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That Which We Value

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Skyfire had always had a tendency to get lost in his work. Whether it was in the lab or in the field, any new discovery could hold his focus for hours. Often - more often than he cared to admit - this meant no attention was given to his surroundings. And on a planet such as Earth, which teemed with all manner of life, the urge to study everything he saw was impossible to resist.

On this occasion it was a small spiny plant that had captured his attention. Compared to him it was far too delicate to touch, but he still peered closely at it, committing the elongated leaves and purple flowers to memory. Said flowers seemed to be popular with the local insects, which provided the perfect opportunity to study them as well.

A soft crunch of gravel directly behind him roused him from his examination, but he didn't have a chance to look before something cold and round pressed against the back of his head.

“You really aren't very observant, are you?” a sharp, familiar voice asked. The tone was familiar too, if harsher than Skyfire remembered it.

He licked his lips, glancing sidelong at the angular, winged shadow on the ground beside him. “This close to the Ark , I assumed it would be safe to let my guard down.”

The mech behind him snorted. “It's never safe to let your guard down.”

“Even around bots you trust?”

A pause followed his question. Then the bot gave a short laugh and the gun moved away from Skyfire's head, replaced by hands on his shoulders. The mech leaned down, ventilations wafting against his audio, and purred, “Are you implying you trust me? That's a dangerous life choice.”

Skyfire turned his head to meet gleaming, predatory optics. “And pulling a gun on someone five miles from Autobot Headquarters is safe?”

Starscream smirked back, leaning in until their noses almost brushed. “It is when you scout out the area before making your move. You’re all alone out here; I could have gotten away with murder if I’d wanted to.” His expression darkened slightly. “Any Decepticon could have.”

The words were different, but Starscream’s long-held assertion that Skyfire didn’t pay enough attention to his surroundings was so familiar that he couldn’t help smiling. “I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that I was found by you instead,” he said, raising a hand to cup Starscream’s face.

Starscream hummed skeptically, though he leaned into the touch for a moment before pulling away with a shake of his head. “You shouldn’t be out here alone,” he said, moving around to sit by Skyfire. “I’ve lost count of how many times the Decepticons successfully entered the Ark without any Autobot knowing, never mind getting close to it.”

“This from a mech whom they’re actively hunting.” Skyfire glanced around, but saw no one else. “Where are Thundercracker and Skywarp? I thought you all agreed that none of you would go anywhere alone.”

“Last I saw, Thundercracker was still asleep and Skywarp was keeping an optic on things,” Starscream replied, his tone far too casual for his words. Like watching for danger while one’s Trinemates recharged was a perfectly normal thing. “If it makes you feel better, I told Skywarp where I was going. He'll pass it on to Thundercracker when he wakes up.”

In other words, he’d been planning to sneak off, possibly for some time. From what Skyfire knew of Thundercracker, he doubted Starscream would have gotten away successfully had he been the one awake.

“You had no way of knowing I would be out here,” Skyfire pointed out. “Unless you were planning to visit the Ark ?”

He almost hoped that was the case, but Starscream shook his head again, leaning down to peer at the plant Skyfire had been studying. “No,” he replied shortly. “If I hadn’t seen you, I was going to comm.”

Skyfire sighed and raised a hand to stroke Starscream’s back, feeling him tense slightly under the touch before relaxing again. “I wish you would reconsider. You would be safer in the Ark than in that cave.”

“Safer surrounded by bots who want to kill us?” Starscream scoffed. “I don’t think so. They might have accepted you, but you don’t have our history. The fact that they haven’t tried to hunt us down themselves might constitute a miracle.”

As it happened, some of the Autobots who didn’t like having a Trine of rogue Decepticons living on their doorstep had been pushing to do just that. But Skyfire suspected Starscream already knew that, and there wasn’t much else to say, so he stayed silent. At length Starscream leaned back, settling against Skyfire’s side, and Skyfire slid an arm around him, pulling him close.

“Do you regret it? Leaving, I mean?”

His answer was another mirthless laugh. “Leaving everything I spent millions of years working towards was the single craziest, stupidest, most guaranteed to come back and haunt me thing I’ve done since I decided it would be a great idea to get involved in a war.” Starscream gave Skyfire a baleful look. “And I’d do it again, slag you. When did you become so persuasive?”

Skyfire returned his hand to Starscream’s face, delicately tracing the line of his jaw down to his chin. “I’m not sure it was me so much as it was you. If you hadn't wanted to leave, I don't think there's anything I could have said to change your mind.”

“If you hadn't brought it up, I never would have considered it,” Starscream shot back, shoving Skyfire’s hand away. He twisted free of the arm around him and slung a leg over both of Skyfire's in one smooth motion, then jabbed a finger into his chest. “Take your share of the blame for my stupidity.”

Skyfire reached up to cradle Starscream’s head in both hands, earning an irritated hiss. “I can't accept the blame for nothing. And I don't see anything stupid about your decision.”

“You would say that, considering it's exactly the decision you wanted me to make,” Starscream snapped, trying to pull away again. Skyfire held firm, and after a few moments Starscream quieted, though he continued to glare. “You really don't see anything stupid in abandoning the Decepticons and giving Megatron a reason to slag not only you, but two other mechs as well?”

“Are you saying that because you do?” Skyfire asked softly. “Or because you're afraid?”

Starscream tensed, optics widening. Then he snarled, slamming his palms against Skyfire's chest. “You were lucky, ” he spat. “You think that because you were able to walk away so easily, we could do the same? You were a nobody. Just a new recruit who jumped ship the moment the war got too real for you. You weren't important enough to hunt down, and no one even noticed when you were gone. But we served for millions of years, and I was the fragging Second in Command! You don't just walk away from that without consequences!”

“I know,” Skyfire sighed, relaxing his hold so Starscream could escape if he needed to. “I think about it a lot.”

“Then why were you so insistent in wanting me to leave?”

Skyfire offered a weak smile. “Selfishness, I suppose. Even if it's dangerous, I want you with me. And,” he hesitated, lowering his gaze, “I didn't like having to wonder what state you were going to be in next time I saw you.”

Not just physically, though Starscream had occasionally showed up to their covert meetings bearing damage, both from combat and from other sources. But injuries could be repaired; Skyfire had never really known what to do about the times when he was unusually quiet, or jumpy, or angry at himself. Or the times when he didn't show up at all.

“Selfishness,” Starscream scoffed, resting his forehead against Skyfire's. “You don't have a selfish circuit in your body. More's the pity.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Skyfire murmured, lightly stroking the edges of Starscream’s helm vents with his thumbs. “I did ask you to give up everything for me, after all.”

“And because I apparently have the common sense of a rock, I went through with it,” Starscream said. “So I guess between us we’re selfish and stupid.”

Skyfire frowned. “The common sense... of a rock?”

“That’s what Thundercracker said,” Starscream explained, optics dimming as Skyfire continued to pet him. “When I told them I wasn’t going back.”

“I see.” Skyfire considered the information for a moment, then released Starscream’s head in favor of wrapping his arms around him, pulling him to his chest. Starscream grumbled, but readjusted to rest his head on Skyfire’s shoulder instead, heaving a sigh more felt than heard.

“I think you were very brave,” Skyfire said at length. “Knowing how dangerous leaving would be but doing it anyway.”

“That’s called stupidity,” Starscream replied, words muffled in Skyfire's neck. “You've spent too much time around Autobots.”

“Ignoring the danger would be stupidity,” Skyfire corrected. “You thought about leaving for quite a while before you decided it was what you wanted.”

Starscream made a frustrated sound. “In how many ways do I have to explain this to you before you figure out that throwing away your entire life and putting yourself in danger for one bot is… Frag, it’s not even stupid, it’s insane.

Despite the heat in his voice, he made no effort to escape this time. If anything he burrowed deeper into Skyfire’s hold, fingers slipping into seams to anchor himself. Skyfire pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

“You can say it in as many ways as you want to, but I'll still think you were brave for doing something you were afraid to.” He paused, then added, “Though I still wish you would consider relocating from that cave. You've given the Autobots enough information-”

“That they're just willing to tolerate us,” Starscream interrupted. “While spying on us constantly and turning up a few times a day to interrogate us about every move we make. Frag, Megatron could show up right now and demand our surrender, and they'd probably stand aside and let him have us.”

“I wouldn't,” Skyfire said firmly.

Starscream snorted. “A lovely sentiment,” he said, pushing himself back to meet Skyfire’s optics, “but you're only one mech. And if you even think about making my sacrifices pointless by getting yourself killed, I'm locking you up until the war is over.”

“That sounds a bit extreme.”

“If I had been some other Decepticon, you would be dead or captured right now, and your Auto-buddies would have no idea. I think extreme measures are called for.”

“Fair enough.” Skyfire relaxed his hold, hands gliding down Starscream’s frame to rest on his hips, and a slow smile spread across his face. “You know… If you want to get technical, you holding a gun to my head counts as capture by a Decepticon.”

Starscream considered him through narrowed optics for a moment, then smirked in return, arms sliding up around Skyfire's shoulders. “So it does. And would you look at that! Not an Autobot in sight.”

Skyfire hummed in agreement. “I suppose this is what I get for not paying attention. What do you normally do with your captives?”

“Interrogate them and hold them for ransom,” Starscream replied, leaning in to nip at Skyfire’s jaw. “But I might make an exception for one so handsome as you.”

“Meaning you won't interrogate me?”

“Meaning I think I'll keep you. The Autobots will just have to make do with other means of transport.”

Skyfire angled his head back, baring his throat to the mouth mapping out his neck cables. “You can’t keep me forever. They’ll come looking.”

Starscream laughed, drawing back to catch hold of Skyfire’s chin. “Now really, Skyfire. What makes you think you’ll even want to go back when I’m through with you?”

With Starscream looking at him like that, Skyfire had no argument to give. Not that he had a chance, because a moment later annoyance flashed across Starscream’s face and he raised his free hand to his comm.

“What.”

Despite the interruption, Skyfire had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at Starscream’s deadpan tone. The frown he received in response only made it harder.

“I’m with Skyfire. As I’m sure Skywarp told you.” Starscream continued to stare at Skyfire as he spoke, fingers drumming impatiently against his shoulder. There was a short pause as his caller spoke, then Starscream sighed. “I’m fine . There’s nothing alive out here except bugs and- What are you going to do if I say no? Come after me? …Okay, okay. I'll be there in ten minutes.”

“Thundercracker?” Skyfire asked as he lowered his hand.

Starscream grunted something vaguely positive, then shoved himself up to catch Skyfire’s mouth in a biting kiss. Skyfire opened eagerly for him, wincing as sharp fangs caught his lip. He tasted energon for a moment before Starscream’s glossa swept across the wound, gathering the droplets and soothing the sting.

Starscream drew back first, optics bright as he licked his lips. “I’m taking my captive back with me,” he said. “Unless you have any objections?”

“Last I checked, captives don’t usually get a say in whether they go free,” Skyfire replied, unconsciously copying Starscream by running his glossa over his own bitten lip.

“In that case, we’d best get going before Thundercracker follows up on his threat to drag me back,” Starscream purred, splaying his hands across Skyfire’s chest. “The interrogation can wait until we get there. And do show some resistance, won’t you? It’s more fun that way.”