A/N: As some of you may know, in the past I have involved myself in a Writing Game, sponsored on a forum by Trapped in Reality. This is my 2nd story for the game and is related to my Paenitentia G1 AU. This is likely going to be the last story from me involving the game for some time as we are discussing going on hiatus with it once all the stories are posted. But if you want to at least check out the forum anyway to see what we're all about, here is the link: forum . fanfiction forum / Writing_Game / 66995 /

Thanks once more to Balrog Roike for letting me play in her universe.

Co-authors: eeyop1428, Balrog Roike

Disclaimer: I own no rights, just wish I did.

Warnings: Mentions of battle damage

"We don't forgive people because they deserve it. We forgive them because they need it-because we need it." - Bree Despain, The Dark Divine

Silent Absolution

The first thing Skyfire became aware of as he woke was pain. Pain in his wings, his nose cone and his belly.

What the frag happened?

The last thing he could remember clearly was re-entering the planetary atmosphere... After that, everything was blank.

The Valkyrie tried to transform into his root mode, stopping only when he heard the sound of metal parts grinding against each other as the sequence began.

Not liking the sound of that, he ceased the sequence and ran an internal diagnostic. The results showed some serious injuries: damaged wiring and circuitry; plates ripped loose from his belly, probably torn off on impact; coolant and energon lines torn; thrusters and wings scored with laser marks...

All at once, Skyfire's memory kicked into gear and everything fell into place. He groaned internally.

Why did this have to happen now? I was just on my way back from the space station construction site...

The mission had been fairly simple with no trouble expected as the Decepticons had recently suffered a crushing defeat at an oil platform about one Earth month before. They hadn't been seen since and the unusually long lull in hostilities had led the High Command to suspect that they were plotting revenge. Several attempts to learn of their plans had proven strangely unsuccessful. About half an orn ago, NASA had asked if the Autobots could transport some parts that were required to aid in the construction of Space Station Freedom. When he learned of the request, Skyfire volunteered to take the components up there. The mission had seemed like a way to escape the feelings of isolation and oppression that had been building up for some time. It seemed to Skyfire that no one aboard the Ark seemed to understand his feelings about the war and fighting in general. Even the other scientists seemed to be puzzled by his strong feelings about it. Perceptor, one of the least warlike mechs that Skyfire knew, said straight to his face that sometimes one had to adapt to rapidly changing events, and sometimes that meant learning to fight in order to survive, even killing if necessary. While Skyfire could understand the concept to a point, it was the tone of voice which Perceptor used which had shaken him: cold and emotionless. And as Wheeljack had created many of the weapons the Autobots used on the 'Cons, he usually ended up agreeing with Perceptor, though to his credit he seemed more uncomfortable about it.

With even his friends seeming less than sympathetic to his concerns, not to mention the comments he heard a few making about him being a coward, it wasn't hard for Skyfire to make the decision to take the components out there. Optimus Prime and the other officers were concerned about his safety, as they'd still been unable to learn anything about what was going on with the Decepticons, but with nothing solid to go on, they'd allowed him to leave. However, he'd been given strict instructions to let them know when he reached the station, and to contact them when he left.

Most of the trip had proven uneventful. He wasn't attacked on his way out and no signs of 'Cons appeared during his stay out there. The return trip was a different story...

The first shot came out of nowhere, grazing his right wing. Turning his scanning systems outward, he detected three Cybertronian signals. Moments later, he spotted three jets above him: one rust-red and white, one blue and gold, and one iron-gray and white. Running the images through his memory banks, he identified them as the Conehead Trine.

"Surrender, traitor, and we'll make your death a quick one!" the lead Conehead (Ramjet? Was that his name?) hailed him.

Skyfire's reaction would have surprised the slagtalkers in the Autobots. Realizing he needed to get out of there, he spun around tightly, firing three shots. This caused the Conehead Seekers to dodge and momentarily stop shooting. Skyfire tried to take the opportunity to escape, but the Coneheads recovered too fast. They continued their barrage, and Skyfire kept trying to dodge the blasts and return fire, but his enemies proved too persistent.

Eventually, enough shots hit his thrusters, causing them to short out. As they failed, Skyfire went into a nosedive towards the forest below.

The last thing he heard before crashing into the trees was the insane laughter of the Coneheads and one of them yelling, "Pity Starscream wasn't here to see this!"...

...And that was how he had ended up like this, torn up and leaking vital fluids in the middle of a forest. A very dark forest. Skyfire must have been lying here all day until it was well into the night. He couldn't see anything in the overwhelming darkness. It was clear that he was nowhere near a town or city. He was on his own.

Skyfire grimaced from the sharp pain all over his form. At first it was a dull ache, but since his senses had recovered it was now a deep burn, especially at the most damaged areas.

"Slag..." Skyfire endured the pain and let his internal repairs do their work. But the outer damage needed manual repairs. Unable to transform and perform immediate first-aid, he had to contact his fellow Autobots for assistance. He attempted to comm. dial Red Alert – the Security Director would send help right away. But the dial didn't go through. After several unsuccessful tries, he activated a distress signal, yet that didn't work either. "Slag-slag." It seemed the severity of his wounds prevented him from any means of communication. Not good.

He was isolated, far away from his friends, and there was no telling how long he would last before help would come – if it did. No, he couldn't lose hope. Perhaps the Autobots could locate his last co-ordinates and spread a search for him from there. Yet... they were still unaware of his circumstances; they might not think of searching for him without good cause. Otherwise, he might have been found already. Skyfire felt he was in deep trouble. A breeze blew through the trees, sounding like a defeated sigh.

A sudden sense of nostalgia hit him in the darkness. He was in a situation like this before, only it was much whiter and colder. So much colder. And he was hoping on one friend to save him from the merciless blizzard which caught and consumed him, burying him under snow and ice. But he never came. Not until that fateful day when his friend found him again after so many millennia. And then Skyfire discovered his friend was no longer the mech he knew.

He felt a familiar ache in his spark as the memory re-surfaced. It always ate away at him, tormenting him with thoughts of why and how – what he should had done. But he concluded that there was nothing he could have done more differently. Protecting life was what he believed in – not dominating it. Thus his destiny was with the Autobots. Even so, he felt wounded when Starscream mocked him, said those uncharacteristic words to him, and attacked him. At times Skyfire couldn't believe that this was the very same Starscream who he had studied and lived with for so long. Sometimes he couldn't fathom how much Starscream had changed.

Even worse than these thoughts was the guilt; the guilt of being part responsible, if not wholly, for the change. If only we didn't go on that exploration mission to Earth – if only I wasn't so stupid to ignore the climate warnings and aborted the mission, then we wouldn't have been separated. I should've been wiser... instead of risking our lives for the sake of science. Perhaps then I could've prevented Starscream from being what he is today. He would still be my friend. Skyfire knew this sounded illogical – he couldn't have known that that event would result in something like that. But it still happened, and that was a fact he lived with; a reminder of his error. And he also lived with being unable to say he was sorry. It's too late for that.

Skyfire was broken from his thoughts. Somewhere in the far distance behind him he heard the faint sound of a transformation sequence and a soft thud on the forest floor. The air was so silent that the sounds came as clearly as a whisper. Then there came sounds of movement picking its way through the trees – rustling leaves and little snaps of wood – getting closer and closer.

The shuttle-former almost smiled in relief – he was being saved! – then he remembered that he was in a war and he had no clue who had just arrived at his crash-site. Skyfire searched his memories from right before he had noticed the transformation sounds, but he couldn't recall hearing an engine of any kind. So who left that?

His minions, the Cassetticons?
... Megatron?

Skyfire couldn't help the tremble of pure terror that rippled through his wings and rocked the tips lightly but oh-so-painfully against the dirt beneath him. He could feel stones and twigs digging into the areas where plating had been torn loose and pressing against delicate sensor nodes, adding a new sharp ache to the rest of his various hurts.

Shhhh... Calm, Skyfire. You don't know who it is. For all you know it could be one of the Autobots... But then I still would have heard an engine, wouldn't I? And they would have called out by now to tell me that they're here. So, who else could it be? A 'Con taking a nap out here in the wilderness?

The shuttle-former couldn't help the slightly hysterical edge creeping into his thoughts. Suddenly this last thought struck him as incredibly funny and he barely managed to choke back the urge to giggle nervously. Tightening the cables in his wings to keep them from shaking yet again and redirecting his self-repair system to some of his lesser damaged sensors, he tried to ignore the steady steps of his companion and calm himself down. He only succeeded partially, panic once again almost drowning out coherent thought when another horrible suspicion made its ugly head known:

Perhaps this ambush hadn't been as coincidental as it seemed?
Living with mechs who had fought in this war for most of their lives and spending time in a rec room on which's view screen more often than not various action and war movies were played to the amusement of the watching fighters – and to Skyfire's horror, but what could he do about it? – had taught the big white flier some general rules of war very quickly. One rule learned in this involuntary crash course had been that you always tried to target the weakest link if the opportunity presented itself. He had no illusions about who said weak link of the Autobot army was right now.
Addendum to the rule: If no opportunity presents itself, you create one.

Skyfire felt with dread as his proximity alert informed him about a large, moving mass of metal nearby and flinched when the darkness registering all around him became suffused with a foreboding, suffocating red light just inches from his plating. He had not enough functioning sensors left to identify the obvious Decepticon now kneeling down next to his nosecone, but the injured flier knew, regardless of who it was – he was screwed.

The winged mech shut off his useless optical sensors to spare the energy they needed for more important things and tried to remember the stories he had been told and movies he had seen. Taking a shaky, slightly rattling intake and cursing the trembling of his voice he stated, "You can do whatever you want. I will not give you any information."

For a long moment there was only silence and the soft whispering of leaves in the background. Skyfire waited in vain for something horrible to happen, his cabling tightening helplessly while his body ached and continued to leak his precious life-blood on the forest floor.

Then there was a soft, almost inaudible sigh above him, his captor shifting from his front to his side and then – finally – there was the pain Skyfire had waited for this whole long moment.

Strong claws gripped his torn and wrangled plating and wrenched it open with a short grunt of effort, causing the Autobot to scream and try to fruitlessly trash around and escape the digits beginning to dig through his innards. Skyfire could feel all the energon and coolant that had gathered in his body rush through the newly created opening to pool in the dirt, creating an awfully sticky puddle beneath him that steadily grew while his lines continued to leak at a steady rate.

And then, suddenly, one of the alerts screaming in Skyfire's processor just vanished. Another vanished, then a third. Finally the scientist managed to think through the pain and came to the conclusion that the mech kneeling at his side was actually helping him by mending and clamping the energon lines in his wound shut.

But this doesn't make any sense...Skyfire couldn't comprehend why the 'Con was assisting him. Surely it would be easier just to let him deactivate. He knew very well that Megatron had a death warrant out on him. He wasn't a high ranked Autobot, but he was still considered a traitor by the Tyrant, having assisted the Autobots in several battles. Not only that, his public betrayal in the Arctic had humiliated the Decepticon Leader and that alone would have been cause for his deactivation as far as the mech was concerned.

No doubt the Coneheads had reported the skirmish and someone came out to check the truth of their statement and to confirm the kill.

However, none of that explained why this unknown figure was aiding him, knowing full well that he could be killed for his actions.

For about three breems, he pondered those questions as his "good" samaritan repaired him. Finally, Skyfire could take no more. He had to know. "Who are you and why are you doing this?"

The sound of repairs stopped. For a long moment, there was no answer. Then, just as the shuttle was about to repeat the question in a more demanding tone, he heard a soft, faint whisper: "Why do you want to know?"

Something seemed strange about that voice, but Skyfire couldn't quite put his finger on it. Deciding he would think about that another time, he responded in what he hoped was a cool, hard tone.

"Because you're a Decepticon, that's why. And I know the Decepticons are under orders to shoot me on sight. You have no reason to help me, so why are you doing so?"

The silence that resulted from his answer seemed to stretch out longer than the last. Then there was a low, soft sigh, and the mech spoke once more.

"I have my reasons, none you would believe." The voice seemed sad, yet Skyfire could almost swear he heard something else in there.

Bitterness? Regret?

He wasn't quite sure.

As he was trying to figure this out, the mech once more fell back into doing repairs and nothing else was said for some time.

At last, the final fuel lines were clamped shut and all other small-to-moderate wounds were sealed, preventing any more bleeding. As for the larger wounds, the mystery mech could do nothing for them it seemed, for he left them alone. He replaced the panelling and drew back, but remained close. "Have you sent for help?" the mech asked.

Skyfire hesitated before answering. "No. My communications unit is down. There's no way for me to contact the Autobots or them to contact me. Unless it is repaired, then I can send a distress beacon."

Skyfire didn't feel like trusting him – the mech didn't identify himself or give his reasons for helping him, after all. But despite the intentional lack of information, the stranger was indeed helping him, for whatever reason he had. His behaviour wasn't threatening, and nor was he giving threats. And now he was asking if help was on the way. If this was a Decepticon's way of making sure Skyfire was out of commission, then this was the friendliest one he'd ever met. If this was a Decepticon with him right now.

But the mech wasn't acting like one. Yet at the same time he wasn't denying he was one. Who is this guy? This was very puzzling. And that voice – there was something familiar about it...

"I see," the mech said. "Well, my repairing skills are too limited for that kind of job. But if you don't mind, I may send a distress call for you. Provided you give me the co-ordinates of your base."

Skyfire's suspicion rose. "No way – what if you're just trying to trick me and lead the Autobots in an ambush? I know how Decepticons work. You won't fool me."

There was a moment's silence, then a light sigh from the mech, as if he expected such a response. "You don't have much of a choice in the matter if you want to be rescued by your friends. You can either trust me and let me call them, or you stay here with no communications, heavily damaged, your Autobot friends never knowing where you are until it's too late and you run out of energon. You never know, the Decepticons might also come back and finish the job of destroying you. ...It's your decision."

If Skyfire had a face right then he would have looked hard-stumped. The stranger had him there. He really didn't have a choice, not if he wanted to survive this ordeal. And to do that, he had to place his life in a mech who was his only hope, albeit a not wholly trustworthy hope. But it was either do that, or the alternative option... which wasn't much of an option, but more of a consequence if he didn't comply with the mech. Allowing logic to override his distrust, Skyfire gave in.

"Okay," he said. "Fine. The co-ordinates are as follows." He gave them.

"A wise choice," said the mech, taking in the information and tapping it on his wrist pad without pausing. When he finished, he said, "Distress beacon sent. There, that wasn't so hard." Skyfire thought he could hear a grin in the voice.

"Not for you. You're not the one who's downed and forced to rely on a complete stranger."

"Hm, true. Just be thankful that I finally found you... in time." The mech stepped away and started walking. Skyfire thought he was leaving him until he heard the mech settle down somewhere a few metres away, against a tree maybe.

"What are you doing?" Skyfire asked into the darkness.

"Merely keeping you company until your comrades arrive," said that oh-so-familiar voice. "It's the least I can do."

"You've done more than enough for me. You don't have to stay. Unless there's some ulterior motive behind this."

A sound of amusement. "I see you still don't trust me. Well, that's fine. I did what I intended to do anyway."

"Will you not at least tell me who you are and why you've helped me?"

"...I just wanted to. As for my identity, I'm not at liberty to say."

"Somehow I thought you'd say something like that."

Then there was silence again for some time, only the wind sifting through the treetops making any sound. Something shifted in the dark briefly before settling once more. Skyfire almost forgot that the mech was still there; he had hardly made any noise since they ceased talking. The mech was almost like what the humans called a 'ghost', a free-roaming spirit who had decided to stay here, watching Skyfire even through the thick blackness between them with its supernatural eyes, just watching him. It spooked him.

"I know who you are."

"W-What?" Skyfire asked, startled by the sudden breaking of silence.

"I said, I know who you are," the ghost repeated. "You are Skyfire, Cybertronian scientist. Or should I say ex-scientist, seeing as you have recently joined the Autobot faction... after defecting from the Decepticons. How interesting."

"How do you know this?"

"Oh, I have my sources. Besides, news like that gets around very quick. I mean, how many leave the Decepticons so quickly in one orbital cycle to the Autobots? Scratch that, how many live after doing such an act? That makes you a new record holder. Congratulations."

Skyfire could hear a tinge of sarcasm in that. "I don't think that's anything to be proud of. ...Why are you bringing this up?"

"Just making some conversation while we wait, seeing as we're here."

"I don't want to talk about that."

"Why not?"

"I just don't. And it's none of your business, anyway."

"Whether or not it's none of my business, I still know about what happened on that orn. And I know all about what happened to you many vorns ago. A scientist on the verge of discovering a new planet only to be trapped on it, until a millennia later he is found again. By his old lab partner, wouldn't you guess? But you left him for the Autobots. I wonder why. Wasn't he your... friend?"

Once again, images from that day flashed in Skyfire's mind, of Starscream so changed... "He wasn't... the same."

"Oh? How so?"

"He... he was like a completely different mech... like someone else, not my lab partner. I didn't know him anymore."

A pause. "I see. Well, many mechs do change considerably over such a long time, so that's no surprise. Perhaps he'd learned a new way of life – a new way of being – which suited him better. You could say he found his true calling in a position of power. And there was a war going on, you know. He simply chose a side which seemed likelier to win."

"No... No, that isn't like him at all. He was devoted to science and the pursuit of knowledge. I knew him. He never sought power, or the destruction of anything. All he wanted was to know the truth of the universe. But this Starscream... is evil."

A branch cracked audibly. A light chuckle. "My, how contrasting. But perhaps he pursued much more than knowledge; much more than truth. He wanted respect and acknowledgment. He wanted to punish those in the Senate who were unfair to him and his kind for so long. The Decepticons granted him that wish. And deep down inside him, he enjoyed it; every last moment of it. Maybe you never knew him at all."

This filled Skyfire with uncertainty. Perhaps the mech was right. But Skyfire didn't want to believe him. Before he could reply, the stranger carried on.

"And didn't you ever stop to think that maybe Starscream was a little... hurt by your actions that orn? That you chose the filthy Autobots over him, your closest friend, and turned on him? He worked his aft off getting you out of the ice prison you were in, only to be rejected and betrayed! What, the promising career of a high-ranking position not good enough for you? Did the many years of partnership mean nothing? I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't think I – he missed you!"

At that, the broken branch thudded hard inches from Skyfire's nose. It didn't hit him, but he could feel the force with which it was thrown.

"...For a mech who has no sides, you seem rather... affected by this."

The mech paused, to compose himself, it seemed. "Ahem... I must apologise. I'm the kind of mech who likes to see both sides of the story told fairly. After all, you never knew what happened to him through all these years. It's not fair to call him 'evil' without knowing such things. Right?"

"...I suppose you're right. I have been away for so long. Too long."


"That's my fault."


"If I had the chance to talk to him, I would say sorry."

"For abandoning him for the Autobots?"


When the mech didn't respond to this, Skyfire wondered if he didn't hear him, or if he was contemplating what was said. Before Skyfire could ask, there was humming in the distance – a car engine. No, more than one. Then they stopped altogether and the unmistakable sounds of transforming followed. Dim search lights cut through the darkness and waved left and right like UFOs. Then Skyfire heard the voice of Hound calling his name, followed by Ratchet, Bumblebee and others whose voices mixed with theirs in the night air so that Skyfire couldn't quite make out which voice belonged to whom.

Suddenly, the mech who had saved Skyfire's life began to move away from the voices of his comrades.

"Wait!" Skyfire said. "Thank you. For everything."

The mech stopped and said, "You don't need to thank me. This was something that I had to do. That's all. Perhaps we will meet again, Skyfire, in less ironic circumstances. Until then, farewell." And with that, the mech ran into the woods, and vanished.

Everything that happened afterwards was kind of blurry for Skyfire. There had been loud voices and soothing touches, a bluish light that had shown him that the Autobots where finally there, and then, suddenly, utter, all-encompassing darkness.

When Skyfire had finally woken up again, it had been to the stark white lights of the medbay and to Ratchet cursing his size, his wounds, the Decepticons, his foolishness of getting injured in the first place, the shoddy patchwork of his crude repairs, the dirt the forest had left on his plating, Wheeljack's newest stubborn alloy…
The medic had grumbled about everything and nothing and the startling familiarity of it (Already? After such a short time among the Autobots?) had calmed the injured flier more than any gentle bedside manner could ever have. He had just lain there, let the mix of indignated shouting, harsh curses and worried undertones wash over his aching frame and relaxed…

The aftermath of his ambush turned out to be pretty anticlimactic in Skyfire's opinion. Yes, there had been questions and Spark-felt sympathy and well-wishes right next to suspicion and thinly veiled accusations from a small percentage of the inhabitants of the Ark. Bots he had never really spoken to before had smiled at him, nodded to him, wished him well when they passed in the hall. Other had given him sympathetic optics and offered drinks to forget it for one night. The twins had more or less thrown a party to officially welcome him among the Autobots now that he had been finally ambushed by "those sneaky cheaters" as well. But all in all, nobody acted as if it really had been such a big deal. Such things seemingly simply happened once in a while. You got hurt, you woke to Ratchet's tender mercy, you cursed the involved 'Cons, swore vengeance, downed a few drinks and got even on the battlefield, then simply got on with your life.
For most of them it probably really wasn't such a big deal, not after all these vorns of war…

But for Skyfire?

Sometimes he woke in the middle of the recharge cycle and found himself unable to move, to see, to hear or to feel anything beyond a short, very short radius. He believed himself back in the forest, about to die all alone and utterly helpless, the soft sounds of the sleeping ship replaced by the ominous whispers of the leaves in the wind and muted steps getting closer and closer and…

Other times he woke up screaming, his dreams finally letting him free right before he was about to crash into the unforgiving earth, the laughter of the Coneheads still ringing in his audios even when his trembling was finally passing.

The worst times he wasn't in the forest and there were no winged shapes chasing him, downing him. Instead there were cold, cold winds and the greedy howling of the storm rattling his plating and freezing his lines. His wings were aching and struggling to get lift, his thrusters stalling and sputtering while he tried to climb to a blurry little blot of glowing blue somewhere wide, wide up above him. Around him there was nothing but white: White ground, white mountaintops, white trees grabbing at him with their white limbs, scratching at his belly and nosecone and ripping his wings apart. Sometimes he heard steps in the storm, muted by the falling snow and roaring winds, sometimes there was laughter, either three different voices or, in the worst case, one single voice, high and screechy and always, always followed by a shot to his chest plates that sent him down into the freezing hell below.

And while he lay there, staring up at the blue so far above him, knowing that he could never truly reach it and feeling his body slowly freeze to sleep again for thousands of years, perhaps to be never found this time – or worse, in even stranger world, that made even less sense then his current home – suddenly somebody knelt down right next to him, blocking his vision and yet never truly seen but for his bright red optics.
Every time this happened Skyfire asked for the ghostly stranger's name only to get silence as answer, followed by words that could have been truth or lie but certainly hurt and left him doubting himself and everything he had ever seemed to know. Finally the stranger wished him farewell, but instead of vanishing like he had in the forest that night, his savior gently put his servos on his frame and pushed him with agonizing slowness under the ice, uncaring of Skyfire's cries and pleas for mercy and with a sad, angry twist to barely seen lips that was so familiar that it left the shuttle sobbing even more when he finally, finally woke up.

It was after one such nightmare that he found himself in the nearly deserted Rec Room, sipping energon and trying to make sense of them.

Why are these dreams bothering me so much? was the one thought that kept circulating through his processor. The item most troubling him was how the memories of both his second crash in the Arctic and the crash the Coneheads caused were mingling together and warping in some fashion.

It was almost as though his subconcious was trying to tell him something, but what?

"You Skyfire okay?"

The unexpected voice drew Skyfire out of his musings to see one of the Dinobots standing in front of him, the blue and gold one with a red crest, who also had wings. Swoop, his memory supplied. Right, that was the designation Wheeljack had told him.

Skyfire had never had much to do with the Dinobots since he got to the Ark, but he had heard a little. Namely that they were created in the forms of a few of Earth's prehistoric creatures and were slow-witted, violent and on one occasion, a few of them had rebelled against Optimus, though he'd never heard the full story behind that. Most of this seemed to be a sore point among the Autobots, Wheeljack in particular, though it seemed like it was for a different reason than the others.

He'd also heard they were a pretty close-knit group and didn't care much for outsiders, so the fact that one had approached him seemed a bit odd.

But knowing it would be rude to just ignore the mech, Skyfire put aside his surprise and replied, "I'm fine, thank you." Going back to sipping his energon, he was surprised when Swoop just sat down and said, "You not look fine."

Skyfire found himself a bit irritated. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to be alone so he could deal with his issues, but just as he was about to say just that in one of the more biting tones he could manage, Swoop spoke again, and what he said startled Skyfire.

"Me Swoop helped treat you when you came in." The tone was dead serious and so was the look on the Dinobot's face. "Saw communications array." He looked away a moment, then looked back with a very level gaze. "No one else there when you found. Heard him Hound say so. You not send that distress call."

Skyfire stiffened. Swoop caught that and nodded. "Me thought so."

Now that surprised Skyfire. "Excuse me?"

Swoop didn't answer right away, looking down at his lap for a moment, and his expression was now pensive. He seemed to Skyfire to be deciding whether he should answer or not. Finally, he replied.

"Me Swoop once had something like that happen, too."

Skyfire almost choked on his sip of energon. After spluttering a moment, he managed to choke out, "You did?"

A calm nod. "Yes."

Skyfire opened his mouth to ask what exactly had happened, but Swoop cut him off. "Seemed familiar, but could not place him at first. Seemed sad. When me Swoop thanked him, he said he didn't deserve it. Gave me Swoop message to give to him Bluestreak."

Skyfire felt a chill run through him. "Did you ever figure out who your benefactor was?"

Swoop nodded.

"So who was it?" Skyfire was starting to have a very odd feeling about this. When Swoop didn't answer after a minute or two, he went back over his memories. The oh-so familiar voice, the fact he seemed to know a bit more than he should, the silence after Skyfire made his last statements, the comment the mech had made about "ironic circumstances" just before disappearing into the night...

Suddenly, one statement flashed into his mind: "...I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't think I – he missed you!"

His optics widened in sudden realization.

"That's impossible!"He blurted out. There was no way that Starscream would help him now, not after what had happened between them.

Swoop didn't reply, just giving Skyfire a long, level stare. For a few minutes, both sat in silence.

Then Skyfire spoke firmly. "It couldn't have been him, Swoop. He was at the Decepticon base the entire time from what I was told, and there was no way he could have gotten in or out without being caught." Not to mention he would have had to do a complete turnaround in his attitude. Still, Skyfire couldn't quite ignore the nagging feeling that he was trying to deny something to himself.

Swoop turned his gaze to the ceiling for a moment, then looked at Skyfire once more. "Me Swoop only tell you what I know. And me Swoop know it was him." A pause. "He admitted as much."

Skyfire shook his head in disbelief. While his memory told him one thing, he had since heard that Mirage had been sent on a mission to the 'Con base that same day he was shot down, and had seen Starscream in the company of others that entire day. He'd never left the Victory, not even for a patrol flight. "No one can be in two places at once, Swoop."

Swoop was quiet for a moment, then he just shook his head. "There is one way," was all he said as he got up to leave. Before walking away, he gave a few final comments, "Some things not impossible. Told you because felt you would want to hear. Me Swoop have told no one else who it was. It happened."

Skyfire just sat there alone for several minutes following Swoop's departure from the Rec Room. There is one way, Swoop had said. What way?

Then another stray memory clicked in. The silence with which his helper approached had seemed strange at the time, and he'd felt like the unknown mech seemed like a spirit...

No...Skyfire shook his head. Couldn't be...Or could it? The scientific part of his mind said "no", but he had seen some odd things in the past while on exploration and there was a part of him which couldn't quite discount the notion.

Maybe...A tired smile came to his face. Maybe some things really can't be explained. And if somehow it was him, then at least I got the chance to say I'm sorry. Hope he accepted it.

Skyfire got up and left the Rec Room, returning to his quarters.

For the first time in weeks, he slept soundly the rest of that night, unaware he was being watched over by someone. Someone with a sad, weary smile.

Starscream sat quietly, watching over his once-friend. He'd simply gone to help in an attempt to make things right. It hadn't been easy, he'd almost given himself away due to the strength of his emotions, and he wasn't entirely sure that Skyfire hadn't recognized him. But it seemed he hadn't put the pieces together until Swoop jogged his memory.

Skyfire had been among the worst of his betrayals. All because he'd wanted him to hurt the same way he had. But there was still that small part of him that couldn't let go of the friendship, the one that had cringed when he learned of what the Coneheads had done even as he'd laughed and congratulated them.

So when he finally got the chance, he'd returned to assist, and got more than he bargained for. Skyfire had apologized, and when Starcream had confronted him with what he felt had been the more important betrayal, the shuttle's answer had thrown him. For the first time, he realized that Skyfire's feelings of guilt ran far deeper than he ever imagined.

It wasn't his fault. He shouldn't blame himself for what I became. He'd spoken some harsh words at their meeting in part out of that old desire to hurt even as he helped, but hearing Skyfire's apology drained the last of the bitterness away. All he felt now was an empty sort of regret and the useless wish that he'd handled his actions differently that day in the Arctic.

Starscream rose and moved to leave, turning before exiting in order to cast one last look at his friend. Perhaps they would meet again one day as he suggested. But for now, he needed to continue his quest to make things right. In the meantime...

Apology accepted, Skyfire.