“What do you mean Megatron’s missing?”
It was not a shriek, even though it sounded dangerously close to one. Starscream refused to admit that his voice had gone into the higher register.
He stalked toward Reflector who did the smart thing for once and backpedaled. “I mean that no one’s seen him,” the pseudo-combiner said, all three of his components speaking in unison.
“That’s impossible,” Starscream snarled. “Megatron doesn’t just disappear!”
Starscream whirled on a heelstrut and stomped away from him, well aware that every optic in the command center was focused his direction.
Megatron did not just vanish. He didn’t wander away on his own. He was always present, always terrorizing his subordinates or coming up with the next big scheme. And if he did leave, he never did so without one of his loyal lackeys at his side.
Which meant something had not gone to plan. Someone had skipped in line. Someone had done what they were not supposed to do.
“Find him!” Starscream commanded, barking the order to everyone within audial reach. “After all, we can’t defeat the Autobots without him, can we?”
Decepticons scattered, though whether it was because they intended to look busy or were actually interested in obeying, Starscream didn’t care. He had an idea of what might have happened, and didn’t need anyone paying too much attention to him.
The third in command planted himself down at the communications console, but Laserbeak on his shoulder was staring fixed in Starscream’s direction. Her beady optics didn’t so much as cycle.
Starscream sneered, his wings hiking upward, and turned his back to the staring cassette. He shoved a Decepticon away from the nearest console and planted his own aft in it. He pretended to run a search while he activated his private comm.
He pinged Onslaught not once, but thrice, in rapid succession. He ground his denta while he waited for an answer, and was not at all surprised when he received none. The Combaticons were logged as off-duty, but on-call. They should have responded.
That they did not made Starscream grind his denta hard enough to taste sparks on his glossa. He logged off, shoved back from the console and shot to his pedes.
“Keep looking!” he snarled when one too many Decepticons paid him attention. He pretended he didn’t notice that Soundwave had gone stiff.
Starscream stormed out of the command center, pinging Onslaught again. Nothing.
He should have never trusted them.
Megatron onlined with a gasp, the sharp buzz-snap of electricity nipping at his circuits and startling him into consciousness. Megatron hissed as pain lanced his sensory net, but he couldn’t discern its origin. Everything around him was a haze.
Megatron tried to online his optics, his visual feed returning distorted, fuzzy images. Blurs of color and flickering light. His audials were much the same, full of static and screeching feedback that worsened the agony in his helm.
He tried to move and felt the tug of something around his wrists. He wasn’t standing; he knew this much. Instead, he was lying down, not on a berth, but on something cold and unforgiving.
Someone was touching him. Multiple someones. Proximity sensors registered the presence of other mechs surrounding him, their fields cut off from his. Or maybe that was the fault of the inhibitor clamped to his back, shutting off his comms, access to his internal weaponry, to his T-cog.
What the frag happened?
A growl built in Megatron’s vocalizer. He rebooted his sensory suites again. The spots of crimson above him clarified. The shapes and colors took form. There were five mechs, the nearest of them planted directly atop Megatron. His visor gleamed. His hands played in Megatron’s seams, fingers coiling around wires, tugging.
Megatron’s backstrut arched toward his attacker without his consent. His fans spun up at the spike of pain-pleasure. His interface array pinged for release, and Megatron ruthlessly denied it.
His vision grew clearer. Five sets of optics. Five frames. Five symbols of his own faction. Four sets of military grade armor, one civilian.
The Combaticons. Megatron’s engine growled. He should have known. What were they doing? And how! The loyalty coding should have prevented them from acting against Megatron in any capacity.
Yet, Vortex was atop him, casually playing under Megatron’s plating. The others were talking, no, they were all talking. Megatron’s audials recognized the murmur of their voices, but not the words. He rebooted them again, speech coming through the static.
“–just kill him!” Swindle exclaimed, throwing up his hands.
“To what end?” Blast Off asked, his emotionless tone one of the easiest to identify, as he loomed over all the others.
“Uh, so we can get rid of him?” Brawl ventured and scratched at his helm. “Isn’t that the point?”
Onslaught folded his arms over his chest. “And cause the entirety of the Decepticon empire to crash down on us?”
“Pfft. They ain’t that loyal,” Vortex argued as his fingers dug deeper into Megatron’s seams, as though trying to yank his chestplates open and get to his spark beneath.
Megatron swallowed down a cry of pain.
“Enough of them are,” Blast Off intoned.
“Then humiliating him will have to suffice,” Onslaught said as he looked down at Megatron, the light behind his visor completely flat. “As he has humiliated us.”
“Yes,” Vortex agreed and Blast Off echoed and even Swindle, the anger in their fields swirling and joining together.
“Won’t he just kill us afterward?” Brawl asked. He cracked his knuckle-joints, the nervous habit one Megatron had always loathed.
Vortex cackled and wriggled his fingers. “Not if he can’t catch us,” he said as he hooked an armor plate and finally yanked it free, tossing it casually over his shoulder. It clattered off into the dim.
Megatron ground his denta, biting back a cry of pain. He glared at them, his vocalizer grinding out static. He tugged again on his cuffs, but they didn’t budge. Which was unsurprising given Vortex’s occupation.
“We will take from you the freedom you stole from us,” Onslaught intoned, looming over Megatron, his optical band glinting darkly. “It is only fair.” One hand landed on Vortex’s shoulder, briefly squeezing. “Vortex, begin.”
The rotary tilted his helm. “Sir, yes, sir,” he drawled.
Fingers plunged into Megatron’s seams, as deftly as though they were sharpened. Megatron’s engine raced. He thrashed beneath Vortex, trying to toss the rotary away and get himself free.
It was a waste of energy. It was pointless. He couldn’t bring himself to stop.
This was a calculated assault. This was intentional. He didn’t know how they had surpassed the loyalty coding, but he would find out.
For now, he refused to give them his fear.
They would not break him.
Starscream dialed their comm, each of them in turn, a second time and then a third. Starscream continued to dial as many times as it took, so that the notification pings would be a constant and irritating buzz at the back of Onslaught’s processor.
He had no patience for this.
Starscream paced back and forth in his quarters, his spark flipping and churning in his chassis. This was not how things were meant to be. This was not what he intended.
This was a failure by all counts.
I should not be so surprised, Megatron’s voice whispered at him, lurching from the depths of his subconscious. Because a failure is what you are.
The comm finally connected.
“Starscream,” Onslaught drawled, and he’d patched Starscream into his receiving feed because Starscream picked up ambient noise – the slide of metal on metal, grunts and moans, the slick sounds of lubricant. “I was waiting for your comm.”
Starscream’s wings went rigid. “What have you done, Onslaught?” he demanded, his vocals approaching a shriek, the pitch he and everyone else loathed.
“Is it not obvious? You must be slower than Megatron thought.” Onslaught chuckled, his dark humor a direct insult. “We’ve only done what you’ve asked of us.”
“This was not our agreement!” Now Starscream did shriek. If that eavesdropping drone was listening in, Starscream was ruined.
Vortex laughed in the background.
“You can have him when we’re done with him,” Onslaught replied, his tone so mild that it bordered on dull.
Starscream ground his denta, gritting out a response, “That is not part of the plan,” he snarled.
“What does it matter in the end, Starscream? It’s not like you were going to kill him.”
The comm went dead, cutting off the sound of metal impacting metal and another eerie laugh in the background. Further attempts to contact Onslaught were pointless. Rather than ignore Starscream, he sent all of his pings to a messaging system.
Starscream felt the rage boiling inside of him. He crossed his arms, shuttered his optics, and screamed into the ether.
He should not be so surprised. He should have known better than to trust those idiots. There were many things he should have done.
His armor clamped tightly to his frame. He knew he had to fix this. He couldn’t let things stand as they were. At best, he would suffer another beating. At worse… Starscream did not want to contemplate it.
The idea of bowing, scraping, begging for his life again – it left a sour taste in his mouth. Like curdled energon. Like all the other times he had tried and failed.
Perhaps, however, this could be turned to Starscream’s advantage somehow. If he rescued Megatron, it might earn him enough forgiveness to avoid the worse consequences. There was always the option of killing him as well, but that left an equally sour taste in Starscream’s spark.
Stealing away a damaged Megatron only to offline him in a moment of weakness? That was not how Starscream wanted to gain control of the Decepticons. It would not work besides. Starscream did not have a firm enough grip on any percentage of the Decepticons to ensure he would not have to fight for leadership.
No. When he defeated Megatron, it had to be grand, it had to be public, it had to be witnessed.
This would not do.
Starscream ground his denta and stormed to his weapons locker, digging to the very back for his secondary plan. He’d had enough sense to be prepared for this possibility, though he hadn’t thought the Combaticons would be stupid enough to make a move so soon.
It rankled that he would have to rescue Megatron now, but needs must.
He would not give up all opportunity to take what was his because the Combaticons decided to become suicidal.
Enough was enough.
Megatron expected a beating. He could endure pain. He was built to endure pain. And yes, they had given him pain.
Brawl pounded on him, fists leaving dents in Megatron’s plating, impressions of Brawl’s knuckles that would linger.
Vortex played in his cables, his lines, like he was a fine-tuned instrument. Vortex had mastered the art of pain.
Blast Off was precision, targeted strikes, meant to incapacitate, making the cuffs meaningless because Megatron couldn’t move anyway.
Swindle recorded, a look of greedy glee on his face.
How much would his torment go for on the black market, Megatron wondered. He didn’t bother to taunt. He gritted his denta on insults.
He waited for them to grow bored. It would happen eventually. They were careless, like sparklings lashing out because they could. He half-expected more out of Onslaught, a brilliant tactician.
Then again, this had Starscream written all over it. Half-baked plans were his trademark.
“Enough,” Onslaught finally said, holding up a hand.
His minions fell away, though not without a parting shot by Vortex to Megatron’s substructure. His protoform rippled with pain where the energon prod had stung deep. His valve was a raw, aching mess. His mangled spike would no doubt require replacement.
Megatron reminded himself that it was only pain.
Onslaught continued, “There is one among us who has not gotten his opportunity for revenge.”
Megatron rolled his optics and spat up a glob of energon. He’d bitten his glossa more than once. “Have you forgotten how to count? Or is Swindle finally going to do more than observe like the coward he is?”
“So cheeky!” Vortex said with a little giggle. He pushed to his pedes, his rotors wiggling, and he clapped his hands together. “How long do you think that will last?”
Onslaught’s visor burned deeper. His fellow Combaticons clustered around him, looking down at Megatron. Swindle didn’t even have the courtesy to appear offended. His camera had vanished.
“Not long, once he realizes my meaning,” Onslaught replied. He lowered his arms. “Combaticons, it is time to combine.”
Vortex laughed as realization plummeted into Megatron’s spark. He stared in growing horror as the five mechs became one, as Bruticus loomed over him. The combiner’s hand was as large as Megatron alone, and the massive red visor glared down at Megatron.
“You,” Bruticus boomed. “You are the one.”
Megatron thrashed in his bonds, but there was no escape, no way to turn away from the hand that grabbed at him. It picked him up, snapping the chains like paper. Caught in the combiner’s grip, Megatron couldn’t work his way free.
“You hurt Bruticus,” the gestalt rumbled, as dim-witted as ever, but intent in every action. For once, all five of the Combaticons were thinking as one.
Pity it had to be now of all times.
“So Bruticus hurt you.”
Fingers squeezed. Metal shrieked in alarm and then dented. Pain shot through Megatron’s frame. His visual feed went red.
“But Bruticus not kill.”
The pressure eased. Megatron’s coherency slowly returned. He felt himself being lifted. His arms were gripped by a second large hand, pulled over his helm. He onlined his optics – when had he offlined them? – and found himself dangling from Bruticus’ right hand.
The massive mech’s field slammed into Megatron, and only then did he feel the sadistic glee, the desire to break and bend, to make him suffer.
A finger as thick around as the barrel of his fusion cannon prodded at his lower half. It poked his abdomen, then nudged between his thighs. It rubbed hard against his exposed array, where lubricant, transfluid, and energon mingled.
A cold chill went down Megatron’s backstrut.
“No!” he snarled, trying to twist away, but there was nowhere to go that Bruticus could not reach.
The blunt pressure of an over-large finger landed on his spike, flicking it dismissively. And then it prodded at his valve again, the tip fitting against his rim and pushing inside, straining already abused calipers.
“Yes,” Bruticus intoned.
Megatron twisted his hips away, a gasp escaping his lips. His spark was stuttering; he could see the whirl of it reflected against Bruticus’ armor through the rends in his armor.
He could handle pain. But what Bruticus intended went beyond that.
“You’ll kill me,” Megatron gasped out as the finger pushed its way deeper and a second joined. He heard the creak and crack of metal, felt the pop of one of his hip joints dislocating.
Excruciating, nauseating pain sent white light lights dancing in his visual feed. His ventilations stuttered.
“You’ll wish we had,” Bruticus rumbled and his field crashed over Megatron with all the force of a sonic boom. It rattled against his armor, stole his vents, sent his thoughts spinning into an endless loop.
The fingers pulled free with a sickening squelch. Cold replaced heat. Megatron’s vision fritzed in and out, his audials reading static. His arms ached, shoulders burning. He couldn’t move his left leg.
He heard the distinct shunk of a panel opening. He forced his optics into a reboot, forced himself to look, as the full force of horror fell down on him.
Bruticus had a spike after all, and it was extending from his pelvic plate, easily as big around as Megatron’s thigh and more than half again the length.
It would destroy him.
“Don’t,” Megatron rasped as fluids dripped from his ruined valve and the remains of his spike throbbed in sympathy.
Bruticus laughed, a mocking sound. “The choice, not yours,” he said, and guided Megatron toward the head of his spike, already seeping with pre-fluid, and looking all the more menacing for it.
“Tell us, Megatron, how does it feel?”
Starscream did not want to interpret the noises floating to his audials. Or the smell that hit his olfactory sensors. Energon and transfluid and ozone and the stench of scorched metal and fluids.
There was a rumble, the noise of metal impacting against metal, the sick squelch of fluids. There were impossible sounds, broken sounds, noises that made him reluctant to turn the corner.
He expected torture. He expected for Megatron to be alive, but in pieces. He did not expect to burst into the warehouse and find Bruticus crouched over Megatron, a massive spike near-splitting Megatron in two. The Decepticon leader was limp in Bruticus’ hold as the combiner more or less used him as a toy, a means to an overload, without regard for his comfort or safety.
It took all Starscream had not to purge.
That was not the plan!
Defeat him, yes. Take him down, yes. Humiliate him, make him beg, make him realize how pathetic he was… yes, yes, and yes. But this?
No. It was unacceptable. It was so far beyond acceptable that it had crossed the line into abhorrent.
And Starscream had done this. He had freed the Combaticons, made this possible.
Well. Now he was going to undo t.
Bruticus hadn’t noticed him, yet.
Starscream didn’t bother to bark an order. He knew that it would be ignored. Instead, he lifted the blaster he’d brought with him – it didn’t fire bullets, at least, not the conventional kind – and he fired.
The first beam hit Brawl square in whatever formed Bruticus’ knee. It sent him straight into stasis lock, freezing up the limb. Bruticus staggered back and the second shot hit Vortex, causing his grip to fall away from Megatron’s waist.
The combiner let out a low growl of confusion, his helm swinging toward Starscream, but all it took was a third shot to Bruticus’ torso for the combiner to drop. It clattered, falling into its components, and in the process, dislodging Megatron.
Starscream winced as the Decepticon leader tumbled to the ground, falling to a heap. Two more shots took care of Swindle and Blast Off respectively before Starscream felt safe to approach the downed combiner. He didn’t look at Megatron, not until he’d plugged all five of the datasticks into the Combaticons’ cephalic ports to begin the upload.
Their respite from the control programming was over. If Megatron let them live after this, it would never be with any degree of freedom.
Only then did Starscream turn to Megatron, instantly glad that he’d disengaged his chemo-receptors and dialed back his electromagnetic field to a dull hum around his frame. Megatron was barely conscious, his arms still bound by stasis cuffs above his head, perhaps because his shoulders had been dislocated, preventing him from moving them.
His entire frame was riddled with dents and scrapes. Starscream had watched enough interrogations – and spent enough time in Vortex’s care – to recognize the work of an energon whip, an energon prod, and the telltale drip of acid. Plates of armor were missing, the cables beneath damaged and torn.
The worst of it was his interfacing array. Starscream’s tank squeezed as his gaze fell to it, Megatron’s panels unable to close. His spike had been extended, but not for the interest of pleasure, given the way it was crushed and the housing around it dented. His valve was a ruin, the rim torn and sluggishly bleeding, his exterior node was cracked and dark. Both of his hips looked to be dislocated. His bottom half was a mess of dents, energon, lubricant, and transfluid.
None of it was fatal. But unless he had managed to disable his own sensors, consciousness would bring on excruciating pain.
Starscream cycled a ventilation, and nibbled on his bottom lip. He had to get Megatron out of here on his own. The last thing he needed was one of the loyalists to stumble in here. Especially Soundwave.
At least, not until Starscream was out of the line of fire.
He crouched next to Megatron, the rattling whoosh of Megatron’s vents explaining why energon kept spattering onto his armor. If he wasn’t in stasis, he was going to be soon.
Megatron’s optics flickered. Starscream’s own widened.
He was conscious?!
“S-Starscream.” Glitched with static, Megatron’s vocals stuttered into the air. His field rose, weak at first, but gaining in strength until it attacked Starscream.
There was no precision in the agony that boiled over Starscream. It was pure, blunt force. If he hadn’t dampened his own field, it would have been dizzying.
“Once again, I come to your rescue, Master,” Starscream said as he folded his arms over his cockpit. He stared down at his leader.
Megatron’s optics flickered before suddenly brightening, burning with rage. He moved, however awkwardly, but enough to prove he still had some sense of self.
“You… you think I can’t see your hand in this?” Megatron spat at him, a labored attempt at speech, his words striped in static.
Despite it all, guilt rose up in his intake. “I had nothing to do with this,” Starscream retorted. Megatron was in no state to hear of unintended consequences. “But the way I see it, you have two options, my lord.”
Energon bubbled from Megatron’s lips. His optics burned dimly at Starscream. “Spare me your pontificating,” he rasped out, trying again to move, his limbs twitching. More fluid trickled from his valve.
Starscream leaned forward before he caught himself. He hated his own weakness, how he still somehow felt compelled to worry when Megatron was injured.
“Two options,” Starscream repeated, his wings flicking back. “You can wait for Soundwave to come retrieve you, or I can take you out of here myself, somewhere you can recover without half of your soldiers seeing you in such a weakened condition.”
Silence. Megatron’s vents continued to splutter, to spatter the ground around him with fluids. His jaw set. He glared.
Starscream ground his denta. “Quickly, Megatron. Or your frame will make the choice out of here.”
Megatron’s engine growled as he laboriously dragged his arms toward his lap – so, not dislocated after all. He managed to get an elbow beneath him, forcing him half-upright. Each motion was slow, grating, thick with pain.
“Chrono’s ticking, my lord.” Starscream sneered.
“Then get me out of here,” Megatron snarled, every effort to rise to his own pedes proving moot. They would not support his weight and Starscream would have laughed at his predicament, had the injuries been earned in battle. This was something else entirely. “And don’t touch me.”
Starscream’s wings flicked. “I can do one or the other, but not both,” he hissed and rolled his optics. “Make up your mind, dear master.”
Megatron’s engine whined. His ventilations rattled, coughing up energon and other fluids. His field was a vile sickly mess. He glared at Starscream, revulsion and anger pummeling Starscream at all fronts.
Finally, he lifted his bound hands. “Take me out of here,” Megatron seethed. “Now.” He clung to command, perhaps as the only thing keeping him together.
Starscream worked his jaw. “You could ask politely.”
“Or you could do as you’re told!” Megatron’s hands curled into fists. “Are you that much of a coward, to cause this, fail to complete the job, and then fail to fix it? You are a failure in every way.”
Starscream chuffed a ventilation. His engine growled and he stomped forward, grabbing Megatron’s arm and hauling him to his pedes. At once, his leader staggered and slumped against Starscream’s side. A raw mix of energon, lubricant, and transfluid splattered down.
Starscream’s tank churned. The stench of interfacing, of hot metal, made him want to purge.
“And where shall I take you? To the Constructicons, I imagine?” Starscream demanded even as Megatron tilted and landed against his side, dislocated hips preventing him from standing.
He had to sweep Megatron up into his arms – not for the first time he might add – and he pretended he did not notice how much lighter the Decepticon leader felt.
“I will not be seen in this condition by anyone,” Megatron growled. “You will, for once, clean up your own mess, Starscream. And then I will consider not blowing your fool head off.”
“What an inspiring promise.” Starscream sneered and powered on his thrusters, shooting them both into the air.
Megatron’s engine gave a rev of surprise. Starscream didn’t bother to hide his amusement.
“Save your strength, Leader,” Starscream added as they rose higher, toward the drop door in the ceiling. “You’ll need it.”
Mercifully, it shut Megatron up.
Starscream had over a dozen boltholes scattered across planet Earth. He had twice as many on Cybertron though whether any of those still existed, he didn’t know.
He couldn’t take Megatron back to the Nemesis. He did not want to use the space bridge and get anywhere within Shockwave’s optic. He opted to use one of his boltholes instead, even if meant abandoning it afterward. There were others.
Megatron slipped into a semi-stasis moments after they left the Combaticons’ warehouse. Which was a relief for Starscream. The rasp of his pained field had been disorienting, and Starscream needed his focus.
He didn’t comm Soundwave until he was safely in his bolthole. He kept the contact brief and uninformative. Megatron was safe with Starscream, but the Combaticons needed to be retrieved and imprisoned. The self-executing, self-wiping data slugs should take care of themselves.
Starscream was no medic, but he’d repaired himself enough to know the basics. He laid Megatron out on a tarp and got to work, crimping and patching torn lines, removing the bonds, and pulling out the worst of the dents. He plugged in to Megatron’s medical port – briefly, any longer made him shudder – and initiated a reboot of his motion circuits. Hopefully that would be enough.
Starscream disconnected quickly and returned to the rest of the physical damage.
His interface panels were gone, unfortunately, but Starscream cleaned around Megatron’s valve as carefully as he was able, noting the tears in the rim. He had no doubt that there were rips in Megatron’s valve lining as well. His spike was mangled and the best Starscream could figure, Megatron would need a replacement. All Starscream could do at this moment was numb the pain with both gel and a pain patch.
He saved relocating Megatron’s hips – and one shoulder it turned out – for last. The latter was nothing; the former grated into place with a screech of metal on metal that echoed in the silence of Starscream’s bolthole.
It also had the unfortunate side effect of rousing Megatron from his twilight stasis.
A flash of fresh, sharp agony jolted Megatron back online, his denta grinding down on a cry of pain. His entire frame jolted, optical shutters snapping open, his field sweeping through the room in one quick burst, telling him all that he needed to know.
He wasn’t on the Nemesis, but neither was he still in the warehouse. The Combaticons were gone. The only presence he detected was Starscream’s.
Megatron cycled a ventilation, one that wheezed more than was healthy, and turned his helm. Starscream knelt next to the low-slung berth currently housing Megatron’s supine frame, his face carefully empty of expression, but his armor clamped to his frame, and his wings pressed to his backplate.
If he was afraid, he didn’t show it. He had to know that Megatron blamed him for this, and yet, he was still here.
So he wasn’t a total coward then. Just most of one.
Megatron rebooted his vocalizer, but even so, his first words were wreathed in static. “What was your plan this time?” he asked. “You honestly believed you could trust them to be your obedient lackeys?”
Starscream rose to his pedes, wings twitching. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, whirling on a heelstrut.
He watched Starscream stalk to a nearby crate and rummage through it before producing a large cube of what seemed to be medical grade energon.
“Am I to believe the Combaticons – a purely military team with the exception of Swindle – taught themselves how to alter their own obedience coding without any assistance?” Megatron demanded as Starscream returned.
The Seeker tilted the cube toward Megatron, but he turned his helm away. As if he would trust anything Starscream offered him.
“You can believe whatever you like,” Starscream said crossly and shoved the cube at him again. “You’re low. Drink it.”
“You’re in no position to give me orders!” Megatron snarled, his frame tensing, but try as he might, he could not give himself the command to move. His hip joints had been re-located, but they weren’t responding. The circuits must still be damaged.
Starscream rolled his optics and snatched at Megatron’s helm, forcefully turning it back toward Starscream. Megatron tried to lash out, only to realize at the last moment that his wrists had been tied down, perhaps to prevent him from killing Starscream the moment he onlined.
“No. Open your mouth,” Starscream insisted, his thumb pressing at Megatron’s bottom lip, a firm pressure that demanded rather than requested.
Megatron clamped his mouth shut, defiant, but Starscream worked the tip of his thumb into it and then pried his mouth open. He was weak, too weak if Starscream could do that with little effort, and the sludgy, bland medical grade trickled into his mouth. He could choose not to swallow and let it flood his vents, but the idea of coughing out energon for the next several hours held no appeal.
He swallowed. There were, he assumed, better ways for Starscream to poison him. Besides, Starscream had a point. His fuel levels were pitiful, which explained in part the fatigue that settled over his entire frame like a leaden weight.
“There,” Starscream said, once he’d upended the entire cube and released Megatron’s jaw. “That could have gone a lot easier if you’d cooperate.”
“With the mech who nearly got me killed?” Megatron snarled, and tugged at the wrist restraints again. “You delude yourself, Starscream.”
The Seeker turned away, but not before Megatron caught the brief flicker of guilt in his expression. “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead,” he retorted.
“Your current rate of success suggests that is not the case.” Megatron grimaced, the taste of the medical grade lingering on his glossa. “Release me.”
“No.” The Seeker’s wings hiked upward as he set the empty cube off to the side and returned with a cleaning cloth, damp with solvent.
Despite Megatron trying to lean away from him, he applied said cloth to the spatters of fluid on Megatron’s abdominal armor. Fluid Megatron recognized sourly as a mixture of lubricant and transfluid.
His frame was numb, and the last several hours were hazy, but Megatron knew all he had to do was access his memory core to remember. Not that he wanted to. The echo of agony was enough for him.
Agony. Helplessness. Rage. And in the wake of it all, despair. Because he hadn’t known if the Combaticons – if the mindless Bruticus – would kill him. But worse was the idea of rescue.
Decepticons should not be rescued. They should return on their own power, or not at all.
“Are you attempting to earn forgiveness?” Megatron demanded.
Starscream did not look at him. “Is it working?”
“There are not enough apologies in the world,” Megatron hissed and looked away from his second, trying to distance himself from the soft, almost gentle touches of the cloth to his frame.
It was anathema to him, to his relationship to Starscream, to everything that he stood for. He didn’t know if he preferred it to the assault or not. It felt a different kind of attack, though he couldn’t put words into why.
“Should I have left you do die then?” Starscream’s tone was so mild that it bordered on indifferent.
Megatron ground his denta. “Better that you hadn’t been such a failure in the first place. I’d ask you, again, what you were thinking, but I know you, and I’m quite certain you weren’t.” He turned his helm back toward Starscream, glaring as though he could shoot lasers from his optics. “You are as predictable in your mediocrity as you are in your failure, Starscream.”
Starscream stared back at him, jaw set, his plating clamped so tightly he had to be overheating. “And you, dear master, are as full of compliments as ever.”
“I tend to be less complimentary when a Combiner has taken his entertainment of me,” Megatron hissed, lurching toward Starscream, only to be brought up short by the restraints again. “Especially when it is the fault of the mech who is supposed to be my loyal second in command.”
Starscream gripped the cleaning cloth; it dripped solvent onto Megatron’s plating. “Perhaps if you hadn’t insisted on installing obedience coding and stripping away their autonomy, they wouldn’t have been angry enough to exact vengeance.”
Megatron’s optics narrowed. “It would not have been an issue if you hadn’t been stupid enough to free them of it.”
Starscream drew up as though indignant, his mouth opening in preparation to deliver a scathing retort. His optics flashed.
His mouth closed slowly. He deflated.
“That,” he said carefully, choosing his words with evident precision, “I mean, what happened, that was never my intention.”
“Of course it wasn’t.” Megatron snorted. “That would imply you actually plan that far in advance. You don’t have the taste for torture, Starscream. You’re too soft.”
Starscream worked his jaw. His armor clamped tightly to his frame. “I am far from–”
“Spare me the argument, Starscream. I’m not here to soothe your battered ego. You’re lucky I’m not plotting your demise as we speak,” Megatron interrupted, careful to effect a bored tone.
Starscream retracted his hands, bracing them on the side of the berth near Megatron’s hip. “And why not?”
“It is your fault, but I don’t blame you. That comes dangerously close to giving you credit.” Megatron tilted his helm, managing to look down at the Seeker leaning over him. “Besides, I have no interest in finding someone to replace you right now.”
“This… This doesn’t change anything!” Starscream sputtered.
Megatron rolled his optics. “Of course it doesn’t.” He cycled a ventilation, his gaze wandering to the ceiling. “After this, you will go back to your fruitless attempts to depose me, and I will continue to try and make use of you. Because that is the status quo and I don’t expect it will ever change.”
“I could kill you,” Starscream retorted, but there was little heat behind it. Only exhaustion, perhaps a touch of bitterness.
“You could try.” Megatron looked at him again, searching his spark for what he felt for his second, and finding a maelstrom of conflicting emotions as usual. “And we both know you’ll fail.”
Starscream’s jaw set. His field flickered, finally loosed from his control, but only so that Megatron got a brief taste of his anger, his despair. “I should have let them finish the job,” he hissed, but he reached for the bonds around Megatron’s wrists instead.
Megatron’s lips curled into a smirk. “You and I both know you’d prefer that glory for yourself.”
“Will you kill them?”
The last binding fell free and Megatron pulled himself upright, ignoring the sharp ache at the base of his spinal strut. “No,” he said as he rubbed at his wrists. “There are worse things than death.”
Starscream muttered something, which might have been disagreement, not that it mattered. He was as petulant as a sparkling, his arms crossed over his cockpit and his wings hanging low against his back.
Megatron rubbed his wrists for a second or two more before he lunged, moving faster than Starscream could anticipate. He gripped his second’s face, pulling the squawking Seeker toward him.
“I have not forgiven you.” The abrupt action jarred something loose inside of him, something painfully grating, but Megatron ignored it for now. “Keep that in mind the next time you concoct another plot. Do you understand?” He squeezed, hard enough to hear the metal in Starscream’s face creak alarmingly.
Crimson optics flashed at him. Starscream bared his denta in a snarl, but he neither aimed his null rays at Megatron, nor lashed out at him.
“Yes,” he gritted out.
Megatron leaned closer, until their faces were inches apart. “Yes….?”
Starscream’s optics narrowed. A shiver rippled across his armor. “Yes, Leader,” he forced out, though his engines growled his displeasure.
“Good.” Megatron released him with a push, shoving Starscream back. “Now tell me where we are so we can return to the Nemesis. I need repairs that you are incapable of providing, and the Combaticons are due their punishment.”
He pushed himself to his pedes, ignoring the jags of pain striking through his frame. He did not know if he had ever felt worse, but he did know he wasn’t going to linger here.
Megatron headed toward what he assumed was the exit, earning a confirmation when Starscream fell into step beside him, at his left.
He didn’t mention that Starscream hadn’t evaded punishment either. Megatron simply wanted time to think of something creative.
After all, if he killed Starscream now, then he wouldn’t learn a thing.