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Screaming Blue Murder, Chapter 34

A/N: And here it is! The last proper chapter. Status quo can now resume.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to those people who’ve reviewed and typo-spotted and stuff. :bows down: I don’t think I’d have got all the way to the end without you (and the evil side of me that took such morbid joy in scattering cliffhangers through the thing). :love: :hugs: :etc:
The completely OC-centric epilogue will be up pretty quick after this one (like, probably instantly) because it’s shamelessly self-indulgent and horrible, but for once I DON’T CARE, because I actually made it all the way to the end of a story for once! :dances about gleefully: Won’t make any difference to the story here if you skip over it. ;)

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Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 34

“Hey hey, lookie what I found, Screamer,” Skywarp greeted, as Starscream and Thundercracker finally touched down on the street, near the collapsed ground at the edge of the rift. Calibrator stood at his feet, expression smouldering, her wrists cuffed in front of her. “Want it?”

Starscream tried valiantly but couldn’t quite hide his disappointment that Skywarp had beat him to the arrest. “Calibrator.” He forced a smile. “How nice to see you again.”

She glared half-heartedly at him, but continued to exercise her right to silence.

“Where’s the pipeline?” Thundercracker wondered, curiously, glancing back over Skywarp’s shoulder.

“He, um… ‘fell’ off the edge,” Skywarp replied, with a little shrug, stepping to one side to allow Spotweld to pass. “The bottom’s quite a long way down, you know. You happy to have her, anyway? I’ve, ah… got places to be.” He swapped a glance with Thundercracker, who nodded. “See you two geeks back at base,” he chirped, then abandoned Calibrator to the less-than-tender mercies of his wingmates, following the polymorph, who was carefully but easily navigating the margins of the broken ground.

Calibrator stared up at the two giants, and backed away an uneasy step or two. “Are you going to kill me?” she wondered, faintly, lifting her chin.

“Kill you? Why would I do that?”

The smile that had spread across the red Seeker’s dark face made her primary pump go still in her chest.

“I plan on making you suffer for a very long time,” Starscream went on, softly. “And if my instincts are right, the idea of being drugged into a complete, numb stupidity in a hospital for the criminally insane is the sum of all your very worst fears…”

She backed away another step, and bumped against Thundercracker. “You wouldn’t.”

“Are you trying to dare me?” Starscream smiled, lazily, and closed his fingers on her cuffed wrists, lifting her easily against himself. “I don’t think you could get me that angry, and besides, I’m… how can I put it? Feeling vindictive.”

She kicked her heels against him, irritably, but she might as well have been kicking a wall, for all the response she got.

“Let’s go,” he went on, engaging thrusters and making his graceful way into the air. “We don’t want to keep that padded cell waiting, now, do we?”

0o0o0o0o0

Spotweld had made his way down the cliff-face with the alacrity of some sort of giant metal gecko, his broad feet grasping easily at the crumbled rock-faces, and was now half-in half-out of the landing stage, carefully shovelling dirt out of the way. He had already divided his arms, and was clinging to the remains of the door-frame with the rearmost pair while the foremost pair carefully sifted through the debris. Behind him, Skywarp clung precariously to the ledge, trying to peer closer at what was going on and not get dislodged by the mini landslide, but the polymorph’s torso got mostly in the way.

“Well?” the teleport poked, after a breem had passed in silence.

“Well what?” Spotweld peered back at him, his green optics casting an eerie phosphorescent glow around the damaged chamber.

“Well, is she okay?”

The pinpoints of his optics vanished as the polymorph got back to work. “Still kinda buried, at the moment? Give me a bit longer…”

Skywarp fidgeted and had cleared his own debris-free perch by the time Spotweld finally looked back at him. “All right, I’ve got this lot shifted. Do you want to take her?” his voice filtered out of the wreckage.

“Ah, guess it’d make sense if I did,” Skywarp accepted, genially. “We’ll get back quicker, so she’ll get fixed quicker, and I won’t have to carry her about any more.” He watched as the rest of Spotweld emerged from the ruins, and wrinkled his nose, critically. “How does she look, to you?” His medically-untrained optic said what-a-freaking-MESS, but Spotweld didn’t look too bothered as he carefully brought out the scuffed, slumping bundle of plating.

“Aside from the broken knee and missing antennae, she looks like she’s burned out a couple of relays?” Spotweld replied, but his voice confirmed that he wasn’t too concerned. “But she’ll be fine, once we’ve replaced them? Sonic weapons are probably best left to those who know how to use them.”

Skywarp pulled a face and nodded, sagely; Thundercracker was the expert in sonic weaponry, all the way from his own boom to sonic grenades, outclassing even Soundwave, and had on occasion taught both his wingmates painful lessons about just why they shouldn’t muck about with his supplies.

“I’ve briefed Forceps, and she’s already waiting back in the station infirmary,” Spotweld added, carefully setting Pulsar into Skywarp’s arms. “It probably won’t take very many breems to get her patched up?”

“That’s good.” Skywarp rearranged his grip a little bit, and activated his thrusters. “I’m getting kinda bored of being a taxi service.”

“You love showing off, really,” a strained little voice said, from down in his grasp, and he glanced down to meet a subdued, sleepy dark blue gaze. She looked weirdly lopsided, with that clump of grit-encrusted wires trailing down off one side of her head, but not too uncomfortable as they ascended. Probably too drowsy to kick up a fuss, he decided.

“Well, I’d never try to deny that I enjoy being admired…” he agreed, amusedly. “You all right for me to teleport?”

Her optics flickered, uneasily, but she nodded. “If it gets us back quicker.”

“All right. Count of three, then?” He checked his triangulation, and his grip. “Three… two… one…”

There was the disorienting sensation of being in two places at once – although not so bad as last time, with her positioning antennae missing – and that weird rippling feeling of air moving through her… When the feeling had faded and she dared to glance down, the station was already looming large in front.

“What is it with you and flinging yourself off great heights, anyway?” Skywarp wondered, gently, descending smoothly. “I’m sure you could think of a much better way of telling me you think I’m intolerable than destroying a building with yourself under it, you know.”

Unable to think up a suitably witty retort, she just let her head relax against his shoulder.

“How did you manage to get so filthy, anyway?” he went on, touching down lightly. “You look like you’ve spent weeks without a trip to the washracks. It can’t have been that dirty, under the building.”

“You said something a while ago about helping me polish your paintmarks out of my enamel,” she mused, quietly, as he ambled up the front ramp. “Is the offer still open?”

He snerked his amusement. “I’ll see if I have a slot in my diary.”

0o0o0o0o0

Starscream and Thundercracker took a little longer to get back, but after delivering Calibrator to Hardline and Overhaul down in the cell-block they made their way down to the infirmary, where Skywarp sat obediently waiting and grumbling about how long they were taking.

Pulsar remained in a sleepy heap on the neighbouring berth, leg outstretched while Forceps worked on excising the damaged knee joint, snickering and watching while Skywarp sat with his face upturned and his mouth open, trying not to squirm as his wingmate fed the endoscope down his main intake to finally drain the accumulated Blue out of his tank.

“How much longer, Screamer?” the teleport asked, fidgeting his thrusters. His words came out strange and electronic without his lips to modify and soften them.

“Oh stop whining, you big sparkling,” Starscream scolded, absently, watching the screen and guiding the tube into the tank. “Or I’ll make you do this yourself.”

Whining?! That’s easy for you to say, you don’t have a tube down your intakes! It’s uncomfortable!”

“Well, we all have to make sacrifices…”

“Fragger.”

“Look, if you don’t stop whinging-… ah, there we go, got it.” Starscream got the fluid moving, and dropped the free end of the tube into a drain. “Sit tight, Warp. Once this has all run out, you’ll need a couple of rinses before I can remove the pouch, but that shouldn’t take too long. Maybe a couple of breems.”

“What?!” Skywarp lurched halfway to his feet, angrily. “I’ve got to sit here with this fragging thing in my intakes for breems?! You’re doing it on purpose, now!”

“Sit still!” Starscream set a hand to his shoulder vent, and shoved him heavily back to his aft. “If you dislodge the tube you might end up getting Blue into the wrong tank and integrating it again. Get yourself addled again, and I’ll make you wait until everyone else is clean before letting you use the Tank. Which’ll only take, oh, I don’t know, a few full solar rotations…”

Skywarp whined around the endoscope, but stopped wriggling. “So mean.”

“Psh. Get Squeaky to play with your wings, that’ll distract you until Screamer’s done,” Thundercracker suggested. “You’ll never even realise how long you’ve been waiting.”

Skywarp gave him the look of death, but quietened down.

On the next berth along, Pulsar sat with her lips pursed, trying not to smirk too obviously. “Am I going to be ‘Squeaky’ for the rest of my life?” she challenged, tiredly, and all three dark heads nodded their confirmation in unison.

Hardline appeared in the doorway a breem or two later, supposedly to check on the wounded and congratulate Skywarp, but any congratulations were readily forgotten at seeing the scene in the medical suite. “Do you two like it in here, or something?” the Chief Inspector wondered, amusedly, giving both Skywarp and Pulsar a look in turn.

“Do you like having your nose still attached to your face?” Skywarp countered, earning himself another scolding from Starscream for splashing his rinse-water everywhere. “Because I’m happy to help you remove it, if you like.”

Thundercracker leaned a little closer to Starscream, and said, in a stage whisper; “I’ll bet you three orns’ rations that the tank beats him so hard Warp’s laid up for the rest of the solar cycle.”

“Oh, come on. That is not a fair bet, and I am not taking it. Besides, I don’t have that much energon to give you,” Starscream replied, echoing the sentiment, and grinning rudely at Skywarp’s miffed expression. “I don’t even think Squeaks would take that bet.”

Forceps was at the side of the room, poring over a schematic and studying her gamma-capture of Pulsar’s internal damage, trying to work out how best to go about replacing the missing positioning antenna. Ensuring no-one was paying him too much attention, Hardline sidled up beside her.

Forceps only jumped very slightly as a set of large fingers threaded their way surreptitiously into her hand. “Um, Sepp…? How would you feel if I asked about us making another try of things?” a gruff voice wondered, hesitantly.

“I don’t know, Hack.” She didn’t look up from her screen. “We couldn’t get it to work last time, could we? It all ended up with too much politics getting in the way. Too many factions and taking sides. Why should this time be different?” She shook her head, but tightened her fingers on his, anyway. “I’m not sure I want to go through all that yelling, again.”

“Does our faction – or lack thereof – matter, any more? We’re on the same side.”

She glanced sideways. “You can’t honestly expect me to take up a faction after working alongside those three Seekers,” she challenged, bluntly.

“No, and I’m not asking you to,” he confirmed, and gathered her hand to his chest, making her automatically look towards the gesture.

…his broad torso was conspicuously badge-less. He still wore his police insignia, but the Autobot emblem that had previously sat alongside the police symbol was gone, replaced by a little patch of clean white paint. Her gaze softened. “…Hardline?”

“Having those Decepticons on the force for a while proved that being an Autobot isn’t a pre-requisite for being a Police officer,” he explained, humbly. “I can still do the job I was destined to do. The difference is, this time I can have someone to go home to. That is, if she’ll forgive a big idiot like me, and take me back…?”

She actually smiled. “All right. We’ll give ‘us’ another chance. Provided we start all the way from the beginning,” she agreed, softly.

He touched his lips to the back of her fingers, and grinned, sheepishly.

Pulsar leaned off her table, trailing wires, and poked Skywarp in the wing. “I hope you’re taking notes on how to be a gentlemech.”

The tongue that pointed in her direction was all the answer she needed.

0o0o0o0o0

Boxer had unexpectedly given almost everyone the rest of the orn off work, taking over monitor duty himself. A certain clique of constables had used it as an excuse to push all the chairs and tables out of the way and turn the galley into a temporary nightclub, and the observation that some officers should arrest themselves for their behaviour was levelled at them more than once from their slightly less inebriated colleagues.

Eventually the party drifted away, either to dorms to integrate (or burn off) some of the excess energy, or down to the town centre to continue the revelling until their credits ran out.

Thundercracker had shown considerable disinterest, and retired to the couch long before the galley began to filter itself empty. He’d even managed to slip into a doze, but then that was probably all that training in sonic weaponry coming to the fore and allowing him to tune out the racket of badly-tuned music.

The peace didn’t last long, once the music stopped and (most of) the rabble left. “Urrrhhhnghghg…” Skywarp groaned, exaggeratedly, and settled onto the seat next to Thundercracker, slumping right onto his wingmate and doing ‘those’ optics at him. “TC, I’m knackered.”

Thundercracker gave him a long-suffering look, but for once lifted his arm out of the way and draped it back down around the teleport’s shoulders. “All right, just this once,” he grumbled, as Skywarp curled himself closer. “And if you so much as think about telling Ramjet, I’m gonna fragging disown you.”

Would I do such a thing?”

“Yes you would, now be quiet before I turf you off.”

Skywarp smirked silently to himself, and wriggled his wings.

“Excuse me, sir, is this seat taken?” a familiar little voice asked, and Skywarp flickered one optic online to study his visitor.

“Hn,” he grunted, and budged a fraction closer to Thundercracker. “All right. Come on then, Squeaky.”

She tucked herself up in front of him, curling her feet up onto the seat, and felt him slump his arm back down across her… sneakily tucking his fingers down under her chest. She covered his fingers with her own.

-how’s your knee?-” came the whisper, right next to her audio.

“-stiff, but it’ll ease up in time,-” she whispered back. “-thanks-”

“-hn. Welcome-”

By the time Starscream managed to tear himself away from conversation with an inebriated and very unsteady Celerity, Longbeam had settled herself at Thundercracker’s feet, resting her head against one of his knees. The blue Seeker had half-heartedly tried to shoo her away without making it too rude or obvious, but she’d failed to take the hint and Thundercracker had finally given up trying when another of the little gravity-bikes plonked herself down on the other side.

“Hm. You’re getting far too popular for your own good, TC,” a voice drawled, and Thundercracker onlined a sleepy optic to find Starscream holding out a flask of energon for him.

“I can’t help having a magnetic personality,” the blue Seeker replied, accepting the flask. “You’re only jealous.”

Starscream just snerked wordlessly at first, and plonked his weight down on the couch on the opposite side to Skywarp, hooking his thrusters up onto the chair. “That must be what it is. I’m jealous that you have Skywarp trying to burrow into your side, and your own mass in Policebots weighing your thrusters down,” he agreed, dryly, then added; “Nice of you to finally turn up, as well, Sepp.”

The surgeon shrugged with one shoulder. “I had business to attend,” she replied, ambling over.

Skywarp gave her a critical look, then behind her at Hardline, then back at Forceps and flickered his gaze all the way down her, from her shoulders to her feet.

“What?” she growled, suspiciously.

“Oh, nothing,” Skywarp replied, airily, shaking his head. “Just checking you for paint-transfers.”

Forceps made a funny little incredulous noise and raised a palm to give him a swat around the audio, but Hardline caught the hand before it could swing. “He’s only trying to get his own back,” the tank replied, amusedly. “Since he’s been walking around with yellow finger-marks all over his wings for the past orn and nobody told him.”

Skywarp’s optics flashed instantly brighter as he hastily checked his dark paint, and there were dirty sniggers from his assorted accomplices as he fell for the obvious trick.

“Come on, you lot, stop hogging the couch – and yes, I mean you too, Scarlet, you don’t need your feet up on it. Budge up,” Forceps instructed, and waved her hands in a shooing motion. There ensued more grumbling and jostling, but at last they’d shuffled along far enough to give the two new arrivals space to park.

Starscream arched a brow, and meaningfully stretched both legs back out across them. “Got you both under my heels, now,” he observed, dryly.

“Y’know, we’re gonna have to take these stickers off, tomorrow,” Skywarp reminded, dabbing a fingertip against the chequered piping on Thundercracker’s wings. “Shocky’ll never let us through the space-bridge if we’re still in Auto-dork colours.”

“You’re not staying?” Hardline leaned forwards to see round the blue Seeker, and gave them a look that bordered strongly on deep disappointment.

“Tch, yeah, right, because we’d be welcome to stay here, of course,” Skywarp snorted.

The tank gave an unexpected shrug. “I wouldn’t mind having you three on my team,” he admitted, gruffly. “Frag, if it came down to it, I don’t even think I’d mind if one of you was my Superintendent.”

“By ‘one of us’, you mean, Screamer, of course,” Skywarp quipped, amusedly. “If you could pry him out of the forensics lab. I can’t see myself in any position of particular power.”

“Chief Inspector Skywarp,” Thundercracker suggested, and there was a ripple of impolite, impertinent laughter. “Primus, can you imagine the chaos?”

“Oh, psh,” Skywarp didn’t even bother to online his optics, as if to illustrate what he thought of Thundercracker’s teasing. “I’ll have you sent to solitary for insubordination in a minute, constable.”

Hoots of derisive laughter greeted the comment, and even Boxer chuckled quietly from the doorway.

“More seriously,” Starscream added, sombrely, once the humour had faded again, watching for the superintendent’s response, “how long do you think it will be before people start to remember exactly what and who we are? We’ve had a common enemy thus far, but now Blue is gone, how long before we begin to revert back to the familiar old Decepticon/Autobot divisions?”

“You think it’s likely?” Hardline challenged.

“I think it should be taken as a given.” Starscream nodded. “One of you will annoy one of us, and former factions will be brought up in the argument, and experience tells me it’ll probably escalate into something more serious than just words.”

“For the sake of a technicality,” Thundercracker added, sleepily, “according to you lot, we’re also still war criminals.”

The silence was uncomfortable.

“Well, speaking only for myself, of course…” Boxer said, carefully, slowly pouring himself a flask of what little remained of the energon, and everyone waited for the anticipated ‘I think it’s for the best you leave, too’. “I would personally be prepared to try and cancel any outstanding debts if you wanted to join the ranks here. We could do with your skill mix, and you’ve, ah… pleasantly surprised everyone with your effectiveness.”

Even Skywarp onlined his optics in surprise, at that.

“I cannot deny that you very much shook the place up,” the superintendent admitted. “I don’t think I’ve seen my officers quite so, ah… animated… in vorns. Certainly more enthusiastic. Excited. Dedicated to getting things done. And not only I would be lying if I said I was relieved you feel obliged to leave, I don’t think I would be the only one to express that sentiment.”

The movement was sneaky, and not particularly obvious, but meaningful enough; Forceps shifted her hand to weigh a little more meaningfully against Starscream’s ankle, and Pulsar flexed her grip a little tighter onto Skywarp’s fingers. Even Longbeam slid herself a fraction closer.

“I hope you’ll at least consider it, before you leave, if you’re set on going,” Boxer added, softly, inclining his heavy head. “And if you do choose to go, well… the offer will remain on the table.”

0o0o0o0o0

Pulsar followed Skywarp back to the dormitory block, melancholically, once everyone had finally got tired of sharing the couch. “You’re set on going, then.” It was a statement of fact, not a question.

The teleport glanced back at her, and shrugged. “We’ve still got unfinished business to attend to, back home,” he confirmed.

“That stupid Decepticon agenda,” she sniped, folding her arms.

“No-one’s stopping you coming along, if you want, Squeaky.”

“So you can keep me in a cupboard somewhere, and try to keep things a secret from Megatron? Puh.”

“Hey, guess what?” He grinned. “If you sulk, it means I win.”

“I don’t know why I bother, sometimes.” She scowled at him, bitterly, then – impulsively – leaned closer, and planted a kiss on his cheek. “There. Something to remember me by, if you won’t stay.”

“Something to remember you by?” His little smile quirked into a sly grin and he caught her around the shoulders. “Come on, we can do better than that.”

She never got the chance to ask him what he meant before he teleported the pair of them away.

0o0o0o0o0

The five Earth-based machines made their departure from the station very early the next morning, to avoid as many awkward questions about why weren’t they staying as possible. Skywarp had something of an unsteady gait and a drunken grin on his face, which no-one wanted to question him too heavily about, but the bright paint transfers he hadn’t quite succeeded in fully polishing out probably explained all anyone needed to know. Forceps declined to say goodbye, citing it as “too final”, but everyone knew she just didn’t want to be caught falling prey to her emotions. Hardline said goodbye on her behalf, and escorted the five most of the way to the space-bridge before pressing a police-band communicator into Starscream’s palm, ‘just in case the three of them ever changed their minds’, and taking his own leave of them.

“So.” Prowl cast a glance very briefly up at Shockwave’s armoured base of operations before looking back at Starscream. “What now? Because if it had escaped your notice, we’re still Autobots, and we’re still not on friendly terms with Shockwave, and we’ve somehow got to get onto the space-bridge.”

“No worries about that. We’ll get you through without a scratch on your paintwork,” Starscream replied, amusedly, but his pale optics glittered earnestly and confirmed his good intentions. “You’re our ‘prisoners’ until we’re safely through the space bridge. After that, where you go is up to you.”

There were nods of agreement from the other two Seekers.

“How long before you turn and shoot us in the back?” Jazz wondered, head cocked.

“Oh honestly. Is your opinion of us that low?” Starscream scoffed, and planted a hand to his chest, as if wounded right in his spark, then smirked. “Half a breem. If you’re not gone, expect a friendly bit of laser fire to remind you.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything less,” Jazz grinned, and gave his former-enemy-turned-ally-soon-to-turn-enemy-again a friendly slap on the back, while he still could without getting shot. “C’mon, Prowler.”

“Wait, what? We’re just going to march in there?! We’ll get fried!” Skywarp complained, grimly, making no effort to follow just yet.

Starscream gazed up at the doors. “Oh, I don’t think so,” he demurred, calmly, already setting off, Jazz and Prowl in front. “Shockwave has eyes everywhere, correct? I’m sure he’s been watching us…”

Skywarp gave Thundercracker a pleading look.

“Come on,” the blue Seeker gave him a little prod. “I don’t much like it either, but we best get it over with.”

Skywarp pulled a face, but squared up his shoulders, affected his best holier-than-thou sneer, and fell into formation. “I don’t care how good we look, we’re still going to get shot at, I know it.”

The one-mech reception committee did not greet them with gunfire, however – Shockwave actually bowed to them. “Welcome back, Air Commander Starscream, Commander Skywarp, Commander Thundercracker,” he greeted, almost obsequiously. “Mighty Megatron wishes me to inform you that he has observed your progress and is most pleased with your results. It is most reassuring to observe that you continue to recognise your true calling.”

“I thought he might be.” Starscream smirked at his wingmates; they hid it well, but their commander could see it. Under the sneers, both looked about ready to collapse in relief. “Is the space-bridge ready? We have prisoners to take back for questioning.”

Shockwave nodded his head just the once, and flickered his single optic. “An escort is en route. You will wait at the space-bridge until your reinforcements arrive,” he instructed.

“Come on, you filthy Autobots,” Skywarp snarled, giving Prowl a jab in the back. “Get a move on.”

Prowl jerked his hands up to shoulder level and got a move on, as he’d been told, although he glared at Skywarp the instant the bridge doors had closed.

“What?” Skywarp affected his best innocent face. “It’s only for effect. Don’t want Shockwave getting suspicious.”

“You could try not to enjoy it quite so much.”

“Well, yeah, I could probably try, but where’s the fun in that…?”

The same bored silver ground-pounder was still on duty on the Earth side, when they arrived back (it was growing less clear whether he was here as a punishment, or had asked for the post to increase his time for goofing off), although – surprisingly – he actually got up and saluted, instead of remaining flaked out and snoring. The three Seekers deliberately turned their backs on their prisoners, taking their very old argument back up with him.

“That looks like our cue to make our departure,” Prowl commented, softly, surveying the three sets of wings. “You ready to make a run for it, before the reinforcements arrive?”

“I’m not so sure I want to get ‘em in trouble, for once,” Jazz griped, morosely. “I figure we better do as told, though.” He edged away, after Prowl, trying to put as many boulders between them and the distracted air-elite as possible.

“Hey!” Skywarp’s yell pierced the calm. “Hey, you filthy Autobots, stop right where you are!” A fine, thin lilac streak strafed past his audio, that ‘surgical precision’ apparently forgotten (or was it a ‘precise miss’? It had been unnervingly close!). -Get a damn MOVE ON- the teleport pinged, silently.

Noble ideals got cast to the winds. The two Autobots hastily transformed, and fled, hotly ‘pursued’ by the three Seekers, a hail of ultra-precise misses raining down around them until the Aerialbots came to the “rescue”, and the Seekers wheeled about and gunned it for the horizon before the other fliers could get a lock on them.

0o0o0o0o0

Back in the Ark, behind his large desk, Optimus stared silently down at the little snapshot Prowl had handed him for so long that Jazz began to wonder if they hadn’t broken his brain. This did not bode well. They hadn’t even finished their debriefing.

“Um, Optimus?” Jazz waved a hand, and finally the big mech lifted his gaze and matched stares with him. “Everything all right?”

“Tell me something, Jazz,” Optimus suggested, tiredly, leaning his head onto one hand and using the other to wave the still. “This image. Humans would say it’s been, ah… ‘Photoshopped’. That is, faked. Set up. Is that what you did?”

“What? Aw, come on, Optimus. When would we have had time to do that?” Jazz complained. “We only just got back!”

“I took that photograph myself,” Prowl added. “Because I knew no-one would believe us. Maybe I should have just not bothered.”

“Let me see?” Ratchet peered over Optimus’ shoulder, and the Autobot leader reluctantly relinquished the photograph to the crimson fingers that had closed on the top corner. “Oh, goodness. That can’t be right!”

The array of wings apparently hadn’t become a barrier to all cramming onto the same long couch in the station break room. Thundercracker was just off centre, with so many bodies clustered around him that getting up would have probably dislodged everyone in the scene. Skywarp was on his right, actually snuggling against his side, his wing-mate’s arm draping tiredly down over his shoulders, and a little gravity cycle was in turn flaked out against the teleport, her cheek on his cockpit, looking like she belonged there. Starscream was on Thundercracker’s left, leaning back against him, head resting against one blue shoulder and Thundercracker’s spare arm around him. Starscream looked like he’d originally had his legs tucked up on the seat, but two additional machines – one big pale-green femme, and one absolute giant of a mech – had squeezed onto the end, and so the blue thrusters were instead stretched out across their laps. On the floor was a big orange male protoform, with sleek twin femme hovercars on either side using him as a support, and an assortment of smaller officers had ranged themselves along the floor, leaning back against the couch – Thundercracker had acquired quite the fan-club, if the three femmes around his legs were anything to go by. Small, empty energon containers and brushed silver flasks littered the floor. And everyone was deep in recharge. A more peaceful scene containing the Decepticon air elite would have been hard to come by.

“All right. My brain already hurts from all the mental gymnastics you’re expecting me to do, so let’s see if I’ve got this right,” Optimus suggested, slowly, listening to the twittering voices as Ratchet lost control of the photograph to Sideswipe and it got passed around the entire peanut gallery. “The white Seeker who we were getting worried about? Was Starscream all along?”

“That’s right,” Jazz bobbed his head. “He still had the blue optics in when we met up with them.”

“And your picture is one-hundred-percent the-real-thing in-no-way-altered honest?”

“Absolutely one-hundred-percent correct. It didn’t even go near a photo shop.”

“And not only was this… ‘Blue’ stuff… nothing to do with the Decepticons, they actually helped the police remove it from the streets and destroy the production facility?”

“Yes, Prime,” Prowl confirmed. “They, ah… had something of a strange effect on the whole police force, to be honest. I’d never have guessed it’d be such an efficacious partnership, at the beginning.”

“Is an elaboration of exactly what strange effect they had out of the question?”

Prowl’s optics flickered and he glanced sidelong, as if wishing he could have avoided the question. “We lost a significant number of formerly-loyal Autobots because of it.” Seeing Optimus straighten in horror, he was quick to add; “Not to the Decepticons! And not dead, either. Just… a lot dropped their allegiance and went Neutral, including one or two fairly high-ranking officers.” He decided it would only complicate matters if Optimus got wind of the job offers that Superintendent Boxer had laid on the table.

Optimus groaned, quietly, and rubbed the bridge of his nose, then rose to his feet and pushed carefully through the crowd of Autobots still giggling nervously over the photograph.

“Optimus? Where are you going?” Jazz watched him move out through the door, and into the corridor.

“I’m going to try something the humans do,” Optimus replied, tiredly, glancing back at him. “If I go back to bed, I may be able to wake up and find it has all just been a strange dream…”

0o0o0o0o0

Back on Nemesis, a quiet, wary sort of normality had resumed.

Skywarp had been making an incredible effort to avoid Megatron at all costs, just in case the tyrant had caught wind of his affair, and had so far not been challenged about it the one or two times they’d run into each other in corridors, but he wasn’t being complacent about it, and knew there were suspicions forming because Soundwave kept giving him funny looks. (Well, as funny a look as Soundwave was physically capable of.)

As for Starscream, there were already a few new dents in Forceps’ sleek handiwork, but this time the source was more familiar. In spite of being pleased at their work on Cybertron, Megatron had been less than pleased when they let the two important Autobots make their escape. As always, reprimand had turned into insult and then into a fight which Starscream had lost. Most had agreed it had been done mostly for effect, though – the fusion cannon and null-rays had remained offline.

Starscream had one last little bit of vengeance to exact, however. Vengeance for being forced to flee to Cybertron in the first place. Vengeance for being shamed – without good reason – in front of his peers. Vengeance for being punished for doing good work.

He held his hand up in front of his face, comfortable crimson optics finally back in place, and studied the innocent little violet-blue cube of pure ruin where it sat on his palm. A smirk discoloured his urbane features. He knew exactly the right place to leave this.

…Oh boy, did Megatron ever have it coming to him.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
_silverfox
Sep. 11th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
Awwww! The moment they started cuddling up I thought 'Somebody has to take a picture of this.' So glad somebody did. :)

I hope Starscream realises that his little revenge will end up requiring him to build another tank ... then again I suppose taking his time doing it will be half the fun of this one. :)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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