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Watch the buildings turn to dust

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Fact: Drift has a vision in Vector Sigma that tells him that Rodimus is important.

Fact: there is a map in the Matrix and it leads to Cyberutopia.

It’s easy to connect both things and start a quest.

Drift had known Hot Rod for a while. He’d known Hot Rod’s enthusiasm, his passion, his inability to stay still. He’d known his kindness, easily missed under bravado and recklessness. He’d seen Hot Rod’s smile, as bright as the sun. It said, ‘Yes, I’m living my life to the fullest.’

When Rodimus talks about the quest, he’s full of enthusiasm and passion. He can’t seem to stay still as he discusses plans with Drift, promising him, “We’ll make everything better. We’ll leave all of this behind and fix things.”

Throughout the whole conversation, there’s something in the way Rodimus speaks and in the way he seems to genuinely believe what he’s saying that pulls at Drift’s spark, that makes him believe that it can be so easy, that finding a place is enough to make everything okay again. It makes him want. He knows what it means. He knows he’s dooming himself. He ignores it until the conversation ends and Rodimus smiles at him.

Rodimus’s smile is brighter than the sun, so it’s no surprise to Drift that it makes flowers grow.

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Love is supposed to be good. It's supposed to be beautiful. Sublime. Love, in reality, is waking up every morning to broken glass on the berth and crystal flowers growing out of your transformation seams. Love is having to excuse yourself from meetings because there are petals blocking your intake and you need to cough them out.

Back in the Dead End, everybody knew that you should never fall in love, because the cost of unrequited love was too high. It’s hard to survive when you have to regularly stop what you’re doing to cough up glass and to take glass shards out of your joints. It’s hard to survive when self-repair is wasting all of your energon in fixing the damage said shards have caused.

It was one of the first things Drift learned on the streets. Don’t fall in love. Don’t give the flowers the chance to grow inside you. Don’t waste time and fuel on pretty feelings that were never meant for the likes of you. The only one you should love is yourself. You have to survive, and survival doesn’t include other people.

He had managed to do it. He hadn’t allowed himself to fixate on random acts of kindness, hadn’t given much thought to those that occasionally made his treacherous spark say, “Maybe.”

As Deadlock, it had been even easier. A war is no place for love, not even the kind that used to be so easily given to friends and comrades.

Then came Wing, and Drift’s treacherous spark had said, “Maybe,” and Deadlock’s treacherous mind had considered it.

Wing died before Drift got the chance to discover what it’s like to be a garden.

When Drift met Hot Rod, he was blinded. He was too bright, too willing to trust Drift. The corner of Drift’s mind that Deadlock still occupied laughed, delighted at how easy it would be to kill Hot Rod, amazed at how someone could have survived for so long while being so willing to let others approach him. Drift drowned that voice, buried Deadlock under Wing’s memory and set fire to the suggestion with the warmth of Hot Rod’s careless friendliness.

He’s not surprised to find himself in love with Rodimus, not after years of forcefully pretending he didn’t notice that seeing him made him happier, that the most casual touch made him want to lean into him, that his treacherous spark kept saying, “Maybe.”

Drift falls for Rodimus, and finds himself coughing up red, yellow, and blue petals. Drift falls for Rodimus and wakes up the next day to find small flowers growing out of his body, a physical manifestation of his unrequited feelings.

He’s not surprised. What has Drift done to earn Rodimus’s love?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But it’s fine. Drift doesn’t need Rodimus’s love. What Drift needs is for Rodimus to keep smiling at him, to keep looking at him like he trusts him, to keep asking for his opinion and thinking he’s someone worth keeping around.

That’s enough. Drift doesn’t mind the flowers and what they mean, just as long as he gets to be next to Rodimus.

He stares at the flowers for a while. He can’t help finding them beautiful, these small, delicate crystals that started growing inside his frame as he slept, their bright colors in contrast against his white plating. They are his feelings given shape, and a selfish, insecure part of him is thankful that some piece of him is able to create something beautiful and delicate.

Then he crushes them under his hands, turns them to dust and pretends that nothing is happening, that his spark doesn’t spin faster when he thinks of Rodimus, that anybody who paid attention would notice the barely audible sound of glass being crushed inside his joints when he moves.

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Things happen. Overlord happens, to be precise. Exile happens.

It’s probably horrible of him, but there’s a small part of Drift that sighs in relief. No longer does he have to wake up early to remove flowers from his frame and surreptitiously get rid of them. No longer does he have to fear sparring with Rodimus, or swordfighting lessons, or any moment in which Rodimus stood close enough that Drift had been sure that he’d be able to hear the crystals being crushed with each of Drift’s movements. No longer does he have to hate himself for each moment of weakness in which he wished that Rodimus would love him back.

On the shuttle, he can be hopelessly in love without worrying about the possibility of Rodimus finding out. He doesn’t have to worry about Rodimus looking at him with sad, sympathetic eyes and trying to awkwardly make things better with a poorly thought out joke.

There are days in which he wishes he could tear the feelings out of his chest, days in which just pulling out the flowers out of his seams isn’t enough and he has to crush them between his hands or under his heel, a poor replacement to his need to stop loving Rodimus. He’s sick of this love that isn’t going anywhere, this love that makes him burn through his energon reserves faster than he’d like, this love for someone that had agreed to exiling Drift, that hadn’t tried to find a way to keep Drift next to him.

There are days in which Drift loves and hates Rodimus passionately - except he doesn’t think he could ever really hate Rodimus, with his bright smile and that trust he had given Drift without really thinking about it. Not when the exile had been Drift’s idea, and he hadn’t given Rodimus time to think of a better solution, desperate as he was to get out of there, to keep the quest going, to keep Rodimus safe, because he knew that having the captain be so close to the former Decepticon was starting to make people nervous.

On those days, Drift meditates and feels the flowers grow.

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His days on the shuttle are dull, but there are small things he can rely on to help him keep track of time. The flowers’ growth is one of them. When he wakes up every day, he can tell how long he spent recharging by the size of the flowers coming out of his transformation seams.

It’s part of his routine: wake up, bring a hand to his shoulder and relish the sound of glass being crushed.

One day, the only thing his hand finds is his own plating.

He onlines his optics and looks down to find that there’s nothing growing out of him, not a single flower. He brings a hand to his audial and flexes his fingers, but the telltale sound of glass being crushed can’t be heard.

He doesn’t let himself to jump to conclusions. He can’t.

He checks his internal chronometer, thinking that maybe he hadn’t been out long enough to allow the flowers to grow, but according to the timestamps he should look like a meadow.

He can’t jump to conclusions, but… The flowers disappear when your feelings are reciprocated.

Just like that, all the anger Drift has felt about the exile is gone. Rodimus loves him.

He wants to laugh. He wants to dance. He wants to call Rodimus and ask him when he can expect him to come looking for him. Because he’ll do it, right? He must.

Rodimus is generous, but also oh so selfish. He wants to keep his people next to him, he wants to surround himself with people he likes, he wants to be in the spotlight and what could be better than having someone who loves you next to you? He’ll make up some excuse for the crew and come looking for Drift. He’ll hail Drift’s little shuttle and bring him back, and everything will be like it used to be.

Deadlock’s voice reminds him that there’s another reason the flowers can disappear. He reminds Drift of that grim joke they used to have in the Dead End, about how you should kill the object of your affections to save yourself from the flowers.

Drift ignores him. Rodimus can’t be dead. Rodimus was meant to burn forever, brighter than the stars.

The doubt is there, though.

He prepares himself to wait.

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He fights, he helps in any way he can, he roams.

Nobody calls.

Deadlock laughs.

If Rodimus loves him, why hasn’t he found Drift?

The quest is more important, he reminds himself.

But when has Rodimus been able to prioritize? Rodimus would have doomed the quest if Drift hadn’t insisted on taking the blame, and that was when Rodimus loved him as a friend.

Because Rodimus must have loved him before, right?

Deadlock laughs again. Why would Rodimus love Drift? What had Drift done to earn his love? He’d only followed Rodimus around and agreed to his every wish to get a ticket to Cyberutopia (to find redemption).

With Rodimus’s ego, that should have been enough.

His anger returns. Why couldn’t Rodimus have argued a bit more against Drift’s exile?

Rodimus never loved him.

He thinks of Rodimus asking for his opinion, Rodimus listening to him talk about the Knights, Rodimus asking him about Crystal City and trying to understand spectralism.

Rodimus had loved him, in his own way. He simply hadn’t loved Drift enough to try to keep him next to him.

But why isn’t he here now?

Drift has known since the beginning that he would be safer loving someone else, no matter how desperately he dreams of Rodimus.

Maybe he should. Maybe he should fall out of love and let Rodimus deal with his own flowers, let Rodimus wake up with white and red crystals growing out of his seams, let Rodimus cough out grey and blue petals that tear his intake on their way out, let Rodimus–

He recoils from the bitterness of his own thoughts, hugs himself and offlines his optics, tries to will away the anger. That’s not who he is. That’s not what he’s like. That’s Deadlock talking, and he has spent too long trying to destroy every trace of him.

Rodimus doesn’t deserve that. Rodimus deserves happiness. Rodimus isn’t here and Drift knows him, he knows Rodimus would cross the universe if he thought there was even a sliver of a chance of saving someone he cares about.

If Rodimus isn’t here when the flowers are gone… The mere idea of Rodimus’s warmth being gone from the universe freezes Drift’s spark, shatters his core and has him bending forwards, his fingers digging into his arms as he tries not to scream, as he tells himself that Rodimus is fine, that Rodimus must be fine, and he prays and asks Primus to let Rodimus be fine.

He keeps going. He keeps fighting, he keeps trying to help, he keeps roaming.

Nobody comes looking for him.

His treacherous spark occasionally says, “Turn back. Turn back and find out,” but he ignores it. He doesn’t want to know.

What he knows is that, no matter what the truth is, it’s time for him to move on.

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Forgetting someone takes a while. He rips the love out of his spark like he used to rip out the flowers that grew out of him. He crushes his longing under the reality of his exile like he used to crush the crystals under his heel. He focuses with renewed intensity on his attempts to do some good in the universe.

It takes him days. It takes him weeks. It takes all of his willpower, all his strength, and even then there are moments in which he longs for Rodimus, in which he wants nothing more than to find the Lost Light and the only thing that stops him is Deadlock’s pride (Drift wants to run back, he wants to know, he wants and wants and wants and if he wasn’t so afraid, he would have returned).

Slowly, it gets easier. Slowly, he finds himself thinking less and less of what he doesn’t have. Slowly, everything dissolves and, one day, he finds himself thinking of Rodimus and only of Rodimus. There’s fondness in the thought, but no romance. Gone is the need to hold Rodimus’s hand. Gone is the urge to press his mouth to Rodimus’s smile and let its warmth burn his fears. Gone is the desire to spend the rest of his life with Rodimus.

As liberating as it is, falling out of love makes him feel a bit empty.

He’ll get over that as well.

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Ratchet shows up to get him. Things happen. Ratchet tells him to return to the Lost Light, tells him everyone knows the truth. There’s bickering and arguing and teasing and Drift wants to go back.

It takes all his courage to ask about Rodimus. He asks who is leading the quest now that he’s dead.

“Dead? Rodimus isn’t dead.” Ratchet shakes his head. “At least he wasn’t when I left,” he says with a tone that expresses his doubts regarding any changes in Rodimus’s condition. “Why did you think he was dead?” he asks with a confused look.

Drift can’t mention the flowers. Ratchet has made no secret of what he thinks of most of Drift’s life decisions and opinions, and Drift wants to keep his spark safe, wants to keep the memory of his feelings away from mockery and judgment, wants them to remain protected in the sanctuary of his mind. He finds there’s nothing he can say to justify his assumption.

Ratchet watches him as he struggles to come up with an excuse, and his face becomes sympathetic when Drift finally says, “I thought he had reasons to come looking for me. When he didn’t…”

He doesn’t want to say, ‘Why did he care more about the quest than me?’

He doesn’t want to be angry.

He doesn’t want to say things he doesn’t mean.

“I’m sorry, kid,” Ratchet says, so softly that Drift thinks he might know everything Drift wasn’t saying.

The flowers stop growing when the one you love dies. They stop growing if the one you love falls for you as well.

He thinks of Rodimus on the Lost Light and wonders if there are white flowers growing out of his seams right now, if there’s crushed glass in his joints, if he has to excuse himself from meetings to cough up petals.

He thinks of Rodimus on the Lost Light and wishes with everything he has that this love Rodimus feels is just a whim, that he’ll get over it soon, that Drift is just one of the many things that hadn’t managed to hold his attention for long.

No matter how angry he might have been at Rodimus sometimes, he hadn’t truly wished him any sadness.

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Drift and Ratchet travel, and Drift falls in love. There’s bickering and teasing, quiet moments, loud laughter and louder arguing, and love hides behind all that, waits for the right moment to jump at Drift and catch him by surprise.

Now that it knows it’s allowed to love, Drift’s treacherous spark doesn’t bother with ‘maybe’ – it jumps in immediately, thrilled by its own ability to do so, and then discovers that there’s no glass at the bottom.

The two of them don’t say anything, content to continue arguing and laughing and seeing the universe next to each other, letting their feelings settle and grow, and Drift carefully keeps his mind away from Rodimus’s memory.

Then they find everyone and Drift can’t keep pretending that Ratchet is the only person who has ever loved him.

He remembers it when Rodimus looks at him with too-wide eyes and Drift can see a myriad of emotions cross his face: relief, regret, fear… but the emotion that nearly blinds Drift, the one that envelops everything, the one that Rodimus could never hope to hide because it shines in his aura, is happiness.

It’s too much. It’s too obvious. He’s suddenly furious and he can’t stay there, so he finds a quiet room in the Necrobot’s fortress and prepares to fight.

He also starts sharpening his swords.

Rodimus finds him, greets him with nonchalance, and Drift should be the better mech, should let it slide, should react calmly, but hearing Rodimus say, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” just brings back the ugly thoughts Drift had been trying to bury for so long, and he replies, “That makes a change.”

No matter how ready he was for it, Drift doesn’t want to fight. He might die in the worst possible way in a few hours without having talked to Ratchet. He doesn’t have the energy to rage. He doesn’t actually want to do that. He only wants an apology or an explanation – he’d even take a bad excuse, just as long as he has something to justify all the time he spent in love with Rodimus.

Rodimus sounds earnest, which is something, but Drift can’t bring himself to look at him. He’s too tired to deal with Rodimus’s apologetic look and smile. He’s too tired, period. But Drift might die in the worst possible way in a few hours, so he might as well sort of patch things up with Rodimus.

The conversation is short and unsatisfying. Rodimus never properly apologizes. Rodimus never tells him that he loved him. Rodimus never asks him about how Drift used to love him. He sticks to the commonly known facts and gives Drift everything he needs to break him, because… Rodimus is surrounded by people, but after hearing Ratchet talk about life on the Lost Light, Drift doesn’t think he has any close friends. Rodimus is practically begging him to be his friend again. Rodimus’s loneliness is bigger than both of them together, and if he wanted revenge, the only thing Drift would need to do would be to keep his face impassive as Rodimus fumbles his way through a poor attempt at an apology.

But Drift was in love with him once and he knows Rodimus, so he smiles at him and continues supporting him.

If Drift hears the soft sound of glass being crushed when Rodimus stands up, well… he’s dying soon, and this is not the moment to worry about that.

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They survive the DJD.

Drift and Rodimus don’t talk about the things they should talk about.

Drift doesn’t talk to Ratchet either.

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They visit a parallel universe.

Drift and Rodimus don’t talk about the things they should talk about.

Drift doesn’t talk to Ratchet either.

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Cyberutopia was a lie.

Drift almost dies.

They save the universe.

Drift and Rodimus don’t talk about the things they should talk about.

Drift finally talks to Ratchet. His feelings have grown and settled; he doesn’t need more chances to die.

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Life happens, in the many ways it does.

For Drift, that means settling down with Ratchet, opening a clinic with him and working. Ratchet continues as a medic while Drift acts as his assistant.

Some other things Drift does in the clinic: offer spiritual guidance, ensure all the bills are paid, try to drag Ratchet away from his job when his shift has ended.

His life with Ratchet is a happy one. There’s bickering and teasing, quiet moments, loud laughter and louder arguing. Drift has a routine and a purpose, albeit one that he might never have imagined and chosen on his own.

Life happens and people start gradually trickling out of it. Everybody gets new jobs, new goals, new tasks; settles down in other cities. They move on, and just like that Drift finds that it’s been months since he last heard from Rewind or Swerve, that it’s been a while since he last saw a familiar face that wasn’t Ratchet’s or First Aid’s.

Sometimes he wonders if all his former crewmembers were ever his friends. Was he on the Lost Light long enough to befriend them, or are they just familiar acquaintances? Does he register in their minds as something besides “Rodimus’s friend” or “Ratchet’s conjunx”? Maybe he’s just getting the scraps of their fondness for those two, just like he used to get the scraps of people’s fear of Deadlock.

Life happens and Rodimus tries to stay. It takes Drift a while to notice that that’s what he’s doing, busy as he is with building himself a life, but once he realizes it, he doesn’t know what to think.

Rodimus gets himself a place near the clinic and a job that has him travelling around the planet, helping bring down what’s left of Functionism. He visits Drift and Ratchet every time he’s back in the city, shows up every day despite how much he hates routines. Rodimus visiting means Drift and him racing, and both of them teasing Ratchet, and Rodimus never staying for more than two hours. Ratchet never mentions the odd sheen that can be seen through the gaps of Rodimus’s armor, which looks like glass being hit by sunlight, so Drift never mentions the sound of glass being crushed when Rodimus moves.

Eventually, the sheen and the sound become easy to ignore, until Drift forgets them. Eventually, Rodimus’s visits stop being daily, the amount of days between them becoming bigger until one day Rodimus returns from a mission and goes on another one without dropping by to see Drift.

It’s probably for the best.

Drift tries to believe that Rodimus isn’t running away from him.

They still find the time, every few years, to race and laugh. Rodimus even finds the time to suggest becoming amica endurae.

Drift tries not to dwell on what that means for the both of them when he accepts. Drift tries not to think that their new relationship status has anything to do with how much harder it becomes to contact Rodimus afterwards.

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Years pass. Life continues. Ratchet dies.

Everyone returns for a moment – to pay their respects to Ratchet, to see each other again, to reminisce. No one’s there to see Drift, and so he stands alone during the ceremony, missing Ratchet and wondering why Rodimus couldn’t be bothered to show up, wondering why Thunderclash and Roller aren’t there either, wondering how long it’ll be until everyone is gone again and he has to return to an empty home.

Rodimus appears at the end, a washed-out copy of his former self. The light in his eyes is gone, his aura is dim, and when he talks of his current life his attempt at a smile looks like a rainy day. And he has been drinking, even if he tries to pretend it was only something to steel his nerves.

Looking at him, Drift feels like the old Rodimus died at some point and the frame currently standing in front of him is just a walking tombstone, meant to remind everyone of the mech that once convinced over two-hundred bots to follow him as he chased a legend.

Drift doesn’t know what to do. Even after all these years, there’s a part of him that believes in Rodimus, and so he can’t help but go to him before he leaves, ask him about that little experiment that was done before they had to give up the Lost Light, the quest, and the eternal adventuring.

“Do you think it worked?” he asks. “I know it was years ago, and I know Nautica said it was a long shot, but… I’ve been thinking about it a lot now that Ratty’s gone.” What he doesn’t say is that seeing Rodimus today has also made him wish for a universe where Rodimus is living his life to the fullest and smiling like the sun.

In the millisecond it takes for Rodimus to reply, Drift gets a better look at him. That odd sheen is still visible through the gaps in his armor. He doesn’t want to believe it, doesn’t want to think of the possibility of Rodimus still loving him, and yet…

“We agreed never to talk about it,” Rodimus says, not looking at him.

“Please. For me.” Drift regrets it almost as soon as he says it. The words feel like cheating, like a low blow, like driving his sword through Rodimus’s dead spark.

He feels worse when Rodimus answers, because… It’s the way Rodimus looks at him, the only hint of warmth in the frozen landscape he has become.

There’s a flicker of hesitation in Rodimus before he’s reaching for Drift’s hand with both of his. He holds it awkwardly, unsteadily, like he’s trying to say something but forgot the words. He holds it too tightly, like it’s an anchor. He holds it like he thinks he’s not allowed to as he asks for a scrap of Drift’s attention.

Then Rodimus is gone and Drift is truly alone for the first time in centuries.

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Without Ratchet, Drift’s life is far emptier than he expected. There are the obvious spaces – the recharging slab that was meant for two, the spot on the couch in front of the TV, the office at the clinic – but there are also these million little vacuums that Drift hadn’t considered. There’s the place in the pantry where Ratchet’s favorite snacks were kept. There’s the silence after someone in a movie says something absurd. Drift sleeps through the night, since there’s no reason for him to get up in the middle of it to say, “It’s late. You have to recharge.” There’s the fact that most of their friends were mainly Ratchet’s friends, and without him, Drift doesn’t really know how to connect with any of them.

Among the grief and the loneliness, Drift forgets Rodimus, busy as he is with trying to keep himself going, and so it’s three weeks before his brain module reminds him that he has a friend out there.

He remembers Rodimus’s broken presence at the funeral, the way he’d held Drift’s hand and looked at him. He remembers who Rodimus used to be, and he finds himself mourning Rodimus as well – his warmth, his confidence, his passion for life. He doesn’t need this on top of mourning Ratchet.

He considers his options. Had Rodimus meant it when he’d asked him to stay in touch? There’s a part of Drift that dreads seeing him again, that doesn’t want to deal with Rodimus’s feelings, with the fact that he is part of what’s causing Rodimus’s unhappiness.

But Rodimus had asked him to stay in touch, and Drift needs someone to talk to, someone who sees him as Drift, not as Ratchet’s widower. Drift needs his best friend, even if all that’s left of him are his name and frame.

He contacts Thunderclash to get Rodimus’s personal frequency.

He’d half expected Rodimus not to pick up the call.

“Drift?” Rodimus’s voice sounds wet, like something had tried to claw its way out of him and ripped a fuel line on the way out. Knowing how the glass flowers shatter inside a bot and come out in shards during coughing fits, perhaps that’s not too far from what actually happened.

“Hey,” Drift says, unsure of what to add. When had he and Rodimus become so awkward around each other? Once upon a time there had been casual touches – Rodimus’s arm over Drift’s shoulders, friendly pats on the back, Drift’s back against Rodimus’s in battle – and endless jokes. Now Drift doesn’t know how to start a conversation.

“Drift!” Rodimus says, his voice still broken, but there’s a hint of warmth in the way he says his name. “You called!”

“I told you I would, didn’t I?” Drift says teasingly, and finds that a small smile has formed on his face.

Another pause. The silence drowns Drift’s tentative smile and leaves him frowning.

A shaky ex-vent and Rodimus says, “You’re probably sick of this question, but… how have you been doing?”

Drift closes his eyes and leans against the wall.

“I’ve been…” He doesn’t know how to explain the loneliness, the nostalgia, the crushing weight of memory. The promise of a lifetime that had been true for Ratchet, but which had left Drift behind. “I’ve been. I… I exist.” He sighs.

“That bad?” Rodimus asks sympathetically.

“Yeah,” Drift says with a laugh. “But I’m not calling about that. I wanted to know how you were doing.”

Rodimus hums and makes a disapproving sound.

“I’m fine, thanks for asking. But you’re in no condition to worry about others right now.” He says it matter-of-factly, but Drift can hear the judging. Or maybe he wants to hear the judging.

“‘In no condition’? What’s that supposed to mean?” If he sounds defensive, he doesn’t care. He’s not calling to be criticized.

“Exactly that. I know you, Drift.” Rodimus doesn’t change his tone. “You sort of… latch onto other people’s problems to distract you from your own.”

“So you admit you have a problem,” Drift says, more harshly than he’d intended.

“No, I admit that you think I have a problem.” Rodimus sounds colder and Drift hates that he can’t see him right now, that there’s no way for him to read Rodimus.

Drift curls a hand into a fist and forces himself to calm down.

“I only wanted to know how you’re doing, Rodimus,” he says tiredly.

More silence. This conversation isn’t going how Drift wanted it to.

“I’m fine, Drift,” Rodimus says softly, as if that would convince Drift. “I promise.”

“Good. I-” What can he say? ‘I’m worried about you’? ‘I miss you’? ‘I’m sorry you might still love me, but right now I need you’? He can’t say anything. “I wanted to make an effort to stay in touch. I… I don’t really have anything else to tell.”

“Nothing?”Rodimus sounds surprised. “What about the clinic?”

“It’s fine. Still functioning. Our new medic is competent.”

“Just competent?” Rodimus teases.

“You know what I mean,” Drift says, mock-serious.

Rodimus snorts.

“Our medic is great. I’d tell you to offer her a job, but we need her.” In those words, Drift hears a hint of the old Rodimus – obvious pride in the skills of one of the members of his crew, even though this isn’t his crew – and it makes Drift relax.

“Maybe I’ll drop by the Exitus one of these days to steal her.”

“She’ll say ‘no’.”

“I can be persuasive. I have money.”

“And she’s stubborn. But you’re welcome to try.”

The easy, joking back and forth sounds almost normal, despite Rodimus’s still wet voice, and it makes Drift smile. He’d missed this.

“I have to get going,” Rodimus says regretfully. “Thanks for calling. It’s been good to hear you. To hear from you, I mean.”

“It’s nothing.” Drift’s smile widens. “Talk to you soon?”

A pause before Rodimus says, “Call me whenever you want,” in a tone that Drift can’t decipher.

“Talk to you tomorrow, then,” Drift says without thinking.

After Rodimus hangs up, Drift finally opens his eyes.

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The next call is easier. They unsubtly avoid personal matters and talk about their respective days. Drift promises to call again the next day. Then the next one. And the next one.

The daily calls make Drift feel more himself than an entire day spent helping at the clinic. Talking to Rodimus means nothing in a way that means everything. He doesn’t have to think about Ratchet, or all of Ratchet’s friends and patients that are still giving their sympathies after a month and a half. He doesn’t have to think about how it’s been ages since he last did something fun by himself. He doesn’t have to think about how lost he feels. When he talks to Rodimus he just has to, well, talk. Talk, laugh, and pretend he’s younger and happier.

He also has to pretend he doesn’t hear Rodimus coughing, that Rodimus’s voice never comes out wet, that Rodimus’s speech is never a bit, just a bit, slurred.

“Do you want to visit?” Drifts asks one day and immediately regrets it, because his answer is silence. They’d gotten so good at avoiding silence since that first call.

“To visit you?” Rodimus says tentatively.

“Yeah, we– I have a guest room. You could stay there.” He hopes he doesn’t sound eager. He prays he doesn’t sound desperate.

“I don’t know…”

“Come on, Rodimus. When was the last time you had a break?”

He shouldn’t push. He’s ruining things. He’s making everything wrong again.

He’s about to take back the invitation when Rodimus says, “Okay. I’ll let you know when I can go.”

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Rodimus shows up at Drift’s door ten days later. Drift might have spent too much time putting everything in order and making sure it doesn’t look like the sad and empty home of a sad and empty widower.

“I thought it’d take you longer to get here,” Drift says in lieu of a greeting.

“I’m still fast,” Rodimus says, shrugging and smirking.

He still looks dead. There’s still a hint of warmth in his eyes when he looks at Drift, embers where there used to be stars.

There’s a moment in which neither seems to know how exactly they should greet each other. Should Drift put his hand on Rodimus’ arm? Should he try to hug him? Offer a handshake?

He opts for stepping aside and gesturing for Rodimus to come in. Rodimus smiles at him as he enters the house, and proceeds to look around the room without even trying to hide his curiosity.

“Wow, when was the last time I was here?” he mutters as he examines the pictures on the walls.

Drift could tell him exactly how long it’s been, but he has a feeling Rodimus doesn’t actually want to know.

“A while,” he says instead.

“Yeah, I can tell.” He gets closer to a picture of the clinic, narrows his eyes. “What have you been doing, besides working at Ratchet’s clinic?”

There doesn’t seem to be a hidden meaning behind the way Rodimus says the words, but Drift still freezes. ‘Ratchet’s clinic’ – like Drift hadn’t dedicated his life to it as well.

Rodimus turns slightly to look at him, half smiling, but that’s gone when he sees Drift.

“Too soon to ask?” he asks, frowning.

“It’s not Ratchet’s clinic. It’s ours. His and mine,” Drift says curtly.

He hates that there’s a flash of pity in Rodimus’s eyes.

“Sorry. I…” He presses his lips tightly and seems to consider how to word his thoughts. “I remember that you used to call it his clinic. Like you would be there for a while and then find something else to do.”

“What’s better than helping others?”

“I’m the last person you need to convince of that.” Rodimus shrugs with one shoulder. “I just… I thought you’d find your own way of doing it.”

Drift opens his mouth to argue, but everything in Rodimus says he’s not attacking him; he’s only stating facts. If Drift acts like he’s defending himself, then this means he feels like he needs to. The worst part is that he does. He remembers those conversations with Rodimus about ‘Ratchet’s clinic’. How he was going to stay there for a while until they found somebody else to deal with matters of faith and act as an assistant, because Drift had wanted to do something that allowed him to move around a bit more. How he’d slowly gotten used to being there, being around Ratchet, working with him, and so he’d thrown himself into his work and forgotten that he’d ever wanted to do anything else.

Where would he be now if he’d gone along with his original plan? Running errands around the city? Travelling like Rodimus? Teaching swordfighting? That last thought makes him smile, despite how upset he feels.

The look Rodimus is giving him is too carefully neutral. He’s waiting, although Drift doesn’t know what for. Maybe just for the silence to end.

“I stayed in the clinic. I was more useful there,” Drift says, getting himself under control.

Rodimus nods once and resumes his inspection of the room. He then goes on to look around the whole house, commenting on everything that has changed through the years.

This was a mistake. Having Rodimus here reminds Drift of his loneliness far more than actually being alone. It reminds Drift that he hasn’t talked to anyone who didn’t know him from work for months, and that the only thing he has been doing is work. He needs Rodimus out.

A million excuses start taking shape in Drift’s head, but once Rodimus is done looking around, he turns to Drift and says, “I haven’t used a sword since we were on the Lost Light. Wanna teach me again?”

The idea of holding a sword again for more than just practicing his form and keeping his weapons clean is exciting, even if trying to teach Rodimus had never worked out well – Rodimus always tried to change the lesson towards regular sparring, and Drift had always spent every minute painfully aware of Rodimus’s proximity, wondering if Rodimus could feel the way Drift’s spark flared and tried to reach for him, worrying about Rodimus hearing glass being crushed.

That gives him pause. Will he be able to hear glass being crushed if he agrees to this? And considering how close they need to be for this, after all these years in which they’ve barely touched each other… why is Rodimus suggesting it now?

There doesn’t seem to be anything suggesting second intentions in Rodimus. He’s just waiting, looking tentatively hopeful, so Drift decides to trust him and agrees. It’s what he’s always done, when it comes to Rodimus.

He clearly hadn’t been lying about not having held a sword in ages. He’s terrible, too stiff and overly conscious of his own movements, and not in the way that means he’s in complete control of them. Drift does his best to teach him, but Rodimus keeps laughing at himself, joking about what he has forgotten, and eventually that allows Drift to tease him as well. Rodimus beams when Drift praises him for doing something right and it’s like finding treasure at the bottom of the ocean. It also brings a pang of guilt.

It gets easier as time passes. He fixes Rodimus’s posture, holds him in place when necessary, guides him through the motions. He could have gone on indefinitely if it weren't for Rodimus asking for a break at some point and leaving the room to cough. Drift can hear everything clearly, the glass shards clinking against the floor, the shaky, wet ventilations as Rodimus recovers, Rodimus’ heavy steps as he goes to dispose of the crystals.

Rodimus looks tired when he returns, so Drift ignores his protests and his insistence that they should continue and calls it a day.

Through the night, Drift hears Rodimus coughing in his room twice, and in the morning he pretends not to notice the energon stains in the washroom, which Rodimus must have missed while trying to clean the wounds in his mouth. He also pretends he didn’t hear Rodimus getting up early – he can picture him in his room, doing the same thing Drift had done all those years ago: carefully ripping out the crystal flowers from his transformation seams, crushing those that were too small to be held between his fingers.

The next day, they resume the lessons. The next night, Drift again pretends he doesn’t hear what’s happening.

Rodimus leaves on the third day.

“Call me when you get to the Exitus,” Drift says, his hand on Rodimus’s arm.

“I will,” Rodimus says, smiling at him, looking more like himself than when he’d first arrived.

Rodimus calls.

They keep talking every day.

Drift keeps pretending not to notice anything in Rodimus’s voice.

Drift invites him to come over again.

.

.

.

.

“I brought movies,” is the first thing out of Rodimus’s mouth when Drift opens the door.

“What?” Drift asks, moving aside to let him pass.

“Swordfighting lessons are fun, but we can’t spend the whole day doing that. So I asked Swerve for recommendations.”

Drift decides not to dwell on the fact that Rodimus has apparently bothered staying in touch with Swerve.

“Anything good?”

“I hope so… I also have TV shows. I thought we could start one and then try to watch it on our own, that way we’ll have something else to talk about when you call.”

Right. When Drift calls. Because the only time the call had come from Rodimus was when he let Drift know that he’d returned safely to the Exitus.

“How long are you staying?”

“Two nights, same as before. I can take longer, but then if you invite me again it’ll be more difficult to get permission.” He has turned his back on Drift, ostensibly to look around the room, but maybe it’s because he’s lying.

He won’t push. Rodimus is here, despite the fact that he probably doesn’t want to be. He still looks like a spiritual shipwreck.

“What did you bring?”

Rodimus turns his head to grin at him and plops down on the couch.

“I have some ancient movies. Remember ‘Back to the Future’?”

“There are still copies of that?” Drift asks, unable to keep his amazement out of his voice.

“Swerve has everything!” Rodimus’s grin widens.

“What else besides that?”

“I have a bit of everything. Earthen, Xaian, Solian, Teponeali… If they’ve made movies, I have something by them. And in every genre too!”

“Earthen trashy romance?”

Rodimus brings out a datapad from his subspace, on which he shows a movie poster.

“That… looks terrible.” Drift says. ‘Starlight Missing’ seems to be one of the worst examples of human cinema – Whirl had told him about it, ages ago, over drinks while on the Lost Light’s last voyage.

“Had good reviews, apparently,” Rodimus says, laughing. “But it’s definitely not my top choice.”

Rodimus starts talking about the movies he’s actually interested in seeing, and this time his presence has an effect on the room: it feels real.

Since Ratchet’s death, Drift has been in a haze, lost in grief and routine, making it so he barely noticed his surroundings. His home had walls and furniture, but they could have been holograms for how unsubstantial and meaningless they felt. Now, with Rodimus bringing his warmth, he can look around and remember that this is, in fact, his home, not some random place he accidentally found himself staying in.

This time, Rodimus’s presence actually manages to make Drift feel less lonely.

They keep practicing with the swords; Rodimus at least remembers what he learned the previous time.

“Were you training on your own?” Drift asks.

“Tried to,” Rodimus says, shrugging in a poor attempt at humility. “But it’s hard to stick to a training schedule when you have to constantly leave the ship on errands.”

“You’ve been practicing enough for it to show,” Drift says gently, encouraging.

“Hah, yeah.” Rodimus turns his head to the side, making it easy for Drift to see the odd sheen in the gaps between his neck cables. He doesn’t look at Drift as he says, “I figured you’d be disappointed if I didn’t retain anything, so I asked our medic to remind me to train.”

Drift doesn’t frown, but he observes Rodimus. The medic has been mentioned a few times in their conversations, and Drift has to wonder who she is, that Rodimus is willing to listen to her. Maybe Drift should have taken a moment to think before assuming that the flowers growing out of Rodimus were for him. Maybe he has been actively damaging their friendship for nothing.

“She’s your friend, right?”

Rodimus makes a face and turns to look at him again.

“She’s more like my self-appointed caretaker. Well, everyone’s. Which I guess makes her everyone’s friend…” He taps at his chin. “Yes, I think we’re friends.”

When Rodimus talks about her, he looks like the captain he used to be. He might not be in charge anymore, but Rodimus has clearly decided that the medic is part of ‘his’ crew.

Then he adjusts his posture, looks at Drift for approval, and the eagerness in his expression and the warmth in his smile are almost enough to make him look happy again, and Drift can’t fool himself about who it is that Rodimus loves.

He says nothing as they train.

He says nothing as they watch movies later.

He says nothing the next day.

When it’s time for Rodimus to leave, he puts his hand on his arm and says, “Call me when you get to the Exitus,” and Rodimus smiles and promises he will.

.

.

.

.

It’s been over a year since Ratchet died, and life has finally started to take shape again.

He has a routine. He goes to the clinic, handles whatever needs handling, comes home to watch some episodes of whatever it is that he and Rodimus are watching together, practices with his sword, calls Rodimus, reads a bit, and recharges.

It’s not exciting, but it keeps him going. Occasionally he gets calls from Roller or First Aid and he goes to see them, spends a few hours pretending he remembers how to be himself, and then comes home to an empty room and the ghost of happiness.

It’s not good. It’s not healthy.

Once a month, he invites Rodimus to come over and lets him destroy the mockery of a life that Drift has been building for himself, lets Rodimus drag him out to force him to have fun, to laugh and joke and remind him of a time in which Drift had goals beyond getting through the day.

He hates that seeing Rodimus reminds him of what he has become. He’s grateful that, once a month, he gets to be Drift instead of Ratchet’s widower.

When Rodimus isn’t around, Ratchet’s memory clings to the corners, drips from the walls and curls around furniture, but every time Rodimus walks into the place he manages to make Ratchet’s presence a bit less real. When Rodimus is around, Ratchet’s visible absence is manageable, because Rodimus weaves new memories with those of a lifetime.

They’re not spectacular memories. They’re not tinged with the softness and passion of romance. They’re nothing worth mentioning, just afternoons watching movies or playing a videogame, but they exist, and they help Drift keep going.

They also make Drift feel so guilty that some days he considers not calling Rodimus. He has seen the sheen through his seams, heard him coughing at night, and has occasionally found shards as he cleans the guest room. He shouldn’t allow Rodimus to put himself through this just to feel better.

Then he tells himself that Rodimus knows what he’s doing. That if he didn’t want to be there, he wouldn’t be, because Rodimus has never been good at doing what he doesn’t want to. That maybe he should be more on guard, because Rodimus keeps coming back, and what if he expects something? What if he has hopes about the two of them?

He feels guilty. He feels afraid. Rodimus wants to be there and Drift doesn’t want to know why.

.

.

.

.

“A festival?” Drift asks, looking up at Rodimus from his seat by the refuel station’s table.

“A festival!” Rodimus says, his hands extended towards Drift like an offering and an invitation. “I saw the preparations, Drift. There’ll be lights and games and food. Maybe even some music.”

There will also be drinks. Drift hasn’t talk to Rodimus about that either. There are many things he hasn’t talked about with Rodimus.

“I’m not sure…”

“Come on. When was the last time you went to something like that?”

Drift doesn’t want to say the truth.

“I’ll win something for you,” Rodimus says, smiling in that way that speaks of how sure he is of his argument.

Drift laughs and agrees.

The festival is exactly what Rodimus promised: lights, games and food. Even some music. Rodimus wins a yellow lamp that plays music and insists he has nowhere to keep it in the Exitus, so Drift must keep the monstrosity, to which Drift retaliates by promising to put it in the guest room.

Drift gets himself some engex. Rodimus doesn’t.

Drift gets himself some more engex and finds himself smiling more easily.

He pretends he doesn’t notice Rodimus looking at him. It’s hard, because Rodimus is always looking at him, has been looking at Drift since the first time he visited, and Drift has been pretending all this time that he doesn’t know.

Maybe he had been waiting for a chance.

It’s been a while since Ratchet died, maybe Drift should just get it over with and let Rodimus have his chance. Maybe then he’ll stop showing up and making Drift believe he’s not just Ratchet’s widower.

“I’m tired,” he says, turning towards Rodimus too fast for Rodimus to look away and pretend he hadn’t been watching Drift. “I want to go home.” He’s smiling as he says it, the engex making him giddy about what he’s about to do, pushing away the wrongness drowning his spark.

He gets himself some more engex to drink on the walk back. Rodimus’s face tells Drift that he doesn’t approve. He’ll approve later.

Rodimus is warm next to him. Once upon a time, Drift had fantasized about putting his arms around Rodimus, closing his eyes and letting that warmth surround him. He’d wondered how that warmth would have felt if Rodimus had kissed him, if Rodimus’s hands had explored his frame.

He intends to find out.

They talk about nothing on the way home, and once there Drift has enough common sense to wait until the door is closed before leaning against Rodimus, resting his forehead on his shoulder and putting his arms around his waist. Rodimus is even warmer than he remembered, and it helps keep the ice of Drift’s fear at bay.

Rodimus stiffens and Drift stops being so sure about his idea.

“Drift?” Rodimus asks warily.

Drift opens his mouth and finds that all his words have frozen. At least he can still move.

He turns his head and presses his lips to Rodimus’s neck.

The contact doesn’t last a second, because Rodimus grabs Drift’s arms and pushes him away. Distantly, Drift hears the glass being crushed by the movement.

“Drift, what are you doing?” His voice is cold. His grip is hard. Drift feels like he’s sinking.

He still can’t speak. He shakes his head and tries to find something in Rodimus’s face that can guide him, but all he finds is fear. Even the ever-present hint of warmth in Rodimus’s optics is gone, ashes instead of embers.

“I’m sorry,” Drift whispers, covering his face with his hands.

Rodimus doesn’t move.

“You should go to recharge, Drift. You’re not thinking straight,” he says, his voice empty. His aura, on the other hand, looks like a storm.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve already said that.”

“I mean it.”

They stay still, Rodimus’s hands on Drift’s arms keeping him away.

“Why did you stop me?” Drift asks, lowering his hands and letting his head hang. He’s tired. He doesn’t want to see Rodimus’s face.

“Are you serious?” Rodimus asks with a bitter laugh.

Drift waits.

“For starters, you’re drunk. Next, I’m fairly sure I’m your only friend. If I’d been horrible enough to let you continue, you’d be out of friends, and I can’t let that happen. And lastly…” Rodimus lets go of Drift and takes a step back. “I don’t know why you think you want to kiss me, but I know it must be a very bad reason, otherwise you wouldn’t be drunk right now.”

Drift can think of a thousand times at which he'd been completely sober and wanting nothing more than to feel Rodimus’s lips against his own. He can't think of any in the last ten thousand years.

"I'm sorry," he says again.

"Yes, I know," Rodimus says, almost laughing.

"No, you don't," Drift says quietly. "I'm really sorry, Rodimus, this isn't about you, it's about… this isn't what I wanted."

"We can pretend nothing happened, it's fine," Rodimus says lightly.

"No, not that!" Drift says, shaking his head and taking another step back. "That was… that was a mistake, but not… It's not the problem. The problem is…" He gestures towards the room, the pictures on the walls, the furniture and every reminder of Ratchet's absence. "Everything is the problem. I'm the problem. My life is the problem. You being my only friend is the problem."

Rodimus winces. Drift keeps going. Now that he has started, he can't stop. He hopes Rodimus understands.

“It’s not fair, Rodimus! It’s- Ratchet and I-” He sits down and brings his legs to his chest, lets his head hang between his knees.  “We were supposed to have millions of years together. I was supposed to get old next to him. I thought-” He laughs bitterly. “I thought I could get that, you know? That maybe I’d earned a good thing. Just one. A life with someone I loved. It wasn’t too much to ask for, was it?”

He can feel Rodimus’s sympathetic look on him. Rodimus doesn’t say anything. Of course. This must be too much for him, and when has he been able to say something worth saying?

Plenty of times. Don’t be mean.

Maybe he’s happy Ratchet died, who knows?

Drift curls his hands into fists and digs his fingers into his palms.

Rodimus isn’t like that. Rodimus can be immature, and petty, and obnoxious, but he cared, and he still does. Rodimus asked Ratty to take care of him. Rodimus…

Drift looks up.

Rodimus looks broken.

“I thought I’d earned at least that,” Drift whispers. “Or that, if I hadn’t, I’d be the one to go first.” He smiles wryly. “Between Ratchet and me, there’s no doubting who the world needs more.”

“Don’t,” Rodimus says severely, kneeling in front of Drift and forcing his hands open. “Don’t you dare. You’re alive, Drift. Never doubt why you’re alive. Just… do something with that life.”

Drift scoffs. “Rodimus, we both know you’re not being objective here.”

Rodimus shakes his head and stares defiantly at Drift, not even reacting to the blow. “Maybe. But you know what? Ratchet would agree with me, and you know it.”

“Ratchet.” Drift pulls his hands free from Rodimus’s hold. “Right. Because Ratchet thought so much about me!” He raises a hand in an angry gesture. “Do you know the symptoms of spark failure?” He points at himself. “I do. I looked them up. First Aid…” Drift lowers his hands to the floor and digs his fingers into it instead. “First Aid told me that if they’d detected the spark failure sooner, he could have been treated and he could have lived longer. Ratchet knew the symptoms of spark failure. He knew them and he- he ignored them, Rodimus!” Drift shakes his head and continues, his voice rising as he goes on. “He’d say, ‘It’s just age!’ Or, ‘Oh, I’m just tired.’ And my personal favorite, ‘It’ll go away on its own.’ Yes, of course! It went away and took him with it!”

He can’t take it anymore. He stands up and starts pacing, months of pent up anger finally being allowed an out and finding out that words aren’t enough. He needs to scream. He needs to break something. He needs Ratchet here, listening to this.

He needs Ratchet.

Rodimus remains on the floor, looking up at him sadly.

“He knew, Rodimus. He knew! We could have had longer. I’d give… I’d give everything for another day and we didn’t have it because he was just too focused on saving everyone to look after himself! Where does that leave me? What am I supposed to do? He went and…” He curls his hands into fists. “And now there’s no one to be angry at! Because he’s dead and I can’t be mad at him! I have to move on and- and-” He looks down and yells at the floor, “And make my peace with all the time we didn’t have!”

He stops abruptly. His hands are shaking and his voice has become increasingly static-y. When had that happened?

Slowly, Rodimus stands up and approaches him, bringing Drift’s attention back to him. What is he going to do? Will he leave? Will he try to say something?

Rodimus opens his arms and gives Drift a small, sad smile.

Drift allows Rodimus to hold him as he shakes, full of rage and grief.

“You’ll be okay,” Rodimus says, and everything in him tells Drift that he genuinely believes it.

It should make Drift feel better, but what it does is make him feel like his spark is shrinking. What will it mean when he’s finally okay? Will he get over Ratchet? Does he want to be over Ratchet? Will he have to go and look for another great love?

“Why are you here, Rodimus?” he murmurs against Rodimus’s shoulder. This close, Drift can see the glass inside his seams. “What do you want?”

“I’m here because I care about you. And what I want is for you to be okay again.”

That’s also the truth, or at least Rodimus believes it is.

“That’s all? Nothing for yourself?”

Rodimus hums pensively.

“There are things I’d like, Drift. I can’t lie about that.” Rodimus’s arms are loose around Drift; he could get away from Rodimus effortlessly, and that’s what keeps Drift from trying, despite the words. “But I’m not here for that. You don’t deserve that. You needed a friend, so I’m here.”

“Thank you,” Drift says, offlining his optics.

“Don’t mention it,” Rodimus says softly. “I really think you need to recharge, Drift.”

They’re still standing close to the door. The distance to his room looks infinite to Drift.

“I don’t want to,” he says.

“What are you going to do? Stand against me the entire night?” Rodimus sounds like he’s teasing, but Drift still moves back enough to see his face, just to make sure.

He’s half-smiling. The warmth is back in his optics. There’s still a storm in his aura.

Reluctantly, Drift leaves the safety of Rodimus’s embrace and heads for the couch.

“Please don’t tell me you’re planning to sleep there,” Rodimus laughs.

“I am and I will,” Drift says seriously. “I don’t want to go to my room.” His empty room with too much space and months of grief sticking to the walls.

Rodimus stops laughing.

Slowly, Rodimus walks towards Drift and sits next to him, as far away as the couch will allow.

“We could watch another episode of that weird Xaian drama?” Rodimus says, picking up the remote.

Drift huffs. “Too much thinking involved.”

“Earthen reality shows?” Rodimus teases.

Drift gives him a reproaching look that’s met with a falsely-innocent grin.

“Not enough thinking involved.”

“Let’s rewatch something, then.”

“You pick,” Drift says, and leans back, preparing himself to stop paying attention as soon as the movie starts.

Rodimus settles for some low-budget buddy cop comedy that had been popular a couple centuries ago. It’s not very good, but the jokes are funny and the actors are trying their best.

Drift allows himself to slip into unconsciousness to the sound of explosions and cheesy one-liners.

He wakes up briefly when Rodimus starts coughing and gets up, but doesn’t manage to stay awake long enough to see him return.

In the morning, he finds the TV has been turned off and that Rodimus moved him so he’s lying down.

“Slept well?” Rodimus asks when he makes his way to the refueling station.

“Better than ever,” Drift admits. He’s still angry. He’d yell at Ratchet if he could. He’s no longer pretending that everything is fine and it’s liberating.

Rodimus hands him an energon cube and leads him to a chair.

“About yesterday–”

Drift winces.

“Yes, I know. You’re sorry.” Rodimus waves a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about that. Or, well,” he shrugs, “I’m not going to talk about that in the way you think I will.” He gestures for Drift to drink the energon and continues. “I was thinking about it and you should come back to the Exitus with me today.”

Deliberately, Drift keeps drinking. He turns over Rodimus’s words in his mind, tries to understand what he’s getting to and comes up with some good excuses before lowering the cube and saying, “I can’t leave the clinic.”

Rodimus makes a face.

“Come on, Drift. A holiday will do you good.”

“Maybe a planned holiday. But this? I can’t just call in and say I won’t be around for… I don’t know. How long do you want me to be there?”

“As long as you want to be there. If it was up to me, you’d stay the whole month, but I’m not sure how you’d feel about spending a month doing nothing.”

He can feel himself getting angry. “That’s not happening, Rodimus. I’m not going.” Now that he’s allowed himself to feel something beyond grief and melancholy, it’s hard to keep reactions at bay.

“Oh, please, Drift. The clinic won’t collapse if you aren’t there,” Rodimus says lightly. What does he know?

“I keep things running!”

“And you have others that can do the job for you! Call, give some excuse and come with me.”

Come with me.

Right. Like Drift will just drop everything because of Rodimus’s whims again.

“No."

“Why not? All you’re doing here is mope and wait for me to visit!”

Drift sets down the cube forcefully. Rodimus grimaces.

“That came out wrong,” he mutters.

“Did it?” Drift challenges.

Rodimus looks away, in-vents deeply and says, “I picked the wrong words. I’m not trying to undervalue what you do, Drift.” His tone is so forcefully conciliatory it makes Drift want to laugh. When has Rodimus tried to de-escalate a situation? “It’s important and it matters.” He fixes his optics on Drift as he continues. “But you matter too. I’m tired of coming here and seeing how sad you look.”

“Oh, so I’m the sad one?” Drift says, tone bordering on mockery.

Rodimus doesn’t take the bait.

“It doesn’t have to apply only to you,” Rodimus says, shrugging. “There can be other sad people in the world.” His voice sounds like a rainy day, but his aura is a still lake. “I think it’d do you good to see more people. If anything, I’m sure Thunderclash would be happy to distract you.”

Drift snorts.

“Are you friends with Thunderclash now?”

That was a low blow.

Rodimus twists his mouth.

“He’s my captain,” he says, his voice too devoid of emotion for it to be anything but a very deliberate choice.

Drift continues refueling. Rodimus goes to get a cube for himself.

“I’m sorry,” Drift says when Rodimus sits down in front of him.

“Okay.” Rodimus takes a sip. “Listen, Drift… You don’t have to come with me today, but think about it. It’ll be… Fine, it’ll be as fun as spending time on a goodwill ship can be, but it’s probably better than doing nothing.”

“I don’t know, Rodimus…”

“Please, Drift, think about it. That’s all.”

It’s the barely audible hint of pleading that makes Drift nod.

Rodimus smiles at him and changes the subject.

Once he’s gone, Drift checks his schedule and starts looking for suitable replacements.