Thank you a million trillion thousand times to all who reviewed! This chapter was inspired by Ashana. I don't even know how to play go-fish…
"But when it comes down to it, who is holding the umbrella?"
Optimus Prime strode beside Red Alert down the metallic silver hallway as they went to check up on Skyscan. The medic was busy filling him in on the information he had gathered from a routine scan.
"His injuries were minor, but he used up his entire energy reserves setting off that quake.", Red Alert stated, looking over the notes he had created, detailing the Minicon's condition.
"That's fascinating, isn't it?" murmured Optimus.
Red Alert made a less-than-friendly "hmm" noise, aware that the Minicon's 'fascinating' talent had very nearly been the cause of his demise not once, but twice thus far.
"He seems to set them off accidentally. I ran a check up on him, and it looks like the motion-distorters are directly linked to his motherboard. Whenever he experiences an overload of fear or panic, his body reacts by setting off a quake. When he started off the first one, I don't think he was in any control of it."
Prime's optics widened.
"Dangerous," he commented, glancing at Red Alert.
"Hmm. Very much so. However, after he sets one off, it takes a while before his body regains enough energy to create another."
"And he can create them on purpose…?"
"Yes. I believe that, if you give me some time, I could probably find a way of preventing him from starting earthquakes unintentionally. That would reduce the risk. Unless, of course, he wanted to bring the entire base to the ground," muttered Red Alert, who, as victim of the little Minicon's destructive tendencies, thought this was entirely possible.
As they continued to walk in silence, Optimus looked sideways at his third-in-command. Sparkplug was not perched in his usual spot upon the leader's shoulder, but was off giving a charred Jolt a lecture on the evils of playing with dynamite. Had he been there, though, he would have exchanged a glance with Optimus. Ever since returning and finishing off the repairs, the medic had been even more quiet than usual.
"Do you want to tell me why Cyclonus did that today?" he asked after a while.
It took a great deal of Red Alert's self-control not to shout the word NO. Instead, he nodded, and proceeded to give his commander an abbreviated version of the day's events, from the time he had fallen down the hole to the time of his second rescue of the day. When he was done, Optimus Prime looked thoughtful.
"Strange…" he said.
"I don't understand it," admitted Red Alert. "He'd already fulfilled his end of the bargain. Why did he come back and save me?"
The medic had just finished working his way through the various injuries the Autobots had collected over the course of the day. Although he was almost certainly in need of some recharge time by now, Red Alert found that he couldn't settle down. Possibly this was because the events of the day were still racing through his head. (Screaming at the men-good grief, what had he been thinking?)
(Although, admittedly, his outburst did seem to have put them on their best behaviour for the next few weeks. Blurr had even come up and apologized to the medic. This was not a thing that happened often.)
Or possibly it was because he was still getting over the shock of having his life saved by Cyclonus, of all people. Or possibly it was just that he was terrified of the thought of Rave finding him to ask for something else to do. Apart from a tendency to savagely attack anyone he considered an enemy, the Minicon practically demanded that he 'help out' around the base. Indeed, he only seemed satisfied when certain that he was aiding the Autobot cause in some way.
Although this sounded quite admirable, Red Alert had quickly learnt that Rave trying to 'help' was almost as dangerous as Rave coming in at full speed, wearing a Viking helmet and swinging a mace. Mainly because whenever something did not work, his primary method of repair was to kick it until it did. So far, the medic had counted three minor disasters, all involving incorrect wiring, an ill-timed whack, strange crackling noises and the words "Oh, Primus, sorry 'bout that! It was an accident, laddie!". This had continued for a few hours before Blurr had pried the spanner from his hands and solemnly promised that, if the Minicon did not go and sit quietly somewhere, there was a very good chance he would kill him.
"Maybe," Optimus said slowly, in response to Red Alert's previous statement, "he was trying to prove a point."
Red Alert looked at his commander in bemusement. Optimus continued.
"In my experience, when you tell a man he's something that he isn't, he will go to any lengths to prove you wrong. Perhaps, if he felt you were treating him like a madman…"
Had Red Alert been human, he would have arched a sceptical eyebrow.
"Are you suggesting he's not?"
"No," said Optimus, shaking his head. "I'm just suggesting that, if Cyclonus actually saved the person who saved his life a few hours before, maybe he's not as psychotic as we may think. Megatron wouldn't have saved you again, for example."
"Speaking of Megatron…" said Red Alert, lowering his voice.
"Yes. I noticed. I've no idea why he threw the shot, and I suspect Starscream doesn't either. As far as I'm aware, you're the only other person who picked it up."
Optimus frowned in confusion. In all the day's havoc, Megatron's hesitation to shoot a traitor was the part he understood the least. This time it was Red Alert who looked thoughtful before speaking.
"Perhaps there's more there than meets the eye," he mused.
Optimus fell silent.
"…We don't have eyes," he replied, after a second.
"Human figure of speech."
As they arrived at the med bay, Optimus stopped beside the central monitor, a vast machine with about twenty screens upon it, all showing different parts of the base. On it, an image of Hoist talking calmly with the new Minicon was clearly visible. As far as Optimus could make out, neither of them had drawn a weapon yet. Ah, well. The sounds of gunfire and screaming would let him know if anything went wrong. Optimus looked at the screen for a while.
"Optimus?" said Red Alert, who stood quietly.
The medic opened his mouth and shut it again, trying to decide how to put his question into words. He opened it again, and said, "Do you think people ever change, Optimus? I mean, can they ever, really change?"
The Autobot leader's yellow optics glinted with what might have been amusement.
"Oh, I think so…" he said, and gestured to one of the monitoring screens. Red Alert looked at it, and laughed when he saw the image of Jetfire and Starscream, who stood talking together on the roof of the base.
With a hidden grin, Prime returned his gaze to the one recording what was happening inside the med bay. He cocked his head in puzzlement.
"Hmm. They're doing something but I can't figure out what it is…"
Interested, Red Alert entered the room with his commander, as the doors opened with a hiss. He glanced briefly down at his notes one last time, before he raised his head to greet new, emotionally-fragile Minicon.
And stopped dead.
"Um…gentlemen?" attempted Optimus, after a few moments of stunned silence.
"Shh!" hissed back both Minicon and Autobot.
"Busy. Go away," grunted Skyscan.
"Yeah, give us a sec, guys. I think I've got him on the run…"
Hoist and Skyscan sat cross-legged upon the recharge platform, staring intently at the cards in their hands. Large cards, more than big enough to be utilized by a mech Hoist's size. In fact, they were the same cards, Red Alert remembered, which Hoist had made to play a game which the kids had taught him.
"Got any twos?" asked Skyscan, his frown deepening.
"Go fish," said Hoist.
Red Alert stared in perfect silence, before raising a hand to his face. In a muffled voice, he said, "He's free to go. I did the tests, his body's in perfect condition. Optimus, I'm going to go get some recharge."
Thus saying, the medic turned around and walked from the room, shaking his head in amazement.
Ah, well, he thought philosophically. We've survived Starscream. How bad can another homicidal new guy or two be?
At that moment there came a shout, and a red race car shot across his path. It was shortly followed by a sword-wielding red blur he identified as Starscream and a white-painted blur by the name of Jetfire, who was hurling a colourful variety of threats at the Minicon.
By astonishingly bad coincidence, Rave also chose that minute to charge around the corner, being pursued by an irate Blurr, who was busy shouting loudly and wielding a wrench high above his head.
Unfortunately, the two parties did not notice each other until it was just a second too late.
Crash, clang, clatter, bang, wallop, curse, yelp, etc.
With a sigh, Red Alert ran an optic over the situation, summing up the injuries he would shortly be called upon to deal with. Still, at least this made the prospect of owing his life to Cyclonus slightly less horrifying. Why should he, of all people, fear the whims of a lunatic?
Either I am deeply mistaken, thought Red Alert, or I am completely surrounded by lunatics.
With a long-suffering sigh, and the groans of the fallen mingling around him, the medic set to work. As he did so, he felt a strange and inexplicable urge to giggle.
The red seeker stood motionless against a backdrop of stars. He had been training for the last hour, enjoying the freedom from thought that speed and movement brought. It was probably a stupid thing to do after getting out of the med bay just two hours ago, but he was coming to realize that the majority of his life seemed made up of doing stupid things. What harm could one more do?
It hadn't been long before he was overcome by boredom, so now he stood, at a section of the base which opened to the outside, allowing him to see for miles around if he wanted. He did not want to see for miles around, however. For the moment, all he wanted to do was look at the stars.
He heard a noise behind him and turned. A repaired Hot Shot stood a little way from him, looking uncomfortable.
"Thought I'd find you here…" he muttered, glancing at the floor. Starscream inclined his head in a princely manner, waiting to see what the yellow bot wanted. Whatever it was, he seemed to be having a great deal of trouble spitting it out.
"Uh…the Air Defence Force is down in the base somewhere. Y'know, I mean…they would still prefer you to wield them."
This was something of a sore spot for Hot Shot, who desperately wanted to be the one in charge of the glowing sword. Starscream continued to wait.
"Was there something you wanted or did you just come here to pick a fight?" he enquired at last, earning a glare from the other.
"No," he said, obviously with some effort not to snap at the seeker. The youngest Autobot brought his temper under control, and steeled himself.
"Actually I…I…uh, I…aw, geez. I-I just came to say…to say… Thank you, alright?!" he finished, practically shouting the words.
Oh. How simply delicious. Starscream stared at the younger bot, impressed. He looked for all the world as though he had just swallowed sour energon and washed it down with poison. Hot Shot grimaced, and sighed.
"Look, just…just thanks, okay? For saving my skidplate today, thanks."
"Jetfire noticed first. If he hadn't been there I probably wouldn't have done anything…" stated the seeker suddenly, as a way of offering the obviously tortured mech a way out. Hot Shot snorted derisively, and said, "Yeah, that's what I thought. I went and said thanks to him and he just told me that he wasn't the one with the sword."
Privately, Starscream smiled.
"So…thanks…and I'm sorry," murmured Hot Shot, staring at the ground as though the words were quite literally killing him. Starscream stared. Primus, how many miracles could happen in one day?
"For what I said to you…about being a traitor…I'm sorry. Okay?" Hot Shot managed to choke out, and looked up at him with pleading optics.
Briefly, Starscream considered prolonging the torture, but decided against it. Thanks from Hot Shot was not something, he suspected, that was going to roll around frequently.
"You're welcome," he said simply, and turned back to the stars, as a way of indicating that the younger bot could go now.
Hot Shot stared blankly at him, indignant at being so dismissed. He shook his head, before scampering away in relief, giving an audible sigh.
"Well, that was nice," came a voice from the passage a minute after he'd gone.
"You were watching all of that, weren't you?"
"Oh, yeah," chuckled Jetfire, coming out of the shadows and moving to stand beside the seeker. His wings had been reconstructed, admittedly with quite a large amount of pain, but now they rose from his back proud and snow-white as before. The face-guard lay disregarded in his quarters, where it was being placed more and more frequently, especially now that the others had seen his face in full view.
The two stood in silence for a while. Jetfire was amazed at how quickly the jet had healed. Red Alert said it had been a simple matter of repairing fuel lines and patching up the wound, but Jetfire could still not believe that the mech standing beside him now was the same bleeding creature of six hours ago. Still, he had heard that Decepticon healing systems were more effective than those belonging to Autobots.
The night sky was clear and the kids had returned home ages ago. Most of the Autobots would soon be turning in for a recharge cycle. The air was cold but calm, and there was a bite in it that foretold the coming of Winter.
"What happened today?", asked Jetfire softly.
Starscream turned his head away at the question.
"Nothing," he murmured.
Jetfire sighed, more in concern than exasperation.
"Starscream, I saw him move that gun. I saw the way you looked at him."
The seeker made a small, growling nose that contained no actual threat. It was more a plea for the white shuttle to stop asking him questions that he did not wish to answer.
"Why?" pressed Jetfire; his voice was rising. "Why did he do it? Why did he look at you like that? I don't understand, Starscream! Why?!"
"Stop it," hissed the ex-Decepticon through clenched teeth, turning further away. Jetfire persisted, aware that, if he did not get a response now, he would not have another chance.
"Slaggit, Starscream, you almost died there today," he growled.. When this yielded no reaction from the other, he continued, his words coming in a cascade of mingled pleas and demands.
"Both of us almost died! Please, answer me! Why did he move the gun? I can see him hurting you, please tell me why! Tell me what to do! What happened?"
"I don't know!"
The seeker screeched the words and spun round to face him, his optics glowing near-red, like fire behind a veil of amber. His teeth bared, exposing miniature fangs eerily similar to Megatron's own.
"Why the krell should I know what that lunatic thinks? How am I supposed to know why he does things? If I can't figure out what goes on in his deranged mind after three million years of trying, why the slag should I know now?!"
He was shaking from head to foot by the time he finished and his hands were balled into tight fists. In that moment, the jet bore a striking resemblance to an incensed wildcat. At the look on Jetfire's face, some of his ballistic rage seeped away, replaced by what looked like tiredness.
"I am sick of trying to understand Megatron. I am sick of caring about his motives or his stupid plans. I am sick to death of thinking about Megatron," he said, his rasping voice dropping to a whisper.
He raised his hands to either side of his head in frustrated agony, and his optics shut tight as he let them fall away, a completely lost expression flickering upon his face. Jefire raised a hand to his wing, only to have the red and white seeker jerk roughly away with a snarl. He moved dartingly away from the white shuttle, going to stand close by the door that lead down into the main base.
Jetfire stood still for a moment, gazing upon him.
As he moved forward, Starscream wrapped his arms around himself as though he could feel the cold of the night air around him. He still trembled, and energon tears of fury and emotion danced just beneath his optics. When Jetfire placed one of his arms on the seeker's wings, he made no move to jerk away a second time, but buried his face in his hands to avoid the shuttle seeing his tears. Moving slowly so as not to invoke his volatile partner's defences, Jetfire came to stand at the seeker's side, turning so that he could see his face.
"Hey…" he said softly, tilting his chin up gently with one hand.
Starscream removed his hands and glared icily at him, a bitter, unfeeling look on his death-pale faceplate. At the sight of his companion's mask-less face, he shut off his optics once more and lowered his head, making a hurt-animal sound as he trembled again and tried furiously to suppress it all.
"He's always there, whatever I do, he's always there," whispered the seeker.
Jetfire shushed him, wrapping his other arm around him and pulling the seeker into an embrace at the same time that Starscream drew towards him. The red and white jet wrapped his arms fiercely around Jetfire's neck, pulling him close as though unable to let go. A soft, choking noise akin to a sob escaped his throat and he trembled violently. The Autobot Second in Command responded by hugging him just as tightly, his companion's grief bringing fuel to leak in a thin line down one side of his charcoal-black face.
They remained holding each other for a long time, until finally Starscream stopped shaking. Drawing back, Jetfire inspected him, as the seeker quickly removed all remaining evidence of the energon stains from his face.
Giving a deep sigh born both of worry and relief, Jetfire leant his head against the others. The two were of near equal height, and Jetfire's two inch superiority in stature was barely noticeable. Calmer now, and grateful for the simple comfort and closeness of another being, Starscream stroked one hand along the Autobot Air Commander's wings.
And, as if either required proof that the universe has a sense of humour, there came a blinding flash of light. A horrible, unearthly, terrifying flash of light. There also came a snicker.
As one, the two flyers turned their heads to the door, where five feet of grinning, malevolent red robot stood, clutching an orange camera in his hands and cackling like a maniac.
"Swindle…" growled Starscream. Jetfire was pleased to see the customary look of barely-controlled rage take its place. It suggested that, for the moment, at least, things had returned to normal.
The race car giggled and said, "Aww, sorry boss, didn't mean to intrude. I mean, if you're in need of some comfort-therapy, I could offer a hug if you want. Or maybe I should just leave you two alooo-ooone?"
His chuckling was cut short by the low, yet unmistakable sound of Jetfire's hand-gun charging up.
"That would be good," he growled.
The Minicon froze, before saying "eep", very quietly. There was a moment of pure silence before he turned and disappeared in a flash of red and a trail of smoke, running for his life.
"Remind me to step on that pesky nuisance later, would you?" said Starscream, aiming a toxic glower at where Swindle had stood two seconds earlier. Jetfire nodded, and lowered his gun.
"You okay?" he questioned, looking back to the seeker.
Starscream smirked at him, radiating tangible pride once more.
"Of course," he said loftily. As Jetfire shook his head in disbelief, the seeker gave him a slow smile which astonished him even more. Smiles from Starscream that were not composed of eighty percent pure evil were a rarity.
"Now," said Starscream calmly as they broke away, "shall we go hunt down the camera-wielding pestilence who dares name himself my partner?"
"Sounds good!" said Jetfire with enthusiasm. "Can I get the first shot?"
As the two flyers returned to the main base, the moon continued to shine overhead, bright and cold and brilliant as a dropped coin.