Disclaimers: I don't own these characters. I will try to return them without too much damage.

This is largely the 2007 movieverse – see Author's Note below for details if desired.


"Autobots, roll out!"

Ratchet offered no response to the familiar command, though he might have once. He simply followed Prime and the others back toward the road and watched as Jazz leapt down from the observatory wall, bounced once, then launched himself immediately forward into a flat out dive. Gears and hydraulics groaned, but he hit the ground rolling, completing transformation just before he touched asphalt. Tires squealed and engine roared, then Jazz shot ahead down the road, leaving his companions to transform more carefully and follow.

Ratchet shook his head. Jazz and Bumblebee were the only two on their team with the specs to tolerate those sorts of acrobatics going from robot to alt-mode. Ironhide and Optimus Prime had far too much mass, to say nothing of common sense, and if common sense should ever fail, still there was Ratchet, who would never let them hear the end of it should they attempt such a foolish stunt. Which did not mean he ever approved of such antics, even from his lighter, more compact comrades.

"How many times have I told you?" he would demand. "You're asking for hairline strut stress fractures and a pair of blown tires! Maybe even a compound fracture! Don't you grin and shake your head at me," he would continue hotly over Jazz's unrepentant amusement. "You know what I'm talking about – you've come to me how many times in the past solar cycle to be treated for just those injuries? Four? Five? Primus preserve us, if you won't take care of yourself, Jazz, will you at least consider the example you're setting?"

At which point, Jazz would apologize, humbly and contritely (or at least his amusement was well-concealed), and tell Bumblebee to give Ratchet a hand and benefit from wiser company for awhile than that of one first lieutenant Jazz, formerly of special ops. He would then beat a hasty retreat before any telltale twitch could betray him or his laughter to the medic.

No doubt Jazz was expecting a blistering rebuke for this most recent unnecessary stunt, as per standard Ratchet-operating procedure. Today was anything but standard, however. Things were changing, had changed already, and he was in no mood to pretend otherwise. Therefore, as Ratchet stepped onto the pavement and transformed with far more respect for the effects of gravity on his poor shocks and hydraulics, he kept his peace. What point, after all? His tirades had no effect on the lieutenant, who was constitutionally incapable of staying safely within regular operating parameters - "That's what makes me special ops," Jazz would always quip – and without Bumblebee to use against him, Ratchet had no rhetorical weapons left.

Only the other sort, he thought, grimly, mood darkening further as he ran a quick systems check on the light gun and ammo systems built into his right arm.

The others must have recognized his silence for what it was. Indeed, Jazz piped back, over the all-call comm channel, "Guys, Ratchet ain't even yellin', and you're dragging your tailpipes like you were driving on gravel!"

Half serious, half goading, that comment. Ratchet did not waste more than five words on it. "Shut up and drive, Jazz," he shot back over a short-frequency private channel.

An electronic squawk, the equivalent of a surprised "Huh?", was the response, before Jazz, ever adaptable, replied, crisply, "You got it, doc. Just remember we need speed and formation is safer – let's get off this two-lane and onto the highway, all right?"

Which just told Ratchet that Jazz, too, was worried—desperately so. Of course he was. He and Bumblebee were good friends, sharing more than just the regular hardships of a close-knit team. Light and agile, insatiably curious, innovative, adaptable and sporting more firepower for their size than any sane being would feel comfortable about, they were the eyes and ears of the Autobots: the first in to assess a situation and the last to leave it before the heavy artillery came out. Spies and saboteurs, to put it bluntly, smart, devious, deadly... and too often very much alone out there. They were all of them alone, of course, but Jazz and Bumblebee more than the rest of them.

Yet they never said 'no' to a mission, and it had gotten so that Ratchet could discern sometimes when they were about to go on one: there was a certain hard-edged wildness that leaked around the irreverent cheer, a certain not-quite-careless glee that lent an unsettling glow to blue optics. Whenever he saw it, he would groan inwardly and start inventory, in preparation for the worst. And when they did come back, sometimes whole, sometimes in pieces, sometimes under a black pall, he would drag them aside for diagnostics or repair, listen to their tales, snarl and scold and plead for a little seriousness, a little common sense and care for their poor, abused parts, to say nothing of his own circuits. It never worked. Prime said they were dedicated and Prowl called them gamblers; Ratchet called them (among other things) fuse-blown maniacs.

They were also two of the most good-natured, magnanimous Autobots one could hope to meet, and Ratchet had been forced to watch as the war cut into them without mercy. It was an awful thing to see, but there was nothing anyone could do about it, not really. Everybody bled, everybody raged, everybody had his own way of talking a friend down from the plunge into true despair, which was the true measure of devotion in the midst of all the madness of war. Jazz and Bumblebee had kept each other sane for a very long time in places other Autobots could not go, despite (or perhaps because of ) their being more than a bit unhinged, in Ratchet's opinion. Now, though...

Ratchet remembered Bumblebee's last, disoriented, and fearful transmissions, and weighed the fierce, dark edge to Jazz's tone against the conviction that had been building in him since they had first gotten word from Bumblebee confirming the Allspark's presence on this planet, and he felt his spirits sink still further. From the moment they had known it was here, everything had changed, and they had yet to see the farthest-reaching effects. But whatever those might be, the more immediate effects, in the form of Decepticons and unwanted choices, were bearing down upon them with all the brute force of necessity. Nor was there any escape from them—that, he did not doubt.

For Ratchet himself was an intuitive 'bot. Oh, he was precision itself, to a ridiculous number of decimals, when it came to the care of his patients – a medic had to be. But a good medic – a real doctor, as opposed to a simple, if skilled, technician – could not only deal in probabilities and the strict parameters of frame and programming specs. He could not, because his patients were not merely the sum of their parts, or the tech specs their body designs or processing algorithms designated. Medicine was a messy, risky business that required more than the merciless mathematical odds and calculations. Ratchet ran at least as much intuitive programming as Jazz did, but with even less of a check on it; Jazz, after all, like Optimus, had to be able to see the larger picture at some point, and that picture was framed with the brutal calculus of wartime necessities.

A calculus that Ratchet found utterly incompatible with his own algorithms, a sort of logic that his processors choked on. He had tried it once. Back on Cybertron, before Tyger Pax, before he had met Optimus Prime or any of the others, he had been a surgeon trying to stay neutral, trying simply to process the casualties, get them stabilized and out of the ERB. Then Praxus City had been hit, and the Emergency Repair Bay he had worked in had been the nearest facility. Every surgeon and trainee had been called in to receive the wounded and the dying, and for all his training, he had been so appalled by the carnage within the first half an hour that he had been within moments of blowing a fuse. His superior had, fortunately, noticed the problem and sidelined him.

"Take fifteen minutes," the head surgeon had ordered tersely. "Get a hold of yourself, Ratchet – and if you can't do it yourself, then switch over to TRIApram. We need you on that floor."

TRIApram, as every medic knew, was the set of subroutines that usually operated in the background, subordinate to higher level programming. It was a diagnostic program, one that allowed a medic to look at his casualty roster and know who could be saved and who could not, given the available resources. There were many battlefield surgeons, however, who ran it at a higher level, disabling, until it was calm again, most of their emotional processing power and any intuitive programming not connected with diagnostics. In those days, Ratchet had even known a few ERB-based trauma surgeons who did the same thing and swore by it.

Ratchet had never done it; he did not like the idea of disconnecting so much, but that day, he had looked out at the ERB, filled to overflowing, and with no end to the incoming casualties in sight, and made a decision. He had switched TRIApram over to primary processing and set the rest to standby, then plunged right back into the chaos.

And it had worked.

He had gone for almost 72 hours without hitting recharge once, given that he was actually saving power – intuitive programing and emotional processing were heavy draws, as everyone knew. He could have kept going another twelve hours or maybe more had not the head surgeon insisted on resting half his team, Ratchet among them. He had powered down without protest, recharged, and been back to work without complaint or discomfort within six hours.

It had been a week before it was finally over, and the Decepticons had set up base in Praxus, while the Autobots had established a cordon sanitaire about it. A week before Ratchet had finally reset his systems to their usual settings.

He had never altered them since.

It was the quiet, he had decided eventually. The utter sense of quiet efficiency that TRIApram enabled when run as one's primary system, and which had let him go so long without tiring or feeling a thing, was more than simply disturbing. As far as Ratchet was concerned, it was an abomination, and as he had made the rounds of his patients, counting up the horrific number of them, and the even more horrific number of deceased, his sense of moral dissonance had but waxed. No one should be able to look upon such carnage and feel nothing – not unless the one in question was in shock. He thought of all the decisions he had made that past week – who would live, who would die, what procedures to carry out – and wondered who that strange mech was who had so coolly doomed some of the wounded with a press of a button. Whoever he was, while Ratchet could not fault his decisions, he loathed him and had vowed never to let him emerge again.

His resolve had but been strengthened when he had realized that many of his Decepticon patients were running a similar program almost non-stop that overrode certain crucial subroutines: TACCOMpram, the military program analogue, was undoubtedly what kept otherwise fairly fractious personalities (they were weapons, after all) from fragging each other. It also very effectively dampened any sense of guilt or responsibility – casualties were neat, clean numbers under the domain of tactical necessity, and the rest was an unfettered glorying in one's own purpose.

It had been that, in the end, that had driven him from the ERB to the battlefield with an Autobot decal. He was a medic, bound to do no harm, and yet...

And yet there was more to it than that. There was no merit where there was no effort, not in this case. After Praxus and TRIApram, an unease had crept over him, thrumming in his subroutines, and he had begun to look about at what had been his life then—at the orderly chaos of the ERB and the quiet of his recharge berth and office... and at the Autobots who clustered ever more thickly about the perimeter of the ERB. They were not all visitors to wounded friends, and an ever increasing number of them were guards. Not simply guards to watch the Decepticons who were being treated, but guards guaranteeing access to the ERB. A part of him had bristled at them, sensors pinging with outrage, detecting the telltale radiation and crackle of energy weapons on standby, out of sight but ready at a moment's notice. He was a healer, and the thought of making oneself into a weapon threatened to short out his wiring.

Despite that, he could never quite bring himself to comment on the... obscenity... of weapons in a repair bay. He could not, because at just the crucial moment when temper and righteous horror came together, one of the Autobots would look at him, and it was as though his power mains had been cut. They had made themselves over into monstrosities, so far as he was concerned, but monstrosities were not supposed to look like that: as if they were a mirror of his outrage... or as if he were a mirror for theirs. As if they knew...

They could have run TACCOMpram or similar programs and cut the rest to secondaries. And it was not that no one did among the Autobots – he had seen plenty who did. But he saw also that they turned them off sometimes, even often, and that many refused to switch such programs over to primary. Those latter came home battered in more than body, and they raged and they grieved and they broke – and despite himself Ratchet had watched achingly as they just kept going right back into the maw of war.

"War's killing us, yeah," one of them had said, a young miner converted fit with one of the heavy infantry corps, as Ratchet had fussed over his blown motor circuits. "But I want to know I'm alive before I go – ain't never gonna let it be otherwise. 'Sides," he had added, and shrugged helplessly – or rather, twitched, given the damage, "they're my friends. Should hurt when they don't come back."

If Ratchet considered the matter, he suspected that it was at that moment that things had begun to shift for him. Call him masochistic, but he had felt a fierce affirmation in the face of those words and the simplicity of the creed embedded in them. As the deaths had mounted, and it had become increasingly clear that war would force a choice on them all, he had come to a decision. He would not forsake, he had told himself, his conviction that it was better to die than to kill; he would still be a medic, not a combat warrior. But he had hung up his neutrality and volunteered himself to the first Autobot on his discharge roster. And that had been that.

It had been a long time ago, all such decisions – long even as Transformers kept time. He had earned his reputation as a battlefield surgeon a thousand times over. He had been with Optimus for much of it, had suffered to the point of regretting his own decision, but still he had held on, and the Autobots around him were a large part of the reason he was still in this thing with his sanity intact. Naturally, they also drove him to the brink of a short-circuit, but even if he would never admit it, he needed that sometimes. Often times, in fact – it was a better sort of crazy than some others.

For despite the decal, he had not been made to war, hence his reluctantly adopted light weaponry. He had endured that operation as a necessary evil. He had probably fired his gun with intent to harm a hundred times – which, considering how long they had been fighting, and over how many star systems, was a minuscule number of times. He had never killed anyone, had never attempted it, for all that he slogged through the PT courses Ironhide and Jazz insisted upon for all unit members. It just was not in him to do that. That he would put himself between his patient and harm was a given; and he had found himself capable of wounding the enemy on occasion, when it was a choice between the life of an injured comrade and the crucial minute or two before aid arrived. But he balked at killing, and Optimus Prime wisely respected that and did not ask him to give more than he had in him to give.

Today, though, might well ask of him what Prime did not. Ratchet had been getting that feeling for some time now, for despite his non-military nature, of necessity he had picked up a thing or two over the centuries. And he could calculate odds, if in his own way.

So he knew that there were two kinds of battles, decisive and holding actions, and that the latter tended to tip over into the former when certain kinds of events happened. When certain kinds of objectives were at stake, materially, then matters got, as the humans said, 'ugly'.

For that was when the dying truly began.

For beings such as Transformers, tough as the planet that bore them, made to endure beyond all enduring that human beings and other more delicate organisms could possibly imagine, death was a long time coming, and hard at that. Even in war. Parts could be traded, repaired, upgraded, rebuilt; bodies could be scrapped, core programming extracted and re-uploaded. Ratchet had forgotten the number of times he had hard-dumped the core programming of an expiring friend into his own backups and so given a second shot at life to one who would otherwise have been lost. Naturally, it was not quite the same—sparks were unique after all, but programming and memory counted for much. So long as there was time to retreat, time to upload, scrap enough to rebuild, one could go a very long time without really losing anyone. Especially with a medic of Ratchet's quality on hand, death could be very rare indeed, even in the absence of the Allspark to rekindle a guttering spark.

Now, though, the Allspark was within their reach—and the reach of their enemies. There was in the battle to come something that had been lacking since Tyger Pax and the great diaspora: a stake that mattered. Materially. Emotionally. Morally. Universally. Utterly. Everything else, the thousands upon thousands of years of fighting it out among the stars since they had left Cybertron, was a border skirmish, fought out on terrain that scarcely mattered, over objectives that (luckily for them) logically need not be tied to just one planet and an otherwise empty patch of space. One could always retreat; one could always find another way.

This time, however, there was no question of disengaging or 'bird-dogging the enemy', according to the charmingly idiosyncratic phrase Jazz had shared with him while downloading the contents of Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. They were going to have to stand.

Already, they were two down: Prowl's signal had disappeared during reentry, and had not reappeared planet side. Ratchet hoped he was alive, that he could be found, but Optimus had warned that they had no time for S&R of the tactician, whether "R" was "rescue" or "reclamation." Then Bumblebee had been captured, and Ratchet did not like to think of what he might endure at the hands of ignorant, ambitious aliens. They were down to four, and if Ratchet were not above common superstition, he would have thought those two misfortunes a sign. As it was, he had only to recall Prowl's painfully logical axioms of war:

Axiom of Warfare 5: Ultimately, given sufficient time, and even odds, the value of skill decreases according to a modified principle of diminishing marginal utility. Numerical strength, mass, and power, inversely, increase in value.

There were four of them against at least five Decepticons who had never been built to be other than weapons. Optimus and Ironhide, Ratchet thought, would hold up well enough on any ordinary day: they had the mass for it, the armor and the toughness. They had the specs for it, and beyond simple design, they had that indefinable something more. For all they had not begun life as weapons, they had always had it in them to fight.

Which left him and Jazz to consider, and for once, Ratchet found himself looking askance at Jazz – at Jazz, who, though he, too, was possessed of that ineffable "something" that made him so fierce a warrior and so good a spy, weighed in at just under two thirds of Ratchet's mass and had relatively light armor for someone who tended to find himself on the front line. Bulky armor or even force-shielding just did not pay – he was too light to handle the weight of hull-plate armor, and EM force-shielding, with its huge power draw, was something that someone of Jazz's size simply couldn't afford. Not without sacrificing his best weapons: speed and maneuverability.

"Bein' quick's a plus for what I do," Jazz had told him once, on the edge of a rather risky operation. "If I'm doin' it right, I get out before it goes straight to scrap."

"And what if you're not doing it right?" Ratchet had demanded, imperiously, trying not to let his worry show too clearly. "What then?"

Jazz had scoffed in that infuriatingly carefree manner of his. "Then you'll be bolting my backside back on, that's what! Ah, don't worry too much, Ratch," the mercurial (and damnably perceptive) creature had said, suddenly serious despite his good humor. "I know my kind of fight, and part of being in my line of business is learnin' the fine art of how to turn pit slag to my advantage. It's all in learning how to stage the sort of fight I can win. I'm good at that; and for the days I mess up, I got Prowl and 'Bee to get me out and you to put me back together."

Not today, though, Ratchet thought, forebodingly. Prowl wasn't here. Neither was Bumblebee. The Decepticons would be gunning for the kill, and a knock-down fight with no room to maneuver was decidedly not Jazz's sort of fight. Ratchet did not like this; he did not like this way of looking at Jazz, and liked less what he saw. For try though he might, he couldn't see how the lieutenant, for all his cleverness, could possibly turn any of it to his advantage in a battle for possession of the Allspark. Which left him to look at himself, at his own choices, and he could feel the shift and slide, as conviction wavered in the face of necessity. We can't disengage, and we can't run, and we're outnumbered. What am I going to do? What do they need me to do? There's no one but us to finish this... If they lost, it would all be for nothing—all the years of exile and fighting and mutilation endured, undone in an instant, and he would have to watch it all come apart, starting no doubt with Jazz. It made his systems want to seize. Primus, I am so sick and tired of useless suf—!

"Optimus to Ratchet." The voice that came over the private com channel was calm enough, but long association and a medic's attention to nuance let Ratchet hear the underlying concern nevertheless.

"Ratchet here, go ahead," he replied, as coolly as he could.

"You've been rather quiet back there," Prime observed.

"Just thinking, Optimus."

"I hope so," the Autobot commander replied, surprising Ratchet, who had expected Prime to dismiss that line as honesty stalling more probing inquiry. Optimus gave a rumble of amusement at his CMO's telling silence. "Ratchet," Prime continued, "I know you have never considered yourself a warrior, and do not care for the details of tactics, but you have been in the field long enough to know how this battle is likely to go."

"If that's your way of saying it's not going to go well, then yes, I know," Ratchet replied, just a touch irritably, even as he struggled to suppress the dread that welled up. It was one thing for him, the lone pacific medic, to think morbid thoughts of the battle to come, expecting the worst; it was another to hear his fears confirmed by his commanding officer.

"It certainly is not a battle I would have picked, given a choice, no," Prime replied, by way of neat evasion. "But there is no choice, and we are short-handed."

At that, Ratchet blew air through his vents, the Transformer equivalent of a sigh. Decision time. And as on that long ago day when he had left the ERB for good, it came more easily than expected—too easily, as he thought in his unhappiness. But regret was a luxury: Prime was waiting on his response. Therefore:

"I know," he said quietly. "And I won't leave you any shorter on firepower than we already are. I'm in, Optimus – full force."

"I never doubted you were," came the response, but before Ratchet could reply to that, Prime said gently, though with clear amusement: "Sometimes you need to say it, Ratchet."

Ratchet, for his part, muttered something bitingly impolite. "Noted," Prime said dryly. "Now listen: I am assigning you to team up with Ironhide on defense. Just follow his lead, and let him soften the opposition up before you move in. And when Megatron arrives, you let me take him first – he's my mark."

"Aye, sir," Ratchet replied. But then: "Optimus?"

"Yes?"

"What about Jazz?"

"He'll take point and do strafing runs and interference," came the smooth, captainly reply. Had Ratchet been in a position to do so, he would have grimaced. Trust Prime to know when to take advantage of an ambiguity! But before Ratchet could insist upon an answer to the real question, Prime continued: "Jazz knows his business, Ratchet. Let him be about it, and leave the worrying to me."

With that, the channel was cut before any further questions could be asked or protests raised. So that's how it is, Ratchet thought, worrying nonetheless. For though Optimus would never admit it, it was obvious that the CMO was not the only one concerned. No doubt, Prime had come to the same conclusions Ratchet had much earlier – he was Prime, after all; strategy and tactics were his business, and the Autobots would not have lasted as long as they had had he not been frighteningly good at it.

Which made the coming battle no less dreadful to contemplate, but Optimus was right in the end. Ratchet had his own duty to look to now, and he could not afford to do the duty of two. His own would be work enough for him. Still...

"Ratchet to Jazz," he said, opening a tightwave channel to the lieutenant once more. Music blared back over the airwaves a moment before Jazz turned the volume down.

"Yeah, doc?"

"I'm on defense with Ironhide," he told him curtly. "So I'd take it as a kindness if you'd spare me any additional duties and keep your tin-plated hide intact, because so help me, if you get your chassis shot to scrap, I won't be using an arc-welder on you. Got it?"

There was a moment's silence, then: "You've got one helluva bedside manner, Ratch, you know that?" Then: "Don't worry, doc. Things work out – ain't no other way to think. Just roll with it, let Ironhide do what he does best and keep your head down and your guns up."

"And how, pray tell, am I supposed to shoot with my head down?" Ratchet demanded.

Laughter floated back to him. "You'll figure it out. We ain't been at you all these years with those training runs for no reason, you know. You're not so bad at 'em as you might think." And when Ratchet uncharacteristically said nothing in response to this unexpected and, to his mind, back-handed compliment, Jazz gave a short snort, a quick, hard cycle of vents. "Doc, trust me on this one: whatever happens, you're gonna be all right. I know it - I got faith." With that, Jazz cut the channel.


In a way, Jazz had been right: things had "worked out" in the end. Or at least, the Decepticons had not obtained the Allspark, though no one could have predicted the means to their salvation. Ratchet stared at the human boy, unconscious on Bumblebee's hood, fingers laced with those of his... 'girlfriend,' Ratchet thought was the term. Chance had put the boy in just the right place, at just the right time – if Megatron's vents hadn't cycled just then, there would have been no way to access his spark chamber, and Ratchet and his fellows would have been scrap... or worse. There was always a need for a medic, at least, and obedience could be enforced with the right program...

At least that had not happened to Jazz himself. Which hardly made what had happened any more bearable, and Ratchet bitterly cursed Megatron's brutality. For as many times as I've repaired Jazz, I could've rebuilt his whole frame, if his spark chamber had been intact! But the Decepticon commander had known precisely what he was doing; there had been no chance to save Jazz. None whatsoever. Vents cycled heavily as Ratchet transformed and stood, walking over to the cliff where Optimus Prime stood, staring up at the glorious evening sky, so different from Cybertron's.

"We'll begin an S & R tomorrow," the Autobot commander said softly, apropos of nothing. And when Ratchet simply stared at him, he added, by way of explanation: "Prowl."

Prowl. With a shock, Ratchet realized he had not given much thought to their missing tactician. He had been too taken up with the repairs that inevitably followed any major action to devote much time to anything else. Ironhide and Prime had needed a good bit of bodywork, but by comparison with Bumblebee's repairs, they had come through the ordeal remarkably well. Their younger comrade's repairs had been extensive and intricate, and there was the additional mystery of how his vocalizer had suddenly come back to life without warning. Beyond that, of all of them, Bumblebee had predictably taken Jazz's loss the hardest. Therefore, however... odd... to think of the Autobot's remaining spy assigned to a fragile human being, Ratchet was grateful if Sam's presence brought him some measure of peace. It was the one bright spot in all the work of the past week, which had left him in his usual foul mood as he contemplated the number of outrages one could heap upon a body.

Ratchet himself had worked 'til he was on the verge of forced recharge, and then worked some more, because it was better, in the end, than sitting still. Stillness meant having nothing more to do but live with the raw sense of absence, of there being a hole in him – in all of them – where Jazz should have been. Primus it hurt, and he had never found this world uglier than during those long hours of rest, when he had too much time to think himself into a wholly irrational hatred of this place where the long odds had finally caught up to them, robbing them of Jazz, and taking so many other innocents with him before they knew what was happening, even.

Which did not really excuse the lapse where Prowl was concerned. Prowl, after all, might still be alive, might not be beyond help, and he was a healer, made to serve. He was also a mechanoid who was not about to lose another friend in the wake of a funeral, if it could be at all avoided.

"I suppose, since Bumblebee is stationed with Sam, that Ironhide and I will go?" he asked.

"Ironhide can handle any trouble that may turn up, unlikely though it is," Optimus replied. "And at the very least, you'll be needed to repair or reset Prowl's transponder and comm unit."

"Do we have any notion where he might have made planetfall?"

"I have his telemetry data from just before atmospheric reentry," Optimus said. "I've already extrapolated the coordinates and a search field."

Ratchet hesitated a moment. It was logical – certainly, it was recommended procedure, if you could spare a medic, to send him on S & R missions. Such missions were, in fact, part of Ratchet's prescribed regular duties. They were certainly more regularly his reason for working with Ironhide than assisting in laying down cover fire or dismantling Brawl one part at a time! The thought still made him flinch inside, which was why he looked sideways at his commander. After so long a time together, it was second nature to keep a watch on the others – whatever the differences in rank, they had to keep each other, because it was for damn sure no one else would. Which was why he said, after a moment:

"Jazz was right, you know."

"Oh?"

Ratchet nodded, and he gestured to the lush green world about them, and to the Camaro quietly playing music to his sleeping charges. "Things work out. They change, but they go on."

Optimus regarded him for a long minute, then said, "You did well in Mission City, Ratchet."

"I know," Ratchet replied. And he did know it. Given his limits, he had done very well. "I – it is not something I am proud of, Prime. Though," he added quickly, "I'd rather the others not know that. Jazz and Ironhide were – are – good instructors, and I would stand with any of you, it's just that - "

Prime grunted at that, his motor whirring gently, and he laid a firm, reassuring hand on Ratchet's shoulder, stopping the flow of words. "I know," he said simply.

For a time, they stood in companionable silence, each preoccupied with his own thoughts. At length, though, Prime spoke again. "We will not be returning home. There is nothing to return to, with the Allspark destroyed. And we do not know Barricade's status, nor when Starscream might return for vengeance. So we cannot leave this place – the humans would be without defense. I can but hope other Autobots will hear our message and join us, for we cannot hold the Decepticons off with so few for very long."

Ratchet was silent. He knew this, of course – the destruction in Mission City alone had been staggering. Bumblebee and Optimus would be working steadily to help the humans rebuild, while he and Ironhide were away seeking Prowl. Despite his moments of pure loathing for this fragile place that had had the misfortune to house the Allspark, that had seen him throw over the principle he held most dear in a fruitless effort to make enough of a difference to save a friend, he was not the sort to wish such loss and horror on another sentient being. Homelessness wounded deeply; he could not truly want for others to be brought to such grief.

But that was the medic in him speaking. Prime, for all his compassion, was not a medic, and that was not what he was telling Ratchet, however obliquely. This place and these people had a claim on them, that was certainly true, to protect them from a war they had had no part in, that had been forced upon them by others. Yet that did not change the dire straits that Prime's squad faced. They were still short-handed. And even if others responded to their call and joined them, still, they would have something that the Decepticons lacked: a ground they could not surrender. For the first time in a shockingly long while, the Autobots had more to lose than their own lives, and the Allspark was not even at issue.

There will be more need to stand; fewer skirmishes, fewer retreats.

More need of those willing to make such stands; more need of those willing to take up arms. Prime was giving him fair warning, he supposed. Was he ready to say yes to that sort of duty? To be not simply a medic, but a soldier-surgeon who would go armed onto that field and fight to kill on command?

"Optimus," he murmured, "I don't know if I -"

"I am not asking you to decide," Prime said quickly. "Not yet. I am simply warning you that there may come a time when I must ask. And when it does, I do not wish you to think there is any doubt of your loyalty, or that I would receive your answer in so mean a spirit. But loyalty and necessity do not go neatly hand in hand, as well you know."

"No, they do not," Ratchet said heavily. And then he gave Prime a knowing look, and said, "I was built to protect lives – a medic's first duty is to do no harm. It does not mean I do not understand other duties. If recent events have shown anything, it is that I understand a little too well." He shook his head, but did not falter as he finished: "You are our Prime - you could not do otherwise than ask me, should the day come."

He knew the tacit pardon had been accepted when his commander replied, "Thank you, Ratchet." Optimus then gave him a rueful look. "This war has taken its toll on all of us," he said, "but it has been hardest on you."

At that, Ratchet growled softly, uncomfortably. "I don't know how you can say that when I'm the only one who's got some original parts left! How many times have the lot of you gotten yourselves slagged?" But before Optimus could answer, he waved it all away. "When I joined the Autobots, I did not do so with the notion that I was saving myself any grief. I do not take vows lightly, either the ones I swore as a healer or the one I swore as an Autobot. So they conflict sometimes – I knew that going in. We all suffer in our own ways."

He shrugged, heaved a sigh as he stared at the western horizon, where there remained a bold brilliance. The wind kicked up, rustling the leaves of the trees that surrounded them, and the grass, and below, he could see ripples on the water – water! - of the lake. Earth was precisely the opposite of Cybertron: lush, green, wastefully profligate and delighting in it so far as species and color were concerned. A strange world to call home. Jazz would have loved it.

Meanwhile, his commander was staring at him still, and he could feel the concern that lingered. Ratchet could (quietly) appreciate it, but though he would be, he knew, a long time reconciling himself with his actions at Mission City, he had told Optimus the truth earlier. Jazz was right, much though I'll hate him for it. Maybe as much as I'll hate him for getting himself killed. At least for a little while, Ratchet thought. So he answered the unspoken concern by reaching to lay a hand – the left one, not the right with its weaponry tucked just under his 'skin' - on Prime's arm. "Don't worry about me, Optimus," he said firmly. "I'll be all right."

"You're certain?"

"Yeah. I'm all right. We'll all be all right, even though we'll hurt like acid for awhile – I've got faith."

Optimus Prime was silent for a moment, but then his optics began to glow a little more brightly. "Get some rest, Ratchet – you've got an early call tomorrow."

"Aye, sir."

With that, Optimus returned to his sky-gazing. Ratchet watched with him for a little while, but not for long. He did have a mission, as Prime had said. And so: Good night, Jazz, he thought. And: We're coming, Prowl. Just hold on awhile longer, because it is going to be all right. It's got to be.


A/N: Of all the stories I ever thought I'd write, this is probably the proverbial last one. The special effects were shiny and all, but that's usually not enough to get my attention, creatively. I think it was more the pacifist wielding a rotary blade that made me go "Huh?" after reading Ratchet's profile on Wikipedia.

Otherwise, I watched the first Transformers series when I was... five? Six? The result: I remember practically nothing, though Wikipedia and fansites with stats have supplied basic information about the (multiple) series and characters. Youtube has helped a little, as well, but I've not rewatched much of that first series and frankly, the 2007 movie remains the far bigger motivation to write for me. Unfortunately, the 2007 movie did very little to develop the supporting Autobot characters, and I've only read Ghosts of the Past , where nothing is said of pre-Tyger Pax days or how any of the Autobots came to be Autobots. If my account contradicts a canonical story relevant to the 2007 movieverse time line, mea culpa.

Other than the incongruity of a pacifist with a weapon, fanfiction is largely responsible for my interest in Ratchet, and has provided at least a certain character-consistency in its depictions of him. I fully admit however that I'm making use of fanon more than direct exposure to the animated series. However, since fandom did rouse my interest in Ratchet specifically, it is fitting to give it its due, since it gave him something Bay's movie did not: a discernible personality!

The Prowl thing – just a guess, one that doesn't contradict anything at this point. And it was convenient to have another lost comrade lurking in the background of Ratchet's concern.

The dialect thing – I can't do Bay!Jazz with any accuracy, since that's not a lingo I know. I've seen a lot of attempts to reproduce, apparently in all fidelity, a G1 accent for him in fanfic. I find I don't have the background to do that, and probably wouldn't even if I had watched the original episodes. Dialect mimicry is not my strength, so I've tried to restrict Jazz to slightly more somber moments when he might possibly be a little less slangy and glib.

Sources and the like

Sizes of 2007 movieverse Autobots: I got a list of heights from this page:

cybertron dot blog dot com backslash 1480813 backslash

Wikipedia provides slightly different heights for Ratchet and Bumblebee, and none whatsoever for Prime or Jazz (other than to note that he is the smallest Autobot in the film). No stats on estimated mass, but Jazz looks pretty sleek compared to Ratchet. I figured that Jazz is between 58 and 70 percent of Ratchet's height. That averages out to Jazz being just a little less than 2/3 Ratchet's size, and so, on the admittedly shaky premise that mass and height are proportional, that's the figure I used in the story when comparing masses.

As noted, Wikipedia and Youtube have been helpful – huzzah for basic profiles and time lines, multiple clips of the final battle of Mission City, and for entire episodes to watch.

Also, fanficcers – Straya, Tirya King, Wyntir Rose, The Starhorse deserve a mention since I have no doubt that their portrayals have been instrumental in getting me to write, but also in providing the aforementioned general characteristics of Ratchet that influenced my decision to give him a somewhat gruffer, more crotchety voice than I ever got from Bay's film.