[TIA] Lost Boys

Starscream left. Blurr didn’t know if he should consider it a courtesy or not. He wasn’t sure if he could even call it a relief.

He paced around the penthouse, long circles, ignoring the ache in his hip from the extended movement. He should be resting. He should be recharging. He should be refueling. He should be–

Blurr paused behind the couch.

Starscream’s face kept popping into his head. That look of sadness and then resignation. That look of longing. That look of– well, Blurr didn’t know what to call it, save that it made guilt claw at his spark as though he’d been the one who’d done wrong.

Well. He hadn’t.

He wasn’t the one who lied. He wasn’t the one who had Wheeljack strung up in his basement like some kind of science project.

Blurr’s engine growled.

Thank you for cleaning the apartment.

Blurr’s lips curled into a sneer. That was Starscream, sure enough, manipulative to the last. Perhaps he thought to appeal to Blurr’s better nature. To his soft-sparked Autobot-ness. Well, frag that.

He couldn’t stay here right now.

Blurr stormed out of the apartment. He would leave, and this time, maybe he wouldn’t come back. Starscream obviously didn’t need his help anyway.

Righteous anger carried him down the hall, into the lift, and out the front door. But once he stood in the middle of the street, he paused. Where could he go? He had nothing left.

Nothing but an aching hip. Perhaps a visit to the medical facilities was in order. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Blurr spun on a heelstrut and limped down the street. There weren’t many random mechs about, but he passed a few who recognized him. They called out greetings as they passed, and Blurr somehow mustered up a smile, along with a lie or two when they asked how he was.

Just fine, thank you.

How was Starscream?

Blurr did not give one rusted gear. But he smiled and answered it as pleasantly as he could. That was easy. Racing had been as much politics as it had been acting. He could put on a brave front for anyone who only saw the surface anyway.

“Hey there, sweetspark. You lookin’ for a good time?”

A chill ran up Blurr’s backstrut. “No, I’m not,” he said, whirling toward the voice which had summoned him from a shadowy alley. “I– Swindle!”

Sure enough, the sleazy salesmech oozed out of the alley with a smirk on his face.

“Aw, I’m hurt you didn’t recognize my voice,” Swindle said, as though he hadn’t altered it to be syrupy sweet when he crooned that invitation.

Blurr scowled. “I’m a little preoccupied right now.”

“I noticed.” Swindle cozied up to his side, slinging an arm around Blurr’s waist. “Starscream let you off your leash, did he?” His free hand patted Blurr’s chestplate.

“I don’t have a leash.” Blurr shook out of Swindle’s grip, Swindle’s field oozing over his like old oil – sticky and impossible to be rid of.

“Sure you don’t.” Swindle’s hand lingered on his chestplate before it slid away. “And speaking of screechy Seekers, you know, I’ve been looking into that terrorist business of yours.”

Blurr folded his arms over his chestplate. Maybe Swindle would stop touching him then. “And?”

Swindle shook his helm, waggling a finger at Blurr. “Blurr. Sweetspark. I don’t sell nothing for free. You know that.”

“And you know I don’t have any credits, or any means to acquire any,” Blurr retorted, rolling his optics. “I don’t even have a place to live. What do you think I can offer you?”

Swindle’s sly smile lengthened. “Now, that ain’t all true, is it? You and yon punching bag share a berth, don’t you?”

“If you think I’m going to ask Starscream–”

“No, no, no. That’s not what I’m saying at all.” Swindle laughed, but even Blurr could tell it was staged. “I wouldn’t dream of putting you more in his debt. No, I’m thinking that there’s still something you could offer.”

Blurr’s optics narrowed. “Why am I not liking the sound of this?”

“Because Swindle is a cheat and a liar, and ya should know better than to trust him.”

Swindle’s smile faltered. Some of Blurr’s tension eased. This voice he knew.

He half-turned to see Jazz strolling toward them, an easygoing smile on his lips, but a dark cast to his visor that suggested danger was afoot.

“That is hardly fair,” Swindle said with an offended sniff. “I never cheat my honest customers, and I only lie when my spark is on the line.”

Jazz’s grin never faltered, though he did put himself firmly between Blurr and Swindle. “Ya must be in danger pretty often then. I can’t recall a time ya ever spoke the truth. Or at least, yer version of it.”

Blurr’s gaze darted between them. “Why do I get the feeling I’m missing something? Do you two have a history, too?” As it seemed everyone did these days.

“We’ve crossed paths a few times but nothing serious.” Swindle rolled his shoulders, shuttering one optic in a wink. “These things happen. But ya know how it is with those Spec Ops mechs. They don’t trust anyone.”

Laughter rumbled in Jazz’s chassis, though it sounded far from amused. “Especially not sticky conmechs who are angling for an overload or two.”

“Now, whenever did I say that?” Swindle projected innocence as though he’d been sparked with it.

Jazz’s backarmor ruffled, though Swindle couldn’t see it. “Ya know what ya did. Ya also know ya don’t know anything. So why don’t you just scram?”

“Pfft. You can’t know that for sure, can you?” Swindle tilted his helm, something in his smile turning sharp. “Guess you’ll never find out.” His gaze shifted past Jazz to Blurr. “Seems like we’ll have to have our chat another time.”

“I look forward to it,” Blurr said, every inch of it a lie.

Swindle gave Jazz one last look before he scrammed, though his walk was lackadaisical, as though he hadn’t a care in the universe.

“I can handle Swindle,” Blurr said as Jazz turned toward him, his expression wiped of that dangerous cheer he’d had earlier.

“Yeah. I saw how great he was handlin’ ya,” Jazz said with a tilt of his helm. “Ain’t ya supposed to be resting, boss?”

Blurr worked his jaw, his gaze wandering to a nearby building. “Not in that penthouse, I’m not.”

“Ah.”

He cut his optics back toward Jazz. “Don’t you make that sound.”

Jazz held up his hands. “Hey, I didn’t say nothin’. But ya’ve got the look of a mech who’s been at it with Starscream – believe me, I know that feelin’.”

Blurr cycled a ventilation and rubbed a palm down his faceplate. “I honestly don’t know what to do anymore, Jazz.”

“I figured as much.” Jazz tapped his elbow. “C’mon. Ya need to rest that hip. And judgin’ from the look of ya, grab a pain chip or two.”

“No pain chips.” He fell into a limping step behind Jazz.

“Whatever ya want.” Jazz’s tone was easygoing, yet there was something behind the set of his shoulders that was anything but.

Blurr followed him, a frown curling his lips. “Where are we going?”

“My place.”

“You have a place – wait. What am I saying? Of course you do.” Blurr rolled his optics and palmed his faceplate. “Primus, my processor is wrecked.”

“Yeah. That’s Starscream syndrome all right.” Jazz chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’ll help ya get it sorted. And like I said, if ya want out, all ya gotta do is say it.”

For the first time since Starscream came to him with the offer, Blurr genuinely considered it. No more dealing with politics. No more navigating the confusing minefield that was Starscream. No more trying to figure out what was lie and what was truth.

Maybe he could actually find that peace he wanted. He could rebuild his bar, put it all behind him. He could move on and never give another thought to Starscream again.

It would be so much easier.

Jazz stopped in front of a dilapidated building that had been reconstructed into apartment style housing. Blurr had passed it a few times, unable to believe that someone had taken residence there, and now he found himself following Jazz inside. Surely Jazz could have found somewhere better.

“If ya wanna hide, ya do it in plain sight,” Jazz said with a wink of his visor. He pulled a ring of keys out of subspace and whistled as he spun them on his finger.

Two floors down, they were below surface level now, and at the end of a hall, Jazz manually unlocked a rusty door and shoved it open, gesturing Blurr inside. He braced himself, prepared to find all manner of uncomfortable living, and didn’t relax until he realized that while the place was small and barely furnished, it was clean.

“So,” Jazz said as he shoved the door closed behind them, a loud screech accompanying the motion. “What happened?”

Blurr gingerly stepped further into the apartment. He could see a berthroom through one doorway, but little else. No private rack. Not even a storage room. He assumed Jazz kept his supplies in one of the crates stacked against the far wall.

“Starscream is an aft,” he said.

Jazz snorted. “Yeah, well, I knew that.” He flopped down on a futon, a cloud of dust rising up as he did so. “Specifically, how is he an aft?”

Blurr located a metal chair – no padding, less chance of dirt – and lowered himself into it. His throbbing hip thanked him. He sighed. “Wheeljack is alive.”

“And?”

Blurr’s helm shot up, his optics finding Jazz, unable to hide the disbelief in his tone. “You knew?”

“I had a feeling,” Jazz said. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “Never could find his frame. Lots of energon though. I didn’t know where he’d gone. Thought mebbe someone had taken him.” He paused to frown. “Of all the theories I had, Starscream savin’ him was up there.”

Blurr’s hands curled into fists. “Starscream didn’t save him. He had Wheeljack in his basement, stuck in a CR chamber, like some secret he was desperate to keep.”

Jazz stared at him with a tilt of his helm. “But he’s alive.”

“I just said that!”

The light behind Jazz’s visor narrowed. “Then I’m not seein’ the problem here.” He rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “So Starscream didn’t announce to everyone that the mech responsible for putting away Megatron is still alive. I can’t say I wouldn’t have made the same choice if I was him.”

Blurr scoffed. He leaned back in the chair and folded his arms. “He didn’t do it to protect Wheeljack. He was just protecting himself.”

Jazz’s fingers tangled together. He stared at Blurr, not commenting, for long enough that Blurr started to squirm. And then he shifted back, straightening, something in his posture less that of a friend, and more… commanding.

“Starscream has a history of looking after himself, this is true,” Jazz said slowly, as though carefully choosing his words. “But he saved Wheeljack, and he pulled you out of the rubble. So I’m thinkin’, he’s not as selfish as you’ve made him out to be.”

Blurr stared at him. Something in his chassis tightened, like a gear wound to its limits. His mouth opened and shut before he ground his denta.

“So you’re just fine with it?” he demanded.

“I ain’t sayin’ that it’s not a little sketchy,” Jazz admitted, but then he shook his helm. “But I do think yer reachin’.” He paused and frowned. “In fact, you’re overreactin’. He saved Wheeljack’s spark and yer actin’ like ya found a pile of corpses in his basement.”

Blurr shot to his pedes, and hissed when jagged pain lanced down his leg. “He lied to me.”

“A lie of omission, but yeah, I’ll give ya that. But given how you’re behavin’ now, I’d probably lie to ya, too,” Jazz said. He cycled a ventilation and pushed to his pedes. “Tell me somethin’, Blurr. You ever been a Decepticon?”

“Of course I haven’t!”

“Right. Of course.” Jazz folded his arms and started to walk, though it was more of a pace, a slow and steady course around the room. “Ever lied then? Done something you regretted? Done something you had to do cause there was no other choice?”

Blurr narrowed his optics. This sounded eerily familiar. “I never said I was perfect. We were in a war. We’ve all done stuff we’re not proud of.”

“Yeah. We have. Autobots and Decepticons both.”

Blurr shook his helm. “Oh, no. Don’t you play semantics with me. Starscream was not just a Decepticon. He was Megatron’s right hand, his second in command. Just as guilty as Megatron.”

Jazz gave him a long eerie look. “Who’s playing semantics?” he asked. “You do realize who I am, right? Starscream, except I wear a different badge. Or, well, did.” He patted his chestplate, where the shadow of the Autobot badge lingered. “But that’s not my point.”

“Then what is?”

“Ya never even gave him a chance,” Jazz replied, direct and simple.

Blurr stared at him. “What?”

“Look, I get it.” Jazz started to pace again, though now he gesticulated as well. “He’s Starscream. Experience tells ya to be careful, to watch yer back. But I’ve been watchin’ since day one, Blurr, and all I’ve seen is him bendin’ over backward to try and keep you satisfied, while you wait for him to slip up so you can point a finger and talk about how much you knew it would happen.”

Blurr’s jaw dropped. “I haven’t–”

“Yes, you have.” Jazz’s vocals turned stern, all trace of the jovial performer gone, leaving only the hard-edged commander Jazz used to be. “Ya ever wonder why I keep asking if you want out?”

“Because I’m in danger?”

Jazz’s visor flashed. “Because you keep actin’ like ya are, but ya keep stickin’ around anyway. Yer a walkin’ contradiction. No wonder Starscream’s dancin’ on bolts and brackets around ya.”

Blurr’s optics narrowed. “I don’t have to listen to this,” he bit out, and spun toward the door.

Only to be intercepted by Jazz, who suddenly looked just as dangerous as Starscream could be. “Yes, you do,” he said. “Ya owe him that much.”

“I don’t owe Starscream anything,” Blurr hissed. “He’s the one who came to me.”

“And you could have turned him down,” Jazz said, his tone as warm as liquid nitrogen. “But you didn’t. You opted to work with him, and despite all that, you never even gave him a chance. You never saw him as anything more than Decepticon Starscream.”

Blurr’s engine revved. He ground his denta. “You’re the one who told me to be careful,” he gritted out.

“Yeah, I did,” Jazz snapped. “But I didn’t tell ya to act like you were sleeping with the Unmaker. Which, by the way, yer the one who crawled into that berth. No one made ya do it. And no one’s making you stay.”

Blurr whirled away from Jazz, intending on circling around the couch and making for the door again. “You’re doing it right now.”

Jazz noisily cycled a ventilation. “Primus, yer just as bad as he is,” he huffed. “You need to stop right now, Blurr. It was funny at first. Now it’s not anymore. If you don’t trust Starscream, fine. End the partnership right here. But stop fragging dragging it out and treating him like some kind of sparkeater who turned on ya.”

Blurr gnawed on his bottom lip and turned slowly. He tilted his helm. “How close are you two?”

“Mech, you really wanna go there right now?” Jazz said carefully. “The past ain’t none of yer business.”

“It is if it explains why you’re defending him.”

Jazz slid a hand down his face, his expression hiding behind his palm. “Blurr, yer one of my own, and I’ll never stop thinkin’ that no matter what kind of peace we’re in, but yer seriously tryin’ my patience right now.”

“Good. Then can I go?”

“No.” Jazz’s hand dropped away, and the look in his visor was flat. “If you’re not going to walk away from Starscream, here and now, then you had damn well better go apologize to him.”

Blurr’s optics rounded. He staggered backward. “What?”

“You heard me.”

Blurr shook his helm. He turned and bumped into the couch, his aching hip screeching so noisily that his knee buckled. He stumbled and grabbed the couch for balance, a short huff escaping his vents.

Jazz sighed. He moved across the floor, not that Blurr heard him, and took Blurr’s elbow. “Sit before ya fall down, Boss,” he said, his tone gentler than before. “Ya know ya should really be in a berth.”

“So I’ve been told.” Blurr let Jazz guide him to the couch, however dusty it was. Pain radiated up and down his leg, making his pede twitch.

That winding, squeezing sensation in his tank had yet to abate. If anything it grew stronger, especially when Jazz plopped his aft on the low table in front of the couch. Blurr had nowhere to go, to escape, from the intent look in Jazz’s visor.

“I’m goin’ to ask you a question,” Jazz said. “And I want ya to answer truthfully. I need to know before I go any further, ya got me?”

Blurr worked his intake. He couldn’t trust himself to speak. He nodded instead.

“Good.” Jazz clasped his hands together, briefly lifted his chin, and dropped it again. “Has Starscream ever hurt you?”

“No,” Blurr said firmly, surprising himself with how quickly he answered. He was quite sure Jazz didn’t mean the times Star had bitten him or clawed him while facing because Blurr had quite enjoyed that.

He knew exactly what Jazz was getting at.

“No,” Blurr repeated and now it was his turn to hide behind his hands, to sink into the couch and feel every bit of the tightness clawing into his spark. “He’s never hurt me, never threatened me, never…” He sighed. “Never did anything to me.”

“Or anyone else?”

“Or anyone else,” Blurr confirmed. “Not that I know of.”

Jazz cycled a soft ventilation. “Good. Cause I was beginnin’ to worry that maybe I had this all wrong, and I’m protectin’ an abuser.”

“I’m not a… a… victim of some kind,” Blurr hissed, outrage briefly replacing that other emotion before it drained away. “Star’s many things, but he’s not… and I’m not…”

“Then you owe him an apology,” Jazz said frankly, and rested his weight on his knees, his elbows tucked in. “Whatever happened before the war, whatever he was then, we can’t keep livin’ in that or we’ll never leave it. I’m different. You’re different. He is, too. He’s tryin’ and mech, ya must be some kind of blind if you can’t see it.”

Blurr folded his arms. “That’s not fair.”

“Yeah, well, neither were you.” Jazz’s visor brightened at him. “Ain’t none of us Starscream’s biggest fans, but you agreed to work with him, you climbed into his berth, and since then, he’s done nothin’ but try to work with you, and all you’ve done is wait for him to fuck up. That ain’t fair at all.”

Blurr turned his helm. He stared at the stack of crates against the wall. “Why do you care anyway?”

“Because like it or not, Starscream’s in charge of Cybertron right now. We’ve got a sort of peace – Obsidian aside – and I kinda like that part. Plus, I like both of ya and it’s time there was a little more give and a lot less take in this partnership, if ya ask me,” Jazz said. “Ya like him, Blurr. Stop actin’ like ya don’t. And stop actin’ like a spoiled towerling, too.”

Blurr worked his jaw.

Jazz’s words stung. They resonated all too much with that twisting, churning sensation in the back of his spark. Something that clawed at his conscience and told him Jazz was right.

“He still lied to me,” Blurr said.

Jazz sighed. He rubbed his forehelm and leaned back. “Yeah, he did. But I’m also guessin’ ya never gave him the chance to explain why.”

No. He hadn’t. He’d leapt right into anger and stayed there, letting it fuel and feed him so that he wouldn’t have to look at Starscream and hate himself. Not when it was so much easier to lay the blame solely at Starscream’s pedes.

Blurr worked his intake. “You said he pulled me out of the rubble?”

“Dug ya out with his own two hands.”

And then took me home to his apartment where he cared for me on his own.

Starscream had been a Decepticon. He’d been Megatron’s right hand. He’d assassinated the Senate. He’d committed so many atrocities. He was probably, even now, plotting something of which Blurr knew nothing about.

Or did Blurr simply assume he was because of the war he continued to carry with him? Blurr didn’t know. He was too tired and in too much pain to make sense of the madness.

Because Jazz was right. He’d agreed to Starscream’s terms. He’d gone willingly to Starscream’s berth. He stayed. Every time he could leave, he’d opted to stay.

Blurr’s internals squeezed. He bowed his helm, dimming his optics.

“The truth,” Jazz added in a soft tone, “is that I need Starscream. We all do. A leader I know is preferable to one I don’t. So I either need yer partnership to work, or I need ya to end it before it blows up. Got me?”

Blurr ex-vented in a slow burst. “Yeah. I do.”

“And?”

Blurr lifted his helm, his lip lifting in the thinnest smile he’d ever produced. “I think I owe someone an apology.”

“You owe him a lot more than that.”

Blurr cycled a ventilation and hung his helm. “I know.”

~

Starscream had only been upstairs for maybe twenty minutes, but in that time, Wheeljack had managed to accumulate a stack of boxes he wanted to keep that was taller than he was. Even working together, it would take them the better part of the afternoon to move this all.

“You’ve been busy,” he remarked, trying to keep his tone light. There was nothing wrong here. Nothing at all.

“You have a lot of good stuff,” Wheeljack replied with a huff as he set one crate down on top of the smallest stack next to his. “Where did you get it all?”

“Here and there.” Starscream shrugged dismissively. “Right now, I try not to discard anything that could potentially be useful.”

Wheeljack nodded. “That’s a good plan.” He leaned hard against the stack of crates and gave it a happy pat. “You never know when something can be of use.”

Starscream made a non-committal noise of agreement. “It might take a few trips, but I think we can get it all.”

“Nah. I don’t need it all, I just want it.” Wheeljack chuckled and waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll just take a couple now and come back for the rest later. If that’s all right.”

“I’ll key you into the system. Come get it whenever you want.” Starscream walked up the crates, giving them a look. He honestly had no idea what was in them. He hadn’t time to really pry. “Which ones do you want today? I’ll help.”

Wheeljack cycled his optics. “Uhh, ya don’t hafta do that. I’m sure ya got better things to do.”

“Helping you is included in that,” Starscream said with a shrug. He reached for the nearest crate. “This one?”

“No, I won’t need that one for weeks. But you can grab the one under it,” Wheeljack said, though there remained something hesitant in his tone. He grunted as he picked up two crates for himself. “Everythin’ all right?”

Starscream tugged out the lower crate and heaved it up. It wasn’t heavy, but it was awkward. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to have a hauler-class on his staff right now.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” he asked airily.

“Mebbe cause I just saw the equivalent of a lover’s spat before Blurr stormed out of here like a sparkling who didn’t get his way?”

Starscream chuckled. “Oh, that. Minor difference of opinion is all.” He paused and gave Wheeljack a look. “Maybe you shouldn’t be carrying that. You did just get out of a CR chamber.”

“I’m tougher than I look.”

“So it would seem.” Starscream shook his helm, and adjusted his grip on the crate. “The lift’s this way.”

“It’ll be nice to see the city. I wonder how much it’s changed.”

“Not as much as you’d think. Or hope,” Starscream said with a cycled ventilation. If anything, he lamented, it was worse. “We should maybe think about some kind of press conference? That way people don’t think there’s a ghost wandering around the streets.”

Wheeljack chuckled. “It could be fun almost. I could pop out of alleys and say ‘boo’ and see who drains their tank.”

Starscream gave him a dry look. “You don’t strike me as the pranking type.”

“It was just a thought.” Wheeljack shrugged as the lift arrived and they squeezed into it, the gears protesting the additional weight. “But if you think we should have a meeting or something, I’ll do it. I just don’t think anyone cares that much.”

Starscream selected the ground floor and adjusted his grip on the crate. “You were missed,” he said quietly.

Wheeljack’s indicators flashed a dim green. “Yeah, I gathered,” he said before he shook himself visibly, armor ruffling and resettling. “Anyway, that wasn’t a minor disagreement. What’s up with you and Blurr?”

The lift dinged, depositing them on the ground floor. Rather than lead Wheeljack out the front – where onlookers were sure to notice – Starscream gestured him to a side entrance. He hoped to keep to the alleys and shadows. He didn’t want anyone else catching sight of Wheeljack and reacting as Blurr had.

Starscream already had one disaster in the making. He didn’t need another.

“As I said, we are business associates,” Starscream replied.

“Not buying it.” Wheeljack juggled the crates as he dipped through the smaller doorframe. “That kind of anger is personal.”

Well. Wasn’t he just a wealth of incisive observations today?

Starscream sighed. Might as well come clean. Wheeljack would figure it out eventually. After all, it wasn’t like all of Cybertron didn’t already know.

“We also, occasionally, share a berth.” He gestured Wheeljack down a nearby alley, one cluttered with detritus, but luckily, Wheeljack didn’t protest. He seemed to understand the necessity of privacy.

“And you’re living together,” Wheeljack said.

Starscream winced. “Not quite.”

Wheeljack’s indicators flashed in the alley, reflecting off the charred walls. He gave Starscream a look that spoke volumes, including a demand for Starscream to elaborate.

He sighed again. “That terrorist I mentioned? His first strike destroyed Maccadam’s.”

“And it was easier if Blurr stayed with you.”

“Safer, too. Obsidian is very dangerous.” Starscream peered into the road ahead and behind them, but it was deserted. Good thing mechs around here still kept to a reasonably normal schedule. Most of them were still at whatever they called work.

Wheeljack’s laboratory was just across the road, within comfortable walking distance of Starscream’s penthouse as a matter of fact.

“I’m sure,” Wheeljack replied, but he didn’t sound convinced.

No one saw them inch across the road and duck down into the below-street level entrance to Wheeljack’s lab. Or at least, Starscream assumed no one did.

Wheeljack’s old code didn’t work, so Starscream put in the new one for the new security system he’d had installed, and handed programming of the system over to Wheeljack.

“You have all the permissions,” Starscream said as they stepped into the dim. He juggled his crate so he could hit the main power switch. “I didn’t even put in a backdoor for myself.”

“I appreciate your restraint,” Wheeljack said with a chuckle. He stepped further inside and gave a low whistle before he dropped his crate to the floor. “Primus, it’s a mess in here. Not that I was ever much one for cleaning.”

Starscream smirked and set his own crate down, though with more care. “Maybe you can hire Blurr to clean it for you. From what I saw, he’s pretty good at it.” He tried to laugh, but it fell flat.

Damn. He was trying not to think about that.

“Is he now?” Wheeljack said. He gave Starscream a shrewd look before he ventured deeper into the laboratory. “For a relationship that’s half-business, and half friends with benefits, you two sure have a lot of checkmarks in the other column.”

Starscream’s wings twitched. He folded his arms over his cockpit. “It’s complicated.”

“It always is.” Wheeljack’s fingers trailed over his desk top, cluttered with datapads, and coated in a layer of dust. “Ya know, while I was in that tank, I could hear everythin’ going on around me. I wasn’t aware enough to interact with it, but I still heard it.”

Starscream’s optics widened. His face heated. “I… didn’t know that,” he said. He hunched his shoulders, suddenly recalling hours he’d spent talking to a mech he thought wasn’t listening. “Mechs are usually in stasis.”

“Well, I was but…” Wheeljack shrugged and rapped his knuckles over his own helm. “Ratchet would have a fit if he knew, but I adjusted my coding a bit ago. I never fully go out. Too dangerous.”

Starscream shifted his weight. “I see.” His spark stuttered. He recalled all sorts of things he’d said, admissions he’d made. About himself, about Metalhawk, about Blurr.

And Wheeljack still looked at him as though he was a friend. He’d still defended Starscream to Blurr.

Starscream sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, gnawing on it. He drew his armor in tight, unsure what he should do now. Go? Stay?

Wheeljack’s face gave nothing away. Neither did his field. He only looked at Starscream as though waiting for something.

“I suppose that means there’s no point in being evasive,” Starscream said carefully, his cables drawing tight.

“None at all.” Wheeljack’s tone was almost cheerful as he peered at the datapads on his desk, and then swept them all into a trash bin. “So how about you pull up a stool, I rustle up some energon for us both, and you tell me what’s really going on with you and Blurr?”

Starscream worked his intake. He shook his helm. “Why do you care?” He meant it to be scathing, waspish even, instead it came out hurt.

Damn him.

“Because I do.” Wheeljack swept some dust off a stool, pulled it out, and set it firmly beside him. “Sit.”

Starscream gnawed on his bottom lip again. He should leave. Now. While he still could. Go somewhere the open honesty in Wheeljack’s optics couldn’t reel him in, promising a friendship Starscream didn’t deserve. Had never deserved.

He could go back to his apartment, and the reek of Blurr’s disappointment. Or he could wander around his city in a lost daze, waiting for his own downfall.

Starscream cycled a ventilation.

He sat in the stool. “Fine,” he said, grasping for a semblance of control he didn’t feel.

“But we’re not going to gossip like a pair of lovesick fools.”

Wheeljack chuckled. “Fair enough.”

It would be nice, at least, to have this until his citizens turned against him, and the last of his power was wrested from his fingers. As it always was.

Starscream bit back a sigh and waited for Wheeljack to finish rummaging up some energon.

Perhaps Obsidian would get his way after all.

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