Starscream woke to his internal alarm obnoxiously beeping at him. He didn’t remember setting it the night before, and had to muzzily consult his internal schedule to recall why he needed to be online so damned early.
Oh. Right. The meeting with the new task force and what remained of the old one. It was the first item on his agenda today. He also needed to make contact with his interfactional operative team and see what they’d discovered.
Starscream onlined his optics, looking down at the mech sprawled on top of him, still deep in recharge. This was early, even for Blurr, who prior to the destruction of the bar, would have only stumbled home about a few hours ago.
It was an interesting experience, to wake up next to a lover, a near-partner. To wake up not alone period. It wasn’t the first time he’d shared a berth with Blurr. It wasn’t even the first time since they’d kind of decided to try for a real relationship.
Something about it still tugged at Starscream’s spark.
Can’t we just talk about this in the morning?
Starscream’s good mood nearly evaporated. Talking. It seemed all he and Blurr ever did was disagree. When they weren’t fragging.
Well, at least it was something.
Starscream sighed and considered how best to wake Blurr. Autobot or not, Blurr had been a Wrecker, and while his instincts weren’t quite as dangerous as other berthpartners Starscream had, it was still good to be cautious.
Jazz, Starscream recalled, had been the worst. The tiniest of twitches and Jazz bolted online with a snarl and a vibroblade pulled from Primus only knew where. Starscream never could track where he’d gotten it, or where he tucked it away once he fully onlined and realized where he was.
After the first couple times that happened, they both agreed that sharing a berth was not a good idea.
Well. It wouldn’t be the first time Starscream had been struck by a startled berthpartner. He braced himself and stroked a hand down Blurr’s back, careful to avoid the sensitive ports where Blurr’s boosters were supposed to be. He hoped the gentle touch would override Blurr’s offensive protocols.
Blurr made a small noise, one that was ridiculously adorable, and shifted atop Starscream. He ex-vented a lukewarm burst of air, his cheek rubbing against Starscream’s cockpit.
“Too early,” he grumbled, vocalizer riddled with static. “Gimme ten more minutes.” His outstretched hand flexed and settled again.
Starscream chuckled softly. “And what difference is ten more minutes going to make?” he asked mildly. “Besides, I have work to do. And so do you.”
Blurr had yet to online his optics. “No bar. No work. Recharge now.” He ex-vented, frame going limp atop Starscream.
He really was going to attempt going back to recharge. If Starscream didn’t have a meeting to attend, he would have been sorely tempted to allow Blurr to do so. Moments like these, well, they were rare. He suspected Blurr was only so unguarded because he was barely online.
Starscream stroked down Blurr’s back again, his hand resting at the base of his backstrut. “You signed up for my task force, remember?”
“Mrrph.” Blurr shifted, their armor sliding together. His legs untangled from Starscream’s. He lifted his helm and blinked at Starscream. “Oh, right. I did.”
“Regret that decision now?”
“No.” The haze cleared from Blurr’s optics. His field pushed against Starscream’s own before he loudly cycled his vocalizer and forced himself upright.
Starscream tried not to miss the warm of his frame. He sat up as well, only to frown at the mess on the berth, and on each other. They were liberally spattered with dried fluids.
“Washrack first though,” Starscream said, brushing futilely at the mess. “I do not think it is appropriate to appear looking as though we have recently fragged.”
Blurr gave him a crooked grin. “Why not? It’s the truth.”
Starscream rolled his optics. “Just because it is true does not mean we need to announce it to the universe with proof.” He slid off the berth and hissed as a cable in his back announced its displeasure. He reached for it, intended to rub out the knot.
Blurr got there first. Starscream blinked in surprise as Blurr’s fingers slid between his armor seams, deftly seeking out the source of the discomfort. Starscream, without asking, twisted to open the seam, granting him better access.
“Thank you,” Starscream said as relief cast through his frame. The knot eased from a tight clamp, into a more tolerable ache. The heat of the solvent spray should work out the rest of the discomfort.
Blurr rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “It’s the kind of thing lovers do, right?”
They had yet to use the word.
Starscream tasted it with his lips and glossa before he dared repeat it. “Lovers,” he murmured. He angled closer to Blurr, enough that he could taste the edge of Blurr’s suddenly withdrawn field. “Are we calling ourselves that now?”
“I thought we’d agreed we were.” Blurr frowned, but it looked more confused than anything. “Unless I misunderstood you.”
Starscream shook his helm. “No, I just…” He trailed off, unsure he wanted to voice the confusing tangle of emotions within his spark. “Just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”
“We’re lovers,” Blurr said and grabbed his hand, giving it a squeeze. He stepped closer, into Starscream’s personal space. “We’re lovers who are going to go get clean, gobble down energon, hopefully avoid a crowd of news crews on our front porch, and then attend an important meeting.”
Trust is a multi-layered thing.
Someday, Starscream might even gather up the courage to ask what that meant.
“Fair enough,” Starscream said.
Blurr kissed him.
It wasn’t much, it barely qualified as a kiss. Blurr’s lips brushed his. Blurr’s glossa briefly introduced itself. And then Blurr was gone, his lips curled in that half-grin, so cocky and sure of itself that Starscream’s spark skipped an oscillation.
“Good,” he said. He squeezed Starscream’s hand. “Then let’s go.” He turned and towed Starscream toward the washracks.
Starscream’s spark fluttered. His lips tingled.
He followed after Blurr, his processor spinning.
They washed in record time, no matter how much Starscream wanted to linger. His fingers felt magnetically drawn to Blurr’s plating, and it was hardly a trial to wash the dried lubricants from Blurr’s armor. Though whilst he was down there, he had to force himself not to lean in and taste what was offered to him.
Energon was obtained, though they didn’t have enough time to leisurely enjoy it. They had a meeting to make.
They took the lift to the first floor, saw the crowd waiting out front, some even going so far as to peer through the glass, and Starscream immediately closed the doors and took them down to the basement. Blurr was delighted to find the small, hidden trapdoor which left them free to squeeze from the penthouse without being spotted, only sacrificing their immaculate paint in the process.
Starscream was all optics and audials, scrutinizing every mech they passed, fearing that any one of them could be carrying another bomb on Obsidian’s orders. He knew it was a great risk to bring his task force together again, but he hoped that having arranged it at the last minute, Obsidian didn’t have enough time to set up something devastating.
When they arrived, Starscream counted frames and tried not to be disappointed. There were less than he could have hoped for, but more than zero. He supposed that counted for something. Most were former Autobots and Decepticons. Only one NAIL had elected to take the risk.
There were eight in all, including Blurr. Eight mechs of whom only six would actually be some semblance of useful if it came down to a fight. Most were eager for revenge or to protect what peace they’d built in the wake of Megatron’s defeat. A few were uncertain, nervous, their armor shuffling and their fields on alert. Starscream could not blame them for their anxiety.
He, himself, was on the edge.
Starscream elected to keep the meeting as brief as possible. Introductions were passed around, though all recognized Blurr on sight.
Starscream organized them into teams of two and arranged a patrolling and investigation schedule. One mech was assigned the task of operating a tipline. Another was given the duty of obtaining reports and collating them for Starscream’s use.
Starscream made it a point to dismiss the meeting as quickly as possible, and he hoped that no one noticed him rushing the participants out of the room. But the longer they gathered in one place, the greater the risk that Obsidian would make another target of them.
Most seemed to understand without his saying so. They parted in groups of two – the partners Starscream had assigned for the most part. Blurr, however, lingered, no doubt waiting for Starscream. He was in conversation with his partner – the former NAIL.
Another lingered as well, hovering in Starscream’s periphery. He was a small thing, relatively speaking. Red and a very pale bluish-green, tires gave indication he was a grounder. He wore a narrow optical band. Starscream frowned, matching his face to the eight profiles waiting in queue in his processor.
“Do you have a question, Fasttrack?” Starscream asked once he could no longer tolerate the mech’s loitering.
Fasttrack beamed, looked over his shoulder – in Blurr’s direction no less – and then sidled up to Starscream. “Not a question,” he said with a little smile. “More of an answer.”
Starscream arched an orbital ridge. “I don’t recall asking a question.”
“Well, you didn’t.” Fasttrack bobbed on his heelstruts, like a mech who had joules of energy and nowhere to put it. He looked around them, at Blurr again, and then lowered his voice, whispering conspiratorially. “But I was wanderin’ around the city the other day and I saw somethin’ I think you should see.”
Starscream couldn’t decide if he was amused or irritated. “Oh really.” He folded his arms over his cockpit. “Is it about our terrorist?” He hadn’t told them of Obsidian’s identity. He didn’t want word getting out that he knew who it was.
“No. It’s, uh, it’s about your partner over there.” He tilted his helm toward Blurr before leaning in closer to Starscream. “And a certain goods dealer. If you know what I mean.”
Starscream rubbed at his forehelm. “I don’t actually. But feel free to enlighten me.” He hoped if he let Fasttrack say his piece, then the mech would go away. He was far too close for Starscream’s taste.
“Well, you know, he’s just gettin’ a little cozy if you ask me,” Fasttrack said with a shrug that was far from dismissive. He produced a data chip and held it up to Starscream. “I figured you wouldn’t believe me, so I got some image captures for you. Might want to take a look and see if maybe you’re putting your trust in the wrong place.”
Starscream’s optics narrowed. He plucked the datachip from Fasttrack’s fingers. “I see,” he said, a sour taste on his glossa. “And why are you so concerned?”
Fasttrack shrugged. “Just don’t like to see a pretty mech get hurt is all.”
That should have been flattering. It was not.
Starscream examined the chip, a frown curving his lips. “Well then aren’t you full of good deeds?”
Fasttrack beamed. His visor flashed with light. “I try.” He looked over his shoulder at Blurr, who was finishing up his conversation with his assigned partner. He startled and backed away from Starscream. “Anyway, that’s all I had to say. Sorry about the bad news and all, but you know, better knowledge than a fool, right?”
“Right.” Starscream agreed. He tucked the chip into his fist. “I appreciate your concern, Fasttrack.”
The grounder half-winked his visor and then he was gone, out the door before Blurr managed to arrive at Starscream’s side.
“What was that about?” he asked.
Starscream peered down at the chip. “I’m about to find out,” he said. “Do you have an empty datapad on you?” If this thing had a virus on it, Starscream wasn’t about to ruin one with important information.
Blurr shrugged, before his optics brightened. “Wait. Actually, I do.” He fumbled in his subspace and produced a little worn datapad. “This one has Maccadam’s stock on it, but that’s irrelevant now…”
“You’ll rebuild.” Starscream accepted the datapad, his fingers briefly brushing Blurr’s. “And then it’ll be relevant again.”
“We’ll see,” Blurr said. His tone was neutral, if not a little resigned.
Starscream let the topic drop for now.
He opened the chip port and inserted the one Fasttrack had given him before he powered the datapad on. It read the chip immediately, bringing up a folder containing the present data. It was as Fasttrack said, a collection of image captures. There were about ten of them.
Blurr leaned in close to peer at the screen as Starscream tapped on the first one.
“Is that… me?” Blurr asked. His engine gave a little rev.
Indeed it was. Starscream’s lips thinned. The picture was of poor quality, and in monochrome no less, but it was clearly Blurr.
And clearly Swindle.
Their location was one of shadows and pockets of light, but Starscream had memorized every inch of his apartment house, especially the rooms he used the most. He recognized this one to be the ground floor.
Swindle was close enough to be sharing ventilating space. He had an arm around Blurr, a smile on his face.
“So it would seem,” Starscream replied.
Starscream quickly flicked to the next image, which was of the same scenario but from a different angle. It was not jealousy that flickered through his spark, but it was a near thing. He was aware that Blurr and Swindle had something of a business relationship, but he had not realized they were so… close.
“Starscream, what am I looking at?” Blurr demanded.
Starscream flicked to the next image, which was yet another angle, though this time Swindle was touching Blurr’s chestplate. The fourth image was much the same, including a closeup of the hand on Blurr’s backstrut.
The fifth image was different. This time, it was in color. It was taken outside, that much Starscream could tell from the background. The subject focus, however, was the same. Blurr and Swindle, distressingly close.
Starscream gritted his denta. He swept through images six through ten so fast they were a blur, yet he managed to get the finer details.
The datapad vanished from his hands, and Starscream hissed.
“Are you spying on me?” Blurr snapped as he jerked the datapad out of Starscream’s reach. “What the frag is this?”
“You tell me.” Starscream’s hands lowered, curling into fists.
Blurr rolled his optics, though anger flashed in his fields. “Swindle getting too handsy, if you ask me. We’re business partners, you idiot.”
Starscream’s optics narrowed. “As I recall, that was how we started.”
Blurr made a sound of disgust. He shook the datapad in Starscream’s general direction. “I wouldn’t frag Swindle if he paid me,” he spat, his field reflecting his disdain. “And you still haven’t answered my question. Have you been fragging spying on me, Starscream? And I had better like the answer I get or so help me Primus, I will walk out that door.”
“No, I haven’t,” Starscream growled, his wings snapping high and arched. “I had nothing to do with those pictures, except for the fact they were just given to me. I didn’t even know what was on that datachip.”
Blurr’s hand clenched around the datapads. “Who?”
Starscream waved a dismissing hand, ex-venting in a rush. “One of the volunteers. Some grounder. Fasttrack, he called himself.”
Blurr’s lips curled into a snarl. “Fasttrack,” he hissed. “I told Rattrap there was something off about that mech, but no, Blurr is just paranoid. Lots of mechs change their names. There’s nothing to be worried about.”
He stormed forward, wriggling the datapad in Starscream’s face. “Stop thinking with your fragging spike and start worrying about how a mech like Fasttrack got surveillance footage from your supposedly secure apartment!” He shoved the datapad at Starscream’s chestplate, the screen cracking.
Starscream fumbled to take it as Blurr whirled on a heelstrut and stormed toward the exit. His armor had fluffed, revealing the protoform beneath.
“Where are you going?” Starscream demanded, hurrying after him.
Because Primus be damned, but Blurr was right. Starscream had let emotion get the better of him, and he hadn’t stopped to think. How had Fasttrack gotten into his surveillance system? Why did he feel the need to spy on Blurr?
“I’m putting an end to this,” Blurr snapped and shoved the door open. “He can’t have gotten far.”
Starscream burst out the door a few kliks later, but Blurr had already folded into alt-mode, roaring down the street. He had little chance of finding Fasttrack like that.
Starscream shoved the datapad into his subspace and transformed as well, pushing himself into the sky. He pinged Blurr’s comm, the speedster making rapid distance despite the rough nature of the roads.
“What?” Blurr hissed.
“We’re not going to find him like this,” Starscream said.
Beneath him, Blurr hung a sharp right and roared through a narrow alley, nearly scraping his sides. “Yes, we are. I’ve just asked Blow-Out.” Said mech being Blurr’s task force partner. “Half the group met up at Oiler’s. And Fasttrack’s with them.”
Oiler’s was Blurr’s competition, though that was a generous term for the rundown bar on the edge of the city. It crouched in the lowest level of a condemned building, and the engex tasted as gritty as the dust its owner – appropriately named Oiler – never bothered to clear from the tables. But with Maccadam’s gone, there were fewer options for the city residents.
“I’ll meet you there,” Starscream said, easily shooting ahead of Blurr. He, after all, didn’t have to drive around buildings and pedestrians. “And for what it’s worth, I apologize for leaping to conclusions.”
The comm went dead. Starscream bit back a sigh.
Great job, Starscream. Great job.
Starscream arrived long before Blurr would. Or at least, long enough that he could perhaps entice Fasttrack out of the bar without Blurr causing some kind of scene. Blurr was furious, and Starscream suspected it wasn’t entirely because of the implications that he was unfaithful. Not that they’d had any sort of fidelity agreement in the first place.
Starscream’s lips pulled into a moue of distaste as he looked at the ramshackle bar, from which loud and raucous music emerged. It didn’t even have proper windows, just holes cut into the walls to allow for air flow.
Starscream cycled a ventilation and braced himself. He’d gone into worst conditions than this, for sure.
He held his helm high and strutted through the front door – though again, to label it such was generous. It was a slab of metal attached to a hinge without a lock. Oiler was lucky no one had stolen his wares.
Starscream walked into noise, with a lingering odor of rust, and fought the urge to wrinkle his nasal ridge. The bar was packed, to be expected given that Maccadam’s was rubble, and no one noticed him arrive.
It was impossible to be unobtrusive, but Starscream tried nonetheless. He scanned the crowd for Fasttrack and was relieved to find the grounder relatively close. Starscream made a beeline for the mech, his plating crawling. He wanted to be out of here as soon as possible.
Luckily, Fasttrack noticed him immediately. His visor lit up, and he excused himself from his group of friends, meeting Starscream halfway.
“Starscream, sir,” he greeted with a tilt of his helm. “Can I help you?”
Starscream planted a look of sadness on his face. “I have reviewed the data you’ve given me,” he said, loud enough to be heard, but hopefully conveying enough despair to convince Fasttrack. “I was wondering if perhaps you could tell me more?”
“Ohh. I see.” Fasttrack patted him on the shoulder; Starscream tried not to flinch. “Sure, sure. But here’s not the best, is it?”
“Somewhere quiet perhaps,” Starscream said, interjecting misery into the tone. It shouldn’t be this easy to convince Fasttrack to follow him outside.
But apparently it was. One spark break and Fasttrack was easily persuaded to follow Starscream out the door. Starscream tilted his helm in the vague direction of his tower, and the moment they stepped into the nearest alley, he whirled on Fasttrack.
He grabbed the mech by the intake and slammed him against the wall, inches from the ground.
“Now Fasttrack,” Starscream said sweetly as the mech gasped, pedes scrabbling against the rusted metal, his hands curling around Starscream’s wrist. “You are going to tell me just how you got access to my security system.”
Fasttrack’s vocalizer glitched. Hmm. Perhaps Starscream’s grip was too tight?
Blurr skidded into view. He must have transformed mid-brake.
“If you’re going to tell me to put him down, I’m afraid I can’t comply,” Starscream said, his thumb pressing to the side of Fasttrack’s intake, compressing a main fuel line.
“I wasn’t going to,” Blurr grumbled and stomped into the alley. “But whatever you’re doing, do it fast. The nominal leader of Cybertron can’t be caught acting like some low thug in an alley, you idiot.”
Hmm. Blurr did have a point.
Starscream turned his attention back to Fasttrack. “Now, my dear helping hand, you’re going to answer my questions quickly and politely, and if you do, perhaps I won’t introduce you to our local jail. Trust me, that filthy bar is a palace compared to the hole I can find for you. Do we have an understanding?”
Fasttrack nodded, the light behind his visor briefly shifting to Blurr before it moved back to Starscream. “Y-y-yes, s-s-sir,” he crackled.
Blurr moved to Starscream’s side, his arms folded over his chassis. “Who are you really?” he demanded. “Fasttrack is dead. I raced with him before the war, and I know you’re not him.”
Ah, no wonder Blurr had been so fixated on this mech.
“Be a sweetspark and answer his questions honestly, too,” Starscream said as he loosened his grip on Fasttrack’s intake, but not before he produced a small pistol, which he aimed in the vicinity of where he assumed Fasstrack’s t-cog to be. “Or things are going to get very unpleasant.”
Fasstrack’s intake bobbed beneath his palm. “He told me to take it!” he cried, and his legs kicked out futilely. “It was just a cover.” His head strained to swing back toward Starscream. “He gave me the codes. I’m supposed to watch you.”
“He,” Starscream repeated, a cold chill in his spark. “Who is ‘he’?”
“I don’t know his name.” Fasttrack was shaking now, his armor clattering. His visor was bright and wide. “I just got a comm code. He– he gave me creds. He helped me get a new frame and stuff.”
Fasttrack’s field seemed to be genuine. But even a two-bit operative could project believable lies into his field. He wished Jazz were here. Starscream could use an effective interrogator right now.
“You do realize he’s the same mech that’s been bombing the city, don’t you?” Blurr demanded, but his expression had softened.
He was falling for Fasttrack’s act. If it was indeed an act.
Fasttrack squirmed. “I needed the creds – urk!”
Starscream tightened his grip. He had to resist the urge to squeeze tight enough to pop Fasttrack’s little helm from his cowardly little frame. Did he not know how many mechs had died? How close Blurr had come to dying?
He shook his helm. “I do not believe you,” Starscream hissed, glaring up at Fasttrack. He shoved the mech up the wall, hearing paint screech against rusted metal. “No mech is willing to ignore that kind of behavior for a few creds.”
“Star.” Blurr’s hand rested on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Something tells me he doesn’t have anything else to offer.”
“I don’t,” Fasttrack squeaked out. “I swear. That’s all I know.”
Starscream sneered. Fasttrack quivered in his grip, pulling off ‘terrified mech’ very well. Starscream didn’t believe a second of it.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Starscream said. “But I know someone who can find out if he does.”
Starscream huffed a noise of disgust. He dropped Fasttrack, the mech crumpling to the ground. He shakily tried to get to his hands and knees, but Blurr was there, standing over him.
“Stay,” he said.
That look in his optics, the dark cast to his face, made Starscream’s spark throb. He firmly told himself ‘not now’ and dialed Jazz’s comm. He half-turned away from Fasttrack as he waited for the former Autobot to pick up.
“It’s a bit early for ya to be pinging me, ain’t it?” Jazz said by way of answer.
“Yes,” Starscream said into the comm. His vents heaved. “But I’ve got a toy for you, Jazz. One I think you’ll really enjoy playing with.”
“Ooo. Lovely, ya really know how to turn my engine. Tell me more.”
Starscream’s lips curved into a smirk. He looked down at Fasttrack, and knew he appeared an agent of Unicron. “I have here a mech connected to Obsidian. He claims he doesn’t know much, so I’m thinking, you might be more persuasive.”
Fasttrack’s visor flashed. He threw himself past Blurr, scrabbling toward the end of the alley.
Blurr took off after him, but he didn’t have far to go. Starscream lifted his blaster and fired a shot, taking out Fasttrack’s right knee. He tumbled face first, and Blurr all but tackled him. He yanked Fasttrack’s arms behind his back and hauled him up.
“Sorry. He made a break for it.” Starscream smirked though Jazz couldn’t see it. “He’s just that excited to see you, I suppose.”
Jazz laughed into the comm. “Where do ya want me to pick up the package?”
“Just outside of Oiler’s. And make it quick. I don’t want to attract any more attention than I already have.”
“Will do. Jazz out.”
The comm buzzed into silence.
Starscream turned toward Blurr who had a firm grip on Fasttrack. The grounder’s field was a nauseating mix of fear and dismay. If he was an actor, he was a good one. Starscream gave him that much credit.
But figuring out if he was telling the truth or was an operative in disguise would be Jazz’s task.
“Thank you, Blurr,” Starscream purred with a salacious wink. “Fasttrack here has a very important date with Jazz, and I’d hate for him to miss it.”