Future Tense - Chapter Nine

Disclaimer: As ever, author neither claims nor intentionally implies ownership of the 'Transformers' brand, or any canon character or concept herein, who are copyright 1984-present Hasbro/etc and used with much love and respect to their creators.

Rather than trust a true-blue Autobot like Resector with his personal frequency, Thundercracker had planned on lurking in the relatives room until he got the all clear to go back and try talking to Skywarp again – and as ever, a certain aquatic councillor dumped a whole payload of spanners in his turbines. Waveguide seemed to have developed the capacity to sniff out the worst possible time to cause a stink, and then kick off about something completely trivial.

In response, Celerity volunteered a little of her off-time to "sparkling-sit" the reluctant patient. She claimed she had nothing better to do, and, well… while he suspected it was a bit of a white lie? He wasn't about to grill her for information and end up having her retract the offer. Besides, it'd save him some headaches in the long run, because no doubt his favourite councillor would use his absence to throw his considerable weight around and generally wreak havoc among his staff. The quicker he could nip this little problem in bud, the better.

He finally returned – emotionally exhausted, and frustrated, anticipating it all to flare straight back up in his absence – to find the big femme had parked up in one of the big chairs in the foyer, and apparently gone dormant through the continuing inactivity. A data-wafer dangled precariously from her slack fingers, and the surface of the low table in front had sagged alarmingly under the weight of her heavy heels. Well, at least that proved nothing had gone terribly wrong here, in his absence.

Thundercracker shook his head, amused in spite of his tiredness, and pinged one of the bristly antennae that spread from behind her left blinker. "This is 'keeping an eye on things', is it?" he teased, as her optics flickered and she hastily flopped her way semi-upright.

She garbled an apology that was barely discernible through the crackle of bootup distortions, and got up faster than her drowsy gyroscopes could keep up with; a second of arm-waving later, and she was back on her aft, and on the floor this time. "Vigil-… said wake if anyth-…?"

Thundercracker put out a hand and helped her regain her feet; this time, she managed to remain upright. "It's all right. Nothing's happened." He managed a tired little smile. "Thank you for staying."

Celerity smiled and shrugged, sheepishly. She mumbled something out of which "didn't really do a lot" was the only bit that came through particularly clearly, optics going embarrassedly bright, then about-faced and made a hasty exit before he could challenge her further.

The blue jet watched her disappear with a bemused sort of good humour before turning into the maze of pale corridors, to see precisely what his distressed wingmate had got up to (and more importantly, damaged beyond any hope of repair) in his absence.

His first few footsteps on the polished tiles echoed like gunshots in the quiet hallways. Thundercracker winced; quiet movement was clearly not what his hollow heels had been built with in mind, and for all his aerial grace, tiptoeing was somewhat beyond his capabilities. He continued his way down the corridor with an awkward, hesitant stride to minimise the noise he made, thankful that Skywarp wasn't watching because the mech would take the rise something merciless.

In spite of all the noise, Vigil seemed completely oblivious. He'd pulled his chair up to the door and scrambled to stand on it, trying vainly to peer through the little window into the room. If the lack of immediate response was anything to go by, all his attention was on the contents of the room, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.

"Vigil…?" Thundercracker prompted, hoping the smaller mech would at least respond to his name.

Thankfully, the anaesthetist glanced around and finally noticed him. "Oh – hello, superintendent. Is everything all right?"

"I was just about to ask you the same question." Thundercracker gestured to the door. "I'm assuming you managed to slip him some knockout drops."

"Hah, if only. No one could get close enough to sedate him. We had to just let him exhaust himself." The small mech reapplied his optic to the window. "I can't see him moving about any more, so I guess he's blown himself out."

"Is it all right if I go in to see him?" Thundercracker peered over Vigil's head at the little window; the fog of scratches made it hard to see more than a few abstract blurs.

Vigil gave him a despairing look and threw up his hands. "If you want." He dropped back to the floor and tugged the furniture out of the way. "He's been quiet for a breem or two, so I think he's done smashing the place up." He palmed the lock, and the door slid silently open. "Comm me if you need anything."

Thundercracker gave him a grateful pat on the shoulder, then squared his wings and slipped quietly sideways through the door.

…then winced, in spite of his best effort not to. Not one solitary piece of equipment had escaped the carnage, resulting in a layer of electronics that formed a treacherous, slippery carpet of loose wires and broken casing over the tiled floor. One of the supports for the berth was broken, leaving the heavy-duty structure slumped down in one corner, its waterproof cover torn into ribbons. Long, angry gouges marred the walls, streaked with black and grey undercoat that by now would have bonded irreversibly with the smooth plasterwork. The polymer-coated window was broken into an impressive spiderweb of cracks, bowing dramatically outwards, but had somehow remained in place in spite of the weight of Skywarp's fury against it. …It's gonna take a good few credits to put this lot straight, his subconscious reminded, unhelpfully.

At least the lock on the door had contained the destruction within the room. Resector had intentionally left Skywarp's weaponry physically disconnected – and with good reason, Thundercracker realised. He couldn't help wondering if the surgeon had contemplated this happening, or had simply done it because the Autobot instinct to not have a fully armed ex-Con at large in the hospital was still too strong.

Skywarp himself sat on the lopsided berth in the middle of the wreckage, staring forlornly out of the window over the district below, huddled up in blankets, silent now that his rage had blown itself out. He reminded Thundercracker of a newly-eclosed sparkling, lonely in his own plating – in a way, he guessed it wasn't too far off the mark.

Thundercracker lowered himself carefully to the ruined mattress, next to him, partly to avoid spooking his friend and partly in case the damaged furniture wasn't up to carrying both of them. "Skywarp…?"

Skywarp studiously ignored him, lips compressed into a thin, angry line, his gaze fixed into a half-heartedly hostile glare out of the window.

"Cybertron to Skywarp – hey? You in there, Warp?" He waved his hand in front of his friend's face, carefully ignoring the traces of moisture still clinging around the dim optics. "Come on, look at me? …please?"

The teleport refused to look up. "Go away. I'm not talking to you guys until you send me home," he said, hollowly. His vocaliser still creaked with vestigial static, like a poorly tuned radio.

Thundercracker swallowed a sigh. "We're trying, Warp. We're just-… it's really difficult. Screamer doesn't even understand how it happened, not properly. I'm not sure we-"

"Then I won't be talking to you ever again." The dim crimson glare slid fractionally sideways for an instant. "S'a shame. I used to like you. Guess everyone's just reverting to type, huh. You can take a mech out of the 'Cons…" His words dwindled off into disappointed, muttered invective.

Thundercracker pinched the prow of his nose; it was hard to keep the tired exasperation out of his voice. "You are home, Warp. I promise." He set a hand on his friend's shoulder, gently. "You're just… a bit further forward than you should be."

Skywarp jerked his shoulder, trying to dislodge the unwanted hand. "No I'm not. I'm in some… parallel fragging universe, where Thundercracker's a lying, cheating blue purge-valve who'll say anything to trick people into doing things they don't want." The pale brow furrowed as Skywarp's glare knitted itself deeper into his face. "Your Skywarp obviously swallows up all your lies with no question, over here, huh?"

Hurt, Thundercracker couldn't summon much of a response. Well, at least he's still talking, he consoled himself, guiltily taking his hand back. "…I suppose at least that's better than a parallel universe where Thundercracker doesn't give a frag about his bro."

"Stop calling me that." Skywarp at last looked up, glaring but without much heat. He waved a finger for emphasis, instead. "I'm not your stinking brother. Bros don't lie to each other like that."

Thundercracker met his glare, sadly. "I didn't do it to hurt you, Warp."

The corners of the teleport's optics had tightened again, and his lips pursed. "Screamer did. Useless, noisy fragger-"

"No he didn't."

"…I mean, gotta teach Little Stupid a lesson for trying to be smart somehow, huh. Bet he's been looking forwards to this the whole time I was gone-"

"Oh, come on, Warp You seriously believe that?"

The hesitation, reluctant shrug and little sidelong flicker in the crimson optics betrayed the dark jet's feelings.

"Starscream missed you just as much as I did. Maybe more, I don't know. He's just…" Thundercracker waved his hands, trying to conjure the words he wanted. "You know he can be like a brick when it comes to his feelings, and he's been depressed, lately."

"Oh big deal. When isn't he griping about something-"

"-I mean, clinically depressed. Maybe worse than I was." Thundercracker sighed. "He's just got no oomph, any more. He's tired, but he doesn't rest. He's not really interested in anything, any more. Just… works, and when he isn't at work he holes up in his office at home. I can't get him to go get help. I think he's of the opinion that if he does go and see a doctor, it's as bad as publically admitting he's struggling to cope." He studied his wingmate's pale face, reassured to note that the angry tension had begun to fade from his pinched expression. "He's looking a smidge more perky already, you know. Now we finally found you."

Skywarp's gaze slid sideways. "You're just saying that."

"No-o, I'm being honest."

"For a change."

Ouch. "…yeah, about that-…"

"You guys could have been honest with me in the first place, you know." Skywarp tucked up his stiff shoulders, uncomfortably, and huddled his blankets a little closer, as though to protect himself. "I know I probably wouldn't have actually got it, but you could have at least tried to tell me first, instead of just making slag up to trick me into it."

"We were worried about how you'd take it – both of us. We were… scared, I guess. That you'd get stubborn about it, dig your heels in and refuse to do anything, and insist on staying in that damaged, hurt old shell for the next vorn or two, until you literally fell apart." Thundercracker nudged wings. "I should stop being self-indulgent about it, because I know it's hard for you, I just-… you've been gone so long. It's been really hard to keep going for us, too." He set his fingers back on the dark shoulder, awkwardly. "I can't even explain how glad I am to have you back, at last. And properly you you, not just another stupid trick." He managed a sad, twisted little smile. "Feels like no matter what's happened in the past, since you vanished, it'll all be fine now, because we're all back together."

Skywarp mumbled something incoherent, and dropped his gaze to study his fingers, quietly. Weird, delicate little silver fingers – fingers that still felt like they belonged to someone else. "…I'm just so fragging lost, TC." His wings had drooped even lower. "Even being slagged by some fat-aft Autobot didn't suck this much." With a quiet sigh, he finally gave in, and flopped sideways into his friend. "I wanna go home," he reminded, unnecessarily.

Of course, Thundercracker realised, belatedly. For a mech so used to knowing exactly where he is… We might tell him he's home, but from his point of view he might as well be on some alien planet. All those conflicts are probably making things countless times worse. He mantled an arm across his friend's shoulders, making sure keep his static field as smooth as possible.

"I was just getting used to living here, out of the war and one step up from an empty, and bam, it's all changed around again," Skywarp went on, in the continuing silence. "I'm stuck in this cheap-aft plastic refit, feeling like a stiff, sore party balloon, with you guys bullying me. I've missed out a great big chunk of my life, the end of the war and my brats growing up, and to top it all I don't even know where I am, not properly, not any more. You've moved everything around and my maps don't match up. I feel like I'm running around with half my senses yanked out."

"Well, we can fix that, no problem. You can come sit in my office and look at all the maps you like, soon as you're out." Thundercracker promised. "The station server's chock full of all the most up-to-date information you could want."

Skywarp gave him an ever so slightly reproachful look. "See, that's not helping my brain either," he reminded, quietly. "I mean-…" Sigh. "We've been a unit for thousands of Vorns, and I don't even know you guys, any more. And don't tell me I do," he elevated his voice before Thundercracker could protest. "Because frag, you're sure not the guys I knew before I fell off the planet."

"We haven't changed that much. We're still the same, inside-"

Skywarp snorted a laugh, but it was a sour, disbelieving sound. "Aw, come on, TC. We were three lost ex-Cons who'd just managed to scramble our way out of a friggin' war, struggling to get used to this new life, and not spontaneously fall to bits or kill anyone." He gestured with a hand. "Last time I saw you, the shrink had only just decided you weren't gonna try and top yourself. Now you look all... official. Important. You've probably even got Prime's underlings saluting you, now."

"...well, that did take a very long time to get used to-"

Skywarp forced a grim smile and shook his head. "See? And you say you guys haven't changed."

Thundercracker remained silent. It was hard to come up with a rebuttal for that.

"And Lucy – a friggin' doctor? That's a mindfuck in itself, right there." Skywarp threw up his hands, despairingly. "How in Pit did she get to be smart enough for that?"

"She's mostly good at finding her patients," Thundercracker soothed. "She's got your speed, and your head for direction. The rest involves being enthusiastic with a welding torch."

Skywarp watched glumly out of the window as distant aircraft drew bright trails through the sky. "…I promised I'd teach her to fly, TC."

"She was in good hands. We shared the responsibility, me and Screamer. I did most of it, but when he was in an amenable mood he showed her some more complicated manoeuvres." Watching the dark wings droop a little further, Thundercracker added, quietly; "for what it's worth, she was pretty set on waiting for you to come back so you could teach her. She stayed with her feet planted firmly on the dirt for almost twelve vorns."

Skywarp sighed grimly. "I'm not sure if that doesn't make me feel worse," he admitted. "My impatient little brat changes the habit of a lifetime, and I still let her down." Beat. "And then I was pretty damn mean to her, too."

"She knows you didn't mean it." Thundercracker ran a hand gently down the teleport's wings. "And if I know Lucy as well as I think I do? She'll forgive you."

Skywarp leaned into the comforting touches. "I missed out on seeing both of 'em grow up."

"You didn't miss a whole lot. Mostly… whining and tantrums. Or whiney tantrums."

Skywarp hesitated for a second before wondering; "You sure that's not Starscream you're thinking about, there?"

Thundercracker glanced down at him, and the carefully inscrutable face, and decided that yes, the dark jet was trying to lighten the mood and be vaguely humorous. He gave him a squeeze across his shoulders, and chuckled softly.

For a while, a peaceful quiet reigned, the two friends watching clouds move slowly through the sky outside, content in each other's company.

It was hard to know what thoughts might be buzzing through Skywarp's head at the best of times, Thundercracker mused, and after a shock like he'd just endured? Goodness only knew what he was thinking about. (Actually, that was probably a lie – he was probably thinking mostly about "how to get home". The schemes he was cooking were likely every bit as outrageous as normal, though.) Still, it was reassuring to note that the new wings had stopped trembling, the prickly field had smoothed out, and he actually looked somewhat relaxed.



Skywarp gave him a long, lost sort of look before finally speaking, quietly. "…can I come home yet?"

That the physios would raise Pit if his friend self-discharged, Thundercracker had no doubt, but the blue jet was confident he knew the basics of what they'd teach Skywarp – Pit, he'd been through it all himself enough times! "Sure. Soon as you get that shiny lurid purple topcoat in place."

"It's not lurid," Skywarp argued, but there was a tiny flicker of hope in his voice at last. "Purple's stylish."

"…it's lurid, Skywarp. We can see you coming a mile off…"


Exactly as predicted, the physiotherapists were not happy at Skywarp's announcement that he was leaving, but the teleport got support from an unexpected quarter. Resector loudly announced that the flying nuisance couldn't go quick enough, for his liking, and after a couple of final structural tweaks, very nearly carried his patient down to the repainting suite himself.

…aaaand now he was in one functioning whole, all painted up in the right colours, polished and shiny, and on the point of finally leaving…? That one last step out the door and out of the clinic? Felt horribly final. Pass those doors, and you never go home. He hesitated on one leg, pointing his toes out into the corridor. You accept this, and you accept it all.

"Did I miss a spot...?"

He shot a glance back over his shoulder. "Huh?"

The artist waved her sprayer; small droplets of purple gloss spattered down from the nozzle to mix with the black already marring her red exterior. "If I missed a spot, I can give you another quick spritz."

"Oh, that. Uh. No." How did a mech explain something like this without sounding stupid? I'm scared to leave, in case they forget I don't belong here. "S'fine. Just... preoccupied." He forced a smile. "Thanks, I guess."

The low tok tok of his heels alerted Thundercracker to his approach long before the two could see each other; the blue Seeker was already up on his feet and waiting expectantly for him.

"Ha." The pale face broke into a toothy grin. "Welcome back, Skywarp."

"Pfsh." Catching a glimpse of his reflection in the big decorative black glass panels lining the main reception, Skywarp hesitated to examine his new look properly for the first time.

Ok, he admitted to himself, reluctantly, head perked, turning first one way and then the other. It wasn't so bad. He looked like… well… like himself, really, but after walking through a hall of mirrors. Slightly skinnier, slightly leggier, with finer wings, a narrower chassis, and less cockpit. Actually, that probably wasn't a cockpit at all, because there was no space behind it – so it was mostly an access window. He figured it made sense, after Screamer had harped on about efficiency, making provision for passengers in spite of probably never needing to carry them seemed… counter-productive?

Just felt really odd, looking in a mirror and not seeing himself. It was the part of getting a new alt that he'd never got used to in the past, and this was no different. The new datasets he was operating under felt awkward and wrong, and he had to work hard at just not involuntarily rolling his databases back to something that felt normal.

"Well?" Thundercracker prompted.

"Well… what?" Skywarp met his friend's gaze via his reflection.

"Well, what do you think? Now you're up and about and actually wearing it?"

Skywarp wrinkled his nose. "I dunno. I still feel wobbly." He swayed about from foot to foot, for emphasis. "These alloys are all too light. S'like you filled my tanks with helium, or something."

Thundercracker laughed and gave him a slap on the shoulder. "Well you won't float off, if that's what you're worried about."

Skywarp wrinkled his nose, dubiously, folding his arms and trying to affect a good old-fashioned Decepticon holier-than-thou smirk. "I feel like a dork." To his dismay, he looked more like an uneasy sparkling in his first alt mode. Puffing out his chassis and closing his hands into fists didn't help. "I look like a dork. When does it stop feeling like I'm in someone else's body?"

"You'll get used to it pretty quickly, so long as you stop fighting the dimensional primers they gave you." Thundercracker smiled, ironically.

Skywarp poked out his tongue. "Voice of experience?"

"Ha, if only you knew. I had to go through all this nonsense four times, before Screamer finally gave up trying to design something as fuel-efficient as he wanted and with trilateral symmetry."

Skywarp gave him a blank look.

"Errr, triangular. Like we used to be," Thundercracker corrected himself, and the blank look vanished.

"And he made you go through it four times?" Skywarp echoed, brows arched. "If he'd said I had to go through this any more than once, I'd have told him to go stick it up his-"

Thundercracker interrupted before Skywarp could get too vulgar. "I know you would have," he snerked, giving him a playful elbow. "I thought it was only fair to take my turn as the… the 'guinea pig'. He used himself the first half dozen times, until he worked out that he couldn't do tweaks as easily as he wanted. Secretly?" He tapped his nose, as though imparting a terrible secret. "I don't think he wanted to succeed, then be unable to replicate it for himself."

Skywarp snorted a laugh, then frowned. "What's a guinea pig?"

Thundercracker was already heading for the open main doors. "We're going to miss all what's left of the orn's sunshine at this rate."

"No, seriously, TC. What's a guinea pig?" Skywarp chased him across the foyer, trying not to look too awkward – although he couldn't have looked that bad, he figured, because right in the periphery of his vision, he caught a little cluster of staff hastily turning back to their work, trying not to make it too obvious they'd been ogling. He felt his lips curve ever so slightly upwards. See? You still got it where it counts.

Thundercracker stood at the head of the long flight of steps down to the road. "You'd really rather have me discussing Earthly pets with you instead of getting a bit of wind back under your wings?"

Skywarp stepped out onto the stairs, and drew cool evening air through his venting. Okay, it did feel kinda nice out here. Soothed a bit of the prickly heat in his core. "Iiii guess it can wait."

Thundercracker nudged wings. "Let's go for a fly, eh. Blow some of that dust out. Bet you've been going crazy, stuck on the ground all this time."

"Ha." Skywarp elected not to mention that well, he'd been kinda distracted, of late. "You trust me not to crash this new frame you all spent so many credits on getting for me?" He paddled his feet on the spot, hesitant; it was a longish flight of steps, in front, and it'd hurt like Pit if he fudged it and fell.

"Sure." Thundercracker grinned. "C'mon, we might be 'useless, wibbly Neutrals', now, but we're still Seekers – right? Best of the best."

"Ha, right." Skywarp bared his denta in an uneasy grin, the expression not mirrored in his optics. All the flight protocols were in there, and he could see how things were meant to work, it just... well... what was the phrase, believe it when I see it? Just more feel it than see it, because he'd seen Thundercracker flying, and...

"I'm gonna let the side down, aren't I," he observed, glumly. "Hello ground, this is nose."

"You are not. Going. To crash. I promise." Thundercracker soothed, a hand on his friend's shoulder. "No-one else has – not even any of the inexperienced guys we've been digging up in Vos – so why'd it be different for you?"

"Because they're not stupid?"

"Oh, stop being a wart." Thundercracker rolled his optics. "None of your flight calculations have changed, it's just a little bit of the mechanics. It's not like you need to worry about transforming yet – just get used to how it feels in the air."

"Since you snatched me out of the claws of the physios, I'll probably strain something, anyway," Skywarp agreed. "Pit, the fewer chances they get to jump around on me, the better." He glanced down to examine his heels, and their (weedy) little thrusters. "So how do I do this, anyway…?"

"Well, not with them. The bulk of your thrust comes from your wings, now," Thundercracker explained, launching himself gracefully into the air with a little whoosh of cold air. "Your thrusters are more just for direction."

"Right." Skywarp engaged his vanes, cautiously, running a low current across the surface. The feel of cold air being dragged across the surface reassured him; boldly, he ramped it up the power a little, and finally managed an enthusiastic (if ungainly) lurch into the air. Ha! It works.

"See? Easy." Thundercracker grinned, pleased. "Told you so."

"Yeah, yeah." Skywarp vibrated his vents in a raspberry, concentrating on not-stalling.

It was… easier to get used to than he'd thought it was going to be. His wingmate was right – it was mostly the origin of his thrust that was different – although the urge to use the silly little thrusters in his heels took some squashing. A lighter frame meant crosswinds had more impact, but then even the experienced Thundercracker was getting buffeted a little by the playful breeze that threaded its way down the streets.

Cresting above the rooftops, Skywarp finally got his first good look at 'home'. The sinking sun had begun to cast everything with an unrealistically-romantic amber glow, and a solitary flier – Lucy? Skywarp wondered, not quite wanting to ping it and see if it was her just yet – had threaded the sky with brilliant contrails. A lot of the derelict old buildings he remembered had vanished, replaced by large open spaces just waiting to be built on, and those that remained standing had been re-clad and refurbished, tidied into shabby but inhabitable structures. In the distance he could just about see a handful of new residential zones, the low-lying areas of building work probably designed with vertiginous groundlings in mind.

"What's the percentage, then?" Thundercracker wondered, gliding alongside. "How much of your maps match up?"

Skywarp frowned, thoughtfully, and shook his head, quickly surveying the ground he could see. "Not much. It's mostly that stuff has gone, you know? There's a load more buildings on my maps than this."

"A lot of the structures were unsafe. Better to knock them down, before they fell down on someone." The blue jet agreed, rolling elegantly with a crosswind. "Bits were already dropping off them, every time the wind blew. It's not like losing them has made any difference, haha. Just neatened the place up."

"I guess, if you say so. Place looks…" Skywarp hesitated, trying to think of the word he wanted.

"Good?" Thundercracker prompted.

Skywarp looked askance at him. "Infested." He curled his lip. "What is the deal with all the green smeltery, anyway?" He waved a careful arm at the closest residential block, between which two trees had been planted in enormous pots; they shivered and flickered their leaves in the breeze.

Thundercracker had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. "Starscream's master plan, supposedly. He's trying to work out a way of harnessing the way plants capture sunlight, so he can use it to help rectify the energy crisis. As a side benefit, they're helping improve the air and stabilising the ground." He spread his hands. "Most people just see it as a little bit of extra colour in the district."

"You're telling me you like having the stupid bits of green fluff around?" Skywarp gave him a glare. "It's like... Day of the Triffids, or something. And that's ignoring all the bits of waste matter they drop everywhere."

"Oh, I don't know." Thundercracker shrugged, amiably. "It's… calming, I guess. And yeah, people seem to like 'em. The leaves are easy enough to sweep up. Plus it hides some of the worst derelict bits, makes the place look less broken."

"Just makes it look like we're being invaded, instead. Fantastic. Figures you'd like it." Skywarp bravely nudged wings, and managed to completely unbalance himself, stalling dramatically and having to scramble to catch himself before the next building could.

"Yeah yeah, just because you're a classless amalgam of spares..." Thundercracker dipped his wings and began his descent. "Here we are. You ready for a drink?"

"Primus, am I ever..."

The three-storey property they were now approaching was set a few strides back from the road, among a cluster of similar buildings – with one notable exception. It looked like it had once been two smaller houses, but the central dividing wall had been knocked down, and a portion of the upstairs floor removed to make a single very large open living space. The solid roof and the bulk of the front wall had gone entirely, over the open central section and the personal rooms on either side, replaced by an enormous skylight made of clear, tough crystal to keep the planet's weather at bay, with a tree in a big pot standing towards the rear of the atrium, its finely divided leaves stretching up in a salutation to the sky. A mezzanine floor ran around three sides, with individual rooms off to the left and right.

Skywarp couldn't help his smile; designed by Seekers, for Seekers. If you couldn't get high up, you made things as open as possible. Must get an awesome view of the stars, of an evening. "Nice pad," he observed, genuinely. "Verry nice. Kinda surprised that you ain't slumming it with Sepp, any more, though."

"Ah, they had to downsize, what with her illness and all." Thundercracker swung his feet up, and touched delicately down on the square of bare land in front of the giant glass window. "This works better for everyone. Plus, she's less likely to trip over us."

Deep in concentration, and trying not to wobble too dramatically, Skywarp landed with a half-deliberate inelegant thump, staggering into his fellow jet. Well-practiced, Thundercracker managed to steer him away from the window before the dark mech could crash into it, and instead through the well-disguised doorway into the main atrium.

The tree at the far end immediately claimed Skywarp's attention. "You've even got the smelt indoors?" He gave the tree a flick with a stiffened finger. In response, it folded its leaves up, as though alarmed. "Screamer and his friggin'… green stuff. There's gotta be better ways to take over the planet." He leaned back on his heels and gazed up at the way the top leaves brushed the glass ceiling. "Where does he get them from anyway?"

"Skyfire sends them, mostly."

Skywarp double-taked. "What? The... that dorky shuttle Screamer's always trying to kill?"

"Yeah, we get a little shipment from one place or another about every two orbital rotations," Thundercracker confirmed, with a little nod. "They... occasionally share a couple of words over the long-distance transmitter about them, mostly jargon. I try and keep out of it, heh."

"Aw, man, Screamer." Skywarp cackled, quietly. "The mech sends you flowers and you still won't talk to him? AND you keep the present? That's so cheap."

"Yeah, no. Not touching that one." Thundercracker snorted, and jerked his head at one of the rooms in the rear of the building. Looked like a domestic storage facility of some sort. "High grade?"

The teleport felt his pumps cramp pleasantly at the thought.

Thundercracker laughed, recognising agreement in his friend's face. "Something cool and restorative, coming right up. Go park your aft, Warp, I'll be right back..."

After doing just one single investigative orbit of the giant indoor-outdoor lounge, Skywarp decided detailed investigations could wait until morning. He cast himself down on the closest couch, tiredly, and dumped his heels onto the low table in front. Nice pad, sure. Looked... expensive. Comfortable. That slinky, fashionable refit he now wore, too. Stiff and sore, sure, but he felt sharper than he had. More alert.

And he'd never felt more lost, and alone, and uncomfortable.

So much had happened that he'd just missed completely, he might as well have been buried in Vos with all the other jets that had waited out the interminable stretch of the war. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to bleed off a little pressure in his cortex, but his head was already throbbing. It was like waking up from complete stasis, and finding the world had moved on without you. Like? Frag, it was waking up from a coma. Product of a long-dead society, still living in the distant past, dumped down in a world where nothing was like he remembered. Every time he thought he was getting to grips with it, along came another punch from his blindspot. I just... don't belong here.

"You're not going to rest somewhere more comfortable?" A voice spoke by his shoulder, and he glanced up to watch Thundercracker set a tall flask carefully down on the table close to his elbow; condensation had already covered the brushed chrome with artful squiggled of moisture.

"I've been laying flat for like, at least the last hundred orns, TC. Kinda wanna just sit and look at the stars for a bit." See how much they've moved since I last saw them.

The blue Seeker nodded, and pinged a command at the lights, dimming them down almost all the way out. A thousand extra stars emerged from the dark vista overhead. "Pretty awesome view, huh."

Skywarp managed a small smile. "No energon for you?"

"Nah. I'm fairly well topped up. Just have to do a full defragment before morning, as I've got a meeting with a boat to look forwards to." Thundercracker curled his lip, involuntarily.

"I'll give him a kick in the skidplate for you. I'll find something high to drop him off."

His friend at least managed a smile. "Waveguide's bad enough already, without feeding his paranoia. He needs no excuses whatsoever to wind his grapples tighter around my budget." Sigh. "Guess I'll just sit and listen to him rant, for a bit. He likes the sound of his own vocaliser even more than Starscream..."

Skywarp had already sunk into a torpor with his face turned up to the stars by the time Thundercracker decided it was about time to go and get his own thoughts straight. He sighed and propped his head on an elbow, listened to the low hum of his friend's fans, cycling quietly in near-stasis. What he'd give to work out what grim thoughts had been churning in the teleport's dark helm. That Skywarp was still far from happy? Didn't exactly take Cybertron's greatest brains to work out, but it would take a sharper brain than his, right now, to pry the exact details out of him.

The door in the rear of the property rattled, and he looked up just in time to watch Pulsar stagger drunkenly into the wall and stare blearily back at him for an instant, before overcompensating in the opposite direction. She promptly dove headfirst into the back of an armchair. "…ow."

"Lemme guess; you went out to celebrate, your sibs out-drank you, and abandoned you in a bar." The blue jet peered down behind the chair at the heap of white plating in the doorway.

"I left them, actually. I said I was comin' home to see Warp." In spite of her efforts to the contrary, Pulsar seemed to just be tying herself into a more tangled knot of limbs. " 'm totally-... ngh, sober."

"Course you are. Lightweight." Thundercracker scooped her up out of the doorway; Starscream was due home at any minute and he'd only end up repeating what the femme had just done – although it would have been noisier, and probably with added violence.

"Donchoo make fun of me, flyboy." She waved a threatening finger at him; the effect was ruined by the obvious fact that her optics were focused on some point over his shoulder instead of his face. "I jus' have little tanks."

"…like I say. Lightweight." He grinned and plopped her down on top of Skywarp. "If you came back to see him, you better get to seeing before your fuel-handling knocks you out. It'll take you a while to integrate all that excess you've got sloshing around in you."

Skywarp had startled awake at finding his lap suddenly occupied. "What the-"

As if by way of explanation, Pulsar vocalised a stuttery purr and snuggled better against him. "...mmm, missedyou." She rubbed her cheek against his chest.

Skywarp stared down at her for several long moments. "What?"

"Overindulged." Thundercracker threw a thermal foil at the pair. It unfolded in flight and flopped untidily across Skywarp's legs. "I think she and her siblings went out to celebrate getting you back, at last."

The teleport snorted and snagged the blanket in the tips of his fingers, tidying the sprawl of limbs across his lap a little better before draping it over them both. "Since when do bikes need an excuse to get hammered." The small body was a prickly but oddly comfortable presence in his arms.

Thundercracker chuckled. "Yeah, yeah. G'night, you two." He gave his wingmate's shoulder a squeeze. "Sleep well, eh?"

Skywarp leaned his helm sideways, resting it against his friend's hand. Quietly, he commented; "...thanks, TC."

"It's nothing. I'm just glad you're back, Warp."