This story is a sequel to "Friends No Longer With Me...".


Aboard Skyfire, outbound from Cybertron

After Starscream corrected his death-tumble, Skyfire pulled alongside, cargo bay door invitingly open. He'd noticed the plume of vaporized fuel leaking from Starscream's leg, but said nothing yet.

Starscream flew aboard and transformed, settling onto one of Skyfire's benches. At first, he said nothing, content to lean against Skyfire's side, hands against the bench, feeling the thrum of Skyfire's systems, hearing the rumble of his engines. He lived. Starscream drifted in a sort of stunned wonder at this-and that of all the mechs in the universe he could've run into, it had to be Skyfire who rescued him.

Skyfire. His old partner. The one he lost so long ago-and found in the ice, and lost again. And now, found again? Or just a dream taunting his dying CPU as his fuel and life leaked out into space?

Starscream leaned against the bulkhead, feeling the hum of Skyfire's life with his whole body. If this was a dream, it was a good dream-and he wasn't dying. Starscream knew what dying was. He'd already been through that.

"Starscream?" Skyfire finally spoke, a certain hesitation in his voice, as if fearing that he, too, spoke to a dream. "How bad is that fuel leak?"

Ruby optics narrowed slightly, the mind behind them assessing Skyfire's tone and manner. The big shuttle was concerned. Perhaps Starscream should be; the hole cutting a divot out of his leg certainly hurt enough. Quick re-check of diagnostics; then Starscream replied, "Bad enough that I sealed the line and shut down my starboard engine. I can repair it, Sky."

His old, intimate name for his former partner came rolling out of his vocalizer automatically. The realization of it jolted Starscream. He's not my partner anymore! Those days are gone forever, since he deserted the Decepticons for the Autobots, deserted me-

I'm not quite a Decepticon any more. That realization struck him with a pang; a steel needle inserted deftly into his main processor and left there to torment him. His mind, his spark were and always would be Decepticon. But I'm not one of them anymore; I'm not part of it now. The War has gone on without me.

"I do know how to recover from a spin, Skyfire. It's one of those little things I picked up over the years," Starscream said, carefully pronouncing the Autobot's full name. "I didn't need your help!"

"Then why were you calling for help?" Skyfire's voice echoed from the bulkheads.

"I wasn't doing any such thing!" Starscream flexed his ailerons to their full limits, back and forth.

"Ah. Then I didn't hear your call for help and pick you up out of space, and you're still out there. Makes perfect sense."

"When did you learn sarcasm?" Starscream extended his wing flaps and retracted them; they were in good working order.

"When did you start lying to your fr-to people who know better?" Skyfire chose his words carefully, aware that he was tiptoeing through a metaphoric minefield.

"Decepticons do not admit weakness; vulnerability is dangerous." Starscream conceded an honest answer. He leaned back against Skyfire's bulkhead and remained silent, except for the nearly inaudible hiss of hydraulics flexing his rudders, then his horizontal stabilizers from side to side.

He leaned forward again and sat with his head bowed, apparently sulking. He was actually running a full internal diagnostics check. Usually-back when 'usually' meant 'of course I'm alive!'- Starscream would have been content to note that there were no alarms blinking in his memory queue. Not this time. Thistime, he checked the value of each and every alarm and diagnostic status variable.

Engine sub-systems, check. Energon management, check. Fuel pressure, check. Fire control systems, check. Weapons power, check. Armor integrity, check. Active sensor array, check. Passive scanners, check. Navigation sensors, gyros re-stabilization complete in 2.4 seconds. Navigation sensors, check...

Blasted gyros! Unicron would have to give me back the same tumble-prone gyroscopes! Still... that means I'm me again. Back in my own body, complete with all its little... quirks.

"They told me you were dead, killed by the new Decepticon leader, Galvatron." Skyfire said, his voice unusually quiet. "Rodimus... showed me the video. How-"

"-did I escape?" Starscream laughed; it was a cold, sardonic laugh. "That's easy. I didn't. Galvatron killed me quite dead. Burned my body to ash. What you saw was the real thing." Starscream's voice turned suddenly wistful. "It was supposed to be my coronation video."

He leaned against the shuttle's hull again; Skyfire was so very alive. Starscream ran one hand slowly along the bench, taking pleasure in the simple sensation of metal sliding along metal, in being able to feel again. He lived!

Something Starscream hadn't done for over a year now. "I was, as Galvatron so eloquently put it, 'a dead mechanism'." Starscream said slowly. His optics glowed ruby red. "Unfortunately for Galvatron, I'm not that easy to get rid of."

Let the rest be silence... But he knew Skyfire would ask further questions; that was Skyfire's nature. Starscream relaxed against Skyfire's bulkhead, finding comfort in the rhythmic song of his partner's machinery, as he had so many times before.

Partner? No, that was long ago. We're enemies now.

...or maybe not. He rescued me.

He's an Autobot. He'd have rescued anyone.

Skyfire rescued me.

They traveled on in silence for some while before Skyfire broke the silence. "How? You were dead, gone-disintegrated. I-"

Skyfire's voice broke off abruptly. The grief and loss in the gentle Autobot's voice was a palpable thing to Starscream. He could feel it in his circuits, all the way to his core.

"Sky?" The old endearment rolled out of his vocalizer again; this time, Starscream didn't hold back or correct it. He was too shocked. He cared? It still matters to him? I still matter?

Another pang stabbed through his spark. No one had cared when he died... most had cheered it.

That's not quite true. Who buried your ashes, fool?

There had been two. Furtive, sneaking in the shadows when the others had gone, not daring to let the new order know where their loyalties had once been. Two not built for furtiveness at all, treacherous, ambitious-and yet curiously loyal in this one thing in the end.

Perhaps not furtive enough. Galvatron had exiled them both in the time since. Too many more hated him with a bitterness that pursued him to the grave.

They desecrated my shrine!

His iconic statue reduced to rubble-only the feet of it left. But for the two, his ashes would have drifted away on the wind, lost and forgotten, after being trampled underfoot by Galvatron and his minions. Why did they hate him so much? They were his own people-Decepticons! He would have led them better than Megatron, ended this stupid war that ruined Cybertron-their home-led them out into the galaxy as the proud conquerors they were meant to be!

Unicron scotched that plan, didn't he? Even if I had lived, he would have ruined my world-perhaps destroyed it. If Galvatron had not rebelled, Hot Rod would not have gotten the Matrix. Without Rodimus Prime... what would have stopped Unicron?

A vision in his mind's optic, of what might have been-overriding Shockwave's fatal command and sending the combined forces of the Decepticons in support of the Autobots in their desperate mission to destroy Unicron from within.

And Unicron might have just destroyed Cybertron and killed everyone, instead. These might-have-beens are pointless. They aren't, and they didn't, and I can't go back and change it, and if I did, it'd only be worse.

Such an opportunity lost.

Skyfire broke the long silence. "I resigned myself to what you had become, Starscream," he said quietly, an undertone of sadness in his voice, "but I never lost a small, foolish hope that, somehow, someday, this tricursed War would end, and that-" Again, Skyfire broke off.

"And you hoped we might both survive war's end and meet again for some sappy reconciliation?" Starscream said, less bitterly than the words might suggest. "That was a foolish hope. It wouldn't have happened. If the Autobots had won, I'd have been lucky if I was just shot through the lasercore for war crimes. If we had won... well, let's just say that I wouldn't have been fraternizing with slaves, let alone soon-to-be-executed traitors."

"Yet it didn't happen that way," Skyfire said.

"No, it didn't," Starscream agreed. "Unicron changed everything."

"Galvatron killed you, and my small, foolish hope with you," Skyfire said with gentle sadness.

Starscream looked up, ruby optics glittering. "And yet, here I am!"

"Here you are," Skyfire agreed calmly. "Neither one of us is a prisoner-of-war, and the war isn't even over."

More precisely, I'm not Sky's prisoner! What jolted Starscream's processor was not that Skyfire had not taken him prisoner, but that Starscream hadn't even considered the possibility. Sky is an Autobot! Why didn't I even think of that.

I trust him.

I shouldn't! He's an Autobot! He deserted the Decepticons, turned his back on me

Old news. I know what Sky is-independent, stubborn, uncompromising. He won't compromise who he is for anyone or anything, not even Optimus Prime.

Not even for me. Old pain dimly echoed in Starscream's processors.

He wouldn't be Sky if he did. That's why I trust him.

"How?" Skyfire asked again. "You're not dead now."

Starscream flexed his fingers and looked at them. All seemed to be in order. "Do you know, I've only been alive again for about an hour now? I've been back for several months, though in a rather insubstantial condition."

He folded his arms across his chest. "I can personally testify that all the old stories about the restless ghosts of the fallen are true-in the general sense." Starscream chuckled.

He turned suddenly pensive. "Death is not what I thought it was. A change, not oblivion. I wish I'd known that." I was so afraid of dying-of just stopping, of there being no me anymore... So many times I looked up the wrong end of Megatron's cannon, convinced it was all over for me. When it finally happened, it went so fast I hardly knew he'd shot me before it was over.

Starscream continued, his mood shifting again. "I got tired of not having my own body. Cyclonus, Scourge, Astrotrain, even Trypticon-none of them were me. Even Astrotrain can't fly like me-he's a big lumbering oaf like you."

"It's nice to know you think so highly of me." Was there the slightest hint of hurt in Skyfire's tone?

"Don't take it personally, I insult all my fr-everyone I'm allied with. I shoot my enemies."

"Well, seeing as you've done both to me..."

"I said I was sorry about shooting you! It was your own fault; you embarrassed me, switching sides like that, after I vouched for you! Megatron never really trusted my judgment again, thanks to you!" Starscream snapped.

"You're digressing," Skyfire said patiently. "I'm still waiting to hear how you went from 'disintegrated' to 'sitting in my hold'. And what did you mean about 'none of them were you'?" Skyfire asked.

Starscream chuckled. "Are you sure you want to know? You might not like what you learn about your old pal Screamer."

"I'll find out sooner or later. It's my nature to be curious; that's why I like exploring," Skyfire replied, still patient.

"If you insist." Not that I'm going to tell you everything I've done. Some things you just don't need to know, yet. Starscream smiled wryly. "As I implied earlier, I was a ghost. A disembodied, malicious, vindictive spirit that could possess the living. Actually, rather less malicious than my usual, except where Galvatron was concerned. I got tired of being disembodied, so I cut a deal with Unicron-I help him get his body back in exchange for a new body of my own."

Dead silence fell. Then Skyfire spoke, disbelieving, "You did what?"

"Relax, Sky. I double-crossed him as soon as I got my end of the bargain. You think I wanted to be turned into one of Unicron's slaves, like Megatron was?" Starscream snarled; ruby optics smoldered. "Or give him a chance to strike at Cybertron again? That monster wiped out my entire Air Command and three-quarters of the Decepticons on Cybertron!"

Another pang through his spark. My Seekers! I rebuilt the entire Air Command in less than twenty years after Shockwave spent four million years neglecting it into oblivion, and for what? So Shockwave could throw them headlong at Unicron to be wiped out!

He forced the anger-or was it something else?-to the back of his CPU, out of his voice. And if his vocalizer seemed a bit rough when he continued in a more confident tone, well, it was newly online.

"I set him up-made very sure certain parties got loose to warn the Autobots what Unicron was up to. Sure enough, something-the Autobots, I think-blew Unicron's head back into space right after I refused to connect him to Cybertron." He scowled. "I was knocked into space. Galvatron nearly got me a second time when I tumbled right past him."

"Obviously, that's where I came in." Skyfire sounded thoughtful. If one of his thoughts was that Starscream might be embroidering his version of events just a bit-or that there was more, far more that he wasn't saying, he kept it to himself.

"Indeed you did!" Starscream said, and then repeated softly, "And here I am." What do I do now?

Starscream stood up and started pacing, feeling restless and confined as he always did inside, where he couldn't fly. The few times in his long history that he'd been a prisoner, trapped in a cell, had been almost unbearable. To be locked up where he couldn't fly was enough to drive him into a deadly frenzy of fear and rage and hate.

Skyfire's hold was different, though. He got restless, yes, but he didn't feel trapped. Sky's presence was... calming. How easily I slip back into long-forgotten habits! Long-forgotten indeed! I don't even have the memory banks those memories were in, let alone the memories!

Starscream paced aimlessly, studying the deck idly. "Where are we going, anyway?" You-where are you going? I meant to say 'you'!

"Deneb Sector. There's some interesting systems out that way, and it's not very well explored. Rodimus granted me a stipend and some funds to do surveying out that way. We're already on our way to the Castlehex system. I mean to touch bases with some contacts there, get some advance information on certain systems of interest, fill in any extra supplies I didn't think of in advance, and..." Skyfire trailed off.

"And?" Starscream asked, curious.

"It's a rough sector. No overall government, a thousand little system governments with their own notions of law and order," or lack thereof, his tone implied, "rampant piracy, bush wars, and general anarchy. There are worlds I doubt I can survey without help. Someone to watch my back." Skyfire's tone was diffident; no problem, I can handle it.

Starscream held very still, waiting for the rest of it. He can't be implying what I think he is. Can he? "Go on."

Skyfire hesitated. "er... I suppose you have your own plans, but, um, if-"

He can and he is! A curious emotion bubbled through Starscream, making him feel light-headed and utterly free, free as a jet roaming the winds.

"You want me scout for you again?" Starscream laughed softly. "Why not? I haven't decided where I'm going yet, except away from Cybertron. And Galvatron." I don't even know who and what I am anymore, how could I know where I'm going?

"But I'm surprised at you, Skyfire." Starscream leaned against a bulkhead and folded his arms.

"Why? I've always been an explorer."

"You're an Autobot consorting with a notorious Decepticon leader. Aren't you afraid that might look slightly treasonous?" The red-and-blue Seeker smirked, optics glittering with that unfamiliar, dancing emotion.

The vehemence of Skyfire's answer surprised Starscream. "I don't give a platinum-plated damn what anyone else thinks."

I've found him again! His spark sang, and Starscream finally recognized his rare emotion.

Joy.

- Fin -