Bad Business 

Background Noise 
 

 

They’re children when they first get Skywarp.

Thundercracker has always been around, a consistent shadow at Starscream’s heel. Taller. Older. Anxious that she's going to overstep and get in trouble. TC usually takes the blame when Starscream breaks something, steals something, cries. She volunteers for it, thinking it will make the angry little girl feel better, but it never really does.

 

They’re children when they first meet Skywarp, smaller than Starscream (somehow). Flushed cheeks and wet eyes after saying goodbye to her remaining parent. She doesn’t want to live in this giant house with its dark corners and haunted owners. She already claims she can see ghosts trailing after her. Wraiths tired and frail in the space where her eyes can’t focus and Skywarp clings to Thundercracker’s arm like a life raft when they are introduced.

“They’ll be like your sisters.” Starscream’s mother explained one evening, brushing Starscream’s hair with a wide tooth comb and making sure not a single wild curl is out of place.

“They aren’t like me.” She answers, pouting at this idea she's losing what’s hers. Only a child and she's angry about everything. Bitter about everything. The doctors with their ironed coats and new teeth whisper about her after they visit. They speak with soft voices and kind smiles but their eyes tell a different story. Starscream is always looking up at adults looking down at her. Now she has two more faces to disappoint. She hates it. she hates them.

 

Skywarp is small and sad and holds Thundercracker’s hand wherever they go. They play together, build forts together and don’t care about Starscream.

“No one will be like you darling, you’re perfect.” Her mother smoothes sharp smelling lotion across her cheeks - tells her to go play while her father and she entertain the hoards of guests waiting for her arrival. Strangers always fill her home, clinking diamond glasses and pretending to give a single shit about Starscream’s existence. So she guesses her mother and father brought children her age to do a better job at pretending.

It’s less than a month of Skywarp living with them that Starscream breaks her arm.

It was an accident, she swears through panicked tears as her father carries the screaming girl to the car. Starscream is chasing after her, trying to spit out as much information as her young brain can manage. To make it anything but her fault.

 

Skywarp didn’t have to take the dare! The groundskeeper shouldn’t have left the back gate open! The balcony didn’t look that high! It’s the first time Starscream has seen her father in weeks and she's pinned with a look that turns her belly cold. Red eyes that they share never looking so hard as she hands Skywarp off to waiting hands.

“Stop speaking. Get in the car.” Her father’s voice is darker than anything Starscream could imagine. Flooding her mind with terror of her father, of her impending punishment and causing her throat to swell. She only moves because her father snaps, points to the car, and doesn’t look in the mood for games. Her father makes her watch when they reset Skywarp’s arm. He makes Starscream hold Skywarp’s hand when the girl fights the pain and and makes Starscream write down everything the nurses say. She's shown how to check for proper circulation and how to read the digital thermometer. She's explained what might upset Skywarp’s stomach on the pain medication they’ll be taking home and she's informed she’ll have to pack a bag. That she's being moved to sleep in Skywarp’s room until the smaller girl is cleared by the doctors.
 

It’s too much. She finally breaks.
 

Starscream throws a fit in the hospital lobby screaming she doesn’t want to! That she shouldn’t have to! Her mother tries to calm her down but her father stops that with a hand on her sharp shoulder. Denying Starscream any further moment with he as she kneels and looks Starscream through the mess of hurt and tears. Her father smells like oil and scorched oxygen, like the grease pits of the hangars he spends his time folded over engines rather than in his glossy office or at home. He's busy, he's always busy, but Starscream has never felt so far away from her father than this moment.
 

Starscream is told she looks like her mother. Shares her dark skin and her dark hair, but she has her father’s eyes and her father’s mind and apparently none of that matters as her father is looking at her like a stranger. Distant and sealed behind some anger a child like her simply can’t understand.
 

“This is the last time you’re allowed to cry over this, understood?”
 

“Polaris,” her mother snaps and it’s the first time Starscream has seen them look at one another like that.

Tense. Angry. All her fault.

 

But her father is hardly deterred by the look on his wife’s face. This same man who would sit with Starscream for hours when he had the time. Teaching her to build her first model jet, laughing when they glued their hands together or spilled red paint across the marble floors. He looked unrecognizable as Starscream learns what shape disappointment takes in the face of one you love.
 

“You’re going to be better than this.”
 

Starscream does as she's told and she's furious about it. No more tears, she's not allowed to cry. Besides, Skywarp is doing enough crying for the both of them, sniffling throughout the night while Starscream tries to ignore her. Head buried under her pillow - missing her large bed where as she's forced to sleep in this smaller room - surrounded by things that aren’t hers, given to this other girl from their caretaker.
 

Thundercracker likes Skywarp more than her! They’re always together, even now when Skywarp is too sick from the medication to get out of bed, Thundercracker brings her food. Brings her toys and reads her books while watching Starscream with uncertainty. Judging her when the timer goes off and Starscream has to check the cast. Check Skywarp’s fingertips. Check that she's feeling ok. Check that she's comfortable.
 

This is her home! Why should she have to---
 

“Do you want to play?” Skywarp asks when Thundercracker is called away, leaving them awkward and quiet in the room. Her round eyes are bruised from lack of sleep and rubbed raw from tears she tries not to shed. Her good hand has a robot toy, something sleek and new that Thundercracker brought. She has another, purple with wings and a broken arm left ignored in her lap. With only one hand to play she takes turns picking them up. Making funny voices and crashing them into one another. Giggling when she's not crying, curls like Starscream’s but looser hanging around her face. Skywarp makes the broken arm talk in a different voice which scolds its host.
 

She’s a weird kid.

“What, with you?” she says it in a way that makes Skywarp flinch and look hurt but Starscream didn’t mean it! Her belly burns with annoyance because Skywarp is looking at her in a sad way, a stupid way! She hates it!
 

“Why not?” Skywarp asks, voice meek but that hurt looks turns to match Starscream’s frown and they’re just jutting their round little chins at one another. Like two stupid little kittens about to start slapping - though Starscream is positive she'd win.
 

“Because last time you broke your stupid arm!”
 

“You pushed me!”
 

“No I didn’t!”
 

“Yes you did!” Skywarp is crying again, but so is Starscream and she doesn’t know why. She feels tired, she feels hurt and lonely and misses her father - but she doesn’t want to see that face again. Her mother said to behave, told her to do as told and she is but it’s difficult when everyone likes Skywarp more than her!

“I didn’t mean to!”

“Then say you’re sorry!”

“I’m not sorry!” It wasn’t her fault!

“Well that’s dumbHey!” Skywarp is weighed down by the cast when Starscream yanks the broken toy from her lap. Already stepping away from the bed, ignoring the sharp whining behind her as her fingers work in a way her father taught her. Stretch the shoulder joint, align the pieces, make sure the band is in place.
 

“Give her back!” Skywarp cries and Starscream worries the caretaker is going to hear them and she’ll just assume Starscream is being mean again.
 

“Here!” She wants to throw the toy, wants very much to hit Skywarp in her stupid face but lets the figure drop on the blanket instead. Arm back in place, the easiest fix, even this stupid kid could have done it! Skywarp collects her toy with an awkward hand and brings it to her chest protective and upset. Takes her a moment to realize what Starscream did, turning the toy over in examination. Tugging on the arm and finding it secure with a sound like a bubble of shock jumping from her throat.
 

“I fixed it!” Starscream yells, face burning because Skywarp isn’t doing anything about it! She's just staring and looking dumb and maybe getting in more trouble with her father is worth it just to run out of the room and---
 

“You’re so cool.”
 

“Huh?” she blinks and Skywarp is smiling. Why? Why is she smiling?
 

“You fixed her! I thought she was going to be broken forever. TC tried to fix her but that got glue everywhere and we had to clean it up and it messed up the carpet but we hid that ok and TC was scared she was going to get in trouble but that was ok because--”
 

Skywarp babbles on as easily as she cries. Just keeps going, unhindered by embarrassment or Starscream’s startled stare. Cheeks still wet with young tears, frustration melding away into confusion before eventually Starscream is left just exhausted.
 

“Can I play?” She interrupts Skywarp’s story that’s become about monsters and an evil cook, not sure how they got there but seemed fine to move on.
 

“Yea?” Skywarp smiles wider and Starscream didn’t know faces could do that. “You want to be her?” she freely offers the toy just fixed, the winged robot Skywarp takes everywhere like it’s her only possession in the world. Starscream realizes she doesn’t care about anything as much as Skywarp cares about this toy.
 

“Aren’t you scared I’ll break her?” She asks.
 

“Well, you can just fix her?” Skywarp answers and remains just as weird as she was moments ago.
 

But maybe that was ok.

 

 ...

 

When Skywarp gets her cast off Starscream is there, sitting on the exam table holding Skywarp’s hand. Letting the other girl squeeze as much as she wants while asking a million questions about the tools the doctor is using. She tells Skywarp she thinks she can make a tool like that, then they can cut tunnels through the house - which makes Skywarp laugh instead of wince. They’re planning a great escape from the manor by the time the doctor is finished and they’re both given stickers. Starscream lets Skywarp have hers and tries to steal a stethoscope from the room before they leave.


She waits later while their caretaker sits with Skywarp in a shut room back home, the other girl excited to talk with her mother over the computer. She only caught a brief glance at the woman. Dark like Skywarp with the same smile. Her uniform pressed and silver wings pinned on her chest while the noise past the pale room roars with familiar engine sounds. Skywarp’s mother flies the planes Starscream’s father builds and she thinks that’s pretty cool. She makes a promise to Skywarp to make planes Skywarp can fly when they’re older.
 

Years later when they’re fifteen, Skywarp is handed a folded flag and what remains of her mother in a lacquer box.
 

Starscream adjusts her promise to make planes that won’t break.

 

...

 

“Are you ok?!” TC and Skywarp are out of breath by the time they meet Starscream at the quad, locating their “sister” sitting scrunched up on a bench by the elaborate fountain. Her eyes squint in the bright winter sun. Hair tumbled in dark curls around her face, looking almost red in the light.
 

“Of course I’m ok, did you both run from the dorm?” She asks, frowning with distaste at their appearance. Clothes askew and only half dressed. “Oh gross what did I interrupt?!”
 

“Sleep!” Skywarp yells, missing the implication and collapsing in the bench next to Starscream. Narrowly missing the other’s pristine form. (and looking disappointed that she missed) “Fuck it’s cold! I can see my breath.”
 

“It’s called winter.” Starscream pinches Skywarp’s cheek before adjusting the collar of her own wool lapel. Fussy with the hair framing her cheek like it needed to lay just right.
 

“What’s going on Screamer?” TC reaches down to tug Skywarp’s own coat back together as the last thing they needed was either of them getting a cold. Bad enough they jogged from the dorms through the half foot of snow but she wasn’t dealing with a sick Skywarp at the start of a new semester. No. she refused. They weren’t paying her enough.

“You sent like, fifty texts.”

 

“And called twice.”


“Well answer next time.” Starscream defends, doing that thing with her chin to make herself seem leaner. She was already thinner than they had ever seen her before and knew she wasn’t eating often enough. Too many classes, too many side projects. Not to mention her volunteering at the biology department despite it not being her major. It seemed unlikely she was sleeping by any regular schedule and they couldn’t help but worry.
 

They always worried about Starscream.

 

Spread thin over her endless interests, but well taught by her mother on how to pretend otherwise. Azure seemed to think it was just as important to teach her daughter how to appear put together when she was falling apart just as quickly as she was. Always the most elegant figure in any room, if TC hadn’t known the woman her entire life she might have believed it too.
 

“Can you tell us somewhere inside? It’s super cold, have I said that?” Skywarp frowns, kicking snow with her heel and making sure to get some on Starscream’s shoes. Starscream replies by trying to smother Skywarp with the sleeve of her coat until Thundercracker breaks them apart. Forcing herself to sit between them and hold wrists down. Pretty much her entire life it seemed.
 

“I...made a mistake...” Starscream begins, awkward enough that it stirs an anxious feeling in the other two, sharing brief glances while Starscream struggles with this statement.
 

“You’re not pregnant, are you?”


TC barely manages to catch Starscream’s leg before she kicked them both, which really was entirely unfair. But Starscream’s annoyance fades quickly, spilling over into a truly disturbed expression. Frowning, but looking sick, paler than she's ever looked with downcast eyes and a nervous twitch to her tense mouth. Chewing on her lip despite the years Starscream’s mother put into stopping her from the habit.

“Ok! No more jokes, seriously what’s wrong? Are you ok? Are you---”
 

A great shape emerges from a nearby building just past Starscream’s shoulder. Tall. Taller than anyone had a right to be, and big. While they three were scrawny, this figure was imposing in the distance. Broad shoulders and pale coat making a quick approach with legs that covered as much ground with a casual stride as it would take TC to jog.
 

All of Thundercracker’s training with the security teams came screaming to life - warning her of the figure. That they were in danger. That she should be pulling Starscream close and getting her to cover...until TC spotted the face of the approaching form. The warm skin and narrow eyes that all but disappeared (bright, kind, and sweet - illegally handsome with radiating gentleness) when the newcomer smiled in recognition.

 

“Hey Screamer, why is Skyfire is here?”

 

Starscream almost flings herself off the bench to run away while Skywarp bounces up to look, jaw almost hitting the ground.
 

They have to grab Starscream’s arms so she can’t actually succeed in running away while Skyfire just draws closer. Her white coat, long and swaying in her easy approach across the matching snow. No rush. Like the sun was waiting for her and the world simply couldn’t survive until Skyfire was in position.


“I thought you weren’t supposed to see her again?”


“Yes that’s usually called a mistake.” Starscream sounds choked, body tense and they don’t have much time.


“What do you need?” TC urges and hates so very much that her chest ACHES from not allowing herself to join Warp in stunned horror.. “Quickly, we don’t have much time.”


“She came by and asked me out for coffee. I said I had plans with you two. She invited you both too so I said sure!” Starscream spits the words out quickly like it causes her pain, bowing her head in shaken terror while Skywarp manages to get ahold of herself. “I panicked.”


“Skywarp go distract her, we need two minutes.” TC orders and Skywarp is already clambering up and over the bench, flinging herself towards the giant woman. For a second TC thinks Warp is going to leap onto Skyfire (and judging by Starscream’s snarl it would be the LAST thing Warp would ever do) but she stops just a foot ahead, almost slipping on the walkway. “We have two minutes. Three if Skywarp tells the hot dog story. Why did you say yes? It was difficult enough to convince your mother to let you stay when you tried to change your major but---”
 

Thundercracker can feel Starscream’s shoulders through the coat. She's boney and small in her hands and that just feels wrong. A sense of failure creeps up the back of TC’s thoughts. Azure’s’ voice in her head, entrusting her daughter to her when Thundercracker was only a child herself. She was supposed to take care of Starscream. She was failing.
 

“Primus, you really like her that much?” She asks, ducking her head just in case Skywarp fails in her mission, doesn’t want Skyfire to overhear anything. Starscream answers with an absolutely miserable expression, like the entire world was falling down in fractured pieces. “Shit.”
 

“I know.” Starscream’s knuckles go pale in fists, her jaw flexing while she clenches and fights against the terrible decisions she's very clearly wanting to make. “I figured, if you two are with me…”
 

“If she finds out, there’s going to be hell to pay, with or without us.” She watches Starscream jerk. A dry sob forced back into her chest while Skywarp tries to initiate a snowball fight with their guest. Skyfire, impossibly patient, lets Skywarp hit her with one but those ridiculously blue eyes are looking forward. Honey-pale brows rising with inquisition at Starscream’s hunched appearance.
 

“We aren’t going to tell.” TC assures, able to speak for Skywarp with confidence. She moves to press a cold hand against Starscream’s neck. Holding where the lowered head bows and feels the terrible way her friend, her sister, is shaking. “But you can’t keep doing this.”
 

“Just a little longer.” Starscream whispers and they both can hear Skywarps’ yelling, announcing their arrival. “We’re just friends I swear, just one more time…”
 

“Starscream?” They look up and Skyfire is blocking out the sun. Her proud form soft at the edges, not a harsh line on her smiling face and really - Thundercracker gets it. If Skywarp would just look at her the way Skyfire is looking at Starscream, like there is absolutely nothing else in this entire world but her, TC would risk anything to be near her too.

“You ok?” Her voice is soft, even. Her eyes are clear and only looking at Starscream - only ever looking at Starscream.

 

Thundercracker hates that Starscream is just as entranced, because it won’t be forever.
 

“Not with these two trying to annoy me to death.” Starscream laughs, expertly poised and rising from the bench. “I’m sorry you have to suffer them too - I’ll buy you something to make up for it.”
 

“Buy us something too - for surviving your dumb ass.” Skywarp complains, needing only a small nod from TC to know how to act. Only smiles, keep Skyfire from knowing how very wrong this is. Keep her in the dark at how very much this is going to hurt one day.
 

Meanwhile Thundercracker pretends she doesn’t see the way Skyfire’s hand brushes Starscream’s as they walk. How her “sister’s” face scrunches to bite down a smile and they share a private moment she really shouldn’t be invading - but can’t help but look.
 

Starscream looks happy for the first time in years.
 

Thundercracker knows it’s not going to be worth it.

 

 

...

 

It doesn’t stop raining throughout the proceedings.
 

The manor becomes a gray island in a sea of mud and swollen drains, almost lost to the sopping grass and flooded gardens. The groundskeepers stopped coming to work, the maids and caretakers no longer bothered and the lawyers never stayed long. It felt like a scene from a movie, a terrible one. Something undersaturated and foreign. Usually in such films the they would speak funny languages and sip steaming coffee from delicate cups meant to signify the state of things. Charming and gray while the audience would be left biting their nails. Desperately waiting for the misery to be solved by the return of the missing loved one, or the reveal of the terrible plot. Just one heroic act away to free the sun from the clouded sky and return the world to something liveable.
 

This was not a movie, though it felt like a prank with every document Starscream was asked to sign. Each headache worse than that last and she forces down too many pills on too empty a stomach. Unless you counted the expensive whiskey, intended for finer glasses, as food.
 

Skywarp was bound to arrive shortly, unable to get away from work earlier this week as it wasn’t her parents who died. Starscream had told her not to rush but she supposes her sister didn’t listen. They never listened, neither of them. Thundercracker was already here, already helping with packing despite being told a hundred times Starscream didn’t care what happened to the interior. Let it rot, she said and worried TC with her declaration of just setting the house on fire. Let it burn, no one would live here anymore so what did it matter?

“You don’t have to go back to Crystal City”

“My home is in Crystal.” Starscream walked across damp floors with bare feet, leaned against bay windows and watched the rain fall across the ruined wasteland of the once-beautiful estate. She didn’t reminiscence of childhood memories, she wasn’t choked by flashing ghosts of her youth chasing tin airplanes across the yard with her loving father. No echoes kept her awake at night as this house was nothing to her. A corpse rotting slowly and refusing to just crumble to time.
 

Thundercracker was beautiful as ever. Tall, kind, thick eyebrows bent out of shape as she looked at Starscream with such pity that it turned her already acid-soaked stomach. If Starscream didn’t love TC so much she'd probably hate her. Skywarp too. She hadn’t seen them in nearly two years but she still couldn’t imagine this without them. The only weakness she supposed.
 

“When will their bodies be---”
 

“Already cremated.” Starscream cuts her off and swallows a mouthful of what should be aged brandy - and only tastes water.
 

“What? But there wasn’t a service or anything?”
 

“Nope.” She agrees, probably drunk but she couldn’t really tell anymore. Scrubs her shaved scalp with blunt nails and feels where old scars should be. Where they WOULD be if her mother hadn’t paid for the top plastic surgeons to fix her right up. Snip the remnants of her injuries from her very skin. Their money was wasted, she thought. Sure, her skin was perfect but the bones never healed right. The metal plates and burrowed pins screamed whenever it was cold and no doctor could understand why she still limped even years later. She was healed, apparently.
 

Good for her.
 

“The only reason to have a funeral is for loved ones to mourn you,” Starscream bites. “And they don’t have those.”
 

“Starscream…”
 

“Don’t.” It’s a warning tone, something ancient for her young voice. Worn and tired and broken. Fills her mug with whatever liquor is closest and offers it to her sister. “Aerial RoBotics is already making offers. But I’m turning them down. The board can’t take the shares from me just yet and I need just a little longer.”

The sentiment sounded familiar and Starscream is certain she's said it before. Just one more day, just one more hour. Just give her more time. She always cried that into the universe, but no one was ever listening.

Not Primus, not her parents, not someone she'd never see smile again…
 

“What are you trying to do?” Thundercracker takes the glass, seems uneasy, but drinks with a quiet wince. Not used to the taste, not used to swallowing down what hurt and pretending it didn’t. Starscream had plenty of practice. It was unfortunate that TC was smart, though. As her expression changed, ignoring the sharp taste of thousands of dollars a swallow as she almost hissed at Starscream.

“Not the Null Ray project.” she asked with dread.

 

And looked dreadful when Starscream smiled.
 

“It’s the only thing they can’t take, unless they want to implicate themselves in such nefarious work.”
 

“Are you kidding me?!” Thundercracker almost dropped the glass. She looked ready to throw it actually and maybe that would have been good for both of them. Start a fight, break some bones. Starscream had a great surgeon on speed dial after all. In a week she wouldn’t look any different from before. “Skywarp’s mom…”
 

“Died because my father didn’t know what he was doing.”
 

“And you do?”
 

“Of course.”
 

The beginning of the end, a slow fall from a high star. Her father couldn’t guarantee more lives wouldn’t be lost so her government contracts shut her down. Starscream remembered the man never being the same afterwards. Struck stunned at being told what he couldn’t do by men who had never known the sky as he did - as their family did. Polaris liked to say their blood was fuel, their lungs filled with clouds. He was the only father who never once discouraged fantastical dreams. Only larger. Only more eccentric - and Starscream’s mother had been the only one capable of keeping her father’s aspirations organized. She was the only one who could have kept that family alive.
 

Polaris blamed her death on Starscream’s leaving and Starscream never got around to respond to those voicemails before her father was gone too. Both parents lost, one week apart. The official report said heart attack, Starscream said suicide. She knew her father simply couldn’t exist in a world without her mother and probably chose to give up. That sort of obsessive attachment to someone was dangerous, dependency just a lethal as a drug.
 

She would know, she was her father’s daughter, after all.
 

“Have you ever heard of the Decepticon Corporation?” Starscream asks and Thundercracker makes a face.

 

“Yes. A stupid name. But not a stupid set up. They’ll want what I can make them.”
 

“You’re selling Seeker Air Command?”
 

“Should I drown with it?” She barks and tries to self-soothe. That’s what her therapist said after the accident. Learn to control her emotions, learn how to keep the screaming to a minimum. Of course Starscream’s jaw was wired shut for weeks after the crash so she sort of had to learn to scream without screaming. “I need time, to rebuild a bit what’s left into something halfway appealing. Drip blood in the water and see if I can catch a shark. Seeker Command is nothing for a company like that, but she’ll want the weapons I can build.”
 

Some dads taught their daughters to build boats, change tires or how to fish. Starscream’s father taught her to build stealth bombers and weapons of electronic warfare.
 

Mommy dearest taught her to smile and sign the devil’s waivers on insurance policies and court settlements. All without flinching.
 

“She?”
 

“Megatron.”

Now would be the perfect time for lightning to strike. For thunder to quiver the glass around them and rattle the bare bones of the abandoned manor and rotting riches. But the sky remains gray and pale and only pours across the estate like it was trying to wash them all away.

 

“I’m worried about you.” Of course she is. Thundercracker is always worried, it was all she had. She was beautiful and intelligent and meant for so much more - but Starscream was still somehow tricked Thundercracker into believing she was worth her thoughts. What do you do with someone like that? “Ever since Skyfire--”
 

That time lightning strikes, or perhaps it just feels like it. Like thunder is crawling through an exposed nerve and Starscream can barely stay upright.
 

“Death isn’t reversible, I can’t wait around like I’m going to see her again.”
 

“She’s not-”
 

“Will you do this with me?” She can tell she startles Thundercracker, big blinking eyes unprepared for everything happening in this broken house. Just two sisters surrounded by ghosts of themselves, of poisoned memories and broken hearts. “Skywarp and you, I have plans, Thundercracker. I can fix this - I can make this work but not alone.”
 

“Starscream.”
 

“I need you both.” If Thundercracker agrees, Skywarp will agree. If Skywarp agrees, Thundercracker will agree. she only needs one sister to say yes. “Please.”
 

Starscream remembers the horrendous whine of a choking engine. A wheel spinning overhead in a world cast red just like the snow melting beneath her body. She remembers finding her phone somewhere in the carnage and the way blood seeped into the broken glass when she called the only person she could think of. The only person she trusted besides the body she couldn’t reach in what remained of the car.
 

“I’m here.” Thundercracker nodded, same tranquil voice as then when she answered the frantic call. Assuring Starscream through managed tears: I’m here, Star, it’s ok I’m here. Over the phone again and again trying to keep her conscious before help could reach them. “Whatever you need.”
 

“Thank you.” Starscream smiles and strangely enough, it almost feels real.
 

If she practices enough, maybe one day she won't know the difference.

 

 

...

“Ok, but when are we going to address the elephant in the room about how ridiculously hot our new boss is?” Thundercracker and Starscream both slap Skywarp in the back before retreating to their work. Hoping the floor supervisors didn’t notice the outburst and, Primus help them, that Megatron herself hadn’t heard. The woman in question was too close for their comfort, touring the new sub-basement laboratories where Starscream was partnered on multiple projects. Her “sisters” joining her as assistants with their new glossy badges and nondisclosure agreements freshly signed.
 

Whatever Starscream had done in her one and only meeting with the Decepticon leader, it had given them...quite a bit in return. Homes offered, cars if they wanted, company credit cards and a budget that made the senior engineers blush. It was more than just new jobs in exchange for scrapping what they could from the collapsing Seeker production. It was a new life handed over on a polished platter and no questions asked.
 

Literally.
 

Skywarp and Thundercracker hadn’t even interviewed for their positions. Just signed forms from a visiting lawyer and agreed to be moved in a day. From Vos to Iacon in a single day - Skywarp was still adjusting.
 

“Well she is.” Skywarp muttered, returning to mapping for Starscream’s upcoming presentation - a superior jet engine. Something Starscream could improve in her sleep. She wanted to start simple, something they could invest in immediately and offer buyers with certainty rather than the higher reaching goals they assumed Starscream had used to lure Megatron. It was something they could do, and they could do well, and it almost felt like there was nothing nefarious about the company at all.
 

Almost.
 

“Keep your eyes off her.” Starscream holds her tablet out like a threat. “That’s absolutely disgusting, not to mention a one-way ticket to ruining us.”
 

“I wasn’t going to try anything.” Skywarp complains, flicking a paperclip in Starscream’s direction and Thundercracker wondered if they were really going to devolve into a slap fight with their boss less than fifty feet away.
 

Megatron. Huh.
 

Megatron was, in a word, terrifying. Currently she stalked the labs various clear-walled sectors lead by the Division head. Followed by her equally terrifying assistant lingering in her shadow, making notes with sharp eyes and a still mouth that didn’t even part to breathe.
 

She looked, powerful. More like someone who conquered ancient territories behind a chariot rather than sitting at a desk and signing documents all day. With skin warmed then polished by the sun, large hands that felt like iron when they first met - a single handshake almost knocking TC over. Skywarp had swooned on their first day and that had been a very different mess to how Starscream acted around their employer.
 

Starscream had a habit of acting big around anyone larger or more powerful than herself. And sadly that inferiority complex hadn’t paused for the one responsible for their livelihood. They apparently fought constantly, which was strange to hear and never see. Meeting up for dinner just to listen to Starscream’s long-winded complaints about the “stupid brute playing emperor”. She didn’t seem to like Megatron much...but even a fool could tell Starscream admired her.
 

Thundercracker had feared at first Starscream would do something stupid. Megatron wasn’t ugly by any means. Rough like armor displayed in a museum. Used and battle scarred but intricate and inspiring. The manner Megatron carried wherever she stepped was almost suffocating and honestly Thundercracker felt honored just to be intimidated by the woman. But Starscream had tricks, and Starscream had plans and the last thing they needed was for all their hard work to be flushed down the drain was because Starscream thought she was smarter than Megatron.
 

When oh so clearly, she was not.
 

It was a relief beyond relief that Starscream seemed to understand this, even going as far as to discourage Skywarp’s joking behavior. At least TC hoped she was joking...Primus she hoped she was joking...because if Skywarp was planning on being a kept girl by their boss Thundercracker needed to return a ring she bought years ago - long before their first kiss.
 

“Besides,” Skywarp continued, and oh how they wished she wouldn’t as Megatron was closer now than before. “She only makes eyes at Screamer.”
 

There’s a crash and it echoes, the nearest groups pausing to seek the cause only to find Starscream. Wide-eyed and red faced, the tablet at her feet face down and screen shattered judging by the tiny bits of glass surrounding their station. Having hit the workbench corner on the way down and making it very difficult for Starscream to disappear.
 

“I’m going to kill you.” Starscream whispers, scowling and choked up - terrible at receiving attention when unprepared. Going tense when Skywarp had to stop herself from laughing at the look on Starscream’s face.
 

“And after I kill you I’m going to---”

 

“Is there a problem?”

“AH!” Skywarp falls out of her seat when Megatron speaks, knocking blueprints and pens down with her in the flurry of her scare. Leg kicking out and tripping Starscream, sending their third tripping into the workbench and - because Primus was either dead or cruel - right into their employer’s chest.

She hits. Hard. Face first into the tie clip and there’s a jump of pain and a noise. Starscream pulling back as the metal edge was sharp enough to skim the flesh of her nose. Red swelling up on dark skin and leaving Thundercracker scrambling to find a towel or anything useful while Skywarp fell to knees and started apologizing.
 

“Watch where you’re going!” Starscream bears teeth up at their employer, careless and purposefully loud so those snickering nearby knew first hand how unafraid of Megatron she could pretend to be.
 

“Perhaps if you weren’t so busy gossiping you would have seen my approach.” Megatron answers, voice low like the echo of an endless cavern. Dark and forever - likely your doom. “Hold still.” Without asking Megatron move faster than one might expect, batting Starscream’s hands away from her wounded face and laying her own pocket square over the small wound - almost encompassing Starscream’s face with her hand alone.
 

One. Two. Three.
 

Starscream blinks, owlish and comical until the absurdity of the situation catches up to her melted brain. She yanks back and away from Megatron, trailed by a thin hiss and pointed glare.

“Get off of me! I don’t know where this has been!” She cries, outraged and embarrassed, but doesn’t lower the handkerchief of violet and silver from her face. “Where’s HR when I need them?!”
 

“Right here.” Megatron motions over her shoulder to Soundwave (who gives a courteous wave) before sweeping low and plucking the tablet from the floor. Shaking a few glass shards from its surface and giving it an almost impressed look. “I thought I hired you to create, not destroy?”
 

“And I thought I agreed to work for a woman of innovation - not a lumbering behemoth who always gets in my way!”
 

“Starscream,” Tundercracker tried, giving Megatron a very polite smile (that was close to begging as one could get). “Maybe calm down?”
 

“Ugh, I don’t have time for this!” She jabs a finger into Megatron’s chest, looking up at her with a terrible scowl. “If this scars you best have your lawyers ready! I’ve never had plastic surgery and I don’t intend to!”

Lies. And though Starscream scarcely reaches Megatron’s collar she manages to push their goliath of a boss aside, storming past Soundwave who look as exhausted as TC feels.

 

Considering their “sister” just abandoned them with their likely upset employer. Gee. Thanks Screamer.

Skywarp kicks Thundercracker’s heel, catches her attention, and wordlessly motions up before Starscream can get too far. Their furious third’s steps as violent and loud as a hurricane, cursing Megatron and all she's worth in a shameful display as she goes.
 

Megatron was left watching, chin high and dark eyes trained on the retreating form.
 

And she was just, almost, slightly smiling.

 

 

...

Skywarp wakes to the sound of panic.
 

Then goes back to sleep.
 

Then wakes right back up as Thundercracker shakes her violently, almost pushing her off the bed all while yelling her name.
 

“Skywarp wake the fuck up!”
 

“Why do you HATE me?!” Yells, sitting up in their bed and too groggy to try and kill her fiancé because she was just. So. So tired. So much so that Skywarp was still wearing her work clothes from the day before and felt sweaty and pained in all the worst ways. Not even sure what happened - they’d driven home from a long day at the test field and crashed in bed. What time had that been? Five pm?
 

She looked a the clock, it read six am. Ugh gross.
 

“Look outside!” TC was pacing in their bedroom, rumpled clothes from yesterday still on and her cellphone crammed against her ear...but it was her face that made Skywarp afraid. She looked scared.
 

“What happened?!” Skywarp does as told, heart beating faster than she was prepared for, dizzy when she scrambles over the bed to reach the window and push past the heavy curtains. Still dark for early winter that it took a moment to clear her vision, trying not to recall the last time Thundercracker got a call and looked sick from what she heard on the other line.
 

The world was quiet, quiet enough. A few streets visible from their apartment dotted in motion as cars and city transport began their day. A few commuting bodies lingering on the sidewalk, leaving footprints and tire tracks in the snow which had coated their city overnight.
 

“What am I supposed to be---” Stomach drops and the chill from the glass suddenly felt violent as needles pressing too close to her skin. “Oh fuck,” Is all she can get out before moving back across the room to her phone tossed careless over the room. Half dead battery and multiple missed calls and texts, each more vicious and furious than the last over the course of two hours yesterday evening.
 

“She won’t answer.” TC’s voice is choked as she pulls the phone down, stabbing at the screen with a tremor in her hand. “Can you try? I’m going to see if the office can check the labs, maybe she just slept there?”
 

“Okokok.” Skywarp dials the familiar number with speed. It rings. No answer. She tries again. It rings. No answer. “She could have gotten a cab?” She asks, hopeful, but TC’s face looks almost worse for the suggestion.

“She wouldn’t drive though, right? She can’t I mean, we knew it was supposed to snow this weekend but she wouldn’t get behind the wheel with her issues. Right?!”

 

She knows better, she has to know better. The last time she drove in weather like this…
 

“Keep trying.” TC urges, passing by to squeeze Skywarp’s elbow with what little comfort she can provide, voice picking up as she finally got through to the office. “Hi, this is Thundercracker, sector leader of--”
 

Skywarp calls Starscream’s phone again wishing her STUPID sister hadn’t moved across town or else she could just walk to check on her. They used to live one floor away, just one staircase and a short walk. Skywarp recalled sneaking into Starscream’s room at the manor, the bleak halls lined with portraits of strangers who looked horrific in the night. The way Starscream would complain about Skywarp crawling into bed with her, but would leave the tableside lamp on regardless.
 

How did they sleep through her calls? How could they?
 

She dials. It rings. No answer. she dials. It rings. No answer. she dials. It rings…
 

“WHAT?!” Starscream’s voice so shrill in the morning has never sounded so good. Skywarp lets out a loud cry to alert TC, almost falling back to the bed when knees go weak in relief.
 

“I'm sorry! We fell asleep and didn’t know you were calling and didn’t know it was going to snow and we can come get you where are you are you ok what happened?!” She doesn’t breathe once, not even as Thundercracker crowds close, cheeks flush together as Skywarp hits the speaker button just in time for Starscream’s dismissive sigh.
 

“You idiots, you’re calling for that?! I’m fine!” There’s a pause, Starscream’s hand can be heard brushing the receiver.
 

“Star! Where are you!?”
 

“I’m home!” Voice goes high, then drops, almost to a whisper when she continues. “I’m home, It’s fine, calm down.”
 

“You didn’t drive did you?” Skywarp is pressed against TC’s side, flashbacks of hospital beds and rehab centers. The following years when Starscream would lock herself away during certain months - having to drive to another city to pick her up as snow fell quiet from the sky…
 

“No I didn’t. I got a ride.”
 

“From who?” TC gapes, somehow more shocked than hearing Starscream just slept at the office.
 

“Primus you’re nosy! Don’t worry about it I---”
 

“Starscream please!” Skywarp implores. “Just tell us!”
 

“Fine! Sheesh, Megatron drove me home alright?”
 

TC pulled away from the phone, staring at it like she was certain to have misheard.
 

“Come again?”
 

“Megatron drove me home. She's got a big truck with big wheels, zero taste and overcompensation. It was fine. I’m fine. Thank you for waking me up at, for the love of, do you realize what time it is?!”
 

“You let Megatron drive you home?” Skywarp feels herself slouch back into the mattress, sharing puzzled looks with TC. “Like. Our Boss-boss?”

“So?”

“So?? You don’t even let Dirge drive you home in midsummer - and you’ve known Dirge since we were twenty!”

“Well maybe I’m not an idiot and I don’t trust Dirge!”
 

“So you trust Megatron?!” Skywarp blurts out, unthinking which was her only setting. She was the heart of the group really. TC was the brains and Starscream was the ass they kept having to pull out of the fire. But as the heart of the group she was the one to call them out on the stupid things they said. And what Starscream just implied…
 

There’s a voice on Starscream’s end. It’s low and it’s dark and it sends both of them tense and terrified and imagining a gun metal suit and a tie the color of splashed blood. The voice calls out Starscream’s name and their “sister” answers, hand over the phone to muffle her response all while leaving TC and Warp forgetting how to breathe.
 

It’s six in the morning and Megatron was in Starscream’s home.
 

“I’m hanging up now, I’ll see you two tomorrow.” Starscream answers quickly, lacking her usually painted disinterest or annoyance. Now she just sounds rushed.
 

“See us tomorrow because it snowed? Or because---” Skywarp can’t finish the thought before the line cuts. The dial tone eventually fills the silence between TC and herself, slouched on the bed’s edge and sharing a look of absolute confusion.
 

Conflict.
 

Concern.
 

“No.” TC starts, sounding so sure it’s almost like she believes it. “No way, Megatron wouldn’t…”
 

“Starscream would.” Skywarp adds.
 

“Starscream hates her!” It’s a weak defense, they both know it. But they might have been able to convince themselves of anything else had it not been for the chime of their phones in unison not moments later. Emails received from work. Division leads and managers being informed that Megatron would be out of the office today and to contact her secretaries to reschedule any pressing appointments.
 

“There’s just. No way.” Thundercracker repeats, and just past her furrowed expression Skywarp watches the snow outside begin to fall once more.


 

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