Names and Decepticons
He honestly had no idea how he'd ended up in this situation.
One moment, he'd been on his way back to the Ark together with Spike, Carly and Ironhide, idly chatting with them over his comm, and the next thing he knew was that he was crouching on hot desert sand firing at a Decepticon patrol consisting of Wildrider and Drag Strip. There was, Ratchet thought, no logical motive to attack them; it seemed more like for some reason, the two Stunticons had their circuits in a twist today and were out for picking a quarrel with someone, no matter who.
"At least it's a fair fight for a change," Ironhide commented dryly. "Two against two."
Ratchet dodged a blast from Drag Strip's weapon and half-turned to the three humans seeking cover behind them - the unborn sparkling, he decided, counted as one.
"Spike, Carly, get to a safe distance. We can handle those two once you're out of danger."
They didn't argue. Spike, face grim, just grabbed his wife's arm, and together they started running.
Ratchet kept his sensors on them while Ironhide held their attackers at bay until they were sure that their charges were far enough.
"A’right," Ironhide growled. "Let's get them."
They dashed forward as one, meeting their enemies in a frontal attack. Ironhide's expression was one of the fiercest Ratchet had ever seen on him.
"C'mere, you little punks!" he bellowed at the baffled Stunticons. "I'll teach ya to shoot at a carryin' femme!"
It was short, quick, and dirty, and Ratchet didn't have much to do in it really, except from providing cover for his enraged comrade. Five Earth minutes later, Wildrider and Drag Strip had transformed back into their vehicle modes and were desperately trying to bring some distance between themselves and the Autobots with screeching tires. Ironhide seemed ready to go after them, but Ratchet held him back.
“Don’t,” he said. “Let them go; it’s not worth the trouble.”
With the Stunticons retreating, he turned most of his attention back to Carly and Spike, who, seeing the attackers flee, had come a bit closer again to rejoin their friends. Ratchet subspaced his weapon and made to approach them to check if they were okay.
At this moment, several things happened simultaneously.
Wildrider slammed on his brakes, did a sharp U-turn and jumped back into bipedal mode, gun already leveled. “I’m not through with you Autofools yet!” he screeched, and then he started firing.
There was the ugly, shrieking sound of metal colliding with metal as Ironhide flung himself against Ratchet’s body, throwing both of them to the ground for cover. Most of Wildrider’s shots went wide astray, but some of them hit the desert floor and catapulted sand and dirt high into the air.
And then, as quickly as it had started, it was over, and the sounds of two high-performance engines quickly died away in the distance.
Ironhide dragged himself to his feet with a soft grunt. “Treacherous little glitches,” he snarled as he offered Ratchet a hand. “You’re okay?”
Ratchet’s optics were flickering slightly from the sudden impact; he had to reset them to regain a clear view, but apart from that, his auto-repair system registered only some scratches on his outer armor. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m fine.”
Both their heads snapped around at the sound of Spike’s voice.
The human couple was crouched on the floor. Spike had his arms around his wife, looking worried and frightened. Carly’s face was pale, and her forehead sported a gash that trickled blood down her cheek. Both her hands were curled around her by now visibly rounded belly.
Everything seemed to slow down, and yet Ratchet was sure that he had never in his life moved so fast as he dropped to his knees beside them, panting slightly through his intakes. “What happened? Were you hit?”
Spike shook his head. “The shock wave threw us off our feet,” he said. “And Carly...”
“I fell on my belly,” Carly said in a restrained voice.
Ratchet had the strange impression that a part of his CPU had left his chassis and was now watching the scene from afar, while the other part was almost painfully clear and composed. He knew how he had to react, knew it from countless vorns of medical experience, and his body moved obediently, but his spark felt completely numb.
"Okay, Carly." Had his voice always sounded so strangely cool? "Try and keep breathing steadily; we'll have you patched up in no time." He unsubspaced his med kit and opened it. "Spike, lay her down, will you? I need to check on the sparkling. Ironhide -" He took out one of the cloths he normally used to clean his hands and tossed it to his comrade. "Start with her head. The blood flow must be stopped."
Ironhide's face was grim, his lips but a thin line. He caught the fabric single-handedly and, when Spike cautiously lowered his wife into his lap, started to wordlessly dab the red fluid off her face. His hands were steady, and very, very gentle.
Ratchet started by giving Carly a full body scan to make sure that she had not sustained any inner injuries - which, luckily, wasn't the case. And yet he felt a vague sense of dread as he picked up one of his more fine-tuned scanners and focused his attention on her lower belly. Carly's hands gripped a bit more tightly.
"It hurts, Ratchet," she said softly.
"You're doing fine, Carly," he assured her. "Just keep breathing and try to relax, I'll do the rest."
A strained silence settled upon their small group, only disturbed by the soft, electronic sounds of the scanner, and it seemed to take what was undoubtedly an eternity until Ratchet finally got results.
The sparkling was obviously stressed. His heart beat was too fast and his adrenaline levels too high for Ratchet's liking. But to his tremendous relief, he could not detect any injuries on the little glitchmouse.
What he did detect, however, were the slight, irregular muscle contractions in Carly's lower body.
"Well?" Ironhide asked sharply, breaking the silence. Ratchet only threw him a quick glance before turning to the humans.
"Your sparkling's unharmed," he told them. "A little agitated, but he'll be fine." He hesitated a moment before adding softly: "But it seems the impact has caused spasms in your uterine muscles, Carly."
"She's in labor?" Spike's voice carried a distinct edge of panic.
"No," Ratchet answered firmly. He wasn't quite sure how 'labor' was defined, but he stubbornly refused to think about that now. "This is merely a slight anomaly triggered by the fall. I don't think it's a danger to the sparkling, but I have to take care of it before we can move you, Carly."
"Then stop babblin' and start workin'," Ironhide snapped at him.
Ratchet took a moment to shoot him the darkest glare he could manage. Truth was he didn't know if the sparkling might be in danger or not. Carly wasn’t bleeding, which was definitely a good sign, but he had no idea what he could do to stop the cramps. A human doctor, he knew, would probably inject magnesium or another anticonvulsant substance, but Ratchet had neither the equipment nor the appropriate substances at his disposal.
He desperately racked his processor for another option. With a Cybertronian, he would most likely apply low current frequencies to prevent the sparkling from separating from its parent spark too early, but this was not really an alternative here...
But why the Pit not? he thought suddenly. The human body functioned on electricity nearly as much as a Cybertronian one. If he could just find the correct counter-frequency that would make Carly’s muscles relax...
Ratchet plunged both hands into his med kit and impatiently fished around in it for a moment before he found what he was looking for: a small taser whose normal mode of operation was to electrify Cybertronian wires to test their proper reactions.
“What’re you gonna do?” Spike asked.
“I’m gonna stop these cramps,” Ratchet said with determination, explaining his plan in taut words. Spike looked downright alarmed, Ironhide worried and dubious. But Carly, with her hands still wrapped protectively around her belly, was staring straight up at him. Her eyes were wide and a little over-bright in her pale face, but her gaze was steady and trusting. She gave him a small nod, and that was all the encouragement Ratchet needed.
He set the taser to its lowest possible level and carefully attached it to Carly’s lower body. “You’ll feel warmth, and perhaps a slight tingle,” he explained. “And if you feel that something’s not right, no matter what, I want you to tell me right away, you hear me?”
Carly nodded. “Okay,” she said softly.
Ratchet hooked the taser up to his scanner and initiated the first pulse. Carly jumped a bit at the sensation, and Spike flinched in sympathy, but Ratchet barely registered it. All his attention was on the data his scanner displayed.
‘Could he live?’
He winced a bit at the unexpected comm transmission. Ironhide was still busy tending to Carly’s wound and did not look at him.
‘The sparkling. If he was delivered now, could he survive?’
Ratchet felt all his hydraulics tense up at the question. ‘No’, he answered curtly. ‘A human sparkling delivered that premature is not capable of surviving. And it would be a great danger for Carly, too.’
Ironhide’s head jerked up, his optics squaring off with the medic’s. ‘Then do somethin’, you lazy glitch!’
A warning message popped up in Ratchet’s HUD, informing him that his spark pulse frequencies were much too erratic to be healthy. ‘I’m doing everything I can, you slagger!’
Again an almost unbearable silence settled upon them. Spike was holding his wife close, his face almost as pale as hers. Their hands had met and clasped over her belly.
“Tell me,” Ironhide said suddenly, “did ya choose a designation already?”
Both Spike and Carly looked up at him in bewilderment, and so did Ratchet.
“You mean a name?” Spike asked eventually, frowning. “Well... no, not really. We’ve made a list, but we haven’t decided on one yet. Though I think ‘Donald’ is among the top five...”
“No, it’s not,” Carly said.
“But I’m pretty sure I put it down...”
“You did. I crossed it off again,” she informed him. Spike looked confused. “But why?”
“’Cause there’s no way in hell my son’s gonna be called ‘Donald’,” Carly said with finality. “We're not having a duck, Spike.”
Ratchet wondered briefly what a water bird might have to with this.
“So what would your choice be, Carly?” Ironhide inquired.
Her eyes wandered down to her belly. “I don’t know,” she said softly. “I always liked the simple, everyday names, like John, or Thomas, or Daniel...”
“It should be somethin’ to represent strength and courage,” Ironhide mused aloud. “Did ya think ‘bout a Cybertronian name?”
Spike laughed. “Hey, that’s a great idea. We could call him Ironhide II. Or Ratchet Junior.”
“The Pit you will,” Ratchet grumbled, keeping his optics firmly fixed on his scanner. This, he decided, was not the right moment for his circuits to be suffused in such a strange warmth. Spike was grinning, and Carly giggled lightly, but then her face turned suddenly somber. “Hey.”
Ratchet’s head snapped up immediately. “What is it?”
Carly’s hands felt over her belly warily. “It doesn’t hurt anymore,” she said, blinking as if in surprise.
Ratchet checked his scanner, adjusted its sensitivity, checked again.
The data came up clear. No detectable contractions.
“It seems we did it.” And why the Pit was his voice still that smooth and emotionless? “How are you feeling, Carly?”
“Okay.” She eyed her belly suspiciously. “It still feels a bit tense, but... I think I’m fine.”
It sounded a bit like a sob when Spike exhaled deeply. Ratchet's CPU took note of the audio input, but the information got stuck somewhere in his data banks, not reaching his spark. He knew that he should be relieved, should be happy, perhaps even proud, but all he felt was a cool, clinical efficiency. “Alright,” he stated in what his fellow Autobots had dubbed his ‘doctor’s voice’ and disconnected the taser. “Let’s get moving and get her to a hospital; I’m not taking any risks here.” Without waiting for an answer he subspaced his med kit and transformed into vehicle mode, popping open his back doors. “Come on, get her in.” He opted to ignore the dark glance his friend threw him.
“Take this, Spike,” Ironhide said, handing the young man the cloth to cover Carly’s wound before he carefully helped them both to their feet, supporting them as they climbed into Ratchet’s interior. When they had settled down safely, he slammed the doors shut, with more force than was necessary, in Ratchet's opinion. “Okay, Doc. We're set.”
Ratchet didn’t wait for his companion to transform. He fired up his engine and pulled off, not looking back and without a word.
He would think afterwards that it had been a strangely normal drive. Every sensor he could spare was set firmly on the two humans inside of him, providing him with a thermal detector image of both their bodies and their basic vital signs. Both their heartbeats were a bit fast, but otherwise they seemed alright. He could hear them talking over his internal speakers.
“You know, my uncle’s name was Donald,” Spike said.
“For the last time, Spike Witwicky,” Carly retorted half laughing, half exasperated. “It may be the President’s name for all I care, but you’re not gonna call our son 'Donald'!”
Once they reached the city, Ratchet turned on his sirens. He rarely used them, but he figured that in this special case it would not hurt to draw some attention to themselves. Besides, the power and control the - admittedly - piercing sound represented felt oddly good to him today, reassuring in a way it normally never was.
Ironhide had tapped into the local emergency radio communication to let the hospital know they were bringing in a patient, so when they arrived at the emergency entrance, two female paramedics were already waiting to take Carly into their care. Ratchet jumped back into bipedal mode and gave them a brief summary of the situation and his impromptu treatment. One of the femmes helped Carly onto a gurney while the other was already busy applying a compression bandage. "Don't worry," she said. "We'll take over from here."
Spike, still holding his wife's hand, glanced up to them. "You guys gonna wait here?"
"You bet," Ironhide said darkly. Spike gave him a quick nod, and a moment later, all four of them had vanished inside the building. Ratchet suddenly found himself standing in the empty backyard of a human hospital, alone except for his fellow Autobot, and with no sound to catch his audio receptors but the steady hum of the city traffic, muffled by the massive building separating them from the main street.
"What d'ya think," Ironhide asked after some moments. "How long's it gonna take them to patch her up?"
Ratchet carefully leaned against the wall of a storage building behind him. "I don't know," he said honestly. "We'll... just have to wait, I guess."
And wait they did. Ironhide joined him at the wall silently, but Ratchet didn't pay him attention anymore. Every now and then, employees of the hospital would cross the yard, staring curiously at the two Autobots, but he didn't take notice of them, either. His optics remained firmly fixed onto the entrance through which his charges had disappeared. And suddenly it felt like the weight of today's events was finally bearing down on him, drowning him in a weariness that was too intense to be purely physical. His body sagged against the wall heavily, and a strange sensation in his arms caught his interest. When he lifted his hands to his optics, he found that they were shaking.
Ratchet stared at his fingers as if he'd never seen them before. What was this? He'd been a medic and a warrior for the better part of his existence, had been in situations like today more often than he cared to remember. He'd been elbow-deep in other 'Bots' spark chambers with a gunfight raging on around him, for Primus' sake, but he could not remember the last time his hands had trembled like this.
As he kept staring, fingers the same dark color as his own suddenly wrapped around both his hands, giving them a short but firm squeeze.
"Get a grip now, kid," Ironhide told him in his gruff, but not unkind manner. "You did a fine job back there; they're gonna be okay."
Ratchet found that he could not muster the strength to answer, or even to object to the endearment. He just let his arms sink back to his sides and returned his gaze to the hospital's entrance.
He had just decided to have Wheeljack thoroughly check his internal chronometer - for it was simply impossible that time should be able to pass that slowly - when the doors opened again and Spike came out, still a bit pale and looking quite tired, but with a broad smile on his face.
"All right, guys," he said. "The doctors want her to stay for two or three days, just in case, but otherwise they're both just fine and dandy."
For a moment Ratchet regretted having left his wall to approach the human. Considering the surge of relief that seemed to turn all his hydraulics into rubber, a little extra support would have been nice.
A faint smile was curling the edges of Ironhide's mouth. "Good to hear," he said, and Spike returned the grin. "Thanks for your help, guys," he told them. "You've been really great. Especially you, Ratchet."
He should say something nice and sensible, he thought, something like 'You're welcome' or 'Don't mention it' or 'I'm glad everything turned out well'. What finally came out of his vocalizer was a gruff "Just doing my job."
Spike laughed softly. "Lucky for us you are," he commented. "I'll be staying here overnight with Carly, but I need to get home to collect some things, you know, clothes and stuff. Can one of you guys give me a lift?"
"No problem." Without hesitation, Ironhide returned to vehicle mode, and Spike went over to open the driver's door.
"Well," Ratchet heard himself say, "I guess you won't need me here anymore. I'll go and report back to base, if you don't mind." He had no idea why, but he suddenly longed for the quiet solitude of his private quarters.
"Sure thing, Ratchet." Spike gave him a short wave as he slipped into Ironhide's driver's seat. "And thanks again." The door closed, and Ratchet's optics followed them until his companion's taillights vanished around the corner before he remembered to transform and pull off himself.
He floored his gas pedal as soon as he had left the city traffic behind. Holy Primus, he needed a stiff drink. Or a nice, long visit to the washracks. Or an opportunity to throw a wrench at someone; he didn't really care. Anything was okay that would make that damn shaking stop.
For the next three days, life on the Ark was adapted to what Prowl had christened the 'hospital duty roster'. The crew put remarkable efforts into making sure that at least one Autobot was available at the hospital twenty-four hours a day, running errands, driving Spike back and forth between his wife, his home and his job, and just being there for moral support. Ratchet inwardly marveled at the deep sympathy and eagerness to help that his fellow Autobots were displaying. Nobody wanted to be left out, it seemed, even 'Bots like Sunstreaker and Cliffjumper, who were not particularly famous for their compassion or closeness to the humans. On the afternoon Ratchet saw Gears and Optimus Prime depart into the direction of the city, together with Spike and a box of chocolate, he decided that he had now seen everything and could die in peace when his time came.
On the fourth day, Carly was finally released from the hospital.
Ratchet was in his office, going over some medical files, when she came to see him, accompanied by Spike and Ironhide. With relief he noticed that, apart from the thick layer of adhesive tape on her forehead, she looked as healthy and happy as ever, her hair tied into a loose ponytail and her eyes brightened by her smile. She beckoned him to lift her up, and when he had done so and had set her down onto his desk carefully, she enveloped as much of his hands as she could reach in a warm hug.
“Thanks, Ratchet,” she said. “Thank you for everything; you were so great.”
“Are you fully functional, Carly?” he asked her. “Both of you?”
She smiled. “Yeah, we’re just fine. But my gynecologist strongly advised me not to get into any more fights with Decepticons,” she added dryly.
Ratchet snorted through his intakes. “I can agree to that.” For some reason, his optics flickered over to Ironhide as he spoke, and were just quick enough to catch the grim shadow that passed over the other’s faceplates.
“By the way,” Spike jumped in, “you guys might like to know that we’ve decided on a name.”
“Oh, let me guess," Ratchet joked good-naturedly. "It's 'Donald', right?"
“I was able to prevent the poor child from suffering unnecessarily,” Carly said wryly and pointedly ignored Spike’s pouting as she placed both hands onto her belly. “No, it will be ‘Daniel’.”
Daniel. Ratchet took some moments to let his vocalizer get used to the sound of this. “A good name,” he said eventually. “What do you think, Ironhide?”
Spike grinned up at the ‘Bot at his side. “Sorry, pal,” he teased. “No warrior’s name, and no Cybertronian name, either.”
The tiniest of smiles tugged at Ironhide’s lips at this. “Uhh, it will do,” he muttered.
Ratchet leaned back in his chair comfortably. Daniel. So from now on, he would no longer be attending medic to Carly and her sparkling, but to Carly and Daniel.
The thought made him smile.
Two days after this, Ratchet was called to the med bay in the middle of the night.
He found a very serious-looking Optimus Prime there, and a very battered-looking Ironhide who was leaking energon all over his med bay floor from several deep wounds. Optimus took him aside and emphatically instructed him to not only treat this incident strictly confidential, but to also keep it out of Ironhide’s personal medical files.
What he forgot to mention was what the Pit had happened.
Ironhide wasn’t much help either, keeping his vocalizer firmly shut while Ratchet tended to his injuries, but the look he gave the medic in answer to his questions was enough to send a cold shiver down Ratchet’s backstruts.
He was suddenly quite sure that he knew what Ironhide had been up to tonight.Of course, it might have been pure coincidence that in all their run-ins with the Decepticons during the next few Earth weeks, Wildrider and Drag Strip were never present.