“Are you sure?”
Blurr bit back the sigh before it could escape. He wanted to hide behind his hand, but re-paints necessitated that he hold still. Not that this was truly a re-paint. All Jazz managed to do right now was hide the flaws.
Sooner or later, Blurr would need a full-frame strip, paint, and wax. For now, presentable would have to do.
“I need to be on that stage, Jazz,” he replied.
His former commanding officer snorted a ventilation. “That’s not what I asked, Blurr. And ya know it.”
Not fidgeting was the hardest part.
Blurr frowned. “Am I sure about this? About Starscream? Frag, no,” he replied and fought down a twitch as Jazz brushed over a sensitive cable accidentally. “But I have to do something. I’m not letting Obsidian have his way.”
“Ya don’t hafta work with Starscream to stop Obsidian.” Jazz circled around to his front and gave him a critical look, one hand pressed to his chin. “I got connections.”
Blurr’s gaze slid to Jazz. “The same connections you and Starscream discussed?”
“Ah. Forgot ya heard that.” Jazz shrugged, his tires setting off into a spin. “More or less. But yeah. Say th’ word, we’ll drop ole Screamer, and go at this without him.”
Blurr nibbled on his bottom lip. The stench of paint spray made him dizzy, hard to think. It still didn’t change his mind, and he couldn’t even properly explain why.
“We need him,” he said finally, and with an audible sigh. “Like it or not, the Metrotitan spoke to him. And he’s useful.”
Jazz’s grin slid into a smirk. “For a great many things, I’m sure.” He folded his arms under his bumper. “He is pretty good in the berth.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Blurr snapped.
“I know what ya meant. Ya can lower your arms now, by the way.”
Blurr obeyed, rolling his shoulders to ease the cramp holding them had caused. He still wasn’t one-hundred percent, but he refused to sit in the shadows while Starscream held this press conference. He didn’t want Obsidian to think he was scared, or that he’d won.
“What we do in the berth has nothing to do with our political alliance,” Blurr said as he looked down at his frame, using the mirror to check Jazz’s work.
He’d done a good job. Blurr was passable. Not perfect. But hopefully, no one would be so close as to see all the imperfections.
“It doesn’t?” Jazz gasped theatrically, his visor brightening. “Then ya mean ta say that your alliance is political, but the berth fun is all about romance?” He leaned close and peered at Blurr. “Are ya falling for yon sassy Seeker?”
Blurr rolled his optics. “Of course not.” He brushed at a smudge on his arm, but as it did no good, quickly gave up. “It’s release. Stress relief. Something to take the edge off.”
“Sure, sure.” Jazz straightened and looked Blurr up and down. “Well, I’d say yer presentable. And your adoring public waits.” He made a broad gesture, and then bowed at the waist.
“Adoring. Right.” Blurr snorted and turned toward the door, slower than usual. His hip twinged at sudden movements.
He hesitated. A quiver of unease rattled through his spark before he could clamp it down. Standing before a crowd should not induce any anxiety. It had been the entirety of his existence prior to the war. Yet, he hesitated.
Jazz slid in front of him, helm tilted. “All jokes aside,” he said, tone turned serious. “You don’t have to do this.”
Blurr shook his helm. “Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t.” Jazz folded his arms under his bumper, all amusement gone, and nothing left in his field and expression but Commander Jazz, Spec Ops member. “If you want out, all you have to do is say so. I will get you out.”
Blurr rubbed at his forehelm. “You’re saying that like I’m trapped. Nothing’s keeping me here. I have my reasons.”
Jazz made a non-committal noise. He didn’t budge.
Blurr cycled a ventilation. “I mean it, Jazz. I’m seeing this through.” He dropped his hand and narrowed his optics. “It’s personal now.
“And Starscream has nothing to do with it.”
“Nothing except that he’s as involved as I am,” Blurr said in a firm tone. “Yeah, we share a berth, and yeah, apparently we’re living together now. But that’s it.”
Jazz blew out air in a rush and rolled his shoulders, dropping his hands. “If you say so,” he said, and planted a grin on his face, one that was both cheesy and disingenuous. “Then let’s go. The spotlight calls.”
Somehow, Blurr felt like he’d just lost some kind of game that he never knew he was playing. Nevertheless, he shook his helm and followed after Jazz.
His former Commander was right, at least. The public waited. And so did Starscream.
This time, someone had built the stage in an open area just outside of the building Starscream had claimed for himself. It was a stupid idea in Blurr’s opinion. It was as though Starscream intended to provoke Obsidian, calling him out and daring him to attack again.
But Obsidian hadn’t even intended to attack Starscream the first time around.
It was still foolish.
The crowd this time was larger, but also, angrier. They muttered, more than talked among themselves, and their collective fields rasped against Blurr’s own. Spotlights pointed toward the stage, itself lackluster. Blurr expected glitz and glamor, not a bare podium and a solid-grey backdrop.
News crews clustered at the front of the stage, looking like a pack of ravenous pirahnacons, eager for a soundbite to feed their hunger for discourse. At least a hundred mechs crowded the ground behind them, their badges missing or scraped over. A couple dozen more mechs, still with their badges though more discreetly, hung at the back. Of Starscream’s entourage Blurr saw very few, except a handful carefully placed near the stairs leading up to the stage.
Blurr was ushered onstage the moment he was noticed. Jazz vanished from his side, and Blurr never saw him disappear. He assumed Jazz was somewhere in the crowd, keeping an optic out for more bombers.
Blurr ascended to the stage and was more than a little startled when a ragged cheer rose up from one section of the crowd. He cycled his optics and gave a little wave in that direction before the cheer called again.
Starscream hovered near the podium, his face blank as he noticed Blurr. He did, however, gesture for Blurr to come closer.
They had argued about this. Quite forcefully.
Starscream wanted Blurr to rest more. He claimed Obsidian might attack again, and Blurr was in no condition to flee for his life.
Blurr, however, refused to be intimidated by a mech who couldn’t even show his face to make threats. He refused to let Obsidian think he’d earned any fear. He would be on this stage, or the press conference wouldn’t happen at all.
He’d interrupt if he had to. Let the newsbots make what they could of that.
In the end, Starscream relented. Round one went to Blurr. He savored his victory because he believed they would be few and far between in the future.
“You’re just in time,” Starscream said with a sharp look up and down Blurr’s frame. “Jazz did a good job.”
Blurr’s lip curled into a vague smile. “Am I presentable enough?”
Starscream tilted his helm. “I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t.” He held out a hand to Blurr. “Come. You can stand beside me.”
Blurr cycled his optics. “What happened to sidelining me?”
“Someone told me that was a very bad idea. I’m inclined to agree with them.” Starscream grinned his politician grin and winked. “Besides, we’re in public.” He wriggled his fingers pointedly.
Blurr cycled a ventilation and placed his hand in Starscream’s, allowing the Seeker to pull him toward the podium. As Starscream did, the murmuring of the crowd grew into a dull roar. Several spotlights focused on the stage, directing at the podium as Starscream stepped behind it, drawing Blurr next to him.
He released Blurr’s hand and rested both of his own on the edge of the podium. He smiled that big grin, his wings still and settled, as Blurr shifted into a comfortable position next to him. He looked out at the crowd and tried not to get blinded by the attention.
“My fellow Cybertronians, if I could have your attention please,” Starscream said, speaking into a microphone. His voice carried and seemed to surround them, loud enough to quiet the crowd. “It’s time we get started, yes? I don’t want to keep you too long.”
Blurr tried not to fidget. He focused above the crowd’s helms, but his gaze wandered. He couldn’t help nervously looking around him, trying to find signs of discourse, of potential bombers. He still couldn’t find Jazz.
“I know you are all concerned about the attack on Maccadam’s. There have been many rumors circulating about what may have caused it,” Starscream said as he lowered his hand and braced himself on the podium. He actually managed to sound pleasant. “I am here to set the record straight, to reassure, and to make you a promise, but first, I wish to announce that Blurr is alive and well.” He half-turned and gestured toward Blurr with a curved grin. “I know there were many rumors to the contrary.”
Blurr cycled his optics and gave a little wave to the crowd. That same group who had cheered for him earlier made noise again.
“He’s a little battered, and a little bruised, but he remains fully committed to assisting me in serving Cybertron and the mecha who live here,” Starscream said, returning his attention to the podium. “He, like many of us, cannot be cowed by a cowardly act of violence, for that is what it was. An act of domestic terrorism by a shadowed party who wishes to see Cybertron fall.”
Blurr watched the audience. Most of those present looked confused. They exchanged glances. The chatter all but ceased.
Blurr looked for guilty faces. Smug faces. Anyone who might be connected to Obsidian in some way. He had no doubt that Obsidian’s spies lurked out there, waiting for an opportunity, or reporting back to their boss.
“I do not have a name, for coward’s hide behind anonymity,” Starscream continued, his tone turning fierce and insistent. “But I do know this. He seeks to divide us. To turn us against one another, until we tear ourselves apart. He believes that none of us deserve to start again, that Cybertron is not our home.” Starscream narrowed his optics. “He is wrong.”
A ragged cheer rose in pockmarks from the crowd. Members of Starscream’s entourage? Mecha who genuinely supported him? Blurr didn’t know.
“This mech, this terrorist, is only interested in one thing: to divide and conquer. Let us not do him the courtesy of doing his work for him. Let us be united, Cybertronians with one vision, one goal. Let us show him that we are not going to be cowed, that we are not afraid, and that this is our planet, our home.”
More cheers, less ragged this time, rose up. They were loud, agreeing. Some mechs Blurr recognized as patrons to his bar. Others were those he knew had no affection for Starscream, and he didn’t believe for one second that idea had changed.
No, they cheered for a different reason. Because Starscream was right, even if he was, well, Starscream.
Cybertron was their planet. It was their home. They would not be driven away from it in fear, not again. Neither would they bow to another mech who sought to bring upon change with violence and audacity.
Megatron had soured everyone to such actions.
So while these mecha might not like Starscream, they agreed with him.
“I ask that if anyone has any information that may be of use in our search for this coward, please come forward that we may drag him into the light,” Starscream continued, his words more confident and fierce now. “I am putting together a team, a strike force whose sole purpose is to track down this individual and bring him to justice. Volunteers are greatly encouraged. We should all be given the opportunity to defend our home. To strike back against the mech who believes so little of our courage.”
Energy filled the crowd. Starscream certainly understood how to whip them into action, didn’t he? Perhaps he’d learned it from Megatron. If anyone asked what charisma could buy you, one need look no further than the army Megatron had once commanded.
“We are stronger together,” Starscream said with a large smile Blurr never knew he was capable of producing. “I firmly believe that, and I know that you all believe it as well.”
Someone started to clap, perhaps one of Starscream’s supporters. It was enough to get others started, one by one, the agreement picking up in volume. They stomped their pedes. They whistled. They whooped.
Starscream half-turned toward Blurr, grinning and holding out a hand. His fingers wriggled invitingly, as if calling Blurr to his side again.
Blurr cycled a ventilation. He’d brought this upon himself.
He planted a smile on his face and stepped that one pace closer to Starscream, unsurprised when Starscream tugged him up onto the podium, and they shared the narrow space. Starscream hooked an arm around his waist, his hand resting on Blurr’s opposite hip, half-possessive, half-affectionate.
He leaned into Blurr’s side, lips inches from Blurr’s audial. “Do you want to speak?” he asked.
Blurr resisted the urge to cross his arms defensively. “I think you’ve said everything you need to say,” he muttered, hopefully not loud enough to carry. “Why didn’t you name Obsidian?”
“Because they don’t need to know it was a former Decepticon. Factional tension is still too high.” Starscream’s lips came close enough to brush Blurr’s audial, sending a shiver down his spinal strut. “Do you disagree?”
Blurr worked his intake and turned his face closer to Starscream, something incredibly intimate, and he was more than aware of the crowd watching them. “Not in public, I don’t.”
“Mmm.” Starscream squeezed his hip. “I knew you were the right choice,” he purred, and drew away, turning his attention back to the crowd.
He raised his free hand for quiet, and it rippled through those attending. “Are there any questions?” he asked.
“Who’s going to lead your little strike force?” Someone demanded, his voice a loud boom from the back. Blurr could see nothing but a dark shape, a military frame perhaps given the size of it.
“That will be determined by the team itself,” Starscream replied in a pleasant tone. “Though I will offer advice if they feel it is necessary.”
“What about Maccadam’s?” Someone else shouted, this one nearer. Blurr tracked the question to a mech he did recognize as a frequent patron of his bar.
Scrapes and dings marred the mech’s armor, along with scorchmarks and a few temporary static bandages. He must have been there for the attack.
Starscream’s fingers pressed in on Blurr’s hip. “I do believe this question is for you, Zippy,” he said brightly.
He barely kept himself from glaring. Instead, Blurr cycled a ventilation and leaned forward, toward the podium.
“Yes,” he said. “I will locate a suitable location and begin rebuilding as soon as possible. Maccadam’s was my livelihood, and a place where all can come together. I will not let a single act of terrorism dissuade me from rebuilding.”
“Yer not afraid?” Someone else asked, this coming from a mech of purple and yellow accents, only a few rows back from the stage.
Blurr tilted his helm. “Should I be?”
“One might argue that yer alliance with Starscream is to blame for it’s destruction,” the purple-yellow mech replied, his optical band glittering with a deeper intelligence.
Blurr did not recognize this mech. Now, he wished he did. He made a mental note of him as someone to look into. Perhaps Jazz might want to see where he made his berth.
“I suppose you could assume that,” Blurr said with a shrug of his shoulders. “But I’ve also made it a point for Maccadam’s to welcome everyone. Even before Megatron’s return, I allowed mechs of all factions into my bar. Something tells me our mysterious terrorist doesn’t like that too much.”
“You don’t think he’ll strike again?”
Blurr tracked that question further toward the back, to a tall mech with dark plating and a single optic. A victim of Empurata in the past, perhaps.
“I’m not saying he won’t. But I am saying I’m not going to let fear of that stop me.” Blurr tilted his chin, stepping a little out of Starscream’s embrace to show that he stood on his own, with or without a Seeker in his berth. “Before this, I was an Autobot warrior. I was a Wrecker. We have peace now, and I welcome that, but I am not going to let a coward stop me from living.”
“Are you going to volunteer for the strike force?”
“No,” Starscream said, before Blurr could even form words. He leaned around Blurr, smile so very pleasant and reassuring. “At least, not at first. He still has much healing to do, despite being one of the lucky ones.”
Anger roiled within Blurr, though he was careful to keep it concealed. How nice of Starscream to decide for him. What if Blurr wanted to be on that task force? What if he wanted to help look for Obsidian?
What if it wasn’t Starscream’s choice at all? Because it wasn’t.
Now was not the time or the place to bring it up, however.
“Starscream does have a point.” Blurr’s smile was more of a grimace. “I’m not much use with this bum hip of mine.” He patted it and produced a laugh that many a camera had loved back when he’d been a world-class racer. “But I will help in anyway I can.”
Starscream’s field nudged against his in that moment, proud and affectionate. Blurr all but slapped it away with his own.
Not right now.
“I plan to have a memorial for Skybyte and all others who were killed in the attack,” Blurr continued, and took small satisfaction in feeling Starscream startle next to him.
Hah. They hadn’t discussed this. Because Blurr had come up with it all on his own. He could play political games, too.
“I am actually relieved that we live in a time of relative peace and can take the opportunity to do such a thing. Skybyte was a dear friend. He’ll be missed, and I want to honor the legacy he left behind.”
“As do we all,” Starscream added with that politician’s smile. “As soon as we’ve finalized preparations, we’ll let everyone know so that all can attend. Until then, we must all continue as we have, rebuilding, restructuring, and learning to live again. Thank you everyone for your support. Together, we are one.”
Starscream stepped back from the podium and tugged Blurr with him, the look on his face indecipherable now that he no longer faced the crowd.
More questions were thrown their direction, but they were quickly drowned out by rising cheers and clapping. Blurr hated that he didn’t know if it was genuine or part of some elaborate plan of Starscream’s. One could never be sure when it came to the Seeker.
Starscream clasped his hand around Blurr’s, grip firm as though trying to keep him from fleeing, and tugged him to the stage exit. At the last moment, he paused, flashed the crowd a smile and a wave, before continuing on.
Members of Starscream’s entourage were there to keep the crowd at bay as Starscream urged Blurr back toward his apartment tower. There was a quickness to his steps, a twitch in his wings, that suggested anger.
Ask Blurr if he cared. Because he didn’t.
Starscream’s mask didn’t fall until they were in the relative solitude and quiet of the first floor, the main doors locking and shutting behind him. He dropped Blurr’s hand as if it burned him, his wings twitching madly.
“A memorial for Skybyte?”
Blurr arched his orbital ridges. So that was how Starscream wanted to start. Okay then.
“I think it’s appropriate, don’t you?”
“Of course it is.” Starscream whirled, his wings arched high and angry above his shoulders. “And also dangerous. You think Obsidian isn’t going to consider that an invitation to attack?”
Blurr shrugged. “He might. He might not. I wasn’t just lying or performing out there, Starscream.” Unlike some mechs. “I meant what I said. I’m not afraid, and I’m not going to let fear keep me from moving forward.”
He took a stalking step forward and ignored the twinge in his hip. “You spoke pretty words about unity, but unless you actually prove you mean them, they’ll turn on you as quickly as they turned on Bumblebee. They’ll kick you out of your penthouse and Obsidian won’t have to lift another finger.”
“Oh. So this is you being helpful, is it?”
Blurr folded his arms over his chestplate. “Helpful. Useful. Take your pick. I told you I wasn’t going to stand on the sideline. If you can’t handle that, let me know now. I’ll walk away and you can lose your civilian trophy.”
Starscream stared at him. His wings flicked.
Blurr stared back. He’d faced down worse than Starscream before.
“I… appreciate your help,” Starscream finally said, though there was something in his tone that was outright begrudging. “Only, it would be nice next time to not be caught unawares.”
Blurr tilted his helm. “Likewise.”
Starscream snorted a laugh and his wings drifted back downward. Tension eased out of his posture. “Fair enough.” His gaze flicked toward the door, where flashing lights indicated that the very noisy press still waited for their turn to grill Starscream. “Are you really interested in handling them?”
“I didn’t think so.” Starscream audibly cycled a ventilation and started toward the door. “You should rest for today. Get off that hip. I’m going to arrange some things. I’ll be back later.”
“Things I need to know about?” Blurr demanded.
“Not unless you’re actually interested in the administrative part of my duties,” Starscream replied with a smirk thrown over his shoulder. “Are you?”
Blurr snorted. “Not in the least.
Starscream chuckled before he vanished out the doors, which closed and locked behind him, leaving Blurr in the dim quiet of the ground floor.
Blurr unfolded his arms and swept a hand over his helm.
“Are you sure you wanna do this?”
If he didn’t, who else would?