The nearly-tentative query pinged his comm the moment Starscream flew over what constituted a gate for New Iacon. He frowned internally, and transformed mid-air, dropping to the ground with a nearly soundless landing.
“What is it?” he demanded. Something about Rattrap’s tone instantly grated on his already thin patience.
He blamed Prowl for that. Prowl and his snooty spy, who would be making his way to Iacon soon enough. Starscream already planned to have Rattrap introduce Mirage to the tunnels beneath Iacon. Let them fester in each other’s presence. Hah.
Rattrap loosed a sound of disgruntlement. “Remember that science project ya keep in yer basement?”
Starscream’s optics narrowed. He dipped into a trash-cluttered alley before anyone could see him. “What of it?”
“Blurr found it.”
Starscream’s entire frame stuttered and flushed with ice. “How?”
“Seems ta me someone keyed him into yer security system. Wonder who that coulda been?”
Frag it. He only had himself to blame. In his haste to make sure Blurr could come and go as he pleased, Starscream hadn’t set the restrictions. Damn. Primus only knew what Blurr was thinking right now.
Probably the worst. As would anyone else.
Starscream gritted his denta. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. In the meantime, I’ve a task for you.”
Rattrap snorted. “When do ya not?”
Hmm. Someone was a little testy. Perhaps Rattrap felt he wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved. Starscream would have to attend to that later. For now, there were greater matters at hand.
Starscream eased out of the alley, finding that no one was in sight. Perfect. He popped his thrusters and rode them into the sky. He didn’t have time to walk. Who knew what crazy stories Blurr wrote for himself in the meantime?
“If you want out, all you have to do is say so,” Starscream said into the comm. He refused to beg. Especially since he wasn’t sure he entirely understood why Rattrap assisted him in the first place.
“I ain’t sayin’ that,” Rattrap retorted, a little hastily. “I’m just sayin’, I won’t always be here to root around in the gutters fer ya.”
A small huff passed through the comm. “What task?”
Starscream didn’t bother to hide his smirk; Rattrap couldn’t see it after all. “Bumblebee’s noble spy has volunteered to help us locate Obsidian. Feel free to introduce him to the dirtiest, darkest underlevels you can find.”
There was a moment of buzzing static before Rattrap’s laughter filled the comm. “Aww, boss. I didn’t know ya’d be rewardin’ me so soon!”
His tower came into view, the penthouse suite dark, as were most of the windows visible on the upper floors. Most of them were uninhabitable, after all, and served as random storage locations.
Starscream cycled a ventilation, internally bracing himself. “Just try to actually find something while you’re down there.”
“I’ll find my way to Mirage’s aft,” Rattrap replied.
Which was far more than Starscream ever wanted to know. Ew.
“Meet him at the western gate tonight,” Starscream said as he angled toward the penthouse balcony, and transformed mid-fall to land perfectly on the reinforced ledge. “Don’t be late.”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Rattrap’s tone was borderline disrespectful, but Starscream let it slide as he ended the comm immediately after.
Thank Primus for small favors. Starscream had no interest in learning about Rattrap’s charge for Mirage.
Starscream pressed his hand to the field scanner and waited for it to accept him. In the reflection of the balcony window, he could see his wings twitching, betraying his agitation. There was nothing he could do for it now.
Either Blurr would understand what he was trying to do, or everything Starscream carefully built would come crumbling around him. That was a lot of hope to place on the shoulders of one mech.
The door opened with a whoosh, admitting Starscream into the suite. It closed behind him immediately, locking once more. He stepped into the main room and made a beeline for the door, only to pause.
He stopped in the center, just in front of one of the futons, and turned in a slow circle. He drew in air through his vents.
Had Blurr… cleaned?
Starscream cycled his optics. He peeked into the berthroom, and it was much the same as the main room. It didn’t sparkle and shine like new, but the assorted piles of items had been organized, the berth covers had been changed, and the furniture had been wiped down.
His dirty flute was gone from the storage room. The containers on the counter had been put away. There was a pile of soiled berth covers in the supply closet. The furniture in the main room had been rearranged.
Blurr had cleaned. How bored was he?
Starscream shook his helm and headed back to the door. He couldn’t think about that, couldn’t stop to indulge in the mental image of Blurr cleaning his apartment like they were a domestic couple, and he was the housemech.
Starscream hurried out of the room and into the lift, waiting anxiously as it scanned his field to allow him to the lowest level. He shouldn’t have been so careless. It wasn’t that he never planned on telling anyone about Wheeljack, and neither was Wheeljack a prisoner.
He wanted to wait for the right time. He needed to know he could trust Blurr before he let that detail slip.
He had only himself to blame if this went sour.
The lift dipped as it stopped, the door chiming cheerfully as it opened. Cheerful, as though Starscream’s internals weren’t in knots, and his spark didn’t pulse an agitated rhythm.
He stepped into the dark level and hurried through the maze of boxes and crates, as fast as he dared without making it look as though he was frantic. He heard the low murmur of voices before he saw them, but he couldn’t detect their fields, which wasn’t surprising. It only meant that no one had disengaged the field dampener.
Starscream braced himself, cycled a ventilation, and stepped around the corner.
The CR chamber had been powered down – as any mech who could press a button could do – and the regenerative fluid matrix drained. It stood empty, the door swung open.
Wheeljack perched on a crate in the middle of the makeshift medbay, and cupped a cube of energon in his hands. There was another empty crate in front of him, as though Blurr had been sitting, but for the moment, Blurr was circling around Wheeljack with a mesh cloth. The regenerative matrix did have a tendency to cling.
Both looked up as Starscream appeared. Blurr’s expression was unreadable, but Wheeljack’s indicators flashed brightly.
“There he is,” Wheeljack said, his vocals flickering with static. They would for some time now. “About time you got here.”
Starscream folded his arms behind his back. “I had some business outside of Iacon,” he said, his gaze briefly flicking to Blurr before he returned it to Wheeljack. “You are well?”
Wheeljack straightened with a nod. “Probably coulda used a few more days in there, but nothing my self-repair can’t handle.” He paused, indicators flickering a dull yellow. “Ya saved my spark.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t for any altruistic reason,” Blurr muttered.
That… well, that hurt. He would not lie to himself and claim otherwise.
“You still think so little of me,” Starscream replied, and remained there, frozen in place. He didn’t have the energy for a confident walk across the floor. It had all drained out of him, pooling in a puddle of disappointment at his pedes.
Blurr moved, until he stood between Starscream and Wheeljack. “What am I supposed to think when I come down here and find what amounts to a laboratory in your basement, and one of my old friends jammed into a tube?”
“Hey.” Wheeljack rose, wobbling on unsteady limbs, but rising nonetheless. “I’m pretty sure it’s not as bad as it looks.”
“Sure it isn’t.” Blurr’s optics narrowed, never once shifting from Starscream’s face. “Because it’s not like there are any medics or medical bays around here where Starscream could have taken you or anything. He did what he had to do.”
He’d been right, after all.
Starscream mourned what could have been and prepared himself, instead, for damage control.
Starscream cycled a ventilation, and rubbed a hand down his faceplate. “I wasn’t going to keep him down here forever,” he said, trying to swallow past the rapid thudding of his spark. “I only did what I thought was best.”
“For who?” Blurr demanded, with a single step forward that sounded abruptly loud in the silence. “Because Wheeljack would have been better served with an actual medic, and this city would have been much happier to know he was alive. Bumblebee would have been happy to know.”
Starscream did not have an answer for that which wouldn’t make the situation worse.
“Blurr.” Wheeljack’s hand rested on the Racer’s right arm, giving it a squeeze. “Calm down.”
Blurr’s engine revved. “Who says I’m not calm?” he snapped.
Wheeljack chuckled, and how he could find amusement and tranquility in this situation, Starscream did not know.
“Well, you’re about to vibrate out of your armor for one thing,” Wheeljack said with another squeeze. He stepped up to Blurr’s side, and then his helm tilted, his gaze shifting from Blurr to Starscream and back again. “Though I’m beginning to think there’s something else going on here than concern about me.”
Starscream audibly reset his vocalizer. “Blurr and I are in something of a political partnership,” he explained quietly as he managed a single step forward. “For the benefit of Cybertron. And I suspect I’ve not only disappointed him, I’ve given him all the more reason he needs to extricate himself.”
“Because ya saved my spark?” Wheeljack asked, confused.
“It is a tad more complicated than that,” Starscream admitted, but he did manage a small curve of his lips. “I am glad you survived. There were several times I did not think you would.”
Wheeljack rubbed the back of his helm with his free hand. “Yeah, I’m actually surprised I’m not in the Well. I thought I was done for. How did you–”
“You’re seriously just going to stand here and act normal about this?” Blurr demanded as he twisted out of Wheeljack’s grip, whirling to face him. Only, his injured hip protested the abrupt movement, and he staggered.
Starscream took a step forward, before he thought twice about it, but a single hard look from Blurr made him stop. Blurr caught his balance on his own.
“Never known you to be ungraceful,” Wheeljack commented, his indicators flashing muted colors of concern.
Blurr tossed Starscream a sour look. “There was an explosion,” he bit out, and reached down, rubbing at his hip. “I’m still recovering.”
“But not in a berth, I see. Same old Blurr.” Wheeljack chuckled, but it sounded strained. He cycled a ventilation and lowered himself back to his crate. “And yeah, I’m going to act normal about this. Because if I flip out, I don’t know if I’m gonna stop.” He looked up at Starscream. “I hear we got Megatron locked up? And the Autobots are gone?”
Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit. He focused on Wheeljack, because he couldn’t bear to look at Blurr. “Megatron is imprisoned, thanks to you. As for the Autobots, well, that may be about to change.”
Blurr made a startled noise. “What do you mean?”
“Bumblebee accepted my request for assistance in exchange for allowing most of the Autobots back into Iacon.”
“Most,” Blurr repeated. “But not all.”
Starscream sighed and rubbed at his forehelm. “If I turn around and let every one of them – including Prowl and the Constructicons mind – back into the city, but continue to outcast the Decepticons, what little control I do have, will evaporate.”
“I can see where that would be a problem,” Wheeljack said. His gaze drifted between Blurr and Starscream before settling on Starscream once more. “So. What’s our next move? Since I’m awake and all.”
Starscream cycled his optics. “Beg pardon?”
Wheeljack tilted his helm toward Blurr. “There was an explosion. Blurr got hurt. You needed the Autobots’ help, but Megatron’s in jail and I’m guessing it ain’t cause of Decepticons. So that means there’s someone else out there causin’ trouble. I wanna help.”
Blurr’s engine growled. “I can’t believe you’re just going to ignore the combiner in the corner.”
“If you’re expecting me to be angry that Starscream saved my life, you’re expecting somethin’ I can’t do, Blurr,” Wheeljack said with a scary kind of patience. “Yeah, mebbe it’s weird he didn’t drag me to a real medic, but I’ll bet all the creds I ain’t got that the medics were overwhelmed after Megatron’s attack. Yeah, they mighta prioritized me, and maybe they might not’ve. But I’m alive. And that’s what’s important to me.”
Blurr’s optics narrowed. “He only did that so he could use you.”
“Well…” Wheeljack chuckled and slanted Starscream a sideways look. “That’s probably true. But unless he figured out some slave coding, he can’t force me to do much of anythin’, can he?”
“He,” Starscream gritted out, “is still standing right here.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Blurr all but spat. “You know what? Fine. Wheeljack, glad I found you, glad you’re alive. Starscream?” He stared at Starscream, lips twitching, before he said nothing and shook his helm. “Never mind.”
He stormed across the floor and past Starscream without a word. Despite the field dampeners, Starscream felt the prickle of Blurr’s anger against his own field.
He let Blurr go. Trying to stop him at this point would make Wheeljack suspicious. If they were just business partners, Starscream shouldn’t go crawling after Blurr like a lover caught in an indiscretion.
Wheeljack whistled. “He’s a little angry, huh?”
Starscream rubbed at his forehelm. “It’s complicated,” he admitted in the ensuing silence, his spark writhing like a trapped thing, while guilt sought to seep in around the anxiety, “And he’s not wrong.”
“Mebbe.” Wheeljack pushed to his pedes and stretched his arms over his helm. “But he ain’t right either. My apartment still standing?”
Starscream inclined his helm. “Apartment and lab both. I’ve had them secured since… well, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. Good looking out, Star. Thanks.”
His faceplate heated. Wheeljack said the nickname so easily, like it wasn’t a big deal to be standing in a basement, beside stolen medical equipment, and speak to the former second in command of the Decepticons. Starscream had a reputation, he knew he did. Yet, there wasn’t an ounce of fear in Wheeljack’s optics.
“Cybertron needs you,” Starscream said.
“And I’m guessing you need to go talk to Blurr,” Wheeljack replied in that shrewd tone that seemed to always be present. He had a way of looking right through you, Wheeljack did.
It was kind of reassuring.
Starscream sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Yes, I do.”
“Go. Take care of that mess.” Wheeljack actually shooed him toward the door. “I’m gonna finish up this energon, and then maybe look around these crates. You know that one is stamped for high-pressure recycling?”
Starscream, despite himself, chuckled. “No, I didn’t. Help yourself though. Anything you think you can use, put in a pile. I’ll get someone to help you take it to your lab.”
“Oh, this is going to be fun.” Wheeljack’s indicators lit in bright bursts of pink. He clapped his hands together, rubbing his palms.
Starscream’s lips curved and he turned to go, dreading the encounter that he knew was to come. Would it be better or worse without Wheeljack there to serve as witness?
He paused before he vanished around the crate stack, optical ridge raised in question.
“Thanks,” Wheeljack said, with honest gratitude in his vocals. “For saving my spark, I mean. I kinda like living.”
Starscream’s spark squeezed. “Well,” he said. “I also quite like you alive.”
He turned and left before he made a fool of himself any further. He wound back through the maze of crates and boxes, and headed for the lift. Blurr had already gotten into it, and with some relief, taken it to the penthouse.
Was that good news? Starscream didn’t know.
He waited on bolts and brackets for the lift to arrive and take him to the penthouse. He didn’t know what to expect in his suite, but he prepared himself for the end he’d always known was coming. Not that there was ever a beginning.
He only hoped Blurr didn’t destroy all of Starscream’s attempts at leadership in the process. Hopefully, he’d just call an end to their agreement and leave, without planning on irreparable damage in the process.
How Starscream loathed placing this much faith in another individual.
The lift donged, ever so cheery, leaving Starscream with nothing left to do but face the furious former Wrecker waiting in his hab-suite.
Primus help him.
Inside was an ominous silence. Blurr wasn’t in the main room, where Starscream expected to find him pacing. He wasn’t in the storage room or the berthroom either.
Starscream gnawed on his bottom lip. Perhaps the lift had just taken itself wherever it wanted and Blurr had left after all.
He turned and caught pale blue in his peripheral vision.
Blurr was on the balcony. Starscream couldn’t remember a single time that the Racer had ventured out there before. It had no railing, so it was understandable that a grounder had little interest in venturing onto the ledge.
Yet Blurr stood there, his hands on his hips, his gaze focused out at Iacon proper. His armor was clamped tight.
Starscream was not a coward, contrary to proper belief. He did pick and choose his battles. And this one… he couldn’t run away from.
He keyed open the door to the balcony and stepped outside. Blurr didn’t turn around at the sound of the door opening, but the armor across his back shifted.
“You’re still here,” Starscream commented quietly.
Blurr snorted. “Where else would I go? Obsidian blew up my apartment and my bar.”
Starscream folded his arms across his chest, and leaned against the wall near the door, not blocking it, but also, keeping a safe distance from Blurr. “I’ll get you an apartment.”
“No thanks. I don’t want one of your handouts. I’m pretty sure I’m out of payment.”
Starscream cycled a ventilation. “I didn’t tell you because I could never find the right time.”
“That’s Pitslag and you know it,” Blurr bit out, and only then did he turn, slow and careful, his optics dark and dangerous. “You knew how shady it looked, and you hadn’t figured out what to do about it so you wouldn’t get caught.”
Well, yes, that too.
Starscream pinched his nasal ridge. He considered several arguments and tossed them away as quickly. Blurr wouldn’t accept any of it, no matter what the explanation was.
“Clearly, there’s nothing I can say you don’t already have an answer for,” Starscream said at length, slowly lowering his hand. He refolded his arms. “What do you want from me?”
Blurr cycled his optics. He looked startled. “What?”
Starscream rolled his shoulders. “You’ve already decided I’m a monster of some kind, which is probably true.” He looked to the left of Blurr’s shoulder, where off in the distance, someone was attempting to rebuild something.
“There’s no point in trying to convince you otherwise. I can apologize, but I’m not sure what I’ve done that’s offended you the worst.” He tapped his fingers on his arm paneling. “At this point, all I can wonder is what it is you still want from me.” He dragged his gaze back to Blurr, hoping that the blank calm in his field was enough to disguise the raging currents beneath.
Blurr’s mouth moved, shaping words, before he shook his helm. He jabbed one finger downward. “You had Wheeljack in your basement,” he hissed.
“Yes, I did.”
“You told everyone he was dead!”
Starscream inclined his helm. “In a manner of speaking.”
Blurr’s arms shot into the air. “Can’t you see how appalling that is?” There was something outraged in his tone, but something else, too. Something Starscream couldn’t quite place.
Starscream pushed off the wall. “It must be nice,” he said, offhand, drawing on distance as all he had left. “To believe that always doing the right thing means the world will fall in line behind you. Because mechs are generally good, and make good choices. Because nobody lies, and everyone is virtuous, or at least… everyone wearing a red badge.” He turned his helm, giving Blurr a sidelong look. “Right?”
“That’s not – I’m not–” Blurr drew up straight. “Don’t put words into my mouth.”
“You should know by now that nothing in this universe is black and white,” Starscream said, calm, collected, controlled.
Inside, he ached.
Blurr had so quickly thought the worst of him. It was more painful than any blow Megatron had ever landed.
“Especially not me,” Starscream finished, and braced himself. “You are welcome to dissolve this partnership if you feel you can no longer walk in step with a monster. But do remember that there are worse things lurking beneath the streets of this city.”
Silence. Save for the noise several floors beneath them, mechs going about their business, heedless to the argument above their helms.
Blurr’s hands drew into slow fists at his sides. He visibly gritted his denta before he huffed a ventilation. “I never said you were a monster,” he muttered.
“You didn’t have to,” Starscream replied. “It was written all over your face.”
Blurr sighed and scrubbed his hand down his faceplate. He pinched his nasal ridge. “I wanted to run a bar,” he said, with a quiet, defeated sigh. “I wanted to put the war behind me. I wanted a simple future.”
“You could have said ‘no.’”
“I know that!” Blurr snapped, and his hand dropped. “I know damn well this is my own damn fault, thank you.”
Starscream cycled a ventilation. “Then what is it you want from me?”
“I don’t know!” Blurr’s faceplate colored, his field smacking against Starscream’s as he briefly lost control. “Maybe a realization that you fragged up? That sometimes you can be an impossible aft? That not everything is under your control?”
“I did what I thought was necessary. Perhaps it’s time you do the same,” Starscream forced himself to say, though his vocalizer threatened to glitch. “This is who I am. This is what I do. If you can’t handle that…” He trailed off and shrugged. “You can always dissolve our partnership.”
“Partnership,” Blurr repeated flatly. “I’m beginning to wonder if there ever was one.”
Starscream worked his intake. There wasn’t anything he could say to that. So instead, he spun on a heelstrut toward the door.
“I’m going to check on Wheeljack, help him get settled. You do whatever you think is right.” Starscream keyed open the door, only to pause in the entry.
Blurr might not be here when he returned.
“Thank you for cleaning the apartment. It looks nice,” Starscream said, and let himself inside.
If Blurr said anything else, Starscream didn’t linger to hear it. He was afraid of what it might have been.