He tries not to think, for a while. He's fine. The thing that he did - he was ready to do it, right from the beginning. He knew why Prowl wanted him there. He knew, going into that ship, that nobody, apart from Rodimus, would ever accept him, and it was fine. He would always be the scapegoat, the ex-con, the outcast. He was ready for it, and he knew how to work with it.
Except, no. It was not like that. Even with the cold glares from Ultra Magnus and some others, even with the way he somehow never got invited to most of the bar gatherings or movie nights, it wasn't what he expected at all. There was Pipes, whose enthusiasm didn't seem at all quenched by Drift's past. There was Swerve, well-meaning but obliviously insensitive, who was always ready to see him as just a customer - and once even as a potential roommate. There was Rung, who liked to remind him that the therapy offer still stood. There was, of course, Rodimus, hand on his elbow, silent support in his field.
And there was Ratchet.
Whose words from a long time ago always echoed somewhere in the back of Drift's mind, of Deadlock's mind, hovering there, nagging at him, at times.
Drift used to take it as a given. This moment shaped him in the way the medic from Dead-End hardly intended, and Drift accepted it. He accepted it as Deadlock, he accepted it now. He just didn't think the past would come to bite him like this. With a constant frown, disapproval, insults and a single hand reached out to him.
It's funny - to get it now. There were so many mechs that mattered, and he ends up thinking the most about the one that shouldn't have mattered. The one whose presence in Drift's life was represented by a single episode, up to a point.
He... he had this tendency. This-- this thing where he would latch onto mechs. There would always be something different, though, maybe barely noticeable from outside, but Drift - oh, Drift saw each relationship in different shades. Respect, admiration, trepidation, envy, acceptance, understanding, concern, longing - all mixed together in different proportions.
He used to wonder, a long time ago, if this was what others meant when they spoke about conjunx endurae, or maybe amica endurae, and if there was any difference between those. He never had a chance to ask - those mechs orbited in completely different spheres than him.
It shouldn't matter - he never had one or the other.
But back then, lying in the slums with Gasket, he wondered. Gasket never tried anything funny - nothing Drift would be uncomfortable with, anyhow. He would gather Drift close sometimes, in a half-hearted attempt at a cuddle, and give him a mock-up "polish" that was more like smearing the dirt all over your plating - but it was the touch that mattered, the familiarity. Drift used to wonder what others would define their relationship as, but, as it was, there were no "others". And so it hardly mattered.
But he never thought about a young, energetic, yet somehow tired medic with gentle hands. Never thought about him like this. Never thought that in four million years, a war, two sides, one death - no, thousand deaths behind him, he would be somewhere on the outskirts of the galaxy, thoughts turning to the medic, dull ache settling inside.
He cuts into another rogue Decepticon, letting his furious longing translate into violence he wanted to put behind him so much.
He comes to terms with it, slowly. He has a lot of time to think.
But when Ratchet shows up, it's still much, much too early, and much too unexpected for Drift to work with. No preparing, no expectations - Drift is completely lost.
Luckily, the medic does not seem inclined to start a serious conversation from the get-go. He doesn't seem inclined to do anything, at first, seems... quite lost, actually. Lost is a new look for Ratchet - a funny look, but a wrong one. Drift remembers Delphi, remembers Overlord's attack, remembers the medibay: Ratchet was always in control. It's wrong, he shouldn't be standing here like he's not sure what he's forgotten on this Primus-forsaken planet. He shouldn't be standing here, period.
Then Ratchet breaks out of his trance and tells Drift to pack up and go home.
Right. The swordsmech doesn't give him the satisfaction of bristling at that, he just turns back to the ship and continues to smear mud all over it. Whatever. It never was that white anyway.
Ratchet was never known for his patience, though, so Drift knows he can't just ignore him. He can't ignore the fact that Ratchet is standing right behind him, that he left everything - how could he even leave the Lost Light? how could they let him go? - and came here. To... find Drift.
No, no, no, it's too much. Just thinking that is-- is too much, should be too much for anyone to bear.
"You shouldn't have come," Drift says, turning back to the ship, and almost flinches because he doesn't want to drive Ratchet away, but this, he cannot stand.
"You shouldn't have left," Ratchet replies stubbornly. "Rodimus shouldn't have--"
"I asked him to!" Drift is so stunned that he can't even think of a better reply. "Didn't he--"
"Oh, like I care," the medic snarls. "Even if you personally had decided to shift all the blame on yourself, who in the Pit decided to throw you off the ship? And let me preface this by saying that that was a marginally stupid decision."
"You don't even listen!" Drift huffs and spins back to face him. "Why don't we just agree that all of my actions ever were a giant mistake and forget it!"
"And, of course, all the people I decide to stick by are also another colossal--"
"Drift!" Ratchet bellows, but there is no anger in his face, only incredulousness. He hesitates - Drift can hardly believe his own optics right there and then. "I didn't come here to blame you for everything. Or-- or anything."
"Yeah? Then what for?" Drift snaps.
It's harsh-- it's not harsher than they always have been, but it's harsh, and Drift should be reaching out, because the medic seems to be doing exactly that.
But on the other hand, why is Ratchet making this so hard? Why is he making this into something new, something unfamiliar, uncomfortable, warm and cold at once? No, no, not this, not for him, not again. It's been hard already, getting used to being... being driven away. It's not going to change. It's better, much better if he drives them away before they get too close.
Except Ratchet is already too close, Drift, who are you fooling?
Finally, the medic rolls his optics - something familiar at last. Something Drift can use as a starting point, something they can work with. Some axis.
"Just-- stop being a slaghead and let's get out of here!" Ratchet snarls.
He's upset now - Drift can tell. He won't tell him though, won't even speak about his aura giving off a negative vibe. Suddenly, he is very tired. This is so unlike what he'd imagined - not that he'd really imagined this, but if, by pure chance, he came by the Lost Light again, or even if they found the Knights (and they could, they would, he knew), and the quest was over, and maybe, maybe.
He imagined talking to Ratchet. Imagined the kindness, the understanding, the acceptance. When he lay on his back and looked at the stars, he saw them meeting again, and those meetings were always imbrued with some kind of serenity he had looked for - in other places. He isn't sure when he first started to associate Ratchet with peace.
But the real Ratchet is upset, and possibly angry, and Drift doesn't know what to do in the least, in this non-ideal scenario, so he leaves him outside. The last thing he hears is a huff, and some part of him wants to grin, but he doesn't.
Ratchet finds him inside the ship, fiddling with its controls. He took a while, and Drift didn't see him outside - he must have returned back to his shuttle.
He could've gone there and just… never come back.
"This thing is hardly flying again," Ratchet says. He is clearly uncomfortable, but Drift won't make a comment about it either. "Why don't we use my shuttle?"
Drift has just finished setting the new destination into the flight computer. He could just tell Ratchet that; he can tell him there's nothing to be salvaged here, that Ratchet should give up.
"I'm sorry," he mutters. "I--"
"No," the medic cuts him off, and then, softer, continues, “No, it's not... not you who should be."
There's something horribly vulnerable in his tone, and Drift turns to face him, to see for himself.
Ratchet holds out his hand wordlessly, palm up, slowly uncurling the fingers around something.
It's a miniature figure in white and red. With a tiny sword behind its back and a startled expression.
Drift stares: first, at the figure, then at the medic.
Ratchet ex-vents heavily. "It took someone who didn't even know you to remind me of-- of what I--" he cringes, shakes his helm and starts again. "Look. I'm sorry - I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. I never approved of... this. I think you should know that. I never approved of this decision. Even before Ro-- before the truth came out, I never approved."
Drift can tell what he means. Ratchet doesn't need to say it.
I believed in you, even before I knew the truth.
Something ugly spreads inside him. Something familiar, a known weakness.
"Ratchet, I..." he trails off, cringes. "Why?"
Ratchet reaches out and closes his hand around Drift's, clenching their fingers around the figure.
"I thought you should have it."
No, slag it. "Why?" he forces out again.
The medic studies him, his expression almost soft, but there's no pity in it, no regret.
"You're special," Ratchet finally says, voice not betraying his emotional state - as if he were delivering a verdict to his patient (like millions of years ago). But his fingers on Drift's hand are gentle, the way they always are. Always have been.
Drift lowers his helm, cringing, and then feels another hand - another red, familiar hand, - settle on his shoulderpad. Ratchet doesn't step closer, but his EM-field is inching towards Drift's, slowly, deliberately.
He doesn't-- he doesn't want to talk, doesn't want to say anything. Things get misinterpreted so easily, and the last thing he wants is for Ratchet to get the wrong impression. He knows that Ratchet should know, should understand, but what if he doesn't? And the words aren't there, something grandiose and epic never fit them, would never fit them, but Drift doesn't know how to explain that what Ratchet is saying means so much to him, these words, same words, they have always meant so much. From someone who never-- he never had to care, but he does, he did, even back then, and now he comes here and says them again.
He drops his helm even more and inches closer awkwardly, swords clanging against Ratchet's frame - such an untimely reminder of who he was and who he still is. A killer.
And he could, of course, wish for Ratchet to tell him it doesn't matter (it does), that it's all in the past (it's not), that Drift is not that person anymore (well, in many regards, he isn't, but that's beside the point). He could silently beg for it. In some parallel universe, Ratchet might even say it, though Drift doubts it. But this was never how it worked between them, so he swallows the feelings and makes the first step.
"I still can't believe it," Drift whispers, and Ratchet tenses - he's so close it's almost palpable. "I seriously can't believe I got to hear you apologise."
He raises his helm slowly, but just in time to see the new expression form on Ratchet's face. It's a fascinating thing: it goes from dumbfoundedness (and what a priceless look it is), to incredulousness, then - to suspicion, realisation and, finally, barely-noticeable satisfaction.
"Don't get used to it," the medic huffs, and Drift notices in his arms how he is this close to crossing them over his chestplate, but... keeps them in their place.
"You say as if I hold any illusions in your regard," Drift answers generously, smirk ghosting on his lipplates.
"You don't hold illusions? I might turn to Primus after all, this is a miracle."
Drift laughs. Ratchet seems startled, but then he smiles as well, and the swordsmech realises just how rare this is. "Oh, shut up," he ex-vents, and presses their forehelms together.
He didn't-- didn't mean to do that, but the medic was already so close. He has always been so close, and Drift can't but accept it.
Because, after all, Ratchet accepts him, and that thought sings through his systems, spreading warmth, smearing it all over the cold white. And if that warmth, and acceptance, his field so near, and thrumming with quiet joy, - if that is somehow not as “right” as what others have, he doesn’t care. The medic, miraculously, does not seem to mind.
But then, he has always been pretty special.