Throughout the whole night, the Autobot's med-bay became a place of tension and disquiet now that much of the euphoria of their recent victory had evaporated. The occasional moans of suppressed agony overrode what celebratory cheers had left since the Decepticons' hasty retreat; the many mechs waiting for their turn to be fixed served as grim reminders how close they had come to annihilation tonight. Yet, the sight of Ratchet relentlessly flitting between his charges – welding shut gashes, replacing broken armours and careful rewiring of severed cables – was a reassurance that tempered off the severest edge of the horror which still lingered in the atmosphere.

To the Autobot Chief Medic, his duty remained the same whether in victory or defeat as long as there were mechs that needed his medical skills. The immensity of the tasks before him was somewhat lessened with the aids of Hoist and Grapple, even the Witwickys who had rushed to the Ark as soon as the news of the attack reached them. Progress sped up to a satisfying pace with the extra servos – so much so, in fact, that by the time the sun had climbed to its zenith, even Prowl, who had sustained the second-worst damage from the battle, were discharged from the med-bay although with a prescription of a few orns' rest. With him, his aides excused themselves for their hard-earned rest, leaving the med-bay all to Ratchet.

Even then, the ambulance-former was not alone.

His optics fell upon the sole figure still confined to the berth, the victim of the worst damages in the battle. The last of his professionalism was shed at the Spark-wrenching view as something more than just a medic-patient concern washed into Ratchet's systems. He dragged a nearby chair and set it beside the flyer's berth, feeling slowly the edge of despair tainting what hopes he had managed to keep up for the shuttle-former's fate. The readouts were registering Spark-pulses at a frequency much too low for Ratchet's comfort as if his life was hanging on to the very ledge before the Well took him. Out of the need for some reassurance, Ratchet's servo crept for the shuttle's own which lay deathly still beside the chassis; their digit-tips touched and Ratchet was forced to suppress another wave of anguish. There was only enough warmth there to indicate the living Spark that resided within.

The swish of opening door alerted the medic of a visitor though the identity of the newcomer was guessable even without looking. Ratchet kept his silence until he felt a comforting servo on his shoulder-plating.

"Hey, Ratch," Wheeljack's voice spoke to him, thus confirming his presumption. Between the injured soldiers and his already-exhausted medical assistants, there were few mechs left who would still have enough energy to roam about the Ark and forestall rests.

Ratchet acknowledged his presence silently. Under the weight of professionalism he had worn the mask of medical concern for the flyer but before Wheeljack, his mental barrier crumbled. Lifting his optics to meet those of the Lancia-former's, Ratchet whispered, "I can't seem to reactivate his systems…"

Speaking those words seemed to enhance his sense of vulnerability. Joors of painstakingly cleaning the damage site, picking out debris and connecting severed wires before the armours were replaced felt like vain efforts when the mech in question was still firmly gripped in stasis lock.

"Give him some time," The Lancia former said with an optimism Ratchet found himself to be envying, especially when put under such duress. "It's been an ugly damage, what he got there. It's bound to leave him in stasis like this."

"Yes, but…"

Words suddenly died in his throat-piping at the notion which crossed his processors. What he was seeing now was not an unfamiliar event; though one he wished he never had to see each time it happened. The brutalities of war had taken many unfortunate lives but nothing humbled him more than when a mech succumbed to despair and simply 'let go'. When one decided to give up on activation and let his Spark to die off, even the most skilled of medics could not help bring back those that had crossed the abyss even though the physical chassis might suffer little more than scratched paintjobs. That Skyfire was technically fit enough to resume activation, yet showing no signs to do so, was worrying the Autobot Chief Medic. It pained him in the most intimate way that he could do little to change the scenario, as helpless as a turbofox before the gun of a hunter.

Wheeljack read his concerns readily. He might have been more inclined to invention rather than repair but he had seen his shares of the horror of the war. "Don't lose hope, Ratch. He might still make it…the ice hadn't been able to take him even after all those eons."

True, but the ice had not taken Starscream away from him before, Ratchet replied in the privacy of his cranial plating. It was a great torment for the medic that the one subject he would most like to indulge with someone was the exact one he could not tell. "We'll see…" Ratchet eventually muttered for the lack of better reply to give.

"You've help all the way a medic can for his patient. It's time to help yourself now." Two energon cubes, subspaced out of Wheeljack's own storage, clinked upon the table beside Ratchet. The faint whiff floated to the medic's nasal cavity and stimulated his empty fuel tanks, reminding him how low he was on sustenance.

He reached for one of the cubes only half subsconsciously and cracked the side, taking one long swig from the small opening. The flow of the glowing fluid down his intake lines were instantaneously relieving, the warmth seeping into every depraved networks and strained motors.

"You need to recharge," Wheeljack observed as the medic savoured the much-needed infusion of energy. "I'll keep an optic on Skyfire."

Ratchet put down the cube, now empty after taking three more draughts from it. The suggestion appealed mightily to him, who had had not the proper chance for a rest ever since he finished the repairs on Starscream; on the other servo, his instinctive drive spoke of reluctance to leave his charge when under such delicate situations. Hard-worn habits had used him to personal monitoring of his patients whenever possible, plus that his energy level was still sufficient to keep him on his pedes for a few more joors.

Wheeljack saw the complications brewing in his friends processors; Ratchets optics made a quick, reflexive jump from the Lancia-former to the prone chassis beside him, and back again. The decision was already made in the medic's CPU even before his coming; the confusion was only a fleeting thing and the resoluteness was soon back on the others faceplates. Sighing in defeat, Wheeljack said, "Alright. But me when you need a lie-down. I'll be in the bridge."

He gave Ratchet's shoulder-plating a brief squeeze as farewell, and left the med-bay. The silence he left behind was not without comfort. Wheeljack's encouraging words were very much welcomed when faced with such bleak possibilities, even more so when he laid his optics upon the unmoving figure upon the berth…

…wait.

It was almost imperceptible at first that Ratchet was inclined to attribute it to an illusion induced by his low-energy state, but his optics did see the shuttle's digits twitched ever so slightly every now and then. The remaining energon cube before him was now all but forgotten; Ratchet rushed towards the monitor and stared at the readouts disbelievingly for a few astroseconds. The increasing Spark-pulses, rising core temperature and CPU activities…all indicated that Skyfire's systems were breaking out of the stasis lock. The vents started with a hiss as they began to draw in air, further preparing the shuttle for the jumpstart.

All the while, Ratchet was forced to be a mere spectator throughout Skyfire's struggle for reactivation. The delicate process was made difficult by the previous injuries he had sustained as his original systems sought compatibility with the repaired parts. The shuttle-former's sensory systems might still be dormant, so it was more for his own comfort that Ratchet seized the flyer's servo and whispered, "Skyfire…Please, wake up."

Skyfire gave a powerful spasm as a wave of electricity washed through the huge chassis before the energy dissipated to the surroundings. His vicinity was suddenly awash in an intense blue flash as the dark optics came online, though the blue glow quickly dimmed to the normal brightness. Quite unexpectedly, the servo Ratchet was holding turned itself palm-up, the digits closing together to reciprocate the medic's hold.

"S…Starscream…?"

It was like a lightning struck right through Ratchet's Spark upon hearing the designation that first escaped the shuttle's lip-components. It petrified his frame even when his instinctive drive shouted for withdrawal; the spell was only broken when the white helm turned his way. Ratchet was suddenly aware of the blue optics focusing upon his person. Reflexively, he tried to pry the digits off his servo only to feel the shuttle reaffirmed his grip. Skyfire's full strength was yet to return after his ordeal, yet Ratchet could not find it in himself to break the contact – any gesture that his presence was desired weakened his resolve.

"Don't go…" His voice was as weak as his grip. It was not exactly unexpected, and nevertheless a relief for the CMO that he could speak at all; his last attempt at speech before the stasis lock had been horrible, the damages having included his vocal cord sliced nearly all the way through.

Instinctively, Ratchet gave a sideway glance at the screen which was still displaying various information on the shuttle's conditions. Everything seemed to be working fine, save only for the acceptable problem of being low on energy – again, expected from a mech recovering from missile-caused damages but still a matter to be attended to. His self-repair systems would need to continue what repairs that Ratchet could not manage – the most delicate wiring around his Spark chamber, for instance – but the process would be sluggish without sufficient energy. His servo responsively groped for the abandoned energon cube.

"Can you get up?" Ratchet showed the cube to the shuttle, the only sustenance he could offer for the time being. He did not think Skyfire could manage as much movement, thinking that tube-feeding through his secondary intake tube was in order but the shuttle began to groan. Several cable-creaking later and Ratchet realized that his patient was struggling to heave himself to sit on the berth.

"Skyfire –"

"I'll manage," He huffed though the assurance he tried to convey lost its potency while he struggled to pull himself by the side-railing of the berth which creaked and squeaked under the pressure. The simple movements were laborious enough to leave his vents sputtering with exhaustion.

Though a flyer was naturally lightweight, Ratchet was not sure his average strength could do anything should Skyfire collapse back onto the berth. Yet, for whatever good it would do, he still put down the cube and helped the larger mech up, his own joint-bearings protesting the strain as he pulled on the larger mech's servo. It took some huffing and puffing but a few astroseconds later, Skyfire was properly sitting up and looking down at the energon cube Ratchet was offering him.

"I can make it to the refuel hall," Skyfire said after a few nanokliks of pondering, gritted dentas forcing his normally smooth voice into hiss as he made to get off from the operation berth.

"Don't be ridiculous," Ratchet huffed impatiently, his usual medic-sense frowning upon the many risks in Skyfire's proposal. "You're going to collapse after two steps out of the med-bay with this level of energy, and I'm being very optimistic here."

He didn't like the notion of it but Ratchet was prepared to physically push down the shuttle back on the operation berth – it might be futile but at least he tried – but it was a resolve made moot once Skyfire let out a sudden groan. He quickly reached back, propping himself on the one arm-strut from collapsing. His free servo groped on the portion of his chassis where he had received the brunt of the missile strike.

Ratchet was upon the shuttle-former before he himself could properly process it. Leaning forward, the medic gently pried the tightly-clasped digits to see the armours beneath. There seemed to be no physical indication of returning damages – Ratchet had made sure to do the repair as carefully and thoroughly as his medical skills allowed – but the grimace etched on Skyfire's faceplates was worrying him.

"…I'm fine, Ratchet…" Skyfire gasped, again failing as miserably as he had been before when trying to convince the medic of his welfare. "It's just a little prickling, that's all."

Ratchet ignored his repeated assurance and activated his built-in scanner for a quick check-up. When he withdrew, the lines of frowns that were on his faceplates before were less visible than they had been before. "It seems that it's only your wires and cables reattaching themselves; your receptors as well. They're just coming online after the damages have been fixed but that doesn't mean you can go about like there's nothing happened. The missiles only narrowly missed your Spark – which I don't have to tell a scientist like you how bad that was."

The surge of worry, mixed with frustration at his patient's stubbornness, made for the bitterness and tension in the ambulance-former's tone. He was exhausted and worried ever since he joined the battles defending the Ark; they grew worse after all the painstaking repairs on the casualties, topped by despair as he watched Skyfire's repaired body remained in comatose even after the fixations. Even a patient mech would have fractured under the strains; Skyfire apparently recognized the hints and subdued himself from making it more difficult for the CMO.

Ratchet, meanwhile, was yet unaware of Skyfire's submissiveness. His processors were in flux from the myriad of emotions coursing through his systems. He reached – more like snatched, really – for the last energon cube and pushed it against the chest-piece insistently, an optic ridge rising as if daring the shuttle to defy him. "Your systems need energy to continue the repairs. Take this."

Skyfire hesitated for an extra nanoklik longer but the look in Ratchet's optics dissuaded him. He took the cube from Ratchet's hand despite his reluctance but after the first careful sip, his restraint came undone. His systems craved for it, unable to stop one gulp after another. Ratchet merely gave a shrewd smirk when the cube was handed back to him all empty.

"I'm sorry," Skyfire muttered shamefully for his accidental tactlessness. "…and thank you?"

Ratchet shrugged. "I would've had you refuel one way or another. I'm glad you don't make it difficult."

Skyfire stared at the Chief Medic with something akin to wary inquisitiveness, perhaps wondering the nature of the alternative ways of feeding that Ratchet had in CPU. His lip-components twitched at the edge of questioning but was quickly swallowed back, figuring out that he was better left not knowing about it. Most of Ratchet's worries faded at his charge's compliance; yet his CPU could not be thoroughly erased of concerns when his vision locked on the subtle signs of Skyfire's still weakened state. The blue optics were not as brilliant as he remembered them; the ventilations were shallow and frequent as if his circuitries did not receive enough cooling air to cope with the strains.

Of course, Ratchet thought to himself. Skyfire's systems were running on low power, trying to conserve as much energy before more could be supplied. One cube is only enough for a minibot; a flyer's going to need more than that. Not to mention a mech THIS size…

Whilst Skyfire relaxed himself to better process the newly-received energon, Ratchet did not bother to ask him the obvious before initiating contact with Wheeljack, whose answer came as soon as the link was established. More energon cube was in order if Skyfire was to recover completely in optimal time span.

::Wheeljack's here. What's up?::

::Mind sending three or four cubes to the med-bay? Skyfire has just been reactivated but he's too low on energy.::

::Sure, no problem. I've just passed the hall anyway. I'll be there in a klik.::

Ratchet conveyed his thanks to the Lancia-former and cut off the link only to find out that Skyfire had given up sitting; the shuttle was back to lying down on the operation berth. His appearance was only marginally better than the way he looked upon reactivation. As worrying as the scant improvement was, touching the digit-tips eased the medic somewhat. The heat he felt was what he ought to feel from a living mech unlike the borderline warmth of one whose Spark hung at the edge of the Well of Sparks which he had he sensed before the reactivation.

"You are going to need extensive rest for the next few orns to help your self-repair systems working. You can still manage non-taxing duties and tasks, though," He said, perhaps with a little more strictness than necessary.

"Alright…"

"Which means no outings for you, especially when it involves flying."

"Ratchet, I'm all audio receptors for you," Skyfire assured, his voice as calculated as if he was trying to convey a particularly severe damage report to glitch-prone Red Alert.

The careful tone as well as the look in his optics snapped Ratchet out of his lingering frustration; for the first time, he truly realized that the flyer was being obedient to his 'advices', having been unfortunately conditioned to fight his patients' usual obstinate insistence concerning their well-being. The Autobots were soldiers hardened through stellar cycles of war that they were inclined to overestimate their durability even when they had one arm-strut missing and a damage that showed right to the internal circuitries.

"Well, that's good," Ratchet amended his tone immediately, hiding apology in his gentled voice. "You'll need more energy before you can be discharged from the med-bay. Wheeljack's on his way here with more cubes."

Skyfire continued to stare at him with the same focus like the Twins who were promised a welding of their skidplates to their hoods should they disobey Ratchet. The optics gazing back at him was making a vornling out of the medic with the complete trust he saw in them; made him want to say more than what his professionalism expected and allowed. He struggled to swallow all that back into the deepest recess of his memory banks, just in time for Wheeljack to make his timely appearance at the med-bay's door – no doubt with a sub-space stocked with energon cubes – and saved Ratchet's dignity before he could make a larger fool out of himself than he already did.

XxXxXxXxXx

There was no sunlight that could reach the Nemesis so the inhabitants relied on their internal chronometers instead for time measurements. Came noontime, as the refreshed Decepticons were already up and very much active, Starscream was only beginning his; his systems whirred online after joors of much-needed recharge. For a few nanokliks, the Seeker felt a distinct reluctance to let the reactivation commenced. He missed recharging in a proper berth in Decepticon-safe territory for a few quartexes already, not to mention that the surface underneath him felt exceptionally comfortable. Yet, duty called – whatever duties that awaited him this orn – and Starscream was still obliged to attend them.

However, as Starscream's optics cleared itself from the darkness, the jet-former registered a strange feeling when he saw the purple ceiling above him. He could not quite put what it was about until he glanced around – and beheld a slightly different environment than he expected. For one, the berth he laid upon was red rather than purple, and larger than he remembered his own had been. A round window was installed next to the berth, with two others at different points in the area for underwater viewing. Additionally, while his rank granted him a privilege of spacious living quarters, the room he was in was twice as massive and more luxuriously furnished. A large shelf, filled with datapads, complemented the working desk and chair at a corner. This unknown environment he was in was partially explained when a figure moved out from behind the datapad-shelf and into the open. The overhead lighting cast gleams on the silver armours of the mech, who looked up from the datapad he was holding when Starscream screeched his designation.

"Megatron?!" Reflexively, the Seeker wanted to scoot back as their optics met, only to be hindered by his still-stiff joints which protested his intended movements. Now, this place made sense to the jet-former: everything about it spoke of the warlord's ownership. This was his private domain and Starscream was right in it. With the realization, his recharge-haze was wiped out completely and was replaced with a flood of memories from last night – parts of which explained the distant prickling deep in his valve. Immediately, warmth spread on his cheek-plating and rendered the metallic surfaces glowing with a faint purple tinge which Starscream desperately tried to hide.

"You took your time, Starscream," Megatron growled as he set the datapad back into the shelf without looking. However, his voice lacked anger, allowing Starscream a little space to relax himself and study the mech as he strode towards the study desk. Megatron appeared somehow different although the Seeker took a nanoklik to realize exactly why. It should have been obvious but his shock had dulled much of Starscream's sensitivity, right up to when Megatron reached for something bucket-shaped on the desk. The fact that it looked suspiciously similar to Megatron's usual helm drew his optics to the leader's head.

What were once smooth surfaces, Megatron adorned a set of four crests on the upper half of his cranial-plating, each one segmented and was almost a Cybertronian foot long. The lights revealed intricate designs carved on their surfaces which vaguely reminded the Seeker of Cybertronian glyphs, set in black background that emphasized the yellow patterning. Starscream gaped at the sight – the crests were a touch of elegance on the otherwise bulky and practical-centric chassis. From afar, it looked as if the gun-former was wearing some ancient crown albeit one with tips that subtly waved with the owner's movements. However, they quickly folded back upon themselves and retreated into their respective slots when Megatron picked up his helmet, setting it neatly upon his head. The helmet locked itself with a soft click and the secret crests were once again hidden from view, something which Starscream felt a distant regret for.

Megatron briefly considered the Fusion Cannon that was also on the desk before apparently deciding against it. Starscream kind of understood the reasoning – the formidable weapon was an overkill in a place where Megatron held absolute dominance; where Starscream's survival flight-or-flee drive was moot. Of course, that did not vanquish Starscream's urge to do just that when he saw the leader's approach. The force of will and the discomfort in his bearings made him stay put, to observe the gun-former more closely before doing anything stupider than those already rampant in his CPU. However, as frightening as the narrow distance between them was, Starscream could not help the urge in his visionary networks to let his optics roamed the entirety of the Decepticon Commander's being; the particular shine on his newly-donned helmet struck the jet-former. It was free of taints now but he had been positive of seeing energon-shedding injuries to his cranial plating last night, a sight worthy of nightmarish materials. His leader had not suffered cranial damages during the battles at the Ark. No, they were evidently self-inflicted; his digits had been covered in his own energon blood, the girth of which roughly the size of the damage-hole in Megatron's helm. What motivated the maiming of his own self was beyond Starscream's calculations, but he was even more clueless whether it would affect his fate now.

"What do you want from me?" Starscream hissed, turning his sense of desperation into a faked anger. That was one stupid thing that he could not really avoid doing, having been more or less ingrained into his protocols after doing it for vorns.

"You DO realize that you are currently in my chamber, lying in my berth, and that it will be wiser to show respect to me?" The lip-components formed a smug smirk when Starscream let out an accidental whimper, further betraying his already transparent anxiety.

Still, Starscream allowed himself to relax fractionally; Megatron's stance spoke not enough indications for violent tendencies. "…And why am I here?"

"Do you WANTto be left in the mess hall in this condition?"

A quick shifting of Megatron's optics brought Starscream's own optics to his crotch-plating –his dented, paint-peeled crotch-plating, splashed distinctly with purple lubricant and silvery transfluid. There were no worrying damages, but the marks would be embarrassing to be displayed in public. Even the most dim-witted mech could guess what had transpired without Starscream attempting to limp away from the place if he had been left there – the vigorous interfacing still left a dull ache in his valve which would have made movements difficult.

"I have my own chamber," Starscream retorted.

"I have better things to do than carry you all the way to your place," Megatron countered, his voice increasingly strife with irritation. Starscream realized that he was risking his leader's welcome with this exchange and promptly shut his vocalizer.

Something odd in that statement, that which Starscream had been struggling to identify, suddenly made itself clear in that brief silence. Megatron had just pretty flat-out stated that he personally brought the Seeker here rather than ordered someone else bring him back to his living quarters. It was very likely that Megatron could not rouse his exhausted soldiers to do the task but it still unreasonably made him happy, feeling as if his welfare was still a concern to the warlord after all.

"Get yourself cleaned up," Megatron said, averting his gaze from lingering on the Seeker. There seemed to be a peculiar avoidance in that gesture which encouraged Starscream's jubilance. The Seeker was careful to keep an appearance of indifference, as tempting as it was to address the fact though, to avoid needlessly angering his leader.

Starscream roused himself from the berth not with little difficulty, being very careful not to exert strains that would worsen his existing damages. It was not a very advisable thing to do but the soreness in his intimate joints proved too much of a trouble when he attempted walking; the override codes he executed into his systems immediately desensitized his neural networks to the pain signals. It was better than having to limp all the way out of here, anyway. He knew it might be probably bad for his existing ache but he still could not stop himself from making his way as fast as he could towards the exit when Megatron unexpectedly said, "The wash-room is the other way."

The silver mech spoke with casualness that belied the extraordinary generosity in that offer. As a supreme leader of the Decepticon, Megatron had access to such luxuries as private washing, done in the solitude of the wash-rack built inside his own living quarters. It was usually a privilege only shared by the highest-ranking individuals, Starscream included, but Megatron having offered his own for Starscream's use was…well, it felt like as if the end of the world was just around the corner. However, the tyrant pointedly ignored Starscream's attempt to gain a confirmation.

Fine then, Starscream thought. It would not be his fault anymore if he somehow misunderstood the reasoning behind the giving of the wash-rack's location and steered himself towards it. He still expected his advance to be stopped when he stood before the entrance to the wash-room, even glancing back at the warlord when he reached for the door-handle, but Megatron merely sat at the edge of his berth and toyed with the control panels built-in into his fore-arm strut. In all appearance, he either lost all interest in the Seeker or completely forgot he was there except for the focusing of his optics at the noise of door being pulled open. That Megatron made no move at all was enough conviction for the Seeker to proceed and shut the door behind him.

Starscream found himself standing in a wash-room easily twice the size of the public one. The open cabinet installed to one of the clean, purple-tiled walls were filled with cleaning tools and substances of varying qualities for every imaginable purpose. It seemed a little peculiar that the Decepticon Commander even had those – but then again, they partly explained why he could manage a polished, well-cared look when appearing in public. All in all, if it had been on Cybertron back before the Great War, this was the kind of wash-room a ruling Senator would have gotten for himself, lacking only personal insignia and lavish decorative carvings. Starscream carefully adjusted the temperature setting on the showering equipment, testing the first few drops with his servos before stepping under the streams of water, having confirmed that it was to his liking. He had made it as hot as he could stand it and the feel of it flowing on his armours and trickling through the seams was unbelievably satisfying. From no washing at all as the Autobot's prisoner, this drastic improvement was not one that Starscream would be inclined to complain.

By all means, he should have been a pile of metal heap waiting for Hook to reassemble him, yet here he was, in Megatron's private wash-room and with the liberty to use it. As exhausted and disoriented as he had been, Starscream's memory files stored perfectly the event of last night which desperately tried to ignore the Pit of – to no avail, of course. He could not pretend ignorance when his new wings remembered the unusually careful touches from the digits originally constructed to swing mining picks and later-adapted to crush Sparks; his receptors tingled at the recollections of caresses from the silver mech. Pit-damned, Starscream even felt energon-warmth spreading on his faceplates when he remembered how close they had been – close enough to warrant a good view on those fang-like denta before Starscream was forced to offline his optics. If this was some kind of a bribe for his obedience, Starscream was reluctant to admit that Megatron had actually came up with an unorthodox yet effective means to do so.

And yet…

Starscream did not hate it. Technically speaking, the Decepticon Commander had enough to his name and prowess to merit a liaison with a Seeker; flyers were incredibly fastidious when it came to their choices in company, even a temporary one. Yet, it had not been technicalities that had laid the ground for his approval in the interface – not even the residual charges from his failed attempts on Skyfire could exactly motivate his doing. The Seeker's wings made a sharp flick of annoyance as the conclusion formed in his processors, flinging water to the sides in sparkling droplets.

This is stupid, Starscream fumed. Having no outlet for his newest emotion, he reached instead for the nearest shampoo bottle and a fresh rag on the shelf. Well, that Rust-bucket DID offer the wash-room; its accessories should come with the package, naturally.

Without much thought in reservations, Starscream poured the content onto one of the fresh cloth. It was enough for ten mechs to wash – and the jet-former used it all on himself, smirking triumphantly as he lathered it all over his chassis.

xxxxx

Starscream appeared from the wash-room a breem later, all shining armours and fragrant scents that made Megatron's optical ridge quirked at the corner when the warlord looked up. No longer fiddling with his own arm-mounted control panels, Megatron was now busy with his Fusion Cannon, his digits checking and re-checking every little detail on the weapon. However, the silver mech's sight was snapped upwards to peer at his Second's coming, blazing with fiery light when Starscream stepped within an arm-strut length – a distance that even Soundwave would step beyond when given a specific permission to do so. It should have enraged the warlord; instead, there was only silence from him, enough motivation for Starscream to prompt, "What do you want me to do now, LordMegatron?"

"Now, you should get lost," Megatron rumbled distractedly, as if considering the jet-former as merely a nuisance. "You're well and clean enough to make public appearance."

"I'll be happy to," Starscream snorted. He would love to take his leave, away from a place where he had no right to be. Yet, he was welded to the spot firmly. Questions that buzzed in his circuitries kept his curiousity elevated; thirsting for answers. "Lord Megatron –"

"Your wings, Starscream. Get them branded with Decepticon symbols before someone shoot you out of the sky."

"As you wish." The lack of attention from the silver mech was frustrating, made even more so when he realized that Megatron was feigning disinterest to encourage his departure. "You're just going to ignore this, aren't you? Just like you did with everything else over the vorns."

That proved sufficient to catch the gun-former's attention. His reactions, however, were unpredictably drastic that Starscream found himself shrieking a bit when Megatron came to his pedes; his full height overwhelmed the Seeker in his shadows. The red optics bore into his own with unconcealed frustration – and suddenly, Starscream was again reminded of the danger possessed by the processors behind those deadly red lenses: the power to peel open the layers within Starscream's CPU and expose his thought-processes to be analysed and decoded as easily as one might read a datapad. Oh, he remembered well the first helpless experience when his thought processes were stripped naked to his leader's scrutiny; felt the potency of it like it was yesterday as a sense of horrible helplessness coursed through his circuitries.

"What are you trying to imply, Seeker?" The low, rolling tone signified just how close Starscream was to having his leader demonstrated the use of his fists…which was an improvement, in some odd, twisted way, especially when Megatron decided to toss away his Fusion Cannon rather than attach it back on his arm-strut. Starscream fought his instinctive drive to kneel before his leader; instead, he steeled himself to meet the angry gaze squarely, stilling his glossa to let the silence spoke what words could hardly tell.

The quietness itself was frightening, unfortunately.

Megatron was fighting between primal urges and logical reasoning. To wreck his Second scarcely after his rescue would be waste of energy and materials but Starscream's behaviours were taking their tolls on his patience. Finally, finally, the uncomfortable stillness was broken when Megatron ground out, restraints making his voice exceptionally hoarse, "Do NOT test me, Starscream."

Megatron was not striking, surprisingly, when his body languages indicated that he would. Megatron rarely exercised his restraints – that he did now was perhaps trivial to other mechs but to Starscream, used to his leader's ways and manners, he knew that this was a significant insight even if largely unconfirmed. Between his curiousity and the jet-former's careful wordlessness, Megatron had indeed decided to see the proceeding rather than halting it altogether.

They continued to stare into each other's optics.

Counting silently the passing astroseconds.

Waiting for the other to act.

Starscream despised the indecisiveness and thus, was the one taking the risky plunge. Megatron had been most certainly overenergized then – the scents of high-grades from his ventilation had been strong enough to register to Starscream's olfactory sensors – but he had also spoken with underlying truth. Right now, the Seeker depended on the possibilities that Megatron recalled his words last night to shield him from the worst of his anger; he kept staring whilst lifting a servo between them, his digits splayed open to demonstrate the lack of weapon. Megatron's optics make a quick flitting to the limb, the irises contracting in alert concentration. The servo hovered between them for a few nanokliks of uncertainty before Starscream decided to just go with it and touched his digits to the edge of Megatron's jaw. The silver chassis jerked; cooling fans kick-started in frenzy, preparing the mech for fight-or-flight decisions. In that few astroseconds of doubts, Starscream could be easily wrestled to the ground as he was to be shoved away. Then, the red-flaring optics dimmed back to normalcy and the tyrant, despite the tension in his joints and on his countenance, endured the given contact.

It was brief but that few nanokliks saw Megatron, tyrannical leader of the Decepticons, yielding to his Second's stroking digits. For Starscream, it was enough.

The jet-former withdrew his servo, feeling as if he had just survived sticking his head into the jaws of an oxide shark. He did not hide his relief just as Megatron was visibly stunned at his own tolerance. At the same time, Starscream could not deny the rush of exhilaration in his neural networks, a pleasantly warm sensation that could have grown into something more if not restrained.

"I'll get the branding done soon." Pit, this was even more uncomfortable than before but in a wholly new way. Megatron replied with a grunt of acknowledgement, more sounds than he expected coming from the mech, considering the surprise he was being caught in.

Starscream left without another word, not trusting his own vocalizer to manage coherent sentence anymore. Megatron was similarly quiet; their ventilations filled the living quarters instead of exchanged words, making for an awkwardly choking environment that Starscream was relieved of only when he stepped beyond the threshold of the chamber and into the hallways. The door slid close behind him with a gentle hiss; the tremulous sound of the lock being engaged unleashed his held-back exhalation. He stared down at his own opened servos, flexing the digits whilst his thoughts turned inwards…and he could not help himself from smiling.

Both of them were completely sober today. Yet, he had touched Megatron – Megatron, for Pit's sake – and suffered no bodily harm for the almost-suicidal daringness.

What's that supposed to mean?

Does that make it –

Does it really?

There was no denying of the…'happening' between them. Starscream was less ambiguous of his own thoughts than he was with what were in Megatron's CPU. There were theories forming in his cranial plating but Starscream was reluctant to believe it as of yet – the histories between them were considerably long and riddled with hostility and occasional grudging acceptance. To think that this might have been of completely opposite nature was…shocking. Still, there was other matter that was less undecided and just as worthy of celebration.

Starscream was free once more.

It had been interesting to note the hints of confusion on the Decepticon Commander's visage. No longer did Megatron answer to his passing thoughts as if they had been spoken out loud. However slight it was, it indicated anonymity of Starscream's thought processes to his leader as if…as if Megatron had lost – or given up – his telepathic ability. To own the sanctuary of his processors solely and absolutely without a silent intruder to disturb the internal peace he so treasured was a euphoric thought, as sweet and powerful as the realization that his touch had not been spurned. It was enough to have to be careful around Soundwave; one more mech capable of CPU-filtering would likely doom him to complete CPU meltdown in a few cycles.

In the distance, the familiar background noises of mechs going about their businesses reached the jet-former's audios, fishing the Seeker out of his own little world and brought to him a sense of longing for the company of the other Decepticons. He had never been quite close with the other soldiers as he was with his Trinemates but they were still Decepticons, sharing common enemies in the Autobots. Starscream took a glance on his either side – at the white, unmarked wings that stood high on his back, reflecting his positive mood. They were beautiful constructions that perfected his elegance – and soon, would be made completed when his faction insignias are branded upon the white surfaces.

Turning on his heel-struts, Starscream directed himself to the med-bay on the lower level. Hook was likely active in there by now, perhaps having worked since morning on other wounded Decepticons – Scrapper as well, if the casualties proved to be exceptional. As he walked through the long, mech-empty corridor, Starscream was suddenly conscious of the subtle prickling of recognizable signatures in his Trine link. Gladly, he opened his line to the twin signals and received a similarly warm welcome from the presences behind them. He could not pinpoint their exact locations though, which caught him by surprise when he saw the two of them appearing from another junction at the end of the corridor.

It was Skywarp who was in the lead. Thundercracker trailed behind him in brisk steps, growing to a jog as his trinemate outrightly ran for Starscream as soon as he spotted their leader, yelling "Screamer!" every once in a while.

"Wait, WAIT!" Skywarp did not seem to have any intention of braking whatsoever, causing instinctive shouts to burst forth from Starscream's vocalizer. "Don't hit me, I'm – "

The resulting crash between the Seekers was not with as much force as expected. Unfortunately, Starscream was still struggling with the aches in his joints and bearings, thus him losing his balance completely as the other Seeker lunged for him. The shock of being barrelled into caused his fail to control; it was inevitable that Starscream groaned out a string of profanities as the soreness spread in his neural networks, directed as much to Skywarp as to Unicron.

"Skywarp, will you – Frag it – Pit, that hurt, you scrap-head!"

Skywarp rolled off his leader with no appearance of remorse whatsoever. Thundercracker was quick to offer Starscream a helping servo, pulling the aching jet-former to his pedes while Skywarp continued to grin nonchalantly.

"It's good to see you're okay!"

Starscream shot the younger Seeker a disbelieving glare at that. "So you say! It's lucky you don't break a cog or two in me!"

"We were just worried," Thundercracker supplied in an effort to soothe his obviously bemused trineleader. Skywarp had never been a fine choice if one was looking for a company that did NOT involve destroying things and pranking other bots in sight. "We just realized that our trine-links registered a few stray signals from you last night. We were recharging so we didn't realize it when it happened…but yeah. It got us wondering."

"I didn't –"

Starscream promptly cut off his sentence, realizing exactly what Thundercracker was talking about. As their trine-links enabled the members to register the statistics of each other, intense emotions could involuntarily trigger signals that the others could detect. If an escapade with the Decepticon Commander did not cause it, nothing else would. Under Thundercracker's careful scrutiny of his faceplates, Starscream assumed that some of the more curious feelings had escaped into the link unattended.

He supposed hiding it from his Trine would not be wise but Starscream was not sure the exact nature of his…relationship to begin telling the two Seekers. "Never mind that. I'm alright now."

"Maybe your systems are glitching? Who knows what the scum Autobots had done…"

"I'm fine, Skywarp. Well, aside from having you knock into me, that is." He earned a sceptical rising of an optic ridge from Thundercracker at this. Starscream sent a reassuring message over their trine-link to stop the growing worry he saw in the blue-and-white Seeker.

"Fine, I suppose. But we should refuel – you're registering a low reading on energon level," Thundercracker pointed out just as a warning message about the exact matter scrolled before Starscream's optics.

Starscream spent a few astroseconds in pondering – refuelling would not take too much time anyway and Hook might be having his break as well – before he opened his mouth to agree. However, his agreement, evident in his processors and clear to his Trinemember's reception, prompted Skywarp to cut him off:

"Great! I'll go and save us seats!"

With that, the Seeker activated his warp-gate projector and opened himself a portal. The black-and-purple chassis was gone in a flash before any of his Trinemates could say a thing or two about it.

"…Well, at least we're guaranteed a place," Starscream lifted his shoulder-plates in a relenting shrug. That sudden departure was just so Skywarp-ish anyway that he should have seen it coming from megamiles away.

Similarly, Thundercracker found it useless to comment on the jet-former's impulsiveness or try to change his ways. He started down the corridor to the mess hall with Starscream in tow, the latter being willing to submit the lead to the underling Seeker for once when his empty fuel tank began to distract his sense of direction. After all, it was good to just lay back and absorb the familiar environments inside the Nemesis after what felt like forever being surrounded by the sickeningly cheerful orange of the Ark's interiors.