When it’s over, Drift lowers his sword. Ready as always, right behind. Not soon enough. He could’ve taken over— he could’ve suggested something, he should not have let Rodimus go along with his stupid plan, he should have thought quicker, he should have offered—
He stares at Rodimus' face, frozen in desperate fear, forever now. He hears Magnus shouting, comming Ratchet, but he knows, he is the only one who knows there's nothing they can do. Nothing his swords or Magnus' orders or Ratchet's hands can fix. Rodimus' aura, his field, his presence just— just stops.
Were he a different mech, he would appreciate the irony.
Magnus tells the crew — short, clipped words. He’s rehearsed it, though not enough — he stumbles, composes himself, goes on. He is not built for speeches, but he only throws one glance Drift’s way before pursing up his lips and going to the gathered crew.
It’s better this way. There’s an awful taste in his mouth, just at the thought of speaking instead of Rodimus. For Rodimus.
Because they shut his mouth, for it was too horrifying to even see it, and he won't smile now, he won't speak now.
Drift is bad at speeches anyway.
Magnus allows him to perform the funeral. After the speech, Drift hesitates to even bring it up to him, but they stare at each other, and somehow, “It’s what he would have wanted” comes out, and somehow, Magnus agrees. It’s a lie. He doesn’t know what he would have wanted, he didn’t have a chance to talk to Rodimus about his beliefs. He didn’t have time.
They never had time. It was over before it even began.
During the speech, he hovers behind Magnus' shoulder, taking in the crew's reaction. They are so different — shock, disbelief, horror, frustration. Indifference. Not all of them knew Rodimus or even Hot Rod all that well, Drift realises. Not all of them are out to find the Knights. Were. (They don't know yet, they don't understand.)
He doesn't look at anybody else during the funeral.
It's been so long since he partook in something like... this. It's been so long since any of them did this. Now, every death seems to hold more weight — and yet, every single one is so much more meaningless. Every death hurts more. It should hurt more.
But maybe it's just him.
They settle, as they always do. He checks the crew, at times, when Red Alert is too frightened to go outside his habsuite or too stuck to his recharge slab by his prankster of a roommate, and they are okay. There are a couple newcomers who were brought in without supervision. Drift doesn't know many of the mechs that well — it's hard to admit, but when it comes to personal acquaintance, his list includes way more Decepticons than Autobots. It's fine; he'll get through it. He's just not sure whose fault it is.
He tries to smile at them, but his spark is not in it, his facade is crackling, and so he doesn't try to get too close. Enough. A brief check-up is enough.
But on one of the inspections he visits the medibay, and Ratchet is staring at his hands so angrily, and he flares up immediately upon seeing Drift. Something about it is so fresh, so invigorating — that Ratchet would still do this, — that the ex-con almost involuntarily grins at him (this is the first time he smiles since then) and tells him that the levels of self-loathing were too great in this area of the ship, so he was sent to check it up.
When he finally leaves the medibay hours later, vocaliser exhausted, he feels more alive than he ever has since he was reborn.
Slowly, it dawns on him — the Duobots are gone. Rodimus is… Rodimus is not there. Rodimus is the one who made a pact with Prowl. Drift didn't. Brainstorm— does not care, in all probability.
He is the only one who knows. It takes him a week to gather his strength. It's strange: he's already decided, yet something is holding him back. He is aware that Magnus may not forgive him this, he may not forgive Rodimus; Pit, Rodimus may not... might not have... well. And yet.
He wants to believe this is what Rodimus would have wanted.
After Magnus does everything in his power to ensure that Overlord will not escape, he makes Rewind stop the constant recording. Drift is not privy to the reason. Maybe the revelation about the deal Rodimus struck with Prowl, the one Drift made sure to describe in the way to paint Rodimus as unwitted and naive as he could, — maybe Magnus could nevertheless no longer see Rodimus in the same light and no longer wanted to continue the travelogue started by him. Or maybe he's just remembered about it and simply doesn't deem it necessary.
It's the right decision. Rewind looks strangely hurt, but Magnus is right. Theirs is not the journey to be documented. Theirs is not the story to be passed throughout the galaxy.
And yet, the life continues. There’s a theatre. There’re movie nights. They’re drifting in space, peacefully. So peacefully. Rodimus would hate that.
Perceptor says — smiling curtly, and Drift suddenly remembers him from what feels like a lifetime ago, — that they’re very close to the point on the map. Rodimus would love it.
Drift knows the map, the Knights, the quest— all is meaningless without Rodimus. It was the second thought that crossed his mind when he saw the engines crash down.
They drift in space and time, and Drift is still, for some reason, part of the ship’s command.
Magnus doesn't seem intent to remark on it, and Drift feels almost privileged. Magnus issues orders — he is a very different captain from what Rodimus would be. Could be. When Drift looks the Enforcer in the optics, he believes he can see the acknowledgment of the fact, but maybe he's just imagining that, as well. Maybe he's imagining everything.
But there are so few of these orders, and he ends up watching Magnus, closely. He watches all of them, as if he's keeping them safe now, now that Rodimus's gone. He gives out tickets for racing in the corridors, notices a couple of giggling minibots trying to hide behind Smokescreen and pretends not to see. Catching a glimpse of two mechs outside, in the distance, lying on the surface of the ship — Rewind, his camera on, for once, and Chromedome, blessedly unaware of the part he would play in the original plan, if only, if only, — makes Drift recall the constellations in the sky above Cybertron, tracing and learning and re-learning them on the worst-best nights in Dead End. He stumbles upon a rehearsal of a new drama Crosscut wrote and can't turn away. And so on and on, he looks at them and after them, and aches, and misses Rodimus like Pit, for no reason, no reasons at all.
They go to the premiere of the play, and the topic of info creep brings out their differences, the worst in them, the best in them. Ratchet snarls and puffs, Drift argues, but just can’t help smiling. Ratchet notices and storms off.
The next time he visits the medibay, without the pretence of an inspection, there's a spare energon cube, and Ratchet hides his face, as if loath to acknowledge that he went to all the trouble. It's no trouble, Drift's mind immediately reminds him. They have cubes in the medibay.
But for a moment, Ratchet looks as if he might say something — Drift is half-afraid he'll apologise, but of course he doesn't. He just offers a cube and nods towards the empty berth. In fact, most of the slabs are unoccupied. There is just no chance to get scrapped enough to require long attention. Quietly, he thanks Primus for that: he doesn't want to think how Ratchet would react if he failed to fix someone just because his hands were not up to task. But he would never say that out loud, he realises, and accepting the cube, he knows he's already too close.
Magnus is kind to him, and that is even worse. Drift sees the cracks inside— he never got the chance to get much into their complicated relationship, only saw glimpses of it, the way Magnus would allow things he wouldn’t— Drift assumes he wouldn’t allow anyone else other than Rodimus. The way he once felt Rodimus’ field reaching, straining, hesitantly trying to cover up them both.
He never was that good at reading mechs. It just may be that he sees himself reflected in Magnus.
But there are many other things to see, and there's not much else to do. With Rodimus, there always was something. Maybe Magnus appreciates the stillness, Drift supposes and then watches him enforce the rules aggressively, pointlessly one day and wither away the other.
Magnus falls sick, and Drift feels something — it's been so long since he did, but now he does, and what is it. What is it, he asks of Magnus, lying unconscious. Talk to me.
Millions of years, and he never sat by someone's bedside. The experience is uncomfortable and soothing at the same time.
"Shoo," Ratchet says. "We'll figure it out."
We, Ratchet says, and Drift nods.
They do figure it out. One problems leads to another, and before he knows it, he finds out more of Ultra Magnus than he ever thought he would. More than Rodimus ever knew. What would he think? How does one even react to— this?
Magnus has red optics and a facial insignia that hides his mouth, but not his surprise when he breaks out of stasis and sees so many of the crew standing around him, Rewind's camera modestly off, Ratchet with a frown, Drift smiling. There's a long story behind it, but it can wait. They have time, Drift thinks. They have time.
Except time means nothing, for they don't move forward. Clocks are ticking. It’s been almost six months, and nothing’s changed. It's just a matter of time, he knows — the only one — they can't succeed. Without Rodimus, they can't find anything.
Nothing’s changed, nothing's special.
It’s been six months.
Magnus gets better, but Drift still finds himself in the medibay, more and more often with each coming day. Ratchet's hands shake as he hands him a cube. Once, Magnus comes there — "I'm on an inspection," he explains awkwardly, and they look at each other in silent understanding: Red's paranoia has been worsening. It's not enough that they took every measure possible to prevent Overlord's escape.
But at least they have spare cubes in the medibay.
In his dreams, Drift sees another lives, kind and beautiful. Lives in which he didn’t have to take, only to give. Lives where Gasket lived, where Wing fought on, where Rodimus smiles at him, laughs, claps his shoulder. Where Ratchet doesn’t stare at his hands as if they belong on a different frame, where Magnus doesn't send reports that will never be received, where the crew doesn't exist in some sort of haze, and even if it does, it's only for a short time, and he is able to break them out of it. There, he can fix it.
Dreams in which the Lost Light is meaningful and important instead of a small lost ship on the outskirts of the galaxy.
He doesn’t ask Magnus if he has dreams.
The alarms find him in the medibay. They don't have any patients - they, him and Ratchet, - and i he rushes out, swords out, the medic on his heels. He feels something exhiliriating pumping through him, something he hasn't felt for so long— and the there's a call from Magnus. It's them. The unbelievable, unthinkable— it's them, and Drift understands, at once. This is it.
He hears Magnus shout out, and then it's silent. The commline breaks. The lift stops. They get out while they still can, Drift trying not to look at Ratchet, to check if he realises that it's hopeless.
Someone catches up to them.
"What do we do?" Hound asks, of him, of him, as if he's not the failure this ship has been saddled with, as if there's no way he's part of the reason they are here. He looks the green bot in the optics, sees hope, sees trust despite six months of grey endless vacuum, and he understands, but it's too late.
"I'm sorry," he says instead, turning away.
Shouting, shooting, and – other sounds. They go on and on, they are running, pointlessly. The horrifying silence greet them when they finally reach the room. He hears choking (Hound), sound of optics slowly shuttering (Ratchet). He wishes he could do anything, wishes he was alone, wishes the pain that’s coming could swallow the ache that’s been growing inside him for six months.
But Drift lowers his sword. It’s already over.