Unfortunately Clumsy Peg is no longer with us- whilst I hastily add she is very much alive, more accurately she is no longer writing with me. I hope this affects the quality and your enjoyment of the fic in no way!

We do however both heartily thank you reviewing anons, your feedback is immensely appreciated- despite our despair that we can't message you back.

And to Lone Wolf: There were no plans for Carly to be involved, but now you mention her I see no reason that she should be safe! Likely she will pop up soon enough once our main Autobots and humans are established.

Unusually for me, I do not promise a happy ending. What I do promise is that with your blessings, I will continue to write this until one is reached. Ratings may go up in later chapters, and naturally I don't own Transformers in any way.

The strong metallic coils wrapped themselves around each of his limbs and torso, securing him strongly to the table; Optimus let out a low rumble of distaste and pulled at his bonds as Shockwave approached, but there was no leverage.

'If you were any kind of mech you would loose these and fight me,' Prime snapped, continuing to fruitlessly strain. 'This is cowardly.'

The other Cybertronian was watching with unsettling interest; so focused was he that the commander wasn't even sure if he'd heard. The silence extended; Optimus was about to resign himself to whatever awaited him when the Decepticon finally spoke. 'You squandered the opportunity to defeat me. You were not skilled enough.'

'If you were confident in my lack of aptitude then you would not hesitate to release and prove it to me,' Optimus said. 'Logical, is it not?'

'It is illogical to release a captive,' the mech said. 'Even one as radical and laughable as you.'

'It is illogical that I would yield to you.'

Amused, Shockwave let out a brief outward ventilation. 'The opposite, I assure you. Now, enough chatter. I have a hypothesis,' he informed, hand coming to rest on Optimus' shoulder. 'Would you like to hear it?'

Prime refused to reply and tried to ignore his revulsion at the contact.

'Of course you would,' the silver mech continued. 'After all, you are the experiment. Firstly, I believe that you have never been tortured before. You see, we could never reach you behind all those mechs you hid behind- yet now I finally have you.'

Optimus felt a cold shiver dive and shudder through his systems, though he managed to keep any expression from forming bar distaste.

'Do not worry,' Shockwave said with sickening jubilance, and dropped his voice to a mere whisper right into the other's audio receptor. 'I do not intend to torture you. I will train you.'

'Train?' Prime repeated despite his earlier conviction to remain silent. 'Train? Who do you think you are, you vile-'
'Do you not see your master before you?'

'I recognise no such thing,' the flamed mech snarled. 'I am an Autobot.'

'And as such you will acknowledge your Decepticon superiors. Your first lesson, Optimus, heed it well: Lord Megatron may relish conversing with you, but I do not.'

'The feeling is mutual.'

'Defiance is pointless,' the silver mech informed. 'You will be broken, it is but a matter of time. And we have all the time left in eternity.'

Optimus snorted scornfully. 'We shall see.'

'We absolutely shall,' Shockwave continued. 'Well, I shall. I doubt you will be able to see anything substantial before long. In fact, I am quite looking forward to you.'

'But- you aren't capable of emotion,' he accused near disbelievingly, unable to comprehend the palpable excitement radiating from the Decepticon.

'Incorrect. Above most irrelevant feelings, certainly, but I have anticipated this for a long time.' Shockwave paused for a moment, perhaps realising he was on a tangent and correcting himself immediately. 'Now, I would ask whether you will yield directly and save yourself from your impending anguish, but I suppose you will valiantly decline.'

'Submit to what?' Optimus demanded, not because he was contemplating submission but more that he didn't even know what the Decepticons truly wanted of him.

'To Decepticon rule,' Shockwave claimed grandly. 'To acknowledge Megatron as your lord-'

His low rumbling growl cut the other mech off. 'Never.'

'Perhaps you cannot see that you are already his servant,' Shockwave said. 'All that is required of you is to succumb.'

'Then I may dissatisfy you,' Prime replied with strong resolution. 'Beings should not be segregated into either servants or masters, and regardless, nor do all servants truly serve! Can you say that you follow Megatron without question?'

'I say I will do his bidding,' the Decepticon answered, 'Which is to break you down. Enough of that. We'll start off as we mean to go on, shall we-? Or would you prefer a warm-up? Your choice, Optimus. I await it... eagerly.'

One could not reason with that impassive face; the defiant Autobot stared back silently, unwilling to engage with the enemy in any desired way. Then sudden movement under his trapped body: the table itself was reacting to some sort of unspoken command, and something vibrated in the middle of his back. He could not move anyway, but mentally froze as he realised it was directly -forebodingly- beneath his Spark.

Shockwave was speaking once more. 'Anxiety is unnecessary. Whilst the process does not hurt it will be lengthy, but I promise you I will be here every moment. Move your armour.'

Optimus snarled at him and tried to arch himself away from the surface to no avail; something sharp and circular gnawed at his armour, a hideous sensation. It was a fleeting graze though, a warning.

'If you do not obey it will saw into you.'

It will saw into him anyway. The only difference was that his armour would prevent protoform damage for slightly longer. The thought of a neat hole through his back which exposed his Spark was vile, dangerous, but he could not comply.

The blades span but remained otherwise still: why the delay? Did Shockwave think he could be broken through apprehension alone?

The worst part of this was his helpless inability to move, and as the tension rose second by second, Optimus became increasingly aware of it. Shockwave was still watching. What was wrong with him? And what was the purpose of this?

Agony: Prime let out a brief roar of shock as the saw manoeuvred suddenly: he'd braced himself as much as he could for pain, but he'd not expected it to dive past- under- his armour straight into his softer plating.

Immediately something cold worms its way through his back, through the hole being created that very moment, and a circular rim attaches itself to him. No, not just one; more slide into his body and latch onto various systems, invading his body with terrible disregard.

And then the draining begins. He can feel his life being sucked greedily out of him, being sapped away, stolen.

Surprisingly Shockwave had not lied: the draining did not hurt. It felt nauseating, uncomfortable and wrong- repulsed him incessantly- but it did not hurt. What hurt was the unquenchable saw carving into his body, hacking into and lacerating through the layers of delicate and stronger metal alike and continuing to do so needlessly despite having already created a path.

And it is only then, in all of Optimus' years of life, that he realises that there is more than one type of physical pain. Injuries sustained in battle are one thing; pain in a battle does not feel as though it lasts forever. The perpetrator can be ended, the wound can be healed (Ratchet fixes everything, you see, mends the physical, soothes the mental). Pain from torture does not end because its sole purpose is to break you, humiliate you, and if you are strong enough to defy, it does not truly matter as your battered ruined dignity cannot prevent you becoming mere shattered remnants of yourself.

(You cannot be a hero in the face of pain.) Optimus doesn't think he can anyway, but he tells himself one more minute, he can endure just one more minute, though he knows he has to be stronger than that. His friends and allies cannot have died and suffered all these long years just for him to succumb because he is weak.

They have not died in vain, he tells himself, and to yield now is to devalue all they have done. If he sets himself just one more minute at a time, he can almost pretend to himself that there will be an end-

'Suffer in despair and suffer alone,' Shockwave said, cold voice blurrily cutting through the anguish, 'For none will save you.'

As Optimus' immobile body involuntarily tries to writhe and fails–an attempt to escape, an attempt to do anything to negate the pain- there is a blinding moment of agony before a second of clarity, and he remembers that he does not suffer alone because he is not the only Autobot in their cruel clutches. And oh, how he has failed his human friends, because they are prepared for this even less than he. Are they already dead? Megatron has Sam, dear gods-

With sinking Spark he abruptly grasps that it is not just those humans close to him who will undergo torment but their whole species. Persecution, torment, death- they are all doomed to live and die as Decepticons decree.

Prime lets out a low cry of despair as he torments himself far more than Shockwave is currently capable of.

What has he done?

Lennox had naturally never liked a Decepticon, but Starscream certainly wasn't one he'd ever looked forward to facing on the battlefield. He personally had never come literally face to face with the alien like the ever-unfortunate Sam had, but as he was about to, it seemed prudent that he wise up, and fast.

Starscream had just dropped him rather carelessly onto something hard; the human had landed soundly and ungainly on his back. Gritting his teeth against the flash of pain, Lennox hastily rolled onto his side before rising to his full height. Not that he felt very tall, but it was far better than cowering before the Decepticon. That he wouldn't do. Starscream stood a short distance away, watching him closely but for now at least, remaining still.

The blank Lennox was drawing on the alien was troubling: he couldn't remember any of his soldiers in debrief commenting on an encounter. They'd surely know who he was, what he looked like; the Autobots had given their human allies detailed intelligence on any Decepticons sighted on Earth. Possibilities started to present themselves:

One: His soldiers had been too preoccupied with trying to stay alive and shooting to recognise anyone.

Two: Starscream only fought Autobots and didn't waste his time with humans.

Three: No one had survived an encounter with Starscream.

None of these were promising.

The Autobots had feared the Air Commander, the human knew that much- or if not feared then certainly respected something about him.

The soldier hastily summoned all he knew about the mech. It was quite likely all the information in the world wouldn't save him, but if there was a possibility he could use anything he might as well try, or at the very least be able to anticipate what he was now dealing with.

F-22. Fast then, he had to be. Huge too (though that much was obvious and unhelpful. Stupid. Think, Will, think.) High-ranking: had to be smart and powerful. Personality came next as he remembered Starscream-related activity. Slippery- if he was thinking rightly, that's what Starscream was- with far too much firepower; even if you somehow managed to corner him he'd find a way out. Devious was another word for him, liked convoluted schemes. When he'd been in charge of the Decepticons their actions had, in a sense, been subtler, harder to predict. A proper Decepticon, then, not a mindless grunt.

Great, so he had no clue what was coming, and despite currently being out of the alien's grasp, it wasn't even like he could escape: the smooth surface he stood on was large but steep drops surrounded each edge.

'So, insect,' Starscream suddenly said, and Lennox's attention snapped back to him. 'What might your name be? I am sure you have one, most of you do.'

The human narrowed his eyes and kept his mouth shut. Starscream could go to hell-

'Ah, wait! William Lennox, isn't it! Colonel, too. My, what a brave toy soldier you must be.'

Lennox did not like the way Starscream said his name at all. It was downright disturbing: the first syllable of his name and the last of his surname were hissed and overly extended.

'How rude of me, have I not introduced myself?'

(Oh god, did he ever stop talking?)

'Surely you have heard of me,' Starscream continued. 'After all, I am one of the most formidable w-'

'Sorry,' Lennox said as dismissively as he could, 'No idea. Only know about Decepticons the Autobots deemed important for us to know about.'

There is a moment of dangerous silence. 'You play a very treacherous game, Colonel. Are you quite certain you wish to proceed?'

'Do I have a choice?'

Starscream's jaws snapped together, though there was no telling his sentiment. There was actually something animalistic about him, Lennox thought abstractedly. Something-

'It is very interesting,' the alien said unexpectedly, 'That you ran to help the boy. What instinct was that beside suicidal?'

'Humans care for each other,' Lennox replied bluntly. 'Wouldn't expect you to understand.'

'I don't understand stupidity,' the Decepticon responded airily before a breathy cackle slithered out of him. 'Do you understand humour, insect? I found it unbearably funny that the boy thought he could attack me and succeed!'

Starscream's face wasn't overly human like some of the Autobots' were, but Lennox could still see him sporting a delirious grin. It sickened him. Sam had been foolish and rash- there was no denying it- but god knew the young man didn't deserve whatever Megatron was going to serve him.

Movement: whilst he'd been distracted by concern for Sam, Starscream had adjusted himself slightly, edged closer to the surface Lennox was on and then oddly reached towards it, not him. The human watched warily, worriedly, but the huge hand stopped quite a distance away. A pause. Then Starscream's deadly talons tip-tapped on the surface with a sharp clicking sound, rippling them slowly as though fingering the invisible keys of a huge musical instrument whilst they began to inch closer to him, each short clack somehow more menacing than the last.

'Can you feel your little heart increase its pace?' the Decepticon asked. 'Can you feel the terror driving it?'

He wouldn't listen. He wouldn't listen! Because words couldn't hurt, he knew that much (but they could certainly increase fear).

'You cannot stop hearing any more than you can stop me speaking,' Starscream hissed.

How did he know? Lennox firmly kept his mouth shut. Give him nothing. Give him-

'Because I can hear your panic,' Starscream informed. 'I hear each beat of your tell-tale heart as it races away- crooning to me, betraying that stern little boy soldier facade you have constructed. For that is all you are, human, another mere boy, a speck of worthless existence.'

Expendable, that's what he was. It wouldn't matter too much if he died, the world didn't depend on him. There would be another soldier to take his place, maybe- but his heart quavered at the thought- another love for Sarah, a new daddy for Annabelle; in the grander scheme he was nothing. He could die here and nobody would know. (But life would go on.) If he was going to die (and he would, there was no way out of this: no cavalry, no Ironhide- the soldier blinks harshly at this; he cannot cry now), he firmly reminded himself there was nothing he would tell the Decepticon. Nothing would be gained, no matter-

'I hope you do not think that you could keep any secrets from me,' Starscream's light hissing continued as he cocked his helm slightly. 'That is if I want any information from you. Do you think that there is anything ulterior to your impending pain than my own satisfaction? Perhaps, if it will make you feel better, I can think of some questions that you may bravely and stupidly defy.'

Lennox spat at him; though it failed to make contact, it still felt better than doing nothing.

'I will break your pretence brick by clumsy brick,' the Air Commander said calmly, 'for your resolve is nothing, mortal. And unless I find another purpose for you, then you will die. You will experience torment at my mighty hand and you shall suffer until your fast-approaching end.'

'Did I have to get stuck with the egotist?' Lennox demanded despite his fear (really, who described their own hand as mighty?).

'Oh I do admire your resolve,' the Air Commander added suddenly. 'Such bravery is futile; why do you persist?'

'I'm gonna die,' Lennox replied. 'I'm not gonna betray my friends as I go.'

Starscream let out a brief shriek of laughter. 'Friends! Naive, aren't you- friends cannot be made out of insects! The Autobots tolerate you because of both their incapability to obliterate worthless life and their need for a planet. They have been at the game of deception as long as the Decepticons, child, and they are as accomplished as we. As if your simple minds could comprehend us!'

'We don't need to do that,' the human said, 'We don't need to psychologically profile you to know you're deranged. We just have to kill you.'

'Not that you ever truly battled us,' the Air Commander hissed derisively, every comment seeming to infuriate him further. 'You scurried about and irritated us into distraction. A cowardly tactic by the Autobots.'

'You'd know about cowardly tactics,' Lennox responded. 'Wouldn't you, Decepticon? That's what you do best.'

'Do not play so sanctimoniously with me,' Starscream snapped. 'In war if there is an opening you take it. Man has done this before and man will do it again, just as both Autobots and Decepticons have done it before him. Well, I don't suppose man will be doing much bar serving Cybertronians, actually.'

'Is that what you expect me to do?' the human demanded with a frown. 'Fantasise all you like, but it'll still be a fantasy.'

'Oh no,' Starscream said, 'You will simply die once I have tired of you. I would prefer you not to die before my decree, though, so it shall be fascinating to see how much we can achieve before I put you down.'

'You can't stop me bleeding out,' Lennox snapped.

'Can you command yourself to bleed?' Starscream asked amusedly. 'If necessary I shall be sure to cauterise you. Do not be so stupid, fleshling. Surely an insect of your nature has been caught by your own kind before?'

(Lennox had been captured once by his fellow man- he'd been rescued too, though, and so even in the darkest places there was hope- Previously it was not something he had ever wanted to repeat again, but under the burning red lights of an immensely powerful and vindictive entity he absurdly found himself re-evaluating this now. His current situation abruptly made him long for that simpler world where vehicles were vehicles and aliens were myths and if you shot someone they died; made him even wish he were back in the Middle East with all its chaos and death and roadside bombs- or anywhere, really, because he was in deeper water than he'd ever swum in. Man should have never tested these currents; they were too strong, too unpredictable, too violent and they were going to drag every last one of them under.)

Starscream was speaking again, and Lennox shot back into reality.

'Indeed, I would even comment that some of your personalities almost seem complex enough that they could be Cybertronian.'

'You mean Decepticon,' the man spat; if he was complimenting human character it wasn't going to be those of good people.

'This again?' Starscream demanded hotly. 'What do you think Autobots did with prisoners? Had a pleasant conversation, set them free? You have seen but one side to them, the side they have let you see. Our race is infinitely more than you can comprehend, flesh. Think you the Autobots trust you so that they kept no secrets, told you no lies?'

'I know them,' Lennox said determinedly, refusing to contemplate the poisonous words, 'And nothing you say will change that.'

The Decepticon remained utterly unconvinced. 'Tell me then something about one of the Autobots you claim you know.'

'I'm not playing your games!'

'But you are,' Starscream enunciated with a hiss. 'You are very much a game which I happen to be in control of. Ah,' he said suddenly, as though struck by something. 'I have been very wrongly unfair- you do not know the rules.'

'Let me guess,' Lennox said. 'There are none.'

The Decepticon was delighted, if his widening optics and –for the first time- somehow hiss of amusement were anything to go by. 'Some games are dire, Colonel, I am sure you agree. The only query I have yet to settle is how long it will take before I am bored of you- or if, in fact, you will be interesting enough to keep?'

'I hope I bore you into suicide.'

'And -unless you were left to starve- then you would passed down through the ranks,' Starscream said dismissively, 'Down down down and they would kill you so quickly it would be nigh pointless. I do not plan on making your life easy, insect, so do not expect my death to come presently.'

'I'm honoured,' Lennox sneered.

'You are indeed, little worm,' the Air Commander replied, and the human realised with a heavy drop of his stomach his scorn had gone utterly unrecognised. 'But your forced bravado cannot last here. Now, the Autobots.'

'Do what you want to me, I'm telling you nothing about them.'

Starscream made a hideous sound; Lennox thought it sounded quite like a metallic choke. 'Think you that you are more knowledgeable about the Autobots than I? Do you even know how long we have battled for, how long we existed before our war? What arrogance! There is nothing you could tell me about them- in fact, were you even interested,' the Decepticon rose into a screech briefly, 'about their planet, about their cultures, about them? Did you see them as a people or as simple animate weaponry, Colonel Lennox?'

'Holy shit,' the human breathed, taking an unconscious, stumbling step backwards 'you're mad.'

'No, they were mad for ever forging an alliance with such an arrogant, ignorant species!'

'I will not be engaged in emotional warfare by a robot,' Lennox said (though knowing better than almost any human that the Cybertronian capacity for sentiment placed them far beyond such a crude definition).

Starscream drew back a fist with an outraged screech, and for a moment Lennox dared hope it was the end as the hand plummeted down-

But it was held a hair's breadth from the man's face.

'Now,' the Air Commander said briskly, 'I think that means you need to be taught about our race. Humbly I present myself as your teacher. Any lesser intellect might fail utterly, but I promise you now you will learn.'

But the Decepticon had only just managed to control himself, Lennox was sure. And if he could use that instability to his advantage-

He gathered his thick, unwieldy thoughts; his own experiences, titbits of Autobot dialogue- 'How does it feel,' he shouted, 'that Megatron prefers others over you?'

Starscream's hand loomed over him abruptly before two of his hard talons- brutal things, Lennox had never had the misfortune of seeing them close up before- sharply pinched themselves onto the human's ring-finger with horrifying accuracy.

He couldn't move his digit at all, but even as he was just realising this Starscream calmly twisted it until it broke with a crisp snap. The mech had barely even twitched, such was the little effort he had exerted.

The soldier gritted his teeth; he must persevere (that was human pain, nothing too extraordinary, he could cope): 'He's given Autobots to them- and what, you get an insect?'

'I am his second in command!' Starscream snarled, pride rising and unable to prevent himself from retaliating. 'He-'

Lennox forced out a short bark of incredulous laughter. 'And what have you got to show for it? Who does he really reward?'

Keep it simple, the man told himself, He'll outthink you otherwise. Keep it simple, let him fill in the gaps. They're there, just point them out-

'Have I not seen this game a thousand times before?' Starscream exclaimed. 'Do not think for a moment that you can outwit me!'

'So he's never appreciated you?' Lennox fired rapidly.

'Fool!' Starscream snapped, 'Cheek and extortion will not gain you a quicker termination.'

'You seem quick to change the subject-'

'You seem very eager to die.'

No, Lennox thought, trying to regain his finger and failing. Not eager to die, not yet. But you will be if the Autobots ever get loose.

'What on Cybertron did you do to him?' Megatron asked with hideous intrigue, half-crouched by the table so that he was near level with Optimus.

As expected, it had not taken long for the Decepticon Commander to visit Shockwave. The draining was almost complete, and whilst it bothered the lieutenant slightly that he had been disturbed, he could hardly insist his master leave the room.

'Currently this is mainly the effect of heavily leeched energon, my lord. His strength is lost.'

'He does seem rather pathetic,' the Decepticon declared. 'Still, I quite miss his smart mouth.'

Optimus summoned all of his vigour and managed a dark growl, though it was much quieter than he had hoped.

Megatron made a patronisingly sympathetic sound and stroked one of his antennae with the back of a claw. 'I am surprised this dear facemask is still up,' he commented suddenly. 'You have such a darlingly emotive face, Optimus, like a- what do your human friends call it?- an open book.'

Shockwave visibly perked up, sensing a possible objective. 'If you wish it to be so, I will focus on its removal.'

'If I wanted it 'removed', Shockwave, I would simply tear it off his face this moment. No,' Megatron said with a last tap to the antenna, 'let him keep it if it helps improve his courage. It makes no difference to me: I could ever know his thoughts even with it raised.'

The Autobot felt far too sluggish and heavy to move, and he could not contort his face into an appropriate expression nor pull away from the too-familiar touches. He barely recognised that there was a conversation continuing above him; the words were too fast to make much sense in his lethargic processor before more utterances tumbled in and merged together.

'Do take care of my dearest brother,' Megatron continued, seemingly oblivious to his confusion. 'I am responsible for him, you know.'

'I certainly will,' Shockwave assured. 'I am confident he will be willing to serve you before long.'

'I will ...not,' Prime breathed, three exhausted soft words that still captured the full attention of both silver mechs.

Shockwave seemed flummoxed he could actually speak, let alone form a sentence, but Megatron, composed and ever ready for conflict with him, simply raised an optic ridge.

'Your medic is,' he replied. 'Killed his first Autobot already. Why should you be any different?'

Those unusually dim blue optics regarded him, confused.

'Ratchet,' Megatron said again deliberately loudly, dragging out every syllable, 'Murdered an Autobot. Do you know what one of them is, Optimus?' He snapped a claw or two directly in front of the other's face; the flamed mech blinked a good second or two later. 'This is ridiculous, Shockwave,' Megatron suddenly snapped. 'He isn't good for anything like this.'

Prime's optics refocused slowly at the Decepticon's sudden proximity, the delicate and complicated mechanisms struggling to function. His optic ridges twitched minutely. No, he wanted to say, but nothing was working as it should and he couldn't force his vocal processors into making a sound.

His processor tiredly began to work through the information from his audio receptors, but something must be even more wrong than he had thought because the words didn't make sense. Ratchet did not kill Autobots, nor was Ratchet a Decepticon. Megatron wasn't to be trusted anyway, so nothing he said truly mattered.

Quietly resolute in the facts, he closed his optics.

That was when Sentinel Prime emerged slowly from the darkness, penetrating optics dangerously narrowed and fixed onto Megatron's. The silver mech made no acknowledgement but continued eyeing Optimus closely: it was unclear whether he had simply not noticed the movement or if he was ignoring it.

The red Cybertronian spoke suddenly as if he had been repressing himself, words laden with aghast distaste. 'He is a Prime.'

Megatron still did not look at him. 'This makes no difference.'

'You cannot treat him this way! It is unlawful-'

'It is revolution,' the silver Decepticon snorted, finally turning his terrible, ruined helm to behold Sentinel fully whilst slowly rising to his full imposing height. 'Laws are forfeit in war. Why do you prattle on when you know this? Shockwave- restore some function immediately.'

'Sire, your will is done,' Shockwave uttered icily.

If the clipped utterance was heard, no sign was given. Both Megatron and Sentinel were too occupied with eyeing each other before the commander unexpectedly strode out of the room to notice the lieutenant's large optic narrow, too occupied whilst the red Cybertronian followed the Decepticon with infuriated urgency to hear Optimus' quiet, mystified choke as Shockwave closed in once more.

Why would Megatron not face him? Why would he not listen? Sentinel persisted with impassioned purpose; he would be heard. If violence was the only option, it would be taken. He broke the strained silence with a growl. 'Optimus does not deserve this. Admittedly he was wrong, but doing what he thought was right-'

'As did we all,' Megatron snapped, abruptly turning to view him directly. 'Then you tell me what I should do, hm? How can there be such favouritism when Cybertron waits in ruins for only his gesture?'

'There are other means! This is barbaric-'

'Then stop me if you dare. The Decepticons would not follow you.'

'The Decepticons are a violent rabble,' Sentinel responded, and if he had any unsurety over the statement he hid it well. 'They will follow whomever grapples their way to the forefront.'

'What makes you think you have the ability to defeat me? I am no longer hidden in your shadow, though Optimus is seemingly content there.'

Sentinel was indignant, bristling. 'He is no such thing-'

'No,' Megatron said thoughtfully, 'You are right. He does not lie in your shadow. Rather, he is the shadow.'

'You will turn him into a shadow of himself if this unnecessary behaviour continues. Is that what you want?'

'You know perfectly well that it is not!'

'It may be the Matrix only answers to him,' Sentinel said. 'So I advise you to curb your abhorrently enthusiastic lieutenant.'

'Shockwave will provide us with a result.'

'Yes,' the Prime rumbled darkly, 'The result of a lunatic. Will he be able to wield the Matrix then?'

Megatron's claws rippled suddenly, a possible indication of patience lost. 'I am curious, Sentinel, as you do seem to know everything: how do you think my erstwhile brother should be dealt with?'

'Give him a truce and he will give you everything,' the red Cybertronian suggested immediately. 'Let our race live as one again.'

The Decepticon was silent for a moment. 'But I have won. To create a truce is to defer to him when victory is already mine, do you see?'

'You see this personally, Megatron, as a conflict between you and he. It is now your hubris that stands in the way of Cybertron.'

'No,' he snarled. 'This is untrue.'

'I set aside my pride,' Sentinel said lowly. 'He offered me the Matrix; it could have been mine. Yet-'

'Then why did you not take it?' Megatron demanded incredulously, anger rising. 'Why this ridiculous farce when we could be restoring Cybertron this very moment?'

'I had to reject his naive, well-intentioned offer,' Sentinel said, 'for I could not have used the Matrix. It is earned, and I have not proved myself directly.'

'What does one have to do?'

'It is not simple,' the Prime snapped. 'It would not be easy and I doubt its allegiance will change whilst Optimus lives.'

'To kill him is not preferable,' Megatron said, 'especially if he could be the only one who can wield it.'

'We do not know this,' Sentinel said irritatedly.

'Are you willing to risk Cybertron on your assumption? That is all you speak, conjecture. You think that the Matrix will choose another, yet at the same time you preach one must prove themselves to it! Do you think it will select someone who murders its previous holder? And how will we know who it has chosen?'
There were far too many uncertainties to proceed, and both knew it as well as the other.

'I value your experience,' Megatron said, 'but Primes are as flawed as the next mech. Do not think I will heed your every cryptic mumbling.'

'I value nothing about you but your power,' Sentinel responded. 'You would do well to remember it.'

They both stood staring, livid, knowing neither would concede.

'Then how could the Fallen use it?' Megatron demanded suddenly, clearly trying to think of more possibilities. 'If he had such ill-intentions?'

'He was one of the Thirteen,' Sentinel said. 'The others could no more keep the Matrix from him than they could prevent his rise. That seems to be a common fault in most Primes: they are unable to defeat their deadliest enemies when given opportunity.'

'Most?' Megatron questioned in spite of himself.

'Not I,' Sentinel replied darkly, some underlying meaning clear by his tone.

'Do not think that you can cross me.'

'I should tell you the same.'

Megatron did not have the time nor inclination to bandy words with a sanctimonious, sentimental old fool who thought himself a fair contest. 'I have a small pest to visit,' he said with all the false venomous respect he could muster. 'If you don't mind, once-master.'

'I am saddened that tormenting base creatures brings you joy,' Sentinel returned with equal malice. 'How far you have fallen.'

Their locked gaze was broken by a sudden choked cry resounding from the room they had just left: Sentinel and Megatron jolted from their temporarily narrowed worlds to glance back to where the remaining party of their once-perfect trio writhed in torment.

And at that moment it became clear to the two that both stood on perilous ground with the other; their goal had been the same, their means to achieve it had been the same- until just then, when something had begun to break.

(It would be irreparable.)