Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I don't own Transformers. They belong to Hasbro and Takara. I am merely taking them for a short spin.

The Aeon was dying. The crew was caught up in the death throes of the ship, Springer fighting for control as Hot Rod screamed orders for them to abandon their stations. Hot Rod felt Springer force them out of the merge, trying to save as many as he could; but Hot Rod's chances were non-existent if Springer perished. The young mech hefted an injured Bluestreak off his shoulder into Blaster's grasp, heading back to the control center.

Springer refused responding to his comms, and Hot Rod had to fight his way through the disintegrating ship to reach the other Autobot. Warning klaxons drowned out his voice as he yelled at Springer, every screen on the bridge showed just how close the ship was getting to its fiery fate.

Reaching the other mech, Hot Rod dragged his limp form from the command center, praying for a miracle as the decking beneath his feet buckled.

Earth, Autobot base, Nevada

Ratchet observed the wreckage that was the command hub. Both medical berths were occupied; the rest of the space in the hub was filled with spare parts, tools, medical supplies and the recharging forms of the newest Autobot arrivals. Only his fast-thinking and help from Raf saved the Autobots crewing a ship called the Aeon, a craft that burned up in the Earth's atmosphere hours before. The ground bridge was why its crew was still alive.

Ratchet checked the monitors worst of the injured, attention shifting when one the nearest mech grabbed his arm.

"Where. . .where are we?" the mech rasped.

"Among friends," Ratchet said. "You're lucky to be alive. Your brother, and your friends owe you their lives."

"Everybody made it?"

"Yes," Ratchet said, giving Hot Rod's shoulder a squeeze. "Get some rest."

The medic watched as the younger mech's optics shuttered. His vitals were acceptable, as were those of his brother, Springer. Ratchet checked the monitors one more time before setting about restoring order to the hub. The new arrivals consisted of a Pit-spawned pair of twins, a communications specialist, sniper, ego, scientist and Ironhide.

Ironhide's presence was welcome, but also troubling. Ratchet knew he wouldn't be able to keep anything from the weapons specialist, and he was dreading telling him the news about Optimus. Hopefully he could hold him off for a while. Just long enough. . .but he had more pressing issues to deal with. He'd gotten rid of Bumblebee and Arcee for the night, sending them home with the children with orders not to return until he told them they could come back. Bulkhead was out on patrol, and with his team members gone, it freed up some space for the newcomers. But only temporarily. Bluestreak and Ironhide were recharging in the hub, while the others, Perceptor, Blaster and Tracks were using the temporarily vacant quarters.

And Wheeljack. Ratchet had lost track of the former Wrecker during all the chaos. He was out on patrol with Bulkhead, or keeping an eye on Bumblebee and Arcee from afar. Either way, he'd show up sooner or later.

"Ratch. . ."

The sound of his name and the touch of Ironhide's hand on the medic's shoulder made him jump.

"What do you want?" Ratchet snapped.

"You should get some rest," Ironhide said.

"Fat chance," Ratchet said. "I've got work to finish."

"It'll wait," Ironhide said. "Besides, I have some questions I'd like answered.

"It can wait until tomorrow," Ratchet said.

"No, it can't," Ironhide said. "Where's Optimus?"

"Later," Ratchet said. "I need to check on the others."

He turned, trying to put some distance between himself and the weapons specialist, but Ironhide grabbed his wrist, refusing to let him go.

"Ratch, what happened? How long have you been here like this?" he asked.

"Long enough," Ratchet said.

"Tell me what happened," Ironhide said. "I want to know where Optimus is."

"He's gone," Ratchet said, not meeting Ironhide's optics. How could he explain? How could any of them? Optimus lost to the Decepticons, with no way of getting him back, the Matrix gone with him. Their Prime, and the most powerful artifact from their homeworld in the hands of the Decepticons.

"Gone, as in not on base, or gone, like. . ."

"Gone," Ratchet said. "'Hide, leave it at that for now, all right?"

"All right," Ironhide said. He decided to change the subject. "I bet you're wondering how we got here. . ."

"It had crossed my mind," Ratchet said.

"We had two ships-the Xantium and Aeon. We were being pursued by Decepticons, when Magnus made the decision to stand and fight, allowing us to get away. He bought us the time we needed," Ironhide said. "I don't know if he and his crew survived."

"If they're still alive, they'll find their way here, just like you did," Ratchet said.

"I hope you're right," Ironhide said, touching his helm to Ratchet's. The medic leaned into his touch, grateful to let someone else shoulder part of his burden for a few moments. Ratchet reluctantly pulled away, busing himself with cleaning up the hub.

"You've held them together?" Ironhide asked, testing the waters, curious about how much he could get out of the medic.

"If you can call it that," Ratchet said. "We're lucky Arcee didn't bring the place down on our heads wanting to go after Optimus."

"So he's alive?" Ironhide said.

Ratchet glared at the other mech, hoping he'd drop the matter.

"How's Hot Rod?" Ironhide asked, nodding in the direction of the medical berths.

"He'll live," Ratchet said.

"What about the others?"

Ratchet shrugged. "The repairs will take time," he said.

"If you can get Perceptor fixed first, he'll help you finish," Ironhide said.

"With his help, and Wheeljack's, everyone should be up and about in a few days," Ratchet said. "Ironhide, get some rest. This will probably be the only chance you'll have for some time."

Ironhide didn't say anything. He went back to the spot he'd procured, settling in to watch Ratchet work, drifting into recharge to the hum of the hub's systems.