"O - Optimus - Prime."
The words were high-pitched and barely audible, as though forced out of a shattered vocalizer, squealing in a register too high.
Optimus recognized the voice. It was piercingly high most of the time anyway, but usually less staticky. And far louder. Clearly, the speaker's vocal apparatus had been severely damaged.
Optimus suspected he knew who had damaged it. His engine rumbled in distaste. This was not the kind of thing he ought to get himself embroiled in.
"Help me," the broken voice wailed. Sighing, Optimus turned, to find himself staring at exactly what he'd expected and exactly what he wanted least to see.
"Starscream," he murmured, his optics widening as they studied the Seeker's mangled frame.
Most of Starscream's cockpit glass was missing, and what little remained was cracked and jagged. The chest plates beneath had been twisted so badly they barely met over the Seeker's spark. His wings were torn nearly out of their mounts, and energon - some of it sticky and old and barely even glowing - stained the joints where they met his back.
His neck was also damaged, the cabling sparking and torn. Optimus could see that the vocalizer nestled within it was also dented.
The energon roiled in Optimus's tanks. Willing himself to calm down, he ran some quick diagnostic calculations. The damage was bad, yes, but it was nothing the Seeker wouldn't survive.
Which probably meant that the one who'd done it had doled out the damage carefully.
That thought only further sickened Optimus. "Who did this?" he asked, his optics flaring angry blue.
"Who do you think?" Starscream shot back, twitching his wings and then screeching when the movement caused him pain.
Don't get involved, the Prime told himself. Decepticons did things differently from Autobots. As bad as this looked, it was probably no worse than anything Starscream endured on a regular basis.
Still, that plaintive voice a moment ago, pleading for his help, echoed in his audio receptors. What kind of Autobot was he if he wrote that off as "how Decepticons did things?"
"Megatron," he answered, hissing the word. Starscream's optics gleamed.
"Yes. He - he would have done worse. I fled. On foot, because I can't even use my wings -"
The pout the Seeker turned on him was clearly overwrought. Logic, and long vorns of experience with Starscream and his endless petty manipulations, told Optimus that Starscream was clearly after more than reassurance or repairs.
But did that make all of this an act? Starscream was a Seeker, built for the skies. Having to run anywhere rather than fly would surely be humiliating for him. Especially if he were reduced to such a state from the violence his leader called discipline.
"I can't go back now," Starscream was saying. "Not when they all saw me like -"
Optimus rumbled again, deep in his chassis. Sometimes he almost respected Megatron... and sometimes things like this happened, and he wondered what he could ever have admired about his enemy.
"What do you need?" he heard himself say.
Starscream's faceplates twisted into a dark, secret smile. Optimus hoped fervently that he was doing the right thing.
Ratchet had told him that the repairs were simple. As he'd suspected, the damage had been extensive but not serious. It appeared that vorns of scuffling with Starscream had given his archenemy an appalling sort of finesse.
Starscream was, therefore, in fine form already. Ratchet was keeping the Seeker in a small room in the medbay, one usually reserved for those who were under quarantine. Both he and Optimus agreed that, however well-behaved Starscream was acting now, there was absolutely no sense in giving him the run of the Autobot medbay.
Seeing Prime approach, the Seeker twitched his freshly repaired wings. They were polished to such a high sheen that the glare stung the Autobot's optics.
He chuckled at the obvious display. Then again, what else did the vain Seeker have to do right now besides polish himself over and over?
Optimus tapped the panel to disengage the force field, stepped into Starscream's room, and hastily re-enabled it, his optics never leaving the Seeker.
"You seem in high spirits," he said.
Starscream gave him a winning smile, the kind that had him checking the corners of the room for nefarious devices.
"Oh, I am," the Seeker answered, arching his back.
"Those repairs barely hurt," he said, sounding surprised. Then, suddenly, his optics widened, and he scooted to one side of the berth, gesturing to Optimus to sit down.
Warily, the Autobot did so. "I'm glad to hear you're feeling better," he began.
Starscream grinned again, his dark faceplates configuring themselves into something between a smirk and a smile.
"And we don't believe repairs should hurt, any more than they have to." He stared intensely at the Seeker. "We don't believe anything should hurt any more than it has to."
"But it -" Starscream flicked his wings again, his optics narrowing.
"Oh, slag it, I'm so sick of it all!" he howled suddenly, his voice high and grating, making feedback ring in Optimus's audio receptors.
His faceplates shifted again, this time twisting into a deep frown. Watching it, Optimus felt suddenly dizzy. He found himself thinking of the time Megatron had shot out his equilibrium sensors. He'd felt sure every step he took would land him flat on his faceplates.
Starscream was up to something. That much was obvious. But Optimus had seen the damage Megatron had done. And it was far from the first time Megatron had done that, and certainly wouldn't be the last.
"Starscream," Optimus tried again. "What Megatron does to you - I - I will never understand it. I believe that it is wrong."
The Seeker huffed, his optics flaring. His faceplates shifted again, this time into a nasty little smile that Optimus knew well. "An Autobot with some sense. I never thought I'd see the day."
Optimus couldn't repress a grin of his own. That sounded like the Starscream he knew. "I'm glad we've found some common ground."
Then he stopped laughing and stood up. The Seeker squealed, apparently annoyed that Optimus wasn't sitting with him any longer. Optimus ignored him and moved to stand in front of him.
The Seeker glared up at Optimus, his optics bright with anger.
Then, just as suddenly, he shivered, a violent tremor wracking his frame. His vocalizer emitted a small, shrill whimper.
Optimus's optics widened, confused. What had he done? Then it hit him: He was towering over the Seeker, his shadow falling directly over the other mech's small frame.
He vented air nervously. He hadn't meant to loom, not when Starscream was fresh from an obviously unpleasant discipline session with Megatron. But he did need to get his point across, and to do that he had to be clear.
"Listen, Starscream. My team and I were glad to repair you. But now what? You're our enemy, and however impressed you are with our medical facilities I'm not at all convinced you wouldn't blast us all into orbit if you got the opportunity. I can't in good conscience allow you to return to the Decepticons now. Both because of that and because you'd be going right back to the situation you asked me to help you out of."
Starscream's smile didn't waver. "Oh, I'm a prisoner." His wings twitched again, a nervous gesture, and Optimus couldn't help but notice how the harsh glare of the medbay lights glinted off them. "You don't have to remind me of that just because your medic gave me some polish to play with."
"But why? Why turn yourself in to us? Ratchet tells me the damage was negligible."
Starscream's turbines spun. "Because I hate him."
Optimus leaned down to stare him in the optics. Not that it would help. His logic circuits were nearly overheating reminding him that every third thing Starscream said was a lie already.
"Do you? Most of us here believe that you don't hate Megatron at all. That -"
"- that I provoke him," Starscream finished for him. "That I, fastest flyer on Cybertron or Earth or anywhere else in this or any other galaxy, distinguished scientist and Air Commander of the Decepticons, want a pompous, petty, rusting old fool to - to -" he cycled a heavy pant - "to grab me and throw me down like - like I'm nothing, like I - belong to him -"
Optimus could hear the Seeker's cooling fans kick on as his tirade grew louder, whirring in time with the words. Starscream was shrieking now, his words coming so fast and loud Optimus could no longer make most of them out.
He interrupted, his spark lurching, not wanting to hear any more of it. "Then you really are so unhappy that you'd rather be imprisoned here than go back?"
Starscream went immediately silent, regarding the Autobot out of bright, slitted optics. "No."
Optimus felt his engine stall. "Then what are you - ?"
"I know I'll have to go back eventually. Just like you know you can't keep me in here forever. Either I'll break out of here, or Megatron will come for me. We both know that."
It was true. The Autobots had imprisoned Starscream countless times over the long vorns of their war, and he never remained in their brig for long. Still, it was in no way politic to admit that.
"Then what do you want, Starscream?"
The Seeker's faceplates rearranged themselves into their customary smirk. Optimus stared, fascinated in spite of himself.
"Oh, there's only one thing I want right now, Prime," Starscream answered, leaning in so that his face nearly brushed the Autobot's battlemask and licking his lips.
His cooling fans roared again. "You."
Optimus's engine stalled again. He stared at Starscream, wondering if he should reset his processor. This whole thing was so strange he must be glitching.
He cut power to his optics and then restored it, but when his vision refocused the Seeker's dark face was still there, his lip plates parted and gleaming, his optics wide.
Optimus knew Starscream was attractive, of course. Seekers were highly prized as berthmates among Decepticons for their lithe, aerodynamic frames and the sensitivity of their thin, sensor-rich plating. Adventurous Autobots also bragged about their escapades with Seekers before the war, or joked about how fun it might be to frag them into defecting.
And Starscream was, as common opinion went, the most alluring of them all. But Optimus had never found the Air Commander beautiful. Not with his good looks marred by the cruel gleam in his optics and his perpetual, mean-spirited smirk.
But now those things were gone. Starscream was sitting right in front of him, his optics wide and glistening, his mouth parted in eagerness rather than twisted in derision. The sight of him sent an electric charge down the Prime's backstrut.
"Starscream, I -"
"Shh," the Seeker cooed, reaching up to wrap his arms over Optimus's broad back. His slim fingers found a seam there and slid down it, gliding, more gentle than Optimus could ever have imagined Starscream capable of, and he shivered, his spark whirling in his chest.
"Starscream," he tried again, "why - ?"
Then Starscream did smirk. Optimus froze, mentally readying himself for the cutting barb he'd expected since he'd walked in.
But Starscream only repeated Optimus's question to him, his voice gently mocking, as though correcting a beloved friend.
"Why? Why not? Because I'm bored. Because I'm tired. Because -" His hand moved on the Autobot's back again, and Optimus felt himself relax into it, his cooling fans roaring in the quiet room. Starscream chuckled, high and loud.
"- because the only way I've had this, it's always hurt. You Autobots always go on about that. About how you do it differently, and that makes you better than we are." He scowled, his faceplates curling into a disgusted expression he couldn't quite smooth away.
Then he stared directly into Optimus's optics, his grin spreading and his wings twitching, as though he'd thought of the perfect thing to say and couldn't contain his glee at his own cleverness.
"Maybe I'm tired of Megatron pushing me around." The Seeker's optics grew wide again. "Maybe I want to see what the fuss is all about."
Optimus gasped, the kind of sound no leader should make, and Starscream laughed at it, but there was nothing he could do to help that now.
He studied Starscream's dark face, his neck, his shoulders and the vents there, his wings, the glass over his cockpit. "Do you really mean that, Starscream?"
He winced as soon as the words escaped his vocalizer, glad that his battlemask hid his expression. Everyone in the Autobot army knew that asking Starscream whether he was lying meant asking for disaster.
But if Starscream really meant it, if there was some chance that for once in his life the Seeker was actually telling the truth, could he really afford to pass up this chance? If Starscream really was asking what it was like to merge sparks without fear or force or pain, could he really refuse? Could he really send the Decepticon back into the world he knew, refusing to give him even the faintest hint of an alternative to his leader's cruelty?
Could he live with himself, knowing he'd passed up that chance?
"You're an idiot, Optimus Prime," Starscream snapped.
"I probably am," Optimus agreed, his voice soft. "But if this is really what you want, I will give it to you."
Starscream squealed, the sort of sound that Optimus had heard immature humans make when they got something they wanted. He slid his hands free from of Optimus's frame.
Gently, Optimus pushed the Seeker down onto the berth.
His spark lurching half with desire and half with a knot of misgivings he couldn't quite banish, Optimus retracted his faceplate and kissed Starscream's dark lips. Starscream wrapped his hand around Optimus's helm, pressing their faceplates together and opening his mouth greedily.
Their chest plates touched as Optimus leaned down to deepen the kiss, and the heat he felt there was enough to make the Autobot dizzy, his equilibrium sensors powerless to counter the wave of vertigo.
Starscream chuckled, not entirely kindly, and wrapped his hands around Optimus's back again, digging into the plating there more forcefully than before. Optimus might have said that the touch hurt, if not for the force of the desire behind it.
Besides, Starscream had said himself that that was all he knew. He might even have meant it kindly, unlikely as that seemed. And Optimus was here, at his own request, to teach him better.
He slid his hands over Starscream's wings, ghosting them over the edges, as lightly as he could. Beneath him, Starscream arched his back and gasped, making their chests grind together again with a bright, unbearable burning. Encouraged, he stroked more of Starscream's wings, his engine rumbling as his fingers traced the seams of the thin plating.
He thought suddenly of Megatron, of the thousands upon thousands of times that he'd seen and heard the Decepticon leader's fists drive into Starscream's wings. How could the Seeker bear it when his plating was so thin?
He could hear the click of Starscream's cockpit canopy as it slowly began to slide aside, exposing the plating protecting the Seeker's spark.
"No," he whispered into the Seeker's audio receptor. "Not yet."
Starscream obeyed, his cockpit askew, the plating beneath half exposed. Optimus traced a line of kisses down Starscream's neck cabling and shoulder and then one of his wings.
Starscream's hands tightened on his back again, scratching the plating there. Optimus flinched, but his spark responded anyway, whirling faster and faster in his chest.
"More," Starscream panted, a high keen of irritation. Optimus answered it the best way he knew, laving hungrily at the wing beneath him. Primus, Starscream was eager, in a way that Optimus had never seen before.
And Starscream's touch was rough but skilled, now finding the sensitive transformation seams in his shoulders and back, now digging shamelessly into the joints where his legs met his aft, now petting and pinching the cabling there. Silver jolts of pleasure sped through the Autobot's systems.
I can see why Megatron likes you so much, he thought, his spark pulsing hard. His chest plates cracked open in spite of themselves, the blue light of his spark showing in the seam.
His partner cooed, delighted.
"Now you," he murmured, lifting his face from Starscream's wing.
The Seeker huffed, his optics narrowing, and then grinned. "Well, if that's all you have for me."
Optimus watched, enthralled, as Starscream's cockpit shifted again. Then the Seeker's chest plates flew apart with a loud clang.
The red orb within his spark chamber whirled madly, tendrils of bright energy lashing out from it and burying themselves in Optimus's chest plating, blindly seeking his spark.
Optimus stared at Starscream's spark, mesmerized by its whirling. Was he really about to merge with that, about to connect his very consciousness itself with the seething flame below him?
Starscream saw his hesitation and grinned, arching his back and pressing his chest closer. "I want you," he whispered, wrapping his hand around Optimus's head again and drawing him into another deep kiss.
The Autobot's chest plates thudded apart.
Primus, he thought, energy racing through his circuits to collect in his spark. Let me get through to him. Please.
Then he sent the bolt of energy speeding into Starscream. The bright red furnace below him opened and opened, drawing him in so greedily Optimus wondered for one dizzying moment if Starscream would tear his entire spark free of his chest and devour it.
Then the emotions hit him.
First, desire, an endless crackling cycle of want that left his processor skipping and his logic circuits close to overheating. He had never known such hunger, blind and unreasoning and desperate, and it raced through him, electrifying his every circuit, fervid and wonderful and more frightening than anything he'd ever felt before.
This isn't me.
He roared, a noise he'd never heard himself make anywhere but on the battlefield, and sent another bolt of energy into Starscream, feeling a sudden and terrible satisfaction as the Seeker shuddered violently beneath him and wailed, the piercing cry stinging his audio receptors.
What am I doing?
Cycling heavy pants through his intakes, he forced himself to calm down. Relief flooded his processor as he felt the energy linking himself to the Seeker becoming warm and light and welcoming.
Starscream snarled, and the derision hit him.
It would have been better, infinitely better, if the Seeker had opened his mouth and let fly with a litany of insults, the way he did with Megatron. You gullible, sentimental fool. You worthless oaf. You disgusting, wretched weakling. I thought even you would know better than to trust me.
Instead he felt it, felt it all, deep within his affect centers as though the scorn were his own, every part of his emotion arrays alight with a hatred he could never have imagined before, much less ever felt. He twitched, nauseated, wondering in horror whether he would purge his tanks right here in front of Starscream.
What? he thought, shuttering his optics, not wanting to see any of what was happening. If you loathe me so much, how could you want this?
And on the heels of that animosity, a new wave of desire, searing his every circuit until he wondered whether he might melt down alive. Under its influence, he moaned, despising himself.
His optics irised open and he could see Starscream smirk. Then the Seeker laughed, his amusement bubbling through the bond, bright and effervescent.
"You meant only to make a fool of me," Optimus said, reeling, his battlemask sliding over his face, a futile attempt at a shield. He arched his back, willing his energy back into himself, trying to end their connection.
"Oh, you can't leave now," Starscream hissed, grabbing him with deceptively strong arms and pulling him back down. "I haven't overloaded yet."
He pressed his chest to the Autobot's, grinding their sparks together.
Agony flooded through Optimus, pain powerful enough that his processor blanked entirely and he froze, locked together with Starscream in a horrible parody of bonding.
He could feel Starscream's pain, too, and hear the Seeker's shriek of agony, a second burst of torment tearing through him.
He was willing to inflict that on himself just to hurt me? Optimus marveled, horrified.
Then Starscream's overload hit him, hot on the heels of the pain, and he knew the truth.
The others were right.
White light tore through him, speeding through his every circuit, every part of him awake and alive and horribly, horribly cognizant of everything that was happening.
Starscream laughed, and the sound echoed through his audios and then through the bond, over and over, inescapable.
Feeling a familiar warmth, he gasped in protest, but Starscream was still holding on, pressing them together, and his own overload burst through him, a bright nova of betrayal.
The voice over the comm link was oddly subdued. "Go ahead, Jazz," Optimus answered, sighing.
"Bucket Head just showed up. At our doorstep. With his entire army. And they look madder'n a mess of razor snakes."
Optimus risked a sidelong glance at Starscream, who'd closed up his chest plates and was sitting, the picture of calm, on the edge of the berth.
"I'll be there in a moment," he answered, glad for something to distract him from this little disaster. Even if it was a bigger disaster in the making.
"You may not need to do that. He's commin' us. Says he's gotta talk to you."
Starscream's wings twitched.
Optimus buried his face in his hands for a moment, but quickly straightened up again. Better not to give Starscream more to laugh about. "Put him through."
"Prime," came his nemesis's voice, low and deadly. "I believe you have something that belongs to me."
"Starscream asked us for repairs, and for asylum while we carried them out," Optimus answered, feeling some of his confidence return. "We gave them to him. That's all."
A dark laugh answered him. Beside him, he could see Starscream's wings twitch again, faster. "Then obviously you will return him to me immediately."
"Believe me, I have no interest in keeping him here, Megatron."
The Decepticon leader only laughed louder. "Causing trouble for you too, then?"
Optimus hesitated, his spark seizing. As awful as Starscream's little prank had been, returning him meant sending him right back into the situation he'd hoped to protect him from.
And once Megatron found out what exactly Starscream had been doing, he'd no doubt brutalize him worse than usual.
What could he do? Wise though he tried to be, right now he was tired and confused and exhausted and the answer eluded him. Worse, he could still feel the ghost of Starscream's disdain, a dark tendril of poison still curling through his spark.
A sound cut through his ruminations, a high, repetitive noise that rang in his processor and made thinking impossible.
It can't be, he thought, even as he recognized the glee in that sound, a glee that had become unmistakable to him. A glee he knew like he knew himself, however much he hated it.
Starscream was giggling.
And he was doing it loudly, his head thrown back in reckless abandon, his laughter louder even than Optimus's own voice.
Optimus glared at Starscream.
Starscream put a hand to his mouth in an exaggerated gesture of embarrassment.
Then he giggled again, louder, staring directly at Optimus. There was no way Megatron could fail to hear it, even over the comm.
"Ironhide and Jazz will bring Starscream out now," Optimus said finally, his voice tight.