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[personal profile] dracoqueen22

Chapter Rating: K+
Summary: In which Rodimus returns home, and Starscream gets the visit he's been waiting for.

Trial By Fire - Chapter Eight

Rodimus returned home to no fanfare, not that he expected any. And it might have had something to do with the fact he’d crept into the room he shared with his brother in the middle of the night. Or maybe no one noticed he’d gone missing.

It was kind of insulting.

Springer was deep in recharge when Rodimus pulled himself through the window, bag first, and slipped into their shared room. On his back, limbs splayed in all directions, Springer snored and his vents rattled.

And yet he was the one better suited to be a warrior.

Rodimus shook his head.

He shoved his pack under his berth and sat on the edge, peering through the darkness at a room that was both familiar and alien to him. It was barely bigger than the one Starscream had given him, and cluttered with both his and Springer’s various belongings. Smelled different, too. Dank and a bit musty, with the reek of old ammunition and whetstone oil clinging to the air.

He’d been gone for two weeks. It felt like longer.

Rodimus shifted back and reclined on the berth, folding his arms behind his head. The berth was lumpy, compared to the comfort Starscream had offered him. The room was noisy and stuffy, and he half-expected to hear the soft brushing noises of Scuttle roaming around the floor before finding a good spot to stand sentry.

He missed the sounds of the sandstorm grating against the glass dome. Which was ridiculous. He’d only been there a week. How could he miss it?

Rodimus offlined his optics. He was home now, and in time for the Festival. That was what he had wanted, right? Well, aside from earning his badge and taking his rightful place in the Warchief’s ranks. He doubted that was going to happen now.

Rodimus ex-vented a soft sigh. Nothing to do but face everyone tomorrow, and he’d be much better off if he rested first.

That is, if he could sleep through Springer’s snoring.


Rodimus didn’t think he’d actually slip into recharge, but he must have, because he was startled online the next morning to someone shaking him, almost violently.

“Where have you been, you idiot?”

His processor rattled around inside his head. Rodimus groaned, batting at the hands on his shoulders, his vision fuzzy and his hearing distorted.

“Getoffmerightnow,” he mumbled as he rebooted his sensory suites.

“Get off me, he says. Get off me. Like he hasn’t been missing for two weeks!” Springer’s familiar baritone growled above him, hands giving Rodimus’ shoulders another firm shake. “Get up, brat! Come sneaking in here in the middle of the night like no one’s going to notice! I oughta slap some sense into you!”

Rodimus’ optics rebooted and clarified into Springer’s face, leaning over him, expression a pinched mix of worry and relief and agitation. “I’m awake,” Rodimus grumbled and shoved at Springer’s arms again. “Primus! I’m awake. Back off already.”

Springer stepped back, and Rodimus sat up, rubbing a hand over his head. He must have been totally out, because he felt woozy and disconnected. He peered at his brother, who looked to be settling into a fine grump as he folded his arms over his chassis and glared. Blue optics – Allspark blue, many whispered – were bright with fury.

“Where have you been?” Springer demanded.

“Out.” Rodimus waved vaguely toward the desert. Flippant, he decided, was the way to go. Everyone already thought him an idiot. Might as well let them continue.

Springer’s optics narrowed. “Tell me you didn’t go looking for the Deathbringer.”

“But then I’d be lying, dear brother.” Rodimus flashed a grin full of denta and slid off the berth, stretching his arms over his head. “Besides, you’re the one who told me it was my best chance.” Well, him and Silverspire both.

“I didn’t mean it!”

“Then why tell me?”

“So you’d stop being an idiot!”

Rodimus cut his optics, huffing angrily. “And look how good that turned out.” He dropped his arms and glared. “Nice to know you wanted me to fail. Congratulations. Because I did.”

Springer reared back, and the pity on his face was almost too much for Rodimus to bear. “I didn’t want you to fail,” he said, softer than before. “I just wanted you to realize what your true strength is.”

Rodimus snorted. “My true strength. Right.” He folded his arms over his chassis, suddenly feeling cold, despite the sweltering heat of their room. The forges were on the other side of the main wall after all.

Hands landed on his shoulders, hot and heavy, and Springer’s shadow fell over him, though it wasn’t intimidating. “I’m glad you’re back,” Springer said. “And that you’re safe. What happened?”

Rodimus shrugged dully. “I got lost. Had to hide in some caves because of the sandstorm.” He dropped his gaze, shame canting into his field. “Never even found the Warlock. Came back because I ran out of rations and charge for my bow.”

He didn’t even feel guilty about lying. No one needed to know about Starscream, how he’d spent a week with the Seeker, how Starscream actually wasn’t that frightening or dangerous. He didn’t want to risk interrupting Starscream’s privacy, or for more Firebrands to journey into the desert in hopes of braving the Seeker’s wrath.

Starscream deserved his privacy.

“We were worried, you know. Sunstreaker’s even out right now. Looking for you,” Springer said with a squeeze to Rodimus’ shoulders before he drew back, like he was embarrassed for the show of affection. He rubbed the back of his head, faceplate darkening. “Gave all of us an audial-ful, too. Still can’t believe the Warchief let him get away with it.”

Rodimus’ lips twitched toward a smile. “You know as much as I do who really holds the reins in that bonding.” And it certainly wasn’t their Warchief. The hierarchy firmly went Sunstreaker, then Sideswipe, and then Megatron.

But that was a clan-wide secret. Megatron was still their Warchief, co-leader with their Prime, Optimus. But when it came to his bonds, and their berth, Megatron submitted and quite gladly.

Not that Rodimus could blame him. He’d been in the Twins’ berth before. On bended knee was the best place to be when it came to those two. Especially Sunstreaker. One word from Sunstreaker and the only thing Rodimus could ever think about was dropping to his knees and worshiping the ground Sunstreaker stood on.

Springer snickered. “You’re right about that.” He tilted his head and peered at Rodimus. “You sure you’re okay?” His field gingerly reached out, poking at Rodimus’ own as though seeking the truth and trying to gauge his health.

“Why wouldn’t I be? Other than getting lost in the desert I mean.” Rodimus chuckled and brushed at his armor, only belatedly realizing that reality didn’t quite match his lie.

He was absurdly clean for someone who reportedly had been lost in the wilds for two weeks. And Springer had to have noticed the dullness of recently repaired plating on his midsection. But he wasn’t commenting on it.

Springer’s optics narrowed. “No reason.” He dropped his hand and straightened. “Anyway, hope you’re ready for an interrogation. Kup’s been spitting nails since you’ve been gone.”

Rodimus groaned. “Great.” He moved past his brother toward the door, though with reluctance dogging every step. “He’s going to have me on cleaning duty for a month.”

“Or two.” Springer laughed as he pushed Rodimus out the door. Digging in his heels didn’t help at all. Springer would forever be bigger and stronger than him.

Might as well face his doom. He couldn’t avoid it forever.


Rodimus left, and Starscream set about to cleaning, gathering up all evidence that the Firebrand had ever been there at all. He couldn’t do anything about the memories. Perhaps the coding degradation would consume those in time. For now, best to forget. Best to move on.

Rodimus hadn’t stayed. Then again, no one ever did. Starscream liked it that way. He liked his solitude, his peace and quiet. He functioned better in it. He hypothesized smarter.

He could focus. He would find the cure. He would.

He tidied up the room he had loaned to Rodimus for the week, stripping the berth of its cover, putting away what few items had wandered out of their drawers and onto shelves. He opened the window for a gust of fresh air, which brought with it a few swirls of sand. He emptied the trash bin of dirtied static bandages.

There was a quiet, confused beep behind him.

Starscream turned to look as the drone Rodimus had named Scuttle came into the room, slow and cautious, as though searching. It roamed the perimeter before coming to Starscream’s feet. It bumped into the tip of his foot and warbled a low, long note.

“He’s gone,” Starscream said curtly. “I told you, he’s not part of the tower.”

Scuttle bumped his foot again.

“He’s not coming back. Return to your duty,” Starscream said, and ignored the crackle of static in his vocalizer.

Scuttle repeated the long, low note before slowly spinning away. It dragged its frame across the floor, vacuuming up the little mess Rodimus left behind. If it was possible for a drone to be disconsolate, Scuttle certainly resembled the emotion.

Starscream sighed. He went back to cleaning.

He found scraps of plexifilm tucked beneath a pillow, charming little doodles scrawled across their surface. Swirls and whorls and geometric shapes with shading and cross-hatching. It was nonsensical.

He couldn’t bring himself to throw it away. He tucked them into his subspace instead. When he left, Scuttle didn’t follow him. The drone continued to lurk around the room, and Starscream left it be.

Sometimes, it took time to let things go.

Starscream went into the energon prep room and put away all the clean dishes Rodimus had used in his culinary endeavors. At least he’d had the decency to clean up after himself. And well, the treats had been nice.

He found a tray of them tucked into the stasis unit which would keep them fresh until he decided to pull them out and consume them. They seemed to be a mix of flavors and consistencies, from crunches to jellies.

Rodimus had been quite busy in his final hours, hadn’t he?

Starscream took a few but left the rest. They were stable as long as they remained in the stasis unit. He could eat them at his leisure. Make them last. He should have asked Rodimus to teach him how to make them, or at least provide the recipe.

Too late for that now.

Starscream moved up another level, to the windowseat, for a moment stopping to admire the view. Without the sandstorm to obscure everything, he could see for kilometers, until the horizon melted together, a blur of rust-orange and sky-silver. Somewhere, beyond that wavering line, was where Rodimus’ clan had settled.

Starscream sighed and gathered up the small stack of datapads Rodimus had left behind. Something clattered from the stack and tumbled to the floor.

He blinked and looked down. Two metallic objects glinted up at him. Starscream crouched and gathered them up, these two things that fit in the palm of his hand and were barely bigger than his thumb, though twice as wide.

One was a small ground transport vehicle – meant for speed, not unlike Blurr’s non-competing alt-mode. It had a spoiler and thinly etched flames racing up the hood. It had been carved of copper.

The other was a jet, or an approximation of one, not unlike Starscream’s alt-mode, though some of the details were off. It had been made of silver.

I like to make things when I’m bored.

“Clever mech,” Starscream murmured.

He tucked the carvings into his subspace with the doodles.

He moved on, the silence of the tower less so now that the drones were disembarking from their recharge stations. Never was he so glad that he’d constructed so many of them, in moments of boredom, of need, or when he lacked the inspiration for his projects.

Scurry and Scamper were back to patrolling the halls. Saunter was still on the skylight. Starscream was glad he’d thought to upgrade the drone with a sunpowered battery. Scoot greeted him with a cheerful trio of tones as Starscream slipped into the library with his armful of datapads.

Starscream straightened up the shelves, returning datapads to their respective places, snorting a little to himself. Rodimus had voraciously read nearly every fantasy novel and fairy tale in Starscream’s collection. He’d started and stopped a few of the elementary chemistry books as well, but those hadn’t held his attention apparently.

He found more of the plexifilm doodles in the library as well, tucked into the folds of the chair-coverings and pressed between stacks of datapads. There were faces on these, faces Starscream didn’t recognize but were probably members of Rodimus’ clan.

He recognized cartoonish sketches of alt-modes, half-sparked efforts at drawing the turbowolves, and a few iterations of himself as well. The sight of them gave him a sharp pang in the spark.

Brat had only been here a week, but somehow managed to leave a little of himself everywhere apparently.

Last, Starscream ventured down to the oilbath and single-stall washrack, gathering up soiled meshcloths and returning bottles of cleanser to the shelves. He found two more little carvings tucked in a nook around the oil bath, both of them turbofoxes, albeit crude copies of them.

As he opened the washing machine, Stroll ambled out of the washing station and bumped against the tips of his feet. Starscream scowled down at his slowest and laziest drone.

“Haven’t seen you all week,” he scolded as Stroll inched across the ground, painstakingly slow as it started to clean the dripped oil from the stone. “The others have been picking up your slack. Were you hiding in here?”

Stroll honked at him. Lights around its chassis flared and darkened in a slow roll.

Starscream sighed and rolled his optics. He dumped the soiled cloths into the machine and set the automatic cycle. “If you’re not careful, I’ll deconstruct you for parts.”

Not even the threat of deconstruction made Stroll move any faster. If anything, the drone slowed down even further, inching along the set path Starscream had programmed ages ago. At this rate, it would be next year before he cleaned the whole floor once.

Starscream made a mental note to send Stride down here to assist. Again. It wasn’t like the Astronomy room got that dusty anyhow.

His tower clean and tidied, Starscream retreated back to his laboratory. He emptied his subspace into an empty drawer at his main workstation. Carvings rattled around with sheets of plexifilm, which crinkled noisily. Starscream stared at them, gnawing on the inside of his cheek, internally debating.

He reached down, pulled out the carved jet, and set it on his desk, near his stylus holder. He closed the drawer and grabbed the nearest datapad, bringing up the workable copy of the last coding attempt. He would need to see if he could tweak it, or if it was better to scrap it and start from scratch.

His tower was quiet, save for the barely audible hum of all of his electronics. His tower was still, as he was the only resident within. Not even the sound of his drones in action was enough to be considered movement or noise, despite Skip and Scrape studiously scrubbing the floor around him.

He could focus now. He had no distractions. He could get back to work. He could make progress. He could devise a cure. He was alone as he needed to be in order to be successful.

Just the way he liked it.



Kup cuffed him over the head and then hugged him tightly enough that Rodimus’ armor creaked.

“Don’t scare us like that, kid,” he said, his craggy voice rattling and rolling over Rodimus, as the scent of his cygar floated into Rodimus’ chemoreceptors.

“Sorry.” Rodimus’ voice was muffled, smushed as his face was against the old mech’s chestplate, as pale and mottled green as the rest of Kup’s frame. “Didn’t mean to be gone so long.”

“Shouldn’t have left at all.” Kup grunted and pulled back, hands on Rodimus’ shoulders firmly as he gave him a critical look. “And ya got yerself all beat up to boot.” One hand poked at Rodimus’ belly. “What happened here and who fixed ya up?”

Trust Kup to acknowledge what Springer had ignored. His brother, such a loyal mech he was, had deposited Rodimus into Kup’s hands and then vanished, leaving him to the old mech’s mercy.

Rodimus squirmed. “Ran into a turbowolf or two,” he said. “Did this myself. Really gotta thank Sides for shoving that emergency kit into my hand, come to think of it.” Sideswipe had given him that kit ages ago, and as far as Rodimus knew, it was still tucked under his berth. Hopefully, Kup wouldn’t know that.

Kup squinted at him. The cygar moved from one side of his mouth to the other. “That’s a fine job for somethin’ ya did yerself.”

“What can I say? I have untapped potential.” Rodimus grinned and shrugged. “I’ve got the turbowolf bits with me,” he added in a hopeful misdirection. “Well, not with me. Back in my pack in the dorm, but you know, souvenirs!” He beamed.

Kup’s optics grew narrower. He chomped hard on his cygar, streams of smoke wafting up from his nose.

“Souvenirs,” he repeated, and he planted both hands on Rodimus’ shoulders, promptly spinning him around before he proceeded to march, shoving Rodimus along with him. “You’re going to see the healer.”

“What? Wrench? Awww.” Rodimus groaned but knew better than to try and escape. For as old as Kup was, he had a grip like duryllium, and besides all that, he had their Warchief’s highest regard.

As Rodimus’ instructor, he was expected to obey Kup in all things. Resisting would only make things worse. Besides, he was already a black mark on Kup’s record, as useless of a trainee as Rodimus was. The last thing he wanted to do was offend the old mech further.

“He doesn’t even know what he’s doing anymore,” Rodimus complained. Certainly Starscream had done a much better job, not that Rodimus was going to admit that. Their clan was severely lacking in medical assistance right now.

“That may be true. But he knows better than you,” Kup said. “So march.”

Rodimus marched. He pretended that he wasn’t being gawked at either, but apparently his two and a half week absence had been widely noted. It probably didn’t help that Sunstreaker had made a big deal of it. Now, his clanmates stared at him, the branded and the Firebrands alike.

The march of shame apparently.

Rodimus’ spoiler dipped down. The march of shame and disappointment and failure. Kup didn’t mean to embarrass the Pit out of him. Okay, well maybe a little. Nothing like a little shame to motivate after all. But also, it couldn’t be helped.

Rodimus had vanished, and he’d returned with nothing to show for it but a healing wound and a pack full of turbowolf bits. Because he’d gotten lost. Or at least, that was the story as Rodimus would tell it.

Much better that he embarrass himself, then subject Starscream to more Firebrands wandering his way, seeking glory and a challenge. Starscream did not deserve to have his solitude continuously broken, or to be pursued for the sake of something selfish.

Wrench’s clinic – and clinic was a generous term – was tucked in the bowels of their settlement, furthest from the entrance and safest from attack. It nestled deep in the embrace of the mountain they’d claimed as their permanent home.

They ventured out occasionally, during mating season and the ungulate migrations and peak gathering, but they always returned here. There was a petrorabbit colony nearby, and while one had to be careful of their speed and sharp denta, they were good eating. The underground springs, albeit not warmed like Starscream’s, were also a reason to station themselves here.

Wrench, however, never left. The hunters and the gatherers and the unmated wandered, but Wrench and his single, grizzly self stayed locked up in his clinic like he was rusted into the walls. And maybe he was.

Wrench was here when they got here. Wrench graciously allowed them to settle, complained the entire time about all of the mechs in his personal space, but never demanded they leave. He didn’t offer to teach anyone his skills, and no one asked, out of fear or disinterest, Rodimus wasn’t sure. Maybe a bit of both.

He was old. Probably the oldest mech in their clan. Rodimus thought he was half-senile, too. But who else would know? Wrench was all the healer they had. Springer thought he used to be a cityling, a long time ago, long before Optimus and Megatron left and the rebellion first started.

Why did he leave? No one knew. No one asked, or if they did, Wrench didn’t answer. Maybe Kup was brave enough to question the rust-aft, but he wasn’t talking either. Wrench had the Warchief’s and the Prime’s trust, so Rodimus supposed that was enough.

“Well, brat, what have ya done to yourself now?” Wrench demanded as Kup shoved Rodimus inside and Wrench snatched him up like he was a sparkling.

Wrench was big. Easily the same size as their Warchief, and his armor was pockmarked with rust. He creaked and rattled, but somehow, was one of the strongest mechs around here. He picked Rodimus up like he weighed nothing, and deposited him on the examination berth with a gentleness that belied his forceful personality.

“Just a little tussle with a turbowolf. Nothing to be worried about.” Rodimus beamed his most charming beam. It had gotten him out of trouble before.

“Pah. I’ll be the judge of that.” Wrench bent over and peered at Rodimus’ midsection as Rodimus abruptly leaned back on his elbows. “This the young’un you’ve been lookin’ for, Kup?”

“One and the same.”

“Lucky mech.” Wrench harrumphed and prodded at Rodimus’ armor, right where self-repair had worked mightily to make him whole. “And some elegant work for a self-patch.”

Wrench lifted his head, gold optics narrowing. “Did this yourself, did ya?” he asked, tone curious and a bit incisive. “Maybe came across those turbowolves while wandering out by the viper runs, eh?”

Rodimus squirmed. “Could’ve been,” he hedged. “Dunno. My GPS was fragged by the storm so I don’t know where I ended up.”

“Mmm.” Wrench’s reply was noncommittal, even as he poked more at Rodimus’ midsection, and the wash of a scan made his plating prickle. “Well, you’re healing fine as far as I can tell. Gonna need a strip and wax and repaint, but otherwise, no sign of infection or rust. Good job, kid. Maybe you’ve got the makings of a medic in you.”

Rodimus snorted. “No thanks.”

The door to the clinic rattled open. Three pairs of optics swung toward it, only one of them not the least bit startled, only to find their Warchief darkening the doorway. Stooping a little, as it were, to come inside. There was plenty of ceiling space within the clinic, not so much in the doorway. Especially for a mech like their Warchief.

Megatron was big, not quite the biggest in their clan, but almost that. His broad shoulders barely fit in the doorway, his arms bristling with energon sword mounts, though the single connector for his massive cannon was empty. Treads lined his legs, announcing his tank alt-mode, though rumor had it he had more than one. Blue optics peered out at Rodimus from the cowling of his plated helm, reported to protect a vast sensor array beneath.

Megatron’s optics swept through the interior before finding and focusing on Rodimus, who might have curled a little into himself under the weight of his stare. Megatron was intimidating. No matter how much Sunstreaker told him there was nothing to be timid about, Rodimus still felt the urge to apologize and bow in Megatron’s presence. Even if he hadn’t done anything wrong.

“There you are,” Megatron said, and Rodimus flinched. “You’ve had my mate in quite a mood, I’ll have you know. Both of them.” He straightened as much as he was capable, the plates of armor on his arms twitching.

“If you’re going to yell, take it elsewhere,” Wrench said as he straightened to his full height, which made him the only one in the room on an even keel with Megatron. “This is a place for healing.”

Megatron’s optical ridges drifted upward. “I’m not sure that Rodimus counts as a patient, and you have no others.”

“But that doesn’t mean I don’t want peace and quiet,” Wrench retorted. He put a hand on Rodimus’ back and urged him off the table. “You’re fine. So ya can hop down and face your punishment if ya like.”

“Fantastic,” Rodimus muttered, and obeyed. He glanced at Kup, but his trainer was grinning around his cygar, optics bright and amused. No help to be found there.

Rodimus squared his shoulders and looked up at Megatron. “Is he back yet?” He didn’t even have to specify whom he meant. The look in Megatron’s face meant he knew.

“He will be shortly.” Megatron beckoned him, his field flickering with amusement and aggravation both. Emotions he often had when his bonds were involved. “Come.”

Rodimus hesitated.

“I’m not going to yell,” Megatron said with an impatient second beckon. “I’ve been assured that Kup will be handling your punishment, and I trust him to choose one that is appropriate.”

“Pleased to be havin’ your faith,” Kup said with a swagger as he winked at Rodimus. “Last I checked, the entirety of the dorms needed a good scrubbing. I was just about to call for volunteers, too.”

Rodimus groaned. Hadn’t he suffered enough?

He didn’t drag his feet, but he slouched as he joined his Warchief, a mech he had always admired, the weight of his failure sitting on his shoulders. The thinnest hopes he carried that he’d take the warrior’s brand at his graduation, crackled and crumbled. After this, no way would he gain the Warchief’s approval.

“Good luck!” Wrench called after them, sounding far too gleeful for Rodimus’ comfort. Armor creaked and rattled like a wordless croon of the death march.

Rodimus had a feeling he was going to need quite a bit of it.


A week went by before Starscream’s front door pinged. His spark leapt in his chassis, and he didn’t want to admit to himself how excited he was. How he threw down his stylus and leapt to answer it.

The peace and the quiet had been welcome at first. He’d sighed with relief and thrown himself into his research, convinced that now he could finally get something done. Without distractions or nosy clanlings, surely he could concentrate. Surely he’d make progress.

Surely he wouldn’t find himself humming quietly a song that he’d only just learned, or calling out for someone who wasn’t there to hand him a device, or going into the energon room and being surprised to find it was empty.

He called himself an idiot. A fool. He called himself many unkind things for daring to miss a mech who never intended to stay.

Solitude suited Starscream. It was how he functioned.

So why, then, was he leaping down to the bottom floor, an unexpected delight in his spark, as he keyed in his code to unlock the front gate. He was smiling, he discovered, and forced himself to wipe the expression off his face. He would never live it down if Rodimus discovered he was missed.

The gate slid open, and the door as well. Starscream schooled his expression into something better crafted, hoping he looked bored and slightly irritated.

But the mech who darkened his doorway, who stepped inside shaking grit from his cloak, was not Rodimus.

“Well, that’s a cheerful greeting if I ever had one,” Deadlock drawled as he arched an orbital ridge, looking Starscream up and down. “Usually I have to drag you from your nest to acknowledge me. Miss me that much?”

Starscream scowled. “You’re late,” he said. His mood plummeted despite efforts to keep himself buoyant. Oh, he was delighted to see Deadlock, but disappointment seethed inside of him nonetheless.

Deadlock blinked and arched an orbital ridge. “Since when have I had a schedule?” he asked, and threw his cloak at the hook by the door. It missed and plopped onto the floor, sending a spray of grit across the floor that would summon the nearest cleaning drone post-haste. “And what, can’t a longlost friend get a hug when he returns?”

He stepped close to Starscream. Starscream stopped him with a hand on his chestplate, grimacing as some kind of sticky grit clung to his palm as a consequence. Gross.

“Absolutely not,” he declared. “You’re filthy. What the slag happened to you?” He was already attracting drones as it was. They were appearing from the woodwork, drawn by the sound of filth, Starscream imagined.

Especially Stomp, who should have been cleaning the training room, but never failed to follow Deadlock around like a second shadow whenever Deadlock was home. Stroll liked Deadlock, too. Mostly because Deadlock didn’t yell at him and never tried to get him to clean.

Deadlock grinned, fangs bared and gold optics bright. “Got into a tussle with the local wildlife. Maybe a clanling or two. Nothing I couldn’t handle.” It was barely bragging.

For Deadlock.

“A tussle,” Starscream repeated flatly. His nose twitched. He could smell, even from here, the stench of spilled energon. Mostly white, with bits of red and yellow and black, Deadlock was now a muddy brown and when he moved, grit grated in his hydraulics and flaked down.

Had he rolled through the fragging Sea of Rust?

“Or two,” Deadlock confirmed. He had the audacity to wink.

Starscream rolled his optics. “Idiot.” He stepped back from his friend and pointed down the ramp. “March yourself to the washrack and get clean, then spend at least an hour in the oil pool. Do try not to track filth everywhere you go.” Though he supposed it didn’t really matter. Stomp would eagerly clean up after Deadlock, where he balked at all of Starscream’s commands.

Deadlock chuckled and leaned in close. “Aww, you really do love me.” Close enough to feel his ex-vents now, and Starscream grimaced at the thought of any of that sticky mess getting on his armor.

He shoved Deadlock’s face away from his. “Go!”

Unperturbed, Deadlock laughed and moved past Starscream, obediently toward the downward-sloping ramp. “I’m going.”

“And you’re going to clean whatever mess you make!”

“Ffft.” Deadlock made a noise, a cross between a vent cycle and a hydraulic hiss. “Stroll will do it for me, Starling.” The tips of his finials vanished as he descended, though Starscream did hear him mutter, “Why even have a cleaning drone army if you’re not going to use it? Sheesh.”

Shaking his head, Starscream went back to his lab. Once Deadlock got into the hot solvent and then the oil bath, he’d loiter around for hours. Such luxuries weren’t often available to him in his wanderings, so he lazed about whenever he came to visit, until the idea of staying in one place became too much for him.

Starscream batted away the rest of the disappointment.

At least with Deadlock here, the loneliness would ease. He had missed his dearest friend after all. And the company would be nice.

For now, however, back to work.


Rodimus waited for the lecture.

Surprisingly, it did not come. Megatron walked with him in silence. Kup parted from them at a fork in the corridors, with a promise that he’d see Rodimus later, for an overdue conversation and to get him back into the training rotation. He left Rodimus alone with Megatron, and Rodimus tried not to fidget.

He trailed along behind his Warchief, dully noting that they were heading for the settlement exterior, beyond the weight of the mountain above them. Rodimus blinked in surprise. He’d thought he’d be dragged to Megatron’s office for his chastisement. Or perhaps Megatron wanted to make a public spectacle of it?

Great. Just great.

“So...” he ventured, when the silence dragged on and impatience won out, “how much trouble am I in?”

Megatron snorted and cast a look over his shoulder. “That is for Kup to decide. For now, I am only angry for the upset you caused my bondmates.”

“Oh.” Rodimus didn’t know if that was a relief or not.

“That was irresponsible of you, Rodimus, to do what you did. And I don’t particularly care what reason you had for doing so, but for your own sake, I suggest you think long and hard before you make such a mistake again,” Megatron said, without looking at Rodimus, the chastening easily carrying over his shoulders to rattle into Rodimus’ audials.

His armor clamped down tight. His ventilations hitched. “I’m sorry,” Rodimus said. “I didn’t expect to be gone so long. Honestly. The storm caught me by surprise.”

“If you had paid attention to the forecast, you would have known it was coming.”

Rodimus winced. He lowered his gaze. “Yes, sir.”

Megatron sighed and lifted a hand, rubbing his face Rodimus noticed peripherally. “However, I meant what I said. Your punishment is Kup’s to decide.”

They stepped out of the settlement, passing through the gate with a nod to the warriors stationed there, the newly branded who were still learning their duties in the clan. Guard duty at the main gate was one of the easiest task in the settlement. Guard duty at the fences, however, carried the greatest risk. That particular duty was for the experts.

“Well,” Megatron added as he half-turned toward Rodimus, something like a smirk curving his lips, “Kup and my bonded.”

That was all the warning Rodimus had before someone barked his name and hands snatched at his shoulders, spinning him around. He yelped, but it was muffled in a golden chestplate as he was pulled into an embrace twice as tight as the one Kup had given him. He smelled fancy wax and polish and knew, in an instant, who it was.

“You little fragger,” Sunstreaker hissed into his audial, his armor hot as though he’d been racing out on the flats and transformed in a hurry. “I’m going to fragging kill you for making me worry.”

“Wouldn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of worrying about me in the first place?” Rodimus asked as his ex-vents fogged Sunstreaker’s windshield.

Sunstreaker growled and shoved him back, hands tight where they gripped Rodimus’ shoulders. Blue optics were sharp and cutting as they looked Rodimus over from top to bottom, assessing in an instant.

“You’ve been injured,” he observed.

“Turbowolf,” Rodimus offered.

Sunstreaker’s optics narrowed. His fingers dug in tighter. “I have spent the last week searching for you,” he said in a carefully chosen tone. “Every day, from the moment the storm eased, I have led a search party. I expected to only be lucky enough to find your empty frame.”

Rodimus winced. Guilt clawed at his spark, where Kup and Megatron and Wrench had only managed to startle him. He hung his head.

“I’m sorry.”

Sunstreaker’s grip eased. He cupped Rodimus’ head instead, thumbs pressed against his cheeks, hands cradling his jaw. He made Rodimus look up at him, and it was hard to meet Sunstreaker’s optics, because Sunstreaker could be so very sharp and cold sometimes. But also, he could be gentle and concerned, and those were the hardest to bear.

“You are never going to do that again,” Sunstreaker said, as if it was a foregone conclusion.

Rodimus nodded as best he was capable. “Never,” he said.

“Good.” Sunstreaker hauled him in, pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Now you’re filthy and you need a repaint and I deserve an explanation. So you’re coming with me.”

Rodimus might have whimpered.

Megatron laughed.

He supposed, in the end, it was still good to be home.


a/n: I needed a balm for all the feels in my heart caused by OP#9. 
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