Megatron sat sprawled on his throne, little pinpricks of energy crackling through his interface equipment. He peered at the room through half-shuttered optics. For once in his long life, he couldn't be bothered to care about the disarray.
It was a surprisingly pleasant feeling, he decided. He grinned, licking his fangs, as his optics irised open.
Starscream lay on the floor just in front of him. The Seeker's optics were dark, occasionally flickering with life. The red horn in the center of his forehead was broken. Many hours ago, Megatron had snapped it off with his own hands. The jagged stub that remained served as a mark of his disgrace. Any who saw Starscream now would see that the horn of his authority was gone.
But, hornless or not, no one had seen Starscream yet. Megatron hadn't chosen to show him to anyone. Instead, he had dragged Starscream here. Low on fuel and unable to fly without his transformation cog, Starscream had little choice but to agree to everything Megatron wanted of him. He'd known very well that the information he'd used to win his way back here would never be enough. Not for Megatron.
But it wasn't simple desperation that brought you back to me. Was it, my dear Starscream?
Megatron had lost track of how long they had been here, but Starscream's inert frame testified to the many ways that Megatron had used him. Silvery ropes of transfluid spattered his face, wings, and chest. Energon leaked from the many deep scratches that Megatron's claws had left on his frame. A mix of lubricant, transfluid, and Starscream's energon dripped from Starscream's open valve.
Megatron smirked, staring down at it. Hours ago, Megatron had torn Starscream's valve cover off entirely, too impatient to wait for the Seeker to slide it aside. It lay just beside Starscream's hips, in the mess smeared on the floor.
Megatron's spike twitched. He could feel it straining to repressurize, but it seemed even his stamina had limits. He shook his head, amused by his own frame's betrayal.
It didn't really matter. He could always use Starscream again later, once both mechs' systems had some time to recover. Starscream couldn't refuse him. Not now that he'd returned in disgrace, flightless and starving, his systems barely running properly at all.
He was lucky Megatron hadn't killed him. What little information he had, Megatron had easily tricked out of him.
You never could keep secrets, Starscream, Megatron thought with a rich, rolling laugh. Not when it really mattered. Not from me.
Starscream was luckier still that the rightful lord of the Decepticons had chosen to use him for pleasure rather than fill his days with pain. And as loudly as Starscream might protest, he knew it. As soon as Megatron called his name, his systems would rev to life again in response to the command.
Treacherous as Starscream was, he knew very well what his survival required. And there was always more Megatron could do to him, anyway, even without his spike in proper form.
But he had something more important to do now. He wrenched his optics away from the pretty sight of the Seeker. Then, turning, he reached over to a hidden groove in the wall behind him. As he pressed the tip of an energon-stained claw into the groove, one plate in the wall slid aside, revealing a hidden compartment.
Reaching in, he drew out the object hidden there: an intricate sphere, lit with an amber glow and ringed with metal prongs. It hummed softly in Megatron's hands and the Decepticon leader grinned, showing fangs. He pressed the panel and the hidden door in the wall slid shut with a soft hiss.
Slowly, Megatron turned around again, settling himself on his throne, his posture perfectly straight. He wrapped his claws around the sphere, hiding it from view. Orange light spilled from the spaces between his fingers, but that alone wouldn't be enough for his companion to guess at what he held.
"Starscream," he rasped, his voice soft in the expansive room.
The Seeker's systems stuttered to life with a whir of fans and motors. His optics flickered and then flared piercing, molten-metal red.
He eased himself up on spindly arms. Then, catching sight of Megatron, he stopped. With a growl of displeasure, he slid instead to his hands and knees. Wincing at the sticky feeling of the half-dried fluids on the floor, he lifted his head to look up at Megatron.
"Master," he whispered, the seductive purr of his voice laced with acid.
"Come here," Megatron ordered.
Starscream lowered his head in a gesture of mock-respect and crawled toward the throne. Battered though his frame was, and exhausted as he must have been, he slithered toward Megatron with the sensual grace of someone who knew very well he was being watched.
At Megatron's murmur of approval, he lifted his head. He grinned at his lord, the smile too wide to be sincere.
Catching sight of Megatron's still-exposed and obviously depressurized spike, he smirked. "Whatever it is you want, you'll probably just have to wait. Restoring life to that may be beyond even my capabilities at the moment."
Megatron's smile was a ring of sharpened razors. "Don't underestimate yourself, my dear Starscream. I'm certain you could think of something. But no, that isn't why I called for you."
"Then what is it you want?" Starscream's optics narrowed and he peered intently at Megatron's hands. "I don't know how much energy I have left for - guessing."
Megatron chuckled. "You're in no position to speak to me that way, Starscream. And yet you do it anyway."
"Aren't I?" Starscream teased, his smile widening. "Admit it. You've been bored without me."
"Perhaps. But I have a purpose in mind. Other than trading empty words with you, my former second-in-command."
Starscream's shriek of indignation died as Megatron opened his hands, revealing the object he held.
"A - a transformation cog?" Starscream stammered. "You actually intend to give me that? Just for a few interfaces? I know very well you're a greedy fool, but I never thought -"
His voice fuzzed out in frantic static as he realized what he'd said and stopped himself too late.
"I mean," he tried again, waving a spindly arm and bowing his head, "that it thrills my very spark to know I've pleased you well, and that you deem me worthy of this gift, Maste - "
"Enough," Megatron growled.
"But Master, I only wanted to express my undying gratitude that -"
"I said enough!" He lifted his arm, the cannon atop it pulsing hot with energy. Starscream let out a startled squeak and scrabbled back.
"I'm not giving this to you," Megatron said once Starscream had settled down again. "Not yet. Not until you earn it."
The Seeker's optics glittered with avarice as he stared at the orb Megatron held, and his wings twitched in anticipation. Without his cog, Starscream could not transform - and without that capability, he couldn't fly. It must have been several of this planet's months since he had last taken to the skies.
And Seekers like him were built for flight.
Those months must have been torment. Worse than anything even I could devise.
"Then do tell me, mighty Leader, how exactly I should do that."
"You've told me the location of the Apex armor already. However -"
"Ah, then that's it. You're not - convinced I've been honest." Starscream's faceplates shifted into a pout, the perfect picture of affronted dignity. "You plan to keep the T-cog until your little minions uncover the armor. You'll give it to me then, as a -" his wings clicked again with growing excitement - "reward, for information provided and for - services rendered -"
Starscream howled in frustration, shaking his head. "Then what -?"
"You're correct about one thing. When I get the armor, you'll get this cog."
Starscream opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again, glaring.
"But when I have the armor, I will come for you, and you will pay the price for your betrayal." The warlord's optics flashed a bright, deadly crimson. "The real price."
"Whaaat?" Starscream shrieked, his dented wings clicking in agitation. "All of this -"
"This? This was a game, Starscream," Megatron said, favoring the Seeker with a toothy smile. "Or do you mean to pretend you haven't enjoyed it?"
Starscream's optics widened. "I - nnngh - it's bad enough that you've demoted me. Broken my horn. Demeaned me. Used me. But now you tell me there's more? "
Megatron slid his claws over the transformation cog, savoring its warmth in his hands. Starscream stared at them, his gaze fixed on the prize he hoped to win or steal. "You said that I was bored without you. But was it me you meant - or yourself?"
Now it was Starscream's turn to laugh, a cold cackle filled with icy mirth. "Very well. I have been bored. And thank you ever so much, my Lord, for so thoroughly alleviating my boredom."
The Seeker stretched, a sinuous movement clearly designed to get Megatron's attention.
It worked. Megatron gazed back at Starscream hungrily, licking his lips. "That's better."
Starscream snickered. "But if you mean to punish me, why give me that? If you really intend to put me through all of this all over again, what's to stop me from just flying away again?"
"I would see you whole again," Megatron growled, his gravelly voice soft. "But that's not why I'm doing this. I'm giving you a chance."
"A chance -?"
"You've seen firsthand what that armor can do. Flightless, there is no way you could survive against me."
Starscream shook his head in bafflement. Then a smile spread over his faceplates. "You don't want to catch me."
Megatron grinned back, his fangs gleaming. "Catch you? Of course I want to catch you. But I don't want you dead."
Starscream's gaze darted to the mess on the floor. Then he looked over at the wide doors at the far end of the room. "You're going to have me repaired. Then you're going to hunt me down."
"And you're certain that you'll find me?" He shook his head again. "Arrogant glitch."
"I'm certain that you want to be found."
Starscream's only answer to that was a flick of his wings and a sour little snarl.
"If you survive what I do to you when I find you, I will bring you back. Restore you to your place here."
Megatron lifted one of his hands. Uncovered, the transformation cog glowed bright with amber light.
Megatron's claw wrapped around Starscream's helm. The Seeker flinched for a moment, then leaned into Megatron's claw, cycling a soft sigh. Megatron caressed the Seeker's chin briefly. Then he moved his hand, his fingertips gliding over Starscream's forehead, stopping at the base of Starscream's broken horn.
"I might even restore you to the rank you lost. Depending, of course, on how strong you prove to be - and on how much of my time you waste beforehand."
Starscream sidled closer to the throne, moving to lean against it. A spindly hand reached out and wrapped itself over Megatron's claw, gentle at first, then clenching hard. Megatron welcomed the pain, a first promise of his partner's strength returning.
"Then I suppose I'll just have to keep you entertained."
The other hand moved quickly, darting into Megatron's lap and grabbing for the cog before Megatron had a chance to stop it. It wrapped around the sphere greedily, a dark and spindly latticework covering the light of its prize.
Megatron roared with laughter, his now-empty hand seizing Starscream's wrist and twisting hard.
Starscream threw back his head and shrieked, a high cry of pain and indignation. The cog fell to the floor in front of them and rolled along the floor, smearing the half-dried stains of transfluid and energon as it went.
Starscream sat back on his heels, whimpering. He stared after the cog, absently massaging his injured wrist.
"Starscream. Look at me."
The Seeker complied, reluctantly tearing his gaze from the thing he wanted and turning to face his Leader. "You're not going to make this easy for me, are you, my Lord?" he spat, making the word into a curse.
"Of course not. That would be an insult. To me and to you."
Starscream snarled, gesturing with his uninjured hand. "And all of this wasn't an insult?"
Megatron gave Starscream a placid little grin. "Was it?"
Starscream muttered something, his voice a staticky hiss.
"Was it?" Megatron repeated, implacable.
Starscream's battered faceplates twisted into a smile. Megatron knew the expression well. That smile meant resignation, meant defeat, meant the calm that settled over Starscream when he knew he had to break.
"No," the Seeker said, lifting his head to stare at Megatron. His crimson optics gleamed and the broken base of his horn shone, bright red like human blood.
A jolt of desire shot through Megatron's systems, as though his spike had suddenly remembered what it wanted all at once. Megatron shuttered his optics against the whirl of emotion and growled.
He made no move to touch Starscream. To do that now seemed tawdry. The touch of his claws would only mar the beauty that Starscream had found, here in the pit of his disgrace.
"Master," Starscream murmured, still smiling as he bowed his head.