Life settled into a routine far quicker than Rodimus expected it would.
He wasn’t sure why he thought things would be different. He just had this expectation in the pit of his spark that something would have changed. Or maybe the problem was that he had changed. He wasn’t sure.
He bent to his punishment – cleaning duty twofold, no surprise there – and he rejoined his fellow Firebrands in their daily training. He felt apart from them, however, and when they trotted off in little cliques to laugh and brag amongst each other, Rodimus didn’t join them. He was invited, but he declined.
They’d goaded him, and he’d embarrassed himself, and he was having a hard time reconciling it. They were as strangers to him.
Springer gave him long, sad looks. But when Fangry and Twin Twist called for him, he just patted Rodimus on the shoulder and wished him luck in his cleaning duties. Springer didn’t know how to handle Rodimus anymore than Rodimus knew how to handle himself.
He turned over the bits of turbowolf he’d brought with him to the artisans of the clan. They ooh’ed and aah’ed and made appropriate noises of appreciation, already babbling to each other how best to use the materials. They were also grateful for the metal ingots Rodimus didn’t keep for himself.
He’d found the datapads then, buried at the bottom of his pack. His spark hammering in his chassis, Rodimus pulled them out, feeling touched to the core. His finger swept over the titles inlaid on the back, all of them romances and fairy tales from Starscream’s collection. He’d noticed, and he’d given them to Rodimus.
They were now under his berth, in his personal crate, buried deep where Springer couldn’t find them and tease him. Rodimus kept one in his subspace, for the spare moments he had betweeen training and cleaning, when he could wander off on his lonesome and bury his nose in the pages. They, at least, were much better company.
The Festival of Stars approached, as he knew it would, and then it was here. With it came the moment Rodimus had both dreaded and anticipated. Before getting lost, before Starscream, he’d been eager. He thought he had a chance. Now, he knew what to expect.
Rodimus stood in the gathered crowd, with the entirety of his clan who was not on extended watch or guard duty or couldn’t be spared from their various responsibilities. The bonfire crackled and burned behind him, ready for the celebration afterward. Baked treats wafted their enticing odors and a huge display of engex waited for the inevitable congratulations.
All of the Firebrands clustered together, though Rodimus lingered to the back of the group of a dozen or so mechs, his brother among them. Excitement and energy rippled in the air. Not every Firebrand wanted to be a warrior. Some had other aspirations. The soldier hopefuls, however, were most obvious in their pushing to the front, jostling each other with excited elbows.
Rodimus waited, and surprised himself how little he felt on bolts and brackets. It was like he already knew the outcome.
Warchief Megatron stepped forward and gave his speech, his second and third to his left and right – Soundwave and Wirelite respectively. Rodimus stared at the datapad in the warchief’s hand. He knew it contained a list, just as did the rest of his fellow Firebrands.
The speech ended. The crowd politely clapped. Some of the more newly branded whooped, and quite a few of the Firebrands echoed them. Until Wirelite called for quiet, and Megatron lifted his datapad.
One by one, Megatron read from the list. Of the names called, Rodimus’ was not among them. It came as little surprise. It didn’t even give him the jolt of disappointment in his spark. He felt too numb for that.
He was not a warrior. He was not suited to be one. He doubted even, by the next commitment ceremony, that he would. Especially since it would be his last. He already knew it was no longer his fate. He was to be a civilian, to serve under the guidance of their Prime.
It was not a terrible fate. It carried its own rewards. It just wasn’t the path Rodimus had always dreamed he’d take. It confined him. Entrapped him. It was not the life he’d imagined for himself.
Rodimus stood back and watched some of his fellow batchmates grin and bow as they rose to accept their brands. Clockwork and Silverspire and Twin Twist, all quivering with pride, bearing the burden as their Warchief personally applied the brands and welcomed them to his warriors.
Silverspire had been the worst of the goaders, insistent that Rodimus’ future depended on him taking this risk. He had always taunted Rodimus, who was one of the smallest of their batch, and never managed to excel at much of anything. He’d always envied Rodimus his friendship with the twins.
They’d turned Silverspire down once upon a time. He never forgot that insult.
Springer was up there, too. To no one’s surprise. He’d taken top marks this time around. His acceptance of the Warchief’s mark was a foregone conclusion. Every one was sure he’d rise to leadership in little time. Many thought he’d take over when Kup retired, if not for the Warchief himself.
And there was Rodimus. At the back of the crowd, counting the demerits on his record and knowing he’d never stand on that podium.
He wondered if he even cared anymore.
Movement in his peripheral vision alerted him to the fact he wasn’t alone. He expected it to be Sunstreaker, offering words of consolation, but the colors were wrong. Bright crimson instead, and of course, Sideswipe.
He grinned at Rodimus, nudging him with a shoulder. “Hey hot stuff,” he said, with that easygoing drawl that never failed to drizzle through Rodimus, igniting heat on the way. “Been looking for you.”
“I’ve been around,” Rodimus murmured. He leaned harder against the wall, as if he could merge himself into the carved metal and become part of the settlement. The sounds of growing celebration felt all too distant to him.
“Yeah, but not in the way I expected you to be.” Sideswipe leaned beside him, their arms touching, the warmth of him both foreign and familiar. “Didn’t see ya at the matches, or the races, or at last night’s game either.”
Rodimus shrugged. “Had other things to do. Besides all that, Kup’s idea of punishment has kept me exhausted.” He scrubbed his hand over his head and offered a wry grin. “You know how that is.”
Sideswipe chuckled. “Sure do.” Once upon a time, he’d been a notorious prankster with boundless energy who was constantly facing Kup’s wrath. “He can be pretty creative when properly motivated, and kid, you scared us all.”
‘All’ was an exaggeration, Rodimus knew. Many folks didn’t notice him missing. In fact, if not for having befriended the twins who made such a big fuss as a result, Rodimus wondered if anyone would have realized he was gone. Sure, Springer had been worried. He’d have probably gone after Rodimus himself if Sunstreaker hadn’t beaten him to it.
Rodimus didn’t make much of a mark here.
Rodimus ducked his head. “Sorry,” he said. “It won’t happen again.”
“Oh, I know. I just… you sure you’re all right?” Sideswipe peered at him, gaze dropping to Rodimus’ abdomen but only briefly.
He tried for a pleasant grin. “Course I am. I’m all healed up. Sunny even made me pretty again. Why would you think otherwise?”
“Just a feeling I have.” Sideswipe shrugged, but he didn’t do nonchalant well. He was far too devious for that. “Plus, you’re different, I don’t know. Something about you is different. Not bad, just… different.”
Rodimus squinted at him. “Did Sunstreaker tell you?”
“Tell me what?” Sideswipe scratched at his chin. “You know how Sunny is. He’s a steel trap if he wants to be. Something I should know, hot shot?”
Rodimus shook his head. “No. Never mind.” He shifted his weight and returned his attention to the stage, where the newly inducted warriors lined up behind their Warchief who was preparing to make a speech.
Sideswipe made a noncommittal noise. He pressed his arm to Rodimus’. “You know Sunny and I love ya, right? No matter what you end up deciding.”
Rodimus blinked and gave Sideswipe a startled look. “Deciding? What do you mean?”
Sideswipe shrugged again. “Nothing. Just throwing that out there.” He leaned in close, all but laying his head on Rodimus’ shoulder. “Just in case, you know, you want to go out after whatever’s still got your spark.”
“I-I don’t know what you mean.”
“Sure you don’t.” Sideswipe rubbed his face on Rodimus’ shoulder and looked up at him with a bright grin. “But in case you do figure out what I mean, just know that me and Sunny, we got your back, okay?”
A raucous sound rose up from the gathered crowd then, as their fellow clansmechs clapped and cheered for their Warchief. The newly inducted warriors bowed, beaming with pride. The roar grew louder. The band started to play. The celebration would begin soon.
And Sideswipe beamed up at Rodimus, brimming with affection. It was almost enough.
Rodimus’ spark bloomed with warmth. “Thanks,” he said. “And I mean that, Sides. You and Sunny mean the world to me.”
“We know.” Sideswipe winked and laughed, jostling Rodimus with his shoulder. “You’re staying tonight, right?”
For the dance and bonfire? For the engex and sweet treats and the lead up to mating season?
Rodimus considered skipping it all. He didn’t feel like he had much to celebrate. He no longer had anyone he wished to court.
Kup had given him the evening away from scrubbing, so he could go to the celebration, and a part of him thought maybe he’d rather be cleaning. It sure would be better than standing on the sidelines, staring longingly at all the things he’d never have.
“You know Sunny will be put out if you don’t,” Sideswipe added. “You owe us both a dance. And you’ll also miss out on trying my new, special recipe. One I might even be convinced to share.”
Rodimus managed a smile. “I’ll come.” For their sake, if nothing and no one else’s.
“Sweet.” Sideswipe leaned in and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Save me a dance, okay? We gotta show all these stiffs out here how to really groove.”
Rodimus chuckled. “If you say so.”
“I do, in fact.” Sideswipe grinned and spun away with a little playful salute. “Catch you later.”
And then he was gone, joining the roil of mechs as they seethed away from the stage and surged toward the main courtyard for the party tonight. The bonfire would really grow after sunset, the high grade would be flowing, there would be treats aplenty, and even those on perimeter guard would be spelled later so they could take part.
The Festival of Stars was the single, biggest event in all of the settlement for the entirety of the year.
All in all, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend an evening. Once upon a time, Rodimus would have been jittering with excitement about it. He would have danced with the best of them. He would have joined in the strength challenges and the skill challenges. He’d have drank himself into a stupor, and stuffed himself full of treats until he purged. And he’d have called it a good night.
He supposed he had changed. Maybe even for the better.
Sighing, Rodimus pushed himself off the wall. Best go take a quick rinse, soak, and buff, or Sunstreaker would never let him live it down. He still had to look his best, no matter what. He still had to pretend he belonged here.
It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go.
Starscream leapt across the room and snatched the small box out of Deadlock’s hands before he could think twice about what he was doing. He whipped around, bodily putting himself between Deadlock and his reclaimed prize, while the last few energon treats slid around inside.
“Uh. I take it you don’t want to share those?” Deadlock asked from behind Starscream, his voice richly amused, but also bewildered.
Starscream worked his intake and shook his head. “No.” He edged away from Deadlock and returned the box to the stasis field. “They were a gift,” he added, to clarify. “And I only have so many.”
“A gift.” Deadlock leaned against the counter, watching Starscream intently. “This wouldn’t have something to do with the Firebrand, would it?”
“Insomuch that he made them.” Starscream shrugged and closed the door, sealing the treats safely in the keeper.
“Uh huh.” Deadlock’s grin widened, turning sharklike and feral. “I don’t suppose he made that little car and jet on your desk either.”
Starscream felt heat steal into his faceplate. “As a matter of fact, he did,” he said airily and cocked an orbital ridge at his best friend. “Why?”
“For someone whose existence you claim to be unimportant, you sure do treat the things he left behind specially,” Deadlock drawled. “One might, I dare say, claim that you liked said person.”
Starscream reared back; his wings went rigid. “That’s absurd,” he spluttered, the heat in his face growing. “He was an irritation. An annoyance. A distraction. A distraction I don’t need, if I may remind you, because my very spark depends on it!” He shook a finger in Deadlock’s direction, spilling out the last on the edge of a growl.
Deadlock, however, didn’t so much as flinch in the face of it. “You’re not as solitary as you like to think you are, Starling.” He paused and his voice softened just a tad. “And I’m not around nearly as much as I ought to be either.”
“I don’t blame you for that,” Starscream said and whirled away from Deadlock, his spark doing an unfortunate squeeze-flutter in his chassis. He nearly tripped over Scramble in his haste. “You wander. It’s in your nature. I know that.”
“Doesn’t mean you don’t get lonely.”
“Yes, it does,” Starscream snapped. His spark pulsed harder as if with fear, though there was nothing to be afraid of. “I am not lonely because I like to be alone. I have things to do. My research takes precedence above all else. I don’t have time for… for…”
“Friendship? Companionship?” Deadlock cut him off before he could stalk out the door, leaning toward Starscream with a purr in his vocals. “Romance?”
Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit. “All of the above.”
“Oh, I’ve no doubt you tell yourself that to make the long nights easier.” Deadlock cupped his face, a surprisingly gentle gesture for the often rough and tumble mech. “But behind that snark and bluster, you don’t want to be alone. Otherwise you wouldn’t bother with me, and you never would have bothered with Blurr.”
Starscream stiffened. “We are not talking about Blurr.” No matter how many years had passed, memories of his former lover and current friend would never be easy. Starscream would not admit to the nights he spent pacing the corridors, wondering if he’d made the right choice.
“I know.” Deadlock’s thumbs stroked Starscream’s cheeks. “He’s off-limits, a wound that still isn’t healing. Doesn’t make what I’m saying any less true though.”
Starscream snorted, his gaze dropping from Deadlock’s. He hated it when Deadlock got all schmoopy and earnest. Made it harder to ignore him because he was just so damned sincere.
Made it harder to watch him leave, too.
“What’s it matter anyway?” Starscream asked, and hated how tired he sounded. Tired and disappointed both. “He’s gone. What point in there is admitting that I actually enjoyed his company?”
A small rumble rose in Deadlock’s engine. “You know what, Star. I think you were wrong.”
“Shocker,” Starscream muttered and dragged his optics back to Deadlock. “About what, pray tell?”
“There is someone I need to kill.” Deadlock dragged him close, pressing a kiss to the curve of his mouth. “Soon as you tell me his name.”
Starscream snorted again. He curled his fingers around Deadlock’s hand, slowly loosening them from his face. “For what? Being such a charming pain in the aft?”
“For stealing something without realizing its value,” Deadlock corrected and let Starscream withdraw this time. He knew Starscream too well.
“You’re ridiculous.” Nevertheless, Starscream’s spark did warm. Deadlock’s concern for him was worth all the credits in the universe. “It’s hardly his fault. But I appreciate the thought.”
“You could go after him, you know.”
Starscream rolled his optics and slipped past Deadlock, leaving the energon room as he’d intended to do, and not at all surprised when Deadlock padded quietly after him. Scramble stayed behind, scooping up the crumbs Deadlock had dropped in his grazing.
“No, thanks. If he’d wanted to stay, he would have.”
“Starling, you’re not the most inviting mech. You probably practically threw him out, knowing you.”
Starscream didn’t deign to dignify that with a retort. Even if it was true. He didn’t need distractions, damn it. He didn’t need the hope that Rodimus would stay, however thin it had been. He hadn’t given Rodimus a chance to say ‘no.’
“I have work to do,” he said, without looking over his shoulder. “Kindly entertain yourself for a few hours, if you think you can manage that.”
Deadlock snorted. “Yeah, sure. I can tell when I’m not wanted. I’ll just go down and have a soak. Me, myself, and I. And my hand.” He slipped past Starscream, wriggling his fingers in emphasis. “Alone.”
“Yes, you’re going to self-service. And if you’re attempting to entice me into joining you, it’s not working,” Starscream said, rolling his optics.
“Can’t blame me for trying.” Deadlock winked, bearing a fanged grin. “But if you change your mind…”
“I know where to find you.”
Starscream ignored the irresponsible thoughts that told him to follow and join Deadlock in the oil pool, to take his pleasures when he could.
He had work to do. He had to focus on it. His work was the only thing that mattered.
Rodimus shone like a newly sparked mech. His paint gleamed and sparkled in the light of the bonfire, and once upon a time, he would have been in the middle of the seething mass of mechs dancing and spinning around to the cheerful beat. He would have been laughing, darting from partner to partner, trying to sneak a grope or two maybe, and getting groped in return.
The sense of celebration in the air was suffocating. The buffet table was laden with treats, savory and sweet, from Sideswipe’s fancy candies to puffy oil cakes and metal wafers, and big drums of high grade and sweetened juices for the younger mechs. Later, there would be a fireworks ceremony, courtesy of Flotsam and his love of all things explosive.
Rodimus found himself hovering on the edges, however. He had a cube of high grade, the same one he’d started with, and only half-full besides. He sat on one of the benches scattered around for the elderly and easily fatigued. He sat alone.
He watched everyone: the dancers, the chatters, those hanging out on the fringes, and those up to mischief as they huddled in a small group and whispered together. Even Warchief Megatron was here, a cup of high grade in one hand as he was deep in conversation with Soundwave. Sunstreaker was next to him, Megatron’s arm around his waist, resting casually on his lower back.
Sometimes, he’d lean in to say something to Sunstreaker, who’d smirk around his own engex. Or Megatron’s lips would brush over Sunstreaker’s audial. Flirting in public, the gall Warchief had, but in the end, it was Megatron who blushed while Sunstreaker only looked more sly.
Until Sideswipe came strutting by, clutching a cube of engex, a swagger in his step. He had the audacity to swat the Warchief’s aft with a wink, causing Megatron to startle and whip around, fixing Sideswipe with a glare. Sunstreaker was more demonstrative, socking his twin in the shoulder with a punch hard enough to dent Sideswipe’s armor.
Sideswipe laughed it off, dodging the next swing. Megatron looked more amused than concerned. The twins, after all, made a habit of fighting and wrestling each other. Sunstreaker had yet to kill Sideswipe.
Though the key word here was ‘yet’.
It was nice, Rodimus mused, to see the three of them like this. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe and Megatron. They were all good for each other. The affection they felt was clear. The love and the trust.
Rodimus’ spark twinged. He wanted it, too.
He sipped at his energon and shifted his attention, if only to spare his feelings. He watched the dancers instead. He watched Springer and the other newly branded as they talked and laughed together, their brands shiny even at night.
He found himself wandering if Starscream liked to dance. Probably not, he thought. Starscream didn’t seem like someone who enjoyed noise or crowds. He’d probably like the buffet table though, Rodimus thought with a snicker. Starscream did enjoy the treats Rodimus made.
He probably wasn’t one for dancing though. Which was a shame. Rodimus thought he might like to see Starscream out there, glittering and grinning as he twirled and spun and wriggled with the beat. Or maybe he’d sit back and scowl about how noisy everyone was as he gorged on treats, probably hovering over the buffet table, staking claim on a plate of sour-sweet gummies.
Rodimus grinned at the thought, Starscream hissing and snarling over anyone who came too close to the treats he favored. Maybe he’d even have one of his drones, probably Swift, beeping and honking in further threat.
“Now there is a sight I’ve not seen as a late.”
Rodimus startled, whipping around to see Optimus Prime approaching him. Rodimus leapt to his feet, hastening into a shallow bow.
“Sir! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
Optimus waved off the apology. “Probably because I was being sneaky.” He gave Rodimus a conspiratorial look. “I’ve found that if I don’t, people spend far too much time worrying about being polite and proper, and not enough time having fun.”
Rodimus blinked. “You’re the Prime, sir.” He shifted uneasily, feeling far more uncomfortable under Optimus’ stare than he did Megatron’s. There was something about Optimus, as though the weight of millenniums of experience peered back at Rodimus. “We should hold you to the highest respect.”
“Mmm.” Optimus lowered himself to the bench Rodimus had just abandoned, leaving enough room for Rodimus beside him. “Centuries since we’ve lived in the city, and still some things linger like an untreatable rust infection.” He gave Rodimus a long look. “I am a mortal mech, and the only thing which makes me worthy is that I have earned the respect of others.”
Rodimus shifted again, and felt his face flush. He dropped his gaze. “Yes, sir.”
“That wasn’t meant as a chastisement, Rodimus. Merely an observation.” Optimus patted the bench beside him. “Come. Sit. I didn’t mean to take your bench from you.”
Somehow, it felt less like an offer and more like a command. Rodimus sat, though cautiously. The last thing he needed was anyone accusing him of offending their Prime. Or insulting him. Or imposing himself. Or anything really.
“You’re, uh, you’re not dancing?” Rodimus asked, trying not to squirm. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen their Prime dancing. Soundwave was not one for letting loose either.
Optimus accorded him a smile, which softened his more stern features. “Not at the moment, no. I haven’t a sense of rhythm, you see, and as large as I am, I fear many the flattened foot by the end of the evening.” He chuckled, low and soft. “Wrench might have my head yet.”
Rodimus grinned, though he couldn’t imagine their stately leader being uncoordinated at anything. Still, it was an amusing mental image.
“And there it is again,” Optimus said, tilting his head.
Rodimus blinked. “What do you mean, sir?”
Heat stole into Rodimus’ cheeks. He resisted the urge to duck his head. “Yeah, I… uh…”
“That wasn’t a chastisement either.” Optimus chuckled, and his gaze slid away, toward the happily spinning dancers. “You aren’t among them. Though I seem to recall you were often a participant in these celebrations. Am I mistaken?”
Rodimus shook his head. “No. You remember correctly. I’m not in the mood for dancing, I guess.”
“Mm.” There went another one of those non-committal noises. “Might that be because you expected to be among those who were granted their warrior’s badge today?”
Humiliation burned at Rodimus’ finials. This time he did drop his gaze. “Yes, sir.” He stared down at his hands, watched his embarrassingly shiny fingers tangle together. “I’m sure you’ve heard all about my many failures.”
“I did hear you’ve had something of an adventure, yes. Though I don’t recall there being any mention of failures,” Optimus conceded. His hands flattened on his thighs, fingers rapping a rhythm painfully off-beat to the music. “Why do you want to bear the warrior’s badge, Rodimus?”
He startled, not expecting the blunt question. He fidgeted, picking at one of his seams. “It opens up things to me. Things I want. And well it’s the only thing I’m good at.”
Optimus’ gaze turned back toward him again, and somehow it burned. “Is it really?”
Somehow, Rodimus felt like he’d given the wrong answer. “Yes?” he said, though it didn’t sound as firm as he liked. “I mean, Springer’s one. Most of my batchmates are either sworn already, or are on their way. And warriors are important.”
“Whereas civilians aren’t,” Optimus surmised, his tone carefully even.
Oh, Primus. There he went, insulting the Prime, as he hadn’t meant to.
Rodimus flushed. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know.” Optimus was silent for a long moment, his gaze on the dancers, his face in profile, stern but kind. “Megatron and I chose to leave the cities for many reasons, but one of which is that we were through with being judged by our function. And yet, we have somehow carried some of those traditions with us. We still divide ourselves with brands, giving ourselves labels, even when sometimes, some of us don’t fit into those walls.”
Rodimus scrubbed his hands down his thighs. “But that’s the way people are though. We like to have ways to describe ourselves.”
“True. But one must also consider that when presented with a choice of either and or, there leaves little room for those who are neither.”
Rodimus blinked, something in Optimus’ tone suggesting that his words were very important. “What are you saying, sir?”
Optimus audibly cycled a ventilation. “Sometimes we don’t know that there are other options until fate throws them into our path, seemingly by coincidence.”
Rodimus squinted at him. “What?”
Finally, those bright blue optics turned back toward him, almost frightening in their sincerity. “You did not repair yourself.”
Rodimus’ mouth fell open. He fully intended to defend himself, defend his lie, truth be told, but Optimus held up a single hand.
“I am not accusing you or intending to punish you, Rodimus,” he said. “This is merely an observation. We have no law against making friends with outsiders, even those of the Seeker persuasion. Indeed, if you are capable of seeing beyond the rumors and the horror stories, then this is something I wish to encourage.”
There the heat was again, stealing into his face, making his internal temperature rise. “How did you guess?”
Optimus chuckled. “Wrench was the first to suggest it had been Starscream, but I’d always suspected your story was not entirely made of truth.”
“You know his name?”
“Wrench informed me.” Again, Optimus laughed, though it was not so much jest as inner amusement. “They were acquainted, apparently, at some point.”
Rodimus’ jaw dropped once more. He tried to imagine the surly medic interacting with Starscream, and all he could see was a disaster in the making.
“You’ve been quite different since you’ve returned,” Optimus added, though his gaze wandered away again, as though he knew the effect it had on Rodimus. “As if your spark is no longer interested in the paths laid before you.”
“Oh. That.” Rodimus hadn’t even realized Optimus noticed. After all, Rodimus was just a Firebrand, one of many unbranded mechs training and learning as they set their sights on which brand they wanted to bear.
Rodimus scuffed one foot against the ground, watching the dancers as the music changed tempo, to something slow and sweet, forcing the eager singles to the periphery and the couples – mated or otherwise – to the center.
“Just been doing a lot of hard thinking lately, I guess,” Rodimus admitted, something in his spark giving a hard pang as he watched the lovers swaying together. “My frame’s here, but my processor is back out in the desert, watching a Seeker hard at work. It was only a week, I don’t even know why I’m still thinking about him. Or what the point of it is.”
“The point, I would assume, is that you want to see him again,” Optimus said quietly.
Rodimus shook his head and stared down at his lap. “Even if I did, why would I? He likes his privacy. He was pretty darn eager to see me go. The last thing I want to do is intrude again.” He cycled a long ventilation. “Besides, my place is here. I belong here.”
“Belonging is all a matter of the spark,” Optimus corrected and turned to face Rodimus entirely. “Rodimus if there is something – or someone – you want, you should allow yourself the opportunity to seek it. There is no greater regret than never knowing what answer you would have found.”
Rodimus looked up at their spiritual leader and nibbled on his bottom lip. “So… you’re telling me that I should follow my spark?”
“In more words, yes.” Optimus smiled, and it was so genuine and encouraging that Rodimus felt his own spark flutter. Especially when the Prime rested his hand on Rodimus’ shoulder. “We came to the wilds to be free, to choose for ourselves our fate, and not be obligated to any set path. If you find that yours isn’t here, then you are no more required to stay here than any other. Just know that there will always be a home for you here.”
Rodimus’ spark fluttered. “Sideswipe said that, too.” He scratched at the side of his nose. “I guess I’m not very subtle, huh? Since everyone seems to know what I didn’t figure out until now.”
Optimus squeezed his shoulder. “Sometimes, we are blind to the most important things.” His hand slid away, but his field wrapped around Rodimus, warm and encouraging. “You are free to make whatever decision you wish, Rodimus. Though if you do decide to follow your spark, you might want to tell Sunstreaker first.”
Despite himself, Rodimus barked a laugh and gave Optimus a sidelong look. “He was that much a nuisance, I take it?”
“He was very concerned for you,” Optimus confirmed and his optics sparkled. “And quite forceful in his defense of you. He had my brother in quite the mood.”
Rodimus chuckled softly, suddenly feeling lighter than he thought possible. “So I’ve heard. I’ll tell him.” He rolled his shoulders. “I mean, if I decide to go. I still don’t see much of a point, but I guess I’ll never know if I don’t try.”
“And I wish you luck.” Optimus rose to his feet, the smile on his lips shifting targets as he noticed his own bondmate across the way, beckoning to him. Megatron had been dragged to the dance floor by Sideswipe which left Soundwave on his lonesome. “With such a prospective mate, I am certain you will need it.”
In that, like so many things, Optimus was right.
Rodimus smiled as Optimus moved away, keeping to the periphery of the dancing crowd so as not to intrude, as he met up with Soundwave. They pressed their foreheads together, a brief and chaste moment of intimacy, before Soundwave tangled the fingers of his left hand with Optimus’ right. Something was spoken and off they went, vanishing into the crowd and the night. No doubt to join the celebration in their own way.
Where Sunstreaker had gone, Rodimus didn’t know. But he banished thoughts of finding his dear friend and coaxing out a dance.
Sunstreaker was not his to entice. Not that he’d ever truly been.
Rodimus fiddled with his energon before he tipped it back and drained the cube. He had a decision to make. And he could not do so while sitting here.