Hmph. I could have sworn I put this up last weekend... (shrugs) Oh well. New chappie, hopee likee, see what you think. More Megs this time, but yet more Starscream. Eeeee!
Soryu: Yep, yep, Megsie is a manipulative son of a- ahem. Yes, the poor Screampuff isn't a happy, well-adjusted social butterfly at the minute... And as for the twist, neither can I... ¬ ¬
Indigo-ink: Indigo! Hiya! Lateness is forgiven as long as people review at all. :D I love my reviews, I do, so no maiming is, thankfully, necessary. I don't do maiming, unless it's in a fic and they deserve it. Hee. (coughs and looks bemused at the smoke) Ack - okay, see you! And one thing...why apricot? (tilts head) I'm curious. But you knew that anyway ;)
Decepticon base was not the place to wear your spark on your metaphorical sleeve. You showed only contempt and strength to your enemies unless you wanted to be jeered, casual friendship for those you meet briefly in case they died the next day, and life-preserving respect to your superiors. For a grieving seeker, it was hard to remember not to let anything show on his face - Starscream threw himself into the training regime at the War Academy and tried desperately not to think about the pale shining Towers of his old home, morning sunlight on white armour, a smile glimmering in warm blue optics... He ran himself ragged during the day, flying higher and faster and more recklessly than he ever had as a carefree explorer and his trainers praised him for it, but all the time he was trying not to fall. Even in his quarters at night Starscream couldn't relax, couldn't think about Skyfire at all without sinking hopelessly into a quagmire of guilt and total despair that threatened to overwhelm him - no matter how hard he pushed himself, no matter how feverishly he threw himself at the challenges they set him, no matter how fiercely the sick, gnawing need for revenge ate away at him, it was never enough to drive away the images that came crashing down on him unawares when he tried to shut down at the end of every gruelling shift. His superiors watched his progress with sharp-opticed calculation, his teammates muttered amongst themselves about the crazy seeker with a death wish - the instructors set him higher and higher standards to meet and watched disbelieving as Starscream snatched desperately at them and either achieved it in the first few tries or beat himself into the ground until he could.
Megatron watched the seeker, at first listening to reports on the new recruits with idle curiosity and half an audio when Starscream's name was mentioned, then as the flier became more proficient and his cheating the odds more talked about between the instructors he started to pay attention.
It wasn't uncommon for him to observe the training of new recruits on occasion - Megatron liked to build up his own opinions of troops the instructors thought were promising, and many recruits had seen the famous slag-maker stare putting them off from across the room, but only few had watched the blazing red optics dim in consideration and the slight nod, the oh-so-slight dip of the head that accompanied the first steps towards acknowledgement and respect from the Decepticon High Commander.
Megatron smiled to himself. It seemed that the offering had made good.
Some time later the Decepticon leader made his way down to the training grounds. The instructor on duty, a deceptively slim, fragile-looking femme Megatron remembered as having an intensely powerful bellow, turned as he came in to salute briefly and neatly before turning her attention back to the recruits. Megatron nodded back, prowling slowly down the side of the long room and focusing on the seekers-in-waiting circling the ceiling in a dizzying combination of loops, dives and evasive manoeuvres that they had obviously been drilled in before. The Decepticon glanced over at the femme, saw that she was about to begin the next, more intensive part of that shift's drill and stood back, fixing his optics on the red and silver seeker above him, and waited.
Shatterwall didn't so much as glance over at her commander as he walked down the room. Megatron had come into her units many times now - never so many it paid to be relaxed, of course, since whenever the Decepticon leader was in the same room it was impossible to relax completely, if at all, and he liked it that way - but often enough that she knew he would brook no interruptions while he was watching the newbies. Every trainer knew that Megatron made his own observations and impressions of those they mentioned, and any attempts to influence his opinions, however subtle or naively accidental they may be, were not tolerated.
So, she did what she did every time Megatron made his rounds - Shatterwall focussed all her attention on the rookies and put them through their paces the same way she always had. Loud, fast and unforgiving.
Starscream staggered down the corridor in a daze of pain and exhaustion, mild damage warnings buzzing dimly before his optics and telling him of the injuries he already knew he'd sustained. The last simulation had been a killer - literally, rather than figuratively, as Shatterwall had decided to send the entire group on a mission through a computer-generated Iacon, dodging laser fire from ground troops, mounted cannons, Autobot shock troops on the walls... Starscream's plating groaned in complaint, but the seeker welcomed the pain - bizarrely enough, every time he was hit it felt as though he were paying back a debt to Skyfire for leaving, and every time a blast of laser fire came too close for comfort Starscream gritted his teeth and imagined those Autobot slag-suckers chasing behind him... At the end of the sim, he had turned round to see that he was the only seeker left standing.
None of the others had made it half way.
He had left the room battered, dented, and with the unnerving feeling someone had been watching him - his sensors had flicked behind, and just before the doors had hissed shut he had caught a glimpse of deliberate scarlet optics fixed on his back.
For now, though, red contemplation was forgotten as the seeker wobbled his weary way back to his quarters, the knot of guilt in his chest not lessening in the slightest as he tried not to imagine what Skyfire would think of him now.
I'm sorry, dear one - you might not like it, but now I don't have anywhere else to go. The Academy was destroyed, everyone scattered... The red optics burned as an old ire flickered to the fore. And I'm sick of being hunted.
Starscream wasn't so sunk in self-pity that he missed the footsteps behind him. He slowed, part way down the hallway to his quarters, and his internals lurched as the footsteps slowed to match him.
Suddenly he stopped - fists clenched and his optics narrowed to blazing slits as a raw, hot fury surged through his core. I won't be hunted. I'm through with it - if someone wants to hunt me, they'll pay dearly for the pleasure.
The footsteps faltered slightly, then stopped a little way behind.
Starscream's optics scorched the walls as he turned. You want to play? Fine then. We'll play. But this time I will set the rules.
I won't be hounded again.
Starscream as turned and faced the mech behind him, he set a foot on the road that would lead to his downfall. Optics thin slits of balefire staining his sharp cheek ridges blood-red, he gave the seeker following behind a chilling, sardonic smile.
"Something I can help you with?" he asked pleasantly, the smirk never wavering as his voice cut through the air like a knife. The ice-blue seeker before him bridled, hitching his wings high and stepping forward with an arrogant, almost dainty grace that was intended to belittle Starscream, when in truth the seeker would have laughed had he not been braced on a hair-trigger.
"We don't like the way you've been acting" the mech said, his voice a husky growl that didn't seem to fit his affected movements. "New little seekerettes that want to try flying with real Decepticons shouldn't try and show their betters up in front of Megatron - it never ends happily."
Starscream stood confused for a moment, then looked at the mech with genuine astonishment in newly mocking ruby optics. "You mean to say you seriously think I'm playing to an audience?"
The seeker shifted a little, uncomfortable at the way this was going, at the amusement rising with the scorn in Starscream's face. This wasn't going like it should - the idea was that the newer rookie got intimidated and hung back. He wasn't supposed to laugh!
Scarlet narrowed in the pale blue face. Well, if the smart mouth thought this was funny, then he'd have to learn the hard way. And Mawklin wasn't about to object to playing the teacher for a while...
Starscream saw the mech tense an instant before the seeker sprang. His face set in a snarl - the silver flier leapt to meet him and a vicious punch to Mawklin's face splintered his nose and made him howl. The blue seeker landed awkwardly, flailing in surprise that the newbie had dared to hit him back before he was ready, his spread fingers only scratching across Starscream's canopy. The red flier yelled - more from pent-up emotion than the slight graze to his finish - grabbed a wing so hard his fingers dented it and pivoted gracefully to run Mawklin face-first into the wall. The resounding boom and muffled squawk did nothing more than enrage Starscream further; he pulled the blue seeker back and spun him round so they were face to face - only to have an arm slam into his midsection and send him sprawling.
Mawklin may have been slow to react, but he was egotistical - the thought that the other seeker may actually beat him stung his pride and encouraged him to sting Starscream back. The silver flier staggered backwards, and before he could regain his equilibrium Mawklin was on him - knocking him back again and again until the seeker was sprawling up against the wall.
Now Starscream seriously thought he was in trouble - the earlier fury had turned to an icy fear that this time, he was actually going to die. For the briefest of moments, he welcomed it - wasn't that what he deserved, after leaving Skyfire behind? Wasn't that at least part of the idea behind joining the Decepticons?
He wavered, then all the faces of all the bots, neutral and Autobot alike who had ever jeered at him, spat on his name, veered out of his airspace when he came near - they all started to dance and laugh behind the triumphant red optics staring down at him... Fear, fury, abject hatred, they all mixed together until Starscream couldn't tell the difference and he lunged at Mawklin with his fingers curling into claws and face contorted, shrieking like a banshee as he knocked the other seeker clear across the hallway and laid into him, pounding his face, torso, intakes, anything he could reach, hitting him again and again until the faces had disappeared and he couldn't hear the laughing over the ring of battered metal on the cold steel floor.
Starscream came back to himself after a while - kneeling on the floor in an oozing puddle of Mawklin's fuel that was slowly spreading across the corridor. He stared dumbly at the semi-conscious mech, part of him utterly horrified at what he'd done...but a larger, louder voce in his mind was smugly satisfied. And he was numbly stunned to realise that...he actually felt a little better now.
Starscream whirled awkwardly, staring up in a kind of groggy disbelief at the silver mech towering over him once again. Recognition hovered, yelling for his attention, but for a split second all he could do was stare like a drone at the dimly lit figure looming above him.
It's Megatron, you idiot! His mind screamed through the fog. The commander of the army! Your commander! Say something, dummy...!
"Not bad at all..." Megatron continued, apparently oblivious to the shouting match in the seeker's mind. He strode casually over to Starscream's side and looked over Mawklin's pulped face and upper body, examining it like he would a practice drone he'd set Starscream to work on. "-But you need to pay attention to what's going on around you. His trine could have jumped you from above or behind, and then you would have been outnumbered and out-manoeuvred. That's especially important when you're fighting in the field."
He glanced over to Starscream, still staring at him as if the younger mech had seen a ghost. "You did well in the training sessions today. I watch my troops, and those who do well I reward. You would do even better to remember that."
Megatron waited; Starscream found his voice, even more rasping than usual now, and managed to croak out "Yes, sir."
A thin smile hovered over cold, pale lips. "Good." The larger transformer straightened and began to walk away, but he paused a little further down the corridor. "And Starscream... try not to practice on your classmates in future. At least not where you can be seen."
"Y-yes sir" the seeker stammered again, gazing after Megatron for a long while after he had disappeared down the corridor and out of sight. Pushing himself to his feet was an effort - but as he walked down the hall to his quarters, grudgingly pushing a button for maintenance to find the unconscious Mawklin as he did so, a twinge of guilt pushed roughly aside, the silver seeker somehow felt that a little of the weight he carried had eased.
Walking somewhat lighter than he had since the loss of his companion, Starscream started out with a slightly easier tread on the slippery slope to oblivion. And he felt better than he had for days.
Poor, poor impulsive seeker. Read and review, usual drill. Pretty please?
Starscream, Megatron and Skyfire are © Hasbro; Shatterwall and Mawklin are © the 'boots. So is the story, mmkay?