There was no response. Skyfire sighed. It wasn't the angry silence that he'd been half hoping for, half dreading throughout his flight back from the conference. It wasn't the silence of things waiting to be said. No, this was the other kind of silence; the silence of empty rooms. He pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside, turning lights on as he went. A quick tour of his lab, the observatory and the sparse collection of rooms he called home confirmed his hypothesis: Starscream wasn't here.
Of course, he had no reason to be. It wasn't as if he lived here, at least not yet, though Skyfire had hinted at the possibility more than once. Starscream was likely still on the Migration, a Seeker tradition which seemed to be a glorified excuse to visit every drinking establishment in the hemisphere. Starscream had implied that he might bail early, but that had been before they'd argued. If Starscream was back, chances were good that he'd be in his own quarters, sleeping off the after-effects with his Trine. Or with any number of the other rambunctious young Seekers who'd joined the event. Or perhaps he was at the baths, trading wing-rubs—and perhaps other favors—with some of the regulars there. Or…
Stop it, Skyfire told himself, quashing a wave of jealousy. It wasn't as if he and Starscream were exclusive. It was too early in their relationship for that. Would have been, even if Starscream belonged to a frametype that tended to monogamy, which Seekers did not. Seekers required the merging of three sparks in order to conceive, so even those who didn't go the traditional route by bonding with their Trines would still generally form multiple bonds, or simply have multiple partners. Skyfire's own frametype did tend to form monogamous pairs, but he loved and respected Starscream just as he was. He'd never want to pressure his young love to adopt a relationship model that most Seekers would consider eccentric, if not downright unnatural.
Still, it was eating at him. Especially in light of Starscream's last words to him before they'd parted ways. That had been on the morning Skyfire had been due to leave for the science conference in Crystal City, and the Migration was set to begin. This would be the longest they'd been apart since their first kiss; therefore, Starscream had spent the night and they'd made love several times. Neither had slept much, so they were both groggy by the time they sat down for a morning meal in Skyfire's galley. That was when the door had chimed. Skyfire had gone to answer, and had found a messenger drone hovering outside with a sleek white datapad clutched in its grips.
"What's that?" Starscream had asked when Skyfire had brought it back to the table.
"An invitation," Skyfire had said with surprise, reading it over. "It's from my former mentor."
Starscream frowned. "Hyperion Flux? That former mentor?"
"The same." Skyfire sank down at the table, still reading. "He's sent me an all-access pass so I can attend the full conference, rather than just the panels to which I've been specifically invited."
"How very kind," Starscream responded dryly. "To what do you suppose you owe such a magnanimous gesture?"
"I don't know," Skyfire replied. "He's also invited me to join him for a meal at Horizons. Maybe he'll explain then."
"The Horizons? As in, Crystal City's most exclusive restaurant?"
"I… suppose?" Skyfire didn't know much about such things.
Starscream's optics narrowed. "Who else is going to be there?" he asked. "Or is this a private meeting, just for the two of you?"
"He's congratulating me on my recent expedition to the Novium Cluster, and is hoping to discuss my findings with me. That's all."
"Discuss your findings, hmm? Then why can't he attend your conference panel, like everyone else?"
"I'm… not sure," Skyfire admitted. "Maybe he's hoping for additional details that I wouldn't discuss publicly."
"What additional details? It was a routine survey!" Starscream shot an arm out and grabbed the datapad from Skyfire's hands. His features settled into a scowl as he scanned the message for himself, and he finally tossed the datapad back on the table between them. "I think he just wants to get you alone."
"I can't imagine why," Skyfire said, staring at the datapad apprehensively.
Starscream stared at him. "Really? You can't imagine a single reason why your ex-lover might want to meet with you privately at an exclusive restaurant?"
Skyfire glanced up at him, and laughed. He couldn't help himself. Starscream's darkened expression, his hiked wings, his field bristling with suspicion… it was so… funny. And touching. And—surprising, too. It wasn't like Starscream to act this way, at least not thus far in their relationship.
"That can't be it," Skyfire replied at last. "That part of my relationship with Hyperion has been over for many vorns. He knows that, and we've both moved on. I'm sure it's just business."
"Oh, I'm sure it is just business," Starscream agreed, rising stiffly. "Just don't be surprised if he expects a little pleasure on the side!"
He stalked past Skyfire, heading for the door, and Skyfire caught his hand. "Starscream—wait. You're not… jealous, are you?" It was the only word he could think of, though he quickly realized it had been a mistake.
Starscream whirled on him. "Jealous? Don't be preposterous! As we've previously discussed, you're more than welcome to frag anyone you want! I certainly plan to."
He held Skyfire's gaze, as if expecting him to say something in return. His optics were ablaze, wings set at an attack angle, and Skyfire squelched an ill-timed surge of sexual hunger for him. Starscream was one of those mechs who really was beautiful when he was angry. Skyfire knew far better than to say so, but that didn't stop his imagination from conjuring images of pulling Starscream to him, throwing him down across the table and fragging him until Starscream could think only of him, and no one else. His hand tightened—but then rationality kicked in.
How dare he even think of doing such a thing? Especially without asking? Would Starscream see it as an attack? Would it make him angrier—or worse, frighten him? Skyfire was all too aware of the size difference between them, and the thought of scaring or accidentally hurting Starscream made him sick. He forced his fingers to relax, and Starscream jerked his hand away with a small "Hmph!"
And that had been that. Starscream had stalked through the galley door and leaped skyward, shifting into tetrajet mode as he did so. The fading roar of engines had marked his departure, and that had been the last they'd spoken to each other in nearly four day-cycles.
Why, Skyfire asked himself for the thousandth time, had he mentioned jealousy? He'd meant it teasingly, but it had been a foolish thing to say. They were both free to have sex with others. Sticky only, they'd agreed, since sticky sex was the form of interface least likely to transmit viruses, and with the understanding that they were one another's primary. They would always come 'home' to one another. Except… Starscream hadn't come home. At least not to Skyfire's home.
The message-light on the wall-comm was blinking. Skyfire felt a brief flicker of hope as he reached for it, but it died a swift death when the messages appeared. There were two. One was from a student who explained, in tremendous detail, why her assignment was going to be late. The other, even more disappointingly, was a notification about an upcoming staff meeting for the Academy's faculty committee, of which Skyfire was an unwilling member. Nothing else. Nothing from Starscream.
Maybe I should call him, Skyfire thought. He reached for the keypad but then stopped, thinking better of it. Even if Starscream wasn't otherwise… occupied, it would be unwise to pressure him. They'd had a few arguments, both before and after becoming lovers. This was by far their most serious fight, but Skyfire already knew from experience that Starscream would talk things out when he was good and ready. Not before.
"Would it help if I said you were right?" Skyfire asked into the silence. "About Hyperion, that is."
It hadn't seemed so, at first. Hyperion Flux had greeted Skyfire warmly, congratulating him on his recent expedition, and had kept their dinner conversation light. Skyfire had genuinely enjoyed himself. Perhaps not quite enough to forget his worry over the fight with Starscream, but there was nothing, he'd thought, like catching up with an old friend. He'd accepted the second round of drinks Hyperion had ordered, and then Skyfire himself had ordered their third round—which had arrived along with a shimmering pair of jellied-crystal desserts, which he hadn't ordered.
"I had a word with the kitchen earlier," Hyperion had explained, offering a faint smile. "As I recall, these used to be your favorite."
"They still are," Skyfire had replied, digging in without hesitation.
"Glad to hear it." Hyperion's optics lit with a warm glow as he studied Skyfire. He'd retracted his mask in order to enjoy the meal, and the soft radiance from their table-lantern cast his chiseled features in a serene light. He dropped his voice to an intimate murmur as he added, "I've been thinking about you a lot, you know."
Skyfire froze, a bite of dessert poised halfway to his mouth. "You have?" he asked, suddenly cautious. Hyperion's remark had been light and almost casual, but he was leaning a little closer than Skyfire would have expected.
"Indeed, I have. I've been watching your career rather closely these past few vorns," Hyperion said, taking a sip of hi-grade. He swirled the drink in his mouth, the cables in his throat fluttering briefly before he swallowed. His field carried an edge of something Skyfire would have identified as nervousness had it been anyone else, but then Hyperion set his flask on the table with a decisive 'clink,' as if he'd reached a decision. "I'm wondering if you would consider a proposal of… shall we say, a personal nature," he said.
"Personal?" Skyfire stared at Hyperion's drink, feeling uncomfortably aware of the after-effects of his own. He very much hoped the conversation wasn't going where he thought it was, because Skyfire wasn't sure he could handle it with two and a half shots of hi-grade bubbling through his system.
"Just think of it, Skyfire," Hyperion continued. "With the acclaim you've garnered through your recent discoveries, combined with my political acumen, the two of us could own a conference like this. We could be a true power-couple, taking the academic world by storm."
"Oh." Skyfire studied his former mentor, feeling as if he was seeing him for the first time. He'd always known Hyperion was ambitious, but it had never occurred to him that he'd leverage a relationship in order to further his career. Or that Skyfire would be someone he—or anyone—would see as valuable for such a purpose. "I'm… in a relationship," he said, glad to have a truthful way of turning down Hyperion's offer without insulting him.
Hyperion gave him a startled look. "Really? Why haven't I heard about this? That is," he added hastily, "with the speed that news travels in this field, I'm surprised I didn't know." He took a hurried sip from his drink. "So who is this lucky individual?"
"A Vosian," Skyfire said, now wishing he hadn't brought it up. It wasn't a secret, but the reminder of how fast news traveled along the academic grapevine was making him wish he'd come up with some other excuse.
"Name?" Hyperion persisted.
"His name is Starscream."
Hyperion raised a pale green hand to his chin and rubbed thoughtfully. "Forgive me for thinking so, but that sounds almost like a Seeker name."
"That's because it is."
"Oh." Hyperion dropped his gaze to his untouched dessert. "I do recall your attraction to them," he said in a low voice. "I think that became more than obvious the night we went to the Labyrinth together. It's a good thing I was there. I stopped you from making quite the fool of yourself."
Heat rushed to Skyfire's faceplate. He'd thought about that evening at the Labyrinth many times, imagining scenarios of how the evening might have progressed had Hyperion not been there to intervene.
"Now. Obviously I do understand the physical appeal," Hyperion went on, darting a meaningful glance at Skyfire's wings. "But Skyfire, I must ask—have you thought this through? Have you given consideration to what this could mean for your career? Your professional reputation?"
"I…" Skyfire glanced away. The thing was, he had thought about it. He was ashamed at having done so, but it was true that Seekers, outside of their own cities, were known as the 'sky-scourge,' and were hardly considered suitable mates for anyone wishing to be thought respectable. "I'm aware of the impact it could have," he said at last, "but have decided that I'd prefer not to have dealings with any person, or institution, that would take issue with my choice of partner."
"Partner?" Hyperion tipped his helm to the side, studying Skyfire as if he were a lab specimen demonstrating some unusual, and worrying, characteristic. "Skyfire…" his expression softened. "Career concerns aside, I do hope you're keeping this… relationship… in its proper perspective."
"And what might that be?" Skyfire asked, already knowing he wouldn't like the answer.
"Well. You're obviously aware of their reputation," Hyperion said with an offhand wave, "but are you aware of their needs? Seekers are known for having rather… specific needs. To phrase it bluntly, they crave to be mastered. It's part of their nature, going back to when they were originally created as servants of the Thirteen. I'm sure you noticed that yourself, during our visit to the Labyrinth."
Skyfire's mind flashed back to that night. To a chained, kneeling form, its bowed wingspan trembling beneath a downpour of a steaming, wax-like substance. Skyfire's frame heated involuntarily. That image was forever burned into his memory, and had fueled many a solitary late-night fantasy. He'd tried to set it aside, especially after moving to Vos. Many of his students were Seekers, and he wanted to be able to look them in the optics without feeling shame over his secret imaginings. He'd pushed the memory even further to the back of his mind after meeting Starscream, but now it was rushing back, full force. He jumped when Hyperion's hand settled on his arm.
"My dear Skyfire, don't take this the wrong way, but whatever you have with this… Star-scream… isn't going to last. I'm sure it's fun and exciting for now, but he's bound to grow restless. It's how Seekers are. Pretty things, but a flighty bunch unless you can truly pin one down, and—" Hyperion paused, the corners of his lips twitching into a smile, "I think we both know you don't have it in you."
Skyfire tensed. He wanted to tell Hyperion not to presume. Certainly, he'd taken a submissive role in their relationship, but he'd also been much younger. On top of that, Hyperion was a high-caste mech, and had also been Skyfire's mentor. Skyfire wouldn't even have considered taking a dominant role with Hyperion, but that didn't mean he was incapable. Or… did it? Skyfire's mind circled back to that last moment in the galley, and the odd flicker of emotion behind Starscream's gaze just before he'd pulled away. Had that been disappointment?
Hyperion patted his arm. "Just give my offer some thought. You deserve a relationship that offers a solid foundation for your future."
Skyfire had thanked him, saying he'd keep his proposal in mind, and had excused himself as quickly as politeness would allow. He'd wanted to tell Hyperion to get slagged, but that would have been unwise. Hyperion was highly placed in the academic community. He had a lot to say about which projects got funded and which didn't, and Skyfire had more than just his own career to think about. He had his students' careers to think about too.
But speaking of students, Skyfire had a class to teach the following day—not to mention a pile of marking that needed to get done. He'd planned on grading his students' assignments during the conference, but the panels had kept him unexpectedly busy. Deciding there was no time like the present, he started toward the chill unit, meaning to get some snacks to munch on while he worked. The sight of the galley table brought him up short.
Starscream had been right there, sitting across from him. Now there was just empty air, and Skyfire missed him with a longing so intense it stole the air from his vents. He ached for Starscream's voice, his laughter… everything about him, really, even his anger. What would Starscream have done if Skyfire had acted on his momentary impulse? Would he have been enraged? Or…
Skyfire pressed a hand to the table, as if its cool surface might hold the answer. Work, he reminded himself sternly. There was no point in speculating. He'd just have to wait until Starscream had recovered from the Migration, then sit down with him for a long, serious talk. All things considered, marking a stack of student assignments was a far less daunting prospect. He collected his snacks, headed for his study, and got to work. Or tried, though in reality, his thoughts kept wandering back to Starscream.
He'd never believed in notions such as love at first sight, but then he'd met Starscream. The idea that Starscream might feel the same way had seemed an impossible fantasy, but then Starscream had kissed him. The shock of that first, rushed attempt still resonated through Skyfire's spark like the echoes of a gong. That brief meeting of their lips had knocked Skyfire's world sideways, making him—almost—believe in the impossible.
But a part of him knew it couldn't last. He couldn't shake the feeling of being caught up in a beautiful dream, one he'd awaken from at any moment. Yet in spite of all this, his spark dared to want more. He wanted Starscream all to himself. He wanted Starscream's declarations of love to mean what his meant. Was that too much to ask, especially of a Seeker? Skyfire's rational mind said it was, but Hyperion's words continued to gnaw at him.
They crave to be mastered. It's part of their nature.
Could Hyperion, for all his pomposity, be right? Did Starscream crave to be mastered? Skyfire already knew that Starscream didn't mind his dominant side. He had, in fact, dedicated serious time and effort to bringing it out. Had that been for reasons Skyfire wasn't fully aware of? Would Starscream grow restless if Skyfire could not—as Hyperion had put it—pin him down?
Heat stirred in Skyfire's belly as he imagined Starscream's lithe form pinned beneath him. What would Starscream have thought of the Labyrinth, he wondered? Had he been to such places, or tried any of the practices Skyfire had seen demonstrated there? Without quite intending it, Skyfire shut the datapad he'd been reading and pushed it aside, along with the others. He leaned back in his chair, his hand drifting to his codpiece even as his mind drifted to a well-worn fantasy. Except this time, the Seeker involved had a name. A name he knew intimately.