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The Road Not Taken

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              The first cube of fuel Prowl gives him makes Megatron feel like purging. He made the decision to cease fueling several weeks ago. It's a coward's way out. It's been less than fifty years in his mobius cell. But he's tired and old and the world has no more use for him. And seeking this last indulgence, the luxury of drifting into stasis lock and a final sleep, is all the choice that's left to him. He's spent the last forty years in penance and silent regret and he's done.

              There is no redemption to be found for someone like him, after all. There is no difference to the world between his death, and his life, sitting in a cell locked away from every other universe. There is only a difference to him, and already he can feel the nibbles of insanity around the edges of his mind and no. He's done.

              Three weeks into his fast, the door that should never open again opens. He was so shocked he didn't even remember to move at first, to look. Oh, his fuel gets here somehow, he knew that, but he thought that forever was, well, forever.

              Forever seems to be one more thing to bend at Prowl's discretion. "I have a proposal for you," says Prowl, and his hatred has not decreased by one iota.

              Megatron tilts his head at the single chair in the room, and waits.

              Now he's being herded through the corridors of a building in Iacon. He's repainted. He's wearing a ceremonial garment that hugs him tight across the chest, bares the details of his waist, outlines his hips in a glittering silver a few shades lighter than his own armor. He saw its like a few times before in illustrations in ancient manuscripts; the conjunxing robes of the highest nobility, Primes and lords and all the rotten shimmering things of a Cybertron he killed. He's been given vows, which he's memorized.

              There is an army on Cybertron's doorstep. Their leader is open to a treaty, but demands a consort. Megatron is at once important enough the mech won't be insulted, but also eminently disposable. Will he do it? If he won't, Prowl is happy to return him. To walk out that door and leave him to die. Don't think he hasn't noticed, and then Prowl's mouth twisted in a way that was just as good as calling Megatron a coward.

              Megatron will do it. He might as well throw his life away to shield Cybertron. It's not as if he has any alternatives. This way, at the very least, he can pretend it was for a reason. Even though he has no idea who or even what he's being conjunxed to.

              He's still flinching at voices, which are too loud, and at the halls, which are too open, and feeling clean like this is strange and too harsh and even the whisper of air from Prowl's movements over his plating are painful in their acuity. The cube of fuel he's had makes him feel like purging. Too much too good too fast. He startles with every door that opens. He's already unaccustomed to them doing that.

              They come to a room, grand but windowless. This is to be secret, then. Megatron looks over the assembled mecha. He recognizes some. Some he doesn't. At the head of the room, a group of officials, a priest. None of the people from the Lost Light. And a group of mecha, apparently Cybertronian but also strange, and at their head a mech nearly Magnus's size, with high elaborations on his helm like the horns of an Earth beetle and red optics and heavy talons who seems as polished as he is, and whose gaze is evaluating.

              Megatron meets it calmly. There is a Decepticon brand on his mech's shoulder, but he is not one of Megatron's. He shifts his gaze. There are others behind him; a Seeker armored in pink and deep purplish grey, a tank built heavy and in maroon and gold with no intake, a tall empurata survivor with antlers in teal and gray, a helicopter of some description just behind the Decepticon in maroon and gray with a helm that resembles his extremely. Whose build, overall, seems very similar to his own but smooth where he is square.

              Prowl nudges him forward with a spread hand on the small of his back. It must look friendly to the others. It does not feel friendly. The fact that it is Prowl reminds Megatron that there are battle-grade talons retracted under the surface of the mech's hands, and that the hand is just over the relays for his legs and, should it tear up even a few inches, his t-cog. He steps forward obediently.

              Another mech hurries up to Prowl, whispering urgently. "Windblade's on her way back," they murmur. "We have to hurry. You know she won't accept this. Even if he agrees."

              "Of course," says Prowl coolly. "Never mind this is the best option he's going to get." He pushes Megatron forward again. Megatron decides he's had enough of that and walks forward on his own to the massive Decepticon. This is likely his intended.

              Better this than starving in his cell. He inclines his helm in a gesture of respect to an equal. The mech seems startled, returns the gesture, then says to his lieutenants, "Well. At least his courage is acceptable."

              The Seeker laughs nastily.

              "And you agree to this, do you?" says the mech. "I have no interest in an unwilling mate."

              The word is coarse, the most undignified and unelaborated of the words for a life-partner, and Megatron realizes he's being tested. He looks at the mecha behind his intended and sees in them an echo of his Decepticons. It's not all due to the badges they wear. These are heavy frames. They would have been disposable before the war. And before the war, 'mate' was about all someone of those castes would expect.

              They think he's some princeling who will take offense. Prowl truly has them fooled. So he steps forward and firmly takes the hand of his intended, letting the mech feel the strength behind his grip and smiles to show the fangs he's never bothered to file down and says, in the most blunt Tarnian dialect, "I do. Fully, without reservation."

              He means it, too, because anything is better than returning to that cell. Anything is better than long hours waiting to die.

              He's rewarded with a startled look. The mech quickly recovers himself. "And your designation?"

              "Megatron of Tarn," he says, and watches for the reaction.

              The reaction is amusement. "Well," says the mech, with a glance at the helicopter-alt standing next to him, "you and him are going to have to have it out, then."

              "All the good names are taken," mutters Prowl.

              Attention turns back to Megatron. "I am Lord Megazarak," the mech says. "Leader of the Decepticons."

              Megatron flicks a glance at Prowl. Dimensional travel is theoretically possible. Now, it seems it's actually possible. No wonder Prowl is so glad to throw him at these invaders. There's probably a clause in this treaty requiring them to go back and take him with them so the others never see him again. In effect, another, equally secure prison for him. This time, with a warden.

              A Decepticon warden, who knows nothing of his treason. Megatron is ashamed to realize he's glad of that.

              He knows how Decepticons think. He'll fit in there, in a way he never would have on the Lost Light. His greatest challenge will not be allowing himself to slip back into being the person he once was, but he didn't in the Functionist universe so he supposes he can restrain himself here. He holds Megazarak's hand and steps in close. "A pleasure to meet you, Lord Megazarak," he says aloud.

              And with that, the ceremony begins. They fuel each other, they speak vows and entrust each other with meaningless secrets (Megazarak speaks briefly of having been onlined as a noble's tutor, rather than a true warframe, Megatron of his poetry), they exchange tokens. All of it is a stilted, empty version of a real conjunx ritus, but what it is is legally binding.

              At the end of it Megazarak tilts his chin up and presses his mouth over Megatron's in a long kiss. This too, is a challenge. He probably expects a worried Autobot to resist, to find this affection too much for public display. Megatron, if he's learned one thing in his solitude, has learned he's not an Autobot. The kiss is the best thing he's felt in decades, and while a tiny part of him feels guilty with remembered affection for Ultra Magnus, the rest of him is too desperate for another mech's touch to care. The kiss is firm and commanding and good, and Megatron, who can go either way when it comes to dominance and submission, melts into it happily, opening his mouth to give Megazarak entry, because just hearing another mech's vents just now is heaven.

              There are large warm hands on his waist, pulling him in close. He returns the embrace. He's been with several mecha—Optimus, Soundwave, briefly Starscream, Impactor. This reminds him of Impactor.

              When he pulls away, Megazarak still looks startled and impressed. "More to you than meets the eye," he mutters at Megatron, who smiles.

              "You have no idea," he says, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice.

 

              It's a silent flight back to Megazarak's ship. There are perfunctory introductions. The mecha in the delegation are Starscream, Shockwave, Strika, and the helicopter-alt is also named Megatron, Megazarak's second in command. Megatron's not stupid enough to dismiss that information. He peers into the mech's eyes—the younger mech's eyes, he's sure of it—wondering if he'll see something of himself there. He doesn't know if he does.

              The other Megatron flies. Starscream sulks in the seat next to him. That, by itself, makes the shuttle feel like home. Megatron sits with the other Decepticons, with Megazarak reading something on a datapad next to him, and feels relieved. He's always been most fond of his own company but decades of it… no, he needs other mecha right now like he needs fuel.

              The fuel once they board the ship (Nemesis, Megazarak calls it) is good. Megazarak gets him another cube in a drinking vessel like a goblet and Megatron can't stop staring at its shape, so unnecessarily elaborate, so pleasing. It's worlds away from the little dispenser in the little room he's spent the last forty years in.

              "So where did they find you?" Megazarak asks. "They were Autobots. We know Autobots, no matter what universe they're in, no matter if they're just calling themselves Cybertronians. What are you, and why did they give you to me so readily?"

              "I am…" He doesn't know what to say. He thinks of what he's done. Just because he can no longer tolerate his punishment doesn't mean he's any less aware of what he's done. Of the dead in their billions at his feet. He doesn't know how much to give this new conjunx of his. "A political prisoner," he says at last, but it isn't enough. "A war criminal," he adds.

              "Who here isn't," says Megazarak with wry amusement. "Who among the Autobots isn't, I'd like to know." He searches Megatron's face. "No wonder you were so eager to agree."

              This doesn't seem to bother him. He takes Megatron's upraised hand with the goblet in it and pulls him into another kiss.

              "There were no Decepticons there," he says afterward. "I wonder if that means you're one of us."

              Megatron looks down and says nothing.

              "Are you what will happen to my second should we lose this war?" Megazarak wonders. He sounds too amused by that.

              "He will have a way downward to go if he is to be me," says Megatron.

Megazarak takes that to mean something other than he means, of course. "Don't worry. My Decepticons will succeed."

That lends a bitterness to the kisses Megatron's just courted, but Megazarak's hand is on his and he can't—he can't move away because he doesn't want to relinquish that. He finishes his energon and lets himself be led to Megazarak's quarters.

They're big and grand. Not his taste. He'll adapt. Megazarak gestures at a door. "Yours are through there," he says. "I don't want someone in my territory all the time. I'm sure you understand. But tonight…" He backs them to the bed and sits on it, gesturing Megatron forward, pulling him into his lap. Megatron goes.

He's always been picky about his interface partners, but he's been so miserable and so lonely that the idea of someone else, anything but his own fragging servos, has his spike hard and his valve wet and he doesn't care which Megazarak wants from him. He wants the touch, the closeness, almost more than the pleasure. He goes eagerly, perched in the mech's lap with only a startled gasp when Megazarak heaves them into the center of the bed. Fingers rub his panels, press over his valve. He opens without being asked. Megazarak pushes a finger into him and makes a small groan at what he finds there. There's the click of a panel opening, Megazarak's thick ridged spike rising between them, and Megatron reaches down to grasp it, rub a thumb over the leaking head. Megazarak jolts under him with a grunt.

Another finger pushes into his valve and it's not enough. Megatron squirms. A thumb rubs his node, the fingers trusting lazily, halting sometimes when he does something particularly sweet to Megazarak's spike, but his concentration frays on the edges. His world narrows to the feeling of the fingers moving in him, slow and deliberate, the thumb on him. He needs more.

Megazarak has had enough. The fingers slip out of him. He's lifted by his hips and the tip of that spike pushes against his opening. "Please," he begs, and Megazarak's hips drive up into him. Hard, the thick head of his spike spreading him wide, broad, blunt, inescapable. He's pulled down. There aren't many mecha he's 'faced in his size class. None bigger than him. Nothing like this, a girth that makes him ache. He feels guilty for a moment. Is this what Magnus would have felt like?

But that door is closed.

And this isn't Magnus. He can't pretend that as Megazarak leans forward and bites his neck cables with a lazy roll of his hips deep into Megatron's twitching valve. He groans and rises a little, beginning to frag himself on that glorious spike. Megazarak mouths his neck, licking over the dents he's made. His hips rise to meet Megatron's, and Megatron can already feel an overload approaching. He's not sure if it's more to do with the thick spike in him or another mech this close, touching him like this. He throws his helm back with a gasp and shudders. Megazarak hisses and pounds into his exquisitely sensitive valve and the overload seems to go on forever, too, too long and Megatron wants to tell him to stop except it's been forty years and this is so much better than anything he can imagine and he doesn't want it to stop just because it's so much it hurts.

Megazarak growls and taps hard on his hardline access ports and Megatron opens them before he even thinks about them. Megazarak plugs in, requests standard accesses and Megatron grants them and the pleasure of the data exchange grabs him so hard he lets out a little noise like a shriek. Then there's another demanding rap on his chest and without hesitation he opens. Never mind that he's not trusted anyone for millennia with it. He'll do anything to keep from going back. He'll do anything to keep another mech with him.

Megazarak plunges into him and they're so alike. They're so alike. There's no need to apologize for the darkness in his own spark because here it is mirrored. There's no need to apologize for who and what he is or hide and it feels incredible. How has he lived alone like this so long?

Megazarak groans and his rhythm stutters. Megatron feels himself being filled, feels his gestational systems come online, and it slams him into another overload that makes him cry out with its intensity, not caring that they're on a crowded warship and anyone might hear him. Megazarak stills in perfect satisfaction reflected through their connection and then pulls out of him.

"What a gem," he says, helm tilting, fangs showing in a grin. "Foolish Autobots, for locking you away." He's overloaded but his spike is still hard and presses against Megatron's abdomen. "I will not relinquish you so easily."

"The feeling is mutual," Megatron assures him and Megazarak laughs and flips them, arranging Megatron on his front and pushing into him again, leaving him to clutch the head of the berth and cry out in sharp, staccato breaths with each rapid, hard thrust. Megazarak's spike moves easily in him, a long smooth drag and a sharp hard bust of pleasure at the end and Megatron is too tired to throw his aft back into each rust now and revels in kneeling there open and vulnerable and used. Megazarak grunts and fills him again, fingers on his node to push Megatron into his own overload. Megatron collapses onto the berth after that one and Megazarak flips him to his back again and gives him a few moments to recover, another goblet of coolant this time, watching him all the time with a lazy, pleased evaluation.

It's the best frag of his life, Megatron thinks, and tilts his hips up in invitation when he sees Megazarak is hard again. This time, Megazarak gently parts his legs and slides into him slow and gentle and lies there on top of him, moving gentle and slow, lovemaking rather than harsh fragging and the idea of being treated so gently, of being 'faced like someone who matters, has Megatron panting as liquid pleasure pools in him, something like an overload but it keeps building and building. He opens his spark again and Megazarak takes his invitation, merging even more deeply with him, a mouth clamping over his in another blissful deep kiss.

There's no more either of their frames will do after that overload and Megazarak rolls of him, looking both sated and mildly surprised. "There aren't many mecha who can keep up with me," he says aloud, and they both look at each other and laugh a little.

"What a gem you are," Megazarak says again and takes Megatron's hand in his own, and this time, rather than possessive pride, it's genuinely affectionate.

"Washracks?" says Megatron.

"When I can move," says Megazarak, and they both laugh again. Megatron manages to stamp away the guilt. The reminder that this is better than he deserves.

 

Megazarak is good to him. There are as many datapads as can be found for him to read, to write. There are no restrictions on his movements. As much as he wishes to requisition from stores to decorate his new quarters, a little smaller than Megazarak's own with their own washracks and a berth big enough for the two of them. There are mecha to talk to, and none of them hate him (though Starscream regards him with a familiar disdain—but that's normal). He doubts they'd hate him even if they know what he's done. He knows he shouldn't feel relieved about that, but wary. What might these mecha do if they can view his crimes with equanimity?

But he's tired and he's full of grief and he's so tired of fighting that he simply accepts it and enjoys their company.

After all, it was Prowl who decided to send him here. To save Cybertron. He's still doing something to atone, even if the atonement itself is pleasant.

He just wishes he had more of a role to play.

He's a civilian here and he should be a civilian because he can't be trusted otherwise, what will he do otherwise, let off the leash he's kept himself on but when the ship goes into battle he waits in his quarters and doesn't do anything useful at all. Finally he can't stand it anymore and goes to the medbay, where he becomes acquainted with Hook, who he already knows, and the little maniac Scalpel, who he doesn’t and immediately hates. The feeling is mutual. It, too, is a relief. It feels good to justifiably hate someone again. Even better to know he's probably in the right because Ratchet would hate the little scrap-fragger too. He learned to be a good medic in the Functionist Universe and wonders if perhaps he can get away with kicking Scalpel out an airlock one of these days. At this rate, it'll improve the crew's general health.

He's happy. How did he even think he was happy on the Lost Light? Alone, hated, wrestling with his guilt. This is better, though he does miss Rodimus and Magnus.

That door, however, is closed.

Megazarak himself is a good and considerate conjunx. If Megatron is uninterested in 'facing, that's the end of the matter. Sometimes, they simply sit and read together. Megatron gets hold of one of his speeches and offers suggestions. Corrections. Megazarak is impressed and pleased. He lets Megatron start writing a few of them. It lets Megatron gently comment on policy. Megazarak listens to him, though he doesn't always follow through.

So maybe Megatron chafes at that. Maybe he wants more. He's always wanted more. This is so much better than he dreamed. For now, he has to be content.

And maybe Megazarak is good but distant. Intimacy will come with time, if they both decide they want it. Megatron isn't sure he's ready for this to be anything but a business arrangement punctuated with spectacular fragging (though Megazarak seems disinclined to be spiked, which is somewhat discouraging. Megatron likes both spiking and being spiked, and it's a little boring when Megazarak desires the same dynamic each time. It's something he'll have to work on). He's missed other mecha and missed them badly, but emotional intimacy still scares him.

He is impatient at feeling like a useful pet, sometimes. Like the other Decepticons don't take his medical work seriously. But with medical work, he can't hurt anyone. And that's what matters.

He sees little of the command staff. But one day both Strika and his alternate come into the medbay fresh from a mission.

They're hurt, both of them. He knows blaster wounds and knife wounds and they've both got that, and his alternate looks like someone punched him in the faceplates, right where a nose would be if mecha in this universe had one.

But both of them have also been flogged, and it's that damage that makes him pause, frowning. "Did you two get captured?"

There's a bark of laughter from Strika. "No, that was Himself. Torqued as frag at Megatron here, and I stood too close."

Megatron stares down at the weals on his alternate's back. It's a plasma whip by the damage, and he knows damn well how they work. He's usually been on the other end of them, though.

He has used them on his own Decepticons a handful of times, and he remembers each and every one. Mostly Phase Sixers. Mostly as a severe deterrent, a punishment for murdering another Decepticon for no reason other than fun. When humiliation is as much the point as the pain.

"What the frag did you do?" he says, bending to inspect and repair the damage.

"Lost," says his alternate bluntly. Megatron hisses through his dentae, disapproving. "Losses happen," he says aloud. Even when it was Starscream's most egregious losses, he stuck to his fists, and now he regrets even that. He didn't whip his people like they were back in the mines. The last time he used one, it was on Overlord, for eating one of his comrades, and unlike the incidents with Starscream, that he doesn't regret.

"Works wonders for morale, I'm sure," he says aloud, and is silent through the rest of his work.

"Thanks for using the pain patches," Strika says gruffly as they turn to leave. Megatron rolls his optics to hide how disturbed he is and says, "Keeps you from squirming," like Ratchet did to him upon a time.

He feels alight with the injustice of it and still is angry when he returns to Megazarak's quarters that evening. Megazarak, already ensconced in a comfortable chair, looks up at him with no little consternation. "You're angry. Has someone been impolite?"

Megatron pauses in filling cubes for both of them—there's no empty cube by Megazarak's hand and he assumes the other mech hasn't fueled yet. It's one of the things they've started doing for one another, a small domestic gesture. "I saw Megatron and Strika today," he says. "Apparently they'd been whipped for losing a battle."

"Ah. Yes," says Megazarak. "The young officers really need to stop being so stupid."

Megatron sets the cube down next to Megazarak's hand. He pauses, not letting go of it, so Megazarak has to look at him, and says slowly and evenly, "You won't get good performance from your troops if you flog them for failure. That's what my Decepticons were rebelling about."

Megazarak lowers the datapad he's reading and stares back at him, and the expression in his eyes makes Megatron go still. Megatron's vicious. A monster. Still is. And he knows one when he sees one. This one happens to hold his current function in his hands. Megatron is frankly uncertain which of them would win a fair fight and any fight he picks here won't be fair.

"You lost," Megazarak says, slow and poisonous. "Don't think I've forgotten what I pulled you out of, Megatron."

His instincts may be telling him to be cautious, but Megatron's pride won't let him back down so easily. "They're promising youngsters, Megazarak," he says. "You can't blame them for every failure. You have to teach them what they did right. Not simply punish them. I've made that mistake, it's true."

The datapad lowers again. "Do not," says Megazarak, and now even Megatron dares push no further, "lecture me on how to control my own soldiers."

Megatron stares at him a handful of seconds longer, keeping challenge from his eyes. He takes his cube and refuels in his room.

 

It still bothers him days later. For good reason. He's made a deal with Mortilis and there's no good way out. His conjunx whom he barely knows holds everything in the palm of his hand and that conjunx is the same sort of Decepticon leader he used to be. That he never wants to be again.

Maybe he's even worse, but since they've yet to scorch an organic world for the mere fact it's organic, Megatron supposes he doesn't have much ground to stand on.

Megazarak will not change his behavior. If the young officers want to survive—because Megatron is sure that one day Megazarak's temper will get the best of him and he won't stop in time, that's how these things go, that's how someone who uses a plasma whip for punishing something like that thinks—they'll have to be better commanders. So he finds out where they're meeting.

And because someone like Megazarak is going to see mutiny behind every bulkhead, he sits down with the mech before he does so. "I apologize for my earlier conduct," he says, because if it's a lie it's not embarrassing. "You're right. The young officers need to stop being so damn stupid. Mind if I tutor them a little?" He spreads a sheaf of datapads before Megazarak.

"Hm," says Megazarak. "They should already know that."

Megatron gives him a crooked smile, because he's not going to teach strictly to those datapads. He's going to teach them how these works applied to battles that haven't happened in this universe yet. "Let's ensure they haven't gotten sloppy," he says.

Megazarak agrees, but has a habit of stepping in to check on them. Megatron sticks to lecturing then, because none of the youngsters want to say anything and risk a blow for stupidity. Megazarak seems to approve of his teaching content and methods, however, and his visits get more infrequent and the young officers more confident as the months wind on.

They're so different than he and his officers were. Well, Starscream isn't. The others are. His alternate is quieter, seems to relish cultivating an air of refinement, a deep smooth voice. Strika, whose alternate he's never met, is confident and brash. Shockwave is far more subdued. Far less arrogant. Stares at Megatron's alternate with something like worship. And Lugnut, another mech new to Megatron, is stupid as a pile of bearings and totally charmingly devoted to Strika and Megatron in equal measure, staring between them with his single optic blown wide in admiration.

He's horrified by how much he likes them. Primus, was he ever that young?!

They're standoffish at first but as they see less and less of Megazarak, that changes. It's a small thing at first, Megatron and Strika gleefully reporting victories to him in a way that might be mistaken for youthful boasting at first but they take time to talk about how the things he taught them played into it (carefully hidden by boasting, but still). Megatron's spark warms at it. Lugnut, suspicious of anyone intruding into their little circle, gradually warms to him, and at last sidles up to him and asks for advice on how to start courting someone. Megatron…isn't the best person to ask about that but he tries some simple solutions and it seems to work because the next time he sees Strika and Lugnut they're leaning on one another and staring out at the wreckage of a battlefield as if it's a nebula, which is about what he'd expect from them, romance-wise.

Even Megazarak seems happy with the arrangement. "The young idiots aren't completely useless," he says one evening, and hands Megatron a cube, bending to kiss him with genuine affection. The young idiots aren't turning up in Megatron's medbay anymore so he supposes the problem is solved. He feels himself relaxing into Megazarak's attentions again, enjoying the gentle slow frags and merges without reservation. Enjoying the rough frags with even less concern. They're recharging together sometimes now. Megatron didn't realize how much he missed recharging with someone else.

He's lying in the berth this evening with Megazarak pressed up against his back, a long warm presence that makes him feel surprisingly safe. One arm drapes over his midsection, massaging slowly. He's tired and sated and more than a little sore and trying to muster the will to get up to wash himself off when Megazarak says, "Our heir truly will be the greatest leader the Decepticons have ever known. With my power and your brilliant mind…" He pushes himself up and presses a kiss to Megatron's cheek as Megatron blinks at him with surprise. He hides it after a moment, though, and tilts his face to return the kiss, reveling in the slow movement of lips on lips, the push of Megazarak's tongue into his mouth, but the surprise is still there.

"I've always wanted a protoform," he says, because it is true. Just not something he's considered as a now kind of issue.

He should have expected this. Of course protoforms are an expectation of an arranged conjunxing. But he's pretty fragging sure that he's not kindled yet. Which is strange in and of itself because he and Megazarak have been interfacing in every way possible with as much abandon as physically possible and he knows he's not got any contraceptive codes or devices installed. And that's not right because in every other frame he's had he's kindled easily—or assumed he did, after a handful of unpleasant surprises that he was lucky to get taken care of when he did. The mines are not a good place to raise a protoform. Neither are the gladiatorial pits. Or the middle of a war. He hasn't been fond of lending his spark for many reasons but that's a major, practical one.

But now? This is about as good as it's going to get for someone like him.

So he takes himself to the medbay and gets examined by Hook, who he swears to secrecy in the time-honored Decepticon way: by threatening to rip his arms off and feed them to him if he says anything. It's a step back to a mech he wishes he weren't, but this is important.

"You're infertile," says Hook when he comes back. "I can't say it's unusual for a mech of your age, but the number of frames you've been in is the other major factor. Forget that slag about previous terminations being a problem, that's propaganda. Is this your first frame, or has it been replaced?"

"It's been replaced," says Megatron, not seeing it as necessary to mention how many times.

"Yes, the transfer process can put strain on your spark. I'm sorry. You can't get kindled or kindle anyone. And there's nothing that can be done about it."

"Thank you, Hook," says Megatron, and slides himself off the berth, a little uncomfortably. It was less unpleasant having medics rummaging around in his valve when he wasn't using it intimately so often.

He needs to figure out how he'll break the news to Megazarak. The mech is easily provoked to violence, he knows that from the injuries on his alternate and Strika. It will have to be done carefully, and it's all too likely Megazarak will no longer want him as consort. But he's proved himself useful as a medic. He hopes that will quell Megazarak's displeasure, allow him to stay. It's humiliating but he can't go back.

Maybe he'll have to make his own way in this universe. That might be a better option.

Part of him is illogically fond enough of Megazarak to hope he really can stay because this seems like home now. No one is calling him a monster or a traitor. He doesn't deserve a reprieve from that, from his guilt, but he's enjoying every moment of it. He doesn't want to leave this new life.

He should, something in him points out. He should, because these are Decepticons, as guilty as his own, going to become guiltier if the war goes on. Will he be complacent or will he stop it?

He closes the panic off. It's so easy to panic these days after all that long silence in his dimensionally locked cell. He's learning how to deal with it all over again, and in large part he realizes he relies on Megazarak to ground him. The mech's easy fondness, his desire—even if he is distant it's something.

No, he's not ready to talk about this yet. He carries on as if nothing's different and ignores how Hook looks at him with concern during his shifts in the medbay. The youngsters are good company, though. They don't know about it. He can relax and enjoy teaching every time he's with them.

The evenings when he's with Megazarak are the most difficult, because he needs to tell him and can't think of a way to do it. Maybe he needs to wait until the subject of an heir comes up again. Maybe not. Maybe it's just a bad idea. But it has to be dealt with.

In the end, the decision is taken out of his hands, as so many have been. It's a full week after Hook delivered his news and Megatron is in session with his students, lecturing them about the Crucible, and the extreme loss of life blunders on both sides caused. Optimus, in that one, is as guilty as he. His alternate brought little markers so he's using them, leaning over the table to move them with a finger, when the door slides open. He looks up across the table. Every officer in the room jolts ramrod stiff in their chairs, a sort of attention while sitting that Megatron would find funny any other time except not now, because he's looking up from the table and into Megazarak's eyes and Megazarak is enraged. His entire attention is on Megatron, it's as if the table doesn't exist. Megazarak stalks toward him, slamming the table sideways and out of his way, heedless of Starscream's yelp as it strikes him in the abdomen, and grabs Megatron by the turret barrel on his shoulder.

It hurts.

Megazarak has not purposefully hurt him before.  

Megazarak yanks and all the young officers are too scared of him to say anything. They stare after him with round horrified optics as Megazarak drags him from the room. Megatron sets himself to wrench free. It's not treatment he'll tolerate.

As soon as he moves, Megazarak spins and punches him in the face, disorienting him, and a stasis cuff closes on one of his wrists, jolting him limp. Megazarak continues dragging him down the hall, and Megatron's mouth twists with disgust and humiliation. And more hurt than he wants to admit to because frag, he trusted this mech!

The door to his quarters, not Megazarak's, slides open in front of them and Megazarak throws him in, follows him, locks the door after them and then kicks him hard in the abdomen. Hauls him up by his throat. Megatron can't move. The stasis cuffs have taken all possibility of resistance.

"Why didn't you tell me you were barren?" says Megazarak. Megatron looks down into his eyes. For all their brilliant red hue, they're colder than a comet's tail.

"I didn't know myself," he says.

"That's a load of slag," snarls Megazarak and shakes him. "How could you not know you'd been reframed?" He throws Megatron to the ground, kicks him again. Megatron grunts with the pain.

"I didn't know it was a factor!" he says. There's urgency in his voice and he feels weak for it. "I was still able to get sparked on my third frame!"

Megazarak stills. "How many reframings have you had?"

Megatron can't actually tell him; he's not sure what counts. He gives him a number lower than reality. "Six."

Megazarak kicks him in the face, snapping his helm back and breaking his nose. He steps on Megatron's hands, and Megatron grunts with the pain, feeling two digits snap.

"You're an Autobot spy," says Megazarak and leans down. "You didn't even hide it. To think I let you keep that badge." His fingers close around Megatron's Autobrand and he rips it away.

Below it is the scar where his Decepticon shield used to sit. Used to, until Shockwave ripped it off him to open his chest for the spacebridge. Megazarak stares at it for a long silent moment, then at Megatron's face, looking for an explanation.

Megatron has none. He bows his head.

"Traitor," says Megazarak. "You turned to them at the end of the war, didn't you. Left your fellow Decepticons to the smelter. You left them. And then you didn't get the reward you expected. They just imprisoned you, so you were lucky. So you thought. And then it was too much for you. It wasn't to your taste. They had another job. Fool another faction of Decepticons. And you leaped at it, didn't you. Freedom and treason. Oh, you must have been delighted."

There's enough truth in it that it stings, but it's not true and Megatron begins to protest but Megazarak starts beating him in earnest now. He's hauled upright and a hand drives into his abdomen. His face again. He hangs helpless and limp in Megazarak's grasp. Megazarak drops him. Kicks his knee the wrong direction with a crunch. He pulls off Megatron's helmet and Megatron gasps with horror and fear, because he can't stand having his brain exposed. Megazarak grabs one of his delicate sensory flanges and yanks it the wrong direction and Megatron screams. Megazarak makes a noise of vicious approval and jerks again and Megatron feels it dislocate.

"I didn't know!" he cries. "I didn't know. I don't think the Autobots did."

Megazarak makes a disgusted noise. Another blow lands on him. Another tear at his sensory crest. The stasis cuffs are wearing off. He can struggle a little now.

"The Autobots handed me a useless wreck," Megazarak snarls. Megatron's trying to curl up on instinct now. Megazarak puts a foot on his abdomen, above his spike, and puts his weight on it, forcing Megatron to uncurl, spread eagled on the floor. Megatron stills again with horror, hoping this isn't the prelude to a rape.

He can't believe it's turned this sour, this fast. And he's an idiot for it, he realizes with horrible clarity, because had the fragging warnings in the form of whip weals across the backs of two young officers.

He's not been anywhere near redeemed. He's gotten worse. He was complacent. He ignored the pain of mecha who looked up to him. This is the punishment. And he deserves it.

Megazarak is content with beating him, at least. Megatron goes silent and limp and waits for him to get bored. He's been through worse. Except for the incident with Whirl in the cell, he's been able to fight back, but he's been through worse. He offlines his optics and hopes Megazarak thinks he's unconscious.

"I'll deal with you in the morning," says Megazarak at last, and Megatron dares to sneak a look at him again. He's spattered with Megatron's energon. He's nursing dented knuckles, as if that pain matters. Megatron feels disgust bubble inside him. He sparkmerged with this mech?

Megazarak leaves. Megatron curls himself small on the floor and waits for morning.

 

Morning comes.

Two big Decepticons come into the room together. Slap a new pair of stasis cuffs on him and drag him out. They're so big his feet don't touch the floor. Down to the hangar, the one place with room enough for all the Decepticons on the Nemesis. A ball of dread grows in Megatron's empty tanks. Whatever Megazarak has planned for him, it'll be public.

And if he's flogging his own officers for minor tactical mistakes, the punishment for deceiving him—however ignorant Megatron was of his own condition—will be terrible.

He's probably going to die.

And won't that just delight Prowl? Oh, the irony must be delicious. Megatron, let loose to pacify and then offline at the hands of his own Decepticons. Let him have a few months of thinking he'd gotten away with it. Then remind him.

He can't stand anyway, so it's not as humiliating as it could be that he's being basically carried. They reach the hangar and loop his stasis cuffs over a hook. He hangs there with the tips of his feet only brushing the floor, his knee still trickling pink onto the decking below him, and doesn't see a point to looking up. What a stupid reason to die. There are a thousand, no, billions of reasons that Megazarak would be right to kill him, lives and worlds cut short and no, it's because he's been reframed too many times and can't give the fragger a sparkling.

He offlines his optics again and ignores the sounds of the shuffling mecha in the hangar around him. He ignores Megazarak's footsteps.

He ignored the warnings he had about this mech. He was complacent. He deserves this. If anyone in this fragging universe deserves this, it's him. Even over Megazarak who's an upstart young idiot compared to him. Megazarak hasn't really gotten started on the business of mass murder and he's probably too preoccupied with the Autobots to accomplish it at the level Megatron has.

He hears the plasma whip power on.

A hand takes his chin and yanks it up. "Online your optics."

He does. He finds himself looking into Megazarak's face. It's not like he's started to love the mech but there was a certain tenderness there. It hurts more than he wants to admit to see hate in the mech's optics.

"You betrayed me," says Megazarak. "You lied to me. And the only reason the Autobots gave you to me was so you could spy on us. Isn't that true."

It's a statement. Megatron can't shake his helm. He opens his mouth and spits a broken denta onto Megazarak's chest. "No," he says. "They had no use for me. They did it to get rid of me." He thinks of his last words to Rodimus. "And whatever you do to me, I deserve worse."

Megazarak's grip lingers. He looks confused for a moment before fury overtakes him again. He drops Megatron's chin and stalks around behind him. Megatron catches a glimpse of his alternate's face in the mecha surrounding them, open and horrified. Strika has a grip on his shoulders. It's not a gentle one. Megazarak would be outraged if he saw and understood that; it's all Strika can do to keep his alternate from lunging forward.

Megatron manages a small shake of his head. It's not worth it, young one.

The whip hums behind him. Cracks backward. Slams into him hard and then comes the burning. He bites his lip to keep from crying out. He bites his lip through by the third blow, and a quiet groan escapes him. But he's had worse. It's not like a mine supervisor didn't string him up and flog him raw for slacking off when he found Megatron's datapad. It's not like that hasn't happened more than once.

It's not like it's anything more than pain.

He doesn't know how long it is until the pain stops. Until he hangs there and Megazarak has seized his chin again and is tilting his face up so he has to meet his optics. He realizes he's made a mistake. Megazarak is angrier than ever. Megatron's lack of response has made him lose face in front of his Decepticons. Maybe he wouldn't have killed Megatron initially but now he will. Megatron knows the look in Megazarak's optics intimately; he's had it in his own too often to mistake it.

"Do it," he says quietly. "There's nothing to return me to."

Megazarak lifts a gun to his head. Megatron catches a glimpse behind him. There's Starscream, face twisted in disgust, an expression Megatron knows intimately. The other Decepticons have varying expressions of horror and dismay. Most of them must have been as willfully blind as he was, but the Decepticon Lord torturing and executing his conjunx for infertility isn't something easy to ignore.

The gun presses against his uncovered head, the aching sensory flanges. Megatron offlines his optics and waits.

Brain, spark, t-cog. Poor Prowl. He'll never know he got everything he wanted.

He vents as he hangs there, expecting each to be his last, too lost to tense with dread, and suddenly Megazarak hisses in pain and the gun clatters to the floor.

"Megazarak," says the deep, smooth voice a little younger than his own but still so, so similar, "I challenge you for leadership of the Decepticons."

 

He wishes he could remember the battle. His young counterpart has so much of him. His young counterpart credits him with his victory, afterward, and Megatron will never know if it's true. He passes out partway through because he's lost too much energon. He wakes up on his side in the infirmary and there his alternate is, sitting tall and proud next to the berth and still grinning. The grin only fades a little when he sees Megatron's looking at him. It becomes concerned, but still glad.

"How are you?" he asks. Megatron blinks, vents out long and slow.

"Alive," he says through an aching intake. "It's more than I deserve."

"I exiled him instead of killing him," says his alternate. "I'm not sure if that's what you wanted, but you talk about mercy so much." He shrugs, reminding Megatron of how very young he is. Then he reaches out and puts a careful hand on Megatron's wrist. "You're welcome here," he says. "But you must trust me with your story. I need to know that you're not a threat. I need to be able to shut them up if they say you are an Autobot spy."

Megatron looks up at him. The face above him is surprisingly earnest. Did he ever look that young?

He takes a deep breath.

He confesses.

He tells himself all of it. From the beginning, a young miner with writings clutched close. Trepan and Whirl and meeting Optimus and his first murder and the war and all the billions and billions of lives at his feet and the unending aching guilt and the Functionist universe where he thought he'd gotten a chance to make it right and how he'd lost and lost and lost in his arrogance, how the vow of nonviolence he made rang hollow, how he surrendered himself to Autobot justice hoping that that would give him absolution and how he found that ringing hollow too, decades in his silent cell, how not a thing he's said or done has come close to redemption, how there's no hope for something like him.

At the end of it there's a long silence and Megatron realizes there are optical lubricants dribbling down his face and he thumbs them out of his eyes impatiently and looks up at his alternate. The young mech sits there looking down at him, vents deep.

"This is a new beginning," his alternate says. "There is no more to atone for. Now, we do it again—and we do it correctly. We are not wrong to assert ourselves. You were not wrong to fight. You strayed, but not then."

The optical lubricant is running again. Megatron curls his head down in shame.

"Megatron," his alternate says. "Do you want absolution?"

"Yes," Megatron whispers. He's given up on it, though. His voice is forlorn.

"Stand with me," says his alternate. "Do not let me stray, too. You keep telling us when you lecture that when you're in battle, it's not about the mistakes you made. It's about what you do in the present. You should take your own advice."

He feels his mouth quirk in amusement and he looks up at the younger mech who seems far too much like him right now.

He vents. He's not sure he believes in absolution. But he does feel a knot around his spark come undone. His alternate is right. There's work to be done here.

"Stand with me," his alternate says again. "Make it so I don't bear your burden as well. It's a lot to ask. I know. But somehow I think that won't trouble you."

"No," he says. "No, it will not trouble me."

His alternate leans down to place a chaste kiss to the top of his replaced helmet, like a Prime to one of his warriors in some ridiculous holodrama, except Megatron's pretty sure his young alternate means this and means it sincerely.

And somehow, equally ridiculously, it does feel like absolution or something very similar. Old. Tired. Done with the constant nibbling guilt—Megatron will take what he can get.