It didn't take long for the newly-minted Rodimus Prime to develop the instincts common to most officers, aided by having so recently being only a lowest-rank soldier and knowing how they thought and felt. He could tell in a sparkpulse when one of his Autobots was fatigued, physically or mentally; he could sense brewing interpersonal conflicts and deftly defuse them without even seeming to notice anything was amiss at all. He could read the faces of any team and know how to gain their confidence.
He could also, from repeated experience, tell when his beloved comrades were up to something. The hastily-turned-off display screen and the scrambling to Look Busy, admittedly, were major hints; subtle his friends weren't. Hands on his hips, Rodimus delivered an arch look at the room; none of them met his optics. "All quiet?" he asked dryly.
"Nothing to report, Prime," Blaster answered professionally, which was a screaming alarm klaxon if Rodimus ever heard one. He moved forward, aware of Arcee, Blurr, Pipes, and Blaster watching him, to stand by Blaster's side at the comm station with its newly-installed wide screen.
"Well, I need to check the shuttle schedules," he announced, and reached out to turn the screen on. He was far, far too wickedly gratified when the room erupted in a chorus of "No!"
Rodimus hit the power switch, and the room froze.
The small mech on the screen resembled a lick of fire, all flashing reds and yellows as he danced on the shining silver pole. With encouragement from the unseen mech making the recording, he swung back and powerfully forwards, only to turn and hook his legs around the pole to spin upside down, all to the beat of a bright, energetic Iaconian orchestral arrangement. “Great job, lad,” said the unseen recorder, and the dancer turned to give the camera a cheeky, all-too-familiar grin.
"Arcee," Rodimus growled.
"It wasn't me!" Arcee protested. "I didn't even know you used to be a dancer!"
"It was me, Prime," Pipes volunteered, stepping up to take his lumps. "I was going through some archives with Grapple, and, well..."
"Grapple," Rodimus groaned.
"ButIdon'tunderstandwhatyouhavetobeashamedaboutRoddyImeanreally," Blurr burst in. "You'rereallygoodwehadnoidea!"
Rodimus sighed slowly, turned the display off again before he could see his former self execute another perfect, graceful spin. "I'm not really good," he answered, and the heaviness in his voice settled over the room. "Hot Rod was really good." He moved to the door, avoiding their optics as they had avoided his. "As you were."
He couldn't hurry down the hall fast enough to avoid hearing again the strains of the music he'd danced to, long ago.
When he really looked at it, Rodimus almost couldn't believe this was his Iacon anymore.
Hot Rod had been built after the Ark launch, when all of Cybertron was dark and quiet. The war happened in flashes, energon raids and sabotage brief flares of activity in a long, cold night. Optimus Prime and Megatron, Jazz and Starscream and Prowl were all stories the older ones told to a wide-opticked kid so new he still smelled like fresh paint, in between missions and to pass the time on migrations underground. The Iacon warrens had been his playground and proving ground, and he'd known it like he knew his own specs. Aboveground was a rare treat, even - perhaps because - when it meant battle.
No battles took place in Iacon anymore, and all its business happened aboveground. Here and there were patches of darkness, but for the most part Iacon was well-lit and bustling with activity: commerce, art, construction. It was more like a human city than any Cybertronian city Rodimus was used to.
In that it was actually, y'know, mostly functional.
Despite the advice of most - well, all - of his elder advisors, Rodimus walked the streets of Iacon without entourage, without so much as a bodyguard. It was past the end of the day shift, and the street he walked was all but deserted. Most people had either gone home or to join Iacon's growing nightlife, another concept they'd borrowed from human cities. Older, battle-scarred buildings shared space with shiny new edifices, both painted over in celebratory glyphs for the end of the war and the Autobot victory. Here and there the citizens of Iacon noted their Prime walking among them, but they'd all learned quickly that Rodimus was embarrassed by overt displays of devotion and so he was spared anything more than the occasional shout of greeting or offer to try some new confection at his favorite goodie maker's stall.
Fingers still sticky from the treat, Rodimus found the brief burst of energy giving him new courage - or recklessness, maybe, he'd never been too clear on the difference. And there just happened to be a streetlight to hand, and the pole looked about right...
It was too big around for a classic dancer's pole, but Rodimus's hands were bigger too. He grasped it above his head and leaned out, letting his own weight swing him around. Once, twice, the music thumping in his head; he hummed along with it, and hooked an ankle backwards around the pole. His spark quickened within him; Primus, he remembered the moves so easily, like all the wonder and terror in between then and now had never happened at all. He extended his free arm over his head, trailing it gracefully like a gauze veil, then reached up to grasp the pole and haul himself up on it, wrapping his thighs around its girth. Another spin, legs kicking out straight; this was always the hardest part for him, making the climb look effortless and graceful. He'd always tended to scramble up the pole, in a hurry to get to the next pose, but he liked to think he was a little more mature now. Climb, turn, let it spin him around slowly as he reaches up to climb again, feel the pole creak and sway - "Oh, mother of slag!"
The pole was bending, and too late Rodimus realized his mistake. He descended with the pole, cursing all the way, as the light overhead cut out with a snap of breaking wire. He was clinging to the pole with both hands and knees like a rank amateur, no longer the being of gossamer-lightness on the screen back in the comm room at Autobot HQ, and the knowledge that he would never be that again tore at his spark as his spoiler touched ground.
The difference between courage and recklessness: it's only courage if it works.
He let go. The streetlight sprang back, but not all the way, its metal twisted into a permanent arc, and the light was still off. Someone would have to repair that. Rodimus sprawled out with another curse at his own stupidity and lay there, staring up at the sky, simmering in resentment for the unfairness of all. "Slagging pitspawn Matrix," he muttered. "Aaaaagh!" He punched at the sky.
Someone giggled behind him. Rodimus froze, the chilling thought that someone heard me curse the Matrix crossing his processor before the thought of the failed dance or the bent streetlight. Bracing himself for horror or reproach, he tilted his head back and saw - after he flipped the image right-side-up in his optics - a single small blue Neutral, hand pressed to his mouth, slim shoulders shaking as he giggled. The sleek lines of him made Rodimus think 'flier model' for a moment, but the lack of prominent wings made him revise that to 'aquatic model.'
"I'm sorry!" the Neutral babbled through his giggles, flapping his free hand at him. "I'm sorry, just - I saw you dance, and - are you all right?"
"Yeah," Rodimus croaked, too relieved about not getting in trouble for committing sacrilege to worry much about the laughter. It wasn't mean or mocking, like his fellow soldiers could sometimes be - they all had their hard edges, even Roddy - and when he thought about it, yeah, it had been pretty funny. "Yeah," he said again, "I'm fine. Just, uh, my dignity may need some repair." He hopped to his feet, stumbled a bit before he remembered to fix his optics so he was seeing right-side-up again. "Sorry, I don't think we've been introduced...?" He hoped not, he was usually pretty good with faces unless he had other things on his mind.
The Neutral smiled warmly, golden optics bright. "I'm Polaris. And you're," he added, "Rodimus Prime. It's an honor."
Something about the way he said it - like it was something he said all the time, and meeting the Chosen One of Primus Etc. was actually no big deal at all - put Rodimus at ease. He offered a smile back, warm and a touch sheepish - "So, uh, you like dancing?"
Polaris lit up like a star, all but bouncing in place on his pedes. "Oh, yes! I love to dance. That's my job, actually. I dance at Sunset House." He smiled at the brief fleeting look of surprise that crossed Rodimus's faceplate before he could hide it - although Polaris was sleek enough and looked light enough to pick up with one hand, he was far too short to be a built dancer. Then again, who among them hadn't taken on new functions they hadn't been built for, over the course of the war.
"I hope I get to see you dance sometime," Rodimus offered. "I mean, it's only fair."
Polaris giggled. "How about tonight?"
"If you're not busy."
Polaris gazed up at him, guileless and hopeful. It was an impressive effort even by Rodimus's standards, who was no stranger to guileless hopeful looks himself, and in that moment he couldn't think of a single reason not to surrender.
"For any citizen of Cybertron? Never," he said, far too solemn. Polaris giggled, which was exactly the reaction he'd been hoping for.
They called them the Invisible Faction.
While the Autobots and Decepticons fought (valiantly or brutally, depending on who you asked) over every scrap of energon they could find, those who chose to remain neutral had to stay out of their way and survive any way they could. Mobility and secrecy were essential; you never knew when someone with a brand would come along and ruin what little you'd managed to scrape together, so you had to be ready to run at a moment's notice. Storefronts were replaced by traveling merchants; medics went to their patients instead of the other way around. The best way to survive was to exist under the radar. Few Neutral settlements survived for long.
Sunset House was one of the few Neutral establishments to not only endure the war but outlast it, standing in the same place it had since the fall of the Golden Age. It was a cabaret of sorts, in human terms, featuring dancing, entertainment, energon (when they could get it) and occasionally more clandestine services. It had been a meeting place for opposing commanders, due to its policy of strict neutrality backed up by fearsome security mechs. Rodimus had never been inside. He hesitated to go inside now, until Polaris grasped the young Prime's large hand in his own smaller one and all but hauled him through the door like a determined tugboat.
"New friend, Pol?" greeted the mech at the door, a car model with cheery yellow, orange, and green detailing and an easy smile that took the sting out of his pinging Roddy a code of conduct (summary: "don't be an aft") as soon as he walked through the door.
Pol beamed at the grounder, fondness and excitement shining through his optics. "Sirius, this is Rodimus! He's a dancer too." Sirius turned to Rodimus and his optic ridges went up, surprise and query, and Rodimus made a 'don't look at me, I'm just along for the ride' gesture. "Anyway, I have to go get ready for my set," Pol continued. "Roddy-" am I 'Roddy' to him already? Rodimus wondered - "Siri can show you around, and I'll see you after, okay?"
"Sure. Uh - good luck," Rodimus answered, suppressing the human habit of saying break a leg and saving himself from having to explain the concept of jinxes as a result. Pol grinned at him and scampered off, and Rodimus turned to Sirius. "Oh, I should - you have a cover charge, right?" He reached into subspace for his credit chit.
Sirius stopped him with a light touch on his arm. "I can't take your credits, Prime," he said seriously.
Rodimus paused, then drew out his chit anyway. "Sure you can," he said, with a determined smile.
Sirius looked distinctly uncomfortable, but he allowed the Prime to fold the little card into his hand. "All right," he allowed, "but you still get the first-time discount."
"Discounts are good. I like discounts." Roddy grinned reassuringly. Sirius shook his head with a chuckle and led him out of the foyer into the House proper.
The House floor was a perfect mixture of cozy and airy, with comfortable (if charmingly mismatched) couches and loungers arranged in two semicircles facing a wide, shallow stage lacquered shimmery silver. Mechs wandered or lounged, smallish cubes of brightly-glowing high-grade in their hands, and Rodimus was gratified when Sirius pressed a similar cube into his. "Kind of a quiet night tonight," the groundmech mentioned.
Rodimus glanced around; the assembled mechs, more than a few turning to get a good look at the Prime, numbered a dozen or so, twice the size of the average Autobot strike squad. "It's usually more crowded than this?"
Sirius gave him a grin. "You should see this place when the builders are in between projects, or on holidays. Standing-room only. We're packed."
"You're pretty popular." Rodimus took a mouthful from his cube (it was quality high-grade, he was pleased to note, not the weak stuff all too common during the war; an indication that Sunset House was doing well, and a good sign for Iacon's economy) and chose a seat on one of the couches near the stage. Its other occupant, a skinny flier who couldn't take his optics off the Prime, moved over to make room. "But Sunset House has been around for a while, hasn't it?"
"Since before the war." Sirius smiled dreamily.
"How long have you been working here?"
"Not quite that long." Sirius gave him a teasing grin, but Rodimus could take a hint: no prying. He settled back with his cube as the overhead lights dimmed, leaving only the wall-sconce lamps to light the room. "Pol's about to start," Sirius murmured; Rodimus gathered as much from the hush falling over the room.
"Does Polaris pole-dance?" he thought to ask in a whisper. Sirius gave him an odd look, but the stage lights were turning on to illuminate a single figure so he didn't answer, and Rodimus, again, took the hint and muted his vocalizer.
The small silhouette on the stage had no pole. He raised his arms as the music (Earth music, something from about the era the Ark crew had woken up on Earth, Roddy thought) swelled, revealing wings of gauzy material attached to his shoulders and arms. The drums crashed into the bass line, the stage was flooded with light and Polaris snapped into a spin so tight and perfect it was like he was welded to a pivot.
Rodimus's vents caught. Polaris didn't need a pole - he was captivating just as he was, flowing like water over the stage. He darted to one end, opening his arms gracefully to the audience, making his gauzy drape shimmer in the spotlight. To the other end of the stage, and this time Roddy could see his dreamy smile as his fingers and the drape fluttered. Rodimus found himself smiling back.
A quick spin, back toward the center of the stage; the chorus was beginning, and Polaris brought more energy to the dance, all but bouncing on his pedes. He gestured, and the crowd started clapping in time with the music. Rodimus obligingly joined in, the beat of his palms naturally falling into the rhythm of Polaris's steps and jumps. Polaris completed a series of quick spins and dropped into a full split, flashing a brilliant grin in Rodimus's direction. Though he knew better, Rodimus let himself think that smile was just for him, and basked in it as the music faded out.
The audience erupted into applause and cheers, and Rodimus added his own voice. Polaris laughed and covered his mouth with one hand bashfully, shaking his head. Next to Rodimus, the skinny flier sighed. "Isn't he amazing?"
"I've never seen a better dancer," Rodimus agreed, truthfully enough.
"And never will again," Sirius declared, voice rich with pride and affection, and answered Rodimus's raised optic ridge with a sheepish grin. "Yeah, okay, so I'm Pol's biggest fan. I've got a right to be."
"After today, you've got some competition for that title," Rodimus told him. Sirius laughed.
Polaris vanished from the stage, returning after a few minutes on the arm of a smiling Seeker-model whose wings were clean of any sigil. The Seeker nodded politely to the Prime, but gave him no other acknowledgement - which Rodimus appreciated - and escorted Polaris through a small but enthusiastic gauntlet of well-wishers and fans. Rodimus watched as Polaris greeted them graciously, exchanging hugs and kind words and handclasps, but he stayed where he was, thoughtfully tipping his cube back and forth. His balance and movement circuitry were humming at him with the afterimages of Polaris's dance, calculating weight distribution, energy, centers of gravity for spins... it was a restless feeling, filling him up like the feeling he got right before a race or a battle. He shuttered his optics briefly, counting in binary like Magnus had taught him to control the feeling.
Sirius's voice intruded before he got to 1000000. "Do you want to go say 'good job' too, Roddy?"
Roddy, just as Polaris had called him, like they were already friends, but Sirius said it so gently that Rodimus didn't mind. Thought maybe he'd like being Roddy to Sirius, even. "Later," he said, directing a smile to the cube in his hand. "I don't want to steal his thunder with my dazzling Primely aura, you know?"
Sirius snickered. "Well, you are pretty dazzling." Rodimus grinned, gratified. "But I know Pol won't mind if you wanted to go talk to him. He likes you already, I can tell. And everyone here is a regular - more like friends that come over most nights for a party."
"Except for me," Rodimus pointed out.
"Including you." Sirius plucked a decanter from the table next to him and refilled Rodimus's cube. "If you'd like."
Rodimus took a drink, to be polite - not to have an excuse not to talk for a moment, thank you very much. "You're way too nice for anyone's good, Siri," he said after swallowing, deliberately using the nickname Polaris had used. Sirius's only answer was a wry cackle, not insulted at all; encouraged, Rodimus continued. "You know I won't be able to come every night. Gotta run out and save the galaxy and its outlying suburbs, and all that stuff."
"I know. We don't want to pull you from your duty," Sirius told him, optics sparkling mischievously. "...Too much."
Rodimus laughed and lifted his cube to Sirius in salute. "All right, I guess that makes me an official auxiliary regular," he announced, and Sirius laughed and pumped a victorious fist in the air.
"We've got another member of the Sunset House Regulars!" he announced, cheery voice carrying through the room, and Rodimus found himself the recipient of cheers and applause and a running tackleglomp from Polaris that (he pretended) nearly sent him backwards over the couch.
"I knew you'd love it!" Polaris beamed, optics bright as suns as Rodimus steadied the smaller mech on his lap. "I knew you'd love it here. Did you like my dancing?"
"It was amazing. You're amazing." Rodimus returned his hug, warmed by Polaris's giggling enthusiasm. "I've seen built and programmed dancers that had less skill than you. And less fun to watch." He grinned. "You even had us participating."
Polaris wriggled gleefully on his lap. "I picked that up from watching Earth performances," he confessed with a sheepish grin. "I really like Earth stuff. Their music, their dancing..."
"I know what you mean. Have you seen ballet yet?" Polaris shook his head, optics wide. "I'll bring you some recordings next time I go to Earth. The stuff they can do with their bodies is really amazing." He squeaked, not entirely theatrically, when Polaris hugged him tight again.
"You're so sweet," Polaris gushed. "Are you sure we can't keep you?"
Rodimus's spark panged. "...Tempted," he managed, and Polaris giggled and patted his back just behind his spoiler. "But eventually I do have to go be responsible. ...Eventually," he repeated firmly, looking at the cube in his hand.
Sirius knew his business; "A round for everyone on the House!" he announced, to delighted cheers. "To a night of irresponsibility."
Polaris's Seeker escort was named Celesti - "Lesti," he'd offered with a smile. "Siri and Pol like you enough for nicknames, therefore so do I."
"In that case, you can call me Roddy." Rodimus was half slouched in his seat, the buzz of impending overcharge having given way to a warm, mellow feeling long ago. He gave Celesti a hazy smile over his half-full cube. "So is it just you three working here?"
"Oh, no," Lesti chuckled. "There are us four stars - Centauri is off tonight, I'm afraid, he'll be devastated he missed you - and the security team and a couple of dispenser mechs, and La Lune - he's the owner of the establishment." Celesti nodded to a spot behind Rodimus, who struggled upright and craned his head around to see.
"Him?" he said, as the broad-winged lavender shuttle-mech gave him a cool, polite nod. "I thought he was the bouncer."
"He does work in that capacity, on occasion. He's very protective of us."
"Good." Rodimus turned back around and took another drink from his cube. "Good. You're all worth protecting."
"Oh, Pol was right - you are sweet." Celesti gave him a warm, glowing smile that Rodimus couldn't help but return.
"I told you!" Polaris called from the stage, where he was trying to teach the skinny flier who'd shared Rodimus's couch how to do the Electric Slide. It was a difficult task, mostly owing to the fact that the flier too was overcharged and couldn't stop giggling.
"Yes, dear, you're usually right about these things," Celesti called indulgently, and turned back to Rodimus. "Pol tells me you're a dancer too, actually."
Rodimus made a dismissive gesture, belatedly realizing that cubes probably shouldn't be waved around like that when his coordination was off; Celesti helped him steady it before it could spill. "Not really," he answered sheepishly as Celesti cradled his hand. "Not professionally, at least. I was patterned partially off a famous dancer of the time, Flamestep. They just wanted me to have her athletic ability - agility, flexibility, quick reflexes, and lots of strength in a small frame, and all that. But I got a little too much of her programming along with it."
"Too much?" Lesti questioned.
Rodimus shrugged. "I was sparked restless. Couldn't concentrate. When they let me learn dance, I could focus better." He smiled apologetically. "I got to be passable at most kinds of dance, but I was best at the pole."
Celesti's optics lit in interest. "You simply must show us sometime, Roddy."
Rodimus grinned crookedly. "Sure, if you can find a pole rated for a mech my size. When I was reformatted, I went up four weight classes."
"You poor thing."
"Yeah, seriously." Rodimus swallowed down the last of his cube and blinked foggily down into its empty depths. "How many of these have I had?"
"Slag me, I'm over my limit." Rodimus put the cube down on the side table and heaved himself slowly to his feet, feeling like he'd just been reformatted from weight class six to weight class ten. "Listen, it was really nice to meet you - all of you. I'm definitely going to be back. But if I don't get some recharge tonight, the world will end or something."
"Oh, please don't go without saying goodbye!" Polaris all but flew off the stage, nearly upending his dance partner, and flung himself into Rodimus's arms in an enthusiastic hug that almost knocked Rodimus over for real - I really am overcharged, he thought. "It was so wonderful to meet you, Roddy," Polaris told him, snuggling in against his chest. "Thank you so much for coming. You have to come back, soon, you will, won't you?"
Polaris turned big gold optics up to him, and - well, it would take a harder spark to resist that than Rodimus's spark would ever be. "I'll come back," he said, returning the hug. "Soon. I promise. Thank you for being so welcoming."
"Why wouldn't we be? You're lovely."
"That... I just... aww."
One final, sparkfelt hug, and Roddy strode - okay, tottered - back out into the world, feeling warm and fuzzy and a lot better about life in general. The 'night life' of Cybertron had given way to the far more sensible 'all good little bots should be recharging right now'; the streets were quiet, the streetlamps dim. Rodimus hummed contentedly, treasuring the images of the friends he'd made today, and the way Polaris had danced.
"Prime! Prime, sir, please wait!"
Rodimus paused and peered foggily back the way he'd come. Scampering after him - not entirely in a straight line, it must be said - was Polaris's dance partner, the slender flier. Rodimus waited for him to catch up, greeting him with a smile. "Hey. You decided to leave the party a little early too, huh?"
"They were about ready to close down for the night anyway." The flier smiled up at him. "I just wanted to tell you - it was an honor to meet you. I've been wanting to for so long."
Oh Primus, he's gushing. Rodimus fixed a smile on his face. "Thanks. Um, I'm kind of embarrassed, but I don't think I caught your name before..."
"Oh, that doesn't matter!" The flier shook his head quickly. "My name is as nothing compared to your illustrious one, great Prime." He bowed his head, but he couldn't quite hide a smirk.
Rodimus ran a few calculations in his head to calm himself down. Then he said firmly, "Starscream, get out of him."
The flier snickered, in quite another voice than the one he'd used to praise the Prime. "Oh, he's far too overcharged to know what's happening," the ghost of Starscream said dismissively, flapping a borrowed hand. "He won't even remember come the on-cycle."
"Do we need to have another talk about what consent means?" Rodimus demanded.
"Of course not, Ultra Magnus."
"Ouch." Rodimus shook his head. "What do you want, Starscream?"
Starscream kicked off into the air, floating on his host's repulsors with enviable effortlessness to smirk smugly down at Rodimus. "Besides a body, sweet revenge, and to rule the universe, you mean?" he asked sweetly. "Why, nothing. I came out here to offer you some help, Prime."
Rodimus put his head on one side. "You. Help. How?"
"You want a dancer's pole rated for your weight class?"
"How did - you slagger, how long were you eavesdropping?"
"Long enough." Laughing at Rodimus's sour expression, Starscream draped himself - or rather, his host's self - over Rodimus's shoulder. "You know, if you want to get back into dancing, you should go to the people who perfected the art."
"Humans?" Rodimus asked idly, just to tick Starscream off.
It worked. "Brat," Starscream hissed, clocking him over the helm. "I meant the Seekers." Rodimus hesitated, thinking of Celesti back at Sunset House; Starscream made a frustrated noise. "The Seeker community in New Vos! It was the Seekers who invented midair dance, with repulsor technology-"
"Repulsors on the pole are cheating," Rodimus interrupted him flatly.
"Spoken like a true groundkisser."
"Are we really doing this, Starscream? The whole 'flier versus grounder' nonsense? Really?"
Grousing, Starscream unwound himself from Rodimus's shoulders and landed lightly on the ground. "Just think about what I said," he commanded, complete with dramatic point at Rodimus's face. "Repulsors aside, I'm trying to help you. And most Seekers are weight class five or above, so a Vosian pole could handle you with ease."
"Even if that’s true, I can't go to New Vos anyway." Rodimus shrugged. "We have a noninterference treaty. If I broke it just to get a dancer's pole I'd never have time to use anyway, Magnus would drop-kick me."
"You leave the treaty to me." Starscream lifted his chin. "I am the last Emirate of old Vos. Dead or not, I can still get things done."
Rodimus shook his head, befuddlement warring with outright denial, and Starscream gave him a last smirk and turned to saunter off. "Just take him home and leave him," Rodimus called after him. "Without using his body to molest anyone else, either! I hear one complaint and I'm calling in the Ghostbusters again!"
"Spoilsport!" Starscream snapped back, and launched himself into the air; Rodimus groaned and continued his trek back home.