Despite the raucous shouts of the humans and his Autobots burning up the comm lines in an exuberance of victory/statuscheck/relief, part of Optimus almost couldn't believe it was over: the sun harvester in ruins, the Fallen deactivated, Megatron and the remaining Decepticons fled. It seemed the battle was over at last--
And then a nervous hush fell over the battlefield as the scream of distinctive engines grew louder, heralding the return in a hurry of one of their oldest foes. Weapons came up on every side, the humans scrambling for cover and back to their rocket launchers, but there was something...odd about the way Starscream was flying. No fancy maneuvers, no hint that he even noticed the soldiers who had him now in their sights, nothing but a stubbornly direct flight path that would bring him straight to--
"Hold your fire!" Optimus ordered, throwing up a cautionary hand as Starscream transformed at the last instant, dropping into a crouch in front of him and...staring. Head cocked, optics narrowed, raking him from head to foot.
"Optimus," Ironhide warned as Starscream straightened, but Optimus shook his head, not taking his optics off the Seeker.
Who cocked his head the other way, frowned, and said, "You've done something different. Have you scanned another truck?"
"Er," Optimus managed, blindsided by the unexpectedness of the question. "Not...exactly." And now Starscream was poking at him.
Though he was rather impressed that his order to stand down had actually been heeded to that point, the snap and rattle of rounds being chambered clacking all around him was not exactly encouraging.
Starscream froze, but the surprise in his optics was wholly centered on Optimus. They might have been the only two mechs on the battlefield.
"You've reformatted your protoform," Starscream accused, scanning him more thoroughly this time. "Why would you...?"
"Well...." Trust Starscream to notice something so embarrassing, but-- "The humans thought I'd be better-received by their civilians if I looked more...heroic."
Starscream's optics irised wide. "More heroic?"
Optimus glanced stoically away.
"More heroic? You went through the agony of reformatting your protoform for that?"
Though he winced at the audial-splitting volume and pitch Starscream attained in his disbelief, Optimus felt it only fair to set the record straight. "Actually, it didn't hurt at all. Ratchet is something of a legend, you know."
Optimus had never seen Starscream at a loss for words before. Ever. For any reason.
It was probably the sheer, world-ending impossibility of seeing it now that distracted him from the sound of a second pair of engines coming in to land.
"Starscream!" Megatron bellowed impatiently. "What do you think you're doing?"
Turning slowly to face his leader, Starscream scanned Megatron reflexively, blinked, and muttered, "Defecting."
"Defecting!" Starscream shrieked right back at Megatron, whipping up both arms, panels whirring as the cannons came out. "Joining the Autobots! Giving my two kliks notice! Slag off!"
It wasn't actually all that unusual for Starscream to open fire on Megatron with little to no warning, but the humans couldn't know that, probably took it as incontrovertible proof of his change of heart. Or possibly they were just far too excitable and couldn't resist joining in once the shooting started. Ignoring Megatron just as thoroughly once it became clear his former leader would have to retreat or die, Starscream wheeled on Optimus again and hooked a clawed hand in the seam where chest plating met neck cabling, hauling him down the few inches until they were optic-to-optic.
"I require your medic," Starscream snarled. "In private. Now."
He didn't need to hear Ironhide's cannons charging practically at Starscream's back to know he'd better talk fast.
"Ah--I believe Ratchet is already spoken for--"
"Not like that," Starscream spat with a disgusted sneer, shaking Optimus a little. "You'll do for that. I demand to be reformatted properly. This is not negotiable. And you will not complain if this means I'm taller. Understood?"
"Never mind," Ratchet broke in, snagging Starscream by a wingtip and hauling him firmly away, ignoring the offended hissing and cursing. "We'll handle this. You just make nice with the humans, hmm? And don't. Go. Anywhere."
"Yes, Ratchet," Optimus said weakly, watching Starscream shrug off the medic's hand...while following practically on top of him, as if afraid Ratchet would disappear. Which made no sense at all, but...taller? Starscream was a jet; of course he'd be taller. Unless...had Megatron...?
Dropping his face in his hand, he tried to tell himself it was a simple case of Starscream bartering his loyalty for the chance at a painless reformat, not a case of his men bartering him for the chance to break up the most dysfunctional couple the universe had ever seen.
Still. He couldn't help wondering what Starscream would look like when he was more...proportional. And if the idea of looking up for once into a lover's optics made his engines race, well, clearly that was just the novelty.