Acknowledgements: Many thanks to hydraling110 for betaing this.
Warnings: Story contains slash.
Disclaimer: Transformers doesn't belong to me in any shape or way.
As always, life continued. Regardless of circumstances and surroundings, it plodded on as if nothing had changed, refusing to be slowed down or stopped. An independent force of its own, it plowed forward, as stubbornly as always.
Just like the war.
Thundercracker dove into a spin, narrowly avoiding the laser shot that had his name written on it. On the ground below, two of his comrades were scurrying for cover behind a pile of rusty old barrels, as they were bombarded by a storm of rifle fire, courtesy of the red and yellow twin nuisances.
Attacking the refinery had been a bad idea. The Autobots had arrived quickly at the scene, probably after having been tipped off about the Decepticons' plans one way or the other. Megatron had replied to Prime's order to stand down with a predictable burst from his fusion cannon, and the fight was on.
Sometimes, nothing changed. They might as well have been actors in a human movie stuck on repeat, each scene replaying itself over and over again, any struggle to get out of the never-ending loop ultimately futile.
This time, it didn't take long until the order came.
It was bellowed out by their glorious leader, his voice easily carrying over the clangs and booms of the battle. And, as usual, a smug comment from Starscream immediately followed. It wasn't too smug, but carried the exact right amount of barb to cast gray shadows of doubt on Megatron's bravery and leadership capabilities without being overly blatant about it.
The red and white Seeker obeyed and took off, thrusters flaring behind him and a self-satisfied smirk plastered on his face. Thundercracker watched him in silence; if there was ever any change in the normal tranquility at all, it was how that mech's impudence seemed to be growing by the year.
Starscream's scathing comment had made a lot of sense though; this hadn't been a successful operation by any definition of the word. Soundwave had only managed to fill up a pitiful amount of energon cubes before being driven off by the Autobots, probably not enough to even compensate for the energy that had been wasted in the whole endeavor.
Well then. Thundercracker performed a quick scan of the quickly receding battle below, and made to follow the majority of his comrades who had already set off for their base.
Then, something caught his optics. A bit away, confident in their victory, stood a small group of Autobots, one of them waving his rifle triumphantly in the air. But that wasn't the mech that had drawn Thundercracker's attention, no. Instead, it was that behorned black and white figure that was standing next to the gloating 'Bot.
It was a strange realization. Even if he knew that Jazz had defected and had even met him since, seeing him on the opposing side on the battlefield was eerie, almost like encountering a ghost or spirit that everyone knew should no longer be among the living. Of course, meeting him like this was to be expected, and yet it did not feel that way.
He couldn't greet or acknowledge his old comrade, though, not by any means other than his laser cannons. For all intents and purposes, they were now enemies, belonging to opposite forces, any friendly interaction between them strongly prohibited.
It was a shame. Not least because of the question that was burning within him, prodding him for the answer that he was unable to find.
So Jazz, did you manage to make peace with your estranged bondmate, or was there nothing left for you to salvage?
He might never find out. But he hoped that the first part of that sentiment was true, if only because that was what had pushed Jazz into defecting in the first place. For having had the bearings to make such a momentous decision – one that Thundercracker himself could never make – it wouldn't be fair if the reason for it had turned out to be nothing more than a taunting chimera.
He looked back at the little gathering. Five Autobots in total. Or four Autobots and a traitor, seen from Decepticon perspective. He suddenly noticed that there was another black and white figure among the group, his posture stiff and rigid.
Prowl. Jazz's bondmate. He realized that he had never asked Jazz about which Autobot he had bonded with – somehow, it hadn't seemed important at the time – but word had eventually gotten around to the Nemesis that the Autobot Second in Command was now Jazz's bondmate.
Or perhaps former bondmate, whatever the case might be.
From up here, Thundercracker could see no clue as to which was the right assertion, no exchange of bitter glares or adoring glances that would tell of the two mechs' current relation. But the Autobot tactician did have a reputation of being unusually cold and stoic for an Autobot, so it was unlikely that he would be showing any of it regardless.
Oh well. When it all came down to it, Thundercracker could do no more than guess, at best. As he prepared to leave, he took note of a small detail that would have been insignificant under any other circumstances, but now grabbed his attention – Jazz's back was turned towards him. Prowl's was not.
Yes. He could use that.
Firing up his thrusters to maximum power, he raced towards the five Autobots, suddenly coming at them at full speed, altitude so low that his underside was almost scraping against the ground, as if he were about to ram into them. It was a dangerous move, but the relaxed postures of his adversaries told him that they were already certain of their victory. With Megatron having called a retreat and his subordinates already following on his heels, it was unlikely that these Autobots were prepared to get their weapons up and ready to fire at him as he executed his little mock attack.
As Thundercracker had expected, the tactician was the first to spot the jet that was coming straight towards them at an alarming speed.
"Jazz, watch out!" Not waiting for the other to heed his warning, Prowl jumped and grabbed the other mech, pushing him onto the ground and out of harm's way, as Autobots were throwing themselves down all around them. The jet's nosecone turned upwards again, and as quickly as he had come, the Seeker sped off into the sky before any of the mechs could collect their bearings and start firing at him.
Well, indeed, Thundercracker thought as the refinery was turning into a tiny gray and brown dot below him. Out of all the four mechs that had been standing around the tactician, Prowl had chosen to protect Jazz. Not one of the others, all of which he had been comrades with for much longer.
Seems like you did manage to get things back on track after all, didn't you, Jazz?
The Seeker reveled in the warm rays of the sun that were beaming down on his wings, while cool, soothing currents of air caressed their sensitive plating. So between him and Jazz, the two disloyal renegades, at least one of them had been allowed to find happiness.
As much as Thundercracker loved to fly, sometimes he just preferred to sit on a slab of rock and stare up into the sky and marvel at the vast, endless expanse of nothingness that stretched out above him. It was a comforting idea – that no matter how small and insignificant he might be in the light of everything, this vastness was his to control and master. It was his element. It belonged to him.
And he had to admit; the sunsets of this planet were truly a sight to behold. Cybertron didn't have anything like it. It was amazing how a small strip just above the horizon slowly changed from bluish gray into a faint pink, almost reminiscent of energon. The pink then spread further upwards, painting the whole sky with its lustrous shade. As the sun set deeper, it grew into a glowing orb of fire waiting to be engulfed by the sea below, while the heavens turned into a full-out explosion of vibrant, golden red.
It was fascinating and soothing at the same time. Especially in the days that had followed Jazz's defection.
Word had quickly gotten around that Megatron harboured serious suspicions regarding Thundercracker's loyalties, and that Laserbeak had been ordered to run surveillance on the Seeker. As expected, the usual Decepticon selfishness had manifested itself in all his comrades. Mechs were afraid to be seen speaking with him, sitting next to him in the mess hall, and even being anywhere near him.
It was like a bizarre game – 'avoid the Seeker' – that everyone back at base played, each contestant participating with as much vigor as he could possibly muster.
But he could understand them. If Megatron eventually arrived at the conclusion that Thundercracker was indeed an unreliable Autobot sympathizer, nobody would want to be remembered as the mech that had last been seen socializing with him. It didn't matter if any of the 'Cons were themselves convinced of his innocence, it only mattered that the suspicions were there, and that they risked going down with Thundercracker should Megatron find too much of a connection between them.
He supposed he would get used to it sooner or later, although it was an uncomfortable experience, being ignored and avoided by everyone. Perhaps that was what being a ghost was like. If the others' optics didn't automatically turn to another direction whenever he showed up, they looked right through his chassis like he had been nothing more than a wisp of thin smoke. Wherever he was, he seemed to be contained in a bubble that no one dared to step inside of, as if doing so would obliterate them as well, turning them into unseen and unmentionable pariahs.
A tired sigh escaped him. Hopefully, Megatron would eventually grow tired of Laserbeak's empty reports and put the surveillance order to rest. Guilty as he might be of the charge of lackluster dedication and treacherous leanings, it was still all confined to his processor, and not even Laserbeak would be able to see inside of it, sneaky as the bird-bot was. He could put up a show loyal enough to convince his leader that the suspicions were a mistake.
It would still take a while, though. And until then, he would have no choice but to endure the dreary social quarantine he was currently in. But it was difficult. With Jazz gone and all his comrades avoiding him like cosmic rust, he had never before felt so pitifully... alone.
"Mind if I sit down?"
The question startled Thundercracker out of his self-pitying reverie. He had been too deep into his own thoughts to notice anyone approaching, and he silently scolded himself for being so inattentive of his own surroundings. But as usual, there was no need for him to look up to know who that voice belonged to.
Thundercracker's first instinct was to dismiss the other, as he would usually do, but in light of his recent experience of being actively avoided by everyone, he thought better of it. Under the current conditions, even Skywarp would almost be welcome company. Almost.
"Help yourself," he said with a noncommittal shrug, not taking his optics off the reddening sky before him, effectively ignoring the other mech.
As the other Seeker gingerly sat down next to him, Thundercracker steeled himself for the usual barrage of pointless blabbering that was Skywarp's trademark. But this time, it didn't come; instead the black and purple mech just sat there, looking up at the blazing sky together with his wingmate.
"Beautiful, huh?" Skywarp finally broke the long silence.
Thundercracker peered sideways at his companion, an optic ridge raised in faint surprise. It wasn't a comment he would ever have expected to hear from Skywarp.
His wingmate was right, though.
"Yes, it is beautiful," the blue and white Seeker agreed, averting his gaze back to the amazing palette of red and orange and pink spread out before him.
And as he watched the marvellous sunset, he had to admit that his wingmate voluntarily seeking him out and sitting down beside him had surprised him. Though Skywarp's processor usually prodded on at a rather leisurely speed, even he had to realize that fraternizing with a possible apostate could very well come back to bite him in the aft.
And yet, it seemed as if the Seeker didn't care. Out of all the Decepticons in the Nemesis, Skywarp had turned out to be the one exception. The only one who dared – or cared – to break the bleak isolation Thundercracker had been put into.
As they sat there sharing the silence and tranquility between them, an odd, weird thought started to take shape in Thundercracker's mind.
Perhaps he had never really seen Skywarp. The loathed, unwanted bond between them had always gotten in the way, obscuring the other from view. And maybe his resentment towards what had been forced upon him had automatically been projected onto his wingmate, regardless of whether he had deserved it or not.
The sharply clear, yet somehow vertigo-inducing thought seemed to have suddenly turned his whole world upside down. Skywarp had always been an annoyance, a nuisance that only served to remind him of the bond he had never wanted but whose effects he was forced to live with. After all the long years of preconceived notions, it was odd to ponder that perhaps there might be more to him than that.
The concept was novel, even revolutionary, to a mind that had been made up so long ago, resolutely having closed itself to anything that might challenge its self-crafted worldview. But, he realized, astonished by his own conclusions, perhaps Jazz wasn't the only one able to reevaluate his position and start all over again. And perhaps his friend was right – maybe a bond didn't necessarily have to be the horrible thing he had always thought?
The two remained sitting on the rugged gray surface of the rock, the tips of their wings touching slightly. It was strange how, for all the countless times he and Skywarp had bonded and interfaced with each other, this somehow seemed like a much more intimate moment.
So maybe Jazz was gone, but at least he still had Skywarp.
Normally, the thought would have made him groan in distress, but this time it made him experience a sobering, comforting feeling of relief. At least he wasn't alone. When it all came down to it, he still had his wingmate and trinemate. His bondmate.
The last rays of the dying, drowning sun had painted the magnificent canvas above in all possible shades of red and crimson, each colourful stripe seamlessly merging into its slightly differently shaded neighbour. He enjoyed the display; it was as if it had been made for his optics only, this slow but dramatic change of a Seeker's true element. Of his domain.
Well, his and Skywarp's domain, he supposed. He dared a glance towards his fellow Seeker, who was still staring at the breathtaking horizon in fascination.
"So, Skywarp," he said, a bit hesitant at first. Breaking the silence seemed slightly inappropriate, even indecent, but he thought better of it. "What do you say to a bit of late-night flying?" He indicated the glowing sky above him with an upward nod of his head and a slight raise of his optics ridges.
Skywarp grinned at him. "Wouldn't say no to that!"
Thundercracker stood up, his limbs feeling lighter than they had in a long time. Firing up his thrusters, he took off and transformed effortlessly, Skywarp at his side.
Together, they raced towards the flaming sky, claiming its wide expanse as theirs. The last rays of the setting sun reflected off their armour, and to someone watching from below they would only have appeared as two glowing dots, moving closely together in perfect synchronicity against the red canvas above.
End note: Well, that was the last chapter and the end to this story. And as the title implies, this final scene was what the whole story was meant to lead up to. It just took twenty chapters to get there. :) What prompted me to write this was that I couldn't help but feel sorry for poor Thundercracker in the prequel "Choices", being stuck in such a miserable situation, unwanted bonds and all. While it was the wake-up call that served to make Jazz decide to fight to get his relationship back on track with Prowl, I thought that Thundercracker also deserved to take something positive with him from that post-defection conversation of theirs, something that would help him change his outlook on things enough to turn his situation around for the better as well. So this fic was the result.
Anyway, thanks for your comments and feedback, everyone! I hope you have enjoyed reading this story!