Title: Void

Rating: T, PG-13

Universe: Animated AU

Summary: Sequel to "Prime." Running out of both energy and options, hounded by Autobots and Decepticons alike, Starscream has nowhere left to run. But someone else has his optics on the outcast Seeker.

A/N: The first bit of this sprang from a bunny from the ever-reliable bunny farm. The rest just sort of... happened.

I struggled to gain any sort of advantage, but Megatron's weight was too great and the way he was positioned-- holding down my wings, making the joints on my back scream in agony every time I attempted to sit up-- kept me firmly on the cold metal floor. What he was doing wasn't painful in and of itself; any other time, the paint and brush would have felt wonderful on my wings, but the meaning behind it rent my Spark in two. I wasn't a traitor to the cause... only to Megatron. I had always upheld the Decepticon vision, thirsted for it, striven towards it. We will cast off our chains and rise above Autobot tyranny. We will cleanse Cybertron of the filth that chokes her, by any means necessary. Surrender is not an option.

If anyone had lost sight of the cause, it was Megatron. I remembered our purpose. By right, I should lead the Decepticons. Only I could lead us to our glorious future. Why could no one else see it?

His work finished, Megatron hauled me up and practically threw me aside. I struggled to find my footing and came up against the viewport. The surface was reflective; I saw the black glyphs defacing my wings, blotting out my Decepticon insignias, and gave a choked sob.


"You are unworthy of the name of Decepticon," Megatron declared behind me, and the finality in his statement struck me harder than a blow. "You are below Neutral. I banish you, Void. If you are encountered by any Decepticon, you will be executed without mercy. You have two breems to leave this ship."

I didn't stop to ask questions.

I onlined to a spectacular array of flashing warnings. Most of my nonvitals were shut down to conserve energy-- I barely had enough to be online. I remembered losing consciousness sprawled on some tiny rock of a planet, having expended all my energy flying from Cybertronian space. But I wasn't there now... where was I?

I onlined my optics to see dark metal above me. More distressingly, I became aware of the stasis cuffs binding my wrists. I was captured, then. By Decepticons? No, then I wouldn't be bound, I'd be dead. The Autobots? Perhaps they hoped that, since Megatron had cast me out, I would spill my secrets. The thought alone disgusted me. I would never betray the cause... only Megatron.

If only I were that lucky. My captor soon revealed himself, and it was not anyone I had ever wanted to see from this position. Lockdown barely even looked Cybertronian any more, with all those modifications. His protoform was just barely hinted at under the weapons he had armed himself with. His optics glinted with malicious amusement as he watched me.

"Online at last," he said, his gravelly voice grating on my audios. "I took the liberty of refuelling you, just enough to wake up, hope you don't mind."

"What do you want?" I hissed, but he wasn't intimidated.

"What do I always want?" he responded coolly. "It's just a matter of who offers more. Now, in your case, you've got a system-wide death sentence, at least for the Decepticons, but there aren't too many credits riding on it. But some. The Autobots want you alive... probably interested in what's in here." He reached through the bars and tapped my helm with his hook. I jerked away. "And they're offering more creds than the 'cons, for once. See, if I hand you over, I ge the credits but miss out on some sweet little mods."

I ran a hasty self-diagnostic. Lockdown noticed the dimming of my optics and laughed. "Wings, thrusters, null-rays, they're all still there," he assured me, and the results of my diagnostic confirmed the fact. "With a great personal struggle on my part," he added, hungrily caressing my cannons with his optics. I tucked in on myself protectively.

"So which is it?" I asked. I relished neither prospect-- death and dismemberment or imprisonment and likely torture.

"Hang on, there's a third option," he said, and I frowned to hide my surprise. "One that doesn't net me any credits at all. Not even any mods, unless you're feeling generous.

"See, you're already listed as offlined, according to the 'cons' database. And I haven't told anyone that I've got you. As long as I feel like muting it, you're gone. Disappeared. Offlined, as far as anyone knows or cares.

"Your point?" I growled.

"My point," he continued, "is that I'd sure like having a partner who doesn't exist. And even if I can't have those nice little mods of yours, I can still use them... indirectly."

"Why would I ever want to work with you?" I demanded. A bounty hunter? Me? The thought... the very idea of it! Me, the Decepticon Air Commander... the former Decepticon Air Commander. Working for the highest bidder? Working with Lockdown?!

"Beats offlining," he said. "And I'll give you a hint, Starscream. I'm more interested in mods than in credits." He converted his hook to a wicked-looking energon saw and I cringed. "And you'll be awake for every nano-klik of it, let me tell you. I've heard that fliers make the best screams when you take off their wings. Care to test that?"

"N-No!" I gasped, and hated myself for my own cowardice. But my wings... I couldn't endure that. "St-State your terms."

"That's better," Lockdown said smugly, switching back to his hook. "Terms, hmm. We'll be partners. You get part of the earnings. You get energon, a recharge berth, and anonymity. I get you. Your skills. Your loyalty. 'Course, you'll need a little trial period, just to make sure you won't disappoint. But I have a feeling you won't."

He reached over unexpectedly and deactivated the bars, unsubspaced a cube of energon and set it on the deck a short distance from where I lay prone.

"It's up to you. Fuel up. Then you can either come to the command deck or leave. It's not hard to catch up with a mech running on one cube, even one as fast as you, and then we'll have a little fun before I give Megatron your Spark casing."

With a touch to the remote, the stasis cuffs went dead. Lockdown didn't even pause to look back as he left the brig. Cocky slagger knew that I could barely move. As the door hissed shut I sat up and glared at the innocent cube.

The life of a bounty hunter. It was hardly a respectable line of work, nor exactly prestigious. If I had the luxury of being picky, I would rather fly to the ends of the universe, exploring uncharted planets just like we used to, me and--

I must be getting sentimental because of low fuel if I were thinking of him. Besides, I couldn't afford hesitation. At least I would have energy.

No choice for it, really.

Lockdown was waiting on the bridge. He turned to smirk at me as I entered, somewhat refueled-- at least, my readouts glowed yellow instead of flashing urgently red.

"Good choice, partner," he said. "Come here." I hesitated, but he unsubspaced another cube of energon and I reached hungrily for it, approaching without caution. He watched with unreadable optics as I gulped it down, that half-smile still curving his mouthplates.

"Turn around," he said when I was finished. I glared, feeling much more confident now that I was near fully charged.

"Why?" I asked suspiciously. Instead of answering, he whirled in a low kick and swept my legs out from under me. He flipped me onto my front and was on me in a lfash, prying the delicate cables at the back of my neck apart and linking something into the port hidden beneath. A jolt passed through my neural lines and my systems seized for a moment.

"What did you--?!"

"Stasis cuffs, wireless linkup and homing beacon all rolled into one," Lockdown responded cheekily, pushing the neck cables back into place over his device. "Not that I don't trust you, or anything..."

"Of course not."

"Just think of this as your 'trial period,'" Lockdown finished, letting me up. I rubbed at the back of my neck, still glaring.

"You do realize that I've still got the death sentence in Cybertronian space," I reminded him. He grinned.

"Ah, some paint and maybe a little reformat can take care of that. As far as anyone will ever know, Starscream doesn't exist any more. You got another name?"

Ironic. The universe was laughing at me. "N..." No. That name was lost to me forever... it had been lost when I lost him. "No. Not like I needed one before."

"Heh, fine. Luckily Megatron was considerate enough to leave you one." He nodded at my wings, or rather, at the glyphs marring them. "Void. And besides... death sentence or no, recognize you or not..." He raised his hand to tap the back of his own neck, optics glowing with satisfaction and a bit too much possessiveness for my tastes. "You're giving off my signal now, you're flying for me now. And any bounty hunter with half a processor knows better than to touch what's mine."

I sneered. "That's ever so comforting."

He laughed. "That's the spirit. You know, Void, I think I'm gonna like working with you. Come on, I've got some paint lying around in the trophy room."

A/N: Well? :) Please review.