I can't believe I'm finally posting this chapter. To be honest, I had most of it written months ago, but there was a part of me that kept postponing the moment in which I had to actually write the words 'The end'. But ah, I finally did it, thanks to some very gentle reminders of how much of a slacker I am :oP
As it happened with its prequel, this story touched me in a way very few of my stories have touched me. It may sound ridiculous or corny, but as I wrote more and more about the inner and outer conflicts of the marvelous character that Thundercracker is, I began to understand him, but most of all, to love him. I have asked myself why, even though I'm very fond of many TV series and anime, Transformers has been the only one which has inspired me to write fanfiction after fanfiction. I think the answer is precisely that one, that at some point I began to love these characters that were with me since my childhood.
There are many people I want to thank for the support and inspiration provided to write and finish 'Deviant'. I could try to name them all, but the list would be too long, not to mention that I'm afraid I could forget to mention somebody and that wouldn't be fair. So I'll just say thanks, many thanks, from the bottom of my heart for being with me during this journey that took more than two years and forty chapters to be completed. And of course that I include in my gratitude all the people who read, favored and reviewed this story. Without all of you, 'Deviant' would have been only an idea circling in my head.
And speaking about gratitude, my hugs go also to iratepirate, sista, beta reader, dream catcher. She made an amazing job correcting the grammar of this chapter practically right after I sent it to her. Many kudos for having this chapter ready to be posted today, sis!
Okay, let's proceed to the conclusion then… Just let me add that there are some important notes at the end of the fic. Please make sure to read them when you're done with this final chapter of Deviant... ah it really is the final… it feels weird to put it that way.
A robot stood lonely beneath the void. No lights, no life, not anything, just him and his guilt to keep him company, a burden he knew he would carry until the end of his days.
Thundercracker walked dead street after dead street, for the first time in his life the thought of flying didn't even graze his mind. The grey buildings stood around him like crypts in a mausoleum, the most important city of Cybertron completely deprived of life. That was his doing, his own destructive gift to his world.
He could hear some explosions and shots in the distance. Perhaps his comrades in arms were shooting some Autobot who hadn't been able to leave the city in time, or perhaps they were just celebrating their victory. Or maybe they were just killing themselves, drunk on pitiful glory they hadn't gained through honorable combat. So many things had changed since Thundercracker had believed in the cause that promised him freedom, and so many things were yet to change.
His steps continued reverberating through the dark streets as the buildings continued to witness the pass of the one who had brought them doom. The dark windows stared at him, accusatory, reflections of his bare soul that insisted on pointing sharp fingers at him.
He sensed the proximity of his destination long before he had any visual of it. His eyes remained blind to some things, but his spark would always see and would always remind him of what he had done. That was perhaps the ultimate curse of a traitor, to always carry an enemy within, an enemy who refused to stay silent. Escape was impossible.
The sight of the dwelling in which he had spent his sparkling vorns didn't bring him any relief. It was the killing shot to his hopes of finding anything there that resembled peace. His creator was not there, not even the echoes of the laughs and games… and of course, he himself wasn't there either. Whoever he had been had died the day he had made his own the emblem that had been traced for the first time with the blood of a Cybertronian.
He approached the debris that once had been his home, the home in which the remains of his deviant spark rested, the home he should have never left to follow a mirage. The place was dead as well, the result of the devastation and pillage of war, but most of all of the aftermath of his betrayal. Thundercracker had spent most of his life between purple walls, but not even once, during all those millenniums, had he felt anything like the inner peace that had accompanied his sparkling years beside his father. The Decepticon cause had been his house, but never his home.
His hands were close to trembling, but he contained his moment of weakness when he realized that loneliness was no longer his privilege. He recognized the presence without the need to scan the energy signature. Beyond any emotional or physical bond, the communion created by Seekers who had shared the same sky for eons made them brothers, no matter how stained their brotherhood was with blood and treason.
Thundercracker turned around, once again not surprised by the winged shadow standing on the other side of the street.
Cybertron, Kaon Coliseum, seven solar cycles ago.
"STOP! Stop I tell you! That's enough, enough!" Starscream cried, trying uselessly to move his right arm and achieving nothing but severing more of the wires that were the only reason why his servo was still attached to his torso. A stream of Energon fell on his face plates, but it wasn't his blood but that of the victor.
"And why would I stop?" Thundercracker roared, straddled on Starscream and with all his instincts set to kill.
The defeated Seeker weakly grabbed one of the hands that was crushing the circuits in his neck without any mercy. "You won, you won… What else do you need to prove? You won, slaggit!"
Thundercracker increased his grip on his victim, seeing nothing but his image mirrored in that face. He deserved that. He deserved to be in Starscream's place, for everything he had done and what he was yet to do. More than ever he wished he was the one underneath, that he could end his disgust for himself by simply crushing that life force between his hands.
But it wouldn't happen, not that day. A scowl formed on his face and his fingers released their prey… Starscream looked at him fearfully, nothing but pain and uncertainty blinking in his cracked optics.
Thundercracker felt something frozen running through his fuel lines as he looked at that face that resembled so much his own. More than ever, he wanted to empty his weapons on that broken mirror, to melt it until the thing inside him stopped hurting.
Infinitely disgusted in himself, he put his hand on Starscream's mouth and pressed hard, oblivious to the groans of pain coming from his former Air Commander. His other hand was crueler, as it headed towards Starscream's damaged arm and tore it off from his frame with a violent yank. Unbearable pain didn't wait to make itself heard through muffled, yet high pitched vocals.
"Shut up!" Thundercracker hissed. "Aren't you always gloating about you being the perfect embodiment of a Decepticon? Then shut the frag up and take it as one! Decepticons do not whine!"
Starscream groaned some astrokliks more before grabbing Thundercracker's wrist. With a trembling effort he managed to remove the hand covering his mouth.
"Y-you… you will pay for this…" he muttered, spitting Energon.
Thundercracker twisted his mouth in a grimace of contempt. "I'm going to need some proof of your defeat. I can take your head if you prefer, it makes no difference to me."
A short circuit in the ugly hole that Starscream had on his shoulder shook his frame brutally. The small sparks flying towards Thundercracker's face brought him back from the remains of his clouded thoughts and forced him to face reality, the one reality he still had to betray.
"Go," he said, looking at the dark tunnel ahead. "Megatron must have sent someone to retrieve you… go now before I change my mind and terminate you."
Starscream tried to get up but he failed miserably, not achieving more than getting on his knees and supporting his weight on his remaining arm, which also seemed to belong to the scrapheap.
"I can't slaggin' move!"
"You can always crawl," Thundercracker said, starting to make his own staggering way towards the opening above and dispersing the smoke with Starscream's arm, a macabre trophy which moved its blue fingers in a morbid dance.
Starscream said something more but Thundercracker didn't listen to him. He chose not to do it. There would be plenty of time later to have that conversation he still had pending with his former – and soon to be again – Air Commander.
But not now. Now, he still had many backs to stab, the same backs that had turned towards him to offer him the most generous hands that had ever tried to reach him since the innocent days in which there was nothing in the Universe besides him and his creator. Those days, in which smiles were so abundant, seemed like a distant dream now.
"So you were here," Starscream said, walking toward the destroyed dwelling. "As always, you are as predictable as you are sentimental. It's fortunate that your enemiesare not close, otherwise they would find a ridiculously easy target. But then again, who is not an enemy of yours, Thundercracker? I'd say you are a much hated mech on both sides of the line these days."
"What do you want, Starscream?" Thundercracker asked, frowning. His battle computer hummed.
"Why, I'm having a word with the hero, the conqueror of Iacon. What else?"
It was disturbing to see Starscream walking so confidently through the same place that had seen Thundercracker grow up; it was worse than an insult.
"Masks off," he said, keeping his optics on the Air Commander all the time. "I think we have gone through enough lately. We can afford to leave the old ironies behind."
"I find it curious that you talk about masks," Starscream said as he cast a glance of contempt at his surroundings. "You, who hid behind one for all these vorns. Although I have to say that I was not surprised when I heard about the existence of the poor working robot who dreamed of being a Seeker… You should have known better than changing only your name and frame when you decided to play with your destiny; I could smell your Autobot stench ever since the first time I saw you."
"It's curious, however, that you didn't say anything about that until now, when you have done your research into my past," Thundercracker said as he clenched a fist, his Decepticon programming kicking out and calling for a victim. "Is it a second round that you are looking for, Starscream? Go on, I'm ready!"
Starscream sneered but didn't change his relaxed stance. Instead, he leaned forward and started to rummage through a pile of debris. "Did you really live here, with your creator? Bizarre… I don't envy you, obviously, but I can't help but wonder what it was like. All I remember from my first days was that they made us fly from the first breem of the cycle till the last one."
Thundercracker unclenched his fist, his hunger for a fight vaporizing as suddenly as it had started. He would have liked to know who 'they' were, but Starscream wasn't one to reveal specific details about his past; he had his own mask to carry.
"I need to ask you something."
"And what would that be?" Starscream said whilst he kept invading the shattered memories of his wingmate. For some reason, Thundercracker didn't feel furious anymore.
"Did you give it all? In our duel, I mean… Did you fight with all your strength?"
Starscream took a broken piece of an Energon dispenser from the wreckage, only to toss it aside immediately with evident disgust. "What do you think, Steelcrank? You won the duel, did you not?"
The mention of his former name was hurtful. "Don't call me that."
"Why not? It's your name, the name your father gave you, the same name you renounced."
Thundercracker lowered his head, pain and shame assaulting him the same.
Starscream stood up and faced him. "We agreed that we would take the duel seriously that day when you staged the attack on that human settlement because Prowl was suspicious of you... Did I do something during our combat that made you think I had changed my mind?"
Memories were again so bitter. Thundercracker would always remember that day as one of his most shameful. He had endangered innocent beings – again – just to protect himself from Prowl's suspicions. Challenging Starscream to a duel had come as a last resort, and it had worked to keep his infamous ex Air Commander away from the humans, but also had provided a way for the final lesson to be delivered.
"What did you tell Megatron?" Thundercracker asked eventually, trying not to expose his real thoughts.
"What we agreed, that we planned the duel so you could win. It wouldn't have been good for my life expectancy, not to mention my reputation considering the outcome of the fight, if I had told him that we both decided to take that duel as the opportunity to settle our differences. Kill two birds with one stone, I think that's the human expression… But you should know better than me, human lover. I don't think I ever told you how ridiculous you looked trying to protect those bags of flesh that day at the human settlement. The Autobots are more foolish than I thought if they bought your cheap comedy."
Thundercracker knew that he should have been furious, but he smirked instead. "You are one fragged up mech, Starscream… It took me too long – and a lot of pain I must admit – to start to understand you. It's such a shame for you, the fact that you just lost the ability to annoy me. There is more in the things you don't say than in your eternal delusional speech."
Starscream remained silent for a moment, grey nanokliks in which his face plates revealed nothing.
"Fly with me," he said finally, his transformation cog already in motion and his wings extended towards the dark sky.
Thundercracker didn't think, feeling the call of the skies but also the one of the place where he had belonged for countless eons. The vast majority of the zillions of breems that he had spent airborne belonged there, to the right side of Starscream's plating.
"You are a fortunate mech, Thundercracker. You'd be fool thinking otherwise," Starscream's voice resounded through his comm link.
Of course, Thundercracker thought otherwise. Luck was not exactly what he had carried along with him all those vorns, but perhaps it was one of the many advantages of being a treacherous piece of junk.
"And you'd be even more foolish if you waste this," the screechy voice continued. "It's not an everyday thing to have a second opportunity. It's not an everyday thing that I grant it to you."
He knew perfectly well what Starscream was talking about. It had been a tacit, yet carefully elaborated game, in which they both had risked something more than just their lives. It would have been easy to say that there was no mech that knew Thundercracker better than Skywarp, but it seemed that Starscream had also learned to read him during all those millions of years of flying together. Wanted or not, there was no way to avoid certain bonds from forming amongst trinemates, bonds that would stay with them until the day they ceased to function.
Starscream made his engines roar and put some distance between him and Thundercracker. The challenge had been made, and Thundercracker wasn't going to decline it. Starscream was both his executioner and his saviour, and in that moment Thundercracker would have followed him until the end of the Universe with the same easiness that he would have destroyed him with. A part of him regretted not having terminated Starscream that infamous day at the Coliseum. That would have signaled his own doom, his absolute descend into the monster's dominion, but at least down there betraying the Autobots wouldn't have been so painful.
"Your speed has increased," Starscream said. "I'm impressed. Did the Restoration Chamber do something to your flying systems, or is this change your own doing? Ah, you Autobots… always aiming for the impossible."
Thundercracker forced his thrusters to their limit. It didn't matter if he exploded with the effort, he was determined to reach Starscream no matter the cost. When he found the familiar warmth of that white plating again, he realized that it was impossible to know, even for he who was a machine, the exact number of times in which he had flown alongside that same plating. How many formations, how many battles, how many life and death situations he had gone through with the trine that had become his family… Now the unit was broken, and just as it had happened with his first family, it was his doing.
Both Seekers challenged the Cybertronian skies for the following few breems without saying another word. Propelled by unknown forces, Thundercracker reached the nosecone of his trine leader and remained there, defying both gravity and logic. Starscream didn't try to separate from the one that had guarded his right plating for all those vorns; his wings continued grazing the blue ones of his wingmate in the most peaceful flight they had ever shared. For the first time since they had been assigned to the same unit, they were flying just for the pleasure of flying, no war and no rancor between them.
When they arrived at the abandoned Iacon Military Academy, Thundercracker decreased his speed and transformed into his bipedal form, understanding that the strange flight had reached an end. Starscream did the same, his thrusters keeping him in the air as he faced his wingmate.
"Megatron promoted you. You will have a unit of forty Seekers at your command," Starscream said emotionlessly. "We won't fly together ever again."
The announcement shouldn't have been a surprise. Of course many things had to change after the events of the past few cycles, but still Thundercracker couldn't ignore the sting of pain.
"You were the only one who stood beside me during this entire charade, Starscream," he said when he was able to speak again. "Don't think that I will ever forget that."
Starscream snorted. "You'd be an ungrateful glitch if you did. But spare me from your pathetic gratitude, it's something I can definitely live without."
"Unlike retribution," Thundercracker said calmly, "which is something that you will eventually ask of me."
"You know me well," Starscream said, sneering. "But I guess time will tell. I only put you in a position in which the decision was ultimately yours, but I'm afraid you did nothing but return to your old ways. Or tell me, did seeing your own soul teach you nothing? Autobot or Decepticon, Thundercracker? Speak!"
A small crackle in Starscream's helm was the only response. He turned his back to Thundercracker and said something in a low voice. When he ended the communication, he stared at his former wingmate again.
"Megatron requests your presence. Don't keep him waiting," Starscream said, his thrusters propelling him upwards. Thundercracker was sure that his audio receptors were failing, because he could have sworn that he had heard a bit of sadness in Starscream's voice.
But Starscream didn't transform, even less left. There was something else he still had to say. He didn't turn around to stare at his ex wingmate again, though. It was clear that there was something in his face that he didn't want to expose.
"Yes, I gave it all in our duel," he said with a serious, solemn tone that Thundercracker had never heard in his voice, which for once didn't sound screechy. "I fought with all my strength… But don't gloat, because you won't be so lucky next time. Unlike you, I am not one who counts granting mercy amongst his flaws."
Thundercracker didn't say anything else and watched Starscream leave. There would be a next time, of course there would be a next time… He just had gone through the most intimate moment he had ever shared with his former trine leader, one in which their brotherhood had pulsated more than ever, and yet he knew that their final confrontation was yet to come. Starscream knew every twisted corner that Thundercracker had taken during his inner journey, and he wouldn't leave him alone until he was sure he had delivered his lesson.
"Thank you, Starscream", Thundercracker said in a low voice before transforming and heading towards what perhaps would be his final destination.
The doors creaked when Thundercracker forced them open. Just like the city of Iacon, its buildings were dead too, no energy left running through their walls. But the figure standing at the center of the room defied the lack of light with the imposing aura of triumph caressing his wide shoulders. Liberator or tyrant, hero or monster, Megatron had always had a shine of his own. Thundercracker remembered clearly the first day he had heard the underground gladiator speaking, his voice so rough and yet so full of authority. As many others, Thundercracker had believed in him immediately.
Megatron had his back turned to Thundercracker, a moment the Seeker used to quickly run a scan of the room and look for potential threats. But neither his optics nor his radars detected anything. If his leader was intending to challenge his fighting skills again, it wouldn't be through the language of weapons.
It wasn't the darkness, but the solitude that surprised Thundercracker. Megatron had never been one to surround himself with bodyguards; he carried in his spark the loneliness and the distrust of the miner, old habits that hadn't died when he replaced his old Energon axe with a fusion cannon. Nevertheless, Thundercracker had expected that, in that moment in which the ambitioned City State of Iacon had fallen, Megatron would resort to some amount of underestimated glory, especially considering where he was standing.
But there was none. The former gladiator was standing alone, potential target for any Autobot sniper that could have remained in the building. Assassination attempts were frequent in the Decepticon leader's life, but Megatron had always refused to protect himself behind anything other than his own strength. He had challenged death since he had given himself the title of saviour of Cybertron, stubborn in demonstrating that he was immortal, able to survive anything that fate had to throw at him. He was his own shield, and he was, indeed, fearless. Leader, tyrant… and a paternal figure in bizarre way, the kind of father that would send his sons to die without any second thoughts, everything for the conquest of his home planet, the one thing he valued more than his own life. Thundercracker had thought many times that at the end of the war, and at the end of times, Megatron would be the one Cybertronian left standing, powered by his ambition, his hunger for power and his cruelty, but most of all, by his obsession to survive and to conquer; the two halves that made Megatron who he was and which had led him to defeat the limits his humble origins had tried to impose on him.
Megatron turned around. One of the moons of Cybertron sneaked through the big window at the bottom of the room and illuminated the face of the leader of all Decepticons. Thundercracker felt the fear running through his fuel lines, but he managed to control it. He knew that his optics were perhaps seeing for the last time, but he would face the moment of truth with all his honour. What was left, but honour, when the moment of death had come?
"You are not celebrating like your Decepticon brethren," Megatron spoke. "Why?"
Thundercracker made a military salute to his leader before responding. "I have nothing to celebrate, my Lord."
Megatron studied Thundercracker's face before heading towards the big window. "We agree on that."
When Megatron remained still beneath the glass, Thundercracker dared to approach. He stopped beside his Commander, but conserved a respectful distance. The light of the moon fell over his face too, colouring it with a bluish tone.
"Have you been in this place before?" Megatron asked.
"Never," Thundercracker replied immediately. It was true. Even during his best times of obedient military service, the seat of the High Council had always been an unreachable golden fortress in the distance, one in which only the rulers of Cybertron had the right to see their frames reflected on the shinning walls. It was, obviously, the first time for Megatron also, a miner whose existence had been decided during its first vorns by bureaucrats, and whose presence would be the ultimate insult to the ancient Cybertronian oligarchy.
"And yet here you are" Megatron continued, "standing in the same room in which the decisions about every single robot functioning on this planet were made, even though now it's nothing more than ashes."
Megatron turned to look at him. Thundercracker faced his Commander without fear, daringly locking his optics with the two crimson orbs before him. "Is it the hero who gave me these ashes the one who stands before my eyes, Thundercracker, or the traitor who helped the Autobots to escape?"
Thundercracker didn't react. Neither his face nor his spark reflected a thing. Megatron knew everything, of course he had to know… that was one of the few certainties that Thundercracker had had since the charade started. Curiously, he didn't stop to think about how his leader had come up with the secret of Thundercracker's newest betrayal. At the end, it didn't matter.
"I would say you are facing both, my Lord, although I definitely wouldn't use the word hero."
Thundercracker also knew that it would be useless to address Megatron with anything but the truth. Lies and pleas were something that suited Starscream fine, but not him.
"And who would you say I am, Thundercracker? Your assassin or your leader? Think carefully."
"That day you told me that I had one thing that distinguished me from the other Seekers," he replied emotionlessly, his memory banks taking him to the fight he had had with Megatron the day he had left the Nemesis. "It took me a while to understand your words, but finally I did. Is the outcome so unsatisfying to you, Sir, or is it only the method? You are my leader, by might and right, but my assassin is something you are not to be, because you have to know, Lord Megatron, that this time I will not hesitate to fight back. If you kill me this day, it won't be with my hands trembling."
Megatron frowned, his piercing optics scrutinizing every inch of the Seeker's face. Thundercracker conducted an inner test of his weapons, knowing very well that he couldn't talk to Megatron like that and expect to be left unscathed, not to mention alive.
But if Thundercracker had thought that he knew his Supreme Commander, he was totally mistaken, as his still stance trembled slightly when Megatron burst into laughter.
"An insolent child," the Decepticon Commander said once he finished laughing. "An insolent, arrogant child… just as every Seeker in this army, but one who has his struts where they belong, nevertheless."
And then Megatron's face transformed, again. Laughter left place for the hardest coldness. "I have killed valuable warriors for much less than this," he hissed.
Thundercracker remained still, even when Megatron approached so much that he could feel the temperature of his energy core.
"You don't fear me," Megatron said. It was an affirmation.
"A soldier should not fear his Commander. A soldier should respect him."
"Did Optimus Prime teach you that?" Megatron's voice was threatening. There was no doubt why so many powerful mechs trembled just at the sound of his rage.
"I have nothing but respect for Optimus Prime."
Megatron flamed Thundercracker with what looked like two red blades instead of optics. "You come here and dare to show your face even after it was you who allowed the Autobots to escape. What are you, suicidal or just a fool?"
Thundercracker would have liked to answer that he was nothing but a traitor, but his vocalizer was suddenly paralyzed.
"As you know, high treason is the biggest crime within the Decepticon Empire," Megatron said. "Unlike the Autobots, I do not impose idealistic values that have no place in the spark of a functional warrior. Allow a soldier to be soft, and you will be sending him to his death. Battles are won with struts and skill, not with honourable behaviour. Decepticons were forged through combat and individuality, the only path to conquest."
"And yet, I have punished insubordination," Megatron continued, "because individuality without discipline is nothing but a powerful weapon without the ability to aim. Logic says that you have to be terminated, right here and right now. Now tell me, why do you think you remain functioning?"
With death pending above his head, Thundercracker decided that it was time to speak out, now that he had nothing else left to lose. He was going to die, fighting or not, in honour or in shame, and it would make no difference.
"Perhaps… because you hesitated too," he said.
Megatron narrowed his optics in confusion. As much as the Decepticon leader had calculated the results of that bizarre reunion, Thundercracker could tell that he hadn't anticipated that.
"When you killed your first opponent in a gladiatorial match… you hesitated. He was your enemy, killing was the only path to your own survival, and yet you doubted before the possibility of terminating the life a sentient being," Thundercracker said, remembering what he had read about that famous victory in which a miner had died and a legend had been born.
Megatron put his hands behind his back and looked coldly to the city outside. "That was not my first kill."
"I know. You killed one of the security guards of Senator Decimus when you were an Energon miner, but you did it by mere impulse, or so the witnesses say. They say, too, that you felt regret, and I dare to affirm that you stood on the same thin line I stand on day by day, wondering if you were doing the right thing. Your doubts may have ceased, my Lord, but not mine. I believe in the Decepticon cause, but I can't remain watching when I see that dishonour and brutality have turned into our flags. The Decepticons were warriors, but today we are nothing but murderers. There was a moment in which this war against the Autobots became an obsession that deviated us from our true cause, there was a moment in which you lost your way, Lord Megatron."
Thundercracker was very aware that those might be the very last words he would speak in his life. However, they also brought him some peace, and he would make sure to give his leader one hell of a fight before offlining with all the honour a Decepticon soldier should have.
But, once again, termination didn't come. Thundercracker couldn't remember the last time he had seen that serious expression on Megatron's face.
"My true cause was always justice," Megatron said. "No infighting, no dissent, nothing but perfectly controlled peace through unparalleled strength. In order to achieve that, I created the perfect monster, an army with no scruples and no mercy, an army which wouldn't regret or hesitate, as I did, to take any life standing in its way. It was my intention to return the Decepticons to what I originally intended them to be, but the war with the Autobots made me forget about everything except the monster."
A monster with never ending heads, Thundercracker thought, a Hydra in which he had been the head that had insisted on looking the other way.
"I need mechs like you, Thundercracker, who dare to tell me the words that I don't want to hear. Despite his continuous treachery, Starscream lives because he tells me those words. Between his insolence and adulation, he speaks the truth about my flaws. But Starscream himself is nothing but one of those flaws, the result of the monster I forged through the same vices I vowed to eradicate. Where Starscream kneels, you stand. Where he cowers, you fight with honour. You will live today because you are the first one who dares to spit the truth right into my face without any fear in your spark, even if said truth is the equivalent of a termination sentence."
Relief should have bathed him, but there was that sick side of Thundercracker that insisted on feeling disappointed. Once again, he wouldn't find an honorable way to end his torment.
"Our war has just taken a very interesting turn," Megatron said, signaling Iacon with his right arm, his fusion canon shining beneath the moon light. "The Autobots have been expelled from their capital city, but the final battle is yet to be fought. I want you at my side, Thundercracker, I want you to help me to win this war. And then, only then, I will turn the original Decepticon utopia into a reality."
For a moment, Thundercracker was brought back to his days of youth, in which Megatron speaking had sparked in him the flame of hope and revolution. But now, as he heard his leader speaking directly to him, the doubts that had become his conscience reminded him that trust was nothing but a lost cause.
Still, he inclined his head with respect. He had lost his father but somehow he had gained another one, the heart of the Hydra itself, the liberator and tyrant who had turned him into what he was. And Thundercracker couldn't blame Megatron for that, because he himself had allowed it to happen.
"My loyalty has always been yours." Half lie, half truth. Thundercracker had learned to live standing on those thin lines, even though he knew that balance was another of the many mirages of his deviated soul.
And Megatron seemed to know it too, as he didn't bother to hide the disdain on the curve of his mouth. "I'm sure that Starscream already informed you about your promotion. From now on, you will take your orders directly from me. Not from Starscream, not from Shockwave, not from anybody else. You answer only to me. Is that understood?"
Thundercracker nodded, doubt and loyalty threatening each other in a never ending fight.
"It was your performance with the Autobots that gave us Iacon," Megatron said severely, "but don't think, even for a moment, that I will forget that it was also you who provided them the means to escape. From now on, I expect nothing but the undying allegiance you swore to me. You can be certain that I won't choose to look the other way if you ever give up to your Autobot side again. Your hounour is something I value, Thundercracker, but be very careful next time you decide to double-cross me. The right thing to do, you see, is not always the best."
Thundercracker nodded and made a military salute, understanding that Megatron had just dismissed him. When his leader said nothing else but returned his attention to the window, Thundercracker realized that, just as his tranquility, safety would no longer be his privilege. He had just been dragged into the most dangerous zone of all.
It was only after the last step of Thundercracker could be heard in the corridor outside that a small, square shape completely hidden within the darkness emerged and jumped towards the center of the room, expanding its size and assuming the form of a blue and white robot as tall as Megatron.
Megatron looked at him. "Soundwave, report."
"Processor activity: between normal range. No anomalies detected. More precise analysis required in order to provide an accurate diagnostic."
Megatron waved his hand. "No, leave it that way… for now. Thundercracker will know if you try to enter his mind, and right now the last thing I want is to provide him another reason to distrust. This Seeker may be the weapon which will bring us the ultimate victory, if properly handled."
"Thundercracker's behavior: incoherent. High treason: latent. Suggestion: termination."
Megatron laughed softly. "Treason has brought interesting, and not entirely displeasing, results. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But traitors… those are the ones that must become your second armour. I always thought that Starscream would be the ultimate betrayer who would give me the key to victory, but most recent events have turned my attention to one element I made the mistake of underestimating… But that will not happen again. More than ever, I want permanent vigilance on Thundercracker, Soundwave. I want to know what he does, where he goes, who he talks to, what he thinks… I took my chances with him and I obtained a victory, although not the one I was expecting. This time miscalculations are not allowed. I will squeeze Thundercracker's pitiful honour until the last dot, and then, only then, I will allow logic to happen. After all, there's a limit to the usefulness of a traitor."
The last words were spoken with so much darkness and malice that there was no doubt left that it had been Megatron who had sparked the monster of thousands of heads that was his army.
Thundercracker landed outside the former building of the Iacon Ministry of Defense, which had become the current, improvised Decepticon Headquarters after the Autobots had fled from the city. He entered and walked through some of the labyrinthine corridors that formed the tricky inner structure of what once had been one of the most important places of the entire planet Cybertron, a place he had known well during his military beginnings. But, unlike then, the wide corridors were deserted now, most of the Decepticons certainly still scattered through Iacon taking whatever war trophies they could find. Not that Thundercracker cared for the solitude, though; he had a lot to think about concerning the new position that Megatron had assigned him. It was not an everyday thing that he was promoted to puppet.
He had almost reached the east wing of the building when he found Brawl and Vortex playing with a spherical object that the Seeker soon recognized as a head. It looked like it belonged to some working drone, but still Thundercracker felt sorry for the poor bugger.
The two Combaticons stared at him as soon as they noticed his presence. Their facial expressions were an enigma because of their battle masks, but Thundercracker was sure that they were smirking.
And Brawl himself confirmed his suspicions, as his voice sounded quite ironic when he addressed him. "Well well well, but if it isn't the conqueror of Iacon in the alloy, the Autobot who backstabbed his kind… We heard about your promotion, hero. Congratulations!"
Thundercracker shot a murderous look at Brawl, the memory of the damage those two had inflicted him still very present in his pain receptors.
"Hey, no hard feelings, right TC?" Vortex said, walking towards him and putting a hand on his shoulder. "What happens between Decepticons stays between Decepticons."
"Take your filthy hand off, and don't you fragging call me TC."
Vortex removed his hand from Thundercracker's shoulder and raised it in his best – and most hypocritical – version of a pacifist gesture. "Sure, whatever you say… but can you blame us? We were just following orders. We all thought you had sold yourself to the Autoscum, ya know?"
Thundercracker fixed a cold stare on the Combaticon. "I'm not blaming you. I'm just disgusted by your touch."
"You owe him no explanations, Vortex," Onslaught said, coming out from a nearby door. "I don't care about whatever happened. I still have my doubts about the allegiances of this so called warrior."
Thundercracker turned around and faced the Combaticon leader, so close that both their aggressive intentions could be felt as clear as energy fields. "I am standing here, Onslaught, you can tell me to my face your definition of a warrior."
Onslaught stepped forward, touching the Seeker's cockpit with his wide, heavily armoured, chest plates. "So brave of you, isn't Seeker, not to mention convenient, to challenge me right after you have been promoted as Megatron's new favorite?"
So Megatron had decided to keep to himself the information about Thundercracker alerting the Autobots and helping them to escape from Iacon… Of course, there were dark reasons behind such discretion, namely another way to secure Thundercracker's loyalty. Not being under immediate threat of being publicly lynched again should have been encouraging, but in a way Thundercracker would have preferred that everybody knew about his latest addition to his record of betrayal. He was tired and sick of secrets.
Thundercracker pushed forward, managing to make Onslaught retreat the same step he had advanced. "I am no one's favorite, and don't talk to me about bravery. As far as I can tell, I'm not the one making a challenge with a pair of slag-sucker lackeys watching my back."
The blade of one of Vortex's helixes was grazing Thundercracker's neck almost immediately. "How do you like your head attached to your neck, Seeker slag? I kind of feel the need to make some changes about that."
Thundercracker smirked. "Neither in this Universe nor in any other would a second class flier like you be faster than a Seeker. Make your move, Combaticon, but I don't make any promises regarding the status of your own head when we're done."
Vortex chuckled nervously. "So you say… but I don't recall you being that fast when I was going to slice you like a cyber turkey. So what do you say, Onslaught? Should I start producing Seeker pieces? Swindle could sell them on the underground market at very good prices. We're alone here, nobody else would be the wiser."
But it wasn't Onslaught who answered. "I have to disagree with that, chopper face. Seekers are not usually alone, you know? You mess with one, you mess with all."
Everybody turned to the voice behind, whose owner had decided to make himself visible. Skywarp separated from the wall he had been leaning on and calmly unfolded his arms.
"You again?" Brawl growled, subspacing his gun. "I'm getting tired of your last minute entrances."
Onslaught put a cold hand on his fellow Combaticon's arm. "There's no need to engage in useless violence, unless, of course, you too have changed sides, Skywarp. If that's not the case, I'm sure you understand that as head of the elite Gestalt team of the Decepticon Empire, it's my duty to eradicate any potential treats."
Skywarp shrugged his shoulders as Onslaught made a head signal to his two subordinates. "That' what I thought… We'll leave then," he said, addressing Thundercracker again. "As for you, I'm very curious to see how long you can stretch your so called Decepticon loyalty. Time will tell, I guess, and the mistakes that your own glitched Autobot programming will certainly make. In the meantime, you'd do well remembering one thing: I. Don't. Buy. Your. Act."
Onslaught didn't wait for an answer and headed toward the door he had come from, followed by Vortex and Brawl, and leaving Thundercracker to deal with his third judgment of the day.
The promises of whatever hopes Thundercracker still had vanished when he saw the rancor reflected on Skywarp's face.
"So," the black Seeker said, "when were you planning to come clean? If I didn't know you so well, I'd day you'd been hiding from me."
Thundercracker lowered his gaze, visibly ashamed. "It's not like that."
"Wait!" Skywarp exclaimed, slapping his forehead. "I'm such a fool… Of course it turned out that I didn't know you so well in the end. Actually, it's quite the opposite. I recently discovered that I didn't know frag about you!"
"I said it's not like that!" Thundercracker retorted. "I was looking forward to talking to you, but that won't be possible if you refuse to listen. The last thing I need right now is you playing the victim, Skywarp!"
Skywarp reached Thundercracker and poked him hard on the chest. "You have some nerve talking to me like that! You lied to me, ever since the beginning! Hey, who knows, maybe you've lied to me all my fraggin' life!"
Thundercracker shook his head slowly. "No… it's not like that."
Skywarp frowned, his optics never so angered, but he stepped back. "And you keep saying the same slag… Okay, I'll hear what you have to say. Just know that this time we won't settle things with some mushy slag, not even punching each other to junk. This time you went too far, TC!"
"I know… I was weak by allowing Starscream and Megatron to push me to the edge of an abyss… and I fell. I should know better, but I fell. When Megatron told me that I had something unique that made me different from the other Seekers, I understood that he was not talking about my technical specs. He was talking about me being the only Decepticon in which the Autobots would trust. That was my power, and I was vile enough to use it… But when things got out of control, I just… I… This betrayal was not within my plans, 'Warp."
"Which betrayal? The one you inflicted on me… or to your fellow Autobots?"
Fury shone like scarlet fire in Thundercracker's optics. "Shut up! I'm sick of everybody calling me an Autobot! You don't know a frag about what happened!"
"Oh, but I know!" Skywarp cried, raising his fists. "How could I not know, if I am the poor idiot who heard your complaints all these vorns? I am the one who knew about your doubts about the cause ever since you started to feel them! And guess what, slagger? I didn't tell a soul, not even a single one, you fraggin' moron! And what about you? You talk so much about your honour, but you weren't honourable enough to tell me what was going on when you were forced into that stupid undercover mission. I would have kept the secret, you fool! I would have died keeping your fraggin' secret! I… I would have died for you!"
"I know," Thundercracker almost whispered, lowering his head and feeling filthier than ever. "And that's precisely the reason why I didn't tell you a word. You were in danger, don't you understand? It was open season and the target was my head… any hesitation on your account and you would have become a target too."
Skywarp didn't reply immediately. His face seemed to darken as he was certainly pondering Thundercracker's words.
Skywarp had always considered himself a dull mech, something which Thundercracker had always disagreed with. But in that moment, Thundercracker almost wished that Skywarp didn't have processor enough to sneak between his lies. But what could he expect? Skywarp knew him better than he knew himself.
"It's not just that, is it?" Skywarp said, decreasing the level of his voice.
Thundercracker sighed. Of course he should have guessed that Skywarp would know better. More than wingmates, they had been friends for thousands of vorns… The vilest mech can trick the entire slagging Universe, but there would always be one exception: his brother.
"Tell me," Skywarp spoke again.
Thundercracker looked aside, instinctively looking for a way out. But there was none.
He wasn't surprised when Skywarp grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him backwards, making him retreat until he pinned him against a wall. "Tell me the fraggin' truth! I'm the only friend you've ever had! How many times have I risked my neck for you, you fragger, not to mention that I was the one mech in this army who ever cared about you!"
Thundercracker felt Skywarp's cannons humming so close to his face, but that was not the reason why he lowered his head.
"Tell me, frag it!" Skywarp cried, brutally slamming Thundercracker against the wall.
Red optics shone in absolute fury when Thundercracker pushed Skywarp back and made him retreat, almost throwing him to the floor.
"Because I wanted to join them, alright?" Thundercracker shouted, not giving a slag about what could happen to him anymore. "I wanted to be an Autobot!"
Thundercracker fell to his knees, all his strength suddenly gone. "I saw myself in their optics so many times… My father was one of them… I was one of them," he continued weakly as he placed his hands on the floor, his voice broken as never before. "The Autobots are not the enemy, 'Warp, we are. At some point we forgot what this war was all about and we became monsters, predators of our own kind. The Autobots know about honour, they know that even in war there is place for generosity and respect for the enemy…. They trusted in me. And how did I thank them? Lying, stabbing them in the back… I… I betrayed them."
It seemed like an eternity before Skywarp spoke again.
"So why didn't you do it?" he said, walking towards Thundercracker. "Why didn't you join them?"
Thundercracker clenched his fists, his fingers scratching the metal beneath and making a screechy sound. "I couldn't, not after betraying them the way I did from the very first day they granted me shelter… But those red insignias on my wings… they burned me but at the same time they felt so good, 'Warp… They were mine… I can't explain it…"
Thundercracker could only see Skywarp's feet, but he was sure that his friend had a big scowl on his face. "So that's why you returned, because you had nowhere else to go? I guess it'd suck to have both Autobots and Decepticons on your tail, huh?
Thundercracker got to one knee, but didn't dare to look upwards. "That's not the reason why I returned. To tell you the truth, I don't give a slag about my life anymore."
"Yeah, I believe that, otherwise you wouldn't have told me all this slag. But you know what? It's good that you don't care, then you won't mind when I blow your processor apart," Skywarp hissed, putting his foot on Thundercracker's chest and throwing him on his back. The blue Seeker didn't put up any resistance.
"I may be Autobot by creation… but Decepticon by choice," Thundercracker said, indeed not caring at all about the foot pressing on his cockpit, even less for the two thin cannons pointed toward his head. "I guess I returned because a part of me needed to know that I had made the right choice that day when I swore my undying allegiance to Megatron… I'm a Decepticon… twisted and dysfunctional because I believe in the Autobot Honour code, but that's what I am. Despite my doubts, I… I wouldn't know how to be something else."
Skywarp stared at his fallen ex wingmate with the hardest look that Thundercracker had ever seen in him, but eventually he retired his foot.
"You disgust me," Skywarp said as he lowered his weapons as well. "You are no Autobot, and definitely not a Decepticon. You're nothing but scum, lower than scum."
Thundercracker sat on the floor. He was feeling precisely like that, lower than scum, but at the same time a heavy weight had just been released from his shoulders.
"What now?" he said. "I just gave you the weapon to destroy me. Do what you must, 'Warp. I won't deny anything I said."
Skywarp sneered with contempt. "Yeah, that's what you would like, wouldn't you? For me to fulfill your pathetic fantasies of martyrdom. I might do it, I might not. Who knows? All you need to know is that it won't be you pulling the strings this time. Remember this every time you wake up in the middle of your recharge cycle to wonder if your next day will be the last one. That is, of course, if you can ever recharge again. You brought this on yourself, TC. If you're looking for someone to blame, well, just look in any fraggin' mirror and you'll find it."
Anguish stroked Thundercracker's spark with vicious ferocity. It wasn't fear that made him wince, but seeing his only friend, his brother, walking away from him. At that moment, he needed Skywarp's forgiveness more than anything else in the Universe. But forgiveness would always be banned from his life. He had cast it out himself.
Skywarp straightened his stance and made a military salute. "I was informed about your promotion… I request permission to be dismissed, Sir!"
Please… don't do this…
When Skywarp turned his back to him without waiting for an answer, Thundercracker's pain reached its breaking point. He had betrayed Skywarp, he had betrayed him just as he had betrayed his father and the Autobots… For every mech that had ever cared about him, he had had nothing but betrayal.
"Brother!" he pleaded, giving his pride the same worthless importance he had already given to his life.
Skywarp stood beneath the threshold of the exit. "I would appreciate it if you don't ever call me that again. I said it before. You are dead to me… Sir."
And then Skywarp was gone, as he had been gone long before exiting that door.
Thundercracker was left alone, the ashes of his so-called glory escaping through his fingers. He hadn't returned to the beginning, but had fallen to the lowest Pit. Autobot, Decepticon… it was only then when he finally understood that he belonged nowhere. He had been dysfunctional ever since he had had memory, and thus he would remain, the shadow of a mech who dared to believe he was strong enough to have a conscience.
That's what he would always be, an open wound.
The end, I said? No, not really… There will be a sequel to this story, the third and final part of my Thundercracker trilogy. Expect it next August 16th, under the title of 'Once a Decepticon…'
Now, some final comments. As I made a habit during this fic, I made a small flashback to explain some of the events that happened in previous chapters and that were very important to understand the characters' behavior during those events. Now, some of you may say that Starscream wouldn't have given a frag, but the canon, both in the comics and the cartoon, showed that Starscream somehow cared – if we can call it that way – for his two wingmates, as long as they were not obstacles in his path to overthrow Megatron, of course. Speaking of Megatron, I'm sure you noticed that the mentions about his past are based on the IDW comic 'Megatron Origin'. Also, his conversation with Thundercracker was inspired by what he said to Starscream in 'All Hail Megatron' issue 11. I actually used one of Megatron's lines from there: "No infighting, no dissent, nothing but perfectly controlled peace through unparalleled strength." I loved that line ever since I first read it, another proof that Megatron is not the classical 'bwahaha-I-will-conquer-the-Universe' kind of villain, but a complex character that truly believes that his cause is fair.
It means a lot to me that this story has been important to so many people who have been kind enough to let me know their thoughts via reviews, private messages and e-mails. Your feedback has been pure energy to me and has kept my fingers writing on the keyboard. Please don't forget to let me know your final impressions on the story. I know there are many people out there that are not very fond of clicking the review button, but I would love to know your opinions as well. Now that I'm about to start writing the third part of this Thundercracker saga, I could use the fuel :o)
Okay, that would be all for now. Sorry for the very long author's notes, but at least they weren't in italics this time. It would have been a pain to read them that way.
I hope to see you all on 'Once a Decepticon…' next August 16th. Till then :o)