[TIA] Man in the Mirror

Starscream tingled long after Blurr left. He thought unkind words in Jazz’s direction, muttering subvocally.

He had a whole list of things to do today. Was it so wrong to want to take some time to enjoy his lover before he had to dive into the fray?

Especially since the main event was spending too much time in Bumblebee and Soundwave’s company. While he would grudgingly concede that forming the council was a much-needed and good idea, Starscream still hated it. He couldn’t help it. He hated sharing power, especially power he’d struggled to acquire.

Blech.

Starscream loitered around the apartment for a few minutes more, getting twitchier and twitchier, until he decided he could put it off no longer. He wanted to check on his new office, hopefully in better shape than his last one, and make sure that Jazz hadn’t left any surprises behind, such as the surveillance type.

He couldn’t trust Jazz. Not anymore. He should have known better from the start.

He took the balcony exit, Wheeljack’s warning still echoing in his processor, but surely he’d rested enough overnight that a short flight would do him little harm. He didn’t even transform, though flying in root-mode was far slower.

By the time he arrived at the balcony entrance to his new office, Starscream had to concede that Wheeljack was right. His vents heaved, condensation slicked his armor, and he felt dizzy. He staggered to the door, let the field reader scan him, and stumbled into his office, feeling weak and out of sorts.

Clearly, he was far from recovered. But at least he had an office.

As Starscream’s vents heaved, he sent the command to online the lights, setting them to half-power. It smelled fresh in here, like cleanser and paint and recent welds. His computer console was powered down, a ready light blinking steadily in the corner.

Starscream staggered to his desk and pulled out his backless chair, sinking into it with an ex-vent of relief. Jazz, or perhaps Blurr, had thought of everything. His hands trembled as he rested them on the desktop, his vision a touch wobbly.

He would be walking to the council meeting, he supposed. He thanked Primus that no one was here to see his weakness.

“It’s about time you escaped that pod. And yet, it’s been a day and I ain’t heard a word one from ya.”

Starscream froze. He straightened, sending the command for full-power to the lights. They illuminated the room, washing out all the shadows, revealing Rattrap leaning against the wall near the door. Starscream hadn’t even seen the glow of his biolights, or the gleam of his optics, either pair. Neither had he smelled one whiff of Rattrap’s presence.

He pretended he wasn’t startled, burying his shock in a distracted search of his desk. If they’d duplicated his previous office, then he should have some rations stashed around here somewhere. Jazz would know the importance of emergency fuel at least.

“I had assumed you were busy,” Starscream said in a mild tone as his fingers located a few mil-rats tucked into the back of the bottommost drawer. They were foul things, no better than medical grade, but they would have to do. “And you would announce yourself as you do.”

Rattrap chuckled that raspy laugh and pushed himself off the wall. “There is that.” He approached the desk, resting his hands on the edge of it and leaning forward. “Ya got the luck of Unicron in ya. Woulda thought ya dead when Obsidian was through.”

“As Megatron learned, I am quite hard to kill.” Starscream leaned back, in case Rattrap was feeling particularly odorous today. “I presume you’re here because you have some information for me?”

“Funnily enough, no. Not this time.” Rattrap shook his helm, giving Starscream a denta-filled grin. “Ya don’t need a spy or a rat fer a little bit so I’m havin’ myself a breather. Got prey of my own ta catch, if ya know what I mean.”

“I’m fairly certain I don’t, and I’d like to keep it that way.” Starscream rapped the fingers of one hand on the table. He tilted his helm. “Why are you loyal to me, Rattrap?”

The other mech blinked. For once, he looked surprised.

Rattrap pushed off the desk and folded his arms over his chest. “That’s an odd and sudden question.”

“But a relevant one.” Starscream crossed one ankle over the opposite knee and folded his hands in his lap. “It occurred to me that I’ve never asked, just as it occurred to me I have trusted you without precedent.”

“Does everythin’ gotta have an explanation?”

Starscream lifted his chin. “In this instance, yes.”

Rattrap fidgeted. Starscream, for once, caught wisps of his energy field, but it was there and gone again so quickly he didn’t have time to identify them.

“Y’know,” he said, after a long moment. “I don’t like ya very much.”

Starscream barked a laugh. “Yes, well, I’m told that’s a fairly large club that is constantly accepting members. That doesn’t answer my question, however. If anything, it only leaves more.”

Rattrap’s mouth twisted, somewhere between a frown and a smirk. “I don’t like ya,” he repeated. “But I’m fairly certain yer the only one that can keep Cybertron movin’ in the proper direction.”

“Thanks. I think,” Starscream drawled. “Your vote of confidence in me is overwhelming.”

Rattrap tilted his helm, his field all but radiating smugness. “That and well, if it wasn’t fer you, I wouldn’t have met my pretty new challenge, so I guess you ain’t all bad.”

Pretty new challenge? Starscream mouthed the words before he decided he didn’t want to know. Not one bit. Some things were better left a mystery.

“Besides,” Rattrap said with a smirk, “If ya wanted praise, ya would’ve gone to yer lackeys.”

Starscream chuckled. “There are some who would consider you to be one of those ‘lackeys.’” He unfolded his leg and leaned forward. “But speaking of which, whatever happened to my contingent of loyal supporters?”

Rattrap snorted. “Gone. If they know what’s best fer ‘em. Though I’ll bet ya couldn’t even name one of ‘em even if they were around.”

Starscream frowned. He leaned against the desk, balancing his elbows on the edge. There had been about a dozen of them, badgeless mechs who were always around, at every rally, every speech, every public appearance. He’d grown used to seeing them. He remembered they were laborers, former soldiers, a mix of former Autobots, Decepticons, and Neutrals.

But no, he did not know a single one of their names.

“That’s what I thought.” Rattrap shook his helm slowly, hissing air through his denta. “Y’see. Yer so damn used to using the mechs around ya that ya forget they’re actually people and not tools. And that’s why yer where ya are now.”

Starscream narrowed his optics. “And where, pray tell, am I? Why don’t you tell me since you seem to know all there is about me.”

“Ya blame Jazz for losing yer city to a council, but the truth is, Starscream, yer so-called people have lost their confidence in ya, and if ya want it back, ya gotta earn it.” Rattrap affixed him with a firm glare, one that glimmered at an intelligence Starscream had not seen until now. Or perhaps he had chosen not to see. “A prophecy and a dead Metrotitan aren’t enough anymore.”

Starscream laced his fingers together, his spark throbbing an uncertain beat within him. He felt as though he’d just been chastised, and he didn’t much approve of it, for all that Rattrap might be right.

And oh, how much he loathed that revelation.

“It was enough for you,” Starscream pointed out.

Rattrap smirked. “Nah. I don’t believe in that mystical slag. Yer just the right mech for the job.”

“Mmm. Others would disagree.”

“Then prove ‘em wrong.”

Starscream cycled his optics. He stared at Rattrap, and honestly, he swore it was the first time he looked at the mech. This was a stranger standing in front of him. He’d almost accuse him of being an imposter, save that he couldn’t think of anyone else willing to bear that disgusting alt-mode.

Rattrap shrugged. “Ya keep listenin’ to what others say and lettin’ it define ya. Instead of diggin’ in, why not do somethin’ bout it? The same old tactics ain’t gonna work, Commander. Ya gotta be better.”

Starscream’s wings twitched. “I am better,” he growled.

Rattrap lifted his shoulders in another shrug. “Prove it,” he repeated, and dropped his arms. He spun on a heelstrut, waving a hand over his shoulder. “Anyhow, I’m out. Got a hot date ‘nd all. But ya know where ta find me.”

Starscream made a noncommittal noise. He folded his arms on the desktop, chewing on Rattrap’s words as the mech slunk out without a sound. The door locked behind him with a quiet beep.

He’d have to see about getting better security for his office, too, it seemed. He’d rather not have the vermin creeping in here as well.

Starscream rested one elbow on the desk and rested his cheek against his knuckles. Fingers of his other hand rapped on the desktop, the quiet staccato cutting into the silence of his office. There was a stack of datapads on the corner, the topmost one as new as the rest of the furniture placed in here. His console continued to beep a ready light at him.

Three weeks he’d been in that regeneration pod. Three weeks he’d let his city lead itself. He didn’t even know who would have stepped in had Soundwave and Bumblebee not decided on their own to do so. He supposed he should be grateful they weren’t all right back where they started, squabbling for the tiniest specks of power.

This entire building was now to be used for administrative purposes. Starscream’s own office was on the top floor as a matter of course, and the levels below would have to be staffed. Eventually. With mechs he could trust.

Except in all the weeks and months since taking leadership of Cybertron, Starscream had never found anyone he could trust. Anyone he thought he might offer an office someday.

New Iacon was not that large. It should not be so difficult to lead on his own. But even in the Decepticons, Starscream had underlings and subordinates and seconds. Others to pick up the slack.

Perhaps there was some truth in Rattrap’s words. Perhaps he had been going about this all wrong. Perhaps he needed to remember he was no longer Commander Starscream, desperate to prove his worth while screeching at a mech deaf to his voice.

New Iacon was not the Decepticons. Starscream was not trying to lead a military unit. It was a city. His city.

He needed to do different. Be different. And if that meant bringing this council into the fold, so be it.

For there was no better way to prove everyone wrong than to shove their faces into evidence of his success. Let the former Optimus Prime return to Cybertron, having expected destruction, only to see that the people don’t need him or his Autobots anymore. Let Megatron go to trial, to pay for his crimes, and see that he had no allies on Cybertron, not anymore.

And let them see that Starscream hadn’t needed either of their methods to accomplish his goals.

Starscream rose from his desk, the tremble in his limbs finally eased. He was at once glad that they’d agreed to use the large meeting room in this building for the first council session. Though session was a strong word. It was more or less a time to clear the air, to set boundaries and figure out what having a council actually meant.

He downed one more of the emergency mil-rats and tucked the rest away in his desk. He scooped a datapad out of a drawer, one marked empty, and tucked it under an arm. He supposed he would scan for surveillance equipment later.

Starscream left his office and took the lift down two floors to the ground level, which contained a reception desk, a break room, and of course, the massive meeting room where he would now hold any kind of leadership meeting necessary.

All was quiet and still. Empty. He wondered if the rest of the rooms had been furnished as well. Perhaps, perhaps not. That, too, would have to change.

But someone, maybe Jazz, had arranged for furniture to be brought to the meeting room. Where once it had been an open, empty space, there was now a table and a selection of chairs, most sized for the average mech, but a few that were adjustable as well.

Starscream was not late. If anything, he was ridiculously early. Even so, he was the last to arrive.

Well, that explained the purple and chartreuse frames he’d seen loitering out the front doors when he stepped out of the lift. Didn’t the Constructicons have work to do? Or could they not bear to be too far from their new obsession?

Bumblebee and Prowl were both present, perched at one end of the table, far from Soundwave and the mech he’d brought as his second. There was something vaguely familiar about this Decepticon, though Starscream couldn’t immediately place him.

“Well,” Starscream said with a half-smile. “I’ve never seen a group of mechs so eager for a political conversation.” He moved toward a chair in the center of the table and set his datapad down on the table in front of it with a quiet click. “Are you early on purpose or because you had nothing better to do?”

“Good morning to you, too,” Bumblebee said as he folded his hands on the table. He looked different. Bolder. More confident somehow. Good for him. “And we’re early because we’re all eager to lay some ground rules.”

“We’re all tired of waiting,” Soundwave’s Decepticon friend said.

“Affirmative,” Soundwave agreed.

“And my time is valuable. There is much to do, much work you’ve left, so if we could make this quick, that would be preferable,” Prowl said. He stood behind Bumblebee’s left shoulder, posture stiff and unyielding.

This was going to be fun.

Starscream’s gaze drifted between the two parties. “Then I suppose the first order of business would be to establish what, exactly, this council’s intended purpose is.” He tapped the datapad in front of him. “I’ve read the charter. I’ve read the official statement. Now I want the truth.”

 

“The truth, Starscream, is that we’re all tired of fighting. All we want is peace. To move on from war and remember how it is to live again,” the unnamed Decepticon said with a heated ex-vent. “No lies. No tricks. No deceits. Just… stop fighting like a bunch of stupid Empties and actually work together for once. You think you can do that?”

Starscream cycled his optics. He stared at the mech. “I do believe that was the gist of my previous declaration when I cast out both the Autobots and the Decepticons, so yes, I know that I can. The question is, can you…?”

“Needlenose,” the mech supplied, and his visor flashed. “And I’m not surprised you don’t remember who I am.” His gaze drifted down the length of the table. “Though Bumblebee should, since it was on his order that my conjunx was executed.”

“For someone who professes an interest in working together, you seem quick to point fingers and cause dissension,” Prowl said icily. His sensory panels arched, high and rigid behind him.

Needlenose shook his helm. One finger tapped the table. “I’m laying it all out. Letting you know where I stand and where I come from.” He leaned forward, glare firm and unyielding. “I’ll never forgive ya for what ya did to Horri-bull. But if getting the peace me and him both wanted means I gotta work with ya peaceably, I’ll do it.”

Horri-bull. Ah, yes. Now Starscream remembered. One of the first Decepticons who fell victim to Bumblebee’s I/D chip implant. He’d been executed for assaulting a NAIL, as far as Starscream recalled.

No wonder Needlenose was familiar to him. Interesting turn of events.

Starscream arched an orbital ridge. “And is this how you feel, Soundwave?”

“Starscream knows this. Conversation already had,” Soundwave replied in that infernal monotone Starscream had always loathed. “Peace sought.”

“And not, perchance, hopes of accessing your dearly imprisoned former lord Megatron?” Starscream proposed, leaning forward against the table.

Soundwave’s reply was as flat as his field. “Negative.” The glow of his visor was a steady, warning crimson.

“I find that hard to believe, given your centuries-long loyalty to him,” Prowl said, narrowing his optics.

Silence.

Not that Starscream expected an answer. Soundwave never was one for arguing, especially when he felt he’d already made his point. And he was especially not one to get into a verbal spar with a mech like Prowl.

“Yes, well, as far as I’m aware, mechs change,” Starscream cut in with a drawl. His gaze shifted to the Autobots. “Your precious Prime, after all, decided to take the selfish route and leave the mess for you to clean up, didn’t he?”

Bumblebee’s engine growled. “That is oversimplifying it, don’t you think?”

Starscream waved a dismissing hand. “My point, little Bee, is that we are all coming from a place where our prior convictions and/or loyalties must be set aside or ignored if we are to at all move forward. Or is deigning to trust a handful of former Decepticons too much to bear on that Autobot badge?”

Prowl frowned so deeply it formed a crease in his dermal metal. Bumblebee’s expression was harder to read behind the facemask.

“We would not be here if we didn’t think we could work with you, with all of you,” Bumblebee finally said, with that same diplomacy he’d tried before. “So instead of trying to feed the tension, why not dissipate it and actually attend to the matters at hand?”

Starscream pulled his lips into a sly grin. “That, dear Bumblebee, is a fine idea.” He gestured toward Prowl. “Why don’t you have a seat, Prowl? We should all be comfortable. I suspect we’re going to be here for quite some time today.”

“Fantastic,” Prowl bit out, his armor clamped so tightly to his frame, he had to be overheating. “I cannot imagine anywhere else I’d rather be.” Yet, he still pulled out a chair next to Bumblebee and sat in it stiffly.

Starscream took the opportunity to sit as well. “Good to know,” he purred, and leaned his elbows on the table, clasping his hands together. “Now, I’ve read the document Jazz provided and while I utterly loathe the idea of this council, I have to admit it will serve a purpose.”

“The feeling’s mutual,” Bumblebee muttered.

Starscream fought the urge to laugh aloud. “To that end, I would like to offer each one of you an office in this building. The top floor is, of course, mine. But there are several offices throughout multiple levels that you can claim for your own.”

“Is that how it’s going to be?” Needlenose asked as he leaned back in his chair. “You issue the orders and we go along with it like good, little drones.”

“Far from it.” Starscream snorted. “For one thing, I doubt any of you have the ability to be obedient. But I am Speaker of this council, am I not? So it would make sense I should lead it.”

Prowl sighed aloud and scrubbed a hand down his face. “How did it come to this?” he asked, pinching his nasal ridge. “We won.”

“You didn’t win,” Starscream bit out, his wings going rigid behind him. “You took advantage of a situation to throw those of us that survived madness into a prison cell. And then you couldn’t manage to hold on to that power.”

Bumblebee blew air through his vents. “Leadership is more than just dictating actions and expecting obedience,” he said, diplomatically trying to get them back on track.

Good mech, that one. Pity that Starscream had to steal his city from him. Bumblebee really did always have the best intentions, even if he was an aft about it.

Fragging Autobots and their insistence that they were morally superior in every way.

Starscream spread his hands. “I welcome advice, feedback, suggestions. Any actions must be approved by majority vote, of course. This isn’t a dictatorship.” Anymore, unfortunately.

“Then why does it feel like one?” Needlenose asked.

“Council in name only,” Soundwave offered. His gaze remained unerringly locked on Starscream as though a constant reminder. “Neutrals outnumber warring factions still. Our presence likely to ignite tensions if not deference to Starscream.”

Starscream’s lips curled into a smirk. “My emotionless friend here is absolutely correct.” He tried not to preen. “Your little squabbles got you exiled in the first place. For now, my leadership is the only thing allowing your return to my city.”

“Your city,” Prowl echoed and his frame visibly vibrated. He spoke it as though with distaste. “Clearly the universe has gone mad.”

“Yes, well, that is still up for debate,” Starscream replied tartly. He sat up, wings arching high behind him. “Now can we get down to business or does anyone else want to keep bemoaning the fact you don’t have your own crown?”

Silence. And a sullen one at that.

Primus. It wasn’t much different than a Decepticon staff meeting, to be perfectly honest. All Starscream needed was someone to throw the first punch and he’d feel like he’d stepped right back in the past.

Maybe he needed a second in command, too, if he was going to be corralling a handful of younglings and sparklings throwing themselves pity parties.

“I’ll take your silence as concession,” Starscream said dryly. “Especially since I, for one, have plans after this meeting and don’t want it to drag any longer than necessary.”

“Plans with Blurr?” Bumblebee asked, and my, wasn’t he a forward one?

Starscream’s wings fluttered before he could stop them. Damn things. “If you must know, yes,” he said and then cycled his vocalizer. “Now, I have several items up for discussion, but is there something any of you would like to add to the agenda?”

“Housing and medical supplies,” Needlenose bit out, wriggling about in his chair as though intended to get comfortable.

“Order of ascension,” Prowl said.

“Megatron,” Bumblebee offered.

“Responsibilities,” Soundwave said.

All things Starscream had already put on the list. Nice to know they were on the same page. He made notes on his datapad.

“Then we’ll tackle each one of those before the day is through,” Starscream said and made himself comfortable as well. If his aft was going to be planted in this chair for the better part of the day, he wanted to be able to get up later. “If there’s one thing I refuse to do, it’s repeat the mistakes of the Senate and the Primacy that brought us all here.”

That, he hoped, was something they could all agree on. Prowl looked as if the very thought curdled the energon on his tanks, but he nodded curtly.

Good enough. For now.

Starscream could only hope the rest of the meeting would go much more smoothly than the beginning. Otherwise he might lose his mind.

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