Nine Months

Presents and Plans

“Tell me again why we are wearing these?” Mirage inquired, pointing to the round badges with the picture of a laughing human sparkling on them that were magnetically attached to his chest plates.

“It’s a game, ‘Raj,” Hound explained patiently. “Once Spike and Carly get here, none of us will be allowed to use the word ‘sparkling’ anymore until the party ends. If you do, you’ll have to give one of your badges to the mech who caught you saying the word. The one who gathers the most badges is the winner.”

“And what exactly is the purpose of this activity?” Perceptor asked with a frown. Jazz, who was busy setting up the sound system for the evening, laughed at him.

“It’s a game, Percy,” he repeated. “There’s no sense in it; it’s supposed to be fun, that’s all.”

Ratchet listened fondly to the small conversations going on around him while he helped Wheeljack to lay out a number of energon cubes on a long table. The baby shower, as this kind of festivity was obviously called, had been Bumblebee’s idea, and he had received solid and wordy backup from Jazz and Hound. Not that it was necessary. Prime himself had been delighted by the idea, and it hadn’t taken much persuasion to get his okay on this new project. Hence the party.

“I still don’t understand why we are giving Daniel presents before he’s born, though,” Mirage mused. “Would it not make more sense to present him with our gifts after his birth?”

He had a point, Ratchet thought. Despite his spending at least three breems listening to Spike’s attempted explanations, he was still not sure if he understood the concept. It felt weird giving presents to someone who wasn’t really there yet. Although, granted, with his present, it would be difficult to wait until after the sparkling’s birth...

“I’ve been telling them this ever since they came up with this crazy idea,” Huffer said in near-desperation. “You mark my words; this will bring bad luck to all of us.”

“Oh, shut up, you gloom-monger,” Brawn growled at him. “I plan to have some energon tonight, and I can’t do that if I’m fed up with you already.”

“Now, don’t fight, guys,” Wheeljack jumped in placatingly. “This is supposed to be fun, remember?”

“Exactly,” Ratchet confirmed, putting the last cube onto the table and turning to them. “So if you want to do something useful, get your lazy afts moving and tell the others this party is about to begin. I think we’re quite done here...”

The room had become fairly crowded. Except for some brave sparks who had agreed to stay on duty during the afternoon, the complete crew had come together in the rec room to take part in the celebration. Hound and Bumblebee had also organized human food for their guests; so, while the Autobots were enjoying some high-grade energon, Spike and Carly had taken a seat on one of the couches and were happily sharing ham sandwiches and orange juice between them.

“This is already the second party you guys are throwing for us,” Spike commented. “We really need to think of something to make it up to you.”

“Aw, stop keeping count, Spike,” Bumblebee said with a grin, nudging him fondly. “You know we love parties.”

“Yeah, man,” Jazz backed him up. “Better start opening those presents already; I’m bursting with curiosity here.”

“Alright.” Carly brushed some crumbs from her hands and sat up to look over the various packages in front of her. “Now which shall we start with?”

“This one!” Fireflight practically jumped into Carly’s lap as he lunched forward, eagerly thrusting a neatly wrapped package in her face. “Careful!” Ratchet chided from his vantage point behind the couch, but Carly laughed.

“Okay.” She let the package be handed to her and took a moment to inspect the small card that was attached. “To Spike, Carly and Daniel,” she read with an amused smile. “From Silverbolt, Fireflight, Slingshot, Air Raid and Skydive. Now what might this be?”

She started to unwrap the package under the eager gazes of the five jets, and Ratchet couldn’t help but grin at the sight as he leaned slightly forward. What might those crazy combiners have come up with?

The wrapping came undone under Carly’s fingers - and Spike started to laugh. So hard Bumblebee had to support him so he wouldn’t fall off the couch. The young man was panting for air.

“Great idea, guys,” he told the Aerialbots. “Just great!”

The wrapping, Ratchet saw, had concealed five smaller plastic packages, and each contained a toy model of a different Earth-style jet, vaguely resembling the Aerialbots’ alt modes. Spike wasn’t the only one laughing.

“Those were the best likenesses we could find,” Silverbolt explained almost apologetically.

“Yeah,” Slingshot added. “And we thought that Danny can play with these ‘til he’s grown enough to take to the sky with the real us.”

“You like them?” Fireflight asked eagerly.

“Hell, yes,” Spike said, picking up one of the packages to read the description on the back. “Hey, look at this: Batteries included!”

Carly’s dry remark of “I think I know who’s gonna play with these” was accompanied by a chorus of good-humored laughter.

Ratchet had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. It was not only funny, but also pleasantly surprising to see how much effort his fellow Autobots had put into finding suitable gifts for the young creators and their offspring. There was a lot of laughter, but also touching moments, like when Carly opened Ironhide’s present. The packaging revealed a small, rectangular something with a metallic screw cap, consisting of soft, blue fabric with the image of what the humans called a teddy bear on it.

“That’s a hot-water bag,” Hound explained to the puzzled audience. “There’s a rubber bag under the fabric. You can fill it with hot water and then put the bag into the baby’s berth to keep it warm for the night.”

Everybody agreed that this was a rather antique method to produce warmth, but Carly’s obvious delight totally made up for this shortcoming. “Thanks, ‘Hide”, she said with her warmest smile. “That’s so sweet; thank you,” and Ironhide looked very pleased at her reaction.

“I don’t know too much ‘bout that whole ‘baby care’ stuff, or whatever it’s called,” he said dismissively. “But I know one thing, and that’s that the little fraggers must be kept warm properly. So I want you to make good use of this thing, you hear me?”

“I will, ‘Hide,” Carly said, still beaming. “I promise.” The tiny smile that curled Ironhide’s lips was perhaps the most spark-warming thing Ratchet had seen in a long time.

“How about that big one next?” Spike suggested, pointing to a rather boxy gift in a simple, green wrapping. “Mirage and Cliffjumper”, Carly read on the attached card and grinned at the two ‘Bots while she and Spike unwrapped the package together.

The surfacing gift turned out to be a cardboard box with the image of a peacefully recharging newborn and the word ‘Diapers’ on it.

Spike stared in disbelief, and Carly, after a moment of speechlessness, snorted in a vain attempt to stifle her laughter. “Jesus Christ, guys,” she said, “who told you about those?!”

Mirage frowned in his somewhat aloof way. “I must admit that I am still not sure if I understand the purpose of these wrappings correctly -“

“I do,” Cliffjumper growled. “And it’s disgusting.”

“- but the young lady at the shop assured us that human sparklings need lots and lots of these,” Mirage continued unimpressed. “So we figured you might make good use of them.”

“And I shall make good use of this,” Jazz commented smugly, snatching one of the magnetic badges from Mirage’s chest plates with a grin. Mirage gave him a puzzled look. “Hey, what are you doing?”

Jazz tossed the badge into the air and caught it again single-handedly before pinning it to his chassis. “Sorry, Mirage, baby,” he replied laughingly. “But you said the magic word!”

Mirage glared at him, then turned to Hound as if expecting backup, but the scout shrugged with an apologetic smile. “Those are the rules, ‘Raj.”

“Now that’s how I like it,” Mirage huffed. “My division commander and my best friend are stabbing me in the back simultaneously. Remind me to hand in a relocation request.”

The game with the badges kept causing good-humored arguments throughout the whole evening, and Ratchet was wise enough to keep his vocalizer shut and instead concentrate on Spike and Carly as they continued to open present after present. Cosmos, Perceptor and Skyfire had outdone themselves, he thought. During his patrols in space, Cosmos had collected a number of different space rocks, and the two scientists had converted them into what Carly called a mobile; a miniature, electrically illuminated version of the Milky Way. Spike was completely fascinated, and Perceptor was as scientific as ever.

“This is basic knowledge,” he told the young couple with a dead serious expression. “You cannot start to teach him these things early enough.”

Finally there was only one more present left. “This is from Optimus and me,” Bumblebee said proudly and handed Carly the tiny package.

It was roughly the size of a human pocket book, though much flatter. Carly cast a quick, surprised glance at the Autobot leader, but when Optimus gave her a friendly nod, she proceeded to carefully undo the wrapping. Everyone, including Ratchet, leaned forward for a clearer view.

What emerged from the packaging was a human-sized data pad. Carly looked at it a bit perplexed.

“Turn it on,” Bumblebee urged. She complied, and the audience craned their necks a bit more. Ratchet had to support his weight on the couch’s backrest.

Carly flipped through the first few pages in silence, and while she did so, her eyes became wider and wider until they completely dominated her face. “That’s... that’s a fairytale book,” she said finally, looking up at the gift-givers in open wonder. Bumblebee nodded eagerly.

“Yeah. We collected some of the old stories and myths from Cybertron, or at least those we thought were suitable for Danny. You can read them to him at recharge time. We even found some pictures, too.”

“Actually,” Optimus amended with a smile in his voice, “the choosing of the stories and pictures was Bumblebee’s part. I only did the translation and the editing.”

“Wow,” Carly commented, still skimming over the pages. “That must have been a real load of work. Thank you.”

Bumblebee looked mighty proud and happy, but Optimus shook his head. “I have to admit my motives were rather selfish,” he said. “This way, even if we should never be able to return to our home planet, a small part of our culture will live on in your spark-... baby.” He nimbly dodged Sideswipe’s advance at his chest plates.

Spike and Carly looked both touched and serious at once. “You don’t worry, Prime,” Spike said, slipping an arm around Carly’s shoulders. “We’ll make sure of that.”

“You, uh... wouldn’t perhaps let me make a copy of this, Carly?” Mirage asked shyly.

“Or two?” Skyfire added.

“Make that three,” Ratchet chimed in.

For some reason, his joining the conversation seemed to catch Bumblebee’s attention. The little scout regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, and then he asked: “What about your present, Ratchet? Don’t you have anything for Carly?”

Of course, Ratchet immediately found himself to be the center of common attention.

“Yeah, Doc,” Jazz said. “You’ve been mighty buttoned up about the topic.”

Ratchet squared his shoulder struts. He had long since decided that the gift he was going to give to Carly was not intended for public optics. He had to talk to her in private; she needed time and space to give ample thought to his suggestion...

“When and where I’m going to give my present to Carly is none of your slagging business,” he replied in his sharpest tone.

“Two energon cubes that he forgot to get her a present,” Sunstreaker taunted. Unsurprisingly, several ‘Bots laughingly got in on the bet at once. Ratchet glared at them coldly. “I’ll remember this when you come to me tomorrow whining about being over-energized,” he informed them.

“Leave him be, guys,” Spike said suddenly, giving Ratchet an almost shameful look. “Ratchet doesn’t need to give us anything; he’s done enough for us already.”

“More than that,” Carly confirmed.

A surprised and somewhat sheepish silence settled upon the group for a moment. From the corner of his optic, Ratchet saw Optimus Prime give Spike a small nod.

“Yeah,” Hound said finally with a tentative smile. “I guess you’re right.” He threw Ratchet a quick glance. “Sorry, Doc. No offense.”

“None taken”, Ratchet said dryly.

It didn’t take too long for the conversations to return to the usual, friendly party chatter, but Carly seemed concerned about the short interlude. When she was sure nobody was watching them anymore, she twisted around on the couch to look at Ratchet. “Don’t mind them, Ratchet,” she said softly. “It’s okay. I don’t need any gifts from you.”

Ratchet couldn’t help but smile. “Actually I do have a present for you, Carly. It’s just not meant for their audio receptors.” He nodded at the laughing, gossiping crowd. “Come to my quarters when we’re done here. I need to talk to you in private.”

There was a short, good-natured tussle among the party guests about who would be allowed to help Spike and Carly carry all the gifts back to their room. Nobody wanted to be left out, it seemed, so in the end, Optimus Prime had to laughingly appoint three official “gift carriers” for this task, much to the young couple’s amusement.

Ratchet made sure to be conveniently out of harm’s way at this point. He slipped out of the room discretely and made his way to his quarters to wait for his charge to see him. He had everything ready; the data pads, the holo projector to show her the plans he had prepared, and the little speech that actually made up the integral part of his gift.

And yet, while he waited for Carly to show up, an odd sense of nervousness began to take hold of him. How would she react to his suggestion? Would she even be willing to consider the idea? Sure, she'd said that she wanted him present at Daniel’s birth, but he couldn’t be certain that she’d meant it quite so literally... After all, he just wasn’t familiar with -

A soft, scratching sound at his door interrupted his thoughts, making him flinch slightly. Of course, the door chime button was well beyond Carly’s reach, he should have thought of that... He jumped out of his seat and went over to trigger the doors open.

She was alone, he realized in mild surprise; Spike was nowhere to be seen. But then he remembered that he‘d told her they needed to talk in private, and obviously she'd taken him at his word.

“You really got me curious now, Ratchet,” Carly said, grinning as she stepped inside. “What kind of present might that be that you can’t give me in public? It’s nothing inappropriate, isn’t it?” she added with mock concern. Ratchet laughed as he took up the game.

"Why, of course," he purred in the sultriest tone he could manage. "Bonded human females are my big kink, you know." Carly laughed at him.

"Alright, Doc," she commanded as he offered her a hand to help her climbing onto the recharge berth. She took some time to settle down properly; the sparkling inside her was quite big by now. "Spill it. What's that gift of yours?"

Strangely enough, he was almost grateful that retrieving the data pads from his desk necessitated turning his back to her for some kliks. That provided him with some time to skim over several files he’d stored in his cache, once more reviewing the basic key points of his plan and some notes on how he intended to present them. He cycled a deep draught of air through his vents, and then turned resolutely back to her.

“Well,” he began, settling onto the floor in front of the berth to be on eye-level with her. “Remember when you told me you wanted to have me with you when Danny’s born?”

Carly nodded. “Sure.”

“It kept me busy, that idea,” he admitted. “As you stated correctly, I cannot very well accompany you to a human delivery room, and the thought has bugged me ever since.”

Carly frowned. “It’s not your fault our hospitals are too small for you, Ratchet.” He smiled at the hint of reproach in her voice.

“I know. But you’re my patient, and I...” He hesitated, searching for the right way to say this. How to explain this feeling that was only partly due to his medical programming, this sense of protection and responsibility, this overwhelming urge to care...

“It is wrong,” he finally said, “for a medic to not be available when their patients need them most. That’s not how our programming works. And it's definitely not the way I treat my charges - or my friends.”

She gave him a long, thoughtful look. “I understand,” she replied softly. “But, Ratchet -“

“I’ve been turning this over and over in that stubborn CPU of mine the last few days,“ he proceeded quickly, before she had a chance to make him loose his nerve. “And somewhere down the road I thought: Well, if I can’t be with her, then perhaps she can be with me instead.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been wondering,” he said slowly but firmly, “if you would be willing to give birth to your sparkling here on the base.”

Silence. Carly stared at him with an expression he couldn’t read.

Ratchet deemed this the right moment to switch on his holo projector. A three-dimensional picture of the med bay flashed up between them - or rather, a picture of the med bay how he intended it to look like for Danny’s arrival; with a human-sized medical berth for Carly to lie on, matched tables and a large number of special medical utensils that, according to pertinent literature, was needed to assist in a human sparkling’s delivery, including emergency equipment.

“Wheeljack helped me with this,” he explained. “I could prepare and arrange everything so that you and Daniel would be in the best care possible. I’m sure the local hospitals can provide me with everything we’d need, and I did as much self-education on the topic as I was able to. You could bring your human doctor, too, if you like; I don’t mind sharing my med bay.” That was a blatant lie, but for this special occasion, he would agree to make an exception.

Carly kept staring at the hologram in front of her. She lifted a hand as if to touch the non-existing picture, then let it drop back into her lap before looking up at him.

“You’re serious,” she said. “You really mean it.”

“You bet,” he growled, pointing at the hologram. “This is my gift to you, Carly. I’m willing to see this through with you - if you want me to.”

She regarded the translucent projection again with a deeply thoughtful expression. For some time, neither of them spoke.

Then, suddenly, Carly started giggling. “Wow,” she said. “I mean... wow... I’m trying to imagine this.” She stroked one hand over her belly. “I mean, Danny would be the first human baby ever to be born on this ship, right?”

Ratchet smiled. “Definitely.”

“Wow,” she repeated flatly. She looked so dumbfounded that he felt the urge to somewhat relieve the situation.

“You don’t have to decide this right away,” he said quickly in an attempt to soothe her just as much as himself. “It’s a suggestion, nothing more. Take your time to think about it; talk it over with Spike. He’ll want to have a say in this, too, I suppose.”

"I guess so." She eyed him questioningly. "And... Optimus is okay with this?"

"Of course." Well, he would be after a breem in the tender company of Ratchet and, if necessary, a finely-tuned laser scalpel...

Carly's gaze and hand wandered back to her mid-section, where little Daniel was curled up in his cozy nest.

"I never thought of that possibility, really," she murmured. "But... it would basically be some kind of home birth, wouldn't it?"

Ratchet had the distinct impression that she was talking more to herself than to him, so he kept his vocalizer shut to not disturb her thoughts.

"My mom had me in a home birth, you know," she continued in that same, dreamy half-voice. "And she always said it was the best decision she's ever made."

Again a deep silence settled over the room. Carly gazed at the hologram that was still softly sparkling in the air between them. The gentle humming and clicking of his own systems sounded much too loud in Ratchet's audio receptors.

Suddenly Carly’s head jerked up; she looked him straight into the optic, and her eyes were gleaming brightly. “You know what, Ratchet? I’ll do it.”

Had both Devastator and Menasor simultaneously clubbed him on the head with heavy iron rods, Ratchet couldn’t have felt more dazed.

“You will?” he said, and instantly regretted activating his vocalizer when he realized that he sounded profoundly stupid. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Carly said and grinned at him completely elated. “I want my son to be the first baby born on an alien spaceship, even if it’s a crashed one.”

Ratchet laughed. He couldn’t help it; all the tension suddenly bleeding out of his frame just needed an outlet.

Carly eagerly reached for the too-big-for-her data pads; the idea clearly spurred her on. “Oh man, that's so fantastic; I can’t wait to tell Spike! And my gynecologist; you’re right, we’ll need to consult him, there are so many things we’ll have to consider. And I must talk to Elena, of course.”

Ratchet blinked in surprise. “To whom?”

“Elena,” she repeated. “My midwife. Oh, you have to meet her, Ratchet, she’s so great! She’ll be with me at Danny’s birth, too, so the two of you are practically colleagues. I’m sure you’ll love her.”

A strange mixture of emotions made his spark swell in its chamber. Part of him felt insanely jealous and angry at this unknown femme named Elena who dared to interfere with his work and with the medic-patient relationship he had with his charge. Another part of him sagged with relief. Oh, thank Primus, he wouldn’t be completely on his own in this.

They had both gotten well and truly hooked by now, and they spent at least another two breems plotting and discussing all the things they needed to take into account - until finally Spike called on Ratchet via comm link to ask wherever his wife had gotten to.

“Oh, I'm so looking forward to see his face,” Carly chuckled as she slid of the berth, supported by Ratchet’s hand. They walked over to the exit together where she stopped and looked up at him.

“Thanks, Ratchet,” she said. “That’s probably the greatest gift I ever got. Seems that son of mine's gonna be the most special baby Earth has ever seen. Sorry,” she amended with a smile. “I mean: the most special sparkling.”

The word triggered a dormant sub-file in his memory core. “By the way,” he said as he opened the door for her. “I left early, so I didn’t get it to take with me: Whoever won that stupid ‘You’re-not-allowed-to-say-Sparkling’ game in the end?”

Carly’s lips twitched as she fought to suppress a grin. “You won’t believe it, Ratchet,” she replied deadpan. “It was Huffer.”
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