[Crown the Empire] Reign 01

It was a far cry from the usual Decepticon command meeting. Starscream wasn’t sure if he would ever get used to it, despite how much he preferred it.

There was still posturing and arguing and growled engines and disagreement, but no one limped out of the conference room on a direct route to the medbay. No one had drawn their blaster. Starscream hadn’t been backhanded once.

It was downright amicable for the Decepticons.

“Do I really need to be here?” Knock Out demanded. He lounged in his chair as though he took part in a photoshoot. His plating was polished to a spectacular shine.

Starscream was impressed the medic could get anything done with how much time he spent primping. Maybe he’d been premature when he said there was no posturing. He hadn’t taken Knock Out into account.

“Yes,” Starscream said, maybe closer to a snap, but Knock Out’s personality grated on him. If Starscream had a more qualified Decepticon to put in Knock Out’s place, he would. But there was no way he would pull a Constructicon permanently out of prison and make one of them his CMO.

The Autobots and Neutrals would both have a fit. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t their jurisdiction. It didn’t matter that the Decepticons were understaffed of qualified mechs. It was about image. Giving an unrepentant rapist a position of power was the epitome of stupidity.

Grimlock wouldn’t go for it anyway. And Grimlock had the final say.

It didn’t matter that Starscream struggled to find able-bodied mechs to fill command slots. He could either do without or start outsourcing. He wasn’t going to put anyone who had grossly mistreated the Autobots into a position of power, politics or not.

In fact, he had a hard enough time keeping them alive much less putting them in command of anything. There were still multiple Autobots calling for the execution of every Decepticon who had taken advantage of their prisoners.

“As heinous as I find their actions, we cannot ignore the fact that we need the Constructicons,” Cyclonus said, perhaps in a bid to get them back to the task at hand and ignore Knock Out’s whining.

“We are not allowing them free rein.” Starscream tried to get comfortable on his chair. It had not been designed for a mech with wings. “Usefulness isn’t going to get them a free pass. They deserve to be punished.” He also wasn’t entirely certain they knew they had done wrong.

Megatron’s reprogramming had worked a little too well. The Constructicons had found it difficult to disobey anything Megatron allowed them. It wasn’t that they were Decepticon and therefore evil, but that the Robosmasher tended to give any reprogrammed Autobots a moral compass that aligned with Megatron’s. And Megatron’s did not point in any direction but toward self-satisfaction, personal gain, and the destruction of others.

“Then we are considering parole?” Cyclonus asked without looking up from his datapad.

He was dull and dour, Starscream reflected, but since Thundercracker had turned down Starscream’s offer of third in command, he’d had to extend the candidate pool. Cyclonus had always been a quiet, unassuming Decepticon. But he hadn’t hesitated when it came time to overthrow Megatron, and he had shown no interest in owning a slave after his arrival on Cyberton. His unit was even well-behaved.

He was a good choice for third in command. Though Starscream still hated that Soundwave hadn’t stuck around. Frag if Soundwave wasn’t predictable though. He sure did attach himself to Optimus quickly enough.

“Strict parole,” Grimlock said, leaning back in his chair. He effected a lazy nonchalance, but Starscream knew he was as invested in this discussion as anyone else at the table. With the exclusion of Knock Out. “Tracking devices. Supervision. And never all at once.”

“Make it clear it is a punishment,” Starscream mused. He leaned against the table, bracing his chin on his palm. “Duty restrictions. Access restrictions. Confine them to their cells when they are not on duty. Strict rationing.”

“No pay,” Cyclonus added. “Since we are trying to build a functional economy, the lack of pay can be considered a loss of privilege. They must work to earn their energon, but anything beyond that is a privilege.”

Starscream nodded as he rapped his fingers on top of the table. “That sounds fair. As well as more acceptable to those who might cry mistreatment of prisoners.” In Starscream’s opinion, they did not need better treatment.

Pah. If he hadn’t needed them so fragging much, Starscream would have preferred to line every last one of them up for a firing squad. Or immediate reprogramming. But apparently those actions were equally repellent and should only be used in the most dire of circumstances.

That sort of soft-sparked thinking was what had cost the Autobots the war. He still hadn’t decided if having Grimlock as the Decepticon Lord meant they’d improved or not.

Well, Grimlock hadn’t backhanded him into a wall yet. He supposed that was something.

“Remove their weaponry,” Cyclonus continued as though he read from a list. “Lock their t-cog. They can use non-integrated instruments the same as any non-medical framed field medic does. For construction work, only enable it during their established shifts.”

“All acceptable,” Starscream mused. His clawtips rapped harder on the table. “They’ll need supervision. Trustworthy mechs who can’t be bribed and who are firmly loyal.”

Starscream wasn’t stupid. He knew there were a good many Decepticons who only pretended to accept the change in regime, perhaps hoping to band together and someday overthrow Grimlock and Starscream and return to the status quo. It would not happen under his watch; he swore this. He was sure he could sniff out the insincere in time. But for now, only those he absolutely trusted.

“I would trust any from my unit,” Cyclonus said flaty. “That is at least ten mechs capable of performing parole duty.”

“No more than two at a time,” Grimlock said. He shifted in his chair, the makeshift piece of furniture groaning beneath him. “They are not allowed to go to Polyhex unless Optimus Prime makes a request. They can only work the third shift in the medcenter, if at all.”

All non-negotiable restrictions. Grimlock had spoken. He allowed rebuttal in private, but he did not like being questioned in public. He said that if he was going to be the Decepticon leader, he couldn’t be seen as anything but sovereign. At least for now.

“Agreed,” Cyclonus said.

Starscream cycled a ventilation. “So glad we can agree,” he said. “Now let’s talk about some of the others. You know, the non-useful ones who are exceedingly violent and don’t deserve the energon we’re feeding them.”

Cyclonus gave him a bland look.

Grimlock cycled his vocalizer. “All of the Phase Sixers have been neutralized,” he pointed out. “And Cliffjumper executed Blitzwing. You’ll have to be more specific.”

Starscream rolled his optics. “How about Motormaster and the two degenerates he has left? Or Thrust? Considering that he and his trinemates killed one of the Autobot slaves.”

Air Commander or not, Starscream was not about to stand up and protect Thrust when he’d seen what mess the Coneheads had dumped in the medcenter. There was no hope of saving Beachcomber, but they’d dropped his mangled frame in front of Ratchet anyway, just to be cruel. They’d known sharing a minibot among them was unacceptable and they’d done it anyway.

So, no. Starscream would not defend them. If it was his choice, he’d strip Thrust of his wings and let that be his punishment. Mechs like that did not deserve to fly. They did not deserve to be called mechs.

“If we start executing those mechs, how quickly will it be before the other Decepticons turn on us?” Cyclonus asked. He put down his datapad with a soft click, folding his hands over him. “Their actions were heinous, one cannot deny that. It would have been fortunate had they been offlined in the revolt, but they were not. Now we must deal with them as they are. Can you imagine the riots we’d face if we lined them up and executed them?”

“It would save us all a lot of time and energy,” Starscream retorted.

“It’s not politically sound,” Cyclonus said. “For we also must ask ourselves where to draw the line. There is not a single one of us, myself included I shamefully admit, who has not committed one atrocity or another during the length of the war.”

Grimlock’s helm lowered, his visor shifting to a darker hue. “Cyclonus is right,” he said, and Starscream shot him a startled look. He would have expected Grimlock to favor the immediate approach.

“The time isn’t right for execution,” Grimlock said. “Not without a trial.”

“We’re a military unit, not a civilian government,” Starscream hissed. “And if you’re worried about Decepticons thinking you’re too Autobot, you’re missing the mark. Megatron never bothered with anything like trials.”

“Which is why we should,” Cyclonus said, nodding. “If we’re going to put anyone to death, we need to prove to the rest of the soldiers why there is no other option for justice. Especially given that the Prime might protest the loss of life, and that our population is so decreased.”

Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit. “I would rather our population lose mechs like them as opposed to allowing them to live to round out our numbers.” He snorted. “But fine. Throw them in prison. Smelt the key. Leave them to rot. I will not, however, approve parole.”

Cyclonus tilted his helm. “Fair enough. They can remain in prison until we have mechs to serve on a proper judgment board.”

“What about Shockwave?” Knock Out demanded.

Starscream blinked. He’d forgotten the medic was present.

Knock Out’s pedes hit the floor with a clack as he pushed himself upright from his lounge. “Can I let old one optic out or not? Because the Autobots keep requesting that I help them fix their broken frontliners and from what I’ve seen, I can’t do it without Shockwave.”

Starscream fought down a shudder. Rapist, Shockwave was not. At least, not to the extent of the others. But that did not make him any more palatable. Starscream had seen some of the research Shockwave was responsible for. While Starscream couldn’t duplicate half of it, understand a fourth of it, or fix the latter fourth, he understood enough to make himself feel ill. Shockwave dabbled in things no mech in their right mind should touch.

“Shockwave is loyal to Megatron,” Grimlock said in a bored tone. He’d settled comfortably back into his chair, but he started to look as though he needed a break.

They all were. They’d been at this for a while, to be fair. There was so much to be done that these management meetings took place twice a day. An Earth day, even, which was a distressingly short amount of time for a Cybertronian, no matter how much they had adapted to Earth’s units.

Starscream shook his helm. “No. Shockwave is loyal to science. But unless someone reins him in, he’ll do whatever morally deplorable research he can get away with. He has no ethical boundaries, and there’s nothing he holds sacred, save his science.”

“Then he can be reasoned with,” Cyclonus said.

Cyclonus was, Starscream thought dourly, almost painfully practical. He would probably get along with Shockwave, save that Cyclonus had a moral center and Shockwave did not. Also, there was not a humorous strut in Cyclonus’ frame. It made him an excellent commander, but Starscream knew they would never be friends.

Cyclonus didn’t hate Starscream, but he wasn’t fond of Starscream either. Luckily, the feeling was mutual. Cyclonus respected Grimlock. That was what mattered.

Grimlock, at least, was a mech worthy of respect. Even if he was a former Autobot. Starscream tried not to hold that against him.

“He can be made useful,” Starscream conceded. His wings twitched. “Unfortunately, reprogramming would render his usefulness moot, and he’s far too intelligent to be shackled by mere inhibitors.”

“Which makes it difficult for us to release him on parole,” Cyclonus acknowledged.

Starscream sighed. He resisted the urge to bang his forehelm on the table. He had let himself forget, while fighting so hard to wrest control away from Megatron, how very boring these sorts of conversations could be. Especially when one had to debate politely and consider all options, including the political ones.

War seemed simpler in comparison. You shoot; you kill. To the victor went the spoils and the right to decide history.

How was Grimlock managing not to fall asleep at the table?

“Him Shockwave deserve death,” Grimlock growled, reverting to his unintelligent accent.

Something he did, Starscream noticed, when his concentration was derailed by stronger emotion, in this case probably his hatred and loathing for Shockwave. Grimlock had killed Megatron and given the chance, would probably kill Shockwave as well. After all, Shockwave was the reason Swoop no longer took to the skies without hesitation.

“There are many who do.” Cyclonus tapped his datapad. “We unfortunately cannot choose this option at the moment.”

Grimlock’s visor flashed with menace. Cyclonus held his ground. As much as he hated it, Starscream knew Cyclonus was right.

“If we are to show mercy to the others, then we must show mercy to Shockwave as well,” Starscream said and rubbed a hand down his faceplate. “Now matter how loathsome it is.”

Grimlock’s engine rumbled, but he did not protest. For which Starscream was thankful. He did not want to debate this for the rest of the meeting.

The Autobots would be allowed to consult with Shockwave. Should they chose to take him into custody, however briefly, they would be responsible for his incarceration. Given good behavior, Shockwave’s parole could be extended.

If Starscream had his way, Shockwave would be stripped of his frame and shoved into spark prison, like he had done to the Combaticons so many millennia ago.

The suggestion was meant with approval. Spark prison was more acceptable than execution. At least it wasn’t death.

“Since that’s settled, might I be excused,” Knock Out asked with a huff. He flicked one hand into the air. “There is work to be done, and I am not a commander.”

Grimlock’s visor flattened. “Go.”

Knock Out shoved to his pedes, dipped his torso in something resembling a bow, and made himself scarce.

He was the lucky one, Starscream remarked sourly. For there were many others left to discuss.

They agreed to let Reflector out on parole, subject to the same restrictions as the Constructicons. While he wasn’t needed as he had no useful skills at the moment, his worst offense was filming atrocities. He never participated. Reflector, also, was not particularly loyal to Megatron as he was loyal to whomever provided his energon.

He wanted to be on the winning team.

Reflector was considered low risk. He would be given a tracking collar, an inhibitor chip, and assigned to work in energon production. Starscream doubted he would complain about it.

Motormaster and his two subordinates would stay in prison for now. Motormaster remained loyal to Megatron and Megatron alone, and he’d levied threats against Starscream the last time he’d gone down to the brig. Starscream had been unimpressed, but that hadn’t stopped Motormaster from throwing himself at the energy bars and paying little heed to the strips the electricity peeled from his plating.

Drag Strip had echoed his commander. Breakdown had said nothing. Starscream wondered if there was any hope for the idiot Stunticon. Perhaps with time. They had more pressing matters, however. The Stunticons could keep and right now, they had no serviceable skills to get them an early pass.

Barricade was also a loyalist. With time, Starscream was certain he could sway the interrogator to his side, but he didn’t have that at the moment. So Barricade would stay in the brig, too.

The Insecticons were an interesting matter. They’d owned the Autobot scientist, but like Bluestreak, Perceptor had never come to harm. Other than out of neglect when they had simply forgotten they had him, and therefore, forgot to feed him.

In the end, they’d agreed to free the Insecticons and set them loose for clean-up on Cybertron. With their ability to consume anything for energy, they were useful at getting rid of scrap that wasn’t able to be recycled. They seemed happy for the opportunity, and didn’t particularly care who was in charge of the Decepticons. They would have a rotating team of supervisors to make sure they stayed on task, and away from the rebuilding populace in Nova Cronum, Iacon, and Polyhex.

It was a fairly productive meeting. But it was also long, and by the time Cyclonus brought up the next topic, Starscream wanted to gouge a furrow into the table. He was exhausted, he was bored, and he needed a break.

“I think that’s enough for today,” Starscream said as he pushed up from the table. “There’s plenty enough work to do that we can discuss the rest of it tomorrow, don’t you think?”

Cyclonus blinked and slanted a look at Grimlock, but their famous leader had his helm tilted back and looked to be recharging. Starscream knew he wasn’t. Grimlock liked to pretend to be the idiotic brute, but he was far from it. He paid attention to everything, even when you thought he wasn’t.

“Then I’ll attend to the aforementioned prisoners,” Cyclonus said as he stood, gathering up his datapads.

He was taller than Starscream, broader too, but Starscream tried not to let that irritate him. Much. He flicked a hand in dismissal and watched Cyclonus stride from the room. If he didn’t know better, he would have suspected that Cyclonus was made of the same noble stock as Prime’s pet spy.

Grimlock didn’t stir until the door shut and they were left alone. Starscream edged out from around the table and moved to the window, stretching his arms over his helm. Every cable felt kinked. Maybe he should take a quick flight, out and over Iacon and then back again.

His wings twitched. Starscream felt as though he were being watched. He glanced over his shoulder.

Sure enough, Grimlock had pointed his visor in Starscream’s direction. He sat up in his chair, a lit datapad on the table in front of him, but he didn’t offer it a bit of attention.

Starscream snorted and returned his gaze to the window. “Enjoy your nap?”

“Cyclonus was a good choice,” Grimlock said, ignoring Starscream’s snide comment. He often did that. He never engaged. “He is a voice of reason.”

“Oh, and I’m not?”

Grimlock chuckled. “Do you want me to answer that?”

No, he did not. Starscream huffed and abandoned the window, returning to his chair. He did not throw himself into it, but it was a near thing.

“All right, leader,” he said, retrieving the necessary datapads. “Time to make some decisions so I can go and have a flight before this list gets any longer. Or dare I say it, unmanageable.”

Grimlock draped himself over the side of the table. “If we must.”

“I think we should focus on making residences first,” Starscream said as flicked through various screens on the datapad. “Happy Decepticons make for less rowdy Decepticons which means fewer Decepticons residing in the brig. That way I don’t have to look at Metalhawk’s snide little smirk across the table at our next meeting.”

Grimlock made a noncommittal noise. Starscream took that to be acceptance. If the Dinobot commander truly disagreed, he had no problems saying so. But he seemed content to let Starscream do his thing, only offering an opinion when he felt it was warranted.

To be trusted with that much independence, it was a novel thing.

“Right now, they are stacked up in barracks.” With the exception of the command staff, of course. Starscream was not about to share his space with anyone. It was one of his few indulgences. “We should consider individual spaces. They don’t have to be large.”

“Mm hm.” Grimlock shifted closer as though peering over Starscream’s arm at the datapad.

Starscream rolled his optics. “You really don’t care about this, do you?”

“I care,” Grimlock said, but he didn’t sound excited. “I just don’t see where you’re saying something I need to object to.”

Oh.

Starscream worked his intake, unexpectedly pleased and flattered by the remark. He dragged his gaze back to the datapad, well aware that his wings fluttered again. Damn it.

“Our energon stores are still in good shape even with the added mouths. We should experience no strain by the time we get the space bridge functioning again,” Starscream continued, going down the list as quickly as possible.

Something touched his left wing panel. His armor twitched, sensory panel sending him an alert. Starscream froze and turned slowly to see Grimlock leaning close to him, hand drawing back. One finger had stroked the edge of his wing.

Starscream stared. “What…,” he demanded, “was that?” It had not hurt, but it had been most unexpected. Sure, they’d had their tussle and Starscream was used to mechs thinking they could walk up and grab any Seeker’s wing. But he hadn’t expected Grimlock to do it.

Girmlock returned his stare evenly. “Curiosity.”

Starscream’s optics narrowed. “Don’t do it again,” he bit out. It didn’t matter that the bare touch had a sent a jolt through him. Or that it was better for a surprise to be one of pleasure, rather than pain. He’d had enough of people touching him without his permission.

“Why?” Grimlock asked.

Surely he couldn’t be that stupid?

Starscream glared all the harder. His wings went rigid, tilting away from Grimlock as did the rest of his frame. “It doesn’t matter why. All that matters is I told you not to.”

“Fair enough.” Grimlock shifted out of his personal space. He snagged the datapad and dragged it closer. “I apologize.”

“Good.” Starscream gave him another sidelong look and returned his attention to his datapad. “Because we have work to do.” His wings flicked, betraying his annoyance. “Regarding our energon production–”

“Is your sole objection the fact that I didn’t ask?” Grimlock asked, clearly determined to not complete the business they needed to conclude today.

Starscream gritted his denta. “This is important.” He tapped the table next to the datapad.

Grimlock’s expression did not waver. There was something considering about it.

It was a familiar sight. Starscream remembered it decorating Grimlock’s frame language when they had scrapped for leadership of the Decepticons. He remembered Grimlock’s field spiking with interest before it fizzled away into nothing as though it had never existed it all. Starscream had begun to think he imagined it.

Grimlock shrugged as his visor started to take on a darker hue, one that Starscream began to think meant he was scheming. “So are a lot of things. But you didn’t answer my question. I’ll try a different one.” He leaned a little closer, dropping his vocals into a darker register. “May I touch your wings, Starscream?”

His spark skipped an unexpected beat. Grimlock’s tone was utterly sincere, lacking even a track of mockery. It was as genuine as his apology had been earlier. Still…

“Why?” Starscream demanded. His datapad hit the table with a click. Clearly, they weren’t focusing on business anytime soon.

“They’re fascinating.” Grimlock’s helm tilted as though trying to get a better view of Starscream’s wings. Under the increased scrutiny, they twitched. “A lot like their owner. You are a bundle of contradictions.”

Starscream squinted. Was that a compliment or not? No. He wasn’t going to sit here and try to parse this. He was done trying to read into the complexities behind the incomprehensible actions of others. He’d had enough of that with Megatron.

He drew up straight, staring down at his errant leader. “I don’t know what you’ve think you’ve heard, Dinobot, but I am not an easy frag,” Starscream hissed. He would turn around and become an Autobot before he put up with this slag again. “You can’t just grope me and expect I’m going to jump into the berth with you.”

Grimlock shrugged and reached across the table, snagging Starscream’s abandoned datapad and dragging it closer. “I haven’t heard anything. Except you stating that you’re uninterested in which case I will leave you be and we can get back to business.” He tapped a finger on the screen. “You were saying something about our energon stores?”

Starscream stared at him.

Grimlock met his gaze evenly. “Or would you rather I left?”

His leader truly was incomprehensible. Starscream was, for once, at a complete loss for words. He didn’t know what to say.

“I see,” Grimlock said. He pushed back his chair and rose to his pedes. “We can talk later. When Cyclonus can join us again.”

He was actually leaving. Starscream stared at Grimlock, uncertain if it was an Autobot thing or a Dinobot thing, or a Grimlock thing.

“Why?” he asked.

Grimlock paused halfway around the table. “Because I’ve made you uncomfortable.”

“No, I mean…” Starscream made a vague gesture, frustrated by his inability to articulate his thoughts. That had never happened before. “What did you think you were doing?”

Grimlock’s visor darkened in hue. “I misread your signals. That was my mistake.” He paused and barely audible, Starscream heard his engine growl. “And I am not Megatron.”

Starscream snorted. “That much is obvious. I’d be halfway bent over that table by now if you were.” He didn’t realize what he’d admitted until it was too late.

Ugh.

Starscream grimaced and folded his arms over his chestplate. His and Megatron’s relationship was complicated, and he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to dissect, he didn’t want to pick apart all the reasons why they were in and out of each other’s berth, just as unwillingly as it was willingly. And he didn’t want to examine why it worsened their working relationship as much as it fixed it.

Just. No.

He also didn’t want to bring that complicated slag into what he currently had. He liked Grimlock. It surprised him, and no one was more shocked than Starscream who thought he was stuck with a dumb brute and actually ended up with a competent, compelling and strong leader. But the last thing he needed was interfacing to complicate matters. No matter how much he might be attracted to Grimlock.

The Dinobot came back around the table, his expression damn unreadable and his energy field the same. He didn’t feel like Cybertronians, Starscream had noticed. There was a different cant to his fields, a more organic bend that made it difficult to read him. He could never tell what Grimlock was thinking.

That was worrisome at times. And then he reminded himself that Grimlock didn’t generally backhand his subordinates. He didn’t need to be able to read random shifts in Grimlock’s energy field.

“Boundaries,” Grimlock said. He pulled out a chair, sat down in it and folded one ankle across the opposite knee. He propped an elbow on the table.

Starscream cycled his optics. “Excuse me?”

Grimlock tapped the table with one finger. “Right here, right now. What are they?”

Had he walked into an alternate dimension? Starscream cycled a ventilation. He backed toward his own seat, lowering himself down to it.

“What?”

“I don’t touch you,” Grimlock said, his tone almost earnest. “I don’t invite you to share a berth with me. What other boundaries should I keep?”

“I don’t…” Starscream scraped a hand down his face, his wings fluttering before he could tell them to be still. “That’s not, well, thank you, I guess. For the consideration. No. Don’t touch me unless I invite you. As for the other… we’ll see.”

Grimlock tilted his helm. He made an approving noise. “Whatever makes you comfortable. I’m not Megatron,” he repeated. Again. As though Starscream hadn’t heard him the first time. “I won’t ever be Megatron.”

“Good.” Starscream nodded and slid his gaze to the abandoned datapads. “We don’t need a Megatron. Can we get back to what’s important now?”

“That was important,” Grimlock retorted but it came off more as a mutter, and a petulant one at that.

It was almost cute enough to make Starscream smile.

They tried to get back to work. Starscream expected it to be as awkward as the conversation, but Grimlock meant what he said. He was perfectly polite. He kept a respectful distance. He only talked about the issues on the docket. No matter how ridiculous some of them were.

It was kind of novel. It still left Starscream curious.

“What signals?”

Grimlock, who had been in the middle of reading the proposal for a burial house for the deceased Decepticons, lifted his gaze toward Starscream. His unreadable field flickered. “Signals?”

“The ones you misread,” Starscream clarified. It had been nagging at him for a while now. He was the least bit flirtatious. In fact, most mechs told him his general behavior was off-putting, and only the rumor that he was good in the berth kept them coming back to ask.

“Ah.” Grimlock noisily cleared his vocalizer, visor taking on a brighter hue, until Starscream realized that what he witnessed was Grimlock embarrassed. “Your wings.”

“What about them?”

“They were moving.” Grimlock made a vague gesture.

Starscream popped an orbital ridge. “They often do. For a number of reasons.”

“I was… misinformed about how to interpret them,” Grimlock said. He shifted on his chair, out of Starscream dared guess, embarrassment.

Now Starscream was intrigued. And more than a little amused. He was used to seeing his new leader confident and in control and a little bit stand-offish. A squirming, apologetic and embarrassed Grimlock was an entirely different thing.

“By who?” Starscream asked.

Grimlock cycled a loud ventilation and swept a hand over his helm. “Spent a lot of time waiting for the Autobots to need us.” This he said with obvious bitterness. Grimlock might be friendly with Optimus Prime, but even Starscream knew there was an underlying tension there. “Hated being stupid. But Wheeljack knew. Understood. He helped us learn. Gave us access to Teletraan and brought us datapads.”

“Datapads,” Starscream repeated. “Written by other Autobots, I imagine. Autobots who, by and large, are not winged.”

Grimlock rolled his shoulders. “It was actually based on Praxians, but I figured it couldn’t be far off the mark. Besides, the only flight-mechs I ever knew were on the other end of my blaster.” He paused, helm tilting and visor light flattening in a matter that Starscream had learned indicated distaste. “Except the Aerialbots and they weren’t answering questions.”

“They were young. They didn’t have the benefit of being mentored by actual flyers.” The Aerialbots had promise. Starscream regretted having to execute them. But Megatron wouldn’t see reason, and Starscream couldn’t imagine a world where he could win the Aerialbots to his side. Not so long as Silverbolt was devoted to Optimus Prime.

Starscream remained convinced Megatron ripping out Skyfire’s spark had been meant as a punishment. Even if Megatron had ordered they execute every flight-capable mech, Megatron had made Skyfire’s death personal. He wanted to hurt Starscream, but also, he wanted revenge.

The Pit hath no fury like a Decepticon leader faced with a mech who had all but spat in his face, rejecting his leadership. Starscream would know that better than anyone.

“You were badly misinformed,” Starscream added and then gave Grimlock a long look. “You like flyers then?”

“They fascinate me.” The light behind Grimlock’s visor shifted toward Starscream’s wings.

He gave them an experimental twitch on purpose. Yes. Grimlock was definitely looking at them. Well, he wouldn’t be the first mech who wanted to touch them. Starscream also wouldn’t be surprised if Grimlock didn’t often touch mechs other than the other Dinobots. The Autobots’ mistreatment of the Dinobot was well-documented.

Paragons of virtue? Hah.

Starscream sat forward a little, tilting his frame toward Grimlock. “All right,” he said. “You can touch them. I trust you know how to do that without breaking them?”

Grimlock snorted a ventilation. He ignored the insinuation and scooted to his pedes. He towered over Starscream, and he carried much more mass, but somehow, he didn’t loom. It was a curious effect, but Starscream preferred it. Megatron had made effort to loom. He projected his presence as though seeking to constantly dominate.

Grimlock’s presence was equally dominating, but only in the sense that it was recognized because he was cognizant of it. Starscream didn’t know what datapads Grimlock had been reading to pick up these subtle aspects of leadership. Perhaps he should borrow them for himself.

Either way, it worked. It made him a mech Starscream was willing to follow, if he couldn’t lead for himself.

The first touch was not hesitant, but it was given with care. Fingertips brushed the end of Starscream left wing and then skated the edge of it, across what was technically the trailing end were he in alt-mode.

Despite dampening his sensors ahead of time, Starscream felt every brush of Grimlock’s fingers. Yes, wings were sensitive. But it was only the extreme touches that tended to evoke a response. Grips hard enough to dent sent immediate trills of pain to his processor. These he did not have to worry about. Delicate brushes of fingertips set his sensors ablaze. He had not expected Grimlock to go that route.

Girmlock’s fingers were warm. They did not shake. He touched with confidence, a near reverence. Starscream’s ventilations dared to quicken, and he hid their sudden noise with a systems check. He turned his helm, watching Grimlock’s slow exploration and intent focus.

Fingers traced armor panel edges and brushed over the brands on the flat planes of his wings. That Starscream hadn’t expected either. Then again, Grimlock had not hesitated to replace the Autobrand with a Decepticon badge.

“They are only labels,” he’d said.

He’d been created on Earth. He had no true, spark-deep allegiance to anyone, save perhaps his creators. Grimlock respected them far more than any other Autobot. He would fight to protect them. But he did not feel a particular kinship with the Autobots. Or the Decepticons rather.

Choosing to take down the Decepticons and claim them had been about making a statement. It had been about ending a war he didn’t care to fight and proving that he was more than the mindless beast so many saw him and his team as.

It worked.

The pad of Grimlock’s hand touched his wing now. Long, slow strokes down the leading edge of it. Starscream failed to conceal a shiver and when he looked at Grimlock, he saw that Grimlock looked right back at him.

“Are they as sensitive as rumors claim?” Grimlock asked.

Stroke, stroke, stroke. It was repetitive, like petting an Earth feline. It sent a low buzz through Starscream’s sensory net, like getting a massage. He almost yanked the wing out of Grimlock’s hand and demand he do the same to the other side.

“It depends on the circumstance,” Starscream answered and blinked. His vocals came out soft and glitchy.

Grimlock’s fingers slid along the top edge again, this time all the way to the hinges. He brushed over the joint, and an unexpected shock of pleasure flashed through Starscream’s system. He shivered and worked his intake. That particular shiver had gone all the way to his groin, nestling in around his array.

“Does this one count?” Grimlock asked, and there it was now, that pulse of heat in his vocals mixed with mischief.

How was he supposed to answer that?

Starscream’s comm pinged. He absolutely did not startle and jerk away from Grimlock as though someone had poked him with an energon rod.

“What is it?” he snapped as he activated his comm, spark pulsing a faster rhythm in his chest. He turned away from Grimlock for some privacy, feeling an unexpected heat in his faceplate.

“Uhhh.” Skywarp’s vocals popped through the comm, sounding startled. “Weren’t we supposed to meet for flight maneuvers ten minutes ago?”

Starscream blinked. He wouldn’t say he’d forgotten that he was training with his trinemates this afternoon, but it had slipped his mind. There was so much to do right now that the simple pleasure had seemed less important.

“We were,” Starscream replied. “I apologize. I was in the middle of a discussion.” Sure. That’s what he intended to call it.

He allowed Grimlock to grope his wings out of some unusual interest in his leader – apparently, that was Starscream’s type, mechs who were no good for him.

“With Vortex?”

Starscream blinked, more than a little confused. “No. Why would I be?”

“Because he was looking for you earlier. Said he had a question. I told him you were in meetings all day. So are you coming or not?”

A hand skipped from his left wing to his right, the latter of which was now easier to reach for Grimlock as Starscream had turned away. He fought down another shiver, his sensory net springing to life in the wake of the gentle touch. Grimlock examined his hinges as though he’d never seen such things before.

Starscream should tell him to stop, that it wasn’t going to help their working relationship. Except he didn’t want to.

“Starscream?”

He shook himself, casting a glare over his shoulder, but Grimlock stared back at him. “Should I stop?” he asked.

Probably.

“No,” Starscream said, both to Grimlock and Skywarp. He held Grimlock’s gaze, an unexpected heat winding through his circuits. “See if Swoop would like to join you.”

“What? Really? The Dinobot?” Skywarp sounded on the verge of whining.

Another hand joined the party. Starscream had one on each wing now, a light but deliberate weight that he was very aware of.

“Yes, Skywarp, the Dinobot.” Starscream barely kept from rolling his optics. “Knock Out says that he is cleared for flight, but he needs to be accompanied in case he glitches. Think you can handle that?”

Skywarp muttered something that Starscream was not paying attention enough to catch. “I’m gonna make TC do it,” he said. “You’re no fun anymore, Screamer. Enjoy your stupid meeting.” The comm clicked shut without so much as a farewell. Typical Skywarp, to be fair.

Hot ex-vents ghosted against his back. His sensors registered a presence, but the only physical sensation were those ex-vents and the continuous petting of large hands. Starscream’s wings were utterly still, soaking up the sensation.

“Do you intend to finish what you started, Dinobot?”

Grimlock chuckled. “I thought you weren’t interested?”

“Mn. This and that are two different things.” Starscream flexed his wings toward Grimlock, encouraging more of the exploratory touches. Especially as thick fingers pushed through plating seams and flirted with the cable bundles beneath.

Grimlock made a noncommittal noise. Starscream felt him get closer, felt his very presence within inches of Starscream’s wings. His odd field drizzled against Starscream’s own, buzzing with intent.

“How far are you going to let me go?” Grimlock asked. His hands swept the length of Starscream’s wings until they met his spinal strut. Only then did his fingers flirt downward until they settled on Starscream’s hips with a light touch as though seeking permission.

Starscream tossed his helm, half-turning to catch Grimlock in his peripheral vision. “Is this going to ruin our working relationship?”

“Not if we don’t want it to,” Grimlock replied. His hands settled a bit more firmly around Starscream’s waist, his thumbs stroking a searing path up Starscream’s backstrut. “Though I can certainly stop if you don’t think the risk is worth it.”

Starscream shivered. “It depends,” he purred, arching his backstrut and pushing back toward Grimlock. “How good are you in the berth?”

Grimlock’s helm slid against his, a susurrous of metal on metal that sent a frisson of sensation over Starscream’s dermal net. “No one’s complained. Though I’m going to have to be careful with you. I hear Seekers are delicate.”

Starscream snorted, flicking back a wing to swat Grimlock. “Not this one,” he retorted and clasped his hands down on Grimlock’s, squeezing them. “You may have beat me in combat, but this is an entirely different battlefield.”

“Then I guess there’s only way to find out.” Grimlock pressed against him, his engine rumbling and vibrating through his armor against the flat planes of Starscream’s wings. “Are you in?”

Starscream pushed back, rolling his aft against Grimlock’s pelvic array. “I’m in.”

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