Starscream absolutely did not panic.
On the outside.
Inside, he screamed.
He was furious and terrified and frantic, but he had to keep his calm. Everything around him was chaos. There were injured mechs everywhere. The bar burned to the ground, completely unsalvageable. Obsidian’s taunting laugh echoed over and over in his comms.
He couldn’t find Blurr. And he couldn’t abandon everything else to search for the racer either. He was a leader. He had responsibilities.
Starscream opened the comms and started shouting orders. He called for medics and construction bots. Soldiers streamed into the area, shooing away those who managed to escape unscathed.
A fire brigade screamed into view, lights flashing. Suppressing foam spewed onto the flames, quickly smothering them. Not that Blurr’s bar could be saved. It was a total loss.
Blurr would be upset.
If he survived. If Starscream could find him.
Damage reports streamed straight to his HUD as he received them. Two casualties so far, multiple critical injuries, and several mechs who were battered and bruised, but capable of walking away.
Everyone was angry. Starscream could see their accusing glares tossed his direction. They blamed him for not protecting them. It was fair. Starscream blamed himself. He’d provoked and Obsidian had responded.
The fire brigade pulled two smoking frames from the debris of Blurr’s bar. Neither of them were Blurr.
One of them was Skybyte.
That was going to be a political nightmare. Skybyte was respected by all three factions currently residing on Cybertron.
All hands on deck and Starscream had to prove he was a working mech, too. He pushed aside his concerns and started to dig, pulling more injured mechs from the rubble. Those on the edge of the blast radius who had been pelted with debris and the shockwave.
And where the frag was Jazz?!
Starscream seethed as he dug out another two mechs, dented and covered in debris, but barely damaged for all of that. They were lucky to be alive. They didn’t even say thank you as the medics led them away. Ungrateful slaggers.
Starscream pulled up a huge piece of what used to be the stage, throwing it aside. He caught sight of a light blue pede. His spark fluttered.
Starscream dug faster, revealing Blurr beneath the debris, his plating dented, scorched, and splattered with energon. The armor around his right hip was crushed. His windshield had shattered, the glass reflected the still burning debris. His optics were dark.
Starscream dropped to his knees, placing a hand over Blurr’s chestplate. Beneath the windshield, Blurr’s frame thrummed. His spark still pulsed. Starscream scanned him, limited field medicine reassuring him that Blurr ventilated. He lived. But he was damaged, scorched, and losing energon fast.
“Someone give me a hand!” Starscream shouted as he tossed the rest of the debris, half-afraid to touch Blurr. What if he moved him and something else snapped? What if he damaged him further?
Starscream cupped Blurr’s helm, his face largely untouched save for a coating of ash and soot. His crest was dented, however.
I will take everything you hold dear before I destroy what’s left.
Obsidian’s words rang in the back of his processor. Starscream’s engine growled with fury.
It should have been me, he thought furiously. If Obsidian had a vendetta, he should have attacked me.
Footsteps skittering in debris. Starscream looked up as Jazz vaulted into view, looking undamaged, only to skim to a halt and stare down at Blurr’s battered frame.
“Frag, I’m too late,” he breathed.
“Where the Pit have you been?” Starscream snapped, his wings going taut, before he flicked his free hand dismissively. “Never mind. Tell me later. Help me get him up.”
“Get him up? Starscream, he needs a medic!”
“He needs to be somewhere safe!” Starscream eased a hand under Blurr’s back, grunting a little as the weight of Blurr’s boosters dragged him down. He regretted, in that moment, shifting to a more civilian frame.
Well, Blurr wasn’t doing any racing right now. He didn’t need these fragging things. A few quick twists of his wrists and Starscream detached both of them, which didn’t matter since one had been hanging by a few loose wires and the other was crushed.
“And he won’t be in the chaos the medical centers are right now,” Starscream added. “So get down here and help me.”
Jazz stared at him for another long, aggravating moment before he slid down the wreckage and up under Blurr’s other side. “Just so ya know, I’m registerin’ a complaint about how bad of an idea this is.”
“Noted.” Starscream grunted as they lifted Blurr up, a task made difficult by the fact he was dead weight. “We’re taking him back to my apartment.”
“Just how are we supposed to do that? I’m barely bigger than a minibot and you’re a civilian aircraft!”
“We’ll figure out a way!” Starscream snapped. Even if it meant flagging down a lift mech and sending Jazz along as a guard. He would not send Blurr to the chaos of the medical centers, and he would not send Blurr off with someone who’d be tempted to do him harm.
Jazz stared at him, his visor unreadable, but his field gave away more. He was startled, and Starscream realized, with good reason. His behavior was ridiculous. Starscream needed to get hold of himself before someone else more inclined to hurting him noticed.
He cycled a ventilation and steadied Blurr’s frame.
“Obsidian’s operatives could be anywhere,” Starscream continued with a firm look. “I don’t know who I can trust. The safest place for Blurr right now is in my apartment.”
Jazz worked his jaw. “Yeah, I get that,” he said. “All I want ta know is how ya expect us to get him there.”
Starscream ground his denta and scanned the chaos around him. Though chaos was a paltry word to describe the noise and madness. It felt like being back on the battlefield again, what with the stench of ash and burnt metal and spilled energon. What with the sound of shouting, screaming, even someone weeping. Perhaps a NAIL unused to the horrors that was the war.
The damage stretched as far as Starscream could see. The practiced optic recognized that the incendiaries used had a wide radius, but a low intensity. It was not unlike Thundercracker’s sonic boom, used to flatten the area. It was only in striking volatile compounds that the fires erupted.
Obsidian had meant to make a statement, not cause carnage. No, the carnage was still to come.
Starscream swallowed down his rage and nearly crowed when his optics lit on a familiar frame. There, where the medics gathered to see to the wounded, was Flatline. Perhaps the only medic Starscream trusted, for lack of a better word.
Flatline had done his re-frame. He could be relied upon to care for Blurr.
“I have an idea,” Starscream said as he both adjusted his grip on Blurr and sent a rapid flurry of emergency pings over Flatline’s comm, on their private line.
“It better not involve me going alt-mode and tying Blurr to my roof,” Jazz muttered.
Starscream ignored him as Flatline finally responded to his ping with a snarling “what?” that indicated he was highly stressed. The medic lifted his helm, scanning the area, before catching sight of Starscream. Their optics met, Flatline’s narrowing.
“Never mind, I see,” Flatline said and the comm shut down.
Starscream watched him finish the mech he was treating, say something to the other two mechs with medic symbols on their shoulders, before heading Starscream’s direction.
“It’s a hazardous existence to stand next to you, isn’t it?” Flatline remarked as he came close enough to scan Blurr. “He needs more than I can do right here.”
Starscream gritted his denta, refusing to rise to the bait of that remark. “I am aware. I want you and Jazz to take him back to my apartment. I am required here.”
“Whoa, whoa. I did not sign up for this,” Jazz said with a glance between himself and Flatline. “Since when did I become your subordinate?”
Starscream fixed the former Autobot with a glare. “Am I to understand that you have no stake in protecting Blurr then? I would have thought you two were friends.” He huffed. “My mistake.”
“I am needed here, Starscream,” Flatline said, taking his opportunity to protest. “I’m not your personal medic. There are others–”
“And there are other medics,” Starscream interrupted tightly. Blurr grew heavier by the minute, and Starscream was tracking every drip of energon from his frame. “I refuse to allow Obsidian any idea of victory. You will take Blurr back to my apartment, and you will repair him, and you will remember how dangerous I can be, Flatline. Is that clear?”
The red former Decepticon stared at him before lifting his chin. “Yes, Starscream.” He held out a hand, gesturing to Blurr. “Give him to me. I can carry him.”
Jazz obeyed, but Starscream hesitated, even though it was his idea in the first place. Blurr was ventilating, if shallow, and his frame was on fire due to his repair nanites swarming toward the multiple injuries. The last thing Starscream wanted to do was hand him over to Flatline and turn his back.
But he had to.
“Jazz will go with you,” Starscream said as Flatline easily took Blurr’s weight, despite being barely larger than Starscream and Jazz both.
Starscream sent the codes to disable the security system and grant access to Jazz, though he doubted Jazz actually needed them. He made a mental note to change them later.
“Sure, boss.” Jazz grinned, but Starscream wasn’t fooled. There was something nasty behind the curve of his lips and the flash of his denta. “Whatever ya say.”
Starscream watched them go, his spark tightening into a knot, before the pings of everyone demanding his attention forced him to shift his gaze. He was still leader of New Iacon. He had other responsibilities. He had his people to look after.
For now, he would have to trust Blurr’s fate to Jazz and Flatline. Such as it was.
“You might also consider getting some medical attention for yourself,” Flatline added in an offhand comm.
Starscream ignored him. He, at least, was conscious and on his pedes. There were others who needed it more.
Starscream cycled a ventilation and went to work, straight into the blinding lights and demanding vocals of a news crew. Trust these parasites to be first on the scene, not helping, but desperate to fill their broadcasting slots.
“Can you tell us what happened here tonight?”
“Is this a faction related attack?”
“Are you failing to keep us safe?”
“Is this a sign?”
Starscream growled. His wings hiked higher. He refused to rise to their bait, though the anger coiled and curled within him like an angered Dweller.
“I will answer your questions later,” he replied, close to a snap. “For now, I am more concerned with those who are injured and in need of assistance. So unless you have something useful to do, I would suggest you leave. Now.”
The nearest newsbot smirked and leaned closer. “Should I call that a ‘no comment’?”
Starscream’s optics narrowed. The other newsbots scattered, but this one remained, no fear in his optics. Starscream had a moment to spare for thought – was he one of Obsidian’s? Or was he just a brave fool?
“Call it what you like,” Starscream said coolly with a lingering look to the drone camera hovering over the newsbot’s head, capturing Starscream’s every move, “but the record will show that I am here, serving my people, as a leader should. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.”
He whirled on a heel-strut, snapped his wings, and ignored the shout directed at his back. He hadn’t lied. He did have work to do. Never mind that he didn’t have the answers to the newsbots questions. At least, none that he was going to share.
Obsidian was not going to get any further ammunition.
It was nearly dawn by the time Starscream managed to drag himself back to his apartment, stinking of spilled mechfluid and ash. He ached from helm to pede, his cables taut from effort. The lack of war had made him weak, helpless.
Or perhaps it was this stupid civilian frame, which he was now seeing the downsides of.
He stepped into the lowest level and made sure the doors were locked behind him and the security system engaged before he headed to the lift. All he wanted was to check on Blurr, chug some energon, and then collapse on the berth. Whether or not he slipped in a trip to the washracks was debatable.
Starscream whirled and powered up his blasters, aiming into the shadows. He really needed to get more lights down here.
“Whoa, boss. Calm down.” Something else rustled before Rattrap slithered out of the shadows like the vermin he was. “Don’t shoot. I kinda live here, remember?”
Starscream huffed and lowered his arms. “You idiot. I would have killed you. Where the frag have you been?”
“Tryin’ ta find more info on that Obsidian mech.” Rattrap rolled his shoulders, his optics glowing eerily, no more so than the false ones from his organic alt-mode.
Starscream fought back a shudder. The stench honestly should have been his first clue. “And?”
“Nothin’. He’s like a ghost or sumthin’. He’s down deep.”
They stepped into the lift. Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit as it rattled and clunked its way up to the penthouse Some day, he would have a better apartment than this. Someday, he and his people would be doing more than scrabbling around in the rust and garbage.
Starscream glared at Rattrap. “Too deep for you? I find that hard to believe. You live in the gutters, Rattrap.”
“Hey!” Rattrap reared back his helm, having the nerve to look offended. “I actually live here. I sniff around in the gutters. For ya.”
Starscream rolled his optics. “Well, you’re not doing much good for me if you can’t come up with a scrap of information.”
“I got scrap!” Rattrap’s tail flicked. “I don know if it’s useful or not, but I gotcher fraggin’ scrap.”
The lift came to a shuddering halt and the door opened, spilling them into the hallway connected to the penthouse house.
“And?” Starscream prompted as he picked up the pace. Rattrap had to scurry to keep up.
A fact which he did not appreciate as he scowled. “Well, he hates ya.”
“I knew that.” Starscream snorted. He punched his code into the keypad directly outside his apartment and waited for the security system to disengage.
“On top of that, he’s got a network of spies in th’ city. Mechs ya can’t tell one from t’other. I don’t even have designations.”
Starscream tossed him a sidelong look. “Then you’re not much use, are you?” he asked as he swept into his apartment, resisting the urge to start shouting for Flatline and Jazz.
Not that it was necessary. Jazz lounged upon the couch in the main room as though he hadn’t a care in the world. Flatline was in the process of emerging from Starscream’s private berth, a datapad in his hand.
“Ah,” he said. “Excellent timing.”
“How is he?” Starscream demanded as Jazz sat up on the couch, faking a human-like yawn and stretch.
Flatline gave him a flat look. “Not nearly as damaged as your hysteria would have indicated,” he said with a disdainful huff of his vents. “He’ll need to stay off that leg as much as possible for a few days, but otherwise, it was mostly dents and torn lines. It looked worse than it was.”
“Hysteria?” Jazz repeated, his mouth curving with his amusement.
Starscream tossed him a look. “I was not hysterical,” he snapped. “Blurr is integral to my political position. If he offlines, I’ll lose the support of the remaining Autobots and a good portion of the NAILs.”
“Yeah. Politics. That’s what it’s about,” Jazz said as he leaned back, making himself even more comfortable on the couch.
“I see.” Flatline’s visor flattened into a dark crimson. “Then you’ll be happy to hear he’ll make a full recovery. Though I can’t say the same for you if you don’t sit down and let me scan you. You’re still technically a new frame.”
Starscream’s optics narrowed but he was willing, at least, to listen. He gestured Flatline over impatiently and looked at Jazz.
“None,” the former Autobot said cheerfully. “Unless you want to count the way Maccadam’s was flattened as an issue. Blurr’s not gonna be happy when he wakes up.”
“Wakes,” Starscream repeated, refusing to hide his disdain for the human term. He tried not to fidget as Flatline circled him, poking and prodding at his dents and wings. “Tell me where you’ve been.”
Jazz tilted his helm, his visor taking on an odd gleam. “Heard some rumors. Decided to look into ’em. Just like your friend over there.” His gaze slanted to Rattrap, lingering at the door to Starscream’s quarters.
Starscream glanced at him but Rattrap held up his hands.
“Look, I don’ know nothin’. Cept that if ya want to find Obsidian, ya gotta go deep. Like, old tunnels, old myths, nasty tunnel-dwellers deep,” Rattrap said.
“Yeah. That.” Jazz scratched at the side of his nose. “Oh. And does the designation Nightscream mean anythin’ to ya?”
Starscream frowned. “Should it?”
“He blew up the bar. And then himself.” Jazz rolled his shoulders dismissively. “Obsidian plays for keeps. And he’s got an army of fanatics.”
Ugh. Those were the worst.
Starscream scrubbed a hand down his face. “And yet neither of you can tell me where he is, who his compatriots are, or what his plans are for the future.”
Silence. Save for the beep of Flatline’s scanner, which chose that moment to give off a neutral tone.
“Hmm.” Flatline tapped a staccato against the back of Starscream’s shoulder. “It’s all cosmetic. You’re lucky.”
“I could have told you that much,” Starscream snapped. “Is there anything else I need to know?”
“A thank you would be appreciated, but I know better than that.” Flatline tucked away his datapad and cycled a ventilation. “Comm me if anything changes.”
He left. And Starscream stared at the two mechs who were supposed to keep their optics on the pulse of Cybertron. Who should have seen tonight coming before it was too late. Who he had begun to rely upon and who had failed him.
“I want answers,” Starscream said as he took a step and a dusting of ash fluttered from his frame.
“Don’t we all,” Jazz drawled.
“I’m doin’ the best I can here,” Rattrap retorted.
“Do better!” Starscream snapped and whipped his hand toward his berthroom door. “Blurr is injured. Maccadams is in ruins. Skybyte is dead. So when I say try harder, I fragging mean it.”
Times like these, he needed help. He needed more than the ruins of who was willing to stay in New Iacon. He needed Soundwave and his brats, but Starscream would go take a bath in the Pit before he’d invite Soundwave back here.
Rattrap hissed in a very organic manner that would have been imposing to a lesser mech. “It ain’t like I’m getting’ paid fer this, ya know,” he muttered with a flick of his tail. “But yeah. Sure. Lemme go pull some info outta thin air fer ya.”
“You do that,” Starscream said.
He glared until Rattrap left. Though he made a mental note. Rattrap would bear watching. Starscream didn’t trust the little rat any further than he could throw him, and for all he knew, Rattrap was the traitor. Though Rattrap hadn’t struck him as a loyalist fanatic.
Starscream hadn’t survived this long by not being paranoid.
“I guess that’s my cue to leave, too,” Jazz said as he rose to his pedes, his motions casual, but something guarded in his frame language. “Before ya start treating me like some kind of servant, too.”
Jazz turned toward him slowly, danger coiling beneath his plating. “No?” he repeated, still with that infernal smile. “Oh, Starscream. I don’t see where you’re in any position to be telling me ‘no’. Especially since you’re lucky I don’t toss Blurr over my shoulder and take him outta here and away from you.”
Starscream’s wings went rigid and he moved, putting himself between Jazz and the berthroom door faster than he could match action to thought. “What makes you think you’ll get close enough to try?”
Jazz laughed. He planted his hands on his hips. “See, Star. That’s what I love about you. Such delusions of grandeur.” He tilted his helm. “But if you think you can protect him, you’re wrong. After all, look at how good of a job you’ve done so far.”
Starscream glared at him, refusing to admit how much the barb stung. “You’re trying to bait me. It’s not going to work.”
“Who says it hasn’t already?” Jazz smirked and something in his posture eased, away from threat and into casual. “You played your cards too soon, Star. I can read you like an open book.”
Starscream cycled a ventilation.
Jazz’s smirk widened.
Starscream checked his position, between Jazz and the berthroom, as hasty as it had been done. He realized Jazz was right.
Frag it all to the Pit.
He ground his denta and crossed his arms, not caring how defensive it made him look. Jazz had him by the intake.
He tried to turn it back toward business.
“Are you still in contact with the Autobots?” he asked.
Jazz’s visor flickered. “No. Why would I be?”
“Liar.” He tried to sound sly, but it came out stale. Starscream was still too rattled. “I know good and well you and Bumblebee have some special comm line.”
Jazz bounced on his heelstruts. “Maybe I do. Why?”
“Because I’m going to need some help.” That hurt to admit almost as much as it did allowing Jazz to have that victory over him.
He was weak now. Starscream hated being weak. He hated having a weakness. But short of storming into the berthroom and killing Blurr himself, there was no solution. Not one he could fathom immediately at any rate.
“Why don’t you call Soundwave?”
Starscream’s plating clamped down tight. “Because I’ll let an Autobot into my city before a Decepticon loyal to Megatron,” he hissed before he could remind himself he was trying not to give so much away.
Jazz frowned. “Well, ain’t that a nightmare that I didn’t need. Ya think Obsidian will make a play for him?”
Starscream shook his helm. “I don’t know.” And he didn’t know if Obsidian and the remaining Decepticons would unite. That was a mess none of them needed. Starscream didn’t have enough NAILs and/or Autobots on his side to stop that.
Even if a Metrotitan had spoken to him.
“Neither do I,” Jazz admitted and when he grinned at Starscream, it was only half in humor. “Ain’t that terrifyin?”
More than Starscream was willing to admit.
Jazz cycled a ventilation and dropped his hands. “Fine. I’ll see what I can do,” he said and his look turned hard. “You just make sure nothing else happens to my boss in there. Got me?”
Starscream snorted. “Like I needed you to tell me that.”
Jazz left and Starscream cycled a ventilation. He made sure the door locked behind the former saboteur, not that he thought it would stop Jazz, and double-checked that the rest of his security system was engaged. It didn’t feel like enough, and Starscream hated that uncertainty.
The tension of waiting to see if any of the NAILs were going to try something was one thing. But Obsidian was cold, calculated, and seemed capable of getting into places no one else could.
Obsidian was a threat. Starscream did not like threats.
He especially did not like threats that tried to take something that belonged to him. Agitation and concern warred together. Starscream scrubbed them out in the washracks, feeling slightly more put together as soot and filth sloughed from his frame.
Obsidian had attacked his city, had destroyed Blurr’s bar, had nearly killed Blurr… and no one knew anything.
Starscream ground his denta.
This was unacceptable.
He dragged a towel over his damp frame, chugged a cube of energon, and dragged his exhausted frame into his berthroom. It was only a few hours to dawn, but it felt much later than that. Starscream could only afford a few hours rest before he had to be up again.
What passed for forensics in New Iacon should have a report for him then, but Starscream suspected they wouldn’t be able to tell him anything he didn’t already know.
Blurr was on his berth.
Starscream hadn’t forgotten, per se, but it did remind him that he only had the one. And he certainly wasn’t going to recharge on the couch. There was room enough for two, even if Blurr was sprawled across it, obnoxiously taking up as much space as possible.
His blue paint, normally flawless, was marred with scrapes and dents. It was covered in static bandages and huge swaths of nanite gel to speed up healing. Blurr was going to be furious when he saw himself, and appalled. But he ventilated evenly, and there was no evidence of pain in his field.
Even repaired and covered in ugly nanite gel, he was a far better sight than the limp frame Starscream had pulled from the debris.
His hands curled into fists at his side.
This was unacceptable.
Starscream internally seethed and forced himself to swallow it down so that it didn’t bleed into his field. He carefully climbed into the berth beside Blurr, taking care not to jostle the bruised racer, who looked a lot smaller without his boosters.
He would have to retrieve those, or have them rebuilt, later. Blurr wasn’t going to be happy about their loss either.
Starscream cycled a ventilation and rested his palm on Blurr’s chestplate. The Racer didn’t stir, but beneath his hand, Starscream could detect the steady pulse of Blurr’s spark.
He was going to be fine.
Starscream, however, wasn’t sure he could say the same thing for himself.