A/N: Just a little plot bunny that sprang up to bite me in the aft! This one has been sitting on my computer for quite a while and has been watching me like those Geico money eyes I see on TV all the time. I couldn't take it anymore!! Anyway, this fic uses G1 characters, but doesn't take place in any timelines other than the War. There were just certain characters I wanted to use because they felt right for the part. This will be a two-shot and unless the bunny turns rabid on me, will be much, much shorter than my other fics. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: You guessed it! I don't own Transformers; people with a lot more money than I, do.
Clouds of thick, black smoke drifted across the devastated remains of the once small, Neutral town. Buildings crumbled to the ground and small portions of the town still burned with patches of orange and yellow flame. The cries of the injured, dying and orphaned drifted across the desolation like a cold winter breeze, freezing the sparks of those left alive with cold despair. Theirs had been a peaceful place, untouched by hatred, violence, and malice. The War had been far away—too far away to ever touch their homes or their children—so they thought.
The Decepticons hit their sleepy, little haven with the force a Class 5 solar storm, leveling the town in mere astroseconds. Most of the fight-capable mechs were slaughtered instantly; they were no match for the far more experienced and battle-tested Decepticon warriors. Young, old, strong, feeble, mech or femme--there were no prejudices against those bodies strewn across the landscape, just as broken and battered as the town in which they lived.
All warrior-bred cultures knew of the spoils of war. It was what fed their insatiable desire to conquer, to win, and to subjugate those beneath them to their indomitable will. Megatron's Decepticons were no different. The great Slagmaker wanted to strike fear into all Cybertronians; he wanted to demoralize the Autobots where he knew it would hurt them the most—the innocent. And so began one of the most brutal, terrifying traditions within the Decepticon ranks; it was known as the Claiming. Whenever the Decepticons ravaged a new town, all femmes of age were taken prisoner and all young mechs soon to come of age to fight were indoctrinated. Those too old or too young were either killed or left to cope with the destruction.
Now, kilometers away from the desolate town, the Decepticons had safely retreated into one of their many sub-bases scattered across Cybertron. Within the base's large command room, a small group of frightened femmes sat huddled together, fear and apprehension apparent in their optics. At this point in the War, all young femmes had heard rumors of the Claiming. Once a femme was taken hostage, she was never seen alive again. Horrible acts were committed and unwanted deeds dealt. Many said it was a fate worse than self-termination; some even chose that route.
There were eighteen total. Of the eighteen, two were sister-sparks and even rarer still they were formatted flyers. Very much a rarity among Cybertronians, but as a result the two sisters were the object of most of the red-eyed stares. They were furthest from the front, tightly hugging each other and trying their best to just meld into the wall. One of the sisters, her colors navy blue and silver, risked a frightened glance around the room. Her light blue optics scanned the milling crowd of lecherous optics. Just before she averted her gaze back to the floor, her optics briefly met a pair of red ones that were void of any emotion save for revulsion. Hope briefly filled her spark as their optics held briefly, but as quickly as it came, it was crushed into metallic shavings as the mysterious mech quickly averted his gaze. Small droplets of fluid pooled in her optics and dribbled to the floor. There truly was no more hope. Suddenly a chilling, terrifying voice cut over the din, silencing all that were present—it was the Slagmaker himself.
"Decepticons! The time has come to reward your loyalty to me! Choose now the femme of your choice and take this time to enjoy the spoils of our victory!"
The time they had all been dreading was nigh. Like a pack of cackling, ravenous hyenas the Cons quickly closed in on the helpless femmes. Some screamed, others fainted, still others fought tooth and nail, but it only forestalled the inevitable. Hungry leers and ravenous optics quickly descended on the terrified Neutrals.
Quietly standing to one side, Thundercracker watched these proceedings with disgust. Since the despicable tradition began he refused to take any part in it whatsoever. He stood with his back against the wall, his powerful wings flush with the dark, purple metal. One thrustered heel was also pressed against the wall, leaving tiny black scuff marks against the metal. His arms were crossed disapprovingly against his cockpit and his red optics were dimmed with smoldering repugnance. When he joined this War, he joined to fight against the oppression of the Senate, not to fight innocent mechs and femmes who had been subjugated to same oppression as him. The town they had just attacked made the third in two deca-cycles; all these towns had declared neutrality in the War. It had been a well-known fact.
He was a soldier, not a murderer, right? If he didn't participate in these abhorrent acts, he could still maintain some semblance of honor, couldn't he?
He carefully kept his optics focused on the floor, avoiding the gazes of both frightened victims and hungry aggressors. He didn't want to see that petrified look in another's eyes, he didn't want to see the despair in that one femme's optics for fear it would compound his guilt. But as the screams intensified, and the crying grew loud enough to shatter audio sensors, his anger, guilt and revulsion only seemed to increase with the volume.
He turned to leave the despicable scene, having had his fill of misery for the day, but as he pushed himself from the wall, his optics fell on the navy and silver Neutral. She had her back pressed against the wall, hands spread against the purple surface. Even from this distance he could see her slender wings vibrating from fear. Skywarp held her sister and was beginning to walk off with her; bright gold and blue transfers streaked his wingmate's normally immaculate paintjob. It appeared as if the sister had put up quite a struggle. She now lay limply in his arms, temporarily off-line due to the exertion of her efforts.
Motormaster now stood in front of the silver and navy femme reaching one large hand towards the femme's delicate throat. "You're coming with me, fly girl!" he growled threateningly to the femme. She off-lined her optics and yanked her head away as his fingers brushed her delicate chin.
"No!" she whispered, "Please don't hurt me!"
Motormaster laughed. It was a cruel, sparkless laugh filled with contempt and malice. "Oh, I'm gonna do a lot more than just hurt you! How would you like to be a ground-pounder like me!?" He lifted the femme off the floor by her neck with his right hand. Garbled, staticy noises escaped from her vocalizer as she twisted and kicked in the Stunticon's grasp like a cyber bass on a hook. Motormaster then reached for her right wing with his other hand, an evil, manic look gleaming in his optics.
Before the semi could follow through with his sadistic intention, a strong hand clasped onto his shoulder and spun him around. Startled by the sudden action, Motormaster released his grip on the femme, dropping her to the floor. She scuttled, crab-like, away from the two mechs, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and them. At first, Motormaster was shocked to see who had grabbed him so roughly, but shock quickly gave way to mocking anger.
"You!? What the slag do you want, Thundercracker? Can't you see I'm busy?"
"Not anymore, you're not," Thundercracker rumbled quietly in return.
"Oh, really?" Motormaster sneered, knocking the black hand from his shoulder plates. "And just what are you going to do about it? Claim the piece of filth for yourself?"
A thick silence fell between the two Decepticons. The command center had emptied by this time, leaving only the two soldiers and the frightened femme. She sat huddled in the corner, holding her arms across her tiny cockpit in order to keep her vibrations down. With fearful optics she watched the two Decepticons knowing that for better or for worse she was going to end up with one of them tonight.
A dangerous smirk pulled at the lip components of the semi's face. His optics darkened to a blood red as he replied coldly, "I'd like to see you try, Seeker." He stepped forward, bringing his bulk inches from Thundercracker's frame. The Stunticon was one of the largest Cons in the army and he towered over the finer built form of Thundercracker. Motormaster was not a mech to be toyed with for not only did he have the brawn and the baulk to back up his threats, he also had a notorious temper that knew no restraint.
Thundercracker merely smirked, a smirk that eerily resembled his Wing Commander's. "Sure you can see that far, bolt-breath?"
With speed that belied the bulk of a mech his size, Motormaster swung a vicious right hook, intending to crush Thundercracker's faceplates into shavings. But his fist met only air, as Thundercracker nimbly dodged the strike and put some distance between himself and Motormaster. The Stunticon leader was a close-quarters fighter and Thundercracker knew that his best bet to win this fight was to turn it into a distance match. To allow the hulking mech to land even one hit would probably be the end of him.
"Is that the best you got, you glorified land yatch?" he taunted, once again dodging a fierce punch. Motormaster roared angrily in return.
"Hold still so I can rip your wings off and use them as my new energon coasters!"
Before the blue Seeker could make a rebuttal, the doors to the command center hissed open revealing Megatron and Starscream preparing to enter the room. The two brawling Cons stopped instantly, frozen in place by the simmering glower set in Megatron's features. Starscream was the first to speak, stepping forward in front of Megatron, his dark face set into a scowl.
"What in the name of Primus is going on here!?" he demanded in that infamous voice. His question was directed to both posturing soldiers, but his blazing optics were drilling straight into his blue subordinate.
Before Motormaster could develop a response, Thundercracker spoke, "This piece of slag is trying to lay claim to my femme," he growled disparagingly.
"Is this true, Motormaster?" Megatron asked, leveling a hard glare at the Stunticon leader.
"Why you!...Of course it's…" Motormaster stuttered before being interrupted.
"True," Thundercracker interjected. "I'm laying claim to this femme, Megatron, and this dust-eater had the nerve to challenge me, a senior officer."
"Hmmm. I see," Megatron said softly. He and Starscream exchanged looks. The Aerial Commander had a mild look of surprise in his optics and the Supreme Commander had to admit, he himself was caught off-guard with the blue Seeker's sudden interest in the ritual. Although Thundercracker never advertised it, every single Con in the army knew of his vehement dislike for the tradition and his refusal to partake of the "spoils." Megatron wondered what had happened to cause his lieutenant to change his mind.
Megatron voiced his question. "Why the sudden interest, Thundercracker?"
For a fleeting instant, a look of triumph lit Motormaster's optics; his sneer was beginning to broaden into an evil grin.
Thundercracker turned his head ever so slightly, just enough to see his two superiors and still maintain eye contact with Motormaster. His optics betrayed no emotion whatsoever as he replied, "I've never seen anything worth my time, until now." He put just a tiny bit more stress on the last two words than necessary, focusing his glance briefly at Starscream before focusing once more on Megatron.
Starscream caught the subtle hint and spared a brief look at the femme curled up in the corner. Understanding filled his optics and he gave one short, barely discernable nod. Fortunately for either Seeker, the silent exchange went unnoticed by both Motormaster and Megatron.
"I see. Very well, Thundercracker, since you are a ranking senior officer you get the femme," Megatron turned to exit the room. Just before he disappeared down the corridor the Decepticon leader added, "I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for ruining your first Claiming."
"And you, get lost! If you want a femme so bad, go steal one from one of your subordinates and not mine!" Starscream snarled at the passing Motormaster. The Stunticon leader roared in fury at the loss of his prize. He slammed a gigantic fist into the wall, the reverberations deafening within the room.
"YOU JUST WAIT, THUNDERCRACKER!! THIS ISN'T OVER, NOT BY A LONG SHOT!! ONE OF THESE DAYS YOU'LL SLIP UP, AND WHEN YOU DO I'LL BE WAITING!!" The massive semi left the room, his anguished roaring still audible three corridors away.
Once the hallways had quieted, Starscream turned to Thundercracker. "Are you asking for a death sentence?" he hissed.
"So what if I am?" Thundercracker growled in return. "No femme should be put through THAT kind of torture, much less another flyer. What would you have had me do!?"
Starscream didn't reply for several astro seconds. "Ok, fine! You got me there!" he conceded. "But you better watch your thrusters from here on out," he warned.
"I can take care of myself," the blue Seeker grumbled, turning to survey the femme. She hadn't moved an inch since the confrontation began.
Starscream caught his wingmate's errant glance and followed up with a question. "Wasn't there two of them?" Starscream asked, nodding his head in the Neutral's direction.
"Yeah. Warp claimed the other one."
Starscream grunted in response; he turned to leave. "I just hope you haven't bitten off more than you can take. I also suggest you and your 'companion' lay low for the next few cycles and try to come up with a half-way believable story. "
Thundercracker arched an optic ridge in confusion. Starscream huffed his annoyance. "Must I spell everything out!? Honestly, TC, once word gets around that you claimed a femme, how long do you think you're going to have before every mech in this base starts to pester you for details? Get Skywarp to help you come up with a half-way decent lie; Primus knows lying is your worst facility." He left through the open door, broad white and red-striped wings dominating the hallway's width.
Thundercracker stood in the center of the room, pondering over what he had just done. Me and my Primus-damned honor! Starscream's words rang true. He had spent so many vorns snubbing the ritual that once word got around to what he had done, the other soldiers would be disbelieving without proof. Many already questioned his place in the ranks; if he didn't follow through on some type of violence with the Neutral, his "lack of participation" would only fuel their doubts and he could count on Motormaster to be there fanning the flames. But he refused to violate an innocent civilian, especially when at one point in time, Megatron had claimed to be fighting for the freedom of just such an individual. Had they already forgotten what they had set out fighting for? He released a large gust of air through his intakes. War had a peculiar way of illuminating the illustrious goals for which you fought while at the same time making the pathway of achievement a murky, disillusioned, moral mess.
The blue Seeker had a tight, constricting hold on the femme's elbow joint. The type of hold he held her in prevented the femme from twisting out of his hand; he had only to torque her elbow just a little to discourage any struggling. She shuffled with stumbling steps next to him, barely capable of keeping up with the Seeker's long strides. The whole proceeding she had witnessed back in the large room, both frightened her and confused her. Why had the blue flyer suddenly taken an interest in her? He seemed so indifferent before. What was going to happen now? Would she ever see her sister again? She was having difficulty feeling her twin through their bond. Was she already off-line? She stumbled again and felt a sharp pain rip through her elbow.
"Keep moving, femme," she heard her captor growl menacingly. His voice was low and slightly grating, but not exactly unpleasant.
Her sky-blue optics flickered with fear. She wanted to ask him why, but was too fearful to do so. Would he hit her? Laugh at her? Be angry? Maybe do all three? But she had to know! He had even lied to the silver Leader, what sick game was this monster playing? After several more silent kliks and a few more stumbles, her morbid curiosity finally won over her fear of the unknown.
"Why?" she whispered through stiff lips. She felt rather than saw his optics on her.
"What was that?"
She hesitated briefly before repeating her timid question. "Why did you c-c-claim me?" she elaborated, stumbling over her words as much as she was her thrusters.
The grip on her elbow tightened, but then gradually loosened. "That's none of your concern."
She quickly dimmed her optics and stared at the floor. Shortly thereafter, they stopped before a large metal door. The Decepticon quickly punched in a code on the keypad and waited for the doors to hiss open. Once they did, he shoved the Neutral femme in ahead of him and watched with dispassioned optics as she lay sprawled across the floor. He stepped in after her, the doors sliding closed with a small hiss. He watched as she hurriedly crawled away from him and once again curled up into a small metallic ball in his quarter's far corner. It was the first time he was able to get a good look at her. She was a small femme, coming no higher than the top of his cockpit. Her armor was mostly a deep shade of metallic blue with delicate silver pinstripes running the length of her arms and legs. Her wings folded down her back, unlike his which swept upwards. Her helm appeared to be a much finer version of his own, more rounded with softer edges. Her face was small and delicately cut and her optics were a much lighter shade of blue than most other Cybertronians he had seen, perhaps it was just the way they appeared against that darker armor. Overall, she wasn't a bad-looking femme by any degree—maybe…maybe just this once…
Angrily he shook his head to clear his processor of such thoughts. He growled lowly to himself, dismissing them as quickly as they came. No, he wouldn't succumb to the temptation; he was above such an abhorrent act, Decepticon though he was. He walked across the room, opposite of the femme, his thrustered heels making distinctive clicking noises as he moved. He sat down at a small work desk and began to finish the reports Starscream had assigned him earlier.
Some time passed, about five breems to be exact, before Thundercracker heard a slight shuffling coming from the far end of the room. His optics flitted briefly to the corner to see what the femme was up to. She had changed her position somewhat, probably due to her actuators stiffening up from being held in the same position. She sat with her knee joints pulled up to her cockpit, arms locked around her legs. She had that timid, questioning look in her blue optics once again. He waited patiently for the question that he knew was sure to come.
Sure enough after another two breems of silence, a timorous voice broke the thick silence. "What is going to happen to me and my sister?"
The blue mech let the question hang in the air as he searched for the best way to respond to her inquiry. Slag it! He should have known this kind of question was going to be raised sooner or later. He sighed heavily before replying, "Nothing is going to happen to you. I'm not interested in torturing you or putting you through any more misery than you've already bore witness to. I can't really say the same for your sister."
Her crestfallen features deepened and he saw the glimmer of fluid turn one optic into a glistening pool of blue. He huffed in annoyance. "Look. Your sister will be fine. She's with Skywarp. He may rough her up a little, but he won't injure her or kill her. Contradictory to what you may hear, there are still a few of us that respect the old rules of engagement." With those words, the femme looked at him directly in the optics for the first time since leaving the command center. An uncomfortable silence ensued. After five breems of intense quiet and staring (on the femme's part), the blue Seeker finally chose to be the first to break the stalemate. "What's your name, femme?" he asked, standing to his feet and approaching his berth.
She shrank back against the wall as he stood, but never broke eye contact with him. "Vortica. My designation is Vortica."
"They call me…"
"Thundercracker. Yes, I k-know," she interrupted hesitantly. "I overheard that other mech call you by name."
He nodded his head in understanding before turning his attention to the berth. It suddenly seemed…much less welcoming than usual…Thundercracker growled irritably. No, he wouldn't do it! But how long had it been since he laid with a beautiful femme? 100 vorns? 300 vorns?
He placed his black hands on the side of the berth and tried to banish those licentious thoughts from his processor. He would not yield! He released a slow, deliberate gust of air before slowly turning his head to stare at the femme.
She shifted uncomfortably under his indiscernible gaze. Her light blue optics darted back and forth nervously. He didn't seem to want to hurt her. Sure, he had been gruff and more than a little brusque with her, but this mysterious blue flyer hadn't regarded her in the same way as the others had; he seemed almost respectful? In all honesty he wasn't a bad-looking mech, especially for a flyer. All the flyers she had ever known were large cargo transports—bulky, boxy transporters of consumer goods or the occasional contraband shipments. But this mech was sleek, powerful. His wings were broad, but thin, built for slicing through the atmosphere at high speeds. The fearsome arm cannons mounted to his upper arms and his overall bearing left no doubt that this machine was a formidable soldier of war.
She had heard rumors of Megatron's Seekers, but never had the misfortune of seeing one of them, until now, albeit much more up close and personal than she would have preferred. But Thundercracker didn't seem like the cruel, sparkless rogue so many of the citizens had said them to be. Was it possible? Certainly, but since he had intervened during the "Claiming" Process, he had done nothing to hurt her or indicate he was going to hurt her. There was something different about him…something distant, reluctant even…
A sharp motion drew her attention away from her musings. She looked up sharply to see Thundercracker motioning for her to come to him. Oh, no! It was a façade! Maybe he was going to harm her after all! He certainly would if she didn't obey. With a trembling effort, the tiny flyer rose to her feet. She kept her optics focused on the floor, not wanting to see the longing in his optics.
Sooner than she liked, Vortica found herself standing directly in front of the Seeker, her entire frame shaking with fear and apprehension.
"You will be recharging here tonight," the blue mech rumbled in that deep, baritone voice.
She felt large, powerful hands wrap around her lower torso. Vortica nearly shrieked in fright, but restrained herself for fear he would strike her. But instead of being thrown onto the recharging berth like she expected, Vortica felt herself being lifted gently, like a sparkling or a fine piece of glass. The Seeker sat her on the edge of the berth and then turned and made his way to the corner she had previously occupied.
She stared at his retreating wings, bewildered by his actions. He was giving her his berth to sleep on? But why? Once again her rebellious lips uttered a question her processor failed to catch in time.
"Why are you doing this?"
He didn't answer, just slumped against the wall and slid down its length until he sat on the cold floor, arms draped over his knee joints, helm resting on his arms.
She huffed determinedly and asked again, "I said 'why are you doing this?'"
"Go to sleep, femme," came the tired reply.
"Not until you answer my question!" She slapped her hands over her mouth, realizing her mistake as he raised his helm and glared at her with narrowed, red optics.
"Don't ask questions you'll dread the answers to," he growled.
"I'm sorry," she apologized hurriedly, "I-I didn't mean to…I-It's just that…I-I'm confused as to why you're being so nice to me, not that I don't like it! I mean, I do, but…but…oh, Primus, I'm gonna shut up now." She off-lined her optics and stared at the floor.
Thundercracker chuckled tiredly in spite of himself. "So I confuse you, do I, femme?"
She didn't answer immediately; she was trying to prevent the slight, rosy hue from showing through in her optics. "Well…yes, I-I suppose…so," she offered hesitantly. She waited tensely for his charge, for that yell of rage that would be the beginning of the end of her life—but it never came.
"Well, you're not the first and you won't be the last."
That was not the answer she was expecting, instead it only served to pique her curiosity even more about her unusual captor. "W-Why do you say that?" she asked timidly, adjusting her chassis so she could sit cross-legged and face him.
Thundercracker chuckled again. She was quite a curious thing. "As I said before, there are still some of us Decepticons that follow the old rules of engagement; it makes us…an oddity among the ranks."
She offered him a very shy smile. "Well, if it would make you feel better, I'm considered an oddity too." Primus! What was she thinking! Trying to make him feel better!? He was the enemy, her captor; she shouldn't be trying to make him feel better! She should be trying to escape! But he seemed so…weary, so…forlorn…much like she had felt earlier.
She watched his optics glow a little brighter, the corner of his right lip edging upwards ever so slightly. "It wouldn't be because you are a flyer, now would it?" he asked drolly; he already knew the answer to that question.
"Can't fool you, can I?" she shot back in turn, her blue optics losing their fear for the first time that night.
Thundercracker gave the femme a small smile. She was opening up to him. It was something he wasn't quite expecting. It felt good to be having a normal conversation that didn't involve battle strategies, strafing runs, or death counts. It was relieving, refreshing.
"When was your first flight?" he asked gently, somewhat interested in hearing her answer. But Vortica's reaction was quite unexpected. Her optics fell and her shoulders slumped; the little spark of life disappeared as quickly as it came.
"You what?" he asked sharply, then upon seeing his mistake as she cringed back, he asked more softly, "You haven't flown at all?"
She shook her head quickly.
He stood up then and slowly made his way back to the berth. Her optics grew wide with fear once more as he approached her figure. He crouched down onto his heels and faced her, a concerned look on his faceplates. "Why have you not flown, Vortica?"
A tiny shiver ran down her spinal relays as he spoke her name. That voice of his…Primus! It was so…captivating…
He's not going to hurt me. He's not going to hurt me. If he was, he would have done so a long time ago. "Since the War began, my village had outlawed flying. My sister and I were sparked before the War, but did not receive our final upgrade until after the War was underway. We were forbidden to fly. Our creators feared that if word got around we were flyers, then both factions would raze the town in an effort to swipe us up into their ranks or worse…" she trailed off, hesitantly meeting his optics.
Thundercracker listened with interest. Going by what she had said already, this femme was only a few thousand years younger than he was and yet he had been flying for thousands of vorns before the War. He couldn't remember what it was like not to fly! And here was a flyer who had never tasted that sweet nectar of freedom!? "Please. Continue," he urged.
"Well, our creators kept us hidden within their basement once we received our last upgrades. They would take care us, bring us energon when we needed it and datapads to read, but we felt so…so…"
"Confined," he offered. Vortica nodded her head vigorously. "Yes! It felt awful being cooped up in that hole, unable to run or stretch or even attempt to fly." She paused briefly. "I hated it. They said it was for our own good, that we would be safe. But sometimes I wondered if it would be worth the risk. It wasn't too much longer after our confinement that you guys attacked." She shivered unconsciously. "The building collapsed…and the walls! The walls just seemed to close in! We yelled for help until our vocalizers fizzed into static, but when help finally did arrive…" she trailed off, leaving Thundercracker to draw the final conclusion.
Optic fluid began to pool in her misty blue eyes and a silent sob escaped her lips. Suddenly, Vortica felt those two powerful hands clasp around her shoulder vents. She tensed in alarm, but one look in those blood red optics, for some reason, eased her fears.
"Listen to me, Vortica," Thundercracker began, "I will get you out of here, but I need you to trust me. Can you do that?"
She looked at him—hope, fear, and mistrust all converging and mixing feverishly within those blue depths. "Why?" she whispered.
He didn't answer her at first. What could he say? He wanted to take her, to claim her sweet, tender innocence for his own, the deep, primeval longing surging up and into his spark, but he also wanted to free her, to show her the wonders of flight and the gift that Primus had given her. And he wanted to be the one to do it. After a long pause, he answered her.
"How badly do you want to learn how to fly?"