War

"It just wasn't the same. I wasn't the same. After the war." Sparkplug took a sip of his coffee, and set the cup down again with a soft clink. Sitting across from him, cup of oil blend cradled almost absently in his fingers, Ratchet regarded the human. Sparkplug gave his chin a scratch, his finger scraping audibly across the end-of-day stubble. "We fought, Gina and I. Spike was only two at the time." He shook his head. "Like I said, it wasn't the same. I used to be a funny drunk. After the war, I turned into a mean one."

Sparkplug fell silent at that, and went back to sipping. "I've heard Vietnam did that to a lot of guys," Ratchet commented quietly, when the silence had dragged out too long.

"It did," Sparkplug answered readily, softly. "Made us into people we were never supposed to be. Made us mean. Made us -" He broke off, his voice suddenly tight. Then taking another sip, he seemed to smooth himself over again, and said, "Anyway, she left me. I never hit her or anything, it wasn't like that. But I was...just so bitter. And it showed, in every single word I said to her. We tried to work things out for about a year, but she finally gave up, and she left. And I don't blame her."

"But," Ratchet furrowed his brow, "what about Spike? You don't mean she left him too?"

"Oh, no, she tried to take him," Sparkplug replied, brows raised. "And I would have let her. A kid needs his mom. But, they were different times back then, and she was as messed up as I was. She ran off to one of those communes, wanted to 'live free' or some such thing. And I just wasn't going to let Spike live in some hippie community. Not with all the weirdos out there in the world." He shrugged, and took another sip. "Long story short, she couldn't provide a reliable address, and the judge awarded full custody of Spike to me."

He took another sip, eyes vacantly staring into nothing. Then with the coffee cup poised halfway between his mouth and the table, he said, "And you'd think I would have been happy, winning Spike like that. But I wasn't. I was crazy angry. I was so angry - at Gina, for leaving us, at myself for letting her go, at the United States Army, at the entire country of Vietnam. I was angry, insane angry, you know? There were more holes than wall in the house, and I broke my knuckles at least a good ten times just punching through drywall. I hated myself. I hated myself for being a drunk, for surviving the war, for being the world's most useless husband." He paused, giving his head a half-shake, then said in a quieter voice, "I remember this one night. This one night, I was halfway through a bottle of Jack, and Spike was bawling his head off, saying he wanted his mama. And I just felt like my brain was going to explode. Here I was, mad enough to kill, and this three-year-old kid was just screaming and screaming. I remember shaking him. It was awful. I took him by the arms, and I shook him, and yelled at him to shut up, told him his mama was gone, that she was never coming back. I was...I was out of control. And I remember the look in his eye. He got this real wide-eyed look, and he took a breath in, and his mouth was hanging open so big. When he finally let his breath out, it was like he wasn't even my son anymore. It was like a wounded animal crying. The look of pure terror in his eyes was so big, and so...so real. And I caused that."

Sparkplug was quiet a long time then. Slowly, he lowered his cup to the table, while Ratchet watched him. "Then what happened?" the medic asked softly, after a time.

Mouth downturned, Sparkplug stared at the table for another minute. Then he said in a calm voice, "That was the bottom for me. Scaring my kid. I never thought I'd be that dad, you know? I love that kid. So the next day I went out, and I found a group down at the local church - one of those men's support groups. One of those programs that deals with addictions, war vets, the whole nine. Saved my life. Spike's, too." He raised the coffee cup to his lips again, sipped, and continued, "I went to that group for about a year or two. I still talk to a bunch of those guys. I'd probably still live in that town if the economy hadn't gone south, and I had to take that job on the oil rig. Too bad about that, too. I took Spike with me, home-schooled him. But I don't think it was much of a life for the kid. And when Gina finally cleaned up her act, Spike was always out to sea. They wrote, and visited when we were in port. But I wished..."

He broke off, shook his head again, took another sip. "Yeah, I know about wishing," Ratchet answered, his brief smile not quite touching his optics.

"She's married now." Sparkplug added. "Decent guy. Contractor in Utah. I'm happy for her, but I just...I feel sometimes like my entire life slipped away when I let her go. It was my fault, and I know it. It was the war, but really, it was me."

"War is like that," Ratchet observed.

Sparkplug let out a soft snort, part derision, part acceptance. "That's part of why I've hung around this place like I have. Out there, people don't get it. But you get it. The Autobots get what war does. You know what war is."

Ratchet offered another little smile. "That we do."

At that, Sparkplug met his optics, and he said, his eyes very deep in the half-light, "It's like ripples in a pond, you know? War. It keeps taking lives long after the bullets have stopped flying."