This one-shot contains spoilers for my story War and Wings-what Ratchet means by "a prematurely severed spark-bond"- and for the TFP episode Darkest Hour.

Ratchet peered out from his hiding place, a small, cramped cave at the base of a limestone cliff.

The cave was hardly a "proper" cave-created as it was by large slabs of fallen rock that had weathered from the walls of the surrounding gorge. But, seeing as he was light on other options, it was the best he could do given the circumstances.

His spark tightened painfully at the recollection, but he had little time to linger on it. Outside, something that might have been a muffled human voice reached his audio receptors. He wished, desperately, that he could make a more accurate assessment, but given the dense vegetation and irregular topography, he had to accept that "voice" would have to do as a descriptor.

Hunkering down as best as he could, the old medic waited for whatever it was to pass.

It wasn't the first time he had done so today. Unfortunately for Ratchet, the entrance to his cave was less than 20 feet from what seemed to be a recreational hiking trail. Though, sparsely traveled-at least according to conversational snippets he had picked up over the course of the evening-the trail was an access point for some important natural features a mile or so upstream. Judging from the dull background roar that had hardly changed frequency during the course of his hiding, he assumed it to be a large hydrologic feature, perhaps a waterfall.

Once the sun set, Ratchet knew he would have to seek shelter elsewhere. It was just too dangerous to remain in close proximity to said trail, especially since his alt-mode was useless on such rugged terrain.

The voices-what he had originally thought to be one was now, clearly, two-grew louder, snapping the medic out of his thoughts. If they got any closer, the medic would be forced to employ the only diversionary tactic at his disposal: displacing a few of the rocks comprising the cave to create the impression of a rock fall. Just in case, the medic picked up a rock and held it loosely in his hand, his optics glued to the cave entrance.

After a few tense moments, the voices began to fade, eventually disappearing altogether.

A sigh of relief fluttered across the medic's lips.

Followed immediately by a grimace of anger.

How far they had fallen in just a few short hours.

And all of it, presumably, the fault of his oldest, and most trusted, friend, Optimus.

Ratchet closed his optics and clutched his medial-plate as a fresh stab of pain lanced at his spark.

Sure, the pain was always there, the byproduct of a prematurely severed spark-bond, but this…

This pain was fresh…

Lowering his head, the medic's processors whirred as he re-examined the events that had led to his current predicament: Namely, the destruction of the Omega Lock and the discovery-and assumed obliteration-of their base by the Decepticons.

The pain in his spark intensified, nearly reaching the same level of agony as it had when he had first heard the news from Bulkhead, and moments later, from Optimus himself.

The medic shook his head, sadly.

How could Optimus, imbued as he was with the collective wisdom of the Primes, destroy the one thing in the universe that could have revived their world?

It was...unthinkable.

Which meant, that unless he was to forget eons of what he considered sound judgments, somehow there had to be a reason. Somehow Optimus had to have a reason.

But he couldn't possibly conceive of it.

Not when the destruction of the Omega Lock dashed their only hope for a restored Cybertron.

Ratchet sank bank against the wall.

Think! he scolded himself to ward off the pain.

Jack had said that Optimus had done it to save their world. Or, Miko had said it; he couldn't remember.

He stroked his chin-plate in contemplation.

How did Earth become a player in this decisive battle?

How could it possibly…unless…

Ratchet's optics widened as his processor stumbled upon a possibility.

What if Megatron had somehow obtained the power of the Omega Lock?

Preposterous, he thought with a shake of his head. The last communiqué that Ratchet had received before the ill-fated distress call had been one of triumph for their side.

Optimus had discovered and secured the Omega Lock.

If it had been secured, if their victory was assured, what in Primus' name could had caused the situation to swap so as to suddenly favor Megatron and his host of minions?

It made absolutely no sense.


And yet…

Something had disrupted the feed to his all of his computers.

At the thought, he recalled a bit of information that he had previously dismissed as irrelevant, namely something mentioned by Wheeljack moments before everyone had been ordered to abandon the outpost.

The ex-wrecker had come to their aid after his computers on-board the Jackhammer detected a massive surge of energy at the surface.

And, considering how the mech had been avoiding Team Prime for some time, now, the energy signature must have been incredibly unusual to draw him out.

Perhaps there was some merit to what the children had told him.

And there was another problem: How had the children even gotten to Cybertron?

A sudden pain stabbed Ratchet's spark and he couldn't help but gasp aloud.

When the team had returned to base, they had been carrying the humans in specimen containers.

Decepticon specimen containers!

Megatron must have threatened the children! Which meant that he had probably used them as bargaining chips for control of the Lock.

But the children had not gone with Optimus to Cybertron.

When the team had departed, the children had been at school…

The medic's optics widened at the sudden realization.

The Decepticons must have captured them!

Ratchet's spark became tighter yet. Curse my short-sightedness! If I would have gone to get them, or bridged them back, they would have been safe…

And Optimus would not have been forced to choose…

It was a ridiculous thought-how could Ratchet have possibly known that the children were anything more than inconvenienced?-but it lodged in his spark chamber and vibrated with a dissonance that threatened to shake the old medic apart.

Of course Optimus would have chosen the children in front of him rather than the Cybertron he had yet to see..

The children…

Ratchet wanted to hate them, wanted to blame them for all his pain, but they didn't ask to be involved in any of this. And the knowledge that he could even entertain such thoughts just added to his misery.

Along with the harsh words he had said to Optimus, his last words of parting, possibly the last words he may ever say to his friend.

But that didn't erase the bitterness in his soul, nor the spark-shaking feeling of loss at the future that might have been.

The old medic lowered his head and cradled his faceplate in his hands; a faceplate that had since become slick with energon.

It had been a long time since Ratchet cried.

Optimus…He thought clutching his helm tightly. I...have been a fool.

And with that thought, the sun-which had been threatening to set for the last hour or so-slipped below the lip of the gorge bathing the river and its surrounding environs in darkness. As the evening waxed, the nighttime stillness was punctuated from time to time by heavy, mechanical sobs; sounds that had no equal on earth, and no basis for comparison to the small group of humans that had lingered above to enjoy the sunset.