Nine Months

Elena and Spike

For the first time in three Earth days, Ratchet was having a truly peaceful morning.

He had completed a full recharge cycle without interruption, had - as he was officially banned from any duties - wandered unhurriedly into the rec room to consume his morning ration, and was now sitting next to the large panorama window, idly chatting with Jazz and Smokescreen.

“So today’s the big day, huh?” their Third-in-command asked with a grin. “That midwife femme’s coming to check if we’re ready for the sparkling, right?”

Ratchet smiled into his energon cube. In the small, rather isolated world of a military base such as the Ark, news tended to travel fast, and this one had certainly done so. Seldom had his med bay - or rather First Aid’s med bay for now, he reminded himself - been as highly frequented as in the last three days as mechs kept popping in with the most ridiculous explanations as to why they just had to be there at exactly this very moment. So far, ‘Sorry, guys, but I think one of my fuel lines got bitten through by a marten’ had been his personal favorite.

He nodded in response. “Bumblebee’s on his way to pick her up, together with Spike and Carly,“ he said. “They should be here in a breem or two.”

“You nervous?” Smokescreen asked.

Ratchet blinked his optics at him. “No,” he said. “Why would I be?”

Granted, he had felt somewhat agitated those last few days, but that had been mainly due to the time pressure he and Wheeljack had had to work under to reformat the med bay according to their blueprints. His feelings concerning the upcoming meeting with Elena were perhaps best described as a kind of suspicious curiosity. She might be good at her job, but so was he, and that had been the case long before humanity had even known the word ‘midwife’. Besides, both Spike and Carly had been anything but mean with positive feedback when they had inspected the impromptu delivery room yesterday. That Elena-femme would find nothing to criticize about him, his work, or the Autobots in general. And the fact that he was going to have to let her work in his sanctum – well, he’d survive it.

Jazz stretched his arms above his head and leaned back in his seat. “Just hope you’re not going to frag this one up, Doc,” he said. “Can’t have our Danny-boy being born anywhere else, can we?”

Ratchet snorted. “Why, thanks, Jazz. That really made me feel better.”

“Aw, you know what I mean.” Jazz grinned at him and took a sip from his cube, but then sat it down abruptly when his gaze wandered towards the door.

“Excuse me, gentlemechs,” he said, rising from his chair. “But here comes the ‘Bot I’ve been waiting for.” Ratchet watched in amusement as his superior officer skipped through the room, waving at the new-arrival: “Hey, Blaster, me man! How’s it hangin’?”

He never found out how things were ‘hanging’ with Blaster, though, because Smokescreen turned back to him with a quiet laugh and shook his head. “He’s right, you know,” he commented. And when Ratchet raised an optic ridge in question, he added: “About Daniel. We’re all quite excited.”

Ratchet snorted again, but without venom. “Yeah, I’ve noticed you guys hanging around in the med bay more often than usual these days. And I can’t even blame you.”

The young frontliner returned his gaze with a strangely knowing smile as he cocked his head slightly to one side. “I think you don’t realize just how much the crew is with you in this, Doc,” he stated.

“Pardon me?”

“We’re all very fond of Spike and Carly, Ratchet, just as you are, and the same goes for that offspring of theirs. Whenever the subject comes up, it’s always ‘our Danny’ or ‘our little one’.”

That was true, Ratchet thought in astonishment. He had heard it several times, but had never really paid attention to it.

“When word got out that you were planning to help Carly have her sparkling here on the ship, everybody was completely stoked,” Smokescreen continued. “We even had bets going if you’d manage to persuade Prime to give his Okay.” His smile widened into a grin. “Thanks for winning me two cans of Carnauba wax polish, by the way.”

Ratchet stared at him. Given what that battle had cost him - and he still considered it a battle - he wasn’t sure if he should laugh about this, or be offended.

“Glad to be of service,“ he replied in his driest tone. Smokescreen chuckled.

“Seriously, Doc, the crew’s quite impressed by the job you do here, and we’re ready to help wherever we can. That even goes for Red Alert, in that own strange way of his. You have more allies than you notice, Ratchet. I thought you should know that.”

One of the reasons why Ratchet didn’t normally socialize with Smokescreen that much was because the young warrior always knew a bit more about everything and everyone than was good for the medic’s peace of mind. He would not ask how Smokescreen had learned about his falling out with the Security Director, but his thoughts must have been visible on his faceplates, because his companion didn’t press the matter further.

“Well, anyway,” he said with a relenting gesture, rising and subspacing his energon cube. “I need to be off. Got some things to take care of before shift starts. See you later, Doc.”

Ratchet murmured a quiet goodbye and stared at his retreating back as Smokescreen left the room. “Allies,” he grunted softly, shaking his head. He was a military surgeon. You had no allies when you were the only thing standing between a bot and certain deactivation. His battles were his own to fight.

And yet, unbidden, his CPU started to replay Smokescreen’s words and to interweave them with what Carly had said about the crew wanting to be involved, and how much she cherished that...

His gaze wandered thoughtfully across the room and the few attendees as his processor pulled up more memory files of ‘involved’ scenes and mechs and began to analyze, to connect and shift the different data to appropriate folders.

He leaned back in his chair and sipped his energon slowly, letting his CPU continue with its sorting. He hadn’t cleared his cache in weeks; the data there was compressed and disorganized, and the disarray was beginning to make itself felt. He grinned to himself when his processor automatically created a new parent folder in his memory bank and labeled it ‘Allies’. Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad idea after all...

‘Prime to Ratchet.’

He jumped a bit at the sudden interruption. ‘Ratchet here.’

‘I have just received word from Bumblebee that his ETA is about ten Earth minutes. I take it that you would like to join us to welcome our guest.’

He nodded reflexively, then remembered that Optimus couldn’t see that. ‘Of course. I’m on my way.’

He stood and subspaced his half-empty cube. All right. Let the games begin.

According to standard protocol, a small welcoming committee had assembled outside the Ark. Prime was there, of course, and acknowledged his CMO’s arrival with a friendly nod. Beside him was Prowl, with his hands folded behind his back and faceplates that seemed to have been carved from stone. A little to the side, Ratchet spotted Ironhide, who greeted him with a noncommittal grunt. It was probably just coincidence, but he still wondered if Optimus - or Prowl - had kept Red Alert out of this on purpose...

They didn’t have to wait long. Dust clouds in the distance announced Bumblebee’s arrival, and only a short time later, the little yellow scout came to a halt in front of them, greeting them in his cheery way and popping his doors open.

Carly laughed when her transport tilted his passenger seat slightly to help her get out. “Thanks, ‘Bee,” she said, and then laughed again when he flicked his windshield wipers in response.

“Seems that apart from our own chauffeur, we get our own welcoming committee, too,” Spike observed with a grin. “Good morning, guys.”

They greeted him with the usual small talk, but Ratchet had no interest in Bumblebee’s antics or in human courtesy phrases. His optics were fixed on the third person who was just emerging from Bumblebee’s backseat.

She was about forty Earth years old, he estimated, and clearly of Mexican heritage. Her hair was short and curly; her clothing practical, yet elegant. She had distinct, stern features, but her deep, black eyes spoke of kindness and care.

“Guys”, Carly said with a proud smile, “I’d like you to meet my midwife, Elena Quintana. Elena, these are our friends, the Autobots.”

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Quintana”, Optimus said kindly, lowering himself to one knee as he spoke. “I am Optimus Prime. I trust you had a pleasant trip?”

Elena’s eyebrows rose a bit. “Well, I came here in a car who gave me a lively description of the alien planet he originates from,“ she answered. “So I daresay the trip could be called unconventional.”

“I was just trying to give her the general picture,” Bumblebee defended himself. Optimus’ optics shone with quiet amusement.

“I’m glad to hear that my soldier performed his duty well”, he said as he straightened again. “Please allow me to introduce my officers. This is my Second-in-command, Prowl.”

Prowl took a small step forward. “Welcome to the Ark, Miss Quintana.”

“This is one of my Security Officers, Ironhide.”

“I told you about ‘Hide, Elena,” Carly jumped in. “Remember?”

“I do.” Was there a hint of respect in her voice?

“And this,” Optimus concluded, and Ratchet could have sworn that there was laughter in his voice, “is my Chief Medical Officer, Ratchet, whom, I think, is the primary reason for your visit.”

At the sound of his designation, Ratchet had unconsciously taken a step towards Elena, so he was now standing pretty close to her. What would have intimidated most humans not used to being around Transformers didn’t seem to bother her in the least. She looked up at him fearlessly, sizing him up with those dark optics of hers.

“So,” she said. “You’re the doctor.”

Ratchet felt his lips quirk slightly. “Yeah,” he answered in the same tone. “I’m the ‘doctor’.” He placed a little emphasis on the title that wasn’t really his. If she noticed it, she chose to ignore it.

“I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “I’m not really happy with this whole idea. I mean, you’re a machine, right? What can you probably know about pregnancy and childbirth?”

Ratchet wasn’t quite sure what he had expected, but he almost felt a little disappointed at this stale argument. “I can assure you that I had ample opportunity to familiarize myself with the topic,” he answered calmly.

“Ratch has become quite the specialist,” Spike commented with a grin. “Sometimes I think he knows more about our baby than we do.”

For some reason, this made Elena smile for the first time. “I must admit that I’m curious,” she said, turning to Ratchet again. “I have delivered babies in the most unusual places, but never on an alien spacecraft. And Miss Carly tells me you already put a lot of effort into the preparations.”

He nodded an affirmative.

“Well, then.” She made a gesture as if she intended to usher them all inside. “Let’s take a look.”

It was an interesting phenomenon, Ratchet mused, that a crew of battle-hardened warriors and experienced officers could exhibit such sparkling-like curiosity. Had his fellow Autobots formed an honor guard in front of the med bay, it wouldn’t have surprised him in the least. He was almost grateful for Prowl’s well-practiced, stern glances that easily shooed the crew off to their duties again.

“This way,” he said as he palmed open the doors to his sanctum to lead the small group inside. “This is our med bay,” he explained to Elena. “You’d probably call it a hospital ward. Our Chief Engineer and I did what we could to ensure that Carly and Daniel will be safe and comfortable.”

Elena’s dark eyes swept through the room critically. “There’s no windows,” she stated.

Wordlessly, he reached over to the control panel next to the door and increased the light’s intensity by ten percent.

“Ah.” She favored him with a smile. “Thank you. That’s better. Now, where are we going to work?”

They had decided quite early on to build the delivery room in one of the small alcoves that could be separated from the rest of the med bay by a silicone curtain, and Ratchet got the impression that Elena very much approved of this. He was also grateful that Optimus and Ironhide took a back seat for most of the time. Once in a while, Prime would offer some background information about the ship and its technology, and Ironhide explained the usual security measures to Elena. But apart from that, they left the driving to him, and the more time passed, the more Ratchet began to actually enjoy himself. Carly and Bumblebee enthusiastically took part in all his explanations, and the young woman even insisted on climbing onto the human-sized medical berth Wheeljack had installed to demonstrate to her midwife how it could be adjusted to almost any position she might want to take for the birth. It was such a pity Wheeljack couldn’t be here right now, Ratchet thought fleetingly.

It was only then that he realized that Prowl wasn’t with them anymore.

He gave Elena a review of the working materials and instruments he had fitted the place with, let her have a look at his emergency equipment. She took a special interest in the human painkillers he had obtained from the nearest hospital, and wanted to be briefed on their means of communication, in case they needed external assistance or even an ambulance. Ratchet had the time of his life when he informed her that he was the ambulance.

“Well, that all looks quite decent,” she judged. “Of course I’ll need to bring a few items; some towels and a bath tub and a pair of scales –“

“Oh, but Ratchet can do the weighing and all that stuff, Elena,” Carly interrupted. “Can’t you?” She glanced at her medic.

“Of course.” He knew that these were some of the first things humans did to their newborns, weighing and sizing them, but given the fact that he would be present, he’d never thought that she’d come up with the idea of bringing extra-tools. He felt a bit offended.

Elena looked first at Carly, then at Ratchet. “Tell me my height and weight,” she challenged him.

Ratchet instinctively ran a self-diagnosis on his audio receptors. “Pardon me?”

“Tell me my height and weight,” she repeated.

She had to be joking. He was a medic, for Pit’s sake, not some stupid pocket calculator! Behind him, he could clearly hear Ironhide snigger.

“You know, the last time I commented on a human femme’s body weight, it got me into a lot of trouble,” he replied pointedly, giving his charge a hard stare. Carly returned his gaze half embarrassed, half pleading.

“I’m a tough one,” Elena said, clearly amused. “Try me.”

There was no need to give her an extra scan. Just like human sensory organs, his scanners automatically and constantly took in basic data sets of everything and everyone around him. All he had to do was to consciously access this information. He pulled a deep draught of air into his vents.

“Your body height, Miss Quintana, is 5.4 feet, and your body weight is 132.29 pounds, which adds up to a body mass index of approximately 22.139 kilograms per square meter. Your body temperature is 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit, your breathing frequency is 15 breaths per minute, and your pulse rate is 72 beats per minute. You had cereals with milk and black tea for breakfast, and according to your hormone levels, you are somewhere between the tenth and twelfth day of your menstrual cycle. I can give you status reports on all your internal organs as well, if you’re interested.”

Silence. Optimus looked a bit aghast. Spike and Bumblebee valiantly tried to hide their amusement, but were equally unsuccessful. Carly looked back and forth between her medic and her midwife, her expression tense.

Very slowly, Elena’s face lit up with a broad grin. “You know,” she said, “I think you and I will make a great team.”

“Thank you very much for your support, Miss Quintana,” Optimus said eventually. “Your help in this is greatly appreciated.”

She nodded. “You’re welcome. And I have to say that I’m positively surprised.”

“I told you you’d love Ratchet, Elena.” Carly was smiling, but with a pang of worry Ratchet noticed that her smile looked forced, and that her hands were balled into fists.

Elena’s lips twitched faintly. “Indeed. Mr. Prime, would it be possible for me to have a private word with Dr. Ratchet?”

Both Optimus and Ironhide took the opportunity to bid goodbye to their visitor and to be off to their various duties. Bumblebee left together with Spike and Carly, saying that he’d keep them company until Elena needed him for the drive back to town. The last thing Ratchet saw from the young woman was the strange, pleading expression in her eyes.

The doors closed behind Bumblebee’s back with their usual swishing sound, and Ratchet turned his attention to his guest, intending to offer her a hand to help her up onto one of the med berths as he was used to doing with his human friends, but Elena was having none of it. Without further ado, she took a seat on the berth meant for Carly and gave him a prompting look.

“You did a fine job here,” she said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Ratchet knelt down to be closer to her and wondered how to respond to this. Given that he would need to work with this femme, a non-challenging approach would perhaps be best.

“I’m aware that your experience in this area beats mine,” he answered. “But I did learn a few things in the last nine stellar cycles. I gave Carly my word that I would see her through this, and I keep my promises.”

She cocked her head slightly. “You’re very concerned about her.”

Ratchet frowned. “Of course,” he replied curtly. “She’s my patient. And my friend.”

“Hm.” She seemed to think for a moment, then looked up at him again. “Tell me, have you been a doctor for long?”

A small smirk parted his lips. He had expected questions about his qualifications much earlier, and thus was prepared to answer.

“I received what you would call my approbation about 2,400 vorns before the civil war broke out on my world. According to your reckoning, that would be approximately eleven million years ago. So yeah, I’ve been a medic for quite some time now.” He let the information sink in, then asked: “What about you? What kind of training do you have?”

Elena was obviously neither stupid nor spineless. The dry smile she gave him clearly showed that she knew he’d seen through her game, but she stubbornly refused to be impressed. She even made herself a bit more comfortable before she answered.

“I’m a Certified Professional Midwife, meaning I’ve been especially trained in overseeing births in non-medical environments. I started working in this profession when I was eighteen years old, which gives me about twenty years of practical experience.”

Ratchet tried to imagine what that had to be like, to spend one’s professional life helping carriers to give birth to their sparklings. “Must be a very gratifying job,” he commented without thinking.

A deep, warm gentleness suddenly lit up Elena’s dark eyes. “Yes,” she replied, and her voice was softer now, almost soothing. “It is.” And then, after a short pause, she added: “I want to be honest with you, Ratchet. The reason why I objected to Miss Carly having her baby here was not because I doubted your medical knowledge. Knowledge can be obtained, and for a robot, that should be even less of a problem. But experience tells me that what a woman truly needs during birth is emotional support. And I had my doubts that you could provide that.”

Ratchet felt his jaws clench tightly. And why the frag would you think that?! Ever since their very first day on Earth, it had irked him that many humans obviously considered his species incapable of care or friendship, mainly because he didn’t understand what gave them this idea. Even the Decepticons stood up for each other in their own, twisted ways.

“I already told you,” he answered coolly, “that Carly and I are good friends, and have been so for several of your Earth years now. Personally, I think that’s all you need to know.”

She didn’t answer immediately. The smile had vanished from her face. Ratchet noticed suddenly how quiet the room had become.

“You’re right,” Elena said finally. “Basically, that was the only question I really wanted to ask you. And now that I’ve seen you two together, I’m glad to know that Miss Carly will be in good hands with you.”

He took a moment to process her words. Was the fight over already? “Well, thank you,” he said as neutrally as he could manage.

“I’m sorry if I gave you a wrong impression, but this topic was of importance to me. Especially since Miss Carly’s husband won’t be with her during her delivery.”

The last sentence grabbed his attention. Spike wouldn’t be there when his sparkling was born? Granted, the topic had never really come up, but somehow he’d always just assumed that Carly’s bonded would join them in the delivery room.

“I suppose it isn’t customary for a human male to be present when his mate gives birth?” he asked cautiously. Elena shrugged.

“Well, personally, I always welcome it when a woman’s partner is with her during delivery. But that’s something every couple has to decide for themselves. Of course,” she added, and her smile suddenly turned into a mischievous grin, “it can be an advantage when there are no men around at a birth. I had many a young father pass out cold in my delivery rooms. And then there was this one time when I delivered a woman of beautiful twin girls while her husband lay on the couch with sympathy pains, whining his heart out. I probably shouldn’t say this, but it was a pitiable sight.”

Something about the tone of her voice sounded vaguely familiar, Ratchet mused. “Yeah,” he answered with a dry smirk, “I can also tell you a thing or two about whiny patients.”

Elena laughed heartily, and Ratchet couldn’t help but grin. Pit, he was starting to like this femme.

“Oh, I’m definitely looking forward to working with you.” She stretched out her hand, and without hesitating, Ratchet offered her his index finger, which she shook with surprising strength. “Here's to successful cooperation, Doctor. And now that I’m done pestering you with questions, perhaps there’s something you would like to ask me?”

He knew he should ask about the birth, about medical details or about aspects of their collaboration.

“What,” he said. “What, pray tell, are sympathy pains?”

It was late afternoon when Elena eventually took her leave. Ratchet stood in the Ark’s entrance with Spike and Carly and watched Bumblebee’s small, yellow form disappear behind the dust clouds while the two humans waved after him.

“You two have been talking for quite some time,” Carly remarked, turning to face him. “What do you think?”

“Uh, before you answer that, Ratchet,” Spike jumped in with a sly grin, “you might want to know that Miss Quintana has left your fellow Autobots with a lasting impression. Even Prime couldn’t deny it. And Ironhide said it was a pity she wasn’t Cybertronian. If she was, he’d consider her the perfect match for you.”

“I’ll have to have a word with the old coot, I guess,” Ratchet grumbled good-naturedly.

“So, what did you think?” Carly pressed with an exasperated glance at her bonded. She appeared a bit stressed, Ratchet thought again.

“She has profound knowledge of her profession,” he answered truthfully. “And she seems to truly care about you. I think we’ll be a great team.”

“Really?” Carly visibly relaxed at this. “Oh, thank God. She didn’t like our plan very much, you see. I was hoping that, if you two got along well, it would make her change her mind...” All of a sudden, her eyes filled with tears. “I so much want to have my baby here...” Ratchet watched in horror when she started to sob.

“And you will, Carly,” he said hastily. “Everything’s fine, we’ll take care of you...” He glanced at Spike, silently pleading for help. The young man wrapped his wife in a tight embrace, rocking her and whispering soothingly into her ear. Carly wiped her cheeks clumsily.

“Sorry,” she murmured. “I’m sorry, I’m being stupid, I just... I think I’m just tired.”

“No wonder,” Spike said. “You two missed your afternoon nap today.” He stroked one hand over her belly lovingly, and Carly smiled through her tears.

That decided it for Ratchet. He had to know.

“Carly, would you mind terribly if I borrowed your bonded for a klik?” he asked. “There’s this odd, ticking sound in my engine, and I hoped Spike could have a look...”

They both looked at him a bit perplexed. “Uh... yeah, sure,” Spike said finally. “Sure I can do that.” He glanced at his wife. “That alright?”

Carly’s answer was a mixture between a nod, a shrug and a tentative smile. “Yeah, okay. I’ll go in and put my feet up a bit. You guys can take your time.” She kissed her husband on the mouth briefly and gave Ratchet a short wave. “See you later.”

Ratchet waited until she was well out of sight before he turned to Spike. The young man smiled up at him. “Okay, Doc. Where does it hurt?”

“Nowhere, actually.” He transformed into vehicle mode and opened his driver’s door. ”Let’s take a little ride, shall we?”

Spike looked puzzled, but he climbed in nonetheless and fastened the seat belt. Ratchet closed the door and pulled off at an unhurried pace.

It was only a short while before Spike broke the silence.

“Is... is something wrong, Ratchet?” he asked softly. “With Carly? Or... with the baby?”

“No, no,” Ratchet answered quickly, realizing his mistake. “No, they’re fine. I’d just like to ask you something, if that’s alright with you.”

Spike noticeably relaxed in his seat. “Oh. Yeah, sure. Fire away.”

Ratchet had no idea how to phrase such a question politely, so he decided to be blunt. “I just learned you won’t be with Carly when your sparkling is born.”

Even through his upholstery, he could feel the tension in Spike’s muscles return. “Yeah,” he murmured. “Yeah, we... decided it would be best this way.”

“It confused me,” Ratchet admitted. “You’ve been so attentive to Carly all this time that I just supposed you would stay with her during the birth, too. And I... wondered if there’s a problem I can help you with.”

To be honest, he was beginning to worry about his human friend. Spike had sagged against the seat back, running his hand across his face distractedly. His adrenaline levels were too high, and his pulse beat too fast. “I can’t do this, Ratchet,” he said hoarsely.

“You can’t do what?”

“I’ve seen pictures,” Spike said, staring out of the side window like hypnotized. “Video clips. I nearly threw up, Ratchet, I just couldn’t handle it. All the blood and the pain and I... I couldn’t bear to see Carly like this, Ratchet, and to know that I can’t help her. I mean, I know I should be there with her, I’m her husband, and I’m the reason she’s in this state in the first place, but I just can’t, Ratchet, and I feel so bad about it, I feel like a complete quitter...”

Ratchet had unconsciously slowed down, a bit overwhelmed by the avalanche he had obviously triggered. “Spike, you needn’t justify -“

“I thought this would be easy, Ratchet.” Spike’s hands were clutching his steering wheel now, so hard it almost hurt. “I mean, that’s what all the books and movies tell you, right? You get married, and then your wife has a baby, and then you’re a happy little family. But what about all the things the books don’t tell you? How do you react when you have to get up at 05:30 a.m. to go to work and your wife just wakes you up for the fourth time because she wants a back rub or a milk shake? What do you do when you enter the sitting room and your wife is in there sobbing her heart out for no reason? And I just can’t stop worrying, Ratchet. I worry if the baby will be healthy, or if something’s gonna happen to Carly during the birth. I worry if I earn enough money to make sure Danny gets everything he needs. I worry about all the mistakes I could make, and if my son will even like me, can you imagine that? And then there’s sex, Ratchet!”

Oh no. He didn’t mean... He wasn’t actually going to -

“Carly’s become very... active these past few weeks, you know what I mean? And it’s not that I don’t want to sleep with her, but I’m always so frightened that I hurt her, or that I hurt Danny... there’s not that much room left in there, right? But every time I say no, she’ll throw a tantrum, or she’ll start crying and claiming that I don’t love her anymore. But that’s not true, Ratchet, I do love her, I love them both so much it hurts... what are you doing?”

Ratchet had stopped and killed his engine right in the middle of the desert. He did so for two reasons. First, there was absolutely no need for him to know any details about Spike’s and Carly’s interfacing life. And second, he was getting the distinct impression that he had been seriously neglecting one of his charges these past nine stellar cycles. He had concentrated on Carly and Daniel, since it was the obvious thing to do, but it had never crossed his processor that Spike, who seemed to cope so well, might need his attention, too.

Memo to Ratchet, he thought sourly. Remind myself that I’m a stupid slagger.

He opened a comm. link. “I’m contacting Carly,” he answered to Spike’s question.

“No!” The young man lunged forward and frantically hit the buttons on Ratchet’s dashboard. “No, don’t tell her I talked about this, she’ll kill me...”

Ratchet easily overrode the manual interruption. “I’m contacting Carly,” he repeated calmly, “to let her know you’ll be out for a little longer. Spike, my friend, I think we need to talk.”

It was fairly late when Ratchet finally set foot into the med bay.

The only other bot present at this hour was First Aid, who was busying himself with some data pads and briefly flashed his visor at him in an equivalent of a smile. Ratchet returned the greeting with a short nod, then he sank down into the chair behind his desk and let his head fall back, offlining his optics.

“Long day?” First Aid asked gently.

A noncommittal sound came out of Ratchet’s vocalizer. “You bet. I just barely escaped from the rec room after being cornered by a pile of mechs eager for details about the midwife’s visit.”

“Did you tell them?”

“Oh yeah. I told them a bit about medical confidentiality.”

First Aid laughed softly, but didn’t say any more, and the ensuing quiet felt surprisingly good to Ratchet. He leaned back again and turned his attention to his HUD, where a warning message was blinking, coming straight from his main processor.

He stifled a groan. Yes, yes, he knew that his cache’s memory capacity was nearing its end, and that he really should let his CPU set about sorting and properly filing all that stuff. But since he’d needed all this information frequently during the last few Earth weeks, he’d kept postponing the procedure, and now he’d reached a point where his systems would need some time to cope with the task. Time during which he would be more or less incapacitated, and therefore time he couldn’t afford.

“Can I do something for you, Ratchet?” First Aid inquired.

He flinched a bit and stared at his young colleague. “Sorry?”

“Well, I guess you came here for a reason. And since you’re officially not working...”

Actually, he couldn’t tell what had brought him here. Probably mere force of habit, he guessed.

“No, thanks, Aid,” he said. “I’m fine.”

First Aid was not a mech of many words. He just nodded and turned back to his data pads. Ratchet regarded him thoughtfully. And suddenly he remembered what Smokescreen had said this morning, about him having more allies than he was aware of. First Aid was an excellent medic, dependable and trustworthy. And Carly and Spike were safely back in their quarters and probably would not need him for a while.

He rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand as another warning appeared in his field of vision. Did he dare to hand over the reins, just for a little while? Could he afford that? Could he?

“You... wouldn’t happen to have a CCP, would you?” he asked tentatively.

First Aid looked up from his reading. Ratchet braced himself for a comment, a question, perhaps even a gentle reprimand.

“Of course.” The younger medic got up from his seat and went over to one of the storage cabinets lining the wall. Ratchet blinked in astonishment.

First Aid found what he sought and positioned himself next to one of the medical berths, looking at him expectantly.

It took Ratchet a klik to realize what his colleague was waiting for. “You’re kidding,” he said incredulously.

First Aid’s visor flashed again when he smiled beneath his mask. “If you want me to treat you, we’ll do this right.”

Slowly, Ratchet rose from his seat and took a hesitant step towards the berth. “You’re taking advantage of my desperation,” he accused.

“I learned from the best.” The Protectobot’s optic band shone with mirth.

“That’s what you get for all your trouble,” Ratchet grumbled when he got up onto the berth and carefully laid back. “You take them in, you teach them, you care for them - and the first chance they get, they stab you in the backplates.”

He received no reply, but First Aid’s touch was gentle when he opened a panel in Ratchet’s forearm and picked up the small microchip he had retrieved from the cabinet. It contained a basic program that was meant to be used as a supportive treatment after minor surgery to a bot’s short-term memory, but often found use as a kind of emergency treatment as well, for mechs who tended to overtax their data processing capabilities. Ratchet remembered using it on Prime, Red Alert and Prowl on occasion, but he didn’t recall the last time he himself had needed one.

First Aid clicked the small device into place. “You best shut down all secondary functions,” he advised.

“I know how this works,” Ratchet growled irritably, but nevertheless did as he was told, offlining his optics as well. A soft, electronic sound was all that indicated to him that First Aid started the program.

A small, electric shock made his body jump when the device activated, but he got no chance to protest. The program set to work immediately, overriding all security codes he’d set around his cache and starting to analyze, index and file all the piled-up stuff in there to transfer it to his long-term storage. It was a strange, foreign sensation, but not an uncomfortable one. He felt First Aid’s hand on his shoulder strut.

“Just let me know if anything’s amiss. I’ll be right there.”

“Hmm,” Ratchet answered. His audio receptors picked up the soft sound of his colleague’s retreating steps, and then everything was quiet. He concentrated on that, on this wonderful, blissful silence, while the program worked and the unpleasant sensation of over-fullness in his processor slowly subsided. And suddenly he became aware that this was the first time in over an Earth week that he had absolutely nothing to do.

He had done everything he could. Everything was ready and prepared, arranged and defined. He could do nothing more. The only thing that was now left to do was waiting.

Yes, he thought languidly as his musing reached this point. Perhaps he could really afford to rest a bit for now. Rest so he would be ready when little Daniel decided that he finally wanted to see the world.

When First Aid gently tiptoed over to the berth about half a joor later, he found his superior officer in deep and peaceful recharge.

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