Skyfire stood in the open archway of the Ark's main entrance. How long had it been since he last stood here, just twenty-two years? In that eye-blink of time, things had changed as much as they had in his nine million year-long icy slumber. Not Earth, or even the Ark, but everything else. Cybertron. The Autobots. The Decepticons... one Decepticon in particular.

Starscream stood just outside that invisible line dividing outside from 'inside with a view'. His wings with their bold, purple symbols flexed slightly, and he turned his head this way and that, watching all approaches. "I shouldn't be here, Sky."

"There were those who said that about me," Skyfire replied. "You're with me, now. You're not going to shoot my friends, and they're not going to shoot you."

"That's not quite the same as being welcome to visit," Starscream pointed out.

"Hound invited me over to visit."

"He didn't invite me," Starscream said a bit petulantly. Autobots other than Rodimus Prime and Skyfire tended to scowl and finger their weapons when he was around. He was out of the war, perhaps, but he was still a Decepticon.

"I know." Skyfire looked at Starscream with a determined expression, ice blue optics shimmering in the glare. "I'm sorry. Wait out here if you really want to."

"You want me to come in, I get that. I don't get why." Starscream folded his arms. He stood rigidly, refusing to lean against the orange wall of the Ark.

A hint of a smile quirked one side of Skyfire's mouth. "Because I said you can. It's a challenge on my part. Sorry, I'm letting my ego run away and use you for my own selfish reasons."

"That's usually my line," Starscream said dryly. "but with a silly apology added. You couldn't say it with a straight face, either. Who are you challenging over what? I'm stupid today."

"Perhaps everyone. Over my right to choose who I love and who I hate," Skyfire answered.

My Autobot friends on Earth were good people, but they didn't understand. Spike and Sparkplug understood even less, even though they saw my brief tour as a Decepticon--and saw why I quit so abruptly. Spike didn't realize that I still cared about Starscream--it wasn't something I talked about to my human friends, and the other Autobots found it something of an embarrassment--they didn't talk about it either. I think Sparkplug suspected though; sometimes I think he sympathized. He'd lived a while, and somehow knew about grieving for a loved one gone bad.

Sunstreaker was the worst. I didn't know about his history as a gladiator in the State Games, or I might have understood a little better. He hated the Decepticons, all Decepticons with passion and fury, and couldn't see any other possibility. We got along well at first, but after I nearly killed Starscream, and Sunstreaker found out how badly that hurt me... He didn't trust me at all. Such intense grief for a Decepticon was the same as being on their side, as far he was concerned, and made me a traitor in his eyes.

Ironhide understood my emotions, but thought me foolish and naive; for him, once-friends who turned Decepticon were dead, or had never really been friends to begin with. Only enemies walked in their purple-sigiled shells. He tried to get me to see that about Starscream, and failed. That vain, self-centered streak had always been, more tempered by his youthful uncertainty back then, but still there. Even then, he'd had a dark, cruel streak that I'd moderated by my presence, lending him balance and restraint when his impulses got the better of him. Starscream the Decepticon Air Commander was everything my old partner had been, without moderation and restraint.

Ratchet understood, but counseled me to let him go, for my own good. Well-meant advice, but I couldn't follow it. How do you let go of your own heart? He told me to give it time, and I tried--in the end, I fled to deep space, still trying to let it go. It wouldn't let go of me.

"I was called a traitor, once, because I wouldn't proclaim my hatred of all Decepticons, especially you. The others who weren't quite so rude called me naive and foolish. It wasn't always easy, being known as Starscream's old friend--even after you shot me repeatedly."

Starscream winced and looked away from Skyfire. "Should I apologize for that again?" He rubbed his neck exaggeratedly. Starscream wasn't the only one who had dealt grievous bodily harm to his former partner.

"I think we're both past that," Skyfire said, smiling.

His partner, his lover had been through so much--fallen from grace, descended into darkness and evil, hated and despised, yet refusing to surrender, fighting to the bitter end--and beyond. Starscream had honestly earned all the hatred and contempt heaped on him, and finally sealed his own doom--which had only grieved Skyfire the more.

Starscream had changed in the last few years. Dying and returning to life were part of it, but so were the months he'd spent traveling with Skyfire. At first, Starscream had been closed even to Skyfire, testing the Autobot shuttle's patience and tolerance with tidbits from Decepticon history now and again, but finally he'd wandered too close to the present, and the dam broke.

---

They stopped to recharge and do some minor repairs on an airless moon somewhere in the Porozlo system; Starscream had been oddly quiet for days, answering Skyfire's increasingly concerned questions with short, clipped sentences. That had started shortly after Skyfire had asked him 'Why?', and gotten a reply he hadn't expected.

The sunlight threw harsh black shadows in the vacuum as Skyfire checked over some cosmetic damage on Starscream's wings. It wasn't serious, just the result of a sloppy pass through a planet's rings, but the fact that it existed bothered Skyfire. Starscream's lack of complaint about the visible scarring to his colors also disturbed Skyfire. After starting and stopping work several times, the big white Autobot finally put away his tools and shifted himself around to face Starscream.

The silver Decepticon jet looked up in him in surprise. "Sky?" came his query over the radio. It was the most expressive he'd been in days.

"What's wrong, Starscream?" Skyfire asked over the same band. "I want to know."

"What makes you think anything is wrong?" Starscream said, bitterness shading his voice. One blue foot kicked idly at the thick rock dust underfoot; it flew up in a arching fan and fell abruptly without air to buoy the fine grains.

Skyfire looked at him sternly. "Starscream. You know me better than that, and I know you better than that. It's not like you to fly so carelessly; it's not like you to ignore damage to your wings. You've stopped caring about yourself, and that worries me." He reached out with one big white hand and gently brushed the side of Starscream's face, knuckles running over the black helm that hid his audials and stroking his silver-gray face.

Starscream flinched away, his wings shaking--and then leaned towards Skyfire, letting himself collapse against the big shuttle mech. Skyfire reflexively grabbed the falling jet; as he did, he felt the violent tremors shaking Starscream's body. He sat back against a large rock and held Starscream against his cabin. "Starscream?"

Blue hands clutched convulsively at white fuselage. "What's to care about?" he asked bitterly. "I'm a fool, Skyfire, I've made nothing but mistakes since the day I lost you in the ice!" The shuddering intensified. "I've done such terrible, stupid things! I brought everything down on myself, Sky--everything! Now it's all gone--I've lost everything! I was Leader of the Decepticons, Sky--Supreme Leader! Ended so quickly I'll never be remembered for that. Air Commander--that's gone too. I was the best, the Prince of the Air--but I'll only be remembered as the traitor who turned on Megatron. They'll never know why, or care. They already despise me for what I've done--why else did they desecrate my grave?"

"Starscream..." Gentle strokes of white hands against the back of his black helm; knuckles brushed against his tall red air intakes.

"I found you after nine million years and what did I do? I shot you and drove you away for not being a good little Decepticon!" There was a hitch in Starscream's radio voice and he shuddered violently in Skyfire's arms. "I couldn't admit that Megatron was right--he was rebuilding Cybertron, we were winning. I shouldn't have dumped him like that--or at least I should have made sure he was dead! I killed two of my closest friends, Sky, and for what? Nothing! Nine million years of clawing my way to the top, putting aside everything, every friendship, every pleasure for that one goal, and it's all gone! Wasted years, wasted chances, all gone."

"You've told me what happened when you returned from Earth," Skyfire said gently. "That wasn't your fault. They drove you out, and you did what you had to. I wish things had gone differently, that you hadn't had to do what you did to survive, but--"

"Shut up! I've told myself that for millions of years, that I only did what I had to do, that they forced me to do it, that they had it coming, or they were weaklings--a thousand excuses for why what I did was was never my fault." Bitterness enough to poison a battalion stained his voice.

"It was a lie, a delusion all along! I said foolish, angry things to Fivescan after they repaired me, things I shouldn't have said. My bad judgment in searching until I ran out of fuel--if I couldn't find you after two or three rounds of searching, my sensors weren't going to magically improve after twenty! I should have gone back while I still had enough fuel to get up to a decent velocity--a thousand years would have been much better than one hundred thousand! Things wouldn't have been so changed, they would have had others still around to send out, my memory wouldn't have been full of suspicious holes, the Decepticon cause wouldn't have already prejudiced them so much... but I panicked like a fool. I panic a lot," he said sadly.

Wings pressed forward, huddling against his back and shoulders. "I just wanted us to survive, to be the best we could be, warriors of Cybertron. I thought I could lead us there. Was it so wrong to want that? Why did I have to come so close, and fail so badly?" Fists clenched so hard that servos screamed internally; red diagnostics flashed across Starscream's internal displays. "I can see how inevitable everything was, now. If I had not been such a fool, and done the things I did, Unicron would have destroyed us all. But why did I have to be the one to die?"

Starscream railed against his fate and folly for hours, holding up every mistake he'd ever made that led him to his bitter end at Galvatron's hands. Foolish mistakes, inevitable mistakes, hateful deeds, all seen honestly at last, spilled out. All the cherished delusions that had sustained and blinded him for so long were gone, like ashes scattered in the wind. A wasted life was laid bare and found terribly wanting, terribly alone.

At the end of it, Starscream looked up at the great white Autobot who held him in his arms, and said in that bewildered, child-like lilt he sometimes slipped into, "But I've found you again, I don't know why. I don't understand what you see in me. I never did."

"Well, I never quite understood what you saw in me," Skyfire replied shakily, his emotions wracked by Starscream's long outpouring of grief and desperate loneliness. "I'm no one special, I never was. Just someone who survived far past their own time out of sheer bad luck."

To his surprise, Starscream smiled back, an easy, peaceful smile. "That's easy. You're the one I trust." He relaxed, no longer shaking, wings no longer cowering against his back, just gently resting in Skyfire's arms.

---

I know why I love him--quicksilver jet, always changing, irrepressible, swinging from mood to mood yet never letting himself be beaten down and defeated... He's everything I'm not, and his presence brings me to life. Without him, I'm a rock--a cold, hard lump of metal who broods in the dark between planets far too much. I loved my Autobot friends dearly, but I never took them into deep space with me. They weren't Starscream.

Back in the present, Starscream smirked, almost as if he followed Skyfire's thoughts. "I suppose we are." He unfolded his arms and re-folded them with the other arm on top. "Fine, we'll do this your way--but if the ghost of Optimus Prime pops out and punches me in the face, I'm blaming you!"

"If he does, I'll punch him back, and take the blame," Skyfire said as he pressed the button at the outer non-gate.

"Hound, Beachcomber -- we're here!"

-- FIN --