Author's Notes: For warnings, there is implied one-sided Starscream x Megatron (not really intended as romantic, but can be taken that way if you like).
Also, update 7/3/09: edited. Because I can.
10/9/09: Fanart for this piece! As drawn by fluting-through-life. Please see my profile for a link.
Disclaimer: If I owned Transformers, it would have a lot more scenes like this in it and everybody would stop watching it.
Starscream awoke feeling lousy. Not an unfamiliar thing in and of itself, but the grit in his joints and featherweight dust beneath his fingers was new. He on-lined his optics, swore at the sudden blinding light, and dimmed them until it was more bearable. He examined the parched plains surrounding him. Slowly, he remembered.
A battle. Laser fire. He hit an Autobot, but someone got his left thruster, sent him straight to the earth. Tried to gain his bearings, shot in the leg, fell flat on his face. Autobot came up to him, stepped on his wing, pointed the barrel of his gun at the back of his head. He craned his neck to see: the yellow one, the one with the icy glint in his optics.
A yell. The Autobot looked away. Starscream took the opportunity: grabbed the leg on his wing, yanked, sent the other to the ground. Flipped over, fumbled back, brought his null-ray up, fired. Didn't wait. Got up, started crawling away, ready to radio his wingmates for back-up. Something hit him.
He scowled as the memories flitted through. Then a surge of anger: his so-called companions had left him behind.
He pulled himself up and ran a quick self-diagnostic. Nothing too bad, but he could not fly.
He swore and surged to his feet, then swore again as his right leg gave out, forcing him his knees.
He clutched at the dirt, frustration for his current weakness only fueling his anger. How dare they leave him behind? He was their Second-in-Command! Oh, sure, Starscream tried to kill Megatron every now and then, constantly challenged his authority, and even tried to pull his throne out from under him as if he were no more than some dimwit standing too long on a throw rug…. But that old bucket of bolts needed it! He needed someone to keep him alert, to remind him he had to work for his right as leader. They were no Autobots; they had no benign government or slack-jawed democracy—they were bound together only by the force of will of their leader! Megatron needed to be tested… needed him… he…. How could he leave him behind like this?
He turned himself over, planting his backside on the ground. Just what did Megatron think, anyway? That the Decepticons could somehow do without Starscream, scourge of the skies? He snorted and lifted his right knee, inspecting the damaged plating. Not very likely! The Decepticon army would fall apart without him.
He opened a panel on the side of his calf and pulled a surgical laser out of subspace: a little something he had nabbed from Hook's supplies for occasions just such as this. He knew enough of self-repair to get his propulsion system working again. He had to learn such things, back when he was an explorer, and being in an army where no one gave a slag about anyone but themselves, he got ample opportunity to exercise these skills.
As he set to work disengaging half-melted wires from half-melted plating, he brooded. Megatron probably left him behind on purpose, the slagger. He probably thought if Starscream perished, then all his problems would be solved. Ha! What a fool. If he could not handle a little competition, he did not deserve his place as leader. And if he honestly thought that getting rid of a supposed "traitor"—and really, how could he be called one when he served the Decepticon cause so faithfully?—would solve all his problems, Megatron was sorely mistaken. His problems ran much deeper and they all began with his incompetence.
Now, if Starscream were leader….
A noise disturbed him: rock dislodging from its place, as if someone moved through the barren landscape. Starscream crawled to a nearby rock for cover and peered around it, only to behold Optimus Prime. Just what was that fool doing here?
He glanced at his unrepaired leg. He could not risk a fight just now. Even if he caught the Autobot leader off-guard, he would be overpowered before long. He turned back to watch Prime. The Autobot appeared to be scanning the landscape, as though looking for something.
Starscream's fuel pump sped up. Prime couldn't be looking for him, could he? No, of course not. How would he know?
Suddenly, Prime's steps were surer: he went to a small pile of boulders and began picking them up, tossing them to the side. As he did so, Starscream caught a voice under the noise, small and full of static: "Knew… you wouldn't… leave me behind."
Prime's calm response: "Hold on a little longer. I will get you out of there."
Before long, Prime reached down and picked up one of his subordinates—the small yellow one, Bumblebee. He cradled the little bot in his arms, and the yellow fool looked up at him and smiled.
Starscream almost retched. It was bad enough that those Autobots were so disgustingly mushy, but why go through the trouble of retrieving a soldier too weak to get back on his own? That minibot was only good for getting captured and being a liability.
He returned his attention to his leg. This was why the Autobots would lose the war. They were too soft, too stupid.
He spared the Autobots another glance. Really… what nonsense….
A part of him was inexplicably envious of that little bot, insane as it may sound. Starscream tried to dismiss the feeling as a result of his earlier blow to the head, but it stuck to him. Not to be mistaken: he would never want to be so weak as to require rescue, and certainly he would never want to be so useless.
But maybe the idea of someone coming to rescue him… not because he needed it, since he didn't, but just because they cared… maybe that appealed to him. Not to mistake it for any squishy Autobot emotions, but "cared" as much as was sensible.
Perhaps, for example, instead of leaving him behind as retreat was called, they would come and tell him off for being such a slagger and getting shot, and to hurry up and finish repairing his leg so they could get back to base, perhaps followed by an exasperated/resigned conversation: "If you really need some help flying back then fine I'll help you, but only because you're a moron and I want to get back to base already, ya stupid slagger."
Perhaps some might call him crazy for his description of "caring"… but as long as they came, it would be enough.
It hurt, if only a little, that even this worthless little fool who had failed every mission ever handed to him had someone who cared for him enough to come back for him, whereas Starscream had no one.
And maybe, just maybe, he was jealous of the unspoken approval the yellow bot got from his leader. He didn't even do anything to deserve it! Whereas Starscream toiled for his leader, became everything Megatron ever wanted or needed from him—a killer, a traitor, a scapegoat, a Primus-fragged punching bag—and all he ever got in return was scorn. How was that fair?
Sure, he tried to kill Megatron on occasion, but he would not have to if that slagger would just show him a little respect every now and then. Instead, that spiteful rust-dump shot him down at every opportunity, both literally and figuratively. By now, respect through wariness (never through fear, as Megatron feared nothing) was the only kind of respect he could hope for from his leader—if you could call it that.
And maybe… really, only a little… he would not mind if Megatron showed him something other than the back of his fist or the business-end of his fusion cannon. No, he did not want cuddles and he did not want to be picked up like some squealing organic infant, but… was a little acknowledgment too much to ask for?
Not—that he needed it. No. But… it might be appreciated.
"Is someone there?"
Starscream jerked out of his reverie. What—Prime? The Autobot had not seen him, had he? Starscream looked sidelong, not quite daring to peer around the boulder again, and saw the problem: his wing stuck out from his hiding place.
It was times like these he considered the benefits of not replacing a wing when one was ripped off.
He pulled himself to the side to hide his wing, but Prime had already seen him. Maybe if he was lucky—
"Who is that? Are you injured?"
… Which, of course, he never was.
He scrambled through the dirt, trying to find another hiding place before Prime got too close. He got to a boulder and grabbed hold of it, hoping to haul himself over.
He flinched at the sound of his name in that calm, cradling voice. He turned to face the Prime, raising his null-ray in a silent threat. "Stay away from me, Autobot." His arm trembled.
Prime halted and tightened his grip on the minibot, but made no move to leave. "Is someone coming for you?"
Starscream sneered. "Oh, please."
Prime still did not move.
"I can take care of myself, Prime," he snarled. "I do not need your sympathy."
For a moment, it seemed the big fool might actually heed Starscream's words, standing there without saying a word. The minibot glanced nervously between leader and seeker. Everyone waited.
A fusion blast cut through the tension, blackening the bare rock between them. All heads turned to look, and there stood Megatron, fusion cannon poised and face contorted in a scowl.
The minibot looked like he wanted to disappear. Even Prime took a step back. Starscream just stared. Megatron? Here? What possible reason could he have for returning to the battle field? He felt something surge in his chest. It couldn't be to retrieve him… could it?
Megatron leveled a glare at his nemesis. "Trying to dispose of my lieutenant after the battle, Prime? I did not know you were capable of such dishonor."
Instead of answering the taunt, Prime relaxed his stance. Megatron would not start a fight now; he could see it in his posture. "I should not be surprised you would leave one of your own soldiers behind, Megatron."
"Silence yourself, Prime. Your sentiments give the air a foul taste." He took a few steps towards his Second. "Get up, Starscream."
Starscream continued to stare, still dazed by his leader's presence.
Megatron grew impatient. He charged his cannon once more, a threat voiced in the low, familiar hum. "Starscream…." He growled.
The sound jerked him out of his reverie. He hurried to stand, but his legs betrayed him, forcing him back down. He bowed his head as he felt his leader's red-opticked glare upon him and tried not to let the trembling in his limbs show too much.
Slowly this time, he planted his pedes on the ground and eased himself up, using a nearby boulder for support. His leg still twinged, but he ignored it. He could not show weakness now, not with Prime standing within visual range. He had to be an example of the Decepticon forces: strong in spite of injuries. It was a test—he could feel it.
Megatron narrowed his optics at him before turning to look at Prime. Not approval, but as good as he was going to get.
"I suppose I should not be surprised your soldiers are so weak as to require rescue," he said, casting the minibot in Prime's arms a disdainful glance.
The minibot cringed, but Prime returned his gaze evenly. "Perhaps my willingness to retrieve my soldiers is the reason why the Autobots are strong where the Decepticons are continuously weakening."
"Yet you are still losing the war. I wonder if there might be a connection?" He shot a look at his Second. "Starscream! Is there a reason you have been dawdling here? Or did you just want to avoid the tasks assigned to you as my Second?"
"I—what are you doing here, Megatron?"
The gunformer scowled, never one to be distracted. "Just what are you talking about, you glorified pile of bolts? You are my Air Commander, are you not? It is your responsibility to ensure the seekers fulfill their duties."
Starscream bit back the retort. He had to know. "I meant, why are you here? Why not Skywarp? Or Thundercracker?"
Megatron's lips curled into a condescending sneer. "If you must know, I wanted to see for myself if you had finally been terminated… but once again, you disappoint me, Starscream."
He felt something drop in the pit of his fuel tank, but he clenched his fists and schooled his expression into a scowl. Megatron was not here for him. He was here for his punching bag. "So sorry to rain on your parade, mighty leader, but as you can see, I am in perfect health."
"A pity, indeed. Our audio receptors had almost recovered from your constant screeching."
"What!" Starscream's fingers twitched, desperate to just shoot that construction of reject-parts and get it over with. But no, no, now was not the time to antagonize him, it really, really wasn't….
"Come now, Starscream. You shouldn't sound so surprised to hear that your absence will be sorely missed."
With a shriek of rage, Starscream brought his null-ray up to point at his leader, spreading his pedes to better ground himself for a fight—and promptly fell over backwards, his right leg unprepared for the sudden movement.
Megatron roared with laughter, and Starscream felt an all-too familiar humiliation heat his face. He sat up, his fists clenched in the dirt, and tried to regain his composure. Another's stare latched onto the edge of his consciousness, but he did not have to look to know who it was. The gaze did not burn; only pitied.
Pity. Bah, he did not need pity.
He lifted his head enough to sneer at Prime. "And just what are you still doing here, fool? You have your little spy, don't you?" Or did you just want to enjoy the show? he didn't say.
Prime looked at him, calm as ever. He did not speak.
Of course not. What could he possibly say?
He reluctantly looked back at his leader, who had gone back to scowling. "Yes, Megatron?"
"Get to your pedes. You make even more a fool of yourself with each passing astrosecond."
Starscream offered a sneer, but he obeyed. He did not feel much like fighting anymore; the shame burnt it all out of him.
"Good. Now hurry up, Starscream. We are leaving."
He grumbled something.
"What was that? More insubordination?"
Starscream gave him his worst glower. "As much as it pains me to say this, I'm afraid I cannot join you on your way back to that shipwreck you call a base. You'll have to go by yourself."
Megatron growled. "Starscream…."
"My thrusters are damaged, leader. I will need to repair them before I can go anywhere."
"And I suppose you expect me to wait?"
"Not at all. I shall return to the Nemesis on my own once I am finished."
Megatron snorted. "And you think I should just take your word for it."
"Why wouldn't you?"
"Is that a joke, lieutenant?"
"… I suppose it must be." He turned his face away so he would not have to see his leader's expression, instead feeling for the boulder behind him. He used it to help lower himself down, and as soon as he got there he re-opened the panel on his leg. He bent over it, pulling out the surgical laser again. "I will report to you at the Nemesis in half a cycle."
He busied himself with the repair work, all too aware of the other bots' silence, but he ignored it, too tired to care. He just wanted to fix his thruster, get out of there, and not have to deal with any of this.
Megatron spoke, but not to him. "And what are you looking at?"
"I merely wondered when this war is going to end."
"Once you finally meet your end, Prime. As if you did not already know the answer."
"That was not the war I spoke of."
Starscream's hands paused at that, but did not dare to say anything.
"What nonsense are you speaking now, Prime?"
A sigh. "Leave, Megatron. I have no intention of harming your lieutenant, and he is obviously capable of caring for himself."
Starscream narrowed his optics, but continued work on his leg. It didn't concern him. No matter what they said or how Prime baited Megatron, it would change nothing. Neither would engage in battle now; they were both wounded, both low on energon. Nothing would change.
"And little else," Megatron grumbled. "And I am not leaving until you do."
"Don't look at him. You are speaking to me."
"Indeed," the Prime said softly. "Indeed I am."
Another silence passed, this time longer. Starscream could almost feel the suppressed rage rolling off of Megatron. He did not dare to move. Megatron wouldn't engage in battle now… would he?
Prime seemed to get some sense of it, too, for in the next instant he said, "Very well, Megatron. I will leave. Come, Bumblebee… let's get you back."
Heavy footsteps walking away. The tyrant's rage cooled, and the tension coiled in the air eased up enough for Starscream to resume his work.
Just not for long.
Starscream considered telling him to go frag himself, but Megatron's patience had been strung thin enough in the past two breems. No need to test his luck now.
He shut the panel on his leg and slowly got back to his pedes. He turned a glare on his leader. "Yes, Megatron?"
Megatron observed him for several moments, not saying anything. Starscream fidgeted. Just as he was about to blurt something out of sheer nervousness, Megatron began walking towards him.
Starscream's optics widened. "W-wha…? M-Megatron, what are yo—AAAAAUGH! MEGATRON! PUT ME DOWN RIGHT NOW!"
"Oh, shut up, Starscream," he spat, half-glancing over his shoulder at the seeker now draped there like a sack of potatoes. "You are taking far too much time. I would not be surprised to find that you had even repaired yourself wrong."
"What? That is ridiculous and you know it! I've repaired my own propulsion system hundreds of times! Now put me down or—"
"Or—or—I'll think of something! Now put me down!"
"Silence yourself, Starscream, or I shall make you."
Starscream snarled at that, but complied. He had no doubts that Megatron would carry through with his threat, and if Starscream had to be thrown onto the dimwitted gunformer's back and dragged him off somewhere more suitable for a beating, he would much rather be conscious.
Then they took to the air, and as Starscream watched the ground shrink away below, he realized that Megatron was taking him back to the Nemesis.
His fuel pump almost stopped, and he had to resist the sudden urge to laugh. So, what—Megatron cared for him, after all? This insufferable, half-cocked gunformer who constantly beat and belittled him? This overbearing fool whose stream of insults and disappointments never seemed to end? Ha, right….
There was no way to avoid touching the gunformer's back in his current position, but he was wary of doing so; in the end, he figured the only safe thing to do was to cross his arms and lay his head on that. As he did, he caught sight of a mech standing on the ground far below: Prime, looking right at him. His intakes hitched as their optics met, and suddenly he knew what Prime had done.
He looked away, his own bitterness suddenly tangible: an old taste he could never seem to wash out of his mouth.
Megatron did not do this because he cared. He did it because Prime had challenged him, had shamed him with his goodness. Starscream was not surprised. Megatron saw everything as a challenge. It did not matter who offered it or why; all that mattered was that he beat it. He never learned or bettered himself because of it. His only desire was to conquer.
Starscream buried his face in his arms. He did not want to be a pawn in yet another of Megatron's many little wars, but what choice did he have?
He tried to block it all out and just feel: the wind cutting across him, strange in a way it wasn't when he flew by himself; the arm clamped around his legs, uncomfortably secure, pinching delicate sensors; the silver cannon just by his elbow, cold to the touch; the warm metal pressed against his arms, so close that if he dared to move his fingers, he could inscribe invisible words onto it.
He concentrated on that because he knew it would not last. The moment they landed, before the lift had even brought them to the command deck, he would be dumped onto the ground and ordered to get his aft to the repair bay and resume his duties, and nothing would have changed.
But… maybe… even if it was only for a little while, he could pretend. He could imagine that Megatron had not come looking for him because he needed to vent his frustrations and would have had Prime not been there; could pretend that Megatron would not have left without his Second. He could ignore the insults and the taunts, the threats and the humiliation. He could focus on the beginning and the end, forget everything in between.
Then, once you stripped all that away, every part of it that made him hurt and bitter and angry and tired, everything that made it real and not a dream, all you would have left was the moment when Megatron had come back for him when no one else had, and this moment now, warm metal under his fingertips.
Wasn't that enough?