Heaven and Hell
Ever since Cybertronians had started to visit other planets, it had been a tradition among commanders to adapt daily life on their stations to the time reckoning of the world they currently resided on. When it became clear that their stay on Earth would be a long-term one, Optimus Prime had decided to stick to the tradition, and within a short time, the Ark’s crew had adjusted their circadian rhythms to the terran day and night cycle.
Had Ratchet known back then that he would one day have to deal with a carrying human femme, he would have spared himself the trouble.
“This young one is having the time of his life,” he remarked pointedly as he stood in the med bay at about 02:00 a.m. “I swear to you, I can hear him laugh.”
“Oh, stifle it,” an exhausted and somewhat pale-looking Carly muttered. “You think I’m enjoying this?”
Ratchet snorted. For the fifth time in half a stellar cycle, Daniel had pulled off what he’d mentally dubbed a test run (he would not grace the little pranks of an unborn organic infant with a medical term like ‘Braxton Hicks contractions’, or ‘prodromal labor’, or whatever this nonsense was called), and the constant see-saw between tense anticipation and frustrated relaxation was beginning to seriously grate on his neural circuits. And not only his, it seemed.
“I’m sick and tired of this crap,” Carly declared, staring gloomily at her belly. “I wish he’d just come out and be done with it.”
Spike, with dark bags under his eyes, wrapped a tired arm around his bonded’s shoulders. “Just a few more days, Carly,” he tried to placate her, but she pushed him away.
“Oh, get off me,” she snapped. “It’s your fault I’m in this state in the first place, so don’t tell me what I have to do.”
A mixture of anger and hurt flashed across Spike’s face as his arm dropped, and Ratchet quickly stepped into the breach before the situation reached a point where hard feelings lasted beyond the moment.
“Well, since you’re here already, let me just do a quick check-up, Carly,” he said. “Then we can all get back to berth and get some recharge, okay?”
“Yeah, whatever,” Carly muttered listlessly.
Ratchet took the usual scans, and in the meantime tried to engage the couple in some small talk to ease the tension between them. It was a fruitless effort. Carly stubbornly refused to answer to anything he said, and Spike’s much too lively replies didn’t make it any better, either.
“All right,” he said eventually. “No problems whatsoever.”
“Great,” Spike said with a cheerfulness that was so obviously faked it hurt. Ratchet subspaced the scanner and offered them his hand to help them down from the examination berth. “Why don’t you try and get some rest, you two?” he suggested.
“Completely pointless,” Carly groused. “I’ll be wide awake once more after ten minutes because he starts kicking again or some random part of my body starts hurting like hell. Be assured, Spike Witwicky, that this was the first and last time I let you knock me up.”
She swept out of the room without looking back, and it might have been a comical sight, had Ratchet not caught Spike’s gaze as the young man made to follow his bonded. Spike’s expression wavered between exhaustion, exasperation and a sad helplessness, and Ratchet racked his processor for a comforting word, but found nothing that classified as adequate. All he could offer was an equally helpless shrug.
Spike tried to smile, but it came out more as a bitter frown. He gave a soundless sigh and then left without another word. The doors swished shut behind him.
Ratchet fell into a chair next to the examination berth and covered his optics with his hand, venting a tired sigh. Holy Primus, what had he gotten himself into?
He retrieved the scanner and stared pensively at the data displayed. The sparkling was full term now, and in the best of health. Daniel had also assumed the correct position a while ago, meaning that he was now upside down, his little head fitting snugly in between Carly’s pelvic bones. Everything was ready to go, the only thing the little brat had so far been neglecting was to actually being born, for Pit’s sake...
He nearly dropped the scanner as he whirled around. The doors had opened again without him noticing, and Wheeljack was leaning around the doorframe, looking at him with half worried, half curious optics.
“Pit, ‘Jack,” he growled. “You know what the door chime is there for, do you?”
“Sorry,” Wheeljack said. “I was just walking by and saw light in here. You okay?”
A faint, hissing sound echoed through the room as Ratchet’s hydraulics slowly depressurized again. “Yeah, yeah. Spike and Carly were here.”
His friend’s vocal indicators flashed brightly at the mentioning of Carly’s designation, and he suddenly stood very straight. “The sparkling?”
“No,” Ratchet murmured sullenly. “False alarm. Again.”
Wheeljack relaxed against the doorframe. “Wow,” he commented. “They sure are keeping the suspense up, aren’t they?”
“You don’t say!” Ratchet snapped. He turned the scanner off and pushed it away, then got up and walked over to the main control panel to switch off the lights. If he didn’t keep himself occupied, he knew, he would go and vent his frustration on his innocent friend.
Wheeljack took a step back to make room for him when Ratchet sealed the med bay doors shut behind them. The corridor was only dimly illuminated by an emergency light, and for a moment, Ratchet simply stood in the half-darkness and wondered what to do next. He was tired, exhausted even, but at the same time he felt hyperactive, full of pent-up, frustrated energy that made him literally twitchy. He cursed inwardly, balling his hands into fists and feeling them shake slightly.
Wheeljack watched him silently, with an intense look that was equal parts sympathy and determination.
“Wanna head back to the lab with me?” he asked without preamble. “There’s this new project I’m working on; could use some help there.”
He spoke casually, but Ratchet was neither blind nor stupid. He turned to his friend, and a warm thankfulness suddenly washed over his spark when their optics met.
“Yeah,” he said softly, relaxing a bit. “Yeah, why not?”
Wheeljack took his arm when they made their way down the corridor, and Ratchet allowed it, finding the physical contact strangely soothing. He had no idea what ‘Jack was working on, or if he was working on anything at all, but he didn’t really care. If nothing else, his friend’s company would keep him from frying his processor with too much brooding and worrying.
For the next two days, nothing happened. Ratchet wasn’t quite sure if this was a good thing or a bad, but at least he managed to catch up with some desk work he’d been neglecting (Optimus hadn’t banned him from that, after all), and spent most of his free time with Wheeljack. He had practically moved in with his friend by now, since the inventor’s company kept him from thinking too much, and Wheeljack didn’t mind sharing his quarters.
On the third day, Carly was restless. She kept haunting the rooms and hallways, and not a single ‘Bot was safe from her obvious thirst for action. When she ordered Warpath and Inferno to the ammo storage room and supervised them cleaning up in there, Ratchet didn’t make anything of it. That room could do with a little tidying up. More interesting were the afternoon hours, when he found his charge in the rec room explaining to Seaspray and Bluestreak how to decorate the large panorama window with little pieces of fabric she called drapes. She insisted that the room needed to become more homely, and since Ratchet knew that arguing with her was futile, he kept his vocalizer shut. The curtains did look nice, after all.
He was beginning to worry a bit, though, when in the late evening he received a distress call from Red Alert. Upon arriving in his fellow Autobot’s office together with Spike, they found the Security Director standing protectively in front of a cabinet containing copies of his security footage while Carly tried to volubly convince him that he needed to step aside and let her resort all the stuff in there. Why she considered that necessary, Ratchet didn’t get. There wasn’t a place tidier or more sorted out on the entire Ark than Red Alert’s office.
Very gently, Spike eventually managed to dissuade his bonded from her intentions and to coax her back to their quarters to have dinner together. When the doors closed behind them, Red Alert looked as if someone had just told him that the war with the Decepticons was over.
After this strange experience, Ratchet decided to call it a day. He muttered an apology to the Security Director and returned to Wheeljack’s quarters where his friend and his evening ration were already waiting for him. Wheeljack nearly burst with laughter when Ratchet told him about Carly’s latest endeavor.
“Oh, she’s great,” he commented, still laughing. “Incredible.”
“Let’s just hope this new-found sense for order isn’t permanent,” Ratchet said. “I doubt poor Red would be able to handle that for long. And I already have enough things to worry about.”
“Aw, just a few more days, Ratch,” Wheeljack cooed, and had the audacity to give Ratchet’s cheek a gentle, mocking pat.
Smacking him on the head for his teasing was really just a reflex. When Ratchet powered down his systems a short while later, he took his friend’s soft chuckling with him into peaceful recharge.
He was roused by the insistent beeping of his comm. system and a voice calling his designation.
‘Ratchet! Are you there? C’mon, Ratchet, answer me!’
He groaned softly as he fought his way back to wakefulness. His chronometer showed 00:13 a.m.
His processor completed its boot-up, and he recognized the voice and activated the comm. link. “What is it, Spike?”
The answer he got was an incoherent flurry of random words and half-sentences he couldn’t make any sense of, except for the word ‘Carly’. He sat up on the berth, frowning.
“Spike, will you calm down; I don’t understand a word. Is something wrong with Carly?”
There was some quiet movement, and then another voice: ‘Ratchet, this is Carly. Sorry to wake you, but... I think my water just broke.’
He knew what that meant. Suddenly Ratchet was very much awake. His engine and processor jumped into high gear, his spark pulse quickened - but only for a moment. An astrosecond later, his medical programming kicked in and took the lead, pushing his logic and efficiency subroutines to the forefront.
“Okay, Carly,” he said. “Looks like that sparkling of yours is finally ready to join us. Now take a deep breath and try to stay calm. We’ll just go ahead with this as we discussed, okay?”
“Good. Now can you tell me at what intervals your contractions are coming?”
‘I’m not quite sure,’ she said. ‘About every fifteen minutes, I’d say. Perhaps a bit more.’
“Can you still walk?”
“Good,” he said again, glancing at his side where Wheeljack had begun to stir. “Then tell that bonded of yours to get a grip and to take you to med bay. I’ll contact Bumblebee and send him to get Elena, and then I’ll meet you there.”
He actually had to smile a bit. “Don’t worry, Carly; we’ll see this through together. All will be well.”
‘I know,’ she answered softly. ‘Thanks, Ratchet.’ And with that the transmission was cut.
Ratchet swung his legs over the edge of the berth and got up. Meanwhile, Wheeljack had completed his boot-up sequence and was now propping himself up on both elbows, watching him with flashing optics.
“Is this it? The sparkling’s coming?”
“Yes,” Ratchet said, checking his subspace for his med kit and his scanner. “’Jack, can you do me a favor?”
Ratchet stuffed a half-empty energon cube, the remains of his evening ration, into his subspace. “Contact Prime. Tell him that things are getting started. I have a feeling he’s gonna rip my head off if he doesn’t get informed properly.”
They parted at the door. Wheeljack set out for the captain’s quarters, while Ratchet headed off into the direction of the med bay and Bumblebee’s room. He considered for a moment to just transform and floor his gas pedal, but fought the urge down quickly. No sense in waking up half of the crew.
He reached Bumblebee’s door, pressing the door chime button and knocking simultaneously. “Bumblebee?”
Ratchet had no time to be considerate here. He sent an alert message on Bumblebee’s frequency to trigger a subroutine in the little scout’s processor that would initiate an emergency boot-up sequence while continuing to pound on the door. “’Bee, get your sorry aft out of that berth, for Pit’s sake!”
There were some metallic, clanking sounds inside, and then Bumblebee’s somewhat staticky voice: “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming…”
The door swished open. Bumblebee’s optics flickered slightly in response to the sudden change of illumination, then focused on Ratchet. “What’s up, doc?”
“Carly’s up,” he replied curtly. “The sparkling’s coming.”
Bumblebee’s jaw dropped, his engine giving a short, excited rev. “Really?”
“Really. I need you to go to town and to bring Elena, as we discussed.”
The little scout’s optics flashed bright with excitement. “Yeah, sure, Ratchet, right away! Wow, I can’t believe it; we’re going to have a sparkling!”
“Keep it down, will you?” Ratchet hissed, glancing at the second berth in the room where Gears obviously recharged with his audio receptors offline. “Try if you can contact her on that mobile phone number she gave us. Tell her that Carly’s water has broken, and her contractions are coming about every fifteen minutes. You got me?”
“Carly’s water has broken, and she has contractions every fifteen minutes,” Bumblebee repeated diligently. “Gotcha, doc. I’ll be right back, and don’t start without us! Holy slag, we’re having a sparkling!”
Ratchet cursed in exasperation as Bumblebee pushed past him and transformed in mid-motion, speeding down the corridor with his engine whining. He could just hope the little fool would not attract more attention to himself than was necessary. The last thing he needed was a bunch of excitedly chattering idiots beleaguering his med bay.
As if on cue, when he turned around the corner to his sanctum he found Wheeljack and Optimus Prime waiting for him - together with Spike and Carly. The young man had wrapped an arm around his bonded’s shoulders while the fingers of his free hand had interlinked with hers, squeezing tightly. Carly wore a light blue dressing gown, her hair was tied in a loose pony tail, and a small overnight bag was sitting at her feet. She smiled at him as he approached.
“And here comes the doc bot,” Wheeljack remarked with an exaggerated cheerfulness that clearly belied his anxiety. But Ratchet didn’t pay much attention to his fellow officers. He just greeted his commander with a quick nod, which was calmly returned, and then knelt before the human couple, taking a quick, basic scan of his three charges.
“Hey,” he greeted them with a small smile. “How are you feeling, Carly?”
She squeezed her husband’s hand briefly. “A bit shaky,” she said. “But quite alright.”
“How about you, Spike?”
The young man looked a bit abashed. “’M okay,” he mumbled, barely audible, and then he added quickly: “I’m sorry I lost it so back then, Ratchet, I just... I didn’t really know what to do...”
Carly leaned her head onto his shoulder with a gentle smile. “It’s our first baby,” she said. “You still have a right to lose it when I tell you I’m in labor.”
Spike snorted, but Ratchet noticed that he squeezed her shoulders tighter in response.
He got up, opened the doors to the med bay and reached inside to turn on the lights. “Bumblebee’s on his way to bring Elena,” he said. “I’d like to do a basic examination while we wait, Carly, if that’s alright with you.”
She nodded. “Yeah, okay.” With a careful smile, she turned to her husband.
“Well,” she said softly. “I guess this is it.”
Spike’s face looked pale and grim at once. He refused to let go of her. “You want me to come?” he asked hoarsely.
Carly took both his hands into hers. “It’s okay, love,” she replied gently. “We’ve talked about this. I’ll just go in there, and when I come out again, I’ll introduce you to your son, yes?”
Spike swallowed roughly. “You’re the greatest, Carly,” he whispered. “I love you.”
Ratchet noticed that Wheeljack and Optimus, too, politely averted their optics as the couple shared a deep kiss.
Eventually Carly extricated herself from her husband’s arms gently, picked up her bag and took some purposeful steps towards Ratchet. Her eyes met his optics. “Let’s do this,” she said.
“Break a leg, Carly!” Wheeljack called from behind them, giving her the thumbs up. Prime’s optics shone an intense azure blue.
“You’re in the best of hands, Carly,” he assured her in that soothing tone of his. “I’m looking forward to welcome your son into our crew.”
Carly smiled a bit. “Thanks, guys,” she said. “Well, then... see you later.” And with that she turned and slowly walked into the room.
Ratchet followed her with his optics, then glanced back at Spike, who looked pale and frightened, and he felt obliged to say something. “Don’t worry, Spike,” he told him. “She’ll be alright; I’ll see to it.”
He got a quick nod in response, and after exchanging a swift glance with his fellow officers, he turned to follow his charge, letting the doors swish shut behind him.
The moment he entered he found that Carly had made it only halfway into the room. She was standing next to one of the med berths, supporting herself on its leg. She was bent over slightly at the waist, holding her belly with her free hand, and her breath was coming fast and ragged and in a strange rhythm he’d never heard before.
He rushed over, dropping to his knees at her side, but she didn’t pay him the slightest bit of attention. A quick scan told him that her heart beat and blood pressure were considerably elevated, and that her uterine muscles were cramped tightly.
Ratchet stared at his charge, half fascinated and half at a loss for what to do. He wanted to help somehow, but she seemed so focused, so intent on herself that he didn’t dare interrupt the strange process taking place before his optics.
The contraction seemed to reach a peak; Carly grunted softly, her hand gripping the berth’s leg even tighter. Ratchet felt all his hydraulics tense as if in answer.
Very slowly, judging from her vitals, the pain started to subside. Her muscles began to unclench, and finally she relaxed and straightened carefully, though she continued to hold on to the berth.
“All right?” Ratchet asked softly.
Carly looked at him a bit surprised, as if she’d only just noticed his presence. “Yeah,” she replied then with a shaky smile. “Sorry. I found that it helps when I focus on the feeling, you know?”
He nodded, not sure what to say. Alone with his charge, he was suddenly and unpleasantly reminded of the fact that, despite all his reading and investigating, he didn’t have any experience with all of this. Slag, he was flying blind here!
Now, however, it was too late to cop out, and it was definitely not the time to panic. “Here,” he said gently, “let me help you.”
He picked her up very, very carefully. Carly seemed to be a precious, fragile object in his hands as he cradled her into his palms and carried her over to their impromptu delivery room to cautiously put her down onto the small berth. She smiled at him and set her overnight bag down beside her.
“What’s in there?” he asked as he took his hand-held scanner from subspace and onlined it. Carly unzipped the bag.
“Oh, I just brought some personal things. Elena says it will help me relax when I feel comfortable.”
Under Ratchet’s wondering gaze, she first produced a woolen blanket from the bag and draped it over the berth’s upper half. Next came a bottle of orange juice and a box of cookies, some pieces of clothing, a picture taken at her and Spike’s bonding ceremony, a paperback book, and finally - Ratchet reset his optics to make sure they weren’t glitching.
“He used to be my best friend when I was a little girl,” Carly explained, looking slightly bashful. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have him here.” Very gently, she sat the worn teddy bear down onto the berth’s headboard.
Ratchet couldn’t help but smile as he knelt and started to monitor both Carly’s and the sparkling’s vital signs. To his relieve, both sets of data came up perfectly clear, and a scan of Danny’s brain waves revealed that the little glitchmouse was peacefully recharging.
He looked up. Carly met his gaze with solemn optics.
“Are you frightened?” she asked softly.
Ratchet felt his spark pulse heavily behind his chest plates. “Yes,” he answered, just as quietly. “A little.”
Carly nodded. “Me, too,” she whispered. “But I’ve been thinking, you know,” she added then, a bit louder. “That night three days ago, when we’d left you, I lay awake and thought things over. And I recalled suddenly that all this isn’t about me. It’s about him.” She placed both hands onto her belly before looking up at Ratchet again. “Remember when we fought the ‘Cons over that immobilizer Wheeljack had invented? Or when Spike and I traveled to Cybertron to get the Cybertonium for you guys?”
Ratchet snorted at the memory. “Hard to forget that one,” he muttered.
“It wasn’t about me, either, back then,” she continued. “But I still did my best because I wanted you all to be safe and happy. I want to do the same thing for Daniel, Ratchet. When I remembered that he is the important person here, I told him that it was okay for him to take the time he needed, and that when he was ready, I would do my best to help him. I can do this, Ratchet. I can.”
Ratchet stared at her. She was not afraid, he realized in astonishment. Nervous, yes; excited, okay; but there was no fear. She was at peace with the situation, and he felt awed and a bit shamed and at the same time strangely soothed by the quiet strength she exuded. He might have doubted his own skills, but how could he doubt such determination?
“Yes,” he answered softly. “Yes, I know.”
The moment was rudely interrupted by the sound of the door chime, and immediately afterwards the familiar hissing sound of the doors sliding open.
In the doorway stood Optimus Prime with an agitated yellow scout at his side. They weren’t alone, Ratchet realized; the sound of several voices could be heard from the corridor, and when he glanced past his commander, he could make out a bunch of twittering crew members clogging up the hallway.
“I apologize for the interruption,” Optimus said, pleasantly unimpressed with the excitement surrounding him, “but Miss Quintana is here.”
Elena’s voice rose easily above the Autobots’ chattering as she squeezed through the small space between Prime’s and Bumblebee’s feet. “Make some room here, you two, will you? And shut the door!”
Both mechs stepped aside to let her in, and Ratchet didn’t fail to notice how Bumblebee leaned forward eagerly, trying to get a better look at what was going on inside. He felt grateful to his commander when Optimus gently held the little scout back and let the doors close again.
Elena approached them with a warm smile. She was wearing jeans and a simple dark T-Shirt and carried a bag similar to a doctor’s kit.
“Good morning, you two.” She offered Ratchet her hand to shake. “Good thing I went to bed early tonight; just as if I’d known it.” She placed the bag into a corner and then settled down at the foot of the berth, gently patting Carly’s hand. “How are you doing, love? Did you get some rest?”
Carly seemed to relax now that her midwife was here. She nodded. “A bit, yeah. I had dinner, too, before I went to bed, and I brought some provisions.”
“And some moral support, I see,” Elena commented, indicating the teddy bear with a smile. “And you’re feeling alright? No sickness, no dizziness?”
Carly shook her head.
“Good.” Her dark eyes fixed on Ratchet and on the scanner in his hands. “Give me some medical data, then, doctor.”
Ratchet turned the scanner so she could see the screen. “All vitals are within normal parameters,” he informed her. “And it seems that the sparkling is asleep.”
Elena skimmed over the data briefly, then nodded and turned back to Carly. “How long since your water broke, dear? About three quarters of an hour? And you’ve had regular contractions since then?”
“Okay.” Elena stood and motioned to Ratchet to make room for her. “I’d like to have a closer look, if that’s alright with you.”
Carly looked a bit surprised at the question. “Yeah... sure.”
Ratchet was genuinely curious as to what she would do next; however, his attention was drawn off by the sudden noise rising in the corridor, loud enough to penetrate the doors. Elena frowned.
“Your friends are mighty excited out there,” she commented.
“So I noticed.” He fixed a stern gaze on the door, wordlessly challenging it. Someone cursed outside, and four or five other voices protested audibly.
Ratchet rose to his feet. “Excuse me,” he said as he subspaced the scanner and purposefully strode over to the door.
What he found outside was of course exactly what he had tried to avoid. A good third of the crew had assembled in the corridor. The noise level had dropped somewhat, probably due to the intervention of Optimus Prime who was standing in the midst of the crowd, next to Spike.
“What the Pit’s going on here?”
The talking stopped almost immediately. A dozen heads turned towards him.
“Uh... hey, Ratchet,” Bluestreak said with a sheepish smile. “Is it true that Carly’s having the sparkling?”
“She is,” Ratchet answered. “And I understand why that would make Spike loiter in the hallway, but what about the rest of you?”
There was a brief silence, as if they had to think it over.
“Yeah, well,” Trailbreaker said eventually, “Spike could do with some moral support, you see.”
“I couldn’t recharge anyway, knowing what’s going on in there,” Mirage added, and Tracks waved his hand dismissively into Ratchet’s general direction. “Don’t mind us, doc; we’re just going to make ourselves comfortable and wait. Wouldn’t want to miss anything, after all.”
“And Optimus said it’s okay for us to be here,” Bumblebee concluded.
Ratchet drew himself up to his full height. “I would like to remind you,” he said slowly, switching to his ‘doctor’s voice’, “that this is the med bay, not the rec room. So, are any of you badly damaged, seriously malfunctioning or in any other way on the brink of deactivation?”
“Then frag off!” Ratchet bellowed at the top of his vocalizer.
Silence. Fifteen pairs of optics stared back at him unflinchingly. They didn’t budge.
It was Prime who finally broke the hush.
“I think, Ratchet,” he said, “that the crew has a right to express their concern and support for Carly. And I’m sure you will agree with me that they should be given the opportunity to witness this most special occasion.”
It was disturbing, Ratchet mused, that their Prime, if he set his processor to it, could corner a mech with words just as effectively as with a rifle. He cycled a deep, slow draught of air through his vents. Easy, Ratchet, easy...
“Alright. Okay. Listen up, then. If I hear just one more word from you, I will personally see to it that you have all used your vocalizers for the last time. Do I make myself clear?”
“And you.” He thrust an accusing finger at his commander. “If you want that bunch of useless scrap heads here, make sure they behave themselves. This is not the final episode of ‘As the Kitchen Sinks’, for Primus’ sake!”
“I will see to it,” Optimus assured him with maddening gentleness.
Ratchet’s huff of exasperation came out more like a hiss as he spun around to return to his patient. Make themselves comfortable, holy slag...
He stopped, turning again. Spike had taken a step forward; his hands were balled into fists.
“Carly will be alright, won’t she?” he inquired softly, his voice strained.
Ratchet’s hand gripped the doorframe almost unconsciously.
“Of course,” he replied. “What do you think I’m planning to do in there?”
And with that he palmed the doors open and fled into the room, for he was sure that he wouldn’t be up to answering any more worried questions right now.
Carly had untied her dressing gown and had pulled her T-shirt up over her belly when Ratchet returned. She greeted him with an amused look. “Wow,” she commented. “You didn’t kill anyone out there, did you?”
“Not yet,” he muttered. It was rather a reflex than a conscious answer, since he was still struggling with the unpleasant bout of insecurity that had crept over him so suddenly. The feeling dissipated quickly, though, as his attention focused on the two femmes.
Elena was gently palpating Carly’s midsection as if trying to feel out Danny’s little form through her patient’s skin. “That baby’s in the perfect pole position,” she joked. “See? His feet are up here, and his head is right here.” She took Carly’s hand and placed it on the young woman’s lower belly, right beside her own.
Ratchet switched to infrared vision curiously, and found that she was correct. Daniel’s head inside his carrier’s body was positioned exactly beneath the two femmes’ hands. A smile slowly spread over Carly’s face, and he felt his own lips curl slightly in answer.
Elena reached for her bag and produced a pair of medical gloves and a tube of lubricant. “I’d like to do a quick examination,” she told Carly. “Then I’ll leave you in peace.”
It seemed that Carly was familiar with the procedure Elena was referring to, because she nodded consent and then proceeded by dropping her panties.
Being Cybertronian, Ratchet was not encumbered by all the social and ethical rules the humans had established concerning their sexuality and everything that was connected to it. That part of Carly’s body was an organ like any other, with its specific functions like any other. And yet, a fierce relief suddenly flooded his spark that his human friend had insisted on having her midwife present. Never in his existence would he have dared doing to his charge what Elena was doing now.
The midwife coated her gloved fingers with the medical lubricant and reached between Carly’s slightly parted thighs. “Just relax,” she told her, and the next thing Ratchet knew, her fingers had slipped into Carly’s body.
His CPU diligently reminded him that vaginal examinations were a standard procedure during a human delivery. Still, seeing it actually being performed was a rather bizarre experience. Carly’s vitals all stayed within acceptable parameters, but her breath hitched softly as she flinched a bit, and instinctively, Ratchet took a step forward and knelt at her side, offering his hand. His friend’s head turned towards him, looking almost surprised for a moment, but then she smiled and reached for one of his fingers. Her hand was warm, and Ratchet carefully placed his thumb over her tiny digits and offered a reassuring grin.
If Elena noticed the short interaction, she did not pay it any heed. She gingerly felt around inside Carly, a frown of concentration on her face.
“Hmm,” she said thoughtfully, looking up at Ratchet. “Can you give me her dilation?”
Ratchet took a more detailed scan of his charge’s uterus, focusing on the lower regions. “Cervix is 100 percent effaced and 2.74 centimeters dilated,” he reported. Elena clicked her tongue softly.
“You’re one of the fast kind,” she told Carly good-humoredly as she carefully withdrew her hand. “Seems your baby’s eager to meet us.”
“Is that bad?” Carly asked, a hint of anxiety in her voice.
“It’s a bit unusual for a first birth,” Elena replied, taking off the gloves. “But it’s nothing to be worried about. We’ll just watch him a bit more closely to make sure he doesn’t get too eager.”
“I’ll keep a close sensor on you both, Carly,” Ratchet assured her. “Should Daniel need our assistance, we will know right away.”
“Sounds great,” Carly murmured. Her eyes had glazed over strangely, her grip around his finger became markedly stronger, and she sucked a sharp breath in through her nose. “Oi,” she said.
Elena held out her hand, and Carly gripped it with her free one as she leaned forward. “Breathe, love,” the midwife ordered calmly. “Remember what we practiced: In. And out.”
This time, Ratchet was able to watch the unfolding events with genuine curiosity. Carly’s heart and pulse beat frequency increased with the contraction, but she carefully regulated her breathing according to Elena’s instructions. Engaging his infrared again, he could see her uterine muscles contract and shorten, and under his fascinated gaze, the tightening movement caused the cervix to being pulled up over the sparkling’s head a tiny stretch before the muscles began to loosen again and Carly sank back against the berth’s headboard, breathing heavily.
Elena checked her wrist watch. “About fifty seconds,” she stated, then glanced up at Ratchet. “I’d like you to monitor the duration and frequency of the contractions, to see if we’re making proper progress here. Can you do that?”
He nodded and carefully adjusted his sensors to the new task. Chances were good, he suspected, that supervising Carly’s physical reactions would be the easy part of his job.
Truth be told, Ratchet felt a bit put off his stride by the lack of action that followed. Carly made herself as comfortable as possible, took a sip of orange juice and actually nibbled at a cookie while Elena unpacked her kit and prepositioned a number of items and instruments she might need. She tried to engage both of them into some friendly small talk while she did so, and since Carly was visibly grateful for the verbal distraction, Ratchet joined in to the small conversation, still a bit surprised at how normal the situation seemed. They chatted about trivialities, and the mood that established between them was almost jovial, until the next contraction set in.
It was obvious, Ratchet mused while he carefully recorded all of Carly’s and Daniel’s bodily functions, that Elena knew how to do her job. She had retaken her place on the berth, holding Carly’s hands in a sure grip, and guided her through the pain with calm instructions and gentle encouragement. After the incident with Spike, Ratchet had found out that for the better part of human history, childbirth had been a women’s domain from which the males of the species were strictly excluded, and the longer he watched his two companions, the more he was beginning to understand why this had been the case. An almost intimate kind of concentration encompassed the two femmes, and he felt distinctively loath to intrude into their small, private reality. So, in lack of something better to do, he kept his vocalizer shut and instead concentrated on his data gathering.
Still, after they’d spent three or four contractions like this, he couldn’t help but beginning to feel a bit side-lined. Shouldn’t he be supporting Carly in some way? Wasn’t that the reason why he was here? The fact that his medical subroutines had warmed up by now and were urging him to actively take part in the ongoing events wasn’t helping much, either.
“Geez,” Carly panted eventually. “I’m beginning to get an idea why this is called labor.”
Elena smiled. “Try not to think about the discomfort, love. If you want to think, remember that the pain serves to get you closer to holding your baby in your arms.”
“Yeah...” Carly shifted slightly on the berth, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “I’d like to walk a bit. Can I do that?”
“Of course.” Elena moved to make room for her, and Carly pushed herself upright carefully. Her eyes sought Ratchet’s optics.
“Help me?” she asked with a shy smile.
Ratchet’s medical program purred in contentment when he held out his hand without a second thought. His charge wrapped both arms around his fingers and slid off the berth slowly, then hesitated for a moment.
“I need something to lean onto while I walk,” she explained. “You think that’ll work?”
Ratchet couldn’t help the smile that crept onto his faceplates. “We’ll make it work,” he said.
It wasn’t that complicated, really. He just sat down on the floor - cross-legged, to be more comfortable - and Carly held on to his fingers while she slowly walked up and down in front of him, his hand following her movements. Elena had withdrawn a bit, obviously content to let Ratchet take the lead for a while, and was watching them, albeit warily, with a smile curling her lips.
Right now, Ratchet didn’t pay her any more heed than that of his most peripheral sensors. His attention was focused on his human charge who kept walking back and forth steadily and concentrated on her breathing. When a contraction came, she would lean into his palm, wrap her arms around his fingers and press her hot face against the cool metal, stifling her moans in his plating. It was an intimidating and yet strangely empowering and fascinating experience, he found, to feel that small, warm body tremble against his fingers, and to feel how hard it worked to bring the tiny sparkling inside into the world. He also noticed that Carly instinctively tried to crouch down when the contractions became stronger, so he switched to laying his hand flat on the floor so she could kneel and drape her upper body across his fingers while he used his free hand to rub her back gently. It didn’t help much with the pain, of course, but it seemed to relax her a bit.
“You’re doing great, Carly,” he encouraged as his human friend staggered back to her feet with his help, moaning softly. “Your dilation is 4.83 centimeters now.”
Carly stared up at him with a comical expression of mixed disbelief and personal offense. “4.83 centimeters? Not more? We’ve been here for hours!”
That was true, Ratchet noticed with a glance at his chronometer, though not nearly as much time had passed as it probably felt like to her. It was still in the middle of the night.
“Actually, you’re making great progress, dear,” Elena informed her as she walked over to hand Carly the bottle of orange juice. “You’re nearly halfway there already. What’s our status?” she asked Ratchet.
“All vital signs are within acceptable parameters,” he answered, reading the data off his HUD. “Oxygen saturation is fine. Contractions are 3.4 minutes apart and 65.29 seconds in duration.”
“See?” Elena said, stroking Carly’s hair gently. “Your baby’s fine, and everything’s going as it’s supposed to. Just a little longer, okay?”
Carly closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, then she handed the bottle back to her midwife and gave them a small, but determined smile. “Yeah,” she said softly. “I can do this.”
She abandoned her walking for kneeling on the ground on all fours, rocking back and forth with the increasing contractions. Elena had helped her to take off her dressing gown, so all she was wearing now was her worn T-Shirt. The cloth was stained with sweat, and from time to time, drops of amniotic fluids and bloody mucus were dripping down Carly’s naked thighs.
“Ugh,” she murmured when the liquid dripped onto the blanket Elena had spread for her, crawling forward a bit to get away from the mess. Ratchet took a quick scan of both his charge and the fluids she was leaking, but Carly’s and Daniel’s data came up clear, and the mucus contained only a minimal amount of blood.
“Don’t mind it,” he said soothingly, sending a short data burst to one of the med bay’s cleaning drones. A panel in the wall opened and the mecha emerged without a sound, cleaning the blanket quickly and efficiently and then disappearing again just as silently.
Elena dipped a cloth into a bowl with warm water and cleaned Carly’s legs gently. Up to now, their charge had mostly just panted and moaned, the sounds intermingling with soft whines or grunts when the contractions were strongest. But the longer Carly’s labor took, the more audible her discomfort became. Ratchet found himself marveling at the fact that such deep, guttural sounds could come out of such a small human body.
He was familiar with - and, in most cases, used to - most utterances of severe pain. In fact, they belonged to the main triggers that got his medical program running.
“Carly,” he told her during a break between contractions, “you know I obtained human analgesics to alleviate the pain of your labor. I can administer one of those substances any time you want me to.”
His human friend was currently crouching on the floor with her back pressed against the wall and both her hands supporting her belly. She looked up at him uncertainly. “I don’t know... wouldn’t it be bad for Danny if I took painkillers now?”
Ratchet shook his head. “I did extensive research on this medication. The risks to your sparkling would be minimal.”
It was obvious from Carly’s expression that she didn’t know what to do. She glanced down at her belly, then looked at her midwife as if asking for guidance.
“He’s right,” Elena said calmly. “But it’s your decision, love.”
For a moment, Carly turned her face away from both of them, like she wanted to be alone with her thoughts. Her hands stroked her belly gently, then she turned back to Ratchet, suddenly looking determined.
“No,” she said. “No, thanks, Ratchet, I... I promised Danny that I’d do what I can and... I think I can still handle it.”
Ratchet had never had doubts about that, and he would not treat a patient against their expressed wish - with one or two exceptions, maybe. But as much as he admired her courage, when Carly let out an agonized cry at the peak of her next contraction, he found that, like any other Cybertronian, he couldn’t counteract his very core function just like that.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to give you those meds, Carly?” he tried again when the pain had died down. “I promise you the effects on Daniel are negl-“
“She said no.”
He looked up in surprise. Elena met his gaze with optics as hart and dark as volcanic glass.
Sudden, hot anger suffused his spark at the sight. Who did she think she was, cutting him short like this while he was trying to do his job? “When I’m interested in your opinion, Miss Quintana, be assured that I will ask for it,” he replied, carefully restrained.
Elena frowned deeply, but didn’t answer immediately. She wiped the sweat off Carly’s forehead with a fresh cloth and handed her the bottle of orange juice.
“Here, love,” she said kindly. “Take a sip, I’ll be right back. Dr. Ratchet, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“With pleasure,” he growled, throwing his charge a quick look to make sure she could be left alone for a moment before he followed the incensed midwife into the far corner of the room.
“Stop doing that!” she snapped without preamble the moment she turned around. Ratchet blinked in confusion. He hadn’t done anything yet.
“Stop prodding her to take the painkillers. She gave you a clear instruction, so don’t unsettle her by trying to persuade her.”
Ratchet had to suck a deep draught of air into his vents to not give in to his first impulse of simply snapping back. Why was she meddling with his work? He hadn’t meddled with hers, either, for Pit’s sake!
“I am here to take care of the medical aspects of this event,” he answered stiffly. “And pain management, Miss Quintana, is a medical aspect. It is not necessary for Carly to simply endure the pain.”
Elena huffed impatiently. “This is exactly the reason why so often complications arise at births that should be simplicity itself, because you doctors always have to intervene. Instead of letting a woman labor like she feels is right for her, you try to tell her what you think should feel right. Then the poor dear begins to tense up because she doesn’t know what to do anymore, and then the fat’s in the fire.”
As much as the broad-brush accusation angered him, Ratchet couldn’t help but to glance back at Carly, who was kneeling on the blanket again, eyes closed and panting heavily. The last thing he wanted was to hurt her in any way, but his medical subroutines were running wild, screaming at him to do something, anything, to end this unnecessary suffering. He felt his hands twitch nervously.
Something soft and warm touched his ankle, and when he looked down, he realized in wonder that Elena had stepped closer and had placed her hand against his armor plating. “I know it’s hard,” she said softly. “But I can tell you from experience that most women have a very keen sense of what’s best for themselves and for their baby. Let her do this her way.”
Ratchet groaned inwardly. That sounded completely reasonable, but how could he make it clear to her that she was demanding from him to go against his entire source coding?!
“I’m worried,” he said finally, just to say anything, “that she might be expecting too much of herself.”
Elena smiled. “She trusts you,” she answered. “If she needs anything from you, she’ll let you know.”
“Hey, guys! Sorry to interrupt, but I’m having a baby here!”
They turned simultaneously. Carly was leaning against the wall once more, her expression stuck somewhere between seriously livid and a grimace of pain. Elena chuckled softly.
“Believe it or not,” she murmured, only audible for Ratchet, “but this is the funny part.” She grinned at him before she promptly walked back to her patient.
Ratchet followed a bit more slowly. He didn’t feel too amused right now.
For some kliks, he made do with engaging an emergency program that was designed to keep the impulses of his medical coding in check, but this was a temporary solution at best. He looked down at his charge as she clung to his hand again, panting and groaning her way through another contraction. Frag, but there had to be something he could do!
How exactly did human pain work? It was basically just a chemical reaction that was reported to the brain by electrical impulses via neural pathways...
A memory file suddenly popped up in his cache. Electrical impulses... that had worked quite well before, hadn’t it?
He leaned down to his friend as soon as she was responsive again.
“I’d like to try something, Carly,” he told her, and before she could respond, he placed his index and middle finger gently against her back and sent a low electrical charge through his EM field and into her body.
The energy output was so small he barely felt it, but Carly jerked at the sensation and drew in a sharp breath.
“What?” Elena looked up in alarm. “What are you doing?”
“Pain management,” he said drily. “How are you, Carly?”
She leaned into his palm heavily, one hand supporting her belly, a tiny, warm weight against his plating. “Okay,” she murmured. “Dunno what you did, but… it hurt a bit less… for a moment.”
“Good.” He adjusted his sensors a bit more precisely to the electrical frequencies in her nerves and brain and then sent another pulse, careful as to not startle her again. “Should I continue?”
Carly twisted her neck to meet his optics. “This won’t hurt Danny, will it?”
The concern in her voice touched his spark. “I promise you, Carly, your sparkling will not be harmed,” he answered firmly.
She took a deep breath, and her muscles actually relaxed a bit when she let herself sink back against his hand. “’M glad you’re here,” she murmured.
Ratchet happened to catch Elena’s eyes at this moment. She nodded slowly.
“Holy motherfuckin’ shit!!”
Ratchet instinctively dialed down the sensitivity of his audio receptors when Carly’s scream echoed through the med bay. His charge was kneeling upright on the berth, supporting herself on the raised headboard. Elena, who had been sitting behind her, had abandoned her place for a moment in favor of cleaning the berth’s surface off the little puddle that had formed underneath Carly when she had lost control off her bladder during the last contraction.
Moaning softly, Carly rubbed her sweaty forehead over her crossed arms, then her head snapped up suddenly and she stared at Ratchet with wide, burning eyes.
“More!” she demanded.
He shook his head, sending her another gentle energy pulse. “A higher voltage might slow down your labor, Carly,” he explained patiently.
Her voice carried the distinct undertone of beginning hysteria, so he tried to distract her. “But you’ve made really good progress, Carly; your dilation is -“
“Stop scanning me!” she shrieked and actually gave his hand a surprisingly strong push. “And stop telling me that I’m making progress! You try pushing a watermelon out of your exhaust pipe, you metallic smartass!”
Ratchet had been a medic long enough to develop a keen sense for what his patients needed from him regarding emotional interaction. If Carly required a verbal sparring match to handle her situation better - no problem.
“Oh, please,” he shot back, feigning boredom. “You think I’ve never heard that one before? I thought human femmes in labor were more creative.”
“Fuck you,” Carly panted. He revved his engine, letting the sound emphasize his words.
“Tough talk for such a small human,” he challenged, wondering if he should really enjoy this as much as he did. “C’mon on, you can do better.”
A stream of human curses and swear words came out of Carly’s mouth, some of which would have embarrassed even Ironhide. Ratchet saved a temporary note in his cache that he needed to find out where the friendly young woman had learned such profanities, but then his attention was drawn off by his sensors informing him of a new contraction coming on, only astroseconds before Carly’s voice cracked and morphed into a high-pitched mixture between a groan and a scream. He shifted a bit on his knees to find a more comfortable position as he resumed his task of trying to soothe his charge’s pain as much as possible.
A message alert suddenly popped up in his HUD. He checked it briefly, then accessed the connection.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, Ratchet,’ Optimus said over the link, ‘but is everything alright? We heard Carly scream.’
‘Everything’s fine, Optimus,’ he answered, not quite managing to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. ‘We’re in the curse-the-medic phase.’
‘I see.’ There was a short pause, then: ‘Are things going well in there, Ratchet? According to my information, there is no set time frame for a human birth, but Spike is getting worried about the amount of time this event is taking.’
Ratchet checked his chronometer. It was 07:23 a.m.
‘We’re alright, Prime,’ he said. ‘Carly’s cervix dilation is 8.26 centimeters; I don’t think it will be much longer now.’
‘I’m glad to hear that.’
He was. Ratchet could hear it in his voice, even over the comm link. ‘And as for Spike,’ he added. ‘You can tell him that his bonded is doing a slagging fine job here. Ratchet out.’
“I can’t do this,” Carly whimpered.
“Yes, you can,” Elena answered gently but firmly. She was kneeling behind her patient, cooling her neck and back with a damp cloth and periodically wiping the sweat off of Carly’s face. “You’ve done beautifully so far, and you’re almost there now. You can do this.”
“No, no, I can’t. I don’t want this anymore; I want it to stop.” Carly’s whole body was trembling and soaked with sweat. Her fingers dug sharply into the soft metal of Ratchet’s hand as she clung to him, eyes wide and frightened and glazed over with pain. “Please, Ratchet, make it stop.”
Shaking his head felt like the cruelest thing he’d ever done. “I can’t,” he said.
“Please!” She was crying now, tears streaming down her contorted face, and as always when she wept, Ratchet got the feeling that his whole body was locking up. His hydraulics tightened, leaving him nearly immobile, and his vocalizer refused to produce sound as he stared down at his friend. His spark pulsed hard against his chest plates in the beginning of genuine panic.
No, no, don’t let this happen; don’t let her down now! But his spark seemed to have completely overridden his processor.
A sudden movement caught his optic. Behind Carly, Elena had straightened her back and stared right at him, her dark eyes ablaze, and her lips soundlessly formed a single word: Move!
And the spell broke. Ratchet’s CPU informed him that this hydraulics were functioning again, and he immediately put them to good use, laying his free hand over his charge’s tiny fingers and squeezing down as much as he dared. “Carly,” he said. “Carly, look at me.”
She did, still sobbing and trembling all over.
“I promised you we would see this through together,” he said, “and we will. Focus on me, okay? Listen to my voice. You can do this, Carly. You’re strong, and brave, and I’m fragging proud of you, do you hear me?”
He had done this before, had talked confidence back into patients who were on the verge of giving up, and once he’d found his rhythm, the words came easy to him. He kept talking while Elena gently rubbed Carly’s back and arms with the cloth. A bit earlier, she had helped the other woman to get rid of her sweat-soaked shirt, and given how hot Carly’s body had become, that was probably a good thing.
It wasn’t possible any more to discern when one contraction ended and the next began; they had started to overlap, and Carly seemed no longer capable of anything but moaning and crying. A sudden drop of her blood pressure alarmed Ratchet, but before he could say something, the current contraction reached its peak, and the next moment, Carly vomited onto the floor.
“Shh,” Elena murmured soothingly, holding her while she retched and wiping Carly’s face with the damp cloth. “It’s okay, love, it’s okay... do you want to lie down? No? Alright, then, just breathe... here, lean on me...” She wrapped one arm around Carly’s waist to support her belly and the other around her shoulders, steadying her, and then she coaxed her into a gentle, swaying movement, all the while whispering softly into her ear.
Carly clasped her midwife’s arm in near desperation, but her free hand did not let go of Ratchet’s fingers, and he wasn’t eager to change that. He could no longer do much to ease her pain; with the heavy muscle activity going on inside her body, he might do more harm than good. So he confined himself to rubbing her hand tenderly with his thumb and to help support her when she leaned forward to rest her forehead on his plating while he took turns with Elena at verbally soothing and encouraging their charge.
Carly had squeezed her eyes shut, and her head sank back against Elena’s shoulder. Her breath came in harsh, ragged pants, and it was hard to tell how much of their talking actually reached her. Not that it was of much importance. All that mattered from now on was the moment. Together they held on from astrosecond to astrosecond while contractions came and went in a seemingly never-ending rhythm. But they’d managed the last one, they could handle one more... they’d dealt with two now, they could cope with a third...
Somewhere along the way, Ratchet dared a glance at his chronometer. It was 08:54 a.m.
The echo of their charge’s latest cry faded away, and she slumped into Elena’s arms, panting heavily. “God,” she sobbed. “God, I can’t take this. I changed my mind; I don’t want a baby.”
“It’s a bit late for that, Carly,” Ratchet said, unsure if he should feel concerned or amused. She groaned.
“How much longer?”
“Not so much, dear,” Elena replied soothingly. “In fact, I think you have just successfully passed through transition.”
The word had a strangely electrifying influence, not only on Carly, who twisted her neck to stare at her midwife, but also on Ratchet. He activated his infrared again and took a thorough scan of his charge.
Carly’s cervix had dilated to 9.94 centimeters. Daniel’s little head was fully engaged in her pelvis now and had begun to tilt back slightly. Ratchet compared the data to those he had previously gathered about human childbirth, and felt his spark give an eager pulse. Was this it? Was that stubborn little sparkling finally ready to show himself?
“She’s right,” he said softly. Elena smiled and stroked Carly’s hand.
“See? The hardest part is over, dear. All that’s left to do now is to push your baby out. Come on, let’s get you seated. Your knees must be sore by now.”
She helped Carly to ease down carefully so their charge could sit upright with her back against the berth’s headboard. She was still breathing heavily. “Thirsty,” she murmured.
Elena reached for the bottle of orange juice and held it to Carly’s lips. She took several deep draughts while the midwife once more wiped the sweat off her face.
“Alright, love.” Elena put the bottle aside. “It’s up to you now. You set the pace. When a contraction comes and you feel that you need to push, I want you to push, okay? I’ll be down here,” she patted the end of the berth, “to lend your baby a hand, and your Autobot friend will be right beside you. I want you to give her as much support as you can,” she added, turning to Ratchet.
He nodded consent, and a strangely pleasant excitement suddenly pulsed through his spark. This was real. It was really happening. In a few more kliks, they would have a sparkling.
He shifted into a more comfortable position while Elena settled down at the end of the berth. “We’ll need some room here, love,” she said, gently urging their charge’s knees apart. Carly twitched and shifted anxiously.
“Ughn,” she said.
“Contraction?” Ratchet asked. There wasn’t much muscle activity in her body yet...
“Dunno,” Carly murmured. “Feels strange... somewhat tingly.” She moved again, wriggling until she was sitting up a bit straighter. “I think... uh... Oi..!”
The contraction came on hard and fast, and Carly’s whole body bore down almost on its own volition with the movements of her muscles. She grunted, her hands grasping at thin air, seeking purchase, and Ratchet quickly offered his fingers again. He actually flinched a bit in surprise when she grabbed them. Pit, but that little femme was strong.
“Remember to breathe, dear,” came Elena’s calm voice from below before she waved her hand into the direction of the waiting cleaning drone. “Hey, you! R2-D2! Get me some hot water!”
Ratchet considered it very inappropriate of his CPU to dump memory files of Bluestreak in his cache right now.
Contractions were coming roughly every 90 seconds now, and judging from all the physical and chemical reactions going on inside his charge’s body, Ratchet was sure that they couldn’t be less painful than before, but somehow, a remarkable change had taken place. Carly would moan and grunt and pant just as much as before, and from time to time, when both the contraction and her pushing reached a peak, she would utter a sharp cry, but it was a different sound now, strangely reminiscent of a battle cry. It was as if now that she could actually work with her body, she had remembered her own strength, and had decided that the pain would not conquer her.
In the short breaks between contractions, Elena dipped a fresh cloth into the hot water and pressed it between Carly’s legs gently, to loosen the tissue there to prevent a rupture of the perineum, as she explained. In the meantime, Ratchet kept a close optic on Daniel, who seemed to handle the process of being born quite well. “Slow down a bit, Carly,” he told his charge. “Your sparkling could do with a little more oxygen.”
“Don’t tell me what to do!” she snapped, panting in mid-contraction.
“I won’t,” he promised. “Slow down anyway.”
Carly grunted and shook with the effort of denying her body. “Take a deep breath,” Ratchet ordered. “And again... and one more. Good. You’re doing great.”
“I hate you,” Carly informed him darkly. “I really do.”
“I know,” he answered amusedly. Was it normal that he was feeling so strangely elated all of a sudden?
Suddenly she gave a pained keen that sounded distinctively different than all the sounds she’d made before. “Ow! Oh fuck, that stings!”
“Keep pushing,” Elena instructed, and Carly obeyed, cursing breathlessly. Her midwife looked up at her with a smile.
“I can see a little head down here.”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small hand mirror. Ratchet wondered what she wanted with a make-up accessory now, but before he could voice his question, Elena positioned the mirror so that both he and his charge could see the reflection of Carly’s lower body.
It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. The labia had parted over a tiny, slightly curved surface, surrounding it almost like a crown, and the surface itself was covered in a light, dark fuzz.
“Jesus,” Carly breathed, staring in utter fascination. “He’s got hair!”
Elena smiled again, then she took Carly’s hand and gently placed her fingers against Daniel’s head. Carly stroked along the downy surface tenderly, and a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob escaped her.
It seemed that this first, tentative contact had confirmed the resolution of both carrier and sparkling to finally meet each other face to face, because the next contraction came on so hard Carly was able to push three times in succession. “Support her back,” Elena ordered, and Ratchet obligingly slipped his free hand in between his charge’s body and the berth’s headboard. Carly was trembling with the force of her exertions, and he instinctively rubbed his thumb across her shoulders.
“And push,” came Elena’s calm instruction, and Carly’s body tensed again. Engaging his infrared once more, Ratchet could watch Daniel’s tiny body move oh so slowly through the birth canal, pressed forward by the incredible strength created by his carrier’s muscles. Carly gasped and then shrieked in pain.
“Holy fuckin’ shit, that burns!”
“I know, love. Just keep going.”
Carly huffed and grunted; then, all of a sudden, her body went limp and slumped back against Ratchet’s fingers. Elena looked up at them with a gentle smile.
“His head’s out,” she announced.
Somewhere deep in his processor, Ratchet was aware of the fact that he was staring like a dumb-founded idiot, but he couldn’t help it. Daniel’s head, that tiny sparkling head he’d seen dozens of times on scans and infrared images, was suddenly here, in his med bay, lying nestled between Carly’s trembling thighs. Elena reached for it and took it in both her hands gently to support it while they waited for Danny to maneuver into the right position for the final push.
Ratchet leaned down to his friend. “You almost did it, Carly,” he whispered. “You’ve come so far... just one more push, and your sparkling will be here.”
Carly’s head rolled sideways, looking up at him with pleading optics. “I’m so tired,” she whispered back.
“I know. But it’s just one more push, Carly. We’ll do it together, okay? Just one more.”
“I promise. C’mon, let’s wrap this up.”
Carly took a long, deep breath and renewed her grip on his hand. Elena, with her hands still on Daniel’s had, had watched the short interaction, but had not interrupted. Ratchet paid her no heed any longer.
His sensors told him exactly when a new contraction set in. “Okay, Carly,” he murmured. “Show him what you’ve got.”
She leaned forward as she pushed, every muscle strained to maximum. Elena’s hands pulled and guided gently, trying to find the easiest way for the first of Daniel’s shoulders to pass through the narrow opening. Carly grabbed Ratchet’s finger with frightening strength, voicing a scream so hard her voice cracked on it.
And suddenly, with a wet, slick sound and a gush of amniotic fluids, Daniel’s little body slipped out of his carrier and into Elena’s waiting hands.
All tension abruptly ceased. Carly fell back, completely exhausted. Except for the sound of her labored breathing, the med bay was eerily silent.
Elena bedded the newborn sparkling into the crook of her arm. Daniel’s eyes were closed. He didn’t move so much as a finger, and his skin was a sickly waxen color.
Ratchet’s spark thumped against his chest plates painfully. Why wasn’t Daniel moving? Why wasn’t he crying? Shouldn’t he be doing that now?
“Is he okay?” Carly strained, trying to catch a glimpse of her sparkling. “Is he okay?!”
Wires began to tense, hydraulics to pressurize as Ratchet’s body readied itself to jump into action. His sensors indicated that the sparkling was alive, and he would do what was needed to ensure that it stayed that way. He would make Danny live if he had to; he would rip his spark out of his chest with his bare hands if necessary -
Elena rubbed the tiny body down with a clean towel. A gurgling sound could be heard, a whimper, and suddenly a piercing cry filled the med bay as Daniel protested sharply against the cold, too-bright world he’d been thrust into. Within kliks, his color changed to a healthy pink, his hands balled into tiny fists, and his legs started kicking furiously. Carly sagged with relief, and the laugh she gave was interwoven with deep, heavy sobs.
A gentle smile lit up Elena’s face and eyes. “He’s a beautiful, healthy baby boy.” She wrapped the towel loosely around Daniel’s small form and carefully placed him onto Carly’s chest. “Congratulations, dear.”
Carly’s sobs turned into heavy, shaky breathing as the tiny body touched her skin. Her arms rose as if on their own volition to wrap around her sparkling, carefully cradling him close. Every trace of pain on her face was wiped away by an expression of overwhelmed wonder as she stared down into the tiny, tiny face of her son.
“Oh my god,” she breathed, touching her finger to the sparkling’s cheek with infinite gentleness. “Hey... hey, Daniel. I’m your mommy.”
Daniel had stopped crying as soon as he was placed onto his carrier’s body. Now he scrunched up his little face, snuffling softly, and lazily moved his feet about while his fingers grasped at Carly’s skin with sloppy, uncoordinated movements. Blue newborn optics blinked up at her sleepily.
“Oh, Ratchet,” Carly whispered. “Ratchet, look. Isn’t he beautiful?”
To be honest, ‘beautiful’ was not exactly the word that had come to Ratchet’s processor. His journey through the narrow birth canal had left Daniel’s head slightly deformed, his skin was wrinkled and in some places covered by a greasy white substance (vernix, he remembered), and his thin hair was sticky with mucus and streaks of blood.
What did come to his mind, however, was the word ‘perfect’. Danny was impossibly, incredibly tiny, but he didn’t lack a single cell. He had two arms and two legs, ten fingers and ten toes, possessed a sufficient amount of blood and all the necessary organs, including two round ears and a button nose. Pit, the little glitchmouse even had lashes and eyebrows!
Ratchet searched for something familiar, something that would remind him of Carly or Spike. After all, Daniel had come into being by the merging of his creators’ genetic material; surely there had to be something he would recognize?
But no, the miniature human lying in Carly’s arms was a completely independent individual, not a subtotal of those who had created him.
“He’s perfect, Carly,” he answered softly. “Congratulations.”
She turned her head towards him, and a beautiful smile appeared on her still sweaty face. “Thank you,” she whispered, her voice thick with exhaustion and emotion. “Thank you. Both of you.”
“Any time, dear.” Elena was beaming all over her face. She carefully pressed her cloth between Carly’s legs to catch the few drops of blood that still escaped their charge’s body and then leaned down for a closer inspection.
“Barely a scratch,” she announced, obviously pleased, while she wiped her hands clean and watched the first tentative interactions between mother and child with undisguised pride and happiness. “Well, how about it, dear? Would you like to try and give him the breast?”
Carly nodded eagerly, and Ratchet watched in open curiosity as the midwife walked up to stand next to their charge and showed her how to bring the sparkling into an appropriate position for his first meal. “Newborns can be fussy eaters,” she warned. “It might take him a while to -“
Daniel’s head moved instinctively as soon as Carly’s nipple touched his face. His tiny mouth opened, and he huffed and grunted a bit as he rooted, but then he latched on, and the soft sounds of contented suckling became audible.
“Well,” Elena said, a bit surprised. “Seems he’s a natural.”
For a moment, all three of them watched the nursing baby in silent awe. Ratchet had seen pictures and recordings of suckling human infants before, but reality, he found, was much more fascinating than any image capture.
He made sure to record every single astrosecond of it.
Some drops of yellowish fluid escaped Daniel’s mouth when his sucking became a bit too enthusiastic. He squirmed slightly, and one of his hands came to rest on Carly’s breast as if trying to hold it in place. Carly stroked it gently, and the tiny hand moved again to clasp her index finger. She smiled touchedly, than frowned.
“Geez, that feels really weird,” she murmured. Her oxytocin levels had increased considerably, Ratchet noticed, and his sensors were reporting minor muscle activity in her uterus. Carly wriggled and shifted on the berth, her abdominal muscles tightening as she bore down instinctively, and suddenly a soft, bloody mass of tissue oozed out of her body and dropped onto the berth with a slick sound and a trickle of fluids. Carly grimaced in disgust.
“Ugh”, she said and tried to move away from the mass without jarring the umbilical cord that still connected Daniel to the expelled placenta. Elena patted her shoulder gently.
“Let me take care of this, love. And you,” she looked at Ratchet, “if you want to make yourself useful, you can clamp the cord.”
He was ready to snap at her when his optics met her dark eyes, and he saw that she was grinning.
Daniel had finished his meal and was beginning to drop off. Ratchet watched him yawning around Carly’s nipple while he carefully pulled his hand out from behind his charge’s back and unsubspaced one of the medical clamps he normally used on very thin wires or on the delicate fuel lines of the minibots. It was small in his hand, but compared to the tiny newborn, it appeared intimidatingly large.
Carly moved the towel aside to give him enough room to work. “Careful,” she cautioned, and Ratchet suddenly felt ridiculously nervous. Slag, but the sparkling was just so tiny.
Get a grip, Ratch. You have a job to do here.
He willed his hands to stay steady before he very gently lifted the cord with the tip of one finger, and with a wary glance at Daniel’s face, he let the clamp snap into place.
The little glitchmouse didn’t so much as twitch.
An affectionate smile played about Carly’s lips as she pulled the towel up again and gently rocked her baby in her arms. “He’s so gorgeous,” she whispered. “Can we call in Spike now? I want him to meet his son.”
Elena had finished her examination of the placenta and obviously found that it was intact. Ratchet could have told her so a lot faster, but he didn’t want to interrupt her working routine. “I’ll go and send him in,” he offered. “If that’s alright with Miss Quintana.”
The midwife placed the afterbirth in a container she had prepared and covered it with a towel to dampen the smell until it could be discarded. She nodded at him with a smile. “Go ahead. I’ll just clean our new mommy up a bit in the meantime.”
After being on his knees for so long, the hydraulics in Ratchet’s legs had become a bit stiff and gave a protesting squeak as he rose to his feet. Slag, he really needed to pay more attention to his own maintenance...
He looked down at his two charges, and the view they offered made him feel strangely warm and content and proud in the most frightening, most wonderful way. He wanted to run, to hide somewhere and to never come out again, but at the same time, every fiber of his spark vigorously protested against the prospect of leaving. He found himself spontaneously leaning down again.
“I’ll just go and get your father,” he told the recharging sparkling. “It won’t take long. And don’t you go anywhere while I’m gone, okay?”
Daniel scrunched up his face and sneezed in his sleep. Ratchet decided to take that as a yes.
It felt like entering another world.
When the med bay doors closed behind him, the orange-walled corridor appeared strangely alien to Ratchet, as if he’d never been here before. He blinked his optics, for a moment actually searching his memory bank for information about who he was and what the frag he was doing here.
The feeling passed quickly, however, when his gaze settled upon his fellow Autobots.
They were gathered in several small groups, some sitting, some standing, some even in alt mode. Positioned squarely in the middle were Spike and Bumblebee, the human looking pale and exhausted, the little scout with a comforting arm wrapped around his friend’s shoulders. There were hushed conversations going on here and there, but all voices died down immediately when they noticed him. Overbright, curious optics and visors stared at him, waiting, the tension almost palpable.
And Ratchet stared back and had no idea what to say to them.
It was Wheeljack who finally broke the hush. “Was... was that the sparkling we heard, Ratch?” he asked tentatively.
Something inside him seemed to melt, and he felt his faceplates break into a gentle smile.
“Yes,” he answered softly. His gaze sought Spike, who had taken a step forward. “Congratulations, Spike. You have a healthy son.”
For a moment, the young man stood as if struck by lightning. Then he exhaled so deeply as if he’d held his breath for the last ten joors, and the sound that escaped him was somewhere between a sob and a gasp. Bumblebee threw his arms around his friend a bit too enthusiastically with a happy hoot, but Spike didn’t seem to mind; on the contrary, he actually hugged Bumblebee back, pressing his face against friend’s chassis with a shaky laugh.
Behind them, the crew seemed to come to life. Ratchet saw smiles and embraces and hands that patted shoulders; happy, relieved laughter could be heard, and a choir of congratulations rose, all directed at Spike. Even Sunstreaker’s lips curled slightly as he allowed Sideswipe to cuddle him cheerfully. Optimus Prime stood next to them in silence, but his optics shone a brighter azure blue than Ratchet had ever seen.
“How’s Carly?” Spike demanded after he had extricated himself from Bumblebee’s arms. “Is she alright?”
Ratchet nodded. “She’s fine. Tired, but fine. She’s waiting for you.”
The overjoyed beaming on Spike’s face was contagious. Ratchet stepped aside to let him through as the young man hurried into the med bay, and the eagerness with which their friend rushed past him to join his bonded and newborn offspring warmed his spark through and through.
“What about us, Ratchet?” Bumblebee piped up excitedly, taking a step forward. “Can we see Daniel, too?” His request was immediately backed up by a choir of affirmatives.
Part of Ratchet desperately wanted them to see the sparkling. He wanted to lead them inside and to proudly present to them the tiny new life he had just helped delivering. The other part, however, was firmly connected to his medical programming and reminded him of his responsibilities as a medic.
“For Primus’ sake, guys, he’s barely twenty kliks old, and Carly just worked her way through a night cycle of labor pain. Give them a moment to settle down; they’re not going anywhere.”
“I agree,” Optimus said in his calm tone, the first word he spoke since Ratchet had left the med bay. “We should give Spike and Carly some time to get acquainted with their offspring. I’m sure they will let us know when they are ready to see us.”
There was some grumbling and disappointed faceplates, but it was beyond any doubt that the Witwicky family’s well-being was one of the Ark’s top priorities. Cliffjumper crossed his arms over his chest plates.
“Okay, okay. Fire away, then, Doc.”
The red minibot huffed impatiently. “Give us something to work with, Ratchet! What does Daniel look like?”
“Like a human,” Ratchet said drily. “Two arms, two legs, one head.”
The crew groaned simultaneously. “Details, Ratch!” Inferno demanded. “We need input! Optic color, weight, size... what’s his size?”
“Small,” Ratchet replied with malicious joy.
The distinct click and whirr of a laser gun being onlined forestalled any protest. Ironhide stood in the middle of the crowd, legs apart, faceplates grim and weapon leveled accurately at Ratchet’s head, primed and ready to fire.
“Spill it, Ratchet,” he growled. “Or I’m gonna do some memory extractin’ on your processor - the old-fashioned way.”
Ratchet knew for sure that Ironhide would never shoot at a fellow Autobot. Still, he decided that he really needed to do something about his evil streak.
He chose some memory files and image captures from his cache, combined them into a neat data package and sent them over to his comrades on a general frequency. Optics flashed briefly as one after the other accessed the message.
Apart from the occasional, gentle rev of an engine, the corridor turned utterly quiet. Every ‘Bot present was staring at his HUD like they had been frozen in place, but Ratchet could feel EM fields flare and core temperatures fluctuate in what was undoubtedly a wide variety of emotions.
“Geez,” Huffer said finally, “that’s gross.” - and was instantly rewarded with a heavy slap to the head, courtesy of Sideswipe.
His comment had broken the spell, though. Bluestreak obviously couldn’t find the appropriate hydraulics to close his mouth. “Holy Primus,” he breathed, “he’s so tiny. Look at those fingers - they’re barely there!”
“What’s that white substance on him?” Optimus inquired.
“It’s called vernix,” Ratchet explained. “It acts as a protection of the skin. It will vanish in a few joors.”
“His head looks a bit strange,” Hound remarked, sounding worried.
“A temporary deformation caused by the passage through the birth canal. The head will resume its normal shape in a few days.”
“Is he... nursing?” Bumblebee whispered.
Ratchet couldn’t hold in his laughter any longer. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, he is.”
The little scout kept staring at the pictures on his HUD, utterly transfixed. “Man, I can’t believe he’s here. I mean, of cause he’s been here before, but now he’s really here. That’s incredible.”
Ratchet notices several hands creep forward furtively to pat him on the shoulders in silent agreement.
“I’m still needed in there,” he said to his commander. “I’m sure Carly will want to introduce her sparkling to you as soon as possible; I’ll give you a ping when we’re ready.”
“We’ll be waiting,” Optimus replied with a smile in his voice.
What awaited Ratchet when he returned to the med bay was a picture of comfort and happiness. Carly had put her T-Shirt back on, probably with Elena’s help. Her face had been cleaned and her ponytail renewed, and the midwife was just covering her lower body with the woolen blanket that had accompanied them through the whole delivery. Carly had leaned her head against the berth’s headboard, and an affectionate smile graced her face as she watched her bonded holding his offspring for the first time.
Spike was sitting on the edge of the berth, his son cradled in his arms. His body was a bit tense, Ratchet noticed, and his grip on Daniel a bit awkward, but the little one didn’t seem to mind, given that he recharged on peacefully. Spike had the same overwhelmed expression on his face Ratchet had just seen on his comrades.
“My goodness,” he murmured. “Look at you. All that fuss you’ve caused, and you’re so little.”
Daniel slept on completely unimpressed. Spike drew his finger along the curve of one tiny ear in obvious fascination.
“I can’t believe it,” he said to Carly. “I’m a real dad now. I mean, can you imagine that?”
“Better get used to it,” Carly replied with a gentle laugh. “I’m not gonna put him back in.”
Spike grinned, but didn’t take his eyes off Daniel’s face. “He has my chin,” he remarked with utter conviction. “And he’s pretty heavy.” He bounced the sparkling carefully in his arms as if trying to estimate his weight.
“6.9 pounds,” Ratchet enlightened him. “And 18.2 inches long.”
“And a healthy appetite,” Elena chipped in with a smile.
“That’s my son.” Spike beamed proudly. “God, he’s perfect.” He leaned down to Carly, touching his forehead to hers. “Thank you,” he breathed.
They kissed tenderly, with Daniel cradled between them, and this time, Ratchet felt no need to turn away. It had been worth it, he thought. Nine stellar cycles of cravings and mood swings, all the crying and arguing, all the stress and pain of the birth; they had been worth enduring just for this moment of seeing his charges together as a family for the first time. He glanced at Elena, and remembered suddenly how he’d asked her, during their first meeting, if being a midwife was a gratifying job.
He guessed that he’d just gotten his answer.
Elena was digging through her med kit and eventually produced a pair of medical scissors. “Well,” she announced, “I’d say we’re ready to cut the cord.” She held the scissors out to Ratchet and Spike, moving it back and forth between them. “Who of the gentlemen wants to do the honors?”
Ratchet’s fingers twitched eagerly, but it somehow felt wrong to claim this duty when Spike was sitting here with his sparkling in his arms. So, instead of stepping forward, he smiled at his friend. “Go ahead,” he encouraged.
Spike looked distinctly doubtful and nervous as he eyed the scissors suspiciously. “This won’t hurt him, will it?” he asked.
“No, no,” Elena soothed. “Don’t worry. Here, I’ll show you.”
Very carefully, Spike put his son into his bonded’s arms and then stood to hesitantly take the scissors from Elena. A slight pang of jealousy suddenly crossed Ratchet’s spark. There went his chance at this experience...
Spike actually had to apply a decent amount of strength to severe the cord, but he managed fine. Elena put a plastic clip over the cut surface which Daniel would wear until the remains of the cord dried and fell off, and Carly pecked her bonded on the cheek softly as he wrapped his arm around her, whispering a gentle “Well done.” Spike beamed proudly.
The three of them watched in contented silence as Elena put Daniel down on the small table Wheeljack had attached to the berth and started to clean him off. She worked very gently, and omitted the places where remains of vernix kept clinging to the sparkling’s skin, but still the touches woke Daniel from his recharge, and he made his disagreement with the procedure unmistakably clear.
“Now, now,” Carly tried to soothe him. “It’s not that bad, Danny. She’s not trying to kill you.”
Daniel obviously had different thoughts on the matter, but he quieted down a bit when Elena picked him up and, holding him vertically, let his feet touch the surface of the table gently. Daniel immediately drew his legs up in reaction and then began to place one foot in front of the other as if he intended to walk.
“Stepping reflex,” Ratchet commented. Elena looked up at him with slight surprise.
“Yes,” she said. “How about this one?” She placed Daniel on her lower arm so his head rested in her palm, and then moved her arm downwards suddenly.
Daniel’s legs and head extended instantly, his arms jerked up and his mouth opened wide before he brought both arms together again, clenched his hands into fists and gave a loud, startled cry.
“Moro reflex,” Ratchet said. “It’s meant to help him regain his hold on his carrier in case he loses his balance.”
Was it his imagination, or did he actually see a hint of satisfied pride flashing in her optics?
Daniel also passed the rest of the little tests Elena subjected him to with flying colors. He had even stopped fussing somewhere along the way, until his fledgling trust in the midwife suffered a heavy setback when she pricked the heel of his foot with a small needle to take a blood sample. Daniel literally screamed bloody murder.
“Aw, it’s alright, sweetie, it’s alright,” she soothed while she diapered him. “I’m done pestering you now, you’re fine.” She worked his tiny hands and feet into blue sleepers and wrapped him in a woolen sparkling blanket - all things they had placed ready in the med bay several days prior. “Here you go, lovely, here’s your mommy.”
With a smile, she placed the fussing sparkling into his carrier’s arms, and Spike and Carly instantly leaned over their creation to cuddle and caress him, and made cooing, shushing noises; no doubt some kind of human parental behavior.
“Shh, shh, darling, it’s okay,” Carly murmured, pressing her lips to her sparkling’s forehead and rocking him tenderly. “Mommy’s here, and daddy’s here, and Ratchet’s here, too, see? Everything’s fine.”
Pushing one hand against his chest plates really was a medical necessity, Ratchet found. If he didn’t apply some counter pressure, his spark was sure to bust his chassis the way it surged with pride and emotion.
A query ping interrupted his self-treatment, followed by a message alert on his HUD. He fought down an impatient growl.
‘I apologize again for disturbing,’ Prime said with undisguised amusement, ‘but how is your situation in there? I don’t think I can restrain the crew much longer.’
Ratchet snorted in exasperation. ‘Okay, okay. Just a moment.’
He knelt down beside Carly who was looking up at him questioningly. “Something wrong?”
“I just got a message from Optimus,” he said and indicated the door with his thumb. “There’s a bunch of moronic robots standing outside and nearly crawling up each other’s tailpipes with excitement to see your sparkling. Can they come in?”
Carly didn’t look the least bit tired anymore. She beamed up at him, her face the very epitome of happiness and pride. “Yeah; yeah, sure! Danny has to meet all his future babysitters, hasn’t he?”
Her smile was contagious. Ratchet found himself grinning from one audio receptor to the other as he walked over and opened the door. The chattering outside stopped immediately, and a dozen heads snapped around to stare at him in expectation. He smirked.
“Well, guys,” he said cheerfully, “come on in. Time to meet the sparkling!”