Electricity crackled through Starscream's wings as the electrowhip tore into them, its strands scoring deep scratches in the white paint and the thin plating beneath. Energon oozed from the many cuts, glowing faintly.
Starscream didn't flinch. He kept his wings fanned defiantly out, presenting their full surface to the electrowhip biting into them. His turbines whirled and his cooling fans roared as the whip crashed into his wings and electricity surged through his systems.
"Megatron - this - doesn't make sense -" he rasped.
"Is that so, Starscream?" the mech wielding the whip answered, chuckling.
"Y - yes!" the Seeker howled, arching his back hard, lightning dancing over his wingspan.
He struggled to stay still, waiting for the next blow. Megatron lowered his arm and pressed his lips to the scratched wings, tasting the energon he had spilled there.
Starscream cycled air through his intakes, panting, and pressed his wing against the mouth soothing them. "This - this is what I mean -"
Megatron's frame rumbled in a contented purr. "Mm?"
"I - the Combaticons. You mean to - punish me for - reviving them -"
The larger mech laughed, drawing back and letting fly with the whip again. The blow tore another ragged shriek from Starscream. He slumped, fixing Megatron with a sidelong glare.
"I do," Megatron said.
Starscream's reply became a howl as the strands of the electrowhip crashed against his wings again and again.
"This isn't a punishment," the Seeker hissed when Megatron finally let up again. "Not for something like that. This is just a game."
Megatron grinned as he set the electrowhip down. "The Combaticons," he whispered into Starscream's audio receptor. "Five powerful warriors, freed from stasis. Given strong new bodies and restored to their place in the Decepticon ranks. Ranks that became woefully thin when we were separated from the others."
"Restored to the -!" The white wings twitched in surprise. Starscream's sentence ended in a staticky cry of pain as moving his wings sent a new jolt of agony through them. "But - but they turned against you!"
Megatron chuckled, feigning surprise. "They've been given loyalty programming, Starscream. You know that."
"Of course, but -!"
"They won't betray me again."
It wasn't strictly true. Loyalty programming was a perfectly useful way of ensuring obedience from semi-sentient drones and symbionts, whose emotion arrays were crude and simple and whose logic circuits produced basic arguments, but nothing that could truly be called reasoning. Truly sentient machines could rarely be swayed by such crude measures.
True devotion was a matter of far more than simple code. True devotion was a matter of experience, of respect, of shared values and of carefully earned esteem. And loyalty to a leader required the follower to embrace the leader's vision, to devote himself to seeing it come to pass and to believe in working for it, whether bringing it about was easy or profoundly difficult. Loyalty programming alone could never cause that.
At most, loyalty programming could force the mech who had it to obey simple commands. Without a core of true respect, that mech would most likely feel bitter and angry afterward, and eventually that bitterness would easily overwhelm the errant code. Internal debugging would quickly, and permanently, overwrite it.
For most, this overwriting would take place in a matter of weeks. For those deeply resistant to it - mechs of defiant temperament and high mettle, or enemies of the one it called them to obey - the code could be gone in days.
Megatron had only ordered loyalty programming installed in the Combaticons as a stopgap measure. In the early days of war on Cybertron, they had defied him, believing the war against the Autobots was a costly mistake. But there was no room in the Decepticon ranks for that kind of dissent, so Megatron had removed their personality components from their frames and safely stowed them away in a detention center.
But now Starscream had revived them, on a faraway planet, after vorns of isolation. He had installed their personality components in Earth vehicles and rebuilt them, even granting them the ability to combine their new bodies into one massive titan.
The giant, Bruticus, had turned against the Decepticons, very nearly destroying not only Megatron, but both Cybertron and Earth with them. But at the last, Starscream had revealed Bruticus's weakness, and now, his component mechs were safely in stasis in the Decepticon medbay, the new loyalty programming installed in their processors.
The programming would ensure they obeyed Megatron when they awoke. Megatron and his intelligence officers would be sure to lavishly reward them for it, carefully cultivating their faith in the Decepticon cause. Once the new code had given him a foothold, Megatron had no doubt they would come around. Stranded on an alien world, with neither energon nor armaments to themselves, they could do nothing else. By the time their error correction had deleted the loyalty programming, it would be thoroughly unnecessary anyway.
Not that Starscream needed to know that.
The Seeker shuddered, his wings flicking fast, despite the pain that moving them must caused him. Megatron grinned.
"You - that's - that's revolting!" Starscream snarled, his neck cabling twisting taut as he struggled to face Megatron. "I thought you wanted warriors serving you, not mindless drones with no choice but to obey you!"
Megatron grabbed at Starscream's wings, squeezing until they went still. "I did. But perhaps I have grown tired of... petty defiance."
Starscream's optics widened. "You can't -!"
"It's a fitting fate for those who defy me." Megatron laughed, leaning in to whisper into Starscream's audio receptor. "And tell me, Starscream. If that is a fitting fate for them, what should happen to the mech who led them against me?"
Starscream screeched a desperate, high cry that rang through the room. "No -!" He thrashed wildly, only succeeding in grinding his ravaged wings harder against the black hands clutching them. Megatron felt the light metal dent as his fingers pressed into it.
He made no move to stop Starscream, but twisted sideways when Starscream twisted forcefully enough to nearly collide with him. After all, he had the Seeker by his wings, and there wasn't much Starscream could do unless he wanted to worsen the damage.
Which he might, Megatron thought. He did call this a game.
But it was a game they had played for millions of this planet's years, and Starscream knew very well how dangerous it could get. He keened one last time, still flailing. Then he fell silent.
Megatron waited, listening to the whir of Starscream's cooling fans and the lower-pitched roar of his own.
"What is it you want?" the Seeker asked, his optics flickering as he twisted his neck to peer at Megatron. He cycled a heavy pant through his intakes as his optics reset.
Then he licked his lip plates, his optics glowing a bright, intense red.
"That's better," Megatron murmured, opening his hands and tracing his fingertips over the cuts crossing Starscream's wings. With a whir of his fans, Starscream leaned back, pressing his wings against Megatron's fingers.
"Turn around," Megatron said. Starscream did so, sliding to his knees in front of Megatron in a smooth, graceful motion.
Without prompting, Starscream's hands reached out to touch the plating of Megatron's abdomen, his fingers sliding over old scars and transformation seams. Megatron hissed his approval as bright blue fingers moved over his hip plates. His spike cover slid aside, and Starscream licked his lips as Megatron's spike sprang free.
The Seeker lowered his head slowly. But he did not open his mouth to take it in just yet, instead laving it slowly with his tongue, his optics glowing brightly as he kept them fixed on Megatron's face above him.
Megatron shivered, the Seeker's deft movements sending heat racing through his sensornet. Willing himself not to give in to the sensation, he met Starscream's defiant optics and smirked down at him. Starscream's turbines spun in challenge. Megatron stared, taking in the sight of Starscream kneeling in front of him, wings dented and spattered with energon, half reverent and half mocking.
Then Starscream opened his mouth, taking him in with one deft motion. Megatron's spark flared with energy, static flickering in front of his optics as Starscream's mouth enveloped his spike in warm heat. Relaxing his frame, he gave himself over to the sensation.
Starscream moaned around his spike, and the little thrill through his systems set even the spark in his chest to whirling. He wrapped a hand around Starscream's helm and pushed.
Starscream's turbines spun in surprise or alarm or desire. Megatron wasted no time and pressed the advantage, his optics irising open again to fix the Seeker with a cold stare. He'd been content to savor Starscream's ministrations, but this was a punishment, not the game that Starscream hoped for.
He thrust hard into Starscream's mouth, finesse and seduction forgotten. Starscream's engines stalled as Megatron moved in brutal rhythm. His spike scraped against the plating at the roof of Starscream's mouth, hitting the Seeker's throat with force enough to dent it.
Megatron's spark whirled in his chest and his spike twitched, both parts of him eager for release. But with a great effort of will, he forced himself to stillness again. He cycled air heavily through his intakes and tore his spike free from Starscream's mouth.
Starscream coughed, his dark mouthplates shifting as he struggled to get comfortable again. Then he whimpered, staring at Megatron's still-pressurized spike. "Lord Megatron? You don't want -?"
"You reawakened known dissidents, Starscream. You freed them from imprisonment and gave them powerful new bodies."
Starscream's optics irised wide. "I -"
His free hand clenched into a tight black fist. "Then you gave them a mission. My destruction."
The Seeker's wings clicked in a frantic cadence, despite the pain it must have caused him. "But you said -"
Megatron smirked, a hard little smile that gave no warmth. "Surely you don't think that one little demonstration of your skills evens that score."
Starscream's hands slid over Megatron's hip plates, nimble as ever. Megatron's cooling fans roared. Static flickered in front of his optics again. His hand was still curled around the back of Starscream's helm. It would be so easy to shove it back onto his spike and -
No, he reminded himself. That's exactly what he wants.
"Leader," Starscream rasped. "The Combaticons are no longer a threat to you. They are an asset, as you said before."
"True," Megatron agreed. "They belong to me now. They have no other choice."
"No other choice," Starscream repeated, his voice almost inaudible under the noise of his own cooling fans.
Megatron opened his fist and moved his hands to Starscream's wings, gripping them. He felt the Seeker resist, twisting away, and clenched his fingers tighter around them, feeling the already damaged metal give.
"Please," Starscream pleaded, his optics wide as he tilted his head to look up at Megatron. "Don't reprogram me."
Megatron chuckled. He'd rarely seen Starscream so unnerved. "Of course I won't reprogram you. It would do absolutely nothing anyway."
"Why you -!" Starscream snarled, his dark faceplates twisting with rage.
Megatron tightened his grip on Starscream's wings and pulled down hard.
A piercing shriek filled Megatron's audio receptors as the tops of the wings ripped free from their mounts on the Seeker's back. Energon poured from the breaches, spilling out over the already damaged wings and over Megatron's hands.
"Calm yourself," Megatron said when Starscream's cry died.
The Seeker's wings hung at a grotesque angle, only half connected. "Megatron - please - I'm the one who - stopped them - returned them - to you -"
"True enough." Megatron made no further move, but his grip on Starscream's wings did not slacken. "We never would have brought Bruticus down without you."
Starscream arched his back and opened his mouth. Normally, he would have flicked his wings in invitation. But Megatron's grip on them prevented it. They hung askew, great gaps between the wings and their mounts in the Seeker's shoulders.
Then Starscream spoke, his usually grating voice quiet, perhaps from pain, perhaps in an attempt to sound alluring. "Then forget this, Leader. Let me finish. It's what we both want."
Megatron's frame rumbled. "Perhaps it is. But there is still the matter of your punishment." He pressed down on Starscream's wings again.
Starscream howled as the joint gave further, a keening wail that filled Megatron's audio receptors with feedback. His turbines whirled frantically. Megatron's cooling fans roared.
"No, Megatron - not - not my wings!" Starscream thrashed in the tyrant's grip. "I - I'm the best - flier you have. How can I - fight our enemies - if I can't fly -?"
Megatron's mouthplates curled in a grim frown. "By the time our latest plan is ready to be set into motion, you will be fully repaired."
Starscream's optics widened. "By the time -? Megatron, you can't mean you're going to leave me without wings!"
"For a time, yes." He pulled at the wings again, ready topull them freefrom Starscream's back entirely.
"But - but the other Decepticons will see me without them!" The Seeker tossed his head wildly. "They - they'll know!"
"That is precisely the point, Starscream. You led a squadron of warriors against me. The other Decepticons know this. Did you really think I would keep your punishment private?"
"But – think of the damage that will do! I'll – I'll shut down!"
Megatron chuckled. "Oh, I don't think so. You've survived worse." He roared, straining as he gave Starscream's wings a vicious wrench. With a sickening rip, they came loose in Megatron's hands. Starscream trembled, throwing back his head to cry out again. But his vocalizer, strained from screaming too much already, only emitted a fuzzy, high sob.
Megatron tossed aside Starscream's wings. They hit the floor with a loud clang and skidded across it, slick with Starscream's shed energon. The Seeker turned, fascinated in spite of himself, and looked at them. His body swayed.
"Don't fall into stasis yet, Starscream." Megatron wrapped a hand around the Seeker, holding him up. "I haven't finished with you."
Starscream tore his gaze from his severed wings. "You can't be serious."
Megatron's hand slid down Starscream's body. "Don't pretend you weren't affected by this." His fingers traced the cover of Starscream's valve, the metal hot under his hands. Lubricant leaked from the seam.
"Go ahead," Megatron purred. "Open. After all of this torment, it only makes sense that you want some pleasure of your own."
The panel slid aside - automatically, probably, as its owner was still trembling.
"But - but I'm hideous," Starscream whined. "Mutilated."
"Down," Megatron ordered. "On the floor."
Starscream's optics narrowed as he glared at Megatron. Still, he obeyed, his engines sputtering in protest as his damaged back hit the energon-slick floor.
Megatron leered down at him, watching as he writhed, struggling to get comfortable. He felt a surge of heat in his spark as his spike pressurized further, the desire racing through his systems almost painful in its intensity. Starscream looked up at him, his gaze unfocused and his head lolling.
He knew Starscream well enough to know that, as harsh as this punishment was, it would take far more to kill him. But he had no desire to shove his spike into someone who'd fallen into stasis and couldn't feel it. He would have to make this quick.
Fortunately, he doubted this would take long - for either of them.
Lowering himself to the floor, he hefted Starscream's legs and sank into the Seeker's valve in a smooth motion. This had become instinct vorns ago. Starscream reacted, his optics flaring with bright red light. He moaned, his hips bucking, more powerfully than Megatron would have expected.
He thrust harder, as amazed now by the greedy heat swallowing him up as he had been vorns ago when they'd done this for the first time. He felt his spike twitch. He'd been close to overload before, and ripping Starscream half to pieces had done nothing to dampen his ardor.
Half-dazed, Starscream smirked up at him and rocked his hips again. Megatron answered with brutal thrusts, driving into Starscream again and again.
His vision went white with static as his overload hit, and as it did he felt Starscream's valve clench tightly around him. Through a haze of white he could see Starscream's head thrown back and hear a fuzzy, staticky cry. He answered it with a rumbling roar as he felt his spike empty, flooding Starscream's valve.
Megatron returned to himself moments later, rising to his feet and looking down. Starscream lay unmoving in front of him, the dark faceplates twisted into a lazy smile. He thought at first that the optics were out, indicating that Starscream had fallen into stasis, but as he watched they flared brightly for a moment and then dimmed.
"Fading fast, then," he murmured, sliding his spike cover back into place and chuckling as he bent to pick the Seeker up. Built for the air, Starscream's frame was light already, and even less heavy without the wings sprouting from its back.
Starscream murmured in his arms. Perhaps from remembered pleasure, perhaps in protest at being carried. Megatron paid it no mind. Starscream could hardly make it to the medbay on his own like this, and he urgently needed repairs.
Megatron strode toward the door, sparing a last smirking glance for Starscream's wings on the floor. He had all he wanted now. His army was in proper order, the Combaticons restored to their ranks and Starscream once again in his proper place. And no one would doubt or defy him now, not seeing Starscream spend the next week wandering around the base wingless.
He lowered his head to look down at the Seeker in his arms. Mutilated, as he'd said - yet strangely content-looking now, powered down and cradled in strong arms.
He shook his head, smiling in spite of himself. He'd long ago stopped trying to make sense of it. And yet, at the last, Starscream had given himself over - no useless loyalty programming required.
But the threat had certainly been entertaining. He turned a corner and waited for the medbay doors to open for him, still smiling.