21: Endings and Beginnings

"So!" Swoop said, approaching Starscream a week later. "I guess I'll be seeing you in about…what, three or four weeks or so?"

They were outside of Autobot Headquarters, and it was a lovely, crisp February morning, an hour or so after sunrise. Starscream paused in what he was doing, checking and then re-packing one last crate of supplies, and looked up at Swoop. Pale desert-morning sunlight glinted in tiny scintillas off of his highly-polished silver bits.

"Yes, I suppose so," he replied, his expression a bit surprised as he added, "You know, I'd almost forgotten about that."

"I'm flattered," Swoop answered dryly, her mouth twisting into a smirk, and it was only then that Starscream realized what his words must have sounded like to her.

"I didn't mean—" he started to respond, uncharacteristically flustered and rising swiftly from his crouch.

"I know," Swoop interrupted quietly, smiling serenely at him.

Starscream nodded, and then he said, "Just do me one little, tiny favor, my queen?"

"Of course," Swoop immediately answered.

"Not the rain forest again. Someplace dry, not filthy, and not crawling with…things…would be nice."

Unexpectedly, Swoop giggled, and it was endearingly childish. And then she meaningfully laid a hand over the left side of her upper abdomen.

"Actually, by then, I don't know that I'll want to be flying anywhere. So it just might have to be right there," she said, indicating with a slight backwards incline of her head the volcano that reared up behind her. "It's not exciting or exotic, but the climate control works every now and then. There's very little vermin unless you count Grimlock's various orphans, Bluestreak's cats, and all the humans underfoot. And I do have a nice, comfortable berth."

Starscream thought about that for a moment.

"I can handle that," he decided. "If they can," he added, gesturing with his chin at a few of the Autobots who were milling nearby.

"Oh, I'll make 'em behave," Swoop assured him, her eyes glinting at him.

"I have every confidence that you will," Starscream answered, and Swoop heard and appreciated the meaning behind his words before he added whimsically, "So! I'll bring the candles, then. And the flowers."

Swoop snickered.

"I suppose that makes me responsible for the selection of gooey love songs." After a moment's mock-serious thought, she shrugged and added, "Oh well. I'm sure Jazz would be willing to offer advice on that."

"And don't forget the energon," Starscream reminded her. "I'm going to be looking forward to that because ours is absolutely terrible!"

Swoop laughed. And then, not caring who might see, she stepped toward him, wrapped her arms around him, and held him tightly, silently. Starscream, surprised at first because of the very public venue, eventually settled his arms comfortably around her waist.

"You take care of yourself," Swoop advised him quietly but vehemently a moment later.

"Oh, don't worry," Starscream assured her. "I always look out for number one."

"And you keep an eye on Ratchet," Swoop further admonished him, still not quite believing that Ratchet had actually volunteered to go. Of course, he had also promised her – or perhaps it was a threat – that he'd be calling her every evening to make sure that she, her little one, and the medbay that he was leaving in her care for the duration were all surviving his absence.

"Believe me," Starscream was answering fervently, "your warning about irreparable damage to certain of my more well-liked systems is more than enough to induce me to watch over Ratchet like a hawk."

Swoop snickered at that. Then:

"Don't let Slag do anything stupid," she warned. "Because he will if you give him even an eighth of a chance, and I don't want him maiming or killing anyone. I already threatened him about it, but he'll likely need…reminding."

"Sure," Starscream answered, shrugging flippantly. "He's only about half-again as big as me, but I'll…sit on him or something."

Swoop chortled at the image that suddenly sprang to life in her mind, and then she buried her face in Starscream's chest for a moment before once again raising her gaze to his.

"And if you need anything, anything at all…" she murmured.

"I'll yell," Starscream assured her. "Loudly. Trust me."

And Swoop smiled up at him and said, suddenly very serious, "I do. Primus help me, but I do."

Starscream smiled back at her and then, also not caring who might see, he pulled her still closer into him and then bent down to kiss her. It was a tender kiss, full of feeling, full of unspoken and possibly frightening meaning, and it lasted for a long time. And then he let her go and determinedly stepped away from her. Swoop stared up at him in the aftermath, unable to move for a distressingly long moment, thoroughly dazed.

"Three weeks," Starscream said to her quietly but firmly, the words nothing less than a promise. "From today."

"I look forward to it," Swoop replied weakly, once she located her voice again and remembered what she was supposed to do with it.

"Me, too," Starscream answered simply and with an odd little smile.

And then, without further ado, he turned away from her, toward the party of mostly-warriors, all Autobots except for Starscream, who were gathering to head off into the lion's den that was Decepticon Headquarters at the moment, their mission an attempt to reunite the warrior caste.

"All right, everyone," he called out to them with more confidence than he felt. "Let's do this thing."

And Swoop watched, rooted to the exact spot where she'd stood when Starscream had walked away from her. She watched the group efficiently (because Prowl was overseeing the operation, even though he wasn't leaving) and quickly (because Starscream was impatient) gather up the supplies they'd collected and then load them into the cargo hold of a small auxiliary shuttle. Those who weren't fliers then boarded the shuttle, Ratchet offering Swoop a final little wave as he did so, which she returned with a sad little smile.

And then, suddenly, they were gone.

And Swoop felt empty. Almost. She laid one hand over her child; it had already become an ingrained habit.

Well then, little one, she thought resolutely to him. Like Starscream said, let's do this thing.

Squaring her shoulders, turning to the Autobots who had gathered behind her with Thundercracker standing off to the side, Swoop faced the first day of the rest of her life.

And that be all she wrote. Sort of. Actually, I have…*counts*…five other short stories already written in this continuity, but not all of them "happen" right after (or before, actually) this one. But they'll appear eventually. So…be on the lookout, if you're at all interested.

In the meantime, I want to thank anyone who made it all the way through this thing. I realize that AUs have limited appeal, by their very nature, that they're fun for the person who creates them, but not necessarily for anyone else. But I'm having fun with this, lots of fun, and if I can manage to entertain anyone else along the way…Well, that's all good. So, as I said, if you made it all the way through this one – It became a lot longer than I ever imagined that it would! – I really do thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I hope that you'll also enjoy the other things that will happen along the way, if you choose to read more.

Because, as you might be able to tell…it's pretty epic. As epic as "Redemption" and the universe it birthed was supposed to be, but…well, my writing partner rather bailed, out of necessity, due to Real Life. So…yeah. See y'all later.