Pain was nothing unfamiliar to Starscream. He had become inured to it. But he’d never had to tolerate so much of it while bearing a civilian frame and all the weaknesses said frame gave him.
But he had learned how to swallow it, and so he did. He bit back every cry, only offering a grunt to incense his tormentor. He made a point not to track the energon dripping down his frame, and the steady decline of his energon levels. He forced himself to ignore the twisted, mangled wing. He told himself he would fly again. He would.
It was only damage. It was only pain. He’d lived through worse.
“Why don’t you just kill me?” Starscream snarled, spat out through gritted denta, the taste of rust and purge still heavy on his glossa.
Obsidian paced in front of him, energon prod crackling noisily. He’d moved on from the whip and his own fists.
“You should be so lucky to earn that release,” Obsidian said, his multiple optics hard and dim. He kept walking in front of the lights, casting eerie shadows in all directions.
Starscream rolled his optics. “Like I haven’t heard that before.” He dragged in a rattling vent, heard some kind of fluid gurgle around. “If you’re trying to frighten me, then you have failed.”
Obsidian’s lips curved. “Did I now?”
Starscream braced himself. Even so, the electrical surge directly into his side was agonizing, a searing wave of heat followed by a noxious burst of charred metal filling his nasal sensors. His paint blackened, lines shorted out, cables melted to slag.
If he hadn’t dampened his pain receptors to the lowest he was capable without medical overrides, Starscream would have already screamed.
Primus save him from evil, dramatic tyrants.
Starscream’s tank rippled again. The noxious smell filled him with nausea. But there was nothing unprocessed left to purge. His energon levels glowed a steady, if not baleful twenty-three percent.
He’d survived on worse.
The energon prod pulled away, and Starscream hung in his bonds, gasping for a clear ventilation. His shoulders ached. His pedes didn’t touch the ground fully, leaving him little leeway to try to ease the joints.
Starscream’s vision went a little wobbly. He forced his optics to reboot, but still the visual feed came through a haze of orange. Great. Obsidian had fried something important. Lovely.
He forced his helm up, fixing Obsidian with a glare. “Is that the best you got?”
Obsidian snorted and folded his primary arms over his chest. The secondary set tapped the unactivated prod against his thigh. “You some kind of masochist?”
“No. I’m simply bored.” Starscream faked a yawn and rattled his chains. “Your pontificating is more tortuous than anything else.”
Obsidian sneered at him. “You sicken me, Starscream. You are a failure in every way. A blight on Seekerkind and certainly an insult to Decepticons everywhere.”
Starscream rolled his optics. “Please. You think I’ve not heard that all before?” He curved his lips into a smirk, forcing himself to ignore the increasing rattle in his vents. “Are you going to kill me yet?”
“Not until your city burns.”
Starscream barked a laugh, energon flecking on his lips. “You’re making my mistakes, Obsidian. Careful now. I might have rubbed off on you.”
“Hardly.” Obsidian stalked closer, though out of reach, not that Starscream had a free limb. “I know you can’t hear it, Starscream. But right now, I’m listening to the raucous noise of rioting and pillaging in a city you claim to lead. Fitting, don’t you think?”
“Fear is an effective motivator. Any fool knows that.” Starscream sniffed imperiously, though it lost its effect when energon dribbled from his nasal ridge. “Is this the part where you detail to me your nefarious plan? Because I was having more fun when I was unconscious.”
Obsidian sneered. The energon prod crackled to life.
Starscream braced himself. Only for Obsidian’s optics to flash. He took several steps back, one hand lifting to his audial.
“What?” he snarled into his comm as he whirled, his back plates visibly twitching.
Starscream grimaced. Obsidian was a mess. He wondered if maybe the mech wasn’t already halfway to empty, given the rust on his frame, and the grime, too. He’d been skulking about in the garbage and the dark, crawling around with the rest of the vermin.
Strika was gone, Starscream and the spies had gathered. He – no, she. Starscream corrected himself. Rumor had it Strika had escaped from the same facility as Arcee. Anyhow, Strika had always seemed to be the steadier processor between the two. Maybe she kept Obsidian somewhere closer to functional.
“Then handle it!” Obsidian hissed.
Starscream cycled a few ventilations as Obsidian seethed. He didn’t know who Obsidian was talking to, one of his lackeys perhaps. He seemed to have no shortage of them. Then again, Starscream had a talent of making enemies. More people seemed to hate him than like him.
Well, frag them all.
He tried, again, to look for an escape. The chains were heavy, rusted things. Enough leverage and he could probably get them to snap. He had no weapons, but since when had that deterred him? Obsidian had height on him and was armed, true, but Starscream’s greatest weapon had always been his voice.
He only needed the right trigger.
Obsidian whipped back toward him, plating shuffling around his protoform.
“Problems dear?” Starscream asked in a sweet voice, one he’d often used to infuriate Megatron.
Obsidian stared at him, all of his optics narrowing. “None at all,” he said, in a tone equally saccharine. The energon prod was gone but he held up something else. A remote of some kind? “In fact, why don’t I show you what you’re missing, hm?
There was a click and a beep before several holographic images burst to life against the walls behind Obsidian. The images stood out in stark relief against the rusted pipes and grime-covered plates.
It was indeed Starscream’s city, though he didn’t know how Obsidian had access to this kind of feed. Obsidian had not lied. There were rioters and looters. Buildings had gone up in flame. Mechs crowded the streets.
It looked like a warzone. And they had no one to lead them, no one to guide them back to peace and calm.
Starscream gritted his denta. “You think this means you’ve won?”
“Haven’t I?” Obsidian lowered his hand, but the images continued to play. “Your city is in ruins. Your task force is dead. Soon you, this city, its residents, even Megatron, will all be burning rubble. And I can cleanse Cybertron of the stain you’ve given it.”
Starscream snorted. “Cleanse? You act as though you’re doing the planet a favor. Newsflash, lunatic, you’re not. This isn’t your planet alone.”
“And neither is it yours, to play with as you please.” Obsidian hissed, his optics darkening in hue. His fingers spasmed. “The Senate. The Primes. Megatron. You. All are the same. Tyrants and takers, users and abusers. You don’t care for the people. You only care for what power you can hold.”
Obsidian’s optics flashed. The remote creaked in his grip. He surged forward, only to pause and lean back. He audibly cycled a ventilation.
“You seek to bait me,” he said, in a much calmer tone than Starscream would have expected. “To what end? Are you trying to buy time? Do you think you will free yourself?”
Starscream pointedly twitched the one functioning wing, ignoring the jagged stripes of pain it sent through his neural net. “Well, I keep hoping you’ll kill me and get this over with, but it seems you enjoy having me around too much for that.”
“All in due time.”
“Not soon enough if you ask me,” Starscream grumbled, only for his ventilations to catch, briefly stalling. The fluids had gathered into a pool. He could feel it slowly flooding his vents.
Twenty percent, his tanks told him. And still dropping.
“Or perhaps you’re waiting for rescue?” Obsidian murmured, and now he sounded amused. “Perhaps you think you actually have allies, friends… a lover even.”
Starscream went cold, and tried not to show it. “I have business associates and plenty of them,” he said in a careful tone. “As to whether any of them value my continued existence enough to risk their own, the answer is surely negative.”
“Is that so?”
Obsidian grinned and the sound of it sent a chill up Starscream’s spinal strut. He took another step back, this time toward the door behind him, one where the locking panel had continuously glowed a baleful crimson.
“Maybe you’d like to see what’s behind door number one then?” he said with an exaggerated gesture toward it.
Starscream tensed. He hoped he sounded bored. “Oh, I don’t know. Will it mean you’re finally going to stop blathering?”
Obsidian didn’t rise to the bait. Instead he laughed and slammed his primary hand onto the panel. It must have been registered to his energy field – the same kind of security Starscream used – because the door beeped positively and slid open, admitting two military-grade frames, dragging a third between them.
Starscream did not know either of the mechs who were armed to the vents and whose badges had been so mangled, he didn’t know if they were purple or red.
But he knew the frame they dragged. The one spitting curses and snarling and thrashing in their grip, despite the blaster marks, dripping energon, and swollen faceplate. The one with his arms cuffed behind his back, and seemed to be resting most of his weight on his good leg, his good hip.
Starscream’s engine growled weakly. The tips of his pedes scraped at the ground. The chains rattled around him.
“Tell me Starscream,” Obsidian said as his henchmechs threw Blurr to the ground. He landed hard on his shoulder, hissing in pain. “Do you recognize this mech?”
Starscream ground his denta. “Never seen him before in my life.”
Obsidian chuckled. “You used to be a better liar than that.” He crouched over Blurr like some kind of nightmare, one of his primary hands grasping Blurr by the intake and lifting him with perilous ease. “You’ve been all over the news.”
“That was a show,” Starscream said, rolling his optics. He reined in his field, hoping Obsidian couldn’t read the panic in it. “He’s a means to an end.”
Blurr’s engine revved, but mercifully, he kept his mouth shut. He did pin Starscream with a glare, but frankly, he’d given Starscream worse. Besides, he was too busy gasping for a ventilation, and he needed to focus on that right now, not on getting angry at Starscream for no reason.
Obsidian clicked his glossa. “I know better than that. Sources tell me that you two are close.” He dragged Blurr closer to him, until their faces were inches apart. His knuckles flexed, crumpling the dermal metal of Blurr’s intake. “Is that not right, my racer friend?”
Blurr snarled. The tip of his pedes scraped the ground as his engine growled. And then he spat in Obsidian’s face, a mix of oral lubricant and energon and honestly, Starscream had never been so proud in his Primus-damned life.
“I’m going to kill you,” Blurr gritted out, vocals thick with static, glitching out every other glyph.
Obsidian looked amused as he dropped Blurr back to the floor without warning, leaving Blurr no chance to catch himself. He gasped as his leg twisted beneath him and he tumbled, landing on his side. His armor was pitted and scratched, his boosters emitting smoke.
“Yes. You and your army of none,” Obsidian commented before he looked up at his two henchmechs, both of whom lingered by the door. “Give the order. Full raze.”
They sloppily saluted. Brute on the right left without another word, but brute on the left hesitated. He looked between Obsidian and his two prisoners.
“Need help with ‘em?”
Obsidian stepped over Blurr like one might a mess on the floor. “Do I look like I do?”
Starscream looked down at Blurr, trying to catch the Racer’s gaze. Blurr struggled to roll somewhat upright, his engine whining and his hydraulics creaking. He left a puddle beneath him, the fluid looking alarmingly like coolant. Given the way Blurr’s boosters were smoking, that was a greater concern than the energon.
“Then give the order!”
Blurr wheezed and hacked up a glob of energon, unprocessed, but energon all the same. His right optical socket was swollen, as though one of the goons had entertained themselves by beating on him. Well, he hadn’t made it easy.
The door beeped as the henchmech departed, leaving Obsidian by himself. As all mad and destructive dictators were wont to do. At least Starscream had that much of an edge. Obsidian might think himself with all the power, but Starscream had been in worse situations than this, with worse evils standing over him.
Obsidian was nothing compared to Megatron.
“There. Now that we’re alone, we can get to the main event,” Obsidian said in a bright tone that did not bode well.
He strode past Blurr, almost dismissive, until one of his primary arms reached down, hands snatching Blurr’s crest as though it were a handle. Blurr hissed as he was dragged forward, scraping along on one and a half knees as the other didn’t function properly.
“Let me go, fragger!” Blurr seethed.
Obsidian ignored him. His other primary arm gestured to the holograms still projected onto the walls.
“There. Your city is burning. And as soon as my minions deploy the last of the bombs, it will be rubble.” He kept a firm grip on Blurr’s crest, so tightly that the metal creaked and Blurr hissed again. “There may be survivors, but I am equipped to deal with those. Anyone here in this compound will be safe. I’ve taken pains to ensure that.”
“Oh, I see.” Starscream rolled his optics. “This is the part where you tell me your grand plan. I was wondering when we’d get to that.”
Obsidian’s optics narrowed at him, all four of them. “I am not Megatron, Starscream. You cannot bait me with spiteful words.”
He squinted at the other mech. “Are you sure? I’m pretty good at that.”
“Star, shut up for Primus’ sake!” Blurr snapped. He was painfully braced on his knees, trying to lift his frame to ease the pull on his crest. But his hip was spitting sparks, and his ventilations were growing more labored.
He needed a medic before he overheated and overclocked his processor.
Starscream worked his intake. “Shutting up has never been my strong suit,” he said in a mild tone and smirked at Obsidian, the energon in his mouth turning gummy and sour. “Do go on. Perhaps you can bore me to death. Won’t that be fun?”
“No, I’m all done with that.” Obsidian’s secondary hand dipped into his thigh panel, producing a blaster. “I think it’s finally time to grant your wish, Starscream.”
Starscream’s spark thudded in his chassis. He forced himself not to look at Blurr. “You’re going to kill me?”
“Well, yes.” Obsidian chuckled and tugged on Blurr’s crest, holding Blurr’s helm against his hip in a parody of lover’s affection. “But first I’m going to kill your partner here. That way I can witness the look in your optics when you realize the true depths to which you have failed.”
Starscream went so cold he flushed hot. It was a rage that started in the tips of his fingers, flooded his frame, and sputtered out through his thrusters.
The barrel of the blaster pressed to Blurr’s forehelm. It wasn’t very high caliber, but it didn’t matter. At this range, there wouldn’t be enough left of Blurr’s processor to even attempt rebuilding it.
Blurr growled, his lips peeling back over his denta. “What did I ever do to you?” he demanded.
Obsidian chuckled. “You, my friend, had the audacity of not only befriending a monster, but crawling into its berth. Really, you’ve brought this on yourself.”
“Strong words from a mech with a gun pointed to an innocent person’s helm!” Starscream snarled as he lurched forward, the chains rattling around him, pain striking him afresh and anew. But pain had always been his fuel, and he leaned on it now.
“He’s no innocent.” Obsidian growled and took a step forward, dragging Blurr with him, blue metal leaving a harsh scrape in the floor. “You are what you are, Starscream. You’re a liar, but at least you’re honest about it. He knew exactly what he was getting into.”
Blurr laughed then. Something raspy and broken. It was less amusement, as it was exasperation. It bubbled past his lips like the gurgles of his vents, like the hissing-screeching of his hydraulics and the steam billowing from beneath his armor.
“You’re right about that,” he said as he twisted his neck, looking up at Obsidian with bright optics, his lips curved despite the energon staining them. “I walked in there with optics online, and I’d do it again. I crawled in bed with a monster, and I’d choose him any day of the week.”
Starscream stared. His vents stalled.
“Starscream is what he is,” Blurr sneered, even as his plating fluttered, and his ventilations heaved, and his hip spat sparks. “And he’s mine.”
“Cute.” Obsidian thumbed the trigger, and the whine of the blaster powering to standby seemed to echo in Starscream’s audials. “Now say goodbye.”
Blurr snarled. “Frag you!”
Obsidian chuckled. “As you wish.”
Starscream threw himself forward with all that he had left, powering his thrusters, his afterburner, everything he had. He heard metal rip and tear, something snapped and rattled.
He’d had worse.
Starscream lurched across the room, seeing not the crimson of anger, but a kaleidoscope of colors, one that had no single emotion. Rage. Desperation. Panic. Fear.
He threw himself at Obsidian, screeching like all the rumors claimed of him, all the whispered mockery and pointed fingers. He clawed with the only weapon he had left.
He savored Obsidian’s startled look. He swatted away the blaster as Obsidian changed targets, and he tackled Obsidian to the floor, hating all over again his new civilian frame. He was too light. His limbs didn’t work right. He was too tamed.
Obsidian threw him off.
Starscream’s back hit the floor, and he shrieked as a new cascade of pain flared through his frame. His wings streaked warnings across his HUD, and Starscream shunted them all aside. He flipped to his side, forced himself onto his pedes, just in time to see Blurr throw himself at Obsidian.
His shoulder slammed into Obsidian’s left hip, throwing the mech off balance. Obsidian snarled and whipped his primary hand around, grabbing Blurr by the face and shoving him back. Blurr landed hard on his bound hands, something cracking beneath him.
Obsidian spat a curse as he slammed a foot down onto Blurr’s abdomen, crunching vent slats. Obsidian’s ventilations heaved, his field thick with rage and roaring around the room, rattling the rusty pipes. Blurr howled, backstrut arching.
And Obsidian still had his blaster.
Starscream scrambled forward. He had only one thought, and nothing else.
He had the space of a single sparkbeat. A single ventilation. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Obsidian’s finger curling, Blurr trying to twist out from beneath him, his shoulders twitching. The blaster whining, so loud it pierced Starscream’s audials.
And then the shot, even louder, echoing in the room.
He never felt it. He thought he should have, considering that the barrel had been pressed against his chestplate when it discharged. He could smell hot metal, burning metal, charred metal. Slagged lines and curdling energon. He felt weakness in his limbs. His ventilations stalled entirely. His cooling fans, too.
He felt hot, but strangely cold.
His spark stuttered.
Obsidian stared down at him. Obsidian smiled, all four of his optics so bright and eerie. Because he’d won.
Or at least, he thought he did.
Or maybe he had.
The world spun around Starscream. Circles upon circles. He tasted energon on his lips, like it had been freshly poured.
He heard Blurr growl. Heard the clash of metal on metal. Heard Obsidian snarl and another shot fired. Then a third. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. Then more until he couldn’t count them anymore and all he heard was the click, click, click of empty charge.
Those tiny blasters were never good for much more than last-ditch attempts anyway. Limited charge. Limited range. Limited power. Nothing was better than a good, old-fashioned Null-ray. Why had he ever given those up?
A blur of color. Literally. A blur of blue. Blurr. Spattered in energon. Some of it his. Maybe some of it Obsidian’s, too.
Skidded to a stop in front of him. Starscream sagged forward, vents seizing as the fluid gathered in them tried to escape. He couldn’t seem to cough it up. It kept pooling there. Like the energon around him. Trickling down his chestplate.
Because he had a hole in his chest.
“I got shot,” Starscream said, or tried to say. He wasn’t sure how much of it came out intelligible. All he heard was garbled static.
“Primus, Star.” Blurr cupped his face, pressed their forehelms together. “What were you thinking?” His voice shook. His optics were bright, bleeding color at the edges.
Starscream couldn’t seem to make himself move. He tried, but he couldn’t even twitch his fingers.
He’d thought he’d had worse than this. But he could feel it. His spark shrinking. Damage reports streaked across his HUD, revealing why.
Obsidian had nicked his spark chamber. It wasn’t much. But it was enough. They were in the underlevels of Cybertron, far from help.
It was enough. Obsidian won after all.
“Not sorry,” Starscream said, he hoped.
Blurr’s mouth moved. Starscream’s audials glitched. He didn’t hear it.
Energon levels: eight percent.
Blurr’s grip on his face tightened. He was close enough now that Starscream’s upper half could rest against his, getting energon all over Blurr’s armor. Damn. And he wouldn’t be around to help rinse it off.
At least he’d managed one good thing.
Energon levels: four percent.
“Love you,” Starscream said, or tried to say. He didn’t even know if his vocalizer activated. He didn’t know if Blurr said anything back. His audials weren’t receiving auditory input.
At least he’d tried.
Blurr’s hands were warm on his. Blurr’s field was even more so. Starscream was incapable of reading it now, but there was no denying the embrace of it.
It was… nice.
And then it was black.