They returned before Astrotrain could be certain Skyfire had truly left the system. Blast Off had Starscream securely within his bay, the Seeker peacefully recharging and trusting in his mate to handle reentry.
That recharge came to an abrupt end as the shuttle was rocked by concussive blasts from a deadlier transport.
::Shields holding, preparing evasive maneuvers but I'm already in the gravity well!::
Starscream, normally a very gentle mech, was not one to remain that way when battle called. ::Open the bay, Blast Off,:: he sent in the authoritative voice of Megatron's right hand. Thundercracker might lead the Flights, but no one doubted that Starscream could. Blast Off could not ignore that, even though his protective instincts said it was his duty to keep those he carried safe, especially the bond mate he had found outside his gestalt-team.
::It's…:: Blast Off began, even as he took more damage from another round of those concussive blasts, designed to disrupt re-entry.
::Skyfire. I know,:: Starscream sent. He'd known the moment he came up out of recharge. They were still linked, even if Starscream had erased much of the coding Skyfire had bound them together with so long ago. It did not deter him from launching out as the bay opened just enough for his form to slip through, grazing the tip of a stabilizer fin ever so slightly on his partner's door. ::Sorry,:: he sent before he had to concentrate on his longtime bond-mate. ::SKYFIRE!::
::Starscream,:: Skyfire sent back as if merely greeting him after an absence, even as Starscream read the build up of another concussive blast.
Starscream was not about to allow that. ::Blast Off, get clear.:: He used his superior maneuverability to break out of the gravity well trapping his partner, and flew directly at Skyfire, weapons of his own charging. ::Skyfire, turn away.::
::Only if you come with me,:: the transport said, calm, cool, and not deviating from his vector.
Starscream, having been sought out by one insane mech, having had his entire city destroyed for his refusal, felt his ember grow cold even as he contemplated the next nanoklik. He had never extinguished anyone close to him by his own weaponry, but the fate of Crystal City always hung heavy on him. Yet… he had made a choice. He was not the mech that Skyfire had aggressively courted and kept to himself. There was only one freedom, for all of them, and his weapons came to full capacity as he climbed higher, straight at Skyfire.
::One last chance…:: he offered, shooting it across the private frequency. Skyfire responded by firing a pair of seeking missiles toward Blast Off who had managed to get a better re-entry angle and was obeying Starscream… long enough to find the vector to bounce back into space.
Starscream did not hesitate any longer, firing a blast that detonated one of those missiles in front of Skyfire's wings, leaving the other for Blast Off to cope with. He then started targeting more precisely than he had ever managed in any battle, wanting this to be quick and as merciful as possible.
Skyfire, never upgraded to the full fighting capacity of a mech who had actually lived through the devastating war, was far too vulnerable to a mech with Starscream's upgrades.
Blast Off found them, an empty shell of a burned out transport, and a Seeker that had been damaged by his own choices far too many times. Very carefully, he maneuvered around the smaller Seeker, enclosing him in the bay to take him home, praying they both could survive this.