Author's note: I can't believe I really did it: I finished this story! Thank you all so very much for your interest, your support and your patience. This fic has probably been my biggest adventure so far, and I'm happy that so many people took pleasure in reading it. Please take this final chapter as a small Christmas gift ;-) See you around!
Disclaimer: I do not own The Transformers, and I do not make any money with this.
Epilogue: Baby on Board
Not even Elena was able to hide her grin as the 'bunch of moronic robots' came tiptoeing into the room and gathered around Carly's berth in a half cycle. They did so without any fuss or disorder, quickly yet quietly, and Ratchet wondered briefly why this surprised him so much. He of all 'Bots should know that these mechs were soldiers to the core.
As always, the thought left him gloomy.
His human charge, however, was clearly not troubled by such musings, as she favored the assembled crew with a wide and happy grin.
"Morning, guys," she greeted them cheerfully. "Don't tell me you've been standing out there all night?"
"Indeed." Prime's optics twinkled with undisguised amusement as he stepped closer and lowered himself to one knee. "Congratulations, Carly," he said warmly. "How are you?"
"Tired," she admitted.
"I should think so. Ratchet tells me you did an amazing job in here."
Carly smiled. "I had some help," she said softly.
Optimus looked at his CMO, and there was such deep approval in his gaze that, for a moment, Ratchet felt like a young cadet who had just received praise from his superior for the first time.
"Indeed," Optimus repeated quietly before his optics shifted to the tiny bundle in her arms, and his gaze visibly softened. "Will you introduce me to your offspring, Carly?"
"Of course." She adjusted her grip so she could lift her son up a bit to give Optimus a better view and leaned her head against the baby's. "Optimus Prime," she said solemnly, "please meet our son Daniel Witwicky. Daniel, this is our friend Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Say hello." She took one of Daniel's tiny hands and waved it gingerly.
Optimus gently inclined his head towards the newborn sparkling. "It is an honor to make your acquaintance, Daniel Witwicky," he replied, picking up on Carly's formal tone. Slight fluctuations in his energy field indicated to Ratchet the basic scan he gave the recharging infant.
"He seems to be a very fine specimen of your species," he remarked eventually.
"Fine!" Spike snorted, like someone who has just been mortally offended. "He's not 'fine'. He's perfect! He's the most perfect specimen this race has ever seen!"
And before he could stop himself, a resolute "I second that," slipped out of Ratchet's vocalizer.
Optimus threw both of them an amused glance before he lifted one hand and carefully brought it close to Daniel's tiny head.
Even the smallest of his fingers appeared gigantic next to the miniature newborn. Elena stiffened and sucked in a sharp breath, but neither Spike nor Carly looked the least bit worried, and Ratchet, too, felt no need to intervene. He knew first-hand how infinitely gentle those massive hands could be, not to mention that Prime would rather extinguish his own spark than to harm an innocent being. He gave the midwife at his side a reassuring smile.
Elena still looked extremely doubtful, but did not protest when Optimus cautiously extended one finger towards Daniel's face. Barely the tip of it stroked down the sparkling's soft cheek, applying no more pressure than a gentle breeze would have done.
Daniel recharged on completely undisturbed, and a deep, intensive glow lightened Prime's optics.
"Welcome, little one," he murmured tenderly.
Judging from the flares in various energy fields Ratchet's sensors picked up, his spark wasn't the only one to give a small surge. He could hear feet scraping across the floor, necks were craned, and something small and yellow caught his optic. Prime, obviously having noticed it, too, turned around to look at his crew.
Bumblebee had left the frontmost line he'd been standing in and had approached a few steps in an attempt to get a glimpse at whatever might be behind Optimus' broad shoulder struts. When he noticed his commander's gaze on him, he stood at attention and saluted.
"Permission to have a look, sir."
It was impossible to not be amused by this, and consequently, Prime's exhilaration was almost tangible.
"Permission granted," he said as he stood up to make room for him.
The eagerness with which the yellow scout took his leader's place was endearing. He dropped to his knees next to the berth so he was more or less on eye level with the two humans.
"Hey, Carly! My congrats! Geez, you look great!"
Carly laughed gently. "Thanks, 'Bee. And thank you for playing chauffeur again." She touched his hand briefly.
"Aw, 's okay. Glad to be of service. Can I say hello?" He glanced down at her arms expectantly.
Both Spike and Carly grinned as they proudly presented their offspring to the eager minibot. "Danny, please meet our friend Bumblebee," Carly introduced.
"Better known as 'Your personal transport 'til you get your own driver's license'," Spike quipped, and was nudged by his bonded in playful reproach, but Bumblebee clearly didn't mind his friend's teasing. He leaned a bit closer.
"Hey there, little fella. Nice to meet you. Designation's Bumblebee, but you can call me 'Bee."
One of Daniel's hands, the one Carly had dislodged from the blanket, was lying next to his small face, and, obviously encouraged by his Prime's example, Bumblebee reached out with one finger and gently touched it to the sparkling's soft palm.
The tiny fingers closed around the dark appendage in a loose grasp.
The little scout's engine gave a short, surprised rev as he jerked at the unexpected reaction, but he did not pull away. Spike laughed at the expression of utter amazement on his friend's faceplates. "See?" he said. "He already likes you."
That was of course an exaggeration, but in view of the smiles surrounding him, Ratchet didn't have the spark to protest. Bumblebee positively glowed with pride, and perhaps that was what prompted Carly's next question.
"Wanna hold him?" she asked.
Ratchet cocked his head in surprise. If anything, he'd have expected one his comrades to request such a thing, but not for Carly to offer it so freely. But here she was, regarding the minibot with a fond look as he stared down at her.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea, love." A deep frown dominated Elena's expression as she took a step closer. "Remember, he's barely an hour old."
She was right, Ratchet thought. Their job was to assure Daniel's health and wellbeing, and he probably shouldn't be moved around too much so soon after his birth.
"I can assure you that there is no risk for Daniel involved, Miss Quintana. Our species possesses appropriate soft- and hardware to handle objects of sizes so small your language doesn't even have a word for it. A human sparkling shouldn't pose a problem."
Okay, he definitely needed to check the connection between his CPU and his vocalizer.
"He's right, you know," Spike told her. "I've seen these guys work miracles with circuitry I could barely make out in the first place. 'Bee won't hurt my little boy."
"Especially since he knows that he'll spend the rest of his existence as a human kitchen device if he does," Ratchet added with the sweetest of smiles, ignoring Bumblebee's rather indignant glare.
A soft, sly grin spread over Elena's face as she looked back and forth between them. "Three against one, it seems," she asserted. "Alright, then. Go ahead."
Carly shifted Daniel in her arms, preparing to hand him over. "Hold out your hand," she instructed, and when Bumblebee did, Spike assisted her in gently placing their recharging offspring down onto the minibot's dark palm.
The first touch of the tiny weight on his plating caused Bumblebee's optics to flash brightly in excitement, and Ratchet's skilled sensors picked up a wide variety of reactions in the scout's systems, from the quickening of his spark pulse frequency to the carefully controlled change of temperature in the metal of his palm as he adjusted the warmth of his plating to that of the sparkling's body. Apart from that, however, he sat utterly still and peered down at the small creature in his hand in utter enthrallment.
"Wow," he murmured. "Hello, glitchmouse."
It was strangely charming to hear him slip into their native tongue in mid-sentence, so that the last part came out as a soft, chirring sound. Their assembled comrades seemed to take this as some kind of signal, for they carefully began to edge closer one by one to finally get a proper look at their latest crew member. The group had grown, Ratchet noticed; he spotted Silverbolt and Slingshot, Perceptor and Skyfire in the background, and also some of the Protectobots. First Aid was standing near the door, and when their optics met, his young colleague flashed his visor at him and then lifted both hands, giving Ratchet the thumbs-up.
He didn't have time to react, though, because a gentle hand was placed on his shoulder strut, and when he turned around, he saw that Optimus Prime had quietly stepped closer and was regarding him with undisguised pride and fondness.
"Good work," he said.
And since there were so many things Ratchet would have liked to reply that it would have taken him a whole human week, he settled for a simple "Thank you."
The majority of their fellow Autobots had by now tentatively made first contact with the new arrival, some by soft words, others by careful, gentle touches, like Bumblebee had done. Spike and Carly allowed it with proud smiles, and while he watched the scene, Ratchet felt a tender warmth unfold in his spark, tinged with a small shiver he didn't fully comprehend. But the feeling stayed with him, accompanied him through patiently answering a number of questions together with Elena, and made it easy to find a smile also for those of his comrades who kept themselves a bit more in the background, like Skyfire and Ironhide, and even for Tracks, who did a very good job looking as bored and aloof as possible.
But eventually, little Daniel was beginning to register all the talking and touching going on around him. He started to squirm and stretch slowly, making soft sounds of discomfort as he scrunched up his tiny face, ready to wail. Carly reached for her son, and Elena helped her to properly wrap him up in his blanket once more.
"I think it's high time for him to get a good rest now," she stated. "And for you, too, love."
At the word 'rest', Carly had to fight a yawn.
"Sounds good," she said with a small smile at Bumblebee as the minibot got back to his feet. "I'd like to go back to our room, really. You guys mind if we stay a bit longer?"
"You blow some logic circuits, Carly?" Sunstreaker grunted from across the room, and for the first time in what had to be eons, Ratchet did not feel the need to give the yellow twin as good as he got.
"You and your family are welcome to stay as long as you wish, Carly," Optimus told her. "And you know that."
The soft, scraping sound of metal against metal could be heard as Ironhide pushed himself off the wall he'd been leaning on. "A'right, mechs," he commanded, "you heard the boss. Peepshow's over, so get your lazy afts movin' and get back to your posts, you slaggers."
"Put yourself at idle, 'Hide," Hound said placatingly, but nobody argued. They left with a chorus of "Recharge well", and "See you later", and were seen off with happy waves and "Thank you"s in two voices. Optimus, Bumblebee, Wheeljack and Ratchet himself were the only ones to stay behind.
Spike held his son while Elena helped Carly put a thick menstrual pad into her underwear and to shrug on her dressing gown before she took her sparkling back.
"We're going home now, Daniel," she told him. "We have our own little place here, you know, and it's beautiful. You'll love it."
"Don't forget your little friend," Ratchet said, pointing to the teddy bear still sitting on the berth's headboard. Under the amused optics of their companions, Spike took the stuffed animal from his two-fingered grip with a slightly embarrassed-looking grin.
Then, with her bonded on one side, his arm wrapped around her shoulders, and her midwife on the other, Carly left the med bay as a young mother for the first time, escorted by four very proud-looking Autobots.
"I'll drop in from time to time the next few days, dear," Elena said as they slowly walked through the corridors. "To help you settle in properly. And you can of course call me twenty-four-seven if something's wrong or if you need help. For now, I want you to rest as much as possible, and not to strain yourself too much. Give your body time to settle down. Make sure you drink enough, and don't be worried if there's a little blood the first few times you pass water. That's normal."
Ratchet listened carefully, making sure to record every single word. He would need as much information as possible to make sure that he was able to provide proper aftercare for Carly. And sure enough, Elena chose that moment to add: "I trust your husband and your friends here to keep an eye on you, too."
"I'll tie her down if I have to," Ratchet said darkly. Carly looked back over her shoulder, flashing him one of those grins that said: Nah, you won't...
Upon Spike's request, the five of them accompanied the young couple into their quarters, and it was a pity, in Ratchet's opinion, that Grapple and Hoist weren't present now. Hearing Carly murmur "Welcome home, Danny," and seeing her tenderly place her sparkling into the small berth prepared for him would have done wonders to their architect's underdeveloped self-esteem.
Elena shook Spike's hand firmly, and then drew Carly into her arms, giving her a motherly hug and squeezing her hands gently. "I'll be off to my bed now, love," she said with a smile. "Remember, don't overdo it yet. And if you feel that something's amiss, whatever it is, call me and I'll be there. Otherwise, I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Alright," Carly agreed.
"I think we could all do with some sleep," Spike commented while he carefully rocked Daniel's berth, looking up at the four Autobots. "Even you guys."
It was without doubt a sensible suggestion, but Ratchet shook his head. "I'll stay a while longer if you don't mind," he said, "to keep a sensor on you, just for safety reasons. I won't disturb you." He made ready to settle in somewhere out of the way, calibrating his systems for the new task, when a gentle hand on his arm held him back.
"I think we should allow Spike and Carly some solitude now," Optimus said friendly but firmly. "And you should also get some recharge, my friend."
Ratchet stared at him, half put off and half in resentment. He didn't have time for recharge now, couldn't Prime see that?
"My energy levels are within acceptable parameters, thank you," he said pointedly.
"Ah, actually, your reserves are at 68 percent, Ratch," Wheeljack disagreed. "You didn't get too much rest these past few cycles, remember?"
For the first time in a long while, Ratchet felt truly angry with his friend. Why did Wheeljack have to stab him in the back like that?
"Optimus -" he started, but his commander forestalled him with a shake of his head.
"No, Ratchet. You've done a wonderful job, and now I want you to take the rest you deserve. I need my CMO in top form when he returns to his duties."
It took Ratchet a moment to absorb the meaning of those words. From behind his leader's shoulder strut, he could see Wheeljack and Bumblebee grinning at him.
"You know, I think he's right, Ratchet," Carly said thoughtfully. "The both of us have done enough hard work for one day, don't you think?"
A twinge of tender amusement weaved its way into Ratchet's spark when he turned to her and his optics met her eyes. She had done the hard work...
He cycled his vents slowly. "Okay," he conceded. "Alright. But if you need something - anything -, I want you to ping me ASAP, you hear me?"
Carly smiled. "Whom else?"
Despite his good intentions, it took Ratchet some effort to tear himself away from his charges, and thus he was the last of their small group to leave the room when he finally did. The doors closed with the usual soft hiss, and for a brief moment, a feeling of deep loss washed over him.
He resolutely squashed the feeling, displeased with himself. Stop being stupid, you old fool!
"I must thank you again for your assistance, Miss Quintana," Optimus said as they made their way down the corridor. "It is much appreciated."
"My pleasure, Mr. Prime," she replied happily. "I take it my yellow friend here's gonna drive me home?"
"Sure thing, Mrs. Q!" Bumblebee piped up from behind them and Optimus threw his soldier a fond glance.
"I leave you in the best pairs of hands this crew has to offer, Miss Quintana," he said, and though his optics glinted in amusement, his tone left no doubt about his sincerity. "You will kindly excuse me now; my duties are awaiting me."
He gave their guest a nod, which was graciously returned, then turned to his officers. "Wheeljack, would you walk Ratchet back to his quarters?"
"If it's all the same to you, I'll first see Elena off," Ratchet said acidly before his friend had a chance to reply. "Before you have me gagged and tied down, I mean."
Optimus' polite "Of course," only served to prove once again that sarcastic jibes bounced off their Prime like laser shots off a strong energy field. He left them at the next junction of the hallway, ignoring his CMO's scowling faceplates in that serene way of his that never failed to irritate Ratchet to the core.
Neither Wheeljack nor Bumblebee bothered to hide their smirks.
Bright sunlight streamed through the Ark's entrance when they stepped out into the open with Elena in the lead. She blinked a few times, then stretched her arms above her head and took a deep breath.
"Geez, I'm looking forward to a good meal now. And some coffee, perhaps." She turned to smile at them. "Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure working with you. Especially you, doctor."
Ratchet lowered himself to one knee to be a bit closer to her. "Pleasure's all mine," he said, and to his own amazement, he realized that it was true. Elena grinned.
"You'll keep an eye on our new mommy, will you?"
"An optic," he corrected. "And two, even."
"Good." For a moment, she regarded him thoughtfully. "You know, you didn't do too badly in there last night," she said finally.
"Ditto," he replied drily. Elena's eyes glinted with mischief.
"You wouldn't probably be interested in a new job, would you? I could do with a decent apprentice."
Ratchet couldn't help but smirk at the thought. "Who, me?" he teased. "The cold, emotionless robot who knows nothing about human childbirth?"
"I like a good challenge," she shot back, completely unimpressed. He snorted in amusement.
"Glad to be of service. But someone's got to be here to keep these guys together. Literally." He pointed his thumb at his companions, who had politely stayed in the background, but were following the conversation with obvious interest. Elena nodded.
"I know what you mean. But you still got my mobile phone number, right?"
"Yeah," he confirmed, a bit surprised. Did she want him to delete this information?
"Well, I guess you robot guys aren't too fond of coffee shops and such, but if you feel like shop-talking a bit from time to time, then call me. We could always go to a gas station or something."
Ratchet stared down at her in disbelief. Had he just been asked out for a date?
"Yeah, why not?" He tried his best to sound as nonchalant as possible. "I could do that."
"Fine. See you then." She smiled at him again, then turned to Bumblebee and jerked her head at him. "Okay, Mr. B. Let's get going!"
Ratchet began to wonder if he should be worried about these one-letter-nicknames, but then Bumblebee jumped into alt mode - which brought with it the benefit that it wiped the grin off his faceplates - and opened his driver's door for Elena to get in. She fastened the seat belt, giving them a last smile and wave before the little scout revved his engine and took off into the desert.
Seeing her leave felt weird, a bit like coming out of a recharge cycle full of sensor echoes. Had last night actually happened? The fact that he was, indeed, awake became undoubtedly clear to Ratchet, though, when he turned around to find his best friend doubled over with laughter.
"And what exactly is so funny, 'Jack?" As if they didn't know already.
Wheeljack's vocal indicators flashed erratically as he shook his head, still laughing. "A gas station," he gasped out. "Way to go, Ratch!"
"Oh, shut up, dimspark," he grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest plates. "No need to be jealous just because I can still catch a femme's optic."
With an amicable grin, Wheeljack threw an arm around his shoulder struts and squeezed them fondly. "C'mon, ladies' mech. I'm to put you to recharge, remember?"
Ratchet would later think that they should be given some credit for good intentions, at least. As promised, 'Jack had seen him back to his quarters, and he had meant to properly rest and refuel, since by then he'd been beginning to feel the last cycles' energy drain. But the moment the doors closed behind them, something in his core software seemed to click, and his CPU and vocalizer practically jumped into overdrive. There was just so much to tell, so much to share... And Wheeljack hung on his every word, wanting to know everything from medical details to how well his modifications of the equipment had worked for the two humans.
They sat on Ratchet's berth, handing a cube of energon back and forth between them, and Ratchet would talk and gesticulate and share image captures and memory files, and every now and then, when the relived excitement became too great, he would jump up and hasten up and down the room while he spoke, voice raised to drown out the whirring of his own cooling fans.
"I'm gonna write about this, 'Jack," he announced, struck by a sudden epiphany. "I'll be the first Cybertronian medic to write a scientific paper on human reproduction. I can see it already: Human gestation and delivery. By CMO Ratchet. Part One: Conception and first trimester."
It wasn't until an internal reminder informed Wheeljack he was due for his shift that they realized how much time had passed. A quick glance at his chronometer revealed to Ratchet that it was 5:23 p.m.
They had effectively chatted the afternoon away.
"Aw, slag," Wheeljack said, looking sheepish. "Where did the time go? I've kept you from recharging."
Truth be told, Ratchet didn't feel that tired anymore. The energon had helped. But shift was shift, and so he slipped off the berth to see his friend to the door.
"See you tomorrow, then?" Wheeljack asked. "You still haven't shown me those infrared images."
"You'll get a proper slide show," Ratchet promised. Wheeljack's optics flashed in pleasant anticipation before his faceplates turned serious again.
"And you see to it that you catch a few ZZZs," he replied. "You need it, and Prime's gonna kill me if you don't."
Ratchet laughed at the graveness in his voice. "Okay, okay," he agreed. "Don't blow a fuse."
And he really did try. The quietness the room greeted him with after his friend's departure felt soothing to his audio receptors, and the berth, when he dropped back down on it, was still cozily warm from both their chassis. For a moment, he simply enjoyed the feeling, then he shifted into a more comfortable position and waited for his systems to settle down enough for his CPU to provide him with the option of initiating a recharge cycle.
Only that it didn't. That damned processor of his had now reached an agreeable cruising speed, so to speak, busily sorting, indexing and analyzing the load of sensory input it had received during the last joors, and it did not give the impression that it intended to stop in its tracks anytime soon. Of course, he could have interrupted the process and forced his systems to shut down, but forced recharge was seldom a pleasure without pain, and apart from that, he simply didn't feel like recharging. On the contrary, he felt... spurred on somehow, ready to jump into action of any kind - work-happy, the humans would probably call it.
He got up again, starting to idly rub a bit of dust off a shelf with two fingers and to tinker with some items left forgotten on his desk. Maybe he should comm. Carly, just a quick transmission to ask if she felt alright...
No, he told himself firmly. Leave her be. She'll let you know if she needs you.
He sat down on the berth again, fishing around in his nightstand for a datapad with a novel he'd started reading a while ago. Reading was relaxing, right?
His relaxation lasted exactly 3.69 kliks, then he turned off the datapad with an irritated snort. His processor stubbornly refused to be distracted, and his medical subroutines weren't of much help, either. He wanted to look in on his patient, damn it!
And if he just went to Carly's quarters, without actually going in? He could take a quick scan from the outside, just to make sure nothing was amiss, and to see if she was still sleeping. She didn't even have to know. Nobody could reproach him for checking on his patients.
And even if they did, what the frag did he care?
Shift change was long over, and most of the crew members normally spent the evening joors in the rec room or in their own rooms, so, with a bit of luck, chances were good that he wouldn't even meet anyone in the corridors. And really, he managed to avoid running into any fellow Autobots on his way - until he neared his destination and his sensors picked up the energy field data of another mech right in front of Carly's and Spike's door.
He stopped dead, hesitating for a moment, unsure of how to proceed.
Oh, to the Pit with it. A medic checking on his patient didn't have to explain himself to anyone.
He turned around the corner - and almost tripped over his own feet when he found himself optic to optic with Red Alert.
The Security Director stood with his legs slightly spread and his hands folded behind his back, like a sentry on duty. And though his sensors had surely informed him about Ratchet's approach, just as Ratchet's had informed him about his colleague's presence, a strange kind of shocked astonishment was evident on his faceplates when he recognized the new-arrival.
For a long moment, nothing happened. There they stood, Ratchet on one side of the hallway, Red Alert on the other, and kept staring as if they'd never seen each other before.
Finally, Red Alert shifted slightly, drawing himself up a bit.
"Ratchet," he acknowledged.
His voice was neutral, almost businesslike, and it made hot, searing anger flare up in Ratchet's spark. Just who did that mech think he was, talking down to him like that? But of course he could do it, simply because he had obviously been here all the time, while he, Ratchet, the chief medic, had to sneak out of his own quarters just to see his patient!
"What are you doing here?" he asked bluntly.
If Red Alert took offense at his hostility, he did not let it show. "Optimus wanted someone to be at Carly's disposal so she would not have to disturb you in case she needed something. I was free, so I volunteered."
"Oh, I'm sure you did." Not even hesitating to drag their commander into this little game, huh? "Especially since you weren't there this morning," he accused with malicious joy. "In the med bay, with the others. Too busy checking security feeds, I guess?"
The barb struck home, he knew, when Red Alert's optics flashed briefly before he squared his shoulder struts. "I figured that Carly should not be disturbed too much so soon after giving birth. There will surely be ample opportunity for me to see her and Daniel in the next few solar cycles."
Touché. Ratchet stared at him, fumbling for words, looking for a particularly acid remark - and found none. Both of them stood motionless, and an uncomfortable silence settled upon them.
Again, after a klik or so, it was Red Alert who spoke first. "Did you... come to see them?"
Ratchet looked at the closed door behind him, then back at his fellow officer, and suddenly felt very much at a loss for what to do. All his anger vanished at the simple question as quickly as it had come, leaving behind the exhaustion he had thought long gone, and a strange sadness he couldn't explain.
"No," he said slowly. "No, it's okay, I'll just..." He gestured aimlessly into the corridor behind him, searching for anything else to say, but even his CPU felt like paralyzed, and finally he gave up. A faint "Good night" was all he managed to get out of his vocalizer before he turned, defeated, to trudge back to his empty quarters.
More than his surprise, it was the soft, hesitant tone his designation was spoken in that made him turn back to his colleague.
"I have been wanting to apologize to you," Red Alert said.
Of all the things Ratchet had expected, this was certainly not on the list. Caught off guard, he could only stare at his fellow Autobot, but Red Alert obviously didn't expect an immediate answer.
"You were right, you know," he continued. "With what you said about my... fears clouding my judgment."
The word 'fear' made Ratchet flinch. "I apologized for that," he interrupted, a hint of defiance creeping back into his voice.
"You did. But that does not make it less true." He cycled his vents slowly. "You see, when Carly first told us she was expecting offspring, I started doing some research on the subject myself. And I soon found how risky carrying and giving birth can be for human femmes." He lifted both hands, ticking the possibilities off at his fingers. "Amniotic fluid embolism, pre-eclampsia, puerperal fever, omphalocele, nuchal cord... and have you heard of the HELLP-syndrome, Ratchet?"
He was remarkably calm, Ratchet thought. Even that last question held neither accusation nor any detectable excitement. "Yes," he replied, a bit overwhelmed by all those medical terms thrown at him by a mech he'd never expected to have any medical knowledge in the first place. "Yes, I have."
Red Alert eyed him carefully. "I couldn't get this thought out of my processor," he said, "of something like that happening to Carly. I needed to make sure that no harm would come to her or to Daniel, and since humankind has procreated in this fashion for thousands of vorns, I figured that the safest place for them would be among their own kind."
Somewhere along the way, Ratchet's hydraulics seemed to have quitted their service. All he could do was to stand there and stare, feeling lower than an oil stain.
"But then we talked to Optimus, and he wanted to consent to your plan; I could read it in his faceplates, it was so obvious... So I... resorted to what I believed to be my last option." A small, bitter smile curved his lips. "I should know better than to let my paranoia impair my actions. We all know what that leads to, don't we?"
Ratchet was feeling very, very tired by now. Did they really have to rehash all this crap? Couldn't they just... be okay?
"Look, Red... why don't we just agree that we both over-reacted, and that's that? I mean, it's over and done with, and Carly and the sparkling are fine. No need to cry over spilt energon, right?"
Red Alert looked slightly doubtful, regarding him in clear surprise as if trying to find out if Ratchet meant to take him in.
But eventually, he started to relax, and this time, the smile that graced his faceplates was a genuine one. "Okay," he said softly, "if that's all right with you." And his voice carried a tone of the same honest relief that Ratchet himself was suddenly feeling.
"So... you came to check on Carly, I suppose?"
It took him a moment to catch up with the sudden change of subject. "Yes," he said then. "Yes, but it's okay, I don't want to wake her."
"Oh, she is awake. Has been for a while now."
Finally, Ratchet got around to doing that scan he had originally come for, and, to his surprise, found that Red Alert was right. Of the three human life signals he registered within the room, the two male ones were fast asleep, while the brain waves of the female one suggested a state of full wakefulness.
Ratchet didn't bother with the door chime, lest he woke Spike and Daniel. Instead he used his medical access code to open the door, and when it slid aside, he carefully poked his head in.
She was seated in a rocking chair near the window, in the light of a small reading lamp. Her hair was slightly damp, probably from a cleaning session, and she had put on a leisure suit and plushy slippers. When the doors opened, she looked up from the magazine in her lap and smiled in recognition.
"Ah," she said softly. "So I did hear right. I thought I'd heard your voice, but it's hard to tell when you guys start clicking and beeping at each other."
He grinned at her description of the Cybertronian language as he tiptoed over to kneel in front of her chair. "Just had a little chat with Red Alert," he explained. "He says you didn't sleep much. Any problems?"
"No, no." She shook her head. "I'm fine. I took a shower, and we had a little snack, and then Spike was ready to fall asleep on his feet." She cast a loving glance at her bonded who lay on their berth facedown, covered by a woolen blanket and deeply in recharge. "Poor guy, I think last night was a greater strain on him than on me. He's been sleeping like a log for hours. Daniel, too. Kid takes after his dad, it seems. I've napped a bit, but... I don't know, I'm just feeling so awake." She shrugged. "Must be the hormones, I guess."
So insomnia after a birth seemed to be a trans-species phenomenon, Ratchet mused. Carly turned back to him with a gentle smile.
"So much for me. How was your day?"
He folded his hands over his bended knee to support his upper body. "Pretty much the same, really. I shot the breeze with Wheeljack nearly all afternoon. He wanted a full report."
Carly grinned. "I'm not surprised. They were all so sweet this morning... Are you scanning me?"
"Sorry," he said on learned instinct, aborting the process he'd started out of pure habit, and braced himself for the reprimand he knew was coming.
Instead, Carly looked up at him with big, somewhat overbright eyes.
"I'm a lucky girl," she said, smiling softly, "to have such a dedicated doctor for a friend." Then, without apparent reason, a strangely sorrowful look suddenly crept onto her face.
"I didn't get around yet to apologizing to you, Ratchet," she continued, a bit hesitant. "I remember that I said some... pretty nasty things to you while we were in there."
Ratchet's initial worry at her sudden distress was instantly replaced with tender emotion that made his spark glow with warmth. "I work with mechs like Gears and Sunstreaker, Carly," he reminded her drily. "Believe me, it takes more to hurt me than calling me a few names. Besides," he added after a moment of thinking, "I know what pain can do to people."
Carly grimaced at the word. "Yeah... geez, I still can't believe I really did this." Her expression turned thoughtful, and her gaze drifted over to the cradle where her son was sleeping. "But Danny's here, so that means I must have done something right, does it?"
"You were smashing, Carly," he said softly.
She smiled at his choice of words. "Thanks."
The rocking chair squeaked a bit when she got up gingerly to creep over to the tiny berth, beckoning him to join her. Ratchet followed on his hands and knees to avoid making unnecessary noise.
Together they peered into the cradle, whose tiny occupant recharged on peacefully, oblivious of his two observers.
"He's so beautiful," Carly whispered, watching her sparkling in rapture. "What a gorgeous baby we've made."
Yes, Daniel was a custom-built model, Ratchet thought in amusement, and no doubt about it. He was still small, but he knew from extensive research how quickly human infants developed. Very soon, this tiny sparkling would start to crawl, he would start to walk and speak, he would visit human educational institutions, and very likely, he would learn about Cybertronian culture and technology, too, simply by growing among a crew of Autobots...
The thought stayed with him, started to sprout legs, and his processor reacted by providing him with a number of possible scenarios featuring Daniel at various stages of development. And suddenly, a realization hit him for which he simply hadn't had the time all these past stellar cycles.
"This is only the beginning, isn't it?" he said softly. "Having him was the easy part. Now we have to raise him and care for him. That will be the real challenge, right?"
Carly nodded slowly, not taking her eyes off her sparkling. "Yeah. Spike and I talked about that earlier; that we have our work cut out for us for the next twenty years. But we're looking forward to it." She lifted her head to look at him, and her eyes shone with pride and honest joy. "We will be the best mom and dad a baby has ever had, Ratchet. And we're counting on you and 'Bee and Optimus and all the other guys to be there to back us up. You're family, after all."
Ratchet couldn't help but to snort at that last remark. "You won't have a choice, missy," he replied drily. "You wanted us to be involved, remember, and now you're gonna have to deal with it. Unless you want a bunch of pissed-off alien robots on your hands, and I'm telling you now that you don't."
"Yes. mother," she teased, and Ratchet saved a note in his cache to find out why he still bothered to try and argue with her.
"I just like the thought of Danny growing up with all you guys around," she continued, carefully rearranging the sparkling's blanket, and the smile suddenly vanished from her face. "Not just because you have become a part of our life over the years, but because... I dunno... I just keep thinking that he may be good for you. Y'know, with you guys having been at war for so long... losing friends and family... even your home world..." Her voice cracked on the last words, and she quickly turned away to rub at her eyes.
"Sorry," she murmured, attempting a shaky smile. "Damn hormones..."
For probably the first time in his not inconsiderable lifespan, Ratchet fervently wished that he was smaller. Had he been at least minibot-sized, he could have hugged her.
"Ah, but the lil' critter's already a major morale booster," he told her gently. "You can't have missed the look on Prime's faceplates this morning. Or on Bumblebee's, when he held him."
She smiled again, more genuinely this time, and then she seemed to think of something.
"Hey... that reminds me... you haven't held him yet."
That was true, he registered, though the information was of no real concern to him. Carly, however, seemed to be bothered by it.
"Oh, bummer... I didn't even realize it this morning. When you should have been the first... wait." She reached into the cradle.
A wave of scalding hot panic crashed through Ratchet's spark when he realized what she was doing. "No, Carly, don't," he said quickly. "It's okay, don't wake him -"
But it was too late. She had already lifted the sparkling out of his tiny bunk and now stood there, looking at him expectantly.
He was trapped. No way to get out of this, at least not in one piece.
Fighting back a sigh, he held out his hand as Bumblebee had done - albeit a bit less enthusiastic - and Carly put her son gently down onto his palm.
The universe did not stop, nor did it implode or come tumbling down, which was a good thing for starters. After a few moments of simply staring down at his hand, Ratchet decided that this was actually kind of an interesting feeling. Of course he had touched organic life forms before, including some very small ones, but never one he had witnessed growing inside its carrier and had then personally helped delivering.
It was stunning. It was completely different from anything he knew.
And Pit, he liked it.
He glanced up at Carly, and the quick smile they shared was enough to let him notice the change in the sparkling's brain wave pattern an astrosecond too late.
Daniel began to stretch slowly, cocking his head and balling his hands into tiny fists. Ratchet froze, but before he could so anything, the pair of hazy blue newborn eyes opened and stared straight into his optics.
He was prepared for the worst. A screaming fit, perhaps, or a major shock - if on Daniel's part or on his own would have to show.
But nothing of the kind happened. Daniel just stared at him with this intense, yet unfocused gaze that seemed to be typical for human newborns, blinking sleepily and making small, jerky movements with his fists and feet.
A memory file unexpectedly popped up in Ratchet's cache, one he had not accessed in thousands of vorns. He saw himself, still so much younger then, standing in the entrance hall of the Medical Mechanics University in Protihex. The femme at the reception desk smiled at him kindly, asking "What can I do for you?"
And his younger self straightened a bit, squaring his shoulder struts, and answered: "I want to be a medic."
Daniel made a small, huffing sound, then his tiny mouth opened in a yawn, his eyes drifted shut again, and the next moment, he had once more fallen asleep, unimpressed by whatever he might have seen in Ratchet's faceplates.
"He knows you," Carly whispered in fascination.
Ratchet had no answer to that, just kept staring at the sparkling in his hand. What strange power did this tiny little creature possess that he could have crushed simply by closing his fingers?
Carly reached for her son, but did not put him back into his cradle immediately. Instead she breathed a tender kiss onto Daniel's head and held him close for a moment before she looked up at her visitor.
"Thanks, Ratchet," she whispered. "For everything."
And Ratchet heard himself answer with a soft "Any time."
A few days later found Spike and Carly sitting on one of the tables in the rec room, happily chatting with a small group of mechs while little Daniel was busy taking one of his many, regular meals.
Ratchet watched the scene from a few steps away, leaning against one of the windows, and couldn't help but smile. Carly had quickly taken to nursing Daniel in public, mainly because otherwise, the poor thing would long since have starved. During the last week, the couple had constantly shuttled back and forth between the Ark and their home in the town, and it was hard to keep track of all the people that had come to see their offspring.
Sparkplug and Carly's parents had been the first to visit. Other family members had followed; Chip Chase had dropped in briefly, and Spike's colleagues and some old college friends of Carly's had even shown up in groups, bringing gifts and a home-baked cake. Much to Ratchet's displeasure, he had found no medical reason to forbid this, so he'd suffered through this nonsense in silence while hating every astrosecond of it. What did all those people want with his charges, anyway? Had they been there during Carly's carrying? Had they been there at Daniel's birth?
No, Carly and Daniel belonged here, on the Ark, with him.
And with Spike, of course.
And... with the rest of the Autobots.
He managed to turn his attention back to his friends just in time to see a grinning Jazz join the little group. "Someone's mighty hungry," the saboteur remarked happily, nodding at the eagerly sucking sparkling. Carly snorted.
"Yeah. Poor kid hasn't eaten in a whole two hours, can you imagine that?"
"Awful," Jazz agreed, still grinning. He gave Daniel a long, thoughtful look, then he asked: "Does it hurt you when he feeds?"
Carly shook her head. "No, not really. Only when he gets too enthusiastic... like now." She shifted, maneuvering the squirming sparkling to her opposite breast.
"And I never get tired of hearing this," Spike commented good-humoredly.
Ratchet huffed through his vents. He, too, was sure that Carly had been asked this very question at least thirty times by now (he'd deleted the sub-routines for counting this event only yesterday). Seriously, didn't these mechs talk to each other?
Admittedly, Jazz had to be given the benefit of the doubt. Except for some quick visits to collect his energon rations, the saboteur had hardly been seen in the rec room this past week. Or in the command center, for that matter. Or even his own quarters. Their Third-in-Command had been mysteriously absent from most social events on the Ark since Daniel had been born, and the same was true for their SIC. Prowl was not present now, either, and Ratchet was beginning to wonder what kind of secret agenda these two might have together.
The hissing sound of the doors opening and closing interrupted his musing, and then Optimus' sonorous voice spoke: "Well, I think we should be ready now."
The attention of the room's occupants shifted to focus on him. Carly gently detached Daniel's mouth from her nipple and handed him over to Spike to button her blouse.
"No long speeches, boss bot, okay?" Jazz said with a cheeky flash of his visor. "We wanna get to the partying part here." His comment was met with laughter, and even Sunstreaker gave a lop-sided smirk.
"I shall make this quick, then," Optimus said with a good-natured twinkle in his optics. "Especially since there isn't much to say, really. You have all been informed by now about the birth of Daniel Witwicky." He nodded at their human friends. "And since his creators have been honorary Autobots and valuable friends for several Earth years now, it is no question that their offspring shall hold the same title. Today, it is my honor to make that status official."
He beckoned to Ironhide, who stepped forward and handed him something very small Ratchet couldn't make out. He watched curiously as both his superior officers stood before the young couple. Optimus had asked him to brief Spike and Carly on the little ceremony, but he had not mentioned any gifts to be handed out.
Under his crew's intense gazes, Optimus leaned down to the young couple and opened his hand.
A tiny piece of cloth was lying on his palm, made from dark blue tissue, and embroidered into the blue surface was the red Autobot insignia.
"I hope it will fit," Optimus said, clearly amused by Spike's and Carly's stunned faces. "We agreed that a gift was in order, and thought that this would be a bit more appropriate for a sparkling than a medal."
"You bet," Spike agreed. "It's awesome, guys; where did you get that?"
"Sorry," Ironhide snarled. "That info's classified." And immediately Ratchet's CPU started to come up with a number of schemes how he might tease said information out of the old warrior...
Carly smiled knowingly at her old friend, and then carefully reached for the offered gift. "May I?"
"I insist," Optimus said.
Very gently, and with Spike's help, Carly worked her son's tiny head and arms into the sparkling sweater, and then straightened it carefully so the red emblem was clearly visible. "There," she smiled, playfully rubbing her nose against Daniel's. "Look at you, what a handsome young man you are. You look like Optimus."
Daniel, still awake from having his meal interrupted, blinked at her and kicked his legs, but his attention was drawn away from his creator when Optimus leaned down to him. Tiny blue optics followed the movement, and a small hand closed around the tip of the proffered finger, entirely unafraid. Optimus shook the tiny hand tenderly.
"Welcome to the team, Daniel."
There had been a time, Ratchet remembered suddenly, when Optimus had made it his duty as a commanding officer to spend some personal moments with every newcomer, exchange some words, get to know the mechs who had come to fight for the Autobot cause. Later, when the war had dragged on, this had been... no longer possible. A brief, yet intense emotion he couldn't quite define grazed his spark then, and he threw a quick glance at Ironhide, but if the security officer was having similar thoughts, he did not let it show.
It was Sideswipe who started to applaud, and the others joined in quickly, even - oh wonder! - Gears and Huffer, albeit grudgingly. The unknown noise frightened Daniel; his eyes widened and he let out a wail that shook the very walls of the Ark. Spike cradled his son on his shoulder and rocked him gently, making soft, shushing noises.
"Oi," Sludge remarked as the noise level died down again, eyeing the hiccupping sparkling with a mixture of suspicion and interest. "Him Daniel loud."
And although Ratchet laughed with the others, there was no denying that the Dinobot was damn right. Compared to his miniature size, Daniel possessed an amazing lung volume and remarkably powerful vocal cords.
"Sorry," Sideswipe muttered sheepishly, but Spike grinned, patting Daniel's back. "No harm done, 'Sides."
Carly smiled at her 'gents', as she liked to call them, then turned to Prime. "Can I say something, Optimus?"
He gave her an encouraging nod. "Of course."
Ratchet watched in mild surprise as she climbed to her feet. Had she prepared a thank you speech?
"Okay," Carly said, looking around, "I've seen that energon cube Blaster's trying to hide, so I'll get straight to the point. Before we start the party, I'd like you guys to acknowledge what a great job Ratchet has done these past nine months. He's a short-tempered, grumpy old pain in the neck, but Spike and I wouldn't have made it through all of this without his help. We just want you to know that."
Silence. Ratchet activated his vocalizer to say something - and then turned it off again, as his CPU stubbornly refused to provide him with any meaningful words.
The next thing he knew, an arm was thrown around his shoulder struts, and he found himself in the hearty embrace of something black and white.
"Way to go, Ratch!" Jazz grinned at him, patting his back cordially.
"Yeah, great work, doc!" Bumblebee joined in, and suddenly Ratchet was the center of a choir of commendation. First Aid's dark blue visor shone with pride, Smokescreen shook his hand with a knowing grin, Grimlock vehemently informed everybody that "him Ratchet bestest doctor in universe", and amidst it all stood Optimus Prime, giving him - and Carly - a silent nod that held more approval than anything he might have said.
A bit stunned from all the attention, Ratchet threw an indignant glance at his charge, one of those looks that normally never failed to give the recipient the worst conscience known to man- or robotkind.
She grinned at him.
"Party!" Sideswipe declared happily. As if on cue - and chances were good that it was one - Blaster jumped into alt mode to start the music, and it quickly turned out that he had not been the only one to hide one or several energon cubes.
Ratchet was already scheduling the time he'd spend with treating over-energized mechs tomorrow when the beeping sound of an incoming transmission interrupted the beginning small talk.
"Yes, Prowl?" Optimus acknowledged.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, sir," Prowl's smooth voice said over the open line, audible for all present, "but Red Alert and I are receiving a distress call from a power-generating facility in Nevada. It seems the Decepticons are at it again."
Both the music and the talking died down abruptly. Twenty pairs of optics flitted back and forth between their commander and their human friends, anticipating their reactions.
"Get the proper coordinates," Prime ordered. "I'll be with you in a klik."
He cut the transmission, then turned to Spike and Carly.
"I'm sorry," he said apologetically, but Spike, who was just handing Daniel back to his mother, shook his head. "You go and do your job, Optimus," he said simply.
"Okay, guys," Jazz commanded, "back to your posts. Those 'Cons want a good pounding, we'll give them one!"
Ratchet watched in silence as party guests turned back into soldiers and officers, hastening to man their various stations with the well-ordered excitement that always preceded a new mission. Near the exit, he spotted First Aid looking at him expectantly.
He actually had to fight both a grin and a sigh at the same time. Some things never changed, it seemed.
"That goes for me, too, guys," he said to his charges. "I better get the med bay ready. Have to take care of the team."
Carly smiled at him, and her fingers briefly stroked the Autobot symbol on her son's new sweater. "'S okay, Ratchet," she said. "That's what Autobots do, isn't it?"