It was yet another day aboard the Lost Light, wandering aimlessly through space on a quest that seemed increasingly pointless with every day that passed.
And on this day was yet another space station, random as all the ones before, where the enormous ship could stop to resupply.
And in that station, yet another anonymous bar tempting Ratchet to try to drown his growing misgivings and loneliness in engex.
Unfortunately he had no confidence that that attempt would work any better tonight than it had on any of the other... too many times he'd tried it.
No. Tonight he wasn't going to go down that same road to the same destination again. Tonight, instead of accompanying the rest of the crew down to the station and getting blind drunk in the station bar, looking fruitlessly into every shadow and corner for someone he knew damn well he wouldn’t find and then stumbling back to his berth frustrated and angry, Ratchet rebelled.
Tonight he would actually get something accomplished. Just because this fragging "quest" was covering millions of miles to get exactly nowhere didn’t mean that he couldn’t get things done, and maybe actually completing things would help to calm his restless spark enough that he could recharge soundly for once.
The quiet of the empty medbay actually did soothe him, at least a little bit. Working helped even more--hard work had always been his refuge, which probably said something bad about his coping methods but if he wanted to hear about that, he’d go see Rung. Ratchet completed all his pending charting and made a solid start on a case study of Tailgate’s recovery from cybercrosis before the exhaustion finally got the better of him. I'll just rest my optics for a moment, he thought, propping his elbows on the desk and resting his face in his hands. I won't fall asleep. I'll just rest for a moment, then I'll finish up.
But of course Ratchet fell asleep at his desk anyway despite his determination not to.
That was the only explanation for his office door sliding open, making him lift his helm to find out who was disturbing him, only to see Drift standing in the doorway.
For a long moment, all Ratchet could do was stare. His spark clenched and his optics widened and he couldn't move, couldn't speak. Even knowing it was a dream, the same dream he’d had countless times, he couldn’t seem to unlock his frame, and Drift stared back at him, just as frozen.
It took an effort to push through his shock and make himself vent again. Ratchet accomplished it by focusing on details. Drift’s armor was covered in dents and scratches, the chromatonanites dull in places despite some evident effort with wax and polish to hide the evidence of long months spent too short on fuel and recharge to allow his self-repair to do its work. What he could see of the swords at Drift’s hips and back were in perfect condition, unlike their bearer--metal glinting bright and hard in the low light of the medbay, and of course Drift would spend his resources maintaining those instead of himself.
But his optics were still that same vivid, unforgettable blue, burning with the intensity of his spark.
There was even smell this time, the faint, almost organic hint of his polish overlaying the familiar oil Drift had always used on his blades, and Ratchet closed his optics and inhaled deeply of that scent.
Never had he dreamed of Drift this clearly.
But then again, he'd gone to sleep sober this time.
A faint rattle betrayed the trembling of his hands against the desktop and he knotted them together instead, squeezing until the shaking stopped. “It would be so easy to believe you were real,” he breathed, refusing to look again.
It hurt too much.
A soft footstep and the gentle slide of the door closing again told him that Drift had stepped into his office. “I am real, Ratchet,” Drift said, sounding confused and a little concerned.
His voice was so familiar that he couldn’t help looking back at the specter of the mech he missed so badly. The light glinted off the jewel in his Great Sword, such a close match for the color of his optics--frag, the detail in this dream was unbelievable--and Ratchet shook his head. “You always say that.”
Drift was frowning a bit now, his optics clouded with worry. “Always?”
Ratchet knew that shouldn't please him as much as it did, but who else worried for him? Who ever had? Maybe First Aid did sometimes, when he had time, if he thought about it, but he was just as busy as Ratchet himself; perhaps Ultra Magnus might, but only if he thought Ratchet might be having difficulty completing his duties as Chief Medical Officer. No, Ratchet was the one who worried about everyone else. He wasn't the kind of mech that others thought to worry about.
Certainly not Optimus, not anymore, but Ratchet determinedly shoved the thought of his maybe-ex-amica away.
“Every time,” Ratchet said, explaining mostly just to push the pain of Optimus’ abandonment out of his mind. “Every time you walk through the door, you always say you’re real, but I always wake up.”
“This time isn't a dream. I really am real, Ratch,” the speedster insisted, and Ratchet smiled sadly.
“You say that every time, too.”
Drift took another step forward and the scent of his polish grew just that little bit stronger. He bit his lip, a little hint of fang visible for only an instant before he spoke again. “Do you… do you really dream about me?” he asked, looking down at Ratchet uncertainly, so beautiful he stole Ratchet’s breath, even dented and dulled. “You dream of me coming back?”
Ratchet nodded. There was no point in denying it. “We visit moons and planets, and I look for you. We stop to resupply and I look for you. We go to space stations and mining colonies and random bits of space junk, and I always look for you. I know it’s pointless, but I can’t help it. You’re never there… and then I dream that I really did find you, or that you came back on your own, or that I finally left to get you…”
His voice trailed away and Drift moved closer again, almost within reach now, but Ratchet knew better than to try to touch. That never worked and even knowing that this wasn’t real, Drift wasn’t here, he couldn’t bring himself to do anything that would cut the dream short. He longed to see him again too much, even if it was only like this. “I wish you were real,” Ratchet whispered, gripping the arms of his chair tight to stop himself from reaching out.
Drift seemed frozen by the sincerity in his voice. Finally he took another step, stopping right in front of Ratchet’s desk, within easy reach now. “If… if I was real,” he said hesitantly, “if this wasn’t a dream and I really did come back, what would you do?”
That question was new. Ratchet’s spark ached with longing, remembering the hours, days he'd spent thinking of exactly that. All the years he'd wasted, all the opportunities lost, what he would he do if he had just one more chance to see Drift? To speak to him, to touch him? “I would tell you that I’m sorry,” Ratchet said, the words emerging in a rush with the force of his emotions. “I’m sorry I didn’t do more. I’m sorry that I didn’t stop them from sending you away. I’m sorry I didn’t go with you. I’m sorry I never said--”
But those words weren’t so easy to say, even in a dream, and his vocalizer glitched on a sound that was half static, half sob. That sound spurred Drift into action and he strode around the desk to spin his chair around, forcing the medic to face him. Ratchet’s vents hitched, losing their rhythm, and he squeezed the arms of his chair so hard the metal creaked when Drift planted his hands on the chair on either side of Ratchet's head and loomed.
“Don’t you dare apologize to me,” Drift snarled, and frag this dream was killing him, he could feel Drift’s exvents on his plating, could even sense angry crackle of his EM field. “None of that slag was your fault. You did more for me than anyone else ever did, so don’t you ever apologize, not for anything. Do you understand me?”
Stunned, all Ratchet could do was nod. Drift’s sudden ferocity faded but he didn’t move back. When he spoke once more, his voice was soft again, and the dream-sense of his field gentled down into a mixture of warmth and nervousness. “The last thing, though,” he murmured after a moment to visibly steel himself. “What are you sorry you never said, Ratchet?”
“You know,” Ratchet whispered. Being this close was torture, knowing he was going to wake up in an empty room soon, that he’d reboot and find himself slumped at his desk, no scent of polish and blade-oil in the air, that he would have to face the reality that Drift had never been here at all. “We’ve been through this dream so many times, Drift. You know.”
Drift shifted, going to his knees at Ratchet’s feet, still not touching him, still so painfully close. “Please, Ratch, please tell me anyway,” he begged, and Ratchet could deny those beautiful optics nothing.
“I never told you that I forgive you,” he said, looking down into that face that still looked so young, into the optics that had endured several lifetimes’ worth of suffering and hard choices. “I didn’t tell you that I understand, and that I forgive you. I don’t know if you even care, but when I find you, I’ll tell you that, Drift, I promise.”
Drift shuddered, shuddered hard, optics closing and vents catching, and Ratchet fought the need to touch him even knowing that it wouldn’t work as every instinct he possessed urged him to reach out, to comfort, to make it better. Even waking up face-down in a pile of work would be preferable to watching Drift kneeling before him and struggling not to cry.
But suddenly Drift moved, flinging his arms around Ratchet, chair and all, and burying his face in the medic’s stomach. “I care,” he breathed against Ratchet’s plating as he clutched at him, shaking and clumsy and real in a way that Ratchet couldn’t deny, and the medic gasped as every system he possessed momentarily froze with shock. “I care, oh Primus, Ratchet, I care!”
Ratchet’s jaw dropped in disbelief as Drift clung to him, his plating rattling against Ratchet’s, his exvents hot and uneven, and the wetness of tears against Ratchet’s plating, his forehelm crest digging into his abdominal armor, uncomfortable, almost painful, and--”Vector Sigma, Drift, you’re really here?!”
Even through his tears, the swordsmech laughed. “Been trying to tell you that,” he said, his voice muffled against Ratchet’s frame, and Ratchet finally, finally reached out to touch him. Drift didn't vanish this time. His plating was rough and hard and real under Ratchet's hands, and he seized the speedster and dragged him up into a hug so tight that he yelped and squirmed like a youngling until Ratchet could force himself to ease up a bit.
And in the next instant, Ratchet surged to his feet and pulled Drift up with him, holding his shoulders so he could start a scan on him right fragging now. “Fragging pit, Drift, you look half starved and beat to scrap, is it too much to ask you to fuel on a regular basis? Where are you injured? I hear your fuel pump running rough, I bet you haven't done one single bit of scheduled maintenance since you've been gone--no, don't bother arguing, I know I'm right--”
He broke off when Drift laughed and knocked his hands aside so he could glomp him once more. “Stop being the CMO for a minute and hug me again,” he demanded, and Ratchet couldn’t resist that. Later would be soon enough to interrogate the swordsmech about where he'd been and why he'd stayed away so long, but for now, it was enough to hold him close and feel the reassuring solidity of his frame against Ratchet's. He buried his face against the side of Drift’s neck and just held on tight, breathing him in, not even trying to hide the relief and amazement in his field, and Drift’s field answered loud and clear with his own joy and disbelief. “You really missed me,” he said, quiet and awed.
Ratchet snorted and didn’t loosen his arms one bit. “No, I didn’t miss you, I hate your gears, I greet everyone I despise like this,” he grumbled, snorting again when Drift laughed. “Glitch.”
“Grump,” Drift shot back.
Drift snickered. “Hatchet.”
Ratchet growled at that one, grinning now, and raised his head to look at Drift again.
And before he could snap back, Drift palmed the back of his helm and pulled him firmly down to meet his kiss. Ratchet’s plating ruffled with shock but only for a moment before he groaned and surrendered to this kiss that he’d wanted longer than he cared to admit... at least since Earth, maybe even since Rodion. Drift’s glossa teased the seam of his lips and he opened, meeting the first experimental sweep with a flick of his own, and then their glossas were sliding together, slick and hot and hungry, again and again and still not enough.
Ratchet was the one to pull away first, but he didn’t go far. Leaning his chevron against Drift’s forehelm crest and venting fast, he whispered, “Oh yeah, you’re real… my dreams never got this far.”
Drift clutched him tighter as he laughed again, breathless and happy, his field swelling with emotion. “Mine went a lot further. I’d be happy to show you,” he teased, and when Ratchet’s engine rumbled with interest, he grinned and kissed him again.