Some revelations came from moments of quiet contemplation, of silencing one's thoughts and letting the mind come to its own conclusions. Others were epiphanies brought on by another's words or actions, and still others by watching or reading something that had a sudden profound impact. One never knew when inspiration or realization would strike, and sometimes the moments that could change lives or even civilizations forever sprang from the most unexpected sources.
In Glory's case, the source of this particular revelation turned out to be several tons of neon-pink paint falling from the ceiling of the Nemesis' mess hall and onto a good half of Megatron's forces during the morning energon break.
"Whoo-ee!" hooted Rumble, peering out from under the table where he, his brother, Glory, and Wildfire had taken refuge from the deluge. "I don't care what Megs or Sounders does to us, THAT was worth it!"
"Oh slag, I think we got Starscream," Frenzy groaned. "Least I think we did – all those fliers looks the same when they're the same color."
"Eh, it washes off," Rumble assured him. "Still totally worth it."
Glory, for her part, brushed a few flecks of splashed paint from her armor before looking up to survey the damage of their latest prank. She'd expected to "repaint" a few unwary Decepticons – she hadn't expected Astrotrain to trigger the trap in the middle of the break, when the mess hall was at its most crowded. And seeing that they'd not only drenched regular soldiers, but Starscream and even Megatron himself, sent a queer mix of terror and glee through her spark. She was going to be grounded for weeks for this… but as Rumble had said, it was totally worth the consequences.
For a few moments stunned silence reigned, as the CPU of every mech present struggled to process what had happened. Megatron stared down at his own hands in shock, as if he'd never seen the color pink before, while Starscream opened and shut his mouth several times as he tried to formulate some kind of response. Thundercracker and Skywarp had been going over datapads at their table, and they were struggling to salvage what they could from the mess. The Stunticons stared up at the ceiling with puzzled expressions, while Astrotrain hunched over in his spot as if figuring if he ignored the mess it would go away on its own. Even Swindle, normally a chatty mech, had gone silent, though the smirk on his face said that he was far more amused than shocked or upset.
Then Starscream's voice ripped through the air, drowning out the steady drip of paint on metal. "THUNDERCRACKER!"
The blue Seeker – or formerly-blue, Glory thought with a quiet giggle – looked up from the datapad he was trying to wipe clean. "What? Don't blame me for this…"
"That little brat of yours has gone TOO far this time!" Starscream shot to his feet and stormed toward his subordinate's table, his angry stride spoiled as he slipped in a puddle of paint and flailed to regain his balance. "Where is she?! She needs to pay for this!" His gaze landed on the table where Glory huddled with the cassettes, and for a moment a look of such incandescent fury crossed his faceplate that she tensed to bolt.
But Wildfire hooked his equine head over her shoulder and snarled protectively, and Starscream's anger wavered. A burst of satisfaction filled her at that – the Air Commander had been on the receiving end of her bodyguard's wrath enough times to know that threatening her, even deservedly, was not just useless but dangerous. Instead, his anger fell on another target entirely – her uncle.
"I keep telling everyone that sparkling is worse than useless – she's making a mockery of our forces!" he shrilled, pointing dramatically at Thundercracker. "And you LET her get away with it, you slagging fool! I swear, if you can't keep her in line I'll… I'll…" He couldn't seem to come up with a punishment heinous enough and settled for an enraged shriek as he moved to close the gap between them, hands raised and fingers crooked as if ready to strangle or rip apart the first mech he could grab.
Glory squeezed Frenzy's arm, terror suddenly overcoming her glee at their prank's results. She'd seen Starscream angry before, but never this furious. And she was no stranger to seeing angry Decepticons resort to terrible violence against those they felt had wronged them. Was she about to see her uncle beaten for her actions?
Thundercracker opened his mouth to defend himself, but before he could get a word out another hand – pink mottled with the purple of the owner's original plating – came down to grasp his shoulder.
"It was my fault!" Skywarp cut in. "I set this up. Was hoping to get the Constructicons, you know they're always late for breaks… just stupid luck that Astro came in and sat in their usual spot before they got here."
Starscream glared at the black Seeker. "You honestly expect me to believe that?!"
"Hey, you think the kid could have set up a prank this sophisticated by herself?" Skywarp countered.
"Of course you'd come to the brat's defense, you insolent-" began Starscream, pink-streaked wings twitching as he worked himself up into a deeper rage.
"Starscream, sit down before you make a fool of yourself!" Megatron thundered, rising from his seat.
"Too late," muttered Swindle, ducking his head with a grin when the Air Commander shot him a hateful glower.
"I've tolerated a lot of nonsense from my subordinates, Megatron," Starscream snapped. "But something of THIS magnitude…"
"Sit. Down. NOW!" It was amazing how Megatron managed to exude an aura of power and authority even when slathered in pink. "You are not the superior officer in this room!"
Starscream curled his lip in a sneer, as if aching to challenge that fact. Then he whirled on one heel and stalked out of the mess hall, leaving a trail of neon footprints in his wake.
"Skywarp, your little stunt has earned you two days in the brig," Megatron went on. "AFTER you clean this mess up!"
"Yessir." Skywarp grinned, putting on a show of being entirely unrepentant.
Megatron regarded the Seeker a moment longer, frowning, and Glory wondered if he suspected that Skywarp wasn't truly behind the mess hall's new paint job after all. Then he gestured abruptly with one hand. "Dismissed. To the wash racks with all of you – I won't have my troops parading around the base looking this ridiculous."
The Decepticons shuffled out, grumbling amongst themselves. The Stunticons shot Skywarp looks of sheer hatred, but Skywarp just grinned cheekily and waved at them as they passed. The Combaticons gave Glory and the cassettes dirty looks of their own as they stalked past, suspecting the truth but choosing not to push it for now… save Swindle, who only flashed her a wink as he passed her. Astrotrain stayed hunched over his drink, evidently determined to enjoy his break at all costs even with fluorescent-pink paint rapidly drying on his plating.
Thundercracker and Skywarp also lingered, and once Megatron had stormed out her uncle turned to his teammate and spoke in a soft voice.
"You didn't have to do that."
"Hey, can't a mech do a good turn for a friend?" Skywarp's smile softened from wicked glee to something kinder. "I dunno what's crawled up Starscream's exhaust and died, but he was definitely out for oil there. Someone had to make sure he didn't rough you up in front of the kid."
Thundercracker's wings dipped at a relieved angle. "Thank you. I'll make sure she helps you clean up, and she's going to see some consequences for this."
"Aw, I can handle this." He made a sweeping gesture to encompass the entire pink-splattered mess hall. "Cleaned up worse. And don't be TOO hard on her, all right? You know most of it was the cassettes' doing anyhow. I swear, we gotta keep those losers away from her."
"They're her best friends," Thundercracker retorted, to Glory's relief. "If I forbid her from seeing them we'll have a whole new war on our hands. Still, I think banning her from Netflix for a week will teach her to curb the pranking for awhile."
Glory winced at that, but said nothing.
"Well, I'm off to find a mop or something," Skywarp noted. "See you in two days. Don't work too hard."
Thundercracker nodded and gave the black Seeker's shoulder a companionable squeeze. He watched as Skywarp strutted out of the room, whistling to himself and with a jaunty spring in his step as if he weren't about to spend time in the brig, then turned to the table where Glory and her cronies huddled.
"Come on out, you four," he ordered. "And Glory, I know you heard us. Next time you want to pull something like this, at least try to keep officers out of the crossfire."
She sighed and crawled out from under the table, frowning at the paint now smearing her hands and knees. "Yes, Uncle T. Did you really mean it when you said no Netflix for a week?"
"I meant it," he replied, making her groan. "C'mon… let's get cleaned up. Then you've got lessons with Hook and the Constructicons today. At least we don't have THEM fragged off at us."
"See you 'round, Glory!" Rumble called out, waving.
Glory waved back, then took Thundercracker's hand and let him lead her to the washracks. Oddly, the prospect of losing her shows for a week didn't bother her much. Her mind was preoccupied with what she'd just seen… and what conclusions she had drawn from it.
Even she would admit that, despite her uncle praising her for being smart and clever, she could be fairly oblivious at times. And while she dearly loved her uncle, sometimes she just didn't pay close attention to him or those around him. Perhaps it was simply because he was so close it was hard to see what was going on with him unless it was blindingly obvious – it had been like that with her parents, so that was understandable at least.
This hadn't been the first time she'd seen Skywarp leaping to Thundercracker's defense, though. And Uncle T had watched Skywarps' back and covered for him plenty of times as well. She had always assumed that was just what Seeker trine-mates did, or teammates of any kind – most of the gestalt teams didn't always get along, but they were fiercely protective of one another, and the Coneheads were such a tight-knit unit that sometimes she wondered if they didn't just share a CPU like Reflector.
But somehow, today had been different. It wasn't just that Skywarp came to Thundercracker's defense against the third member of their trine – there had been something in the aftermath. Something in the way they spoke to each other… in how Skywarp's faceplates and voice had softened…
I wonder if Skywarp likes Uncle T, she thought at last. Not just like a friend, but REALLY likes him. She was still a sparkling, and still very much in the "love is gross" stage of her life cycle, but even she recognized some of the signs. Hadn't her parents been like that with one another? Not constantly showing off displays of affection, but simple smiles and glances, hands resting on one another's shoulders in ways that were a touch more than simply friendly.
She might reject the idea of herself ever being in such a relationship with another mechanism… but the idea of Skywarp loving her uncle was unexpectedly adorable to her.
"What's got such a big smile on your face?" Thundercracker asked, cutting into her thoughts. "Already planning your next prank assault?"
She shook her head, though her grin remained. "Just thinking of something Skywarp said." That was true enough, if shy on the details.
"He's a goof, that one," he acknowledged. "Sometimes too much for his own good." He nudged Glory into the washracks. "Get cleaned up. We've got a busy day ahead of us."
She nodded and stepped into the racks, sinking back into her thoughts. She wasn't entirely sure what to do with all this information yet, but now that she'd come to this conclusion she had a hard time shaking it off. One thing was certain – she wasn't done investigating this matter yet.
"Uncle Warp, do you like Uncle T?"
Skywarp had been sprawled out in a chair in his quarters, immersing himself in some mindless human entertainment, but Glory's question broke that immersion. He turned away from Mad Max to regard the sparkling, who was perched on the edge of his berth with her ubiquitous dragon toy in her arms. He'd just been released from the brig an hour ago, and he was spending his first evening of freedom watching over Glory while Thundercracker performed an evening patrol – something another mech might have considered further punishment but which Skywarp didn't mind in the least. Usually.
"What a question," he chuckled. "'Course I like your uncle. We've been buds since the Academy." He draped one leg over the arm of his chair as he settled himself in. "Think I'd hang out with him so much if I hated his internals?"
Glory frowned. "I mean do you REALLY like him?" she insisted. "Like… like like, not just friend like."
"…huh. What brought THIS on, kid?" Normally when Glory plied him with questions, it was either about the particulars of whatever movie they were watching or the details of his pranking sprees – both subjects he could discuss at great length. Less often she inquired about his life and family back on Cybertron, and while he wasn't quite as generous with information on that, he never minded her asking. It was different when it was a curious kid and not a nosy Air Commander digging for blackmail material, he figured.
"I saw what you did for him the other day," she replied. "And I saw the way you looked at him and talked to him. I think you like him… I just wanted to be sure."
"Huh," he grunted again. Well, points for being blunt about it, he figured. Glory certainly didn't beat around the bush when she wanted answers. He hadn't figured she was THAT sharp, though – he'd assumed details like that would fly right over her head. No more underestimating her just for being a sparkling, he reminded himself.
"Before I say anything, you've gotta promise to not tell anyone," he told her. "Not even the cassettes." Especially not the cassettes, he wanted to add, but held his vocalizer. "Can you do that for me?"
"I promise," she vowed, nodding so solemnly he almost laughed. "Cross my spark, hope to fry."
"Good girl." He looked at the viewscreen, then decided he wasn't terribly in the mood to continue watching and paused it. "And well… yeah. I like him. I mean, we've always been friends, ya know, and I hope we stay friends… but I really wouldn't mind it being something more."
Glory giggled. "Uncle Warp has a crush! That's so cute!"
"Hey now," he scolded, though a wide grin spoiled any attempt at sounding stern. "Just remember you laughed when you get upgraded and I start teasing YOU for having a crush!"
She made a face. "Eww! I don't like anyone THAT way! And I'm never gonna!"
"So it's cute when I'm in love but it's gross to think of you being in love?" he teased.
She burst into giggles and flopped back onto the berth, making Wildfire jump and stare. "Well, I think it's wonderful that you love him! Do you know if Uncle T loves you back?"
Skywarp's smile faded. With her typical forthrightness Glory had managed to strike right to the heart of a sensitive issue. Primus, he didn't want to think about this right now… had done a good job of shunting it to the back of his CPU and pretending it wasn't an issue at all. Why did she have to bring it up now?
"Uncle Warp?" Glory prompted, frowning when he didn't answer right away.
He sighed, figuring that as long as the issue was brought up he might as well address it. "To be honest, Glory, I think your uncle prefers us as friends."
"But why? He's lonely, and I know he's close to you, and you guys would BOTH be a lot happier if-"
"Whoa, girl, slow down," he urged, reaching over to pat her arm – a gesture that earned a snarl from Wildfire, but a pat to the withers by Glory calmed him down immediately. "Don't start planning our conjux rite already, okay? I like your uncle, I really do. But it's a lot more complicated than you think."
"How can it be complicated?" she insisted. "Love shouldn't be complicated, right?"
He had to chuckle at that. Such an innocent statement… "Hate to break it to you, but love's a lot more complex than the Disney movies make it out to be." He sat up straighter in his chair. "You've probably noticed this by now, but your uncle's a pretty private mech. He's never really been open with anything personal – slag, I didn't even know he had a sister until right before you came to live here. And when it comes to his feelings… he's going to keep a tight lid on those. Nothing good or bad about that, really, it's just the way he is."
Glory mulled over that, then nodded. "Yeah… he doesn't talk about how he feels. Not unless he's REALLY upset. But I wish he'd talk about THIS. Then you wouldn't have to be wondering whether he likes you back or not."
He had to smirk at that. "Well, YOU certainly don't take after him in that respect."
"Why don't you ask him, though? The worst he could do is say no, he doesn't feel the same, right?"
"Aw, kid… I couldn't do that. It'd just fluster him, and it might make him avoid me for a long time. And as much as I care about him, I value our friendship more." That had been something he'd struggled with for a long time himself – whether to be open about his feelings and risk losing the one friendship he had on this ship of lunatics, or stay quiet and keep his spark in limbo. In the end, he had opted for the safest course – something he rarely did, but in this case felt was for the best.
Glory snorted through her vents. "I still think you should tell him. Otherwise you're NEVER gonna know for sure."
"You sound like my creator," Skywarp noted. In fact, Wavebreaker's last letter home had contained words exactly to that effect – if you don't scrounge up some bolts and tell him, you're never going to know for sure!
She sighed again, nestling back against Wildfire. "I won't tell him."
"Good." He turned off the viewscreen. "Let's forget about this and play a game before you go to bed, all right?"
She nodded, but judging by the look on her faceplates he knew she wasn't done thinking about this. He just hoped her attention would drift by morning – he didn't fancy another discussion about this sticky issue anytime soon.
"Uncle T, do you like anyone?"
Thundercracker looked up from his computer at the question. Normally he didn't like being interrupted when he was occupied with World of Warcraft, but at the moment he was crafting rather than running a raid or completing a quest, so interruptions weren't nearly as costly as they might be during the heat of a battle.
"Why do you ask?" he replied, arching an optic ridge
Glory shrugged and went back to coloring as she spoke. "I'm just curious. Do you like anyone?"
"Well, I like you," he told her, and leaned down to give her a playful poke to the side – an action that got a giggle out of her and a snarl from Wildfire that he ignored. "Does that count?"
"Kinda," she replied. "And you like Skywarp too, right?"
"Right," he replied. "He and I were friends even before we were recruited to Megatron's forces. I think we've kept each other sane over the vorns." Especially with Starscream in charge of us pretty much went without saying. "I had friends back on Cybertron too, and I still like them even if I haven't spoken to them in a long time. And I liked your mother and her conjux, and our parents… and I still miss them, but at least I won't forget them." He leaned back in his chair. "Does that answer your question?"
She frowned as she considered. "Kinda… but do you like anyone? Like… in that way?"
What WAS she getting at? "Do you mean am I in love with anyone?"
"Yeah… are you in love with anyone?"
Skywarp, have you been showing her those sappy romance movies again? he thought, giving a resigned sigh. Aloud he said "That's a rather personal question to be asking anyone, Glory. Did Rumble or Frenzy put you up to this?"
"I was just wondering," she replied, huffing softly. "Does that mean you're not gonna answer?"
He groaned inwardly. He'd always made it a point of being honest with Glory, even if it meant answering awkward questions. But this wasn't a discussion he was prepared to have. He was a very private mech – what Skywarp liked to call "brooding" – and didn't like displaying his personal business to the entire Nemesis. And as much as he liked Glory, he knew that any information he shared with her was likely to make it to Soundwave's cassettes… and those little fraggers would never let him live it down.
Besides, it was hard to give a forthright answer to that question when even he wasn't entirely sure of the answer. He preferred not to think about it – he was content with things the way they were, he figured. He had what was left of his family, and a close friend to confide in. That was enough to keep him content, he figured, and he wouldn't ask for anything more.
"Let's talk about this later," he told her. "Right now you need to be picking your toys up and getting ready to recharge."
Her expression told him that she knew full well that he was stalling, but she didn't call him out on it. She just focused on cleaning up her coloring, silent but thoughtful. With any luck, Thundercracker thought, she'd forget about this discussion and move on. Her attention span wasn't great at the best of times, and by morning she'd find something else to latch onto and ask endless questions about. He could hope, at least…
For once, Glory didn't want the company of the cassettes… so it was extremely annoying that they seemed to find her no matter where she hid. Maybe they were as psychic as Soundwave, or were just good at tracking. Or maybe having a big shiny red-and-gold horse following you everywhere you went didn't exactly help you be stealthy.
"C'mon, kid, quit givin' us the runaround!" Frenzy demanded, poking his head underneath the berth in one of the empty officers' quarters – Glory wasn't sure what had happened to whatever officer had once lived here, and figured she was better off not knowing. "You're plannin' something, we can tell, and we want in on it!"
"Was it somethin' we said?" asked Rumble, scooting under the berth. "This isn't about the paint incident, is it? I know you wanted green, but pink would've shown up better on the Constructicons if things had gone according to plan…"
"It's not that," Glory replied, not looking up from the picture she was working on. "I just wanna be alone for a while."
Rumble and Frenzy exchanged a bewildered look. Then Frenzy ducked beneath the berth and crouched beside the sparkling, ignoring Wildfire's look of disdain. The bodyguard had long ago stopped growling every time one of them got close, but seemed to tolerate their company more than anything.
"You've never not wanted our company before, kid," Frenzy pointed out. "Is somethin' up?"
Glory shook her head and focused on her painting, adding bold red stripes to the wings of the blue jet. She had planned on painting a second jet beside it, sleek and black with violet wing markings, but she didn't dare with these two watching. She'd promised Skywarp she wouldn't tell, and while Uncle T hadn't asked the same thing she knew he'd be unhappy if she let anything slip. And as goofy as her friends could be, they were a lot smarter than mechs gave them credit for and would catch on to the truth if they saw just what she intended to paint.
"You're plannin' something, aren't ya?" Rumble asked. "I can see the gears turnin' in your helm. Aren't you gonna tell us? Maybe we can help."
She frowned. "I think I can do this one by myself."
"Aw, c'mon!" Rumble whined. "Don't leave us outta the fun!"
"We're pals, ain't we?" Frenzy added. "Pals don't let pals hatch brilliant schemes alone!"
Guilt panged at her spark at the cassette's stricken expressions, but she knew she had to hold firm. She was planning something, all right – she planned to get Skywarp in a position to finally admit to her uncle how he felt, and Uncle T to give him a definite answer. She wasn't sure how she was going to manage it yet, but she was confident she could work something out. She'd learned a few tricks about how to get the adults to do what she wanted, though up until now that mostly consisted of wrangling an extra treat from Swindle or fewer actual lessons out of Motormaster. She'd never planned something of this caliber, and it was baffling her at the moment.
But this time, she didn't want the cassettes' help in this scheme. She loved them dearly, and they were experts at working out the finer details of a lot of their pranking adventures. But she had to admit that they got carried away in their schemes a LOT, and she couldn't help but remember how badly things had gone when they had learned of her plan to get the Nemesis to celebrate the human holiday of Christmas and hijacked it out from under her. Mechs were still making barbed remarks about THAT mess, and she didn't want a repeat of it.
Rumble and Frenzy might know how to help her… but telling them what she wanted would be breaking her promise. And the two of them would probably just turn it into another pranking spree – playing love songs over the PA system or painting Valentine hearts all over Uncle T and Skywarp's quarters or something. She wanted to help her uncle and Skywarp, not embarrass them or get herself in trouble with Megatron again.
"I'm sorry, guys," she said, "but I'm doing this by myself this time. Maybe next time, okay?"
Rumble scowled. "Can you at least tell us whatcha got in mind? Maybe we can at least give you some feedback."
She shook her head. "It's a secret."
"Don't leave us in suspense!" Rumble pleaded. "C'mon, just a hint!"
"Hey, chill bro," Frenzy urged, resting a hand on Rumble's arm. "Let up already. This is a rare opportunity – for once we get to be just as surprised by a plot as everyone else. That'd be a nice change of pace, wouldn't it?"
"Ooooooooooh… good thinkin', bro." A grin replaced his pout. "Well, we'll leave ya alone and let you plot in peace, alright? Can't wait to see what you've got cookin'."
"See ya 'round," Frenzy added. "Let us know when it happens so we can arrange a nice big audience for ya!"
Glory gave a sigh of relief and waved as they scurried off. Well, better for them to think she was planning a prank on her own than to suspect what was really going on. At least it ensured they wouldn't interfere with her plan. When this was all over, though, she'd plan an extra-special prank with them to make up for this. They were still her friends, and she didn't want a schism of any kind between them over this.
She returned her attention to the painting, blocking out the lines for the black jet as she pondered what to do. Subtlety wasn't exactly her strong point, and she was going to need it if she was going to get Uncle T where she needed him without him suspecting something. But she was confident she'd find a way.
Thundercracker had just reached his quarters after a long day of flight exercises when Glory skidded around the corner, optics bleached to near-white by terror. His spark froze in its chamber, and all thought of unwinding for the night with a cube of high-grade and a stab at this Diablo game Swindle had suggested fled his CPU. Something had Glory spooked, and he doubted it was just a bigger mech antagonized by sparkling antics – something was seriously wrong.
"Glory, what-" he began.
"I saw an Autobot!" she cried. "Here on the Nemesis! I came to get you as soon as I could!"
An Autobot intruder… The dread in his tanks was only slightly tempered by relief that Glory had come to him instead of running off to hide or, worse, trying to stop the intruder herself. Her brief but sensor-wracking captivity at Autobot hands long ago had taught her some much-needed caution, at least.
"Where did you see them?" he demanded, arm guns thrumming as they powered up. "What did they look like?"
"Over in the supply closet by the washracks!" she replied. "It looked like a big cat – like Ravage, but yellow and with a weird neck!"
"That'd be Steeljaw, one of their cassettes." At least it was a small Autobot, one that wouldn't have done a lot of damage had Glory gotten in his way – but an intruder was still an intruder, and Blaster's cassettes were every bit as obnoxious as Soundwave's in their own way. "Go into our room and lock the door. Don't come out until I come for you, understand?"
She nodded, but she couldn't quite hide the eager smile trying to fight its way past her fear. "Kick his butt, Uncle T!"
He snorted in an effort to suppress his laughter and nudged her toward their room. "Remember, don't open the door for anyone but me or Megatron. A cassette isn't as dangerous as some Autobots, but still dangerous."
He didn't wait to see if she obeyed his order but bolted down the corridor. He briefly considered firing off a message on the Decepticon broadband. He opted against it – a cassette would be uniquely suited to intercepting communication frequencies of any sort, and such a call would only alert Steeljaw that someone was onto him and send him packing. If he was going to get the drop on the cat, he was going to have to use some stealth – not easy for a Seeker, but it could be done. He'd send the intruder alert once he was sure Steeljaw wasn't going to escape.
The supply closet stood open, empty save for the shelves containing various cleansers and repair tools. Frowning, Thundercracker stepped inside, peering up at the ventilation shaft in the ceiling. Was he too late, and Steeljaw had already made his escape? No, this shaft didn't show any signs of being tampered with – a rarity in this base, seeing as Rumble and Frenzy relied on the ventilation system for quick escapes all the time. Was he still hiding? Or had Glory seen something else and mistaken it for the cassette?
Footsteps sounded behind him, and he turned to see Skywarp stepping through the doorway. "Find the little scraplet?"
Thundercracker shook his head. "If he was here, he's long gone by now."
"Fraggit." Skywarp kicked a nearby shelf, making the bottles of cleanser wobble. "Glory insisted she'd seen Eject in here. Would've been nice to actually catch one of them fraggers in the act."
"Wait, Eject?" Thundercracker scowled. "She told me she'd seen Steeljaw."
Skywarp's optics flickered with a hard reboot… but before he could ask what was going on the door to the supply closet shut behind him.
"Hey!" He turned and tried the door, then pounded it with the flat of his hand. "It's locked… what the frag?"
"Is this a joke?" Thundercracker demanded, pushing past Skywarp to shout through the door. "Okay, Glory, you've had your fun, let us out! I know it's you, and you're in BIG trouble! Making up stories about Autobot intruders is not funny!"
Glory's voice drifted through the door – entirely unrepentant and even a little smug. "I didn't know how else to get you guys to come!"
"Open this door!" he shouted. "You're already grounded for the next orbital cycle! Do you want me to ground you until your adult upgrade?!"
"No, you don't want me to ground you or no, you aren't letting us out?"
"I'm not letting you two out!" she retorted. "Not until you talk like grownups! Skywarp knows what about!"
"Slaggit Glory!" He thumped the door with his fist. "You DO know Skywarp can teleport, right? I'm sending him out to unlock the door, and when I get my hands on you…" He couldn't think of an appropriate threat at that moment and settled for punching the door again.
"You guys talk," Glory ordered. "I'll come let you out in an hour." And the click of Wildfire's hooves marked her departure.
Thundercracker growled and kicked the door. "That's it – I'm banning her from interacting with the cassettes. You're right, they're a terrible influence on her, but I never thought they'd push her to go THIS far! Faking an Autobot infiltration is serious!"
"Just glad I didn't pull the intruder alarm before all this went down," he went on, turning to pace and scowling when the size of the room prevented him from doing so. "Otherwise we'd have the entire ship fragged off at her. And I don't want to give Megatron another excuse to try to upgrade her early again – a screw-up of THIS caliber would be just the thing."
"See if you can't teleport out of here and unlock the door. I'm going to have some serious words with her about this-"
"TC!" Skywarp grabbed his arm and turned him around to face him. "Shut up and listen, all right? You think there might be a reason we're in here?"
Thundercracker stared at him. What was he talking about? "Are you in on this too? Did you put her up to this?"
"Frag no," he replied. "But I have a feeling I know what she's up to." A slight smirk quirked his lips. "I knew she wanted me to say something… just didn't think she'd go to these lengths to make me do it."
"Do what?" Suspicion itched at the edges of his processor as he regarded the black Seeker in the dim light provided by their optics and chassis-lights. Something Glory had talked about last week… something he'd dismissed entirely up until now…
Skywarp sighed deeply. "We've been friends a long time, haven't we, TC?"
"Yes…" TC replied warily.
"And your friendship means a slag of a lot to me," he went on, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck struts. "You've pulled my aft out of a lot of tight spots, and you've kept me from beating Starscream to a pulp too many times to count by now. That's why I haven't said anything about this – I thought if I came clean, I'd scare you off. I'd lose the best friend I've ever had. And I didn't wanna lose that."
Thundercracker narrowed his optics. "Came clean about what? Spit it out already."
Skywarp sighed again, shuttering his optics. "Gonna make me come right out and say it, aren't' ya? I love you, TC. Have for a long time now."
He'd expected something along those lines, but it was still a shock to actually hear Skywarp say it.
"Guess I should have said something earlier," Skywarp went on, "but you know how our kind is about expressing emotion." He gave a bitter laugh at that. "If it makes you uncomfortable, though, I'll never talk about it again. I don't wanna lose our friendship over this."
Thundercracker opened his mouth, then shut it, unsure which of the myriad thoughts whirling through his CPU to give voice to. He winced at what finally came out: "You'd talk to Glory about this but not me?"
"You insensitive clod," Skywarp retorted, though he chuckled as he said it. "Here I am baring my spark about this and you're focused on the kid. 'Sokay, I know she's your priority, and you never were one to talk much about feelings."
"No, I'm not," Thundercracker admitted. "But I guess sometimes it can't be avoided. And… and I've always valued our friendship too. I've thought some about it becoming more, but…"
"But?" Skywarp prompted. "Don't leave me hanging here, TC. I've been honest with you, you can be honest with me."
Thundercracker sighed and shuttered his optics. "I've never let myself think about letting it be more. Never really thought just how deep those feelings go. Because people I let myself get close to don't tend to stick around for long."
A sharp intake of air met that confession. "You think I'd bail on you if you admitted your feelings?"
"No… but I seem to lose everyone I'm close to." His wings drooped. "My creators, my sister, friends back on Cybertron… this war has taken so much from me. It very nearly took Glory too, and it'd break my spark to lose one more mech I care about. I guess… I guess some part of me thought that if I didn't let you get too close, you'd be safe. And I wouldn't have to go through that… that loss again."
Skywarp was silent for a few minutes. Then his hand rested on Thundercracker's shoulder. "Aw, TC… you always were the cautious one, weren't you? Sometimes too cautious, I think."
"I know," he muttered. "Windblade always said that too – 'there's such a thing as living too carefully' and 'if you live your life just avoiding getting hurt you're not really living.' She sounded like a cheesy motivational poster when she got like that."
Skywarp chuckled. "I think I would have liked her." He squeezed the blue Seeker's shoulder. "Look, I'll give you space, okay? I don't want you to feel like I forced you into a relationship you're not ready for. Just don't cut me off, okay? I still want to be friends."
Thundercracker hesitated… then raised one hand and rested it on Skywarp's. "You're not forcing me."
Skywarp's optics flickered. "What do you mean?"
"What do you think, you goof? I love you too." Somehow, just saying those words released the tension in his spark. "I just didn't want to admit it to myself, I guess. What's it say about me that it took faking a cassette infestation to get me to admit it?"
"That you're a stubborn slag who keeps a tight lid on his spark?" Skywarp replied. "Don't worry… I know you wouldn't be TC otherwise." He stepped closer, hands on Thundercracker's shoulders. "What do you say? Jump on this ship and see where it takes us?"
Thundercracker closed the gap between them, resting his helm against Skywarp's. "I can't promise I won't be awkward about all this… but I'm willing to join you for the ride."
"That's all I ask." Skywarp smiled, squeezing his shoulders. "Love ya, TC."
"Love you too, Skywarp."
They stood together like that for a long moment, not talking, simply enjoying the closeness. Thundercracker didn't dare think ahead to what the future would bring – though the brief mental image of Starscream having an absolute meltdown over discovering his subordinates were now in a relationship brought him a sense of both dread and perverse glee. For now, despite himself, he was content to revel in the moment.
The moment came to an abrupt end when the door slid open – unlocked not by Glory, but by a completely nonplussed Megatron.
"I know I am going to regret asking this," Megatron stated in a tone of intense long-suffering, "but why the slag were two of my Seekers locked in a supply closet in the middle of the night cycle?"
Thundercracker turned and shot Skywarp a look, one that Skywarp responded to with a far-too-innocent grin. The two of them had agreed on the way here that Thundercracker would do all the talking, and Skywarp would do them both a favor by keeping his mouth shut. He just hoped the black Seeker held to that agreement and didn't land the two of them in deeper trouble.
"I was headed to the washracks when I heard a strange noise," Thundercracker replied. "I suspected it might be one of Blaster's cassettes and radioed Skywarp for backup. We were searching for the intruder when the door was locked shut behind us."
"Likely story," Starscream sneered, folding his arms across his chest. "The two of you were up to something suspicious, and if I were leader of the Decepticons you wouldn't dare hide it from me!"
"Shut up, Starscream," Megatron growled. "It has been a disgustingly long day without your incessant screeching. Don't push me into something you'll regret."
Starscream grumbled but shut up. Privately Thundercracker wondered just why this whole matter had to be reported to all three commanding officers anyhow. It wasn't as if they'd been breaking regulations or anything. Maybe Starscream was having one of his paranoid episodes again and insisted on this meeting, though why Megatron would be entertaining his suspicions was another story.
"Intruder alarm: not set," Soundwave pointed out. "No alert sent to Decepticons."
"An excellent point!" Starscream exclaimed. "If you too truly suspected we were being infiltrated, why didn't you let the rest of our forces know? Unless you wanted the glory of capturing an Autobot for yourselves!"
"If it was a cassette, we didn't want to tip them off that we knew they were here until we caught them," Thundercracker replied. "They would have bolted the moment we pulled the alarm or sent out an alert."
"Right," Starscream replied in a voice that dripped with sarcasm. "And then you got yourselves locked in a closet. A teleporter managed to get himself locked in a closet. I can't wait to hear you explain THAT."
"Hey, it was dark and cramped," Skywarp cut in, completely disregarding his promise to let the blue Seeker do the talking. "You know as well as we do that us fliers don't like dark and cramped. Can you blame a mech for panicking and forgetting he's an outlier?"
Starscream narrowed his optics. "You're awfully cheeky for a mech that's going to find himself taking double patrols for the next month!"
"Enough, Starscream!" Megatron snapped. "I'm in no mood to entertain your games! Get out of my office!"
Starscream glowered at the silver warlord. "You dare deny me the right to punish my own subordinates?!"
"Punish them for what, precisely? There has been no evidence of wrongdoing. Their story, however ludicrous it seems to you, holds up. Now get out of my office before I have you thrown out."
Starscream growled and stalked toward the door. He paused at the doorway to regard the other two Seekers for a long moment, then gave a smirk that chilled Thundercracker to the core and left. He had a sneaking suspicion that his commander knew about the new dynamic in their relationship – he was wickedly sharp like that – and knew he would never hear the end of it.
He would deal with it when the time came, he supposed. For now it was enough that none of the officers suspected that Glory had faked an Autobot invasion to get them to admit their feelings for one another. And to his surprise, he found he didn't really care what Starscream thought about the matter.
"Has there been any sign of an Autobot incursion?" Megatron asked.
"Negative," Soundwave replied. "No signs of an intrusion."
Megatron nodded. "It sounds as if this were another stupid prank. You will do better at keeping Rumble and Frenzy reined in." He turned to Thundercracker now. "And have a word with Glory about this as well."
"I fully intend to, sir." In his CPU, however, he was already downgrading her punishment from "grounded until her adult upgrade" to "stern lecture." She had meant well, and to be honest he couldn't get too angry with her for just wanting what was best for the two most important adults in her life.
"Dismissed," Megatron ordered.
Skywarp waited until the door had slid shut behind them before cracking up laughing. "Primus, we can't just do anything normally on this ship, can we? Even a declaration of love requires a formal report to the officers."
"It's not like that came up in the discussion," Thundercracker pointed out. "And I'm fine with keeping it that way."
"What, it's not like Megatron's banned love or anything. He's a hardnose but he's not THAT bad."
"All the same, we're probably better off NOT advertising this to the entire base. If you thought Astrotrain and Blitzwing gave us a hard time for being caretakers to Glory, think of what they'll do once they find out we're a couple."
"Yikes, I didn't think about that. That'd be messy." He shrugged. "Ah well… one of these days one of them'll get bitten by the love bug and then we can laugh at them."
"I'll believe that when I see it."
Thundercracker intended to sit Glory down for a discussion right away – both about her little plot and about his and Skywarp's new relationship – but when he opened the door to his quarters it was to find Glory sound asleep in her berth, cuddled up to Wildfire. Some animated movie was still playing on the viewscreen, and a newly finished painting had been propped up on his computer desk… a painting depicting two jets, one blue and one black, in flight against a backdrop of stars.
"Aww," Skywarp cooed softly. "That's adorable. Let's not wake her up."
"I guess matchmaking is an exhausting business," Thundercracker noted, reaching out to pick up the painting and examine it closely. "I'll talk to her in the morning."
Skywarp grinned. "Want to watch a movie in my quarters in the meantime?"
Thundercracker smiled in return. "You know… I'd like that."
Megatron remained gazing at the door to his office for a few minutes after Thundercracker and Skywarp had departed, mulling over the strange events of the night. Soundwave waited patiently by his side, silent and enigmatic as ever. If he had any opinion about what they had just seen and heard, he kept it to himself.
For his part, Megatron knew there were sizable holes in Thundercracker's story – holes that he'd done an admirable job of trying to patch, despite the fact that he was a terrible liar. Had it been Starscream trying to pass it off as truth, the meeting wouldn't have ended nearly as peaceably… but aside from one notable exception Thundercracker was not one given to plotting and subterfuge. He would let it slide… for now.
As for having caught those two in an unexpectedly intimate moment – intimate emotionally if nothing else – he was not a commander given to forbidding attachments between his troops. Such a thing only bred rebellion, something he could ill afford at this time. So long as Thundercracker and Skywarp weren't neglecting their duties, they were free to do whatever they pleased with one another. Starscream would pitch a fit, but then, he was probably simply jealous.
"I'm just surprised it took them THIS long to admit their feelings," he murmured, smirking.
"Sir," Soundwave replied with a nod, and despite the monotone of his voice Megatron thought he detected a flicker of amusement in his visor.