The return to the Nemesis reeked in defeat and embarrassment, one Megatron knew would sour the morale of his soldiers for time to come. They were not graceful losers, often quick to snap and bicker among themselves when frustration gained the upper hand. He’d need Soundwave running tighter surveillance, prepare to run interference on any squabbles which might lead to in-faction fighting. It was protocol to go into lock-down after a defeat and the restless nature of his soldiers - especially those with a natural disposition to claustrophobia - had already begun to raise the tension in the underwater base. It would be managed, as always, with a strict schedule and a reminder of obedience to their cause. This strain would pass and they would try again. United.
And then there was Starscream.
Megatron had been near when the unholy sound ripped its way from the medbay and caused even the heartiest of soldier to flinch. Soundwave’s visor glistened in running code, nodding, their flat tone explaining “Starscream. Online.” as Megatron took one step towards the surgical suite doors just as Hook pushed his way out.
“Get his trine!” He snapped, clutching what looked like a deep puncture in his servo, dripping pale pink down the wrist joint. No sooner had he spoken a crackle of electricity and the brief scorch of oxygen as Skywarp and Thundercracker appeared. Pushing their way into the room as the medical officer yelled: “The slag were you two?!”
Skywarp flipped him off with a crude human gesture and the once busy hall of sparsely injured soldiers went silent as another screech followed Thundercracker’s voice. Hook just looked tired when Megatron approached, the frowning Constructicon thumbing his nose towards the suite and turned nearly into his leader’s chest. Startled and apologetic with surprise.
While Megatron had suffered the humiliation of being tossed aside by the unearthed Cybertronian, it was Starscream who took the most damage of all present in the skirmish. Astrotrain had been summoned to lift the Air-Commander back to base, though Megatron had only heard of the injury upon his return. The sensitive seekers grew twitchy waiting for news of Starscream’s wellbeing. Which Megatron always found hysterical how quickly the emotional builds turned on one another...then fell apart the next.
“We’re gonna need to pick at our supply. He took some damage.” Hook updated Megatron without need to be asked, appreciated. “Nothing life threatening but the mid-air collision tore out a decent amount of his undercarriage. Got the broken fuel lines secured for the time being but more than one will need full replacement.” Megatron only clicked his vocals in acknowledgement, listening as the seekers inside began to argue at an impressive volume. A few soldiers hugged their laser-seared limbs and decided to bow out - glancing nervously at the suite doors. Having clearly decided their injuries were not worth whatever mood the seeker commander might be in.
While the excursion had not been a total waste, Megatron had been determined to speak with Starscream on what /exactly/ had occurred in the frozen wasteland. Wring it out of his neck if necessary, but from the abrupt crash of equipment and the crackling appearance of Skywarp outside the doors, Megatron accepted Starscream would likely not be in a position to discuss recent failures. Skywarp glanced back over a wing and made an apologetic face.
“He’s uh….in a bad mood.”
Seconds later said seeker appeared, bursting through the doors with blue servos clawing at his side over the startling damages. Armor cracked in a fragmented web down his torso, dried and fresh fuel swelling in the seams. Starscream’s face was drawn into something hideous, not of pain, but of utter and absolute contempt to some ghost only he could see. Each dragging step the seeker took Megatron could hear the strangled whine of some part of his anatomy, crushed and begging for relief.
Beside him, Hook let out a groan. “Why do I bother fixing him if he’s just gonna break himself more?”
Thundercracker was pulling his trine-leader back with firm but careful hands and for his efforts received a threat of which even Megatron could not translate. Skywarp took his place, trying to slow down Starscream’s progression and the trine fell into their native tongue. Sharp, quick language of Vos, as airy as the open sky and bladed like their long-fallen towers. The argument grew and the three sounded like plated serpents bickering over a meal. Brittle language piercing their audience’s receptors.
One word stuck out, repeated by the Air-Commander as he struggled against his trine. A shared term in Tarnish, though it sounded prettier in the seeker’s mouth. Kill. Starscream bit and dug blue claws into his trine-mate’s collar when they couldn’t contain him. Kill.
Skywarp grew weary of the fumbling and grabbed Starscream’ throat when his trine-leader bared sharpened denta in warning. The sight drew Megatron to act. “Enough!” His tone shattered the glass-language, heavy and loud where he stood just out of reach. He noted fuel dripping a steady stream down Starscream’s pale leg and an impossible fury rose through his processor. “You injured fool, keep struggling and I’ll kill you faster than you can do it yourself!”
Megatron saw Thundercracker’s face tighten with a wince, apparently disagreeing with his choice of words which only stilled Starscream but a moment. The dark face curled in disgust towards him, optics so bright with frustration that it cast red light across his cheeks and mouth - so that when he spoke the fuel staining his lips was red.
“You. Utter. Coward!” Skywarp almost let go as Starscream’s vents roared past what was safe. “Decrepit and worthless--”
“Starscream!” Thundercracker gave his trine-mate a shake, optics darting between Starscream and the poor focus of his ire. “Shut up!” It wasn’t enough, Starscream wretched his arm from Thundercracker’s hold and the nullray (Which Hook apparently forgot to remove as was customary whenever Starscream underwent repair. For everyone’s safety.) was thrust upwards, level with Megatron’s gaze. Only Skywarp acted quick enough, slamming his shoulder against Starscream’ injured side, choking out the building charge as his commander was overwhelmed with pain. Violet spilled across the floor and smeared when Megatron’s pede stepped across, the red seeker optics unchanged from their thin fury.
“I order you to stand down!” Megatron bellowed.
Starscream spat fuel in his face.
“Megatron wait!” Was Thundercracker’s plea before a thick fist slammed into the side of the seeker’s dark helm, almost knocking the tangled three to the ground at the force. Skywarp managed to catch most of the weight, arms locked around a waist where Starscream slumped, limp and quiet. Thundercracker’s fretting servos delving beneath the layers of armor: searching a pulse. The two alert seekers humming together in unison as Starscream’s stuttering intake filled a panicked silence. “He’s out again.” One confirmed and Megatron relaxed his stance.
“Get him back on that bench. Strap him in if you have to,” Voice dark as he watched the two struggle to lift their third. When Skywarp’s pede slipped Megatron reached in, scruffing the unconscious seeker at the back of his wings (one was bent at a terrible angle, blackened with smoke and cracked armor) and lifted Starscream himself. “Hook. Here's your priority.” He pretends not to hear the sarcastic “as always” from a nearby onlooker and hands the wilted form to the engineer. “Take what you need from our stores, I want him up and running as soon as feasible, we have a conversation waiting.” Hook nods and Thundercracker moves to assist him, almost delicate with how he maneuvers Starscream’s wings into a lower position to get through the door. Skywarp holds the doors open with a cautious frown.
“Thundercracker, assume command of the air division.” Barks the order and catches Thundercracker hesitation.
“Yessir. Um. Until when sir?”
Megatron takes in Starscream’s still form, optics gone dark and only the strained purr of his breathing to show he was still alive. Not for the first time something ugly and unwanted twists Megatron’s thoughts because of the intolerable seeker. By all rights he should limit what resources they wasted on the mech who so openly defined him just then. “Until I decide if it's permanent.” Soundwave falls into line as his shadow and departs in silence.
They were almost in surplus from what had been harvested before the Autobot interruption, to which Megatron was not satisfied but his dark mood lifted at some good news. Soundwave adjusted rations accordingly and left Megatron to the bridge, overseeing the few on duty to maintain the basic needs of the stationary Nemesis and the ongoing production of the Victory beneath the Earth sea.
The Seekers in his company would need to be watched carefully, never doing well in confined spaces especially without Starscream as a distraction. It was certainly more of a gesture to put Thundercracker in charge seeing as how Megatron only gained the service of such winged community due to Starscream and his Trine’s recruitment and appealing strength. Starscream ruled the aerial force by his own worth while Thundercracker lacked a certain charisma to keep such a group in line. Afterall the blue jet could hardly keep Skywarp out of trouble let alone the entire seeker formation.
Though Megatron knew he’d gained favor over the seekers these millions of years and could give orders as a rightful ruler...he still deferred to Starscream to command them as a whole and to manage their daily routine. Having his Air Commander out of sorts would not bode well with this self-assigned lockdown. Seekers did not like to be kept inside for too long and whatever tricks or talents Starscream utilized to keep the emotional builds in line - Megatron wondered if his own command of the aerial force would be tested should his second not regain his damn sense in time.
Thinking on that...Starscream’s outburst was...unexpected. To be in honest, Megatron sitting at his throne pondering the events of the day, he was hardly shocked being the victim of Starscream’s violent language. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last. He’d long-since accepted Starscream would only bend as far as he pleased under command and the rest was careful tactics to maintain what was given. Unfortunate the seeker was simply /so/ good at usurping the ambitions of lower ranks. At his side, Megatron knew Starscream would handle any starry-eyed subordinate who thought themselves a potential replacement on Megatron’s seat. It left him with only one mech to watch out for instead of an army.
He could, and has, spent weeks balancing Starscream’s benefits against his aggravations. One always outweighed the other and thusly Starscream maintained his position and had been of little interruption of late.
So it was tragic that uncovering this former colleague caused this disruption in Starscream’s stretch of obedience. One might have said he was very nearly pleasant until the tantrum, demanding the resurrection of the bot who very nearly killed him in return.
Skyfire. Megatron felt his servo tighten and the arm of his throne groaned in protest. A few mechs at their consoles daring to glance past their shoulders in worry.
Starscream had been so, desperate. So eager for the return of his former partner that he’d looked at Megatron with an expression of hopefulness that Megatron had not seen on the jet in some time. A mistake unadmitted on Megatron’s part, allowing himself to be distracted by Starscream’s rare earnest moment as they repaired the shuttle. Taller than Megatron, able to toss him away like some brittle sparkling toy. For the disgrace alone Megatron would fell Skyfire one day, but as it stood Starscream was taking the situation highly personal. It had been millions of years since Skyfire was separated from the other and Starscream had still put his own honor on the line, vouching for the shuttle’s capabilities and worth.
It seemed more than embarrassment that sent Starscream spiraling. Repeating kill in his native voice with a look equal to the word in his optics.
Megatron hated to be charmed by it, really, but at times he remembers how and why Starscream remains his Second in Command. He’s too clever and vicious to stand anywhere else and there was no predicting Starscream’s moods. Whether this led to another fit of treacherous schemes or if his Second could withstand the wounded ego to return to him - it would remain to be seen.
He gives it two solar days before checking on the seeker, it’s the longest he can tolerate without seeing for himself that Starscream was still contained and not lurking in the shadows plotting.
“We’ve had to keep him sedated.” Hook explains as Megatron looks over the heavily strapped body on the table, multiple power lines and off-colored tubes stuck into various panels across Starscream’s body. It feels indecent to stare but he’s never seen the other with a placid look on his face - it’s almost worrying. He notices Starscream has dimples. Likely worried into his metal from the constant smirking or snarling. “If he gains enough strength he goes berserk.” Hook waves a servo in the seeker’s direction and Megatron makes note of the crescent moon shape of bite marks left in the dented metal of the medic’s palm. He tries not to find it amusing.
“Have you had any issues with repairs?”
“No, not really.” He shrugs seemingly confident with his statement. “I've become accustomed to putting these jets back together - plus they're damn adept at self repair. Shouldn't be too much longer til he's back throwing claws around.” Megatron grunts his response. “Other seekers keep trying to visit.” Hook mentions, tone as curious as the statement.
“Most of them?” The medic adjusts some pump filtering Starscream’s fuel lines and checks layers of netting laid across the damaged side, satisfied with what he finds beneath. “I can never tell if they're concerned or hoping he's dead. Like vulture-droids hovering around death. Only let his trine in though.” Reassuring Megatron that his Second would not be in any further danger than himself. “For now, just need to get surface components up and running. Shouldn’t be more than a solar cycle or two.”
“Keep me updated.”
“Of course.” Megatron doesn't reach the exit before Hook speaks up again from his seat, having gained the courage to ask… “That big mech, the one we got up and running?”
“Right. Him. When Starscream brought him in for repair and a few updates, they seemed...pretty cozy.” Megatron turned a glare on the medic who reacted with a shrinking glance downward. “Just thought you needed to know. What with the defection and Starscream’s fit.” Hook wasn't prepared for the speed in which Megatron closed the distance between them, one servo tight on the console by the mech’s head. Optics wide, the constructicon curled inward, a comical sight if Megatron wasn't the cause of his terror.
“You'll keep that to yourself.” His voice reverberates low enough that glass pieces on Hook’s workbench quake in response. Same as the constructicon. “Send your security feed to Soundwave and leave the espionage to those suited for it.”
“Yessir.” The engineer shifted uncomfortably under the examination of his superior.
“And Hook, next time Starscream comes in for repair and his weapons get turned on me, I’m holding you responsible.”
Three solar days pass and the seekers have begun to show their agitation.
Not unexpected, a week of being cooped up beneath waters has a strenuous affect on all those in the Decepticon base - but seekers have never been ones to contain their irritation. Soundwave does their best to monitor the movements of the more aggressive trines - the ones Starscream favors to use when a frontal assault is their best option - and it only gives the briefest of warning as Megatron arrives just in time to watch a conehead fling a Reflector unit across the mess hall. His presence should be enough, but the Decepticon leader finds he’s required to put himself between the snapping spy and the charging seeker to end the aggression. His faceplate turned in a challenge should the jet continue his course of action. Megatron notices a few other seekers whispering the corner, red optics glittering suspicious and thin as they depart at Megatron’s orders. He feels a tension group and once the mess is cleared summons Thundercracker to the command centre for a talk.
“Are you having problems keeping your division in line?”
“No sir.” Thundercracker was forced to leave Skywarp outside, the purple jet looking quite scandalized at the idea of separation. No doubt he was pacing the halls and considering using his warp drive to defy orders. Without Starscream present it seemed even Skywarp had become a touch more daring. Thundercracker knew his wing-mate’s antics better than anyone but only Starscream had ever seemed interested in punishing him for misdeeds.
“Soundwave tells me we’ve lost communications with your sector of the base, can you explain that to me?”
Thundercracker’s expression made it very clear he certainly did not /want/ to explain that.
“One of the - uh - stealth trines attempted to modify the network throughout our territory.” Megatron wondered what was worse - Thundercracker’s attempt at lying or referring to the allotted space for seekers as /their territory/. “It was more complicated than they expected, but we’ll have it fixed immediately.
“We’ve been through lockdown protocols before, for much longer than this.” It was out of habit that he looked to his left, expecting Starscream there, relishing any moment where another soldier was under examination. It irritated him that the space was vacant and quiet. “Are you confident that you can keep this mess under control until Starscream is reinstated?”
“You’re giving him back command?” The jet was too hopeful in tone and that brought about more questions. After Starscream’s display a more reserved mech like Thundercracker should be wary of his state of mind. Then again, Thundercracker had been just as surprised when Starscream brought Skyfire back to the ice encampment where his wing-mates had been greeted in a familiar fashion by the shuttle.
“Depending on my mood.” Was all Megatron was going to offer, as most incidents with the seeker it would be on Starscream’s own willingness to accept responsibility for his actions. Meaning there was a low likelihood things would be settled without struggle. “But until such a time, I want to make myself clear. I will not tolerate in-fighting amongst our ranks.” Megatron steps into Thundercracker’s proximity, limbs crossed over his chest plate, looking down at the slighter frame with harsh scrutiny. He hoped he didn’t have to specify his meaning. While Megatron allowed the seekers to self-govern to a point, they had a habit of engaging in challenges for rank amongst themselves. Whether by trine or individual. It was acceptable on occasion and sometimes helped relieve the tensions between the more emotional groups…
But, seeing the elite trine arrive to the war room, clawed and dented having just won a duel, never sat right by him.
Starscream, more than the rest, had once been under constant challenge but the role of his Second could not be claimed because of a mid-air dogfight between squabbling jets. Megatron often wondered, were Starscream ever to lose, what the replacement might expect?
“Yes sir.” Thundercracker nodded low, half a bow of respect, and kept his gaze cast down. “And sir?”
“What is it?”
“I want to take partial responsibility for what happened.” That certainly caught Megatron’s attention.
“This ought to be interesting.” He spoke, limbs settling to his side, watching Thundercracker with more intensity than before. “Which incident? Starscream’s tantrum or…”
“Skywarp or I should have stopped Skyfire from joining our fold.” He answered, features stoic and at militant attention. Megatron recalled Soundwave’s dossier on the seekers when they first came into his company. Thundercracker and Skywarp, efficient and deadly former-students of Vosian Air Academy. He remembered now how strange he found it, that their wing-leader had not the same credentials and yet maintained dominance. He would learn so much of seeker culture in the years to come.
“You predicted this would happen?” Surprisingly he felt to additional anger with the idea. Thundercracker shook his helm though.
“Not exactly what occurred. But.” The blue jet was not nearly as adept at conversation as Starscream, or a babbling mess like his trine-mate, but there was a dedication to speak his mind that Megatron had to acknowledge. Something more beneath the surface of this incident than what he was seeing. “I had my doubts that Skyfire would integrate with the ideals of the Decepticons and that Starscream would be unbiased at the first sign of trouble.”
It all lead back to Starscream. His excitement at the long-lost companion, his vicious hurt over the betrayal. Megatron had yet to see Starscream care about another creature past his wing-mates and even that was fickle to his mood.
“And you wish to take the weight of blame off Starscream because, why?”
“Because he was compromised the moment Skyfire woke. It doesn’t seem fair.” Emotional seekers. Too easily influenced by their innermost thoughts and bonds. Soundwave warned long-ago that the builds could be as troublesome as they were beneficial. But they done well keeping the group in line for so long, Megatron was loathe to admit Starscream’s outburst might be out of his own command. And had not Starscream come to Megatron’s immediate defense once the shuttle turned his back on those who resurrected him?
“I’ll take your words into consideration.” There was a miniscule spark of relief in Thundercracker’s tension, ever dedicated to his trine. “But Starscream is responsible for his actions from this moment onwards. If he wishes to remain in his coveted seat of power at my side, I will expect nothing less than his best behavior.”
“Yes sir!” Thundercracker gave a crooked bow of respect, a renewed ease in his demeanor. Megatron wondered how it affected Starscream’s trine when he fought against him? The three struggling with synchronicity since their awakening on the wretched planet. “Thank you sir.”
“Go.” He dismissed and returned attention to Soundwave’s surveillance-gathering of a power source in the earth location Peru.
Starscream’s recovery had been silent. Hook sent the communication that Starscream was back on pedes and that it was at Megatron’s approval whether the seeker could return to active duty, which he did not grant. There he expected Starscream to come kicking down doors to fight. Argue and demand his command be returned to him. It was, after all, how the seeker had reacted before. Always a tantrum when he believed he was losing what power was given - quick to put down cocky seekers and establish himself in Megatron’s court.
Starscream remained quiet instead. Seen lurking the base in solitude, not even his trine to crowd him. Soundwave collects data, notes that Starscream vanishes from time to time somewhere on the base. Returns with the same frigid stillness haunting the once-lively seeker. He’s a ghost in the dark, absent from his usual route and habits. More than one soldier caught gossiping on whether Starscream was “broken”. Even more, rumors of upset seekers. Starscream missing from the fold - leaving his kin unattended and un-managed.
Hook’s medical advice, was nothing. He had no opinion, no suggestions beyond letting Starscream alone. Megatron could only reflect on what the officer said previously, that Skyfire and Starscream had seemed…cozy.
Megatron was not a fan.
When his officers gathered, Starscream was notably missing. Likely brooding or breaking some rules in a dark corner of the Victory. Thundercracker stood in his place as the seeker commander, but Megatron’s left was mockingly vacant and his mood soured through the meeting.
“Where is your wing-leader?” He caught Thundercracker as the gathering was sent off and the blue jet seemed wary.
“He still hasn’t been reinstated.” Thundercracker explained, looking at his leader with an expression of curiosity. “He should still be in the seeker’s tower.” The jet lies, both knowing Starscream had not returned since his release from medical. “Would you - like me to send for him?”
“No.” Megatron growled low. “I just hope you’re keeping him in line.” There hadn’t been so much as a sound from Starscream for days. Wandering the hall and vanishing even from Soundwave. Megatron in turn had been of little mood to interact with his Second. He always expected Starscream to come crawling back with either guns blazing or sycophantic begging.
“Starscream appears to be very…” The jet struggled. “Content with his punishment for now. Uh. Sir.”
Starscream should not be content.
Starscream should be furious.
Millions of stellar-cycles with the jet and Starscream had never once been content.
“I want him in attendance at the war room by the morning.” Megatron snapped, startling Thundercracker with his tone. “If he’s so at ease then he’s well enough to submit to an inquiry of the most recent failures.” He wanted Starscream to look him in the optic and tell him he’s content. Thundercracker saluted and moved off in a quick fashion, almost as if he wanted to reach the seeker’s sector before Megatron’s anger, which he felt was justified. There was no time to coddle his Second now, and if Starscream would like to pout in dark corners he didn’t deserve the title.
“Megatron.” Soundwave addressed him, monotone voice a strange comfort. Unaffected by the snarl to his leader’s mood. “Starscream. Variable.”
Megatron could only snort in return.
He’d been more than kind to Starscream. Given him ample chances to prove himself, earn the respect he so lusted after. The universe at his servos and the seeker could only squander it, leaving Megatron to question once more why he didn’t just kill the petulant brat and be done with it.
“What do you have to offer as your defense?” He stared down at the seeker, one knee bent as his helm was lowered in submission. It wouldn’t have been such a disturbing sight had his Second been /grinning/ or snarling - instead Starscream was demure and quiet. Infuriating. “Speak up.”
Starscream said nothing. Behind him, his wing-mates looked incredibly nervous and their anxiety was almost suffocating in the quiet of the room. Did they fear Megatron’s wrath so readily? Starscream and he always had this tumultuous relationship, only worsened by the stress of earth and it’s heinous traps. They once could have a conversation without drawing weapons or fists, where had that soldier gone? His clever seeker now this wilting mess of stillness.
“Starscream.” The seeker still did not address him. Did not look up. As if all fight had been drawn out of him. To Megatron’s right was Soundwave, watchful and calculating. The empath shifting uncomfortably for a brief moment before tilting their masked face away, likely processing some information. “This is not how an Air Commander presents themself.”
“I am not the Air Commander. Currently.” A low reply and both seekers lurking behind flinched with whatever emotion they shared with their leader.
“Yes. I took that from you.” Megatron examined Starscream further, the slump in his wings, the lack of tension in his limbs. All that kept him upright was likely a scrap of pride. What had damaged the seeker so?
“As if your right. Leader.” The smallest flicker of irritation, of life, and Megatron found it ran distasteful down his tanks. Starscream had been repaired, but there was a lackluster shine to his frame. Unpolished. Unpampered. He was dull, flecks of salt across his wings, water stain at his pedes. Where had he been lurking?
[Yes. Lord Megatron?
[What is Starscream’s current level of fuel and functionality?]
Soundwave shifted again, focus reexamining the seeker kneeling before them.
[Fuel reserves. 23%. Function reduced to 59%. Internal protocols rerouted to low-fuel consumption. Danger imminent.]
“Soundwave, hold command until my return.” He takes a step forward, pede directly under Starscream’s withering gaze. “You. Rise. Go to the launch bay at once.” Thundercracker and Skywarp glanced at one another, neither daring to question the change but seemingly just as concerned as before. Starscream thinned his focus in return, but his expression remained neutral. Perhaps tired. Almost broken. When Starscream didn’t immediately move Megatron reached down to roughly grasp him by a wing, yanking him to pedes while the seeker gave a half-sparked screech of annoyance. The sensitive appendage deserving a kinder touch than Megatron granted. “Did I not give you an order?” He snarled in the other’s face and watched as Starscream shrunk back, one pede lifted from the ground.
Starscream should fight. Instead he softens his limbs and steps down to balance, seemingly submitting to the command. “Don’t make me ask twice.” The elite trine fell into formation behind Starscream, but their wing-leader did not hold his chin high. All but slumped as they made their way out of the war room leaving Megatron to ponder the true focus of his fury.
“If only one of us return, we will have unruly seekers to manage.” He speaks with a tactical certainty. “Be prepared for a possible insurgence if Thundercracker is no longer a valid candidate for replacement.”
Soundwave nodded, visor dark with calculations running behind their mask.
“Yes. Lord Megatron.”
When he arrives at the launch pad, more than the elite trine are present. Scattered seekers and a few ground soldiers seemed to have heard of some commotion. Gossip traveling fast and Starscream’s demeanor had not gone unnoticed by the Decepticons in lockdown. With little else to do it seemed the only entertainment his soldiers could find was seeing whether or not Starscream would survive the next week.
Thundercracker leaned in to address Starscream in private, Skywarp turned to watch the nosy other seekers. One, pale blue and gray, drawing closer with a lean expression. Hungry. Challenges were likely to begin soon if Megatron did not fix this mess - or remove the broken wheel in his command. When the underling seeker drew too near Skywarp took a step forward, denta bared in warning as dark wings rose to better cover his trine.
Megatron noted how protective even Skywarp was being, and how slowly the other seeker took to retreat. Troublesome, and it showed in Skywarp’s expression turning back to Starscream.
“I believe, none of you are supposed to be here.” He announced at his arrival, looking directly at the lingering soldiers who all but jumped at his attention. Trying to, as stealthily as possible, escape his glare. (Scavenger tripped over a cassette and Astrotrain ran into a door as Megatron doubted his life’s work.) Once relatively cleared he stepped between Thundercracker and Skywarp, exiling them from his focus and Starscream looked up at him - needed to raise his chin higher than comfortable with how closely he stood.
“We’re heading west, I’ll give you further instruction once we are airborne.”
“We?” Starscream’s expression changed to one influenced by doubt, good, at least he was able to react past his moping.
“Have you lost the function to carry a passenger?”
“No.” A hint of irritation.
“Then we will transform and once we are airborne I will give you further instruction.” He repeated, nothing Megatron despised more. “Well?”
The seeker took a cautious step back, shifting his gaze past Megatron’s shoulders, and his body began to fold. Intricate systems rearranging until his jet form ran dominant and Megatron followed. The heavy layers of his armor melding together, layered or sub-spaced for lack of necessity, and Starscream gathered him in his cockpit as the tower rose from the waters with a rush of noise. Being held in this way by Starscream was not new, but hardly preferred and only occurred if traveling by his short-range flight capabilities would not be enough.
Starscream rose into the early morning sun, a rumble of engines where Megatron’s awareness relied solely on his proximity sensors, and they began heading west.
It was difficult to communicate in alt-mode but not impossible. Starscream had been trained in all manner of handling Megatron as were a few other hand-picked candidates. Important that when in this most vulnerable of states he would not be used inappropriately. Starscream opened his communication range to the right frequency, able only to receive code from Megatron while in gun-mode, but the seeker didn’t talk. Which was fine. They would have time to converse upon their arrival.
A five hour flight that looped twice, ensuring human radar would lose them in the obscurity of their own flight plans and fickle atmosphere. Starscream did not question the orders given but with the connection necessary to communicate Megatron could sense the beginning signs of his trepidation. Concern. Agitation. He’d been told that the ability to feel emotions in this way was similar to Soundwave’s telepathy, though on a much lower scale. And in a way how seekers interacted with one another. That their language was a combination of code, sound, wings, and emotion. Leave it to his aerial force to be the most lethal and complicated of them all.
They land on a rocky shoreline, mountains falling into the foreign ocean. Birds scatter from dark trees at their disturbance, Megatron settling out of Starscream’s frame, transforming to land on a slanted hill while the seeker hovered a moment.
“Land.” He ordered, and Starscream hesitated again before following, taking the higher ground where his pedes met the terra. He doesn’t address Starscream again, approaching him and walking past and up the steep slope and didn’t turn back to see Starscream follow. The seeker did, quietly with wings high in caution. The cliff’s top was flat and dusted in green and dirt, undisturbed by more than nature. No humans or Autobots for a great distance. The salt of the ocean and heat made the air thick and humid - Starscream’s lack of complaining only urging Megatron’s decisions.
“Why are we here?” Finally the seeker dares to question as he stands on the edges of Megatron’s shadow.
“You’ve become, a problem. One that I must solve or risk further disturbance in the ranks.” He expected Starscream to react, withdraw, anticipate something. Anything. Instead his seeker remains dull and still just out of proximity. “I’ve given you too many chances. Tolerated your upsetting behaviour because you are /powerful/. But we’ve approached the end of my patience and you --” Megatron shifts to take in the seeker. To look him in the optic to judge the weight of his words on the other’s mind. Starscream is wholly unaffected.
Megatron’s servo tightens to a fist. Starscream catches the movement - and still does not react.
“Do you understand what few options I have left?”
Starscream turns his wings, letting them rest as if it were the greatest pain to keep them up.
“My trine begged me to grovel.” He interrupted and threw Megatron off his focus. Staring at the other with a tilted helm, trying to decipher his meaning. Starscream kept his gaze on his leader, shimmerless and slow. Exhausted by his own existence. “They asked me to grovel. Beg. Plead as I’ve done before when my antics caught your anger.” His following smile was terrible and sent a sharp pang of discomfort through Megatron. “But I’m tired of my life being something I have to /beg/ for.” He laughs. Unfolding brittle laughter like glass falling to the floor. Shattering.
Megatron wondered if he looked as horrified as he felt, watching Starscream’s spark bleed through his mangled laughter. “So just kill me if that will make you feel better.” He spat.
Megatron struck him instead.
The fist cracking across Starscream’s jaw with a sickening sound, vibrating through the distant treeline. The jet crumbling to the terra as instinct directed him to turn. Raise servos in defense as if he still sported the missing cannons on his arms. Starscream’s surprise at his actions only twisting him further, throwing arms down in defiance to basic survival coding as fuel dripped from the fractal split across his faceplate.
“You rotten coward!” With Starscream not trying to escape it was easy enough to snatch the jet’s collar, lift him off the earth and throw him down again. This time watching the seeker’s body collide with soft earth, kicking the organic mess about, with a low whine of something broken. “Is this all you are worth?” He goes to slam a pede down over the unguarded torso where seeker frames run lean, but Starscream reacts. Turning away at the last moment and barely escaping the impact which sends rocks and dirt erupting into the air. “I thought you wanted to die?” He mocks, blinded by his own disgust as Starscream hesitates to move.
“No. I---” He dodges a moment too late, Megatron’s fist colliding with his frame, sending him rolling back in a terrible squawk of pain.
“Where is my soldier?!” He demands and watches Starscream struggle against the hurt. Trying to pull himself up and out of reach. “Where is my Second in Command?!” His roar is only silenced by the abrupt pain of claws slashing across his abdomen. Starscream just beneath him, looking up with a nasty glare.
“Where?” The seeker bit back, thruster igniting to lunge forward, catching Megatron by surprise as the force knocks him back: slamming into the torn up earth with a harsh sound of metal and pain. “Where?!” Claws scrap over his chestplate, his lower half weighed by Starscream now straddling him. Trying to pull him apart with vicious strikes. “Beneath your fist! Beneath your stomping temper where you’ve kept me!” A claw tears into a minor fuel line, splattering pink across them both. The shock distracts Starscream enough that Megatron can grab him, hurl their weight and drive his elbow into the seeker’s temple. Knocking him off balance and dazed.
“Only because of your constant schemes!” He bellows and grabs Starscream by the pede as the other tries to drag himself upright. Needs to keep Starscream grounded. Pulling his lighter body back across the earth while the jet fights to gain purchase. “You give me no choice!”
“No choice?!” A shrill echo and Starscream ignites his thruster once again, scorching Megatron’s grip and the war-lord can only drop him in response to the wretched pain. “You made me your enemy!”
“You made yourself that!” Megatron has to step back, clutching the worse of his servos burnt and aching to his chest. Raising an arm in preparation for Starscream’s next attack. “You diverted from our cause for your own selfish ambitions.”
Starscream lets out a cry louder than Megatron has ever heard, he’s met with a destructive force of violence. Claws tearing into his armor, desperate to reach his spark and rip it out. Starscream was out for more than first blood and Megatron found himself enjoying seeing life back in his seeker’s face, despite the situation.
He was not expecting Starscream’s next words, “You abandoned me!” Megatron ducked low, Starscream unprepared for the change, and loses his balance, as Megatron catches the weight of the frame over a shoulder. Rolling him off his back and feels Starscream crumble to the ground.
“What are you saying?!”
“You-!” Starscream digs servos into broken earth, trying to sit up, but low fuel and damages are beginning to catch up to him. “You don’t care about your soldiers any longer, why should we care about you?!” Voice cracks in static, earlier assault taking its toll. He moves back as fast as he can drag himself when Megatron approaches, but can’t escape the war-lord’s grasp. Lifted up by his collar once more to meet Megatron’s gaze.
“Stop your rambling!”
“You lead us like you don’t care if we live or die!” Starscream bared his sharpened denta which reminded Megatron of these earth creatures. Predators. Hissing low in threat.
“You insane little wretch!” He never took criticism lightly and being insulted by the seeker who, not moments ago, had been practically begging for death was hardly settling well. “What have I ever done to---” A warm line of fuel drips steadily from Starscream’s shattered cheek and to the servo grasping the injured body. The breakage rising to his optic, flickering in disrepair as Starscream judges him with the fury of the universe.
What was the purpose of bringing Starscream here? To beat him back into submission? To break him just enough that he felt anger once more? Megatron snarls at his thoughts and in return the seeker growls back, following his leader’s line of focus.
“Tell me again what few options you have and I’ll tell you mine.” Starscream snarled as claws ceased their digging into Megatron’s arm.
Megatron drops him. Letting the seeker scramble back, expecting another attack. Instead of bracing for it Megatron watches the fuel scattered across his limb, Starscream’s limited resources in his time of despair. The seeker watching him now with an unreadable face, likely shuffling through what had just occurred and what would keep him alive - should he care to survive any longer. Vents roaring in distress, torso panting heavily against the damage and expended energy on such low function.
“Do you think I want to kill you?” Megatron asks, watching Starscream’s every smallest motion and the seeker only looks distressed.
“And lose your favorite whipping boy?” He growls, but there’s a real pain behind his words.
Megatron reflects on Starscream’s immediate dedication to the unearthed shuttle. How quickly the seeker had grown reattached to the figure from his past. Megatron would be lying if he claimed no suspicion but in earnest - it was Starscream’s frivolous commitment that had upset him most. How inseparable they had become after millions of years apart.
Hadn’t Starscream once been so dedicated to him?
The earth quakes when Megatron lets limbs go slack mid-battle. Sitting with arms resting on knee joints. He does not face Starscream, but in this action it is apparent he could not stop him from flying away.
“What are you doing?” The jet asked, suddenly aware of the injury to his face as claws moved to hold the broken jaw. A flicker of pain runs the course of Megatron’s armor, damned seeker, and finds the fight washed from his mind and replaced with a cold upset.
“We cannot go on as we are.” He answers, staring up at the bright sky with it’s blue the color of Starscream’s hands. “We will not survive each other like this.”
“That’s an option?” Snark returning, Starscream retreating into old ways to protect himself. Megatron does his best not to face him, allows the seeker to make up his mind whether he will meet this small offer of a truce with his leader...or escape.
The silence leads to a shuffle of metal, Starscream keeping his distance, but settling on the valley they clawed into. Looking down at the earth while Megatron focuses upwards. It takes time, hours as this world’s star moves across the sky. Birds return to their perches, cautious of the still giants. What is time to them? These earth solar-days meaningless to they two who have witnessed stars born and and collapse. Who have seen more systems than these flesh creatures could imagine.
“I miss Cybertron.” Starscream speaks eventually and his tone is even and tired, resonating with Megatron’s own exhaustion. They both look a mess, torn and broken, watching the foreign planet with bitter optics. Megatron nods and believes Starscream can see the movement, careful when he shifts backwards to lean on sore arms. That the seeker doesn’t flinch is a minor comfort. He is cast in orange light from the setting sun, wings slumped and tension has seemingly been cleared from him. Dried energon smearing his mouth as Megatron’s limbs and face are filthy in the same. Battle fought and lost on both sides.
“You are suffering a loss of faith.” Megatron spoke up, allowing Starscream time to adjust. “One I have been allowing to consume my ranks and now has risen to challenge me. That I can acknowledge.” It’s difficult not to look, see whether the other is listening or preparing to fly. Where would Starscream go if this is not settled - and would he give chase? “I can take responsibility for my actions. My pride has not consumed me yet. But. I cannot fix what has broken in you by command alone.”
“Broken?” Starscream sounds offended, but does not speak further. Only draws himself inward, digging a pede into the loose dirt.
“I do not want to abandon you again, Starscream.” The words feel awkward, foreign, but the sentiment is earnest. His soldier. His seeker. His second should not doubt him. Starscream’s faith should reflect in the sparks of all those who serve him and that is Megatron’s responsibility.
He brought a war to Cybertron on the idea that a society’s failings were the responsibility of its leaders - and that no mech should be beaten into a mold. Denied themselves. What more had Megatron done to the seeker than just that? Why should he punish what he created?
“You’re asking for my obedience?”
“I’m asking for your faith.” Finally he directs the weight of his attention on the seeker who appeared younger than Megatron has ever felt in his lifetime. “You belong with us Starscream, and if I have failed you then I am at fault but you are stronger than my mistakes.”
“Pretty language.” He sneers but there’s little heat to his tired words. “You once excelled at pretty words. Your grand rallies, spreading such ideals of equality.”
“And you once defended those ideals.” Megatron reminded and with a grunt, moved to stand. His greater form towering over Starscream, the sunset behind him and veiled the seeker’s form in his shadow. Swallowing him in the dark. “I need you at my side. Not under my fist.” He lowers a hand, offers Starscream aid in rising, but the seeker remains still. “We can make it like it was.” Before Megatron tried to force his soldier to bend. Before Earth. Before Skyfire.
“Can we?” He smiles and it’s a wicked thing, all stitched charm and broken spark. “Are you so sure? We’ve been hurting one another for so long.”
Megatron stares too long at the fuel scrubbed mouth, the fracture across a dark faceplate, and knows this cannot continue. He takes a knee before the seeker, startling them both, and brings from his subspace an energon cube. Holding it to Starscream who will likely be feeling the affects of his self-imposed starvation: the wasted energy from their skirmish and the flight.
“I would try.” He vows and the sun continues to set behind him as Starscream takes the offering.
They return to the Victory to lingering voyeurs, trying to seem like they belong there and not trying to see if only Megatron returned. It was apparent in some of their disappointment and the way Skywarp hisses at another seeker trine who began to whisper. Starscream transforms and allows Megatron free, a series of blank stares and open gawking at their state of being. Megatron’s armor clawed and spilled fuel dried down his chestplate. Starscream bent and broken with equally grotesque stains of their fight.
“Thundercracker, Skywarp” He ordered and wondered if the trine could feel Starscream from the distance? Did they know what occured? “Escort Starscream to the medbay.” They nodded and Megatron didn’t have a chance for a parting word with the seeker before Skywarp got hands on his wing-leader. Crackle of light and sound before they vanished. Onlookers deciding amongst themselves what must have happened, gossip and rumor likely already spreading.
“I didn’t think so many of you would be assigned to clean this sector!” He announced, taking in each of their faces. “What a scrubbed ship I will have, won’t I?!” They scattered just as quickly - save for the blue and gray seeker who had been there before. “I want all those present to be assigned to cleaning duty.” He speaks, knowing Soundwave will appear from the shadow as they always do.
“Affirmative.” They agree, standing to Megatron’s right without announcement. “Seekers?”
“Seekers…” He pauses. “Not those two. They were acting as expected. But certainly the rest.” Soundwave leaned in too close, examining their leader with an unusual tilt to their visor. Having known them for so many stellar-cycles Megatron could tell they were deciphering emotion and information. “Were you able to gather any read on Starscream?” He asks, knowing Soundwave was likely waiting to do just that.
“Starscream. Variable.” They repeat an earlier sentiment, though it somehow lacked the same weight of concern. “Thoughts consumed.” They walked closely to Megatron who began the long trek back to the command centre, wanting to return to the normal route of things as quickly as possible. Any divergence might seem … suspicious by those wanting some nefarious reason to spread gossip. This lockdown couldn’t end sooner.
“Consumed by what?” He felt his rumble in the split armor from Starscream’s claws. The chaotic thrashing leaving its mark and certainly he would require repairs, but for now wanted to leave the med bay free to the seeker.
Soundwave remained focused forward, the hint of curiosity in their tone.
“Thoughts consumed, by Megatron.” They answered.
Me: Ah, I want to write a one-shot!
Also me: I started another chapter story, dammit!