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Kill Your Heroes

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Awkward.

It was awkward, standing there, a few feet away from Optimus Prime, without the divine urge to punch through that placid faceplate of his. Or maybe it wasn’t that the urge was gone, just that Megatron suppressed it in favour of every other messed up thing that had happened within the last hours, days and weeks. Maybe more than that. Who kept track of time after millions of years?

Four million years, to be exact. Again though, time-keeping was not a priority.

Everything else that needed to be discussed was just there, waiting, waiting for him to open his intake and spill out. It gnawed at the back of his glossa, filled neck cables with a bitter taste. Even now, he was going to have to rely on words. It was almost a full circle. His words had begun this war. His would end it. What would Optimus do, without Megatron on the other side? His words had only ever encouraged the brave. Those mecha willing to throw their lives away for any cause they deemed good enough.

Megatron had inspired cowards, rejects, opportunists and fanatics alike. The very people who would serve themselves above others had fallen into step with the true revolutionaries and the oppressed, the mech bearing the core of the problems the Decepticon Cause sought to correct. Megatron had inspired any and every mech that laid optics upon him, whilst Optimus reluctantly took leadership of a ready-made force.

Ah. Perhaps that too would deserve a discussion.

For now, the fate of their kind, their planet, and his own was depending on Megatron’s decisions.

He’d been here before. Hell, they had been here before, though this time there was no voltage harness and backup plan in place. Optimus was staring at him, expectant, and behind him, probably the rest of the universe. Not that they outweighed the stare of the Prime.

“There’s...something I need to take care of before we can discuss any possible future from here.”

Possible future. Hah. He hadn’t lost his sense of humor. What was in Megatron’s future, at this point? There was no way he could avoid facing responsibility for the sheer sprawling reach of the war. He would never apologize for his Cause, nor his methods, even if he did see an inkling that maybe he had overextended his power and command.

Someone needed to be presented to what remained of the populace. They’d demand his helm, he was pretty sure, and wasn’t that just testament to the inherent violence of their species? Optimus could preach all he wanted; nobody else had the Prime’s restraint in dealing with this. The end of the war.

His loss? Megatron still hadn’t decided. And he’d have more time to consider, because the culmination of his slight overextensions was about to arrive, judging by the last message of trajectory.

“The Decepticon Justice Division will be landing any minute. I suggest you give me some privacy to speak with them.”

 

Cybertron and her people had a unique way of attracting disaster even without war. It was like violence was fated to come to them, no matter what they did to fight it.

In the strange, uncertain ceasefire left after Shockwave’s plan, Optimus was left with a reborn planet and wavering faction lines on his servos. Nobody had let go of the war, not yet, but no one was sure when it would start. For now, no one was willing to be the instigator.

He and Megatron met again, the first time since their partnership before Shockwave’s wrath. Punctuated by long silences and tense debates, they began to hash out the future of their planet.

This was just one of their many recesses following yet another accusation-riddled, stiff argument over what happened and what it meant. And it wasn’t going to get any easier, because Megatron never made it easier.

“What do you mean? Prowl reported that they were out in deep space, far away from anything of importance. Why would they be coming now?”

His silent condemnation hovered between them. Did you bring them here?

 

“I wouldn’t rely on Prowl to keep perfect track of a unit such as them.” Megatron had always enjoyed his discussions with the Prime, but this was nothing short of a courteous piece of information. He could have met with Tarn without Optimus knowing until it was over. This was practically an olive branch, extended between age-old enemies. Though Megatron could certainly argue that things with his nemesis had never been so simple. Hatred...that was another matter. So was anger at perceived injustices.

This? A message, perhaps a mild warning.

“Certain plans were put into place long before our recent alliance.”

You know me, Optimus. Never without a plan .

 

Optimus had to purse his mouth under his mask to keep a tight leash on what he wanted to say.

I can’t believe you would sink so low .

But he would . He had . Megatron always had contingencies for his contingencies. Why wouldn’t he bring his premier killers along for his takeover?

“What’s stopping me from ordering that they be shot out of orbit?” he asked, digits laced together. How do I trust you? “The Decepticons already here are one matter. The DJD is another.”

He refrained from updating the Autobot high command on what was coming. In the name of the peace that Megatron claimed to be seeking, Optimus would listen. And hope. “Did you tell them what transpired?”

 

“I would prefer to do so in person. They have no orders for a hostile entry.”

Why would the DJD be another matter? All Decepticons could have, in theory, been as loyal to Megatron, as ruthless under his command and as notorious as his very best. The Autobots were marginally reasonable about not incarcerating a third of the planet. Surely they could hold their twitchy servos for another couple of hours, or however long it took for Megatron to speak with Tarn. A conversation, by the way, that required as much finesse and precision as any negotiation he’d ever bothered to make.

Optimus had no reason to believe him. In fact, he had plenty of cases in memory where it had been a poor decision to trust Megatron. But that was not Megatron’s concern.

“The DJD have the same right as every other Decepticon to confer with me. More so since they hold my esteemed trust. You have to grant them the same freedom to hear from me personally as any Decepticon on Cybertron right now. Or do you wish to give those that would doubt my peaceful intentions more dead martyrs?”

 

Sometimes, Optimus wondered why he even bothered to return at all.

He rubbed his digits against the side of his helm, grimacing. “Given the fact that the only time you could have had an opportunity to contact them was when you were still acting aggressively, assuming that their presence here might be… disruptive is only sensible.”

If Megatron spoke true, then the DJD would not be hostile. That didn’t reassure Optimus a whit.

“They need to land outside the city. I can’t have everyone panicking at seeing the Peaceful Tyranny descend on New Iacon. We can’t take another riot - or whatever that might arise from a populace with very itchy trigger fingers.”

Optimus paused. “People need to be told. I personally will only be informing Ironhide and Prowl, just to make sure no trouble will come. And I will be coming with you. Just the two of us. You are going to be telling them to stand down, aren’t you?”

 

“It’s not quite as simple as standing down.”

Optimus coming with him...was a poor idea. The DJD’s commander had been very specifically rebuilt and educated and given his former identity, the Prime was definitely not going to be a helpful presence at Megatron’s side.

Although it was vaguely tempting to confront Optimus with the dilemma of that particular morsel of their shared past, Megatron direly needed to speak with Tarn alone. The mech would only obey him, as intended, and he needed to enfolded into Megatron’s plans for the future.

“Believe it or not, Optimus, your presence won’t inspire their confidence in my autonomy in making the decision to end all hostilities.”

No, the DJD needed to see and believe that this was Megatron’s will alone, and they were, as always, subject to it.

 

“And it would be irresponsible of me to allow a highly capable commander to meet with one of his best divisions unsupervised.” Optimus crossed his arms. “I don’t want to have to sneak around and risk restarting hostilities, Megatron. I want this to be clean, open, and as transparent as possible. The people under our command deserve that much from us.”

He could already hear Jazz offering to sneak in to listen, or Prowl casually offering some drones to observe the meeting. He could also hear guns being picked up when things spun wildly out of control whenever Megatron was involved.

“Reports always indicated that they were under your absolute control. Or is this yet another fabrication?”

 

“I’m not worried they’ll be out of my control, Optimus,” Megatron heaved a sigh. The Prime was, as always, an obstinate conversational partner. Everything between them was a negotiation with guns drawn, even if neither had produced arms for this meeting. Everything exchanged between them was weighed down by a peculiar history of violence, always centered on one another. It was so personal, the war, without ever really being about either of them.

Optimus was the barrier keeping less benevolent minds from executing those that had dared to follow Megatron. Megatron was the gatekeeper of mech ready to commit the unspeakable at a mere beckon.

“I just need to make myself clear with them before I inflict their presence upon this fragile little house of cards we’re building. Tarn’s not particularly a mech you’d like to meet. Especially not you.”

It was throwing Tarn in at the deep end to confront him with the Prime at his side and no one else. It was expecting a lot from his control over the DJD for them not to open fire or anything else on the number one enemy of the Decepticon Cause. Truthfully, if Tarn truly grew rebellious with his talent and not subservient to Megatron’s words...there was no predicting a feasible way to stop the mech. Megatron’s finest work, alongside the Warriors Elite.

“I can’t guarantee your safety.”

 

“You don’t have to. My safety is not important.”

And Megatron had been the architect of Optimus’ countless near-deaths more times than he could remember - certainly more than anyone else in the Decepticon army could name. “I am not saying that I have to be present right next to you. But even the chance to listen in, to supervise would be… reassuring. Meet me halfway, Megatron. For all our sakes.”

Optimus tried to imagine telling the public that the DJD walked among them. His helm ache spiked at the mere concept.

“Considering their reputation, your own people are going to be concerned . The war is over - old grudges need to be laid aside. And if they know that your hunters are coming to Cybertron where the largest concentration of what could arguably be seen as traitors to your Cause… it won’t end well. New Iacon has burned enough.”

This wasn’t about control. This wasn’t even about making sure Megatron wouldn’t kill him. This was about cementing the peace, and Optimus would gladly walk into the wolves’ den by himself for that.

 

Meeting Optimus halfway. Huh. Wasn’t that the basis of all their previous alliances? How well had those worked out? Admittedly, Megatron had been the one to see opportunity in each case, as well as being the one to seize those opportunities. And here was Optimus, urging, if not begging, him to try once more. It had to put the nature of the Prime’s trust in him into question, not that there ever was a solid foundation for it in the first place.

Megatron would like the time to indulge his thoughts on the matter, but he had a schedule to keep to here and his most efficient hunters on the dot of arrival. Later then. There would surely be a later.

“So you want to listen in. Very well. That could be arranged. I could open a comm channel for you alone. But none of what is said in confidence is to be broadcast to anyone besides yourself. Any announcements for each faction of this...peace, we will discuss. Words can so easily be twisted.”

 

That wasn’t… ideal. And while Optimus could have probably spent weeks arguing this point over and over with him, he knew that time was of the essence. Megatron had to have known that putting such a narrow time frame on things would have made him willing to take whatever terms given.

Once, he had admired that keen intelligence. Now, he just cursed it.

“That is acceptable,” Optimus said reluctantly, “I won’t release it to anyone until we have a chance to discuss - unless people will be directly harmed by your subject matter. Otherwise… you have my word.”

He held out his servo for Megatron to take.

 

Ah yes, his word. And Optimus really meant it, still. Countless deceptions and still, the Prime put out his servo as if this gesture meant anything to any of them anymore.

He didn’t hesitate to rest his palm against the Prime’s, optics never wavering from Optimus’ faceplate. Here went another alliance between them, surely not the last of its kind.

“We are agreed then. Not a word gets out until we speak again. Unless of course, harm is imminent.”

Which, technically, was always the case when it came to a unit as volatile as the DJD, but Megatron had faith in himself, if nothing else anymore.

It wasn’t difficult to find the Prime’s frequency. They’d shared a comm channel before, and Megatron had never purged it fully from his systems. Blocked, yes, protected, yes, but never deleted.

 

Hearing Megatron’s voice over his comm was surreal. He wasn’t shouting or threatening, he was simply… there.

“Where will you meet them?” Optimus asked, optics flicking back to Megatron from his comm. “I will follow you a short distance, to the outskirts of the city, maybe. But I would like to know where you will be at least. If the meeting does not go well, I want to have the option of helping you.”

Optimus took his alliances seriously. There was reason why between them, he had never been the one to break one.

He switched to comm. ::Can you… hear me?::

 

::Of course I can. It’s a communications channel.::

Megatron didn’t flinch or miss a beat of their conversation. Optimus was, in fact, delegated to a personal channel, which he’d share with no one else in Megatron’s confidence. It was almost naive of him to offer his help so readily, especially when Megatron would be facing down his own creations. Optimus may be the one to have brought death and near-death to Megatron numerous times, but he was still a willing ally who did a poor job of veiling concern. It was one of the endearing qualities to his righteous personality. Megatron would muse on that too, if he had time.

::I’ll meet them on the bridge to Altihex. That should be sufficiently outside of New Iacon’s boundaries not to alarm anyone.::

 

::Sherma Bridge?:: That had been the site of one of their many clashes. Somehow, it was still standing all these years later despite carpet bombings, orbital bombardments, and countless skirmishes. In the wilderness that had overtaken Cybertron, it was one of the few landmarks of the old world.

::That is… acceptable. And when will you be going?::

Megatron would need an excuse for departure from the city. Optimus would have to get him some kind of cover.

A vision from Primus could do nicely. The religious fervor for him had gone up since Cybertron’s revival and the leaked story of his part in it.

 

::As soon as this conversation is finished.::

Megatron said nothing about the actual timeframe of the DJD’s arrival, but it was also a considerable drive for him since giving up his flying altmode. Not that he minded. Cybertron’s devastated landscapes were rife with memories of battles lost and won, and somehow, they gave Megatron comfort. He had happened here. His will had powered a revolution and his anger a war that would never be forgotten.

“I never knew Senator Sherma, and yet his name will never leave my memory banks.”

 

“Senator Sherma?” Optimus hadn’t known him personally. He’d been more familiar with Senator Momus, who was the admittedly more… noticeable one of them. They had been good people from what little he recalled.

“They were Decepticons,” he said, “after Proteus’ phony investigation fell apart, the real records of them - their dealings, their affiliations - came out. It’s a little unsurprising. They had been one of the good ones in a rotten basket.”

And one of the countless masses who had ultimately died in the name of a revolution.

A revolution that mutated into something worse.

“Did you know Momus? He was a miner, like you.”

 

“Not all miners knew each other, Optimus,” Megatron replied a little more sharply than necessary, but he couldn’t actually claim to never have heard of or met the mech in question.

“But I did meet him. Once. Came to see me, personally. An interesting fellow who didn’t seem to forget his roots, despite his success. Looking back on the time...I should have made more use of the connections he offered. But I was not particularly in the mood for subtle diplomacy.”

Neither was he now, to be fair, but there were avenues along the entire history of the war that he had very consciously ignored.

 

“Their sacrifice was not all in vain,” Optimus finished. He wouldn’t let it be. Considering how many lives were lost in the process, he would sooner drag Cybertron into a fair and equal world with his denta if he had to than let it fall back into corruption and in-fighting.

“Well. I shall not keep you any longer. Sherma Bridge is far away and I would rest easier knowing that you arrived at the site early than late .”

 

“How considerate you are.”

Chapter Text

Megatron could still feel the pressure of the Prime’s palm against his an hour later, when he had long since left their meeting ground behind for the open road through debris and wasteland.

What was Optimus thinking, right now? Was he prepared for another deception? Was he defeated in knowing he could never truly predict Megatron’s plans? Megatron wasn’t frivolous enough to ask him about it now, when the crunch of their dead planet was under his treads and he could almost hear chatter from the line to the Peaceful Tyranny.

The shadow of said ship passed over him two minutes after he arrived at the bridge. It was still standing, despite the passage of time, but it was long since abandoned to fall apart on its own.

Megatron sat in his altmode, watching the Peaceful Tyranny touch down slowly, elegantly. The dark plating of the ship didn’t fit in among the destroyed remnants of their civilisation, and yet it was so very appropriate to meet Tarn here, among the wreckage he’d commanded.

The very shape of the ship, the Decepticon badge, looked alien and sharply angled among crumbling ruins.

 

Everyone stood at the bridge. Even those technically not on shift were in attendance, vents soft as they looked upon the surface of their home planet for the first time in centuries.

Cybertron’s pitted, destroyed surface was no longer there. It was largely dark, with vast swathes of the land covered in whatever strange plague that had started up since they last saw it.

Tarn stood at the helm, overseeing Helex slowly put their ship into orbit.

One thing was on everyone’s minds. The first message from their lord in years, something that set all their sparks singing with renewed fervor and eagerness to obey.

The DJD is needed at my side. Abandon your current mission and come to me.

They had borne their appointed task of hunting down traitors with all their usual relish for destroying the enemies of the Cause. But to serve directly under their lord, like they had in the earlier days of the war… that was a reward . The Peaceful Tyranny had changed course with all haste, speeding between the stars to prostrate themselves at the pedes of their guiding will.

Tarn could feel the sparks pulsing around him. Kaon, who had been at his side the longest, was barely calm. Everyone else’s sparks jumped faster as the surface of the planet drew closer, swallowing up the horizon, and their ship’s sensors reported one life sign below.

His own was spinning madly. His visage remained unchanged, but Tarn was tense and bright with restrained pride.

With a soft thump, the ship landed on the surface. They could see Megatron just a little ways off, imperious and glorious.

“Stand,” he ordered softly, and his division came to order.

“You are the most loyal of the Decepticons,” Tarn said, meeting each face individually. His field reached out to brush Kaon’s to make up for his blindness. “We have served Lord Megatron loyally and faithfully since the day we took up the Cause - his Cause. And he has rewarded us and known us to be his right hand in dealing justice where it was most necessary. And now, he calls us to his side.”

His chin tilted up. A growl entered his tone, a reminder of the fact that Tarn was the founder and leader of this division since its conception. “We will serve him to our utmost ability. His order is our purpose, his will our cause. Remember that, and remember the oaths you took.”

He clenched his fist and held it up to his chest. “For Lord Megatron and the Cause.”

“For Lord Megatron and the Cause!” Tarn’s words were echoed back at him with equal intensity. Despite their differences, despite their origins, they were united by one thing.

An absolute and unrelenting faith in the Decepticon way and for the mech that represented all that.

Silence fell for a moment. Tarn nodded sharply.

“Good. Let us go.”

He turned on his heel sharply towards destiny. Behind him, his division followed.

The ship opened. Cold winds and dust met the DJD as they stepped off the Peaceful Tyranny to meet Megatron. They walked a short distance, enough that they could see the shine of his red optics, and all dropped to their knees in subservience, helms down and optics lowered.

His servos in the dirt and his neck bared, Tarn spoke. “We have come to serve, Lord Megatron.”

 

The ship took a good while before it opened up, and Megatron had transformed leisurely in anticipation. The DJD presented a united front and were still the picture of absolute obedience, though Megatron could see certain parallels in his own work that simply couldn’t be held up to the original Cause he pursued. Here was the very evidence that his methods had overreached the goal, that he had gone too far on behalf of absolute dominance.

But it was not Megatron’s nature to turn and ignore his mistakes. The DJD were mech, each chosen for their specific talents and dedication, molded to suit his purpose. They could still be molded to be more than his weapons.

Tarn was a hulking behemoth of purple and black, wearing the Cause as his very face. Tarn was the epitome of it all, and the one Megatron would have to work on most.

“You answered my summons in a timely manner, commander. It pleases me to see your unit in good condition, not that I expected any less.”

He clasped his servos behind his back, letting his optics travel over each of them. Not an ounce of doubt among their ranks. How much news travelled beyond Cybertron? How much of it did the DJD ignore as hearsay? He’d have to throw them all into the deep end soon enough.

“You may have noticed what condition Cybertron is in, perhaps even the circumstances of how it came to be. None of that matters beyond this; the war is essentially over. We’ve arrived at a pivotal moment in time and peace has its claws upon us.”

 

Tarn didn’t visibly puff up at the praise but he had to bite the inside of his cheek. They waited silently to hear what their lord had to say, no one daring to even lift their helms to drink in his lordly visage.

A twitch, barely seen, passed through the whole division, however, when Megatron declared that peace was among them. Tarn felt the confusion ripple through the sparks of his subordinates. They bit their glossas out of respect, but a single question was burning in their mouths.

What?

Tarn waited to see if his lord had anything to add before speaking. “Permission to speak, my lord?”

 

Megatron watched them each for reaction and it satisfied some part of him to see the control he still had over them, the absolute respect. They were sure to question him as any Decepticon ought to, but they would never step out of line to do so.

“Permission granted. Stand and speak, commander.”

Addressing Tarn by title merely served as a reminder that the established hierarchy had not ended, despite his words.

 

Tarn rose at the command. His division remained kneeling, aware that only Tarn had been granted such allowances. But they had faith in him to voice their concerns.

“My lord,” he said, tone respectful, “perhaps it was due to some miscommunication recently, but we were not informed of a Decepticon victory. In consideration to the Autobot cells that still subsist in this galaxy and beyond, along with the countless traitors that seek to hide from your lawful reach, we did not… realize that peace had come.”

He picked his words carefully. Tarn’s brow was knitted behind his mask. Kaon kept them updated religiously on Decepticon channels and he’d reported nothing of this kind. Tarn had no reason to doubt his performance so… just what was going on?

Far from the site but listening closely, Optimus resisted the urge to cradle his helm in his servos. ::You kept them in the dark the entire time ?::

 

Megatron was not about to let himself be distracted from this delicate issue, especially not by Optimus berating him on a personal channel. This was his business to take care of, not the Prime’s.

“It is not a Decepticon victory, nor is it an Autobot victory. After what has transpired with Galvatron and Shockwave here...those terms no longer apply. My Cause...our Cause, it must be adjusted. The circumstances have changed, and they call for a different approach. The war has been at a stalemate for millions of years, while lives are wasted and Cybertronians suffer.”

Megatron turned, if only slightly, from Tarn to survey the decaying bridge.

“I am not asking my people to surrender or give up what they believe in. But I would have every Decepticon lay down arms in pursuit of a tangible future on this, our homeworld.”

 

This… didn’t sound like the rhetoric that his lord mentored Tarn with. Did he not say that to win was to dominate ? That to achieve victory was to stomp out the very notion of rebellion? That if one’s enemies were permitted to exist, that if even an iota of dissention survived, then the war could never end?

Tarn held his composure despite the bewilderment coursing through him. “So this is a… ceasefire? An armistice?”

There had been those multiple times during his time in the war. All had their reasons, so he could... Understand the purpose behind it. This talk of peace confused him, but Tarn could comprehend a temporary truce to work out new details and adjust one’s strategy. But why call that peace ?

 

“No. It is not a mere ceasefire.”

Megatron could see the confusion, even behind the mask. Tarn had very expressive optics and careful command of his tone, but he was not a difficult mech to read. The confusion would soon echo disappointment if Megatron didn’t handle this delicately.

“Walk with me, Tarn.”

Addressing the mech by his given designation should echo the continued confidence Megatron had for him. Every gesture, every word, he had to load with meaning, in order to make a full impact on Tarn. That’s how he had educated him, raised him up to be the mech he was today.

“I will attempt to explain what this new turn deigns to be.”

 

He glanced back at his division. With a silent gesture, he let them relax out of their tense, ready positions. They were still kneeling but at least they wouldn’t be on edge.

“Of course, my lord.”

He moved to his side, helm bowed slightly in permanent deference. They stepped away from the Peaceful Tyranny as Megatron set a slow but steady pace that took them down the length of Sherma Bridge. Tarn followed a half-step behind him.

“I do not question your judgment, my lord,” he assured, “but my lack of… knowledge regarding this matter makes me uncertain. I apologize.”

 

“I have always encouraged you to question even what you believe in, Tarn, so do not apologize. I know this must come as a surprise to you and your unit, but there have been developments that cannot be ignored. The sorry state of our homeworld is evidence of that.”

Megatron didn’t know if he could really pinpoint the change in his philosophy. It still existed, the rage that had propelled him to success, but now, it was beginning to listen to reason. He had promised the Decepticons a future, and delivered only death. What peace was there but devastation across the colonies and Cybertron?

“Our Cause has always stood for tearing down the oppressive structures in place to shackle our people. Those structures...well, they lie in ruins. What remains of the perpetrators has no power to determine the future. We do. I do. I must give the Decepticons a home. That is why I brought them here under the pretense of a surrender.”

He was quite sure that Optimus had something to say on that, but he ignored his comms for now.

“However, the Autobots remain. The divide in our people remains, and it may never be fully reconciled. I have to come to realise that I alone hold the decision over whether or not the war continues. And I have chosen for it to no longer include open hostility. A ceasefire is still an act of war. A surrender, also an act of war. The simple end to all of this...it is neither. I have stood with the Autobots to prevent the destruction of our world. Now, I wish for it to be restored as something worth giving to my Decepticons. What ruling structure will be established, I will have hand in, no matter what. I am keeping the promise I made four million years ago. To you, and to everyone who wears the badge.”

 

Optimus knew that Megatron had to pick his words wisely when speaking to his subordinate. But still .

::How long do you think you can lie to him, Megatron? This is going to fall apart as soon as he sees New Iacon.::

Besides Megatron, Tarn was silent. He took in everything his lord had to say and mulled them over, turning each word around and around in his mind to examine it from every angle. Something about this niggled at him - something that said all was not well. His lord’s usual rhetoric was still eloquent, still promising great and beautiful things… but Tarn held himself back from embracing it.

He looked around. Cybertron was foreign to him nowadays. The steel spires of before had fallen long ago and even those skeletons were gone, leaving behind a land that was wild and unknown. He hadn’t felt like this planet was his home for years now. Home was the Tyranny, listening to reports from his division. Home was wherever his lord willed it to be.

And now… his lord’s optic was turned to here .

“So we… continue to fight… but we do not fight?”

That made no sense. “The Autobots are still our enemies?” Of course they had to be, right? How could Cybertron be their home if Autobots still plagued it? How were the Decepticons meant to inherit the planet from the old world if the old world was still here ?

“I - we - would lay our lives down for you, my lord. For the Cause. Decepticons do not compromise. If this is because the front lines are flagging, I would gladly take up arms for you here.”

 

“I don’t want you to take up arms for me, Tarn. I want you to lay them down. With me.”

It was difficult to present exactly why he thought now would be the time to end the fighting, but Megatron had to find the right words in order to convince Tarn, and then the rest of his followers. He had not yet made any official statement for the Decepticons. He still lead them, as far as the most loyal were concerned, and had taken no action as of late to unite his forces or reveal his mind to them. And maybe, part of the reason that he needed the DJD first was because he also may need a show of strength, if not force, to get the rest of his Decepticons in line, should they refuse to see reason.

“The Autobots are no longer enemies. No Cybertronians are. I am not forcing anyone to hold servos and pray to Primus together, but I do expect an end to the fighting. If we do not draw a line, we will never accomplish the goal. And I know you of all those that follow me, Tarn, have to understand the deeper meaning in what could be accomplished here. A peace on my terms.”

A peace through Megatron’s tyranny.

 

The goal . The ultimate goal - taking Cybertron and expanding the Decepticon way, taking all that could be taken as was their right; dominating one’s enemies, destroying their holds and keeps, and crushing everything so that it could be remade in Megatron’s image. That had been their goal. The old world had to be razed down before the world that Megatron imagined could be installed.

So they were not relinquishing it. They were just… changing tactics. From force to subtlety, covering the iron fist with a velvet glove. Tarn was no stranger to such stratagems.

A part of him disliked that, but he could see his lord’s wisdom.

“I see, my lord,” he said, “I understand your true purpose now. You were generous to have explained it to me and now I know better than to doubt you. I must ask now… where are the Autobots? The Decepticons? And what is my purpose here?”

 

“You are deserving of a personal explanation, Tarn.”

Megatron knew very wall that any praise given by him would be soaked up like oil in a rusted strut, especially by Tarn. Maybe it was part of his strategy, maybe he just wanted to give the mech something in reward for his unwavering faith. Either way, Tarn was bending in the way Megatron intended, and so his goal was being achieved.

“The Autobots, Decepticons and all those who never took up cause have flocked back to Cybertron, but efforts to rebuild our society remain...fragile. The use of force would crush the intention of freedom, and so I believe it is democracy that will shape this...future.”

And Megatron’s unquestioned leadership would disappear behind the curtains of politics. Of that he had no doubt. He wouldn’t escape any kind of official terms of peace without being made responsible for his vast armies and their deeds. Yet, he felt very calm about that approaching escapade.

“You being here is important, only so that you are not out there. Our people have learned to fear the very mention of your name. If you were not at my side during these trying times...it may just appear as if my will had somehow lessened, if it could not recall my most loyal to my side.”

 

His words only bred more questions, but Tarn’s renewed faith in him assured him that Lord Megatron held a grander purpose for all of this. His unwavering guidance through all these eons had not erred once, so why should Tarn question this new form of warfare?

And now, Tarn’s purpose here was unveiled. It was just his usual post, closer to home. He would still be reinforcing his lord’s will among the unbelieving and the ignorant, ensuring that the herd continued to follow the shepherd, and working as Megatron’s hand. The familiarity leeched the last of the uncertain tension from his frame. Tarn knew this.

“I understand, my lord. Whatever you ask of me, I will do. My division is ready to serve you.” He touched the badge at his chest. “Do you have a mission for us, my lord?”

 

Now came the difficult part. Or at least, the part he had the least confidence in. Tarn seemed convinced of his continued iron grasp on leadership, but Megatron didn’t intend to wield the DJD as a hammer anymore. In fact, he wouldn’t even be keeping the hammer in one piece or at the ready.

“I do. My directive is for your unit to be exemplary to the rest of the Decepticon population, and make it your objective to readjust to a civilian life.”

Dismantle his most loyal first. If that wasn’t a show of willingness to cooperate, Megatron didn’t understand grand gestures anymore.

“And not just in this fragment of Iacon either. The DJD have always been my right servo. Each of you will continue to be an extension of my will. You swore an oath to me that continues to hold, until the day you offline.”

And Tarn, most significant symbol of it all, would be the focus of this new direction Megatron would take the Decepticons to. Megatron stopped walking, turning to face his loyal fanatic.

“Military tactics and structures no longer apply. Not even to me.”

 

::What?!::

“What?”

Tarn would never know how much he sounded like his past self in that moment. Or how much Optimus and his minds aligned for one, terrible second.

::Civilian life, Megatron?::

Tarn couldn’t remember ever having a civilian life. Even… before , he’d been the extension of the law, an enforcer whose life purpose was to ensure the functioning of the city and its legislation. And now he was being commanded to… lay that down .

He froze, stricken.

For a moment his mouth worked, silent. His eloquence failed him as his brain turned the phrase civilian life over and over again. “My lord -” he began, and then remembered that his lord said that military hierarchy no longer existed here. But what else was he supposed to call him?

“...sir,” he began again, “I will do my utmost to follow your orders. I would rather die than fail you but… I am afraid that I am not sure what you mean by adjusting to a civilian life.”

It pained him to admit that he still did not understand. But to say he did was to lie . “What would I do ?”

He could hunt down traitors. He could interrogate the best of them. He could kill planet destroying sentient super-weapons and inspire fear into a billion sparks. But civilianhood ?

 

::What happened to silent surveillance, Optimus?::

Megatron’s primary concern was not the affronted Prime in his channel, however, and he watched Tarn’s reaction trickle down through his frame. He could practically smell the scorch on his t-cog, and he knew his most loyal was very much resisting the urge to give in to his addiction before his lord.

“There are ways to...continue my ideals, especially through civilian life. You may have more influence than through mere fear, being among the people instead of perched to strike. Let me be clear on this, Tarn.”

Megatron was always a fan of grand gestures and had overcome his natural rejection of physical touches specifically to be able to give them out as he chose. Such as now, when he reached for Tarn’s mask and held it between both servos, gently, cradling what was essentially Tarn’s face.

“I need you still, and I need you to do your best at adjusting to, yes, a civilian life. It does not mean the Cause is fulfilled, but it requires you to utilize what has always been your greatest weapon; your mind. I did not teach you to blindly follow, no matter how devout you became. You see the Cause, you know the Cause, and you can continue to serve it without the aid of a cannon.”

He glanced down.

“Or two.”

 

Had Tarn been a weaker mech, he would’ve crumpled to his knees right then and there in helpless worship. But through great control and willpower, he remained standing though his helm tilted into Megatron’s touch with hungry want. He wished time could have frozen right then, just so that he could bask in the glory of his lord’s praise and attention for eternity.

But, alas, all good things had an end.

“Of course, sir,” he murmured, staring into his optics, “your will is mine. What you… want , I deliver.”

Tarn’s spark trembled in his chassis, captivated. Scarcely daring to vent, he spoke again.

“I will inform the division. And - and adjust myself to civilian life, as you say.”

His fans threatened to click online. Tarn withheld. “Is there anything else, sir?”

 

“I think this is a lot for you to absorb, but you understood my standing orders. That will be all, Tarn. I will leave the fate of your ship and division in your capable control.”

Megatron let his touch linger just long enough for Tarn’s engine to almost reach a whine before he removed his servos, though his gaze stayed firmly on his former protege. Tarn was still his greatest mistake, but he could be made into an achievement. He was no brainless tool, after all, and any mind could be reshaped without needles, just through conviction.

“You have always done exemplary work for me, Tarn. I expect no different now. You may choose to bear the face of the Cause if you wish. I look forward to seeing what you can do.”

 

It was like before, his mind insisted. His lord was giving him a new duty and leaving it up to Tarn to see it fulfilled. It was a sign of his extraordinary trust in Tarn’s capabilities that he was content to offer such vague orders but know that Tarn would still further the Cause regardless.

He clung to that, as well as the memory of Megatron’s touch and what it inspired in him.

“Always, sir,” he breathed, “I won’t fail you.”

Things were going to be busy from now on. But Tarn was sure he could do what needed to be done.

He bowed his helm low. “I understand now. Does this mean that we will approach the city? As always, the Peaceful Tyranny is available for whatever you need.”

 

“I may require a cycle or two of recharge aboard your ship. I will accept your gracious hospitality if so.”

Megatron had no desire to submit himself to an Autobot-filled shelter, let alone trust anyone enough to close his optics for ten minutes. Peace was one thing, trust another. Optimus may not try to offline him in his sleep, but any other mech wouldn’t hesitate at the chance, even if it was for mere petty vengeance.

“And yes. We will approach the city, but not together. Tensions are always running high, and the general populace will be intimidated. Scatter your unit as best you can after you make sure they understand the new directive.”

 

This was going to be complicated. But he would have to make it work anyway.

“Will we take the ship with us?”

The two of them returned to the Tyranny and where the division was still kneeling.

“Rise,” Tarn commanded as they passed, “our lord has deemed us ready to move on. Make a course for the city, set speed at twelve knots until further specified.”

They boarded the ship. “Your personal cabin is always ready for you, sir,” Tarn said, leading them down to the wing that held his room. The typically empty cabin room was the captain’s and technically Tarn’s rightful habsuite, but he would rather keep himself to a smaller space than ever risk having no space for his lord.

“It has its personal fresher and energon deposit. Do you require anything else?”

From behind Tarn, his division went to the bridge. Smoothly, the Tyranny rose into the sky.

 

Megatron couldn’t say that he didn’t miss being aboard a Decepticon vessel, and the Peaceful Tyranny always embodied the dark elegance of the best designs in his fleet. He would have sighed happily if he wasn’t keeping up appearances.

Of course Tarn had kept him a cabin. Of course it was clean and would suit his frame’s specifications precisely. It may be the last restful stay he would enjoy and Megatron intended to use the privacy for a much needed clarifying discussion with Optimus.

“The comm frequencies. My personal lines will of course not be monitored. Other than that, I will enjoy privacy aboard your ship, unless something urgent requires my attention.”

 

Tarn bowed his helm. “Of course, sir. Nothing will go amiss. Once we arrive at the city, you will be informed.”

Frequencies were exchanged and Megatron disappeared into his room. Tarn watched the door close wistfully before sighing and walking to the bridge.

His division manned it silently before Tesarus broke the quiet.

“So. What happened?”

“Things changed drastically,” Tarn started, “Our lord informs us that circumstances of the war has changed. New tactics must be implemented and old methodologies must be relinquished. We have received orders for a new standing mission.”

Audials pricked in intrigue. All faces were on him now, even Kaon’s. They waited for him, optics wide.

“After the incursion on Cybertron was repelled,” Tarn said, “both factions reached a temporary ceasefire to negotiate what would go on. Many of us presumed that the war would continue, as usual. But our lord saw greater things. He saw more than any of us could. In his wisdom, he advises that our former tactics now have reached their limit and that we must pick up different arms. Not guns and ships as normal, but words and laws.”

There was more than one scowl in the room. They were like him, uncomprehending initially. Tarn raised his servo to stall any protests.

“Hold. I will explain further, and receive questions in the end. Listen closely first.”

Tesarus dropped his slowly rising servo. Helex’s smelter stopped bubbling.

“In this new age of warfare,” Tarn began, “we move our battles from the fields to the cities. We return to our roots. We will no longer destroy as we fight, but rather build .”

His division listened, rapt.

 

Elsewhere, Optimus was making sure Megatron understood just how unimpressed he was with everything that had just happened.

::I didn’t ask you to explain everything you would say because I trusted you to make the right call,:: he said, not mentioning the fact that Megatron probably wouldn’t have told him the truth anyway, ::And I’m still shocked anyway. What were you thinking?::

 

::What do you mean, Optimus? I was thinking exactly as I explained to Tarn. He requires a special sort of description of essentially the truth. He won’t be hounding the Decepticons in my name. He won’t even have his division together. He’ll be making a life for himself and perpetuating a better way to consider our society to those around him. An emissary of my good intentions. Personally, I think this was an elegant solution.::

Relaxing on the comfortable berth provided at exactly the right size and setting for his frame, Megatron reclined with a cube of simple but well refined energon. Tarn always did procure the better goods, for himself and his division.

::If I told him boldly that the Cause needed revision, he would have lost all faith in me. Do you want him out of control, or in my capable servos?::

 

::I would have preferred him out of the picture,:: Optimus groused. He saw the truth in Megatron’s words and the simplicity of his solution, but something nagged him. ::What will you do once people start saying the war is over? That faction ties do not matter? How are you guaranteeing control of him?::

It would be diligent of Optimus to just shoot the Peaceful Tyranny down and ridding himself of the problems that it brought. But he would not be himself if he did that. With a heavy spark, he continued.

::You realize that people will need explanations, right? Do you expect my ‘bots to believe that Tarn is here in the name of peace? That your Decepticons will believe that?::

 

::How can we call it peace if it disallows for every mech who participated in the war to return? Tarn and his division are no different from any other Decepticon. Except that he has personal faith in me which demands for a little special attention. He is tied to me irrevocably. I would be utterly irresponsible if I were to punish him for my shaping of him. He is my creation. And he possesses more sense than countless others.::

Of course Optimus only saw the danger, not the potential. It was what kept him from realizing countless opportunities to gain an advantage in the war, and it persisted now. He was lucky Megatron had deigned to side with him in the name of peace.

::I do not know what you will tell your Autobots. But if you can justify my presence, then Tarn’s will be no great stretch. I have every faith in you, Optimus.::

 

::It is not that simple.:: He snapped back. And while Megatron’s previous words rung true, the sheer fraggery of trying to convince people that he wasn’t straight-up mad for allowing the DJD into New Iacon was going to be a mess all on its own.

Optimus’ helm sunk down into his elbow joint.

::You like to make nothing easy, don’t you? He isn’t going to murder anyone at least, is he? While I want to give everyone an equal chance, I have to make sure the people are also going to be safe in the process. And Tarn is not ‘safe’.::

::Am I safe? Are you, as a matter of fact? You have more Decepticon lives on your conscience than Tarn does, and yet no one is demanding to see you caged.::

Nothing was ever simple, so no, Megatron did not go out of his way to make it so. If Tarn would murder anyone...well, that was out of his control. He wasn’t Tarn’s puppet master, merely his...mentor. His leader and inspiration. But those terms didn’t mean anything to Optimus, at least not when it concerned Decepticons.

 

::I trust you more than I trust him.::

Megatron could be reasoned with, even negotiated with. Tarn was a wild card, a mystery that Optimus had neither the time nor the desire to unravel. Especially not if it was came at the risk of people’s lives .

It was a risk. But it was one he had to take. Tarn was a fanatical, sadistic mass murderer but it wasn’t like he was the only one. He was neither the first to commit war crimes nor the one with the highest kill count. And though his methods were more than objectionable, they were going to go nowhere if Optimus let his personal distaste blind him into a morality measuring test.

There was nothing else to be done, essentially. Beyond informing his people that Optimus decided to let Megatron bring his most loyal group of soldiers into the city based on nothing but his word that he wouldn’t use them as weapons as soon as they crossed the boundary line.

It was going to be an uphill battle the entire time.

::...do me a favor and stop just outside the city. Let me meet you there. This needs to be handled carefully . Can you get him and his division to publicly stand down?::

An address needed to be prepared for the press. A conference would need to be held to make sure everyone was on the right page. And then Optimus would have to make sure that the city didn’t tear itself apart when the bogeyman of the Decepticons waltzed in on his master’s heels.

He was already moving. Through other channels, he called for Prowl, Ironhide, and Jazz to report to their private conference chamber. Three replies came back instantly, all confirming their presence.

Good. Optimus jumped into his alt form, speeding through the streets.

::I need at least an hour before you make a public appearance. Stay put until I comm you.::

The buildings of New Iacon sped by. Optimus ignored the onlookers as he transformed back into root form and burst into the conference building. He was already drafting an address mentally, one that would immediately remind everyone that they weren’t all that clean and a just, equal society couldn’t discriminate, no matter how horrible and baggage-riddled the individual was. Not until they had measures for this exact problem.

“We have an emergency,” Optimus said as soon as he passed through the double doors of the conference room, “and I need you to listen to me closely.”

It took three minutes into his explanation before Prowl threw his desk, Ironhide’s cannon was out, and Jazz was shouting.

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes later, four disgruntled mecha trudged out of the conference room. Ironhide muttered darkly under his breath but Optimus had browbeaten the importance of this act until their stubborn helms grasped it. He would still keep an optic on Prowl but so far they were on his side.

The speakers of New Iacon were already calling for a big announcement that was going to be made. The press were being called and invited to an interview with Optimus and Megatron (something he clearly deserved after subjecting Optimus to this) and loose ends were being plugged before they even appeared.

Optimus stood on the balcony of the unofficial state building. The crowd before him wasn’t the biggest he’d faced down, nor the toughest. This wouldn’t be his hardest speech either.

But still, he was tired.

“Citizens of New Iacon,” he started, “I have an announcement to make.”

At least he didn’t have to do this for every damn Decepticon that waltzed into town. And, one way or another, Megatron was going to pay him back for this.

 

Megatron was, undeniably, a fan of grand gestures and grand entrances. It took every ounce of control he possessed not to have the Tyranny fly into the heart of the city and cause a mass panic. The petty, vengeful and angry part of him cherished the notion of inspiring fear with his mere presence, the DJD at his heels as loyal dogs.

And yet, the reasonable side of him won out. The side that knew endless war was no way to push their society forward. That side sounded a lot like Optimus and Terminus combined and Megatron wished it had a mute function.

::Say the word, Prime. We’re landed.::

And could make an entrance to the plaza within minutes, if necessary. Megatron folded himself into his altmode and waited. Patiently, one might add.

 

Megatron actually listened. Perhaps it was time a of miracles. He waved down the crowd, promising answers would come if they were patient. Three members of the press - the reporter and two cameramech - shuffled up to him as Optimus went to go for Megatron’s location with Ironhide and Sideswipe.

“There were eyewitness accounts of a ship landing outside New Iacon,” Ironsight, the reporter, rattled off, “Is this the Peaceful Tyranny coming with Lord Megatron?”

“Most likely it is,” Optimus replied gravely while Ironhide and Sideswipe forced the crowds apart for him, “In accordance to the peace that was set down after the conflict with Shockwave, Megatron and the DJD come under non-hostile agreements.”

“Can you promise that?”

I damn well hope . “I can. The Decepticons want peace as much as we do. The war took its toll on all of us.”

“So the latest comers, the DJD, they were one of Megatron’s most ardent supporters, yes?”

“They were.” They were getting closer to the city limits. Optimus could see the hulking, sharp shape of the Decepticon ship already.

::Come out, if you hadn’t already.::

Ironhide and Sideswipe didn’t raise their guns, but their grips tightened. Optimus refused their demands of charged and hot guns. Prudence or not, that was not the game they were playing. Starting with hostility only invited further identical sentiments.

It would be logical , a voice that sounded like Prowl grumbled in his helm. You can’t trust Decepticons.

But here he was anyway. Trusting Megatron.

“And with multiple accounts surfacing about their function in the war -”

“The war left its stains on all of us,” Optimus cut in, “this peace knows no discrimination, even towards those we might have once called our enemy.”

::We’re outside. I’m waiting.::

One of the cameras turned to the ship, waiting. The other was still focused on Optimus, and he kept his expression stoic. Ironsight’s tide of questions ceased as he waited, optics wide and curious.

The lord of the Decepticons was coming, again. And this time, his bloodhound was with him.

Optimus clenched his fist.

Come on, Megatron. Don’t ruin this now.

 

::Of course you are.::

Megatron gave a rumble of his engine, an unspoken command to open the cargo bay doors and extend the disembarking ramp. Megatron rolled down leisurely, the DJD following him at a respectful distance, though Tarn followed much closer than the rest of his unit.

Megatron unfolded into his root mode when he drew level with Optimus. So far, so good. Though he could certainly sense the heightening tension in those behind the Prime. Ever ready to fight, those Autobots.

“This is quite the reception, Prime.”

Again, he extended his hand, in clear view for cameras and alike.

“I came bearing the gift of peace. To which purpose I present to Cybertron, openly, the return of the former Decepticon Justice Division, here to lay down arms with me.”

 

Optimus took his servo readily, clasping it tightly to shake it visibly. He nodded, staring straight into Megatron’s optics.

“I accept this gift,” Optimus rumbled, “and I welcome the former division into our fold as citizens of New Iacon and Cybertron, equal under the law in the name of peace.”

Behind Megatron, the division came to a halt in a single file line, each one of them visible. None bore arms nor visible hostile intent, keeping their servos out in the open and their stances relaxed. This was the most peaceful that Optimus had ever seen them - it was probably the most peaceful they could be given the fact that their very bodies were weapons unto themselves.

He cast his optics on each. Tarn pointedly stared straight ahead, not meeting his gaze, and Optimus frowned softly behind his battle mask.

“As he said,” Tarn spoke, “we come to lay down our arms and enter the new society of Cybertron as peaceful… citizens.”

The pause before the last word was barely noticeable. If Optimus had not been close enough to see the faint ripple pass through his frame, he would not have seen it at all.

“Good,” Optimus said. “Leave your ship here for now - we will find space for it tomorrow. For now… let us proceed into the city so that you can be registered.”

::Then we need to talk.::

Turning, Optimus lead them deeper into the heart of New Iacon. Ironhide and Sideswipe flanked the division but kept some space between them. Ironsight squeezed past Optimus and held up his microphone to Megatron’s face.

“Hello,” he said, not a single trace of fear in his optics despite the slow downward slide of Tarn’s attention to him, “I am Ironsight, coming in from Iacon Daily. The people want to know, Megatron - knowing the reputation of your formidable soldiers, can you truly say that we are safe and the tentative peace will be upheld?”

 

Ah. Yes. More opportunity to make bold claims that Optimus would complain about privately to him later. This building of a future was still in the infancy stage and easy as a game to play. Megatron just had to shuffle the pieces a little more in his favour.

“I can with utter certainty declare that no threat will come from my former elite. What anyone else with a Decepticon badge may think about open peace with the Autobots, I cannot dictate. Every mech has their own mind. Though I would strongly urge anyone doubting the state of security this; if we don’t make a beginning, how will we ever fix the rift in our kind? I’m willing to make the first step. Cybertron can follow.”

 

:: Megatron .::

What happened to ‘we don’t dictate terms until we talk about it’? Optimus cut in before Megatron could go on.

“And the Autobots are willing to look past wartime differences to make the necessary steps to mend the rift. This new leaf from the DJD is one such heartening change.”

Ironsight’s attention shifted between them, before falling back on Megatron again.

“What about the war crimes reported to be committed by the DJD? Many are arguing for trials for various Decepticons to be undergone. Considering the events of the past weeks and the Decepticon involvement in them - which arguably broke the peace terms first set out by Starscream and the late Bumblebee - public favor is distinctly on the Autobot side of the court. What do you say to this?”

 

Megatron’s gaze wandered past Ironsight, lingering on Optimus. He could speak his mind, and cause a riot. He could say what he knew to be true, and break this peace he’d just offered. He could crush it all in his palm, again, if he wanted to.

And yet. War was no longer the objective.

“The peace terms brokered were never intended for anything but the moment in which they were spoken. I would not bank the rights of all who followed me on the words of Starscream.

The disdain was still crystal clear in his voice and Megatron made no effort to hide it underneath a more pleasant tone.

“It would be most inopportune if only Decepticons were to be trialled for war crimes. I trust in Optimus Prime to not let prejudice prevail.”

A deferral to Optimus. If that wasn’t cooperation, Megatron did not know the definition of the word.

 

“The law applies to us all,” Optimus said, “not just the Decepticons. While the public’s words are taken into consideration, we must remember that justice cannot begin with prejudice.”

But things were not to be be so simple .

“Hold on,” Ironsight said excitedly, “there is another interview going on. Lord - Lord Starscream is issuing a speech!”

He held up a data pad for all to look at. It was Starscream on a podium being swarmed by the crowd that Optimus had just left behind, clearly talking fast before Megatron arrived.

“...the highest folly to rally behind a leader that left us - us! His most loyal! - when he was needed most to mass forces for another assault, trying to break the peace that I and the respected former leader, Bumblebee, may he rest in peace, carefully built up. This is no longer a conflict between Autobot and Decepticon - this is peace. And everyday, the badged are being outnumbered by the Neutral immigrants who return to our planet searching for a new home - a home without war. The home that Megatron tried to take from us.”

“Starscream, the elected representative of the Neutral immigrants in Cybertron, has made a controversial statement against you, Megatron. Any comment?”

::Don’t be hasty.:: Optimus cautioned immediately. ::This was bound to happen eventually.::

::Let me kill him.:: Tarn’s message was swift and steeped in fury. ::I can have him dead at your pedes within the hour.::

 

::Patience, Tarn. He will get his dues.::

Megatron remained calm, despite the numerous comms and the microphone in his face. As much as he would enjoy the sight of a dead Starscream at his pedes, there were more ways than one to get even with Starscream’s accusations.

“My only comment would be an invitation extended to the respected representative to join me in a civil discussion rather than to throw accusations made out of personal spite into the public audial.”

::He will push for a trial. That’s blatantly obvious. He always did promise to be my downfall. How do you suggest I handle this, beside ripping his spark from his chest, Optimus?::

 

::You lose the minute you do that. The war starts all over again. This is the closest we have ever been to peace. Don’t make me side with Starscream against you.::

::Sir, I may be of aid to you in this discussion. Permit me the honor of standing by your side when that… worm levels more of his accusations against you.::

People openly stared at them as they went into Iacon. The crowd standing for Starscream’s speech was massive, full of Decepticons, Autobots, and neutrals alike. Some began to turn as they saw the procession and whispers passed through the crowd.

Restless. Unhappy.

“-how long will it be until he pushes us into another war?”

Starscream’s voice rang out over the crowd. He saw them and was winding down. “I say that this is enough! I say that we no longer let them dictate our peace!”

There was a roar of agreement from further ahead. Closest to Starscream were the neutrals, who clearly agreed with him on the matter. The Decepticons were the furthest from the podium, and they slunk back when they saw Megatron and Tarn walk towards them.

“Perhaps another addition to the interview, then?” Ironsight said. “To the interview that Optimus Prime already scheduled, so that we include Lord Starscream?”

 

Starscream had become quite the prolific speaker himself. He was certainly making use of everything he ever stood to learn from Megatron, from fearmongering to rousing a discontent crowd.

::He is making it personal. Against me. And maybe even you.::

It was quite clear that Starscream’s idea that Megatron and Optimus had no rights to forge peace deals anymore wasn’t unpopular. Megatron knew to read the glances, the stares...it reminded him starkly of the crowds of his would-be Decepticons, glaring down enforcers and guards. The enemy.

::Opportunistic and ignorant as always. Starscream has always longed to see me in chains and himself at the top. I wonder if his dreams are as fulfilling as he imagined. Again. Patience, Tarn.::

“If Lord Starscream finds himself amenable, yes.”

 

“We’ll make sure to pass on the news,” Ironsight said. “That will be all, Megatron. At this point, all our other questions will be during the interview.”

The tiny reporter bustled off with his two camera workers - both of whom were Decepticons, Optimus noticed. The crowd of from the speech was slowly dispersing once they saw that Starscream was done. Said mech was walking away from them, obviously unwilling to confront them right in the street.

“The registry building is over there,” Optimus said, pointing at a squat ready-made building that muscled out everything else. “Go there and you will be assigned a habsuite. Job offers are also available, though it’s mostly building right now.”

::Send them away. Let’s talk.::

 

::You certainly are always eager to have me on my own. Does Tarn unsettle you?::

A ridiculous question, really, because the hulking tankformer competing with Megatron’s shadow should unsettle anyone.

“Tarn, I will speak with you later.”

A clear dismissal, even if Megatron was probably better off keeping the DJD at his side. But he had just publicly announced their peaceful intention and dissolution. It wouldn’t do to keep them watching his back, just so he could get restful recharge.

::Starscream already finished scheming. He wasn’t buying time. He’s got an ace up his proverbial sleeve, if I know him.::

 

::That’s exactly why we need to talk.::

Tarn bowed his helm to his lord, along with his division. They said nothing to Optimus, didn’t even look at him, as they filed around their leader to the registry building. A conspicuous space was left for them as everyone gave them room to walk. Ironhide and Sideswipe both tailed them.

Optimus waited until they entered the building before returning his attention to Megatron.

::He wants us out of the city and out of power. He’s moving on you already.::

Worst case scenario was the war restarting. Best case was Starscream losing power. Between them, Optimus saw things only sliding towards the worst.

He walked past the podium, into the conference building. Prowl was somewhere here, scheming against Starscream, but at least he wasn’t jumping up Optimus’ aft over it.

“We both knew this was going to happen. What I want to know is what you’re planning to do about it.”

 

“Assuming, as always, that I have a plan at the ready. I was a little preoccupied with my Justice Division, you could say.” Megatron followed Optimus with little regard as to who saw, or heard. What they spoke of would culminate in the public’s eye soon enough in that fateful interview. Interrogation. Either way, it would be a spectacle.

“You and I both know that it invites disaster to remove one of us as a figurehead. Starscream will make me solely responsible for the war; I make for an easy scapegoat.”

And, technically...he did ignite the war, almost single-handedly. An achievement on its own.

 

“And it invites further disaster to keep things the way they are. You must have heard the NAILs talk. They see us as the people who started the war - the people who will keep it going too. And while the numbers are even for now, both our factions are going to be outnumbered by them eventually. And they look to Starscream for guidance.”

Could the ‘bots and ‘cons win against the NAILs if it came to that? Probably. But Optimus would do anything to prevent that outcome.

“No one rests easy. There are reports of small riots starting and ending, and our soldiers aren’t helping either. We’re reaching the boiling point. Starscream is going to demand that you go on trial. He may even try to demand both of us do - and that we resign our posts.”

 

“He will have a riot on his hands that he can’t quell with NAIL forces if he demands that of you. The Autobots are still the more favourable party, let us not brush that fact aside.”

Megatron could admit to that truth souring him, and no small amount at that. Autobots had no cause other than stopping Decepticons, and they had not claimed victory. Yet still, they somehow got the favourable reputation. It was in no small amounts due to Optimus’ continued title of Prime.

The beauty of cloying strands of religion wasn’t fading any time soon.

“I will not be tried by a spineless, ruthless little opportunist, titles be damned. I do not answer to Starscream.”

 

“You may not have a choice in the matter.” Optimus grimaced. The conference room was just as he left it, scattered with papers that urgently needed clearing up. “Public favors change like the tides. And I know that right now, the NAILs, the Council, and my ‘bots are waiting to see how I handle you. They want you to go to trial too.”

The Autobots technically had slightly more power here than the other two factions. The very city they lived in, Metroplex, was theirs. But with Bumblebee dead and Starscream pushing, that could very well change. The only place the ‘bots and the NAILs coincided regarded Megatron - and the trial they wanted from him.

“You’re not exactly a popular face here. Especially with what you tried with Devastator. I know that Prowl, at least, is gathering all the charges he can against you and that Starscream is helping.”

 

“What are you insinuating, Optimus? That I stand trial so that Cybertron may feel some justified wrath and unite? Bowing to the masses and giving them a morsel to rip apart...that certainly doesn’t sound like a future free of prejudice. What of the third of the populace that will feel persecuted for aligning with me? They’re already afraid. I fail to see how I, as one mech, could die enough to absolve all war crimes.”

Because there was absolutely no other outcome to a trial, especially not one lead by Starscream and the wrath of Cybertron. Megatron the warmonger, the tyrant. He knew what they craved. Execution.

 

“It’s not about absolution. It’s about revenge. On you.”

Megatron was a figurehead, much in the way Optimus himself was. To nearly everyone here, he was the Decepticon to trump Decepticons, the one whose words started this war. And people who were angry and seeking revenge rarely tended to be reasonable.

“It’s being argued that you stand trial for breaking the previous peace terms.” Optimus pulled up a datapad where Prowl’s compiled notes were available for him to skim through. “After your… disappearance, it was assumed that your surrender became void. With no one to turn to, the Decepticons in New Iacon took Soundwave and Starscream as leaders. Another mech, named Metalhawk, was representing the NAILs. Then he died, and Starscream announced to the world his broken ties. There was a tentative peace between everyone. And then… well, you know what happened then. And since the Galactic Council is strongly in favor of this ruling, things are a little… sticky.”

 

“They always are. That’s never changed. My point is this; there’s no one on Cybertron who could possibly be entrusted to be a fair judge of my trial. Not Starscream, not you...no one is truly neutral in this entire situation. Any way you twist it, a trial will seem unfair. Prejudiced. And it will breed much of what we’re trying to avoid. As long as one of us stands...the other cannot be blamed alone.”

Megatron mustered Optimus. The Prime would never be trialled in the same manner. Cybertron wouldn’t accept his guidance, at least, not openly.

But he had no intention to be executed or to rot in prison.

“What do you think? You know if I let it come to a trial...”

He’d asked Optimus once if he hated him. Now, he wanted to know if he wanted him to live.

 

“They would rule for an execution immediately,” Optimus confirmed, “but you know this is not about justice.”

Optimus stood up and paced to the windows, putting his back to Megatron. The sun was setting, cast Iacon in thick, black shadows. Beyond it, the wilderness lay.

“My wishes are not important anymore,” he said after a short pause. “Whether I - or you - feel that we should be tried for the war no longer matters. Things have changed. People don’t listen to me, not anymore. It will come to a trial, Megatron.”

Optimus turned around and his mask slid back. His lips were pursed, optics tight. “I should have told you this earlier. They asked me to adjudicate your trial. Ultra Magnus volunteered to be your defendant.”

He looked away from Megatron. “I agreed. I… want to give you as fair a trial as I can.”

 

Crimson optics flared with anger. So much for Optimus and his open policy. Why did they share a comm channel again?

“You agreed. Optimus. Surely you don’t need me to tell you how foolish an idea that was. What possessed you?”

He had all the right in the world to be angry. Reversed, their situations would be impossible. No one would expect Megatron to preside over anything judging his former nemesis’ guilt or innocence.

“Or am I mistaken and you wish to be my executioner in Starscream’s place?”

 

“What would you have me do then?” He crossed his arms, stubborn. “Refuse? And what would have happened then? Who would be the judge? A representative from the Council? Tyrest? They would have all thrown you into the execution block before you have a chance to even open your mouth.”

It wasn’t as if Optimus hadn’t tried to argue against the trial itself. But it’d been obvious that reason was no longer the order of the day. There was a city full of people baying for Megatron’s energon. If Optimus refused this, then someone else would have happily stood up for the role.

“I barely managed to keep you out of custody. What more do you want ?”

 

“Not to be treated as if I am the only reason this war began and sustained itself for four million years!” Megatron snapped. As if Optimus wasn’t perfectly aware of what was happening, how vilifying the Decepticons and their leader would afford them a lesser position in the new society. They’d be the guilty party. They would end up lesser, and back in the predicament they knew from before the war.

“I don’t know what I am expecting from a world following Starscream’s command.”

Angry resignation sprawled through him. Even Optimus was just another empty figurehead now. Maybe he should have let the DJD come and reign hell down, at least until fear fettered everyone into obedience. It wasn’t right, but it would have been so, so much easier.

“I don’t need a trial if I am not receiving justice. You can’t be my judge. Ultra Magnus cannot be my defense. If anything, you should be tried with me.”

 

“I’m going to step down after,” Optimus said. “I did everything needed of me. Perhaps a new Prime will take up my place. It hardly matters.”

He didn’t want Megatron to fight this. He half expected him to anyway, and Optimus was prepared to fight if he was. Megatron wouldn’t run - he would only just fight back.

“Look. Let’s do the interview. Perhaps… perhaps we can avert your trial. Or set it back. Or at least give your Decepticons something to hope for.”

Megatron was, as always, on the verge of growing petulant, defiant and angry enough to raze a city. It just wasn’t moving forward, was it? Here he was, brokering peace, even bringing his keenest weapons to Autobot heel, and still, justice would only look at the details it wanted.

Optimus stepping down, however, didn’t strike him as the perfect answer to his potential incarceration. It only struck him as the loss of the only strand of sanity in all of this chaos.

“What do you think would happen...if neither of us was around to impede or encourage proceedings?”

A small idea was burrowing into his mind. Remote control. He’d have to speak with Tarn.

 

“I don’t know. And frankly, I’m beginning to not care.”

Optimus couldn’t see how Megatron could still be champing at the bit to dive into politics again. He, personally, wanted to lay down in a berth and not wake up for at least a million years. Diving into the fray time and time again to pull Cybertron out of disasters had stopped being his driving purpose in life. He didn’t understand why anyone would crave power. Optimus had carried his crown for years and it was growing heavier by the minute.

“The NAILs elected Starscream as their representative. At this point, I don’t see how things can’t grow any worse . Your trial is my last straw.”

Being plotted against from all sides was exhausting, even more than fighting monstrosities that wanted to destroy the planet they were on. Optimus had lost friends to the war and these schemes. His high command was scattered; Ratchet having washed his servos free of politics in disgust and Ironhide lost without purpose, Prowl losing himself to his climb for power and Bumblebee dead fighting against sheer madness.

Jazz never looked happier than when he picked up at that gig in Blurr’s bar. Optimus was ready to take a page from his book and try the same.

“It may take years… but they can rebuild again. Maybe better than before with the memory of this in their helms.”

Otherwise… he would have to stay. And it growing more and more tempting to take the Matrix out and stomp it to dust in front of everyone declaring that he had to stay.

 

“I was thinking of something different, actually.”

Tired of scheming was a state of being Megatron was deeply familiar with, though he never had the luxury of breaks from that status quo. Surrounded by opportunists and fighting schemes with schemes, his patience had long since given way to resignation.

“You stepping down is an interesting prospect. We’re both obsolete figureheads, technically. I wouldn’t mind retiring from the forefront of all of this. Would a trial still be as interesting if I was no longer leader of a faction, I wonder? Not that I shirk responsibility...but it would certainly take some wind out of Starscream’s sails.”

 

“You mean to give up power?” Optimus didn’t bother concealing his incredulous tone. He wondered if he should make sure that all of the Dead Universe was actually banished and  this was all real. “ You ?”

Prowl might actually combust from rage if that happened. And if Megatron’s trial was averted thanks to that. “I think people might wonder if the world still makes sense, honestly. The ensuing panic might just end up killing us all.”

Despite himself, he was smiling as he said that.

 

“Now look who is being theatrically dramatic?” the little smile didn’t take the serious nature out of Optimus’ concern, and it affirmed to Megatron that this may be a sufficiently shocking move with which to ruin Starscream’s game. Clearly, he had to do something drastic.

“I would give up power for peace. I don’t know if you heard me when I spoke before, but I am serious about this time, Optimus. I’ve had enough war. As long as my people do not end in a disadvantageous position, I will gladly relinquish anything under my command.”

He had already dissolved his armies, so to say, even brought to heel his best killers. What more proof did Cybertron need?

Ah yes, his head on a pike, probably.

 

“Maybe that could work,” Optimus agreed. “I can’t guarantee anything, you know, but… I can nudge things alongs. And maybe that could work.”

His spark was lightened by Megatron’s reminder. Some part of him hadn’t quite let go of that fear that this was all a ruse and that Megatron was merely biding his time before starting something again, but Optimus was letting go of that more and more everyday. Moments like these let him feel that maybe peace was possible in his lifetime.

“That’s good,” Optimus said. “For what it counts - I hope this works. Letting you die would be…”

His mouth twisted.

“We could both step down together.”

Chapter Text

Letting him die would be what, Optimus? Megatron’s curiosity as to how that sentence ended was morbidly high, but he allowed the Prime the slip and didn’t ask. There would always be a better opportunity to bring such a thing up.

“Step down together and let the chips fall where they may?”

It wasn’t a terrible suggestion. It was a good gesture to both factions, and it may even ease the worries of the NAILs about a reignition of the war.

It did, however, leave big gaping holes to be filled and Megatron wasn’t sure if they could absolve themselves of worrying about it.

“I daresay it isn’t a terrible idea. Neither faction will gain an advantage. Starscream will be delighted and completely overwhelmed.”

 

“We’ll see,” Optimus said. “Let’s just see how things go with the interview first, okay? And then we make drastic decisions.”

He sat down in the chair opposite of Megatron’s. “Now, let’s talk about more pleasant things. Do you remember how to play miner’s cards?”

 

Drastic decisions required the appropriate show to go along with it, but Megatron decided to follow the Prime’s lead for now as he leaned back in the chair he’d sunk into unbidden. At least he wasn’t enduring the company of other Autobots. Optimus took particular care to have him to himself, where no one could question or overhear their conversations.

There was significance in that, as there was in the way they stood, moved and talked. Like old friends, they knew each other inside out. Like old enemies, they bickered but stood by the same principle, in the end.

Where would they be without one another?

“Of course. It used to be the only thing I could play in the oilhouse.”

Impactor used to laugh at the predictability of Megatron’s moves.

 

“I have a deck with me at all times. Let’s see if you can beat me here .”

For once, Optimus relaxed as he pulled out the holocards. Divvying them out, he glanced up at Megatron. “Do you want to make it a betting game?”

 

“That depends on what you’re betting. I’ve hardly any use for shanix nowadays.” Megatron allowed a confident smirk to sit on his lips. They both had a ton of work to do, a lot of thoughts and moves to plan, and yet both welcomed the brief change of pace, just in each other’s company.

“But if you make it interesting, Optimus, I’m game.”

 

“Something fairly simple, I think.” Optimus’ optics narrowed thoughtfully. “And money really isn’t an issue, is it?”

He recalled the games he used to play, back when times were simpler. Teasing, competitive games for the most part, only conducted to pass the time faster.

Wanna bet?

Sure.

Loser kisses the winner.

You’re on.

Optimus tried to picture suggesting that and almost wanted to laugh. The sheer absurdity of offering that kind of bet to Megatron was… ridiculous. Preposterous.

Not going to happen.

“Let’s keep it open. Winner asks one thing of the loser, with obvious restrictions. Does that work?”

 

“Let’s clarify these obvious restrictions. You haven’t specified anything yet.”

What was Optimus hoping to gain? Some part of Megatron could never switch of trying to outmaneuver the Prime. To be three steps ahead of him, even when it came to something as innocent as a card game.

Decepticons played games too. Megatron never involved himself, but he knew nothing was ever as simple as met the eye.

 

“Keep it in the realms of possibility.” Optimus shrugged a shoulder. “And legality. I’m not going to give you a fully worded out descriptor over a card game.”

He flicked down two cards while Megatron stalled. “This is a game, not a tactical field plan.”

 

“Everything is a tactical field, my dear Prime. But sure. Let us play. I will think of something appropriate for my victory.”

Megatron reached for the cards, entirely sure that the outcome would be interesting no matter who won. If it was sensitive information the Prime craved, he wouldn’t offer such a trivial manner of reaching it. And who knew how far Megatron could push here? Anything legal and possible. That was a wide range.

 

They played silently for a few minutes, each one considering their cards carefully before putting them down. Optimus played conservatively, content to let Megatron show him his intentions before smoothly stepping in to counter him. “I’m on my last five,” he said, waving his cards, “you might want to be careful.”

It was night now. The windows tinted automatically and the lights dimmed. Optimus felt quite tired. Recharge would be welcome soon.

“So, another question. Do you really think that Tarn is going to settle down into a civilian life successfully?”

 

It was tactical and it was familiar. Each move, smoothly countered, then countered again. Megatron couldn’t recall a more pleasantly slow-paced battle between himself and Optimus.

The conversation turned back to Tarn, unsurprisingly. Optimus didn’t know the mech’s previous identity, and that was another bomb Megatron could wait to drop on the mech.

“I expect him to try. He’s never failed me before, I don’t think he will now. He is, if you will, the epitome of what I allowed my movement to become. If I cannot adjust his life...what chance do the rest of the Decepticons stand?”

 

“...I understand. And I want this all to work out, just as much as you do. If Tarn can turn his life around… what’s to say that the others cannot as well? I know that I have been… distrusting of him, but it is only concern for everyone else. But if you believe that he is capable of that, I won’t question your judgment.”

Optimus was down to two cards. He peered at them, trying to guess what Megatron might be holding in his servos. “He sounded willing in your conversation, which is good. And the idea of splitting them up was a nice idea. Though I’m wondering when you will let him know that the war has actually ended.”

 

“When he is ready to accept it as a future that does not involve the trampling of the Decepticon Cause. All things in time, Optimus. I made him believe as deeply as he does. Breaking him of that belief will ruin his trust in me. And with a mech as powerful as Tarn, that is an ill-advised move.”

Megatron glanced up from his cards. A winning hand, if ever he’d seen one. His keen optics caught the tail end of Optimus’ wandering gaze.

“As is trying to predict me in this game of cards. Did you ever play this with actual miners, Optimus?”

 

“The last time I played with miners was when I was stuck in a mineshaft with the miners that taught me this game,” Optimus replied. Prowl only ever played human chess, a game Optimus detested, and Ironhide had a tendency to destroy everyone who went against him in breaker. Miner’s cards was the only game he had a chance of winning.

“It looks I am doomed to lose against anyone I choose to play against. What happened to tactics translating to games?”

With a sigh, he flicked down his last pair. “Don’t make it hurt too much.”

 

“I don’t recall too many tactical victories for you either, Optimus.” Megatron laid out his card, spelling out his win. He leaned back, surveying the defeated, who didn’t look all that devastated to have been beaten.

“It needn’t hurt at all. But...perhaps, depending on your sensibilities, you may be horribly offended, for which I won’t apologize.”

Should he stand? No, he had won. Victory demanded leisure.

“I’ve always noticed something...quite personal that connects us. I am wondering if it was entirely my imagination, or not.”

Getting to the point was advisable, but he’d rather see if he could evoke a little response on Optimus’ faceplate.

“Has there ever been more to our state as enemies?”

It wasn’t the victor’s favour quite yet, but an adequate prelude.

 

Optimus frowned as he slowly gathered his holocards. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

It wasn’t that Optimus was blind to the connection that they shared. It was no secret either - he was sure that he slipped more than he intended to when Megatron first surrendered. What they had wasn’t easily defined or understood. Trying to boil down four million years of conflict, peace, negotiation, and everything in between wasn’t easy.

And enemies was entirely inadequate a word for what they had.

“But…” The cards disappeared into his subspace. “I only labelled you an enemy because of necessity. And I would not call us that now.”

Optimus looked at his servos for a lack of anything else to look at. “You’re not my enemy.”

That was marginally satisfying and a good start. Sure, Megatron could hear stronger words if he asked any other mech, but from Optimus, this was halfway to confession. It was good to know he knew his former nemesis as well as he always believed. Best, according to his own words. No one knew the Prime as Megatron did.

“No, I am not. But I am not asking about whether or not you consider us allies. You and I, we have always been on a level apart from any other mech in either of our ranks. We’ve brought each other death, pain and defeat...and yet. I would trust you still. Remarkable, wouldn’t you agree? I’ve given the matter thought.”

And his conclusion only raised more questions.

“Let me ask something on a more mundane level; when we fought, I heard your fans. I felt my own. It was never merely your strength that excited me for each battle we personally fought.”

 

Optimus sucked in a breath.

“It’s not -” he started, then stalled. What was he going to say? The smart thing to do was to deny this and refuse to entertain the conversation. But somehow, he couldn’t get the right words out.

Why deny it? He’s not lying.

He swallowed. “I… never realized.”

The strange, inexplicable connection they shared had been one of titans, of beings too immense to be understood by any other. Time and time again they had clashed, seeking to destroy each other as thoroughly as possible and yet somehow failing each attempt. Brought together by war, they had been each other’s constants. The two axes around which the war orbited, driven by their unyielding beliefs.

Such long-running obsessions tended to create an understanding of sorts. And somehow, more besides.

“...and… and you are not wrong.”

 

“Then I know what favour I will ask of you for my inevitable victory,” Megatron laid the cards aside, his gaze burning where it clung to Optimus. They had a billion things to discuss, and yet this one seemed most urgent. Definitely worth sweeping the other discussions aside for later.

This was personal, and a long time coming.

He rose from his seat, approaching the seated Prime at a sedate pace. Not stalling, indulging.

“I want you to hold still. And say nothing, until I have sated my curiosity.”

Reaching for Optimus felt surreal, alien. This was not a punch, or a handshake. He was aiming to touch a faceplate he’d seen sparsely, usually hidden behind a grim battlemask.

 

Megatron needn’t have told him to not move anyway, because Optimus was frozen to his seat. He watching the mech approach as if viewing it underwater, both distant and far too close. He was still in shock over the few words they exchanged. Their… topic had been so vague, but somehow exposing. Explicit .

He didn’t reject his touch. He didn’t even choose to stay still for it.

Despite what Megatron said, Optimus’ helm tilted up, drawing into his tentative first touch. And Optimus raised his servo, as if moving to mirror him but halting last minute.

His face felt painfully bare before Megatron’s gaze. He rarely removed it and his choice to do so now was…

… not entirely an unconscious one, if he chose to be honest with himself.

He grabbed Megatron by the elbow.

The touch felt electric. How often did they really do this, outside of aggression and diplomacy? And even those were fleeting moments, overwhelmed by desperation and the war. It was only after, once things had calmed down, that the opportunity to ruminate over their encounter came. And Optimus rarely lingered on those thoughts for long. If he lingered, it got personal.

Feeling numb, he tugged Megatron down, towards himself.

What am I doing?

He should let go. He should stand up and walk out.

He didn’t.

This will end badly.

This was a terrible idea.

“Wait,” he blurted.

We shouldn’t. I was wrong. Let’s not cross that line.

“Is this a one time thing?”

 

“It’s not anything right now.” Megatron didn’t take kindly to the breaking of their leisurely contract. He had won, and demanded silence, had he not? Optimus’ reciprocation was paralyzing, if only because it made his mulled thoughts all the more clear. It was both gratifying and terrifying to consider he was not alone in his musings.

The Prime’s touch was familiar, but alien in its gentle strength. The hesitation in his optics even more so. Never had Megatron known Optimus to falter.

“It’s never been a one-time thing between you and I, but let’s not make this more complicated than it is, Optimus.”

Decisive action was Megatron’s strength. Kissing? Well, the verdict was out and the ball in the Prime’s court as the former warlord pressed their faceplates together in a way they’d never met.

 

It’s always been complicated.

His optics dimmed when Megatron lowered.

Optimus could have pushed him back. But instead, his servos were pulling him closer.

Their kiss was cautious at first, as both of them carefully toed over the line to see what would happen. And when nothing did, when the world didn’t explode and everything was still silent except for the dull rush in Optimus’ audials, he took it further.

He rested his servo on Megatron’s shoulder. The other still supported his elbow. Optimus didn’t hold on, giving him the chance to back out.

With a soft click that could have been deafening in the quiet room, his fans murmured.

 

It wasn’t half bad. Megatron somehow pictured this going a lot worse, with someone bursting into the room or both of them forgetting their temporary peace and reacting violently to each other’s proximity.

And yet, here they were, big frames barely allowing for such intimate contact, fans reciprocating activation and faceplates not yet scalded by their touch. It was...nice? Megatron drew back first, contemplating what he had just discovered. It was pleasant to kiss the Prime, even if he sat frozen like a handsome glacier.

It was also pleasant to shock him deeply enough so that he lost that stoic, infernal composure he usually persisted on.

“I half expected Unicron.”

 

“Don’t jinx it,” Optimus replied, staring at him with something approaching shock. Somehow, somewhere, the world had shifted its axis without his noticing. How could a mere card game go to… this?

He still didn’t let go of Megatron, even though he realized he should. Just the contact itself was… nice. He could pretend that this wasn’t complicated that way, as if they weren’t upheaving years of conflict.

“So was your curiosity sated?”

 

“Not even remotely. But it was, shall we say, piqued.”

Megatron wondered what he was going to do with this knowledge. And with the servo still holding him in position.

“I’d like to repeat the experience. If you can spare the time to indulge a victor.”

He may as well make use of this shocked Optimus Prime that had merely discovered that even he and Megatron were, in fact, people. People with attractions. A curious and worthy distraction from the dire situation of politics on Cybertron.

 

“I think that might be possible,” Optimus said, mouth moving before his brain could catch up. Something in him urged to think about this a little more before jumping helm first into it, but that thought was busy being pushed out by the tingle deep inside him.

Optimus stood up. Megatron was still too close and their chests and knees bumped when he did. But neither made to move back and increase the distance between them.

Their fans blew warm air on each other’s plating. Optimus watched Megatron, looking for… something.

Doubt, perhaps? Or mockery. Either one would have had Optimus push past him without another word.

But he found none. Without asking, Optimus pressed closer for another kiss.

 

A demand Megatron was willing to answer and fill. If the Prime was only now discovering how pleasant physical contact could be, Megatron would dredge up some pity for him. But seeing as to how his faceplate was eagerly occupied...he found other uses for his time. And other places for his touch. Optimus’ plating was warm and familiar and good under his fingertips where he allowed them to linger on the Prime’s arm.  

If Optimus wasn’t putting an end to this, he was more than willing. Exploring his former enemy in ways he never had before had his engine growl with anticipation, and caution turned to demand in Megatron. Denta, glossa, he offered and took from Optimus, fighting for dominance even during a kiss.

 

Optimus would have sighed if he had the presence of mind to. Megatron, even during intimacy, was really inimitable. But he wasn’t going to say no.

Optimus surged to meet Megatron’s demands, refusing to simply go with whatever his whims decided. It meant that they didn’t always meet in the middle but that was just how they were. His touch turned a little harder, holding Megatron to himself rather than just resting on him.

The thought of this going further occurred to him. His fans strengthened at the thought. Metal creaked under his digits as Optimus pushed his glossa into Megatron’s mouth, urging him to keep going.

 

Optimus was surprisingly enthusiastic about this. He didn’t have much of a taste, maybe some mild midgrade, but the notion that this was, in fact, the genuine Prime he was kissing was enticing enough for him to growl into the kiss, touch strengthening as he crushed their frames together. They fit so awkwardly and Optimus was obstinate as always, but something about this felt all sorts of right.

Megatron worried the Prime’s lips, revelling in the fact that he was one of the few mech who got to see this face unobstructed. An infernal urge to rake a mark across it briefly flirted with Megatron’s mind, but he tossed the notion aside as he reached for the back of the Prime’s helm. This kissing business was unearthing quite the insatiable need in both of them.

 

Optimus would have loved to continue this to its inevitable, desired conclusion. But when a ping shattered his reverie, he pulled away from Megatron with a low gasp.

The ping was from Prowl. Just a notification for a little talk later on.

Optimus wanted to curse Prowl for ruining the moment. But he also knew that they couldn’t have gone further - not here.

“Someone could walk in,” he said as an explanation for his abrupt halt, “we shouldn’t… not here.”

Not that Optimus wanted to stop this. He wouldn’t mind picking it up in a more… discreet location. He licked his lips and spoke before he could convince himself it wasn’t a good idea.

“Do you want to - my hab?”

 

Megatron’s optical ridges arched upwards. Oh. There really was no gate holding back the flood anymore. Once unleashed, Optimus didn’t seem to know there was a stop function to intimacies of all kinds.

“Optimus. Don’t misunderstand me. I want nothing more than to see you...unhinged,” a dirty smirk flashed across his faceplate, because really, who would have expected so much glossa and demand from a mech so holy and righteous?

“Is it wise? Someone may see. Someone may question your judgement.”

If they see us frag, you will never have their trust again.

 

It took effort to reign it all back and regain some reason. Optimus wanted to throw that all away and finally give in to spontaneity for once, but he heard the wisdom in Megatron’s words. Like it or not, he did not have the luxury of such frivolities.

“Someone might have seen us now,” he pointed out. And in fact, they were still incredibly close. Despite their words, neither moved away. “And… I am concerned. We haven’t stopped your trial yet.”

You could still very well die.

“My judgment has been questioned for millennia. And once I step down, it won’t matter anyway.”

 

“You make a disturbing amount of sense. Well. I won’t stand in the way of our further...company.” Megatron wanted to reel the Prime back for another circuit-searing kiss, but he restrained himself. If only to heighten the anticipation, because he was going to be a glutton for everything he could get tonight.

Future plans and tactics could give him one night of personal pleasure.

“Who knows if we will have the freedom to try whatever this is. Take me to your hab. Now.”

Before either of them could really regain their damn senses.

 

How could he say no to that?

Optimus dragged Megatron out without giving himself time to think, rushing to his habsuite like he was a young mech going for his first ‘face. The excitement and nerves felt the same, at least. Optimus was breaking a cardinal rule in doing this and the thought only made his spark spin faster.

The door barely finished closing behind Megatron before Optimus was on him again, servos on his waist as he leaned into kiss him.

This was going to be a mess. A mistake.

And Optimus still pulled him to the berth anyway.

-x-

No part of Megatron regretted the rash decision to join Optimus in berth. The night was well-spent and did more than sate his curiosity; it satisfied an entire side to himself that he had been ignoring for all too long.

There was nothing much to the Prime’s habsuite except the Prime himself, who barely fit together with Megatron on the berth. It clearly wasn’t designed for more than recharge, but they’d made do. The busted framework of the berth was someone else’s problem.

They’d woken up side by side before, usually surrounded by the ruins of their latest battle, never entangled in each other’s frames with the quiet whir of cleaning protocols still at work.

Not an ounce of regret. He’d remember this night fondly. Megatron untangled himself with some difficulty, leaning over the Prime and pinging his field until the mech onlined his optics so the former warlord could watch recognition flit across his expression.

The dirty smirk returned.

“I had no idea you could be so utterly savage, my dear Prime. I’m in self-repair.”

 

It took Optimus a few moments to place what he was looking at. Or rather, who .

And the memories of last night came rushing back in, stark and vivid in their clarity. Even if he could deny the memories, he couldn’t deny the ache all over his frame.

“Then you must’ve forgotten how many times I’ve beaten you with your own fusion cannon,” he said. His optics flickered as Optimus sat up and looked around.

The berth was… destroyed. Crumpled. He would need to ask for another one because there was absolutely no salvaging this one.

And of course, there was the mech next to him. The two of them held mild dents and paint streaks - in a way, it wasn’t that different from the aftermath of one of their battles. Optimus stared at a particularly bright streak of red and grey that adorned his inner thigh, clashing against the white incriminatingly.

He turned to look at Megatron. His mouth felt incredibly dry. “We should get up.”

But in direct contradiction to what he said, Optimus leaned in to kiss him. Not the searing, hungry ones of last night; this was just a kiss, uncomplicated and asking for nothing in return.

 

Megatron indulged again, though he really had no more room for excuses that this was a night he deserved. He already took the time for that, and wore the evidence this morning.

“Must we?” he replied once their kiss, languid, simple, came to an end and neither let go of the other. “I’m really starting to wish this had followed you beating me with my fusion cannon.”

 

“If we had the luxury of lying about, we would not be the people we are.”

Optimus reluctantly pulled himself out of their lazy pile and swung his pedes to the floor. The lingering heat of Megatron’s plating clung to him, tempting and empty at the same time. For a second, he was gripped by the fierce, unreasonable desire to lay back down, to pull Megatron over him again, and lose himself in selfishness again. But the desire dissipated, replaced by his ironclad sense of duty.

“I daresay that I will be called in for yet another round of meetings soon enough. And you know how nervous people get when you are not within sight for longer than a day.”

He needed a wash to remove the evidence too. Optimus had the urge to to invite Megatron in with him - but he knew that such an arrangement would not remain chaste for long. If he let himself slip now, he would only just end up justifying more indiscretions.

With a sigh, he stood. “I’ll clean up first. I’ll ping you to leave when the coast is clear.”

Without giving himself the time to linger, Optimus fled to the fresher.

 

This time, Megatron did not give chase. So the Prime still thought they could get away with this, unnoticed if they were just careful... He supposed he could not be obstinate this one time. Optimus had earned a little goodwill after last night’s efforts to satisfy both of them.

So the former warlord stayed put on the broken berth, watching Optimus with all the time in the world. He cared little if the public knew that he and the Prime shared more than a history of violence, but he would be sorely disappointed if it would dissuade Optimus from repeating the experience to be found out.

“Of course. It wouldn't do to cause such a scandal before my fate is decided by my worst enemies.”

 

Just like that, their night together was over. Megatron and Optimus parted ways without discussion on what happened, letting go of intimacy to don the mantle of responsibility once more.

Chapter Text

Tarn, the previous night...

The registry building looked like it’d been airlifted straight out of an Autobot military base. It had all the architectural inspirations of the latter, being bland, open, and mass-manufactured in a way only the most uninspired constructions could be. It was also buzzing with personnel, all of whom were deeply occupied by the bureaucracy that inevitably tailed any kind of large-scale operation.

The building itself was comprised of three separate levels, connected by elevators. The ground floor was a single large chamber interspersed with support columns lined with narrow benches. The part of the room directly opposite to the central door was sealed off with steel and divided into five booths. In each booth an Autobot sat, helms down as they slammed down stamps, shuffled datapads between inboxes and outboxes, and crunched numbers.

The Autobots manning the registry station froze when Tarn and his division walked in. For a brief moment, it looked like everyone was on the verge of scrambling for their guns and raining hell on their helms. But the moment passed and when Tarn didn’t move to defend himself, the ‘bots eased down slowly, suspiciously.

Sensing the tension, Tarn kept his division carefully scattered around the room and instructed them to come up only when he was done.

Tesarus and Helex went to lean against different walls. Vos and Kaon sat on the benches, ignoring the optics tracking them.

Tarn smoothly strode up to the closest booth – the line that had been waiting in front it dispersed like smoke. The ‘bot behind the glass looked up at him from his chair, seeming to sink into his own chassis as Tarn peered down.

“I am here to be registered,” Tarn said blandly.

There was a moment of silence before the ‘bot’s paralysis lifted.

“A-Alright,” he said, pulling a fresh datapad out with shaking servos, “You need to f-fill out this form.”

The datapad slid out for Tarn to take. He plucked it up and examined the form. “What of the rest of my division?”

“Th-They need to register themselves. Individually.”

“I’d like four more forms then.”

The datapads were quickly passed to him.

“Is there anything else required?”

“I-If you would like to open a place of business or advertise a trade, you have to have that registered on a d-different form. Job availability is dependent on el-eligibility and capacity.”

“That won’t be necessary for now,” Tarn replied. The ‘bot seemed to collapse when he turned away.

His division wandered over when Tarn gestured. “Fill these in,” he ordered before filling in his own.

It was a fairly simplistic form. Already, Tarn’s administrative sensibilities were offended by the vagueness of the form. While it clearly served its purpose for such a small establishment, it was going to quickly become near-useless when the population swelled and New Iacon was no longer enough to hold everyone that was coming.

He filled it out. Then, he added his critique in the section left for notes.

After a few minutes, five datapads were pushed back to the same ‘bot. He only took them when Tarn let go, and looked up miserably when Tarn didn’t leave.

“…y-yes?”

“Where will we be quartered?”

“You will be assigned s-space as soon as you are processed.”

“And how long does that take?”

“It varies between one and th-three cycles.”

How inefficient . Tarn’s optics narrowed, prompting the ‘bot to nearly faint with terror. “I see. What of my ship? Will it be stored in a hangar?”

“You must fill out another form. With the shipmaster. He – He is there.”

A shaky finger indicated a door off to the side. Tarn didn’t follow it. “I want my forms to be processed today,” he told the ‘bot. “And I want to know who was responsible for this process.”

“It was started by – by Bumblebee.”

“He is dead. Who controls it now?” Tarn leaned in, until his shadow fell over the cringing Autobot.

“Since L-Lord Starscream is the only leader who is involved in civilian matters –“

Ah . “Good to know,” Tarn said, interrupting him. “Thank you for your time.”

The Autobot almost fell over when Tarn finally let him be.

In short order, Tarn shook down the registry building for everything that it could give him. He harried everyone that he met, demanding instant processing and refusing to take a no for an answer. Every inefficient and poorly constructed form met a cascade of critique from him as he carefully and precisely pointed out every flaw, problem, and inadequacy present. His division drifted behind him, used to their commander’s exacting presence that demanded everything and more from the people around him.

When they finally left over two hours later, the residents of the registry building nearly wept with relief.

“Return to the ship,” Tarn instructed Kaon, “you have command until I return.”

“Alright,” Kaon nodded, knowing better than to question Tarn when he was in this mood. Nothing short of Megatron himself could stop Tarn when he got particular.

Liking a homing missile, Tarn turned on the state building that held his prey within.

Starscream, you sniveling, scheming, slimy little whelp.

His lord had ordered him to leave the mech alive. And Tarn, obedient as he was, would . But that did not mean he would let him live peacefully .

His trek into the building was met with little resistance. The Decepticons that saw him melted out of the way. The Autobots stopped when they realized his intended destination was Starscream. Tarn cleaved through state personnel like a hot knife through butter, silent and foreboding.

The final obstacle in his path was a weasely little mech. A beast alt, Tarn saw.

“Sorry, Lord Starscream said for no distractions,” the mech, Rattrap, declared. He barely reached Tarn’s hip, but puffed himself up as if readying to tackle him if he did not listen. “He is not available for any impromptu meetings. If you schedule an appointment –“

Tarn crouched down to become eye level with the little creature. Rattrap cut himself off when two tons of metal and guns suddenly crouched before him, crowding him up against the wall.

“Listen,” Tarn said, planting his servo on Rattrap’s shoulder. It dwarfed his chest, covering his neck, shoulder, and upper arm in the process. Tarn smiled from behind his mask. “I will not wait. I will not schedule an appointment. I am going to meet him and you will step aside .”

Rattrap stiffened.

A pregnant pause formed between them as the mech weighed his options. And chose wisely.

“Actually, he may just have a slot of time for you. Let me just announce you and –“

“No, there is no need. Starscream knows me very well.”

Tarn pushed the little mech aside. Rattrap didn’t resist.

The doors opened for him. Rattrap wrung his servos as Tarn passed through and closed them – quite gently, actually – and wondered if he was still going to have a job after all this.

“I said no visitors !” came the shrill voice deeper inside the large, open chamber. “What part of that do you not understand, you incompetent – urk !”

Starscream shut himself up with a gulp when he saw who rounded the corner of the hall leading into his office.

Tarn strolled in, servos tucked behind his back as he walked into the room with utter ease. And quite suddenly, the balance of the room changed. Tension thickened as Tarn stopped in the center of the room, mask glinting in the light.

“Starscream,” he spoke, relishing the shiver that passed through the flier, “how delightful to meet you again.”

“You – how did you get here?”

“Oh? I just walked in.” Tarn waved in the direction of the door as he advanced. “Your secretary was most reasonable after I explained some… facts to him.”

Starscream circled around the desk, keeping it between them. His optics flicked towards the windows, but Tarn was already on it. He forced Starscream to skitter to the side of the room that led to the door while Tarn stood between him and the windows. His shadow stretched out in the office, broad and expansive.

“The war is over,” Starscream said, “you have no place here. The entire city will turn on you if you kill me here. You have no power!”

“Kill you? Why would I kill you?” Tarn spread his servos. “No, no… I am not here to kill you. Did you not hear of my intentions to come in peace and unite with the rest of my people under the banner of Iacon?”

Neither one believed what he said. Tarn replaced his servos behind his back. “Now, Starscream, I happen to have arrived just in time to hear your quaint little speech from earlier. Now… I realize that certain things… change over time. I congratulate you on your office, by the way.”

Tarn stepped around his desk. He was bigger and heavier than Starscream, but he was also faster .

“To be a representative of a whole new faction – why, that does sound like your original ambition, doesn’t it? You certainly move quickly .”

“The war is over,” Starscream spat. “You’re not safe anymore. Over half this city would kill you in a heartbeat.”

“I could say the same of you, Starscream. The only reason they do not is because of your NAILs… a shame if you fell from power, though.”

Tarn didn’t advance on Starscream again. Instead, he pulled out his chair and sat down on it. It groaned under his weight, but Tarn merely leaned back. With deliberate thump s, he planted each pede on the desk. Mud and dirt sprayed across the clean surface.

He laced his digits together. “Lord Megatron said that you were not to be harmed. In obeisance to his orders, I refrain from crushing your spark as you deserve. But I will not be so kind if you continue on this tack. For some inane reason or another… the people here have chosen you as their elected leader. But you are not free of your past, Starscream. I know every Decepticon, past and present, by designation. I know their numbers, their sign dates, their acquaintances. I make it my personal duty to know what they do and what they did. You are not free of this.”

“The past doesn’t matter,” Starscream laughed, high-pitched and nervous. “The DJD no longer matter. You have no jurisdiction.”

“If the past does not matter, then why do you campaign for Lord Megatron’s trial?”

Tarn stood up and prowled around the desk. He was on Starscream before he could scramble back. Grabbing his neck, he pushed him up against the wall.

Hush now. Let’s be quiet about this .”

The shriek for help died before it could ever leave Starscream’s lips. He kicked weakly, but Tarn took the blows to his chassis with only a grunt.

“Let me explain matters very simply for you, you pathetic excuse for a mech,” Tarn said, tone conversational, “I surrender and accept this new turn of events because Lord Megatron ordered it. I stand here, not killing every single one of you, because he ordered it. You are alive, because he ordered it . And should these events change –“

Tarn squeezed.

“- you will die. Painfully .”

Starscream’s spark shivered inside his chamber. Tarn wished he could crush it in his fist.

“As for you demanding that he be trialed – that is not acceptable. If you don’t remove your demands, Starscream, I will gladly apply the necessary encouragement for you to. Cower under the cover of the law all you want, because that will not work. And if you do force it, I will drag you into the Peaceful Tyranny and I will lock you up and I will show you everything I learned hunting down filthy traitors like you.”

His fusion cannon dug into the side of Starscream’s face. Tarn leaned in closer. “I know you beg people to protect you from me,” he murmured. His claws pierced the upper layer of Starscream’s neck, causing energon to leak out. “I know that you check every shadow, every corner for me. Before, I was not there. But now, I am .”

He dropped the flier.

You are not safe .”

Tarn allowed Starscream a few moments to regain his composure. He watched him, contemptuous. “Withdraw your support from the trial, Starscream,” he said, and left the mech to simmer.

Just threats would not work, Tarn knew. Starscream would plot and scheme his way to power anyway, this time with the added pressure of Tarn’s optics. He would try to claw his way out of trouble and take Tarn out on the way.

Which was why Tarn was going to have to rip out his power out from under him.

“It was a lovely talk,” he said to Rattrap as he passed by. “Thank you.”

So Starscream had gained power with a few speeches. Tarn would just have to take a page from his book. Anyone who threatened his lord was not someone who could be allowed power. It might take Tarn time to succeed, but he would eventually.

He always did.

He returned to the Tyranny for the night. Tomorrow was a new day - a day ripe with possibility.

-x-

Starscream rubbed his neck as he watched Tarn leave. His spark ached as well, surfacing memories of past uses of the voice on him. Fury trickled past the residual pain and he gathered himself, putting himself back into order.

Tarn had Megatron’s legacy written all over him. It was no surprise – that Tarn had been Megatron’s personal project was no secret among the Decepticons. But now, he was an active thorn in his side. Tarn had to be handled, one way or another.

If only he had been present when the bombs were still installed in their helms! Starscream could have easily put him out his misery then and everyone would have been so relieved that it would have gone unquestioned. But things were not so simple now.

He didn’t fear Tarn’s threat of spilling war secrets. As far as Starscream knew, every Decepticon worth remembering in this hovel of a city knew something about him.

It was just that… he usually knew something back .

Tarn was a mystery shrouded in murder. He held his monstrosity up as a badge of honor. He had no shame in his fervent worship of Megatron. What leverage he had was Tarn’s past crimes – something that he could retaliate with his own extensive library of Decepticon actions.

Starscream walked back to his desk. He glared at the filth Tarn had strewn about on it. From a corner, a drone flew over to vacuum it up.

Windblade… Onslaught… Megatron… and now Tarn. What was next? What else could go wrong ?

“Maybe you should stop.”

The little ghost, the smear of yellow and perpetual disappointed concern, hovered in the corner of his optics. Starscream didn’t look at it. He hunched over his desk, wings hiked up aggressively.

“You are dead ,” he insisted harshly.

“And you might be too,” Bumblebee’s ghost replied. His tone was soft and slow and sad, optics always steeped in gentle reproach. “Tarn is a monster. Do you think anyone here can hold him back?”

“I have the combiners,” Starscream said, but his tone wasn’t certain. Tarn, it used to be said, was on level with the former Phase Sixers. And while there never had been a chance to see a combiner team and a Phase Sixer duel it out, the outcome was not certain . Paired with Tarn’s outlier ability… no. It was too risky.

His venting grew harsh.

“Do you think that you win this time?” Again, with the gentle reproach.

He clenched his servos. Starscream’s wings trembled. He gritted his denta, willing the ghost to shut up, to disappear, to stop .

“Megatron is the only thing holding him back.”

“Megatron is the one holding his leash !” Starscream shrieked. His servos clawed and he swept everything off his desk to the ground as his turbine howled in impotent anger. There as a mighty crash as glass shattered and paperweights bounced away on the floor.

Starscream rounded on the ghost, but Bumblebee was nowhere to be seen. He was alone in his office, glaring at nothing.

Starscream buried his face in his servos. “No,” he moaned, “no… he won’t do this. Not again .”

He wouldn’t let Megatron force him out of power again. He was so close – he was so close !

Chapter Text

The new day dawned. Tarn was one of the early mecha walking the street. He stuck to one side and ignored how much heavier foot traffic was on the side of the street that wasn’t his. Threads of orange and pink stretched out from the horizon as the sun deigned to rise once more.

Tarn turned his face to the light, considering, before glancing at the establishment he was in front of.

Blurr’s said the big sign on top.

He pushed in, went down the stairs, and found himself in a near empty bar.

The proprietor – Blurr – glanced up and froze.

“I came for a drink,” Tarn said, showing his servos peaceably. “Give me whatever’s nicest.”

He ignored Blurr’s open mouth as he picked out a nice corner for himself to lounge in. It was only after a pause that Blurr fixed his drink. Tarn handed the shanix off and took his glass.

He sat back, wreathed in shadow and silent, and settled in to watch the people filter in and out.

This bar was a hotspot for quite a few Decepticons. It was time for Tarn to reestablish himself with the rank and file .

 

Elsewhere in Iacon...

It was all so....run down. Wasn’t Cybertron supposed to have gotten a new lease on life? From what he’d seen in orbit, when the shuttle had approached among the hundreds of others, carrying NAILs, ‘bots, and ‘cons alike. The planet, the home they were all flocking back to didn’t look at all the way Pharma remembered. The last time he’d seen Cybertron through the thick glass of a spacecraft? Explosions ravaged the surface, each city burning a different colour.

So this faded, dim world was definitely not comforting. New Iacon was their destination, a floodgate for every returning mech. Registry was mandatory, though Pharma had to wonder what his status in the old Autobot records would say. The Red Rust had worked out magnificently. No questions that Pharma wasn’t prepared for had accompanied his rescue, just a report on an unknown disease wiping out the entire clinic and mining facility, except for the fortunate CMO who had become trapped in the quarantine cell. Really, quite dramatic. Pharma had been assured that it was not his fault and he could have done little to save his staff and Pharma had reluctantly agreed.

Especially given the circumstances that Pharma had taken an antidote, just in case.

 

The shuttle approached New Iacon, the first port of call for all of them. Pharma disembarked, silent, nervous. He half expected someone to stop him. Arrest him, take him in for questioning, anything to attach his very existence to the icy hellhole he’d spent the last two million years in.

Nothing. No one gave him any more attention than necessary, and he filed into a building along with all the other arrivals. He was given a form by a dull-optic’d mech, filled it out with his details, given another form and filled that out with his skillset. Of course, being a medic held certain advantages. Back in the Golden Age, it afforded him invitations to prestigious events, several features in medical journals and a well-paying position in the central hospital.

Now?

He was given a habsuite half the size of his office in Delphi, a couple of cubes (dispensers took resources to make) and assigned to one of the many field stations that would take care of arrivals. Emergency procedures and such would be entrusted to him and he would report to...

A sour expression marred his beautiful faceplate and Pharma sighed as he locked the door to his poorly equipped new hab. Ratchet. Possibly the least likely mech he wanted to see. Of course it was him. There weren’t a lot of medics left, but somehow, the grouchy old wrench in the aft managed to survive.

What a splendid welcome home. Pharma recharged quickly, plagued only by his usual nightmares of fusion cannons and burning optics.

At least Tarn wasn’t around to hound him anymore.

 

-x-

 

The bar’s activity swelled as the day drew on. Tarn remained in his corner with periodic refreshments from Blurr, speaking to no one and doing little but simply watching. He recognized all the ‘cons that passed through doors. Many of them quietly left when they saw the oppressive figure in the corner, but a few stuck around, refusing to be intimidated by his presence.

Tarn approached one of the ones who stayed.

Onslaught - a loyal mech by all accounts and a capable field commander. Tarn never had the chance to grow acquainted with him, but he knew he would receive no trouble from this individual.

“Tarn,” Onslaught greeted and his voice didn’t shake.

Tarn nodded to him as he sat down. The two other mecha besides Onslaught, Brawl and Blast Off, peered at their drinks after mumbling greetings.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” Onslaught said. “Last I heard, you and the division were out in deep space.”

“Lord Megatron saw it fit to have us recalled,” Tarn said amiably. He waved at Blurr for a round for everyone at the table, making Brawl perk up. “He took the liberty of informing us about the new… situation here.”

“You mean the new regime?” Onslaught said bitterly. “Peacetime isn’t shaping up to be all that good.”

“I did hear rumors of that, yes.” Blurr put a platter of glasses down for them. Tarn pushed a shot glass over to Onslaught. “Tell me, then, of what is happening. While I have an idea, it is just that - an idea. And not a good one.”

Onslaught picked up the glass. “Starscream is lording over everyone,” he said, “we’re living in ghettos like before. It’s pre-war Cybertron all over again.”

Tarn settled back and laced his digits together. “Interesting,” he purred, “please, do tell me more.”

In short order, Onslaught briefed Tarn on a compressed history of everything that happened since the peace agreement. He described Shockwave’s betrayal, the Dead Universe encroachment, and the tentative agreement binding New Iacon together. As Tarn listened, his EM field grew colder.

To say he was displeased would be an understatement.

“It sounds to me that we are in much the same predicament we were in prior to the war,” Tarn observed. “Rampant corruption, a lack of adequate representation in the government, incompetency at every turn, and Decepticons being pushed down and out.”

“No one says it,” Onslaught said, “but we’re all thinking it.”

“A state of affairs that cannot be allowed to go on, surely,” Tarn offered. “Decepticons will not take this kind of peace when we rose up for precisely this reason.”

“What can we do? Starscream’s holding onto power with all he’s got and every ‘bot and their friend is looking for a reason to shoot us on sight.” Despite his words, Onslaught leaned in. He heard the unspoken meaning behind Tarn’s words and needles to say, he was interested .

His lord’s explanation about fighting on a different level came to Tarn. “The old tactics won’t work anymore,” Tarn said, “but that does not mean we are helpless. The war itself may be over, but we are not done. I think it’s time that the Decepticons took a stand.”

These were words of rebellion. Onslaught’s visor brightened. “Go on,” he said slowly. “Let’s talk about this somewhere private, shall we?”

Tarn glanced around the bar. It was unusually quiet and he saw Blurr leaning over his bar, staring at them. Tarn picked up a glass and raised it to him, making the blue mech turn sharply. Tarn chuckled.

The bottom half of his mask slid back just long enough for him to put it back before it snapped close again. “Let’s,” he agreed, and left with his new allies.

They walked through the streets. Autobots and NAILs glanced suspiciously at the gathering of Decepticons, distrust obvious on every part of them. Tarn let Onslaught take the lead.

::Lord Megatron,:: he commed, ::It appears that New Iacon isn’t quite the bastion of peace that it presented itself as.::

 

::Imagine that. It’s almost as if a peaceful reunification is difficult among our people and the Autobots.::

Megatron’s answer was prompt and fairly devoid of real concern. He knew New Iacon was far, far from the ideal, and unlike Optimus, he was not so tired of politics that he would leave the future of his faction to the claws of Starscream. He’d be on his dying sparkpulse before he surrendered the Decepticons to a fate as dire as the one they’d risen up to escape.

::How are you adjusting, Tarn?::

He kept the conversation light, despite the obvious oncoming storm of his current occupation. Which mainly consisted of Starscream levering accusations and Megatron calmly avoiding the subject of his trial.

Which was where all of this was headed, despite his blocks, despite Optimus’ gruff commentary.

::Are you watching the broadcast?::

 

::I heard of it.::

It did not please him, to say it lightly. Tarn’s instinctual fury was dimmed by the memory of his lord’s orders, but he still outrage course through him whenever he thought of that worm trying to prosecute their lord as if he was a common criminal.

::I have been working out possible solutions to that problem. I was speaking to the Decepticons who were with you in the original exodus, sir. They helped shed some light on the situation. The disrespect. The lack of rights. Everything.::

Blast Off and Vortex were watching the broadcast, while Onslaught listened. Tarn was off on his own again, taking a break from the conversation to think - and talk.

::I know that you told me to adjust to civilian life, sir, but I cannot stand idly by while such injustices happen, when your revolution is being buried as we speak by traitors and dissidents. The more I hear, the more I feel that something must be done.::

 

::I didn’t say you shouldn’t take an interest in politics. Much the opposite. I’d prefer you do. I’m afraid my own reach will be...obstructed, and you, of course, will have to ensure the Cause is not forgotten and that the Decepticons do not end up oppressed once more.::

That was, essentially one of the reasons Megatron had Tarn return to Cybertron. Because he was a mere extension of his will, because he would subdue and manipulate delicately enough to make this work. Even without Megatron’s direct actions, his will would have impact.

::Starscream presses for what he has always wanted with new weapons; my demise at his will. It will not happen. But I may have to take a step out of the public’s eye and give up my position. Do not think it will be sincere; I remain your lord.::

 

::I would not have it any other way, my lord. Then I will proceed with your permission and make sure that Starscream’s plans cannot go any farther than they have.::

Tarn glanced at the broadcast, heard Starscream’s whiny screech, and turned his attention back to his comm. ::I will do my best to ensure that all you have built does not fade.::

“Onslaught,” Tarn said, “I think I know what needs to happen. Gather all the Decepticons you can, if you would. The loyal, the disgruntled, the… ones who will listen. Add in the sympathetic Autobots and NAILs, if you find any. This needs to be heard.”

Technically, he wasn’t Onslaught’s commanding officer. But the mech sensed an advantage to playing on Tarn’s side, so he nodded and gathered his team to do exactly that.

::But one thing confuses me, my lord. Why would you need to give up your position?::

 

::A sign of my personal goodwill. I do have a reputation, and Starscream is using every ounce of it to build a case against me. If I go so far as to say I will give up power for the sake of peace, he loses the argument that I am only here to become a threat.::

And as an added bonus, it would give him and Optimus a chance to coexist without facing off against one another. Though Megatron certainly wouldn’t mind facing with the Prime. That one night had been a mere appetizer and promised to become something potent if pursued.

Maybe. If he had the time.

::Even my foremost enemy has agreed to do his utmost to prevent my trial. Starscream will have to perform a miracle to get me before a jury.::

 

Tarn scowled. ::You? Be tried? How dare they!::

He stood up suddenly, pacing. ::That cannot be allowed to go through. The mere idea of it - the sheer disrespect… my lord. I will see if I can prevent that farce of justice from even approaching reality. The sheer gall of the Autobots… ridiculous. The Prime must be involved, isn’t he?::

Of course he would be. He would be the type to lie , to backstab

Tarn clenched his fist. ::I urge you, my lord, do not trust him. He likely conspires against you.::

 

::He does not. Do not fear, Tarn. I do not intend to surround myself with mech as treacherous and predictable as Starscream again. The Prime will relinquish his position as well, it will not do that I alone should look to be surrendering my influence. It must appear as if at all times, we are attempting to seem equals. Everything else is in your servos, Tarn. I am entrusting my Cause to you in ways you were not trained for.::

Subtlety and diplomacy were never part of Tarn’s mission, and now Megatron demanded it in heaps. It would be interesting to see what his former protege would make of the challenge. Even if Tarn wasn’t entirely successful...Megatron would still lead and guide him to the best solution for the Decepticons.

 

::...you honor me, my lord. I will not fail you.::

Tarn was simultaneously humbled and lifted by his lord’s trust in him. Although the anger was still there, his awe eclipsed it. Tarn wished Megatron was here, just so he could bend down in supplication to him once more.

It was clear now. He had to move forward and rally the Decepticons. His lord had all but told Tarn that the responsibility was on his shoulders. What else could he do but succeed?

He checked his chronometer. There was an hour left before showtime. And by then, New Iacon would have a new player on the scene.

Chapter Text

Tarn’s address was at the same stand Starscream had delivered his. A sizeable crowd had gathered, milling about and talking to each other as they waited to see what they had been gathered for. Kaon was handling the communications aspect, while Tesarus and Helex flanked either side of the stage with their arms crossed in preparation. Vos was lingering in the back, simply using his presence as an enforcing measure.

Tarn took the stage and a hush fell.

He looked over the crowd. This was hurried. He hadn’t even been here for all that long. But he had to move now, and fast.

Tarn spread his arms.

“Citizens of New Iacon,” he said, “or rather, I should say fellow Decepticons. Autobots. And Neutrals. We are all assembled here today to make note of something. Of something that has gone thoroughly ignored and sidelined, something heinous on every level.”

He walked the stage. Cast his gaze around. Tarn prowled like a jungle cat, paralyzing everyone that he looked at. His voice was a low thunderous rumble that carried effortlessly over the crowd, lancing deep into people’s sparks.

“When Lord Megatron called me here, he told me that the war had ended. That we were done and that we would lay down our arms in the name of peace. He told me that we were no longer to be divided. So I laid down my arms and I laid down my banners to come in peace. And I found something that disgusted me!”

Tarn rounded on the podium. He gripped it, shoulder hunched forward. “I found a people divided, I found a city stratified, and I found that the caste system - the despicable structures that we sought to tear down - alive and well still. As a Decepticon, I find this objectionable on every level.”

He brought his fist down on the podium, cracking it. “ Where is our representation in this government? Where are our rights in this society? Where is everything that we demanded as sentient, sapient, living mechanisms under the law? Nowhere! Taken from us, again!”

Tarn saw cameras pointed at him. He tilted his chin up as he stared straight into them, daring whoever watched on the other side to stand against him.

“Remember the creed that we marched under, Decepticons. Remember - you are being deceived ! That is what they seek to do. Starscream, Bumblebee, Metalhawk, the Galactic Council - they seek to bury us in false shame, to drown our voices with theirs, and pile dishonesty upon dishonesty upon us. They demand that we follow the law while they break it! They demand that we live under their injustice! They demand that we silence ourselves, blind ourselves, and paralyze ourselves, and call our outrage at these crimes as dissidence and rebellion!”

The crowd was getting riled up. Tarn felt the discontent ripple through them as their lines ran hot with dormant anger. The sparks, the embers were still hot, despite the Autobot attempts to crush it, and so Tarn blew on it, breathing life into the Cause.

“I say enough!” he roared and the crowd roared back.

Everywhere on Cybertron, screens played Tarn’s impassioned speech. Reactions were varied. Some were horrified. Some were pleased.

And some were angry .

Prowl crossed his arms, lips tight, as he listened to the speech. Arcee was next to him, sword out. She perched on his desk, watching him through the corner of her optic.

“Need me to kill him?”

“No,” he said, slashing a servo through the air. “It will make him a martyr.”

“Decepticons hate him,” she replied. A sword pointed at the screen. “He’s killed as many Decepticons as I’ve killed.”

“That doesn’t matter. They’re not looking for the perfect hero - they’re looking for someone to say what they’re thinking. That’s what this is about.”

Prowl paced around his office. “Right now, they can forget who he is. What he is. As long as he’s the one who’s willing to speak up, they will rally behind him.”

“Troublesome,” Arcee murmured, and Prowl stopped next to her.

“Megatron is behind this.”

“You say that about everything.”

“Because it’s true . He needs to be removed from the picture.”

“The trial doesn’t look too likely,” Arcee pointed out.

“...unjust demands of trials and application of law when they harbor their own criminals and terrorists. We are witnessing history be revised right before our optics, so that we are now the criminals and the monsters, so that the Cause never existed, so that the Autobots were not the original instigators. But our memories are not that short. We remember the Senate. We remember the Functionists. We remember who we are .”

Prowl snorted. “This is just Starscream all over again. Just replace a vicious idiot with a vicious brute .”

“But he’s saying that the trial shouldn’t happen. And by the looks of it, people are agreeing.”

“That doesn’t -”

“Lord Megatron the tyrant, they say! Lord Megatron, the murderer. Megatron, the monster! The Autobots, the high castes, and the privileged only know him as the one who took away their comforts and their luxuries. They call him so because he had the gall - the nerve! - to say the truth as we knew it. For stripping away the lies, for destroying their pillars of oppression and structures of control, they labeled him a warmonger. For giving us the liberties that we deserve, for demanding our inalienable rights, they called him an anarchist. And now, for laying down his arms and saving this very planet alongside the Prime, they name him a criminal to be tried.”

The momentum was too strong. An attempts to stop this would result in a riot, though Prowl wasn’t sure if it wasn’t already going down that path. But stepping in now would only reinforce the current disfavor, so he was content to watch and wait. Let the Decepticons trip over their arrogance and bloodlust.

Arcee and Prowl watched the broadcast together in the dark. They watched the raging, screaming Decepticons as they howled their fury at the mech on stage, who took it all in and mirrored it back, voicing back their outrage as he glared at every camera.

“If Lord Megatron is to be tried, so should the Prime! So should Prowl and Ironhide and every other member of Autobot high command! If they demand that he be tried, that we be punished, then the same pound of flesh must be extracted from the Autobots!”

“Punish them! Punish them!” the crowd shrieked.

“What will it be? ” Tarn demanded. “Will you give us justice - or will you repeat history?”

 

Heavy-handed. Blunt. Angry. It seemed Tarn’s speech was a roaring success, if one wished to inspire a bloody riot. It reminded Megatron heavily of the addresses he himself held, in dark alleys, in dusty arenas still gleaming with fresh energon. Some part of him was intensely proud of Tarn. Let the spirit of rebellion never rest until they were all equal.

The other parts reminded him that the goal wasn’t to incite another battle. Tarn was supposed to establish himself as a figurehead, a leader chosen as fairly as Starscream.

“He is rather passionate isn’t he?”

::You have Cybertron’s attention. Now make sure they don’t shoot you down for inciting a riot. Control them, Tarn.::

 

::Ah, yes, my lord. Thank you.::

“But we will not walk into their hands! We are not the fools they make out of to be, or the monsters they imagine. We seek not to restart the war.”

The crowd was still shouting, but Tarn’s voice overwhelmed theirs. He held up his servo, getting the volume to lower slightly.

“If they think that they can bait us into violence, they are wrong . We will not let them lord their false morals - no. But our voices will be heard. The Autobots have their leaders and the Neutrals have theirs. So why should we be ignored? Just as Lord Megatron leads us, let me represent you. Let me be the voice for your rights. Let us speak against those who would silence us.”

Slowly, the riotous crowd calmed again. Tarn slipped some docility into his tone to further help his efforts in soothing them and soon, they quieted. Though restless murmurs passed around the crowd, they were no longer the screaming, furious mass of bodies they were before.

Tarn beheld them, imagining Starscream screaming in his office as he watched this go down before his building.

“I will not abandon you, like Starscream did,” Tarn declared, “I will not work against you, like Bumblebee and Prowl did. And I will not condemn you, like the Galactic Council did. So let us rally under one name, as we had before, and make our voices heard .”

::Like this, my lord?::

 

::Indeed. You have studied me well.::

Tarn may not be inspiring the crowds with something new and revolutionary, but they were sheep, flocking to his voice nonetheless. And they would listen, despite having experienced 4 million years of empty promises.

But here was Tarn, avatar of fear, saying what they were afraid to say. Seeing what they all did not want to see. It was the only measure to prevent the Decepticon population from being forced into ghettos and menial labor once more.

::You’ve taken them to the height of emotion, and eased them away from imminent violence. Very well done.::

Megatron dared to meet the flat out stare from Optimus.

“...I feel like you’ve got something on your mind.”

 

“I’m just thinking that he sounds very much like you when you were younger,” Optimus said, arms crossed and brow quirked. His gaze was unimpressed. “I guess the rumors about him being your protege were true.”

He watched the speech go down with the face of a mech who’d seen it all go down before. Tarn didn’t have Megatron’s intense charisma, but he was magnetic in his own furious way. Whether that bode good things for the future was yet to be seen.

“So this is why you had him come.”

 

“In fairness, I had him come to Cybertron before deciding to give peace a valid try. Tarn’s political interests are as much his own as mine.”

Tarn was also excelling in his task, if he managed to find a balance between rebellious leader and terrifying former Decepticon.

“I will have another conversation with him. Reigniting old passions is all well and good, but riots won’t benefit any of us.”

Assuaging Optimus was mildly important, enough for Megatron not to comm Tarn as he spoke with him.

“I meant what I said when I was young too, Optimus; Freedom is the right of all sentient Cybertronians.”

 

“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings ,” Optimus corrected idly. “And I didn’t disagree with you. I’m just worried this might go awry.”

At least the fervor was dying down. Optimus would keep his optic on it for now but he wouldn’t step in until violence seemed genuinely imminent. “Talk to him. Remind him that we want peace. He can’t be worse than Starscream, after all.”

Optimus paused. “Unless he starts stringing up ‘traitors’ in the name of justice.”

He gave Megatron a pointed look.

 

“I already informed him that there will be no need for that here.” Megatron met the look with a level stare, entirely neutral in expression about the rousing speech and its aftermath. A trial of him was even more unlikely now that Tarn had made it  part of his platform. Starscream’s options were running out and Cybertron would be shaped by Megatron’s will, elected or not.

“I have experience with letting things go awry. I won’t let Tarn repeat or glorify my mistakes.”

 

“I can live with that,” Optimus nodded. “I just hope you know what you’re doing with this, Megatron.”

His comm chirped. Optimus’ helm dropped into his palm. “And of course, I am being called into a meeting. Again.”

He got up, weary. “I will have to calm down the control freaks,” he told Megatron, already looking exasperated, “so let’s agree to calm down both ends of our factions and keep this peaceful, alright? We’re making a lot of headway on your trial, at least, so that’s good.”

He waved to Megatron as he left. “Let’s meet later. Rest well.”

 

Megatron merely nodded his agreement, not envying Optimus his endlessly questioning subordinates. The day when they two of them laid down power would be the end of everything, he was quite sure.

Across the city, Tarn’s passionate speech, rally almost, was making its presence known. The bogeyman of the Decepticons was the nightmare of many a mech in the city, but few would have the personal privilege to claim that they had actually been under Tarn’s claw and knew every ounce of his malice.

Pharma didn’t feel privileged at all, clutching at the drink just bought for him by some enthusiastic neutral. That had been before the broadcast of the anticipated interview with the two faction leaders and the NAIL representative was interrupted by an address. That was a lifetime ago, because Pharma could see his nightmare’s most vivid visage, staring at him through the screen.

Tarn.

Tarn was here.

Tarn was speaking.

Tarn was still terrifying.

His spark hitched into a higher frequency, his wingtips flattened, and strut-deep fear pooled in his tanks at the sight of him. When he spoke, Pharma could barely stop himself from launching into his altmode and into space.

Tarn was here. The notorious little fanatic right hand of Megatron, now seemingly off-leash. Pharma took a sip but he couldn’t tell what he was drinking anymore, his mouth waxy and full of cotton, his brain module burdened by quelled flight reflexes.

Of all the awful, filthy Decepticons to come home, did it have to be the worst one?

And the way he spoke!

Tarn’s words should have brought down a rain of fire on him, right there as he was speaking. The tone was obvious; someone was hoping to reignite the thinly veiled hostility between Autobots and Decepticons. And yet...he remained.

Pharma left the oilhouse swiftly, and sought out his hab, suddenly all too aware of every glance his way. Tarn was bad news for any respectable Autobot.

But for him?

This was a disaster.

Pharma kept it together all the way to his new, humble habsuite. Once inside however, he crawled into a corner, concentrating on cycling out every impulse, every instinct that Tarn had ever falsely instilled upon him. The excitement with the fear, the eagerness with the disdain...none of it was welcomed by him.

What started as an angry speech hastily assembled within an hour blossomed into a full movement. No one ever forgot what Tarn was but they took him on as their representative to say what they couldn’t. He barreled into the delicate political scene of New Iacon with all the force of a fist through rice paper, refusing to stand down or back away from anything he took a stance on. He argued tirelessly with whoever was willing to go against him, debating and negotiating for what he felt was due to the Decepticons.

He and Starscream clashed the most of all. And while the flier hesitated to ever go full out on Tarn, he did everything he could to impede Tarn’s attempts to rebalance the power structure. Things came to a head when Megatron’s trial date drew closer and Tarn dropped his final bomb.

“I know about Aequitas,” he said, making Prowl tense. Everyone else seemed confused about the word. Tarn continued, ignoring them. “You see, I had just finished crossing off someone from the List before Lord Megatron called me. And I learned some interesting things from him.”

From under the table, he pulled out Overlord’s dismembered helm and threw it to the middle of the conference room floor. It bounced twice before stopping before Prowl’s desk, dripping congealed, thick inner energon.

“Overlord.” Tarn said smugly as the room watched the helm with horrified optics. “Phase Sixer. Former Decepticon. Traitor. I located him somewhere very interesting and we spoke rather extensively on a number of topics.”

Tarn leaned back in his seat. His treads shifted, hanging behind his shoulders. “I told Starscream, once, that I knew every Decepticon and their record. And now, I know the same of the Autobots.”

Or at least, he knew of something that knew of that. But those were just semantics.

“What do you mean?” asked Windblade, one of the new faces in the council. She looked sickeningly concerned, as if she was genuinely bothered by what he had to say. “What do you know?”

“Autobot war crimes,” Tarn said, standing. “Autobot terrorism. Evidence that could take down more than half the Autobots in the city for trial.”

“That’s not -!” Prowl surged from his seat, optics blazing.

“But!” Tarn roared over him. “I will not release this information, in the name of peace. I know that trying to tick down the list of every indiscretion and crime conducted over the war would be… inefficien t. If we tried to do that, everyone here would be guilty of something. So in the name of bringing peace and a new start to all of us, just as our planet was reborn, I will release neither Decepticon nor Autobot records, nor will either side be tried for wartime deeds. The law cannot be applied unevenly. If we pardon one, we pardon them all.”

Tarn settled back, smug, as the council immediately began to argue.

He was actually – dare he say it – enjoying politics. Just seeing Starscream’s furious face was a reward.

Chapter Text

Time passed. Megatron’s trial was set back a week, then a month. The council hashed it out over and over again until finally, reluctantly, and angrily, it was decreed that no trial would take place.

Ultra Magnus was released from his defense duties, as was Optimus from his post as judge. Tarn toasted to the success with his division in their ship, enjoying ludicrously well-filtered inner energon over the victory.

Slowly, he took on his role more and more. Tarn let his hair down, so to speak, and he lost the fusion cannons along the way with his lord, both setting down their iconic weapons and melting them in acid pools together.

Tarn took a video and stored it in the folder dedicated to his proudest moments.

His treads were unclipped. And somehow, somewhere, someone gifted him a cape that he took to wearing around. It was thick and heavy, dyed a purple so deep that it could have been black under a less discerning light, and clasped on the side, covering one shoulder and leaving the rest free. The silver clasp was the symbol of his office – the Decepticon badge overlaid on the sigil of the city.

He got a new office out of the deal too. It was directly opposite Starscream’s, which meant that Tarn could stand in front of his windows and stare Starscream down whenever he wanted. It became a favored pastime of his to enjoy a drink in his office alone, glaring at Starscream’s stiff back through the windows the entire time. Starscream’s record was three hours thus far, enduring Tarn’s endless, heavy glare with tight-lipped discomfort.

However, not everything was good news. Tarn eventually had to scatter his division when his lord reminded him, and he reluctantly sent them to station on the various colonies that were beginning to spring into existence as ‘Decepticon ambassadors’. Kaon and Vos took on Caminus, Tesarus took Velocitron, and Helex took Eukaris. To their credit, grumbling was minimal.

For a while, the city of New Iacon was peaceful, even when Optimus Prime suddenly declared that he was going to step down from his position.

Things grew marginally less peaceful when he added that he would be taking Megatron with him on some… journey of some kind.

::My lord, surely you will not entertain this nonsense.::

 

::Is it nonsense to acknowledge when you are no longer of service to your people and your presence makes for discourse at every turn?::

The decision had been made weeks ago. Optimus had confirmed for him the exact date and the two of them shared an evening and a cube about the final call of power. Stepping down together was an enormous gesture to the public, and it further cemented the trust he was expressing in Tarn.

Besides. It was time to go. He’d felt his resolve to stay weaken every day, his desire to be in the hot seat of power shiftings slipping away. Megatron wanted peace, quiet, and a spot to atone for his mistakes. As long as deception rights were taken care of, he could afford to turn his back.

::You’ve worked hard and come far. I am proud of you as any Decepticon ought to be. You will keep them all under control.::

 

::Thank you, my lord. I… hope your decision is a good one.::

Tarn swirled his drink glumly. He had been present for the ship ceremony like everyone else, even if he spent most of his time glaring at Starscream and the Prime alternatively. Prowl had been absent, as usual.

And now he was in his office again, thinking about the next opportunity to slap Starscream down and put the Decepticons on top. The political game was an interesting, ongoing one that demanded use of the more subtle techniques he’d learned.

It was kind of funny how council meetings were startlingly similar to cordial interrogations.

 

::I do too, Tarn.::

Megatron closed the comm channel, at least for tonight. Tarn had his support and his guidance all the way, but by now, the tankformer stood on his own, independent of his former lord and master. Megatron could wash his hands of politics forever, and this journey with the Prime would be just the cherry on top.

 

-x

 

Elsewhere…

“Are we sure he’s completely under?”

“Absolutely. He won’t be waking up unless we want him to.”

“And you have the mental patterns to install?”

“Yes. All of it is as you specified, Prowl.”

“Good. Then proceed. I want this to be done and over with before that journey is due.”

“On it.”

 

-x-

 

Tarn stared down at the invitation on his desk with distaste. It was an invitation to the opening of a massive project going on downtown - a complex apartment building, mall, entertainment center, and office building rolled into one massive monstrosity. Everyone worth inviting was invited to the small social affair going over the opening below available for everyone else.

It stunk of classism to Tarn, but he couldn’t argue against something this small time. And while he didn’t want to appear in the first place, the chance to grind Starscream under his heel some was too good to pass up.

So that was how he found himself surrounded by the officers, leaders, and representatives of New Iacon, clad in his cloak and carrying a drink, as per usual. No one asked him to dance and he lurked at the sidelines like a vigilant shadow, refusing company but also refusing to leave for people’s comfort.

“Lord Tarn?” someone piped in from his side, popping Tarn’s bubble of isolation.

He turned with a soft sigh and saw Windblade, Caminus’ representative and the local cityspeaker. “Windblade,” he said, nodding in greeting.

Once upon a time, he would have shot her face off for being a nuisance. Now, he merely extended a servo.

“I hope you are enjoying your time here. I am.” Go away.

“I am just happy that everyone else is,” she said, saccharine, and Tarn tilted his helm. “You were off alone, so I thought to speak with you a little.”

“Of course,” he said smoothly. A little coldly. He imagined ripping her wings off. “I am always free to discuss business.”

She led him out to the center of the room, to his displeasure, while they talked about Tarn’s constant changes to the bureaucracy. In that space of time, Tarn envisioned thirty different ways to killing her, going from using her bodyguard’s swords to cut her into ribbons and ending at crushing her body against Metroplex’s brain.

He placed his servo on her shoulder to steer her away from the aggravating representatives of Eukaris and Velocitron. “That sounds lovely,” he said, not remembering what she actually said. “I’m interested .”

A touch of his power on her spark, just to make her look favorably upon him. Mixing docility and pleasure was rather difficult - and went against his instincts - but it meant that she sided with him more than Starscream. And this new battlefield meant that Tarn needed his allies close at all times.

Even if he would rather be killing them.

 

To be quite frank, Pharma knew what sort of mech would be invited to this affair. Tarn was a prolific politician by now, outshining the fading glory of his warlord master and there was not an ounce of doubt about whether he’d be here or not.

And yet Pharma had still taken the invitation from the director of resources from the hospital to accompany him here. The mech was nervous. A former NAIL, he was entirely unaware of Pharma’s reputation and history, but a badge and beauty spoke volumes and apparently encouraged interest. The director had not been the only one to ask Pharma, but he was the one most likely to have access to some funds in order to entertain Pharma.

The old game had never died. It had new players, but Pharma still knew its ways.

Across the room, he could see now what his optics had been both dreading and searching for. Tarn looked glamorous and terrifying in his cape and Pharma’s turbine whined.

“Let’s get a drink, shall we?” he suggested to his companion, and steered him right into Tarn’s path.

 

He saw them - it was impossible not to see them. Tarn’s gaze met with Pharma’s for a single, electric moment - before his optics slid away as if not remembering him. “Director,” he greeted, cutting Windblade off. “It’s good to see you here. I hope the hospital is going well?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” the mech said. Tarn remembered his name - Monitor. He seemed to quail before Tarn. His reputation had a tendency to go around in whispers these days and even the NAILs knew who he was. Tarn suspected a few underground videos of his executions were also making the rounds, but he deliberately ignored their existence.

Being feared never hurt.

Still ignoring Pharma, Tarn leaned down pointedly, making sure Monitor remembered how much shorter he was than Tarn. His cloak draped down, brushing against the mech and making him step back. “That is good to hear,” Tarn said, “I would be so disappointed if the hospital couldn’t work wonders with my support .”

His power trickled out and just tickled Monitor’s spark. Pleasure, pain, and fear made it pulse erratically and Monitor threatened to buckle. “We are grateful for the help,” he groaned, “without it, the hos-hospital might not have had enough funds for fresh equipment. Thank you.”

I live to serve ,” Tarn purred, and both Monitor and Windblade shivered.

Finally, his attention slid to Pharma. Tarn sized him up, staying silent so long that Monitor looked like he wanted to speak and Windblade was slowly shaking off his power.

Tarn extended a servo to Pharma. His claws glimmered, loosely curled. “Pharma,” he said, tasting every syllable with clear intent, “How interesting to see you here.”

Tarn’s helm tilted to the opposite side, curious. His optics blazed brighter, burning holes into Pharma. His voice was silky soft, but low and dark. “I thought that the end of the war also spelled the end of our… association .”

Monitor made a weak grab at his spark. Windblade hunched slightly with a soft moan. Tarn straightened, staring down at Pharma. His servo drifted closer. He gave Windblade’s shoulder an idle pet as he invited Pharma closer, seemingly tamed.

How nice to see you again .”

 

There was no mistaking Tarn’s usage of his power. It was obvious in the way both Monitor and Windblade reacted, enthralled, enchanted with the mech at any given word. Terrifying. And he was flaunting his power, so obviously, here in the midst of a gathering of what was arguably Cybertron’s new elite.

The gall of him.

Pharma swallowed down old fears and desires, wiping his faceplate clean of a reaction that Tarn so urgently wanted. His delicate servo had disappeared in Tarn’s for a moment as Pharma considered how he should indeed react to this meeting. That he had instrumented.

“I’m sorry, I don’t recall having met before.”

Let Monitor and Windblade bathe in Tarn’s charming talent. Pharma had seen and felt it all before.

 

“Oh? Maybe I was mistaken. Forgive me, then.”

Tarn chuckled slowly, amused by Pharma’s falsity. He lifted his servo just enough that his mouth was revealed for a brief moment, obscured by the blue digits, and he brushed his lips over the back of his palm before lowering it. His claws found familiar seams inside his servos, scraping at them like Tarn used to a lifetime ago.

“Could I steal your companion for a moment, Monitor?” Tarn asked. The mech could only blink and nod dumbly, so overwhelmed he was by his taste of Tarn’s talent. He left the two mecha to entertain each other and he grabbed Pharma’s elbow and lead him away.

“Tell me who you are then,” Tarn said as they passed by various partygoers. “I’m always intrigued by new faces.”

 

Once they were out of audial reach, Pharma allowed himself to get excited. This was an entirely new playing field for both of them, no deal between them and technically, no old allegiances. Pharma was a free agent now, and he could choose to dally as he pleased.

“Oh, I think it may be coming back to me, where I’ve seen you before, aside from on screens.”

He wasn’t alone with Tarn, and yet, no one else here meant anything at all.

 

“Then do explain.” They steered away from the crowds and the music, heading deeper into the complex instead. It was all technically free to roam, so a few stragglers could be seen wandering. Tarn had endured a tour of the entire thing earlier, so he was confident as he lead them on.

“I must say that I do definitely know you… from a place, perhaps, filled with ice. Our first meeting was rather bumpy, but I like to think each one that came after was… stimulating .”

It was darker back here. Only a few lights were online, shrouding them in shadows every few steps before they stepped under a bright cone of light. As they walked, Tarn’s grip went from loosely guiding to tight, vice-like.

One they drew out of earshot, he rounded on Pharma.

Do you think that you are clever ?”

 

Ah yes, old familiar ties. Pharma half expected Tarn to lift him up by his neck and crush the cables in his palm, just the way he used to on that icy, rotten world. Messatine was Pharma’s personal hell, and it had left him worse for wear.

Immediately, his field plastered to his frame and his wingtips flared. His fight or flight response had always leaned towards the latter and Tarn’s previous acquaintance cemented that instinct.

“That, still?” Pharma gasped, a little, offended by the tug on his spark and yet exhilarated to feel it once more. Tarn could pretend to be civilised all he wanted to; he was still a filthy brute.

“In what sane mind would I admit to knowing you?”

 

“In what sane mind would you seek me out ?”

Tarn waited to see if Pharma would bolt. When no such inclination surfaced, he relaxed his hold. There was no one around him, but Tarn still made sure to keep his voice low. He leaned in close to Pharma, sharing EM fields as he did so.

“I would have thought you would flee after you knew I was here. But here you are anyway.” Tarn’s nurtured mistrust of everyone who was not Megatron or in his division reared its helm. His claws trailed up Pharma’s side, light but casually threatening. “What am I to think ?”

 

“Certainly not that I came here to see you,” Pharma could bristle, even when he shuddered. Everything about Tarn felt as prickly and dangerous and awfully intriguing as the day they first met. The day Tarn threatened Pharma’s existence.

“I came in company I intended to keep.”

A lie. Let’s see if Tarn was still so sharp as to read the mech.

 

“Company you intend to keep? Monitor? He’s too kind for you.”

Monitor was a civilian through and through, having neither touched nor tasted war. He was soft inside and outside, and his scariest story of the war was his harrowing evacuation when the Decepticon uprising was still confined to the six Torus-States.

No, Pharma would devour someone like that alive and spit them out boneless. Pharma was lying .

Tarn forced him back up against a wall. His claws scraped a fine line down his fresh, smooth paint.

“Do you think I am blind? I saw you running at me a mile away. Has your escape from Messatine also loosened what precious little intelligence you possessed?”

 

This was everything Pharma thought he burned to the ground along with the clinic on Messatine. This is what he came here to evaluate. And yes, here he was again, preening in Tarn’s cruel attention. Nothing had changed for him at all. He still adored the sense of danger, maybe even more so now that Tarn was a respected politician and couldn’t afford gritty backalley murders on the fly.

Or maybe he could, maybe his power had already grown enough for it, and that, Pharma attractive too.

“What do you intend to do? Talk sweet Monitor into forgetting me? Cut funding to the hospital so they won’t question the disappearance of their CMO? Please , Tarn. The strings on your servos are plenty.”

 

“You want to know what I intend to do?” His claws slipped down Pharma’s front and grabbed his hips instead. Tarn pulled him closer until their frames met. Trapped between the wall and Tarn, Pharma had nowhere he could run to.

“Oh, I won’t touch him. He will go on with his dull, simple life doing his dull, simple duties because he is useful to me. The day he is not?” Tarn dug his claws in. “Then he’ll disappear and I will have another dull, simple thing lined up. You can keep him as your petty, meaningless trophy if it pleases you.”

His thumb rubbed the slick plating of Pharma’s hip and a brutal vision passed through his mind. He saw Pharma’s snippy expression shattering when Tarn forced him to turn and all his pathetic sobbing returning full force when Tarn reminded him of how exactly things went between them.

His venting grew ragged. Wanting.

And yet, just off the edge of his hearing, he caught the faintest threads of music and chatter.

Like a vault closing, Tarn leashed himself. The oppressive weight of his EM field receded, untangling itself from Pharma’s, and his servos returned to his side. Tarn took a step back, sinking back into his persona as if the brutal lust never existed in the first place.

“Or do you meant what do I intend to do to you?”

Tarn smiled thinly from behind his mask.

“Nothing at all. I will do nothing at all.” He took a few more steps back, letting his pedes take him back to the party. “Why would I need to do anything, after all?”

Tarn glanced over his shoulder, red optics glittering. “ You’ll come running to me anyway.”

Only Pharma was close enough to hear his low, mocking laughter. When Tarn eased himself back into the party, he was neatly folded into place again, dark but unthreatening, powerful but not overwhelming. And whenever he glanced in Pharma’s direction, knowing laughter shone behind his optics.

 

Pharma expected many things from Tarn, but resisting his beauty and the pull of their previous chemistry was not one of them. Affronted almost, he watched Tarn return to the party.

With hatred and denied lust polluting his mind, Pharma’s evening and mood turned sour indeed. He’d hoped for...something, of sorts. Something sordid and wrong and exciting in the midst of this new, boring Cybertron. He wasn’t the same, simple Pharma from before the war anymore. Legal boundaries, restrictions, morality...everything weighed down his work, and social norms everything outside of work.

Tarn had been an avenue, a thin one, to something more than mundane existence. And now, he closed that path.

Pharma was sulking, and nothing Monitor did or said could possibly cheer the medic up. He avoided Tarn like a plague (how fitting) for the rest of the night, only catching sight of him at Windblade’s side now and then.

An acid taste washed over Pharma’s glossa at that. He had the prettier proportions. Oh the city speaker was pleasant, in a pretty, petty way he supposed, but Pharma still bore the beauty of a forged frame.

Maybe he needed to aim higher than Tarn, in order to regain his attention.

“Lord Starscream. May I have a word? I don’t believe we’ve met.”

 

The evening wore on. Tarn exchanged pleasantries until he tired of it, and traded Windblade off to someone more suited to her sweet sensibilities. He haunted the edges of the party like a particularly unavailable spectre that refused pleasant company.

Tarn was bored . And he was almost regretting turning down Pharma’s dare, if only because spending his hours here finding new and exciting ways to make Pharma’s turbine scream would have been more interesting than watching mecha mingle tepidly. But alas, Tarn was teaching himself self-control and moderation, and refusing temptation was one of his vital lessons.

Without war to cover it, his addiction was growing difficult to maintain. He had his private stash on the Tyranny still, but that would run out eventually. And then where would Tarn be?

So he turned his attention to one of the few things that still brought him the same level of glee it had since the day he first started. Tormenting Starscream.

Tarn poured himself a glass of inner energon from his personal flask. Not many here would recognize its scent, but Starscream would. Triple-filtered inner energon had a particular twist to it unlike anything else - not as crude as the initial product and yet not as synthetic as ground energon. Starscream, thanks to his long years of knowing Tarn, knew the smell better than most.

Tarn settled into place as he watched the flier. And Starscream twitched, feeling the weight of his stare settle.

“Hello,” Starscream said as he turned to size up the flier that approached him. He would have a better time noting their attractive qualities if he wasn’t feeling Tarn’s keen gaze between his shoulder blades. “You may have a word with me, as I am feeling gracious tonight. You are…?”

His wing twitched. The thick, sweet oil smell of Tarn’s drink was wafting through the air. Starscream held his drink tighter.

 

“Pharma.”

He introduced himself and his position smoothly, entirely aware that this mech was stiff and scared and most definitely aware of Tarn in the room.

“He is unsettling, isn’t he?”

Pharma laid a servo on Starscream’s polished arm. Here was a mech who could properly use his expertise on Tarn...maybe Pharma could use such a chess piece.

“But even brutes like that have vulnerabilities you wouldn’t expect at all. Trust me. I’m dearly familiar.”

 

Starscream didn’t jump when Pharma reached out to touch him. Instead he recoiled, offended at the idea that some nobody he didn’t recognize thought he could touch him. Then his words processed, and interest sparked in his optics.

“Pharma, was it?” Starscream said, “I haven’t heard of you… but little matter. How are you acquainted with -” his lip curled back “- Tarn ?”

He checked the crowd. Tarn was gone. Starscream searched for him, and realized he was now ensconced in conversation with the press. He was seemingly oblivious to them, no longer watching Starscream like a hungry, waiting hawk.

 

“He’s an old wartime acquaintance. You might even say business partner. If you have a moment to spare for me, I could tell you about it.”

Pharma had no intentions to keep anything a secret, save for his red rust escape. Everything he else he gleaned from Tarn was game, and Starscream looked interested in buying. Pharma smiled easily.

“Maybe we can find something to gripe about together.”

Or maybe someone would cut Tarn’s blazing career down to size, and Pharma would help.

 

“...I think I would be interested in something like that,” Starscream said, curiosity now truly piqued. He still had no reason to trust this mech, but the glimmer of information he offered was just tempting enough for Starscream to nibble at the bait. “I think we can swap a few stories of our mutual… friend.”

From across the room, Tarn’s helm rose. He locked eyes with Pharma again and saw who he was standing with. His optics narrowed - then relaxed.

Pointedly, he turned his back on them

Go ahead. Try me.

 

I will. And you will regret it.

Pharma spent the next hours detailing what he knew of Tarn to Starscream. The unsavoury deal excluded a few details, but the juicy parts of blackmail, extortion and threats were kept in. Surely, not everything could be squared away to wartime crimes. Not everyone had been absolved of everything, the daily trials were testament enough of that and surely, Starscream knew best what made for the best morsels.

From the t-cog deals to the nuke, Tarn had a lot of problems that were evident in his health, and he never was shy about how he obtained his treasured keepsakes. Trophies, black market endeavours, dealings of the shadiest kind.

“-Even for a Decepticon, Tarn has exceptionally problematic tastes.”

 

Starscream noted it all down. Even the parts he knew, he added as insurance. Still, a part of him hoped for more. Tarn had never hidden his transformation addiction - otherwise he wouldn’t leave his massacre sites riddled with T-cog empty corpses - and it was an open secret among those high enough on the ladder to know. Megatron himself never took a stance against his problem - probably because he was the one to encourage it in the first place.

The information on the nuke was much more interesting, though Tarn obviously would keep his power source hidden. The idea of a substance that granted intense moments of strength, speed, and mental clarity was something Starscream was very interested in, needless to say.

He probed Pharma for the possible location of it. But something else caught his attention.

“My, my, you seem to know him rather well, don’t you?” Starscream said, curling his digits under his chin, “much better than someone who just had dealings with him in the war. Now, why would Tarn - a ‘bot-hating, Cause-loving Decepticon - show an Autobot medic his trophies, mm?”

 

Pharma didn't hesitate to open up this subject too. Tarn had issued him an open challenge after all, who was he to disappoint such expectations?

“I daresay I numbered among said trophies for the duration of his deal with me. There was little about my being an Autobot that seemed to bother him. Certainly not enough to keep him from his interest in me.”

Revealing his deal with Tarn was a double-edged sword, but Pharma was quite sure he would sustain the lesser wound of the two of them.

“Blackmail and rape are such interesting hobbies, aren't they?”

 

Starscream's brows shot up. Now that was damning evidence - not law-wise, maybe, but this would hit a massive hole into Tarn’s campaign persona. People could follow a monster if his crimes were vague. But once you knew what he did…?

“Let me get you another drink, Pharma,” Starscream said, “and let’s keep talking, shall we?”

On the other side of the room, Tarn lurked. And this time, Starscream had a way to shoot the titan down.

 

“It would be my delight. Our mutual acquaintance has given me so many delightful stories to tell.”

Pharma would drag Tarn under by any means necessary and Starscream was surely going to help.

 

Chapter Text

The rumor mill worked quick. And while Tarn was still holding success in his court, his support system was fading. Unsavory rumors were passing around, right next to old execution videos, and Tarn found himself distinctly unimpressed by their source.

Pharma could really be so petty when denied.

For a moment, he considered killing Pharma. And then he discarded the thought, because that would ruin their ongoing game. It seemed that if Pharma could not join him, he would gladly just work against him.

Tarn considered all this and more as he leaned back in his chair and glared out his window. Starscream was in, again, and Tarn was getting bored of staring at datapads all day.

He really hated that mech.

So, Starscream had some material on him now. But Tarn didn’t care - he knew for a fact that a large majority of the Decepticons here had done the same - or worse. Or knew others that did, and didn’t care. The only people he really lost in number were Autobots and NAILs, a loss Tarn couldn’t genuinely mourn.

He considered spilling some stories about Starscream’s misdeeds. There was a number of those - they would hurt his image too.

At least the press wasn’t circulating the rumors. Tarn might actually have to take steps to suppress the annoyances then.

Phama’s comm blinked on his wrist.

::I see you’re still sore about the past.::

 

Pharma considered not answering at all. He was currently indulging in an oil bath, courtesy of Starscream’s generous friendship. Really, for a former Decepticon, the seeker was not so bad. And he certainly had a standard of living Pharma could agree with wholeheartedly.

The two of them may have shared more than that drink and the chat about Tarn, and it suited the medic just fine. This was the new game, except instead of wealthy senators, a lot of former Decepticons studded the path to success.

Success in this case watching Tarn’s popularity take a massive dip. The execution videos were a nice touch from Starscream and worked beautifully.

Pharma sipped at the engex glass and opened the comm.

::You basically demanded that I do this. Don’t whine now.::

It was so much easier to be brave in the face of Tarn when he was miles away.

 

::How interesting it is that your bravery seems to rise the more bodies you have between you and me.::

Some part of always wondered what happened to Pharma after they left Messatine. Most of him thought that Pharma would run away - seek refuge in a backwater where no one would know him and Tarn would have no chance of finding him on.

Of course, he was now wondering if simply killing Pharma would have been the simplest route. The least satisfying, yes, but the simplest.

::Well, congratulations are due anyway. You got the attention you crave. Are you buying his favor with yourself too?::

 

::I don’t know what that could possibly mean.::

Pharma let a pede rise out of the oil, watching how his plating gleamed in the light. Oh, he was something to behold alright. Anyone would be a fool to think they could resist him. Especially Tarn. No. No he was not going to go down that route anymore. Tarn would be dragged as far as possible and then Pharma would cut his ties.

::He is a generous host with a much more comfortable and adequate hab suite, that is all. Mutual hatred breeds for interesting new friends, wouldn’t you agree?::

 

Hatred . Tarn snorted.

::Starscream has as many friends as he has believers - none.::

From this range, he probably could nail Starscream. The thought was a pleasant one, but Tarn withheld from indulging any further. If he went down that route, he might just… slip.

::I just never thought you would be so careless as to talk about Delphi with someone so patently untrustworthy. I wonder how willing the hospital will be to keep a medic with a broken code?::

 

::Broken code? Hardly. You blackmailed me, forced me into accepting your deal. No one would believe anything else when looking at me.::

And Pharma had covered his tracks carefully at Delphi. No witnesses, no survivors except him and a very detailed report of the plague that wiped out all life on Messatine, forcing it to be quarantined. The only thing Pharma regretted was that the Red Rust never reached its intended target.

::I am not careless, Tarn. And a puppet like you does not belong in the position you are in.::

 

::And pray tell, who does? Starscream, someone so universally hated that he only exists by leeching off his betters? Or you? Don’t make me laugh.::

Tarn had considered ruining Pharma’s position at the hospital in retaliation for his loose lips. But a cornered rat fought harder than one that still thought it could get away. And while Tarn could recover from this blow given time, he wasn’t inclined to give Pharma anymore chances to slip more information.

::Is this all because I rejected you? I wasn’t aware that you were so… attached.::

 

::Rejected? I never wanted you to want me in the first place. You were the one to lead me to a dark corner and leave me there.::

Pharma didn’t care who could or would replace Tarn. He didn’t care if Starscream was good or not at what he did. His personal investment was just that; personal. And Tarn had offended him, a long time ago, refreshed by their recent brush.

Was it petty?

Probably.

Did Pharma care?

Absolutely not.

Did Pharma have a better reason than his own pride?

Absolutely yes, and it would be held off for as long as necessary. Unless it proved to be leverage, of course. Which, considering Tarn was taking the time to personally contact him, might prove useful sooner than he thought.

::And if you’re thinking of using what happened to Delphi...that won’t be an issue. I’ve already laid open our deal from back then. Anything else cannot be proven. I took care of it. You can’t threaten or hurt me anymore.::

 

::Took care of it?:: Tarn recalled the news of the plague from Messatine. ::My, my. How delightfully devilish of you. Let’s not pretend that you never had the potential in you - or that you didn’t enjoy it.::

His dalliance with Pharma had been just that - a dalliance. Regardless of what rose between them, his loyalty to the Cause was paramount. And with the hunt for Overlord and his lord’s recall, Tarn didn’t exactly have the time to pay attention to his personal victim. Pharma had fallen by the wayside, more or less.

::And right now, I’m beginning to suspect that you crave not only just attention - but rather, my attention .::

Tarn let Pharma have a bare taste of what he obviously missed. As he did so, he got up and paced around his office. A new plan was formulating in his mind. While Pharma presented himself as an obstacle, the situation needn’t be so static. Tarn was good at twisting situations around to suit his needs.

 

Dread and delight curled together in Pharma’s spark, pulling him into a more indulgent state towards Tarn. After all, just because he was spilling unpleasant truths left and right didn’t mean Tarn had outlived his usefulness. Though he would probably never become the toy Pharma once envisioned in his most feverish delusions.

But he’d settle for a little taste of danger, power and excitement. Pharma sunk deeper into the oilbath, one servo playing with the kibble at his waist.

::Is that so? You think I would miss something like that? You think far too highly of yourself, Tarn. Others can give me what I want.::

 

::How many others know who you really are?:

Starscream was watching Tarn prowl around. He considered scaring him - then changed his mind. Tarn had much more intriguing things to look forward to than that wretch. He left his office, taking his time to navigate the stairs rather than take the elevator.

::Who else can show you what you’re really capable of?::

It was late. The building had only a skeleton crew left. Tarn’s hab was on the lower levels, but preferred his ship, parked in the small private hangar he’d personally commissioned.

::Face it - you love the excitement. The danger. No one ever made you think as fast, or work as hard. From saving miners to making a plague, Pharma. Do you think your past self - the naive, insecure thing that you were - could have accomplished that?::

His empty ship echoed his soft laugh. ::No. Never. You let yourself limit your potential.::

 

::It’s too bad you’re no longer in a position to challenge me anymore. You’re just your master’s cog in the new machine, Tarn. Anyone can see that.::

Pharma was feeling particularly brave. A murder in Starscream’s hab would certainly be entertaining news, but even Tarn couldn’t get up here so easily. His vocal talent was a very controversial truth and if he misused it even once...there’d be public consequences. Besides. If he came here, Pharma would have plenty of time to cut the communication and fly away. This wasn’t Messatine, after all.

 

::And I am proud to be his loyal servant. Lord Megatron’s will is mine.::

Tarn brushed his servo against familiar walls. His room here was so much better than the hab he’d been given. Comfortable - and well-known. Tarn walked past his trophy room and into his berthroom.

A lot of arguing and stonewalling had kept his ship from being searched. Tarn would just hate to have to take down and hide everything here.

::Not all challenges need to be about life and death. I play a bigger game now. And yet, I find myself rather solitary. My master is away, my division is scattered - quite a lamentable state of affairs, really. And I find everyone here to be so dull . I think you would agree, my dear doctor .::

 

Pharma’s frame and spark reacted instantly and it was a lucky circumstance that he was on his own. With his frame sunk into the bath, Pharma could pet over his panel indulgently and enjoy Tarn for what he was worth, from a safe distance. The best of both worlds, so to say.

::On that, we can agree. Everyone here is so well-intentioned. Bent on making peace. I find peace quite boring. Take Monitor for example. He would sing my praises day and night if asked to, and he has no idea of what I’m truly capable of. He’d throw his spark at my pedes if I wanted him to. Dull. Too easy. Nothing is a challenge here at all.::

 

Tarn removed his cape with a whisper of fabric. The heavy silver clasp settled on a berthside table. He dropped the cape on a chair with a soft thump , and settled on his berth with a soft, relaxed sigh. The lighting dimmed.

::Peace? It means nothing to me. Control, on the other hand… control is a sweeter word by far.::

He wondered where Pharma was. What he was doing. Would he come if Tarn called?

::I don’t see why you’ve taken up with him. You are wasted on him. He could never appreciate you, not like I do. ::

 

::You were eager not to appreciate me before. I don’t chase attention, Tarn.::

Much to the contrary, Pharma craved and chased every bit of that voice in his spark and he felt no shame in opening his array in order to indulge his needs. Tarn did make for excellent motivation, and his new look in his position of power was no deterrent whatsoever.

::He flies. He has an array. He’ll do what you won’t. That’s enough for me now.::

 

Jealousy, sudden and unexpected, flared up and Tarn scowled, displeased. It was foolish of him to expect monogamy from Pharma but he was still somewhat… irritated by how loose he was with his attentions.

::What a drastic drop in your standards. You really are in dire straits, aren’t you?::

Don’t chase attention… pff. Pharma hounded after attention like a moth does light. ::You have no appreciation for build-up.::

 

::Build-up? Is that what you’d call our shared history? Delphi? I’d call that ample reason not to chase after you. Who in their right mind would?::

Pharma could argue with Tarn, call him unworthy of his attention, a brute, a murderer, and still enjoy himself enough to idle his servo over his valve. It too remembered Tarn, and pleasantly at that. Some aspects of that brute had been to his liking.

::I’d say Starscream is an elevation. There’s nothing brutish about him and he knows how to treat wingtips.::

 

::A coward, a liar, and a sniveling wreck besides. I suppose like attracts like.::

A part of Tarn was repelled by the idea of touching anything Starscream had his servos on. Another part growled at the challenge, offended by the idea that anyone thought he could be replaced.

::What is the purpose of bragging about that? I only see you lowering yourself. And once I cast Starscream down for good… well. You were never good at deciding the best option for yourself.::

 

::I wasn’t bragging. I was comparing. You can take from it what you will.::

Tarn was being a little obstinate, a little jealous, and Pharma was enjoying it fully. Every moment with Starscream was worth its weight in shanix if Tarn reacted like this.

Plus, his lack of actual presence allowed Pharma to enjoy their exchange, knowing he still had the absolute upper hand when it came to aces up sleeves.

::You want to cast Starscream down? Please. There’s no way you could rally enough power to do that, short of starting another war.::

 

::You overestimate him.::

Everyday it grew more and more tempting to kill Starscream. Tarn would have to speak with his lord later to remember his mission here. Otherwise… unfortunate mistakes could come about.

Speaking with Pharma was growing tiresome, especially when he was so uppity with his presumptions. Tarn needed to slap him down - and then involve him in his plans. Someone close to Starscream could be useful, after all.

Or dangerous.

No one knew how Metalhawk really died, after all.

::Where are you now?::

 

::In his habsuite.::

The conversation was losing its charm, if only because Tarn didn’t seem entirely focused on him anymore, which Pharma resented.  What could possibly take his attention away from Pharma, who was in a prime position to plot and scheme and work against him? What could be more enticing than the two of them, remembering silently of what used to draw them together?

 

Tarn was beginning to question his own taste more and more. He didn’t conceal the distaste in his tone. ::How thoroughly sickening.::

His amorous mood had certainly flagged, and his temperament darkened. Tarn considered calling Pharma to him, even if the visage of Starscream hovered ever near. He tried to imagine Starscream in an attractive light - and firmly shoved the thought away.

Traitors were never pleasing.

::Even Windblade, empty-headed whelp that she is, has better taste than you.::

 

::Tarn, she is a city speaker and if we’re considering offices ranks, she is your equal. It’s unlike you to go for petty insults.::

Was being in Starscream’s hab so offensive to Tarn that he allowed it to rattle the flow of their conversation? Pharma was considering a new angle, though this one no longer required his panel to be open. It shut with an audible swish in the washrack and Pharma peeled himself out of the tub, dripping oil on the floor. He gleamed like a newly forged model.

::You didn’t want my company. Of course I had to look elsewhere.::

 

Tarn recalled the tense push and pull of their usual banter. The high stakes on either sides, giving and taking pieces and pawns as they both saw who would be the winner. Tarn enjoyed his deals with Pharma, because Pharma had ultimately been his prize in the end.

Pulling a new player in soured the game.

::Maybe it is time that I did too, if you continue to slip like this.::

Tarn cut the conversation off. Mood now thoroughly ruined, he contemplated his ceiling, murder, and Starscream until the urge to track Pharma down and rip his wings off faded. More dark imaginings lingered, all of them decorated by the shrill sound of Pharma begging for forgiveness.

He was going to teach a Pharma a lesson over this. Tarn allowed many things from him - this was not one of them. Perhaps it was time for Pharma to remember that his personal nightmare had not ended - far from it, in fact.

 

Pharma could only file away the conversation for later revisiting. Clearly, something about Starscream had Tarn riled like nothing else, and Pharma would analyse exactly why. Probably in said mech’s company. He had to find excuses to keep using this oil bath, didn’t he? Besides...even if Tarn found someone to release some of his tension with, it would never be as satisfying as wrapping his servos around Pharma’s neck and interfacing the way they used to. He knew Tarn too well for that.

Oh yes, this was much, much more entertaining than his daily work at the hospital. Pharma was set to play Tarn’s game, and this time he wasn’t starting at a disadvantage.

::If you’re alone in that building with Tarn, Starscream, may I suggest you change that fact swiftly? I had a most enlightening conversation.::

 

Chapter Text

Tarn’s poor mood continued well into the week. His dark grace was replaced by a surly, snappish temper that urged everyone near him to change that fact immediately. He sent mecha out of his office in tears, terrified his fellow councillors, and prowled behind Starscream with uncanny fury, as if willing him to die each moment his optics rested on him.

Starscream, rather wisely, took to avoiding Tarn.

While he had been doing a good job of turning the rumors around, his sudden mood drop didn’t do him any favors. Suddenly, people were beginning to remember why Tarn was so feared.

And in the height of his tension, Tarn looked for a new person to dedicate his attention to. It failed - largely because everyone his optics landed on compared unfavorably to Pharma. No one could be as pretty, or as clever, or as acerbic, or as titillating as he could be. And when Tarn caught himself musing about the medic, his mood plummeted even more.

He took his frustration out on the hospital. Funding was cut. Equipment could no longer be given. Multiple directors of the hospital were reduced to shivering wrecks as Tarn dressed them down to their struts over petty mistakes. He pointedly refused to even speak with Ratchet.

It was how a shaky Monitor, remembering Tarn’s favorable attitude to Pharma at the social opening, found himself begging his star medic to help him talk sense into the terrifying councillor.

“He put two directors into nervous breakdowns,” Monitor said pathetically, “and the last three reports we sent to him were all black marked - incompetence, he said. Incompetence! Please, Pharma, I need your help! Work a little of your magic and get him to ease down before he ruins us.”

 

“My magic, Monitor? And what would that entail?” Pharma was irritable at best when disturbed during working hours. He was doing the hospital a favour by staying, despite the dwindling resources. His earnings had taken a decisive cut, his equipment and supplies dwindling in quality. All around, Tarn was doing his best to make Pharma’s life miserable. It was delightful. As if the mech was standing over him, servos tied, seething with jealousy as he looked on. He could do nothing to make Pharma’s life uneasy, what with Starscream’s favour and his restored reputation on Cybertron.

Pharma revelled in it as the hospital suffered.

“I hope you don’t think I will sell myself to keep this hospital open.”

 

“What? No, no, of course not! But - but he asked for you, Pharma.” Monitor wrung his servos. “He said that he would listen if you went and spoke to him - no one else! He even sent a message.”

Monitor played an audio file from his datapad. Tarn’s imperious, coldly angry voice filled the room.

“- stop crying, you blasted wreck, and listen to me very closely. If you want your frankly inexcusable mistakes to be forgiven and for you to see even a fraction of my favor again, then you will send one of you last few competent members to discuss this with me - not someone who will fall over in tears for being reminded of their long list of inadequacies. No, I don’t mean Ratchet, have you not been listening? Send Pharma. What? No , not him either, I said Pharma, are you illiterate on top of incompetent? I may be inclined to change my mind then, but no further. Now get off your knees and get out of my damn office.”

 

Pharma barely kept the sanguine smile from his lips at listening to what was Tarn, coming apart at the seams with anger. He could almost smell the abused t-cog, smoking in its cradle, eating its host from the inside out. Oh, Tarn. Stewing in Pharma’s taunt and catapulting himself further and further. It was exactly the kind of concoction that was bound to end with someone dead and Pharma triumphant.

None of Pharma’s pleased undertones made it to Monitor’s optics. The medic rustled his wings in masterfully played agitation.

“It sounds like walking into a lion’s den, Monitor. Who is going to guarantee my safety? I know how brutal Tarn can be...or did you not read the extensive psychological evaluation in my file?”

Monitor looked ready to cry, so Pharma reached out a servo and brushed his helm.

“Fine. I will go, for you. Just don’t expect too much.”

Best keep all the irons he could muster in the fire.

 

-x-

 

Tarn’s office windows were tinted today - it was too bright for anything else. The sun was high and blazing, forcing everyone else inside. Tarn sat in the cool interior of his office, pede tapping as he glared at the door.

Only his competency kept his position secure. But he knew that people were scheming against him, trying to oust him from power. Tarn refused to relent an inch. But his mood continued to drop and Tarn’s visions of brutal massacres were growing more and more vivid. The balance between fear and respect was growing more and more delicate with each unpleasant rumor that sprung up.

His T-cog ached.

He wanted to kill someone.

“Bring the next person in,” he barked to his secretary. “Make it quick.”

 

A large frame squeezed itself through the door, the mech having to bow his helm to fit inside. Towering even over Tarn was a feat achieved by not many, but this mech in particular didn’t bear the confidence that should come with this size at all. Old black and white paint, hazard stripes, a Decepticon badge...it was not difficult to put together that this was a mech who’d seen the beginnings of the war.

And everything since it.

“Tarn sir, thanks fer seeing me,” he began, accent heavily afflicted by Helexian. The trainformer fidgeted as he waited to be acknowledged by the seething pile of mech lounging at his desk.

 

“Yes, Smokestack?”

Tarn’s simmering fury lowered enough for him to make an impatient gesture for the mech to talk. He knew this one - loyal, as far as he knew, and a good addition to Lord Megatron’s forces. Served even longer than Tarn had. The spot of trouble with him way back when was unfortunate, but had been necessary.

“What do you need?” Tarn leaned his helm back slightly to take in the mech in his entirety. For the loyal, his biting glossa didn’t make itself known. “I thought the trouble between you and the registry workers was settled.”

 

“Uh, yes sir, that’s not why I came,” Smokestack still seemed entirely uncomfortable, but it was not so much Tarn’s presence as it was his subject matter. It was difficult to breach, especially with how helpful Tarn proved to be to anyone loyal to the Decepticon cause. Smokestack brushed over his badge, venting deeply. This had been a long time coming, and he gathered up courage for months before confronting the mech that gave most of Cybertron nightmares.

“It’s personal. Ain’t no one givin’ me trouble. It’s...it’s you, Tarn. I didn’ want to make it a public thing or anythin’ but...I wanted to know. I have to know.”

Another deep vent, a nervous cloud of smoke escaping his heat sink.

“Why did you execute my conjunx endura?”

 

“Your conjunx endura - Radar, Decepticon, scout and communications.” Tarn recalled the little mech - and his execution. It had been a public one to teach the army a lesson about defection.

And… a wrong one.

Tarn grimaced. The List was rarely wrong, but sometimes a few… unfortunate accidents occurred. Whether it was due to misinformation or improper investigation, the wrong name was registered and they were killed before it could be corrected. Usually,, no harm came from the error.

And sometimes… this happened.

“Sit down, Smokestack,” Tarn said, mustering every bit of diplomacy he picked up from his lord, “let me explain the circumstances behind it.”

Tarn reviewed Radar’s file. It wasn’t a long one - he and Smokestack were neither failures nor standouts in their service, being comfortably competent and well-suited for their roles. Tarn had his personal notes on what happened, but the list of suspects remained absent.

“The charge for Radar’s placement on the list was defection,” Tarn said. “But the entry was wrong. A flag came up on his file only after we already caught up with him. But the truth of the matter is that he should not have been on the List at all. Someone set him up to be there, to distract us from a different target that actually defected. Someone who was in the division, actually, which was why they had such access to our private List.”

He clenched his fist. In the end, the division was too well-ordered to be fooled for long. And once they dug that rat out of its hole, things had cleared up instantly.

“He was caught, if it is any consolation,” Tarn said. “We still have him.”

 

Smokestack’s engine stuttered and the sound thundered through the office. Clearly, the wound was still open and raw and capable of inspiring anger, because the trainformer’s field was slowly coming up with murderous intent. Not directed at Tarn, but by him.

“I hope you mean fer killin’, sir. It ain’t right. Radar was a good ‘con, never doubted the Cause or nothin’, he’d spit on anyone ruinin’ his name...it ain’t right, Tarn! I want his name cleared n’ I want access to the smelting pits in Helex. He deserves better than this.”

Smokestack pounded against his own chassis, righteously enraged by the fate of his conjunx and the lack of reciprocation.

“I want that ‘bot. I want him to die as Radar had to. ‘Bots always getting away with everything. It ain’t right.”

 

“No, it’s not right,” Tarn agreed. He nodded sympathetically, listening to Smokestack’s angry words. “It’s definitely not right. Which is why we made sure to punish that agent as thoroughly as we could upon discovering him.”

Tarn tilted a holopic on his desk in Smokestack’s direction. He tapped the image, right on the fox. “There he is. Formerly known as Agent 113, Dominus Ambus, Autobot, now serving on board as the Pet. But before we had his mind broken, we made sure our collective displeasure was made clear. We kept him alive through it for years before domesticating him. I have a video file of his punishment, if you want it.”

Tarn considered the team holopic. “The murder of loyal Decepticons is not a crime we appreciate. Ending his suffering seemed far too merciful for any of our tastes, so he will continue to serve. But we can clear Radar’s name of the charge now. It will be wiped from his record. Now, what did you say about Helex’s smelting pits?”

 

“Thank you sir. It’s...a bit better. Least his name will be clear.”

Smokestack’s rage dissipated quietly and resignation warred with grief for space in his helm. The trainformer had tried many avenues to get into the ruins of Helex, but none had been truly possible.

“Former ‘cons can’t get in. NAIL territory, or somethin’ like that. Bloody ridiculous, old Momus’d have a fit.”

 

“Excuse me?” Tarn straightened, satisfaction forgotten for indignation. “How can that be? The five cities are ours - the Neutrals have no right to them whatsoever. Tarn, Kaon, Helex, Vos, and Tesarus should belong to no one else but the Decepticons. Who told you this?”

Who dared lay claim on the birthplace of the Decepticon movement? Tarn had half a mind to have it declared a cultural sanctuary, just to make sure it was never forgotten for what it was. The Decepticons were born there, and they would keep their cities from the grasping claws of badgeless, causeless cowards.

 

“Them security bots...Badgeless or somethin’ like it?”

Intimidating, faceless newcomers who had no respect whatsoever for old factions and their traditions. They worked for Starscream and everyone who abstained from having an opinion in the war. Smokestack couldn’t say he respected them deeply, and neither was the reverse the case.

“I told ‘em I need to smelt my ‘junx and they turned me away. I came straight back to New Iacon.”

 

Starscream’s lackeys… Tarn scowled. “That is troubling news,” he growled, “thank you for reporting this to me. I did not realize that Starscream was already overstepping his bounds so egregiously.”

Tarn stood up. “I will free our city from his clutches,” he promised, “and ensure that no one else can hold it, especially not the badgeless. Keep hold of him, Smokestack - you’ll have access to the smelting pits soon.”

Even if Tarn needed to shove Starscream’s turbine up his aft, he would. Gladly .

“If that is all,” Tarn said, “you are free to go. I will keep you updated on the matter.”

 

“Thanks. Sir.”

Smokestack looked Tarn over. He still looked the same as he did in all those scare campaigns that went round the Decepticon camps, what with captions like ‘the DJD is always watching’ and alike, but really, the mech himself was alright. Scary, yeah, but still a Decepticon at spark.

“I’m glad we got a real one of us up here. We din’t fight and die for nothin’.”

He bowed his helm, not just to get out, but out of simple respect for the mech who had given him the time to air his grievances.

 

“No, we didn’t. No one will stop us. Never again.”

He bowed his helm as Smokestack stepped out. In his anger, he saw that he had scored the surface of his desk with long, deep scratches.

How... dare … Starscream?

Enough was enough. Tarn was going to remove him one way or another, because this was the last straw. For a moment, his personal troubles faded for a moment. Even the problem with Pharma paled next to this offense.

“Send the next one in,” Tarn snarled.

 

“Is this a bad time?”

Pharma squeezed past the trainformer who murmured an apology his way as he shuffled out of the building without trying to break anything.

Tarn was stewing. Livid with some sort of impotent rage, and it was plastered all over his faceplate. Oh, what a way to start their conversation.

Pharma left the door open, lest the mech was in so bad a mood that escape was his only option.

 

“Close it,” Tarn snapped. He was pacing a rut into the floor, servos behind his back as he thought of ways to grind Starscream into dust once and for all. His anger hung around him like a thick, choking cloak, obscuring everything he did in a fine mist of outrage.

“You,” his red gaze snapped to Pharma, “Sit.” He jabbed a claw at the lone chair in front of his desk.

“We have a lot to discuss. Close the door.”

The time for games was past. Starscream had crossed a line .

 

Pharma obeyed, if only because he made sure that lots of people knew where he had gone. His murder would reignite the war, he was quite sure, so he sat with confidence. At least enough to look at Tarn expectantly. Wasn’t he pleased that his little message summoned Pharma? Where was the smug gloating he had expected?

Was Tarn not playing along today?

“About the hospital? I didn’t think you were so invested.”

 

“No. Forget the hospital. You will get your funding and equipment and whatever else back, and you can gloat about how you accomplished it. That is not important.”

Tarn stopped suddenly. He leaned over his desk, servos planted on its surface. A claw tapped a harsh staccato on it as Tarn examined Pharma, as if trying to sense the treachery on him through mere gaze alone. Pharma had always been the slippery sort, so keen on games and deals, on playing the razor edge of Tarn’s patience for his own amusement. Tarn was usually happy to play along, but he wasn’t in the mood today.

“I want you back,” he said bluntly. “I’ve tired of watching you run around with the undeserving. I have higher goals for you.”

 

“Higher goals?”

It was unexpected, certainly. Tarn didn’t often lose patience, especially when it came to chasing him. He thought they had a languid pace on their new playing field, but apparently, Tarn’s timeframe for their game was already exceeded. A shame, truly, Pharma still had many secrets to spill.

“What do you mean, you want me back? You never had me in the first place.”

 

“No, Pharma. No more games.”

Tarn reached over his desk and grabbed Pharma by the collar faring. He dragged him out of his seat, into the desk. Their faces hovered close, Tarn’s burning optics glaring into Pharma’s.

“You try my patience time and time again. You walk into my city and flaunt yourself, trying to bait me into pursuing you. But let me make this clear, Pharma. I do not pursue you. I do not run after you. Because you are already mine. Because you have been from the moment I met you on Messatine, and no mech you can charm into adoring you will change that fact.”

Pharma’s helm dropped to the desk. Tarn pressed him down with one servo. He was mindful of his claws, leaving no scratches, but the implicit threat of what he could do - what he had done countless times before - quivered in the air between them.

“So after this meeting is done - after I’ve finished today’s pageantry and entertained the falsities of this fractured city, I’m going to find you in my ship, in my berth. And I’m going to frag you so hard that your voice box will short out, that you will forget every other name but mine, until you beg me to ruin you like no one else can. And I will do it again, and again, and again, until you forget why you ever thought you could get away from me. And then?”

Tarn tossed Pharma back into his seat. He sat back down, unflustered. “And then you are going to help me decimate my enemies so that I may rule over their ashes . Understood, Pharma?”

 

Pharma got everything from this conversation he could ever wish for. Tarn’s desire for him, blatant and prominent. The violent lengths he’d go to, his ambitions for power, his need for Pharma at his side. His spark sang praises to Pharma’s own patience, surely a contributing factor to this exceptionally clarifying mood Tarn was in.

Why should he argue with it? It was their personal game, whether Tarn called it that or not. The brute could not help himself, and Pharma craved excitement in his life, always. The rush of what he’d survived on Messatine had shaped his personality for the rest of his existence.

“You haven’t changed at all. What makes you think I agree with any of this?”

He leaned back, quieting the whirring of his fans and the pulse of excited fear in his spark.

 

Why wouldn’t you? It has everything you want. Power… danger… me .”

The desk between them was hardly a barrier. Tarn’s engine was growling softly, while his fans whirred harshly. Even sitting, he was leaned forward, shoulders bunched as if only a thin layer of control kept him leaping on Pharma and ravishing him then and there. When he vented, slow and careful, air hot enough to distort the space between them billowed out.

You said you were bored. I think it’s time to correct that, don’t you ?”

 

He wasn’t wrong. Pharma knew that as much as he understood Tarn, Tarn understood him. This strange, unequal reciprocation was just one of the many things that seemed to chain the two of  them together.

And he for one was definitely tired of not satisfying his craving. His spark bounced in his chassis. This was so, so much better than Messatine.

“My psychologist warned me of a relapse,” Pharma could barely disguise the amused lust in his tone. Fear was hardly a factor to hold him back by now.

“I thoroughly welcome the notion.”

 

Lovely . Then you are free to go. Get a little worship out from your colleagues.”

Tarn gestured at the door. “Send the next one in as you do so.”

With a click, his fans stopped. His engine quieted. Tarn drew back all the evidence of his lust and folded them away, until he was merely the intimidating politician with too much on his servos again.

 

Another dismissal, though this one was arguably easier to swallow. Pharma allowed himself to be sent out like any other visitor to the office, only pausing with Tarn’s secretary to be granted hangar access.

Because there was absolutely no doubt that he would be taking Tarn up on his offer. It was fated to be so, Pharma was sure. All of the therapy sessions that had been mandatory before he started practicing medicine again had only taught him that his obsession with Tarn was completely unable to be understood by anyone but the two of them.

It was as if, throughout their meetings, they existed in a vacuum, playing with the splayed out lines of power, present in a web only they could see. He and Tarn were connected, and Pharma was still addicted to the rush he felt in Tarn’s claws.

Nothing had ever replicated that feeling for him, and he’d mourned it.

Until he stepped pede into the same sphere as Tarn once more and their dance began anew, though following vaguely different rules this time around. Pharma’s life was no longer at stake, but neither was Tarn’s integrity as a Decepticon. Pharma was back in charge of a medical facility, but t-cogs no longer featured on their reasons for engagement. Starscream was a chess piece, unknowingly, determining the new rules of their game.

It was thrilling, but waiting for the evening was not.

Pharma yawned when Monitor sang his praises after he returned in one piece with the guarantee for funding. Pharma declined any invitations to celebrate tonight, citing previous plans. When questioned whether or not they involved certain seekers, he merely laughed.

No, Starscream would not have any more of him. He’d been interesting company, a passionate flier, a seeker through and through, but Pharma’s rightful dance partner had staked his claim and Pharma was willing, oh so willing, to try once more to best the beast.

The hours ticked by slowly. Pharma managed one full surgery, three patch-up jobs and a minor transfusion and yet ‘evening’ refused to arrive.

Work was no longer distracting enough, so Pharma went to a bar. It was a little better, the free drinks pleasant, but no one was burly or interesting enough to hold his attention. The clock still moved sluggishly, but at least the suns set.

Finally. At last. He was walking through the doors of the hangar, stepping into the space dominated by a hideous Decepticon-badge-shaped ship. Tarn’s taste was tacky when it came to his little cause, and Pharma mocked him for it. Never openly, of course.

He remembered this hulk of a ship in the snow. He’d flown through a storm to meet with Tarn and ended the night on his knees with a spike breaking delicate parts of his intake, but alive and with a deal intact.

This time he knew what was expected. This time, he boarded the ship with the impatience of the starving, paying no mind to Tarn’s decorations or his treasures. Pharma went to his berth, as expected, as ordered, and he sprawled himself across it, valve already working on preparations for a marathon interface.

Tarn had promised a lot, hadn’t he?

 

On the surface, Tarn was as diligent a leader as he could be. He dutifully filled out forms and read fresh reports, listened to the complaints of everyone that braved his lair, and worked with the same tireless determination that Megatron first instilled in him. Only someone well-versed in his tells could have noted the restless brightening of his optics or the shift of his plating.

Tarn was starving, just as Pharma was starving. And while he didn’t keep the time as furiously as Pharma, he spent hours dedicated to mindlessly filling out forms and imagining what he would do to the medic. Their reunion demanded something special, something more than their usual roughness.

All day, his panel inquired him for release. When the sun drew lower, his entire body was steaming hot. He kept it in tightly but it was making him eager to get on with his promises.

The moon hung fat and heavy over the sky when Tarn deemed it time. He forced himself to move with measured paces, forced himself to take the steps one at a time even as ideas of what Pharma might be doing on his lonesome plagued his mind.

His ship opened for him. Tarn paced to his berthroom, where he could tell Pharma was already. To announce his presence, he added weight to his steps, making them echo. He stopped at the doorway, drinking in the sight.

“A part of me always wondered why I didn’t just chain you here permanently, just for myself,” Tarn said, “and I begin to wonder, again.”

 

“Because you’re a fool and I would have escaped you eventually.”

Pharma was polished, looked better than he ever had on Messatine, and he’d lost the desperate edge of fear. He yearned for Tarn, to be ravished and wanted and to sink into their vacuum of pain and pleasure and everything in between.

Death would have been an acceptable escape from Tarn’s clutches, once upon a time. When Pharma still believed in the Autobot badge. When Pharma thought other lives mattered more than his own. When Pharma still adhered to medical codes and morality.

No more of that. He was tired of denying himself what he was owed.

He stretched a leg, tilted his helm just right and waited for Tarn to cross the room.

“You never could replace me.”

 

Tarn took the invitation for what it was and closed the distance to the berth in an instant. He was on Pharma, holding him down as he reacquainted himself with his lithe, beautiful body. He squeezed his shapely limbs, petted sleek plating, and managed to get himself thoroughly entangled with Pharma within moments.

He flipped them so they were more comfortably positioned, Tarn on the berth and Pharma atop him, and his roaming servos continued their exploration. He ran his palms down Pharma’s front greedily before sliding them around and up to his turbine. Thick digits squeezed into seams, forcing them open so Tarn could feel around under them.

In the bright light of his berthroom, Pharma glittered gloriously. He was well-taken care of here, unlike in Messatine, polished and primped to exquisite perfection. Tarn wanted to ruin it instantly. His fans clicked on, dumping hot air. Underneath Pharma, his engine growled to life, intense enough to send his plating rattling.

From Pharma’s back, his servos alighted on his wings. Tarn ran his thumbs down their invisible seams, feeling each place he knew he could peel the plating back to reveal the delicate internal machinery. But this time, he abstained.

His touch dropped back down to Pharma’s sides. He inserted his digits into the exposed protoform there, uncovered by armor, slowly but surely sliding down to his panel.

“Show me,” he ordered, “I want to see all of you.”

 

Tarn could thrill Pharma without doing much of anything at all. Just touching him alone was sending Pharma’s protocols into some sort of frenzy of pleasure, every part of his interfacing array pinging for activation. Honestly, as if he had been starving for this since the day Tarn left Messatine behind and him untouched.

Maybe there was a kernel of truth there, but he was entirely unwilling to discuss or think about it now. He fit so nicely against the entirely overheated, burly frame beneath him. The brute, the monster, who touched him so expertly and demanded a full view.

“The things other mech would do to be in your position right now,” Pharma whispered as he opened his panel sweetly, revealing his array of white and blue. It had not been modified since Messatine, only received a service pack now and then so it wouldn’t fall into disrepair...and it was still as beautiful as when it was forged. It was also dripping fat droplets onto Tarn’s heated frame as soon as the panel moved.

Pharma never did have anything to be ashamed of.

 

Tarn didn’t rush to touch his valve as soon as it was revealed, though his digits twitched to. He took his sweet time examining it while his servos slid around his, stroking Pharma’s thighs while he gently pulled them apart. Pharma’s valve parted just a touch, and Tarn swallowed.

Holding onto one knee, his free servo swept up his leg and dipped below. Tarn traced the seams there, feeling out the outline of his hip joint. The biolights that framed Pharma pulsed in time with his spark, a distracting fact that Tarn noted distantly.

Slowly, a digit stroked the outer part of his valve. Tarn didn’t rush, even when he allowed the command for his panel to pass through and his spike pressurized. His thumb lazily slid down the slit, collecting the fluid there and smearing it around. Then he brushed up, to where his anterior node twinkled enticingly.

He massaged it slowly, optics rising to Pharma’s face. Despite his slow pace, his frame didn’t hide his screaming eagerness to take Pharma. His internal temperature crept up and his fans were at their highest setting. The entire room was sweltering.

But he would not rush.

One digit slid in past his plush lining. Tarn eased the tight clench of rings inside, urging them to cycle apart for him. Pharma had always needed extensive preparation before he could take him.

 

Cooling protocols were not something Pharma struggled with often. As a flier and a medic, he could never afford to have overheating affect his vital systems. Other lives depended on him. Or at least, that was the intention of his function. Pharma never did put much value into being an evac vessel.

Tarn’s touch was torture and bliss in one. The slide of those thick digits over his plating had him shudder, circuits spasming with conflicted signals, never sure whether to give in or deny the contact. His valve contracted when a breath of hot air blasted between them, demanding Tarn’s digits, begging for more.

But they should not rush. Pharma licked his lips without taking notice when Tarn’s spike pressurized. Too long had he missed this treatment balanced between being used and being wanted.

He himself did not make effort to caress or admire Tarn. That was never how it worked. He was the delicate, beautiful trophy, and Tarn the lucky brute who got to frag him.

If Tarn was paying close attention, he might see that the settings for Pharma’s calipers were not cycled down at all.

 

Tarn pushed a second digit in, not minding that it was still a little tight even with the one. He enjoyed the way Pharma opened up around him, the process of forcing his legs and calipers apart until Pharma didn’t have the will to stop him. The slick noise of the fluids dripping from him could only be completed by his breathy moans and high screams. As lubricant gushed around his digits, Tarn released Pharma’s knee and grabbed his thin, beautiful neck.

Look at me ,” he rumbled, “ Don’t stifle yourself, dear .”

His spike ached for attention. But the agonizing, electrifying pain of anticipation and want would make the prize all that much sweeter. Tarn imagined the wet clench of Pharma’s valve around his spike, and a dull heat throbbed inside him.

Two became three. They jostled inside Pharma’s valve, forcing him wider no matter how much the calipers rippled and tried to draw closer. It strained with the effort, stretched wide.

 

Pharma was not one to be coy when it came to his pleasures. Especially not in company such as this, and with thick claws in his valve. He allowed himself the moan, then the breathy demand for Tarn to delve deeper. His delicate blue servos found hold on Tarn’s treads, neck leaned into the touch. If he was going to be choked, he may as well enjoy every moment of it.

He never wondered where the fear had gone. The moment Tarn wanted him this badly, he knew he was too precious to die.

“You’re slow,” he complained when he finally could focus on the burning optics behind that mask. A mask that thoroughly irritated him, and yet he made no attempt for it. Yet.

 

We have a long night ahead ,” Tarn replied, unfazed. He indulged in the sensation of Pharma’s inner valve, how it tensed and relaxed around his digits. Internal node clusters embedded deep in the walls were now laid out flat, exposed for his explorative touch.

He probed and touched, sensing the way Pharma’s spark reacted to different things. It was as telling as the mech himself, jumping and pulsing whenever Tarn found the right spot to press at. Equally distracting was the rush of energon in Pharma’s neck, right under his thumb. Tarn could practically hear it, so thick and full of life, begging to be lapped up.

His digits withdrew. They left Pharma with a rush of lubricant, leaving his gaping valve bereft, and Tarn grabbed one of Pharma’s servos where they clutched at his shoulders. He pressed it against Pharma’s abdomen, right where his plating receded the most.

Right where one could feel the slide of Tarn’s spike entering him. Tarn delighted in the discovery, and made sure to remind Pharma of it whenever possible.

As he lowered Pharma down on his spike, Tarn’s helm fell back so he could glory in the sensation. The tip was swallowed up greedily and he groaned, long and loud. Pharma opened up around him beautifully and willingly, taking in his spike with practiced effort. A little wriggle here and a wiggle there let more slide in. Tarn felt his calipers bend back, crushed against the valve walls, as Pharma reached his limit but he ignored it.

His engine was roaring, Tarn realized dimly.

 

Pharma felt as if he’d been incomplete, until this moment, when he could feel Tarn slide into him with the usual aches and pains and bulging plating. It was...no one could understand. No one could see or understand just why this was everything to Pharma, and none but Tarn could give him this. The thick spike was only one part of the equation, everything terrifying about Tarn was a necessity to making Pharma pliant and desperate.

He throned on the mech, sighing with thinly veiled pleasure as calipers were flattened and he could feel his abdominal plating curve. Tarn was home , his blissful smirk said, and Pharma welcomed him there.

A moan of the councillor’s name and Pharma had to lower his hand back to Tarn’s treads so that he could leverage out his weight as he started grinding and moving, riding the thick spike he’d been missing so fiercely that he had not readjusted his valve for anyone else.

“How could you give this up in the first place?” He accused.

 

If Pharma was looking for an apology and explanation out of Tarn, he would be sorely disappointed. He didn’t reply as his servo went to Pharma’s hips, holding him steady while the medic rode him. Their acidic banter could wait - Tarn had no desire to spoil his pleasure.

Tarn pulled Pharma lower by the neck. “ Shut up ,” he growled. The bottom of his mask slid back and Tarn bit down on the cables of his neck. His denta pierced through lines, making hot inner energon gush out. He licked it up with a heated sigh.

The sweet taste of him was now complete. His smirk curled up against Pharma’s neck. “ I wasn’t the one with a string of replacements .”

 

Pharma couldn’t fight the command of that voice, so he glared instead, flinching in delighted pain when Tarn had the audacity to lap at his energon, the filthy brute. Everything about this was right, from the way Tarn burned up beneath him to how he stretched inside of him. Pharma had missed it sorely, and he was well aware of that fact as he pushed that spike deep enough to brush his tank.

When he finally could speak again, his tone was triumphant.

“But you were the jealous one, so it obviously worked.”

 

Tarn severed another thin line at that. “ Don’t push your luck ,” he hissed into Pharma’s audial. They flipped around and Tarn thrust into the pinned medic now under him. He pressed down on Pharma, pushing him into the berth and making his plating groan under his weight. Tarn nipped his jaw when he went for another open line. Warm, wet energon trickled down Pharma’s shoulder, under his armor.

Tarn left dents in Pharma as he pounded into him forcefully, drawing out every bit of reaction he could from the mech. Livid lines of purple paint was left on his chassis from where they scraped against each other, complemented by scores of thin scratches.

Each thrust from tarn was enough to push Pharma up a few inches on the berth, until he was trapped between the headboard and Tarn.

 

Dents, marks, energon. Everything was blurring together to shape Pharma’s perfect night and Tarn was the key. It was difficult to remember why he’d been so reluctant at first, on Messatine, when this brute happened upon him with a deal that would not be refused. It was difficult to see how he failed to understand that Tarn wanted him as a trophy, not a kill.

It wasn’t difficult to want him now. Pharma had shaped his past months of life entirely on Tarn, on being a nuisance, on spilling his secrets. And here he was now, reaping the rewards. Tarn was predictable in his lust and it suited Pharma just fine.

More moans tumbled from his mouth, free of any guilt to be enjoying this. Pharma earned this. Every scrape, dent and paint streak.

 

Overload was a relief. It’d been a long time since he last had Pharma - a long time since his last overload. Tarn tensed as charge crackled up his chassis, skipping between their two frames, and lit up the room with the lightshow. His biolights pulsed a sudden harsh glow before dimming and Tarn squeezed Pharma’s neck, almost breaking the struts there.

Transfluid spilled into Pharma as Tarn hunched over him, steam escaping his seams. His optics dimmed - then brightened. In a single, titanic rippling motion, his plating shifted and realigned themselves before Tarn lowered himself on Pharma, mindful of his cockpit.

It was like working out a kink in one’s neck. The relief lasted only moments before Tarn was rubbing at Pharma’s node again, licking at the damage on his neck.

 

Pharma had prepared for Tarn’s threatening promise to come true and held onto his charge, if only because it would make the next session so much more intense. Tarn did say all night, until he forgot everything except the tankformer, didn’t he?

So far, Pharma still held onto his memory. A smirk clung to his lips, even as Tarn sucked a little more energon from the broken lines on his neck. Savage. Brute. Wonderful. Nothing could compare to what he and Tarn shared. The fear of Tarn had mutated into something insidious and addicting and Pharma was fully revelling in every moment of it. His valve clenched, a few calipers broken, but everything still functional and wet.

“You never replaced me.”

Smug. Pharma was smug and right.

 

You talk too much .”

Tarn shoved his digits into Pharma again. His valve was sloppy with fluids now, puffy from the abuse. Tarn stretched it again, cruelly tugging at the broken calipers he could feel inside it. He could feel the charge Pharma held onto and that really would not do, would it?

I might feel tempted to put something better in your open mouth, ” Tarn leered at him and pinched his anterior node. A claw traced the edges of Pharma’s mouth, followed the seam of his lips. Pharma always did look prettier with something plugging it, to keep that poison glossa from wagging.

Tarn would have to keep it in mind. A claw pierced Pharma’s bottom lip, making a drop of energon well up.

Tarn swirled his clawtip over it before idly scratching down the rest of his lip, splitting it open. More heady, tempting energon swelled up.

Inside Pharma, his digits found his ceiling node. Tarn touched it lightly at first before digging in. “ I wish you still cried ,” Tarn murmured to him, “ You looked better like that .”

 

More energon, more charge and more of Tarn’s talent. Pharma’s engine was revving with delight, and the absence of a whine from his turbine only delivered further proof that the medic was no longer afraid of his former tormentor. Now, Tarn was his reward.

With the claw near his mouth and one on his ceiling node, his snappy comebacks were not entirely possible, instead drowned out by a moan, hitching as Tarn dug in further.

But Pharma would never miss an opportunity to fire back, and the night was still young.

“You’d look better without the mask but I’m not complaining.”

 

Who says you deserve to see anything ?”

Pharma’s complaints about his mask were never-ending. Ever since he began to enjoy their time together (which was also the end of his tears, unfortunately), he needled Tarn for a chance to see his face. And Tarn refused him, each and every time.

Only my lord may demand it of me .” He dug his thumb into Pharma’s anterior node to shut him up again. It made slick noises as he massaged it. Tarn’s digit edged its way into his mouth too. Pharma could try biting down - it didn’t hurt, as they both knew. “ Put that mouth to good use ,” Tarn told him.

 

His lord. Megatron. Mention of him was usually enough for Pharma to lose every ounce of desire, but with Tarn massaging his node and bludgeoning him with his talent, he could hardly refuse. Tarn’s vicious claws disappeared into Pharma’s mouth where the medic lavished his attention on the dark digits with dedication he no longer had towards anything else. Tarn had devoured his life, back on Delphi and now, here. Yet Pharma wasn’t complaining, or running. Grinding down on Tarn’s claws within him brought him his first overload of the night and Pharma leaned entirely into the tankformer who trapped him so tightly against the berth.

Good. About twenty more of these and he might forgive Tarn for not paying attention to him sooner. Thirty, and he might approach forgetting everything else as promised.

 

Tarn caught a few of the sparks that flowed from Pharma. The charge made his engine turn over and he smiled at the pleasant hum of energy. Pharma wasn’t going to be walking tomorrow, that was certain.

His digit slid out of Pharma’s mouth with a wet pop. Tarn arranged him again, never content to remains still for long. Pharma’s face was shoved into the berth while his aft was hitched up. On his knees, back arched, presenting his valve like the best high-class shareware in the Golden Age, Pharma made for a gorgeous sight.

His spike nudged at his valve, but Tarn didn’t thrust all the way in. He grabbed Pharma’s arms instead, so he could no longer hold himself up with them. Pulling them back made his wings flutter prettily, suddenly trapped against his own frame. Tarn held both of his wrists in one massive servo so he could reach over and touch his wings.

Beautiful. Sleek. Responsive. Tarn stroked their edges and the hooked ends, traced the medic’s sign on each one. Strings of fluid dripped from Pharma’s hungry valve but he still held back from pushing in.

In this position, Pharma was entirely at Tarn’s mercy once more.

You should take tomorrow off ,” he said, casual. He left Pharma’s wings alone to stroke over his aft.

 

The position put Pharma into an uncomfortable amount of tension, especially because he couldn’t see Tarn or what he was doing and his valve felt woefully empty. What was the tankformer waiting for? Could he possibly resist, or was he cutting the night short?

The words reassured him though and Pharma marginally relaxed, wingtips fanning out again as his ailerons shifted open to allow more heat to be dumped than his vents could handle. Tarn really was a furnace this close.

“I already did. I have no plans for the rest of the week.”

Mostly because he’d be in self-repair and hammering out dents, possibly.

 

The week ?” Tarn chuckled. “ You are eager .”

Tarn wondered what the fallout might be if he denied Pharma again after this. Something incredible, probably. Pharma might even concoct another plague in his offense.

That alone was reason enough to do it again.

Tarn angled downward, and thrust. Not into Pharma’s valve, but just below it. His spike pushed through his thighs and the ridges on top pulled at his node. Tarn leisurely enjoyed the slow burn twisting up inside him again, taking advantage of the slicking coating Pharma’s inner thighs while his spike rubbed maddeningly against his anterior node.

Now, let’s talk .” They tended to have their most enlightening conversations in the throes of passion. Tarn liked that about Pharma. Even at his most vulnerable, he never lost his edge. “ As I said - I have higher goals for you. Domination… taking power…

He pushed Pharma’s legs closer, making a tighter crevice to thrust into. “ ...and I want you to work as one of my agents in this .”

 

Pharma crooned his pleasure, not yet objecting to anything Tarn did or said, although it was a little maddening to have an empty valve clutch at air whilst his node was being entirely over-stimulated. Tarn did always like to have the most important conversations at the worst times. Pharma disliked the idea of someone trying to catch him offguard, but it hadn’t happened just yet.

“An agent?” he purred, rubbing himself as best he could against Tarn. The position limited his motions, Tarn’s grip limited his flexibility but damn it all to the Pits, Pharma would get his overloads.

 

Yes. You do have an in with Starscream, don’t you ?”

Pharma’s wriggling against him was growing distracting. Tarn pulled him back, making him arch enticingly and push his aft into Tarn, and he nipped at his chevron.

He thinks you want to ruin me. And I want to ruin him .”

Pharma’s wings were pinned between them, his wrists still trapped in his servo. Tarn nuzzled the side of his helm, driving sharply angled metal in his cheeks, and pressed his lips to Pharma’s audial. His power thrummed in the air, deep and compelling. “ So keep up your farce. Let him believe he has an ally. Tell me his plans, his motives. Be my optic and audial in his company .”

Tarn paused, and drew back. When he thrust in again, his spike impaled Pharma. Made tight by his closed legs, Tarn had to hold him in place as he pushed in. Ridges pulled at lining and calipers, dragged over nodes, and he was home again, grinding against his ceiling node.

What do you say ?”

 

How could Pharma do anything but howl his delight? Tarn had a poor habit of asking things at inopportune moments and it took Pharma a solid half minute before he could stem the overwhelming sensation and focus on answering the question that the councillor had formed. Ah yes. An agent, working for Tarn. That was familiar ground, even if their last arrangement had been far more personal.

Pharma had no special attachment to Starscream. The seeker didn’t give his trust easily and the medic had yet to achieve it, but their mutual dislike of Tarn had afforded him in Starscream’s company more than a couple of nights.

Betraying Starscream by giving his information to Tarn? Not a bad idea. Having the potential to double cross Tarn if things went sour between them? Spectacular. Pharma could feel the notion delight him as much as the thick, hot spike impaling him right now.

“What’s in it for me?” he purred.

 

My everlasting gratitude ?” Tarn offered dryly. “ You simply get what all mech want .”

Tarn withdrew nearly all the way out of Pharma before thrusting in brutally, making their plating sing with the impact. “ Power, my dear, you get power . Starscream wants me out of the picture so he can expand in peace - I want the same for him. Once he is out, opposition is minimal. I consolidate my power, I tighten the Decepticon hold on New Iacon and everywhere else we recover from the wild, and ensure that the Cause reigns triumphant .”

His free servo glided over Pharma’s front. It delved between his legs, toying with his anterior node before sweeping up to cradle his chest. Tarn felt the pulse of his spark underneath it, glowing with his power.

And you? You sit at my side. If we succeed, I’m making you my conjunx endura .”

 

Pharma couldn’t keep it together anymore. Tarn’s voice sent his spark plunging into overload, his touch to the node only exacerbated everything and the medic spasmed in his grasp for a couple of seconds, a keen moan Tarn’s temporary answer.

His conjunx?

Tarn really wasn’t keeping anything hidden anymore. He’d be in public, with Pharma at his side. Of course, wouldn’t that just be a great symbol, considering Pharma was still listed as an Autobot...

Pharma knew this wasn’t about emotions outside of the wild, uncanny lust they shared with one another, but he still preened at the notion of being so closely, openly, connected to Tarn. It didn’t matter what was really between them. Others would assume that he somehow tamed this beastly tankformer, and he’d be right at the source of a ruling influence of Cybertron. Which was just perfectly adequate for a divine creature such as Pharma.

Only once his charge dissipated did Pharma crane his neck, bleeding and all, to look at Tarn with a serene little smile and greed in his optics.

“That will do. I agree to your terms.”

 

Tarn caught that smile in a crushing, searing kiss. They remained locked together like that for a moment, sealing their deal in the only way that worked for them. With energon and an interface. Tarn smirked against Pharma, still feeling the effects of his writhing overload on his spike, and licked the trickle of inner energon from his lip before pulling back.

“It’s a deal,” he purred. Another deal, another game, another playing field.

Tarn pressed a kiss to his audial before bending Pharma before him. “Now that’s done with - let’s get the real show on, shall we ?”

 

Chapter Text

It was a good thing Pharma took the rest of the week off, because showing up to the hospital dented and with energon lines bitten and scratched open would surely have raised some questions among his staff.

The morning brought aches and damage reports, and also a completely glowing feeling of satisfaction. Pharma stretched out on the berth, the scene of his vigorous reunion with Tarn, and he remembered each part of their deal. This was a thousand times better than Delphi, and Pharma was ready to play Tarn’s new game. At his side, rather than against him. It would take some thought to get Starscream to trust him, at least marginally, but Pharma had a good idea of how to please the seeker. Stroking his ego was essential, as was feeding him information that he couldn’t get from any other source about Tarn.

Speaking of the tankformer, the furnace blazing next to him was very comfortable to be surrounded by, thick arms draped over Pharma’s frame possessively. There was an obscene pleasure in seeing streaks of white and blue on Tarn, evidence of their connection beyond all doubt.

Congealed energon stuck to his frame here and there and the sticky coating of transfluid would have to be washed off eventually, but for now, Pharma was content to remain where he was. A ping on his commlines revealed several messages from Monitor and Starscream, both enquiring his whereabouts. Pharma ignored them.

“Tarn...” he purred, rousing the councillor at his side, “I’m going to need something particularly interesting to take back to Starscream. Otherwise he will start to doubt my sincerity in pursuing his attention.”

 

Tarn’s slumber had ended hours before Pharma’s had, but he didn’t get up. Instead, he lounged on his berth in a pleasant dozing state, not ready to fire all sensors online again. When the little thing in his arms shifted, active, Tarn reluctantly followed.

He only caught the tail end of Pharma’s words, but he caught their gist anyway. Rather than grace him with an answer, Tarn stretched luxuriously. His treads tightened along his shoulders as he uncurled around Pharma, struts extending until he was taut as a bowstring. Then, with an equally languid sigh, he returned to his previous position, cradling Pharma protectively against his chassis.

A lazy servo pawed at Pharma’s plating. Tarn touched him with no particular purpose, stroking him for the sake of enjoying how he felt.

Red optics onlined. A lazy, content smirk curled around his still exposed mouth - Tarn having forgotten to slid the cover back in since snapping it back - and he pulled Pharma down against himself to thrust his spike into the curve of his inner thigh.

“Does it need to be about me, or can it be something else?” he inquired lethargically, “For example, I know he is trying to take Helex and possibly other cities. Is that enough, or must I muster up more damning evidence against my own person?”

 

Pharma’s gaze clung to the exposed part of Tarn’s face, mustering the damaged derma there. Some medic somewhere had done a shoddy job at taking care of the tankformer, because that cosmetic damage would be as easily fixed as his transformation addiction. It fell to reason that it was Tarn’s will to remain that way so Pharma said nothing on the topic.

His frame was sluggish in its activation, testament to the enduring session they’d had the previous night. Lazily, he tightened the space between his thighs by clenching them together enough to give Tarn a little friction to work with.

“He does love damning evidence against you. And considering I was on Messatine until this peace was officially announced, I think the scope is limited. But I definitely have to give him something to sink into. He’s been pinging me all morning.”

 

“The only thing sinking into you is me,” Tarn growled, digging his claws into Pharma’s arm. “Tell him I still possess old wartime trophies - dead bodies and the like. Not too damning, but enough. He can demand I have my ship searched, and I can graciously give up certain goods.”

Not the bodies, though. He would have to take them down and hide them. But some of the luxuries here could be given away. Tarn could easily replace them.

Tarn thrust into the tight space until he overloaded - a tiny thing compared to the last night’s, but that was a given considering how much they wore themselves out. Pharma had gotten every bit of his promise and then some. Transfluid trickled down his thigh, and Tarn idly searched around until he located Pharma’s node.

“Can you not tell him that you are in my good graces now, and have fresh information?”

 

“Hmm,” Pharma hummed his delight at the reciprocation and he nestled closer to Tarn, eagerly enclosing his servo between his thighs, cockpit resting against the massive chassis. He could get used to waking up like this instead of the efficient, cold routine he’d gotten himself into since returning to Cybertron.

“He’s deeply suspicious. He might suspect something like my working for you if I am suddenly in your good graces. Although if what he finds on the ship is interesting enough, he may be willing to overlook it.”

 

“Tell him you are trying to seduce me.” Tarn rubbed against his ceiling node, coaxing Pharma towards a pleasant overload. “With everything you spilled in your petty crusade against me, he should know that I find you quite irresistible.”

And Pharma’s confessions had been quite the sordid story. Who would think that he would be here in Tarn’s berth willingly, opening his legs for whatever he wanted? “Play up your victimhood. Cry a little. Continue to visit that psychologist of yours and talk about being wracked with nightmares of ‘facing me.”

Tarn frowned. “Or not. That might go against the latter part of our plans. Unless you are good enough of an actor to pretend it is because you were lovesick?”

 

A mellow, lowkey overload was always a good thing in the morning and Pharma found himself most amenable to Tarn’s suggestion. He could indeed play up the victimhood, he already had extensively to share his story very publically. He was probably the last mech anyone expected to find in Tarn’s berth at any point.

But his public image was firmly in Pharma’s control and he would use it as necessary. Twisting it should almost come naturally.

“Lovesick?” the charge was sparking his optics a brighter blue as Pharma looked up at Tarn, “it’s a little early to sow those seeds, isn’t it? I can’t be your victim and try to seduce you...it has to come from Starscream. I know he wants to suggest it to me, he understood that you and I have a connection quite unlike any other.”

 

“Whatever works. You can manage something, surely. If not - engineer a sickness and get rid of him.”

It was time to get up. While Tarn would have liked to laze around all day talking to Pharma and overloading when the mood struck, he had a duty to uphold. A wash, and then he would need to go. His mask slipped back into place, sealing his mouth from the world.

“Come to the fresher with me,” he said. In his mellow mood, Tarn was a generous - even warm - lover. He was always his kindest right after a spectacular ‘face. “You’re positively filthy.”

 

This part was new. Back on Messatine, Pharma had washed his heated frame off with snow and ice out in the mountains before returning to his clinic, vaguely dented. But the terms had changed, the game was different and so was Tarn. Pharma welcomed the opportunity, though he would have liked to be carried in those thick arms rather than slide his legs over the side of the berth and walk.

“Did you read the report on the Red Rust? I doubt they got the full, magnificent details of it, but the outbreak takes hold after the first transformation and kills you from the inside out. I pictured you the entire time I developed it.”

 

Tarn left the door open for Pharma to follow him in. “I did,” he confirmed, “it was quite impressive, really. You might have succeeded in killing me if I actually returned to Delphi.”

He stepped into the hot spray. It sluiced between his plating, wetting the dried fluids on him and washing them away. “You might have won. And then where would you be, with me dead?”

 

There wasn’t much space with Tarn in the room but Pharma managed to squeeze himself in alongside the tankformer.

“Bored, certainly. Cybertron really hasn’t got much to offer me at all.”

He had to think back to his arrival. How glum he’d felt, getting off that shuttle. How elated when he learned Tarn was here and taking on some form of public role. His goal had been clear from that moment on; to reconnect with the only mech who managed to scare and thrill him at the same time. Everything else had paled in comparison. Only Pharma’s own reputation struck him as important enough to dedicate some time and effort to, and that’s how he managed to get himself back to work. His skills were too valuable to waste, so all it took was a sobbed confession to one overworked psychologist mech and he was back in business. Back at the front of his field and in a position to access Tarn.

And here he was.

“I made an antidote to the Red Rust. For myself. And maybe to keep you alive long enough to see if you could break down. I felt quite strongly about you back then, Tarn.”

 

“You lost your chance,” Tarn said, turning his face into the spray. His optics dimmed. “You won’t ever have the chance to repeat that. What a shame.”

His last act would have been to kill Pharma, certainly. Revenge was a good motivator. And of course, trusting a mech who admitted to their plot to murder you was never how one survived. Tarn might be willing to keep Pharma in his confidences - and his berth - but he would be keeping an optic on him nonetheless. Pharma was a snake, one that could not be trusted.

“It would have been wise for you to kill me as quickly as possible. Because otherwise -” He grabbed Pharma by the neck and held him there. Not squeezing to crush, but to remind. “- you would have died out there right next to me. In pain .”

He released Pharma. The harsh solvent had worn out all the fluid on him. Tarn rubbed at the paint streaks and they flaked off his matte coverage. “Be here when I return,” he said and left Pharma in the fresher alone.

 

He would be. Pharma was quite sure that whatever happened in his life, he’d be back here, with Tarn, eventually. The medic laughed quietly to himself at the absurdity of his life as the solvent sprayed his frame clean.

 

-x-

 

“...It’s Tarn. Excuse me, Optimus.”

Megatron did not often get calls these days. When he stepped down from being the leader of the Decepticons and his trial became null and void, attention had peeled away from him in great big chunks. It briefly resurfaced when he and Optimus announced their intended journey, but then it dropped away again in one fell swoop. He was obsolete news, a relic of the past, and he quite appreciated it that way.

Let Cybertron forget him. He could not absolve himself of his misdeeds quite so readily, but amends could be made out of the public’s eye.

He let Tarn have his way and the limelight. The mech was good at it, frighteningly so, despite never having been trained for intrigues and scheming and politics. A natural talent, perhaps?

In any case, Megatron had withdrawn his guidance, mostly. Tarn could manage on his own and he should, so that he might develop a life separate from what Megatron indoctrinated him with. No one deserved to be under his fist for their entire existence. Tarn’s very presence was a painful reminder of his mistakes and Megatron was glad he was no longer in physical distance of the mech.

::What is it,Tarn?::

 

::Greetings, my lord. I only wanted to bring you reports of my deeds here. All is going to plan, you may be happy to know. The Decepticons are rallied and everyday, we win more power in the council. Several sympathetic NAILs have come under our banner as well, and Autobot power remains stymied. Starscream will also be removed soon.::

Tarn’s informal report was just him telling Megatron everything worth discussing. He quickly described the situation with Helex and the badgeless, but promised to rectify the matter as soon as possible. To make up for it, he happily described his efforts in creating more efficiency in the system, which incidentally opened up several key positions for loyal Decepticons to take.

::- while Smokestack is not the most acute administrator, he has camaraderie with this crowd. By appointing him as their manager, I think that a better relationship can be opened up with the labor immigrant influx from Caminus. And - hm.::

Tarn cleared his vocalizer. ::I’ve also elected to take on a conjunx, my lord. To calm the inquiries going around, you see.::

 

None of what Tarn was reporting to him made Megatron any easier about the situation. He wanted the factions dissolved and the people united, but it was taking expected turns of old political games, mecha craving power and clamouring over each other. The news of Helex were disturbing too. No city should be without access to all of the population and Tarn’s stance on it was no doubt too aggressive.

What came next however, shocked Megatron into silence. He’d heard rumors of Tarn’s misdeeds, surfacing on news outlets and alike. He was ashamed to know his protege had pushed the margins of what was acceptable with such vivacity, even under his command. It proved what was slowly becoming more evident to him; he was never the ideal leader he believed himself to be. Doubt and guilt ravaged his processor as he composed his reply.

::A conjunx for the sake of appearing more likeable, Tarn? Do not let yourself fall to such lows...such a bond should be made out of emotional connection and earnest feelings. You don’t need to go to such extremes to hold your office.::

 

Far away from his lord, inside his ship securely, Tarn paused his comm with a confused twist to his face. He spoke, sounding a little more uncertain.

::...he agreed to be my conjunx, my lord. He is… he is an Autobot - but an intelligent one, one who sees the wisdom in the Cause. Pharma desires to see me in power as well, as it strengthens his own position. I am still loyal.::

Tarn took a moment. ::Everything you hear about me is surface lies, my lord. Pharma spread them after we had a disagreement and he was upset with me. But it has been resolved now.::

After a quick split-second of indecision, Tarn sent an attachment. A simple photo of Pharma, looking quite lovely. His lord’s strange temperament befuddled him but it would not stop him from making sure his lord knew everything going on.

 

::So let me clarify what this mech you’ve chosen to bond with has done; publically exposed your misdeeds from the war. Your nuke addiction. Your collection of t-cogs from corpses that may or may not have been innocent victims. Worked against you out of personal spite. Now working with you to gain power.::

Honestly, to Megatron, every flag was red. This Pharma, a pretty medic, looked to be as malicious and greedy for power as Starscream himself. From the photo, it was obvious this was old stock; forged well before the war, in the petty excess of the Golden Age.

::Do you honestly expect me to sanction a bond that should be made out of mutual trust and love with someone like this? Wasn’t this the medic from the Messatine plague disaster?::

Megatron sighed, pinching his nasal ridge. For all his intelligence, Tarn was still far too enchanted by pretty, worthless trophies.

::Do what you will. And I will remind you, I am not your lord anymore. I’m not anyone’s lord anymore.::

 

::Pharma is a petty sort who takes offense easily. But most of these problems have been… resolved. I had a very extensive discussion with him regarding the matter, and he agreed that such displays were no longer in his best interests. And he was the one who orchestrated the plague, sir. It was originally designed to kill me - quite a clever idea, really. Of course, it failed.::

Tarn reported the disaster proudly. His lord would see the beauty in such a thing, surely - the use in someone who could design such weapons. All would be well. His mistrust was understandable - even expected. Pharma was an Autobot, after all, and a former high-caste to boot.

::But he has been tamed. I would have killed him otherwise. How fares your journey?::

 

Megatron blanched. Tarn was speaking of this mech like it was some sort of achievement to rally him to his side. It was exactly the kind of alliance that would ruin his reputation. Murderers and madmech did not make for good bed companions, and Tarn was poising to repeat the mistakes Megatron had made four million years ago.

::I cannot believe you would be so foolish. I am...disappointed, Tarn. We put all this behind us. I asked you to lay down arms, not collect dangerous mech for another war. I urge you to reevaluate your choices regarding this Pharma. If he wanted to kill you once, he may still harbor that desire. Don’t fall to your own hubris.::

Megatron ended the transmission, setting his commline to busy without ever answering the question of how his journey was going. It wasn’t important. Tarn was not his keeper.

 

While Tarn was staring at his comm in disbelief, Orion Pax roused himself from his seat at the bridge to walk over to Megatron. “You sound disturbed,” he said, laying a servo on his shoulder. “You usually do after talking with Tarn. Did he do something?”

 

“The better question would be what Tarn hasn’t done in my absence.” Megatron could not shake the disappointment, his field flat and once again entangling itself with guilt. Orion’s presence was a balm, if a small one, but it didn’t stop his plummeting mood.

“He’s glossing over his bad public image with a conjunx. One he knew during the war...one he blackmailed during the war. It’s a recipe for disaster and I...I just can’t steer him right.”

 

“You knew this would take time. It’s a victory if he hasn’t blown up the city.” Orion wasn’t sure when he was the one to reassure Megatron about the state of Cybertron, but he didn’t mind his new role. He gave him an assuring pat. “It can’t be too bad. Have some faith. After all, you were the one to urge him into this position in the first place. You must have seen something in him to do that.”

He tugged Megatron out of his chair, trying to coax him out of his slump. “I told you, don’t worry too much. And don’t call me Optimus.”

 

“Right...Orion Pax.” Megatron took it like a mantra, Optimus’ old name that he still had such strong ties to. The touch was nice. Comforting. Orion was there, and he was the only one, by their choice. Optimus had suggested the journey and Megatron forgot the destination, the goal to all of this.

“What if I made another mistake? Tarn has potential, he is smart, but he...is also blinded so easily. I put him there to keep Starscream in check...but what if I just made everything worse? What if my meddling sets Cybertron up for another war? I can’t have any more sparks on my conscience.”

Was this what Optimus had felt during the entire war? The weight of death on his shoulders? It was too heavy a burden for one mech to bear, surely.

 

“Then we go back and we pull them out of it and then we kick those responsible for it. These growing pains are expected for everything, Megatron. Peace would not be so easy, otherwise we would have achieved it long ago.”

Orion touched his forehead to Megatron’s. “Tell him to stop, if it worries you so much. I don’t want to see you in distress like this.”

Their relationship had bloomed once they left Cybertron behind. A few tentative nights spent together suddenly became a shared single berth and hab. It was like a gargantuan weight was lifted from Megatron’s shoulders as all his plots and schemes were left behind, giving him the space he needed to finally relinquish his old grudges. And the more time he spent in his presence, the more Megatron seemed to understand the vitality of peace and freedom.

He was… kinder now. Softer. Gentler. He confessed regret for his deeds, and remorse. And Orion took it all on gladly, lightened by his acceptance of his wrongdoing. At first he had been suspicious, but time proved him true.

It was like a dream come true. Orion could hardly believe his luck anymore. Who could have thought that domesticity would have suited Megatron so well?

“And who knows? Maybe Tarn has found love, as unlikely as it may be.”

 

“With someone like that? It seems highly unlikely.” Megatron was not a mech who welcomed physical touch and comfort, but Orion was the exception to the rule. His presence had been nothing but soothing, once they could leave the age-old distrust behind. Maybe he was beginning to grow soft and spoiled, but he appreciated being allowed a personal life with the mech he loved .

“I am being a hypocrite. But murderous villain-types don’t usually get a honeymoon and true love as an afterthought to their crimes.”

 

“If you can find happiness and peace, why not Tarn? Let him be and relax .”

Soothing his anxiety, Orion tugged him further away from the bridge, deeper into their ship. “Hypocrite? You never called yourself that before,” he teased.

You never have. You refused to acknowledge that. Why now?

He buried that thought for later perusal.

“We’re going to be landing soon. Stop grumbling and lighten up. We got away from Cybertron to get away from politics - not just be involved from afar.”

 

“And here I thought we were getting away from Cybertron because you wanted to show me Earth again, on your terms.”

The idea was terrible but Megatron would have accepted any that came out of Orion’s mouth at this point. It was their journey that counted, not the destination.

“I don't think humanity will accept my apology.”

 

“Humanity is a young species with fast memories. Once we promise to leave them in peace, they will accept your apology. We all can make amends - no one is ever truly beyond redemption. It is the apology itself that is the act of remorse, not its acceptance.”

Orion looked back at the front of the ship. Earth’s still image glowed on it, blue and organic, and he felt a smile crinkle up the edges of his optics.

This was good. Everything was good .

What could go wrong?

Chapter Text

Things were not good.

Tarn gloomily sulked in his office all day after his disastrous dialogue with his lord. He wiped his schedule clean of appointments, shoving them all back to the next day and simply drank engex to wash his sorrows down. He mournfully contacted his scattered division instead, using their reports to soothe is wounded pride. His background music to his drinking was Kaon’s low, droning voice. Tarn wasn’t bothered by the fact that he was turning to engex more and more as his duty’s stresses grew numerous - no, he was preoccupied by grumbling his woes to his sympathetic subordinates.

He even refused Pharma’s presence, demanding time to sulk in solitude. His excuse had been that he needed isolation to consider his lord’s words carefully, but Tarn never cared for concealing his poor mood. Clearly, something had gone wrong somewhere and he didn’t need Pharma’s distracting person to pull him away from his task of morosely wondering what he might have done wrong to offend his lord.

For the first time in weeks, Pharma was left alone without Tarn’s overbearing company.

The music was splendid.

There were many things Pharma enjoyed about what remained of Tarn's collection, the music and the engex at the forefront. The raid under Starscream's authority had turned up a few interesting bits and pieces, but the real treasures remained under lock and key and secrecy, only to be enjoyed by their curator and Pharma, his future conjunx.

The notion still had his wingtips flutter with anticipation. Not for the ritual or the bonding, no. For the attention, the publicity. He was working on his speeches, preparing to be the sweetest, most sincere act of a fool in love Cybertron had ever witnessed. Pharma never fancied himself an actor, but it was never too late to expand his glowing repertoire of skills.

Tarn's sour mood passed him by, unaffected. What use was it to share his woes? Their relationship served as means to an end, and Pharma was only invested in what he'd receive. He made no effort beyond interfacing to interact with Tarn.

If his company wasn't desperately wanted, Pharma would not waste the effort.

What he did with the time, Tarn didn't dictate and Pharma would have ignored any rules given to him anyway. He was no longer in the worse position to decide his fate with the tankformer.

Who had an obsessive amount of memorabilia Pharma was currently examining. He didn't know if Tarn expected him to guess at the passcode for his new, secret trophy room, but Megatron's date of commission from the factory turned out to be the correct combination.

Oh Tarn.

It was like walking into a store that had the obscene idea of producing merchandise surrounding Megatron's person. Were there stores as such during the height of Decepticon power? They'd be in incredibly poor taste, considering, well, everything.

Pharma saw first edition copies of datapads, manuscripts written by those closest to Megatron. He saw an old fusion cannon model, a plethora of motivational recruitment posters and holograms and something that looked to be a life-size replica of the warlord himself.

It was both amusing and horrifying to walk into Tarn's closet like this, but Pharma persisted until he found the video collection. Of every single moment Tarn dared to record with his lord. Morbid curiosity had Pharma settle in between gunmetal grey furniture and the glare of crimson optics from every wall.

What made Tarn the way he was? What did Megatron do to indoctrinate him so deeply? Pharma intended to find out.

 

The video collection was meticulously ordered, separated by date, category,  and location. They were well-worn from being watched over and over again through the years, but obviously well-cared for. Everything in the room, in fact, was well-cared for. Most of the memorabilia had to be older than some mecha but Tarn’s diligence meant that much of their condition was preserved perfectly.

Had it been any other time, Tarn might have been a lot more careful about his collection and how much of it Pharma had access to. But his current busy state meant that he didn’t have the time to ensure that the most private pieces were separate from the public ones - everything he treasured ended up in his vault, the vault that Pharma had so casually walked into.

Tarn would be furious if he ever found out. But right now, he was sulking alone.

The vault itself was plainly luxurious, like everything else Tarn favored. A small cinema decorated one wall, with plush cushions to rest on so one could watch scenes play across the wall. The first video in the collection, dated several millennia back, was labelled simply.

  1. The Finding.

The video quality itself was poor. Whoever controlled the camera had no finesse - or interest in it. It pointed at a servo that connected to a wrist. A little more of someone’s chassis could be seen, but their face and most of their body was obscured by the poor angle.

“...This is my first video since what happened,” started the narration. The voice was raspy, far from Tarn’s rich bass, and cut out into static every so often. “Since - since they left me. Since he found me.”

The visible servo clenched and the damage was visible. Cracks raced up the grey metal, ending at two digits that were stripped bare of their protective outer cover, revealing glittering circuit boards and wires. Burst fuel lines trickled congealing energon. The owner of the voice spasmed, clearly pained, and they cradled their damaged servo to their chest.

“He - he promised to repair me. After the disposables found me out there, in the Waste… he had no reason to. He had no reason! But he did. I don’t know why. Why was I left? Why did he find me? Why did no one look for me?”

The video cut to black. A different scene played out. Two voices could be heard. Only Megatron’s face could be seen. He was staring down at someone. “...yes, you can record this. I promise you no harm, R-” an electric screech cut off the name. “I understand if you need evidence to bring back, then you can -”

“No, it’s not about that,” the previous voice said, “It’s just… insurance.”

“No one here means you harm,” Megatron said, “After all, we found you. Not after Pax and his friends left you to die out there.”

“No, they couldn’t have,” the voice said, pleading, “It’s not… no… they wouldn’t leave me.”

“Do you think so?” Megatron’s face smiled. “Let’s talk, R-”

Another cut to black. Many of the videos were like that, with awkward angles deliberately hiding the owner’s face. They showed glimpses of orange and grey armor, of large servos and a tall frame. Only the voice, gentle and soft, was a constant.

  1. The Knowing. 003. The Reveal. 004. The Acceptance.

The obscure strange titles wore on and on. If they held any connection to the actual videos, only Tarn knew. But slowly, the pieces were coming together. From the way Megatron spoke, to the strange scenes of machinery breaking down when the voice spoke, to the long conversations about an Orion Pax, Tarn’s history was being pieced together. The sordid past - being abandoned, nearly dying, being found and indoctrinated, came into a single picture of the imposing mech himself.

Somehow, however, Tarn’s usual oratory skill was not present. The videos were timelines as much as they were a diary. And the voice occasionally spoke alone, narrating fears of an oncoming war and questions about friends he no longer knew. They described things he saw - the beautiful and the ugly - and his thoughts on them. Some of them were just long recordings of the sky, where fliers could be seen weaving elaborate patterns.

It was in one of these soft narrations that Pharma’s name cropped up. It was brief, barely a sidenote.

“Orion mentioned Ratchet was going to open up some kind of clinic. He said that one of his coworkers - Pharma? - thought it was a bad idea. But I think it could be useful. It’s time that medical expertise was no longer confined to the high castes… I just wish I could see it. But Megatronus told me I was better off staying in Kaon for now...”

With a low sigh, the video cut off. Yet another entry, yet another snapshot of Tarn and his checkered past. And the tone was growing darker as Megatron’s name was dropped more and more, and musings of old friends became angry accusations. Nothing was ever clearly stated, but the anger behind the progressing series was near palpable.

 

Pharma watched it all with relatively little interest. It was the work of a deluded mind, detailing a descent into madness. And most importantly, it still didn’t reveal Tarn’s previous identity to Pharma. He’d never cared to grow familiar with Orion Pax, later known as Optimus Prime. He cared little for Ratchet and his ill-advised little clinic in Rodion. Pharma had been at the height of society back then.

A wistful sigh escaped him as he skipped through the videos, finding nothing but notes on a life he wasn’t familiar with. A lot of thoughtless, worshipping drivel about Megatron too. If he had any doubts that this soft-voiced individual was Tarn, they would have been erased then.

Sipping engex, Pharma skipped millions of years worth of entries. They grew shorter, fewer in between until, suddenly there were new entries. Their numbers put them in the thousands of recordings, but the date was what interested Pharma.

Tarn’s return to Cybertron. Megatron’s plan. The two of them melting their cannons in the same acid pool. It was almost embarrassing, with what reverence Tarn had recorded each detail, each meeting with the mech he clearly worshipped blindly.

Ah. This was the kind of material Starscream would kill for. It was too bad for the seeker that Tarn’s deal was better and Pharma’s loyalty already bought, else this would have been the jackpot, the key to returning to the much-needed trial for Megatron, the biggest war criminal of them all.

The most recent entry was on screen now, and judging from the angles, Tarn had filmed them himself again, considering not many mech could reach helm-height on Megatron himself. The mech looked grim as always, but his words, spoken in private, were rather gentle. Had the end of the war really changed the mech? Pharma doubted it severely. Everything about Megatron was meant for war. From the jarring severity of his face to the blunt, dull edges of his helm. Function; soldier, that’s what that frame screamed. Pharma examined him closer, trying to find what Tarn found so sensational about the mech.

Nothing. Just gunmetal grey and a grim expression.

Megatron turned, on screen, and Pharma paused, squinting at the back of his helm. His wingtips straightened and he leaned his body forward, surgical lenses extending over his optic.

“...Oh Primus. This is...”

The ping he sent to Tarn was nothing but delicate, and urgent.

 

Tarn would have ignored the ping if it wasn’t for it being marked urgent . And even Pharma, irreverent slattern that he was, didn’t use it frivolously. If he thought something genuinely needed to be brought to Tarn’s attention despite his clear orders to be left alone, then he would listen.

::What?:: he growled through the comm. ::What could be so important that you do this?::

Cybertron better be falling apart again, or Pharma was going to know his displeasure.

 

::You know I wouldn’t disturb you if it wasn’t something deserving of your time.::

Pharma would have liked to elude the subject and play a little with Tarn’s patience, but his mood had been terrible for days and he was quite unbearable now. He didn’t want to know what he’d be like after.

::Were you aware that I used to do work for The Institute, back in the Golden Age? I only ask because I saw a great many practices there that have since fallen out of favour. And I must say, I am quite surprised someone would make the mistake of not covering their tracks thoroughly when proceeding with mnemosurgery. Especially on so prominent a patient.::

He was cutting it close, going on at length like this, but Pharma did love dramatics.

::Do you think it was part of the deal for peace, for Megatron to be operated on? His helm looks wretched with those marks in the back.::

An exaggeration, considering the marks were smaller than tiny scratches in plating, but Pharma’s aesthetics had found them disruptive nonetheless.

 

Tarn was silent for a long time. He dropped his shot glass heavily on his desk, with enough force for the thing to shatter. Crystal shards exploded over his desk. Some tumbled to the floor with tinny ping s, while more fell on his lap. Tarn had to remain still for a long moment, just wrestling his sudden flood of rage into something controllable.

::Explain , :: he said. A piece of his desk broke after his claw snapped through the surface. ::Tell me everything you know. Tell me how you found this out and where you are right now.::

Tarn got up. Despite his spike of rage, he didn’t destroy his desk or terrorize the workers in the building. He left almost calmly, leaving behind a trail of confused, intimidated mecha.

::If this is your demented delusion of a joke, Pharma…::

 

::I’m in your other trophy room, in the cinema.:: Pharma couldn’t consider that Tarn might take offense at his personal sanctuary being broken into. They were about to be conjunxes, right? Besides...the news of his discovery ought to keep Tarn beyond busy.

::On the records of you melting your cannons with Megatron...His helm. Those marks. They’re barely visible to a naked optic, but they’re unmistakably leftover from a recent mnemosurgery. Megatron’s brain module will bear the same marks, I guarantee it. I would bet my servos on being right.::

 

Tarn’s outrage at having his private sanctum breached was only eclipsed by the gravity of Pharma’s revelation. In the light of that, he could not maintain righteous indignity for very long. Tarn marched down to the hangar where his ship remained dark and menacing in its space.

::Come out from there,:: he demanded. ::Bring the video with you. You’re going to show me exactly what you saw.::

Unbidden, Tarn’s failed communication came to the forefront of his mind. A sudden, strut-shaking outrage fell over him as he wondered if that was the reason behind his lord’s strange ramblings. They had been growing increasingly nonsensical, detached from all his previous rhetoric, so foreign that Tarn could hardly believe it. In the strength of his faith, Tarn had steered himself true. But now, perhaps it was time for him to help his lord in his time of need, if it came to that.

More connections sprung up. The journey… the journey . With him . The anathema of the Cause, the liar and the betrayer. The symbol of everything rotten in this world. The Prime, or as he called himself now… Orion Pax .

How convenient it was that he should steal away Lord Megatron in his vulnerable position. In fact, how convenient it was that his lord stepped down in the first place! Had the Autobots planned this all along? Had they been leading his lord into a trap with their claims of peace and surrender, sliding their insidious thoughts into his brain while Pax lead him astray?

Of course, they would. Autobots were all liars in the end. Nothing was beyond their limits.

Action had to be taken now. His lord needed to be helped and protected before any of these thoughts could further infect his brain and turn him from his Cause.

Tarn could have wept at the thought of that regal mind being desecrated. But now, he was only consumed by an unholy fury. Primus have mercy on the Prime, because Tarn would not .

 

Pharma did emerge from the sanctum, awaiting Tarn in his quarters on the ship with the best image projected on every screen. He’d already enhanced the video so that the tiny little marks could be seen without special lenses. Pharma congratulated his skill at noticing the miniscule marks in the first place, but he doubted Tarn would be in a rewarding mood when he came in. So the medic stood to the side, examining the image without blocking sight of it. Unfortunately, he could not tell who or how this had happened from this picture alone. If he had the real helm under his servos...Well.

Quickly, he called in what favour he could and sent a comm to an old friend-turned-bitter-acquaintance. Maybe he could help Tarn’s undoubtedly unleashed fury to be directed.

Instead of a greeting, he met Tarn with facts.

“Pax took him to Earth.”

 

“That planet of organics ,” Tarn spat, disgusted by the notion. He examined the images that Pharma presented and saw the tiny, uniform pinpricks left along the back of his lord’s neck. Tarn was no expert in the matter, but he’d seen all kinds of things in the war. He knew mnemosurgery when it was glaring at his face like this.

Hunched over one such screen, Tarn glared at it as if willing the image to disappear on its own by the power of his gaze. His poor mood was now a roiling sea of gnashing anger and with a growl, he sent his fist through a screen. It broke in half under his blow, but Tarn was not done. He sent his fist crashing down on another with an inarticulate scream of unbridled rage.

His anger would not be sated by the destruction of mere inanimate objects, however. But with no deserving victim to deliver a beating to, Tarn could only prowl around his surroundings. The broken blue light of the screens lit him up in an unearthly, wicked glow and his optics burned like twin coals.

Pharma ,” he rasped. He stretched out a servo to the medic, claws curled inward. “Come here. Tell me something.”

 

Pharma hadn’t been privy to seeing Tarn’s rage in person for a while, and he could have gone another millennia without it. As soon as violence exploded out of the mech, the medic shrank back, putting a little secure distance between them. There were few things as sacred to Tarn as his precious lord and someone out there had dared to make a move on Megatron’s brain. Bold. Pharma almost wanted to applaud them, if they didn’t, by extension, put him and his position in jeopardy.

Reluctantly, he came to Tarn’s grasp, wingtips flattened, field tight and tense.

“...What is it?”

 

Pharma stepped into range, allowing Tarn to grab him. He took hold of his favorite point - his neck - and slammed the medic over the broken remnants of a screen. The glass crunched under his armor and Tarn ground him there for a few seconds, saying nothing, until he stilled.

Tarn stepped closer. Intimately so, as if he wasn’t holding Pharma up by his neck. Red pedes kicked against Tarn’s legs but he pressed closer until Pharma had no leverage to struggle against. His other servo held his hip.

“Tell me, Pharma,” he said silkily, his rage compressed into a whisper-soft tone of danger, “this is true, isn’t it? You would not be foolish enough to fabricate such a scenario, no?”

He pressed down until a dent threatened to form on his hip. “You must be aware that if this is true and that you told me - and only me - you would be rewarded beyond your wildest imaginations for your loyalty. But if it’s not, I would kill you most slowly and painfully. You would watch me peel back your plating and devour your spark in front of you… but that would not happen, because you are not lying. Yes?”

 

He should have left the evidence behind and merely commed Tarn. Pharma’s greed had propelled him into another dilemma concerning the tankformer and his outburst of rage and now it was too late to reconsider.

He wisely kept every thought of Starscream to himself. Giving the information over to the seeker would spell his death, favour and conjunx plans or not.

Pharma yelped when the dent began to be a crack, splitting open plating he had preened over repainting not a day ago.

“I’m not lying, Tarn! See for yourself. The marks are there, this is real!”

He tried to pull Tarn’s servo off of his hip, offended, hurt and intimidated all at once. Damn brute.

“I am not dumb enough to get between you and Megatron, you have to know that about me by now.”

 

For a long moment, Tarn said nothing. He just stared at Pharma, evaluating him on a scale only he was privy to, until the pressure on him ceased. The intensity of his attention eased back, giving Pharma breathing space.

“No, you are smarter than that,” he purred. “I am glad that you told me this as soon as you discovered it.”

The crushing force transformed into a soothing one. Tarn was still angry, still horrifically intent, but Pharma managed to steer through the gale force of his temper, into the eye of the storm. Part of his mask snicked back, and Tarn kissed Pharma.

When Tarn pulled back, his attention had migrated elsewhere. Pharma was no longer a security risk. “Choosing you was a good decision,” he merely said, offering no apology for his sudden assault. “I am going to need you at my side, Pharma.”

He dropped Pharma - affording just enough care to ensure he landed on his pedes before Tarn was turning away, taking his dark mood with him.

 

Pharma’s spark was spasming even without Tarn’s talent assaulting it. He didn’t need to use it, when he was still so overwhelmingly strong compared to the fragile flier. Pharma realised how deeply this could have gone wrong for him, and some part of him was intensely grateful that Tarn was not, in fact, a dumb brute. He was a smart, violent one, and he knew Pharma could have misstepped very easily.

He’d been skating on the thinnest ice possible.

I need you at my side.

When had someone ever needed him before? Pharma couldn’t recall.

He risked more, now that he knew he was not the focus of the sweltering rage in Tarn.

“I...I know someone who is an expert in the field. If...if you can get Megatron to him, whatever has been changed could be undone.”

 

Tarn looked up from where he’d returned to contemplating Megatron’s neck and the pinpricks there. “Can they be trusted?” he asked. He did not trust many with his lord’s health - it was too precious to risk. “Why not you? Can’t you fix it?”

Something needed to be done. Tarn needed to bring his lord back to Cybertron and tell him what happened. Then he needed to repair his lord and track down the perpetrator. Then he would strip everything from their mind and kill them excruciatingly.

That sounded like a good plan to him. Tarn drummed a beat on the console. “Who is this individual you speak of?”

 

“I can’t say whether or not he can be trusted. He’s an acquaintance...but I lost track of him a long time ago. It was mere accident I heard of his survival at all.”

Pharma vented, deciding it was better to lay his cards out in the open for Tarn to see. If any treachery, unintended or not, came across to Tarn, that forgiving kiss would mean nothing at all. Not when it came to Megatron.

“His name is Trepan. He used to work for the institute as a top mnemosurgeon. He has the skill to undo any surgery. Especially if the perpetrator was sloppy enough to leave scars on the derma.”

 

“How did you come to hear of him? Where is he - and how do I get to him?”

Tarn was restless, unable to stay in one place for long. He considered the screens one moment before pacing around then suddenly approaching Pharma. He touched him, agitated, with no clear intent beyond touching him for the sake of it.

“The Institute is an Autobot facility,” Tarn said. He put both his servos on Pharma’s shoulders. “Your… friend would have been a pet mnemosurgeon for them. How can I be sure that he will not worsen the damage instead?”

 

“You could use your talent on him. Your voice will surely keep him in line. I wouldn’t bargain with Trepan; he is a wily one.”

Pharma allowed the touch, even laid a servo over Tarn’s claws. The more useful he presented himself during this, Tarn’s time of crisis, the better the results for him in the long run. Everything could be used to one’s advantage, if one understood the angle.

“I even heard that Overlord kidnapped Trepan, but that surely can’t be true; he wouldn’t still be alive after something like that.”

Pharma paused to consider before involving himself deeper.

“I could also oversee what he’s doing. I can’t perform mnemosurgery myself, but I have studied it before. I know enough to supervise. If you want me to.”

 

“I do,” Tarn said. “I can’t trust this… Trepan like I can trust you.”

Which was a bare sliver, but it was more than what Trepan had. Tarn glanced at his comms. “He has to be told. As soon as possible, without the Primye knowing. He could have been the master behind this for all we know.”

 

“He certainly did seem eager to take Megatron on this journey, alone.” Pharma preened more under the prospect of having Tarn’s trust. This situation was certainly bringing along unexpected perks for him. The more the better. He deserved to be in Tarn’s good graces for all of his efforts.

“I never did have the same amount of unreasonable faith in the Prime as certain acquaintances of mine had.”

Pharma got up, leaving Tarn’s touch and the ruined room behind, only pausing in the door to graciously dip his helm.

“You should inform your master now. Who knows what Pax has put into his brain?”

Pharma couldn’t wait to see how this played out.

 

Tarn waited until Pharma’s footsteps receded before he brought up his comm. The evidence was with him, as was a recording of Pharma’s explanation… but would his lord believe him? Tarn couldn’t say, and it was making him anxious.

He called before he could convince himself not to.

::Sir, I need to speak with you. It’s urgent. Please.::

Chapter Text

 

Megatron took a long time to answer. He saw the comm and elected to ignore it for another press of his helm into Orion’s neckcables. He was comfortable, almost at peace. Did Tarn have to disturb him every time Starscream shook a wing at him?

The comm remained online and pinging him for an answer. Megatron groaned, albeit quietly, and opened the channel, reluctantly so. Tarn must have good reason to be so persistent, right?

Without disturbing Orion or their position of entangled frames from a lazy, indulgent interface, Megatron answered.

::What is it this time, Tarn? Your disturbances are becoming quite regular.::

 

::I apologize, sir, but I would not be calling if this was not of the utmost import. But first, my - sir. Are you with… him? Pax? This cannot be said in his vicinity, sir. I will explain shortly.::

 

::I am on a ship with Orion, Tarn. There’s no being away from his vicinity. Just say what it is you have to say so that you and I can move on with our day.::

Megatron nuzzled the familiar chassis, red and glorious and familiar.

 

Alright. Tarn prepared himself.

::Recent evidence has come to my attention that gives me reason to believe that you may have been shadowplayed, sir. Pharma - who has experience with mnemosurgery - pointed out marks on the back of your neck that match up those who were recently needled. I’ve seen the images myself. I know what it looks like. Someone is influencing is you.::

 

Megatron had to read the comm twice. And a third time. The mellow warmth of his situation drained out fast, as if someone had pierced a warm cocoon with a shard of ice. He considered the source. Tarn’s treacherous new affiliation, but also a medic. He blanched, shutting the comm off immediately. How...how could this be?

Memories rose to the surface of his mind, unbidden and haunting. Alien thoughts, invading and conquering his brain module. A laugh, thin pointed digits extending into his helm. Shadowplay. The title, the name didn’t imply the horror of what mnemosurgery was.

Suddenly, he didn’t feel like cuddling with Orion anymore. He rose from the berth, putting distance between himself and the former Prime.

This journey...the isolation together. It was dawning on him, how much horrible sense this all made. The guilt that had weighed him down since leaving Cybertron. Orion’s sudden decision to become personally involved, to forget all of the wartime animosity and every betrayal of his trust.

It would only make sense that this time, it was a betrayal of his trust.

Megatron’s tanks roiled, nausea permeating his systems. The emotions still felt muted, distant, and the suspicious absence of his temper was the last clue he needed to know Tarn was right.

Someone had been in his brain, again .

Orion wasn’t awake yet. He probably had waited all this time to see if the change held fast, if Megatron could be subdued and tamed. The notion disgusted Megatron and all manner of warm affection dropped away from his spark.

::...Lock onto my location,Tarn, and be here at once.::

 

::Of course, my lord. Send me your coordinates and I will arrive shortly. You will have my ETA soon.::

Tarn surged from his seat with triumph. His lord had believed him - he believed it! And now, he saw the truth behind Pax and the Autobots - and he was asking for Tarn’s aid. Things could not be more perfect that they were now.

“Pharma!” Tarn bellowed. He needed to move fast. The coordinates glowed on his comm like a beacon. Could he gather his division? No - that required too much time. Tarn needed an excuse to get off planet and leave - and he needed Pharma with him. Starscream could be left alone for now, he was no longer important.

“Pharma, where are you? We need to leave now.” His ship was always prepared for takeoff. Tarn could go right now if he desired, but his position made things problematic. He could appoint Kaon as his temporary representative here and pull him from Caminus, so at least that could be handled.

But where was Pharma?

 

Pharma had not gone far, only putting some distance on the ship between himself and Tarn. Who knew how emotional Tarn could get with his precious lord’s mind at risk?

The medic had only wandered to the bridge, servos sliding over the commander’s chair with some tasteful considerations. How many missions to bring terror had Tarn lead from here? How had Delphi looked on the screen when the Tyranny first arrived?

His thoughts were disturbed by Tarn’s voice, ringing around the ship with urgency.

::I’m on the bridge.::

Pharma took a seat, lounging in the chair with his legs slung over the side. All that was missing was some engex as he congratulated himself on getting closer to Tarn than ever before. Once upon a time, Tarn had dictated the laws of their game. Now, it was all beginning to change. He grinned to himself.

::Ready to depart immediately if you wish it.::

 

Tarn found Pharma in his command chair, looking like a king’s ransom as he lounged. Tarn glanced at him, then at his empty bridge. There had been times before when he had to operate it on his own - and with no crew, he would have to do just that.

The manual controls were brought up, overriding the consoles. His message to Kaon had already been sent and the bewildered mech sent his confirmation back. The reason for his absence was explained as a ‘sudden, private emergency’. It wasn’t a lie, really.

Tarn scooped Pharma out of the chair and dumped him on his lap once he sat. With a few commands, the Tyranny was readied to fly. The roof opened, letting the ship rise into the sky.

“What about you?” Tarn asked. “You can’t just hare off without reason.”

 

“What are they going to do, threaten to fire me? I don’t think I need to excuse myself to anyone not present.” Pharma preened under Tarn’s attention. This wasn’t quite how he pictured their prelude to being conjunxes, but he could make it work. He wouldn’t have to worm his way into Starscream’s good graces anymore. This was a scandal, waiting to break Cybertron.

“I told Monitor I am needed elsewhere. It will suffice.”

 

Their simultaneous disappearances would raise some questions, but Tarn simply didn’t have the time to entertain a world that might have conspired to tamper with his lord’s mind. The time for action was now.

Ignoring the gawping people below, Tarn directed the Tyranny into the sky and beyond.

 

-x-

 

Just outside Earth orbit…

The Harmony was dead in the air, not moving even though their date of Earth entry had long past. The bridge had been abandoned and Orion was standing outside the storage closet, flummoxed.

“Megatron,” he called, “please, come out. You haven’t fuelled since yesterday.”

Orion had woken up alone in their berth with no sign of Megatron. That wasn’t so unusual - what was strange was his seemingly disappeared tracks. Orion had almost been frantic until he saw the other life sign on the ship indicating Megatron’s presence. For some reason, he’d locked himself in there and refused to come out or even talk.

It was so unlike him that Orion was at a loss. Megatron was never the type to act this childish. What was going on? They hadn’t even argued - they stopped arguing since their journey began! And now the peace of their time together was gone, replaced by an awkward tension that threatened to make Orion retreat into the shell he created as Prime. He almost wanted to shoot down the door, though that was a little drastic. Megatron had proven that he was trustworthy now.

“Megatron, please .”

 

Megatron squeezed into the darkness of the closet that could barely contain his bulk. Underneath the utility rack, he’d found himself the security of walls closing in on him with no room for anything or anyone to touch him. It had been millennia since he allowed mining protocols to dictate his actions, but he’d given in now. With his helm between his knees and his servos pressed to his audials, it was still not enough to drown out Orion’s presence beyond the firmly locked door.

Though he had seen the mech break through much thicker obstacles, Megatron could only hope that something would keep him out. At least until Tarn was here to even the playing field.

Disaster protocol. That’s what this position was. It wasn’t doing much to keep Megatron safe, but he was running on very little at this point. Was that even still part of his coding, or was it just an implanted memory? How many times had his brain module been accessed and he hadn’t known? Did Orion have someone do it on board, here?

“Go away.” he sounded raspy, voice echoing around his own helm.

“Leave me alone Pax.”

 

“What’s wrong ?” Orion asked, trying to make out Megatron’s muffled words. “Please, tell me so we can fix it. Is this about Earth?”

Megatron was usually so in control, so solid… what could have shaken him like this? Why was he like this? Again, older doubts resurfaced but Orion shook them away. The war was over - he had to stop thinking like that. Right now, the only thing that mattered was that his significant other had locked himself away for unknown reasons and was telling him to leave.

“Let me help you.”

“You’ve helped me enough, Pax.” Megatron snarled. He might not have the strength to fight Orion right now, or at least, he felt that way, but he could at least let him know that Megatron knew what his little game was. What this little pretense was all about.

It hurt. More than the thought of mnemosurgery, almost, it hurt to think Orion was capable of such petty vengeance. To make Megatron believe in something between them, and then to have the audacity to force Megatron into a relationship with him...it was absurdly outside of anything he thought Optimus capable of.

Was this sick little game satisfying to Optimus? Was he displaying it as his victory, his final conquest of Megatron?

The mere memory of wanting to sparkmerge with the mech made Megatron queasy and he dry-heaved. His tanks had been empty since yesterday, but that didn’t stop the impulse to empty them.

“I know what you did. Or what you’ve had someone else do. I guess you couldn’t do all your dirty work yourself. You shadowplayed me, you sick fragging glitch!”

 

His audials strained to catch what he said. Orion’s brow knitted, disbelief flooding him. “I shadowplayed you? Where are you getting this from, Megatron? I did nothing like that - I would never do anything like that to you!”

It had been an option plenty of times. Orion himself had countless requests to try something of the sort from the people around him. It’d always been one of those nuclear options, and the one he avoided the most. Whatever lows the war made him dip to, he would not do that .

“Why do you think this?”

 

“Tarn figured out your little game.” Megatron offlined his optics and wished he could just ignore Orion long enough for him to go away. The closet was extremely crowded with him in it and the darkness at least reassured him. He was in control. Not Orion. Not whoever was in his head. Megatron’s servos scraped dark lines across his helm. He was almost afraid to remove the helmet. What was under there now? What else had they implanted?

“There’s no point denying it. I saw the marks myself,” at great personal contortion and with a picture, yes, “Congratulations on your victory. It must have been a proud feat for you.”

 

“You’re not talking sense ,” Orion insisted, frustrated. “You’re taking the word of Tarn ? You said it yourself - he’s deranged. He could have just been lying to you to sway you to his side!”

He was tempted to break the door down. But he didn’t want to push Megatron when he was so distressed…

Orion sighed. The manual overrides had all been disabled. It seemed that Megatron, even in the grips of a paranoid episode, was too smart to leave alternate options. “Megatron. Open the door right now. Or I open it.”

 

The grooves in his helm were deeper now as Megatron onlined his optics again and stared at the door. He wouldn’t be opening it of his own volition. But Orion could very well make good on his threat and break it down and then they’d be trapped in this tiny space. Megatron had very little options of what to do if that happened, except for grappling with Orion. Which he had done plenty of times before, but felt in no condition for now.

“Never. Stay the frag away from me, Prime. This is your last warning. You know I don’t need a cannon to kill you.”

He could transform and flatten Optimus out of the way if he had to, and Megatron resolved himself for that solution, plating flaring and vents hissing steam as his limbs reassembled themselves.

 

He heard the telltale sound of transformation going in the closet. And finally, his patience snapped. Megatron was clearly not going to listen to reason in this state - so he would just have to be brought out .

“I’m not fighting you,” he growled and dug his digits into the doorframe. He’d moved through bigger and heavier things than this - considering his feats in the war, this was nothing. The metal screeched as he peeled it back and light poured into the small space.

“Now. Listen to me. I don’t want to fight you!” He flung the door out of the way. “I did not shadowplay you, Megatron. Don’t trust Tarn!”

 

Megatron had already finished his transformation and Orion was faced with a petulant tank rather than the mech he’d been holding and cherishing just days before. There was not an ounce, not a strut or bolt of Megatron that would trust Orion on this matter. Not anymore.

“Tarn would never lie to me. I am everything to him.”

And that was a truth he’d known to be true and unchanged. Tarn could never rebel against him, because Tarn lived only to serve him. Megatron made him that way. And it was only the damned shadowplay that made him feel as if it was a mistake.

“You on the other hand...you threw him away. You abandoned him and I raised him from the dead.”

 

Nothing he was saying made any sense. Megatron was raving now, clearly. Orion held his servos out before him, indicating his lack of weaponry. He remained rooted to where he was, not making any additional moves to grab Megatron.

“Listen to yourself,” he urged. “You’re not making sense. I don’t know Tarn, I never knew him - how would I abandon him? Megatron, please . Something is wrong with you. You’re seeing things that aren’t there and you’re worrying me.”

What had Tarn done ? What kind of story had he spun about - about shadowplay? And why had Megatron believed him?

 

Megatron rolled back on heavy treads, his rear-end pressuring the wall enough for it to give an ominous groan. Clearly, it was not designed to be rammed by tanks at any speed.

“You’re still pretending you don’t know? That is rich...I would savour the irony but shadowplay leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

Trauma, abuse, all those sort of fun flavours.

“You really never understood what happened to Roller? Your precious outlier friend? You really never figured out that he became Tarn? I unmade Roller and raised Tarn up and you still don’t see his worth.”

 

No… no… that was impossible . Roller was dead, lost to the Wastes. Orion had searched for him for days and found no sign of him, not even a scrap of armor or an energon trail. He’d vanished like a ghost, lost and mourned.

And Orion had mourned. Roller had been one of his closer friends back then and a part of the team. Back when he had been a simple enforcer, going on bar crawls together, and trading jokes back and forth...

He hung his helm.

No. Roller was dead . Tarn couldn’t be him - it was impossible. Roller never had that ability and he was simply too kind to be that monster. Roller had been too gentle. Too gentle for the world, as Ratchet once said. A titan with a giant spark, even if Orion knew he had the strength to back that up.

“Megatron… stop this,” he said, suddenly weary, “Roller never had the ability to kill things with his voice. He died long ago. Don’t talk about him like that, in the same breath as that lunatic you call a Decepticon. Roller had been a good person. Too good.”

 

Chapter Text

 

4.2 million years ago…

The hot red sun of the Red Wastes beat down on his back like a drum. Roller had never noticed how sweltering it was until he lay out here, with no protective covers or buildings, like an insect laid out to dry.

His face hurt. His chassis hurt. Everything else was a dull ache of unmaintained plates and rusting lines, but those two were like brilliant suns in the landscape of his agony. Roller wanted to heave another cry for help, and he was too exhausted to even wince from the cramp that seized his ventral plating. A fuel line had been split somewhere, creating a steady drip. It wasn’t enough to kill him within minutes, but the steady drip-drip-drip was somehow worse. He could feel his strength draining out, feel how his entire body was shutting down piece by piece.

Where was Orion? Where was Ratchet? Where were the outliers?

Roller tried to crawl back to where the shuttle had been. But the sun was so hot and everything was so flat and he couldn’t make sense of his gyros anymore. Roller was crawling forward, but he could have been going in circles for all he knew.

He tried to cry out more. But it hurt to move his mouth. The left side of his face felt so wet and tender, stinging when the wind picked up and dust blew into the exposed circuitry there. Sensor lines told him he was fine one moment, and then screamed the next.

He could have been out there for hours. Or days. Time ceased to have meaning to his delirious mind.

When a shadow fell over him, Roller could have wept. They were unknown to him, these faces, but their flat, plain faceplates were of the disposable class. He reached out for them, pleading, but they did not take his desperate, grasping servos. He caught edges from their conversation as his vision swam and it all went to blackness.

“...helm’s busted…”

“...salvage the brain module…?”

And Roller slept. He woke up an indeterminate amount of time later, feeling like Unicron had stampeded all over him. But it was not to Ratchet’s soothingly grouchy face, it was to an unfamiliar beastformer that had its paws in his innards.

Roller would have struggled if he didn’t feel as weak as a fresh forge. He tried to speak but only a static gurgle came out. The beastformer barely paused its perusal to glance at him.

That was how Roller met Glit. And in three hours, he would meet the mech to change his life forever. His leaked energon and dropped pieces of scrap metal would have been picked off by the scavengers then, leaving no trace for a despondent Orion Pax to find.

One twist of fate, and the future changed form irreversibly.

 

-x-

 

::I’m on my way, my lord. Please wait for me.::

Tarn sent his coordinates anew before returning to Pharma’s side, tense and agitated. He grew increasingly jumpy the closer they grew to their intended destination, unable to think of anything else but his ailing lord. He pushed every bit of speed from the Tyranny, abusing his prized ship like it hadn’t been in years. It skipped between the stars, effortlessly elegant and fast no matter what certain medics had to say about its design choices.

The universe held its breath as three stars dashed into a collision course that would change things irreversibly, again.

 

::Hurry.::

Certain medics may have comments on design choices of the ship, but they also knew when to hold their poison glossa and enjoy impending disaster for all it was worth.

Pharma did not try to distract Tarn. It was pretty much impossible, given the intensity present in the mech ever since being told the dire news about Megatron. Well, relatively dire. Pharma wasn’t surprised. Actually, he kind of expected someone to do something about the former warlord sooner or later, though he had anticipated an execution, not a mental adjustment. He supposed for someone who fashioned himself a free thinker, manipulation of the mind was far worse than a martyr’s death.

Whatever. He couldn’t muster concern for Megatron. Pharma still only cared for himself, and he was in an excellent position to spectate.

They found the ship soon enough. Three weeks of travel passed by in the blink of an optic and they entered Earth’s orbit, where Orion’s ship hung still and silent.

It didn’t refuse them right to dock, which tipped Pharma off that the former Prime was probably up to speed.

There was absolutely no holding Tarn back once the Tyranny had established contact and opened the hatch.

 

He blew in like a storm, leaving Pharma behind to take up the rear. And then stopped, just as sudden, when he came face to face with the Prime.

Pax - Prime - whatever name he went by now, looked aggravatingly calm as he stood there. Megatron was off to the side but Tarn couldn’t focus on him. This was the closest he’d come to him since what happened.

Tarn blinked back the red mist that threatened to settle over his optics.

“Roller,” he said, and just like that, his control snapped.

Tarn shoved him back, already preparing to beat his face into pulp. His fists met Pax’s chassis with satisfyingly loud clang s and Tarn leaned in close to snarl, “That. Is. Not . My. Name!”

Pax’s volley back sent Tarn’s helm snapping back. And like that, the fight was on.

 

Pharma came down the ramp just in time. He did nothing to intervene. He wasn’t getting dented today, thank you very much. Instead, he sized up Megatron, who kept back and didn’t say anything either. How quaint. He really was quite different to what Pharma had imagined. Where was the boisterous brute who crushed Cybertron? This mech was meek.

Megatron looked on when the inevitable happened. He had no mind to put Tarn on a leash, though he would object if the former Prime’s life was in peril. Orion didn’t get off that easy, dying at Tarn’s claws. And the voice really was the only factor, because Orion could hold his own, even against an angry tankformer.

 

Their fight was brutal and short. It was also nothing like how Optimus and Megatron fought; there was no rhythm, no back-and-forth exchange of jibes and fists, none of their unexplainable connection even in the throes of a fierce battle. Tarn fought like he meant to kill Orion as brutally and totally as possible, ripping into him at every chance he got, tearing up the hallway in his ferocity. And Orion defended against him staunchly, unbending in the face of Tarn’s white-hot rage.

Purple claws raked down Orion’s front. He replied by kneeing Tarn in the chest, sending him flying back. Tarn wrenched a console off the floor, screws flying as it loosened from its bolts, and threw it at Orion. It distracted him long enough for Tarn to spring at him again.

They were both silent. There was no time for witty discussion in this kind of fight. It was only when Orion got close enough to Tarn to grab at his mask that the first words of this battle came.

No !” Tarn howled, grabbing Orion’s arm as his mask was ripped off. It came off in pieces, still held in place by the locks, and splintered down the middle. Large chunks of the painted metal fell off his face, revealing one that was hauntingly familiar to Orion, who had staggered back, holding his chest.

However, not even his pained spark could distract him from Tarn’s enraged visage. Half of his mask was in Orion’s servo and the other half attached to him, mostly around the sides where the locks held tightest.

“Roller,” Orion breathed, optics wide. “No, you’re not… no!” That couldn’t be possible. His curiosity had made him take off Tarn’s mask, but he’d never expected Megatron to be telling the truth .

Tarn held back, one servo covering his exposed face. Furious red optics burned out from the shadow of his clawed digits. “That is not who I am,” he snarled, “He died , Pax, he died when you left him out there!”

Orion was looking between the mask and Megatron. “Why would you… he was my friend .”

It was too much. Tarn would have continued to fight but not when his past was being thrown in his face, not when his mask was gone. “My lord,” he said, “go to my ship. Your - your room is still there. Pharma, see to him.”

After all, this mission had been about locating Megatron, not settling old scores.

But yet… Tarn’s furious gaze returned to the Prime. “ As for you ,” he said, and his voice dropped dangerously low. Lethally so. From merely painful, to excruciating, to murderous, Tarn dragged Orion’s spark down with him. “ I am going to enjoy killing you, Pax .”

 

“No, Tarn.”

Megatron did move forward, but only to draw level with the mech. He wanted to reach for his exposed face, but stopped halfway, no longer comfortable with physical touch. Everything he’d ever forced himself to achieve had been robbed again.

“Don’t. He doesn’t deserve such a merciful death. Leave him.”

It wasn’t the commanding tone of the Megatron of old, but there was some unmistakable authority in his voice.

He glanced over at Orion. His would-be lover, oppressor and former nemesis. Hurt coloured his gaze and the unspoken accusation. You did this to me.

“I won’t have his death sully your name. Tarn. Let’s go.”

 

It wouldn’t have mattered if Megatron had been half-dead and barely audible - Tarn would have obeyed him with the same reverence he gave to him at his most commanding. Immediately, his voice cut out. He looked like he wanted to defy Megatron and finish the kill, but Tarn’s warring bloodlust and loyalty had one clear winner.

“Of course, my lord,” Tarn said, bowing his helm obediently.

From the other side of the room, Orion picked himself up again. He leaned against some wreckage, looking up at Megatron. “Don’t go,” he said, “There has to be an explanation for this. I didn’t shadowplay you, Megatron. I haven’t in four million years of war and I wouldn’t now. Don’t go.”

But his pleas fell on deaf audials. Megatron lead the walk into the Tyranny, leaving Orion half-kneeling in the ruined bridge of the Harmony .

They undocked from the ship and retreated from it. Tarn kept the Tyranny’s guns trained on it, expecting a retaliation, but none came. They jumped into warp unmolested, speeding away from Earth and the silent, still ship hovering over it.

“My lord - sir,” Tarn said, kneeling, his servo still covering his face. He hadn’t gotten a new mask for himself, even though he itched to do so before Pharma caught a glimpse. His lord was more important than his personal comfort. “Do you need medical attention? Fuel? Tell me your orders.”

 

Megatron tried to stop the shaking of his servos. He didn’t want to look that weak and affected in front of Tarn, but the reality of what had happened to him struck him hard now that he couldn’t distract himself with keeping Orion at bay. Everything hurt. His frame ached, his tanks ran on fumes and his mind was thick with a haze or a stupor.

He’d vowed to never again fall into anyone’s needles. He’d vowed to crush the spark of anyone who entertained such notions. And here he was, feeling violated and fragile and powerless once more.

“No...you did well by coming so quickly. I will take fuel and my room. I remember where it is. Don’t set course for Cybertron. I need...time.”

Megatron spared a glance at Pharma, who was trying to be a pretty piece of furniture.

“You’re the medic.” he stated, factually. He didn’t need an introduction, but Tarn had seen fit to bring the mech along anyway.

“Tend to Tarn. Rearm him if you have the means.”

Pharma wanted to argue that he didn’t take orders from Decepticons, but Tarn’s presence and Megatron’s sorry state forbid him from replying in a snippy fashion.

“What about your helm...sir?”

He dug deep for that one. Tarn better worship him for this devotion to his role.

Megatron reached up, touched the long gouges he’d made himself, and shook his helm.

“Superficial. Tend to Tarn.”

“Very well.”

 

“My lord,” Tarn said, “before you go - I have information that may be of interest to you. Pharma has mnemosurgeon contacts that could possibly reverse what was done to you. If you will it, we could find this individual and have them undo what was done. Pharma can supervise it and ensure things go well.”

He angled his face in a different direction than the one Pharma was in. He had sustained some damage in the struggle - mostly cracked plating and dents, but they hardly mattered during this. “If you will it, I will locate them for you. As many as you need, when you choose it.”

 

Megatron’s plating bristled at the notion. He’d just learned that he had been manipulated, he was hardly clamoring to have another surgeon invade his brain. Tarn’s intentions were good, but it was far too soon for Megatron consider. His ventral plating clicked, almost as if he intended to transform and hide in his altmode again.

He resisted the urge.

“...Locate them. I will consider in due time.”

Whether or not Pharma’s supervision was enough, he’d have to think about much later. For now, he wanted to rest, knowing nothing and no one could touch him. His trust in Tarn had tripled and safety aboard the Peaceful Tyranny was the only type he could believe in now. Everyone else was out to take a stab at destroying him and his mind.

 

“Yes. I will have it done.”

::Pharma. Go to the medibay. I will meet you there.::

“Is there anything else, my lord? Everything I have is at your disposal. Unless you would like to retire now?” A part of Tarn desperately hoped that Megatron might lead him into another secretive discussion on the next step in the covert war and what needed to be done to destroy the Autobots once and for all. The hesitance he saw in those optics didn’t give him any confidence, however. He needed to find those surgeons, and fast .

 

Pharma gave a little tut as he left them behind for the medibay, but didn’t argue with the order. He’d have enough time with Tarn, when he wasn’t busy trying to lay the universe at the pedes of a skittish miner. That mnemosurgeon really did a number on Megatron, even he could see the fear packed into that dull frame.

Megatron relaxed, marginally, when he was alone with Tarn.

“I will retire now. I’m in no condition to give you further orders right now, Tarn. I...” he stared at his servos, covered in streaks of his own silver paint from where he’d clawed at his helm.

“I should never have trusted Orion Pax. You were right to caution me.”

Why did he feel like he needed to apologize, to Tarn of all people? The modifications to his processor patterns were coming apart at the seams, and now that he knew, Megatron was furiously diligent in trying to spot them out.

“...Thank you.”

 

Thank you? When did his lord thank anyone? He wasn’t supposed to thank anyone - he was supposed to take all that was his due . “...it’s alright, my lord,” he said carefully, “there is no need to thank me. I am only doing what is my duty. Please - rest.”

Tarn wanted to rise, but he held back out of respect. A replacement mask was somewhere in his hab, so he could put that on before finding Pharma for repairs. “Permission to stand, my lord?”

 

“You don’t need to-...yes. I will go rest.” Megatron sighed again. It was impossible to navigate these impulses and discern what was manipulation and what wasn’t. He didn’t linger any longer, taking his leave and making his way to the quarters he’d used when he was here last.

Chapter Text

Pharma waited in the medibay, wingtips fluttering. Tarn’s face, or what he’d seen of it, was a delightful prospect of interest to him. As was the old designation. Roller. Who was that? Someone he’d never known, clearly, but was familiar to Orion Pax. Interesting. Very, very interesting.

 

Tarn searched for a new mask. He took off the remains of the old one and threw them away, and sighed when his face was properly obscured again. The comforting confines of his mask was back, leaving him secure again.

Once he was sure his lord was comfortable and safe, he went to the medibay. Pharma was there, as expected. Tarn lay on his customary slab for repairs, gazing up at the ceiling.

“How can we find Trepan, Pharma?”

Pharma was a little disappointed to see the mask back in place. How many did Tarn have, stashed away in his quarters? Or maybe they were in little compartments, all around the ship? Just in case? The thought amused Pharma until he gave in to consider Tarn’s question.

He leaned over the scratches and dents that Orion Pax had ripped into the tankformer. He felt uniquely offended that someone had damaged Tarn, who was, by all consideration, his mech now.

“I still have his old comm, though I doubt he’ll answer so easily. We’ll have to check the outposts that refused to return to Cybertron. Trepan only has one skillset,” Pharma transformed his servos and began to solder, delicately, “and he’s bound to make use of it to survive. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I hear you have experience in hunting people down.”

 

“Give me his comm. I think I can work something out with it.” Or at least, Kaon could. He was something of a prodigy in regards to that. If not that, then Pharma’s suggestion of kicking over outposts until a mnemosurgeon fell out would have to do until Tarn came up with a better plan.

“Tell me about Trepan. What he is like, what he is not. If I’m going to hunt him down, I need to know what kind of person I am looking for.”

Tarn had experience in tracking down even the most isolated mecha down. But information was vital. The more he knew, the better his hunt would go.

 

“He’s a sneaky little bastard. Loves his work. Always has, even back before it came out that the Institute encouraged...less savoury characteristics.”

Pharma continued his treatment, careful to return Tarn’s frame to the state he liked it in. This was his future conjunx and he had to look the part, at any given time. Even if they were out in space, chasing ghosts with a broken Megatron aboard.

“It might be worth checking if Overlord had a lair or something somewhere. He was the last person to see Trepan.”

 

“Overlord is dead. We tracked him down ages ago and killed him. If he had Trepan, then he certainly lost him before we located him.”

Tarn watched Pharma fixing him. Clever medic’s hands danced over his front, repairing and welding the damage from the fight until it looked like there had never been a fight at all. Tarn reached down and rested his servo on Pharma’s aft. He was feeling content. Pax wasn’t dead but the anger had receded as quickly as it came now that it was obvious that their main objective had been a success. The warmth of his lord’s presence always meant Tarn was satisfied.

“Unfortunately, his helm is also in Starscream’s possession. We will have to find him the hard way, then.”

Thin, bright flashes of pain came from his abdomen every so often. Tarn idly felt up Pharma, letting heat coil in his wires. “Check my cog. It’s been under stress.”

 

Pharma didn’t let the large claws on his aft disturb him in the slightest. He’d worked under far more stressful conditions before, for Tarn, on Messatine.

“It always is...one of these days, you will shatter your cradle.” He was mildly offput by how careless Tarn was with his own frame, but the transformation addiction was as much part of him as the mask. A telltale curl of black smoke rose from his abdomen when Pharma opened the hatch.

“Yes, this one’s gone too,” Pharma reached in, pincering the blackened little orb between his fingers and disconnecting melted wires before plucking it out. It gave off an awful stench.

“Your supply has been dwindling.”

He put the burned out cog aside before pulling a small case from his subspace, which he perched on Tarn’s chest as he cleaned his servos and the cradle inside of the tankformer.

“I brought some spares from the hospital.”

 

“And you will fix it for me, won’t you?” The familiar feeling of Pharma rooting around his side almost brought Tarn back to Messatine, surrounded by ice and fear. The pain of the transplant barely registered for him anymore, he was so used to it. He picked up the broken cog and turned it over, examining his latest sacrifice to his addiction.

“Hm… do you suppose we could take this detour as an opportunity to… stock up ?” Tarn wouldn’t mind ripping some people apart… and they wouldn’t matter, since they declined Cybertron’s gracious offer to take them back in. Anyone not on his side was against him, of course. A few people for Pharma to play with wouldn’t be amiss, surely.

“And I always did want to see you recreate your magnum opus. What do you think, my dear?”

 

The nickname had Pharma smile as he connected the new cog. He’d done this particular surgery hundreds of times and could probably perform it in his sleep with one of his servos tied behind his back. It was a familiar scene between the two of them and it belonged only to them. Megatron could never take this away.

“I think that sounds like perfectly reasonable and resourceful hunting for Trepan. I could use a few new spare parts and I was thinking the Rust could use some minor improvements. I would like to see how it fares in a fully functional system.”

Wiping out an entire colony sounded like an excellent thing to watch with a glass of engex in hand.

 

Tarn hummed as he imagined a delightful slaughter scene. And he needed to restock on inner energon too - this could be quite the useful side trip. Who said that they didn’t need to enjoy themselves while on the job?

The connection made him suck in a vent. His plating shuddered as the new part settled in, growing attuned to him within moments. The feeling of knowing he could transform again was almost as heady as the sequence itself, and Tarn stretched with a luxurious groan.

“Then it sounds like a plan,” he said. He gathered Pharma closer, delicately pinching one of his servos to prevent it from transforming back into its typical shape. His claw tip ran down the keen edge, drawing tiny sparks up between them. “Tell me, Pharma - can your mnemosurgeon also find out who did the original work? It would make the investigation into the perpetrator much simpler.”

 

“I can’t promise that, Tarn,” Pharma finished his work before he allowed Tarn to still his servos. There it was again; the wondrous chemistry they shared back on Messatine. It had been tainted with fear once; now it was full of possibility.

Pharma removed the box from Tarn’s chest, easily mounting the prone tankformer. He was quite sure there’d be no objections.

“But he is very good. I’m sure whoever did the initial job left marks and if I know Trepan, he can make an educated guess and you can hunt those mech to extinction.”

 

“Then we’ll just have to find him quickly, won’t we?”

Tarn smiled as Pharma settled down on him, clearly catching the purpose for the evening. Tarn was in the mood to celebrate their success and the best celebrations were when Pharma was around. He parted his knees, getting Pharma to arch up against him attractively.

“But never mind Trepan right now. I would much rather focus on us .”

 

“I agree.”

Pharma would always prefer to focus on himself and Tarn than anything else ever, period. Megatron and Cybertron be damned. Nothing bound him to the planet anymore. Tarn had snapped every line of attachment, long ago, replacing them with strings of a different kind. And now, Pharma was no longer a puppet, not even Tarn’s.

“I heard your fans click on the moment I started soldering.”

 

“Call it expectations,” Tarn said. “It’s not as if you were struggling against it.”

He was looking for a simple frag, nothing extravagant like their reunion. But Pharma was always so willing. He stroked his closed panel, tracing the seams that kept his valve locked away. “Let’s not waste time - I want you now , Pharma.”

After that, they could retire to his habsuite for more if the two of them were stilling feeling the charge. Tarn released his panel and rubbed his spike against Pharma, urging him to hurry up.

 

Pharma was not adverse to the urgency. Any attention from Tarn was welcome, as long as he was away from the other mech on board. Pharma relished the chance to prove to Tarn that he could give him what no one else provided.

His panel opened and he wasn’t delicate about the manner in which he sank down on that impressive spike. The ache was a comfort, the tight fit familiar and reassuring. They’d come far from their deal on Messatine.

“I want you always, but you don’t hear me demanding,” he purred, fully ready for another trade of barbs as they fragged.

But it would not come to pass as Pharma wished. Tarn’s commline activated whilst the medic was blissfully riding Tarn into an overload.

::Are your repairs complete, Tarn? Something has come up and I need your further assistance. Come to my quarters.::

 

The two of them had fallen back into their usual back-and-forth again. Despite being wholly consumed by their lust, neither could ever fully let up on their constant jibes. And when Pharma had gotten to riding him like an eager whore, Tarn had happily reciprocated. Both of them were halfway to overload when the message came. It was like a siren through their ecstasy, abrupt and rude.

Tarn looked away from where they were making a mess of the medical slab. The lewd sight of Pharma writhing on top of him was forgotten in favor of confirming the comm. And without even a hint of reluctance or regret for interrupting their time together, Tarn pushed Pharma off his spike.

It felt like his valve was trying to hold on, unwilling to release him, but Pharma couldn’t do much when Tarn decided playtime was over. The medic sprawled on the slab sloppily while Tarn rose up, venting hard. He adjusted his panel with one servo while quickly sending an affirmative back to his lord.

A rag was used to clean up the evidence. Soon, Tarn barely looked affected, as if he hadn’t been occupied by Pharma just minutes ago.

“I’m coming, my lord,” he said as he stepped out of the medibay, abandoning his miffed lover without so much as an apology or a glance back.

Tarn knocked on his lord’s door politely before opening it slowly. “I am here, my lord,” he said. “What do you need?”

 

Pharma didn’t have time to air out his frustrations, but the cart of tools next to the slab received a vicious kick that sent it careening into the wall. Megatron was going to be a problem, that much was for sure.

Meanwhile, across the Tyranny, a tired Megatron opened the door to his quarters, helmet removed and optics dim. He’d fuelled, but not much stayed down. He’d rolled around on the berth, finding no rest whatsoever. The depth of Orion’s betrayal was immeasurable and it wouldn’t dislodge from his mind. The cloying remnants of emotion couldn’t be snapped, but Megatron knew to bury them under the dull echo of anger.

None of it helped him rest.

Hence Tarn’s presence here.

“Come in. Close the door behind you.”

 

Tarn’s charge-addled mind saw signs that weren’t there. But Megatron was no Pharma, and an invitation to one’s habsuite wasn’t an invitation to one’s berth. He closed the door softly before walking in, still putting a respectful distance between them. His back straight, his servos behind his back, and his optics staring into the middle distance, Tarn was a picture-perfect soldier standing for a briefing.

“My lord.”

He didn’t let his optics linger on his lord, no matter how tempted he was to. It was rude to stare openly during this expression of vulnerability, so Tarn tightened his self-control and promised to himself to ravage Pharma later with this image in his mind.

 

“At ease. I told you not to call me that anymore.”

He was no one’s lord, in this condition. Was it the damn manipulation, or was he truly this tired of the respect he’d gathered through fear and control?

Megatron returned to settle on his berth, an expression of trust and vulnerability to do in any mech’s presence. He’d never done this at the height of his power.

“I cannot settle my mind for recharge. It’s impossible, with what has come to light. I feel a lesser mech every minute this continues to be my state...so I must ask you to use your talent to forcibly allow me recharge.”

 

“When you first taught me of the Cause and the Decepticon way, my lord, you told me that you would be my leader and lord no matter what happened. And that is what you are. Decepticon or not, mnemosurgery or not, you will always be my lord and guidance.”

Tarn wasn’t the sort to defy Megatron, but he was a little emboldened by what happened to him. And in this case, he was trying to affirm Megatron’s power over him, not refuse it. If it wasn’t for this mental reeducation, his lord would never say such a thing, he was sure.

“I am here to serve.”

Tarn sat in one of the more comfortable chairs in the berthroom and reset his vocalizer with a soft click. His first crooning note was experimental as he carefully sought out the sensation of his lord’s spark in the room. It thrummed solidly, unshakeable even as the mind wavered. Tarn never touched his lord’s spark with his power - he had been ordered to never to - but changing times lead to changing circumstances.

He wove docility into his voice. He wove peace and calm and strength, using his talent for things he never used it for. Rather than suppress, he sought to fortify. Tarn fell back on an old tune to give himself a musical backbone to follow. The Empyrean Suite was a song of despair and terror for everyone who heard it - everyone but one. For his lord, Tarn turned his talents to build up and embolden. He calmed the fear, soothed away the uncertainty, and banished the self-doubt. In its wake, only absolute serenity was left behind.

And Tarn had a good singing voice, even without his power’s influence. But not many were privy to that knowledge.

 

It was the right decision, to have Tarn banish his thoughts. The doubt and guilt, alien and artificial, warred with outrage, hurt and anger. Tarn’s melody, however, put them all to rest and Megatron could only feel grateful for the clarity and peace, however constructed and temporary it was.

On the slab, the gunmetal grey mech offlined his optics. He trusted Tarn, ridiculously so, only because he knew that from the very foundations, he had made this mech loyal. Beyond reason, beyond love. Megatron knew. Megatron under this influence...regretted when he knew he shouldn’t. He saved Roller. He made him greater (worse) than he ever could have been on his own.

When he woke, he silently promised, he would speak with Tarn until they came to an understanding.

 

His lord never ordered him to go. So Tarn remained vigilant through his slumber, still maintaining his soft song even after his lord’s spark flattened out to the customary low pulses for recharging mecha. He was a constant presence in the dim room, as loyal as a hound at its master’s feet. If anyone dared interrupt his lord’s sleep, they would have Tarn’s wrath to face.

In the meantime, he watched his lord. Tarn hadn’t seen Megatron in many, many years. And even with his likeness surrounding Tarn wherever he went, nothing could replace the vision before him. And like how Megatron’s was eased by Tarn’s song, so Tarn was eased by his lord’s presence. It left the world feeling right, as if Tarn could fight every problem that plagued his mind if he had Megatron around to be his sun to orbit.

 

Chapter Text

When Orion had still been Optimus, he asked Megatron to come with him on a journey. One to get away from the political drama, he’d explained, and to make sure Cybertron forgot their influence before they returned. He had been planning this trip for himself long ago, to visit the planets he found during the war and speak with old friends. Inviting Megatron along had just been a timely move to enjoy the company of the one mech that was his equal in this universe – and to, hopefully, explore what they started.

His invitation had been formally conducted, explained in the speech that also included his plans to step down and relinquish his title of Prime. He spent the entire thing making dry comments to Megatron and flirting – flirting! – with him in as dignified a manner he could.

The acceptance shouldn’t have been so surprising, but Optimus had still been gladdened.

The days leading up to the journey had been rocky. Despite his insistence on dropping his title, people called him Optimus more often than not. Only Ratchet consistently called him by his desired name, Orion Pax, and he was absurdly glad for the presence of the sour medic in his life. Meanwhile, Prowl continued to grumble and mutter behind his back, clearly displeased by everything that was going on around him.

The peace hadn’t settled in yet. There were still rough edges to file off, still problems with fitting square pegs into round holes. People had to shed war-made impulses and lay down millennia-long grudges in the name of this peace. It would not come easy – everything Orion had to fight was testament to that.

But he had hope. And with hope, he could withstand the grind. But a little trip away, just to have some time to recuperate, wouldn’t be out of hand.

So Orion left the planet without a glance back, not even surprised by Megatron already inhabiting the command chair. The dozens of comms were deleted and Orion set himself at a harsh red UNAVAILABLE for anyone that thought to interrupt his time off. Only the emergency line was still on, but he’d made sure to let people know that nothing short of a three-way war and Cybertron falling into a black hole was enough to warrant his attention.

And just like that, he had personal time for the first time in centuries. There was no one clamoring for his immediate notice. There was no Autobot outpost that desperately needed relief. There was nothing but himself and Megatron, having the peace to work out their issues for the first time in forever.

So they did. It wasn’t easy going, of course. It never was easy going. If things had been easy, the war wouldn’t have started in the first place.

They argued, as was custom for them. They disagreed loudly and frequently over a number of policies and accounts, clashing with vigorous energy as they negotiated and debated and then argued all over again. The two of them were used to this kind of exchange and it was the most comfortable they were with each other, being embroiled in some kind of disagreement.

But this time, the disagreements didn’t dissolve into fights. No punches were thrown, guns were not pulled out. Their tensest moments fizzled out when Orion or – surprisingly, Megatron – conceded to a compromise. And so the Harmony sailed through the stars.

They also navigated their careful and nascent relationship. Like it or not, they had a connection, one that spanned millions of years. Through hate and understanding and insight, they were equals in ways that couldn’t be explained through mere words. They were twin mirrors of each other, both figureheads and symbols of their factions.

The two of them had been shaped by the other, irreversibly. Spending so long in war together had that effect on people.

And upon that connection, their relationship formed. Orion was sure that psychologists could spend another four million years discerning and untangling their relationship, but they navigated it with the ease of people who lived it. And time away from Cybertron wore down their edges. Megatron was not as harsh and sharp-edged as he usually was, seeming to relax the further and further they got away.

Their time not arguing began to catch up with their time spent arguing. For the first time, Orion felt like he was working out an actual relationship – not just another disagreement that just took on physical actions. Touching Megatron no longer became a contest of wills. No more did he have to negotiate their individual minefields of problems and Orion wasn’t sorry to see that gone.

Sometimes, he wondered. Of course he did. He wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t wonder about what they were doing.

Was Megatron planning something? Was this a front for another, deeper plan, one possibly involving Tarn? Orion waited for the other foot to drop, but the passing time revealed that maybe, there was no other foot. And he, befuddled and happy, accepted the slow changes that came over Megatron.

Nothing was ever so satisfying.

Of course, nothing was ever simple. Orion had long talks with Ratchet about what he was doing – and had to endure a blistering rant from his oldest friend when he confessed to the relationship.

Ratchet had been sure to nearly scalp him on the matter. Everything from Orion’s intelligence to his integrity had been questioned by the medic. He was asked if he’d gone insane in the peacetime, or if he had been needled into thinking this way. Then Ratchet had asked if he was taking care of himself and if he was letting Megatron doing anything ‘improper’ to him.

It had been, essentially, a thoroughly mortifying, soul-baring, and humbling experience. Ratchet spared no quarter with him, refusing to relent even an inch despite Orion’s constant attempts to interrupt. His friend made it clear that he disapproved of the entire thing, that he thought it was folly and madness, and that he thought Orion was clear stupid for even consenting to the thing.

But the results were clear. Ratchet was disgusted by the entire thing but he would not actively oppose them. And Orion bore his complaints with quiet dignity, born aloft by the fact that it was only because Ratchet was concerned for him that he went this far.

And honestly, Orion didn’t mind being questioned. Even if it wore on him to have his decisions being belittled, it was better than to be surrounded by Megatron’s scheming yes-mech.

Speaking of scheming yes-mech… Starscream and Tarn still bothered him. Megatron assured him that he had them both under control, but one could never be sure with those two. They were dangerous, peace or not. Those two were unrepentant killers of the worst degree, and Orion didn’t feel bad for scrutinizing mecha that needed such supervision.

As it were, Megatron seemed to be agreeing with him.

Their last destination would be Earth. And even though Orion was still worried by his home planet and the people there, he couldn’t keep it up when he had Megatron to pay attention. Their relationship was growing stronger the more time they spent together, and the strange elation of having someone to call a lover was too distracting for Orion to focus on anything else.

So in the vein of all things that were too good to be true, it all had to be ruined.

And oh, how it fell apart.

Mnemosurgery. Megatron turning on him. Tarn’s sudden arrival and Megatron’s sudden departure.

Orion was left in the ruined bridge of his own ship, devastated like he hadn’t been in years. He’d allowed Megatron close like he hadn’t allowed people in years. And through it, the grey mech had managed to nestle himself in the part of Orion that was still soft despite the brutal lessons of war. So having that all ripped away hurt .

It… hurt.

Like nothing had, for so long.

Intimacy was never easy. It was trying and it was confusing. It was like trying to fight a battle blindfolded not knowing who your opponent was, only knowing your goal. It was somehow scarier than any of his battles in the war and bewitchingly pleasant despite it all. Orion wasn’t a mech prone to emotional outbursts or displays of affection but he’d… but he’d liked what he had.

Loved it, even.

So to know that it was all fake, that it had all been artificial – it was a slap in the face. It was a poison dagger in everything he’d done with Megatron. It suddenly made memories that were good and warm into something sinister, something he had to comb over for any kind of hint of the truth. Orion doubted himself too – should he have known? Had it all really been so subtle that he could not have caught it… or had it been so obvious that only his own self-delusion kept him in the dark?

Had he suspected something, but ignored it? Had he been disregarding the tells of the real Megatron in the favor of the fake on, set up by mnemosurgery?

He didn’t even want to believe it, really. He hadn’t at first, hoping beyond hope that it had all been a Decepticon plot by Tarn to bring his lord back into the fold.

But how did you deny the evidence? How could you deny the picture of that grey, needled neck? And most of all, how could you ignore the voices in your own mind telling that you might… have… missed… something ?

Orion wished he could have gone back to that ignorance. Well, not really. But he missed that bliss, he missed that simple, harmless ecstasy of waking up at Megatron’s side, knowing that there was no war, that he could seek a connection with someone who understood him at his best and at his worst.

And know he knew that – all of that – was fake.

When had it begun? Had it only been since the journey began? Or even earlier? Had Megatron’s first offer itself been a false thing? Was this peace all fake?

Each question brought a new stab of agony to his spark, but they were questions that had to be answered. He wanted to mourn himself and his lost hope for life as just a mech, and mope in the Harmony until time wore down the sharpness of his grief. But Orion had never been a mech to lose himself in melancholy.

Thus, reluctantly, he scraped himself off the floor and got in the fresher to wipe off the energon on his plating. And then he went to the medibay for first aid to fix the damage Tarn dealt on him during their brief spat. And then… and then he cleaned up the mess in the bridge and sat down to think.

Orion was a mech of action. And the situation was clear.

Megatron had been needled. His mind altered, his thought patterns changed.

He ignored the stab of pain the thought brought him.

Someone had done this to Megatron. A lone agent could not have done it so cleanly – there had to be group controlling this. Someone had conspired to destroy Megatron from the inside, to tame him. And to… start something with Orion.

Another stab of pain. Ignored, again.

They had to be found. The damage had to be repaired. And Orion had to beg for forgiveness that deservedly should never come.

I should have known. Why didn’t I guess? Why didn’t I see it?

And if that itself was not enough, there was still the matter of Roller. His own friend. Sweet Roller who had the strength of three mecha and the sparks too. Megatron had taken him and made him into Tarn, into that cruel, sadistic monster that terrorized both Decepticon and Autobot ranks.

It was all too much. How was he supposed to deal with all of this? How could anyone expect Orion to just shoulder these burdens and take it all on without complaint?

On the bridge, he buried his faceplate in his servos.

Because that was what he did. Because he always picked himself up after the fallout and soldiered on without faltering. Because nothing short of death would ever keep Orion from campaigning for what he felt was right.

Megatron. Roller. Tarn.

It should have been too much.

But he could take it.

So the Harmony was fired up. Orion sent a message to Earth declaring a personal emergency and sped away, back to Cybertron to figure out what had gone wrong. He had nothing but scraps of evidence to follow through and his own determination, but that was what had borne him through this war. Orion had fought for the rights of his own people, then he had fought for the rights of every race that got dragged into the war when Megatron’s madness overcame his reason.

And now, it was time for him to fight for Megatron’s rights.

At least, now no one could see Orion privately mourn his losses. Only he would ever know his pain of coming to a berth that felt too large for his single frame. Only he would know his grief, his regret.

On the surface, his mask resettled. And the walls around his spark were erected once more, knowing better than to lower after what his mistake had cost him.

In his eagerness to get away, in his selfish desire to have something to himself, Orion had let himself forget his duties to everyone around him. He had been selfish, just once in his long, tired life, and Megatron paid the awful price for it.

Not again. Not anymore.

There were some people who got to live out happy retirements being selfish and concerned for only their own welfare. Orion was not one of those people. Because his selfishness didn’t affect just him – it touched everyone he was around. That was the price of power. That was the price of carrying his title and his burden.

He didn’t belong to himself. He belonged to the world.

And if he tried to escape the world’s demands, then the world inevitably took something back .

Chapter Text

Life on an outpost really wasn’t that bad, if you liked looking at floating debris and the bristle of guns every time you walked down the main street. The collection of beings living here wasn’t restricted to Cybertronians, some organic species bustling among pedes and trying hard not to be stepped on. A strange sort of symbiosis had been achieved and supplies came in exchange for services rather than shanix. Currency was whatever you could offer, skills, frame, information. There was always someone interested in something.

He had found a nice little niche for himself, affording a small hab suite and relative privacy. Energon was in high demand, but the need for pleasant memories even more so. A mnemosurgeon could get by even with the most basic of equipment and Trepan was resourceful.

He had to be. It wasn’t dumb luck that got him here, and that had him escape inevitable death. When the mech came to end him on Megatron’s orders, it was no small feat to make them think they had, in fact, executed him. But his work was always exemplary and the lack of bounty on his helm assured him daily that his feint had worked perfectly. No one knew he was alive. No one knew where to find him. He made sure wipe all memories from those that might recognize him from Cybertron.

Here? Mech didn’t care where you came from, or who you worked for. Those that had badges ripped them off their chests, choosing the only true path of freedom from the endless war.

What happened on Solace IV stayed right here on the forsaken asteroid serving as home and sanctuary. And Trepan helped keep it that way.

He had a cozy little gig set up wiping the minds of traders that had the misfortune of coming through here. A burly mech who went by the name of Flak ran the protection detail here, taking a cut on every trade made within the small settlement. And working for him had every benefit Trepan looked for in a business partner.

 

Tarn’s method of finding mecha who did not want to be found was an art he perfected. The first and most immediate method was simply using the tracker installed in every Decepticon soldier. Recent runners were usually sniped off quickly this way, not even lasting the time necessary to be registered on the List. But of course, not all traitors were dumb enough to keep their trackers in them for long.

And thus, that was where Tarn’s second method came into play.

The DJD had a wide territory to patrol - the immediate hot spots were centered on Decepticon grounds with planets like Messatine, Cybertron, Hedonia, Pova, and so on and so forth. Then came the wider net that encompassed nearly all of the galaxy. It was impossible for them to actually patrol all of it and hope to meet any kind of success, so a different method was developed.

The Peaceful Tyranny left Decepticon grounds every decade to go out into this expanse. It went in a single direction broadcasting a powerful signal that had only one purpose - to collide with as many wavelengths as it could. Kaon was the only tasked with recording it all down and picking out which signals signified mechanical life forms and which were organic. Considering they sometimes went whole years hunting down single perps, it meant that Kaon spent most of his time picking out signals.

Thus Tarn’s collection of possible outposts outside of their stomping grounds was one of the most prodigious lists in existence. Conferences with Kaon narrowed them down by size and traffic - Tarn was looking for an outpost that was big enough to host a significant portion of a mechanical population, big enough for a mnemosurgeon to disappear on. Then came the trade routes - what planets were getting what kind of shipments? There were large trends that could be observed; organic trade was heavy among the Galactic Council aligned planets and the same went for mechanisms. If you saw a slice of mechanical goods being traded, there was a chance that there was some kind of mechanical life on that planet.

Then he narrowed it down by traffic - the busier the outpost, the higher chances there were of this Trepan being found. So a class III size outpost with traffic below marker X with Y percentage of mechanical life that received Z amount of mechanical trade goods and services - it was all just math, really.

Finally, they narrowed down a list of millions into the hundreds.

The next phase was to run checks matching Trepan’s appearance. A medical high caste stood out among manuals, no matter what he did. Tarn looked for a mixed population that could possibly conceal a mech that may have had a few frame alterations since he was last seen. The list of hundreds got pared down more and more as Tarn eliminated the least likely, and then ordered the outposts from highest chance to lowest.

His visit to each was brief. Tarn visited tens of outposts, shaking them down with brutal efficiency as he sought out his target. Some of the smaller ones were decimated entirely and their mechanical population drained to fill up his reserves while their T-cogs were ripped out. Pharma had the privilege of keeping the more interesting ones for his own experimentations.

And so they went. Tarn worked tirelessly as he organized and re-organized his list of places to hit, tended to his lord loyally, and relaxed using Pharma as every kind of stress relief. Despite being only one ship in a large galaxy, Tarn’s meticulous administration meant that their mission proceeded smoothly.

One didn’t have a reputation for being an inescapable hunter by being careless, after all.

The Solace planetary system was number seventy-five on Tarn’s new list. He took his time, shaking down each outpost and keeping an optic on what ships left what planet. Solace IV was next.

 

Of course, the news of a hunt travelled faster than the Peaceful Tyranny did. Former Decepticons were particularly interested in the news, and often fled the outposts in droves. No one wanted to be found by Tarn, especially not once they removed their badges and denounced the cause that no longer served them. It could be considered betrayal, and most were not willing to seek out Tarn’s personal opinion on that.

Trepan was no Decepticon, but he was always aware when someone made a ripple big enough to reach the outer rim. Even here, people were packing up and Flak was buckling down. As an extension of his crew, Trepan found himself in relative safety, being shifted along with the most valuable goods to a bunker. Not that he particularly enjoyed being in said bunker, but who knew what kind of hunt had brought trouble to their doorstep.

Caution had kept him alive thus far.

-x-

 

“Do you want me to come down there with you, or stay here with your master?”

Pharma knew the answer would probably be the same as at the last thirty outposts, but he was getting rather sick and tired of tending to a surly Megatron who wouldn’t trust him enough to be within an arm’s reach of him.

Tarn tended to go do his ‘work’ alone, and bring Pharma the interesting leftovers, but the medic had been aboard the ship for such a long time, he was getting bored of the same dreary, dark walls and only windows to stare out of. Solace IV had an atmosphere. A sky. Somewhere to stretch his wings.

 

Tarn glanced up from the viewing port to Pharma. Spending so much time together was beginning to give him a scale to measure the mech by. The more of a tone Pharma got with him, the more rebellious he was getting. Tarn could usually mollify him with a hard spiking and a new victim, but it seemed that he was getting restless cooped up in the ship.

Well, Solace IV had nothing that could threaten him. Tarn could stand to bring the mech along for this one trip.

“You’re coming with me,” Tarn said as he brought up a large map of the outpost. It was nothing special. The guns weren’t online and aimed at their ship - he’d been in contact with the outpost’s organic leader. For once, mechanophobia worked in his favor. They would not get in the way of him poking his nose in their business, not if it drove off some of the more cowardly mecha.

Like a wolf, the Tyranny patiently loped behind a fleeing exodus of mecha. Tarn would have paid them more mind if he didn’t have a more compelling target on his mind.

“We’re going down together.” The Tyranny breached atmosphere. With a soft thud, it landed outside the outpost boundaries. The gates would be open for them since Tarn already paid for passage. “Hurry up and go buff your polish one more time and let’s go.”

 

“What do you take me for? I already buffed this morning.” Pharma flicked his wingtips in irritation, watching the light bounce off of his plating. He always looked splendid, even after a rough interface with Tarn. He was the best surgeon, after all. Cosmetic repairs were nothing but idle activity to him at this point.

But the prospect of going outside perked him up. As soon as the ship set down and the ramp finished extending, Pharma sneered, halted in his enthusiasm.

“...there’s organics on the ground.”

 

Tarn resisted the urge to sigh in irritation. “This is an outpost , not Upper Tetrahex. Unless you would like to roll a carpet over the ground as you walk, deal with it or go back to the ship. You wanted this.”

Leaving Pharma behind to simper, he walked onward. The outpost was divided into organic and mechanical living spaces, though most of the population went where they pleased since the outpost wasn’t big enough to support to non-touching spheres of existence. Tarn sidestepped organics but he really needn’t - his aggressive, thick EM field created a disturbing tingling sensation in all the organics that tried to walk close to him, giving him a wide berth of personal space.

Interrogating the mechanic leader gave him a few leads. Some mecha of influence around here controlled the trade and service sector, so Tarn went to them.

 

Pharma watched him walk ahead, very unimpressed with Tarn’s inconsiderate behaviour. The mech could at least have offered to carry him across the swamp of organic beings. That’s what a mech of manners would have done.

With an unpleasant pout to his lips, he transformed, flying after Tarn with a showy twirl before rising in the sky and following him from afar. He was NOT going to put a pede near organics, thank you very much.

Who knew what kind of fluids they excreted?

Tarn’s procession through town was no secret and it was being observed by cautious optics. And some openly displeased green ones, because Flak had better things to do than watch tankformers waltz through his town without a lick of respect or fear in any strut.

Tarn had a reputation, alright, but that didn’t give him the right to walk around as if he owned the place.

Flak spat out the caliper he was chewing on, listening for the telltale ring of it hitting his bucket. Old habits died hard.

Hefting the cannon he’d liberated from some nameless frontliner Autobot heavyweight on one shoulder, he stepped out to meet Tarn halfway. Enough of this display.

“You ain’t shy, I give you that.”

Flak’s crew fell in line behind him, none of them happy to have to deal with this hulking Decepticon rolling into their town.

 

Tarn assessed the group in front of him. No Decepticons he recognized, at least. He could take them on… if he had nuke and his division as support. But Tarn wasn’t looking for a fight right now. The stakes weren’t worth it.

“I see no reason to be.” Foolish of him to bring out his people all in one clump like this. Tarn could drop them with one dropped octave. “I’m not looking for a fight. I just want something you may have.”

Tarn tilted his helm. “Consider it a… deal of sorts.”

::Pharma, if you get shot out of the air by someone’s itchy trigger finger, don’t whine to me about it. Get down here.::

 

::Would it kill you to address me in a civil manner?::

Pharma did come out of the sky though, where he’d been twirling with undiminished joy about having air for his wings.

Flak and his crew noticeably watched the jet fly low and transform, not on the ground but up on Tarn’s treads. There was ample room for Pharma to perch there, looking like a particularly pretty exotic bird.

So, not air support then. Flak let his optics tick over the flier. Unarmed. Medic symbols. Interesting choice of backup, certainly. Maybe even an obtainable bargain. Flak did like collecting pretty things.

“I do like deals. What’cha have in mind? Looking to trade? I could get ya ‘couple of barrels of real interesting stuff if you’re willing to pay the right price.”

 

Tarn crossed his arms, uncaring of the extra weight on one side. Pharma wasn’t much heavier than two fusion cannons. He saw the mech’s optics trail over Pharma and his optics narrowed. He should have left Pharma back on the ship, no matter how much he moaned about it.

“I’m  looking for only one thing. A mech - not a traitor, so you need not concern yourselves with a hunt. His name is Trepan. I have need of his skillset. I have my own things to barter with as well. Shanix, information… I’m sure we can work something out.”

::Stay by me at all times.::

 

::I wasn’t planning on leaving. They have rust peeling through their joints.::

Pharma was fully aware of the stares on him. He was beautiful, of course they couldn’t help themselves. He met Flak’s optics for just a moment, smirking knowingly at him. Flak grinned, denta glinting a faded grey in the light.

“Yeah? I’m sure we can. Now I ain’t saying we have any information on this Trepan, but I wouldn’t say I’m not interested in a deal. Suppose we had something on him. What’s it worth to ya? Shanix ain’t really got any value ‘round here, but that’s a nice ship you got there. Wouldn’t mind a piece of that .”

His optics never moved from Pharma.

 

::That wasn’t my concern.::

Tarn curled a possessive servo around Pharma’s ankle, steadily staring Flak down. “I have kinds of currency, if that’s to your liking. If that is not sufficient, then something else might be. But my ship? My ship is not on offer, nor will it ever be. What is inside it, however, may be.”

Tarn was two seconds away from killing the mech. For the sake of ease, he didn’t think of killing them all. But now… now he was tempted to just peel back their plating and leave them all to rust .

His power made itself known. Nothing obvious, nothing strong - just enough to make them scared .

No one here is available either. Keep your optics to yourself - or lose them .”

 

That seemed to be enough, or at least, it forced enough of a reaction for Flak to pay attention to the tankformer rather than his pet. Or trophy. Either probably worked in this case. Although he did hate to look away from something shiny and new and glinting. Everything on Solace had a certain wear to them...something like the pretty medic would have made an excellent investment, and entertainment.

“No need to be so curt, my mech.”

So the ship was obviously a no-go. Trepan was important enough, however, for Tarn to try and barter, which told Flak all he needed to know. And the mech was using that darn voice of his, for which Flak had installed some buffers to his audials. They didn’t quite keep Tarn out though, he could feel the notion of fear flicker in his spark.

That was some power.

“So you ain’t willing to trade the jet or the ride. Well, that’s mighty disagreeable of you, but I’m a nice mech. You got any nuke on that boat of yours?”

 

If this wasn’t for his lord’s sake…

Tarn’s lips pursed. “Depends. Am I going to get what I want if I have it?”

He could probably take out the two flanking Flak. His voice could handle the rest and then he could go to town on Flak himself. Personally. Pharma could fix him, so Tarn wasn’t worried. But the medic was a liability in a firefight - he didn’t have the instincts of a soldier. He could fly high - but could he outrun guns?

“I want the mech himself. With proof that he is actually here.”

“Who said he was here?”

Flak was willing to get stubborn about this. Tarn was on his rock, in his town, and he would play by Flak’s rules or it would all go to the Pits.

“Tell you what. I will let ya know if he is here, but I’ll only speak with your jet. You ain’t so nice to look at.”

Pharma bristled on Tarn’s shoulder, turbine revving audibly. He was not part of any deal, had the mech not understood very clearly that Tarn would kill him if he dared to continue down this road?

Not to mention that a two-bit thug from some backwater asteroid hardly had the aesthetic taste to make a judgement on Tarn’s looks, when he himself looked like some kind of agricultural altmode hick.

“Trepan is here. Otherwise you wouldn’t be so bold.” he hissed.

 

On one servo - Trepan being here, his lord’s health being at risk, and Tarn’s own disinterest in a conflict.

One the other servo - having his medic leered at, being baited, and frankly not caring enough about keeping these morons alive.

Tarn gently lowered Pharma from his shoulder, disregarding his complaints about the organics. He ignored Flak as he patted Pharma’s shoulder. ::Offline your audials, transform, and fly up as fast as you can. Go to the ship.::

From his subspace, Tarn injected the nuke. Power surged through him, making his optics blaze hellfire bright.

“Let me tell you something, Flak ,” Tarn said, slowly stepping forward, in front of Pharma. His plating rippled as he flexed them in preparation for a fight. “ You could have walked away from this alive. Blame only yourself .”

His talent surged out, not even wasting a single second. Tarn was aiming to kill . He held still for a moment - and then he was dashing forward, putting his fist through one mech’s chest plate with a squeal of metal and splatter of energon.

 

Pharma soared through the sky, leaving the carnage behind. Tarn’s wrath was entirely justified, in his opinion. He’d been willing to barter and pay, but of course, greedy mecha would always ask for more, for the impossible. And Tarn would punish them for their mistakes with extinction. It felt rather empowering to know Pharma had Tarn’s best attention, aside from Megatron himself.

He did an extensive round over the town, after scanning for any AA weaponry online. Satisfied to find the town ill-equipped and the sky unguarded, he stretched his lap out further.

More rocks. A mountain range. A large flat rock in the middle--

Wait. Pharma circled back, making a tighter ring in the air above the flat surface. Not a rock. A roof.

And what secret stash might this be?

 

Tarn transformed his arm and the plates slid back, piercing the mech again. Tarn swung him at one of his compatriots, still growling threats that dropped more and more mecha who could not disable their audials in time. Three more dropped dead simply from his voice extinguishing their sparks. Flak he saved for the last. Tarn tore through them in a storm of lashing plating and fists, crushing helms in his servos even as he shredded them. His plating shifted and rippled, catching digits and kibble before tearing them off. Tarn transformed from his alt and back multiple times in short order, killing them using only the shifting, crushing changes of his frame.

He fought only with melee. After all, that was his agreement with the outpost leader and Tarn was a mech of his word… sometimes.

He chased Flak down with relish. Tore his legs off, then crushed his vocalizer. And then he ripped out his optics, crushing each little bulb inside before tearing out the wires as well. “ That medic is mine ,” Tarn growled into his audial, feeling his spark stutter and fail, “ You were looking at my conjunx, glitch .”

Flak died with a whimper. Tarn crushed his helm for good measure, and tore out his T-cog too. He left the massacre behind. A few smart mecha had ran away when he snapped and none of them tried to oppose him. Tarn combed through the buildings without anyone bothering him, still dripping energon and bodyparts from his seams.

::Pharma. Where are you?::

 

::Back at the ship. You’re going to want to see what I discovered.::

Tone couldn’t really be conveyed through mere comms, but Pharma somehow managed to be smug even through the transmission of simple text.

And he had all the reason to be. Sitting across from him in the mess hall (the nearest room to the ramp with seats) was one surly mnemosurgeon, who didn’t at all look pleased to be aboard the Peaceful Tyranny.

Trepan inspected his surroundings with a measured amount of disdain. The DJD...there was a time where he would have given quite a few shanix to take a peek inside of Tarn’s helm. Now, he had been fairly unenthusiastic.

“I still say it was fairly plebian of you to trick me, Pharma.”

“Oh Trepan. Are you holding a grudge already? That doesn’t become a mech of your station. Oh, forgive me. Former station. Engex?”

Trepan declined the drink. He couldn’t trust Pharma to not have poisoned it prior to their unfortunate reunion. Pharma always had been a snake, even when he still thought he was a righteous medic.

Now? Something had definitely cracked that demeanour. There was something slick and dangerous about him. Probably the influence of Decepticons, judging by the company he kept.

“Suit yourself. It won’t be a long wait. Tarn is on his way back.”

“Back from what?”

“From negotiations with your former employer. He was, unfortunately, not so cooperative.”

“Flak? I’m not surprised.”

“Well, he’s dead now, surely.”

Trepan tensed as Pharma nonchalantly sipped his drink.

“And pray tell why he’s hunting me?”

“Who, Flak? Couldn’t tell you, I don’t know the mech well.” Pharma grinned at him and Trepan smiled sweetly, thinking about how easily Pharma’s helm could be removed. It was pretty and armored thinly.

“Of course not. Tarn. Your benefactor. Why is he looking for me?”

“Wait and see, Trepan. He puts it more elegantly than I do.”

“It’s unlike you to hide behind someone, Pharma. Oh...no, wait, my mistake, I confused you with your friend again. What was his name? Richard? Racket?”

Pharma’s lips got very thin and pointy at that.

Ratchet ?”

“That’s the one! He was the one with the bearings. You? You’ve always been a slick, slick mech who couldn’t take a punch.”

Trepan’s audials wiggled a little as he chuckled to himself. Pharma’s optical ridges creased as he surveyed him, carefully, as if assessing his health. Or mental health.

“Look who’s talking. I carried you with ease, Trepan, you’re barely half my weight. If I can’t take a punch, you can’t take a slap.”

Trepan smirked.

“And you’re an expert at taking those, given that you keep Decepticon company.”

Pharma snarled and Trepan chuckled again. It was too easy to rile someone as vain as Pharma up. He missed this sort of conversation. He hadn’t had one like it in ages. Millennia, maybe.

“I’m joking, Pharma. Relax. You don’t look like you’re a bruised conjunx. More like a well-kept pet.”

“That’s still insulting but vaguely flattering. Now...it sounds like Tarn is here.”

The noise of heavy treads rolling up the ramp had Pharma smile with anticipation and Trepan wish he’d taken that drink.

 

Tarn hadn’t rushed towards his ship, but he had certainly kept a clipped pace. He’d piled his victims in one big heap before leaving, trailing inner energon and bodyparts like a butcher’s wake. No one had bothered him on the way out and the outpost leader was mollified by several thousand credits rolling into his account. It barely left a dent in Tarn’s wealth - and it meant that massive guns wouldn’t be pointed at his ship. A worthy purchase, in his opinion.

He raced back to his ship in his alt-mode, tank guns bristling in anticipation of any further attacks. When none came and he arrived unmolested, Tarn transformed and stepped back on with a low, menacing growl of his engine.

He found Pharma, sitting as pretty as a songbird. And next to him was an even smaller mech, with thin proportions and spidery servos. Tarn’s gaze stuck fast to him, like a predator assessing a new arrival to his territory.

He vented, bringing the smell of death in with him. With every step, little pieces of former people rattled out of his seams. Optics. Wires. Circuits. Tarn didn’t look at Pharma as he slowly advanced on the tiny mech, examining him like a particularly interesting cadaver.

Tarn picked up a servo and stared at it. He recognized those mods, alright. A mnemosurgeon could take many forms but their servos never changed. Trepan’s digits were long and spider-like, extending just a little too much to be proportional, and thin as scalpels. Well taken care of too, despite their owner’s ragged edges.

Tarn’s helm turned to Pharma. He still held onto the suspected Trepan’s servo, poised to crush it if he felt even a flinch too wrong from him.

::You are unhurt?::

“Good of you to have found our target so quickly, ” Tarn said. His optics slid back to the little mnemosurgeon. “ Now . You are Trepan , aren’t you? Has Pharma explained why you are here?”

 

Pharma looked even more smug in Tarn’s presence.

::I’m fine. Are you?::

Trepan had kept still when Tarn examined his servos. He’d learned long ago how to act with hulking brutes covered in gore, and compared to Overlord, Tarn was on the tame side of sizes. The mask was a nice touch. It probably terrorized simpler beings like Decepticons to not see the faceplate, just their pointed badge.

Tarn was a fanatic follower of Megatron, but Trepan knew the truth of that particular mech. That speck of dirt that soared up high. That brain module, he could remember it even now. It had been one of his personal favourites, because it was sharp and aware. Those were the hardest people to shadowplay and the biggest challenges.

“Pharma has been mysterious about it. I can only surmise you have need of my particular skillset and he couldn’t recommend anyone else.”

“I recommended the best.” Pharma corrected.

“Yes, you did.” Trepan agreed.

 

::Surface damage. You can look over it later.::

“You are correct. I find myself in need of a skilled mnemosurgeon and Pharma insisted we find you.”

Tarn seated himself next to Trepan and let go of his servo. He didn’t intend on intimidating this mech - if what Pharma said was true, he’d gone through Overlord’s company and come out on the other side more or less whole. That alone was worth consideration - though Tarn was well aware that not all damage needed to be visible.

He could withhold for now. Those who walked to you willingly were always better than those forced into labor. Pharma was a good example.

“I am willing to negotiate,” Tarn said cordially, “I am quite certain that you are a much better bargainer than your previous sponsor. In the interests of making a mutually beneficial deal - let’s talk, doctor. I want you to reverse the mnemosurgery someone else did.”

 

Trepan paid close attention to Tarn’s words and the tone of his voice. He would have to navigate to some sort of benefit, though he hardly saw what he could get out of the former Decepticon other than a lift to some other outpost, which he didn’t want to do. Solace was still a good gig for him. Even moreso now that Flak’s gang was out of the picture. He could rehash his price with whoever took their place...

But there was something Trepan had been starved off; news. Information trickled slowly to the outer rim, and even then it was mostly false or glorified.

“That is on the tougher side of procedures. You’re lucky to have found me at all,” since Trepan had been wiping out traces of his presence and all, he didn’t want to know what methods Tarn and Pharma employed to hunt him down, “And you’re also lucky I have several things I am interested in you might be able to provide. An updated datacore from Cybertron. Half a billion shanix, since Pharma is such a dear friend ,” Trepan shot the medic a sharp smile as he continued his demands. He was in the better position, despite being held aboard Tarn’s ship.

“And tell me what happened to Overlord.”

Chapter Text

Pharma tensed a little at that name. Tarn had a...peculiar history with the Phase Sixer and every time the mere mention of him came about, he became marginally unbearable to be around.

 

The mood on the ship soured. Overlord was dead, which was why Tarn wasn’t immediately growling, but his loathing of the mech far outlasted his survival. “I killed him,” Tarn told Trepan, “his body is on my ship and his helm is on Cybertron, with Starscream.”

A fitting end for that waste of space. Overlord spent his time better decorating someone’s shelf than he did being alive.

“I can provide the datacore. But the shanix?” Tarn thought for a moment. Money never held much concern for him, but half a billion was a steep price. “No. Pick something else.”

His gaze sharpened. “Perhaps Overlord’s helm can be lifted from Starscream’s possession.”

He was dead. What use was an offline helm for a mnemosurgeon but be a keepsake?

 

Dead. That hardly seemed possible. Overlord had been many things, but mortal seemed too petty for him. It wouldn’t do, especially not a dismembered, disgraced death as decorating someone’s shelf. Starscream...why would he even want it?

The datacore would provide answers to the questions that Trepan didn’t voice. He wouldn’t put himself at a disadvantage by admitting lacking knowledge. He wasn’t that rusty at negotiation.

“I’ll half the price if you can provide me Overlord’s helm. And his body. But the helm takes priority.”

Pharma looked a little nauseous.

“Why would you want his helm, Trepan?”

Trepan didn’t answer, instead sharpening his gaze on Tarn. A quarter billion shanix for a full reversal was a good price, more than fair, and if Tarn had any sense at all, he would accept.

“Overlord, a quarter billion, the datacore and no questions asked.”

 

“No. His helm, no shanix, a look at his frame in my storage, the datacore, and a free ride to wherever you want to go after this along with a promise of your continued health after this is done.” Tarn leaned back, face impassive behind the mask. “That’s my offer.”

It was shaping up to be a long negotiation. But Tarn was patient. And if Trepan was a no go, then he could be killed and a different mnemosurgeon could be located - one more pliant to deals. Tarn tilted his helm in a half-nod. “Maybe you need more time to consider?”

 

Trepan knew not to act desperate. He couldn’t look too invested in this deal, or risk losing any negotiation ground he had with Tarn at all.

“I think you need the time. Perhaps Pharma should explain to you the level of difficulty of reversing a previous operation. It’s not something every run of the mill mnemosurgeon can do.”

And the fact that very few of them continued to exist made Trepan was quite irreplaceable and he knew it as he folded his arms, his precious servos out of sight.

::I don’t want to agree with him, but he is right. It’s very difficult to undo manipulations. Especially if you wish to restore previous processor patterns.::

 

Tarn’s digit was tapping, as it was wont when he was irritated.

His lord’s health was paramount, but he disliked being forced into any kind of position where he did not hold absolute power. And in this case, Trepan was a valuable commodity Tarn could not quite afford to be careless with, not if what Pharma said was true.

“You said Overlord, a quarter billion, the datacore, and no questions asked,” Tarn said, more for himself than anything. He was already worming his way into finding all the loopholes the agreement held. Tarn smiled, pleased. “Hm… I think that can work. Deal, doctor.”

Tarn held his servo out for Trepan to shake. “I think we can have quite the profitable relationship, Trepan .”

 

Trepan waited before he would reach for that servo as he analyzed the words of their agreement. Tarn was pliant, so quickly? Either he really needed Trepan’s services direly or he was looking to wheedle out of it somehow. Mech like that? Used to command and control? There was no way he’d give in so easily to demands.

“Overlord, a quarter billion shanix , an updated datacore and no questions asked.” He specified.

 

“It works,” Tarn nodded, servo still out. He patiently waited for Trepan to shake on it and accept the deal, adding no further commentary. What was Pharma thinking right now, he wondered. Was he musing on the familiarity of his deal with Tarn so long ago? Was he thinking about what Tarn intended to do with the deal, and remembering his hubris that ended up with him being trapped by his own words?

“There is not time to waste, doctor. I want this done soon. With an added conditional - this only applies if the patient himself consents. If not, we return you to your… home.”

 

Trepan shook Tarn’s servo, or rather, he shook two fingers because his digits didn’t close around more of it.

Not that size intimidated him anymore, but he was particular about putting his precious servos in the grasp of anyone at all.

“Consent is not usually something I bother my patients with.” Trepan smiled again, malice in his optics. He did enjoy his work, after all.

Pharma watched him with the superior feeling of an enlightened mech. Tarn never made deals favourable to the opposing party, and this was no different.

“You’ll make an exception for this patient. He is worth more than your entire life could amount to be.”

Might as well use the situation for himself too, right?

 

Tarn pinged his lord respectfully. ::My lord, I apologize for interrupting your repose but the mnemosurgeon was located. His designation is Trepan and he has agreed to reverse what happened on several stipulations - nothing harmful to you or the Cause, of course. All that is needed is for you to accept it. If not, we can find someone else, though Pharma says that Trepan is one of the most skilled mnemosurgeons that can do the job.::

“It will take him time to consider it,” Tarn said. “In the meantime, Pharma, be a dear and entertain our guest?”

Tar didn’t wait for confirmation. He left the two of them to go to his lord’s quarters and knock on his door.

“My lord?”

 

Megatron had not answered the comm. For good reason, because he was fighting down something that felt suspiciously like some sort of panic attack. Mnemosurgery had made an impact on his life before, and the memories of that had been lingering at the forefront of his mind for weeks now. Easily accessible and obnoxiously persistent, they’d slipped into his dreams, into his every waking thought, until he became restless and paced and wondered how often in his life people were going to try and forcibly change his very mind.

But with Tarn’s announcement and the designation of the surgeon, a particular memory shot into his processor, crystal clear and audible. Nasty laughter, the narration of the abuse of his brain, his fate...

Trepan.

Megatron found himself aiming to hide under the solitary desk in the room, cramming himself into a corner as he tried to activate a fusion cannon no longer there for his own protection.

His fans and engine retched with the demand of speed from his unreasonable processor.

“No. No! Absolutely not! Not Trepan!”

He didn’t acknowledge Tarn outside of the door.

 

There were odd shuffling noises emanating from the interior. Tarn leaned in, mildly concerned. “My lord?” he said, catching the sound of loud venting. “What is wrong? Trepan is not affiliated with any factions, as far as we know… and Pharma says he is very good at his job.”

Something was falling over. Tarn resisted the urge to barge in. “My lord, may I enter?” he asked. “This conversation could be conducted face to face rather than through a door.”

 

“Get rid of Trepan! I won’t let him touch me again!”

Megatron allowed the door open remotely if only because he wasn’t getting up to cross the room anymore, hunkered down as he was with his shoulders hiked up and his helm slung slow. Black digits felt for the marks that were no longer there, Pharma having taken care of the mech in the few moments where Megatron would allow him close enough, usually under Tarn’s supervision.

“He worked for the Institute. He did this to me before.”

He didn’t wait for Tarn to be properly inside, he couldn’t even hear the other tankformer’s pedefalls, his engine hammering a staccato of stutters through his frame.

 

Tarn entered to a disturbing sight. Somehow, it was this that shook him the most. Not the dreaded image of those needlemarks or the sight of Megatron and Pax standing together - but just his lord, curled up like a wretched thing under a desk space too small to fit him. He was curled up like the worst of cowards, looking pathetic and pitiful.

Reality struck hard at Tarn’s memories of a mech larger than life. The Megatron that had mentored him and the Megatron here were two different creatures entirely, separated by vast seas of power and personality. And to see his imperial lord so awfully broken made Tarn’s tanks roil sickly. He wished he stayed behind that door. He wished he never saw this at all.

Tarn averted his gaze and stared at a wall instead. He stayed a good distance away, like he knew his lord preferred nowadays.

“I would never force you into a procedure that you do not want, my lord. But given your… condition,” he swallowed hard around that word, “maybe you would like to be calmed before we speak? If not, I can leave.”

 

“We don’t need to speak about this. Find someone else. I won’t have that little fiend back in my brain module.”

Megatron was absolutely certain that he’d come out worse for wear. Even if it meant getting rid of the superficial guilt and doubt, he would not accept Trepan as his surgeon. In fact, maybe the mnemosurgery was just altogether a bad idea. Who knew how much more of himself he stood to lose? How many more people were going to shape the way he thought?

“In fact...don’t find anyone else. I won’t do this. It’s not worth the risk.”

 

When had his lord been so timid? This was a mech who could spit in the face of gods! He’d risked both life and limb for even the slimmest slivers of victory and walked out the other side with his enemies underfoot. He’d faced down impossible odds and through sheer character, he’d overcome them.

And now he was… he was scared of this ?

“My lord, please ,” Tarn pleaded. “You are not yourself anymore. You are not thinking like you used to. You are… you have been made lesser. Please - let this happen. You need this, now more than ever. Your enemies are on the cusp of victory and you cannot let them win. You have faced down worse things than a mnemosurgeon. You need this, before more of you is lost.”

The lord he followed would not have cringed like this. Tarn almost wished Megatron would rage at him for his daring and slap him down. Not turn away, not run away.

Tarn’s words were doing little to make Megatron’s instinctual panic subside. He couldn’t tell if this was him, or the manipulation, or maybe a mixture of both, but all he could hear was Trepan’s laughter in his ear and his predictions having come true. It was terrifying.

“No, no absolutely not. My mind is...my mind is still my own. Trepan will make it worse. He promised he would. Get rid of him, Tarn. And then take me back to Cybertron.”

 

“...as you say, my lord.”

His lord was gone, Tarn realized. And while this was the closest he’d ever come to treachery, a dawning understanding was coming to him.

This was not Megatron. This was the creature that his enemies had installed over his true lord to weaken him. He was still there, but he was trapped. And as long as Tarn  continued to obey it as he did Megatron, then he would never be free again.

A cruel kind trap that forced the victim to embrace it. Tarn could have appreciated the artistry during any other time.

He closed the door before he left, silent and unhappy. When he returned to Pharma and Trepan, however, his field was wiped clean of emotion. “He says he needs time to consider it,” he told Trepan. “You can stay in Vos’ room while he deliberates.”

Rather unceremoniously, he dumped the small mnemosurgeon in the officer’s hab and locked him in after disabling all but the most basic functionalities inside before turning on Pharma.

“I need to talk to you,” Tarn said tersely. He grabbed Pharma’s elbow and dragged him to their quarters. “He says he knew Trepan. That he worked on him before. And now he refuses to allow anyone into his mind. His condition is worsening! He no longer listens to reason, he is demanding that Trepan be removed, he is -”

Tarn stopped himself as he sat down heavily, putting Pharma in his lap. His helm rested on Pharma’s chest as Tarn grimaced, feeling helpless. It was not a feeling he liked.

 

Pharma had kept his cool when Tarn came back, visibly disturbed despite his clear field. It was more often the case now that they were dealing with a Megatron that Tarn no longer understood.

At least the medic was being consulted on the matter, but he suspected it was more the case that he was the only one on board that Tarn could confide in.

Pharma focused on the mech who would be his conjunx. This was trust of a different kind, exercised without thoughts of control and benefit. He could appreciate Tarn leaning on him, physically and mentally.

He reached out, working his servos into the gaps of Tarn’s treads, massaging seams that the tankformer could never reach himself. Finding debris there was less pleasant than a mere friendly rub, but Pharma held his glossa about having to pick bits of dead mech out of his lover.

“He needs you more than ever, Tarn,” he soothed, knowing exactly how to treat the subject by now. With a margin of respect, but all the capacities of decision of a sparkling.

“He has to have the procedure. Trepan is the best bet of restoring your lord to his previous form. He can’t continue like this...he’s barely functional at all. He still has helm damage he inflicted himself that he will not let me treat and it is beginning to rust. If he was merely my patient, I would override his consent for his wellbeing.”

 

Tarn flexed his plating open for Pharma, allowing thin digits to curl up against his vulnerable protoform. He was… unhappy. Horrified. And a little, if he admitted to himself, scared.

“I swore total obedience to him,” Tarn said, voice rough. “I promised to never work against him, to never act against his best interests. And he - he has ordered me to forget mnemosurgery. But he is not well .”

His servos curled around Pharma’s narrow waist. “Can you promise me that you will not let Trepan damage him? That you will work your hardest, your best , to ensure that Trepan reverses the procedure and does nothing else?”

 

Oh Tarn. Entrusting Pharma with the safety of Megatron was the height of trust when it came to this mech, and inside, Pharma preened with privilege. His work had paid off tenfold so far, and this little venture had turned a pretty profit for him. He wouldn’t be foolish enough to mess up now.

“As if my own life was at stake, Tarn,” again, he kept his tone soft, only for Tarn’s benefit, soothing the seams as he plucked them free.

“I will need your assistance. Whilst it is too risky to let Trepan be completely under your talent, it’s still necessary that you motivate him during the procedure. I can’t follow every piece of what he’s doing, but if you let me direct you, we can eliminate any ulterior motives he may be trying to implement. Can you let me guide your voice? For the sake of your lord?”

 

“For him, anything .”

Tarn didn’t hesitate to agree. Why would he, after all? But surely, his lord could get better having the attention of two accomplished doctors, right? Tarn clung to that thin hope for a lack of anything else to hold onto.

After a pause, Tarn chuckled. The situation was grim, but at least he could be smug about one thing. “For such a smart mech, your friend is quite naive. His agreement with me leaves so many loopholes, doesn’t it?”

 

“Maybe Trepan is a little rusty with how the universe works. Who knows how long he’s been on this backwater asteroid?” Pharma agreed, though he wouldn’t go as far as saying that Trepan was a friend. Pharma didn’t have friends. Just acquaintances of various degrees.

“Even before we came to a more...agreeable connection,” he indicated their frames, “you have trusted my professional expertise. It won’t be misplaced now. I promise, Tarn.”

 

“Good. I will hold you to that.”

Tarn wondered about that mech. And about his strange fixation on Overlord. Revenge? Something else? It niggled at him.

“Why did he want Overlord’s helm? What possible use could it be?” Overlord was dead . Tarn had made sure of that. He couldn’t feel a single stutter of a spark from his frame - there was no way he could survive that. “Were they involved ?”

 

Pharma scrunched his face at the notion. He’d read reports, Overlord was enormous. Trepan was a tiny, spindly thing. Anything involving their frames would have been grotesque.

“Who knows what goes on in that twisted little mind of his. He seemed focused on the helm...maybe he wants to keep it as a trophy? A memory? Either way...what are you planning to give him, really, Tarn?”

 

“He will get Overlord’s helm, if simply because I am curious to see what he intends with it and denying Starscream is too amusing to not. As far his money and the datacore…” Tarn shrugged expansively, “he never specified when he would get his money, whether he would get to keep, or how much the datacore would be updated. Or if he gets to walk away from this at all. I am a mech of my word - but words are double-faced, fleeting things as you might know.”

Tarn stroked a digit up the line of Pharma’s back. “I always did think your type tended to be blinded by your specialties… there is nothing quite like popping that bubble of misconception.”

 

“My type? You think Trepan and I are of one type?” Pharma didn’t much like that thought. Trepan was good at what he did, yes, but he was specialised only in one area whilst Pharma perfected the surgical arts in many departments. Besides...he was supposed to be unique to Tarn. Something special. Someone important.

“You should give him the helm and throw him out on this forsaken rock again. That’s the best he can hope for.”

 

“Hmm… no. A mnemosurgeon can always become useful later on. And you and Trepan are very similar. Terribly intelligent - and terribly easy to manipulate.”

Tarn huffed in amusement at the affront in Pharma’s tone. He could be so predictable, sometimes. “But of course, you succeeded where he failed. Stop looking so insulted - I’m getting bonded to you , not Trepan.”

He could make the decision about his lord a little later… right now, Tarn wanted to distract himself. And he had a pretty medic right here with him. “And you’re better looking,” he soothed Pharma, patting down his ruffled feathers.

 

That barely soothed Pharma at all. He wanted to be of more worth than for his looks. And yes, Tarn did make that deal to get bonded with him, to become conjunx endura, but it could also just have been a deal like Trepan’s, in which loopholes existed for Tarn’s purposes alone.

“You’ve known him for less than an hour. Perhaps you’ll change your mind.”

He was sour on this topic alright. Trepan could go, if it was up to him, immediately.

 

“You’re upset.” Tarn said it in a mixture of smugness and curiosity. Usually, most of his jabs rolled off Pharma as part of their eternal banter, but this one had struck him to the quick. It made Tarn curious to see why - and if he could dig it in deeper.

Tarn rubbed his back slowly. “Is it because I compared you to Trepan?”

Did Pharma not like him? Or was it something else? His petulant temperament reminded him of Messatine, and Tarn held onto Pharma a little tighter.

 

“You’ve never compared me to anyone else before.” Pharma would have liked things to stay that way, to believe Tarn found him beyond compare. But one spindly mnemosurgeon asking for a deal later, here they were. Pharma’s usual, amorous mood drained away fairly quickly, spiralling down and being consumed by his ever-present jealousy.

Tarn was supposed to make him feel more important, not like some desperate mech competing for his attention. Sharing with Megatron was bad enough.

 

“What are you going to do about it?” Tarn baited Pharma. His jealousy was a double-edged sword at the best of times. Sometimes, Tarn could profit from it. And sometimes, he found himself with the edge cutting into him. Pharma’s moods were as mercurial as the lightning storms over Cybertron and a fascinating study for Tarn.

“Does he, perhaps… make you feel threatened ?”

Tarn held Pharma indulgently even as he carefully timed his words to have the best impact. “Weren’t you gloating about how much superior you were than he? For something so simple to upset you… honestly, Pharma. Sometimes you make me wonder if you actually see anything at all. Having unparalleled access to my confidences and being my future conjunx is not enough for you?”

It was an ego boost, frankly. Tarn might have laughed if Pharma wouldn’t have gotten even more snippy about it. A part of him was glad for the distraction. Being amused over Pharma meant his lord occupied less of his thoughts. And for once, Tarn wanted to think about his lord less.

“You are in a unique position, one no one else has been in before. Stop concerning yourself with such trivial matters.” Tarn took Pharma’s servo and pressed it to his panel. “Let’s celebrate a successful retrieval instead.”

 

“Are you sure you have the time to spare for that? I would rather not start something you don’t intend to finish.” Pharma knew when he was being played with and for once, he despised it. Tarn could very well hare off again, the second his master called for him.

That was not something the medic could easily forget or forgive.

“As for the bond...That remains in the future, does it? I don’t recall specifying a time for that either.”

 

“Lord Megatron is currently indisposed,” Tarn said, still aiming to get Pharma to stop grousing and play along. “And I did tell you - once Starscream is out of office, we will be bonded.”

Tarn’s optics narrowed. “Having second thoughts?”

 

It didn’t sound enticing that way. More like a treat for Tarn rather than power for Pharma. He wasn’t doubting that he would keep his word. But rather, would Tarn? Pharma might have to reconsider putting all his pieces on the board if Tarn’s attention proved fickle.

“Not about that.”

But certainly about everything else. Pharma made no motion to engage further into what the two of them might consider a celebration. He was no longer in the mood for that.

“Perhaps my time would be more well-spent evaluating Trepan’s state of mind.”

 

“Then what about?”

Tarn was also beginning to sense that this wasn’t one of their more idle spats. Pharma was always a little testy, but he never usually refused anything - he knew better than that. So what yanking on his turbine now?

Old suspicion flared up. Why was Pharma being so… uncooperative ?

“Stay a while. Tell me what’s on your mind, Pharma. I’m curious .”

 

Pharma hissed as he felt the familiar touch on his spark. Why couldn’t Tarn just leave him be, for once? All this work he’d put in for a favourable disposition in the tankformer, and this was still the thanks he received? Pharma’s doubts about giving his life over to Tarn continued to solidify.

“I..” He hated when Tarn made it hurt. He really did. Without pleasure, the sensation of having his frequency modulated was harsh no matter how slow Tarn began.

“I don’t know whether it’s smart of me to bind my entirety to you, when it can never be reciprocated.”

There. Out in the open. He didn’t feel better at all.

 

“You want reciprocation?”

Was sharing his secrets not enough? Was bringing Pharma along for this trip not enough? Was making him his bondmate not enough?

What more could Pharma possibly want ? And, frankly, what more could Tarn give ?

“Did I not fulfill my word to the letter up to this point? Have you not enjoyed perfect safety and comfort, and every privilege that you could have? Just what exactly are you missing that you question this now, you capricious little flier?”

 

“I didn’t say anything was missing. I just...”

Understood that this may not be as fulfilling as once imagined. Tarn would never go to the lengths that he went to for Megatron, for Pharma. Tarn would never deny any moment’s attention to Megatron, and would easily toss aside Pharma.

“You wouldn’t even let me see your face. And if I am not beyond compare, I am not beyond expendable.”

If Megatron commanded it? It wouldn’t matter if the were conjunx or not, Tarn would vanish from his grasp and with him, everything Pharma had rebuilt for himself.

“I am not in a celebratory mood.”

Pharma’s ailerons flared. He definitely wasn’t in any kind of state of mind to be Tarn’s comforter right now.

 

No one is beyond expendable. You are not, and I am not. But if you insist on being difficult…”

His mask was his entire identity. It was what he formed himself off, it was the face that the outside world deserved to see. Thus far, only his lord had the privilege of seeing Tarn’s uncovered face with his consent. And for Pharma to demand it? To say that he was not pleased because he did not get obscure rights that he had no right to demand?

It was just audaciously expected of him, really.

But he was too important to kill. He had too many skills that Tarn needed, and too many secrets to walk away with. Pharma had lost his chance to walk away from this the moment he’d so rudely demanded his attention in that gala, flaunting himself before Tarn like a bird of paradise. Daring him to say another word, Tarn reached up and pulled off his mask. Behind it, he was scowling fiercely. The mask dropped into Pharma’s lap.

“So what? You want to… walk away? Just like that, Pharma, because you just realized that life won’t be all power and privilege? You asked for this! You wanted to have this life! And I gave it to you - and I took what you gave me .”

Tarn grabbed a wing, holding it like he hadn’t for a long time. If Pharma wanted to act up, then he could face the consequences of it too. “Walking away is no longer an option . And I told you this before, Pharma, but it seems you have forgotten. You. Are. Mine .”

This is your life now. And you will live it with me, like it or not.”

 

Tarn’s words and grip were only diminished in impact by his revealed face. Pharma openly stared, the wingtip in Tarn’s claws twitching.

“You’re handsome.”

He couldn’t quite process the fact. He’d always thought all of Tarn was monstrous, and he’d been glad for the mask for as long as he could remember, but to have a face to put with everything else he thought and felt...Tarn seemed much more like a person and not a monster.

There was permanent damage on that derma, scars riddling the surface, but altogether, it was quite the agreeable face. Pharma was, for lack of better words, dumbstruck.

 

He had no reply for that.

Tarn was taken aback for a moment before his expression hardened. His servo closed around Pharma’s neck and Tarn brought him close, so close their nasal ridges almost met. “Is this the last of this conversation?” he asked, warning written all over his tone. “Or must I elucidate further why you are mind-numbingly wrong ?”

 

Again, Pharma found himself too fascinated to be frightened. By all accounts, by all memories between them, he should be. He should know by now when to be cautious with Tarn’s anger. But this close, pressed to his face and basking in the revelation of it, Pharma found himself rather calm. He’d gained another piece of Tarn, another piece to claim and know and secure his place at the tankformer’s side.

“You’ve made it clear to me. I will not doubt you again.”

Because you are mine, Tarn. Mine.

 

That was a suspiciously quick acquiescence. Pharma usually required more persuasion than that. But there was still the issue of his building charge to think about - along with simple annoyance at Pharma for kicking up such a big fuss over nothing. So rather than interrogate him further, Tarn moved onto the consequences instead.

“Get on your knees,” he snapped, “I have a better use for your mouth than having you choke on your histrionics.”

 

Pharma was not out of it enough to realise this was his punishment. Tarn still treated him as a pretty outlet for his every lust and frustration and in this case, he may have deserved some repercussions. He should know better than to present a problem when Tarn was already in short supply of patience.

He slid off of the tankformer’s lap, only to settle between his kneeguards, optics dropping from his faceplate to his panel.

“Very well. Let me perform my duties.”

That was possibly the most subservient he’d ever been at the end of an argument, but he had much to think about and wanted Tarn sated and quiet for it.

 

Finally . He much preferred a Pharma that was quiet and compliant, not prickling at every word looking for an insult to be indignant about. Tarn grabbed his helm and held it in place. Pharma looked positively radiant all meek and downcast between his legs - so much that Tarn was feeling more forgiving already.

His spike pressurized and he dragged Pharma’s helm closer to it. “Use both servos,” he demanded, pulling him closer until his spike rested on Pharma’s lips. “And swallow.”

 

He was already being pliant, and Tarn’s demands were nothing new. Pharma did as he was told, sinking his mouth on the spike with no qualms whatsoever. With the memory of Tarn’s handsome face painted in his mind, he began to dedicate himself to his punishment. He’d like to see anyone else handle Tarn’s spike with such elegance and sincerity!

Even when it was just about giving Tarn pleasure, which Pharma was well-versed in, he found snippets of victory for himself.

Both servos were dedicated to tracing the ridges and stroking thin seams whilst Pharma’s glossa provoked an obscene amount of transfluid from Tarn’s spike. The medic managed to keep the sly, upward glances mostly to himself, but each time, his sucking became more vigorous.

 

Tarn would have to be a fool to not know that Pharma was looking at him. He resolutely ignored him, dimming his optics so he didn’t see the blue-bright flash of Pharma’s optics when the inevitably wandered to his bare face again. He wished he could put his mask back on, but not enough to stop what was happening.

This was a far cry from Pharma’s first timid failures. He was practiced at this now, knowing what to do to make Tarn’s fans whirr loudly and his engine growl. Steam and hot air escaped him as his helm leaned back and he pushed Pharma to swallow more of his spike. His mouth was as good as his valve, both being hot and wet and tight, and this one had the added benefit of giving Pharma nothing in return.

His hips moved of their own accord. Tarn thrust up into that willing mouth, pushing his spike down Pharma’s intake until the medic gagged. The small struggles that became apparent when he did brought him a perverse pleasure - he wanted to see Pharma pushed to the edge again.

He pushed his helm down until Pharma could no longer move back. He didn’t want to see those curious optics again.

 

Tarn always knew how to ruin a good thing. Of course he noticed, Pharma had been too curious to watch his expression. Now, he didn’t have that luxury. Tarn’s spike was far too girthy to be comfortable in his intake and he could barely suppress the reflex to back away. Not that he could physically defy Tarn, that was impossible.

Pharma’s servos scrabbled a little frantically at the heavy spike, searching what he could touch of it but finding most of it actually in his mouth. The panel beneath the spike was, as always, firmly sealed. However, small, slim digits could at least stroke the seams there until heat was pouring off of the protective plating.

 

His optics blazed bright when he felt a fluttering touch on his valve cover. Tarn rarely ever used it - he didn’t know many mecha he respected enough or were big enough to get anything from him there - and the invasive touch made him bristle like an angry bull. He didn’t overload in Pharma’s mouth, like he originally planned - instead, he wrenched the mech back and tossed him back on a table not to far from them.

He used a wing to wrench Pharma onto his front. Tarn lifted his hips up and leaned over him, spike probing for entrance to his valve.

Open - or get it ripped off ,” was his only warning.

 

Pharma’s frame reacted before his mind could catch up, throwing up the cover with haste. His valve wasn’t particularly lubricated, but the calipers expanded cautiously anyway. Had he touched on something else, forbidden? It’s not like he’d been prying open the tankformer like his personal sparkday gift...

A mouthful of transfluid had to be swallowed before Pharma could even speak, but Tarn didn’t give him a chance to say anything in his defense; even though he’d merely sought to pay his penance more pleasantly.

 

Tarn didn’t spend time preparing and stretching Pharma. Holding him down, Tarn immediately thrust in. Without lubricant to ease the way it almost unforgivingly tight and he felt like he could feel the drag of each caliper as he ruthlessly spread Pharma open. The careful fit of his spike wasn’t here now - now was the just the harsh slide of something too small trying to take something too big.

He pinned Pharma down so he could not turn his helm back. There was a trace of wetness in him - lubricant? Inner energon? It didn’t matter - Tarn just slid out a fraction before thrusting back in. He set a brutal, punishing pace that gave Pharma no quarter, using his own frame to be Tarn’s delivering ground for his punishment. He didn’t even allow Pharma the respite of his voice to create artificial lust - he just wanted the medic to suffer.

 

And suffer he did. Pharma couldn’t recall quite when the last time had happened. When Tarn had last taken him in so brutish a fashion. He whimpered, willing away the pain and hoping his mesh and calipers wouldn’t turn themselves inside out from strain. He had so little on hand to repair delicate things like that.

His servos were tucked close to his frame, his wingtips flattening out as they always did under Tarn’s ruthless assault. This was closer to Messatine than anything since their reunion and Pharma felt a lick of that old hatred for Tarn’s strength come back up.

“Please,” he whispered into the table. He hadn’t misstepped harshly enough to warrant this degree of pain, “Stop...”

 

Tarn didn’t. He continued until overload crashed over him, but it wasn’t an enjoyable one. He took it on with a grim air, not even able to be distracted by the pleasant buzz it left in his system. Transfluid gushed into Pharma thickly until it dripped down his trembling thighs and Tarn pulled out with a growl.

He was venting hard. Not because of his overload, but because he was still angry. Tarn couldn’t explain why - it just felt like Pharma had somehow managed to betray him unforgivably for asking what he did. Tarn lifted him up a fraction and slammed him down again.

This is your life,” he snarled into his audial venomously, “nothing less, nothing more. You should have run away while you still could, dear .”

 

The pleasant games they’d been playing made Pharma forget that Tarn could be like this. It certainly took some wind out of the plans he had for the future, and that place at Tarn’s side looked to be more one crushed under his pede. Pharma didn’t cry, he’d given that up long ago, but he didn’t want to look at Tarn’s face anymore.

Run? Pharma had run to Tarn, not away from him. He was bound to collide with him until it killed him. Or at least, that was the excuse he vaguely accepted.

“...Are you finished?”

Internal damage reports filed in, one after the other and he was definitely bleeding energon. So much for the theory that Tarn could be more than a monster.

 

Tarn wished Pharma fought back like he used to. Having barbed comments thrown at his face, having to force down fighting limbs, listening to screams of anger and pain was infinitely better than looking at this sullen, defeated, and debauched medic in front of him. Tarn’s anger threatened to reignite again at being denied his show but there was no fun in drawing the pain out of someone who wouldn’t react satisfyingly.

If he had more patience, Tarn could have worked him to the struts and wrung every bit of agony out of him. But he had never been willing to wait when it came to Pharma.

Besides, the gratification of showing Pharma how little choice he had wasn’t enjoyable when he wasn’t in the heat of the moment. Fragging Pharma wasn’t as sweet when his victory had been won through something as simple as physical strength.

In one violent swoop, Tarn had disrupted their games. The board was on the ground, the pieces were scattered senselessly, and neither side was sure what was supposed to be the next move. Triumph had been bright red and brutal for one fleeting second, and now it was gone.

His armor ticked as the hot metal cooled. Tarn slowly eased off Pharma, leaving him alone on the table. He grabbed his mask from where it had fallen and replaced it before wordlessly walking away to brood somewhere alone.

He paused at the doorway for a half second, not looking back.

“...repair yourself,” he grunted and left.

 

Chapter Text

Tarn’s decision held everyone on edge for several days. Pharma licked his wounds alone, sequestered to the medibay and avoiding Tarn’s quarters.

Trepan had little choice in his location, but he had plenty of thoughts in mind to keep himself entertained. Mostly, the notion that Overlord may not be as dead as everyone thought, if what he remembered about the behemoth mech was true. If he could convince Tarn to retrieve the helm and let Trepan examine what was left of the frame...It required further study, but Trepan had all the time in the universe to wait on his unknown patient’s decision.

 

Said patient was very firm in his belief not to have Trepan operate on him. Megatron  could only hope that Tarn continued to respect his decision and keep the surgeon away from him. Or better yet, get rid of him. Not kill...Megatron didn’t want more lives on his conscience, but he did want several lightyears between himself and the needle-fingered mech.

The decision came. From Tarn, of course, who had command of his ship and the three mech who didn’t want to be aboard. The surgery was to be performed. Megatron could not be left in his sorry state.

-x-

“...How are we supposed to sedate him?” Pharma asked, carefully, with Trepan’s eager audials in the background. They were preparing the medibay in which Pharma had hid away from Tarn’s foul wrath for days.

The mnemosurgeon busied himself, tuning each needle, but he was listening, of course.

Pharma kept his gaze trained on Tarn’s chassis.

 

“The medibay has heavy-duty sedatives available. And my voice, if you need it.”

Tarn was standing impassively in the center of the medibay, watching over Trepan’s preparative work with keen optics. He recognized what was going on at least, and Trepan was doing good work in readying his workspace. Everything was neatly ordered, cleaned, and prepared for when Trepan needed them. He was the very picture of professionalism.

Pharma, on the other hand… he didn’t look good. Or maybe that was Tarn’s own bias looking for flaws in him - searching for damage that might have been missed, for scratches and dents Tarn surely left on him.

The tension in the room was thick. Trepan, of course, was merrily ignoring it.

“I can bring him in myself. He will be insensate on the slab when it’s time for the actual surgery.”

 

“We don’t have any other choice, if he isn’t willing to come here himself. We’ll be ready in ten minutes.” Pharma replied meekly, before stepping away from Tarn to do something. Anything else would do at this point and he ended up sanitizing his servos for the fifth time instead of anything productive.

“Do you have a saw?”

Trepan piped up, throwing Pharma a bone to escape Tarn with.

“...why would you need that?”

“Miners have thick helms. Some wear helmets. Keeps all the goods protected, you know, in case their frame is crushed.”

Pharma merely nodded, not particularly interested in the tough life of an expendable labourer.

“Should have one somewhere...”

Both ignored Tarn’s lingering presence.

 

“We’re not sawing his helm open,” Tarn cut in, tone offended. “I can remove his armored helm. The underside can be worked with. There is no need for a saw .”

As if he was going to let anyone hack open Megatron’s helm with a saw . Even if they were practiced doctors like these two. He glanced at Pharma, then back at Trepan studiously. “Is everything prepared? Have you checked it all?”

Pharma was lingering in the medibay like an uncertain ghost. He had no actual medical duty here - he was only Trepan’s minder. But after their fight… Pharma’s willingness to work with him was shaky. And the closer the time for the surgery drew, the more anxious Tarn was getting. He paced around the small medibay, peering over Trepan’s shoulder every spare minute.

 

Tarn’s stomping pedes and his pacing were annoying enough, to both Trepan and Pharma and the tension in the medibay was palpable.

Trepan glanced to Pharma to do something about the persistent tankformer, but the medic simply checked over the procedure list silently. Something had gone down between them, that much was certain. Trepan wondered if he might procure an opening...sow a little something for later.

“I’m ready, doctor.”

Pharma nodded and brushed non-existent dust off the slab.

“We need our patient.”

 

“Very well.” Tarn moved to go alone, then stopped at the door. “Pharma. Come with me.”

He waited until the medic reluctantly joined him. And they walked on in silence for a bit, so tense that it was as if a wall had been erected before him. Tarn broke it with a titanic sigh and he stopped in the middle of the hall.

“Pharma, we need to talk.” He bit out his words, trying to avoid looking contrite about anything. “I need to know that you will keep your promise.”

 

Pharma had been anything but pleased about having to fetch Megatron with Tarn, but he’d hoped it would be a silent walk. Disappointed yet again, he tensed as Tarn began to speak across the walls he’d been pulling up after their disastrous previous encounter. He didn’t want to talk. He just wanted to do his part and have Tarn distracted with his lord for the next...oh, weeks? That sounded good.

But it would not be so.

“I’m not suicidal, Tarn.”

Letting Megatron come to obvious harm was too dangerous. If there was, perhaps, a subtle change though...

“You’ve been very ardent with having me keep my word.”

The light hint of acid couldn’t be kept out of his voice.

 

“Pharma, you said that you would not let Trepan do anything that is not reversing the procedure. That only that would be done, and you would do everything in your power to ensure no extra changes, no alterations, no missteps would occur. This is…” Tarn looked away. “I am going against his wishes to do this. I need to have a guarantee that is going to be worth it, that he will be restored to who he is and nothing more.”

If the tension before had been heavy, now it was choking. Tarn remained unbending, expressionless despite his words. The gentle words of Pharma’s original promise had no place here - not after what he did.

But now, Pharma held all the power.

 

“There is no guarantee.” Pharma didn’t quit spit, but he was definitely not unaware of who had something to gain in this situation. Tarn could threaten all he wanted to; without Pharma, he’d never know what Trepan was doing in Megatron’s helm. Without Pharma, this would all be impossible.

And it was time Tarn knew that.

“How do you think Megatron will feel knowing you forced him into this? With the same surgeon that put this very fear into him? You take me for granted, Tarn, and you know that.”

By all rights, he should refuse to do this for the tankformer. He should refuse and laugh as Tarn was left with an impossible choice.

“Have I broken my promises yet?”

 

He never had, truly. He’d lied and cheated and wiggled his way into every possible loophole and opening, but Pharma had never directly broken a promise. But Tarn could not afford that. Not here. Not for this.

His pride reared its helm. It demanded to know why Pharma dared act so bold after being punished so severely. It snarled at his audacity, at his impertinence. But Tarn crushed that impulse because the hazards for this situation was unlike any other.

He could have for anyone else - even for himself. But not for his lord. Not when his lord’s mind and future rested on Tarn’s shoulders. For that burden, not even his pride was worth keeping.

Trepan was still in the medibay. And so Tarn slowly lowered himself to his knees, stiff and jerky. There were metallic clang s as his kneeguards met the floor. Tarn didn’t look at Pharma’s face, didn’t want to see what expression he might have on. He stared determinedly at the floor, imagining his lord’s wretched visage and knowing that could never be allowed to continue.

On his knees, Tarn’s helm reached Pharma’s chin. His fists were clenched, his shoulders were tense, but he made no hostile move.

“Pharma. Please .” The word took actual effort to say. Tarn choked on it. “I need to trust you for this. I can’t risk him . I need to know that you will not falter - that you will not let my…” his denta squealed as he ground them together, “my mistakes against you influence your actions. I will… I will do anything. I will give anything.”

Tarn gently laid his servos on Pharma’s hips. Not grabbing, not controlling - pleading. His claws left no scratches, left no marks. Tarn held onto him like a lifeline, losing his pride for this one thing.

For his lord. For Lord Megatron. Nothing was too important to be sacrificed. Not even Tarn himself. For him, he was a speck, he was dust, and such things could stand to beg even their victims for help.

“Please, Pharma. Promise me truly.”

 

This was far more like it, but Pharma knew what the motivation of all of this dramatic plea was. And it was the problem. Tarn would break his own back for Megatron, and yet he punished Pharma for craving more of him than offered. For questioning whether or not dedicating his life to Tarn would be rewarded.

He was in no merciful mood. His fingertips plucked Tarn’s claws off of his hips, which he couldn’t have done if the tankformer wasn’t so pliant right now.

“Apologize to me.” He demanded, voice growing firm, gaze sharp, “Apologize for treating me like your fraghole pet. Earn my forgiveness.”

 

Again, the beast rose. Again, it snarled in Tarn’s chest, demanding that he rise up, that he slap Pharma down, that he grind him under his heel and apologies poured out of his broken mouth. But Tarn forced it down, swallowing the instinctive anger and outrage.

“I’m sorry,” he said, so softly that it could barely be heard. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, loud enough for Pharma to hear. “I was wrong. You were right. I insulted you and I wronged you for treating you the way I did.”

Earn forgiveness. How was he meant to do that? What price could be enough for Pharma’s ire? Tarn could only figure it as he figured all his punishments and deals - he left the choice in their servos. “What can I do to earn your forgiveness?”

 

“Tell me if you mean it. Show me that you mean it.” Pharma was enjoying this temporary reversal, though he doubted that it would give him any true benefit. And perhaps it would inspire more wrath later on.

“Show me that I mean more to you than anyone but Megatron could.”

He was demanding a lot and he may not get it, but shoot for the stars when you have the chance, right?

His servos landed on Tarn’s helm, taking possession of it.

 

Tarn looked up at him confusion. He wasn’t sure what Pharma was getting at - he understood the demand, but not what role he played in it. What could Pharma possibly be asking for now? For him to kill someone for him? For some trophy of his own?

The touch to his helm was encouraging if only because it meant that Pharma was in a good mood to be tactile like this. He never willingly touched someone when he was genuinely upset.

“You will have to clarify,” Tarn said, a little bit of his usual self peeking through the forced subservience.

 

“I want you to promise me that you will be treating me with respect. Not like you did last we spoke. I want you to take what I say seriously. I am not your toy, Tarn. I am at your side. I will be your conjunx. Treat me as that.”

Pharma’s grasp tightened, as if he needed Tarn to ground him as he made his demands. They were heady. They were great. If Tarn fulfilled them, Pharma’s life would be a pleasure, a life of luxury and mutual respect. Never again would he have to be afraid like he had been in the past, in the medibay...

“Never force yourself on me again, like you did.”

 

The promise was longer lasting than this situation. If Tarn promised Pharma this, over his lord’s life, then it was binding. And Pharma had learned, because he left little to the imagination with his deal. They were simple, but they were clear.

Tarn could obviously break his promise, of course. Both of them could. But that wasn’t what this fragile connection was built on. Their first contact had been based on a bastardized deal, conducted in the parameters of a system of give and take, and it carried on into what they had today. Everything they did was a deal. Everything was a bargain.

T-cogs in exchange for safety. Respect in exchange for his lord. It wasn’t so different in the end.

Tarn bowed his helm. It could have been worse. Pharma could have demanded much worse things than this. And though this exchange changed the landscape of their agreement drastically, it was a meager sacrifice to make for something so much more. It… wasn’t so bad. Not at all.

“...very well,” Tarn said, voice so low that it could have been stone scraping against stone, “it’s a promise. You have a deal.”

A deal . Their one dance, their eternal homunculus of a relationship. Yet another deal to seal them both tighter together than ever.

“Never again. Respect. Now, do I have your promise, Pharma?”

 

“You do. I never intended to break it.”

Fool. Tarn had no idea that he’d gained nothing. Pharma was agreeing to another deal, but this one would bear no loopholes that would end in Pharma’s regret and suffering. This time...he knew what he was playing with.

His grip on Tarn relaxed, marginally. He felt better, victorious, but not quite as carefree as before.

“I promise your lord’s safety by my spark.”

 

“Good.”

Tarn rose up, bolstered by the precaution. Now, all that was left was to find his lord and bring him in for his surgery. They walked down the corridor, slightly less tense than before. Tarn motioned for Pharma to stay back slightly and pinged his comm.

::My lord, I need to speak with you. Will you let me in?::

 

::Again? Tarn, how many times do I have to tell you to leave it alone?::

Every conversation they’d had spiralled around the same topic. Tarn insisted Megatron needed the mnemosurgery to recover. Megatron insisted that he did not. And since it was, ultimately, his helm and his brain module, his decision should be the one to respect.

But Tarn had grown moodier with every visit. Whatever else was happening on the ship probably wasn’t doing anything to assuage his mood. Megatron was never afraid of Tarn, but he was increasingly difficult to read, and that was cause for concern enough.

But he would try once more to understand why Tarn continued to ask. The door opened.

 

Tarn entered but this time he was done with pleas. He made polite conversation at first, putting his power in so slowly that his Lord barely noticed the ease growing in him. And then he struck.

Spark aching, Tarn ramped up his power to assault Megatron’s spark into submission. He forced it into dormancy and wrestled Megatron down before he could fight, putting him in a sleeper hold even as his power finished off the last of his defiance. Tarn felt sick but the job was done.

He gingerly carried his Lord out. Tarn treated him like he were precious, so careful to ensure this entire process would be painless.

Setting him on the slab before Trepan, Tarn removed his helm. “Sedate him,” he instructed softly.

 

Trepan recognized his patient very, very quickly. It was also hard to miss identifying him when Tarn carried him in like the greatest, most preciously fragile cluster of crystals.

Megatron.

Someone had shadowplayed Megatron? How hilariously ironic that he was supposed to undo the manipulations.

“On my slab yet again.”

He extended his needles, caressing the brain module he knew so well.

“Let’s see what remains of your tiny mind, hm?”

Pharma had to squeeze past Tarn, surgical lenses descending just as Trepan began the insertion. Pharma could track the progress optically, but he wanted to ensure the stability of his patient, so he unspooled Megatron’s diagnostic cables and plugged them into his arm. This would help him keep track of the sedation as well. Megatron had to stay under. A frame his size and strength was liable to crush him and Trepan both.

“Watch your step, Trepan. Nothing outside of the plan.”

“Of course.”

::Speak a little. He can’t know you’re modulating his frequency. Stay at his current level until I tell you otherwise.::

 

Tell me how you are going to do this .”

Tarn watched the procedure. Nothing seemed out of place but he feared to distract either mech and inadvertently risk his lord’s health. He stood well out of the way, watching Trepan with hawk-like intensity for anything out of place. He hummed gently, maintaining the current spark rhythm.

 

They were trying to control him.

Trepan wanted to laugh at the transparency of it all. Pharma, plugged into the former warlord, watching every system and circuit he could. Tarn, using his terrible talent to try and keep Trepan from any ulterior motives whilst desperate not to distract him. One slip of a needle and Megatron would turn into a brainless machine, completely dependent and thoughtless.

It was tempting, but Trepan had more important things to do than die for pulling a petty move on Megatron. Who was already reduced to very little, if his former bloodhound had to beg any and every mnemosurgeon to fix him.

“I'm looking for residue and hints left by whoever did this. It was a clean procedure, but unless the surgeon is as good as I am, there'll be marks. Like bookmarks. In case anything needs correcting again.”

Pharma watched with a solemn expression. Work on the brain module was fascinating and delicate but this situation didn't allow him to forget for an instant how important this all was to Tarn.

“Original thought patterns?”

“Only as far as the manipulation reaches. Everything else is ingrained into system coding.”

 

Much of what was said flew over Tarn’s helm, but Pharma appeared to have no problem with it. So Tarn did his job and stood vigilant while carefully keeping his power ongoing. The moment was tense - right now, his lord’s mind was being tampered with in the worst way. Tarn could very well expect to die after his lord awoke.

It was strange to see him so exposed and know that he was the one who caused it. It felt wrong. But it was necessary, for without this his lord would be nothing at all. At least Tarn had that promise from Pharma to hold onto. It was a sole bright spot in an otherwise bleak present.

How long will this take ?”

 

“At least another three hours.” Trepan sounded mildly irritated, but it was only a sign of him sinking deeply into his task. Pharma silently cautioned Tarn not to make it too blunt and to monitor quietly if Trepan changed his mind.

-x-

It was a long, long surgery for all involved. Trepan had kept true to his word, mostly, and undone the manipulations he found after reading each marker left cleverly in the brain module. Someone had paid close attention to Optimus Prime and modelled everything necessary for a life with him into Megatron. Docility. Guilt. A complete lack of confidence and an inability to see himself on the side of righteousness. It was almost masterful, if it wasn’t so clumsy in execution. Tiny mistakes marked the work of a novice mnemosurgeon, someone with less experience than Trepan, certainly. Thought patterns were changed, but the behavioral patterns were not. One clashed with the other, the change too rapid, too blunt. Of course this was going to be undone, unravelled by anyone who knew the patient well enough.

Trepan would give this particular surgeon a good mark for trying, he saw some fancy logical loops thrown in there, but the execution was thoroughly flawed. A solid C- of work.

It wasn’t undoing everything that took the most time. It was finding the old patterns, clumsily thrown aside, and restoring them into the mind in question. Work like this was what put Trepan at the forefront of his field and it was a shame he had no one to discuss this with, especially not here. Pharma could no longer be counted on, the medic was, as always, out for himself and this time, in the clutches of a purple tankformer, who hovered over him for the entire duration of the surgery.

Which was why the ending gave him particular relief, if only so he could get away from Tarn.

Trepan gave a verbal report as Pharma closed up the tiny marks on the helm and neck. This time, Megatron would not have to suffer the consequences.

“I’ve kept my end of the bargain.”

Expectant, the mnemosurgeon turned to Tarn as he wiped off his long digits and stretched out his frame. It seemed odd to him that he had not installed anything useful in Megatron for the future, but something told him it was a poor investment. Better not to cross Tarn when it came to such an obvious temptation. He’d get his revenge, if he wanted, eventually. Megatron meant nothing to him, but the mech whose helm he’d been promised certainly did.

“Will you keep yours?”

 

“I will keep mine - after I ascertain his condition. But you will get your datacore in the meantime, though you will have to wait on the rest.” Tarn barely paid attention to the mnemosurgeon as he stood by his lord’s side, checking him uselessly. He wanted to be there when Megatron inevitably awakened.

The entire surgery had been uncomfortable for Tarn. He hadn’t been able to relax even a little bit, he was so wound up. The report sounded all normal… but was his lord truly back? Would he awaken stronger than before, back to his former, glorious self?

“Can he be woken now? His sedation stopped?”

“I’m reactivating cognitive function now.” Pharma commented from the other side of Megatron, where he and Trepan stood, the latter with some disinterest now that the mech was supposedly ‘fixed’.

 

Megatron onlined rather quickly, each system firing on the alarm he’d felt before going into his sedated mode, bringing all of him to the height of awareness entirely too swiftly.Red optics blazed as they activated, the entire frame shifting as Megatron sat up too quickly, arm shooting out to knock Pharma out of the way and seize Trepan by the entire helm, which fit into his servo.

Pharma could only watch as the former warlord rose from the slab and lifted the mnemosurgeon to his faceplate, glaring some truly unadulterated hatred into Trepan. Who should really be used to handsy Decepticons by now, but struggled anyway, servos scrabbling at Megatron’s arm and the servo poised to crush his helm.. He remembered all too well how strong and aware the mind he’d just fixed was, and how clearly it remembered him. Trepan had been entirely unable to remove the memories of himself, and now that he was facing the consequences, he was pretty sure it was Tarn’s fault entirely for putting him in this situation. He’d escaped death by Megatron once before, but this time?

Death did not come for Trepan.

 

Megatron growled something inaudible before dropping Trepan unceremoniously and turning sharply.

Tarn.

 

When his lord rose violently, Tarn could hardly dare to speak. And then he was grabbing Trepan, intent on him. Tarn reached out and drew Pharma back, behind him, and stepped nearer.

A thrill of excitement went through his spark when his lord finally looked at Tarn properly. Some mild concern coursed through him as well, but Tarn didn’t hesitate to drop to his knees in submission. “My lord,” he said, tone reverent, “are you - are you back with us?”

Are you yourself again? Has this entire adventure amounted to something?

He could be punished for his trickery, Tarn realized. Megatron might take offense at what he did, however necessary it might have been… but that was acceptable. Because that meant Megatron was truly back. Pain was nothing in the face of that. And judging by the display with Trepan, he was feeling hopeful.

 

“You deceived me,” Megatron prowled close to Tarn, no longer walking as if the world weighed heavy on his shoulders. There was certainty, purpose to his stride and the way he carried himself.

“And you forced upon me something I despise with every ounce of my spark.”

He didn’t speak with forgiveness, or understanding. Anger blazed in his optics and even though his frame was unarmed, he bristled with aggression. Pharma squashed himself further into the background, glad for the Tarn-wall between himself and Megatron.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

Megatron’s servo curled into a fist at his side as he waited for Tarn’s answer.

 

He… he was back. He was back . His lord was back . Powerful again, with his senses intact, his very presence dominating as Tarn kneeled before him, helm spinning in his heady rush of relief so gratifying he could’ve collapsed then and there.

He’s back. He’s back. He’s back.

And like that, the world had righted itself again. The planets continued to turn, the stars continued to shine, and his lord continued to lead . Megatron could have had his fusion cannon lodged in Tarn’s spark chamber right now and Tarn would have thanked him for it.

“I did it because I saw no other way to undo what unmade you. But in doing so, I went against you. I disobeyed you and I deceived you. I will take whatever punishment you deem fitting for me, my lord. I deserve no less.” His voice did not tremble, but the joyed awe - the relief - was palpable in his tone.

 

Megatron narrowed his optics for a long moment, judging every inch of Tarn and his sincerity. He had a crystal-clear memory of everything that happened to him since...since he stepped down from being the Decepticon leader, really. The night of recharge had been somewhere outside of the Tyranny, somewhere that was supposed to be safe, and that must have been where whoever was responsible for this grabbed him.

He would find them. And personally show them what sort of horror mnemosurgery could be. There was only so much of his goodwill for a peaceful future that could deem to overlook this atrocity. The rest of him was righteously furious.

“...You did well to see through the veil of deception. You outdid my expectations of you...and yet I do not see a row of bloodied helms in front of me. So you do not know who is responsible?”

He didn’t need to investigate. Orion Pax. The name was acid on his glossa. They would have to talk as they used to. With gunfire and tearing each other to shreds, because what had been done to Megatron was an intense, personal declaration of war on his person.

“Unfortunately, no. It was only Pharma’s keen observation that alerted me to your condition in the first place and we were both occupied by searching for the solution instead. But of course, prime suspect remains Pax , since he has the most to gain and the facts align rather well. We can hunt him down, if you please.”

The praise made Tarn’s systems flush with heat. He’d forgotten the euphoria of such praise these last few months… there was truly no greater joy than serving his lord successfully. Tarn remained on the ground, optics downcast. From here on out, Megatron would decided what would happen. If he chose to take this to war, then Tarn would arm himself for him. If something else, then Tarn would follow his lead anyway.

“I cede command to you, my lord. What are your orders?”

Another giddy rush of satisfaction flooded through Tarn. It had been so long since he could ask such things!

 

What were his orders? Megatron had to think carefully. Having enemies on Cybertron was nothing new to him at all, but they had gained access to him when he’d been vulnerable.  He couldn't just waltz back there with Tarn in tow, raining down his fury upon the fragile peace. It may even end up hurting him more, to admit such weakness, to being caught offguard and manipulated. It would certainly weaken the Deception position. And once more...if he presented himself as weak, it would lessen the faith of his own in his decisions, future or past.

Tarn was living proof that Megatron could not be selfish. He could not hide away and fall apart, not until everyone was equal and especially all those wearing a Deception badge. He didn't belong to himself and weakness had to be erased for the sake of the greater good.

“We find out who did this and we find the whereabouts of Orion Pax. If he has returned to Cybertron...we'll see. For now, I want this out of my sight,” he indicated Trepan, who had been working hard on becoming unnoticeable in the background, “and then I'll meet you and your conjunx on the bridge.”

 

Tarn could practically feel Pharma preening in the background. He nodded and gestured at Trepan for Pharma.

::Take him to his room. Lock it. And do as Lord Megatron says.::

Trepan would live - a little battered and a lot shaken, but alive. That was a lot more than what Tarn himself had been considering and the mnemosurgeon ought to be grateful for that. He could spend his time hovering over the datacore while he was still confined.

Tarn followed Megatron to the bridge, still watchful. He looked to see what changes might have come over him - if this was the original, or if there was anything extra. There shouldn’t be, and so far Tarn saw none.

“We can find Pax,” Tarn said besides him, “and wring the relevant information out of him.”

 

There was little sense in not finding Orion Pax, but Megatron felt at sting of unease. Broken trust left deep shards in his spark, and this time, the betrayal had been intimate and personal.

If Orion had done something to him, paraded him as his pet, ground him under his heel...Megatron could have understood that. Remotely. But Orion had started a life with him. A life and love and it was downright ridiculous, but he'd been happy. Orion had been happy with Megatron at his side, docile and full of regret.

Was that the kind of mech Orion hoped him to be?

That insulted Megatron on every level. No. He would have to think further on how to deal with his former nemesis and lover. He deserved special consideration.

“No. Just track him down. Depending on where he is, he may too be investigating or consulting whoever did this to me. I want to confront him with irrefutable proof, maybe even in public.”

 

“That can be done, my lord.” Tarn didn’t understand why Megatron wasn’t demanding Pax’s helm be thrown at his pedes, but his lord always thought several steps ahead. He likely had some kind of of plan in the wings for dealing with the Autobot, one that only he was privy to.

“What of Cybertron, my lord? Should we let it be known what has been done to you, and rally the Decepticons? And there is the matter of Starscream.”

Tarn could send a message to Kaon right now. But if secrecy was the name of the game, then they might very well be out in space for even longer. In that time, Starscream would likely lose what little trust he had in Pharma and Tarn’s own coalition would weaken with his absence. Problematic.

 

“No, I am not using this as a platform to reignite open hostilities. I will not be shown as weak to Cybertron.”

He couldn’t afford to do so. His position had lessened and now he’d disappeared entirely from the public’s eye. Which wasn’t a terrible idea, but he was in no position to be done shaping the future of Cybertron.

“But we will make it perfectly clear to my enemies that I survived their assault and that they ought to cower in fear of repercussion. We’ll keep Trepan as proof of their misdeeds.”

Megatron arrived on the bridge, sinking into the commander’s chair and folding his servos before his face. He had a lot to plan for. His vengeance would not be mere blunt violence. But they, whoever had thought it wise to invade his helm, would pay for their audacity.

 

“...alright, my lord.” The ship would still be flying towards Cybertron, no doubt of that. Tarn needed to show himself around there briefly before they could continue the investigation. And starting at Cybertron, site of the crime, would be the best possible starting location. Pax could be anywhere with his ship now, but Cybertron could possibly provide coordinates for the Harmony .

“Do you need anything else? Medical attention?”

Otherwise, it was another long waiting game. They didn’t have enough information to move immediately.

 

“I do not. I’ve had enough medical attention.” Megatron would not shake off the feeling of violation anytime soon, but there was little time to linger on what had happened and plan for the future. Tarn would have to be returned to the public’s eye. The Decepticons needed their new figurehead back and in full control.

“You’ve been gone for too long. It’s important the public sees you, and that none of this comes out until I decide it is necessary. Knowledge of this will be a weapon, if I need it to be.”

Megatron tapped his chin, wondering if he could plan for a stop at some organic world to vent his frustrations. Plotting and scheming was one thing, but his overwhelming anger at the attack on him was another. He wished he could punch Orion Pax in the face, right here and now, and then maybe-

No. He wasn’t forced to think like that anymore. He wasn’t supposed to crave the mech’s company. He’d betrayed Megatron’s most personal trust. There was no more room for the tender (or not so tender) root of a relationship he’d once entertained with the mech. Before he was forced into domestic docility with him.

And speaking of domestics...he recalled the last conversation he had with Tarn before the dire discovery was made. Perhaps it was time to reward Tarn and his efforts with more of Megatron’s attention.

“I will however, meet your conjunx now. I may have been too hasty in my judgement of your choice. I will not deny Pharma the chance for a personal first impression. He is to be at your side.”

 

“Of course, my lord. Kaon reports that Cybertron is still peaceful, but my appearance would likely soothe rising worries. After that is handled, the investigation can undergo without complications.”

And then, Megatron mentioned Pharma. As in, wanting to meet Pharma.

“Oh. Of course.” Tarn remembered his first disastrous attempt to introduce Pharma to Megatron and wondered if he was going to witness an unfortunate repeat of it. That would be… uncomfortable. Especially since he didn’t really want to give up Pharma.

::Pharma. Come here. He wants to see you.::

“He was responsible for helping much of your recovery go smoothly,” Tarn said, trying to grease the wheels, “and is an accomplished medic in his own right.”

::Don’t talk unless he tells you to.::

The Pits forbid Pharma’s sharp glossa making an appearance here .

 

“You needn’t advertise him to me, Tarn. I intend to meet him.” Megatron would have no more interruption. This mech had, despite his own work on Tarn’s mind and being, managed to whittle himself a place at Tarn’s side, making himself a necessity. Especially given that Tarn had brought him along even when he left his former division behind.

Pharma must be something special.

The mech appeared on the bridge, a little cautious of Megatron, taking his place near Tarn, ready to duck back towards the hallway.

“So, Pharma. You’re Tarn’s conjunx?”

“To be. There’s been no rites just yet.”

Pharma didn’t see it necessary to add a ‘sir’ or bow his helm. Megatron was just another Decepticon now. One that had been under his care for weeks now. The respect that Tarn had for him, Pharma could not emulate.

Megatron stared at him, Pharma stared back. It was a curious matter, to know what the mech was capable of without fear. Tarn would do nothing to protect the medic should his lord decide to throw him out of an airlock, and yet, Pharma didn’t feel unsettled.

This Megatron...this version of Megatron, it held more of what he expected. Menace. Charisma. Power. The kind of mech that Pharma used to pursue for company before he settled on Tarn.

Arguably, this one might be just a tad too far for his tastes. Too scheming, too aware. With Tarn, it was a game. With Megatron, it was survival.

“You’re a good medic. But that does not mean you’re a good mech.”

Pharma’s expression hardened a little, mouth getting particularly pointy.

“I don’t feel that to be a valid judgement in current company.”

“Oh?”

Megatron seemed vaguely amused, wondering if Pharma would dare speak disrespectfully in front of Tarn.

“You don’t know the circumstances I was working under when I broke my coding. But I do believe you know survival becomes a priority over morality.”

“Are you assuming I have no morality, Pharma?”

“No. Yes. You have your own sense of it. You instilled it in Tarn. It took a long time for me to understand it.”

“...And how to use it.”

Both fell silent again, sizing each other up. Megatron had to admit there was a slippery quality around Pharma. He probably wheedled his way through the world, through the old Golden Age, among the richest and most powerful. He was beautiful, yes, but in all else, he reminded Megatron terribly of Starscream. With less ambition for personal power.

Pharma, meanwhile, got a very detailed picture of the kind of mech that shaped Tarn into being. What he was for. Why he acted the way he did. The ultimate tool of war, a powerful mech with an unstoppable gift that would lay the universe at the pedes of the object of his fanatic dedication.

Only a mech who deep down knew his power was not as endless as his charisma would make something like that.

 

Megatron gave the slightest nod of his helm, approval of the most basic kind.

“You have my thanks for discovering the mnemosurgery, Pharma, but let me remind you that there is good reason Tarn’s faceplate is the symbol of my cause.”

Pharma returned the nod, face still pointed and optics narrowed.

“I never forget it.”

“Alright. You can leave now. Both of you.”

 

Tarn took that as the order it was. On the way, he snagged Pharma’s elbow and dragged him out behind him. Tarn waited until the doors for the bridge shut before he gave the medic a quelling look. While Pharma wasn’t flagrantly disrespectful, he still edged the borders of it.

“The next time you address him,” Tarn told Pharma, tone measured, “you call him ‘my lord’ or you don’t speak at all.”

The results hadn’t been clear. Had Megatron approved? Had he disapproved? He hadn’t ripped Pharma’s helm off, so that was a plus, but that didn’t mean anything but that he didn’t deem it time for him to die. Uncertainty made Tarn antsy.

“And no more clever little words out of you. You could have very well died.” Mecha had died for less in the war. Pharma had gotten lucky.

 

“I think he liked me,” Pharma dismissed the warning. Megatron was not his lord, and he didn’t see reason to address him as such. Wasn’t the Decepticon Cause all about equality for the lesser beings, or something like that? Hardly seemed right to address the no-longer-leader of a movement with so presumptuous a title.

“I think he has better things to consider than whether or not I was respectful to him or not.”

Pharma fluttered his wingtips. Megatron owed him a debt of gratitude, and so did Tarn. One day, he would collect.

 

Tarn wanted to sigh. Instead, he just refrained with a snort. The ship had a long way to go before they reached Cybertron and his lord had no new orders for Tarn. Thus, he had a lot of free time on his servos to go fill with something.

“I’m going to my quarters,” Tarn said, glancing at the door Trepan was currently cloistered behind as they passed it, “You are welcome to join me.”

The invitation hung in the air. It was the first one after their disastrous last encounter and Tarn wasn’t even directly telling Pharma to join him. He did actually intend to keep his promise, as Pharma had kept his. His lord was back and his mood was good. Tarn could afford to be generous occasionally.

 

Pharma said nothing, but he did tilt his helm in acknowledgement of the invitation. He was extraordinarily pleased that Tarn kept his promise, and would be treating him differently from now on.

Best not melt into his new role too easily, though.

“I will review the surgery notes...then I may take you up on that. But one last thing;” Pharma too glanced at the door.

“Do you intend to give Trepan the rest of his reward? I doubt I can get Starscream to return the helm, now.”

 

Tarn acknowledged the hedged agreement. While immediate acceptance would have pleased him, Pharma would not be himself without some measure of will-he-won't-he.

“I expect that keeping his trophies will be the least of Starscream’s concerns soon. And it depends for the rest - I may feel unexpectedly generous in the future.” He was certainly curious enough now. Was Trepan planning something?

“I will be waiting,” Tarn said, allowing the invitation to stand as it did. Hopefully, Pharma’s fickle temperament would fall in his favor this time. He was about to add something… then thought better of it. Silently, he disappeared into his quarters.

 

Chapter Text

Cybertron was their destination, but none of the Peaceful Tyranny’s four passengers were particularly looking forward to their return. Possibly because there was ample reason for all of them not to.

Megatron couldn’t shake off the anger. For millions of years, he never bothered to control it. Now it was ready to rupture and the notion to declare another century of hostilities until the responsible party was punished was very, very tempting.

And yet, he wasn’t exploding into the rage that had fuelled his rebellion and his war. Maybe he was missing the outrage on behalf of all mech like him to launch into such world-shattering endeavours, but the manipulation of his mind, it was a personal attack. Megatron didn’t know where to direct the helpless anger and need to forcibly bend someone else to his will. Someone who thought to be his better, who wanted to control his very thoughts. Oh, how he longed to crush their spark in his palm as he told them exactly what kind of future that sort of thinking got them.

And yet.

There was only one lead, one name and face attached to his nightmare of domestic bliss. Orion Pax. Who had seemed so shocked when he learned the truth. That didn’t exempt him from being part of the problem, but Megatron had to wonder about his level of involvement. The mastermind? It was possible, but unlikely. The pawn in someone else’s game? Still possible, but given Orion’s track record of stoicism and moral obligation, it seemed even less likely.

Someone had played them both, but that didn’t mean Orion wasn’t to blame. He’d been happy to accept a docile Megatron, one without spirit or accountability, a pitiful creature sinking into misery under the weight of guilt. A gutless coward who saw no way out other than complete surrender. A coward who abandoned those that followed him.

Megatron spat on the very memory as he brooded over the view of Cybertron.

He would teach those that had dreamed up this broken version of himself. He would teach them the true meaning of oppression and what kind of anger it bred. If they could not empathise with the Decepticons, they would learn to live the lives that endured such contempt.

-x-

“Return to your position, Tarn. You can cite personal reasons for your absence.”

As always, Tarn received his orders from his lord on the bridge. Megatron had recovered his presence of power, despite lacking any other than physical at the moment. His field brimmed with wrathful energy, but he kept it carefully contained. The strike against him was a covert attack, and he wouldn’t make the mistake of public retaliation.

“Investigate the Decepticon population. I may not have been the only target. Locate Soundwave.”

 

This was going to be an uncomfortable explanation. Tarn thought about Soundwave - he’d left the planet in an angry, betrayed huff when it turned out that the fight would not be continued and Megatron was stepping down. Tarn had tried to convince him to not, but the mech had been unreasonable. Unwilling to listen.

“He’s not on Cybertron,” he started, “so I think he will be safe from mental attacks. His location is currently unknown as of now, actually. He… left after the news of your stepping down reached him. I spoke with him and he was most… displeased .”

Furious, betrayed, enraged, and saddened might have been better descriptors for Soundwave’s emotional state after that. But out of respect, Tarn did not describe his full explosion of outrage.

“He did ask me to leave you a message.” Tarn reset his vocalizer. “ Contact me when he is in his right mind again , apparently. He might not have known what happened to you, sir. Perhaps whoever did this to you also sought to drive a wedge between you and him beforehand so he would not discover the mental tampering.”

 

Megatron crushed the armrest under his palm. How far did this all go? A wedge between himself and Soundwave? Was Tarn the next target? His engine snarled and he missed the weight of the fusion cannon on his arm.

“They’re well-connected. Influential. Clearly, this goes deeper than I anticipated.”

Who else was involved? Soundwave deciding that Megatron was no longer worth following meant a tremendous amount to Decepticons who had formerly been in command positions. His entire being was put into question and those doubts had been raised carefully with decisions he made. Not of his own volition, but he’d made them publicly.

The armrest of Tarn’s command chair squeaked as it gave up on life and turned into useless, warped debris in Megatron’s fist.

 

Well. That turned out better than he’d expected. Tarn had been bracing for a punch that never came. “I think that, my lord, he will come if you call him,” Tarn added. “Now that you know of what happened, Soundwave will surely come back to your side in the face of this new conflict. His telepathy would be a very useful tool against the perpetrators.”

Unless, they got him too. Tarn doubted it, but it could be a possibility. He wracked his mind for other Decepticons who might have been taken in.

“Some others have questions, but they will follow me. My division is ever loyal, of course. We still have a foothold in New Iacon.”

 

“New Iacon...”

It didn’t differ so much from the old. It wasn’t as brightly lit or as densely populated, but it was turning into the same cesspool of power, politics and corruption. It was the same story, spun anew.

Their faces were different, this time. Those that rose to power were no longer all similar. Not in frame, not in function. At least his revolution had freed those bound of functionism. And yet, every one of the council members that directed New Iacon and the fragile growth of life on Cybertron was just as the Senate before them. Greedy. Ambitious. Hungry for power at any cost.

Starscream was the prime example of everything wrong with what had begun to fester in the ruins of Iacon. He was the chosen leader of the very mech that despised the war for what it was. A violent confrontation of principles to some. A necessary disruption to their vile system to others.

And Starscream had always been a part of it, despite belonging to a class that would afford him liberties and riches if he applied himself. But selfish ambition for more and more drove the seeker straight to the burgeoning power, pleading himself to a plight of people he did not care for.

And this was the mech chosen to rule Cybertron's slow recovery.

The other council members were as alien to their world as another species. Caminus, Carcer, Velocitron...all of them had felt the impact of the war, but none of them lived through what caused it. And now here they were presiding over a restoration that was beginning to reintroduce the caste system. Intrigue and plotting was natural as venting with that.

Maybe Megatron should have taken more care. He should have known and he did, that he was a target, but not of this level of manipulation. He surrendered his position of power, but it was only his eradication, his disappearance, that would satisfy his enemies.

He wanted to laugh in their faceplates if he wasn't so monumentally angry about it all. Nothing had changed. His enemies continued to battle him with manipulation and insidious politics, rather than recognizing that true equality was the only thing that would satisfy Megatron's Cause.

It was impossible to entrust the future of Cybertron into the servos of anyone outside of his control.

Even Optimus Prime's confidence and trust had turned out to be entirely worthless.

Megatron had given the guilt of his former nemesis and former lover a lot of thought. There was fear and anger mingled with the underlying, deep connection to the mech. Each memory aboard the Harmony polluted what Megatron used to cherish. He recalled the soft connection he thought was genuine. The emotion of having just one spark in the universe, one being that understood so completely that communication often wasn't necessary. Optimus, Orion...the mech had always been close to Megatron, even when they knew nothing of each other.

The significance of their relationship was in ruins now. Megatron might be gracious enough to think Orion would, perhaps, not willingly do such a thing, but the trust he used to have towards the Prime was gone, evaporated. Four million years of trying to kill one another couldn't break the bond a few months of domestic bliss had.

It was just more proof that Megatron wasn't finished with his mission. His Cause remained necessary. Mech were still suffering, a corrupt council was still ruling over Cybertron, and he was once again filled with anger and cruel disappointment.

No establishment deserved faith. Having Tarn poised to smite it all was horrifically tempting, but Megatron remembered the instilled sense of guilt. It had been alien to his systems and unnecessary, but it did crystallize for him now what continued to be important; that which he may have lost sight of during the war itself.

The well-being and future of the Decepticons. Not just his officers, powerful enough to fend for themselves in any situation; but every Decepticon that had ever listened to him and felt the hope of inspiration soar through them. The ones that placed their future into Megatron's anger.

He would mold Cybertron into what they deserved, even if he had to break it down again. This time, he'd do it without large scale aggression. He already, still, had his pawns in place.

Now, he had to play the game the way his enemies did, and crush them at it.

 

The Peaceful Tyranny shot on a straight course towards Cybertron. In the meantime, his lord continued to rule over the bridge. Trepan continued to be restricted to his little room. And Tarn and Pharma continued to dance around each other while plotting their own purposes.

Arrival to Cybertron was not, however, as simple as a touchdown and a greeting. Tarn was a leader by his own right - perhaps even more than Megatron in the public eye. That meant he had certain responsibilities of pageantry to uphold.

Kaon sounded audibly relieved when Tarn told him his intent to return shortly. While actual violence had not erupted, the people were not happy with what was happening and the lack of answers for his disappearance. Tarn had to assuage concerns. He fielded near daily calls from his fellow councillors as politics grasped at him in demand for his time and attention.

So a new gala was planned. One to remind his fellow schemers that he was in their midst and something to calm the unhappy individuals who questioned his sudden trip. All funded out of his own pocket, of course, something that greatly lightened the mood. Kaon was poised to return to Caminus for his much calmer mission of peacefully mingling with the people there while Tarn stepped back into his role.

Economics. Politics. Buildings. Rights. All of it coalesced into a massive workload that forced Tarn into hours of seclusion so he could sort through it all. And while his personal wealth was helping prop up the shoddy economy of New Iacon, it could not go on forever.

Like that, it was time for them to return to Cybertron’s busy climate. Tarn refused fanfare for his initial arrival, instead checking on Trepan one more time before he reported to his lord.

“We are here now, my lord. What will you do? You are always welcome to stay here, but perhaps your public appearance will at least calm the worries of the Decepticons who wonder about your disappearance.”

The gala was soon. Tarn would need to corral the other councillors all over again, but drinks and entertainment flowed freely for everyone - moreso if they were in his camp. While his lord held no formal office, he still held an untold amount of influence among Decepticons. Or maybe it was better that he remained in hiding, just to keep their enemies unawares.

“There have also been… reports of Pax. He is here too. Kaon says he has been inquiring - investigating.”

 

“I will not hide myself away.”

Especially not if Orion was out and about, trying to answer questions he and Megatron both had. It didn’t prove his innocence, but it made a commendable effort into the theory that Orion might have been as much in the dark as Megatron about the plot to change his mind.

Staying on the Tyranny was tempting, if only because it felt to be the last place of privacy Megatron could recall. However, realistically, it was just a ship and as penetrable as any other. No. That was the Megatron his unknown enemies had hoped to create, the one that would bunker down and hide.

“I will make a public appearance, but no address. What happened to me will not reach the public audial. It would be playing into their hands and ignite something likely to end the peace.”

 

“Indeed, my lord. As you say.”

After that, Tarn did not have the time to talk to Megatron again. He was whisked out of his ship by his frantic secretaries who looked to be on the verge of tears. Tarn was left juggling interviews, reporters at his door, his duties, and everything else besides. The hospital was also in a small uproar over the sudden appearance of their star medic. Megatron’s appearance also drew intense scrutiny, but there was enough scuffle over Tarn and Pharma that he managed to pass the worst of the spotlight.

The night of the gala came. Tarn was once more clad in the cloak of his office, freshly scrubbed and polished, and carrying the smell of a freshly changed T-cog around himself. Under the onslaught of stress, he only seemed more predatory, more intent on fulfilling whatever purpose he had.

But this time, at least, he had a guest he could mingle with gladly.

Pharma decorated his arm as Tarn entered the event, ignoring Monitor’s sparkbroken look as they passed him by.

“My, my, what a scandal you’ve caused,” Tarn murmured. Pharma had gone from a relatively unknown face to someone who was in the gossip rags almost as often as he was, simply for his alleged relations with two councillors and a hospital director.

 

“The attention I deserve,” Pharma replied smoothly. He was back in his element, but he’d reached a new part of the game, more intrinsically involved with the important pieces. Monitor and his other dalliances couldn’t compare; Pharma had left their level behind long ago.

The gazes that clung to him only served to make him brighter at Tarn’s side. The stares and rumors escorted the two of them from their entrance to the main floor. It was invigorating, and perfect for what Pharma had anticipated. This was the playing field he enjoyed the most. Everyone would see him at the cusp of Tarn’s power. He wasn’t just a medic, he was a real star. People knew his designation, some of his history, some of his achievements but most of all, they knew he was powerful enough to be here, among the new elite.

Because that’s what all of this was; a new generation of the same old Cybertron. A new Golden Age, and Pharma returned to where he belonged. At the top.

“We should dance.”

 

“I don’t dance,” Tarn said, halting Pharma before he could steer them towards the floor with whirling figures. “I have business to attend to. People to… persuade.”

His quarry was the shiny red delegate of Velocitron. A layabout, by Tarn’s measures, but someone who grasped power gladly. Tarn had been slowly wooing him over to his camp, away from Starscream, but he was slippery on that front. And of course, all the other councillors that had banded together. Carcer’s Elita One never came down from her place, but her representative Obsidian was a fairly amiable fellow who incidentally avoided Tarn with vigorous energy.

Tarn hated these people, but it was not as if he had an option to kill them.

“Go yourself, if you want.”

He kept his optics out for Pax. He saw no one matching his appearance but rumors indicated his possible attendance. “And don’t talk to Starscream.”

There was already a small gaggle of vague socialites who looked like they wanted to ambush Pharma at the nearest opportunity.

“Fine.”

Pharma was vaguely dismayed to be rid of Tarn’s company so quickly. He’d been meaning to show the tankformer’s dedication to him off a little bit, but he could make for a splendid showing himself.

He detached from Tarn’s arm and was approached by the gaggle, who absorbed him into their midst eagerly. Soon, Pharma was whirling around the dancefloor with some happy blue mech, who didn’t quite dare to hold him too closely. Given as to whom he had arrived with, that was a well-advised idea.

Megatron entered alone, and no one made the foolish move of inviting him to partake in any festive activity. He watched them all with a gaze burning fresh with anger, and kept to himself.

The only reason he was here was to show he was not in fact, dead or gone. He was here, he was present, and he was ready to take them all on.

 

Megatron’s appearance was not missed. Decepticon rank and file flowed in his direction, sometimes wordlessly handing him drinks, sometimes just greeting him. The slightly less happy ones grumbled snide remarks barely within earshot (but still well away from Tarn). A few brave ones ventured up to ask where he’d gone and if he was really no longer in power.

“You can’t be expecting us to follow him ,” one grunted, jerking his helm in the direction of the tankformer intimidating the shorter red mech in front of him.

Tarn kept an optic on Pharma throughout the night. He didn’t look like his loyalties were straying, but he still made sure to direct a small stream of idle gifts in his direction, just to remind him that he was not alone and Tarn was watching him. The socialites giggled at it, not understanding the true intent behind what they saw as the affectionate attention of a mech in pursuit.

And away, on the lowest level, Orion Pax was mingling with some Autobots. And despite himself, he didn’t try to move away when his optics met Megatron’s, over the helms of the crowd between them. This unknowing crowd was like a living barrier, the thing that kept the illusion of everyone in place. The war was still raging on around them, but they were oblivious to machinations of the players scattered throughout the room.

 

“I can’t?” Megatron answered the grumbled complaint, his optics breaking away from the stare across the room. Let Orion Pax know he was not a priority. Even if he pleaded innocent in the crime against Megatron, he would never regain the respect he used to command. Megatron’s anger was too deep for any forgiveness.

Instead, the mech before him got the full wattage of Megatron’s attention, and he visibly shrunk.

“I’m open to your complaints, if you have any, about Tarn’s style of leadership. Your voice is not muted, after all.”

Megatron sipped his drink. This war required no guns, just endless tenacity and watching one’s words.

Meanwhile, Pharma was fully indulging in the familiarity of his situation. Easy conversations and flirting was his forte and it was being received gladly. He’d danced until his pedes ached, and now he was enjoying the finest engex, presented to him each time he emptied his glass. He too kept optics on Tarn, but limited his attention to fleeting glances. No one had attached themselves to him, and it best stay that way, or else Pharma was ready to cause a scene .

 

“Why are we following someone who was meant to kill us, before? He’s no different - fresh coat of paint, a new title, but still a monster. You should be doing what he is. A pet cyberwolf has no place speaking for us.” The hard-faced Decepticon that had raised the initial complaint was quite drunk, which explained his braveness. A few of his equally inebriated companions nodded along with him. He sat down heavily by Megatron, almost spilling his drink in the process.

“Pleased to meet you, sir. Never thought I’d see the day, but here I am. A lot of us missed your face ‘round these parts. Ain’t right seeing them foreigners and ‘bots sitting on the council, while we got badge-face being our voice. Us - the real ‘cons, not those cowards who left when the war ended - want our real leader. The one we chose to follow. Not someone - not someone we gotta have if we want to have anythin’ at all.” From his friends, a fresh cup of engex was passed up. The speaker slid it in front of Megatron with a nod. “I’m Technal. Former artillery officer, back when that kind of thing mattered.”

From across the way, Orion’s optics vanished. He had disappeared into the crowd, avoiding Tarn and looking for an opening to talk to Megatron. He didn’t comm him, despite everything.

On the upper level, Tarn had managed to procure someone else to hang to his side. Knock Out had finally been left alone with his beleaguered conjunx and Tarn advanced on the hapless delegates of Eukaris, Airazor and Tigatron with a mildly terrified Lightbright besides him. Her conjunx, Sparkstalker, was trailing on his other side, looking vaguely sick.

 

Megatron’s mind still categorized mech by what role they’d performed during the war. Technal was an officer, which meant he shared the burden of command, of being responsible for those under his orders. Which was also providing ample reason for why the mech thought he could question Megatron like this, openly. The table was getting crowded and the various faces looked to him in hope for answers.

He took his time, considering the words and the engex. This was how it used to be. Back before he really became the leader of a warring faction, and had been the figurehead of a revolution. He used to listen to mech like this and take each of their situations into consideration, allowing them to feed his anger. He in turn was the personification of the frustration.

“Tarn was never meant to kill the likes of you, Technal,” he took a sip as he measured out his words carefully, “he was the mechanic to weed out the cowards and opportunists. The very ones quick to abandon badge and cause now, in favour of a little power in this new system.”

It wasn’t what Technal wanted to hear, that was clear, but Megatron continued.

“I stand for the destruction of the old order...your very frustrations make that clear, do they not? I can’t be at the center of the construction of a new Cybertron. I never learned how. I can philosophise and I can write about the possibilities...but it is impossible to unite Cybertron under my command. The other planets, the NAILs, the Autobots...they will never follow me. I knew that when I agreed to all of this. Tarn isn’t a watchdog anymore; but he remains the extension of my will. One with political sway, incorruptible by the flaws of the system. Now tell me, would you prefer to have a mech like Tarn in control of your future, or an endlessly greedy opportunist like Starscream?”

Perhaps he was being too blunt. But Megatron had no intention to be invisible.

 

“Would rather have you,” someone muttered, and a ragged cheer went for that. Technal nodded along, obviously agreeing with the sentiment.

“Would have thrown Screamer out and never let badge-face in, in the first place. But fine, we gotta work with what we have. Don’t explain why he disappeared for months, does it though? Ruling and leading, and then poof! Gone like the wind. Ain’t right. An’ look at them,” Technal gestured at the upper level, “look at them like they’re the Senate reborn. We’re watchin’ the old world come back right around our audials, and they kicked the one person who cared about that right outta office along with that glitch Prime. Nothing’s right, no. Our own ‘leader’ is mixing around with that ‘bot medic - that damn shiny Golden Age forge, like his own kind ain’t good enough for him an’ his shiny new office!”

More resentful complaints filtered out. About Starscream, about the war, about the party. A few mentioned the bad old days of Tarn, back when he used to hunt their fellows with furious purpose.

“I saw him - I saw him killin’ my old friends just a year back! Just a year! But now they calling him the ‘Decepticon representative’ while tryna put us back down, right back down.” Technal waved a digit. “Frag them foreigners, frag them ‘bots, and frag Screamer. The Decepticons are for Megatron!”

“Megatron!” others echoed. The drunken crowd gladly took on the cheer and his name was cried out loudly, vigorously.

 

Megatron endured the chanting, even allowed it to lift his spirits a little. These were his people. After millions of years of war, they still believed in him. He almost did not want to correct their impressions. It was essential they knew he would never stop leading them, into whatever future there might be.

For now though, he leaned back with his drink, content to let their cheering disrupt the ambience of the gala.

 

Tarn glanced over from the railing, down to the throbbing crowd of bodies. Then he looked back at his companions. “The Decepticon spirit knows no bounds,” he said blithely. Sparkstalker had taken Lightbright away as soon as he could, but Airazor and Tigatron were too polite to flee.

The shouts were loud enough to be heard over the music. A few socialites near Pharma tittered disapprovingly. “What brutes,” one murmured - a Velocitron migrant with offensively bright chrome racing stripes and a scandalously polished chassis. “I don’t really know how you can stand being around them, Pharma, not when you’re so… sensitive .”

“Especially with that one,” the Velocitronian’s twin brother chimed in from the side. They had been flirting with Pharma rather outrageously for that past few minutes, though not with any serious intent. They were too smart for that. He nodded in the direction of Tarn, silhouetted by the strobe lights from below so that he was just a grim shadow that occasionally lit up menacingly by a spotlight before it flashed to a different corner. “Councillor or not - I’ve seen those vids of him. The executions , I mean,” he added in the tone of someone who was dying to share an ugly rumor.

A new, hideously expensive drink was passed to Pharma again by a serving-drone. This time, golden crystals dusted the rim while the drink inside was a beautiful mix of purples and blues with something sparkling inside, almost like a galaxy compressed to a drink. Only one, of course, and a few jealous glances were given to the ostentatious gift.

 

Pharma didn’t hesitate to lift the drink from the drone and to his lips. He was worth every shanix spent on this ridiculous beverage, and it tasted divine. Just the sort of decadence a mech of his standing deserved.

The twins had that rich, Velocitronian accent and he pitied their lack of understanding towards Tarn. A brute, dangerous, a murderer...they had such little sense to analyse the beauty of Tarn’s mind. That he was a tool for Megatron was a given. That he could be shaped for Pharma to wield as a devastating shield, they’d never understand. It wasn’t the readiness for violence that drew in the haughty jet. It was everything hidden away under that mask. The inherent intelligence, the greedy malevolence, the rampant desires...Tarn was an enigma to the public and Pharma pitied them for it.

“I like a mech who isn’t afraid to embrace his past and wield it as a weapon. Why wouldn’t I attach my person to someone I have such ample room in my life for?”

Pharma smiled into the drink. Tarn’s true personality and all of his little weaknesses, they belonged to him. They were his secrets to own and protect.

“He can be entirely too much for a simple mind to handle, but if you have the right, delicate touch...there’s little he won’t do.”

Another glance towards Tarn. He was surrounded by pretty and important mech. None of them would ever go to the lengths that Pharma had, and in knowing that, Pharma was superior to each one of them.

 

“Oh, we’re sure you have ample room!” There was laughter - one of mecha too drunk to control their volume. The laughter became giggles and another mech sidled close. One of Caminus’, one of the pettier sorts that sought attention where they lacked direction. She had her face painted, like the rest of her people, though these marks were clearly for decoration and not office like a cityspeaker.

“So, all the people want to know - how did you manage to seduce him anyway? Everyone says he’s very… aloof .” She giggled. “ I tried to, you know. But he barely lets anyone into his office. I’m Fairwinds, by the way, and I don’t mind the vids. He’s just… dangerous .”

All the people around Pharma were from non-Cybertronian planets, actually. Their origins were not tainted by war. Where the former soldiers saw a monster of a mech, they just saw the public persona with the edge of exciting danger.

 

“It takes a certain edge and finesse.” Pharma didn’t bother collecting names, dismissing the introduction almost immediately. None of these mech or femmes or whatever they styled themselves at had been in the war, and that left them lacking in knowledge and experience. What Pharma shared with Tarn was raw and charismatic, toxic and addicting. They’d never understand desperation or fear or what it felt like to reach your limit and break through it with vigor.

Pity turned to dismay. Their opinions, even if they were among the elite, mattered very little.

“And a special caliber of technique. You see, every brute has a weakness,” Pharma touched Fairwinds’ kibble, with no intention other than to let her feel the lightness of it, the gentle, fleeting brush of his servo, “Every tank has a soft spot,” he drew her closer, enough to feel the heat pouring from a vent somewhere beneath her chassis, “you have to feel it out before you make an incision.”

Pharma’s touch ended at her lips where he drew his fingers away, dismissing the sudden intimate gesture.

 

Fairwinds stayed like that for a moment - then burst out into a gale of excited shrieks. “Oh, you tease!” she said, slapping her servo down on Pharma’s chassis and leaving a sticky residue, “I can’t believe you just did that! Oh, my fans are working now!”

The twins laughed uproariously. They looped their arms around Pharma, cackling. “That was good, you will just have to teach us your medical ways!”

A shadow fell over the small group. Tarn stood over their table, looking as if he had walked here in a hurry. A few displaced mecha were picking themselves up behind him.

“Pharma,” he said, tone just sharp enough to indicate some of his jealousy, “join me. I have an announcement I want to make.”

Fairwinds stared up at him drunkenly. “We were just talking about you, councillor!” she cried. Her hand to Pharma’s, smearing more of the stickiness. “It was all quite so fascinating -”

How interesting. I will have to hear the story later. But please, have this round on me first .”

His power hit the table like a sledgehammer. Fairwinds melted with a loud moan while the twins’ engines roared simultaneously. They took the drinks with dazed expressions, staring at Tarn as if he were an alien.

His power sought out Pharma as well. “ Come along, dear . Let’s leave your friends here for a little bit - they might need some air .”

The sound of fans was embarrassingly loud. Tarn held out his servo for Pharma to take.

::Leave those overcharged imbeciles and come with me.::

 

Chapter Text

Tarn needn’t have bothered using his talent or the comms because Pharma could not stand another second of whatever was slicking Fairwinds’ palm ending up on his chassis. He took the offered hand and pulled himself out of his seat, though the drink came with him. He wouldn’t waste such a nice, free gift on overcharged idiots.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he nodded his helm at the three of them, a triumphant little smile on his face. Tarn was just on the cusp of jealousy, and that was one of his most pleasant moods. At least, for Pharma, because it focused that attention on him.

 

Tarn actually pulled Pharma into the dance floor. Not for an actual dance, no. A wide path was made for them as he lead Pharma along, claws slipping into his seams in the darkness, before they got to a stage. Tarn lifted Pharma up to it, before climbing up after him.

::I took the liberty of some decisions.::

“Welcome, esteemed guests of this lovely get together,” Tarn said, his voice amplified. Helms turned to look up at him. Thankfully, they were all too party-drunk to be an angry crowd. “I have a brief, personal announcement to make. With the ushering of peace into our beautiful home, I have realized that such new beginnings give new opportunities for mending the relationships that had been so brutally broken by the war. In this vein, I am officially announcing my engagement to Pharma, who will be my conjunx in three months time.”

A spotlight burst to life, centered on them. Pharma was the focus, showing him off to the whole crowd. Cheers went up. Someone was sobbing in the corner, most likely the drunk and sad director of resources for the hospital.

Tarn moved behind Pharma and draped a necklace around him - it was a massive network of small chains that went to his shoulders and hung to his waist, dripping with twinkling jewels and other finery. It was some tradition among fliers, apparently, and Tarn thought that Pharma might appreciate the further opportunity to be shinier than everyone else.

He moved to his front again, and dropped to one knee. A part of him was irritated by the loud audience - he would have preferred something private. But this would blow away smaller news and give people something to talk about - something he needed when the news threatened to be too grim for the public’s tastes. People liked to read about happy things - and what was happier than the engagement of a ‘former’ Decepticon now-leader and an Autobot?

“Pharma,” he said, and rattled out a gushing, praise-filled speech that ended with an, “I hope you will accept me into your life.”

Over comm, Tarn just grunted something simple. ::Play along.::

His EM field was not pleased, but only Pharma was close enough to tell.

 

Some part of Pharma appreciated the pageantry. The spotlight, the cheering crowd, the beautiful crystals of his necklace and Tarn kneeling before him.

And another part of him despised it all for how played it was. As if this was all just a publicity stunt...well. Technically yes, that’s exactly what it was, and what Pharma had agreed to, but most of him would like to ignore that fact in order to picture what a sincere proposal might have looked like. Private, probably. After or during an interface, Pharma’s plating sticky with only Tarn’s fluids, the dissipating charge of overloads between them. Maybe Tarn’s handsome face, sans mask...

But none of that was here and now.

He did a good job acting the surprised mech, wingtips aflutter and ailerons open, expression pleasantly flushed.

“Of course, Tarn. I thought you’d never ask!”

He didn’t have to reach down, Tarn was at face level when he knelt, so Pharma flung his arms around his thick neck and kissed the smooth surface of the mask. No one in this hall had the right to see any part of Tarn’s face. This was certainly not how Pharma pictured getting engaged. In his mind, there were crystal gardens, delicate music and lengthy confessions of feelings he would simply accept graciously, rather than return. Romance was something that had left his life the moment he knew he was better than anyone and everyone around him. Some beautiful, poor soul would give their spark to him and he'd deigned to notice them. 

But like this, as part of a political campaign, with a mech he'd never dreamed of being attracted to? It was a far cry from any of his forgotten dreams.

::You could have given me a little more warning.::

 

::Surprising you would make for a more genuine reaction.::

Under the approving yells, Tarn guided Pharma down and away from the light. They could be themselves under the cover of darkness and too many people, not like they were among others. Tarn kept Pharma close to himself, ignoring the questions aimed their way.

::I want to go somewhere else. Without people. Follow me.::

They left the crowd. The people. A small alcove dotted the grounds and the less the numbers around then, the more handsy Tarn was.

“I am beginning to suspect that you enjoy making me jealous ,” Tarn said into Pharma’s audial.

 

It was proof to the high filtration rate of the energon here that nothing followed Tarn and Pharma but a few cheers. Clearly, the message was more important than the participants of it.

Pharma sparkled, even in the darkness, his biolights and optics allowing the crystals to shine. He looked the decadent part, but the real treat would be in whatever Tarn did next. And whether or not Pharma would allow it. Their dynamic had taken a dramatic hit, after all.

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. Should I be insulted that you think a sticky Camien would entice me away from you?”

 

“It’s that you allow anyone who is not me to touch you at all.”

Tarn gladly let himself enjoy how finely Pharma was shaped and how smooth his chassis was. There was something odd on his plating, bit Pharma had been mingling with some drunken layabouts after all. He didn't touch Pharma below the waist; so far, his digits only meandered over his chest, arms, and wings.

A small alcove became their refuge from the party. Tarn pulled Pharma into it and nuzzled his face into the crook of his neck. Heat was pouring off of him.

“You look good enough to eat.”

 

Tarn’s careful touch was noted and appreciated. Pharma was only mildly on edge, aware of the tankformer’s disposition when it came to bouts of jealousy, aware that the last time they’d been intimate, it had not been pleasant. Even now, his panel clamped shut at the idea. Something that Tarn was going to have to fix carefully, if he intended to keep his promise.

Pharma was content to touch the top of his helm, leaving a hesitant little kiss on the mask. He certainly wished he could feel and touch Tarn’s actual face, but he learned not to push his luck. Violently.

“I sincerely hope you do not. I know what’s in the dispenser in your office, dear .”

Filtered inner energon. A barbaric and definitely cannibalistic little indulgence.

 

“No, I wouldn't kill you… you are worth much, much more alive.”

Tarn himself had imbibed a lot tonight. His mellow mood let him touch Pharma gently, more intent on exploring his frame than dating a carnal want. He stroked his chest and sides, scraping over thin seams and urging them to open up for him. Tarn leaned against a wall, holding Pharma to himself.

“Besides, I want to put my mouth on you in an entirely different way.”

 

“Is that appropriate for this setting?” Pharma purred. This was the kind of affection he deserved from Tarn. His to-be conjunx should treat him gently, with reverence. Pharma had put a lot of work into earning Tarn’s favour, especially in the last few months. Megatron, Trepan...Tarn couldn’t have done it without him, and it was time the tankformer acknowledged that.

Pharma stroked Tarn’s helm, his seams relaxing slowly, allowing the affection.

 

“Do you care what these idiots think?”

Tarn happily touched the places Pharma opened up for him, digits dancing over him. He let his engine rumble softly and the vibrations of of his chassis travelled up into Pharma. He was so beautiful like this, all glittery and bright. Tarn wanted to spoil it, to put irrefutable proof out that he had touched such a lovely creature. His mask’s mouth piece slid back and he pressed a slow, lingering kiss on Pharma’s neck cables.

“I want you on my berth, your valve out, moaning my name. Is that appropriate, dear?”

 

“Maybe for a raunchy holovid or a fantasy, but not a gala, Tarn,” despite his words, Pharma was growing warm. Very warm. Tarn was behaving splendidly, all riveted with desire and yet careful in how he was handling the most precious goods he would ever receive.

Frag the gala. Frag the other guests. Only the two of them mattered, and finally, the bubble was closing around them once more. This was how Pharma liked it best. A little hiss of steam escaped his panel and his turbine whined low, pleasantly. He could forget the last, forceful interface. He’d done it before.

“Skip the berth, Tarn. I want you here, and now.”

 

“How delightfully scandalous of you, Pharma.” Tarn touched the seam that hid away Pharma’s spark chamber. Soon, it would be his given time. He wanted to open it and look upon the light of Pharma’s spark right now, though. Perhaps, if he was lucky.

They were cloaked in shadows, but there were still a few voices around them. Two mecha were a short distance away, in conversation, and any loud noise from them would alert possibly multiple others. Tarn kissed and sucked on another cable while his knee spread Pharma’s legs slowly.

“Best stay quiet,” he murmured into Pharma’s neck. “Otherwise people might find us here. And then we’ll be in quite a bit of trouble .” Tarn brought Pharma close, until he was partially covered under the heavy cape. “But maybe they should hear you.”

 

The cape went perfectly well with the necklace, draping over Pharma, heavy and dark. Kind of like Tarn himself, but Pharma wasn’t entertaining analogies right now. His panel was heated and his conjunx-to-be was clearly in the mood to reward some of his long standing efforts. With a small sigh, Pharma leaned back, raising an optical ridge at Tarn.

“On one servo, you get jealous over a touch and on the other, you want everyone to hear me moan your name.”

Nevermind that Tarn had done nothing to inspire a moan yet, even if he was very close to revealing Pharma’s damp interface panel. His frame was conditioned to respond to Tarn, no matter how anyone looked at it.

 

“How else can I make sure people realize you are mine, and mine alone?”

Tarn slowly put a servo between Pharma’s legs. He felt the heat there and the small burst of triumph made him smile against Pharma’s neck. He cupped his panel, rubbing his palm against it slowly. “What can I say? I think you should know well by now how irresistible I find you.”

His servo played with more seams, then trailed lower still, lifting as he did so. Pharma’s right leg rose into the air, supported by him, and Tarn pressed their hips against each other. Precariously balanced on one pede, he would have fallen if Tarn hadn’t been holding onto him so firmly.

Tarn pressed a slow kiss on Pharma’s neck, then jaw. He sought his mouth next. “I imagine your valve would taste as sweet as the rest of you, and that you would moan so, so prettily when I kiss it. How your legs would shake… how soft it must be… I must simply find out.” Saying that, he gently bit on Pharma’s bottom lip before kissing him.

 

A clever retort was lost on Pharma’s glossa as Tarn covered his mouth. He’d let it slide, this being well worth his silence. Tarn’s words percolated and Pharma could only appreciate them deeply. It would be a world of difference to their usual interfacing. This meant something. Tarn had reached new heights of possession with him, and Pharma could find out what it was truly about at some later point. His pleasure always came first.

The kiss wasn’t hurried, but it was greedy. Pharma invited Tarn’s glossa, relishing the taste of fine energon (definitely not inner) in the mouth of his lover.

Defining Tarn as such was still odd, all things considering, but Pharma was ready to revel in this new dimension between them, brought forth by careful efforts on his part and Tarn’s willingness to make a deal.

 

How far away were the elevators? Tarn could scarcely remember when he was so preoccupied with a handful of charged medic in his servos. The Tyranny was too far away to go to… but perhaps his office could work.

Their kiss was highly involved, distracting, circuit-searing. Pharma was probably going to have purple paint streaks all over him come morning. Their panels were both closed but they steamed heavily while Tarn groped Pharma. Their little alcove was sweltering, but Tarn was too taken with Pharma to care.

“Should we take this elsewhere?” Pharma looked perfectly debauched like this, optics bright and turbine whirring. Tarn himself was no better off.

 

“I thought it was going somewhere already.”

Pharma, in the needy heat of the moment, wasn’t above quips and a smirk. Tarn was being a furnace, as usual, and it only served to amp up his own internal temperature. The streaks wouldn’t be nearly as bad as the steam stains if this continued so rampantly.

“Somewhere with a view, dear.”

Pharma stretched closer to Tarn, already being held up entirely by the tankformer alone and making absolutely no move to walk on his own. If Tarn knew what was good for his interfacing life, he’d carry Pharma off swiftly. Time was precious and ticking by.

He found himself understood quite immediately, because Tarn did, in fact, carry him with ease. They weren’t ducking from shadow to shadow per se, but all the gala guests were being avoided. Somewhere, someone was still chanting Megatron’s designation and the rowdy noise indicated something was happening to draw attention away from them, which was perfectly fine with Pharma. They’d already made their announcement. The world could do with it what it pleased.

The elevator was a dim sanctuary.

 

In it, all noise was sealed off. Suddenly, their fans and vents could be perfectly audible, no longer covered by the party. Tarn’s engine growled loudly as steam hissed out from under his plating. He crowded Pharma against the opposite wall, touching him all over. His plating was hot and smooth, opening up for him in ways that was almost lost. Tarn took his chances greedily.

He lifted Pharma up, and braced him against the elevator wall. With one servo, he slapped the sigil for his floor. There was a whir as the elevator began to move up. Tarn kissed Pharma’s beautifully extended neck before venturing downwards. But before he did, he paused and glanced up.

He remembered the deal. And he remembered that without Pharma, none of this would have gone smoothly. For being an Autobot, Pharma had saved a lot of Decepticons recently.

He… deserved something. More than what Tarn normally gave. A smidgen of respect, perhaps, and recognition for his deeds.

Tarn lifted Pharma up higher. Carefully, he kissed the very top of his panel. Then he said, measuring his words, “ My mask .”

With an audible click, the locks for his mask released. All Pharma had to do was take it off.

 

The position was increasingly difficult, but Pharma entirely relied on Tarn to hold up his weight. There were plenty of benefits to having a behemoth for a lover, and this was one of them. At times like these, Pharma could appreciate how easily Tarn could crush his entire frame. Yet here he was, worshipping it.

When the mask clicked, however, the jet was pulled from his reverie. Oh? So this really did mean something...special. A reward of sorts, certainly. The mask had been a sore point before, and here it finally was, about to be removed with permission.

Pharma didn’t hesitate to pluck it away from Tarn’s handsome, scarred face. Maybe the mech wouldn’t be as good looking if Pharma hadn’t become so intimately acquainted with him beforehand, but to him, Tarn’s face perfectly reflected the mech and his entire existence.

“So much better,” he purred, though he kept the mask in his servos, bringing it up to his faceplate after a moment and placing a kiss against the smooth surface that usually hid Tarn from the world.

 

There was something symbolic about this entire situation. But hell if Tarn cared enough to think too deeply about it. His optics trained on Pharma’s awed face, he pressed another long, lascivious kiss on his panel. “Open for me,” he purred, uncaring of how exposed the two of them were. Tarn sparked with little bolts of charge that lit up on his plating, obviously eager to touch more of Pharma.

His glossa drew a wet line down the two seams that bordered Pharma’s panel. “I want you.”

 

And who was Pharma to refuse Tarn his needs and wants?

The panel opened with a wet little pop, lubricant already dripping from his valve. Every little touch had evoked the production of it, encouraging Pharma’s overly eager interfacing protocol into hyperactivity. To say he was ready for Tarn was putting it mildly.

Pharma himself was still dazed from the kiss. With Tarn’s optics framed inside an actual face, it made him feel...something. A pulse of some sort that went straight through his chassis to his spark.

“I’m yours.”

 

“Indeed, you are.”

Tarn held Pharma up like a treasured gift. The moment was still between them as they both contemplated the sudden changes in their relationship - before it was swept away by more immediate concerns. Pharma’s valve was presented before him, wet and glistening in the the low light emitted by his biolights, and Tarn wanted to sink into it as soon as possible.

He stumbled out of the elevator with Pharma in tow, deeper into his office. Along the way they murmured soft, meaningless things to each other, too distracted to really think about what slipped through their mouths. Pharma’s valve ground against Tarn’s armor as he laid him across the nearest flat surface available - his desk.

Under the dim starlight of the night sky, spread out over his work surface, Pharma looked sinful. He hid nothing now, legs open shamelessly. Tarn dragged his servos down his chest, heavy and hot, moving like a mech who had no option to do anything else. He dropped to his knees before Pharma, mouthing along his flaring plates.

Slowly, Tarn drew closer to his valve. It almost trembled under his touch, soft lining bared, and Tarn pushed a digit between the folds. He felt Pharma tense around him briefly before relaxing, calipers cycling open to welcome the intrusion. Tarn did not push in deeply, content to linger just around the first ring.

He waited until Pharma’s turbine was wheezing before his lips dropped to his valve. His glossa pushed through his thick lining. The flat of his glossa parted them easily and he collected strands of the thick lubricant that stretched between the two folds. Tarn spent his time here, not rushing as he savored the taste and feel of Pharma in his mouth. He held onto his legs tightly, keeping them spread apart and his hips flat on the desk. Obscene sounds drifted up to where Pharma’s helm hung partially off the desk, facing the wide windows that looked out into New Iacon’s emerging skyline.

 

Pharma had demanded a view, and now he got to appreciate it. New Iacon wasn’t the gorgeous, vibrant city that old Iacon had been, but it was on the road to recovery and definitely the only city on Cybertron Pharma would deign to live.

However, the view wasn’t the only spectacular thing in Tarn’s office. That dangerous mouth had descended upon his panel, his valve and Pharma had never appreciated Tarn more. This was miles better than a mere, hasty interface. This was Tarn, finally putting in the time and effort Pharma’s beautiful valve deserved. He hoped the tankformer burned the vision of it into his mind, seared it behind his optics. Because he should have been appreciating it for all the time that he’d known Pharma.

His servos scrabbled a little to find a hold, knocking things over on the desk as he tilted his helm further off of the smooth surface. The skyline was great to behold, upside down and with charge climbing over his frame.

Tarn. ..That’s good.” he purred encouragement, legs lax in the tankformer’s grasp.

 

The office was dim, lit up only by the ambient light of the city. Tarn could just see the outline of Pharma, glorious and gorgeous, and he purred against his valve. It yielded under his lips, soft in a way he never got to appreciate before.

Lubricant trickled down from his valve. Tarn lapped it up, making a mess of both himself and his medic as he laved attention on him. He reached up to gently part Pharma’s valve with his thumbs and his node caught his eye as it glowed just above plush blue lining. Tarn’s glossa slid up to it, feeling the slightest give of the little nub when he reached it. He stretched Pharma’s valve further open while his lips closed around his node and Tarn sucked none too gently on it.

Two digits pushed into Pharma’s valve. He was exquisitely wet, making the stretch silky soft, and Tarn leisurely felt around inside him. His calipers rippled, clearly begging for something larger, but Tarn enjoyed the slow exploration and teasing of nodes while he dedicated most of his attention on his anterior node.

 

The slow pace was nice for a change. Usually, there was a certain lack of patience on Tarn’s part in all of this, but today, it was all about Pharma. All about his pleasure. Tarn had never bothered to take so much care with him and even though an impatient ripple ran through Pharma’s calipers, he could grow used. Tarn’s mouth was exquisite and Pharma’s node flared under his ministrations.

The medic rewarded him with a pretty moan and an arched spinal strut. If he kept up this pace, however, Pharma would find an overload long before Tarn intended.

 

Pharma really did take care to appear pretty even in the most vulnerable of positions. Tarn’s panel ached for release but he concentrated on the mech becoming undone right in front of him, savoring the show of flared plating, bending struts, and exposed circuitry in front of him. Pharma was just a medical flier, but he made his frame look so good. The electric blue lights of the city caressed the front of his glossy, sleek chassis, lighting him angelically, and that contrasted brilliantly with the obscene, wanton way his legs splayed over Tarn’s shoulders while his hips gyrated and scraped over the desk’s surface.

The loud whirr of his turbine filled the still office. It wheezed and stuttered whenever Tarn’s digits angled differently in his valve, before singing a loud, lusty song when he sucked on that cute little node harder than Pharma expected. Their fields were mingling, playing off each other’s energies in a subtle, just-there way that made Tarn’s cables tingle with further anticipation.

He mouthed down, back to Pharma’s gushing valve and tasted the charge racing through his fluids. Biolights lit the way like a teasing treasure trail of treats that Tarn followed, licking and suckling Pharma into a wild frenzy. The cries and moans echoed around the blank walls, so loud that Tarn almost thought the whole city could hear them by now.

It was nearly disappointing that he did not have more servos to touch Pharma with. His valve was immediately arresting, but Tarn’s thought veered off towards the mechanics of his gorgeous frame and how it strained and struggled. Had it been a different situation, Pharma’s writhing could have looked like fear. But now, he was only driving up to Tarn’s mouth whenever he dared back away even for a second.

 

It was sweet torture and bliss in one. Pharma could easily endure a couple of rounds like this, with Tarn giving him all the treats his oral skill could provide. But alas, his frame had waited for too long and had been charging since Tarn’s impromptu proposal. Not that it had been a terribly romantic affair, but it showered Pharma with the right kind of attention. The kind he deserved as Tarn’s lover.

Which was now known to all of Cybertron. Pharma overloaded hard and loud, transfluid splashing Tarn’s face with absolutely no warning as the medic cried out his pleasure.

 

The desk scraped a few inches towards the windows as Pharma’s overload struck him like a lightning bolt. If Tarn had not been holding him so tightly, he might have just fallen off just like that. Instead, he ground up against Tarn, biolights blazing and making enough noise to make his vocalizer ragged.

Pharma had always been a bit of a mess , Tarn mused, watching. Thick, hot transfluid dribbled down around his mouth and he reached up to wipe up some of it off. Truly, a mess.

He waited until Pharma’s overload was complete before he rose up. Tarn bent over Pharma, planting his servos on either side of his helm, and pressed his heated panel to one quivering thigh. The edge of it ground over Pharma’s kibble, creating just enough delicious friction to make Tarn’s vents release long sighs of heat that distorted the air. He leaned down and kissed along Pharma’s exposed neck, grazing his denta over the soft, unprotected fuel cables there that begged to be bit and suckled from.

Charge zapped his lips, making them tingle slightly, and Tarn could sense the wild pulse of his spark through the warm, living metal. “I do hope you’re still conscious,” he murmured, smug, “I haven’t overloaded yet, and here you are being perfectly greedy .”

 

“I have a right to be greedy,” Pharma panted, barely audible. The charge was still washing through his systems, his overload pleasantly slow to escape his frame. Tarn had an impeccable talent using his mouth and Pharma vowed that this wouldn’t be the only time he got to experience it.

With great personal effort, Pharma scooted his frame back a little, enough so he could raise himself on his elbows and lift his helm from where it had dangled off of the desk. His legs were still spread, he couldn’t look much more inviting, but facial expression could add a lovely touch to it all.

“But I would never disappoint my conjunx. How do you want to overload, dear?”

On his faceplate? In his intake? Deep inside his valve? Or maybe all over Pharma’s frame? All of those were tried and true techniques and Pharma enjoyed most of them.

 

Not having a choice was difficult. Having too many choices, however, was pure torture. Tarn held back for a moment, looking Pharma all over, and then smirked at him. Why choose when you could just have it all ?

“In every way I can, as long as you can take it.”

Tarn grabbed Pharma’s ankle and pulled him back, closer to himself. No matter how many times he’d looked at this very sight over and over again, Tarn could not get tired of it. It just made him more impatient, greedier, wanting to have it all to himself. At first, it had been a curiosity, a desire to know how far he could it take it. And from there, it’d evolved into this sick parody of a relationship and Tarn wanted to indulge himself. Cracking open Pharma’s exterior and making him give in was a high of its own, equal to any post-transformation burn or nuke drive. It made him want to frag Pharma until he was squealing and filthy with his own fluids, pleading in electronic noises for more until his body gave out.

Pharma was backlit by the night sky. Like this, with just hints of his exposed, wet array shimmering where the light struck it, he looked like some ancient depiction of temptation. And Tarn never denied himself his pleasures.

His spike was throbbing for release. The build-up had been slow as he imagined each squeeze of Pharma’s slippery valve around it instead and his spike felt achingly hot inside his panel. Tarn finally let his panel retract, biting his lip unconsciously as he stared Pharma down. In the temporary respite, cool air flooded the space between them. It caressed the bared sensors as his biolights flared, but Tarn didn’t dive immediately into Pharma’s readied valve.

He took a step forward, planting his servos on Pharma’s knees. His spike slid along the transfluid until it nestled hotly between his lining, thick enough to almost dwarf the valve. It felt silky soft, still hot and pulsing with the charge from his overload. Tarn rocked forward, rubbing his the length of his spike along Pharma’s valve.

His helm bowed as the vents on his back, just under his shoulder armor, hissed with another needed heat dump. His optics softened to an unfocused rose hue and he stared unseeingly at Pharma’s blue, white, and red abdominal plating. His amber cockpit reflected dots of lights from the city; orange, red, violet. They blurred as Tarn’s sigh transformed into a low, husky moan that vibrated with his talent.

His spike was steadily being coated with transfluid. The thick, harsh ridges on the underside ground over Pharma’s lining and anterior node with each push and pull of his hips. Every so often, the head threatened to slip into him totally, but Tarn pressed onward and it skipped over the first ring of calipers. Charge-swollen sensors dug into the pliant plates just beyond the valve, and each one made Tarn’s back plating ripple. It was maddening, having just enough stimulation to keep him revved up, but not enough to make him overload.

Tarn choked on it, loved it. Fluid from his spike joined the mess Pharma had created, lubricating the way, and more leaked out with each sensuous shudder from Tarn when the pleasure was just enough to tease. This kind of anticipation was almost euphoric, blatantly masochistic, pushing the sensation up to newer heights until Tarn’s legs trembled.

 

The slide of Tarn’s spike just out of reach would have been enough to drive anyone insane. Pharma, who craved the mech’s touch and desires, was losing his mind to the sensation alone. It tingled along his circuits, hitting every sensor, every node, confused signals mixing with a tank-churning pleasure. Like the tide, it pulled in and out, in the rhythm of Tarn’s motions and Pharma found himself squirming.

When squirming didn’t bring him relief, he muttered a few garbled pleas that fell on deaf audials, so Pharma grew silent, optics flickering as he moved along with the heavy motions. Arching his back was difficult at this angle, but Pharma was creative and flexible. Each time Tarn was nearly swallowed into his valve, the medic gasped, joyous with anticipation, only to be disappointed, time and time again.

The grind on his outer ring was stimulating enough for thick lubricant to drip out, smeared over his frame by Tarn’s spike. It was a mess, it was entirely too hot and Pharma felt utterly enchanted with the moment.

Nothing existed beyond this room. Nothing existed beyond Tarn’s shoulder.

 

Tarn pulled back a final time before he finally let the tension cease. Pulling Pharma a fraction closer, he let his spike push in past the threshold of his valve. Tarn braced against the desk, groaning, and slid in excruciatingly carefully. Pharma’s valve, never too loose for him, was filled up effortlessly. He could feel the crush of the calipers being pressed down, the internal mesh stretching out to make way.

He pushed in until he felt the head of his spike nestled right up against Pharma’s ceiling node. When Tarn rolled his hips back, pulling out a little before thrusting in again, he felt the wet grind of embedded nodes against the dig of his ridges. Tarn held Pharma like that for a moment, enjoying the tight, hot fit, before he fragged him.

His spike happily recalled the many, many times it had enjoyed this particular valve, and Tarn removed a servo from Pharma’s knee to press down on his abdomen, exacerbating the tight fit until he could almost feel his spike dragging along every node and caliper inside his valve.

Tarn was never one to frag only one way. When his moods and methods were rough, he rode Pharma raw. Other days, he moved slowly and completely, seeking to reduce Pharma to a strutless, shaking puddle. Today was one of the latter days, and his touch was firm and gentle. He gave the medic no leeway to back away, but also cradled him in his servos.

 

Trapped against Tarn’s frame and servos, Pharma was happy to relinquish any semblance of control. How many times had they been here? How many times had Tarn completely filled him up like this? It was a miracle the mech had never grown bored, but when Pharma looked as good as he did, he doubted that was even a possibility. Tarn had been trapped by him as much as Pharma had been ensnared by the tank.

This was his unspoken, favourite way of interfacing. With Tarn enjoying every second of it, making the raw girth of his spike a pleasure for Pharma to spread his legs for. This was the kind of slowly building, intense overload Pharma had grown addicted to. It would be mind-blowing when it crested, and it would feel amazing every thrust ‘til then.

Pharma let his mind empty entirely, the only sounds in his audial the clank and creak of metal slamming against metal, the hiss of steam escaping his vents and Tarn’s alike. The thrum of his spark, whirling madly in his chest with glee and pleasure. There was nothing better he could have found in life to take his mind away from him, to still his poison glossa and to allow another to dominate him so entirely.

Pharma’s taste in lovers had been fickle, before the war. A pretty jet here, a handsome luxury vehicle there. The only thing they all had in common was power and influence and the distinct lack of taking charge of Pharma. He commanded in the berth, taking his pleasure as he saw fit. Whether it was spike or valve, he would not allow anyone else to dictate what he’d do. And no one graced his berthside more than once.

And then came the war. His choices narrowed, often times having to make do with other medics, whom he could marginally respect in the field. But even then, none more than once. Pharma tired of lovers quicker than he did of blends of engex. None could keep him entertained or interested.

Then, Messatine. Delphi. The cold wasteland and the death of his interfacing life, or at least, so he’d thought. The dry spell lasted for years and Pharma grew cold and distant, denying anyone the chance to even think of something intimate with him. The ice of his world encrusted every inch of him, and even inside of the clinic, it was too cold.

Then, Tarn. A furnace of cruelty and fierce intelligence. A blazing bonfire for Pharma to burn himself on. And he did. Pharma came like a moth to flame. Power, necessity, the survival of his reputation. Tarn burned it all away, along with the coding and the moral compass. Desperation bred madness, though Pharma wasn’t unaware. He’d never felt more alive, more warmed, than when he realized how free he could be, once he let go of the principles never his own.

And here he was. On councillor Tarn’s desk, burning at his touch and moaning with delight in the flames. Pharma had been liberated by the Decepticons’ worst bloodhound. And he’d made him his own, with nothing more than his own person.

Oh yes, he’d suffered along the way. But all of it? Entirely worth the investment.

Pharma’s servos searched for a hold on Tarn, deciding that he wanted to at least try and look at his handsome face and document what he actually looked like during overload.

 

Overload was a hard shot of the finest energon. It was the first injection of nuke into a cold system. It was the cusp of transformation, right before one’s cog burnt out. Tarn sank into Pharma one final time and he shook, trembling on the crest of a wave of intense pleasure that he could feel wash down his entire frame. The liquid splash of bliss shuddered down his spine as Tarn froze in place for an instant before melting down with a low hiss.

Bright lightning shots of charge danced on his plating. Some of it transferred to Pharma, crawling up his sleek limbs and sinking into his systems. Tarn registered Pharma’s servos holding his shoulders and glanced up for a brief moment. His optics were bright enough to light up the jet’s face in a hellish glow, and it took a long time before they could cycle down to a gentler cast.

Tarn let his helm sink down to Pharma’s shoulder. He was still buried in him up the hilt, but for now, at least, he had no intention of doing anything further.

Hot air escaped his open mouth. The air conditioner of the room sought to cool things down, but Tarn was emitting a blistering heat, characteristic of a good fight or a good frag. The worst of it would pass soon, of course.

Tarn stroked Pharma’s hip in absent circles. He had always been the most tactile right after a satisfying overload. “I want to spark you up,” he murmured through pleasure-loosened lips.

 

It had been quite the spectacle to behold and the expression on Tarn’s actual face would bury itself into Pharma’s permanent memory banks. The overload was, of course, fantastic, as anticipated through the long and thorough build-up. Pharma felt it clear his processor until his mouth was lax and his circuits abuzz with a gentle but persistent current. He sprawled on the desk, a little crushed under his lover, entirely loose and spent.

Tarn’s words, however, fired his idle processor back up.

Sparking?

“No one’s done that in five million years...” he muttered, his medical memory supplying the exact dates lazily.

Tarn’s and his sparkling...it would have the most devastating weaponry on Cybertron, built right into its core. Even if the outlier talent wouldn’t be inherited, it was bound to become a monstrously smart little cretin. Pharma liked the thought of an eventual legacy, someone to carve him deeper into Cybertron’s history.

 

“You can figure it out.” Tarn might have sneered at Pharma for one of his many flaws, but he never doubted his medical genius. If he entrusted anyone to puzzle out the mysteries behind sparkling creation, it would be Pharma.

A claw traces down Pharma’s face. “One that looks like you is all I ask.”

It would be a good addition to his lord’s forces. One with Tarn’s force of arms and Pharma’s intelligence and talents… a super warrior without the mistakes of the ones before them.

 

“There’ll never be one that looks exactly like me.”

Pharma’s arrogance had survived every ordeal he’d ever lived through, and it prevailed to this day. He didn’t flinch away from the claw, turning his face into the touch for a small, appreciative kiss. Tarn never undervalued his beauty or his genius, even if he had some severe troubles with understanding respect and appreciation. But he was getting there. Slowly.

“But I daresay we have other concerns before it becomes a possibility to muse.”

 

“These concerns will be dispelled soon. Keep your optic on the future always, Pharma.”

Tarn slowly got up. A desk wasn't the best surface to recline on after an overload. He tugged on Pharma as he straightened. “I have a hab in the building. Come with me. I'm not done with you.”

 

Chapter Text

Downstairs, the party raged on obliviously. But Orion was not there for entertainment. He caught Megatron’s optic and waved at him.

Come here.

 

Absolutely not. Megatron was still surrounded by eager, former Decepticons, each disgruntled by the new leadership of Cybertron, each with their own gripes and worries to share over copious amounts of drink. If Megatron didn’t know better, he’d think he was back in an oilhouse with disgruntled miners filling his audials.

Orion Pax was a bad aftertaste in his mouth. He’d spotted the mech several times, and each brushed gaze was some sort of unspoken argument, but none of it motivated Megatron to seek him out. There was no proof Orion was involved, but there also wasn’t any to prove the opposite of it. He wasn’t innocent in the betrayal of Megatron’s trust and the former Decepticon leader was inclined to feel sour about having his innermost fear violated by someone posing to be his lover.

Every shared, sweet moment had been a lie. The only time Megatron felt was genuine was the strut-breaking romp following his initial agreement to peace. Anything following that was fake and worthless.

Make me.

 

It was strange how someone could be in a crowd and yet feel so completely alone. Orion glanced down at his mug of engex, wondering at how quickly happiness could fall apart into bitterness. His investigation after what happened turned up painfully little to go on; whoever had done it had to be someone well acquainted with the system to have covered their tracks so well. But that was not enough to turn up concrete evidence, no matter who he personally suspected.

It left him with a heavy spark to think that anyone from his personal command could have done it. But it made sense. Orion had to stifle his own loyalties for the sake of this investigation. Peace was supposed to have meant something. But all it had given him so far was heartbreak and lost friends.

He finally dared to comm Megatron. It left him with the nauseas worry whether he would be blocked or worse. But it was not as if he could go and retrieve Megatron from his court of malcontent Decepticons. That could could very well start a riot out of the drunken mecha who were content to grouse their resentment for now.

 

He could ignore the comm. He could ignore Orion’s existence. It would be too easy. He wouldn’t even have to move. Megatron was surrounded by his own, the very warriors and mech who believed him to be right, who would reignite the war with three words out of his mouth.

And yet, the fragile interest of peace lingered in his processor. The new idea, the new world, built with his aid fermented in front of his inner optic. It would all turn bad again, eventually. Tyranny was a pillar he’d leaned on for plenty of constructs before, and yet he knew it to be futile. No tyrant could be incorruptible and eternal. This immortal being, this deity of power, it was an impossible crutch that Megatron had founded an entire revolution on. He’d thought himself to be that tyrant once upon a time. Yet, his own experience taught him otherwise. His cause was still just. His people were still real. But the methods Megatron had sunk to didn’t further their future. And he still owed them a home and a responsible idol and leader. Tarn was a placeholder, a different face for Megatron’s power.

He had to work with peace if he wanted a future. And it was an unwieldy objective, fragile and yet stubbornly evading his grasp. But Megatron had never shirked a challenge or backed down from a fear.

So, just like peace, he would not avoid Orion Pax for the rest of their lives. He’d confront him with his double standard and he’d hear what the mech had to say for himself.

::You look lost.::

 

His relief made him sag. Orion lowered his helm for a moment, just appreciating the fact that Megatron deigned to reply after what had happened. He could have ignored it. But he didn’t.

That had to count for something.

::I am lost. I don’t usually attend these things.::

So far, Orion had managed to stay out of notice by lingering near the outskirts where the light did not penetrate. In this drunken, hazy atmosphere, his distinctive red and blue washed out to a violet mix and no one tried to talk to him. He was doing a fairly good impression of a mech drowning his sorrows and bristling away other company, really.

::I wanted to talk to you. About what happened. To have a chance to explain.:: He swirled his unappetizing drink a little. ::Please.::

 

::It won’t change what happened.::

Megatron had half a mind to cut off transmission after that. Orion deserved nothing from him after what had been done to him. Whether Orion was involved or not didn’t matter. He was an accomplice to the shadowplay, involving Megatron in something hideously intimate.

And yet.

Four million years of shared history. Atrocities committed on one another that should, technically, eclipse an instance of shadowplay. But none of them had ever been so personal, save for the single moment when Megatron held Optimus’ spark in hand and decided not to crush it.

Fine.

::Meet me at the bar.::

It wasn’t easy to slip away from his eager crowd, but one mention of one of the more spectacular battles of the early days had everyone chime in to be nostalgic and Megatron left them to it, making a beeline for the bar. The crowd parted for him as it should.

 

Orion barely looked up when a large frame stopped near him at the bar. He was the very picture of morose; helm down, arms folded on the bar, antennae drooping. He sighed after a moment of silence, and looked up.

Megatron didn’t look all that fresh either, which made him feel marginally better about his own dull finish. Orion had never cared about his appearance before - it was just one of those strange worries peacetime brought.

::It won’t,:: he agreed, ::but at least you would know. I wasn’t involved with your shadowplaying. I didn’t know. But I intend to. I’ve been looking into it.::

 

::And what have you found out?::

They could have talked out loud. It was noisy enough here for it to be a relatively private conversation. Instead, both sat silently, a good distance apart, sipping drinks neither of them needed whilst the crowd became increasingly divided.

::And what do you intend to do once the perpetrators are found?::

 

::Have them tried to the fullest extent of the law. Punished, as they should be. But only when they are all found.::

Orion watched the writhing, dancing crowd. It was a rowdy party, certainly, egged on by drink and proximity. More than a few mecha had disappeared into the shadows fondling each other’s chassis, and he expected many more impromptu couples to arise tonight. Hopefully, it’d continue to mend the factional rift.

::I’ve leads. Possible information. I’ve been looking into the population to see who were registered mnemosurgeons and who had access to them. You were operated on recently, evidently, so they can’t be too far gone. Congratulations on your recovery, by the way.::

Orion looked to the opposite side, where Megatron wasn’t. ::I should have seen it. I should have realized what happened.::

 

::Yes, you should have.::

Megatron didn’t acknowledge his return to normal as anything other than expected. It could have easily never happened, if it wasn’t for Tarn’s observational skills. Or rather, those of his medic. His to-be conjunx. Megatron didn’t want to travel that avenue of thought either. He had no iota of trust in Pharma, but he did owe the mech a small amount of respect, at least professionally. Pharma was very good at seeping into every crack of Tarn he could find, and his greed was obvious to anyone.

The announcement that Tarn had made only reminded him further of every tainted, bittersweet memory with Orion.

::How could you not have seen it? You’ve known me for four million years. Was it really so pleasing to you? A spineless, cowering, guilt-ridden wreck? Is that what you crave of me, Orion?::

 

::...I saw what I wanted to see. Someone who regretted what he did, someone who wanted to make amends. I was… blinded by the fantasy.::

It hurt to admit it. Orion’s helm sunk down lower and his plating clamped close to his frame. He radiated guilty misery. ::There’s nothing I can say that will justify what I did. I just want to find who did this to you and bring them to justice. I just wanted us to be…::

To be what? At peace? Slightly less cold? To have a second chance? Pff .

::...forget it. I’m sorry for what happened to you, and my part in it.::

 

Megatron could crush that apology under a million more accusations. He could throw away those months on the Harmony as worthless, false fantasy. He could even smite the kernel of true desire that had served as the base of the manipulations. All of this was possible, and percolated within him.

Orion was miserable. Everything about him registered that, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Megatron. Out of the countless acts of violence they committed on each other, this one brought guilt to Orion, enough to strangle what could have been between them.

Megatron did not forgive easily, and he did not do so now.

But it was good to know where Orion stood.

::Keep me updated on your investigation. I’d like to know who had the bearings to do this to me.::

He paused before adding an afterthought. Glossing over his own emotional turmoil seemed to be the best way to deal with the situation. Megatron didn’t linger on grudges. He took them and made them part of his strength.

::And you. They must know you very well. And they must have wanted us both out of the picture.::

 

::I will. And keep safe, Megatron. They will have to have known by now that you’ve recovered.::

How cold it felt between them. How… barren. Orion felt colder than he ever had before, even colder than when he was left alone in the wreckage of his ship’s bridge. Somehow, this kind of distant communication, conducted over silent comms while they avoided each other’s optics, was worse than the harrowing question of what happened after.

This was his answer.

Nothing. Nothing would happen. Whatever they had was dead - if it had existed in the first place.

::I should go. Enjoy your time here.::

He didn’t look back as he slipped out of the bar, moving into the shoving, pulsing crowd. Orion shouldered through them, barely registering their presence. The noise of the music and the voices around him him couldn’t drown out the buzzing despair in his mind. So he left.

Outside, the night air was cold. Luna-2 shone bright in the sky and Orion walked back to his lonely hab under her silver light, away from the memories. A few mecha recognized him in the streets, and he gave them only a few half-hearted waves before continuing on.

 

Megatron didn’t stop him from leaving. He didn’t have any reason to. He was the wronged party and both he and Orion knew it well. Too well.

It left him feeling alone, even among those he called his own, who were happy to reclaim him for their midst. Optimus had always been the counterweight for him, the axes around which the war spun. To sever all ties between them was impossible. They’d brought each other betrayal and death and pain before, but this time, it was so intensely personal because there’d been more. A lie, ultimately, but they both now knew that Optimus, or rather, Orion, craved nothing more than a mech at his side that was not Megatron.

The decepticons around him were still speaking, but nothing concrete made it through the thick haze of his thoughts. Megatron was no longer as chatty with them as before, enduring their admiration and complaints with practiced ease as he allowed his processor to pick apart the short exchange with Orion.

And found it lacking something he was going to express either way. Trauma and pain were never enough of a shackle to keep Megatron down for long, and even if the experience had burned Orion’s thickly latched bridge at the ropes, all in all, it had not crumbled as much as Megatron thought.

::For what it’s worth...once those responsible are found and punished...let us meet again. Alone.::

To talk. Maybe it would be a sufficient amount of time for Megatron to process everything and find what any of it meant at all. He wouldn’t let four million years of carefully planned animosity go to waste. No one could decide his fate, be it political or personal, and only he was in control of what relationships were ruined and which deserved another chance. It wasn’t a promise of any sort, it wasn’t even mildly suggestive, but it was a chance that Orion didn’t deserve.

 

Orion registered the comm, stopping just outside his door. He stared at it for a long time, wondering if he should reply.

::...alright.::

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t going to fix things.

But he still sighed in relief when he stepped into his hab. Recharge came slightly easier that night, when he could read that message one more time and dream of something impossible.

 

-x-

 

“You’re terrible at this. Didn’t Overlord teach you to endure pain at all?”

Megatron sighed as he rounded the slab and reached for the remotely controlled clamps. It wasn’t often he lowered himself enough to perform physical torture himself, but Trepan was a special, special exception.

Only once the Peaceful Tyranny had returned to Cybertron had Megatron given an order regarding the mnemosurgeon. And no, he didn’t make it off the ship. It was too convenient and long overdue for him to be anywhere but in Megatron’s palm. He may have fixed what was broken in Megatron’s mind, but that didn’t make up for the previous incident of Shadowplay. No matter if Megatron didn’t usually bother to shoot the messenger, Trepan had made it personal. And he knew it too, which was why, perhaps, he wasn’t trying to be brave, giving voice to his pain as the clamps pushed his frame to its absolute limit.  His limbs were twisted, everything burned and his vocalizer was shorting out.

Megatron paused for a refreshing cube of triple filtered, watching his victim squirm and pant with exhaustion and agony.

It didn’t feel half as satisfying as he imagined. Trepan was too small and delicate for any of the really interesting torture methods...and Megatron was tempted to call in the rest of the DJD. He’d enjoy watching the spindly little mech wear Vos’ face before being electrocuted, smelted and ground to dust. That would be a truly fitting ending. But Trepan wouldn’t survive even the first two stages, so Megatron was going to have to work with what Tarn preserved in his ‘quiet’ room.

“I want you to know that I intend to keep Tarn’s word and reward you.”

Enough for today. The clamps released and Megatron lifted Trepan by his arms, a limp, almost dead weight that required no effort of strength for him at all.

“After all; you did save me, didn’t you.”

Trepan hit the floor of his cell with a hard thump, rolling over twice before he came to a halt, facing the door and the massive warframe that filled it. Megatron didn’t look anything other than controlled as he produced something vaguely blue from his subspace and tossed it to Trepan across the cell.

With a skid, Overlord’s disembodied helm came to a halt, barely half an inch from Trepan’s outstretched servo.

“Enjoy.”

Megatron slammed the door shut and, as usual, the lights went out.

 

Trepan was growing used to the absolute darkness. He knew, from the moment Megatron regained his mind, that he had to run, escape. Megatron would remember why he wanted him killed. Megatron would punish or kill him surely, if not have Tarn do it.

There was no one to count on, no help or ally in sight. He’d been caught by the enemy and it didn’t matter if they said the war was over. The war was never over.

Or else Trepan wouldn’t be here, kept prisoner with only a severed helm for company.

But, to be perfectly fair, it was the only helm he wanted for company anyway.

Gingerly, he reached out until his delicate servos brushed over cold, dead derma. Plush, still, in the lips, which Trepan grazed his fingers over. Overlord. The last truly interesting mech Trepan had ever known. And possibly the only Decepticon he wouldn’t mind keeping around. The rest of them all needed adjustment as soon as possible. Or culling.

He pulled the helm closer to his frame, feeling over every detail in the darkness. The vents, the optical ridges, the strange little crest that resembled the smallest of faces. It was Overlord, he was quite sure of that. And he was very, very dead. But at least Trepan had him back.

Fools. Megatron and possibly Tarn thought it would be a cruel punishment, to reunite him with Overlord’s dead helm. It was only further proof that he was being underestimated and misunderstood. Trepan didn’t mind. He had what he wanted. Trepan curled around the helm in his arms and fell into an exhausted recharge.

Chapter Text

He lost track of the days, weeks that he spent in the cell, or in the quiet room under Megatron’s cruel servos. He was being kept alive, exclusively so Megatron could live out his petty revenge. Pharma was the only medic that ever treated him, and given the mech’s luster and willingness to keep him just barely functional, Trepan wasn’t hoping for an ally in him. Pharma was always looking out for Pharma, and Trepan couldn’t even blame him for it.

At least he had company now. Overlord’s helm wasn’t taken from him again, which was something he could be marginally grateful about if he didn’t know that Megatron was hoping it would demoralize him. The simpleton.

Trepan had opened up the helm at the first second he regained enough strength to do so. And he found what he hoped for. The very reason why triple tap was invented as an execution method.

 

See, the common misconception about Rossum’s Trio was that you could not live if one of them was missing. Frame displacement, spark removal and brain cog surgery were all contradictory practices to the theory, but the discussion had never made it into any scientific publication.

The actual phrasing of Rossum’s particular study should have been that you could not die unless all three vitals were destroyed. Snuffing a spark always seemed a certain cause of death. And true enough, usually if a mech lost their spark, the rest of their frame and brain was already so damaged there was no recovery.

But what if the spark had never been fully crushed? What if the brain module remained inside the helm, functional even if crippled, running on the few independent circuits any helm could provide?

Trepan had always pushed theories to their limit and he would have loved to laugh in Rossum’s face when he found a rudimentary level of activity in Overlord’ brain module. And promptly began to work on waking it up. If he was going to be held in captivity and isolation, he at least wanted company.

Today marked the last bit of energon he could safely siphon from his tank and inject into the brain module for full activation. Trepan had just completed his unsavory little surgery, Overlord’s helm propped on his knees and he leaned back, impatient, expectant. This had to work. He didn’t have any other options.

 

Getting the helm from Starscream’s possession was a task that required a fair bit of care, effort, and not inconsiderable cunning. Starscream could be even more contrary than Pharma at his worst  and Tarn’s patience was on its last legs when he finally managed to wrangle the jet into a deal.

Megatron’s presence appeared to have shook Starscream quite a bit, which attributed to a significant portion of his success. Tarn let Trepan have the helm, leading to his current try at medical blasphemy with it.

Overlord’s helm alone was a massive burden. It was nearly as large as Trepan’s torso and somehow managed to appear malevolent despite being inactive, each brutishly cruel aspect of his face relatively intact. It threatened to tip off if Trepan was not careful, being heavier than it looked. Long streamers of disconnected wires hung out of the abruptly interrupted neck. It was clean but nothing could hide the ragged metal edges from where Tarn had forcefully sawn it off his frame.

These edges left thin scratches on Trepan’s plating. They were still wickedly sharp thanks to the ununtrium and had to be carefully handled.

Inside, brain activity spiked. But Overlord’s optics remained offline, though the corner of his lips twitched in a reaction so small it could have gone missed entirely. But soon, his smoothed out to an expressionless cast immediately. Overload was strange like this,lacking his sneer or smirk, face as relaxed as it could be. The customary alertness around his optics were gone, something that was so home on his face that he was odd without it.

 

It wasn’t much, but Trepan took note of the activity. He couldn’t see too much of Overlord’s actual face, since the only illumination he had to work with was his own biolighting, but he made it work. The helm was heavy on his legs, but he couldn’t have all the exposed wires touch the floor. It took him a while to figure out which one was which, but he managed to find the only one that would fit into his plugs. He didn’t even hesitate to connect himself directly, it was the only chance he had at reactivating Overlord. Even if he was just a helm, weak from distance to his dormant spark.

I know you’re not dead.

There! A flicker of awareness passed through the small circuit system, and Trepan latched onto it, boosting it through his own in hopes of amplifying the flicker.

 

Overlord’s systems registered an invader. For a moment, his helm was still and silent. Then, in-built defenses sprang on the invading presence. Firewalls slammed up, covering all sensitive parts and the cognitive center of the brain was cut-off, giving no access to Overlord’s memories or thoughts.

Again, his expression flickered. There was a conflicting struggle there, as if trying to do something that was now impossible, and something inside his helm, very primitive and base, recognized the invader.

Trepan .

Like that, the defenses eased. Overlord’s mind was as open as it could be and something flickered inside. It was dormant, but it was waking.

Again, another twitch. But despite all this, Overlord remained offline.

 

The notable lowering of the internal defenses was really the last clue Trepan needed to know that Overlord was more than a remnant bit of post-mortem brain cog activity. He had recognized him, allowed him in...

Which was all well and good, but Trepan didn’t need his memories or his specs. He needed Overlord to be cognitive enough to interact.

The need to simply stab his derma until the pain sensors flared was quickly pushed aside. One, Trepan would probably break his fingers and needles on that derma and two, Overlord didn’t have any functional pain sensors, so that plan would have been entirely useless.

Trepan pumped a round of charge into the severed helm, along with the basic codeline for onlining. If Overlord was aware and already playing , he’d have to react.

 

The first moment of actual consciousness emerged. His mouth opened a fraction and Overlord sighed, emitting a noise that could only be called a grumble.

Faint red light glowed from his optics. Not fully active, but enough. He made a strange motion, as if trying to roll shoulders that were not there. “Mmmm… go ‘way…”

The red light flickered while Overlord’s slack mouth move along with his slurred words. “‘M tired…”

 

So he could still talk. If Trepan had any doubts of this working before, they were pushed from his mind now. Adjusting the helm in his lap took effort, the cables twisted into his servo so they wouldn’t catch on his frame or the ground. Trepan left himself plugged in, feeding more charge to the starved circuits. Overlord’s voice, no matter how weak in volume and low, still was music to his audial in his current situation.

“You’ve slept long enough,” he hissed, free servo scraping over one dimly lit optic. “And gathered dust on a shelf.”

 

Overlord woke slowly, reluctantly. He felt sluggish, as if every thought was something too big trying to squeeze through a hole too small. Moving his mouth too more effort than anything else in the world. And he couldn’t feel anything, he was so numb. “Trep… Trepan…” he murmured, “you’re dead…”

Was he dead? Was this the oft-exalted afterlife? Funny, he thought that it would be brighter.

Overlord wanted to roll over and go back to dormancy. It certainly sounded more pleasant than this excruciatingly slow sensation. His optics began to dim as he threatened to slip back into offline mode. “Go ‘way…” he said slowly, voice slipping into electronic notes, “want to… want recharge…”

 

There was no recharging for Overlord. Recharge itself demanded a frame through which to gather said charge and redistribute it to other components. With just a helm, Overlord couldn’t do that. He just didn’t realize it yet.

Not that Trepan could blame him. With the tiny amounts he could spare, he could barely coax Overlord to be awake at all, and it would cost him his own to keep him that way. But Trepan was a trapped prisoner and Overlord was, again, his only option.

“You don’t look so alive either,” he muttered, concentrating on activating a little more of the helm, tapping his needles impatiently against the glass of Overlord’s optic.

“You can’t go to sleep. There’s not much of you left.”

The fact he was awake at all only proved Tarn’s words from long ago; the frame was somewhere close by. If Trepan could only get to it, with the helm, he stood a better chance at reactivating this behemoth mech.

Then again, that required medical expertise, and Pharma was never dumb enough to be alone with Trepan to provide an opening.

“And if you don’t stay awake we’re both dead permanently.”

 

Overlord didn’t respond. However, his systems drank up charge greedily and slowly, after a long pause, his optics lit up again. His mouth worked, grinding his denta together. “Fuel…” he groaned, “metal… feels empty…”

More and more of Trepan’s power went into him. Overlord was still as lazy as a cat sunning in sleep, but he was animated enough to speak again. “Why am I here…?” he wondered, staring at Trepan uncomprehendingly, “my body… won’t move…”

It was unresponsive. Which was strange - Overlord was functional even after the worst damage. What was happening?

He wasn’t getting enough charge. Not enough fuel. He needed more . Instinctively, he sought out the nearest source of sentio metallica and energon - Trepan. Overlord’s mouth opened again, but not to speak. A long, thick, pointed glossa slid from his mouth, unfurling from the hidden compartment in his jaw. It threaded towards Trepan’s servo, razors rustling against each other as the living metal and pumping fuel drew it closer.

 

Trepan wasn’t foolish enough to believe Overlord would stop and remember. The mech was waking up from something deeper than stasis, and he wasn’t present enough to have any idea where or when he was.

Quickly, he snapped his servos away, leaning back from the unfurling glossa. This was definitely not the place or time to remember what Overlord snacked on during and after a fight.

“You don’t have your body. It’s just your helm.”

There was no need to sugarcoat anything. Overlord was deeply and intimately familiar with many horrors, most of them perpetrated by him.

“Stop trying to eat me. We’re on the Peaceful Tyranny.

 

“Tarn…?” the name drew a familiar sense of annoyance and dislike. Not enough to rouse Overlord from his daze, but enough to make him growl a little. “My body… where?”

What was he supposed to do without a body? His thoughts continued to swirl like bits of dirt in a puddle, directionless and indistinct. “More charge,” he grumbled, “can’t… think…”

He was sinking into the haze again. Trepan was just so small , he couldn’t spare enough energy to keep Overlord awake. If it was someone bigger, maybe, but not the spindly creature cradling his helm. “My body… give me… my body…”

 

“I can’t, I’m trapped here,” Trepan hissed again, noticing the lilt to Overlord’s voice. It really wasn’t enough. His normal charge wasn’t even sufficient for the mech’s helm alone. He was running out of options here. He would even attempt a botched reattachment surgery right now, if only he had Overlord’s frame at his disposal.

“Hold on. Stay with me.”

There was no choice. He had to get the maximum amount of charge out of his spark without getting dangerously low on energon. He couldn’t feed Overlord anything else. Trepan pushed the helm back enough for him to wedge a servo between his thighs. This wasn’t dignified, or particularly enjoyable, but he knew how to work his node into an overload well enough.

He couldn’t really think of something less inspiring than his abysmal predicament, though, and although his panel was cracked open, he couldn’t really find any charge to begin with. The servo wrapped thickly in Overlord’s cables fisted them a little tighter.

“Don’t go to sleep.”

He couldn’t lose what he’d already achieved, but determination alone wasn’t drawing much more than a faint glimmer from him.

 

Trepan was moving - doing something. It was too dim to see what and Overlord couldn’t be bothered to change to night vision. His optics dimmed and flared intermittently, giving him a varying amount of light with which to see by.

“Do something…” he said slowly, voice slurring statically. He wanted to consume something, anything… and Trepan was a living source right in front of him…

But he didn’t have a body. No body, no power plant or resource converter to break down and process what he ate. He was stuck on these dribbles of charge, which barely held him above the waterline.

“Charge,” he whispered, “need… charge. Hurry up .”

There was a sharp pain around his neck. Overlord hissed and his glossa unfolded again to wrap around the unwelcome servo.

 

He was trying, even without the encouragement. Trepan angled his servo differently, trying to fulfill what need there could possibly be, but his frame didn’t seem to find it stimulating enough. Overlord’s glossa wrapped around his wrist thickly, with more strength than Trepan’s entire arm.

“Wait,” he muttered, drawing the hand wrapped in wires and glossa closer. As soon as he felt the edge of razors against him, he shuddered. Alright. That would work. Grinding his hips and rocking against the glossa was definitely ramping up some charge, but it wasn’t nearly enough for an overload.

Trepan was starting to run out of time and options when his gaze fell on Overlord’s lips. Alright that better really work. Counting on Overlord not to chew him up wasn’t a safe bet, but Trepan took the risk, if only to grind himself against the softest part of this mech. It required him to tip the helm forward a lot and he needed both servos to hold it in place.

 

Confusion flickered through Overlord for a moment when he sensed the oddest feeling of something soft grinding against his lips. He retracted his glossa, tucking the razors in, and tried to make sense of what Trepan was doing.

He was supposed to be charging him, not - not rubbing his valve against his mouth. Honestly, just what was he thinking? An overload wasn’t going - ah.

Oh. That was clever. Trepan couldn’t produce enough charge under normal circumstances, so he was trying to create a spike of energy through other means.

He needed that charge. That meant he needed Trepan to overload.

He had no leverage like this. But he waited until he felt an array against him before he wound his glossa out, drawing a long, wet, lazy line right up the slit. He couldn’t move quickly, but this was going to be better than whatever half-hearted motion Trepan was attempting. Overlord let his razors retract fully, until their edges could no longer be felt. Instead, only the blunt, small ridges of their spines were out, stippling the sides of his glossa. Oral fluid made up for Trepan’s pitiful lack of charge, and Overlord gave him no time to adjust before he was thrusting his glossa deeper into his valve, impatient.

 

Overlord may just be a helm at the moment, but he could still do exactly what Trepan needed him to. That glossa was only pleasant once it didn’t cut into everything it touched and even so, it was quick to push the tiny frame of the mnemosurgeon to its limits. Trepan stifled any moan that hoped to escape him. This wasn’t the time for anything than hastily provided charge. Pleasure had an entirely different taste.

Although his array was certainly fooled. Trepan tried to ignore the terrible ache in his wrists, the shuddering struts in his arms struggling with the weight of Overlord’s helm in this position. His knees weakened with every thrust, until he couldn’t hold out under the helm any longer, letting it slide to the floor. The cables were still entangled with his servo, but in this position, he could cling to the helm, lean over it and allow that glossa deeper, faster.

The overload came quickly after that, bursting across the connecting cables and through Trepan’s frame into the disembodied helm.

 

Bright white charge burst through the lines and poured straight into Overlord’s receptors. His optics flared, bright, and red light flooded the room. He sighed again, but this time it was a full-throated, deep growl and not the low whisper he’d been forced to communicate with.

His thoughts sped up. The world was clear. He shut off his optical bulbs to preserve power but switched to night vision to see. Trepan was a lurid vision over him, valve still pressed on his mouth, rutting wantonly. The side of Overlord’s mouth curled up in a mocking smirk.

Now, he could feel himself. Anything below his neck was empty, and his sensors flared with agony whenever Trepan tugged his cables too harshly. Overlord reveled in the sensation of pain without any inhibitors to block it. And of course, his glossa was still in the mnemosurgeon.

This amount of charge was not enough. He needed more. More of his glossa unfurled, crawling deeper into the spindly mech, forcing him to take it. He could move off, of course, but he didn’t look like he wanted to anytime soon. Overlord filled him until it felt like his valve could not hold anymore. Long strands of lubricant and oral fluid dripped from his straining valve and Overlord shifted it, trying to squeeze Trepan for every overload he could give before his systems shut down. He needed to think, and he needed power for that.

There was a wet squelch as Trepan tried to gather himself, but Overlord wasn’t having that. Every node that could be touched was touched while he stuffed a few more inches in, little by little, dragging Trepan to his limits without care for whether he was ready or not. Whenever it seemed like that little valve would not take anymore, Overlord’s glossa wriggled until more could be pushed in.

Slivers of charge was still going through. But not enough. Overlord wanted more, and Trepan had been foolish enough to offer himself up as a power source. So he might as well serve his purpose until he was incapable.

 

Only Overlord could be such a menace as just a helm. Trepan tried half-heartedly to slide off and end this particular exchange of charge, but the thick, furling glossa inside of him was robbing him of such autonomy. So the little mnemosurgeon held on, giving what he shouldn’t have offered in the first place, but would in the name of a potential escape.

The first overload was not his last, and each time, he felt more vigor in those cables, in the wicked curls of that glossa. He was fragging Overlord back to life, in a sense. That was a thought obscene enough for Trepan to be amused, and around the fifth or sixth overload, he laughed against the unyielding metal of Overlord’s chevron, a little delirious, a little overwhelmed.

Only when his spark shuddered and his array spasmed in furious demand for rest did he allow himself to slide off of Overlord, never relinquishing the cables that kept the two of them connected.

“...you’re finally awake now.”

 

He didn’t speak, preserving more of his precious charge. His glossa returned to its place curled up in his jaw while Overlord tasted the lubricant and transfluid from Trepan one more time before it was all done. Trepan still looked filthy - he was a mess after Overlord fragged his valve sore.

He communicated over the cables instead. On the surface, he looked like he’d fallen back asleep. But his mind was running like a sportscar, fast and bright. I am, he confirmed smugly, thanks to your contributions. Quite a creative solution, might I say.

Now. My body. Get it to me, Trepan.

 

Overlord may demand, but he wasn’t going to get what he wanted out of Trepan. Especially not right now. With so much charge passing through him so quickly, he was in dire need for some recovery time. Besides, he should have fed Overlord enough to keep him active for a good few days. It had been a solid million years since Trepan had gone this far down the line of interfacing. His frame trembled a little where he’d slid to the floor, vents flared, fans roaring in his audials. Some carnal pleasures, he understood, a little.

Overlord was in his helm, talking to him with unbearable smugness in the tone of his silent voice.

Again. I can’t. I’m a prisoner. Tarn’s, or Megatron’s, I’m not sure. Maybe both. Your body is somewhere else and I’m locked in this room when I’m not in Tarn’s merry little torture chamber.

 

Figure it out, came the snide reply. You got my helm, didn’t you? Get access to my frame and reattach it. Until then, you’re charging me when I ask it of you.

Overlord activated his optics. They lit up the room harshly and he upped brightness until the whole area was lit up. More charge was spent, but Trepan was an unending source anyway. I need more energon in my lines. Tell me what happened and why you are here. And how you are alive. Last I saw, you were dead.

Trepan was trembling on the floor next to him. Overlord transmitted silent laughter. Close your panel before I take that as an invitation to charge up.

 

You believe things too easily. And you couldn’t have seen me. They never got my frame. All it took was a little tweak of the mind. Decepticons are all such simpletons.

Trepan didn’t take insult, but he did close up his panel. He wasn’t the type to have it exposed all the time anyway, and the harsh glare of Overlord’s crimson gaze was not a flattering light on him. The fluids would dry, he didn’t care about that right now.

Overlord’s frame...he might get to see it. But there was no way he could bring his helm along. Maybe if he played the pitifully widowed mech angle a little more...?

That might have worked if Megatron hadn’t identified him. His weight in the deal was entirely gone, evaporated. Tarn might even have been indulgent of him, had he not known Trepan’s previous connection to Megatron. He did seem to like collecting pretty, smart things.

Tell me more about Tarn. He’s the only angle I can work.

 

He’s an aft who licks Megatron’s aft. What else is there to add? He’s an outlier with a slag power, and a pushover for anything Megatron related.

Overlord ground his denta again, feeling the urge to gnaw on something to combat the phantom hunger. He felt strangely powerless like this, though he avoided thinking about it. This situation was too overwhelming to take in with one go. He almost would have preferred to keep fragging Trepan, because at least that meant he had a decision in things.

Does Tarn think I am dead? I remember him taking a saw to my neck. What about Megatron? Where is he?

 

On this ship. Sometimes. They both think you’re dead and that I’m sentimental. Megatron is remembering all those kind words I once told him...though he’s really no professional at inflicting pain.

Trepan had still screamed and trembled and ached, but he’d seen mech with a much higher proficiency for torture perform their task. With more malice too. Megatron was all blunt anger and simple outrage. Pf. How pedestrian.

Tarn bragged about drinking your inner energon, so we know your core is dry and depleted...don’t have a fix for that yet either.

 

Amateur, Overlord scoffed at the mention of Tarn. So let me get this clear; you can’t access my frame , which was dried out by Tarn. You are imprisoned, watched, and essentially, useless.

Overlord would have huffed and crossed his arms if he could. Currently, he only huffed. What was the point of bringing me awake, then? Am I to waste my time in the dark with you?

He was not usually this snappy. But with no body, with no personal power source, being helpless - it was not a feeling Overlord liked. One of his infamous sulks threatened to come around, except he had no one to moodily kill. He couldn’t hurt Trepan.

He wanted his body. But he couldn’t have it. How… irritating.

Needle me, he demanded. Show me something more interesting than this empty room.

 

I’ll let you see what I’ve learned. If only to keep you awake.

Trepan could never brute force his way out of this situation, but the proper application of Overlord deserved some consideration. The mech needed his frame. Yes. Pharma had no persuasive power over it. Pass. Tarn was the one in command of this vessel and the one who prided himself on killing Overlord. He might be goaded into showing off his trophy corpse if there was ever an opportunity to speak with him alone. However, Megatron made that quite impossible. And he was the least likely to do Trepan any favours, short of killing him again.

Back to square one. Pharma had influence on Tarn, who in turn could kiss aft with Megatron. But what could possibly inspire Pharma to help Trepan, short of a quick needle to the brain?

Trepan mulled over his possibilities as he grazed his digits over Overlord’s helm until he could find the little latch at the back.

Catching Overlord up with everything mined from the datacore was plenty of time for pensive planning.

 

The space they existed in was nothing, yet everything. Overlord exercised his will in it and met no active resistance from Trepan, letting him spread his wings, figuratively. Trepan was the better mnemosurgeon by far, but Overlord had picked up one or two things from him.

Around his helm, his body reformed. Thick, strong limbs came into being. From nothing, he became.

Overlord rolled his shoulders, and his mind provided the data to artificially insert the satisfaction, the sensation of popping joints and resettled wires. He reformed the space into something more suitable - one of the many habs that he used to stay in during the war. His mind provided weight, the feeling of the floor against his pedes, and Overlord was pleased again.

Interesting , he said as he looked into Trepan’s provided bank of details. So many things had changed… the world really did speed on. So this medic is the way into Tarn’s spark? How sickening. We should kill him.

Not before he puts you back together. Pharma can be persuaded, I just need to get him alone.

It shouldn’t be beyond the scope of his abilities. Pharma kept fixing him when the damage of the torture was too much, and neither Tarn nor Megatron tended to supervise. If he could only get the squirrely medic to lower his guard, he might be able to do a quick job on him. Quick enough to have him take Trepan and Overlord’s helm to the frame they needed to get back.

You can use comms as you are. Do you think we can use that? Distract them with...a remote signal, maybe, a false location. Just long enough for me to work on Pharma?

 

Overlord continued to stretch his legs, so to speak. He tested out his control of his environment, prodding this and that to see if it was malleable. It felt like his mind was coming online again for the second time, processors getting up to speed, gears being greased, and everything moving as it should. And as it did, so did his other hungers come online.

Inside his mind, the titan awoke. He toyed with his imagined body, letting the drills in his fingers spin before they wavered and turned into mnemosurgery needles. He positioned them like he’d seen Trepan do, and imagined sinking them straight into the base of his teacher’s neck. They were too big, of course - even at the tip, they were thicker than Trepan’s needles by a wide margin. He would not slice into the brain - he would destroy it.

The needles disappeared back into the drills. Overlord turned his attention to Trepan’s mind, scampering in the space like a rodent. He drew closer, feeling out where he was, where the boundaries of his consciousness started and ended. And Overlord was tempted - tempted - to take control of the space and turn it on Trepan. But no… not now. Not yet.

His imagination called up Megatron and Tarn. And he killed them both in wild succession - mind working too quickly through the ways for each one to be fully realized. He put his fist in Megatron’s chest and stomped on Tarn’s helm and shot Megatron in the back and ripped Tarn’s mask off and went on and on until he could almost see the mountains of corpses he’d created. For a moment, they were there - and then they were not.

He kissed Megatron, and ripped his vocalizer out with his denta. He was fragging Tarn, and then he was killing him. The thoughts careened into ludicrous levels of violence until Trepan’s voice interrupted his thoughts. So Overlord inserted Trepan into it too. He saw himself devouring the little mech, servos first, and made sure to spend his time lasciviously expanding every detail before sending the thought to the other mind he shared this space with.

But even as he dictated each lurid drip of inner energon from Trepan’s severed legs, he pondered his words. A plan, he said, a distraction. To take Pharma, Tarn’s little medic, and to reunite him with his body.

He flexed his servo and imagined bringing some of his thoughts to life. Megatron was there, he remembered. Posturing in the name of peace, pah! He was here for his fight, after centuries of Megatron avoiding it like a coward.

He would not be ignored. Megatron would give it to him, and he would lose .

Maybe he could throw Megatron’s severed helm at Tarn before he killed him too. Or he could keep him alive, just as a lonely helm. That sounded good.

I can organize a distraction , Overlord purred across the connection. He reached out, scraping phantom fingers down what he imagined was Trepan. Find Tarn’s pretty medic and make him ours. When can you do this?

 

Soon. I can goad Megatron into damaging me enough to require medical attention. His petty need for revenge will have him play into my hands.

It took a certified, clinical amount of insanity to withstand Overlord’s mind. The sprawling reach of it was only topped by his vivid imagination. Trepan liked to think that he could sink down into the depths of this mech one day and discover the root of it all. And even if he had a very bright picture of his death, lovingly devoured by Overlord piece by piece, Trepan didn’t fear that he’d kill him. Much the opposite. Trepan knew he’d be the survivor of the world falling at Overlord’s servos. Because nothing less would do, once the behemoth was put back together.

He pushed Overlord out of his mind. Trepan was by no means as forceful a presence, but his mental capacity was absolutely beyond Overlord’s potential to reach. Trepan was built to play with the minds of others and he had every weapon he needed for it.

Enough now. When can you arrange for distraction? The sooner this all happens, the sooner you will be back at full strength and get me out of this.

 

I can do it anytime. But - not yet. You still owe me more charge.

Overlord retaliated at the push with another, different image of Trepan’s death - this time being slowly crushed under his weight. He put emphasis on each crunching crackle before easing off, perceived slight now avenged.

Then he changed tacks, drawing up lewd illustrations of Trepan writhing in overload on top of him. Overlord’s imagination knew no bounds, he sent off a few dozen more as his consciousness flexed and retook the space Trepan ousted him from. He let slip some of his plans - including several raunchy ones mixed in with destructive ones, then spliced together until they were one and the same.

I want to know what you intend with Pharma, first. Describe it to me. Tarn had a rather nice toy he seemed attached to. Overlord had the urge to smash it, immediately. Oh, his fury was always so amusing.

He imagined Trepan sliding his needles in, as normal. Then it morphed into increasingly creative murders, featuring delicate needles stabbing a spark over and over until it died, or a brain module being destroyed with careless injections. Maybe Trepan could make Pharma a vegetable instead. All the pretty intact, with none of the mind.

How fun .

 

Trepan enjoyed this part of Overlord’s imagination. He was, indeed, very capable of killing, via some of those methods too. And the spite for Pharma had been building, steadily, with every moment spent in his care. Every wound healed, every tear soldered and line repaired let Trepan’s disdain fester. If Pharma knew mercy, he would have let Trepan die out of mutual respect. He would have sacrificed that shred of professional pride and simply let him pass through his servos.

But no. Pharma enjoyed being a Decepticon pet. And while Trepan hardly had a leg to stand on in this argument, he wasn’t bending over backwards for the ‘con he’d made a deal with.

Pharma let Tarn warp him, break him. As easily fragile as his wings, his mind belonged to the mech rather than himself, and that made Pharma worthless. At least, in Trepan’s opinion.

As much as I would enjoy taking my time...and you know I do. I’ve shared enough memories of my good old days. As much as I would take my time to let him feel his mind slip away completely, I have a tight time schedule to keep. But if I DID have the time...I’d let him lose all he is so unbearably proud of. Reduce him to what he really is; used scrap metal.

 

What a shame. I would have enjoyed that.

Overlord exulted in Trepan’s own response, the spite and resentment pouring from the little mnemosurgeon making him chuckle in low, dark amusement. Trepan’s torture - if it could be called that - wasn’t even a good one. It ranked low , really, on Overlord’s scale. Perhaps, one day, he would take him on an adventure to see what torture really was. Fortress Maximus had certainly gotten the full experience.

His consciousness, wrapped into a singular form that was physical purely in his own mind, drifted closer to Trepan’s. Overlord wound around him, slow and languid, coaxing him to play along a little.

Do you know when you will go in, again? Give me those memories. Let me see… him .

 

Him. Of course you want to see him.

Trepan never understood what each and every Decepticon desired and loved about Megatron, but each had a special fascination with the mech. Overlord in particular, but Trepan had never probed that nest of spiralling madness. He’d accepted it as a flaw that could only be surgically corrected, if at all. The chances were low.

Pain was Overlord’s forte. Inflicting it, particularly. He opened the memory bank with the lazing ease of someone taking a vacation and showing their film reel of it. Megatron, thundering in his audials about justice or some drivel. Megatron, denouncing the rightful punishment intended for his mind. Megatron, declaring himself free, which was the biggest joke of all to Trepan. Only simpletons thought in such basic terms, and Megatron did nothing to disprove the fact he was one.

 

Overlord watched it with a frown, one that only got deeper the further it went on. This was… boring . In his impatience, he didn’t bother finishing the rest. Only the moments of brutality were witnessed and even those were disappointingly sparse. Overlord didn’t bother finishing the rest.

Imprisonment was dull. Megatron was alive. And Trepan wasn’t even a fun prisoner, which was really just typical of him.

I was hoping that you would at least cry interestingly , he said dismissively. I want to be out, Trepan. I’ll make the distraction - as long as you uphold your end of the deal.

 

Chapter Text

Upholding his end of the deal was mandatory if Trepan wanted to survive. And he did. He may not have great ambitions and plots brewing, but he was not a fan of dying here in Tarn’s torture chamber for Megatron’s satisfaction.

So there were two key parts to the execution of this plan; Goading Megatron into causing serious damage and staying alive. Contradictory terms, yes, but both absolutely necessary to end this cycle of being dragged onto new instruments every second day and made to scream. Trepan trusted in Overlord to be paying attention when it came to the moment of opportunity, if only because Overlord would be boundlessly bored otherwise. The connection between them somewhat severed once Trepan was dragged from his cell again, but with the helm out of dormancy, he could still sense the echo of Overlord in the back of his mind. Now he really couldn’t make a noise of pain.

However, Trepan’s brilliant new plan came to a grinding halt when it was not Megatron with him in the chamber, but Tarn. The former bloodhound turned councillor filled the room with less charisma, but with heaps of menace. Megatron was a straightforward mech when it came to pain and inflicting it; his use of the available devices made that clear.

Tarn on the other hand?

Trepan was not sure how he’d goad this mech. Sure, there were weaknesses, but Trepan needed to find the line between provocative and plain stupid.

“Where’s Megatron?” he asked, casually, as if he was not here to be the recipient of torture.

 

Tarn didn’t answer the little mnemosurgeon. His back to Trepan, he was instead inspecting a table of knives. Most of them were too large or too blunt to adequately slice into a mech this small, so Tarn had to bring out the more precise, smaller tools. He sharpened it and the sound of the blade sliding against the stone rung out in the quiet room.

Shhhng! Shhhng!

He held one up to the light. The keen edge glistened. With a vent, he blew off the trace amounts of dust and set it down. He picked up the next tool.

Doing this was a strangely calming process. Tarn took meticulous care of his tools so these didn’t need sharpening that badly, but it let him get his thoughts in order. His lord was busy, having to herd around the Decepticons that’d resorted to clinging to him like burrs. Tarn himself was on a short break and due to return to handle more city matters.

In the meantime, however… he could get some other things done. The matter of his lord’s mental alteration was one that needed to be fixed - and soon. Tarn’s investigation was limited by the city laws and other petty rulings that he was bound to follow that kept him from turning New Iacon upside down and shaking it until his victims fell out. But he’d worked with such limitations before, and he certainly wasn’t going to let that stop him.

Besides diligently combing through the records of every mech and femme in the city, along with conducting several small interviews, he was trying to follow the small bread crumb trail through Trepan - the only person who’d been in his lord’s brain after the original alteration job. But, of course, Tarn was quite the multitasker, so he was killing two birds with one stone by also making this the punishment Trepan rightly deserved for his original crime of clawing into Megatron before the war.

Information first. Then punishment.

He set down his final tool on the small trolley-bound tray that Pharma’s medibay had reluctantly donated to this cause. Trepan was currently in the quiet room of the Tyranny, bound to an angled, upright slab. His servos were wrapped in individual bags that tied off around his wrists, isolating his needles. It wasn’t really necessary, since Trepan didn’t have the strength to rip off one cuff, much less the four holding him down, but Tarn liked to be thorough.

The Empyrean Suite played softly. Tarn hummed along as he brought the trolley next to Trepan.

“Doctor,” he greeted amiably. “I am so glad you could join me for this. Of course, I’m sure you enjoyed your sessions with Lord Megatron much more, but I will try my hardest to not disappoint you. But let’s talk first, like the civilized mecha we are.”

Tarn gestured at the trolley, and the tray on top of it. “These are custom forge tools that I commissioned quite early in the war - right after the Menzeli Incursion, actually. They’re high-quality - carved whole from diamonds, with an ununtrium coating on their edge. Not even Overlord’s plating can avoid being cut by them, though obviously I would not waste such fine craftsmanship on such a boorish individual. No - I reserve these for intellectuals like you.

Tarn picked one up. It glittered beautifully in his massive servo, looking ridiculously fragile. He brought the tip to gently rest on Trepan’s chest. “But, doctor, you don’t need to become acquainted with these firsthand. Not if you give me the information I want. If not - well. I am a patient mech and Pharma is a talented medic. I am sure you understand what I mean.”

 

Tarn’s threat was blunt and obvious and Trepan did well to swallow down his fear. It wasn’t the pain...it was the repetition of it all. Getting put back together from the merest scraps. So far, Megatron had only torn him in half once, crushed every part of his frame and thrown him around as he pleased. Tarn looked to be going in deep and slow, with measured, careful expertise. Which was definitely worse than blunt force.

His words on Overlord reminded Trepan that if he wanted an escape, this was his only chance.

Focus. Concentrate. Use the only thing you have.

“What information are you looking for? I was quite sure I was only here for Megatron’s personal benefit.”

There was no need for torture at all, if these were in fact, civilised mech.

 

“You still are, doctor. I want to know about the mnemosurgeon whose work you untangled for us so graciously. I want to know what they did, what changes were implemented - what you can tell of them. Perhaps, if they were one your coworkers way back when. Nothing difficult - Pharma assures me everyday that you are the top in your field, so clearly you can recognize and pick apart the work of an inferior.”

Tarn drew the scalpel up, to rest on the white circle that was in the center of Trepan’s chest. “Let’s start this off neatly. Tell me if you think their work was similar to Institutional teachings, or different. Tell me how they differ. Then tell me if you can recognize things from their work that may lead me to the mech. These questions are all within your capacity to answer, which is why I think we won’t run into any… disareements .”

As much as Trepan was loathed to give Tarn actual answers, he had no desire to see his spark carved out. And Tarn was very much poised to do just that, though probably in a slow, excruciating manner. Decepticons all had a fascination with pain and inflicting it...the mark of a simple mind, not constructed for power or leverage. As soon as they had any, they began to spiral into madness and excess. Overlord was the grand example, but Megatron and Tarn exhibited the same features.

He vehemently wished there still was a structure in place to cull these mech from the population. They were foolish and dangerous, which was always a lethal combination.

But Trepan’s musings would have to be pushed aside for later. There was a blade on his frame and burning crimson optics on his face.

“Not an amateur, but no one forged for the job. Their needles left marks, that’s the first clue. No cleanup, no control and no removal of the failsafe protocols.”

Trepan looked down at the blade.

“There’s really no need for that.”

 

“No? I think it serves as a very good reminder of what’s at stake, doctor. I would hate to have to hurt you because you forgot your place in this exchange. Very inefficient, I find.”

Tarn sliced a half-inch into the plating. Still on the surface, so it shouldn’t register as anything but a vague sting. “You haven’t answered me fully. Was this an Institute mech, or not?”

 

Trepan yelped but immediately strangled down his vocalizer. He was not giving Tarn something to go with, or satisfaction. He was freely offering information and still the sadist forged on ahead. Decepticons. All the same.

“Obviously not. Institute surgeons are taught how to erase every trace of mnemosurgery!”

Cleanse and control.

Trepan would love to see every last Decepticon on a slab, waiting for him to give their lives some meaning. To put the thoughts into their heads they deserved, and not these obscure ideals of freedom.

“The needles left perpendicular marks. No surgeon forged on Cybertron would use tools that primitive.”

 

The scalpel withdrew. “Why didn’t you say that before? See how nice it is when you give me what I want straight away, doctor?”

So a non-Institute mech. That was unfortunate - Tarn had records of the Institute which could’ve helped narrow down the identity quickly. “Tell me if you recognize this mech, or their work. Or - tell me where it could have originated from, if not Cybertron and the Institute.”

 

“I’m not a database on every mech that would claim to be a mnemosurgeon in the universe.” Trepan remarked dryly. This wasn’t a big deal. His predecessor had done sloppy work and only had themselves to blame when Tarn inevitably followed the breadcrumbs all the way home. Trepan stood to gain nothing from their continued anonymity, and so he’d help dispel it. If only to buy the time he needed to orchestrate his own escape and future.

Solidarity was never Trepan’s strong suit.

“But what I can tell you...they make needles that leave marks like this on Velocitron. The surgeon doesn’t have the steadiest hands, so they can’t have been doing this for long. I’d say a recent function change, at best. Considering the lack of training. Pirated surgical procedure database too. Though the work on the behavioral circuits was quite fine, so they’re not entirely without skill.”

Trepan sighed. He needed another look at the brain module in question, but he suspected that was not an option.

 

A Velocitronian? That was interesting. It also bode interesting times for his negotiations, if this would ever come out. Tarn nodded, pleased.

“Thank you, doctor. That’s quite helpful.”

He would have to cross-examine Velocitronian migrants later. It would make for an interesting line of investigation.

“I suppose that’s all you can tell? Unless there is more?”

The scalpel rested on one of the tubes that lead from his chest to his back. “Think very hard, doctor.”

 

Wasn’t that already a plethora of information? Trepan would have to reconsider just how dull Decepticons were in the helm. He’d given origin of the potential surgeon, his degree of experience and even internal components to search for. Wasn’t that enough? For a bloodhound, Tarn was extraordinarily dim-witted...

Unless. He had that councillor position, right? He probably couldn’t employ any unsavory methods of searching for this mech. Hah! Servos bound by legalities. It served him right.

Still. Trepan needed to be damaged. The objective was the same. And even if he could muster more information, he had to refuse it now for the plan to adjust to Tarn being here in place of Megatron.

“If you unshackle me, I will go find the surgeon for you since you clearly don’t know how to find people.”

 

“Very cute, doctor. But I’m afraid you’ve neither the wit nor beauty to make me allow that to pass. Sharp glossa only belong to those who can keep them in their helms afterwards.”

Well. That was confirmation as well as any. Trepan knew nothing more. Tarn could happily get to the second half of their night. He tapped the scalpel on Trepan’s check. “Now. Now that’s over… let’s discuss your previous occupation. I have come to hear that you once had the privilege of entering my lord’s mind.”

Tarn forced his thumb into Trepan’s mouth, holding it open. The scalpel’s cool side slid over his cheek and dipped into his mouth. “But, instead of appreciating the wonder you were allowed to witness, you only sought to desecrate it. Quite a stupid move for someone so smart .”

The edge of the scalpel bit into the side of Trepan’s mouth, poised to cut through the corner of his lip, up his cheek. “Consider this a punishment from the past, doctor. Just a little taste of a warm Decepticon welcome.”

The scalpel sliced open until it met the metal at the back of his intake. Tarn swiped up some of the inner energon with a finger and part of his mask snicked back. He licked it clean of the fluid and made an approving noise.

“Mm. Vintage; older frames always tend to taste the best.”

The scalpel moved to the other side as Tarn bent to start his work in earnest.

 

Trepan muted his vocalizer as soon as Tarn’s scalpel touched him. He was never great at handling pain and this was no different. The sharp cut was almost worse than the blunt force Megatron employed. Tarn wasn’t doing too much damage, but very painful little incisions that had Trepan’s systems flare warnings, plating shutting what vents it could.

Without a scream to echo around the room, it was eerily silent, only the slide of metal on metal, the soft hiss of a cut tube or the electric fizzle of a damaged circuit as Tarn continued. Trepan wanted to offline all of his sensors, but he had never managed that before. He didn’t have the fine control he had over his hands for the rest of his frame and that was something he felt particularly spiteful of right now. The squirming, he could not prevent.

 

Tarn patted Trepan’s helm as he sawed open the other side of his mouth. “Don’t worry, doctor,” Tarn purred indulgently, “you’ll still be alive after I’m done with you.”

 

-x-

 

The next day, Blurr’s Bar...

Orion was feeling closer than ever to his former function as he sat in the bar alone, drinking as he reviewed his files. Blurr had been kind enough to provide a private booth for him so that the other patrons didn’t bother him. Having some measure of anonymity was hard, given who he had been, and every scrap he could get was appreciated.

Investigative work had been a little bit of a hobby of his back then, and Orion dipped into those old skills for guidance now. So far, what he had said that the mnemosurgeon used against Megatron was not affiliated to any faction and had to have been one of the mecha who’d arrived on Cybertron after the call went out. The time frame for the mnemosurgery was before the journey, which cut out a large number of people who arrived after. Little by little, Orion narrowed down the potential suspects.

There was the possibility that they would leave the planet right after what they did – or flee to one of the colonies that’d come into contact. But that would be suspicious – too obvious after such an obvious attack on someone so prominent. And of course, this could not be a single attack perpetrated by a lone wolf. No, it was too well-organized, too well calculated.

And Orion knew only one person in the city with the sheer ball bearings to do something like that and have a chance to get away with it.

He called Prowl his friend, but he was increasingly unsure of it nowadays. The mech had withdrawn more and more. Orion couldn’t remember their last amiable conversation. The camaraderie built up in Autobot high command had fallen apart after the war ended, and there was no duty of war keeping them tied together. They were all driven, influential, and opinionated mecha at spark and their callings had all scattered them all over the city. Ironhide was organizing a private security firm, Ratchet was grouchily residing in the hospital, and Prowl was… somewhere. Doing something .

Was it unfair to suspect him? Probably not. Orion felt like he knew the mech enough to say that Prowl would still shoot Megatron if given the chance – even if he had the potential to save lives.

But it wasn’t as if he could accuse Prowl of it with no evidence. He needed to find that mnemosurgeon first, before they got anyone else.

Thus, his current investigation.

“Thank you,” he grunted when Blurr stepped in to place a fresh plate of energon goodies in front of him.

The blue racer shrugged and leaned over to look at the files. “You’ve been busy. Four hours passed since you came in and you haven’t stepped out once.”

Orion put his servo on them, and Blurr took the hint. “There never seems to be time to slow down for anyone. It comes with the job. Is that new?”

He pointed at Blurr’s arm. The plating there was different, curved rather than angled, and much thinner. Not armor-grade, certainly, but something decorative. Orion couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a ‘bot with purely ornamental kibble.

“This?” Blurr lifted his arm to show off the new part. “Yeah. A new bodyshop opened downtown. Makes different kibble parts, nothing complicated. Some of the NAILs use it to get armored up and keep up with the current fashion of thick, pointy, and dangerous. I’m just trying out stuff that I don’t need to catch a bullet with.”

“It’s nice,” Orion said, just to be polite. He’d been so busy that he hadn’t even noticed that. It was something to look into, though. “What do they make?”

“It’s all custom. Gotta order, get measured, and wait. So anything you like, as long as it’s possible.”

Orion looked down at his files. A thought was coming to him. “What about servos?”

“Servos?”

“Yes. Servos.” A mnemosurgeon’s servos were one of their most prominent, obvious features. It was hard to conceal the slightly longer than proportional digits, the compartments the needles were in, and the specific friction pads that allowed their digits to grip while not damaging or hindering their needles. And yet, there were no sightings of people with those servos save for Chromedome or former surgeons with no needles. But if one could cover that…

“Uh, maybe?” Blurr shrugged. “You can go ask, if you want to know more. The bodyshop is called Chassis. Run by Refit.”

“Thank you,” Orion said and he waited until Blurr left before looking down at his table. Then, he pulled out his datapad and looked up Chassis.

Well. It looked like he had something to look at.

-x-

Chassis’ proprietor, Refit, was a former Autobot turned Neutral after the peace. Orion could still see the vague outline of where the badge must have rested on his chest for so many years. Thankfully, Refit was a professional who didn’t say anything beyond greeting his former leader as a customer.

“What do you need?”

“I wanted to ask about your customers. Nothing invasive. Just about something someone may have bought from you.”

Refit looked suspicious. “I don’t really talk about what previous customers have bought.”

“Consider it an inquiry on your services then. I wanted to know if you recently made custom servos for someone.”

Refit looked around, then gestured Orion closer. He leaned over the counter, curious.

“I made servo covers for someone recently,” Refit murmured. “Is this something I should be worried about?”

“No, of course not,” Orion assured him. His curiosity piqued, he said, “But I think you should tell me who they are. Just a name will work. You’re not in trouble.”

Refit pursed his lips, looking uncertain. But perhaps he sensed that this wasn’t just a visit – that something was going, had been going on that none of them really knew about. So instead of arguing, he simply leaned and whispered a name into Orion’s audial.

“Tarmac.”

Chapter Text

Tarmac lived near the outskirts of the city, in the tenement housing. Orion had to navigate a winding network of ramshackle alleys before he found the little door that opened into the habsuite the Velocitronian migrant had claimed for himself. He knocked and waited a few minutes.

The door opened a crack, and a white face peered out.

“Good day,” Orion greeted, and pretended to not notice the way the optics dilated in agitation. “I’m Orion Pax. I just wanted to ask a few questions about an order you made at the bodyshop, Chassis.”

“I – I didn’t realize custom kibble was something to be questioned about,” the mech said, voice timid. “I’m pretty busy, so maybe you could -?”

“It’s nothing much,” Orion said, speaking over him. “I just wanted to see the work done.”

“I really don’t think you should be here. I’m busy –“ without finishing his sentence, the mech tried to close the door. Orion shoved his pede in, stopping it from closing completely. The mech disappeared into the house and Orion shouldered his way past the door, grabbing him before he could escape.

Tarmac was a helm shorter than him. Putting him down on the ground, his knee between his shoulders, was pitifully easy for Orion. His grip unyielding, Orion ordered, “Stand down, or be hurt. Show me your servos – now .”

Whimpering, Tarmac put his servos on the ground next to his helm. They were too large for his actual frame, somewhat unwieldy, and the paint looked fresh. Telling.

“Release the covers. Show me.”

“I –I –“

“Release and show!”

One of the servo covers clicked off. And underneath it, was the servo of a mnemosurgeon. Orion vented, optics wide.

“You’re coming with me,” he said, and yanked Tarmac to his feet. Through his comm, he was already calling Megatron.

::I think I found the mnemosurgeon who did the job on you. Bring something to hide him to my location. Hurry.::

 

::A transport? I only have Tarn’s ship at my disposal. Is he too big for your trailer?::

Megatron had his doubts about the accuracy of Orion’s investigation, but he wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to do some of his own interrogating. He certainly had a thing or two to say to this unknown mnemosurgeon (thing one being ripping him apart and thing two being scattering the atoms of his remains), but without the player behind the strings, it wouldn’t ring true as satisfaction. Megatron was truly tired of the hoops that needed to be jumped through. There was one thing he missed from the time of war; he had accountability to no one but himself. He could punish those that had wronged him directly, personally. And as brutally as his anger saw fit.

Peace demanded a new approach. Not just with the delicate nature of the tentative council and its representatives. Everything Megatron touched and said had to be examined for potential effect. One falling domino would bring this peace to its knees and shatter Cybertron.

And as much as Megatron knew he had not cared in the past, it was difficult to ignore the fact that a substantial part of the population and his own faction had simply perished. Billions of sparks, vanished in the raging fires of war. Anger could only blind for so long.

So Megatron made it personal. He kept his rage leashed tightly, only shown to those that directly intended to harm or manipulate him. Like Trepan. Like whoever was behind the shadowplay. Those were the people that would feel the full impact of destruction that only Megatron commanded.

The rest of Cybertron would know of his presence, even if, by all accounts, they should only fear him if they dared to break the peace he brought. He was Tarn’s looming shadow. He was Starscream’s nightmare. He was still the hope for the Decepticons to know a just society. He was still there .

And this mnemosurgeon would suffer. Megatron had little restraint when it came to personal revenge, and this mech deserved the cruel death Megatron would concoct for him. After he gave up his employer, of course.

 

::I don’t just have it with me whenever I go out.:: Orion hadn’t actually expected this to align so well, but it was too late to back out now. And better to take opportunity when it was presented than to wait and lose. Excitement shivered under his spark, making him impatient.

He considered his options. How did he smuggle a mech out in broad daylight? He checked on him again, and was satisfied to see him still frozen in the same position. Too afraid to even speak.

And to think this was the mech that had brought Megatron so low. A shivering little Velocitronian living in the ghetto. Megatron probably would be offended at the idea.

No trailer… and Megatron didn’t have an alt-mode that was discreet enough to conceal Tarmac in. Orion glanced at the floor, then out one of the grimy windows.

The tenements made it hard to see the precise architecture, but Orion could recognize the same structures he’d seen over and over again throughout the war. Metroplex’s alt was unchanged, even after all these years. He knelt. Metroplex was this city - his mind was everywhere around them, as scattered and dormant as it may be.

“Metroplex,” Orion said, “if you can hear me… open a passage for me through you.”

For a moment, things remained unmoving. Orion was almost about to give up when he heard a grinding. The tenement floor tore open as the hatch it’d been built over opened up. Metroplex, still heeding the call even now.

“Thank you, old friend,” Orion said, dragging the paralyzed Tarmac towards the opening. “I won’t forget this.”

The little maintenance tunnel they dropped into was spacious enough for both of them. And when Orion pressed his servo to the wall in gratitude, he could almost feel the vast intellect of Metroplex nodding back at him.

::Forget it. I’m bringing him - I’m sending you a location. Go there.::

Metroplex’s internal systems were huge. There were many places inside him that one could conduct clandestine questionings in. And there was no time to waste with Tarmac - not if they wanted to get this done soon.

Chapter Text

His mind was his own.

That was the most essential thing to take away from all of this, wasn’t it?

Right.

Wrong.

Megatron paid the tunnels no mind. Being inside of Metroplex wasn’t quite right either, but the metrotitan didn’t seem particularly active, or aware of his presence. Megatron remembered the crushing force of just one of his palms, enclosing his senses, squeezing his frame to near death. It was one of his worst defeats, and many thought him dead, but he’d survived.

He always survived. Thanks to his will, and a few actually loyal followers, Soundwave chief among them. They were the people that fed the strength of his will, and subdued his rage to the painful clarity he currently operated under.

What happened aboard the Harmony had not left his mind. He’d pushed the saccharine events aside in favour of burying them under outrage over the discovery of his shadowplay. Anything with Orion had become tainted, soured under the notion that his mind had been prisoner to someone else’s manipulations.

It was the single, most invasive, destructive thing anyone could do to him. Crushing his frame to smithereens, electrocuting him to the brink of death, reforging him in a smelting pool...all of those were types of pain he could handle. He could suffer through and if he survived, come out more determined on the other end. But the shadowplay...needles in his brain module, changing him, his fundamental personality, his basic instincts...it was worse than death. It was worse to him than all of his schemes, worse than Prime and he killing each other. There’d been a fairness to those fights, even if they involved underhanded contingency plans. Messing with someone’s mind...

Megatron had experience there, too. It wasn’t that the practice itself repulsed him to the core. He had groomed and shaped some of his best warriors himself, molding them from the ashes of their past, Deadlock and Tarn chief among them.

But shadowplay was cowardly, left no one a choice and didn’t take any conviction to perform. Megatron despised the weakness of it, and he especially hated a fight he never had a chance of challenging.

However, he was also not a mech to dwell on something eternally. He’d get his revenge. Once he did, he could put his own weakness aside. If it was appropriately avenged, it could be forgotten. Violence against him begat only a stronger response. Megatron had to take this experience as any other defeat.

Now there was a notion he could work with. This defeat of his was temporary, and he was already working on the counterstrike. Good. That’s what a warrior needed to move forward.

There were a thousand other things he needed to give his attention to. Cybertron’s future, Tarn’s policies, Starscream’s crumbling persona. Oh, yes, he had paid attention to the Supreme Ruler, who was rightfully unnerved by Megatron’s murderous shadow venting onto his neckcables. Tarn played his part perfectly, as expected. Starscream would have to prove stronger to beat this particular hurdle that Megatron had installed. Take it as recompense for those choice comments by the exalted supreme ruler. Megatron would never lose power, as long as mech believed him to have it.

 

To truly step away from it all, the way Orion Pax dreamed, was impossible. Megatron was not exhausted enough to deny that truth. Mecha like them could not leave the world so easily, because their shoulders were the pillars to hold it all up.

And while Orion had faith in people to govern themselves, Megatron wanted to be sure they could. Eventually, even titans rusted away, and the Decepticon legacy would not.

Orion Pax and his dreams...

A foolish mech’s dreams, to get away from it all. But beneath the horrific domesticity that Megatron well remembered, he also saw something of his former nemesis that he could not dismiss so easily. Affection. Longing. A deep need for Megatron to complete him, in a manner so intimate and personal it was mildly terrifying. And yet, it had felt genuine. What Orion wanted, he would never get so easily. Megatron was not a subservient, spineless berthslave. What Orion pursued, in Megatron as a lover, as someone he trusted enough to be himself around (including his terrible taste in poetry, his weird sense of humor and that almost awkward flirtation), and that was worth examining, despite the overarching disgust for the thing that made it possible.

Their connection remained. Cooled, now, tempered into something distant and full of thinly veiled warnings, but it persisted. Megatron could not forgive that Orion had been weak, until Orion proved himself strong.

But Orion wasn’t like Megatron. He didn’t pull himself up by his own struts, he didn’t persevere for his own tenacity. He persevered for others. And no one was in his personal life enough to fight for, because Orion Pax stood as alone as Megatron in the world.

Only Megatron understood. Only Megatron could get close enough to be personally effective as a catalyst. Orion Pax needed Megatron more than anyone else, and that was jaggedly clear to him now.

Whether or not he would deign to help the mech, his thunderous temper would decide.

 

-x-

 

Orion’s prisoner was a quiet little thing - if he hadn’t seen the proof with his own optics, he wouldn’t have believed him to be the instigator of one of the biggest scandals after the war. He didn’t fight back after the initial struggle and Orion was able to cart him back to the only place he could think of where they could possibly harbor someone like Tarmac.

The hospital.

Thanks to Ratchet, he was able to drive around to the back with his occupant. Ejecting him from his cab, Orion transformed and took him inside. Ratchet looked inquisitive, but long experience with the war and his leadership let him keep quiet when the situation was so obviously sensitive. He would be told when the time was right.

::I’m in the hospital, in the private surgery ward. Ratchet can lead you to me.::

He let go of the mnemosurgeon in the small room.

“I won’t hurt you,” he promised, raising his servos. “But you need to answer my questions. And soon.”

“I - I can’t.”

He tilted his helm. “Why not?”

“I can’t.”

He frowned. “Is there something compelling you?”

“I can’t .”

Orion remembered where he’d seen something like this. Loyalty programs and no-talk coding were possibilities. Both sides had made ample use of them both during the war. Without some kind of in-depth mental scouring or code clearing, this mech wouldn’t be able to answer him willingly.

Slag.

 

Minutes later, the disgruntled voice of Ratchet was very audible just beyond the door, followed by the condescending response from Megatron, which only made the former more disgruntled. Megatron pushed the door open, optics burning as he searched the room, skipping over Orion in the process.

Orion didn’t matter right now.

The little piece of slag in the back did.

There was no holding back the tankformer as he crossed the room and grabbed Tarmac, chair and all, lifting him into the air by his neckcables.

“This is him?” He didn’t need to confirm it, he knew it. Mnemosurgeons were cowards, with small frames and smaller sparks. They could never, as a collective, fight him. That’s why they and their vile employers tended to work from the shadows, because they could not stand before true power without cowering.

 

“Megatron, put him down .” He grabbed hold of his wrist, ready to interpose himself between them if necessary. Orion’s gaze was stern as he stared him down. “We need him for information on who set him up to do this. Hurting him will get us nowhere .”

He’d hoped Megatron would set back his anger long enough to get some answers first. Orion had been hoping for too much, apparently.

“I didn’t bring him here so you could hurt him. Release him, now.”

 

Megatron glowered, keeping the struggling mech aloft for a couple of seconds more. Orion was making sense, of course, but that didn’t douse the white-hot anger that demanded the very plating torn off of this mech, his energon drenching Megatron’s fists when he finally pushed them through his sparkchamber and crushed this coward’s life right out of it.

He dropped him without ceremony.

“He better talk fast .”

Because Megatron’s patience was famously low, and he had quite a few walls to drag this mech through before he turned him into dust.

 

Orion caught him before he tumbled down. He let the mech scamper to a corner away from Megatron before turning to the mech.

“He’s coded against talking,” Orion said, watching him from the corner of his optic, “I asked him a few questions while you were coming. He wasn’t able to say anything.”

Or he could be lying, but he doubted that. Pretending to be coded lasted only until someone took a scan.

“Grk.”

Orion’s helm whipped around at the noise. Tarmac was bent over, clutching his helm, moaning to himself. He frowned. “Tarmac?”

“Gnnngh!”

There was a sound coming from him. It was high-pitched, spaced out, and so shrill that Orion heard on the very edge of his audial range. It sounded like…

“No!” His servo snapped out and pulled Megatron along the wall as Orion turned, using his arm to shield his face as the bomb inside Tarmac’s helm detonated. Cranial fluid and metal sprayed across the room as it was decimated from the inside.

 

“Slag it.”

Megatron didn’t even bother to wipe off the chunks and liquid gunk from his chassis. So Tarmac...definitely was the right path. Scattered across the room, maybe, but definitely the right mech.

“...Safeguard bomb. They must have known we’d investigate him. Clever, cleaning up the trail like that. Did you get anything out of him at all?”

Megatron brushed off Orion’s touch quickly, no word of loss about the mech that just exploded. But empathy was the last thing anyone expected from him anyway.

This was a pain. All he wanted to do was grind the perpetrator beneath his pedes, grind them until their faceplate crumbled away and he’d get to play with their brain module, his way.

Instead? Orion was on a wild goose chase, calling Megatron in on his leads, even if he came up empty-handed. If Megatron hadn’t seen Tarmac with his own optics, he may have suspected Orion calling him simply to have an excuse to see him.

 

“I called you as soon as I found him,” Orion said as he slowly approached the fallen frame. It was smoking gently as energon began to leak from the hole left behind. “Once I verified the coding, I wanted to… wait. I thought you might want to see it yourself than hear it from me.”

Was this a rigged bait, or a last-minute attempt to cover one’s tracks? He knelt besides the body.

Dead, most certainly.

“We can still look into his history,” Orion said distractedly as he turned the body over, “Find out when he came to Cybertron, who he had contact with, the works. It’s not as easy as getting from his mouth but - well, that’s not an option any longer.”

 

“They’ll have wiped his memory banks anyway.” Megatron nudged at the broken frame with a pede, tempted to grind the remains just out of principle. This little, pathetic thing had fragged his brain, made him believe that four million years had amounted to nothing and that he, Megatron, was to blame for every death caused by it. This little tool had the power to make him believe he was weak and wrong and needed redemption.

Megatron needed no redemption. There was nothing to repent for, because the core principle of it all remained the same. He’d told Optimus, once, not too long ago, that as long as injustice prevailed, he would respond by killing industriously. Because there was nothing but cutting thick wedges out of their population that seemed to resonate with their own species. Megatron had trimmed the fat through meticulous warfare. And sure, some that died probably didn’t deserve it.

But look at where they had arrived. A future where Decepticons, or former Decepticons, could claw their way to the top. Form didn’t dictate a damn thing anymore, and neither did the rank of Prime. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for now. And Megatron would be taken apart and smelted before he’d allow the future out of his control again.

There was nothing about that he regretted.

Megatron kneeled down by the exploded helm, picking up a tiny fragment of the brain module, covered in self-repair nanites. An old wound, opened again and again despite the protests of the module.

“Know anyone fond of micro-bombs?”

 

“I can name a few,” Orion said. “Nothing determinate, though. These were used everywhere in the war, Decepticon or Autobot. Autopsy might be a good idea, see if anything else has been done to the frame. Indicators, clues, anything at this point.”

Orion flicked off the energon and fluid on his servos as he stood up with a sigh. “Frag. I was hoping it wouldn’t go this way.”

One step forward, two steps back. Orion was tired of this game. “I know Tarn been looking into this too, though he won’t tell me anything. Maybe you can pass on information from me to him and get us a little closer to figuring this out.”

 

Or not. Megatron knew where Tarn was at with the investigation. The mech sent him video files and reports by the day, though, sadly, they didn’t lead to the master of puppets just yet. The day they did, Cybertron’s justice system could pick up the pieces of the mess Megatron was going to make.

Again, he nudged Tarmac’s scattered parts.

“You could leave the entire investigation to him. This is bound to get ugly, Pax. Aren’t you retired?”

This isn’t about you. Why do you persist?

 

“It’s personal,” Orion said with one last glance at the body. “Whoever did this went against every ideal I fought for - and every ideal that made me step down. And it’s obvious that they wanted to put us both out of the picture for whatever their next step was.”

Not to mention that he had been wounded too, though not as much as Megatron. Orion was not someone to be made unknowingly complicit in someone else’s atrocities - especially when they were against this mech.

“It’s something that needs to be dealt with anyway. Two helms are better than one.”

 

“Is that so? This is personal?”

Megatron knew it was. But the anger within him wasn’t just reserved for the perpetrators of this crime, mostly against him. It simmered just below the surface, scratching at his field, his plating, begging for release, pleading with him to take it out on Orion, who had so often been the outlet of his innermost emotions on the battlefield.

“They didn’t have to implant anything and break your mind for you to be content with exile.”

His voice came out a low growl, engine hissing and spitting aggression.

 

“That’s because I was happy with leaving,” he said, voice even. Megatron looked ready for violence, all fire and brimstone, but he didn’t rise to the bait that easily. Besides, it wasn’t as if Megatron was lying .

Orion had been happy to go with someone he thought he could have a future with. Of course, that had all been a sham. He’d accepted that already. Now was just his penance.

“I don’t need to be the primary victim of this to still have a stake in it. What happened to you was wrong.”

 

“That’s not what I am talking about.” Megatron was indeed ready to fight, but he knew Orion wasn’t on that edge just yet. And that only amplified his need to guide him there, to goad a reaction from the mech again. It had been one of his principle priorities, once upon a time. Just to see how far he could push Optimus Prime.

That desire, he realized, had not died. But now, he wanted to fight. He wanted to clash their frames, fists, weapons, anything they could find to throw at each other. He wanted an outlet.

“Why were you so content with that sick parody of me? Do not tell me you saw someone seeking redemption. You saw a puppet. Weak. Crippled. Never me .”

Was that what Orion wanted to live with? A fraction of Megatron? A ghost of him, a shard so fragmented it would never find its own spinal strut again?

 

He looked away first. He was being goaded, he knew. Megatron always had a talent for saying the right thing to hit him right where it hurt, and then twist the knife that extra few inches to heighten the pain. Staying unresponsive to his needling would be the best option, just so he wouldn’t get the fight he was obviously spoiling for.

But damn it, they didn’t get where they did because Orion was good at ignoring what Megatron said.

“That was what I saw,” he admitted. “It was… I saw what I wanted to see. I should have known better.”

What else do you want from me? I was blinded. I was wrong. I know better now.

 

It was not good enough. Orion could fool himself into thinking a mere explanation would be enough, that it could potentially bridge the rift ripped between them. But it wasn’t. Megatron didn’t have another mech in the universe he had felt as equal to as Orion Pax and Optimus Prime. They had had an understanding, a connection, that four million years of relentless combat couldn’t tear apart. And to think that all it took was the thin veil of domesticity to fool Orion into seeing only what he wanted was beyond disturbing.

Megatron once thought Orion knew him, better than anyone else ever could. Megatron had even thought that it could be the basis of something interesting and personal, something neither of them had time for before.

And it was torn to pieces as he hung out over the abyss, the only pillar his own will by which he was pulling himself out. Orion was giving him an empty servo.

“Would it have been noticeable to you if you were never under the impression of falling in love with me?”

His tone was cool and words entirely devoid of judgement, which meant it was balled up behind his denta, waiting to tear Orion apart.

 

He grit his denta until his jaw ached. Telling himself to avoid confrontation was hard when his mistakes were getting thrown at his face like this. These weren’t errors made on the battlefield or misjudgments in leadership. This was deeply personal, delving into something that Orion had not ever expected to deal with.

What could he say? Megatron was right, as usual. He had been a fool blindly rushing into something he didn’t fully understand, eager to have what scrap of normality that he could get while letting himself ignore everything that indicated something might be different. He’d been desperate to get away from his title and responsibilities, taking the first break in the war to finally have something for himself. In his folly, he had not seen the inevitable.

So many people thought he was an infallible figure of flawless morality. But he wasn’t. He was just a mech, like any other, prone to moments of weakness like the worst and best.

Megatron was his equal, his foil, the other face of the coin. And when the impossible seemingly happened once before with the peace, could Megatron’s turning really have been that miraculous?

Of course, he told himself. You just didn’t want to think about it.

Peace, escape, and love - that had been all he wanted. A chance to step back from a world that expected a messiah from a mech.

“Maybe,” he said softly. “I think so.”

 

“That’s pathetic.” Megatron knew this was the core problem that had dragged Orion into this. And he couldn’t help his fury about it, because if the reverse was true, he would never have been eager to believe such a lie.

“You fell in love with a deception so decrepit it would only see guilt and sorrow in everything accomplished.”

It wasn’t me. I will never be that.

“And if that is what you truly want of me, I am glad it lead to nothing but pain.”

He deserved better. Even if Megatron had a list of crimes and mistakes longer than a metrotitan’s arm, he would never bow to it in such a cowardly way, breaking down and changing everything about himself. That was never the objective, and it should never have been part of what he had once pursued with Optimus as a lover rather than an enemy. If anything, it was the opposite. If Orion didn’t want to have feelings for him as he truly was, he was entirely unworthy of Megatron’s consideration.

“When we interfaced, before, for the first time...what did you feel?”

He was going to keep digging, because he had a right to. He had every right to take Orion apart at the core.

 

He ran a servo over his face, still wondering what was desired of him. A fight would have been easier at this point, because Orion knew how to handle that. Exploding in righteous anger, crusading for his ideals - all of that was much simpler than this terrain of personal relationships.

With a long, low sigh, Orion crossed his arms and leaned against a wall, looking down at his pedes as he considered his words. His first few thoughts were too sweet and simple, too small for what he wanted them to mean. Grand speeches had no place between the two of them in this setting, because this wasn’t about their ideals or visions. And four million years of combat hadn’t versed Orion with what to say after a blunder of this magnitude.

“I was suspicious,” he said after a pause. “I thought you might try to pull one over me. That it could have been some kind of ploy.” As usual, in their relationship. After all, Megatron had spent millennia offering his servo only to use it to punch him when he wasn’t looking.

“I was… curious,” he continued, thinking back to their awkward reunion as they tried to navigate their duties and their desires, “Interested. But I was not hoping for much.”

And then things snowballed from there. Suddenly they went from speaking at each other from across rooms to planning the future of their people while discussing their own lives. Conversations started at politics and ended at relationships, and Orion had been too bowled over by the peace, Megatron stepping down, and the idea of a Cybertron that no longer needed his constant presence that he’d gone through the motions dreamily.

“I should have known when you agreed to leave with me.” His helm dipped lower. Of course Megatron would never leave the planet when his plans were still so nascent. It seemed so ridiculous in hindsight, a series of follies only accomplished because Orion had allowed it to. “I’m sorry, if you’ll accept that now.”

 

Megatron could feel the desire to punch Orion ebb and flow, like a tide. He was so downtrodden, it almost didn’t seem worth the effort. And on the other servo, exactly that made him want to plant his fist squarely into the middle of that handsome, miserable face.

How were they ever going to overcome this hurdle, this new rift that went so much deeper than lost soldiers, battles, and ideologies?

It was so intensely personal that Megatron wished he could purify his system entirely of it. This emotional baggage he was hauling around slowed him down, weakened his burning hatred for most things.

Orion was his equal, his opposite, everything that Megatron strove for in terms of strength and yet detested.

“Be sorry you allowed yourself to be fooled. You already washed your servos of participatory guilt when we last spoke.”

He wanted to sneer, and he wanted to reach into Orion and pull out his spine, just to prove that it existed.

 

“It is not so easy,” Orion said, harsher than he intended. “What I want to do is find who is responsible for this - and that is personal. Do you think I wanted any of this to happen? That I wanted them to alter who you are?”

He clenched his fists. “You can not believe me, fine. But you are wrong if you think that I ever wanted whatever this is to start like this. I made a mistake - a horrible one - because I -”

He cut himself off before his voice got too loud. With another sigh, Orion forcibly calmed himself. “- because I let myself be blinded. That’s it. That’s all. Do you really think I wouldn’t feel guilty about that? That I wouldn’t try to make up for it by at least finding who was responsible?”

He pinched the edge of his mask, feeling it dig into his face. “Look - you are free to be angry, to hate me - in fact, I probably deserve it. But you won’t stop me from finding who was responsible, because that’s what’s right . And I do want to do by what’s right with you.”

 

Megatron sneered at his explanation, stalling an answer by picking bits of Tarmac from his chassis, flicking them to the floor with more anger than the dead mech probably ever experienced in his lifetime.

Orion didn’t understand his rage. He’d never been the one whose mind had been meddled with, quite literally. He didn’t understand how much of an invasion it was, or how repulsive it was to know someone had tainted their personal relationship so meticulously to remove them both from the picture.

And here was the former Prime, still feeling sorry for himself and what he lost, rather than be angry about what had been done to both of them.

If there was one thing Orion Pax was not, it was a good liar. He’d never be able to pull together an act this oblivious if he’d been involved in the whole damn disaster. At least that much, Megatron could put to rest.

“I don’t want you to do right by me . I want you to be angry for you, for us . Someone used you as much as this mnemosurgeon here. Someone who knows you enough to play on your fantasies. I want you to feel outraged as you ought to be. You don’t owe to me, you owe it to yourself. You’re not the damn prophet of your people, slag it, you’re a damn mech!”

 

“Us?” Orion echoed, sounding confused. “What us ?” he said, his voice growing harder.

Megatron was an infuriating person, he always knew that. His thoughts were constantly guarded, he was stubborn enough to make the gods weep, and sometimes, nothing but the most obvious could be gleaned from him. And sometimes, he was so opaque that with him, up was down and right was left.

“Do you expect me to get angry over losing a false relationship? Is that what you want?” Despite his reservations, his tone grew heated as the last of his composure cracked and fell. “I’ll admit that I was used! You’re right on that count - but how am I supposed to - to get vengeance for something that was never real? That’s what it was - never real. You were changed for that - like you would ever go on a diplomatic trip with me or even agree to leave Cybertron when it was right in your servos. I’ve been played for something that never existed in the first place, for something that was never reciprocated.”

And frag, if that didn’t hurt to admit. It was the crux of the matter, wasn’t it? With the clarity of Megatron’s mind came the truth that he would never be the kind of person to willingly do anything with the person who had been his enemy for the last millennia.

“And look where being just me got you - us! Mnemosurgery, being played for fools, I should have known. I should have never trusted you to be like that on your volition. I should have watched you and not fallen into a trap that had been made because I thought that I could escape any of this. It was so obvious . Everytime I think back on it, I can see a million times I should have realized you were not being yourself.”

He had mourned the loss of the fantasy. He would probably mourn it more, later. How could he not, considering he’d almost had it all before losing it? But his feelings and his wounds were his own business. Orion had no intention of letting Megatron know that nothing had been fake from his end, because he knew how that would end.

Outrage, probably. Manipulation, possibly. And most definitely an even harsher hit to the spark when everything was confirmed to have been artificial and one-sided. And even then, he doubted himself - because he should have known, and he didn’t. And now, he was left with with feelings he felt were real but couldn’t trust - all for a mech who never was himself in the first place. What a mindfrag that was.

“All there is left is an injustice to be righted. My end is being… handled.”

 

This time, Megatron didn’t fight his urge. There was some part of him that absolutely thrilled at the feeling of planting his fist onto that faceplate, the clang of the mask against his servo, the dull echo of impact shuddering through his arm.

“Listen to yourself!” he snarled, pushing aside the rush of something familiar when he physically assaulted Orion, “You’ve already convinced yourself, gone inside your own helm without looking at anything else. Your martyr complex is going to be the death of you that you don’t come back from.”

His frame braced for a fight as his mind scrambled to unwind the tight mess of what Orion had said. What an honest-to-Primus fool this mech was.

“You think the basis for all of it was nothing but your desire? Nothing but what you wanted to believe, without root in any truth? You’re the worst liar in the universe, Orion, even to yourself.”

He swung for a second punch, because apparently, Orion didn’t understand him when he was talking. Or just didn’t listen.

 

The first one, he let pass. The second, not so much.

Orion raised an arm to block while his own fist swung at Megatron’s side in a reaction so automatic that he didn’t even have second thoughts about it. It was instinct - Megatron was hitting him, so he had to return the assault.

Slipping back to old behaviors could really be so easy for them. Orion was already moving to kick him before he could think that maybe Ratchet would not appreciate them brawling in the middle of his ward.

“What else?” he snapped as Megatron’s fist hit his forearm with a dull clang . “I’m not stupid enough to think that you’re going to want to keep up something you were shadowplayed into!”

 

“You’re denser than a diamond drill!” Megatron didn’t think, he just moved, easing into the fight with familiarity and experience, but without any true goal besides fighting itself. Orion fit to him, in the way his fists could make dents in Megatron’s armor. Rough edges and stubborn idiocy were all part of him, parts of him that made him incessantly mech and not messiah.

Megatron could, at another time perhaps, appreciate these flaws.

Right now though, he just wanted to pound sense into the mech.

“You think I would have interfaced with you like that, by being shadowplayed ?” he mashed his helm into Orion’s face to break the deadlock and maybe push him off-balance.

“You think they could have implanted that kind of desire so accurately when they did a hideous job at remaking me for your domestic fantasy?!”

 

Ow .

The edge of his mask was definitely dented now. Orion moved it back so it didn’t dig into his nasal ridge painfully. It left a thin cut across his face - though that wasn’t important when he was stumbling backwards into a wall after the headbutt.

“Even if that was real,” he said as he wrestled with Megatron, “nothing after it was. By all rights, you should be disgusted with me.”

He elbowed him to get back for the headbutt. Orion was venting hard, but it wasn’t because he was tired. “I don’t expect you to want anything else after what already happened.”

 

“You of all people should know I am not defined by what others dictate I should and should not want!” Megatron was bristling, his field flaring and his fans cycling with the familiar heat of a fight. This...this was therapeutic, if anything. Orion’s cut leaked energon and Megatron barely restrained the urge to taste it. Some things were permissible in arguments, others were not.

“Whatever we had on that ship wasn’t real; to me, it is meaningless. And if you’re as repentant about it as you say, then I want you to have a good, long think about what it is you want; I am not satisfied by falsities. Be it justice or anything else. And after I kill whoever did this to me, I will ask you again what it is you want. Not Cybertron. Not the justice system, not your tenacious morality. I want to know whether or not you understand that our connection runs deeper and is worth fighting for or not. I want to know whether you have the ball bearings to pursue me despite everything, still. You’ll tell me, then.”

Megatron kicked him for good measure, but his words had more bite than his attacks.

 

The kick hurt, but not in anyway that made Orion notice it. Pain was a normality for him - a formality for them. He wished he could hold to his personal promise to say nothing. He wished Megatron could have just left the whole thing be and allowed Orion to lick his wounds in peace. But of course he wouldn’t - he was the kind of person to jab every finger he had into an injury and rip it open because he thought he deserved the blood that spilled out.

“I can tell you now,” he said as energon bled down his cheek, “If you really want the truth that badly - I do. I do want you, I do want what we had, but I’ve had enough of lying to myself!”

He ripped himself out of Megatron’s hold. There were a few dents on him, but nothing important enough to stop for. Orion set his jaw, stubborn against being hurt again. “I was complicit in what happened to you, knowing or not. What right would I have to pursue you again, after what I did?”

He wanted to, he dearly, desperately wanted to. But Orion would sooner shoot himself in the pede than let his sense of justice slip for his wants. And everything indicated that he didn’t deserve to want that idyllic future with Megatron, not after fragging up so badly that it was literally only the intervention of a mad, brainwashed zealot hunting them down that saved someone he claimed to love.

 

“What right do you need?!”

Megatron was not going to accept any sort of surrender on that front. If Orion really wanted to pursue a personal relationship, he should be fighting, denta to circuit to obtain it. He should stop telling himself it was for justice’s sake he was investigating. He should stop telling himself that the only kind of peace he could have with Megatron was forsaken because of the horrendous incident concerning his brain. He should stop convincing himself that he was part in abusing a mentally broken Megatron, and fight to be beside the real one.

And he definitely should stop telling himself that he didn’t deserve something so intimate after what had happened, because he and Megatron, on that very same, personal level, had done worse to one another.

“What right do you have to deny me the chance to evaluate you under these new circumstances?”

Megatron stood back, glare piercing that blue and red armor.

“You want to be spared a rejection , is that it?”

 

Someday, Orion would really have to look into what connection they had to understand how Megatron could so easily cut aside the fluff and get to the meat of the issue. It was almost disconcerting, really.

“Yes,” he said, refusing to be ashamed by that . “You know everything I said, before. And you know that all of that - everything I said - was honest. Is it that surprising to think that I want to spare a little pain?”

Deny him a chance? Orion was denying himself !

“Just tell me what you want,” he shot back, “you’ve gotten all that you wanted from me, now be clear with me. One moment you seem like you can’t stand me, and now you’re acting like being given space is an insult to you. What the frag do you expect from me?”

 

“You’re not giving me space. You’re treating me as if I have no input into this matter, because you’ve already decided on everything by yourself. You’re not my Prime, Orion, or my leader, or my messiah. I want you to consider, clearly, what I am telling you now, because I will not repeat it.”

For his next words, Megatron wanted to close the gap. Ignoring his very active battle protocol, he invaded Orion’s space until their fields and chassis grazed each other, and just for a moment, he let Orion feel the wild desire that prevailed, even past the bitter disappointment, blame, and hurt.

“I want you not to give up on this because of your idle fear of rejection. You and I know this is something. It hasn’t gone away, no matter what we do to each other. I won’t let some fraggin’ glitch out there destroy it either. I will grind them to dust myself for it, and then I will continue to beat your helm until you understand it too. I want you . Still. Always. And part of me hates you for it. Part of me wants to blame you still, but you’re not capable of such grand deception. I know you didn’t do this. And I remember everything that you told me, that you dreamed of. A life of your own. To be just a mech. Then damn well fight for that too, Orion.”

 

If Megatron didn’t expect Orion to step closer and kiss him, then he really shouldn’t have all but confessed to be willing to start over and then show off all that emotion. And if he didn’t like it, he could still hit Orion like this anyway.

Being able to touch him like this was a relief so vast that Orion himself hadn’t realized how much of a weight he’d been carrying around with him. Nothing was fixed fully, but this was a step in that direction, and he would take what he could get.

It was probably wildly inappropriate to mug down on someone while standing over a corpse, but it wasn’t the worst thing they did. Orion was smearing some of his energon on Megatron’s face too, but that was also his fault.

 

If Orion thought this would stop Megatron from hitting him, he was moderately right. If only because the recent physical fight and the circular argument had roused Megatron sufficiently to take his aggressions and emotions and pour them into the kiss. Grabbing Orion by the helm wasn’t bad either, and he found ample room to pull the mech closer, until their chassis scraped paint against each other and he could bite Orion’s glossa in a pacified echo of fury.

Nothing was resolved. But maybe, not everything had to be lost.

And if not, they could always return to punching each other in the faceplate, but Megatron marginally preferred this.

Chapter Text

“Let’s get started, shall we?”

The reciprocal silence was not entirely unexpected, considering his conversational partner lacked a helm and a life to do so. Pharma didn’t take offense, picking up fragments of Tarmac’s former face, piecing them together on a separate little table. The micro-bomb had done its work, shattering the memory banks, the central cortex...the only bits of brain module remaining were worthless to analyze, but thankfully, Pharma didn’t need them to understand what had happened to this mech.

He had the whole rest of the frame to work with. An autopsy didn’t just concern the helm. First, he’d have to take Tarmac apart. Meticulously. Every piece of him was scanned as he cut it loose, separating wiring, circuits, tubing, hydraulics, joints, pistons...It was terribly soothing work, not having to keep a patient alive.

Pharma hummed a tune as he continued, weighing pieces of plating as he peeled open the sparkchamber. With a knowing little twist on the external chamber, the whole thing opened up, spiralling apart like a flower. They were, potentially, the only organic thing that Pharma saw a fragment of beauty in, by the way. Geometrical shapes, interwoven into a pleasing pattern.

Tarmac’s sparkchamber was dull and grey and empty, just as expected, but Pharma hadn’t been looking for a spark. He was looking for the residue of plasma all along the inner chamberwalls. It would never transmit, the way a spark did, but Pharma could examine it once it was compressed and re-energized, to get some of Tarmac’s last thoughts and emotions. Those could definitely help point the way to the mastermind behind all of this.

Pharma leaned over the microscope, his back to the dismantled corpse, continuing to hum.

Tarmac’s residue behaved just as expected, piecing itself together over the synthesized energon. Soon enough, it would form a substance that could be decoded by a communicator.

Sloppy. Whoever had killed Tarmac was too focused on his helm to realize that other parts of him could be telling too. So not a medical professional, then. Pharma hummed the bridge again. What was that melody?

He realized, with dismay, that it was the Empyrean Suite.

 

She crept along the walls of the hospital, unseen. At this time, only the skeleton shift were in place - and one out of place doctor. Arcee paused to let a chatting pair of mecha pass the intersection before slipping past them. Her quiet steps took her closer to where a lone ward was still open.

Tik. Tik .

She pulled out her sword slowly, partially, but did not light it. She didn’t need it for this.

Inside, she could hear humming. Checking the door - locked.

She took a different route instead. The vents were too small for any mech of size, but Arcee had always been a little more lithe than the rest.

She slipped in, venturing deeper. The closer she got, the clearer the humming became.

She stopped over an opening, and slowly eased the vents opened. It barely squeaked before the way was clear.

Below, the good doctor tinkered away on a body he shouldn’t have.

 

Pharma continued his work, frowning to himself. He didn’t even like the Empyrean Suite. He was going to have to burn Tarn’s record of it, discreetly, if it continued to be stuck in his helm like this. The jet unfolded his hand, extracting one of the many laser scalpels in order to open Tarmac’s ventral plating. It wasn’t particularly thick, but Pharma had no patience to saw away at shoddy, dead plating for ten minutes when he could just cut through it like this.

“Let’s look inside of you, hm?”

He pulled away the layers, as easily as wrapping paper. The t-cog was preserved, a dull gold, and Pharma could feel his gaze cling to it an irrational amount. Surely, extracting it and storing it could be excused. Tarmac didn’t need it anymore.

 

He wasn’t doing anything special. And there was no one else in the room with him. It would be a clean in and out - kill the doctor, grab the bodies, and get out. Arcee had done harder jobs with her optics offline.

Her sword pointed down. Arcee vented slowly - and dropped.

Through the spark chamber, one neat slice, and game over for the conjunx-to-be. But on the way, the vents creaked, just enough that she cursed silently.

 

Pharma knew the sounds of his medibay. He also knew that his vents didn’t creak, because the building was brand new and had barely seen a year’s worth of use. So it shouldn’t be making any weird noises at any-

Someone fell down on him. Or jumped. Pharma couldn’t be sure, and he also couldn’t really focus on that because something skewered his chassis and sparkchamber. He didn’t even have time to cry out in pain, shock paralyzing his glossa for a second. Or three.

Who-

He recognized her, but he didn’t understand the implication, not right then and there. Why would Arcee...?

Pharma clutched at the blade sticking out of his chest, a weak little gasp escaping him when he saw the lick of plasma clinging to it. She’d nearly speared his spark! Close enough to puncture the sparkchamber was still incredibly dangerous and there was no doubt she’d not intended to miss. Pharma dearly wished he was armed, because all he could do is wrap his precious servos around the blade and hold it still so Arcee couldn’t drag it inches to the left and into his panicked spark.

“Wh-Wh...”

No, asking why was stupid. A waste of energy. Pharma could feel his strength practically seep out of his chassis. If he collapsed, if he passed out, he was dead. Arcee would surely finish what she came here to do.

The silent comm went to Tarn’s line before he could even form a coherent message. Pain, panic and an anxious cry for help, in the most basic lines of glyph possible.

 

Frag . It wasn’t a perfect hit. There went her three person streak. Arcee smiled down at Pharma grimly as she checked to see if anyone heard. No one.

She covered his mouth just so make sure he wouldn’t make any extra, inconvenient sounds.

 

Elsewhere, Tarn was preoccupied with state work. Or at least, he would be if his comm didn’t suddenly explode with a message. Highest priority, direct emergency line. It was the one his division members used if they were on the verge of being overwhelmed. And it was coming from Pharma .

Tarn was already moving, even as he checked the news for any signs of conflict as the hospital. Nothing . So why would he be calling for help?

Well, Pharma wasn’t the kind to overuse something like this. He was no fool, no matter how he acted occasionally.

Tarn didn’t bother with stairs. One of the massive windows of his office shattered outward as he barreled through it and sailed down to the street below. Tarn narrowly avoided crushing someone under his weight as he landed, cracking the pavement. Paying no mind to the shouts around him, he transformed and drove towards the hospital in the distance.

Tarn wasn't someone much inclined to run to anyone's aid. Lord Megatron belonged in that exclusive club, along with his division members - if he liked them. Pharma had recently managed to earn his way into that privilege, which was why Tarn was breaking every law in the book as he raced down the road towards the hospital in his alt-mode, guns blazing as all pretenses were set aside in the name of emergency.

When running to save someone, Tarn didn’t go for the usual paths. He smashed aside whatever stood in his way with impunity in his single-minded focus, checking every line as he did so. His division was safe. Lord Megatron was safe. So it wasn’t a wide thread. The skies were clear and no one was panicking.

So it was just Pharma. Who would threaten him ?

He knew the path into Pharma’s section of the hospital. Rather than take the front entrance, Tarn slammed straight into the wall. It was designed to handle most things - but a tank at full speed wasn’t most things.

New Iacon wasn’t a big city and Tarn was very fast when he wanted to be. All in all, that couldn’t have even been a minute.

Arcee looked up from where she was about to finish the doctor off - and was met by a face full of tank.

Relatively small femme built for speed, meet large mech with momentum, weight, and anger on his side.

Arcee was lucky to have kept all her limbs when she went flying back. Medical supplies tumbled from the walls and trays were overturned as Tarn transformed over Pharma, taking in the scene.

None of his moving parts touched the prone medic. When he came to in root-mode, he was crouched protectively over the medic, taking in the wide optics and the sword sticking out of his chest. While his first instinct was to yank it out, Tarn knew better than to be so rough with someone who was pointedly not built to handle that kind of traumatic injury. Instead, he continued to cover him while his vision narrowed in on the one responsible.

He didn’t even know her that well. Which was all the more reason for him to rain hell on her helm. Arcee picked herself up, one sword short and saw the red gaze piercing through the dust swirling in the air. Tarn vented, and the hot air that rushed out of him dispelled all of the dust.

For a moment, they locked gazes.

Arcee darted back. Tarn snarled and followed. And all around them, New Iacon was blaring with klaxons as people poured towards the site.

 

When Tarn burst into the room, Pharma wanted to vent a sigh of relief. He couldn’t, just to be clear, because the sword in his chassis was beginning to tally a fair bit of damage to his systems. Pharma’s servos ached sharply from where he’d been holding the blade, to stop it from sinking in deeper. Energon welled out of the wound, covering his cockpit in thick, dripping rivulets. Pharma managed to sit up and crawl back, to lean against a wall as Tarn went blasting off after his assailant.

Safety surely felt a little less terrible than this.

But Pharma was in the best place to be injured, even fatally, because the hospital crew couldn’t possibly ignore the hole that the tankformer had plowed into every wall along the way.

Nurses came to his aid, and for once, Pharma would trust in someone else’s medical abilities to save his life, because his shocked processor shut down immediately for emergency repairs.

 

As hospital workers swarmed over the downed medic, Tarn and Arcee engaged in a short and brutal fight. It was one-sided from the beginning, because while she was good - he was better . And crueller . Shrugging off the few stabs she got in, Tarn slammed her into the walls until the damage couldn’t be ignored. He suffered quite a few cuts too, but his rage was so great that he didn’t care.

More wreckage was left in their wake as a bristling Tarn held up the unconscious femme in his servo. He looked like he wanted to kill her - but relaxed at the last moment. Dragging her with him, he went back to Pharma’s side.

“Hurry up!” he snarled at the nurses working on him. Tarn prowled around them, daring any of them to mess up and fail before his optics. When one’s servo shook enough to make the sword cut into Pharma, he nearly ripped them in half.

Orion was one of the first on the scene. He took in the destruction of the hospital and the massive mech in the middle, glowering as he hovered over Pharma’s body.

“What happened?” he asked.

Tarn whipped around, optics blazing. “ This happened,” he hissed as he threw Arcee at Orion’s pedes, “one of yours tried to kill one of mine .”

 

The only nurse brave enough to stick close to Pharma was one of his own, Tourniquet, and he gingerly touched Tarn’s servo, which had almost knocked Pharma over entirely.

“Sir, please refrain from jostling the doctor.”

His third and fourth servo held the sword very still as the first pair of arms was sterilizing the wound and stabilizing the spark, medical cables plugged in just under Pharma’s neck-kibble.

There was only so much chaos that could be distracting him, and Tourniquet had very steady hands. And a very dry voice.

 

With the femme no longer in servos, Tarn could actually hold Pharma. He placed one servo on his hip as he watched the nurse work. Whenever someone came too close, Tarn’s engine growled until they left. He didn’t care for the chaos that was swarming around him or that Pax was picking up the would-be assassin.

::Lord Megatron,:: he commed, ::There was an assassination attempt on Pharma. He was doing the autopsy.::

Yes, he could see Tarmac’s frame fallen over the slab in the back. He must have tumbled when the ward exploded around him.

Hiding him was no longer an option. For better or for worse, all of Cybertron would know what happened soon.

 

::Was the assassin caught?::

Megatron’s immediate answer gave all the clues in the world that he had been paying attention. Not that Megatron resided anywhere close to the hospital, but Tarn leaping through an office window had a way of quickly reaching news outlets. Already, the network was crawling with speculations and dispatched reporters.

As an afterthought, Megatron sent another comm.

::Is Pharma alive?::

 

::Affirmative to both, sir. Pax has her. I have Pharma. Will you come?::

Pharma was stabilized. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do. Now, there was nothing else to do but get him into steady care. But Tarn wasn’t thinking about that. What mattered was getting the situation squared away before more people came.

“Lead the way,” he grunted at the nurse who’d taken care of him. Pharma was scooped up into his arms, his wound still dramatically visible on his chest, and that was when the night lit up with the flashes of a thousand cameras.

Tarn stoically glared them down as he shouldered past the growing throng, deeper into the hospital where Pharma needed to go.

He didn’t care about Pax. Or the mnemosurgeon. He was sure his lord could handle that himself.

With a sweep of one massive arm, he knocked aside more people and walked through, cradling Pharma grimly. He took care not to jostle his injuries, but his grip was firm. Tarn did not intend to let go anytime soon.

 

Tourniquet stumbled after him, not bothering to shield his face from the cameras. Across New Iacon, Megatron decided that his appearance at the scene would be too much. Tarn’s embarrassingly strong reaction was already quite telling and would be documented  meticulously for the news. At least it could be squared aside with his recent engagement to Pharma. People were always more forgiving of dramatic behavior when it involved a conjunx or lover.

“On the berth, sir. I’m going to open the inner chamber and weld the hole.”

Tourniquet wasn’t asking, he was telling. His boss’ life was still on the line here, and he really didn’t want to go to another job interview. Pharma had been a decent employer, not asking any questions about his past, instead, just judging him on skill. And four servos on a medic, well, they could do all sorts of things.

 

He placed Pharma on the berth gently and stepped back to let him work. Tarn watched him narrowly, making sure nothing he did was meant to harm the medic. But he couldn't stay away for long as he came back to touch Pharma again. Holding his servo in his own, Tarn glared at Tourniquet.

“Do I know you?”

 

Tourniquet had nerve circuits of steel when it came to dealing with the councillor. He’d never been on the List, but he certainly lost a couple of good friends to the hungry maw of Tarn’s drive to kill. Or order to, whatever he wanted to disguise it as.

“No, sir. We haven’t been introduced. I’m doctor Pharma’s head-nurse, Tourniquet. I assist him in surgeries and research matters.”

In other words, he’d seen the cooler filled to the brim with t-cogs, and he suspected strongly they weren’t there for Pharma’s love of shiny things.

 

“Where is your badge?”

Tarn regarded him coolly, sizing him up. He wasn't going to kill him… but he was going to  remember the former Decepticon working under Pharma.

“Tell me how you came into this job.”

Tarn was a jealous mech in all matters. Even with coworkers.

 

“I applied for it and was hired.”

Tourniquet really, really didn’t want to be on Tarn’s radar. He’d been a little nervous when he first started working for Pharma, considering the mech made no secret of his high-key relationship with the Decepticon councillor, but Tourniquet kept his helm down and got the job done and Pharma didn’t notice him anymore.

“Pharma hired me for my skills.” Tourniquet raised all four hands. He wasn’t going to answer where he kept his badge.

 

“I suppose he did.” Tarn didn't relent his staredown. “Are you a Decepticon still, Tourniquet?”

He wasn't paranoid enough to be suspicious of him… immediately. But clearly, Tarn hadn't paid enough attention to Pharma’s security in general. He looked down at the mech between them.

“I'm sure you know how generous he is being, hiring you.”

 

The nurse sighed, sitting down next to the berth, fully intending to stay and supervise his boss until he recovered enough to regain consciousness. Pharma would most certainly insist on treating himself. That was just the type of medic he was. The stubborn, arrogant, but incredibly skilled.

“I don’t need to carry around a badge to mark me anymore. I’m a medic. A nurse. I heal people, that’s my only obligation.”

Maybe he was a little defiant towards Tarn, but technically, he had nothing to fear, in this new, utopian society they were establishing, right?

“Pharma’s been fair to me. I owe him a lot.”

 

Tarn could have shot him for his insolence. But in a moment of rare kindness, he opted to nod. “Indeed,” he agreed while still glaring. “In fact, right at this moment, you could say you owe him your life .”

He laced their fingers together. “Now tell me his condition. Leave nothing out. Quickly .”

 

The nurse wisely made no comment on the servo-holding. It was very...domestic. Almost adorable, if it didn’t involve Tarn and his haughty lover. Pharma was a pain. He wasn’t pleasant, even if he was a decent boss. Tourniquet didn’t ask and didn’t want to know about their relationship.

Instead, he drew up the chart he’d made whilst working on Pharma and read it to Tarn. The trauma to Pharma’s sparkchamber was by far the most dire of his injuries, everything else a result of, you know, being impaled with a sword. Damage to the servos was inevitable, since Pharma had scrabbled to stop the blade from piercing his spark.

Which reminded Tourniquet to point to the blue digits disappearing into Tarn’s claws.

“Those lacerations in his servos aren’t lethal, but he will still bleed if you squeeze them too tightly,” he continued, business-like, rattling off the number of pierced systems.

“All in all, he should make a full recovery. If the blade had been removed earlier, he would have suffered loss of plasma and that would have been severe, but luckily, that was not the case.”

 

“Good.”

He eased up on his servo and looked back at Pharma. His face was still troubled and, in a rare moment of tenderness, Tarn smoothed his face with a finger. He listened with one audial.

“If you need anything, tell me. And if he comes to further harm under your care, no one will find you again.”

He looked almost congenial in that moment as he waved him off. “Continue.”

Well, weren’t those cheery words of motivation? Tourniquet remembered his days in the Decepticon forces well, and a coarse tone was nothing new, especially towards medics. There was a reason he’d been glad to shed his badge upon his return to Cybertron. He was absolutely done with the Cause, even if behemoth monsters like Tarn continued to uphold it.

“I have no intentions of job-hunting again.” he muttered, setting up an energon feed for the wounded doctor.

 

Tarn set a long vigil after that, staying by Pharma’s side even as Tourniquet came and went. A few intrepid reporters tried to come in, but Tarn snarled and hissed them into skittering back out until the good councillor was ready to come to play again. He kept track of the situation in a removed fashion, idly watching Orion Pax try to control things without looking like he was stepping back into his old role again. He wasn’t sure where his lord was in the middle of this media circus.

After reassuring his own division of his safety, Tarn continued to watch Pharma.

He’d nearly died. If Tarn had been any slower, or if Arcee had aimed a little better - then he would be gone. And to his surprise, that actually… made him feel something.

Anger. Denial. Possessiveness.

Pharma was his life to take, if he chose. Not anyone else’s. No one understood the peculiar balance their relationship came with, and no one was welcome to. And he was still angry, because Pharma’s loss would have ruined everything .

And…

And, truth be told, Tarn owed him. Pharma was the one who’d caught his lord’s alteration. He was the one who guided him to Trepan and watched him while he worked. Without Pharma, Tarn would have lost his lord to the manipulations of whatever shadow force lurked here. He was… important, in his own puffed up way.

Important to Tarn.

Tourniquet was nowhere in sight. Tarn removed his mask, raised Pharma’s limp servo, and pressed a kiss to it.

 

It was a lovely gesture to wake up to. Pharma registered his frame’s status first, going over the damage dealt and how it had been fixed, finding the work satisfactory. Tourniquet’s style of welding was all over it, and that was acceptable too. Only his head-nurse would have done the repairs.

But Tarn was much more interesting than the criss cross over his spark.

“You came.”

It wasn’t a given. Pharma was very used to calling for help, and receiving nothing. The fact that Tarn saved him wasn’t missed and it filled his sluggish brain with warmth. Tarn had come for him. In the sweetest way possible.

 

“You called for me.”

Hearing Pharma’s voice was a relief. Tarn relaxed marginally and kissed his servo again. “Your assassin was caught, if you were wondering.”

He regarded him silently. When he heard the door open, he replaced his mask. “Pharma is awake, nurse.”

To him, he said, “You nearly died.”

 

Tourniquet did a full 180 and marched right back out. Pharma would relay any care he needed himself, through comms, and there was no way he’d want to have a witness to whatever he was about to discuss with Tarn.

Pharma waited until the door shut again, servo clinging a little harder to Tarn’s.

“I was nearly killed .”

That wasn’t the same as dying. Pharma had a big fat target on his back, and he suspected this wouldn’t be the only incident in future.

“By Arcee...”

Someone he once considered on the same side as him. Someone he once considered to be working for the right Cause, the Autobots. And now? Because of his public connection with Tarn, he was as expendable as a grunt soldier to his former people. Memories welled up, of long, unanswered pleas for supplies and reinforcements to High Command. And of the silence from the other end. He’d been thrown into the wilderness, to the wolves, left for dead. Pharma’s turbine whined, in the high-pitched manner it did when he was truly distressed and not merely his prickly self.

“Because of the autopsy?”

 

“Possibly,” Tarn said. He grabbed Pharma’s other servo and held them both in his. “It's the likeliest option, though we cannot count out other possibilities. One thing has become apparent, however. I have been remiss with your personal security - an oversight that will not be made again.”

He cupped Pharma’s cheek. “This is part of power. We will always have enemies all around us. You may never escape this kind of danger.”

 

“That doesn’t seem likely, no.”

Pharma didn’t mind. Danger had accompanied him before, every day of existing under the terms of a precarious deal with the DJD. This danger of assassination seemed positively reasonable compared to that. It was the best way for him to cope with the situation, rationalizing, comparing, accepting.

But the promise of better security meant that his safety was instrumental to Tarn. Good.

“You didn’t think I’d be a target?” Or you didn’t care. But that seems less likely with how tightly you’re holding on.

 

I assumed people would be smarter than try to provoke me. But I was proven wrong. Not again.”

He would rather destroy anyone who threatened Pharma than see him hurt like that again. “Your safety matters. If anything like that happens again, do not hesitate to call.”

He ran his thumb over his cheek. “Will you insist on treating yourself again?”

 

“I may. You know I don’t like to see anyone else’s work on my frame. Though Tourniquet did the best he could. He’s a good nurse. Very handy.”

Pharma liked this sort of attention from Tarn. It was gentle, and contrary to the very nature of the mech, and mostly reserved entirely for Pharma himself. He revelled in it, even if it had come at personal cost.

 

“Don’t strain yourself,” Tarn murmured. He could hear people bunching outside the door but so far, none of them seemed inclined to rush in and interrupt their time together. Good. “I also want a list of all the nurses you work with.”

Would mostly Autobots or Decepticons work better? Pharma was an Autobot, but Decepticons would respect the meaning behind Tarn’s name more… hm. Things to think about. His mask came off again.

Tarn bent down and pressed a kiss to Pharma’s forehelm. “I recognize Tourniquet. Remind him whose conjunx you are if he ever gets uppity.”

One of his servos gently moved to where the wound was. Tarn ran a finger around the sides - then sighed. “What shall I do with you? Nearly dying like that… and then what would I have done?”

Kill the ones responsible. Burn the city down. That sounded about right.

 

“Tarn?”

Pharma wondered if he could really give answer to that question. It wasn’t really directed at him, was it? To him, it was quite clear Tarn would continue to serve Megatron, whatever that entailed. If Pharma was out of the picture, that wouldn’t change a lick. He was a lovely distraction along the way, and he understood his position as such.

Tarn had never seemed so somber next to him. What was this? Genuine worry? It was somehow at odds with the usual ebb and flow of their relationship.

 

Tarn glanced down.

“You have a place at my side,” he said slowly, “as permanent as any. You have no business dying.”

There was polite knocking at the door. Tarn ignored it to kiss Pharma deeply, give his servos one last, gentle squeeze, and then got up to handle the crowd gathering outside. His mask went back on as the warmth dropped from his expression. By the time he got to the door, he was back to normal.

“I didn’t realize it was the norm to bother those suffering life-threatening injuries,” he growled as he stepped out. He didn’t leave the room totally - he wouldn’t after what happened. “There is no time for interviews or questions after what happened. I will address it later , when Pharma is not in danger.”

He slammed the door in their faces and went back to guarding Pharma’s side.

 

Pharma could get used to this. Tarn, caring for him, protective at his side. This was the fruit of a labor long in progress. With an unusual feeling of comfort warming his tank, Pharma settled on the berth, returning to rest once Tarn was back in his seat, keeping the world at bay. It could wait.

Contemplating Tarn’s behavior was as good an activity to keep him occupied until his processor needed rest once. This caring, protective side he’d seen before, but only turned to one mech. Well. Megatron was no longer quite so distant on his pedestal. Pharma was gaining ground, and that suited him so, so well.

It was too soon to give it a name. Love was too simple, and worship too far away. Somewhere around those two poles, however, seemed an adequate place for their relationship, a shapeless, fluctuating thing that no one understood but the two of them.

Chapter Text

Overlord tore free of his prison in a roaring, howling monument of triumph. He was a terror, a mistake, and he was free . In the chaos that followed his escape, Trepan slipped out. In the chaos that followed him everywhere, New Iacon burned .

And there was only one mech fit to really do anything about the raging destruction.

Megatron knew that it had strings. Starscream should have dealt with it. Tarn could have dealt with it. But Overlord was the rampant, mad anger of the Decepticons, a symbol that needed to be brought to heel if Megatron hoped to stay master of Cybertron’s future.

I made him what he is. Indestructible. Insane. Insurmountable. And today, I will kill him.

It was marginally amazing that throughout the destruction rained down on Cybertron, some structures survived at all, particularly this one. The sand was still glistening with pieces of metal, ripped out of the frames of opponents. The faintly pink-coated grains were scattered too deeply beneath the topsoil now, but if a mech were to dig into the arena floor, they would still find the bloody tribute to Cybertron’s lust for bloodsport.

Megatron stepped into ring and into his own past, four, almost five million years ago. Back when his engine had rattled in his chassis, hungry for battle, eager for death, willing for destruction. When he’d been filled with enough rage to do everything necessary to steep the world into war, and thought a new one, a better one, could rise from the ashes.

In a sense, he had been right. This new world, new Cybertron, was fragile and fraught with a new set of problems, but it was not the functionist system of old. No castes existed. Instead, now there were Autobots, Decepticons and the NAILs in between. But at least each of the factions was an intensely personal choice, made by every mech involved.

That was progress, was it not?

Megatron believed it as such. And his part, his duty, to this progress, was to make sure his own faction, whether they joined him for practical or ideological reasons, stood a fair chance. They were already represented by Tarn, through his design, but that would never be enough. Decepticons knew how to fear Tarn; trusting him to lead them through the ups and downs of this new peace was entirely alien to them, and Megatron did not blame them for it. He’d raised and installed Tarn into a position that only served to frighten Decepticons into obedience; he was the unquestioning extension of Megatron he was designed to be.

What the Phase Sixers failed to be.

The crunch of the sand under his pede was the loudest noise audible to him. There was a little wind, whistling and howling over the empty stands, some still buried in rubble from an old explosion. Megatron turned his faceplate up to the sky. Laden with a static storm, only punctured by a few, thick shafts of sunlight breaking through here and there.

 

Static bled into the atmosphere. Whether it was from the storm or his anticipation of the momentous battle he was about to have, Megatron did not know. What he did know, however, was that whatever took place here today, it may be his last.

There was a reason Overlord had been his ultimate weapon, deployed only in the worst case scenario. There was a reason he’d allowed the behemoth to behave in any way he wanted, take any mech as recompense for his obedience, play with his toys until they died. He was entirely beyond rational motivation. He was Tarn, gone entirely wrong.

Overlord was the entire reason that Tarn now existed to serve and worship Megatron; because he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

 

And yet, he could not use Tarn to end Overlord as before. Millions of years, beatdowns, the Achilles virus and Overlord still demanded a fight. His satisfaction would not come with victory, it would come with killing Megatron.

And he may even get it today, but it would not come for free. Megatron would never bow to his fate, not when he still had two servos to try and shape it with. Overlord was covered in ununtrium, battle-tested, entirely restored and fuelled. Free of his kill switch and virus, with nothing to hold him back. It would be a clash of titans. Experience and control versus unbridled strength. Overlord may well rip him apart today, or Megatron would put him down.

His frame bristled, circuits pushing the impulse to ready up into every part of him. A good fight. A real fight. Personal, with just the two of them, and no backup plans in place. Some part of him, perhaps the long-dead gladiator, revived at the notion. It was noble, in the purest form of Decepticon ideals. Nothing was at stake here but their lives. There was no agenda and no plan that would roll into motion. If Overlord killed Megatron, he’d get what he always wanted. If Megatron killed Overlord, he’d be free of the mech hounding him for his doom. It was simple, and beautiful in its own right.

And although he’d been the one to deny Overlord this fight, Megatron welcomed it now, for it was rare in its purity. A good fight, for simple victory. Nothing complicated in its execution, no audience to show off in front of, no one to convince.

Sure, he still saw application in this demonstration. If he was seen, publically, throwing Overlord into the sand, his status as the Decepticon leader would irrevocably rise again. His entire installation of Tarn would be disregarded in favour of admiration of his strength. And some part of him craved it. The rest of him knew better than to give in to that particular trap of arrogance. He knew his strength; he didn’t need masses chanting his designation anymore.

Megatron stood still, in the middle of the arena, sucking in sandy vents and watching a smear of pink on the grains that couldn’t still be there. He’d made his contingencies, aligned the possibility of death with what he’d leave behind. All of the Decepticon Cause would continue to be, even if its creator might fall today. Those that had wronged Megatron were to be prosecuted. That, at least, he still entrusted Orion Pax to pursue. Justice would always hold more sway over that mech than Megatron ever did.

The ache of betrayal still flared up, now and then. More now than then. Orion may have proven to be innocent of being involved in the shadowplay, but that would never fully redeem that he had adored and loved a broken, false Megatron over the real one. They never did settle on any kind of future beyond sharing a wild kiss over a dead body.

There may not be a future for one of them after today.

If there was? Maybe Megatron would allow for a slither of attention. Just to poke his claws into fresh wounds and see how raw Orion could be. How personal all of it could be. That would be entertaining. Maybe he could explore the seed of that desire, and see how deeply vile Orion Pax’s desires could be, and if he could be brought to shame and further confession. Only then would Megatron consider them on somewhat even ground again, and only then would he express any interest in pursuing what was essentially four million years of the most violent codependency he’d ever experienced. Yes. There’d be time for that. Time to make it all personal between the two of them, without politics or other mecha getting in the way. And if Orion still had a shred of emotion for him besides guilt and pity, they would explore that. On Megatron’s terms.

Megatron settled it as a warm notion into the back of his processor as he opened the comm line to the mech eager for his energon.

::It’s time. Come, face me, Overlord. You know where I am.::

 

Once, very long ago, Overlord met a philosopher. He had been a member of the pampered high castes, perched atop his ivory tower, and Overlord had plucked him from his gilded cage and placed him in another. He had been just a face in a long line of toys, but he had given Overlord something to think about.

Most of his words had been nothing but hot air, but he’d offered a sole theory that had sparked a faint glimmer of interest in him. He’d called it the theory of violence.

At the time, he’d only extended it to the lower castes. He had argued that castes of lesser function were closer to the primordial beasts and tribes of the ancient past and hence more prone to violence. The existence of the gladiator rings had been used as his primary proof.

And Overlord had laughed, back then. Because he had lived and breathed the air and violence of those very rings that philosopher could only imagine from videos and pictures. Overlord, dug out of the soil of Helex as a livid green star, was forged for violence. He was destined for nothing else. Many mecha plied many trades, but Overlord could only hold one. He’d mockingly told him of all the high castes he’d seen slumming it in the rings, exchanging bets and trades, and crushed him inch by inch until Overlord was satisfied.

It was funny, in a way. Megatron championed the cause for self determination and yet he’d put Overlord in the same role that the Functionists had. By the rules of the old and new world, he was meant for combat. He was a heavy tool of industry, tweaked and remade until he had no place anywhere but on the killing grounds. And up until this point, he’d fit well into Megatron’s palm, being wielded against his enemies. But unlike Tarn, Overlord was double-edged weapon that bit both ways.

Being called to combat was a new experience for Overlord. For as long as he lived, he’d only been ordered towards it as he watched his victims run from him. His initial challenge to Megatron’s supremacy had gone unanswered for years - until now.

Without the switch to hinder his thoughts, Overlord had the clarity of mind to actually think why.

Why now?

What did Megatron have to prove?

Overlord was a brute, a monster, a creature of unimaginable cruelty - but he’d never been stupid. Trepan might have had a few choice words to say about his impatience, his blunt mannerisms, but even he’d been keen enough to keep his lips tight regarding Overlord’s true intelligence. He had been smart enough to survive in a world that sought to destroy people like him, after all.

It was clear that Megatron wanted something out of this confrontation. What it was, Overlord could not definitely say. But given everything he’d gone through before Overlord awoke, he could give a very good guess as to what it was.

When the call came, he answered. And Overlord tore after him in pursuit, flexing power he hadn’t been able to use in years. Everyone around to witness had a brief, terrifying glimpse of the bad old days, when superwarriors like Overlord had free reign.

When he found Megatron, standing in the middle of a pit, Overlord almost wanted to laugh. He dropped out of his flight form and landed next to him, throwing sand up as his giant form settled.

His wings folded into his back as Overlord straightened and looked around the arena. It was ramshackle and overgrown with the strange metallic plant matter that had torn out of the surface of Cybertron after its revival, but still recognizable. Once upon a time, those shattered stands would be filled with raging mecha screaming for bloodshed, bookies and ring managers scrambling to arrange everything so that the stars of the show, the warriors and murderers, could take their place in the spotlight.

This was where Overlord had first woken up. Untested, young, knowing nothing but that he was here to kill someone. It was the site of his first defeat in the servos of Megatron.

“Sentimentality does not suit you,” he said, dismissing the memories as quick as they came. “Why not show your true face in the city, so that everyone knows who you really are?”

A murderer. A warrior. A tyrant of the ring. They started as gladiators; it wasn’t something that could be left behind.

 

“This isn’t about showing who I am to anyone. I know it. You know it. This is nothing but what you’ve asked for. Begged for. Screamed for. Be content I grace you with opportunity at all.”

Megatron didn’t gather himself for the fight just yet. It would come, in due time. But he and Overlord had history here, right in the cradle of Overlord’ madness. Here, on this very sand, they fought for the first time. Megatron still recalled the agony and burning delight of it, of clashing with a titan born for nothing but the fight, and besting him. One on one, no ploys, no traps, no switches.

It was the essence of his existence too, even if he’d fought against it for a time. Megatron was not made for battle. But he was living, venting for it now, and it had become his answer to most problems in life.

Overlord was very much what Megatron had tempered out of his own anger and hatred. It wasn’t the same sense of responsibility that came when he considered Tarn. Tarn, who had a life before, even if he liked to forget. Tarn, who had potential in developing a taste for delicate, diplomatic leadership and adhered to copious, proper documentation and rules.

Overlord was raw fury and naked battle that would never be a part of constructive society. He was the epitome of what Megatron almost lost control over, if he had not realized that destruction could only go so far to ensure any survival of Cybertron.

Overlord was not his right servo, or his left. He was Megatron, a beast of war that could never be leashed, but had to be defeated in arguably noble combat with Megatron’s own, iron will.

 

“Is Tarn waiting in the stands?” Overlord made a show of looking around, though he didn’t actually bothering searching. The mech couldn’t resist showing himself even if ordered to. It was just the way of things. “Optimus Prime, waiting to be impressed? Are you showing off how noble you are in defeating the big bad monster?”

The one you made?

He drifted backwards, towards the line in the sand where a gladiator was meant to stand while waiting for the match to start. Overlord was seemingly relaxed, but he’d always preferred fighting in root-mode anyway.

“Where is the Prime, anyway? Shouldn’t he be holding your servo?”

The switch was gone. Overlord could speak freely. And true to form, he dug for every sore spot he could find.

 

Ah. This was all so familiar that it was almost dear. The circling, physically, mentally, of two opponents, looking for weakness, aiming for distraction. Anything to gain an upper edge. Anything to help win the fight that had no rules, save that only the two combatants would fight one another until one was dead.

This was the simple beauty of being a gladiator, and the liberation that alone had brought Megatron, way back when, was still a comfort today.

He allowed Overlord his small play. These were not weaknesses that Megatron had to address. His fondness of his favoured protege and his absurd indulgence for the former Prime were no secret, and Overlord had access to a very direct source of it all, Trepan. Who had been in Megatron’s brain module, and that notion was far more rage-inducing than the accusation that he needed the Prime in order to put down his own demons.

“Does it really matter? Are you stalling to work up the nerve to attack me? That is quite coy of you, Overlord.”

 

Overlord laughed. It was short, lacking the usual indulgence he placed in it. Realization seemed to dawn on Overlord that this was real .

“I’m waiting to see what new tactic you’ve cooked up. A fresh switch? Reinforcements? You’ve always relied on trickery to make up for your lack of strength.”

They’d met in combat countless times before, switch or no switch. And each time, Overlord had been beaten down. First by strength, then by cunning. And while Overlord suspected that Megatron refused to fight him on even grounds because Overlord had outstripped him, he also suspected that Megatron was smart enough to cover for this.

He always did. Without the switch goading him into reckless action, Overlord was cautious, suspicious.

“You haven’t fought me properly for years. Not after you installed the switch.” It was a sore matter for Overlord, something that struck past all the armor into the one soft spot in him.

 

“Are you still hurting over that small detail?”

Overlord did bring it up whenever he had a chance, displaying his complete lack of understanding Megatron’s motivation. The switch wasn’t necessary for Megatron to beat Overlord; it was just far more convenient. Or, it had been, since it was now gone.

The switch had ensured others could, potentially, also control Overlord. A necessity of its time, as it turned out, because Overlord’s kills included plenty of Decepticons that simply got in the way.

Overlord could be so petty and petulant. Megatron knew he should have shaped this mech to his needs, but he could not be blamed entirely for Overlord’s nature. This mech, this defiant green spark, he was always this way. And some part of Megatron could appreciate, if not admire, the way Overlord never changed. The rest of him prepared for a fight that could put him in the scrapper.

“Did you want me to entice you with praise and a title, like Tarn?”

 

Overlord bristled. “ He may be happy being your tame pet, but I am not,” he snapped. “I am not one of your mindless followers.”

Metal scraped as his fists clenched and shifted up. Sand gritted as Overlord moved into a ready stance, clearly raring for a fight. “You’re false,” he declared, “Since you left the pits, you left behind everything that made you worth following. This is just going to be proof .”

 

“This is going to be you, defeated by me, again, as it always is.”

 

-x-

 

Violence had the sweetest way of letting you forget anything mattered at all. Megatron had to relinquish all manner of thought, simply because Overlord was an overwhelming juggernaut of violence, directed primarily at him, as demanded. As called for.

It was nothing short of poetic, the clash of this final fight. Broken plating, denta, scraps of derma, scattered across the arena, and what it thirsted for most; fresh energon, spilled in the name of violence itself.

Megatron knew it wouldn't be easy; that he had to push himself to the utmost limits, that Overlord would be worthy of no less than everything he had. Every fighting instinct, every move, every type of ammunition that he had prepared; the behemoth swallowed it all up.

Not without mark, mind you. Each time Overlord withstood the brunt of Megatron's attack, the former warlord took a piece of him along. Overlord's exterior was covered in ununtrium, impossible to scrape or tear off; but his internals were not. Megatron had targeted joints, vents and everything exposed when Overlord switched modes. Which in itself was a challenge, because forcing Overlord to transform was about as easy as persuading a mountain to relocate.

The pain that came with each bout was a sweet sensation, heightening Megatron's fervor for battle, just as it had back in the days he'd called this arena his stage. Back when he championed death and glory in the name of entertainment, not conquest.

This was both. And yet it was neither, because he and Overlord knew each blow. Each drop of energon spilled was filled with no purpose other than to defeat, to conquer this impossibly strong will, this spark made to be defiant and fight, fight for life, fight for death.

It was almost a dance, if dancing could come with strut-shattering exchanges of fists, if it came with scrabbling servos that ripped and tore and wrenched apart; a dance that drenched them both in fluids and hot energon.

 

Years could have passed, and neither one of them would have noticed. The intoxicating sensation of a fight that overtook all other senses flooded both of them, drowned them. This was the siren call that they both succumbed to, over and over. A fight with an equal, a fight that demanded everything from a person and more.

The damage list trailed on for Overlord. He barely noticed it in his frenzy, but he was looking worse for wear the longer Megatron wailed on him. Pain only pushed him harder.

Energon gushed out of his ruined jaw. Overlord had a huge limp on one side and the grip of his right fist was looser than the other after Megatron tore the hydraulics out of his wrist. His optics were shattered, forcing him to rely on other senses. But he was smiling, behind the gore and wreckage of his face.

Hot air escaped his vents, from both joy and arousal. Despite having lost flight capability and having his main tank gun disabled, Overlord looked like he wanted to continue. But when he took a step forward, his knee sagged as lines popped and coolant, wet and blue, surged out of the joint. He collapsed to one knee. Fluid rattled from his vents as he sputtered and endured. When Overlord moved to stand again, another line popped, this time spilling a small geyser of oil from his side. It flowed into the filthy sand and Overlord shook himself, like a dog shaking off water.

He stood, and this time his body held out. Reaching down, he yanked out the offending lines and threw them away, heedless of the constant flow of fluids down his plating.

“I’m…. not done…” he rasped past the torn half of his glossa, working the last bit of his jaw that he had, “Fight me!”

 

Megatron's cannon arm was almost entirely severed, barely held together by a few wires and one last, determined joint, the plating stripped away in long gouges, energon running off of him in steady rivulets. His chassis was punctured and singed, perforated by a full salve of Overlord's arsenal. It was only thanks to the thickness of his armor that none of it had penetrated his sparkchamber. And maybe it was the crawling darkness beneath his plating too, but Megatron had paid no attention to the last 'gift' Shockwave had bestowed upon him. It wasn't a tool to end a fight; it was a tool to swallow worlds.

And Overlord, for all his massive size and indestructible nature, was just not that important.

The worst injury sustained, and the one Megatron struggled with the most, were his ripped sensory panels. Overlord had driven his helm into a wall hard enough to scrape off the helmet, welded shut over the sensitive array. Overlord had managed to pry it off anyway.

Each panel had been lost with agony, but Megatron paid it back sevenfold by ripping most of Overlord's glossa out of his mouth.

Now, what remained of the panels flared around Megatron's helm, crowning him with more thin streams of energon.

Overlord already looked like a walking scrapheap, and yet, here he was, up again. Megatron stood before him, imperious, silent, gazing beyond the mech and into the spark. It would never surrender. Overlord would never surrender. He didn't need war. He didn't need destruction. He needed fight after fight until he fell apart entirely.

There was no salvation here. There was nothing left to change, or redirect. Overlord had to be taken apart, or he would seek to fight until someone else would.

Megatron unsheathed his blade, the only thing he'd covered in ununtrium in preparation.

"Then stop shaking and come. Fight me, Overlord."

Just one last clash. That's all that was left in the tanks.

 

Overlord heaved himself forward, roaring wordlessly.  In the titanic clash of metal, neither noticed the arrivals.

Their fight hadn’t gone exactly unnoticed, after all. How could one miss the sound of combat, especially one so furious?

Orion was first, appearing over the stands. Tarn was hot on his heels, looking like he was torn between fighting the mech and standing next to him to peer down. They both realized what they saw at the same time and while Orion moved to interfere, Tarn grabbed his arm.

You do not interfere,” he snarled. “He does not need your help.”

He dropped his arm as soon as he could. Orion glanced between Tarn and the fighters below. “Overlord is not just his responsibility. He is a danger to us all.”

“Don’t doubt my lord.” And while fear struck Tarn’s spark to see his lord so injured, Overlord was just as bad - if not worse.

::My lord, do you require aid?::

::Megatron! I’m calling a medic, hold on.::

Despite their years of enmity and recently surfaced personal history, Megatron’s presence could somehow unite two opposites. For this brief moment, they stood shoulder to shoulder, staring down in anxious concern at someone deeply integral to both their lives. While they both wanted to interfere, they knew the dangers of jumping into a fight this fierce. They could just as well end up damning Megatron than saving him.

 

There was nothing like the roar of a titan to drown out anything and everything but the fight. Megatron knew his comms were active, but with the cacophony of his need to battle echoing through his systems, he could do nothing but ignore the smattering of questions. Overlord charged at him, fists at the ready, no doubt with enough force to flatten half of a metrotitan. Megatron braced for impact, entirely prepared for his final maneuver. It was everything or nothing, gambling on his own sense of timing to dodge the worst of the hit and use Overlord's own momentum and weight against him.

Megatron never doubted his fighting abilities.

He could feel the pressure of Overlord's frame sail past him just as he impaled one of the dilapidated shoulders, swinging himself around and transforming most of himself so he could slam into Overlord's back, mostly in root mode, treads first. His blade dislodged and they both tumbled to the ground, though Megatron rolled and landed back in root mode, blade deep in the sand to keep him from skidding too far. He turned, immediately, in case Overlord had any surprises left in him.

Megatron wouldn't give him the chance. Here was his first opening for victory, and Megatron never squandered those. With Overlord crashed to the ground, he could move over the behemoth. He crushed his pede against the mech's neck-cables, one servo grabbing one of Overlord's stacks and forcing Overlord to look up.

For a moment, he could say nothing, vents rattling, steam pouring from a few hissing gaps, energon dripping over his optics as he stared down at Overlord's shattered ones. And his smile.

"...You've lost. Again."

 

Energon poured out of his mouth as Overlord stared up, trying to get up and failing. His mind raged, but his body was weak. Every twitch sent jolts of agony up his frame, no longer enjoyable. He hurt . And more importantly… he couldn’t move.

“...no…” he gasped, trying to grab at Megatron, trying to prove that he was wrong. But his body proved him right, and Overlord was unable to do anything but accept his defeat.

“Kill me…” he whispered, broken optics flickering briefly, “Kill me!”

Finish it. Let me have this.

 

He should. By all accounts, including his own, Megatron should kill Overlord. He was a threat to the fragile peace, he was a threat for Decepticon morale, and he'd never stop trying to defeat Megatron. Or maybe this was truly was the end, the last stand for Overlord's stubborn dream.

And yet, Megatron stood over him, a benevolent executioner, debating silently whether or not someone like Overlord could truly be killed, and whether or not that would change anything in the grand scheme of things.

It would not. Overlord's death was as empty as his life, and Megatron wasn't inclined to leave it at that. The mad fool would pay for his disobedience, just like anyone else. Just because he wasn't leading an army anymore didn't mean anyone could disrespect Megatron's authority the way Overlord had, for years.

He knelt down, the harsh grip on Overlord's helm turning into an affectionate, gentle stroke.

"You're not worthy of a death at my servos. Only the strong may die nobly. Not you, Overlord."

 

Overlord sputtered, energon and coolant leaking out, and his entire frame rattled as his engine gave a deathly snarl before falling into guttural silence. “No…!” he howled past the damage, kicking and struggling, “No! Kill me! Kill… me!”

He tried to grab Megatron and force his blade into his spark, but he was too weak. He scrabbled at his plating, grip as weak as butterfly wings, spraying energon as his own plating crushed his internals. His spark continued to glow, however, as strong as the day it flashed, and Overlord could not die, would not be allowed to die.

His rage mounted until he was screaming while his body fell apart. Overlord didn’t have the strength to move his helm anymore, not after that finally stab tore through his shoulder and neck hydraulics, and he was forced to blindly grope for Megatron while pleading and bellowing for the final mercy.

“Kill me!”

From above, Tarn and Orion watched. And while Tarn was clearly relishing the destruction of his rival, Orion was not. He dropped down into the pit from the stands and slowly walked to Megatron’s side.

Overlord saw him coming. And if anything, his anger grew. The pacifying touch of Megatron was mocking, the petting of a servo on a beast too tamed to bite it. He screamed wordlessly as hot green tongues of plasma leaked out the sides of his ruined chest, licking the crumpled remains of Megatron’s armor and leaving warped paint in itrs trail.

Orion grabbed Megatron’s shoulder to pull him away. For his own touch of unwanted, hated mercy, on someone who loathed the idea of it. “Enough,” he said.

Overlord was through. This was just the final taunt of the victor to someone he’d already beaten long ago. Megatron knew it to be so.

 

Megatron had already delivered Overlord unto his fate. A beast too broken to fight his inevitable destiny, decided by the beast that created him. It was finished, done.

He didn’t protest Orion’s touch, but he also could no longer simply walk away.

“Keep him alive.”

A couple of steps was all he managed, before his legs gave out. His servo clutched the nearly severed arm as Megatron hit the ground, frame groaning from the many wounds sustained. Victory always came with a cost.

The sweet onset of oblivion put out the last embers of Megatron’s strength.

Chapter Text

Orion and Tarn enjoyed a very tense standoff over Megatron’s frame when he collapsed. It was only when Overlord groaned that Orion, wise enough to realize a fight wasn’t what he wanted, let Tarn pick him up to take to the medics. He wasn’t sure Tarn wouldn’t just try to kill Overlord anyway, so it was all for the best.

Orion checked on Overlord. He was a pitiful thing, optics dull and entire body slack. Orion knelt next to him and leaned over him. “Do you want to die?”

Megatron’s mercy was a warped thing. But maybe Orion could help.

Overlord shifted, seemed to wake for a few seconds. “Not… you …” he hissed, vents rattling, and Orion sighed. Primus save him from stubborn Decepticons with too much pride. Overlord was complicit in his own agony, really, because his own obsession with Megatron drove him back for this same treatment.

Overlord was heavy, but Orion was strong enough to lift him. He ignored all the parts that began to fall off and followed Tarn out of the pits. Each bore their own destroyed mech when the medics found them, grim-faced.

It took a single heavy glare from Orion to begin repairs on the two, even though it was obvious that the medics were reluctant.

While Tarn hovered by his lord’s side, instructing his own medic how to repair him - a flier, Orion noted - he remained at Overlord’s side - to put him down, if need be.

 

Pharma had hoped for better reason to be called by Tarn than this. Really. He might have taken any notion of Tarn’s strange taste in entertainment over performing his duty on the mech’s most precious warlord.

Still, he knew better than to argue. He also knew better than to stare at Orion Pax, who had no business being here at all. This situation, the two devastated frames, it was all very clearly Decepticon business, and had nothing at all to do with the former Prime.

Pharma never did get a chance to form his own opinion of the mech and he felt no compulsion to correct that notion. There was unresolved anger in him towards all of Autobot High Command, and yet they deserved no second chance at a first impression. Pharma had other benefactors now, even if Tarn was currently hovering an unseemly amount, his large servos in the way as Pharma calmly worked.

He didn’t ask what happened. Didn’t need to. Megatron looked like he’d been crushed up in the palm of a metrotitan and if Pharma recalled certain data-cores correctly, the bastard even survived that.

“I have to open his sparkchamber. Do not distract me.”

 

Tarn looked like he had a lot of words to say about that but stemmed his glossa when Pharma got to the truly sensitive parts of his work. He suspected that Pharma could keep up conversation easily while doing something even more delicate, but he didn’t want to risk it.

“Tell me if you need help,” he said gruffly before giving him space, optics watchful. A wide berth was given to them as Tarn continued to hover protectively, glaring off anyone that tried to approach and interrupt Pharma’s work.

Pax was still with Overlord, silent. He didn’t make an effort to come closer but watched the medic work. Again, the tension between him and Tarn returned and they spent half their time staring at Megatron, then glaring at each other. Or, in Tarn’s case, glaring. Orion was much more passive.

 

-x-

 

The next time Megatron onlined his optics, the dust and energon of the arena had traded places with a slab and the sterile walls of a medibay. He’d woken in many during his lifetime, but it never felt quite right. At least it meant he was fully functional after his...final argument with Overlord. The mech had posed a problem that Megatron contemplated deeply and fully before deciding on his best course of action. Imprisonment by his own weakness, that was truly a punishment for Overlord. It didn’t stand a chance of bettering his state of mind or his madness, but it was a better solution than simply terminating a mech that never had a chance at life. Megatron’s mercy was a strange creature all on its own. Winding and convoluted, it only truly made sense to he himself, and he was not in the habit of sharing his innermost thoughts. Or his innermost anything, really.

Overlord wasn’t being given life as a reward. It was punishment and opportunity. Perhaps there was something to be done about him, later down the line. Perhaps he’d be necessary as a measure of control, should Cybertron lose its way again. Some contingency in the future had plans for the mech, and Megatron never dealt himself the short hand.

He let his sensors scan around him. Two mecha, large frames, silent and fields drawn tight. Ah . This was a first. A double vigil by his best student and his worst and dearest enemy. How...fitting.

“Is there nothing better for either of you to do?”

 

“Overlord is down for the count and I was worried.” Orion’s tone was dry and he made no effort to rise, knowing Tarn would want to get there first. The fit he’d throw was too much trouble, especially when he was still trying to coax him into conversation about the past.

“My lord!” True to form, Tarn rushed to his berthside as soon as the first syllable escaped his mouth. “It would be remiss of me to leave you here when you were so injured, my lord. Especially with him .”

Tarn shot the mech in the corner of hateful glance. “Considering what happened before, I thought it would be best to ensure there was no opportunity to tamper with you. Pharma repaired you, so there should be nothing wrong with your frame either. Do you require anything?”

Orion moved to the other side of his berth, making Tarn tense. His face was covered, as always, but everything about him screamed aggression when the former Prime came to a stop besides Megatron. Orion ignored him for the time being.

“How are you feeling?”

 

“Fussed over.” Which wasn’t entirely terrible, but it also would give Megatron a helmache in the long run. Speaking of helm...he reached up, gingerly, to his own and felt the exposed panels. Ah. So his helmet was not yet back in place. They no longer ached, however, and he carefully expanded the last remnant of his miner-specific frame. Repaired, fully, as expected of Tarn’s medic. Conjunx. Whatever.

He let his gaze travel to Orion first.

“Did you inform the rest of the council?”

 

“I thought it best to get the full story from you before anything was officially said,” Orion said. “There’s rumor, but nothing definite. We’ll have to address them eventually, but we have time.”

“Is there anything you want said?” Tarn asked, not content to let Orion talk and hog the attention. “Overlord is being handled. There is no official call, but they will come soon enough.”

Orion reached out and put his servo on the berth. Not on Megatron, he was too careful for that, but close enough to exchange a touch with his EM field. Tarn looked ready to swing his fists.

“But that can all be handled later. What I - we - want to know is what happened with Overlord.”

 

Satisfied in knowing there was no official, condemning story just yet, Megatron relaxed. There was still a margin of caution with Orion, but the mech and his investigation had lead to a small measure of forgiveness within Megatron, even if it was motivated by selfish interest. He tolerated him here now, relaxing his EM to expand to both concerned mech.

“Overlord has always wanted another fight. I simply gave him opportunity to disprove my expectations. He did not.”

And thus continued the terms of his loyalty, but that was of interest for another time. Megatron would expect Tarn to be teeming all over his berthside, but Orion remaining here instead of doing something productive was almost amusing. So he had not yet surrendered all of that personal attachment through guilt, hm?

Interesting.

“I put Overlord in his place as only I can.”

 

“You nearly died,” Orion frowned. “But you did not kill him.”

Tarn looked like he was having his denta pulled out, but he gritted out his reluctant agreement. “He should have died, my lord. If not, he will continue to challenge you until one dies.”

“Tarn is right,” Orion said, and grooves began to appear on the berth as Tarn’s claws dug in. “Overlord is… a difficult individual who cannot be contained or rehabilitated. I kept him alive, because you asked, but no more. He asked you to kill him.”

Tarn muttered something unsavory under his breath. “He should not have come back. Could not.”

 

What was this unsavoury alliance? Orion and Tarn, agreeing on matters? Megatron would not be interrogated, especially not on the matter of Overlord.

“I see the two of you have rekindled your deep friendship. I was not aware that I ought to consult anyone in my dealings with Overlord.”

Orion’s concern was, as everything else about him, a little too stoic and overbearing to be considered delicate. Tarn’s angry energy was heating up the sterile, cold little medibay.

 

And just like that, the alliance died as quickly as it was born. Orion looked like he wanted to chide Megatron, but Tarn’s temper finally snapped. His claws sunk in with a squeal before he backed away, plates rustling as he left the room. Outside, the distinct sound of a series of rapid transformations could be heard fading into the distance.

Orion sighed once the door swung shut. “I wish you didn’t say that. I’m still trying to talk to him, and you’re not helping.”

His tone of reproach with just a hint of disappointment was as practiced as ever. With Tarn gone, Orion had the daring to touch Megatron’s servo. “I’m worried about you, Megatron. No one mech is an island to his own, and your dealings won’t affect just you.”

 

With Tarn out of sight and probably on a rampage to destroy his T-cog, Megatron allowed himself to soften, just a little. He didn’t need to present any kind of front to Orion. The mech knew him too well for that and was being unreasonably gentle with him.

“And you have to remind me of that each step along the way?”

He allowed the touch, leaving his servo open, inviting. After the slugfest with Overlord, he was feeling kindly inclined, even towards Orion. Their passionate encounter after dealing with Tarmac had left them in an odd place, and neither of them seemed capable of opening the subject to further discussion. So, small gestures had to be sufficient. Permission, in this case, equaled invitation.

“Killing Overlord is too simple. Ending his existence out of fear of his strength would be...wrong. Intrinsically wrong. Besides, I wouldn’t want to be acting outside of the law, which, remind me, forbids murder?”

 

“Only because you are determined to send me into an early grave with your stunts. Part of being a leader is knowing when to cut losses,” Orion said. “And while I want to believe you’re doing something with him, I doubt it’s something that will help him. He’s not like Tarn.”

Their fingers curled together. Orion was doing his best to appear dignified and unapproachable even though he was actively trying to hold Megatron’s servo a little closer. “Cybertron’s law is still a little shaky. Some city-state legislation allows the death penalty. But that’s not important here. I don’t want you to push yourself too hard and end up on the edge. You came… very close, this time.”

He glanced to the side, through the wall where he knew Overlord to be. Bound down, unconscious, but still dangerous. “I should have been there with you. Or Tarn. Anyone . This could have gone wrong.”

 

“It wouldn’t have worked with either of you there.” Megatron made no motion or glance towards the intertwined fingers. It was a casual sort of comfort, and he was gracious of it now. Orion really did seem worried about him, and that was sickeningly sweet and forgivable.

“Your style of leadership and mine are very different. Overlord won’t try again. And if he is to die, it will be at someone else’s servos, and not in a fight.”

His fingers nudged between blue digits, fitted perfectly well.

“Is it really Overlord that has you so worried, or is there something else on your mind?”

 

“There is always something on my mind,” Orion hedged. “Just… don’t push yourself so hard. Open up a little. And please heal quickly, before the reporters kill me with questions. I suspect Tarn will happily let me fumble disastrously before he steps in.”

For a moment, Orion was silent, just enjoying the small touch without any added strings. “But Overlord is an issue. You’re avoiding the question. Why did you keep him alive? I don’t think you’ve ever been that concerned about laws when it came to people like him.”

 

Orion was being his usual, tenacious self. And whilst Megatron generally appreciated the way the mech bit into a problem and refused to let go until the truth shook loose, he was annoyed to be pursued on questions he still hadn’t personally settled for himself.

Giving Orion the raw truth to choke on wasn’t his favourite option, but maybe his old nemesis could provide him an answer he had not considered. And didn’t he just beg him to open up? Very well.

“I could have been him.”

 

“You were him.” Orion sighed, then pulled his servo back. Sensing that this was going to be a bigger conversation than he expected, he went to the corner to grab his chair before sitting down next to Megatron. “You changed, yes, but we were both there for the bad days. People like Overlord and Tarn didn’t spring out of nothing.”

But that didn’t explain why Overlord was alive. A queer sort of mercy, maybe? “But if this is… your way of showing mercy - you must consider if Overlord wants it. I’ve seen him in action. He loves fighting, more than he can love anything else. He may not… ever want to settle down, like how you convinced Tarn. You changed, but can he?”

And there was always the murmur of Orion’s colder side wondering if this show of mercy was just pageantry meant to fool him. Overlord was a potent weapon, after all, and one Megatron could turn to his will. Having both Tarn and Overlord on his side would make Megatron capable of taking on an army, if he wished.

But he didn’t voice it, because down that path lay old wounds and bitterness. If Orion let himself argue that point, they might as well spend the next century here.

“He’s dangerous, in ways the other Phase Sixers are not. They could be bargained with - but Overlord is not that kind of mech. The only person who has ever been able to rein him in is you, and I don’t want you to have that responsibility. You could have died out there.”

 

“Weren’t you complaining once that I just won’t stay dead?” Megatron did not want to divulge that this was as personal as dealing with Tarn. He knew Overlord had no future. He had no other interests besides fighting, primed and perfected as a living weapon.

He turned his gaze on Orion, pinning him in his chair.

“I made Overlord. I made Tarn. Their lives are bound to mine. I’m not suggesting Overlord gets to roam free and become a councillor , though, arguably, at least he is more honest in his desires than others.

Seekers with big ambitions and little spine came to mind.

“Imprison him. In a cold cell. Or remove his helm again. I do not care. But I won’t be extinguishing his spark.”

 

“You are different to me than he is, and you know that. Something will need to be done,” Orion agreed, though he had not settled on what . “For now, he will be stabilized and watched. And don’t think I don’t notice you being sly with your answers. You have a talent for saying very little with a lot of words.”

Orion laid his helm down on Megatron’s arm. “... I wish he was dead, like Tarn said. I’m getting very tired of seeing mech come back from the dead.”

 

“You felt that way about Tarn too. Patience, Orion. Four million years are not so easily unmade.”

Megatron let Orion be where he was, fields mingling amiably. They were still at the very beginning of undoing and fixing what spiralled out of control during the war, but Megatron was, for now, content to recover. And let Orion stay at his side, whatever that meant for the two of them. Their future relationship remained an elusive goal, but goal nonetheless.

 

-x-

 

Overlord’s waking was one of pain and confusion. He tried to jerk up, but his body disobeyed. He was still a prisoner to his own weakness, gasping and struggling for motion that would not come. Megatron was gone. Why was he gone?

He tried to speak, but couldn’t. His vents sputtered as his jaw flapped uselessly. He was shackled, yes, but his own body held him back more than anything else.

“Meh… Meg… Meghhhh…” his voice broke out into useless static as pain shot through him. He was inept, useless, weak . “Meg-guh…! Meghhhh!”

His spark, from where the collapsed remnants of his chest plating had been pried off, flashed and pulsed, agitated. His mind was aware, as whip-fast and sharp as before, but his senses were gone. All his sensors had been torn out, his power plant carved from his body, and Overlord was stuck inside a body that would not respond to his mind’s commands. He was awake and aware in a body that was not. If Megatron had destroyed him, then whoever had finished the job crippled him.

 

It was a beautiful light-show, all things considered. The entire room, dark, cool, with a heavily ionized atmosphere, bathed in the dancing, green offshoots of that outlier spark. Trepan wondered what else Overlord could manage to do with it, but for once, there was no need to rush. He had all the time in the universe.

Leaning back in his chair, he observed the ruined remnants of the arguably most-feared Decepticon behemoth. Large parts of vital circuitry lay exposed, festering in old hydraulic liquid, spilled during battle. Burned out tubes were capped with minimal care, minimal necessity. Only survival had been the goal, nothing to put the mech back at full strength.

Overlord looked weak, like this. Weaker than when he’d been a mere helm and spark. Weaker than when he was unconscious and trialed.

“Megatron’s not here. I doubt he’ll put in a visitation appointment.”

 

That voice! He knew that voice.

He tried to turn his helm to look, but there was no response but waves of agony. For a long time, Overlord wondered why could hear the ocean, then realized it was the thump of his fuel pump in his helm. The only movement he had was the twitch of his fingers, and that was the most humiliating thing Overlord had ever felt.

It was one thing to be beaten down by a worthy enemy. It was another to lay weak while Trepan watched, cold eyes documenting his struggles.

“Kkkkhhhh - lllll mmmmghhhhh!” He could not even talk. From inside his mental prison, Overlord howled furiously. There was nothing worse than being trapped in one’s own mind, with nothing to say. He twitched and his plating rustled, but his T-cog was gone. A pede shifted, then lay still when the sound of a tube popping filled the room.

“Trreeeehhhhgh!” More static poured out of his vocalizer. Something sparked, and greasy black smoke curled out of his throat. “Tr-Trrrrgghhh…!”

The more he tried, the more he failed. And failure, losing , was unacceptable. Overlord was pushing himself, heedless of the damage he was wreaking on his body, as circuits burnt out, lines separated, and he devolved into wordless screams as he tried to move and failed. He was blind, so blind, and all he could do was howl into a black abyss that did nothing for him.

Megatron was the one to give him this cage. One forged from his own body, just to taunt Overlord with what he’d had - and lost.

 

Trepan did watch, and document, impartial to the pain. Overlord had been defeated, and yet he struggled as if he never hit the ground and lay at Megatron’s cruel mercy. Even now, with his frame wrecked and his mind trapped, there was an unholy rage that burned on and kept Overlord upright.

Finally, he was back in his proper position. Before the eyes of the law, Trepan committed no crime during the war. Being presumed dead helped his case, a lot, and even though his work for the Institute was exposed, Megatron being the recipient of it remained a secret. His silence was easily bought, Trepan had demands of his own. To be allowed to study Overlord, like this, was what he’d craved years ago. Prone, helpless, and open for Trepan’s examination. He was supposedly prevented from accessing the brain module, but Trepan was old and patient. Eventually, regulations would relax and he’d be free to play as he pleased.

For now, he contented himself with Overlord’s struggle to speak.

“There’s no sense in struggling. You won’t be repaired, and this time, I’d like you to stay put, just perfect the way you are. See,” Trepan got up, entirely secure in knowing Overlord was incapable of moving, “you are my patient now. Imagine that. I have every permission on Cybertron to take great care of you. And I will.”

Caressing the bloodied helm used to be a mortally dangerous act. Now, it was like petting a tame glitchmouse. Trepan smiled.

 

“Frrrghhh… hssssshhh!” The smoke thickened. With a crackle, Overlord’s vocalizer gave out from all the abuse. He tried to scream again, but nothing but thick, loud static came out of his voice. It was garbled and distorted, too fuzzy to be any kind of word.

His servo twitched. The plating tried to move but stilled as something else popped and hot energon spilled. For a long moment, Overlord was still as his rage subsided for a moment. His vents dumped hot air as his entire frame relaxed, seemingly done with his fury.

And then he surged up. Even with every handicap given him, he managed to make the shackles groan to hold him as he tried to grab the servo on his helm. Not to crush, but to push towards the back, trying to tell Trepan to needle him in the only way he could. His grip loosened before he could even complete the gesture and fell to his side, limp and weak.

“Khshhhh…” his vocalizer hissed, “Ghhhhkkk’ll… khhshhh… mmmeeeee…”

Trepan kept his servos on his helm, waiting until Overlord’s remarkable feat of strength subsided. He pawed at the back of the helm, exactly where he’d enjoy taking his time, eventually. For now, he wanted his patient capable of communication. It wasn’t difficult to pierce what little armor remained and block every instance of damage alert, as well as the physical pain.

“I won’t kill you. I have so much to learn from you. It’s only fair, Overlord.” Trepan leaned his helm against the massive helm, sighing with content.

“It’s only fair.”

 

In his mind, Overlord remained as whole as ever. Proud, powerful, fearsome - he was everything that he was not outside. And when he felt the penetration of the needles, the rush of relief from him was so strong that he couldn’t hide it from Trepan.

Even Phase Sixers had fears, after all.

“Trepan,” he said in his mindscape, and hearing his own voice - even here - was another relief so great that Overlord said it again. “Trepan. I helped you escape.”

Honor was never something that Overlord bothered himself with. But even he could stoop to using it when it suited him. “Why was I not repaired? What is wrong with me?”

 

“You’re locked in a cold cell. You’ve been trialed and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment. The damage to your frame...well, consider it a security measure. To make sure you stay put.”

Trepan could feel the relief, and for the first time, an underlying notion of fear. Already, he was learning more about how Overlord worked, and that was all he’d set his sights on for now. Splendid. And it was such a common fear, to be powerless and made weak.

“You have no T-cog, you’re barely keeping alive, and they’ll be keeping you on unrefined energon. A privately, personally designed Pit of Unicron, just for you.”

 

Overlord snarled. And he retreated into his own mind, uncaring of how Trepan might react, and raged some more. It was less satisfying in here, because hitting a wall or killing a person wasn’t real here. Knowing the wall he punched was fake made it smoke, and he snarled and howled like trapped wolf until he could resurface.

“Have someone repair me,” he snarled, “you did it once before, do it again ! I have had enough of this!”

This was a better prison than the Lost Light had been. And this time, his… warden wasn’t a fool like Chromedome. Overlord couldn’t use the same tricks on him like he had on that one. “If not that, return my conversion plant. I can repair myself, given time.”

As long as Overlord had that, and plenty of energon and sentio, he could return. He’d done it countless times before, feeding on the dead of battlefields while he waited for his body to regenerate.

 

“That’s not how this works.”

Trepan was no fool. Unleashing Overlord or even restoring him to full function was most definitely illegal in his position, and of no benefit at all. He was employed now, he had Overlord at his fingertips, and he wouldn’t jeopardize the returned comfort for any playful notion of reciprocation.

“I won’t do anything to repair you and you have no leverage. I’m not in prison with you, this time. You’re my patient. I’m your therapist .”

 

He scoffed. “Therapist? You’re no therapist.”

So, he had no leverage this time. Overlord prowled for a time, not caring to conceal his thoughts. Trepan would know he wanted freedom above all.

“What do you want?” Flashes of planets bending the knee, wealth, and interface appeared and disappeared. Overlord’s pride was a curious, malleable thing, but he could bargain with someone he could begrudgingly admit to respecting. Trepan held the power here this time, not Overlord. This was his domain, as much as combat was Overlord’s.

He settled into a chair he conjured for himself, and beckoned Trepan over to sit on him. His rage simmered all around them, but Overlord had all the time in the world to scream. This was more important.

“I want freedom. You are capable of mustering that.”

 

Trepan sauntered, mentally, if only because he knew that Overlord was well aware of their positions. It was a new, nicely reversed scenario, a new dimension to their arguably interesting relationship. Now, Overlord didn’t know it yet, but even his mind would bend to Trepan’s will. All it would take was time, and there was plenty of it.

“I can’t give you freedom out there. Only in here. I won’t risk my life to set you free. You’re too famous for it, there’s optics on you everywhere. No, no.”

If ever...

“You will have to wait. Until they forget you. And then...maybe. Maybe I’ll consider it.”

 

“How long will that be?” he demanded. Overlord drummed thick fingers along Trepan’s thigh, scowling. “And that is no promise. How will I know you will not merely decide to alter me to better suit your needs? I will not be a puppet, Trepan.”

Not that he could really choose, in this instance. But sheer braggadocio kept Overlord going this far, so something had to be working. “Give me a tangible timeline. Something to work towards. If you want me to play your toy, it can be arranged. But. Get. Me. Out .”

Overlord’s taste of oblivion had been brief, but enough. He wanted no more of it, if he had any say in the matter. Enough was enough.

“You can leave Cybertron. Live somewhere else, like a noble of the Golden Age if you must. But only if you get me out.”

 

Trepan felt dismayed at the impatience. No, no, that was not how he pictured this. He would have his perfect plan, or nothing else. Not this time. He wouldn’t be rushed, or picked up like a toy at a store, or forced into anything he didn’t meticulously consider beforehand.

He drew himself out of Overlord’s reach.

“You don’t understand yet. That’s alright. You need some time alone to consider your options. Maybe I’ll come back when you feel a little less demanding .”

 

“Wait!” The fear, subtle and omnipresent, spiked again. Overlord couldn’t stand being alone like that, not again. He groped for Trepan’s plating, even though he knew that was useless. Here, only what Trepan allowed would happen.

“Then tell me what you want!” Overlord envisioned himself in the abyss again, trapped in a mind that offered him nothing, in a body that did not move. The boredom . The dullness . The weakness .

No. He could not. He would rather be in stasis than stay like that. “Trepan!”

 

He waited a moment, leaving Overlord to sink into darkness and weakness, before returning to his consciousness once more.

What did he want? Overlord couldn’t give it to him, freely. He already had it in palm. But let it not be said that Trepan was unkind, because he could very well leave Overlord completely in the abyss and not suffer for it.

“You don’t have anything to give me, Overlord. Just your time.”

Trepan sent him a thoroughly warm rush of appreciation for the entire situation. How pleased the mnemosurgeon was with the final result of the war; a cesspool of a society where he’d slip through the cracks even easier than before. Overlord, his, ready for the world to forget and let rust. Trepan, with every right to do whatever he wanted in Overlord’s brain.

“I’ll see you very soon.”

 

“No!”

Again, he grabbed at Trepan, but he was smoke through his fingers, intangible and unreal. Overlord’s furious screaming followed his departure and his body was struggling again, biolights flashing as he struggled to hold onto the only thing he could focus on outside of himself.

This was not the vague despair Overlord had fallen into on the Lost Light. This was not stasis. This was… being alive and awake, but in the worst way.

“Put me in stasis!” he tried to shout, but it was too late. His body struggled as he tried to speak.

“Sssst… sssstas… khhhhshhhh!” Too late. Overlord slumped down, inert, steaming. His spark flashed and spat as green plasma threatened to spill over the sides of his chest.

 

Trepan disconnected his needles and watched the frame struggle in its restraints before slumping down, limp as a ragdoll. Overlord would learn to appreciate Trepan’s visits, yearn for them until his spark hammered in his presence. That kind of thing, he could never willingly feign. Trepan wanted the real deal, the indoctrination and intoxication of what others foolishly called love, and he knew as dependency. Oh yes, his pet project was becoming quite realistic.

Satisfied, he stepped out of the cold cell, the smile clinging to his face. Life really had a lovely way of working itself out.

Chapter Text

“What I want to know is why.”

Prowl’s back was turned to him, so he couldn’t see his face. Orion, covered in a light coating of dust from his drive out, vented. A light brown puff of dust escaped with the air. Prowl was alone – never a good sign.

“You want to know why?” Prowl sounded… bitter. Not that he sounded differently very often, but he sounded more and more like that since the war ended and Starscream ascended to power.

For someone who wanted peace so much, he wasn’t very happy with what he got.

“You, of all people, should know why.”

“I know we disagree on many –“

No .” Prowl turned to him, letting Orion see his face properly. There was a small trickle of energon from his nose. When he moved to wipe it, more trickled out. “You think this is another disagreement about – about ideals? Don’t be blind.”

“Then what is it?”

Prowl turned away from him again. His doors were hiked up high, aggressive and defensive all at once. When Orion took a step closer, they twitched up higher.

“It’s about a lot of things. It’s about Starscream stepping up to be the leader of a pack of imbeciles who don’t understand a single whit of the war. It’s about Megatron still walking free after everything he did. It’s about Tarn becoming a spokesman after running around as Megatron’s personal executioner for four million years. You want to know why I did it? Because I should have sooner – to do something you never had the bolts to.”

Orion’s gaze narrowed. He’d always known Prowl to be the loudest advocate of a lightning war, of playing fast and dirty to get immediate results, but he’d never… expected this sort of harshness from him. He’d been… a hard person, yes, but also someone who wanted to help people. Their longest and loudest arguments were about how many lives could have been saved over this or that plan. But the war wasn’t kind to everyone, especially not Prowl.

He stepped closer.

“What do you want, then? For us to round up Decepticons and put them in prison? Should I stab Megatron for everyone to see? The circumstances of our peace were never going to be ideal. Not everything will be to plan.”

“And whose fault was that? Who had a thousand chances to kill Megatron and never pulled through?”

And they always came back to that one question. Orion’s scowl deepened. “This isn’t about what I did or did not do. This is about what you did.”

“You mean sending a mnemosurgeon to clear out Megatron’s brain? Is that somehow off limits now? Everyone’s done it, Optimus.”

“Orion.”

Optimus. Megatron’s people have committed atrocities worse than any Institute mnemosurgeon. The only reason he’s sore is because it was done to him back.”

Orion wanted to hit something. This kind of arguing never got anywhere. Anyone and everyone could air enough grievances to drown Cybertron if they wanted to mark down every crime and mistake that happened in the course of the war. If they were to sift out the guiltless, they would be left with only enough mecha to fill a building and no more. Prowl, in his own way, wanted to do the same thing Orion did – rebuild and move forward. But their methods were wildly different.

Once, that had been a strength to him. Now, it was a hurdle. Prowl still thought as if the war was going on, that he still had to pull a victory over the Decepticons and push Autobot interests. He could compromise his friends, he could compromise his morals, and he could compromise himself – but he never compromised on his personal vision of victory.

“You shadowplayed him, Prowl,” he said, “and you involved me in it.”

“Wasn’t it what you wanted?” Prowl threw his servos up. “Why else would you two refuse to just end it ? I even let him live, when I could have had Tarmac wipe everything from his brain so he’d never be anything but a drooling husk living on life support for the rest of his existence. I had him turned into someone who could have actually been worth something, instead of another tyrant waiting to happen over another slight . And I gave him to you. You were happy , I saw it.”

His fists clenched as Orion had put a very tight leash on his anger. “You dismantled his mind and you made him pretend to want a relationship with me. You involved me in something I never asked for. It was a sick charade, and you know it.”

“Isn’t all of this a sick charade? We can all pretend that the war is over, that we’re all peaceful little mechanisms holding servos while we sing Primus’ hymns, but that’s not true. As long as Megatron functions, he will always try to put himself in power. And you will never stop him enough.”

“That’s not a choice for you to make!” Orion’s optics blazed. “That’s part of governance, Prowl! You can’t control what people say, what the people want. If the Neutrals want to follow Starscream, they will. If the Decepticons choose Tarn as their spokesperson, they will. Do you think I enjoy it? Do you think I like to shepherd around people who are one gunshot away from civil war? No. But that is their right.”

“So you’ll let Megatron put a puppet into place? You’ll let Starscream’s revisionists alter the reality of the war? You were always an idealist of the worst kind, Optimus! Wake up!”

They were now close enough to look into each other’s optics. Orion wasn’t sure who started the advance, but Prowl was snarling at him, wild fire in his gaze. He wouldn’t stand down for this.

Prowl jabbed a finger into his chest, into the badge that still decorated his chassis. “Why did this war start, Optimus?! Because Megatron claimed to be a revolutionary! But you and I both know he changed his plans the minute he tasted power. The only reason you became a Prime was because he shot you in the back and you got lucky with which hole you fell into! He doesn’t want change, he just wants to shift things so he can be at the top for once. His own ego started four million years of expansionist, xenophobic, genocidal wars with him at the helm of it!”

“So then what should be done, Prowl?” Orion rumbled, not fazed by Prowl’s spitting fury. “Where will the trials and accusations end? None of our servos are clean – not yours, not mine. Will we suspend rebuilding so we can spend another four million years sorting out how much of the blame we can put on everyone? It’s done . The old world is gone . What’s left is for you to let go of the war!”

“Oh, it's easy to say the old world is gone when you burned everything down! I can call a house fire a renovation too, Optimus. What I want is for people to stop pretending everything is fine. I want justice!”

"Justice doesn't start with mind control! Justice isn't scheming, it isn't clandestine murder, it is not what you're doing, Prowl! You say that Megatron only wants power and frankly - I could say the same to you." He’s never going to back down , Optimus realized even as he spoke. Prowl’s stance on this was as solid as the planet under their pedes. He would never accept the painful compromise of their reality. He would always be scheming another way to take control.

This was an argument as circular as any of his arguments with Megatron. There was no use debating policies and ideals here. “Prowl…” he started again, controlled, and sighed. “You know you’re not getting away with this. We have your mnemosurgeon’s remains. We have Arcee. You broke laws.”

Prowl laughed. It was clear and cold – the laugh of someone who saw no humor in the situation, but also lacked any other reaction. “I know, Optimus,” he said and his tone was suddenly so grim that Orion wanted to reach out to offer support. They had been friends once. By necessity and proximity, maybe, but they both owed survival to each other. To end like this was… a damn shame.

“That steel will of yours only bends for one mech. Where's the clean slate for me?”

"I meant the war. Not what happened after."

"I wonder - will you say that when Megatron shows his true colors. Or will he walk away again?"

“Prowl…”

“Don’t offer me your pity,” he said, waving him away. “I accepted the possibility of this future when I went ahead with my plan. I don’t regret it.”

“I wish it wouldn’t end like this, old friend.”

Prowl glanced at him and for a moment, his flat expression softened. “Neither do I,” he said. His doors lowered for the first time in their entire confrontation. “But it only could have ended like this. Just… watch him for me, will you? I don’t trust him.”

“You don’t trust anybody.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Prowl offered his servos without a fight. He knew that he was never going to be a physical match for someone who’d gone toe to toe with Megatron and come back from the brink of death so many times that they stopped registering his death in official records. “But I trust him the least.”

A shadow fell over his face, concealing his expression from Orion’s optics. There was a bitter taste in his mouth.

Some friendships really weren’t meant to last, after all.

With no more to say to each other, they simply walked out in grim silence.

 

Chapter Text

Prowl’s trial wasn’t something Tarn was happy with, but leadership had taught that compromises needed to be made on such matters. While he gladly would have stepped up and finished the job on Overlord himself, his lord’s guiding words kept him at bay. After the fiasco of the fight and the trial afterwards… Tarn had retreated to Pharma’s side like an aggravated stormcloud.

In his sulk, it was easy how he could have completely missed certain things, like upcoming weddings.

He had to escape harrying reporters and well-meaning prodding from his own staff to get to the hospital, and even then he still had to endure the knowing glances of the doctors and nurses that staffed the place. He found Pharma, looking hunted.

“You didn’t remind me,” he accused as soon as he located his soon-to-be conjunx.

 

“Didn’t remind you that you proposed very publically and set a firm date for our ceremony?” Pharma stabbed a scalpel into the cog he was working on, which thankfully, was not connected to anyone in particular. Otherwise they would have had a very unpleasant awakening of agony right now.

“Or that you missed all the appointments for the arrangements?”

Another stab and the cog fell apart in neat halves.

 

“Yes!” Tarn shut the door behind him as he drew closer to Pharma. “You could have told me.”

How was he expected to remember things like photoshoots and ceremony arrangements when his lord was injured and Overlord was incapacitated? Honestly, Pharma . It was really his fault, when one thought about it.

“The date for the ceremony isn’t up yet,” he frowned, “but the other things before it won’t be salvaged. Just as well, I suppose, some of it might be tasteless in light of what happened.”

He glanced at the cog that Pharma was brutalizing. “Careful. I could have used that.”

 

“Oh really? I didn’t know that.”

Pharma drove the scalpel into one of the halves and the entire cog combusted. The jet wiped his hands, as if it had been his intention all along to have the thing burst into flame and cover the entire desk in smelly debris.

“I’m terribly sorry, you’ve been so busy and I’m making a fuss .”

 

It might have been just a hunch, but Pharma seemed somewhat upset. It seemed wildly out of place to Tarn, but just like leadership taught him compromise, so did this charade they have teach him other values. Not everything had to be won by force.

He grabbed Pharma by the shoulder and reeled him closer. “This will all work out,” Tarn said, “missed dates or not. Everyone will get a show that will overshadow Overlord’s appearance, and we will be officially bonded.”

It was everything they intended to do anyway, but reassuring Pharma tended to have good results. Tarn patted him, for good measure. “You did good work on Lord Megatron. He is making a swift recovery. I think I’ll have the hospital name a ward after you.”

Or a statue. Something flashy, Primus knew Pharma loved his pageantry.

 

“The entire hospital should be named after me. At the very least.” Pharma was...huffy, to put it mildly. He knew he didn’t rank higher than Megatron on Tarn’s grand list of priorities, but he thought the business of their ceremony was important to Tarn’s reputation. Wasn’t that reason enough to show up to dates? To be there for the photo ops?

No. None of it had mattered in the face of Overlord’s trial and Pharma was tired of placing below Tarn’s worst enemies in the battle for his attention.

 

“The whole hospital,” Tarn agreed, knowing better than to argue when Pharma was in a mood. His berth was a much happier place for it. He held him to his chest, petting a wing. “I am sure something can be made from this. And it adds to the mystery, don’t you think? You have plenty of material to tell your… friends.”

The socialites that seemed to latch onto Pharma was a never-ending source of aggravation for Tarn. He found them useless and parasitic, but had yet to convince Pharma to toss them to the curb like he should. Something about being the star in his own clique seemed to amuse the medic. He leaned down and pressed his helm to Pharma’s. “Now, be helpful and remind me of the time table.”

He could probably retrieve it himself. But making Pharma do it was entertaining.

 

Pharma only allowed Tarn so much forgiveness, and it usually manifested in the berth, which was where the medic was most amenable to such efforts. Any public shows of affection helped, as well as all small gestures of intimacy. Pharma was a fickle creature, eager for attention.

He would deny leaning into the touch, as he would deny nuzzling the horrible mask that hid Tarn’s surprisingly handsome face.

“I already put it in your calendar. Your secretary is too terrified to tell you.”

 

“Such a helpful mech,” Tarn murmured while he drew up the time table from his internal calendar. Sure enough, there it was. He idly stroked him as he looked it over, and grunted, “This is a heavy schedule. Might want to lighten up.”

Why would they need a photoshoot before it, then after ? It wasn’t as if they were going to change in the space of a few hours. Tarn began to delete the appointments he found extraneous, then sent the updated one to Pharma.

“There. Simple. Easy. You can stop fretting. You will be busy with other matters after this anyway, so I daresay you won’t have the time to string along your hanger-ons with promises of more.”

 

The almost-pleased expression vanished from Pharma’s face as soon as he saw one appointment after another disappear. Tarn was entirely oblivious to the purpose of most of them, the conceited brute!

“...I made those. You promised you’d adhere to how I imagined this to go, even if it is only for your better public image.”

The last part came out as a hiss and Pharma snapped away from Tarn’s frame.

 

“Why do you need parties and photoshoots for that?” Tarn said, letting Pharma slip away from him until he followed. “They’re clearly what’s upsetting you and some of them are…” Blatant wastes of time we could be spending together . “... not the best uses of your valuable time.”

Pharma was really so capricious. Tarn sighed. “Can we compromise? I didn’t imagine a Phase Sixer coming back from the dead when I made the initial agreement.”

 

You’re upsetting me.”

Pharma hissed, angry that he needed to specifically point that out to his conjunx-to-be. Especially since Tarn had been neither jury nor council on Overlord’s trial. Since they had such specific history, he was exempt from the decision. So there was no excuse for his behavior but obsession.

“I’m not in the mood for a compromise. You’ve chosen what’s important,” Pharma looked over the schedule again, dismay crinkling his perfect face, “and I see that you find it irrelevant to test for spark compatibility too.”

 

“Of course we’re compatible,” Tarn waved off his concern. “But, Pharma - I am cancelling so many of these so we can have more time together. What is the point of going to all this trouble if I lose you to endless socials and appointments?”

He put his servos under Pharma’s elbows and held him. “The matter with Overlord is over now. He has been seen too, put away, everything. Lord Megatron has no need of me currently. I mean to make up for lost time.”

Tarn found himself relying on his word twisting more and more the longer he was with Pharma. And he wasn’t really lying - he would have more time to chase Pharma around a berth if they weren’t taking photos or gossiping with friends or testing for compatibility or all those other things Tarn was sure weren’t necessary.

“How about this - you tell me how I can make it up to you, and we’ll work it out. As long as I have time with you, I am satisfied. And for your troubles,” Tarn leaned down as the bottom half of his mask snapped back, exposing his mouth, “how does a statue sound? And jewelry - imported from the best, obviously. My treat.”

He pressed a kiss to his testy lover’s cheek. “Nothing else will arise - unless more of my enemies decide to rise from beyond the grave to press on my nerves. Unlikely, hopefully.”

 

The promise of jewellery and attention was enough to placate Pharma’s raging fury. Not because he appreciated material possessions (he did), but because Tarn was finally putting his considerable energy into pleasing Pharma, which should be one of his primary goals in life, in all honesty.

Pharma turned his face enough to place an insistent kiss on Tarn’s lips. He liked them, wanted to see them all the time, but knowing Tarn, he’d never agree to lose the mask in public.

“How unlikely? Should I prepare myself for you missing the ceremony too? I know it doesn’t mean anything, Tarn, but you should consider how pathetic it makes me look to wait when you don’t show up.”

 

“I won’t miss it,” he promised, “not for anything.”

Well, discluding orders from his lord, space anomalies, and revived Phase Sixers. But Tarn just kissed him back instead.

Hopefully, they could be done with this show soon. Tarn couldn’t stand being paraded around too often before his nerves were ragged. He would let Pharma take control of it, since it seemed to please him so much, but even his indulgence for his medic had limits.

“Anything you want, dear,” he said, slowly driving Pharma back against a counter as his servos began to roam. “Now, onto more pressing matters…”

 

-x-

 

The day of the ceremony was wickedly hot and Tarn was wreathed in a visible cloak of heat waves as he waited with the long-suffering expression of the put-upon everywhere. He was cloaked and polished, which was really all that he conceded for the ceremony. Watchers were lined up and he spied Pharma’s leeches somewhere, giggling as they scoffed shots and gossiped.

Pits, he hated this already.

 

Pharma looked glorious. He’d taken on every pain to accentuate his frame. Other mecha may drown their form in jewels, forged crystals and other decorations, but he kept it simple. Every silver accent, every glowing bud of crystal was tastefully placed, and only highlighted what was already perfect.

He arrived in flight, transforming smoothly next to the podium where his sweltering conjunx-to-be spread waves of bad mood. It didn’t matter. Tarn was not the star here. Pharma was to play the starcrossed lover and he was damn dedicated to his role, Tarn be damned.

His showy transformation brought him down right next to Tarn, where he persisted in taking the mecha’s claws in his servo.

They were the ones who’d be holding their own speeches before exchanging the customary inner energon. Pharma was going to milk this for all the attention he could possibly get.

 

Tarn silently mourned the death of his reputation as he allowed Pharma to take his servo. He knew that this was the original goal - dismantling the name of the DJD for something new, but it was still disconcerting to know that, little by little, people were beginning to fear him less. He was accustomed to Pharma’s special brand of insolence - even enjoyed it - but being addressed casually by anyone who wasn’t his division or his superior rankled him.

Pharma was loving it , of course. He was making a trite speech about love or some such, though Tarn wasn’t listening. According to Kaon, it was horrifically saccharine.

Redemption through the power of love, indeed.

Tarn watched other things while he patiently let Pharma destroy everything he built up over several million years. The words ‘love’ and ‘kindness’ and ‘taming a wild spark’ were tossed around but Tarn was determinedly not listening. He scanned the crowd, glaring when it suited him, and was pleased when he saw a few people pale under his stony gaze.

Good. Still had it.

 

Everything Pharma said was a well put-together lie about how Tarn had reformed. He told their story, their reunion after the war, the fear he felt along with the willingness to forgive, once Tarn tried so hard to earn his trust. It was ridiculous. It was the most bold-faced lying done ever since Starscream took his seat of power and promised to serve Cybertron before himself. And Pharma smiled like sunshine all the way through, even managing an adoring gaze for his conjunx-to-be, a mech who had not changed one iota since he blackmailed and manipulated Pharma during the war.

Wonderful.

The crowd swallowed it. Or didn’t. None of their opinions mattered, because none of them mattered.

Pharma withdrew a small, crystal vial from his subspace, his inner energon glittering inside. Most conjunx treasured such a gift, kept it until they offlined as part of their bond of love. Tarn would probably drink it.

“I offer you this as a sign and promise of my eternal love for you, Tarn.”

It was customary to address a mech by the city state he came from, but with Tarn, that remained a mystery to the public.

 

Tarn reached in for his own vial. Unlike Pharma’s, it glowed a dark violet tone - years of nuke use had changed Tarn in ways he himself had not anticipated. It was a simple vial, nothing extravagant - only that it also displayed a bright, shameless Decepticon badge that nearly obscured the liquid inside.

“And in turn, I offer you my inner energon as a symbol of my loyalty, love, and devotion to you, Pharma.”

The crowd tittered as the unlikely words tumbled from Tarn’s mouth. He barely twitched, managing to put on the mask of a the adoring, besotted mech for the sake of the show. As they exchanged vials, Tarn pulled Pharma closer and addressed the crowd for his own spot of lying.

Love. Devotion. Promises of kindness, leadership, and great things to come. Tarn wanted to purge from how sickened it all made him.

 

It was certainly a convincing speech, for anyone that didn’t know Tarn. There were very few Decepticons in the crowd, which was no coincidence, although somewhere along the back, Tesarus and Helex dwarfed the other guests, Tes with Vos on his shoulder. Whether or not their expressions were appropriate was impossible to tell, each wearing a mask of indifference. Even if their comms to each other were glowing with colorful commentary to this whole farce.

Pharma wished he hadn’t seen them at all, they were sour footnotes on his glorious day. He accepted Tarn’s inner energon, storing it in his subspace (he would run analysis on it later, it was definitely the wrong colour), before reaching up to the mask. The crowd seemed to hold their collective vents, but Pharma did not unlatch anything without permission. At least, not yet.

::Kiss me. I’ll cover your face. This will blow them away.::

 

Tarn felt the gaze of the audience more than ever. They all narrowed in on Pharma’s servos first, clearly waiting to see if it would happen. Tarn’s mask was a source of mystery everywhere he went, and he knew that the most common theory was that he was horribly disfigured underneath it, and that was why he covered his face.

He hadn’t taken it off in years. Only for emergencies or in his own private space. Never in a crowd like this.

It would finish the job , a voice murmured to him. Letting go of the past, a perfect show for everyone .

Losing the executioner’s mask would be a better display than even Starscream’s badge ripping. It would do everything his lord wanted from him.

Tarn’s venting harshened slightly, just enough for only Pharma to notice. And he reached up.

Someone in the back shrieked prematurely. Tarn ignored them.

The locks clicked as they snapped back. He could feel everyone drawing closer.

He’d donned this mask for his lord’s promised future. For the war. For the image he had as the leader of the DJD, hunter of traitors and dissidents.

But his lord had said that time was over. Otherwise Tarn wouldn’t be here, about to promise his spark to his former victim.

He ground his dentae as the mask lowered. His scarred half was revealed first, then the other.

::... Let them see.::

Cybertron wanted a show, not an executioner. Fine.

The mask lowered as the lenses of his optics refocused to make up for the new perspective. When Tarn straightened, he looked over the crowd and endured the stares, the sea of pictures being snapped, and caught the sight of Vos tumbling over Tesarus’ shoulder just in time.

He was no beauty like Pharma, but classically handsome in the way paintings and statues were modeled after. Only Pharma could see him well enough to make out the flash of distaste on his face as the picture taking drew on for minutes.

He didn’t wait. Leaning Pharma over in a scene worthy of the most dramatic holovids, Tarn kissed him.

::No more ceremonies,:: he said over comm. ::I’ve had enough for a lifetime.::

His division was sending him comms. And his secretary. And his staff.

Let it never be said that Tarn never gave up anything for this.

 

And Pharma smiled into that kiss, knowing the cameras would get shots of every angle and he’d be admiring himself in the news outlets within the hour. Good. What grand pageantry. It was nice of Tarn to play along, but this was all for his reputation’s benefit, after all. What better way to promise Cybertron that he was no longer the boogeyman of Decepticons, but a mech willing to move into a softer future?

It was also completely fake, but that didn’t matter. Pharma had his public spectacle, his mech and lover, and all the attention Cybertron could muster. He couldn’t be happier.

::It is the ceremony of a lifetime. Don’t take any other conjunxes and you will be spared.::

Not that Tarn could. If he even so much as entertained the thought of a little something on the side, Pharma would come up with a creative form of murder, just in case.

 

The primp and pomp of it was getting to him. Tarn wanted to return to his mask and privacy as soon as possible, but still had to endure more. It felt like days passed before he was given leave to escape. With his new conjunx in his arms, he whisked them away to the private setting of their abode, scowling the entire way.

Tarn kept his quarters dark and cool, just how he liked it. He tossed his cloak off and poured an inappropriate amount of engex for himself and Pharma before sitting down, radiating annoyance.

“I loathe ceremonies,” he declared after draining the entire glass and refilling it. “Enough.”

He tossed his mask on the table too. “I have killed people for just touching my mask, you know.”

 

“I know.”

Pharma perched on his seat and took the engex, swirling it around the glass. The smile had not waned from his face and it made him radiant, almost warm. It was, of course, very misleading, because Pharma would never consider himself...that.

“And you won’t have to, again. It was the right move.”

 

“It better be worth it.”

Tarn still felt the urge to murder everyone who saw him, but resisted it, barely. He was still rather annoyed when he gestured towards Pharma, beckoning him.

“Come here.” Holding Pharma always helped with the irritation. Having a pretty mech on one’s lap tended to absolve negative emotions in general. Tarn pulled out the inner energon he’d been offered as well.

“Is this real?”

 

On the other side of New Iacon, Orion was in conversation with Ratchet. He nodded gravely as he confirmed the medic’s questions.

“Yes. It’s him.”

Ratchet, being someone who could never quite let go of something once it was in his grasp, had to immediately message Pharma for confirmation.

::Do you realize who you are consorting with?::

 

Ratchet was not on the list of priorities and Pharma put the comm aside to answer later. Instead, he touched the vial, delicately tapping the crystal until the energon stirred around a little.

“Yes. I thought it best to use the real thing. In case anyone gets investigative about our pictures.”

And maybe, just maybe, because this was not just a public farce to Pharma.

::My conjunx, yes.::

 

::Do you know who he was ?::

Tarn considered his own little vial, then looked at Pharma. “You know what I want to do with it. Are you willing to donate more?”

Pharma’s energon always tasted a little sweeter than others. Tarn enjoyed the taste of it when he could get it. How did his inner energon taste? He wanted to find out.

He swirled it, and held it up to the light. “Any thoughts on mine? You always loved a medical mystery.”

 

“The nuke you took definitely affected it.”

Pharma had no problem juggling two conversations, but he did prefer to focus on Tarn. He had no intention of drinking inner energon, ever, but he could be tempted to donate to Tarn’s quirks.

“I’ll run an analysis on it when I have the chance.”

::I don’t care. Why do you?::

 

::Because I knew him before the war, when he was nothing like that. He was brainwashed.::

Tarn popped the cork and sniffed it. It was thick and sweet, mouth-watering. Watching Pharma, he slowly tipped it back. It slid into his mouth, hot and thick, and Tarn savored it. It was a pitifully small amount, unfortunately, which meant he couldn’t really enjoy it.

“I want more,” he said, licking his lips. He’d save a vial for show too, but right now, he wanted a drink from the source. Nuzzling Pharma, he pushed his helm back for his neck.

 

Pharma was pliant and willing, indulging Tarn came with plentiful reward, almost guaranteed. Even if the mech wanted to drink him dry, Pharma would find some way to make it possible and still gain benefits.

“I suppose you’ve earned this,” he muttered, indulgent as he molded his frame to fit against Tarn. Despite all the pageantry of their ceremony, despite Tarn’s turbulent mood, Pharma still felt triumphant on a personal level. Now, this mech was truly his. And he’d keep him that way.

::Like I said. I don’t care. He’s perfect the way he is. That mech of the past is dead, and I welcome this one. Leave us be, Ratchet.::

 

Tarn, ignorant of the double conversation, enjoyed the scenery instead. He felt at peace for the first time in years. Somehow… somehow, everything had worked out. His lord was back and Pax was in hot water. Pharma was in his arms and Starscream continued to look over his shoulder. As the final cherry on top, Overlord had finally been beaten down like he should have been centuries before.

All was good. Better than good. Splendid.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t awkward anymore. Megatron could walk the streets of New Iacon, look at the bustle of new life all around him, and not feel out of place. It had taken them years, and he lost count of how many, to get to this point. Without his guiding hand, nothing would have established itself in the right way. Sure, there was a council of representatives, from the factions that remained, the neutrals that returned and every colony of Cybertronian life. Sure, they had some ideas they put into place with impunity, and some of them weren’t terrible, but a lot of the core problems in their society would have remained, if Megatron didn’t aim his weapons at them.

Death and destruction were no longer necessary. Not when people could be persuaded with words.

Orion Pax, once upon a time, had tried this. Four, five million years ago, he addressed the Senate in hopes of achieving this kind of future. Megatron had seen, back then, that it could never come without cost. That people did not change if they were not pressured to.

And he’d been willing to be the pressure.

Now, he still had his hands tangled in strings. His puppets, extensions of his will, remained in the game that he had officially retired from. Other players moved fluidly around the board, but essentially, that part of leadership didn’t change, in peace or war.

He for his part was almost finished in his task. And found himself suddenly before a yawning eternity with little to do. There was no warship to return to, no city to conquer and call his own. His crimes were not absolved and many stilled yearned to see him punished, but the constant reminder of wartime deeds hanging over every helm continued to hold off any actual action taken against him, the Prime, or any mech of note.

So what was left to do?

 

A little part of Orion never expected to live long enough to see peace come to Cybertron. Perhaps, he’d even accepted that it would not happen within his lifetime and that he had nothing but an eternity of slogging through war ahead of him. Having peace come so suddenly, so abruptly had been like a dream - surreal and fantastic, interspersed with the violence he knew better. Orion felt like he’d gone through those first few years in a daze, just waiting for the next round of fighting to begin. When it didn’t come… and continued to not come… that was when he realized that this peace was here to stay. It was no temporary armistice or truce.

This was peace, shoddy and awkward as it was. Peace was listening to months-long arguments while feeling like he would rather grind his audials off for a moment’s respite, and it was amazing.

Sometimes, Orion simply walked down a street and was nearly overwhelmed by the fact that Decepticons and Autobots were walking down the same street without drawing guns. Admittedly, it was on opposite sides and they exchanged pointed insults more often than not, but it was a vast improvement over the last four million years. It brought a glimmer of hope in him, daring to think that maybe, just maybe , this was here to stay.

And yet it was strange. Little by little, people were beginning to let go of his reputation. It would never fade in its totality, but there were less people looking to him for guidance. Sometimes, crowds came to him but left when he directed them elsewhere. Part of it, he assumed, was because there was no pressing crisis that required immediate, direct leadership. It made him relieved. It also left him feeling mildly adrift.

What else could he do besides offer outdated advice and trail all over New Iacon observing the mending schism? There was the offer of the council position still, but Orion was hesitant to take it. Let someone else with a greater appetite for politics have it - he’d had quite enough after four million years of both external and internal politics on top of war. He could work as an ambassador as well, or simply migrate to one of the colonies as a spokesperson, but he hesitated again.

He did not want a position because of his reputation, yet that would be always the background reason for why he was allowed anywhere. The shadow of his wartime deeds were like a heavy cloak around his shoulders, weighing him down wherever he went.

So Orion continued to vacillate - which was a privilege all on its own, because the war had never given him time to waver and dawdle - and quietly observed the city slowly creep outward while its councillors squabbled fiercely with one another.

Orion visited his friends - sought out the tattered remnants of his high command: Prowl and Ironhide, Ratchet and Jazz. Perhaps, someday, Prowl would let go of his internal darkness and find absolution. Ironhide, he knew, was making good progress on his endeavors to fit in into this new world, while Ratchet and Jazz adapted as they usually did. Perhaps he might even visit Starscream and offer him some advice. He had to let go of his own prejudices as well and the flier was being bombarded with new problems everyday - problems, Orion suspected, he had not expected to come with ruling.

In the end, however, he sought the company of the only other spark who might understand his specific quandaries. Orion brought sweets and drinks with him as a tentative olive branch - all things he knew Megatron liked, though he continued to mourn the reasons why he knew at all. Nonetheless, he went to find Megatron at his favored haunt; one of the many places that Tarn had cordoned off for his lord, it was one of the few buildings that still stood from the old days. It’d been renovated since then and much of it was replaced, but it was hard to mistake the sole surviving tower of the Grand Imperium for anything else.

 

It had been a trivial gift from Tarn, one steeped in irony and bathed in energon money, but Megatron had accepted the tower as a ludicrous residence. He did not care to decorate in anything fanciful, as these walls may have seen in the past millennia. But he did accumulate a surprising amount of things. An old cannon. A copy of his manifesto, several copies of Towards Peace . Those, he stored away on a shelf to be forgotten. Books never ended up changing anything but the person who wrote them, and Megatron was not quite gentle enough to revise his own work that he still believed in, partially.

A piece of the Nemesis; his throne-like captain’s seat from the bridge, countless datapads from his entire existence as a warlord. Some of them were just reports, briefly read, forgotten. Some of them contained terrible poetry, written after the heat of battle failed to expire and left him inspired and uncomfortable.

Some of them were memoirs, and he may yet compile those into a new book, an updated version of his life, put into words. Cybertron hadn’t cooled off enough for that yet, so Megatron would take his time.

The view was spectacular; it made him wish he’d kept his temporary flight alt, just so he could enjoy soaring up to his grand home as he surveyed all he helped create. It was pure hedonism to look at the new population in such a way, but with his servos resting on so many irons in the fire, Megatron was surely due for some indulgence.

Company came at moderate intervals. Decepticons had been told, on his command in a casual manner, that their former lord would still have an audial for their problems. At first, few had dared make their way to the tower. Then, as more and more returned in one piece and unscathed, they’d become bolder. Some did seek him out for advice; others for answers, few for vengeance. The latter received a proper re-education, and seldom tried for something as foolish again. It wasn’t many that would dare think themselves ready to face the mech, the legend, who put Overlord in his place even in retirement. With time and Tarn’s hefty encouragement, some of his less stable followers began to visit as a sort of pilgrimage, looking to Megatron for absolution. He gave them reason and rationality instead, something he’d neglected during the height of his power. The councillor himself, however, continued to elude such persuasion; Tarn preferred to stay in his lane and keep sending Megatron ideas for statues in his honor, which the mech stoutly refused.

It was a good new start, and yet, Megatron remained restless.

When the sensors picked up a familiar shape at the foot of the tower, his restlessness found new focus; a visit from Orion could warrant a fight or a frag or anything in between.

::Do you want to kick down the door for old times’ sakes, or should I open it for you?::

 

::It would put a damper on my purpose here. Open it, if you would be so kind.::

Orion added a polite knock on the door, simply because he could. He waved his peace offerings vaguely to bring Megatron’s attention to them. ::Your favorites.::

The number of visitors here petered out later in the day, when it was time to spend hours with friends and family. These twilight hours were somehow the loneliest, because everyone seemed to have something to do. Orion was getting a bit sick of drinking at Blurr’s, even if everything was on the house for him.

 

“For those, I’ll open the door personally,” Megatron may have smirked as he did exactly that, optics sliding over the offerings. It looked like Orion intended to spend the night, and that was perfectly welcome company to him.

Everyone on Cybertron seemed to have found purpose for personal relationships. Mecha that had hardened during times of war were suddenly dedicating themselves to romance instead of warfare. The leisure industry was booming capital, and every mech with a talent for something other than killing seemed to be trying their hand at it.

Megatron didn’t need to look far. He’d experienced far too much to let Orion off the hook and out of sight. If there was any mech that had a chance of understanding him enough for something as outlandish as a relationship, it could only be him.

And they both knew that, which was why the mech was here.

“Usually, people bring gifts when they want forgiveness. Something else I should know about?”

 

“Sometimes, people bring gifts when they merely want to gift them.” His tone became a touch sardonic as he slid into the tower that Megatron made his home. It was sparse, as usual, but seemed to be filling more and more each day. The former Decepticons seemed to have taken it upon themselves to contribute something to their former leader’s living spaces, so he ended up with an eclectic collection of things. Touches of Tarn could be seen in the hilariously expensively items that were out of place besides the more mundane.

He set the gifts on a table (courtesy of the Constructicons, hand-made from scrap metal taken off the Nemesis) and turned to face Megatron. Things had been on the mend since what happened, but Orion wasn’t exactly diving into Megatron’s arms at a moment’s notice either.

“You’ve been busy,” he noted, glancing down at the datapads all over. Most of them looked to be from Tarn, as per usual. Some were even on the chairs (donated by Overlord’s Purgatory , though no one actually said that).

“I keep myself entertained.”

Megatron made no effort to clean up the pads. Orion knew more about him than any of his closest allies ever had, and he was no stranger to Megatron’s ideas. A lot of them had already been run by him, resulting in some minor, heated arguments. Which was, at any point in their lives, the status quo.

“Some part of me still finds the idea novel that I could choose to be nothing but a writer for the rest of my days.”

At least he could live that small fantasy. Orion’s title and history would continue to stand in the way of what the mech had always been. Enforcers could hardly work with the looming shadow of being a former Prime to the entire species.

 

“It would be interesting, at least.” Orion dodged the datapads to sidle up close to Megatron. “I have not seen you around for some time.”

It was none-too-subtle way of expressing some level of concern. It was no secret that many Decepticons would like Megatron to return to power and he had a revolving door for these unstable elements. While Tarn’s oversight kept a tight fist around the worst, he was not infallible. There had been more than a few spats of angry Decepticons marching up here.

 

“Is that concern for my personal safety, or for a brewing sentiment of discontent?” Megatron appreciated that Orion was no longer too guilt-stricken by their past to avoid all manner of intimacy, even if it was just close proximity. There was no more patience in him to pursue and wait, not when they could finally take the time to examine what they could be doing with each other, now that their hands were not full of war and revolution.

Of course Orion knew about his ‘pilgrims’ and regulars. Of course he would hear about the hotspot of Decepticon activity, as it raised optical ridges and concern among the good and blind citizens of Cybertron. Megatron knew it was better to handle his people on his own than try to force them to forget their grievances.

Many of his former commanders seemed lost in the future they helped bring about, and Megatron didn’t blame them for it. Instead, he had them join him on occasion, clearing out what bothered them, letting them wallow in the perceived good memories. Sometimes, he even played cards with them, for some swill of energon or a few worthless credits.

 

“Can’t it be both?” Orion huffed a sigh at Megatron’s predictable word games and nudged him. He was not genuinely concerned about the people going in and out and what they might do - after all, they were too few in number to shake the peace in any genuine manner. Many of the Decepticons wanted to settle down and with Tarn as a self-appointed enforcer of the peace, it seemed like they were content to do so.

“I didn’t come to just talk business.” Orion placed a servo on Megatron’s shoulder. “I also came to discuss the smaller things. About what we’re doing.”

He paused. “Not just our relationship,” he added. “But I mean our place in everything after the war. You said you could become a writer - it’s a commendable notion. Yet I struggle to see a future that involves us somehow being… normal .”

How did you be normal after four million years of being Primus’ chosen messiah, a war hero, and everything else besides? “You know how everyone looks up to you. You know how Tarn does, even now. We might have stepped down in public, but I don’t think we have in truth.”

 

“Ah. So that is where your concerns lie.” Megatron took a seat, offering one to Orion with a noncommittal gesture. This was bound to end up in an interesting discussion, and he for one would enjoy a drink and those snacks Orion brought along.

There was little sense in acting surprised, or trying to hide the leylines of power that still ended in Megatron’s palm; this is what he’d set out to do when he surrendered the war in favor of peace.

The aspect of their relationship was tied irrevocably to their new positions within Cybertron’s recovering society; free of their pasts, they could never be. Start over fresh? Entirely impossible. Live with the burdens of the past? The only true option.

“Who says we have to become something we’re not, Orion? Normal...there’s no such thing. I don’t think there ever was. Mundane, yes. Living with a mere fraction of the hectic environment you and I were forged in, that is the real challenge. Tell me, have you found yourself something to do? Besides dodging the would-be worshippers of your holiness?”

 

“I’ve tried,” Orion said dryly, “but I cannot avoid getting inundated with offers for positions ‘more fitting to my status’ or jobs that include the state and politics.”

He’d tentatively tried to work as a bartender for Blurr once. The less was said of that mess, the better. Trying to become an enforcer had been a miserable failure from the start (too many allusions to the past, was Ironhide’s explanation in a rare moment of tact). Other stuff had been done but in the end, Orion had thrown his servos up in disgust and walked away entirely.

“Colony work did not work out either,” Orion continued. “Caminus and I are… uncomfortable. I don’t think Velocitron knows what to do with me. Everywhere else, it is similar.”

He almost envied Megatron for his aloof retreat from the world. It was something that people expected of the mech, he supposed, but any sign of aloofness from Orion merely catapulted him into further idolization. While Megatron might be at peace with being revered, Orion was not.

“I realize it would be foolish to want to go back to how things were. And yet, being called Optimus everyday rankles. Holding onto power will always give me more power - I cannot fade into the background like you are managing.”

Orion was single-handedly trying to dismantle the religious awe of the Primes. Currently, he was beating at a stone wall with his bare fists. It was ingrained within their society, practically from the conception of their civilization, to revere and worship the god he did not believe in. Like it or not, Orion’s own feats in the war did nothing to dim the light of the Primes. In fact, it reinforced it. His perceived humbleness was only worsening it. While most of the high-rank Autobots had gotten over such awe long ago, some of the more distant soldiers were more stubborn. Optimus Prime beating back Megatron was practically the face of every propaganda poster that had been in circulation since the war began and having that beaten over your helm for such a long time tended to have lasting effects.

 

“Only you would lament about that fact.” Megatron was one of the few mecha that had no problem viewing Orion outside of a religious belief. He’d never had faith in Primus to begin with, and such a thing as a deified leader reviled him. Optimus Prime...he’d embodied everything Megatron despised about Cybertronian culture. He was a figure of an imagined god, blessing a corrupt and terrible way to structure a society. Megatron, even if he was a believer, could never have stood for a Primus who aligned himself with the system of Functionism, so the hype train about such a savior had left the station long before Megatron was minted a warlord.

“It must be quite the burden. At least I know my followers, for the most part, still believe me to be a mech. I can’t imagine having every mistake seen as a holy act.”

Megatron poured a glass for Orion, servo inching for the sweet treats on the table.

“If it gives you any comfort, I’ve never thought of you as a symbol of Primus. Even after seeing your interfacing array.”

 

“You -!” His helm whipped around as a rare expression of complete mortification flashed across Orion’s face. “You are awful ,” he said, quickly regathering his dignity into something resembling wholeness.

Typical of him, finding the exact comment to pierce Orion’s armor and fluster him. He appreciated it, even if he felt hot now.

“I know you don’t,” Orion said, “otherwise, I would not be here. I couldn’t stand it if you of all people bought into something like that.”

Leaning around Megatron, he snagged the sweet he had been going for. “Don’t be so hasty, however - Caminus is undergoing a religious schism right now, and I’ve seen your name bandied around right next to Unicron. Maybe you’ll get to enjoy religious reverence in the near future.”

 

“In the league of our species’ great unmaker? Be still, my trembling spark, I might enjoy that.” Megatron watched the sweet disappear into Orion’s mouth with a scowl, though it gave way to a smirk in just a second as he reached for another and devoured it before he could be interrupted once more.

“Be that as it may, it will not affect what I choose to do with myself. As your title and burden of reverence shouldn’t hold you down. But I see what the problem is; you’re still looking to pay service to the needs of the many, instead of your own. You’ve truly never learned to be selfish, have you?”

 

“Being a selfish mech has brought the downfall of many,” Orion said evenly. “Perhaps if the previous Primes had been less so, this revolution would not have been necessary in the first place.”

He did not mean to fight and campaign for this very peace to be interrupted because of his own movements within it. The religious tensions in Caminus were already making him wary. He took another sweet and chewed it idly, thinking.

“The needs of my… followers are not the only ones I must heed. Former Decepticons remain wary of my still. I don’t think Tarn is doing much to stop that. Much the opposite.”

 

“You think he’s perpetuating a sentiment of distrust towards you? I think most Decepticons have a healthy amount of respect for you as a warrior...they wouldn’t band together just to put you in harm’s way. They wouldn’t be able to come up with enough harm for it.”

Megatron had no worries for Orion’s safety, but his continued defiance in doing something for his own life disturbed him somewhat. He’d pictured something like a joined retirement in which they could find things to content themselves as the world continued to flail and make fools of themselves.

“The last disagreement we had...was of a far more personal variety. I don’t mean to harangue you about it, but I am curious as to where it stands in your list of priorities.”

 

Orion stiffened, then relaxed. “I’m not… very good with such things,” he cautioned. “You know this. I suppose I’m trying to find a balance in everything and step back enough that there wouldn’t be an immediate uproar when we’re seen together.”

Again, he picked the sweet out of Megatron’s servos and ate it himself. “I’ve also come to ask something of you. I daresay that as long as I live, people will be bending over backwards to ensure I get what I want. But it’s… lonely. I wouldn’t ask anyone to stay with me, not when they have their own lives to take care of - or prison, in Prowl’s case - so I’ve wondered, perhaps, if there is room enough here with you.”

It would certainly make midnight conversations easier.

 

Oh? That was an unexpected proposition, but not an unwelcome one. Megatron had thought Orion would be too concerned with public opinion to even consider living with him, but it was a refreshing change to be wrong. The continued sabotage of his treats would not be tolerated, however.

“There might be, though common thievery is strictly against the rules of sharing a roof, Orion.”

Pointedly, he took another treat, the box growing alarmingly empty.

“I would relish it. I did say I would give you another, undeserved chance.”

 

“Thievery? Sharing is a virtue, Megatron.” Orion reached for more, but found himself blocked. He did not retract his servo, however, and planted it behind Megatron instead. “Entirely undeserved, you are right.”

His face sobered quickly. “I do not know why people say you are merciless. Your forgiveness for what I did to you is more than generous.”

Orion looked away from Megatron, growing troubled. “I can’t apologize enough.”

 

“Leave it be. I did not bring it up to hear more apologies. I merely sought to remind you that we’ve chewed through plenty enough to reach an understanding. You are welcome to come live with me, though I will adjust none of my habits for your presence; you’ll see what it’s truly like to live in some bastardized version of domesticity with me .”

Megatron’s grin was filthy .

 

Some of Orion’s light-heartedness returned at Megatron’s assurance and he rolled his optics at his suggestions. “You are incorrigible,” he said, but his tone was fond. “I’ve no clue what domesticity with you means, but I suppose I am bound to find out.”

Neither of them were particularly domestic mecha, but he supposed they would find a way to resolve it in their own terms. Orion smiled and his face lost more of the terse guilt that had stiffened it. “I am not cleaning after you,” he added. “And you might still change your mind when you see the parade that follows me.”

Orion wrapped his arm around Megatron - a little slow, a little careful, but still certain. “And we might argue even more. The threat of being kicked out won’t stop me, I’m afraid.”

 

It was far more to Megatron’s liking, to have Orion move with certainty to his touches. He had every right to move in on Megatron, they’d fought each other tooth and nail for such a chance. He leaned fully into the half-embrace, the trapped arm landing on Orion’s side, servo at his waist, which was easy enough to draw closer.

“Tenacious. I’d expect nothing less from you. Religious followers are only allowed entry during business hours and will be purged with extreme prejudice after hours. Does that sound agreeable to you?”

 

“Don’t dropkick the pious from our threshold,” Orion said, but he was grinning as he did. “You’ll upset them.”

They were close now, no longer maintaining a proper distance that might have befitted their status as once-rivals. Orion still looked bewildered, as if he expected everything to turn out to be a fantastical dream, but the suspicion was no longer there. The last of his hesitation melted away when he moved in to kiss Megatron, still grinning like a fool.

A lovesick fool. The same one who’d buried deep into his shell after the truth came out and only occasionally peeked out from beyond the veil of guilt. Now that the wounds were beginning to knit again, it was coming back. Orion had a slightly crooked smile, as if a part of him was trying to control it while the rest was too busy exulting to care.

This wasn’t the first kiss of their awkward, strange meeting back when the peace had been uncertain. Orion was better-versed now and the knowledge hadn’t faded away during their brief separation. He kissed Megatron with confidence and, most wondrous of all, desire.

They had been enemies for four million years. They’d tried to kill each other countless times. And yet, here they were, discussing settling down and what to do with themselves and each other. This time, it was no sham. They didn’t need a fantasy to want each other.

 

No fantasy could do this truth justice. No twisted lies could be as convincing as their earnest desire for one another. Megatron had no compulsion to pull away, or to do anything but give Orion a little taste of what they could spend their days doing. Between writing and advising the discontent, Megatron intended to give back four million years of repressed desire. Orion was going to need a few reforges if he hoped to stand a chance and keep up.

Orion’s awkward stoop soon turned into a fully-fledged grappling contest of who could touch more of the other. This familiar route had waited too long for them to travel it again, and Megatron didn’t care if they were in his lounge or on some grand stage, he wouldn’t let anything part them anytime soon, especially not when things began with such a promising start. There were probably words that mecha told one another, ceremonies they performed together, but not the two of them. Promises didn’t have to be spoken to be made. This right here, this was a commitment they were finally submitting to, both entirely aware. No manipulation, however sweet, could compare to the feeling of Orion hungrily kissing him, his engine a greedy roar in Megatron’s audials, and his servos finding places that Megatron didn’t remember were sensitive at all.

 

Intimacy with Megatron was always a dizzying affair. Everything about him was like that. Orion moved closer to him and they bumped and scraped against the table, trying to find a spot that was more comfortable so they could continue. Orion was practically plastered against Megatron when the noise came.

It was a distant boom that made dust from the rafters of the tower fall down on both of them. It repeated two times, getting closer each time, and Orion stopped. He looked up, concerned.

“Construction…?” he suggested warily, but was cut off by the scream of both their comms pinging rapidly enough to become one continuous noise. Outside, gunfire could be heard, along with more explosions.

Orion’s face fell. “Something’s happened,” he said, reluctantly moving back from Megatron, “we must go help.”

 

Disaster had a habit of trying to interfere with Orion and Megatron’s personal affairs, and it had done a good job of it for four million years. This time, however, Megatron would tolerate it no more. He moved to box Orion against the previously abandoned table, trapping his frame very bodily. Grim determination painted his optics a dark red and his mouth drew into a scowl.

“No. We don’t.”

His commlines were all blinking rapidly, and he knew that whatever had exploded in the distance was the act of some mech or enemy, just waiting to ruin Megatron’s perfect day. Well, no more of it. He shut the whole line down, ignoring each plea for an answer with savage ignorance.

“Let them deal with it, Orion. It’s not our job anymore. Cybertron can survive one day without us at the helm.”

One servo landed straight on Orion’s panel, black metal stroking white.

“Stay here with me.”

It was a challenge. Would Orion stay? Could he resist the calls for help and panicked outrage?

 

“But, they could be in trouble -” Orion offered up an argument, but Megatron looked like he was prepared to fight him on the matter. Again, Megatron’s rebuke against him came to mind. You never learned to be selfish .

Orion grabbed Megatron’s arm, poised to stop him, but he didn’t. Not yet. All of him ached to stay here, to indulge in what Megatron was offering, but his senses all told him that he should be pushing Megatron aside right now and running outside to assess the situation…

And yet… Cybertron had withstood worse than this. Outside, some of the most vicious, efficient, and cunning warriors of their factions were probably scrambling to the scene and the calls for help weren’t truly dire. The ground wasn’t falling apart under their feet, the sky wasn’t splitting apart, and no universal wormholes had been torn open, so this wasn’t even a five on their disaster scale. Would it hurt to just… sit it out, just once? To let someone else step in and help?

To just… let go of the responsibility of saving everyone?

Another boom echoed outside. Farther away now. His comms continued to ping.

Orion turned them off. He pulled Megatron closer to kiss his scowl away and relaxed as he eased back. “Alright,” Orion said, “for you, I’ll stay.”

And that was that.

 

“That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Orion was just full of surprises today. Megatron rewarded him with his scowl lifting into a smile, before the kiss was voraciously resumed. Let the world handle itself, for once. They had better things to do. That touch to Orion’s panel grew alive with purpose beyond making a statement.

“Where were we?”

 

-FIN-