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Take Me (I'm Yours)

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It wasn't as if he hadn't noticed at the time. Or...no. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen. And yes, true, he'd hung back then, but call him what you will, Starscream was no fool. The wisest place to be when Primes were battling was to one side and preferably to the rear, where the victor would never see him coming. So he'd kept his distance and watched carefully for his moment, despite the myriad distractions warring for processor space: the human vermin, those idiot Autobots, the battle lines shrinking klik by klik as the remaining Decepticons retreated or fell. He'd seen. It just hadn't quite...penetrated amidst the whirling threads of his own plans, the din of explosions and shrieking metal.

Now, with Egypt far behind them, he had time to think. There was little else to do while he simultaneously waited for Megatron to be repaired and did his best to stay out of the other mech's way, knowing all too well Megatron's legendary impatience with his own infirmity. The entire army walked softly around their leader whenever he came back slagged from another skirmish with the Prime, and though the Nemesis was filled nearly to bursting with the remnants of their forces, the corridors were quiet, disturbingly empty.

Not that Starscream cared. Perched on the ship's outer plating, feet magnetized to the hull, he stared down at the dark round of the moon below and the corona of planetshine from the blue and white world just beyond without truly seeing either, replaying the memory of that last battle once again.

He'd fought Prime before, knew the weight of the mech's fists and the power of his blows, had felt more than once the vertiginous rush of finding himself airborne against his will with only a confused impression of grasping hands, the heave of a solid frame against his own. That Prime could destroy him with a little luck and only a little more perseverance was not news; the mech was used to fighting Megatron, had held his own for more vorns than most Decepticons cared to count.

It'd been different this time, and not only because Prime had been an empty, sparkless shell just breems before. No matter the odds against him, it was usually Megatron who had the majority of Prime's attention, Megatron who would move in for the kill once Prime had exhausted himself against lesser mechs, Megatron who was the heart and soul of every battle. Only not this time.

Shifting restlessly as memory began to loop, he felt again an echo of the spark-deep shock that had bolted through him at seeing Prime in flight, soaring with a familiar, ponderous grace Starscream had nearly forgotten. For a lowly ground mech, Prime had flown with all the determination and sheer, arrogant power of a shuttle burning in on the final leg home, plowing through everything the Fallen had thrown in his path like his wings were unbreakable.

Shuttering his optics, Starscream hummed a long, low purr as his own wings shivered in sympathy, confused for a moment whether the deep throb of engines was memory or present, Prime's or his own. Primus, those engines. Always impressive, magnified beyond belief by the addition of massive turbines seasoned by countless battles. A true flyer would have heard that cavernous growl and known instinctively that careful distance and impeccable aim were the only sensible response to all that, but not Megatron. He'd rushed in, like always, expecting to find them evenly matched, as usual.

And Prime had taken Megatron apart, easily, methodically, like an afterthought to be crushed on the way to his true objective. It was all over the moment Megatron let Optimus get within grappling distance, close enough to be caught by the scruff, put down on his knees, mechhandled as if Prime intended to reconfigure him with his bare hands. Even now Megatron's arm bore the marks of Prime's fingers, here and here and here, sleek divots where the stressed metal had overheated in that last wild shot Prime had turned back on its source.

Stroking his own wrist with the tips of his claws, Starscream grinned fiercely to himself, optics flaring with remembered delight. One moment Megatron had been roaring in agony, and in the next Prime had spun away, impossibly fast, taking Megatron's arm for a souvenir. Which left the mighty Decepticon leader sprawled in the dirt, hemorrhaging energon and bellowing for Starscream to come and save him.

He'd done no such thing, of course. Not with a Prime on the rampage, the flare of those blunt, unlovely wings a challenge and a warning. It amazed him now that he'd ever found the Fallen even the slightest bit imposing; Prime had dwarfed the ancient mech, magnificent in his rage, and when he'd punched right through the Fallen's armor to rip his spark chamber from his chest--

"That was amazing," Starscream rasped through a wild, hungry grin, bleeding the heat of a building charge into the void's comforting chill. Amazing.

Rising abruptly from his careless crouch, Starscream hesitated only an instant, wings shivering. It was just the illusion of familiarity, he tried to tell himself; Prime had already shed his borrowed parts, was no more a shuttle than Megatron was a Seeker.

And yet.

In less than a klik, the hull of the Nemesis was unoccupied but scorched, shadowed but for the dying flare of a jet's thrusters swinging out beyond the moon in chase of Earth's orbit.

***

Death, Optimus had come to realize, had a way of changing one's priorities. Not that he recalled much about it. Mostly what he remembered was the pain and worry of just before, the dull ache and dawning awe of just after. Anything he might have experienced in between those two states had been wiped from his processors or locked behind firewalls even he couldn't access.

All the same, death had changed him. He found himself more patient with the antics of the mini-twins, more apt to agree when someone suggested they go back and do "one more sweep" of this city or that stretch of highway--the one with the exciting turns and no strategic value whatsoever--just to be sure they hadn't missed a stray Decepticon or two. He even listened when Ratchet told him the world wouldn't end if he took a joor for himself every now and then, which was how he'd come to be walking alone while the others made their..."final sweep" of Yellowstone National Park. Officially, he applauded Major Lennox's decision to load Ironhide up with outdoor gear, agreed that the opportunity for a refresher course in survival training could only benefit both man and mech.

Privately, he gave it another hour before he could reasonably wander back to camp to be "surprised" by the "coincidence" that some saboteur had replaced the humans' MRE's with a few suspiciously large coolers, and Ratchet's emergency stores of energon with high-grade, and they'd all agree it was a shame there were no Decepticons in the area after all, since now they'd be stuck roughing it for the entire weekend.

It would occur to him later that he'd heard the jet coming. It was just that the engine noise had been so whisper-quiet, he'd assumed it was cruising at a much higher altitude. When the low hum cut out entirely, he hadn't bothered looking for it, putting the silence down to a change in air currents, the aircraft moving out of range. He wasn't at all prepared for the full weight of a Cybertronian jet to slam into him from behind, the world spinning as he toppled over the edge of the cliff he'd been admiring and into the canyon below. There was a flare of heat all along his back plating, a brief burst of thrust, driving him forward as well as down, making their fall a controlled one that should have put him firmly on the bottom on impact.

Ignoring the sickening spin of his gyros, he forced himself to roll the instant his shoulder plowed into the dirt, fighting grimly for the upper hand and--forgetting the thrusters. Again.

As he fetched up hard against a tree, flat on his back, he froze--but not from any damage he might have done himself in that tumble. The press of a null ray's barrel into the point of his jaw was depressingly familiar, as was the grinning face leaning over him, Starscream's optics lit with unholy glee. The jet was straddling his chest, and the complicated joints in the Seeker's legs let him pin Optimus' right shoulder with a knee and trap the same wrist with a taloned foot simultaneously, the other anchored into the earth to the left of Optimus' hip. Even without the highly-effective threat digging into his neck cabling, the mech would have been difficult to dislodge.

"Starscream," he greeted, holding anger in check, hoping to throw the Seeker off-guard. They both knew his men were close, and that had to be making Starscream nervous, even if not a hint of it showed on his face. It was hard to know what the mad creature was thinking behind that manic grin.

"Prime," Starscream all but purred, optics glittering. "So good to see you."

"I'm afraid I can't say the same. What do you want, Starscream? If Megatron thinks--"

"Megatron," Starscream interrupted with disturbing relish, leaning closer, "is still nursing several dents and a badly-wounded pride."

"Then what do you--"

He'd been distracted. By the gun. It was only natural. So he hadn't noticed so much when Starscream's free hand slipped from his left shoulder and went wandering down his arm, not until his wrist was caught and pulled. For a moment he considered resisting, but the flex of clawed fingers was more insistent than impatient, and in the end he gave to the pressure despite his misgivings.

Unexpectedly it seemed torture was the last thing on Starscream's mind. The claws that had caught him released him once his arm was positioned to Starscream's satisfaction, uplifted hand hovering between them, palm up, fingers half-curled. It was hard not to twitch away as a talon ran lightly down the center of his palm, his fingers jerking out straight as Starscream gave a pleased little hum. Thoroughly confused, he took in the intent focus of Starscream's optics, the desultory press of the gun barrel against his armor, the unconscious way Starscream moved with him when he shifted, and made up his mind all at once.

One good heave had them rolling again, and if he angled automatically to avoid crushing Starscream's wings, that was only because he'd seen the berserk fury of a grounded flier before and had no desire to be on the receiving end of that. He'd expected Starscream to be enraged at the sudden reversal regardless, braced himself for wild shots to be fired, for the audial-splitting screech as Starscream cursed him down to the smallest component, and wondered hopelessly why he'd stopped with giving only as good as he got when deactivating the Seeker would be so much simpler in the long run.

What he was not expecting was for Starscream's purr to deepen, pleased smirk stretching slow and smug, for trapped wrists to relax and for one unfairly-jointed leg to shift deliberately against his own, broadcasting intent even before the slow glide of a foot up his leg left him staring like a fool. If he didn't know better, he'd think...but this was Starscream, and...and who pointed guns at someone they wanted to....

Well, other than Ironhide. And this was a Decepticon.

Which was something he was reminded of quite forcefully when Starscream's hungry grin went abruptly wicked.

"Hypothesis confirmed," Starscream murmured...and abruptly there were two feet braced against him, bent legs uncoiling with twice the power of a normal mech's. Too surprised at first to let go of the wrists he'd been pinning, he ended up dragging Starscream with him, the jet rolling with it, allowing Optimus to haul him up off his wings and only then beginning to struggle. He won his arms free by the simple expedient of reaching for Optimus who, in sudden panicked suspicion, focused so hard on keeping him away, he wasn't prepared for Starscream to jerk back, wrenching his wrists out of Optimus' grip.

One leap, and the jet was airborne, and though Optimus lunged to his feet, bracing himself for a strafing run or another hard tackle, Starscream merely circled him, waggling his wings in mocking salute before bolting away, no longer concerned with masking the arrogant volume of his engines.

::Optimus?:: Ironhide commed him at once, and though he opened a channel instantly in response, he hesitated before he made his reply. Though violent, the encounter had been more startling than anything, and the thought of attempting to explain away Starscream's odd behavior made him cringe. He might very well be wrong--it could be part of some elaborate scheme to get and keep him off-balance...in which case, it had succeeded--but he found himself doubting this odd meeting had anything to do with the war. And what it did mean, he could only speculate.

::It's nothing,:: he commed back, glancing down at himself ruefully. He looked a bit like he'd been rolling in the dirt--what a surprise--but not as if he'd just tangled with the Decepticon second-in-command and come out...confused.

The scratches Starscream had left on him were all superficial, less than he might have gotten in a friendly sparring match with any of his officers, as if Starscream hadn't actively been trying to injure Optimus at all.

::You sure? That jet sounded awfully close.::

You have no idea, Optimus wanted to reply...but Starscream hadn't done any harm, and he didn't want to upset his men for what was likely a brief diversion for a bored Seeker.

::I'm sure.:: As sure as he could be, at any rate.

Though he wasn't certain at all what fascination Starscream had had with his hands.

***

Having lost the element of surprise, his second encounter with the Prime took more planning, helped immensely by a sudden propensity in his quarry for taking long walks on the beach and stopping to sample the olfactory properties of the native flora. Really, it was as if he wanted to be ambushed, and who was Starscream to disappoint?

Prime went down just as hard as before, but this time Starscream didn't immediately let him up again, jamming the barrel of his null ray against the base of Prime's helm and purring when the mech went instantly still. They made a pretty picture, he was sure: Prime stretched prone beneath him, Starscream crouched over his helpless prey, investigating the heavy sweep of faintly-scarred back panels with teasing claws. They were marks he would have sneered at in any other mech, but seeing them now built a low coil of charge deep in his internals. Megatron had put some of those scars there, and the combiners, and Starscream himself: through treachery, through overwhelming numbers, yet Optimus Prime was still here. Still functional. Still strong.

And holding himself oh-so-still as Starscream sat back, dragging the barrel of his weapon down the back of Prime's neck to rest between his shoulders, the better to explore.

It was true that Starscream's current frame was broader than Prime's, the better to accommodate his wings, but Prime came by it naturally, height and power perfectly proportioned. Though he'd been reported to claim he hadn't been sparked for war, it was obvious to anyone with optics that he had. What other use was this much strength, the armor of a war machine? Tracing the intricate seams of interlocking panels with the tips of his claws, Starscream thought he could see now what made such a big mech so graceful on the battlefield. Some bright spark had decided to weld the specs of a frontliner with the flexibility of a dancer or an assassin...or a Seeker.

"You do realize," Prime said at last, "that this island is a military base. Specifically an Autobot base."

"Joint, I thought."

"And," Prime continued as if Starscream had never spoken, "if by some miracle you haven't been spotted already, you will be."

"You think I'd be ashamed to be seen with a ground-pounder?"

Prime floundered amusingly at that, turning his head a little more to peer back at him with one puzzled blue optic. "No, I--that...I just meant--"

"Of course I would," Starscream interrupted with a scornful huff. "But," he added, leaning closer to purr directly into Prime's audial, "for you, I'll make an exception."

Sitting up again as Prime tensed beneath him, he cocked his head thoughtfully and stared down at the mech's broad back, splaying a proprietary hand across sun-warmed armor, enticingly bare, not-quite-disappointing in its familiarity.

"I liked you with wings," he confided and lunged for the air before Prime could reply, speeding away before the blips on his radar could become nuisances.

Laughing to himself, he spun through a few smug maneuvers for nothing but the sheer satisfaction of flight.

Let Prime think on that and worry. There was certainly no reason to admit he found the mech nearly as intriguing without them.

***

"So, uh...Ratchet," Optimus began before courage could fail him, sitting perfectly still as the medic checked him over, grumbling about primitive conditions and inferior materials and certain idiots who didn't know better than to walk right into a trap on what should have been an easy mission. Scanning the junkyard they'd gone to ground in for anything like a distraction, he was disheartened to see that the other Autobots had abandoned him to Ratchet's tender mercies, ostensibly to give chase to the retreating flyer. No help there.

"Yes?" Ratchet prodded when Optimus fell silent. Really, he didn't know what the fuss was all about. So Starscream had added a few more scratches to his tally. That hardly warranted a full medical scan.

"So...I've been wondering. Is it...actually true that Seekers go into heat, or...?"

Spearing him with a suspicious glare, Ratchet narrowed his optics until Optimus had to resist the urge to squirm. "Why would a species that doesn't reproduce sexually go into heat?"

"Er."

"Hmph," Ratchet said after a moment, dropping his eyes to prod at a particularly deep scrape, probably left when Starscream had rolled off him in more than his usual hurry. Apparently he hadn't expected to be discovered quite so quickly. "I mean, really. How does a rumor like that even get started?"

"I'm sure I don't--"

"Probably some hapless ground mech who didn't even realize he was being courted."

For a moment he thought his processors would simply lock up, all of them at once.

"Courted?"

***

The fourth time he demonstrated his superior speed and cunning for his quarry's edification ended with Prime rolling them over yet again and Starscream going along without protest, little crackles of a slowly-dispersing charge zinging through him. Glaring down at the still-shuddering mech pinned willingly beneath him, Starscream briefly considered pointing out that he'd been perfectly comfortable where he was, that he wasn't some delicate symbiont to be crushed, and that his wings could bear the both of them, thank you very much.

On the other hand, Prime was also comfortable, and feeling all that power still jolting with reaction under him was undeniably pleasant. He had done that, brought Optimus Prime low, tamed the strength that had bested Megatron and tuned the hands that had crushed the Fallen's very spark to his desires.

"You're purring again," Prime mentioned, running curious fingers over the sweep of Starscream's wings.

"Mmm." Of course he was. The strongest of them all was all his.

Engines rumbling fiercely between them, he arched into the reverent touches with an approving hiss. Strong, certainly. Powerful. Capable of being taught. And just as importantly, he'd been right about Prime's hands.

They were amazing.

***

"So. Ratchet. If someone were to be courted by a Seeker...."

"'If'?"

***

Draped across Prime's back, Starscream snaked his arms around the sitting mech's shoulders, claws tracing fine armor seams until catches gave, heavy plating sliding away. The glow of Prime's spark blued Starscream's hands in the gloom, but he made a show of watching the moon hanging low over the island base, the ebb and crash of the surf, and not the mech leaning back into his chest. Stupid trusting Autobot fool. It was amazing he'd lived this long without someone to take him in hand.

Humming scratchily to himself, he dipped his claws inside, smirking as Prime arched against him. Heat bathed his hand, sparks sizzling as he dragged the back of his talons over sensitive cabling, the rumble of Prime's engines a subterranean thrum between them. It tickled against his cockpit, reached into his chest to tease his own spark even as he was sliding his fingers deeper, crooking them slowly until he held Prime's spark chamber cradled in his claws. He'd dreamed of this for vorns.

And he'd dreamed of this since Egypt: Prime braced against him as electricity crawled over both their frames, one big hand coming up, reaching back, to curve around the back of Starscream's helm, holding him there. That hand could snap his neck strut before the last of Prime's spark fled him, leaving him prey for whoever found him: the humans, the Autobots, his fellow Decepticons. Purring at the challenge--and how was it that Megatron had never once learned the beauty of a veiled threat, how to respond to any of Starscream's advances with anything but insult?--he pressed closer, his own chest plating parting helplessly, relishing the utter impossibility of escape.

***

"Flying?" Optimus repeated, puzzled. "I...can't say I've ever thought much about it. You may have noticed I don't have wings."

"But you've had them, at least," Starscream replied, waving off his objections dismissively.

"For all of three breems, yes."

"Semantics," Starscream insisted, which Optimus found both ironic and ominous. "You can't tell me you didn't enjoy it."

"I was a little preoccupied at the time," Optimus admitted, unsurprised when this earned him a scandalized glare.

"You were graced with the wings of a living legend, and you were preoccupied?"

"I had a lot on my mind," he explained with as much dignity as he could muster.

He almost expected Starscream to fly off in a huff, literally, and the Seeker did make a furious circle of the clearing he'd lured Optimus to, clearly offended to the point of incoherence. "You--I can't believe--even you--how can you--rrr!"

"I'm sure if I'd had the chance to appreciate it," he began, only to have Starscream round on him again, his glare almost...mollified?

"Well, then. It's lucky for you I went back for them."

Wait. "What?"

"Jetfire's wings," Starscream explained, cocking his head as if wondering what was wrong with Optimus' processors.

"I'm sorry...you did what?"

"You didn't think I'd leave a Seeker's wings to the humans," Starscream scoffed. "Even a Seeker in name only. Please. They would have desecrated them."

Optimus stared, reminded uncomfortably of having done the same. He'd shed those grafted parts as soon as he could, feeling both unworthy of the sacrifice and like a mech playing at something he was never meant to be, and he was shamed just then to realize that he'd lied. It wasn't preoccupation alone that had blurred his memory of his first and final flight. It was that he hadn't let himself dwell on it, even then.

"I...thank you for the honor," he managed, understanding at least that to Starscream it was an honor, "but I'm afraid I must decline."

"Decline? The chance to fly?"

"I would have thought you'd prefer we leave the flying to those created for it," he offered wryly, just to watch Starscream puff up as expected. If pride itself had a form, it would be that of a Seeker.

"Yes, and since ground-pounders don't fly, you'd be right. But the scrapheap gave his wings to you."

Optimus fought the urge to mimic a sigh. So much for the respect due a living legend. "And I'm eternally grateful that he did, believe me. But that...doesn't make them mine."

"Well, I don't think they came with an expiration date," Starscream snapped, optics glittering.

"Starscream. Those aren't my wings."

He was still being glared at, but now the Seeker merely looked thoughtful, possibly conniving. With Starscream, the latter was almost a given.

All the same, he had high hopes for derailing whatever line of plotting had spawned in that too-sharp mind. Starscream rarely bit the hand that fed him...if by 'fed' Optimus meant 'dispensed overloads and wing massages on demand.'

Sometimes he wondered if he wasn't just as glitched as Ironhide had been telling him from the start. Then again, if it meant they had one less Decepticon to fight when the day was through, what could it possibly hurt?

***

"Vings?" Scalpel repeated incredulously. "You already haff vings. Don't vaste my time!"

Small and quick as the tiny bot was, Starscream was faster. Snatching the diminutive surgeon up in his talons, he leaned in close, grinning as Scalpel drew his spidery legs in tight and shrank back into Starscream's palm. "Wings," he ground out as already-huge optics went terror-wide. "You will melt down that pile of scrap I brought you and make a pair of wings to my specifications. Exactly my specifications. And if I find you've accidentally deviated from them, I'll start by plucking your legs off, one by one."

"Ah...aha...of course, of course. But how could I improve upon ze vings of ze greatest Seeker ever, eh?"

"They're not for me, fool," Starscream spat, offended that Scalpel could think for even a nanoklik that he of all mechs needed upgrading. "They're for a glitch-headed grounder who doesn't know how to take what he's won!"

"Ah!" Scalpel exclaimed with sudden interest, panic leaving him as scientific zeal took its place. "Now zat--zat is a different story!"

***

Optimus stared.

"No."

***

"Still no?"

***

Optimus sighed. "Didn't we talk about this?"

***

"Blue!" Starscream raged as he stalked into Scalpel's laboratory. "Make them blue this time! With red flames!"

"Ze Prime's colors?" the little scientist asked doubtfully, cocking his head and tipping it back...far back...to peer up at the irate Seeker. "Are you sure zat is vise?"

"And give them Autobot. Insignia," Starscream growled icily.

Scalpel shrugged. "Eh. Who you get slagged is your concern. But if you get caught, ve haff never met."

***

Sitting on the only berth in the medbay large enough to hold him, Optimus waited with his head in his hands for Ratchet to stop laughing, wishing fruitlessly that there was one single other mech in the entire army that he could go to for advice. He honestly thought he'd convinced Starscream last time that he was perfectly happy without wings of his own, or at the very least that he had no intention of accepting the pair the Seeker kept trying to foist on him--a pair that looked suspiciously like they'd been melted down and recast from Jetfire's parts.

If nothing else, the sudden increase in Decepticon activity should have shelved the matter in favor of more immediate concerns, like why Starscream was still ambushing him without trying to kill him, and if killing was no longer on the table, why was the Seeker still sporting Decepticon markings? It wasn't like Megatron wouldn't notice if his second suddenly developed abysmal aim where Optimus was concerned...although, now that he thought about it, if Starscream did shoot at him, it probably wouldn't be for the reasons Megatron thought. But he would know, and Starscream would know, and...he really needed to stop this line of thought. Especially after the day he'd just had.

They should have been done with talking about wings, and ambushing unsuspecting bots with wings, and attempting to cajole bots so charge-addled they'd agree to anything into wings secreted away ahead of time for that very purpose. Instead, in the middle of a battle with not one but two combiner teams, he'd found himself herded down a blind alley, only to find a suspicious pile of gleaming metal in his own colors waiting for him at the end, along with a smirking Seeker perched at the top of the wall, waiting to see what he'd do.

What he'd done was storm back out of the alley and take Menasor down single-handedly, which...apparently meant all was forgiven, rejected wings or no rejected wings. Which was why Ratchet had more than just the dents and tears from honest battle to repair. He suspected it was also why the medic wouldn't stop laughing.

"Ratchet," he interrupted at last, giving up on waiting for the snickering to fade. "Exactly how long does it take for a Seeker courtship to be finished, anyway?"

"Hmm? Oh, they calm down a bit once you catch them. Why?"

Wait. "Catch them? Catch them?"

Staring at him quizzically, Ratchet leaned his hip against an empty berth and folded his arms. "I already told you. Seekers are drawn to power. They look for the strongest mech they can find--"

"And harass him mercilessly," Optimus agreed morosely, feeling a sudden kinship with Megatron of all mechs.

"Only if he's slow on the uptake," Ratchet offered a shade too innocently. "Usually they expect to be claimed like the prizes they clearly are." That came out sarcastic, at least; Ratchet didn't need to know that Optimus secretly agreed.

"But why does he keep trying to get me into wings?"

He thought for a moment that Ratchet was going to start laughing again. Instead, the medic's reply was almost painfully dry.

"Well...if you've been holding out on him, I suppose he must think you can't take him without them."

***

Flying in low over the darkening stain of the ocean, Starscream listed and dipped, rolled tight bullet-spins, leaving a crazed calligraphy of vapor behind him as he made an approximate beeline to the Autobots' base. Though he was traveling too fast to hear the boom he left in his wake, he could already hear Prime's lecture about disturbing the humans and unnecessary speed, as if anything where speed and flying intersected could ever be unnecessary.

He did slow as the low silhouette of the atoll came into view, dark against the setting sun. He was early, of course--the better to scout out the perfect position to ambush from--but the Autobots had mostly stopped disturbing him and Prime would hardly mind. He might even still be closeted with the medic, though it was doubtful. Prime had been magnificent the night before, tearing into Menasor in a fierce display that owed nothing to any mech's strength but his own. And he'd still been standing under his own power at the end, not that Starscream would have expected anything less. Even wingless, the mech was unstoppable.

In the closest thing he could currently manage to an anticipatory grin of pure, proprietary glee, he soared in low over the trees, chancing his wings on grasping branches in slow, lazy rolls, unobserved and untouchable and--

--falling, slammed sideways right out of the air by a heavy weight that came out of nowhere. Experience told him to point his nose straight up and fire thrusters with everything he had, let the idiot find out the hard way that the list of mechs strong enough to hold on to him at top speed was vanishingly small. The problem was the drag on his left wing pulling him off-balance, the heavy limbs that hooked around his body, grabbed the join of his other wing at the base and heaved, forcing him into an uncontrolled roll.

He transformed on instinct alone, hit the ground scrambling for escape, lashing out with claws and fists as they tumbled into the sand, scrubby trees bending and snapping around them. Up, he had to get up, null ray, cannons, anything, blow himself enough breathing room to get back into the air and--

He froze when a heavy hand on the back of his neck slammed him into the ground, just hard enough to make him feel it, but it was the distinctive ring of an energon blade whistling sleekly out of an arm sheath that made his circuits tingle with shock. When the blade buried itself in the sand just inches from his optics--deep gold, glowing faintly from within--he couldn't contain the shudder that went through him or the whine of his engines as they cycled down from panic into hunger.

"Don't move," Prime rumbled into his audial, big, blunt fingers tightening briefly on the scruff of his neck, and Starscream shivered again. He'd gotten one knee under him in the confusion, but with his shoulders pinned to the earth, cheek pillowed on sand, that didn't exactly help. Not with Prime leaning over him, into him, all immovable strength and utter, arrogant certainty.

He was rapidly losing the capacity for embarrassment, so the sound he made when Prime pulled his blade free only to lay it, infinitely gentle, across the back of his neck didn't trouble him at all. It kept him from arching up, trying to follow the heat of that broad chassis as Prime sat back on his heels, kept him from jumping right out of his frame at the first ghostly touch of a fingertip against his wings. His exposed, vulnerable wings, stretched out on display before his--

Oh. Oh, Prime was good.

"See something you like?" he purred, rolling his shoulders in to flex his wings out just that much more. He was well aware of what he looked like to a ground-pounder, that most mechs found Seeker body-types brutish and that half the fascination with Seeker legs was pure confusion as to how they worked. It was his wings that made him preen for the Prime, unashamed, showing off their perfect, wicked angles, gleaming silver branded black with a warrior's scars.

Idly he wondered if Prime had ever been taught the ancient language; the way he was tracing the glyphs--properly, from wingtip to hip, climbing his backstrut and curving around to brush the hollow of his throat--suggested he could read Starscream's body like a map.

"Mm," Prime hummed against his shoulder, nuzzling in when Starscream turned his head to give him more room, but the assurances Prime had never been shy with before were conspicuously absent.

"Well?" Starscream asked sharply, stiffening a little as an arm slid around him from behind.

Prime laughed, low and deep and fond, rust him, his other arm joining the first as his blade retracted with a sweet, scraping chime. "Of course I do," he rumbled into Starscream's neck, pulling him up and back, settling his wings against rough chest plating, his bent legs straddling Prime's thighs. "I'm seeing what's mine."

And it was Starscream's own trick he was using against him then, roving hands playing over swiftly-heating armor, dipping into seams to tease at cables and the crackling tangles of wires wound around the hard, bright nodes of sensors. Out of reach and out of sight, with no touch to distract him and nothing to telegraph his next move. All Starscream could do was brace himself, try to guess where the next touch would be, determined to make Prime work for it, finally, until oh--

The snick of Prime's armor catches unlocking before his own was distracting, unexpected, but the scathing lament on Prime's lack of control never quite materialized. He was too busy arching in Prime's hands, vocal processors doing their best to short out on the spot, every relay within his frame misfiring at once as the blue-hot energy of Prime's spark melted right into his wings.

He came back online slowly, rebooting his optics in a haze of static as his HUD tried to tell him something about the state of his spark chamber. Part of him knew he ought to be panicking, that null rays had been invented for a reason, but his spark itself was curled up and purring, telling him he knew those lingering touches, the large hand that cradled it like an extension of his own armor.

He didn't protest, though, when Prime let him go. The point had been made, after all. He could come close, very close indeed to besting Prime, but only because Prime let him.

He gave himself a few breems for smug congratulations on his own excellent taste before settling back more comfortably into his Autobot's dependable bulk.

"I still want to see you flying," he mentioned, just in case Prime was feeling complacent.

"You what?" Optimus sputtered gratifyingly. "Why?"

Tipping his head back, Starscream smirked up at his mate, optics half-shuttered. "Because as pleasant as that was, imagine doing it on the wing."

Optimus groaned but tightened his arms all the same, and this time he didn't appear to be protesting.

Oh, yes, Starscream grinned to himself, preening on the inside at a victory well-earned.

Quite excellent taste indeed.