Nine Months

Crime and Punishment

"No, no and no! Over my dead body!"

"That can be arranged, you know," Ratchet said darkly.

Red Alert gave him a look that was equal parts shock, anger and indignation. On Prowl’s faceplates, a disapproving frown became visible, and even Prime’s optics held a gentle reprimand as he looked at his CMO.

Ratchet yielded no ground.

“With all due respect, sir,” he said to Optimus, “I’m not even sure why we’re having this discussion. Carly very clearly expressed her wish to have her sparkling here on board, and personally I think that’s all we need to know.”

“What we need,” Red Alert snapped, over-emphasizing the word, “is some solid information on the risks that come with such an endeavor. We do not need to jump head-first into some crazy medical experiment -“

“Pardon me?” Ratchet interrupted sharply.

As always, Prime’s sonorous voice didn’t need to be loud to demand respect. “That’s enough, you two,” he said calmly. “Let us keep to the facts. I understand both your agitation, but personal insults won’t get us anywhere.”

Red Alert murmured a stiff apology, and Ratchet drew a deep intake of air through his vents. He’d have much preferred to talk to Optimus in private, but upon hearing what the topic was, the Autobot commander had considered it appropriate to bring both his SIC and his Security Director into the discussion. As a result, Ratchet now found himself fighting at three fronts where he had expected only one, and he felt an irrational anger at his leader for putting unfair obstacles in his path.

Forced to change tactics, he concentrated his first attack on what he deemed to be the weakest spot in the enemy’s front line.

“We’re talking about a sparkling, Red,” he addressed the Security Director. “”What kind of security risk can a newborn infant probably be?”

Red Alert crossed his arms over his chest plates. “I know most of you consider me a narrow-minded stickler for the letter of the law,” he replied, “but I’m not so much concerned about my security protocols here. I’m worried about Carly’s safety. Hers and Daniel’s. And you haven’t convinced me yet that you can guarantee this.”

Ratchet blinked in surprise. Well, this was new. Normally, assuring Red Alert that his precious protocols would be adhered to was enough to placate him. Why, of all possible time points in the known universes, did he have to choose now to turn from a paranoid security freak into a sensible mech with a sparkling protection instinct?

“I have no doubt that Carly’s well-being is most important to all of us,” Optimus joined in. “However, I don’t quite understand how this situation came into being in the first place.” He fixed his optics on his CMO. “You’re saying that Carly came to you and asked for your assistance in the sparkling’s delivery?”

Ratchet felt his fists clench at his sides. He couldn’t lie. Not right into his commander’s faceplates.

“She requested that, as her attending medic, I should be present at Daniel’s birth,” he answered, choosing his words carefully. “As this is not possible in a human medical facility for reasons we all know, I proposed an alternative.”

“So now we’re talking.” Red Alert snorted. “This was your idea, not Carly’s.”

With a great effort, Ratchet managed to bite back the sharp answer his processor supplied him with. Squabbling with Red Alert wouldn’t get him anywhere; he had to focus on convincing Prime.

“Sir, a patient came to me requesting my help,” he said as calmly as possible, ignoring his fellow officer. “Please correct me if I’m wrong, but last time I checked, helping patients was part of my job description.”

Optimus shook his head. “You know I value your sense of duty, Ratchet,” he answered, leaning forward in his seat. “And your... enthusiasm when it comes to standing up for your charges. What worries me is that you obviously saw no need to seek anyone’s advice in this, not even from your own medical team, despite the importance of the matter.”

Out of the corner of his optic, Ratchet saw Red Alert nod in agreement. There wasn’t much he could bring forward in his defense, and he knew it. He was losing ground.

“I think that’s exactly the point, Prime.” His optics held his commander’s gaze unflinchingly. “Carly is more than just a patient. She’s a member of the crew. If any other ‘Bot on board wanted to have their sparkling in my med bay, would we then have this discussion? I think not. You yourself made Carly an honorary Autobot. Doesn’t that mean she has the same rights you’d grant Jazz or Bumblebee?”

He picked the names randomly, and yet not completely without a purpose. Both the little scout and the Third-in-command were mechs Optimus had a personal relationship with.

“This scenario is not fit to be compared to the current situation, Ratchet, and you know that very well.”

All three of them turned in surprise to stare at their Second-in-command. Prowl hadn't spoken a word since the doors of Prime's office had closed behind them.

“Carly is not Cybertronian,” he continued now. “She’s human. And while what you say is undeniably true, Ratchet, we cannot simply ignore the difference of species here.”

So much for his trump card. Ratchet’s engine gave an angry rev at the sheer ease with which Prowl brushed off his argument. “Are you telling me -“ he started heatedly, but Prime forestalled him by raising his hand.

“I agree with you, Prowl,” he said to his SIC. “But if I understood Ratchet correctly, he has already made plans to account for this difference, is that right?”

Ratchet’s “Right” came out as a half-growl.

“Let’s hear those plans, then.”

Thanks to the rather extroverted personality he was gifted with, Ratchet had never had difficulties speaking his mind, and yet he felt his spark flutter nervously at Prime’s words. Focus, Ratchet, he ordered himself. You’ve got one chance here, don’t blow it.

He’d brought several datapads containing the sketches, blueprints and bullet point lists he and Wheeljack had come up with, as well as the hologram he had shown to Carly and, later, also to Spike. Optimus looked at all of them carefully before he handed them over to his officers, simultaneously listening to Ratchet’s explanations. Once or twice he interrupted, asking for clarification or demanding a more detailed description, and despite himself, Ratchet suddenly felt profoundly grateful that finally someone was listening to him.

“Carly’s gynecologist agreed to be on call during the birth,” he said. “So I’ll have constant access to a human medic’s advice, if need be. And furthermore, Carly will bring her midwife.”

“Midwife?”

“A femme specifically trained in matters of human childbirth and sparkling care. So fact is that Carly and I will at no time be completely on our own or devoid of assistance, should we need it.” He looked at all three of them carefully as he spoke. Was that relief he saw on their faceplates?

“I get the impression that Ratchet has carefully deliberated his intentions,” Prowl stated, handing his datapad back to Optimus. His expression was unreadable, his voice neutral.

Prime nodded. “I agree,” he said, and Ratchet felt his spark give a little jump. “What do you think, Red Alert?”

Three pairs of optics focused on the Security Director, whose faceplates were dominated by a faint frown. His gaze flickered from the datapads in his hands first to Prime, then to Ratchet and Prowl, and for a moment grazed the hologram Ratchet had brought before finally settling upon his commander.

“Permission to speak freely, sir,” he said.

A vague sense of dread made Ratchet’s engine stutter slightly, but Optimus was already nodding his agreement. It seemed the battle was about to turn into a duel.

Cautiously, Red Alert placed the datapads back onto the desk. “I think, sir,” he said slowly, “that there is one point in this discussion we have so far been neglecting.”

“Which would be?”

From his position, Ratchet could see that Red Alert was pressing his palms together in his lap, normally a sign that he was feeling emotionally stressed.

“Sir, it’s no secret that Ratchet is very deeply involved into this matter. And not just as a medic, but on a private level. I am worried that his personal feelings might be clouding his professional judgment of the case.”

It took some kliks for Ratchet’s CPU to fully process the meaning of this. When it did, he felt the hydraulics in his jaw and hands begin to tighten.

“Are you suggesting,” he said slowly, and his voice sounded scratchy from the strain he had to put onto his vocalizer, “that I might not have exercised due medical care because Carly and I are friends?”

“I am saying,” Red Alert replied firmly, “that what we have here is a clear case of bias. I don’t doubt your medical skills, Ratchet, but can you honestly say that your behavior in this situation has thus far been driven by logic or reason? I’ve read Inferno’s report on the Code Yellow incident we had a deca-cycle ago, and your actions then seemed anything but professional to me.”

Rage was an emotion Ratchet was familiar with, but up to this very moment, he hadn’t known that it could burn that hot behind one’s chest plates. So, that stuck-up little Lambo wanted to play dirty? Well, bring it on! He feigned a surprised look.

“Why, sorry, Red,” he purred. “I had no idea that you of all mechs have a problem with people dashing into burning facilities to save their friends. Perhaps we should let Inferno know about this?”

Red Alert’s faceplates twitched. “I wasn’t implying -“ he started, but Ratchet cut him off. It felt like some sort of floodgate was opened, and he pounded his fist onto the table as all the tension and fury unleashed in one violent burst, catapulting him out of his chair.

“You weren’t implying what?” he hissed. “That I’m too emotional to do my job properly? If that was true, half of this crew would long since have kicked it, yourself included! How dare you judge my actions? And how dare you decry my personal relationships? You’re so consumed by your fear of commitment, you don’t even know what a real friendship is, you glitching little -“

“That’s enough, Ratchet.”

Prime’s voice cut like ice through the bright-red heat in his chest. In a fraction of an astrosecond, Ratchet became painfully aware again where he was - and what he was doing.

Red Alert had gotten out of his chair as well and had taken a step backwards, staring at him in obvious shock and hurt, and a quick glance at his commander revealed a cold twinkle in those sapphire optics. Only Prowl’s expression remained as stoic as ever, which was almost more scary than Prime’s ire.

An uncomfortable shiver ran down Ratchet’s backstruts and turned his hydraulics into water.

“I’m... sorry,” he choked out and sank back down into his chair, not sure which of them to look at. Not that it mattered, really.

The battle was lost.

His processor knew it, even if his spark couldn’t quite feel it yet, comparable to the first few kliks after taking a heavy hit in a gunfight. He’d had this one chance, and he’d fragged it up. He’d let Carly down because he simply couldn’t control his own emotions.

“You were saying, Red Alert?” Optimus prompted gently.

Ratchet’s head jerked up in shocked incomprehension. He’d been expecting the fatal blow, but Prime was utterly ignoring him. His gaze stayed firmly fixed onto his Security Director.

Red Alert’s fingers were by now constantly intertwining and untangling again, but nevertheless he kept his countenance. “I think I’ve made my point, sir,” he said softly. “Ratchet is a brilliant medic, and obviously a great friend,” - the word came out a bit hoarse with static - “but he is an involved party, and your decision in this should not be based on his advice. And personally, I think that delivering Carly’s sparkling is the job of a human doctor, and not of a Cybertronian one.”

He took his seat again, and Ratchet could see his hands relaxing.

“Alright,” Optimus said, giving him a nod before turning to his Vice Commander. “Prowl?”

Their Second remained as silent as ever, but his door wings were held high, and Ratchet’s sensors registered the soundless crackle and hum of comm. messages being passed back and forth.

For a moment, his anger returned full-force. What was this supposed to mean? If Prowl had anything to say, why didn’t he say it out loud?

But then again, perhaps it was for the better. He already knew what he was in for; no need to hear it once from each of them.

Whatever the two officers had to discuss, they seemed to have finished, because Optimus rose from his seat, and the three of them followed suit, awaiting their commander’s decision.

“Alright,” Prime said again, and there was a certain finality in his voice. “Prowl, Red Alert, I thank you for your input. Would you excuse us now; I’d like to talk to Ratchet in private.”

So he was to receive his death sentence behind closed doors, Ratchet thought wryly as both his fellow officers saluted and then left the room. He should have expected it, really; Optimus was too considerate a mech to destroy one of his subordinates in the presence of others.

The doors slid shut behind Prowl’s back. All of a sudden, silence reigned supreme in the small room, and Ratchet felt his tanks churn slightly, while at the same time he was severely tempted to laugh at himself. Only half a joor ago, he’d been enraged that he couldn’t talk to his commander privately, and now that he was supposed to do so, he wanted to be anywhere but here.

“Ratchet,” Optimus said.

He turned so Prime wouldn’t believe him afraid to look at him. He’d accept the final cut with his optics online.

Optimus beckoned him over to stand at one of the small round windows his office featured. The porthole looked straight into the volcano’s crater; the orange-red glow of the magma below mingled with the bluish daylight that streamed in from above, creating an eerie half-light that for some reason took away the last of Ratchet’s fighting spirit. He’d never been a warrior, so where was the sense in pretending to be one?

And perhaps Red Alert was right. Perhaps he wasn’t fit to take over a task like a human birth, perhaps he was simply too involved and emotionally unstable to be a real help. He had seen video clips of the events taking place in a human delivery room, and tried to exchange the faces of those unknown femmes with an image of Carly. Given that he had just totally lost it simply because a colleague held a different opinion, what would he do when things actually reached that critical stage? What would he do when Carly walked into his med bay and said: Ratchet, it’s happening. The baby’s coming. He’d probably suffer severe spark failure and just drop dead.

Well done, you old fool, he thought grimly. How was he going to explain this to his human friend? But perhaps he could at least convince Optimus to let him accompany her to the hospital, as she had originally suggested. This way, he wouldn’t be completely useless...

“I haven’t seen Carly in a few days,” Optimus said. “How is she doing?”

Ratchet stared at him in confusion for a moment, but then pulled himself together. Of course. Some small talk first, to defuse the situation.

“She’s fine,” he answered. “A bit grumpy, perhaps. Says she’s tired of feeling like a walking barrel, but apart from that, she’s doing great.”

Optimus’ hidden smile showed in his optics. “Glad to hear it,” he said.

They remained silent for a while, staring out into the orange-red-blue light behind the window. Then Optimus turned to fully face Ratchet, and the smile had vanished from his optics.

“We need to talk, my friend,” he said.


About two joors later, Ratchet left his commander’s office wondering when he had last felt so drained and exhausted just from talking to another mech.

It was late afternoon by now, and only a few of the crew members were out on the corridors, greeting him in passing. Most faceplates shifted from smiling to slightly worried as soon as their owners came close enough, but Ratchet paid them no heed on his way through the ship. There were more important things to be done.

He found Wheeljack at his workbench when he entered his friend’s lab. The inventor looked up at the sound of the door, and his vocal indicators flashed fondly when he recognized his visitor.

“Hey, Ratch! Come in, what can I - Pit, are you alright?”

He dropped the gadget he was working on and jumped to his feet. “No offense, Ratch, but you look like you’ve just been run through a junk press. Here, have a seat, I’ll get you a drink.”

Ratchet didn’t protest as he was pushed into a chair next to the workbench, and didn’t object the energon cube Wheeljack offered him, either.

“Thank you,” he murmured, watching his friend settling down on the edge of the bench.

“So, uh,” he began carefully when Ratchet had taken a few sips of energon. “I guess you talked to Prime, huh?”

Ratchet nodded. The energon had an immediate effect; the slight haze he’d felt ever since leaving his leader’s office began to dissipate.

“I talked to Prime,” he affirmed. “And to Prowl. And to Red Alert.”

Wheeljack’s optics widened. “Oi,” he breathed. “That doesn’t sound too good.”

Ratchet let his head fall back, ignoring the strain in his hydraulics. “Well, let’s see,” he said to the ceiling. “I pissed off a fellow officer and both my superiors and thus got myself a formal reprimand.”

“Ouch,” Wheeljack said.

“I am to apologize to Red Alert, both verbally and in writing, the latter to be filed in both our records.”

“Huh,” Wheeljack said.

“And last but not least,” Ratchet continued dryly, “I have been suspended from office, immediately effective, for the remaining time of Carly’s carrying. Except for emergencies, of course.”

Wheeljack stared at him. “You’re kidding.”

“Do I look amused to you?”

“But... medical staff don’t get suspended. They just don’t.”

Ratchet laughed softly as he lifted his head again. “Well, Optimus seemed to be of the opinion that I’ve already spent so much time taking care of Carly, both private and working time, that it shouldn’t be too hard for me to - how did he put that? - ‘adjust my schedule’. Besides, I’m gonna need every astrosecond I can get to put all those plans we made into action.”

There was a moment of silence as Wheeljack let the words sink in.

“You mean,” he said finally, “he gave consent?”

“He did.” The words still felt weird, surreal, and he had yet to figure out if they meant a privilege or a punishment. But above all else, they produced a warm, tender pulsing in his spark.

“He gave me quite a grilling, I can tell you. He wants regular updates and reports and a say in all future decisions regarding this matter, meaning I’ll spend half of my time either in his office or doing paperwork, but he gave permission. I’m going to deliver Carly’s sparkling.”

Wheeljack’s vocal indicators glowed like Iacon in a dark night when he hopped off the workbench. “Ratchet, that’s great! That’s fantastic!” He dove in to give his friend a firm hug, and Ratchet accepted and returned it with all his spark.

“Wow, that’s terrific. But we’ve got to hurry, then; there’s barely one stellar cycle left, right? Okay, let me see... now where have these blueprints gone again...”

Ratchet leaned back in his chair, sipped his energon and watched contentedly as his friend started digging through his various stacks of datapads. I’m going to help Carly have her sparkling, he thought to himself, turning the words over and over in his processor to admire them from every possible angle, and the warm feeling inside of him spread and lasted long after Wheeljack had switched to full inventor mode.

They’d been bent over their various sketches for some time when a soft scratch could be heard at the door. “Come in,” Wheeljack called happily and pressed the remote control button under the bench.

“Hey, Wheeljack. Have you seen - ah, there you are, Ratchet.”

Carly wore a simple white T-Shirt and blue jeans overalls, but in this advanced stage of the carrying, there wasn’t any type of clothing anymore that could conceal her baby bump. Her face was discontentment personified.

“Where have you been all day? I’ve been looking for you all over the ship, and I’m not exactly light on my feet these days, you know.”

“I’m sorry, Carly.” He had no idea what he was apologizing for, but over the past stellar cycles he had learned that asking no questions and accepting the blames she laid on him, no matter how weird they seemed, was the best way to avoid arguments, and that in turn made both their lives much easier. “How can I help you?”

She looked mollified at once. “Oh, don’t bother. Just wanted to tell you that I saw Elena today, and she’d like to come by on Friday to meet with you and to have a look at all those preparations you two have been making. That okay for you?”

Ratchet felt the dire need to club himself on the head, preferably with something very heavy. Yes, of course, the midwife thing... He’d agreed to her suggestion to bring that femme to the base to meet him, had even talked to Optimus about her only some joors ago, but he hadn’t really thought about this meeting. There’d been so many other things to think about, for Primus sake…

“Sure,” he said. “Friday. That’s fine; I’m looking forward to it.”

She smiled. “Great. Should I tell Prime?”

“No, no,” he said quickly, remembering his new arrangement with his commander. “I can do that.”

“Okay.” Her face contorted into a grimace as she pressed both her hands against the small of her back. “I think I’ll better be off to my couch again, guys. My back, you know...”

“Have a good rest, Carly,” Wheeljack called after her as the doors swished shut behind the back that bothered her so much.

Ratchet accessed the human calendar he’d downloaded onto his HUD, selecting the present day. The word ‘Monday’ glared back at him with a malicious joy he’d never seen before in any combination of letters. He took a moment to reset his optics, then turned to his friend.

“Okay, ‘Jack,” he said. “We have to turn a Cybertronian med bay into a human delivery room, and we have exactly three Earth days to do so.”
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