Ta-da! :-) THANK YOU to everyone who reviewed, I know I say this all the time but it means the world. I tried to reply to most of them, some people I didn't seem able to reply to, not sure why, I'm a bit clueless with this site! Hope you enjoyed this, there's some more ramble from me at the end.
A new day dawned over Cybertron. It wasn't as bright as one on Earth, but the small sun was still a thing of beauty as it rose over the towering spires, illuminating the sky to a pale blue, with stars still visible.
Alexis' breath fogged up the class as she yawned and arched her back slowly and leisurely, before returning to her curled up position in the deep sill of the large round window. Her rooms had been repaired and tidied after the attack of the morph hound, and were back to their ordinary, cosy state.
She cupped the mug of hot tea in her hands and leant her head against the glass. The aches and pains in her body had started to fade, the bruises now an impressive yellow colour. A day had passed since the Insecticon attack and her journey deep into Starscream's psyche. In that time an impossible amount had happened.
First of all, Starscream, satisfied that Alexis was safe and the Betagon entity vanquished, had ordered Sari be taken back to the holding hall with the Autobots while he decided what to do with them. That had led to A LOT of shouting. Alexis had been on her feet, bellowing that Sari had helped saved both their lives and didn't deserve to be treated like a prisoner, and if she had to go, then Alexis was going with her. And why did Starscream have to be such a dickhead? That hadn't gone down too well, and Alexis smiled at the memory. Starscream, torn between fury at her insolence and concern at her obvious frail health, had been forced to allow the girls to stick together. There had been a lot of fist-slamming and yelling.
And then there were the meetings. Endless meetings between Starscream and his most trusted advisors, then wider meetings where more decepticons added their views to the ruckus. The first meeting had been only hours after Alexis' rescue, and when she had turned up in her pyjamas, pushing the stand holding the drip that fed into her nose, she had been ordered back to bed.
Jamie and Sari had kept Alexis company as she recovered, though none of her ailments were serious: she was badly dehydrated, suffering from exhaustion with some cuts and bruises. The bulk of her recovery had been simple rest. Jamie had been friendly and professional, checking up on her regularly, and Alexis was struck by how much he had changed from when she had last met him. He was more confident, somehow, and much more relaxed. She supposed his medical training had exposed him to all sorts of people, and he had grown into his skin somewhat. She found herself studying his face more closely when they were talking together, noting his fair hair, the line of his jaw, the quiet lilt of his Scottish accent. Neither of them mentioned the night she had run off at Balmoral to join Starscream, though her shame at her behaviour burned in her and she resolved to apologise to him, though for some reason she found the words hard to find, instead sticking to safer, more mundane topics.
More yelling and arguing echoed through the palace as the day passed. No one seemed to know what to do about the Autobots. Starscream was furious at the position he was in: on one hand, he hated the Autobots and wanted them nowhere near his planet, on the other hand, through it pained him through gritted teeth to admit it, the Autobots had come to their aid, and without them the Decepticon army would have been overwhelmed. Poor Thundercracker bore most of the brunt of his rage, but most could see why he had made the decision to let the Autobots cross the bridge. Even Starscream could see, though the truth of this only made him angrier.
That night Alexis felt strong enough to venture down to the throne room, where she sat cross-legged on the arm of the throne and listened, whilst Starscream paced to and fro, growling and gesticulating widely.
'What can I do? They're here now, and I am in their debt!' he roared, his voice hurting her ears and sending ripples through her mug of coffee. 'I am forced to concede! Why can I not be rid of them? I could, you know! I am Lord Starscream, this planet is mine, it was worth nothing when I came back here, NOTHING! Everyone had abandoned Cybetron! I re-built, I got energon production going again, no-one believed it was possible! I DID THIS!'
He indicated the huge room, with its black pillars and ornate glyphs, gesturing with one arm to the palace and the city beyond.
Alexis merely nodded when he spun round, staring at her desperately. To try to reason with him like this was useless, he would have to come to a decision on his own. She knew him well enough now to know when to stay quiet.
He stalked towards her, narrowing his optics, one fist clenched. 'I could send them back to Earth, you know,' he said quietly. 'There is nothing to stop me banishing them again.'
Was this a test? She let out a slow breath, and nodded once again. He seemed to have run out of steam for a moment and she looked up. 'You could,' she agreed. 'You've brought Cybertron back, as you say, and you've built it up from nothing. But, Starscream…' he looked down at her as she spoke gently. 'You know my opinion on this. You know what I'm going to say, don't you? So, what do you want from me?'
He clenched and un-clenched his fists. 'I want you to agree with me,' he growled.
She laughed then, threw her head back and laughed, a hearty, carefree laugh that took him by surprise. 'Oh Starscream,' she said, wiping her eyes. 'How long have you known me again?'
The ghost of a smile flickered across his hard features for an instant. He sat down on his throne, sighing wearily, and leaned back, being careful not to knock Alexis off the wide armrest, resting his head on his hand. The two of them had had very little time together since their exit from stasis – Starscream had been in the Decepticon council chambers and Alexis mostly in bed. The throne room was silent for a moment. Alexis unfolded her legs as cramp set in and gripped her coffee cup, shuffling forwards slightly. 'Starscream?'
He replied without moving, staring straight ahead. 'Mm?'
'Tell me what you saw. In deep stasis.'
He sat forward suddenly, the frustration and weariness vanishing from his demeanour as if she had uttered magic words. His optics glowed as he regarded hr in silence for a few moments before answering.
'I believe I saw you as you are meant to be.'
She raised her eyebrows. His optics wandered over her face, her hair, her arms, still with angry red wounds from the clamps' entry holes. 'I saw you as another version of yourself.' When her eyes widened further, prompting him to continue, he said 'You were a transformer, Alexis.'
She looked away, astounded. 'That's just… so strange,' she murmured. 'Why do you think that happened? Was it me, or you?'
'A bit of both, perhaps,' he replied. 'Stranger things have happened in deep stasis. Remember, I compared it to dreaming. You gave yourself a shape, through your own thoughts that anchored your energy signature, allowing me to find you. I don't often in believe in luck, but that shape saved you, Alexis. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but when I found you, that is what I saw. I think…'
But he was cut off as Skywarp entered the throne room, inclining his head towards them. 'Lord Starscream.'
He sat up. 'What is it?'
'Reporting on Insecticon survivors, Leader. Two thousand hatchlings found with no traces of Betagon symptoms. We think they were too young to start ingesting it. Seventy-four mechs found in total with Betagon Sickness who survived the battle. Most of them are in a pretty weak state. The rest are dead.'
'Only two thousand left, out of the entire race,' breathed Alexis. She looked up at Starscream, who had sat back, frowning and steepling his fingers.
'Send the hatchlings to the energon refineries, with slave status effective immediately, until I see fit to remove it,' he said coldly. 'As for the others: execute them. I want none left alive with any trace of that foul liquid in their systems. Is that understood?'
'Crystal clear,' said Skywarp, bowing briskly and marching out. Starscream nodded, satisfied. He looked back down at Alexis, who wore a pained expression.
'Slaves? Is that fair? After all, they're just hatchlings, they didn't…'
He held up a hand. 'I don't want to hear it. Their species will have to toil long and hard to regain an iota of my trust. Would it be better if I ordered their deaths, wipe the Insecticons out completely? Because that is what I would like to do. I am exhibiting a rare display of mercy, Alexis. Don't push it.'
'Fair enough.' She sighed and tucked her hands into the sleeves of her hoodie. Starscream tapped a finger to his com link, snarling in annoyance. 'Another tedious meeting regarding the Autobot scum. I grow very tired of all this. Decepticons DO NOT negotiate!'
He stood up, and held out his palm for Alexis to step onto. 'I'll take you back to your quarters to rest.'
She stayed where she was. 'Nice try. I'm coming along.'
He towered over her, treating her to a glare that would normally cause the toughest Decepticon to quail in fear, but she smiled back, undeterred. 'Come on. You're always calling me one of your own, so let me come. I've got stuff I want to say too.'
'If you dare stir up trouble, or use this opportunity to sing the praises of your pathetic Autobot friends…' he leaned down until his face filled her field of vision. '…I'll put you in solitary confinement for a whole mega-cycle, Alexis Garner.'
She smiled, stepping onto his hand. 'Received and understood, Great Leader. Shall we go?'
Technically, Sari had been allowed to roam the Decepticon halls, after the impressive argument that had taken place between Starscream and her oldest friend. But now that Alexis had gone into the council chambers, Sari didn't like hanging about the enemy's corridors by herself, so she had gone to join the Autobots in their designated space, slipping back in with an energon delivery.
The Autobots were bored, angry, and frustrated. However, they were also home, for the first time in years, and were torn between love and loathing of their current predicament. They were taking it in turns to go into controlled stasis, to alleviate the boredom if nothing else. Optimus Prime had been summoned into the Chambers, and now the rest of them sat, waiting, as they had done these past twenty-four hours. Arcee was pacing the chamber, hands locked behind her back. Bumblebee sat leaning against the wall, his arms resting on his bent knees, staring at the same bit of floor he'd stared at for hours. Sari's account of what had happened in the lab had piqued everyone's interest for a while, but now the air of discontent was worse than ever. She was snuggled, half asleep, nestled in his lap, her dark hair almost covering her face.
'I swear, these Decepti-creeps are going to have another battle on their hands soon,' Arcee growled. There were a few mutters of agreement from mechs who hadn't slipped into a bored stupor. 'What right have they to keep us all here? We should give it one more cycle, then I say we attack our way out.'
'Prime said we need to stay calm,' said Hotshot anxiously, though even he didn't look convinced.
'Oh, yeah, that's been working really well for us so far hasn't it!'
The doors slid open, and Arcee wheeled about with a growl. Several mechs lifted their head up off their arms to look. Sari stirred, blinking, her eyes swiveling to the doorway.
It was Alexis. She broke into a broad smile, hurrying forward. Sari ran to her, giving her friend a hug. 'Well?'
'Good news, I think,' she said quietly. 'Better than I was expecting. You can all come out.'
Sure enough, Skywarp strode into the room, his mouth set in an unfriendly grim line. Only the parley code prevented the click of dozens of weapons as he addressed them all, arms folded across his broad chest.
'Lord Starscream has graciously decided to recognize the aid that the Autobots provided in an hour of need. By his decree, all autobots may make arrangements on Cybertron to suit themselves, with the exceptions of the following sectors: Iacon, Polyhex, including Darkmount and its outer territories…'
But the rest of his words were drowned by a huge roar as the Autobots got to the their feet, punching the air, cheering and shouting as one. The girls clamped their hands to their ears as shouts of jubilation competed with cries of anger.
'Oh, so Screamer saves the best bits of Cyberton for himself?'
'Who is he to tell us where to go? We helped saved your afts!'
'We're free! We're home! Wooooooooo-yeaaaaaahh!'
Optimus Prime strode into the chaos, his bellow drowning out the ruckus like a dam stopping a river: 'Autobooooots!'
There was a hush, albeit some muttering and fidgeting amongst the Autobot ranks.
'Soldiers, Starscream and I have reached an agreement. Now is not the time for petty squabbles over territory, our home planet waits for us. Be ready to roll out in two cycles!'
'If you have any brains at all, which I doubt,' growled Skywarp, '…You'll leave quick and quiet, before Starscream changes his mind!'
But no one was listening to him. Bumblebee swooped Sari into the air and spun her round joyfully, planting a metallic kiss on the top of her head. She laughed and rubbed her crown. 'Ouch!'
Alexis smiled, and eased herself of the ledge with a wince – whenever she sat still, she stiffened up. The microwave in the corner pinged and she walked over to it, hobbling slightly. Suddenly there was a knock at the door of her quarters and she called out: 'Come in.'
Jamie strode in, followed by Sari who was busy plaiting her hair into a knot. 'Hey! We're just about ready to go. Sari and I are going with them on the scouting exhibition, starting the long look for a place to colonise. Should take a while. I know you're still recovering. But are you sure I can't persuade you to come?'
Alexis pealed the lid off of a plastic container of baked beans, tipping them onto some buttered toast. 'You know I really want to… but I think going off with the Autobots right now might just overheat Starscream's circuitry. And it's crucial in these early stages he's not pissed off unnecessarily. You know?'
Jamie nodded. 'Yeah, I know. I knew that would be your answer, but I wanted to ask you anyway. It's a shame we can't hang around longer, but I know Prime is really itching to get away. Can't say I blame any of them. And anyway… you really look like you need longer to rest, Alexis.'
Alexis laughed, opening a drawer and combing through a bunch of cutlery. 'Thanks a lot!'
He smiled, and moved over to lean against the kitchen counter, watching her. 'You know what I mean.'
Alexis looked up, nodding, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. There was an awkward silence.
'Well!' said Sari brightly. 'I… uh… I'll just wait outside for a sec. Okay? I'll call you soon, Ali.'
She gave Alexis a pronounced wink, and bounded out, slipping through the doors and shutting them behind her.
Jamie smiled, and gestured to the beans on toast. 'Is that the first solid meal you've tried since you woke up?'
Alexis nodded. 'Wish me luck! I hope I keep it down because I'm starving.'
'Ach, you'll be fine,' he said gently.
She looked up, anxiety on her face. 'Listen, um... Jamie. I feel I owe you an apology for the way I left you at Balmoral last year. I…'
He held up a hand. 'Please, there's really no need.'
'But there is,' she said earnestly. 'The thing is… I hadn't seen Starscream in such a long time and I… well... he and I, we…'
Jamie smiled amusedly. 'Alexis, it doesn't matter.'
'And… whilst we're here, I suppose thanks are in order… for treating me.'
He shrugged, still smiling. 'No trouble. It's my job, after all.'
'Yes! You're a proper doctor now! Congratulations!'
He laughed. 'Apologies, thanks, congratulations… I really am getting the full gamut of good manners here today.'
'It doesn't make up for my track record for running off and leaving you.' Alexis ran a hand through her hair. 'Listen… um…'
'Actually, I'm going to break your track record and turn the tables somewhat,' he said. 'Prime said five minutes maximum up here, so… I ought to get going. My turn to run away from you.'
She blushed deeper. 'Of course! Sorry! I was just going to say… if… um, you wanted to run off again, sometime, I mean, uh… what I was going to suggest is…'
He grinned and stepped closer to her, and she could smell his deodorant and a faint whiff of mint. 'Tell you what. Here's my number –' he handed her a small white card. 'When you're free, give me a call. I'll know then to hire staff to block any exits in whatever bar or restaurant we end up in. Sound good?'
She smiled widely. 'Sounds good.'
He leaned forward, kissing her cheek. 'Whenever you're ready. And take care. Maybe I'll see you again on Earth. Who knows?'
He paused at the door to her quarters, and turned back, grinning widely and gesturing to the plate.
'Better eat that before it gets cold.'
Some things went back to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. Others would never be the same again.
Down in the depths of the Decepticon city, Warp's Bar opened its doors once more, and throngs of Decepticons chatted and jeered, roared and barged each other, quaffing energon under the proprietoral gaze of Skywarp.
Down in the pits, gladiator mechs polished their armour and performed maintenance checks ready for tomorrow's celebratory battle.
Down yet deeper in the dark mines, the Insecticon slaves stumbled and cringed under the yells of their Overseer, their ankles linked by heavy chains.
On the fringes of the city, drones hauled the bodies of the fallen Insecticon hordes into piles, ready for scrapping. Kickback's lifeless body was thrown on top of a pile, his black eyes and open mouth gaping to the distant stars.
Out further still, across the curve of the planet, the autobots raced, weaving in and out of one another, their wheels sending dust flying as they cheered and yelled cries of joy – they were home.
Alexis felt sleepy, but it wasn't time for bed yet. She made a cup of black coffee and set out along the halls, descending the many stairs until she reached the vast doors of Starscream's laboratory. They were slightly ajar, and she slipped through.
Starscream stood down one end with his back to her, silhouetted against the glowing screen, his proud wings jutting out either side of him. She could hear the taps of his fingers as they flew across the keyboard.
She stood for a moment in silence, just watching him. Unbelievable that Starscream, leader of the ruthless Decepticons, could ever be a comforting sight, but he was.
How had it happened, that the Autobots were now able to stay on Cybertron? She would never have believed it possible. And there was no way she would ever dare to say this to Starscream, but for all his hatred of the Autobots, it looked as though even he could see the senselessness in more war. He was cruel, vicious, impatient, vindictive. Yet tonight, he had made a choice that had made her proud.
Of course, she thought with a smile, leaning against the doorframe, the less said about all the business with the Autobots, the better. Alexis had seen what it had cost him to make the decision in the chambers, how he had snarled and ground his teeth, his fists balled, before snapping out his decree, dismissing Prime with a jerk of his hand and a threat to be gone before he changed his mind. It was too early for peace on Cybertron to be a certainty. But something had happened in that room, something monumental that would never have happened under Megatron.
She felt a rush of warmth for this winged monster she had come to know so well. She thought back to her darkest hour, down in the deepest chasm of Starcream's psyche. How would it feel to be held like that again? She rubbed her arms where the memory of his had wrapped round them, as if she could conjure the moment back. Her head against his chest…
She mentally shook herself. There was still something left to be done. She crossed the floor, climbing the rungs set into the workbench, stepping onto the control panel.
'One last question,' she said.
His fingers flew across the keys. 'I know. I've been waiting for you to ask.'
'What did that creature say to you, down in stasis, just before it died?'
To fail him is to suffer. We cannot return to him. Let us die... Tell me who sent you. And I will release you.
Starscream pressed a button on the console, and a huge word scrawled across the screen in Cybertronian, the glyphs re-arranging themselves into English.
For a time the two of them stared at it in silence.
'What's Unicron?' Alexis asked.
'I don't know,' he replied, folding his arms across his chest.
She shivered slightly, the blackness of the letters burning against the brightness of the screen.
'Are we going to find out then?
He looked down, one eyebrow raised. 'Whatever this thing is, we barely escaped with our lives this time round.'
She tilted her head back with a grin. 'I know. Makes you feel kind of cocky, doesn't it? Whatever it is, I'd like a word with it.'
The familiar slow, evil smile crossed his features as he rubbed his chin. 'Me too.'
'Then it's settled.' She looked up. 'Where do we start?'
AN: Yeah, yeah, you'd all guessed it was UNICRON, right? But hopefully there were some things that came as a surprise. :-)
There will be a fourth story if people want it. If only one person wants another, then that's enough for me. I've got the first few chapters fleshed out in my head, so hopefully it'll appear soon.
A couple of you liked the little interaction between TC and Arcee in Chapter 23. There wasn't really room to have them appear again in this chapter, but I'm sure they can continue their crackly little snipes in Story 4 so worry not. :-)
And the size difference thingy will be explored some more too. Could it be that Lass might just entertain the notion of Starscream and Alexis on an equal footing? Well... maybe. We'll see.
Let me know what you liked, what you didn't like, what you'd like to see more of, etc. This story has been written over such a long time period that I tend to forget what I wrote! I hope it was okay. I listened to 'No Light, No Light' by Florence and the Machine a lot when I was writing this. If this story had an 'end credits' song, that would be it. Give it a listen if you've not heard it. :)
So... yeah! Enough blah from me. Hope you enjoyed it. The end. :-)