Starscream onlined with a gasp, coughing as his vents struggled to clear the nanite gel from his system. It tasted like medical grade energon, foul and unpleasant. He felt as though he were swimming through a rain-soaked atmosphere, even as his audials registered the sound of a regen tank draining.
Wait. He was alive?
It took too long for that realization to set in. For his systems to report green across the board, his short-term memory cache abruptly dumping into his active queue. Reminding him of Obsidian, of Blurr, of the blaster shot.
Of one last admission before the darkness claimed him.
Starscream’s vision blurred. It was bright. There were shapes in front of him. And noise. His wings flicked, one and then the other. Wings. He had his wings back. And pain. He wasn’t in any pain.
His fans whirred. He spat up another glob of nanite gel. He stumbled forward, one step, and then a second, only for the third to meet empty air. He flailed as he tumbled out of the tank and into someone’s arms.
“Whoa. It’s okay. I got you.”
He knew that voice. Starscream cycled his optics twice and looked up into blue ones, and a familiar face.
“Blurr?” he croaked.
“Yeah.” A smile, soft but genuine, not even a smirk. “It’s me. Welcome back to the land of the living.”
“I kind of feel dead,” Starscream rasped as his vocalizer struggled to engage. He tried to access his chronometer.
Three weeks? No. That couldn’t be right.
“That’s because you’ve been in stasis for ages,” Blurr said with a chuckle. He had his arms around Starscream’s chassis, and now he struggled to get Starscream upright. “Can you stand?”
“Can try.” He got his pedes underneath him, but his knees wobbled. He slumped forward, braced against Blurr, and got his arms moving, too. Not that they went far.
They went precisely where he wanted them, which was to return Blurr’s embrace. Blurr was warm, and alive, and smelled like fresh welds and engex and cleaning solution and spatters of the nanite gel. Starscream was probably sticky with it.
“Good enough, I suppose,” Blurr murmured, and one hand stroked down Starscream’s spinal strut, despite the goo still sticking to him. “You with us?”
Starscream reset all of his sensory input, the noise around him clarifying into something he could identify. The gurgle of the tank finishing its drain cycle. The hum of the machinery. The sound of Blurr’s systems. Other voices.
Starscream’s vision stopped wobbling. He peered over Blurr’s shoulder, catching one shape that slowly sharpened into Wheeljack. His indicators were slowly pulsing muted shades, his hands twisting together as though he were worried.
“I’m here,” Starscream said. His thoughts felt so muzzy. It was hard to focus, to concentrate. He pulled back, looked into Blurr’s face. “You’re here?”
Blurr’s forehelm pressed to his. “Where else would I be?” he asked with a little laugh. “You saved my life, Star.”
Starscream shivered, and it had nothing to do with the cold. He remembered then, with stark clarity, Blurr glaring up at Obsidian. Defying him and claiming Starscream in the process.
“I’m yours,” he said as his spark throbbed and longing spilled into his field.
“Damn right you are,” Blurr said, his arms tightened around Starscream. He brushed his nasal ridge over Starscream’s. “And for the record, the feeling’s mutual.”
Starscream made an incoherent noise. Heat flooded his faceplate. His thoughts were spinning. He wondered if he were alive after all. Surely this had to be a dream.
But then Blurr was kissing him, and Starscream’s dreams had never been this vivid and acute. Blurr’s mouth was warm, wet, his glossa firm and claiming. He tasted of mid-grade and iron shavings, and he didn’t seem to mind the nanite gel still coating Starscream’s mouth.
Starscream shivered, his talons sinking into Blurr’s seams as he held on. He moaned into the kiss, his glossa tangling with Blurr’s, and heat filling his frame, his fans whirring despite the gunk still clinging to them.
This was real. It wasn’t a dream.
Blurr ended the kiss, resting his forehelm against Starscream’s. “Not that I’m ungrateful,” he murmured. “But don’t you ever do that again.”
“No promises,” Starscream replied as Blurr’s ex-vents ghosted across his lips.
Behind Blurr, Wheeljack coughed a vent. His hydraulics hissed as he shifted his weight. “Uh, not that you two ain’t adorable and all, but I should probably scan Starscream and skedaddle before it gets any heavier than that.”
Starscream’s optics widened. His faceplate heated.
Blurr just chuckled and pulled back from Starscream. He looked over his shoulder at Wheeljack. “Is that jealousy I detect?”
“Not in the least,” Wheeljack said cheerfully, and his indicators flashed bright colors of joy. “I just didn’t come prepared for a free show, you know. Left all my recording equipment in the store room.”
Starscream coughed a vent. He disentangled himself from Blurr, though he noticed the Racer kept an arm around him. Whether because he couldn’t bear to let go or because Starscream genuinely needed the support, Starscream wasn’t sure. Either way, he appreciated it.
“No ‘facing vids,” Starscream said as the tingle of a scan washed over his frame. His plating felt overly sensitive to it.
“Pity.” Wheeljack chuckled as his scanner beeped and he peered at the results. “Well, you’re a pretty mess right now, but you’re good enough for light duty. Do you know what that means?”
Starscream looked down at himself, scowling at the sticky mess coating his frame. “I can visit the washracks?”
Wheeljack laughed. “That, but also, that means no flying, no transforming, no working more than half a shift, no heavy lifting.”
“Working,” Starscream repeated in a flat tone.
He remembered the feeds Obsidian showed him. He remembered his city up in flames, with rioters and looters in the streets. He remembered everything he built crashing around him.
“What’s even left?” he muttered.
“Funny you should ask that, cause there’s a whole lot that’s been waitin’ for ya to get out of that chamber.”
Starscream looked past Wheeljack to see Jazz strutting into view, his paint immaculate, his biolights bright, and a grin on his face.
“Boss, your interviewees are here, by the way,” Jazz said with a nod Blurr’s direction. “I can take Star from here if you want.”
Starscream tightened his grip on Blurr’s hand. He felt strangely reluctant to part from the Racer. Blurr looked at him with a soft smile.
“I’ll just be upstairs,” he said and tapped his audial with a free hand. “A comm call away if you need. Besides, Jazz has good news for you.”
“Well, good news is a matter of perspective,” Jazz said with a snort.
Hmm. That did not bode well.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Starscream said with an uneasy smile. He forced himself to let go of Blurr, despite the shrieking in his spark. “If Jazz wanted to kill me, he’d have done so centuries ago.”
Blurr’s gaze flicked between them before he inclined his helm. “So I’ve heard.” He squeezed Starscream’s hand and leaned in for a quick kiss. “See you later.”
He released Starscream and stepped away, tapping Wheelajck on the shoulder. “Thanks again, Wheeljack.”
“None needed, but you’re still welcome.” Wheeljack winked and tucked away his scanner. “Guess that’s my cue to scoot, too.” He tipped his helm toward the CR chamber. “I’ll come scrub that later.”
“Nah. I got lackeys for that. You just get some rest,” Jazz said. He had a smile on his face, but there was a firmness in his tone that brooked no argument.
Wheeljack’s salute was sloppy at best. “Sir, yes, sir,” he barked playfully and turned back toward Starscream. “Glad you’re back with us, Starscream.
“Thanks,” Starscream said, well aware that his vocals were more than a little faint.
He watched both Blurr and Wheeljack leave, until he was alone with Jazz, perhaps the only one who could possibly understand everything swirling within Starscream’s processor right now.
“Yeah, yer awake,” Jazz said as he strode closer to Starscream. “No, ya ain’t dreamin’. Yeah, Blurr loves ya. Yeah, Wheeljack considers ya a friend. And yeah, ya ain’t dead. That sum it up?”
Starscream shook his helm slowly. He scrubbed his palm over his face. “How do I know you’re not an apparition, too?”
Jazz chuckled and braced a hand on his hip, cocking it to the side. “Starbaby, do you honestly think even you could fantasize me up?”
“Now that I have Blurr? Not a chance,” Starscream replied, honestly without thinking. His optics widened as Jazz broke into a laugh.
“My point exactly,” Jazz said and poked him right in the cockpit. “You are a lucky, lucky Seeker.”
Starscream folded his arms over his chassis and took a step backward. “Well, you know how it is. You sell your spark to Unicron and he looks out for you.” He tilted his helm and arched his orbital ridge. “Interviewees? And where am I?”
“Your basement, now that it’s been cleaned up,” Jazz said with a dismissing wave of your hand. “We moved ya here after Wheeljack started getting popular. And as for interviewees, well, it’s been a busy three weeks.”
“So I’m gathering. I’m surprised there’s still a city left.”
“That’s where it gets interestin’.” Jazz tilted his helm toward where Blurr and Wheeljack had exited earlier. “Come on. Let’s have us a sit and talk.”
“With you, that never bodes well.” Starscream frowned, but he unfolded his arms and followed Jazz anyway.
Around a corner, one composed of neatly stacked crates and boxes, and Starscream found that his basement had indeed been cleaned out and organized. The haphazard piles had formed tidy stacks, and someone had set up a temporary living space. There was a berth, a table and chairs, a portable energon dispensary, and a portable computer console.
“Someone was always down here to keep on optic on ya. We still don’t know if we got all of Obsidian’s supporters,” Jazz said as he made a gesture to the living space at large. “Though now that I got the dream team, I’m pretty sure rootin’ out the rest is a done deal.”
Jazz chuckled. “Oh, that’s a surprise I’m savin’ for later.” He pulled out one of the chairs and dropped down into it, propping his pedes on the edge of the table. “Have a seat. Help yourself.” He waved to the tray in the middle.
Energon – medical grade judging by the color – and coolant were visible in two clear decanters. There was also a plate of goodies and some rust sticks.
“Who made goodies? And how?” Starscream demanded as he pulled out a stool and sat. He grabbed a goodie and gave it a sniff, his mouth filling with lubricant at the delicate aroma.
Primus, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had something so divine.
Starscream jerked his gaze toward Jazz. His optics narrowed. “What’s a Decepticon doing making goodies?”
“See. That’s where it’s interestin’.” Jazz grinned like a cat that caught the metallocanary. “Sit right back and let me tell ya how I made sure ya still had a city to run when ya came back.”
Starscream had the feeling he wasn’t going to like this. He shoved the goodie into his mouth and gestured for Jazz to continue. He was exhausted and aching both. He wanted this over with, but most of all he wanted answers.
“Tell me,” Starscream said.
“My pleasure.” Jazz tilted his helm. “The Autobots and the Decepticons are both back in the city, led by Bumblebee and Soundwave respectively. It was kinda nice of them to show up when Obsidian was causin’ trouble and help bring order to chaos, though the proper way this time.”
Starscream had been right.
He didn’t like this one bit.
“Now before you go gettin’ all riled, they’ve both publicly declared their intent to work with the established rulership rather than fight to claim their own,” Jazz said as he held up a hand. “In other words, they’re supporting you.”
Starscream blinked. He straightened. “Beg pardon?” He thought he ought to reboot his audials. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard.
Jazz’s grin widened. He pulled a datapad out of subspace and placed it on the table. He gave it a shove with his fingertips, sliding it across the smooth surface.
“Here. Read this,” he said as he folded his hands over his belly, beneath his ventrum. He made himself comfortable in his chair. “It ain’t nitty-gritty. But it’s good enough.”
Starscream eyed him suspiciously. But Jazz was as impossible to read as ever. Better to just get his answers.
He grabbed the datapad, powered it on, and found it onlined to a single document. A rather long one, full of technical and political garble. Starscream skimmed the details, taking the larger points, but his optics found and located a single phrase that he returned to with a sharp ex-vent.
Petition to Enact a Council of Joint Leadership.
The datapad wobbled in his grip. Starscream swore that static fritzed across his visual feed. He rasped a ventilation.
“A council?” he demanded, and he felt himself approaching a shriek, that insensible noise which had never won him any arguments, where he felt helpless to a forthcoming defeat. “Are you fragging kidding me?”
He shot to his pedes, ignoring the slice of pain that stabbed through his frame, and slammed the datapad down so hard that the screen cracked.
“I’ve worked too hard to–”
Jazz’s calm voice sliced through his outrage as easily as a vibroblade through armor plating. “Starscream, sit down.”
He shook his helm, and found his fingers were trembling, too. “No, I can’t–”
“Sit. Down.” More firm, all command, more the threat Starscream had heard whispered than the sly, teasing mech who often wriggled his way into Starscream’s berth.
Starscream’s optics narrowed. He stared across the table at Jazz, a mech he had come to trust, for all that two mechs such as they could trust.
“This isn’t about you,” Jazz said, slowly, carefully. He didn’t demand Starscream sit down again, but every inch of him screamed tension, to his clamped plating to the firm set of his jaw. “This is bigger than you. Than me, Bee, and Soundwave. This is about Cybertron and if you care even an ounce about this planet, you’ll shut up and listen.”
Starscream dragged in a slow, heaving vent. He braced his palms on the table, though he didn’t lean forward. He didn’t need Jazz considering him a threat. His legs were too wobbly, his systems underpowered. He couldn’t take on a turbopuppy at this rate, much less a deadly assassin of Jazz’s caliber.
And he was still unarmed.
“I trusted you,” Starscream said, verbalizing what he’d already thought. “After everything I’ve done, we’ve done, that you would ruin me when I can’t defend myself…” His voice cracked, to his horror, and he forced his vocalizer into a reboot. He stared at Jazz as though he was a stranger and in this moment, he was. “I should’ve known better. You’re an Autobot after all.”
Jazz was unfazed. “So is Blurr.”
“No, he’s not!” Starscream snarled. His fist slammed into the table, making the datapad jump.
“And you’re not even listening you fragging, impatient jet,” Jazz growled, his visor flashing warningly. “Ya haven’t even read the damn terms and conditions!”
Starscream pressed his lips into a thin line. He looked down at the datapad, the document still visible through the cracked screen. He picked it up reluctantly.
“Read it again.”
Loath to actually obey, Starscream’s curiosity won out. He initiated a systems check, trying to calm the angered roar of his vents, and skimmed the rest of the datapad.
It did indeed call for the institution of a council, but one lead by a Speaker, a primary leader who took the advice and actions of the council and shaped it into law.
Starscream was to be that Speaker.
His council so far was comprised of Bumblebee, with Prowl as his second, and Soundwave, who hadn’t nominated a second as of yet. There were nominations pending for two more members, of whom Starscream assumed would be chosen from the badgeless many still living within New Iacon.
“Everyone gets a voice,” Jazz said, his tone calmer now. “Everyone can be heard. It’s not perfect, but right now, it’s the only way we’re all gonna work together. Do you understand now?”
No one mech had all the power. Even Starscream would be restrained by a majority vote of the council if they chose to act against him. He could, however, veto and call for a second vote, or put it to a public vote if he felt the council was acting against the interest of the public.
It… was the best solution for Cybertron in general. Logically, Starscream knew this.
He still hated it. He hated that he’d had to concede to both the Autobots and the Decepticons. He hated he needed their help to protect his city, that once again, the power he’d scraped and fought to acquire was taken from him.
Starscream sighed as he finished the summary and set the datapad down. He pinched his nasal ridge, hiding his face behind his palm.
“You are the worst,” he said.
Times like these, he wondered if all those centuries ago, he should have just shot Jazz in the spark chamber when he had the chance.
“I am what I am,” Jazz replied, his tone lacking anything resembling apology. “I ain’t here to make sure ya keep yer power, Starbaby. All I want is a home again.”
Starscream lowered himself back to the chair. His vents had started to rattle, and right now, he didn’t know if it was anger or true exhaustion. He’d only been out of the regen tank for less than an hour after all.
“Besides, it ain’t all bad, is it? Yer still in charge, ya got yer penthouse, and ya even got a pretty trophy to call yer own.” Jazz leaned forward, dropping his pedes to the floor and bracing his elbows on the edge of the table. “No one’s beatin’ ya. There are people in this city who actually like ya. If ya ask me, yer doin’ pretty damn good.”
Starscream rubbed at his forehelm and sighed. “I would have preferred to keep things on my own terms.” He lowered his hand and glared at Jazz. “Blurr is not a trophy.”
Jazz shrugged. “We can’t always get what we want.” He tilted his helm, lips curling in a sly grin. “Ya tryin’ to tell me ya got real feelings for my boss? Because I’m pretty sure you were the one who told me yer spark wasn’t built for it.”
It was Starscream’s turn to shrug. He made a vague gesture. “I am what I am.” Like the Pit he was going to admit the truth now.
The sting of betrayal sliced too deep. Jazz didn’t deserve that truth. Besides, if Jazz couldn’t see it already, he didn’t deserve to know.
“So you say.” Jazz’s grin never faded.
He rose to his pedes, stretching his arms over his helm. “Come on then, let’s go see how your city is doing. Bring the treats. You’ll need them.”
“I’m fairly certain trotting all over New Iacon does not count as light duty,” Starscream said, but that didn’t stop him from standing.
If Jazz was going to hand his city over to whomever he pleased, like the Pit Starscream was going to find himself aberth. He wouldn’t let New Iacon go without a fight.
He grabbed the goodies.
“It’s just a little walking, Starbaby.” Jazz winked.
He gave Jazz a withering look. “Don’t call me that.”
“Aw, you don’t love me anymore.” Jazz’s lower lip popped out in a fake pout. He sidled up to Starscream’s side, lightly tapping him with an elbow. “I can’t even make it up to you the old-fashioned way anymore.”
Starscream eased away from Jazz. “No, you can’t,” he said frostily. “And you never answered me about interviewees either.”
Jazz held up his hands and backed away, though he never lost that grin. “You were out for three weeks, Blurr’s been busy. Finding a new place for his bar. Rebuilding. And now, hiring.”
Jazz spun on a heelstrut and headed for the lift, forcing Starscream to follow, albeit at a slower pace. He felt as though he moved like an old, rusting mech. New components grated against old ones, and weakness invaded his limbs.
Like the Pit he’d ask to rest, though.
“Are you not coming back to work for him?” Starscream asked.
“He needs more’n me for this new place,” Jazz replied with a laugh as he poked the call button for the lift. The doors opened immediately and Jazz moved inside. “Especially now that there are a lot more mechs livin’ in the city. Oilers burned down, ya know.”
Starscream followed Jazz into the lift. “No, I didn’t,” he said dryly. “And I suspect there are many things I missed in the past couple weeks.”
“Don’t worry.” Jazz winked his visor again. “I’ll fill you in.”
The lift beeped as it deposited them on the ground floor. The door opened, and Jazz gestured for Starscream to precede him. Though wary, Starscream obeyed, only to come to a startled stop.
Gone were the dim shadows, piles of clutter, cloth draped stacks of random things, and dust-covered windows. The entire ground floor had been cleared out and cleaned up, painted and redecorated, and furnished.
“It’s not much yet,” Jazz said as he sidled out of the elevator, looking far too smug. “But it’s getting there. Two floors worth of entertainment. A bar on each level with a spiraling ramp connecting them, and balcony access on the second floor.”
Starscream’s spark throbbed. “This is where he’s building his new bar?” On the lowest levels of Starscream’s apartment tower?
“Well, he didn’t want to be far from home, and figured this was convenient.” Jazz shrugged, but it was far from dismissive. “Lots of storage space. A stable building that was easy to renovate. A location everyone could recognize.”
Starscream’s mouth shaped the word but he didn’t dare repeat it aloud. ‘Home’.
“He even has an office now,” Jazz said and tilted his helm to the side. “Come on. There’s a lot more to see. I’ll make sure the boss gives you a tour later.”
“I can ask him myself,” Starscream muttered, for once not caring how petulant he sounded.
This was not what he expected to wake and find. Then again, he hadn’t expected to wake at all. He’d thought himself dead.
Jazz laughed. “Now that’s the Starscream I remember.”
Starscream fought off a sigh and followed Jazz. He dug in this subspace for another handful of the goodies, popping one into his mouth.
It was delicious. And impossible without having allowed Mixmaster back into the city. He supposed it wasn’t an entirely awful decision.
He simply loathed that it had been made when he was incapable of voicing an opinion about it. But he supposed he could wait until he’d seen what had become of his city before making a final judgment.
At least he still had a city to lead.
It was late by the time Starscream dragged his exhausted, aching frame back to his apartment. He’d opted to use the balcony entrance, rather than wade through the flurry of activity still taking place on the bottom floors.
Surely a few seconds of flight to get to his apartment wasn’t too bad for his healing frame?
Obviously not, as Starscream landed with a wobble and stumbled forward, gasping for a ventilation. His legs trembled beneath him; his fingers doing the same. Clearly, Wheeljack had not been exaggerating.
Inside, his apartment was dim and quiet. Starscream’s spark ached at the sight of it. The last time he’d been here, it was to the startled fear that Obsidian might go after Megatron. He’d left in a hurry, with a truncated note for Blurr.
That note was gone now. Clearly, Blurr had been busy. He kept a clean home, Blurr did. The apartment even smelled freshly cleaned.
Starscream’s spark twinged.
There was a cube of energon on the counter, still sealed. It was medical grade, but had two packets of sweetener next to it.
Starscream smiled. He was full, thanks to the sweets Jazz kept shoving at him, so he tucked the cube back into storage and the sweeteners as well. See? He could tidy as well.
He flicked off the last of the lights until only the emergency runners broke the dark, and made his way to the berthroom. Blue biolights glowed faintly on the berth, Blurr’s frame visible in the soft light of the lit lamp.
His optics onlined as Starscream moved past the doorframe into the room. “Star?” Blurr blinked and sat up, squinting at him. “What time is it?”
“Late.” Starscream clicked the lamp off and stumbled to the berth. All he wanted to do was recharge. He couldn’t fathom anything else. “Jazz had much to show me.”
“Of course he did.” Blurr sighed audibly as he reached for Starscream, tugging him into Blurr’s embrace until he blanketed the Racer’s frame with his own.
“I am, after all, the leader of this city,” Starscream said, his voice muffled against Blurr’s chestplate. “Despite what machinations Jazz orchestrated behind my back.” He would be bitter about that for quite some time.
“I’m gonna kill him,” Blurr grumbled as his hands swept over Starscream’s frame. “You’re supposed to be on light duty, not dragged all around Cybertron.”
Starscream chuckled and nosed his way into Blurr’s intake. “That is light duty, sweetspark. And I appreciate the sentiment, but Jazz would have you buried in a trash-heap before you knew what hit you.”
“The worst part is that I can’t argue otherwise.” There was a pout in Blurr’s voice and Starscream laughed again.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Starscream rested his helm on Blurr’s chestplate, listening to the Racer’s spark pulse steadily. “There aren’t many who can take him down.”
Blurr’s hand stroked up his spinal strut. “I don’t get you two.”
“There’s nothing to get.” Fatigue tugged at Starscream, but not so much that he missed the odd note in Blurr’s voice. “Especially not now.” The last emerged on a growl, but it lacked heat. He was simply too tired to work up the proper outrage.
“Yeah.” Blurr’s engine purred, vibrating both of their frames. “He can be a real aft sometimes.”
Starscream chuckled softly. He shuttered his optics, focusing instead of the feeling of Blurr beneath him, warm and alive. Blurr’s field wrapped around him as strongly as his arms did.
“Thank you for saving my life.”
He tightened his grip around Blurr, claws firmly hooked on seams, keeping Blurr right where he wanted him.
“Always,” Starscream murmured. “Anytime.”
Blurr’s fingers gently tracked down his spinal strut. The steady motion was soothing, lulling Starscream right into recharge. Safe and warm and content.