[TiA] Slices of Life 02

Habits

Blurr chews on the ends of his styluses. It is simultaneously one of his most adorable and disgusting habits.

When he works on finances for the bar and has to concentrate, inevitably the stylus becomes a gnawed, useless ruin. Most of the time, Starscream doesn’t see it because Blurr usually does that kind of paperwork in his office at the bar. Today, however, he’d opted to bring it home and perch at Starscream’s desk.

Him attempting to look official is the peak of cuteness.

Starscream loiters in the doorway, watching as Blurr sighs and grumbles and gnaw-gnaw-gnaws the end of the stylus. His feet scuff against the floor. One hand raps a nonsense rhythm on the desktop. His field radiates frustration and boredom.

Starscream pushes himself off the jamb and slips into the room. “You know, if you’d let me help you, this wouldn’t take as long,” he murmurs as he drapes himself across Blurr’s back – they have a strict no-boosters rule while he’s home. He hooks his chin over Blurr’s shoulder, peering at the scrawl of calculations on the cracked screen.

“You have your own work to do,” Blurr says as the stylus scritches across the screen, denta-marks visible in the end of it.

Starscream chuckles and nuzzles the side of Blurr’s head. “But I’m done with mine and I’m lonely now,” he purrs as he slips his arms around his partner’s frame, hands splayed across Blurr’s very tempting belly.

“You’ll just have to be patient,” Blurr retorts and makes several nearly illegible calculations, numbers scrawling over the screen in crooked lines.

Starscream teases at Blurr’s abdominal vents. “That’s wrong.”

Blurr’s engine hiccups. “No, it’s no– Oh.” He sighs as he flicks away the last addition and corrects the basic error. “I’m a racer not a mathematician. Cut me some slack.”

Starscream snorts. “It’s basic arithmetic.”

“Yeah, well, you’re distracting me.” Blurr squirms and the stylus makes an illiterate squiggle.

Starscream finds and nibbles on Blurr’s nearest audial, murmuring “sorry” against the sensitive metal.

Blurr laughs, amusement filtering into his field. “You don’t sound contrite at all.” He wriggles back against Starscream, end of the stylus tap-tapping on the screen.

“Mmm. Because I’m not.” Starscream finds a tasty bit of undefended intake cable and gives it a gentle bite.

Blurr shivers, a low hum rising in his chest. “Why am I not surprised?”

Starscream chuckles and his hands slide a bit southward, toward Blurr’s hips. Blurr groans in his arms, tapping the end of the mauled stylus against the desk.

“Let me help you,” Starscream attempts to coax with nibbles of his denta and quick flicks of his glossa.

Blurr draws in a heavy ventilation and leans harder into Starscream’s embrace. “All the sooner for me to pay you attention, I suppose?”

“That and save the poor, innocent stylus.” Starscream huffs a laugh and nips Blurr’s intake before he leans over, plucking the datapad out of Blurr’s slack grip.

He extricates himself and dances back, out of reach. “Don’t worry, Zippy. I’ll have this done in a blink and then we can both move on to something a lot more exciting.”

He whirls away, wings flicking, tips of his talons working over the datapad screen in lieu of the much mauled stylus. No way does he want to touch that thing. It’s chewed to pieces!

Blurr sighs and spins around in the chair. He leans back, elbow braced on the desk behind him, a smile on his lips.

“Fine,” he says and flicks a hand at Starscream. “Do my work for me then. I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Starscream snorts and calculates faster.

He’s the brains of this operation after all. Everyone knows that by now.

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[TiA] Slices of Life 01

Sleeping Arrangements

Try as he might, Blurr could never manage to be stealthy.

He came home late most days that he worked, sometimes long after Starscream had retired to recharge since their schedules rarely coincided. Sneaking in to join Starscream on the berth never worked. Starscream always woke, greeting Blurr with a sleepy smile and reaching out with eager arms.

Blurr hated disturbing his Seeker’s much needed rest. But not even lessons from Jazz could make Blurr’s nightly returns furtive. No matter how quiet he was, or how carefully he moved, Starscream always knew. He supposed there were some things that eons spent as a Decepticon couldn’t be unlearned.

He only once made the mistake of foregoing the berth and choosing the couch instead. They hadn’t argued recently. Starscream had fully expected Blurr to join him by a certain time. Blurr, however, knew Starscream had worked later than usual, and had been overworking as of late. He didn’t want to interrupt a recharge cycle.

The couch wasn’t terrible to sleep on. Blurr had certainly attempted to recharge in worst conditions during the war. He’d gotten accustomed to discomfort.

Blurr had just fallen into an uneasy recharge – the couch was a lot colder without a Seeker for a blanket – when he jerked into full-scale alert. His comms blared and Starscream came tearing out of the berthroom like Iacon was on fire again, his wings high and rigid.

“What do you mean he left hours ago?” Starscream snarled as his thrusters spat sparks against the floor, and his engine audibly roared. He snapped charges into the ports for his energon swords, his stride quick and purposeful.

“He’s not here!” Starscream shrieked as he made straight for the balcony, his field ready for murder and his optics a dark, baleful crimson.

Blurr had leapt off the touch, feet nearly tangling in the thin, metalmesh blanket he’d tossed over his legs. He rushed to intercept his partner, and nearly got a blade to the belly when a startled Starscream whipped toward him, optics wide and alarmed.

“Where have you been!?!”

That night, neither of them managed more than a few stolen moments of rest. It took ages for Starscream to calm, to rescind the emergency calls, for Jazz’s lecture to stop ringing in Blurr’s comm because yes, he should have known better.

Starscream held him tightly then, and even more so the next few nights after that, so tightly that his talons left gouges in Blurr’s armor. He was late to the office the next morning. No one was amused by the false alarm, Starscream especially, who felt simultaneously angry at Blurr and embarrassed at himself for overreacting.

Blurr made a promise.

He always came to the berth after that. Or informed Starscream otherwise.

Blurr kept trying to be stealthy. He had yet to succeed. He doubted he ever would.

A part of him was relieved.

There was something about coming home to a sleepy smile and open arms that made him feel warm and fuzzy. Starscream always tucked against him, nuzzled into his intake, stole a kiss or three.

Starscream sighed so sweetly as he slipped back into recharge, relaxed and trusting in Blurr’s arms. His field embraced Blurr’s like a blanket.

Put like that, Blurr supposed stealthiness was way overrated.

[G1] Before the Thunder 03

The shiver crawling up his spine was Soundwave’s only indication he was not only no longer alone, but he was being stalked as well. He could feel the incisive gaze boring into him, felt the menace lurking in the intensity of the stare.

He stopped mid-stride, head swiveling toward a nearby alley, choked with shadows and debris, and no one. He didn’t for one second think it wasn’t occupied. That he was within a block of Bluestreak’s apartment wasn’t a coincidence.

He knew what danger skulked in the night.

“State purpose,” Soundwave said to the dark.

His shoulder itched for his sonic cannon, but like all of his other visible weapons, it was at home, in his weapons locker. All he could rely on now was centuries of hand to hand and a talent which had made him infamous.

A chuckle slithered out of the dim. “My, my Sounders. You’re getting better at that.” The voice crawled into Soundwave’s audials and made itself a home.

Jazz melted out of the dark, not a wisp of biolight or optical brightness to be found. How he could hide that much white, Soundwave would never know. He suspected Jazz had camouflaging paint, the sort controlled by nanites, that helped him change his colors at will. He wouldn’t be the first spy to rely on deception and tricks.

“What gave me away?” Jazz asked, his vocalizations just shy of a purr.

Jazz started to circle Soundwave, and no fool, Soundwave slowly shifted to maintain optical contact. He didn’t trust Jazz anywhere behind him.

“Menace,” Soundwave replied.

Jazz chuckled. “Ya could taste it, huh? Good.” His glossa swept over his lips, and his grin was sharp, for all that his denta were blunt. “So I know where you’re going, and I know why. I just thought I’d give you a little warning before I let you on your way.”

Soundwave tilted his head. “Threats defy treaty.”

“I didn’t say I was threatening you. Geez, Soundwave. Don’t put words into my mouth. That’s kind of rude.” Jazz’s laughter was harsher than it should be. He looked up at Soundwave, hands on his hips, smug and sure. “I’m just making sure we have an understanding.”

“No harm intended to Bluestreak,” Soundwave replied.

“Good. That’s what I wanted to hear.” Jazz lifted a hand, rapped the back of his knuckles on Soundwave’s empty dock. “Because you’re sincere, right? This isn’t some twisted game to break his spark. You want what he has to offer. And you ain’t gonna hurt him on purpose.”

Concern leaked into the edges of Jazz’s field. This was a warning, yes. Threat, too. But for good reason. Jazz cared for Bluestreak. That much was obvious. They were partners, maybe not monogamous, but they meant something to one another.

Soundwave dipped his head. “Affirmative.”

Jazz’s grin slid into something more genuine. “Then I guess that makes us friends.” He backed up a pace, tucking his hand back on his hip. “Have fun tonight. And tell Blue I said hello.”

Soundwave never took his gaze off Jazz as he edged around the saboteur and continued down the recently repaved road. Jazz watched him the entire time, that grin on his face, a glint in his visor. And when Soundwave looked away only for a moment, just to make sure he was going in the right direction, Jazz vanished, back into the shadows which birthed him.

The chill clotted his hydraulic fluid.

Warning received.

He hurried to Bluestreak’s apartment, pinging the door to announce his arrival. Jazz’s delay had cooled his eagerness, but the moment the door slid open and Bluestreak appeared in the opening, it all came flooding back. Anticipation coiled like a hot hunger
in his tanks, and it took several long moments for his vocalizer to engage.

“You’re right on time!” Bluestreak said with a blinding smile. “Come on in.” He stepped aside, leaving room for Soundwave to enter.

Soundwave moved into the well-lit space, lights giving off a warm glow, and the front room filled with plush surfaces. There was a large entertainment center and a couch designed for a mech with sensory panels. An empty space in the middle of the room suggested it was occasionally occupied by something. Doors to the other rooms were closed.

“You found it okay? Wait, why am I even asking you that. Of course you did. You’re Soundwave.” Bluestreak chuckled and the door slid shut, beeping to indicate it was locked. “Have a seat wherever you want. Whatever makes you comfortable.”

“Preference to stand,” Soundwave replied, his spark hammering faster in his chassis, a thrill running across his armor.

Bluestreak shrugged. “Suit yourself. I have some energon in the cupboard if you’re running low.”

Soundwave shook his head. It felt like the moments were being stretched out on purpose, and now he waited on bolts and brackets, for this thing that had always been nothing more than a dream.

“Fuel adequate.”

Bluestreak gave him a long look. He moved to stand in front of Soundwave, his arms folded under his bumper. “Did you review the materials I sent you?”

In depth. Soundwave had read them twice, just to ensure his understanding. He’d devoured every page, every line, an enthusiasm building in his spark and desire licking like lightning through his sensory net.

“Affirmative.”

Bluestreak’s optics narrowed. His field flickered, pressing inward as though it were surrounding Soundwave, choking him, claiming him. It was thick and heavy and far stronger than it had any right to be.

It was chastisement, as much as any clipped word would be. Soundwave knew, immediately, what mistake he’d made.

Soundwave worked his intake. “Yes.”

The weight of Bluestreak’s field eased. “Good. And did you understand everything? Do you have any questions? Is there anything you’re uncertain about? You can ask me anything anytime, but I want to make sure you know the basics right now before we start.”

Soundwave’s hands began to tremble. “Comprehension ob–” He paused at Bluestreak’s glare and dipped his head. “I understand.”

“I can see that you do.” Bluestreak’s voice dipped in timbre, to something lower, resonating better in Soundwave’s sensitive audials. “I have five rules, Soundwave. Five unbreakable rules. Three of which are general. And two are specific to you. If you aren’t willing to agree to these five rules, then whatever this is can’t happen. Understand?”

Soundwave worked his intake. He nodded.

“Verbal consent,” Bluestreak urged.

Soundwave’s hands drew into fists. They loosened. “I understand.”

“Good.” Bluestreak uncrossed his arms and looked up at Soundwave. “First, my general rules. Number one, nothing we do together under the terms of our contract is to be discussed outside of our partnership unless agreed upon beforehand. Number two, you will refer to me as ‘sir’ or ‘master’ unless otherwise indicated. And lastly, you will use your safeword if you need to. No exceptions. Clear?”

Simple rules. Safe rules. Easy enough to agree to.

The heat building in Soundwave’s lines turned to a boil, filling his internals. His fans kicked on, but hopefully, too quiet for Bluestreak to hear. Bluestreak’s firm tone, his uncompromising resolve, the command in his optics… it made Soundwave’s knees wobble.

“I will agree,” Soundwave said, forcing the words past static in his vocalizer and the spinning of the status quo in his processor.

Bluestreak smiled and stepped closer, his fingertips brushing over Soundwave’s dock. “Good. Because I, in turn, agree to follow those terms as well. I can keep a secret, as you well know, and I vow to always heed your safeword. That, Soundwave is how we start to build trust.”

He couldn’t stop looking at Bluestreak’s fingers. His sensors strained toward the light touch, barely tangible, but commanding for it.

“And the other rules?” Soundwave asked.

Bluestreak’s fingers rapped a light rhythm on Soundwave’s dock. “You will always come alone. I expect there to be no cassettes in your dock during a session. This is not a group effort.”

Fair enough.

“And lastly, this belongs to me.” Bluestreak’s fingers dragged up, until they brushed over Soundwave’s mouthguard, feather light. “The moment you step into my domain, this is mine. You will remove it. I don’t want to see it. I will know, by your behavior, that it’s your submission to me. Your agreement. Understand?”

Soundwave answered by sliding his mouthplate aside, baring the lower half of his face to the warmth of the room, and the delicate touch of Bluestreak’s fingertips. He smelled of gunoil and polish, of sticky-sweet treats and the tang of rust crumbles. He smelled good enough to taste, and Soundwave longed to wrap his glossa around the tip of them.

He refrained.

Bluestreak’s smile curved into devious angles. “Oh, you’re perfect, did you know that?” he murmured as his thumb stroked Soundwave’s bottom lip. “You say you’re new to this, but you seem to know all the right things to do. Maybe it just comes natural to you. It does to some mechs, and that’s okay. Everyone marches to their own beat.”

Soundwave’s engine rumbled. His ex-vents quickened, puffing over Bluestreak’s fingers from his slightly parted lips. He held Bluestreak’s gaze, feeling as though the weight of it was a command in itself.

“More?” Soundwave asked hopefully, Bluestreak’s thumb bobbing where it rested on his bottom lip.

Bluestreak chuckled. “Yes. Eventually.” His hand slid away, and Soundwave immediately mourned the loss. “But we’re going to start simple and easy. Slow and careful. And I’ve got a contract I want you to look over a little later, to decide your dos and donts. Trust is the most important thing.”

“Agreed,” Soundwave replied, and the heat boiled under his armor, static in his lines and crowding around his spark. “For now?”

“For now I want you to kneel,” Bluestreak said and pointed to the floor in front of him. “I want to see how well you respond to commands. What really revs your engines and turns you inside out.”

A keen almost slipped out of Soundwave’s intake. He started to lower himself before Bluestreak even finished talking, joints creaking and hydraulics hissing as he knelt, arms at his sides, his face tilted up toward Bluestreak. Like this, Bluestreak was taller, but Soundwave did not feel threatened. He felt owned. Possessed. Mastered.

Worries slid off his shoulders. Heat pooled in his tanks, warming his entire frame. His spark rippled.

“Good pet,” Bluestreak murmured, his optics warm and approving. He lifted a hand and Soundwave didn’t so much as flinch, instead leaning eagerly into the palm that rested on top of his head. “Your safe word is whirlwind. If at any point you become uncomfortable, stressed, or just want to stop for any reason, all you have to do is say it.”

Bluestreak’s hand was a warm, welcome weight. Both gentle and commanding all at once, it sent a flicker of peace through Soundwave’s frame, a tide of warmth that boiled him over and soothed the tremors of his spark.

Soundwave dimmed his visor and focused on Bluestreak’s voice, the soft cadence of it, and the press of Bluestreak’s field, wrapping around him like a blanket. It felt like relief, like coming home, like everything he never knew he needed until it was right in front of him.

All he had to do was seize it.

Soundwave ex-vented and sank into the kneel.

“Yes, sir.”

[Play By Numbers] Unsteady

A Sunburst for Atomizer.

Two shots of the smoothest and most concentrated engex for Breakaway.

A rather large Toxic Temptation, complete with two swirly straws, for Tailgate and Rewind to share while Chromedome looked on in indulgent affection.

And another round of cheap ale from that planet they passed two months ago for the boisterous crowd at the corner table, who were slobbering their congratulations on the shoulders of a very confused Swingblade.

Bluestreak grinned and tucked his tray under his arm. Several more orders were shouted at him, and he kept a mental list as he slid through the throng back to the main bar. Karaoke Night was always busier than most, as the more overcharged the crew became, the louder and more off-key their singing. And the more deserving of mockery, also, which was a point of entertainment for just about everyone.

Instituting Karaoke Night was one of the best ideas Swerve ever had, and mech, there had been a bunch of terrible ones in there, too. Spin the Bottle night, apparently, was a disaster from the start. Who knew that encouraging random mechs to kiss each other would lead to brawls every single time? The property damage alone made those nights a loss, no matter how well-attended.

Still, Swerve was a fountain of new ideas, and here lately, many of them gleaned from the human entertainment Bluestreak had brought onboard with him.

“Orders delivered!” Bluestreak sang cheerfully as he slipped behind the bar and dropped the empty tray onto a small stack of other empties. “What next, boss?”

Swerve, busily filling four mugs with different flavors of bubbling engex at once, tossed Bluestreak a big grin. “Whoever shouts your name first. Help me clear out this crowd, then we’ll get the others, yeah?”

“Will do!”

Bluestreak spun around and true to word, mechs started hollering his name. Those who remembered it anyway. A couple preferred “Not-Prowl” and “Not-Smokescreen-Either”.

Three Toxic Turnovers and a Smelter’s Pit later, Bluestreak wiped off his hands and the counter where he’d spilled some iron syrup. The mad press of mechs at the front of the bar trickled down to one or two already overcharged mechs, who stared blearily at the empty cube in front of them, convinced it was full.

Bluestreak chuckled and reviewed the orders which had been tossed to him earlier. He’d need Swerve to make the Hedonia Paradise. He wasn’t sure he remembered the recipe. Though it was almost a pity. Karaoke had given way to a DJ, and the music pumping from the speakers made his circuits sing and the echoes of his sensory panels twitch.

He didn’t spend much time on the other side of the counter. Mostly because he couldn’t trust himself not to get lost in it. Vices were called vices for a reason.

It took him a minute to find his boss, as Swerve had gone into the back for some supplies. He toddled out, the door sliding shut and locking behind him, the box in his arms large enough to block his sight.

Bluestreak was quick to rescue him.

“Thanks, Blue.” Swerve beamed. “You know, you’re a good kid. I don’t care what anyone else says about you.”

Bluestreak blinked. “Thanks. I think.” Did he want to know what the others were saying? Or was it more of the same? Either way, he supposed it didn’t matter. “Hey, I need a Hedonia Paradise.”

“Someday, they’re gonna figure out it’s made from the cheapest stuff here and won’t let me charge so much for it,” Swerve replied with a laugh, and fluttered his visor in a wink. “Coming right up!”

He moved past Bluestreak, gaze sweeping across his bar as it always did. Bluestreak had been trying to learn that habit, too. He figured Swerve would trust him enough to give him a night on his own at some point.

It would be nice to be trusted again.

“Oh, Primus. Not again,” Swerve groaned.

Bluestreak turned to look, figuring that maybe Whirl was overcharged and waving his guns around again, or Skids and Nautica were grinding on the dance floor in a rather lewd manner, or that “bachelor” party in the corner had tripped over the line from having fun to needing to hash out old grievances with their fists.

But, no. It was none of these things.

It was Rodimus, not Prime, co-captain of their quest, climbing onto the largest, central table, a cube of something bright and violent in one hand and a slag-eating grin on his pretty lips. He wobbled as he stood there, hips and aft swaying, fingers crooked as though inviting someone to join him. His optics were bright, the kind of bright that meant a mech was seriously overcharged.

“Does that happen often?” Bluestreak asked.

“Often enough that it seriously frags me off,” Swerve grumbled and slammed an empty mug onto the countertop, his visor narrowed in Rodimus’ direction. “Damn it. The last thing I wanted tonight was to have summon Ultra Magnus in here. He’s ten tons of buzzkill. Guess the party’s over.”

Bluestreak frowned. Rodimus was currently drunkenly swaying to the music, only to stop and suck down the entirety of his drink, after which he dropped the empty to the tabletop. The crowd of mechs around him cheered and someone offered him another something, different than whatever he had before.

Rodimus accepted it with a wink and spun into a dance move, only to wobble dangerously to the left, nearly tumbling off the table, were it not for wayward hands putting him back upright. A grin stretched his lips, and his optics sparked with overcharge, but there was something in his expression, something in the way he greedily reached for the groping hands with armor clamped uninvitingly…

“Maybe I can get him down,” Bluestreak said, before he could think twice about it.

Swerve stared at him. “I’ve tried just asking him. It doesn’t work. He thinks it’s cute.” He glowered. “Mech don’t listen to anyone, and it takes someone big enough to pick him up and haul him down and away.”

“Drinks on me!” Rodimus suddenly hollered loud enough to be heard over the music as he threw his arms into the air, sloshing engex everywhere from his cube.

The crowd surrounding him roared their cheers. Free booze? Of course they’d be delighted!

“And then there’re the promises he can’t keep,” Swerve grumbled and threw up his hands in surrender. “Calling Magnus it is.”

A decision made too quickly, Bluestreak noticed, because no sooner had Rodimus made his bold and expensive declaration, then did he trip on what appeared to be nothing and tumble right off the table. No one tried to catch him, or if they did, they were too late about it, and he clattered to the floor.

Bluestreak winced.

The crowd cheered. Whether because they were so intoxicated that they found this hysterical, or because their much maligned captain was making a fool of himself yet again, Bluestreak didn’t know.

Smokescreen had been right at least. The Lost Light’s crew was certainly one of misfits, outcasts, the confused, and the abandoned. He’d told Bluestreak that he’d fit right in. Until now, Bluestreak didn’t think he would.

“You don’t have to call Ultra Magnus,” Bluestreak said firmly. “I’ll get him out of here before he makes more of a ruckus. I’m not sure I trust any of those drunk idiots out there to do it properly.”

Drunk and handsy, he noticed, as a couple mechs helped Rodimus to his feet, but not without lingering touches. They were returned, of course, because Bluestreak had heard more than a few rumors about how freely Rodimus shared himself with his crew. But if there was genuine attraction and interest in Rodimus’ blatant flirtations, Bluestreak would eat his entire stock of gun polish.

“You sure? It doesn’t look like he needs much help to get home,” Swerve said, though with a frown rather than a laugh. He, at least, didn’t seem to find this funny. Maybe because he was starting to see in Rodimus, some of the troubles in himself, the same troubles which had led to the Swearth incident.

Barely a drop in the bucket of weird that seemed to congregate around the Lost Light and it’s crew, apparently.

And yes, Swerve had a point. People did seem to be eager to get their hands all over Rodimus, but more seemed interested in shoving drinks into his hand than stopping him from consuming them or maybe even getting him sent to the medbay for a check up. That had been a pretty harsh fall.

“He needs more help than he knows,” Bluestreak muttered, but shook himself and tight-beamed Swerve the list of drinks needed for mechs out in the morass. The serving drone could always deliver them. “If you don’t mind, I mean. Better than calling Magnus and killing the atmosphere, right?”

Because the only other option was to call Megatron and absolutely no one wanted to do that.

Bluestreak didn’t know Rodimus that well, but he couldn’t, for the spark of him, think of a mech who Rodimus was particularly close to. A friend, even, who could pull him out of the mess he’d made of himself. Bluestreak hadn’t been on the Lost Light long, but he’d already noticed who was close with who, who belonged to which clique, et cetera.

Rodimus, however, was a blank slate in the social chart he’d drawn. Rodimus was a mech alone.

Even Megatron had Ravage.

There were rumors, of course, that Rodimus’ closest friend was probably Drift, but as that former Decepticon had been ousted from the ship, it meant Rodimus was friend-less. Though the same rumors insisted Drift had been exiled under false pretenses orchestrated by Rodimus himself.

Perhaps being Rodimus’ friend was not something to aspire to. Which explained his current dearth of them.

Though if calling Ultra Magnus to haul Rodimus off and no doubt lecture him was the only option Swerve ever had, well, that was more than a little sad.

“Sure. Fine.” Swerve flicked a hand at him. “Just get him out of here before he causes some kind of riot.”

Bluestreak beamed. “Thanks, boss!” Had he his sensory panels still, he’d have wriggled them. People told him such behavior was cute, and it had worked in his favor more often than not.

Still, a blinding smile set in an innocent face was often all it took anyway.

Swerve waved him off again and turned to make the drink list Bluestreak had sent him.

Bluestreak cycled a ventilation, braced himself, and dove into the crowd. It wasn’t hard to find Rodimus, but getting through the mechs surrounding him took more than a little shoving and a couple snarled curses. Fortunately, overcharged mechs tended to be easy to push around.

That and the threat of never serving them engex again. No one wanted to lose their intoxication privileges.

He found Rodimus chugging the drink he’d been given earlier, one finger lifted as though telling someone to wait, while he staggered, back into the arms of a mech who didn’t seem all that opposed to having his captain against him. Bluestreak wracked his processor for a name and came away with Broadside, who he was almost certain joined up at the same time Bluestreak did.

For a moment, he wondered if other mechs did this, too. If they categorized the people around them, memorized their faces and kept a database, if they tagged friend groups and cliques and alliances and grudges. He wondered if they did it because they had no choice, or because they needed some form of control, like Bluestreak did.

He wondered it, and then he let the thought slide away. He had more important matters at hand.

Rodimus finished his drink, crushed the cube, and threw his hands up in the air. “And another one bites the dust!” he crowed, and threw the cube down, where it promptly shattered and made a mess. One Bluestreak would normally be tasked with sweeping up.

Bluestreak sighed internally.

And then he hitched up his britches, so to speak, and got to work.

“All right, mechs, enough’s enough,” he said loudly, trying to use his ‘bartender’ voice. It wasn’t as good as Swerve’s yet, but he was getting there. He jostled his way to Rodimus and took the co-captain by the elbow. “Sorry, sir. But you’re cut off. Time to head out.”

“I’ve barely drank anything,” Rodimus protested with audible static in his vocalizer, and a stumble against Bluestreak’s side, even though he’d hardly tugged on the other mech.

“Yeah, and he’s having fun with us!” One of the peanut gallery offered up. Bluestreak didn’t bother to match face to name.

Bluestreak shook his head and pulled Rodimus more firmly against his side. “I could call Ultra Magnus, if you’d rather.”

Poor Magnus. Bluestreak wondered if the mech even knew how much his designation was used as a threat around here. Or if it bothered him.

It was as if someone had dropped an ice water bomb on the revelers. Grins turned to frowns, and the muttering started, even as they backed away.

“Fine. Take him,” Drunk Number Three said with a scowl. “He’s trouble anyhow.”

It wasn’t like Bluestreak needed their permission, but it was a lot easier with their acquiescence.

“Aww, since when did you become such a killjoy?” Rodimus whined in his audial as a wandering hand tracked across Bluestreak’s abdomen. “Or maybe you just wanna keep me for yourself, eh?”

Bluestreak grabbed Rodimus’ wrist and removed it from his person. “Just doing my duty, sir. Come on. I think you need your berth.”

“Only if you join me on it.” Rodimus leered and leaned in close, probably trying to aim a sloppy kiss on Bluestreak’s cheek.

He deftly shifted his weight, directing a wobbly Rodimus toward kissing the open air, and started half-dragging, half-carrying his captain toward the exit. Frankly, he was glad the crowd parted for them, because this was embarrassing enough as it was. Well, for Rodimus anyhow. Bluestreak wasn’t the one who was sloppy drunk, making promises he couldn’t keep, all while willing to go home with whatever hand groped him last.

“No, thank you,” Bluestreak said politely, though he’d be impressed if Rodimus actually heard him, given that the karaoke had started again and someone was caterwauling a very terrible version of “I Will Always Love You.”

He managed to drag Rodimus into the hallway and to the lift before Rodimus’ hand started wandering again. Bluestreak patiently gripped the offending hand around the wrist and gave it a warning squeeze.

“I’m not interested,” he said as metal creaked and delicate cables pinched alarmingly, enough to sting but not enough to damage.

Not that Rodimus seemed to notice the pain.

“Really? That’d be a first,” Rodimus burbled and leaned heavily against him, venting a warm sigh. “You smell good, you know that?”

Probably because he didn’t stink of overcharge and overconsumption?

“Who’s on duty tonight?” Bluestreak asked, just to change the subject. And people called him chatty. Clearly, they’d never been around a drunk Rodimus.

Beside him, Rodimus tangibly stiffened before it melted away into the languidness of overcharge once again. “Megatron, I think. Or Hound. Someone not me, and I’m pretty sure not Ultra Magnus either.”

Bluestreak barely stopped himself from frowning. As the captain, shouldn’t Rodimus be more aware of the command schedule? Or was his processor swimming in too much engex?

It couldn’t be the latter. There was too much inconsistency in Rodimus’ behavior, flashes of something that didn’t read as mere intoxication.

The lift deposited them on the command deck, the aft end where command quarters were kept. Megatron kept a berth in the crew quarters as Rodimus had adamantly refused to surrender his captain’s quarters. That he’d locked himself in there for almost a month after the Lost Light left Cybertron ensured Megatron would not be usurping the habsuite.

Bluestreak passed Ultra Magnus’ claimed hab, and the one that used to belong to Drift. Megatron could have taken that hab, but he hadn’t. If it was because Rodimus hadn’t allowed him to do so, or Megatron hadn’t wanted to, Bluestreak didn’t know. Maybe a bit of both? For now, that hab continued to be unoccupied. For all he knew, Drift’s belongings still cluttered the space.

“Wait. Are you actually taking me back to my habsuite?” Rodimus asked as he straightened a little, optics cycling. He looked around them pointedly.

“Yes, sir.” Bluestreak swung them to a stop in front of the captain’s quarters, which had been decorated quite garishly with Rodimus’ trademark flames. There was no mistaking this habsuite as belonging to anyone else. “Could you put in your code?”

Rodimus stared at him as if he’d spontaneously sprouted another head, but he did at least wobble forward and input his code. Without a single mistake at that. Mechs as intoxicated as he appeared to be normally needed more than a few tries.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The door opened and suddenly, Rodimus couldn’t seem to walk, forcing Bluestreak to take more of his weight. The lights flickered to brightness as soon as they walked inside, illuminating a habsuite that was unexpectedly tidy. True there were stacks of random things on the desk and end tables, but it wasn’t the garbage pit Bluestreak half-expected.

It also didn’t look like Rodimus spent a lot of time here. Probably too busy occupying whatever berth would have him.

Was that an uncharitable thought? Perhaps.

“Hey look, there’s my berth!” Rodimus said brightly, and there he went again, suddenly capable of getting his feet beneath him. He hopped up on the berth and half-lounged in a pose that was probably meant to be enticing.

“You should join me on it,” he purred with an arch of his back and a lazy slide of his glossa over his lips.

The door slid shut behind Bluestreak. He frowned and gave his captain a cold look. “When are you going to drop the act?” he demanded, and belatedly added, “Sir.”

Rodimus’ optics cycled. “Act?” he echoed and chuckled. “Can’t a mech invite someone to his berth without it being taken as a joke?”

Bluestreak resisted the urge to roll his optics. He leaned in close, and was not at all surprised when Rodimus reared back. “You don’t even smell of engex, sir.”

“More’s the pity.” Rodimus dragged himself further onto the berth, away from Bluestreak, and more seated than lounging. “Maybe I just have a high tolerance.”

“And maybe you’ve engaged your FIM chip so that the high grade doesn’t actually affect you.”

Rodimus rolled his head, the very picture of nonchalance. “I’m hardly the first person who went out for a drink, but not because they wanted to get drunk.”

And there it was. Not a trace of inebriation to be found on Rodimus all of the sudden. The jovial giddiness vanished, and his optics went from bright to flat and annoyed.

“Besides, it’s none of your business,” Rodimus added with enough chill in his tone to make an icicle shiver.

Unfortunately for him, it took a lot more than that to make Bluestreak so much as blink. He’d faced down a terrified, incoherent Jazz before. A pouting Rodimus was nothing in comparison.

“It is when you start climbing on tabletops in my boss’s bar,” Bluestreak replied, and tipped his head. “Sir.”

“Somehow, when you say it like that, it doesn’t feel like a gesture of respect.” Rodimus flopped back onto his berth with an aggrieved sigh. He folded one hand beneath his head and flicked the other at Bluestreak. “You did your duty. Dismissed.”

It would have been easy to spin on a heel and excuse himself. He had, after all, done what he came here to do, and it truly was none of his business why Rodimus wanted to pretend to be overcharged, so he could drag someone back to his berth for some cheap, meaningless ‘facing. Mechs did it all the time. Such behavior was hardly new.

Once upon a time, Bluestreak was guilty of the same, though he never faked his inebriation. He didn’t have to. He might have used his cheerful innocence as a clever lure perhaps. Mechs never could resist a giggle and the quiet belief they were cuddling something cute that needed them.

In theory, Bluestreak could leave and no one would fault him for it. Something compelled him to linger however. Maybe because Rodimus’ armor had drawn tight, and his field withdrew so completely Bluestreak could not catch a flicker of it. Or because Bluestreak remembered that of all the social webs he’d drawn, Rodimus stood apart from them. Maybe it was pity.

Bluestreak frowned. “Why the act?”

“Oh, are you still here?” Rodimus gave him a bored look and flopped over onto his side, spoiler flicked down and at an odd angle.

Bluestreak twisted his jaw. “As soon as I leave, you’re going to go right back to the bar, aren’t you? Just to see who you can connive into your berth.”

“Excuse me, I don’t need to connive anyone.” Rodimus shot upright, whipping around to glare at Bluestreak. “All I have to do is make an offer.”

“You’re that irresistible then?” Bluestreak cocked a hip and an orbital ridge. He folded his arms under his bumper, giving Rodimus a look that had often knocked the confidence right out of Jazz. “You know it’s not going to fix anything.”

“I didn’t say it would.” Rodimus hissed as he swung his legs over the side of the berth, his armor drawn taut over his frame, his spoiler vibrating with tension.

He reminded Bluestreak of Jazz in that moment. Fright in his optics, but not fear, arrogance a drape over the pain beneath. The smile he had in the bar was as false as the confidence.

“And there’s nothing that needs fixing anyway,” Rodimus snapped and pointed to the door. “I thought you were seeing yourself out.”

Bluestreak cycled a vent. Rodimus’ energy field was making him dizzy, so noxious and frenzied it was. Fatigue clawed at the edges of it, and buried beneath was self-loathing and a toxic despair. Bluestreak honestly didn’t want to get too close, because he feared if he touched it, that nauseating field would cling to his own like some kind of tar.

He should leave.

“Fine,” Bluestreak said on the end of a sigh. He spun around. “Get some sleep, sir. Hope you enjoy your misery.”

The last probably was unnecessary, but damn it, Rodimus wasn’t the only one missing someone around here. He wasn’t the only one suffering. Or the only one who’d left something or someone behind.

“Wait.”

Bluestreak paused before he made it to the door. He subconsciously tilted a sensory panel down before he remembered he didn’t have them anymore, which meant he could easily look over his shoulder.

Rodimus had dropped his hand, his shoulders slumping and his optics dim. “I’m… I’m sorry, okay?”

He sounded genuine. If anything, the remorse in Rodimus’ field spoke more volumes. Maybe Bluestreak had actually gotten through to him.

Bluestreak turned back around, though he didn’t immediately wander from the door. “Apology accepted. Though you might want to make sure you know what it is you’re apologizing for.”

Rodimus cycled his optics. “Huh?”

A chuckle spilled free before Bluestreak could hold it back. Rodimus was more charming like this than the over-confidence he usually sported.

“If you’re upset and need a friend, say so. You don’t have to hide that need behind anger and sarcasm.”

Rodimus frowned and pulled himself onto the berth, spoiler clanging as it hit the wall and he dragged his knees up in front of him, like a barrier. “I’m the cap–” He winced and corrected himself. “Co-captain. I can’t really do that.”

“Sure you can.” Bluestreak grinned and spilled as much comfort into his field as he could spare, both to genuinely console and to combat that nauseating field. “You just say ‘hey there sexy bartender, how about keeping me company tonight since I’m missing my partner something fierce’ and you know, you catch more flies with honey that way.”

Rodimus’ optics cycled. Some of his closed-off posture relaxed as his orbital ridge drew down. “I didn’t– I never said–”

“You didn’t have to,” Bluestreak said, to cut off Rodimus’ stuttering attempt at denial. He crossed the floor to the berth, hopping up to perch on the edge of it, half-twisting to fold one leg over the surface. “I’m pretty good at reading these things out of people, and I know what that feeling looks like.”

Rodimus unfolded a bit more, his legs straightening out and his arms drifting to his sides. “You’re staying?” His face crinkled with confusion, which was far cuter on him than the false flirting he’d had earlier.

“Wouldn’t have climbed onto the berth if I wasn’t.” Bluestreak patted the surface. “Seems like you need the company. And to recharge.” He lifted his orbital ridges, giving Rodimus a pointed look.

Miraculously, his captain obeyed, though with hesitation, as he lowered himself down to the berth, on his belly, his spoiler laying flat on his back. Bluestreak felt a twinge of envy. He missed his sensory panels sometimes, but recharging with them had always been an aggravation.

Rodimus frowned. “Don’t you have to go back to work?”

“Honestly, given the way Swerve was winking at me, I don’t think anyone expects me to come back,” Bluestreak replied. He didn’t know if that was meant to be a slight on how easy Rodimus was supposed to be, or how naive everyone thought Bluestreak was. Maybe it was both.

Rodimus snickered and it was like a switch flipped, because the tension in his frame switched to something languid and enticing. He reached for Bluestreak with a smile, all smirk and flirtations and nothing sincere.

“We could give truth to the lie,” Rodimus purred.

Bluestreak put a quick stop to that. He smacked Rodimus’ hand like he might an errant sparkling. “Stop it. You don’t actually want me.” He borrowed, for a moment, that tone. The one which always melted Jazz and made him snap to obey.

It did not work on Rodimus sadly. He pouted, and it was an attractive pout, one Bluestreak thought he might have fun melting away, but sloppy drunks were not attractive to him. Not now or ever. Didn’t matter that Rodimus was half-pretending he was overcharged. Intent mattered.

“Now that’s not true.” Rodimus wriggled closer, his field reaching out instead of his hand this time. “You’re a pretty hot piece of aft, Blue.”

He deftly, and gently, swatted Rodimus’ seeking tendrils of a field away as well, folding his own against it and back. “Yeah, I am,” Bluestreak said, because there was no point in being modest about something he knew to be true. “Doesn’t mean you want me or it. Plus, you’re drunk and sloppy, and I don’t do either.”

Rodimus sulked and scooted away, closer to the wall, as though he needed to recharge against it to feel comfortable. “So if I was sober…?”

Bluestreak chuckled despite himself. “Go to sleep, sir.”

A harrumph spilled out of his captain’s vents before Rodimus flopped down with all the grace of a speeding train and buried his face in a pillow, which was then dragged and tucked under his chestplate. Apparently, he could be obedient. It only took the proper incentive.

Bluestreak pulled himself further on the berth and leaned against the wall, stretching out his legs alongside Rodimus’ frame. He wouldn’t slide into full recharge, he didn’t feel comfortable enough for that. But a doze would suit well enough.

Maybe nostalgia was a factor, too. Because he didn’t want to ‘face Rodimus, not like this. But he wanted to touch and Rodimus could probably use the comfort. So Bluestreak’s fingers found the edges of Rodimus’ spoiler – topside, most likely to be the least sensitive, and stroked them gently.

Rodimus made a noise, an unbearably cute one, and snuggled further into his pillow. More of the tension eased out of his frame, and Bluestreak took that as a cue to continue, drawing nonsensical designs on the flat of Rodimus’ spoiler, and carefully stroking the edges.

The vile tangle of Rodimus’ field unknotted itself until it was something easier to withstand. Not perfectly relaxed, nor gentle and welcoming, but neither as toxic as it had been. Bluestreak marked it as improvement.

One spoiler half twitched under Bluestreak’s fingers.

“Thanks,” Rodimus murmured, his vocals sleepy and fritzed with static, on the edge of full shutdown. “I didn’t want to be alone.”

“No one ever does,” Bluestreak replied, equally quiet and far more kindly than Rodimus had earned tonight, but he supposed that was the difference. “And you’re welcome.”

Rodimus’ field rippled with gratitude. He ex-vented again, quieter and softer this time, and the spoiler under Bluestreak’s hand went still. The gentle thrum of Rodimus’ engine was all the noise to break the silence.

Dimming the lights would have to wait, Bluestreak supposed. Oh, well. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t recharged in worse positions. Upright on a berth with his captain cuddled beside him was far better than kneeling on the battlefield, hands around his rifle, in a light doze in case the bombardment started again.

Bluestreak dimmed his optics, keyed his field into Rodimus’ – nights like these were often the prelude to awful purges, as Bluestreak well knew – and settled in to lightly recharge for himself. It was going to be a long night, but hardly the worst, and if poked, Bluestreak would admit he didn’t want to be alone either.

Rodimus wasn’t the only one who’d left his spark behind.

~

Awareness came gradually, though with the immediate sense he wasn’t alone. This wasn’t unusual. Rodimus often spent his nights in one berth or another, some he barely remembered and meant nothing, others which meant a little more. But Perceptor had been busy, and Rodimus was lonely and he’d… reverted back into bad habits.

Who was it this time, he wondered. Atomizer? Broadside? Smokescreen?

He was getting predictable.

Rodimus breathed a sigh and reached out with his field before he dared online his optics. He met with a wall, a weirdly solid barrier of field energy that prevented him from sensing the other person. Which… okay. The last time he’d felt something like this, he’d tumbled Bumblebee.

Spies had the weirdest energy fields. But the only spy on the Lost Light was Mirage and Rodimus would bet the entirety of the ship said saboteur would never wander his way into Rodimus’ berth, no matter how overcharged he might be.

Rodimus onlined his optics and caught a glimpse of a leg that was not immediately familiar to him. Grey and white and bits of black? Talk about a boring paint job. Rodimus didn’t normally berth mechs with boring paint.

He pushed himself upright as the last fog of recharge started to clear, the events of last night dumping back into his active memory queue all at once. The misery, the suffocating loneliness, the ill-timed decision to go Swerve’s and engage in some questionable behavior. There might have been some table-dancing involved and–

Oh. Right. Bluestreak.

Shame colored Rodimus’ cheeks as he came face to face with Bluestreak, who was apparently as online as he was, judging by blue optics peering back at him.

“Good morning,” Bluestreak said in a cheery tone that was probably a little bit forced. No one could be that cheerful this early.

Rodimus dragged himself fully upright and gave Bluestreak a wary look. “I’ve the feeling I owe you an apology.”

“That depends on what you think you’re guilty of.” Bluestreak shifted, dangling one foot over the edge of the berth. “Though I can promise there’s no way you could have taken advantage of me. I’m better trained than I look.”

No kidding. Bluestreak was supposed to be some chatty, cheerful guy. Not a weirdly intense mech with a saboteur’s training in field restriction.

Rodimus’ back hit the wall with a bit more force than he intended. A low ring of pain echoed through his spoiler, and he hissed. Ow. Damn it. Clumsy as always, Rod.

“For someone who wasn’t actually consuming engex, you’re acting a little hungover,” Bluestreak commented.

“No, that’s just my usual grace,” Rodimus sighed and tilted his head back against the wall. “Anyways, thanks for staying, and I’m sorry for being an aft.” Again, normal state of being. He suspected he’d be apologizing again. And again and again.

Bluestreak tilted his head, draping an arm over one of his legs. “You’re welcome. Though I meant what I said, too. There are better methods than your behavior last night.”

The heat returned with a vengeance. Rodimus couldn’t help but think he’d just been chastised like some kind of child. He ducked his head.

“It’s not what you think.”

“It’s exactly what I think,” Bluestreak countered. He lifted and dropped his shoulders, and there was something in the motion that seemed aborted, like it didn’t complete as Bluestreak thought it should. “Look, sir. It’s none of my business, I just want you to know that if you don’t want to be alone or you want someone to talk to, I’m around. I got an idea about this sort of thing. And I’m a pretty good listener.”

Rodimus drew up his legs, trying to hide behind his knees. “And what sort of thing would that be?”

It was Bluestreak’s turn for his gaze to turn distant, nostalgic maybe. A wisp of his field broke free of its cage, giving Rodimus a taste of… regret? Sorrow?

“The pieces of our spark we left behind,” Bluestreak said.

Rodimus winced. “That may be giving more weight to something that isn’t there. At least, in my case. I can’t speak for you.”

“Uh huh.” Bluestreak slid forward, off the berth, stretching his arms over his head. His backplating shuffled, like he was trying to stretch kibble that wasn’t there. “If it makes you feel better to lie about it, don’t let me stop you.”

Rodimus frowned. “I think you have a misconception about something.”

Bluestreak looked at him over a shoulder, his expression one Rodimus couldn’t read. It was far too guarded, far too carefully posed. “I don’t know anything, so how could I be wrong?”

“It’s not like that,” Rodimus insisted and scraped a hand down his face, hiding behind it and his knees. “We’re not like that. I mean, yeah, we’re together, but we’re not together. There’s no… no expectation of monogamy and what not. Feelings aren’t part of it.”

“Right. Of course. What was I thinking? You were lonely because it’s all about interfacing. My mistake.”

Rodimus couldn’t see Bluestreak’s face, because the other mech had turned around, but he had a feeling Bluestreak was rolling his optics. Maybe it was the condescension dripping from Bluestreak’s tone.

“That’s not what I meant.” Rodimus sighed a ventilation and braced his elbow on his knees, hiding behind the shade of his palm. “I just… don’t want to give weight to something that doesn’t have it. That’ll only make things worse.”

Hydraulics hissed and squeaked as Bluestreak must have turned. “Because then you’d have to admit how lonely you are. And what you actually feel.”

“Life is complicated,” Rodimus replied quietly. His spark ached, like someone was squeezing it in a grip tight enough to bend duryllium. “Being together, it’s not something either of us can do. Or even want to do. Long distance is better, but I miss him when I’m not with him. And when we’re together, all I can think about is this quest I have to finish and that I can’t stay. He’s never asked me to either.”

Sometimes, he wondered if that was part of it. He wondered if he was strong enough to decline if Starscream ever genuinely asked him to stay. He’d considered it. Letting Megatron take over the Lost Light. Leaving his crew to the quest. Surely they’d be better off without him. The almost fifty percent of mechs on this ship who’d rather he step down and leave someone better in charge would agree.

Rodimus fantasized what that would be like. To go back to Cybertron, work with Starscream, lead the planet together, maybe actually make a difference. Not suffer this emptiness inside, this loneliness. To work with someone who knew what it felt like to be considered second-best, who couldn’t win for losing.

It was the coward’s way out, he knew, but by Primus, sometimes all Rodimus wanted to do was be that coward.

“Do you want him to?”

Right for the intake, eh, Bluestreak? Rodimus supposed it went hand in hand with the sniper’s weirdly spy-like behavior and his sudden ability to read right into a mech’s psyche. Seriously. Rodimus didn’t know his new crew at all.

Rodimus tilted his head back against the wall, keeping his optics shuttered. “I can’t answer that.”

“I think that’s the most honest I’ve heard you ever be,” Bluestreak actually sounded sympathetic and not the least bit judgmental.

“Well, ask anyone. Honesty’s not my strong suit.” Rodimus onlined his optics and barked a self-deprecating laugh. “Thanks for listening though.”

Bluestreak’s lips quirked at the corner, almost a smile. “People tell me I’m good at it.” He cycled a ventilation and there his shoulders went, twitching again in an aborted motion. “Look. If you don’t mind my saying, sir, you could use a friend. Not a nameless ‘face.”

Shame colored Rodimus’ face. He gnawed on his bottom lip. “You offering?”

“Wouldn’t still be here if I wasn’t.”

“That’s good to know.” He rubbed the back of his head and offered Bluestreak what he hoped was a sincere smile. “Thanks. For last night and this morning, I mean. I didn’t know how much I needed something like that.”

“That was the impression I got, too.” Bluestreak grinned and gestured with a thumb over his shoulder. “Anyway, I gotta go. I left early so boss says I have the good luck to mop the floors after last night. Yay, me.”

Rodimus chuckled. “I guess that’s partly my fault.” A twinge of guilt rippled through his system. “Do you, uh, need a hand?”

“Nah, I like cleaning. It’s actually kind of soothing.” Bluestreak waved off the offer. “But I’m serious, sir. If you ever need to talk, you know where to find me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Bluestreak dipped his head and with a smile, departed Rodimus’ quarters. The room instantly felt larger and emptier without him.

He’d forgotten what it felt like to have a friend, someone he could just talk to. He got on with some mechs reasonably well. There were others who tolerated him. But a friend?

Rodimus couldn’t remember the last time he’d had one of those. There was Drift, but he’d utterly failed that relationship in every way. He couldn’t even bring himself to go after Drift with an apology Drift rightly deserved. The fear was too heavy. It swallowed him whole. He knew he’d say the wrong words, wouldn’t explain himself, and even his apology would be thin and unconvincing.

Drift deserved better than that. Wherever he was, Rodimus hoped Drift was happy, as only he could be, far, far from the realm of Rodimus’ influence.

He sighed and flopped back on the berth, arms behind his head. He had mid-shift command today, perhaps the easiest command block on the schedule. Surprise, surprise that it had been given to him, the incompetent co-captain. Still, it was enough time for a nap.

And maybe afterward, if it wasn’t too late, he could walk right past Swerve’s and go down a deck to the crew’s quarters. He could knock on a door, shift nervously from foot to foot, and when it opened say,

“Hey there, sexy bartender, how about keeping me company tonight since I’m missing my partner something fierce?”

He’d smile, genuine and not feigned, maybe laugh a little even. And Bluestreak would smile back, laugh too, and gesture him inside.

“Sure,” he’d say. “Come on in.” Like friends do.

And Rodimus would go inside and talk and share until the urge to drink the night away faded.

Yeah. That sounded good to him.

Rodimus’ smiled and shuttered his optics.

[TF] Trial by Fire 14

There was an incessant noise in his periphery. And an incessant irritation prodding at his backstrut, between his wing hinges.

Starscream groaned in protest and blindly swatted at whatever was being irritating. Or at least, he tried to. But his hands were pinned under something heavy and warm, and his systems registered the trickle of another mech’s datastream.

What?

He surfaced from recharge as if he had to claw his way free, sensors slowly booting up, just enough to remind him of the irritation.

“Go away,” Starscream muttered, because honestly, there was only one mech who could be this aggravating.

“No.” Deadlock sounded highly amused. “You two look really cute like that and all, but you’re going to get stuck together if you don’t get up.”

“That’s impossible,” Starscream retorted and forced his optics to online as short-term memory pinged him a helpful reminder.

Rodimus. Data-facing. Recharge.

Oh. Right.

Starscream cycled his optics as he leaned up, having to unwind his arms from where they’d been wrapped around Rodimus’ chassis. He’d fully blanketed the Firebrand with his own frame, and well, Rodimus must have not minded, because his arms were wrapped around Starscream’s chassis, too.

They were still connected at their arrays, and yes, there was a mess – sticky and dried – between them. They wouldn’t get ‘stuck together’ as Deadlock so elegantly put it, but it would require another scrub.

“Maybe. But it would be hilarious.” Deadlock poked him in the wing hinge again.

“Stop that!” Starscream hissed. He flicked his wing away, but unfortunately, not out of reach. “Why are you even in here anyway?”

“Just doing my duty. Checking up on you. Making sure the Firebrand here was behaving.” Starscream could practically see Deadlock’s toothy smirk, even though he wasn’t looking at him. “There was a flock of drones outside your room, too. Nosy little buggers.”

“Led by Scuttle probably,” Starscream muttered with a snort. The newest drone was so attached to Rodimus, that it bordered on ridiculous.

Speaking of Rodimus however…

The Firebrand was still in recharge. Deep recharge. How he could manage that with so much noise, Starscream had no idea. He didn’t even stir as Starscream eased his weight off Rodimus’ frame and to the side, cables drawing taut between them.

“He’s fine. You’re the one being irritating right now,” Starscream said with a huff. His field flicked out, poking Deadlock with rebuke, though he wasn’t sure why he bothered.

“Awww, I’ve been replaced in your spark already? That was quick.”

Starscream rolled his optics and didn’t dignify that with a retort. Instead, he set about gently disconnecting himself and Rodimus, despite how much he’d been enjoying the shallow link. That Rodimus would so freely offer it made Starscream’s spark twirl with unexpected delight.

Rodimus stirred the moment Starscream eased his connector free. A sharp in-vent and a tiny engine rev announced him coming to sentience before his optics unshuttered.

“Hm?”

“Good morning.” Starscream’s lips curved in a small smile as he spooled his cable back into his array. He gave a tiny pat to Rodimus’ port. “Retract your cable, Firebrand. You’re tempting enough as it is.”

Blue optics flickered before brightening. “Tempting?” Rodimus repeated, vocals still layered in static as though he wasn’t quite aware yet. “So you think I’m pretty?” His arms lifted above his head in a full-frame stretch that called to Starscream’s gaze.

Behind them, Deadlock snickered. “Oh, Primus. You two are adorable.”

Rodimus’ optics flashed, and he abruptly sat up, only to hiss and clutch at his head. “Ow, why do I feel like I got overcharged last night?”

“Because you did. In a way. It’ll pass.” Starscream patted him on the chassis, and told himself not to let his hand wander. Even though all he wanted to do was push Rodimus back into the berth and kiss him senseless.

“You’ll get used to it,” Deadlock offered.

Rodimus squinted and looked past Starscream. “Why are you here?” His armor ruffled and his field burst out, as though physically trying to shove Deadlock from the room. His indignation was ridiculously adorable.

Starscream wisely did not say so aloud.

“Just checking in,” Deadlock purred, his optics going half-shuttered in a show of lechery. Of the two, Starscream didn’t know which was the bigger brat. Honestly.

“Well, Starscream’s obviously fine, so you can leave now,” Rodimus muttered, his lips forming a pout that had no business being so cute. He actually had the courage to flick his hands in dismissal.

Starscream managed to muffle his snicker before Rodimus caught it, but the amusement in his field slipped free. Hopefully, only Deadlock picked up on it.

Deadlock shifted his weight, projecting an aura of menace. “Make me.” Peripherally, Starscream caught him baring his denta as he folded his arms over his chestplate.

They’d be friends someday. Starscream was sure of it. Deadlock had a way of getting under your plating, no matter how irritating he could be, and Rodimus had already proven to have the same talent.

“As cute as I find your jealousy, it’s unnecessary,” Starscream said as he shifted closer to Rodimus, who had finally retracted his cable and closed the panel to his array. “And you, stop goading him,” he threw over his shoulder.

“But it’s so much fun!”

Rodimus tossed Deadlock a glare.

Starscream intercepted Rodimus’ attention, sliding his hand up Rodimus’ chassis, between his headlights. “You didn’t tell me good morning,” he murmured as Rodimus’ optics slid back toward him.

“Sorry,” Rodimus said with a sheepish duck of his head. His glossa swept over his lips as he leaned closer. “Make it up to you with a kiss?”

“That’s acceptable.”

Starscream closed the distance between them, letting their mouths come together in a warm, slow kiss. Rodimus curled an arm around Starscream’s chassis, tugging him closer, deepening the kiss with a sweep of his glossa. His field rose up, surrounding Starscream in a secondary embrace, one thick and heavy with affection.

“Mm, that’ll do,” Starscream said as he pulled back, pressing his forehead to Rodimus’.

Rodimus chuckled quietly. “Good morning, Starscream.”

“Ah, young love,” Deadlock drawled and then made several purging noises. “Okay, I’m out. Star, there’s a tray of coolant and energon for you and the kid here. Don’t forget what I asked!”

“I already did, aft,” Starscream retorted as he drew back from Rodimus and rolled his optics. “But thanks for the refreshments.”

The door opened, and a flood of obnoxious, beeping noises became audible. Deadlock planted himself in the doorway and stooped, lifting something from the floor.

“Oh, by the way, this little guy’s been waiting all night,” he said as he turned and abruptly tossed something in their direction.

Starscream’s optics widened, but it was Rodimus who all but launched himself from the berth, snatched the flying object out of the air, and tucked himself into a roll as he landed, coming out of it on his feet. Starscream’s optics widened in surprise and approval. The Firebrand was not as unskilled as he claimed.

“Why would you do that?” Rodimus demanded, his spoiler flicking up as he cuddled one of the drones against his chestplate.

Deadlock arched an orbital ridge. “I have better aim than you think. He would’ve landed on the bed.”

The drone in Rodimus’ arms honked aggressively, its wheels spinning so fast that they whirred. If it could speak Cybertronian, Starscream imagined it would be cursing.

“That’s not the point!” Rodimus snapped.

Deadlock just grinned, denta sharp and menacing. “It’s exactly the point.” He winked and wriggled his fingers. “Later!”

The door slid shut behind him, cutting off the other drones from entering. Which meant that Rodimus probably held Scuttle.

“He’s such an aft,” Rodimus muttered as he turned back toward Starscream, fingers gently stroking over the drone’s back.

One glance and Starscream knew that it was Scuttle indeed. “He’s testing you,” he observed.

“By throwing a drone?”

“It was barely a toss, and Scuttle would’ve landed on the berth just fine.” Starscream waved off Rodimus’ concern. “I would have caught him.”

Rodimus’ lips drew into a pout. “That’s not the point.” Scuttle beeped and wriggled as if agreeing with him, several long trills coming from its frame like it was complaining to Rodimus.

“Don’t let him fool you. He’s just as attached to the drones, though he hides it better.” Starscream shrugged and shifted on the berth, patting the empty space beside him. “Come on. Put Scuttle out and join me.”

Rodimus looked up and grinned. “Put him out, hm?” The grin turned lascivious. “Did you have something in mind?”

Starscream rolled his optics. “Don’t you start, too.”

Rodimus chuckled and obeyed, though Scuttle protested the entire time. Starscream watched as the drone beeped and honked and tried to run back inside, just as it had last night, before Rodimus quickly shut the door.

“He’s really attached to me,” Rodimus said as he came back to the berth, sliding in next to Starscream with a purr of his engine.

“I’ve noticed,” Starscream replied dryly. He peered at the table where Deadlock had left the tray.

He’d been kind enough to share his stock of grounder-grade coolant with Rodimus, and he’d pulled the treats Starscream had been saving out of the storage bin. There was also a cube of mid-grade and a container of flight-grade coolant for Starscream. It was almost enough to earn Starscream’s forgiveness.

Almost.

“Does that upset you?” Rodimus asked.

Starscream leaned over and snagged the tray, dragging it over to the berth between he and Rodimus. There was nothing wrong with spending the day lounging around in the berth with a cute partner, was there? Besides, it would be a good buffer for what was sure to be a tense conversation.

“No,” Starscream answered with a shake of his head. “It would, if you treated him badly, but since you don’t, I’m glad.” He could share one of his drones. So long as it was one.

“I promise to only usurp the one.” Rodimus grinned and peered at the tray. “I love that you still have these by the way,” he said as he picked up one of the treats and popped it into his mouth. “Loses a bit of the flavor after awhile though.”

“Then I suppose you’ll have to make more,” Starscream said and urged the coolant toward the Firebrand. “Drink. I’m sure you need it.”

“Oh, you’re a medic now?”

“The closest we’ve got to one.” Starscream smirked.

Rodimus grinned and obeyed. “Oh, but that does remind me! Wrench gave me a box of stuff for you. It’s in my pack. I guess I have his blessing?” He rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “Can’t ever tell with that old rust-aft.”

“I see his charm hasn’t changed over the years.”

“He has charm?”

Starscream grinned, shoved another treat into his mouth, and sank back into the berth, this time on his back, letting it cradle his wings. He’d save his coolant for later.

Both berth and tray jostled as Rodimus clambered over him, only to cuddle up to his side. “So,” he said as he threw a leg over Starscream’s, his hand sliding along Starscream’s chassis. “What’s next?”

“I’m taking a rest day,” Starscream said. He snagged a pillow and tucked it behind his head, making it easier for him to look at the mech snuggled up next to him. “And we… probably should talk.”

Rodimus stiffened, and his field went still. “Is it a good talk?”

“I’m not throwing you out, if that’s what you’re worried about. I just want to make sure we are on the same page, so to speak,” Starscream murmured. He slid an arm around Rodimus’ chassis, his fingers stroking Rodimus’ spinal strut.

The Firebrand melted against him. “Oh. That makes sense.” He audibly cycled a ventilation. “What do you want to know?”

Starscream braced himself. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.” Rodimus’ head pillowed on Starscream’s shoulder, his fingers played over Starscream’s belly. “And it’s not because you’re a second choice or whatever. Yeah, I didn’t get my brand, and yeah, I had this whole unrequited love thing going on, but coming to terms with both of those is why I came here.”

Starscream frowned. Unrequited love? He suspected that had something to do with Sunstreaker, and perhaps Sideswipe to a lesser extent. Rodimus had mentioned them enough.

“I see.”

“I’m not sure you do.” Rodimus sighed a ventilation and shifted a little, propping himself on his elbow to look up at Starscream. “It’s like, you think you only have these options, and you think you’re stuck, but then a whole new world opens up to you, and you realize that this is what you’ve been looking for. And you feel stupid-lucky that you found it.”

Starscream’s spark stuttered. He worked his intake. “It was a curious turn of fate that brought you here,” he managed to get out through the static trying to glitch his vocalizer.

“Fate. Luck. Coincidence. Something like that.” Rodimus shrugged and snuggled into Starscream’s side again. “Whatever it was, I’m just glad for it.” His field nudged against Starscream’s, the edges of it trying to knit with Starscream’s own.

Starscream stroked Rodimus’ back gently. “Thank you,” he murmured. “And I apologize for doubting you.”

“I’m getting the feeling you have your reasons. You don’t have to talk about them if you don’t want to though.” Rodimus’ voice was soft and sincere. His ex-vents tickled against Starscream’s intake.

He should at least tell Rodimus something.

Starscream nibbled on his bottom lip. “Someday I will,” he finally allowed. There were too many raw wounds to open himself entirely to Rodimus just yet. “And for what it’s worth, you are welcome here as long as you want to stay.”

“Then I suppose I’m staying forever.” He felt more than saw Rodimus’ grin. “Besides, what would Scuttle do without me?”

Starscream chuckled. “A fair question.” He blindly groped for one of the treats and offered it to Rodimus, who nipped playfully at his fingertips before accepting it.

“So we just… take it one day at a time then?” Rodimus suggested as he traced Starscream’s seams over and over, the touch too light to be arousing, and just shy of being ticklish. “Get to know each other for real. And I guess put up with Deadlock, too.”

Starscream chuckled. “You’ll get used to him.” He curled his arm, stroking his fingers down Rodimus’ backstrut, between his spoiler. “I’m glad you came back.”

“So am I.” Rodmus shifted and pulled himself up, their faces inches apart, and his optics bright and earnest. “It’s the best decision I ever made.”

Another kiss was inevitable, and probably the third and fourth, too. Starscream sighed as Rodimus’ mouth covered his, and his frame, as the heat and affection of the Firebrand surrounded him. It was almost too easy to fall under Rodimus’ sway, to let inexperienced but curious fingers track over his frame, exploring where he’d yet to investigate. Easier, still, to turn his fingers toward Rodimus, tracing seams and kibble still unfamiliar to him.

“Mmmm.” Rodimus hummed into the kiss, heat wafting from his frame to tease against Starscream’s own. “Wait, wait. Before we get started.” He pulled back, licking his lips. “I’ve got something for you.”

Starscream chuckled and leaned in for another kiss, only for Rodimus to lean back with a determined moue of his lips. “Really? Right now?”

“I don’t want to forget again.” Yet, Rodimus’ fingers were no less busy, teasing Starscream’s seams, his frame rocking against Starscream’s as though his processor was of two minds about it.

“Fine,” Starscream grumbled. “If you feel you must. But don’t be surprised if I’m asleep when you get back.”

Rodimus laughed and brushed his lips over Starscream’s. “I’ll just have to find some way to wake you up then.” He nuzzled their noses before he climbed over Starscream and out of the berth. “Be back soon.”

Rodimus left, and Starscream’s berth was instantly colder without him. But the promise of returning sent a flush of warmth through his lines.

Starscream snuggled into the berth, ignoring the tacky, stickiness of his frame and listening to the quiet flutters of his spark. Rodimus had come back to him. For him. He almost couldn’t believe it.

He had no idea what tomorrow or next week or next year would bring. But he was determined to find out, to embrace this opportunity. He didn’t want to lose Rodimus, not as he had so many other things.

He wanted Rodimus to be his.

And he thanked Primus that it seemed Rodimus wanted the same thing.

~

Rodimus slipped out of Starscream’s room and almost tripped over Scuttle, who immediately zoomed into his left foot. He chuckled and crouched to pat the drone on the top of his frame.

“Yes, you missed me. I get it,” he said. “And I’m not leaving again if I can help it. Promise.”

Scuttle beeped and nudged against his fingers as if to say ‘you’d better’ before he twirled away and around Rodimus in uneven circles. Rodimus laughed again and rose back to his feet.

The tower was eerily quiet. He could hear other drones moving around, in their various stations, but of Deadlock, there was no sign. Rodimus didn’t really know what room was Deadlock’s, or where the other mech could be. Frankly, he’d rather avoid Deadlock for awhile longer yet.

He headed downstairs, where he’d left his pack, only to find it wasn’t there anymore. Had Starscream moved it? Probably up to his room then. But first…

Rodimus retrieved a damp rag from the washroom on the lowest floor. They could do an in-depth cleaning later, but it would be a nice gesture to wipe Starscream down. Plus, it would give him an excuse to put his hands all over Starscream’s frame. Not that he needed the excuse.

Rodimus grinned and took the lift all the way back to the level which held the room he’d used the last time he was here. He didn’t know if he and Starscream were going to share from now on or not, but it was probably a good idea for him to have his own space nonetheless. They were still all but strangers.

That would change with time, but until then, a little privacy wasn’t unexpected. Living together would be difficult enough.

His pack was indeed here, sitting in a dusty pile by the end of the berth. Scuttle squeaked in outrage and ran toward the bag, bumping into it and sending a puff of dust into the air.

“Yes, I know. It’s dirty.” Rodimus rolled his optics and crouched over the bag, digging through the contents, which had left it stuffed nearly to the top.

Between his supplies, Wrench’s gift, Sideswipe’s gift, and Sunstreaker’s gift, there was hardly any room left. The item he’d brought for Starscream specifically had shifted to the bottom of the pack, and Rodimus had a moment of panic that it had been broken. Relief whooshed out of his vents, however, when he pulled it free and it was unharmed.

Thank Primus.

He rose to his feet and nudged the bag shut with the tip of his foot. He pushed it under the berth in a clump of grit, which Scuttle berated noisily. Silly thing.

Rodimus chuckled, hefted the item, and turned around, only to startle and nearly drop his gifts. Deadlock was standing there, leaning against the wall by the doorway, his arms crossed over his chassis. Rodimus had neither heard the door open or Deadlock’s footsteps!

Rodimus’ spark nearly leapt into his intake. “What the frag!” he snapped. “How long have you–”

“We should talk,” Deadlock cut in with a tone far too mild for the expression on his face. It was a smile, but only in the faintest definition of the term. “Don’t you think?”

Rodimus narrowed his optics and clutched his armful defensively. “Is this the part where you threaten me?”

Deadlock waved a dismissive hand and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, as if to highlight all of the empty scabbards on his frame. “Threatening you is redundant at this point. I think you already know what I’ll do if you’re here to hurt him.”

“I’m not,” Rodimus snapped as Scuttle made a low, confused sound and huddled against his right foot. “Not that it’s any of your business.” His armor flared and flattened around his frame defensively.

A chuckle rolled out of Deadlock’s frame. His denta – his pointed denta, dear Primus – glinted in the overhead light. “You’ve got bolts, I’ll give you that much.” He tilted his head, leaning harder against the wall. “But my Star’s not a toy. If you’re just here to play, you’ll find out who really earned the title ‘Deathbringer’ around these parts. Got me?”

“I don’t have to prove myself to you,” Rodimus said hotly, his spoiler going high and rigid as his spark pounded in his chassis. Menace coiled from Deadlock’s frame, and Rodimus was probably very outclassed.

But he wasn’t going to bow down and give in either. That wasn’t in his nature. He’d never yielded without a fight.

“The only person who’s opinion matters to me here is Starscream’s,” Rodimus added as he directed a glare at Deadlock. “He’s who I came back for and he’s why I’m staying. I don’t care if you or anyone else doesn’t like it. As long as he wants me here, I’m not leaving.”

Deadlock’s smile grew broader. He pushed off the doors, hands sliding down from their fold, every inch of him screaming danger. “Is that so?”

Rodimus tossed his head and stood his ground. He’d trained with Springer and Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. He wasn’t afraid of Deadlock. The aft had nothing on a furious Sunstreaker who thought he’d been slighted.

“It is,” Rodimus said.

“Hmm.” Deadlock circled him, like a predator might stare down its prey. “You sure? He can be an aft sometimes. He whines when he doesn’t get his way, and he’s got a sharp glossa. I know for a fact he built the drones because he can’t clean up after himself, and he’s got more baggage than a cargo hold. Still sound like someone you wanna take home to your clan?”

Rodimus’ optics narrowed in suspicion as he turned with Deadlock, unwilling to give the other mech his back.

“Yes. I plan on claiming him as soon as he’ll let me,” Rodimus replied, getting a sense now that he was being evaluated and judged. A feeling he didn’t like one bit.

His only consolation was that Starscream was going to go through the very same thing as soon as he met Sunstreaker.

Deadlock laughed, and at least it didn’t sound mocking. “That’s all I wanted to hear, Firebrand,” he said, and clapped a hand on Rodimus’ shoulder with more force than was necessary. “So long as we understand each other.”

Rodimus shrugged out from under Deadlock’s hand and twisted toward the door. He didn’t like the idea of leaving Deadlock alone in here, with his pack open and all too inviting, but he disliked being cornered even less.

“You’re an aft,” he said.

Deadlock grinned, wider and sharper. “So I’ve heard. But an aft that protects the things he cares about, so you better be genuine, kid.”

“I’m not a kid either!” Rodimus growled, tightening his grip on the items in his arms. Scuttle twirled around his feet, nearly causing him to trip. “Just back off and mind your own business.”

“Primus, you’re perfect for each other.” Deadlock’s chuckles grated on Rodimus’ patience. But he flicked a hand in Rodimus’ direction. “Go on then. Before Star hollers for you.”

Rodimus glared. “I don’t need your permission,” he spat before he whirled on a heel and stormed out from the room. Scuttle honked in Deadlock’s direction and spun out after Rodimus with a whine of his tires.

Deadlock’s laughter followed him out. Rodimus twitched and forced himself to cycle several ventilations. He knew an assessment when he saw one, and Deadlock was definitely sussing him out. Rodimus didn’t blame him, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

He returned to Starscream’s room, pleased when it opened for him automatically, and shooed Scuttle out when he tried to follow Rodimus inside. It broke his spark a little to hear Scuttle’s beep of complaint, but he’d make it up to the drone later.

“About time you got back,” Starscream murmured sleepily. He was stretched across the berth, all inviting, and the tray of goodies had been emptied.

Rodimus would just have to make more, he supposed.

“I was waylaid by Deadlock,” Rodimus replied as he dropped Wrench’s box onto a nearby table and kept the item he’d brought. He joined Starscream on the berth. “He’s really protective of you.”

“Mm. The feeling is mutual.” Starscream rolled toward him and offered the sleepiest grin, one that made Rodimus’ spark flutter. “What did you bring me?”

Now that he was here, Rodimus felt foolish for making such a big deal out of it. Heat filled his face as he perched on the edge of the berth, and Starscream pulled himself upright.

“It’s nothing special,” Rodimus said as he scrubbed the back of his neck with one hand and offered the item with the other. “It’s just, I was thinking about you while I was gone and I made this. And it’s kind of a clan-tradition, that if something is inspired by another person, it’s meant to be a gift. So it’s yours.”

He handed it over, this larger and more detailed carving of Starscream, of what he thought Starscream’s alt-mode might look like based on what he’d been told of Seekers and the kibble on Starscream’s frame. He didn’t know how accurate it was. He’d just been thinking of Starscream and let his fingers do the shaping.

Starscream’s optics brightened as he accepted the carving. He turned it over and over in his hands, his long fingers carefully tracing the shapes and edges Rodimus had worked into it.

“It’s not much,” Rodimus repeated, embarrassed now that he’d made such a point to go get it. In anyone else’s hands, the carving would have been a thing of beauty. But Rodimus’ lack of talent showed all too well, in the uneven sanding, the hesitant lines, the disproportionate wings, and the lack of overall symmetry.

“It’s lovely,” Starscream murmured with appreciation in his voice, and it didn’t even sound false. “I found the others, you know. The ones you left behind. They have pride of place on my desk.”

The heat in Rodimus’ cheeks sent sparks up into his finials. “Really?”

“Indeed.” Starscream looked up at him with a soft, sincere smile. “Don’t underestimate the value of something that’s a gift. It means more than you can know. Thank you.”

Rodimus scooted closer, his spark hammering faster in his chassis. “You’re welcome.” He brushed his arm against Starscream’s, felt the heat of Starscream’s plating against his. “I’m, um, I’m really glad you decided to give us a chance.”

“Of course I did.” Starscream cycled a ventilation, his hands tightening around the carving. “I have been… lonelier than I cared to admit. And I’ve spent the last weeks alternating between being angry at myself for driving you away, and convincing myself it was the best thing to do, because you’d only leave anyway.”

Rodimus’ own ventilations caught in his intake. He held himself still, as if moving would shatter the moment, and the obvious vulnerability Starscream allowed him to see.

Starscream looked down at the carving, his optics softening. “I never imagined that you’d return on your own, or that I’d be so happy to see you. It took me by surprise, I’ll admit.” His thumbs swept over the wings of the carving. “I want you to stay, not that I’ll force you to do so, but know that, if it were up to me alone, you’d never leave.”

“Then I don’t want to,” Rodimus blurted out, because the mix of sadness and happiness in Starscream’s field made his spark ache. He put his hand over Starscream’s, squeezing gently. “Leave, I mean. I came back because I realized this is the only place I want to be.”

Starscream turned toward him, free hand cupping Rodimus’ face as he suddenly pulled Rodimus into a kiss, sweeter than all the ones he’d given before. His field swirled against Rodimus’, warm and affectionate and hopeful. It opened to Rodimus, where Starscream had been hesitant and closed before.

Starscream drew back from the kiss, chaste in comparison, but it left Rodimus warm and tingling. “Thank you,” he murmured.

The heat in Rodimus’ cheeks returned. “For what?”

Starscream leaned his forehead against Rodimus’. “For saving me. In more ways than just the coding.” He brushed his thumb over Rodimus’ cheek before he eased back, leaning away to set the carving on the nearby end table. “Now. I do believe we were in the middle of something earlier.”

Rodimus grinned. “Yes, we were.”

There was opportunity here. Starscream was distracted by reclaiming his balance, and so Rodimus pounced, knocking him back to the berth. He ended up perched on top of Starscream’s hips, the Seeker splayed out beneath him, optics wide and a smile curving his lips.

“Oh, no. It seems you’ve caught me,” Starscream said with an arched orbital ridge and nothing of surrender in his expression. His glossa flicked over his lips as he rolled his frame beneath Rodimus. “Whatever are you going to do now?”

Rodimus laughed and leaned over the Seeker, brushing the tips of their noses together. “First, I think I’ll kiss you,” he said. “And then I think I’ll touch you. Since I’ve got a lot to learn and all, I’d like to get started now.”

Long-fingered hands settled on his hips, holding them gently. “We have all the time in the world,” Starscream murmured.

“I know. But I feel like I’ve been waiting too long already.” Rodimus almost felt stupid for such romantic words, but when Starscream’s face lit up with delight, regret was the last thing on his processor.

Kissing Starscream saved him from saying anything else. As did pressing their lips together, the edges of their fields knitting and forming a single, united rhythm. Heat filled the air between them, desire and longing pulsing in tandem in his spark.

Nothing had ever felt so right until this moment. He’d never been so happy. He felt like he’d finally found where he belonged.

Here. In the middle of the Barrens. With the Deathbringer and his army of cleaning drones, in his tower of wonders with the greatest of them all, the Seeker himself.

This, Rodimus decided, was home.

[TF] Trial By Fire 12

There was a buzzing in his audials. A persistent, irritating, buzzing.

Starscream growled and batted at it absently, but struck nothing. He frowned harder and surfaced from his calculations, just as the buzzing turned into both words and a low, persistent chime.

“What the frag is that noise?” he asked, to no one in particular. It wasn’t as though he expected his drones to answer.

“I think someone’s at the front gate.”

Starscream startled and whipped around. Primus all mighty! He’d forgotten Deadlock was in the laboratory with him, a fact which amused his friend greatly as Deadlock burst into laughter and uncoiled himself from the seductive lounge he’d assumed. He rose to his pedes, stretching his arms over his head.

“Or am I wrong?” Deadlock asked with a cheeky grin.

Starscream shook himself and shuffled over a few steps, tapping his claws over the console to bring up his security system. His joints protested, reminding him that he’d been bent over his desk for the better part of the day.

Ouch.

But the blinking indicator on the screen did not lie. There was indeed someone pinging his front entrance. Someone who had walked right through his concealing hologram, so either they got lucky or knew exactly where to look.

Starscream sighed. “It’s probably another Firebrand thinking to berth the Warlock of the Wastelands.” Perhaps Rodimus had lied and spilled his internals after all.

Starscream rolled his optics. He should have known better than to trust a clanling.

“I’ll handle it.” Deadlock flashed his fangs, his optics gleaming. He said that with a little too much glee, in Starscream’s opinion, but whatever entertained.

Starscream waved him off. “Feel free. You’ve been lazing around here anyway. Might as well earn your keep.”

“I thought I did that by fragging you,” Deadlock purred as he leaned in, nipping on Starscream’s audial.

He was far too fast, however, for the smack Starscream tried to give him. Deadlock danced out of the way, and right out of the laboratory, off to do his duty of chasing away whatever unwanted guest had come. That he left with a laugh was just topper on the oilcake.

Starscream sighed and tried to get back to work, though amusement now tugged at him. Trust Deadlock to remember all the best ways to pull him out of his head. Though, frag it all, he’d completely lost his place in his equations now.

Not that it was as big of a concern now as it had been back when that Firebrand, Rodimus, had been here. Starscream’s systems were purring like a well-oiled machine, high on Rodimus and Deadlock’s code alike.

So long as Deadlock was here, Starscream could take it easy. And feel a little less lonely. He hadn’t realized how empty his home and laboratory were. How much the sounds echoed. Not even his drones could fill the silence.

Starscream often talked to himself in lieu of conversation with another sentient being, honestly. Not that Rodimus was the epitome of intelligence, but he’d been entertaining. Humorous. Charming when he didn’t try so hard.

Starscream scrubbed a hand down his face. This was pointless. He was ridiculous. Mooning over some pretty Firebrand who was no doubt already riding high on his bragging, sprinting eagerly toward that branding ceremony he so desperately wanted. Compared to that, what did Starscream have to offer, here in isolation maintained by fear and cheap theatrics?

His comm chirped. ‘Star.’

“What?” he demanded, both aloud and over the comm. “Is one lost clanling too much for you to handle?”

‘No, you aft,’ Deadlock replied, no offense in his tone. ‘You have a visitor.’

Starscream set down his stylus with an annoyed click and turned away from the table. “I’m aware of that. You’re supposed to be chasing them away.”

Not this one.

Aggravation peaked. If this was another one of Deadlock’s not at all hilarious jump scares, Starscream was going to rip his spike off for real this time. He did not appreciate being startled.

He stalked out of his laboratory and didn’t bother with the slowly spiraling ramp. Instead, he leapt over the edge of the railing, and with carefully directed bursts of his thrusters, dropped down to the ground floor.

“This had better be important,” he snarled as he came around the bannister, hands drawing into slow fists. “I’m not in the mood to–”

A mech stood in the doorway. A very familiar mech, in painfully bright shades of red and orange and yellow, though some of it had been scoured away by heat and sun. A familiar cloak sat across his shoulders, less frayed since it had been patched, and he carried a bag slung over one of his shoulders.

“Like I said,” Deadlock drawled from where he’d stepped aside, as though making it a point that Rodimus would be the first thing Starscream saw. “It’s for you.”

Starscream flicked his wings. “I can see that,” he said curtly, and told his fool spark to stop beating frantically. “What are you doing here?”

Rodimus’ smile slipped, but didn’t fade entirely. He fidgeted. “I was in the neighborhood,” he said, but if he was trying to be flippant, it fell flat. “And I realized, you know, I left something behind.”

Starscream’s optics narrowed. He’d all but scrubbed his tower from top to bottom and he’d gathered everything Rodimus had forgotten, most of it scraps that he’d assumed were meant to be discarded. Unless, of course, Rodimus meant the little carvings. Starscream might have mistaken those to be gifts.

Too bad. They were his now. He refused to return them.

“Oh, really? And what was that?” Starscream asked, folding his arms over his cockpit. Did he look defensive? Probably. Did he care?

Not one frag.

Rodimus fidgeted again. “It was… uh…” His optics slid toward Deadlock as he gnawed on his bottom lip. The hand holding the strap of his bag tightened. “I mean…”

“Just spit it out, Rodimus. In case you’ve forgotten, I am a busy mech,” Starscream snapped, without caring how rude he sounded. Or how Rodimus flinched.

The brightness of the Firebrand’s optics dimmed before he shook his head. “Oh, slag it,” he muttered, and dropped his bag with a dull thunk. He strode inside as though he had the right, like he belonged.

Starscream scarcely had time to blink, much less contemplate Rodimus’ strange behavior, before the distance between them was nothing. Rodimus’ hands cupped his face, his mouth falling over Starscream’s in a rushed, desperate kiss.

Starscream’s optics widened. He might have squeaked. Rodimus’ glossa never touched his, but the pressure of his mouth was warm and firm, the stroke of his field equally so. His fingers held Starscream so gently, and then the kiss was over, Starscream’s lips tingling in the aftermath.

Words escaped him.

Starscream stared, surprised, his lips parted as Rodimus looked at him, probably expectant. His hands slid away from Starscream’s face, his field shifting from determined to uncertain. And it only darkened further the longer Starscream said nothing.

His processor had flat-lined. Logic failed him.

Rodimus had kissed him. Kissed him like it meant something. Like he’d been wanting to do that for a long, long time. Like Starscream was someone precious he’d missed.

“I… uh… I’m sorry,” Rodimus stammered, his optics slanting toward Deadlock nervously. His armor clamped as if awaiting an attack. “Should I not have done that?”

Starscream’s glossa swept over his lips, but the kiss had not been enough to let a taste linger. They hadn’t kissed before. He hadn’t known it could be so sweet.

“You kissed me.”

Rodimus cycled his optics. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Rodimus asked, and he shifted from foot to foot, still side-eying Deadlock nervously. “Isn’t that what one mech does when he likes another one? Though considering I’m still trying to figure out if you’re going to punch me or not, maybe I’m wrong.”

Deadlock laughed, and it came out more of a wheeze, as though it was all the laugh he’d allow himself. “He ain’t gonna deck ya, kid.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Rodimus retorted, and he looked at Starscream again, something painfully earnest in his voice. “Please, say something? I mean, if I was out of line, I’m sorry, and I’ll leave now.”

Starscream shook his head. “You surprised me,” he said, and his lips quirked into a smirk, relying on it to cover up the way his spark was suddenly pulsing a faster rhythm. “And that barely qualifies as a kiss.”

Rodimus’ mouth dropped, and it was Starscream’s turn to take him by surprise, to hook his fingers in the jut of Rodimus’ chestplate and yank the Firebrand close to him. Their mouths clashed together, with more fire, more pressure, and Starscream introduced his glossa, let it ask permission before Rodimus’ joined the fray.

He tasted like grit and mid-grade, but it was the heat of the kiss, the eagerness of it, that made Starscream’s circuits sing. A low sound rose in his intake, and Starscream didn’t dare identify it. Instead, he ended the kiss, pulling back slowly, his glossa sweeping over his lips as though trying to hold on to the feeling.

They stared at each other, Rodimus a little dazed, Starscream still struggling to find the words that wouldn’t betray him. He had so much to say, and was wary of all of it.

“Okay,” Rodimus finally said, and his field unfurled, pressing up against Starscream’s in warm entreaty. “You’re right. That was a better kiss.”

Deadlock snorted a laugh.

Starscream’s lips curved. “Yes, it was.” He loosened his grip on Rodimus’ chestplate. The awkwardness was setting back in, and he wasn’t sure how to address it.

He ignored it for the moment, moving past Rodimus to hit the panel for the door to close. Bursts of wind had swept a thin layer of sand over the entry floor. He could already hear the zoom and beep of approaching drones – Scurry and Scamper most likely. Though if Scuttle had any indication Rodimus was here, it would make an appearance, too.

“So I’ll just leave you two to talk,” Deadlock said, his voice weirdly loud in the awkward silence, or perhaps because of it. He was already backing away from them. “Star, I’ll be in my room if you need me. Firebrand? You watch yourself.”

Rodimus twitched when Deadlock addressed him, and offered a nod of understanding. Deadlock patted Starscream on the shoulder, with a little squeeze, and then he turned for the ramp, climbing upward.

“He’s very protective of you,” Rodimus observed, perhaps meant to be a statement, but Starscream read the question in his voice. If there was jealousy in his voice, Starscream wondered if he imagined it.

“We escaped the cities together.” Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit and circled around Rodimus, facing him once more. “We’re protective of each other. But if you’re trying to ask whether or not we’re mates, the answer is ‘no’.”

“Oh.”

Starscream sighed and scrubbed at his face, unsure how to catalogue Rodimus’ comment. “Why did you come back, Rodimus? What did you hope to accomplish?”

“I thought the kiss was self-explanatory.” He rubbed the back of his head, gaze drifting downward. “I spent this whole time trying to forget you, and I failed. So I came back to see if you felt the same way.”

He wanted to believe the Firebrand. And yes, Rodimus was still a Firebrand as far as Starscream could tell. He bore no brand save the usual markings that identified his clan and family unit.

“Or maybe you needed proof of your dalliance with the Deathbringer,” Starscream drawled with another slow circle around Rodimus. He hadn’t survived this long by being stupid.

Rodimus’ optics widened with genuine distress. “No!” He shook his head and slashed a hand through the air. “That’s not it at all. I didn’t even tell anyone I found you. I mean, yeah, Wrench seemed to figure it out pretty quick, and I had to tell Sunny or he would’ve given me that sad look, and I think Optimus is prescient or something, but I swear I kept your secret where it matters!”

“Wrench?” Starscream blinked and a little laugh burbled out of him. “That rusty old aft is still functioning? Primus, I thought he had one foot in the Pit even when I met him a century ago!” Come to think of it, Rodimus had mentioned the name before but for some reason, it hadn’t registered then.

Rodimus’ finials twitched. “You know him?”

“Of course I do! He helped me find this place, and taught me enough medical skills to get by.” Starscream gestured at Rodimus’ abdomen, which clearly benefited from seeing an actual medic compared to Starscream’s amateur attempts. He could hardly tell that Rodimus had been injured. “How else do you think I knew how to patch you up?”

Rodimus shrugged and gave Starscream a sheepish look. “Code-stealer,” he said, echoing the many, many titles Starscream had acquired out here. “I figured you just, I dunno, absorbed it from someone.”

“Absorbed?” Starscream burst into laughter, the idea of it so absurd he couldn’t fathom anything else. “That’s not how it works!”

Rodimus’ face heated. “Well, I don’t know!” He crossed his arms, spoiler lifting up and down. “It’s not like they teach Seeker customs or anything.” He huffed a ventilation, embarrassment wafting in his field. He stared hard at the ground, heat sparking his finials.

If he wasn’t still so damn adorable…

Starscream’s grin widened, and the tension started to ease away. He believed Rodimus. He wasn’t sure why he did, but if Wrench liked the kid, Starscream supposed the rust-aft knew what he was doing. Wrench was a decent judge of character.

Still.

“I’ll explain later,” Starscream said, and tried to steer the conversation back on track. Rodimus had just admitted that several mechs knew of Starscream. “Who is Optimus?”

“Our Prime,” Rodimus answered, his shoulders still hunched. “Sort of our spiritual and civilian leader, I guess.”

Starscream tilted his head. “And he figured out you’d met me?” Should he consider himself in danger? Did this Optimus believe Starscream to be a threat?

“I guess I’m not as good a liar as I think I am. I told everyone I ran into another clan and they helped fix me up.” Rodimus shrugged, his field retreating back into his frame, as misery leaked out. “It wasn’t hard to get people to believe that I’d gotten myself into trouble, in over my head, and as a result, failed at everything I set out to do.”

Starscream stepped closer. “But you didn’t fail.” His spark squeezed. Rodimus had not bragged. The irritating, arrogant Firebrand could have boasted about all manner of things, but he’d opted to conceal Starscream entirely. Or, well, as much as he could at any rate.

Rodimus huffed a ventilation and rolled his optics. He looked up, making a broad gesture at his own chestplate. “Do you see a brand on my chassis?”

That rankled. Or it hurt. Maybe both. It felt like a smack to the face, a reminder that he wasn’t good enough either. That people left him for a reason.

“Good to know I’m a last resort.” Starscream arched an orbital ridge, holding onto his composure with a thin thread.

Rodimus went still, his optics wide with horror. “That’s not what I meant!” he spluttered. His mouth opened and closed as though he were going to argue further, but couldn’t find the words.

Starscream sighed and scrubbed at his forehead. “And if you’d gotten the brand you wanted, would you even be here right now?” That, indeed, was the important question.

Silence.

Starscream dropped his hand and stared at the Firebrand, whose gaze had once more dropped. Rodimus gnawed on his lower lip, hands fisted at his side. At least he hadn’t blurted out a false answer. But he hadn’t immediately responded in the positive either.

“That’s what I thought.” Starscream spun on a heelstrut so he wouldn’t have to look at Rodimus and betray the disappointment building in his own expression. “I live out here alone because I want to. I had grown fond of your company, yes. And I had been feeling lonely. But I have more self-respect than to be some kind of consolation prize.”

It would hurt, but what in Starscream’s functioning hadn’t been pain? He’d survived slavery. He’d survived city life. He’d survived countless foreign planets in search of fertile grounds to seed.

He’d survive this, too.

Rodimus’ engine growled. “That’s not what you are. That’s not what I meant.” Air hissed from his vents. “Yeah, okay. I didn’t make warrior. I didn’t earn my brand, but I also didn’t try very hard. I wanted it for all the wrong reasons anyway.”

Starscream folded his arms and drew his armor in tight. “I’m listening.” Not that it would change anything. He wasn’t going to be anyone’s back-up plan. Either he mattered, or he didn’t. He refused to tread the line.

“I just… I wanted to be important, okay?” Rodimus said, his vocals taking on something like a plea. “To feel like I finally belonged, that I mattered. And warriors, they’re important. They’re special. They earn things.”

Starscream nibbled on his bottom lip. There was yearning in Rodimus’ tone, something beyond wanting a brand. Something, perhaps, he’d lost because he hadn’t been branded.

“And I’m just not good at anything else!” Rodimus added with a fierceness to his voice that sounded pained. “Though I’m barely good at fighting. My brother, now he’s the warrior. Springer’s going to be Warchief someday. Everyone says so. And here I am, the frag up. Always left behind. Good, but never good enough.”

Rodimus ex-vented loudly, his armor creaking. “But when I was here, I didn’t have to pretend. You didn’t know anything about me. I could just be me, and I was, and yeah, you were annoyed to have company, but you weren’t annoyed because it was me. And when we finally started talking, you actually looked at me. Talked to me. It was the first time I ever felt like I was me.”

Starscream slowly turned. It was a babbling mess, but it was earnest. It was honest. And it resonated inside of Starscream, making his spark ache.

Rodimus stared at the floor, seeing without seeing, his optics bright and pained. His hands were fists at his side, his spoiler halves vibrating.

“I thought I belonged with my clan, that’s the way things were supposed to be, but as soon as I was gone, all I could think about was how much I wanted to be back here. With you.” Rodimus worked his intake and lifted his gaze. “I don’t know if that would have changed if I’d earned my badge. I don’t know if that would change how I felt about where I belonged. But I do know that I never felt like I mattered until I was here with you.”

Rodimus shook his head. “I know that doesn’t make any sense. I was only here for a week and half the time, I was a little brat. But that’s the way things go sometimes.” His lips curved, but it wasn’t a genuine smile. “You’re not a last resort, Starscream. I left everything I know behind because I chose to. I chose you.”

The words echoed around him.

“Why?” Starscream asked and surprised himself with how hushed his voice was. As equally pained and desperate as Rodimus’ own. “I have nothing to offer. I’m a Seeker. I’m meant to be disposable. Any member of your clan is worth more than the greatest of us, in the optics of the citylings.”

Rodimus shook his head fiercely. “I don’t believe that, and I know you don’t either.” He lurched forward, hands lifting before he seemed to think better of it, and he tucked them back at his side. “You’re the most intelligent, fascinating, and amazing mech I’ve ever met. Don’t let anyone else make you think otherwise.”

Warmth flooded Starscream and made his spark flutter and thank Primus, Deadlock had gone upstairs. Because he’d tease Starscream for years if he saw even an inch of the pleasure that suddenly lit up his face.

Maybe Rodimus was lying. Maybe this was all some clever, clanling ploy. Maybe Rodimus was just as confused now as he had been when he left, and he still didn’t really know what he wanted.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

The uncertainty didn’t stop Starscream from closing the distance between them. From curling one hand around Rodimus’ arm and the other cupping Rodimus’ face. It didn’t stop him from pausing long enough to search Rodimus’ optics before he leaned in and slanted his mouth over Rodimus’ again.

It felt so good to kiss Rodimus. So right. The Firebrand’s code still hummed within him, twisted and tangled with his own. Rodimus’ field brushed against his, warm and hopeful, yearning. He made a muffled sound and Starscream deepened the kiss, tasting him again, pressing their frames together, smelling the rust desert around Rodimus. His spark did cartwheels, whirling around in his chassis, and he dared call it delight.

He was glad that Rodimus came back.

Starscream ended the kiss and pressed his forehead to Rodimus’, feeling Rodimus jitter against him. “I believe you,” he said.

Relief exited Rodimus in a whoosh of ex-vent. “I’m glad.”

Starscream grinned and pulled back. “Come. Let’s get you some energon.” His hand slid down Rodimus’ arm, his fingers tangling with Rodimus’ slack ones. Sand and grit scratched at his paint, but he’d worry about that later.

Rodimus stared at him. “I don’t have to leave?”

Starscream squeezed his hand. “No.” He tugged, pulling Rodimus with him toward the lift, rather than take the ramp upward. “You can stay as long as you want to.”

“What if I never want to leave?”

Starscream’s spark throbbed. He hoped his tone managed to stay even. “Then I suppose I better get used to having a roommate.”

Rodimus squeezed his hand. “Guess so.” His field reached for Starscream’s, tentative at first, but gaining in confidence as it nudged warmly at Starscream’s.

He relented, letting the presence of the Firebrand wrap around him, still that odd mix of stranger and familiarity. The lift took them upward, Rodimus’ fingers still entangled with his own, as though he didn’t want to let go.

“Or, uh, two roommates, I guess,” Rodimus ventured as the lift stopped and rattled open, depositing them on the third level. “Since Deadlock is here…?”

More question than statement.

Starscream snorted. “He’s here. But he doesn’t stay. He comes back, however, so don’t think it’ll be the last you see of him.”

“He lives here?”

“Inasmuch as he ‘lives’ anywhere.” Starscream shrugged, and hoped he sounded more casual than he felt. “Deadlock wanders. It’s what he does.”

He didn’t let go of Rodimus until they were in the energon room. He nudged the Firebrand toward the table as he moved to find something for him to drink. Probably mid-grade, given how rough his engine sounded.

Scramble immediately beeped into view, crashing into the left side of Rodimus’ foot. The clanling bent down to pat the drone before he slipped into a seat.

“That’s pretty impressive,” Rodimus said. “For a former cityling to survive out here, all alone, without a clan to support him. He must be a great warrior.”

“He may have lived in the city, but he’s no cityling. Not with the life he lived.” Starscream chuckled. “And to hear him say it, he is a great warrior. Compliment him enough, and he might deign to spar with you.”

“Really?” Rodimus perked up. His optics brightened with that glow Starscream had long come to recognize as enthusiasm.

Primus, he was adorable.

“You’ll have to ask him.” Starscream said rummaged through the storage bin, seeking out the flavors he knew Rodimus had been fond of. As he did, his elbow jostled a very familiar box, and it went tumbling out before he could catch it.

The box hit the ground, and Scramble came thundering across the floor, nearly running over the box in its haste to clean up what it perceived as a mess. Thereby calling more attention to it.

Frag.

“Hey, are those the treats I made?” Rodimus leaned around the edge of the table to look, getting a good glimpse before Starscream swept up the box and crammed it back into storage. “You still have them?”

Embarrassment tugged at Starscream’s field. He filed it down and away. “There aren’t many left,” he admitted as he finally located the rust sprinkles and closed the bin with his hip. “I’m many things, but the chemistry of candies is beyond me.”

He would not mention the two pans he’d burned to slag in an attempt to recreate the tasty treats. Rust sticks he could handle. They were a matter of patience. The sweet and gooey treats Rodimus made were another matter entirely.

“You were saving them?”

Starscream dropped a cube in front of Rodimus and sprinkled it liberally with rust before he slid into his own chair. “Trying to make them last, more like.”

Rodimus beamed at him. “I’ll make more,” he said. He tugged his energon close and sipped at it. “Sides even showed me a couple new recipes and maybe you’ll like those, too.”

“Sides?” There was affection in the way Rodimus said the name. Starscream refused to admit the tiny curl of jealousy that bobbed in his spark then.

“A friend,” Rodimus clarified. “He’s a warrior, but making treats is kind of his signature thing. Everyone loves them.”

Starscream’s lips curled lightly. “I’ll bet they do.” He paused and considered. “Is he going to come looking for you?”

Rodimus sipped on his midgrade, still looking as though he expected to get thrown out the door any moment now.

He shook his head. “No. Maybe.”

Starscream’s optics narrowed. “Clarify.”

“I told Sunstreaker I was leaving and where I was going, so he’s not going to send out a search party,” Rodimus explained and looked into his cube as though it held the secrets of the universe. “But, I don’t know, he might come anyway. Just to check on me.”

Starscream frowned. Rodimus had mentioned a brother. But he thought that mech’s name was Springer. Was Sunstreaker perhaps the ‘Sunny’ Rodimus had mentioned earlier?

“And Sunstreaker is…?”

“The Warchief’s mate. Or well, one of them anyway. His spark-twin is Sideswipe, and they both mated our Warchief.” Rodimus toyed with the cube, his attention suddenly skittering off to the side, as if Scramble’s dejected circle around the floor was fascinating to him. “They’re the closest thing I have to a best friend.”

Friend, hmm?

Starscream wasn’t constructed yesterday. He knew that tone, that flush in a field. He knew longing and regret when he heard it.

He leaned back, studying Rodimus closely. “You said being a warrior would have earned you things.”

Rodimus nodded and tipped back the cube, swallowing half of it quickly. “Yeah. I mean, it’s not the only way to go, but it’s what I had my best shot at.”

Starscream tilted his head. “Uh-huh. And would it have gotten you those twins as a mate?”

Rodimus’ optics widened. His face heated until it turned pink, which was a lovely color on him, but it also was all the answer Starscream needed. He ducked his head, finials twitching.

“It’s not like it would have been a reward or anything. It’s just maybe they would have actually seen me if I had the badge.” His shoulders hunched as he sighed a vent. “But then, what am I compared to the Warchief?”

Starscream frowned. Rodimus’ self-esteem was a tattered thing. “Romance might have never been in the stars for you three, but don’t discount the value of that friendship either. I suspect even with a badge, they’d have never been yours.”

Rodimus’ head ducked so far, Starscream could only see the top of it. He toyed with the energon, curling into himself.

“And you should consider yourself lucky that this Sunstreaker cares enough to be worried for your wellbeing,” Starscream added.

“I do.” Rodimus in-vented heavily and looked up. “Deadlock’s like that for you, I take it? He seems pretty, um, attached.”

“We have a history. We’ve been through a lot together.” Starscream tried not to smirk at the jealousy in Rodimus’ tone. It was pretty cute. “I can always rely on him to be there for me. But that doesn’t mean he stays.”

Rodimus nodded slowly. “I see.” He finished off his energon and tossed the empty cube into the washbasin. “So, uh, now what?”

Starscream rose to his feet. “Now you need a wash. You’ve been tracking grit all through my tower, and my drones are going to have fits when they see it.”

“I’m not that dirty.” Rodimus snorted. “Besides, it’s kind of inevitable. You do realize we’re surrounded by desert, right?”

“That’s no excuse. Come on.”

Rodimus snorted again and slid out from the table. “It’s that how it’s going to be from now on? You order me around and expect me to obey?”

Stascream tossed a smirk over his shoulder. “Is that going to be a problem?”

“You know, you and Sunstreaker are either going to hate each other, or be the best of friends,” Rodimus said with a shake of his head. “Because I’m pretty sure that’s his philosophy, too.”

It was Starscream’s turn to snort. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Least you’re gonna scrub my back, right?” Rodimus asked as he slipped past Starscream, turning back to give him a cheeky grin and waggle of his spoiler.

“We’ll see.”

The door opened, and a flood of drones came beeping and booping inside, swarming over the floor and bumping against Rodimus’ feet. Starscream stared as Rodimus giggled like a sparkling and crouched down, scooping one of the drones out of the flood.

“Scuttle!” he said brightly, rubbing his cheek against the top panel of the drone as it beeped and trilled at him, lights flashing in a pattern that was almost hypnotic. “I missed you!”

“That’s a cleaning drone, Rodimus,” Starscream said flatly.

“So?” Rodimus arched an orbital ridge at him before he returned his attention to Scuttle, whose tires were spinning eagerly. “Scuttle was the first friend I made here. I like him.”

Him.

Starscream shook his head.

“These other guys missed me, too, huh?” Rodimus said as he looked down at the drones milling around his feet, even poor Swift, who was so excited all he could do was spin in a dizzying circle.

Rodimus crouched to set Scuttle back among its brethren, the noise of the flock almost deafening. Yet, all Rodimus did was laugh and try to pet every drone within reach.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m back. Nice to see you all, too,” he said.

Primus, even Stroll had dragged his aft up here. And Starscream hadn’t seen the oil springs drone since Stroll first emerged after Rodimus left. Not even Deadlock could coax the sulky one out of hiding. Saunter wasn’t here, but that wasn’t much of a surprise.

“You’ve usurped my drones,” Starscream said.

Rodimus looked up at him with a genuine smile and a sparkle in his optics. “They’re not just drones. You don’t have to pretend they are anymore, Starscream.”

Until that moment, Starscream hadn’t known he could fall harder for the clanling. There was no inch of judgment in Rodimus’ gaze, and the affection he felt for Scuttle and the others was absolutely genuine.

Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit. “They’re swarming you because you’re so filthy,” he said, to hide how fast his spark was beating.

Rodimus chuckled. “All right. I can take a hint.” He planted his hands on his thighs as he pushed himself back to his feet. “I’ll take that shower.” He waded through the drones, waving his hands at them as he did. “C’mon, sparklings. Your boss is frowning at me.”

The drones chittered and chirped, but obediently made a path for him. Most of them scattered out the door, perhaps going back to their duties. Scramble stayed behind, as he was supposed to, and Stroll followed at a leisurely pace. Scuttle, however, stayed glued to Rodimus’ heels.

Unsurprisingly.

“Rinse off before you soak,” Starscream reminded him.

Rodimus swept his hand out and tilted forward in a deep bow. “Yes, your highness. Whatever you ask of me.”

“Brat.”

Rodimus winked and then he was gone, out the door.

“I’ll join you in a minute,” Starscream called after him.

“You’d better!” Rodimus’ voice floated back to him from the hallway before the noise of the drones gradually eased away.

Starscream cycled a ventilation and distracted himself by tidying up the small mess they’d made. He needed a moment to get himself together. He felt himself being pulled into Rodimus’ pace, and there was far too much unspoken right now to just dive in blindly.

Cleaning up was a perfect distraction.

Storage room tidied, Starscream headed back to the ground floor. There, he spied the pile of things Rodimus had brought with him, sitting in a dusty lump by his front door. Spinner was bumping into it, beeping angrily, before it bounced off, spun, and attacked once more.

Poor thing. The second-made, just after Swift, had only slightly better coding, though the key word was slightly. Spinner liked to hide, not because it was lazy like Stroll, but because it preferred dark, shadowy places. But the untouched mess at the front door, left behind by the gaggle of drones who flocked to Rodimus, must have bothered Spinner enough to emerge.

“Calm down, Spin. I’ll get it,” Starscream sighed as he stooped to scoop up Rodimus’ belongings. They consisted mainly of two packs, both of which were heavy, and one of them clanked noisily. Starscream stopped himself from nosing around inside of them, but only just.

Spinner chirped happily and dove forward, sucking up the debris left behind in their absence. No doubt it would clean up the mess and then zip back to its hiding spot, where it would huddle until night-time. Spinner preferred to patrol when the tower was dim and silent. It also liked Deadlock when he took to meditating.

Starscream climbed the ramp to several levels up, and the spare room that had been Rodimus’ several weeks ago. He hadn’t changed anything since Rodimus left. So he dumped Rodimus’ bags on the berth. The Firebrand could sort through them later if he wanted. Scuttle would probably clean up whatever mess they shed, too.

Starscream turned and looked behind him. There was a light trail of rust dust and grit in his wake.

Oh, well. He had an army of cleaning drones. Surely one of them would get to it soon enough.

He left the room, the door sliding shut behind him, his spark continuing to do that happy little spin and throb it had started from the moment he saw Rodimus. It was ridiculous. It was unfair. It was–

“You never haul my stuff for me.”

Starscream paused and looked up. Deadlock was on the level above him, where a decently sized open space was considered ‘his.’ Deadlock wasn’t one for walls much, and didn’t like the confines of a room.

Currently, Deadlock leaned against the rail over the overhang, much like a balcony, and looked down at Starscream, his expression unreadable. He had one arm folded, the other elbow propped on the rail, supporting his chin.

“That’s because you have impeccable manners. Sometimes.” Starscream lifted an orbital ridge. “I take it you were eavesdropping?”

Deadlock smirked and launched himself over the railing, landing on the floor in front of Starscream with far less noise than he should have made. “Do you believe him?”

Starscream tilted his head. “Do you think that’s a mistake?”

Deadlock rolled his shoulders and moved closer, the edges of his field winding with Starscream’s own. Comfortable. Reassuring. A promise.

Rodimus had only to twitch wrong, and Deadlock would make him pay.

“If it is, it’s your mistake to make,” Deadlock said.

Not helpful.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Starscream muttered. His functioning seemed to be a collection of mistakes.

Deadlock cupped his face and pressed their foreheads together. “For what it’s worth, I think he’s sincere.”

Starscream gripped Deadlock’s arms and offlined his optics, drawing on the familiar and comforting field of his closest friend. A mech he loved, perhaps in not the romantic sense, that of a conjunx. But loved all the same.

He was terrified. He hoped it didn’t show.

Deadlock pulled back, looking Starscream directly in the optics. “But if he isn’t, and this is all some ploy to use you, I won’t hesitate to rip out his cog and make him eat it.”

Starscream laughed. “What imagery.”

“Seen it before. Not pretty. Excruciating, from what I hear.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Deadlock rose up, pressed a kiss to Starscream’s forehead, and let him go. “I’ll be here if you need me. But right now, you’ve got a cute little Firebrand soaping himself up downstairs, and if you don’t take advantage of that, I might have to beat you to the punch.”

“Hedonist.”

Deadlock shrugged and smirked, fangs flashing in the overhead light. “He’s got a nice aft. Let me know if he’s up for a threesome, yeah?”

Starscream barked a laugh. “I’ll try and remember to bring it up. But don’t hold your vents. His past isn’t as checkered as ours.”

“Yeah, but a bot can dream.” Deadlock flicked his hands. “Go. Shoo. Or I’ll beat you to it.”

Starscream held up his hands. “I’m going.” He moved to the edge, looking down the central column for a speedier descent again. “And Deadlock? Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Starscream leapt, calculated bursts of his thrusters slowing his descent until he landed on the ground floor. Because Deadlock was right. He did have a cute Firebrand in his oil bath, and maybe nothing would come out of it, maybe something would.

Maybe it would only end in sparkbreak. Maybe it would be another loss to add to the tally. Maybe he’d find himself alone and abandoned all over again.

Or maybe there was something here to break the pattern.

The only way to find out was to take a vent and leap. To try one more time. To have a little faith even.

He trusted in Deadlock’s judgment.

All he had to do was leap.

[G1] Stolen Time

“Ow!”

“Stop squirmin’ and it won’t hurt so much.”

“Wouldn’t hurt at all if you hadn’t shot me!”

“If you hadn’t dove at Bluestreak, I wouldn’t have shot you.”

“Oh.” Skywarp’s uninjured wing twitches, the very picture of indignant. “I see. So that’s how it is.”

“No. It ain’t even.” Jazz shoves a palm against Skywarp’s cockpit, smearing battle soot on the glass. “Don’t start that pitslag. That ain’t how this works.”

“This doesn’t work at all,” Skywarp huffs as his finger gestures between them. He’s doing a fair impression of his mercurial trinemate at the moment, too. “You fragging shot me!”

Jazz shrugs. “Not like it’s the first time.”

“Not the point!”

“You’ve shot me before.”

“I missed,” Skwarp retorts, and his lower lip wobbles, his red optics taking on a soft, pouting hue.

“Yeah, well, I ain’t known for missing.” Jazz tucks away his emergency medkit and smooths his fingers over the makeshift patch. He scoots a little closer, further up Skywarp’s thighs. “Come on now. We only got an hour, tops. You wanna waste it arguin’ the same old slag?”

“No.” Skywarp pouts, but wraps Jazz in an embrace anyway. He reeks of the battlefield, but then, so does Jazz. “I’m tired of this.”

“Me, too, flitterbit.” He rests his helm on Skywarp’s chest, feeling the strong thrum of the Seeker’s spark against his cheek.

“Hate that,” Skywarp grumbles.

Jazz chuckles and rises up on his knees to nip at the underside of Skywarp’s chin. “No, ya don’t.”

Skywarp peers down at him, the light in his optics brighter now, less sulk and more heat. His lips curve into that cheeky grin Jazz loves so much. “Frisky?”

“An hour. Remember?”

Skywarp’s hands move to cup Jazz’s aft, pulling him closer. “I do. It’s enough for a quickie or two, right?”

“Or three,” Jazz corrects and slides his hands around to Skywarp’s back, his fingers sinking into a seam and pinching the cables.

“Three it is,” Skywarp purrs and hoists Jazz into a kiss, one of eager lips and a wet glossa, and feeling oh-so-good.

Jazz hums approvingly, his own spark spinning faster. Maybe only an hour here or there, but still worth it, he thinks. Still worth every second.