Fires and Favors
“Emergency! Emergency! Fire in Sector D-4! I repeat, fire in Sector D-4! All available forces to Sector D‑4 immediately!”
As on every ship, fire was one of the greatest dangers on the Ark, and one of the most likely sources of injuries, except for the Decepticons. So, when Red Alert’s rough voice echoed through the ship-wide communication lines, accompanied by the blaring sounds of the alarm system, Ratchet dropped his data pad where he was standing, grabbed his emergency tool kit and headed for the exit without thinking twice.
“Stay here,” he said over his shoulder as First Aid made to follow him. “Prep for emergency surgery, I’ll stay in contact.”
“Yes, Doc.” The Protectobot turned to obey, and Ratchet hastened out of the room.
He jumped into vehicle mode and floored his gas pedal as soon as his tires hit the ground. Sector D-4 was practically on the other side of the ship. Of course, emergencies liked to happen at the farthest possible point away from him.
He swerved to the right side of the corridor to make room for Inferno who’d just turned around a corner behind him with blaring sirens, closely followed by Tracks and Sideswipe. Why had a fire broken out in Sector D, anyway? That was an unused storage area, normally deserted; there was no reason for anyone to -
And then realization hit him, so hard he actually fishtailed for a moment before he regained control of his hydraulics. “Hey, watch your tires, Doc!” Sideswipe called, but Ratchet ignored him.
Sector D-4 was where Spike’s and Carly’s quarters were situated. And he hadn’t seen the human femme around since this morning; chances were good that she had retired to her room...
Oh holy Primus, please no...
He revved his engine hard, forcing his way past Inferno and nearly skidding out of the next turn as pure, fear-driven instinct took over. The Ark’s corridors were not made for such maneuvers, and he scraped his paint off on several corners, but he paid no attention, neither to the bruises nor to Inferno’s half bewildered, half angry voice as the fire truck called after him. How could he, anyway? Carly was in danger, Carly and her sparkling, they needed him, he had to be faster, why didn’t that stupid engine of his have more power...
He slammed on his breaks hard when the door to the humans’ quarters came into sight, grinding to a halt with such force that the resulting frictional heat singed the rubber of his tires, but he barely registered the pain. In less than an astrosecond, his sensors confirmed that there were two interconnected human life signs inside, and that the air in the room was polluted by a considerable amount of smoke - but he did not register any excess heat from the flames. Strange... but none of his business. He reached for the door panel and hectically started to punch in his emergency access code.
“What the Pit do you think you’re doing?!”
His companions had caught up with him, Inferno in the lead. The fire truck didn’t bother to slow down, he simply transformed in mid-motion, twisting like an Earth cat to land on his feet. Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed Ratchet’s shoulder and roughly pulled him away from the door. “Stand aside, Doc, you’re not going in there before I got things under control!”
There was no time to argue, as much as Ratchet would have liked to. The doors swished open, and all four of them had to dodge a cloud of dark smoke pouring out. There were still no flames detectable, though, and this, albeit weird, served to their advantage. Ratchet bolted into the room right on Inferno’s heels.
His optics zeroed in on Carly almost immediately. His charge was standing at the open window, coughing and waving her hands frantically to fan the smoke out. Three quick steps brought him right to her side; he swept her up in one hand - ignoring her startled squeak - cradled her against his chest plates to shield her from the smoke and hastened out of the room at the same speed he’d come in. He heard the hiss and splash of Inferno employing his foam extinguisher, and from the corner of his optic saw the white, creamy mass cover a small metallic device on the kitchen counters - along with the rest of the kitchenette. Then he was out, leaned against the nearest wall with Carly still in his palm and cycled a series of heavy intakes through his vents in a vain attempt to slow the frantic pulsing of his spark.
Carly was still coughing and tried to wipe her disheveled hair out of her eyes. “Whoa, Ratchet,” she panted. “No need to get rough here.”
He didn’t waste time rummaging around in his subspace pocket for his medical scanners, but simply used his internal ones, the results being displayed directly on his HUD. Carly’s respiratory tract was a bit irritated from the smoke, but the oxygen concentration in her blood seemed sufficient. Thankfully, she hadn’t sustained any outward damage, and, given the situation, her slightly elevated heart and pulse rate were nothing to worry about. He nearly sagged with relief when he found that Daniel, too, was unharmed - and obviously fast asleep.
“I’m fine, Ratchet,” Carly said indignantly, turning away from him and waving her hands around as if to block his scanner beams. “Will you put me down?”
“Oh, I’m deeply sorry”, he snapped back, and it felt strangely good to release all the tension in his frame via a good tongue-lashing. “I didn’t realize you had medical qualifications as well. Or is it the latest fashion that the patient makes the diagnosis instead of the medic?”
“Yeah, Carly”, Sideswipe commented with a grin as he stepped out into the corridor, followed by Inferno and Tracks. “You can be fine when Ratch tells you that you’re fine.”
“What happened here, anyway?” Tracks asked.
“Seems one of your kitchen devices malfunctioned, Carly,” Inferno said. Sideswipe expelled a puff of air through his vents. “A kitchen device? We’re making all this fuss over some stupid human gadget?”
“Why did you not ask one of us to repair it, Carly?” Tracks inquired, frowning.
Carly suddenly looked quite sheepish. “Sorry, guys,“ she murmured. “I didn’t mean to cause such an uproar. I was trying to grill some cheese on the toaster, but... well, it didn’t work out as planned.”
Ratchet stared at her. “Let me sum this up”, he said slowly. “We’re having a ship-wide Code Yellow because you were trying to cook?”
“Oh, leave me alone, you old grumbler,“ Carly said sulkily. “You don’t know a thing about cooking. How was I to know it would produce that much smoke? And would you please put me down now?”
Ratchet knelt obediently and let her slide off his palm, completely dumbfounded. Not only had he been scared to death for nothing, he’d also just been bitched out by a carrying human femme about a fourth his size right in front of his fellow Autobots. This couldn’t be happening!
While Inferno contacted the bridge to give a sit rep and to placate an agitated Red Alert, Carly walked carefully back into the room. Most of the smoke had cleared away by now, and Tracks plucked the blameworthy toaster out of the dripping foam extinguisher, holding it at arm's length. "Well," he commented with all signs of disgust on his faceplates, "so much for this." He unceremoniously dropped the culprit into a surprised Sideswipe's hand.
"You think it can be repaired?" Carly asked hopefully.
Sideswipe gave the sticky device a closer look. "Dunno. I'll take it to Wheeljack; surely he can figure something out." He put the toaster into his subspace pocket and looked quite proud when Carly beamed at him.
Meanwhile Tracks had examined the dining table a few paces away from them. "Looks like you had a party all by yourself, Carly," he remarked, and Ratchet turned to see what his companion was referring to.
The table was cluttered with pots and dishes containing the leftovers of different types of human food in a wide variety of combinations. Ratchet marveled at the sheer amount of it. Had Carly actually eaten all this stuff?
"Yeah, I felt like having a little snack, you know," Carly said.
"A little snack?" Inferno repeated laughingly. "Looks more like you refueled a whole brigade in here."
"And with interesting recipes,“ Tracks added. "Are cucumbers with whipped cream an acceptable combination for humans?"
Carly huffed, crossing her arms over her chest defensively. "Well, Danny likes it," she murmured.
Sideswipe was eyeing one of the dishes with special interest. "You mean, Danny likes ice-cream with mustard, too?" he asked, flashing her a cheeky grin.
Ratchet ignored their bickering. He had found his medical scanner in his subspace pocket and knelt down at Carly’s side to start a more thorough examination.
Or at least he tried to. Carly, when she noticed his intentions, took a purposeful step away from him. “Could you stop scanning me every ten minutes?” she snapped. “That’s annoying, you know.”
He looked up, a bit taken aback at the violent reaction.
“I need further data, Carly,” he explained. “If something is wrong with your metabolic functions -“
“My ‘metabolic functions’, as you call them, are fine,” she spat. Ratchet blinked in bewilderment. Why was she being so feisty? He was only trying to help, for Pit’s sake!
“But there is absolutely no reason for you to consume such large amounts of foods”, he countered. “You do not have any deficiency symptoms, your weight gain is within the normal ranges for this state of the carrying, slightly above even, and your -“
He broke off when his optics met her eyes. Carly was staring at him as if she intended to commit murder by gaze. Tracks, Inferno and Sideswipe seemed to notice the sudden change in attitude, for they suddenly became very quiet and watched the scene with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.
“Did you,“ Carly said, her voice dangerously low, “just call me fat?”
Ratchet frowned in honest surprise. “No,” he answered. “I said that your weight gain is slightly -“
“Slightly above the normal ranges,” she interrupted. “I got that. And to me that sounds pretty much like ‘You’re fat’.”
Ratchet became aware of his companions' optics resting on him, and, looking up, found something akin to a vague reproach on their faceplates. All of a sudden, he had the distinct impression that he was on trial here for a crime he couldn't remember committing, and suddenly the sheer surrealism of the situation made something inside him snap. Not a breem ago, he'd been ready to take any risk to make sure she and her offspring were alright, and now she was bawling him out for an imaginary insult?
"Holy Pit, Carly!" he spat, standing up. "I did not call you anything! All I'm trying to do here is my slagging job! I'm your medic, I care a frag what you look like!"
He hadn't meant to say that last part; it just slipped out along with the rest. Carly stared at him, wide-eyed and disbelieving. An awkward silence settled upon the room.
It was Tracks who broke it with a dismissive snort. "And even if he did care, Carly," he said in his usual, arrogant tone, "there is no need to get worked up about it. Ratchet may be a brilliant medic, but he has not the slightest notion when it comes to style or good looks."
Carly suddenly looked very tired. She dropped onto a nearby chair, her shoulders slumping visibly. "Oh, I don't know," she muttered crestfallen. "Perhaps he's right. I mean, look at me." She indicated her belly. "I'm the fattest, ugliest cow the world has ever seen."
Ratchet couldn't help but flinch at her words. He wasn't used to seeing the usually cheerful human so down, and a quick glance at his companions revealed that they were obviously having similar thoughts. Sideswipe looked downright horrified.
"No, you're not, Carly!" he protested vehemently. "You're just a bit... a bit more... rounded, that's all."
"Yeah," Inferno jumped in helpfully. "And Spike says that's exactly what a human carrier should be like: round and soft, for the sparkling to snuggle up to."
A tiny smile tugged at Carly's lips. "Thanks, guys."
"And besides,“ Tracks said with a shrug, "it's hard to look good when I'm in the room, anyway."
"Good thing Sunny isn't here,“ Sideswipe murmured.
Ratchet watched the unfolding events with increasing disbelief. When exactly had the situation been taken out of his hands? "Carly..." he started, determined to re-take control of things, but was interrupted by Tracks suddenly snapping his fingers.
"Sideswipe, you just gave me a brilliant idea. Where exactly is that brother of yours?"
"Monitor duty," Sideswipe replied. "Why?"
Tracks smiled an uncharacteristically evil smile. "Perfect. He will want to get out of there. And you, since you are obviously not busy at the moment, can cover for him."
Sideswipe stared at him with an all but flabbergasted expression, but Tracks ignored him. Instead he knelt and offered Carly his palm to sit on. "Come with me, little lady," he said. "I know just the thing to cheer you up." And with that he swept out of the room, together with the young mother-to-be and a somewhat put-out Sideswipe hot on his heels.
There was no doubt about it anymore. Ratchet must have accidentally come out of recharge on the wrong planet this morning. Here he stood, rooted to the spot and his scanner with its half-collected data still in hand, while his charge was on her way to take part in some ominous project of a snobbish Corvette and an even more snobbish Lamborghini. And she hadn’t even once turned to look back.
“Wow, Doc,” Inferno commented as the door closed behind the three conspirers, “you really screwed this one up, you did.”
Ratchet threw the scanner at him.
He had returned to med bay in probably the most evil mood he’d ever been in. He’d snapped a short sit rep at First Aid, who looked at him like they’d never met before, and then locked himself up in his office with his latest report to sulk in peace.
Not that it helped.
Ratchet was used to playing the bad guy with his patients. That was part of the daily routine; it was expected and perfectly alright.
What he was not used to was to actually be the bad guy, especially not where Carly was concerned. If she didn’t want his help anymore, then why didn’t she simply tell him? After all, it was not that he was dependent on her or anything. He’d just go back to being the Autobots’ CMO, which, compared to Carly’s carrying, was a peaceful and well-ordered life. And he’d have absolutely no problem with this. Not in the slightest.
Then why the Pit did he feel so... rejected?
It was already fairly late when his brooding was interrupted by the ping of an incoming comm transmission.
‘Ratchet? This is Spike. Are you there?’
For a moment he was seriously tempted to pretend that he wasn’t and to just ignore the query. But then his sense of duty kicked in, and he opened a comm line with a sigh.
‘What is it, Spike?’
‘Hey, buddy. Sorry to disturb you, but could you come to the rec room for a moment? Carly’d like to show you something.’
Ratchet snorted at the mention of his charge's name. ‘If this is about her weight gain,’ he said pointedly, ‘tell that mate of yours that I’m not interested in any further discussions.’ After all, he could be a sorehead, too.
‘Uh... no,’ Spike replied, sounding slightly awkward. ‘We just want you to see something. Can you come?’
He honestly didn’t want to. But then again, this might be a chance to find out about that mysterious project Tracks and Carly had been off to pursue... Not that he was curious.
‘All right, I’m on my way.’
‘See ya’, Spike said happily, and then a soft electronic crackle indicated that the connection had been cut.
Ratchet switched off his data pad and heaved himself out of his chair to head for the rec room.
Despite the late hour, he found a small crowd gathered in the room when he arrived, including Tracks, the twins and the two humans. They were all standing with their backs to him and were staring at the orange wall in front of them for reasons he didn’t know.
“Hey, Ratchet!” Sideswipe turned at his entry and grinned at him. “Come to see Sunny’s latest work?”
Ratchet blinked in surprise. Come to see what? “Sorry?” he inquired, but Spike had already jumped into action.
“C’mon, guys,” he said, knocking on Tracks’ ankle to get him to move, “make some room here.” Tracks frowned a bit at the unbidden touch, but all three of them complied without protest, stepping aside to give Ratchet a view of what they had been looking at.
A picture was hanging on the wall.
Not an image capture or a holograph, but a real picture, painted on canvass. Ratchet found himself marveling at the amazingly lifelike features of his human charge.
Picture-Carly was looking up at a starry night sky, turned half away from the viewer, but still positioned so that her rounded belly was clearly visible. She stood leaning against a stylish Corvette – no problem to guess who that might be. As a background, the artist had chosen a Cybertronian skyline, kept in bluish and silver-metallic colors, and in the lower left corner, the glyphs of Sunstreaker’s designation shone in an aggressive red.
“It’s of course barely more than a sketch,“ the yellow twin commented in that irritatingly condescending tone of his. “But I simply can’t deny a carrying femme a favor.”
Carly smiled. “It’s beautiful, Sunny,” she said. “Really. Thank you.”
And she was right, Ratchet had to admit, especially considering that Sunstreaker had only had a few hours to create this picture. He must have painted like mad.
“It’s really not that bad,” Tracks agreed. “But of course we all know that this is simply due to the models.”
Ratchet was wise enough to retreat to a safe distance when – predictably - this remark triggered a fierce argument between the Ark’s two masters of snobbism, Sunstreaker receiving vehement backup from his brother. Spike took it upon himself to stand in the middle, laughingly trying to placate his friends, but it was obvious that his efforts were not crowned with much success.
Ratchet ignored the four of them as much as possible and instead turned his attention back to the image of his patient. Picture-Carly looked easeful and relaxed, he noticed, almost more so than her flesh counterpart...
“You like it?”
He jerked a bit at the sudden voice. Carly – the real Carly – had backed away from the verbal battle field and had come to stand by his side, and apparently he had been so absorbed in his thoughts he hadn’t even registered the signals from his proximity sensors.
“Yeah,” he said, and it was true. “Sunny really captured you well... and Tracks.”
Carly smiled tentatively. “He made a big show of it, telling us about how he had better things to do and so on, you know. But he really put a lot of effort in it.”
“I can see that,” he replied.
There was a short, awkward silence, and Ratchet was beginning to wonder if perhaps he should say something...
“Listen, Ratchet,” Carly said, softly but resolutely, “I want to apologize. I didn’t mean to be so nasty, it’s just that you guys gave me a pretty good scare when you came bursting in all of a sudden.”
Over the meta-cycles, Ratchet had seen Carly in so many dangerous and strange situations that he was simply not used to regarding her as being easily startled. Now, for the first time, he tried to imagine today’s events from her point of view. No doubt she had already been stressed and worried by the alarms and all the smoke, and then suddenly her door was broken open, half of her home had been drenched in foam extinguisher, and a giant alien robot four times her size had stormed in, grabbed her and had literally swept her off her feet before she even had time to think. No matter how long they’d known each other, that must have been a startling experience. He groaned inwardly. Inferno had been right, he thought. He had screwed up.
“I understand you, Carly,” he replied, carefully pondering his words while he lowered himself on one knee to be closer to her. “But you must be aware that my main function is to see to others’ well-being. If there is evidence that one of my patients is in danger, I have to act upon my primary programming, you understand?”
It wasn’t the whole truth. The sheer panic he had been feeling during those few klicks had definitely not originated from his medical program, but there was no way in the Pit he was going to tell Carly that. There was, however, something else he could say.
“And I don’t think you’re fat, by the way,” he added and couldn’t prevent a slight briskness from entering his voice. “I have studied the physical characteristics of human carriers, and considering the progress of your gestation, I think your proportions are perfectly fine.” Compliments had never been his strong point, but if he remembered correctly, praising their frame was something that appealed to femmes of all races. Carly laughed.
“Thanks, Don Juan.”
Across the room, Tracks’ and Sunstreaker’s argument had meanwhile died down, but Spike was still standing between them, engaging all three mechs in lively small talk. Purely by chance, Ratchet caught the short glimpse the young man threw into their direction, and suddenly he was pretty sure that Spike purposefully kept the three idiots busy to give his wife the chance to talk to her medic. And lo and behold, Carly promptly confirmed his suspicions when she spoke again.
“You’re a great doctor, Ratchet,” she said, not looking at him. “You really are. All this had nothing to do with you. I guess I’m just getting a bit nervous.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “It’s just... I have been thinking these past few days that it won’t be so long now until...” She glanced down at her belly. “...until Danny will be here.”
“About nine weeks,” he said automatically. Carly nodded.
“Yeah. That’s not so long, really. And I just can’t help but wondering about... things, you know. What will it feel like to give birth to a baby? What will it be like to be a mommy? And will I be a good mother for my child?”
Ratchet felt a deep, unexpected surge of sympathy for her at these words. Not for the first time in the past seven months he thought that the differences between Cybertronian carriers and human mothers were definitely not as big as he’d initially believed.
“You will, Carly,” he told her firmly. “I know you; you’re a strong one. You’ll do great.”
She finally looked up at him, and her eyes suddenly had a faint twinkle in them. “I’d like to ask you a favor, Ratchet,” she said.
Carly stared up into his optics unrelenting. “I’d like”, she said, “to have you with me when Danny is born.”
He took a moment to reset his audio receptors to make sure he'd heard that right. "You mean," he said slowly, emphasizing each word, "you want me to attend the birth?"
Carly nodded. "Yes. I mean, I know you can't be in the delivery room with me, but perhaps you can just accompany me to the hospital and wait outside... you know, for moral support. I think that'd really help me."
Ratchet stood dumbfounded. He'd been having his own thoughts about 'the event', as he privately called it, and had tried to come to terms with the knowledge that he most likely would not play a part in Carly's delivery. His research concerning this subject had shown that human femmes tended to give birth to their sparklings in a medical facility, supported by medics and specially trained healthcare professionals. And as Carly had correctly observed, it would hardly be possible for him to be present in such an environment. It was a disturbing thought, to let go of the responsibility, to leave the care of his charge in this most critical moment to people who didn't even know her, but it seemed that this was the way humans handled these things. And as much as he disapproved of it, he had still prepared himself to respect the human customs in this matter, however hard it might be.
And now Carly was suddenly suggesting otherwise?
He realized that she was still staring up at him, a bit worried now, obviously taking his silence for denial. "Well," he said quickly, "I'd have to talk to Optimus first, but... I think it can be arranged."
A clearly relieved smile flashed across her face. "Thanks," she said softly. "Thanks, Ratchet." And then, placing both hands onto her belly, she added: "From both of us."
He wasn't quite sure afterwards when exactly Spike and Carly had left. At some point he had sat down on one of the tables and was now reclining in his chair, accessing his cache again and again to replay the little scene and the smile on Carly's face when she'd said 'Thanks, Ratchet', while his processor was already busy drawing up scheme after scheme to make sure that, when her time came, he would be as long and as close to her side as possible...
His musing was interrupted by someone touching him. "Ratchet?"
He looked up into the worried faceplates of Tracks and the twins. Sideswipe had leaned down to him and placed a hand onto his shoulder. "You're okay, Doc? You've been staring off into space for at least a breem now."
Ratchet cycled a deep intake of air through his vents and stood up. He slipped one arm around Sideswipe's shoulders to his left, the other around Tracks' to his right, and looked each of them firmly into the optic before he spoke."Guys," he said. "Guys, I'm going to deliver a sparkling."