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.
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."
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.