For all the fans of Nemesis Prime, a little "what if things had gone a bit differently in War Dawn?" story. Anyone care for some sacred cow burger? ;-) That one person who was interested to see people's takes on a much more important/powerful Elita may like this too, though it doesn't focus on her. ==== Salvation Nemesis groaned, glaring with dim red optics at the silver mech standing over him. Once, they had shone with defiance. Now, all Nemesis wanted was for this to be over. "Again," the victor's voice rasped. "Get up, young one." "What is the point?" Nemesis muttered, curling up. Hydraulic fluid leaked out from a wound on his back, and such pain lit his sensor net that he wondered whether any part of him was left undamaged. Fight again? Why should he? He'd lost. Again. A kick silenced his protests, pain flaring through his sensor net as the broad foot collided with an already-dented section of his abdominal plating. "Fool. I expected far better of you than this." Nemesis grunted. He didn't want to prove himself. Not now. At first, the idea had thrilled him. Few mechs had the chance to spar with Lord Megatron himself, after all. His every circuit had sung with fierce hope and wild ambition. He'd been given far more than he could ever have imagined. The Decepticons had taken him in, had rebuilt him, when they might well have left him for dead. Megatron himself had offered him the chance to make something more of himself than he ever would have been. But now - now his savior seemed more like a curse. And staring up at the flaring red optics he couldn't help but think he was losing because he deserved it. After all, he'd earned this privilege through abandoning someone he'd thought, just days ago, that he must have loved. I should have just let him kill me, Nemesis thought, the cold laugh he turned on himself emerging from his weary vocalizer as a thin, metallic bark. Would have saved his - our - medics all the effort of rebuilding me. He thought again of the one he'd watched fall. She'd leapt in front of him to protect him and taken the full force of Megatron's fusion cannon in the chest. Ariel, he thought, his spark seizing. It wasn't the sad, sentimental feeling he'd known before. Not now. Instead it was something hard and brittle, like metal corroded and about to snap. Had she lived? Megatron hadn't cared, which meant Nemesis didn't know. He'd leapt at Megatron then, despair silvering through his circuits, expecting to meet the same fate that his friend had. It hadn't mattered to him at all. His spark had twisted in his chest, seething, demanding some kind of justice, some feeble scrap of revenge, at whatever price. Megatron's optics had widened, impressed, and he'd merely kicked the young impediment aside. Merely. His new frame would have taken it easily enough. Back then, though, he'd been small and slight even for a civilian model. He'd never known anything like the feeling of that kick, his whole frame crumpling into something less than scrap. He'd never felt such humiliation or such agony, lighting every connection in his sensor net at once. And yet, some part of him had welcomed it. It had fit, somehow, with the gnawing in his spark as he'd lain sprawled there, staring into the unseeing optics of his closest friend, wondering desperately whether her deactivation would prove permanent. "Young one," Megatron had said. He'd thought of spitting some curse back, but quickly realized it would only get him killed. Willing as he'd been to die to protect Ariel, dying now would be nothing but a hollow act of protest that no one but his enemy would remember anyway. He'd stared wearily into the Decepticon's silver face. "Whatever you want, it's already yours. Kill me or leave me. It doesn't matter which." The other's optics had gleamed, his lip turning up in a smile the young mech hadn't known how to read. "You saw what I did to your companion, and how easily. Yet still you challenged me. Why?" Answers had whirled through his processor in a dizzying blur. To protect her. Because you hurt her. Because I admired your might and the might of those under your command, and you turned it on me and on someone I love. Because what was left to me but to fight you, whether I'd lose or win? None of them had been enough, and he'd settled for a wordless, sullen glare. "You have spark, young one, to attack me when it is so obviously futile. And you treated me with deference before." Staring up at the towering silver mech, he'd felt the shadow of that deference again. Megatron had, with one shot and one blow, shaken his life to its core. If he lived past this moment, that life would never be the same again. "Yes," he'd choked, despairing. "Then you have a choice, young one. You can continue this and die at my hands, or you can put aside this futile defiance, come with me, and live." He'd looked once at the inert form of Ariel, her blue optics dark, and then risen carefully to his feet. He'd tried fighting, and the tyrant had tossed him aside as though he were no more than scrap. Cybertron would burn at Megatron's whim whether he lived or died. His only choice now was whether to burn with it or live. "I will come with you," he had answered, dragging himself to his feet and inclining his head. The Decepticons had quickly reconstructed him - "into a frame fit for a warrior," Megatron had said. Most of them deemed him unfit, even now. He still could not fly, a fact they reminded him of constantly. Thundercracker and Starscream were the worst, glowering at him whenever he passed by, their wings twitching in barely-checked rage. Still, he made up for his lack of wings with size and strength. He was as large as Megatron himself now, his new frame built of thick metal that even the best of his sparring opponents could barely scratch. His bulk made him move slowly, but whenever he did manage to pin his opponents, they froze, terrified he might forget himself and actually tear them apart. He should have enjoyed it more than he did. On the one hand, it felt good to tower over other mechs and thrilling to be able to shove them aside with a laugh when they taunted him. On the other, somehow it still felt wrong, as though he wore armor too large for his frame. He'd hoped, when his training had begun, that his feelings would disappear as he learned to move and fight in his new frame. He'd wanted nothing more, then, than to prove to his new lord that he deserved it all. When, after a few short weeks of initial training, Megatron had watched him, nodded in approval, and taken charge of the rest of his training personally, his spark had whirled with such pride he'd feared its heat would melt its housing. But what had come next had been more than he could take. Endless drills, until his every servo had creaked in agonized protest. And when the drills were done, the sparring. Which meant matches he would lose, painfully, again and again, each dent in his frame making a similar gouge in his dignity. And while he could, and did, drag himself exhausted and ashamed to the Decepticon medbay, those other dents could not be repaired. And no matter what happened, Megatron waited, and it all began again. Too slowly, he rose to his feet, his fists clenching as he dropped into a fighting stance. Might as well let him do it now. Less shame in dying here, by inches, on the sparring field than curling up and waiting for him to beat me until I go into stasis and never wake up. The silver mech rumbled in some combination of challenge and relief. Wearily, Nemesis watched him, circling, seeking some opening. Why are you doing this to me? the young mech thought, transforming one of his arms into his axe. Once it had awed him, cleaving the air in a blaze of purple flame at his will. But Megatron had dodged it so many times, or turned it aside, that it hardly seemed more than a shiny bauble to him now. And yet it should be more, he thought, a strange rage crackling through his spark as the other waited, still smirking at him, twirling his bright purple flail almost idly as he waited for Nemesis to attack. Nemesis. He had claimed that name for himself, staring at his own reflection, watching the titan staring back at him. An odd mixture of elation and horror had spun through his chest as he'd stared at the behemoth he'd become, at the empty spaces on his shoulders that would bear his savior's mark once he had earned it. Savior. Nemesis growled low, raising his battlemask over his mouth. He'd been right the first time. This wasn't salvation. This was his own dissolution, as surely as the death he'd rejected was, coming by inches instead of all at once. He roared, ignoring the aches in his every servo, launching himself at the tyrant. There was nothing left for him but the revenge he'd failed at, the need for it hot and tight within him, a white-hot coil twisted around itself. Bright metal flashed as Megatron twisted out of the way, just barely quickly enough to avoid taking the full force of his young charge's leap in the chest plating. The axe dug into the metal of Megatron's leg instead and Nemesis rumbled in triumph as he leapt to his feet again. "That's better," Megatron rasped, red optics gleaming. It was nothing serious, but it was a hit. Nemesis's spark lurched in excitement as he cycled a pant through his intakes and studied his opponent's movements, seeking an opening and slicing out again. But this time, the other was ready for him. The chain of Megatron's flail wound around his forearm, making him hiss in pain as the burning links seared his plating. They pressed together, the chain of the flail linking them, neither willing to disengage. Nemesis aimed a punch at his opponent's abdominal plating. Pain sang through the young mech again as Megatron blocked it with all of his force, snarling, the red optics lit with something Nemesis could not name. The tyrant followed that with his own counterpunch, a vicious blow that would have torn through an already creased section of Nemesis's abdominal plating if it had connected. Emboldened, Nemesis blocked just as his leader had, his engine roaring in satisfaction when he saw Megatron's optics flicker in irritation or - dared he hope? - pain. "Let me go," Nemesis snarled, pulling back the arm the other had caught, ignoring the withering agony in his limb. "Slagger. Can't fight if you don't let go." He hated the word as soon as it left his vocalizer. If Megatron was his savior, such disrespect horrified him, churning his tanks. And if Megatron was an enemy - a great and terrible titan to be felled and vanquished and remembered - a crude insult did him no honor either. Yet now, Nemesis could feel nothing but his rising rage searing all that it touched, no thought driving it but destruction and hatred. Megatron clenched his denta, his red optics gleaming as he drew back his flail, sending a new spiral of agony whirling through the circuitry of his protégé's arm. Giving Nemesis no time to recover from the shock, he swung it, hard. Nemesis raised his aching arm, struggling to block the blow. Megatron leaned in, forcing him down, and Nemesis stumbled, scrambling to push himself upright again. But the agony singing through his arm proved too much, and Nemesis fell to his knees, his engine roaring in protest. His optics gleamed red flame as he pushed back with as much force as he could. He had lost. Again. He had proven without any doubt that he would never deserve the brand his savior wore and burned into the plating of those he found worthy of following him. So be it, Nemesis thought. But I will not yield. Not now. Not until he forces it from me. Snarling defiance, he held the tyrant's gaze. "Kill me if you want," he panted, his battlemask muffling his words. He had lost, yes, but he would not let it down. "We both know I am no warrior." The silver mech's lip twisted into a small smile, but he made no move to put up his weapon. Nemesis struggled to focus on Megatron's words as every sensory relay in his arm screamed at him to relax, give in, let go. "Deserve? This is the first time I've seen any echo of the moment that surprised me into sparing your life." Under his battlemask, Nemesis bit at one of his own lip plates in a futile attempt to keep his arm from trembling. "You - you wanted -?" "I wanted you to fight, fool. Like you did then. Of course I was going to win. That was always irrelevant." "You want - someone - who will lose - who will die for you - and not care?" His arm slid steadily toward his side. He revved his engine in fury at its betrayal. Laughter answered him. "Die for me? Oh, some will die for me. That is inevitable. But you should know me better than that. I do not deal in eager little martyrs. Better you ask your Elita about that." "Elita?" He didn't know the name. His spark, however, thrilled with cold recognition, something worse than pain spreading through his chest and into all of his circuitry. "The one we thought I'd killed." Megatron chuckled again. "Apparently both you and your companion proved more impressive than you look. The blast nearly annihilated her frame, but her spark endured. The defenders rebuilt her. As we rebuilt you." Nemesis's hand fell to his side, and he transformed it, despair seizing him again. "No." A dark hand - the hand that had been Megatron's weapon, he realized - reached under the young mech's broad jaw, drawing it up, forcing Nemesis to look its owner in the optics again. "Bah. Don't tell me you've found your spark only to lose it again." Nemesis held the tyrant's gaze. He thought of Ariel, of the dark blue optics, empty of all light. Megatron was right. Whatever she'd become, the Ariel he knew had died to him then. As he had died to her. He had made his choice, and it had both its reward and its price. Ariel was gone, and Elita, however beautiful she was now, rising to avenge the world that Megatron had torn in two, could only be his enemy. He nodded to Megatron, his bitterness gone. He had no time for it now. He had stood, once, a lifetime ago, at a crossroads, and taken one path over the other. There was no shame in that. If he let himself feel shame about it, that shame would consume him. Even by the standards of the mech he had once been and the leader his Ariel had become, that kind of bitterness wouldn't make him a hero. "If I meet her, my lord, I will fight. I will destroy her, as I would any of your enemies." If I can, he thought, trying not to laugh himself. Someone like Ariel - Elita - didn't destroy easily. "Then stand, Nemesis." Megatron's smile widened as he watched the young mech stand. "Did you think you failed, young one? You very nearly did. You almost gave in to your own weakness. But in the end, you fought not me, but yourself - and won." Nemesis stared, trying to think of some kind of answer, but the silver mech had already turned away, walking toward the doors leading back into the base. Nemesis stared, his red optics widening. Surely he was imagining it, but he thought he'd seen the other grunt in pain as he stepped down with his injured leg. It didn't matter. More important now was whatever his lord had to say to him. He shook his head, willing away any other thought. "They are ready, inside, with the tools to brand you as one of us. For good." Raising his head, Nemesis followed.