Starscream survived day two with the absolute minimum contact with the Firebrand. Which suited him just fine.
At least the brat knew how to behave. He didn’t leave his room after Starscream changed his bandages, and when Starscream peeked in on him later, Hot Rod was deep in recharge, one of the datapads resting on his chestplate. Well, at least he had decent taste. Even if he had, apparently, seduced one of Starscream’s cleaning drones. The darn thing was in a rest state beneath Hot Rod’s berth.
Starscream left him to it, ex-venting a sigh of relief.
Only a few more days to go, he told himself, and retreated to the safety of the laboratory, secure behind the most stringent security he had. Though he wondered if he truly had anything to fear from this Firebrand. Hot Rod was young and brash, and he had ventured here with an agenda, but he’d obeyed the rules so far. Maybe he could be trusted.
And maybe he ought to return to Kalis and make another go of it. If he was going to consider impossibilities and all.
Far better to get back to work here. Starscream bent over his desk and reconsidered his research. He had a long night ahead of him.
Or at least, he thought he did. But when morning dawned, Starscream onlined only to realize he’d fallen into recharge over his desk, curled at an awkward angle that made his back scream in agony and his wings screech a protest.
Starscream groaned and forced himself to his pedes, stretching out his limbs. Kinked cables screeched at him, and Starscream resigned himself to spending the morning in his oil bath. What a terrible fate, he remarked dryly.
He checked the monitors first. The Firebrand was still ensconced in his room, deep in recharge. It was safe to venture out.
Starscream retrieved a cube of energon for himself, spicing it with a sprinkle of iron flakes, some of which he purposefully spilled to the floor. Scramble, the local cleaning drone, was quick to vacuum it up with little happy chirps. Starscream chuckled.
Even drones were delighted to have a purpose.
Starscream headed downward. He briefly looked up, acknowledging the swirl of dust and grit battering at his skylight, as Saunter worked furiously to polish the transteel. No matter how hard Starscream tried, he couldn’t seem to fix Saunter’s programming. The drone was convinced sand on the outside was a mess it needed to clean on the inside. It only descended long enough to empty its trap or dock on its charger.
The storm continued to rage, blasting at the transteel, and if he listened closely, spattering at the outside walls of his tower. So far, his predictions remained accurate.
Too bad those fools in Kalis could not see how far he’d come without their assistance. Or permission. They’d expected him to lay down and die, like so many of his kin. They expected he’d submit himself, enslave himself, for a mockery of living.
Frag them all.
Starscream would rather offline out here in the desert, his coding turned to rust, then fall in line with their expectations of him.
Fortunately, he had no intentions of dying anytime soon. He would live, if only to spite them all. Not only that, he would live in comfort and happiness, living a life of his choosing and no one else’s.
Starscream descended the ramp, heading for the lowest level, where he’d guided the natural oilsprings into a private oilbath for his personal enjoyment. Yes, the Firebrand had discovered it and made use of it, but honestly, so long as he was clean, Starscream wouldn’t complain.
Relief surged over his aching limbs as he slipped into the hot oil, and it seeped under his armor to caress twitching hydraulics and tense cables. The tension in his wings slowly ebbed away as he sank down and made himself comfortable, occasionally sipping on his energon. He allowed his thoughts to wander, taking the moment for what it was – a rare indulgence.
He’d slipped into a half-doze, half-twilight state when he heard the door to the oilbath creak open, followed by careful footsteps. Starscream tensed. What little ease he’d managed burned away. Of course the clanling would emerge to bother him.
The footsteps stuttered to a halt. “Oh, sorry,” Hot Rod said, and he sounded honestly contrite. “Didn’t realize you were in here. I’ll go.”
Starscream lit his optics, pinning the Firebrand with a steady gaze. “Are you in any pain this morning?” he asked, careful to keep his tone mild, if not guarded.
Hot Rod blinked at him before he looked down at his abdomen, giving the static mesh a curious poke. “Not a bit,” he said. “This stuff seems to be doing the trick. Thanks.”
Starscream waved off the gratitude and rose to his pedes, flicking his wings as oil sluiced off his frame. He fought off a twinge as taut cables still thrust their complaints at him.
“You need to soak for at least an hour, then you are welcome to remove the bandages at your leisure,” Starscream said as he moved out of the bath. It was degrees cooler outside of the heated oil, and he grumbled at having to leave.
He could have sent Hot Rod away, he supposed, but the Firebrand’s arrival reminded him that he had work to do. He couldn’t lounge around all day. Unlike some mechs.
Hot Rod waved his hands. “You don’t have to leave because I showed up. Really. I can come back.”
Starscream shook his head. “It was time I got back to work anyhow.” He shook the last of the oil from his frame, unable to hide his grimace as a cable in his lower back twinged. He moved a hand to it, fingers sliding beneath the armor panel, but due to the construction of his frame, couldn’t reach.
“Pinched a cable, huh?” Hot Rod sounded sympathetic at least. He twitched his spoiler halves. “Happens to me all the time. Wrench taught me a little trick to help. That is, uh, if you don’t mind me showing you…?”
Starscream froze. He stared at the Firebrand, who offered him a hesitant smile, his optics big and bright and earnest.
He still did not trust the mech. But the twinge in his cable rose again, and it would be a distraction, he knew.
He narrowed his optics. “If this is some ploy to connive yourself into my berth…”
Hot Rod’s field burst with surprise. “No. Honestly, I didn’t even think of it that way!” He ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “It’s just, you know, maybe a small way I can say thank you?” Heat shaded his face into a fine, pink hue.
Starscream stared at him for longer, trying to discern the motivation behind the small, careful smile.
Hot Rod shifted his weight and dropped his hand, his fingers now tangling together. “Guess it was a stupid idea.”
“It was not.” Starscream cycled a ventilation and braced himself. “I am hardly a fool to turn down a genuine offer of assistance.” He half-angled his frame, and as a consequence, enabled him to see whatever Hot Rod did with the reflective panels set into the wall. “Your hands will not stray.”
Hot Rod held up a hand, folding one finger over the other. “Firebrand’s honor.”
“I didn’t know you had any.” Starscream sniffed.
“Well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me.” Hot Rod approached, albeit cautiously, like one might a wounded predator.
He sidled up to Starscream’s side, though not directly behind him, reaching for the spot nearest to where Starscream’s fingers couldn’t reach. “Here?”
“Further up. There is an overlapping plate to the left of my – ah. You found it.” Starscream let free a soft sigh as Hot Rod’s digits slipped beneath the armor plate and located the pinched cable.
He wasn’t sure what the Firebrand did. Something with magnets perhaps, that sent a light buzz of heat through the cables before they loosened and eased. Relief cascaded through Starscream, so fast that his knees wobbled, and he had to catch himself.
Hot Rod chuckled. “Yep. Works every time.” He gave another pulse of whatever it was before his hand withdrew. He had indeed not strayed.
Starscream raised his hands over his head and gave a long stretch. He twisted about the waist and flicked his wings in the cardinal directions. Not so much as a twinge.
He raised both orbital ridges as he turned to regard the Firebrand. “I am impressed. Thank you.”
Hot Rod flushed again. “You’re welcome.” He backed away, and nearly tumbled backward into the oilbath as a result, though he caught himself at the last minute. “And see? I have honor after all. No wandering hands.” He lifted his hands and wriggled his fingers pointedly.
Starscream snorted. “Enjoy your soak,” he said, and excused himself from the room. He did, after all, have work to do.
A task much easier now that he didn’t have the ache to serve as distraction.
Rodimus sank into the oil bath and lingered, purposefully not thinking about how warm Starscream had been under his fingertips. How relaxed the Seeker’s field had been. How he’d shown so much trust in that simple moment.
As soon as he got home, he owed Wrench a huge thank you for teaching him that little trick for pinched cables. He’d saved himself countless times with it – spoilers could get so tense sometimes. And now, he’d made a dent in that wall Starscream had built around himself.
Maybe even a crack, if he was being generous.
Rodimus grinned and then wiped the smile off his face. He sank down to his nasal structure to keep from looking like a fool. It meant nothing. Right? Surely Starscream wasn’t even thinking about it. Not like it was going to lead to an invitation to the Seeker’s berth or anything.
Rodimus laughed to himself, blowing bubbles in the oil. He was acting like an idiot, a lovestruck youngling even. So what if Starscream was pretty? He was also dangerous and could throw Rodimus out into a deadly sandstorm if he so chose. He needed to tread very, very carefully.
Rodimus soaked until his timer dinged, letting him know an hour had passed, and dragged himself free of the springs. He drip-dried for a minute, toweled off the rest, and laughed as Scuttle whirled around him, chittering all the while. It didn’t seem to mind the droplets of oil Rodimus kept dripping onto it and the floor.
He moved in front of the reflective panels set into the walls and peeled at the bandages on his midsection. They came away easily thanks to the oil. He dropped their remains into a nearby refuse bin and carefully ran his fingers over the repaired wound.
It was a bit ragged, not as smooth as Wrench would have managed, but altogether, it wasn’t a bad patch job. His self-repair would do the rest of the work, and Sunstreaker could and would fix it up for him later. Sunstreaker never could abide by anyone in his family group looking less than perfect. The scratches and dings were bad enough.
Rodimus’ tank gurgled, reminding him that it was past time he refueled.
He stopped admiring himself in the mirror and headed out, slipping through the narrow corridor that connected with the ground level above. As he approached the entryway, however, he heard Starscream’s voice and slowed to a stop, hovering just inside the open frame.
“Whatever will I do with you?” the Seeker murmured as if he was talking to someone.
Rodimus peeked out and around the corner. Starscream stood in the middle of the walkway, half-turned toward Rodimus and a half-dozen of the cleaning drones milling around his feet. He had one in his hands and was fiddling at the underside with a set of tiny tools, a look of intense concentration on his face.
The drone in his hands blatted an indignant noise.
Starscream chuckled. “Yes, it is your fault,” he said as he poked at something with a screwdriver. “You’re the oldest, Swift. You’re supposed to be setting a good example for the others.”
The drone’s wheels spun and clicked. Its fans audibly whirred.
Starscream laughed again, softer this time, and the tools blinked out of sight. “So you say,” he murmured and crouched, setting the drone on the floor.
It immediately took off, barreling through the crowd of drones at Starscream’s feet, and knocking them aside. More indignant beeping rose up in a chorus.
Starscream audibly sighed and palmed his face. “You’re going backward now,” he said, a note of exasperation in his voice. “At least it’s not pointless circles, I suppose.” He rested his hands on his knees, surveying the assortment of drones milling around him. “Anyone else in need of a tune up?”
Something bumped Rodimus’ foot. He looked down to see Scuttle scurrying past him, making a beeline for Starscream with loud, eager trills. Lights on top of the flat frame flashed brightly.
Starscream turned to acknowledge Scuttle, a look of amusement on his face. “There can’t be anything wrong with you,” he said as he scooped up Scuttle, his fingers running over the unmarred plating. “You’ve barely been online a week, and I examined you last night.” He peered closer, lips twisting in contemplation. “You just need to empty your trap.”
The soft smile on the Seeker’s lips suddenly made Rodimus feel as though he were eavesdropping or looking at something he shouldn’t. So he stepped back into the shadows of the entryway, backtracked a few steps, and then made a loud scuffle with his feet as he came out of the doorway. He rolled his shoulders, pretending like he hadn’t been watching Starscream talk to his army of cleaning drones.
“Wow,” Rodimus said, faking his surprise as he came to a halt and stared in Starscream’s direction. “How many of those things do you have?”
“Enough,” Starscream said with a sniff, his frame language instantly going taut and closed off. He set Scuttle on the floor and rose to his full height. “This is a large building, and I can’t be expected to clean it on my own.”
Rodimus held up his hands in a show of conciliation. “I wasn’t trying to offend. It was just an observation.” Scuttle scooted right up to Rodimus and spun around his feet, giving off giddy little beeps. “This one seems to like me,” he observed with a little laugh. “Or is it how you’re keeping track of me?”
“I’m not tracking you,” Starscream said sharply, his wings twitching. “That one is merely as glitched as all the others. It’s artificial intelligence isn’t honed.”
Rodimus blinked. “What?”
The Seeker waved a dismissing hand. “It’s the newest of the lot. Doesn’t know that you’re not a part of the tower yet. It’ll forget you soon enough.”
That was kind of disappointing.
“Aww.” Rodimus crouched and gently ran a finger over the back of Scuttle’s frame. “I like it though.”
Starscream huffed. “Well, you can’t keep it.” He looked down at the drones milling around his feet and made broad, shooing motions. “Go on. All of you. Get back to work.”
“Do they have names?” Rodimus asked as the drones obeyed, scattering like glitchmice caught in a spotlight. Well, except for the one Starscream had called Swift.
That one loitered, spinning around and around Starscream, bouncing off the walls and Starscream’s feet, as if it couldn’t quite remember how to function. Until Starscream sighed, leaned over, and gave it a nudge. Swift squeaked and took off in a meandering route up the curved walkway.
“You don’t name drones,” Starscream said testily.
Oh, ho. The Seeker doth protest too much.
“That’s a shame.” Rodimus stood back up. Scuttle zoomed around his feet, glistening where the droplets of oil left their mark. “I hope you don’t mind that I named this one then. Since he likes me.”
Starscream’s wings twitched upward and back. “And just what kind of ridiculous designation do you think you can give to my drone?” He sounded personally offended.
“Scuttle.” Rodimus crossed his arms, and Scuttle danced around his feet. “Seems to like it well enough.”
Crimson optics flashed before some of the indignation seemed to drain out of Starscream’s field. “Well, that is decent enough,” he grudgingly allowed. “The others have their own identifiers, however, so don’t go around giving them designations.”
“Identifiers? How is that different from a name?” Rodimus asked.
He tilted his head, trying his best to conceal his grin, but honestly, Starscream’s embarrassed outrage was pretty cute. Reminded him a lot of Sunstreaker when Rodimus caught him reading those absurdly sweet romance novels Sunstreaker liked to pretend he had no use for. Even if he was the one who made all the arrangements to acquire them to share with Rodimus.
Starscream sniffed. “Because I said so.” He spun on a heelstrut, his wings flicking with evident agitation. “Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do. Go occupy yourself elsewhere.”
“Yeah. I can take a hint.” Rodimus turned toward the lift, Scuttle coming along with him. He also knew when to push and when to back off, and now was definitely time for the latter. “Good luck with whatever it is you’re working on.”
“I don’t need luck,” Starscream retorted, but the irritation was half-sparked at best. He stalked up the spiraled rampway, and out of nowhere came Swift, trailing after its master in a haphazard fashion.
Cute, Rodimus admitted, if only to himself, before he shook his head and stepped into the lift. He still needed to refuel and after that, he had a novel to finish and maybe some more exploring to help pass the time.
As for surviving Starscream?
So far so good.
All he needed to do was keep on behaving himself. Relatively speaking.
Starscream thought Hot Rod understood the law of the tower. He thought the Firebrand realized the consequences of disobeying. Especially after that moment by the oilspring, and the careful conversations they’d had. Starscream actually, for a moment, dared to offer the clanling a tiny bit of trust.
And then, as day three of their forced proximity dawned, he was outraged to walk into his laboratory and find Hot Rod poking around, sticking his nose into every corner.
“Just what do you think you are doing in here?” Starscream demanded with a hiss, his wings arching back and up, going rigid with his outrage.
Hot Rod reared back, stumbling, and Starscream held a vent as he eyed the table of delicate lab equipment behind him. But the Firebrand caught himself before he did much more than jostle the table, his optics wide and bright.
“The door was open!” he said, frantically waving his hands, apology all but wafting in his field. “It’s not like I broke in or anything. You’re the one who said I could go anywhere the door was open!”
“While that may be true, the invitation does not extend to my lab!” Starscream snapped. He stormed to the lab center, gaze swinging left and right, hunting for anything Hot Rod might have disturbed. “There is a lot of delicate equipment in here.”
“I’m not some kind of rampaging durylibull.” Hot Rod folded his arms over his chest, his lower lip poking out in a pout. “Besides, how was I supposed to know that all open doors were allowed except thisopen door? Maybe you should have been more specific.”
Starscream completed his circuit, his vents huffing sharp enough to make him more than a little dizzy. But as far as he could tell, nothing was damaged or out of place or smudged even. Hot Rod had looked, but not touched.
Lucky mech. If Starscream had found anything ruined, especially the couple of very delicately balanced experiments in the far corner, Hot Rod would have found his flame-painted aft tossed into the sandstorm in a spark beat.
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time an unwanted guest passes out on my doorstep,” Starscream retorted and a small surge of relief passed through him.
No harm had been done. And the fault was his own, for rushing out and forgetting to key the door locked behind him. He’d gotten distracted and forgotten he was no longer alone in his tower. More than that, he’d let slip that his solitude was broken by someone he did not trust as he did Deadlock or his other, few visitors.
“Way to make a mech feel welcome,” Hot Rod muttered, but his optics continued to wander, and what Starscream could sense of his field contained thinly veiled fascination. “What are you working on in here anyway?”
Starscream sniffed. “As if you’d understand.” He pulled out his stool and leveraged himself into it, idly rearranging the notes he’d been scribbling when he’d had a thought and rushed out to grab a journal to confirm his suspicions. Said journal joined the organized mess on his desktop.
He had a feeling his calculations needed to be altered because the manipulations he attempted only worked on a quantum level. And it had been quite some time since Starscream had worked those particular theorems. He needed a refresher course.
“I’m not the idiot you think I am,” Hot Rod snapped, and now he sounded offended. “Yeah, okay, maybe I’m not going to get all of the little details and complicated stuff, but how stupid are you if you can’t put it in simple terms?” He huffed noisily and stomped past Starscream, making quite a bit of noise for someone who should have been taught stealth.
A twinge of something not unlike guilt tugged at Starscream’s spark. He sighed. Hot Rod, after all, had behaved for the most part. He supposed being polite to the Firebrand couldn’t be misconstrued.
“I have many projects,” Starscream said, though without turning to look at Hot Rod. He didn’t want to make it seem as though he were encouraging the mech. “Several have eclipsed my focus at the moment. One of which is a device to help mitigate and manage the severity of the storms that ravage the wilds. The other is a flexible, self-sustaining operating code.”
He heard, rather than saw, Hot Rod snap to a halt, his feet clicking on the polished floor. “Well, I can understand at least one of those,” he said, and he spun back around, the sound of him approaching Starscream once more preceding him. It didn’t hurt that Scuttle whirred along after him. “Especially right now. Though wouldn’t that mess up the natural order of things?”
Starscream sniffed, his wings twitching. “Nothing about the functioning of this planet could be considered natural. We have been modifying, adjusting, and altering our homeworld from the moment the first of us set foot onto the untouched expanse.”
“You mean Primus.”
Starscream half-turned, staring at Hot Rod, who was visible beyond the jut of his wing. “Whichever origin story you prefer.” He flicked his wing. “At any rate, I am not looking to eliminate the dust storms, but make them more manageable and trackable, especially for those mechs who prefer to wander.”
Like Deadlock, whom Starscream forever worried about. Though Deadlock would only see his worry and chase it away with a laugh. He could take care of himself, he’d say.
Hot Rod sidled up beside Starscream, though he approached the desk with care. He nodded. “I guess that makes sense. What about the other bit though? The flexible coding?”
“It’s complicated,” Starscream said, and when Hot Rod’s plating started to ruffle, he held up a hand. “Not that I don’t think you can understand it, but that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with you the particulars of that project.”
Outrage deflated from the Firebrand’s field. “Oh. Can’t really trust me, huh?”
“No, I cannot.” Starscream shuffled around his paperwork again, if only to make himself look busy. “Now, since you can’t be of use in here, why don’t you go do whatever it is you do to pass the time and leave me be.”
Hot Rod backed away from the table, palms displayed in a gesture of conciliation. “Yeah. Sure. I can take a hint.”
He sounded disappointed. Which was ridiculous, in Starscream’s point of view. What was there to be disappointed about?
“If you need any help, you know where to find me,” Hot Rod added, tossed over his shoulder, as he dismissed himself.
“Hah, don’t hold your vents,” Starscream muttered, but Hot Rod was already gone, so Starscream could remotely trigger the door to close. And lock.
Honestly, he would not be so careless again. His spark still trembled with anxiety. What if Hot Rod had broken or disturbed something? What if he’d upset a careful balance and set Starscream back?
What if he’d looked and understood any of the complicated equations that betrayed Starscream’s greater weakness?
He ex-vented softly and tugged out the datapad buried under all the paperwork he’d been shuffling around a-purpose. His future, his spark was on this datapad. The only chance he had to live without being yoked to another’s generosity.
It was still safe.
The last of the tension dripped out of his frame, and Starscream clutched the datapad tightly. That had been close. Too close. He’d best mind himself more thoroughly in the future.
There was too much at stake.
Rodimus hummed quietly to himself.
He couldn’t sing. He didn’t have the voice for it, or the means to produce a lovely song, not like Sunny when he consented to put on a show, or Tracks when he was showing off. Or Breakdown when he thought no one was listening.
Rodimus still liked music and since there was no one here to complain about his caterwauling out of pitch and off-tune, he could hum as much as he liked. If Starscream was wrong and this storm didn’t end within the next few days, Rodimus worried that he would miss the Festival of Lights.
At least he wouldn’t miss the treats.
He’d been bored when he’d started poking through Starscream’s energon storage and prep room. Being nosy paid off as he’d discovered all of the ingredients he’d need to make those chewy energon gels Sideswipe taught him. Boredom gave way to excitement. He figured Starscream would appreciate the sweets, too. Plus, it would be a nice gesture and Rodimus felt he owed quite a few of those.
He was the one who intruded, after all, and he’d arrived under false pretenses at that.
It was so much easier with Starscream’s equipment, too. The convenience could easily become addictive. Not that living in the settlement meant they were completely wild or anything, but living a halfway nomadic life meant there wasn’t much room for permanence of any kind.
Rodimus had been born in the wilds, forged from a spark carried away from Nyon when Megatron and Optimus first fled the cities. He’d known nothing but the settlement and his clan, though he’d heard stories of city life. A lot of the older mechs liked to share data packets, and Hound had particularly vivid holograms.
Rodimus had never longed for the cities. However, fumbling his way through Starscream’s equipment had its own charm. He wouldn’t mind having one of these back home. Sideswipe could make goodies three times at fast if they had these!
Rodimus hummed as the oven beeped at him, signaling the firming cycle. He grabbed a pair of mitts and pulled out the trays, the scent of warmed cobalt floating up to his nasal sensors. His tank grumbled as his mouth filled with lubricant.
He might not be as good at this as Sideswipe, but they’d be edible, that was for sure.
Rodimus grinned, his spoiler flicking up and down. He carefully shifted the warm treats from the tray to a platter. He pulled out a shaker he’d filled with magnesium powder and shook it over the treats. It glittered brightly, making his tank grumble. He resisted the urge to dive in at once. He had to share.
Rodimus double-checked that all of the equipment was shut down behind him. He’d come back for the mess later. At least, the mess that Scuttle and the local drone hadn’t gobbled up.
He lifted up the tray and made his way down to the lowest level, to the door he now knew concealed Starscream’s laboratory. He shifted the platter to one hand and pinged the door with the other.
He waited, a tad impatiently as he shifted from foot to foot, for Starscream to answer, and was just about to ping the door again when it rattled open.
“When I said I didn’t want to be bothered, I meant it, Firebrand!” Starscream snapped, just short of a snarl, his vents huffing and his wings doing that rigid-flick thing they did when he was agitated. “What do you want?”
Rodimus planted a smile on his face and put the tray of goodies between himself and the Seeker. “I made these and wanted to share.” He put on his best, most beguiling expression, one that often calmed the raging Sunstreaker before the warchief came along and stole him away.
Starscream blinked. His gaze dropped to the tray. His nose twitched. “You made these?”
“Yep!” He would not mention the mess he left behind.
Starscream’s wings twitched again. The severe expression on his lips faded. “Very well. Come in.” He turned, showing Rodimus his back, but left the door open behind him. “But don’t touch anything!”
Rodimus grinned and followed Starscream inside. It was much brighter today than it had been yesterday. Starscream had several desk lamps lit, and they were all pointed at some fancy contraption on his desk. One that Starscream returned to with a quiet huff as he dropped onto his stool.
Rodimus moved to his side, looking for a relatively clear spot to rest the tray. He found a stable stack of datapads and decided it would do. Better that they would be in arms reach of Starscream now.
“What are you working on?”
“A project of no significance to you.” Starscream leaned over, peering at the tray of treats, before he pinched one between two talons, giving it a little squeeze. “I wasn’t aware that clanlings had any talent in the culinary arts. I am learning something new of you with every day.”
Rodimus shrugged. “The mech who taught me, he learned it from a mech who used to live in the cities. Sideswipe’s are way better though.”
Starscream nibbled on the treat, some of the dust sticking to his lips. His field lit with surprise and delight both. “Don’t sell yourself short,” he said as his glossa flicked out, catching most of the magnesium dust. “These are delicious.”
Heat stole into his face. Rodimus stuffed two treats into his mouth just to hide it. “Thanks,” he mumbled around his mouthful.
Starscream ate three more in quick succession, with much less care than the first. The delight in his field was evident, and Rodimus couldn’t hide the pride in his own. It wasn’t like making the treats required a special talent or anything. It just made him happy knowing he could do this one thing and do it well.
“Do you enjoy this sort of thing?” Starscream asked.
“What? Sweets?” Rodimus wandered a bit away, lest the temptation to eat more would get the better of him. He had to remind himself he’d made these for Starscream.
Starscream huffed. “No. The process of making them.”
Rodimus shrugged and peered at a nearby table, one with an odd contraption on it. There were all kinds of colorful spheres and long rods and dangly bits and tiny bulbs indicated that it lit up somehow. Fascinating.
“Not particularly. It’s just something to pass the time. Hey, what’s this for?” He reached for the contraption, finger skimming over the glossy blue surface of one of the larger spheres.
It rattled and leapt forward, away from his fingers, causing something else to spin. Rodimus leaned back, guiltily, just as another one of the spheres wobbled precariously and abruptly tumbled from its perch.
Rodimus scrambled forward to catch it, the smooth metal slipping free of his hand. He panicked and snatched at it with the other, nearly crumpling it as his fingers closed around it a touch too tightly.
The contraption rattled, and Rodimus’ free hand darted out, grabbing the wobbly rod and making the twirling motion stop. What. The. Frag. His optics wide, Rodimus had to kickstart his ventilations, as they’d stalled in his panic.
He slowly straightened, easing his fingers from the rod even as he gently put the sphere back where it belonged. It was only a little dented. Maybe Starscream wouldn’t notice?
He chanced a look over his shoulder. Starscream’s optics were narrow slits of crimson, his lips set into a thin line, though the effect was much reduced with magnesium dust in the corners of his mouth.
“That,” he said through obviously clenched denta, “is an orrery. A model of our galactic system. It is a priceless item. And what part of ‘don’t touch anything’ did you fail to understand?” The last emerged as a hiss.
Rodimus’ shoulders came up to his audials. He ducked his head. “Sorry.” His fingers tangled together, even as his audials spat embarrassed sparks. “I was just curious. It didn’t look dangerous.” Though, to be fair, it did look valuable.
“It’s not dangerous. It is, however, a prized possession.” Starscream huffed at him. “This is my tower, Firebrand. Mine. So I say again. Touch. Nothing.”
Rodimus rolled his optics and threw his hands into the air. “Well, what am I supposed to do? Float? Because my feet are touching your precious floor.” He stomped his feet to prove a point. “And how am I supposed to entertain myself if I’m floating mid-air, huh?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Starscream selected another treat and nibbled on it. “And if you are that bored, you need only ask. I will find something for you to do.”
“Yeah, right. You’d probably hand me a broom or a cleaning cloth and tell me to start earning my keep.” Rodimus rolled his optics.
Starscream smirked and ate another treat, glossa sweeping over his lips to clean them of dust. “Oh, are you a reader now, Firebrand? Is that your special talent?”
Rodimus folded his arms, making a point not to touch anything. He’d gotten lucky that he’d not broken the orr-whatever that thing was.
“No. You just seem the type who’d delight in free labor.”
Starscream barked a laugh, a genuine laugh. “And you’d be right. Primus knows there is plenty around here that could use a bored hand.” He tipped his head to the left, gesturing toward a clump of mess in the corner. “That scrap pile, for example. Be so kind and take it to the recycle bin for me?”
“Only because I almost broke the orr-thingie,” Rodimus said with a disdainful toss of his head. “And just this once.”
Rodimus stomped toward the pile, casting around for some kind of can or crate to carry it in. From what he could tell, it was an assortment of mismatched, broken gadgetry and discarded materials. There were quite a few misshapen blocks of various metals, too. He was surprised none of the cleaning drones had tried gobbling up the mess.
“You want to throw all this out?” he asked as he crouched and scooped up one of the blocks – chromium, he thought.
Starscream made a distracted noise. “Mmm. To the recycle bin at any rate. Here it’s just taking up space, and I doubt I’ll ever use it.”
Rodimus pinched the chromium between his fingers. There were other blocks, too. Copper and aluminum and gold and silver even.
“Could I have these then?” he asked, scooping more of the blocks into a little pile. They could fit in his subspace, he thought. Or maybe Starscream would let him borrow a little box.
Rodimus shrugged and ducked his head. “I like to make things when I’m bored.”
This particular skill he’d learned from Kup. Old rustbucket loved to tell stories, but he couldn’t sit still when he did. So he made things, all kinds of things, and one of his favorite things to do was metal-shaping, usually from discarded bits of materials no one needed for anything anymore.
Rodimus didn’t have as much of a knack for it as Kup or Antimony or Dead End even. But it was a nice distraction and gave him something to do with his hands.
Starscream dusted off his fingers and waved a hand at Rodimus. “Help yourself. Take anything you’d like.”
Glee bubbled up in his field. He was careful to conceal it. “Thanks!” Rodimus scooped as many as he could fit into his subspace. He’d look around for a sack for them later.
“It’s just scrap,” Starscream replied, and now he sounded distracted, hunched as he was over his datapads again. “Nothing special about it.”
“Maybe not to you,” Rodimus murmured, not that Starscream was paying him a bit of attention. The Seeker seemed fully focused on his work, though not so focused that his hand didn’t occasionally reach for the tray of goodies.
Pride bloomed within Rodimus all over again. He thought maybe he’d go back and make another panful. Even if Starscream didn’t eat them all today, they’d keep.
Rodimus rose to his feet, nudging the rest of the scrap back into the corner. He wasn’t here to clean up Starscream’s mess after all.
“Guess I’ll leave you alone then,” he said, a touch loud, and Starscream gave him a distracted wave.
He supposed that was as much of a dismissal as he’d get. Rodimus shrugged and made for the door, though with greater care to his step. He didn’t want to nearly-accidentally break anything, not like he’d done with the orrery. Best to be cautious.
He paused at the door, hand on the frame as it slid aside to allow him to leave. “Yeah?”
“Thank you for the treats.” Starscream hadn’t turned around to say this, but his wings twitched in minute motions, up and down.
Rodimus’ lips split in a grin. “You’re welcome!”
He all but bounced out the door, and then had to stop and stare down at himself because he felt like an idiot. What was he so excited for? So what if Starscream appreciated the treats? Not like it meant anything.
Rodimus smacked his forehead and shook his head. Getting too comfortable here, he was. He didn’t belong in this tower, Starscream’s private domain. He’d be leaving soon enough, if Starscream’s calculations were correct.
What was the point in any of it?
Rodimus sighed and patted his subspace. Best not to make the treats after all. He’d clean up his mess and retreat somewhere. At least he had the metal to work with. It would be enough to entertain him for several days.
And then he’d go home.