Ratchet is at the shuttle’s controls, keeping an ear out for any warning alarms as the ship heads out towards the galactic rim. He’s just starting a new episode of As The Kitchen Sinks when Drift walks into the control room.
“Hey,” he says, “we’re near the planet Venarti. It’s home to the famous singing crystals of Ajeva.”
Ratchet doesn’t take his eyes off his datapad. “Never heard of them, but sure.”
Drift draws back in consternation. “Never heard of them?” he exclaims. “Never? Primus! Well, it’s time to remedy your cultural ignorance. We’re headed there immediately: maybe some sightseeing will make you less of a grump.”
Ratchet looks up and frowns. “I hate playing tourist.”
“Apparently not. Well, regardless, we’re going. I want to see them; they’re universally described as absolutely exquisite.”
Ratchet rolls his eyes, but scoots out of the pilot’s seat anyway. “Whatever. I’m not doing anything right now anyway.”
Drift grins, sliding into the seat Ratchet has just vacated. He starts to input the coordinates into the navsystem. “Great! You’ll love it, I promise.”
The next day, Drift and Ratchet make planetfall at Venarti’s second-largest spaceport, near the Ajevan mountain range.
They’ve disembarked and are waiting in a customs line (composed almost entirely of beings under half their height) when a native Venartian spaceport officer, insectoid and on the large side for organic races (only coming up to Ratchet’s calf, but lengthy enough that if ke stood on kir back legs ke would reach her chest) scuttles up to the pair, kir legs ringed with circlets decorated more fancily than the Venartian standard.
“Excuse me, but I’m going to have to speak with you privately,” ke synthesizes.
Ratchet sighs, preparing to walk off, but is interrupted by Drift. “I’ll handle this,” he murmurs to Ratchet. He turns to the officer and smiles. “Can Ratchet stay in line while I speak with you? We’ve been waiting for a while, and we’d rather not lose our place here.”
“Sure,” ke replies. “Follow me, please.”
Drift nods and walks off, tossing a wave goodbye over their shoulder. Ratchet sighs and begins the wait for them to return.
Ratchet is bored already when Drift returns in a couple of minutes, bounding from out of his line of sight to grasp his hand. Before Ratchet can ask what’s going on, Drift signs into his hand, “Shut up and play nice.” Out loud, they greet him with a cheerful, “Hey honey! Ketat is letting us through! Ke’s our guide now!”
Ratchet narrows his eyes at Drift and growls out, “How wonderful.” He signs back, “What did you do!” as they begin to follow Ketat out of the crowd.
While they walk towards the spaceport exit, Drift explains. “Ke tried to give me something about the Galactic Council not wanting to let us in - this planet isn’t council affiliated, I checked. I pretended we were dating - so we’d seem less threatening - and said I was trying to propose. So you should make this look pretty serious, by the way. Anyway, that helped a lot. The clincher was hiring ker to be a guide for us.”
Walking out the spaceport’s exit, Drift lets go of Ratchet’s hand to point out the beauty of the mountain range silhouetted against the deep purple sky, smiling disarmingly at Ratchet.
Ratchet, not disarmed, continues to glare at Drift, although he can’t yell at them in front of Ketat with the chirolinguistic connection severed. He huffs and turns to ask Ketat, “So what now? Do we go see your ‘singing cave things’ or whatever?”
Ketat rattles alarmingly, prompting Drift and Ratchet to tense and prepare to jump back before they manage to interpret it as a laugh. “Oh, no. Going to and through the caves is a full day’s outing, especially since I know your partner wanted to truly appreciate their beauty. Tomorrow should be a good day for that excursion. In the meantime, the city has many other attractions: restaurants, a cultural museum, and the largest open market in the star system.”
Ratchet immediately vetoes the restaurants, saying, “We brought our own rations. The likelihood of an organic planet having well-prepared energon is, well, low.”
Drift nods. “And while I, personally, would love to visit the museum, Ratchet is much more of a, you might say, hands-on person. I suppose we’re headed to the market!”
Ketat guides them to the marketplace, explaining Ajeva’s history as a mining and market town nestled in the mountains at the source of a major river to a very interested Drift, who keeps making encouraging remarks and asking for more details. Ratchet is bored out of his skull.
They all spend some time browsing the marketplace, Drift bending down to remark on the rich scents of the perfumes, Ratchet automatically keeping an eye out for medical tools and glaring at vendors who try to sell him anything more frivolous, both of them stepping slowly and carefully to avoid injuring other passersby.
Ketat guides them to a less crowded area of the market, where the vendors have larger stalls and sell substantially more expensive items. Drift’s eye is caught by a vendor selling traditionally crafted Ajevan leg circlets made to fit species of different proportions. Largely made for the bipedal shape so common in this arm of the galaxy, nothing is sized perfectly for the Cybertronians, large as they are.
Drift grabs Ratchet by the wrist, leading him over to a section that contains chains and decorations meant to dangle between foreleg and midleg circlets. Taking a sample chain, he drapes it over his wrist, finding the length that circles it perfectly. Drift raises Ratchet’s hand to his face and presses his inner wrist to his cheek, stage whispering into the palm of his hand, “It looks gorgeous on you.”
Ratchet, out of patience, smiles sourly. He takes the chain from Drift and puts it to his neck, saying “Pity this is too short for you, dear.” He leans into his helm finial, whispering, “because I’d love to strangle you with it for all this fuss.”
Drift laughs and flashes a brilliant grin. “Oh darling, you say the sweetest things, he says, projecting loudly enough to be heard in neighboring stalls.
Ratchet glares, embarrassed, then spins on his heel and walks away to look at the pendants and try to calm down. He ignores Drift’s dealings with the vendor until he walks back over and puts his chin on Ratchet’s shoulder, dodging his irritated attempts at batting him away. The pair continues around the marketplace, Ratchet’s glares blazing ever hotter at vendors, shoppers, and Drift all alike, until they ask Ketat to show them somewhere with a nice view where they can take their energon rations.
Ketat obliges, giving them directions to a nearby public park. “It has no seating built for your size, but there’s a rock-topped hill you could sit on. It’s got a beautiful view of the sunset, too,” ke says. “It is outside, but the weather is nice, and there’s really nowhere built for tourists of your size.”
Drift ignores Ratchet’s “Hmph - tourists” to reassure ker that, “We’ll be fine, I’m sure.” The pair of Cybertronians transforms, leaving Ketat to finish up kir duties at the spaceport and catch up with them after they’ve eaten.
They reach the park and Drift retrieves their energon rations. He mixes in a pinch of silver nitrate to his own energon and a dollop of magnesium carbonate to Ratchet’s, then hands his cube over.
The two sit down on a convenient ledge to watch the sunset, sipping at their energon as Venarti’s star slips below the mountainous horizon. Filled with a great fondness for the universe and his place - for once content and with companionship - in it, Drift reaches out and taps Ratchet’s foot with one of theirs. Ratchet responds with a slightly harder tap, to which Drift retaliates in kind. This exchange quickly devolves into a kicking match, and is quickly approaching the proportions of an all-out slapfight when Ratchet sees someone cresting the ridge behind Drift.
Alarmed - is that Ketat? - but still kicking, he whispers, “Stop!”
Drift grins predatorily, sensing victory at hand. “Never! Unless - do you surrender?”
Ratchet glances at the Venartian ambling up the hill, who is looking more and more like Ketat by the second. Trying one last time to make Drift see reason, he hisses, “Drift, I said stop!” When he’s only met by another, wider, grin, he glares, steels herself determinedly, and launches himself over to fall into Drift’s lap.
Ketat appears from behind Drift and looks fondly at the couple cuddling. “Enjoying the sunset?” ke asks.
Ratchet grimaces from where he’s cradled in Drift’s lap, uncomfortably lodged on their thigh armor. “Yeah, it’s gorgeous,” he bites out.
Drift puts a hand under Ratchet’s head to save him from the worst of the edges of the armor and begins smoothing at his chevron with his other hand. “It was incredibly beautiful indeed.”
Ratchet looks up at Drift, who’s gazing off towards the mountains while continuing to absentmindedly pet his chevron. He hears his fans start to whir contentedly and immediately starts to sit up, angry at himself for falling for the act Drift is putting on for their guide. He turns his head away from Drift to look off at the distant mountains, asking, “Aren’t we busy tomorrow? Shouldn’t we be - I don’t know - recharging?”
Drift asks, “You’re tired, darling? We can go to our lodgings. I booked a place to stay at the one place here that would accommodate beings of our size on such short notice - thank you, Ketat, by the way, for helping with that.” They rise gracefully, offering a hand to Ratchet. Ratchet swats it away and gets to her feet himself, groaning and stretching.
After getting directions from Ketat again, they head to the accommodations just outside the city limits - a cluster of differently scaled cottages, of which Drift and Ratchet are taking the largest. Retrieving the keycards, tiny in their large hands, from the proprietor, they head to their cottage.
As soon as the door closes behind them, Ratchet turns to Drift and starts yelling. “You! What were you-”
Drift leaps over to place a hand on his mouth and cut him off. “No yelling!” he whispers playfully. “You never know who might hear you.”
Ratchet smacks Drift’s hand away and grits his teeth. He continues, growling out, “What were you thinking? Why would you tell people we’re dating, especially if you were just going to bribe ker anyway!”
Drift blinks and adopts a look of innocence. “I’m not ‘bribing’ anyone. I’m fairly hiring a native guide and helper. I told ker we were dating in hopes that ke would have sympathy for us, and so we would seem less threatening. You’re always complaining about me wasting money - I did it for you!”
“Drift. From the moment we set foot on this planet you have been conspiring to annoy me. You made me go shopping with you!”
“Shopping is such a good opportunity to live in the moment! Engaging with the beings around you, moving through the space of the universe, seeing the difference in the values people place on objects. Did you not find it enjoyable?”
“No. Shopping sucks and I don’t want to live in the moment.”
“Oh Ratchet, still stuck in the past… You must learn to let go of it and learn to let bygones be bygones.”
“Living for the future doesn’t mean that actions don’t have consequences. Consequences like pissing me off. Anyway I’m going to go hit the washracks.” He walks out.
While Ratchet washes up, he hears Drift calling out “Dibs!” loudly enough that he can hear them from rooms away. He yells out, “Shut up I’m washing!”
When he comes out of the washracks, still a bit damp for fear of feeding the provided towels into a joint and having it stuck there, he finds Drift, meditating in the middle of a comically huge bed. “Nice slab,” he says, eyeing the sturdy mail cushions appreciatively. “I’ll go find mine.”
Drift nods, covering a grin, and Ratchet leaves the room.
“Yes, dear?” he manages to choke out through a fit of the giggles.
“There aren’t any other beds! What did you do?!?”
“I didn’t do anything! The suggestion that I would, I don’t know, rely on underhanded tactics to cheat you out of a bed? is frankly unconscionably rude and uncalled for. The cottage has only bed, and I have - fairly - called dibs on it.”
Ratchet begins to swell up in fury. “That doesn’t count! You-”
Drift interrupts, saying, “Ratchet, I can’t believe that even you, heathen that you are, would stoop to calling the ancient, time-honored tradition of calling ‘dibs’ baseless or unfounded. This bed, by that tradition, is mine. That being said, I’ll let you share if you say the magic word.”
“There’s only one bunk! You can’t claim it as ‘yours’, it’s ours!”
Drift shakes his head slowly. “No, I called dibs.”
Ratchet rolls his eyes. “Fine! It’s yours!” He flops onto the bed, careening towards the middle where Drift is sitting in order to bump into his meditative pose and disturb him. “I’m stealing it.”
Drift adopts a lofty tone of voice and a superior expression, saying, “One cannot steal what is freely given.” He scoots to the other side from Ratchet, resuming his meditative position.
Drift continues to meditate and Ratchet gets out his datapad to watch As The Kitchen Sinks. Drift starts humming. Ratchet turns the volume up. Drift hums louder. This cycle repeats for a full episode before Ratchet turns off the datapad and says, “I’m going to sleep now. Shut up,” and turns over to lay on his back.
“Night,” Ratchet replies.
“Sweet dreams!” says Drift, saccharine.
The next morning, Ratchet comes to with a pleasant warmth draped across his chest. He lies there, slowly drifting up from deep recharge, until he notices something pointed digging into his neck. He squirms half-heartedly, trying to remove it, but the warmth atop him growls and shifts, and whatever it is lodged in his neck digs back in, burying itself under an external cable. Groaning, he reluctantly opens his eyes and glances down to find Drift laid out on top of him. He’s sprawled across Ratchet’s torso, laying his head over his chest at exactly the right angle to
lay his cheek over his spark dig one of his finials into his neck.
He tries again to dislodge it, but Drift just moves again, this time bringing a hand up to cover Ratchet’s face, palm on his nose, and mutters “Five more minutes…”
Ratchet, extremely offended by Drift’s unconscious presumption, growls out, “I’ll show you five more minutes,” and rolls halfway over, dumping him off the bed.
Drift flails wildly, but manages to land in a lopsided crouch, one hand reaching for a sword that isn’t there. He looks around wildly before settling his gaze on Ratchet and glaring.
He grins down at him, saying, “Wake up sweetheart! We’ve got a big day, and we’ve got to get an early start!”
He smiles spitefully. “Thank you for waking me up, dear! I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” he replies smugly. “Are we going to see your oh-so-famous farting crystals now or what?”
Drift shakes his head. “No, we’re waiting for Ketat. In fact, we could have been sleeping still if you hadn’t woken me up.”
“Oops,” Ratchet says cheerfully. “Your fault anyway.”
“You woke me up; I woke you up.”
“How did I wake you up when I was asleep?”
Ratchet averts his eyes, remembering the warmth of Drift atop her. “You stuck your damn pointy finials in my neck is how.”
When Ketat arrives, the two of them are arguing about their pairings in “As The Kitchen Sinks”. They continue the argument as they begin the trek to the caves.
“Gordon obviously doesn’t deserve Donna, and Sheryl and Donna fit together better. It’s obvious, Ratchet.”
“It’s not ‘obvious’, it takes total ignorance of the actual show and blatantly making up character dynamics. The actual canon is obviously Donna/Gordon!”
“Oh come on. Put away those air quotes and admit they’d be good together.”
“They don’t talk!”
“They’re perfect counterbalances!”
“They hardly even speak to each other! You can’t base a relationship off of nothing!”
Drift throws his arms up in exasperation. “It’s not nothing! Donna’s intensity, in an actual relationship, would translate to an amount of affection that would satisfy Sheryl’s need for reassurance, while Sheryl’s down-to-earth personality would keep Donna grounded. They’d balance each other really well!”
“Speculation. The only thing they’ve ever done together is argue.”
“And? The only thing we ever do is argue, but we’ve made a good partnership.”
“Because we talk to each other, something Donna and Sheryl never do! Anyway that’s completely irrelevant.”
“It was relevant: we’re proof that comically different personalities that start out by clashing can make something good come out of their relationship.” Drift says.
Ratchet looks away and clears his intake. “Whatever,” he grumbles. “When are we gonna be there already?”
“Stop being so impatient and enjoy the walk, will you? Take life as it comes.”
Ketat rattle-laughs and turns up kir antennae knowingly. “And aren’t you enjoying the time spent with your beloved?” ke asks teasingly.
Ratchet is betrayed once more by his fans clicking on out of embarrassment. “Yeah it’s. It’s nice I guess.” He sneaks a glance at Drift, who is smiling fondly at him, and kicks a pebble at him. It bounces off of his thigh armor and he grins again, smaller, before perking up and turning his head to look up the mountain.
“I think I hear them!” he says excitedly.
Ketat scoffs. “The crystals aren’t quiet, but we’re still a reasonable distance from the cavern entrance. You can’t be hearing them yet.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Ratchet says, smirking. “I can’t hear them either, but Drift’s audial sensors are far more sensitive than mine.” He flicks one of his audial fins, explaining, “These are designed to catch and amplify sound from far off.”
Drift slaps Ratchet’s hand away from his head and flicks his chevron in retaliation. This starts a slapfight that escalates until Drift, head firmly captured in a noogie, elbows Ratchet and points at Ketat, at which point he coughs, releases hjim, and puts on a spectacularly bad mask of innocence.
Ketat, amused by their antics, smiles and says, “I can hear the caverns now. We’re just about there.”
They round a large boulder and see the cave entrance, a dark hole in the side of the mountain. They enter that first crevice, Ketat scuttling along the packed bottom of the path while Drift and Ratchet bend down so as not to get their heads caught on the ceiling’s protrusions. The sound of the caverns’ singing gets louder as they continue on. Ratchet grumbles as he snags her arm on an outcrop of the dark stone that comprises most of the mountain.
Drift glances back and chuckles, then spins slowly, dance-like, bending around the rocks in a display of flexibility in the cramped space intended to make Ratchet jealous. “What’s the matter, dear? Stuck?”
Irritated, Ratchet tugs his hand from the snag. “No. Shut up.”
Drift grins and grabs his hand. “Come on, ‘old one.’ I’ll lead you through this dark and terrible rift.” He tugs him along, pulling him past the narrowest part of the cave into the first of the crystal caverns.
Dimly lit by glowing white crystal spars embedded throughout the rest of the crystal, the cavern’s walls are covered by a deep blue rippled rock scattered with globes of every shade of green. There’s a soft hum permeating the air, a subtle harmony in A Minor.
Drift turns his head from side to side to take it in, a smile brighter than the lights in the cave shining from his face.
Ratchet looks around, but soon returns his gaze to Drift. “This is pretty nice, I guess,” he says, begrudgingly impressed. He coughs awkwardly, glancing longingly back at the crevice they’d entered from. “Well. We can’t linger too long here, let’s get a move on.”
Drift laughs, grinning still. “Don’t be offended by Ratchet trying to damn with faint praise. He just loves complaining. Any compliment he does give is generally sincere, though, so he really does think it’s beautiful.”
“Stop trying to ruin my well-earned hardass reputation.”
Ketat lets out another clatter of laughter. “I’m glad you both appreciate the beauty of our caverns,” ke says.
Drift smiles in return. “It’s gorgeous, Ketat. Thank you for giving us this experience.”
The three walk further through the caverns, Drift exclaiming at each new structure. He tugs at Ratchet’s arm, pulling him to the wall to show him a unique formation - blue globes and violet spars cluster over a light-emitting crystal that illuminates the others from within. “These are gorgeous! They remind me of a sea I swam once on Hydrus Four, but the purity of the shape and color is amazing for such a large crystal!”
“Yeah, whatever. Tell it to me when you can go a day without talking about the latest advancements in spare fuel pump transplants.”
They continue through the caves, Drift more in awe at every passage, Ratchet trailing him. Eventually, Ketat tells them, “This next cavern is the jewel of the caves.” They walk into the room and are immediately awestruck. The ceiling, transparent, lets in the light from the Venartian sun. Lit by the bright unyielding sun rather than the quiet light of the glowing crystals, the gems in this cavern throw out a fiercer fire, turning the cave into a dazzling swirl of rainbows.
Drift stops in his tracks, mouth slightly agape, trying to take in the shimmering lights. Even Ratchet is impressed, standing silent next to him. “Wow,” he breathes quietly. “Wow.”
“Yeah,” Drift whispers back, smiling. He turns toward him and takes both his hands in his. Looking into his eyes, he says, “Ratchet, spark of my spark, we’re no strangers to love. I never want to give you up, never want to let you down, never want to run around and desert you. I never want to make you cry, never want to say goodbye, never want to tell a lie and hurt you. A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of - Ratchet, will you be my conjunx endura?”
Ratchet smiles gruffly, pressing one of Drift’s hands between his own. He grits his teeth, saying, “Drift, I would be honored,” and signs into his hand, “You’re so dead.”
Drift, completely unfazed, pulls a small box from somewhere. He opens it to reveal two pendants, shaped like stylized hands, on thin chains. Smiling lovingly at Ratchet, he says, “Will you allow me to do the honors?”
Ratchet narrows his eyes, distrustful of Drift’s motivations, but nods slowly. Drift takes his hands, one by one, and carefully slides the bracelets up his wrists to right above where his hand-tools come out, so as not to obstruct them. Ratchet watches his face furrow in total concentration as they notch each bracelet shut. “Thanks,” he says. “These are beautiful.”
Drift grins back at him. “Only the best hands for you, Ratchet. Always.”
Ratchet pulls Drift toward him, pressing their foreheads against each other. “I meant what I told you earlier,” he murmurs. “I’ll take care of you for this.”
Drift nuzzles against his forehead and whispers back, “I love you too.”
They embrace, heads still pressed together, hands wrapping around to hold each other warmly. They stay like that, content in the feeling of togetherness, before pulling apart just enough to see each other smiling softly.
“Congratulations!” Ketat says. Drift and Ratchet jump apart, blushing furiously.
“Anyway! Let’s see the rest of the caverns!” says Ratchet.
Drift smiles. “Yes. Let’s.” He takes his hand again and lead him to the side, pointing out formations as they go.
The last cavern, unlike the ones before, is full of all different types of crystals, many of which weren’t seen in any of the other caves. Ketat explains, “This is where the cavern-keepers have a collection of exotic crystals, not native to Venarti or the Ajevan mountains. Visitors can leave cultivars if they aren’t represented in the established collection.”
Drift looks around, then heads straight for a corner filled with a rainbow growth of right angles. “Oh, it’s grown so much!” he exclaims.
Ketat quirks kir antennae inquiringly. “Have you been here before?” ke asks.
“Yes, I have. I actually donated this specimen myself,” Drift says. “It was a seed bismuth from Crystal City’s collection - a parting gift - but my, ah, itinerant lifestyle at the time meant I couldn’t properly take care of it. So I looked up a crystal place and gave it to them.”
“You’ve been here,” repeats Ratchet flatly. When Drift tries to shrug out of his grip, he tightens it, signing, “If you’d been here before, why did you feel the need to bring me here at all?”
“Why, Ratchet, obviously I wanted you to see them!”
“I hate you,” Ratchet signs as Drift pulls him over to Ketat to ask ker if it’d be acceptable to take a seed crystal from the bismuth to grow in return for the original. Ketat hems and haws, but ends up calling for one of the cavern-keepers, who is persuaded to help Drift with a sob story and a flash of a currency card. “You know that doesn’t work on everyone, right?”
“How could I forget with you to remind me constantly?” Drift replies as they leave the caverns, seed crystal tucked under the hand Ratchet isn’t holding.
“Shut up. And don’t think I’ve forgotten that you made me go shopping.”
“To buy your conjunx gift… did that mean nothing to you?”
Ratchet flushes hot with embarrassment. “What part of ‘shut up’ didn’t you understand?” He resists the urge to cross his arms huffily, still determined to yell at Drift the rest of they way down the mountain. “We’re leaving.”
Drift grins and signs, “Ratchet, I hate to break it to you, but we were already leaving. We’re outside already.”
“I meant we’re leaving the planet! No extended vacations here or anything, or else! Anyway shut up, you smug jerk.”
Drift shrugs. He glances at their connected hands and smiles, continuing to walk down the mountain.
The two of them manage to make it all the way back to their shuttle before they have to awkwardly break their handhold. They fall back into routine, preparing the ship for takeoff while communicating with the Venartian spaceport control. They receive clearance for takeoff and leave the planet behind them. They set the autopilot to take them out of Venarti’s system, then relax into their seats, home again.
Drift smirks. “So how did you like the ‘fabulous farting crystals’ after all?” he asks.
“They were memorable,” Ratchet replies resentfully.
“I’m glad you enjoyed them,” Drift smiles. “I’m going to go start the seed crystal now that I’ve got room for it.”
Ratchet finds himself smiling back and coughs. He glances at the bracelets he’s still wearing and runs his hand over one nervously. “Okay, you do that. Adventure’s over, I’m gonna pack these away!” he says, and stands up, leaving the control room for his cabin.
He heads for the corner of the room, where a chest lies on a high shelf. He unlocks it, opening it to reveal a collection of trinkets, many of them hand-shaped, and in pride of place, the Drift doll she had made with Ten back on the Lost Light. He takes off the bracelets, stowing them with the other tokens of sentiment.