"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?"
"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."
"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."
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."