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Starscream stared grimly at the syringe, his hunched shoulders casting a shadow over it as he toyed with it in his servo. He contemplated its purpose. One sharp jab. One pinprick of pain, as compared to days of agony that would only end in a painful death.

It was very quiet in the Harbinger. He had shut down all systems, including the already weak signal dampener. Anyone could find him, but he didn't expect them to be Decepticons. Megatron's message had been very clear: death by starvation was to be his punishment.

Megatron didn't know how lenient that punishment seemed right now in comparison to this.

The Autobots could find him if they so wished. Perhaps they would kill him. At least then he wouldn't die alone, with only a mangled clone to serve as company. Perhaps he wouldn't even wait for them, just do the deed himself.

It faintly terrified him, but he very much wanted to die.

The virus had spread quickly through his body, searing his veins and splintering his processor into focused needle points of fire. He was seeing things that weren't there, hearing things that had long since passed, and he couldn't tell if it was because of his prolonged isolation or because of the disease, or both.

It had only been three days since he visited that accursed plague ship in the desert, for what reason he could no longer remember. A single drop of the poison had been enough to cripple his thin frame, in every sense. His legs were useless to him, having become truly unresponsive by the first day, and paralysis was steadily crawling up his body. He had not moved for the past two days, stuck leaning against a wall on a bench, staring at the small syringe full of poison in a servo whose delicate veins pulsed with the sickly glow of tainted Energon. It was mesmerizing for a time, to watch that light brighten and then fade at such irregular intervals, with such a different hue.

He coughed violently, the discolored liquid spattering across his chassis and the floor. His arms were too heavy to wipe it away as it dripped from his lips.

It was when he started expelling Energon like this that he lost interest in that pulsing light, the corrosive virus having finally damaged his internal organs enough that they leaked. Lack of fuel didn't even matter now. It wasn't like he could ingest it anymore without his tank rejecting it and forcing it back up his throat.

Another cough rattled his frame, drowning him further in his own lifeblood.

The syringe was becoming blurry, flickering in and out of sight as his optics malfunctioned. He glared at it with hate, remembering vaguely the humiliation he felt at being brought down by something so simple as a virus. He had survived so long in this war, too long to die in such a way as this. He wondered if that was a common thought to think when one was dying.

He heard footsteps.

The heavy vibrations reverberated through the metal floor, jarring his already fragile, scrambled processors. He offlined his optics and hung his head, the occasional rise and fall of his chest the only sign he still lived. Even if it was as pitiful an attempt as this, he could still deceive the intruders into thinking he was dead. A gun crackled with energy, the sound followed by an angry and distinctly feminine, "I found the signal."

The Autobot femme had found him. That was good. She would not hesitate to finish what the virus had started.

He listened as she approached almost silently, knowing her blaster to be charged and ready to fire at the slightest movement. It was both a shame and a blessing, he thought, that he could not hide his pained breathing anymore.

"He's alive..." she growled. "Not for long..."

He waited patiently.

"Arcee..."

The baritone carried easily across the empty room, surprising the seeker. He had not heard the Prime's approach, somehow.

"Arcee." It was a warning, and like a child, the femme soldier sulkily protested against it.

"Come on, Optimus," she pleaded, a harsh, trembling edge to her voice. "Think of how many we would save if he were gone. How many deaths would be avenged, not just Cliffjumper's or Tailgate's. It's not like he's going to last much longer anyway. He's half-dead." Something lightly poked at his left arm, though he only just registered the feeling. "Look, he was getting ready to off himself anyway."

The Prime rumbled with clear disappointment, "I didn't think I would have to remind you once again, Arcee, why that is unacceptable—you know our creed as well as I do."

There was silence, and then the femme hissed in anger as she powered down her blaster. "Yeah," she growled, "I do." She sighed. "Fine. What do you think is wrong with him, then? He looks like he's barely holding on. He might not last the night."

There was much so hope emanating off of that last statement Starscream's mouth couldn't help but stretch into a small, bitter smirk.

"Ew, he's conscious."

He scowled.

Starscream's head lolled around a bit as he fought to control his movements again, settling it against the wall after some struggle. It allowed him to look down at them, in a way, and with so much of his pride lost, he took a little solace in that. He gave his mightiest attempt at a glare.

"Well, Optimus?" the femme asked.

"I do not know much about illnesses other than the little I have read, but you may not be wrong," her leader conceded. "He is losing his fight with this disease." He regarded Starscream with narrowed optics, tapping the side of his leg in thought. "I am no medic. I wouldn't know what truly ails him even if I had all of Ratchet's tools by my side. Perhaps if we brought Ratchet here he could discern what has infected Starscream."

Said seeker wheezed out one attempt at laughter, and then let it go, only holding on to a grimace meant to be a deprecating smile. "No..." he rasped painfully, "No use..."

"Why?"

Starscream lifted his head long enough to look Optimus Prime straight in the optic.

"Cybonic plague," he spat, feeling an inkling of satisfaction when they both immediately stepped back, the Prime quickly wiping his servos off on a nearby rag and making his subordinate do so as well. Starscream's head fell back, a tiny smirk struggling to make its way onto his face.

"How long have you been like this?" the femme asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

His voice became weak again. "Three...days..."

She snorted. "And you're still alive?"

Starscream was losing strength from this conversation. "One...drop..." he gasped, struggling to keep his optics online. He didn't understand why they were still talking to him. Even knowing the full details of these hellish few days, they could not help him. Only Megatron possessed the cure, and it was locked in the mech's sick mind.

His body suddenly and instinctively heaved forward, a gurgling, choking cough bringing forth new Energon from his damaged tank. It was followed by a quick shuddering gasp, and then he was leaning against the wall again, his systems shrieking out warnings and his strength failing. The Autobots were becoming blurs of color, but he was hyper-aware of the Energon dribbling down his chin.

"I'm summoning Ratchet," the Prime abruptly informed his soldier. "Enemy or not, I won't allow anyone to suffer on account of cybonic plague if I have the power to stop it. Watch him," he ordered, walking away with a digit to his audial. Starscream's optics flitted back to Arcee as she straightened her posture, holding up a blaster in a guarded position. He let his head fall forward and ignored her, closing his optics and allowing himself to become lost in his thoughts. It seemed odd that they should need a medic to put him out of his misery when a quick shot to the helm would do just as well, but he had been drained of curiosity, and no longer cared.

He winced when a blinding flash of green and white swirled into existence before them. Their medic stepped out, and though Starscream could no longer distinguish the finer details of his enemies' faces, he was certain the old mech was unhappy with the situation.

"Have any of you come in contact with the tainted Energon?" he asked tersely, setting a kit on the stained table. "No? Good. You're all going to be taking decontamination baths anyway." He pulled something out of the kit. "Step aside, then, and I'll get this over with."

A servo wrapped around Starscream's arm, another pushing his head back. The move startled the seeker, his optics flickering online almost involuntarily as his vision was suddenly filled with a close-up of Ratchet's face. Previously useless arms found strength again, trying to scratch at the servo, but it was no more than a harmless scrabbling. The medic hardly noticed it, only withdrawing after he had thoroughly examined the rust pattern crawling up Starscream's neck like thick vines.

"He's bad," he finally concluded, "but not incurable. He's thin enough that this should do."

A moment later Ratchet took him roughly by the shoulder and pushed his head aside, exposing his neck. The seeker's optics snapped open even wider in shock, but he couldn't stop the painful jab of a needle in his neck. He hated the feeling that he could do nothing. He would repay the old mech someday, make him experience it himself...maybe kill him...something...something bad...

Ratchet stepped back after a moment and began wiping his servos off with a rag. "Done. Antidote kicks in quickly." He picked up his medical kit, walking through the bridge that had remained open the entire time. "If you plan to bring him back to base, feel free, but wait until he is fully cured. That should take a few Earth hours, maybe a day. Also, we're running low on Energon, so if you want to bring home a prisoner, think of whether we can actually pull that off. As always, I advise against it. I'll be at the bridge controls."

With that, he walked away, enveloped by light. The bridge disappeared a second later, leaving the Autobot leader and his soldier to watch over the nearly paralyzed seeker.

Starscream sensed importance in the medic's words, but he couldn't seem to decipher their meaning. The pain was dulling, though. Whatever that meant, he didn't quite know, but he decided it could wait. He could no longer keep his optics open, so he slumped forward and welcomed sleep, unsure if he would wake again.

At this point, he was too tired to care if he did.


 

He woke later, laid out on one of the many berths of the ship with a dusty blue tarp serving as a blanket over him and an absolutely awful ache in his venting systems and tank.

He rested there for a while, trying to think of what he had done to earn this splitting pain in his abdomen and upper chassis. It concerned him a little that he could not remember, and he wondered if he had taken a blow to the helm. That wouldn't make sense unless he had a helm ache too.

Then he wondered why he had never seen this blue tarp before. And where the small cube of Energon beside his berth had come from, but only after he had frantically chugged and almost choked on it. His memory gave him nothing, and he grew a little frightened that something more serious had happened.

It was only after several attempts that he managed to stand steadily on his pedes. Slowly and carefully he made his way through the halls to the main chamber, leaning a little on the wall for support when breathing became difficult. He was quick to find a seat once he found the room, letting himself lean against the wall and staring at the ceiling as he caught his breath. He had the vaguest sense that he had done this before.

He decided to stand, maybe attempt to search the human Internet for leads on Energon again, when he caught sight of a little datapad he didn't remember ever owning. He picked it up, but his motor control wasn't the best right now. He was hardly able to hold it without his clawed digits cracking the screen.

It read:

Starscream,

I had the syringe emptied of its poison and taken away, but I assume you know where to acquire more. You are undoubtedly wondering how you could have survived. We had the opportunity to discover the cure for cybonic plague a long time ago, and I ordered the antidote to be administered to you. I understand what it is to endure this disease, Starscream, having contracted it myself once. I understand how it weakens both physical and mental defenses, and how it rends one from the inside, out.

I understand the despair that darkens one's mind under its influence. It is an experience I would wish no one, Autobot or Decepticon, to ever experience.

I do not expect you to repay me, and I know you are determined to remain a Decepticon. I only ask that you never use those tools for any other purpose than to heal. You may call it Autobot sentiment, but everyone deserves life. Even you, Starscream.

-Optimus Prime

Starscream gently put down the datapad, and sat down. He should have been angry, or amused by "Autobot sentiment," but he could not bring himself to feel anything but confusion. He would not allow himself gratitude.

Prime was always asking him to join his side, so this was probably a manipulation to weaken the seeker's resolve, but...it was a strange way of doing so.

That message became a recurrent theme in his thoughts in the days that followed, coming back as often as he pushed them away. The ship was so quiet, he couldn't help but glance at the datapad every once in a while.

An earth week passed before he finally picked it up and read it again.

When he finished, he stood up, took the very stash of poison that Prime had rightly believed he possessed, and dumped all of it outside.

He never felt the slightest inclination to read that little datapad again.