Watch & Burn

Chapter 3: Lesson 3: Vertical Brake



Unfortunately, putting the next day out of her head didn’t make it approach any slower.
 

“The vertical brake,” Starscream explained, stood before Megatron on the flight deck. The vehicons were, by now, accustomed to being banished for the duration of their commanding officers’ sessions. Starscream wouldn’t have minded – it was good, that they knew their place. But she’d sworn she’d seen a few of them elbowing each other, and turning their featureless faces between her leader and her own person in a manner that was hardly professional. Almost as if they were gossiping over their private comms...
 

Her imagination, she was sure.
 

She raised her voice a little higher, carrying clearly through the crisp morning. This high in the atmosphere, the air felt brisk as winter, although the baking desert stretched for miles and miles below.
 

“The concept is simple. Say you are travelling at high velocity and need to either alter your course or come to a halt. Your thruster will power you forwards. To counter this, the simplest method is to adjust your angle so your thruster drives you backwards instead, thus finding an equilibrium between your forwards momentum and your –“
 

“Enough.” Megatron lumbered for the far end of the deck and stood there, arms crossed. “Demonstrate.”
 

Starscream was no flying monkey, performing for her Master’s amusement. But at the same time – well. She never shied away from showing the old mech what she could do.
 

“Very well. Stay right where you are. I would advise against ducking out the way, unless you want me to accidentally melt your faceplates.”
 

Megatron’s smirk had a smarmy edge. “Trust me, Starscream. I won’t flinch.”
 

Ugh. It would be tempting to plow right into her – if only Starscream didn’t know her own, far lighter plating would crumple on impact. Most likely, Megatron would laugh. “Very well.”
 

She jumped, twisting into her transformation. The wind scythed beneath her wings. Two neat trails streaked from her ailerons, as if they sliced the air itself. Starscream roared towards her leader. Then, at the last moment...Whoosh. Nosecone up; flip beneath. Her jet engine shot a plume of flames over Megatron’s head. Starscream fell backwards, out of her alt-mode. She turned a neat flip neatly and landed, almost-silent, with a delicate clink.
 

“See?” she asked. She was a little breathless – not from the exercise; she would hardly consider herself worthy of the title of Seeker Winglord if such stunts exhausted her. But it was a rare day Megatron invited her to show off.

“Much lighter – a virtuoso expression of one’s air-agility!”

 

“If you have finished preening.” Megatron tensed her legs for another of her great, galumphing transformation-leaps. “My turn.”
 

Luckily, Soundwave interrupted them before Megatron could do herself an injury – or worse, Starscream. The spy stepped from the elevator, padding towards them, their disturbing wing-arms all but dragging along the floor. Starscream shuddered. At least Megatron made no attempt to distort her natural Grounder form in order to fit flier-components. The results were rarely pretty – not that Soundwave had ever shown much appreciation for aesthetics. What sort of bot removed their own faceplate?
 

“Lord Megatron,” replayed a clip of her own voice, sounding despicably servile. Soundwave did it to mock her, Starscream was sure.
 

The truly unfair part was that it could take breems of wheedling, scowling, and flapping her wings like a sulky sparkling before Megatron paid her attention. But of course, Soundwave got preferential treatment. Megatron dismissed all thoughts of vertical-brake training from her processor and clunked across to join her third lieutenant.
 

“Yes, Soundwave?”
 

Starscream could clamp her dentae, clench her clawed fists, and imagine she had Soundwave’s neck cables gripped between them. Or she could sidle over and ensure she wasn’t left out of any potentially important intelligence briefs.
 

“You had better have good reason for interrupting our lesson,” she growled. “Lord Megatron has specifically ordered that we not be disturbed unless…”
 

A ping rippled across Soundwave’s visor. Ugh.
 

“…Unless you locate Autobot activity around an energon source,” Starscream finished. Fraggit. “Master, if you would permit me to deal with this nuisance?”
 

That would be the sensible option. But Megatron was smirking in a way that Starscream knew meant trouble.
 

“Um. Master?”
 

“Perhaps it is time I gave my new alt-mode a field test.”
 

Starscream’s wings hiked up in aggravation. Of course. Of course. The old buckethead could never take the slow road; she didn’t know the meaning of the word. “I – I fear that you are not yet ready –“
 

“Not yet ready? To take on the Autobots?” Megatron treated her to the usual cold sneer, that illicit promise of pain. “Mind to whom you speak, Starscream. And do not ever suggest that you are more suited to combat than myself.”
 

“Not at combat,” Starscream tried to argue. Not even her pride could justify such a boast. “At flying. Which we will need to do, to reach the mine.”
 

Megatron puffed out her chest. “I have flown.”
 

“Yes! From one end of the Nemesis to the other.” Starscream turned on Soundwave. “Tell her! You know I’m right. Considering our Lord’s progress, do you think it wise to dispatch her into a combat zone?”
 

They’d ordered the eradicons to leave the deck, not for Soundwave to cease their surveillance. Doubtless, they’d been observing from afar. This theory was proven when Soundwave turned to Megatron, and shook their helm.
 

Wait. What? Handbrake screech. Soundwave agreed with her?
 

Starscream was elated for all of a minute. Then Megatron had to ruin it. “Very well.”
 

Starscream’s mouth fell open. “So when I tell you it’s a bad idea, you ignore me, but when Soundwave says it, you listen?”
 

Megatron's eyes flashed, red as the pits. “Soundwave says little, except when necessary. Perhaps you ought to follow their example.”
 

Fragger. As if Starscream would want to be like that creepy cold fish. Starscream glowered at Soundwave, but could find nothing in their empty faceplate to focus on but her own expression. Sneering at her reflection rather defeated the object, so she desisted.
 

Megatron clanked away from them, hands clasped behind her back. “I shall accompany you within a shuttle, rather than by wing. Fly ahead, Starscream. Put that precious speed of yours to use; scout the area. I do not expect you to disappoint me.”
 

Starscream knew her part. With a last quick scowl in Soundwave’s direction, she dropped into an elegant bow. “When have I ever?”
 

She transformed and flew off before Megatron could enquire whether she wanted the list arranged alphabetically, or by date.

 

 

 

 

The energon mine lay within a herd of rocky knolls: steep, triangular protrusions that sprung up from the planet’s crust like an outbreak of rust-acne. They were about the same color, red scoria striped with bands of blue-black clay. No chance of Starscream blending into the backdrop.
 

She could already hear the sounds of the conflict: the slashes and grunts as the Autobots engaged the vehicon workforce. No blaster fire. Not in such close proximity to the deposit. Clearly, the Autobots were not exercising tabula rasa tactics. They wanted this hoard for themselves. This was a basic raid of sustenance – which meant they must be running low on supplies.
 

Starscream flicked out of vehicular mode on the edge of the quarry, rubbing her talons to assure herself of their sharpness. She hoped the Bots were malnourished. Slow. That would work to her advantage. Megatron had requested her to scout only, but from the sounds of it, the Vehicons fared poorly. Starscream was hardly going to sit back and kick up her feet while the Autobots swanned off with a motherload! Why, Megatron was far more likely to pummel her to scrap for such an offence, than for a trifling matter of disobeying her orders.
 

With that in mind, Starscream made to fling herself over the edge – then hastily scrambled back again, before her heels could skid on the loose shale.
 

Curses. They’d brought the Prime.
 

On second thoughts, perhaps it would be prudent to wait for Lord Megatron after all.

 

 

 

 

Optimus was in fine form. Sunlight played across her armour, highlighting the curves and angles of her build. Her plating was red, white and blue; the same bright hues Starscream had worn in the early days, before she lost her trine. Starscream couldn’t help but resent her, whenever she laid optics on that cursed color-scheme. She hunkered low, wings dipping to avoid catching the sun and giving away her position. No sense taking to the air. She’d only be a target. But perhaps she could maintain her advantage of surprise…
 

Optimus spun, skewering three Eradicons on her arm-blade. Their bodies were lifted entirely off the floor, pedes twitching, before their circuits ran cold and they dangled limp, broken wires leaking energon to puddle at the Prime’s feet. Around her darted that two-wheeler and her mouthy partner. Cliffjumper. He’d made a name for himself, bringing down Seekers, back in the early days after the war left Cybertron and Starscream’s people renounced their neutrality, their city having gone up in smoke. He used to shoot up with a high-octane jetpack, slap a charge on their plates and blow them out of the air. He’d crow about it after, as gory chunks of wiring rained down.
 

Starscream detested all Autobots. But if she had to pick… Well. She’d kill that one first.
 

She took aim. Her arm-blaster exuded a bright red glow, but she hoped the distractions of the battle – and their own rumbling tanks – would keep the Autobots occupied. She lined up her shot, breathing steadily. Readied herself. And –

Megatron’s ship roared in to land, thrusters booming, making the ground judder under Starscream’s chest. Her shot skewed wide, bursting the rock to the left of Cliffjumper’s pedes.
 

The Autobot leapt away. He immediately swung around, scanning for the sniper, and –
 

Curses. Starscream had been too busy glaring at Megatron to duck out the way. She was made.
 

Still, the old rustbucket only had herself to blame. Starscream could’ve brought her the cadaver of an Autobot on this day – albeit one missing a head.
 

Hmph. Some other time.
 

“Megatron,” came Prime’s growl from below. Pointing out the obvious must be an Autobot speciality, because Cliffjumper pointed to Starscream as well.
 

“She brought her pet. Little coward’s sniping us from up top. What’s wrong, Screamy? Too scared to come play with the big boys?”
 

The two-wheeler – Arcee – had trained her blasters on Starscream, but at Cliffjumper’s taunting, she rolled her optics and swung them towards the true threat.
 

Megatron. She stepped from the airlock, wearing menace like squishie-cologne. Starscream had witnessed her intimidate her foes too many times for it to have any effect; she blamed the tight, hot clench inside her on fury. Her Master had ruined her shot, and her entrance. Typical selfish Groundpounder.
 

Megatron didn’t spare her a glance. As usual, as soon as it came to conflict, she only had optics for that slag-head of a Prime.“Is this what you’ve been reduced to, Optimus? Snaffling from my stockpiles, stealing the dregs? Why, I thought you above such behaviour.”
 

“Unlike you, Megatron, I see no point in prioritizing pride over survival. Ratchet! The Ground Bridge! Cliffjumper, Arcee – get that energon to safety!”
 

Their prize lay in wait: several hundred cubes' worth, stacked on two hover-trolleys that the Eradicons had been in the process of ferrying to the drop point. Curses. If they let them get away with a prize of that scale, it wouldn’t put a dent in their own reserves – they could always mine more, and as foul and gritty as this little backwater planet may be, it was certainly rich in stockpiles. But it would bolster the Autobots’ strength, and that Starscream couldn’t abide.
 

She saw Megatron’s lips contort back from her jagged dentae. Heard her roar of fury. The warlord leapt from the quarry’s edge, not bothering to transform. She merely shoved her sword arm into the wall, carving a gash in the rock. She braced herself and exploded forth, pushing off the splintering stones.
 

And barrelled straight into Optimus. Ignoring the two other Autobots currently stealing all her energon.
 

Of course.
 

Starscream ex-vented. “If you want something done right… Best do it yourself.” And with that, she turned her back to the ledge and let herself fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A steep-sided canyon wasn’t the optimum territory for a flier, but Starscream didn’t let it put her off. She wheeled nosecone-to-the floor and assumed vehicular mode, strafing the ground around the Autobots’ feet. A risky enterprise, but worth it – the fools recognized the danger, transforming, backpedalling and reforming at safe distance.
 

Starscream performed a steep vertical brake (ha! See that, Megatron?) slowing her velocity enough that she could drop nimbly between the Autobots and their goal, rather than flattening herself against the rock. She shot a quick glance at Megatron, to see if she was impressed, and –
 

Glaring? What cause did the Mighty Megatron have to glare at her subordinate, after such an impressive display?
 

“Starscream! What do you think you’re doing? Firing live rounds around my energon?"
 

Starscream’s wings fell from their proud heights. She muttered her retort to her pedes. “I can aim, my Lord…”
 

“What did you say?”
 

“Nothing.”
 

“She said she can aim!” called Cliffjumper, thereby cementing his position at the top of Starscream’s to-scrap list. Her faceplate heated. Megatron said nothing – just gave her one of those patented, coldly-furious looks.
 

I’ll deal with you later.
 

Starscream’s wings sunk further. Great. If she got out of this raid uninjured, but wound up in the medbay regardless, Knock Out would never let her hear the end of it.
 

“Aw.” Cliffjumper stuck out his lower lip plates. “Screamer gonna get a spanking?”
 

Oh, that was it. As Megatron and Optimus clashed again, Starscream turned back to the Autobot vermin and let the full force of her fury shine through her eyes.
 

“I am going to kill you,” she promised, lowly. “If not today, then another day soon after. Rest assured, you loud-mouthed cretin. I will not rest until I have plunged my talons into your spark.”
 

“Big words, Screamer.” Cliffjumper feigned a yawn. “Like to see you live up to them.”
 

Starscream flexed her claws, preparing to spring forwards. “Then why don’t you let me show –“
 

And that was when Arcee, who’d been skulking around to her blind spot, dove at her from the side. Curses! They’d tricked her!
 

Blades sprouted from the two-wheeler’s forearms. She slashed Starscream’s left leg, forcing her to one knee. Just a mesh wound – thankfully. Starscream had little in the way of armour; had she nicked one of the exposed central fuel lines in her abdomen, this fight would’ve been over quickly, and her life shortly thereafter.
 

“How dare you –“
 

Cliffjumper barged in from the right. His pede swept up, cracking Starscream on the temple.
 

Frag.
 

Her vision flickered. Everything whited out, then tilted back in at an alarming angle as her body was flung to one side.
 

“Shouldn’t be so touchy, Scream!" the garrulous Groundpounder crowed. "Your carrier never tell you sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?”
 

“No,” Starscream choked, “because that is a pathetic human rhyme, and my Carrier was not a barbarian.”
 

“Killed ‘em like one though,” said Cliffjumper. “When we blew up Vos.”
 

Oh, Starscream knew what he was doing. He was trying to make her mad. Make her sloppy, imprecise. And Starscream also knew that it was working. Soundwave would never let themselves be so addled. Soundwave would never be caught off-guard. But Starscream was not Soundwave, no matter how much her Master might wish it.
 

She flung herself at Cliffjumper. Her furious shriek echoed off the stone walls of the great colosseum, which had been bored from the bedrock by Decepticon drills. Cliffjumper ducked back – not fast enough to avoid a new carving on his chest plate.

“Woah there! She this noisy in the berth, Megatron?”

 

Press, press, press. Each of Starscream’s buttons, jammed with malicious glee. Because Cliffjumper saw her as the weak link, the easy target. And by rising to the bait, Starscream proved him right.
 

Arcee zoomed in again. She landed a new cut on Starscream’s wing.
 

Scrap – Starscream had to stop forgetting about her. They made quite the tag-team: the noisy red Autobot hoarding all the attention, while the slim two-wheeler slipped up close and slit your throat from behind. But now Starscream had seen the pattern, she could use it.
 

Megatron kept glancing at her. Starscream snarled. Focus on your own battle, fool. Whatever you might think of me, I can hold my own. She’d gone quiet after Cliffjumper’s last tease. The bot must think he’d touched a livewire, because he shot Arcee a ballsy wink and went in for the kill.

“Can’t see why else the old bucket-head keeps you around. Scheming little coward like you. What use are you, except a tight valve and a pair of pretty wings?”

 

Starscream knew what he wanted. He wanted her to lunge, so that Cliffjumper could evade while Arcee attacked from the rear. She obliged them. Her swipe scraped a whirling blaze of sparks from Cliffjumper’s shoulder-guard – cosmetic, mostly, but no less painful for it.
 

A rush of air against her wings, a sudden sense of danger. Arcee was making her move – Starscream twisted and caught her by the throat.
 

“That’s why she keeps me around,” she snarled at Cliffjumper. She transformed her arm, pointing the blaster at the horned imbecile who dared to underestimate her. Arcee, she raised into the air, applying warning pressure to the vital lines that fed energon to her processor. “Submit?”
 

Cliffjumper squared his jaw, but his optics betrayed him. They kept glancing to his partner. “You shoot me, I dodge. You hit the energon, it blows.”
 

“I fly away,” Starscream purred. “You bots can perish together. Would you like me to slit the two-wheeler’s lines before or after this mine goes up in smoke?”
 

“Don’t you dare blow up my mine!” yelled Megatron, which rather put a crimp in Starscream’s bluff. Her wings flattened against her back.
 

“Master, I had it under contr –“ A flash from behind Megatron. Frag! The distraction had gotten the better of her.

Starscream’s optics popped wide. “Master! Behind you!”

 

Her grip slackened in shock. Arcee took the opportunity, as much as it presented itself, sinking her blade half a metre into Starscream’s arm. She shrieked.
 

Megatron kicked to the rear, catching Optimus in the abdominal plating and barging her backwards before she could bring her sword up in a swift, spark-puncturing thrust. Starscream didn’t notice. Arcee whirled around her, a tornado of sneers and sharp edges. She dropped onto the seeker’s back, between her flapping wings, sword-extensions prickling at her throat.
 

“Gotcha.”
 

“You – you fragger! You cheat!”
 

“Big words,” drawled the two-wheeler. “From a Con.”
 

Blades met: a ringing report of steel on steel. Warlord and Prime glared into each other’s eyes. It was all very macho. Starscream would’ve enjoyed the show, were it not for her Autobot surfer.
 

Cliffjumper grinned, then cupped his hand to his mouth. “Oi, Megatron! We got your fly-toy. You want her back in one piece, you best back down!”
 

Starscream considered her options. She could fall back, stun Arcee so she released her grip. That might work. Or she might cut open Starscream’s lines. She could shoot Cliffjumper – but not before his wicked little partner cut her. Still, tempting. Eventually, she settled on a snort. “You are foolish if you think Lord Megatron would ever call a retreat for –“
 

“Optimus.” Their blades remained locked, pressed together with equal but opposing force. “Take half.”
 

Starscream’s jaw dropped. From the corner of her eye, she saw the two-wheeler react similarly. Unfortunately, she was too busy processing her own shock to do anything about it. “M-Master?”
 

“Guess she really does like them wings.” Cliffjumper sprinted towards the trolleys. “We’ll be taking both though, if you don’t mind...“
 

Megatron leveled her fusion cannon. Her other arm, from which the blade sprouted, bore down on Optimus’s chassis, too heavy for her to force away. “Do not test me.”
 

She was the one who slagged-off Starscream for threatening to blow the mine – but now wasn’t the time to voice such shrill indictments. Cliffjumper swallowed; Starscream saw the bob in his intake. He raised his hands from the trolley handlebars.
 

“Optimus?”
 

Optimus never let her optics stray from Megatron. She had her battle mask up, but there was something inscribed in those warm blue eyes, something Starscream despised. It almost looked like… approval.

“Take half, Cliffjumper. One trolley only. Arcee?”

 

The blade dipped from the danger zone. Pedes slammed Starscream’s back. She grunted, staggering forwards – and Arcee leapt backwards, turning a neat one-eighty flip and landing on her feet, some distance behind.
 

“Be seeing you, Con,” she told her. Her smirk was the frost to her partner’s fire. Then she rammed the other side of the handlebars to get the cart moving, the high-stacked pyramid of energon vanishing after Cliffjumper into the revolving green vortex of the groundbridge.
 

Optimus stepped back from Megatron, wary. “I was not expecting such a result.”
 

Megatron smirked. “I said that your Bots could return with the energon. I did not say they could return with you!” She lashed out. Optimus deflected – and on it went. Starscream, rubbing her sore throat cabling, found herself a rock to perch on and spectate.
 

The giant mechs parried back, forth, back again. The whole while, Optimus was giving ground, reversing her way towards the portal. Megatron pressed forwards, aware it was not so much an advantage as a controlled retreat. Still, she was quite the sight to behold: armor glistening, vents wobbling the air with hot exhaust. She pummeled her arm blade against the Prime’s as if she meant to chip them apart.
 

Perhaps the war would’ve ended there and then, had Megatron not have done so many high-speed flip-transformations the day before. Behind her knee plates, something grated. Megatron gasped.
 

The reprieve was all Optimus required. She ducked the next blow, folded into her truck form and accelerated away, leaving Megatron’s choking on her dust. The groundbridge fizzled out. Nothing left but dead Eradicons and another sour victory.

Any other time, Starscream would’ve laughed – at least, in the privacy of her helm. Not today. Today, she dared teeter closer to her Master, placing her thin feet carefully on the blast-bored rubble.
 

“Are you –“
 

“Fine,” grunted Megatron. Still, she issued a pained hiss as she flexed her leg. “Knock Out will attend to me upon my return.”
 

“Good, good. Um, excellent.” Starscream resisted the urge to sketch circles in the dust with her pointed toes. “Master?”
 

“Yes?”
 

“What you did…”
 

Megatron scowled down at her knee, as if offended by its betrayal. “I have further use for you, Starscream. You are teaching me to fly, remember?”
 

Starscream clicked her claws together, wings hanging. She was aware that she’d let her guard down. That she’d let her opportunity to snuff an Autobot spark slip between her talons. And usually, she wouldn’t give two whits about disappointing the Warlord who’d raised her up and battered her down. But somehow, today…
 

“I am… sorry.”
 

That got Megatron’s attention. She set her pede flat on the floor, grimacing ever-so-slightly, but forcing it to bear her weight. She peered at Starscream like she expected the apology to be pre-emptive, followed by an attack. One wasn’t incoming. Starsceam’s wings drooped lower. “I – I let them bait me. I let my anger at their words get the better of me, and then I was distracted by your battle, and –“
 

Megatron took a step towards her. Then another. Her wounded knee let out an ominous creak, but it held. Starscream, meanwhile, skittered back like a spooked turbofox, until the mine wall clonked her wings.
 

“I – uh… Master?”
 

No response. Megatron kept walking. Starscream gabbled faster.
 

“I – I should’ve cut her throat, Master! I had her, I had her in my grip! My – my greatest shame is to have failed you in battle, and –“
 

“Shut up Starscream,” said Megatron, and kissed her.

 

 

 

 

To call it a romantic gesture would be a touch overgenerous. In order to get Starscream at a level where the old mech didn’t have to bend in half and throw her back, Megatron had wrapped one ridiculously oversized hand around her waist and picked her up.
 

Starscream assumed her Master had finally lost patience and was going to take a chomp out of her neck cabling, finishing Arcee’s job for her. She did the only thing she could think of and screamed in her face. Which left a nice big open intake for Megatron to shove her glossa into.
 

She almost lost it, when Starscream’s mouth snapped shut in shock. She yanked her tongue out the way of her closing dentae, just in time.
 

Starsceam boggled up at her Master, seeing her huge, red eyes reflected in her armour. The curve warped her mirror image grotesquely, a Quintesson squeezed until its head popped.
 

“I – uh – you – ah – me – you – “
 

Megatron raised a leg, propping her pede on a handy nearby boulder. She dropped Starscream to straddle her thigh – who instinctively clutched it, wings flicking.
 

“I kissed you,” she told Starscream, whose processor was struggling to fulfill its ordained purpose. Then, gripping her shoulder guards to keep her still, she swooped in and did it again. Starscream made a pathetic noise, somewhere between a squeak and a sob. She wrapped her arms around Megatron’s neck and kissed her back.
 

She didn’t think of the pain the hands spanning out across her wings had inflicted. Didn’t think about the degradation, the constant down-talking, the low, simmering resentment that had been building in her tank for the last century, ever since they brought their farce of a relationship to an end. Calcifying, hardening, wedging inside her, a blockage no amount of high-grade could dissolve. Which no purging or overcharge, or rough, angry interfaces with whichever bot volunteered cleared away.
 

She let it all fade, lost to the tongue rubbing slick on her own. The potent tang of flier-energon on Megatron’s breath. The warming fuzz of her ex-vents, the caustic stink of her solvent, the – oh scrap – the whirr of her own cooling fans, spinning online.
 

“Master–“
 

The leg between hers hitched up. Dragging against – skies.
 

Oh, it had been so long. The need pulsed through her, wet and greedy, and – frag, frag, it would be so very easy to give in.

A low growl of her designation. The frame pressed against hers was hot as her own. And large, so large. Huge enough to pick Starscream up and frag her as Megatron willed, on the berth, the consoles, the schematics table; any other vaguely horizontal surface they passed by. To grip her wrists two-to-one hand and pin her while that thick, glorious spike pushed in.

More, more, more. Straining her valve, stretching her open, deeper, fuller, until Megatron was all she wept, all she tasted, all she knew…
 

Starscream heard a faint scraping sound. She looked down to discover her pelvis rocking against Megatron’s thigh. Fluid oozed from under her panel, lubricant the color of rose quartz. A glistening bead trickled along Megatron’s transformation seams.
 

“Ah – oh – “
 

Megatron scooped one of her slim legs, hooking it on her waist instead. She lifted Starscream the rest of the way, no discernible effort, as if she weighed no more than air. Which, she supposed, compared to Megatron, she didn’t. And – oh, fraggit.
 

A hot spike panel throbbed under Starscream’s aft. Megatron could frag her like this. Rough and dirty, scraping her wings raw against the rock. Down in the mud, surrounded by dead troops and spilt energon. The thought of it sent a pulse through her valve, callipers wringing on nothing. Drops of lubricant ran down her inner thighs, hot as molten steel.
 

“Meg – Megatr –“
 

Her Warlord leaned in, nuzzling bared fangs around Starscream’s much-abused neck. “Perhaps,” she said, in that low, snarling purr she always let creep into her voice before a fragging, “we should take this back to my cabin.”
 

And –
 

Starscream –
 

Broke.
 

They finished this for a reason. War had this tricksy habit of inverting things. Righteous activists to tyrants. Pacifist librarians to warriors. Lovers to mortal enemies, locked in an eons-long grudge match. And Megatron wanted to fix it with – what? A kiss? Some – admittedly mind-blowing - sex? No. It wasn’t enough. Not for the beatings, the constant, spark-shivering fear, the long-haul mission that had lost Starscream her trine mates, and, a century before, the bomb that had fallen on her city.

Autobot firepower, it was claimed. Starscream had always had her suspicions, as that last battle, the loss of Vos, had given Megatron exactly what she wanted. It gave her, her.
 

Starscream was not ready – did not know if she would ever be ready – to willingly offer herself again.
 

“Stop,” she whispered.
 

Megatron didn’t hear her, or chose not to. She nibbled the lip of the collar on her chest armour, pinching her wings. Thick fingers pressed between her legs, stroking her valve panel, petting, probing, teasing it open as Megatron had done so many times before. But while her valve slicked and her spark burnt bright, Starscream felt nothing but revulsion.
 

“I said stop!”
 

Megatron stopped. Her cooling fans roared; a constant, dull drone. She looked into Starscream's eyes, the two of them, for once, on the level.
 

Starscream didn't cower, although Megatron's expression transitioned swiftly from amor to anger. "Starscream..."
 

"I can't do this." Starscream gripped Megatron's wrist. The Warlord's hand was still between her legs. No longer touching her, but the warmth from her plating still percolated, still violated; left her throbbing with need. But not want. No desire. There hadn't been any of that, not for a very long time.
 

As Starscream's claws pressed in, that hand moved away. As did Megatron. She stood, Starscream all but crumpling off her leg. She hit the ground hard, bouncing on her aft. "Ow!"
 

Megatron said nothing. She turned, crossing the quarry's base. Then, as Starscream pushed herself to sit, scarcely daring to believe that her spark still beat in her chest, Megatron dug her claws into the wall, and started to climb.
 

She didn't look back. No scathing commentary, no last words.
 

Starscream watched her progress for what felt like a vorn, numb as if she'd been patrolling the Arctic. A wet well of lubricant had gathered behind her valve panel. It was starting to go cold. A tepid trickle ran down the inside of her leg.

Starscream shuddered. Shook her helm.
 

She jumped, transformed, and roared up, past Megatron, honing on the Nemesis's coordinates. If her Master had nothing to say, Starscream didn't see why she ought to break the silence.

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