filter-clogging carbon sweeteners or line-corroding but tasty metal salts. He added a vial of mild pain killers and another of a minor sedative to the cube -- Res's field indicated he was still on edge -- then handed it to Resonance. "You drink that. I'll get the tub ready."

The officers' apartments all had soaking tubs of solvent; Ratchet truly appreciated this touch. It was common for him to come home with spilled energon and other fluids under his armor and in his joints. Anodyne had spent many, many evenings helping him get clean, and vice versa. Cleaning often then turned to interfacing ... and then another round of cleaning to get the paint transfers and fluids off.

Resonance followed him into the bathroom, and Ratchet noticed the cube was gone from his hands. Ratchet twisted around when he realized that the shuttle wasn't drinking, and started to order him to finish fueling. Nobody liked medical grade.

"Do you have another?" Resonance asked, sounding somewhat sheepish. "I'm starving."

"Literally, by the readings I'm getting from your frame. What were the Quints feeding you?" Resonance was badly malnourished, in addition to being very low in overall energy levels. His frame density was startling low, to the point where Ratchet was truly worried. Resonance had been offered fuel since arriving, but he'd probably burned through it at a rapid rate as his frame sought to restore itself.

"Poorly refined petrochemicals, mostly," Resonance answered. "We're all malnourished. Between the bad fuel and the constant carrying ... Silverbolt broke a femoral strut about a month ago, and we had a pit of a time getting it welded back together because he was so depleted. His struts were honeycombed with microfractures and little cysts. I expect I'm about the same."

"Constant carrying ...?" Ratchet said, picturing manual labor. Carrying stuff.

"Sparklings. They took them from us when we were about six weeks along, transferred them to vats, bred us again. And again. I had ... fourteen, I think." Resonance spoke matter-of-factly, and because of this it took Ratchet a moment to really react with horror.

When he did, his field flared out with fury and shock. He'd suspected Res had been in a breeding camp, but he didn't have to enjoy hearing the confirmation from Res's own vocalizer. "Where are these sparklings now?"

"On Quintessa." Resonance just sounded tired.

"Who sired them?"

Resonance shrugged. "No sires. Machinery. They can force your spark to bud. We were the elite ... they wanted to clone us, rather than risk random chance. Spark buds will have the same frequency as the parent, which means there are fourteen alpha frequency sparklings in Quint hands."

Ratchet shook his head. That was a problem for a later date. Perhaps they'd be able to rescue them if the invasion of Quintessa went well -- and the humans were out for blood, so it likely would. The humans had not forgiven the Quints for the utterly unprovoked invasion of Earth. "I'm sorry, Res. I'm so sorry ..."

Resonance let out a long, slow, sigh. "They will be in vats for the next five years. I can only hope we can rescue them before they are decanted ... or killed."

"I'm sure that will be a top priority."

Resonance said nothing, but his expression was bleak. The soaking tub was nearly full of hot solvent. Resonance, without further comment, stepped down into it. He sank lower, sinking into it up to his neck, wings flaring in the tub that was meant for two large mecha, optics shuttering. Ratchet considered his options for the best way to get Resonance clean, then with a mental shrug, joined him in the hot liquid. He pulled a brush from his subspace and said brusquely, "Lean forward, I'll get your back."

Resonance, still without a word, hunched forward so Ratchet could reach. "I haven't been clean since I left here," Resonance said, after a minute.

"I can see that." The water was turning grey and opaque as Ratchet worked. The filth smelled of soot and oil-based fuels. From the noises coming from Resonance's vents, his filters were as clogged as his plating was dirty. Resonance's paint was chipped and scratched under the dirt, and duller than he'd thought at first. It actually faded to nearly grey at the edges of his armor and around his pedes and wingtips. Only by contrasting with the grime did his gold paint look bright. Now, he looked sick, though after several changes of solvent, he was finally clean.

Ratchet handed Resonance another cube of medical grade and said, not unkindly, "Go sit."

Once Resonance had left the room, he sprayed himself down. The dirty solvent from the tub had left streaks and smears on his armor. He was on call, and could not respond to an emergency while obviously filthy. When he was done, he went to find Resonance.

Res was scrubbing the dirt from Ratchet's couch cushions. He looked up and said apologetically, "I've been so dirty for so long I didn't even think about the furniture ..."

"It's okay." Ratchet shook his head. "Soundwave's children and symbionts visit all the time. Everything I've got is washable. There's been far worse spilled on that couch. Brissa ate too many rust sticks and purged all over it a few weeks ago."

"Oh."

"C'mon, let's get some more fuel in you, and I want to change your filters."

Resonance sat in silence, sipping his fourth cube of medical grade, while Ratchet changed a multitude of fouled air and fluid filters, as well as draining and refilling multiple different fluid tanks. He didn't appear to have had any routine maintenance done in three years.

There were deep scars in his plating: gouges, scrapes, crude welds, melted stripes. The last criss-crossed his thighs and wings in a jagged pattern. It appeared that he had been beaten with a plasma whip. Ratchet had seen similar damage during the war. Ratchet wanted to ask about Resonance's imprisonment, but he wasn't sure if Resonance wanted to talk -- and if Resonance did start talking, he wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't good with emotional slag. He remained silent.

"I've missed you," Resonance said, as Ratchet tightened up the drain on a hydraulic fluid tank. "I ... know you thought I was dead."

"Yeah." Ratchet didn't really want to talk about it.

"All I could think about was getting back to you. I was scared you'd try to follow me to the Well, only to find I wasn't there."

"I had a job to do." Ratchet shook his head, a bit annoyed. "I've told you that before. I wasn't going to die if you went."

"You ... were thinking it, though. That's the last memory I have of you. You were thinking of following me to the Well. I thought you might go."  

He swallowed hard. "Yeah, but 'Dyne pulled me back. And then I was ... oh, Pit, Res, I wasn't okay, I was a mess, and I couldn't even do my function for awhile, but I'm doing a lot better now."

Resonance rose, suddenly, and turned to face Ratchet, and then pulled him into a tight hug. "I'm so sorry."

"Not your fault."

Resonance pressed a gentle kiss to his helm. "All I could think about for a long time was getting back to you."

"Yeah."

"I figured if you had died, I'd follow you to the Well ... but if you were alive, I figured you were blaming yourself, and I couldn't live with that. I knew you'd torture yourself with guilt."

Ratchet snorted a wry laugh. "That's pretty accurate. Anodyne ... 'Dyne helped a lot."

Resonance fell silent. His field, harsher than Ratchet remembered, contracted to where it could barely be felt. Ratchet expected Resonance to object to his relationship with Anodyne, to demand Ratchet return to him, and to react with anger with what had happened.

His words were steady when he spoke, however. "Ratchet, I am very glad you found a lover in Anodyne."

"He's my endura." Ratchet said this miserably, for the mech holding him close was so familiar. Clean now, Resonance smelled, and felt familiar. The buzz of his spark, the hum of his systems, Ratchet knew them. Anodyne was his endura, but this was Resonance, and he loved them both, and he didn't know what to do.

Resonance dropped a bit stiffly to one knee, and rested his hands on Ratchet's hips. It was a familiar gesture, and Ratchet couldn't help but lean into Resonance's arms. His frame and spark knew this mech; his spark was spinning just a little faster now.

"I love you, Ratchet." Resonance looked him in the optics. This close, Ratchet could see that Resonance's right cheek strut had been broken and imperfectly healed, and he had a scar in the corner of his mouth, on the left. "But Anodyne ... Anodyne is better for you."

"What?"

"I'm ..." Resonance looked sharply away, and Ratchet saw a deep creases in the cables of his neck. "I'm not in any condition to be anyone's partner. It is better for you if you stay with Anodyne."

"Resonance, I haven't made a decision."

"I have." Resonance kissed his chevron. "For your sake, I don't want a relationship with you. You're in a good place with Anodyne. Stay with him."

Somehow, that stung. It felt like a rejection. His feelings reached his field, because Resonance reacted by kissing him, deeply, and Ratchet couldn't help but cling to the shuttle and kiss back, desperate and confused.

Resonance returned the kiss, for a moment, but then his field flared with distress. He pushed away, armor clamping flat, jaw set.

"Res?"

"Don't ... don't touch me." Resonance shuddered. "I can't have you. You belong to another now."

And then he clicked, an involuntary noise of great distress. And again. And then a third click. He sounded like a lost and terrified sparkling as the occasional click turned into a cascade, and then to silent shaking and stifled keens.

Resonance turned away, hiding his face in his hands. "I can't do this. I can't. Not to you. I promised Anodyne I wouldn't pressure you, and I won't. You need to chose who's best for you, Ratchet!"

Ratchet remembered Anodyne's firm assurances that he would be okay. Anodyne had meant it, too -- Anodyne was strong, and solid, unflappable and self-sacrificing to the core of his being.

Resonance was shattering to pieces before Ratchet's gaze.

"Res," Ratchet said, gently, "Look at me."

Resonance shook his head, and started to stumble towards the door.

Ratchet beat him there, blocked the exit with his body, and said, "No! Don't you run off on me. Slaggitall, Res, don't you dare."

Resonance tried to duck around him.

Ratchet stretched up, threw his arms around Resonance's neck, and pulled him down into a hug. "You're an idiot."

Resonance froze.

"I love you, damnit, and I'm not letting you walk out that door alone." Ratchet pressed into the embrace, forcing Res to step backwards. Once, then another step, then three. Away from the door, and towards the berth. "What kind of monster do you take me for?"

"You're free of me, though. You can chose the partner of your choice. You picked Anodyne ... of your own free will."

Ratchet frowned. "Resonance, Anodyne will be okay. He'll move on. I ... committed myself to you ..."

"To Optimus, not me."

"To you, too, or have you forgotten that merge?" Ratchet said, a bit tartly. "I haven't. We're right for each other. I chose you all over again that day, and when I thought you died it was the worst moment of my life.  I'm not letting you go now."

Resonance said, "But I'm not the mech I was ..."

"So you've got a few more scars." Ratchet reached a hand out and traced one of the visible ones on Resonance's chest, though they both knew he was talking about the mental damage. "It's not like I'm the most stable and perfect mech to ever live. You know I'm not good at emotional slag, but I'm willing to try again with you, if you'll have me."

Resonance clicked again, and then keened a static-laced sob.

Ratchet took Resonance by the hand and led him back to his berth. He didn't intend to 'face him, just to put Resonance to bed for some much-needed rest, but Resonance, still keening, pressed Ratchet into the thick rubber mattress. His intent was obvious; his field flaring with interest.

"Oh," Ratchet said, in surprise, as Res began to trace the lines of his armor with work-roughened fingers. "Can you even ...?"

Resonance was not in good physical shape. It was a practical concern.

"I want you," Resonance replied. Then, apparently remembering past problems, he asked, "Can you?"

"My equipment still hasn't auto-repaired," Ratchet said, grumpy, and knowing 'facing with Res wouldn't include an all-consuming telepathically triggered overload, "It likely won't until after the kid's born, but ... oh, slag, c'mere."

He could feel the heat of Resonance's panels against his leg, and could hear Resonance's fans spinning up. Resonance, at the touch of Ratchet's hand on his thigh, rolled over onto his back and took Ratchet with him. Ratchet ended up sprawled across his chest with one hand at the junction of Resonance's thighs.

Both of Resonance's panels clicked open, valve dry and spike not extended, but there was desire in Resonance's field. Ratchet gently stroked the edge valve, noting with no surprise that it was scarred too. Things had happened in the camps, likely not all of them from Quintessons. He'd heard stories from other survivors, and Anodyne had alluded to some horrific abuse seen in the memories of the mecha he 'pathed.

As weak as Res was, it took work to bring him to overload. Ratchet was gentle, though, and experienced. He stroked delicate sensors until Resonance's valve moistened, then gently slid one finger inside before adding a second. Resonance did not flinch away, and showed every sign of willing and eager enjoyment.

With his other hand, he touched Resonance's face, tracing the new scars and familiar lines of his jaw and cheeks. He was truly a handsome mech, with bold features and bright optics. The scars added character and strength.

Resonance's valve clenched around his fingers at last, and the shuttle keened and clicked as he overloaded. Ratchet was worried at first, but Resonance clung to him and sobbed out his grief and his love before rolling them both back over.

"I'd like to merge with you," Resonance said, meeting his gaze. "If you can."

"I ... can." Ratchet said, a bit hesitant. It wouldn't affect the sparkling, and there was zero chance of either of them being sparked again while he had a child growing in his gestation tank.

"I want to feel you."

"You're weak."

"Strong enough for this." Resonance pushed himself up with both hands, baring his spark as he did.

Ratchet's own spark called to the one it had known so well. His armor parted of its own accord -- his autonomics had at least healed that much -- and he didn't hesitate when Resonance brought them together. It was, he told himself, something he ought to do. Resonance was his bondmate, and he already knew, from that merge three years previously, that they were incredibly compatible. Resonance needed this, and he had no objections.

Some part of him wondered what it would be like to merge with Anodyne, and wished that they had, because now they never would. He shunted those thoughts away,

The young mech was stronger of will than Ratchet remembered, and far stronger than he'd been expecting now, given Resonance's sobs. There was a strength of will and of conviction that had been lacking, before.

He loved Ratchet. He loved him more now than he had before. Separation, and the brutality of the camps, had let Res understand just what Ratchet meant to him.

Resonance was fierce, and stubborn, and independent. He'd fought for survival, and won. He'd been brutalized by Quints and other mecha -- Ratchet caught a glimpse of Photon, in Resonance's memories -- and yet he had survived sane and sound, and with renewed determination and ferocious belief in the sanctity of all life.

He was determined to save not just his people, but all people of the universe ... humans, Quintessans, and Cybertronians.

Ratchet caught glimpses of Etric, who had started out an enemy scientist before his own research had led him to an inescapable conclusion ... and who had then had the strength of character and strong moral convictions to right what he saw as a terrible wrong.

Resonance loved Etric as a brother and a close friend.

Ratchet recoiled at the thought of a Quintessan as a friend. Resonance reacted with more images of the scientist, who had risked his own life and thrown away a promising career and a comfortable future. His actions would lead to the death and destruction of his own people, and all because he was fighting for what he believed was the greater good ... Quintessa had become a totalitarian state, brutal even to its own people, and Etric believed that life under Cybertronian rule would be better for his own kind.

Ratchet hoped he was right.

I will see that his faith in me is not betrayed, Resonance thought, with absolute confidence.

The merge deepened.

Here was the strong spark that Ratchet had always known, regardless of identity. Fierce but fair, unbelievably patient but with a volcanic temper when finally roused, and able to see the good in all people ... optimistic, sometimes to a fault ... and bright. So very bright, in so many ways. This was the mech who'd been the best of them ... and Ratchet realized, would be again.

Resonance, meanwhile, was realizing the full depth of Ratchet's grieving for him ... and the unhealthiness of his reaction to his loss.  And he also saw that Ratchet had chosen him now not strictly out of desire, but also because Ratchet saw him as needing more. Resonance didn't like that; he didn't like to be seen as weak. Yet, it was brutally true and he couldn't deny it.

Guilt swirled between them, from both Resonance and Ratchet, mixed with desire and craving and regret and relief. Hope warred with loss, and dreams were both shattered and formed anew.

Something stirred in Ratchet's chest.

A physical movement, a sliding sensation.

CHILD OF MINE

Resonance reacted with fury and anger and denial to that voice.

YOU HAVE LEARNED MUCH

Ratchet gasped; the voice filled his entire being, became his entire awareness. Resonance, stronger than Ratchet when it came to mental games, reacted more coherently, and with real anger. "At what price!" he shouted aloud. "Where were you when I needed you? You have harmed our sparkling!"

NOT HARMED

UPGRADED

STILL TOO YOUNG

ACTION REQUIRED NOW

Resonance recoiled from the merge, but it was far too late. The matrix, a silent weight in Ratchet's chest for years, flowed between them in an arc of sand.

Resonance screamed, and thrashed, throwing Ratchet hard in the process. Ratchet hit the wall, then the ground, and when he scrambled back upright Resonance was changing.

Taller.

More powerful than ever.

Scars and wounds, gone.

Armor bright and unblemished.

Field, strong.

When it was all over, and it only took moments, Resonance knelt in the middle of the berth and looked at Ratchet with ancient, ancient, optics.

"... Prime?" Ratchet said, unsure of even how to address this being.

"Yes." The mech said. Then, sounding far more like Resonance than Ratchet had expected, he added, "Damn Primus."

Ratchet couldn't help it. A laugh that sounded suspiciously like a giggle escaped his vocalizer. "I wasn't expecting that."

"Nor I, old friend."

Ratchet's fans stalled. "... Optimus?"

"I ..." The Prime hesitated. "I am still Resonance." Another pause, then a rather stubborn, "I am not changing my name, you overclocked slagpit, and I don't care if it's traditional." Another pause, then, "With all due respect, you may smell my exhaust and die."

Not, apparently, Optimus. either.

Resonance continued his argument with Primus, "... absolutely not. We are not going to destroy Quintessa, even if you are willing to tell me how."

Ratchet winced.

"Because it's wrong. What kind of God are you to advocate the genocide of an entire people?"

Resonance then blinked in apparent surprise, and snorted, and told Ratchet, "... a petty God, apparently. He hung up."

"Hung up?" Ratchet replied, blankly.

"Cut the connection. He's not speaking to me."

"Yet he gave you the Matrix."

"Apparently, he thinks our goals are sufficiently aligned that he's willing to use me to get the job done. I would have said no, and slaggitall thanks, but he gave me no choice." Resonance shrugged with one shoulder. "I suppose carrying the Matrix gives me a bit more cred with the masses and I'll need that ... but Pit, he's a fragger."

Ratchet said tentatively, "... Res, are you okay?"

"Not really." Resonance rose from the bed, and said, "Are you hurt? I threw you hard."

"I'm not injured. A couple of dents. Res ... are you really Resonance?"

"I ... have Optimus's memories, yes, but they are not ... mine." Resonance's optics softened. "I ... he ... really loved you."

"Yeah. I know. I miss him so much, even now."

Resonance sighed, and rested both hands on Ratchet's shoulders. "Ratchet, I love you too, but I cannot partner with you."

"... what?" He'd made his choice, and had every intention of sticking with it.

"Anodyne loves you." Resonance said, very firm. "And you love him. I wish you both happiness and I will do everything in my power to see that you have a future together."

".... Res?"

Resonance turned, then, brilliant colors flashing bright in the room's lighting. He swept out the door, and then out of the apartment.

Ratchet fell to his knees and wept.

Chapter Text



Anodyne wasn't supposed to be off until late in afternoon, so Ratchet was very surprised when the large mech entered the apartment about thirty minutes later. Anodyne's systems were running hot, too. He'd clearly raced full speed from the medical center.

Ratchet, curled up in a ball on the couch, could only stare at him.

"Res said I needed to talk to you." Anodyne said, over the hum of cooling fans. "He ... he looked strange, sounded strange."

"He's a Prime. The Matrix ... we merged, and it took him."

"You merged?" Anodyne's shoulders slumped. "I ..." he looked away. "I see."

Ratchet, knowing he would lose both of them now, said miserably, " I chose him. You're so strong, Anodyne. He's not and I thought he needed me, but now he's Prime, and he's got Optimus's memories, and he still rejected me. He doesn't want me."

Anodyne whipped back around. "He what?"

"He rejected me. He said I should stay with you." Ratchet, suddenly angry, rolled to his feet. "I chose him, you came in second, so let's get this over with. I wouldn't want to be with a mech who didn't want me as the first choice in his life either!"

"You chose him because you thought he needed you more," Anodyne said, softly. "And I sense the truth in your spark when you say that."

"Just ... just go away." Ratchet, fists balled, glared at Anodyne. "Don't patronize me. You didn't care enough to fight for me, and he didn't want me! I merged with the fragger and then he left me!"

Anodyne took in a sharp invent of air. "He what?"

Ratchet snarled, "You heard me."

Anodyne crossed the room in two large strides, grabbed Ratchet by the shoulders, bent over, and kissed him. Hard. It was a fierce, claiming, hungry kiss, and Ratchet kissed him back with matching ferocity. When they finally came up for air Ratchet's optics were blazing with anger, but not at Anodyne. "I chose him and he rejected me."

Anodyne said roughly, "He's an idiot."

And then Anodyne spun on one heel and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?!" Ratchet demanded.

"To beat Resonance into a pulp," Anodyne snarled.

Ratchet considered following him, but then shook his head. He had enough common sense -- and enough experience with angry soldiers and domestic spats -- to know his presence might only inflame matters.

He comm'd Jazz.

:Yeah, doc?:

:You know about Res yet?:

:... know what?:

:He's apparently our new Chosen One.: Ratchet said, falling back on familiar snark. :And is as much of a self-sacrificing idiot as he always was. Anodyne told me to pick one of us, I picked him, he rejected me and hurt my feelings, and now Anodyne's off to go defend my honor.:

:... woah, back up, doc.: Jazz sounded equal parts amused and surprised. :Chosen One, as in the Matrix?:

:Yeah, I'll fill you in later. You want to go stop 'Dyne?:

:It's Anodyne, what's he going to do, emote at Resonance until he chokes on the warm fuzzies?: Jazz didn't seem very worried. Then again, this was the mech who'd let Music beat him nearly to death rather than fighting back. Ratchet couldn't summon up much concern for Resonance's safety either.

Ratchet snorted. :I'm more worried about public appearances. We shouldn't have our new Prime being given a public dressing-down by his former bondmate's lover. Anodyne also happens to be the most unpopular and mistrusted mecha this side of Shockwave.:

He felt numb; his words came from a place of cold logic, not emotion. He recognized that the psych coding had kicked in, and was tamping down hard on his emotional responses.

:True, that. I'll go intervene.: Jazz said, then added, :New Prime? Really? A day late and a dollar short.:

:Yeah, tell me about it.:



Resonance heard the deep growl of a powerful but slow engine as he walked towards the command center. He was taking his time getting there, as his processor was full of thoughts and plans and ideas and he knew he needed time to think.

Recognizing Anodyne's motor and the clatter of his treads on asphalt, he slowed and turned. Anodyne transformed rather closer than Resonance had been expecting, and stood up in Res's personal space. "You're an aft."

Mildly, Resonance said, "I am aware. Ratchet is doubtless very upset."

"So am I, you overclocked glitch." Anodyne took another step towards him. "Ratchet loves you, he chose you and you rejected him. How. Could. You!"

"It is for the best." Resonance bowed his head. "I know he is hurt, but I am a war Prime now. I ... would only hurt him. My life is likely to be brutal and short, and would in the end break his spark."

Anodyne threw a punch.

Resonance reacted with startling speed, surprising even himself. The Matrix was more than just a repository of knowledge: it acted as a secondary motor processor. He ducked under the punch, and out of sheer reflex, hit back. His fist connected with Anodyne's optic, shattering it.

Resonance expected Anodyne to step back, to clutch at the broken glass, and to stammer an apology. Anodyne had a temper, but he wasn't, ever, violent. However, with a low growl, Anodyne kicked out, showing no sign of the pain he must be in. This time the blow connected with enough force to dent the weakened armor on Resonance's thigh. Resonance gasped, staggered backwards, then fired a thruster for balance and blocked the next blow with his gauntlet. He twisted and spun into a throw, intending to toss Anodyne to the ground.

Anodyne countered him somehow, and it was Resonance who went sprawling. Anodyne kicked him in the torso but pulled the blow at the last second, so it did no damage. It did hurt and left another dent, and Resonance gasped from both surprise and shock.

"Anodyne! STOP!" Jazz's human avatar was suddenly between them. The avatar was a scant five feet tall and no threat to anyone, but both mecha retreated anyway.

"I've made my point," Anodyne growled, low. He spat in Resonance's direction and then stalked off, treads swaying over his shoulders and down to his thighs with each stride, and field an angry thundercloud.

After he was sure Anodyne was leaving, Jazz turned to Resonance. He stared at the big mech over the top of a pair of mirrored sunglasses, hands on his hips, for a long moment. "Could have 'im arrested." Jazz said. "But ah rather think ya had that comin', kid."

Resonance slowly sat up. "Where did he learn to fight like that?"

"Me, among others," Jazz replied, "but a better question is when did he learn to actually fight, ya know, t' really do damage. He's always treated Circuit Su like gymnastics w' a partner, not like combat training."

Neither of them had any illusions. If Anodyne had wanted to hurt Resonance badly, he could have with that last kick. He'd chosen not to. However, he normally didn't even scratch the paint of his opponents.

Resonance spat energon out from a bitten lip, then said wryly, "He's a Host, Jazz. He won't fight to defend himself, but he'll sure as Pit fight to defend those he considers his."

"Ya got some good dents," Jazz said, after a quick scan.

"I have had far worse." Resonance struggled to his feet, ventilations harsh from pain.

"Ratchet said the Matrix accepted ya."

Resonance said somberly, "It has."

Jazz's avatar looked up at the big mech, surveying him. Resonance had one arm clutched to his chest, and energon dribbled out from under his armor. It appeared that a broken armor mount had ruptured some minor energon lines. Anodyne shouldn't have been able to do that much damage with one throw, but Res had been badly malnourished and the Matrix couldn't break the laws of physics. His frame was still very weak.

Then a flash of Resonance showed through the serious mien of a Prime. He said, with wry humor, "I am not, however, certain that I have accepted the Matrix."

Jazz snorted. "C'mon, let's get you patched up. I can't believe they let ya loose so soon anyway."

It was normally standard operating procedure for former POWs to be checked into the medical center for several days, for a psych eval and a thorough medical screening.

"First Aid said I could wait in Ratchet's quarters. Do not blame him; he was overwhelmed and they were short beds and others were in far worse condition. I had no pressing medical issues. Soundwave had also already evaluated my mental state."

Jazz sighed. "And ya are you, and they expected ya to act like Op. Right. Let's go, kid."




Ratchet had expected Resonance to go to the command center, so when he checked in for his shift several hours later, he was surprised to see Res's name on the patient list.

"What happened to Res?" Ratchet asked First Aid in passing, even though the mech's name left a bitter taste in his mouth. He expected it was a complication with integrating the Matrix, or a minor medical issue left over from captivity. Or something related to stupidity. Resonance's struts would be weak for months to come; he could easily break something in a hard landing or even a bad fall.

"Your boyfriend happened to him." First Aid rolled his optics.

"... clarify that," Ratchet said, optics narrowing.

"Anodyne threw him around and kicked him, according to Jazz's report. His first day back from a prison camp and minutes after ascending to Primacy he gets assaulted -- nobody is saying why."

Ratchet snorted. "I know why, and I'm going to kick Anodyne's aft for him."

First Aid gave him an alarmed look. "Not literally, I hope."

"... No." Ratchet checked the schedule; there were no pressing emergencies. "I think I need to have a chat with Anodyne."

Anodyne was in his office, which wasn't far from the emergency room. Ratchet didn't bother to knock, just shoved the door open and stomped in.

"He just got out of a prison camp and then he just became Prime." Ratchet snarled. "And I didn't know you could hit people!"

Anodyne blinked at him in surprise. Ratchet noted the optical glass of one optic was shinier than the others; it had just been replaced.

Then, with a shrug, 'Dyne said, "I can, I just feel their pain when I do. Funny thing about working in a hospital, though: I feel pain and grief and terror all the time anyway. What's a bit more?"

Ratchet huffed. "He just got out of a prison camp! Yesterday!"

"Yes." Anodyne steepled his fingers together and regarded Ratchet across the top of his desk. "He rejected you."

"He. Got. Out. Of. A. Prison. Camp. Yesterday!" Ratchet bit each word out, voice rising as he did.

"... He broke your spark."

"I can fight my own battles, Anodyne!"

Anodyne covered his optics with both hands. From beneath his fingers he said, "All I could think of was that he hurt you. You're right. I don't even know why I reacted that way ..."

Ratchet shook his head, and sighed, "It's been a long war ... 'Dyne, I'm going to go talk to Res. I don't need you fighting my fights for me."




After rounds, and after a couple hours of assorted procedures, Ratchet found enough time for a break. Resonance had been assigned a private room in the officer's wing, and when Ratchet approached Sideswipe was on guard.

"... will he see me?" Ratchet asked, uncertain of his welcome.

Sideswipe grunted, and comm'd the new Prime. Resonance apparently answered in the affirmative, because Sideswipe jerked a thumb over his shoulder and stepped aside.

Resonance was sitting up, and sipping a cube of medical grade.

"I didn't think you were badly hurt," Ratchet frowned, noting the number of monitors attached to him.

"I am not. First Aid is being paranoid about the safety of the Prime. I've had worse injuries from hard play as a sparkling." Resonance set the cube aside. "Ratchet, why are you here?"

"... I'm sorry about Anodyne."

"Not your fault, nor your responsibility." Resonance regarded him with a level gaze. "And do not be too hard on Anodyne."

"I didn't think he had it in him to be violent, or I would have tried harder to stop him."

Resonance had a most peculiar expression on his face, which then morphed into a grin. "The most curious thing about being a Prime is that you make connections that you never did before, and see new possibilities. Do not underestimate Anodyne.”

That grin was all Resonance, but there was a knowing light in Res’s eyes that was too wise, too old, for the shuttle. Res rose from the berth, deftly towing the cart of monitors after him.

Suddenly, it was all too much. Ratchet’s shoulders slumped, even as a familiar numbness crept over his spark. The psych coding was still in place, and he mentally cursed it as it started to lock down on his emotions.

“You’re fine,” Ratchet admitted, stepping away even as Resonance approached. “I should go.”

He’d probably lost both of them today, Res to the responsibilities of Primehood and Anodyne because he’d been a fool.

Then, to his shock, Resonance  swept him into a kiss. It was long, and deep, and intensely passionate. He stiffened at first, and then melted into the embrace. It felt so good to be held, to be kissed, by Resonance. He’d missed him so badly.

Abruptly, Resonance released him. “Ratchet,” Resonance said, as he straightened up, “I love you. I have for a very long time -- two lifetimes -- and I always will. But he loves you too.”

Resonance was looking over his shoulder. Ratchet abruptly realized they were not alone; he spun to see that Anodyne was in the room’s doorway, with an alarmed Sideswipe standing behind him and appearing to be a nanoclick from a fight. Anodyne had a scuff on his arm the exact color of Sideswipe's paint, too, so Anodyne had likely shoved him aside. Only the fact that Sideswipe knew Anodyne fairly well had likely stopped him from violence, and even then, Sideswipe would likely have physically removed Anodyne if Resonance hadn't immediately given him countermanding orders and justification.

"It will be fine, Sideswipe," Resonance said, with gravitas in his voice approaching that of Optimus. "Will you see that no one disturbs us?"

Sideswipe started to protest.

"Anodyne has my full trust. He kicked my aft," Resonance flashed a grin as he uttered the collequalism, "with justified provocation, and deliberately did no lasting harm. You have done much the same to your brother on occasion, have you not?"

Sideswipe shut his mouth, then reopened it, and said, "Yes, sir. I'll guard the door."

"Thank you, Sideswipe."

After the door slid shut, Ratchet turned his focus to Anodyne.

Anodyne had seen him passionately returning Res’s kiss, and Ratchet assumed he had to be jealous. There was, however, no trace of that in Anodyne's field. He thought Anodyne should be more upset than he was, even given Anodyne's natural tendency towards calm, but Anodyne looked unruffled.

Anodyne sighed, deeply, at Ratchet's questioning gaze, and said, “Res, you can’t make this decision for Ratchet, though there are choices we could make together.”

“I am making it for Cybertron, and for Earth.” Resonance said, gravely.

“Oh, bullshit, to quote the humans.”  Anodyne literally rolled his optics. Then he grew serious, stepping into the room and sliding the door shut after him. He folded his arms across his chest and regarded them for a long, long, moment. Finally, he said, "Ratchet has reminded me of something, today."

"That life sucks?" Ratchet quipped.

Anodyne ignored that. "He reminds me that if you love someone -- you truly love them -- you will sacrifice for them. Sometimes, your own desires and dreams are not as important as their well being."

"Sometimes?" Ratchet heard the stress on that word.

Anodyne smiled, briefly, baring teeth. "Sometimes. I've seen far too many mecha end up in dysfunctional relationships, where the sacrifice is all one sided. However, that isn't the case this time. Ratchet -- you love both of us and you are willing to sacrifice a great deal for both of us. I can only offer to do the same."

"What are you talking about?"

"You feel you need to chose between us." Anodyne stepped closer, and met Resonance's wide gaze over the top of Ratchet's head. "If Resonance is willing, I ... can share. You. I can share you. You needn't chose between us."

He had never wanted to be in a trine. Too complicated, he'd thought, and too much of a risk of drama and jealousy. He'd always been a mech who focused on one partner to the exclusion of all others, and he was busy -- how could he have time for two, when he barely had time for one?

Resonance's reasons had been much the same.

Now, Resonance was silent, and very still, though his field was flared with spiky, chaotic emotions. Ratchet couldn't figure out what Resonance was feeling, and Anodyne -- far more sensitive to the moods of others -- was just as quiet, but much calmer. Anodyne's reaction gave Ratchet no clue what Res was thinking.

Ratchet considered the offer, seriously. He loved them both so much, and he recognized that. Resonance, for all his flaws, isecurities, and neediness, touched something in Ratchet's spark that nobody ever had. Anodyne, by contrast, had earned Ratchet's love; he'd been by Ratchet's side every day for the last two and a half years, supporting and encouraging him, helping him heal, and loving him with the kind of selfless devotion that he never would have expected from a mech born of Megatron's spark.

Maybe he should have. Megatron's passions had always run deep, his beliefs unshakeable, and his stubborness legendary. Megatron had never been a mech willing to take the easy way out of a problem, nor had he ever backed down from a challenge.

Ratchet looked from Anodyne to Resonance. Resonance had still said nothing. He was, Ratchet realized, waiting for Ratchet to speak.

"I ... want to hear what you think, Res," Ratchet met Resonance's gaze.

"I think that this is your decision."

"Are you okay with what Anodyne is suggesting?"

"I want what is best for you." Resonance's words were soft and his gaze downcast. "I haven't always, though, and I recognize that. Optimus would have had some pointed words for me, I think, if he'd known how I treated you."

Resonance turned his gaze back to Anodyne. "'Dyne, you are coded as a Host, even if that is not the origin of your spark nor CNA. You are not by nature monogamous, and I will tell you now that neither Ratchet nor I are wired in a way that will allow us to be happy with an open relationship. A trine will be difficult enough; trining is not in our core programming. This is why I never suggested a relationship with you, even though I knew the interest was there. Are you wiling to be exclusive?"

"Res that's the sacrifice I speak of." Anodyne sighed, and folded his arms across his chest. "I have been exclusive with Ratchet since the first time we 'faced. He has too many issues with social anxiety, and with self esteem, to handle an open relationship. He would always be wondering where he stood with me, and what I was really thinking, and if he'd somehow offended me, each time I was with another."

That stung. Ratchet started to bristle, feeling defensive and irritated at Anodyne's blunt assessment. He also hadn't really thought about why Anodyne had stopped sleeping with others, except to vaguely assume it was because Anodyne no longer desired anyone else.

Had 'Dyne been wishing he could 'face with others all along? Had he been secretly unhappy?

He wondered, was he not good enough in the berth to keep Anodyne satisfied, and keep his attentions from wandering? He was ... defective ... but he'd eagerly found other ways to bring Anodyne to climax, completely aside from those world-shaking overloads that came from Anodyne's telepathy.

Anodyne turned to Ratchet, and said, "Stop that."

"What?"

"You're worth it." Anodyne crossed his arms across his chest. "I love you, Ratchet."

Ratchet studied him, then suddenly averted his gaze. How long, he wondered, until Anodyne and Resonance preferred each other to him? Would he end up a third wheel in an unbalanced, awkward trine? They were young, and gorgeous, and so very obviously compatible. He was old, and flawed, and broken, and so very busy all of the time.

"Stop. That." Anodyne grabbed him by the arms. "I want you. He wants you. It won't be easy, but I'm willing to try to make this work, if you two do."

"Reading my mind without permission?" Ratchet said, a bit angrily.

"Didn't need to. I know you. And I always ask permission unless there are truly extenuating circumstances." Anodyne sounded hurt, even a bit angry, at the last. "The only time I don't is if a mech can't give consent!"

Resonance rested a hand on Ratchet's back. Ratchet felt the familiar brush of Anodyne's gift on his processor -- familiar, polite, and going no farther until he gave permission. Anodyne always made his presence known; though he could affect a mechanism's processor fairly subtly, he never did so when 'pathing Ratchet.

Ratchet nodded, jerkily, fighting down a swirl of wild emotions.

~I love you,~ Anodyne said, quietly, into his processor. ~And I want what's best for you. If what's best for you is both of us, together, then so be it..~

He stumbled forward, into Anodyne's arms, hearing the truth in Anodyne's thoughts. Anodyne held him close, field warm and welcoming and relaxed.

~And know that, in the end, if you chose to stay with Resonance alone, I will miss you terribly, but that is your choice and I will respect it.~

"Love is not a finite resource," Anodyne's arms were wrapped around Ratchet's waist, hands resting on his hips. He pressed another kiss to Ratchet's chevron -- and Ratchet realized just how much he'd miss Anodyne's touch and field -- then added, "It grows, fed by trust and intimacy and partnership. We can have this together, the three of us -- if you, and Ratchet, wish it and are willing to work at it. It is not going to be easy."

Resonance asked, "Ratchet? Do you wish this?"

"If we can make it work, yeah. I think I'd like to try."  Ratchet twisted to the side, and extended an arm out, and pulled Resonance into the hug with Anodyne and himself.

Anodyne's field flared with relief. He draped his arms around both of them, and then said, "And Resonance?"

"Let us try. For Ratchet."

"And for you." Anodyne corrected, voice gentle. "You love him, and you need him too. And ... me. You can trust us, Resonance, and you're going to need people you can trust."

Resonance hesitated; Ratchet could feel it in a hitch in his field, and a sudden tension in his frame. Then, apparently seized by resolve, the new Prime reached out, and tipped Anodyne's face up with one hand on his jaw, and kissed him.

Ratchet leaned back away from them so he could watch them kiss, both surprised and somehow pleased. Anodyne, for his part, was startled, but not unwelcoming. He kissed back, even as he transferred his hand from Ratchet's hip to Resonance's waist. Ratchet didn't have to be a telepath to feel the real interest in Anodyne's field.

This left Ratchet standing by himself, and he should have felt left out. Perhaps he did, for a moment, but then on some unspoken cue both of them looked at him. Anodyne still looked surprised. Resonance was smiling. The new Prime said firmly, "If we do this, we do this together.  We are a team, a true trine, and Ratchet is our partner, not our hub. Those are my conditions."

Ratchet let out a low, slow, vent-rattling sigh that seemed to come from the very core of his being. Fear and stress he hadn't even recognized lifted from his spark. Relief, and hope, and love blossomed.

His sparkling, often quiet these days, grew unexpectedly alert in his gestation chamber in reaction to his mood. He could feel her moving, and sense the beginnings of thought. At almost three years age, she was starting to grow a processor and to think. Soon, she would begin actual communication, but not just yet.

"Yes," he said, finally. "Yes, let's do this."

Anodyne beamed, field lighting up to match his delighted expression. Resonance, with dignity, pulled them both into a hug.

Ratchet, giddy with the relief of the decision he'd just made, groped their afts.




Chapter Text

Ratchet had a vague idea that once Resonance was discharged from the medical center all three of them would go home to his apartment, and happy fun berth times would commence. He had to confess that, while the idea in general was molten hot, his mind was stalling over the details.

Would they all pile into the berth together? Would he end up just watching while the other two fragged? What was it going to be like, seeing Resonance and Anodyne frag, and would they forget about him? If he fragged one, would the other be jealous? Would it be okay to interface with one when his other partner wasn't present? What if they interfaced without him there? Was he even okay with that?

Doubt filled his spark. In the spur of the moment, it had seemed like a good idea, but now, just an hour later, he was worried about the particulars.

In the medical center room, Resonance lay curled on his side on the berth, optics dark, and ventilations steady and slow. He was recharging, lightly sedated, and Ratchet was glad for that. The mech was both emotionally exhausted, and physically spent, and no amount of Matrix magic and Primal hand-wavum could change that.

A touch brushed at his mind. Anodyne, across the room, met his gaze. Wordlessly, he nodded permission, and Anodyne spoke to him. ~You're worrying again.~

~I am.~

~He'll be asleep for awhile. We both need recharge too. There's going to be a lot of casualties coming in to the med center in the next several days. We should recharge while we can.~

Ratchet nodded, and rose. Anodyne was being sensible, as always. The hydraulics in Ratchet's knees whined and a joint in his back made an alarming grating noise as he got up from the chair; the growing child in his gestation chamber was putting strain on his entire frame. Anodyne gave him a worried look, but his comment was teasing, ~You're going to as wide as Bulkhead by the time you're done gestating.~

~Don't I know it.~

Outside, the guard was now one of the younglings. Sideswipe's shift was over. Ratchet couldn't seem to recall a name, but Anodyne said, voice a bit tense, "Hello, Umbra."

The mech, a lightly built seeker, said, "Primus be with you."

~You know that's Sunstorm's kid?~ Anodyne said, conversationally, as he guided Ratchet away down the hall. 

~... how did that happen?~ He glanced back, taking in the young seeker's glossy metallic red armor and black trim. He wasn't sure if he was asking about the mechanics or asking how Sunstorm had found a mate. He'd certainly missed a lot of good gossip when he was drinking himself to a stupor every night. Sunstorm wasn't nearly as radioactive as he used to be -- he was safe even for the humans to be around, as long as they didn't spend too much time in his presence -- but, still. Even if Sunstorm hadn't been crazier than a scraplet on Syk, Ratchet still wouldn't have wanted to spike someone whose primary claim to fame was spending most of the last century glowing in the dark after a Decepticon lab experiment gone wrong.

~When a mech and a mech love each other very much ...~

Ratchet snorted.

Anodyne's grin bared sharp teeth. He'd been joking, of course. ~Arranged mating, I assume. Sunstorm is a lunatic, but he's a good flier and he's pretty, and his CNA is virtually pure seeker. Somebody was willing to tap that in the interest of continuing Seeker lines, apparently.~

~Should we be leaving him to guard Res?~

~Oh, sure. I don't have an issue with Umbra. He's way saner than his carrier.~

~Who's his sire?~

~Nobody knows, including Umbra. Sunstorm claims Umbra's a child of Primus ...~

Ratchet's snort this time was nearly explosive.

~But my money's on Starscream.~

~Starscream hates Sunstorm.~

~Like hatred ever stopped him.~

Ratchet's cynical laugh made several people look their way as they passed through the medical center lobby. That comment had been extra funny coming from Anodyne, given Anodyne's past life as Megatron, and Andoyne damn well knew it, too.

Neither he nor Anodyne were speaking aloud, and comm frequencies could be detected even if not decrypted, so from the perspective of bystanders he'd either completely gone around the bend or he was laughing at something a bonded had said, or talking via quantum telepathy with Anodyne. The startled looks gave way to scowls as multiple mecha saw the dark brown host walking beside him and reached the same conclusion: Telepathy.

Most mecha feared telepathy.

Ratchet, however, found Anodyne's respectful and carefully controlled communications to be less invasive than the bond he'd shared with Resonance. Anodyne didn't snoop, and he made a point to always ask permission. Truthfully, he trusted Anodyne with all his spark and every drop of energon in his veins. It was odd, that the being who had once been Megatron, the Slagmaker, the Lord of the Decepticon Army, had somehow become both his closest friend and his conjunx.

~Resonance is also your closest friend.~ Anodyne said, softly. ~We both are. We both will be.~

~Sorry, I forgot to shield.~ He hadn't meant Anodyne to see his mental musings on Anodyne's origin.

~I should have withdrawn when your mood shifted.~ Anodyne said, also apologetic.

They were approaching the lobby doors, and still in view of the desk with the clinic's registration staff, several patients, a cluster of staff including Rung. Ratchet, sudden resolve gripping his spark, reached up and put a hand on the small of Anodyne's back. Anodyne's tank treads draped over Ratchet's arm in a graceful fall of steel links, and his back struts were warm and humming with power.

Anodyne looked down, startled at the display. Normally, they kept their relationship very low key in public.

~I'm sick of people acting like you're going to mindrape them.~ Ratchet shot a defiant glare over his shoulder at the room in general. Most people looked away. Rung's smile, however, was bright and approving.


 

Anodyne was quiet on the walk to their apartment. It was a thoughtful silence, however, and not a brooding one. He maintained a light and comforting touch on Ratchet's mind. That touch was just enough that Ratchet could sense him, though the link was not strong enough to share emotions. It was Anodyne's equivalent of the hand that Ratchet kept firmly planted on the taller mech's back.

Once inside, however, Anodyne caught Ratchet by the shoulders, bent over, and kissed him fiercely. Ratchet found himself pressed against the wall, and he wasn't ashamed to admit he squeaked a bit in surprise. Anodyne's kiss was heated and claiming, and a low growl rumbled through his chassis. ~I could have lost you forever,~ Anodyne said, simply, panting a bit. ~Let me in? Please?~

Anodyne wanted more than just a light surface connection. Ratchet gasped out, "Yes!" aloud even as Anodyne's mouth closed on the cables of his neck, and the big mech slid a powerful leg between Ratchet's thighs. Anodyne hefted him up, not quite effortlessly but with impressive strength, and Ratchet wrapped his legs around 'Dyne's narrow waist.

There was a sharp click as Anodyne bared his spike and he simultaneously fumbled at the catches for Ratchet's panel. Ratchet shifted to give him better access, and then they were sliding together. He was a bit dry, but he didn't care about the brief twinge of pain. Primus, he'd almost lost this wonderful mechanism forever. He wanted to feel their connection.

Anodyne grunted and rocked upwards, even as he deepened the telepathic connection. Ratchet's backplates scraped against the wall, and his valve didn't hurt any longer as the friction led to lubrication, even if he could feel no natural arousal. It was so good to feel Anodyne's heat against him, and to know the power and the lust and the incredible desire was all aimed at him.

Even as he thrust hard and deep into Ratchet's valve, Anodyne deepened the contact. Ratchet clung to him, grip tightening, optics widening, as he felt the true depth of Anodyne's emotions.

He had thought Anodyne would be okay if he chose Resonance, and that Anodyne was stable and confident. The carrier was anything but strong, in this moment. He had been fully willing to let Ratchet go, had encouraged Ratchet to make the best choice for himself, but at the same time, he had been devastated by the prospect of losing him. He would have, Ratchet realized, quietly and respectfully withdrawn from their lives but his spark would never have been the same.

Anodyne wanted him, forever, but even more than his own profound desire, he wanted Ratchet to be happy. He was willing to sacrifice anything, even his own dreams for their shared future, as long as Ratchet was safe and happy. His fury at Resonance had come not from jealousy but rather from outrage that Resonance had hurt Ratchet. Anodyne was still angry, too, and likely would be for a very long time, but he was going to try to make it work for Ratchet's sake.

Ratchet saw the honest intent there, too; Anodyne did love Resonance, and was attracted to him, and he was worried about him. Anodyne would never have suggested a trine if he didn't want Resonance. He was just pissed, on Ratchet's behalf, and forgiveness would be slow in coming. His feelings were complex on the matter.

The big host, optics squeezed shut now, and keening, shuddered to completion. He collapsed against Ratchet, pinning him to the wall, face buried in Ratchet's neck. Then, slowly, he let Ratchet slide to the ground and said, "I didn't ... I didn't make you come ... I still can ..." tentatively, Anodyne reached to stroke Ratchet's face.

"Shh." Ratchet caught Anodyne's hand, and then led him towards the berth. "Shh, it's okay."

Anodyne held him close on the berth, and Ratchet pressed into his arms. Only after long moments holding each other did Anodyne tentatively touch his fingers to Ratchet's helm. He met Ratchet's brilliant blue gaze with his own amber optics, and sought permission. "May I?" He whispered.

"Please." Primus. Never again, Ratchet thought, would he allow anything to come between the two of them.

Anodyne deepened the connection, and Ratchet allowed him in with wholehearted welcome. Anodyne's touch was sure and strong. 'Dyne took his time, letting Ratchet feel the love and respect and devotion he had for the medic, before triggering a cascade of neural pathways. Ratchet tumbled over into an overload that seemed to go on forever; he clung to Anodyne, even as Anodyne smiled at him and met his eyes with a gentle amber gaze.

Eventually, when the waves of pleasure had rolled to a stop, and he lay sated and content in his lover's arms, he slipped into a deep recharge. Even then, however, he was aware of Anodyne holding him close, one arm tucked under his chassis and the other resting on his hip.

Anodyne never slept that night. The few times that Ratchet roused, it was to find his conjunx still holding him. Anodyne's optics were dark and his ventilations slow, but he was conscious. Occasionally, Anodyne would run a hand down Ratchet's arm, or press a kiss to his helm.


 

The noise of the berthroom door sliding open roused Ratchet the next morning. He felt Anodyne sit up, then, in his half-awake state, he heard Optimus say, "Good morning to you both."

Optimus!

He jerked upright, startled -- shocked -- before he released those dignified tones belonged to Resonance. Resonance had never quite sounded like that before, and it was jarring. He blinked wordlessly at the young Prime.

Anodyne, apparently less affected -- he'd not heard that deep, grave voice for most of his function -- said, "Morning, 'Resonance. I take it they released you?"

"They did. First AId asks that I return for daily intravenous infusions of minerals and supplements until several medical issues are corrected, but he feels it is safe for me to begin administrative tasks." 

"Have you fueled?" Anodyne asked, even as he ran a scan of his own over Resonance's frame. Ratchet caught the tingle against his field. He already knew what that scan would show, and would reveal for months to come: weakened struts, areas of outright corrosion and pinpoint infections caused by a weakened immune system, and everything single system just barely out of calibration. 

Resonance said, "First Aid advised there was a cafe close to the command center. I would like to fuel with both of you before I begin my day, if you are willing."

Ratchet still couldn't find his words. Resonance, golden and winged, still managed to somehow look like Optimus too. It was in his facial expression, the way he carried himself, and the sword at his hip. The voice only completed the illusion.

Anodyne sighed. "Are you sure that's wise, Res? Me being me, and everything."

"That," Resonance said, very firmly, even as he offered Anodyne his hand to pull him to his feet from his position seated on the edge of the berth, "is precisely why I propose this. I will not hide our relationship, and I will not tolerate any who maltreat you. I cannot force them to like you, Anodyne, but I can insist that they treat you with respect, and as a valued officer, and I can make it abundantly and completely clear that both of you are my partners."

Anodyne might have argued, but the Prime pulled him into a kiss that was deep and slow. Resonance's hands first rested on his back, then slowly slid up the graceful curve of his backstruts, beneath the smooth fall of his loosely swinging tank treads. Primus, Ratchet thought, they looked good together -- Resonance's bright gold armor, red trim and blue biolights and optics against Anodyne's mahogany brown and amber. One a sturdy grounder, the other a tall and graceful flier. They were stunning and gorgeous and Ratchet suddenly felt bereft and alone, as well as small and inadequate.

Then Resonance turned towards him, and held one hand out. "Ratchet, I have missed you so very much."

He found his feet, and then Resonance pulled him close, and bent over and kissed him. Resonance's hands were on the small of his back and he realized those were Anodyne's hands on his hips, and then Anodyne's hands stroking his frame, and Anodyne's mouth on the back of his neck, nuzzling the cables. Resonance never stopped kissing him, and Resonance's hands, too, began to wander over his frame.

Just when he thought that they were going to find out what 'facing as a trio was like, however, Resonance released him with a flare of regret in his field. "I swear to you, we will continue this later."

Anodyne embraced him from behind, pulling Ratchet's back to his chest and wrapping powerful arms around him. Anodyne rested his chin on the top of Ratchet's head. His field was warm, welcoming, interested, and simultaneously disappointed. He had wanted things to go farther as well.

A bit dizzy and with his spark still spinning in his chest, Ratchet blinked up at the Prime in confusion. His sparkling's field, in his gestation chamber, was excited; she'd felt the close proximity of her sire and Ratchet suspected she recognized him from spark-memory.

Resonance reached out, stroked his jaw with one thumb, and flared his field full of apology and regret. He sighed. "There is much to do today and I do need to fuel. I do not wish to hurry our first time with the three of us, together. I believe it best if we conclude this now, and ..."

"Cut the slag," Anodyne said, in a friendly tone of voice, without letting go of Ratchet.

"What do you mean?"

"Save the formal tones for speechmaking and politics. You're hungry and you've got slag to do and no time to frag. We get it."

Resonance's field flared with confusion. He shuttered his optics several times, and Ratchet suspected he was mentally reviewing his words. "I see. I shall ... try. Things have changed in my processor, however. My words have changed."

Anodyne snorted. "You know, I could fix that problem for you."

Resonance tensed, just a little.

"I'm kidding, Res." Anodyne let go of Ratchet at last, and simply hugged the young Prime. "You and Ratchet should go fuel together."

"I am extending the invitation to you, also. We should be seen together." Resonance met Anodyne's gaze with a level blue look. "'Dyne, if you are willing to accept, I would like you to be my Lord High Protector. Traditionally, that is the role filled by a conjunx. As I have no wish for any other conjunx and as Ratchet's role as a medic is critical and he cannot easily be replaced ..."

Anodyne snorted. "I'm a political hot potato and that's before they even find out who I actually am."

"And I am Prime," Resonance said, with grave dignity. "I will not allow them to treat you with anything but the respect you deserve."

"Lord High Protector is a traditional role, but not a mandatory one. Optimus never filled it." Ratchet pointed this out with a frown. "Anodyne is correct, Res. That might not be the wisest of moves ..."

"Do you know why Optimus never filled that position?" Resonance's words were slow, his tone very serious. "It was because he asked Megatron to take up that role. He loved Megatron with all his spark, at that point in his life. Megatron declined, and something broke in Optimus. He never had the heart to ask another."

Anodyne's field went very still; for a moment, it was utterly unreadable. He looked up at Res, searching, amber optics unusually grave. "I am not Megatron."

"I know that more than most." Resonance seemed to be holding his breath.

Anodyne looked away. "Why did Megatron say no?"

Resonance's optics shut, for just a moment. Ratchet suspected he was accessing the memories of the Matrix. His next words confirmed that guess.

"He claimed I had betrayed everything I fought for by accepting the Matrix. Megatron saw the Primal lineage as symptomatic of everything we'd fought against."

Ratchet heard the "I" and his spark stopped for just a second. Resonance's tone of voice, the way he stood, his demeanor, and now the apparently accidental use of that pronoun? Ratchet's field flared in distress so strong that the restrictive coding kicked in. Suddenly, he was just numb, while simultaneously being unsure why he'd reacted so badly.

"Why?" Anodyne asked, even as he shot a concerned look at Ratchet. There was a whisper of a telepathic touch against his conscious thought, and Ratchet nodded permission, even as Resonance answered Anodyne's question.

"Because," Resonance sighed, "because it is classic functionalism. Only a mechanism with an alpha spark may become Prime. This means Primes are born to the position, and others, no matter how qualified and talented, can never be chosen. Megatron believed that the frequency of a spark should not dictate who becomes Cybertron's leader. I believed he was correct, but I also believed I was the right leader for Cybertron and that I could make changes from within more effectively than as an outsider ... and thus, a war began."

~I hear it too. He's referring to Optimus in the first person.~ Anodyne's comment was tight, and a bit alarmed. Aloud, he asked Resonance, "I wonder what would have happened if Megatron had accepted the role?"

"We will never know." Resonance said, then added, "Anodyne, I am ... glad ... Soundwave did what he did. Optimus would have approved as well. He and Megatron had irreconcilable differences of opinion ..."

Ratchet snorted. Not even the deadening effect of the coding could prevent his black amusement at that. "That's one way of putting it. And you were using personal pronouns to refer to Optimus for a minute there, buddy."

Resonance paused. Ratchet could practically see him mentally reviewing the last few moments of conversation. Then, in a gesture that was far more Orion than Optimus, he face-palmed. "Smack me if I do that again, will you?"

"Gladly. It's disturbing." Ratchet settled for patting him on the arm rather than slapping him, however, then rested a hand on the small of Anodyne's back and propelled both of them towards the door. "Let's go get breakfast."

To Anodyne, he added, ~You're coming with us. No arguments.~

~Ratchet, it may be unwise ...~

~I don't really give a slag.~ He grabbed Anodyne by the arm and towed him out the door after Resonance. He didn't think he could deal with Resonance, and the emotional minefield he represented, without Anodyne at his side.