Epilogue: By Thee Beguiled
Optimus leaned against a wall and watched.
There was not, in truth, a lack of things to watch. Even on a normal day, the Autobot headquarters were rarely lacking in some variety of cabaret. On a normal day, such could range from an full-red attack to a sudden and suspicious outbreak of weasels.
The med-bay had been turned into an impromptu meeting place, team mates slipping in to congratulate their companions, most of whom were still in for repairs. Utterly exhausted, Red Alert had managed to staunch up the one or two ore serious wounds before Optimus had ordered him to lie down and be fixed himself. The medic had out up a feeble, token protest before surrendering with ill grace, allowing Incinerator and First Aid to tend to his injuries. Long Arm was now supervising the others, assisted by Hoist, Blurr and two thirds of the Minicons in the base. Sideswipe had also tried to make use of himself, but after the boy had accidentally tangled up half of the relays in Scavenger's arm, Nightbeat had gently suggested that he stick to transporting tools.
Sideswipe seemed perfectly happy with this, although the loud crash that Optimus heard from somewhere amongst the throng seemed to imply that the young warrior had discovered yet another task he was enthusiastically bad at.
Optimus didn't look round. His gaze was focused somewhere else.
The Skyboom Shield Minicons were gathered in a corner, communicating to one another via their typical computer-speak. Mirage was beside Hot Shot's foot, performing a quick fix-up that the recharging 'Bot seemed completely unaware of. Sideswipe was half-coiled beside his adopted sibling, the younger bot producing a not-quite-comedic image of protectiveness over the older, more experienced brother.
Oddly endearing as the scene was, Optimus found himself transferring his gaze onto the three yellow mechanics who worked at the Autobot's feet. Occasionally, he would detect bursts of encrypted, beeping laughter as they toiled, looking almost content.
A spiky little thought penetrated Optimus Prime's warm feeling of contented triumph, a thought as ugly and disdainful as it was terrifying.
Most of him railed against this, declaring loudly the callous idiocy of such a statement. They had saved his life. With no especial love for him, they had saved his life, going so far as to endanger their own. For him.
No. I don't believe it. I won't believe it.
The safety of victory tainted, he now looked over his living, chattering, complaining crew, and drew what comfort he could. A cautious amount of joy rekindled itself, and the wicked little idea was blotted out, sulkily releasing its hold on him as he leaned back against the wall and sighed.
A beeping by his foot alerted him to the presence of Sparkplug. The little yellow Minicon looked up at him questioningly. Sparkplug had always been a good detector of Optimus's occasional mood swings. Often more in touch with the large Autobot than any other, even back on Cybertron where such behaviour had not always been looked upon favourably by members of his faction.
"What's wrong?" he repeated, large optics searching his partner for an answer. Optimus began to speak then glanced back at where the Shield team stood, chatting idly with Liftor and Jolt. After a second, Optimus shook his head and turned away.
"Nothing, Sparkplug", he waved as he strode off in the direction of his study. "Nothing."
Megatron folded his arms across his torso and waited.
There was no breeze to blow up an eerily dramatic thread of dust around his feet, yet perhaps this would have been appropriate.
He didn't look to be waiting. He looked to be examining one of the larger holes in the ship's exterior. When Demolisher and the others got back to work, he thought, they'd really have to begin patching that up.
His purpose for being outside, however, did not explain why he wasn't actually looking at the ship, or the hole for that matter. Nor did it really make clear the reasoning behind bringing the Requiem Blaster along with him. The gun lay, barrel down in the dirt, propped up against one leg. And he waited.
Leader-One had not approved of the idea. Oh, he had been far too tactful to say so, but his every gesture and muted beep hinted towards feelings of grave foreboding at Megatron's latest foible. He'd even gone so far as to offer to accompany the leader outside, an offer which had been dismissed after some thought. Megaton had decided that he would rather do this on his own.
Still, he found himself rather glad that he'd thought to bring the Space Team out with him.
His sensors flared to life, scanning the ground for any hint of life. Nothing, they reported back but it was here. He knew it was here.
And now it as taking shape.
Not distinct shape, barely recognizable, in fact. The creature was still weak, still reeling from the bitter taste of defeat. Moon dust swirled off the ground, several motes catching in the light of Megatron's optical sensors. Concentrating very carefully, the warlord could make out the faint fluctuations in the Requiem Blaster's field, as it's components realized and whispered out their fear.
Megatron kept his gaze locked onto Sideways as the grey cloud built itself up into a faint figure that was just recognizable as the biker-bot's silhouette. One quick glance assured him that no clones or other horrors were taking shape on either side.
Megatron smirked quietly to himself.
Even so, he acknowledged, there was something very…disturbing about the apparition. Sideways currently lacked the power to present himself as anything more than a thin, shifting cloud of energy and consciousness, which was bad enough, in its way. It was like watching someone carrying their own head.
The shifting cloud stopped shifting, and Megatron stared back into the eyes of snubbed Damnation.
He allowed the moment to stretch for just a second longer than strictly necessary. Then he raised one hand in a sweeping movement and hailed the damaged Devil's advocate with a hearty wave.
He spoke, and his voice was a convivial roar against the other's brittle, cold silence.
"Sideways! My dear, dear ex-comrade! My, my, you don't look well."
No response, but the dust skittered ominously over the ground.
"Do forgive me, by the way. I seem to have rather ruined your plans, haven't I?"
It was interesting, he noted. There was no wind surrounding them, yet the serpent-shaped dust cloud seemed to be blowing gently from side to side. Megatron subtly expanded his energy field (energy to spare! How rich! How wonderful!), and sensed the icy-cold of Sideways's thoughts, made chillier by the smoky heat of is own.
He smiled disarmingly at the other, and spread both his hands before him. Fingers splayed wide, a gesture of innocent confusion and undercut with unspoken challenge.
"I must confess, I find myself wandering what you're going to do next. Difficult, no? You've certainly not made yourself very popular, you realize. I doubt even Prime would be willing to accept you back into his fold. Who will the traitor align himself with now, now that there is no one left who can stand his presence? You've worked yourself into something of a corner, haven't you, Sideways?"
The voice, when it finally came, was almost a sigh. A breath of ice amongst the gale.
You will die.
All trace elements of good humour fell from Megatron's face, replaced by a dark-hearted, threat-laced grin. "Not today. And not, coward, by your hands."
With the words left hanging in the air, he turned to go. And as the Minicons' fear erupted and the taste of Sideways's energy behind him turned brilliant scarlet with loathing, Megatron's grin got only sharper, only colder, only harder.
He turned, and watched as the feeble collection of moondust particles expanded, exploding in all directions. A sandstorm on a satellite with no air, dust propelled upwards by some unseen force, the power of Sideways's promise behind every one.
The dust clouds built themselves up, up, up into forming the semblance of a face. Not an identifiable face by any means, but with definite boundaries and the vaguest shadow of a nosecone. What was most obvious, most definable about it- not to Megatron's surprise- were the optics. They lay, twin tigers in the heat of swirling grey havoc, pink and gold locked around each other. To Wheeljack, they would have looked like flames. To Red Alert, like the barrels of two unholy guns powering up. To Starscream, they would have looked oddly similar to Megatron's own.
They were beauty and it was beauty born in hell.
I will make you to ash, the voice hissed, and it was no longer the smooth, silken flow of Sideways. I will trample upon your broken, smelted remains and I will strew the dust of your empire to the farthest corners of the universe. I will set your planet to flame and lightning and Death will be your reward, Guardian. I will send plague and torment to you and your warriors, I will wipe your puny little army from existence. Autobot, Decepticon, limbs shall become one on a pyre made of pain and ice. You will pay. You will pay. You will all pay.
A tendril of dust curled out, brushing against Megatron's face with the tenderness of a soulmate, before striking him hard over helmet and chin, leaving ugly friction burns behind.
And when I am done, I will raise your leaking shell to the highest pinnacle on the coldest planet. And underneath you, there shall be a plaque, and on that plaque will read, 'Here lies Megatron the Mighty.'
Megatron winced but didn't flinch. The wince itself looked more like a snarl, which it soon became. Sharpened taste-detectors, wolf-teeth were exposed. Alpha fury made crimson darken to deep magenta as legs parted to either side, slipping into the stance of a gladiator.
The words were made of steel.
"Hear me, creature. I am Megatron. I am Decepticon. And I am leader. And should you venture near me, my men or my planet I shall dedicate eternity to bringing you to termination. And your end shall not be quick, no. You will suffer. Your screams will be heard by all who wish to hear them. Your spark shall be torn from your broken torso by my own hand. And when I am done, your ashes left to form a small pile before a inscription, reading, 'Here lies the greatest fool that ever lived'. "
The words were strong, each one spat out trailing a comet-tail of anger behind it. In truth, in his deepest spark, the Decepticon leader knew that he was afraid. Sensed that violent threats, violence itself, meant nothing to the one before him. Sensed that, however weak the creature may be, destroying him may not be within his power.
He knew all this, and so swore the words to himself, even as he lay them before Sideways. Pride was their main component, molten promise the power that projected them.
"Be gone. You lie as Autobots lie, coward, and your hypocrisy outstrips even theirs. You cheat, you hide, you cower. And your deceit tires me."
He drew himself up, aware that the Minicons's howls of fear had softened to a quiet, tension-filled hum.
"So leave, craven. And take your dust with you."
The hell-optics flared nova-bright, the dust rose upwards on an enraged shriek. Before it collapsed, sinking once again to the floor of the moon, golden-pink fading away as the weakened enemy realized his own limitations. The thick of the cloud touched down with an almost audible 'thump', a flash of pink and a shadow just visible. And then they, too, vanished.
Megatron waited three minutes more. When, at last, he was sure that nothing horrible was about to leap from space itself and consume him whole, he relaxed. Striding over to pick up the trembling Space Team-feeling only trace elements of guilt for bringing them in the first place-, he cast one look over his shoulder.
"Bastard," the tyrant growled, before lifting up the Requiem Blaster and striding inside.
There were worse places to find yourself, at nine 'o clock in the morning, than stuck in the Autobot med-bay, staring miserably up at the ceiling.
Jetfire decided to list them.
After seven failed attempts, he gave up and resigned himself to the aimless wandering of his own thoughts.
All of the others had already left. Apart from him, Hot Shot had spent the longest amount of time in repairs. Sideswipe, of course, had waited faithfully in the corner whilst Red Alert worked, leaping forth to embrace his brother only when all was mended. The fact that his brother floundered pathetically and yelped in pain when enthusiastically hugged had done very little to deter the younger Autobot's mood. Both had left one hour ago, Optimus and Scavenger two hours before that. And now Jetfire was alone.
His self-repair systems had kicked in quickly, patching up the minor wounds and leaving Red Alert to tend to his marred torso and the mess of his wings. Once the job was done, however, the medic had immediately ordered Jetfire to remain in the med bay until his reserves had had time to recalibrate themselves. When Jetfire had protested, Red Alert had informed Optimus Prime, who had curtly reinforced the order. This, combined with the medic's threat to weld him to the nearest Minicon, had finally quelled Jetfire's outrage.
He stared up at the ceiling, seething over the unfairness of it, cursing the evil of Sideways and mulling over the stupidity of everything in the universe.
Commettor had reluctantly come to visit, reassuring himself of his partner's stability before leaving the shuttle in a wordless sulk. It occurred to Jetfire that, while his blue and red partner did not necessarily like him, he would at least be tolerated as long as he didn't do anything too outlandishly silly. Die, for example. Swindle had also drifted by earlier, saying nothing but perching on a high ledge, watching Jetfire from above. When the Autobot had next looked up, the Minicon had gone.
Twenty-eight thousand, seven hundred and ninety-nine energon cubes on the wall, twenty-eight thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine cubes…oh help, I'm singing in my head again…
The door hissed open.
Jetfire perked up and looked towards it with interest, waiting to see who had come to play Let's Torment The Shuttle now. Instead, he was greeted by the rather unnerving sight of the door sliding shut again, with no sign of a visitor before it.
Confused, the shuttle glanced around the room, finding it to be as empty as an energon cube given to Scavenger. When a small snicker reached his audios, however, he smiled, and raised his optics to the ceiling.
There was no one there.
Jetfire half-succeeded in stifling a scream, snapping his head down so quickly the cables in his neck almost tore loose. He gaped at the sight of Starscream, sitting calmly on the edge of the recharge bed.
"…How did you do that?" he queried after a moment.
The seeker chose to ignore him, having located one of Red Alert's tools. He was currently fiddling with it, giving the spikier bits looks of annoyed curiosity.
Re-entry had not been enjoyable, with battered armour and damaged wings. What had been even more frustrating had been Starscream's insistence on snagging a piece of debris from the satellite, to present to Alexis. When questioned upon this, the seeker had merely grunted and mentioned something about the "stupid humans wanting a souvenir".
Jetfire, who couldn't really bring himself to like any of the children, wandered what the strange hold the little Earthling female seemed to have over the ex-Decepticon. They had, as a result of Starscream's request, stayed up ten minutes longer than necessary, searching for a piece of debris that he deemed worthy.
By the time they had finally landed back at base, both seeker and shuttle looked, in Red Alert's clipped words, "a mess".
Rather than make any enquiries, Jetfire let his head fall back down to the platform. As he did, fragments of the day's events spun through his mind like snowflakes.
"…You never told me you had brothers," he said after a while.
Response to this was given much as he'd expected it; a non-committal grunt and a muttered "I do." He nodded, laying silent for a moment before bracing himself for it.
"Not bonded?" he asked, knowing it was wrong to hope and hoping anyway.
Starscream looked up at Jetfire's sigh of relief, moving closer to peer down at the shuttle with narrowed optics.
"And what, pray tell, does it matter to you?" he queried, suspicious but not cold. Before Jetfire, stung, could reply, he continued. "Besides, we're a trine. And split-sparked," he added mutinously, pronouncing the term as if it were a curse. Which, to some extent, it was. "We hardly need to bond. Skywarp might have wanted to, once, but…"
The sentence lost itself, trailing away into the infinite umbrage of 'what if's. The seeker fell silent, before catching the look of half-exasperated confusion Jetfire bore. Chilly lips gave way to a smirk as the storm clouds were, for the moment, forgotten.
"Honestly Jetfire, do you know nothing of Decepticons?" he purred, teasing now, leaning over slightly to press one finger under Jetfire's chin.
Jetfire opened his mouth, closed it and gave a groan of resignation. He raised himself up onto his elbow-joints, meeting Starscream's scrutinizing gaze. "It's just…I don't…they're…I don't understand seekers," he finished lamely, waving on hand uselessly, absurdly seeking to apologize for what he had always known to be true.
But the fire-slit gaze above him required no apology, brushing away his sincerity with a snort. To Jetfire's surprise, he watched as his hand moved of its own volition, sneaking across the dead metal to lie upon the seeker's own, ivory-ebony forming a chess board.
The contact made, flash-flood fury blinked onto Starscream's face, though his hand moved not one inch.
"Autobot…", he growled, glaring at Jetfire with a look that made the other's soul freeze. Then the seeker was leaning, brushing canopy over chestplate, arm against arching wing. His lips stopped dead an inch from Jetfire's, so close the shuttle could feel the electric beat of the other's field, so close he could practically taste the odd needing, the threat, the
strangeness. It was interesting, really, watching the brash-mouthed traitor waver. Their faces were painfully near, allowing Jetfire's brilliant sensors to watch as child-like indecision danced over Starscream's millennia-old face.
Thinking quickly, deciding faster, Jetfire pushed himself upwards and brought them into contact, slipping his fingers around Starscream's own as he did so. And after that, really, it was easy.
When they parted, Jetfire looked at the other with all the wide-eyed innocence he could muster.
"Y'know, I didn't need energy that time," he drawled.
"I know, you stupid Autobot."
As they leaned in once more, Jetfire felt something hard and cold slide up his arm, right before something snapped shut around his wrist with an audible 'click.'
Oh no…he wouldn't…
With a sinking sensation, Jetfire realized that he most certainly would.
As Starscream drew away, Jetfire glared viciously at him. In vain, he jiggled at the handcuff, unsurprised to discover that this yielded absolutely no reaction, apart from making Starscream's smirk erupt into a huge, twisted smile.
"You are a dead mech," said Jetfire in a cold, cold voice.
All doubt shoved away and confidence once again at full bloom, the seeker gave a raspy chuckle. Stretching himself out, limbs almost parallel to Jetfire's, he poised himself upon one elbow-joint.
"Tell me, Jetfire," the seeker murmured, his voice now laced with oozing satisfaction. "Do you remember the Mars mission?"
Despite all other sensations, good and bad, Jetfire winced internally. Very well did he remember the Mars mission. He spent quite a bit of time trying to forget the Mars mission. He'd eventually chalked the whole scenario up to tiredness and a lack of patience on his part. Combined, possibly, with just a modicum of insanity on the hurting seeker's part. Still, it had never been mentioned between them and Starscream had, seemingly, never remembered to make good his threats.
At least, until now.
Jetfire shivered gently as a pitch-dark digit stroked the curve of one shoulder. The second hand moved to place itself very decidedly over Jetfire's chestplate. As Jetfire grinned slowly, one red leg settled across his outstretched thrusters, effectively pinning him to the platform. Ignoring the shuttle's grunt of protest, Starscream moved upwards to touch one wing onto Jetfire's own, sending surprising ripples over both figures. Jetfire gasped, and laughed very, very softly.
"Well," smirked the seeker as his fingers played lightly over Jetfire's faceplate. "Here's what happens when you do that sort of thing…"
Scavenger considered asking when Hoist walked by without seeming to notice him, a happy gleam in his eye. It was odd for the short Autobot to pass by without greeting a comrade.
Scavenger opened his mouth, then quickly thought better of it, as he noted that the mechanic was muttering quietly to himself. A quick glance picked up on the welding device clenched tightly in Hoist's hand, whilst a second noticed the can of bright green paint slung over one shoulder.
Sometimes, Scavenger thought, it was better not to ask.
He continued on his way, exchanging only the quickest, most weary of glances with Blurr. Mercenary and sniper were making their way to the shooting range, moving quickly so as to avoid by seen by Red Alert. The medical officer had become something of a tyrant over the course of the day, ordering Autobots to stay in their quarters and just damn well sit still and heal, will you, I am NOT performing any more repairs today!!!
Last Scavenger had seen of the medic, Red Alert had been going out for a drive. It might have had something to do with Prime's gentle yet firm suggestion that he take a break.
"Wait," muttered Blurr, turning off in the direction of the med bay.
"How come?" grunted Scavenger, in a hurry to reach the training rooms. He was certain that some frost still remained in his joints, and wanted very much to burn it out before it affected his motor relays. Not a condition that a younger mech would have feared, but Scavenger, despite his many arguments to the contrary, was fully aware that he was no longer young.
"Think I left one of my guns in here. Hold on…"
The sniper pressed in the authorization code, and stood back as the door slid slowly open.
There was a pause, before he raised his hand again and, very carefully, typed in the code again.
As the door slid shut behind them, both Scavenger and Blurr stood in the hallway, staring directly ahead of them. It would have been impossible to make out an expression on either face, but somehow there was the faint suggestion in both their stances that a lot of thinking was going on.
Then Scavenger turned, grunted briskly to himself and fixed Blurr with a cold look.
"This never happened."
Both mechs nodded brusquely to each other before moving off to the target range, in slightly more of a hurry than was strictly necessary.
Cyclonus wandered down the hallway.
This, in itself, was unusual. Repairs on the ship had been postponed until the team had recovered, allowing Cyclonus at least a few day's worth of free time. That he was spending it stalking aimlessly through the moon base corridors instead of sleeping his sweet, happy little head off was strange.
Megatron had discovered that Disciplining his rather motley crew proved to be something of a problem. Wheeljack's very neat, very precise report, quite clearly indicated that none of them had actually done anything wrong, with the possible exception of the seeker twins in going to Earth unauthorized in the first place.
The report had, of course, been passed through the twitching hands of Cyclonus, who had done some very minor, very careful editing, adjusting one or two phrases and erasing the account of a few particular occasions. Insane Cyclonus was, but not stupid. There were times when even he recognized the need for tact.
Which was why only Skywarp and Thundercracker had been assigned to the task of meticulously scanning and analyzing every computer module in the base, checking for the slightest remnant of Sideways's poison. Whilst the rest of the Decepticons, in theory, returned to the task of fixing the ship. In theory.
Thrust had raised some objections, of course, in the face of Demolisher's suggestion of a forty-eight hour break, but he swiftly withdrawn his reservations when the tank-bot had explained his argument logically and rationally. Right after Cyclonus, revelling in the return of his beloved weaponry, had accidentally blasted Thrust through a wall in a moment of high-spiritedness.
Megatron had taken some more persuading, but with a the delivery of several well-worded pleas by Demolisher and one very neat, very carefully edited report, he had relented.
Their glorious leader had subsequently disappeared, after spending half an hour in a CR chamber. Demolisher had looked nervous for the first ten minutes of no Megatron, before Thrust had informed him of the leader's desire not to be disturbed. Cyclonus had last seen him taking the longest, most relished shot of high grade the copter-bot had ever seen.
As Cyclonus strolled in reasonably good spirits down the hallway, he espied a dark, brooding shape at the end of it.
Ah HAH. Cyclonus's face stretched to a grin.
Said dark shape was sitting in a hole torn in the base wall, his legs dangling down over the side. From where Cyclonus stood, it was just possible to make out the stars.
He subtly checked over Wheeljack's hands, stance and lack of guns, reassuring himself that the dark 'Con was not about to do anything…drastic. Satisfied that this was not the case-and more relieved than he liked to admit-, Cyclonus strode over to where the black car slouched.
"Heya," he hailed the other with, plonking himself down on the burnt-out ledge beside him.
Wheeljack's head snapped up in surprise, a small, well-trained part of him berating him for not noticing the helicopter's approach. The same part which was very faintly annoyed at the intrusion into his thoughts. The rest of him, however, pointed out that he hadn't really been thinking about anything in the first place. All in all, he decided, there was actually a mild sense of gratitude for the 'copter's presence.
He replied in a surly grunt, a habit which he would not admit to having fallen into. Secretly, the Autobot in him had always believed that this was how Decepticons greeted each other. He didn't notice the way Cyclonus rolled his optics but he did hear the contemplative 'hmm' as the other pulled up his legs and leaned against the opposite prop-up, hands resting behind his head.
Knowing by now what horrors Cyc's little 'hmm's usually entailed, he narrowed his optics suspiciously at the other and said, "What?"
The other ignored the question at first, tilting his head upwards in what Wheeljack thought was a deliberate attempt to annoy. Just when he'd decided to ignore Cyclonus back and return to star-gazing, a chirpy voice beside him spoke up.
"You're brooding," declared Cyclonus, smirking in an irritating manner.
Wheeljack stared. 'I'm what?"
"Brooding. You do it a lot."
Wheeljack was surprised. "I do?"
"Mm hmm. Usually when we win." Which, admittedly, did not happen often enough to make Wheeljack's pattern obvious to any but the most watchful of eyes.
Wheeljack considered this for a moment, before both accepting and dismissing it with a lop-sided shrug. He returned to the vista of stars, ignoring the quizzical look the helicopter threw him.
Cyclonus shook his head and settled back again. After a moment, his gaze wandered casually to Wheeljack's lap. His optics dawdled over the small construct in the other's hands, a miniature masterpiece of wires and metal. After a moment of silence, he risked asking. "What's that?"
The other started and glanced down. He then looked puzzled, as if momentarily forgetting what the thing was, before his face brightened fractionally into a quiet, curvy half-smile that Cyclonus hadn't seen before.
"Oh, this? Nothing, really. Just…thought I'd make something."
Cyclonus had no eyebrows to raise, but he made a metallic clicking sound in the front of his vocals that was the rough equivalent. "You can do that?"
"Yeah. I think so."
That night, slipping into recharge, there were no flames. Instead, there were snowflakes. Snowflakes, the faint scent of ice. And two blue optics, blue as the sea, the sky, blue in the dim sunlight outside the Academy, the first time he'd seen them.