"I promised nothing, miserable glitch!"
Thundercracker interceded before Skywarp could mess everything up further, stepping between his indignant wing mate and their seething air commander. The instant he did, he regretted it.
"Something to say, Thundercracker?" Starscream hissed malevolently. Thundercracker suppressed a shudder.
"You scheduled us," he said after a moment.
"Yeah!" Skywarp shouted behind him. Thundercracker swung a leg back and kicked the noisy glitch, getting an irritated hiss for the trouble. Starscream's red optics narrowed, but he no longer looked quite so ready to beat one or both of them senseless. The air commander straightened.
"I'm busy," he answered simply, the tone implying that they were expected to leave it at that and get out of his quarters. Thundercracker felt rather than heard the subsonic rumble from behind him as Skywarp expressed his growing frustration with the situation. Once again, he interceded.
"You've skipped out on it since we woke up on this backwater mudball," Thundercracker pointed out. Starscream narrowed his optics again, but Thundercracker continued hastily. "Our performance is suffering."
His wings were quivering slightly in fear and nervousness he couldn't quite repress, but Skywarp was blessedly silent for once, and Starscream was staring in a contemplative, still way. Finally, their commander sneered.
"I suppose you are rather pitiful without my help," Starscream conceded, and Thundercracker relaxed slightly. Not even Skywarp was going to argue with Starscream's assessment right then.
Thundercracker had none of the delusions Skywarp did. Skywarp thought that his specialized abilities made him just as valuable as Starscream, just as worthy of attention. More so, even, because Skywarp was, he thought, more loyal to the cause than their commander. That his ability couldn't be taught was seemingly important as well.
Thundercracker had been the one to look up what history was available on Starscream, long ago. It was that action that clued him in to the reasons behind Starscream's attitude about them, even if most of Thundercracker's conclusions were more conjecture than anything else.
The three of them had not become a trine out of any mutual affection, or conversely, any random assignment. Starscream had clawed his way up the ranks, shedding wingmates as he went when they were too slow, too inflexible, too imperfect. Thundercracker recalled the rumors from back on Cybertron as a relatively new recruit, that the ruthless Starscream regularly murdered his own. That was spoken of with admiration, if not mild disbelief. Weren't seeker groups supposed to trust their own members with their lives?
It was a naive notion, perhaps one that had been programmed during times of peace when the seeker models weren't quite so thirsty for violence. Now, it was somewhat awe-inspiring, to be able to ignore those dated protocols and have no attachments, not even to your own, and act accordingly. When Thundercracker was chosen after a torturous process meted down by their future wingmate himself, he had been frightened, but... eager, somehow. He didn't want to die, but if the rumors were to be believed, he would, and relatively quickly. But, at the same time... there was a piece of him that was in awe of Starscream, for as much as it hurt, and wanted desperately to stay around that arrogant, selfish, cruel being for as long as he was able to. If that meant pushing himself beyond the limits of what he was capable of giving, he would gladly, eagerly, do it. Even if it meant he would still be murdered in the end, for being imperfect.
But the more Thundercracker dug into the actual events and less into the rumors, it was startling to see that Starscream had never actually been proven to kill any of his own. There were many, so many, and it was easy to see why the rumors had developed. Starscream went through trines like no one he had ever heard of before, but as far as Thundercracker could tell, he had never actually killed them outright. They were shot out from under him, captured and destroyed by enemies, lost forever in battle, dropped out of the air around him as efficiently as if he had annihilated them himself.
But he hadn't. And it was rather disappointing, actually.
That aside, Starscream's continued survival while his partners perished, while a continuous source of new material for the gossips, offered solid proof of at least one worship-worthy trait: Starscream was a god in the air. He survived, had the talent to, even when no one else did.
For that, if nothing else, Thundercracker would willingly follow him and give him his due.
Unfortunately, Starscream was a god who preferred highly to remain untouched by his subjects. That's where the problem was, and likely always would be.
"Why do we always have to do this in your room?" Skywarp complained, glaring distastefully at the surroundings, which radiated Starscream and Only Starscream in its energies and feel. Thundercracker thought it was appropriate, in a way. He and Skywarp hadn't taken Starscream as their third, to complete their trine- Starscream had taken them to complete his. That the environment reflected this dynamic was to be expected, somehow.
None the less...
"All the supplies are in our room," Thundercracker noted, wishing Starscream wouldn't look so put-off by the very idea.
"Fine," Starscream finally muttered, brushing past the two of them and heading sulkily to his wingmates' shared quarters, muttering about how busy he was and other such things the entire way. Skywarp was rumbling with irritation again, but Thundercracker grabbed his wrist firmly and squeezed, and the sound stopped. Starscream punched in the code to open the door and let himself in, immediately heading for one of the recharge plates and sitting on it, facing the other two with arms folded, glaring while managing at the same time to look exceedingly bored.
"Well?" Starscream sneered. "Get on with it already." Thundercracker felt Skywarp twitch, but ignored it in favor of getting out the necessary supplies and then joining Starscream. He ignored Starscream's tension and discontented growling the same as he had ignored Skywarp's twitch, and merely held up the buffing cloth.
"Where first?" he asked, doing his part in the act. Starscream regarded him carefully for a moment before lifting up one foot and laying it (rather forcefully) on Thundercracker's lap, and smirking. The usual procedure, then. Skywarp was peripherally opening the storage underneath the other recharge plate and getting something out, but Thundercracker only focused on the careful cleaning and polishing of his commander's foot. Starscream gave a pleased rumble as reward, but did not relax. Skywarp presented Starscream with a small but potent cube of highly illegal highgrade, but couldn't manage to delete the sullen, angry look from his face.
"You probably poisoned it," Starscream muttered, staring suspiciously at Skywarp. Skywarp glanced at Thundercracker for guidance, but he had none. Starscream was deviating from their usual play. Skywarp looked back at Starscream, confused and not a little frustrated.
"It's not poisoned," he said. Starscream scoffed, and turned his head pointedly. He wasn't drinking it.
"It's not poisoned!" Skywarp repeated, the frustration and impatience seeping fully into his voice. Starscream glanced sideways at him and smirked. He beckoned with one finger, and Skywarp leaned closer hesitantly, highgrade cube held slightly out in front of him. Starscream started to smile, and Skywarp tried to rear back and out of reach.
Tried to. Starscream reached out and clamped a hand over the teleport's wing, dragging him closer, all without dislodging his foot from Thundercracker's attentions. By now, Thundercracker had started up his lower leg. Skywarp was growling deeply, the tremors and pulses of it vibrating through their quarters. Starscream laughed.
"Poor fool," he commented off-handedly, his grip leaving compression marks on the metal of Skywarp's wing. Skywarp cried out, but didn't try to pull back. He was used to this, at least. Starscream was only ever gentle when overenergized, which was why they tried so hard to get him that way whenever they could. Neither personally liked the way Starscream rambled even more than usual in that state, but he tolerated their touching easily, and even reciprocated, so it was worth it. Even when he murmured names that weren't their own, it was still worth it.
Thundercracker lingered on the leg in his lap, touching it idly, but Starscream knew what he was doing and quickly slid it away, depositing the other leg in its place in a silent demand. Meanwhile, he crooned at Skywarp, who looked about ready to short something critical.
"You really want to be that close?"
Skywarp frowned deeply.
"Wish it didn't have to be with a walking malfunction like you," he tried to snap bitterly, but it sounded more resigned than angry. Starscream laughed again.
"Now, now," he crooned, smoothing over the abused metal of Skywarp's wing while its owner repressed a shiver. "You said you needed this."
"Yes," Skywarp ground out. Thundercracker spared a brief glance up at him. Skywarp had always been the neediest. He figured it might have something to do with his ability, the instability of it creating or at least encouraging Skywarp's need to have someone around for stability, to cling to. Out of all them, he was the most tactile. He needed it the most. It didn't mean he hated himself any less for the weakness.
"Get to work then," Starscream quipped, holding out an arm and watching carefully as Skywarp finally set the cube down beside him and picked up another cloth like the one Thundercracker had, and started polishing. Starscream's pleased rumble was for the both of them now, and no matter what their feelings on the matter, they soaked it up.
Starscream watched with narrowed optics and a smirk. "Better," he praised, the rumbling adding a slight vibration to his voice. Thundercracker put more effort into polishing, trying to ignore the subroutines flashing insistently through his processor. He was done with the leg, and moved as if to start on the arm opposite of Skywarp, but touched a wing instead. Starscream tensed again, but there was no blow, no yelling, and he didn't move away. Thundercracker repressed the futile little thrill of hope that nearly made his energy field crackle.
Skywarp made a keening sound and lowered his face to nuzzle the limb he was polishing. Starscream scowled and slapped him half-heartedly.
"Do you have no control at all?" he scolded. Skywarp shuddered and growled, before Thundercracker risked reaching out with the hand that wasn't employed with polishing Starscream's wing and touched the side of Skywarp's head. Skywarp reacted immediately and pushed into the touch. Thundercracker could feel their electrical fields intermingling, and it was a familiar sensation. He could feel exactly where his partner was, his whole body. Even if all his external sensors were cut off, he'd still be able to tell where Skywarp was, exactly...
Starscream growled low, unhappy with their sudden lack of attention, and suddenly moved as if to leave.
"Wait, no!" Thundercracker disconnected from Skywarp and put both hands flat on Starscream's wing. He hated it when Starscream did this kind of thing, hated it... and the fragger could probably feel his shaking, too.
"I don't see why I should," Starscream snapped. "I take time to indulge you two worthless scrapheaps, but if you don't want to-"
He was cut off by Skywarp suddenly scrambling onto the plate with them and pushing his head into Starscream's lap.
"Please," Skywarp whined. Thundercracker looked at him worriedly, it normally took longer than this to get Skywarp so submissive to the air commander. Starscream, however, looked entirely too pleased.
"What was that?" Starscream prompted, grinning widely. The way his optics flared brighter always made Thundercracker shiver.
"Please, Starscream!" Skywarp repeated, pressing desperately against the air commander. "It sucks, not being able to feel you... I hate you... please, just-!"
There was a deep, loud vibration from Starscream, and Thundercracker cried out shortly as it went through him and he felt it. Skywarp had a similar reaction and squirmed, nuzzling Starscream's side.
"Let me, let me," Thundercracker started murmuring, hands splayed out on his commander's wing. The vibrations were going through his fingers, all the way up to his chest. He thought something might be clattering loose, but couldn't bring himself to care. Starscream hummed at them, bringing up the pitch a bit, and casually picked up the cube of highgrade Skywarp had left. He studied it, seemingly oblivious to the whispered and whimpered pleads from his neglected wingmates, until he held the edge of it up to Thundercracker's mouth.
"Drink," he ordered. Thundercracker stared for a moment, confused, but Starscream bumped it against his face insistently, and he was obliged to follow instructions. The highgrade jolted his systems almost immediately, and left a burning aftertaste like fumes. Seemingly satisfied, Starscream passed the cube to Skywarp, who looked put-off by the whole thing, but followed suit and sipped it. Some ritual known only to Starscream complete, he drank some himself, optics narrowing with distaste at the crudeness of it. Thundercracker reached up and cautiously took hold of the cube, keeping it in place. Starscream favored him with a suspicious glare, but let his hands drop when he seemed satisfied that the act was done in worship rather than insistence. Peripherally, Thundercracker was aware of Skywarp looking somewhat grateful.
Starscream slowly finished off the rest of the cube, content to be handfed, and Thundercracker destabilized the remaining container with a quick flash. He and Skywarp began working in tandem- a benefit to their own bonding sessions- and while one murmured praises, the other casually touched the air commander under the guise of further shine, and slowly, slowly, Starscream began to relax.
"More," Starscream demanded hazily, and they complied. Skywarp actually crooned as he moved in close, rubbing and touching, wings scraping against Starscream's. Thundercracker shuddered and mimicked the gesture on the opposite side, and Starscream rumbled quietly, a soft vibration of inebriated contentment.
Thundercracker thought his processor would short out when Starscream finally rested the fingertips of his hand on his face. He kept perfectly still, save for the deep subsonic vibration he answered with. On the other side, Skywarp cried out sharply, simply radiating want and need in equal, combined parts, despite that Starscream's other hand was resting on him, too. Starscream just smirked halfway and ran his hand down Skywarp's torso, along the canopy, and Skywarp responded enthusiastically by copying the action. Thundercracker reached out from his place pressed up against Starscream's side and pulled Skywarp closer, practically sprawled across Starscream's lap, and the two continued casually fulfilling the teleport's need for contact, feeding off his grateful and delighted crooning until Skywarp began to tire, and his reciprocated touches were faltering, clinging instead of caressing.
Thundercracker began to focus again on Starscream, until he was putting his hands on every part of Starscream he could reach, intermingling energy fields, and vibrating hard enough from their combined and opposing frequencies that he could literally feel things threatening to jostle loose. Starscream, if he was having a similar problem, didn't seem to mind or notice. And when his hands started sliding down Thundercracker's wings, he stopped caring too.
"Starscream," Thundercracker managed haltingly, intending to beg, or lavish praise, or whatever he could do to make him do that for awhile longer. Starscream responded by grabbing him and pressing him as close as possible, and crooning at him.
Thundercracker could feel his processor threaten to shut down. Starscream didn't make that sound. He never had before, there was no expectation for him to. It was an affectionate signal. The low growl-like rumbling just meant that the one generating it was feeling good, and that, coming from Starscream, was expected. Affection? No.
He opened his mouth to say Starscream's name again, to ask why he was crooning, why the sudden change, even if he was overenergized. But, saying something would interrupt that sound, and it was so rare that Thundercracker couldn't possibly spoil it with words, so he merely replied with the same signal, and made certain to touch Starscream as much as possible. But his energy field was flickering, exhausted already from the repeated and extended analysis of his wingmates' systems and positioning, and the subroutines were beginning to complete their loops and shut down...
Starscream seemed to withdraw before he did, leaning back against the bulkhead and dimming his optics to a deep, dull red in a state of lazy fulfillment. Thundercracker knew it was a horrible idea, but he moved so that he was laying down, head set on the upper part of Starscream's leg, forehead touching the back of Skywarp's helmet.
Starscream shifted slightly, optics dimming further as he slipped into unconsciousness. Thundercracker could feel and hear Starscream's systems slowing.
Starscream murmured some things drowsily. None of them were his wingmates' names.
Thundercracker knew it was probably his mishearing, or wishful thinking, or that damned optimism that he couldn't ever quite delete, but he thought, as Starscream murmured those names, he had sounded... confused, somehow. Maybe Starscream was wondering where they were, and just couldn't quite remember that he was bonded to them now, and not those others.
He wanted to believe that, because that confused, lost tone in Starscream's voice before he shut down would have meant something. It would have meant he cared. It would have meant that they had a chance, even a miniscule one, of being closer to him.
Skywarp shifted, rolled over, and pressed his forehead against Thundercracker's. They didn't say anything, and waited for Starscream to wake up and shove them off again.