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Equivalent Retaliation

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1.

The first time it happened, Megatron thought nothing of it.

He was concerned, certainly, when Ramjet and Dirge carried an unconscious Soundwave into the base, his symbionts trailing after him in an anxious parade. But Soundwave was resilient, and this was war. Such things were to be expected.

“What happened?” he asked Ramjet.

“Ran into that shuttle of Starscream’s,” said the seeker. “Never saw him coming.”

“Skyfire did this?” asked Megatron, incredulous.

“It happened fast,” said Ramjet. “He was gone in a klick. We think he only ran into us by chance. He was probably more surprised to see us than we were him.”

After a rapid evaluation, the Constructicons declared that the damage was nothing worse than what Soundwave had endured before, though repairs would take time due to lack of resources. Megatron ordered that Soundwave’s repairs should take priority over anyone else that came in.

At these words, Hook’s optics flicked over to the tricolor seeker that lay on the medical berth on the far side of the room. Either he was in stasis, or he had the sense to pretend to he was. But Megatron had already forgotten what their last disagreement had been about.

“No exceptions,” said Megatron.

Hook nodded.

If the Constructicons noticed Megatron came to visit Soundwave after each of his shifts, they did not mention it. And if ever one of them turned around and caught a glimpse of Megatron with his lipplates to Soundwave’s servo, or his faceplates, or his forehelm, they never mentioned that either.

 

2.

Starscream was ecstatic at the recovery of his partner, and even Megatron had to admit he was impressed. Skyfire was a formidable mech. Any Autobot would think twice before crossing him.

It was unfortunate that he was so docile, but that was only a minor setback. Besides, it could have been far worse. He could have been a second Starscream.

Two solar cycles after Skyfire was recovered from the ice, Laserbeak brought him footage of Starscream curled up in Skyfire’s arms while Skyfire whispered to him in Vosian.

Megatron was not a fool, he’d had his suspicions from the start. But it was nice to have them confirmed so quickly.

 

3.

The second time it happened, he dismissed it as a mere coincidence. Soundwave had been on a reconnaissance mission, spying on a human laboratory where they were studying new methods of energy production.

Later on, Megatron hypothesized that Skyfire had been at the laboratory to aid the humans in their research. It was something that the Autobot scientists were known to do. But whatever the reason, it had only taken klicks for the shuttle to realize that the little blue tape deck sitting on the director’s desk had a Cybertronian energy field.

The strange part was, Skyfire neither killed Soundwave nor attempted to capture him. He had simply torn off his arm, disabled his legs, and left him to bleed out on the floor. He had not done anything to prevent Soundwave to send out a distress call, and so Soundwave was rescued quickly.

Later, the twins had come to Megatron’s room to voice a complaint.

“That shuttle has it out for the boss,” said Rumble.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Megatron.

“Where’s Starscream?” demanded Frenzy. “Someone’s gotta answer for this.”

“He’s in the medbay,” said Megatron. Three solar cycles ago, Starscream had come at him from behind with an electrified blade. “Leave him out of this. It was nothing more than a coincidence.”

 

4.

And then, just like that, Skyfire was gone.

He was gone, his existence reduced to a sheet of glassy ice, and there was nothing there to prove he had ever existed to begin with, save for the rage that burned in Starscream’s optics for lunar cycles afterwards.

 

5.

The third time it happened was on a battlefield, moments before the two factions clashed. The Autobots were arriving, he could see their transport mech in the distance. Starscream was shrieking a creative blend of insults at him, and the superweapon in his servos was only registering as 20% charged.

“We need to retreat, frag it!” yelled Starscream as the shuttle came in for a landing. “We’re not ready!”

“Shut up, Starscream,” muttered Megatron, wondering if there was a way to re-route power from his own frame to charge the weapon more effectively.

“You idiot!” raged Starscream. “You unintelligent, incompetent—”

Megatron raised his arm and fired, striking Starscream directly in the center of the chassis. The seeker went flying back and slammed into the canyon wall. Megatron did not look to see what the extent of the damage was. He knew Starscream would survive.

At the sound of laser fire, Megatron looked up just in time to see Soundwave fall. Megatron moved instinctively, his processor reshuffling priorities so that Soundwave’s safety overtook all else. He gathered the other mech in his arms.

A few stray shots hit Megatron’s frame, but he barely felt them. He glanced back in time to catch sight of Skyfire, a particle blaster in his servo, but thought nothing of it.

Megatron did a quick sensor sweep of the area, searching for some easily-defended place where he could shelter Soundwave’s damaged frame. When they realized what he was up to, Rumble and Frenzy scampered after him, practically magnetizing themselves to stay close to his heels. Once he was satisfied with their cover, he crouched down to begin field repairs.

“Do you believe us now?” asked Rumble. “Do you believe us now?”

 

6.

“I do not understand,” whispered Soundwave into Megatron’s chassis. “Why would he target me?”

The berthroom was dark and quiet, illuminated only by the red light of their optics. All of the other inhabitants of the Victory were either in recharge, or on monitor duty.

“He’s not targeting you. It’s a coincidence.” But Megatron didn’t really believe the words he was saying anymore. “Who knows why Starscream does what he does?”

“This is not Starscream’s doing,” said Soundwave. “I scanned his mind while he was in stasis. His only thoughts regarding Skyfire are ones of anger and betrayal. Skyfire is targeting me of his own initiative.”

“He is glitched, then.” The mech had flown into glaciers on two separate occasions. Perhaps rational behavior was too much to expect from him. “I’ll kill him for you.” That, in Megatron’s experience, was the only method of problem-solving that could be truly counted on.

But Soundwave shook his helm. “Killing him would harm the Decepticon cause. Starscream would become uncontrollably erratic, to an extent we have never witnessed before. The results—”

“Why would he care, if Skyfire betrayed him?”

“These things are complex,” said Soundwave. “Do not kill him. It will bring more trouble than it is worth.”

“I will not stand by and allow him to carry on with his warped vendetta,” retorted Megatron, the rage building in his frame. How dare Skyfire try to harm Soundwave? Skyfire was a traitor to his people, an Autobot, a civilian. Soundwave was Megatron’s…well, labels weren’t important. He was Megatron’s. If Skyfire thought that Megatron would quietly tolerate such disrespect, he was about to learn a painful lesson.

As the rage continued to radiate from his spark, Soundwave flinched away from him. Megatron tried to get control over his emotions, for the sake of his partner, but found that he could not.

He left Soundwave there in his berth and went to make a call.

 

7.

It was Blaster who answered the call and, upon hearing Megatron’s request, went off to fetch Red Alert. Red Alert listened as Megatron repeated what he had already told Blaster, then put him on hold so that he could consult with Prowl.

In all, it was nearly two cycles before someone finally roused Skyfire from his recharge-cycle. Megatron had just about given up at this point, and was seriously considering flying to the Ark to make his demands in person when the screen lit up again.

Skyfire did not look as though he’d had his recharge cycle interrupted. In fact, Megatron might say that he was inordinately cheerful, with a little smile on his faceplates.

“Good evening,” said Skyfire. “Or no, wait, it’s tomorrow already. Good morning.”

“What the pit do you think you’re doing, Autobot?”

“Is that how we’re going to do this?” Skyfire sounded disappointed. “With threats and swearing? I’d hoped we could be adults.”

“Tell me why you’re targeting Soundwave before I fly over there and blast your helm off your shoulders!”

“Apparently not,” concluded Skyfire. “Well, let’s get right down to it, then. I’m not an unreasonable mech. And believe it or not, I really don’t enjoy hurting Soundwave; I’m always afraid one of his symbionts will be caught in the crossfire. So I’m happy to make an arrangement with you. Here are my terms: I won’t break your things if you don’t break mine.”

“What the frag are you talking about?” Megatron demanded.

“You know what I’m talking about.” Skyfire’s calm was so infuriating that Megatron had to remind himself that punching the screen would not actually inconvenience Skyfire in any way.

“You’re glitched,” said Megatron. “You’re—”

And then, all at once, it slid into place.

Ramjet and Dirge had carried Soundwave in. And where had Starscream been? In the medbay, recovering from injuries dealt by Megatron’s hand.

And the second time, with the human scientists, when Skyfire had strolled into their labs to attack Soundwave, where had Starscream been? The medbay, again.

And the third time, on the battlefield? No, Starscream had not been in the medbay then, he had been there, shrieking insults…until Megatron shot him.

And Skyfire shot Soundwave only a moment later.

“Were you going to finish that sentence?” asked Skyfire.

 

8.

Laserbeak’s recording had showed Starscream curled up in Skyfire’s arms while Skyfire whispered to him in Vosian, but Megatron had not listened very hard to their actual words at the time.

“I’m so sorry, my love,” Skyfire murmured into Starscream’s audial. “So, so sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Starscream whispered back, burying his faceplate in Skyfire’s neck.

“Nobody will ever hurt you again,” said Skyfire. “I promise.”

Starscream laughed, but it was not an unkind laugh. “You can’t promise that, Skyfire.”

Skyfire looked like he wanted to object, but he merely smiled and said, “Perhaps.”

 

9.

Megatron said nothing. He felt like he had just run full-tilt into a wall.

“I’m so glad we understand one another,” said Skyfire warmly. “Well, you have a good night. Or day.”

The call ended, leaving Megatron standing there alone on the cold bridge of the Victory, staring at his own reflection on the deactivated screen.