When Ratchet had accepted the position as Optimus Prime’s chief medical officer, he had been given a set list of duties – mainly maintaining the repair bay, keeping his troops in fighting condition, and training and overseeing the other medics under his command. Over time, however, that list of duties had expanded, and a great many tasks that weren’t technically under his jurisdiction had somehow become his responsibility as well. When he wasn’t saving a mech’s life, inventorying a store room, or training First Aid or Hoist in some new procedure, he was serving as a disciplinary force to Jazz or the Lamborghini twins, as a sort of parental figure to the Dinobots, as a therapist for mechs who needed to vent their troubles or frustrations, and as a mediator (or, as it more often felt, a referee) during officer meetings, trying to be the voice of reason when the mechs in charge couldn’t come to an agreement. He supposed the wide variety of tasks that had fallen on his shoulders at least ensured he wouldn’t be bored, though it often left him tearing the paint off his own helm in frustration by the end of every day.
This new duty, however, was an entirely new an unexpected one – that of a caretaker and babysitter.
He tried his best to give the little mechs on his examination table an irritated glower. The last thing he needed was yet another task dumped on him, and yet apparently Prime had decided that he was the mech best suited to taking care of Soundwave’s age-regressed cassettes until they were old enough to fend for themselves. On a purely logical level he could agree with his commander on that count – he WAS the Autobot best trained in these matters. And the cassettes were newbuilts now, extremely delicate and needing a medic’s watchful optic until their sparks had matured more fully.
That didn’t mean he had to like it, of course. Especially when all six of the little brats were demanding a feeding at the same time.
“How did I get saddled with you lot?” he demanded, glaring at the two who were currently on the table.
Buzzsaw and Laserbeak quieted long enough to stare at him with wide optics, as if trying to compute what he was saying, then resumed their plaintive cheeping. The cassette-lings had been small before, but now they were tiny enough that he could have cupped both of them in one hand. Before they had looked like birds of prey, sleek and angular and deadly, but their regression had softened the sharp edges, making them look more like chicks than anything else.
Ratchet kept glowering, willing himself to stay annoyed, but despite all his efforts he found himself thawing toward them. Primus, he was getting soft in his old age.
“Soundwave, are you paying attention?”
The blue sparkling nodded from his perch on a stool at Ratchet’s side. “Yeah.”
“Good, because this is going to be part of your responsibilities from now on,” he replied. “There are going to be times I won’t be available to do this, so you’ll need to take care of these guys. Got it?”
“All right, the first thing you need to do every day is feed these little buggers,” he explained, pulling out an energon cube and a syringe. “Their systems aren’t strong enough to handle a big dose of energy at a time, so you’ll need to feed them a little at a time. Too much and they’ll get sick. Understand?”
Despite himself, he smiled. “Wish certain other mechs listened as well as you. Ready to help me?”
Ratchet handed him the syringe, then showed him how to carefully draw a measure of energon into it. Surprisingly, it had been a challenge securing low-grade energon for the sparklings – it was fairly easy to concentrate energy into high-grade, but difficult to dilute it safely. But Ratchet didn’t dare give the cassettes regular energon, for fear it would damage their delicate systems beyond repair.
Once Soundwave had the syringe ready, Ratchet turned to the cassette-chicks. He carefully scooped the little birds up in his hands, setting them before Soundwave. The chicks spotted the full syringe and immediately started a ruckus, peeping frantically, flapping their wings clumsily, stretching their necks and opening their mouths toward the sparkling.
“Just a little bit at a time,” Ratchet cautioned. “Think you got it?”
“I got it,” Soundwave insisted, and held the syringe over Laserbeak’s open beak. He held it as steady as he could, setting his face in concentration, then squirted a bit of energon into the chick’s mouth. Laserbeak snapped his beak shut, swallowing, then opened it again and began peeping as eagerly as before.
“Move on to Buzzsaw before you feed him again,” Ratchet advised. “Make sure they each get their share.”
“’Kay,” Soundwave replied, and squeezed a little energon into the gold chick’s mouth. While Buzzsaw swallowed that beakful, Soundwave fed Laserbeak again, then moved back to Buzzsaw. Ratchet nodded approvingly as he watched. It seemed Soundwave had this task well in hand, and while it wouldn’t relieve the medic of all responsibility over the chicks, it meant there was one more task he could cross off his list.
Soundwave was about to feed Buzzsaw again when Laserbeak shoved his nestmate aside, chirping urgently to be fed. Buzzsaw fell over on his side, kicking his tiny feet, but seemed more resigned than upset with the push. Soundwave looked up at Ratchet, as if unsure what to do now.
“Hey there!” Ratchet scolded, putting a hand out to push the red chick away from his brother. “Don’t let him get away with that sort of behavior. Don’t hurt him, but don’t give in when he demands more than his share or is rough with his brother, okay?”
“Okay,” Soundwave replied, and reached out to carefully lift Buzzsaw to his feet again before resuming the feeding.
Ratchet kept his hand in place as a barrier until he was sure Buzzsaw had his fair share, then pulled it back and let Laserbeak have his turn. It seemed some of Soundwave’s personality traits from before remained even as a sparkling. He was still quiet, even shy, and didn’t talk much unless someone spoke to him first. And he was still protective of his cassettes, popping into the medbay frequently to check on them and ask Ratchet how they were doing. The medical officer had even caught him trying to smuggle one or more of them out in his chest compartment, an action that might have been adorable had the cassette-lings not been so delicate that such a move could have been dangerous. Only Ravage was old enough to leave the medbay safely.
A soft melody reached his audials, and he frowned, wondering if Jazz or Blaster had hijacked the PA system in order to play tunes. But the sound didn’t seem to be coming from the intercom system, but from right beside him…
A laugh found its way out of his vocalizer. Soundwave was playing his cassettes a lullaby, trying to calm them as he fed them. He wondered if this was new behavior for him, or if even as an adult he’d played music for his creations to relax them. If the latter, then it was a softer side to the former communications officer, one that no one had ever seen.
Finally Soundwave set the empty syringe aside. “Done.”
“Very good, Soundwave. Think you can carry them?”
“Then pick them up – gently – and take them to the incubator, all right? Then we’ll get ready to feed the next batch.”
He nodded and carefully scooped the chicks up, cradling them against his chest as he slid down from the stool and headed for the other side of the medbay. Ratchet followed, watching as Soundwave made for the open incubator and set the cassette-lings inside. Buzzsaw immediately settled into the soft cloth that lined the incubator and fell offline, but Laserbeak toddled around on wobbly legs, seeming intent to explore every inch of his home before sleeping.
Before now, Ratchet had never considered that the cassette-birds could have separate personalities – he had always simply thought of them as annoying flying pests, fairly identical save for color. But now, working with them, he found that they weren’t simply clones of each other. Laserbeak was by far the more outgoing of the two, bold and demanding attention, while Buzzsaw was quiet and withdrawn, preferring to sleep or hide. Ratchet and Soundwave were going to have to be careful not to let Laserbeak walk all over his brother and detract from his care.
Once he was sure the birds were settled in, Ratchet turned to the next group of sparklings. Rumble and Frenzy were curled up together in one corner of the incubator, each small enough to sit comfortably in the palm of his hand. Ratbat, meanwhile, clung to the side of the incubator, wings folded around himself like a blanket. Ratchet carefully detached his little claws and handed him to Soundwave, then scooped up Rumble and Frenzy and carried them to the examination table.
“You’re in charge of Ratbat today,” Ratchet told Soundwave. “I’ve got the cups prepared already, so all you have to do is feed him, all right? I’ll handle the twins.”
“You know you can say more to me than ‘yes’ and ‘uh-huh’ and ‘okay,’ right?”
Ratchet sighed. “Your dad’s got to teach you to be a little more sociable. The bottles are on the counter. Make sure Ratbat gets the smaller one, all right?”
Rumble stirred, onlining his optics, as if the mention of energy had reminded him that his other primary purpose in life at the moment, besides recharging, was refueling. He didn’t wail like a human baby, but the high keen of distress he uttered wasn’t much different to Ratchet’s audials. And the cry served to awaken Frenzy, who wasn’t quite sure what was going on but set up keening as well simply because his brother was upset.
“Quiet, you two,” Ratchet urged softly, holding them to his chest in the hopes that the rumble of his engine would soothe them. “Easy, your energy’s coming…”
Soundwave handed him two of the cups Wheeljack had designed for feeding the sparklings – sealed containers with special lids, almost like the “sippy cups” meant for young human children. Ratchet shifted both cassette-lings to one hand so he could take them, and carefully situated the little mechs in his arms before giving each one his cup. Rumble immediately quieted down, wrapping his arms around the cup and drinking eagerly. Frenzy took a bit longer to calm down, but he eventually accepted his own cup and went quiet.
“There now,” Ratchet said soothingly. “Better, you two?”
Rumble kicked his legs a little as if in answer, then resumed drinking.
Soundwave held Ratbat in the crook of his arm, holding the cup to his mouth like a human mother feeding a baby. The little bat had his wings up, trying to wrap them affectionately around Soundwave’s hand as he drank. Both mechs looked so utterly content at the moment that Ratchet wished he had a holo-recorder on hand. If there were any Autobots who still thought the blue sparkling was dangerous, this sight would have convinced them otherwise.
Finally Rumble had emptied his cup, and with a satisfied coo he promptly let it fall from his grasp and curled up again, falling instantly into recharge. Frenzy took his time finishing off his own energon, as if savoring it, but consequently he ended up falling asleep before he was finished, causing a dribble of energon to trickle from the side of his mouth. Ratchet pulled the cup from his hands and wiped his faceplate carefully before carrying them back to the incubator to rest.
“Ratbat’s done,” Soundwave reported, holding up his hand. The cassette-ling had dug his claws into Soundwave’s plating and now hung from his wrist, looking for all the world like he intended to remain there and nap.
“Silly little scraplet,” Ratchet chuckled, reaching over to remove the bat from his arm. “I’ll get him back to bed while you feed Ravage, all right?” He paused, frowning a moment. “You do know where Ravage is, right?”
“He’s…” Soundwave’s voice trailed off as he looked down at his side, then around the room. “He was right here.”
Ratchet groaned in dismay and deposited Ratbat back in the incubator, where he latched onto the wall and fell right to sleep. “Help me find him. He couldn’t have gotten too far… is the door shut?”
“Oh, Primus fraggit,” Ratchet growled. “He could be anywhere by now!”
“Sorry,” Soundwave whimpered, looking up at Ratchet with wide, sad optics. “I didn’t mean to lose him!”
“No, Soundwave, please don’t cry,” Ratchet told him, trying to calm himself before Soundwave started crying. If Jazz found out he’d managed to upset his adopted son, there would be Pit to pay. “I’m sorry I growled, okay? Let’s just focus on finding him before he gets into trouble. How does that sound?”
“Okay,” Soundwave replied, sniffing. “What’s ‘fraggit’ mean?”
“You’re too young to know, and don’t you dare repeat it to your father, all right?”
“You stay here and search the medbay. I”ll go look out in the halls.”
“Okay.” Soundwave wiped his optics before wandering the medbay, peering under every berth and table. “Ravage? Ravage, c’mere… here, Ravage…”
Ratchet left him to his search and stalked out into the halls, muttering to himself. There were a million places in this base where a cassette-kitten could hide – where in the Pit did this one go?
If Ravage had retained any memories of his former life, he might have been a little more cautious about stalking this particular Autobot. As it was, his sheer size was enough to make him hesitate a moment… but only a moment. A burning desire to pounce and play overwhelmed any fear, and it was all he could do to keep his tail still as he hunkered down, kneading the ground with his paws and ready to pounce.
Grimlock might have noticed the cassette-ling had he been paying attention, seeing as Ravage wasn’t nearly as well-hidden as he liked to think he was. But the Dinobot leader was asleep, in his dinosaur mode and belly-down on the floor, a deep snore rumbling in his jaws. The other Dinobots were sprawled and splayed about the room in slumber as well, occasionally snorting or twitching a limb as they continued to wrestle and spar in their dreams. And curled up on Snarl’s back, nestled between the dual rows of plates that ran down his spinal strut, was Metronix, also asleep and clutching Spotty close as he recharged.
Had Ravage stopped to consider, he might have realized that something about the silver sparkling seemed familiar, though he wouldn’t have been able to place the memory in his databanks. At the moment, however, all he cared was that Metronix was asleep and, thus, unable to point him out to the Dinobots. So much the better.
Ravage watched the tip of Grimlock’s tail switch back and forth, mesmerized by the movement. He crouched lower, his body tensing for the leap. How handy that these mechs came with their own built-in toys for him to play with. Maybe that was why Metronix liked them so much, though Ravage couldn’t see how the silver sparkling could play very well, seeing as he wasn’t built for pouncing.
Grimlock snorted, mumbled something about smashing Motormaster, and resumed snoring. His tail stilled briefly, giving Ravage the opening he needed. He tensed… sprang…
A bellow of rage echoed through the room as Grimlock awakened with a jolt, flinging his head back and baring his teeth in a savage roar. He lashed his tail, almost flinging Ravage off, but the cassette-kitten held on gamely, sinking his teeth and claws into the flailing limb.
“That HURT!” Grimlock howled, turning to glare at the cassette-ling. “You Ravage let go of me Grimlock! Me Grimlock KING, not chew toy!”
Ravage responded by clinging all the tighter, digging his claws in for all he was worth.
“Get off!” Grimlock roared, and lunged at the tip of his own tail. He couldn’t seem to grab hold of it, however, and consequently was soon chasing his own tail in circles. Ravage gripped the tip of the Dinobot’s tail as tightly as he could, terrified and yet strangely exhilarated at the same time. This was the most fun he’d had in ages!
“You Grimlock shut up!” Sludge grumbled. “Some of us trying to sleep here!”
“You Sludge shut up and help me Grimlock!” Grimlock bellowed back. “Get him cassette off me!”
The Brontosaurus shoved himself to his feet and made to head for Grimlock, but ended up stepping on Slag’s tail in the process. Slag came awake with a yowl and rounded on Sludge, and soon the two were biting and kicking on the floor, waking up Snarl and Swoop in the process.
“What going on?” Swoop demanded, beating his wings in agitation. “Decepticons attack?”
“You Slag and you Sludge break it up!” roared Snarl, wading into the fray to try and separate the two combatants.
By this time the noise was great enough to awaken Metronix, who promptly began screaming. Ravage decided he’d had quite enough of this excitement and let go of Grimlock’s tail, skittering away as soon as he hit the floor. And not a moment too soon – Optimus Prime burst into the room the moment he’d ducked into the shadows, followed closely by Wheeljack and Ironhide.
“What in tarnation…” began Ironhide.
“Daddy, help me!” Metronix cried, struggling to stay perched on Snarl’s back. “They’re gonna squish me!”
“Break it up now!” Prime barked. “Metronix, hold on, I’m coming!”
“Guys, knock it off!” Wheeljack shouted. “Slag, Sludge, cut it out! Grimlock, stop chasin’ your tail and help me!”
“Me Grimlock gotta get stupid Ravage off first!”
“Ravage?” Ironhide scowled. “What’re ya talkin’ about? Ravage ain’t even here!”
“Him Ravage right…” Grimlock’s voice trailed off as he stared at the end of his tail, as if just realizing the cassette-kitten was no longer there. “Where him go?”
“Never mind that, help us break this fight up!”
Ravage took advantage of the chaos to slink out the open door. When he chanced a final glance back, he was relieved to notice that Prime had managed to snatch Metronix off Snarl’s back and was carrying him away. Metronix, for his part, seemed to be recovering from the sudden scare remarkably quickly, and he actually giggled.
“Again!” he shouted. “Do it again!”
“You are NOT doing it again…” Prime admonished.
If Metronix had anything to say in response, Ravage didn’t hear it – he took off at a scamper until the fighting and shouting had faded away behind him. Well, that had been more excitement than he’d bargained for. Now he just wanted fuel and a nap, and maybe a cuddle with Soundwave. He just hoped Soundwave wasn’t mad at him for sneaking out…
He skidded to a halt with a high-pitched yowl as something came out from around a corner to block his path. For a moment he considered turning around and running back the way he’d come, but he really didn’t want to face Prime and Grimlock at the moment. Instead he arched his back and uttered a hiss, hoping to scare the newcomer away.
Steeljaw just gazed down at the younger cassette-cat with a resigned expression. In his optics, Ravage’s attempt at threatening him was about as menacing as a kitten trying to intimidate a lion. Which wasn’t far off the mark, he supposed, given their body designs and ages.
Shouldn’t you be with Ratchet and Soundwave? Steeljaw asked, cocking his head.
Ravage responded with another hiss.
Oh dear, how scary, he remarked, flicking his audials slightly. Let me guess, you’re the cause of all the fuss in the Dinobots’ quarters.
Ravage laid his audials back and widened his optics, doing his best to look cute and innocent.
I thought as much. He bent down and gently grasped the cassette-ling by the back of the neck. I’ll get you back to your caretakers before Prime comes looking for you. It’s the least I can do for a kitten, I suppose.
Ravage batted at Steeljaw’s nose a bit, then sighed and hung limply as the cassette lion carried him down the corridor. A few mechs paused in what they were doing to stare, and a few even laughed. Had Ravage been older he would have been taking names for payback later, but now he just braced himself for whatever awaited him at Ratchet and Soundwave’s hands.
“There you are! Where’d you find him, Steeljaw?”
You don’t want to know, he replied, depositing the cassette-ling in Ratchet’s outstretched hand. He’s unharmed, I can promise that much.
“Well, I’m glad you came across him,” Ratchet replied, cupping Ravage to his chest. “Soundwave’s been worried sick about him. And he’s late for a feeding.”
Steeljaw rumbled low in his chest, his version of a laugh. Never imagined we’d be caring for Soundwave’s cassettes instead of fighting them, did we?
“If it means no more putting up with homicidal sneaks in the ventilation system, I’m all for it,” said Ratchet.
Ravage looked up into Ratchet’s optics and meowed questioningly.
“Heh… maybe we’d better finish this conversation another day, when little audials aren’t present,” Ratchet chuckled. “I’d better get this one back to the medbay. He’s had enough excitement for a day.”
Good luck, Steeljaw told him, and loped off.
Ratchet scowled down at the cassette in his hand. “What am I gonna do with you?”
Ravage meowed again, then began to purr softly.
“Don’t start that with me,” Ratchet ordered, trying to sound stern as he walked back to the medbay. “I’m not going to start thinking you little buggers are cute. Because then you’ll be thinking of me as family and then I’ll never be rid of you… Soundwave?”
“Ravage!” The blue sparkling hurried down the hall, hands outstretched and an ecstatic smile on his faceplate. “You found Ravage!”
“Steeljaw did,” Ratchet corrected. “You can thank him later, all right? For now this little one needs to refuel and recharge.”
Ravage meowed happily and hopped into Soundwave’s arms, curling up instantly and purring loudly. Soundwave hugged him close, letting a burst of happy music play from his speakers, then settled him in his arms and set off for the medbay. The cassette-kitten tucked his head under the sparkling’s chin and gave a contented sigh before drifting off into recharge, continuing to purr even in his sleep.
Ratchet trailed a few steps behind the duo, unable to hide a slight smile of his own. These cassette-lings were going to run him ragged before they were mature enough to upgrade. And if they were the slightest bit like their previous selves, they’d be even more of handfuls than the twins could ever be. But sights like this made him think it would all be worth the trouble.