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Forever Seems Just About Right

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Staring into a cell at himself, with Sentinel Prime at his back, Megatron's struck by a powerful sense of déjà vu. But this isn't his home reality, and this isn't really him, nor is it the Sentinel Prime who died at the beginning of his war.

"I can't examine him through the forcefield," he says, still hyperaware of the medical markings on his frame. He feels like an imposter. He's killed too many people to bear those markings. Ratchet would have a fit. But Strika insisted.

"You have to look like a civilian," she says. "You can't take an entourage. If you look like a threat, we'll have lost a diplomat as well as Megatron and his team. We can't do that, Megatronus."

Even that new name feels stolen, but there has to be some differentiation and taking the archaic form of the name more or less fit. So Megatron became Megatronus, at least to his fellow Decepticons and the outside world, and also a medic. The Decepticons are so short-staffed, medically speaking, that Hook and Scalpel are still members of his staff. One of them, he knows for a certain fact, sold the knowledge of his infertility to Megazarak all those years ago, causing his then-conjunx to beat and attempt to murder him.

It was probably Hook. Scalpel better not have found out. It may have been over a thousand years ago, but Megatron remembers. And as soon as either puts a foot or a pincer wrong, they're dead.

Both of them know it. It's been a thousand years of the lowest surgical mortality rates the Decepticons have ever known.

The Autobot Prime laughs. "Nice try, Decepticreep."

Megatron turns to look at him, an eyebrow ridge cocked and his medical kit in hand. "You're denying a licensed medic and the official Decepticon ambassador access to your prisoners to ascertain their welfare?" he says. "We are conducting these negotiations with the Galactic Council as an arbiter. They'll be very interested to learn of your lack of cooperation, Sentinel Prime."

Sentinel blusters, a mix of slurs and insults. In the cell, Megatron's alternate looks amused. Sentinel finally ends with, "Fine. I'll call Magnus. You'll see then."

Megatron makes a little gesture. Be my guest.

Sentinel makes the call. Sputters. Looks at Megatron, says, "You must be joking," but the other person isn't joking at all. Sentinel bares his dentae with rage, hangs up and glares at Megatron as if Megatron's personally responsible.

"You can go in," he says, with mock graciousness. "But you better not try anything."

"Much obliged," says Megatron, just to watch the mech grind his teeth a little more.

He steps into the cell, stooped. It's too small for either him or his alternate to transform in, which he supposes is the point. He hates that, the feeling of being confined. Unlike a flightframe, he doesn't get groundsick, but this cell is making him intensely sympathetic to the ailment.

He does a medical hardline first thing, slipping his questions into his alternate's processor as he asks meaningless ones aloud.

"How are you feeling?" Are they mistreating you? Any hidden injuries?

"As well as can be expected." They have yet to repair any of our battle damage. No outright abuse. Yet.

"Good. I'm going to need to see your rotor." You suspect the guards want to.

His alternate flicks the rotor forward. Very much so. They're ignoring Lugnut and Shockwave, but the clones, Blitzwing, and I have been receiving…shall we say concerning attention.

"This needs to be patched. In fact, I'm going to have to insist on a full repair. Where's the medical bay?" Any injuries on the others I need to be prepared for? Anything I should know?

"It's not that bad." Megatron doesn't like that little concession to Sentinel, who is already yelling. It implies his alternate is genuinely concerned about reprisals. No. I'm the worst. But you need to know there's a technorganic and I think she's mine.

"Sentinel Prime, you will get me a fragging repair bay or the Galactic Council and Decepticon High Command will know why." What do you mean, you think she's yours?

Acute embarrassment passes over his alternate's face. At least that could be explained by the shouting match Megatron himself was having with Sentinel. I…think I might have had a protoform. I definitely er, was intimate with someone in the right timeframe and when we crashed on Earth I suppose it went into early emergence and…and imprinted on a human.

Megatron is so stunned he completely misses Sentinel's most recent insult, which makes the mech smirk smugly.

The protoform calls herself Sari. She's allied with the Autobot team that captured us. We're not leaving without her.

"He's going with me and that's final," says Megatron aloud, rather lamely.

"You can't throw your weight around here, Decepticon," says Sentinel. "You're lucky to be walking around without stasis cuffs."

Megatron turns and fixes him with a glare. The mech gulps, suddenly rethinking his words.

"I am a medic and a diplomat," Megatron says. "A civilian. And if you continue making threats like that, be assured that I will report them to the relevant parties. Galactic law states that I am to be given access to the prisoners. You're already in violation of prisoner-of-war laws. Do not make it worse."

"Listen here, you smug fragger," says Sentinel, before he's restrained by one of his inferiors.

Don't push him, his alternate sends, urgent. He's stupider than he looks.

Is that even possible? All the same, Megatron heeds the warning. "He needs a medic," he says, more gently. "Even an Autobot one. We know of Autobot Medic Ratchet's competence. You could call him in."

"And let Megatron take him hostage and escape?"

Megatron straightens to look at Sentinel directly. "He will not. I am completely in your power, unarmed and defenseless. He will do nothing of the sort if I'm your hostage."

Megatronus, no. Don't give him that, Megatron sends, confirmation that he has been planning exactly that.

Do as you must. I'm disposable.

NO mech is disposable. His alternate seizes his wrist, looks up at him with urgency in his optics. I'm not losing you.

His response is a small, sad smile. "I'll be fine," he says aloud, and wishes he hadn't, because Sentinel's sharp optics are on them both, alive with malice and judgement. Stupid the mech might be, but he sees the concern on Megatron's face and must know that there is some kind of affection there. He's a weapon against his own alternate now.

Well. He'll just have to make sure the negotiations work.

Sentinel makes a call, presumably to consult with Ultra Magnus. Then he concedes. Megatron insists on waiting until Ratchet arrives.

Ratchet, any Ratchet, can be trusted. It's even more evident as the medic erupts with curses at his alternate's condition and begins ordering all and sundry around.

Then, only then, does Megatron allow himself to be led away. His comrades, his leader, are in good hands.

"So what are you to him?" asks Sentinel, as they go. "Didn't know Decepticons could be so touchy-feely."

"An advisor," says Megatron. "A diplomat and a medic. No more." Not anymore. Because he's done far better as an advisor and medic than he ever did as a commander.

He's proud of it. These are different Decepticons. They're warriors, rebels, criminals by the reckoning of the Autobot Commonwealth, but they're honorable, and they've refrained from the cruelties he indulged and encouraged in his Decepticons.

"Yeah right," says Sentinel, and shows him to the Magnus's office.

Megatron's spark speeds. This is a different Ultra Magnus, too. A mech he and his alternate have fought almost his entire time in this universe, and yet, he hopes to catch a glimpse of the mech he thinks of as his Ultra Magnus. The one he still misses. If they are anything alike, Magnus will listen. He'll be reasonable. Megatron doesn't want his hopes to rise too high, but after all this time, the idea of seeing Ultra Magnus again, any version of him, has set his spark hammering.

Magnus, who in his own universe, never found out what happened to him. He wonders what Prowl told him. It would have been a lie, of course. Prowl wouldn't have done anything else. Does Magnus think he's still there in that prison, waiting for death or for absolution? The mere memory of that complete isolation sends prickles across his plating. He remembers reassuring Magnus at the chamber door, the knowledge certain in his spark that, even if his reassurances proved to be empty, he deserved it. It was for the better.

And no matter how much he long to return it, someone as good as Magnus had no business looking at him like that. With his spark blazing in his optics. A promise of loneliness not just for Megatron, but for Magnus, who didn't deserve it. Who should have chosen better.

"Megatronus," and to Megatron's horror or relief, it's the same voice. He pulls himself back to the present and meets the optics of the mech behind the desk. "It's good to meet you in person."

Just as stiff as he expected. Megatron reminds himself that despite his own feelings, to this Ultra Magnus he is an enemy and nothing else. He extends a hand and allows it to be shaken, against his better judgement searching the mech's face for signs of his Magnus. Is there a Minimus under that armor, too?

"Ultra Magnus," he says. "My credentials, and the file from the Galactic Council stating their interest in my mission."

"The Decepticons sending their chief medical officer to negotiate," says Ultra Magnus, examining the documents. "Forgive me if it seems…irregular, Megatronus."

"Our medical staff are perfectly capable of managing in my absence." Because, careless maniacs they may be, but Hook at least has a legitimate medical degree. Of course, in the Decepticons, accreditation takes a back seat to whoever is least likely to leave their patients with limbs missing.

Primus, kidnapping Ratchet wouldn't be such a bad idea.

"My true skills are here," he adds. Because they are.

"I'll be honest with you, Megatronus," says Ultra Magnus. "We have no inclination to free the greatest criminal the Autobot Commonwealth has ever seen, let alone return him to command of a terrorist faction."

"The Decepticon Empire is recognized by the Galactic Council as a sovereign entity," says Megatron.

"The Commonwealth disputes that political status."

There are chairs in front of the Magnus's desk. Megatron hasn't been invited to sit, but he does anyway. "We can dispute that all day long," Megatron says. "I don't think we'll come to a conclusion. But the galactic community has accepted us as a legitimate entity, and no matter Autobot suspicion of other species, you still are doing a fair degree of trade with them. Their estimates seem to put 20% to 30% of your economy in intergalactic trade, in fact. Refusal to negotiate, unacceptable prisoner conditions—these are the things that the galaxy doesn’t like to see. These are the things that cause nervous species to impose sanctions."

"So you begin your negotiations with threats," says Magnus. "A typical Decepticon."

"Don't think I'm not fully aware of my own status," says Megatron. "I'm a civilian. I'm unarmed. That translates to being at your mercy, Ultra Magnus; I'm a hostage. You call these threats, but to me they're only the barest protection against my own arrest and imprisonment. We don't have great faith in Autobot honor."

Ultra Magnus stares silently at him for a while.

He may have pushed too far. Megatron sits and waits.

At last, a small smile quirks Ultra Magnus's mouth, startling, because Megatron knows he doesn't smile like that easily. "Honesty," he says softly. "How…novel, from a Decepticon. Very well, Megatronus. What are the Decepticons willing to do for us?"

 

The negotiations don't go swimmingly, but Megatron didn't expect them to. There is a depth of hatred here with these Autobots that seems more like the hate his Decepticons mustered, and they're afraid of him. He's bigger than all of them, and if the histories he's read are anything to go by they were all civilians once. From his own experience, Megatron knows that the people trained to be most helpless can be the most vicious. They simply don't comprehend their ability to do harm, and so they don't know when to stop, and they don't see the harm they've already done. Which is a very gracious way of putting it, but his alternate is in their hands, subject to their hatred, and Megatron will do anything—anything—to save him.

Megazarak punished and almost killed him for his inability to bear him sparklings. Megatron, with his worn-out nonsense body, is resigned to that being a permanent state. But what he can do, what he has done, has been to mentor his young alternate, and that alternate is now as close to an heir, a sparkling, as he will ever get, and he is happy with this. How could he be prouder? The mech is fighting a regime as vicious as the one Megatron himself overthrew, and yet has not stooped to the methods he used, the mass murder of Cybertronian and alien alike. The young mech is calm and measured but still has a core of solid steel, the willingness to do as he must to save the people who rely on him, the passion to see it through, to sacrifice himself if need be. All Megatron's sins are absent from him, as absent as they can be in a leader, and Megatron loves him for it.

The young mech once offered him absolution, when Megatron lay half-dead and once again defeated, and Megatron accepted his offer, and this is, indeed, something like that absolution. If someone like him can be absolved. At the very least, it is a taste, the closest to a taste of it that he's gotten since he surrendered to Autobot justice, cleaner and more true than his attempts at sacrifice.

He will not let his young alternate offline in Autobot hands. He will do anything and everything he must, for even if he does not survive this young mech must, so he can continue leading the Decepticons to what Megatron's Decepticons should have been.

But there is no Optimus Prime in this universe. There are no Primes, and no Matrix; Prime is a military rank. Optimus Prime, even if he exists, is nothing like the Prime Megatron fought. He is unlikely to be a threat.

Or so Megatron thinks until their meeting draws to a conclusion and Ultra Magnus says, "You will have a guard, of course. We cannot risk you accessing classified areas, and, of course, you are at risk of attack. People will feel intimidated by you."

The door slides open and a tiny mech stands there. He might come up to Megatron's hip, but he might need to stand on a box to do so. And yet, there is something intensely familiar about him.

"This is Optimus Prime," says Magnus, and Megatron vents sharply, because yes, there is something of Optimus in the little figure standing at parade rest. "He is the one who captured Megatron. Suffice it to say that he is very experienced in handling Decepticons."

Something about Optimus's posture gets stiffer. Megatron suspects the comment doesn't sit well with him.

"Optimus Prime. This is Megatronus, the Decepticon Ambassador. You are to ensure his safety, and that he does not attempt to leave or access any areas he is unauthorized to enter. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir," says Optimus. The voice is different. Megatron can't stop staring, seeing the similarities and the differences together, leaving him with the distinct feeling of nausea at the disjuncts. Ultra Magnus is one thing, but this Optimus is just—too different.

"Please follow me, your excellency," says Optimus, and gestures with a hand. Megatron shakes himself out of the shock and does, with a polite farewell to Magnus.

There is one other thing that unsettles him about Optimus's presence. It's one more reminder that he's a prisoner. Optimus doesn't exactly seem comfortable, either. He resets his vocalizer uncomfortably once they're out of audial range from Magnus and says, "I'm sorry for the necessity. I wish tensions were lower, but…"

Megatron gives him a curt nod.

"You're the one who insisted on medical care, aren't you," says Optimus. "For Megatron, and the others."

"I did," said Megatron.

"Thank you," says Optimus, so wholly unexpected that Megatron looks down at him.

"I wanted Megatron to face justice," Optimus says. "Not for him to be abused. His treatment is unacceptable." He looks away, and then, like he's confiding a secret, says, "I hope your negotiations are successful. I…fear that having him like this is bringing out the worst in us."

Oh, Megatron had seen that parade through the streets of Iacon, Megatron's officers in chains, then Megatron himself. His mouth tightens.

"Your concern is appreciated," he says. "I am doing my utmost."

"He didn't hurt Ratchet," says Optimus, clearly thinking about this deeply. "He said it was because we had you. I didn't realize Decepticons cared about each other so much."

Megatron stops in his tracks. Optimus does too, his optics going wide as he realizes he's made a mistake. "I'm sorry. That was—that must have been terribly insulting."

"We're the same as you," says Megatron, quiet and firm. "And you are the same as we are. Do not forget that, Optimus Prime."

"Are we?" says Optimus. "After millions of years of war?" There is a bitter twist to his mouth.

"We are," says Megatron, with complete certainty. He thinks of Rodimus and Ultra Magnus, Ratchet and Rung, Skids, Ravage, Nautica, the entire crew of the Lost Light and what they had offered him that he never quite learned to accept. He thinks of Prowl, whom he understands intimately. Whom Starscream, likely, understands still better. "The sooner you learn that, the sooner our war ends."

"You really mean that," says Optimus, not a question but wondering. "You, at least, really want peace, don't you?"

"I've seen too much war," Megatron replies, honestly.

Optimus shakes his helm a little. "Is it because you're a medic?"

Megatron blinks at him.

"I did read the file on you," Optimus says. "Why did you stay with the Decepticons when Megatron cast out your consort?"

Ah, so the Autobots know about that, about how he came to the Decepticons. Megatron offlines his optics briefly, and opts for the best, briefest response. "He was not a good consort," he says.

"Oh," says Optimus, with the expression of a mech who's just driven into a pothole. And he stops asking questions.

Megatron's not done. "I was given a choice. Him, or continued imprisonment. It wasn't much of a choice."

"Oh," says Optimus again, now horrified. They walk the rest of the way to Megatron's quarters in silence.

They find Ratchet there. Megatron's spark twists over on itself; Ratchet might be a little different here, but he's more familiar than anyone else here.

"I've got it from here, kid," says Ratchet, and Optimus hesitates, which makes Ratchet bristle. "I survived one war without you sparkling-sitting me, you arrogant young fragger."

Optimus raises his hands in surrender, but shoots a warning look at Megatron. Megatron doesn't need to hear words to see the warning there. Hurt him and die.

Maybe not precisely die. Optimus isn't one for death threats. Hurt him and be arrested? Probably a worse fate in any case, if Megatron needed any dissuasion regarding causing harm to Ratchet, which he doesn't. He looks down at the much smaller mech with a wary affection, which he knows he shouldn't be transferring to him, but…

He's always liked Ratchet. Respected him. If he'd been allowed a second chance in his own universe, he would have asked Ratchet to formally mentor him, and he thinks of him often while commanding his medical staff. Would Ratchet have made that decision? Would he have lost that patient? He feels the lack of training acutely, yet cannot step away as perhaps he should, because he knows things would be worse without him.

Ratchet gestures him into his own quarters, leaving Optimus standing outside of them.

"So," he says. "You call yourself a medic."

Exactly what his own Ratchet would have said. Megatron flickers his optics in an amused, slightly startled blink. "I do what I can," he says.

"No formal training, I take it," says Ratchet, sounding amused himself. "I don't know what else I expected. It seems the default for you people."

"Yes. Thousands of years of disenfranchisement tend to do that," says Megatron, a bit of bite in his voice. It just seems to amuse this Ratchet.

"So what's your relationship to him?"

He's talking about his alternate. Megatron tries to change the subject. "What's his condition? I would have preferred to tend to him myself, but Sentinel…"

Ratchet waves a hand. "He's fine and resting. You were right to insist on repairs; there was a nasty rust infection starting in his right rotor, but he'll be all right now." He fixes Megatron with a sharp optic. "Don't distract me. What's your relationship to him?"

"His chief medical officer and a member of our diplomatic staff," says Megatron, truthfully enough.

"Yeah right," says Ratchet. "You know, he told me he wasn't going to try anything as long as the Autobots had you. I didn't think there was a mech in the universe he'd care that much about."

Megatron makes a dismissive gesture. "We're shorthanded," he says, as dismissive as he can, and Ratchet glares at him and hits him with a scan.

Megatron's hands rise to cover his spark instinctively, not that it'll do much good. He feels his lips skin back from his dentae in a snarl. "I gave you no permission to scan me!"

"Too fragging bad!" Ratchet snaps back. "There's something fishy going on here and I'm not—" He pauses as the results of the scan process, and by the widening of his optics Megatron knows he's realized what Megatron's been burying for the last thousand years.

"So what I'd like to know," says Ratchet, slowly, "is why you and he have identical sparks." He meets Megatron's optics. "That's impossible, you know." His voice is deceptively calm.

"I do," says Megatron evenly.

"Care to explain?"

Megatron holds his gaze. "I do not."

"Just please say it's not because you're him from the future."

That makes Megatron's mouth quirk, because it's fairly close to the truth, and because it is, still, wrong. "I am not."

"Good. We've had enough nonsense around here to be dealing with that as well," says Ratchet. He huffs a long vent. "He cares about you," he says. "I didn't know he did that. It made me wonder if you were his creator or sire."

Megatron shrugs a little. "I'm not. Your own spies' reports testify otherwise; I arrived far too recently to be a parent to him. Otherwise…You hide a very great deal to lead. He's made his choices. Surely you’ve seen Optimus do similarly."

Ratchet goes very, very still. "How do you know about Optimus?"

"He escorted me here. And he captured my lord," says Megatron. He's made a misstep. His plating ruffles uneasily, because he doesn't know why.

"Megatron never bothered to learn his name. And I'm surprised you're bothering to note that I was on his team."

Megatron gives him a flat, bland look.

Ratchet stands all at once, crosses over to Megatron and shakes a finger under his nose. "Listen here, Megatronus, or whatever the frag you actually are—I know there's something off about you. I know there's something up. And I'm not going to sit around and let you just—do whatever you're planning."

"I’m planning to negotiate in good faith," says Megatron, as gently as he can. "Leave my past be, Ratchet. There's nothing there either of us want to uncover."

"See, I don't believe you," says Ratchet. "You're keeping a secret—a big one, and I don't trust Decepticons. Not when it comes to the safety of my friends."

"Wise," says Megatron. "I do not trust Autobots. Not when it comes to the safety of my people."

"Your people," says Ratchet, and stares at him again. Like there's an unspoken question there.

Whatever it is, Megatron doesn't answer it. "Do not scan me again without my permission," he says.

Ratchet glares at him and scans him again.

Megatron's hand shoots out and seizes the medic's wrist. It won't hurt him. He's being careful. Retaliation will upset the delicate balance that keeps him here. That keeps his alternate safe. "Do not scan me again," he repeats. "You are correct. I can't do anything to stop you. I'm all but a prisoner here. It is intrusive and unethical for you to perform such a procedure on me against my specific request." His spark whirls hard and fast, because he does have something to conceal.

The black hole that powers this body is not the same one as the one in his home universe. It took him long years to reestablish his connection to it. It was what let Megazarak almost kill him, that broken connection. But now it's within his grasp again.

A last resort.

He can no more control it now than he could when he used it to kill the DJD, and almost himself. But if negotiations break down, he can do enough damage to Autobot High Command to allow his alternate to escape. He may have sworn his oaths of nonviolence, but in this universe he has no qualms about which side he's chosen. He'll try to resolve the situation diplomatically, but he won't leave his young alternate in the hands of these Autobots. The Decepticons need him.

"That anything to do with your extremely unusual energy source?" says Ratchet, quietly. "What are you, Megatronus? Aside from far, far older than you look?"

Megatron releases him. "Very fragging tired," he growls. "Stay out of my circuitry, Ratchet, and get out of my quarters so I can recharge. I promise I am no danger to you or your friends."

"Yeah right," says Ratchet, and deliberately turns his back on Megatron as he leaves. Megatron would admire his courage if it weren't for the dread roiling in his spark.

Who will Ratchet tell?

 

No one, as it turns out. Ultra Magnus doesn't treat him any differently the next morning. Neither does Optimus. Negotiations resume, long and slow. Megatron checks on his alternate regularly, glad to see him doing a little better. He checks Lugnut and the others as well. Lugnut is loudly delighted to see him. Shockwave gravely concerned; he of everyone aside from Megatron's alternate knows his importance best. Megatron is firmly reassuring. Shockwave trusts him and settles.

The situation in the prison is tense, but as yet the guards have committed no abuses. They're watching Megatron carefully, too, in a way he doesn't like. As if he's a nonsentient machine for their convenience. But no one touches him, and the attention is confined to long stares and inaudible murmurs. Those he can deal with, even if they make his plating prickle uneasily.

Optimus seems to have been assigned as his permanent escort. Megatron can be happy about that. Optimus is decent company, and most importantly, he's not Sentinel. He's even sympathetic to Megatron's alternate, disgusted at the conditions the guards keep trying to impose. They want a smaller cell, intentional underfueling. Optimus will not have it and for that Megatron is grateful.

Optimus is spending more and more time at the prison, often while Megatron is in negotiations. Megatron notes the way Optimus and his alternate are looking at one another. He doesn't exactly like that.

Is your affection genuine? he asks his alternate over the hardline connection next time he checks on his welfare. Or is this how you've been improving conditions?

He'd improve them anyway, his alternate says, with a roil of masked emotion at the edges of their connection. Megatron prods a little and his optics widen as his alternate lets the emotion through.

Young love. Wonderful.

I'll keep it in mind. Did you decide you liked him before or after he beat you in battle?

Because.

That's a horrible selection criterion for a mate, Megatron, he says admonishing and Megatron chuckles aloud. The guards and Optimus stare at them with flat suspicion.

I'll try to meet your creation soon, Megatron sends by way of conclusion, and disconnects. "I'm content with his condition," he says. "Thank you for your hard work, Optimus Prime."

Optimus inclines his head.

Later, as they walk, Optimus asks, "Megatronus? Did you ever regret joining the Decepticons?"

That's a loaded question if there ever was one, even as Optimus hastily adds, "I mean, you didn't really get to join voluntarily, did you? You got made into Megazarak's consort. Was it hard, adjusting?"

Megatron huffs a long vent, choosing his answer carefully. "I came from a place that wasn't all that different," he says, mostly honestly. "It…was less kind. And I had made terrible mistakes. Done terrible things. No, it wasn't difficult to adjust. It was a relief. The Decepticons have been kinder than I deserve." His guilt has not been the hot, urgent, consuming thing it was when he first arrived. Before his alternate offered him absolution. But it's still there, making him a little more likely to be the first medic through the airlock. The first to fling his life into the teeth of whatever threatens the sparks of his comrades.

Megatron's spark. Megatron, who is as close as he will ever get to having a sparkling of his own.

It's why he's here.

Optimus is looking up at him, searching his face.

"There are far worse things than the Decepticons, Optimus Prime," Megatron says, and adds, mentally, What my Decepticons became. What I made them to be.

Optimus seems to believe him.

"There was a technorganic on your team," Megatron says, to change the subject. "I'd like to meet her."

That stops Optimus where he is. "Why?"

Megatron stares at him and wonders if he can be trusted with this. "She will not come to harm," he says. "She's part Cybertronian. Have you wondered if that part is Autobot, or Decepticon?"

"And you'll be able to tell by talking to her, will you?"

"Most likely not. But I would like to try."

Optimus stares at him. "I'll ask," he says, but he sounds dubious. It's the most suspicious Megatron's ever heard him.

Back to negotiations. He's gaining a sort of grudging respect from Magnus now. At one point, Magnus tries to bring up an old law—in effect, that the Autobots are not only empowered to place a warframe in custody and use them for defense, but required to do so. Megatron wasn't expecting them to use quite that law; it's old, it's ugly, it's incredibly unsubtle. He leans back and regards Magnus. "The key words there are use for defense," he says. "You're not using them for defense. You're simply holding them. Additionally, remember that the law does not regard rebellious warframes as components of Cybertron's defense, but reclassifies them as vermin. There are no laws about holding vermin indefinitely."

Magnus regards him narrowly, and Megatron continues, "And before you protest that you're therefore going to terminate them as you can under that law, may I remind you that the trade treaty you signed with the Galactic Council specifically forbids any species from reclassifying any of its members as "vermin or any other sub-sentient class" for any reason, including religious belief, ethnicity, social class, economic status, or political activity. If any of those laws are actually invoked, the Galactic Council will revoke its trade agreement and sanction you into the Rust Age." He smiles, small and nasty. He's spent quite some time with a Galactic Council representative hammering out that language and that agreement; they weren't aware of the existence of those laws, and he'd wanted to be very, very sure that said retribution came to pass should the negotiations go wrong.

The Autobots have made few friends among organic species. That's left things wide open for the Decepticons, and Megatron's looked the ghosts of his past in the face to ensure his phobia of organics doesn't doom another group of Decepticons.

Magnus stares at him, plainly startled. And then he smiles. "A talented negotiator indeed," he says, and Megatron feels himself smile in return, warmed by the praise. Maybe he shouldn't be so pleased, but the two of them are not speaking as themselves just now but the representatives of their people. Magnus looking like that may well mean his spark isn't in the words he's said. Megatron hopes so. It would be much like his Ultra Magnus.

After that evening, for the first time, they share a meal together. It's on the top of Fortress Maximus, overlooking Cybertron. Magnus plays the part of the perfect host, pouring enegex with a generous hand. It could be a tactic to get Megatron overcharged. Since Megatron can't get overcharged, he simply enjoys the vast quantity of very high quality enegex, the sparkling taste and acidic notes of something truly good from Cybertron.

"Do you miss it?" says Magnus, with a gesture at the glittering planet at their pedes.

"I never knew it," says Megatron, honestly enough. He was constructed back on his Cybertron, but here he lies. "I was built offworld."

"In which campaign?"

Magnus assumes he's a warframe. Megatron smiles, small and wry, sensing the trap. "I've been reframed repeatedly," he states. "I was initially built as a miner."

"Fascinating," says Magnus. "But in every Cybertronian, there is a desire for home."

Not this home. Megatron bobs his helm in something like a nod. "I suppose so."

"Wouldn't it be good to have Decepticons and Autobots live in harmony once more?"

Magnus is getting at something, and Megatron spends a while considering his answer. But Magnus's face is open and a little yearning. There's something of affection in his body language, he tilts slightly toward Megatron and his attitude is that of tense interest.

A political or a personal question? It might be both.

"It depends on the price," Megatron says. "Our species united would be a fine thing. But everyone must be free to choose their own fate. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings." He huffs a vent. "I have, however, come to deeply believe that we can achieve peace between us through empathy, rather than tyranny."

"That's an unusual statement from a Decepticon."

Megatron turns fully to look at him. "You haven't been paying much attention to the Decepticons of late, have you."

That startles a genuine laugh out of Ultra Magnus. "Sharp," he says. "Sharp enough to cut yourself, even with plating like yours. It's been years since I've had such a skilled counterpart at the negotiating table."

The way he says it is definitely not professional. It's not even close to professional. Megatron finds himself eyeing Magnus, his frame, and finding it attractive. Still more so for his choice of compliment. This is…a different Ultra Magnus. One who's not above using the law in vicious ways. But it is his job, as much as it is Megatron's. A little tarnish is not such a bad thing. Not with Megatron's history.

"It is invigorating," says Megatron at last, and gives Magnus a smile with a hint of fang.

They watch each other, careful. And leave it there for the evening. That night, though, Megatron finds himself imagining the other mech. Remembering what it was like to recharge with a heavy frame wrapped around him. Magnus would partner with another mech if he wished to make a political conjunx bond; there will be no desire for an heir, and he finds his spark aching for the companionship.

Strika gave him full permission to use whatever tools are at his disposal to finalize the negotiations. He's free to frag Ultra Magnus if he so desires. If he thinks it will help.

Not immediately. Not until at least some of the Decepticons are freed. Not until they've come to some sort of an agreement, because it would too thoroughly compromise him. Too much for Magnus to hold over him. But afterward… yes. If he can improve the relations between Autobot and Decepticon—well, Megatron himself is no stranger to the power of personality and personal relationships in politics.

The complexity, the barriers before him, do not stop him from pressurizing his spike and picturing Magnus riding him with delight as he brings himself to overload.

His own Magnus, the mech he so loved, is gone, separated by the universe itself. But this one… this one he wants to see hope for. And even if there is no hope for him, mecha can be foolish once their interface drives get involved.

 

Optimus comes through. Two days later, after a long, and particularly unpleasant sequence of negotiations, Optimus guides him to what appears to be a disused shuttle hangar with the Autobot team that captured his alternate waiting for him.

He stares at them. Only one is nearly his size. He read the files—that one is Bulkhead, a spacebridge genius dismissed by the Autobots because of his frametype. There is a small yellow one making faces at him. Bumblebee. Ratchet behind them. And next to Bumblebee, her arms folded and optics narrowed and face screwed up in a glare that is so, so familiar from his younger alternate, is the technorganic.

Sari.

"Thank you for coming," says Megatron, and tips a smile at Optimus. Optimus stares straight ahead.

They look at each other and mutter, perched awkwardly on shipping crates and watching his every move. He can't quite tell if it's predatory or wary. He keeps his movements slow and deliberate and easy to see.

"Do they make Decepticons in anything but big and ugly?" Sari demands.

Megatron sighs and settles onto a crate opposite all of them, his optics still on her. Primus, she looks human. Everything but the optics. Does he tell them? It would make her a weapon against them. But it might gain him allies. He doubts that the little group around him would let anything happen to her. It wouldn't be like Optimus. And Bumblebee and Bulkheads' demeanors around her speak volumes.

"You're probably wondering why I wanted to meet you," he says to Sari.

"Yeah," she says, folding her arms again. "Yeah, I am."

He sighs. His course of action is decided. "My name is Megatronus. I'm one of Megatron's advisors, and his chief medical officer, and he asked me to talk to you."

"Like I'm having anything to do with what Megatron wants!" Sari stands up. "We're done here."

Megatron sighs. Like he'd expect one of his alternate's sparklings to behave any differently. He looks at the Autobots. "When Megatron fought you and when he crashed on Earth, he was carrying," he says bluntly.

The room goes silent. They stare at him. Sari is confused, leans in to whisper a question in Bumblebee's audial. "He um," Bumblebee says too loud and then stares at Megatron.

Megatron turns his attention to Sari. "It means he's one of your parents."

"What?" Sari shrieks. "You mean Megatron is my MOM?"

Right. Humans and their gendered parenting roles. "More or less," he says.

"This is—this is some kind of joke. You're trying to use me." Sari glares at him. He can see enough of his alternate there that he almost wants to laugh, even though her rage shouldn't be laughed at—she's got every reason for suspicion. "Decepticons use people. It's what you do, and I'm not stupid."

"No," he agrees. "You're not." He looks at Ratchet. "I doubt any of you would trust me to run it, but if you want to be sure, you can always test her CNA and match it to his."

"You're sure as frag right about that," says Ratchet. "We don't trust you. You, and whatever secrets you're keeping."

Megatron shrugs a fraction and spreads his hands in a gesture of goodwill. "I wouldn't expect you to. And glaring at me isn't going to make me divulge those secrets, Ratchet, so you can stop trying."

Sari stares at him and then holds out an arm to Ratchet, who looks at her with surprise. "Do it," she says, still staring at Megatron. "I wanna see his face when we find out he's lying."

Ratchet looks like he's thinking about arguing. Then he just does it, and Sari doesn't even wince. Megatron hides his amusement, because in that, too, he sees his alternate.

Autobot methods are faster than human methods for comparing CNA. It's only a few moments later Ratchet's reader pings, and he looks up at Megatron with an expression that's equal parts shock and rage.

"I was correct, wasn't I," states Megatron, and Sari's face falls.

"It's a trick," she says, "it's got to be a trick," and storms from the room, Bumblebee right on her heels.

The rest of the Autobots are glaring at him. He was right that they're protective, but this misdirected protection is painful. He makes himself as small as he can and sighs. "I'm sorry," he says. "I understand it's difficult to hear or accept, given that you are accustomed to thinking of Megatron as an enemy. But I think it's better that you find out now, like this, than the Elite Guard beat you to it."

That stops them in their tracks, all of them.

"She'll need you," he says softly. "That's not a secret that you'll be able to keep for long. And what will they do then? They already fear organics. A techoorganic who's also Megatron's daughter?"

There's unease on their faces now, and Optimus is staring at his feet, his mouth a thin unhappy line.

Ratchet isn't so conflicted. He picks up his things and glares at Megatron. "Well, I hope you're happy. Come on." He leaves, dragging the younger bots behind him in an unhappy chain.

Megatron stays where he is until Optimus resets his vocalizer and guides him back to his habsuite. He knows he did the right thing. But it hurts.

 

He goes back, with relief, to the negotiations. He owes this Ultra Magnus nothing. He feels no responsibility for him. And yet, he finds himself slowly growing to like the mech.

Ultra Magnus here is stern, more willing to compromise his beliefs to get what he needs. But as his suspicion fades into curiosity, Megatron sees more and more of a Magnus he knows. One corrupted by war, by being the supreme commander of the Autobots, but one he knows. This is an Ultra Magnus, he realizes, who will understand him. Who he knows isn't looking past his sins, forgiving things he could never imagine doing himself.

One just tarnished enough to be attainable.

There's a sort of…civility. Fondness, even, that develops after weeks at the negotiating table. And Strika has told Megatron to use any tool at his disposal to ensure his alternate's return. And Lugnut's. So when they reach an agreement on Lugnut and Blitzwing and Shockwave and the clones' return, and Ultra Magnus invites him to take energon in Magnus's quarters, Megatron accepts. After all, this is Magnus.

It's not like he intends a tryst. And even if, somehow, he does, Megatron is willing. It might not be entirely fair to Magnus, because there's no way he won't project the Ultra Magnus back home onto him, but…

But he wants this. He's lonely.  

They sit in companionable silence in Magnus's habsuite, and then Magnus shifts so he can look at Megatron better, and then puts a firm hand on his knee.

Megatron puts his cube down and meets the other mech's gaze. "You're sure?" he asks.

"Yes," says Ultra Magnus. "I am." And he leans forward and kisses Megatron.

It's nothing like Megatron imagined his Magnus kissing like. It's slow and it's firm. There's no question that Ultra Magnus wants a dominant role, and Megatron spares a moment of annoyance for this universe, for how all the mecha in command seem unable to relinquish that in the berth. Don't they find that it becomes tiresome?

Magnus has a certain skill with his glossa, though. Megatron hopes it'll be put to better use by the end of the evening. To give Magnus the right idea, he pulls away from the kiss and slides down to kneel between Magnus's spread legs.

He's never going to get his own Ultra Magnus back. Never going to feel that undemanding affection, the reserved understanding that he so loved. But maybe he can make a future here, too. He puts a hand on either knee and looks up to meet Ultra Magnus's optics.

Ultra Magnus leans back on his hands and watches him with hooded optics. After a moment, he slides back his panel to reveal a swiftly-pressurizing, large spike. "Proceed," he says, as if it were just another request. As if he is asking Megatron to lay out his next argument, his next proposal of terms.

Megatron smiles at him and licks a teasing path up from his housing to his head, admiring the heft of spike and the flicker of Magnus's understated biolights. He presses his lips to the top of Magnus's spike, then makes optic contact again and swallows it as smoothly as he can.

His reward is a short sharp groan from Ultra Magnus, and the other mech's hands fisting in the fabric of the couch. Megatron adds a moan of his own, the vibrations from his vocalizer running over the head of the other mech's spike, and swallows. Pulls back and lets Magnus's hips tilt up to frag into his intake.

He worships the spike, doing all the things he spent years upon years in the Functionist Universe imagining doing to his own Ultra Magnus, thrilling to feel this mech coming apart under him. It's too much for the other Magnus at last; a hand holds Megatron's helm still (thankfully nowhere near the back of his head) and Magnus begins to frag into his intake, steady and deep and inescapable. Before he overloads, he pulls away, hand tight at the base of his spike. "I want to watch you get ready for me," he says.

There's no movement toward a berth, so Megatron lies down where he is and spreads his legs, retracting his panels. He's already hard from just polishing Magnus's spike, and he pressurizes instantly. Part of him hopes Magnus will be at least a little tempted. But it's his valve he reaches for, rubbing a finger over his opening and slickening it, playing with his node as it pulses brightly with arousal. Magnus watches him, intent. Sometime into it tells him to spread his valve, one finger. Now two. Open them a little and show me.

Primus. Megatron likes that. Opening himself up to be looked at, examined, by the mech sitting over him with a wet spike in hand, oozing lubricant at the tip. For him, once he's ready. He adds a third and hears Magnus's vents hitch sharply.

"Yes, good," he says. "Good." His voice fuzzes static. He rises from the couch and stands over Megatron, lowers himelf to kneeling. Removes Megatron's hand from where it is and pushes it down against the ground. Megatron gasps as Magnus opens him up to look at it himself, slips a finger into him and hooks it against the apical node inside of him. "Good."

Magnus uses his slicked hand to guide himself into Megatron. There's a moment when they're both tense, when Magnus's spike presses against his entrance and Megatron feels the familiar twinge of nervousness, that he might not be wet enough, that Magnus might be rough and this might hurt, but when Magnus presses in slow and steady, it abates. He hisses a long vent, lifting into the thrust, and Magnus presses flush in between his legs and takes both of Megatron's hands and pins then to either side of his head, bending to plunder his mouth in a kiss.

Magnus isn't gentle after that. He takes. And while Megatron wonders if he should object, it feels so very good he doesn't want it to stop. He writhes and gasps under Magnus, and he can feel it driving Magnus's charge higher, until Magnus sheaths himself to the root and fills him, a hand coming down to rub his node.

It takes very little of that to make Megatron overload as well. Magnus, still inside him, groans appreciatively.

"How about we try this on a proper berth," he says, and Megatron nods.

The berth is much nicer. He's especially glad of it because Magnus seems to be ready for their next round, and it's much better on his knees and his struts than the floor would have been. As soon as he sees the glint in Magnus's optic, he turns and presents his aft, well aware that the transfluid not wicked up into his dormant gestation tank is slowly trickling down his aft. He figures that Magnus will enjoy seeing the mark of his claiming, and so he does. He lets out a noise that's almost that of a mechanimal and mounts Megatron, rutting hard and fast into him and pushing his front down onto the berth, exaggerating the curve of his back and pushing his spike against nodes only lightly stimulated so far. Megatron cries out in short sharp bursts. How the frag long has it been since he last did this? With Megazarak. A thousand years. This is so much better. This is Magnus.

He overloads before Magnus does this time and then gladly collapses to the berth once Magnus finishes, panting and smiling and wondering if there will ever be a chance to return the favor properly.

He's about to ask when Magnus props himself on an elbow to lean over him, cupping his cheek and tracing a thumb over his lips. Megatron watches him lazily, enjoying the touch, the contact. Magnus's optics are a dim, thoughtful glow.

He knows little enough about this Ultra Magnus outside of their professional relationship. Not enough to know if this will be something he'll want to pursue. But he likes him. He's enjoyed himself. And forging a connection with him is certainly more likely than forging a connection with anyone else in Autobot Command. Any small step he can take to make the Autobots more likely to come to a permanent peace is worth it. Even a single night of trust and mutual pleasure is a step forward.

And it was nice to interface with someone he doesn't feel responsible for. On a selfish level, he hopes it can happen again. The last mech he fragged with Megazarak, and all that memory is tainted. Before that… either Optimus or Starscream, he can't remember. Whichever it was, it was something between fragging and a battle, a faint memory of a squirming hot frame under his own, a cry of harder, damn you. Information creep; the memories blend and blur, a biting kiss, a hot valve, blue optics blazing as they rolled over and over, fighting for dominance or submission—it was never clear who wanted what role with Optimus. Starscream and he fell into a pattern.

This was different. Something deliberate, not born of desperate emotion and competition. It reminds him of another time. When he was simply a mech, not a leader. Not a murderer, not a villain. It's a welcome escape that he wonders if he deserves.

His alternate offered him absolution. He'd like to think that he's earned at least a little of it, but it isn't that simple, is it. Absolution is not a singular event. It's a process. And for someone like him, it will only end when he's offlined.

Magnus is still caressing him, a thumb gently moving over his lips. There's a smile in his optics, a little amused, a little sardonic. They can come to understand each other, the two of them. Megatron tilts his head and presses a kiss to the flat of Magnus's thumb.

"I will admit, this took longer than I expected."

Megatron feels the smile fall from his face. "Excuse me?" There's nothing good that starts with that phrase. Almost nothing, and even if Magnus simply says that he noticed Megatron's interest early, there are still far better ways to bring it up.

"Yes," says Magnus. "That you'd use it as a bargaining chip for at least some of the officers. A little flirtation, here and there, a smile in the right place, or a kiss. But you're far too clever for that." He laughs a little, like he thinks it funny to imply that Megatron came here not to negotiate, but to whore himself out.

Strika told him to use every tool at his disposal, but that doesn't mean that this was his primary plan. It doesn't even mean it was a plan. Megatron liked Magnus, genuinely. He wouldn't have offered anything otherwise. No matter how long it's been—that too was a factor. He stares up at the other mech and the shock must be plain in his optics. Magnus hesitates in his caress, withdraws his hand, helm tilting.

"Are you surprised I noticed?" he asks. He leans in, as if for a kiss. "You give me a little sampling now—and what a tempting sample it was, too, you are talented with that glossa, and not merely at annoying me with legalities—and then sway these very tempting hips a little next time we sit down and I'll give you your leader back." His hand drops to pet at Megatron's thigh, possessive and assured.

Megatron twitches away from him and sits up, forcing Magnus to back off. He pushes his legs together, hiding the paint transfers and spill between them. His spark lurches nauseatingly within him.

Sitting up, it's inescapably clear he's bigger than Magnus, but the other mech doesn't seem to care. He's still smirking.

"I’m sorry," he says, the apology anything but, laced with the snarl of the mech he tries desperately, every day, not to be, "but do you think this was transactional?"

Magnus sits up as well. He radiates smugness. "Please, give me credit for reading the background documents on you if nothing else, Megatron."

Megatron stills, because it's all too clear the use of that name for him was deliberate. Which means…

"Why else would Strika send Megazarak's whore to do her negotiating?" asks Magnus, reaching for him again.

Megatron slaps the hand away and stands.

Magnus stands as well, walking around the end of the berth. "If she were serious, she would have come herself. But why would she do that when she could so easily distract me with a skilled bit of shareware?"

"That's all you think I am," Megatron says, and his shock sounds in his voice. He's had plenty of insults thrown at him all his life. This one, though, this one is new.

He thinks of Drift suddenly. Drift's viciousness whenever the subject would come up. He's seen Drift rip mecha's throats out for insults like this. He scolded Drift, at the time. Scolded, rather than disciplined; he could see that the insult had cut the mech to the spark, and it hadn't made sense to him at the time. He'd supposed it to be similar to what the implication he needed mnemosurgery had done to him.

He hadn't been wrong. Because it does remind him of what Megazarak did. Those weeks, months of helplessness and dependency that had been his first and only conjunxing. Reduced to a warlord's dependent. He'd made the best of it, because he'd been shattered to the spark from his long solitude.

And then it had all come apart, showing him beyond any shadow of denial that everything had depended on his frame. On whether Megazarak desired him.

He never wants to be in that position again.

And the fact that Magnus is assuming he's here because that's all he knows how to do…

He's a medic. He's the chief medical officer of the Decepticons, a respected advisor, a diplomat who's negotiated treaty after treaty with the very people who, in his home universe, want him dead. He is so much more than what he came to this universe as.

"Don't think we don't know about you, Megatron of Tarn." Magnus advances on him and Megatron realizes he has a wall at his back and no, he can't kill the Autobot in front of him, no matter how much his spark screams for it, because they have his alternate and he can't let his alternate die. Fight and flight impossible, his knees want to buckle. He wants to curl up to defend himself, the worst possible thing he could do but long deep coded instinct, that ancient fear response programmed into him in the mines.

He does none of the above. He stands and he stares steadily at Magnus, who comes to a halt just in front of him. Megatron bares his dentae, a reminder to Magnus not to touch him.

If Magnus touches him, he won't be able to restrain himself. Magnus is still recovering from what Shockwave did to him. Bare-handed, Megatron can kill him.  

Magnus takes the warning, but seems to find it funny. He pauses, not touching.

"You were a criminal." Magnus waves a hand. "Well. 'Political prisoner' was the term your people used, but let's not mince words. They're the same, aren't they? You were a criminal. A Decepticon, once. You defected to the Autobots to save your own spark and they imprisoned you. I suppose it must have been better than what they otherwise would have done to you. And when Megazarak broke into your universe, looking for new worlds to conquer, your people tried to make a treaty. He offered them a deal he was sure they would balk at: peace, if they provided him with a mate to use as he wished. A conjunx, to get an heir on."

Magnus closes the distance between them. "But they didn't balk, did they. They gave him you. And you agreed. You gave Megazarak your word and your frame and then your spark. You did it to get away from the consequences of your actions. Was your prison really that bad, Megatron of Tarn? To full willing bond to a Decepticon warlord? His subservient mate? Or did you enjoy having someone to spread your legs and your sparkchamber for? Was it even the first time?"

Megatron can smell Ultra Magnus's vents now, the scent of his systems. He puts out a hand and pushes the mech back from him. "Enough," he says.

"No," says Magnus. "Because here you are again. Spreading your legs for another leader. Giving your frame for what you want. Were you going to offer me your spark as well? An heir? I know you can't give me one, no matter how you lie about it. Too many frames. Too weak a spark. Too old. But it's the only trick you know, Megatron."

He's so wrong it would be laughable, but his words cut deeper than Megatron ever expected. And hearing this from a mech who so resembles Ultra Magnus is—is agony.

Would his own Ultra Magnus despise him so? After what he's doing in this universe? After his willingness to frag someone who resembles his Ultra Magnus in frame but not spark, his blindness to what he didn’t want to see?

"I am open to it. Your spark. If there's something Strika knows, it's how to use her people, and you're certainly no exception," murmurs Magnus, leaning into his hand, and his mouth curves in what he must think is an inviting smile. But nothing about him will be inviting ever again to Megatron.

"After all," Magnus adds, "It must have worked well for Megatron. He did keep you around after exiling Megazarak."

Disgust makes Megatron's tank flop. "You have not the slightest comprehension of how wrong you are," he growls. He pushes Magnus away. "We're done here."

"Yes," says Magnus, "I suppose we are." He steps back further. His optics rake over Megatron's frame. "You never did dissolve that conjunx ritus."

Megatron glances over his shoulder at him. "It's dissolved," he says. "Decepticon law."

"But not by Autobot," says Magnus, still smiling. His hands spread in a mockery of graciousness. "Aren't you lucky that adultery got decriminalized here."

Megatron doesn't dignify that with a response. He turns and leaves and as he's in the door he hears Magnus call, "I'll see you in the morning. We still have your leader's release to secure. You want your berth to stay warm, don't you?"

The door shuts behind him, and Megatron stands in the hall, shuddering. The insinuation that he's fragging his alternate sickens him.

Optimus doesn't appear to escort him back, which is a small mercy, but he feels the eyes of the security cameras acutely. It's unlikely his little tryst will pass unremarked.

 

The next morning comes early, and it is only long years of discipline and the thought of his alternate's welfare that gets Megatron up out of berth, wincing more with shame than discomfort at the soreness between his legs. He washes, helm bowed, thinking.

He is not going to feel sorrowful over what happened. He is not going to let himself care so much about Magnus. This is a different mech.

And he has made a colossal mistake.

Magnus isn't negotiating in good faith. The release of the other Decepticons, already on their way home, wasn't because of Megatron's skill; it was because Magnus was hoping to get under his plating while still denying him what he's really here for; the rescue of his alternate from imprisonment.

As a diplomat, Megatron has every right to contact his superiors and communicate the situation to them. But as a Decepticon, he knows it will be monitored and held against him. He's already located a half-dozen cameras, no doubt with microphones, in his quarters. Which is why he takes the little communicator out of subspace while he stands in the washracks with hot solvent sheeting thickly down his back, under the pretense of standing with his helm leaned against the wall, as if he has a hangover.

Or, at the angle he holds the communicator (thankfully audio only), like he's self-servicing. The sort of thing he learned long ago, starting a revolution; make it seem to them like they've caught you doing something embarrassing, and they won't look further, too caught up in being gleefully scandalized.

That's all he can do on this end. The rest relies on the properties of the communicator. "Strika," he says, not even waiting for her voice, "we need our secondary plan."

Because the skiff that came for Lugnut and Blitzwing and the others didn't leave. It's lurking somewhere within a few hours flight, hiding behind asteroids and decoys and comets, moving like debris. Just enough for one strike team. Just enough to save his alternate, if he can draw the Autobots into a public ceremony.

The Autobots are very likely to keep them separate. Whether they'll be able to pull him out at the same time is a good question. Megatron doesn't mind the risk.

He shuts the channel off, hides the communicator again, and gives a grunt and twitch of his hips for the benefit of the cameras. He makes a show of rinsing himself off, and then out of sheer spite stretches elegantly, showing off his build and the flexibility of his frame. Let Magnus regret throwing this relationship away; he certainly won't have Megatron in his berth again.

Then he goes and touches up his polish.

Which is when Optimus arrives at his door, looking uncomfortable and nervous. "Can we talk?" he asks.

"The privacy in here is dubious at best," says Megatron. "So if you want it on every news station in Iacon by this evening, certainly."

Optimus looks unhappier still and gestures for Megatron to follow him. "The crystal gardens aren't bad."

"I'm sure," says Megatron, and they say nothing more until they're in said gardens.

"I want to take Sari back to Earth," says Optimus. "I think she'll be safe there."

"Until energon is found on Earth," says Megatron. Optimus stares at him, startled. Megatron looks back with absolutely no compunction about it. Energon was found, in some forms, on Earth in his universe; the planet's already playing such a significant role in this timeline that he's thinking of this as more of an educated guess than an outright lie. "Or they find out whose daughter she is, in which case they will come for her. Far be it from me to urge you to a certain course of action, Optimus Prime, but Earth will not keep her safe."

"Yeah you say that," says Optimus. "Somehow I get the sense you don't mean it."

Megatron shrugs.

"What? What's your plan, Megatronus?"

"I'd suggest she seek shelter with the Decepticons, only I know that proposal will be instantly rejected." Megatron folds his arms and frowns at a collection of crystals. "She will be safe there, however. We do not fear organics as Autobots do."

"Forgive me if I'm not happy about Sari surrounded by bloodthirsty murderers," says Optimus.

"And what will you do?" asks Megatron, looking down at him. "I know how you feel about my alternate. What future do you see for yourself there?"

Optimus is completely dumbstruck. His mouth opens. Then closes. He flushes with heat and his optics spark and he stares even harder.

Megatron just keeps looking at him.

"How did you know?" Optimus demands. "How?"

"I have optics," says Megatron. "And I know Megatron. Are you serious about him?"

"I…I can't be!" says Optimus. "He's Megatron!" But the depth of unhappiness in the words gives the lie to them even as he says them.

"Let me guess," says Megatron. "You've admired him from afar all your function, from your history books. They probably portray him as a fallen hero, a revolutionary gone very, very bad indeed. That he started with good intentions, but joined Megazarak and from him learned the worst that Cybertronians were capable of, and mad with new-discovered power overthrew Megazarak and led the Decepticons into a new age of pillaging until you heroic Autobots drove them back."

Optimus is nodding and looking guilty about it.

"He didn't fall that far, Optimus Prime," says Megatron. "He overthrew Megazarak to save my spark because he couldn't bear to see a medic and civilian flogged to death for displeasing his consort."

Optimus looks at him with silent horror again.

"Take it from someone who has, truly, become the monster you think he is," says Megatron, "and is still finding his way back: Megatron is a good mech. Where I am concerned, I can only trust his judgement." He turns the full force of his regard on Optimus and enjoys the way the smaller mech seems unsettled by it. "And hope it is sound."

"Um," says Optimus, still shocked, "um. Does this mean. You approve?"

"It's his decision, not mine," says Megatron. "But I will do whatever I must to keep him safe, if it comes to that. Is that, at least, clear?"

"Yeah. Absolutely. Crystal," says Optimus. He gets a message on his comm, and looks comically glad of it. "Um. Magnus wants to meet with you over morning energon?"

"Unsurprising," says Megatron, and firmly quashes any hesitation in his spark.

 

The room where Magnus has his breakfast overlooks the plaza outside of Fortress Maximus, already with ranks of the Autobot Elite Guard standing stiffly at attention. Megatron wonders about that at first, then realizes it's probably supposed to be an intimidating display. Magnus showing his military might in an informal setting, reiterating their power disparity.

Primus, he hopes Strika is successful. Magnus's behavior is only likely to worsen at this point. His assumption that Megatron would be perfectly happy to offer his spark as well says ugly things about what he expects from his interface partners. About what he thinks Megatron is, about Megatron's own sense of dignity and the dignity he deserves from Magnus in turn.

Now, a display of military might. A reminder that Megatron is unarmed and alone in enemy territory. An increase in the pressure.

Magnus either misses his company in berth already, or he has more demands to make.

Or both, Megatron thinks bitterly.

Magnus keeps him waiting a few minutes as well, looking at the well-appointed table glittering with decorative crystals and goblets and empty beakers. It's a fine room, with large bright windows that run its full length.

The table is set for three mecha. Megatron's attention snags on that and he frowns, turns quickly when the door opens and Magnus walks in.

"Good morning, Megatronus," says Magnus, too smug for Megatron's comfort. Megatron inclines his head. Magnus pulls out a chair for him, waiting with a smirk that makes the courtesy condescending. He then sits opposite him. "Recharge well?"

"Exceptionally," says Megatron. One of the palace mecha comes by and fills their goblets, an assortment of flavors of energon. He takes one and drinks, as if he's totally unaware of the way Magnus is watching him.

"We'll have a guest joining us," says Magnus, inclining his head to the place set next to Megatron. "He's a little delayed, but should be here soon."

That, too, is smug.

The door opens. Megatron rises to greet the newcomer out of common courtesy and freezes, the atmosphere stuttering in his vents and his plating rising in threat as he looks up into a familiar face, a high elaborate helm, red optics as cold as a comet's tail.

"Glad to have you here, Megazarak," says Magnus. "Won't you join us? It's not every day we sign a treaty."

Megatron sits without clasping his former mate's hand. The depth of his rage takes him completely by surprise; he'd moved on, advising his alternate, shaping the Decepticons. Megazarak had faded into a memory, one that made him wince, but not much more. Something he was glad to have be a memory.

He's sitting a handbreadth away from Megatron now, and Megatron wants to kill him. He can't even feel bad about wanting to kill him. It's not a reminder of the mech he shouldn't be. It's a clean refreshing hate and he sits there and drinks his energon anyway without tasting it, pretending he's not envisioning dragging Megazarak's fuel pump out of his chest bare-handed.

Megazarak, though, is a formidable opponent. Megatron will do better if he's armed.

"So," he says at last, "why is he here? He has no political standing."

"Yet," purrs Megazarak and tries to take Megatron's hand.

"Do not touch me," says Megatron, his voice calm and even.

"You're still my mate," says Megazarak, using the same word he did when they first met. This time, it's not a test. It's an insult. "I suppose you're very lucky Magnus repealed the adultery laws. And that I agreed to that little tryst."

"You are not my mate under Decepticon law," says Megatron. "You lost that standing when you tried to kill me in front of the entire Decepticon army."

"But Decepticon law won't matter anymore after today," says Megazarak, grinning.

"Let's enjoy our fuel before we talk business, Megazarak," says Ultra Magnus. Megazarak's optics rake over Megatron's plating invasively; the look Magnus is giving him is hardly better.

He composes himself and drinks his energon anyway, pretending to be unruffled. Inwardly, he's on alert, waiting for Megazarak to try to touch him again, for any indication of what's coming next.

They take their time about fueling, obviously reveling in drawing it out as long as they can. Out in the courtyard, preparations are being made. A table. Chairs. A heavily guarded area, a transport coming in. Megatron watches it out of the corner of his optic, suspicious.

"A treaty," he says at last when their glasses are empty. "Curious. We'd discussed no such thing, Ultra Magnus. Would you care to elaborate?"

"A treaty," says Magnus, pleased, "to ally the Autobots and Decepticons for good."

Megazarak sits there and smirks.

"Very interesting that I haven't been involved in the drafting of this treaty," says Megatron.

"I'm sure you'll agree to it," says Magnus, and slides it across the table.

Megatron reads it. It boils down to two things: his alternate will be released. And Megazarak will take command of the Decepticons once more. Megatron's alternate will be exiled, unable to challenge him for leadership ever again.

"No, I don't think I'll agree to this," he says, as evenly as he can, because there's no way the Decepticons would agree to this.

They were doing so well in the negotiations, too. It's a shock to have them go this bad, this fast.

"Perhaps we need to change his mind," says Megazarak. There's a crowd gathering in the plaza now, mostly Autobots.

"Indeed," says Magnus, and rises, strolling to the window. "Would you join me for a moment, Megatronus?"

"Megatronus," says Megazarak. "Is that what you're calling yourself now? I like it. It's gentler." He stands, offering Megatron a hand. "Old fashioned. Like you."

Megatron gets up, stepping around the opposite side of the chair from Megazarak and glares at him. Megazarak smiles. "What can I say? I missed your…" his optics sweep over Megatron's frame, evaluating and insulting, "company," he finishes, an obvious afterthought.

Magnus smiles a little at that, small and mean.

Megatron joins them at the window and sees far below what they have as leverage.

The shuttle is a prison shuttle. His alternate is wheeled off it, strapped to a board, gagged, thoroughly bound.

"You sign this treaty," says Magnus, "or he dies. And we unleash Megazarak on the Decepticons anyway."

"All of your dear young officers dead, not just him," says Megazarak into his audial.

The plan comes slowly into Megatron's processor, filtering past the visceral dread of the mecha around him, the way Megazarak is leaning in. He hardly believes that Megazarak will take him back as consort. No, his fate will probably be undecided. He can stay with the Decepticons, giving his frame to Megazarak in exchange for permission to remain with them, or strike out on his own as the Decepticons, his path to redemption, are corrupted back to the evil he tried to save them from.

"Megatron will be exiled," he says. "He'll be unable to challenge you. But will you still be subject to the rite of challenge?"

"Who could stand against me?" says Megazarak. "Not Strika. Not that fool Lugnut. Shockwave? I could snap him in half, pull out his fuel tank and leave him screaming."

Megatron eyes him. There seems to be a greater delight in cruelty, an inability to hide it, in him. Unsettling.

But he slumps a little all the same. "True."

"I'll do that to them anyway if you don't sign," says Megazarak. "Your alternate butchered here like a mechanimal, like an organic curiosity, and then I'll do what I like to the rest of your little rebellious coterie. You lost me the Decepticons, Megatron. An old broken barren mate, and you turned them against me. I took you in out of pity, and you took the Decepticons from me."

Megazarak's gestures of affection make sense to him now. They're intended to humiliate. His life will be very ugly indeed if Megazarak gets what he wants; Megazarak wants revenge. And by the way he's acting, that revenge will involve putting Megatron back into the place he originally occupied; something not much better than shareware.

Megatron isn't the same mech he was when he first arrived. He looks haughtily at Megazarak, then at the plaza.

He knows what he's going to do.

"Allow me to contact General Strika to inform her that the treaty will be signed."

"Of course," says Magnus. "We'll make the call together."

Wise of him. Megatron smiles his assent, something small and strained, and they go back to Ultra Magnus's office and make the official call, standing next to one another.

Thank Primus for Strika's paranoia. When she responds, still on the skiff, Megatron says, "The negotiations have gone as well as can be expected." It's a reasonable thing to say. It's also one of several potential codephrases of distress.

"We will be signing the treaty within the hour," says Magnus. "Send the retrieval shuttle to the plaza before Fortress Maximus. Ensure it's unarmed, as last time."

Strika looks to Megatron, who inclines his head. It's the perfect opportunity for the strike team. "I look forward to returning home," he tells her and ends the transmission.

"Do you suppose she'll kill you herself, when she finds out?" says Megazarak, conversationally. "I think I'd like to see that."

Megatron says nothing.

 

The two of them bring him down to the treaty signing escorted like a prisoner. He makes brief optic contact with his alternate as the contents of the treaty are read out, sees the dawning horror in his optics. Tries to give him a reassuring look, but not too much of one because Magnus and Megazarak are right there. After a few moments, Megatron turns to them. "At least provide him with his own shuttle," he says.

"No," says Megazarak. "Not in the agreement."

"But," Megatron says, and is cut off by Ultra Magnus.

"The mistake you make, Megatronus, is that you think you're important. You're nothing more than a footnote. A negotiator who used everything at his disposal," and here Magnus's mouth quirks in a smug little smile, and Megazarak laughs aloud, "and still failed. Even Megatron here is more important than you are, in the long run." He holds the stylus out to Megatron. "Now. Sign it. Or your beloved leader dies."

"And I get the Decepticons anyway," says Megazarak, smug. "You know even Strika can't stand against me."

Megatron takes the pen in steady fingers. He hears his alternate make a muffled noise of desperate denial. Megatron ignores him. No matter what he does now, this will end the same way. Even with Strika and her team watching, waiting for the right moment, this will end the same way; the Autobots are in far too good a position to simply kill his alternate, and he cannot let that happen.

He signs the treaty. With the provision that his alternate cannot challenge Megazarak again, will go into exile unless the supreme leader of the Decepticons allows him back. The treaty that makes Megazarak the lord of the Decepticons once more.

Magnus signs it and Megazarak signs it and then they both shake Megatron's hand. Megatron allows it, expression neutral.

His alternate watches, face etched with lines of grief under the mouth clamp. Megatron only spares him a glance before turning to Megazarak.

"Megatron may not challenge you," he says. "But I will."

Megazarak stares at him a moment and then begins to laugh.

Megatron slaps him.

"Megazarak of Iacon," he says, while Megazarak rubs his jaw, plainly startled at the strength behind the blow, "I challenge you for leadership of the Decepticons."

There's a hissing gasp from his alternate. He sees red optics go wide, a twitch of his helm in what must be a desperate denial. He wishes he could tell his alternate that it will be all right. That, no matter what happens here, Megazarak will not survive.

But everything depends on what the rest of the crowd is seeing; an old mech, not even a warrior, challenging a warlord still at his peak to single combat. A hopeless, even comical match. Every Decepticon here saw Megazarak string him up and beat him to near deactivation. Megatron hadn't fought at that time, had lacked the will, had lacked his connection to the black hole, had been injured and tired for a fight that still will be very close to an even match.

An even match if he doesn't call on that distant event horizon.

He will, if he must.

"Are you trying to make me look bad?" says Megazarak, mocking. "There's no way this ends that isn't with you dead, old mech. It'll be like butchering a turbopig."

"I have my duty to the Decepticons," says Megatron. "If it costs my spark, so be it."

Megazarak laughs, coarse and mocking. "That's not what it's usually cost you," he says, with an intrusive raking flick of his optics over Megatron's frame.

It will feel good to take that out of him. Megatron says nothing.

"Your weapon?" asks Magnus.

"A sword," says Megatron, like a mech who's trying to put up a brave face would, despite having no chance at all.

Megazarak laughs again. "Bring me my mace."

"You too have made a serious mistake," says Megatron, testing the balance of the blade he's been given. It's a difficult thing to do, while looking like an amateur, but the game will be up soon enough.

"How is that?" says Megazarak, mocking. Megatron raises his blade and begins to circle him, allowing his frame to settle into millennia of habit. This will be so different from fighting Optimus, he realizes. Optimus was the last opponent he had who was truly a challenge. Tarn and the DJD don't count.

It will be a close battle, for all that. Megazarak is younger. Megazarak doesn't have the calcification of years without battle, nor the old wounds, nor a frame that still doesn't feel like his.

But he is still Megatron.

Megazarak brings the energy mace smashing down at Megatron's helm. Megatron bats it aside as if it's a game. Which it was, once. Even the jarring vibration is familiar. He sees Megazarak's optics widen in surprise.

"As my alternate does now, I too once led the Decepticons," he says. "Only, not the Decepticons as you know them here. Under my leadership, they became something far more terrible and cruel than our Decepticons could dream of."

Megazarak laughs. Megatron presses the advantage, winding his blade past the shaft of the mace and lunging, scoring a line of energon across Megazarak's abdomen and dodging back before the mech can retaliate.

"I have done things, terrible things, that you haven't even dreamt of, Megazarak," he says. "Nor you, Ultra Magnus. We brought Cybertron down in flaming ruin. Our fleets blackened the skies of planets. Worldsweepers, we called them. Imagine your sky filled with thousands of Decepticon emblems, so many that only a whisper of light crept past them. We brought down worlds. We burned galaxies. The Galactic Council couldn’t stop us. Neither could the Autobots. I—not Cybertronians, not Decepticons, I alone—I was classified as an extinction-level event."

He says all this not as a boast. It's a statement of fact. A confession. His alternate has heard it before but Strika and the others, Optimus, they haven't. He can see Optimus's face past Megazarak's shoulder. The young mech looks horrified. He believes every word.

"The war ended," he says. "And I saw what I had done."

Megazarak rains blows down on him, face twisted in a snarl. Megatron blocks or eludes them.

"I sought to atone for my crimes," Megatron continues, as if he's simply lecturing a class. Like the sessions he led on the Lost Light. "But you cannot atone for the things I've done. You cannot simply say you're sorry. You cannot do a handful of good deeds and call yourself redeemed."

His turn to attack. He's still faster than Megazarak. He's more used to pain. He batters at the other mech, fast and relentless, aiming for the few energon cables that run close to the surface. "I took the Autobot badge and fought alongside them." He flicks through Megazarak's guard and nicks his waist on the other side. "It was not enough."

Megazarak snarls and lands a blow on his shoulder. It hurts. Megatron ignores it. There's no serious damage. "I took a vow of nonviolence. It was not enough."

His next strike is true, slashing a line under Megazarak's armpit. Megazarak snarls and clutches the damage. "I fought for and saved an organic world. A crew of Autobots. It was not enough."

The sword isn't a good one. Megazarak locks guards with him, trying to force him to his knees. Megatron stands steady against him, straining to break from the lock.

"I traveled to an alternate universe and refought my war. I failed. It was not enough." He remembers Terminus's optics fading, darkening. He throws Megazarak off and takes a staggering step back.

Megazarak charges him. He sweeps the sword around, brings the sword around to block.

It shatters against the shaft of the mace. Megatron throws it aside and catches the next blow with a hand. It sends vibrations all the way up his arm, and Megazarak brings a fist down on his helm.

Megatron releases and steps back, hands spread. "At the end of it all, I surrendered myself and stood trial. They locked me in a dimensional prison. But sitting there, I realized, even an eternity of waiting would not be enough."

The next blow lands and drives him to his knees. They are evenly matched enough that, unarmed, Megatron knows he has little chance. So he reaches for his last resort. The black hole, simmering on the edge of his awareness.

Megazarak is laughing at him. "Nothing you do will ever be enough, Megatron," he says. "You're a nobody, a failure. No matter what you think you were in your home universe. You're here now. And you never mattered."

"The only thing I can do," says Megatron, looking steadily up at him, at the rising mace, with the simmer of antimatter working its way up from his spark. His optics ache. It's working. "The only thing I can do, is something with every day that remains to me. I will never reach absolution."

The mace descends. He catches it in both hands, holds it still as Megazarak tries to wrench it free, and the antimatter bubbles from him, a stinging darkness that leaves the taste of death on his glossa and makes his optics feel like they'll boil in their sockets.

"I will be working for it until the day I die," he says, and has enough control to direct the simmering dark power into, at Megazarak. "And even then it will be unfinished. But the universe will be a better place than it would have been if I had simply remained in that cell. Then if I had offlined. And that seems to me…"

He pulls the mace from nerveless hands, hears an echo of Tarn in the way that Megazarak's voice rises in a scream as the antimatter invades plating, begins tearing him apart. He sees the gears of the inside of the mech's jaw as the derma lyses away. The acid-like scores of plating, stripped away fast and then the energy tears Megazarak open. Too fast to bleed, energon sparking in his lines, clean metal and freshly milled parts and oil and the screaming. There's something of intelligence left in the wide optics, until it rips his helm in two and pops the right optic, leaves the left to fall disconnected and Megazarak's brain lolls from his open head, until the antimatter melts that to dripping slag. There's a flare of sparklight, engulfed by darkness. The screaming's stopped. His t-cog falls, rolls a little before the hungry matter embraces it as well and it pops and slumps.

Megatron feels it slipping from his control. Reaching for the onlookers. His alternate and Optimus. It won't stop there, it'll keep going. It'll consume all of Cybertron. And as much as he would love to turn it on Ultra Magnus, he's not sacrificing the others for it.

He wrestles it back. He pulls it into himself, forces it back down that connection to the distant singularity. He feels the spacebridge within him contracting. He's still holding the mace, melted to slag except for the last meter of its length.

The spacebridge closes. Megatron collapses to his hands as well, raises his head just enough to look into Megazarak's empty-opticked face—what little isn't melted to slag. There's about half of it left, jaw hanging open, optic socket empty. The facial derma is scraped away, the underlying structure melted to slag. Only ghosts of the articulations remain.

"That seems to me like the best I could hope for," he says. He looks at the empty optic socket. How many dead mecha has he looked at like this? How many has he not spared a thought for, that died at his hand?

He's shaking. He's exhausted. He had more control of it this time, but his very spark feels scoured.

He needs to return to medicine. He does not have this anymore.

He slowly pushes himself back onto his knees and tilts his face up to the night sky, his plating shuddering with every vent. A beautiful sky. Both moons remain. This Cybertron has done will without him. So much better with his alternate. He closes his optics. Vents. Opens them again.

Only then, gradually, does he become aware of the screaming. That the crowd of Autobots has run from him. That Strika has charged and they've freed his alternate and are hurrying toward the shuttle. Optimus is with them, dragged along but not fighting much.

He should join them. He struggles to rise.

The Magnus Hammer slams into the ground in front of him. Brilliant lightining flares around it and he looks up to find Ultra Magnus staring down at him, face set in stern disapproval.

The Elite Guard surround him. Blasters level at his head. A sword pricks the armor on his back. A spear at his neck.

He is surrounded by cold blue Autobot optics. And unlike every previous time, he knows he can't fight them. Not now.

He raises his helm. He still shakes. Can he reach that distant singularity now? He doesn't think so.

"Megatronus!" his alternate screams. Megatron flicks his gaze sideways to the door of Megazarak's shuttle. Strika is bodily carrying his alternate, restraining him as he fights to be free, a servo reaching for him. As if it'll make a difference.

"Go," Megatron says, and his alternate's face twists with betrayal and grief. "Go. They need you." The Autobots are smart enough to recognize him as the greatest threat. They won't touch his alternate while they have him, a neat bit of irony. "Lord Megatron, the Decepticons are yours!"

There are enough witnesses, Decepticon witnesses, that that should settle it.

Strika hauls him into the shuttle, and the door closes, and someone was already in there, idling the engines because it lifts off immediately. One of the Autobots around him curses.

Megatron watches it out of atmosphere, a bright dot rapidly fading. Then he looks back at Ultra Magnus.

"Fragger," says Sentinel behind him, and jabs him with the sword. It hurts. Megatron doubts that'll be a problem for much longer.

Megatron meets Magnus's gaze. "I doubt you'll bother with a trial," he says. "It's a waste of time. And if I'm not dead, they'll come back for me."

Magnus raises the Hammer. The gathering clouds become denser, little lightning strikes lancing down to the head. Megatron can feel the charge gathering.

A massive jolt of electricity certainly will kill him. He wonders if it's true, that you can taste the optics burning in the back of your mouth before you die. He'll find out.

He tilts his head up and watches the electricity gathering with a strange sort of detachment. Megatron has the Decepticons and Megazarak is dead. His alternate also has his beloved little Autobot. Megatron hopes he will be more successful in working things out with Optimus than he was with his own, or with his own Ultra Magnus. The sparkling Sari is with them as well, and Megatron will be very surprised if she doesn't gain siblings quickly.

The Decepticons will move into a new era without him. He hopes Megatron will hold to his lessons. His instructions. Will continue to be a better mech than he was.

It's fitting his journey ends here. One more convulsive use of profound violence. But this time he has no doubt that it was the right thing to do.

His journey is over. He knows he hasn't done enough to earn absolution. But there is little enough else he can do.

He's prepared himself for death so many times. He can almost taste it. The satisfaction of obliteration. A final rest. He's old. He's been living on borrowed time for a thousand years and for a century before that, in the Functionist Universe. If there is an afterspark, he has people waiting for him. Terminus, Optimus, Orion from the Functionist Universe. Ravage. His spark aches with longing for them. Till All Are One, and for the first time in his function it's not the mantra of the Functionists or Rodimus's irritating catchphrase. It means something to him. If there is an afterspark, an allspark, maybe that's where all justice will be meted out. Or, as he's believed for most of his life, there's simply annihilation.

It sounds restful, as much as he would like to see them all again.

The air stinks of ozone. "Any last words?" says Magnus above him.

Megatron shakes his helm.

And squints.

There's something hurtling downwards toward them, red and orange and gold and…circular.

Fins on either side.

Megatron feels his mouth drop slightly open.

The RodPod slams into the ground and bounces twice, throwing up scrap and slag in its wake. Megatron instinctively curls down and covers his helm, spark hammering with disbelief, as it opens and Rodimus comes tumbling out, not a different version of him, his own Rodimus, grinning broadly.

"Step away from my co-captain," he says, and levels his arms, barrels of his built-in guns humming with charge. Behind him, Drift and Ultra Magnus descend with significantly more dignity.

They all look older. Rodimus's paint is scuffed, but the cocky grin is the same. That and the totally dumbfounded expression of the other Ultra Magnus convince Megatron that he's not in fact already dead.

Magnus glances down at Megatron. "Did you plan this?" he demands.

"No," says Megatron, for once sounding exactly as startled as he feels.

Rodimus has had enough of waiting. He shoots the head of the Magnus Hammer.

The explosion is deafening. Megatron manages to raise his hands to cover his helm. The Hammer pinwheels from Ultra Magnus's hands, the other mecha around them flinch back as one, and Drift and Ultra Magnus charge. Drift takes on the Autobots.

Magnus, his Ultra Magnus, Minimus—grabs Megatron, scooping him up into a bridal carry. Megatron looks up at him and then hooks an arm around his nearest shoulder guard and clings. "How?" he says, more of a gasp than anything.

"We found out what Prowl did," Magnus says, optics on the battle. Rodimus is fighting the other Magnus single handed. Ultra Magnus makes the mistake of trying to grab him. Rodimus bursts into flames.

Magnus's yell is audible even at this distance.

"We can't bring you home," his Magnus says, his grip tightening on Megatron's body. "But we could join you." He looks down at Megatron and by his expression Megatron supposes Prowl told Magnus about his attempted suicide, too. "I'm sorry I failed you."

Once, Megatron would have ignored the pain in the blue optics above him. Once, he would have pretended not to see it. Dismissed it. Gentleness had no place in his life. He wouldn't have imagined a world in which it was genuine.

Today, he looks up into Magnus's optics and then uses the arm on Magnus's shoulder to pull himself up, his other arm to draw Magnus's face down to his and kiss him. With all the affection he's longed for, with the affection he's been fooled by. But what he gives Magnus is not a lie.

And to his delight, his relief, Magnus reciprocates. Clumsy, like he's not used to this. It's all right, because there is eager delight in the return of his affection.

"I've missed you," Megatron says when they part. "And I regret everything I left unsaid."

Magnus stares down at him with a soft expression.

In the distance, Rodimus yells, "TILL ALL ARE ONE" and there is an explosion. He and Drift come back toward them soon after, two speedsters in altmode with engines roaring. The Autobots are hot on their spoilers.

"He still says that?" says Megatron.

"Despite everything," says Magnus, and his voice is fond.

"Why aren't you idiots running?!" demands Rodimus. "I save your aft from weird Autobots and this is how you thank me? Standing around and waiting to get arrested? Frag you!"

 

They make it back to the RodPod, enraged Autobots just behind them. They take off, Megatron supplies the coordinates to a quietly efficient Drift, and the ship shakes as they elude the Autobot defense grid.

Once the shaking stops, everyone turns to look at Megatron, except Magnus, who has yet to let go of him. Megatron is certainly not that feeble, but he's been enjoying the contact and has had no inclination to tap out of Magnus's grip. Instead he leans back into it, enjoying the press of trusted plating at his back. He doesn't know how long this will last. If any unusual movement or comment from him will remind Magnus to let go of him, of both their tendencies to withdraw physically and emotionally at every opportunity. He doesn't want to go back to this.

"Are you two cuddling?" says Rodimus, just staring.

That tears it. Magnus's arms twitch, as if he thought of letting go and then realized that it would simply mean dropping Megatron, and then instead carefully lowers him into the adjacent seat. Megatron sighs, mentally, at the lack of contact but says nothing.

"What happened?" says Rodimus. "You're wearing that again." He gestures to the Decepticon brand on Megatron's chest. "And when did you become a medic? And when did you become all touchy feely? And how did it take a thousand years before you almost got yourself killed again? We thought Prowl had—"

Magnus clears his vents, loudly.

Megatron looks around at all of them. At how Drift is just watching, optics narrow and untrusting. At Rodimus's nervous energy, the plea in his optics.

Please tell me you're not the person you were before.

And at Magnus, whose face is once again unreadable.

"It's a long story," Megatron says at last. He reaches for Magnus's hand and is incredibly relieved that Magnus welcomes the touch. "Why are you here?"

"Because we found out what Prowl did to you, dumbass!" says Rodimus, throwing his arms wide. "He just sold you off to some fragging warlord from another universe as a conjunx and we didn't find out about it until now! Of course we're worried! We're your friends!"

Megatron blinks, startled by that declaration. He glances up at Magnus, at Drift. Restrains the you are?

"Prowl did," he says. "And I was."

He looks down. Then forces himself to look up at Drift, who should understand. "Atoning for my crimes by sitting in a prison cell rang…hollow, after a time. I realized that my ability to atone was limited. That redemption was something unreachable, and whether or not I had achieved it was not for me to decide. And I gave up." He's not going to elaborate on that. He's not going to make it clear to them that he stopped fueling. That he lay in that silent little cell waiting for his massively efficient systems to slowly grind to a halt, staring at the energon dispenser in the wall blinking its ready light at him for weeks. The growing lassitude and sickness and how there was something purifying in it. How he'd clung to it as the only thing outside the unrelenting sameness. "When Prowl came to me, he made it clear that at least this way I could be some use. That I could save Cybertron from an invasion we could not repel. And because of that, I accepted. No matter what my intended conjunx would do, it was at least something I could. A maybe of saved sparks." His mouth quirks as he looks at Drift. He's fairly sure Drift understands. "I had to do what I could."

"Fragger," says Rodimus. It's pretty clearly aimed at Prowl.

"It wasn't bad," Megatron says. "But things did go sour at the end." He's not going to elaborate on why. His inability to carry a sparkling, to spark someone else—that's private, even if all the Decepticons know, even if Megazarak announced it to them. Here, with his friends, he can choose not to tell them, and he's glad to have that little bit of control. "You've figured out that this is an alternate universe. Here, my alternate was the second in command of the Decepticons. He defeated and exiled my conjunx. I've been serving as chief medical officer and advisor since then. We're shorthanded."

They're still staring at him.

"My alternate was captured by the Autobots," he says. "I was negotiating his release. Negotiations were not proceeding well. The Autobots attempted to replace him with my former conjunx. I signed the treaty allowing them to do so, then defeated and killed Megazarak so my alternate could be rescued."

"So you are a Decepticon now?" The note in Rodimus's voice is plaintive. He wants someone to tell him this isn't true.

"The Decepticons here are different," says Megatron. "My alternate—he is not me. He is a far, far better mech. The horrors of our war have not been replicated here."

There's doubt in their optics.

"Please," he says. "Withhold your judgement until we reach the Nemesis."

They look at each other.

"Well," says Drift after a time, "We can't go back."

Megatron feels like his argument lacks something. He huffs a sigh. "The mech you two were fighting—that was Ultra Magnus's alternate."

He can feel Ultra Magnus stiffen next to him, mouth twisting. "Had he held a trial before he'd decided to kill you?"

"No," says Megatron. "He did not."

The response is a silent stare from all of them.

"The Autobots here are different," Megatron says. "They won the first war. The Decepticons are scavengers, exiled to the edges of Autobot space. And the Autobots… became something different."

They're sharing an uneasy look.

"It will be easier to show you," he says.

"You know, if he had gone back to who he was, he'd be leading the Decepticons," says Drift after several long, silent minutes.

It hurts to have this doubted. To be put back in the same place he was a thousand years ago. But they haven't seen him since then. Megatron bows his head. There's no more to be said.

Magnus's hand tightens over his own. After a few moments, he lets Magnus draw him to his feet and take him to the back of the rodpod, where there's some privacy. Magnus hesitates, hands above his shoulders. Waiting for permission.

A thousand years ago, neither of them would even offer such a touch. They'd stand, awkwardly. Their conversation would be stilted, until one or the other made the right comment and then both would stare with delight at one another, too shy to take it further. Now, though… if Magnus feels a fraction of what Megatron does, he's aching to make every missed second up. To not make the same mistakes again. To not miss one another, once more.

Megatron wants to be touched. He's missed so many of those touches, those gestures of affection. He can't stand to let a one slip past him. So he nods and Magnus's hands descend gentle and heavy on his shoulders and he tips his face up to Magnus in invitation.

"I believe you," says Ultra Magnus, with an effort. "Maybe I shouldn't. I'm sure the others would tell me that I'm making a mistake. But I do believe you, Megatron. You stood there and answered for your crimes and accepted the consequences. I don't think you're going to just throw that away. We know it was Prowl who sent you here. It wasn't because you were trying to elude justice again."

He sounds a little like he's arguing with himself. Megatron looks at him sadly. "I know it looks bad."

"It does," Magnus admits, and some of the tension goes out of his shoulders. Megatron bows his head.

"I'm not an Autobot," he says. "I won't ever be one. I was lying to myself that being one of you might absolve me. It was the wrong path to take. I should have stayed a Decepticon. I should have stayed one, and changed what it meant to be a Decepticon. To leave them adrift like that, to deal with all I'd done? That was cowardly of me. It was wrong. I'm a Decepticon here because I could change what it meant to be a Decepticon. And to make sure my alternate didn't lose his way."

He takes a harsh vent, not bothering to conceal his emotion. He knows the expression he's turned up to Magnus is vulnerable and openly pleading. "I don't know if I succeeded. But I do know I tried. And if I was wrong, so be it. You and Rodimus and Drift—you're uniquely qualified to judge this. And if it's lacking—if I've made the wrong choice once again, I'll leave them. I'll go with you. Even if it means," his vents hitch, it's what he has to say to get Magnus to believe him, but it terrifies him beyond words, "going back."

"We have no way to get back," says Ultra Magnus. The relief breaks over Megatron like a wave. He sags a little where he stands. "There's nothing left for us there, either. Ratchet is dead. Rodimus—" his mouth twists. "Drift says this is the longest he's been sober for at least a century."

"Yeah," says Rodimus's voice from the other end of the hallway, and both look up, guilty. "We're all basically in exile here, Megs. So whatever you're leading us into? It needs to be good. We've got nowhere else to go. Home's not an option anymore."

Megatron stares. Rodimus looks—old. Worn and tired and there's only a ghost of his flame left. Drift, just behind him, looks much the same. But his armor is engraved with the glyphs for mourning. He thinks of Drift and Ratchet on that last day, the adoration in Drift's optics. Drift has never been good at showing his pain outwardly, but Megatron expects he must be gutted by losing his conjunx.

He won't say it aloud, though. That would be cruel.

He looks up at Ultra Magnus. He wonders what's driven him away from Cybertron. He doesn't ask; Magnus will tell him on his own time.

He realizes, abruptly, with Magnus's hand still on his shoulder, with all of them looking at him, that he's had this backward. He fell back into his old way of thinking; these Autobots, his friends, are here to provide him with an escape. That they're here to be his conscience, to judge him, to make him a better person and lead him into a new life.

But that's not the case.

They're lost.

They're looking to him. And it's his job to find them that new life.

He finds himself beginning to smile. He thinks of the young Decepticon officers. His alternate. Their idealism and their bickering and the Autobots they've taken in, the countless cruelties they've refrained from that his own Decepticons wouldn't have. Of the Ultra Magnus here and his pleasure in the cruel words he threw at the mech who shared his berth. Of Sentinel. Of all the things they fight, and the world they're trying to build and of little Optimus and his choice to defect and of Ratchet following him.

He's done himself a discourtesy by doubting his Decepticons. He's done his Decepticons wrong by doubting them.

What he's helped to build here is worth being proud of. And while his companions' doubts are well founded, he shouldn't let them shake his belief in the mecha he loves.

"It's worth it," he says aloud, certainty in his voice. "It's a new life. And I'm proud of them all."

 

Strika greets him with an expression of total delighted disbelief when he hails the Nemesis for permission to dock. She grants it without hesitation and is turning to yell the news in the direction of whoever's just entered the bridge when the connection cuts.

"They seem excited to see you," remarks Rodimus.

Megatron smiles a little.

There's a crowd when they land and shoving his way to the front of it is his alternate with Optimus behind him. Rodimus and the others hesitate looking out the airlock window.

"They seem really excited to see you," said Rodimus, sounding impressed. Megatron feels his smile broaden. He opens the doors and starts down the ramp.

His alternate charges toward him, meets him halfway and embraces him in a strut-aching hug. "I thought you were dead!" he says, and when he releases Megatron, Megatron is shocked to see that his optics are sparking with emotion, that his alternate is crying right out in front of everyone.

"Really, really excited to see you," mutters Rodimus. Megatron is too busy being glad to have his alternate safe and here to respond. He hugs the mech, once more, hard, before they part.

"Do not get your stupid aft captured again," he tells him, and Rodimus laughs.

His alternate looks at his companions. Mostly at their badges. "Who are these people?"

"My friends," says Megatron happily. "From my universe. They came to find me. To join me."

His alternate stares hard at them. "The same ones who sold you to Megazarak to save their own plating?"

"No!" snaps Rodimus. "That was Prowl and he's an aft. We came to rescue him from you fraggers."

The look Megatron gives him is of dubious approval. "Perhaps introductions are in order."

"Yes," says Megatron, and sees another pair of blue optics. Ratchet as well as Optimus. Well, Ratchet will get his answers after all, it seems. "This is Rodimus."

"Wait, as in Rodimus Prime?" says Optimus, ducking out from behind Megatron. "How does he have the same name?"

Megatron feels his mouth quirking upward even further. "Optimus Prime, meet Rodimus. Prime is a military rank here," he adds quickly to the others, but Rodimus is staring down at Optimus and looking like he thinks this is the best thing that's happened to him in his entire life. "Drift," he nods at the swordsmech, who's staring at Ratchet already, "and our universe's Ultra Magnus, who is a far better mech than the one we just left."

His alternate's optics dart between them; there's a bit of paint transfer from Magnus scooping Megatron up, and Megatron is standing much closer to the other mech than is his usual wont. "I should hope so," Megatron's alternate says at last, a threatening rumble.

"You're not his sire," says Ratchet, a little blankly. "You're his alternate universe counterpart?" He sounds personally insulted now.

"It's why our sparks match," says Megatron. "Why our coding is so similar. Speaking of which, did you bring Sari along with you?"

"She and Bulkhead and Bumblebee will be coming soon; she said she wanted to get some things from home and tell her father where she's going."

"Things from home," says Megatron's alternate. "Things from home—I will not have it. You will talk her out of it. I'm not having my ship filled with nanobots and goo, even if it's my daughter doing it!"

"Seems like a you problem," murmurs Rodimus.

Optimus laughs, looks like he didn't expect that.

"Megatronus," says his alternate, "get our guests settled in while we still have a ship to settle them into. I'll want to talk to you about what happened. Then rest." He reaches out and claps Megatron on the shoulder. "You've earned it."

"Repairs first," grouses Ratchet and Megatron can even smile at that, because it's so welcome and familiar.

 

Drift and Rodimus eventually lose interest, but Magnus stays with him all through the repairs, clasping Megatron's hand in both of his own. Between that and watching Ratchet bully his medical staff within an inch of their functions, Megatron is completely content. He can make Scalpel scuttle in terror, but it's usually a resentful terror and only prompted by the fear of being stepped on. Ratchet can do it with a glare and it's genuine fear he evokes.

"You've been the CMO around here?" says Ratchet, a few minutes in. "Primus. It's an insult to my professional pride, Megatron, any version of Megatron, doing this job. I'm staying."

"I'll be glad of the assistance and training," says Megatron, and winces as Ratchet yanks something delicate in revenge.

Ratchet's nearing the end of the repairs Megatron needs. Maybe it's presuming too much but… "Ratchet," he says slowly, "would it be possible for you to run an interface-transmitted diseases panel on me as well?"

Ratchet pauses. Looks from his face to Magnus, who's started to blush furiously. "I've got the energon sample and the coding scan," he says. "Let me close this up and give you the swab kit."

Ratchet bustles away, muttering about organization and then starts shouting at Scalpel. Megatron watches with a small smile. He wonders if Ratchet will find out who leaked his reproductive condition to Megazarak. In the meantime, he fully intends to enjoy the chaos.

"Why?" says Magnus next to him.

"I…had a rather unwise encounter with your alternate," Megatron admits. No more lies here, no more falsehoods, even if it makes him feel like he's surely blushing as hard as Magnus is. "I have no idea if you want that out of our relationship, nor how soon you might, but…I figured you might as well know that I'm either treated or entirely clean, should you be interested."

"I um," says Magnus, swallowing hard and even more embarrassed, if that's possible. "I would. I would be very interested. I've taken some time to think about it and yes."

Megatron finds himself grinning once again. He's doing that a lot today.

"Swab kit," says Ratchet, returning and putting it in his hands. "Privacy room over there."

"Yes, I believe I can find my way around my own medbay," says Megatron, and goes to deal with that.

Everything is clean, so he leaves with Magnus a little later. Magnus has yet to let go of him. They make their way back to crew quarters.

"My habsuite's not much to look at," says Megatron as they go, "But I'd be glad of your company, if you'd like."

"I would," says Magnus. His voice rasps with static. "Are you sure you're feeling up for…"

"I offlined a mech who was long overdue for it," says Megatron, "And I survived when I wasn't expecting to. Yes, Ultra Magnus, I am very much up for fragging, if you're interested."

"Oh," says Magnus, a little faintly. "Yes."

Megatron pauses a moment and tilts his face up to request a kiss, half wondering if Magnus will grant it. Magnus does, something fast and shy and happy, and when they start walking again it's with some haste.

"I missed you," Megatron says. "We left so many things unfinished. It was neither your fault nor mine. But I want to conclude them." He pauses in the corridor just outside his quarters and turns to look up at Magnus. "To give us the happy ending you of all people deserve."

"Me?" says Magnus, sounding startled and almost hurt by the words. "You read the report on Luna II. On…" and he falls silent.

Megatron knows the look on his face; it's that of a mech wrestling with the vastness of his own insufficiency. He's felt it enough himself.

"Magnus," he says softly. "No matter how you think you've stumbled, you do not fall short."

It embarrasses Magnus but it does wipe the guilt away. Megatron gives his hand a squeeze and keys open his quarters.

They're stark and bare to his optics. Long ago, Megazarak had given him the ability to requisition what he wanted for his own quarters, no matter what it was—as was right for a warlord's pampered consort. Once Megazarak was exiled, Megatron got rid of everything but the barest necessities, not that he'd ever had more than an extra shelf for his datapads and many, many more datapads than the usual for a Decepticon officer. There had been some padding, extra pillows and a few pretty things Megazarak had pressed upon him, almost more for Megazarak's enjoyment of having a pampered mate than for Megatron's own happiness.

For a moment, he wishes he still had a few of those lovely things to offer to Magnus but even the thought of Megazarak is thick and foul in his mind. There is a large berth in the center of the room, sized for a couple Lugnut and Strika's size. Decepticons run so large that it's the standard berth.

The door closes behind them, and unaccountable nervousness seizes Megatron. He sees it mirrored in Magnus's face. "Fuel?" he says, and they fuel, and when they're done he sees a stray drop on Magnus's lip and reaches to wipe it away with a thumb.

It feels good to touch him, to rest fingers gently against his faceplate and feel warm metal there. Magnus reaches up and cups Megatron's cheek in turn and he can't remember who leans in first but within moments their lips meet.

He can't stop touching Magnus, marveling over the shapes under his hands, a big warm presence and before he knows it he's draped over Magnus's front on his berth, pressing his full frame up against him with a hand on either side of his helm and kissing as if it could somehow make up for the last thousand years of loneliness, kissing and moving against him like an over-eager newspark with upgrades freshly integrated. One of Magnus's hands presses at the small of his back, pulling him in close; the other hesitates here and there until he deliberately moves his aft into it and there it settles, firm and comfortable, fingers spread to encompass as much of him as it can. It's fairly successful; Magnus can fit a lot of Megatron's aft in just one hand.

Magnus kisses him back with equal urgency. He's running hot, as is Megatron. Megatron feels his panels pinging to open and lets them. Magnus lets out a groan of relief and does likewise.

Megatron comes up for air, bracing himself with a hand next to Magnus's face on the berth. "I forgot to ask. Do you want to do this with or without the armor?"

That shyness is back. "I should spend more time as my irreducible self," Magnus says. "But…"

"We'll do what you're comfortable with," says Megatron, already suspecting that he may be Magnus's first experience. Magnus nods. "Even if we stop. That's all right." He gives Magnus a crooked smile, hyperaware of his equipment slick and exposed. "We do have a thousand years to catch up on."

"No, I don't want to stop," says Magnus quickly, and Megatron chuckles, shifting down Magnus's body until he can actually see the other mech's spike and valve. "Are these wired into your sensory system?" he asks, curious.

Magnus gives him an acutely embarrassed look. "Tyrest didn't want anyone to guess that Ultra Magnus wasn't a mech, rather than a suit of armor," he says. "Even if the wearer was being…unprofessional."

Megatron looks at Magnus's spike, large and standing proud, blue and white with red biolights. The plates are set slightly overlapping, so it will catch on his sensors as Magnus withdraws. There's two heavy ridges, one above and one below. The head is broad and heavy.

Magnus's valve also looks tempting, but Megatron knows some mecha can be shy about lending a valve their first time because of the myth that it ought to hurt.

He hopes there will be future opportunities. He turns his attention to Magnus's spike. "I'd like to ride this," he says. "If you've no objection."

Ultra Magnus spits static and says, "None."

Megatron reaches to touch him, to stroke him, groans softly at the heft of spike in his hand, the way Magnus is already producing lubricant that trickles from his slit and down his length and eases the movement of Megatron's hand. Megatron rises up on his knees to prepare his valve, clumsy with inattention and haste, but wanting Magnus to see his fingers pumping into himself.

Magnus groans and his vents hitch, optics fixed on the movement between Megatron's legs. He reaches out, careful and gentle; Megatron removes his fingers and arches into the slow light touch over the opening of his valve, the finger that seeks for his anterior node. One presses into him, the other flutters at the node, light and maddening. He cants his hips backward, pushing that first finger into himself to the second digit, and Magnus's optics flare bright and his hips hitch up.

Two fingers, moving slowly now, and Magnus's hips are undulating slightly, his attention fixed and wondering. Megatron can't quite reach his face from here and instead bends to kiss his chestplates. Magnus rewards him with a small hitching moan.

"Do you want me now?" asks Megatron. He's relaxed enough he knows he can take Magnus's spike, and Magnus swallows hard and moves his fingers from Megatron's valve, nodding.

Megatron spreads himself and slowly lowers himself onto the waiting spike, his own vents stuttering as it fills him. "Primus," he breathes. Magnus's hands settle on his thighs, petting gently even as Magnus himself shakes with the effort of holding still. Megatron spends a moment letting his valve adjust and then rises a little, rolling his hips. He braces himself on Magnus's abdomen with both hands and moves a few more times, slow and steady, gaining in speed as he adjusts his balance. He watches Magnus's face.

Magnus's helm is thrown back, optics flaring bright, mouth open as he pants. His focus is on Megatron, on where their frames are joined. His hands are still on Megatron's thighs, a carefully light pressure. Megatron is leading here and Magnus seems glad of it. As Megatron speeds up, he bites his lip with a whimper.

Megatron hears his own sharp little breaths with every rise and fall, a hint of a whine in his vents because Magnus feels incredible in him, thick and heavy. He's spread wide around him, filled, the vents almost driven out of him by the pleasure. He already feels overload approaching, something thick and hot coiled in his pelvis.

Magnus comes apart before he does, spilling with a harsh gasp and a clench of hands, pulling Megatron firmly down onto himself as his hips jerk and twitch upward. Megatron feels heat inside himself and moans, a hand slipping between his legs to tease his own node.

He can hear Magnus's systems click in reset, and then Magnus's hands hold him still as his hips move, spike still hard in him. It's only a little of that and he overloads hard too.

He resets as well, blinks to see Magnus staring up at him with a soft expression.

"I want to take off the armor," says Magnus. "Will you help me?"

Megatron nods. "Of course."

It takes time, a little more awkward with both of them sticky and aching, and Megatron winds up turning the helmet with its blank optics to face the wall. They're discovering each other's frames the while, so it takes even longer, Megatron excited to touch every part of Magnus—Minimus now—in and out of the armor, Minimus finding his hands slip easily under Megatron's own armor to touch sensitive places. When they finish, they climb into the berth, running hotter than ever.

The size difference will be difficult. Megatron hasn't bothered to cover himself; his spike juts proudly, and he gasps as Minimus wraps a small hand around it in imitation of what he did to Magnus so recently. "One moment," he says, looking at that size difference, realizing that whatever permutation of interface positions they pursue it will be less than ideal, and displaces his mass, shrinking until he's a little bigger but not much.

"Thank you," says Minimus. "I was going to ask if I could have this." He strokes Megatron's spike, watching his face carefully. "It seemed you were having fun."

Megatron remembers the stories about Minimus having trouble with the word fun and finds it one more demonstration that Minimus is happy and relaxed here and now, even out of his armor. Even trusting him, intimately, with his irreducible self.

"Do you want to self-service to get ready or should I try?" he asks, and Minimus's optics flare again and he says something lost in static, resets his vocalizer and tries again.

"I'd like it to be you?" he says, and Megatron sees a return of that nervousness and understands—it sometimes feels like more of an exposure to self-service and be watched by a partner than it is to be touched by them. It thrills him, but if it doesn't Minimus, or if Minimus isn't ready for that, he has no objection whatsoever.

"Happily," he says, and bends his head to touch a kiss to Minimus's valve and anterior node. Minimus gasps, pressing a fist to his mouth.

Megatron settles his mouth against the other mech's array, laving over his node, licking into his valve. Minimus squirms and bucks into his mouth with a muffled whine. Reaches down to urge Megatron in closer with a hand on the side of his helmet. His node swells firm against Megatron's glossa and Megatron offlines his optics and sucks at it. Minimus can't keep silent through that. He makes a sharp high pitched noise and jerks.

Megatron glances up to check on him and meets blazing optics, Minimus staring down at him already mostly undone, panting and flushed, fans roaring. Megatron withdraws, replacing his mouth with a hand, rubbing firm slow circles over Minimus's node with his thumb and running a finger over the slit of Minimus's valve, pressing a little deeper with each.

Minimus moans as he works his finger in to the second articulation, then deeper. Minimus is hot and wet and clenching around him and Megatron imagines that on his spike and groans aloud. "You're beautiful," he says.

Minimus reaches for him, urging him up and over him and when Megatron obeys, still moving his fingers on Minimus's array, he pulls him down into a kiss.

"I've been waiting for this," he says. "I never—I never thought we'd have a second chance."

Megatron returns the kiss, sliding a second finger into him and listening to the moan. "Neither did I," he murmurs. "I didn't believe my own optics. Why would you want me? With all the energon on my hands. The lives on my spark."

"You lost your way," says Minimus, vents hitching. "But I trust you when you say you've found it again." Megatron curls his fingers in him and Minimus arches and cries out.

"Oh Primus stop teasing!" he says. "I want you."

Megatron chuckles a little at that and removes his fingers, taking hold of Minimus's hips and repositioning them so his spike presses against Minimus's wet valve. It's all he can do not to drive forward into that tight silken heat, but he keeps his movements slow. This isn't helped by Minimus squirming, trying to press into him; after a while Megatron gives up and lets Minimus take him just as quickly as he wants to, gasping as Minimus pushes onto his spike with a moan.  

They move together slowly, Megatron running his hands over Minimus's frame, marveling at having him here, now, this thing he's always despaired of. Someone he knows and loves, someone who wants him because of that love, not out of desire for power or cruelty, someone he's free to choose. And this is Minimus. Minimus, who defended him out of his sense of justice at first, and then because they were genuine friends.

He has waited for this for a thousand years, and every twitch of Minimus's frame, every expression on his face, they remind him of what he missed and what he hoped for, and he thinks he sees the same wonder in Minimus's optics. He bends in and kisses Minimus, their bodies rocking together.

Maybe they'll sparkmerge tonight. Maybe they won't. But, at last, they have all the time in this universe to decide, and never have they had that luxury before.

 

 

"Requisitioning conjunx quarters already?" says Megatron's alternate, sitting across from them a few days later, holding a goblet of energon. His optics search Megatron's face, then Magnus's, then linger on Megatron.

"At last," says Megatron, with a small frown.

"Hm," says his alternate, and turns his attention to Magnus, who's in the armor today. It's a ship full of Decepticons; even though he was pleased when he reviewed the regulations Megatron put in place, he doesn't feel comfortable being Minimus in public quite yet. "Ultra Magnus, it should go without saying that if you hurt him…"

"Spare us," says Megatron. "I refrained from giving Optimus that speech."

His alternate looks dubious again, but obligingly changes the subject. "Will you be staying with the Decepticons long term, then?"

"For the immediate future," says Megatron. "I want to see the fallout of our most recent little excitement through. From there…" He looks at Magnus. "It depends on you."

All else aside, it's a ship of Decepticons. Magnus has reason to be uncomfortable.

"Your friends are leaving in the next week on that ridiculous ship," says his alternate.

"To explore the universe," he says. "They've told me they'd like to use us as a home base, if you'll have them. I think the Autobots will be pretty persuasive in convincing them to stay with us."

His alternate arches an optic ridge and plays with his goblet. "Really? Because Drift told me it was in order to…ah, 'bring their auras back into harmony'?"

Well, they'll be fragging within a week, Megatron thinks. Drift hasn't trusted him with much of his grief. Megatron's caught him watching Ratchet a few times, optics sad. As if seeing all the differences. He's overheard Drift and Rodimus once. "Are you sure? There is a Ratchet here," Rodimus was saying, and Drift's response, "I won't burden him with my memories of a different mech."

Drift and Rodimus were close as amica. Something about Rodimus always made Megatron suspect he wanted something more.

He and Magnus aren't the only ones in need of a new life.

"Well," he says, "Drift has his ways. It'd be good to keep them around. Both are very capable warriors."

His alternate just gives him a flat look. Then, "I'd appreciate keeping you around."

"For a time you certainly will," Megatron says. "After that, you can certainly call me if you need to ask about, say, whether the fuel is still good to consume." It happened once, some time ago, and Megatron's still amused by it. It really is the sort of thing a grown sparkling asks their creator.

"Extenuating circumstances," objects his alternate, waving a hand. "But I'd also like you to be around, because I hope you might tutor my heirs as you did me."

Megatron looks at Magnus, and then back at his alternate. "Does this imply that heirs are imminent?"

His alternate hesitates, then bobs his helm in a nod.

"You?" he asks.

Nod.

Optimus enters the room then, Ratchet obviously lecturing him.

"Both of you," says Megatron, not sure if he's amused or resigned and his alternate nods again.

It's essentially an offer to form a family, a formal acknowledgement of their relationship from his alternate. It means a lot. That his alternate does indeed see him as a parent. That he wants Megatron involved with whatever family he and Optimus build. A family linking Decepticon and Autobot, even if Optimus is now essentially in exile now.

Megatron seeks out Magnus's hand, which squeezes his reassuringly.

He nods. "Yes." Even if he and Magnus need their own time to explore, it will be good to have a home to return to.

He didn't really have a home before this—maybe, briefly, the Lost Light. And even once he found his home with these Decepticons, he always longed, always missed, Ultra Magnus. All the others. Rodimus tells him they left the plans for the multiverse portal with Cyclonus, who could be trusted to reveal them responsibly. The others of the crew might yet join them.

But Ultra Magnus is here, now, and Rodimus and Drift will have time to have their own adventures, and yet Megatron still has his home here, with the Decepticons as they should be, no one threatening to pull him away. The portal only works one direction, Rodimus told him. He's not sure why, because it was sciencey technobabble.

Rodimus's words, not Megatron's.

They all have a future now. No matter what he chooses, he has almost forever to choose it in. To remake his choice, whether to stay here or explore once more, to learn from Ratchet, to teach his alternate's sparklings, to travel again with Rodimus, maybe even to welcome more of his old crew to a new world. It's a lot of possibilities, a lot of options, and maybe he can even manage them all. If he can, he wants to.

Forever to choose. To explore. To make the life he once dreamed of in the darkness of the mines.

Forever seems just about right.