Title: What's Necessary
Author: Zea T
'Verse: G1, pre-Earth
Characters: Ratchet, Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Prowl, Wheeljack
Warnings: off-screen war atrocity, Cybertronian profanity
Disclaimer: 'Transformers', its characters and situations belong to Hasbro and its licensees. They are used here without permission and not for profit.
Summary: When Ratchet became guardian to the young twins, he swore he'd do whatever was necessary to keep them safe.
I don't expect it to be easy. Nothing these pit-spawns put me through has ever been easy. Keeping them alive as sparklings was tough enough. Dragging a pair of recalcitrant younglings from camp to camp, one step ahead of the Primus-forsaken battlefront, gave 'tough' a whole new meaning.
Oh, I knew they weren't happy about the constant moves. I should have expected something like this when Sunny stopped protesting that we should stand our ground, and the pair of them went quiet. I should have known, but I didn't think even my cherished idiots would do something this slagging stupid.
An angular red face scowls down at me from the gates of the compound, and from the chest-plate of the guard standing in my way. I glower in return, no more fond of the red scowl than the purple snarl it opposes.
"I want my pit-spawns back."
The guard cycles his optics at me, the blue glow brightening a little at the sight of my markings.
"Ah… excuse me, medic?"
"The twin menaces who've probably been turning your base upside down. They're mine."
I see comprehension dawn on his face-plates, and a hint of impatience too.
"You're going to have to come back…"
I shift my weight, planting my solid bulk a little more squarely in the gateway. I once marched into the pits of Kaon to drag this pair home. This Autobot might be complicit in the same genocide, but he doesn't compare to the Decepticons I've already handled.
"I'm not leaving until those younglings are standing right here…" My servo stabs at the ground in front of me, and hesitates. The guard's optics have brightened again, a rev of his engines making any attempt to hide his shock pointless.
"Younglings…?" he repeats, before shaking his helm. "Look, medic, now's not the time…"
His glance behind him guides my optics past the gate, into the military base I swore I'd never enter. There are mechs there, clustered in a loose group, and I frown as I recognize the medical kits and gurneys beside them.
The shout comes from somewhere out of sight, the guard's curse voicing my own reaction perfectly. The weapons systems I bring online are new and uncomfortable, fitted at the same time I upgraded the twins to adult frames, and for the same reason – to protect my charges. I'm not made for fighting, even if I had any desire for it. Every instinct screams at me to transform and leave these maniacs to their own battles. As long as my troublemakers are on this base, that's not an option.
I half-crouch against the gatehouse wall, snarling out a profanity of my own. Already the thunder of shuttles fills the air, screaming in for a strafing run as far as I can tell, but the idiot guard isn't running for cover. He's not firing either, and the face adoring the shuttle that passes too low overhead is the same red mask that glowers from his own chest-plates.
The shuttles scream into a landing far too fast, and I berate myself for expecting these war-mongers to do anything safely. Then the shuttles open, the waiting mechs rush to meet those staggering out, and just a little of my approbation turns to understanding.
The twins are still at the back of my processor, always, but there's a more urgent duty right here in front of me.
"Let me in, you slagging idiot!"
The guard's engine rumbles queasily, his optics locked on the mangled, energon-streaked mechs stumbling into the yard behind him.
"We're on red alert. I can't let a Neutral…"
My arm moves before I can question the wisdom of taking on an armed mech, gripping the guard's neck assembly and forcing the medical markings on my forearm into his line of sight.
"There are mechs off-lining over there, slag it! Let me in!"
The Autobots' medical centre is overflowing, the corridor outside lined with groaning mechs. The inside is no better when I push my way through. The floors are slippery underfoot, streaked with energon and littered with metal shavings and frayed wires.
Everything about me loathes the carnage, loathes the sheer slagging stupidity of the whole fragging war. I intend to present myself to the chief medic, to join the triage effort, but the whole place seems mired in chaos, and the first thing I see is a black and white Praxian, leaning hard against an occupied berth, his laser-scored door-wings ragged behind him.
It's almost enough to freeze me in place, It's too long since I saw a Praxian frame. Too fragging long since Praxus fell into the Pit, taking the whole of Cybertron with it. I blink back the memories, trying to forget the life that's gone for good.
Mechs wail all around me, crying out for attention and much-needed treatment. This Praxian's condition is less life-threatening than some, but of all the patients in this room, that silent mech is drowning in the deepest pit of agony.
"Why the frag is this mech not in stasis?!"
My question thunders across the room, not stilling the cries of the wounded but generating just enough of a pause for me to hear the answer. I wasn't expecting it to come from the patient himself. The mech's light tenor voice is calm, but his optics flicker with pain and his engine wheezes on each cycle. I'm astonished he's even conscious, let alone rational. I certainly don't know why he's fighting to stay that way, not until he tells me himself.
"If I am unable to coordinate our withdrawal, more mechs will die."
I have no real reason to believe him. Maybe it's the level tone of his voice, maybe the vague sense of familiarity I can't shake – although I'd swear I've never seen a door-winged mech in battle armour, let alone Autobot officer colours. Either way, I scowl at him, hating and believing every word.
Cursing my patient, cursing myself, I take hold of his shoulder, steadying him even as my wrist cables find his door-wing access ports. At first he resists, and I can't say I blame him. There're precious few medics left with the training to access core systems at this level. Medics who trained in Praxus… well, let's say there's a reason for his engine to growl its surprise when I flash my credentials through the med-link.
The mech's firewalls let me in, and I set to work. I'm not about to blind his wing sensors, and there's no time to fix them – reconstructive surgery is way down the triage list – but I can and do block the pain signals, painstakingly tracking each to its source.
My patient slumps, gripping the edge of the berth tight enough to leave dents, as I drag him out of the Pit. He nods his thanks, tight-lipped. I scowl at the officer, my medical sensors all too aware of the buzz of communications around him and the constant whir of a top-end processor.
There's no time to demand answers now though. Again, I look around for the chief medic, only for my optics to settle on a blast-masked engineer. The mech has emergency first-aider markings beneath his technical insignia. He works swiftly, his servos steady and his optics bright with concentration, but his vocal indicators are glowing a sickly grey and – Primus help us all – to all appearances he's slagging well in charge here.
Like slag an engineer is competent for that.
I draw in a deep vent to steady myself and pulse out the senior medic codes that every mech here lacks. A dozen faces turn to me – paramedics and first aiders, the engineer, anyone with even the slightest training, recognising the signal that requires their deference.
I'm ready for the expressions of surprise, but where I expect resentment, I see something I didn't anticipate: hope.
"You – get them lined up! You – I need that berth clean...!"
The orders stream out of me – long ago crisis training kicking in. Within klicks, there's a patient under my servos, and then another. Instruments emerge, shape and reshape themselves, my subspace humming with activity as I save spark after spark.
"Twins?" That's the engineer's voice. I've grown accustomed to tuning out his burblings as he works beside me. That one word, vented in a tone of dismay, breaks through. The blast-masked mech stands between a pair of berths, his servos hovering hesitantly over the ragged forms. "I don't… I can't…"
Paramedics are trained – were trained, when anyone still was – to abandon twins, giving up on a lost cause. Ninety-nine in every hundred medics would do the same. By the time they need a medic, twins, vanishingly rare to start with, have a survival probability somewhere in the single digits. Most mechs live a lifetime without ever seeing a pair of frames as similar as the raddled armour in front of me. As far as I can tell, my two are the only ones in recorded history to make it to adult frames, clad far too early in their beautiful gold and fiery red…
I guess it's to the engineer's credit that he hasn't turned away already. I'll thank him for that, when I get done cursing him for hesitating.
Sideswipe's the most badly hurt. I see that immediately. But Sunstreaker's ravaged armour makes him looks worse, his plating peppered with shrapnel where he shielded his twin.
There's no time to process that image. I set to work, my servos flying between the familiar frames, the conventional rules of triage set aside as I work on two patients at once. My voice falls to a murmur: berating them, cursing them, coaxing them. From time to time, I turn to other patients, the need never-ending, but always I return to the twinned sparks that flicker a little more brightly with each passing breem.
Nothing is more important.
It's almost a joor before I realise that half the mechs I'm treating are Neutrals. It's another joor after that, spent fuming silently at the warmonger factions dragging us all into their war, before my golden menace stirs.
The engineer frowns when I glance at the still stasis-locked Sideswipe and hit his twin with a carefully tuned sedative code. I ignore the mech, still angry with him for not being the medic he tried to be, with the Autobots for the war they're fighting, and with my errant charges for dropping me in the middle of it.
The rush of critical patients has dried to a trickle now. The engineer is talking to the black and white Praxian officer when I finally look around for him, their low tones barely reaching me. I don't want to hear, I don't want to know what they're saying about a Neutral camp, Decepticons, and that lunatic Megatron. All I care about is keeping mechs alive and safe, and my own mechlings above all.
I'll do whatever it takes to keep the twins safe. I promised them that when I took them on, holding the sparklings to my chest-plate, oblivious to just how hard the little slaggers were going to make me work for my oath.
Sunstreaker stirs again, but this time Sideswipe's optics flicker too. On the monitors, their sparks pulse in unison, steadier and stronger now. I'm not surprised when they online simultaneously. Their optics lock with their first vent, the panic that would have been inevitable if Sunstreaker woke alone averted. It's several klicks before they break that shared look and notice me standing in the gap between their berths.
"Ratch!" I'm not sure which of them says it first. I barely have time to brace myself before the pair of them lurch forward, half-falling from their med-berths. I get an arm around each as they tackle me, one pressed to each side of my chest-plate.
The epic rant I've been rehearsing in my processor for the last joor dies on my lips, stifled by the wave of angst streaming from the red and gold mechs that sandwich me. Sunstreaker is pressed tight against me, silent and fierce. Sideswipe babbles, his words almost lost against my plating.
"We looked for you, tried to find you. You weren't there! We couldn't find…"
"Shhh." I intended to be angry. Sideswipe almost certainly got them into this mess, although I suspect Sunny didn't take much persuasion. Even so, I can't find it in myself to do more than stroke his black helm, my tone the same chiding murmur I'd used when he was a sparkling. "Quiet, Sides. I'm here. If you ever used that processor of yours, you'd know I'll always find you."
"We looked for you." Sunny bites off the words. "In the camp…"
"The camp…" Sides repeats, a queasy whine from his engine choking off his voice.
I hold them a little tighter, rocking slightly. The twins aren't sparklings any more, and they're getting heavier by the moment. They're slumping, the adult frames I'd meant to protect them sapping their underage sparks.
"Shhh," I repeat. "Recharge. I'm here."
I ease them back down, onto the same berth this time, letting the proximity ease their twinned spark. Sideswipe's optics flicker at once. Sunstreaker catches my wrist, his dim optics locked with mine.
"Ratchet… the camp's gone."
His servo falls away, his frame nestling against his brother's. I watch them settle, counting slowly to eight thousand, the fury rising in a slow burn inside me. The med-bay has fallen quiet – the urgent cases treated and in stasis, the less serious dispatched with orders to return tomorrow. My automatic monitoring routines report that only the Praxian is still in need of urgent and delicate surgery. My less tangible senses tell me that same mech – pain-free but weak and unsteady – is watching me. Not even his injuries can damp the fire in the base of my tank as I turn and snarl at him.
The Autobot officer tilts his helm, optics unreadable. "For now."
"Then perhaps you'd like to tell me what the frag you were doing sending younglings into battle?!"
Perhaps it's petty, but I'd feel a whole lot better if the mech had the courtesy to at least pretend to look surprised. The Praxian merely raises a brow-ridge at me, his ragged door-wings trembling before they settle down.
"Sunstreaker and Sideswipe enlisted as adults. Until I received a report of your encounter with our guard, I had no evidence to the contrary."
"So you used them as untrained cannon fodder?" It's harsh, but the level tone of the mech's voice is making me feel just a little ridiculous, and righteous anger is more my speed.
Of course, 'untrained' is not entirely accurate. I still wake from recharge sometimes, remembering the time I tracked them to the gladiator pits and saw what Sunstreaker could do with is bare servos. The ice-cold Praxian in front of me doesn't need to know that. My servos clench, itching to wipe the raised brow-ridge from his face-plates.
"They were, in fact, assigned to a training unit with other young recruits." The Autobot crosses his arms across his chest-plate, almost hiding the cursed autobrand. He glances up at the engineer beside him before going on. "Insofar as I can reconstruct their activities, it would appear that they joined the battle group, against orders, when they learned it was departing for Neutral Camp Alpha Eighteen."
The energon is suddenly cold in my lines. "Alpha…?"
"Eighteen," the Praxian confirms, optics steady. "We deployed a defence force as soon as we heard of the attack."
I barely hear his words. Camp Eighteen. Home, or at least as much home as anywhere is after these endless vorns of wandering.
"But… but why? It wasn't strategic…" I deliberately selected it to be the least strategic, most pacifist camp on the planet – the last place the Decepticons should come hunting for younglings to slaughter. My optics drop to the twins, Sunny's words haunting me, and I drag them away. This time, when I look around the med-bay, it's not with a medic's optics but with a mech's. I pick out the Neutrals amongst my patients. There. And another. The faces are only vaguely familiar – mechs I've seen around the camp, rather than spoken to – but I know them nonetheless. There's no room, even in my cynical processor, for disbelief.
"How… how many…?"
"We evacuated twenty-nine survivors."
The engineer beside the Praxian stirs, his vocal indicators flashing a pallid green. "I'd've lost half of those, if you hadn't've been here."
"It is Megatron's stated aim to eliminate 'weakness' from our race. Perceived weaknesses explicitly include compassion, neutrality and pacifism. His forces have destroyed nine Neutral resettlement camps in the last eleven orns, without apparent provocation."
I've heard the words before, on a dozen broadcasts I dismissed as Autobot propaganda. I didn't believe them any more than I believed the Decepticon promises of glory. Both factions seemed to be doing a pretty good job of tearing our world apart. Decepticons, Autobots, what was the difference?
My optics shift, flicking now between my Autobot patients, as if determined to find their own answer. I can read the damaged frames like a sparkling's glyph-book. What I read shocks me to the laser core. I'd heard the Autobots were outmatched, but I thought they were at least warriors. These… these are clerks and production mechs, their armour retrofits crude and jarring against their original designs. They're about as much warriors as I am. I can only stare at the engineer who's trying to keep this army on its pedes, and the Praxian officer who watched his city plunge into fire. The conviction rings through his voice.
"Medic." Primus, but I wish that even voice would shut up and leave me with the few illusions I have left. It goes on, relentless. "If the twins Sunstreaker and Sideswipe are indeed younglings, I would have no option but to discharge them into the care of their guardian, and arrange immediate dispatch to the Neutral facility with the greatest projected survival time."
"But, Prowl, we need a medic! The repairs to your wings…!"
It takes no more than a raised hand for the officer – Prowl – to still his engineer's protest. "I'm sure your skills will prove adequate to that task, Wheeljack."
"Yeah, and Unicron's a turbopuppy when you get to know him."
The snide words escape before I can censor them. I can't say I'd blame this Wheeljack if he took umbrage. I'm not expecting a deep, rich chuckle to escape the weary mech.
"Won't hear an argument from me, Ratch."
My charges' nickname for me – shouted in twin voices a breem before – catches me off guard. Prowl sees me flinch, the clear blue glow of his optics steady as he waits for me to marshal my thoughts.
My own optics stray to the intertwined pile of red and gold on the berth behind me, Prowl's words playing over through my processor.
"The greatest survival time?" I ask in a quiet tone my pit-spawns would scarcely recognise.
"I estimate approximately one point three vorns before Megatron eliminates the last established camp. Small pockets of Neutrals may survive thereafter."
"But not for long." The words taste like rust. I can feel my options narrowing, my resolve faltering as I hide my uncertainty behind a scowl.
"I would regret the loss of considerable potential resources – and the likely eventual loss of innocent sparks – but we cannot and will not risk younglings on an active military base."
I hadn't asked him to, but there's genuine regret in his tone. Despite his choice of phrasing, it isn't the resources that trouble the mech most. I cycle my vocaliser, half choking on the words I chose with exquisite care.
"What if, say, for the sake of argument, my pair of pit-spawns were just a vorn or two off adulthood?"
The Praxian gazes at me levelly, hearing the fear I won't admit even to myself. "Then I believe a placement in a two-vorn, pre-combat training programme would not be out of the question."
He doesn't bother to add that I'd be welcome too. If this so-called army has more than a handful of trained medics, then I'm the Unmaker's uncle.
My engine grumbles, my face-plates aching with the depth of my frown. A handful of breems ago, I would have preferred a dose of scraplets to the thought of throwing my lot in with these mechs. A handful of breems ago, I thought they were bombastic lying fools, and I thought I had a home.
I look down at my pedes for a long few klicks.
"Answer me one question."
Prowl raises a brow-ridge, his gaze slipping over my shoulder for a moment before he nods.
"What are you fighting for?"
"To keep the mechs we care for alive."
I think they expected the deep rumble from the doorway to startle me. If they thought a mech the size of a slagging Prime could sneak up on me, they've a lot to learn about medics' sensors.
I turn on him with a growl. Optimus slagging Prime looms over me, warm and understanding, and far too calm for a mech who's brought the whole slagging planet to the battlefield. His armour is scorched, his frame not escaping the universal damage of this Primus-forsaken orn. Once I'd have been shocked. Once I admired the mech. Not now. Any deference I felt has been smelted by the fires of war. If this Prime wants my respect, he'll have to slagging well earn it.
"Your own mechs – your Autobots?"
He meets my optics, without flinching.
"Every one of Primus's children."
Primus damn these slagging Autobots. A lifetime of cynical realism, and suddenly I meet two mechs in a single orn that I can't make myself disbelieve.
He might have to earn respect, but my battered spark is shrieking at me to trust this mech, to believe in his intent, if not his methods.
Sideswipe murmurs, his recharge disturbed by un-sorted memory files. I turn without thinking, the restless twins trumping even Optimus slagging Prime in my priority list. Seeing them recharging in a huddle, even Prowl must suspect they're younger than they claim. If he knew the truth, we'd be on a carrier shuttle before they woke.
Would adding a few vorns to their ages really be so bad? They've carried off older, chosen to do it, and it would give me two precious vorns to see if the slagging Praxian and our battling Prime really know what the slag they're talking about. If nothing else it would keep my two pit-spawns from trying this slagging idiocy out on another unsuspecting base.
It's not like we have anywhere else to go. Really, there's no choice, and I hate it even as I know it.
I nod at Prime, and then at Prowl, agreeing our fates.
"Right. The name's Ratchet. Who's your most experienced medic?"
They just look at me, and I throw up my arms in disgust.
My own deep vent is the only answer. Shaking my helm, my servo stabs from the Prime to a med-berth. "In that case… you: sit."
Optimus Prime cycles his optics and I cycle mine right back at him.
"If you think I'm letting a mech walk out of my repair bay with a sparking arm assembly, you've got a pit-load to learn."
Wheeljack chuckles again, his shoulders dropping as the tension in his frame eases. The smallest hint of a smirk plays across Prowl's lip-plates. And on the next berth, two pairs of sleepy optics watch their Prime sit with unconditional youngling awe.
A warning glare, and the twins' optics dim, my pit-spawned troublemakers finally settling into a deep recharge.
For the first time since I found their berths empty, in a camp now gone to rust, I settle too.
It isn't the path I'd have chosen for us, but something tells me we're going to be just fine.