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1.

I'm on watch here
so close your eyes and get some rest

It pleases Ultra Magnus to see how well the crew are taking everything that had happened, at first. Mostly, because he is sure - more than that, he knows he would not be able to put the crew back together, if it fell apart. He knows how to deal with the rogue elements, but this is not the war, and they're no longer a liability, just... individuals who need fixing.

He thinks back on his one very short session and some of the longer - "casual", as if the psychiatrist doesn't take mental notes on everything he says, - talks with Rung. Not "fixing", he corrects himself, not like they're some parts in need of repair. Help, they need help.

But the aftermath proved to be better than he hoped. No one was wreaking havoc on the ship, yesterday he caught some laughter when he passed the bar, and though some of the mechs inside eyed him warily when he stepped in, taking in the new interior of Swerve's, the conversation resumed quite quickly. He listened in for a while, staying in the shadows, not looking for anything in particular, just enjoying the… simple-mindedness, the regularity of it all. What it said about him, he didn't know, and Rung was not there to tell him.

Some of the 'bots he doesn't see anywhere, but that's understandable. The Lost Light is a big ship, and it could just be a coincidence, shifts clashing together. Not to mention many of the crew having received a leave from their duties after all that happened, whether they requested it or not.

In fact, he doesn't see anyone outside the habsuites after he gets a bit farther from the bar. That is a bit more worrying, so Magnus heads towards the security rooms.

Cameras that Red Alert installed - and which Ultra Magnus doesn't use nearly as much as his predecessor, preferring to control everything personally, - show the open places, the lounges and the working stations, with mechs busy as usual there. There are cameras in private habsuites, too, which Magnus turned off immediately upon assuming the duties of the Director of Security. He didn't remove them, though, and now he feels tempted - just for a nano-klik.

Magnus watches the cameras for some time, and then resumes his regular walk.

He walks the strangely quiet corridors, convincing himself the crew are being timidly happy behind the closed doors.

*

The first cue comes from Rodimus. Magnus supposes it's inevitable since he never became good at reading mechs - not that he particularly needed to, - but he got quite adept at reading Rodimus, after all these years.

His first horrifying thought is that the captain's drunk. It wouldn't be the first time, not by far, but Ultra Magnus has never had to deal with that. It was always Drift, drawing attention to himself instead of the inhebraited captain, sometimes by drinking the same amount of engex; dragging Rodimus away from the public places if the situation called for that. Placating him if... if Rodimus needed that.

But the captain doesn't smell of high-grade, despite his EM-field generating a confused bundle of feelings Magnus had come to assosiate with mechs who abused engex with no sense of moderation. He catches himself one click away from comming Drift, on reflex. Rodimus tries to grin and fails, then comes closer and grabs something from the table before Magnus can even see what it is.

"Well?" he mutters.

Rodimus isn't looking at him, concentrating on twirling that thing between his fingers. From what's left on his (not so meticulously) cleaned table, Magnus deduces it must he a broken stylus he meant to get fixed.

"Well?" Magnus asks back, confused.

"The crew. I know you've been looking over them."

Ah. Looking over. He wouldn't call it that. "How do you know?"

Rodimus shrugs, or tries to. His plating rattles suspiciously. "You weren't here. I figured you were taking one of your walks around the ship. Well? How are they?"

"Surprisingly well," Magnus admits and pulls up a datapad. He organises the information in his processor into an extensive list and prepares to give a report in the form the captain requires, surprised and pleased that Rodimus is going along with the protocol at least somewhat, but moreso that he is inquiring about the crew.

But then his audials catch something odd: the sound of metal clanking against metal slows, then stops. For a few nanokliks, the room is filled with nothing but the low wheezing of Rodimus' fans. Magnus tears his optics away from the datapad just in time to see the captain completely out of focus, staring at the parts of the stylus in his hands, now clearly beyond repair.

"You weren't here," he says again, finally, putting the remains back on Magnus' desk.

Magnus stares at him. They're about the same height, with him sitting, but Rodimus stands a bit farther than usual, just enough for it to be noticeable. He's drawn in now: posture, electrofield, an unreadable expression.

The words finally reach his processor. Haven't they already established that?

"Before," Rodimus adds. "Right after it happened, you... you didn't see them then." His optics dim. "It was a mess. They were such a mess, slag, Magnus. And I was... I..." he screws up his faceplates, as if in pain. "Nevermind. But they're not-- not okay. They've just learned to hide it better."

Magnus thinks about what he saw; too few of the 'bots who've been down to Luna 1. Too few in general. And out in the open, there was no gentle mashing of EM-fields, no comfortable buzzing in the background. There was something missing - and some missing.

"And hide," Magnus adds. 

Rodimus nods, his own electrofield carefully locked in now, so unlike his usual self. Magnus resists the unreasonable urge to tell him that they will fix this.

Again with the "fixing".

"Well then. I won't keep you." Rodimus flashes him a grin again, almost normal, almost annoying, almost endearing, and leaves.

It's almost enough to fool him. If only Magnus hadn't spent so long by his side, a constant guard by Rodimus' shoulder; if only Rodimus didn't look like he was barely holding it together.

As he stares at the closed door, his determination to do something grows tenfold.

*

"Well! Look who's here! Haven't seen you since the reopening!"

If the sheer size of him doesn't alert half the bar (the other half too busy being happily - or not - inebriated) to his presence, then Swerve's cheerful voice, used to carrying over a room full of chattering mechs, certainly does the job.

Magnus tries to walk in as unobtrusively as possible, but he doesn't hold high hopes for that. It's not like he couldn't be smaller. He chose against that - and many other things - a long time ago.

He sits down awkwardly before the bar counter. Come to think of it, he never sat here. It was always either come in, reprimand Swerve, get out, or sit at one of the tables far to the side with Rodimus or... well. With Rodimus.

"I was here a couple of days ago," he protests. Briefly, but still.

"Well, congratulations on your stealth then. Who knew," Swerve snorts, or tries to - it comes out as a choked sound; his vocaliser's still a bit off, Magnus notes. "Want anything?"

Magnus stares at Swerve fiddling with the glasses behind he counter, his wide smile momentarily replaced by a concentrated expression, and tries to figure out how much Swerve knows about Minimus Ambus. All that happened after he came back online and punched his way through the outer shell blurred into one big mess, like the data was scrambled. Between Rodimus, and the Killswitch, and the portal-- He briefly recalls Swerve being there, most probably having been transported down to the planet along with Skids.

Skids. Magnus has been meaning to talk to him for a while now, but he rarely sees the theoretician around the ship nowadays, and every time he does, something always stops him from approaching the mech. Maybe it's the way it seems somehow not entirely fair to confront Skids about a crime he does not even remember. Maybe it's Getaway.

"Mags?"

Ultra Magnus finds himself staring at the spotless surface before him. Which is surprising, since the rest of the bar is still in dire need of cleaning. Did Swerve do that?

"I... No, thank you."

"Suit yourself."

It immediatey occurs to Magnus that he should have reproached Swerve on the use of the nickname, but the moment has passed, and he's not even sure he actually wants to. He tries to identify the feeling running through his systems, and the tentative request comes back as endearment.

Right, he needs to get himself together, there's a reason he is here, after all.

"Do you get a lot of visitors these days?" he finally asks.

Swerve appears to muse on that. "Hmmmm. Well, not really a lot, but quite a few. Bots need their fuel, you know, whatever happens. Can't really complain here."

That... didn't really help. How does he carefully steer the topic towards the crew's well-being?

"Uh. As a bartender, you probably hear all sorts of things? And engex is supposed to open you up. I heard," he adds, when Swerve's EM-field starts tingling mischievously. "I just wondered if you ever heard anyone... talking," he finishes lamely.

"Can't say I have. Why? Is there something specific you're looking for? Is there," Swerve leans in, "a dangerous criminal loose?"

"No, no," Magnus hastens to assure him. Maybe, he corrects himself, but not that he knows of. "Just. If anyone has confided in you, lately - I would like to know."

Swerve, for what it's worth, seems to think on it. "If you mean those who were down on the Miracle Moon... they don't show around here much. Ratchet has his hands full, and so does First Aid, even though..." He lets out a sigh. "Tailgate's still in medibay, and well, guess where Cyclonus is. Brainstorm is busy doing stuff I wouldn't even like to know if someone paid me to do it. Perceptor drops by sometimes-- alone. Chromedome... well." He loses the grin completely at this point. "Maybe Skids and Getaway. Not often, usually in the corner." His face crumples even more. "Whirl - there he is, in the back. Makes as much sense as ever. And, well, Rung comes in here sometimes - I suspect his conversations are of the most interest to you. Can't say I ever caught much of them - too busy to eavesdrop, hah."

They both know it's not precisely true - Swerve could find a way to eavesdrop if he wanted. Didn't he want to, then?.. Whatever the case, Magnus can't help but inquire. "Don't you sometimes wish you had someone to help you around here?"

"Nah, the drones are enough. Besides, I have all I need right here," he points somewhere in the direction of a shady spot by the entrance. There, in the corner, not so visible but still massive, stands one of the Legislators. Magnus tries not to look as if he's gaping. "Brainstorm put some attention deflectors on this guy. For a favor." Swerve leans in conspirationally, dropping his vocaliser to a whisper. Magnus isn't sure he even heard the bot speak like this before. "I'm thinking I could reprogram him to uphold some rules around here." 

Magnus has to admit that the bar could use some law system, but this is still... insane.

"Swerve, I can't allow this--"

"No, seriously! Hear me out: no one will be even able to enter with any sorts of weapon. No more accidents!"

"You do realise that many of us have weapons installed in our armour," Magnus notes and winces. He shouldn't have mentioned the armour. Now he's opened himself to all sorts of questions from Swerve. Brace yourself.

Swerve doesn't even notice. "Yeeees... Well, we'll think of something, right?"

Magnus stares at him incredulously. We?

"Or - who knows, maybe we'll pick someone on our way! I mean, who could refuse supplying the drinks on the legendary quest, maybe even..."

Swerve's easy chatter fills his audials, about the contact with Cybertron, about his plans for the bar, and Magnus finds himself relaxing, but there's something else, nagging him - not even the fact that he found out practically nothing since he came in, just proved what he already knew.

He's glad at least someone is visibly happy; it reminds him that there were good things that happened since Overlord, since Luna 1. Because of Luna 1, even - like Tailgate's miraculous rescue.

But Swerve has plans; Swerve has dreams. It hits Magnus suddenly that he can't relate.

The bar, except for its bartender, is quiet - more quiet than it should be, considering the number of mechs he noticed on his entry. There seems to be less of them now. Magnus reminds himself that it's probably just a case of shifts colliding with each other, a coincidence. Even so, Swerve has not moved from behind the bar counter for the whole time he's been here, and that is... unnerving.

"Don't you have... somewhere to be?" Magnus inquires, carefully.

Swerve's face crumples a bit, and Magnus cringes inwardly, but then Swerve seems to remember something and gives him an easy smile. "Nah. All yours."

Ultra Magnus exhales and stays for a little longer.

*

His second stop is Rung's office - and it should've been the first, except he thinks he's slowly becoming better at this. Want to see how the crew fares? Go to the bar.

Nevermind the fact that he learned practically nothing there.

"I saw you at Swerve's," the psychiatrist notes, once Magnus has explained, repeatedly, that he is not here for an appointment and he would not like to make one. "That's good." Like it's some sort of achievement, some sign that he's making progress.

The psychiatrist does not ask what he was doing there, but Magnus still feels pressured to answer, as if him simply visiting the bar for some refreshments was out of the realm of possibility.

"I… They need help," he says plainly.

Rung studies him for a moment.

"And that is, actually, what I wanted to talk to you about," Magnus adds.

Rung lifts his optic ridges slightly. "Yes?"

Magnus discovers that he is still not sure how to go about it. There are no instructions about this sort of thing, no manuals. He can interrogate, but he never really liked doing it. He has no protocol for "unobtrusively visit the crew, find out their problems and softly get them back together".

He is sitting in front of Rung, hands clasped together, a giant lump of armour opposite the tiny orange mech. They both know he's even tinier, in reality. He feels so very small.

"I just... I know they're not alright. And this is not something I can fix. Damnit! Not something I can help with."

"And that worries you."

Of course it worries him. Magnus exhales, trying to control his thrumming field.

"This is not about me."

"You can't really help anyone if you're in no shape to do it," Rung says, gently. "What happened on Luna 1 changed things - for many of us, but especially for you. You can't just throw that aside."

He can do his best.

They are silent for a moment. Then, "Why are you doing this?" Rung asks, with his hands clasped, leaning in a little. Magnus can feel his EM-field: calm and comforting, ready to reach out. He resist the urge to brush it off.

"This?"

"Trying to help them. I understand the desire, believe me. But you know as well as me, that it is my job, and my duty, to do this. It is not yours."

And therein lies the problem: everything the psychiatrist says makes perfect sense. This is not his duty, it never was. But what is his, now?

He can easily imagine what Rung can say next. He has to come to terms with what he was, what he is. Has to confront his own identity. He is trying to help others so as not to focus on fixing himself. All of these are true, and yet--

"I would see them well," Magnus finally says, barely audible.

Rung's optics dim lightly behind the spectacles, his biolights shining steadily. "Of course." He hesitates. "I have some datapads for you. They may be of help, in some way. You know I can't really tell you anything about the crew, except the most general things," he says, almost sadly. Magnus nods. "Try and talk to them, but don't insist. Be there. It's the least… but sometimes, the most we can do."

For a brief moment, Magnus doesn't stop his field from reaching out and there - he feels Rung's startled reaction. Then the comfort seeps back to him, like an embrace or a handshake, that Earth custom he instantly got the hang of.

He sees Rung starting to smile and stands up. "Thank you."

"My pleasure." The smile falters, but stays on.

He turns to leave, a bit unsure, as if feeling something unsaid lingering in the room.

"Magnus," Rung calls, stopping him just before the exit. "I've been thinking. Do you realise what going to Luna 1 meant?" Magnus halts, uncertain. "Do you realise, that if we hadn't been there, Tyrest most definitely would have activated the Killswitch by now? And we would be absolutely powerless to stop him?"

He nods, automatically, as if, of course, it was obvious, wasn't it?

He feels that Rung is not convinced. "Think on it," the psychiatrist adds.

Magnus nods again, for good measure, and exits.

*

He comes back to his office the next day, still lost, for some reason spending a few moments staring at his door. The words engraved on the plate seem to mock him.

Here, alone, it's easier to admit that Rung's words struck a nervous circuit. As much as he worries about the crew, he can't forget his part in bringing this upon them. For a short moment, he almost wonders if he should go and speak with Rodimus about that. It's unreasonable; he's never confided in him, not like that, except maybe down on that blasted moon.

It changed them, Rung said.

Of course it did. Magnus just didn't know which way. He knows he doesn't have his position anymore. He knows that far too many people now know about his identity. Two things, his duty and his armour, lost at once. He knows this. Somehow, this knowledge doesn't help at all. He walks the corridors, he walks through his office, his quarters, the bar, the security room, but he can't find the easy self-assured feeling that seemed to accompany him before when he watched over the crew. It's just like after the smiling incident. It's almost like walking on the renewed Cybertron and never belonging, wherever he stepped.

*

"Why did you come?" he asked the countless time.

Ultra Magnus seeked out Rodimus' expression, but the captain had turned his back and was standing very still. Something brought this on, he was sure, something was troubling the captain, but he was clueless as to why.

Rodimus, for his part, immediately confirmed his assumptions. "Say it. Say it! You couldn't trust me to carry this out on my own, could you?"

"I couldn't even think of staying behind," Magnus admitted.

It hadn't entered his thoughts. The doubt had crept in almost immediately after the launch, if not earlier, but it was still closer to "we all should not have left", and not just... him, staying there. Staying on Cybertron, while Rodimus and the others had gone.

The captain whipped around. "What?" he asked, as if stunned. Why was that surprising?

Magnus tried, in a fit of desperation, "I didn't know what to do. Think of it. What use would an… an Enforcer be with all those mechs who might not have even heard of the Tyrest Accord? The chaos back there. What should I have made of it?"

The reasoning was logical, but felt false and hollow. He hadn't thought of it in such terms back there. It was obvious, it was unquestionable, absolute. He tried to imagine himself back there. For all the times he wanted to leave, his mind turned up blank at that.

"Huh. Guess I made it all about me again?" Rodimus chuckled, but his bright optics were locked onto Magnus and there was a brief longing in his EM-field.

It is about you, Magnus almost said, but it's not like Rodimus needed another ego-booster. He coughed and said something about the security measures.

*

Now, Rodimus turns up at his door, and Magnus still has no idea what to tell him. He doesn't even know why he feels like he should report to his captain. But Rodimus looks helpless and about to fall apart, and he lets him in.

He tries to look stern - it was easy once, whenever he talked to Rodimus, or saw him, - but he feels he just looks tired.

"We need to help them," he says simply.

"I know," Rodimus collapses into the chair opposite his table. The enormity of the sound is startling. "I know. I should do something. I wish I knew."

Magnus notes that the captain didn't pick up on his use of first person plural instead of singular. Or maybe that was intentional.

It's not your job.

"Has Ratchet checked you up?" Magnus inquires, unable to stop himself. Worried, for Rodimus, also a part of this crew.

"Oh, nevermind that now." The orange mech vents a sigh. "I'm lost, Magnus. Completely. All the things I've done, I've tried to do after the... the "Miracle Moon", and yet... I know I must come clean, even though I hate to think I'm doing this for my own good. What good will it do them now? The damage is already done."

Magnus comes closer to Rodimus, his processor whirring with what to say. He knows the right words are there, somewhere, but he can't find them. Maybe Rodimus needs to see Rung.

All the while, the other continues. "I tried, I swear, after the Killswitch-- I tried. I did all the right things! I let Max go. I let Red Alert go. They're better now - hopefully. What does this even mean - is the quest a failure, if people are better off without it? If they..."

He grimaces and finally looks up at his second-in-command. It's his cue to speak, and Magnus is ready. Almost.

"You did do the right things," he replies, steadily. His hand hovers in the air, unsure. For a moment, it seems as if Rodimus will lean into it, but he hugs himself instead. "Some mechs need different things," he says. "You gave them a choice."

"A choice? Did I give everyone a choice? Did Drift--"

Ultra Magnus finally fixes him with a serious stare. Rodimus looks desperate, unvoiced plea visible on his face. He is one of them, Magnus realises. He's just another broken piece. Another mech who needs help. Only him, he can read better. Him, Magnus can help, right now. He can at least try.

He chooses the next words with precision.

"You have told me. You told me why he did it. He wanted you to continue." And they both know Magnus may not agree, he may not want this quest to continue, at least not in this way.

But it's not Magnus the captain needs right now; that he knows as well.

"Drift wouldn't want you to give up."

Rodimus visibly crumbles, his plating sagging.

"I miss him," he whispers. "Fragger, I miss him so much. I never wanted... I..."

There's nothing Ultra Magnus misses about Drift. He always tried to limit their interactions to the formal meetings and councils, but there's nothing formal about how Rodimus runs the ship. He wasn't specifically annoyed by the third-in-command. He just preferred to keep their contact to minimum.

But Drift has always found his way into the meetings that could have as easily involved just the two of them. And it was there that Magnus first sensed it, the way something calm and comfortable descended upon the room. It was months before Magnus noticed Rodimus looking over the two of them, his second and his third, and smiling slightly, and understood it was his EM-field reaching for them, enveloping them - naturally, without a second thought. Magnus used to brush off the way Rodimus tried to create some unique command trio out of three of them. It was obvious he dreamed of leading a team on a grandiose journey with two loyal companions by his side. "Loyal" wasn't a problem, however loathe Magnus was to admit it. He could doubt Drift's loyalty to the autobot cause-- but that, of course, didn't exist anymore, - but not to the captain in person.

So he tried to work with that - after all, he had a long practice of adapting to what others thought and expected of him. After a while, he arrived at the realization that Drift's former loyalties didn't even come into picture that much - it was just the fact that they disagreed on practically every single thing. When he expressed concern over this - several times, in both written and spoken form, - - Rodimus clapped one or both of them on the shoulder pads, grinned and said that this was why they worked.

Drift used to smile at that.

For a mech whose company he very consciously did not enjoy, their former third-in-command occupied way too many of his memory slots.

There are other things he remembers. There is one that comes up now, unexpected and unwelcome.

He has, of course, seen Drift and Rodimus on their own, especially after he had to take over all of the security. But it's not the visual recordings that come to his mind now, but rather the times he caught a glimpse of just the two of them, alone, a whiff of the fields, humming slowly, comfortably. He did not often think of that - it was in no way applicable to the running of the ship, or his own duties, or... anything.

It was simply the way Rodimus looked, felt, sounded-- relaxed. More than he used to be when it was just the three of them, and the realization that he was this attuned to the captain's moods, or the way his field felt, was... another thing Magnus would not think on.

It just felt like he let go with only Drift beside him.

Not that it mattered then. Not that it matters now, because as miserable as Rodimus looks, Magnus simply can't become someone else, someone Rodimus can relax around. And why would he? Why would he want to?

But if he misses something about Drift, then it's the way Rodimus was with him.

*

Later, Rodimus apologizes to him. Magnus isn't sure why, but he accepts it all the same. Rodimus needs at least someone to accept his apologies.

Maybe Rodimus also feels like he can't confide in him, and so thinks that his moment of open emotion deserves an apology. Magnus understands: not much in their relationship is exactly conductive to open talks, not that there's anyone the ex-Enforcer feels like having open talks with. Painfully honest conversations is another thing Ultra Magnus is not made for, one-time occasions of too much fuel aside. He would like to tell Rodimus that the captain can talk to him about such things, but the only reason he can provide is that it would be good for crew's well-being. (For Rodimus' well-being.)

He doesn't remind Rodimus of his promise - his decision to come clean to the crew, because he sees it every time he looks in Rodimus' optics: he remembers. It would be excessive. Magnus wonders when he had started being so sensitive around his commander, when did not causing him pain become a decisive factor in conducting the ship. There's no exact date. There's no exact word for the way it feels, either.

*

He used to go centuries without getting the armour off. Now, though. There's this strange sort of itch, and he's not supposed to get itches. Deep-wired means that no sensation of his original frame can't be reached from outside.

This one is different. He feels strange in the Magnus armour, almost exposed, almost like on Luna 1. It feels like he can't hide inside it anymore, as if it shows his every blemish instead of disguising it. Before, those few (more like two) times he took the armour off, he was always eager to get it back on. He was eager to forget what was inside. He wishes it was as easy right now, with half the ship knowing about Minimus Ambus.

He should get back to Rung with this.

He can't help but wonder, these days. What would Rodimus do, if he just took the armour off and sat in his office like that, reduced to the barest minimum? What would they all do? Does anybody even care? Tyrest used to say that Ultra Magnus was a figure of respect - the words Minimus repeated so many times, to himself, in private, to others. They almost disgust him now, irreversibly tied to Tyrest. In that light, leaving behind his title is almost a relief. How good it would be to leave it all behind.

Magnus scolds himself at this thought. There are others, on this very ship, who have it so much worse than him right now. Mechs who don't even have armour to hide in, who would do anything to get something back, who got hurt and who suffered; those who aren't even there anymore--

He wonders, almost helplessly, unwillingly, what Drift would think of Minimus.

*

"Magnus? Is something wrong?"

He flinches, caught unaware, but turns away from the various tools scattered on the desk and faces Ratchet. The medic looks tired, but not annoyed, which is no small thing when it comes to their still-CMO.

Magnus wants to say that the state of their medibay is very, very wrong, but he has been around the ship. This is cleanliness itself compared to, say, the shuttle bay.

"No. No. I just wished to inquire... uh. Well. How is everyone?"

"As usual. Those who needed patching up have been patched up, mostly." Ratchet looks a bit suspiciously at him. "Is there a problem? Has Smokescreen already re-established illegal racing onboard? Did Whirl do something stupid again? Because I will just stop fixing him at one point."

"It's... not abour Whirl. Or Smokescreen." Or, maybe it is, as much as it is about them all.

For once, he decides to be absolutely direct. Digging for information discreetly has gotten him nowhere. "I am... worried about the crew. I wondered if you could tell me something about their state, or... or how to help them."

Ratchet ex-vents and sits on one of the berths, empty at this time.

"They're coping as well as you might imagine. No one exactly comes to the medibay when they're feeling particularly broken on the inside... not anymore, anyway," Ratchet's expression hardens for a nano-klik, but then it's gone. "But it's not hard to see. I talked with a few of them since then. I think they're mostly recovering from the attack on the ship. For some, working on the repairs helps. Having work to do... usually does that. The contact we established with Cybertron was also a bit of a morale booster, as far as I've heard." He snorts. "As if it's any saner down there, if Starscream's in charge."

Magnus nods all the while. It reassures him, if only a little.

Ratchet is silent for a minute.

"Magnus... I understand why you're doing this. We're both aware that this blasted crew needs someone to help them. But... I know you have faced the aftermaths of the situations much more dire, as well as I."

Magnus dims his optics. If Ratchet's gaze becomes sympathetic, he doesn't want to see it. If he begins to question his motives, ask him the reasons--

"So. We will get through this," Ratchet says.

Reassurance is so far from what he's expected to hear that his optics come back online almost involuntarily. He can't hold the medic's gaze, though, and lets his optics wander.

It's only now that he really looks at the medibay. It looks... deserted. Something is not right.

"And where is..?"

Ratchet gestures to somewhere behind him before Magnus can finish. He glances there and sees a vague purple shape way in the back.

"No, more to the right," Ratchet adds, when he holds his helm up and sees the direction of Magnus' look. Right, there is First Aid, seemingly sorting out the medical supplies. He is slow and doesn't take his optics off the task in front of him. A vial falls to the floor, without breaking. First Aid wordlessly picks it up.

"He's not much use to anyone in this state," Ratchet adds.

"Should I order--"

"No." Magnus frowns, and the CMO rushes to explain, "I already did. He came back even worse. For all that the medibay must remind him of Ambulon, and of that... of Pharma," he spits out, the usually controlled field flaring, "he's better here, doing something."

"If you say so."

Far be it from him to judge what's better for others. He doesn't even know what's right for himself.

"I was trying to help them," Magnus mumbles and then realizes he's said it out loud. "Maybe it's me who needs help."

Ratchet shrugs. "Sometimes the only one you can help is yourself. Doesn't mean you stop trying."

"What are you saying?" he asks, helplessly.

"You're the first Magnus who lived to see the war end. It's all in your hands." Ratchet looks him straight in the optics. "You have the power to change it. Tyrest was chasing his own dream, and, ultimately, meant to use Ultra Magnus for that. But he is gone, and you are you. You can do anything, you can be anything."

Magnus is sure his emotions are easy to read on his faceplate by now, because Ratchet smiles.

Somehow, it does help. Ratchet is startingly good at this - but then, he probably had a lot of practice dealing with the uncertain, wavering mechs, despite what he says. Not every spaceship or institute is lucky enough to have Rung.

Even here, he supposes there are some mechs who would seek comfort here instead of the psychiatrist's office.

"You are welcome," Ratchet says, even though Magnus is still silently thinking of something to say, and then, just as the ex-Enforcer nods and is about to head for the exit, adds, confirming all his suspicions at once, "Oh, and tell our precious captain he's welcome to drop by any time."

*

The corridors echo the loud clang of his footsteps.

Ratchet's words ring in his helm ever still, louder.

The problem always was that he couldn't do anything. He can't don his armour, he can't tell anybody his secret - that is obvious, but besides that, there always were hundreds smaller rules that he swore to obey. And he did, unwaveringly, because most of them went with upholding the law he followed to the letter - and if some put restrictions on him, on his persona and emotional displays, the way he should behave, think, feel - well, he was never very emotional to begin with.

And his persona was no longer his own. He had to change to become one and the same with the armour. Oh, the armour fit perfectly, the armour was perfect, it was him that had to change to fit in it. To fit in.

But at least he had the armour to hide behind.

It is almost painful to change his image of Drift to something that does not say "EX-DECEPTICON" in large red letters, to not see a shadow of Deadlock hanging over him. To admit that the months on the Lost Light didn't help him to stay that resolute in his views on what Drift actually was, that something in him wanted to see him the way Rodimus saw him, the way, he is certain, Ratchet started to see him.

But all he sees now is someone who stood out in the open, with all his previous deeds known, and still tried to fit in. Only to throw it all away for the sake of Rodimus' captaincy.

He draws in a sharp ventilation. When did it begin? Was it only after Rodimus told him about what Drift had done, or was it before? Or was it after Magnus' secret had gone out?

It's strange - strange to think of it now, when it's too late. Strange to think how Drift would probably get him - would get Minimus. He would not say anything out loud, would not try to talk to him about that (he almost shudders to imagine that) - he would just... quietly acknowledge that. Acknowledge the reasons why Minimus would leave everything behind to be Magnus.

And then Magnus wonders, when did he come to be so sure of what Drift would do.

He wonders if this is what Rodimus wanted, back when they were three.

The Lost Light is comfortingly familiar and endless, hollow around him, and for a moment he imagines that it's Minimus Ambus walking around the ship. Just another mech on a quest for the unknown. 

He wanders until he stumbles upon the captain in the wide open space of the briefing hall.

For a minute, Magnus lingers, just looking at Rodimus, who strolls around with no sense of direction, stands in front of the window, clicks his fingers, then turns, walks around some more, muttering something to himself, apparently.

He seems as lost as Magnus himself, as lost as this ship.

"Rodimus," he calls.

The orange mech nearly jumps, and Magnus immediately reaches for him with his electrofield. The captain turns around and smiles.

"Oh, it's you."

There's no reason to reply, of course it's him, but Magnus can!t help but nod. Rodimus is looking at him in expectation, and now he must think of the reason he is here, and of the reason he couldn't just walk by. If only the captain said something, if only he had an axis to function around

Rodimus inhales and hungs his helm. It's almost visible, the way something, someone is weighing him down. He exhales, and the sound is a cough, rattling and broken.

Magnus fixes his attention on that, the evidence of a broken state, a symptom.

"Are you avoiding the medibay?"

Rodimus slowly looks up at him.

"What. No." He lets out a small laugh. "Don't be ridiculous."

"You're falling apart."

"First Aid fixed me up!" Rodimus protests.

Magnus looks at him sadly. "I have been there. I have seen First Aid. I don't doubt his skills, but in his current state he isn't fit to--" and so on he goes, until he hopefully forgets all he wants to say and do, but cannot. Can not, but Rodimus' electrofield is weak and his shoulders stooped, and the impulses flood his whole system, warning upon warning, begging him to act. It is easier to fall into the familiar routine.

"Okay, okay," Rodimus is saying, holding his hands up. "I get it. If it will make you happy, I will go there. Again."

This was not what he meant, or wanted, but it's good enough. He can't do anything, whatever Ratchet says. Not this.

"Good," Magnus says, turns and goes back the way he came. It is pointless, but even one more nano-klik with Rodimus would be too much.

Some days later, he goes to see Rung once more. The door slides open, he steps in and pours himself out.

2.

Tell me nonsense
I don't want to see

Is he avoiding the medibay?

That is stupid. He did go there right after doing everything that needed to be done on Luna 1 and around the ship. That... was a couple of days too late, but First Aid saw to fixing him. Rodimus was not sure he should have been working, but Ratchet was, miraculously, missing, and the captain was eager to get it over as soon as possible. So, it seemed, was First Aid.

And he feels fine. The fact that in the mornings he can feel his internal mechanisms coming online, bit by bit, slow and more than a little painful, is nothing. The fact that he has problems recharging is nothing. It's much less than they all endured in the last few weeks.

But he has to prove Magnus wrong, and just for that, he comes to the medibay.

Ratchet is there, of course, and raises his optic ridges slightly upon the sight of him.

"Good to know he can still reign you in," Ratchet notes. Rodimus wants to scoff, but his spark is not in it. Whatever he says.

He flops down on the uncoccupied berth. "I should've come earlier, I know." He sighs. "I... I thought you had your hands full anyway."

Ratchet emits a small sound, not exactly agreement, but not rebuttal, either. He sits on the chair beside Rodimus and goes to work.

It has always been somehow soothing to watch him do his job, but Rodimus is nervous this time, for no reason he can name. He doesn't really like hospitals - who does? - but it's Ratchet.

He's not scared of Ratchet. It's just too quiet. He has enough quiet in his quarters.

The CMO is working slowly and surely, but he is frowning, and the expression is both comfortingly familiar and tired, in an overwhelming way, and Rodimus feels his spark tug in sympathy. Maybe Rachet doesn't particularly like this horrifying stillness too.

"Seems... a bit empty," he ventures.

"At least it's quiet," Ratchet grumbles in return, not taking his eyes off the plating in front of him.

And Rodimus doesn't know what it is about Ratchet's tone that causes him to speak. The fact that it sounds tired, or too harsh, or if it sounds like something the doctor made a habit of repeating to others and himself, or the fact that Rodimus knew Drift dropped by the medibay altogether too often.

"I miss him too," he blurts out.

For a moment, Ratchet just looks confused. For a moment, Rodimus wishes he would stay that way, because a misunderstanding would be better than--

Than this. The movements, sure, unhesitant, calming touches of their CMO slowly halt, and his optics glow darker, if that is possible in the bright, almost blindingly white light of the medibay. Rodimus flinches as if the medic is going to throw something at him.

He does.

"Oh? Do you miss him or the way he sucked up to you?"

Rodimus freezes up. How dares he, how-- What does he even know-- He asked me himself, he wants to say, he did, when he remembers that Ratchet doesn't know.

Somehow, that stops every indignant reply forming in his mouth.

He doesn't try to confide in Ratchet after that.

*

The same evening he comes to Magnus' office, without even checking his private habsuite first. He stands in front of the door with the plate that looks like someone just gave up on it and simply put a chunk of metal where the words "Duly Apointed Enforcer of Tyrest Accord" previously were.

He comes in, slowly, holding his helm high, spinal strut straight, his badge polished and his stride even, and Magnus would be proud.

Magnus looks concerned. He can't bear it. He can't bear all of it.

"Magnus," he says, "Gather everyone in the briefing hall. I have an important announcement to make."

Deep down, he already knows Ratchet won't forgive him. But at least it will be justified. It will be better if he hated him for this than whatever the medic has imagined himself. He knows nothing.

*

In the end, he wasn't even afraid. It was the right thing to do.

That's what he tells Magnus, later, clenching his hands into fists, staring outside into the black unforgiving space from the spot where Magnus likes to stand when he thinks Rodimus doesn't see him.

Saying the words - admitting it out loud, in front of the whole crew, telling it fact by fact - put him once again before what he's done.

It stares him right in the face, and he wants to scream, wants to scramble away, wants to offline his optics and never, never catch a glimpse of the crew listening to him while he described his part in bringing the horror unto them.

Magnus breaks the silence first. "You didn't bring up anyone else."

Rodimus doesn't even dignify that with a reply.

*

It's a nightmare. He thought it would be better - he thought it would be the right thing. It was. It still is.

But he can't walk the corridors now. He can't look them in the optics, he can't stop thinking, How did you vote?

He doesn't even know the names of some of them, and they hate him, and they have every right to.

He finds himself in front of the door to Magnus' office, again, for what feels like a thousandth time, like it could solve anything. He feels sick. He doesn't enter.

*

It's Magnus who comes to him this time. He lingers in the doorway after Rodimus' weak "Open".

He recognises the uncertain pulsing of the EM-field, but doesn't look up. There's a pause, during which his second undoubtedly takes in the state and furnishing of the room. Rodimus is waiting for him to comment on it, but Magnus is silent.

"You can't go on like this," he finally says. "You can't lock yourself up and hope it will pass."

"Did Rung tell you that?"

The silence that follows is poignant. Rodimus chuckles. Recalls their conversations with the psychiatrist just after it all happened.

"Can't believe he would concern himself with me now," he mutters.

"That's not how you accept your mistakes," Magnus tries, again. "He agrees. So do I. So would..."

"Drift?" He lets out a mirthless laugh, trying to stabilize his fans. He finally raises his helm from where he's sitting on the floor. Magnus looks - Magnus feels stuck between reprimanding him and falling to his knees beside him. But no, he must be imagining it. The worst thing is, Rodimus wants to reach for him, wants his electrofield and his arms enveloping him, he wants the comfort he did not deserve. It was so easy, before, when he didn't have to doubt that the other understood, when they both could just put all their failings behind. It's so selfish of him, but he craves it, that quiet acknowledgement, that unfailing support.

"How could he leave me?" he hears someone whisper, and from Magnus' incredulous stare he understands it must have been him, and it's too late: too late for him to care, to correct his mistakes, or to bring Drift back.

"You're angry at him?" Magnus asks, finally, and it's so far from the truth, and yet. Yet, too close.

"He left me," Rodimus spits out. "He went up and slaggin' left me with a kiloton of guilt and a ship full of mechs who were one tidbit of knowledge away from hating me, just after you-- when you died."

"I didn't…" Magnus tries.

"You died! Don't say it-- it doesn't make any difference. You died. We thought-- Ratchet said you had ten days to live. And I did it-- I let it happen, and I let Drift confess to it."

"Rodimus!" Magnus says at a higher frequency, but then lowers his voice again, milder, and oh how dares he, "I know this is hard, I know you feel guilty because of him, but you can't deal with it like--"

"The frag do you know!"

He's standing up now, clutching his hands into fists. He knows he's being unfair, he knows this has more to do with him than Magnus, or Drift, or any of the crew, actually. He's just past the point of caring.

"Slag, sometimes I wonder if... I don't even know why I... It seemed so obvious, to confess, but it's not like it actually helped anyone."

When Magnus speaks again, his voice is cold, and Rodimus knows he failed again. "When you did it, when you confessed, you did not do it for yourself. You did it for the others. Because they deserved to know the truth."

Thing is, he is not sure. It was so easy to think about how he would make amends, when he was about to be killed by the reverse Killswitch-- but now, he can't know for certain who he did it for. Drift. Magnus. The crew. Himself.

And it's terrifying.

"I couldn't take it anymore," Rodimus whispers, barely in the hearing range.

"So did you confess to get rid of your guilt?" Magnus presses.

"I don't know!" he shouts weakly. "Magnus, I don't-- I'm not you, I don't have a reason for everything I do!"

"That's not--"

"That's beside the point! Yes, maybe you did guilt trip me into doing it. Yes, I did it to apologise to Drift. And yes, of course, I did want to stay as the captain! All of these are true and none of them are!"

Rodimus doesn't even notice the way he's shaking so much that his plating rattles loudly, or shouting for the whole ship to hear. Magnus is looking at him with that sad look he hates, hates, hates it.

"I've done so many horrible things", he almost says.

"I'll be better," he doesn't say.

"Next time I won't fail."

The words never leave his mouth because it's beside the point. This is done.

He crumbles to the floor and sits there, staring blankly at the giant window. After a long time, Magnus speaks.

"You did it because it was the right thing to do." It sounds almost like he's repeating after someone - but Magnus doesn't do that, does he? - and then comes the anticlimatic realisation that he's just throwing Rodimus' words back at him.

And well, not counting the fact that he totally and absolutely lied that time, it's as good a guess as any.

 

He spends the next few days thinking of the reasons not to come to Magnus' office, because enough is enough. He wishes he could just visit one of the crew, wishes he could just go out and walk through his blasted ship, but it feels impossible in some strange way, like there's a horrible, unbreachable gap between him and them. He doesn't feel sick that much, just endlessly distant. Maybe that is the way it's supposed to be. He's not their friend, he is their captain. Maybe. Maybe for the last few days.

Funny that he's only learning that now.

Or maybe it's fitting to finally learn he's not cut for captaincy when he will surely soon have to resign.

Stupid, what are you on about? He can almost hear it, or maybe he would just like to hear it; can almost see Drift: smiling, softly, a little sadly, the way he rarely did in public. He wishes, more than ever, that he could see that again, without the need to dim his optics.

And then the vote is finished. He brings the result to the screen after a minute that stretches into a small eternity - and stares at it, feeling like his processor is frying. He stares at the numbers until he feels like they're engraved in his systems, they're seeping through his fuel lines, as if they want to find their way to his spark and stay there.

He loses track of time. A chirp from a datapad brings him out of it - it's the automatic notification informing him that the vote is finished and the results have been processed. The thought that he would need a notification makes him laugh, shortly, though it sounds closer to a sob. When he closes the notification, he sees an endless list of memos, all checked as "read", from Magnus.

Magnus and his uncertain, questioning, annoying support. His complaints and sad looks and sticking to the rules and that field, always too soft and too warm for a rigid mech like him, reaching out sometime, uncertainly, but never asking for anything.

He feels so stupid.

He heads towards Magnus' personal quarters, almost automatically, as if his second didn't spend the entirety of his hours in his office; he is there.

Magnus raises his helm, in an open look, honest, warm despite the fact that he is not smiling, and Rodimus feels as if something's clutching his spark.

He knows his second is waiting for him to say something about the results. He knows they will talk about it, will have to. Right now, he revels in the fact that he won't talk about himself.

"Magnus, I just realised - you. You said everyone needs different things, and I didn't even realise - what was it you need?"

Magnus takes his time. He looks at the stack of datapads in front of him, mouth slightly open, not raising his optics for a full four minutes. After the first two pass, Rodimus is officially uncertain what to expect. After three, he's almost certain he fragged this up, again. Then his second looks at him again. There's a barely familiar tilt to his mouth.

"A new plate."

*

He is the first to see it.

Rodimus comes inside Ultra Magnus' office, grinning the moment he enters, gesturing animatedly and describing  the new grand idea he has for after they get back on track - to show that nothing's changed, not between them. Magnus will listen, be slightly disappointed and try to persuade Rodimus to change his mind. Or something along these lines. It will be like this because he doesn't want to lose Magnus, exasperating, predictable, comforting presence by his shoulder. Doesn't want him to be someone he doesn't really know.

And so he talks until he notices Magnus studying him intently, evidently without listening - and the thought is so ridiculous he forgets what he was saying and can't even remember if the other mech said something.

Magnus stands up and offers him his hand. Rodimus looks on it, then back to the other mech, failing to comprehend. Confused, he reaches back with his own hand, unsure of what Magnus wants to do. Is he leaving? Does he want to thank me for serving with me or some other slag like that?

He doesn't have anything to say, nothing to offer Magnus, he has no promise of another galaxy-wide position, he only has this ship and this crew and this stupid damned quest, and that's--

"Magnus--" he begins to say, but his second in command just takes his hand in one of his and studies it, turning it over, palm up. Then he carefully touches the carvings with his fingers. Rodimus represses a shudder.

"These are... the results of the vote." He sounds surprised. Why does he sound surprised?

Rodimus nods. For a moment they are quiet.

"I can't forget it - I can't forget them. Not only the ones that voted against me, but the others-- that couldn't vote."

He tries to clench his hand, to press his fingers to the carvings, still fresh, still smarting, to feel it, even though it still hurts less than just walking the ship's corridors. Magnus pries open the yellow hand with fingers too big and rigid to be gentle.

Yet they are.

"You won't forget it."

Rodimus shakes his helm silently.

"I thought it would be better," he confesses. "I thought it would be easier somehow, I don't know. Maybe this is not the right way."

He can practically see himself saying that to Drift. Maybe I should have just resigned. He knows Drift wouldn't want that, wouldn't want him denouncing himself nor carving a painful reminder into his palm. He can almost see him - frowning slightly, grabbing his hand, tracing the numbers. Asking-- but then, maybe not.

Drift would understand, though.

It undoes Rodimus; the fact that he can imagine it all too clearly, even with Drift probably thousands of miles away from him, is even worse. I'm sorry. I couldn't do it. I couldn't let things be the way they were, the way you left it. I tried, but I couldn't.

Drift would understand precisely because he, too, tried to make it better. To shift all the blame on himself, so that the whole ship could leave the catastrophe behind them. The way they left Drift. The way Drift left him.

Standing here, with all Drift's hard work undone, Rodimus feels lost.

"It's not the end."

Magnus' steady voice jolts him out of his thoughts. He is still holding his hand, not clutching it, just - holding it there. Like he could take it back any moment.

A week or two ago - a month ago, he would probably pull his hand away, leave before Magnus could start on another of his lectures. He just sighs now.

"I-- I nearly killed you," he says, voice full of unexpected static. "Do you understand? I would have done anything. I would have followed into whatever portal there appeared. To whatever planet lay below us."

Magnus hesitates, before answering.

"I nearly killed you. All of you, by leading you there."

And it's not like Rodimus has forgotten it. It's just, with everything he's done, Magnus' mistake - because that's what it was - was easier to overlook.

He doesn't say that out loud because the blue mech looks even more serious than usual, his field tinged deeply with regret.

"You couldn't know. Don't argue, there's no way you could've known, and I-- I deserved that," Rodimus admits tiredly, hanging his helm.

Slag, Magnus didn't even want him gone from his position, not then, which is probably less than he can say about… well, now he knows precisely how many of the crew. Maybe he can ask Magnus to do the math to figure out the proportions exactly. The thought makes his mouth twitch, and he raises his helm to look at his second and let him in on a joke, because he doesn't have anyone else-- because, why not.

Because he thinks Magnus does understand. Maybe now. Maybe before, too.

Except he can still feel Magnus hurting, the emotion rolling off him in waves. Rodimus tries to move his left hand, still enveloped in the two bigger ones, stroking them hesitantly and a bit awkwardly, not used to offering comfort to his second-in-command.

In return, Magnus' EM-field gives a jolt. He clutches the other mech's hand harder, as if he can't bear the gentle touch of his fingers. You deserve this, Rodimus wants to say, This and more, - when Magnus bends down and kisses him.

It's soft, but intent, and it nearly breaks him. Except for this, the hands are their only point of contact, and though Magnus is evidently unsure of the kiss, he doesn't hesitate when stroking the captain's fingers with his own, which is when Rodimus realises he's not doing anything, paralysed by his second's actions. He takes a tiny step forward and kisses back, trying out for boldness when he lacks any. It turns out almost unbearably tender. Their fields are mingling, and his second's feelings resemble a small cascade, or an avalanche, like the ones on Earth, or Messatine. If he were anyone else, he could act surprised at how much Magnus keeps bottled up. If he were anyone else and not the one taking it all in.

He cracks. He presses closer, as much as he can with their hands still trapped awkwardly between them, unwilling to let go. Magnus vents a harsh sigh, but his EM-field tingles with relief, and his mouth is still careful where it touches Rodimus'.

It's not about forgiving, it doesn't feel like absolution, unless that means absolution for both of them. For three of them.

"I-- I wish…" he mumbles against Magnus' lips before he catches himself. He wishes it was still the three of them, he wishes he could share this, he wishes he could reach out to them both and envelop them, like he did once. Before.

"I understand," Magnus says, quietly, and Rodimus wants to say, Yes, I know now, and Thank you, and I was so afraid, but his second is moving away from him, carefully, finally letting go of his blasted arm.

"No, wait-- Oh no you don't! Magnus!" He reaches out with the wrong hand, grabbing the blue arm, and it hurts, when does it ever stop hurting? Magnus looks at him in apparent worry - too close to the sad look. "Oh, forget that. You don't understand! You never understood, not… not this. Of course not," he chuckles helplessly and shakes his helm. "But it's alright. It's alright."

He steps closer. Magnus doesn't say anything, but he visibly draws in. Rodimus reaches for him with his hand - the one free of the painful reminder, - and with his field. The touch is familiar, so familiar that Magnus can't help relaxing, and Rodimus can't help grinning. He runs his hands down the other's arms, soothingly.

"Kinda wish you didn't have the armour on right now," he mumbles. He can feel Magnus staring, even without looking at him. "It's not that easy to embrace you like this." His hands stop their movement close to the other's palms. He takes them, carefully. "Your support-- I've done horrible things, and you're still here. I know you worry, I know you have your doubts, but - just so you know - I wouldn't know what to do. In case you. In case something happened." He smiles tightly, not looking up. "You know. No pressure."

Magnus exhales, barely audible. It comes to Rodimus, suddenly, that this is his only chance. If he screws this up, then this is it. Magnus won't open up like this again, Magnus won't listen to him, Magnus won't hear him, not on these matters. He almost lost this ship and almost lost this crew. He will try, one at a time, try to win them back, to win back their trust, to become someone worth putting their faith in.

He doesn't know how Magnus voted. It doesn't matter. He can't screw this up.

He chooses his next words carefully.

"You know, when I say that I want to see the crew happy, I include you in that. You are one of them. Of us. I hope you realise that." He can feel Magnus clutching his hands slightly in return and takes that as a good sign. "I just want to say, I'm grateful. I know that the fact that you don't always agree with me or support me-- frag, I mean, support my decisions doesn't mean you don't understand. Or-- or support me, actually. At least, right now."

Magnus seems startled, to say the least.

"I'm not just saying this," Rodimus rushes to explain. "I do mean it. And if there's anything - besides the plate, if there is anything I can do for you..."

Magnus hesitates. "Rung told me something."

"Oh," Rodimus responds dumbly.

Magnus fidgets, and it's both uncharacteristic and fitting. "He said... He said that even though I was no longer an Enforcer, it didn't mean I didn't know what was right and couldn't do what is fair and just. He said the laws and rules I had acted upon were concerned with life under war, and it was not helping neither me nor the others adjust. And when I reminded him that I was no longer carrying out the Tyrest's accord, he said that the mechs did not necessarily need that particular set of rules to help them live through the day without killing each other," he speaks much more quickly than usual, as if rushing through the words. "He said that... that my desire for everything to be according to the rules did not necessarily stem from my-- my perfectionism, at least not only, but also from inner fairness and kindness. And that I could find it in myself."

Rodimus finds himself stalling his ventilation cycle.

"He..." Magnus coughs. "He said I was strong enough for all of them, and I could help them, but not before I find the way myself. For myself."

"This is good, Mags," Rodimus says sincerely. "I am glad for you. I am glad for them. They need this."

They need you. I need you.

He lowers his helm. Magnus clenches his hand - his small hand, marred, with the invisible stains on his fingers and numbers on the palm. Rodimus has missed the moment his second took it back into his own. Or maybe he never let go in the first place.

"I wish it wasn't like this," Magnus says, his tone indecipherable.

Don't we all, Rodimus almost replies before he realizes what his second means, what he surely can't mean, but who would he be if he didn't take chances?

"Yes. Well. I can't bring him back," he replies.

For a moment, he also can't bring himself to look up at Magnus, to see if he understood it right, if he said the right thing. When he finally raises his helm from an attentive study of his second's chestplates, Magnus' optics seem to be frantically searching for something, and when they look at each other - it's as if Rodimus finally sees him, a glimpse of frightened red behind the steady blue, and recognises him for what he is, and knows, with an overwhelming rush of certainty, that they get each other.

He feels his spark recklessly reaching out, and can't stop himself from speaking. "The-- the kissing. It's not a one-time thing? Like - you're emotional, I understand that..."

Magnus bends down again.

*

There are times it becomes too much.

Maybe tomorrow it won't matter. Once they find Thunderclash, maybe everything will be over, the vote won't mean a thing to anyone, maybe that will be the end of their journey, reckless and stupid.

But he can't say it has been in vain, he can't say it all meant nothing for him and them all. He still can't ask them, though. Maybe he will have time later. Maybe he will find strength later; after all, Drift did.

Maybe his friend would even agree that denouncing himself was the only way for Rodimus. Maybe he would forgive him, someday.

Maybe he's figuring out why he did it, finally, while standing before the familiar door with the unfamiliar plate. It says, "Ultra Magnus", and then, in smaller font, "Second-in-command".

And Rodimus knows he will find him in there. His friend may have changed, or more likely, was never completely the mech he thought he knew, but he's there. That is enough.

And when Magnus touches the numbers carved on his hand, they hurt even more, but somehow - somehow - less.