Starscream does not consider himself an Autobot. Nor is he a Neutral. He is a Decepticon, will always be a Decepticon.
They are more than just factions. They are symbols, choices made.
Starscream is a warrior. He is a Decepticon.
That he chooses to work with the Autobots is an entirely separate matter. He won’t even start considering the relationship he is cultivating with the Autobot CMO.
They are both choices he’s made, choices he would make again. They are a means to survive, even if Ratchet may perhaps be more.
It is unfair. As Ratchet is unnervingly drawn to Starscream, so it is the other way around. He puts on a solid front, but Starscream is as hopelessly attached to the surly medic as Ratchet can’t seem to turn his backplating on Starscream.
It’s as much a burden as it is a gift.
He doesn’t mind all that much. But he also never tells Ratchet that he’s still searching for Megatron. Not because he wants to revive the Decepticon cause. But because once upon a time, Starscream had admired Megatron and had believed in his vision.
He also knows that Optimus Prime had meant something to Megatron no matter how little he would admit it.
The war is over. The Decepticons are a factor in the annals of history. But Starscream refuses to let them become a footnote. He is Decepticon and proud and he will fight to ensure the truth has its day. He will fight for the Decepticons because no one else can.
“Where are we on reconstructing Shockwave’s half of the synthetic energon?” Ratchet asks as he comes into their medbay-slash-research lab, carrying a box stuffed to the brim with various bits and pieces of equipment.
Years of scraping around the scrap pile to create even a semblance of working equipment has turned the Autobot Chief Medical Officer into something of a magpie. And a hoarder. He refuses to throw anything into the rubbish if there’s a slightest chance it can be reused. He has also learned how to scavenge.
Sometimes, Ratchet disappears.
Starscream has learned to find him out in the war-desolated lands of Cybertron, pulling along a makeshift wagon as he picks up bits and pieces of the past, hoping to incorporate it into the future.
“Same place we’ve been for the past two weeks,” Starscream says, planting his hands against the desk as he stares down at an unmoving datapad. “Nowhere. Might I suggest that we–”
“No.” The box rattles as Ratchet drops it on a table, a piece of something falling off the top, hitting the floor, and rolling against a cabinet. “I will not ask Predaking what he did with his pet scientist.”
Starscream shrugs. “It was a suggestion. One that might get us further than trying to retrace his steps.”
Ratchet gives him a long look. “And you think you have what it takes to convince Shockwave to help us?”
“I think that Shockwave wants to see Cybertron restored as much as any of us,” Starscream answers truthfully. “As much as it pains me to admit, we are in need of his… expertise.” The word tastes like stale energon on his glossa.
Ratchet leans over to swipe the canister off the floor. “I don’t think Ultra Magnus will go for it.”
“We’re a democracy now. Who says you have to ask?” Starscream winks an optic.
“It’s not that simple.”
“It never is.” Starscream rolls his optic and returns his attention to his calculations. “Next you’ll be telling me it’s better this way.”
“Maybe it is.”
Starscream puts down his datapad with a sharp click and whirls toward his partner. “Beg pardon?”
“We did this,” Ratchet says as he leans against the table, jarring the box behind him. “It’s our responsibility to fix it. We don’t deserve an easy out.”
Starscream grabs his datapad and waves it in Ratchet’s direction. “What about this incomprehensible piece of science is easy?”
But Ratchet gets that look on his face, that one of exasperated confusion that he always gets when their discussion is divided along the lines of faction. Where Ratchet’s idea of how the world works differs from Starscream’s because he is an Autobot and Starscream is a Decepticon.
“The only way we’ll keep ourselves from falling into bad habits is to do this ourselves,” Ratchet says. “Otherwise, we might be tempted to destroy it all over again.”
And wouldn’t that make Optimus Prime’s sacrifice a heap of useless?
Starscream huffs a ventilation and shakes his helm. “You Autobots. Always willing to do things the hard way.”
Ratchet passes by him, finger flicking the edge of Starscream’s wings. “You’re an Autobot, too, you know. No matter what these things claim.”
Starscream twitched his wings, the light above catching on his Deceptibrand. “Don’t insult me.”
“Hah. If I wanted to insult you, I’d be trying harder.” Ratchet offers him a grin, his field flicking out in a tease. “Come on. Break time. You stare at those equations any longer and they’ll start making sense.”
Starscream turns away from the datapad, falling into step beside his partner. “Isn’t that the point?”
“I don’t know. I was starting to wonder.” Ratchet cycles a ventilation, the sound a mix between resignation and exasperation. “There are a number of other projects we could be working on. Maybe we should shelve this one for now.”
“Or maybe we can stop wasting time tracing Shockwave’s footsteps and just ask him,” Starscream says though he loathes to make the suggestion.
Ratchet’s field sharpens with warning. “We are not going that route,” he says, a touch of growl in his vocals now. “I would sooner rebuild Cybertron sheet by sheet than seek out Shockwave.” His tone leaves no room for argument.
Starscream’s optics cycle down, but he doesn’t push. Beneath the anger is something else. And it’s not hard to remember what had happened last time Ratchet assisted Shockwave in completing this formula. The medic still wants nothing to do with the predacons and makes himself scarce whenever Predaking comes to make trade.
“And if there is any justice in the universe it won’t matter anyway because Shockwave is offline,” Ratchet adds and then whirls on a heel, abruptly heading the opposite direction.
Starscream pauses, turning to watch his exit. “Where are you going?”
“I’m fueled enough,” he throws over his shoulder.
Starscream sighs and buries his faceplate in his hand. Well. That’ll be a chilly reception in the berth this evening. Perhaps he’ll be better off on the fold-out in their shared lab.
Starscream checks the patrol logs. It’ll be Smokescreen this evening, and he’s known for paying Starscream little attention.
Perhaps he’ll have no need to recharge in a berth tonight. Perhaps Starscream needs to do a little search on his own. Ratchet may be unwilling, but Starscream isn’t. He’s tired of looking out a window and seeing nothing but destruction.
He wants to see his home again.
Shockwave is listed as missing-presumed-dead in the Autobot database. This is because there have been no confirmed sightings of him in any of his known laboratories and no one has found his empty frame either. A pity.
Unfortunately, this also means that Starscream has no leads in finding the scientist. None save one. And it’s that lead which gives him pause. Well, that and the niggling reminder from his conscience that he is only going to make things worse with Ratchet.
His last encounter with Predaking had not been pleasant, had left its marks in more ways than one. Ratchet is not the only one who makes himself scarce when Predaking drops by, though the medic is at least tolerant of Darksteel and Skylynx.
Predaking is not difficult to find. He’s built himself a home on the edge of the former predacon burial ground. Starscream doesn’t know what he or the other predacons do with their time and he doesn’t particularly care. But they are the best hope for finding Shockwave.
Whether or not they’ll help is another matter. Especially since Starscream has nothing to offer them. Not to mention that Predaking had done his level best to destroy Starscream when last they met.
He might not be too keen on seeing Starscream alive even if, tangentially, he is aware of it.
But Starscream is a Decepticon, and he has a duty. He also secretly hopes that he won’t have to use the distress beacon either. Ratchet won’t be happy if he has to come retrieve Starscream and put him back together.
He spends an hour searching, flying a criss-cross pattern across the landscape, his scanners working at max. Wherever Predaking and his minions are, it is not here. Starscream doesn’t know what they do when they are not poking around in the leftovers of a burial ground. The Autobots don’t seem so concerned about it either.
They are not here. How frustrating.
Starscream performs a tight turn and aims himself toward home, and that’s when something pings on his sensor. He pauses, hovering mid-air, orienting himself to the ping. It’s on the furthest edge of his sensor range, the reception too spotty to clearly identify the source.
It could be Shockwave. It could be a new arrival to Cybertron. It certainly isn’t a newly sparked mech, not this far out in the wilderness and away from the Well of Allsparks. Unless the technimals have returned, though Starscream is certain they would have seen signs of that sooner.
Starscream considers investigating. It is further from the Autobot base than he is now. But with the ground bridge, back up is only a comm call away. He can defend himself if he is not outnumbered.
And he is not a coward.
Starscream turns toward the signal and locks on to it. There is a mystery here that needs solving.
He follows the ping toward the setting sun and the darkness on the horizon. It is, he remarks, not unlike the beginning of a cheap human horror film. Starscream chuckles to himself. Knock Out would have enjoyed the comparison.
He coasts over the Sea of Rust and just past the Sonic Canyons before the ping gets stronger. Below him, the landscape is pitted with divots and scars. There are deep, shadowy places where a mech can easily lose himself. The perfect location, perhaps, for a scientist to conceal a laboratory.
Starscream tracks the signal to a narrow crevasse and the yawing maw of a cave just beyond. He can make out nothing in the dark, not a sound or a whisper. But the ping is strongest here, and his energon sensors are chiming a soft sound. Something is down there.
He transforms and lands, readying a blaster. Ratchet is going to have his wings for a serving plate if Starscream gets himself injured. But he’s just curious enough to take the risk.
Starscream’s plating clamps down as he creeps into the cave. Past experience makes him wary, and his wings report the weight of rock above him, the lack of free-flowing air. But Starscream is a proud warrior, a Decepticon. He refuses to let his anxieties rule his actions.
His field probes the darkness ahead of him. Brief and frequent pulses keep a sensor on the possibility of scraplets or other unsavory beasts. Creatures that survived in the depths of Cybertron no matter what the sapient mecha had done to the surface.
His audials pick up the presence of another mech before anything else. He hears the hissing-rattle of clogged filters, a snuffling of vents that need flushing. And then he rounds a corner, the darkness lit by the dim glow of a small collection of low grade energon.
Starscream gets a whiff of the mech’s energy field and his sensors go haywire. He freezes, fighting down the automatic response of his defensive protocals.
That is not Shockwave.
Starscream dares step deeper into the cave, getting a better look at his once lord and master, draped over a makeshift berth. His armor is pitted and scored, likely damage from the last battle that never quite healed. There’s a hint of emaciation to his protoform – clear signs of a lack of quality energon. Megatron must also have taken his claws to himself because Unicron’s additions are either missing or visibly damaged.
Starscream moves closer, into receiving range of Megatron’s energy field, a brief scan reporting the once warlord’s condition. Lack of maintenance, repairs, and decent energon have left him in a poor state. Is he even capable of offlining?
Nothing. Megatron doesn’t even stir. Which is alarming considering that Megatron’s defensive protocols have always erred on the side of caution.
Starscream frowns and takes a moment to examine the ping that had alerted him earlier. He realizes, to his shock, that it had been automatic. The last gasps of a frame desperate to survive. Megatron hadn’t programmed this. Which means he must be in stasis, not recharge, and has been for long enough that his survival protocols had initialized.
Starscream frowns, laying a hand on Megatron’s shoulder. The vibrations of life are dulled. There is chill to Megatron’s armor. And that he doesn’t stir, doesn’t online to lash out for someone touching him, that perhaps is the most worrisome observation.
Megatron is dying.
Alone, in the near-dark, for whatever reason. It’s an unfitting end for a warrior. Better that he’d offlined at the hands of Bumblebee than this. Unicron had taken many things from Megatron, and now, also his dignity and the honor of a warrior’s death.
Somewhere, beneath all that, is the mech who had risen up from the chains of his oppressors to inspire a revolution that would free them all.
Starscream pities him and that, perhaps, is the most startling realization of all. Along with the secondary one: he can’t leave Megatron here. He can’t walk away. And there’s no way on Cybertron he can get Megatron out of here by himself. He’s going to need help.
Frag it all to the Pit. This is not going to be pleasant for anyone.
Starscream braces himself and makes the call.
“Are you out of your damned mind?”
Starscream winces and folds his arms over his chestplate. He didn’t know Ratchet was capable of reaching that decibel and frankly, he’d have been happier not knowing it.
“I am in possession of all my faculties,” Starscream retorts, keeping his tone mild but frosty. “I am also serious.”
Ratchet huffs a ventilation and starts to pace, his plating shuffling around his frame, betraying his agitation. “I know you are. That’s what makes this all the more ridiculous.”
Starscream refuses to reply to that.
He watches Ratchet pace some more, his hand rubbing his face. “Bad enough that I took the risk to bring you back home, but now you want me to show up with fragging Megatron? Why would I even want to?”
Starscream’s wings flick. “Because factions don’t exist anymore. And he’s still a Cybertronian.”
“Thanks to him, we lost Cybertron!” Ratchet snarls and he whirls on a pede, stalking closer to Starscream, his optics bleeding blue fury. “We lost Optimus. We lost everything.”
Starscream inclines his helm. “If I recall, it was Unicron who led to that mess. Megatron, after all, did not choose to be resurrected as Unicron’s puppet.”
Ratchet snorts. “And I suppose I should forgive him because he finally had a fragging epiphany? Hah.” He shoves his arms over his chestplate, everything about him pulling into a defensive posture. “I don’t know what’s more galling. That you would ask me or that you want to help him in the first place.”
“Then I suppose we should throw a party,” Ratchet grits out. “Because the only mech who would have mourned his death is already gone! And Megatron’s got himself to blame for it.”
That hurts and Starscream isn’t entirely sure why it does. His wings drift back down, a concession.
“Then you’ll leave him to die,” Starscream says, careful to keep his tone soft.
Ratchet’s expression hardens. “Megatron died a long time ago. I’m not about to risk peace for the likes of him.”
Starscream cycles a ventilation. “Fine,” he says, and holds out his hand. “Give me your medkit.”
Now it’s Ratchet’s turn to balk. “Why?”
“Because I don’t have one of my own,” Starscream says, and it’s his turn to invade Ratchet’s personal space, barely able to keep his anger below the surface. “If I’m going to fix Megatron without your help, I at least need supplies.”
“You’re not even a medic!”
“And apparently, neither are you,” Starscream snaps and holds out his hand again. “Give it to me so you can go back to Kaon and wrap yourself in your hypocrisy.”
Ratchet bristles. “I’m not a… a hypocrite!”
“You are!” Starscream advances on him and Ratchet, impressively, stands his ground. “What are you telling yourself? That I don’t count? I’m just as responsible for what happened to our planet as Megatron is! And you’re only lying to yourself if you believe otherwise.”
Ratchet tears his gaze away and his hands form fists. “That’s not fair.”
“Nothing about any of this is fair.” Starscream rolls his optics. “You should know that better than anyone. Now are you going to give me the medkit or not?”
Ratchet’s ventilations are ragged, and all the louder for it in the silence surrounding them. His field is a fluttering tempest, no doubt a match to Starscream’s own. And Starscream knows it can’t be easy.
But he’s also not going to change his mind. If Ratchet doesn’t help, Starscream will still stay here.
Finally, Ratchet lifts a hand and points a finger at Starscream. “You’re going to explain this to the others,” he says, and shoves past Starscream, stalking into the open maw of Megatron’s hiding place.
Starscream stares after him. “What are you doing?”
“There’s a mech in need of repairs,” Ratchet growls and his vocals echo around the walls. “And a long time ago, I swore an oath. Maybe it still means something.”
Starscream hurries to follow. He won’t ask why Ratchet changed his mind. That can be a conversation saved for later, when Megatron is repaired and they all have time to ventilate.
“Thank you,” he says instead.
Ratchet appreciates gratitude and Starscream says it rarely enough that the medic should recognize how genuine he is.
“You’re going to explain to me why this matters later,” Ratchet says and produces his medkit from subspace, his strides sharp and purposeful. “Because I’m going to need a fragging good reason as to why you give a damn… about… Megatron…”
His words trail off as he comes to a halt, no doubt getting his first glimpse of Megatron and the cave Megatron calls home. The former warlord looks no less menacing for all that he is unconscious, though Ratchet can’t miss the self-inflicted marks on Megatron’s frame either.
“And you better hope to Primus he’s sane,” Ratchet finishes, shaking himself out of his surprise. He approaches Megatron with the kind of no-nonsense courage that had probably kept him alive during the war. “Otherwise we’ll both pay for our generosity.”
Starscream inclines his helm and perches on a crate to watch and guard Ratchet’s back.
The steady beep and pulse take Starscream back, way back to the early days after Megatron’s return. Megatron had been on life support then as well. A result of his failed attempt to utilize Dark Energon to make a zombie army.
The only difference between now and then is that Starscream isn’t plotting how to disconnect Megatron from the machines without any of his loyal subjects knowing.
He stares at the readouts, datapad lying forgotten in his laptop. Anxiety swirls in his spark. Half of him is ready for Megatron to awake. The other half dreads it.
Megatron begins to stir. Starscream’s wings go rigid.
“You, my once lord and master, have more lives than an Earth feline,” Starscream drawls as he sits up straighter.
Megatron’s optics flicker as his helm turns towards him. “Starscream,” he growls and attempts to roll over on the berth. “I told you that…” He trails off, as though noticing the restraints keeping him from moving.
Protection, Ratchet claims, for both the Autobots and for Megatron. The once warlord can’t afford for those lines to come loose yet.
“Where am I?”
“The Autobot base.” Starscream pushes to his pedes, idly skimming the readouts of the machines attached to Megatron’s frame. All seems to be in order. “I successfully petitioned for them to repair you.”
Red optics narrow. “Why?”
“Because there was once a time I admired you.” Starscream’s gaze shifts to Megatron, a mech a shadow of himself. “And no mech, not even you, deserves to offline in that hovel you claimed as home.”
Megatron sneers, but it is half-sparked as best. “Do not speak to me of what I deserve.”
Starscream’s lip curls in a smirk. “Ah, you now play the part of the victim, Master. Would you rather I end your life?” He curls one hand around the cable providing spark support. “It won’t take much, truly. A simple pull and I can set you on the path to the Allspark. No one will even try to stop me.”
The restraints creak as Megatron tests the strength of them. “If I were to die, it wouldn’t be at your hands.”
“Of course you wouldn’t.” Starscream doesn’t even take offense. Though he does release his loose grip on the cable. “The only mech you’d deign allow to kill you is Optimus Prime and we all know how likely that is to happen now. Tell me, Master, were you wasting away from shame or grief? Perhaps both?”
Megatron growls and looks away from him; the half of his expression Starscream can see is set in stone. “Why have you brought me here?” he asks, and no, it is not a demand. It is a genuine question.
And Starscream doesn’t fail to notice that he didn’t answer Starscream’s previous query. Which is fine because Starscream already knows the answer.
“Because as much as you infuriate me, Megatron, the thought of your death is distasteful,” Starscream says and he circles the berth, prepared to play this game all day if he must. Megatron will look at him. “And it accomplishes nothing.”
Megatron’s hand twitches. “I am to be a prisoner, then.”
“That’s not my decision alone.” Starscream works his jaw. “But I doubt it. They’re probably going to let you go. Or extend an invitation.”
“An invitation,” Megatron repeats, the glyphs flat as though distasteful to him. “To live with the Autobots. Perish the thought.”
Starscream shrugs. “I don’t see where you have any better options.”
Megatron’s silence is all the answer he needs. Starscream draws back from the medberth.
“You’ll be in recovery for a week,” he says. “I suggest you use that time to think about your future. And I wouldn’t antagonize the medics if I were you.”
Megatron sneers, but says nothing.
Starscream takes his leave, unsurprised to find Ratchet waiting for him just outside the door, having been watching through the observation window.
“Come to make sure he’s not a threat?” Starscream asks.
Ratchet gives him a bland look. “I won’t apologize for being concerned for your safety.” His gaze shifts back to the window and Megatron who hasn’t moved except to shift on the berth. “Those straps won’t hold him if he’s determined to be free of them.”
“Megatron’s not determined of anything anymore.” Starscream leans against the window, crossing his arms. “And you’re right. Megatron died a long time ago. That’s the shell Orion Pax left us with.”
Not Optimus Prime. Starscream makes the distinction on purpose.
Ratchet makes a noncommittal noise, his field thoughtful as it tentatively reaches for Starscream’s own. Starscream allows it, recognizing the gesture for the concession it was. And then the medic sighs and rubs his forehelm.
“I suppose I better tell Ultra Magnus to prepare for a new resident,” he says, sounding pained.
Starscream smirks. “Wonder how long Arcee’s going to squawk this time?”
“She accepted you. Eventually.” Ratchet turns to look at him, a touch of humor entering his field. “And she hated you more. I suspect, of all of them, Ultra Magnus will be the hardest to convince.”
“In other words, business as usual.”
Ratchet inclines his helm. “Yes.” He drums his fingers on the ledge at the base of the window. “Starscream, why do you care what happens to Megatron?” And there’s a hint of something in his vocals. Not jealous, but a close relative of it.
“Not for the reasons you think.” Starscream shrugs in an attempt to pass it off as casual and knowing that he fails. He looks through the window where Megatron is lying there, as passive as before, and it’s an image that strikes him as so intensely wrong.
“I know you think that because I’m here that makes me an Autobot, but I’m not. I’ll always be a Decepticon.” He pauses, frustrated with his own inability to articulate what he means by that. “When we started, there was a reason, there was a purpose. I want that back.”
Ratchet folds his arms over his chestplate, leaning a hip against the wall. “We never disagreed with your original goals, you know. Just your methods. Optimus always wanted peace. Megatron just wouldn’t listen.”
Starscream inclines his helm, having to agree. “Megatron got lost in the hate. He forgot what we were meant for.” He sighs, rapping his fingers on the window ledge. “I hate him for what he did to us, to our cause. All I ever wanted was for him to be the mech we followed.”
“Yes, well, that’s not entirely Megatron’s fault.” Ratchet gets his own faraway look, a touch of unease dripping into his field. “Optimus never could make the choice. They circled around each other, and dragged us with them.”
In this, Starscream can agree.
He spreads his hands. “And that’s your answer,” Starscream says. “Megatron is the Decepticons. He will always be the Decepticons. And I can’t be an Autobot, Ratchet. I can’t.”
There’s a sigh, one resigned enough to draw his attention to Ratchet. “I get it,” his partner says, rubbing his faceplate. “And I understand. He’s going to live, Starscream. After that, well, I guess that’s up to him.”
Ratchet drops his hand and turns away from Starscream. He has one hand on the panel, ready to input his security code, before Starscream speaks again.
“I loved him once,” Starscream says, or blurts rather. “The way you loved Optimus Prime.”
Ratchet gives him a look over one shoulder, and Starscream is almost surprised by the understanding lighting those blue optics. “I knew that, too,” he says, and then he vanishes into Megatron’s recovery room, leaving Starscream to watch them from the window.
He can’t hear what they are saying. But judging by the flare to Megatron’s optics and Ratchet’s smirk, Megatron is experiencing Ratchet’s special flavor of berthside manner.
Starscream smiles a little himself. Something within him, that had felt raw and aching and unsettled, finally begins to slot into place.