Author Note: Firstly, let me apologise for the ridiculously long interval between this chapter and the last. Real life caught up with me, what with working, being on holiday, moving house, not having the internet for three weeks and attending this year's Auto Assembly convention. I've hardly noticed the time go by.
I will try my hardest not to leave such a long gap in production again.
The Spires of Altihex
"You showed up, then," Skyfire crooned sarcastically, a gentle jibe, not looking up from his work as Starscream slunk through the door to the reactor almost a cycle and a half after their agreed meeting time. As soon as the words left his vocaliser, he was aware of, even if he could not see it, a penetrating red-eyed glared falling upon the back of his wings.
"Laugh it up," growled the other mech. A moment later there was a noise of shattering glass, a delicate chiming belying the violence of the action it resulted from. Turning his head sharply at the noise, Skyfire saw his partner, with one sweep of a wing-laden arm, had knocked an entire complex of flasks and thin-walled tubing to the floor, leaving the bench-top clean. Broken glass glimmered in the dull blue-tinged light, twinkling innocuously on the floor, dripping with various coloured liquids, some of which sizzled at the metal they splashed onto.
While concerned, Skyfire knew through experience now that Starscream's mood swings were unpredictable and extreme. It was for this reason, rather than a lack of caring, that he did not immediately rush to his friend's side, ask him what was wrong, but instead grumbled quietly, "I hope you're not expecting me to clear that up."
It earned him another heated glare. Starscream's screechy voice was painful to the audio. "Shut your fragging face."
Then the seeker slouched to sit on a dulled metal crate against the bench, folding his arms and slouching over them to rest his head in them. Only his scarlet optics glared fearsomely over the top, twin pinpoints promising pain and retribution upon some unnamed tormentor.
At first, the shuttle ignored him. Although Starscream had been quite fragile in the events following the ill-fated Praxus expedition, the white researcher had now some experience of how the warrior-mech's mind worked and was confident in his ability to make a full recovery. On top of that, the strength of his fear had been so powerful that it had leaked from him and into his partner, making even unflappable Skyfire feel nervous and unsafe. This emotion, whatever had caused it, was nowhere near as strong – it was more of a sulk than any real anger.
Ignoring became tedious. A sigh.
With long-suffering resignation carefully masking a nagging concern, Skyfire looked over to his friend. For once, Starscream was not difficult to read, and the white shuttle took only astroseconds working out a conclusion with regard to what had put the seeker in such a foul mood. From the flare in his optics, the tilt of his head, the turned-away, mistrustful angle of his thin dark face spoke only of a hurt from some third party.
"No," growled the seeker before Skyfire could even open his mouth, "it's not anything new and no, I don't want to talk about it. Get the frag on with your work and stop poking your fat chassis in my life."
The large shuttle opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and closed his parted lips again with a small but audible snap. Saying nothing more, he turned back to his work, though was aware of scarlet eyes boring into the back of his neck, Starscream's relentless gaze as the tetrajet watched him work.
Somehow, Skyfire had noticed in those times when Starscream came into the reactor in a foul mood, those dire tempers were eased when the smaller mech watched his friend with his research. The trend did not break with this instance, and, even without looking at his companion, the white explorer could feel the seething, indignant rage die down, ease into a soft, bubbling and palpably naïve interest.
"What are you here for?" the tetrajet asked at last, his head tilted to the side, masking curiosity as an innocence that was not and likely never had been there. "I just remembered, I never asked you why you bothered to come here, if Altihex was as nice a place as you said."
Looking up from the notes he had scribbled on a datapad, Skyfire's expression was one of mild surprise; certainly, he had not been expecting Starscream to ask him that question, rather that the jet would just assume he had come for the same reason as his own – for a better life.
"I fancied a change," he said calmly, turning his attention back down to the worktop, having no real wish to see the sneer that would cross Starscream's face, not listen to the surely-inevitable lecture about how easy he had had it in his younger vorns. But neither came.
"How is it turning out for you?"
The large white researched shrugged, optics flickering. "... I do not know whether or not I prefer it to my exploration, to be honest. I do find myself missing the depths of space. So it is... all right, but not as good as I had hoped."
Apparently, Starscream had either no answer to give or had just stopped listening, for there was silence that fell upon the reactor. Skyfire did not look up to his partner again, but perhaps a half-breem later a quiet shuffling noise started up, suggesting that Starscream had, at last, started his own work at the bench opposite his larger friend.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that both of them reached for the beaker of liquid tutonium compound at precisely the same moment. Skyfire's hand, the larger, knocked Starscream's against the sealed container, which tipped and tilted and fell to the floor with a clatter.
"Watch it," growled Starscream absently as he went down to rescue the dropped apparatus, which had remarkably not shattered or spilt its contents over the ground, too absorbed to notice that Skyfire was ducking to the floor as well.
Both mechs froze when they reached for the dropped canister at exactly the same astrosecond for the second time and ended up clasping each other's hands. Their optics met, Skyfire's azure conveying apology for the accident, Starscream's scarlet narrowed in a snarl.
Somehow, the gaze held silently for a half-klik that dragged.
Their lips met.
Both pulled away as though burned, the canister of pale metallic fluid all but forgotten between them. Skyfire coughed in chilly politeness and would not look Starscream in the face, whereas the tetrajet spat into his hand and snarled.
"What the frag was that for!?"
"Excuse me," responded the shuttle with an icy tranquil tone that well disguised the racing pulsations of his suddenly-fearful spark – even if their friendship soured, they would have to work the reactors together, and with Starscream's ability to hold a grudge... but, not knowing where his protest would lead, he spoke with a cold calmness he did not feel, "but I seem to remember that you advanced on me."
Surprisingly, no answer. Skyfire looked back. So did Starscream.
"... Am I just an idiot?" asked the shuttle after a long, potent pause, a slight frown marring his face. The heavy, dragging silence was choking, like bad energon trickling into his converters, slowly stealing his ability to cycle ventilation...
Starscream looked away swiftly with a narrow-eyed scarlet glare, quiet and, for once, not leaping at the chance to belittle and insult and humiliate, his expression hovering somewhere between a grimace and a small smile; it was the answer the white researcher had hoped for but not expected. "Yeah, I guess. Yeah. Of course you are."
"Perhaps we both are idiots," Skyfire taunted gently, and the jet turned back with an impish smirk playing over his dark mouth. It did not flicker.
"Shut up," he said plainly, "and kiss me again."
Before acquiescing, as he tilted his head in, Skyfire somehow found the time to, through the swamp of relief that coursed through his fuselage, grumble in good humour, "... you kissed me..."
He'd captured those wicked dark lips with his white before Starscream could give any retort, for once managing to silence the verbose seeker, for once causing screeched, high-pitched words to die in his throat, to peter out in his vocaliser.
... It was hardly life-changing, there were no sparks, no epiphany, no mind-blowing, circuit-frying intensity... there was just one point of contact, and the tentative, not-quite-there touch of Skyfire's fingers upon Starscream's red shoulder, which they hovered above uncertainly, the shuttle unsure whether to bring the jet closer in.
There was no need. It took only a moment for Starscream, deceptively strong for his comparatively small size and slight stature, to steal control, push Skyfire back onto the floor, press his bulk and his weight over and into his larger partner.
Skyfire snapped back to his senses, almost panicked as the realisation of where he was and what he was doing struck him with as much force as a heavy freight liner, pushed Starscream away and sat up to brush imaginary dust from his fuselage.
"What -", grouched the jet as he fell back to sit at ease upon the ground, showing offence on his expressive, thin face, a pout of anger and rising anger, but Skyfire laid a large hand on his helm to calm him, a faint, embarrassed smile lingering.
"Not here," he explained, gentle.
Starscream's red optics narrowed but the rising anger quelled, making way for the returning good humour and fond jibes. "You're such a prude."
"Perhaps. But there are things that should be kept private, don't you agree?"
"Sure," answered the jet in a tone that showed he clearly did not.
Skyfire almost chuckled. It was somehow strangely fitting that Starscream, attention-seeking and egotistical, should harbour exhibitionist fantasies – but the shuttle himself was of no such mindset.
"Your room?" He asked, leaving no room for discussion or compromise, "or mine?"
"Mine is closer," answered Starscream huskily, for once accepting defeat in the realisation that there was no way he could persuade Skyfire to do anything while there was the risk of their being walked in upon.
"I doubt I will fit on your berth."
"Yours then," growled the jet, apathy dripping at the truth his partner had calmly pointed out. "I don't care, whatever, let's at least do something instead of just sitting here. So make a decision and hurry it the frag up, my aft is going numb."
Skyfire's room was plain and unwelcoming. The shuttle had not made any real effort to move in. Very little marked it out as lived-in; the berth, almost twice the size of Starscream's, hardly seemed used, the walls and work-surfaces shone immaculate, and the only sign of occupation was the small, neat pile of alphabetically organised datapads, filed away under subtitles of in runic Cybertronian shorthand, in a corner away from the door.
However, Starscream barely noticed any of this, did not even comment on it as he all but dragged his larger friend into the room with intent, though not even headed towards the berth. Ignoring Skyfire's slight resistance, his occasional soft chuckles, the jet strode with focus and only turned when the shuttle behind him paused to close the door behind them.
"So what now?" asked Skyfire, taking a seat on his berth and resting his arms on one knee. Starscream turned to him with a sneer; it looked for all the world as though he were about to burst out into sarcastic, mocking laughter.
"You're slow," he observed, "what do you think I want?"
Skyfire tilted his head, drawing a pattern on his own knee with his index finger. "Yes, yes, I know, but are we compatible?"
"Compatible?" Starscream stared at the white-bodied researcher suspiciously, the tilt of his head betraying his volatile temper barely held in check. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well," started Skyfire, speaking with caution around a subject that was clearly causing him some embarrassment to bring up. "... I am well aware that I am larger than average, but still... You are too small."
The look of blank disbelief on Starscream's face was truly astounding. For once, it seemed, the jet was at a loss for words. Then slight amusement, then defensive anger, as though he felt he was being mocked. "What, so you think I can't handle you just because you're a fragging freak?"
"You have such a way with words," said Skyfire plainly, not at all offended his deca-cycles of experience with the volatile, rude warrior-mech numbing any sensitivities he might have had. "... all right, let's try it. But... do not hate me if we cannot do this."
Flourishing one hand, the shuttle invited Starscream onto his berth, but, rather than sliding on to the metal recharge plate, Starscream instead stared at him, the tugs of an amused and somehow still sultry smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.
"I top. You get on the berth. I get on you."
"Oh? Domination issues?" But Skyfire acquiesced with no complaint, hauling his large chassis onto the recharge plate, reclining back and watching his smaller partner.
"Hardly," sneered the tetrajet, "You'd crush me if you lay on me," was offered by way of explanation, the small blade-edged wings upon his shoulders twitching and flexing in anticipation as he crawled onto Skyfire's chest, both ultramarine palms against the translucent cobalt of the shuttle's cockpit canopy. He was surprisingly light for all his bulk, his long, slender limbs of cybertutonium that was sturdy but not dense, and a little more hollow than the standard for aerial prowess.
Skyfire nodded, leaning back on his elbows a little further, staring calmly into Starscream's smouldering scarlet optics. Starscream stared back. Both were wanting, near-frantic with mutual growing lust, uncaring of consequences now, but ultimately, both were still inexperienced.
"You have done this before?" It was the shuttle who asked the question that hovered about both their vocalisers.
A little pause. "... Mmm? So what would you like me to do?"
"Dumb glitch," Starscream smirked gently and licked his glossa over his lips. "I want you to touch me."
Skyfire tilted his head in exasperation, "I had already ascertained that much, but touch you where? I cannot say I am familiar with the structural details of military fliers, I would not know where upon you is sensitive."
"My wings," came the reply, thoughtful and hoarse. "the caudal rather than the dorsal... and the ailerons upon my shoulders. The outer strakes more so than the inner, but apart from that, nothing especially."
A nod, and then, after a brief moment of thought, Skyfire reached a hand to one of the tiny tapering wings and started to gently manipulate the aileron, tweaking this way and that. Starscream's optics flickered off, an unreadable expression on his face, and then he hissed.
"Not so hard...!"
"Sorry," apologised the large shuttle, who had been trying to keep his touch gentle. Collecting himself, he reached forward again to the jet over him, another tweak – more careful and measured this time. But it was still no use; Starscream snarled and snatched his shoulder away even at the caress that was, to Skyfire, exaggeratedly gentle.
"What are you trying to do," he growled defensively, his dark face only a motherboard's breadth from Skyfire's white, their noses almost touching, "rip it off? Not so rough!"
"Sorry," mumbled Skyfire again, optics narrowing, awkward at the second rebuttal, unsure of whether he could really do this. "Why do you not show me how, then?"
A smirk of self-assured superiority crossed Starscream's dark visage and he splayed his fingers over Skyfire's chest, pressing himself down, arching his back and expelling hot air from his vents, the very picture of sensuality – but it did not have the effect that was both expected and desired. Skyfire did not immediately surrender to insensibility, give himself over to Starscream, he did not whisper to the seeker how brilliant he was.
"A little firmer?" Asked the shuttle unromantically. "I cannot really feel anything."
Starscream snarled in a mixture of embarrassment and self-defence and firmed his touches, but there was still no response from Skyfire. Instead, the shuttle smiled a faltering, apologetic expression, tilted his head to the side and then, when his optics flickered off, he shook his head.
"It is not working. You are not firm enough..."
"You're too big!" Growled Starscream accusingly, sitting up astride Skyfire's wait and staring down as though his partner was somehow at fault for his size.
Skyfire's optics flickered on, a sound from his systems caught somewhere between an offended but defensive growl and a saddened sigh. "No, you are too small."
Silence as the two matched stares, scarlet optics burning and azure matching the glare. The white shuttle broke the gaze first, flickering his sight down to Starscream's cockpit and watching nothing.
"As I thought..." he murmured quietly, unable to keep disappointment from his voice. "We are not compatible after all... the size difference is too great."
"Pff," Starscream growled and shrugged, but even he could not deny that their attempts had ended only in failure. A mixture of expressions flickered over his faceplates and then he glared at his partner, "what sort of mech do you think I am, anyway? You think I'm starved for sensory overload? You think I will spurn you if you cannot satisfy me with your touch? How little you must think of me."
With a 'hmph' of self-righteous indignation, the seeker turned his head away, pouting sulkily in ill grace.
Carefully and without words, Skyfire raised a white hand and ran his fingers over one of the seams of Starscream's dark cheek, tilting his head back, and the warrior-turned-scientist stared him in the optic.
Then, they kissed again, and this time it was a kiss without passion or ulterior ambition, but rather a slow and caring and understanding liplock. We can still be like this without the sex, it said without words, it is neither awkward nor embarrassing if we just accept it...
Starscream withdrew his head and then pressed himself closer, rearranging Skyfire's arms around him so the shuttle was holding him close.
"I am staying here for this side of the solar cycle," he announced in a voice that, while quiet and slow, left no room for argument - whether or not Skyfire wanted his quarters and his berth invaded by the jet. No verbal response came, but instead the large white researcher smiled in indulgence and his arms relaxed about the smaller flier's chassis, intimate despite their inability to sparkmerge.
Shifting a little so that Starscream was laying next to him rather than over him, Skyfire heaved a sigh that was half in satisfaction and half in disappointment that he could not offer the jet any physical relief, that the jet could not offer him any physical relief, that all they could be to each other was good company.
But maybe... that was all they needed to be.