Mistral was young. Probably the youngest person in the eastern Fleet, not even in her final upgrade, and sparked so close to the war breaking out. Young or not, she was well-acquainted with goodbyes.
First, Vos. She didn't really remember the towers tumbling behind them, or her parent’s escape (her carrier said he had held on tight to her, but she had wriggled and not made it easy). She remembered the roar of the bombs, and her sire wiping his optics as he looked back.
That was the only time she saw her parents cry.
Next was Starscream, though that had left less of an impression. He had spoken out of turn one time too many, and so Lord Megatron had broken off his last piece of Vos, and sent his trine away. Her parents had refused to speak to him in their anger, but he’d pressed a package of sweets into Mistral's hands.
“Be a good child,” he'd said. She remembered the words, because his voice was hard to forget. “Don’t forget your Vosian, now. Our language is getting scarce.”
Her carrier claimed they were better off without him, really. In the Fleet they had decent commands, and some distance from the main conflict. But Skywarp was a bad liar, and Mistral knew better. They were two instead of three, that was wrong, and Mistral had almost said so out loud once. That they shouldn’t have been sent away. Her sire had put a stop to that, by way of a hand over her mouth.
“It’s better not to question Lord Megatron,” he told her firmly. “In fact, don’t question him at all. This was the Air Commander’s punishment.”
There were many more small goodbyes. Mechs with their sparks defrosted and put in fine Seeker frames, who made much of Mistral when she trailed after Thundercracker to flight class. After hours they would play with her, chasing each other through the ship's corridors. They were younger than she was, if you didn’t count how long their sparks had been frozen, and loved to play games on their off shift.
Her sire would make them good fliers, and they would be shot down, one by one. Mistral learned quickly to stop crying over them. It didn’t bring a single friend back, no more than it would bring back Vos.
It wasn’t her sire's fault, but she and her carrier knew he felt the loss.
“That's what happens when they’re sent out before they’re ready,” Skywarp said grimly. “You’re doing your best.”
“It’s not enough,” Thundercracker said, voice pained. Mistral heard them from outside the door, eavesdropping. She had gotten good at listening in, through necessity. It was the only way to learn anything sometimes, because adults liked to shut their lips when a sparklet was nearby.
Her carrier told her that was a bad habit, that she shouldn’t be nosey. But she saw him do it, too—he was just better at looking like he wasn’t.
Eventually, Shockwave sent them new mechs, cloned from a few defrosted sparks, who came with flight protocols already.
“Born to be cannon fodder,” Thundercracker said once, with disgust. Then he saw Mistral and shut his mouth, and she never heard another word about the new recruits.
The goodbyes laid off for awhile. The attacks started instead, and Mistral soon stopped jumping in terror at every explosion. Her parents often flew out to fight—they were Megatron's finest Seekers, besides the Air Commander—but they would come back, tired and battered. She stopped recharging in her own berth when they were back, wanting the safety of their frames around her.
Her carrier’s grin was the same, tired or not, and he’d stroke her helm as she drifted off. No one could hear them, so they spoke in Vosian.
“Maybe the war will be over soon,” Skywarp said. “We can go home, and rebuild it.”
“And I’ll go to school,” Mistral said sleepily. “Right, Daddy?”
“Of course,” Thundercracker said. “And we'll all be together again.”
This was their little dream—the only one her sad, serious sire put much thought into. She guessed he missed Starscream, and the people they'd known in Vos, but try as she might she couldn't tease out who they were. Maybe they were dead.
Skywarp had plenty more fantasies, full of wind-swept mountains where they were forged, and roaring dragons who prowled the peaks. Towers so high that you could touch the stars from the top. Bloodthirsty, Functionist Autobots he promised to keep her safe from. He claimed that Mistral made him creative—even if her sire thought some of the stories were too graphic.
The attacks dropped off, but then the eastern Fleet brushed against Autobot space. And again, Mistral said goodbye, carried by her sire to a new ship. This battle, close enough to see and smell, she couldn’t imagine she’d forget.
They lived, all of them, though her carrier needed a new foot and Mistral herself had her back stripped of paint. Her spark still quivered when she thought about it. Her nightmares were enough to make her scream, and make Thundercracker scold Skywarp for filling up her imagination and making the whole thing worse. Autobots weren’t monsters, he said, but Mistral didn’t believe him. She had just seen what they did, and it was monstrous.
Her parents started talking in low voices, after they had put her to bed. They did it in the corner they knew Mistral couldn’t hear them from, and that how she knew it must be about her.
One night they called her into their room. Her carrier sat her on his lap, though she was too old for that now. Thundercracker stroked her helm as he spoke.
“Do you know about Caminus?” he asked. When she nodded, he smiled, though he was no less relaxed. “Good. You’re paying attention.”
“It’s a colony,” she said. “And they’re neutral.”
They worshipped the Primes, but they sold both sides fine swords and melee weapons. They were tolerated, because they were built almost like Cybertronians. Her books said some thought they’d once been one and the same.
“How would you like to go there?” Skywarp asked. He said it like it was something exciting, or tried to, but Mistral heard the waver. Dread curled in her spark.
“I don’t want to,” she said, sure of her answer. “I’m going to stay with you.”
Her sire's hand shook. “It’s safe there,” he began. “No war, and enough energy—“
“We have enough!” Mistral protested, and she knew it was true. The raids had been good, and she had countless Decepticon-controlled worlds marked on her map. “I want to stay with you! I don’t even care if I died, or something, as long as I was here!”
“Well we do,” Skywarp said sharply. Mistral paused, because her carrier never spoke that way to her. “Your sire knows an old student on Caminus. We'll find you somewhere safe, right? Just till the end of the war.”
Mistral never screamed, or threw tantrums. It was important not to annoy the other soldiers, and more important, not to make her parent’s lives any harder. She knew this would upset them.
She cried, and screamed, and fought until she was too tired to do any of it, and the decision was made final. She would get ready for her last goodbye.
It wasn’t safe for both of them to take her, but they did anyway. Neither of them to be the one to say goodbye first, to wait for the other to come back alone. And they were so quiet as they helped her pack, that she couldn’t bring herself to have more tantrums.
Mistral’s possessions were meagre. She had standard-issue supplies, the same as any officer. A few books, and her datapad for lessons. (She was behind, because Thundercracker had less time to teach her.) A few games, and a little red model of a jet. She was too old for it, but she’d packed it carefully anyway. She had had of ever since Vos.
Her parents chartered a shuttle when the Fleet anchored near neutral space. The pilot wasn’t a Vehicon, and wasn’t a flier, but Mistral didn’t know his name and wouldn’t ask. Tucked between her parents, she could just see out the small window to the Kaon's Light and watch it get farther away.
She dozed for half the trip, leaning against her carrier's side and trying to remember the rumble of his engines. Thundercracker’s hand rested on her head, occasionally coming down to stroke her cheek. Mistral was warm, safe, and loved, and had never wanted to be anywhere else more in her life.
Despite her best efforts to pretend otherwise, the shuttle landed. Mistral onlined her optics and found herself squinting. The light on the planet was vivid, not like the ship's lamps she was used to. After a moment she realized that Caminus must have a sun. Apparently Cybertron had too, before Megatron had tapped it for energy. Deep space was dark and cold, and stars gave off little light.
She didn’t care, and held her carrier’s hand tightly as they stepped off the shuttle. She would rather stay with her family in the darkest, coldest system, than find herself alone and apart under a big inviting star.
“They say the sun here stimulates energon production,” Thundercracker said. “A consistent, renewable energy source.”
“Raids are a consistent source of energy,” Mistral mumbled. The sharp look her sire gave her was pained, his optics too bright. Skywarp squeezed her hand. Mistral turned her gaze straight ahead, to the bots waiting for them on the platform.
One of the two stepped forward, and Mistral was stricken. Her face wasn't the usual gray, or even a solid colour. White with blue, blue optics, red lips and red markings, Mistral had never seen anything like it. She had no insignia, either, which added to her interest. Everyone Mistral had known had been a Decepticon, clearly marked.
But Camiens were neutral, not Decepticons. The bot smiled, and reached out to grasp Thundercracker's hand.
“Flight instructor Thundercracker,” she said. For a neutral (one with no weapons), she seemed fearless of them. “It's been quite awhile.”
“You're looking well, Windblade,” Thundercracker said. He eyed the roller, a stockier blue femme behind her. “And this is...?”
“Chromia,” Windblade said. “My amica endura, and bodyguard.”
Skywarp tilted his head. “I thought Caminus was safe.”
“It is,” Chromia said, stepping forward. Her optics were narrowed, and she did have a sword. Mistral was supposed to go with her? “Windblade is a diplomat as well as a Cityspeaker. It's just a precaution.”
“Peacetime sure is something,” Skywarp said. It came out as half a snort.
“What's a Cityspeaker?” Mistral asked, before her carrier could say anything else. They all paused, and the Camiens turned their optics onto her. Windblade's smile warmed, and Chromia's plating relaxed. Mistral stepped closer to her carrier.
“Oh, Thundercracker, she's beautiful,” Windblade said. Mistral felt her faceplate heat up, despite her best efforts. “What a wonderful paint job.”
“She does turn heads,” her sire said. There was a clear note of pride in his voice. Mistral was unique, though she rarely gave much thought to it—most of her plating was one colour, a white with a many coloured sheen. It was frivolous, but so were Vosians, and Mistral knew how to take good care of herself.
“Not very easy to hide,” Chromia said, though she was staring too.
“There won't be any need to hide you,” Windblade said, addressing Mistral for the first time. “More than a few sparklets take refuge here, from Cybertron and other colonies. The main difference is your faction.”
“She doesn't have a faction yet,” Thundercracker said. “Not really. She needs her final upgrade.”
“Let's hope the war is over before it comes to that,” Windblade said. She glanced at Chromia, whose optics were still on Mistral. “Do you have a lot to take with you, Mistral?”
The words hurt, though Windblade couldn't know it. “Not much,” she said. “Just my one bag. We move a lot.”
“Much easier to have a few possessions,” Thundercracker said. He reached over, to stroke Mistral's helm. “They're not what matters.”
“No, they're not,” Windblade said. She turned back to Thundercracker, straightening her wings. She didn't move them the way a Vosian did, and Mistral wondered if she'd understand wing signs at all. “I know you were concerned about where she'd go, but I'll keep her with me. She can attend an education facility during the day.”
“These sparklets dropped off get boarded at the school,” said Chromia. “Windblade insisted she be with someone trusted.”
Thundercracker nodded, and he seemed relieved, but Mistral's spark twisted. Maybe Windblade had been her sire's student once, a long time ago, but Mistral didn't trust her. She didn't even know her!
The pilot appeared from the shuttle's doorway, and held up his hand. Five minutes. Skywarp grimaced, squeezing Mistral's hand, then deftly pulled her bag from her other hand.
“If you could just take that,” he said, shoving it towards Windblade. “And give us a few minutes. Thanks.”
Mistral seriously considered making a break for the shuttle. Her foot got partway off the ground, before Skywarp kneeled and wrapped her up in his arms, pressed close against his cockpit.
“I'm so sorry,” he mumbled against her audial. “It's killing me to put you through this, kiddo.”
“Then stay,” Mistral whispered. Who else could they have lost? Starscream was alive, just far away. A sob caught in her vocalizer. “Leave the army and stay with me.”
“We can't,” Skywarp said. He pulled back, looking at her like her face was precious energon. She hated seeing him as anything but his friendly, mischievous self, and so far this time was the worst. “The officer cadre won't miss you, but they'll ask after us. It's dangerous to be disloyal. And someone has to win. Take Cybertron back.”
Mistral couldn't imagine anything more dangerous than being left alone here, among strangers. In that moment, she didn't care one bit about the cause. Next to them, Thundercracker kneeled too, reaching out to stroke her cheek. Windblade and Chromia had stepped back, holding her little bag and speaking quietly among themselves.
She turned to her sire, and tipped her chin up proudly. “I'm not afraid of anything.”
Thundercracker smiled faintly. “I know. And that's why you'll manage. Now, Mistral, listen to me—”
“Don't leave,” Mistral said. Skywarp vented sharply, and Thundercracker shuttered his optics for a moment.
“Listen very carefully,” Thundercracker said. “I worked with Windblade for some time, after she graduated. She tries to do the right thing. Your carrier and I are trying to do that now, for you. And we're going to be able to exchange letters.”
Immediately, Mistral paused. “Letters?”
How could there be letters, when the fleet couldn't know about neutral dealings? Thundercracker's thumb ran across her cheek, under her optic. “Through a rendezvous, and by paying well. They won't be frequent. Monthly, at the most.”
“But I'll get them,” Mistral said. Thundercracker smiled.
“Yes,” he said. “And when all this is over, we'll come and get you.”
Mistral chewed her bottom lip, trying not to let her hands shake. She was brave, and she’d have to show it better than ever if she was going to survive this. No matter what, they would leave without her. She was just a sparklet, not yet in control of her own future.
“Every month,” she said finally. “Date the letters, so even if the mail's slow I know you sent it.”
“'Course,” her carrier said. His voice was thicker than normal. “But only if you do the same thing.”
She nodded, clenching her hands into fists. For the Decepticon Cause, everyone made sacrifices, even when they didn’t really want to. And, she’d started to realize, her parents in particular rarely seemed to want to.
That was something you really couldn't say out loud.
“Every month,” she said. “Or more. I swear on my spark.”
The pilot coughed behind them, and held up one finger. It was time to go. Mistral’s choked sob was interrupted by Skywarp pulling her in and squeezing, hard enough that she squeaked, felt the pounding of his spark. His forehelm was pressed up against hers, and he said nothing.
“Tell jokes in your letters,” Mistral barely whispered. “I don’t like it when you’re sad.”
For a split second, her squeezed her harder. He couldn’t seem to speak. When he pulled back and stood up, she couldn’t read the expression on his face. Her sire bent down next and pressed his face into her neck, like it would hold her memory in place.
“I love you, little cloud,” he murmured in her audial. “More than anything. I love you.”
Decepticons weren't supposed to be emotional. Recently they'd tried to hug and touch her less, to get her ready for that, but it had gone right out the airlock today. She never wanted it to end.
She watched them both turn around, away from her, and wished she had a camera among her possessions. What if they didn’t look like their pictures when they came for her?
Mistral wouldn’t think of the other option, which was them never being able to come back. She watched the shuttle's thrusters roar back on, with them in it, and it take off into the planet's grey sky. She wanted to run after them, even turn on her little antigravs and fly up, but she was rooted to the spot like a column.
She wasn’t sure how long she stayed like that. But she had started to drift off, because she jumped at the hand on her shoulder. Without thinking, Mistral took a step back from Windblade. The Camien mech was smiling, but there was sadness in her optics.
“Sorry,” she said apologetically. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t,” Mistral said quickly. “Decepticons don’t get startled.”
“Alright,” Windblade's friend said, like she didn’t believe it. She hefted Mistral’s bag onto her shoulder. “Well, let’s get going. People were wonder why we’re standing around this seedy shuttle bay.”
If this wasn’t the worst day of her life, Mistral would have scowled at Chromia. Instead she settled for cool disinterest—or her best impression of it.
Windblade smiled at her again, and maybe on a better day she would have tried to like her. Instead she just shrugged, and followed the two Camiens off of the launchpad, into this unfamiliar place. Thinking about the next solar cycle, and the letter she’d been promised.