“But what did you say ?” Skywarp asked as they walked down the corridor away from the training facility. Starscream’s wings were taut, flicking occasionally as Skywarp pestered him.
“I just asked him to rescind his challenge. I told him Thundercracker was doing his best-”
“Star, you can’t interfere in this kind of thing. You might have made me lose face with him permanently,” Thundercracker scolded.
Starscream’s face fell. “That… was not my intention. I just wanted him to understand-”
“Again, not your place. The official channels we have exist for a reason. What if someone tries to get a favor from me by going through you? And you can’t stop them.”
Something flickered in Starscream’s faceplate, but then his face took on a bland, neutral look. “You’re right,” he said quietly. “I apologize.”
“Do you understand? Or are you just telling me what I want to hear?” pressed the blue seeker. He was still so livid with his trinemate, he felt that nothing could placate him. Skywarp and Thundercracker had been discussing the strategy to take down Ramjet in the challenge fight, and then both noticed that Starscream was gone. Dirge and Thrust equally noticed that Ramjet was missing at the same time and all four had shared a look of fear and dread, as no one was sure what they would find.
Seeing Starscream up against the wall with Ramjet a few paces away had incited a fury in Thundercracker that threatened to overwhelm him. But… he held it in. He always did. He wasn’t the angry one in their trine.
Or… maybe he was now.
The thought stilled him. He exvented and gave Starscream a searching look. “ Please Starscream. This is… so new for all of us. I need you to trust in my abilities. Trust me that I can handle my job .”
The red and white seeker flinched but nodded with his optics cast down.
Skywarp gave TC a look, but the three of them continued back to their quarters in silence. With a sigh, the black seeker gave his goodbyes as he had monitor duty, leaving Starscream and Thundercracker to their common room and to the joy of avoiding optic-contact.
Thundercracker went to his own quarters but didn’t close the door. He pulled out a datapad to start going over names of mechs that he felt he could trust at the Decepticon base to help guard Starscream should he and Skywarp both be busy with duties. The list started out long and he began categorizing them into yes, only if desperate, and categorically no columns. With a sigh he moved the entire conehead trine to the no column.
It was like sparkling-sitting. And the thought pained him.
He leaned around the door to look into the common room looking for his trinemate. Starscream was sitting at the table, slightly hunched over, looking at a datapad laying on the table. His servos were holding up his forehead, his elbows on either side of the datapad.
Actually, it looked like he might not have been looking at the datapad at all but was just staring at nothing right next to the datapad.
Thundercracker felt very guilty then.
Starscream had made it seem so easy to be trineleader, Air Commander, and second-in-command of the army, not to mention constantly trying to overthrow Megatron or aid him with some kind of over-the-top scheme (if he felt so inclined). Thundercracker realized he may have been underestimating his trinemate the whole time.
He might still be underestimating him.
He picked up his datapad and walked back into the room, sitting down next to Starscream. The other seeker startled at his sudden proximity, and quickly shut his datapad off, which wasn’t suspicious at all. Starscream still didn’t meet his optics but also didn’t move to leave either.
“I wondered if you wanted to pick out who could help guard you?” Thundercracker asked.
Starscream met his optics then, and his face was full of surprise. “I would like that.”
The blue seeker nodded and laid out the choices. They talked while going over the list, and they slipped back into uneasy comfortability with each other, but not mentioning their argument earlier. They were mostly in agreement about the yes list except when it came to two mechs.
“Shockwave is fine to put in the yes category.”
Thundercracker narrowed his optics. “Eh, I don’t even know how much longer he’ll be around,” the blue seeker replied, choosing not to go into all of the other reasons why Shockwave was a bad idea.
“…where is he going?” Starscream asked, confused.
“Back to Cybertron. That’s where he was based. He only came back here at Megatron’s request after your accident.”
Starscream looked disappointed. “Oh,” he said simply.
Starscream shrugged. “I find him amusing,” he replied, with a tug of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
Thundercracker had to bite back an indignant noise and many, many follow-up questions, but he chose to pick his battles carefully, especially after their spat earlier. “Okay… I’ll put him on the list for now.”
“Oh, and Ramjet is okay.”
Starscream had to be testing his patience. “… care to explain why? We literally found you two in a corridor and he looked like he was harassing you.”
Starscream sighed. “He… was. He just didn’t realize what he was doing, Thundercracker.”
“Starscream,” the blue seeker said. “You’re being vague, likely because you know I won’t like what actually happened. But…” Thundercracker said, sighing deeply, “I’m going to trust you. If you think you understand Ramjet, I will trust your judgement. It’s your call.”
Starscream’s face lit up, and Thundercracker was reminded of their younger years before everything had begun to fall apart. “He’s… grieving, Thundercracker. I think he’s realized that the mech I was is really dead. While you and Skywarp seem… mostly happy with my change, there are others that are not as enthusiastic. I just need time to win them over.”
Thundercracker was stunned to silence for a moment. Ramjet was… grieving ? Starscream was purposefully trying to win people over?
Starscream was already laying schemes.
Was this a good thing? It seemed benign enough. He wanted to win mechs over in order to get along with them more. That would make his life and the lives of everyone around him easier. Maybe “scheme” was too pejorative, maybe he was just… politicking. But even if it was a bad thing, Thundercracker was realizing that there was very little he could do to stop Starscream bar locking him up and never letting anyone interact with him.
That thought made him feel worse.
“Okay, Ramjet and the coneheads will be asked, along with everyone else. I’m sending a message to all of them, seeing if anyone is available to take tomorrow morning as Skywarp and I will be on a reconnaissance mission.” He sent the message and then looked back to Starscream’s datapad.
“What were you looking at?” he said smiling. He didn’t want Starscream to get any better at subterfuge. At least, not yet.
The colorful seeker bit the inside of his cheek. “Given our conversation earlier, I never intended to show you. It was just a way to pass the time,” he said, reluctantly handing the datapad over to Thundercracker.
TC opened it and found it full of detailed notes about his training exercises with the air armada. The notes were unflinching in their criticisms, paying close attention to where he had been inconsistent, inefficient, or just plain illogical. But they also doled out his praises in how he was managing certain mechs, playing to the strengths and weakness of the armada, and his ability to be flexible and eschew confidence to his subordinates.
He looked up and saw Starscream watching him worriedly.
“Star… these are really good ,” he said finally. Yes, some of the words stung, but he was no stranger to Starscream’s bluntness. Interesting that that was still around. “How did you know I was doing things incorrectly?”
“I wrote down everything you said or did until I figured out the pattern," Star said.
TC sighed. "Maybe… We should get you some basic strategy training programs. You still seem to have a knack for it."
Starscream flushed with pleasure. "Really? I mean… thank you. Yes, I would love that."
"Though it is interesting. Your suggestions here all revolve around avoiding violence. Did you mean to do that?"
Starscream paused. "I mean, isn't that the best strategy? Less violence, less repairs, and then less resources and time are wasted. It is the most efficient way to win the war."
Thundercracker stilled. "You think you can end the war?"
Starscream looked embarrassed. "I… just think about it. A lot. I know I don't understand everything and I'm not trying to minimize it. But yes, it'd be great if the war ended peacefully, don't you think?"
His trinemate was so sincere, it almost pained Thundercracker. The blue seeker had also once entertained similar thoughts.
That was before they killed Starscream.
"It would be nice. Unlikely. But nice."
Right as he finished speaking, he got a ping from Megatron requesting his presence for a meeting. Thundercracker knew that Skywarp would not be available for another few hours so he quickly checked his messages for anyone that could help guard Starscream.
He almost groaned when only one mech had replied.
"One of us will come get you as soon as we are done," he said, putting his servo on his shoulder.
Starscream gave him an indulgent smile. "I'll be fine," he said almost laughing. His trinemate nodded once to him and once to Shockwave and then turned and left quickly.
Shockwave had watched the seekers with thinly veiled curiosity. They were so affectionate with each other now compared to before. He wondered what had changed.
“Something wrong?” Starscream said with amusement.
“Not at all,” he said. “But I am curious why I was chosen to be your guard. Logic would dictate that you both choose someone else since I failed to protect you during the last attack.”
Starscream smiled warmly, which was an odd reaction. The seeker strode further into the lab and sat himself down across the lab table from Shockwave. “I’m not sure anyone could have done better than you in the situation, especially without injuring me,” he replied. “Besides, you were the first to respond,” he said with an arc of the optic-ridge and his smile widening.
Shockwave considered this and determined that Starscream was indeed correct. Why had he responded so quickly? Was it in a way to further apologize to the seeker?
Hmm. He might need to evaluate that for later. Shockwave had generally figured out how to behave somewhat normally with other Cybertronians who allowed emotions to rule their processors, and so sometimes he did things that didn’t have an immediate reasoning as a result.
The optic-ridge arc though indicated that Starscream was thinking something. Possibly dangerous.
“How are you getting along with your trine?” he asked. Changing the subject was usually a good way to indicate the current line of conversation was less than ideal.
Starscream’s smile faded a little. “Things are likely better than they have ever been. But I’m still trying to figure out how I fit in here.”
“You likely won’t fit in here,” Shockwave said.
Ah. That was the wrong thing to say. Starscream’s smile had slipped away completely and he was looking down at the table. It might have been true, but it was possibly emotionally damaging. Shockwave sometimes had trouble determining which was a higher priority.
Talking to others was often taxing. But… he wanted to talk to Starscream.
“I apologize-” he started.
“No, please don’t,” Starscream said quietly. “I… am coming to the same conclusion myself.” The seeker looked up at Shockwave. “It appears that a lot of what it means to be a Decepticon has to do with how well you can fight.”
“It is the culture, yes. The highest ranked Decepticons are the ones who demonstrated prowess in battle. But there are other ways to contribute, should you want to be a Decepticon at all.”
Starscream pulled back a little at that, his wings tensing. “What do you mean? Of course I want to be a Decepticon.” Shockwave detected a small tremor to his voice.
Shockwave folded his arms. “I’m not doubting your commitment, Starscream,” he said quietly.
“Besides, what choice do I have? If I’m not a Decepticon, where would I go? ”
Shockwave detected the tremor in his voice again. He sounded afraid. “You could become an Autobot. Logically, you would fit in there more.”
Starscream’s wings hiked up and his face was turned into a grimace. “I can’t do that.”
Oh. He had said the wrong thing. Again.
He was usually better at this. Or maybe he usually didn’t care?
“I believe you,” Shockwave replied quickly. “I have upset you.”
Starscream exvented. “Shockwave,” he started, the tension bleeding out of his frame slowly. “You have been the only one to really tell me the truth and not treat me like I’m… broken. Even if it upsets me, it is information I need to hear.” Despite his words, Starscream looked so unhappy, and Shockwave struggled to think of the words that might make the seeker more amiable, like he had been when he first walked in.
“Would you like to help me organize your lab?”
Starscream was confused. “My lab?”
“Yes, this is your old lab. I can’t seem to find any sound logic to your organization, but it would help to have another… well a complete set of servos,” he said lifting up his gun on his left arm.
“Sure, I will help.”
They fell into a companionable rhythm, where they unloaded all of the cabinets and drawers of their contents. They found a few vials of things that were mysteriously labelled, like “In case of Rust Plague,” “Secret Stash of Megatron’s Medicine,” and “For Shockwave.” Starscream tried to give him said vial, and Shockwave took it with thanks before quietly throwing it into the incinerator.
Starscream was a hard worker, and asked many questions. Shockwave was only too happy to answer, pleased to have an eager student.
They were laughing when Skywarp appeared to collect Starscream after a fashion. The black seeker looked disturbed, but thanked Shockwave for his help. Starscream smiled and waved goodbye.
Shockwave might have been sorry to see him go.