+ meeting +

You don't need to do this, Skyfire thought to himself as he wended his way through the seedy desolation of Kaon. No one will blame you if you don't. It was both advice he was giving to himself and a reminder of advice given to him by others: in either case, advice he intended to ignore.

However, it was not easy advice to forget, not when he was wandering through trash-strewn streets. He was soon to be promoted to senior research fellow and there were several professors at the university who would be happy to take him on. Ecstatic, in fact. He'd already received several offers, and none of those had involved picking his way through a hellhole on his way to an establishment of ill repute.

Skyfire tried not to look wary; he wore the mark of a military mech, which helped, and he was tall, which helped even more. But he was a shuttle class. "You're halfway an Autobot already," a friend had told him once, intending it for a compliment.

Skyfire supposed it was at least halfway a compliment.

The demographics of Kaon were nothing like those of Iacon. Back home Skyfire was used to being a minority specimen, standing out amongst his civilian counterparts. Even if he wasn't exactly feared, no one messed around with him, and that was agreeable because Skyfire was not a fan of conflict. But here he could be just another off-duty soldier for all anyone knew, and in a city where everyone else was armed, Skyfire looked a lot more like a mark than a shark.

Slag, he'd already been propositioned a few times. Follower mechs and femmes strolled the streets as common as trash, and most of the offers had been vulgar and specific: full-on interface for a few amps of high grade. Even before his meeting Skyfire felt vaguely traumatized.

In the end Skyfire had to consult his map three times just to be sure his optics weren't playing pranks on him when he finally reached the assigned destination. He knew beforehand that it was some kind of officer's club, very much of the Decepticonish variety, but what that actually meant had been unclear. A part of him must have expected neon signs and a milling crowd: trappings of a normal bar, basically. But this looked like a factory, and an active one at that: steam jetted from exposed pipes, and a loud clanging noise emitted from the building. The building stood splendidly isolated at the end of an alley, and it seemed both too large and too deserted to be a place for any kind of meetings. Nobody around at all.

"Halt!"

Or maybe it was just an illusion. Skyfire had only just started walking again when a guard slipped out from behind a partition at the entrance, rugged and severe with an unrepaired scar across his chest. The guard was pointing a gun at him. Skyfire put his hands up immediately, making sure that the admission chip he'd been sent was visible between his fingers. He wanted to say something, anything, to point out he'd been invited or perhaps to say that this was all a hideous mistake, but his vocalizers snagged on a single vowel and would have gone into terminal repeat if he hadn't hastily cut the feed. A slight shuffling behind him indicated the presence of a second guard, cutting off escape.

Some club. Skyfire hoped to Primus that whatever they were guarding wasn't as bad as the reception committee.

The first guard approached slowly and suspiciously, one hand on his still-aimed weapon, the other held out, fingers twitching in a gimme gesture. Slow and careful, Skyfire brought down one arm and produced the chip, dropping it thankfully into the guard's hand. He didn't want to think about what would happen if he didn't have a pass.

Someday he supposed that he'd technically achieve an officer's rank, an honorarium extended to all professional-class Decepticons, even those holding civilian roles. He'd get to come to places like this by right. But would he?

Doubtful. Extremely doubtful.

"He checks out," the guard called out whoever was behind him, and Skyfire heard a slight growling whine of disappointment. It was not easy for Skyfire to hold back a shudder as the first guard waved him on by with his gun.

The walls to this factory-fortress must have been impressively soundproofed, because despite the clanging echoing silence outside, Skyfire was struck with an oppressive wall of sound. Probably music, although none that he cared for, and more like what he'd expected, actually. He'd never thought to imagine the furnace-like heat slowing his actuators, however. It made him feel oddly sluggish, as if he'd been drugged: likely an intentional effect.

/There you are./

Despite having exchanged social comm keys, Skyfire still felt a bit jarred to be signaled so abruptly. No hello, no introduction: just a voice in his head commenting on his presence in what was possibly the most sneering, insultingly sweet manner ever.

Skyfire narrowed his optics, looking around for the origin of that signal. He had the mech's public specs, so he had a fairly precise idea of who he was looking for, but it still took a few sweeps to find him. Inside the club was filled with flyers, Seekers mostly, but also Triplechangers and Combiners. Lots of sleek military mechs, and not a few sleek military femmes. It was rather intimidating actually; Skyfire was taller than most of them, but in a crowd of gleaming, high-end instruments of warcraft, he felt ungainly and crude. If he'd went the standard soldiering route, Skyfire could never have hoped to stand at this level.

The Seeker that Skyfire wanted was off in a corner, sitting at a table with several empty energon flasks, some tipped over. He was not alone. A Chopper mech was standing behind him, stroking the tops of his wings, and a femme Seeker was sitting beside him, talking animatedly, with a seductive look on her face as she looked at the Academy professor Skyfire wanted to work with.

Starscream. Notorious Starscream, a mech for whom little good was ever said. Well, sure, everyone acknowledged his brilliance, and his publications were elegant works of art. But he was also reputed to be lazy, lecherous, arrogant, petty, middling cruel. No one had ever accused him of being half Autobot, that was certain. Said Notorious Seeker was watching Skyfire from across the room, a mysterious half-smile tugging at his lips as he ignored both the ministrations of his male companion and the conversation of the femme.

This was certainly going to be the strangest interview ever. If not the worst. Skyfire's spark clutched: figuratively, of course. If only he could cut that feed as easily as the one controlling his voice.

/I-I'm Skyfire. Hello./

He began to walk over slowly, keeping his gaze as steady as he could, ignoring the nervousness creeping through his various mental processes like a mechanamoeba. Obviously Starscream knew who he was, but Skyfire didn't regret giving his name anyway: that was what civilized mechs did. Being civil was his strongest asset; Skyfire didn't care if it was ill-fitting here, he refused to bend who he was just to fit in. He didn't want to be intimidated, even though he certainly felt that way.

Skyfire revved his cooling fans, attempting to dissipate at least a little bit of the excess heat.

/Nice to meet you./ The mocking tone was unmistakable. Still no formal introduction, but Skyfire knew better than to expect one. /You're very… white./

Against his will, Skyfire broke into a smile. Even a small bark of a laugh. What?

/Not tall?/

He was almost at the table, having walked around several other groups of Decepticons, as well as crossing through a corner of the dance floor. Starscream's smile widened when he noticed Skyfire's surprised laugh. /Not particularly./

For a moment Skyfire thought that this might not turn out to be an unmitigated disaster after all.

But then the storied professor pulled the femme into his lap.

Skyfire dropped his smile.

/Thanks for meeting with me./ He said formally, coming up to the edge of the table but refusing to sit down. /I hope not to take up too much of your time./

If Skyfire's sudden coldness annoyed Starscream it didn't show in his face. The Seeker nodded to the chair opposite him. /Sit down. I'm buying, so drink whatever you want./

Seating himself slowly, mechanically, Skyfire couldn't help but wince when Starscream's partner started to kiss and grope his body. That was… disgusting. No, it was beyond disgusting. Who did that sort of thing in public? Especially when entertaining a guest? Skyfire might be the supplicant here, but he was still a guest. Everyone had said that Starscream was rude, but nothing had prepared him for how rude.

Well, it wasn't too late for second thoughts. Skyfire would sit through this so-called interview, but that didn't mean he had to accept a fellowship with this mech, even on the extremely rare chance that he'd even be offered one. Among the many things Starscream was notorious for was the fact that he never took on assistants. But it was also true that he almost never granted interviews either: Skyfire had felt so giddy to have even been accepted to meet, back when he'd first sent out his applications. Now he just wanted it to be over with.

Skyfire grabbed a half-filled flask of high grade and kicked back the rest, for once not caring that he was taking some else's leavings. Whatever he wanted? Why place an order when so much energon was just sitting around? His eyes flashed defiantly.

/Wow, that's gross./ Starscream looked impressed. "Can you hear me?" He shouted, shrill above the din.

"Just barely." Skyfire shouted back. /But I'd rather talk like this./

/That's fine./ The Chopper, apparently pouting because he was being ignored, slunk around to the front, and actually knelt down next to Starscream, playing with the underside of his wing and then grabbing his hand to kiss it. /Don't mind the furniture./ Starscream finally looked away, smile going down the two Decepticons servicing him. His attention soon returned to Skyfire, the look in his eyes strangely cold despite the smile.

Skyfire's jaw dropped: he knew that he must look so appalled, but he didn't even care. He took a quick glance around to see if anyone else was as outraged as he was, but none of the other Decepticons in the club even seemed to notice. In fact, over on the dance floor Skyfire caught flashes of more than one naked interface unit, and even some mech flashing his spark, giggling to his companions.

/Is it… always like this?/ Skyfire managed not to sound too strangled, a task made slightly easier because his treacherous vocalizer unit was not being pressed into service. /You like it here?/ He knew his tone was unbelieving, even challenging, but how could he possibly carry on a discussion about xenodetics in this environment? This was no interview. How could it possibly be?

/You don't?/ Starscream turned the question back on him, but for some reason his gaze became… warmer, somehow.

/It has nothing to do with science!/

/Oh, I don't know about that./ Starscream reached out to stroke the Chopper's face absently. /It's a good study in Decepticon behavior./ The femme was falling out of Starscream's lap, getting down on her knees so as to put her mouth… no! Skyfire could not control the shaking in his limbs. /That's why you applied with me./ Skyfire felt his spark grow cold. /Isn't it?/ Starscream's voice over private commlink was soft, even as it overrode all the real noise in the room.

/Low blow./ Skyfire shot back, knowing there was justice in Starscream's words but not wanting to be cowed by them. If he thought about it too hard he knew that he'd find truth there, but what was the point of looking that hard? Skyfire was at least Decepticon enough not to feel the need to agonize over his words. /Isn't that why you accepted my application?/

/Fair./ Starscream looked away, smiling down at his companions. He leaned in, pressing his lips against the mech's audials, and then waved for him to get up. "Later," Starscream shouted, grabbing the mech's hand and kissing his fingertips. That looked so insincere but somehow the Chopper bought it, and walked away looking satisfied. "Bring back some high grade before you go!" /Now I'm down to one toy. Is that easier?/

Easier? For whom? Skyfire laughed without humor. /I'm not coming over there./

/I'm not inviting./ Starscream paused, and then proceeded to give Skyfire the most thorough once-over with his eyes. /Well, not today./

Amazing how someone could be so seductive and repulsive simultaneously. /For your information, I have a girlfriend./ Skyfire had to look away; the roving gaze had felt almost as invasive as true touch, and it made him feel dirty. /The only thing I'm auditioning for is to be your assistant./ He was starting to overheat; how much of that was the ambient temperature, and how much was coming from him? /Lab assistant./

/Done./ Starscream grabbed one of the half-finished flasks and downed it quickly, almost exactly replicating Skyfire's gesture from earlier. "Done," he shouted, holding up the empty flask and waving it high. A service mech responded promptly, rolling over with a tray of high grade.

Done? Skyfire searched Starscream's face, looking for any hint of facetiousness, but found none. /Why?/

/Two reasons./ Starscream moaned a little as the femme skillfully popped his interface unit open, stroking the pronged plug and slipping the cable between her fingers. /Your thesis. It was good./ Starscream placed a hand on the femme's cockpit and began to stroke it possessively. /Also, you stood up to me./ The femme was now flicking the metal prongs against Starsceam's own port, threatening to autoplug him. Skyfire forced himself to watch. /Oh… and there is a third reason./

If Starscream said "because you're a Decepticon, like me," Skyfire would walk. No exceptions.

Even if he was reluctantly finding himself slightly intrigued.

/I like white./

Skyfire couldn't help it. He burst out laughing. What the slag?

/Is that a yes?/ Starscream's eyes were back on him, and he looked dead serious.

"Yes." Skyfire shouted, feeling strangely giddy. He might regret this in the morning. No, he knew he would. But he also had intended to take this position if it were offered. Originally, that was. Before all... this. However, just because Skyfire had been knocked off balance by the style of the presentation didn't mean that Starscream wasn't taking him seriously. That made a difference.

Maybe Starscream was a Decepticon and a complete and utter pervert, but Skyfire found that these things didn't bother him as much as he imagined they would.

Well, he was a Decepticon too. And not just by half. /Yes./

Starscream reached across the table, with one free hand, clearly offering for Skyfire to shake it. Hesitatingly, overheat warnings flashing, he took it.

/Welcome on board./ Starscream paused, and his eyes flashed, and he was smiling. /Professor./

. + .

Author's Note: this was originally posted at the Transformers kinkmeme. I am posting it here because it is going to take me longer than I thought to get to the last three or four chapters, and staying anon is obviously not helping me to finish it any faster. Anyway: this story is at least allegedly slated to have some smut down the line, so it is rated according to future events. :)