Waiting For Starscream
Maybe I should have locked the door.
Perhaps it’s better I didn’t. After all, I was still technically on-shift, still technically part of the project. In a little more than five hours I would leave the Stormworld forever, but until then I was still the Monitor, Coordinator, and General Secretary of the station. Besides, I’m known to leave the door open when I’m working, and if I had locked it, it might raise suspicion.
But, then, I would be leaving soon. What could it possibly matter?
I had thought I was handling the situation well, but soon learned how wrong I was. Vapourtrail had dropped off a compad on my desk, but didn’t immediately leave. After a minute, I had looked up and asked, “Well? Have you something else to report?”
She had twisted her hands together, then put them at her sides. “Perhaps it’s none of my business, Dreadmoon, sir, but what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
Vapourtrail shrugged nervously. “Starscream barely speaks to anyone, you’ve been wandering around like a lost soul… Who is Skyfire, Dreadmoon? I mean, it’s good we have another scientist on the project, but… I can ignore the fact that he’s a neutral, but he came out of nowhere,” - We were to receive new crew for the season, but not for another week - “and… well… he seems to be the focus of all this. Sir.”
Skyfire had arrived on the Stormworld almost a week ago. I settled my head in my hands. “Have the others been talking?”
“Half of them are Insecticons,” she had said with a brief smile. “They talk constantly.” Then, “They’re worried. They don’t like people to be unhappy. Memory refuses to talk about it, saying you’re all just being silly…”
“Twenty years ago, I would have said the same thing.” She waited, and I decided to continue. I didn’t particularly want to discuss the situation with outsiders, but I had to talk to someone… “Skyfire is Starscream’s companion, from long ago.”
“Why are you worried? You’re his love now.”
At that, I had looked up sharply. “But we never…” but stopped and slumped back to my original position. “I was that obvious?”
“No. Not until Skyfire arrived,” she said, not unkindly. I heard a chair scrape, heard her settle in on the other side of my desk, felt her hand on my gauntlet. “He’ll come back to you.”
“He won’t - he can’t. Skyfire was his companion.”
I had stood, paced the room, and stopped, staring at the wall. She didn’t understand… but then, how could I expect her to? Vapourtrail was new, less than two-and-a-half years old, and most of that spent on the Stormworld. She had no chance to interact on Cybertron, no time learn the full scope of interpersonal relationships… “It’s more complicated than just love, Vapourtrail. They share a bond.”
She waited quietly, and I had turned back to my pacing. “Transformers, as a race, have a type of telepathy, our internal radio, and it can only be used for communication. Some have it stronger, and can actively pick up on thought. The point is this: Companionship isn’t just love, but also a sharing of minds.”
“I thought mind-sharing was dangerous unless you were combiner-compatible.”
“Mind-sharing is… physical, I suppose,” I had said, trying to understand it myself. “It involves the physical connection of lead-wires, leaving everything open and no way for an ordinary person to back out of it. Bonding is purely mental - I should have said, ‘a sharing of thoughts’, or of souls. It’s when the feeling is so strong that you want to… be the other person, to think his thoughts and experience his emotions; to wrap him in your soul where he can finally understand…” I had stopped when I realised Vapourtrail was staring. Quickly, I said, “Basically, your mental barriers break down, leaving you open to the other.
“The most important thing, though, is that after bonding, you never lose your link with your companion. There’s always a part of them inside of you.” I stopped and scowled at the floor. “And that’s why Skyfire came, because he’s a part of Starscream and Starscream is a part of him.”
She nodded. “And you wish it was with you.”
Vapourtrail has left the room, my office is once again nothing more than my quarters, and I’m again alone with my thoughts. This time, I’ve locked the door.
Skyfire arrived on the Stormworld a week ago, but the situation had started days earlier, with a simple audio transmission. It had been my shift in the control room, and I had been glad I was alone. Once the message had ended, I sat and stared at the blank screen for a long time.
It wasn’t the Corridor Season, but this was still the Stormworld, and communications were always difficult - which had been the reason why the caller didn’t radio Starscream directly. Or perhaps he had wanted a go-between, in case Starscream didn’t want to talk to him.
A go-between wasn’t needed. I had known that, but then, I knew Starscream. The caller didn’t, not now.
The message had been short: I wish to speak with Starscream. Will he talk to me?
It was a message that I knew was inevitable, and one I had been dreading to receive. The caller had been Skyfire. I had run out of time, and that knowledge had reached my core and twisted…
And that pain is nothing compared to what I’m going through now. Now, counting down the hours, now that my fate is sealed and sure, now that I am sitting in my quarters, long given up even the pretence of working on the day’s reports… A little less than five hours, now. Five hours before Starscream gathers himself to tell me that he and Skyfire have decided to try to pick up the pieces of their former relationship.
I don’t want to leave him, but I can’t stay. Not now, not when I’ve told him… No, my continued presence would make things too awkward. I should have left the words unsaid, shouldn’t have admitted that I loved him… he told me he knew, but unspoken, things might have been able to continue the way they had for the last two years: I, in the background, reliable and deferential, my loyalty repaid by the simple pleasure of being near him…
I can’t stay, because my patient devotion was too effective. Dear friend, beloved master, lover I can never have…
He loves me.
Sometimes, sharing a triumph, a defeat, even just a quiet moment, I would think, I’m by his side, and everything is right. How easy it would be now to gather him close, or just rest my hands on his wings, and tell him that I love him. And, because it was only a fantasy, my touch and my emotions would always be returned. Sometimes Starscream caught me at it, and asked what I was thinking about because it was obvious that my mind was wandering. And I would snap back to the present and invent some excuse, because this was reality and the time was never right.
It had been the better part of an hour, after Skyfire’s call, before I gathered the strength to track down Starscream. It was my duty to inform him of the message, and I knew he never would have forgiven me if I didn’t relay it. However, it was also something that I had wanted to say in person - I had to be there, I had to see his face - and I found myself on a grassy plain, waiting for Starscream to arrive.
Waiting for Starscream - in those three words are the last sixteen years of my life. A tiny amount, perhaps, given that I’ve already lived over seven million, but somehow the most important, as if all my prior existence was simply a lead-up to the moment I would meet him. Starscream - At first just a name, then a name that was a person, then a name that had become so intertwined with my own that I couldn’t remember my life before he became a part of it.
It wasn’t quite love at first sight, no, though very close. Certainly we had found ourselves instantly compatible and I enjoyed his wit and company, but it was a few weeks before I realised there was something more. There was something inside him, something lonely and broken, and I had thought, He needs me. He didn’t need help, he needed me.
The realisation had frightened me. I remember dropping a datapad from fingers suddenly gone numb, and falling to my knees with the anguished thought: It is impossible that I am in love with the Decepticon Air Commander!
However, it was not only possible, but true. It was also abundantly clear that he wasn’t ready for that kind of declaration. In any case, he had gone back to Earth after a month or so, while I had remained on Cybertron. But we kept in touch, and any time he had business on Cybertron he would visit me, and I would be his friend, his confidant, or even just a loyal subordinate, depending on his need. And, two years ago, when I had heard about the Stormworld project, I left Cybertron and followed him.
Career-wise, I made a mistake. On Cybertron, I had been a Sector Monitor, perhaps no more than five ranks down from Megatron himself. And I had been very good at my job. On the Stormworld, I found I was… useless. I had been many things in my life - an administrator, a warrior… I’d even served some centuries in law enforcement - but I wasn’t a scientist. There had been no true place for me, so I made one - I coordinated, I wrote reports, I did minor technical jobs… Basically, I picked up all the behind-the-scenes work that the others were too busy to do. An overglorified secretary, perhaps, but indispensable. Which was all well and good, but it wasn’t my primary objective - All I wanted was to be useful to Starscream.
So I had been useful; I was his friend, I was near him every day, and it was almost enough.
I had waited, out on the bluff that housed the station, optic sensors damped and unused to the light. For once the sun was shining, though the ground had still been wet; I could feel it through my feet, could see a million points of light where the sun reflected from the water droplets still clinging to the grass… I can still remember all the details clearly, as if they were important.
And when Starscream arrived, armour flashing in the sun like summer lightning, I had missed it, because I had let myself be hypnotized by my own thoughts and the movement of the clouds. He hailed me, and I managed to collect my thoughts… which promptly scattered again when I turned.
There are those who disagree with me, and, frankly, I don’t care - Starscream is beautiful, and I could spend hours just watching him. In fact, I have, and I never tire of it. It is irrational perhaps, but my twisting, hopeless emotions need some type of release, and I had found a small measure of calm in the secret, unobtrusive pleasure of just being with him. I would quietly drink in his silver form with my senses, tracing his lines and wondering what would happen were I to reach out and let my hands follow the same path as my optics…
I had known other Seekers, even ones in colours I preferred, and had never been affected by their sight. Starscream is beautiful simply because he is Starscream - The way the light plays off of his panels, the sleek lines and sharp angles of his form, the way he moves, his quicksilver moods… And there, in the sunlight, after two years of the station’s dim illumination and the overcast twilight that plagues the Stormworld, to have him standing there in mirror-bright glory had been almost overwhelming.
Somehow I had managed to deliver my report without letting my thoughts reach my voice or face. Starscream had been different: “Skyfire?” Surprise turned to joy turned to apprehension, and I cringed inwardly at each successive emotion. Starscream had looked up at me, anxiety etched into his face. “That was it? No hint as to what he wants?”
“He didn’t sound malicious,” I had said, knowing full well that Starscream would play the short message back for himself and pick up on the unspoken undertones, probably better than I could. I understood people better than Starscream did, but I only really knew Skyfire through the times Starscream spoke of him - Skyfire had been Starscream’s companion, long ago.
And there on the bluff was when I finally admitted the truth to myself: Companion. Bondmate. It had been a long time, but the bond was still there, and I knew it. I didn’t know then how long I had until Starscream and Skyfire officially got back together again, and that was the worst part of it. I thought that if I knew, I might have a chance to prepare myself for the inevitable blow. I couldn’t stand the uncertainty, not knowing if I had weeks or days or minutes just to watch him, just to be with him… If I knew before Skyfire came that our time would be so short, I would have…
… I would have done nothing different. Starscream had bonded to Skyfire even before I existed. I never had a chance. Never.
I know better now, with the clock ticking down, with only hours left, that certainty is just as bad. And what am I doing with these few hours? Why am I sitting in my quarters reminiscing when I should be with him? I should be doing something, even just watching him, or talking with him, collecting a few last memories…
… And I remain seated, because I know that if I go anywhere near him, I would sweep him into my arms and never let go.
Just hours now, and already I feel so empty. What would it cost me to collapse into his arms and beg him to love me, just until the time ran out? He loves me. He does. Just a few hours won’t harm either of us. Just a chance to hold him close, to speak to him as a lover, to pretend that he is mine and I am his, just for a little while. Just to leave me with a few memories that I can carry away with me, to be taken out and cherished in the long years ahead…
No. I won’t beg. My dignity is already in tatters - I won’t lose the rest of it; it’s all I have now. I will let him remember me as the friend who was his strength when his own failed, and as the one who loved him enough to walk away. Let him remember me well.
On the bluff, what now feels like an eternity of torment ago, Starscream had paced, as he tended to do when thinking. His mouth had moved as if speaking, but no sound came out until he suddenly stopped and turned to me: “But what can I say?”
Tell him that it has been too long, and that the bond has faded. Tell him that you don’t need him, because you have found another. Of course, these things hadn’t been said. I knew that despite the long time apart, they were still bondmates, and the love that lay dormant was seeking release. It was not my place to interfere. Instead I had said: “Tell him the truth,” and I don’t think I flinched. I wish I’d thought of some excuse to keep talking to him then - he was beautiful in the sunlight - but in a blaze of silver, he was gone.
Gone. At this time tomorrow, I’ll be on Cybertron, trying to function normally, and the only evidence I’ll have of Starscream ever being a part of my life is memory.
My desires are specific; desires I wasn’t even aware of until I met him… but once awakened, they couldn’t be ignored. It was like finding a part of myself I didn’t know was missing, and, having it back, couldn’t imagine functioning without it. Because, and it took me a while to realise this, that I don’t particularly care about love.
Some people, I know, go through life wishing they were in love. I didn’t. Even now I still look for the words to explain this - Yes, I am in love. Terribly, desperately, with all my soul, I am in love. However, it is not because I was looking for it. I was content with my existence until he came and settled into my life so swiftly, so naturally, that it seemed he’d always been a part of it. I was not so desperate for companionship that I would throw myself at the first person who spoke to me of love. There had been one or two in my long past, and one horribly, frighteningly recent…
Even now I can barely think of Mourningstar without repressing a shudder. The Hunter had been telepathic, and heard my thoughts - all of my thoughts - felt my devotion for Starscream, and decided it should be for him. He had loved me, I knew, and that was worse than if he was just trying to use me. If he was, I could just let myself hate him, and crowd out the loathing and the absolute terror he made me feel… His mind had been like a cold void, and even the touch of telepathic communication was like falling and waiting for a crash that would never come…
I rejected him, and Mourningstar had been furious. In the end, he couldn’t bring himself to destroy me outright, but he could drain my energy and leave me for dead: ‘If I cannot have all of you, I will take a part of you,’ he said with his voice like the whisper of ice. ‘It could have been glorious…’
But I didn’t die. Starscream came for me. I remember a touch, comforting words… and a sense of completion. He might have shown the same concern to any of us, or to any he considered a friend, but I liked to think he did it because he cared for me. To be treated gently, protectively, by him was… It was wonderful… and so very right. I had been dying - I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, I could barely see, but he was with me and I was complete. Complete and safe.
Later, it had been Memory who drew me out of myself, but it had been Starscream who was there to console me. The mere fact that it was him helped more than any words he could say; he was a clumsy comforter, unused to the task, but he had cared enough to try, and it had been sufficient.
And Mourningstar… Even the memory of that relentless whisper fills me with loathing, because he had been Starscream, but twisted: Starscream’s skills and intelligence, but focused on destruction alone, and with none of the life-experience that truly made Starscream Starscream. There was nothing I could do for Mourningstar, even if he hadn’t been a monster, even if his mere presence didn’t cause my soul to recoil in revulsion…
I really hope he’s dead.
Still, I do wonder… Mourningstar thought himself Starscream. What would he have thought of Skyfire?..
Within a few days of his transmission, I finally met my nemesis. Perhaps Starscream had invited him, perhaps he just came; it didn’t matter - I knew Skyfire would come. And, after that, it was unavoidable that we would meet. The station wasn’t so large, even after the Constructicons expanded it, that we could simply avoid each other. Besides, in some masochistic way, I had been drawn to him. I had wanted to meet the one who would take Starscream from me, sum him up for myself, and decide if he was indeed worthy to take my place.
We were careful of each other, polite, wary. I had my reasons, and didn’t know at the time just how much Starscream had told him of me. I already knew Skyfire’s story.
Skyfire had crashed on Earth during an exploration mission with Starscream, nine million years ago, forcing Starscream to give him up for lost. Eighteen years ago, the Decepticons found Skyfire by accident and accepted him into their ranks. Starscream was so happy just to have Skyfire back that he didn’t stop to ask what Skyfire thought of the entire Autobot-Decepticon conflict. Immersed in his fantasies, shattered by his own past, Starscream had seen it as a personal betrayal when Skyfire expressed his doubts about the Decepticon cause.
It wasn’t until recent months - with me quietly coaxing, patiently listening - that Starscream had finally stopped, looked back, and realised that Skyfire hadn’t betrayed him. Skyfire had been forced to make a choice - remain with the Decepticons or become an Autobot. Either way, he had been forced into a conflict he knew nothing about, and he regretfully joined the less warlike side.
Starscream had never been proud of the rift between himself and Skyfire, and finally seeing it from the other’s perspective had hurt him worse than he wanted to admit. But I had been there when the slow realisation and dawning horror of his own past actions had caught up to him, and I had been there to bear the force of the resulting flood of emotion.
And I remember the episode clearly, held tightly in my store of high-priority memories. It wasn’t so much because Starscream was finally opening up to me, because it had happened before. It wasn’t even because he had collapsed, trembling, into my arms, letting me hold him close for almost an hour. This memory was special because after the flood was over, leaving Starscream emotionally drained and mentally exhausted, he had caught up my hand and said, quietly, Thank you for listening - my friend. Starscream was a highly emotional being, but rarely admitted to his feelings. And while, deep within myself, I knew he considered me a friend, he had never before acknowledged it aloud. It had helped, a little.
Starscream had left us alone in one of the common areas; either he wanted us to try to get along, or he just didn’t want to be in the line of fire. We spoke of nothing consequential, until he asked, “Speak truthfully - What has he told you about me?”
“I know your… attachment to him,” I had said, unable to say the word itself. My own calm façade had threatened to break despite my control, so I changed the subject, perhaps too quickly: “And that you were an Autobot.”
“For a time. I didn’t want to join the war, but I wasn’t given a choice,” said Skyfire quietly, not looking at me, but at the Decepticon symbol on my shoulder. “I joined the side that seemed to be less violent, but…” He had trailed off and spread his hands in an expansive shrug.
I had waited, and in a minute, he continued: “I stayed with the Autobots for years, but… it was still wrong, and four months ago, I left them to return to my primary function. It isn’t my war… and I couldn’t be Starscream’s enemy.”
But you’re my enemy, I had thought bitterly. Because you’re going to take away a part of myself I never knew existed until sixteen years ago. Because I’ve lost the light of my soul. Because you exist.
In fact, Skyfire and I had met once, sixteen years ago… though ‘met’ is the wrong word. I saw Skyfire from a distance during a firefight, before a building fell on me. Skyfire had helped patch my vital systems so Starscream could take me to a proper repair bay. The fact that I already owed the scientist my life did not please me.
I hadn’t known back then what Skyfire’s connection to Starscream was. Initially he had been just a memory, one that Starscream would barely acknowledge; a former comrade, now a traitor. As time passed, as Starscream opened up to me, I learned more - Skyfire had been a friend, one that he felt betrayed by.
Two years ago, Starscream admitted the full story: Skyfire had been his companion.
What could I do? When he told me, Starscream had been heavily damaged, drifting in and out of a recursive memory-loop… I could have gathered him into my arms, could have told him then that I loved him, that despite everything he had me, all of me, freely and without condition. But, despite his weakness, there had been a tone to his words… Starscream was bitter, confused, and angry at him, but Skyfire was still his companion. So I held it back; I had taken up his hand and comforted him as best I could, while something inside of me curled up in a corner and wailed, If Only…
If Only I had known about Skyfire before…
If Only I had the courage to declare myself to Starscream, anyway…
By the time I learned Starscream was bonded, it was too late - I loved him. Loved him passionately, desperately, emotions now given an edge by the sheer hopelessness of the situation. I had thought I had time - the rest of my existence - to work my way into his life, to give him a chance to realise that he needed me as much as I needed him…
But bonding was permanent, and I knew that one day they would seek each other out, and I would no longer be needed. It would happen. It was inevitable. I wish I had more time.
I had hated him at first, because it was the easiest thing to do. It did occur to me that it would be easy to mention Skyfire’s presence to Cybertron. I could drop a few paranoid comments on how he says he left the Autobots, but can we believe him?.. and had pushed it aside. It would get rid of Skyfire, but I knew with the same certainty that I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t. For one, I could never keep it secret from Starscream, not if he did accept me as his companion one day, and he would hate me for it. For another, it simply wouldn’t be… right.
Despite everything, I couldn’t hurt Skyfire. Stormworld had its dangers; I could have easily arranged an ‘accident’, or even just told Skyfire outright to leave, but I knew I wouldn’t. Not because it was certain I would be found out, but because Skyfire was a part of Starscream, and what hurt one would hurt the other. And I would never hurt Starscream, my silver prince, to whom I’d given my love, my devotion, my life…
And then, yesterday, a chance encounter destroyed any option I had of staying. I had been doing some minor work in the computer lab when the door opened, and I hid a scowl as Skyfire ducked through. The scientist was working for us - unofficially, of course - doing species-counts on a chain of southern islands. I knew he had been doing it because he didn’t want to sit idle, but part of myself kept thinking he was doing it to show me up. I wasn’t a scientist; I just translated their jargon and wrote their reports.
Skyfire had plugged the compad he was carrying into one of the stations - obviously he had legitimate business, but I couldn’t stand to be near him; I couldn’t so much as look at him without thinking, you know the touch of his hands, the feel of his body, his words of love. You can look into his optics and see your soul reflected there. I want those things more than you can ever know, and because of you I can never have them. I had stood abruptly, shut off my console and started to storm out… but then I made the mistake of looking at Skyfire.
There had been a brief flash of pain behind his optics, and I realised with a start that all this was hurting him as well. In my mind I had cast him as an adversary, someone who actively sought to shatter me, when in fact he had been in just as much agony as I was - possibly more. Starscream behaved terribly to him when he first awoke, and Skyfire had been plunged into a war he knew nothing about. Eventually he fled… only to arrive on the Stormworld, probably drawn by Starscream. Starscream was doing better now - now that he was away from Megatron, now that he finally had a chance to prove himself, face himself - and perhaps Skyfire had felt that through the bond, and chose to seek him out… Which would make it my fault that he was here, my patient care…
I had all-but demonised the scientist, and it only then occurred to me that he was lost and confused and hurt and probably saw me as the one who would take his companion - his one link with the strange new world he found himself in - away from him. And I was supposed to be the one who understood people…
I had turned away, lightly resting my hands on a nearby chair, and knew that Skyfire sensed my regret and accepted it. “Perhaps…” I started slowly.
“He will choose,” said Skyfire quietly, and I didn’t question that he knew. “He’s too emotional; he has to reciprocate.”
He had seemed like a good person. I hated the fact that one of us was going to get hurt. “I don’t know what to think of you, Skyfire. He has told me about you, and at first I was pleased. It meant he was healing, and it meant he was finally opening up to me. But it also meant he missed you terribly, and would have given much to have you back in his life.” I had sighed, but my fists clenched. “And nine times out of ten, if he was badly damaged, or emotionally broken, he would ask for you. That hurt.”
When I felt the white jet’s gaze, I had looked back over my shoulder. “I never wanted you to return, but knew you would, some day. And I told myself that I would accept it. And then when you did come…” I shrugged and turned from him again. “I didn’t expect it to hurt as much as it does.” I stopped then, disgusted at myself for admitting so much. I didn’t want to say these things to Skyfire, I wanted to say them to Starscream… But it was impossible, even more than it had been when I first met him…
I had started from the room, but the scientist’s voice stopped me: “He loves you.”
“You didn’t know?”
“I…” I started, then stopped. Did I know, then? Sometimes I had been certain of it - a look, a word, a touch… But I had been sure I’d imagined these things, wanting so desperately for my feelings to be returned, so certain they never could be… But why couldn’t Starscream love us both, even if he was already bonded? The words whirled around, and in the end I had managed only a faint, “He does?”
Skyfire had nodded, then knelt down to my level. “He told me.”
Why didn’t he tell me? my mind had cried before realising that I shouted it. My dignity shattered, I didn’t bother to try to salvage it. I ran to Skyfire, had laid my hands on one too-large gauntlet, and looked up into his optics, not bothering to hide the pleading in my own. “He knew I… He must have…”
“He knew,” agreed Skyfire gently, catching up both of my hands in one of his. I hadn’t realised how much I needed just a friendly touch, just a reminder that I wasn’t alone. “But he didn’t think he was ready… And I still lived.”
I had barely heard Skyfire’s words. I hadn’t even realised I was trembling until he laid a hand on my shoulder to steady me. Emotions kept under tight control for sixteen years threatened to boil over, enhanced by a hope I never thought I’d know: Starscream loved me, but he never told me. He loved me… which meant… Oh, I couldn’t be his bondmate, but I could at least talk to him, could tell him all the things I’ve wanted to say… and maybe, just once, I could hear the words returned…
Without thinking, I had started away from the scientist, and regretted it when a look of grief passed across his face. “I… didn’t mean it like that, Skyfire. I can’t hate you for existing, not now. It’s… It’s just that…” I had paused to steady myself, then let it out in a rush: “There’s so much I’ve wanted to say to him, and I’m pouring it out on his companion! I should be…”
“I’m sorry, Skyfire. I… I have to do this.”
I should have listened to Skyfire. I might have used the time to think out the consequences of my actions, instead of letting my emotions take control. Maybe I wouldn’t be here, now, waiting for the end. If I’d left things alone… It would hurt to see them together, but at least I could still be near Starscream, sharing in his life, though in an admittedly minor role. He wouldn’t need me as his confidant any more - just as Dreadmoon, the one who works in the background and does the administration. The one who watches from the shadows…
But I didn’t think. I acted. I had caught up to Starscream in a corridor, and had fallen into step with him. He had glanced over and nodded curtly. “I was just looking for you.”
There hadn’t been anyone else in that section of the station. “You knew,” I said quietly. “You knew I loved you.”
He stopped, looking at the floor. “I knew.”
“For how long?”
“I wasn’t certain until a few years ago.”
“‘Years’? Why didn’t you say something? - Anything! Even if you ordered me away, I would have at least known..!”
“I couldn’t send you away! I…”
He had stopped then, and I had known why. “Please, Starscream. Please say it, just once.” He had been within arm’s reach, and the temptation to catch his chin and force him to meet my gaze was strong.
As if sensing my thought, he had looked up and said, very clearly, “I couldn’t send you away. I love you. I’ve loved you since before the Stormworld.”
The moment should have been exultant. There had been joy, yes, but it was shadowed by the fact that while he shared my love, he also shared my pain. He couldn’t be mine… but it didn’t occur to me until that moment that I could never be his. He had sagged back against the wall, trembling. Starscream - who I’d long ago sworn to protect - had looked so small and miserable that it took a supreme effort of will to stay where I was, instead of enfolding him in my wings and promising to make everything all right… which, of course, I couldn’t do. Not when I was part of the problem.
He had caught me by surprise then, suddenly clasping hold of my hand in both of his. Starscream rarely touched anyone, and it was a gift when he did. “Dreadmoon, I don’t know what to do! It was… flattering at first, both of you here, both of you focussing on me, but… I can’t ignore it, I can’t choose between you…”
“Don’t ask me. Please.” I had laid my free hand over his. “I’m part of the situation.”
“You think more clearly than I do, and I value your advice,” he had said, while I had thought, I think clearly? Words whirl in a maelstrom through my head, but you’ll never know that. I long to wrap you in my words, my love, but it’s impossible - it’s always been impossible - and the words will never be heard…
I had taken my hands back so that I could turn away. I hadn’t thought I could hold a neutral expression. “A bond is permanent, Starscream. You should go back to him.” And if I had left it at that, things might have worked out…
“… But I want you to stay with me.”
The words were out before I could stop them, and before I could stop myself, I had caught Starscream’s arm. “In my mind, I know that you and Skyfire belong together. But my emotions, my soul… everything that I am cries out for you. You are my light. Let me be your shelter. I love you.” I had turned away, folding my arms across my chest and my wings around myself. It had helped, a little, to finally say the words, though once said, they seemed woefully inadequate. “I’m sorry.”
Maybe I should have told him all that years ago. Even if I could never be his companion, I could at least have been his love, just for a little while. I might have had a few years with him, sharing our lives and what love we could. If nothing else I could hold the memory and say, I did my best and loved him well. For a time he was happy, and it was because of me. I have known completion, and no force can take that from me.
He had fallen silent for so long I was afraid he’d left, but he had finally said, “If I did choose Skyfire… What would you do?”
“I would go back to Cybertron, I think, and retake my watchtower. I couldn’t stay here, not… not without you,” I had finished quietly. The only reason I stayed on Stormworld was for him.
“That isn’t what I meant.”
The genuine concern in his voice had made it impossible to hold back. “I would shatter. To lose you would be to lose a part of myself. I… like to think that I would recover. I don’t know.” I could try to go back to the way I was before I met you, but it would be impossible. I was happy, then. Now I couldn’t be. I didn’t know I lived in darkness until you brought your light.
After a minute, when he didn’t speak, I had asked, “You’re going to go back to him, aren’t you?”
“He’s…” Starscream paused; I heard him shuffle uncomfortably before continuing in a small voice, “Being with him… it’s like going home. I need him.”
“You need me!”
Starscream took a step back at that; I hadn’t meant to say it so violently. But the tension had been too strong, and he responded in kind: “You did make yourself invaluable to the project very quickly…”
“You think that of me?” I had demanded. “That I have served you these years, followed you to this disgusting planet, left my post of Sector Monitor to work below my potential co-ordinating one minor outpost, acted as your second and friend - for my own gain?”
“Of course not!”
We had stood there for a moment, bristling, before simultaneously turning away. “I didn’t mean to shout, Starscream.”
He had nodded, then started to walk away, but paused, touching the wall for support. “I asked Skyfire the same questions,” said Starscream carefully. “He said that people change and that I was free to do with my life what I chose - but he would prefer if I chose to go back to him.” Then, “What do you think of him?”
“He’s… better than I am,” I had eventually said. “More patient. More intelligent. He’s… someone you can be open with… As if you could pour out your troubles on him, and never fill him up. I would have liked him as a friend, I think… but we have one too many things in common.”
Starscream had smiled at that, briefly - the first time I’d seen him smile in days, come to think of it. “He had the same regret about you.” He sighed, and his hand clenched spasmodically. “I’ll tell you my decision tomorrow.”
I knew what the decision would be, but I said nothing. At least the uncertainty was gone, and I had three shifts to prepare myself for the news.
One day to prepare for a lifetime.
Four and a half hours, now…
“I love you,” he says, tracing his fingers along my jaw, looking up into my optics. “I’ve always loved you, but I couldn’t say it before. I was too broken… but you came, and helped me pick up the pieces.” He twines his arms around mine, resting his head on my shoulder carapace. He fits so well in my arms, so perfectly, that I can barely remember a time when he wasn’t in my embrace. “You don’t need to hold back any longer, beloved. You can be yourself with me. I want to hear the words you never say…”
I jumped guiltily at the sudden voice, though I should have heard the door open. In fact, I’m sure I locked it after Vapourtrail left… which means he was forced to override the code after the chime failed to catch my attention. I was too busy trying to think of how to say good-bye, how I could possibly live without him, remembering, and… well… yes… fantasizing.
“Starscream.” Much as I wanted to stand and sweep him to me, just to have a final memory of him in my arms, I remained resolutely hunched over my desk. If I took him into my embrace, I knew I would never be able to let him go. It didn’t matter; I already knew what he was going to say. How could I compete with someone as warm and… noble as Skyfire? Even if I wasn’t already The Other Man…
I heard him walk around my desk to stand behind me. The silence had gone on too long, but I couldn’t risk looking to him. Not now, not when all I wanted to do was throw myself at his feet and declare myself to him, to promise him anything if I could just stay by his side… Instead, in a voice I barely recognised I demanded, “Well? Have you decided?”
This was it, then. I schooled my expression and stood, a hollow shell pretending at life, feeling myself slip into Dutiful Subordinate mode. I had memorized my farewell: “It has been my privilege to serve you and my honour to call you friend. I wish you luck, Commander.” Seven million years I existed, and only lived for sixteen. Please remember me kindly - you will never be far from my thoughts. Good-bye, my love, my prince, my light…
“Dreadmoon…” His hand brushed my wing and I froze. Behind me, he sighed and broke the contact. “Look at me, Dreadmoon. Please.”
I did, slowly. Starscream smiled, holding out his arms. “You never asked me what I decided.”
I pulled him into my embrace, protectively wrapping my wings around his body as I’ve so often wanted to do. Foolishness, perhaps, or symbolic of the sanctuary I wanted to be to him… It didn’t matter; with the long-delayed contact came an emotional relief so strong it was physical. “Starscream…”
“Shh. You’re a part of me, Dreadmoon. I can’t imagine life without you.”
It came out in a rush: “My life is yours. Take me and everything I am. I give myself to you, my love.” I had never before called him that aloud, and in saying it, felt as if a great weight had lifted. “My love, my silver prince, Starscream, Starscream…” I whispered fiercely, holding him tighter, possessively, daring the world to try to take him from me. Vaguely I wondered, What of Skyfire? - but the thought was swept away. This was no time to think, not now, not with Starscream finally in my arms… Not this close to finally being allowed to hold him in the arms of my soul, to wrap him in my essence and let him understand that he was loved…
I held him - just held him - and it was enough that he was close to me, that he let me be this close. Starscream was here. Now he could understand… and so could I. For so long, by my choice, I had been his. Now by his, finally, he was mine…
I drew back from him slightly, but it was only to bring my hand to his face, tracing the contours of it. “I can’t count how many times I’ve thought about doing this,” I murmured. “How many hours I’ve spent studying you, wishing I could memorize you with my hands as well as my sight…”
“Later,” he promised against my palm. “Later. We have all the time in the world for that. Now…”
I paused, just for a moment, but not out of doubt. I had made my decision long ago. No, I savoured the anticipation, secure in the knowledge that I was chosen, that in a few, brief moments, Starscream would be a part of my soul as he was always a part of my thoughts. There was no hurry now; time was no longer my enemy. This was right. Everything was infinitely right.
There was the lightest brush across my consciousness, the faintest touch of inquiry. Starscream chuckled quietly, though whether the sound was out loud or only in my mind, I couldn’t tell. His fingers caught the sides of my helmet, drawing me down until my forehead touched his. “You,” he said, “are contrary.”
“So are you.” I felt the corner of my mouth twitch in a teasing smile. “You’re in a terrible rush for someone who has all the time in the world.”
“Can you blame me?” He released me then, but only to wrap his arms around my waist. “I’m here, Dreadmoon, and I’m yours. Love me, your way. I know about the words. Tell me.”
“I delight in you,” I whispered, cupping his face in my hands, tracing my thumbs over the sculpted lines of his cheeks. “I gave up Cybertron for the mere reason that I could be near you every day. From the darkness I loved you, and the shadows were cast by your light, my silver prince, my Starscream.” I let my hands trail from his face to his shoulders, then back to his wings. I said more than that, I know, and did more than that, and so did he, but the memories are blurry - a haze of pleasure and the wonder of love.
Eventually he caught my hands, drawing them away from his body, and countered my look of confusion with a smile. “Don’t move. Concentrate on your hands,” said Starscream, then stepped back and laid his own hands on my chest.
… And there was pressure on my palms, which touched nothing. Wonderingly, I caught his chin in my hand, and was surprised to feel the touch returned, though Starscream hadn’t moved. “Feedback,” he answered to my unspoken question, slipping his arms around my own and laying his head on my shoulder. “This is resonance,” he murmured softly. “Do you really want to hold back any longer?”
“No.” I wrapped my wings around him again, and felt the echo of my embrace. I felt him sigh, tilt his head back…
I looked down at Starscream, letting myself be caught by his own burning, carmine gaze. Understand, I whispered, or thought, and it didn’t matter, because the thought was also his…
And then, without warning, I was Starscream. Dimly, I knew I was Dreadmoon, that I was standing in my quarters, Starscream wrapped tightly in my arms. But I was also Starscream, in his memory, curled contentedly by Skyfire’s side as he sat against the wall in his quarters, his arm around my back, his size no longer intimidating, but a comfort. I felt safe, like I had just woken up from a terrible nightmare to find myself in my own room with the sun shining and everything the way it was supposed to be. I was Starscream, and I was where I belonged. I was also terribly pleased with myself.
I shifted a bit to peer up at him, and Skyfire looked back with his usual patience, tinged with a slight frown. “I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t approve,” he said.
“Trust me,” I, Starscream, replied, settling myself more comfortably. Later I would make everything right, but for now I was safe in the arms of my sanctuary and…
… And I was myself again, and I knew that Starscream had deliberately pushed that memory on me… among other things. There were things I… knew now, with the feel of memory, but the memories weren’t my own…
I should have been annoyed, but even that brief contact had overloaded my senses, and I was far too exhausted to summon any real emotion. “You tricked me.”
Starscream’s voice floated up lazily from near my shoulder. “You never asked me what I decided. Don’t scowl, love; I’m not through with you yet…”
Consciousness returned and found me lying on the floor. My legs must have given out at some point, sensory overload knocking me into stasis to try to stabilize my energy levels… and I decided it wasn’t important - Starscream was nestled in the curve of my wing, head on my shoulder, my hand on his waist. His own wings were folded back so he could lay on his side. Perfect.
I was at peace and complete; wonderfully, perfectly complete. Even the words were blissfully silent, unless I chose to count the occasional psychic sigh of satisfaction. I could feel the link between us burning quietly, our thoughts still loosely intertwined, uncertain if I was contented because I pleased him, or if he was pleased because he’d made me content. It didn’t matter - Starscream was mine, mine forever, and, ah, he was beautiful…
Sensing my awareness, his optics flickered online, and he half sat up to look down at me. “So that’s what it’s like to be you.”
I reached up to cup his face in my hands. “My silver prince… my Starscream…”
“Shh. Shh, beloved.” He nuzzled my hand, then stroked the back of it with his own. “This is real. I’m not going anywhere, Dreadmoon. And neither are you - you’ll have to put yourself back on the duty roster later. Much later.” Starscream settled his head back against my chest with a sigh. “Did you know that you’re never truly still? Your machinery sends faint vibrations through your form, and it’s unique to each person. It’s almost music, if you know how to listen. Skyfire taught me how…”
Skyfire. A thought that had been nagging faintly at the back of my mind pushed itself forward. I would have preferred to let the moment last, basking in the quiet comfort of loving and being loved, just watching him in peaceful repose, but memory returned and wouldn’t be ignored. “Why did you do that?”
He peered up at me and didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “You know why.”
The link still shimmered faintly between us; Starscream felt safe and happy and comfortable. However, I also knew he was deliberately projecting his feelings as a distraction, so with effort, pleasing as they were, I ignored them. “I want to hear it. You’re still Skyfire’s companion; why did you bind yourself to me?”
Starscream propped himself up on his elbow, his free hand cupped my chin. “Poor Dreadmoon. I love both of you - I need both of you. I couldn’t give either of you up… and I haven’t.”
I tried to sit up, but my wings made the action impossible, even if Starscream wasn’t lying on one of them. “You…”
“You’re a part of me, Dreadmoon, and Skyfire felt that through our bond - as you experienced my connection to him,” said Starscream contentedly, running his thumb along the ridge of my mouth. “There’s no rule saying we can’t be three.”
But it would be difficult. Companionship tended to be between two people, simply because it was easiest. Add a third and the chances of incompatibility increased exponentially…
On the other hand, Starscream chose to bind himself to me, which made up for a lot. And Skyfire… I stopped. I couldn’t trust my own mind about him, not with Starscream’s thoughts happily shimmering away inside of me. I barely knew Skyfire, but I knew why Starscream loved him and why he loved Starscream… and I knew, with the same certainty, that he did the same thing to Skyfire regarding me… And because Skyfire was a part of Starscream, Skyfire was a part of me, as I was now a part of him…
… And Skyfire was just as disapproving as I was. “How did you convince him to go along with this?”
“Would you have stopped me if you had the chance?”
I wouldn’t have been able to… wouldn’t have wanted to - at least, not before I had a chance to think about it. In a strange way, I loved Skyfire, though I knew the feelings were Starscream’s… But I wasn’t angry with Starscream - I couldn’t be. Not now, not after I’ve known his thoughts, felt his motives… He couldn’t choose between us, couldn’t bear to turn either of us away, so he didn’t. And he knew that Skyfire and I would fight him on his decision, so he found what he thought was a solution to that - to share with us his own feelings about the other… Except that the qualities that drew Starscream to Skyfire weren’t ones that interested me. I could be Skyfire’s friend, perhaps, if I could remind myself that he was no longer my rival…
“More than that,” murmured Starscream, feeling my thoughts, settling himself more comfortably. “There’s more to Skyfire - and more to you - than what I personally find attractive. And I’m certain you’ll enjoy learning him.”
Skyfire and I would have to run into each other eventually, and I hadn’t the faintest idea what I would do when it happened.
One of Starscream’s hands was lying lightly on my chest, and I caught it up. It was hard to be dignified when on the floor with someone lying on my wing, but I collected what little I had back to myself. “You will forgive me if I get to know Skyfire as a friend before committing myself to this nonsense?”
Starscream chuckled. “Now I know you two will love each other. He said the same thing.”