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Just Rewards

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"What was the point in this?" Starscream seethed. The flier was still running hot from combat, voice cracking over the drone of his fans, and Megatron had long ago noted that most of his soldiers had little or no filter between processor and vocalizer when their systems were battle hot. Even more so in Seekers, with so much of their processor given over to flight control and targeting, and his Second's habit of needling made him worse than most. It was irritating but also a point of amusement, and it was the latter which shaded Megatron's reply into indulgent humor.

"Patience, Starscream. This was only a necessary distraction." Such as it had been, a hit and run on an organic research facility within easy reach of the Autobot's ship. It had been a rather well orchestrated ruse - Soundwave's hacking of the primitive system had been a nice touch, as had been the Seekers' strafing destruction of the facilities afterwards. Prime and his forces had arrived predictably on schedule and Megatron had sounded the retreat after the requisite tussle and personally making sure that he had said exactly enough to leave Optimus wracking his processor long into the night cycle trying to figure out what, exactly, the Decepticons had escaped with. The last had been unnecessary but had afforded Megatron enough personal pleasure to be justified.

They had regrouped far enough away that the ground bound Autobots wouldn't bother giving chase, touching down atop one of the mesas that thrust up like some sort of bizarre organic landing pad from the flat desert surrounds. Megatron, his optics filtered against the glare of the system's star, had his gaze trained on the horizon and let himself smile as a black speck circled closer, a bank through air currents glinting sunlight off of telltale metal. "Observe," he prompted. "Here comes the 'point' now."

He thrust up his hand, palm up, when Laserbeak dropped from the sky, and the smile stretched into a fierce grin as the cassette dropped a metallic part neatly into his grasp. Chuckling, he held the slim bit of circuitry up to Starscream's bright, covetous optics. "A delivery, Starscream. Courtesy of our ever obliging Autobot brethren. I believe you mentioned needing a duryllium conductive circuit for your latest project?"

His Second must have finally put some sort of stopgap on his vocalizer because his initial reaction wasn't voiced as much as displayed in the eager, quivering flare of the flier's wings. His voice, when he did speak, had dropped from a temper laden screech to the smoother, ingratiating purr of pleasure. "Swiped from their labs? Brilliant, Lord Megatron. I shouldn't have doubted your ingenuity…"

Megatron snorted. "See you remember that in the future." He tipped the part into the Seekers' hands, where it disappeared into Starscream's hungry grasp. "I'll expect a report on your progress next cycle."

The Seeker's optics flared, though it was almost hidden in the dip of his subservient bow. Megatron cycled a huff of amusement and lifted his arm again to allow the avian cassette to settle onto the proffered perch. "Excellent work, Laserbeak. Were you observed?"

The cassette dipped a negative gesture of his wedge shaped head but it was Soundwave who answered, the communication officer's modulated drone nevertheless managing to express a measure of pleased pride in the thrum of his intonations. "Negative. Ark; minimally guarded. Infiltration, unobserved."

Megatron chuckled, stroking one finger along the underside of the avian's throat. "Well done. Such efficiency deserves a reward." A swift motion of his arm launched the cassette skywards again and Megatron kicked his own thrusters on, leaping after the avian. "We're finished here. Decepticons! Back to base!"

* * * * *

It had been early in his rise to power that Megatron had realized there was a time for the iron fist of discipline and a time for the energon sweet of reward. Accolade and punishment worked best when utilized in conjunction with each other, and he had learned to dole out fear and praise in equal measure where it was required.

His soldiers were, by necessity, materialistic. Verbal praise for the loyal was well and good, but fleeting; an extra ration of energon went further and lingered longer in their memory archives. When loyalty was combined with competence the profits were raised accordingly and Megatron had a generous hand when it suited him; extra rations, time and resources for their pet projects, and once, when one bold spark had asked it of him, a measure of the Decepticon leader's own time and self.

It had, over time, become tradition. Where one brave mech had ventured, others had followed; it cost Megatron nothing and cemented an extra layer of personal loyalty to himself that he appreciated in his troops. Through the vorn Megatron had taken to simply asking his Third what each new mech's preference was in terms of reward; Soundwave's telepathy and the communication officer's unflinching bluntness made the process easier and infinitely more accurate than having to wring an intimate confession from his soldiers. Uplink or downlink, valve, spike, domination or submission - it was all the same to Megatron, who had found he viewed loyalty as its own attraction. Those who wanted it rough, those who wanted a fight before hand, those who just wanted it to be good, or the few who wanted to be helpless and restrained at their leader's hand; in the end, an overload was an overload, a reward was a reward, and a night cycle of exactly what they wanted, whether they had ever dared to speak it aloud or not, left a long and lasting impression on a mech's processor.

Those who earned rewards didn't talk about it, but they stood straighter and walked prouder in the cycles afterwards, and were more likely to try to earn their Lord's favor again. It was elegant, it was efficient, and it worked.

The only time Soundwave had balked had been the first time Megatron had thought to reward one of the communication officer's symbionts. While the two mech twins were incorrigible and more likely to be found on discipline detail than in his good graces, and the younger two fliers went about their duties with a drone like efficiency, the quadruped saboteur and eldest avian spy were so dedicated in their efforts that it had only seemed reasonable to offer them the same rewards as he would have any other soldier. They were not, after all, drones - no matter what some might say - and they were, so far as Megatron knew of their frame-types, well within their matured cycles. Soundwave, however, had radiated a badly concealed discomfort when Megatron had asked for further information.

"Cassette preferences; unknown," he had answered, the words more clipped than usual.

Megatron had let his surprise show. "They're your symbionts, how can you not know?"

"Symbiont bond, not intrusive," Soundwave had insisted and, when Megatron had simply pointedly waited, finally exvented sharply and clarified. "Emotions, shared. Intellectual privacy; maintained. Preferences; unknown."

Which should not have, in any way, precluded his ability to find out, but the communication officer's sharply embarrassed air had made Megatron laugh. "Well, then," he had relented, smirking, "I suppose I'll just have to ask them."

It had, in fact, been exactly that easy. The first time Ravage had entered his quarters Megatron had taken a seat, the better to minimize the difference in their size, and had asked what the quadruped wanted. Ravage had eyed him for a long moment, as inscrutable as ever, and then leapt… and Megatron had found himself with a lapful of cassette, who promptly draped in an extended stretch across his thigh armor, rolled to expose underplating and all four pedes, and had summarily demanded ::Pet me.:: Megatron, after a moment of surprise, had grinned and obliged.

Ravage, it turned out, had little or no interest in interfacing but took a great and vocal delight in tactile manipulation. Megatron, for his own part, found an evening spent meticulously stretching the countless tensile cables and carefully unkinking the small saboteur's sensor net to be a relaxing thing, his own processor pleasantly floating on the sound of the rhythmic rumble of the cassette's engine as he massaged oil into small, stiff joints. There was something appealing in the powered-down, blissful look of the quadruped's optics as he pressed his thumb into the pad of each delicately jointed pede, deadly duryllium claws flexing carefully around his fingers in pleasure. Gentle circles drawn over the saboteur's audial arrays would bring the rhythmic revving into a long, drawn out rumble of pleasure, optics offlined entirely, and repeated cable lengthening strokes along the long ridge of the quadruped's vertebral joints left him with a lapful of limp, strutless, recharging cassette.

It wasn't until the third time Ravage had earned a personal reward that the cassette had revealed another preference, in the form of a slim holo board that had been deposited at Megatron's feet. The saboteur, it seemed, was an avid Crystal Hex player, and had no one but his symbiont master to indulge the past time with. ::We know all of each other's strategies,:: Ravage had complained with a huffed exvent from where he was sprawled once more across Megatron's knees. ::You can predict the outcome of any game within two moves. Tell me you know the rules?::

It was, by far, the most words the Decepticon leader had ever heard from the quadruped, but it seemed the cassette was full of surprises. "I believe I can remember them, yes," he had agreed. In truth, he had to take a long moment to locate and unarchive the memory, but he had learned the basic rules of the strategy game once upon a time. "You may have to be patient with me."

Ravage had stretched, pedes reaching. ::As a fourth circuit master, I'll spot you one orbital and two fleets.:: His tail had flicked against Megatron's arm plating, his 'voice' over the com conveying a pleased smugness. ::Also, feel free to distract me.::

It had made Megatron laugh. Over the vorn, Ravage's handicap had decreased to one fleet and a judicious application of audial sensor massage that tended to leave the quadruped too cycled down to concentrate properly. Their score currently stood three up in Ravage's favor, a gap that Megatron had determinedly closed over time, and though he wouldn't admit it there were times he rewarded the cassette simply because he wanted a restful evening of Crystal Hex tactics for himself.

Laserbeak, in contrast, had been both more and less forthcoming than his symbiont sibling. When asked, the first time, what his preference was, the avian had ducked his head, chrring softly. Only after some praise and a repeat of the question had he hesitantly rocked from side to side on his perch on Megatron's desk and then shyly turned to extend one red and gold wing. Megatron, who had had more than enough fliers in his berth, had carefully not laughed - it seemed that the pride, ego and vanity that true flying frames felt about their wings extended even to the smallest of their type.

Every mech who had repeatedly won his favor had their own small routines. Scrapper liked to review new design plans - with accompanying honest attention - over a small cube of highgrade before submitting in the berth. Soundwave preferred control and silence, the telepath's uplink as careful and thorough as a code scrub coupled with the irresistible force of a nova flare. Vortex liked pain and power - his own or someone else's. Starscream, on the rare occasions he bothered to exert himself to his full potential - which Megatron was careful to acknowledge and cultivate, in the hopes that it might encourage further such displays - was a straightforward Seeker in that he wanted his wings worshipped, his brilliance properly acknowledged, and a series of processor melting overloads, in that order. Ravage wanted a masseur and a Crystal Hex opponent.

When Laserbeak pinged his door alert that evening, Megatron had already laid out the accessories of the small avian's preferences across a low table pulled close to his berth. The cassette swooped through the open door to land neatly on Megatron's upraised arm; the Decepticon leader cycled the door closed and locked behind him. One of the other unspoken rules of the traditional reward was that it would have to be a honest-to-the-Pit emergency before anyone disturbed him for the rest of the evening.

The first item on the table was a wide, shallow metal bowl, just large enough for Laserbeak to settle into. Megatron deposited the cassette into the dish, stroking gently across the wedge shaped head and down the vertebral struts, between the sensitive wing hinges. "That was exemplary work today, Laserbeak. Would that all my troops had your competence."

The cassette ducked his head, optics dimming, and vocalizer chrring softly. "I live to serve, Lord Megatron."

The voice, breaking the quiet of the room, was Shockwave's and drew an amused smile from Megatron. Laserbeak, unlike Ravage, refused the use of comms - Megatron suspected a personality matrix glitch, probably spawned from the avian's physical vocalizer being incapable of more advanced non-binary speech, but had never inquired. Whatever the case, away from his symbiont master Laserbeak's preferred form of communication was through clips of recordings of other's voices, the stockpile of which he had at his disposal providing him with a more than adequate vocabulary in most circumstances. Megatron's only ruling had been that behind the closed door of his quarters the vocal recordings should be neither Starscream or Soundwave - his Second because he generally heard more than enough of the mech's voice on any given day, and his Third because the entire point was that he was rewarding the symbiont, not the master.

There was a cube of pale gold tinged solvent next to the bowl, heated to gently steaming. Laserbeak ducked his head when Megatron lifted the cube and spread his wings wide, giving a throaty series of chirps as the warm solvent was drizzled in a steady stream down his plates, seeping through transformation seams and joints to drip and pool into the bowl. When the cube was empty Megatron dismissed it with a quick gesture and settled himself on the edge of the berth, reaching for a handful of metallic mesh cloth.

It was similar to Ravage's insistence on a massage - Megatron would have looked askance at his Third and questioned the communication officer's care of his symbionts if it wasn't obvious that the desire wasn't based on any real need as much as on the luxury of having someone other than Soundwave perform the upkeep. Laserbeak was not nearly as noisy in his appreciation as his quadruped sibling was, but there were small intermittent clicks and chirps of pleasure as Megatron carefully washed every speck of organic dirt from the avian's frame. It wasn't, in truth, any different from any Seeker, rotary, or shuttle frame he had ever known; fliers liked to have the source of their flight tended and groomed.

Only when the avian's wings were spotless, frame glistening clean and Laserbeak's optics dimmed in pleasure as the cassette rested his chin on the lip of the bowl, did Megatron wring the cloth out one last time and run another finger over the small wing joints. Laserbeak rousted himself enough to awkwardly hop into Megatron's cupped hands, trying not to spray solvent everywhere, and the Decepticon leader quickly deposited the dripping cassette into a bundle of dry toweling on the berth.

After that there was drying, and then a meticulous and painstaking examination of slim cassette wings, each no longer than two thirds of one of Megatron's own arms. Laserbeak, strutlessly flopped into the toweling, obligingly stretched each wing into his leader's hand as required, quiet and still as Megatron inspected them for scratches and damage. He was no artist but he had a steady enough hand to fill in marks along the glossy crimson and black of the cassette's finish, filling and buffing deeper scratches with patience. Only then was the wax brought out and spread in a smooth layer from one wingtip to the other, before being carefully buffed away with a cleaning cloth that left the golden sensor net across the spy's wings gleaming like molten metal in the light.

Laserbeak spread his wings wide and leaned into the application of wax around his wing joints, neck arching, whole body pressing into Megatron's hands. Megatron stroked along the joints and carefully buffed wax between the thin edges of armor plates until the black of the flier's body frame was as liquid and glossy as the wings. A quick tap signaled when he was finished and Laserbeak sat up, stretching spine and wing struts, before rolling onto his back on the berth to let the whole process begin again on the underside.

It was when both wings were polished to a blinding glow and Megatron was rubbing wax into the avian's chest plates with small, circular motions that the comfortable quiet was broken not only by the low, binary chrrs of pleasure but by the steady hum of cooling fans kicking in. Laserbeak, optics only barely powered on, was watching him with a carefully cocked head. Megatron smirked; it had surprised him and embarrassed the cassette the first time, but the avian was a mech, not a drone, and just like any other mech (with the possible exception of sybaritic quadrupeds who were more inclined to recharge) several joors of what amounted to painstaking tactile foreplay took a toll.

Megatron pressed two fingertips to the avian's chestplates, dragging them down in a long line across the cassette's body frame. Laserbeak arched into the touch, wings and head pressed back, claws reaching to hook gently into Megatron's wrist as though to hold his touch in place. Chuckling, Megatron leaned down, venting a long exhale across the underside of one wing that kicked the hum of the cassette's fans up a notch. "Did you want something, my spy?"

"Lord Megatron!" It took him a klik to identify the clip as Scavenger's voice - the mech had been pleading, by the sound of it, probably just before a punishment, but there was a layer of white noise static blended across the top of the audio recording that twisted it into a breathy, desperate sound out of context.

He stroked a careful touch along the avian's wings - the last thing he wanted to do was mar the perfect finish he had just achieved - and traced over plate seams on the flier's body frame. The cassette was starting to vent hot, an electric tingle of charge nipping at Megatron's fingertips where their plating touched. More touches prompted the avian's claws to scrabble and grip around his wrist, insistent but careful of their own sharpness in gaps where sharp points could snag on wires or sensors.

Shaking the hold loose, he nudged the cassette into motion, prodding Laserbeak towards the head of the berth so that there was room for him to stretch out and arrange himself as well. Supported on his elbows, it left both hands free to play gently across the sensor net embedded in each wing, stroke and flick in idle patterns that left the avian squirming in his grasp, fans a steady shrill of approval.

Lowering his head - and his spy, hyperaware of the proximity of his Lord's optics to his own claws furled said claws tightly into themselves - Megatron traced one central transformation seam with his glossa, inhaling the clean, sweet scents of solvent and warmed wax. One lick, then another, in long, lingering swipes that dipped into seams and teased at the edge of plates, the electric taste of the smaller mech's arousal bright and sharp in his mouth.

The quiet snick of plates withdrawing made him rumble a low hum of approval. The cassette held link ports along the sides, tucked under where wings would normally protect, with a structure-proportional interface array embedded in the low underbelly of the main frame. Megatron dragged the flat of his glossa across one of the rows of medical ports, one hand snagging the claws that spasmed in response to the touch, holding them safely clear of the plates of his own throat as he bent over the flier. Laserbeak shuddered, sparks crawling through his internals, crackling against Megatron's mouth in pinpricks of sensation that lingered on his dermal plates.

Quick licks teased an uplink cable free until Megatron could grasp the plug head between his dente, the cable unspooling as he pulled back. Laserbeak uttered a low, deep sound in pure binary, wings flaring. One hand pressed against the main frame served to pin the cassette down; with the other Megatron gently pulled the plug head free from his lips, glossa lingering across the charged taste of the connector pins. "What was that?" he inquired, pausing to lick across the cable connectors again in a broad, flat glossa swipe that made the cassette under his hand shudder. "I didn't catch what you said."

Laserbeak writhed, snapping something sharp and brittle sounding in binary, but what came from his speaker system was a different voice entirely, deep and reverberating. "Megatron!"

It was a voice that had no place anywhere in or near the Nemesis, not then, not ever, and never in Megatron's closed quarters. It had caught him utterly shell shocked the first time, the sound of the battlefield reverberating within his own berth, and Laserbeak had nearly offlined himself into stasis in sheer horrified terror at his own mistake until they had both realized that the growl of Megatron's engine was only partly from abruptly online combat protocols. It shouldn't, in retrospect, have caught Megatron as surprised as he had been - Laserbeak was a spy, fully half of his recording was done during missions to the Ark, and who better to spy upon than the Autobot's own high command? The spy had vorns of recordings from both factions, in council, on the battlefield, in private, in public, and by pure chance a nanoklik retrieval of an audio file that would express Megatron's name in a appropriately commanding tone of voice had produced the sound of the one mech it was utterly inappropriate to reference in the Decepticon leader's hearing.

Megatron offlined his optics, drawing a deep ventilation through his mouth, the taste of arousal and lingering charge thick on his glossa. The connector pins, where they brushed his lips, left trails of prickling charge and he rolled the cable teasingly through his mouth only to release it with a muted pop of suction. "I didn't hear you," he whispered.

With his optics powered down the sound burst through his audials like a physical thing, carried on the deep audible growl of an engine many times bigger than the one that thrummed beneath his hand and the reverberations of the Prime's voice . "Now, Megatron!" The same audial modification layers that had given Scavenger's voice a breathy quality provided a deeper, darker growl to the Autobot leader's and the answering growl of Megatron's power plant echoed through the room, underscored by the softer roar of his coolant fans.

There were medical ports buried at the juncture of his wrists; Megatron connected the plug with his mouth, lips wrapped around the cable, inhaling the first rush of electric pings through lips and glossa before it burst in a heated charge against his firewalls. The sound of Prime's grunt - he might have been able to match the sound to a blow on a battlefield if he had thought about it but he was not thinking, there was no room for thought, just feeling and hearing - washed over him a moment before the next data packet hit, demanding entrance, battering at his walls.

"Let. Me. In." Prime's voice, arrogant, commanding, culled from countless recordings but right then, right there, it was a living, pulsing entity all on its own that stroked through Megatron's neural nets, sparking through his sensors and sank into his very struts.

"Make me," he snarled back. He had said it in jest the first time, playing a part and not thinking that he was, in truth, saying it to one of the elder symbionts of his best communications officer and hacker. He knew better, now. Half giddily he braced for it but his firewalls might as well have been micron thick aluminum sheeting for as easily as the multi-layered code cracker packet carved through them, transmitted on the electric surge of a large, powerful mech, passed from Soundwave's processor to his symbiont's and searing deep into Megatron's systems. The feel of it was pure heat, plunging past his defenses to rip through him, and Megatron's roar was matched by the Prime's, their combined voices utterly drowning out the binary shriek of the cassette who lay on his berth.

The first surging burn crested and eased, only to swell again, washing through him, over and over in rhythmic waves of heated sensation and building charge. When he tilted his face there were burning hot plates beneath his lips, the scent of wax and lubricant to guide him, and when his mouth closed over the sparking, heated sensor nodes of a valve it was a larger charge surge and the Prime's static laden groan that urged him on. His name, uttered in the rolling sounds of that hated voice, made him growl around the rush of lubricant against his lips. The valve was unspeakably hot and tight against his glossa, the sweet oil taste of the lubricant tinged in the tartness of electric sparks that drove him to lick into it, again and again, pressing his glossa as far as it would go, the Prime's almost pained sounds rewarding his efforts.

His own panel could barely retract fast enough, the freed pressure of his spike surging into his own hand making him groan. His sensors, stimulated by the uplink, pulsed in urgent counterpoint to the scrape of his own fingers against the charge nodes of his spike, and the rippling crackle of the valve beneath his mouth. A harder surge caught him, wracking through his neural net and dragging another groan from him. The charge was building obscenely fast and hard, crackling through his circuits in a hot swirl.

Behind the blackness of his offlined optics he could almost imagine… almost see, the sensor ghosts of large, strong hands against his helm, of pale white thighs spread with abandon across his berth and the white plates spread open beneath his lips, lubricant gleaming in wet smears from the near factory-tight clench of a bared valve. The deep roar of the semi's engine, coupled with static laden sounds falling in broken fragments from that deep set vocalizer, battered him, pouring like hot oil into his audials to send shudders down his back struts. His spike, dripping lubricant in slick streams through the grasp of his fingers, fed more charge into his system with every rolling thrust of his hips and he was so close

The light brush of real pressure against his helm sensors nearly pushed him over the edge, a feathered ghost of a touch skating along the side of his dermal plates. "Megatron." Softer, deeper, spoken and not roared, laced with static and white noise and the degradation of age that made it break like the sound of a voice on the ragged edge. It made his own systems lock up, the first surge of overload crawling up through his sensors in scalding heat.

A touch against his cheek, slipping beneath the edge of his helm to brush against a sensor, and the Prime's voice was quiet and static broken. "My. Lord Protector."

Megatron overloaded with a roar, the charge ripping through him in blinding surges of white heat and static. He pushed it back through the uplink in one tremendous surge of sensation and heard his Prime's bellow crack into a purely binary scream of pleasure, the valve against his lips clenching tight. The charge ricochetted through them, sensor echoes passed back and forth in slowly decreasing swells as it spent itself, until Megatron could draw a ragged gasp of ventilation through his system and managed to pull the uplink cable free with his dente, tumbling back against the berth with a spent groan.

"Primus." The voice was one of Starscream's trine, though Megatron was hard put to even remember their designations at that point, much less which one it might be.

Chuckling tiredly, he raised a hand to press against his optics, wiping his palm through the slick smears of lubricant on his mouth. "I didn't know you had any recordings that old," he said.

The cassette beside his head chirped a tired sounding denial in binary. "-address this Senate-," Prime's voice echoed quietly, the countless vorns of age giving the recording the characteristic pop and hiss of a too-many-times archived file.

"Of course," Megatron murmured. Soundwave had served as a record keeper for the Senate at one point before the war. His eldest cassettes could well have archived files of those sessions, including ones where the new Prime had taken the floor.

Rebooting his optics, he pushed himself back up onto his elbow. Laserbeak was a limp collapsed frame of strutless exhaustion, a mess of lubricant beaded up against the fresh wax on his plates, optics barely lit in a dim, flickering glow one step away from recharge. Snorting, Megatron stretched in a long arm reach across the avian cassette to grab the abandoned container of wax and cleaning cloths. "Rest," he advised, giving the avian's head a light tap with one finger. A quick mop with one cloth at the transfluid splashed across his own thigh and over his hand achieved some modicum of a cleaner state, after which he settled back onto the berth to tend to the cassette.

Laserbeak chirped softly. "Not necessary," Hook's voice advised, but Megatron only huffed an exvent and shook his head.

"Don't be ridiculous. They all know you come to me for detailing, and like the Pit am I letting you out of here with a less than perfect wax."

The answering bubble of chirping chuckles was entirely in Laserbeak's own voice as the avian settled back with the arch and flip of a wingtip, optics offlined, perfectly at rest beneath his leader's hands. "Lord Megatron," he murmured, and Megatron could not have placed the voice and didn't care to try.