Until the Dream Ends
With a frown that betrayed his confusion, Ratchet scanned over his medical records yet again and turned up exactly the same results. It didn't make sense. He had thought that maybe he would be able to find a case of similar processes in past patients, but it was safe to say that this was unique and quite extraordinary.
It didn't make sense!
Though it seemed rather cold to admit, he had been fully expecting Perceptor to be psychologically affected after his ordeals. In fact, it had seemed impossible that he wouldn't; his records were bad enough.
But there had been a pointed lack of therapy-seeking visits from the other medic in the deca-cycles that had passed since the incident. At first, the ambulance thought that maybe the other robot was treatinghimself - but, while he was an apt medic, Perceptor's knowledge of cranial circuitry, of psychological illnesses and their treatments was extremely limited - and carrying out brain surgery on oneself was out of the question, even for mechanical life forms. So that idea was obviously a red herring.
How could this be? If not to the chief medical officer, to whom had Perceptor turned for his counselling? He surely needed counselling after all he had been through. Ratchet checked again over the screen that showed the filed injuries he had repaired on his fellow scientist after retrieving him from the desert.
The red scientist's entire upper body had been covered in lacerations of varying length and severity, singed at the edges and no doubt caused by some sort of energy whip. There had been carbon scoring on his shoulder and waist, the lens of his microscope was shattered, his examination tray was likewise destroyed, and that was only the superficial damage.
He had suffered no less than fourteen ruptured energon veins, five of those in his head and neck, most of them near the pressure points where the epidermal metal was thinnest - his torturer had certainly known where to aim to cause the most excruciating agony. Blunt trauma of whatever description had smashed the infrastructure of around his midriff, leaving a series of lesions that had festered with stale oils. There were irreparable gouges on his spark chamber, and Ratchet didn't even want to consider how those had got there.
In all, the soft-spoken researcher had lost eighty-seven percent of his body's energon reserves by the time he had put out the distress frequency and been rescued; most of his primary functions had suspended or offlined completely.
Ratchet had treated mechs who had died from less. He'd euthanised most of them.
Perceptor's survival was miracle enough, but Ratchet couldn't understand how the other Autobot had managed to escape any form of psychological malady. It should have been a certain affliction after such an experience, it was true of all sentient creatures – the humans even had a name for it: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Yet the microscope had apparently escaped it. It didn't make sense! He hadn't even complained of hallucinations while in stasis. He hadn't complained of anything, hadn't showed any symptoms of suffering... he seemed to be the same Perceptor he had been before this whole horrid affair. Not only that, he seemed to be a happier Perceptor than he had been before, and that was the most confusing fact of all!
How had he dealt with it? If Ratchet knew, he could apply the same treatment to any warriors showing similar signs of distress and reminiscence.
Perhaps he had somehow pushed the recollection out of his processors. Perhaps he had repressed his own memory somehow. Perhaps, Ratchet thought to himself, he had suppressed his friend's memories and had somehow forgotten he had done it. The thought made him shudder. This was precisely why he hated the idea of memory wiping.
If not for the hesitance he had over forcing Perceptor to recall that which was best forgotten, Ratchet would ask how he had overcome mental trauma. He was of half a mind to ask anyway. A mech should not just be able to push something like that to the side. Either there was another factor, or Perceptor really was stronger than he ever let on.
Determined to find out what was going on, he poked his head out of his surgery, luckily catching the eye of the very robot he was hoping to talk to. "Jazz, will you come in here for a bit? I want a word."
"Henh? Sure, man, what's up?"
The medic waited until he had checked the door was firmly closed before speaking. As a doctor, he often had to impart terrible news or awkward situations, but despite all his experience, the right words sometimes did not come easily - and besides, it would not do for them to be overheard discussing matters which should remain strictly confidential.
"You're friends with Perceptor, aren't you?"
The visored sub-commander tilted his head inquisitively. "Well, sure, we hang sometimes, but he mostly likes t'keep himself to himself, y'know?"
"Mmm." A noncommittal grunt accompanied by a shrug as the medic found an appropriately clinical way to word his request. "I'm… concerned about the developments in his coping with the aftermath of his injuries." After a brief pause, he continued as a comprehending grimace marred the saboteur's face. "Has he mentioned anything to you about it that he might have forgotten to tell me?"
Immediately, Jazz thought back to what Perceptor had said about Starscream and what the seeker had done. After Perceptor had seemed so awkward, he doubted that Ratchet would have been told. He had a suspicion that he and Prowl were the only two who knew.
But he too had noticed a change in his friend. It was quite bizarre. When they had had that heart-to-heart chat, Perceptor had seemed depressed - as was to be expected - but after the fiasco with Starscream being kept in the Ark, in such a close proximity to his victim, the microscope seemed, rather perversely, happier than ever.
Did this have something to do with that forced bond? Jazz had never heard of a bond being non-consensual before and had no idea of how the mechanics of it would work. Was it possible that that was a factor in the unexpected behaviour?
The likelihood of the doctor being aware of that connection was very slim.
Should he tell Ratchet and break his promise that he wouldn't speak a word about it? If it was for the microscope's own good… but he would be betraying a trust, and that was an unforgivable offence. Who was he to decide what would be best for the other robot? That was Perceptor's choice.
"Nah." The visored Autobot waved a falsely jovial black hand. "I dunno anythin' that he hasn't tol' you. So, was there anythin' else?"
Ratchet shook his head, at a loss about where to turn next, wondering if he should just accept that this case was a psychological anomaly. "No thanks Jazz."
"Right on, I'm gonna go get me some recharge. Later."
As Jazz sidled from the medical bay, Ratchet leaned against the berth and exhaled air from his vents. He didn't remember wiping the microscope's memory.
But then, good for Perceptor! Yes, it fired off warning bells in Ratchet's neural processors, yes it went against every logical conclusion that could possibly be drawn, but if the other Autobot had managed to find happiness, then what good would it do for Ratchet to poke around and jeopardise that?
Unless it was a form of cranial malfunction - though that would make itself obvious somehow if that was the case; usually there were sparks or smoke, such as when poor Red Alert's logic chips had glitched and rocketed him into a wave of even more intense paranoia.
Maybe someone else was affecting the other mech, making him forget…?
Or maybe Perceptor really had worked it out himself. Oh well, time to stop doubting. Ratchet filed the medical record and turned wearily as Sunstreaker slammed into the surgery, sobbing about a scratch on his paintwork.
"Agh, gently..." Urged the Autobot as Starscream pressed him down insistently, grazing his back against the bedrock of the cliff top, though he offered no resistance when the air commander opened the panel on his chest. Oddly enough, for as rough as he could be, Starscream's blue fingers were soothingly careful, almost forcing the microscope to be at ease.
A rush of bravery gripped him, and he reached up with both hands, catching Starscream's helmet, though being careful to avoid the vicious dent caused by Megatron, and guiding the Decepticon's head down close for a kiss. He felt his mate tense in his hands and try to pull away, seemingly by instinct, and the smirk on the grey face wavered in an involuntary spasm. It appeared that Starscream's phobia of being touched had not dissipated, not that he had expected it to in such a short time - though it could prove to be troublesome.
After all, Starscream couldn't have all the fun. Perceptor, loathe to admit that he was but an object to the seeker, wanted his share of exploration and control too, and he wasn't going to get that if the jet kept shying away, kept flinching from his grasp. So he persisted, guiding the dark head back down even as the gears in the Decepticon's shoulders locked in taut protest, tightening at the irrational anticipation of retribution that Starscream had come to associate with any sort of contact.
He would have to show his bondmate that not every caress was brutal, then, hopefully, the air commander would become more at ease with the touches and eventually conquer his fear. But for now, Perceptor just tilted his head up to close the gap, brushing their lips together.
The slightly surprised look, followed by the appraising smirk that crossed the grey mouth as Starscream pulled upward afterwards was exhilarating. Perceptor barely had time to shiver before his partner went back to probing his chest.
And then he realised that Starscream was only exploring with one hand; the other held a small metal object, though he couldn't tell what it was from the restricted view he had of it.
"What's that?" He asked suspiciously, bringing one hand up to grip Starscream's forearm. A feral grin crossed the seeker's face and he brought what he was holding up so that the trapped Autobot could see it clearly.
And Perceptor recognised it instantly.
"The pain-numbing device you had installed?" Uh oh. That didn't bode well. Was Starscream plotting some sort of painful interchange?
"Moron." Snerked the jet. "This doesn't numb pain." A wash of heavy relief swamped the Autobot, and Starscream felt it in his chest through the connection. He snorted in amusement, and, before Perceptor could question him, he was explaining. "It's a communicator."
"You sneaky glitch! So that's how information was being leaked!" He tried to feel angry or offended or used, but it was rather hard when Starscream's mouth latched to his neck and the seeker nuzzledhim. His world melted in a bubbly warmth.
"Hmm, you trusted me?" The Decepticon breathed against the pliable, sensitive metal of his white throat. "Fool."
"Don't, mm, don't insult me. What are you doing with that?"
Starscream stared as his mate as though he was defective. "I'm going to install it in you so that we can keep in touch. I can't keep coming out here every night, Megatron'd have my terminals. If you have this, I can tell you when I expect you to be out here, and no one else will know."
"And I will be able to inform you of when is not a good time for me." Perceptor added pointedly in response to Starscream's utterly self-centred reasoning.
"Is it safe for you to meet me at all? I mean, if I'm found out then I'll be punished somehow because I really shouldn't be meeting with you of all the Decepticons I could fraternise with, but if Megatron finds you with me, he'll kill you, won't he?"
"Let him try. I want you and I am going to have you, no matter what that out-dated mechanical mistake thinks."
At the vicious retort, Perceptor found himself nipping at his lower lip worriedly. He was, by now, somehow quite fond of Starscream (to put it mildly), or at least accustomed to having him around, and, no matter how confident the air commander was that he could escape his leader's wrath, the microscope didn't really relish the idea of being responsible for his death.
"Just… be careful, all right?"
The blue fingers carefully installed the communicator into Perceptor's circuitry even while Starscream shrugged dismissively. And the jet ran his glossa over his lips as he grazed fingertips over the golden spark chamber before him, still marred with the scrapes from his first rough invasion – any surgery on the laser core was far too dangerous to attempt, and the scars did not hinder or pain the microscope in any way, so Ratchet had left them there when he had carried out the vital repairs.
Perceptor gasped aloud at that contact, which gave Starscream even more satisfaction. The seeker straddled his prey's waist and began to manipulate the pressure sensors in the Autobot's smaller body. He traced one of the gouges. His finger fit in it perfectly, of course.
An inexplicable haze of regret flooded through the Decepticon's processor, and he stopped dead in his movements, causing the Autobot at his mercy to online dimmed optics curiously.
"You are perhaps the only mech alive who deserves an apology from me." He murmured hoarsely, and Perceptor stared up him blankly before realising that the blue hands were not making random movements but rather tracing old injuries.
"Do you have to bring that up?" An attempt at an airy laugh ended in failure. "I was rather hoping to, you know… move on."
"Oh, get over it, I'm not going to apologise."
"Well, that's a surprise." Commented the Autobot wryly.
"If that slagspawn hadn't made me do that to you, I would never have this chance now," shrugged the jet, tilting his head and gazing down at his pinned partner's melancholy expression before abruptly deciding he was fed up with the heavy atmosphere his spoken considerations had caused. He remedied this by clamping his teeth down on the nape of the scientist's neck.
Perceptor winced and swatted reproachfully at the red hips over his waist. "Ow! Primus, Starscream, I said no biting!"
Ignoring the reprimand, Starscream ran his fingers into the scars on the Autobot's spark chamber again, feigning disinterest at the way the other mech arched beneath him. He dug tighter. Perceptor whimpered.
"Show me…" the Decepticon hissed hoarsely, cherishing his scientist's angular jawline with the corner of his mouth, spare hand keeping the other pinned securely beneath him.
Quivering, Perceptor had to make a conscious effort to reign in his wayward thoughts and form a coherent sentence. "Sh-show you what?"
The intensity in Starscream's optics and the repeated smoothing of those fingertips in the scars on his laser core led the microscope to the only conclusion he could draw, and he shied away uncertainly, unsure whether he was comfortable with the idea of sharing with the mech who had tortured him (and enjoyed it) the very memories of it. Why would the jet want to see anyway? His reasons were unfathomable; he was still such an enigma…
"Come on," the raspy voice pressed; he felt his will ebbing away as sure as the tides in the sea below, "show me." Even as he spoke, the Decepticon lieutenant was preparing his own body for a bond. Perceptor could see his dark spark chamber behind the retracting cockpit canopy.
Pinned immobile as he was by the larger robot, the microscope could not prevent Starscream lowering onto him even if he had wanted to. Their was a faint clang as their chests crashed and their sparks combined.
Just as had been the case with their last two mutual bonds, Perceptor could not feel the jet tearing him from within, but he certainly hadn't been this guarded since being a prisoner in the crashed starship beneath the ocean; Starscream's sudden desire to see his memories had put him on edge somewhat, and not in a pleasant way.
His neural nets tensed as though expecting something unpleasant to happen… but it never came, and his subconscious realised that it was not going to come. Slowly, his chassis relaxed again and he let go of his nerves. They melted away, lost in the subspace between the souls of the two, fading to nothing in oblivion.
"Come on." Implored Starscream, his voice almost worryingly gentle - itsounded as though he was about to say 'trust me', though, rather thankfully, he did not. "Let me in…"
The helpless Autobot tried to question why, but his words were choked off as Starscream's optics flared bright, the blue hands moving to manipulate first the circumference of the shoulder-mounted light cannon before gliding down to caress the seams of the examination tray hinge at the microscope's red waist. The quivers gave everything away; Starscream had finally found his partner's sweet spot.
Inhibitions crumbled. Perceptor's memories flooded Starscream's processor.
Although it was memories of emotions rather than of actual events, the overwhelming input was intense. Red optics blackened as their power supply failed, shorted out by the unexpected severity of the unadulterated negative feelings; despair, disgust, hopelessness, terror, agony, all of them mixed in a horrific cocktail filtering through the main cranial circuitry of the seeker.
And these were memories that were hazy through both age and recall centres that had glitched at the time.
As though burned, Starscream hurled himself back up off his mate, severing the connection and falling from his position astride the grey pelvic gimbal to land in a heap by the supine mech's side.
"Frag," he swore, restarting his optics as Perceptor sat up on his elbows; they onlined with a burning crimson glow. The Autobot stared in bewildered incomprehension at the dark-faced jet.
"Are you going to tell me what that was about?" He asked softly, his voice carrying a tone that could only be concern.
Starscream snarled. "No, of course I'm not. Moron."
By now, Perceptor had spent enough time with Starscream to recognise when the seeker was being sarcastic, even when it was nowhere near obvious in his tone. "Hmm?"
For a klik or two there was heavy silence, broken only by the crying of the cicadas in the shrub further back on the windswept cliff top.
"Look," growled the jet, "I'm not good at empathy." A hint of awkward uncertainty crept into his voice, which became harsher and higher in a poor defensive attempt to disguise that he wasn't sure of himself. "I like to cause pain, you're not a masochist. I didn't understand why you don't like me biting, now I do, all right?"
Perceptor sat up next to his mate, torn somewhere between being amused and being… well, touched that Starscream had thought it necessary to make a sacrifice for him. Perhaps the seeker actuallydid view him as something more than a toy robot.
What a cheerful thought!
He reached out with both hands, brushing the sides of the dark helmet - yes, there was the flinch at the touch, there was the tremor that coursed across the guarded face - and kissed the Decepticon for his troubles.
And he was happy.
No, he shouldn't be here, no he shouldn't be so at ease with such a high-ranking enemy officer, no he shouldn't be sharing himself with such a high-ranking enemy officer… but Primus above, he was so glad.
Earth weeks ago, if someone had told him that he would be able to stomach not only looking at Starscream, but loving him too, he would have immediately reformatted their logic centres. Now, though, it was beginning to seem a distinct possibility, though he told himself that what he felt was by no means yet strong enough to be dubbed 'love'. That was just too cliché.
Logic be damned. War be damned. Why, if only they weren't sworn enemies, then there wouldn't have to be all this sneaking around, risking being found out by his comrades and accused of treachery…
Perceptor was, in a way, putting more at stake in this relationship. He had more to lose than Starscream, if only because Starscream's master knew him to be a conniving, backstabbing traitor and expected foul play from him. While Megatron doubtless would leap at the first excuse to get rid of his troublesome officer, Starscream had successfully wormed his way out of trouble for the last hundred thousand vorns; like a cockroach, he could continue to survive for another few thousand at least.
On the other hand, Perceptor was not the type associated with treason by his fellow Autobots. Even those who were not fond of him, like Brawn, agreed that he was fully and unwaveringly devoted to the cause. If he was found in the company of a Decepticon - and not just any Decepticon, Starscream was despised more than most among the Autobot forces - then he would be, to use the colloquial, in deep transistor parts.
They would have to play it careful, then. The communicators would help. If even Perceptor had not been able to detect their true purpose or that Starscream had been beaming messages to his own people during his time as an Autobot refugee, then they would be safe. Undetectable. Except perhaps from Ratchet or Red Alert, but they were both very busy all the time - medicine and security (or, if he was feeling cruel, Perceptor would say paranoia instead of 'security') were not easy areas to specialise in. He knew. They would have more to worry about than a tiny unknown component.
And then the whole relationship seemed like such a good idea.
Starscream felt the warmth in himself, channelled from the Autobot, and glanced at his mate, who seemed so blissful and free. The silvery moonlight glinted in an ethereal way from the angular white face and the jet smirked, running his glossa over his lips. Yes, he was quite satisfied with his catch.
He moved slightly so that he was sat at the edge of the cliff, looking out over the sea. For his own reasons, he was loathe to return to his headquarters so soon, even now, cycles after Megatron's outburst. If anyone knew how to hold a grudge, it was the silver gun-transformer; Starscream was not relishing the thought of returning. Megatron really had thought he was selling information to the Autobots. He really had almost lost his life. He would need to convince Megatron that he hated the Autobots just as much as he ever did.
We-ell… maybe not all the Autobots. Maybe they weren't all worthy of his hatred. And there was another reason that the jet was not eager to journey back to his own quarters and recharge. Though he would never admit it to the Autobot by word of mouth, he was fond of the company; Perceptor was intelligent enough to have an invigorating conversation with, should he need it, innocent enough to manipulate but with enough willpower to put up a fight. It was the perfect combination.
He'd left his mark on the red Autobot. In retaliation, he'd had a mark left on him - he'd be buggered with a rivet gun if he ever let Hook fill in those scratches over the Decepticon insignia on his wing.
As he sat and stared, Starscream became aware of a pressure on his left shoulder vent, barely recognising that he had not flinched away at the touch as he would usually do. He turned slightly to focus his optics and see what it was, and was surprised when he realised that it was Perceptor. The Autobot had moved to sit next to him, and had leaned the side of his dark helmet against the sangria metal of the air commander's protruding ventilation hatch.
A faint smile played about the pale mouth. Starscream stared for a moment longer and then matched it with his own bestial smirk and turned his gaze away again, finding the contact unexpectedly pleasant.
Neither of them said 'I love you'. Perceptor did not want to hear it, nor did he want to say it, as he was sure that he was not victim to such an emotion. Starscream, stubborn and wronged once many vorns ago, did not believe that love existed.
It didn't need to be said. It would only have spoiled the silence.
Far below, the waves lapped at the beach with a soothing, rhythmic splashing. The moon hung in the starry sky of velvet and illuminated Earth's surprisingly beautiful scenery. Even the two aliens, far from home, seemed as though they had been there since the dawn of time.
And that was how it was for another cycle, deep into the night. Only then, in the darkness, did they go their separate ways, unseen under the cover of blackness when all their fellows were in recharge.
It was known without being said that such a taboo could not be forever. After all, forever is too long for someone like Starscream, uncomfortable with stability, to settle for something, but both anticipated it lasting for a long time yet.
Good grief. That turned out a lot longer than I had at first anticipated, but it's finished at long last.
To stem questions before they arise, yes there is a sequel in the works. I should start writing it very soon, juggling around moving back in to university, carrying on with work and having what I have jokingly dubbed a 'life'.
Thank you to all my readers, especially to the ones who left me feedback. Holes were picked, considered and refilled, and it was all thanks to those of you who took the time to comment.
And that's it for Until the Dream Ends. For anyone who is interested, I've scribbled in detail about writing it and the hows and the whys over at my livejournal. The URL is going up on my profile page. Once again, thank you for reading and I hope to see you at the sequel!