Title: Worth Living For
Verse: Movieverse, post DoTM
Pairings: Ironhide/Ratchet, Megatron/Starscream if you squint
Other Characters: Will Lennox, hatchlings
Warnings: Canon character death. Severe kleenex warning. SPOILERS.
Disclaimer: Do not own Transformers, or any of the official characters, do not get paid for doing this except with reviews.
Summary: Love makes even pain worth living.
Notes: The soundtrack for this fic is the song "Between Generations" by Enigma, it's just such a lovely, bittersweet song, with a strangely appropriate title, not to mention that the language makes me think of Cybetronian for some reason.
I went to some difficult emotional places for this fic, so forgive me if I am not the most coherent, but this is all I can bear.
Further notes at end of fic.
Worth Living For
His once sharp wits, which had once made him so formidable in the Senate, were so dulled by agony he was amazed he had survived the final battle; amazed, and bitterly disappointed. When the irritating little human had come, inciting the Decepticons to kill their prisoners, the deep gratitude he had felt, a last unexpected heat to warm his pain-frozen spark, superseded even his fear and grief for his still-living comrades. If only they had taken him first, and spared Que, who could have still functioned, still been useful, it would have been a mercy. Instead they had killed a live mech, full of hope and potential, before his optics, and left him to remain as he was: walking dead.
He had thrown himself into the cleanup afterwards, searching for survivors amidst the rubble, whispering words of comfort by rote to injured humans, refuelling and recharging only when told to do so, living like the soulless machine many of the creatures they had sacrificed so Primus-damned much to save still believed them to be. If they had any concept of the agony it had taken to make him this way, the promise that was even now killing him as surely as it forced him to make this feeble pretence at living, if they had the ability to experience even the tiniest fraction of what he suffered, they would be gibbering in puddles of their own pungent waste products; and they would never question Cybertronian sentience ever again.
His companions had first given him time and distance, followed by attempts at comfort, both of which were received with stony silence. He was no longer a mech, he was a function, and he would perform that function for as long as it took: until another could be trained to replace him, until he simply gave out from the pain, until mercy came, not from his 'compassionate' friends, but from the muzzle of a Decepticon blaster.
His function now led him to one of the secure rooms in the factory they had commandeered as NEST's base of operations in Chicago. Some Decepticon prisoners captured in Africa required medical care, and the physician-drone would provide it as ordered.
He was admitted by Sideswipe, the door locked behind him, but as he looked over the room, there were no Decepticons to be seen, only a few oil barrels, stacked in a corner. He turned back towards the door. "Sideswipe, if this was some plan to get me to recharge, my levels are still within optimal..."
Sudden, high pitched, metallic creels of distress assaulted his audios, dozens of frantic pings to his systems raising unfamiliar warnings on his HUD, awakening long-dormant programs within him that he never expected he would get the chance to use. Inconvenient at the best of times, what they represented to him now, in light of all that he had lost, was pure anathema.
He was drawn towards the barrels, towards the sounds, could feel lines of code within him beginning to rewrite, revitalize themselves, the agony within him metamorphosizing, no longer cold and impotent, but hot, demanding, screaming for acknowledgement. He screamed too, turning away from the cacophony behind him, banging helplessly on the door, clinging to it, pleading incoherently, profoundly shocked that he was still capable of this level of terror after what had gone before.
"Ratchet... Ratchet..." Distantly a familiar voice called to him, trying to draw him back towards sanity. It was a voice that had no power over him before, but now, suddenly, it mattered again.
He pressed his faceplates to the door, clattering to the ground in a heap, shivering, the noise behind him calling, calling, asking more of him than he had to give. "Optimus... why?" he whispered.
"You know why." The voice of his leader, his friend, at once implacable and infinitely gentle.
"I can't do this," Ratchet rasped weakly, jumping as a crash behind him told him that the 'contents' of the barrels had 'shifted' enough to upset the containers. "I know I promised, but..."
"You promised each other to live," said Optimus gravely, "not merely to exist."
The clinking of tiny claws on concrete, creeping ever closer.
"You know what he would have wanted."
A fragile, spindly metal hand no bigger than his finger settled onto his foot.
"This one is Spanner, and this is Roadblock, U-turn, About Face, Syringe, Caduceus..." Ratchet listed off the temporary designations he had given the tiny, formerly Decepticon, hatchlings who clambered with surprising dexterity over his neon green frame, their crimson gazes undeniably innocent despite the ominous associations with the colour.
"So do you have to... wear them like that?" The newly promoted General William Lennox watched the Cybertronian infants with great interest as they clung to the armour of their caretaker. Being a father himself, he was naturally curious about the offspring of his allies and long-time friends. "Do they need to keep in close contact with you to live?"
At the sound of the unfamiliar voice speaking, the hatchlings transformed in unison, the reason for each one being identically coloured to the medic becoming apparent as they seemingly vanished from sight, taking on the shape of various sorts of mechanical kibble that to the untrained human eye was indistinguishable from the rest of Ratchet's frame.
Lennox took a step back in shock. "Wow, where did they go?"
Ratchet smiled, and lightly poked at a section of his 'armour', making it squeak nervously, and he stroked the area soothingly as he spoke. "No, they are capable of existing independently of my frame, but they tend to grow up healthier and feeling more secure if they are able to imprint on an adult." They had been unable to determine if the little ones had been permitted to imprint on either Megatron or Starscream, but even if they had, being left alone for too long would have re-activated their imprint coding, causing the 'abandoned' hatchlings to seek a caretaker bond with the next available adult.
It was impressive the others had managed to ignore the desperate pings of the hatchlings long enough to get them here, the green mech thought wryly. But they'd had a strong motivation to do so: saving the life of their Chief Medical Officer, who, in spite of his determination, was slowly dying of bond-loss.
The loss of Ironhide still pained him so much he wished he could offline, but that was no longer a possibility or an option. The raw, fragmented ache of his spark was not healed, would never completely heal, but it was bandaged, far more securely than he would have ever believed, by the flickering, effervescent tendrils that now connected him irrevocably to the hatchlings sheltering on his frame.
His most primitive coding, in a last ditch effort at self-preservation, had latched on to a lifeline, the needs of offspring overriding the compulsion to succumb to grief. He would now live for his new charges as he had once lived for a certain, gruff black weapon specialist. As for how long that artificially extended life might be, sparklings typically took about a hundred vorns to reach their final upgrade stage. He could live as long as that, and perhaps even longer, for, even though he could scarcely believe it now, time had proved itself a more gifted healer than he could ever dream of being, if it was given the chance to do its work. A chance that it would now have.
There was a trumpeting chirrup from under the medic's left arm, and a small, lime green blur sprang from its hiding place, launching from on high, its colouring changing to the blocky olive pattern of the General's fatigue-clad shoulder just as the hatchling landed on its new perch.
"Whoa!" Lennox jumped and took a few steps backwards, almost swatting the hatchling reflexively before he controlled his surprised reaction.
The hatchling itself seemed remarkably unperturbed, flattening itself until only its crimson optics were visible in order to dodge the aborted 'attack', but when things calmed down it soon returned to bipedal form and began exploring its new host curiously, chittering to itself.
"And that one is Steelhead," Ratchet said, the fondness in his voice deepening as he introduced the last of his adopted brood. The smallest of the rescued hatchlings, Steelhead was also the boldest and most inquisitive. In the imprecision of human English, the tiny mechlet's temporary designation was fairly unremarkable. In Cybertronian, however, it held a wealth of subtlety, sparkbreak, and hope. The glyphs that made up Steelhead's name lovingly outlined not only how the hatchling reminded him of Ironhide, but Ratchet's determination that he would not allow his perceptions to in any way colour his expectations or restrict the new little being from making its own choices in life, and his faith that from somewhere beyond the reaches of death his beloved sparkmate would be watching over them, always.
There was a muted thud as someone dropped a box of files, but rather than cowering like his siblings, Steelhead flared his armour and growled, posturing threateningly from Will's shoulder, absurdly self-assured in his pint-sized bravado.
Will chuckled and the hatchling displayed again, before leaping back onto Ratchet's armour with what sounded suspiciously like a snort of disgust, as if the disappointed by the lack of suitable response to his attempts at ferocity. "Spunky little guy," he remarked, shaking his head. "He reminds me of someone, and I don't mean Megatron or Starscream."
Ratchet clamped his lip components together tightly, silent for a moment before he composed himself and nodded, pleased by the General's perceptiveness, and the fact that he was not the only one to notice the resemblance. "Ironhide always wanted sparklings..."
"Well," Will said at length. "They might not be his, but..."
"They are his," Ratchet whispered fiercely. "Ours. I will not lie to them about their heritage, but they will know that I love them, and they will know of another who would have loved them just as much. Through me they will know him, will know his love, and I will do all I can to make it as real, as tangible to them as as the feelings in my own spark."
"We all will, Ratchet," General Lennox replied quietly, eyes brimming. "We all will..."
I really wanted to write a fix for what happened in the movie, to somehow undo the loss of one of my favourite characters, but for some reason I couldn't do it, and this is what happened instead.
'Wearing' hatchlings – Picturing Cybetronians as lifeforms that evolved, rather than machines that were built, I speculated on the advantages of the transforming ability, and I thought it would make sense that hatchlings would use that ability to protect themselves from predators by concealing themselves on an adult's frame. Naturally the hatchlings would not be carried into battle, though if combat was inevitable, they would either be found a hiding spot, or if that was impossible they would move to more protected areas of the adult's frame and try to keep away from the source of the threat.
Then I saw the fic Those Who Make History, by zuzeca on livejournal, which featured Mikaela and Scorponok finding the hatchlings and Scorponok carrying them on his back like a real scorpion would. Anyway, that made me smile, and I wanted to acknowledge the fic so that people wouldn't think I was failing to offer credit. Great minds think alike! :)
Hatchling names – I didn't look up any of the names I chose, simply went with them because each one felt right to me, and somewhat reflected Ratchet's state of mind as he came to terms with the fact that he was now responsible for these little lives. First he viewed them as obstacles to his reuniting with Ironhide in the Well of Sparks, then gradually began to be taken in by them, finally accepted them, and then noticed the one that resembled Ironhide and melted completely.
Caretaker protocols overriding death due to losing a bondmate – In my universe, mechs don't automatically die if they lose a bondmate, but their systems suffer a physical shock and it is very difficult for them to recover, if they ever do, and they often don't. But I realized that if the pair/trine/quartet/etc had dependent offspring, then losing potentially all caretakers in one fell swoop would not make them an evolutionary success, so I thought the phenomenon of bond-loss could be abated or overridden by the drive to protect and nurture hatchlings.
I actually posted something like this on the TF bunny farm, but I am using it now.
Emotional places – Both my parents died before I was 30, and, while it has been almost six years since I lost the last of them, and I am about as recovered as I think I will ever get, I still struggle with it sometimes. Particularly when I think about the children I may some day have who will not know their grandparents on my side of the family, except through me and what I can tell them. Ratchet's vow to make sure the hatchlings know Ironhide and his love is also the vow I make to future generations regarding my parents.