!! Warning: slash, Megatron/Starscream, various other minor pairings. !!
!! Warning: OOC sequences and general wrongness. !!

Summary: Peace, love, warm fuzzies, Decepticons... Decepticons? Wait a minute...
Disclaimer: I own nothing, however much I might wish I did.

Author's note: This is version 1.1 of the first TF fic I ever wrote, and by way of excusing myself, I should probably explain. Over a year ago now, when I was only a little Translasher, someone on the tfslash mailing list demanded of me that I write shamelessly fluffy Megatron/Starscream fic for them. Now, the Navigator is too proud to write unrepentant SNADfic, but also too proud to turn down a challenge - so damme, I had to come up with an actual plot. The end result, after a few days of pencil-chewing, was an earlier version of this. It got good responses, but I was never really happy with it. Hence, finally, a rewritten and hopefully somewhat improved version - mostly provoked by Koi Lungfish, to whom I owe thanks for some well-placed criticism and a lot of random perversity. Cheers, Koi!

And now on to the fic, taking final warning that herein are SNADs, mindwarpingly OOC romantic scenes, and fifty shades of Bad and Wrong. Still reading? Okay...

Peace Is Hell

It moved slowly through the depths of space, alone and hungering. The stars about it were a million million pinpoints of possibility, each marking a potential source of life and nourishment for it to feed upon, and it scanned them in turn as it passed them by. After an immeasurable time of famine it was weak, and it knew that unless it found a world whose inhabitants would serve its purposes, it would soon begin to fade away entirely. The knowledge made it afraid, and it whimpered sadly to itself as it drifted through the ether.

And then its senses detected something interesting going on, on an insignificant little planet third out from a very ordinary yellow star. Such passion, in so many forms - such a wealth of possibilities! It approached closer, zeroing in on the new source of life. A warm rush of contentment flooded through its vast, nebulous being.

Soon, it would be doing what it did best.

XXXXX

On Earth, somewhere high above the eastern seaboard of America, it was a glorious day. The upper atmosphere was a clear, translucent blue sprinkled with white fluffs of cloud, and the rich light of high summer touched earth and sky with bright splendour. All was well with the world.

And then, a deafening sequence of sonic booms ricocheted over the landscape and two streaks of vivid colour raced across the heavens, screaming defiance at each other:

"Tag! You're it!"

Thundercracker yelped and banked sharply as Skywarp's port wing grazed his fuselage. The two Decepticon jets spiralled down the sky together in a madcap chase, Skywarp jinking and rolling to keep ahead of Thundercracker's frantic attempts to tag him back. "Come back here!" the blue Seeker yelled, straining his engines to keep up.

"Catch me if you can!" was the merry retort. Skywarp twisted out of his dive and rocketed upwards, skimming directly in front of his startled friend. With a mock growl, Thundercracker swung up from his own headlong plunge and managed to tap Skywarp's afterburners with his nosecone. "Tag!"

"Yie!" Skywarp faltered in the air for a second as his gyros compensated for the bump, then he looped around and headed groundwards, transforming as he touched down. "All right! You win!"

Thundercracker dropped to earth beside his companion. "Thank you, Skywarp. How very generous of you."

"Hey, watch that!" Skywarp protested, laughing. "Sarcasm is the Screamer's department, don't you start too!"

"Where is he, anyway?" Thundercracker wondered. "Not like him to miss a chance to stretch his wings."

"Ah, Megatron's probably got him kicking his heels over some boring groundside duty," Skywarp said. "He'll be fine. Just a little ruffled," he added with a smirk. 

"Skywarp?"

"Mm?"

"I'm thinking - have you ever seen Starscream not ruffled?"

They looked at each other, then cracked up laughing.

XXXXX

Meanwhile, back at the Decepticon base, something very strange was going on.

It had started out with little, subtle things. The first symptom had been a kind of laziness that had overtaken the Decepticons one by one, until none of them could be bothered to worry about their normal duties or their private schemes and were simply lounging around the base, resting or talking. And that was the next strange thing - the conversations. Somehow, over the last few hours, the usual Decepticon verbal sparring had lost its potency. They weren't just baiting each other or exchanging bragging, as they normally did; instead, they were actually, well, chatting. Rumble and Frenzy had their heads together over something as always, but there was a noticeable lack of any apparent plotting going on between them. Soundwave was leaning back in his chair and humming to himself, synthesising random harmonics that sounded horrible but seemed to be engrossing him. Reflector was sitting on the floor, one each of him serving as company for Soundwave's other three cassettes. And as for their Fearless Leader - Megatron was ensconsed in his command chair as usual, but he had one leg hooked up over the chair's arm and was leaning back with his optics half closed and a lazy smile on his face. His right arm trailed to the floor, fusion cannon offline and pointed harmlessly at the ground.

Thundercracker and Skywarp couldn't believe their optics.

"Er, guys?" Thundercracker ventured, looking around the control room. "Hello? What happened here?"

"Thundercracker. Skywarp." Megatron turned to look at them, his normally harsh voice softer and slower than either of the two jets had ever heard it. "Good to have you back. Had fun?"

Skywarp let out a choked squeak. "Um - er, yes, thankyou. Er, what did we miss?" His gaze flicked sideways to Thundercracker, whose answering look was just as uncomprehending. Great Cybertron, what was going on?

"Nothing much," Soundwave's modulated voice cut in. "It seems that we are all somewhat weary, is all. The situation called for a break from the normal schedule."

"A break?" Skywarp's mind boggled. "But - we are the Decepticons - since when do we take breaks? I mean, what if the Autobots are -"

"Don't worry about the Autobots," Megatron told him soothingly. "After all, they're not that much of a threat. In fact, I really don't see why we got so wound up about this whole war nonsense. I'm contemplating sending someone over to negotiate with them."

Bzzzk!
Thundercracker transmitted to Skywarp over their internal comms. Skywarp nodded in acknowledgement - the static noise Thundercracker had sent was an apt comment on whatever the slag was going on in Megatron's processors right now. Breaks? Negotiations? Letting Soundwave interrupt him? It looked as though their leader's entire complement of screws had finally given up and come loose.

"I don't understand," Skywarp said plaintively.

"Don't worry about it," Megatron reassured him. "I have everything under control."

"Are you sure?" Thundercracker asked.

Skywarp froze. That was a question one did not ask of the Decepticon leader.

However, Megatron only smiled benevolently. "Absolutely, Thundercracker. Now both of you stop worrying and go enjoy yourselves, hmm?"

Now I know he's cracked,
Thundercracker sent privately to Skywarp. Let's get out of here and-

He broke off as the door slid open and the third Seeker appeared, his bearing radiating resentment. "I've got those data correlations you had me wasting my talents on -"

Megatron looked up and turned his head, and his optics locked with Starscream's.

"- Megatron?"

They all felt it happen.

Something like an explosion, only in negative image. An expanding burst of silence seemed to spread out from the point in the middle of the control room where Megatron's and Starscream's gazes met, washing over the other Decepticons and stunning them all into speechlessness.

"Starscream."

Skywarp and Thundercracker watched in shock as Starscream stopped cold in his tracks and then walked slowly, stumblingly across to stand in front of Megatron. Without a word, the white Seeker folded to his knees before his commander.

Megatron leaned forward and touched his fingertips to Starscream's face, looking deep into the Seeker's wide-open optics. His voice when he finally spoke was barely above a whisper. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

Starscream hesitated. "I didn't... think you'd want to hear," he answered brokenly. His scratchy voice was roughened even further by what might have been the beginnings of a sob.

"Starscream... And I never even noticed." Now it sounded as though Megatron too was on the verge of breaking down. "I -" He stopped, his optics dimming as though in momentary dizziness. "I'm sorry."

Did I just hear that?
Skywarp sent to Thundercracker.

I wish I could tell you your circuits were frying, but I think you did,
came back the equally horrified response.

"No," Starscream was saying. "I'm the one who should be sorry. It was all my fault." He hung his head. "I shouldn't have -"

"Shut up, Starscream." The words were incongruously familiar, the tone was anything but, Skywarp thought hazily. Whoever would have believed Megatron was capable of sounding like he cared? Was he capable of actually caring?

The unspoken question was answered as Megatron slid down from his seat, knelt beside Starscream and gathered the smaller Decepticon into his arms. "Not a word," he whispered. "I won't let you take the blame for this." Starscream looked up at his commander with an expression of bewildered hope, his optics half-closed, his lips parted.

Thundercracker, with sudden prescience, took his visual sensors offline.

Skywarp wasn't as quick on the uptake, and consequently witnessed the spark-scarring sight of his direct command chain locked in an embrace that took them well outside of Decepticon military protocols. He looked away and waited for the universe to end. Megatron and Starscream - kissing?

He waited for what he thought was long enough for it to stop, then looked back again. It was still happening. In fact, it was happening worse; Starscream was half-lying on the floor with Megatron leaning over him and the two of them were clinging together as though intending to become a gestalt through sheer effort. And weirder yet, nobody apart from himself and Thundercracker seemed to see anything wrong about this. Even Soundwave's cassettes weren't sniggering, which was beyond unimaginable.

Thunder?
he ventured.

Just tell me if it's safe to look,
came the nervous reply.

Skywarp dragged his optics away from the sight of Starscream having his breastplate nuzzled, and sent back a very definite negative.

I'm not looking until it's over,
Thundercracker replied doggedly.

At the current rate, that would leave the pair of them standing there for the next few megacycles. There was only one thing for it. Skywarp grabbed his friend's arm and engaged his teleporter.

XXXXX

They popped back into reality high above the underwater base, and Skywarp looked around at the innocent landscape of sea and sky with a boundless sense of relief. "You can come back on now," he told Thundercracker.

"Argh." Thundercracker's optics flickered red as he reactivated them. "What happened?"

"I teleported us out. I couldn't bear to watch." Skywarp could hear the tremor in his own voice. "Thunder, what's happening?"

"I don't know," Thundercracker replied. "Megatron and Starscream," he added softly, as though trying the thought out in his mind. "That's just... wrong."

"Everything's wrong!" Skywarp shot back. "Did you see the others? Soundwave and his lot were just... sitting there! Even Rumble and Frenzy weren't laughing!"

"Unheard of," Thundercracker agreed. "Warp, what exactly were they doing? Don't give me graphic details," he added hastily. "But in principle. Did they - ?"

"Kiss." Skywarp managed to get the word out. "Yes. Sort of - a lot. I didn't know Transformers could do that," he went on wonderingly. "I thought it was an organic thing."

"Well, we've got mouths," Thundercracker said. "At least, most of us have. I suppose it wouldn't usually occur to us to use them for, well, that, is all."

Skywarp considered that, and conceded that it was probably true. It had certainly never occurred to him before, at any rate. "Can we make it not occur to them?" he asked hopefully. "Ever again?"

"I don't know." Thundercracker sighed. "It seems like everyone's gone completely insane, but I have no idea why."

"But why isn't it affecting us?"

"Maybe it is, and we haven't noticed yet."

They stared at each other.

"Thunder," Skywarp said in a small voice, "you're not feeling any, er, strange impulses, are you?"

"Are you?"

"No."

"No."

"Thank Primus for that, then." Skywarp sagged in relief. He didn't think he could cope if his other wingmate went all weird on him as well.

"We need to do some research," Thundercracker said pensively. "Find out what could have happened to cause this. And whether it's affected all of the others."

"Everyone seemed to have it except us," Skywarp said. "Oh, shock."

"What?"

"I wonder if the Autobots have got it too?"

Thundercracker looked at him in horror. "Oh, no. Can you imagine how awful that would be? They're sappy enough already."

"So maybe they caused it, then," Skywarp suggested. "Trying to make us more like them. Some kind of virus or something."

"Maybe." Thundercracker shook his head. "We should go over and scout their base. Find out if it has got them as well."

"Fine." Skywarp gunned his thrusters, eager to act now that there was something he could be doing. "Talk and fly?" he suggested as he transformed. "Come on."

XXXXX

"Oh, Primus," Skywarp whispered.

He and Thundercracker stared down from their vantage point above the Autobot base with morbid fascination. The two Decepticons had passed into Autobot airspace without receiving so much as a challenge, and now it was clear why. The countryside around the base was littered with Transformers, all of them conspicuously displaying the symptoms of the same strange mental illness that had struck down the Decepticons. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe were parked side by side, in their transforms, looking as though they had somehow managed to snuggle their car bodies together. Jazz and Prowl were lying on the grass and cuddling each other. And worst of all, strolling contentedly through the fields were Optimus Prime himself and his loyal Ironhide - holding hands.

"We have to stop this," Thundercracker said determinedly. "We're Transformers! We don't do this kind of thing."

"Try telling them that," Skywarp muttered darkly.

"Well, okay, so everyone is doing that kind of thing. But we are still Decepticon warriors, and it is our duty to defend the cause!"

"I thought you didn't believe in the cause all that much," Skywarp pointed out.

"I believe in the cause a lot more than I believe in what I'm seeing down there," Thundercracker replied grimly.

"Good point. Let's get to it. Decepticons forever!" Skywarp raised his fist in salute, grinning at his wingmate.

"Sh, they'll hear you!" Thundercracker pointed at the Autobots. "Decepticons forever - only quietly!"

XXXXX

The Earth turned on its axis, and in due course darkness fell over the Decepticon base. A crescent moon rose amid a field of stars, and a soft breeze blew among the trees. It was, Megatron thought as he sat on the cliffs above the dark water and stared at the sky, a perfect night. The very air around him seemed to shimmer with silver brightness, as though to reflect his own happiness like some cosmic mirror of the soul. There was only one thing missing from this moment...

Soft footsteps sounded behind him.

"Starscream." He turned to look, and felt his very spark tremble within his breast. Oh, Primus, could he be any more beautiful? Starscream's sleek lines and graceful poise were magnificent enough by daylight; but with the moonlight casting deep shadows in the angles of his body and turning his gleaming white bodywork to liquid silver, the Seeker was almost too perfect to be real. Megatron found himself reaching out involuntarily to touch Starscream as the other Decepticon approached, momentarily doubting the evidence of his own optics.

To his relief, his fingers brushed against cool, smooth, and definitely solid metal. Starscream smiled and leaned into the caress, settling down beside Megatron as though the two of them had been doing this all their lives. "Hello," he said softly. "I thought you might be up here."

"I was hoping you'd find me," Megatron admitted.

"I thought I already did earlier," Starscream answered, smiling. "At least, that was what it felt like."

"What took you so long, anyway?" Megatron reached up to run his fingers along the trailing edges of Starscream's wings, enjoying the sharp-smooth feel of the bevelled metal. He'd never really studied Seeker design before tonight, and hadn't realised how many interesting textures and angles Starscream's bodywork had. Finding it all out by experiment was utterly fascinating.

"I don't know," Starscream admitted. His own hand was resting over Megatron's free one, their fingers unconsciously interlaced. "But for some reason when I walked in today and you looked at me like that... I knew you knew. And you knew I knew you knew." He laughed. "Well, you see what I mean. And there wasn't anything I wanted to do more than throw myself at your feet."

"So you did."

"More or less."

"Weren't you afraid?

"I -" Starscream paused. "No. That's strange, now you mention it. I suppose I knew that there was nothing you could do to me that -" He faltered.

"Mm? Go on." Megatron continued stroking Starscream's wings, encouraging him with words and touch.

"That I wouldn't like," the Seeker finished, almost inaudibly. He tensed up as he spoke, and his awkwardness was tangible.

"I... don't understand," Megatron said, blinking at the strangeness of the words on his own lips. He wasn't used to being wrong-footed, but then, there was a first time for everything. "I might have hurt you. I would have done, once." Megatron kept his tone calm, though inwardly he was feeling wretchedly guilty. How many times had he snapped at Starscream in the past, pushed him away, opened fire on him even, in order to stop this very situation from coming about?

"I never - never minded." Starscream bowed his head, unwilling or unable to meet Megatron's optics but forcing himself to go on talking. "You always hit me, shot me, tore strips off me, whatever. I never cared. It was you, and nothing you did to me could ever really hurt that much. Not as long as it meant you were looking my way, saying my name, noticing me. That was all I wanted. I didn't think you'd ever love me - so making you hate me was nearly as good." He broke off, shivers running through his frame.

"Oh, Starscream. I'm so sorry." Lost for words for once in his long life, Megatron reached out and pulled Starscream against him in a fierce embrace. The slick feeling of metal on metal as their bodies intertwined was utterly exquisite, and he wished he could lose himself in it forever.

But Starscream, his beautiful Starscream, deserved an explanation. He wasn't asking for one, didn't seem to expect one, but that made Megatron all the more determined to offer one. "Starscream?" he breathed.

"Mmmm?"

"I should tell you this. I'm sorry for everything I ever did to you. But all of it was because -" It was Megatron's turn to choke over his words. "Because I already knew I loved you and I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't keep you the frag away from me," he admitted, shaking his head. "You always did tell me I was an idiot."

"Right." Starscream said carefully. "You loved me so you wouldn't let me love you back. You are an idiot. I love you more than anything and I still think you're an idiot. Okay?"

"Okay." Megatron found himself smiling. "I swear, I will never ignore your insults again. Maybe all the others were good points too."

"You bet, Fearless Leader." Starscream looked up, his mouth quirked in a playful smile.

"How many times have I told you not to call me that?"

"Sorry, Megs."

"Shut up, Starscream!"

At least, Megatron thought as their lips met, he now had the most effective silencing technique in Decepticon history at his disposal.

XXXXX

Hiding at the edge of the trees some distance away, Skywarp and Thundercracker watched in mounting horror as their wing commander and the Decepticon leader cuddled up to each other under the stars. "I'm not seeing this, I'm not seeing this," Skywarp repeated to himself under his breath. "It isn't real. It can't be real."

"Real as you and me," Thundercracker told him gloomily. They both looked away from the scene on the clifftop, and Skywarp tipped his head back to stare at the stars. "I miss Cybertron," he said sadly, looking up at the distant smudge of light that marked their own world. "This kind of thing never happened when we were at home."

Thundercracker followed his gaze. "Is it me," he said, "or is it brighter than usual tonight?"

"You're imagining it," Skywarp said. "Actually no, wait. I think it might be." He paused, puzzled. "Come skyside with me. There's something about the air that doesn't feel right."

Thundercracker nodded, and the two jets transformed and took to the air. Skywarp concentrated on his surroundings as he flew, letting his sensors take in every detail of the air currents surrounding his body. Nothing felt particularly unusual, but he was still ill at ease. He looked up at the stars as they ascended to the outer edge of the atmosphere.

Something was definitely wrong. They had looked brighter from the ground.

"Oh, great Cybertron." Thundercracker said suddenly.

"What?"

"We're outside it. Look down."

Skywarp obeyed, wondering what he was supposed to be looking for. As it turned out, he couldn't have missed it. Below them, spanning half a continent, was a huge sweep of what looked like fine mist - but it was mist tinged with bright silver, shining from within. Somewhere down in the middle of it he could pick up the radio signatures of both the Cybertronian outposts, not to mention numerous human settlements.

"There's your mystery virus," Thundercracker said. "Not a virus at all. It's an airborne toxin of some sort."

"Well, what sort?" Skywarp asked reasonably. "And how do we get rid of it?"

"I've no idea," Thundercracker admitted. "I hadn't got that far yet."

"We still don't know why it didn't affect us," Skywarp said.

"We still don't know that it didn't affect us," Thundercracker corrected. "Stay here. I'll go down into it again, and then call you on the comm. You can see whether I sound any different."

"Be careful!" Skywarp said worriedly.

"Of course." Thundercracker banked and dived away.

Skywarp watched as his friend dropped, a blue flash against the black and silver night, until he disappeared into the mist. A few moments passed, and then Skywarp's comm crackled into life. "Can you hear me, Warp?"

"Hearing you clear," Skywarp said. "How do you feel?"

"No different," came back the reassuring reply. "How do I sound?"

"About as annoying as usual," Skywarp told him with a smile.

"Hey, not nice," Thundercracker protested, sounding hurt. Skywarp started. "Er, Thunder? Something wrong there. You didn't give me a comeback."

There was silence on the other end of the comm.

"Thundercracker?"

"I'm coming back up. I think I know what's going on." The voice was tense with strain. "Primus have mercy, get me out of here..."

Thundercracker resurfaced from the mist only a few cycles later, to Skywarp's intense relief. The two Seekers fell into formation with each other, assuming a holding pattern so they could talk comfortably.

"So go on," Skywarp said. "What's happening?"

Thundercracker paused, as though collecting his thoughts. "Warp," he said finally, "you know how much I care about you, right?"

Skywarp looked at him in surprise. "Of course. I mean, we've been wingmates for, well, ever. You, me and the Screamer. That's how it is, right? Sure you care about me, I care about you too. No big deal."

"Except we never normally talk about it."

"Well, no. We're Decepticon warriors. We don't do the sappy stuff." Skywarp shuddered. "Never used to, anyway," he amended. "Where are you going with this?"

"That stuff down there, I think it's a mood-altering toxin. It suppresses your normal feelings and brings all the sappiest ones to the surface." Thundercracker hesitated. "So when I was down there and you tried to get a rise out of me, instead of answering you back like I normally would, I found myself thinking 'I thought he cared about me!' Feeling... I dunno... hurt that you weren't being nice to me. Oh, Primus, this is embarrassing," he added sheepishly.

"Eww!" Skywarp said. "You were feeling... squishy about me? That's disgusting."

"I know. It was like a really perverted version of how I normally feel about you."

"Which is how?" Skywarp prodded.

"Well, fond of you. I suppose I'd say I loved you. But in a kind of friendly, sensible, Decepticon way. The kind of love that means you can still pick on each other and have a good fight every so often and be friends afterwards. You know?" Thundercracker looked anxiously at his friend.

"Of course. I mean, I was taking that as read. I feel the same about you," Skywarp reassured him. "What's that got to do with it?"

"So since we already knew how we felt, and neither of us is all that uptight most of the time, it doesn't affect us much. We don't have any hidden feelings for it to work on so we haven't changed a whole lot. But the ones who did have buried feelings have gone completely crosswired as everything surfaced. You see?"

Skywarp boggled. "Oh, Primus. Oh - EWWW! That must mean that Starscream and Megatron -"

"Have been feeling squishy about each other for millennia and not letting anyone know." Thundercracker finished, in tones of fascinated revulsion. "Ack."

"I don't think I'll ever be able to face the Screamer again," Skywarp said with a shudder. "Or Megatron either, for that matter."

"It should be okay if we can get rid of the toxins," Thundercracker argued. "Everyone should go back to normal once the influence is off them."

"What if they remember?"

"Then we'll all just have to agree never, ever to discuss it again," Thundercracker said, in tones that brooked no dissent. "And if that doesn't work, we'll get everyone mindwiped."

"Uh, right..." That sounded excessive, Skywarp thought. But on the other wing, anything was better than the way things were at the moment.

"Come on," Thundercracker said. "Let's get back. I want to get into the databanks and see if I can find out anything that might help us stop this." With an impatient flick of his wings, he rolled and dived away.

"Here's hoping," Skywarp muttered as he followed his wingmate groundwards. If he had been in robot mode, he would have crossed his fingers.

XXXXX

It was day by the time the two Seekers got back to their base, but fortunately there was nobody around to spot them as they slipped into the building and even more luckily, the main control room was empty. Thundercracker settled himself at the nearest terminal and began to key through the records, his fingers flying over the console; Skywarp watched him for a few cycles before turning away, bored. Data searches weren't really his thing, important though they might be on occasion. He much preferred to find things out at first hand than read old accounts of them and, with that thought in mind, he went over to fire up the monitor screens.

Most of the base's spycams showed nothing particularly special. The other Decepticons were scattered around the place, all of them seemingly doing nothing but lounge and talk. Thankfully nobody was doing anything too squishy, although there was something about the way Laserbeak and Buzzsaw were looking at each other that made Skywarp hastily flick past that screen. He had never quite worked out what the deal was with Soundwave's cassettes, and in the current circumstances he was absolutely certain he didn't want to know.

And then, as he switched to look through the external monitors that watched the base perimeter and surrounding area, he let out a strangled yell that brought Thundercracker running to his side. "Warp! What's the matter?"

Skywarp pointed wordlessly at the screen, and Thundercracker looked. "What the...?"

XXXXX

Blissfully unaware that he was being observed, Starscream lay on his back in the long grass. He stared lazily at the light-dappled leaves above him, soaking up the warmth of the sun, enjoying the feeling of not being in the middle of a crisis for once. This was definitely the life, he thought. Just one thing missing.

"Oh Starscream..."

The familiar voice called his name softly, playfully. He half sat up, looking around. "I'm here."

Megatron stepped out of the trees into the clearing Starscream had commandeered, looking surprised. "Whatever are you doing?"

"Relaxing," Starscream replied happily. "You should try it." He beckoned invitingly.

With an indulgent smile, Megatron moved to sit beside Starscream. "Satisfied?"

"Oh, do it properly. Come here..." Grinning, Starscream caught hold of Megatron and pulled him down to lie on the grass. The Decepticon leader submitted with good grace, stretching himself out comfortably and draping his arm over Starscream's chest.
And then, gently - almost shyly, Starscream would have said if that hadn't been a ridiculous thought - Megatron reached up and ran his fingertips over Starscream's face. Starscream let out a small squeak of surprise, which merged into a sigh of pleasure as he realised how nice the light brush of metal against his sensors felt. "Mmm..."

"You like that, my Starscream?"

"Oh... yes." Starscream sighed, savouring the caress, loving the note of tenderness in Megatron's voice. It felt wonderful to hear his beloved commander speak to him like that, in affection instead of anger...

"What are you thinking about?" Megatron asked idly. His hand traced down the edge of Starscream's jaw and then slid lower, stroking the delicate circuitry that was exposed in Starscream's throat as the Seeker reflexively tipped his head back in pleasure.

"Ahh - I won't be able to think at all if you keep doing that..." That one simple touch was more intense than anything Starscream could ever remember experiencing in his life. Why, he wondered hazily, had he never noticed before that sensor nets could be made to function like this? Experimentally he reached up and ran his own fingers over Megatron's breastplate, wondering what would happen.

The caress elicited a harsh gasp of pleasure from Megatron, and Starscream grinned in triumph. Carefully he explored further, letting his hands stray gently over sleek silver metal and exposed hardware, mentally mapping the elaborate layout of sensors embedded in the gleaming surfaces of Megatron's armour. He realised that he had really never appreciated before just how detailed those networks were; it seemed that every move he made drew another eager response from Megatron, and Starscream decided he liked the sense of power it gave him to have his leader at his mercy like this. Smiling to himself, he continued his investigations.

Distracted by the intricate, fascinating task he had set himself, he started when he felt an answering touch on his own bodywork. He shuddered deliciously as Megatron's fingers probed into the gap just below his breastplate, grazing the raw metal of his chassis. The sensation was almost frighteningly intimate and for a moment he wanted to pull away, but he forced himself to override his natural defensiveness and relax into the caress.

"Megatron..."

"It's all right, my Starscream. I'm here." Megatron moved so that he was lying half on top of Starscream, and bent his head to kiss the Seeker on the mouth. The soft, almost inaudible chime of metal grazing metal as their lips met sent shivers through Starscream's internals, and he arched his back, stretching up into the kiss, savouring the thrill of submission. Megatron's hand closed over his arm and pulled him close, and Starscream let himself fall into the sensations that were overwhelming his processors. So this is what we were running away from all this time, he managed to think before giving up cognitive function in favour of pure bliss...

XXXXX

The screen went blank. Skywarp dropped the cable he had just pulled out and whacked Thundercracker on the back of the head. "Cybertron to Thundercracker! Hello!"

Thundercracker started violently and dragged his gaze from the empty monitor screen. "What - ?"

"Don't stare at that kind of thing, it's not good for your circuitry."

"But -"

Skywarp held up his hand. "Don't watch, don't think, don't ask." He looked Thundercracker in the optics. "We still have to face them once we get things back to normal. I don't know about you, but there are some things I'd rather not remember when that happens."

"Okay." Thundercracker nodded, looking somewhat dazed. "I just couldn't believe how... happy they both looked. I don't think I've ever seen Megatron smile like that."

"I think I prefer seeing him grinning over toasted Autobots. Now can we get back to stopping this? How's your data search going?"

Thundercracker returned to his console and looked at the screen. "Pages and pages of irrelevant slag... when this is over I'm getting Shockwave to send us some new search software. No, wait, here's something. Look at this!"

Skywarp leaned over his friend's shoulder to see. Thundercracker's search had dragged up some old and very obscure records from the data they had brought from Cybertron, and among them was a report on a strange condition that had afflicted a Decepticon colony some twelve million years ago. The data was ancient and the records were sparse, but such as there was, it looked very similar to the problem they had now. "So go on, what was it?"

"Not a virus or a toxin, by the look of it," Thundercracker said, paging through the report. "It's a living organism, something whose natural habitat is deep space. Says here... it's a psychic entity that feeds on emotion. Here, listen to this: 'The alien species codenamed the Soultaker appears to draw sustenance from the emotions of other sentients, primarily the emotion of love. As an adaptation to this specialised means of survival, the Soultaker possesses the ability to draw usable emotions to the surface of its victims' minds, overriding their normal responses and behaviour patterns.' This is it!"

"So how did they fight it off?" Skywarp demanded.

Thundercracker looked up, his optics wide. "They didn't. That colony was lost, all that survived was partial records which were analysed by the teams who went in after the Soultaker had moved on. Apparently: 'Prolonged exposure to the creature causes eventual mental deterioration as the neural nets overload.' Or in other words, Decepticons weren't designed to feel sappy all the time. Eventually it makes our processors short out."

Skywarp shuddered, cold horror stealing through his core; then he flinched in pure revulsion as he felt the negative emotion start to fade out, suppressed from his system. "Thunder, I can feel it happening! I can feel it getting to me!" With an effort, he forced himself to stay scared, stay horrified. He needed those emotions, and no star-spawned monster was going to take them from him!

"Calm down. You couldn't feel it before, could you? It's your imagination." Thundercracker turned back to the console.

"I didn't know what I was looking for before," Skywarp pointed out. "And besides, it's happening to you too. Why are you so calm all of a sudden? Come on, Thunder, help me out here! Panic!" He started pacing frantically up and down, gesturing wildly. "Listen! If it feeds on positive emotions - maybe enough negativity will poison it! Maybe we can kill it, or drive it off."

"Steady, Warp," Thundercracker said without turning around. "You're getting hysterical. Take it easy."

"Hysterical? I'll say I'm getting hysterical! Thunder, are you listening to yourself? It's getting to you! You're getting like all the others. What the shock do you want me to do, sit here and let my processors rot? Well I won't! I'm going!" He turned and stalked toward the door, deliberately forcing himself to keep up the histrionics even as something tried to press his mind back into quiescence. "You'll thank me when all this is over!" he shouted as the door closed behind him.

XXXXX

On getting outside the base, Skywarp quickly discovered that things were already far worse than he had feared. Megatron and Starscream had finished doing whatever it was they had been doing - he hastily dragged his thoughts away from that subject - but they had now rounded up a couple of the other Decepticons and were apparently on their way to meet up with an incoming gaggle of Autobots. Skywarp flew low over the countryside, watching as the two parties approached each other. It seemed they had settled on a neutral meeting point; but on reaching it, instead of engaging in a fight, they simply faced off and watched while the two leaders spoke to each other. To Skywarp's optics, his friends looked all wrong. Megatron was being far too patient; his fusion cannon was still offline and his head was tipped in a listening posture as he negotiated with Optimus Prime. Starscream looked even more weird, standing a few paces back and shadowing Megatron protectively; Skywarp couldn't get his processors around a world in which the Screamer wasn't using Megatron's back for targeting practice at every possible opportunity.

The discussion seemed to be reaching a close. Skywarp waited for the two groups to separate from each other. And then Optimus Prime took a pace forward and extended his hand.

Megatron took it.

Skywarp felt his circuits freeze as he watched his idolised leader in the act of betraying the Decepticons and everything they had ever stood for. Unable to bear it, he swung upward and accelerated into the sky.

XXXXX

Skywarp raced through the stratosphere, flying high above the alien monster whose translucent body he could see spread out below him. In the upper air that was his natural home, his thoughts felt blessedly clear. Freed of the enervating influence of the Soultaker, he could concentrate on finding a way to defeat it. And defeat it he had to, he knew - the sight of Megatron shaking hands with Optimus Prime was enough to tell him that, even if he hadn't known that the thing was slowly killing his fellow Decepticons. He swung in a wide circle, his long range scanners focusing on the scene below. Autobot and Decepticon stood together, hands clasped; peace between the two warring kindreds for the first time in countless millennia. Skywarp wanted to shoot somebody. This was not how the battle of the ages was supposed to end!

"Decepticons forever!" he shouted, even though nobody was around to hear. It made him feel slightly better, and he forced himself to concentrate. He needed a plan, but he wasn't good at plans. That was Starscream's or Thundercracker's job - he was just a warrior, someone whose duty was to kick afterburner and cheer for the cause. He didn't have it in him to keep cool in a crisis, which was what was needed now. Dammit, why had it had to be him who escaped the Soultaker? Why couldn't someone with useful skills have got lucky instead?

And then, like a star going nova, inspiration went off in his mind. Maybe he was the right choice to deal with this problem. After all, he'd already thought that enough negative emotion might drive off the Soultaker, and who better to cause pain, rage and misery than a Decepticon warrior in the body of an F-15 fighter jet armed with a full array of bombs and guns?

With a shout of defiance Skywarp turned in the air and dived headlong, scanning for suitable targets as he went. He needed either a very high concentration of enemies, or -

- or someone who would be really, really upset at coming under fire. Pure malevolent pleasure coursed through Skywarp's processors as he sighted up and locked on to the large, lumbering figure that had just wandered heedlessly into his scopes. "Decepticons - attaaaaack!!!!!!!"

Grimlock, who had been peacefully strolling through the woods, looked up in total surprise as a scratchy voice screamed the Decepticon battlecry; then roared in fury as bright trails of laser fire stitched the earth around him. Skywarp swung around at the end of his strafing run and careered back, guns spitting flame, sending bolts of energy skittering over the hide of the startled Dinobot leader. "Hey, Grimlock! You stupid overgrown mech-lizard! Heads up, braindead - take me on!"

"Me, Grimlock, not stupid!" came the predictable, outraged response. "Me, Grimlock, crush you, flying one!" The giant Dinobot reared upright on his powerful hindlegs, his jaws slashing at the air, and Skywarp slid past his fangs with only a couple of metres to spare.

"Come on, Grimlock! You going soft? Catch me - aargh!" Skywarp's challenge was lost in a yell as something cannoned into him, and he regained his balance to find Swoop trying to grapple him. He swiveled his guns up and fired, searing black lines across the other flyer's armour and forcing him to veer off; but below them the other three Dinobots had arrived in the fight too, and Skywarp found himself forced into a series of wrenching evasive manoeuvres as fanged jaws snapped at him from all sides. He knew he was in serious danger, but the sheer pleasure of the lust of battle surging through his systems swept away any possibility of fear. He was a Decepticon, Primus damn it! War was what he had been created for, and no mindwarping alien was going to saddle him with a world of peace!

And it seemed as though the Dinobots agreed with him, thankfully. He could see the rage that glared from five pairs of narrowed optics, feel the hatred in the air as they tried to claw and blast him out of the sky. One of Grimlock's fireballs missed him by what felt like mere microns, and he suddenly noticed the flaw in his plan. He needed the Dinobots functional and so, obviously, he wasn't shooting to kill.

Unfortunately, they were.

Oh, Cybertron! Skywarp, you're dumber than they are!
He broke away and started to retreat, but kept his pace reasonably slow. And, exactly as planned, the Dinobots turned with one accord and started chasing him. Now, if he could only get them to follow him all the way to Megatron, Prime and their respective forces...

XXXXX

In the vast, silvery body of the creature clinging to the Earth's surface, pained vibrations began to resonate. Something was wrong. The tiny beings it had adopted were refusing its gift! They were fighting against it, and against each other!

Racked with sudden agony, it began to loosen its hold...

"And so it is agreed that - what?" Optimus Prime looked up in concern as something barrelled through the air over his head, trailing laser fire behind it. A moment later the trees parted and five incredibly angry looking Dinobots came charging toward him, their optics fixed on the fast-moving target above. The Autobot leader hastily stepped aside, leaving a startled Megatron standing directly in the path of the mechanical stampede.

"Decepticons! My brothers! Help!" Skywarp made straight for his comrades, hoping against hope that being the target of an incoming Dinobot attack might shake them out of their pacifism. And then, as half a dozen pairs of red optics focused on the incoming threat, he felt it happen.

The pain was too much. It had to let go...

The Soultaker peeled away from the Earth like a giant leech being torn from from its victim, and as it went Skywarp felt the air around him become tangibly clearer. Relief flooded him as he saw Autobots and Decepticons look at each other in horror, and then Megatron drew himself up, swung his fusion cannon into line, and:

"DECEPTICONS - ATTACK!!!!!!"

As the sky exploded in fire around him, Skywarp briefly reflected that he had never heard sweeter words in all his long life.

XXXXX

"Skywarp?"

The black Seeker looked up, proudly meeting his commander's optics. "Yes, Megatron?"

"Excellent work. Well done."

"Thank you, sir." Skywarp grinned, feeling his circuitry warming in response to the praise. It wasn't often that the Decepticon leader saw fit to hand out unalloyed approval to anyone.

"And, fellow Decepticons?" Megatron looked around the control room, his piercing gaze settling on each of his subordinates in turn. "No one is ever to discuss the events of the last few days again. That is an order."

There were shamefaced nods all round.

"To your stations! I want this base back to full battle readiness immediately!"

The Decepticons scrambled to obey - all except one who turned away, kicking sulkily at the floor. Starscream made for the exit, his head down and his wings drooping dejectedly.

"Starscream!"

He didn't look around. The door slid shut behind him.

XXXXX

Megatron caught up with Starscream in the corridor outside, and grabbed the Seeker by the arm. "Where are you going?"

"Leave me alone!"

"Starscream!" He found himself shoved up savagely against the wall, Megatron's fist clenched on his throat. His wings clanged against the metal at his back, jolting him with pain that was all too close to being pleasure, and he fought down the whimper that wanted to escape from his vocaliser. The events of the past three days might be over, but Starscream knew that Megatron wouldn't have forgotten a single word of what had passed between them, truth or not. And it wasn't true, none of it was true, and why couldn't they just go back to fighting each other like... like... oh, frag, exactly like two powerful and vicious Decepticons who just might take anything they could get if killing each other wasn't an option. And that was not a thought process he wanted to follow, but it was yawning before him like a mental abyss as his processors hastily retranslated several million years of powergames, danger, allegiance and hatred and came up with a horribly plausible answer.

Megatron was still glaring at him. And staring back into his commander's dangerously narrowed optics, Starscream found himself unbearably torn between maddening desire and crushing humiliation. Come storm or strike he wasn't going to admit what he'd just worked out, but if Megatron were to draw the same conclusion...

He took refuge in simple bluff, buying time to think. "Let me go!" he snarled, trying to maintain some semblance of his usual arrogance.

Megatron stepped in even closer, looming threateningly over him. "And why should I do that, Starscream?"

Starscream did whimper then, at the combination of power, menace and sheer command in Megatron's tone. That voice did something to him that made him feel as though his insides were going to melt down - and always had, but he wasn't thinking about that... "Please," he managed. "You don't want to be anywhere near me right now."

"Leave that to me to decide." Megatron twisted his wrist just a little, and the muzzle of his gun grazed Starscream's forehead. Starscream gasped and shuddered violently, struggling to keep his treacherous emotions under control. "No... don't... I want..."

"I know exactly what you're feeling," Megatron said softly, his lips curling back in a sadistic smile. "You're afraid I'm going to use what happened against you, aren't you? You think you're the only one whose perverted desires didn't vanish with the defeat of the Soultaker - and here I am standing over you and possibly about to terminate your miserable existence, and somewhere in the depths of your corrupted circuitry you're enjoying it. Am I right?"

Starscream couldn't meet Megatron's optics, but the alternative was staring down the barrel of Megatron's fusion cannon and that didn't do much for his composure either. "Something like that," he whispered. Oh, Primus, just let me die now...

"Well, then, let me share a little secret with you." The dramatic pause at the end of the sentence was far longer than necessity demanded. Starscream waited, wondering dizzily what his punishment was going to be. Torture, or something equally unspeakable, judging by the delight Megatron was taking in making him wait for it - not that the idea of being tortured by Megatron was doing anything to suppress the inner turmoil he was feeling. His spark flared bright with longing even as he bowed his head in shame.

"Starscream?"

He gasped, flinching. Hearing his own name spoken in that harsh, powerful voice was like being struck with an electrowhip, a painfully exquisite sensation that made him go weak inside. "Yes..."

"You aren't the only one." Megatron leaned in close, smiling wickedly, and claimed Starscream's mouth in a searing kiss.

Starscream thought for an excruciating, delicious moment that every sensor relay in his entire body had fused. Then, as his systems adjusted to the shock, he realised that he was still functional and promptly kissed Megatron back. They slid to the floor together, Starscream landing underneath, Megatron on top of him and still holding him at gunpoint. Starscream tried to pull free, tried to regain some measure of control - and then Megatron's left hand closed over his wrist and wrenched his arm back, pinning him in a hold he knew he couldn't hope to break. The cables in his shoulder joint creaked under the strain and oh, that hurt and he couldn't help crying out any more than he could help wanting this...

The tension on his arm eased slightly in response to his involuntary protest, though not enough to let him escape. "Mm, did that hurt, Starscream?"

And that wasn't at all the response he'd expected. A sharp gasp of laughter escaped Starscream's lips. "Why, Megatron. I never knew you cared." He even managed to get a trace of his usual sarcasm into the words.

Megatron grinned at him, optics bright with evil delight. "Oh, you misunderstand me, Starscream. I was merely making sure." He shifted his weight, leaning on Starscream's trapped arm, eliciting a choked gasp that an uninformed onlooker might plausibly have taken for a cry of pain. "Hmm. Now that is interesting," he added, looking speculatively at his captive.

Somewhere at the back of his mind Starscream felt dimly certain he should protest, or possibly just panic. But what the shock, he'd let Megatron hurt him enough times before - no reason to complain just because things took a turn for the interesting, and this was really getting very interesting indeed. "Why not try it again, then?" he demanded, grinning. Yes, he was definitely starting to get into the spirit of this.

"Well, since you ask me so nicely..." Megatron let the sentence trail off as he kissed Starscream again, even harder and more aggressively than before.

And oh, Starscream wanted to laugh out loud and shout in triumph to the skies, but all he could manage was a faint squeak and he decided that would do for now. He opened his mouth in acceptance and wrapped his free arm across Megatron's back, feeling warmth pool in his midsection and spread through his systems as sensors and neural nets he had never known he possessed fired into life in response to Megatron's touch... oh, yes...!

"AAAARGH!"

The two Decepticons lying on the floor looked up in perfectly synchronised horror as someone screeched in disgust. Skywarp stood at the open door of the control room with Thundercracker looking over his shoulder, both of them staring openly at the sight before them. "Stop that!" Skywarp yelled, pointing his lasers threateningly. "Just stop it!"

In different circumstances, Starscream would have laughed at the looks on his wingmates' faces. As it was, he was gripped by an unreasoning urge to murder them both. "Get out! How dare you interrupt us!"

They had no chance to answer. Starscream heard the unmistakable whine of a charging fusion weapon, then the air blazed white as Megatron fired. Starscream threw himself out of the way as several million years of paranoia took over, but for once he wasn't the target; instead, the blast clipped the other two Seekers, sending them diving for cover. The door closed behind them.

Shaking his head Starscream looked around, and found Megatron watching him with a cruel, predatory smile. "Now, my Starscream - where were we?"

XXXXX

"Thunder?"

"Yeah?"

"You alright?"

Thundercracker looked down at himself. "Singed. Nothing critical. You?"

"About the same," Skywarp said.

"Okay."

They looked at each other for a moment in silence.

"It's not over," Thundercracker said at last, almost inaudibly quietly.

"I can't believe it." Skywarp shook his head, slumping in defeat. "I thought it would all stop once we got rid of the Soultaker."

"I wonder how many others will have hangovers from it?" Thundercracker wondered worriedly.

"Most of us seem fairly back to normal. It's just Megatron and Starscream." Skywarp shuddered. "I can't believe it!"

"You already said that," Thundercracker pointed out.

"I know, but... I mean, in the corridor! Where anyone could have seen!"

"You ever known either of those two to care about something like that?"

Skywarp had to concede that. He nodded. "But even so. All this organic stuff. This - kissing. What's that about?"

Thundercracker frowned. "Well, it must have something to recommend it," he said eventually.

"What?!"

"If it didn't, they wouldn't do it, right?"

Skywarp took a step away from his friend. "Don't you go getting ideas too!" he exclaimed, optics widening in alarm.

"Warp, come here." Thundercracker reached out and grabbed the other Seeker. "Just to test a theory, okay -"

"No!"

"Come on, Warp. For me?"

They stared at each other. Finally Skywarp looked away. "All right. But only this once, get it?" Carefully, he stepped into Thundercracker's outstretched arms and allowed his friend's lips to touch his own.

There was a silence broken only by the small, silvery noises of metal on metal.

"Oh," Skywarp said faintly.

Thundercracker looked at him in concern. "Are you okay?"

"I..."

They looked at each other, neither wanting to be the first to voice the thought that hung between them.

"It might have... been some kind of fluke," Skywarp said eventually, shakily.

"I suppose..."

Skywarp could hear that his friend didn't believe it. "Thunder?" he managed almost inaudibly.

"Yes?"

"Can we - can we try that again?"

Thundercracker only nodded. Skywarp reached for him and pulled him close, and they tried it again.

This time, there didn't seem to be any reason to stop.

XXXXX

It drifted away through space, sadness coiling like a dark blur within its shining presence. It had been so close to succeeding in its adoption of the strange inorganic creatures it had found on the blue planet, and then they had turned on it and driven it away. Its feelings had been deeply wounded - and it was still hungry.

But it was patient, and it had bought itself enough time and energy to continue its hunt. It moved away slowly through the firmament, looking for a new world and new creatures to befriend. Perhaps, if it looked hard enough, it could find more of the metallic ones. It had liked the taste of their emotions.

Sometime, it thought as it floated along, it might even return to this planet and try again. Maybe the next time, they might be more accepting...

Fin