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Soundwave's powerful sensors detected something, no, several beings approaching this circus mockery Starscream had staged in the aftermath of the battle aboard Astrotrain. He listened harder, and a vague impression of entropy mixed with a tainted lust for power. There was something almost familiar in the presence, but the overriding need to destroy was blocking the wish to rule that Soundwave would have recognized immediately.

"Decepticons! Intruders inbound. Arrival imminent!"

He ignored the outraged shriek of their would-be leader, moving into attack position and doing a mass eject of those Cassetticons he had with him. The five were effective fighters, and less damaged than many others that now turned to face the incoming attack force.

`~`~`~`~`

Starscream was enraged that anything dared intrude. Something pricked at a deep awareness though, when the leader targeted him directly. Could it be...

"Megatron?!"

`~`~`~`~`

Starscream had vowed that Megatron would never rule over the others strictly through past accomplishments. When Megatron became too weak, Starscream had assured him that he would fall.

Even so, releasing Megatron's frame, surely on the cusp of total system failure, to the mercies of space had been done with one small indulgence on Starscream's part: he had not finished the destruction, leaving an invitation. He had all but said to the mech who had commanded what little loyalty he felt to prove him wrong, to come back and wrest control away once again.

Beyond that reason had been Starscream's own cowardice. He really had not wanted to have to sever the link between them at such close range. Far better for that breaking to come at a distance, Starscream had decided, unwilling to risk the distraction of that pain as he planned his ascendancy.

`~`~`~`~`

"Here's a hint!" the stranger, who seemed not quite unknown at all roared, transforming into a cannon that was nothing like the beautiful weapon Megatron had been.

Starscream knew Megatron had never shot for his spark. Always, he left him alive to grovel for leniency. This time was different, Starscream suddenly knew. If this was Megatron, in some form or other, the playing field had been redrawn, and Starscream threw all his energy into his shields, just as Rumble pounded the decking. Between the displacement of the shot and Starscream's survival instincts, the shot was not fatal, but only just.

"Decepticons! Retreat!" Starscream snarled, that alien energy still ripping through his systems with the blaze of death's promise.

`~`~`~`~`

Soundwave heard the snarl for retreat. He dipped into Starscream's mind, felt the pain and heard the calculations of their strength against the invaders. Few would be able to obey the order, but Soundwave could. His symbionts flocked to him, snatched into n-space as the big mech moved, leaping as he bridged the gap to his fellow Commander.

"Tactical situation: prefer known quantity of Seeker to the unknown intruders," he broadcast, aloud and on the compelling band he had long ago insinuated in the fractious Air Commander.

Starscream's canopy swung open even as the jet transformed, and Soundwave fell into place as the compact music system he had reformatted to on Earth.

The communicator and spy was buffeted as energy arced all around him, indicating Starscream had been hit again, but his powerful afterburners kicked in and they were away.

`~`~`~`~`

The landing was barely worth that title. Starscream's sheer will was the only reason he managed to keep his occupant safe, mainly because Starscream refused to crack his canopy on a bad crash. That parting shot had very nearly finished him off.

The lack of pursuit both was a relief and an insult. He had known he was not able to return the firepower being brought down on him, but to be so dismissed from thought?! How dare they! He would show them all. He just needed time and resources.

"Condition: report."

Soundwave's voice broke Starscream from his plotting. "I exist, you hunk of rusted metal!" The Seeker was irritated by the demand for information.

"Unsatisfactory. Details necessary."

"I'll tell you what is necessary! You, vacating my cockpit, so I can survey what that buffoon has done to my frame!" Starscream shrieked at him.

`~`~`~`~`

Soundwave heard the indignation, and found it a tiresome indicator that Starscream was functional enough. They had crashed on some remote moon or planetoid, one that Soundwave had not yet placed with his limited astrogation skills. He was accustomed to having the computers of a greater vessel to call upon.

However, Starscream had been an explorer once, and was interstellar-capable. Therefore, Starscream was necessary. He would keep the Seeker functional to further his own plans. He transformed, careful of the tight quarters he was in for no Seeker had been built to carry his root mode.

That he had to manually push the cockpit open was another factor to consider. Starscream would not admit to pain and damage, but he was going to have to submit to repair. Soundwave began planning accordingly, sending out long-distance pulses to his other Cassetticons, informing them to stay hidden and wait for recall.

`~`~`~`~`

The fight over Starscream's repairs was surprisingly less intense than the argument over what to do after. Starscream knew he was at a tactical disadvantage with Soundwave outgunning him between the Cassetticons and the other Commander's relatively undamaged ability. However, Soundwave needed him for transportation.

Which was why the very paranoid Seeker insisted his sensors were more than adequate to the task of scouting for resources rather than allow Soundwave to possibly find a reason that Starscream was superfluous to his designs.

"It would be a severe waste of what energon we have to send the small ones out when I can passively scan as you perform further repairs," Starscream said resorting to reason and subterfuge to accomplish his aim.

Soundwave regarded him placidly, before responding. "Situation indicates mutual benefit in alliance of full abilities. Mission: passive scan, Starscream. Mission: aerial reconnaissance, Ratbat. Specialty, energy acquisition. Further assets remain in stasis."

"Why Soundwave, was that a full speech?" Starscream crooned in mocking surprise. He considered for a moment; if Soundwave honored his side of the deal, it was a reasonable division of labor. "A good use of each of our skills." Starscream settled on the makeshift berth he had made out of a rock slab, keeping a low charge in his weaponry despite the effort that took.

`~`~`~`~`

As Soundwave performed the continuing repairs for his only way off this planetoid, he saw many signs of extensive rebuilding from previous damage. It was a well-known fact that the more recent cycles had seen Starscream more and more at odds with Megatron, but even Soundwave had not realized just how much damage the Seeker had taken over the long vorns in his near-constant rebellion.

Soundwave still considered it pointless and a waste of both ambition and skill, but it edged more caution into his protocols for dealing with the capricious Seeker. Any mech who could take that much abuse and still pursue his goals so doggedly was a dangerous being.

Once Soundwave had exhausted both his own aid kit and Starscream's, he fell back a small distance. Starscream, though repaired to flight ability, was not in any shape to function completely alone, though Soundwave recalled he had not protested once at the jettisoning of his own trine-mates.

"Repairs satisfactory."

"Hardly, but they will have to do for now," Starscream sneered, standing to investigate his mobility, shields, and weapon function. Soundwave felt as the Seeker's sensor arrays came fully online, sweeping over him and then further out.

"Ratbat: eject. Mission: seek energy sources," Soundwave commanded. The Cassetticon obeyed, snapping a squeaky snarl toward Starscream out of habit before flying away.

"Your little minions are slagging nuisances," Starscream grumbled. Soundwave ignored him, before turning his own monitoring ability to determining just what assets were closest at hand.

`~`~`~`~`

If there was one thing Starscream did not need as he recharged on a mostly barren planetoid with Soundwave right there, it was his central processor inducing a sudden need to orderly categorize the events of the past few orns while he was in recharge. The build-up to Megatron's disastrous raid against the Autobots had been fraught with irritations and near constant fighting between the leader and his nominal second. The situation may have been made worse by having to cope with Shockwave, ever the darling pet these cycles, edging ever closer to eliminating Starscream's dubious influence on the Army.

Starscream hated being on the edge of a laser-sword, and Shockwave had been keeping him there, while Megatron plotted what he saw as the final moves in the war. All of the careful guards that Starscream had built to hide the measures against him, his own countermeasures, his own plans as well as those walls used to protect himself from the broken edges of all his major bonds, were missing as his system underwent deep recharge to support self-repair. There was no physical reaction to the mass of raw truth in his processors, but a small part of his awareness felt vulnerable, knowing the telepath was right there on a level that was uncomfortable for the mech that never allowed the truth to intrude in his existence.

The more repairs his systems completed, the more intensely his instinct to come up from recharge grew into a compulsion. When his frame lost the fight to continue repair, and rebooted at his paranoid command, Starscream brought his optics online... to find Soundwave regarding him impassively and the touch of Soundwave's processor against his own.

::I did not invite you in!:: Starscream lashed out at him on the Decepticon band, using short range to do so.

::Processes voluble. Information gathering inescapable.::

Starscream reared back, because the tone, from someone who never varied, seemed almost regretful. His optics narrowed, and he regarded Soundwave shrewdly. ::It doesn't make any difference, what data runs during recharge, anyway!:: It was only fragmentary data anyway!

::Negative. Data indicates you are susceptible to distraction by emotive context upon our return to Cybertron.::

The Seeker snarled. ::Our return? You say that as if we will be allied an astrosecond past that moment!::

::Megatron: dysfunctional. Attackers: not allowed to claim Megatron's place. Shockwave: not useful.:: Soundwave leaned in, that glint of his optic-visor deepening in crimson. ::Starscream: viable ally due to creative ability lacking in self.::

Starscream did not truly know how to handle the concept of Soundwave's brutal self-honesty. It was so frank and blunt and everything Starscream had avoided being since he chose to abandon his scientific roots for politics and power. He flicked a wave of that lack of comprehension toward Soundwave. ::Even if I agree to work with you to regain the Army, and to undo whatever damage either Shockwave or that... that... impostor! have done, what do I gain?::

::Processor clarity. Will minimize the edges of broken alliances,:: Soundwave offered. Of course there would have to be something more than the obvious reasons to encourage Starscream to approach rationality.

::You are a meddlesome creation,:: Starscream chuckled. While it would benefit him to have those links 'capped', it benefited Soundwave to know that Starscream could not be manipulated through one of them.

::Primary function.:: Soundwave did not deny that at all.

::Fine. Blunt them, then. My systems can recharge better if I am not ... distracted.:: In truth, the gnawing agony of feeling three links still burning, but muted, and warped, alien to his Spark, was driving Starscream toward levels of insanity he didn't want to reach. He still needed too much work on his systems to take on those strangers that had attacked them at his coronation. The fourth... well, Starscream told himself that he had been meaning to break that one anyway.

`~`~`~`~`

Soundwave had thought it would be an easy task, to go in and rework the personal bond-level links that were plaguing Starscream's existence. He had done it to others over the vorns, rather than allow the loss of bonds to impact the greater ability of the Decepticons to function without such sentimental judgment impairments. In some cases, Soundwave had even intervened to break links between existing partners, when he had deemed such links to be detrimental to efficiency on a grotesque level. It had made Skywarp far more effective, after all, to have his link to Thundercracker tempered to a less consuming one.

Starscream, being Starscream, clung to the sharp edges of his pain even after he had agreed to let Soundwave perform the procedure. While Soundwave was fully aware of his superior ability in all methods of mental and emotional rerouting, he was equally certain he could not have gotten this far without that cooperation. Soundwave finally had to submit a data query, to learn why Starscream's resistance and protection over those links was so strong.

::Resistance is contrary to future functioning parameters,:: he informed Starscream. ::Provide explanation.::

As deep inside Starscream's mind as he had reached, the flicker of thoughts were fleeting and tinged with a fear he could not hide, but Soundwave was able to catch and hold them.

::They are proof I exist, that I make things happen.::

Soundwave pushed swiftly, striking like Ravage closing his jaws on an opponent, to see what trauma underlay that immature need to have such meaningless verification. The tumult of his history having been erased in the aftermath of losing his partner on a mission, his creations, his ideas, his entire body of work discredited or assigned to someone else flooded Soundwave, and the communicator understood so much of Starscream he had never thought to, nor wished to. For one who existed as a data collector, one who knew that nothing was true unless enough mechs knew it, it laid groundwork for Soundwave to actually empathize with the capricious Seeker.

::Existence verified. Data recorded for all time. Starscream and Soundwave remembered with Megatron.:: The temptation, the offer to make Starscream's name known through out history was tailored so precisely to everything Starscream wanted that Soundwave felt the resistance flow aside. He could now trim those links back, tying off the broken edges of the trine-bond, dismissing the one to the long-gone Autobot, and finally curtailing the dangerous link between Starscream and the mech their leader seemed to have become through some alien transformation.

`~`~`~`~`

Starscream's optics opened after the next recharge cycle, running his diagnostics. Everything was repaired, all systems fully online, and he could think in the Primus-blessed quiet of his own helm. He looked over at Soundwave, link to a future he craved, reminder of a past that had been lost, and slowly smiled.

Everything was going to be just fine, so long as he remembered not to trust Soundwave too far, yet far enough. After all, Megatron hadn't risen to the top alone, either.

"Let's go take that energy source Ratbat discovered, so we can get back to Cybertron and make our destiny!" he said, voice ringing with arrogant confidence.

Both mechs' optics glowed with thirst for power, and a deeper awareness of what they could be than ever.