Chapter 1: Who Will Bribe The Medics
I wrote an 'arranged marriage' one-shot a few months back in my drabble series and a few commenters suggested using the trope for a multi-chapter length fic, so here it is!
Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.
Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace,
Yet grace must still look so.
The word of a seeker didn't mean much to Megatron. Whether they were a Winglord of the Citadel or a piece of shareware from a Cloud District brothel, he didn't trust such a self-involved overprivileged populace. However he felt about them personally though, he needed air support. He needed fliers with skill. There was only so much shuttles could do for him in battle, and he had few of them as it was.
But seekers were foreign complicated creatures, and luring them to his cause had proved harder than anticipated.
Thankfully, after the bombing of the Crystal Gardens it seemed Vos was finally ready to pick a side, choosing fear over loyalty, and Megatron was more than ready to receive what they came to offer.
It was the Winglord himself who sat across from him, a mech painted gold and royal red, pretentiously adorned with a dozen markings of honour along the edges of his broad aged wings. They were painted, Megatron's keen gaze noticed, not branded. Megatron had heard how sensitive their plating could be...
He'd briefly considered holding the Winglord hostage when the delicate, ignorant seeker arrived at the gates to his fortress with just a handful of guards, as if his rank alone would protect him. He was only a figure head though, just the face of the mysterious Vosian Council who held the true power. He was too expendable and too useless to work as a decent hostage, and killing him wasn't worth the bother of waiting for the Vosian's to send a second negotiator.
Regardless, Megatron didn't need a hostage to bend the city to his will. His Decepticons had them outnumbered three-to-one. The only reason he hadn't laid siege to Vos and blown the city half to Pit was because he had no desire to alienate soldiers he could potentially use.
And he needed those seekers.
He had no plans on letting the Vosians know just how much. He sat back, sure and at ease, waiting to see what the old seeker would offer him to keep his city standing.
"The Crown Prince." The Winglord said.
"He is more than welcome to the position of Air Commander." Megatron nodded. "I will need someone to lead your seekers."
The Winglord shook his head. "You misunderstand. He will be your Air Commander for a time, but we require a position more secure than a rank that can given and taken as easily as on a whim. You will conjunx him. He will bear your heirs, and only then will you have access to our Air Force. As soon as the heirs reach majority they will take their creator's place as Air Commanders, and you will be free to keep the Prince for... whatever purpose you might have for him."
The Winglord paused before continuing. "Outside leading, of course. He wasn't built for that."
Megatron didn't like the implication that anyone was 'built' with a specific purpose in mind. He tapped his digit against the table, shaking his head. "I have little need for a Conjunx or heirs. They'll serve as little else but distractions."
"A welcome distraction, you'll soon find." The Winglord smirked unpleasantly. "The Prince is an attractive mech, Megatron of Tarn. Still sealed."
Megatron wanted to roll his optics, imagining some meek, low-winged mechling blushing under his gaze. "And If I refuse to take him?"
"Then I would have to reconvene with the council." The Winglord began to stand. "And hope they don't take offence at you spurning our prince."
Megatron couldn't imagine any alternative requests would be so generous. He could destroy the city, or he could learn to tolerate a seeker for a few years. He knew which was the better political move.
He stood, holding a hand out to stop the Winglord. "There's no need. I accept."
The Winglord stopped, his slippery smile slowly stretching across his mouth. He dipped his head. "Excellent. I'll send word ahead and have him sent over as soon as possible."
Megatron hummed, no quite so eager. "His name?"
The Winglord paused just before the doorway, surprised that he would care. "...Starscream."
"And he wants this?" Megatron asked, wondering.
The Winglord didn't answer immediately. "...I'm sure he'll be ecstatic when he hears the news."
Starscream wasn't ignorant enough of the plots occurring in his own home to be surprised when the Royal Chancellor appeared in his private quarters with the biggest smirk and half a dozen palace guards to happily inform him he'd been traded off to the Decepticon brute, Megatron of Tarn, in exchange for them all keeping their miserable lives.
"Did you tell him I was sealed?" Starscream mocked as he checked his claws for dirt, sprawled across his chaise lounge. "He'll be disappointed, won't he Skywarp?"
The trine-mate smirked from the berth, but there was a spark of worry in the optics flicking between the chancellor and all the guards he'd brought.
For good reason. The smile slipped off the Royal Chancellor's face.
"For your sake that had better be a joke in poor taste. Your new conjunx isn't going to want someone's sloppy seconds. If he finds you unsatisfactory, he'll send you back to us with a declaration of war. That's if you're lucky, and he doesn't decide to keep you for other means."
Starscream wasn't impressed by the threats. He rolled his optics, but Skywarp began to fidget.
"You'll report to the palace medic," the Chancellor continued when he didn't answer, clicking his digits and sending the guards forward to surround Starscream. "And he can replace whatever he might find missing."
With as much attitude as he could muster, Starscream rolled off the chaise lounge and onto his pedes. Skywarp dutifully followed after him.
"What's the point of me having another seal put in just so some brutish warlord can tear through it?" He shouted as he passed the pompous politician.
"Curb your attitude, Starscream." The Chancellor called after him, watching him and Skywarp turn into the corridor, shouldering the guards that tried to escort them out of their way. "Or I'll instruct the medic to tighten your callipers too."
Starscream snorted. It would take more than the threat of 'mechanical alterations' to scare him.
The medic, an ageing seeker called Overdose, wasn't any friend of Starscream's, but there wasn't a mech in the palace that wasn't susceptible to bribery. Starscream dutifully consented to the examination, and when Overdose slipped his gnarled digits into him, and frowned in judgemental disgust at what he found, or rather, what he didn't find, Skywarp stepped forward with a healthy handful of shanix.
"He's sealed." Skywarp said pointedly,
Overdose removed his digits, looking between the shanix and Starscream with an arched brow, thinking he was being clever. "I'm not sure if he is."
Starscream rolled his optics, shutting his panel as he sat up. "Just pay him what he wants."
Skywarp begrudging started counting more into the medic's hands. "This is for your discretion too." He added, slapping the last shanix down. "I hear any rumours about the 'Slut Prince of Vos' and I'm coming for you."
Overdose veered back, suitably cowed.
Starscream slipped out around him, knowing how little time he would be given to prepare himself.
The guards would wait till nightfall, when they'd think he'd be recharging and too disorientated to kick up too much of a fuss when they dragged him from his berth and hauled him into a transport ship set for Kaon. He wondered if he could escape, and if living life as a common mech would be worth remaining free.
He heard Skywarp catch up, falling into pace alongside him. "Was this a good idea?"
"Paying off Overdose? Of course."
"I meant about me and Thundercracker breaking your seals." Skywarp whispered hastily, glancing aside for eavesdroppers. "What if this Megatron jerk does notice, and gets angry?"
"Not every idiot outside Vos cares so much about an imaginary concept of purity. I doubt a common pit dweller turned warrior will." Starscream explained. "It was better that you did it. It can hurt. And it's not unheard of for some t make it hurt on purpose."
"Is that what he's like? This warlord?" Skywarp asked quietly. "The type who hurts someone on purpose."
"He's a warlord." Starscream ground out. "I can't imagine he has much patience for gentility."
Skywarp nodded, "We need to tell Thundercracker that it's going through."
"I'm sure he already knows. None of those crusty old fools on the council can keep a secret." Starscream glared at some of the stationed guards as he passed them. "But bring him to my quarters tonight. I want the both of you with me."
"Because I'm not letting them ship me off to Kaon alone, obviously." Starscream gave him an impatient look. "Who will bribe the medics for me?"
Skywarp smiled, and knowing his trine would travel with him and start a new life in a war torn pit-hole of a city was more than enough to boost Starscream's wavering confidence. He had never met a Tarnish mech, let alone a pit dweller, let alone a warlord, but surely, one power mad idiot was the same as the next, and Starscream knew how to deal with plenty of those.
Soundwave passed Megatron a message to say Starscream was on his way, and that a formal ceremony was already being arranged by the Vosian Council. If Megatron was to find their prince satisfactory, they would be conjunxed within the week.
Megatron handed the message back, saying nothing. The Vosians certainly didn't waste any time. Courting in Tarn took years, often longer. A callous part of him thought he should be grateful for their speed. The sooner he fulfilled the Councils requirements, the sooner he would have an Air Force to rival that of any in this galaxy, let alone the planet. He had won a lot less with a lot more effort than just putting a newspark in the chamber of a pretty young prince.
"Take him to my quarters when he arrives." Megatron picked up his intel file again, frowning at yesterday's troop losses. "I'll attend to him there."
Soundwave tilted his helm.
"What?" Megatron snapped.
"Vos has strict social inhibitions concerning contact between betrothed pairs before they are conjunxed. The Crown Prince is arriving with an entourage tasked to ensure his virtue remains intact."
Megatron let the intel fall to the desk heavily. "Am I forbidden from speaking to my own intended?! In my own fortress?"
"Forbidden from being in his presence unchaperoned." Soundwave elaborated.
Megatron scowled down at the desk. Cultural inhibitions or not, the Vosians seemed to be taking extreme lengths to prevent him from speaking to this Starscream freely. It was suspicious. It raised flags.
"I want you to keep a close optic on the Vosians." Megatron decided. "Particularly how they speak out of my presence, when they think no one is listening."
"You wish to spy on our guests?"
"I wish to know, without the interference of others, if their Prince is a willing conjunx, or sold prisoner."
Soundwave nodded. "Acknowledged."
Starscream had heard little of Kaon. It wasn't a known vacation hot spot so it held little interest to him. He knew only that it was dark, humid, polluted, overpopulated, and low, in more ways than one. He supposed it wasn't so overpopulated now that it had been conquered and ravaged. There were still dead in the streets. Starscream spotted a dismembered hand in the gutter as they passed into the inner city, and saw the fortress of Kolkular looming over them, high above the dank dwellings of Kaon's outskirts.
Decepticon insignias were painted in energon on the side of the buildings, and bulky low-caste labourers stood on every street corner, armed and angry, and branded with that same purple mark.
Starscream flicked his wings, wondering where Megatron would decide to brand him, and if that's the only way he planned to mark him.
"This sucks." Skywarp muttered behind him. "It's one thing to forbid us from just flying up there and making us walk, but couldn't they have sent a street cleaner through first. There's congealed life-fluid in my thrusters!"
"Quiet, Warp," Thundercracker growled, sticking close to Starscream's left when Skywarp's raised voice attracted the attention of the nearest Decepticon thugs.
The Vosian guards in front of them prevented any trouble, but the Decepticons took a good long look at them as they passed. Starscream heard an appreciative whistle. Skywarp tried to turn around, mouth opening, but Thundercracker grabbed his wing and forced him forwards again. "Just walk."
Kolkular was a fortress built for battle, and as such, had limited entrances. Unlike the Royal Palace Starscream had called home, it didn't have a grand entryway, and there was no greeting procession, just a pair of huge shuttles with mounted arm cannons and bad attitudes. Starscream's Guard Commander stepped out and extended a datapad. One of the shuttles took it, then nodded, slapping a obnoxiously large red button behind him.
A low droning noise began, at which point Starscream realised the door was actually the entrance to the rickety old drill elevator he was clearly expected to ride up in.
"Can't we just fly?" Skywarp complained.
"And get disintegrated by the energy field?" The other shuttle laughed, gesturing up to the huge dome structure above the fortress. "Be our guests."
The elevator arrived and the shuttles stepped aside. The guards watched Starscream step inside, followed by Thundercracker and Skywarp.
"Farewell, your highness." The Guard Commander bid him goodbye, voice dripping with smugness. "Till we return on the eve of your ceremony."
Starscream sneered, and Skywarp slammed the manual door shut behind them. The elevator begin to rise.
"Maybe it'll look better on the inside?" Thundercracker murmured as they juddered higher, surveying the dull grey and rusted patches of the elevator. "Megatron calls himself a 'Lord'. I doubt he'd be satisfied with living somewhere that looks like such a... dump."
"He is Tarnish." Skywarp piped up. "One of the armoury workers I was talking to the other day said he visited, once. Said the miners recharged underground, in the dirt. With the ore worms."
Starscream wished he'd shut up.
"Megatron probably thinks this is homely." Skywarp continued, swiping a digit through rust and rubbing his fingers together. "Do you think we'll be recharging on the floor too, or just a pile of weapons?"
"Skywarp." Thundercracker growled in warning.
Starscream didn't the catch the look Thundercracker flashed him, but it was enough to buy them silence for the rest of the ride up.
When the elevator reached it's destination Starscream was half tempted to tell his trine to take it back down again and go home, but the door opened, granting him access into Kolkular's inner hub. A mech was stood wating for him, masked and visored, with a deadly looking mounted shoulder cannon. He didn't present himself like a Kaonite grunt, so Starscream assumed he must be important.
"Your highness." The mech greeted, vocaliser stuck on a low, droning monotone. He dipped his head to Starscream, without having needed to be told which one them, exactly, was the prince. He extended a large hand, "Soundwave."
Starscream went to take his hand, but Soundwave grasped his forearm instead, pulling him closer and tightening his grip briefly before letting go again. Starscream frowned, realising how much he was going to have to adapt to here if these lower castes couldn't even greet one another properly.
"My trine." He gestured back to Thundercracker and Skywarp, who flanked him closely, understandably overprotective. "They will be staying with me. Indefinitely."
Soundwave seemed to understand what he meant by indefinitely, nodding. "Lord Megatron has provided a room for you."
"And where is he?" Starscream craned his neck to try and see him in the busy inner hub, searching for a mech that might fit the vague description he had of Megatron; large, scarred, grey, and angry looking. Decepticons were milling about everywhere. Some warriors, most looked to be intelligence workers, moving between monitors and each other, passing datapads-
"Absent." Was all Soundwave said, stepping to the side to block Starscream's view of the largest monitor, which was playing footage of what looked like an Autobot facility. Soundwave gestured for them to follow him. "He will return to attend to you before nightfall."
"He can't touch Starscream till the ceremony next week," Skywarp piped up, jumping to conclusions, Starscream tried to elbow him to shut him up. "Ow! I'm just-"
"Lord Megatron is aware of your customs and has agreed to abide by proper Vosian Tradition in regards to the conjunxing." Soundwave's visor glinted over his shoulder. "No action will be taken by him that may threaten the security of this alliance."
Starscream scowled to himself. There went plan A. He'd been at least hoping for a reckless lecherous fool of a mech, one that thought with his spike as well as he did his processor. He might have been able to manipulate circumstances in his own favour that way.
Soundwave was watching him closely as they walked. Starscream made sure to school his features.
"Good." He finally acknowledged.
"You are reluctant?" Soundwave asked.
"Of course not." Starscream ignored the vile taste in his mouth as he lied and smiled. "I am here to do my duty for Vos, of course."
The room wasn't half as bad as Skywarp had prattled on about it being. It was at the very top of Kolkular, sharing the floor with several other rooms, one of which, he suspected, that must have been his intended's. It was unfortunately windowless, and when Skywarp asked, Soundwave had impressed upon how important Starscream's safety was. Windows would have made him too visible, too vulnerable.
The room was as grey as the rest of the fortress. It didn't have much rust, only the odd bit between the wall panels and in the corners, and he'd been given a berth. A bare one. Not a pillow in sight.
Starscream longed for his chaise lounge.
"We should have assassinated the Winglord as soon as we knew what he was planning." Skywarp complained, checking under the berth for intruders, or worse, listening devices.
"Yes, so the Chancellor could have traded Starscream for peace instead?" Thundercracker snarked, circling the room. Given it's size, it didn't take him long.
"Both of them then."
"And then General Whitewing? And his lieutenant?" Thundercracker continued. "And the Foreign Secretary and his entire office and-?"
"Yes!" Skywarp crawled back to his feet. "Everyone. We should have killed everyone."
"Shut up," Starscream snapped, tired of them arguing over decisions long since passed. "We could have assassinated the whole palace and there still would have been someone ready to sell me into Decepticon clutches for their own benefit. And even if somehow there wasn't, and all those usurping politicians were dead, I would be left in charge. And then whose head would have been sliced off when Megatron took the city by force? Mine, that whose!"
"He might not have killed you." Skywarp mumbled.
"No." Starscream agreed. "What do you think he might have done with me if he hadn't killed me? It was death or conjunxing. Those were the only choices I had."
He potentially had had that third option, which was worse than both, but he'd rather not think about that yet.
"If he's cruel-" Thundecracker began.
"Then we kill him." Starscream snapped again, taking a seat on the hard, stiff berth. "After he and I are conjunxed and after I have conceived his heir. No point assassinating a warlord if I can't take his place when he's dead."
Skywarp dropped down next to him, smiling adoringly. "You're so clever-"
Starscream nudged him away when he tried to get closer. "Don't do that. They don't understand trines here."
Skywarp sulkily pulled away, "No one's watching."
Starscream glared around the disgusting little room. "Someone is always watching."
Soundwave came to Megatron with an update on their guests sooner than he would have expected. He dismissed the sentry he had been speaking to to clear the room.
"Starscream; means to kill you." Soundwave reported without hesitation.
Megatron took a seat at the war table, gesturing for Soundwave to join him. Already he could feel a smile pulling at his lips. So much for his fears of conjunxing a meek little bird. The Vosians had seen fit to send him a raptor.
"Good." He poured them both a drink. "Tell me more."
Chapter 2: A Tub, A Hose, And A Warlord
I've been slow to update lately but things should start improving now.
The Warlord didn't visit them that evening. Starscream was torn between thankfulness at the delay and frustration for it. Ignorance, as many said, was bliss, but he liked to be prepared. The more he understood of this Megatron, the better prepared he'd be for spending life at his side.
Megatron's life, that was. Not his own, which he planned on being considerably longer.
It appeared the great warlord was busy with some unexpected trouble. Starscream wondered if his absence meant he had gone to deal with the trouble personally, or had chosen to spend his evening sitting around talking about what should be done with such trouble so he didn't have to deal with it personally. Starscream knew which sort of method the Vosian Council would have chosen. It was interesting to think of how differently things might be done here.
So just as the sky was beginning to darken, and Megatron still hadn't bothered to show his (rumoured ugly) face, some rough looking shuttle came to tell them of the change in plans, barging into Starscream's grey little room without so much as a knock. He gave Starscream and his trine a long look up and down, the sort that made Starscream's armour crawl and Thundercracker's lip curl. There was no lock on the door either, nothing to protect them from their own guards.
"Shouldn't you two be in your own rooms." The shuttle nodded to Thundercracker and Skywarp, pausing in the doorway and giving them suspicious looks, as though they'd been the ones eyeing up his Commander's intended's wings.
Thundercracker squared his shoulders, fists aloft, seemingly forgetting how he'd been unarmed upon apprehension at the Vosian Palace. "We're trined. We're not going anywhere."
"All three of you gonna fit on that berth, eh." The shuttle snorted, glancing in the direction of the sparsely sized metal slab. "That, I'd like to see."
"Yeah I bet you would, creep." Skywarp bounced forwards, equally as unarmed. "Why don't you go find some acid to dunk you head in before I warp you through that forge I saw in the armoury, ey?"
The shuttle's jaw squared, but Starscream doubted Megatron would be happy to hear of any harm befalling his guests (before he could do it himself, that was).
"Fragging seekers." The shuttle muttered, turning and shouldering back out through the door. It closed behind him, and then Thundercracker was moving to push the wobbly table from the centre of the room to barricade the door.
"What are you doing now?" Starscream snarled, wincing at the screech of chair legs against the floor.
"Keeping us safe through the night." Thundercracker scowled, and let the heavy table bang against the door with one last shove.
"Yes," Starscream smiled sarcastically. "I'm sure that table will stop a Tarnish Warlord and his army of thousands."
"You should have been given more protection." Skywarp mumbled, dropping to the berth sideways and taking up most of the room they needed to be sharing.
"What for?" Starscream joined him, kicking his feet up onto Skywarp's chest, wriggling to get comfortable on the inconsiderately hard berth. "What do the council care what happens to me? So long as I have this brute's sparkling they won't have need of me anymore. I wouldn't be surprised if they arranged for little 'accident' for me, then they'd have themselves a Prince who was both Decepticon and Vosian heir."
He glanced aside at Thundercracker. "They could mould him into their perfect little underling. Someone loyal, someone they know they could control. They won't want me about corrupting all their hard work."
"They'd risk hostilities with Megatron, if they killed you."
Starscream snorted. "Only if he cared."
Thundercracker didn't join them on the berth, sitting himself atop the table he was using as a barricade instead. "Then you should make him care."
After a night on an excruciatingly uncomfortable berth what Starscream wanted more than anything was a long, hot shower. Thundercracker and Skywarp moved the table out of the doorway and off they went in search of the nearest wash racks.
With the relative freedom to explore, they found themselves in the East wing of the fortress, where a multitude of repairs were in progress. There was a chill of air coming through a giant hole. As they approached, it looked more like an entire chunk of the uppermost floor had been taken out. Moving towards the edge, Starscream looked down, and saw that the 'chunk' covered several floors down.
It looked like a Titan had gotten into a fist fight with the fortress and won.
"Where are the wash racks?" Skywarp asked one of the construction workers.
The mech shrugged, pointing to the missing section of the building they were looking at. "They used to be there..."
Starscream's mood sunk lower.
"We might as well be living in the badlands," he hissed, twisting away, "In a hut. This place is disgusting and we can't even shower?"
"I'll find you a shower." Thundercracker hurried after him and leant close to his audial to murmur in that infuriatingly soothing voice he used when he thought Starscream was getting upset. He glared at the other construction workers glancing their way as Starscream stormed through the corridor. "But keep your voice down-"
"Why!?" Starscream said. Louder, and louder. "So I don't offend the residents of this fine ruin!? Is this to be our permanent residence? Am I expected to live here?"
Megatron hadn't yet met with the Vosian Prince, but for such a large fortress word travelled quickly. Soldiers had come to him offended, irked that a high caste seeker had presumed to shout orders at them, demanding mocking luxuries like polish and pillows and a cleaning drone and warm solvent -things far from the processors of the accountants working tirelessly to keep his mechs fuelled and the city guarded. What little spare financing they could scrape together was spent on ammunition and propaganda. If the Prince was so offended, perhaps he could donate a sizeable portion of his own wealth to buy pillows.
And if the Prince wasn't careful, one of his more reckless soldiers might be inclined to silence his endless demands themselves.
Megatron was too busy to deal with it himself, hunched over a holographic projection of the minefield the Autobots had planted to block their advance through what remained of Polyhex. He'd already lost two good ground cells to it. He needed those fliers-
"Soundwave," He turned his head and found his lieutenant at his side. "Locate the Vosians and have them returned to quarters before a riot starts. Have mechs you trust guard the door."
Before Soundwave could acknowledge the order they were interrupted by a mild commotion coming up the corridor, a sharp voice demanding someone get out of their way followed by the heavy clattering of armour.
Megatron lifted his head, optics drawn to the glimmer of armour storming past the entrance to his war room. A seeker -silvery white and gleaming against the dark backdrop like a flare of ethereal light- turned as he swept past the door. He was within Megatron's sights for half a second at most, and didn't appear to realise who stood in the room of mechs his ruby optics glanced over. His face was dark and sharp, jaw narrow, features fine. The sort of face designed for stoic portraits, for engraving on planetary currency, not the sort that belonged in the dank halls of Kalkular.
"-said, get out of my way!" He was gone, but Megatron could hear him moving up the corridor. A vocaliser like a grinder filled with steel bolts. Two other darker seekers were rushing after him, one joyfully offering apologies, the other shouldering through those few still standing.
He saw Soundwave watching him out of the corner of his optic.
He re-schooled his features, turning and dropping over the hologram again.
"Go after him." He ordered. "...and see that he's made more comfortable."
Starscream couldn't work out if this Soundwave weirdo was a solider of rank or an errand drone. He seemed unnaturally patient and took Starscream's complaints without a flicker of irritation, but most mechs they passed in the hallways turned tail and fled at the very sight of him. Starscream squinted at his back as they walked, searching for clues, wondering what this mech could do and where he had come from, and why it was his job to find three high maintenance aristocratic seekers a place to bathe.
"Solvent facilities are a luxury." Soundwave told them, and Starscream felt fear trickle down his spinal strut that this mech seemed to truly believe that.
He had had his own private wash racks in the palace, cleaned daily by drones, filled with showers and tubs and an oil bath and more. The tiles had been adorned with gold wings, and the floor heated for maximum comfort.
Soundwave led them through what looked like someone's private quarters into an attaching room that wasn't a wash racks, but a tiled space with one very old copper tub sat in it's centre. There was a hose lying across the floor, a puddle of water growing under it.
Presumably it was what filled the tub in place of working taps.
"What." Skywarp said into the silence.
"This will suffice." Soundwave told them, and turned on his heel. Starscream heard the door to the berthroom close shortly after, but he was too busy staring at the tub to bother watching Soundwave walk out.
Thundercracker was the first to recover. He moved further into the room, peered into the tub, and seemingly finding it suitable, lifted the hose from the floor.
"No." Starscream said before he could speak.
Thundercracker folded his arms, hose dripping where it hung from his hand. "You said you felt dirty."
"Nothing in this room will help rectify that." Starscream hissed, standing his ground.
Thundercracker tossed the hose into the tub and moved to twist the water flow on at the wall. As liquid began to fill the tub, Skywarp came forward to dip his hand in. He grimaced, shaking it dry. "It's clean water, but it's cold."
Starscream stamped his pede, wings folding close. "No."
Skywarp sat on the edge of the tub and dipped his pedes in. Starscream heard the throom of his thrusters igniting, and steam began to rise as the water heated.
"This is primitive." Starscream complained, still not convinced enough. "There's no solvent-"
Thundercracker pulled something out of his subspace. A bottle of cleanser. "Just get in the tub, Starscream."
Starscream sullenly crossed the room and climbed over the edge of the tub, stepping into rapidly warming water. Skywarp swung his legs playfully and Thundercracker flicked the cap off the cleanser and dumped half the bottle in. Starscream wanted to snap at him not to be so wasteful, seeing as that bottle looked like it had to last them the rest of their lives here. The gentle soothing fragrance rose from the water and filled his olfactory. Some of the tension melted away as he sunk deeper into the water. He shut his vents but let his armour fluff, letting the warm water seep into seams and douse his aching joints.
He may be in a foreign city state, sharing a fortress that had no working indoor plumping with a rebel insurrection and the an infamous warlord he had never met but was set to conjunx, but at least he had his trine.
And at least they had remembered to bring cleanser.
He began to settle. Skywarp, having now heated the water to perfection, slipped down from the edge to join Starscream in the water, pulling a foot into his lap and rubbing it with a wash cloth. Thundercracker leant over the edge, swirling a digit in the water. The rising steam fogged the glass of his optics. Starscream sighed and sunk a little lower. Letting the water rise up to his chin and shuttering his optics.
The door in the other room creaked open.
Thundercracker's head shot upright as fast as Skywarp's entire body did, sending water splashing over the sides of the tub and all up Starscream's face.
"Hey, occupied!" Skywarp yelled towards the next room, stepping out of the tub and wringing the wash cloth tight as though he planned on using it as a weapon.
But before he reached the open door, their intruder stepped into it, tall, silver, and imposing, shoulders filling the breadth of the doorway. Skywarp stopped short, realising he and his wash cloth were unlikely to stand much of a chance.
Starscream sat up in the tub, and the shift of moving water drew the large mech's attention away from Skywarp and onto himself. Optics, like coal, smouldered, and a face lined with age and battle, softened from annoyance, to confusion. The mech wore a bold purple insignia in the centre of his chest, and a obscenely large cannon on his arm, as though he expected to be set upon by enemies at any given second.
Though considering how Skywarp had just come at him with his wash cloth he wasn't all that incorrect.
"Soundwave brought you here." The mech finally spoke, accent distinctly low-caste, vocaliser staticky and cheap. It was an observation, rather than a question, but Starscream's trine nodded, stuttering and hasty, clearly wondering if that cannon might be used on them.
Seeing as his trine had dissolved into such cowards at the sight of the weapon and were being useless in clearing the intruder off, Starscream realised he'd have to do everything himself.
He stood with a frustrated noise, armour dripping and rapidly chilling in the cool air. "And you are?!"
The mech's shoulder thunked against the doorframe as he leant into it, arms folded over his broad flat chest. His optics tracked down Starscream's wet frame with deliberately slow pace, lingering on the shimmer of his cockpit and the water droplets speckling his turbines.
"Megatron," he said, when his gaze finally reached Starscream's face. "You must be Starscream."
Skywarp and Thundercracker noticeably shifted at the realisation of whose room this was, so Starscream wasn't going to give this Megatron the satisfaction of a reaction from him too.
He placed his hands on his hips, tilting his head. "Prince Starscream. You'd do well to remember that."
Megatron's expression didn't change, it didn't twist in prideful indignation. Skywarp glanced over his shoulder and made panicked faces at him though, the 'you're going to get us killed!' sort of faces.
Megatron took a step back, movements and expressions slow and calculated. "I have clearly interrupted-"
"Obliviously." Starscream gestured to his state, stood cold and dripping in the middle of his bath. "So if you're quite done leering-"
"I would never presume to leer at a prince." Megatron denied, and he sounded... as though he was joking, "I imagine it comes with quite the penalty."
"Death." Starscream agreed.
"Fortunate that we're here then," Megatron inclined his helm, in a mocking attempt at a bow. "And not in your beautiful sky city."
He disappeared around the doorway with one last smug look. They waited until they heard the door shut again, before Starscream dropped back into the bath with dramatic flourish, sending half of it's contents up the sides and splashing over Thundercracker.
Skywarp turned towards them, optics and smile both equally wide. "I thought he was supposed to be ugly?"
"He was ugly." Starscream mumbled, lips just above the water line.
"Are your optics working?"
Starscream splashed him, and was splashed back in return.
Soundwave disapproved, Megatron could tell.
"I wanted to catch him off his guard."
Soundwave continued to stare in silent judgment. He hadn't brought Starscream to Megatron's quarters so he could be interrupted halfway through a bath, but Megatron wanted to a chance to know him, the real Starscream. He had less than a week before they were due to conjunx and every moment of his days were filled with meetings and councils and plots. He wanted to see more than just glimpses of Starscream's true personality behind whatever fastidious show he was likely to put on in front of an audience.
And Megatron wouldn't normally have walked in on an 'innocent' seeker mid bath. He had manners, after all. But this one was planning to kill him.
"Starscream is young."
Megatron blinked, turning back to consider his disapproving lieutenant, waiting for him to elaborate, armour crawling as he worried another bombshell was about to be dropped. "He's not that young... is he?"
Soundwave shook his helm. "He has reached majority, but he is young, inexperienced, in a strange place with strange mechs."
"About time the pampered prince had a wake up call then." Megatron growled, studying Soundwave. "You seem to have grown rather fond of him, rather quickly. He is plotting to kill me, you recall?"
Soundwave tilted his head cockily, "Suggestion; don't give him reason to."
Now that Starscream knew whose quarters these were it seemed he couldn't resist the chance to snoop. Bath over, and satisfied with his level of cleanliness, Starscream leapt from the bath, vaulting over the edge and splashing water everywhere.
"Starscream," Thundercracker complained, shaking out a towel to dry him off. "You're soaking. You'll ruin the floor-"
"What floor," Starscream sneered, and continued to roam into the berth room. Skywarp jumped after him, also wet, adding to Thundercracker's stress levels.
Thundercracker followed them into the room. The warlord's berth was a simple slab of metal, no better than theirs had been -likely why they didn't clock that these quarters belonged to him in the first place. Skywarp flopped on top of it, then winced in regret.
"I think this one's worse than ours."
"And now it's soaking." Thundercracker snapped, whipping him with the towel.
There was a scrape as Starscream started opening drawers in the desk.
"Starscream!" He hissed, rushing to the door to keep lookout. "Are you trying to get us executed for espionage?"
"No one would believe a idiot like Skywarp was a spy," Starscream muttered, pulling the next draw out and knocking around inside it. "All he has in here are novels!"
"You check there aren't booby traps?" Skywarp asked him, helm hanging upside-down off the side of the berth. "Remember when you went snooping in the Winglord's desk and he'd put a paint bomb in there?"
Starscream made an unhappy noise, but continued anyway.
"Yeah, except this Megatron guy doesn't seem the type to mess around." Skywarp continued, rolling back into his front and propping his chin up in his hands. "He's not gonna rig his desk with a harmless little paint bomb."
"I heard the Decepticons were making great strives in chemical warfare." Thundercracker said from the door, glaring. "Let's hope the next drawer you open isn't filled with Cosmic Rust."
Starscream paused and glared at them both, but the effect was somewhat ruined by the water still dripping down his armour. He lifted a hand to wipe away a drop from the end of his nose. "You really think the grunts that live here without indoor plumbing are prepared enough to set booby traps?"
"No, we're saying Megatron is." Skywarp smiled.
Starscream left the desk, but not before kicking a leg angrily. "Fine." He huffed. "Give me the towel. We're going back to our room, where it's 'safe'."
"Don't you wanna test out the berth?" Skywarp bounced lightly on it as Thundercracker handed over the towel.
Starscream flung it over his wings. "No."
"I mean you're gonna be spending a lot of time on it, right?" Skywarp swung his legs off and stood to join them. "Or is it your berth he comes to?"
"Do we have to talk about this?" Thundercracker asked grumpily, rubbing Starscream's wings with the towel.
"I just want us to be prepared-" Skywarp began.
"This isn't an 'us' situation though, is it?" Starscream interrupted, shrugging Thundercracker off. "Neither of you are conjunxing the psychopath."
"I know." Skywarp gripped his shoulder tightly, suddenly serious. "We know. And you know that the second you ask me, I'll-" he snapped his digits. "-Warp us the pit out of here and to some spaceport off planet. Or further, if you want."
"A romantic sentiment," Starscream rolled his optics. "But an impossible one. We'd have no friends, no home, no place to get fuel."
"I'll find a job." Skywarp smiled. He nudged Thundercracker.
"...Ditto." Thundercracker agreed after a slight delay. "We would make it work, if you did want to leave."
"Leaving is the cowards way out." Starscream swung the towel from his wings and wrapped it around his trim waist. "This is simply... an opportunity."
"Only if things go the way you want." Thundercracker mumbled, following.
Chapter 3: Kaonite Summer
Kaon had a warmer climate than Vos, and it had little to do with the weather.
Heat rose from the thousands of mines and furnaces and mechs below the surface, and in such a cramped, overpopulated city, it was easily trapped. The air lingered, thick and heavy and sticky. Even the great fortress of Kolkular couldn't reach high enough into the sky to escape it.
Starscream was neither used to nor designed for the heat. He was built compactly and well insulated to endure the below freezing temperatures of the upper atmosphere and the high winds that came with it. As such, Seekers had limited options for keeping themselves cool. For Starscream, opening his vents and spreading his limbs to maximise heat loss and letting his turbines spin languidly to drag a breeze across his chest could only do so much.
It was unbearable.
He rose from the berth. Wings free, they lifted and stretched out backwards to fan softly. "I've visited stars cooler than this."
Lying face down on the marginally cooler decking, Skywarp flicked his wings in agreement.
"Staying in this stuffy room isn't doing us any favours." Thundercracker said.
Starscream glared at him.
Thundercracker wasn't being 'quite so dramatic' about the heat. His words. He was leaning across the desk with his optics offline, fanning himself with a datapad. He looked majestically flushed and composed anyway. Starscream wanted to push him into one of the forges down below.
"Mmmphhh," Skywarp said from the floor, still face down.
"He said, it's too hot to move." Starscream answered. He'd actually had no idea what Skywarp had been trying to say, but it was his opinion on the matter anyway.
Skywarp managed to turn his head to the side, "No, I said, good idea."
Starscream's mood sunk further. He had no plans to wander about the fortress in such a stuffy, overheated state. What if they came across Megatron again? And he saw him like this? Armour fluffed and turbines spinning?
"Fine. Go without me."
"C'mon," Thundercracker hopped off the desk, tossing the datapad away. "There's gotta be some coolant around here somewhere."
"Bring some back for me."
"We're not leaving you here alone." Thundercracker folded his arms across his chest, wings waving behind him to act as a fan. "Not in a room that doesn't lock."
Starscream resented the implication that he wouldn't be able to handle himself without his trine, but with his recent stroke of luck, it was probably best not to risk anything. The looks, dirty and appreciative alike, had been plentiful yesterday when they'd explored the fortress.
He followed Thundercracker and Skywarp out of the room, just to save himself an argument with them that would do little but make him even more flustered and hot.
Stepping into the hallway felt like being blasted in the face with someone else's thrusters. He groaned and stepped behind Skywarp to catch the breeze from his wings. Skywarp felt him move close and nudged him away with his shoulder, hissing resentfully at the huff of warm air expelled across his back from Starscream's own vents.
"I'm hot!" Starscream snapped.
"So am I!" Skywarp growled back, slapping Starscream away again. "Stop breathing on me!"
Thundercracker was wise enough to keep a distance from them. Walking fast wouldn't do anything to help him keep cool, but neither would getting into a slap fight with his trine-mates.
Starscream knew he and Skywarp pushing and shoving and trying to trip one another up was attracting more attention than Thundercracker would have liked as they moved through the dark corridors, looking for staircases and elevators to ride down to find the dinning hall, but he was frustrated and uncomfortable and it was all coming out of him in a petty need to make someone else just as miserable as he was.
"Cut it out!" Thundercracker finally snapped and turned on them halfway down the stairs, after Skywarp had turned to shove Starscream only to be shoved himself first. His arms pinwheeled for balance, and if Thundercracker hadn't been behind to catch him, he might have rolled down six floors worth of stairs.
Starscream didn't like Thundercracker's tone. It sounded too much like a frustrated parent. "He started-"
"I don't care who started it." Thundercracker growled over the beginnings of Skywarp's protest, nudging him down the steps to split him and Starscream up. "You're not the only one who is hot and miserable here, Starscream!"
Starscream opened his mouth to argue back that he was the only one that was being forced into lifelong imprisonment as Warlord's conjunx though, when he heard shifting armour on the stairs below.
All three of them stopped and stepped sideways to lean over the railing.
The stoic visor of Soundwave stared back at them from a floor below.
"No," Thundercracker immediately tried to brush him off. "We were just-"
"Dying of heat stroke!" Starscream leant further over the railing to snap over Thundercracker polite reassurances. "Is this how the great Decepticon fraction treats their guests? Royalty no less? Letting us boil in our own armour? Has anyone in this city ever even heard of an air conditioner?"
"Starscream," Thundercracker growled quietly.
Starscream thrust a hand in his face and continued. "Not to mention proper ventilation. I haven't seen a window in days, let alone breathed fresh air! This whole place stinks of exhaust!"
Soundwave stared back silently. Thundercracker and Skywarp shifted uncomfortably.
"Further complaints?" Soundwave finally asked.
Starscream straightened back up appropriately, recollecting his regal dignity. "...Not right now."
Because he was sure there would be later.
"Good." Soundwave dipped him helm. "Follow me."
Soundwave began down the steps he had just climbed. After a moments hesitation, Starscream shouldered past his trine and began following.
"Nice one, Screamer." Skywarp muttered, "He's probably leading us to the torture chambers."
"Negative." Said Soundwave, apparently still in hearing distance. Skywarp paled considerably and didn't speak again, falling back to walk with Thundercracker and keep his distance.
Soundwave didn't lead them to the torture chambers, but to the 'Mess Hall'. It appeared there was only one place to get fuel in the fortress, and it was of a communal self-serve variety.
Soundwave stood to one side of the door, extending an arm in invitation. Starscream could hear the ruckus before he'd even reached the doorway, and from the jeering and noise coming from within, he didn't have particularly high hopes.
He poked a head around and was greeted with exactly what he had expected. A scattering of mismatched metal tables and chairs, all of which strained with energon. Sat at them were dozens of huge, boisterous mechs sitting shoulder-to-shoulder as they clacked cubes in toasts and told raunchy jokes and displayed a distinct lack of table manners.
There was a bang and sudden surge of jeers when a fight broke out towards the back of the mess. Tables scraped across the floor as others rushed in to either break it up and join in.
Starscream stepped out of view, tank knotting.
"Excuse me." Soundwave said, stepped into the mess, off to deal with the fight. The excited jeering was quickly joined by panicked yelps and scrambling footsteps.
"So are we getting coolant or not?" Skywarp asked, passing Starscream and looking into the Mess himself. His face brightened. "Cool!"
Starscream grabbed his wing before he could rush in and get himself crushed. "We're not going in there! It's disgusting."
"It's like something out of the gladiator pits!"
Starscream pulled a face. If they'd been going into a gladiator pit, at least they would have been armed.
"We'll get the coolant. You stay out here." Thundercracker decided, taking a look for himself. "Soundwave's breaking things up anyway, and we won't be long-"
Starscream tutted, "I think I can be left unsupervised for five minutes, Thundercracker."
Thundercracker didn't have a polite response to that it seemed, because he followed Skywarp into the mess without a word. Starscream peaked around the doorway to watch them struggle to find a safe route to the dispensers at the other end of the hall. They'd be lucky not to be taken out by a flying table.
Starscream leant back against the wall and fanned himself lightly with his hand, glancing up and down the plain humid corridor. Did nowhere in this fortress have a window? A balcony? Anything?
Down the end of the corridor there was a scrape of metal as an old elevator arrived on the floor. Starscream straightened up and brought his wings forward to make himself appear broad and imposing.
The elevator opened and a pair of familiar shoulders turned to get through the narrow doorway. Starscream's spark pulse sped up. Megatron.
The warlord took two long strides towards the Mess before spotting him and coming to an abrupt stop, genuine surprise flickering across his face. Starscream stood even straighter, sticking his chest out and lifting his nose high. His turbines span faster when a flush overcame him. He folded his arms across his chest to hide them.
"I was told there was a fight." Megatron continued his approach at a slower pace now. Cautious and calculating. "I should have known you would be behind it."
Warmth from further embarrassment did nothing to help Starscream's over-heated disposition. He was sure his cheeks were purple. He thrust a defensive arm towards the mess. "That had nothing to do with me!"
Megatron lifted a pacifying hand, smirk small and well hidden, "Do you have jokes in Vos?"
"No!" Starscream snapped before thinking, then felt his cheeks glow. He turned his face to the side, hoping Megatron wouldn't look too closely. "Our jokes are funny." He amended.
Megatron grunted, though it may have been a noise of amusement. "If you're looking for fuel, you might be more successful inside."
"My trine are collecting coolant for me." Starscream sniffed.
"Your trine are your servants?" Megatron looked interested.
Starscream rolled his optics. "My trine are my trine."
Megatron peered in through the doorway, towards the brawl that was continuing in earnest. He didn't seem too concerned over it, or the destruction of his property as it raged on. "It seems they might be a while."
"Because your mechs are trying to kill each other."
"Nothing wrong with letting off a little steam."
Starscream disagreed. Were these his underlings, he would have whipped them into shape. It was disgraceful to think of these thugs as warriors. The Vosian guard Starscream had grown up with would never have behaved in such a manner.
"A refuelling without at least three grievous injuries is considered a slow day." Megatron said casually.
"And you're proud that, aren't you?"
Megatron considered him, and Starscream didn't like the way those dark optics looked through him. They were too thoughtful, too reflective, for a barbaric pit-dweller.
"Most of these warriors were once sworn enemies, killing one another in the fighting pits for whatever drabs of unfiltered fuel they could get. All for the amusement of civilised mechs like yourself. Now? Now they have a purpose. They're fighting for something."
"It looks to me like they're still fighting each other for fuel."
"Old habits are hard to break." Megatron shrugged, looking back towards the ongoing fight. "As is evidenced in yourself."
Starscream decided to pretend not to know what he meant. He huffed.
Megatron shifted closer, and the air stirred besides Starscream's left wing. He was suddenly acutely aware of Megatron; of the great mech's engines, his vents, his height.
"You're a long way from home." Megatron spoke again, seemingly apropos of nothing.
Starscream wanted to say a sarcastic 'no kidding', but Megatron continued before he could gather the courage. "So I've taken the liberty of inviting more of your brethren to join you, at least until you are more settled into your duties here."
Starscream blinked at him, a slow dawning sense of dread building in his spark. "My...?"
"From the palace." Megatron elaborated, oblivious to how damming such a move was. "Your advisors. They seemed keen to help you prepare."
The 'Winglord's advisors' was what Megatron meant. The very traitors that had orchestrated his coming here in the first place. His enemies. Perhaps Megatron was a greater manipulator than he had been letting on...
There would be no plots, no schemes, with them around to out manoeuvre him. They'd want the week leading up to the bonding to go as smoothly as possible. They'd ensure everything was just right.
They'd ensure Thundercracker and Skywarp were as far removed from him as possible.
"Wonderful." his mouth twisted upwards at the corners. "How very kind of you."
Although clearly an idiot, Megatron could recognise sarcasm at least. He frowned, as though concerned- but a chair flew across the Mess and hit the doorframe close to them before he could speak. His head turned into the room, gaze darkening.
"One moment-" he gestured for Starscream to stay put, sweeping into the Mess. The shouting of brawlers quickly became squeals.
Starscream waited until he'd disappeared far into the fray before turning and fleeing for the stairs.
Forget waiting for the coolant. He could deal with the heat far better than he could Megatron's company.
Thundercracker and Skywarp found him back in the room some time later, falling through the door panting and wheezing, armour pinging with heat.
They'd assumed the worst when they'd finally fought free of the Mess and found him missing, thinking someone had picked him up and carried him off like some unattended prize. Starscream's dismal mood worsened at the idea that he could have so easily been taken by any idiot roaming the halls.
"Here's your coolant." Thundercracker grumbled, dropping it at the end of the berth. "And we heard the news."
Starscream glanced sideways at him. "From who?"
Starscream sat up with a jolt. "You spoke with him?"
"So did you," Skywarp cut in defensively, "Besides, we didn't know where you were. If someone really had spirited you off, we thought he might have something to say about it. Since you're his conjunx, n' all."
"Intended conjunx." Starscream corrected.
"He said you ran away from him."
"I did not 'run away' from him!" Starscream slammed his fist against the berth. "He left to deal with his thugs and expected me to wait for him. I'm not some underling he can order around."
Skywarp dropped to the floor by the berth. "Not yet anyway."
"So, some of the palace advisors are coming." Thundercracker said to get them back on track. "It's not the end of the world. I don't think we need to worry too much-"
"Don't need to worry?!" Starscream exclaimed. "They sent us here in the first place!"
"But 'here' isn't the palace. It isn't even Vos." Thundercracker pointed out. "They won't have guards to push us around or medics to threaten you with."
"Well they're certainly not coming here to make this any easier for me, Thundercracker!" Starscream growled.
"Megatron wouldn't have invited them to make this harder for you-"
"And how do you know that? They're in cahoots, you know." Starscream pulled a face. "Him and the council."
"I don't think so." Skywarp joined in. "I think Megatron likes you more than he likes them."
"He doesn't know me." Starscream ignored the warm feeling in his tank again.
"He knows what your aft looks like though."
"Warp." Thundercracker snapped.
"Face it. He thinks you're pretty, Screamer," Skywarp continued playfully, ducking the swing made for his head. "He wants you."
"Doesn't everyone." Starscream growled, unmoved.
The Vosian entourage didn't take long to arrive. Kaon was thankfully cooler the next morning at dawn, before the forges were lit and the fumes started pumping out of the ground.
Starscream was up and awaiting their inevitable arrival, half hidden behind one of the monitor screens in the command centre he definitely wasn't supposed to have entry to. It offered the best view of the elevator shaft where the advisors would be coming through. Thundercracker and Skywarp stood waiting to greet them, and would then stall them as Starscream decided how best to deal with whoever had been chosen for the task of ruining the crown prince's already terrible week.
The elevator panel lit up to show it had arrived. The doors opened and Thundercracker and Skywarp stepped back to reveal three seekers Starscream knew well.
Cloud Tread, head of the Vosian Morality Council, and his two snivelling, sycophantic trine-mates; the Assistant Foreign Secretary, and the Royal Palace's Religious Advisor.
Starscream ducked back behind the monitor bank, biting his lip. He should have known. He should have known the council would send them; a prude, snob, and a zealot.
How long are they staying? He sent a private comm to Thundercracker, peaking over the top of the monitor to see them all still speaking. Cloud Tread had an unpleasant sneer on his face. Skywarp was mimicking it behind his back.
As long as necessary, he says, Thundercracker responded regretfully. I think they want to stay after the bonding to enforce the councils wishes.
Starscream swallowed thickly. The 'councils wishes' were that he bore Megatron an heir.
We'll have plenty of time to plan little accidents for the three of them then, Starscream responded, mustering his confidence. That's if I can't implore Megatron to do it for me.
From a distance, he saw Thundercracker's mouth twitch. An almost smile. I wouldn't be surprised. He does think you're 'pretty'.
Starscream's spark fluttered, because he was almost starting to hope that maybe Megatron did.
He couldn't stay hidden for long. Cloud Tread was stubborn, arrogant, and impatient, and hadn't 'come here to be small-talked into deactivation by the Prince's simpleton trine'. Thundercracker had thankfully grabbed Skywarp's wrist before he could raise it to punch Cloud Tread in the back of his boring, unembellished helm.
"You've a lot of nerve calling my trine simpletons." Starscream said by way of greeting, slipping out of the shadows simply to save his trine from the audacity of suffering such basic company. "I'm surprised the three of you even knew where Kaon was."
Cloud Tread responded with little more than a distasteful look. It was what Starscream hated most about him. Most idiots talked themselves into losing arguments and looking stupid, but Cloud Tread wasn't going to 'lower himself to those standards'. It made mocking him wholly unsatisfying. Like insulting a brick wall.
"You're looking better than we expected, your highness." Cloud Tread's golden-brown trine mate, the religious advisor whose name Starscream couldn't actually remember because he didn't care about it, then pipped up. "Kaon suits you more than you realise."
Starscream's optic twitched. "Thank you."
"There's a lot of preparation to do in a short amount of time." Cloud Tread continued, looking Starscream up and down. "This is a union of great importance to the Winglord, and no attempts at you thwarting that will be tolerated, understood?"
Starscream wanted to roll his optics out of the back of his head. "Cloud Tread, you wound me. When have you ever known me to cause trouble?"
Cloud Tread arched a brow. "We'll have to hope Lord Megatron can curb that sass of yours after conjunxing. Though from how successful his war campaign has been, I'm sure he can more than handle the likes of you."
Starscream made a noise of disgust. Over Cloud Tread's shoulder his ugly trine looked smug and conceited.
"We'll be meeting with Lord Megatron this morning, and this afternoon will be spent assessing your living standards. We've heard a concerning rumour that you've been sharing your berth with your trine." Cloud Tread's optics passed over Thundercracker and Skywarp judgmentally.
Starscream heard them shift behind him, clearly on edge at the idea of being separated from him. "It's for my protection to have them close."
"You won't need their protection." Cloud Tread sneered the word like he thought it implied something else. "We'll also be taking you to the medic-"
Oh, not again.
"Why?" Starscream seethed.
"To ensure everything is as it should be." The religious advisor piped up again. "We can't have used goods besmirching the palace's reputation-"
"Used goods?" Skywarp surged forwards angrily. Thundercracker held him back. "He's not your property-!"
"No, but as a conjunx, he's to be Lord Megatron's soon enough."
"Enough Skywarp." Starscream murmured back to him. "The medics at the palace already checked my seals."
"It's far better to be safe than sorry when it comes to you." Cloud Tread continued. "And that won't be the only examination taking place. You're no good to anyone if you can't produce an heir."
Starscream started fantasying about driving a screwdriver into his own gut just to make all the council's hard work for nothing. "Did you bring a medic?"
"I'm sure the one's here will suffice." Cloud Tread nodded, moving to leave. "We will speak more on this later, after we have confirmed our conditions with your betrothed."
Cloud Tread shouldered past, his glistening, fashion-impaired trine following. Thundercracker and Skywarp watched them go, both tense and on high alert.
"We need to bribe the medics before they get to them." Skywarp muttered, "How many are there?"
"A lot." Thundercracker's wings drooped. "It's a big faction. And we don't have all that many credits left."
Starscream folded his arms, doing his best to ignore the growing worry. "...I can offer more than just credits."
Skywarp turned to him slowly, catching on quickly. "...It's not worth it-"
"It's no different than what I'm going to let Megatron do-"
"Starscream, that's nuts!" Thundercracker protested. "The difference is someone finding out! Not having seals is one thing, being caught clanging another Decepticon-!"
"I'll do it." Skywarp jumped in. "I don't mind-"
"I do!" Thundercracker snapped.
"Fine!" Starscream hissed. "It was a stupid suggestion. You two figure it out. Preferably before Cloud Tread has me dragged down to medical and exposed as a slut for all the back-alley medics to see!"
He stormed off, leaving an obviously distressed Thundercracker and Skywarp in his wake.
Chapter 4: Not In This For The Credits
Starscream watched the construction worker install the lock into his door. He knew Cloud Tread only insisted on one being added to better control him, to restrict his freedom, but Starscream appreciated that it could also be used to keep unwanted visitors out. Sadly, it was a high security system, one that unlocked via spark signature, not a pin code. It had so far been programmed to allow only three mechs access.
Himself, Cloud Tread, and... Megatron.
Which meant there'd be no more sleepovers for Thundercracker and Skywarp. Exactly what Cloud Tread had intended.
Still, with a couple of tools and a few hours undisturbed freedom, Starscream was sure he could do a few modifications to the new security system.
Cloud Tread inspected the lock and gave the work a nod of firm satisfaction. "That should keep you out of trouble." He said, like Starscream was some sort of juvenile delinquent prone to staying out past curfew.
"It should keep me safe, you mean." Starscream corrected.
"Yes, of course." Cloud Tread said absently. "That too. Now, you'll be pleased to hear Megatron had his lieutenants move some accommodations around and they were able to find sufficient rooms for your trine."
Starscream wasn't pleased to hear that. He was even less happy at the thought of his 'betrothed' agreeing with the decision to have him removed from his trine, his only support system, just as much as the cruel council did.
He hadn't spoken to them since the Cloud Tread had arrived. He could only hope they'd managed to slip through the clutches of the 'Snob' and the 'Zealot' long enough to solve his medical examination problem. Speaking of which-
"Come along now, you have your exam."
Fear gripped Starscream's spark. "Now? Is your chrono malfunctioning or has age corrupted your memory files? You said this afternoon-"
"I did say that, didn't i?" Cloud Tread looked smug and proud, already striding purposefully up the corridor. "And leaving it so late in the cycle would have given you and your degenerate little trine plenty of time to prepare a deception, wouldn't it?"
Starscream didn't move to follow.
Cloud Tread didn't stop to wait for him, calling over his shoulder, "You can come willingly, or I can request a guard escort from your intended?"
Starscream thought about resisting, of being surrounded then mech-handled down to medical anyway, of being strapped down to the medberth and subjected to whatever examination happened to cross Cloud Tread's sadistic processor.
"There's no need for that." Starscream forced a smile and hurried to fall into place beside him. "Contrary to your beliefs, I've nothing to hide.
Decepticon medics were busy mechs. Granted, they were at war, but their warriors also had a habit of beating one another to scrap over anything from fuel-rations to 'dirty looks'. The medical floor of the fortress was packed.
Cloud Tread obnoxiously shoved through the crowded halls filled with maimed Decepticons, looking for a suitable medic. Starscream kept his wings low as he was forced to follow him through the path of waiting patients who didn't appear to appreciate them cutting in line ahead of them.
Starscream was so busy keeping his limbs attached and his frame unmolested from the hulking crowd of leering warriors that he hadn't noticed Cloud Tread find his 'suitable' medic until a hand shot out and grabbed the edge of his wing to pull him in. The sensitive edge.
Starscream hissed and swiped at him, much to Cloud Tread's disgust.
"More like a feral glitch-tiger than a Vosian Prince," he glared, giving him a brief shake before releasing and turning back to the medic. "You may need to check him for corrupt coding as well."
Starscream could see why Cloud Tread had chosen this medic. He was young, handsome, and well kept. A stark juxtaposition to the other Decepticons and medics filling the corridor. His glossy red paint shimmered in the dim lighting, and his face was angular and smooth. The sort of face Starscream once wouldn't have minded looking at, had his circumstances not been so drastically changed. The mech may have even been high-caste.
"I had heard there were Vosians in the fortress." The medic spoke, a smirk spreading across his face. His voice was smooth and honeyed, but the accent threw Starscream. It wasn't high-caste. It wasn't even Cybertronian. A colony mech, perhaps.
"Lord Megatron's soon to be conjunx, Prince Starscream." Cloud Tread elaborated hauntingly. "You will see to us immediately."
The medic arched a brow at the demand, but stepped into his examination room to allow them entrance. He even dipped his head in deference. "Your highness."
Begrudgingly, Starscream stepped inside.
Cloud Tread made to follow, but a red arm shot out and blocked him.
"Doctor-patient confidentially." The medic smiled.
Cloud Tread's normally stoic face did a series of interesting manoeuvres. "I cannot allow the prince to be unchaperoned."
"Are you his trine?" The medic asked.
"He's not." Starscream called across before Cloud Tread could open his mouth and spout lies.
The medic blocked the doorway with his entire frame now, shrugging with faux sympathy. "Next of kin only."
Cloud Tread's wings began to spread out behind him. An obvious attempt at making himself look larger. "Lord Megatron will-"
"-be happy to come down here himself?" The medic interrupted, lifting his comm threateningly. "He's a busy mech, but I'm sure he won't mind putting everything on hold just to come down here and sort this out."
Cloud Tread did not look happy. "...You will forward me a brief of your findings."
"I don't hand out sensitive information regarding fellow Decepticons. Not to outsiders." The medic contradicted.
And that was the end of the argument, because the medic shut and sealed the door in Cloud Tread's face.
Starscream would have thoroughly enjoyed this situation had he not known Cloud Tread was only going to take everything out on him later. Still, he should be grateful for the medic. The only thing worse than being poked and prodded and judged would be to have Cloud Tread watching the whole thing over the medic's shoulder.
"...I'm not a Decepticon." He said, remembering what the medic had said.
"You will be." The medic shrugged, gesturing him over to the medberth. It wasn't high-tech or nicely designed, just a slab of metal with in built restraints. It looked like a torture table.
Hesitantly, he sat down.
The medic was at his desk, flicking through datafiles. There weren't as many as Starscream would have assumed, given how many patients there were here.
"He palace hasn't seen fit to forward your medical files, your highness." He said.
Starscream wasn't surprised. "They're not interested in my health." He tilted his head to the door Cloud Tread was likely trying to eavesdrop through. "They just want to be sure I can carry an heir."
The medic nodded, abandoning the files and picking up a plain datapad as he approached the berth. He held a pen poised above it like he was about to conduct an interview. It was a far cry from the sort of treatment Starscream was used to at the palace. Normally he was expected to lie back, shut up, and let them figure out if there was a problem for themselves.
"Have you carried before?" He asked.
Starscream snorted. "Of course not!"
A brow rose, something was crossed off the datapad. Starscream lifted his chin to try and see, but the medic smugly held it at a higher angle. Jerk.
"Are you sealed?"
Starscream stumbled over the answer. "I...Yes."
The medic paused before crossing it off. His optics flicked past the datapad to Starscream. "...Are you lying?"
"Patient-doctor confidentiality?" The medic pressed lightly, twirling the light-pen.
"My trine have credits." Starscream glared, sensing this medic wasn't easily fooled. "I will send them to you later, when I can. They can pay you-"
"Pay me to falsify medical records?"
"To tell him I'm sealed." Starscream thrust a digit to the door. "And Megatron, if the subject comes up."
The medic lowered the datapad. He looked tired, too tired for a young mech. "It's no one's buisness but yours where your seal went. And mine of course."
Starscream grumbled and sat back.
"When did you lose your seal?" The medic continued.
"...A few days ago."
The medic didn't comment. "And how has everything been? Any discomfort? Tenderness? Itching?"
"How has interfacing felt since?"
Starscream felt incredibly stupid, having to answer. "I haven't."
The medic looked up, "Haven't?"
"Just the once then."
Starscream's embarrassment doubled. "No," he said, frustrated. "I- I didn't lose my seals through interfacing. My trine... they..."
He held up his hand, wriggling his first two fingers to pantomime how Skywarp and Thundercracker had actually broken his seal. It all felt immature and ridiculous now, having his trine break it out of simple spite. A big 'frag you' to the council, an even bigger one to Megatron.
The medic didn't judge him, but he scribbled something down. "That changes things."
"These are all very personal questions!" Starscream snapped, embarrassment morphing into frustration. His cheeks felt warm. "Are they really necessary?!"
"I could skip the questions and stick my fingers up your valve?" The medic offered, "If that would feel less 'personal' to you?"
It's what the medics at the palace had always done, Starscream wanted to say.
"I expect you'll be interfacing with our lord and leader in a few days time, to do that... consummating-thing you Vosians like doing." The medic continued calmly, as though the outburst hadn't happened. "So I'd suggest telling him then that you aren't sealed. He'll need to be gentle-"
"What are you talking about?" Starscream snapped, "I had my seals broken so it wouldn't be painful."
"That's a common misconception. Breaking the seal isn't what can make a first interface painful. It's actually designed to help ease you into the new experience."
That's not what Starscream had been raised to believe. He'd been taught the seal and the pain of breaking it was a deterrent, to prevent promiscuous young mechs from succumbing to inappropriate urges.
The look on his face must have implored the medic to explain.
"Seals are covered in sensors. When a spike enters the valve for the first time those sensors transmit information to the rest of your array that encourage your callipers to loosen, and lubricant production to increase. There is a 'pinch' when the seal breaks, but it's not a lingering sensation. Not if it's done correctly."
Starscream remembered feeling the pinch in question, and Skywarp's voice warm in his audial, reassuring him that it was gone. Done. That he didn't have to worry about it.
"If that's true, why do so many say it hurts?"
"Misinformation." The medic shrugged, "It can still hurt if a bot isn't properly prepared, is taken roughly, or has an underlying medical condition."
Starscream felt miserable. It must have shown because the medic sighed, leaning conspiratorially close.
"I know a guy," he said, "A surgeon. Knows how to replace seals for those that need it. Or want it. He can make it so no one would ever know it had been taken."
There was a medic at the palace that could and did perform the same surgery. Though not because their patient wanted or needed it.
"No," Starscream lifted his chin proudly, resolve hardening, "My trine took my seals. Let it be the one part of me the palace can't give away. I'll just have to make do without it."
The medic looked like he was barely restraining an optic roll. "As you wish, your highness. But, just in case-"
He went to his desk again and rummaged around in a draw. He came back with a tube and handed it over. It read 'artificial lubricant.'
Starscream held it between his thumb and forefinger, blinking rapidly. "...What?"
"Use it." The medic ordered, "You'll need it. And make sure you are properly prepared before penetration."
Starscream thought about having to get a tube of lubricant out in front of Megatron. Their first night together was already likely to be unbearable. He could really do without having to substitute in artificial lubricant like he was some dried up old mech like- like Cloud Tread!
"Keep it." The medic refused to take it back. "And use it. I'll know if you haven't."
"How?" Starscream sneered.
"Because you'll be back here the next morning with a nasty limp and a cooling pack wedged between your thighs. That's how." The medic huffed in amusement. "And you wouldn't be the first either."
Starscream didn't like this medic. He was being far too familiar. "What's your designation?"
"Knock Out." The medic flashed him a charmingly snobbish smile.
"I'll remember that," Starscream said threateningly.
"I'm hard to forget." Knock Out winked, ignoring his dangerous undertone. "And as your primary physician-"
Starscream snorted a laugh at his arrogance. "Primary physician? Says who?"
"Says me." Knock Out folded his glossy arms across his chest. "Unless you want to retell your incredibly limited interfacing history to the guy next door? His name's Bonecrusher. He's just an assistant-in-training but I'm sure he'll be great help getting you through the conception and carrying of this heir they want you to carry. As you can imagine, with a name like Bonecrusher, he's got a great beside manner."
Starscream bit down and worried at the meshy inside of his cheek. "You've made your point."
"Good. Now lie back-"
"You said you weren't going to stick your fingers up my valve."
"Not unless you want me to." Knock Out sighed. "We need to check your gestation systems. Make sure it's all in working order. And depending on how much you really want an heir, we can put you on some boosters."
"Increase fertility." Knock Out explained. "Or... decrease fertility? If his highness would rather wait?"
"They want the heir as soon as possible."
"And how soon do you want the heir?"
Starscream swallowed the lump in his throat. "I want the sparkling. Just I need time."
Knock Out tapped the edge of the medberth, "I can put you on contraceptives. Install some baffles?"
With Cloud Tread snooping around, that was far too dangerous. Starscream shook his head. There was plenty he could do to decrease the chances of conceiving that didn't involve taking such blatant risks. And it was unlikely Megatron would manage to spark him during their first nights together.
(Unless those rumours of Tarnish virility he had been teased about at the palace turned out to be true)
"I'd appreciate whatever inconspicuous treatment you can offer that will prevent the immediate appearance of a new-spark."
"Of course, your highness." Knock Out agreed graciously, looking like he had a few ideas. "They won't suspect a thing."
Starscream disliked Knock Out, but something about the mech told him he could be trusted. He was neither as prudish and stuck up as the Vosians from the palace, nor as rough and uncouth or poorly polished as the other Decepticons. He didn't seem to fit in, and since neither did Starscream, he could see a camaraderie forming between them.
The hour long examination finally ended with Knock Out taking his internal temperature, slipping the thermometer between the fan blades of his turbines.
"That didn't hurt."
"I'll have you know these are sensitive," Starscream hissed, rubbing at the turbine. The thermometer had jabbed something delicate behind it. "I can tell you've never worked on a seeker before."
"I have." Knock Out contradicted, checking the temperature before flicking it to reset the device. "But if you're really so delicate I'll be sure to stick this somewhere less sensitive next time. Your aft port, maybe."
Starscream darkened his optics. "It would be the last thing you ever did."
"Forgive me, your highness." Knock Out didn't sound particularly repentant. "I meant no offence."
Starscream swung his legs off the medberth, knowing he now had to face the non-confidential world beyond the medic's exam room. "He's going to want to know what you found."
Knock Out glanced towards the door. "I'll tell him I've already forwarded the information on to Megatron."
"He doesn't care about Megatron." Starscream muttered, brushing nonexistent dust from the medberth off his back. "He wants to report back to the palace. The more he humiliates me, the better the promotion he'll be offered."
Knock Out stroked his narrow chin. "Perhaps I can falsify some medical records after all."
Starscream's spark lifted. "Like I said, my trine-"
"I'm not in this for the credits." Knock Out waved him down.
"Then what do you want?" Starscream narrowed his optics, because everyone wanted something.
Knock Out shrugged, "I'm sure I'll think of something. In the meantime, the conjunx of the high commander's not a bad mech to have owing me a favour."
"Future conjunx." Starscream muttered.
Knock Out only smiled. It seemed he was far more optimistic about the importance and power of that role than Starscream was.
Megatron had always resented the high caste for their decadence and arrogance and apathy. The royal palace of Vos, with it's traditions and greed and exclusivity, had always been one of the higher caste's greatest pillars of power, upholding that status quo. Simply living in such opulence when there were mechs starving in the streets should be considered a crime.
One day, Megatron would tear down it's walls and let the tall spires themselves crush it's occupants.
And yet, he had since met Starscream. Rude, arrogant, greedy, and beautiful, the very definition of everything Megatron was fighting against; but charming and clever and dangerous in ways that should have made him wary, but didn't. There was more to Starscream than his titles and his former home. Than the luxury polish he wore, and the trine he spent every waking hour bossing around.
And there was something about the way the little prince looked at him, something had made Megatron want to look past the resentment and stereotypes and know him as something more than just the Prince of Vos.
But then Megatron had met Cloud Tread and his trine, and sometimes reality exceeded the rumours. Just when he thought he couldn't hate the palace anymore he had to suffer it's representatives coming into his fortress to tell him how to 'handle his intended'.
"You'll keep an optic on them." Megatron asked Soundwave, again, just to be sure his lieutenant understood that it was a priority without him having to openly admit to prioritising a personal matter over a professional one.
"Affirmative." Soundwave agreed, again, without making comment on it. "This raises the question; why invite outsiders who only serve as distractions."
"I meant for them to be distractions for him," Megatron snapped. "Starscream. You implied-"
"Soundwave; implied nothing."
Megatron glared, "You suggested offering Starscream further support. I invited support."
"And now you distrust them."
Megatron scratched his chin, thinking. The seekers that had been sent from Vos quite obviously took their jobs seriously. That he could appreciate. But he got the distinct impression that they cared more for rules and regulations and tradition, than they did for Starscream himself. There had been no asking after him, no 'how is he settling in?', 'how has he found the climate?', 'how are you getting along?'.
Only, 'he must secured in a private room', and 'he must have a medical examination immediately'.
Megatron recalled asking, instinctively, if this was what Starscream wanted, and being met with scorn and condescension and "You need not concern yourself with Starscream's wellbeing, my lord."
But he was. He was concerned. Starscream was his guest. His responsibility. His conjunx.
He stood, chair scrapping, "I want to see him."
Soundwave rose slowly. "The Vosians will need to be informed. They have requested no unauthorised visitation between yourself and Prince Starscream until after the conjunxing."
Megatron blinked. "...I'm not permitted to see my own conjunx?"
"Conjunx-to-be." Soundwave reminded him.
"And if the Vosians don't allow me to see my betrothed in my own fortress, what then?"
Soundwave tilted his helm. "Unnecessary hostilities. What the Vosians do not know; cannot hurt them."
Megatron squared his shoulders, "Good. Come with me. I'll need a lookout."
Chapter 5: Unprincely Behaviour
Starscream hadn't had plans to sneak out of his room and go exploring the Decepticon fortress (Primus knew what sort of psychopaths lived here) but Cloud Tread had taken it upon himself to station his trine outside the door to prevent him from doing such a thing anyway. Once again Starscream found himself imprisoned in his own room, under a curfew set by mechs that had no right to police him or his actions. It was just like being back at the palace. Only... dirtier.
He supposed this was Cloud Tread's payback for being excluded from his medical exam earlier, as if he hadn't been punished enough by the lecture that had followed it. 'If you can't respect us, how can we trust you'll respect your conjunx endura?', and 'Megatron isn't going to be half as accommodating as we are, so you'd better adjust your attitude programming.'
Starscream couldn't see Megatron being any more imaginatively sadistic than the council and Cloud Tread already were. Though he didn't particularly want to. Perhaps Megatron had different methods for keeping unruly underlings in line.
Because that's what he was to be. An underling. Unions were never equal in Vos, and no doubt he'd be the conjunx minor to Megatron's major. Unless Kaon's laws differed...
No use dwelling on it yet, he supposed.
He comm'ed Thundercracker and Skywarp to see if they'd be able to come and see him. They'd sounded tired but pleased at the prospect. Starscream sensed their day hadn't been any better than his own.
He waited for them, but an hour passed, and there was no knock on his door.
He kicked the berth post before dropping to it's hard uneven surface, feeling cold and lonely and miserable.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd been separated from them for so long; not for years. Not since that occasion where he was being punished for cursing out a senator at the state banquet, when he'd still been a mechling, naive and stupid. They'd dared to bring him down from his room and show him off to the palace's high society guests, show what a pretty thing he was growing into. Isn't he lovely? Won't he make a good conjunx for someone? Flaunting him about like rare piece of art, creating early interest for the Prince they had no use for but to trade off for political gain.
He couldn't recall what the senator had even said to him, but he remembered how it had made him feel. Armour crawlingly cold.
He shuddered at the recollection, and forced it down amongst every other dark memory from his past. He'd need to make room for more, he thought sardonically. Because this union with Megatron was hardly going to be the highlight of his cruddy life so far.
His misery was interrupted by muffled voices outside the door. It sounded like an argument. He moved to press his audial to the door, wondering if his trine had finally arrived to break him out, or at least keep him company.
"-against every code of conduct we have to let you in," the snotty voice of one of Cloud Tread's trine-mates was lecturing someone. His voice was a little higher in pitch than usual. He sounded... scared. "-risk besmirching the palace's reputation!"
Starscream pressed closer to listen, beyond intrigued.
"-greatest respect for your culture. Within reason." A deeper voice was saying, low pitched and rasping. Starscream veered away from the door and almost landed flat on his aft in suprise. Megatron?
"Can't make exceptions, even for you, Meg- My Lord, Lord Megatron." The seeker nervously corrected. "Perhaps Cloud Tread can explain. If you will wait-"
"I'll do no such thing. Starscream is a guest in my fortress. You cannot hide him from me forever."
"I assure you we are doing no such thing. Prince Starscream requires a certain level of personal space. We ask that you not invade-"
It wasn't true! Unable to unlock the door himself and say so, Starscream banged on it in protest, punching the metal hard enough that the impact stung the sensors of his knuckles. There was a pause outside.
"Aren't you going to open the door?" He heard Megatron growl. "If he's fallen-"
There was a long awkward pause. Starscream couldn't hear anything, no matter how hard he strained his audials. He couldn't imagine they were just standing in silence-
There was quiet squeak, like someone struggling to breathe, then Cloud Tread's other trine-mate speaking with only the barest hint of a waver to his voice- "The door has been preprogrammed to permit your entry, sir."
Starscream quickly scrambled away from the door and threw himself on the berth, looking for something to busy himself with before the door could open. There was a ping, then creak as the swept away.
Starscream stared at the ceiling to look indifferent, but out of the corner of his optic he watched Megatron twist to fit his immense shoulders through the doorway. The room seemed to darken as his frame blocked out some of the overhead lighting, and Starscream couldn't pretend to ignore him anymore when he was so huge and imposing and looming over him like the fortress itself loomed over Kaon.
Starscream found lying on the berth too much like exposing himself. He sat up again, shifting into a position he hoped was dignified but still standoffish, crossing his legs and laying his hands atop his knee, straight backed and nose high.
"Can I help you?" He demanded.
Megatron, despite his threatening tone outside, now looked unsure of himself. His expression had lost it's harsh edge, and his shield sized hands where grasping at air at his sides. He shifted his stance, looking between Starscream and the room he was in.
"I wasn't aware the room you had been given was so... small."
Starscream doubted Megatron was aware of much that went on in this fortress. He shrugged, "I assumed the reasoning was that I wouldn't be in here for long."
Megatron hummed. "I suppose conjunx endura's are expected to live together."
Starscream's tanks twisted, but he couldn't tell what the feeling behind the anxiety that caused it was. It felt like excitement. A morbid sort of excitement. The sort he felt when the council threatened to do terrible things to him if he failed to behave. (And he never did behave).
He uncrossed then recrossed his legs, fidgeting. He didn't miss how Megatron's gaze was drawn to the movement. How it lingered afterwards, simmering optics moving from his knees to his thrusters and back again. It appeared he liked what he saw.
Realising he'd been caught staring, Megatron cleared his vocaliser, optics snapping up again. "I understand you wished to be left undisturbed-"
"Is that what they told you?"
"...I came to ask after you." Megatron said after a pause, frown pulling at his features. "I was told you required a trip to the medic. If you're unwell-"
"What do you care?" Starscream cut off his faux concern with a glare."You want to see the medical files? Find a medic that doesn't care about patient-doctor confidentiality."
"This isn't an interrogation," Megatron growled.
Megatron straightened, previous awkwardness evaporating in the face of Starscream's sass. "I think I have a right to know if my conjunx is ailing."
"I'm not sick, and I'm not your conjunx. Not yet at least." Starscream kept his wings low and close, defensive. "So whatever you came here for, you're going to have to wait for it. The ceremony isn't scheduled for another three days yet."
Megatron didn't answer immediately, and the atmosphere grew thick between them. Starscream didn't like the calculating spark in Megatron's optics. It made him look clever, cleverer than dumb muscle had any right to be.
"What do you think I've come here for?" Megatron finally asked, slowly, dangerously.
Starscream didn't want to accuse him of anything, not when he was locked in a room with him, and certainly not when he was so close to having to spend the rest of his life in 'marital bliss' with him. Thundercracker has been pressing him to make an ally of Megatron. And if he truly was a violent psychopath, it was probably better not provoke him.
"You tell me." He couldn't help himself.
Cloud Tread's trine-mates were still guarding the hallway to Starscream's quarters. Skywarp was supposed to be leaning out of their hiding place to eavesdrop, but from his petulant pout, it was obvious he was more distracted by the other seeker's arm-mounted weapons.
"Why are they allowed to be armed?"
Thundercracker breathed heavily, trying to look around his wing to see what was actually going on without giving away their position. Cloud Tread's trine would have no qualms about waving around those weapons to bully them back to their rooms.
"It was the palace that gave the order to disarm us so we wouldn't be able to resist being brought here. The Decepticons must not see Cloud Tread's trine as enough of a threat to see any reason to make them turn their weapons over."
"So you think Megatron would give us guns if we asked?" Skywarp said hopefully. "I bet he has hundreds. Really big cool ones too."
"He doesn't trust us." Thundercracker reminded him before he could get too carried away. "No one here does."
"He'll trust us once he gets to know us." Skywarp protested. "We might even be friends."
"Doubtful." Thundercracker grumbled. "And he'd want to know what we would need weapons for anyway. As far as he's concerned, we're just Starscream's servants."
Skywarp flashed him a scandalised look, "I'm not a servant!"
"Keep your voice down." Thundercracker hissed, but neither of Cloud Tread's trine seemed to have heard them anyway. They were distracted actually, their optics flicking between each other and the door to Starscream's quarters. He straightened, wondering why they looked so worried.
"Something's wrong?" He murmured.
"You're fragging right somethings wrong. Me? A servant? I can trace my nobility back fifty million years-"
"Shh!" Thundercracker hushed him again, grabbing him by the shoulder. "Look."
Skywarp did look, finally seeing what Thundercracker had seen. "They look like they're gonna spring a leak. Do you think Screamer's escaped?"
"We would have known if he had." Thundercracker murmured, "And dumb and dumber there wouldn't still be standing around talking about it."
Before they could muse any more on what had Cloud Tread's trine in such a tizzy, there was a loud, muffled bang that seemed to come from within Starscream's quarters. Thundercracker jumped. Skywarp jumped. Cloud Tread's trine started to panic, trying to push one another forwards, nearer to the door.
"I'm going." Thundercracker could stand it no longer, pushing Skywarp out of the way to rise out of their hiding place and take long purposeful strides toward Starscream's room.
"TC!" Skywarp hissed, tiptoeing after him. "No! they said if we kept distracting Starscream they were gonna-"
The door to Starscream's quarters flew open. Cloud Tread's trine leapt backwards like spooked cyber-cats and hit their wings against the opposite wall when Megatron's towering frame came barreling through it. Thundercracker skidded and backtracked back around his corner as fast as he could, shoving Skywarp with him.
Secured back in their hiding place, Thundercracker watched as Megatron surveyed the two cowering seekers before him. He lifted a hand to the corner of his mouth, touching it tentatively. When he pulled it back it seemed to came away bloody. Thundercracker gawped.
Megatron rubbed his bloodied fingers together, looking supremely dissatisfied.
"That's some prince you have there." He sneered, throwing one last glower at Cloud Tread's trine before striding off.
He was barely gone from the corridor before Starscream appeared in the doorway, face flushed and craddling his right hand.
"What have you done?!" Cloud Tread's beige trine-mate demanded. He reached forward and grabbed Starscream's wrist. Starscream hissed in pain.
"Hey!" Thundercracker was sprinting down the corridor before Skywaro could stop him. "Take you hands off him-!"
"You two again..." The seeker scoffed.
"Oh, calm down, Thundercracker." Starscream snapped before a fight could break out. He wrenched his wrist free. "These imbeciles couldn't hurt me if they tried."
Thundercracker looked closer. It was the back of Starscream's hand that was damaged, the plating crushed and knuckles misaligned. The plating that remained was scuffed with matte grey.
"What is that thug made of anyway?" Starscream was muttering, struggling to open and close his hand. "Facial derma is supposed to be softer."
"Wait, you slapped Megatron?" Skywarp breathed in awe, having arrived after Thundercracker.
Starscream scoffed, "I'm a prince, Skywarp, I don't slap." He winced again, "I punched him."
"Oh Primus..." Thundercracker felt sick.
"This is- is unacceptable!" Cloud Tread's golden trine-mate was saying. "You have disgraced us, disgraced Vos!" He was shaking his head, seemingly overwhelmed with so much shock he might have glitched himself. "We will have to issue an apology, punish you-"
Thundercracker shoved himself between Starscream and the golden seeker, shoulders squared. "Back. Off."
"Why'd you punch him?" Skywarp was asking, still distracted and mesmerised by Starscream's actions.
"To see what he'd do." Starscream said flippantly. "Not much else was provoking him."
"You were trying to provoke him?" Thundercracker broke his staring contest with Cloud Tread's trine-mate to whip around and stare, incredulous. "Tell me you're not that stupid."
Starscream ignored him, "I wanted to know what I was up against."
Skywarp was looking at Starscream's knuckles, cradling his hand in his own. "You need to go to the medbay. Where else are you hurt?"
"I'm not." Starscream shrugged. "He didn't retaliate."
"We should report to Cloud Tread." Cloud Tread's trine were frowning. "He'll know what to do with you-"
"He's going to the medbay, aft face!" Skywarp argued. "He's hurt-"
Cloud Tread's trine didn't appear to care about Starscream's injuries. Thundercracker doubted they would if he was on the cusp of deactivating. They flashed Skywarp apathetic looks before lifting their weapons and aiming them directly between Skywarp's frowning optics.
"That's quite enough out of you." The golden one warned, waving the weapon around like he was using it to compensate for something. "Step away."
Skywarp didn't even flinch.
Thundercracker shifted, "Warp." He warned softly.
"It's fine." Starscream interceded, pushing Skywarp behind him so Cloud Tread's underling had to lower his weapon. "I'll go."
"But your hand-"
"It can wait." Starscream stressed, glaring at them, "Go back to your rooms."
Skywarp stepped forward defiantly. The weapon rose again, this time active and glowing.
"Just go." Starscream snapped, passing the armed seeker to follow the judgmental one up the corridor. "Before you make this worse!"
Thundercracker took Skywarp's shoulder and held him back when he looked like he was about to follow. "We can't protect him if we've been killed."
Skywarp shrugged him off moodily. "Can't protect him either way."
Cloud Tread hadn't been happy, neither at the news of Starscream's assault on Megatron nor at being woken so late into the recharge cycle. Starscream took some small pleasure in knowing he still had the ability to make these council seekers twitch, even if he had to break his hand to do it.
Despite the lateness of the hour, Cloud Tread had come up with a long list of punishments, along with several ideas on how to rectify the situation that really just sounded like more punishments to Starscream. Of all the unpleasantness he had been tasked with, at the top of his list was his apology to Megatron. To be done in person, and in front of an audience.
And after that, to ensure they're be no more 'misunderstandings' between now and the ceremony, his vocaliser was to be manually shut off.
Starscream had rolled his optics at that one. He was used to the medics at the palace flicking the switch on him. Sometimes it was in punishment, mostly it was just to keep him from insulting some slimy politician. It had been done so many times now that it had put a strain his vocaliser, left it scratchy and hoarse. But a distorted voice was far from the worst thing the palace had done to him.
Either way, Cloud Tread must have been tripping on the Kaonite fumes if he thought Starscream was ever going to apologise to Megatron.
After two hours of having to listen to Cloud Tread's nonsense, Starscream was finally allowed to take his throbbing hand down to medical for treatment.
"Not that it hasn't made my week, but why did you do it?" Knock Out asked him halfway through the repairs, bent over his hand with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. He worked slowly, but accurately. He was a good medic. There'd be little mistakes.
"I told you." Starscream answered, shifting awkwardly. "To see what he'd do."
"What did you think he was going to do?"
"Hit me back. I could tell he wanted to." Starscream watched Knock Out push a knuckle back into place with a click. Thanks to sensor blockers, he felt nothing. "I suppose I should be thankful he even has the self-restraint to bide his time. Not a lot of mechs like him do."
"Mech's like him?" Knock Out repeated.
"Violent low-caste thugs."
Knock Out didn't speak for a while. Starscream could tell he was annoyed though. The optic in the magnifying glass was narrowed. "Funny, that you think the low-caste are the violent ones."
Starscream rolled his optics. "Oh, don't start with that 'we're the oppressed victims' nonsense. You're not even of Kaon."
"All I'm saying is you're the one who punched someone tonight."
"I'm sure he'll pay me back in kind." Starscream mumbled, thinking about what a short union they were going to have if that was the case. Perhaps Megatron really was biding his time. He couldn't mess up the Prince's pretty face before the ceremony. Not until he didn't need it anymore.
"You should get to know Megatron." Knock Out suggested.
"I think I know as much as I care to learn."
"Only what the palace has told you. And from what you've told me, they might not be the most accurate source of information for you."
Starscream hummed. "You talk as if you know him."
"Megatron?" Knock Out shook his helm. "No, not really. Sure, I went to a few rallies. Listened to a few speeches. He just seemed honest. More genuine than the senators i was used to seeing blather on, pretending to care."
"And Megatron does care?"
Knock Out shrugged. "He cares about winning, at least."
Winning. Now that, Starscream could relate to.
Chapter 6: Vosian Vows
Megatron did not expect to see Starscream for some time after the... incident. He was still nursing the ache in his jaw where the little brat had struck him. There had been no provocation or warning, and for a lazy high-caste prince, he was surprisingly fast.
But then, perhaps if Megatron had not been so preoccupied with what Starscream's expressive, prettily painted wings had been doing, he might have been better prepared to see the punch coming.
He grunted to himself and dropped the cooling pad he'd snuck out of the medbay from the side of his face. It was a lesson well learned. No matter how lovely Starscream looked, he would need to keep his wits about him, and his optics off those wings.
To make his evening worse, the palace Vosians had left him an inconsiderately large file on the roles expected of him for the ceremony arranged to unite him and Starscream as conjunxs in as little as two day away. Part of him was tempted to delegate the task of reading the huge body of work onto one of the envoys, have them break it down into the most essential of bullet points so he could blag his way through the entire affair.
A wiser part of him knew that was unwise. It was too much like a contract to entrust to anyone else. Starscream would not be a meek, obedient conjunx, and his fellow Vosians had already proved themselves skilful manipulators. He needed to be as well prepared as he possibly could if he wanted that promised airforce. So, he read.
When the door to the war chamber sprung open some time beyond midnight, after mind numbing hours of reading through hundreds of lines of vows he was expected to revise for recitation during the ceremony, he was almost relieved at the distraction. Until he saw high arched wings and a perpetual scowl.
He straightened, schooling his features.
"Starscream." He greeted pleasantly, glancing behind the seeker to see if his gaggle of old fashioned minders were lurking behind him.
But the doors swept shut without any following company. Starscream was alone.
"Where is your entourage?" He asked carefully, wondering if Starscream was here to kill him.
Starscream gave a small shrug, "Recharging, I expect."
Megatron had been told, several times now by the officials the palace had sent, that Starscream was in no way equipped to be wandering the halls of the fortress unchaperoned, being young, vulnerable, and of 'tender spark' as he was. If Megatron wanted to earn the trust of the seekers in power, a simple way to do it would be to help enforce their wishes, and have someone take Starscream back to the safety of his room.
He swirled his glossa around his mouth, feeling at the denta Starscream's punch had loosened earlier. He wondered why the Vosians were so keen to treat Starscream like a precious ornament when it was so obvious he could take care of himself. Delusion, perhaps.
He kicked the chair next to him out from under the table, deciding not to report Starscream's post-curfew wanderings. Absently he knew this could be a test. If it was, he had probably failed it.
Starscream considered the offered chair, a sneer pulling at his mouth like something about it was unsuitable. It was made of plain sturdy steel, unlike whatever gold and cushioned monstrosities they would have had in the high palace of Vos.
Starscream took the chair anyway and dragged it a little further away from Megatron before smoothly sitting down, kicking a leg up atop the other to cross them at the knee. His thruster glinted in the low light.
Megatron reminded himself to keep his focus.
"I'm not here to apologise." Starscream said abruptly.
Megatron leant back in his seat. "I wasn't expecting you to."
"I," Starscream stopped, blinking. "You weren't?"
"I shouldn't have invaded your personal space," he acknowledged. Starscream had rougher edges than he would have expected of a prince, but he was a prince nonetheless. And as Soundwave had reminded him (several times now) Starscream was in an unfamiliar place, experiencing an unfamiliar culture, surrounded by unfamiliar mechs. Starscream may not visibly express a lot of fear for his situation, but that didn't mean he wasn't experiencing it.
And Megatron knew how tempting it was to hit things to look brave.
"My conduct was inappropriate," he decided to relent, mostly to see what Starscream would do when given an inch. "I apologise."
Starscream was quiet for a moment. Nothing about his expression implied he was going to accept the apology. "Does 'inappropriate' behaviour warrant being hit here?"
"No." Megatron said carefully. "I wouldn't advise raising a hand to me again."
Starscream made an amused noise, looking down. "Not many mechs have the privilege of being hit by a prince more than once."
"They're usually executed the first time."
Megatron studied Starscream, looking for a hint of amusement at what he'd said, unsure if he was joking. "Had many put to death, have you?"
"Would that I could." Starscream sounded resentful. "I don't have the authority to pick my own fuel, never mind end someone's miserable existence."
"The palace manages your diet?" Megatron asked, wondering how Starscream's delicate little tanks were coping with the vast difference in the fuel here.
"That's one way of putting it." Starscream muttered.
Megatron sighed deeply, "I suggest we leave tonight in the past and focus on the future. Agreed?"
Starscream made a vague, unprincely noise, and Megatron couldn't shake the feeling that Starscream hadn't wanted the conversation to be steered to safer ground. Megatron would have thought he'd be grateful for the free pass. It wasn't every cycle an assault on Megatron's person went unpunished.
"I expect you have a lot of preparation to complete too," He continued anyway, lifting the datapad containing the huge datafile on his instructions for the ceremony. "The vows alone will take hours."
Starscream nodded, "Mine are longer."
"I pity you. This will take a great deal of time to memorise."
"I already know mine." Starscream shook his helm. "Have done for years."
Megatron knew there were privileged high-caste younglings out there who's sole ambition in life was to have a perfect ceremony and a handsome conjunx and their 'happily ever after'. He hadn't thought Starscream would be one of them. "Eager?"
Starscream snorted. "No. First thing they taught me. Nothing else is as important."
Megatron would have thought that just about anything else in the world was more important than memorising pages of drivel about pledging loyalty and commitment. Tarn didn't even have vows. In a Tarnish ceremony the couple fuelled one another, clasped hands, accepted well wishes from the few intimate guests they had invited, and the rest of the union occurred in private. The bizarre Vosian concept of a conjunxing needing to be 'consummated' to be completed did not exist in Tarn, and it was no ones business but the couple involved whether an interface happened or not.
Megatron had only just read the section of the datafile explaining that the sheets from their berth would be inspected the morning after, to ensure their union was legitimate in Vosian law. He frowned at the reminder.
Starscream clearly already knew all this, and appeared to have been raised with the knowledge. He must have sat through hundreds lectures on what archaic behaviours and duties were expected of him as a conjunx, rather than as a ruling prince. And here Megatron had thought they'd make a greater effort to tutor him in politics and diplomacy.
"I expect that was a small part of your education. With your privilege, you must have gone to the best academies."
"I was educated at the palace." Starscream said coldly, like the fact still chafed. "It was more important I knew how to serve a leader. Not be a leader. 'Prince' is just a ceremonial title now. They weren't going to waste an expensive education on me."
Megatron was struck with the unsavoury thought that there were probably Kaonian gutter mechs with better formal educations than Starscream. He decided not to comment on it further.
He glanced at the datafile again, glimpsing at the chapter titled 'providing heirs', namely the section that detailed how Starscream was going to be required to subject himself to an inspection every week, so medics could look for signs of carrying, ensure he was still fertile, and search for evidence that attempts to spark him had been made. Every week. Until he was carrying.
Like some sort of brood mare.
Well, that wasn't happening.
As soon as Megatron had his airforce and no longer needed the approval of the Vosian palace, a lot of this nonsense wasn't going to be happening.
"The union should be recognised in Tarnish law." He said.
Starscream stared at him with that same unreadable expression on his face, optics calculating and sharp. "...Cloud Tread would consider any deviation from tradition-"
"It's his decision?" Megatron quirked a brow.
"He's a mouth piece for the palace," Starscream scowled, "It's their decision. Incorporating Tarnish tradition into a Vosian ceremony? They'd rather take me away and give me and your future airforce to your enemies."
"Would you prefer that?"
Starscream didn't answer.
"Two ceremonies then," Megatron decided, laying his hands on the table. "One Vosian, one Tarnish. I wish to make the union legitimate in my culture as well. Should anything happen to Vos..."
Starscream's face was still unreadable, even at Megatron's vaguely implied threat. "The palace would never allow-"
"Does the palace need to know?"
Starscream pouted. "What is a Tarnish ceremony anyway? Something barbaric, no doubt."
"Perhaps, by your standards."
Starscream's optics brightened. Primus knew what sort of things he was imagining. Drunkenness and dancing on the tables probably. He'd be right.
"I won't do anything beneath my dignity." Starscream sniffed.
Megatron waved his concerns aside. "It's no more extravagant than a simple gathering. I offer you gifts in front of witnesses and we fuel together. There are no vows, nor is there a consummation."
"What sort of gifts?"
"You'll have to wait and see," Megatron let a small smile curve the corner of his mouth. "Traditionally, it has to be a surprise."
Starscream looked convinced enough at the prospect of gifts. He stood, "Fine. I'll cooperate for your ceremony. Just don't get me anything cheap."
Megatron wondered what Starscersm would define as 'cheap'.
"Hnn." Starscream looked down his nose at him. "If Cloud Tread asks, tell him I apologised, won't you?"
"For that impressive right hook?" Megatron couldn't help a smirk, rubbing at his cheek.
"For being 'an immature, violent, and undeserving little creature'," Starscream scoffed, repeating someone else's words. "One that should have been, now what was it," he thought for a brief second, before snapping his fingers. "Oh yes; 'turned over to the lowest of Kaonite pleasure houses where my vulgarities would have been more suited'."
Megatron stroked his jaw. He'd known many a resident of Kaon's legendary pleasure houses. And kinder, harder workers were hard to come by. Clearly, Starscream had been raised by mechs that didn't think much of them.
"I'll be sure to tell him." Megatron growled.
Starscream looked him over one last time, then nodded. "I should go, before someone realises I'm gone."
Megatron offered a dismissive wave, turning back to his datapad and holding it high so he wouldn't be distracted by the sight of Starscream walking out.
Beautiful seeker. Terrible attitude. He wondered who was to blame for that.
Another thing that needed to change.
Cloud Tread was true to his word. After receiving confirmation that Starscream had 'apologised' for his behaviour, he made a snide comment about how high his hopes were for Megatron 'breaking him in', and dragged him down to the medbay to make good on his threat to silence him.
"Only ten million years ago your predecessors took vows of silence," he was nattering on to himself with one of his favourite 'back in my day' spiels. "Had their vocalisers removed altogether."
"They clearly had nothing of intelligence to say." Starscream grumbled.
"Neither do you." Cloud Tread glowered. "Prince's should be seen and not heard."
After several more comments of this variety they finally reached the medbay. Cloud Tread made sure to drag Starscream past Knock Out's workspace as quickly as he could. Starscream stared after it, privately hoping the medic would hear them passing and come out.
When they reached the end of the long corridor, Cloud Tread finally set optics on a medic he liked the look of. Unlike Knock Out, this one was obviously a Kaonite; a green plated, heavy construction build. He looked up when Cloud Tread strode into his workspace, pulling harshly on Starscream's wrist as though to remind him attempts at escape would not be tolerated.
"Yes?" The medic asked, sounding rather snobbish for a Kaonite.
Cloud Tread pulled an equally snobbish face in response. "Your skills are required." He said, pushing Starscream forward.
The medic wiped his hands on a rag and tossed it down, looking put out, "He looks fine."
"Your opinion is irrelevant. Deactivate his vocaliser."
Starscream watched the medic pull a face. "You seem to have misunderstood my purpose here," the medic folded his thick arms. "My job is to fix mechs, not break them."
"Really?" Cloud Tread arched a sarcastic brow, "I would have expected a mech looking like you to be more than used to smashing things."
To the medic's credit, he didn't react to Cloud Tread's provocation. "Find someone else to do your dirty work."
Cloud Tread made a noise of pure frustration, one Starscream hadn't ever had the privilege of hearing before. Realising he was dealing with yet another medic that couldn't be bullied, Cloud Tread gave up and stormed out. He didn't even remember to bark at Starscream follow.
Starscream glanced at the medic, wondering if he expected a thank you.
"I hope you don't have any emotional attachment to him," the medic spoke first, nodding to the door Cloud Tread had left through. "Megatron doesn't have a lot of tolerance for mechs goin' out of their way to mute others."
Good to know, Starscream thought, offering him a nod of thanks.
It appeared Knock Out wasn't unique in being a medic that actually possessed empathy. The palace medical team must have been a unique breed.
Starscream decided not to let the accidental freedom Cloud Tread had inadvertently gifted him by leaving him unsupervised go to waste, and didn't return to his cramped little room. Instead, he walked the halls looking for Thundercracker and Skywarp. He couldn't hail them, as he was sure Cloud Tread had his communicator monitored and they'd use any outgoing signal to track him down and herd him back into captivity, so he was just going to have to find them the old fashioned way.
He became lost on more than one occasion, finding and exploring the fortress's few communal spaces. First he found a sparring room, dark and open and filled with sparring drones ten generations out of date. He lingered, watching the huge hulking mechs spar each other, noting how differently they moved to the Vosian guards he had watched when he was young. These mechs were brawlers, not traditionally taught warriors. Starscream wondered where Megatron might have found them.
The recreation space he found next he didn't spend as long in. The mechs there were off shift and bored and very much welcomed the distraction his arrival brought. Conversations tapered off and helms lifted as whistles and jeers called out. He heard the odd hasty whisper of "Don't! That's Megatron's seeker!', but most of the mechs were insubordinate and disrespectful enough not to care.
Starscream turned back the way he'd come and flipped them a vulgar gesture on the way out.
The room erupted in amused bellowing, but none of them were stupid enough to follow him.
Now thoroughly lost, Starscream was beginning to contemplate actually using his comm and alerting one of Cloud Tread's trine to his location just so he could be found. Even if it did mean returning to his room....
Then, instead of finding his way, Soundwave found him.
The eery mech was stood stock still at the end of a hallway, doing his best impression of a bulkhead panel. He was so still, in fact, that Starscream didn't notice him stood there until he was right in front of him.
He jumped and hissed though his teeth, "What the Frag are you-"
"Your highness." Soundwave always remembered to use his title. "I have been sent to retrieve you."
"By who?" Starscream sneered, thinking if it was Cloud Tread he would rather stay lost forever and starve to death.
Well, marginally better.
"What does he want?"
Soundwave didn't answer, turning with a simple order of "Come."
Starscream wasn't in any position to disobey. It was either follow or stay lost on the creepy lower levels.
So he trailed behind Soundwave and soon the corridors grew familiar. They approached what Starscream knew to be the living quarters, and he resigned himself to the fact that he was being taken back to his room.
When Soundwave took the wrong turning, Starscream's curiosity piqued.
He recognised his surroundings as the area of the fortress where Megatron's quarters resided, and another twinge of nervousness rose at the thought that that was where he was being taken, to see Megatron in his room. In private.
Without the backup of his trine or one of Cloud Tread's overbearing chaperones.
He may have been raised a sheltered little prince, but he was aware of what happened to foolish young mechs who allowed themselves to be lured somewhere 'out back', too easily charmed by sleazy elders with their own agendas.
And here Starscream had begun to think Megatron wasn't like that.
Soundwave did bring him to Megatron's room, but instead of knocking and waiting, he let himself in, gesturing with a quick wave for Starscream to follow.
Surprisingly, Megatron was not waiting inside with high grade and a sultry smirk. The room was empty, the berth had been made, and the few possessions Starscream had seen before when he'd passed through the room for a bath, were now gone.
He looked to Soundwave for an explanation. "Where is Megatron?"
"Lord Megatron has taken up temporary residence elsewhere in order to better accommodate the needs of your highness." Soundwave explained. "He has invited you to use his larger quarters in his absence."
Starscream blinked. "The room I had before-"
"Was unbefitting to your needs and status."
Oh. Unbefitting? Status? Something fluttered in his lower tanks.
So, Megatron had actually done something to make his living arrangements more suitable after seeing the room they'd given him the first time round. Granted, there wasn't a great deal of improvement giving him this one instead, but there was the attached wash room and some extra few feet of space, and the berth looked marginally wider. Megatron was doing the best with what he had to work with.
"I suppose Megatron will want to move back in once we're conjunxed?" He realised. He remembered an earlier conversation he'd had with Skywarp, about how the likelihood of him and Megatron sharing quarters had been slim. So they'd been wrong in thinking Megatron would allow Starscream his own space and only visit to (as Skywarp had so disgustingly put it) take his pleasure.
"Soundwave: cannot say." Soundwave seemed reluctant to share more information. "I have been instructed to ensure you are comfortable. Are you comfortable?"
Starscream wondered what he'd do if he said no.
"My trine." He decided to take the opportunity presented to him. "Find them and bring them to me. And if you see any other seekers snooping about, don't tell them where I am. I need a break from their stupidity."
"Acknowledged." Soundwave said, and left.
Starscream stared after him. He didn't think he'd ever given an order so easily obeyed. It made him wonder if Decepticons were naturally subservient, or if this was Megatron's influence again.
Now alone to explore the room -without the repercussions of spying as there had been before- Starscream began going through the storage spaces. Sadly, Megatron had been thorough, and everything had been cleared out. All he found was a blank datapad and a broken stylus.
Huffing in boredom, he flopped on the berth, and was hit with a waft of Megatron's lingering scent. He would have thought they'd at least change the berth coverings!
He dropped his head to the fabric regardless, tired and overwrought. The sheets were still scratchy on his nose when he buried it in them, but Megatron's musk was... nice, in a backwards, rough, masculine sort of way. It reminded him in ways, of the guard barracks below the Vosian palace. Grease and gunpowder mixed with the musk of an overworked frame.
A pool of warmth grew between his hips at the thought of Megatron coming in from a long day fighting, frame running hot and engines rumbling. An older mech like him would have loud engines, he imagined, with revs that could shake glass and be heard miles off.
He was about to consider doing something completely shameless, inappropriate, and worth considerable condemnation by every prudish old mech that had ever raised him -when the door to Megatron's quarters sprung open with an enthusiastic whoosh.
Starscream sat up in a hurry, hand shooting out from between his thighs.
"Knock!" He yelled as Skywarp came barrelling in, followed by a much more sedate Thundercracker.
"Soundwave sent us. How long have you been in here?" Skywarp yelped, looking scandalised and obviously overthinking everything. Thundercracker just looked worried.
"Five minutes." Starscream scowled, "Stop looking at me like that. There's nothing inappropriate going on. He's not even staying here."
"He's given you his room?" Thundercracker frowned. "That's... generous of him. Considering you slapped him in the face just last night."
"Punched. And he deserved it, and knows it." Starscream, sniffed. "This is probably an apology gift."
Thundercracker wasn't convinced, "How did he deserve-"
"Never mind that now." Starscream cut him off. "I've taken steps to keep Cloud Tread out of our turbines for now, so you're staying here with me tonight. I won't have you recharging in those dirty barracks."
"Is this a good idea?" Thundercracker murmured. "Us still recharging with you? Not a lot of mechs here understand trines. Not a lot of them seem to want to. Megatron might take it the wrong way-"
"Megatron doesn't own me yet. And he is conjunxing a seeker." Starscream pointed out, twirling his finger around playfully. "So he'd better get used to it."
"Yeah, I'm not going anywhere." Skywarp grumbled, climbing into the berth with Starscream. "...Wow, it smells of him."
Starscream wanted to tell him to stop sniffing his future conjunx's smell, but thankfully realised before saying anything out loud that that was a ridiculously stupid thing to say. So instead he just glared and nudged Skywarp away.
"I just can't see Megatron tolerating us hanging around you forever." Thundercracker said, still sounding worried. "Especially if he has plans for you to cohabit with him. I don't think Warp and I will be invited."
Starscream patted the berth to coax Thundercracker over. "I wouldn't worry about it," he reassured him. "As if I'd ever choose Megatron over you."
Chapter 7: The First Prince Of Tarn
"They're here, my liege."
Megatron set aside his intelligence report to give Scrapper his full attention, flicking his hand to gesture him in. The Constructicon passed the threshold with the three stacked cases he held, carefully setting them on the table in front of Megatron.
Megatron stood and flicked the locks off the top one, flipping the lid. Two polished nullrays glinted up at him. Silvery white and glossed to a high shine. He lifted one out, weighing it his servo.
"They were able to reduce weight without loss of power." Scrapper reassured.
Megatron turned it over in his hands, trying from gauge for himself how it might feel on Starscream's arm. Being so used to the fusion cannon, the weapon felt inconsequential to him, but seekers preferred speed and manoeuvrability, and this gift wasn't for him.
"It will suffice." He nodded, pressing it back into the protective foam and moving to inspect next two cases. Both also contained a pair of nullrays, altered for weight and colour to suit their future owners.
"Shall I send for him?" Scrapper shut the lids on the cases and moved to take them back.
"Later." Megatron dismissed. "They're a gift. A surprise." He gave Scrapper a pointed look, spelling out that there would be repercussions for anyone who spoiled it. "I am attempting to endear myself to him."
Scrapper hesitated when he took the case. Megatron noticed.
"What is it?"
"Hook mentioned seeing Starscream in his medbay."
The second time in less than a week Starscream had visited a medic secretly. Megatron worked to keep the concern from his voice. "Was he injured?"
"No, but the seeker he was with wanted him to be. Demanded Hook deactivate his vocaliser."
Scrapper gave a vague shrug, "An older one? I can't say. Seekers all look the same to me."
Megatron nodded, giving him leave to go on his way. 'Older' wasn't much to go by, but of the five seekers it might have been, only one designation stood out. Cloud Tread.
He would need to get those nullrays on Starscream sooner rather than later.
Starscream was in Megatron's berth, the tight arms of his trine around his middle and noses pressed into his neck. Skywarp was mumbling behind him in his recharge, knees brushing the backs of his thighs as he stirred fitfully. Thundercracker was only dozing, still save for the thumb he was wordlessly stroking over the edge of Starscream's wing. It reminded Starscream of years gone by, when they were all young and every few months the palace allowed him weekends off undisturbed- conditional to his good behaviour. He'd always spend it lounging around with his trine, basking in their company, re-saturating their neglected bond.
But then as he aged the mark for 'good behaviour' only grew harder to achieve, and the weekends off dissolved with it.
He nestled closer to them, savouring what little moments of contentment he was still permitted before the reigns that steered his life were passed to another.
The door pinged, the chime out of tune where the battery was dying. Starscream lifted his head with a scowl, nudging Skywarp until he heard the choked snort of an interrupted snore. "Door." He muttered.
Skywarp took his sweet time, huffing hotly against the back of his neck. Starscream cringed and flicked a wing back, and getting the hint, Skywarp blindly crawled out of the berth, rubbing at his optics. Starscream yanked the covers tight around his shoulders to ward off the chill.
"Who is it?" Starscream felt Thundercracker's rumble against his chassis rather than heard it.
Skywarp unlocked the door as it pinged again, and Starscream strained his neck cabling to see, bracing against the possibility of it being Cloud Tread and his cronies. He had switched off his comm to save himself from a night full of abusive texts. Finding him here, unwed but dozing in a mech's berth, would exacerbate whatever trouble he'd already be in.
But it wasn't Cloud Tread. Skywarp stepped aside and revealed a skinny burgundy mech he didn't think he'd ever seen before; sheepishly curled in on himself, neck shrunk into hunched shoulders, awkward for intruding. Not the sort of Decepticon Starscream had grown used to expecting.
He sat up, sheets falling away. "What?"
"I have a message." The mech said, pinprick yellow optics flicking between Thundercracker and Skywarp. "A private message. From Lord Megatron."
"Go ahead." Starscream draped himself back over Thundercracker, dropping his head to a warm chest and flicking his hand. "Whatever you have to tell me can be said in front of them."
He was answered with silence. Brow creasing at the disobedience, he sat up again. "Well?"
"He-" the mech hesitated, shoulders rising higher, "There have been scheduling issues. Regarding an arrangement you made with him. Yesterday?"
The stuttering hesitance was so annoying it took Starscream a full half minute to actually comprehend what he might have been referring to; the Tarnish ceremony. "Oh?"
"It has been moved forward." The mech nodded, seemingly happy that he'd delivered the message without giving away it's actual contents to the other seekers. The secrecy was an indication of Megatron distrusting his trine. Starscream couldn't blame him. Cloud Tread and his trine must have given him an awful opinion on seekers.
"How far forward?"
"Today?!" His screech shook glass. His trine and the messenger jumped. "I can't conjunx him today! The Vosian ceremony isn't till tomorrow and we agreed after-"
"Wait, what are you talking about?" Thundercracker inserted himself into the confusion. "He wants to conjunx you before-"
Starscream flapped an impatient hand at him. "No he, he wanted to make the union lawful in Tarn and Vos. Came up with the ridiculous notion of having two unions."
"Awww," Skywarp fawned, head titling.
"Shut up you." Starscream turned his attention back to the knee knocking, shivering little coward of a messenger Megatron had sent. "And you, you can go right back to your lord and master and tell him we agreed on the day after tomorrow."
"And I am a prince, and I insist. I am in no mood to be conjunxed today. Tell him he can keep it under his panel for one more night and if he has a problem with that? He has two good hands. He can frag himself instead."
Starscream hadn't expected such a meek shaking little messenger to return to Megatron and repeat his answer word for word. Something about being told to 'frag himself' must have riled the temperamental bulldozer of a mech, because no more than five minutes after he had sent the messenger scurrying off did Megatron return in his place.
"You two." Calculating optics passed over Thundecracker and Skywarp in his berth, covers lifted to their shoulders like the fabric could shield them from the violence they clearly expected. "Leave."
"There's not going anywhere!" Starscream objected, knowing from experience there were few reasons anyone ever want to be in a room alone with him, and they all involved punishment.
"Yeah, we're not going anywhere!" Skywarp backed him up, rising to his knees on the berth. Megatron looked at him, and it was enough to send Skywarp under the covers again. Megatron stared them both down long enough to ensure there would be no more interruptions from them.
"I require a private word." He growled, facing Starscream once again.
"Shame, because my trine aren't leaving."
"Fine." Megatron passed him and snatched his elbow on the way. His presence alone drove Starscream forward, Megatron hardly needing force to guide him into the washroom. The contact between them, the warm palm on his armour, sent a tingle through the sensors on his inner arm. He tore himself free when the door clamped shut behind them.
He was indignant and embarrassed at the manhandling, "What do you think you're-"
"They're hurting you." Megatron said simply and with little emotion.
Starscream gawped, "How dare you. They're my trine-"
"Not them." Megatron stalked closer, and there was fire in the crimson of his optics. Starscream shrank back, wings dropping low. Megatron was terribly tall when stood this close. "The seekers from the palace."
Starscream wrung his digits together, feeling small and stupid in the darkness of Megatron's shadow. "You're, you're mistaken, my lord," he dropped the attitude, praying Megatron would respond as well to snivelling sycophancy as his minders always had. "They've never damaged me."
"I'm not talking about damage. Not physical."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
Megatron stared him down, expression hard as the steel that made up his armour. "I will have them removed."
If that was said as a reassurance, it was a bad one. Megatron understood so little.
"They need to be here for the ceremony, to represent the palace." Starscream reminded him. "And after."
"After? You will be mine after the ceremony."
Starscream's bow taut nerves threatened to snap. He clenched his denta and hissed through them. "You think you'll own me, do you?"
"You're quick to jump to conclusions. My meaning was that you'll no longer be theirs. And no longer subject to their torment."
Ha, if only things could be fixed with a political union and a change of residence. "It's tradition." He said lightly.
"It is abuse." Megatron snarled.
Starscream didn't like that word. It chilled him, crawled under his armour and reminded him all too well of what he was behind all the glamour and wealth and titles.
"The price of being a prince. And I will always be a prince. Whether I conjunx you or not, the palace owns me." He shoved past Megatron and opened the door. "Not every slave wears collar and chain."
He let the door shut on Megatron's struck face.
That he couldn't simply kill the seekers and be done with it chafed Megatron's already frayed temper. Such an act would kamikaze any hope of amicability between him and Vos. They would refuse him the promised Air Force, perhaps even attack him with it. They would try to take Starscream back. Or worse, he would leave.
Politics as they were meant any progress he might make was at a dreadful crawl. He was stronger than Vos, in number and in firepower, but a city standing was worth far more to a conquerer than a city in ruins. He had to be patient.
And he had to run the infuriating knowledge of Starscream's situation (and his damn acceptance of it) from his mind before it drove him to rash impulsiveness. He took a breath through his olfactory to cool his burning chest. And released.
And with a snarl swept an arm across the nearest workstation and sent it's contents smashing to the ground.
"Soundwave." He rasped.
His ever-lurking lieutenant stepped into the light. Megatron braced himself against the workstation, focusing on one singular scratch to ground himself. "He is being difficult. Work on his trine. Get them on side."
Soundwave nodded, "The ceremony?"
"Is going ahead." He decided stubbornly. Hissy fits be damned, he needed to secure Starscream's place at his side however he could, in as many ways as he could. The palace could still physically remove Starscream, but legally, they would be joined under Tarnish law. And if the worst came to head and Vos took the side of Iacon over him, the council, as corrupt as they were, were sticklers for rules. If Starscream was claimed, the palace couldn't re-conjunx him elsewhere.
Starscream would be useless to them.
And would mean everything to him and the Decepticons. Starscream might think himself a powerless pawn, a slave to the palace's whims, but the seekers of Vos adored him. Would flock to him if he asked. Simply because he was their prince.
"And see what you can find from Swindle." He added, feeling an uncharacteristic surge of generosity. "For Starscream. Whatever looks expensive."
"You look nice Screamer."
Skywarp's irritating little voice was soft and kind, and for once Starscream didn't snap at him for the unflattering nickname. He stood in front of the cracked reflective glass Thundercracker had managed to find (all they could find for a mirror) and worried at the glass of his cockpit. Unlike pure solvent, water left marks.
It was the best he could do. There would be no crowd of beauticians strolling through the halls of Kolkular with polish and paint ready to do touchups for this appearance. He felt uncomfortable and ugly. Too bare, too natural. It was one thing to live among these Decepticons in such a state, but his conjunxing ceremony? Even if it was only the Tarnish one.
"We shouldn't be late." Thundercracker said, touching the small of his back in encouragement. It was time to go.
Starscream half turned to check his reflection again and caught sight of his own miserable face. He re-schooled his features.
"Let's go." He turned on his heel and led the way, tossing his helm high because even if he was feeling ugly, he was still a damn sight more appealing than the low life's loitering the fortress.
The ceremony was scheduled to take place in the Throne room, and much like a Vosian ceremony, the intended conjunx endura's were the last to arrive. Other than a late entrance, Starscream had no idea what to expect. He hadn't been given instructions, or tutored in what to say, what to do, where and how to stand. He had never so much as been to court at the palace without at least one minder stood behind him with a vice like grip on his wrist, murmuring instructions into his audials and squeezing hard enough to dent if he dared step out of line.
Soundwave was stood outside the doors, waiting for him. He pressed the control panel wordlessly. It blinked blue and the double doors swung open on mechanical hinges.
Starscream expected a dais, rows and rows of seats for the guests to be seated in, and a quiet sombre atmosphere. But when the doors opened he was faced with a room full of rowdy, laughing mechs, scattered tables littered with cubes, and two large thrones at the top of the room; equal in size.
He took a step forward, drawn to them, but a hand on his shoulder held him back. Soundwave shook his helm and nodded behind him, Megatron was approaching to join them. Very little effort had been put into his appearance, Starscream noted, eyeing the scruffy state of the warlord's pedes.
"We walk in together." Megatron explained, and stunned Starscream when he held up an arm for him to take, like the most cultured of high caste gentlemechs. Starscream heard Skywarp make an expressive noise somewhere behind him, but paid him no mind, looping his arm into Megatron's. The armour was warm under his palm.
"Where is Cloud Tread?" He murmured, failing to see the seeker and his trine amongst the laughing crowd. And they would have stood out easily, being miserable stiff old fools that they were.
Megatron glanced at Soundwave. "Distracted?"
"Affirmative." Soundwave agreed. "The palace seekers so far remain unaware of the ceremony taking place."
"Keep it that way."
Megatron began to walk, slowing his stride for Starscream's benefit as he led him into the room. Starscream knew he was to follow one step behind, now and forever. It was expected of him now. The thought soured his expression before he even reached the thrones.
Mechs lifted drinks in toasts as they passed. Starscream couldn't see a single person of note amongst them. No senators. No royalty. Just pit fighters and rough warriors with chipped paint and bulky shoulders and accents that set Starscream's denta on edge.
Megatron released him when they reached the thrones, and Starscream dumped himself down into one without ceremony, crossing his arms over his chest and pouting. Thundercracker and Skywarp had followed them in, and were being dragged towards one of the nearest tables by a group of over-friendly mechs. Skywarp looked to be already enjoying himself. Thundercracker was pulling a constipated uncomfortable face.
Starscream looked away. They could fend for themselves. He had bigger problems.
"So now what?" He watched the larger mech ease himself into the other throne with far more grace.
"Now?" Megatron waved a mech from one of the closest tables over, shifting to get comfortable. "Now we drink."
Starscream was handed a cube of energon. Plain simple energon. Starscream would have really appreciated something stronger. He went to take a drink.
"No," Megatron corrected, guiding his cube down with a finger on it's rim. "From this one." He held up his cube.
Ah, a pointless exchange to symbolise... something, Starscream supposed. He exchanged cubes again with Megatron, watching him over the rim as he took a sip. Megatron's optics dimmed to something like a smoulder. Starscream's fuel pump stuttered.
He was still hiding behind the cube when a group of green mechs approached the thrones. One looked vaguely familiar. Three of them held large rectangular cases. They lifted them in presentation. Looking at him.
Starscream removed the cube to ask, "What?"
"A gift." Megatron sat slumped in his throne, content to watch. "For you."
They were large cases. Starscream imagined how they might be filled with hundreds of jewels and trinkets when the mech lowered the first one into his lap. Megatron was watching eagerly as he flipped the lid and opened it up.
Nullrays; re-painted and redesigned to sit on his arms comfortably. He lifted one out, appreciative of it's design and power. He had been unarmed since he arrived here. Though he had been expecting something sparkly too. It was the one thing he had always been eager to hear about during his lessons, that he would be showered with jewels by his intended. He should have known better than to expect it of Megatron.
The other two cases contained identical weapons for Thundercracker and Skywarp, and their reactions were far more enthusiastic and grateful than his own had been. Starscream knew he should make an effort to wipe the misery off his face, especially with Megtaron watching so closely.
"Thank you." He bit out.
"You don't like them." Megatron was observant enough to notice. Not completely hopeless then.
"I do." He lied, placing them back into the case. "They'll be useful."
Useful for what, he wondered. Like he'd ever be permitted to actually use them. From here on out he was a kept seeker, a homemaker and doting conjunx. Someone whose sole purpose here was as a berth warmer was hardly going to need a gun. Not when he had a big strong conjunx like Megatron to protect him.
He wanted to gag.
He was interrupted in the act by another mech approaching with another box. Sitting up, he saw a line forming behind him. Mechs with boxes. Gifts. For him.
A nervous sort of excitement knotted in his tanks as he opened the next one, plunking a container of polish so small it had to be expensive. Out of the corner of his optic he knew Megatron was still watching, so he worked to keep the nonconsensual smile trying to work it's way across his face small and modest, corners twitching when he opened the next gift.
Data-books, and energon goodies, and silk polishing cloths, imported from some distant exotic planet. More polish and solvent and a dagger made of rippling orange plasma. Could cut through anything, he heard Megatron murmur gently. A perfect something to hide under his pillow, Starscream thought, running his digits over the ornate handle.
It was the very last gift that caught the air in his intakes, very firmly placed in his lap by Soundwave. It was a small box, but heavy. Curious, Starscream cracked the lid and light poured out to bathe him in radioactive blue. It was a crystal, as big as his fist and cleanly cut. He lifted it to optic level and saw his own stunned face staring back at him from a dozen angles.
"A taste of home," Megatron commented, leaning across his armrest to be closer. "You agreed to a Tarnish ceremony. It was only fair to incorporate some of your traditions."
Starscream recovered quickly, lowering the crystal into his lap, but unable to look away. "And will you be giving me a second tomorrow? Two ceremonies. Two crystals, surely?"
"You'd be taking some liberties." Megatron gestured to the pile of gifts beside Starscream's throne.
"I'm your conjunx endura." Starscream reminded him, feeling flattered and spoilt and confident because of it. "If I can't take liberties, who can?"
"You make a valid point," Megatron left the promise of a second crystal unspoken and began to rise. Sensing he was supposed to follow, so did Starscream.
"Now what?" He asked, working the crystal over in his hands, reluctant to put it down and leave his hands with nothing to distract themselves.
"It is done." Megatron said simply.
"Just like that?" Starscream couldn't help blurt. No vows? No stuffy prayers or proclamations? No uncomfortable retreat to a berth room?
"I suppose there is one thing." Megatron turned to face him.
A hand on the small of his back steered him closer. Starscream's hands on the crystal clenched when a finger tipped his chin up and a warm mouth met his. Flooded with the smell of gunpower and iron, Starscream accepted it, optics fluttering to a half shutter. The slow, shifting kisses melted him, made it all the easier for the hand on his back to draw him in, bringing him to Megatron's hard warm chest, his hands clutching the crystal trapped between them.
Megatron pulled away and Starscream stumbled into the space that suddenly manifested between them, open mouth wet and tingling, frame cold in the absence of heated touch. Megatron smirked at him, already moving away. "Goodnight, your highness."
Starscream watched him leave, stupid and hollow, throat tight. Only when the doors shut did Starscream survey the room of remaining party goers, looking for answers as to what had just happened.
What he found was Skywarp, sat at the table nearest to him, and having watched the entire thing, had the biggest grin on his face.
"Great party!" He called, lifting his cube.
Chapter 8: Someone Happy To Hit You
Warning: some physical abusive courtesy of Cloud Tread in the first half of the chapter.
"Blue," Skywarp commented, setting a magnifying lens between his optical ridges and lifting the crystal to the light - as if he couldn't already see the thing well enough. "What's a blue one mean again, TC?"
"Patience." A hungover Thundecracker mumbled into the pillow on the berth behind them.
Starscream watched as Skywarp turned the crystal slowly. "It's flawless."
Starscream snorted. "I know."
"No, I mean," Skywarp plucked the lens out of his optic. "It's 'Flawless'. Perfect. Must have cost Megatron a fortune."
As he handed the weighty crystal back, Starscream found himself wondering if Megatron had paid for it in shanix or blood. He dropped back the berth, holding it to his chest, and found he didn't mind much either way. "He's giving me a second tomorrow."
"Two?!" Thundercracker's squinty face appeared from the pillow. "You can't have two, it's against-"
"Tradition?" Starscream snapped. "So is having two ceremonies. So is conjunxing outside the high-caste. The palace only cares about traditions when it suits them."
Starscream let his fingers play around the delicately cut edges of it, knowing he would have to hide it before Cloud Tread found it. The colour of the crystal given on the day of a union symbolised the defining trait of the relationship. Blue for 'patience' was probably the best Starscream could have hoped for. He wondered if Megatron had known it's meaning, or had just liked the colour?
He wondered if he'd be getting another blue one tomorrow.
His wistful musing over the crystal and the ceremony and Megatron kissing him were rudely interrupted by loud and forceful knocking. Starscream sat up in a fright.
"Starscream!" A voice shouted through the door between the thudding. "We know you're in there!"
"Oh crud, it's Cloud Tread!" Skywarp hissed, as if Starscream hadn't already realised. "Hide!"
"I can't hide!" Starscream hissed back, panicked by Skywarp's panic as he hastily untangled himself from the berth and Thundercracker, who was in a complete state and incapable of doing much but groaning in pain over the noise drumming through his processor. "They know I'm in here, and it's not like I can climb out of a nonexistent window!"
Skywarp looked between the mound of gifts, the crystal clutched in Starscream's hands, and the overcharged trine-mate on Megatron's berth.
"Starscream!" Came Cloud Tread's voice through the door again. "Now!"
Skywarp leapt into action, snatching the crystal out of his hands.
"Hey!" Starscream protested.
Skywarp shoved it under a pillow on the berth and started yanking Thundercracker upright. "Hide the gifts!" He snapped, and Starscream realised what he was doing. He couldn't hide, but everything else could.
As Skywarp shoved Thundercracker into the washroom and out of sight, Starscream started pushing and kicking the various boxes and gifts under the berth, yanking down the berth covers to hide them from view. Skywarp waited until he was upright again and brushed down before unlocking the door.
Cloud Tread swept in like the ugliest beige-est storm cloud, shoving Skywarp to one side as his trine followed. His usually stoically disapproving face was twisted into a disgusted sneer. He paused before Starscream, EM field unguarded and sizzling with energy. His optics flicked to the dishevelled berth behind Starscream. They narrowed.
The next thing Starscream knew he'd been smacked across the face, helm knocked to the side with the force of the blow, cheek stinging. He lifted a hand to it but his wrist was caught and squeezed. "You little slut." Cloud Tread sneered.
Behind him, a cursing Skywarp had been restrained by Cloud Tread's trine.
"Is this where you've been all day?" Cloud Tread shook him, dragging his attention back. Starscream was too stunned and reeling from the blow to think to yank himself free. He wasn't often hit, and never somewhere it would show. Cloud Tread squeezed harder. "Answer me."
"He hasn't done anything, you big prude!" Skywarp yelled.
"Where's your other trine-mate?" Cloud Tread demanded.
Starscream didn't answer, flinching back when Cloud Tread moved like he was going to hit him again. "Find him." Cloud Tread turned to address his trine instead. "They're a terrible influence. I want them removed."
Cloud Tread squeezed his wrist until armour crumpled and Starscream gasped. "And you are one wrong step away from being removed as well. If Megatron continues to show such disregard for our wishes perhaps we'll give you to someone with more appreciation for tradition. The Autobots, perhaps? Our airforce just might be the boost they need to win this war. Sentinel Prime has several consorts already, but I'm sure he'd be happy to add a seeker to his collection."
Starscream stopped pulling against Cloud Tread's grip, spark twisting unpleasantly as he realised how many threats they still had to dangle in front of him. He said nothing as they dragged Skywarp from the room.
Once they were alone, Cloud Tread slowly released him. Starscream quickly moved away, rubbing his wrist.
"You are fortunate I've been given sufficient evidence to prove Megatron has taken up residence elsewhere." Cloud Tread sniffed, glancing at the hand he'd used to smack him. Starscream hoped it stung even just half as much as his cheek did. "And that recharging in his berth is all you've done."
Starscream's stared, "So you knew I'd done nothing to sully my 'precious innocence'?! You hit me!"
"Someone had to remind you of your place." Cloud Tread took a step closer. Starscream shuffled back, furious and embarassed that he had no way of defending himself. His nullray and dagger still sat in their boxes, squirrelled away under his berth.
Cloud Tread looked him up and down, tutting disapprovingly. "You need to clean yourself up before tomorrow. And get that dent removed from your face. Lord Megatron isn't going to want a half battered conjunx."
Cloud Tread turned to leave.
"And what happens when you're not around to hit me anymore?" Starscream called before he could leave. "Are you going to make special trips down from Vos just to keep 'putting me back in my place'?"
Cloud Tread shrugged, unbothered. "I'm sure I won't need to. So long as you keep running that mouth of yours, there'll always be someone happy to hit you, Starscream."
And with that, Cloud Tread left. Starscream stared at the door, cheek stinging as much as his optics were. He heard the door to the washroom creak open and arms wrapped around his middle, Thundercracker clumsily embracing him. Starscream didn't hug back.
It wasn't so much luck that Megatron came across the attempted ejection of Skywarp from his fortress, but by virtue of him possessing working audials. There were several reports of a ruckus down in the entry bay, and several more of 'snotty seekers' bullying his guards. Megatron took a wander down, curious to see what was going on and hoping, rather foolishly, that Starscream and his trine might have utilised their new weaponry to oust Cloud Tread and his trine from their lives.
It wasn't to be. He found Skywarp clinging to the frame of the entry elevator and kicking at two of the seekers Megatron commonly saw traipsing around behind Cloud Tread.
He cleared his vocaliser. They looked up in shock and Skywarp realised the frame in the same moment. They all clattered into a heap with a painful sounding crunch.
"Megatron!" Skywarp panted, scrambling to get out of the elevator and throwing himself at him.
Megatron stared at his chest full of seeker incredulously, twitching when claws sunk into armour seams and clung. "What in galaxy is going on here?!"
Skywarp's assailants began shifting their footing awkwardly, looking between one another as though silently deciding on the least damning excuse. And Megatron was going to have to take their word for it, because Skywarp looked way when he peered at him for an explanation.
"Palace orders." The braver of the two seekers finally said. "Skywarp is to return to Vos to receive new duties."
"What new duties?" Megatron pressed.
"We are not at liberty to say."
Megatron glanced down at Skywarp. Wings flicked, but the little seeker remained silent. It was obvious Skywarp did not want to go with them, but despite his vice like grip on Megatron's armour, he appeared unwilling to voice it out loud. Either way, Megatron doubted Starscream would be happy to find himself one trinemate down for the ceremony tomorrow.
"I'm sure they can wait." He decided, gently removing Skywarp's clinging arms from his chest. "Tomorrows union will be an important event in Prince Starscream's life. His trine should be with him."
The seekers glanced at each other, frowning, before they relented and let their wings drop in deference. "Yes. We're sure the palace will... understand. If those are your wishes?"
"They are." Megatron huffed, and rather than wasting any more time on them, took Skywarp by the wrist and started pulling him back towards the inner fortress.
"How do you get yourself into these situations?" He asked when they were out of audial range.
"Don't ask." Skywarp muttered grumpily.
"I take it Cloud Tread finally found your little hiding place. Is Starscream alright?"
Skywarp didn't answer, and when Megatron glanced down, he looked away again, wings low. It wasn't a good sign, and Megatron released him to quicken his stride accordingly.
"Wait!" Skywarp rushed to catch up, taking three quick steps for every one of Megatron's long strides. "He's- you know! He doesn't want to be bothered-"
"If he doesn't want to see me, he can tell me so himself."
Skywarp was obviously keen to hide something from him, so Megatron didn't bother to knock or ring the chime before barging into his own quarters. He walked in on a weary Thundercracker kneeling before Starscream, comfortingly pressing a bright blue cooling pad to his cheek.
Starscream's optics widened at his sudden appearance. He slapped Thundercracker away and snapped his head to the side, turning his head away from Megatron to hide his face. "It's- it's not-"
Megatron swept into the room and was in front of him within milliseconds. Starscream flinched away but Megatron was quicker, grabbing Starscream's wrist to stop his retreat. But he gasped in pain. Megatron released him sharply, spying the finger-shaped dents covering the delicate armour of Starscream's wrist. The cooling pad had slipped from Starscream's cheek, and as well as another dent there and a swollen, split lip, there was a beige streak of paint across the dark, previously flawless armour.
Megatron said nothing, turning and drawing his sword as strode for the door.
"Wait-" he heard Starscream scramble as after him, "Wait-"
Skywarp hurried out of the doorway to let him through, but Starscream wasn't so easily cowed. He rushed out in front of Megatron and caught him not three steps into the corridor, getting in front of him and shoving him right in the chest. Megatron stumbled back, sword tip clacking against the ground.
"Move." He ordered, too angry for eloquence.
"No." Starscream was somehow just as furious. Only half his height, unarmed, and bruised, but blocking Megatron from seeking out the fool who had dared done it to him. "No. You don't get to kill him. You don't get to kill any of them-"
Megatron bared his denta, hissing, "You're defending-!"
"I am not defending any of them!" Starscream's optics were bright with rage and watery with emotion, but he didn't give an inch of ground, no matter how closely Megatron loomed. "You think I've sat back and taken their slag all my life just so you can swoop in at the last minute and get the satisfaction of killing them?! Just so you can be the knight in shining armour?!"
Megatron huffed harshly, fist flexing around the grip of his sword. "I will not stand for it-"
"I don't care what you won't stand for." Starscream jabbed him in the chest with one perfectly manicured claw. "So he hit me!? Get over it. It's not the first time. It probably won't be the last. But you don't get to 'avenge' me."
"You are my conjunx." Megatron snarled. "You expect me to do nothing?"
"I said I don't care." Starscream sneered. "I don't care what you want to do and I don't care what your reasons are, if you want to protect me, or if you think you love me. I. Don't. Care." Starscream closed in and hissed. "You don't get to kill them. I do."
Megatron settled back, watching Starscream's shoulders rise and fall furiously. He wanted to storm past and right every wrong that had been done by those seekers, but Soundwave had told him conjunxing would involve a lot of compromise.
He sheathed his sword. "How long?"
"How long will I have to wait for you to kill them?"
Starscream hesitated, that brilliant spark of righteous indignation extinguishing from his optics now that he was getting his way. He looked surprised. "I- I can't do anything until they finalise the alliance, and hand over the airforce. And they won't do that until I am sparked."
Megatron bent, closing in on him. He took Starscream's hand, delicately, so not to agitate the dents on his wrist. Starscream stepped closer, somehow drawn to him. "I cannot wait that long."
"We're consummating the union tomorrow." Starscream snapped, hand limp in Megatron's. "It doesn't take long to get sparked-"
"I am not sparking you on the cusp of war." Megatron rumbled.
Starscream's optics flared, "But this entire arrangement-!"
"Is a ridiculous farce." Megatron shook his head, "All they want out of this union is for us to produce a Vosian sparkling with rights to the Decepticon throne. Don't give them what they want-"
"If they don't get that heir, then you'll never get your airforce!" Starscream sneered, snatching his hand away. "And they won't let you keep me."
He pushed past him, moving back to the room.
"Is that what you want?" Megatron called after him. "To be given to someone else?"
"No," Starscream smirked nastily over his shoulder. "I can't be sure anyone else will be as easy to manipulate as you."
He winked and shut the door. Megatron shifted, warm under his armour and frustrated by urges that weren't just murderous now.
Little brat. He'd show him who was easy to manipulate.
Cloud Tread was displeased to find Thundercracker and Skywarp still loitering about his victim (or charge, or whatever Starscream even was to him these days) but it was difficult for him to kick up much of a fuss without getting into an active pissing contest with Megatron over it, who had, as far as Starscream could tell, insisted on their presence. He was also fairly confident Cloud Tread knew standing within three feet of Megatron and attempting a conversation with him in a room without sufficient witnesses would mean forfeiting his own head.
Nice to see the old mech had his uses.
The day was long for Starscream, starting even earlier for the hour he had to spend in Knock Out's medbay getting the dents removed from his face and wrist. The medic worked silently, mouth pressed into a hard thin line. Starscream didn't give him any opening to discuss what might have caused the damage.
"I could wire those nullrays to your frame for you?" Knock Out managed to squeeze in just before Starscream left.
"I can't be armed at my own ceremony." Starscream spat. "It would be inappropriate."
"Megatron will be. Your little gaggle of Vosian tormentors will."
"And I will not. Cloud Tread has been pushed enough for one week." Starscream turned his wrist over, considering the repaired armour. "What would I even do with them anyway? Shoot Cloud Tread from the altar in front of the entire Vosian delegation?"
"Probably the fastest way to Megatron's spark." Knock Out joked.
Starscream hummed. It probably was.
The ceremony wasn't until the evening, hopefully long enough for a sobering Thundercracker to get a grip and plenty time for Starscream clean himself up. He took a lukewarm bath to rid himself of Kaon's smoggy aroma, and by then the body work specialist Cloud Tread had sent for had arrived from Vos.
Silversmith wasn't a particularly pleasant seeker, but neither was she cruel. She had worked on him for special occasions before, most memorably for his Coming Out ceremony at the palace, the day after he'd snuck out to watch the guards perform sky manoeuvres and had had his wings zapped by his minder in punishment. Silversmith had removed the scorched paint and blended in the new with the old expertly. She was a master at her trade, and most importantly, never asked questions.
After titling up his face up and swiping dark matte paint across his bottom lip, hiding the tiny weld Knock Out had left from the repairs that morning, she should have been done. But she removed a new paint cartridge from her subspace and loaded into a spray gun. It was lilac.
"Your new conjunx has no sense of style." She said.
Starscream blinked, surprised to hear her speak. He didn't think he'd ever heard her voice before. "...I know."
"He took me aside when I arrived. Had a special request."
A 'special request'? Starscream stared, wondering what horrible thing Megatron might have asked for. Primus, he hoped it wasn't some Tarnish tramp stamp across the small of his back, or some sort of gaudy embellishment to his nether regions. "What?"
She held up a stencil, and Starscream recognised the design easily. He'd been staring at it all week. "Where do you want it? Your trine picked their wings."
So Megatron had slapped them on Thundercracker and Skywarp as well. He couldn't imagine they kicked up much of a fuss. He sighed. "Does it have to be purple? It'll clash."
She nodded. "It has to be purple."
Stuffy Vosian tradition meant the damn ceremony would last for hours. Megatron had only been in the throne room for half and hour and it already felt like a lifetime. He stood by the hastily erected altar before the throne, having been polished, and oiled, and waxed within an inch of his life, and had to act interested and involved every time Soundwave leant in to slyly pass on the designation and point of the next politician/scumbag flouncing into his fortress because they were allies and this was an event.
The only improvement was how Cloud Tread was keeping his distance, positioned close to the doors (for a quick escape if need be) and fawning over some senator from Terasus, nose and wings high, laugh cultured and airy. If Megatron didn't need to worry about marring the shine of his knuckles he would have marched over and punched him in the face, audience be damned.
It was painful, but tolerable, until the Helex delegation arrived. Megatron instantly tried to step out of place, but Soundwave caught his arm and twisted him back around, just in time to grit his denta and nod welcomingly at the most obnoxious of Helex's three leaders; Seizer.
"Megatron," he drawled, yellow optics narrow and face smug. "You clean up nicely. A far cry from your days slumming it in the arena. Or is this the influence of your new seeker? He's rather something, though I hear he's a handful."
It was like he was talking about an unbroken pet. Megatron felt his optic twitch. "And how are the fights these days, Seizer?" He snarled, detesting even the attempt at small talk. "Run out of unarmed Autobots to slag in front of the crowds yet?"
Seizer smiled like it was a joke, "Neutrals do just as well when we're running short."
He swanned off to find somewhere to lounge, and it took Megatron a full minute to remember how to unclench his fists. "Put him on 'The List'." he muttered to Soundwave.
"He is already on your To Kill list." Soundwave reminded him.
"Then move him higher." Megatron sighed, surveying the decadent mass of scum filling his throne room. "This room is full of people I hate."
Soundwave stared at him.
"Asides from you." He amended. "How long is Starscream going to be? He is half my size, it can't possibly take this long to polish him."
"You are nervous." Soundwave observed.
Megatron straightened in offence. "Don't be ridiculous. Nothing about this situation warrants feeling nervous. Besides, he is already my conjunx."
Soundwave looked at him but didn't say anything. Megatron didn't like the unspoken sass being projected his way. He was about to make up some excuse to leave the throne room just to escape the seated crowd of politicians and royalty and lazy wannabe rulers and get some air, when finally the doors at the opposite end of the throne room opened.
Megatron looked up when Starscream stepped in, flanked by his trine, glowing in the lowlights and wings fanned wide, two purple insignias marking their centre. His throat tightened at the sight, and when Starscream's dark helm lifted and smouldering optics met his, he swallowed.
Perhaps he was nervous, but what sane mech wouldn't be when such an otherworldly beauty stepped into the room and looked at them like that?
Chapter 9: A Megatron-Thing
The ceremony lasted several painful hours, most of it spent listening to the droning voice of the sky-priest reciting nonsense in the large, echoing throne room, broken only by the occasional cough and shifting of armour in seats. It was joyless and cold, and the only warmth Megatron felt was when Starscream looked to him to steal a glance, optics large and shy and hopeful. Megatron wanted to push the sky-priest off the altar and sweep Starscream into a kiss right then and there, vows be damned.
When the sky-priest finally shut up, Starscream recited vows about honouring, and obeying, and remaining loyal to him 'till the light of his spark extinguished from this world'. Rather dramatic, and they were very different to the vows Megatron had been instructed to learn; cherishing and protecting, and no mention of eternal loyalty. When it was his turn to speak he stared into Starscream's bored, pouting little face, and found himself smirking through the last of them. He realised whatever he could come to expect of Starscream in this union of theirs, honour, obedience, and loyalty, would be the least of it.
After the vows, they signed the sky-priest's certificates, and they were conjunx enduras under Vosian law. That was it. It was as stale and emotionless as he'd feared it would be.
He wanted to lean down and steal a kiss, but optics were everywhere, and public displays of affection such as that were inappropriate in Vosian culture. The most he would be permitted was hold Starscream's hand, so he did. It was clammy and cold in his, so he gripped it tight, rubbing his thumb over delicate digits to warm them as they stood and listened to the approaching crown of near-strangers begin congratulating them.
Every so often Starscream's hand would twitch in his grasp, whenever stuffy, older seekers stopped to smile and compliment Starscream in tones that sounded genuine to Megatron's untrained audials. There was a sort of tension between them he was unfamiliar with, and though Starscream smiled back and oh so politely thanked them, Megatron wanted nothing more than to pull him away from them.
An excuse arrived to do just that when Soundwave appeared beside the doors, holding the silver box Megatron had entrusted him with locating.
"Come." He murmured to Starscream, pulling him away from a pair of hot-pink seekers lecturing him on being a 'good' conjunx. Starscream came gladly.
Megatron took the box from Soundwave carefully, briefly worrying at it's hinges, before deciding to just pass it to Starscream and hope for the best. It was somewhat stressful to watch a smirk pull at Starscream's mouth as he released his grip on Megatron's hand to open it.
"Another crystal?" He purred in faux-surprise, giddy and playful as he opened it. "Why Megatron, you shouldn't ha-"
Starscream stopped, smirk slipping away when the vibrant crimson of the crystal inside illuminated his face in red, putting the glow of his optics too shame.
Megatron stepped closer, driven by unfamiliar nerves to ask, "You don't like it?"
"Red?" Starscream mumbled, digit hovering over it as if afraid to touch it. "...Do you know what the colours mean? When you pick these crystals?"
"There are differences to their symbolic meaning across cultures." Megatron murmured, because although they didn't give crystals as conjunxing gifts in Tarn, they did give them, not at the start of a relationship, but to mark milestones.
"I was taught the deeper the red, the deeper the 'passion'." Starscream commented, lifting the crystal out of it's box, and though it gave off a vibrant red glow, the crystal itself was a very deep crimson, near black, just as Megatron had asked for.
"My, my, Megatron." He whispered, optics glazing over as though hypnotised by the jewell. "It seems you've fallen for my charms after all."
Megstron looked pointedly at wings and the purple insignias now embellishing them. "Perhaps not just your 'charms'..."
Starscream put the crystal back and snapped the box shut, blinking himself back to the present to frown at something over Megatron's shoulder. "A friend of yours?"
Megatron turned to see Seizer cutting through the guests towards them. He looked for Soundwave, hoping for an interception, but realised he was alone. "Brace yourself." He muttered to Starscream.
"Ah," Seizer opened his arms wide at the sight of them. "The happy couple."
He bowed over Starscream's hand, taking it and tugging him close to press what must have been a wet, unpleasant kiss to the back of his fingers if the sneer on Starscream's face was any measure of it. "Starscream, dear. Believe it or not, but we've met before."
"Prince Starscream." Starscream corrected coldly, showing no recognition. He wiped the back of his hand on Megatron's hip plating. "You'll have to forgive my memory. You revolutionary leaders come and go so often it's hard to remember who is who."
Megatron wondered if that had been a dig at him too, but was able to keep the frown from his face for the simple joy of watching Seizer's smug smirk twitch. "Seizer, of Helex." He introduced himself. "We met at the Winglord's Equinox Ball two centuries ago? We danced together."
Starscream hummed, head tilting playfully. "Oh yes, I remember now. The clumsy mining-class who pawed at my wings?"
Seizer smiled at the recognition, then seemed to realise that what he'd said had been anything but complimentary. Optics brightened in alarm. "Well, I-"
"Goodbye, Seizer." Megatron had heard enough, pushing Starscream onwards with a hand on the small of his back, moving them out of range before he lost the tentative hold on his fraying temper and decided to rip Seizer's fingers off.
Another group of politicians began to approach now that they were free, and with the fleeting moment privacy they had left, Megatron peered down to ensure Starscream was alright. And found the little upstart smirking.
"Did he really touch you? When you met?"
"Probably." Starscream shrugged, "Nearly everyone does."
Megatron looked at the hand he had resting on Starscream's lower back, and ashamedly began to lift it away. Starscream caught his wrist. "Not you." He scoffed. "You're allowed to."
"Not if you-"
"You're allowed to." Starscream said through his grimacing smile, very firmly placing his arm around his back in a half embrace. "This," he gestured between them. "Needs to look good. So look happy."
Starscream started up small talk with next group of guests, but Megatron struggled. He glanced across the room and saw Cloud Tread, watching Starscream's every move with his trine from the sidelines. He tightened his arm around his new conjunx, pulling him closer to his side, and hoped the scowl he wore communicated effectively enough just what he thought of them. And what he would do if they so much as laid a finger on what was his.
Megatron collected Thundercracker and Skywarp before leaving the throne room and allowing the 'celebrations' to continue on without them. It riled Starscream's preened, glossy armour. This was supposed to be the private part of the evening, just himself, Megatron, and the unpleasantness of the task the palace demanded of them.
Perhaps the arrogant fool thought a trine was some sort of package deal and he'd be bedding all three of them tonight? Ha!
Watching them, neither appeared particularly bothered or confused that Megatron was herding them along too. They looked eager even, flashing Starscream encouraging, excited looks. Starscream sneered back, annoyed at how nicely those purple insignias on their wings went with their bodywork, whereas he was looking like a mismatched fool...
He was no less confused when Megatron didn't take them back to his room to have his way with them, bringing them to the medbays instead. Starscream hesitated, recalling nasty rumours and threats he'd been told about how some lower-caste cultures treated conjunxs like possessions, had them tagged with tracking chips to stop them running away.
Thundercracker and Skywarp were steered off into separate bays with their own medics. Megatron stayed with him to guide him into his own-
And relief washed over him when there was Knock Out, holding one of his gifted nullrays between his hands. He whistled low and appreciatively when their optics met. "Look at you. You're a real Decepticon now." He said, winking at Starscream's insignias.
"Knock Out." Megatron's gruff voice vibrated over Starscream's head. "It's been a long day. I'm sure Starscream would appreciate you keeping chat to a minimum."
"My apologies, my liege." Knock Out bowed his head, sounding cheeky when he mimed pulling a zip across his mouth. "Consider it zipped."
Megatron nodded, turning, but paused to consider Starscream before leaving. "Come to me when you're finished here."
Starscream's legs felt wobbly, like someone had removed his knees. "In your room?"
"Our room." Megatron corrected, and with that swept out.
"Sounds like you've a fun evening planned." Knock Out, despite his promises, immediately started talking. "You did tell him? Didn't you? About not having seals?"
Starscream hoisted himself onto the medberth and positioned his arms for Knock Out to work on them. "Just attach the damn guns."
Knock Out sighed, swiftly retracting arm plating to get at the wires he needed. "That's a firm 'no' then. I'll keep my morning open for you, for when you inevitably come wobbling back here with a sore-"
"Don't." Starscream cut across him. "Don't make me come back here and use these weapons you're so kindly fitting me with."
Knock Out's lips pursed together. "Whatever you say, your highness. Oh, or is it your lordship now?"
"I'm still a prince." Starscream muttered. "Conjunxing Megatron doesn't entitle me to his imaginary, made-up rank. I wouldn't be a 'lord' unless the Winglord abdicates his power and hands it back to the royal house. Which isn't going to happen."
Knock Out was quiet for a moment. Starscream hoped that meant he'd shut up, but it appeared he'd only been thinking. "But you're the only 'royal'?"
"What happened to the prince before you?"
"My creator?" Starscream said, staring at the ceiling. "Deactivated in some tragic accident. Never knew him."
Truth be told, he'd never known him because he hadn't been allowed to. All he had ever known were the palace minders and the council that gave them their orders. In theory, he probably had a sire, but Primus knew who that was. No one the palace considered important enough to mention. It didn't matter much to him. He'd long since given up on childish fantasies of loving guardians. He could only hope that his own heir would know something better.
Knock Out didn't press for more information, perhaps uncomfortable with the subject matter. No one ever wanted to discuss dead parents. It was fine by Starscream. He preferred the silence.
Starscream shuffled before the door to Megatron's quarters, the weight of the weapons now a part of his frame unfamiliar and bulky. He felt wider wearing them, and wasn't sure if he liked the idea of being armed. He didn't know how to aim them, and was concerned that he couldn't just take them off without a medic's assistance. What if he fired them in his sleep?
Oh well, if he shot Megatron it wouldn't be too much of a loss he supposed.
He stared at the door, and it seemed to grow before his very eyes, stretching towards the ceiling as this imposing obstacle. It was only an interface, he told himself. From what Thundercracker had told him it wouldn't last long, that it might hurt but he'd endured worse, and that there were far crueller mechs than Megatron to lie with.
Still, he hesitated, not necessarily just with fear. A vain, prideful part of him wanted to gather his wits about him and impress Megatron, stride into the room brimming with confidence and blow him away. He wanted so desperately to be something other than an awkward virgin.
He wanted to be desired. He wanted to be wanted.
He took a deep breath, and stepped in.
Megatron was on the berth, atop the covers with his back resting against the wall, his long, long legs stretched out beneath him and crossed at the ankles. He held a datapad just inches from his own nose, squinting face illuminated by the orange glow of the screen.
"You need glasses." Starscream said in lieu of a greeting.
Megatron looked up, thumb switching off the datapad. He lowered it to let his optics track up and down Starscream's frame. Starscream shuffled at the inspection, but had nothing to hide behind.
"How are they?" Megatron asked.
Starscream blinked, realising with a flash of heat that Megatron hadn't been giving him the lecherous once over, but had been considering his gift; the weapons.
"These?" Starscream blurted, flinging his arms out like he intended to take off in bipedal mode. He quickly realised how ridiculous he looked and dropped them to his sides again. "They will take some getting used to." He answered honestly.
Megatron accepted that with an understanding nod, making a spinning gesture with his hand. "Are you going to give me a twirl?"
Without even considering that it could be a joke intended to lighten the mood, Starscream recalled how his minders would inspect him like that before a public outing, pestering him onto a pedestal and twisting him this way and that, tutting judgmentally at invisible imperfections until he felt small and ugly.
"No." He snapped.
Megatron didn't push it, dropping his gaze with a not-quite-sigh and switching the datapad back online.
Starscream was unsure what he was expected to do now. If he was take up a position on the berth or wait to be invited? Every fantasy (nightmare) he'd had of his first time began with being grabbed or swept up or pinned down. If Megatron was waiting for him to fling himself at him, he'd be waiting a long time.
His heels scuffed the floor and Megatron looked up again, attention caught by the awkward shuffling.
He drew back a corner of the covers and let one leg slip off the side of the berth to rise from it. "I can read this elsewhere, if you'd like to recharge?"
Starscream pressed his lips together, confused that he would offer to leave.
"It's the evening of our ceremony." He reminded him, having to speak loudly from so far across the room.
"And I've lost two cycles planning time already." Megatron murmured into his datapad, missing the point by such a wide margin he might as well have been stood in the next galaxy over. "This needs to be done tonight. We leave in the morning."
"We?" Starscream approached the berth, tentatively, half expecting something to leap out and ensnare him. Megatron shifted aside to give him room, and he sat on the very edge, hands placed neatly in his lap, just how he had always been taught to sit, small and inconsequential.
"Yes 'we'. I trust that won't be a problem." Megatron swiped the datapad to change the document. "Unless you have business elsewhere that would prevent you from coming?"
Of course he didn't. He frowned. "Well, no-"
"Then you're coming." Megatron said with a note of distant authoritative finality. "I won't leave you here for those psychopaths to play with."
Starscream smacked the datapad out of his grip. Megatron stared at his empty hand, incredulous.
"I am not a victim." Starscream hissed, claws cutting into his own palms. "I am not their plaything-"
Megatron lifted his gaze from his empty palm, jaw set and optics hard. "I did not say you were either of those things."
"You implied it."
"All I 'implied' was that I did not trust your brethren-"
"They're not my brethren." Starscream abandoned poise and grace and rose onto his knees to gain a height advantage as he thrust his finger at Megatron's face. "There is no connection there save the one the palace forced on me. I hate them."
Megatron stared at the end of his finger. It was inches from his nose.
"...Are you trying to pick a fight with me?" His tone was confused, but littered with amusement, and it was infuriating.
"I not picking anything! You started this!" Starscream jabbed his digit forward again.
"I started nothing." No longer tolerating being pointed at so violently, Megatron caught his extended digit in his huge hand, and didn't let go when Starscream panicked and tried to veer away.
"I - I can't just run away from them- this-" Starscream tried to tear himself free.
"You're not running away." Megatron soothed, sitting up and drawing him closer. A hand on his hip tipped him so he fell sideways into Megatron's lap. He caught himself against a huge chest, hand flush to the insignia at it's centre. Megatron radiated heat, and power, and this exotic, rough, dominance that was everything Starscream had been raised to think was beneath him.
He inhaled sharply at their sudden proximity, and Megatron's aroma flooded his olfactory; iron, and masculinity, and a 'hard days work', and suddenly everything else was swept away. Starscream's turmoiling processor emptied itself of all logical thought and fear.
Megatron noticed. He released his finger and tipped his vacant, stupidly staring face up, thumb and forefinger pinching his narrow chin. "Think of this as a well deserved break."
"...To where?" Starscream remembered how to work his tongue and asked softly, trapped by Megatron's gaze as much as he was the fingers around his jaw. He wanted to fall into Megatron, succumb to his natural, effortless authority.
Megatron brushed his thumb over his bottom lip, and he was so close Starscream could feel warm breath against his cheeks. "It's a surprise." He smirked.
Starscream nodded dumbly, squirming and shuddering when their noses brushed, wanting so badly for Megatron to just kiss him.
"I- I don't like surprises." He swallowed, mentally clawing for control. And failing. "How do I know you won't be taking me to an open war zone?"
"I'm sure you can handle yourself." Megatron's trailed fingers up his arm where the nullray rested, leaving tingling armour in his wake. "But no. Bloodshed is the final ritual."
"Ritual?" Starscream shuffled a little to hide a shiver, making himself more comfortable in Megatron's lap without thinking too hard that he was in Megatron's lap, choosing to focus on the conversation to keep his processor ticking over and not just melt.
"Four rituals to prove my commitment." Megatron elaborated, playing with the armour of his wrist.
"I thought you already had?" Starscream thought of the crystals, blue and red. Red. Red for passion.
"It's an older tradition." Megatron shrugged, "One most see as frivolous and unnecessary."
"But not you."
"I did." Megatron admitted, "When this was just a political union."
"And it's not - just - anymore?" Starscream felt himself getting sucked in again, swaying closer.
Megatron didn't answer, gaze flicking between his lips and back again.
"Kiss me." Starscream prompted, provocatively nudging closer, thinking he was going to burst if he didn't. "Just kiss me, you cowa-"
Megatron used that grip on his chin to his advantage and tugged him the last inch.
It was no dreadfully smooth, taunting kiss- like they had shared the day before. Now Megatron seemed to have something to prove and was determined to take it out on Starscream's lips and tongue and airways. Megatron turned onto his side and tipped Starscream out of his lap, twisting and suspending himself above him, kissing him into the berth, lips parting for a split second before realigning and coming together with a growl.
Shocked to find himself so suddenly under twenty-something tonnes of scorching hot (in more ways than one) warlord, Starscream made a noise somewhere between a squeak of surprise and a snort of indignation. Combined, it wasn't an attractive noise, even muffled by the tongue so expertly sliding past his lips.
He had never been kissed like it before -even in his youth, overcharged on high-grade and bad decisions with Skywarp. He convulsed at the first touch of tongue, responding clumsily to the slick, twisting kiss, wondering if it was a Tarnish-thing or a Megatron-thing and which would be worse knowing how weak it made him, melting him from the core outwards until he was little more than a pliable puddle for Megatron to play with. The taste he left in his mouth was metallic and intoxicating and he wanted more...
But Megatron drew back, nose nudging his, and Starscream blinked at the ceiling, lips wet and tank clenching. A thumb brushed his cheek.
"It's late," Megatron murmured, and finding his datapad amongst the sheets, he lifted it, showing his intention to return to work. "I don't want to disturb you."
He rolled away, and with a sudden, frightened jolt. Starscream snatched his wrist. "No. Stay."
Megatron paused, conflicted and unsure. "I know what you have been taught to expect, but I have no desire to-"
"I'm not going to jump you in your sleep!" Starscream scowled, amazed that this conversation would be this way around. "But what sort of mech leaves his conjunx in bed alone on their first night together?"
Tugging on his sense of duty and honour seemed enough to win Megatron over. With a grunt, he settled down, flicking the datapad to a side table and abandoning all hope of finishing whatever he'd been working on. Starscream watched him roll onto his front, an avalanche of heavy silver armour. Huge arms slipped under the pillow he dropped his large head to.
"Happy?" He huffed, breath wafting the thread bare sheets.
Starscream scooted closer, close enough to soak in the heat Megatron's large, dated frame radiated. Smouldering optics watched from above the pillow, like a cyber-cat would watch it's prey through the long grass. But Starscream wasn't frightened. He lifted a hand to the huge wall of armour that was Megatron's back, playing with the seam between his shoulder blades where wings would have joined if he had been a seeker. Megatron didn't move away from the contact, and Starscream watched optics dim as he relaxed into it.
"Yes," he said, running his fingers up and down his back. "For now."
Megatron's optics fluttered offline, soothed by the gentle touch. Starscream continued to stroke him as he would have a trine-mate, knowing little other way to strengthen a bond. He listened as Megatron's soft ex-vents slowed to a recharging pace, and thought, maybe they weren't so different after all.
Chapter 10: No Love Left For Opera
The sound of an un-oiled door creaking on it's track woke Starscream. His head shot up from it's pillow, bleary optics searching for the disturbance and trying to make sense of why the berth he was in was empty, but still warm.
"Thank you." He heard Megatron at the door, in the process of accepting a large screwed up bundle of fabric from a blushing Decepticon. The mech didn't seem keen on sticking around for a conversation, and fled as soon as the fabric had left his grasp.
Starscream rose onto his elbows when Megatron turned around, scrubbing at his face to wake himself up, hoping he didn't look as confused and half-dead as he always felt first thing in the morning.
"You're awake." Megatron commented, strolling over without a care in the world. Obvious to the bottomless pit of dread forming where Starscream fuel tank should have been.
"We didn't interface." Starscream blurted with a swooping, sickening clench of his spark. Cloud Tread would send someone to check up on them before long. Megatron had agreed to their conditions, that the palace would be allowed to seek proof that the union was legitimate, that it had been consummated.
"Idiot." He hissed, to himself as well as Megatron. "How am I going to explain-"
"You won't need to explain anything." Megatron dumped the bundle of fabric on the berth next to him. "They'll never know."
"They'll inspect the sheets."
"Not those sheets." Megatron nodded to the berth padding under Starscream's aft, and patted the bundled fabric confidently. "I have taken care of it."
Starscream squinted with bleary half-focused optics, and realised with a jolt of revulsion that the sheets Megatron had taken off their caller were used. He could see the stains. He scrambled to put distance between himself and it, fearing it could be contagious. Primus knew what sort of virus's the average Kaonite's had.
"Where did you- whose are those?!"
"I asked around." Megatron explained calmly, and that didn't really answer anything. Starscream didn't want to know what the rank-and-files got up to with one another in the dead of night.
Still, this was a short term solution, at best. He stared at his knees, cursing himself for falling asleep. He should have seduced Megatron. That was his whole purpose here.
Megatron didn't let him dwell on it for long at any rate.
"Up," he ordered, and it was his only warning before he grasped the end corner of the top sheet Starscream was reclined on and tugged. Starscream jumped and rolled out of the berth, unused to being so rudely shifted. Megatron swept the sheets up and threw the 'new' used ones over the berth in their place. Starscream grimaced at the large glimmering stain in the middle.
He wondered if it was still damp, but he wasn't about to reach out and check.
"We leave in ten." Megatron said, bundling up the original sheets and heading for the door. They were probably destined for a furnace. Best way to get rid of the evidence. Starscream wouldn't put anything past Cloud Tread. Least of all dumpster diving.
"Wait," his processor caught up with what Megatron had said. "We leave in ten? Ten minutes?"
Megatron shrugged a shoulder as he passed through the doorway. "Better to get off early. It's a long day."
"Slag." Starscream hissed when the door shut. Ten minutes to ready himself to face the world?! Megatron clearly had no comprehension nor appreciation for the amount of work that went into maintaining this, or that it took him so much longer when he had to improvise with inadequate supplies.
He climbed into a half filled, cold bath, spitting and hissing in irritation, using some of the solvent he'd been gifted to rinse away the grim of Kaon and the general Megatron-ish aroma he'd acquired from a night spent cuddled up with him in the berth- big arms around his waist, a mouth on his neck, hands on his wings.
The water wasn't cold enough to ward off the flush that warmed his frame.
It wouldn't have minded an extra fifteen minutes alone just to do some shamelessly unspeakable things to himself to soothe away the inconveniently insistent sense of want he'd begun to suffer these past few days.
He was still sat in his bath, staring off into space as he thought a little too vividly on how good those big fingers of Megatron's might feel in unmentionable places when-
"Ready?" Megatron asked from the doorway.
Starscream shrieked, jumping so violently half the bath's water splashed up against the sides and spilled over the edge. The other half came back in a large wave and hit him in the face. He rose spluttering and heaving, griping the edge of the tub to pull himself up, grasping blindly for the towel he'd set out to dry himself with. His hand slapped wetly against a wall of thick armour instead, and he gasped again to find Megatron right next to the tub, leaning down to help him.
"Stop it!" He flapped his arms around madly. "What are you doing?!"
"What are you doing?" Megatron countered with a smug looking smirk. "I said ten minutes. It's been half an hour, and here I find you day dreaming-"
"I was not!" Starscream snapped, and hauled himself to his pedes. His thruster skidded on the slick bottom of the bath and he almost fell again, which completely undermined his vengeful scowl. Megatron reached to help him.
"Get off!" Starscream snarled, wrenching his arm free and clambering out of the bath, feeling like a drowned cyber-rat as his drenched armour gushed water that pooled on the floor around their pedes. He flicked a wet hand at Megatron for no reason but spite. Megatron flinched when the water splattered across his face.
When he blinked his optics online again, he was considerably less amused.
"Five minutes." He ordered.
"Ten." Starscream sniffed, stepping past him.
"Five. Or I'll sling you over my shoulder and carry you out to the transport."
Starcream spark thunked.
He whipped around, wings flicking water. "I! Am a Prince! And you'll do no such-!"
Megatron caught him around the middle and pulled him to his front, wet cockpit to warm abdomen. A mouth falling to his was all it took for oblivion to sweep through his processor and clear it of agitation.
It was a long, wet, twisting kiss, like the one Megatron had overwhelmed him with just the night before. Starscream made a weak noise and could do little more than ground himself by looping arms around a thick neck and letting himself be guided through to it's natural conclusion.
Megatron pulled back. And Starscream was left stood there, cold and wet and dazed, as a thumb brushed his bottom lip. Megatron smirked.
"Fine." He purred, "Ten minutes."
He left, and Starscream spent so long wondering what had just happened that he completely forgot to use that extra time and ended up having to jog to the flight hanger anyway, still drying the seams of the his armour.
When he arrived in the fortress's hanger, it appeared he needn't have rushed after all.
"A momentary delay." Soundwave informed him when he approached the rusty bucket of bolts that was the troop transport they were using to travel. "Last minute additions to the party."
He swept an arm out and there, to Starscream's horror, stood Cloud Tread and cronies, lurking in the shadows beneath the transport's wing. Flabbergasted at the sheer nerve of them, Starscream moved towards them, ignoring the hand Soundwave reached out with to try and stop him.
"Ah, Starscream." Cloud Tread tilted his arrogant face back to look down his nose at him. "You're late. I trust last night was not too toiling?"
Starscream ignored that pleasant little comment. "I don't recall my conjunx endura inviting you, Cloud Tread." He began stiffly, as polite as he could manage. "Here to see us off?"
"Your 'conjunx' may have the power to order you about, Starscream, but us. I do not need his permission to travel with my charge." Cloud Tread looked him up and down, as though Starscream was something to be ashamed off. "I take no enjoyment in joining you on this impromptu trip you've decided to spring on us, but given the abnormal nature of your 'relationship', I have no choice."
Starscream sneered, barely resisting a eye roll. "'Abnormal nature?'" What are you blathering on about? If he's 'abnormal' because he can stand to be in the same room with me without beating me to a bloody pulp-"
"Be silent." Cloud Tread snapped, perhaps because he was sensible enough not to want that little tidbit getting out amongst the Decepticons. "Your 'conjunx' has been flagrantly ignoring our traditions."
"Stop saying 'conjunx' like that." Starscream muttered, annoyed by the sarcasm. Worried by it. That Cloud Tread wasn't taking the union seriously.
The older seeker ignored him. "Just look what he's done to you. Arming you like a common grunt-"
Starscream glanced at his nullrays, "They're for my protection." (And I cannot wait to shoot you with them, he thought privately.)
"It is his duty to protect you." Cloud Tread swept a hand through the air dramatically - and like he gave a flying scraplet about Starscream's protection. "Before we know it, you'll be sporting battle armour and be covered in repair welds."
"Oh, Primus forbid," Starscream ground out, turning away and stomping off in search of someone sane, leaving Cloud Tread to his petty complaints.
He made it three steps back towards Soundwave before he was accosted from the side by a pair of arms and wide grin.
"Skywarp!" He hissed, half choked by the arm around his neck.
"Sorry," Skywarp pulled back, looking him up and down awkwardly. "Sensitive, huh?"
Starscream wasn't sure what he meant by that at first. Then Skywarp started winking with far too much enthusiasm and Thundercracker sighed and rolled his optics in second-hand embarrassment and oh, that was what they meant.
"I didn't-" Starscream looked back and saw Cloud Tread glaring at them. He took Skywarp by the wing and gestured for Thundercracker to follow, moving to a less occupied corner of the flight hanger, as far from Cloud Tread as possible.
"Nothing happened." He said.
His trine stared at him blankly.
Thundercracker's brow began to crease. "Look, it's not our business anyway, so you don't have to tell us-"
"I'm not lying! Nothing. Happened." He struggled to keep his tone even through his frustration. If Cloud Tread became interested enough, he'd want I know what they were talking about. He checked to make sure he was still by the transport.
"He- Megatron failed to seal the deal." He clarified.
Skywarp huffed a laugh, "Does it matter? You ain't sealed anyways-"
"Warp." Thundercracker growled.
"Well he isn't-!"
"Are you trying to get me killed?!" Starscream hissed, nodding over his shoulder to where Cloud Tread was stood. Watching.
Skywarp frowned at the other trine, only just noticing their presence. "Hey, what're they doing here?"
Skywarp's face fell. "Aw, crud."
"Can't Megatron do something?" Thundercracker scowled at them across the hanger.
"I don't even know where he is." Starscream scoffed. "He said the whole point of me coming was to get me away from them. Which worked out wonderfully. Useless old scrapheap he is, can he do anything right?"
Thundercracker tore his gaze away from the other trine to consider him carefully. "Screamer..." He began, sounding sly. "Are you disappointed?"
"That Cloud Tread is coming? Obviously."
"No, about last night. I thought, what with the way we were taking about it, that 'doing nothing' would have been the best case scenario?"
"Megatron refusing to spike me is not the best case scenario." Starsceram hissed quietly. "Not with Cloud Tread snooping around. Not if weeks in Megatron's berth fail to produce a sparkling. Not if I get hauled back to Vos because I failed at doing the one thing I was sent here to do!"
"Well, he is Tarnish." Thundercracker said quietly. "Maybe it's different-"
"How can interfacing be different?!" Starscream snarled, feeling a little like this conversation was unhinging him. "What could possibly be confusing him about 'plugging in'?! He just said 'no'', alright?! He turned me down, Thundercracker. Said he had 'no desire'."
"No desire?!" Thundercracker frowned. "Is that why his tongue is halfway down your throat every time he see's you?"
"I'm just saying what he said!" Starscream near shrieked.
"Well, I dunno about disappointed but he's definitely frustrated." Skywarp leant close to Thundercracker to stage-whisper.
Starscream clenched his hands into fists and breathed through his olfactory, searching for the inner calm and grace his minders had always implored him to summon. He couldn't find it, and instead could only seethe over what idiotic, useless, trine-mate's he had.
"Soundwave!" He snarled, beckoning Megatron's lieutenant over. "Where is my fool of a conjunx? Get him back here, now!"
Soundwave started at him silently and did nothing. Starscream suddenly wondered if he'd overstepped the mark. Soundwave was loyal and patient, far more so than anyone he'd met so far, but he wasn't a servant. And was too well armed to stand for the constant demands of a spoilt prince.
The staring continued, until Starscream looked aside, and muttered a reluctant, "...Please."
Soundwave's threatening aura seemed to recede. "Board the transport, your highness. We will be leaving shortly."
The troop transport was a long hollow shuttle, with two rows of seats lined up against the bulkheads so it's occupants had to sit staring at one another for the entire awkward journey. It was old and grey and bare. Starscream shouldn't have been surprised. Megatron didn't seem to understand the concept of luxury. That would have to change.
He took a seat towards the front of the shuttle, and didn't fail to notice or appreciate Soundwave's subtle blocking of the aisle to prevent Cloud Tread and his trine from getting any further up the ship towards him. Huffing and muttering to one another under their breaths, they were forced to sit towards the aft of the shuttle. Where the turbulence was worse, Starscream noted with private glee.
The entire shuttle bounced on it's dated suspension when Megatron finally turned up and stomped up the boarding ramp. He had to stoop where he was too tall for the cabin. He hardly spared the the palace seekers a glance when he dropped himself into the seat opposite Starscream and lounged, long legs spread out into the aisle and invading Starscream's already limited space.
"About time." Starscream muttered with an unimpressed scowl.
Megatron said nothing.
Starscream kicked his pede lightly to prompt a response, but Megatron, still stoic, only slumped further, until his large pedes were threaded between Starscream's. The brush of Megatron's toe pedes against his ankle sent tingles up his leg. He stared at his lap, the weight of Megatron's piercing gaze burning a hole into the top of his helm.
Thundercracker's elbow nudged his side and then a mouth was next to his audial. "I'm not sure I believe you did nothing last night." He teased.
Starscream dared to look up with a frown, wondering what Thundercracker could mean, but ended up catching Megatron's lecherously smirking gaze by accident. He dropped his head again, cheeks on fire.
"Shut up." He hissed.
Starscream had never been to Helex. Sat at the very centre of Decepticon territory, few outsiders had. He recognised the dark silhouettes of the jagged spires that made up the skyline as they flew in, beginning their descent as soon as they crossed the borders of the polity. Blocky, unstylish, harsh buildings started passing by the view port behind Megatron's head. Starscream focused on the view to avoid meeting his gaze, hoping the heat growing in his cheeks wasn't a visible flush.
They landed in a courtyard outside a huge domed arena, the aft of the transport opening before the landing gear touched the ground. Megatron immediately rose, stomping down the aisle and striding down a barely lowered boarding ram. Starscream supposed he'd better follow, scrambling up and after him.
Helex smelt much like Kaon, but the general smog of pollution was due to overpopulation, rather than industrial manufacturing. This was the capital the Decepticons called home.
But the courtyard was empty. The lack of red carpet greeting did not go unnoticed by Starscream, but Megatron was already striding off into the arena.
"Why are we here?" Starscream rushed to draw level with him to ask. "And where is the greeting party?"
"This is a surprise visit." Megatron didn't slow his pace. "I'm here to see Siezer."
The creep from their ceremony. Wonderful.
"I thought this trip was for me." He glared.
"There will be plenty of trips for you later." Megatron was unrepentant. "This is business."
"They why did I have to come?"
"Because my business is your business."
"I'm not a Decepticon."
Megatron glanced at him. "Your wings say otherwise."
Starscream slowed and they fell out of pace. He kept behind Megatron just to glare at his back as they entered the arena and began navigating it's winding entry tunnels. When they reached a foyer, and the thrum of arena speakers and roar of a thoroughly roused crowd had grown too loud to ignore, Megatron stopped to face him.
Behind, Starcream could hear the rest of the party joining them. Soundwave strode past them both and stood just beyond Megatron. Waiting.
"Go." Megatron dismissed him with a nod of his head. "Watch the show. The private box is yours to enjoy and I'll join you as soon as I can."
"And what happened to 'your business is my business'?" Starscream ground out.
He heard a fake cough, and spied Cloud Tread looking on in disapproval. Megatron straightened to look at him, optics sparking hatefully, and patience for the palace seekers at an all time low.
Starscream poked him in the belly to regain his attention before he could do something stupid like behead someone, and stared up into his optics with as much intensity as he could muster, urging Megatron not to even say anything. Cloud Tread only needed one excuse to justify taking him away, shipping him off to Iacon or some miserable colony planet, or trading him off to someone he knew was worse than Megatron.
"Don't be long." He said with gritted teeth, having to concede the disagreement with Megatron just to sate Cloud Tread's disapproval, just to be the good little conjunx they all wanted him to be.
Megatron made an aggressive noise and stepped back. He nodded to the end of the foyer, were two guards stood either side of long red velvet curtains; the staircase to the private box. Now that was more like it.
"Go." he ordered, clearly irritated, and that was the only goodbye Starscream was going to get from him.
Starscream watched him go, taking Soundwave with him, leaving him and his trine with, ugh... Cloud Tread.
The older seekers were already striding off to the guards though, which gave Starscream a chance to loiter back with his trine before conversation became impossible under Cloud Tread's scrutinising gaze.
"What is this place?" He muttered.
"I think I heard they do sporting events here?" Skywarp offered, clearly clueless.
"It's a concert hall." Thundercracker corrected, pointing toward some of the fancy detailing on the ceiling, gold carvings of ancient Primes dancing with Primus himself. They looked old. Very old, and unkempt.
They passed through the curtains and the crowd was suddenly so loud his audials rung. "I don't think we're watching opera, Thundercracker!" He yelled to be heard.
"Do you think it's holo-ball?" Skywarp asked eagerly, taking the stairs two at a time to get to the top. And almost colliding with Cloud Tread's golden-yellow trine mate in the process. A stern glare had him backing down the stairs into Starscream.
"Ow, Skywarp!" Starscream hissed when he trod on his toe pede. "Just get up there!"
Skywarp continued his climb at a much more sedate pace, but again, stopped at the top of the staircase, blocking the way. Starscream could see the moving arena spotlights shining through the seams of Skywarp's wings. He gave him a poke.
"Skywarp, move!" Thundercracker complained from the back.
"It's definitely not opera, TC." Skywarp whispered, sounding awed.
Running out of patience, Starscream shoved him aside, clearing his view of the arena centre just in time to watch an aqua-green femme perform a reverse spinning kick and take the head of a red minibot clean off. The head soared through the air. Bright energon streaked across the silver floor of the arena's inner ring. The crowd surged to their feet, cheers and stamping feet deafening.
Starscream blinked at the amount of energon that was puddling around the headless husk of the femme's opponent as she prowled the edge of the ring and riled up the crowd.
Thundercracker made a nauseous sound, quickly looking away. But Starscream couldn't, mesmerised by the show of senseless glorified violence.
It seemed the Decepticon populous of Helex had no love left for opera.
This, was a gladiatorial arena.
Starscream turned to Skywarp, and grinned.
Chapter 11: The First Of Many
Chapter specific warning for violence.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Seizer had not been expecting him, which made it all the easier for Megatron to throw the mechs he had left guarding his office through the locked door to make his entrance. Seizer shot up out of his seat, dislodging the mech from his lap he had been in the middle of some questionable activity with.
"Out." Megatron stepped aside to let Seizer's terrified company flee. Soundwave slinked in behind him, sealing the doors now that they were alone.
"Megatron." The flustered Seizer swept datapads off his desk and shoved them into a drawer, which he promptly slammed and locked. "I wasn't expecting you."
"Where are the rest of your triumvirate?" Megatron demanded, since Legonis and Octus were just as useless as Seizer, and shouldn't be exempt from a visit of their own.
"They are watching the show!" Seizer explained exuberantly, trying to cover for the nervous shake to his vocaliser. He sat down behind his desk, choosing to ignore the unconscious guards Megatron had left sprawled across his floor.
"It's going to be a good one." He continued, talking fast. "The city champion is finishing tonight! They're a real showstopper. Could give even you a run for your money. In fact, why don't we-"
He began to rise, but Soundwave promptly circled the desk and pressed Seizer back into his seat. He remained behind him, looming.
"I'm not here to watch the fight, Seizer."
Seizer swallowed audibly. "Megatron," his tone turned simpering. "I assure you, I have been nothing but loyal-"
"Loyal? Perhaps." Megatron tilted his head contemplatively. "And lazy. And complacent. And decadent."
Seizer tried to stand again. "I haven't-"
Soundwave shoved him into his seat with a loud clunk.
"You have no Autobot prisoners." Megatron continued. "Because you've squandered the resources required to guard your boarders and engage with them, allowing them to slip in and out of our capitol on a whim-"
"We have prisoners-!" Seizer yelped, springing up. Soundwave shoved him down again.
"Instead you pit Decepticon against Decepticon," Megatron approached, blocking out the lighting and casting Seizer in shadow. "Slaughtering our own for mindless entertainment-"
"You- you yourself were a gladiator." Seizer argued, one tiny sliver of bravery remaining. "All my fighters are willing. They want to die for the cause, it's an honour-"
"They're not dying for the cause, they're dying for your entertainment!" Megatron bellowed, slamming his fist into the desk and splintering it in half. Seizer's optics near popped out of his head, but he couldn't scoot away. Not with Soundwave behind him.
"Your usefulness had long since run out." Megatron growled. "Your triumvirate is over, Seizer. I should have done this years ago."
Seizer stared up at him with huge incredulous optics. "You're demoting me?! Me?! You can't run Helex without me. Octus and Legonis are fools. They're useless without my guidance."
"Exactly," Megatron leant back, satisfied. "Which is why none of you will rule Helex."
Seizer glared at him from behind the desk, shaking his head. "You've spent too much time away, my lord." He sneered. "The Decepticons here are loyal to me. Where I go, they go. And you've lost half your army."
Megatron let a smile pull across his lips, and it was only then that Seizer finally seemed to realise this was more than just a demotion.
Starscream might have enjoyed the show more had he not been otherwise distracted.
It was far more exhilarating to watch the live fights in person than it had been to squint at some bootleg recorded copy Skywarp smuggled into the palace when they were younger, but he felt distanced from it, the roar of the crowds dull to his audials and his spark numb to the thrilling battles occurring right under his nose.
He was sat in the front row of the box, with Thundercracker hiding behind his hands and trying to block out the entire thing and Skywarp grabbing his arm and shaking him in excitement every time something particularly gruesome occurred in the pit. But Starscream's gaze continued to wander, glancing back at the stairs to see if Megatron was making his way up. He sank further into his seat, disappointed to see the curtains at the base of the staircase unmoving.
Down in the pit some sort of melee was occurring between several Decepticons of various sizes, shapes, and altmodes. Starscream found it something of a pity, watching soldiers cut down their comrades just for the thrill of bloodshed and the brief adoration of the crowd. A green truck rammed a miner into the arena wall, and then reversed to perform a victory donut.
The crowd whooped.
Skywarp was somewhat more taken with it- or with one fighter in particular; a large femme who was less grace and skill and more brute strength and fury. She kicked a downed opponent in the gut and the force of it sent them flying, back crashing into the arena wall with a sickening crunch the microphones picked up with unnecessary clarity.
Skywarp fanned himself, one hand pressed to his chest as though to still his beating spark.
"Will you get a grip." Starscream muttered, watching the same femme spin and slash an unfortunate opponent's helm clean off with a bellowing battle cry. "You're acting like a brainless groupie."
"I'd be her groupie any day." Skywarp pretty much salivated over her when she finished the melee in style, her final opponent, the green truck, impaling themselves on her huge sword in a last ditch attempt to run her down.
She held her arms up to the uproarious cheers of the crowd. The melodramatic announcer came over the loud speaker and declared her the winner; Strika.
"Strika. She certainly struck something in me." Skywarp whispered as leant against Starscream's shoulder, winking and nudging him shamelessly.
He hadn't whispered quietly enough though. There was a loud whack as Cloud Tread leaned down from the row of seats behind to smack Skywarp around the back of the head with the datapad he had been attempting to distract himself from the 'primitivism' with.
Thundercracker peaked out from behind his hands to scowl, but Starscream made a quick motion to him to stand down. It wasn't worth it. It hadn't been that hard.
Skywarp was still rubbing the back of his head when the next match started. This one was more barbaric in that they appeared to be herding alien monsters out of the tunnels, great lizard-like beings with claws and spiked tails. Starscream couldn't tell if they were sentient, but he pitied whatever fool thought enough of themselves to take them on in hand-to-hand combat.
But it wasn't a gladiator. The trap door at the centre of the fighting pit folded away and through it rose the sacrificial cyber-lamb; a bound, unarmed Autobot.
Ah, it wasn't a true event without at least one public execution.
Starscream had seen plenty of those before.
He looked away, searching the stands for Megatron again, dulling his audials to the screams and roars of a mech being torn limb from limb.
Thundercracker had his head in his lap this time, considerably paler than he had been during the actual fights.
"That was kinda gross." Even Skywarp mumbled.
"Wasn't it just." Cloud Tread's haunting voice said over their heads. Starscream scowled and didn't turn so he wouldn't have to suffer the sight of his smug face. "Alas, these barbaric practices are the Decepticon way."
Starscream wondered if Cloud Tread had somehow forgotten how many executions by firing squad he himself had ordered.
"Wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of them, then." Starscream sniffed, folding his arms.
"No, Starscream," Cloud Tread said darkly, not sounding as cowed as Starscream would have hoped. "You wouldn't."
Starscream tightened his arms around himself and sunk further into his seat, still anxious for Megatron to return. He wasn't sure what Cloud Tread's tone was implying, but it sounded like the old fool thought he could turn him against the community that had already shown him more respect and care in the last week than the palace he had grown up in ever had.
Fat chance, he thought, watching cleaning drones roll out into the fighting pit to mop up the energon from the massacred prisoner. It would take more than Cloud Tread's juvenile manipulations to turn him against Megatron.
There was a brief interval, and the Decepticons in the stands began elbowing and shoving each other to get refreshments before the finale. The announcer was droning on about some last minute change to the schedule, and how it would be something 'not to miss'.
Wondering if Megatron planned on missing the entire show, Starscream rose as well, hoping he might be able to find his wayward conjunx if he wandered the arena in search of him. He was only halfway out of his seat when a hand slapped to his shoulder and shoved him down again. Cloud Tread's trine-mate squeezed the armour hard enough to dent.
"Where do you think you're going?" He asked snottily.
"Maybe he wants some energon pops, you pompous piston!" Skywarp answered for him, turning around and leaning over the back of his seat to get in the older seeker's face and sneer. "Why's it your business anyway? You're not even supposed to be here."
"He's staying here." The full force of Cloud Tread's glare had Skywarp, as brave as he was, shrinking back. "We won't be held responsible by his conjunx should he go missing." He glared at Starscream.
"You think I'd get lost?" Starscream was incredulous. "I'm not a sparkling!"
"Sit. Down." Cloud Tread hissed.
Starscream did, burning with indignation from his spark to his fuel lines and beyond. They shouldn't still be able to treat him like this. They wouldn't dare if Megatron was present.
Where was he?!
"I'll get you some snacks then." Skywarp rose next to him. "Since no one cares if I get lost."
No one said anything to contradict that. Skywarp's scowl deepened.
Starscream gave a noncommittal shrug, not really caring for snacks but letting Skywarp step over his legs to get out of the box anyway. With the seat between them now empty, Thundercracker moved up to sit next to Starscream. He didn't appear to be enjoying himself much. He was still pale, wiping his brow with the back of his forearm and keeping his gaze low so not to even glimpse at the still bloodied arena.
"Are you going to faint?" Starscream muttered, too annoyed to be sympathetic. Thundercracker always had been too much of a wuss when it came to these things.
"I think I'm good." Thundercracker dismissed his concerns. "You're not enjoying this as much as I thought you would be. Skywarp's practically sprung a leak-"
"Perhaps I'm above such low level entertainment." Starscream muttered emotionlessly.
"This, from the mech who used to sneak out to watch bootleg copies of 'Cyber City Cage Crash' and claim it was worth getting caught?!"
Starscream sniffed. "Megatron should be back by now."
"Oh," Thundercracker sounded smug, and Starscream glanced at him to catch him hiding a smirk behind his hand. "So that's the problem."
Starscream knew what he was implying. He elbowed him roughly.
And one of the trine in the row behind kicked the back of his seat.
"I didn't do anything!" He yelled over his shoulder.
"Act like the royal representative you were raised to be or you can sit next to me for the remainder of this chaos." Cloud Tread threatened.
No way was Starscream sitting next to him. He sat back and pressed his lips into a hard thin line, fuming, letting Thundercracker smirk away to himself, unchallenged.
"...It's not like that." he muttered when he felt it was safe.
"It's exactly like that." Thundercracker wasn't letting this go. "You can't even focus-"
"Shut up, Thundercracker."
Skywarp, thankfully, chose that moment to return. He stumbled up the stairs with arms so full of junk he could barely see over the top of the bright, precariously-balanced packaging. Cloud Tread stood and immediately tried to confiscate it, and in trying to avoid him Skywarp twisted and turned and dropped pretty much all of it over the edge of the box and into the stands below. Appreciative cheers rose up to meet them.
"Primus dammit." Skywarp muttered, having rescued just one tiny box of cosmic curls from the fall. Starscream immediately snatched them off him and threw most of them into his mouth out of simple spite before Cloud Tread could get his claws on them.
The impending and overused 'junk fuel' lecture was drowned out when the lights went down again and the crowd noise rose with anticipation. Skywarp hurried to plant himself in his seat, leaning over the barrier to watch.
Annoyed that Megatron still hadn't returned and the evening was almost over, Starscream slumped back in his seat and propped his chin against his fist. The main tunnel leading into the fighting pit opened, but Starscream was distracted from paying attention when he heard the curtain shift behind him.
He stood up, ignoring Cloud Tread's reproachful hiss, and saw Soundwave making steady progress up the stairs. He craned his neck to look past him, searching for Megatron, but the lieutenant was alone.
"Where is he?" Starscream yelled over the sudden surge of crowd cheers.
"Star!" Skywarp called to him.
Starscream ignored him, waiting for Soundwave to answer, or for Megatron to finally appear at the bottom of the stairs and quell the growing disappointment. "He said he would join me!"
"Starscream!" Skywarp yelled a little more hysterically.
"What, Skywarp!" Starscream whipped around to yell.
Skywarp was out of his seat, pointing a shaky hand down into the fighting pit, optics wide and bright and excited, bouncing on the balls of the pedes. Next to him, Thundercracker looked poleaxed.
Starscream moved back to the front row of the box and looked over the edge, and saw a large mech strolling into the centre of the pit, dragging a thrashing, clawing victim by the leg behind him.
Starscream recognised that stride. Recognised those shoulders.
He fell into his seat with a thump, air rushing from his vents.
The announcer yelled Megatron's name with gusto and the crowd surged to their feet, stamping and jumping and hollering. Megatron stopped in the centre of the pit and dropped his captive's leg. Starscream recognised the unfortunate being as Seizer, and watched as the panicked mech crawled on his hands and knees back towards the doors, stumbling and falling in a panic.
Just before Seizer reached the doors they slammed shut, and a sword was thrown in front of him, clattering against the stained flooring.
Megatron drew his own sword, swinging it in one swift, effortless arch to re-familiarised himself with the weight of it, the arena lights glinting off it's sharp edges.
Starscream's spark thunked in his chest, his fingers denting the railing he gripped.
As Seizer got to his shaky legs and picked up the sword, Megatron surveyed the crowd. His gaze quickly found the box. Starscream felt himself turn hot and cold all at once when their optics met.
Skywarp elbowed him excitedly.
Megatron lifted his sword and extended his arm out, pointing it towards him, focusing on him. Whatever this was, he was to have a part in it.
He glanced at Soundwave, stood silently beside to him like he was waiting for some sort of cue.
"What's going on?" He hissed.
"You will see." Soundwave intoned.
Seizer, despite the cowardly start, was not going down without a fight. He was by no means a small, weak mech. His armour was heavy and dense from his past as a labourer, and though it seemed he'd had himself reformatted for a more luxurious life, he still knew how to weld a weapon.
A shame his processor didn't seem to remember tactics.
Like a lunatic with a death-wish, Seizer rushed Megatron with a battle cry, bringing his sword around in a wide arc. Megatron planted his pedes and watched his approach with a bored expression.
Starscream's spark was in his throat.
Seizer was within reach. Megatron stepped aside and moved his weapon so effortlessly it was like he'd barely flicked his wrist. Seizer dropped to one leg with a cry. He twisted on his knees and swung for Megatron again, but Megatron stamped down on the sword, trapping Seizer's hand under the hilt. Seizer kicked out to get him off. Megatron dodged. Sword free but right hand broken, Seizer launched his weapon after Megatron.
Megatron twisted and leant back, the sword spinning past, whooshing inches from his chest and imbedding itself into the arena wall.
It wasn't much of a show as far as showcase fights went, but Seizer wasn't a gladiator and Megatron was... Well. He was Megatron.
Megatron stepped up to Seizer's downed broken frame and lifted his sword till the tip rested just under his chin.
Enraptured with what was occurring below, Starscream jumped when Soundwave's hand landed on his shoulder and urged him to stand. "It is time."
"Where are you taking him?" Cloud Tread immediately rose, but Soundwave paid him no mind, guiding Starscream out of the box and down the stairs.
The guards at the bottom stopped Cloud Tread from following, crossing their weapons and forming a physical barrier. Starscream caught a glimpse of his flushed furious face, but hardly had the time to enjoy it as Soundwave steered him through the foyer and towards the lower stands.
The arena lights were blinding so low down, but the pit was right in front of him. And so was Megatron, his dark optics watching the entrance, waiting for him. Seizer on his knees at his pedes, appeared to be bargaining, but Starscream couldn't hear over the chants of the crowd.
Soundwave brought him to the very edge of the stands, to the wall separating spectator from gladiator. And suddenly, Starscream knew what he had been brought down here to do. Megatron tilted his head back, silently beckoning him.
Starscream didn't hesitate. He sat on the edge of the wall and swung his legs over, dropping into the pit in a crouch, straightening gracefully. He felt the weight of attention as thousands of spectators stared down at him, and Megatron waiting patiently for him to come to his side, sword still held under Seizer's chin.
"Star-Starscream," Seizer gasped when he spotted him, frantically looking between him and Megatron as he approached. "You don't have to do this! I can be your friend. A powerful friend! To both of you- you don't-"
Starscream stopped at Megatron's side. Megatron lowered the sword. Seizer foolishly allowed hope to fill his expression.
Until Starscream held his hand out and Megatron pressed the hilt of the sword into his palm.
"No, pl- please," Seizer was begging.
"To the first of many." Megatron promised, taking a step back, leaving Starscream with the sword and his sacrifice.
The sword felt heavy in his hand, forged for Megatron's size and strength and utterly unsubtle for him. But it would do.
He looked into Seizer's energon smeared face and saw the slimy cowardly politician he was. Just like the palace seekers. Just like the council. Just like every senator he had ever been forced to entertain. Mech's who controlled him, and ordered him around, and punished him, and sold him off to foreign warlords and then threatened to take him away again when they realised he was being treated better than they thought he deserved to be.
Seizer hadn't done any of that to him. He knew that. They barely knew one another.
But like all cruel mechs given power, Seizer had done it to others.
And Starscream had been around enough mechs like him to know he'd continue to do it, abuse his power, abuse those under him, if he was allowed to live.
He gripped Megatron's heavy sword in both hands and let Seizer stutter out one last plea before lifting it high above his head.
And brought it down in one smooth, confident swipe.
Metal sliced through metal and the end of the bloodied sword thunked against the flooring. Seizer's head rolled away, and after a moment, the decapitated frame it had been separated from slumped to the ground.
The crowd went wild, and Starscream let the sword hand limb by his side as he touched numb fingers to the energon speckled across his face.
Megatron tugged him against his side, warm and proud, and lifted his arm, sword and all, into the air to celebrate their victory.
The first of many indeed.
Do yourself a favour and bask in the glory that is this amazing piece of artwork by virtual-nemesis inspired by the last scene.
Chapter 12: Sure Footing
They didn't stay in Helex long after that. The energon hadn't even dried on Starscream's hands when he was bustled into Soundwave's arms and taken into the halls of the arena. Megatron had to move quickly to prevent a power vacuum from forming, something that Starscream new often resulted in situations of this nature. He'd seen many a palace advisor dragged down to the courtyard and shot over imaginary allegations of treachery.
He was still numb though, and didn't register the pressure on his forehead for what it was until Megatron was already leaping off into the crowd of confused, flustered, excited Decepticons.
He lifted his hand to his head distantly, wondering if he'd imagined the hands cupping his cheeks and the firm, rough mouth pushing a kiss to his brow, murmuring praise, words he couldn't recall but the warmth in his chest they left him with lingering.
Soundwave was pushing him onwards with a hand on the centre of his back, walking quickly, a pace Starscream struggled to match. He realised, as the chaotic roar of the pit grew distant, that they were leaving the arena.
He tried to turn back. "My trine-"
Soundwave caught his upper arm and turned him right back the other way, far rougher than Starscream would have expected. "Thundercracker and Skywarp are on route. They will meet us at the transport."
"Is there a reason we are fleeing?" Starscream hissed, trying to shake Soundwave off.
"Megatron has yet to root out his enemies. You are vulnerable."
Starscream wondered why anyone would care about him. He was Megatron's conjunx endura, yes, but what could hurting him, killing him, possibly achieve beyond Megatron's ire?
"You are more significant than you realise." Soundwave said, like he'd read his mind.
Starscream didn't have chance to question him much more before they were out of the arena and in the courtyard. It was eerily quiet after the surging roar of an arena now in riot. Starscream stood closer to Soundwave in case he should require a living shield. The walk to the transport seemed longer than it should have been.
Thundercracker and Skywarp were already inside, as were the additional unwelcome members of their party. Starscream didn't even bother looking at Cloud Tread to gauge his reaction over what had just happened. He knew it wasn't going to be good.
He was more distracted by his trine's apparent guardian anyway; a rather familiar looking femme.
One look at Skywarp's wide optics and pink cheeks quickly reminded him where he'd seen her before.
"Lord Megatron's guests have been secured." Strika announced, her accent melodic and unexpected. "You are ready to depart."
"What about Megatron?" Starscream demanded, stubbornly loitering on the boarding ramp. There was no sign of his conjunx emerging from the arena.
"Lord Megatron is capable of taking care of himself." Strika said with a hint of irritation, insulted by his apparent concern. "There will be no deviation from his orders. You are to return to Kaon with Soundwave immediately."
Starscream's armour heckled, "I'll have you know I'm a-"
He was cut off when Skywarp grabbed the back of his wing and tugged him up the ramp and into a seat. "Shh!" He hissed. "Don't embarrass me."
(As if he actually believed he had a shot with the gladiator.)
"Megatron has made alternative travel arrangements." Soundwave informed him. "Though I will be sure to pass on your concern for his well being."
So Soundwave was going to tell Megatron he'd been worrying over him? Great. That would do wonders for his reputation. He slumped in his seat and crossed his arms. He could just imagine the smug mech's face now...
Asymmetrical smirk, optics crinkling at the corners, brow cocked, thinking he looked oh-so-attractive...
Starscream's fuel tank ached just thinking about it.
Soundwave nodded to Strika, and before Starscream could change his mind, pressed the control to raise the boarding ramp. Starscream stared at the arena entrance through the shrinking gap until it disappeared behind the metal with a dull slam, his tanks clenching at the thought of leaving without him, abandoning him to such a mess.
Distantly he felt Thundercracker's hand fall to his knee and squeeze.
Across from them, so far ignored, a tight lipped Cloud Tread fumed.
It was nightfall when they arrived back in Kaon, the fortress of Kolkular the same dark haunting sight it had been the night Starscream and his trine arrived, but now, somehow, a comfort. Like returning home after a long time away. It had been only one day, but it had felt longer. He felt older.
During travel Skywarp had fallen into recharge against him, cheek smooshed to his upper arm and mouth unattractively open as he snored. Starscream had offlined his optics and pretended to join him just to prevent any risk of a conversation forming between him and an obviously incensed Cloud Tread.
When they landed, the clumsy jolt of the landing gear hitting the hanger roused Skywarp, so Starscream couldn't find any excuse to keep pretending.
Cloud Tread stood first and called him, like he wanted to take him aside.
But Soundwave, claiming to be acting on simple 'etiquette', let Starscream and his trine off first, and planted all twenty something tonnes of himself on the boarding ramp to give them time to flee deeper into the fortress before Cloud Tread could have the opportunity to follow, Skywarp unsubtly giggling all the way.
"You should have seen his face!" Skywarp laughed later, wetting a washcloth, wringing it out, and bringing it to Starscream's face, washing the specks of dried energon from his forehead. "When you appeared next to Megatron in the pit I thought he was going to combust!"
Starscream wasn't listening, sunk into the warm steaming bath water up his nose. He tilted his head back, and spoke to the ceiling when he asked, "Do you think he's alright?"
"He's fine." Thundercracker said from the opposite end of the tub, also in the water up to his chin, a damp washcloth over his optics to ward off his processor ache. "Megatron's a professional."
"Yeah Screamer." Skywarp dipped fingers into the water and flicked them at him, catching him across the face. "Didn't you see the way he danced around Seizer? It's everyone else you should be worried about."
"It's not 'everyone else' who I'm conjunxed to." Starscream frowned. "When he gets himself killed, where does that leave me?"
"If," Skywarp corrected. "If he gets himself killed."
"Megatron's been doing this for far longer than he's known you for." Thundercracker peeled the washcloth away from one optic to peer at him. "You're worrying over unlikely hypotheticals."
"He should be back by now." Starscream refused to let them soothe his nerves over this. "He should at least have sent word here to tell me when he'd return."
Skywarp flicked him with water again. "Depends on how many heads he wants to smash together first."
"I should be with him!" Starscream splashed the bath water.
Skywarp stood and moved to kneel behind Starscream's end of the tub, holding his washcloth threateningly before his face. "You should shut up before I stuff this in your mouth."
Starscream sunk beneath the water line until only glaring optics were visible.
"C'mon," Skywarp balled up the washcloth and threw it at Thundercracker's head instead, gripping the edge of the tub to help himself rise from the floor. "Hurry up, guys. I'm beat, and we should make the most of a night together before Megatron comes back and turfs us out so he can do unspeakable things to his favourite little killer here."
Starscream snorted into the water, blowing bubbles. If only.
Thundercracker climbed out first and extended a hand to him. Reluctantly, Starscream took it, stepping out and dripping water all over Megatron's floor by ignoring the towel that was offered.
"Starscream!" Skywarp complained when he climbed into the berth still damp.
"It's my berth." Starscream complained, rolling and drying himself with the sheets. A fresh set, he noticed, clean, but sadly lacking Megatron's scent.
"Megatron's gonna think you sprung a leak..." Skywarp teased, wriggling in next it him.
Starscream snorted again, "That's if he even deigns to join me."
"This sounds like the sort of thing you should talk to him about." Thundercracker climbed in on his other side, warm and dry and clean from their shared bath. Starscream squirmed into his arms, looking for affection, needing it. "You've only been conjunxed one night. You can't judge your entire relationship from that. And besides, maybe he wants to wait?"
"For what?" Starscream muttered into his neck. "The palace are going to start asking how their heir is coming along. They're going to want to know why I haven't been fulfilling my part of the bargain."
"Stop worrying about it." Skywarp breathed against his back.
"Just let things progress naturally." Thundercracker murmured, lazily nuzzling the top of his head with his nose.
"Yeah, and if that doesn't work, suck his spike."
Starscream jolted violently, kicking Thundercracker in his haste to turn and demand an explanation from Skywarp, face-to-face. "Suck. His. What?"
Skywarp's grin was mischievous, unrepentant, "What?! I'm serious, it's something they like doing down here!"
"Warp," Thundercracker tried tiredly.
"It sounds disgusting." Starscream sniffed, rolling back to face Thundercracker. "If that's what he's waiting for Vos is never getting that sparkling."
There was an awkward sort of silence that followed. Starscream could almost feel Skywarp's grin against his wing, and the stiff sort of tension coming off Thundercracker made if feel like he was trying to cuddle up to a support beam.
"...It's not that bad." Thundercracker said quietly.
Starscream lurched away from him as Skywarp burst into laughter. "Thundercracker!" He cried, scandalised.
"We just wanted to try it!" Skywarp was still laughing. "It was fun!"
"So that's what you two were doing all those nights Cloud Tread had us separated?!"
"Well what else were we supposed to do?" Skywarp lifted an arm in a gesture that implied it couldn't be helped. "Sit around twiddling our thumbs?"
"Yes!" Starscream hissed, then pushed Skywarp's grinning face back when it appeared on his shoulder. "Get away from me. I don't know where you've been-"
"Yes you do," Skywarp smiled slyly.
Starscream cried out in disgust. Thundercracker hid under his pillow.
Megatron hadn't come away from Helex without a few scuffs and scrapes. And an axe wound or two. It wasn't anything serious, but the patch up jobs he'd done on the return journey would need to be replaced with permanent alternatives. He would get it seen too. Soon.
But he had more pressing concerns. Seeing to Starscream namely, and having a long overdue discussion with him about their place in one another's lives. It was time he lay his cards on the table. It was time for change.
He had felt it, when he'd placed the hilt of his sword in Starscream's upturned palm. There was a trust between them now, shaky and unsure, but it was there.
A debrief with Soundwave could also wait, no doubt Strika had already spoken with him at length through the private comm channels regarding the day's events. She was one of very few he could trust to speak for him. She was honest and pragmatic, and unlike many Decepticons in the upper command chain, didn't have her own agenda.
It could all wait till morning. He had plans tonight.
His chrono had ticked over into the early hours of the next cycle by the time he stepped into his quarters. It was dark inside, but he paused when he saw the berth; and the three rather cozy looking seekers dog-piled together and cocooned in the sheets. Their ventilations were even and slow, their frames still save for the occasional flicking wing among the mess of disorganised limbs.
He almost didn't want to wake them.
He proceeded more carefully, footsteps tentative and armour tight to prevent rattling. He reached in to nudge what he hoped was Starscream's shoulder. Starscream must have felt safe between his trine, because he was in a deep recharge. It took a few tries to rouse him.
Finally, his mouth pressed into a frown, optics crinkling at the corners as they squinted online- then shot open wide when he recognised Megatron stood over him. Megatron pressed a finger to his lips when Starscream opened his mouth, delaying conversation for now. He'd have they spoke in private.
Starscream seemed to understand and nodded, then glanced between his trine-mates as he searched for an escape route. Megatron extended a hand to help him out from between them with minimal disturbance.
Starscream's hand was warm from sleep, and his balance off when he stood on the wobbly berth. He almost stepped on Thundercracker's wing, so Megatron forewent pretence and simply took him by the hips and lifted him clean off the berth, Starscream's hands on his shoulders for balance.
He placed Starscream back on the floor, trying to not smirk at the seeker's warmly glowing cheeks as he extended an arm to wave Starscream ahead.
He directed him to the elevator that led up the fortress's huge domed roof. Starscream seemed curious, and Megatron realised he had probably never been up there before. A mistake on his part. He should have arranged a tour for him days ago...
"You'll like it." He promised, at Starscream's little frown. "It's not quite what you're used to, but there is a view. Unobstructed even. Crews that come to repair the roof have been known to fall to their deaths."
Starscream was noticeably trying to hide a smirk. "What if you were to fall to your death?"
"I'm sure footed," Megatron reassured him.
"Even if you were pushed?" Starscream teased with a smirk. At least, Megatron hoped he was teasing.
The elevator dinged and they stepped out into the marginally cooler air. There was a light breeze thanks to the altitude, but Kaon was still a humid, stifling place, where the air was almost too thick to breath and lingered between armour paneling.
It could have been worse. At least at night, the furnaces were off.
"How can you stand it?" Starscream asked, walking out onto the domed roof, the smooth, curved metal a death trap in slipperier conditions. "The heat?"
"I have become used to it." Megatron followed him out, stepping somewhat more carefully. "We should talk."
"Hmm." Starscream stared out across Kaon below. The clouds above the city were a dirty orange from the light pollution, and the buildings themselves a blinding mess of amber and gold where life was too closely packed together.
"I suppose I should thank you, for today." Starscream said distantly.
"You did well."
"All I did was cut his head off." Starscream shrugged. "He might have run away if you hadn't sliced through the wiring of his legs."
"It was a joint effort." Megatron conceded, finally reaching Starscream's position. They were far further out that Megatron was really comfortable with, so he leant back on his heels to keep from overbalancing and sliding right off the edge of the domed roof. "We are a team, after all."
Starscream hummed again, lost in his own thoughts.
Megatron stepped in front of him, glancing back to make sure he wasn't about to plummet to his death. He stooped to take Starscream's cheek and tilt his handsome face up. It pressed into it's usual frown, optics reluctant to meet his gaze.
"You would make a fine lieutenant."
Starscream slapped his wrist, removing his touch. "I'm not a solider."
"You acted like one today."
"Heat of the moment." Starscream hissed through his teeth, staring past Megatron. "I'm not a war build."
"Precisely." Megatron pulled him back when he tried to turn away. "Yet you handle a sword as well any."
"Because I believe in you?"
Starscream froze, optics widening, brow creasing. When he finally moved again it was to scoff angrily. "...You don't know me-"
"I know you." Megatron frowned. "You're my conjunx."
"Am I really?" Starscream struck a sassy pose, hands on hips, head tilted. "Because you certainly haven't bothered fragging me yet."
A dark curl of displeasure rolled through Megatron's tanks. "Nor do I ever plan on 'fragging' you."
"Ugh," Starscream threw his head back, the very picture of dramatic. "Don't start with that 'making love' nonsense, Megatron, get a grip. You're supposed to be a warrior. This is an arranged marriage not a love story. We're not here to like each other, we're here to make sparklings-"
"And I thought we'd agreed there would be no sparklings until-"
"No, you decided that!" Starscream pointed at him.
Megatron could feel himself losing his temper, "Because it's not safe for-"
"It'll never be safe!"
"I will make it safe!" Megatron barked, voice carrying across the roof.
Starscream pressed a hand to his face, shielding his optics. He exhaled heavily and rubbed the bridge of his nose, scowling at their feet. "...If I don't do what they want, they'll take me away."
"They can't." Megatron growled.
"They will." Starscream said menacingly. "They don't care what deal you've made, they'll go straight to Iacon. You wouldn't be the first mech they've double crossed."
Megatron shook his head, and despite Starscream's grumpiness, was able to take the seeker's face in his hands again, big palms cupping his angular jaw. He brushed a thumb across a smooth cheek, and could have sworn Starscream leant into the pressure, seeking his comfort.
"The day you return to Vos, will be the day I conquer it." He promised.
Starscream made an annoyed noise and tried to pull away, but he held him steady. "We will take their city, and their airforce, and their palace. And you will be Winglord, sat on the throne that should have been yours by right."
Starscream's grumpy frown softened, but he didn't look particularly convinced. "You are delusional." He said lightly.
Megatron hummed, letting him have the last word in return for a kiss, tipping Starscream's face up and melding their lips together with slow, measured pressure, breathing one another's air and soaking in one another's warmth. He slipped a hand down Starscream's back, fingers grazing over wing hinges, and Starscream pressed into him with an interested purr.
Perhaps too interested. Megatron stepped back to regain his footing on the steep incline, and stumbled when he realised there was no more roof to stand on. He swayed back, breaking the kiss with a mildly panicked noise, his optics wide with surprise.
But before he could tip over and fall aft over fusion cannon off the roof, a clawed hand shot out and caught him by the chest plate.
Hanging precariously on the edge, Megatron stared into Starscream's smirking face.
There was a tense moment where he wasn't sure if Starscream was going to let him fall, before the seeker rolled his optics, either at himself or at him for being so clumsy, and tugged him back upright.
"You're endearingly stupid, you know that?" Starscream purred.
Megatron's spark started spinning again. Fast. "Careful Starscream," he said, straightening up. "Anyone would think you were starting to like me."
He was playing a dangerous game. Starscream could very well have rectified the mistake of saving his life with little more than a nudge. Instead, he smirked and tugged Megatron into another kiss, lips curved into an unmistakeable smile against Megatron's mouth.
Yes, he was definitely starting to like him.
Cloud Tread sealed his finished report with his own personal mark, locking the datapad from all optics save the councils before passing it to his trine. "Be there by morning." He ordered.
His trine looked between one another, nodding reluctantly, unsure. "You won't return with us? If Megatron were to learn what was in this datapad-?"
"I will need to remain here for when the council reaches a decision." Cloud Tread waved them off. "Otherwise it would be difficult removing Starscream from the outside."
"What if the council decide to let him stay?" his more clueless trine-mate asked.
Cloud Tread rolled his optics, nodding to the datapad they held. "I assure you, they won't."