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The Ache of the Inevitable

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for [info]springkink: 26 MayTransformers G1, Skyfire/Starscream; bittersweet reunion - an elegy for what once was

“You came,” Starscream said, voice rasping in the darkness.  He could see Skyfire’s silhouette against the sunsetting sky: massive, and achingly familiar.  Like a force more stolid and implacable than nature itself.  It changed: Skyfire didn’t.

Not this way, at least.

“Yes.” So much freight in the one word: ‘Of course,’ as if there should be any doubt that he’d respond. But also regret, knowing, or suspecting, this would end badly.

How else could it end, after all?

Starscream crawled forward, wincing as the blue shoulder armor bumped the damaged white wing.  The cave’s roof scaled up above him and he could feel the warmer air of the outside wash against him, the temperature differential just enough to send stabs of pain over the damaged flight sensors.

He could feel, even from this far away, Skyfire’s sympathetic wince.  Which he’d been counting on, hoping for, both as a manipulation and…

…other reasons. Reasons he dare not even allow to form in his cortex. At least, not right now.

“What happene—no,” Skyfire shook his head, dropping to one knee, reaching, already, for the field repair kit he always stowed in his subspace.  Expeditionary training was apparently impossible to break, Starscream thought. And it was just like Skyfire, after all:  always prepared. “I don’t need to know and I won’t make you lie.”

“Why would you think I would lie,” Starscream asked, hearing the sly tone creep into his voice and feeling marginally grateful for it.  He had been too weak for cunning before.  And he was always one to show gratitude by pushing away.

“Starscream.  The past.” Skyfire reached forward, one hand outspread over the wing.  He could probably feel the heat from the overtaxed self-repair systems, the periodic twinges from wires shorting.

“Things change,” Starscream said.  He edged himself onto his side, the one wing panel folding against the rocky ground.

“You don’t,” Skyfire said, quietly. “And that’s why this….” He cut himself off, abruptly, getting down to work.

“That’s why this…what?”  Starscream’s mind latched onto the truncated sentence. Mostly for something else to think about. It had been joors, and all he had had to chew on was his own failure. His own trinemates, turning their backs on him, Thundercracker turning just long enough to give a dismissive sneer over his shoulder as he lay on the ground, impaled through the wings and left to die under the acid typhoons.

But Skyfire had always said—and sometimes fondly—that Starscream had untapped reserves. And he’d called on them, then, tearing the impaling prongs from his wings, howling into the rising storm, letting the first drops of acid etch over his armor, goading him onward.

He’d found the cave, half-delirious from pain, and crawled inside, curling into a ball, using the heat of his thrusters to evaporate the last of the acid, hiding from the pain and the roaring storm.

And once he had returned to himself, the sky was a clear celadon, and he had had a plan. Not much of one—contact Skyfire—but he’d done more and from less auspicious starts.

“…why this is always so hard,” Skyfire murmured. His optics fixed on one hand, as it traveled to his kit and back, staunchly refusing to meet Starscream’s gaze.

He moved quickly, and though he wasn’t a medic, he had a scientist’s hands, capable of infinitely precise movement.  And Expeditionary training in field repairs. His touch was gentle, patching the cut lines, inserting replacement wires.  He had wing tape, but Starscream would have to sit up for that.  He busied his mind with the details of repair, trying not to think who he was repairing, and why.

“It’s not hard,” Starscream said, his voice subdued, head craned to watch Skyfire’s hand at work.  He let his smirk wash over his face plates. “You’ve done this before. It should be easy by now.”

Skyfire’s brow furrowed, compressing pain. “It does not get easier, Starscream,” he said, before squeezing his mouthplates together, as if to tame them from some unruly emotion.

For a moment, Starscream faltered, feeling small and petty before Skyfire and the struggle Starscream didn’t ask for, didn’t really deserve.

Skyfire dropped back on his heels, burying himself in duty. As he’d always done, Starscream thought.  “Sit up, if you can,” Skyfire said. 

Starscream struggled, pushing upward, feeling the spans of his wings rise between them like sails. Skyfire gave a soft sound, and Starscream heard the ripping of patching tape.  As Skyfire began to lay the tape in the precise grid required for autorepair to acknowledge it, he spoke, as though the wall of white between them gave him strength. “How could it get easier, Starscream? Knowing what will happen? Knowing there’s nothing I can do?” A pause, and Starscream could almost hear the frown. “You will go back, and you will use your survival as a rebuke to them, and they will begrudge you some respect, perhaps, for it. For some time. And then....”

“You make it sound so terribly tedious,” Starscream said, but the joke tasted flat in his own mouth.

“Inevitable,” Skyfire corrected, as though the distinction were important. “Why me?”

The question seemed a non sequitur, but Starscream knew by now that nothing Skyfire did was ever random.  His logic was not as quick and mercurial as Starscream’s, but it was, perhaps, all the more solid. “Because,” Starscream said, “you’re inevitable, too.” It was honesty wrapped up in a tease, prickly and fierce, as he always was. 

The hands stilled over his wing, the very touch cooling the heat of his overtaxed autorepair.  And Starscream realized that it was as much to keep him from turning as anything else. Skyfire’s voice was soft, on the edge of breaking, and Starscream had to strain his audio to hear it.

“I ask myself, sometimes, if I do you any good.  I ask myself what more I can do; if there’s anything I could do that would stop this. Because it’s…self-destruction, Starscream.  It always has been, and sometimes I wonder if anything could ever fill that hole of loathing you have for yourself.”

Starscream was glad for the wing between them, his face shifting through a dozen emotions: glibness shattering to worry, dull anger, and then…raw and open hurt. He turned his helm away, red optics studying scuffs on his black toeplates. He tried to think of a joke, some sarcasm to throw between them, to stop this sudden trembling over his lasercore.  “You always were too clever,” he said, finally.

“Not clever enough,” Skyfire said, and he moved, suddenly, white arms wrapping around Starscream from behind, his square blue cockpit pressing against Starscream’s spinal struts. Starscream felt the other’s helm near his, in a gesture too tentative to be called a ‘nuzzle’.   “I would offer myself, if I thought it would ever do any good.”

Starscream felt his mouth crush down on some emotion, hating the anger that had to make him hard.  “You,” he said, his voice rough like gravel, “are the only good I have ever known.”  And he laid his hands over the strong, white arms, feeling their shivering, closed his optics, tipping his helm against the broad white span, and allowed himself to pretend that Skyfire was wrong.