Greetings! Sorry for the delay. I was having some major technical problems with my laptop so writing was basically impossible. Thanks for sticking around!

Quick Note: Just wanted to say thank you to the people that sent me messages letting me know about "Second Chances" appearing on Archive Of Our Own. No worries! That is my profile there. I just decided to post several of my favorite stories there as a sort of backup and update my pen name to FistsForHire. (Unfortunately, I don't play lacrosse anymore so LAXgirl isn't very applicable anymore but too many people know me by that name for me to change it here now.)

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Scientific Conference

"Here is the most up-to-date official decree concerning Vosian immigration and citizenship issued by the Emirate as you requested, Ambassador," Starfall said, extracting a data pad from the pile of documents nestled in the crook of his arm. He laid the data pad on the edge of the desk. "As well as the latest numbers from the High Council's study of inter-city migratory and mating statistics. And a roster of bonded couples currently awaiting citizenship status changes."

Two more data pads joined the first on the edge of the desk.

Draxil nodded appreciatively. "Thank you, Starfall." The older mech vented a heavy sigh as he stared at them. "You know when I first took the position of Ambassador to Vos I didn't expect it to come with quite so many duties. I thought it would entail more high profile responsibilities like treaty negotiations and cultural exchange programs. Not endless meetings with legal councilors and immigration negotiations."

Starfall offered the Senator a wry but commiserating smile. "Who would have thought the opening of Vos would eventually result in so many bots looking for love in other places?"

Draxil gave a soft snort as he leaned back in his chair and picked up one of the data pads Starfall just set down for him. "Apparently eighteen according to this latest roster. That's how many couples are currently petitioning to update one of the bot's citizenship to Iaconian due to a recent sparkbonding. And this report only covers the last six lunar cycles."

"That's only how many are looking to become Iaconian citizens," Starfall pointed out. "From some sources I have on the Vosian side of things, there are almost twice as many looking to become Vosian citizens – or at least hold duel citizenships - because their sparkmate is Vosian."

Draxil vented another sigh. "I wish the Emirate would lighten some of the stipulations on non-native Vosians obtaining permanent legal status in Vos. It would make our jobs so much easier…"

"To be fair," Starfall delicately pointed out, "the stipulations on native Vosians obtaining permanent legal status in Iacon and other city-states are not that much easier. An old friend of my fathers' is bonded to a Vosian femme. Both of them have been trying to gain duel citizenship in each other's cities for vorns, but because they split their residence between Vos and Iacon on work-related visas neither has been granted citizenship on the basis of non-continuity of residence. They're currently expecting a sparkling and it's unlikely it'll automatically be granted duel citizenship once it comes online given the current wording of the law. The sparkling will probably face the same challenges as its creators to be recognized as a full citizen in both cities."

"Sounds like a lot of unnecessary red tape to me," Draxil sighed. "In any case, this is a matter for tomorrow's me." The older mech stood from behind his desk. "I think that's enough for today. You can leave whatever else I have you working on for tomorrow."

Starfall nodded as the ambassador began to tidy the piles of data pads and reports on his desk. "Don't forget you have a meeting with the Vosian trade commissioner at twelve hundred joors tomorrow. And then a meeting with the legal councilor of that mech that was caught smuggling illicit substances across Vosian borders last lunar cycle immediately after. They're petitioning our office to help them plea for extradition back to Iacon for the mech to stand trial."

Draxil scoffed dismissively. "If that mech didn't want to be held in a Vosian prison he should have thought of that before trying to move fifteen hundred kilos of powdered synthex across inter-city borders in his subspace compartment. But I guess we'll hear his legal counsel out before dismissing the petition. Vos does have extremely harsh laws concerning drug smuggling…"

With a flick of his finger, Draxil powered off his computer terminal. As Starfall turned to leave the ambassador's office and return to his own desk in the suite's foyer Draxil called after him. "I don't think I've said it yet, Starfall, but I'm extremely glad I hired you as my assistant. Things were a bit on the chaotic side of things before Senator Defcon convinced me to get an assistant. Looking back, I don't know how I managed everything myself before you came. You've been a gift from Primus."

Starfall offered the ambassador a smile. "Thank you for saying so, Sir. I don't think I've said it myself, but I enjoy this job immensely. I wouldn't want to work in any other High Council department. I consider this my dream job."

"That's good to hear," Draxil replied. "Who knows where you'll move up to from here in the next couple vorns..." Before Starfall could dwell on the ambassador's observation, Draxil changed the subject. "Any plans for tonight?"

"Actually, yes," Starfall replied as he and Draxil walked together to front portion of the office suite that acted as a reception area and Starfall's work area. "I'm meeting an old friend to go to a scientific conference. It should be extremely interesting. He and his team returned last lunar cycle from a scientific expedition to a small planetoid in the Keiber system. They're presenting their findings tonight and my friend invited me to see."

"How interesting," Draxil nodded. "I remember now Prime once mentioning you were interested in science. I hope you enjoy the conference."

"I plan to," Starfall said, setting the remaining stack of data pads in his arms onto his desk. He would deal with them tomorrow when he came back. "Have a good evening, Ambassador. I'll lock up the office."

"Thank you. You as well. Until tomorrow." With that, Draxil slipped out the door.

Starfall sat at his desk. Despite Draxil dismissing him for the day he still had several things he needed to finish before leaving for the evening. Considering everything he managed for the ambassador Starfall marveled how Draxil had managed without an assistant for as long as he had. Draxil had had secretaries over the vorns, but never a true assistant who he'd trusted with writing his press releases, compiling reports, or working directly with him in his statecraft. The older mech must have gotten tired with dealing with everything himself.

Starfall was just glad he'd been able to get the position before anyone else. He'd been serious when he'd told Draxil this was his dream job. Vos had been a second home to him ever since he was a sparkling. So to be able to help facilitate the peaceful cooperation between Iacon and Vos brought him indescribably fulfillment. His trinemates Cloudburst and Thunderclap had certainly been excited for him as well when they'd heard he'd gotten the job. "Now we will get to see each other every orn," Cloudburst had informed him when they'd found out. Cloudburst worked in his father, Prince Cloudbreaker's, office in the High Council Tower, and Thunderclap more often than not was on assignment to Iacon as a member of Vos's detachment to the Cybertronian Defensive Air Force. Working in the High Tower Starfall saw his trinemates almost every orn, at least in passing, as well as his father.

Starfall couldn't think of a better suited job for him. Since he'd started working at the Tower, he'd heard rumors from several different senators and High Council members that Draxil was looking to retire from politics sometime in the near future. Starfall hoped if he was able to prove himself and learn enough from the older mech he might be able to put his own name forward as a possible successor for Draxil as the next Ambassador to Vos.

Finishing his last email, Starfall glanced at the chronometer on the wall. Perfect. He had just enough time to leave the Tower and meet Skyfire at the Science Institute.

Starfall's spark did a happy little flutter in his chest at the thought. In the chaos of finding his own domicile, moving, and starting his new job at the High Council Starfall had had very little time to dwell on the upcoming science conference. But now that it was finally here Starfall could barely contain his excitement. He'd almost thought Skyfire had forgotten about inviting him until the deca-cycle prior when Skyfire had unexpectedly comm'ed him one evening to see if he was still interested in going. Of course he was, he'd readily told the older mech. With date, time, and meeting place now confirmed, Starfall had barely made it through the last deca-cycle without wanting to inwardly squirm with excitement every time he thought about the upcoming conference.

As he'd told Skyfire at the Anniversary Party he hadn't been to a scientific presentation since he'd graduated from High Academy. He'd always loved scientific conferences. Others he knew would have called such presentations boring, but to Starfall they were fascinating. Where else could he be in a room full of scientifically minded individuals looking to share their work and latest findings? Without going to the conference, he would otherwise have had to wait until the team published their findings. Starfall was just grateful Skyfire had offered him the invitation to attend. He owed the giant mech for this.

As Starfall shut down his work terminal and headed for the door he couldn't quite stop himself from glancing in the mirror that hung on the far wall as he passed. He hoped he hadn't overdone it that morning in the wash rack. He'd been so excited for the conference he'd decided to use some of Sunstreaker's special polish. His plating radiated a high glossy shine. He'd also put on his favorite set of planetary rings and a new set of wing stripes. The silver stacks of rings contrasted nicely with the fresh polish Starfall thought. He absentmindedly wondered if Skyfire would like it.

As soon as the thought crossed his mind Starfall shook it away. How silly. Why would Skyfire care how he looked? The shuttle was taking him to a scientific presentation, not a fashion show. Skyfire had never indicated he cared about fashion or appearances. His main concern was science and the workings of the universe. Nonetheless, Starfall couldn't quite stop himself from readjusting his planetary rings to lay a bit more attractively around his wrist joints.

Locking the door to the office suite, Starfall hurried for the bank of lifts that would take him down to street level. While the High Tower's roof had a landing pad, it was only accessible to those with high security clearance, which Starfall did not have. Open access to the Tower from above was considered a security risk, especially now that there were so many bots in Iacon who could fly. So even for bots like him that would have preferred to leave from the roof, he had go down to street level first to leave the building before taking to the sky. Starfall understood the security reasoning behind such a rule (he'd grown up with Ironhide – his family's self-appointed bodyguard – after all), but that still didn't quite stem the rush of annoyance from having to go out of his way to get to the sky.

Starfall pressed the call button for a lift. Almost immediately an empty car dinged open to his right. He stepped inside and turned to face out. For a moment he thought he had the car to himself before another bot suddenly appeared in the doorway and slipped inside just as the doors began to close.

"Perfect timing!" the mech laughed as he took a spot beside Starfall in the lift.

Starfall would have been lying if he'd said his spark didn't drop at his unexpected companion's arrival. The mech's name was Tarmac, a younger assistant hire to the High Council like himself. A standard four-wheel model, Tarmac had a nondescript grey and blue paintjob. Starfall was pretty sure he worked for one of the Council's inter-city trade boards, but wasn't entirely sure. Since starting at the High Council Starfall had crossed paths with Tarmac like this more times than what felt like normal coincidence would have allowed. Whether it be on the lifts, in the lobby, or in the Tower's energon commissary for breaks, Starfall seemed to "run into" Tarmac on almost a daily basis. The frequency of it made Starfall suspicious.

"I was almost sure I was one of the last bots in the Tower," Tarmac said conversationally as the lift began its descent. "Looks like I was wrong. Did you get stuck working late too?"

"A bit," Starfall replied.

Tarmac abruptly edged closer to Starfall, so close that the back of his arm lightly brushed against the front Starfall's right wing. "I like Senator Malware but she's always sticking me with last minute things she needs done. She has two other assistants like me working in the department but she always seems to single me out for the things. Does Ambassador Draxil do that to you?"

"Um… no," Starfall murmured. "I'm the ambassador's only assistant, so it's just me to make sure everything's done and on schedule. Sometimes that means I have to stay late to make sure everything's done."

"That's so admirable of you," Tarmac said, leaning even closer. "I think responsibility is such an attractive feature in another bot. Don't you think so?" He stared intensely into Starfall's optics as if trying to directly mine the information from Starfall's processor himself.

"Um… ugh huh," Starfall uncomfortably mumbled. He was currently fighting with himself not to instinctively step away from the other mech. This was one of the reasons he quietly dreaded being cornered by Tarmac – the other mech seemed to have no sense of personal space. Every time Starfall saw him Tarmac seemed to always end up close to him and accidentally brush against his wings.

Starfall wasn't sure if Tarmac was like this with everyone or just him, but he didn't like it. Ever since he was a child he didn't like unfamiliar bots touching his wings. Even an accidental brush against another in a crowded room was enough to make Starfall's wings unconsciously fold down against his back and leave his back struts quivering with tension. His father once hypothesized it was probably due to what happened to him as child when his wings had been so badly injured they had to be temporarily removed. Even if he didn't remember the initial trauma of his attack Starfall had never forgotten the orns spent afterwards laying in agonizing pain in the hospital.

Oblivious to Starfall's discomfort, Tarmac went on. "I consider myself an extremely responsible bot. It's one of my best qualities. It's one of the reasons I got the job in Senator Malware's office. It sucks having to stay late all the time but I think she always picks me because she knows I'll get things done right. Plus," he murmured, leaning in towards Starfall as if to whisper a secret, "I get to ride the lift down with you at the end of the orn. Not so bad of a reward, if you ask me…"

Inside Starfall was almost screaming for escape. As if in answer to his prayers, the lift bumped to a gentle stop and the doors slid open. The Tower's lobby yawned wide on the other side. Starfall quickly side-stepped around Tarmac and off the lift. "Well, it was nice seeing you again. Have a good night." He gave a hasty little wave over his shoulder as he hurried away. He didn't know what it was exactly – Tarmac's uncanny ability to find him no matter where he was in the Tower or his unnerving disregard for personal space – but Starfall always wanted to escape his presence as quickly as possible. He almost felt bad for thinking so negatively about another bot he really didn't know, but it was true. Something about Tarmac just made Starfall's armor instinctively flatten against his protomatter whenever he was near.

"Hey, Star, wait!" Tarmac called after him. He hurried to catch up with the seeker.

Starfall inwardly cringed. He let nothing show on his face, though, as he stopped and turned back towards the grey and blue mech. His father had raised him to be polite and courteous to everyone. "Yes?" he asked with a forced smile.

Tarmac fumbled for a moment. "I was just wondering… Well, I was wondering if you might like to get a drink with me sometime. We're both pretty new to the Tower and I thought we might find out we have a lot in common if we talked for a bit. I was thinking about heading over to the bar across the street. Would you like to join me? I heard somewhere once that seekers really like engex spritzers. I'd be happy to buy you one. Or whatever else you'd like! I'm not sure what else seekers might like. I'm sorry, I'm rambling… So what do you say? Drinks?"

Starfall had never been more grateful to already have plans in his function. He owed Skyfire even more for tonight than he originally thought.

"I'm so sorry but I already have plans with a friend. I'll have to take a rain check on that offer."

"Oh," Tarmac murmured, visibly wilting with disappointment. "I guess that explains the polish…" He seemed to pull himself together a bit with a renewed gleam of hope in his optics. "How about tomorrow after work then? I don't have any plans tomorrow."

"I'll have to check my schedule," Starfall demurred, slowly edging away from the other mech in the direction of the doors. "I'm so sorry but I really have to get going. My friend will be waiting for me."

"Oh, okay. No problem. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Have a good night," Starfall said now backing away more quickly than before. After more several paces, Starfall turned and hastily strode for the doors. His wings were tightly hitched above his shoulder plates.

"Don't forget to check your schedule for tomorrow!" Tarmac called after him. "I'll see if I can pull up the drink menu online to make sure they have something you'll like. I'll show you it tomorrow."

Starfall continued to walk, pretending not to hear. It was only after Starfall made it outside, had transformed into his jet mode, and was speeding away from the Tower towards the south corner of the city that excitement for that evening began to creep back up on him. He just hoped his latest encounter with Tarmac wouldn't make him late to meet Skyfire.


Dusk was steadily approaching. It would be full dark within the next half joor. Skyfire checked his internal chronometer for the fifth time in as many klicks. He'd told Starfall to meet him in front of the Science Institute's conference hall at twenty-eight hundred joors. Starfall still had fifteen klicks until then but Skyfire couldn't stop himself from continually checking the time.

What was wrong with him? Why was he so anxious about Starfall arriving in time? It wasn't like he was worried about Starfall not coming. The younger mech had been too excited about the conference to just suddenly cancel. Skyfire knew he shouldn't but deep down he knew he was excited to see Starfall again. They had spent almost the entire anniversary party talking. The entire orn had flown by without either of them noticing. Skyfire had parted ways with Starfall that day feeling a euphoric sense of contentment he hadn't felt in ages.

It was because of that contentment Skyfire had waited to contact Starfall about the conference for several deca-cycles. He'd needed time to gather himself and tamp down the unintentional surge of emotions he'd felt after talking with Starfall at the anniversary party. He had to be careful not to get too close to Starfall. He'd caught himself more than once that orn blending Starfall and Starscream together in his mind. Several times he'd caught himself almost calling Starfall by his former incarnation's name. Spending time with Starfall at the anniversary party had only solidified Skyfire's concern that Starfall was too much like Starscream for him to safely be around for long. He couldn't let himself get too close. It would only hurt more in the long run if he did. His feelings for his lost love had no place in either of their lives now.

Yet while Skyfire logically knew he had to keep his distance he couldn't bring himself to go back on his promise to take Starfall to the scientific conference. He had made a promise to the seeker and he did not have the strength to disappoint Starfall. He would accompany Starfall to the conference and that would be it. Afterwards he could reestablish his distance. He just had to be strong. Ultimately, it would be best for both of them. He couldn't look into anything Starfall said or did tonight too deeply or he would only disappoint himself later down the road.

He knew this. He kept telling himself the same thing again and again.

And yet-

He checked his chronometer again.

Twelve klicks til twenty-eight hundred joors and still no sign of the seeker…

-he couldn't quite stop the flutter in his chest every time he thought about Starfall.

The roar of turbine engines abruptly startled Skyfire out of his conflicted thoughts. He looked up just in time to see a white and blue jet descend straight down between the buildings. About two stories above the ground Starfall transformed into his root form and gracefully landed several paces from where Skyfire waited.

"Skyfire!" Starfall called as he adjusted the stacks of silver rings adorning his wrists. "Am I late? I'm so sorry if I am. I got caught up leaving the Tower. I made it here as quickly as I could."

For a moment Skyfire couldn't find his voice. All he could do was stare at the younger mech in awestruck silence. Starfall looked – for lack of any more refined or poetic word – beautiful. The shine of his armor was like a million crushed diamond glittering in the dying rays of the sun. Fresh wing stripes decorated the lengths of his wings. Stacks of polished silver rings chimed around his wrists like music. But most arresting of all was the sheer color of his optics. In the gathering dusk they gleaming an almost unworldly shade of turquoise, like windows into another dimension. Put all together Starfall was the living embodiment of exotic, sophisticated beauty.

Dammit. He'd almost forgotten how handsome Starfall was. Tonight was going to be even more difficult than he'd realized.

"No, not at all," Skyfire finally found his voice. "You're actually still a little bit early."

"Have you been waiting long?" Starfall asked, coming up to the shuttle.

"Not at all. Would you like to go inside and find seats?"

Starfall smiled. "Yes."

Before Skyfire knew what was happening, Starfall stepped up beside him and wound one arm up through his. His hand rested lightly in the crook of Skyfire's elbow. The corner of his wing brushed ever so lightly against Skyfire's side he stood so close.

"Shall we?" Starfall asked, gazing up at Skyfire excitedly.

Skyfire couldn't find the words to respond. He dumbly nodded in reply. It was like Starfall's touch had completely robbed him of coherent thought.

As the two strode towards the door, Starfall leaned against Skyfire and excitedly whispered up to him. "I've been looking forward to tonight since you called me last deca-cycle. Thank you again for inviting me."

"It's my pleasure," Skyfire nodded, still too enthralled by Starfall's hand resting on the inside of his elbow joint to give much more of an eloquent response. "I just hope this conference is half as interesting as you're expecting it to be."

Starfall chuckled. "Even if this conference isn't I'm glad I get to see you again. I was worried for awhile that you'd forgotten about inviting me and I wouldn't get to see you until next vorn's anniversary party."

"I'd never forget about you," Skyfire insisted before he could think better of it.

Starfall's reply was a blindingly handsome smile. Skyfire's spark gave a warm flutter in his chest.

Tickets were presented to the guard and the two made their way inside the hall still walking arm in arm. As they made their way into the lobby Skyfire counted exactly five point two nano-klicks before their entrance was noticed. He recognized a number of bots milling around the lobby – some of them colleagues, others scientists from other institutes and universities he'd met in the past at conferences like today's. There were several double-takes at first and then like a gentle ripple passing through the room a wave of optics swung towards them and stared. Some stares held surprise, others confusion. But lurking behind each and every set of optics was some measure of appraising wonder.

Skyfire could only imagine what they must think. They were probably all wondering what the Prime's son was doing there with someone like Skyfire – and walking arm in arm no less! He knew how Starfall looked. He understood why others stared. The seeker had been turning heads since he received his final upgrade vorns ago. Decked out in Vosian planetary rings and a fresh coat of polish Starfall was even more eye-catching than normal.

To his credit, Starfall didn't even seem to register the attention. Skyfire supposed the younger mech was just used to it. Growing up as the son of the most powerful and recognizable mech on the planet had probably desensitized him to such things at an early age. Skyfire, however, was not used to so much attention and was acutely aware of each and every set of optics on him.

Unconsciously, Skyfire walked a little straighter. He became even more aware of the weight of Starfall's hand on the inside of his elbow. He knew he shouldn't but some small part of him couldn't help but feel a little proud to know that it was him who Starfall walked beside and no one else.

"Star, is that you? I wasn't expecting to see you here!" a familiar voice called out just as they were about to go into the auditorium.

Skyfire and Starfall both stopped and turned towards the voice.

Wheeljack was walking towards them with another mech beside him.

"Wheeljack," Starfall greeted with a smile. He turned to face the approaching mechs. His hand remained loosely looped over Skyfire's elbow. "I don't know why I'm surprised to see you here," he said with a joking laugh.

Wheeljack chuckled "I should be saying that to you! I basically live here at the Institute. But you're definitely a new face in the crowd." His head fins flashed bright as if in emphasis.

Starfall laughed brightly. "I was talking to Skyfire at the anniversary party and he told me about how his exploration team is presenting their findings at tonight's conference. I haven't been to any scientific conferences since I was still in High Academy and I basically pity-partied Skyfire into offering me an invitation to go with him."

"Is that so?" Wheeljack said. He glanced at Skyfire but not before pointedly letting his optics linger on Starfall's hand that rested in the crook of Skyfire's elbow. If he thought anything about it he didn't let it show. "Well, I'll be glad to see a new face in the crowd tonight."

"Will you be presenting something tonight?" Starfall asked.

Wheeljack's head fins flashed. "I will! I've been working on a new transwarp drive that could potentially allow us to use spacebridge technology to jump to locations that don't have existing spacebridge gates. Kind of like super long-range teleportation. If the technology can be developed on a larger scale we could potentially explore whole new galaxies that are too far away for our current technology to reach."

"Really?" Starfall murmured, openly enthralled. "Is this all still theoretical or have you developed a prototype?"

"Finished developing a prototype several lunar cycles ago. Been teleporting small bits of scrap metals and other objects back and forth across the lab ever since."

"Will you be giving a live demonstration tonight?" A slightly worried look crossed Starfall's face. "Not to disparage your work or anything but I've heard that your inventions have a tendency to, um… explode."

Both Wheeljack and the other mech with him burst into laughter. Even Skyfire had to suppress a chuckle. Wheeljack's lab accidents were the stuff of legends. Over the vorns it had become almost a point of pride to Wheeljack how many small scale fires he had to put out each deca-cycle. Skyfire had even heard there was a long running betting pool between some of the other Institute's scientists for Wheeljack's accidents.

"I'll be giving a small demonstration," Wheeljack said. "But I can assure you nothing will explode. I've replicated the same experiment hundreds of times in the lab with no explosions."

Starfall feigned doubt. "That's great but I think I'll find a seat a little farther back from the stage when you do your demonstrations. Just to be safe…"

The group of mechs exchanged another round of friendly laughter.

As they quieted, Skyfire took to opportunity to gesture to the mech standing beside Wheeljack. "Star, I'm not sure if you know him, but this is Professor Quark. He is the sparkmate of my exploration's team leader, Brainstorm. He heads the Quantum Physics Department of the Institute."

Starfall's expression instantly sharpened. "The Professor Quark? As in Professor Quark who wrote about the theoretical possibility of time travel in last lunar cycle's Scientific Institute's publication?"

The mech gave a startled laugh. "Oh my. I never thought the Prime's son would actually know who I am."

"How could I not?" Starfall gushed, thrusting his hand out to shake Quark's. "It is such an honor to meet you. I've been an avid follower of your work ever since you published your study on dark matter several orns ago. I thought it was absolutely fascinating."

"Thank you so much for saying so," Quark replied, returning Starfall's handshake. "It's not everyday I'm recognized for my work outside of the scientific community."

"I've always considered myself something of a science groupie," Starfall admitted with a sheepish shrug. "My trinemates always joke that I'm something of a closet nerd." Growing more serious, Starfall speared the scientist with an intense look of curiosity. "I've always wanted to ask you: what made you decide to switch fields? Skyfire and I were just talking last lunar cycle about one of your earlier publications about the bioluminescent qualities of Earth's dinoflagellates. It's a bit of a jump from xeno-biology to quantum physics. Did your interests suddenly change?"

Quark gave another bark of delighted laughter. "You really are a science groupie to have been following me long enough to know that! You're right. I did start out in xeno-biology. It was one of my first fields of interest. That's actually how I met Brainstorm. But several vorns ago the Institute received a grant to study the long-range effects of deep space black hole gravitational fields. I was offered a position on the team. After completing the study I realized how much more there was to learn in quantum physics and decided to shift focus. I still help Brainstorm with some of his studies when the opportunity arises. I haven't completely abandoned xeno-biology."

"I look forward to hearing Brainstorm's presentation," Starfall said.

Quark glanced up at Skyfire. "If Starfall ever wishes to come to another conference I hope you offer him another invitation. It's so refreshing to meet new people interested in science."

"We'll see how Star likes this conference before we force him to any more," Skyfire replied with a forced smile.

In the back of his mind, Skyfire silently cursed Quark. In any other universe he would have loved the opportunity to spend more time with Starfall. The seeker was everything Skyfire remembered and loved about his former incarnation and more. Starfall was intelligent, charming, and handsome. But unlike Starscream, Starfall was also caring, considerate, and patient – qualities Starscream had never quite seemed to master.

Tonight was to have been Skyfire's one indulgence in Starfall's company before he had to restore a healthy distance from the younger mech. It wouldn't do him any good to get closer. He and Starfall were not destined to be together. He had to keep reminding himself that. He'd already suffered the pain of losing a loved one once. It would only end in disappointment to allow himself to be lulled closer to Starfall's magnetic charm and eventually be left behind and forgotten once the younger mech moved on to someone else more suited for him.

So for Quark to suggest he indulge the possibility of spending more time with Starfall hurt. Why did so many bots feel the need to interfere with his personal life? First Optimus and Jazz at the Anniversary Party, and now Quark. Skyfire was sure it was all done with the best of intentions but that still didn't change reality or dampen the sting of inevitable loss.

The lobby lights suddenly dimmed and brightened again. The groups of bots milling around them began to break up and move towards the auditorium.

"Ah! That's our signal that the party's about to start," Wheeljack announced. "I have to go get ready for my presentation. Enjoy the conference, Star."

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Starfall," Quark smiled as he too moved to leave.

"You as well," Starfall said. As the two moved off, Starfall glanced up at Skyfire. "Shall we find seats?" His optics flashed bright with excitement.

Skyfire tried to swallow back the lingering bitterness of his thoughts. "Of course," he smiled, motioning for Starfall to lead the way. Throughout the entire interaction with Wheeljack and Quark Starfall's hand had remained a reassuring weight on the inside of Skyfire's elbow. Skyfire refused to dwell too much on it. Following the press of Starfall's touch, Skyfire allowed the younger mech to guide him through the press of other bodies. Starfall's hand only finally fell away when he led them to a row of empty seats towards the back of the auditorium. Skyfire would have been lying if he said he didn't immediately miss the warmth of his touch.

As they settled themselves into their seats, Skyfire glanced around. Starfall had chosen seats for them almost at the very back of the auditorium. Only a handful of other bots sat in that section. The closest one sat a good five rows away. The majority of everyone else was congregated at the front of the auditorium near the stage.

"Are you sure you want to sit this far back, Star?" Skyfire asked. "I know Wheeljack's inventions have a reputation of blowing up, but I doubt the Institute's director would have let Wheeljack present if there were any legitimate concerns of that happening tonight."

Starfall gave a small laugh. "No, no. Nothing like that. I just know you usually like to sit towards the back of the room. I wanted you to enjoy the presentation too. I know you're always worried about blocking other people's views because of how tall you are."

Skyfire was momentarily struck speechless. "How do you know that?"

Starfall replied with a wry glance as though Skyfire was silly for even asking. "You told me once. It was vorns ago, but I remember you mentioning it. I felt bad that you felt like you had to sequester yourself away from everyone else when you're in a large crowd. So we'll sit back here so you don't have to worry about it. Also…" Starfall leaned closer as though whispering a secret, "if Wheeljack's demonstration does happen to blow up we'll be near the doors and hopefully far enough away from the blast radius."

Skyfire couldn't quite stop a chuckle from escaping his mouth. That mirth quickly morphed into a rush of almost violent affection for the younger mech. It was an understatement to say he was surprised Starfall remembered such a thing Skyfire had mentioned only in passing vorns ago. But it was true. He was extremely self-conscious of his size. He never really felt comfortable in assembled groups like this, because – as Starfall had pointed out – he was always concerned about being in the way and a nuisance to others. That's why he preferred to hang back, behind everyone else. That way he never had to worry about being in the way. So for Starfall to not only remember Skyfire's concern but also go out of his way to accommodate the larger mech's needs made Skyfire's spark constrict. He was almost positive if Starfall hadn't accompanied him that evening, the seeker would have been at the front of the auditorium right in front of the stage. But here he was all the way in the back of the room with Skyfire. Starfall really was too good for him. He couldn't think of anyone else who would have made such a concession for him, let alone without having to even ask.

Skyfire had no chance to remark on Starfall's thoughtfulness before the director of the Science Institute appeared on stage to a swell of polite claps and strode to the podium for opening remarks.

The conference progressed quickly. Skyfire only paid half attention to it. His attention was mostly focused on the younger mech beside him. Throughout the presentations, Starfall's attention was firmly focused on stage. He sat rapt in his seat, wings slightly hitched above his shoulders. Skyfire was sure if Starfall had had a datapad with him he would have been taking notes. He reminded Skyfire of Starscream so much in that moment he could almost imagine they were still in a university lecture several million years ago before everything had changed. Before his crash on a primordial Earth. Before Megatron and the war. Before Starscream was forced to face judgment for his crimes and was reborn in his current form. For several brief joors Skyfire was able to forget all about that and just enjoy being in the presence of his lost love.

Finally, as all good things must, the conference ended. Starfall stood from his seat and stretched. His wings arched behind him gracefully. "That was absolutely fascinating," he said as Skyfire also stood and together they edged out of the row.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," Skyfire smiled.

As they headed for the exit, Starfall once again slid his hand up to rest on the inside of Skyfire's elbow joint. An unbidden rush of warmth washed over Skyfire. He didn't know what Starfall's touch meant or why the younger mech seemed so determined to continually broadcast it to anyone who looked who he was there with, but Skyfire was helpless under the seeker's touch. He wordlessly allowed Starfall to guide them through the press of other bots until they were once again outside in front of the Science Institute. Starfall led Skyfire to the side, out of the flow of foot traffic and spun around to face Skyfire. His hand slipped from Skyfire's elbow. Skyfire couldn't quite push down the rush of disappointment at the loss of contact.

It was full dark now. Starfall's optics shined brightly in the shadows as he stared up at him. "I can't thank you enough for bringing me tonight, Skyfire. I really appreciate it."

"Like I said before, I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"So where do you want to go now? I know a great bar not far from here that has a rooftop patio. They have some really interesting drinks I think you might like."

Skyfire's internal systems did an automatic reset of his audios. Surely he just misheard that. "I'm… sorry?"

Starfall chuckled, his face splitting into a mischievous smile at Skyfire's confusion. "Drinks. Bar. Remember? I warned you I was going to grill you with questions after the conference. I have a slew of questions, some of them from Brainstorm's presentation about your team's expedition. You left out some very interesting details when we talked at the anniversary party. It's also way too early to call it a night." He took a small half-step closer to Skyfire, his optics bright and cajoling. "Come on. I'll buy."

Skyfire was momentarily speechless. He'd forgotten about Starfall wanting to get drinks afterwards. He'd kind of just assumed that after the conference Starfall would thank him for taking him along and then fly off, leaving Skyfire behind with his memories and loneliness. It still shocked him on some level that the younger mech seemed to want to spend so much time with him.

Skyfire knew that whatever he thought this was between them wasn't real. He knew he was only over-thinking Starfall's words and actions with an aching heart. This wasn't going to end well for him even if he pulled away and ceased all interactions now. In for a penny, in for a pound, as the humans used to say. If nothing else, this would give him a few more joors to enjoy his reincarnated lover's company.

He knew he shouldn't. He'd told himself that at least a thousand times since seeing Starfall at the Anniversary Party. But…


to be continued…