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Watch and Burn

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Their next confrontation occurred not a single joor later. It was not ordained by either of their wills, but rather by the hand of Primus.

Why, if Starscream ever got his claws on that so-called force of light and life, he'd extinguish it himself!

After a quick rinse in the wash-racks (followed by several breems spent pacing back and forth in his berth room, fuming, scheming, and strangling the air) Starscream made the drastic mistake of going to visit the doctor about his new blemishes. And who should he run into, hobbling around the medical berth while Knock Out made adjustments to the gears in his knee joint, but his dear Lord and Master, Megatron himself!

Starscream, for his part, tried to look haughty. He had not been the one to initiate that kiss. To delve into their shared past, to dig up what ought to have remained buried.

Megatron, as usual, had no one to blame but himself.

His Master paused, midway through a step.

"Please place your pede flat on the floor, my Liege," said Knock Out, knelt at one side, a scanner sweeping up and down the overstressed leg. "It is necessary to achieve accurate readings, and - oh." He lay optics on Starscream. "Commander. How nice of you to drop in. Wait - is that a dent in your helm?"

Starscream ghosted his claws over the ding. "A parting gift from the red Autobot cur. My senses are not addled." Although, perhaps they had been? He'd let Megatron kiss him, hadn't he?

Megatron, for his part, lowered his foot with glacial slowness. Knock Out returned to the job at hand, waving at Starscream with an eye roll as if to say I'll get to you later.

Starscream supposed the good doctor had seen him in far worse condition. Mostly due to Megatron.

He folded his arms, leaning against the door. He could retire to his quarters, but why should he scuttle from Megatron's path? Why should he be sorry?

"Aha!" The scanner pinged. "I believe I have located the source of the problem, my Lord! A burst lubrication unit inside your gears. It will be a simple matter to replace, but I would suggest that you leave off any, um, large leaps for a decacycle after the operation is complete."

Starscream felt a smirk sneak over his faceplates. So, it had been the high-speed jump-landings. He was right!

"I'll comm Breakdown," Knock Out continued. "Have him gather the necessary components from the Nemesis's subspace. Shouldn't take long."

Megatron had yet to give Starscream more than that cursory glance. "I will return soon, then."

He limped over to Starscream and towered above him. Starscream's wings swung down. His bravado, as always, evaporated when he came face to servo with Megatron's clenched fists. "My Liege, I-"

"You're blocking the door."

"Ah! My apologies." He skittered from his Master's path. By the time he raised his helm, Megatron was clumping down the corridor, gait interrupted by a slight hitch whenever his left pede met the floor.

Knock Out unfurled from his kneeling position, dusting himself off. "Well," he said, gesturing Starscream to the berth. "That was awkward."

 

 


 

 

 

The helm-damage was, as he suspected, mostly cosmetic. Knock Out still insisted on shining blinding lights in his eyes, making him perform simple tasks even a sparkling would scoff at, and answer several stupid questions.

'Medical protocol', he insisted. 'Sadism', was Starscream's counter. Especially when Knock Out's questions vacated the realm of professional.

"What's your designation?"

A grit of Starscream's teeth. "You know full well."

Knock Out shot him a wounded look. "Please, Commander. I'm only doing my job. This would be easier on both of us, if you played along."

Usually, Starscream would refuse out of spite - but he didn't want to be stuck in the medbay all cycle. He scowled to one side. "Starscream is my designation, doctor."

"Very well." Knock Out perched in his usual berthside chair. He tapped at the datapad on which he'd been taking notes, crossing his legs. "What is your position?"

"Second-in-command of the Decepticon Army. Air Commander. Winglord of Vos."

"Eesh." Knock Out grimaced. Starscream pounced on it like a turbofox on prey, leaning off the berth, wings snapping perpendicular to his spine as he tried to get a look at Knock Out's pad.

"What? What is it?"

Knock Out had the pad out of his sightline. "That last one's a little outdated. You may be having trouble recalibrating your memory banks..."

"Fool. Once one is named Winglord, one does not lose that title simply because..." His voice trailed away. This war had been too long and too brutal for old losses to hold much meaning. That was the theory, anyway. But Cliffjumper's taunt had still jostled loose bad memories.

"Because Vos burnt," Knock Out filled in. Starscream sniffed, wings flicking.

"Next question."

"Certainly." Knock Out's smile had a worryingly feline curl at the edges. "How would you describe your - ahem - relationship, with Lord Megatron?"

Starscream's jaw dropped. "I - that isn't - you're just hunting for gossip!"

Knock Out feigned offence. "I am checking that your emotional cortex functions! Please, the question."

"You don't give the orders here!"

"Au contraire, dear Air Commander. So long as you aren't cleared for duty..." Knock Out's smirk increased in magnitude. "I'm afraid I have no choice."

Pits. Starscream was never going to get out of here, not unless he danced to Knock Out's tune. "Ugh. Well, Doctor. My relationship with Lord Megatron is like that of any would-be conqueror and his most dutiful servant."

"Wrong answer."

"Our relationship is… mutually respectful?"

Knock Out laughed.

Starscream's claws carved long striations into the medical berth. "Doctor," he growled. "It would befit you to watch your tone."

That pulled the flashy four-wheeler up short; his chortles gurgled to a stop. Starscream couldn't help but suspect that, had Megatron been interrogated in his stead, Knock Out would never have dared snigger in the first place.

"My apologies, Commander. You know me; I get a little carried away. But please - helm wounds can have unpredictable consequences. Knock-on effects, if you will. So, for the record... Let's move away from our Lord and Master. How would you describe your relationship with Soundwave?"

That one, at least, was easy. "Cold."

Knock Out considered his response, then shrugged. "Can't fault that. Alright - should you feel any weakness, vertigo, loss-of-balance, difficulty transforming, hysteria..." He took another look at Starscream. "Hm, maybe not that last one. Still, come and see me for the rest. Wouldn't want your processor sprouting a glitch now, would we?"

Honestly, after the day he'd had, insanity might be welcome. Starscream gingerly slid off the medical berth. "I doubt that will be necessary. I feel fine."

"Famous last words." Knock Out turned to his little tray of instruments, soaking in medical-grade solvent, and began subjecting them to a vigorous polish. "Try not to accrue any more damage in your lesson with Lord Megatron tomorrow. Not that I don't relish your company, but it would be nice to go a few cycles without seeing your face. Take Soundwave, for example! I believe he has only visited my medbay twice, and both times he was an exemplary patient -"

"Yes, yes. Soundwave is perfect. Don't I know it." Starscream shook his repaired helm, wincing at the faint twinge in his neck cabling, and stalked to the door.

 

 


 

 

 

That perfect mech was waiting for him when he returned to his quarters.

He stood so still he might as well have off-lined, blending into the shadows in the alcove around Starscream's door. It was a tactically advantageous position. Starscream didn't see him until he stepped forth to enter, and then there was no way to subtly divert his course and walk on by. He also couldn't enter his quarters without asking the mech to move.

Quite ingenious.

Starscream had never detested a mech so utterly. With Megatron's exception, of course.

"Soundwave," he greeted formally, clasping his servos behind his back. "What brings you to lurk in my doorway?"

Soundwave's visor activated, showing a close-up of Megatron's helm in profile. "Inform Starscream that his teaching services will no longer be required. Confer with him, receive any data regarding his next lesson plan, and report to the flight deck at first light. That will be all, Soundwave."

Starscream's mouth fell open. "I've - I've been fired?"

Soundwave tipped his head to one side. He summoned the log book to his visor. Starscream's name flashed below Megatron's, beside the title Air Commander. Soundwave had even kindly highlighted it in red, in case he'd forgotten how to read.

Starscream's wings bristled. "This will not stand," he told Soundwave. His voice was low and deadly. "Do not presume to usurp me without repercussions..."

The logbook flashed again, more adamantly this time. Starscream shook his head.

"It's not about that!"

His title might not be at stake, but something was. While Megatron's lessons may have resulted daily trips to the medbay, they still signified something. A change from the usual routine.

Not a rewind, back to the way things were (before Skywarp and Thundercracker left, before their ideologies warped into something unrecognisable. Before his first furious, foolish attempt to snuff Megatron's spark was answered with fists (along with every infraction after)).

But... something.

Just a hint, a glimpse of the mech Megatron used to be. The mech who listened to Starscream, rather than beating him down.

And through that glimpse, Starscream saw the mech he used to be too. Not cowering. Not cringing. Giving orders. Standing tall.

A mech worthy of serving at Lord Megatron's side, not beneath him.

The picture only existed in fragments. Starscream knew they could never piece together the shards. But still, he wasn't ready to let go of them. Wasn't ready to let them slip between his claws, not yet; not yet.

Of course, explaining this would take far too many words, and a freak like Soundwave wasn't likely to understand it anyway. Best Starscream take his dissatisfaction to the source.

Soundwave shifted to one side, gesturing to the door. Starscream shook his head. "No need. I have... other business, to attend to."

That clip replayed: Megatron issuing orders in a measured tone that Starscream rarely found himself the recipient of. "Confer with him, receive any data regarding his next lesson plan -"

"Later." Starscream plastered on his smarmiest smile. "Fear not, Soundwave. Await my return. Should our Lord still wish it -" by the time I'm through with him "- I shall tell you the lesson plan gladly."

With a few extra embellishments, or outright fabrications about Proper Flying Practice that would make Megatron stall mid-air. Fragger.

Of course, Soundwave being a flight-shifted model himself, wouldn't be easy to fool. But Starscream could be cunning, when it suited him. He would find a way.

First though, he had a Warlord to yell at.

 

 

 


 

 

 

"My Lord!"

Nothing. The door remained shut.

Starscream glowered at the locking panel, which doubled as a one-way camera. "Master, please. We must converse."

Their current situation had swiftly become embarrassing. He'd stood outside Megatron's rooms for a breem now, feeling like a naughty sparkling who'd been ousted from the schoolroom. Every now and then, a troop of patrolling Eradicons would march by, and Starscream had to pretend to be engrossed in the contents of a datapad, pulled from his subspace. As if he were merely rehearsing what he wished to say to his Master, loitering of his own free will.

Unfortunately, he suspected it was the same squad who'd been stationed to guard this area of the top deck. They'd passed him at least five times.

Still, if they were wise to his ploy, they were smart enough not to mention it. He couldn't enter until granted permission. Starscream's control codes had been removed from this door lock many centuries ago.

"Master," he forced through his clenched teeth. "Far be it from your humble servant to question your judgement, but I hardly think sulking in your quarters is becoming for a -"

"Starscream?"

Megatron's voice. Coming from… behind him?

Scrap.

He hadn't been in his quarters. Which meant he now had a quarter-joor of footage logged on his door-cam, starring Starscream as he alternatively wheedled and threatened him for entrance.

Starscream's shoulders slumped, his wings following them. Could this day possibly get any worse?

He slipped the datapad into his subspace, not quite meeting his Master's eyes. All the curses he'd practised in his head (the accusations, the spark-sizzling fury of the scorned) now evaporated.

"My liege,” he said, voice scratching at the bottom of his register. “Can we... talk?"

Megatron didn't reply. But he clunked up to Starscream - walking easier; must've made that second trip to the medbay - and placed his clawed servo on the door lock.

Starscream had to pancake flat to the frame to give the larger mech room to pass. But the door didn't hiss shut in his face, and he took that as incentive to follow.

What a long time it had been, since Starscream saw the interior of Megatron's cabin. It hadn't changed much. Still simple, borderline minimalist. None of the late Senate's ostentatiousness, no meaningless frippery. It was a visual ode to Megatron's refusal to be corrupted by his power.

Starscream wasn't fooled. He knew better than anyone how far the Mighty Megatron had fallen - even if the old bucket-head refused to admit it.

He slunk over the threshold, lip curling at the subtle alterations that had been introduced in the vorns since the last time he awoke from recharge, draped over Megatron's chest, thick digits tracing a path between his wings. There was a new desk, free of clawmarks. Similar scratches had been buffed out of the doors, the wall. Gone was any hint that they had ever been a them.

Of course, there were other changes - minor things, like the new sheet of malleable berth-metal, faintly dented with the impression of Megatron's wide-load aft. The upgraded light-strips, which kept the cabin at mid-level luminosity, perfect for a miner-build's eyes. But those alterations didn't pertain to Starscream, and thus he paid them little heed.

"Master," he said. "About our lessons."

The Warlord stopped, turned, glared. He stood over Starscream, shadow thick as tar, flowing out into the hall beyond. The door pinged shut, cutting them off from the corridor, and that shadow instead rose above him, a featureless doppelganger cast against the steel, trapping Starscream on all sides.

"Did Soundwave not inform you?" the giant mech rumbled. "You have been relieved of your duties."

Starscream refused to let his fists shake. "I am merely surprised that you saw fit to send Soundwave in your stead, my Lord."

"And I am surprised you think yourself worthy of a dismissal from my own glossa. Truly, Starscream, your arrogance knows no bounds."

Starscream opened his mouth, retort primed and at the ready. Then, reluctantly, swallowed it.

“You always let me live,” he murmured. The truth of the words revealed themselves to him as he spoke them, as if he too were listening to another mech speak. “No matter what I do, no matter the danger I pose to your person. You belittle and you strike me, and I rise up against you, again and again. And yet you never finish it, not completely.”

If Megatron was surprised by the non sequitur, he didn’t show it. “I know the limit of your capabilities. Your futile efforts to snuff my spark amuse me.”

Bull-slag. Starscream could name several occasions where Megatron only escaped by pure chance, where Starscream's claws would’ve closed around the old mech’s throat cabling if only the universe had spun in his favor.

Well. A few occasions. Maybe one or two.

“I don’t believe you,” he said.

“Dear Starscream, it matters little whether or not you believe the world to be flat and the stars to revolve around us. It is round, and we spin around them.”

Spare him the celestial rhetoric. Starscream stepped past Megatron, deeper into the cabin, towards the berth he’d once known better than his own. He let his claws dance along the edge of that pristine desk.

Would Megatron hit him, if he dared scratch an incision, renew his mark?

Possibly. It wasn’t worth the risk.

"Did you only let me live,” he mused, vocals soft as velvet, “because you thought that, if you left it long enough, I'd spread my legs and let you frag me again?"

Success. Megatron looked stumped. His eyes and mouth formed perfect circles.

Starscream pushed the point. "Well? Did you?"

His claws swept the desk. Mapping where Megatron bent him face-forwards and batted apart his thighs. Huffed a warm, moist ex-vent over his aft while he licked up, patient and slow as the tides, into the soaked silk of Starscream's valve.

It was a good memory. A shiver of arousal threaded his tank like rope coiling around his innards, strangling him from within.

Starscream banished it. Couldn’t get distracted.

Megatron must be suffering an internal crisis of his own. His ugly, battle-scarred face flashed through a medley of emotions, before he shook his helm - as if to rattle them loose - and caught Starscream's arm.

“Fool. It was never just about the fragging.”

Starscream flinched, instinctive - but although Megatron held his limb captive, his huge servo made no move to crush. “That’s not what I asked.”

“I did not think you would stoop so low as to fish for compliments.” Megatron drew up, the better to sneer down at Starscream through the metres that separated their heights. “Do you want me to tell you that, on your good days, you are an asset? A halfway competent Air Commander?”

Halfway competent?”

Megatron bypassed the squawk. “That you provide me with an edge against my foes? That, when your processor is not obsessing over ways to bring about my demise–“

“Me? Master, I would never –“

“- You are actually supremely cunning? That I chose you to be my Second Command, not Soundwave, not any other mech in this army, the vast majority of whom are both stronger and more loyal than you? Not because you are beautiful, not because you’re a tolerable lay –“

Tolerable?

“But because, despite everything, I still hold a sliver of respect for you?”

The whole while, he held Starscream’s wrist, claws linked around the thin limb and the missile. The gesture was deceptively delicate; Starscream didn’t dare yank away.

He could hardly believe his audials. Had Megatron truly said all that – spilled it into the open, bared to the world?

“Because,” Megatron finished, “I still believe that somewhere within you, there is a capacity for greatness?”

Big words, from a freedom-fighter turned tyrant.

Starscream clenched his captive fist. “Yes, well. How I wish I could say the same for you.”

Mistake. He regretted the words as soon as they left him. He'd pushed too far, like he always did; digging his claws into any vulnerability shown. And, like always, there would be consequences.

Megatron’s expression changed. It didn’t warp around a snarl, his lipplates cracking open to reveal serrated teeth. It settled. Like a river solidifying into ice, stiffening into something colder, unfeeling.

Then he squeezed.

Starscream gasped. His arm plates buckled, the steel crushing the tender protomesh beneath. His missile warped – luckily, Megatron had not seen fit to grab it by the explosive tip.

Megatron’s other fist swung up high above him. Ready to come flying down.

This was where Starscream cringed. They had it all planned out, the two of them. Scripted, choreographed, rehearsed: down to the last shiver and mewl.

Starscream pushed, Megatron snapped. Starscream pleaded, Megatron caved.

Not today.

Today, Starscream did not cower. He did not cry. He held his wings up, brittle and stiff, and he waited.

Come on, he thought; screamed it in the cavern of his mind. Come on, already, you rustbucket, you Quintesson-spawn, you ignorant giant galoot. Hit me.

No taunts. No tears. It meant he had clear vision, the better to see Megatron surrender.

The Warlord's sigh was all that struck him: a hot burst of air that swelled and receded over Starscream’s plates. His fist dropped from its zenith. He released Starscream, leaving the prints of his claws stamped into his missile and arm.

Starscream had to concentrate, so as not to click the trigger and send the wonky projectile flying. He might be able to pass it off as an accident – even as Megatron’s own fault – but he’d be as likely to offline himself as his Master.

“I loved you, once,” he heard himself say.

Megatron still stood close enough for Starscream to feel his warmth. “I know.”

Starscream couldn’t look at him. “You ruined it.”

“I know.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

Megatron considered. His vents were slow, steady, his posture as collected as Starscream was overtensed and shaking.

“No,” he said, eventually. “But you are not ready to hear me say it.”

Starscream scrunched his optics shut. His swallow hurt him, throat cables bulging thickly around all the words he wouldn’t permit himself to release.

When he spoke, it came out stiff and stilted: “Permission to be dismissed, Master?”

Megatron retreated. A single step, that was all, but he might as well have crossed lightyears. He tapped the locking panel, up above Starscream’s head, and the vast door rushed open as if eager to have him gone.

Starscream empathised. If he left any faster, he’d have been running – but Megatron's call of his name drew him up short. "Starscream?"

“Yes, Master?”

“You will inform Soundwave of tomorrow’s lesson plan.”

Starscream’s wings drooped. He should’ve expected as much, after this humiliating display. “Yes, Master.”

“Ask for his input, attend to his words. Make necessary adjustments.” Megatron faced away, claws interlaced behind his back. A small scuff of paint from Starscream’s missile had transferred, marring his grey hand with red. It looked rather like organic blood. “Then meet me on the flight deck at first light.”

The door hissed shut in Starscream’s gobsmacked face.

“Yes, Master,” he managed.

Then, spark hammering, processor whirling, he turned, ignoring the lollygagging vehicon patrol, and pattered towards the medbay. He had no idea how he was going to pass off the handprint in his arm as an accidental injury, and by this point, he was too tired to try.

 

 


 

 

 

Next morning, he onlined his optics to the glimmer of sun through his cabin’s outwards-facing portal window (a necessity for any Seeker).

Wait. Scrap.

Megatron said first-light.

Fraggit! He hadn’t calibrated his internal chronometer the night before. In fact, he’d been so droopy that even Knock Out had taken pity on him, hammering out the dings in his arm and fitting him with a new missile with nary a word.

The look in the medic's optics was almost too soft. Almost like he felt sorry for him.

Ridiculous. Whatever scenario Knock Out’s overactive processor might have strung together was a figment of his imagination. Starscream neither wanted nor required the medic’s pity.

He might though, if he was any later to his and Megatron's rendezvous.

No time for a shower – luckily, he wasn’t yet dusty enough to require one. He would definitely be hitting the racks when he got back however, if this lesson went according to plan. The atmosphere of this planet was fetid, choked with muck and particulates. Even their fuel was made of organics - long dead, which made the practice of burning their fossilised remains all the more disturbing. 

Starscream shambled upright, forcing his processor out of its nightly defrag-state. He felt woozier than he’d like, so he recalibrated, one hand on his berth to steady himself, and strutted for the door only once the room had stopped spinning.

Hm. Knock Out had said something about the potential dangers of helm injuries, hadn’t he? Well, Starscream had paid him enough visits, as of late. If his processor was sprouting a glitch, it could at least have the decency not to render him unresponsive until after he’d finished with Megatron.

It was as he hurried to the lifts that Starscream realised he was looking forwards to this. A flight, with no real mission attached to it, except to keep his Master in the air.

He just prayed Megatron didn't use this opportunity for more talking.

His Master awaited him on the top deck. Starscream expected a snap of his designation, a snide comment about tardiness, possibly even a backhand. It didn't come. The only tension in the air came from his own relays, which hummed with panicky charge as he tiptoed up behind Megatron, painfully aware of the sharp, staccato clinks of his pedes.

"Master, my apologies -"

"Are you ready, Starscream?"

"I, uh. Yes?"

"Then by all means." Megatron spread his claws towards the horizon, as if he were pulling it towards them: the sun's disc still tinged dawn-red where it kissed the horizon, luminous as a Decepticon's eye. "After you."

Unprecedented. Starscream blinked. “I – you want me to… Lead our flight?”

His pitch edged up an octave with incredulity. Megatron raised a brow. "Surely that is orthodox, as teacher?"

"Well, yes, but -"

"Did you not wish to?"

“What? I - of course, I – I mean, thank you, Master. For this… privilege.

Megatron snorted.  “A privilege that shall be rescinded if you waste any more time grovelling.”

Starscream hopped out of his bow, post-haste. Such a rare opportunity was not to be wasted. 

“Very well, Master," he said, taking a pace to the rear. "Follow me.”

He sprung into a neat transformation, and heard the clumsier clanks as his student emulated. Megatron's thruster boomed: a healthy, thunderous roar that made thoughts of a certain blue-painted trinemate flicker at the front of Starscream's processor.

Unwanted, unneeded. He cast them away.

He angled back, banking and decelerating until he and Megatron flew side by side. "Where did you wish to go?"

A tinge of amusement colored Megatron's voice. "As I said, Starscream. After you."

He was allowed to select their destination, too? Part of Starscream flipped in joy, spark turning excited loop-the-loops in his chest.

A larger part was terrified.

Clearly, this was a ploy. What did Megatron want? Yesterday's conversation commandeered the bulk of Starscream's short-term memory reserves (understandable, although Starscream wished his processor hadn't lingered quite so long on the buff-work on the Warlord's shapely thighs). Whatever the old mech's motive, Starscream wasn't sure he wished to find out.

Megatron must've realized that Starscream had no intention of returning to his berth any time soon. And yet, he was maintained this farce of tolerance! Did he think Starscream so easily fooled? So stupid that he would fall for a deception - for what else could any hint of remorse from the Slagmaker be?

Starscream did his best to clamp down on such pointless pontification. He didn't know the answers, and ruminating on them wouldn't get him any closer to them. This was a chance to fly free, to demonstrate to his Master the true meaning of being airborne, nothing beneath you but open, empty sky! Starscream intended to make the most of it.

"West," he said, eventually. "Out over the oceans. If - if that pleases my Lord, of course."

"I look forwards to it." Megatron carefully diverted a little power from his thruster, letting Starscream take point. He even managed not to stall himself. Starscream was grudgingly impressed. "I find that this world, puny though it may be, looks markedly better from the air."

"Everything looks better from the air."

"I would disagree. Some things were made to be appreciated up close."

"Only other fliers," said Starscream, dismissive. "And they can join you as you dominate the skies."

"Indeed," said Megatron. He lagged a little further to Starscream's rear. "They can."

Starscream entertained the notion that Megatron was hanging back to put his fusion cannon to use, to melt his thrusters and send him into a death spiral, down-down-down to meet the sea. Yet there was no burn, no agony coursing through him, no warning pop-ups cluttering his HUD.

Just... one warning pop-up. Starscream frowned at it.

That shouldn't be there. Something about faulty balance calibration?

Curse that Cliffjumper. Still, whatever fault had been boxed into Starscream's processor, it didn't seem in any imminent danger of knocking him out the air.

"We might as well discuss your in-flight displays en route," he told Megatron, banishing the pop-up to worry about later. "Let's start with the altimeter, and work down from there."

 

 


 

 

 

The flight went well. Which was to say, neither of them crashed, conversation subjects remained within the professional margins of flight teacher and student, and Megatron hadn’t made a single threat against Starscream’s continued function.

The sea glittered. The shallow waters were often ill with oil and bobbing islands of plastic, but this far from the fleshies’ so-called civilisation, Starscream could almost appreciate the view.

Not a single hint of human life. Far beneath the surface, his sensors picked up on something mobile: an Earthling creature larger than he was, possibly even of a size with Megatron. It cruised along, untroubled, swallowing vast mouthfuls of water at a time.

It ignored them. Starscream returned the courtesy.

He sunk down, close to the rolling waves. Then, carefully, dipped a wing.

It cut through the water, parting it in a sparkling valley. Spray fanned his nosecone. It was saline; long immersion would lead to rust damage. But a few little splashes couldn’t hurt.

Megatron seemed to agree. He emulated Starscream - a little slower, a little clumsier, yet no less confident for it. The reflections of the water glanced off the chassis of his Cybertronian jet-form, imbuing the grey metal with light. He carefully rolled, dipping the other wing in turn, scything a new channel in the sea.

No words passed between them. Given their track record, as of late, that was for the best.

Starscream couldn’t smile in his alt-mode, yet a lightness buoyed up inside him, nevertheless.

They flew on, executing simple manouevers. Starscream yawed, trusting Megatron to follow. Nothing too fancy: that damaged balance-gyro report flashed up every now and then, and if he upset Megatron’s tanks by guiding him through too many barrel rolls, he didn’t want to deal with the fall-out.

He only realised how much time had passed when Soundwave’s name flashed up on his HUD. No message attached – not that Starscream expected one. But the TIC's purpose was clear.

A snort from behind him. “It seems,” said Megatron, breaking the silence at long last, “that our Intelligence Officer is checking up on us.”

Starscream tried not to care too much about Megatron’s wording. Our Intelligence Officer, not Mine.

“Should we turn back, Master?”

He thought he did a decent job at keeping the disappointment in his voice at bay. The sun was clambering up to its peak, and the ocean spread to infinity on all sides. Though it glittered on the surface, reflecting the light of Earth's single, puny star, Starscream sensed the black fathoms beneath. It was as close to space as he had ever found on a terrestrial planet: empty, haunting, beautiful. He liked to think he might fly over it forever, and never see another organic again.

Megatron’s engines rumbled. “In a joor,” he decided. “Soundwave can wait.”