A/N: I know it's been way too long since I updated this, but here it is. It's dark and not what everyone is expecting, but it will get better. More notes at the end.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. Stealthshadow and Nebula are my creations. Wraith and Wraith technology also belong to me as well as the story of the Seekers in Cybertronian history. Transformers belong to other (Has/Tak) and they don't share.
A huge Thank You to all my reviewers! I'm sorry I haven't had the time to answer everyone, but I just want you to know that I appreciate each and every one of you who reads, and hopefully enjoys, my story!
As always, constructive criticism is welcomed. Reviews given much love. Stealing is not.
Chapter 14 – Grounded
"What did I tell you about flying by yourself?" A furious Nebula loomed dangerously over the three younglings; they had been caught disobeying the strict rules on flying she had set up for them.
Thundercracker looked abashedly at the floor as he felt her heated gaze on him. "You said we weren't to fly without you or Stealthshadow watching us."
"And how many times do I need to say it before you listen to me? It's reckless and dangerous for you to fly off the practice fields by yourselves. What happens if you lose control and crash? Or worse what if you crash into someone else?"
Skywarp glanced up at the irate femme, "But how are we going to get better if we don't practice off the field?"
Nebula's withering glare made Skywarp squeak and quickly backpedal into Starscream's wings. "You're getting plenty of practice on the field right now. You already have more experience from training than sixth-cycle students. But if you three continue to disobey me, I will stop all practices and you will have to wait until the Academy. Do I make myself clear?"
Three heads bobbed in unison. She had made threats about cutting back practices before when she caught them flying above the neighborhood and attacking each other with their grease guns, but stopping practices altogether was a new and more serious threat.
The sleek blue femme jabbed her finger at the door, "Stealthshadow is waiting for you at the recreation center. I have already told him why you are late and he is not pleased, so you better march your afts over there right now."
The younglings bolted for the door, pushing and shoving each other to get away from Nebula's angry glare; they would rather face the Unmaker himself than another lecture from the femme. Even Stealthshadow's punishments of running the obstacle course until they passed out and overloaded homework assignments paled in comparison to the ferocity behind her icy glare and the new threat. The trio did not stop running until they were clear of the neighborhood.
Skywarp turned to look for any sign of Nebula, grinning when he saw no trace of the dark blue femme. "She went back inside."
Starscream trudged heavily alongside the reticent Thundercracker, "Do you think she'll really stop practices?"
"I don't want to find out if she will." Thundercracker glanced over at his best friend, "The thought of having to wait-" He was interrupted mid sentence by the sound of thrusters coming online behind him.
Both younglings swung around immediately and stared at the mischievously smirking Skywarp who hovered a few feet above the street behind them. "Come on. I'll race you there- ACK!"
Blue and black hands lunged forwards and yanked on his wings, pulling Skywarp out of the air and onto the sidewalk. "Are you INSANE? She just told us that if we get caught flying again she'd stop practices!"
Skywarp stood up and shook his head grinning. "See? Once again you two sparklings are missing the main idea here. She said 'if we get caught'. All we have to do is avoid getting caught."
Thundercracker rounded on Skywarp, "We've been caught seven times!"
The black and purple youngling threw his arms around the shoulders of the other two and herded them down the street. "But we weren't caught the other twenty-nine times!"
Starscream let a sigh cycle from his intakes. "You are the biggest idiot in the world, 'Warp."
"But you still love me."
"That's debatable with as much trouble as you get us in." Thundercracker shook his head, "They don't start flight training at the Academy until fourth decamester, right 'Screamer?"
"Yeah." The red and silver youngling glanced at Thundercracker, "I don't think I can wait that long before I can fly again."
"Don't worry about it." Skywarp patted both of them on the back, "She won't carry through with the threat. She loves us and is so proud of how well we're doing she won't ground us."
Starscream turned to glare at Skywarp. "Did it ever occur to you that the reason why she'll ground us is because she loves us and worries that we'll end up hurt, 'Warp?"
The black and purple youngling put his hands on his hips in mock irritation, "Has it ever occurred to you that we haven't even scratched a wing tip while flying, 'Screamer?"
"Just because we haven't had an accident yet, doesn't mean we won't in the future." Thundercracker scrubbed a hand over his face. "How about we not test her threat so we can keep flying? Think we can at least accomplish that?"
"You two are such glitch-mice," Skywarp shook his head with a sigh. "Anyways, since we're late to training, why don't we take the shortcut?"
Two sets of hostile violet optics glared at him, "No."
"Aw, come on! It's just a boost up there." He pointed to the rooftops.
"You two are no fun anymore." A martyred sigh escaped from his lips, "Oh, well! See you at the center!"
"SKYWARP!" Thundercracker and Starscream cried in unison as the black and purple youngling leapt into the air and activated his anti-gravs.
The youngling zigzagged his way to the top of the building they stood in front of and he hovered just above the roof before gracefully touching down and waving at them. "I'll race you there!"
"GET DOWN HERE BEFORE SOMEONE SEES YOU!"
Skywarp put a hand to his audio receptor with a leering grin spreading over his faceplate, "Hmm? What was that? I can't hear you! You'll have to come up here if you want to talk!"
"He's going to get us into so much trouble." Thundercracker moaned and put his face in his hands. "We'll have to take the stupid basic courses at the Academy with all the new sparklings and never get any real practice again."
"Maybe they'll just ground 'Warp. We're not the ones disobeying this time." Starscream offered optimistically.
Thundercracker shot a dark glare at his friend, "They'll say we didn't try to stop him and we'll STILL get busted!"
They watched Skywarp dance dangerously along the edges of the building, skipping to the next rooftop with a short burst of power from his thrusters. The black and purple youngling waved at the others then proceeded to turn a handful of cartwheels on the ledge of the building. His antics had Thundercracker running parallel along the street just to keep up with him. "He's going to fall if he's not careful!"
Skywarp leapt into the air, somersaulting nimbly to the next ledge and landing on one foot. Starscream watched the black and purple youngling insane antics; he made them look so easy and so… inviting. It wasn't that far to the recreation center, and it would be faster if they traveled above the crowds. And it wasn't like they were actually flying… Starscream ran a few steps before igniting his thrusters and soaring effortlessly up to the rooftop. "Hey 'Warp! Wait up!"
"STARSCREAM!" Thundercracker gaped at him from the sidewalk. Now both of his friends were dooming him to losing his flying privileges. He hung his head and sighed deeply. Even if he was the only one obeying Nebula's strict orders, he would still get in as much trouble as they would. With a weighty conscience, he activated his anti-gravs and lifted off the pavement. Might as well enjoy his last flight before he was grounded forever.
Skywarp had stopped for the others to catch up to him and he grinned manically at being able to convince his friends to have some fun. He did a series of handsprings across the rooftop as soon as Starscream had reached him. The red and silver youngling giggled nervously with heady amusement at disobeying the rules; he could not help but feel so free and alive in all the wanton excitement.
Thundercracker trotted up to them scowling, "I'm going to kill you if you get us in trouble, 'Warp."
"Trust me! We're not going to get in trouble."
Thundercracker crossed his arms over his chest plate, "Every time you say 'trust me' we end up in big trouble."
Starscream glanced between the others. "We'll get in more trouble if we don't get to the recreation center soon."
"Good point." Skywarp turned and ran towards the far edge of the building. He activated his thrusters at the last possible moment and pushed off the edge, catching a small updraft and soaring with ease to the next rooftop. Starscream bolted after him and did the same. He dropped down past Skywarp and both turned to look at the cringing Thundercracker.
The dark blue youngling's shoulders slumped as he sighed, and he swore for the millionth time that he would never listen to Skywarp's bad ideas ever again. Resigning himself to his guilty fate, he ran for the building's ledge. A few steps before the edge he jumped into the air but did not active his thrusters. Twisting his lithe body into the invisible updraft, his wings effortlessly caught the air current; the gentle eddies swept across the ultra sensitive derma-membrane that covered his precious wings, holding him aloft as if gossamer threads held him up. His fingers barely touched the building's ledge before he was moving again, this time into a graceful handspring over the others. He landed silently behind them in a crouch, his hands touching the roof and splayed outwards in front of him.
Starscream stared at him in awe as Skywarp grumbled. "Show-off."
Inwardly pleased that he made Skywarp mad, Thundercracker strutted towards the next ledge, "Are you two glitch-mice coming or not?"
Not to be shown up by his friend, Skywarp dashed past both younglings for the ledge. He started a string of handsprings before he reached the edge of the rooftop and somersaulted over the span between the buildings. He spotted his landing, but just as his hands were about to touch the rooftop something caught his leg and held him upside-down at an uncomfortable angle. The look of pure horror on Starscream and Thundercracker's faces could mean only one thing. He twisted around enough to catch sight of a black and silver leg. "Aw slag."
"Aw slag is right." Stealthshadow dropped Skywarp on his head and glared at the two younglings on the other building. "Any specific excuses you want to use to explain why you three are up here?"
The black and purple youngling sat up rubbing his head. "We were taking a shortcut to the center."
"A shortcut that put you two breems later than you should be?" The black and silver flier pointed to the ground in front of him. "Front and center. Now."
Thundercracker and Starscream didn't need to be told twice. The two shot across the rooftop and stood stock still in front of the large flier as Skywarp tottered to his feet.
Stealthshadow shook his head in disappointment. "You three just can't follow simple directions, can you? Nebula just told you no flying. Just frakking told you! And you didn't listen. You just had to push the boundaries. Well, now you're going to pay for disobeying us."
Thundercracker shot Skywarp a heated glare. He knew he should not have let Skywarp manipulate him into disobeying, but it was so hard not to, especially when Starscream followed Skywarp's insane need to have fun. Now they would never get to practice again until they were at the Academy, and they would have to start at the very beginning with all the other sparklings.
Starscream edged away from the others. He could feel the anger spilling off of Thundercracker and he did not want to be caught in the middle of whatever might happen.
"You better be at the center before I am, 'Warp." Stealthshadow touched both Starscream's and Thundercracker's shoulders and disappeared in a flash of purple light.
"Frag!" Skywarp disappeared just as quickly and reappeared in the practice room. He would never be able to beat his creator in teleporting speed, but maybe, hopefully, it was an idle threat just to get him to move fast.
The black and silver flier stood there glaring at his creation as the other two got their bearings from the rapid teleport. "Come here, Skywarp."
Oh, slag. He was in more trouble than he thought if his creator was calling him by his full name. He shuffled forward nervously, now very afraid of what their punishment would be. Stealthshadow grabbed him roughly by his shoulder and swung him so he was facing away from the larger black flier. Sharp, intruding fingers yanked open the small access panel at the base of his neck where his wings met his body and wrenched the microprocessor that controlled both flight and transformation sequencing free from its designated protoform slot. He yelped loudly and tried to shake free of Stealthshadow's grasp, but it only earned him an optic-watering slap to the head. "I thought you were just going to stop practices!"
"That was before I found you idiots running along the rooftops." The larger flier spun Starscream around and repeated the process on him, minus the slap.
Thundercracker's optics widened in absolute horror as Stealthshadow loomed over him, the microprocessors hanging in his hand by thin, sparking wires. This was it, the end of his dreams of being a flier. He would not feel the caress of the wind on his body again until he had successfully passed into his fourth decamester, and even then, he would be in the starting course with the inexperienced fliers. He whimpered and turned around in defeat; though he knew he could not handle their punishment in a dignified manner, he might as well make this as painless as possible.
Stealthshadow adroitly removed his microprocessor and stashed all three into his subspace pocket, "Sorry, TC, but Nebula warned you. You three just couldn't obey the rules we laid down. We gave you the privilege of flying and you abused it." He pointed at the mats, "Start your warm ups, femmes."
The sullen trio moved over to the training mat and began their morning stretches and warm up exercises. Poisonous glares were sent in Skywarp's direction, who only pouted and rubbed when he had been smacked.
"Good going, aft-head." Thundercracker snarled at Skywarp. "'Trust me. We're not going to get in trouble.'"
Skywarp stuck his tongue out at him, "We wouldn't have gotten in trouble if you hadn't acted like a show-off!"
"Shut up, both of you." Starscream hissed at them with a worried glance to Stealthshadow. "I don't want to get in any more trouble!"
"Trust me. You can't get in any more trouble than you're already in." All three younglings jumped at the sound of his voice. "Back to work." The black and silver flier watched them with a frown as they performed the workout in precision. He scowled in disappointment; he had thought they were mature enough to realize that their wings were a privilege, not a right. Obviously, he was wrong. Ever since the incidents at the hospital, it had become increasingly difficult to keep the trio in line. Especially his own rotten sparkling who had a penchant to dragging the other two into whatever trouble he found. Even the ever-patient Nebula was reaching her wit's end with them.
There was a steady stream of traffic entering and exiting the doors to the recreation center, many passing by and watching the agile younglings in their morning graceful dance. Too many to pay close attention to a single, silent mech.
Stealthshadow stiffened as he felt the muzzle of double-barreled photon rifle at the back of his head. "Reach f'r it, flyboy, or I'll send y'r neural net spinnin' across the room."
He snorted as he recognized the familiar voice, "I'll rip your spark out of your chest before you can pull the trigger."
Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker stopped their warm up exercises and watched on in terror as the black and white mech holding the gun tapped the barrel on the back of Stealthshadow's head.
"Y' could try t', Stealth, but mah electro-disrupter field would stop y' cold."
The black and silver flier smirked, "You want to test that theory, Nightbeat?"
A devilish smile spread across the black and white mech's faceplates, "Y' know y'd lose. I've always been faster than y'."
"Maybe. Maybe I just made you think you were faster."
"Yeah, right." The rifle was dropped and subspaced. "Keep right on dreamin' there, Stealth."
Stealthshadow turned around and playfully shoved the visored mech, "What are you doing on this side of Iacon?"
Nightbeat flashed a disarming smile and pushed him back, "Little o' this an' that. I heard y' hang out 'ere, so I thought I'd drop in an' see y'. Tryin' t' keep up wit' the young ones?"
The black and silver flier motioned to the younglings behind him with his head, "Naw, just training my sparklings."
Nightbeat peered around the flier at the stunned trio and then looked back at Stealthshadow with shock flickering over his visor. "Y' had THREE sparklin's? Primus save us all."
"Only one of them is mine, one belongs to Nebula, and we both have custody of the third." He smirked, "Anyways, I heard you had one, too."
If Nightbeat had heard him, it did not register. The only word that the visored mech focused on was the name. "Nebula? As in Air Commander Nebula? Y' got bonded wit'out tellin' me?"
"No, we're not bonded," Stealthshadow grinned as he inched closer to Nightbeat and dropped his voice conspiratorially, "Not yet, at least."
Grinning madly at the gossip, Nightbeat leaned in, "Y' ask her?"
"Well…" The black and silver flier noticed the younglings had stopped their warm ups, "What are you looking at? There is no more recess for you three. Finish your warm ups and move on to your hand to hand practice!"
Skywarp stuck his tongue out at Stealthshadow the moment he went back to his conversation then turned to face the others. "What do you think they're talking about?"
"Obviously something we're not supposed to know about," Starscream said matter-of-factly. "Come on, TC. Let's practice."
Thundercracker nodded in agreement and took his battle stance in front of the red and silver youngling, "On your mark."
Skywarp sat on the floor in a huff and tried to listen in on Stealthshadow and Nightbeat's conversation. The black and silver flier pulled something out of his subspace and showed it to the visored mech who nodded in silent, smiling approval. The youngling stood up and walked over to take a peek, "What's that?"
The two adults glared at him. "None of your business. Go through your warm ups again."
The youngling crossed him small arms over his chest plate and sighed loudly as he headed back to the others. "Is it my turn, yet?"
"We just started, 'Warp. Be patient."
"Tough, we're not done yet. Just sit still and try to behave." Thundercracker did not take his optics off of Starscream as they sparred. "Think you can handle that?"
"Why the slag would I want to do that?"
Starscream gracefully dodged Thundercracker's attack. "Because all you've done today is act like a sparkling."
Violet optics narrowed in anger, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Thundercracker dropped his battle stance and glared at the black and purple youngling. "We mean, all you've done is act like a spoiled sparkling."
"I'm not a spoiled sparkling!"
Thundercracker glanced to Starscream who crossed his arms over his chest in annoyance and gave a knowing look back. "You're acting like sparkling, 'Warp."
Skywarp lunged and pushed Thundercracker, "Take it back."
The dark blue youngling held his ground, "No."
He shoved Thundercracker again. "Take it back!"
He pulled his arm back to throw a punch, but a black and silver hand clamped down on his shoulder. "What the slag do you think you're doing?"
Skywarp angrily glanced around him noticing he had gotten the attention of everyone in the room from his yelling; even Nightbeat was glaring at him disapprovingly. He yanked his arm out of Stealthshadow's grasp and growled a threatening 'Nothing'.
A commanding black finger pointed at the ground. "You're frakking right nothing. You sit your scrawny aft on that mat and don't move until I say so, got it?"
"Oh, that's it! You have pushed it too far, Skywarp." It was the dreaded cold of his full name accompanied with the glare of Primus on high. "You're grounded. You'll be hanging out in your room instead of with TC and 'Screamer for the next quartex."
Hostile violet optics glared daggers at Stealthshadow, "You can't do that!"
"I can and I did. Now sit your aft down and shut up."
"Fine!" Skywarp flopped to the floor heavily and began to pout.
Thundercracker and Starscream stood rooted to the spot, to afraid to move lest they get grounded too. Stealthshadow glared at them, "Back. To. Work."
They both nodded in unison and jumped quickly back into silent battle stances.
Stealthshadow watched them like a turbo-hawk for a few moments before turning back to his conversation with Nightbeat. "Well, that just made my plans more difficult."
Skywarp ran recklessly across the rooftop, pointedly ignoring the pleas of Thundercracker and Starscream to get down before he got into more trouble.
"Losers," He mumbled to himself as he threw himself into a dangerous cartwheel on the building's ledge. He continued his precarious dance along the edge, inwardly smug over the fact that the others would not join him on the rooftop because they were too afraid to get into trouble. He growled to himself as Stealthshadow's vow of grounding replayed in his mind. "He can't ground me. I'll find a way around it. I'll show him, I'll show all of them that they can't keep me down."
He stopped his antics and looked at the next rooftop; the space between the buildings was wider than the others had been, but he could make it. He could do anything he wanted to. Unlike Starscream and Thundercracker, he wasn't afraid of a challenge. He took a few steps back then sprinted for the ledge, leaping at the last possible moment and gliding over the space between the buildings like turbo-hawk diving for the kill. But just as he reached the next rooftop he lost his footing - one of his pedes caught on the rusty gutter, which wilted under his weight.
"Ohslagohslagohslag!" His arms spun in frenzied and ungraceful circles as the gutter bent and pulled loose from the rooftop.
Without a thought to their own safety, Starscream and Thundercracker ran to the fire escape that scaled the building's side and began the furious race to the rooftop. They climbed over the ledge and dove for their flailing friend's arms only to be pulled to the very edge by Skywarp's unbalanced weight in a fast losing battle of tug-of-war between them and gravity.
"Lean forward, 'Warp!"
In a rare moment of brilliance, Skywarp remembered he could teleport and he blinked out of existence in a flash of purple light.
Unfortunately, in his moment of brilliance, he only remembered to teleport himself.
The black and purple youngling reappeared on the rooftop and for the briefest nano-second wondered where Starscream and Thundercracker had gone. His answer came quickly when two loud clangs echoed up from the alley. His optics widened in horror and he dove for the edge only to see the contents of a full trash bin groan and wriggle about sluggishly in the darkened alley.
Thundercracker whimpered as he painfully crawled to the lip of the greasy bin; metal shavings stuck to his body and something rancid smelling dripped from his filthy and dented wings.
Skywarp teleported into the alley and walked up to the bin, sniffing loudly and pretending to wipe tears from his optics, "You came to save me! My heroes!"
Thundercracker's optics flared a feral ruby from the pain, and he screamed as he launched himself out of the bin and attacked Skywarp. The black and purple youngling tried vainly to fend off the furiously sharp blows that rained down on him until a vicious upper cut landed square to his jaw. He shook his head and growled before returning the blue and black youngling's punches with fervor. Sparks flew as the edge of a dark blue wing gouged a furrow in the alley as Skywarp dislodged his attacker. Thundercracker braced himself on one hand and swung a vicious kick at Skywarp's head as he bounced to his feet. Skywarp caught the kick in his gritty hands and used the momentum to try and knock Thundercracker onto his wings, but the dark blue youngling nimbly rebounded in a back spring and rushed at the oncoming Skywarp.
They grappled, snarling and hurling insults at each other. When one faltered, the other took advantage of the situation, clawing and denting derma-plating until another fault was made, the process repeating back and forth with little headway, and neither was able to seriously get the upper hand on the other.
Skywarp dug his fingers into a joint on Thundercracker's bent wing forcing a strangled yelp from the youngling. He grinned triumphantly until Thundercracker retaliated with a sharp kick to his ailerons. He threw a wild fist towards the dark blue youngling's face, but the punch was caught midair and his hand twisted backward. He cried out in pain and grabbed Thundercracker's other wrist, twisting the youngling's arm. Hands were locked and the two combatants panted as they stared each other down. Skywarp lunged and put Thundercracker on the defensive, pushing him back a step. Growling, Thundercracker pushed back. A twisted snarl appeared on Skywarp's dented facial plating as he threw his entire weight at Thundercracker, tightened his grip on Thundercracker's hands. The dark blue youngling retaliated in kind, pushing back as hard as he could… and then Skywarp disappeared, teleporting away. Without Skywarp in front of him anymore, Thundercracker stumbled awkwardly forward.
A purple flash lit up the alleyway as Skywarp reappeared behind his unbalanced friend and landed a vicious kick right between Thundercracker's wings. The youngling toppled to the ground with a cry and Skywarp dove to attack him… but he was stopped as red and blue hellfire dropped from the skies and drove him face first into the ground.
The familiar, bitter sting of energon in his mouth set something off in him as Starscream wiped a filthy hand across his scratched face. His left wing was bent back sharply; the rancid goo that covered Thundercracker ran down his side tainted with streaks of vibrant purple energon.
Skywarp groaned and tried to get to his knees only to get kicked sharply in the side. He coughed in pain and rolled to his left, but Starscream was on him quickly with another vicious kick this time to the chest. The youngling tried to roll away again only to get another solid kick to his side, forcing him flat on his back. He tried to get up and received another kick full in the chest. Realizing that he could not defend himself, Skywarp tried to teleport, but could only cry out in pain as his concentration was broken when Starscream stomped violently on his beat up wings. Starscream did not give Skywarp another chance to teleport as he fell on him and threw punch after punch into his battered friend's face.
He only saw red. It was not Skywarp under his fists. It was pain. Pain that had been buried deep, locked up, the key smelted for scrap to be thrown into the Pit - to be completely forgotten like a bad dream. Yet it broke through all of his defenses, freely released only by the slight taste of his own energon in his mouth. He was yelling something, full of spark-searing hate, but the words were lost in the fiery burn in his vocal processors.
A black arm appeared out of the red haze and wrapped around his neck, pulling him bodily off of Skywarp. Starscream tried to shrug him off, but his new foe held on tightly. He clawed at the arm, scrambling to pull it away from his neck. A black hand reached out and grabbed one of his wrists, twisting it and his arm up and around his back. He shrieked and thrashed, the movement from his wings hitting his attacker and forcing out pained grunts. Nevertheless, the black arm tightened its grip around his neck and his arm was wrenched harder, sending shooting electric pain through his shoulder and giving his attacker more control. He was yanked to the side violently and shoved to the ground. The arm from around his neck grabbed his other wrist and pulled it around to his back as well. Starscream flailed about wildly trying to break the hold placed on him until a knee was shoved into his back with solid weight behind it, effectively pinning him down.
Trapped, Starscream turned his head and screamed in spark-wrenching agony to the heavens.
Ground shaking footsteps echoed in the alleyway as Stealthshadow barreled his way through. He dropped down and shook the screaming youngling who was bodily held down by Thundercracker. Green optics locked on scared violet as the violently thrashing youngling tried to fight the two off of them.
"What the slag happened?!"
Cold fear etched through the energon that oozed down Thundercracker's face.
Stealthshadow's optics shot over to the battered Skywarp who was curled up in a ball crying. He shook Starscream again trying to bring him to his senses. "Starscream. Starscream, calm down. I need you to calm down, Starscream. It's me, Stealthshadow. Look at me. Try to focus on me. Listen to my voice. You're okay. Everything is okay."
Thundercracker slowly released his grip on Starscream's arms as he followed Stealthshadow's prompts. "Ease off his back some, TC. That's good." The larger flier brought the youngling's face up to his, frowning as fuchsia optics darted around wildly. "Starscream. Look at me."
It took a few moments before the youngling was able to focus his optics on Stealthshadow's. He smiled, "Hey. There you are. See? You're okay. We're here, you're here. Everything is going to be just fine."
Still whimpering, Skywarp slowly got to his feet and limped over to the others as the larger flier softly talked the shaking youngling down from the frightening rage.
Stealthshadow glanced at the other two younglings, "You two able to walk on your own?"
Thundercracker painfully got to his feet and nodded as Stealthshadow gently lifted the still quaking Starscream to his feet. "Let's get you guys home."
It was a painful walk back, with strange glances at all four of them from ordinary people traveling down the busy streets. Nebula rushed out of the house towards them, worry and fear plastered over her face like a twisted mask, "Oh Primus! What happened?"
"Long story," Stealthshadow passed Starscream into her waiting arms. "Help me get them inside."
Nebula led them into the house and eased the now catatonic Starscream into a chair in the kitchen. Stealthshadow subspaced a field medic's kit and started pulling out various tools and color-coded cans. "You have a kit somewhere?"
"Right side cabinet, bottom shelf." The dark blue femme gathered a stack of cleaning towels and water and carefully began cleaning the rancid goo from Starscream's side. "Is someone going to tell me what happened?"
Stealthshadow shot a knowing glare at Thundercracker and Skywarp as he pulled out the second medic's kit, "She asked you two a question."
The dark blue youngling glanced at Skywarp who kept his optics glued to the floor in front of him before shifting his gaze to Starscream.
Nebula looked over her shoulder, "Thundercracker, what happened?"
He dropped his gaze shamefully, unable to meet her optics.
"Thundercracker? Tell me what happened."
His spark clenched painfully, but he didn't answer her. He could not answer. He was still trying to process it all. Losing his ability for flight. The fall. The fight. Starscream… He realized at that moment just how scared he was and began to tremble. He bit his bruised lower lip and quietly mumbled, "We got into a fight."
Her optics widened. "A fight with who?"
Thundercracker looked back to Skywarp who was blankly staring at the ground. "With each other."
There was a slight intake of air as she gasped, glancing back and forth between the two younglings. "Why were you fighting?"
He opened his mouth but could not speak, so he just shook his head.
Getting up from the table, Nebula passed the Starscream's care to Stealthshadow and knelt in front of her terrified youngling. She pulled him into her arms and tugged a reluctant Skywarp into the embrace. "It's okay… We're not mad at you."
Skywarp started to sniffle and Nebula hugged them tighter. "Shh, it's okay."
Thundercracker listened to Skywarp cry as Nebula rocked both of them in her arms. He stared at Starscream who sat like a lifeless drone in the chair as Stealthshadow slowly cleaned off the grime and goo. His optics were glassy and dark, functioning but not seeing anything. He began to worry that Starscream was seriously hurt as the older flier started to pull long tendrils of embedded scrap metal out of his wing, but the youngling did not flinch even as Stealthshadow grimaced as the wound.
Nebula let them go to get the kit on the table behind her. "How is he?"
The older flier frowned, "His wounds aren't too bad, but he's in shock. I'll need your help to get his wings straight."
She turned back to the sniffling Skywarp with a yellow marked can in her hands, "Shut your optics and mouth tightly."
He did as told as she sprayed whatever was in the can over his entire face, wincing from the spray's assault. Nebula carefully wiped the area around his optics and plied her thumbs over his face looking for the sources of his wounds. "Don't open your optics yet."
"Muh face ees numb…"
"It'll stop being numb soon. It's hard to clean you up if you're in pain." She mopped away the energon and filth, frowning at the amount of cuts and dents.
"Can you gimme a hand?"
Nebula stood up and walked over to Starscream and Stealthshadow, "You have him ready?"
"Yep. Now I'm going to push forward slowly and I want you to flatten as I go along."
Thundercracker's optics widened in abject horror as he watched the two flier bend Starscream's wing back into place. The sounds of multiple popping strictures being realigned and the crackling and hissing screech of derma-plating being smoothed was too much for him, and Thundercracker purged his fuel tanks onto the floor before he could safely make it to the waste receptacle.
"If you thought that was fun, wait 'til we fix your wings, TC."
He scrubbed his hand violently over his mouth. "My wings are fine. They're just a little dirty, that's all."
"I can't see. What's going on?" Skywarp reached out blindly.
"Stand still. It will wear off any klik now." Nebula said with a cringe as she continued to flatten the youngling's derma-plating.
Thundercracker dry retched as the hellish popping sounds resumed. He slid down the wall to the floor as his head began to swim. He had a massive headache now as the shock of everything that had happened washed over him. He hurt all over, he realized numbly. His fall into the alley and landing in the dumpster had not been gentle. Not that the fight was fun, but the fall was painful.
They were talking again, but he could not focus on their conversation. Stealthshadow had a syringe in his hands and was injecting something into Starscream's neck. He went limp as Nebula gathered him in her arms and carried him upstairs. The older flier was then standing over him saying something, the syringe ready for use again. He could feel the mech's hand on his neck and the tiny prick as the needle entered an energon line, then everything went dark and he knew no more.
He was awoken some time later by Starscream whimpering his in sleep.
It took him a moment to get his bearings, but once he realized he was in his room things groggily started to come back. Thundercracker groaned as he sat up and reached to shake his friend out of his nightmare but stopped, afraid he might damage him. Instead, he whispered into the red youngling's audios. "'Screamer, wake up." The only response he got was Starscream curling in on himself and crying, still trapped in his nightmare. He carefully placed his hand on his friend's shoulder and shook him gently. "'Screamer?" Still unsuccessful, he slid off the recharge berth, stepped over the snoring Skywarp on the floor, and quietly headed down the hall to get Nebula.
He stopped at the top of the stairs when he heard their voices down below: Nebula and Stealthshadow were arguing...
"Younglings fight. It's natural for them to have a few scraps -"
"It's not natural when one nearly rips his best friend in to shreds." Nebula was pacing, he could hear the tension and worry in her voice. "What would have happened if you hadn't arrived when you did?"
"TC had Starscream restrained and it would have been a breem or two before he calmed himself down." Stealthshadow's voice was calm and even, "And now TC and 'Warp know what to do in case this happens again."
"And how often will they fight, Stealth? What if one of them ends up seriously hurt? What happens if-"
"I know you're worried about them, Nebula. I am too. Please believe me when I say that. I'll keep wider optics on them."
"I don't think you should teach them to fight anymore. It - It's too dangerous. We don't know what could set Starscream off again."
"If that will make you worry less, then I'll stop. I can keep them busy with homework."
"I don't think they should read anymore about the wars or the Wraith either. I don't want them to try building weapons or play fight using what they've read about."
"...All right. I'll stick to the basics that they'll need for the Academy. Anything else we should change?"
Nebula stopped pacing, "I think things are moving too fast, and - and that it might be putting too much stress on them."
"I don't get it - What's moving too fast?"
The house was deathly silent and Thundercracker leaned forward on his perch, straining to make out any sounds coming from the room below.
"Oh... I see." Stealthshadow's voice was toneless and flat.
"I just think we should wait. I don't want to put them in a situation where-"
"No. I understand. The sparklings come first."
The front door opened. "I need some air." The soft click from the front door closing signaled the end of the tense conversation.
The rooms below were quiet once again, and Thundercracker struggled to hear any noise that hinted at what was happening. Kliks passed like joors and he could hear nothing but the loud thumping of his fuel pump.
Then he heard it... the soft sound of Nebula crying.
Carefully, he stood up from his step and silently made his way down the stairs. He peeked into the kitchen and saw her with her head burrowed into her arms on the table. He felt awful - she was upset because of their fight and now she was crying. He walked over to her and placed his hand on her arm.
Nebula looked up suddenly and wiped the tears from her optics, "What's wrong?"
He tried not to look worried about her crying, but he knew he was failing. "Um, Starscream's having a nightmare and I couldn't wake him."
Wearily, Nebula stood up from the table, the tear stains on her cheeks more visible under the light.
Realizing he had to do something to fix this, Thundercracker grabbed her hand and pressed it firmly to his cheek, "You know I love you, right?"
She looked at him and dropped to her knees with a sob. He wrapped his arms around her neck and hugged her tightly. "I'm so sorry. Please don't cry."
Nebula buried her head into his shoulder, "I love you, too, dear spark."
A/N: I hope I still have readers after the wait and how this chapter ends. Thanks for sticking by me.
I wanted to delve into Starscream's PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and what would set it off in a believable manner. I also believe that the events would invoke a numb response from Thundercracker and that Skywarp would be emotional after taking a beating. One of the reasons why it took me so long to publish this was because I didn't think it sounded right and was worried that it came across as corny. I hope it doesn't sound corny.
I know Nightbeat is a character from the Transformers universe, but I'm using just the name for Stealth's old friend/ex-Wraith buddy and creator of a certain other mech (guess who?)
I know the ending isn't what everyone was expecting, but I believe it's necessary for the character development of Nebula and Stealthshadow.
It won't be as dark next chapter, I promise.