It’s hard being Starscream’s lab partner, sometimes.
You don’t know why he insists that it was an accident, even though you can’t see how the centrifuge could have “fallen” out of the window in the time you left to obtain more samples.
“It was malfunctioning anyways,” Starscream mentions off-handedly, distracted by the form that he’s filling out. He doesn’t look sorry at all. “The department should’ve given us a working one in the first place, and not some fragging hand-me-down. How can you expect to get proper results with second-rate equipment?”
It’s been a long week. Your servos clench, and you grit out, “I know it’d get stuck sometimes, and yes that was frustrating, but mediocre equipment is better than none at all, Starscream!”
He scoffs. “Which is why I’m requesting a new one! Honestly, we don’t have to settle for subpar slag just because the idiots who head the department are afraid we’ll break their precious lab equipment.”
You’ve realized a long time ago that Starscream seems to live in his own world. Some days you can catch a glimpse inside, and like the lens of a microscope focusing into crystal-clarity, you start to understand the way he thinks. Today is not one of those days.
“I can’t turn in my report by next week if I don’t have anything to show for it!”
“It’ll get here in time, and you’ll have just enough time to finish your report,” assures Starscream. He looks up at you with a smug smile, slightly crooked as always. Normally you like his smirks, but you’re really not feeling this today. Your irritation dissolves into familiar, anxious exhaustion, pushing down on your shoulders and wings. You press a servo to your helm and resist the urge to sigh.
“No, I won’t, because Professor Lightwave assigned me extra TA hours.”
Starscream bristles, dropping the calm demeanor completely, and he shouts, “What? That’s--that’s fragging ridiculous! He knows how slagged your schedule is, why the Pit would he do that? You should’ve put your pede down!”
You know he’s right, and you should have, but--it’s not as easy for you to stand up for yourself as it is for Starscream. Keeping other students from harassing Starscream was one thing, but face anyone in a position of power and you just wilt. Better to endure it than risk everything you’ve worked for, even for whatever notions Starscream has about fairness.
“I don’t have time to deal with this, Starscream,” you tell him, shaking your head. “I really, really don’t. I’m going to see if the other labs would be willing to let me borrow their centrifuge.”
“Don’t leave!” he commands, angry and sharp. When you give him a withering look, he glares right back at you. You don’t know why he feels like he needs to fight all the time.
“Come on, we’re going right to his office--”
He falters, just slightly, and you wish you had your own broken centrifuge to throw out a window. Oh wait, you don’t.
“Don’t talk to him. You’ve already done enough damage, okay?”
Starscream’s optics flash even brighter, wings quivering in rage, but you don’t let him have the last word. You spin around and storm out of the lab, ignoring his outbursts behind you.
You don’t see him for the rest of the day, or even the next. In fact, you focus entirely on your classes and those extra work hours. You don’t find anyone who would let you use their centrifuge, though.
All the while, Starscream stays silent, and even though you’re mad, you can’t help but check your comms. Even during your busiest projects, you both manage to send at least a few messages--though his were almost always complaints. You don’t miss it, you swear you don’t, but the silence is enough to make you reflect on your behavior. You still think he should have known better, but you should have, too.
Later that night, you receive a message--not from Starscream, like you were expecting, but from Professor Lightwave.
::Meet me in my office tomorrow. I’d like to discuss your work hours with you.::
You don’t even know why you’re surprised. It’s not like Starscream has listened to you before. But this is...it’s a little relieving, honestly. Your shoulders relax, but a knot of guilt grows in your spark.
Before long, you’re walking out of your dorm room, stopping by the mess hall right before closing to pick up two energon cubes. Starscream isn’t at his dorm when you stop by, so you check your shared lab.
He’s there, with his head down on the lab table. Next to him is a centrifuge, and it looks recently fixed.
When you set one of your cubes next to his head, he jerks and straightens up immediately, a snarl already on his face. He meets optics with you, and his jaws snap shut, wings hiking up like he’s ready to hightail it out of here.
“Did you stay up last night?” you ask, before he can try to leave.
“There’s your stupid centrifuge,” he says instead. “I’ll see you later--”
You lay a servo on his shoulder, gentle but firm. “Stay. Please.”
He gives you a long, indiscernible look before he settles down. His wings are still tense. You sit down next to him too, and pull out your own cube.
“I’m sorry,” you say, sighing. “I shouldn’t have said the things I did.”
Starscream eyes his cube, but he picks it up and pulls a long drag from it. He doesn’t look at you when he tells you, “For the record, I’m not sorry.”
“I know,” you reply. “You were right, though, about the points you brought up. I’ll try to follow your lead, in the future.”
Now he looks at you with surprise, and you smile wryly.
“Oh, and by the way? If our lab equipment gets trashed by more accidents in the future, I’m going to start looking for a new lab partner.”
“Frag you, no you won’t!” Starscream exclaims, huffy. The corner of his mouth twitches up, though.
You sigh, rolling your optics. “Well, you would be hard to replace, so I’ll give you that.”
“Of course I’m irreplaceable!” Starscream looks you up and down and smirks. Its familiarity strips away any of your lingering worries. “For the record, the next time you get mad, you should channel that at your superiors, not at your lab partner.”
“I’ll endeavor to keep that in mind, but only if you make sure any accidents won’t occur when I’m not in the room.”
“Ugh. You’re not letting that go, are you?”
He probably thinks he looks annoyed, but the small smile on his face betrays his fond exasperation. You wish you could take a picture, or to lean in and…
Instead you laugh, and miss the way he looks at you.
Starscream takes you to the Mithril Sea, the night of your graduation.
You’ve both been here before, since it’s an ideal place to record astronomy data, but neither of you brought any equipment today.
When you land and seat yourself on the edge of a cliff overlooking the shimmering, metallic waves, Starscream sits down next to you and pulls out two large cubes of high-grade. You give him a curious look.
“You know, we could have just gotten high-grade at the post-grad party,” you point out with a laugh. He shrugs and simply holds out a cube to you.
“I’d rather not have a bunch of drunk imbeciles ruin my good mood.”
“My, my--Starscream? In a good mood?” You take the cube just as he glares at you.
“Don’t make me take your cube back,” he threatens. You smile back at him before looking out at the sea.
“Why are we out here, anyways?”
Out of the corner of your optic, you see Starscream take a sip from his cube.
“It’s a surprise, idiot. You’ll see.”
You sigh. By now, you should never expect a straightforward answer from Starscream.
“I’m surprised that you didn’t want to stay back in Iacon tonight--indulge yourself one last time,” you mention. “It’s not like we’ll have access to wax parlors when we leave tomorrow.”
Starscream only sneers, and he swings his pedes back and forth. “Why bother? It’s not like we’ll be running into any other mechs on our expedition.”
“I suppose that’s true.” You open your cube and take a sip too, recognizing the strong and tingly taste of triple-distilled high-grade. One cube won’t be enough to get you drunk, though. “Are you nervous?”
He barks out a laugh. “Of course not. Are you kidding? I get to leave this annoying planet behind.”
“It’s not all that bad,” you point out. He laughs even harder.
“You’re kidding me, right? The government is full of slaggers, the Academy is full of pretentious slaggers, and you already know all of my complaints about the rest of Iacon.”
“Well,” you start, “Professor Nightscan did recommend us for this expedition, and she’s nice.”
“She’s also a suck-up.” You roll your optics before taking a longer pull from your cube.
“Is there anyone you don’t dislike?”
“That we’re leaving behind? No.”
You raise an optic ridge and shift to face him properly. “What does that make me?”
He returns your look with derision. “A fool, apparently. I’m not leaving you behind, am I?”
You laugh. “I hope not, I am carrying most of our equipment.” Still, a twinge of bittersweetness strikes your spark. You lamely blame the high-grade, and ignore the real reason.
Even though Starscream still won’t outright call you his friend in return, you know by now that he likes having you as a lab partner, and that makes you happy, it really does. Before, it took a long time--and an incredible amount of patience--to convince him to trust you.
Which is why you don’t want to push him away with something as juvenile as this. You think you would’ve had a much harder time surviving the Academy without him, and even now, after graduation, you don’t want to accidentally start over at square one with him.
“You’re far more useful to me than just being a fragging shuttle,” mutters Starscream, breaking you from your thoughts. He glares at you for a second too long before he breaks his gaze to drain the rest of his cube.
“Anyways,” he quickly says, while you’re still trying to wrap your processor around what just happened. “Remember when we first met?”
“Um, yes?” Like that’s easy to forget. “You tried to smoke me out of the lab with a fire that you started.”
Starscream laughs and hiccups. If it wasn’t obvious before, he’s definitely drunk now. “Good times! Afterwards I thought it was poetic, what with your name and all.”
You nod. He’s told you this before, during another occasion with high-grade.
“But you--you’re slagging stubborn,” he continues, slurring his words. “I respect that in a mech. Unless it’s an inconvenience for me. Then it’s just annoying.”
“I seem to recall that you had much more…creative swears about my ‘stubbornness,’” you muse fondly.
“Eh, that’s all accurate too.”
“Hey!” you chuckle, pushing at his shoulder. He grins back at you, and he opens his mouth to say something else, until a beeping sound interrupts him.
“Oh frag,” he swears, slapping your arm with his servo. “Stop looking at me--it’s time!”
“Time for what?” you ask, turning to look at the sky, and…oh.
You catch the lingering trails of the first meteors, trailing across the sky like golden sparklers in the darkness. Soon after, more and more follow, painting the night sky with streaks of colors that remind you of the way that light bounces off of Starscream’s cockpit, and below the silvery sea dances, reflecting those sparks in its waves. Suddenly, you remember what this is, and you laugh in sheer exhilaration.
“Umbrastar’s Meteor Shower! I can’t believe I completely forgot that was today--Starscream, did you plan this?”
You look back at him, meeting his optics. His wings flare up in surprise, but he quickly takes on a smug air.
“Of course I did! Well, I didn’t plan our graduation to be today of course, not even I have that kind of influence--yet--but I knew that this would be a better place to view the meteors than at the slagging Academy graduation party.”
“Oh, so that’s why you didn’t want to go,” you mumble, and his proud smirk turns into a scowl.
“Hey, you better be grateful!”
You set your cube aside to raise your servos in a placating gesture.
“Yes! Yes, I am. Thank you, Starscream.”
He huffs, and before you can react, he reaches over to snatch your high-grade.
“You can give me this as your thank-you present.”
“Isn’t that a little much? You’ll be too drunk to fly.”
“Then you’ll just have to carry me back.”
With a big sigh, you let him have your cube. “Oh alright, fine.”
Not that you could’ve stopped him in the first place, anyway. Secretly, you think Starscream deserves it anyway, for taking you out to see this breathtaking sight.
This time, you see his smile as he finishes your cube.
You regret not telling Starscream.
As ice creeps into your vents, you regret not telling him about a lot of things.
Like how it was you who replaced his set of beakers after you broke them, and you were too embarrassed to admit it. Like how frustrating it is that he’s more willing to lie than tell the direct truth. Like how you always thought he was the best flyer in Iacon, maybe even the best on Cybertron.
Like how his smile is going to be the last thing you’ll think about when your systems slow down, until your body completely freezes over.
You think you hear the screams of jet turbines in the distance, streaking back and forth despite the storm, but that might just be your imagination.
You’re not sure how you feel about being the potential second-in-command to any army, but for Starscream, you’ll try.
Today has been...a lot.
You barely had any time to comprehend the fact that Starscream is here and that you’re still alive before he introduces you to his boss, the leader of their faction.
Oh, and there’s a war now, by the way.
There isn't time to accept that fact or to mourn your long-dead professors and colleagues, because someone shoves a gun at you and now you’re standing guard outside of the army’s base of operations. You know how to use a blaster of course, but knowing is different from wanting to use it.
Still, if it means defending himself and Starscream from these ‘Autobots,’ you’ll pull the trigger.
Starscream is different, you notice. You recognize his temper, his difficult nature, his cunning, but it all seems...harsher. Where he used to be as sharp as broken glass, now he’s a jagged knife. It disturbs you a little that he seems happy about being a warrior, but maybe he’s covering up for something else? He’s as hard to read now as he was back then. You’ve seen how he acted around the other soldiers, and it’s not until you’re both alone before his optics soften.
He doesn’t smile, though. Nor do his wings relax. You think you can understand why. It’s been millions of years, and war can’t have been easy on him. In the soft, juvenile part of your processor, you remember that he lost you, too.
Starscream leaves you to your station, and you scan the field as best as you can. The icy field seems to taunt you, and you resolutely ignore the churning in your spark.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take that long for the Autobots to show up.
Except it all goes downhill from there.
The next time you online, your chassis feels numb. You know it’s your pain receptors being dulled--you can recognize that a medic is still plugged into your diagnostic ports--but the numbness seems to grow somehow. Creeping throughout your body like encroaching ice.
“Good, you’re awake,” the medic grumbles, unplugging from your ports. You turn your head to look at him, but when you open your mouth, nothing comes out.
“You’re lucky, you know,” he continues. “He hit you in some of the densest parts of your chassis, so even though his null rays still immobilized you, you only have some surface-level damage.”
Starscream’s ugly screech still rings in your audio receptors. His snarl is foreign to you, too, cruel and dangerous.
Why would he…shoot you? And for what, refusing to offline some prisoners?
It should make you angry, you think, and maybe you will be later, but all you can feel right now is a suffocating sense of grief, drowning your spark.
He didn’t just lose you the day of that storm, all those millions of years ago.
You lost him too.
But there’s still a war going on, and you have no more time to grieve. You follow the Autobots when they ask you to come, and you channel your grief into anger, and it's your anger that allows you to pick up Megatron, even though you would have never done something as aggressive as that before.
(It’s been a long day.)
This war is changing you already, just like it changed Starscream, and you’re not sure you like it. You don’t dwell on that though, because that’s when you see him, and he sees you.
Words are exchanged, and you both take to the air in flight--not together, not like a thousand times before.
He flies aggressively at you, attempting to force you down, but you don’t let him. You won’t ever be as fast as him, but you’ve always been able to keep up. Though it’s one thing racing each other in the sky versus fighting over a battlefield. Fighting each other.
Despite the rush of frigid wind against your plating and the sounds of explosions below, you do notice something missing. There’s no bursts of blaster shots up here.
You don’t know what that means, but there’s no time to think about it. You don’t shoot him either, but you have to stop him somehow.
Ramming right into him isn’t your smartest idea, but you think he deserves it, just a little. Then you feel guilty for thinking that.
Then you feel nothing at all, after you crash into the ice once more.
You never get a chance to talk to him again, during the war.
You see him, of course. It’s hard to miss the Elite Trine, but it’s not like Starscream will stop in the middle of combat to have a chat with you.
When you’re not needed for transport, you try to keep yourself to the base anyways. Even with your thick armor, you’re not quite suited for fighting, even if you’re pretty damn good at catching bots flying through the air.
The Autobots are nice, but you get the sense that they don’t know what to do with you. You make some friends among the scientists, but for the most part, everyone leaves you alone to tinker in the labs.
No one sets a fire in your lab on purpose. No one argues with you.
For all the peace and quiet you used to jokingly wish for back during the Academy, now you have too much of it.
The only good thing about all this is Earth, and isn’t that an ironic thing. This planet tore your entire life away from you, but even now, its ecosystems and inhabitants are still so fascinating.
It’s their tenacious nature, you think, resulting from their shorter life spans. They’re constantly fighting to survive.
But the humans don’t just survive. You learn this one night, when you come out with the Autobots to one of the human observatories. You’re invited to sit down in the grassy field next to it, and you do so with the others. There’s more humans at the observatory, but some families spread picnic blankets on the field too.
You keep your gaze up instead of chatting with the other bots, waiting. You try searching for Cybertron in the meantime--you still know roughly where your planet is in relation to this one--but you don’t see it among the other million lights in the sky.
But then, the whispers and laughs quiet down, and a brilliant streak of white appears in the sky. There’s only the one. Halley’s Comet, you hear the humans call it.
It’s no meteor shower, but your spark swells with indescribable emotions, spinning rapid like a centrifuge.
All around you, loved ones point up at the sky, laughing and looking at one another to see their reactions. Your spark aches.
Later, you find out Starscream slagged off Megatron that night, and that’s why the Decepticons didn’t show up to ruin your comet-watching party. The mechs in Spec Ops have a good laugh over how he was nearly successful in his newest scheme to overthrow Megatron. It didn’t pan out, of course.
For all the complicated feelings you have for Starscream (you’re still a little mad that he tried to make you kill some prisoners), you’re relieved to know that he’s still fighting. Until you realize that he’s been fighting all these years alone. It’s sobering.
You’re not sorry for choosing to protect life, but you are sorry for leaving him, and you want to tell him that desperately. But neither of you comm. each other, and there are no run-ins in any shared lab.
Even though you never properly talk to him again, there is one moment that stands out to you.
You’ve dropped off some Autobot reinforcements for a battle and you’re flying back to base in alt mode, nearly out of the line of fire. That is, until a burning blaster bolt flies past your wing, and you spot one of the Coneheads flying after you.
You hate when this happens. Bobbing and weaving, you try to lose Thrust, but the seeker keeps up with you--not as well as Starscream can, of course, but annoyingly well enough. You try to get behind him to shoot your own blasters, but you notice too late that Ramjet has a target on you.
You go down, spinning and spinning like the day you crash in that storm. Desperately trying to do damage control, you pull at your wings until they strain, and you manage to right yourself just in time to crash into the forest below.
Trees scratch your paint, and you think one of your wings is bent, but you’re doing okay, for the most part. Overhead, you hear the sounds of transformation, so you transform too. It’s too late, though, and now you’re staring down two blasters.
Death is an annoying, tired concept to you by now, but even after all this time, you still regret--
Something booms in the distance. The Coneheads jerk back, and lift their servos to their audials, sending back their own comms. They sneer at you before transforming once more and flying off. You wonder why they’re in such a hurry.
::Autobots!:: Prowl commands sharply over the general comm. ::Starscream has detonated a remote bomb at the nuclear reactor--you need to clear the area, NOW!::
First you think that’s a waste of a nuclear reactor, because now no one can get the energy. Then you think Starscream is an impulsive maniac. But what else is new?
You transform back into alt mode despite your wing, and you fly towards the nuclear reactor.
That is, until a familiar jet rams right into you. It might be karma.
He knocks you off-course, and before you can even do anything, he’s shooting at you. To avoid them, you’re forced to fly back, away from the nuclear reactor. You can see the explosion of light now, beautiful and horrifying.
::Prowl, are all the Autobots out of there? Do I need to evacuate anyone?:: you comm. back, desperate to avoid Starscream’s attacks.
With that assurance, you gratefully pull back, flying away from the radioactive explosion. Starscream pulls up behind you, riding on your tailwind, and the familiarity of it makes your spark twist once more.
He lingers, and then he is gone, pulling away to fly in another direction. You want to follow him, and you almost do, but with a shrill shriek of his engines, Starscream speeds away like a shining comet.
All you can do is watch him go.
A year after Starscream’s death, you go back to that cliff by the Mithril Sea.
The sea receded a long time ago, so now the cliff stands in silence. It seems more lonely without any waves breaking against it.
You seat yourself on the edge of the cliff and pull out two cubes of high-grade that you’ve been saving up. Looking up at the night sky above, you focus on the stars, resolutely ignoring the debris now littering Cybertron’s sky. Unicron’s head floats in the far distance, hanging like a monument to the chaos and destruction that ravaged your planet.
You wonder if this is how Starscream felt after losing you, right before the start of a devastating war. He would call this poetic, you think.
Breaking open one of the cubes, you pour it out over the edge before setting it down next to you. If he were here, he’d complain about the waste of perfectly good high-grade. But he’s not, so you let yourself have this.
Drinking your own cube, you try not to consider what might’ve happened if you had told him the truth. Not that it would have stopped you from crashing in that storm, but what would change? Would you have been happier?
After some reflection, you admit that he was happy already, back during your Academy days. Even when he raged against the department, or picked fights with other students (and you), he still stayed by your side.
You miss him. Not just the younger version of him--the one you were so familiar with--but the one you met after being rescued from the ice, too. You would have liked to try reaching out to him, if you had the chance. Maybe you both could have made up. Maybe you wouldn’t.
Now you’ll never know, and you’re only left with two empty cubes and a quiet cliff.
When you get up to leave, you catch something strange. Behind your back is an outcropping of metal, jutting from the ground like it wants to reach for that long-gone sea, except there’s an unusual color next to it. As you step closer, you see that it’s a lockbox, one of a lighter metal than the surface of Cybertron, but it hasn’t rusted yet, so you assume it’s not from before the war.
The box has a keypad on the side, and for reasons you don’t look too closely at, you end up trying out several combinations. It’s the date of your graduation that opens the box with a quiet click, and you can’t help but laugh. A year after Starscream’s death, and he still manages to surprise you, somehow.
Inside is a simple datastick, and you end up seating yourself on the edge of the cliff again, pulling out a datapad from your subspace to plug it into. There’s only one video log, which you open.
The first thing you notice in the video is that Starscream looks tired. All of his bluster, his anger, his smugness is nonexistent. He’s staring off at a point beyond the camera, just sitting there for a few moments. You take the time to note some other details, like how he seems to be in the Victory, presumably his own quarters. There’s some recent welding on his wings, too, and a cracked cockpit.
Starscream doesn’t look at the camera when he addresses you.
“Skyfire,” he begins, with the weight of several million years on your name. “You are an idiot.”
He glares at the camera, but you know it’s really at you. “I didn’t keep you alive all this time just so you could fly right at a fragging explosion! It’s like you don’t even respect my hard work, you fragging aft!
“You never look out for yourself--you just had to play the big hero, didn’t you? Slag, you always do this. Sure it’s easy helping other people, but what about yourself, you giant space taxi?”
Starscream rolls his optics. “You were my partner, so fragging act like it. Why do you think other people keep using you? Pit, why do you think they always overlook you? It’s because you’re so--”
He slumps in his chair, shoves his servos into his face, and screams. When he finishes, he looks away again.
“I hated the fact that the Autobots used you only for transport. You could have been so much more with the Decepticons…” he trails off, and then shakes his head. “I know, I know, you would have hated that, but--slag. This is war, Skyfire--what happened to following my lead, huh? And then you just...”
Starscream stays quiet for several moments, optics unfocused and dim. Suddenly, he laughs.
“Maybe leaving was better for you, in the end. It still slagged me off, though, seeing you with the organics and the bots. But I guess you were happier, I think. I could never tell--you always were so fragging confusing.
“I don’t understand how one moment, you’re willing to defend your ridiculous beliefs and fight me over them, and then in the next, you’d let other mechs walk all over you. You never want to lead, but you’re amazing at reaching out--and slag, you’re nice and you care, but you always downplay that, and do you know how annoying that is?
“Speaking of! It’s especially irritating that you’re brilliant, but you act like it’s not a big deal--except it is! You make me so fragging frustrated sometimes, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as terrible as you.”
Starscream lets out one big, loud sigh, and then he smiles at the camera, crooked and familiar.
“You’re exhausting to love, Skyfire.”
After a few seconds, the smile slips away, and he’s back to looking tired again.
“I wonder, sometimes, what might have happened if I had told you sooner. Maybe you’d actually fragging listen to me more often. Oh, who am I kidding, you’ve always been so stubborn.” Starscream frowns and folds his arms.
“Not that you like me like that, anyways, or else you would have just told me. Besides, I’d be a terrible partner for you--we’d just fight all the time, and I’ll keep making you upset about stupid slag. You...deserve better than that.”
Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Starscream clears his vocalizer and sits up.
“I should delete this,” he mutters. “I deleted all the other ones, anyway.”
Starscream leans over, and the last thing you see is his face settling back into a defensive scowl, until the video cuts off abruptly.
It’s too quiet, with the video over. Your servos are shaking, so you tuck the datapad against your chassis, ensuring that you don’t drop it by accident.
Optic fluids stream down your face as you let out a broken, raw laugh.
All this time...how did neither of you see it?
He loved you back. He loved you enough to save you, over and over again.
How could you ever repay him now?
It’s deeply unfair, you think. But it’s liberating at the same time, like an explosion of light and sound. For every memory you re-examine, you see the moments where he loved you, clumsy and out of line, but passionate and earnest. Starscream threw all of himself into loving you.
He loved you. You love him.
The stars shine in the night sky up above, and in the distance, you think you can hear the waves of the Mithril Sea.