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Stay the Course

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Almost there, almost there, human speed limits be damned, we're almost there and-

Pain blossomed across my frame just as we fled the road into the treeline, my gears seizing up mid-transformation. I stumbled and fell to my knees, my engine roaring as I tried to think past the agony. I had never felt such all-encompassing pain, a pain that reached past the physical and into my very spark-

Optimus.

Ironhide picked me up, our weapons firing in tandem as we fought our way forward, driving the 'Cons to retreat. We advanced over a hill and my spark flared with shock as I saw the twisted frame of our leader.

His corpse.

My vision blurred as I collapsed next to him, gathering Optimus in my arms and refusing to let go.

~~~

"We should leave."

"No." Ironhide looked over at me, optics wide with surprise. "Leave, now? You're not the type to simply give up, Ratchet."

"It's over," I snarled, bashing a fist into the concrete wall, cracks spreading like spiderwebs from the impact. "Can't you see that? It's over, they've won. We should regroup and leave this disgusting planet to it's fate."

"Listen to yourself," Ironhide huffed, placing a hand on my shoulder. I shrugged it away angrily. "How could you even say that? You know what he wanted from us. How could you just- walk away? From them, from us? Because," he added with a narrowed glare, "we are not leaving."

"Optimus wasn't just your leader." The human captain stepped closer, leaning against Ironhide's foot. "I know how you feel, we all do-,"

I vented harshly, taking a step back. Ironhide's optics shuttered as I began shouting in a mix of their primitive language and Cybertronian.

"No, you do not," Ironhide said calmly below my furious rant. "William, Optimus was not just Ratchet's leader."

"You can't understand!" I accused, pointing at the human. "How dare you even suggest you share my pain!"

"Ratchet, calm down," Ironhide admonished. I cycled a long intake as I attempted to obey. "You specifically wanted this kept from the humans, of course he doesn't understand."

"Kept what from us?" Captain Lennox asked, tinging a tiny fist against Ironhide's foot. As much as I hated to admit it, Ironhide was right; I took another step backwards.

"There isn't a word for it in your language," I said sharply.

"Bonded?" Ironhide supplied helpfully. "Joined in spark and frame. The closest your human customs would be is marriage, except we have no concept of divorce. It is a joining until both cease to exist."

"And that," I sneered, slamming a fist into the wall again, "is why you do not understand. I felt Optimus' spark extinguish. I live in constant suffering with him gone. I have lost my leader, the other half of my spark, my only hope."

"Ratchet, I..." The Captain shook his head, returning my scowl. "We didn't know. Of course I respect your loss, but don't forget all of us feel that loss as well."

"Yes. Well." My fury was waning, the dull ache of mourning filing in to replace it yet again. I glanced up at Ironhide, remotely ashamed of my outburst. "I can't- I can't-,"

"You're not alone," Ironhide said quietly; this time I leaned into his comforting touch. "And I know you, Ratchet. You will spend your last energy fulfilling Optimus' wishes. We will stay here and we will defend this planet."

"...Yes," I replied with a lingering flicker of anger. "Even if only for the sake of revenge."

"And in that, we're all with you," Captain Lennox said grimly.

~~~

The Matrix of Leadership- I didn't believe it when I first heard the excited muttering ripping through the camp.

I began to believe when little Sam gasped and returned from death, crawling with that insatiable human determination toward Optimus.

I felt the moment Optimus' spark revived, thrumming in time with my own, erasing the hollow ache that had been haunting me. There was little time for rejoicing, my logic processor involuntarily shutting down as I watched Optimus fly toward the ancient structures, destroying the machine with graceful ease.

But afterwards, after we were sure the battle was won, after Optimus shed the sacrificed parts and stomped toward our encampment, my resolve broke. My feet pounded the restless sand as I ran, pausing just long enough to see the rare brilliant smile light his face before I was captured in his arms.

My hope lived again, and this time I refused to let it go.