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The pinging woke Skyfire from a solid recharge. He came online slightly confused, which was nothing new, really. Between Earth, the lost years, the war, and then the treaty and return to the destroyed-but-now-being-rebuilt-Cybertron...well, he often woke unsure of where or when he was.

Ratchet told him that it would pass, eventually.

The shuttle onlined his optics and shook his helm as the ping repeated. Was someone at his door? At this hour?

He checked his messages as he booted up his optics. Nothing except a note from Perceptor about the conference they were trying to pull together, and nothing in there that warranted a mid-night meeting.

More pinging. A lot more pinging. Whoever it was, they were impatient.

Skyfire sighed and swung his legs off the bed, heading into the main living area. He was turning toward the front door out of habit before he heard the tapping at the balcony door.

The outline and red optics made his ventilation catch a bit, but then the lights came up at his movement and no, no, the colors were wrong. Skyfire had only seen Starscream's trine a handful of times, half of them across a battlefield sky, but he could still recognize them. "...Skywarp?"

Skywarp made an impatient gesture at him, then at the door. When Skyfire unlocked and opened it, Skywarp met him with a huffy, "Finally," that he really must have learned from Starscream. "Starscream's sick, and he says you know something about it."

Skyfire just stared at him for a long moment, his processor struggling to make any sense of that. "He's...I...what?"

Skywarp vented and tapped his foot restlessly. "Starscream. Is sick. He can't talk much. Keeps passin' out. He says you might be able to help. You gonna come or not?"

Skyfire wished that his relationship with his old partner was such that he'd at least think twice before getting involved in whatever it was Starscream had managed to do to himself. But, he didn't. A sucker, Wheeljack called him. Yes, that about covered it. "Where is he?"

"Clinic." Skywarp fired his thrusters, rising into the air and away from the building. "Come on."

Skyfire let the door close behind him. "The one in Sector Two or the one in--"

"Mech...." Skywarp sighed. "We can talk or I can get us there. Now are you coming or not?"

Ah, right. Teleporter.

Skyfire fired his thrusters to join him in the air. "Yes, I'm coming, but I'm--"

Skywarp moved in close, wrapping an arm as far as he could around Skyfire's middle. There was a blip, a strange field washing over his sensors, a tank-churning realignment of his gyros, and suddenly they were in the air somewhere else, the city below them brighter and louder than the residential block Skyfire lived in.

Skywarp fell like a rock for a few astroseconds before groaning and firing his thrusters again. "Ow. Slag."

"As I was saying," Skyfire said, letting himself sink down to Skywarp's level. "I shift a lot of mass in root form."

Skywarp cradled his helm in his hands as he sank down onto the landing pad below. "Now you fraggin' tell me. Frag, feel like I just 'ported half a moon."

No, you just teleported several kilotons with a multi-kiloton subspace attachment, Skyfire thought, somewhere between exasperation and admiration. He couldn't even begin to imagine the math Skywarp's teleportation core had had to do to keep track of that much mass and quantum information. A scientist he might be, but teleporters made Skyfire vaguely nervous the same way that Wheeljack talking about contained nuclear fusion made him nervous: he was sure the math worked out, but he couldn't verify it himself and knew way too much about how dire the consequences would be if anything went wrong. Not to mention that Skywarp was...well. His impulsiveness made an error seem more likely.

Skywarp had meant the bifactional clinic in Sector Two. He strode toward the roof entrance, ignoring the personnel on the landing pad and a patient being triaged. Skywarp waved to Blades--who looked like he was on call with a Decepticon rotary that Skyfire didn't recognize--and followed the seeker inside.

The clinic was a new facility built in the skeleton of an old building at the center of the residential district. It still hurt Skyfire's spark that essentially the entire living Cybertronian population could fit in what used to be a smallish neighborhood of Iacon, but that was eased some by the fact that the entire population did. From what Skyfire had heard, Prowl and Red Alert had predicted everything from brawling to riots to sabotage when Optimus had said that there would be no separate resettlement areas for the two factions. The Prime had let them rant, then gently, firmly stated that he and Megatron agreed that this was the best chance for lasting peace and that he was sure everyone would rise to the occasion. He'd mostly been right (Prowl and Red Alert had been right about the brawling, but as odd as it was, that seemed to be some kind of accepted public sport among Decepticons.) Though everyone still saw badges first, the peace had held.

The clinic was proof enough of that: it buzzed constantly with both Autobot and Decepticon staff and patients. The no-fighting policy was prominently posted at every entrance (Skyfire smiled as he passed the bright yellow sign at the roof entrance) and rigorously enforced. Ratchet had hand-picked his staff for peacemakers, and any troublemakers found themselves swarmed by determined medics that cajoled, lectured, intimidated, immobilized, injected with sedatives, and/or uninstalled weapons as needed. They were quite effective, but then Skyfire assumed that medics would have plenty of experience with physically restraining rowdy patients.

Skywarp strode right past the intake area and down the hall like he knew exactly where he was going. Skyfire followed, shrugging and pinging a greeting to First Aid as he walked by. The Protectobot didn't look up from the Decepticon he was examining, but pinged him back with a cheery, ::Hi, Skyfire. You here about Starscream?::

::Yes. Skywarp hasn't told me yet what's going on.::

::I don't really know, either. He's Ratchet's case. I'll let him know that you're here.::

::Thanks, Aid.::

"What happened to Starscream?" Skyfire asked Skywarp as they rounded a corner. "You said he was sick. Some kind of virus?"

"I don't know. I came home to find him passed out on the couch. Was a little early for him to be in recharge, but figured he'd been working too long in the lab or something. Then I heard a crash a while later and came in to find him on the floor. A bit later he came online, tried to move, then passed out again. Tried to ask him what was wrong the next time he came to, but he didn't make much sense. So I brought him here." They rounded another corner, and Skywarp's stride slowed when he saw Prowl and Ratchet conferring in the hall.

"Skywarp, slaggit!" Ratchet called, storming over. "Next time you bring in a patient with an unknown virus, let me confirm that you're not a carrier before you run off! Port."

Skywarp vented a long-suffering sigh and held out his wrist. "How was I supposed to know?" He eyed Prowl, who eyed him right back. "Whaddaya want, Rent-a-Cop?"

"I called him," Ratchet said as he plugged in. "You disappeared and weren't answering your comms, and the rest of your trine's either offworld or unconscious--firewalls, please...thank you." The medic pulled a datapad out of his subspace and seemed to be comparing something to something as Skywarp made the vaguely queasy faces that a quick-flash scan and antiviral patch often evoked. "And I assumed," Ratchet continued, "that you wouldn't want me to comm Megatron and explain why I needed him to order you back here."

Skywarp made even more of a face. "...yeah, no."

"So, if I might possibly need to corral a public health menace, Prowl is the one I call." Ratchet disengaged from Skywarp's port. "And you are a menace, though not anymore than usual. He's clean," he said to Prowl over his shoulder. "Cancel that request. I got this."

Skywarp smirked. "Nothing to see here, copper. You can head back to the doughnut shop."

Prowl just shook his head tiredly and said, "That doesn't even make any sense. And I have a few questions for Starscream, when he wakes."

Skywarp ignored him, turning to Ratchet. He gestured at a closed door labeled Exam 2. "How is he?"

Ratchet spread his hands. "Same as he was a breem ago. Out, stable, and something messing with his power cycling. I called a virus specialist, but he won't be here for a groon or two."

Skywarp scowled. "Soundwave?"

"Does it matter?" Ratchet asked, crossing his arms in that way that he always did when someone questioned his medical expertise.

Skywarp glanced at the door next to him. "He doesn't like Soundwave messing with his head."

"He won't be 'messing with his head', he'll be extracting a viral profile and doing a diagnostic analysis," Ratchet said. "Now...want to tell me why you went to get Skyfire?"

"Sure." Skywarp walked over to the door and made a face when it didn't open at his approach. "What, you keeping him prisoner in there?"

Ratchet vented a long-suffering sigh. "No, it's called privacy and medical confidentiality. Unless you want every bolt head in here gawking at him?" Ratchet tapped in a code and the door slid open.

"Oh. Right," Skywarp said, disappearing into the room.

Ratchet vented a sigh, glancing over at Skyfire. "It's like trying to get a straight answer out of aluminum pudding."

Skyfire smiled, laying a hand on Ratchet's shoulder and gesturing him through the door.

Like most rooms, it was a little small for Skyfire. He automatically stuck to the wall just inside the door, so the others could take either side of the medbed where Starscream laid. He looked much like he ever did, except too still and much too quiet. Skyfire didn't need to check the wall readouts to know that Starscream was currently offline. Skywarp stood at the side of the bed, optics darting to his trinemate, then the readouts, then the rest of the room. Skyfire said softly, "Skywarp."

Skywarp turned, starting to pace in tight circles on his side of the room. "Yeah?"

"You said that Starscream mentioned me. When? What did he say?"

"Oh. Right. He woke up, after the medics left the room. Pretty much like he did in our quarters, just blip, powered up, confused. He was trying to tell me something, but his vocalizer was all glitched. He did say 'Get Skyfire', though. Then he started fading. Sounded like he was saying a bunch of nonsense glyphs and numbers, and then he was out again."

"What numbers?" Skyfire asked.

Skywarp shrugged. "I don't know. Didn't mean anything to me."

"They might mean something to us," Skyfire prompted patiently. "He knew he was sick, and maybe knew that he didn't have much time to talk to you. He'd have been trying to give us clues that could help. Whatever he said might have been important."

Skywarp made a face, stopped and stared at the wall for a second. "Alpha-Zeta-987-something-something-626-something. Sorry, I'm scrap at remembering slag."

Skyfire looked up at Ratchet, who shook his head and said, "Doesn't mean anything to me. You?"

Skyfire considered it for a moment. "Did he say anything before the Alpha-Zeta? Could it have been Omicron-Alpha-Zeta?"

"...maybe." Skywarp's head came up. "Hey, that sounds like the reference prefix for a universal coordinate."

"It does. Let me search my databanks.... Yes. Omicron-Alpha-Zeta-987-Delta was a system we surveyed. Omicron-Alpha-Zeta-987-Delta-900626-003 is the universal coordinate for a planet we discovered."

Ratchet was already typing on his pad. "That planet's not coming up on any database I've got access to."

"I'm not surprised," Skywarp said. "It was...near the beginning of our last mission together. It was standard procedure for us to wait to report back until the end of the mission. I, obviously...didn't make it back. Starscream should have reported when he returned, but--

"--but they slapped him in chains the second they could because he'd lost you," Skywarp said, glaring at Skyfire in a way that the shuttle mostly managed not to take personally.

"So he didn't report what we'd found?"

Skywarp shrugged, arms crossed over his chest. "I dunno. From what he always said, they took him straight from the landing pad into a cell."

Skyfire started as Prowl spoke up, having forgotten the mech was there. "Standard procedure would have been to gather any logs of the time in question. If he gave them access, then the logs may have been locked under Enforcer authority as evidence."

Skywarp rounded on him, fists balling up. "Why are you still here, again?"

"As I said," Prowl said evenly, "I'd like to ask Starscream a question or two. He is still the Decepticon Second in Command, and I have no evidence yet that his illness was not some sort of viral attack and thus possibly a criminal act."

"Oh, sure, now you want to help. What about when--"

Skyfire spoke up, loud enough to override the budding argument. "The data might also have been classified under the Research Accords. The planet was a Class 2 cyber biological hazard, which has relevance to this case, I believe. It was a dead world, but with extensive ruins from possibly several different civilizations. The most recent was mechanical, and there was evidence of some massive war or catastrophe, though it was unclear whether the race had died out before, after, or during it. Our initial hypothesis was that the mechanical race had either formed factions amongst themselves and killed each other off, or that a rival organic civilization had exterminated them before itself dying out soon after."

The room had fallen silent, the others watching him silently. Even Skywarp.

Skyfire just watched the still form on the bed and wondered how Starscream would have told this story. "Their technology level was relatively primitive, but we found that their programming had limited compatibility with Cybertronian cyber biology, especially when translated through the programs explorers use to interface with alien systems."

Ratchet sighed, offlining his optics. "Let me guess. You found this out because one of you--and I'll bet my next ration it's the idiot on the medberth--plugged unprotected into an alien network and got infected with something."

Skywarp snorted, and Skyfire found himself smiling just a bit. "You'd win that bet."

"Wonderful." Ratchet rubbed his forehelm like it pained him. "What happened?"

Skyfire tilted a hand at the bed. "Something similar to his symptoms here. Power fluctuations, random offlining." It had struck fear into Skyfire's spark, when Starscream had clanged lifeless to the ground in the middle of that dusty datacenter. Illness and injury among explorers could be a death sentence, that far away from help. "He could stay online for about five breems, and eventually his antivirals finished disinfecting him. We both put him through standard decontamination procedures, and it seemed to be dealt with, never to be seen again. It was on our after-mission checklist to have a code specialist go over him after we returned to Cybertron, but...I don't know if he ever did."

Ratchet handed Skyfire a new datapad. "Did you isolate the viral code?"

Skyfire nodded. "It was part of the mission file." He took the datapad, already searching his databanks. "Let me unarchive it...this will take a moment."

"So what, he's been carrying around an alien virus all this time, and no one noticed?" Skywarp asked. "Soundwave scrubbed every new Decepticon when they joined up, and then again every time we came back after being captured, looking for Autosc--bot viruses. He'd have caught something like that."

Ratchet tapped his foot thoughtfully, looking over at the readouts over Starscream's bed. "If it was alien enough and the antivirals going over it made a hash of it, he might not have known what to look for."

"Ha." Skywarp started to pace again. "I wanna be there when you tell Soundwave that he screwed up."

Skyfire finished unarchiving and re-indexing his Omicron-Zeta-Alpha files. As he searched through them, he was reminded why he'd archived them. They brought back a lot of memories that were painfully bittersweet. Starscream and he flying through the largest nebula either of them had ever seen, starlight sliding along their wings. A capture of Starscream he'd taken against the backdrop of binary star system Omicron-Zeta-Alpha-901044, where the twin suns were only a couple dozen stellar cycles from tearing each other apart, their coronas already intertwining in a beautiful, deadly dance. Long, boring stretches between systems spent talking, analyzing data, playing games....

As always, the Starscream of then seemed so different than the Starscream of today. Still brilliant as a nova, but without the hard, bitter edge. Skyfire wondered if it was a change in Starscream himself or if he was just like his namesake: cold at distance, warm and life-giving if you were in just the right spot, and deadly if too close.

"Got it," Skyfire said, finding the information on Omicron-Alpha-Zeta-987-Delta-900626-003 and uploading it to the pad. He handed it back to Ratchet.

"Thanks." Ratchet's optics narrowed as he analyzed it, helm tilted to the side. "Huh, you're right, that's really alien. My guess is that it's not doing to him what it did to the original species it was made for, but I can see why it'd affect his power systems."

"You can fix him, right?" Skywarp asked, stopping and staring at the pad, then looking up at the medic.

Ratchet vented again. "Contrary to popular belief, Skywarp, medicine takes time. Cool your jets for half an astrosec." He was silent for a long moment, while Skywarp rumbled in annoyance and started pacing again. "Interesting," Ratchet finally murmured. "I can craft a quick patch that'll bypass some of the affected systems. Just temporary, but it should give him some more time awake, at least. Maybe he can tell us what caused this relapse. Soundwave'll probably have some ideas, too."

A few moments more, and Ratchet uploaded the patch to the medberth's systems. Skyfire's optics were on Starscream, but it was the monitors that showed the first signs, the readouts ticking upwards in all the right places before Starscream powered up, optics flickering before onlining fully. He stared at the ceiling, then raised a hand to his helm. "That's...better." He squinted at the ceiling, then at Ratchet, optics flicking around the room, acknowledging but not lingering on anyone. Scanning and cataloging.

"Temporary," Ratchet said, stepping closer. "It should extend your time online, but you need to stay as low-power as possible, and even then I'd be surprised if it works for more than a breem. Let's try to be quick. Skyfire's given me the info on that virus you were infected with in Omicron-Alpha-Zeta. You think that's what's causing this?"

Starscream nodded. "It feels the same. Worse now, though. I could barely power up."

"Any damage to your power systems before the symptoms started?"

Starscream barked a laugh. "Nine million years' worth. You want a list?"

"Yes, yes, you're a badaft Decepticon warrior," Ratchet deadpanned. "Any recentpower system damage?"


"Any recent code updates?"

"Standard antiviral update a quartex ago. Ask Hook."

"You working on anything in your lab that could be relevant?"

Starscream's optics narrowed. "No, I haven't been brewing up any plagues recently."

"The galaxy thanks you for your restraint," Ratchet said. "Anything else you think might be relevant?"

Starscream thought a long moment. "" He seemed to be annoyed at his lack of ideas.

"All right. I've called in Soundwave to consult on this--"

Starscream made a disgusted face. "I'd rather plug a rabid turbofox."

"He's the best viral expert we have." Ratchet tapped something on the readout's display, and the screen broke out Starscream's power readings into more detail than Skyfire could decipher. "Unless you've got a better idea?"

Starscream managed a properly dramatic long-suffering sigh. "...fine. I want an observer, though."

"You'll have one," Ratchet promised.

"A programming and virus specialist, so they know what they're watching."

"You'll have one, Starscream." Ratchet crossed his arms and frowned down at him. "Though if it matters, he's been a perfect gentlemech with everyone else he's consulted on, and that includes the Prime."

Starscream scoffed, turning his head away. "Medic, I've known Soundwave for much longer than you have. And if you're stupid enough to allow Soundwave into the Prime's cortex, I rest my case…. You're all idiots."

"See, this is what makes me feel good about our newfound peace: if you 'Cons were faking it and there was some grand scheme to catch us with our plates open, there's no way you'd say that." Ratchet made a few more notes on his pad and glanced at the readouts again. "How do you feel?"

"...a bit over-energized. Power readings are getting shaky."

Skyfire looked at Skywarp as Ratchet and Starscream continued to pass the time bickering back and forth. Skywarp was watching Starscream, arms crossed over his chest, restlessness now mostly contained to shifting from one foot to the other every now and then. Skyfire had half-expected to be ignored, but he was surprised that Starscream seemed to have all but forgotten about the trinemate who had helped him.

"Skywarp, stop fidgeting, for Primus' sake. I'm not dying." Starscream's raspy voice cycled a bit oddly, as if his vocalizer was having power fluctuations as well as everything else.

Skywarp stepped forward like the attention had broken a dam of kinetic energy. "I know. You ok with being here? I know it's full of Autobots and slag."

"It's fine," Starscream murmured, then went silent. Skyfire got the feeling that they'd taken the conversation to comms. Skywarp relaxed some as they continued to look at each other, settling onto his feet a bit more firmly. Starscream nodded to Skywarp, who nodded back, a smile flitting over his face briefly.

Skyfire found himself looking away from that close, easy rapport. He was not jealous, he told himself. He wasn't. Not...exactly.

"Though what are you doing here?" Starscream warbled at Prowl, optics flickering a bit but still perfectly suspicious.

"Making sure that this wasn't an assassination attempt," the Enforcer said, with prompt bluntness. "From Ratchet's findings, I was about to close the incident report. Unless you have anything you'd like to report?"

Starscream's laugh was a shadow of its usual self. "Ha! Not today. One hopes you'll be as conscientious the next time someone actually does try to kill me."

"Of course. Let me know if anything comes up." Prowl nodded to the room in general and turned to exit the room, probably already off to the next thing on his list, if Skyfire knew anything about the mech.

Something changed in the hum of Starscream's power systems, and Ratchet's optics flitted from readout to readout. "You've got about half a klik."

Starscream turned to Skyfire. He opened his mouth, closed it, then tried again. "Thank you."

Skyfire wondered what he'd been going to say the first time, or in what tone. He just nodded, though. "You're welcome."

Starscream laid back on the bed, muttering. "Stupid backwater aliens. That planet wasn't even worth the fragging trouble they've caused me."

"Yes, because they made you direct-connect to alien networks," Ratchet muttered to the berth readouts.

Starscream scowled, shooting an irritated look at Skyfire. "Still a tattler, I see."

Less than a breem and back to insults. It did seem to be Starscream's natural state. Skyfire wondered why he'd expected anything else. "You deleted it, didn't you?"

"What?" The last half of the glyph was swallowed in a power drop, as something on the readout above Starscream's head spiked down.

"You deleted the research log from Omicron-Zeta-Alpha. That's why you needed Skywarp to get me. Because you couldn't just send him the file." It wasn't the only explanation, of course, but it did seem the most logical one.

Starscream vented a sigh. "It wasn't like I needed it."

The words twisted deeper into Skyfire's spark than they'd probably been meant to. Or maybe not. With Starscream it was always difficult to tell. Skyfire would have dismissed his reaction as an over-sensitive product of his recharge-deprived processor, if he hadn't seen Ratchet's optics dart sideways to give Starscream a narrowed look that would have peeled paint.

Skywarp was watching Skyfire, face unreadable.

Skyfire, for his part, wasn't sure what he was feeling. "No, I guess not."

Starscream's optics flickered. "It was a long time ago," he said, vocalizer cutting out.

Not for me, Skyfire thought.

As the readouts registered Starscream's descent back into unconsciousness, Skyfire turned and walked out. He'd done his part, surely, and he was...tired. Yes, tired described what he was feeling very well. He was looking forward to resuming his interrupted recharge and returning to his boring, seeker-free life the next morning.

Unfortunately, his escape was interrupted. Skywarp was already waiting for him on the roof landing pad when Skyfire arrived. The suddenness of it threw Skyfire off for a moment, until he reminded himself (again): teleporter.

"Hey," Skywarp said, planting himself right in Skyfire's path.

Skyfire slowed to a stop. "Is there something else?"

Skywarp looked over at Blades, who was still on duty and watching them both with more than mild curiosity. The rotary from earlier was nowhere to be seen. Skywarp nodded toward the other end of the landing pad.

Skyfire vented a sigh but followed him. A sucker, as determined earlier. "Skywarp, it's late...."

"I know!" Skywarp exclaimed, loud enough to negate requesting some privacy. He huffed a sigh, lowering his voice. "I know. You don't think I know? I came off a double shift to find Starscream out cold, didn't even drink all my ration before I realized something was wrong." He pulled a half-filled cube from his subspace, taking a drink. His optics shifted to the horizon, then back to Skyfire. "Look, are you two ever gonna work this out?"

Well, that could encompass a lot of things. Skyfire felt justified in asking, "Work what out?"

Skywarp waved a hand between them, then off at the building and perhaps the unconscious seeker inside. "This! This thing you two do where you don't talk and then get mad at each other for not talking."

"I'm not mad at him!" Skyfire protested.

Skywarp looked skeptical. "Really? Because you look mad."

"I am...disappointed. That's not the same thing."

Skywarp looked even more skeptical. "Uh huh."

Skyfire rubbed a hand over his optics. "I don't know what you expect of me, Skywarp. The last time--before tonight--that Starscream and I talked in anything but an extremely professional capacity, he called me a traitor and tried to kill me."

Skywarp laughed, so hard and in such honest amusement that Skyfire just stared at him in surprise. "Tried to kill you? Mech...Starscream is the Decepticon Second in Command and Supreme Wingleader. He can beat every seeker in the 'Con army in one-on-one combat. You--" he cocked a finger at Skyfire "--were an unarmed, barely repaired civvie with the maneuverability of...well...a shuttleformer. No offense. If he'd wanted to kill you, you'd be dead."

Skyfire took offense anyway but didn't say anything, already able to see where Skywarp was going with this. It wasn't as if the thought hadn't crossed his mind. "Fine," Skyfire said. "He didn't try to kill me, he just fired at me and did his best to make an enemy of me."

"Of course he did! He couldn't make all nice after what you did." Skywarp tossed up his hands, before remembering he still held his cube. "But now the war's over. And he mopes every time he sees you. You think he hasn't noticed that you and that Bot nerd are planning that science thing without him? Because believe me, he has, and I've had to hear way too much about it."

It took Skyfire a long moment to figure out what he meant. "You mean the conference? We're...we're not deliberately excluding him. Or any Decepticon scientist, for that matter. We're still figuring out if it's the right time, and...we would have invited him, eventually."

Skywarp was just looking at him. "Mech, you know that's not the same thing at all, or you don't know Starscream one bit."

Of course Skyfire knew that, as well as he knew that Starscream would no doubt love to provide input and probably would try to take over the entire enterprise to have his say. Starscream had never been good at boundaries, and the insinuation that Skyfire should just throw open his entire life for the seeker to rifle through at will was insulting. Skyfire straightened. "He shot at me! I don't owe him anything!"

"You tell him, Skyfire!" floated across the landing pad.

Skywarp's optics snapped over Skyfire's shoulder, but Skyfire turned first, calling over his shoulder, "Blades, we have talked about eavesdropping on private conversations."

"You're yellin' pretty loud for a private conversation, Skyfire," the Protectobot replied, and Skyfire sighed. Younglings.

Skywarp was pointing his cube at him when Skyfire turned back. "Primus, I don't get you two. Everyone keeps telling me, 'Skywarp, you need to say what you're thinking, people can't guess, you need to tell people what you want, that's what mature mechs do.' And here I'm trying to get you two to talk to each other like everyone tells me I should, and you're both like, 'nuh uh, I don't wanna, I'd rather be over here being sad'." He turned, pacing over to the edge of the roof. "Ugh, why do you two need to make this so complicated?"

"Because it is complicated!" Skyfire said, only realizing how loud his voice had gotten again when he saw the wary look on Skywarp's face and heard the echo from the building across the street. He lowered it a tick. "It is complicated, Skywarp. I lost nearly nine million years, and woke up to an entirely new universe. I missed all those years of war that made Starscream and Megatron and you all hate the Autobots so much. All I had to go on, all I have to go on is everyone's actions, and Starscream was acting like someone I didn't want to know. He still does, half the time." Skyfire looked up, waving a hand at the beautiful spangle of stars above: the relative lack of light pollution was the only good thing about a mostly-dead Cybertron. "I was built to be a researcher and explorer, and that's what I want, once we finish rebuilding the home everyone destroyed while I was away. And it would be great if that was what Starscream wanted, too, but now...that's not what he wants. You know that's not what he wants. And if he doesn't accept that, he's never going to be anything but disappointed in me, because I'm not going to change for him."

Skywarp looked up at him silently for a long klik, sipping his energon, then cocked his head. "You know...I can finally see why Starscream likes you. I didn't quite get it before, because he doesn't usually go for the innocent type, but I see it now. You got some fire under those stuffy scientist plates, don't you?"

Skyfire just gaped at him, taken aback, again. Not so taken aback that he couldn't see Blades, across the pad, trying to stifle his snickers, but enough that Skyfire just...declined to deal with it. He vented a sigh. "Skywarp...I get what you're trying to do. You want Starscream to be happy. So do I. But Starscream and I have. Putting us back together doesn't get the same relationship we had before, and I'm not.... I'm afraid that all we'd do is just grind each other's gears."

Skywarp stared at him for a long moment before deadpanning, " 'Nuh uh, I don't wanna, I'd rather be over here being sad.' "

Skyfire drew in a deep ventilation. "You are infuriating."

"Yeah," Skywarp said, smiling. "It's a gift. Though seriously, just talk to him?"

"And relentless. Why are you being so insistent about this?" Skyfire had gotten the impression that altriusm was something of lost art among the Decepticons, trine or not.

Skywarp shrugged, looking out over the skyline. "We're a war trine," he said, as if that explained something. "We make it work, and we get along, but we're not, like, all sparks-atwined in love. Starscream'd never pine over us the way he does over you. You did something for him that we don't. Can't, maybe. Least I can do is try to get you back." He tossed back the rest of his cube, flicking it away over the edge of the building. "Look, I get it, okay? Starscream's a stuck gear that's hard to get along with, and you don't know if you want to get involved with that again. Believe me, I really, really get that. But I think that if you really weren't interested, you wouldn't be standing here arguing with me."

Skyfire opened his mouth, then shut it. He couldn't deny that, really. The logic held.

"Sooo, if you're interested, Starscream is interested, too. He misses you, though he's too much of a slagging coward to tell you so."

Above them, the sound of rotors approaching made them both glance up. The Decepticon rotary was back, clearing the surrounding buildings and coming down for a landing. Activity sprung up around the roof entrance, a few orderlies waiting with a stretcher. The rotary landed and opened his doors, a small mech getting out with another mech's arm slung around his shoulders.

It was impossible to speak over the noise, so Skyfire switched to a low-power general band. ::And do you think he'd really be willing to accept me? As an Autobot, who wants nothing to do with his schemes?::

Skywarp replied with a channel change: his personal comm. When Skyfire clicked over to it, Skywarp said, ::I don't know. You two'll have to work that out. But it's not like he doesn't already know you.:: He smiled, igniting his thrusters to rise slowly. ::Just give the idiot a chance. Like, a really obvious chance, so he doesn't just fly right past it like he does sometimes. And if he crashes and burns, fine. You can tell me 'I told you so'.::

Skyfire vented a sigh. ::I'll...I'll think about it. No promises.::

::Good enough,:: Skywarp said, transforming in the air, engines powering up and then spinning back down as he circled above. ::Oh. You want a 'port back to your place?::

Actually, a flight sounded like a nice chance to clear Skyfire's processor. ::Thanks, but no. I'll fly.::

::Okay. Well, see you 'round, maybe.::

::Good night.::

A slight pop of twisted space-time against Skyfire's sensors, and Skywarp was gone.

Behind Skyfire, there was a clatter as the wounded mech--now on his stretcher--and all the attendants headed for the roof entrance. Skyfire didn't know any of them, but was relieved to see the wounded mech waving his hands in obvious complaint at what looked like a bleeding leg. He seemed like he'd be fine.

The Decepticon rotary that had brought him transformed. Blades, Skyfire couldn't help but notice, had completely lost interest in Skyfire and Skywarp's conversation, focused instead on the rotary stretching out his joints on the landing pad. The rotary straightened and wandered over to Blades, saying something that Skyfire couldn't hear with a flirty flick of his rotors. Amused, Skyfire opened a channel to First Aid. ::Aid, you do know that Blades is flirting with the other mech on flight duty up here, right?::

The Protectobot replied at once. ::Airstorm? Oh yeah, that's an old thing. Don't worry. 'Storm's nice, and he's been taking it slow. Especially when he learned how young we are. Says he's interested but, you know...not going to push anything, when we're so inexperienced.::

He'd better not, Skyfire thought, or he'd have the entire Autobot army hunting him, treaty or not. ::That's good. Relationships can get messy.::

::We know,:: First Aid sent back, his glyphs warm with fondness. ::But they're worth it, you know?::

Skyfire sighed, looking up into the stars splayed across Cybertron's sky.


To: Starscream
From: Skyfire
Subject: Your input requested: bifactional research conference

Perceptor and I are thinking of putting together a bifactional scientific conference on energon conversion/processing, alternative sources, etc. Both basic and applied science/engineering, with a de-emphasis on weapons applications. I know you've done a lot of work in this area that I've not seen. I've attached the draft agenda and would appreciate your thoughts, on the topics as well as issues such as: Is it too soon for this? Do you feel the Decepticon researchers would be willing to participate in this sort of bifactional exercise?

Also, did you ever write up your work in this field? I'd be very interested in reading whatever you feel comfortable sharing.

[Attachment: Agenda]


To: Skyfire
From: Starscream
Subject: Re: Your input requested: bifactional research conference

I think this type of conference is vital to solving the current energy crisis, and any Decepticon researcher that doesn't want to work with Autobots can either get over it or be left in the scientific dust. Shockwave, at least, would come, as the treaty has evidently flipped a switch in his processor that reclassified Autobots as friendlies. (It's honestly very creepy.) As much as it pains me to admit, he's the foremost Decepticon researcher in this field, just because he had so much time to work on it while we were all napping.

I made some suggestions on the agenda. The molecular resonance field is a dead end, unless the Autobots found something to keep the intermediates more stable than I was ever able to. Data attached.

I never wrote everything up, no. I've attached the raw data and some bare conclusions, though.

[Attachment: Agenda-Starscream-r1]
[Attachment: E-conversion-data-molres-476-489]
[Attachment: E-conversion-archive-compress-00001-87456]


To: Starscream
From: Skyfire
Subject: Re: Your input requested: bifactional research conference

Re: molecular resonance: too bad. Wheeljack will be very disappointed.

I admit, this isn't my field, and I feel I'm still missing something in your data. It might be easier to just talk through, if you could spare the time. There's...other things we should probably discuss, as well. Would you be willing to meet tomorrow, or some other evening?


To: Skyfire
From: Starscream
Subject: Re: Your input requested: bifactional research conference

Re: "other things": Yes, I suppose there are.

I will be near your lab tomorrow around 2100, if that would be convenient.


To: Starscream
From: Skyfire
Subject: Re: Your input requested: bifactional research conference

That would be perfect. See you tomorrow.


Skyfire sat back from his console as he hit "send".

Skyfire looked up at the small accessory monitor to the side, which was displaying a particularly lovely shot of the 901044 binary suns. Over to the side of the frame, anonymously bisecting the corner, was a tiny sliver of the very front of Starscream's nosecone.

Below the monitor sat a data disk, neatly labeled "Omicron-Zeta-Alpha". A silly peace offering, perhaps, but if Starscream found the data useless, perhaps he would at least be interested in the more candid visual captures.

If there was anything that they had learned lately, it was the importance of the past.

Skyfire smiled and turned back to his work. He had an entire day before Starscream arrived, and it would be irresponsible to spend the entire time reminiscing. His analyses were not going to perform themselves, after all.