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Trial by Fire

Chapter Text

Starscream’s first order of business was to run a diagnostic, not that he needed an external scanner to tell him what his systems were already reporting – his coding degradation had not only stalled, it was reversing itself. By morning, he’d be back to one-hundred percent capacity, all of his systems running smoothly, and no longer at risk of losing spark containment. 

Rodimus’ coding had even contained some perks. Better efficiency at processing fuel during speed bursts, accuracy in aiming, and an intense craving for rust sticks. 

Starscream shook his head with a chuckle. Brat liked the sweet things. Why was he not surprised? 

The scanner beeped at him, displaying results that were no less than Starscream expected. Rodimus’ code was, while not pristine, so far removed from his own that it was as much boon as it was a saving grace. Starscream suspected that it might even be of use in forming the substitute code for his experiments. 

How lucky he was to find Rodimus on his backstep. 

It was almost a shame the Firebrand had to leave in the morning. He was a pain in the aft. A nosy one, who seemed to always be there when Starscream turned around, and clumsy on top of it all. Earnest and determined, with a passion for learning unlike any Starscream had seen in quite some time. 

He’d offered his coding to Starscream without asking for anything in return. He’d offered it, despite being taught that Seekers were evil code-stealers and that he should be afraid. 

There was a spark of platinum beneath that garishly flame-painted chestplate, apparently. A charming one, too. 

Starscream sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face. Best not to dwell on it. Rodimus would leave in the morning, as he well should, and Starscream could go back to his peace and quiet. To his studies and his experiments and his desperate hope for a solution. 

He’d come out here to the edge of the Barrens for a reason, after all, and constant companionship was not one of them. He worked better alone, without distractions. He was absolutely not lonely. He had the occasional visitor and that was enough. 

Besides, it wasn’t as if Rodimus wanted to stay anyway. 

Starscream harrumphed and disconnected the scanner, setting it gently on his work bench. 

Refreshed coding or not, he was still exhausted. While his frame hummed from the upload and the cabling – he’d overloaded after all, though not quite as vividly as Rodimus had – Starscream still felt the tug of recharge. That and energon. 

He would fetch a cube for himself, leave a cube for Rodimus – perhaps with a handful of rust sticks, and then sink into his own berth. 

Come morning, he would bid Rodimus farewell. 

After all, he had work to do. 


Rodimus onlined, his engine purring, his frame thrumming, and a sense of satisfaction pulsing through every line and cable. He rolled over onto his back with a little engine rumble of happiness, his spoiler twitching. 

He felt, well, he felt like he’d had a whole night of wild interfacing with overload upon overload. He shoved a hand down his frame, groping at his interface array, but found himself to be dry and clean. 

That was odd. 

Rodimus’ optics unshuttered, his vision slowly clarifying in the brightness of his room. Memories returned, albeit slowly, and his faceplate burned as he remembered just why he felt so darn good. 

Starscream and cabling, an overload that had nothing to do with his array, and the unique sensation of being connected to another mech. 

Rodimus sat up, stretching his arms over his helm, feeling well-rested all the way to his core. Well, except for his tanks, which were pinging him for a refuel. And look at that, there was a cube on the nightstand, capped to ensure freshness. 

He swung his legs over the side of the berth and snagged the cube. He popped the seal and gave it a whiff. 

Sweet with a hint of tang. His favorite. 

Rodimus grinned and slurped it all down, the energon settling into his tanks with a happy burst. He felt more than a little spoiled actually. Too bad he would have to leave. It was kind of nice being here. It was quiet. There weren’t any heavy expectations on his shoulders. 

He didn’t belong here, and he highly doubted Starscream would want him to stay. The Seeker seemed to tolerate his presence at best. Rodimus was nothing more than an intruder, as he always seemed to be wherever he went. 

It was time he left Starscream to his work. 

Rodimus finished the cube and hopped off the berth. He surveyed the room that had been his for a little under two weeks. He would make for a poor guest if he left it a mess, so he tidied it up as best he was capable. He stripped the berth and changed the covers, remembering well the cleaning facilities. He gathered detritus and straightened up the furniture, but there was honestly little to show for how long he’d been there. 

It occurred him that he’d need his energon bow and other belongings back. 

Rodimus moved to the narrow window, peering out into the morning. The world looked different through the shifting opalescence of Starscream’s holographic generator, but it was enough that he could see the sandstorm had passed. The land beyond was wiped clean, as it often was in the wake of a storm, smooth and untouched. 

He’d leave footprints behind him. He couldn’t drive, the road was far too buried. But the long walk would give him plenty of time to think of a story, he supposed. 

Rodimus rubbed his face and turned away from the window. The sooner he got started, the less camping he’d have to do. He was only three solar cycles out from home, but there were many hungry mechanimals who would be roaming freely now that the storm had passed. Rodimus didn’t want to run into a single one of them. 

He looked around the room once more, to ensure he left nothing behind, and then keyed his door open. It slid aside with a merry beep, and Rodimus stepped into the corridor, nearly colliding with Starscream in the process. The Seeker responded quicker, his hands landing on Rodimus’ shoulders to keep them from colliding. 

“You are awful energetic this morning,” Rodimus said as his spark thumped and his armor turned warm where Starscream touched him. 

The Seeker gave him a wry smile. “Yes, well, that is in part thanks to you. My coding degradation has halted, and I’m nearly at one-hundred percent capacity now.” His hands slid free, tucking behind his back and beneath his wing hinges. “My thanks.” He dipped his head. 

Rodimus rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, like I said, it’s only fair, right? You saved my life, so I save yours.” His finials heated. “And it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it.” 

Starscream chuckled. “I am relieved that you did.” His smile dipped as his gaze slid past Rodimus, to the window at the end of the hall. “The storm has passed.” 

“Yeah, I noticed.” 

“You will be leaving then.” 

Rodimus honestly couldn’t tell if it was a statement or a question. “I’d better,” he said, awkwardly shifting his weight. “My brother is probably looking for me, and my trainer has no doubt concocted all kinds of punishments.” 

“I assumed as much. I brought your belongings to the door.” 

Wow. In a hurry to be rid of him much? Any thoughts Rodimus had in thinking Starscream wanted him to stay turned to ash. 

“Uh, thanks for that,” Rodimus said. He stepped out into the hallway and turned in a slow circle. This was usually the time Scuttle ambushed him, chirping merrily as he spun around Rodimus’ feet. 

The drone was nowhere in sight. Odd. 

“Hey, have you seen Scuttle?” he asked. 

Starscream could have been a statue, for all the emotion his frame language gave away. “All of the cleaning drones are in their recharge stations at the moment.” 

“Oh.” Disappointment slumped his shoulders. Rodimus scratched at his chin. He supposed it was silly to want to say goodbye to a cleaning drone. “That’s good, I guess.” 

“It can be,” Starscream said and spun on a heelstrut. Rodimus assumed he was meant to follow. So he did, though disappointment rang strongly through him. He kept it from his field however. No need to let Starscream know the truth. 

“I packed supplies for you, energon and the like,” Starscream said as they stepped into the lift. “Also the bits of the turbowolves I have no use for. I assume your clan can find something for them.” 

“Yeah, we can. Thanks.” 

The lift donged as it deposited them on the ground floor, doors rumbling open. Starscream departed swiftly, leading Rodimus to a set of heavy double doors which Rodimus had passed multiple times. He’d inspected them once, noting several layers of protection as well as a very complicated lock. 

There was a familiar satchel on the floor and a second one next to it, with his deactivated energon bow propped up on the wall beside him. Starscream wasn’t lying when he’d said he’d prepared everything for Rodimus’ departure. 

Starscream bent at the waist to lift both satchels before he offered them to Rodimus. “Keep the other,” he said. 

Rodimus accepted the heavy bags, slinging the strap of one over his shoulder. “Are you sure?” 

“It was left here by another temporary visitor. I have no attachment to it,” Starscream replied, his face smooth of emotion, and his field equally flat. “It is yours.” 

No attachment, huh? Just like he’d apparently avoided managing any such thing for Rodimus, too. He must have imagined those moments. 

Rodimus’ hand tightened around the strap. “Thanks,” he said, a word he felt like he kept repeating because he didn’t know what else to say. Words danced on his glossa, but Starscream’s demeanor killed each and every one. “You know, you keep giving me a lot of gifts, and you don’t have to.” 

“No, I do. I don’t think you understand how much you saved me.” Starscream’s optics widened as though the admission had been an accident. His wings twitched, and he stepped to the door, putting his hand on the field-scanner panel. “This is the least I can do.” 

The door whooshed open, a blast of hot, dry air slamming Rodimus in the face. He winced, his lens shutters automatically slamming down to protect his optics. The urge to stay, to go back to his comfy berth and the private oil bath and all the interesting doodads made his legs wobble.

“If you are ever out this way again...” 

“Use the front door next time?” Rodimus quipped as he moved toward the door, pausing in the threshold to look back at Starscream. He grinned, though it wobbled on the edges. 

Starscream lifted his chin. “I was going to say ‘don’t be a stranger’ but yes, use the front door. I don’t want another spark-attack.” 

“Sir, yes, sir.” Rodimus tossed off a sloppy salute and an even sloppier grin. “Thanks for the hospitality, Star. Good luck with your experiments.” 

“And you, too.” Starscream paused, as though hesitating before he shook his head. “Goodbye, Firebrand.” 

That, as Springer would say, was that. Was there anything as definitive as a ‘goodbye’?

Rodimus’ spark gave a wavering warble, and before he could let it affect his field, he stepped out of the frame, the door immediately shutting behind him. He heard it click and lock. 

Rodimus cycled a ventilation as heat instantly swallowed him. He slung off the pack and dug around in it, producing the tarp he’d first left his clan with. He draped the tarp over his shoulders before he made his way out. 

The holographic array was not solid-state. He passed through it easily enough. When he turned back to look, he didn’t see Starscream’s squat, but neat little complex. He saw a sheer cliff, impossible to climb, and the ground around it pockmarked with holes. Sandviper holes. 

No mech in their right mind would get near those. 

Starscream had hid his home well. 

Rodimus sighed and adjusted the pack over his shoulder. 

Time go to home, he supposed. 

After all, it was where he belonged. 


The door closed with a defining thunk, and Starscream sighed. He leaned against it, shuttering his optics to the sound of the locks sliding into place, each louder and stronger than the last. 

His spark ached. 

Starscream told himself it was because the last of the coding was settling into place, finding a home in his core script. He always ached in the aftermath of a new download, especially with a partner he’d never data-faced with before. 

The last of the locks thudded into place, and Starscream was left with the silence. Not even the roar of the sandstorm remained to break it up. With the drones all on their recharge platforms, except Saunter who scuttled along the skylight, it was quiet in his tower. A silence that wrapped around him, and swallowed him whole. 

He used to prefer the quiet. Now he found it too loud for comfort. 

He missed Deadlock. That’s all it was. 

Starscream unshuttered his optics and pushed off the door. He took the long way toward his laboratory, where he should have spent the entirety of the week, if only he hadn’t been distracted. 

It was for the best. This was the way things were meant to be. He had to get back to work, to live in the solitude he demanded, for the betterment of himself and his kind.

He’d never needed company before. One charming Firebrand certainly wasn’t going to change that. 

Not now. Not ever.