The Road Less Traveled

By: nightelfcrawler

Author's Note: No warnings immediately, though the story will develop M/M.

Chapter Two

It was about a month later that the riots began. At first, they heard about the incidents on the newsreels, passing stories about fights being broken up sporadically. This wasn't uncommon for Iacon, though it was growing more and more common, unfortunately. But the night they knew something REALLY was wrong, they were both woken up by a sudden alarm.

Surprised, Starscream was on his feet and by the window in a heartbeat, staring outside at the bright red spotlights rotating around the top of their tower, indicating the alarm was not just their building. Frowning, Starscream shot a worried glance at Skyfire as the large mech stared out at the silent night with fear. "What's going on?"

"I don't know..." Starscream started to say, when a sudden loud banging sounded outside their door. In a heartbeat, Starscream was tensed and facing the door, both arms raised, narrow cannons having suddenly retracted from his upper arms, pointed right at the door steadily. Neither of them moved.

"Starscream, open up for frag's sake!" A deep booming voice sounded as the door knocked again. "Don't make me break it down." Skyfire watched as Starscream relaxed, arms lowering as he swiftly moved forward, not retracting the cannons yet, but not hesitating as he pulled the door open. Standing there with a solemn expression was a large black mech bristling with weaponry. "Good." The mech growled. "Come on, we have to move."

"What's going on?" Starscream demanded, glancing back at Skyfire and gesturing for him to come as he followed the large black mech out into the hallway. "Why are the alarms going off?"

"There's been an... incident." The mech grumbled. "And it's too close for comfort so we're getting you out."

"What kind of 'incident'?" Starscream pressed, pushing himself flat against the inside of the lift as the three of them squeezed in. "Is it another riot?"

"Mmmf." The black mech ducked Skyfire's wing, shooting him an irritated glare but didn't protest as he punched the button for the ground floor. "Something like that. A group of mechs are gathering, and they're all decked with illegal weaponry. They already shot several peace patrols."

Starscream's optics widened. "Did they kill someone?"

"Yes." the black mech said grimly, blinking up from his round face at Skyfire. "Can you fire a weapon? Do you even HAVE a weapon?"

"Uh... no." Skyfire stammered, shooting Starscream a frightened look.

"Here." Starscream was swift to act, pulling a rifle out of subspace without warning and tossing it to him. "You can use this one."

Skyfire gawked. "You... just keep rifles around in case of trouble?"

"Yes." Was the terse answer.

"He was ordered to, for just this reason." The black mech replied firmly. "One can't be too careful. Now, both of you keep close to me. Starscream take the middle, no argument!"

The seeker scowled, but kept close as the black mech led the way out, cannons fully primed. Skyfire held the rifle awkwardly, not sure just what to do with it, and Starscream shot him a glance, speaking quietly. "Just let me handle it." he warned. "You just try to look scary. Hopefully we won't have to fight."

They were lucky. There was no one out front where a large transport was waiting for them, two other slimmer mechs both bristling with weaponry standing guard. The black mech grunted and all but shoved Starscream into the waiting transport. "Report?"

"Nothing sir." The silver mech with red trim said quickly. "It seems they're all amassing by the Council Chambers."

"Frag!" The black mech swore. "What are they thinking?! Are the Sentinels on their way?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Everyone in then. We're going straight there."

"Wait." Starscream asked as the black mech pulled the door shut behind them. "Ironhide, WHAT is this all about?" his optics were suddenly wide with alarm. "It's not just a riot, is it?"

"No." The black mech said tersely, crouching by the door, bracing as the transport sped off. "It's not."

"Then WHAT...?"

"I don't know, frag it Star, just shut up will you!" The black mech snapped.

Starscream's optics narrowed but he did as he was asked, crouching down beside Skyfire as they watched the city flash around them as the transport whipped through the streets. "I don't like this." He murmured quietly, one hand lightly resting on his chassis over his chest. "It doesn't feel right."

No one said a word as the transport sped through the city, but they all knew that something big was happening. Both gunners, the red and white mech as well as the silver mech were both grim and not taking their optics from the road. The black mech kept glancing back to make sure they were still there, but other than that his attention was also focused on the path ahead.

It didn't take long to see why. The moment the spires of Altheaix came into view, everyone tensed. A crowd of very large mechs, all bristling with weapons were gathered on the bridge directly in front of the entrance to the Enclave. "Frag!" Ironhide swore. "They've cut it off! Pull back, we'll have to go to the secondary location!"

"Too late!" The mech driving grimaced. "Hold on!" A fierce explosion suddenly shook the whole transport, violently whipping it to the side as smoke and fire filled the place where it had been about to head. Unfortunately with so many mechs inside, and not a steady balance of weight, the transport wobbled dangerously before it flipped over on it's side, a shower of sparks and cacophony of grinding metal filling the area as with a shuttering crunch, it stopped headfirst into the nearest wall. No one moved for a long heartbeat, before Ironhide growled irritably, picking himself up and glancing around the tangle of arms. "Injuries?"

"Just my pride." Starscream muttered, pushing Skyfire's arm off his face and squinting worriedly over at his roommate.

Skyfire smiled thinly, looking visibly shaken as he sat up. "I'm fine... just a few dents."

"Good." Ironhide said tersely, glancing at the three other mechs as they removed themselves from the floor. "Both of you, stay put. We're going to have to hold them back until backup shows." A loud explosion rocked the transport, deafening anything else he was about to say. "Frag!" He swore. "We might not have time!" His azure optics flashed warningly down at the two fliers. "STAY put." He demanded, before slamming a fist into the door release and kicking it open.

In a hail of gunfire, he vanished out the door, the other three following in short order, yells and screams filling the air as the sounds of battle invaded the small transport. Skyfire cringed, ducking down lower as a blast of red energy scored the bulkhead over his head. "Primus." He whispered. "This isn't just a riot."

"You're right." Starscream said tersely. "It's a rebellion."

"What do we do?" Skyfire gasped, ducking down as another blast screeched overhead. "They're going to get killed out there!"

"Ironhide is Megatron's second in command." Starscream said tersely. "He won't die, trust me. He's harder to kill than a swarm of rust-flies." But his optics shone back at Skyfire with fear glittering out from behind his calm exterior.

There was a sudden scream of pain from somewhere, followed by another loud blast that rocked their hiding spot, before there was silence. "Check it." Came a deep booming voice.

"Slag!" Starscream hissed, lifting his guns and tensing.

A face appeared, one that apparently was unfamiliar, as Starscream let out a series of violet colored laser blasts right at the mech's head. With a cry of anguish, the mech ducked back out, howling in pain. Instantly a thunderous cacophony of footsteps echoed around them from all sides before no less than five mechs appeared in the hatchway. Starscream had no chance of fending them all off, and with one well-placed shot, the seeker gasped in pain as a hole appeared in his right wing shortly before hands grabbed a hold of him, hauling him out as he struggled valiantly. In a matter of moments, it was over. Skyfire found himself facing no less than ten barrels of guns, and threw his own gun down without hesitation. As they were dragged out of the transport, Skyfire saw the four mechs who had defended them all laying face down in their own pools of energon, unmoving. His spark hitched with fear and grief, optics shifting to stare at Starscream's equally frightened ones. The hole in his wing seemed to have missed any vital energon lines, but it was still smoking and was blackened around the edges, and couldn't be feeling too good at the moment. Skyfire glanced quickly forward, and his vents hitched at the mech facing them. He wasn't large, but there was SOMETHING about him that just screamed 'ruthless'. Unlike most other mechs, his face was not shaped for any expression, instead a large round optic that displayed more like a computer read-out watched them coolly. When he spoke, it was without inflection. "What have we here? Two youngling fliers? Interesting. I wonder why the Elite guard had to fight with their lives to protect these two." Starscream stiffened a little, and Skyfire caught the hint as well. They didn't know who he was. The mech studied them both then gestured. "Hold them for now. We'll find out what he wants to do with them." The mech turned then, facing the Council Chambers that lay on the other side of the long bridge.

Starscream gasped softly, and Skyfire glanced quickly at him. -What?- He sent through their comlink.

-The chamber was broken into. Look at the doors.- Was the nervous response. -Primus, what did they DO?-

Skyfire didn't have to look twice to see Starscream was right. The chamber doors were askew, blackened and missing a good chunk in the center. -That was no normal weapon. I thought those doors are blast-proof?-

-They're supposed to be.- Starscream replied, optics narrowing as he stared at the doorway. -Completely resistant to any form of energ--- - His thoughts were cut short abruptly.

Glancing at the doorway, Skyfire felt a surge of hope spread through him as a familiar tall figure appeared through the murky smoke, striding purposely forward. -It's the Lord Protector! We're saved!-

-No...- Starscream's signal was so faint, that Skyfire had to look his way to make sure he was still online. The expression painted on his face however sent a chill down his survos as he slowly turned his gaze back towards Megatron, and saw at last why Starscream was staring in abject horror at his creator.

Megatron strode out of the darkness into the lights of the city, his silver body tarnished with bright blue splashes of energon, not yet dried, but still dripping off his armor. And none of it seemed to be his own. Even worse was the expression he wore: cold, calculating, optics burning brightly with a light resembling the fires from the Pit. And he was smiling.

"Megatron, sir." The one-opticed mech said respectfully, inclining his head towards the energon-splattered silver mech. "We have secured the bridge."

"I see that. Well done Shockwave." Was the cold response, as Megatron casually flicked a thumb under his optic, clearing energon from his face. "Damage report?"

"No casualties on our end. We killed three defenders, and captured two prisoners."

Megatron's optics narrowed and then slid past Shockwave to latch onto the two fliers. For a brief moment, Skyfire saw surprise reflected in his firm gaze, before it was covered up with something more akin to satisfaction. "You have done VERY well." He said calmly, pushing past the mech, approaching them both. Starscream stared up at him with horror still written on his face as the Lord Protector stopped right in front of them. Abruptly his calm expression shifted to pure rage. "WHO did this!?" He demanded, grabbing the end of Starscream's wing, much to the seeker's grunt of pain and running his thumb over the gaping hole in the limb. With a furious snarl, he whirled around to face his men, all of whom had frozen in surprise, none of them stepping forward to claim the shot. "WHO!?" Megatron snarled, voice thunderous like the wrath of Unicron. "Who shot my son?"

At that, every single mech flinched visibly. "I...I didn't know!" One of them gasped. "He was shooting at us! He nearly took Scavenger's face off!"

Without warning, Megatron whirled around, lifting an arm to point directly at the speaker. In a powerful flash and boom of an unseen force, the mech was gone, a pool of silver liquid on the ground all that was left of him, the blast having originated from a cannon that had appeared mounted on the Lord Protector's arm. With horror, Skyfire suddenly knew how they had broken into the council chambers. The problem taken care of, Megatron turned, weapon vanishing back into his arm with a series of complicated parts twisting into place. He regarded the two, expression softening. "Release them." He ordered. When the mechs hesitated, his optics narrowed dangerously. "NOW!" quickly, Skyfire found his arms released from the painful holding grip, but he had absolutely no desire to make a dive for his rifle which was currently in the hands of a black mech off to the side.

Starscream however was not so complacent. "WHAT DID YOU DO?!" He screeched, voice lifting to an almost painful octave range, as he stared up at his father with shock. "You....!"

"Enough, Little Star." Megatron said, mouth twisting into a small smile, staring down at his son with a tolerant expression. "Now is not the time for this. Come. We are done here." He grabbed Starscream's wrist, but in one swift motion Starscream had twisted out of the hold and was backing up slowly towards the Council chambers, away from the rest of the gathered mechs.

"No!" Starscream gasped, staring at Megatron with revulsion. "You... you KILLED someone..."

"Star..." Megatron said in a low voice, his tone turning dangerous. "Stop being a brat. This is outside your comprehension. Get your aft over here."

"No!" Starscream gasped. "The council... did you kill ALL of them?!" Megatron's optics narrowed. "You did!" Starscream breathed, voice lowering as his optics widened. "You killed them all.... how could you....?"

"Because the system is useless." Megatron growled, tone irritated. "For years I have struggled to change it, and for years the council has opposed me at every turn, blocking motions to give more freedoms to those of the working class, those mechs like yourself, Starscream." His optics shone fiercely down at the trembling youngling. "You are the epitome of hypocrisy, born into privilege, yet others of your class are forced to work in one field, and one field only. Surely you can see this, surely you understand why it must be changed. NO mech should be forced to do something merely because it is socially acceptable, no they all should be equals. THAT is what I fight for, that is why I did what I did."

Skyfire felt ill. So he had murdered to get his point across? He had abused his power, using his status as Lord Protector to take everyone by surprise. There was no doubt in his mind the council knew nothing of what befell them until it was too late.

A suddenly well-placed blast exploded directly in Megatron's face, jarring him out of his reverie as he stared at Starscream in shock. The seeker's optics were narrow, but determined as he grabbed Skyfire's arm. "RUN!" He hissed, pointing towards the open Council chambers. Skyfire didn't have to be told twice, bolting forward, he sprinted for the door. He was by no far a swift runner, however he WAS bigger, and he could hear Starscream panting for breath as he pounded down the walkway after him. A sudden score of weapons fire rained around them, and Skyfire felt a sudden searing pain in one of his wings, but ignored it as he pushed forward faster, his fuel pump pounding wildly as it tried to circulate energon fast enough to power his limbs.

"NO YOU IDIOTS, CEASE FIRE, CEASE FIRE!" Came an angry bellow from behind them, but it seemed no one was listening, as bright energy rained all around them like beams of death.

"Keep going!" Starscream was right at his elbow, one hand on his arm as they ran, as if to push him forward faster. "If we can get into the council chambers, we can lose them and initialize the security--" The sudden lack of words being cut off in mid-sentence were enunciated by a single burst of light at his side, followed by a strange gasp from his roommate. In that one moment, Starscream's foot buckled on the next step, his pace faltering as a single pinpoint of red light emerged from the center of his chest, continuing onwards past the running mechs and slamming into the wall with a blackened scorch.

Skyfire's spark clenched in horror.

It was one of those moments that you looked back upon and swore everything happened much slower than it really did though there was no real change in time. He watched as Starscream's head slowly jerked backwards, optics brightening with shock as the blast pierced through his chest. He watched as the seeker's leg crumpled the moment his foot touched the ground. He watched as his hand reached out, snagging the back of Starscream's armor with an iron grip, preventing him from collapsing. He watched as the doors flashed by them, opening up into the wide expanse of the Council chambers, energon staining the seats, walls and floor as the twelve senators lay sprawled in the seats where they had died. He watched as his fingers moved rapidly across a control panel, Starscream's lips moving silently, telling him the code. He watched as the heavy blast doors electrified with a force field slammed into place and ignited, silencing the gunfire and preventing their pursuers from following. The slam of the door was like the sound of doom, and suddenly all the sounds and actions flooded back to his processor in real-time.

His vents were gasping for air, making a strange wheezing sound that definitely couldn't be helpful, his wing burned with a sharp pain that told him something serious had been damaged. However, none of that mattered as his optics lowered to the mech sprawled on the floor at the base of the console. Starscream's optics were glowing, but dimly as Skyfire's vents hitched upon seeing the damage. A large hole had been blasted right in the middle of his chest, the edges blackened and melted, giving Skyfire a very clear view of something brilliantly bright, like a miniature sun pulsing strongly in the center of Starscream's chest.

A sick feeling twisted through him. That was his SPARK. "Primus...." He gasped, hands shaking as he pulled his roommate up into a sitting position, desperately looking around to see if there was ANYTHING nearby he might use to patch him up... a piece of metal, glass, anything. "Star, stay with me." He whispered, grasping his friend's shoulder tightly as he fumbled through the debris. "Come on, talk to me.... where should we go now?"

A hand grabbed his wrist, the strength behind it pathetically weak, but the simple action enough to stop him dead in his tracks. Starscream was looking up at him, optics unfocused and dim, but his expression firm. "Sky..." he whispered.

"I'm here." He said swiftly catching Starscream's hand. "Just hang in there. If I can find something to patch you up..."

"Sky... stop." Starscream pleaded, voice faint. "It's not..."

"No!" Skyfire exploded, grabbing his friends' shoulder tightly. "Don't you DARE tell me it's not going to work! Don't you DARE offline on me! You are NOT going to leave this world, not today!" Starscream's optics flickered dimly in an unsettling pattern, and Skyfire saw his spark pulsing in the same pattern, going from bright to dim and back again. Panic began to set in as he grabbed the nearest piece of metal he could and wedged it firmly in the back of Starscream's chest, trying to seal the hole up as best he could. "Come on, you can't give up, not after fighting this much to get where you are. We still have to go out on those expeditions, we have to publish our findings, and we have to make some breakthroughs in science, so don't you even think about making me do that on my own!"

"'ll.... protect me." Came the faint whisper. "Won't you...?"

"Of course I will!" Skyfire said emphatically. "You're the best friend I've ever had, no one's ever seen past the big lumbering brute to get to know ME... and I'll be damned if I give that up!" He pushed his friend back against the console, grabbing another piece of metal.

However, at that moment, he felt a strange pulse of energy shiver through his entire body, painful and jarring, as if he'd just jammed his hand in a live circuit. Alarmed, he glanced down at his friend, and felt his entire spark freeze in place, stop pulsing entirely as he stared at vacant dim optics staring up at him with a calm expression. The gaping hole in his chest was still smoking, but it was now dark as no shred of light illuminated his face as he stared down at the vacant space that moments before had held Starscream's brilliant golden spark.

It was gone. Just gone. Starscream lay limp and unmoving in his arms, and he felt a sudden strange pressure in his spark that weighed him down, tugging at his very being as if it were dragging him down into the very bowls of the Pit itself. Unbidden, Skyfire felt his optics heat up, fogging as cleanser tried to do it's job, but was overly stimulated and spilled over, trickling down his cheeks and splashing on his friend's face, leaving faint blue droplets behind. Skyfire shuddered and pulled Starscream close to him in a crushing embrace, burying his face in his shoulder and just let his grief pour out. Nothing else mattered. Why should it? Their very reason for escaping had been solely to get Starscream to safety, not him. What would it matter if some slow shuttle fell in battle, no one would mourn. But not Star. Star was something special, someone special. And his loss was not just a crushing blow to him, but would devastate the entire world.