Author's Note: I know I'm probably repeating myself, but as this is the last chapter... Thank you once again to those who have supported me as I wrote this! I hope you enjoy this final chapter! :)
Also: Despite its name, the 'Aligned Continuity' actually contradicts itself quite a bit... So to clarify, I am regarding 'War for Cybertron' and 'Fall of Cybertron' as the the predecessors to 'Prime'.
A ground bridge materialized amidst the ruins of the dead city. Fading darkness still lingered over the crumbling Golden Age architecture; it was the verge of a new solar cycle... but it had not dawned yet. A figure emerged hesitantly from the bridge, surveying the area with practiced caution. At the sound of heavy steps, his head turned sharply in the direction of the noise.
"I thank you again for your earlier assistance, Autobot."
"Megatron... Why did you call me here? Has Starscream-" Ratchet began, making no effort to mask the suspicion in his voice.
"This does not bear any relation to Starscream's condition. He is recovering splendidly-a further show of his perpetual resilience... and, no doubt, of your medical expertise, doctor. I had hoped we might instead discuss... the future of Cybertron," the ex-Decepticon replied with quiet composure.
Ratchet's optics narrowed warily.
"Huh! And why would we have have anything to discuss on the matter?" the words were laced with a long-standing resentment.
Megatron lowered his optics to meet the Autobot's in a steady gaze.
"Optimus believed that freedom was the inherent right of all sentient beings. I thought him naive in those days... I was certain that in order for some to be free, others must be subjugated... By the end, for all my glowing promises of equality and justice, my ambition was merely to become the oppressor, rather than the oppressed," he said slowly, lamentingly.
Ratchet remained quiet, his expression attentive but indifferent.
"I will be direct, Autobot... I would ask that you hold to Optimus' ideals as you build the infrastructure of this renewed Cybertron. Do not keep efficiency over empathy, order over justice... or power over equality. Fail in this, and you will meet the same end as Sentinel Prime and his followers... and myself," the ex-warlord's words were low but emphatic, his denta gritting as he spoke.
"Had I been wiser millennia ago, I wonder how our world might be changed today? Had I heard Orion Pax's words, rather than just disputed them...? While the system he once fought to defend was corrupt, his intentions were ever pure. He was of better makings than you or I. It is fitting he would be the last of the Primes."
The medic did not speak for a time. He allowed his optics to drift over the surrounding ruins, as if remembering them in their glory.
"Optimus also believed that all beings were capable of change... He was insistent upon it," the old Autobot's voice was wistful, almost haunted. "He pardoned you, Megatron; in spite of everything you did, and everything you fought for. In spite of the friends we had lost to you, and the planet you left lifeless. He believed that you could change."
Yes, Orion Pax had indeed said something to that effect, long ago...
'All sentient beings possess the capacity for change, Megatronus.'
A fresh wave of grief surged over him. The once-tyrant nearly felt fluid rise in his optics, but he suppressed it vehemently.
Had I trusted you, Orion, instead of letting my lust for power guide me... Cybertron would have lived-thrived... and you would be here to see it.
"I would... honor his hopes," Ratchet said after a pause. "In regards to our last meeting... The Autobot forces will take a stand if the Predacons attempt any further unprovoked attacks against former Decepticons. Optimus wouldn't have wanted the new Cybertron to be forged in grudges and infighting."
An uncomfortable hush followed, finally broken by the medic.
"I'm not extending an invitation for you to join us, Megatron-"
"Nor would I accept it, Autobot."
Ratchet was silent for a moment more before finishing.
"...but I will not go against one of Optimus' final decrees. You have been pardoned. For the All Sparks' sake, don't you dare disgrace his memory by falling back into your old habits!" the medic was sputtering, his words choked and painful. His optics were turned downward, as though he couldn't bear to look at the one he addressed.
"I have no intention of doing so. Such would be a crime as much to me as to you," the former gladiator said with sincerity.
Ratchet stared long and hard at the other.
"And what of Starscream? Does he share these sentiments of peaceful coexistence?" the medic asked scoffingly.
"Starscream is now under my protection... as well as my watchful optics. He will not stir any further unrest," Megtron stated firmly. Then, with something akin to bitter amusement, he added: "In time, perhaps Optimus' belief in a being's inherent capacity for change will be put to the test."
"See that he's kept on a short leash... I can't imagine he's abandoned all hope of reigniting the war..."
"Nor can I, doctor..."
Ratchet grinned with a faint humor at this.
"We won't forget. I, too, would see Optimus' vision of Cybertron come into being," the medic's voice was low and broken. "Even that... wouldn't be memorial enough."
"Thank you, Ratchet," there was honest gratitude in the ex-Decepticon's words.
The Autobot moved to leave, then turned back as if to say something. No words came. He stepped slowly through the ground bridge, which flickered and dissipated behind him.
Sky... I cannot see the sky... Just the darkness... Everywhere...
Over two weeks had passed since the decisive battle for The Well of All Sparks, and Starscream's condition had improved significantly. Ratchet and Knock Out had returned as promised, and the medics had seamlessly grafted newly forged platings to the seeker's chassis. Knock Out (unable to bear the idea of such lustrous finish being marred) had even managed to coax the jet into a buff and wax, and he no longer bore the jagged scars of his ordeal. The minor lacerations and dents that had covered his frame had also been tended to, and he looked almost as though the incident had never occurred.
However, he was now faced with another malady: seeker claustrophobia, worsened by the expanse of time he had spent shut inside the underground laboratory. His instincts pleaded with him for freedom, for open air. His wings, still tender and flightless, craved the rush of endless sky.
Perhaps Megatron intends to torture me after all, he thought sulkily. By allowing me to drift into insanity, a prisoner in this wretched laboratory...
Well, Megatron wasn't watching him now... The former Decepticon leader had gone aboveground some time ago, offering no explanation for his departure.
Either he would see the sky again, or he would succumb to madness; of this much Starscream was certain.
Gasping at the effort of it, he pulled himself up into a sitting position, then hoisted his legs over the side of the berth. Tentatively, he slid forward, allowing his heels to touch the floor. He rested some weight on his good leg, testing to see that he could support it. With a desperate burst of will, he stood, favoring his recently reconstructed left knee. The seeker could feel his strength ebbing fast, and leaned against the nearest wall for support, his talon-tipped fingers digging grooves into the smooth surface as they clamored for purchase. He managed a few stumbling steps before his injured knee buckled, sending him tumbling to the floor. He let out a scream of anguish as his recovering frame collided with the hard, metal flooring.
The harsh sound of clanking steps issued from outside, and the laboratory's doorway shuttered open, revealing Megatron. The ex-warlord glowered at the crumpled figure sprawled awkwardly beside the berth.
"Idiot!" he spat, to which the seeker responded with a feeble whimper.
The larger mech nonetheless knelt beside him, holding him at the waist and slowly lifting him to his feet. The flyer mumbled a rambling plea.
"Please... please, master... I need air, sky... Please..." he sobbed in delirium.
Hissing irritably, Megatron took hold of Starscream's left arm and positioned it around his own waist, supporting the seeker's weight. The smaller mech leaned heavily against him, clinging to his chassis for support. The ex-warlord rested one arm on the jet's shoulder, steadying him. Megatron then took a slow step, prompting the other to do the same. Their progress was halting, and the flyer winced whenever he was forced to use his left leg, but they made their way steadily towards the door.
When they reached the ramp, the seeker tripped, nearly sliding from Megatron's grasp. Rolling his optics, the larger mech slipped his free arm beneath Starscream's knees, lifting him into his arms. The seeker let out a surprised and indignant cry, but allowed it, his desperation for open air winning out over his pride. The former Decepticon leader carried him to the top of the ramp, then gently lowered him onto his feet again, moving to support him once more. They made it outside, and a wave of relief surged through Starscream as he saw the sky spanning above him.
A new solar cycle had just arrived, and the decrepit buildings gleamed with dawning light. At a glance, the rusted-out husks seemed new again, as though at any moment the deserted city might come alive with the vitality it had once known.
Starscream's wings twitched longingly at the sight of open sky... He was painfully reminded that he could not fly, and his optics brimmed with fluid at the thought.
He shuddered, remembering the span of time he had spent without his T-cog... The experience had been far more painful for him, a seeker, than it would have been for that ground-bound Autobot... Being flightless left Starcream feeling vulnerable and helpless; his thin frame did not lend itself to great physical strength, and he was by far most comfortable fighting in the air. Not to mention the fact that his deeply instilled seeker instincts demanded flight, making it a necessity for his mental well-being.
Megatron guided him onwards, walking him slowly along the cracked and broken roadways of the derelict city. Starscream couldn't help glancing upwards nervously from time to time, wondering if the Predacons could have tracked them here...
To think... Not so long ago, they had commanded the Predacons. Now the ungrateful beasts hunted them, and they fled like frightened prey. They were orphans in this new world, he and Megatron alike; helpless and alone, forced to beg at the feet of the Autobots. Just a few cycles past, their situations had been reversed; the Decepticons had held the upper hand. Their enemies were driven to raid heavily guarded mines, simply to procure enough energon to scrape by...
There are no Decepticons anymore. It is gone now, all of it, and we are but the scrap left over. Just like this city...
"Master... ...What is to become of us now?" the seeker asked resignedly.
Megatron said nothing for several kliks, then stopped suddenly in his tracks, causing Starscream to stagger.
"We will witness the onset of a new era... and hope it fares better than the last," the larger mech answered him stoicly.
"But... Master, surely you would rather have a hand in shaping the new Golden Age...? Assuring that it is all we... ah... you... wish it to be?" the flyer asked, almost pleadingly.
"No, Starscream," Megatron replied testily. "If I am to have any part in it, it will be to see that the last vestiges of the Decepticon ways die with the rust."
The seeker felt his spark crackle with shock... revulsion. Was his master truly conceding that the Prime-that the Autobots-had been correct?
When he had first met Megatron, Starscream had been working under the service of Cybertron. The status that came of being Sky Commander had suited his lust for rank well enough (at least for the time), and the occasional skirmishes his forces engaged in had kept him entertained. But then Megatron had shown him what true power was... The Decepticon leader had annihilated Cybertron's finest, cutting through them as though they were untrained cadets. Starscream had seen power, vast and untapped, in the warlord's optics, and knew he had found a new master. He had felt a burning admiration for the renegade; he was proud to fight at Megatron's side. And fight they had, painting entire battlefields in the energon of their foes. It had felt infinitely more fulfilling, more satiating, than the petty battles he had fought in the name of Cybertronian defense. He had felt alive, meaningful...
And yet... The infamous warlord he had so admired had also been the cold tyrant who had beaten and humiliated him time and again. Eventually, Starscream had grown to resent his master... Any loyalty he'd held had given way to a renewed thirst for greater power. On how many occasions had he striven to overthrow the ex-gladiator, to claim leadership for himself? How often had he dreamed of Megatron, broken and cowering at his heels, pleading for life from the one he had so long abused?
Still, a part of Starscream had never let go of the awe and admiration that he had felt for the Decepticon leader-possibly, there was even a degree of devotion... Especially after the seeker's time as a rogue, when he had struggled for survival, left entirely friendless... To be accepted once more among Megatron's forces-to have a home and allegiance-had been a relief beyond fathoming. He had actually desired to serve Megatron again, to give his loyalty to the Decepticon cause.
Then, when Megatron had been run through with the Starsaber, he had surprised even himself. He had felt grief-true, abysmal grief.
Perhaps they had simply endured each other's presence for so long, a bond had inevitably formed.
Megatron had, after all, saved him from the Predacons. There was no rational reason for doing so; no strategic maneuvering or excuses. It had been an act of... mercy. Even now, the ex-warlord was helping him to walk, to ease his buzzing, flight-deprived mind...
To say his feelings towards Megatron were mixed, at odds... was to put it gently. But one fact was cemented, indisputable in Starscream's meta: he was glad that his master was still among the living.
"Very well then, master... If that is what you truly desire," the smaller mech said awkwardly, his optics darting uncomfortably.
They continued to walk, a weighty silence filling the air between them.
"And what is... to become of... me?" Starscream asked hesitantly at last, his voice sighing, exhausted.
What was to become of Starscream?
Megatron had declared the seeker to be under his protection, and promised the Autobot that he would monitor him. But what did that mean? That Starscream was his prisoner? His slave?
No, he thought pointedly.
"I have negotiated an understanding with the Autobots: you are under my protection. You are not to be fired upon or taken captive by their forces, unless you should strike first. Additionally, the Autobots have agreed to stand against the Predacons should they instigate another conflict," he stated mechanically, indifferently. "Until the dust has settled and Cybertron is again stable, you will remain under my watch. Those were the terms of our agreement."
There was a pause as Starscream evidently struggled to process this news. At last, almost choking, the flyer spoke.
"Master... Thank you."
Megatron had heard these words before, but they had never held any meaning. Always, they had been interspersed amidst his whining second-in-command's sycophantic groveling. They had never meant anything more than that the seeker wanted something... usually to be spared his own life.
But he heard an unfamiliar sound in the words this time, so new as to seem alien. A... realness.
It was difficult to admit-even more-so to explain-but the ex-warlord found that he was grateful to have Starscream at his side. All that had been was gone now: the lower castes, the senate, the Pits, the rebellion, the war, the glory of battle, Orion Pax and Optimus Prime, Soundwave, all of his allies and forces... All of it was gone, leave Starscream: the irksome, inescapable presence that returned against all odds, time and again, to throw a wrench in his workings.
And somehow, he was comforted to have the schemer there.
Powerless, purposeless, displaced...
Always alive. If nothing more could be said for Starscream, he had a singular knack for survival. And so long as he functioned... he had not failed; not yet.
Whatever awaited, he would continue to endure. And perhaps... he would not have to do so alone.
Megatron knew that this would be his legacy. His brutalities would be remembered longer than any act of mercy, any good intention... Such was the nature of history. But whether or not they would be recorded or celebrated, his actions from this point on would affect the future as truly as his past choices.
'All sentient beings possess the capacity for change, Megatronus.'
Perhaps he could believe that.
Author's Note: Did I say that chapter 4 took a lot of rewrites? Yeah... Not like this one. I went through several distinctly different drafts before landing on this version. XD I hope you enjoyed it! :) Thank you so much for reading! :)
Reviews are loved, I appreciate it so much! :)
(Added note: Yes, Starscream will be able to fly again. :) It's just that he's in too poor of condition to try it yet, here. ;) )