The sandstorm was getting worse.

Overhead crackling bolts of energy shot back and forth, and molten sand scoured down on the combatants below like hail. Skyfire's damaged wing hydraulics had grounded him minutes ago, but he fought on bravely with a captured Decepticon laser cannon. An explosion overhead momentarily deadened the wind, and an angular body impacted into the sand a short distance away.

"Retreat!!" Megatron yelled over the fray, and Skyfire saw the glowing line of afterburners disappear two by two into the stinging haze.

Skyfire grabbed the downed 'bot in the sand nearby and transformed, calling for the others over his comlink. Beneath the howl of the wind there was only an eerie silence, but then he realized that the silence was the result of a damaged comm. antenna, nothing more.

Without flight capability, the only thing for it was to lie flat against the sand and wait until the storm passed.

Layers of sand built quickly into a dune around him, and Skyfire's audio receptors were left with only a faint hiss of noise from above, like a the static of a television turned down low. He expelled the loose sand from his vents with a quick blast of compressed air and slammed the shutters closed, cutting power to all but his essential systems to keep from overheating.

Then he waited.

"Ohh... What- what's happened?" a groggy voice asked in the darkness.

Skyfire switched on a light in his payload bay, activated a monitor camera, and almost swore. He'd rescued Starscream.

There was no help for it now though, and he -had- to keep the Decepticon from damaging him from the inside.

"Try not to move, Starscream. You were badly hit."

"...Skyfire?" Starscream said, incredulously.

"-Yes." Skyfire replied, reluctantly.

Starscream sat up carefully, and cried out when the movement scraped the ruin of his right-hand gun against his twisted right wing. He locked the components in place to keep from damaging himself further, and got to his feet.

"It's so quiet..." Starscream said, almost to himself, "-are your ventilation systems down?"

"No, but we're buried under the sand."

Starscream smiled, and ran a hand over a coil of coolant tubing bracketed to the forward wall.

"Then I'd say YOU've miscalculated, traitor..."

"I don't have to explain my actions to you," Skyfire replied, angrily.

"So touchy, 'old friend'... don't you know I hold your spark in the palm of my hand?" Starscream purred.

"If you're going to do something, Starscream, just do it," Skyfire sighed.

"No threats? No references to Autobots waiting for me on the surface? Shame on you. ...Where's your creativity?"

"Unlike you, I can make decisions without grandstanding."

"...You KNEW it was me..." Starscream decided, optics narrowing thoughtfully.

Skyfire didn't answer him.

Starscream paced the length of the compartment a few times, then unfastened a panel on the left wall.

"...What are you doing?" Skyfire asked, keeping his voice level.

"You're leaking hydraulic fluid from somewhere in here," Starscream said, peering inside, "-I can smell it."

Skyfire left that one alone. He felt Starscream's taxi light pass over an optical fire sensor, searching. Then a shift of metal on metal inside his shoulder... Skyfire set his jaw, and tried not to think about it.

A painful surge of hydraulic pressure shot back up through the lines all the way to his forward pump, and the shuttle winced.

"Hold still, you big sparkling..." Starscream muttered, uncoupling a section of damaged hydraulic hose. Skyfire moved the camera trying to see what the Decepticon was doing, but all he could see was a few damaged components on the cargo bay floor, and Starscream's back. Uneasily, Skyfire watched.

"Try your left wing flight controls," Starscream ordered, stepping back.

Skyfire was too deeply buried in sand for a full ops check, but he -could- wiggle them now. Starscream couldn't see this, but he saw the hoses he'd replaced flex as they received and held pressure. The jet looked down at his oily hands in distaste, and wiped them off on a corner of Skyfire's insulation blanketing.

"...Thank you," Skyfire said, after a pause.

"You're welcome. -And now I don't owe you anything for the rescue."

"That's fair," Skyfire agreed, oddly disappointed.

"I'm -kidding- Skyfire," Starscream grinned, "-I never owed you anything in the first place."

-Please- let him just put the wall panel back, Skyfire thought.

"I just remember how cranky you get when you're hurt," Starscream added, leaning into the open compartment.

Skyfire wasn't sure what he was doing at first, but when he caught sight of Starscream's face in the camera again, there was a faint red sheen of hydraulic fluid on his lips.

"You've still got a thing for repairs," Skyfire observed, carefully.

"Mmm-hm," Starscream agreed, leaning against the wall and watching the camera lens, arms folded.

"What would you do if you really did beat Megatron?" Skyfire asked.

"Trying to keep me talking, are you?" Starscream smirked, seeing straight through the ploy. "...Whatever can you be afraid of?"

Skyfire thought carefully before answering.

"Don't make me regret picking you up, Starscream."

"Oh, I won't... In fact, I'm going to remind you just why it was such a good idea. How... grateful... I am."

"Don't do this, Stars."

"You can't stop me now, can you?" Starscream purred, nastily.

"No. But you can make me regret picking you up," Skyfire replied.

Starscream paused.

"Why should I give a flameout WHAT you regret?" he asked, seriously.

"Because you're better than this. And because you're still wondering why 'the traitor' hasn't turned you in."

"No, I've got a pretty good idea about that," Starscream told him, with perfect assurance.

"And that is...?"

"You like me," Starscream smiled, "-it's as simple as that."

Skyfire watched the smirking face in the lens thoughtfully. Despite what Megatron might believe, Starscream wasn't stupid. The long stretch of justified paranoia within the ranks of the Decepticons had taken it's toll, however...

"...I don't trust you." Skyfire said, quietly.

"You don't have to. -I'm already in your payload bay."


"I'm in here, you have no idea what I'm about to do to you... and the deep-down-dirty truth of it is... you're CURIOUS."

"I am NOT."

"Yes, you are," Starscream grinned, pointing a finger at the camera, "-but if you're too much of a bitmouse to find out..."

Skyfire decided he'd had enough.

"I've been pressurizing my payload bay since you came back on line," He informed Starscream calmly, "-if I open the doors now, the atmospheric pressure differential will rupture every tank in your body."

"Are you gonna do it?" Starscream asked, licking his lips.

"...Not if you don't give me a reason."

Starscream stared into the camera, and Skyfire could hear the faint hum of the fighter jet's cooling fans picking up for a minute.

"-What do you want me to do?" Starscream whispered, red optics glowing.

"Put my wall panel back in place."

Starscream waited for the 'and-', but there wasn't one. He sighed, and replaced the panel.

"Now stand flat against the aft wall, and just... feel."

Starscream had always enjoyed Skyfire's ignition sequence, and from what Skyfire could hear overhead, the sandstorm was over. He lit off his rocket pack, tearing up out of the high-piled sand like a ballistic missile, and shaking the grit loose from the hinges of his flight controls. His left side still felt stiff, but Starscream's repairs held, and their course was true. Skyfire switched on his afterburners.

He took them higher and higher, dumping pressure as fast as he could without damaging his passenger, until at last they kissed the cold blue edge of the Earth's outer atmosphere. Skyfire throttled back, and checked the payload bay camera.

Starscream was floating on his back in zero-G, optics still shuttered. A few pale green drops of coolant drifted up out of his mouth as he sighed, opening them. Gentle as Skyfire had tried to be, it had still been a -little- too fast.

"...Skyfire..." Starscream breathed dreamily, but nothing followed that.

Skyfire checked that the pressure was fully equalized, and opened his payload bay doors. Starscream swam out into orbit beside him, began to transform, and hissed at the pain from his forgotten wing damage.

"Don't," Skyfire said, transforming and pulling him in close.

"You -do- like me," Starscream murmured, triumphantly.

"I like you better when you don't talk," Skyfire smiled back, unfastening a small access hatch on Starscream's side.

The jet didn't -quite- pause, but Skyfire saw the moment of surprise flicker across his storm-gray face. ...The next moment, the shuttle had his hands full.

Starscream was hungry, sweet, demanding, small blue fingers rediscovering the joints of Skyfire's body, touching his face, his hands, stroking the tiny, flat sensors along both sides of the shuttle's folded canopy.

Skyfire ran a calming hand along Starscream's undamaged wing, ghosting his thumb under the leading edge at just the right angle. Starscream gripped Skyfire's shoulder, and shoved the large white hand at his waist aside impatiently to plug in the cable himself.

Starscream froze, lips parted and optics dimming a little.

Skyfire paused at the force of the signals that suddenly flooded his database, then cupped one large hand behind the small of Starscream's back to anchor him, and let the other finish drifting down the jet's sharp, tapered wing with dreamlike slowness.

You/I/we/them/us became just -him- again, and each felt the current of power surging across the cable between them, a hum, pulse, a deep harmonic like the roar of a train underground.

It increased, echoing back and forth like sonar. Thoughts. Feelings like splashes of paint mixing together, whispers melting through circuit diagrams, and the all-encompassing tone, building...

It was too good to last.

A scream ripped across the link, echoing in the silence of Skyfire's helmet radio, and he grabbed the scattering program that was Starscream tightly, powerfully built database holding both of them out of reach as all logic seemed to shatter in a sheet of white energy.

Skyfire came back online with a low hum of electricity still flickering pleasantly along his circuits.

He heard someone murmuring softly, and realized with a start that he was listening to Starscream think. ...Neither had meant to go quite -that- far, but the connection had been so good, so intense after all this time that-

Starscream kissed him deeply, still riding out the last of it on a wave of possessive/fear/lust/happy/crazy/what did I just say...? that made Skyfire smile.

The jet's eyes flared red then dimmed a little, and Skyfire gathered Starscream's loose-jointed frame against his chest thoughtfully.

He reached down and unplugged the heavy-duty cable between them, shivering as a last spark snapped across.

Starscream stirred, groaning softly against the cool white metal of Skyfire's chest plate.

"...Hi," Skyfire whispered, simply.

"Mmmm-Mmmm..." Starscream purred, optics switching back on and focusing slowly.

Neither spoke for a while, and Skyfire started silently picking out constellations over Starscream's shoulder as they drifted.

"...Will you take me back down?" Starscream asked, finally.

"Now?" Skyfire frowned.

"No. ...Just soon."

Skyfire could feel the uneasy tension in Starscream's control cables reasserting itself.

"...That was really good, wasn't it?" Skyfire whispered, nuzzling an inlaid antenna on the side of Starscream's helmet. Starscream laughed softly.

"-Yeah. ...Want to sneak off like this again some time?"

"I'll think about it," Skyfire promised.

"Hmf," Starscream sniffed, with a very knowing look.