Disclaimer: Transformers © Hasbro
Measures of Time: vorn = 83 years / breem = approx 10 minutes / orn = 14 days / joor = 6.5 hours / cycle = 1 day
Notes: This is, aside from the short stories set in the future, the tamest part of the "Star-Crossed" series. I've been thinking on this 'verse since I wrote the very first story, and in my mind it evolved from a couple of clandestine meetings between enemy soldiers to a full-blown relationship built on affection and respect for one another.
And as it nipped at me, this third story in the series began evolving. This will be the longest section, most likely, and broken up into a minimum of three chapters. I'm already enjoying the chaos that the events of the story will cause for the universe!
Some risks were worth taking; that had always been Starscream's philosophy towards every action he'd taken in his life thus far. Deep-space exploration hadn't been for the faint of spark, after all, and up until Skyfire's accident it had been fun to push his limitations. The same held true for interfacing; there were mechs and femmes out there who could – and often did – take advantage of his capricious attitude towards the act, but there were still those who treated him with the same manner they would have any other lover in spite of his possessing mirrored protocols and femme hardware.
When he discovered that the Autobot medic he'd been obsessing over for most of the war fell into that latter category, he decided that continuing their impromptu affair was one of those risks worth taking. Apparently Ratchet agreed – there was no other reason to hand over his comm frequency and then actually meet Starscream at the designated coordinates each time the seeker managed to slip away from the base. Close to six Earth months had passed since they started to meet up at least once each week, somehow both able to manage downtime that didn't raise questions, and yet they didn't always interface. Sometimes they just talked, vented about whatever the Pit was annoying them at the time or relaying something that had happened recently. Nothing pertaining to the war was discussed; they weren't an Autobot and a Decepticon during these encounters, they were merely two mechs that wanted to know one another beyond being interface partners.
That was probably why Starscream had even considered the idea in the first place.
Yes, he had had more than a few lovers in his life, but those had been just straight-up interfaces – a little petting, a lot of teasing, and hardware-only. The thought of spark-merging had never even crossed his mind except as something reserved for serious long-term lovers, and he didn't believe that any mech or femme would stick with him for much longer than an orn or two. But as the weeks had slipped into months and the overall tone of their encounters shifted to something more, the idea of sharing himself on such a personal level began to look appealing.
What little he knew about merging was that there were no secrets between partners – while a mech could lie to someone he was 'facing, it was impossible to do so when spark-merge was part of the equation – and that it was one of the methods to create a new-spark. Starscream didn't know the statistics on how often spark-merge led to spark-creation (he'd never been bothered since he was a result of a split-spark and fully expected that he would do likewise should the urge to procreate hit him) but decided that he wasn't really bothered by not knowing all the facts for once.
What he did know was that he'd somehow fallen – hard – for an Autobot in spite of himself, and that he wanted to take yet another risk to show it. And the risk had been worth it; for the past two months merges had been integrated into their encounters, and with it came the heady feeling of knowing that the affection he felt was mutual. Not needing to say the words simply because they both already knew what was in the other's spark was liberating, and his own thoughts regarding spark-merge seemed to be well-founded.
The only thing he hadn't expected was his current situation: flying hard and fast away from the Decepticons' undersea base, muting his signal in an attempt to prevent the others from locating him easily. His energy levels had been wildly fluctuating for a few days, nothing to really be concerned about in his thoughts, but when he'd nearly collapsed in the middle of a meeting it had prompted him to see the Constructicons in order to find out what manner of virus he was dealing with.
The results of the scans called for a second opinion, and Starscream had been quick to leave the repair bay and head for open sky. Now he simply had to keep the other 'cons off his trail until he could confirm Hook's scans... and decide what to do next.
The sudden comm from Starscream, only five cycles after their last rendezvous and nothing more than a set of coordinates not terribly far from the Ark, had been unexpected. The fact that it was so abrupt was somewhat troubling, and Ratchet had never been so grateful that it was a slow day in his life; without having to patch up anyone for pulling some ridiculous stunt, he was able to quickly slip away and head for the cliff side that his seeker had indicated.
To be honest, he hadn't expected much more from the affair than what had been there at the start of it: a few good overloads from time to time and the faint thrill that came from the risk of being caught. As time had slipped by, however, the medic realized that he was growing attached to the younger mech far more quickly than with any other he'd shared his berth with – not that they'd managed to sneak any time together in a comfortable berth save for once, and that had been during Starscream's second stay in the brig; thank Primus below that Red Alert had some degree of discretion, even if Ratchet suspected the mech kept copies of the footage for his own purposes – and attempted to turn the overall tone of their meetings to reflect his feelings. Surprisingly enough, the air commander had gone along with the shift in dynamics easily; in fact, he seemed to open up more during their frequent 'facing sessions as a result of time spent simply talking or doing little more than exchanging kisses and light touches.
But the surest sign that the overall dynamic had shifted completely was when Starscream, who never seemed to say anything he didn't mean and was showing signs of truly being the mech that Skyfire had spoken so warmly of, had brought up the possibility of introducing spark-merges into their interfaces. Given that merging was the highest form of intimacy, one shared only between exclusive lovers, it was tantamount to the seeker admitting that he wanted no one but Ratchet. The only surprise there was that it was Starscream and not the medic who'd mentioned the idea first.
He didn't regret it, not in the least. Even given his age and the fact that he had quite a few vorns on his lover – and was that even the best term to use? Merging for them both seemed to mean that they were involved with no other potential lovers, so perhaps mate would be a better term? – Ratchet hadn't spark-shared with anyone except for the seeker. He'd been raised (by two creators, not a singular caregiver as Starscream had had) to feel that such activities were to be shared only with the mech or femme who was the most important being in the universe to him, and somehow he'd found that on the other side of a battlefield in the middle of a seemingly-unending war.
So when he received what amounted to a panicked request to meet as soon as possible, Ratchet was more than willing to drop everything and rush to his lover's side.
He arrived at the rock face fairly quickly, transforming back to root mode only astroseconds before a query ping bounced across his comm link. Recognizing the frequency as Starscream's, the medic sent back a responding alert even as he performed an instinctive sensor sweep of the area. When he realized that his seeker's signature was scrambled, Ratchet dampened his own just in case there was a valid reason for the action. A moment later Starscream landed, stumbling slightly as he transformed; the medic moved forward to steady the younger mech and pull him closer to the cliff wall.
Ratchet took a moment to visually scan the sky, confirming with his optics what his sensor readouts were telling him, before shifting the focus of his attention to the seeker. Starscream looked drained and more than a bit shaken, but other than that there appeared to be nothing physically wrong with the mech. A wave of relief washed over the medbot and he pulled the seeker into a hug, relaxing further when the other mech returned the gesture with a faint hum.
He pulled back just enough to brush a kiss across one gunmetal grey cheek before softly asking, "What's wrong? Your message came across as somewhat urgent."
The seeker hesitated for a moment before replying. "My systems have been off for a few cycles, mostly energy fluxes. I've been ignoring it – don't give me that look!" he interrupted himself, frowning at the disapproving look in his lover's optics. "I didn't think it was anything until I nearly crashed during the morning shift assignments. And yes, I went to get a scan immediately afterward."
"Virus?" Ratchet asked, still a little aggravated that the younger mech had willfully ignored his system's warnings that something wasn't functioning properly. He'd almost think that Starscream was frightened of medics if not for the fact that his chosen function seemed to be a turn-on to the seeker.
Another moment of hesitation: "According to Hook's initial scans, all signs point to something else entirely. I didn't give him a chance to do a follow-up, just shot him and took off. He'll be fine; I used the lowest setting on my null ray so he should be back online by now. I just... I couldn't risk being followed immediately if those scans weren't wrong."
The medic frowned, lightly petting one of Starscream's wings as he processed the facts. "Energy fluctuations often indicate viruses; sometimes they just mean that a mech isn't getting proper recharge. You were fine the last time we were together, so the second option can't be the problem..." His words trailed off as a third possibility crossed his processor, given life by his own words and the recollection of just how they'd spent their time together only five days previously. And while spark-merge didn't always lead to spark-creation, it could occur if the participants' sparks were compatible even without a bond existing between the pair.
Ratchet did another quick sensor sweep before opening a comm link to Red Alert. "Is it possible to get from my current coordinates directly to the repair bay via orbital bounce?"
There was a moment of silence as the security director apparently did some calculations on his end of the link. "It is now. I've shut down the surrounding cameras as well. I'm guessing this has something to do with your favourite flyer?"
"You guess correctly. If it's not too much to ask, do you think you can keep everyone out of trouble and away from there for the next half-joor?"
"I'll see what I can do. Fixed on your coordinates now, just let me know when you're ready."
The medic spared a glance for Starscream, who had remained silent and still had both arms looped around the older mech securely. He apparently realized what his lover had been doing as he simply gave a quick nod and pressed as close to him as he was able; Ratchet allowed himself a small smile and dropped an affectionate kiss to the top of the younger's helm before responding to Red Alert's last statement: "We're ready."
Three scans later – one of those done twice to fully confirm that the problem wasn't a simple electrical issue and the other to verify the time frame – found Ratchet seated in his office, Starscream in his lap and arms securely looped around the younger mech as they quietly discussed the situation. The one thing they were in full agreement over was the fact that the seeker was not going back to the Decepticons for the time being; said seeker himself was leery on if he would ever go back given the circumstances behind his leaving so quickly.
In the midst of a brief silence, as Ratchet was trying to figure out how best to explain this to his superior officers, Starscream let out a frustrated, "Damn it."
"What?" the medic asked, dermaplates quirking slightly in a faint smile; for some reason, when Starscream resorted to using human curses he found it either utterly adorable or incredibly hot, dependent upon the circumstances when the words were spoken.
"I just realized that I could have waltzed onto the bridge and shot Megatron in the face before taking off, and gotten away with it once Hook told him the results of his scans."
Ratchet shook his head, a faint snicker escaping in spite of himself. Leave it to Starscream to find the most irrelevant aspect to muse over....
"I, for one, am glad you didn't," he said, tapping his seeker's back lightly in admonishment before resuming the light petting he'd been engaged in previously. "And that you're willing to stay here for now." He didn't add that he'd be much happier about the situation if the other agreed to remain for good, but they weren't bonded and there was no way to force a seeker to do anything he didn't want to.
"Mmm," Starscream agreed, resting his helm on the older mech's shoulder and sighing softly. He wasn't entirely certain of what came next, and he didn't want to rush any further decisions for the moment. After all, his life wasn't the only one that would be impacted by anything he decided to do.
Ratchet nuzzled his lover's helm gently before checking his chronometer, scowling to himself as he realized the requested half-joor of privacy was nearly over. "I guess I should quit putting it off and go inform Prime of the situation," he complained, not eager to attend to the task. "Think you can keep yourself out of trouble while I'm facing the firing squad?"
Starscream snorted lightly and unwillingly stood up when the ambulance loosened his embrace. "Who do I look like, one of those idiot Lamborghini twins? Besides, all I plan to do at the moment is crawl into the berth and pout that you have to go let the turbofox out of the bag."
"Believe me, I wish I could just stay here with you," the medic said before keying in the access code to the small berth room tucked just behind his office; often when there was a severely-wounded mech in his repair bay, Ratchet used this small area to recharge without having to be too far from his patient. There was, however, enough room in the berth itself for two mechs to rest or 'face, as he had discovered three months previously when Starscream was 'vacationing' in the brig again.
The seeker gave the medic one of his small, real smiles and kissed him lightly. "Go on and let them know, lover," he said softly. "If I'm recharging when you get back, feel free to climb in with me."
Ratchet only lingered long enough to make sure that his office door was locked securely – no sense in anyone stumbling upon his seeker when the mech was in a vulnerable position – before exiting the repair bay and heading towards the main offices. It was often easy to forget that the superior officers each had a designated work area, if only because Jazz spent more time amongst the crew and Red Alert much preferred the security room to his own office space. Still, Optimus could be found in his most mornings and Prowl tended to stay close to his as it was the quietest place in the Ark for him to work on tactics and calculations.
As he'd both hoped and feared, Optimus was indeed in his office; Prowl's presence was somewhat unexpected until Ratchet met the other's optics and noted the curiosity in them. Apparently Red had informed his mate of their unexpected guest and wanted to know the reason why. Lovely; hopefully Prowl would keep any teasing to a minimum.
"Got a few microns, Prime?" the medic asked as he stepped through the door.
"Of course, Ratchet," came the reply, a faint note of question in the Prime's tone as he signaled for the other to close the door behind him. "What's on your processor?"
Shooting a brief glance at Prowl, the medic steeled himself and decided to just speak as plainly as he could. "There are a couple things I need to inform you about, the first of which being that I've been... involved, you might say, with the Decepticon SIC for several months now."
Optimus managed to look stunned even with the face mask in place, both at the abrupt announcement and Prowl's lack of any true reaction. Venturing a guess, he asked, "And I'm assuming that this relationship began during Starscream's first stay in our brig?" At Ratchet's nod, Optimus turned his optics towards Prowl before adding, "Yet Red Alert somehow missed this?"
"No, sir," Prowl responded, tone betraying nothing. "Based on the recordings from the repair bay at that time, he felt there was no security risk and kept the information quiet."
And obviously the security director had been correct in his assessment, given that six months had passed and the Decepticon forces hadn't once given indication that they had inside information save for what little their spies periodically gathered. Optimus briefly considered reprimanding his CMO, but realized that Ratchet would likely ignore any orders to end the affair; if the medic was informing him of it after keeping quiet for so long, chances were that it was more than a war-time fling and any outside interference would be unappreciated at best.
Heaving a sigh through his vents, the Autobot commander said, "While I can't say that I approve of the decision on anyone's part to keep this hidden, I understand the reasoning. But you indicated that there's something else you had to tell me, Ratchet."
"They tie in together, sir," the medic replied. "Mostly because Starscream's currently in the repair bay and my tests indicate that he's carrying."
For the second time since the conversation started, Ratchet was treated to the sight of his commanding officer at a complete loss for words; it was made more satisfying by the brief flicker of optics that indicated Prowl had temporarily crashed at the news. The medic allowed himself a bout of mental laughter and decided to save their reactions to a private vid file for Starscream's amusement later. It wouldn't be the first time he shared a vid file with the seeker, but it would definitely be the tamest one yet.
In spite of the brief processor crash, Prowl was the first to recover. Unfortunately, the first comment he made was, "So does this mean we can all ignore those safe-interfacing lectures you're always giving to the troops?"
"Prowl," Optimus scolded, although he sounded as if he were still startled from the revelation. Turning his attention back to Ratchet (who looked awfully calm for a mech who'd just dropped a cluster bomb like that one), the Prime cleared his vocalizer and asked, "You're positive about this?"
"Ran the test twice myself, and Starscream had an initial scan done back at the 'con base," the medic confirmed. "I also ran a temporal analysis to determine the age of the new-spark and confirmed that spark conception was five days ago."
Optimus sighed through his vents. "And you can be certain that the new-spark isn't the result of a split or merge with someone other than yourself?" He only realized that he'd just asked a very stupid question when Ratchet's optics narrowed into slits while Prowl's widened in shock.
"I'll pretend you did not just ask me if my mate" – he didn't notice the look Prowl shot his way nor his own wording – "has been 'facing anyone behind my back. And not that it's anyone's business but our own, neither Starscream nor myself had ever merged with someone prior to two months ago.
"As for your other question," the medic continued with a faint snarl, "were this a case of split-spark creation, any energy fluctuations would be minimal and the creator would be aware of the reasons for said fluctuations. Starscream nearly crashed from an unexpected flux, which happens when the new-spark's creators are separated by a notable distance during the first two to three orns post-conception."
Making an attempt to apologize for his faux pas, Optimus asked, "And what is his condition since you returned to the Ark?"
"Physically drained from the flux followed up by fleeing his own base, but other than that showing no signs of complications," Ratchet replied, giving a brief nod to indicate that he appreciated the gesture; still, he was going to remember the insult to his seeker for a very long time, and made a mental note to make sure Starscream and the Prime didn't cross paths until the former was at least six orns along. That should be enough time for him to calm down and for Starscream's predicted mood swings to subside.
"So I take it that you're planning to keep the sparkling," Prowl stated casually, his curiosity peaked. Red had only indicated that Ratchet was bringing the seeker in for an exam, and he could hardly wait to find out what his bondmate's reaction to the news would be; knowing his Red, Prowl could only assume that the entire base would be sparkling-proofed within the orn and that the miscreants would be under strict don't torque off the seeker protocols.
"Why the pit do you think he took off from the 'cons the astrosecond he heard the preliminary test results?" the medic responded. "I'd suggest that everyone read up on seeker programming protocols ASAP, it'll go a long way to explaining things."
Prowl gave a brief nod and made a mental note to ask Red about that programming documentation. Not many mechs knew it, but the security director and the twins were rumoured to be ground-based Vosians, and would likely already know what Ratchet was referring to without having to go through several datapads in search of information. Pit, if the twins found out there was a carrying seeker on base, for all Prowl knew they might turn out to be the mechs the security team would have to worry about the least.
"Thank you, Ratchet," Optimus said, noting to himself to look into the suggested readings. "I know that you would rather have kept this a private matter, but given the circumstances..."
"Exactly," the medic nodded. "And I'd be grateful if you could wait until the morning meeting to announce the situation to the rest of the crew. Now, if you'll excuse me...?"
"Dismissed." Optimus watched as his CMO fairly ran out of the office before turning to a fairly-amused Prowl. "Am I the only one worried that this is just the beginning?"
"Things are definitely going to be interesting from now on," the SIC remarked.