Actions

Work Header

Starfire

Chapter Text

One step. Another step. Skyfire’s large foot sank deeply into the snowy surface. Beneath the powdery fresh snow crumbled ice and he would have heard the satisfying scrunch, if the storm wouldn’t have howled in his audio receptors like a primal beast.
There was literally zero sight, at most myriads of dancing white dots in front of a slightly darker featureless background. Only the activation of his thermal vision - an upgrade which had been of upmost necessity since he had started working on this planet - gave him the ability to see the hot markings guiding his way.
If only he could fly…
The cold drilled its merciless claws through his ventilation system and bots of smaller stature might have already succumbed to it, but not him. Tall, stoic Skyfire. He had been build for onerous conditions. Similar to the bots following ponderously behind him in a long caravan.
How many hours had they walked now? Skyfire decided against checking his chronometer. The display would most likely depress him. Because even though his body had been created for monotonous dull work, his mind was not. And so it wandered off…

Iagoth was a planet with an unstable axis. Its tiny moons couldn’t provide the tidal force. During its endless cycle around its solar system’s star, the planet not only rotated, but wobbled horribly, creating winters with glaciers nearly invading the equator and summers with the charm of a smelting pool. No higher organic life managed to evolve here. However, the same didn’t apply to the minerals. The treasures of Iagoth’s crust were the reason they were all here in the first place.

“Get on with it!”, Skyfire heard the foreman yell in his communication unit. “We are behind schedule! Again! All you slowpokes have to do is walk in a straight line and Primus forbid…! There might be a curve once in a while, beautifully marked, so even you dimwits get it! Now up your tempo!”

Skyfire ignored it. The insults bounced off him as usual. It was always the same. He had been the big doofus for all his life. Being called one was normality. He didn’t know a different kind of treatment. Let alone a reaction of praise should he actually deliver his cargo faster than appointed.

Someone behind him stumbled. Even through the constant howling, he could hear something heavy hitting the ground and Skyfire turned his head in concern. The colorful thermal silhouette of a kneeling bot appeared in front of him.

“I-I’m fine”, the bot reassured with glitching voice box. “I h-hope I didn’t break it…”

“Your leg?” Skyfire now fully turned around in an attempt to help his colleague.

“My l-leg? M-MY LEG?? Are you-”, an incredibly loud gust seemed to rip the words from the bot’s mouth, “… kill me i-if the tools m-malfunction…”

“KEEP GOING!”, Skyfire’s comm nearly exploded. There was no time for solidarity (it wasn’t wanted either) and Skyfire did as he was told. With difficulty and a growing processor ache, but he obeyed. As always. Like every day.

They continued their march and finally the snow storm seemed to settle. A landscape became slowly visible. Their path was flanked by angular mountains, the very reason they couldn’t risk flying blindly towards their destination. Too many had been thrown against the unyielding rocks in an attempt to challenge the resident storms.
Skyfire changed his thermal vision to normal and took a good look at the seldom revealed land around him. This lifeless place seemed more like a bleak moon than a planet cycling in the habitable zone. Such a shame. What wouldn’t he give to see a native lifeform. A plant maybe. Plants intrigued him. They could create their own food. If he would find a way to create his own energon then… then he… - The thought caused a deep-seated melancholy to raise its head - then he could be free… Roam the universe at his own pace and if he would find something interesting, he would halt and he would explore it. Not to gain anything out of it, though that would be nice of course, but just because of his endless curiosity. Things wouldn’t need to be useful to him to have his attention. There would be no need for schedules or for pleasing somebody else.
A little amused, he imagined telling the foreman about his secret wish to spend time with a useless weed. Maybe the bot wouldn’t even show the utterly flabbergasted expression Skyfire pictured. Yes, maybe he would look at him in his typical patronizing way like he expected something so dumb from a shuttle like him. Shuttles had hopes and dreams? Sure. Useless and foolish ones…

The shadows of the mountains engulfed them and eventually the night sky became visible. They must have reached a certain height, since he definitely hadn’t expected this sudden clarity. One of the small misshapen moons revealed itself between the retreating dark clouds just like more and more of the stars with higher luminosity.

“We can fly now, can’t we?”, one bot from the rear called.

“What a waste of time. We could have just waited in space till the storm-”

“As if they would have let us!”

The discontent of the group was palpable, but Skyfire didn’t even listen. Like a gargantuan glowing serpent from the vast depths of an unknown ocean, the northern lights leisurely slid over the summit of the mountain to Skyfire’s right and he was just… just in awe.
After nothing but shapeless white, gray and black, the luscious greens of the aurora had nothing less but something hypnotic about them. As if they were… alive… Skyfire had no doubt that if ancient peoples had lived here and gazed at them, they would have associated them with a godly phenomenon. Or maybe… this breathtakingly beautiful chain of light was a god itself…

Suddenly the noise of activating thrusters filled the cool air. Apparently his colleagues had decided to fly now and nothing spoke against it so far. He just couldn’t bring himself to leave this place yet…

“What’s wrong with you, slowpoke?”, one of them yelled. A few others laughed. Nobody stopped to actually check if something was wrong with him. Then silence set in… and darkness. Now it was just the stars, the northern lights and him. Skyfire crouched down, drinking the serene beauty of the moment, trying to let go of the nagging duties scratching on the inside of his head. He had given them already too much attention throughout his entire life…

“H-Hey.”

Startled Skyfire clumsily turned towards the familiar sounding voice. He had been ensured everybody had left him!

“The d-display on one of my me-measuring devices is broken. Let’s tell the-them I t-tumbled inside a crevasse or something a-and you s-saved me. That’s why we fell be-behind”, the bot who had fallen down before suggested. He seemed wary, tired, but also strangely determined.

“Uh…”, Skyfire didn’t know what to say.

“Come on. W-We both need a good excuse…”

But he didn’t necessarily need him for that… Skyfire fought against his shyness. He would prefer to ask him why exactly he had stayed behind… for him. Damaging the cargo was bad. Damaging the cargo and coming too late, even later than the rest was… unforgivable. He could lose his job. But he wasn’t one to pry. The other bot could think Skyfire assumed ulterior motives and that would be extremely unfriendly… especially towards someone who just wanted to help. If he just wanted to help… His life had been all about eat or be eaten. At least the others around him lived that way. Years and years of being used, his good nature being exploited, he just couldn’t! What should he-?
His processor was spinning, his voice box seemed to have forgotten how to function.

“The t-truth is”, the other bot took pity, as he noticed Skyfire’s internal struggle, “when I stumbled o-over my own stupid feet and you looked a-at me… looked at me with such warmth in these icy blue eyes… I-I… I didn’t expect th-that. Least of all here. You t-truly worried about me, didn’t you?”

Skyfire felt an unhealthy amount of energon flow to his face.

“And now I brought some w-warmth to your face, too”, the bot said with a small smile. Not a smirk. A genuine smile. “I feel like I owe something to such a rare s-specimen. And if it’s a l-lie.”

He made a small pause. “Well then, partner in c-crime. W-What is your name?”

“Skyfire”, Skyfire croaked. The snow storm seemed to be inside him now. So that was where it went…

“Heh, a f-fancy one, hm? My designation is ‘AD-510′“, the bot revealed casually.

Skyfire felt ashamed. Ashamed and extremely awkward.

“Fine, it’s a-actually ‘Moonchaser’, but don’t tell anybody.”

Moonchaser winked at him and Skyfire smiled weakly. He hadn’t had an easy life, but Moonchaser had had it probably even worse. The illogical need to apologize for something he wasn’t guilty of emerged. And then he wanted to apologize for dragging the other bot into this mess. But before he could get any sound out of his useless voice box, Moonchaser walked slowly past him and watched the northern lights just like he had before.

“C-Can’t blame you… looks like fire in the sky…”

They sat huddled together in one of the mine’s larger sections which was still extremely narrow for their frametype. If it hadn’t been a regular matter for shuttles to visit the mine, a section like this had never been created, as the smaller mining bots definitely had no need for it.
Skyfire sipped on his energon cube drowsily. Too much anxiety for a day he had expected to be one of the unexciting ones. Like every day to be precise.
The foreman had thankfully believed Moonchaser’s lie and just dismissed them without yelling too much. Either because the damage could have been far worse or because he just couldn’t imagine a world where two dumb shuttles had any other reason to interrupt their working flow than trying to survive their own clumsiness. He didn’t even ask any of the other bots if their story had been true and even if he had… as long as there was nothing to gain, the others wouldn’t have ratted them out.

“Wonder where they’ll send us tomorrow”, one of his colleagues mused and then hiccuped. His energon cube was already empty and he looked like he was about to fall asleep right where he sat.

“Colonies of Mesmerizor, if they finally greenlight it… Natives are still being nasty…”, another answered.

Skyfire felt like falling asleep, too. Right here, right now. That sounded really good to him for some reason.
Suddenly a text message pinged him back into reality.

“What is it?”, Moonchaser asked encouraging, but Skyfire just mumbled something incomprehensible. “C-Come on, what is it, p-pal?”

“I passed the acceptance test”, Skyfire replied dumbstruck.

“What test?”, one of the others asked sluggishly. His eyes were already closed. “Please no, I hate tests…”

“The test… the Academy of Science and Technology-”

“WHAT?!?” Moonchaser shook him lightly. Whether it was amazement or something else Skyfire couldn’t tell. He couldn’t think.

“It doesn’t surprise me to have passed the test, it surprises me they actually took me… Me, of all bots…”, Skyfire tried to explain. Could it be true? He truly got the chance to do what he had forever dreamed of? He felt fluid sting in the corners of his eyes.

“Guys, he is going to the ACADEMY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY!” Moonchaser savored saying the name. His voice box didn’t glitch once.

“One of us?!”

“A shuttle?!”

“Iacon! Oh Primus, Iacon! If I could see it with my own optics…!”

Skyfire smiled awkwardly while his colleagues, tired and worn out before and excitedly chattering now, started to congratulate him, slap him on the back or on his shoulder armor. Suddenly there was an unexpected sense of unity that definitely hadn’t been there before.
It took a while for the chatter to die down.

“I’d do everything to be a janitor at the academy”, one bot said, stretching his arms and getting finally ready for recharge. “Definitely better than freezing your aft off over and over again…”

“I’m going to be a scientist”, Skyfire said quietly, but more to himself. He still had to convince himself that this was actually happening. The last thing he saw before sleep overcame him, was Moonchaser’s smile.

The next day they tortured themselves by getting up as early as possible as the winds of the northern hemisphere’s winter were about to return again. And to say goodbye to Skyfire. He wouldn’t carry anyone’s cargo anymore and he had a bad consciousness knowing his colleagues- his friends would have to continue to do so. He felt like a backstabber.

“We are all c-counting on you”, Moonchaser encouraged him. Skyfire hadn’t even realized he had taken his hand in his.

“Don’t make us look bad!”, a bot next to him said at which another one jeered: “Nobody could make YOU look any worse!”
Roaring laughter echoed and Skyfire feared for an avalanche to go off. He laughed nervously. “I’ll do my best.”

“To make us look bad?”

“No, no, no!” Skyfire helplessly raised his big hands. He knew they were just teasing him, but…

“You’ll do y-your best”, Moonchaser said convinced. He took his hand again and gave it a light squeeze. Once more Skyfire felt a certain wetness sting in his eyes… “Now! Off with you!”

Skyfire transformed and flew towards the sky, towards the endless space, towards the next moon base and even farther. He understood that he had become a symbol of hope for the other shuttles. There was no way he would disappoint them.

Moonchaser’s stutter became worse, while they were loaded with their new cargo. The same procedure as always, but something wasn’t right. He waved the other shuttles off and they weren’t too hesitant to leave him behind when the storm became stronger.

“What’s wrong with you?! Need an extra invitation, your highness? You can’t stay and do nothing, there won’t be any more energon for you either!”, the foreman yelled angrily when he noticed him still lingering.

“T-The c-c-c-cold…”, Moonchaser stuttered, “it-it-it-it w-w-w-won’t-t-t-t eve-r-r-r leave leave leave leave m-me.”

He fell to the ground with a loud clanging sound. The light in his eyes dulled and then vanished completely. He had probably damaged the cargo inside him. Again. But that wasn’t his concern anymore. Forever.

The foreman sourly ordered a group of miners to dispose of the robot corpse and they threw him in a close crevasse.

No gravestone, no mark reminded of the former Cybertronian citizen with the name “Moonchaser”, let alone a robot designated “AD-510″.

It had been just a shuttle after all.

Chapter Text

Iacon had been nothing but a vague concept to Skyfire. Shrouded in mystery and full of secret promises, the city had always lingered at the boundaries of his imagination. Like the concept of a rain forest used to exceed the imaginative limits of a creature who only knew icy deserts or lands permeated by the miasma of volcanic poisoning.

Sure, Skyfire originated from Cybertron, had been created there… but as he witnessed the other side of his home - The right side! -, he slowly and regretfully realized that his life had always played out behind the curtains. The colorful stage play with its fanciful mock-ups had been for the privileged, whereas he had functioned as part of the soulless machinery. Unseen by anyone. Right from the assembly line of a factory located in outskirts no normal bot would even dream of visiting, to a plain workers-only airport. And then he had left his “home” to grind away on desolate star systems in the galaxy’s outer rim. Until now.

He still couldn’t believe the flashing lights, the music, the hopeful noises of thousands of other bots roaming the shopping district, the sheer brightness and all the billions of impressions flooding his sensory receptors, belonged to him now too. It just couldn’t be true! Maybe he ultimately had collapsed in the snow and this was the last feverish dream before he would return to the All Spark… A shuttle as a student of Iacon’s Academy… a story pretty out of touch with the real world anyway…

“Move, you living obstacle!”

Laughter from somewhere around his knee height.

Skyfire looked for its origin and saw a pack of racing cars (the winglike car doors on their backs gave them away) critically inspecting his giant misplaced self.

“Oh. Pardon me, I-”, Skyfire began. As always he automatically apologized. Even though there was no reason to as far as he could analyze the situation. The street was spacious enough for five of his caliber.

“Oooh, pardon meee!!”, mocked a fiery red bot, probably their leader. “What’s with that talk? Being all HIGH and mighty here~!”
He made a suitable pause to give his companions time to bawl in delight at his moderately creative pun.

“I did not mean to-”

“What?! Walk selfishly on the ground? As if the sky’s not big enough for you?”

“You know”, a neon green bot with glitter particles prettying up his finish poked his leader in the side, “the sky actually might be too small for him…!”

Thundering laughter.

“All joking aside”, the leader said in a self-important manner, addressing Skyfire again. “Shouldn’t you deliver packages or something, boy? What’re you doing here? No wonder it always takes forever till I get my stuff!”

He rolled his optics at Skyfire while turning to his friends with a complacent grin and they hooted again.

“Yeah, I’m having it with these flyers always blocking our streets! They have the sky all for themselves and we only have the ground! Like… unfair? So what’s with their attitude?? Seriously!”, a deep-voiced, brownish bot complained and an orange comrade standing right next to him raised his fist and yelled: “Spark extraction for sentient, winged traffic jams!!”

“They are far from sentient, Tailwind…”, corrected the neon green bot and gave his disappointed - disappointed in himself because he had assumed flyers possessed some kind of intelligence! - comrade a well-deserved smack on his neck plating.

“Poor Tailwind”, the leader said while he shook his head in mellow forbearance. “So young. So naive. But still no reason to hit him, Dazzler!”

Dazzler squeaked as a chiding finger was raised at him. “Sorry, Finedust!”

“It’s not his fault that he was deceived to think there is more to a flyer than meets the eye. That’s just how they function. Making themselves look better than they actually are… with their flyer-ingenuity…!”, Finedust explained calm and maliciously, parading a plush fake smile.

Skyfire couldn’t fathom what these bots were spouting openly. Had he survived the inhospitality of the cosmos to listen to this? All the while his colleagues were still working themselves to death, these bots were living in the literal paradise and made a huge drama because he had had the audacity to walk on the same street as them? He wasn’t angry, he was honestly dumbfounded.
The lack of hardships seemed to have stolen any of these bots’s sense of reality!

On the other side of the street two bots had just left a shop with the auspicious name “Tides of creation - Wonders from the oceans of Anthrazium”. A unique mixture of glowing sea creatures could be marveled at in the shopwindow where they were presented in aquariums filled with colored water. They were pretty bizarre looking, some of them even had filigree tentacles growing out of their weirdly soft, round bodies.
One of these critters was leisurely floating in a translucent small transportation tank, affectionately hold by its new owner.

Both bots were absolutely identical in height and looks except for their eye-catching color accentuation on bodies wearing mostly black, silver and stormgray. Blue for the one holding the tank, purple for his twin. Among the other pedestrians they stood quite out. Not the way Skyfire did, whose height alone made him unique, but because they were natural warframes. Whereas the racing cars shared from their feet to their helms a more rounded and bulky look with Skyfire, the two soldiers seemed to have a theme going where everything had to be overly long, sharp, pointy, spindly and reduced to the bare necessities. Ready to raise a storm of pain on their enemies when they turned into a flurry of stabbing claws, kicking legs and slashing wings.

“What’s the ruckus over there?”

Unsurprisingly Skyfire’s mere presence had caught their attention. He looked like a confused whale harassed by dolphins.

“Not our problem?”, the bot holding the tank answered his companion’s question briefly and with a clear lack of emotion.

“T.C., it looks to me like those ruffians are ganging up on one of us! Where is your sense of justice??”

Thundercracker gave his antsy partner a good long look.

“‘Ruffians’? Really, Skywarp? And that shuttle is definitely not one of us. A civilian. Working class.”

“Fine, fine. Where is your sense of 'good excuse to thrash some cheap cars’ then?”, Skywarp asked, crossing his lanky arms.

“I highly doubt Starscream would be happy about us throwing ourselves in a situation where we would get nothing but lots of unwanted attention…”

“You don’t know him like I do, brother.”

“As always you are full of slag, Warp…”

Meanwhile Skyfire entertained the idea to just transform and flee the scene. All he had wanted, the very reason he had even dared to set foot in an overcrowded area like this right on his first day on Cybertron, had been to buy a datapad that was supposed to help with his studies starting tomorrow. But these bots wouldn’t leave him alone and nobody else seemed to even notice.

“Begone, sinister scoundrels!”, yelled a skinny seeker theatrically.

Skyfire wondered for an overwrought moment if some higher power had just read his mind. Somebody had right in this moment stood up for him? However, the whole incident made him feel incredibly uncomfortable in an instant. Now he had dragged an innocent person into this whole mess…

But before he could finally do or say anything, the racing cars seemed to have lost their minds entirely.

“CHICKEN!!! Guuuys, it’s the chicken police!!”

They howled and jeered and started to make horrible clucking noises.

“Stop your mindless harassing! It’s very, very mean!”, the bold seeker explained as if he was talking to a bunch of dull-witted sparklings.
Next to him appeared another seeker with a jellyfish pet in his arms. His expression screamed 'This is a bad idea’. He twitched when the other’s elbow spike scraped his side.

“Uh, yes. Just don’t do it”, he said monotonous.

“Since when does anyone care about what a chicken says?”, the leader of the cars asked a genuine question. As if even the most abstract idea of anyone listening to a seeker was utterly beyond him.

“I’m not giving much about some bot’s opinion with wings that small either.”

“Those aren’t wings!!”

Finedust pronounced the word as if he had said something disgusting.

“Guess what, T.C.? So, those crippled stubs are entirely useless! Who knew?”, the seeker with purple marks said syrupy with the back of his hand covering his mouth.

There was open hostility now. Finedust’s pack was getting ready to fight and finally other pedestrians halted in their shopping spree and began to watch.

“Tear them apart…”, Finedust said in a low voice, but Dazzler seemed nervous.

“Dusty, they might have blasters… why else are these trash hens this cocky, huh?”

“BECAUSE THEY ARE STUPID!”, Finedust roared. “If they would use a weapon in a civil area on a civilian, they would go right into the trash compactor! Even they know that! Now get in position!!”

“Let’s beat them to slag!”, Tailwind shouted enthusiastically.

“That’s the right motivation, Tailwind!”, Finedust praised his comrade. “Unlike some other bot…”

“Dusty… I’m sorry for-”

“Stop calling me that!!”

Skyfire watched the seeker with purple markings imitate the over-exaggerated fighting position of a movie action hero. Not that he had much experience with those, but… it just looked too silly. This couldn’t be real…

The one who had been nicknamed T.C. locked eyes with him. ‘Please, kill me’ was all his expression said.

“HEEEY-YAAA!!”, his seeker-friend kicked the air and admittedly… the way his pointy, high-heeled foot seemed to cut through it… that was actually impressive. Finedust’s companions looked like they thought the same, only their leader just couldn’t get over the fact a lowly “chicken” had made fun of him. Skyfire didn’t quite understand the word. Probably an ethnic slur…

A sparkling started crying. Maybe that had triggered Skyfire’s reaction or maybe he just hated senseless violence. Right when Finedust and the seeker were about to clash, he reached out blazingly fast and first caught the racing car by effectively closing his huge paw of a hand around his upper arm (Finedust’s whole body stopped midair and then swung back comically. His expression was even more comical).
Catching the seeker with his left hand had been trickier, but he actually managed to grab him (cautiously) around the abstrusely thin waist, thoroughly astounded by himself.

“Treason!!”, the seeker yelled more surprised than furious and began to wriggle in his hand.

This had probably been a bad idea and Skyfire prepared to feel ten pointy fingers to sink into his thumb, but nothing suchlike happened. Actually, he wasn’t even holding him anymore! The seeker seemed to have vanished into thin air!

“What the-”, Finedust couldn’t make any sense of the world anymore. The lowly shuttle had actually dared to touch him?! “You dirty bird! Oh, you dirty-!”

“FREEZE!”

Police cars in white and blue entered the scene in a threatening manner. Some of them shooed the onlookers away in their robot form, whereas others tried to cut off the hastily retreating racing car gang in their vehicle mode. However, they didn’t seem to even try that hard. Actually most of these stern eyes were directed at Skyfire! And then everything turned into a blur.
Skyfire had completely lost sight of both seekers now, Finedust broke away from his grip and drove off boiling mad and cursing. The policemen circled Skyfire and one of them spoke in a slow manner, so even a stupid shuttle would understand: “You are under arrest for scandalization and assault!”

“What?”, was all he could say and some of the policemen nodded to each other as if to say: “Typical…”

“Whoa, that was close!”, Skywarp said, his forearm dramatically raised to his brow.

Thundercracker and him were standing on top of a skyscraper’s roof and watched the absurd scene below them unfold. The night sky had settled in and the city’s illumination was at its impressive peak now. They were more or less invisible to any onlooker on the ground.

“You idiot”, Thundercracker whispered. “I would be most surprised if this won’t somehow reflect on us…”

“Eh??”

“You are so mercifully oblivious to anything that’s going on, aren’t you??”

Skywarp scoffed scandalized. “That’s simply not true! Dusty and Dazzler are totally fragging, don’t you think?”

The sound of shattering glass was widely audible.

Skyfire had been questioned for hours at the police station, crouching in a room not built for him. Who was he working for? Why wasn’t he working? What was he even doing here?
They demanded visual proof when he told them he had been accepted at the Academy and quit his job, but only after they couldn’t press any other more illegal explanation out of him after lots of futile attempts. He sent them scans from his comm’s archive where he stored important audio and pictorial messages and even then they still contacted the Academy, whether they were aware of their shuttle student.

“I see. So, you are part of a special program, huh?”, his interrogator asked matter-of-factly. “To give those ‘Education for everyone!’ do-gooders room to yell at something else, huh?”

“I… guess…”, Skyfire answered shyly.

“They are not doing you any good hauling you there. You are simply not made for higher education. You won’t keep up.”

“But I passed the test…”

The policeman sighed. “Of course you did. They gave you a fake, easy test even my newborn daughter could solve. What they want is good publicity not you. And I think that’s far worse. Giving you lot hope for something that’s not meant to be. That’s outright abuse. If I were you, I would go back. Stick to your trade.”

Skyfire wanted to object, but… the whole ordeal had made him weary and hopeless…

“Now. Concerning the whole incident this evening…”, the policeman scrolled thoughtful through a report on his datapad. “Those seekers who were spotted… Do you know them?”

“No, Sir.”

Through the door came the policeman’s colleague with two energon cubes in his hands. “If it was the other way around, that would surprise me, frankly speaking.” The door shut again with a hiss. “Shuttles and jets usually don’t mix. The size difference… you know… too big even for them.”

Skyfire’s interrogator couldn’t suppress a dirty laugh when he gratefully took one of the cubes from his colleague. “Right.”

Skyfire tried to stay in blissful ignorance. Meanwhile his tank seemed to squirm when his olfactory receptors became aware of the energon’s delicious smell. It was probably of far higher quality than any energon he had ever tasted…

“But there is no hindrance to brawl with them, I guess?”, the colleague continued. His smile was suddenly gone. “What kind of sexual deviant must one be to do such things in front of good citizens? Of children!”

Once more Skyfire was just dumbfounded, but this time something ice cold had befallen his spark. “Officer, I… I would never…”

“Um, Tracker? Aren’t you interpreting a little bit too much-?”

“Want your daughter to come in contact with such filth, Sidewinder??”

“Tracker, I have the surveillance videos of the stores close to the incident right here. Nothing like that happened!”

Officer Tracker looked disappointed. Disappointed by his colleague to bring some sufficient evidence into play. There was only so much room to screw around with this dull shuttle now. “Anyway… we’ll figure out their identities with or without your help. And you better help us out… otherwise they will rat you out because we are gonna get them anyway.”

“I don’t know them! They just came over when those racing cars were ganging up on me!” It had finally broke out of him.

“Oh really? So it were the racing cars causing the trouble?”, Officer Tracker asked.

“Well, yes!”, Skyfire replied agitated.

“Grounders are always at fault for everything to you fliers, aren’t they?”, Officer Tracker sighed.

Skyfire looked helplessly to Officer Sidewinder, but he seemed to be very busy drinking his energon. What followed were even more hours of fruitless back and forth of baseless accusations and horrible stereotyping. They would have probably kept him in a cell overnight, if Officer Sidewinder hadn’t had finally put his foot down and released Skyfire out of Officer Tracker’s cruel game. As long as none of the racing cars denounced him, there was no reason to lock him away, but the Academy was aware of his “misstep” and he was now on the police’s list of bots “one should keep an eye on”.

Hopelessly tired out (more emotionally than physically), Skyfire dragged himself to a working-class airfield and transformed into his vehicle mode to recharge. Other students of the noble Academy usually got flats assigned, but he was just a shuttle. According to their opinion he wasn’t in need of luxuries. He wasn’t build for them.

After three hours of sleep at most, he flew towards the Academy of Science and Technology, his hopes and dreams, to experience his first day. His lack of refueling could be at fault, but he felt utterly depressed. Gone was all of his excitement. Yesterday had been nothing short of a catastrophe, how was today supposed to be any better?
Skyfire tried to cheer himself up. The test hadn’t been fake. They had wanted him for his brains and not for political correctness. Right?

The place intimidated him. Just like the shopping district, it was spacious, luxurious and beautiful. A gigantic well was placed before its main entrance with larger than life statues of mechs and femmes gathering around a sun-like entity. Enlightenment through striving for wisdom, Skyfire interpreted.
A little spark of hope ignited within him. The students here should be more tolerant and smarter than the average street thug or delusional policeman…

Three female bots passed him, while he looked at the statues. First they kept chatting, but as soon as they were behind him they slowed down and just stared.

“What’s he doing here?”

“Looks like he thinks, he is one of them”, a femme said and pointed at the huge statues with a quick raising of her chin in their direction.

“Aw, so sweet, he found his family!”

Laughter.

Skyfire felt a coldness in his spark that was unlike anything he had witnessed on Iagoth. They weren’t talking directly to him, but they wanted him to hear. They wanted him to feel stupid and misplaced and that he didn’t belong here.
Silently he walked inside the main building to meet with the faculty director, but even though he was able to fit the spacious hallways without any problem, the walls suddenly seemed to constrict around him and he felt sicker than ever.
He didn’t know how, but he somehow had made it to the roof which was thankfully walkable. Fresh air, that was what he needed right now…

Gasping, with his hands on his knees he tried to calm himself. How pathetic he must look… What would the other shuttles think!
A beam of light blinded him and he slowly looked up. The morning sun had just raised over the city’s skyline and distempered the few sharply wind-cut cirrus clouds in a soft pink. Skyfire sighed. What a wonderful illustrious moment… The sky… a dreamworld separate from all the ground’s soil…

Another beam blinded him, but this time from another direction. He wondered. Cybertron wasn’t cycling a binary star system, right?

Skyfire searched for the ray’s origin and found that it had been simply reflected… by another bot’s plating!
First he could only distinguish a silhouette, relaxing on one of the roof’s enhancements, but then he shielded his optics from the sun’s light and became aware that it was indeed another seeker, just like the two from yesterday. But there was something about this seeker in particular that made him appear… different… and it weren’t his marks which were red instead of blue or purple.

The seeker sunbathed with obvious joy, his wings raised high and directed at the glowing celestial body, a noble smile on his face and the eyes closed appreciatively.
There was something wild and untamed about him. He seemed tranquil with no worries perturbing his mind. A majestic hunter of the skies who wasn’t dependent on anyone.
Somehow… for a moment… all the awful things that had happened to Skyfire seemed irrelevant…

He caught himself gawking and so did the seeker. The smile turned into a sneer.

“Well, well, well.”

All of the three seekers shared the same voice, but while the bold one had sounded playful and overexcited to outright tedious, the reserved one had sounded, well, reserved, this seeker added something haughty to his tone. A tone used to command and to see these commands put into action.

Skyfire felt more energon flush into his face than could possibly be healthy and attempted to apologize for staring, but the seeker preempted him.

“If it isn’t the very shuttle who involved my trine mates in trouble.”

That was it. A point of no return had been reached. The Schwarzschild radius of Skyfire’s good nature. The pain, the unfairness, the humiliation, the bad luck haunting him… they all bombarded his self-restraints, made them crumble and eventually collapse. A single word appeared in his mind, he wouldn’t dare to have in his vocabulary before, but now it seemed to summarize it all:

FRAG!

Chapter Text

A few hours before…

“Ow, you brutal glitch!”

Skywarp trotted bent over behind Thundercracker, both of his hands covered his demolished cockpit protectively.

“You piece of slag!”

Thundercracker ignored Skywarp’s plaintive cussing. Door after door passed them while they walked. Their flat was located somewhere in the higher third of a gigantic skyscraper known as The Aerie. The name wasn’t official, but had become commonly used among other flying residents and also among the grounded neighborhood. For some bots it was nothing more than a nickname, for others just another tool to de-Cybertronianize the flying population.

“Rust-covered, scrap-eating…!!”

“Shush!”

Skywarp stopped in his tracks just like his mate, his mouth wide open. He stared at Thundercracker’s angrily raised wings, at a loss for words - for the moment.

“You want the neighbors to witness your foul tongue??”, Thundercracker asked aggressively. He turned his head and looked sternly at him; his shoulder armor only allowed for the red glowing eye to be visible.

“You mean, you don’t want them to witness what an abusive scrap heap you are!”, Skywarp replied saltily.

Thundercracker let that pass without comment and continued to look for the right door. The glyphs marking them had started to glow in a soft blue as soon as the darkness of the night had fallen. Aside from the glyphs, every corridor, balcony and window looked exactly the same. But compass and altimeter agreed that it had to be the next door and they were thankfully correct. He couldn’t trust his visual memory banks here and that irritated him gravely.

As a veteran of war it made him feel unsafe…

Without losing any more time, Thundercracker pressed his thumb claw against the door and immediately it started to measure his biological profile: A display appeared right below the glyph and showed an encrypted shortcut of his genetic code along with his product number before it opened with a familiar hiss.

“Get in”, he said and made an according gesture for Skywarp to enter the dimly lit flat.

The latter grumbled sullenly and gave him a nasty look, but refrained to shove him or anything while he walked past him.

All Thundercracker hoped for now, was for his new pet to get used to its future aquarium’s water and for him to crawl into bed and fall into a dreamless sleep… A world without Skywarp’s bullscrap…

Just when he attempted to enter the living room right behind his dimwitted mate, the lights turned on. All of them. In their most glaring setting.

“Hello, boys”, Starscream greeted them with his oiliest voice.

Their trine leader was sitting right in the middle of the room, his throne-like armchair (his favorite piece of furniture) directed right at the hallway where both their dumbfounded selves stood.

“Uh”, Skywarp said in the absence of a more intelligent answer.

“Leader”, Thundercracker greeted formally and stood straighter.

“Want to hear something funny?”, Starscream asked casually and leaned forward, his chin resting on his folded hands. He smirked dangerously and as much as Thundercracker knew Starscream for enjoying some toying, there lurked something deeply furious in his eyes… and that scared him. This was serious.

“Always!”, Skywarp replied jovially, but his laugh sounded shrill and nervous. Even that dingbat had noticed it…

“Once upon a time there lived two seekers. One was blue, the other purple. Their names were…”, Starscream began and Skywarp hastily called: “Thundercracker and Skywarp!”

“Nooo, obviously they were called Thunderwarp and Skycracker, tsk”, Starscream said, his smirk was replaced by an annoyed grimace for a moment before he continued: “Anyway these two seekers thought they lived in a fairy tale where good and evil is easily defined and good always wins and gets rewarded.”

Skywarp shoved Thundercracker with his elbow. “This is going to be good!”

“And then - poof! - they were suspended from the Academy.”

“Yeah! … Wait, what?”

Thundercracker felt his spark stutter. No. No! Frag, no!!! That had to be a bad joke! Or a nightmare! Maybe they really had brawled with the racing cars, Maybe he had been hit hard enough on the head to be sent into a delirium! But that was highly unrealistic… He wouldn’t have been overpowered… not by Dusty and his consorts…

“Does this mean, we can lie in tomorrow?”, Skywarp asked pragmatically, scratching his brow.

If there had ever been a time Thundercracker had wished for Skywarp to hold his tongue, it was now. He couldn’t accept this as reality… He couldn’t go back… not there…

“My dear Warp”, Starscream said patiently, but Thundercracker knew they were in the danger zone now. Starscream absolutely detested nicknames. “It means, you two are deemed unfit for Cybertronian society and therefore are in better hands where you came from, doing what you were made for.“

"Why?!”, Thundercracker finally spoke. “This doesn’t make any sense! What exactly did we do to mark us as… as outlaws?!”

“I see. Somebody demands the full story”, Starscream noticed joylessly. He picked a datapad up which had lain on his lap.

“The whole incident was recorded by the closer shops’s surveillance cameras and even though the police got immediate access to all of them, I at least managed to get a copy of the recordings of your favorite pet shop. Thanks to you being such a good customer, the shopkeeper granted my request and therefore I got an unadulterated insight about the incidence. It was a necessity since the police’s record had been pretty cryptic and the Academy’s suspension did not explain a thing. Just thanked me for my understanding.”

He laughed shortly before he became serious again.

“Apparently a self-made ‘street gang’ known to the police with a tendency for ignoring speed limits and notorious disrespect towards flightframes, had found the perfect victim: A disoriented, clueless shuttle standing right in the middle of their turf like fair game. They could not let this pass. Impossible. That would have been against their nature. But so far this had been nothing out of the ordinary… until you guys came into play.”

“I just wanted to help the naive country boy”, Skywarp mumbled pouting.

“I am most ensured”, Starscream said fatherly. The corners of his mouth twitched. “However, nobody here wants to see a military robot beat up a sports car snot. Not even in self-defense. We are good enough to fight and die for them far away on distant stars, so more colonies can be built, resources can be found and the energon price can stay low. At home we are scum. The only reason we are even tolerated at the Academy is the master’s influence. We are currently Cybertron’s most privileged seeker trine and that translates to 'basically street dirt’. Do you know how they knew it were my mates clashing with those 'gangsters’ even though we all look the same to them? The pet-shopkeeper had your number saved, Thundercracker. Because you had to buy this disgusting animal there. Otherwise… hm, maybe we would have gotten off lightly? But as soon as the police had their model culprit, I got a message, asking whether I as the leader, knew where my trine hangs around. Whether I don’t have any control over them. Whether I am even fit to be a trine leader!”

It was dead silent in the room. Skywarp lifted a claw as if he wanted to object, his mouth open, but no word came out and he lowered his finger again.

“You are aware what they are allowed to do when they suspect a trine to be unstable?”, Starscream asked. There was no hint of any kind of humor anymore.

Skywarp looked at Thundercracker questioningly, but all energon had left his mate’s face.

“N-Not that… they wouldn’t… did they really hint…?”, he whispered.

“Boys, it’s as if everything I’m telling you about is complete news to you!!”, Starscream yelled unbelieving. “As if this came as a complete surprise!”

“I guess, we are really privileged”, Skywarp mused shivering. “Right, T.C.? Privileged enough to forget about how crappy everything is… I didn’t even want to beat that Dusty guy up. Not that hard, I mean… It was just fun to tease them a little…”

“After all we’ve been through… it just seemed so… so… small and… harmless! I knew it was a bad idea, but…!! The consequences are disproportional!!”

Thundercracker lost his nerves and the tank in his hands cracked. The lifeform inside didn’t seem to care yet, but water began to slowly trickle down to the floor.

“Such is life, moron”, Starscream said pitilessly.

There was a long pause and only the constant trickling could be heard. The neighbors must either be sleeping or pressing their audio receptors against the walls…

“Now what?”, Skywarp finally asked. He looked contrite, the trademark mischief gone. The only reason he didn’t reach out to Thundercracker, was the impression his mate could burst after the lightest touch: His claws were cramped and his eyes wide with terror.

“I sent a message to him. I’m assured you two will just be ordered back to Mesmerizor and continue our war against the inhabitants as if the silver lining of studying at the Academy had never existed in the first place. He wouldn’t want any additional punishment on his prized possessions and maybe… maybe, maybe, maybe you two can try to attend again in another year… or two… or fifty… or hundred… or in a millennia. If you are still alive then, of course, hehe”, Starscream said and he said it in the unmistakable tone of ‘that’s all I can do for you, boys’.

“Frag…”, Skywarp sighed defeated, but also a little bit relieved. Back to the battlefield. He could live with this. He was used to it. There were harsher punishments out there and they would have definitely suffered some far more nasty consequences if they weren’t… privileged.

Thundercracker could see that. But unlike Skywarp, who had developed a live for the moment apathy, he was generally stressed over having to be a warrior… Psh, “warrior”. Bringing death and destruction to other peoples and their world… there was nothing honorable about that. The mindless, casual obliteration of nature and unique landscapes, some of them one of a kind in the whole galaxy… He despised it so much. There was no respect, no awe for what had been formed throughout billions of years.

Why was it so difficult to see the purity and beauty of the simple lifeforms? To see their worth? That they should be preserved and studied? Not even Starscream understood and as much as Thundercracker loved him - they and Skywarp only had each other -, sometimes he could snap his neck for his unyielding incomprehension. And once, he nearly had.

When they had been stationed on another planet that was currently conquered, he had brought a small fuzzy creature to their room and no matter how small and non-threatening it had been, Starscream had made such a big deal out of it. Called it smelly and ugly and disgusting and it sadly hadn’t been long until the creature really had made a smelly mess in their room… Starscream had shot it and caused an even bigger mess. Biological creatures… that was just how they were: Unacceptable to Starscream. And then their first and last deadly serious fight had started. Thundercracker could remember Skywarp quivering in fear in a corner, unable to do anything, while he watched his mates try to claw each other’s guts out. The room had been sprayed with energon before another seeker trine had burst through the door and pulled them apart with great effort and suffering not too harmless wounds themselves.

Even after Thundercracker had made the statement to his superior, that he had acted out of line and attacked his leader out of base motives (even though the little creature hadn’t been a “base motive” to him), they had taken Starscream away for a week. Put him through who knew what to test if he was still fit to be a trine leader. Starscream had never talked about it and when he had come back to them, the only nightmare-inducing hint he had given them had been: “Well, it looks like they won’t castrate you.” After that he had pretended nothing had ever happened between them and so Thundercracker had let it go, too.

Silently he staggered towards their huge aquarium and placed the small tank with his newest acquisition right in front of it. Time to introduce it to its new permanent roommates…

“When I’m gone… will you feed them?”, he whispered. And hoped.

“’Will you feed them?’”, Starscream aped him with a pathetic, high-pitched voice. Then he returned to his usual tone. “You DO know, I don’t care about filthy alien pets, do you?”

“Bastard.”

Skywarp pressed his fists against his mouth and stared at Thundercracker terror-stricken. The painful flashback was clearly visible on his features and also the unwillingness of having to go through that again. For Skywarp there had never ever been an occasion where he had seriously defied Starscream and if it had just been so much as back talk. He couldn’t understand why Thundercracker had to escalate the situation again.

“What was that?”, Starscream asked genuinely interested. His eyes were huge and his brows raised cartoonishly high.

“You understood me quite well”, Thundercracker said coldly. All his hopes had been crushed in the last few minutes. Living a normal live without killing. Studying the creatures he loved. And now the few he could preserve would die too. He was so done with everything. Actually, he demanded a face to place his fists in.

“I could almost assume, this is riling you up more than literally anything else”, Starscream noted. He seemed to be fascinated, unable to comprehend Thundercracker’s reasoning. Why would somebody stand up for those useless creatures? It wasn’t going through his thick skull and he would never allow it to, either.

“These beings have a right to live just as much as you and me and you constantly judging their supposed unworthiness is ignorant to the core! Especially because you KNOW they are important to me and yet you didn’t even bother to learn anything about them! Whether they live or die doesn’t mean slag to you! You just keep twisting the knife in the wound because they are just tools for you to hurt me because I FRAGGED UP!”, Thundercracker explained angrily, turning towards his leader.
“I’ve always wondered where you are taking this massive arrogance from! Did you know, they don’t even have brains and still manage? Isn’t that incredible?! Isn’t that worth-”

Starscream’s claws flashed. The wound wasn’t deep, but he knew his craft: The gashes on Thundercracker’s face filled with beads of energon first, before they started to weep out the vital substance. It burned horribly and after Thundercracker had gotten through his initial stupor, he clutched his face and knelt down shakily. There went his fighting spirit…

“Yes, truly incredible”, Starscream said haughtily. “Brainless beasts know their way, but lifeforms with a brain like yours, don’t. Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. You are such a fool, Thundercracker, I’m legitimately impressed.”

He shook his hand to get rid of the energon droplets on his claws as if they were something disgusting.

“Clean that filth up. And don’t even think any of you can sleep with me tonight. You can rest on the ground just like your dirty critters. Maybe you’ll even find something more to admire about them then, lying in the dust and all. Ah, and Skywarp? You can indeed lie in tomorrow. Congratulations.”

With these words Starscream left them alone and disappeared inside their bed-chamber whose door shut right when he had went over the threshold. Deep silence was all that was left and for a moment, neither Thundercracker nor Skywarp moved.

“T.C.”, Skywarp cheeped.

He switched the still angrily glaring lights off and only left a soft humming night light on. The aquarium glowed a little, too. Now their living room seemed almost cozy again. There was also furniture made for resting - at least for getting comfortable for reading and there like. So there was no need to actually lying down on the ground, but Thundercracker had basically curled up where he had knelt before, not moving a muscle anymore, his face hidden beneath his claws.

“T.C. …”, Skywarp whispered again. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault…”

As quietly as he could, Skywarp cleaned the floor and even saved the weird, soft lifeform out of its broken tank and placed it in the acclimation part of the aquarium. Then he stood there, sighing and unsure what to do with himself. He had basically destroyed his ties to his trine mates. Well, they would forgive him, eventually… But he couldn’t live with being hated even for a second.

Slowly and cautiously he lay down next to Thundercracker and after a few draining minutes of quarreling with himself, tried to spoon him. Thundercracker didn’t even twitch. And somehow this made Skywarp feel even more rejected than being pushed away. He was entirely ignored. He had become non-existent to Thundercracker.

Skywarp couldn’t suppress a wail and then rolled over, facing the wall.

Rooftop of a certain academy. Now.

“I… I…”

Skyfire tried to stutter an apology for his existence. He was legitimately an undesirable being the way everybody reacted to him and since trouble just seemed to continue gravitating towards him… how could he blame everybody?

He was such a nuisance even to the ones who meant well… he couldn’t do that to them. It hurt! They deserved better! Maybe it was the right decision to remove himself… but he didn’t… want to… he didn’t…

Why did it have to be this way?!

“I… I NEVER meant any harm!!”, he managed to blurt out, choking on the pathetic sobs which tried to escape him.

How must he look to the seeker? Like a pile of self-pity? The shame nearly crushed his spark and so he turned and hurried to reach the stairs down into the building. He didn’t want to be seen like this. Not by him.

“Hey!”, the seeker yelled after him, taken aback as if he hadn’t expected such a reaction. “I’m not through with you yet!!”

Skyfire ignored him, basically ran the stairs down and hastily scanned a map hanging on a wall.

“You are here”, a dot said and after searching frantically - and probably very ineffective, but he couldn’t help himself in his state - for the faculty director’s office, he went straight for it. As good as he could, since the corridors filled with more and more students which made maneuvering quite difficult…

“Look, the whale is wailing!”, a high-pitched femme voice said and her companions jeered. One even desperately hold his sides, about to burst from laughter.

Oh no. Skyfire wasn’t actually crying, was he? But there was definitely something wet dripping from his face…

He tried wiping it away as casually as he could… and failed miserably.

“Primus, what’s wrong with the whale?”, another bot asked. Not out of concern, but slightly disgusted.

So that’s what he was now: The Whale. Already a local celebrity of misery… How was he supposed to survive here? Suddenly the snowstorms of Iagoth seemed like a cozy thermo-blanket. At least he had been among his kind…

Moonchaser appeared in his mind, congratulating and smiling at him. The other shuttles, who cheered for him, some probably believing he had gotten the janitor position because… because a shuttle was not intended to study. Yet here he was. For their sake he had to pull through. He had to! It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been humiliated before!

Ashamed of himself, he wiped the last embarrassing wetness from his face, before he knocked against the director’s door.

The door opened automatically and revealed a bright, luxurious office with avant-garde designed furniture from the datapad filled wavy shelves to the monstrous desk which resembled a music instrument. Right behind the desk sat a mech small enough to be a Minicon, but of course nobody would allow a real Minicon to attend another function but servitude.

“Skyfire, I presume?”, the small bot asked and smiled warmly.

“Y-Yeah”, Skyfire replied. He still sounded like he was choking and the embarrassment once more forced too much energon in his face.

“Did something happen?”, the small bot asked genuinely concerned.

“No, sir”, Skyfire answered and this time his voice sounded less broken. He didn’t want to become the problematic outsider right from the get go. On the other hand… the director already knew about the whole incident with the police…

He was fragged, wasn’t he?

“Well, Skyfire, I sincerely hope you are having a good time here in Iacon. It is your first time visiting Cybertron’s capital city, correct?”

“Technically… uh… I was created here, but I have never been beyond the industrial district in the outskirts… and… and you can hardly call that the city, right?”

Skyfire forced a wary smile, but the director beamed.

“Indeed! It’s a shame they kept the true city from you for so long. Iacon is the most beautiful city of Cybertron and no colony or satellite town will ever catch the same flair, the history and the interesting personalities. This city is alive!”, he made a short pause. “Ah. Where are my manners? Here I am, rambling about my hometown and I didn’t even properly introduce myself!”

The director pressed on a holographic displayed symbol on one of his monitors and a huge chair seemed to literally grow from the floor right below Skyfire. He was pushed into a sitting position and too surprised to not let it happen. The soft material shaped perfectly around his behind and then remained as it was, stable but comfortable.

“Isn’t it magnificent?”, the director asked, a nearly mischievous look in his round bright blue eyes. “Just one of the inventions which were born here at the Academy! Admittedly, the bright minds who came up with the self-forming seating accommodation are still trying to achieve a more stylish look that has less of a crumpled cloud and more of a modern piece of furniture everyone would like to own, but they will get there, I am ensured! I, Sharpmind, director of the Academy of Science and Technology, will nurture the curiosity and inventive talent of all Cybertronians worthy, regardless of their origin!”

Skyfire smiled tiredly. The director’s enthusiasm was palpable, but Iacon’s introduction to him made it feel like a naive children’s dream. Did the director even know what was going on beyond his office? Possibly, but maybe he interpreted it differently…

“Not that convinced, aren’t we?” Director Sharpmind seemed to have read his mind. Or just his facial expression.

“I… uh… think, you mean best, but I don’t know if I’m considered worthy…”, Skyfire hemmed and hawed.

“Why wouldn’t you be worthy?? You passed the test! You were accepted!”

“And then I got into trouble with the police. I dishonored the Academy before I even set foot in it”, Skyfire explained toneless.

“As long as the spirit of science is residing within them, I can overlook the more eccentric behavior of my students… to a certain degree, of course”, director Sharpmind said with a wave of his tiny hand. “Now stop to sell yourself short and tell me what interests you the most…”

Warily Skyfire began to tell him about his fascination for alien lifeforms, especially plants and their abilities and Sharpmind listened intently.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so torturous after all… The director seemed to have his back and if he believed in him… he could too. Whatever the other students would say or do… for his dream and the other shuttles he had to pull himself together! From now on good things might actually happen to him…

“You remind me a little of my student Thundercracker… such a shame he is going to leave us…”, director Sharpmind said absentminded and sent Skyfire the timetable for the courses he deemed useful for him.

“Thank you, sir”, Skyfire said and for the first time in what had seemed forever, he truly smiled again without any visible hurt.

They said goodbye and after Skyfire had freed himself from the chair, had thanked the director again exuberantly and the director had wished him lots of luck and fun, he walked through the opening door, his heart a little lighter…

… until he nearly crashed right into the seeker who must have followed him right to the director’s office.

Skyfire screamed.

“Hello, pal. Missed me?”

Skyfire was pretty sure he had an oil leak somewhere. The seeker had just greeted him with the trust-inducing aura of a serial killer and he wouldn’t let him escape. Not this time.

“Oh, Starscream! How convenient! I wanted to talk to you!”, director Sharpmind called beaming, when he noticed the seeker, who had been effectively blocked from the director’s perspective by Skyfire’s huge frame, but his distinctive, raspy voice had revealed him.

The seeker, Starscream, looked as if someone had stolen his energon treats.

“Yeees, very convenient”, Starscream growled, but followed the director’s enthusiastic call (“Come in! Come in!”) inside his office. While he walked past Skyfire, his pointed wingtip brushed against his side with enough intended pressure to create a gash.

“See you later, spaceman.”

Marked as the next victim, Skyfire thought and walked off on shaky legs to his first class. Wasn’t the director an angel sent by Primus? He would live a little longer now… maybe even fly off in the evening. Unseen.

Heh. Most likely not. He was way too big to be the stealthy type…

Chapter Text

Skyfire stared his sample down. A tiny flake of an alien plant was lying innocently in a Petri dish right on the table in front of him and he should have been crazy about it, but Starscream’s looming presence had turned him into a nervous wreck. The scratch in his side also did its part by constantly reminding him with annoying warning messages of the potential danger whenever Skyfire moved and strained the plating.

Maybe he should ask the docent whether he could have nanite salve, his self-repair mechanisms were definitely slacking...

Suddenly he remembered why that must be and his tanks started to squirm with the thought: He hadn’t drunk any energon since his arrival! Primus, he truly didn’t know where he was coming or going... Not that he wasn’t used to the harshness of energon withdrawal, it used to happen quite often that workers got trapped in collapsed caves or avalanches, thanks to the raw climate and unstable working conditions. But the fast-paced lifestyle of a city-bot made his survival mode face a whole new sort of challenges which irritated him far more, especially the social interactions.

He definitely preferred the avalanche to his fellow students whispering in the shadow of his large back. The avalanche was blunt about what it wanted: Crush him. The whispering bots on the other hand... well, they probably wanted to crush him too, but in other more subtle ways...

“Ehm, are you okay? You don’t look very good...”, asked the tiny bot examining the sample next to him. He had no face, just a visor, his fingers were long and thin and he had ten of them on each hand. Probably forged for filigree scientific work, just like the rest of his small, compact body.
Maybe he feared to be buried alive, should Skyfire lose his consciousness and collapse...

“I’m fine, no worries”, Skyfire lied and tried to give his own sample the attention it deserved, but his tanks demanded more...

---

Skyfire gawked at the energon dispenser he had found in a hallway right after he had somehow survived his first class. Energon. For free. Just like that.

He clicked on a button and a cube was filled with the glowing blue substance. Just like that.

There had been times when other workers had stolen each other’s hoarded energon leftovers because a single cube after a whole shift rather sparked their thirst than quenching it. Sometimes pitiful tired brawls had occurred, but nothing too dangerous and maybe exactly that outcome had been calculated by the authority. Not enough to live, too much to die. Just enough to keep up the base motivation not to starve, to keep on moving to pant for the next cube that would only be granted for doing the assigned task...

Skyfire put the cube to his lips with shaky hands and started to drink slowly... and then he gulped it down and clicked the button again. And again and again and again. His tanks danced, his mouth tingled and his eyes watered.

This felt so good... This was the best energon he had ever had...

“Look at him gobbling down that dishwater!”, a student behind him remarked and Skyfire felt prying eyes. Once more, he had become the local curiosity, but this time he cared far less. So he was drinking “dishwater”? Fine. They had no idea what kind of luxuries they were blessed with.

Still... a tiny part of him began to feel deep shame... How must he look? Like a homeless person? Well, he was kind of homeless, wasn’t he...?

“Uhm, you are a shuttle, aren’t you?”, a bot assessed.

“Y-Yeah”, Skyfire answered and turned to him.

“I have never seen a shuttle attending a university”, the bot continued. “That’s quite the novelty.”

“I, uh, guess...”

“Whatever the case may be, could you look after my luggage? My pals and I want to go to the court outside and these are a hindrance...”

Without even waiting for Skyfire’s answer, a group of bots put their utensils which they probably needed for a project or something, right next to him and darted off.

“Could you look after mine, too? That’s so nice of you!”, a red femme said sweetly, but without even looking at him and loaded an arm full of datapads off, before she was also about to make the best out of pause time.

It wasn’t long until Skyfire looked like a skycap. Maybe he should change his name... Was he supposed to spend the rest of his break with leaning against the wall, surrounded by baggage?

Well, he had the energon dispenser... that machine would make a formidable friend... but still... He hoped, everybody would be back before the next class started...

Of course they weren’t. But Starscream was.

Skyfire was sitting against the wall now, guiltily holding another cube and looked up to him. Yes, he had slumped down so much, he actually had to look up to him (not by that much, but it was a through and through unusual perspective for Skyfire) and that had made the seeker an even more imposing, horrifying appearance than ever before.

“Why do you allow yourself to be treated that way? What are you, a luggage rack?”, Starscream asked bluntly and he looked at the piles with utter disgust.

“I-I’m looking after-”

But Starscream wouldn’t let him finish.

“The only - and I repeat - the ONLY acceptable reaction to being treated that way is this!”, Starscream said and dark joy smoldered in his eyes when he kicked a canister away. It ricocheted from the hallway’s wall with a horrible loud noise and then slid rotating a few meters over the ground where it hit the feet of a startled passer-by.

“Oh dear, how clumsy! My bad!”, Starscream apologized cheerfully. “But how can I walk with all this rubbish lying around?”

A couple of boxes and pads shared the canister’s fate and turned into not too harmless projectiles, while a dumbfounded Skyfire watched Starscream’s long legs doing Primus’s work. It was so hypnotizing, he neither protested nor cared for what the owners of the mistreated possessions would say or do. His spark felt strangely light.

“WHAT THE FRAG?!”

The bot who had been the first to place his luggage next to Skyfire gawked at the absurd display. So he finally had returned.

“Why do you let him treat my things that way, shuttle?! Are you stupid or what?!”

The bot had completely ignored Starscream and Skyfire wasn’t exactly sure why, for a moment.

“A rhetorical question, pal”, one of his peers noted and it came into Skyfire’s mind: There was no way someone on this planet would not take the chance to belittle him for what he was and supposed to be... In their opinion he was probably even more at fault than Starscream for the ruckus.

“It’s because he’s got no time for your trash”, Starscream explained helpfully and finally the bot faced him. A little hesitant, Skyfire noticed, but still...

“Why, you-!”

“You are getting pretty riled up for something that’s clearly entirely your fault”, Starscream elaborated further. “Leaving your junk like that just for some maniac to come and demolish it.”

“What the-! I can’t believe it! I just cannot fathom your lot is allowed here!”, the bot yelled angrily. “Be honest: How many spikes did you suck to be accepted, Star-Cream?”

Starscream just smirked. He seemed to relish the silence that had befallen the onlookers and let the building anticipation work for himself.

“Is that how you attended?”, Starscream answered in a low voice, but everyone was hanging now on his every word. It was impossible to overhear.
“Lucky you, I had to write a test! Gee!”

The bot gasped in disbelief. Backtalk was already too much for him, but backfire? The crowd of students around them couldn't care less now about reaching their next classes. They seemed hungry, almost excited.

Skyfire watched the situation unfold, still feeling lightheaded and he wasn't sure whether the thus far unknown joys of not only drinking enough energon but too much caused this, or because Starscream was actually... yeah... he was standing up for him, wasn't he? Just like his mates yesterday.

The déjà-vu hit him like a truck. What would happen now? Would they fight? Would the police come again? Would he be dragged away again into that room and once more be interrogated by those two crazy cops? This time they wouldn't let him go, would they? He was too much trouble for this ever so perfect city... He attracted trouble like a magnet metal.

His thoughts tumbled, but amidst all the huddle he felt Starscream's hand taking his, or better: His long claw-like fingers wrapped around two of his own.

A little rivulet of energon trickled down the corner of Skyfire's open mouth and all his tumbling thoughts focused now on the one and only thing that mattered:
Starscream... Starscream... Starscream...
Starscream pulled him on his feet with strength and determination that seemed absolutely disproportional for such a lithe bot. Yet in his red eyes was not even the ghost of a doubt to be seen. He knew his limits, possibilities and above all, he knew exactly what he wanted.

"Come", he said. "You are hardly prepared for life around these... intellectuals. Let's change this."

And then Starscream ran off and dragged Skyfire with him. There was no way to resist. Skyfire felt as if he had just as much power over what was happening to him as if he had been a balloon ripped away by his string.

"Where are you heading, you chicken?!", the bot sneered gleefully as he seemed to see himself as the winner in respect of Starscream's flight.

"Didn't you hear me, chicken?? I called you a chicken!!"

"Truly I would be a chicken, if 'chicken' bothered me", Starscream said amused.

His pointy feet made a light "Tack! Tack! Tack!" sound while he was running through the hallway whereas Skyfire added a loud "Clonk...! Clonk...! Clonk...!"

They reached the outside and the sun shone from a bold blue sky.

"Fly with me", Starscream commanded and Skyfire's audio receptors had to be glitching because it had sounded like "Marry me" to him.

He smiled a dopey grin when Starscream jumped in the air and transformed into a slick flying vehicle. Within seconds he was above the clouds and Skyfire followed him.

---

Drowsily Skywarp slouched in Starscream’s throne-like armchair and zapped through the channels of their television. Its screen was huge and right now it displayed the nightmarish flat of a hoarder.

“No. I don’t think, I have a problem”, a rust-covered bot said towards the camera, before he sipped from a cracked cube. The energon inside had lost its natural glow and rust flakes were swimming on its surface.

“Primus!! T.C.! You have to see this slag to believe it!”, Skywarp blared.

Thundercracker ignored him. He was standing in front of his aquarium, watched the jellyfish float without a care in the world and wished he could be just like them: Unaware.

The camera showed now a beautiful female bot who skeptically looked around in the dirty, stuffed flat. She seemed like she wanted to object, but then backed away slowly, when the hoarder bot offered her a second cube with murky energon.
“No, thank you. I’m not thirsty. Maybe later”, she said diplomatically. Beads of coolant formed on her forehead.

“Eugh! What a dirty slob!”, Skywarp condemned, while parts of the viscous energon treat he was eating dripped on his chestplating.

Something rustled and then a Scraplet, definitely bigger than normal and with three eyes, crawled out of some undefined electronic waste. The camera instantly zoomed in on the pitiful creature and some horror jingle was played. The female bot screamed.

“T.C.! Watch TV with me!”, Skywarp demanded. “It’s boring watching this trash alone!”

“Then turn it off!”, Thundercracker answered gruffly.

Skywarp sighed over-exaggeratedly.
“You know, being pissed off forever won’t change a thing. Actually, I believe, Starscream will feed your fish anyway. He just wanted to hurt you - like you said yourself. Your pets have nothing to do with it. So, stop the sulky sparkling act and just ask him again when he comes home. I might not be the brightest bulb in the box, but even I can see ‘friendly asking’ winning over ‘trying to claw one’s guts out’.”

Thundercracker huffed and his forehead touched the aquarium’s glass.
“It’s not just about Starscream... or the pets... I... I just can’t see myself doing this anymore...”

“Do what?”, Skywarp asked, but then they heard the door to their flat open.

---

Skyfire felt like he was flying... even though he was flying, but if there was a feeling that upgraded it into a state of being filled with pure euphoria, he had definitely achieved it.
He saw Starscream spiraling even higher towards an interesting cloud formation and Skyfire tried to mimic his movements. Oh, he would follow him... forever! There was no way he would lose him and if it was the last thing he would do. Nothing else seemed to be important anymore.
Starscream circled the vast, growing thunderstorm anvil and the air became heavy around Skyfire. There was anticipation, like from the crowd who had leered at them before, waiting for mechs to clash and hurt each other. But this anticipation didn’t feel malicious. It was wild and unbound and incredibly hot, overcharging his circuits and sending his equilibrioception into a vertigo.

Whenever he copied Starscream’s movements - he wasn’t just following him after all! -, what actually meant that? Skyfire felt closer to the seeker that was for sure, but how was Starscream feeling about it? Did it amuse him to see a big shuttle trying to dance in the air like he did? Did he expected it? Was it part of a seeker rite to invite somebody into the sky like that? Was it... flirting?
Skyfire felt his thrusters stutter for a moment. If so... why? Why him? Why...

Starscream began to fly higher again and the formerly blue sky turned darker by the second. They broke through the exosphere eventually and gravitation was no more... only eternal falling neither up, down, left or right.
Skyfire watched Starscream using this chance to unfold from his vehicle mode back into his robot form and the way he displayed his legs and wings while doing so, reinforced Skyfire’s musings about flirting.
Again... why him...? Or... maybe that had just been his natural grace...?
Skyfire mimicked Starscream once more and transformed. Just when his blue eyes met Starscream’s red ones, he could hear him inside of his head, using a general channel:

“I am positively surprised you are able to follow so suitably after playing coy the whole morning.”

Skyfire felt like an alarm had gone off inside of him. Energon lines exploded in his face, his core heated up dangerously.
Flirting. Definitely flirting. Why is he flirting with me?, his panicked mind tried to juggle his thoughts. His whole body was in a tumultuous state... as if he was going to crash after losing altitude in some kind of death spiral towards the ground.
He had literally zero experience in this kind of robot-robot interaction. Never had he taken interest in that either... His previous life hadn’t allowed thoughts like... like... touching each other’s wings or anything similar...
Energon flushed his face again. No way he could do that without suffering a spark attack...

“I... uh... I was scared...”, Skyfire managed to blurt out. Actually he had wanted to say “You scared me!”, but he wasn’t the type to blame anybody but himself...

“Then you are even smarter than I presumed”, Starscream congratulated and floated closer, until his hands bumped against Skyfire’s collar plating, giving them both enough momentum to slowly start spinning over. Starscream was so close now and the background behind him changed from the silky, star-dotted blackness of space to the luminous Cybertron over and over again. Space. Cybertron. Space. Cybertron. It could have been a beautiful sight if something else wouldn’t have distracted Skyfire entirely...
A claw fondled his chin and Starscream’s smirk was so wide and close now, it ranged from galaxy to galaxy.

“Nobody frags with me, understood? Nobody ever frags with me.”

Skyfire nodded slowly and the claw tickled him again like a gargantuan spider leg. Maybe to reward him, but all it did was intimidating him and actually, that seemed to be closer to the truth...

“I’m still scared...”, he admitted and now he noticed how stiff his whole body had become. Not even a finger moved.

“Aw, no need to...”, Starscream purred and tickled him more. The sensors in his chin screamed. “It was a mistake to run from me, but I forgave you. Fear is a tool of the survivor and you successfully recognized me as the threat I could be, but am not. Not to you. We are on the same side, you and I.”

If he said so...

“Yeees, you do believe me, do you? You don’t think, I waste my time talking scrap, do you?”, Starscream asked and his claw sliced a little inside the neck plating. Tiny energon bubbles appeared in front of Skyfire’s field of vision.

He shook his head instantly, carefully not to accidentally deepen the wound. His voice box made a squeaking sound, but thankfully they were in space and it couldn’t be heard.

“Good.”

Skyfire tried to swallow, but he seemed to have unlearned that ability. He didn’t know what to make out of the situation now. Starscream could say what he wanted, he still felt threatened... in all honesty, even more so than ever before... The warm, fuzzy feelings were definitely gone. Had he misinterpreted their getaway completely?

“I wanted to thank you”, Starscream said suddenly and Skyfire pricked up his audio receptors now in utter confusion. “Yesterday, you met my mates Thundercracker and Skywarp. They saw you getting harassed by these... worthless grounders and intervened. That alone already cost them their study.”
He looked furious for a moment before he continued calmly: “But then Skywarp, who is not the brightest bulb in the box, and one of the worthless grounders who shall from now on be referred to as ‘Dusty’, were about to start a real, physical fight. Dusty would have had no chance. He is a pampered, civilian car who was never shown his place... However... the law is on his side. Military robots, when they are even allowed to visit civilian areas, must not touch a civilian. Not even in self-defense because... come on, who would believe that? The disparity in strength is astronomical. A military robot who cannot behave themselves is allowed to be shot like a mad dog because of the assumed imminent danger. It’s easy to take a life. So absurdly easy. And so, to prevent any future possible deadly outcome, the glitching military robot gets executed. In case of specifically forged individuals: Spark extraction. In case of mass-produced tin soldiers like us...? Trash compactor.”

Skyfire gulped. He had finally managed to swallow again and thankfully so. All the energon from before had tried to leave his tank in the wrong direction...

“If Skywarp had landed even one punch on Dusty... he would have been squashed to death and YOU prevented that by holding both of them back”, Starscream clarified again.

“I... uh... was unaware...”, Skyfire whispered.

“You are unaware of so many things... and that’s what they want you to be. We are all victims of the system”, Starscream explained. “And that’s why we should band together... say, do you have a flat?”

“N-No, I overnight on an airfield...”, Skyfire replied truthfully.

“Why am I not surprised...”, Starscream sighed. “You will see, I am a mech of many privileges thanks to my... special status... and I own one. It’s spacious and modern and soon I will be its only inhabitant. Not that I’m one to complain about too much space, but after your heroic action, it would be impolite of me not to offer you a place...”

“I... yeah... why not! I mean... I don’t know...! If it’s really okay...”, Skyfire said hastily. His mind’s eye began to project images of him actually relaxing inside a warm, cozy room with Starscream by his side... This meant they would be close... This meant... they would see each other every day... They would talk and eat and learn together...
The warm, fuzzy feelings from before returned timidly.

“It is okay, I assure you”, Starscream said impatiently. “Now. Let me introduce you to your future home... and to my mates. They should also thank their savior.”

“Y-Yeah!”, Skyfire replied nervously. “B-But if I may ask... why did we go to space to have this... conversation...?”

Starscream just smirked and gave him a light shove in order to gain some distance.

“Why can’t we just enjoy the talents we can so casually make use of, whereas grounders will never understand what they are missing? I enjoyed this trip”, Starscream said while he transformed.

He flew off with breakneck speed, diving into the atmosphere of their homeplanet.

Skyfire did his best to follow him.

---

“Boys, look who’s here!”, Starscream announced himself and walked into the living room, Skyfire in tow.

“Oh boy, Screamer is here!”, Skywarp exclaimed and threw himself out of the armchair. “Thank Primus, I was sooo bored, I-”
He froze.
“D-Dang! T.C.! Teeeceee!!! Look! Look who’s here!!”

Thundercracker slowly turned around, not very eager to greet his trine leader, but as soon as he noticed Skyfire (which wasn’t very difficult), he raised his brows.

“Indeed”, Starscream said ponderously. “Your benefactor is going to move in.”

“Ehhh???”, Skywarp didn’t understand. “Why?”

“Because he saved your lousy aft and he has no flat of his own. That could be part of the reasons...”, Starscream explained annoyed.

“Yeahhhh, another part of the reasons is... Screamer enjoys his big, bulky mechs...!!”, Skywarp added smirking.

Skyfire couldn’t prevent his hands from hiding his face.

“Rubbish. You know, I find the sleek seeker body to be far superior-”

“Says the mech who has his whole room plastered with Megatron holo-pictures!”, Skywarp yelled with delight.

“I cherish Megatron for his ideals, not because of his... admittedly attractive pectoral plating...”, Starscream replied, but this time he sounded amused.

The TV blared and on the screen appeared a group of bots armed with extinguishers. Together they started to hunt mutated Scraplets inside a completely desolated dwelling.

“And I think, I know a better way for you two to spend your remaining time on Cybertron”, Starscream said, looking at the TV with disgust. “We’ll turn Skyfire into a reputable city bot!”

“‘Skyfire’?”, Skywarp repeated excitedly. “You are almost named like me!”

Skyfire lowered his hands and smiled a little. “Almost...”

“Uhm, I beg your pardon?”, Thundercracker finally began to speak. “Why exactly is he our benefactor? It was him who got into trouble in the first place, wasn’t it?”

“And you are blaming him for the utterly disgusting behavior the cars displayed?”, Starscream asked sharply. “Please, tell me, I have just misheard... Skyfire is clearly a victim of the system, but we are here to make it right!”
He spread his arms.
“Wings have worth!”

Skywarp immediately copied him: “Wings have worth!”

Thundercracker rolled his eyes.

“If you think it’s funny to fight for your rights, please, Thundercracker, you can stay at home”, Starscream said and his voice developed an undertone that promised danger.

“No. No, I’m coming, too”, Thundercracker sighed defeated.

“Uh, where are we going?”, Skyfire dared to ask. They had just reached Starscream’s flat and he had been full of anticipation to explore his new home a little. It could tell him so much more about Starscream... and he definitely wanted to know who Megatron was. Starscream already seemed so perfect, in harmony with his body and firm in his personality and beliefs. Calling getting to know his heroes and role models ‘interesting’ would be an understatement.

“To the shopping district”, Starscream answered. “The REAL shopping district!”

Skyfire smiled weakly, but when he felt Skywarp linking arms with him on one side and Starscream on the other, he began to feel a little bit of courage growing inside his spark...

Chapter Text

“So, Screamer, how come you came back so early?”, Skywarp asked. Instead to continue linking his arm with Skyfire’s, he had decided to comfortably place himself on his shoulder. He was heavier than Skyfire had anticipated for a skinny flightframe, but he was used to carry heavy weights, therefore it didn’t bother him. Actually, he enjoyed the closeness.

“Usually we still had classes at this time. Was it because of our new friend?”

“You just answered your own question”, Starscream said with a low chuckle. In contrast to Skywarp, HE still had linked his arm with his and it was absolutely beyond Skyfire to complain. Even though Starscream seemed to have the questionable habit to sink his claws into other bot’s plating. The forearm, where Starscream was resting his hand, was already full of scratches.

Or maybe I’m the only one, Skyfire thought. Maybe he marks me as his…

Again, Skyfire was far off from complaining. To be considered important enough by someone else for them to show such a possessive behavior… it touched him deeply and made his spark sing.

Thundercracker was walking on his right side, just like Starscream walked on his left. He wasn’t sinking his claws in, his touch was light and almost timid. Skyfire asked himself whether Skywarp had switched his place to integrate Thundercracker more, who had strolled silently behind them before. After all, the jokester seeker seemed to be far more thoughtful and empathetic than one would expect at first.

This became especially clear when he continued to ask Starscream about the classes he must have attended.

“Could you send us the data files of today’s lessons?”, he inquired with unusual seriousness.

“Sure…”, Starscream said calmly. “So eager to learn, Skywarp. Very praiseworthy.”

Skywarp giggled like a sparkling, but then Skyfire felt him stiffen.

“Wait. That was far too easy. No quips regarding our whole situation? No nothing? Admit it, Screamer. You just sent me a naughty picture of your-”

“Please, Skywarp, I would never even dream of doing such a dirty thing”, Starscream replied with badly faked innocence.

“It is a dirty picture!”, Skywarp yelled, now entirely convinced. He kicked his legs filled with excitement and Skyfire untangled his arm from Thundercracker, grabbed the legs quickly and hold them before the weight of Skywarp’s wings would cause him to fall backwards.

They felt good in his hand… and a shameful desire made him imagine it were Starscream’s calves which he was feeling right now with his thumb…

“Wait… there is only text… and it’s all scientific… Hey! You tricked me!”, Skywarp whined scandalized. His legs wanted to kick again, but in Skyfire’s grip they just twitched a little.

“How? Didn’t I exactly gave you what you wanted?”, Starscream asked amused.

“NO!”, Skywarp cried pitifully, before he took advantage of Skyfire’s hold on his legs and threw himself backwards to head first hang down his back. Skyfire could feel his frantic wings flutter against his own and the unfamiliar contact made him twitch.

Thankfully there weren’t many bots on the streets yet to ogle at them. He must look like a very unsuccessful scarecrow…

“Screamey, if you won’t let me inside your bed this night, I will…!! I will…!!”

“Threaten me?”, Starscream asked, one of his impressive eyebrows raised in question.

“Well, yeah!”

“How does it feel to have the fool’s license, Skywarp?”, Starscream asked with a sigh. “Thundercracker knows better than to talk to me like that…”

Skyfire felt Thundercracker’s grip tighten for a second.

“You can’t leave him out, though. I demand the full sandwich!”, Skywarp said haughtily and Starscream scoffed.

Skyfire on the other hand hastily covered his mouth with his fist and coughed awkwardly against Skywarp’s feet which made his capture wiggle so much that he finally let him go. He lay now prone on his shoulder and gave Skyfire a few pats on the back of his head.

“Yeah. Such is life hanging around with seekers”, he told him gravely as if Skyfire had been trapped in some kind of inescapable calamity.

“I assure you, all the horrible stories are true.”

“Uhm, I don’t know any horrible stories”, Skyfire answered truthfully.

“Whaaat?!”, Skywarp wailed in disappointment. “Do you honestly want to tell me that you don’t even know the rumor about-”

“I don’t think he wants to hear it!”, Starscream hissed.

“I’m just trying to introduce him to our culture…”, Skywarp said, feeling misunderstood and generally treated unfairly.

“Please, don’t”, Thundercracker whispered, but was still audible to all three of his companions.

Skywarp pouted, but hold his tongue.

For five seconds.

“Apparently we purge into each other’s mouths to share food!”

There was a collective facepalm sound heard from both Starscream and Thundercracker. But Skyfire couldn’t suppress the secret thought of pressing his lips to Starscream’s. He would gladly be fed like that… even though he would most likely collapse because of the happiness overdose…

The buildings they passed were tall, massive and unadorned. Official buildings, a courthouse, residential dwellings - ancient and pre-Golden Age -, a few small stores which somehow survived their unfavorable location… nothing of interest for the seekers. He wondered why they hadn’t flown closer to the shopping district. If they wanted him to see more of the city, they surely would have taken him somewhere more noteworthy.

“Secret passage!”, Skywarp announced and they turned towards an extremely narrow alley. Starscream untangled his arm from Skyfire to lead and Skyfire felt immediately lonely and lost. It was ridiculous…! As if all warmth was suddenly gone… or maybe the lack of sunlight in this crammed alley was actually at fault for the sudden cold… The buildings seemed to downright squeeze the street and the light coming from the dwarfish windows had the reddish and blueish tones of the not-yet-fully-night time right after dusk. A truly enchanted neighborhood…
Skyfire imagined little gnomes walking around and wondered if maybe Minicons lived here.

At the end Skyfire had to walk sideways like a crab and he was glad he wasn’t claustrophobic. If there had ever been a claustrophobic trait within him, having to overnight in mines so snowstorms wouldn’t threaten to freeze him to death, had successfully nipped that in the bud.
The three seekers didn’t seem to be bothered either; they were also probably used to using this shortcut. When the light became brighter (but not less dusky) and the street wider again, they found themselves in front of a peculiar building, glowing mysteriously in red, purple and blue hues from the lights shining out of stained glass windows. The building itself was black and melted with the shadows of the alley. It looked like a multi-eyed monstrosity from the deep sea. A sign blinked the name of the establishment in glittery purple letters:

“The Midnight Zone”.

“It’s too early for the REALLY good shops to open yet, so I thought of having a little fun first…”, Starscream curred and Skyfire felt his processor fry. What kind of fun…?

Starscream pulled him through the double door, Skywarp folded his wings flat against his back to fit below the door casing while he was being pressed against Skyfire’s shoulder and Thundercracker followed them imperturbably. It was dark inside, like a cave. Only small colorful lights showed them the way. A bot whose face was decorated with a huge metal mustache welcomed them.

“Which pool can I offer you this time, gentlemen?”, he asked with a huge smile.

“The big one”, Starscream answered and pulled Skyfire closer to him as if the bot needed more convincing.

“I understand. Follow me, please. You will see as always we have exactly what you need.”

After a few labyrinthian junctions they found themselves in front of a glassy door. The stained glass seemed to show a certain kind of scenery or maybe it was utterly abstract, Skyfire couldn’t tell in the dim light and then the air became wet and foggy as soon as the door was opened

“Mmmh, Mesmerizor’s hug”, Skywarp chuckled and Thundercracker clenched his teeth. “Don’t remind me.”

They stood in a small room now and the bot left them alone after he had closed the door again. There they stood: Three pairs of red eyes and one pair of blue eyes. Very confused blue eyes…

Suddenly rain was falling down on them and Skyfire raised his hands abruptly to shield himself from the acid. Skywarp slid off his shoulder with a protesting wail.

“It’s cleansing fluid”, Starscream gave the all-clear.

“Oh”, Skyfire made and felt stupid. He was not only confused now, he was overwhelmed…

Starscream seemed to sense his distress and took his hand in his.

“Relax. Everything is fine.”

When the ‘rain’ stopped, Starscream guided him outside a door on the opposing side of the room and they entered a dripstone cave-like cavern, dimly lit like the rest of the building and with a pool of velvety black fluid. Baskets with mockups of tropic fruits from other planets lay at its corners and tiny drones built after moths and other insects flapped and whirred around. When Skyfire looked closer he saw that the faked fruits were manufactured of the same material as energon cubes and the multicolored drinks inside must also be…

“This is… this must be-”, he stammered.

“The well?”, Skywarp kidded. “If you believe in it of course.” He quickly walked over to the pool and jumped in. The fluid splashed halfheartedly and flew back sluggishly. Its viscosity must be stronger than that of water.

“No! I mean… probably, but… this must be so expensive… I earned enough as a worker to sustain myself with energon, but that’s it!”

“No need to panic. I’m very well aware of the yoke of the working class and I’ll pay for you. And no need for a bad consciousness. My income is disposable”, Starscream tried to calm him down.

“How is it disposable?!”, Skyfire asked nearly offended. The whole situation seemed absurd to him. “How can from society as disposable seen mass-produced military flight units own a huge flat?! How can they visit a luxurious bathhouse to… to dawdle away?!”

“Excuse me for not being crammed inside barracks!”, Skywarp snorted, then clicked on a button. “Bubbles!”

The humming of a machine could be heard and the surface of the fluid started to move.

“No. I fully understand. You have every right to question our situation. Because normally slaves like us are indeed crammed inside barracks”, Starscream said patiently.

Skyfire looked at him and he couldn’t prevent the sadness from stinging his eyes.

“Don’t tell me you have to… to do things nobody would normally do. Not voluntarily. Because if you have to… I’m not worth it… I can’t accept that. It’s blood money.”

“We are doing things we aren’t okay with all the time and that’s not the reason we are pampered this much”, Thundercracker said sharply. He joined Skywarp now in the pool, but he slowly walked down the steps instead of jumping in. “Because if we don’t obey, they have all the right to squash us.”

Skyfire looked questioningly at Starscream.

“Normally all military robots belong to the government. They command, we have to obey. But we aren’t owned just by the government. We have another private owner. A civilian. He made a fortune by buying seeker chicks right from the factories, raising them himself or brokering them to other interested owners. He had a knack for finding the ones with the most potential and giving them a livable environment and proper food made them far superior than the throwaway products they usually created. Now, they still technically belonged to the government and so we have to serve their wars… and we aren’t getting any more money from them than the factory raised seeker… - which means none, we are slaves after all - however, the demand for elite non cannon fodder soldiers is extremely high in certain zones and certain warlords pay a lot to get the right people in their troops. It’s a very gray area… but as long as we protect the right people, stabilize new colonies and destroy alien lifeforms, it doesn’t matter who sends us to do this and how much we get for that.”

“We have to fulfill a certain quota of usefulness for the government alone, though”, Thundercracker lamented. “That’s another reason why they can so easily drag us back to the frontline… or to the trash compactor… even with a master with such influence… Even when we were supposed to study…”

Skywarp put an arm around Thundercracker’s shivering shoulders.

“Aw… Come on. We will find a way to get back here… I let them clone me again!”

Thundercracker laughed out loud full of bitterness and Skyfire couldn’t say a word. All this new information threatened to overwhelm him.

“So… you are soldiers of the government’s military, but you are also serving as mercenaries?”, he asked slowly.

“You cannot take away the status of the enslaved soldier, but our private owner also has the rights to use us for his own benefits. He put money into us after all, fed us and gave us store room. Making money as a mercenary when our serving time for the military is over, is his right. That there even is an end to military serving time is also just because his right to make use of us gives us the needed ‘vacation’. Then he can do with us whatever he wants to squeeze out the money. We usually have to fight… but sometimes he has different ideas… like making us even more useful by letting us study at the Academy… or… well, that’s your matter, Skywarp…”, Starscream explained and looked over to his mate who was hugging Thundercracker now.

“Sometimes… uhm…”, Skywarp began warily and continued patting Thundercracker’s back. “Sometimes either private owners or the military itself are looking for breeding opportunities…”

“That’s right. But our owner told us as long as we behave well, he won’t force anything like that on us…”, Starscream continued. “Oh there were quite the offerings to get 'Starscream’s son’ I can assure you… however, our owner stayed true to his word… but then there was this whole 'Skywarp being an outlier’ thing…”

Skyfire looked puzzled at Skywarp.

“I’m a teleporter!”, Skywarp said proudly.

“The military promised to pay not only tons of money, but also to give us additional vacation time which our owner could use to make even more money.”

“For what? What did they give you money for??!”, Skyfire asked breathlessly.

Starscream smirked.

“To clone our beloved Skywarp. They wanted to mass-produce his teleportation ability, but it didn’t do as well as they had hoped… Most clones didn’t have the ability, some only in inferior states that could outright harm the user by destabilizing his whole form. They ripped apart over and over again until main energon lines got severed and they bled to death within minutes. And those who inherited it perfectly, they… well, they were cut open to take the organ responsible for the warping out. Sometimes for studies to eventually recreate them without the whole costly cloning and sometimes to put them into bots with more… desirable personalities. But the compatibility was questionable.”

“Afts”, Skywarp muttered.

“It wasn’t the success they dreamed of and I highly doubt offering yourself again for more vacation time and an amnesty for messing with civilians is going to work”, Starscream said, the last bit meant to Skywarp alone.

“Heh. We still have me…”, Thundercracker huffed. “I’d do it, if they’d let me stay here…”

“Too bad there is little interest for the Sonic Boom”, Starscream mocked. “Not more desirable than a weapon with a similar effect and an owner without such a whiny personality.”

“Thundercracker, you are an outlier, too?”, Skyfire asked with a voice he hoped sounded friendly and gentle.

“A useless one…”, Thundercracker laughed joylessly and Starscream cackled.

Skyfire furrowed his brows. As much as he lov- … liked Starscream, right now he seemed unnecessarily cruel…

Starscream noticed his disapproving look and said: “Really? He just admitted to put hundreds of innocent clones through the exact same treatment Skywarp’s clones went through, just for his own comfort. But I’m the evil one?”

Skyfire swallowed hard, but then he clenched his fists and tried to stand his ground: “I’m not saying it’s right… it’s despicable if you think about it, but I’m… I’m sure he wouldn’t say such things if you… if you… uh… were nicer to him…?”

That hadn’t ended very eloquently, but hopefully Starscream understood his point. For some reason he thought Starscream wouldn’t mock or even hate him for saying his opinion. Maybe he would put his claws into him, though…

Starscream raised his brows.

“Oho! That backbone of yours is showing. How about I’ll be nicer to Thundercracker if you finally enter the pool with me?”

“That won’t bribe a pure soul like him!”, Skywarp laughed.

Skyfire felt the usual heat, but turned towards the liquid.

“If it’s okay… the money you get is…”

“Pocket money. For being good slaves. Our owner is generous in that way. We made him rich after all. We aren’t getting money for doing things we don’t agree with. We have to do things we don’t agree with anyway. The money is for being good at it. Alright?”, Starscream explained. “The alternative would be the trash compactor, so don’t think not being good at it would be an option. No money is no option because we would be dead. So let me pamper you with the one thing that’s not beyond my control!”

Starscream pulled him in and Skyfire followed in defeat. The liquid was wonderfully warm and felt a little like oil, but whenever he pulled his hand out, no traces remained. He would be able to climb out and be completely dry. Fascinated he continued to let the fluid drop off his hands.

“Interesting, hm?”, Starscream asked.

The seeker had remained next to him, but whereas Skyfire was sitting in the pool and the liquid reached up to his chest, Starscream was standing and only his head and wingtips were visible. It looked kind of adorable, but Skyfire would never say that out loud.

“Another achievement of the Academy. Say, is there anything in particular you want to research?”, Starscream asked.

“Uhm… self-growing energon?”, Skyfire admitted shyly.

Starscream laughed.

“That sounds like a money printing machine!”

“Well, you could explore space and planets without natural energon deposits and all you needed would be a lump of self-growing energon and an energon preprocessor inside your ship or even subspace… right? You would be independent… free…”

Now Starscream didn’t laugh anymore. He actually seemed quite serious.

“Then I hope you’ll make that invention. Freedom is your right.”

“Yours too”, Skyfire answered and Starscream just smiled.

He wanted to kiss him so bad right now, he felt his body actually leaning down… his eyes closed…

“Hey, no falling asleep on me!”, Starscream yelled in slight panic, tried to get out of the splashing zone and bumped against Skywarp.

“Ouch!”, Skywarp chuckled and tangled his wings with Starscream’s. “Shouldn’t we get a little positive attention from you, leader?”

On all fours Skyfire tried to hide his face beneath the liquid. Hadn’t his intention been clear…? Was this Starscream’s way to turn him down? He felt like drowning himself… sadly, he wasn’t made for that…

“I’m not giving you that kind of attention when we have a guest respectively a room mate beyond our trine!”, Starscream told him not amused and freed his wings indignantly.

“But maybe he WANTS to watch…”

Starscream pointed towards the embarrassed Skyfire whose body was nearly entirely underneath the liquid’s surface.

“What exactly gives you that impression, Skywarp?”

Skywarp just smirked a little inanely and pressed Thundercracker closer to him who seemed to have actually achieved a quite relaxed state.

“Your loss”, he looked to Skyfire then back to Starscream. “In both occasions.”

“Are you an outlier, too? Starscream?”, Skyfire asked with an embarrassingly squeaky voice. He wanted to change the subject so bad…

“Oh yes!”, Skywarp answered instead. “He has the power to think he is smart and make others think the same.”

Everybody laughed. Even Starscream while Skyfire coughed slightly.

The door opened and the bathing room was entered by bots Skyfire had never seen before. They were entirely golden, silver or platinum colored, their eyes were pitch black without visual pupils and their bodies… their bodies were either beautifully curvy or trim with prominent pectoral plating. They brought even more fake energon fruits on tablets and a flask where a bewitching fragrance poured out. Whenever they moved they presented the assets of their perfect, shimmering bodies.

“Is there something we can do for you?”, a golden bot with a sun-like corona around his pretty faceplate asked with husky voice.

“I’ll take the sun, the moons and the stars of course”, Skywarp said, copying the husky voice.

The bots smiled, but Starscream said gruffly: “Not here!”

“Spoilsport”, Skywarp whined and left the pool to follow the bots into another most likely more private room.

“That idiot!”, Thundercracker cursed who had been left behind. “Wait for me!”

Hastily he climbed out of the pool and joined his mate, leaving Starscream and Skyfire alone for good.

“Those were…”, Skyfire didn’t dare to ask.

“Pleasure drones, yes. They should pray to Primus they aren’t aware of their situation. They don’t have the spark for it. You could almost envy them… If you don’t know what freedom is, you can’t miss it.”

The strong feeling to hug Starscream with his hands awoke within him, but he didn’t dare to. That almost-kiss had gone horribly wrong and he wouldn’t try anything like that so soon again.

Skyfire slowly turned to sit back on the pool’s ground without causing a too heavy swell. He watched Starscream lie down on a more shallow part extra designed for relaxing and aside from his head which was resting on one hand, his shoulder and part of his hip showed out of the liquid. They both remained like that for a while not breaking the silence. It was pleasant and Skyfire found himself daydreaming about pressing his face against the seekers cockpit to nuzzle him. Instead fulfilling his dreams, he tore his gaze off the snoozing seeker and curiously picked up one of the energon fruits. He had never been this well fed in his entire life and yet he was still thirsty. His main tank seemed to be finally aware of what it was capable of holding. The survival mode eventually becoming slowly but surely obsolete.

Cautiously he took a teeny sip out of a yellow colored fruit. The taste was so fresh and sweet, he felt like he had been thirsty all of his life just to get to know now what satisfaction was supposed to feel like. He drank the whole fruit empty and immediately grabbed the next. This was so good! It was fantastic! His tank started to ache but it didn’t matter!!! He was literally having an orgasm inside his mouth and every fruit seemed to top the previous one.

“Oh Primus…”, he whispered to himself. “You exist… you truly exist…”

“Really?”, Starscream asked amused, one of his crimson eyes open.

“Sure! You are clearly one of his angels… a Prime!”, Skyfire said smiling, but Starscream’s comical look made his tanks squirm in embarrassment. Had that been too much? Too cheesy? He didn’t know how to measure compliments. Maybe he came across like a total freak…

Starscream’s claws curled around one of his fingers.

“Could it be that you are trying to pick me up?”, he asked with a knowing expression.

Skyfire’s tanks hat stopped squirming. Now they rotated with nauseating top speed.

Starscream let go of his finger and moved right in front of him, balanced with his pointy feet on Skyfire’s thighs and took his face between his claws.

“Remember, I already picked YOU up!”, he purred. His face was so close now. So close…!

Skyfire’s tank turned into a rocket and he felt it trying to leave this planet with the speed of light. Something prickled in the back of his throat. The unnatural ingredients of the manipulated energon must have become foamy because the content of his main tank seemed to occupy now thrice the room. A foreboding burp fought itself through his throat and he pressed his lips together. No. Not now. Oh Primus, no!

But Starscream didn’t kiss him like he had hoped and feared.. he just let go of him again and returned to his resting place. Skyfire looked at him abashed. His tank had calmed down as if it knew that now it couldn’t ruin anything anymore…

They had lain there in silence until Thundercracker and Skywarp returned. Skywarp looked deeply satisfied whereas Thundercracker seemed to be full of regrets.

“I still demand the sandwich tonight”, he said when he saw Starscream’s raised brow.

“You’ll get it if nobody goes to jail this night”, Starscream promised and Skywarp jumped in the air, his fists raised. Thundercracker looked like he wanted to die.

When they left the bathhouse the alley was as dark as the pit and when they reached more open streets the sky had gone significantly duskier. Time for the real shopping mile to open. Skyfire was ensured that particular mile involved less legal attractions… but as nervous as this outlook made him, he felt much safer with his three companions around than visiting the daytime shopping district alone.

Then they left the world of open skies and Skyfire followed them on an escalator underground. But it wasn’t gloomy, apparently there was more light than before. Shop was placed next to shop and Skywarp was eager to visit one of them right away.

“Facial upgrades! Look! How’s that?”

He attached a huge, metal, curly mustache to his face plate and grinned widely.

“A little bit too in your face, don’t you think?”, Starscream chuckled.

“Aw, I think it’s awesome! What do you think, T.C.??”

Thundercracker still looked like he wanted to die…

A few shops beyond stood a booth offering paint job alterations.

“I guess when it goes back to Mesmerizor a little bit of forest green and swamp brown and slag black wouldn’t be too bad of a disguise”, Skywarp assumed.

“Is it an area full of plants?”, Skyfire inquired interested. He had only heard from other shuttles about this planet. “Green Pit” was one of its nicknames. But he couldn’t imagine it to deserve such a title. A place full of growing life must be beautiful.

“It’s not necessarily because of the plants I would change my color. Even though they are the cause. The sky looks green because of the permanent spores emitting from them”, Skywarp explained. “And most of the time you have to stay up there and even then the stuff clogs your filters and ventilation system slowly but surely until you overheat!”

“The inhabitants turned plant life into weapons”, Thundercracker said toneless. “It’s unnatural. It makes no sense for spores to stay up n the air and that high. Haven’t seen flowers grow on clouds yet.”

“Yeah. They manipulated the plants for the sole purpose to harm us!”, Skywarp said and patted Thundercracker’s shoulder pad.

Starscream looked glumly. He clearly didn’t want to have his mates somewhere this dangerous. Especially without him.

“Remember my coughing fit?”, Skywarp continued. “I thought I would die like a suffocating fleshling! I think I even got a little high…”

“Yes, it was awful! You drooled all over the floor…”, Starscream said. “And all we had was that medical assistant about to saw your throat open…”

“Knockout… best man…”, Skywarp said full of nostalgia.

Skyfire imagined that most likely extremely chaotic scene and allowed himself to laugh a bit even though the bitter taste to it was undeniable.

“That oozy drool of yours caused stains on the ship’s floor the cleaning drones never got rid of. Makes you think about the substances getting inside your body by just being on that planet…”, Starscream said sullenly.

He, Thundercracker and Skywarp shared a long look before they continued walking, the topic never mentioned again this evening.

Starscream bought a datapad with all the functions Skyfire would need (“Enough memory space to purge your own memory space and save all the lessons!”) and refused to take any money from him.

“Haven’t I told you, I can throw it away?”, he asked gruffly.

“But how can I show you then how thankful I am?”, Skyfire asked which made Skywarp laugh dirtily.

“You’ll know soon enough”, Starscream answered and Skywarp laughed even louder, until Starscream shot against his shoulder pad.

“OW! You stupid slagger!”, Skywarp cried and blew at the coiling smoke rising from the blackened part of his shoulder armor.

For a moment Skyfire feared the other bots would react hostile or fearful. A shot was a shot after all, but then he realized that the bots here were… different. Huge warframes, dark paint jobs, exotic looks and shady figures had gained prevalence of the underground shopping tunnel. One of them even looked like a reptile. Its long tongue sidled out of its mouth and licked over one optic.

“Seeing something you like?”, it asked grinning and revealed pointy teeth.

Skyfire hastily turned away. He wanted to reach out for Starscream to regain some feeling of protection, but when he did he realized there were six seekers now.

“Skyfire”, Starscream said in a neutral tone, “this is Cloudwalker and his mates are Red Rain and Stratus.”.

“I knew it was you when I heard this decrepit shot”, Cloudwalker said haughtily, ignoring Skyfire completely. “Everything okay with that weaponry of yours?”

Skyfire looked at Starscream’s still transformed arm. The red biolights made the gun actually look like something intimate, usually not revealed to just anyone. Skyfire didn’t exactly know what created this impression. Maybe because Starscream was otherwise very flat colored and this glowing red was… unexpected…

He wanted to touch his weapon for some reason…

“It does what it’s supposed to do”, Starscream said calmly.

“If that works for you”, Cloudwalker replied. “Well, you don’t have to fight for a while anyway. But I would be careful. How many semesters did your owner allow you to attend again?”

“What are you hinting at?”, Starscream asked mildly smiling.

“I’m just saying the amount of time might be suitable for certain other things.”

“My owner currently has no other plans in mind. Aside from finding a way to pacify Mesmerizor faster so he can finally have his villa there. With greenhouse, garden, et cetera.”

“Are you sure?”

"I am most ensured.“

Cloudwalker smirked and then strutted away, Red Rain and Stratus in tow.

“The frag was his problem?”, Skywarp asked, still rubbing his shoulder.

“He thinks he knows something we don’t and that makes him feel superior. And he needs that as he wasn’t allowed at the Academy”, Starscream answered.

“Damn! I hate that I was thrown out even more now! I mean, he is probably sent back to Mesmerizor just like us and without a leader we might have to follow his command!”, Skywarp yelled.

Thundercracker made some choking noises and Skyfire was sure they weren’t acted.

“I’ll make sure our owner tweaks it the way Nimbus or Cometrider will be your surrogate leaders”, Starscream promised, but neither Skywarp nor Thundercracker seemed to be much happier.

To calm down a little they decided to seat themselves in a lounge full with exotic smells and tastes. Skyfire soon realized that the presented specialties were more than exquisite and questionable. The energon was bright pink and hissed while tiny bubbles rose towards the surface of the liquid. His tank was not going to like this, but his taste sensors forced him to drink it all. Soon his processor started to feel very foggy and his movements became sluggish. Starscream gave him a basket with hardened energon treats and while he did so Skyfire took his claws in his hand and stroked with his thumb over the smooth metal. They were so unflawed and beautiful…

Somebody chuckled, but it didn’t matter. Tiredness overwhelmed him and he found an all too suitable pillow to rest his head.

“This is not the lap you are looking for”, Thundercracker’s voice said from far away.

More chuckling.

After some shoving, his head was placed elsewhere but it felt just as nice… he wanted to stay there… forever...

Chapter Text

Starscream took another sip from his cube, enjoyed how the high-grade energon prickled in his mouth - not least in his processor - and caressed Skyfire's head with his free hand. The shuttle lay drowsily next to him like a tired sparkling, his head placed in Starscream's lap and his engine purring contently. It wasn't the oddest of sights since a lot of bots used to relax here in comfortable positions usually only adopted privately at home. Some helped themselves relax with high-grade, others with more than exquisite energon.

The dead tired Skyfire, who seemed to have the mobility of a beached whale, somehow managed to snake his arm towards Starscream's aft and Starscream absentmindedly relocated the a little bit too curious appendage up to his waist. There would be a time for that, but it was definitely not now. However, Skyfire's fingers explored deliberately the new terrain and their owner mumbled something against Starscream's thigh.

"Hm, I get the impression our sealed friend wants to have some Screamer now, too!", Skywarp speculated chuckling. "And I can't blame him!"

"So he truly is our replacement?", Thundercracker assumed dryly.

"You can't blame Screamer either", Skywarp said wisely.

"Would you just cut that 'Screamer' already?", Starscream said harshly and shoved his hand between his thigh and Skyfire's lips who had begun nibbling him.

"You can't blame Stary either", Skywarp corrected himself, not changing his tone at all.

"Okay, that was just unholy", Starscream said unnerved.

"You didn't answer my question", Thundercracker noticed.

"Thundercracker", Starscream sighed tiredly. "Don't talk, waste-producing flesh-creatures don't talk either."

Thundercracker's expression changed from tired to aggressive and back to tired.

"Fine, I don't care."

"You two need a reconciliation frag. Just my opinion...", Skywarp said quietly. "I mean... this could be our last night together..."

There was a long silence between them.

"I got no responses yet", Starscream said after a while. "Maybe our owner is still bargaining. After all, I sent him my requests and it wouldn't be like him to get his property into a war zone without the most advantageous conditions. Also Cloudwalker is still here too and he has zero reasons to remain. Even if he was on vacation time, in Iacon exist no jobs for seekers. His owner has to send him away if he wants to make money. Therefore, I presume, the military is not in such a hurry about getting you."

"Does this mean we might have another day left?", Thundercracker asked bitterly.

"I wouldn't bet on it!", Skywarp said impatiently.

"You just want your sandwich, regardless how I feel!", Thundercracker flared up.

"As if you two are going to make up any time soon anyway!"

A loud moaning sound came from Skyfire and the three seekers noticed with alarm how his crotchplate started to fold away...

"Give me the energon over there. The cooled off one", Starscream demanded sharply and ripped it right out off Thundercracker's claw to pour it in Skyfire's face.

Skyfire woke from whatever wet dream he had had and blinked in confusion, energon running down his face.

"Forgive me, I keep forgetting how little energon the working class is allowed to have and to enjoy", Starscream apologized. "I shouldn't have let you drink all that in such a short amount of time."

"I...", Skyfire began and noticed just now where he actually was. He backed off from his favorite seeker instantly and covered his mouth. "I'm sorry!", came out in a muffled tone.

"You didn't do anything wrong", Starscream calmed him, but Skywarp added: "Can't go wrong with equipment bigger than Primus!"

The pure, unadulterated, self-loathing and shame which dawned on Skyfire's face earned Skywarp a smack to the face from Starscream.

Starscream quickly jumped up and pulled the distressed shuttle with him towards a quieter, less populated corner.

"Do you hear me? You didn't do anything wrong!", Starscream told Skyfire again. "Absolutely nothing!!"

Skyfire hiccuped.

"Do you think, I would lie?!", Starscream asked in his best commander voice because Skyfire still seemed unconvinced. He was used to blame first and foremost himself, but after hearing Starscream, seeing his anger, he slowly shook his head.

"There we go", Starscream said with a satisfied smile.

"But what did I do...?", Skyfire asked, his voice just the ghost of a whisper.

"You don't even remember, yet you chastise yourself here?", Starscream asked a counter question. He was annoyed, but not surprised.

"Of course! I'm big and clumsy and... and out of control...!", Skyfire cried.

"What?!", Starscream couldn't help himself but laugh out loud. "That's what the bigwigs want you to believe! They denied you a good life, made you think you were solely created to work for them because you aren't bodily or mentally able to fulfill any dreams beyond the next energon ration. But you already proved them wrong! You-"

"I know that", Skyfire sniffed stubbornly. "I just can't live with myself hurting you..."

"You weren't hurting me. You slept in my lap because the high-grade energon was a little bit too much for you. Completely innocent. Skywarp is just a horny slagger who has to comment on anything and your body size became the target of his stupid jokes. But he wouldn't have had that opportunity if the corrupt establishment hadn't denied you high-quality energon and the chance to get used to it and-"

"Screw the establishment, the bigwigs, the government, the indifference of the people or whoever and whatever they did to me!", Skyfire cried. "This is about you! I can't stand the thought of you being hurt! You are living a life far worse than me! It's sad, it's atrocious, I... I want to..."

Skyfire fell silent and Starscream gawked at him flabbergasted. So Skyfire wasn't distraught because of himself and his purity, but for him? He pitied him? Starscream didn't know how to feel about that. Society hated, despised, secretly admired, envied him or didn't care about bots like him. But he was never pitied.

"What do you want, Skyfire?", he asked warily.

"I want to save you", Skyfire sobbed.

The big bot seemed to expect a gruff, hopeless "You cannot save me" reply, but Starscream allowed a small smile to appear on his faceplate.

"Maybe you can."

And that was all he would say about that right now.

---

They returned to their table where Thundercracker and Skywarp had waited for them and Skywarp gave Skyfire a bowl with cleansing fluid to get rid of the stains in his face left by energon and oily tears.

"I'm sorry", he said honestly.

"It's okay... it wasn't because of you", Skyfire muttered.

"Who is feeling like going home?", Thundercracker asked.

"Already?", Skywarp whined. "How about going to the movies and watching some trashy classic? 'Planet of the femmes', for example."

"That's porn", Thundercracker said.

"That's Caminus", Starscream said and after an overwrought second all three seekers burst into laughter.

"B-Both i-is actu-... actu-... actually c-correct!!!", Skywarp laughed, holding his sides which threatened to burst.

"You don't say", Starscream said grinning and Skyfire smiled a little. He liked seeing them in harmony.

"What's Caminus?", he asked them interested.

"A colony", Starscream answered and Skywarp added: "With crazily hot bots. Not as hot as us, but still c-c-crazily hot! Also kinda crazy up here!"
He pointed at his head.

Skyfire let it go at that.

The other bots hadn't reacted that much to their laughing fit. It was probably a not too uncommon thing to show extreme reactions within these walls as a little bot on a neighboring table started to chuckle uncontrollably himself, whereas another bot seemed to be too tired to even lift an arm. He stared into nothingness, lost in his own world.

"Well then?", Skywarp asked eventually.

"I think the night is over", Starscream replied and nodded towards Skyfire, but when Skywarp showed a disappointed face, he continued: "But not at home."

That caused a cringy victory dance.

---

In the living room they shoved the furniture together to create a comfortable sleeping place for Skyfire who seemed to be pretty overwhelmed.

"Sleeping...? Not in my alt mode or on the floor?"

He climbed on top of the couches which creaked in protest and rested his head on Starscream's throne-like armchair. The unusual softness troubled him.

"You don't need to, if you don't like it, but remember, society turned you into a floor-sleeper, not you or your descent", Starscream lectured him.

Skywarp rolled his red optics and grabbed Starscream's arm to pull him into their bedroom. He locked the door as soon as they were inside, slowly turned around and grinned hungrily.

"Well, gentlemen...?"

Starscream looked annoyed because of his interrupted speech about social injustice and Thundercracker downright demotivated.

"The frag is wrong with you?!", Skywarp cried. "Got your seeker CNA corrupted? Did your spikes fall off? Did your valves grow shut?"

No reaction.

"Fine then... I let the toys do the talking then...", he threatened and began to open some drawers and started to rummage within them until he had found what he had looked for. He held a tiny device in his claws, pointed it towards a poster showing Megatron looking especially menacing and scanned it. Then he pressed another button and the hologram of the famous gladiator engulfed him. Now he towered over Starscream, rose his arms widely as if to expect the applause of the roaring masses and said with his most heroic voice: "Come to me, my proud Vosian prince!"

Thundercracker pressed both his hands against his mouth to suppress a howling laughter, but Starscream reacted differently. His eyes shone brighter and his cheeks reflected the crimson light, making him actually appear blushing.

"If he is really going to call me his 'proud Vosian prince'...", he began, but didn't complete the sentence.

"Then you are going to marry him, no further questions asked", Skywarp laughed and caught Starscream's waist with Megatron's huge hands. It was a hologram with mass, able to touch and being touched, but the scan had been a mere poster which had created a realistic, but otherwise very flat Megatron.

"To be honest... I have no idea what I would do...", Starscream chuckled and pushed "Megatron's" paper-thin claws away. "But it would be nice being treated like royalty because it's my Primus-given right as a superior flightframe and not because I'm a prized purebred dog."

"Don't get too depressing now, Screamer - er - I mean, Stary", Skywarp warned, let the Megatron hologram disappear, right after he had used it as a cover to sneak behind his mate and wrapped his long arms around him.

"Don't call me that", Starscream purred. Skywarp's nimble claws stimulating his chest plating made it impossible to become really mad about the horrendous nickname.

"I bet Megatron would be allowed to call you whatever he pleases", Skywarp murmured, squeezing the plating until it crunched, without allowing any chances for Starscream to wiggle himself away to escape the building arousal.

"Pit, no", Starscream made clear and grabbed Skywarp's wrists when he got too intrusive for his tastes. But Skywarp let his long claws dance over the part right above his spark and managed to achieve what he had aimed for: Letting Starscream's spark casing reveal itself.

"Kinky, Warp. You are extraordinarily cheeky tonight. This is reserved for my future partner...", Starscream breathed and let himself get dragged over to the king-sized bed, worthy of a Vosian prince, of course.

"Reserved, but claimed over and over again by your loyal mates anyway", Skywarp laughed, pulled him onto the mattress and pressed him down easily. The half-sparked attempts to fight him off died down soon and instead Starscream demanded his full attention.

"If you, ah... want my- hmmm...!! My spark, then...", Starscream gasped and grabbed the back of Skywarp's head, "then you have to do a- ah! A better job!"

"Did you just hear that slagger, T.C.?", Skywarp asked grinning and continued teasing the sensible wiring close to the spark chamber with his pointy fingers. He was able to stick them into every little opening, gap and hole to let the sensitive sensors go haywire. Starscream's claws scratched over his head to his wings, where they drilled deep enough to draw energon and threatened to remain stuck in the plating.

"Ow! Owowow! Primus, you are always such a brute...!!", Skywarp moaned, let up on him and pulled Starscream's claws off him. Their tips were soaked in energon and Skywarp felt his wings burn.

This will better be worth it, he thought and pulled Starscream's arms over his head, moving along to lay down behind him, exposing his mate's body to whoever may want to take the chance. Before Starscream became aware of his situation, Skywarp leaned down to kiss and nibble his neck cables, while he hold on to the arms. Everything to keep their leader content.

"T.C.!", Skywarp breathed between kisses. "Now is-", another distracting kiss, "your chance!"

Thundercracker watched the spectacle in front of him, how Skywarp continued his upside down kissing, how he kept Starscream's brutal claws out of the way... for him. He saw Starscream's heels dig into the mattress, how they strained the otherwise very adaptable material. But Starscream's legs and the mysteries in between were irrelevant for now. The spark casing had fully opened, revealing the bright glowing spark and the tendrils of pure energy. They searched for a partner... and it wouldn't be Skywarp.

"T.C.!", Skywarp cried more vigorous. "Show him like this how you feel!"

Thundercracker heard the desperation in his voice. Nothing more undesirable than a dysfunctional trine... Especially now.

Warily he climbed on top of the bed and approached Starscream from the side. He wasn't stupid enough to actually place himself between his legs. Even in this state Starscream wouldn't allow it, that much was for sure.

With an undefinable lump in his throat, Thundercracker folded his chestplating away and revealed his own spark. Somehow he knew this would end in a catastrophe. He darted a glance at Skywarp, before he swallowed hard and leaned down.

Starscream was still too distracted and kept busy by Skywarp to either notice his attempt to sparkmerge or was rendered apathetic as long as he was stimulated enough. There was nothing keeping him from trying...

One tendril shyly reached out to entangle with one of the many Starscream's spark offered, but something was off. Thundercracker felt it right from the get-go. All his doubts had been right. First the tendrils curled weirdly away as if two identical magnetic poles were forced together, then a furious crackling could be heard, like from a fire snapping combustible material due to the heat and Thundercracker worried about both their spark's health... And then they merged anyway and he felt as if he had been stabbed with an incandescent lance. His very essence seemed to eat his frame away like a small, angry sun and the pain blinded him, he ground his teeth to suppress a scream...

"ARGH!!!"

Thundercracker was thrown off and he rolled over to land hard on the floor. His spark pulsed furiously and every beat sent a burning pain through his body.

"The frag were you trying to do?!", Starscream asked panting. He had curled his fingers into fists and hid his still open spark chamber, while sitting upright and staring alternating at Skywarp and Thundercracker.

"Sparkmerging", Skywarp explained looking utterly clueless. "What was up with that fierce reaction??"

Understanding dawned on Starscream’s face and Thundercracker shirked from his look. It was oozing with contempt... even though that wasn’t anything new anymore, wasn’t it? He was tired. So incredibly tired...

“Slowly, but surely I start to think that we made a mistake when our trine formed. We should have taken Sunstorm as the third member”, Starscream said calmly.

“He is even less of a warrior than me”, Thundercracker said just as calm.

“But he is loyal and knows his place”, Starscream corrected him. “He would cause trouble, yes, but he wouldn’t do it consciously. He wouldn’t disappoint me, because I would have no expectations in the first place. For bots whose mind isn’t twisted, though, I do. And as you can’t fulfill them and Sunstorm won’t by default... I don’t see a difference. Just that I would be freed of your miserable mug and your insidious attempts to harm me!”

“I didn’t try to harm you!!”, Thundercracker cried. The unfairness of that accusation fueled a brutal, malicious part of him, he normally tried to hide away. “I tried to connect with you! To reconcile!” He could see Skywarp nodding eagerly from the corner of his eye. Why wasn’t that obvious to his stupid leader? It was as if he had entirely disconnected from him. And deliberately. As if he just wanted to see the worst of the worst of his once beloved mate.
Why?
WHY?
“I don’t know what happened! The pain surprised me just as much as you!”

“You were surprised? I’ll tell you what it meant...”, Starscream said darkly. “Our views, our sparks don’t align anymore. You averted yourself from me and my cause.”

“How am I the one turning away, when it was me, who wanted to connect in the first place?!”, Thundercracker screamed. “You are turning away from me! You are turning away from us! First you bully me, then you’ll do the same to Warp! You want to replace us with bots bigger and stronger and better status because we aren’t good enough or able to help you fulfill your crazy dreams! As soon as we are gone, you’ll put Skyfire and Megatron in our places, but let me tell you something...!! Skyfire is a pacifist just like me and he’ll hate your true self! And Megatron... Megatron might have been a mere gladiator once, but he more or less became a superstar with huge influence! You really think a little slave bot like you will be his equal? His mate? He will make himself your new owner at most, wanna bet?!? But just continue to go your path, I won’t be here any longer to hinder you!”

And after these words he ran blazing with anger towards a window and opened it agitated and barely able to not just smash it. For a last time he looked back towards a teary-eyed Skywarp and the eerily calm Starscream, before he flew off into the night.

The silence after his departure was unbearable and oppressive. Something needed to be said. Anything needed to happen. A reaction, an explanation. After a long while it finally got interrupted by Skywarp’s quiet sobs and Starscream felt his fingers curl around his forearm.

“It w-was me..., you dummy...!”, he sobbed. “I-I wanted him to do it. Just like I wanted to stir up the racing cars! It was all me! You k-know that! Why are you snubbing him for the mistakes I d-did...?”

“Because he is the one who should know better”, Starscream whispered.

Skywarp couldn’t make use of that and just shook his head in incomprehension.

“You might have stirred up the car-bots, but to save Skyfire. Our identities only got revealed because Thundercracker just had to shop in this cursed pet store. His love for lesser creatures makes him lose his focus. Seeing them destroyed in the war zones, breaks his spirit. He is unable to fight for himself anymore and against the social injustice. His and my ideals deviated so strongly, our sparks refusing to connect is only natural.”

“But he-!”

“I don’t need anyone who is thwarting me and my plans. If we don’t do anything, how much longer do you think we can go on like this? You two might actually die in this war. Don’t you think I want to prevent us getting torn apart? But there is nothing I can do... nothing I can do to stop it... because we are PROPERTY!”

Starscream pointed at the largest Megatron poster.

“I’m with him. It’s not just a crush. I share his dream and I will fight for it. And if I have to give up all these gilded cage privileges, so be it! But do you have even a single clue how risky this is going to be?! I can’t have anybody with me whose heart is not in it!”

Skywarp sniveled. “My heart is in it. I’ll do whatever you say, so Thundercracker can peacefully live ever after with his creatures... If he can’t fight for himself, I’ll do it for him.”

“He doesn’t deserve such devotion”, Starscream claimed impressed.

“He does”, Skywarp said with a sad smile. “He doesn’t need to be courageous, useful or anything to have my love.”

---

Thundercracker had drunk so much high-grade, he felt like Skyfire. His wobbly legs carried him unsteadily over the narrow alley’s street and while he watched the ground, he suspected to see colors he hadn’t known were part of the color spectrum before. Where did that come from?

He hiccuped and ran right into another bot. The pain was so dull, he wasn’t actually sure, if it really happened. But then he recognized the frame and a very subdued panic crawled up his back.

“Sarsssream... I’m nod goming home...! You gilled my bedsss!!”, he slurred and squinted at the other bot.

“Not Starscream. Red Rain”, the other seeker corrected him and examined him from wingtip to heel. “He killed your pets? What a nasty guy.”

“Don’d sssay dhad... I gan gall him horrible and vissssssious, bud nod anybody elssse... ogay?”

“Okay”, Red Rain said smirking and raised his hands reassuringly.

“He isss ssso meeeeeeean!!! I love him so much, bud he doesn’d love meee!”, Thundercracker bawled. “Because I love ani-aniani-! Animalsssss!!”

“Well, maybe he is tremendously jealous and insecure and fears you love the animals more than him”, Red Rain assumed shrugging.

“Whad an afd...”

Red Rain chuckled. “How about I will help you get home? Or you could also come with me. My leader won’t mind giving you shelter for a night. He-”

“Well, well, well, well...! If it aren’t two runaway chickens!”, a familiar voice said self-importantly. “Where is the rest of your flock?”

“They are alone, Dusty!”, Dazzler said excited. “All alone!”

“It’s ‘Finedust’, fool!”, Dusty replied gruffly. “And they aren’t allowed to fight us anyway. I’m amazed the bluish one here was allowed to live! What has society come to?!”

Red Rain grabbed Thundercracker’s upper arm and leaned close to his audio receptor. “Can you transform and fly? No fear, I’ll guide you, but we have to be quick!”

The car gang sensed their urge to flee and immediately surrounded them. It would be difficult but not impossible for Red Rain to start from this narrow alley, but Thundercracker would most likely crash into a wall and so he hesitated and lost valuable seconds. A hand clasped around his arm and squeezed hard.

“Tsk, tsk, where do you want to go, red one?”, a gang member asked grinning. “That bright finish doesn’t suit you at all, one could almost think you want to pretend to be one of us!”

“Yeah, no pretty finish for the trash cans! Let’s fix this!”

Both Red Rain and Thundercracker were thrown against the wall of the nearest building and some of the racers took out spray cans. He raised his arms to shield himself from the spray, however, feeling the cool paint being spread all over his body made the gesture nearly pointless.
Thundercracker didn’t even understand what was going on. Completely puzzled he watched one of the gang members spray glyphs on his cockpit. Whatever they meant, they couldn’t be complimenting and his dizzy processor assured him it was better not to know.

“The wings are ideal canvas, Finedust!”, Tailwind laughed delighted. “How do you like my spike hieroglyph?”

“Very lifelike. How come, you can draw them so well...?”, Dusty asked grinning and Tailwind felt a whole lot of energon assemble in his cheeks.

“Stop it, you are damaging other people’s property, you dimwits!”, Red Rain growled and got sprayed right in the face for that.

“You know, you aren’t wrong”, Dusty said and put his hand on his chin as if he would think hard. “But the police hardly cares for vandalism... but IF they are gonna get me for vandalism, I’d rather make it count!”

Red Rain sensed danger that was beyond humiliation and grabbed Thundercracker by a winglet. If there was something that could make an exhausted, poisoned or damaged seeker stand up anyway, it was a good healthy pull on a wing and they had to get out of here!

“Come, T.C.!!”, he roared and pulled hard to get them both on their feet. Just a little bit of distance between them and their tormentors... then he could try to transform and just drag Thundercracker with him. No matter how bumpy the flight, they would easily escape from the damned grounders.
But he never had a chance. The cars literally threw themselves on top of him and pressed him to the ground. Some freed themselves from the pile and started to trample on him. He could feel multiple hands pull and rip on his wings and his sensors flooded him with nauseating pain which transferred to his backstrut and even seemed to affect his head. Either he was going blind by that or by the still moist paint dripping from his brow into his eyes. The pain was so absurd, his processor couldn’t comprehend how anybody could continue doing this to him.

“Stop it!”, he yelled as if they knew any mercy, but it was all he could think of. All that he knew had to happen. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop i-it! I can’t take this any longer!”

Dazzler bent the right wing a little more and pushed his heel against the joint as if he wanted to tear it out. How could they just continue doing this?!

Thundercracker had plunged right next to him and because he wasn’t able to defend himself at all, let alone run away, the racer gang had mostly ignored him for now.
The creaking of hurt wings, however, triggered something within him.

How much energon had he actually had? Thundercracker watched with mild, disconnected fascination how it gushed out of his mouth unbraked like a fountain and splattered across all the hooting grounders. The hooting and wing-bending stopped instantly.

“BLEH!!! WHAT THE FRAG?!?”

Now you guys are the ones getting a new paintjob, Thundercracker thought. It’s only fair.

“It’s not stopping! Why isn’t it-!! Buuueeeeerghhh!!! I got something in my mouth...!!”

“Then stop screaming, foo-!! Eaaargh!!”

Tailwind couldn’t help himself and lost his tank’s content admittedly not as spectacularly as Thundercracker, but still, he had had quite a few cubes this evening and Dazzler’s sparkly green finish got a new hue of blue.

“DUUUSTY!!! Help m-!!”

Dazzler threw himself in Finedust’s arms, now getting rid of his energon too and Thundercracker thought, that Skywarp had probably been right with his assumption. They were totally fragging.

“RETREAT!!”, Dusty called and with a lot of purging, cursing and sounds of absolute disgust, the racer gang transformed and drove off, leaving an enraptured Thundercracker sitting in his own meal and a heavily panting Red Rain, who couldn’t believe what had just saved his flight capacity.

“Thunder... Thundercracker... I might actually owe my life to you...”, he whispered. His voice sounded muffled as he was still lying face down on the ground. His wings were just as much of a mess as the entire panorama of the alley. He wouldn’t be able to fly for a while. “I called Cloudwalker... you can stay with us... as I offered before...”, he sighed. “Thundercracker... if this is over... if we survive our next term of service... I’ll buy you all the pets you want... Screw Starscream.”

“Yeah... sgrew Sarsream...”, Thundercracker said and wiped his mouth.

Chapter Text

Skyfire was flying through a sea of stars. In the distance loured towering nebulae, glimmering in greenish colors and reminding him of something.
Fire in the sky.
To his left flew Moonchaser and his first real friend was waving and smiling at him.

“The well! The well of the Allspark!”, he called without stuttering once and he pointed towards the gargantuan formation. His visage was content and at peace. But Skyfire wasn’t so convinced.

“The well is beyond space and time, how...?”, he asked, yet Moonchaser was flying ahead now and with even greater speed. Nothing would keep him from the world of eternal bliss. After all the hardship, he deserved it.

“Wait!”, Skyfire shouted. This couldn’t be right. And inside of the nebulae, he saw the branching out of lightning bolts. No thunder could be heard, but this was space and of course they wouldn’t hear anything, not even from the greatest, world-eating thunderstorm of the universe! “WAIT!!!”

He was using his comm, right? Or was he just thinking his warnings? Moonchaser didn’t respond and he didn’t turn back either. His friend kept flying towards his doom...

“Have no fear, Skyfire!”, a familiar voice encouraged him.

Skyfire turned his head in mild panic towards the voice, hoping for help. Skywarp was riding on the back of a huge platinum-colored pleasure drone. Their black hollow eyes and mouth on their faceplate formed an eternally blissful, but otherwise soulless expression and the spiky prongs on their head and the long glittery, ribbon-like appendages on their arms and legs gave them the look of a shooting star. Skywarp was holding cubes with energon which had been enriched with food dye. All the colors of the rainbow were represented. All the colors of other planet’s fruity biodiversity.

“I’m going to slaughter them all!”, Skywarp exclaimed and was about to throw an energon cube towards the nebulae, but then decided against it and just drank its content. “Mmmh! Mesmerizor’s greeting!”

“Skywarp, we have to warn Moonchaser, he-”

Skyfire awoke noisily and the dream broke apart around him. Suddenly he was no longer in space, but in the seekers’s living room, lying on top of a couple of couches and loungers, with pillows stuffed in every possible gap. However, Skywarp was actually there, he was sitting on his back and let his legs dangle in the air. When Skyfire craned his neck, he could see him being occupied with a large cube which he had put on his lap and hold in place with one hand, while the other dipped a spoon in its weirdly creamy content. Skywarp spooned the jelly-like energon with moderate relish that made the corners of his mouth twitch upward a bit, but his eyes stayed sullen and devoid of vitality. The seeker seemed sick.

“Good morning...”, Skyfire greeted warily.

“Morning... and shh...”, Skywarp greeted back and pointed towards the TV with his spoon.

“I’d do anyfink for muh baebeh”, the scruffy looking bot on the TV screen said. He was holding a malnourished looking sparkling who was blaring non-stop. Two older looking sparklings were sitting in front of their own TV which was far smaller and of lesser quality than the one Skyfire and Skywarp were using right now.
“Yeah, we’re finking of making anuva one”, said the second adult bot towards the camera. “Don’t ya want anuva bruhvuh, little one?” He tickled the “baebeh” and it coughed up some energon in response.
“Ew!! What’s wrong wiff ya?! Did ya give him high-grade again, slaghead??”

“Of course not! Fat’s totally normal for a baebeh, you glitch! Ya knew fat, if ya’d take care of one for once!”

“And I’m going to war for this...”, Skywarp said sadly and kept stuffing himself with energon cream.

“Why are you even watching this?”, Skyfire asked even sadder.

“To feel better about my situation.”

“Is it working?”

“No.”

Sighing Skyfire kept watching the horrible show. There was nothing else he could do with a sad seeker claiming him as couch. He wondered what had happened to turn Skywarp basically into a second Thundercracker. Maybe the fact that he had to leave this place soon had finally caught up to him enough that even his happy-go-lucky personality had gotten affected.
How much he wished he could change their situation. No matter how slagging poor he was as an ex-worker, he was still free. And - in theory - he could... buy them...
Skyfire mentally chastised himself for these thoughts. Thinking something like that... it was just wrong. Why weren’t the so-called owners seeing it that way, too? How wrong it was to own another bot. He wondered about Starscream’s owner. What kind of bot he might be. A strict military type? A breeder without consciousness? A chummy, modern guy? Starscream had mentioned, he wouldn’t force them to breed... So, maybe he was something like a trainer or sponsor and Starscream was his racehorse... Close enough to have some sort of relationship with his “horses”, but distant enough to not break apart when they were killed in one of their conquests.
The TV claimed his attention again and he looked at the two children rolling over a sofa and clawing at each other. One screamed and then started bawling.
Had they it better? Their irresponsible parents aside, at least they had the luxury to come to life as sparklings. Skyfire’s spark had been put in a preconstructed, adult body, ready to work right from the start.
And Starscream? How did he come into this world? He had mentioned “seeker chicks” yesterday. Another term that ringed wrong in Skyfire’s audio receptors.

“Good morning, you two”, Starscream greeted them and stretched his wings wide. “Why up this early, Skywarp?”, he asked and then eyed the TV screen with voyeuristic fascination. “Dusty’s parents? Wait, as far as I know, they are filthy rich...”

“Check your mails, leader...”, Skywarp mumbled, his mouth full with energon cream.

“I already did. You have to meet up at the main space-bridge of Luna-1 this evening. Not in the morning. So why are you up?”

“Because I need to spend the pathetic remains of my time here as efficient as possible!”

Starscream eyed the TV again, where one of the sparklings smeared energon over the floor while one of the adult bots just stood there and laughed and cried at the same time. The “baebeh” he was holding, purged again and gave the sparkling more material to work with. Starscream made a “Seriously?” face at his mate.

“You are right”, Skywarp said and hopped off Skyfire’s back. “I should sleep my life away!” He stuffed the energon cube back in the refrigerator. “Or...” Skywarp danced back into the living area and groped Starscream’s chestplate. “I could have a nice, sentimental goodbye-frag.”

“I’m not so much into the sappy stuff...”, Starscream disagreed and pried the claws away.

“Then take me cold and without any emotions. Right here over the couch!”, Skywarp demanded and pointed at Skyfire.

“I’m not going to”, Starscream replied and pointed at Skyfire, too.

“Why are you acting as if you are NOT the most sensual of us? Come on, let’s make some baebehs!”, Skywarp said impatiently and leaned himself over Skyfire’s back. The shuttle started to shiver, but otherwise he didn’t dare to move a millimeter. “I bet he also wants to be involved...”

“All you are doing is scaring him, you horny slagger!”, Starscream said disgusted. Then he grabbed him around the waist and carried him towards their bedroom. “I’ll be back soon”, he informed the still shivering Skyfire. “When he has learned his lesson.”

Skywarp squeaked in excitement. “YES! Commander! You need to punish me! I was out of line... I... I... wanted to destroy his innocence! Something only you have the right to! Commander~!!”

Starscream closed the door with a heavy sigh and threw his naughty trine member on the bed. Skywarp had been right. He was in fact a very sensual bot who often times thought and dreamed of the comfort and closeness the presence of another bot could give him. Especially if that presence meant not the thinnest sheet of metal would fit between their frames. But there was something about the whole interfacing thing which he couldn’t stand at all: Its utilization, its power and the way this power allured him, too.
He knew that he could be himself with his trine members... and maybe even more with Skyfire... But he saw the whole primitive and yet so very effective domination game loom at the horizon... and he hated what it would do to him. How it would nurture feelings that shouldn’t be allowed during interfacing. Fear, hurt, shame, humiliation, the dull acceptance...

“I’m not a pleasure drone...”, he whispered and pressed Skywarp’s face down on the mattress.

“No, commander... you are a pleasure machine!!”, Skywarp said aroused and moved his aft against Starscream’s crotch.

“This won’t be a ‘goodbye-frag’“, Starscream explained dryly and his experienced hands stroked over the chest and abdomen he knew as well as his own. “This is a ‘you’ll come back alive’ frag. Understood?”

“Look, who is the sappy one now, heh?”, Skywarp chuckled and let his crotchplate slide away to uncover his valve.

“You are already wet and dripping...”, Starscream noticed and explored the intimate opening with two of his claws, careful not to hurt it in any way.

“What the frag did you expect, leader? Seriously... as if you wouldn’t know me...”

“I’m just saying... no need to prepare you or anything. I will... have you now...”, Starscream purred close to Skywarp’s audio receptor and began to slowly shove his spike inside...

“Claim me, commander! Claim me as yours! I’m yours! Not Cloudwalker’s or anybody else’s underling! I will always answer to you, commander~!”, Skywarp panted, enjoying the feeling of his mate. How well attuned they were to each other and immediately awoke the pleasure they desired... It was a routine, but why would they fix something that wasn’t broken?

“Call me ‘Lord’“, Starscream demanded with a husky voice. “I’m your Lord!”

“Uh... Uhm... okay. MY LORD!!”, Skywarp called, moving faster now. “Are you also Megatron’s Lord?”

“Of course!”

“Sentinel Prime’s?”

“Absolutely!”

“Skyfire’s?”

Starscream opened his mouth, but no sound escaped him and he thrust hard because he feared he had gotten out of time.

“Ouch!”, Skywarp cried in surprise. “Our big boy is that special, eh?”

“Maybe...”, Starscream grinned. “Maybe I just- ah... I just can’t see him as nobody else but my equal... or as he is so subdued by default... Ah... where is the allure to push somebody like him down? He is already at the... uh... bottom...!! Hnnnngh...!!”

His fingers clawed inside Skywarp’s waist as he came hard and his mate made another pained noise he didn’t pay much attention to. Instead he grabbed him by an arm and a leg and turned him around so they could face each other.

“Sparkmerge with me. This time, I want it to work properly”, Starscream growled and Skywarp obeyed panting. Their sparks exposed themselves and the tendrils instantly got entangled without hesitating once.

“Ah, yes... this is how it has to be...!”, Starscream whispered and rolled with Skywarp over the mattress, their limbs intertwined and his spike still deeply inside his mate’s valve. “This is the ecstasy I demand...!”

They shared their love for the sky, whether at night or day, flying boundlessly and the satisfaction of killing a foe. How wonderful high-grade energon tasted and how wholesome their togetherness used to be. Skywarp appreciated the small every day pleasures of life, the enjoyment of a treat, a long sleep, watching the sun set among illustrious cloud formations and having a lively chat with his comrades. Starscream burned with passion for everything. His future plans, his relationships, his desires... everything involved, nearly burned too bright in his fire, all his feelings turned into excesses... so much love, so much hate, so much disappointment and whatever wasn’t part of his interests, was below him... far below and forgotten.

I didn’t know, you wanted sparklings, Starscream thought. Not after watching that horrible show... Our situation won’t allow it anyway.
But you are going to change it, Skywarp replied and his essence glowed in Starscream’s mind. You are going to make it better. Isn’t that all you are about?
A feeling of pure affection bloomed inside Starscream’s spark.
So you DO listen to my speeches? And even remember what they are about?

“Always”, Skywarp purred and his legs clamped around Starscream’s waist even tighter.

---

Thundercracker’s morning had been entirely different. For the first time in years, he had awoken without any of his trine mates close to him. He felt cut off and confused, his processor ached and his abdominal muscles hurt like Unicron’s wrath. On top of that his whole body was covered in nasty glyphs and doodles, he had extreme trouble brushing off.
He was so done and scrapped, when he had looked into the mirror he had feared for a second a Zombiecon was going to attack him.

“How is it going, T.C.?”, Red Rain asked with a small smile, just as he came out of the bathroom. The red seeker lay prone on a small lounger and his wings still looked like crumpled-up trash.

“I’m... alive...”, Thundercracker said with a voice so hollow, he wondered if he had just lied.

“Wonderful”, Cloudwalker said sarcastically. He was sitting on a stool right next to his mate and held an energon cube in his hand. “And we are one trine member short now!”

“We have to assemble on Luna-1 soon”, Red Rain said sadly. “The spacebridge. Its going to send us back to the battlefield. Well, not me. Not with these crippled wings...”

“This time these brainless grounders went too far!”, Cloudwalker flared up. “They robbed the government of a good soldier! One soldier less to win the war and therefore to provide new resources soon! That’s not just property damage! That’s economic damage! That’s all they care about, so I expect them to react finally!”

“Master is seething with anger, too...”, Red Rain mentioned. “Not sure if he blames me more than the racers, though...”

“It’s pretty clear they could only get you because you were taking care of this moron here!”, Cloudwalker said angrily and pointed at Thundercracker.

“I know, it’s my fault”, Thundercracker said toneless, even though he hardly remembered anything. “I could be your third member, if you want to.”

Both Red Rain and Cloudwalker blinked in surprise.

“A-Are you sure?”, Red Rain asked flabbergasted, whereas Cloudwalker shook his head and meant: “Why would Starscream allow that?”

“I’m not his property and he hates me”, Thundercracker explained soberly.

“Fine then. Why. Would. YOUR MASTER. Allow. That?”, Cloudwalker corrected himself impatiently.

“Because a trine without any harmony gets nowhere. My owner knows that. Our trine broke apart anyway since Starscream is the only one staying at the Academy. He doesn’t need me.”

“Wow. As I always say: Starscream is the glitch of the millennia! Why does nobody but me get that??”, Cloudwalker asked nobody in particular. “Yet everybody wants a piece of him. His trine is all fragged up! He is no true leader! He isn’t even an outlier! What’s so special about him? What?! I ask you! WHAT??”

“Shh”, a small voice whispered from a dark corner of the room.

Stratus crouched on the ground and rubbed slowly over his cockpit. His gaze was strangely dreamy.

“I think, one of the sparklings just kicked me...”, he murmured.

“Okay”, Cloudwalker said and covered his face with both of his hands, begging for strength. “What about Skywarp? Is he available, too? Because I’m about to throw this glitch here out!”

“Hey...”, Red Rain didn’t seem amused about that statement. “He can’t help it.”

After he saw Thundercracker’s mildly curious gaze, he decided to explain a bit more: “It’s been a while, but we had dozens of sparklings here. Master is currently obsessed buying as many seeker babies as he can to find the ultimate outlier or something. But as far as I know, he wasn’t successful yet. And while the whole testing took part, we had to watch the little rascals. I don’t know how it happened, but I guess Stratus’s carrier coding got triggered somehow and now he is pseudopregnant and going through the whole program.”

“Oh Primus...”, Thundercracker said in a mix of pity and horror.

“We are all going to die”, Cloudwalker said with finality. “I as the only capable one here, have to drag a cripple, a crazy one and a defected trine member through a war! How am I supposed to do that?!”

“Maybe if you stopped whining?”

A hologram of a bot with the unmistakable frame of a truck materialized right in front of Red Rains lounger.

“Master!”, the trine said in chorus.

“’Master!’“, the truck parroted them. “The solution is so simple, but you stupid hens are as always unable to see it. Red Rain will get his wings replaced of course and voilà! He is fully operative again! The doctor will be there in a matter of minutes.”

“R-Replaced?!”, Red Rain stuttered in mild panic. “But these are my wings, I was born with them, they accompanied me through all my life! To just get rid of them... They can heal naturally. All they need is-”

“Shut up!”, the truck shouted in disbelief. “You will get the same wings again, you sentimental glitch! You will be able to fly and fight again! Isn’t that all you chickens want? And here you are being all whiny about it! Ungrateful little glitch... One could almost say, you don’t want to go back to war...”

“I would never let down my comrades!”, Red Rain said appalled. “It’s just...”

“It’s just you are being egotistical und uselessly sentimental over things easily replaced. Now shut up about it, will ya??”

Red Rain closed his mouth and just kept staring at the hologram wide-eyed.

“Now, for the other one, who isn’t a cripple bodily, but mentally... There is another super easy solution to that”, the truck explained, his demeanor all calm again and almost... hungry.

Thundercracker walked over to Stratus, who was still listening to his master with mild interest. Something Thundercracker couldn’t do anymore. He crouched down next to him and watched him stroking lovingly over his cockpit. When Stratus noticed him, he took his hand and placed it right there.

“Can you feel them?”, he asked happily. “The babies will be here soon...”

“Sure...”, Thundercracker lied. He felt awkward touching another seeker’s empty cockpit.

“NO! I can’t do such a thing!”, Cloudwalker cried shocked and Red Rain right next to him shook his head vehemently.

“Of course you can! You are healing him from his illness! You are doing him a favor! Don’t you want to be the hero who saves him from his own mind? I bet Starscream would do it without hesitation, right, Thunderbolt?”, the truck said with satisfaction. He enjoyed the power he had over their lives.

Thundercracker didn’t even know what was going on, just that the atmosphere in the room had changed dramatically. Only Stratus had stayed the same and even leaned his head against Thundercracker’s shoulder, all pleased with himself and his imaginary babies.

“Open your damn mouth, Thunderwing!”, the truck yelled.

“It’s ‘Thundercracker’“, Thundercracker corrected him, too dazed to care about etiquette.

“Oh! Pardon, your majesty! What kind of name even is that? Are you a firecracker or a cereal?”, the truck laughed joylessly. “I want you to tell my useless seekers how Starscream - the model seeker everybody wants to own because seekers usually just seem to do nothing but suck - would act in a situation like this!”

“What situation?”, Thundercracker asked completely confused now.

“I-I think the connection is getting all fuzzy”, Cloudwalker stuttered and began to open a panel on the wall.

“DON’T YOU DARE!”, the truck roared. “If you trim the connection now, you are all dead!”

Cloudwalker froze and Thundercracker could see his lips tremble. He had never seen the haughty seeker like this. Of course, they had always assumed that Cloudwalker had an extremely low self-esteem and was just covering that weakness up with his affected behavior, but they hadn’t known any details... They had had no idea what kind of master his trine had to deal with.

“Tell my stupid seekers the story about Azurestrike”, the truck said, now full of barely suppressed anticipation again.

Azurestrike... a memory shared a long time ago, when sparkmerging with Starscream had still been a wonderful experience. They had fought one of their countless battles on one of their countless planets listed for conquest. Anthrazium. Yes, that had been the planet’s name. The wonders of Anthrazium... his pet jellyfish... That there was even life left on that planet after they had thrown all their toxic industrial waste into the sea... that was a wonder!
Anyway, the inhabitants of the planet had rode creatures, one could have easily called sea dragons, into battle. Huge beings of immeasurable length and height. Fierce, strong and dangerous like a typhoon. A typhoon with teeth! And the inhabitants had built battle stations on their backs which endlessly shot at the intruders from the sky.
Starscream had been shot and wounded in the leg. Barely he had been able to return to one of their battleships, where he had hobbled towards the medical wing. But before he could get the help he had needed so much, he had been caught by some kind of catcher troop. They had put a control collar around his neck and attached it with a string of pure energy to the ship’s wall. Apparently a lot of the newer seeker recruits had become anxious and had flown right back to the ship, so they wouldn’t have to face the wrath of the sea. Among them had been Azurestrike, whose name actually had never been Azurestrike. He had originated right from the factories and had had only a number to call his designation. But despite that, he had called himself after the - like he used to say - “friendliest of all skies”, but would still rush down on his enemy like a bird of prey, if he had to. Unforeseen. Out of the blue.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t been that brave on this day. It was rumored his whole generation was overbred, with the result to produce seekers with easily panicking personalities.

“I can’t! I just can’t!”, Azurestrike had repeated over and over again, when he had been “tied” right next to Starscream. “Have you seen them?! Have you? Aren’t they majestic?”

“Majestic?”, one of the catcher soldiers had asked in scandalized disbelief.

“Y-Yeah! We shouldn’t! We... we shouldn’t kill them!”, Azurestrike had said and had nodded hastily, while wringing his hands continuously.

“Well then, if that isn’t high treason”, the soldier had said with satisfaction, especially when he had seen Azurestrike’s disbelieving expression.

“But I’m a good soldier! My tests were fine! I always dreamed about flying with my hero Starscream into battle! I don’t want to be thrown into the trash compactor!”

“Well, kiddo, if you wanted to fly with Starscream into battle, then you should have remembered your tiny dream before you fled from the battlefield. Now you are just going to die. But be at ease. We’ll throw all the trash into the sea and maybe you’ll end up as food for your majestic dragons and maybe, maybe they will choke on you and die and this will be the only useful deed you will ever have accomplished... if not in life then at least in death, heh?”

The soldiers had roared with laughter, but Starscream’s voice had cut right through it.

“But he is with me, isn’t he?”

Thundercracker remembered through Starscream’s memory how Azurestrike’s eyes had widened with love and admiration when he had finally realized who had been tied right next to him this whole time.

“Wait a minute? You are Starscream?”, a soldier had asked dumbfounded.

“Yes, fool. And I’m also bleeding”, Starscream had told him and had tapped with his foot in the puddle of energon he had been standing in. “What have you thought, I’m doing here??”

“We can’t kill him, he is privileged...”, another soldier had murmured. “But he can show he is worth being privileged, right, comrades?”

“Yeah”, the soldier had agreed and had freed Starscream from his collar. “Kill the traitor, VIPscream.”

In Azurestrike’s eyes had lain fear now, but it had been far overshadowed by adoration.

“It’s okay. If you do it, it’s okay...”, he had whispered.

And then Starscream had pointed his gun at Azurestrike’s spark and he had known that his only alternative would have been the trash compactor, a fate far more painful and cruel. But still. What a waste of a young life... Death penalty, not because he was being a coward, but for showing compassion towards the wonders of the universe...
Starscream had hesitated nearly too long and had focused just on the fact that what he was about to do was indeed merciful... but still... but still...
Just as one of the soldiers had been about to bring up the other solution again, Starscream had shot and the face with the adoring smile had changed. It might have been the humble wish to live. Azurestrike had twitched and the shot had hit him indeed in the chest, his spark, however, had still been intact. He had fallen to the floor, twitching and flailing like a wounded animal. Energon splattering everywhere and soldiers hooting in sickening delight. There had been just one thing left for Starscream to do: Show mercy. End the pain. And then he had shot. Again and again and again... until there had been nothing left of Azurestrike, that could have choked a sea dragon.

And now Thundercracker finally saw the parallel. Was Starscream reminded of Azurestrike, when he looked at Thundercracker now...?
He swallowed hard.

“Starscream shot Azurestrike dead to grant him mercy”, he said toneless, but shaken on the inside.

“Exactly!”, the truck said satisfied. “He shot him because it was the logical conclusion and also the empathetic one. A true hero. And now, Cloudwalker, you will do just the same... you will shoot Stratus right in the gestation chamber and then the whole haunting of imaginary sparklings will be over!”

“This is... no!”, Cloudstrider resisted weakly.

“The doctor will fix him, as soon as he is here. I won’t breed with Stratus anyway. I mean, we can clearly see that he is defective. I’m just being responsible... something you should be, too”, the truck assured him. “Come on. Be like Starscream. For once in your pathetic life!”

“I HATE Starscream!”, Cloudwalker cried and Thundercracker could see tears starting to run down his face as he turned his right hand into a weapon.

“Of course you do. He is everything you’ll never be, you weak, pathetic loser!”

Cloudwalker slowly walked towards Stratus now, who looked up to him and smiled. “Your dad is here!”, he told his empty stomach joyfully.

“Thunder... cracker... hold his hands away... I don’t want to shoot his f-fingers off...”, Cloudwalker sobbed.

Thundercracker took Stratus’s hands in his in a detached, automatic fashion, hold them right in front of his spark and squeezed them a little. Stratus squeezed back and rubbed his head against Thundercracker’s shoulder. He was so lost in his own world, Thundercracker had no idea how he couldn’t notice what was about to happen.

Time seemed to stand still. He remembered Starscream’s feelings of disgust and horror as he had to execute someone, who might not have been a trine member, but a comrade. Then a horrible bang seemed to shook the entire room and ringed ominously in his audio receptors...
Thundercracker let go of Stratus hands and he couldn’t have hold them tight anymore anyway because they were slippery and wet with energon now. Blue. So much blue...

“Ah... ahh...!”, Stratus croaked and stared puzzled at the shattered glass of his cockpit, the ripped apart shreds of metal, the severed energon lines which were oozing his fluids now and of course the smoking remains of his slagged gestation chamber. “W-Where are they...?! Where are they?!?”
He searched through the clumps of energon drenched metal on the floor.

“All the babies are in the well now. Well then, have a good time at war!”, the truck said goodbye happily and the hologram disappeared.

“N-No!! They aren’t in the well!”, Stratus protested and hold a lump close to his spark, then he dropped it again and kept searching. “Where are they? Where are my babies?” He turned around panting, the shock had made him unable to feel the pain, but moving around tore his wound farther open and sped up his energon loss. With a loud smack he fell on his side and barely kept moving. “Where... my...”

Red Rain was trapped in some kind of stupor and Cloudwalker tumbled backwards against a wall. “I’m a bastard”, he said matter-of-factly. “I’m a bastard, a bastard, a bastard, a bastard!!” He started to scratch his cheeks open with his claws.

The doorbell rang and Thundercracker, as the only one capable to move, stood up and opened the front door. Three bots waited there, probably already a little while longer, since Cloudwalker’s master must have given them instructions: Don’t come in until you hear the shot.
He let them in and himself out. There was no way he would stay here any longer... The doctor and his assistants or whoever they were, would have to suffice. Transforming, he shot straight into the sky towards the only place he wanted to be now.

---

With a far better mood, Starscream gave himself a short shower before he returned into the living room to sit next to Skyfire, who deliberately ate a bit of the energon cream.

“Isn’t it nice?”, Skywarp asked the shuttle and Skyfire nodded in agreement. In his mind it was probably the next best thing to Starscream and his engine rumbled contently as he felt his favorite seeker so close to him.

“Ready for university?”, Starscream asked cheerfully and drank from his own cube. “This will be your first real day. No starving, no panic attacks... just learning and researching! As it should be!”

Skywarp yawned in his hand.

“Skywarp, if you think starving and panicking is more fun, then maybe war isn’t that bad for you after all”, Starscream mocked him, but Skywarp just shook his head slowly. “Eh, I’d rather sit on the couch and watch TV all day...”

Suddenly a projectile shot through their window and landed right on their table where it transformed into some kind of undefined bundle, covered in glass and energon cream.

“Th-Thundercracker?! Is that you??”, Starscream asked and hit the metal bundle with a spoon.

“Starscream... I’m... I’m sorry...!!”, the bundle said shaking.

“Well, well, well, look who just came crawling back to me”, Starscream said, but more surprised than spiteful.

The bundle continued its transformation and an absolutely wrecked looking Thundercracker crouched before them. He was covered in smears of paint, dust and energon, especially his hands and now they realized that it couldn’t be all Skyfire’s energon cream.

“Thundercracker... did you kill somebody...?”, Starscream asked cautiously.

“No... NO! No, Starscream!”, Thundercracker started to cry. “I know now how you feel! I know you fear losing me! The same way you lost Azurestrike. That I will mess up because I keep saying I don’t want to kill and... and that they will execute me for desertion or treason! That they will make you shoot me!”

Starscream wrapped his arms around Thundercracker’s neck and whispered: “How do you know that?”

“I just...”, Thundercracker sobbed. “I just understood... even without merging... The insight came over me... I keep saying these things... and I stand by them, don’t get me wrong, but... I would never want you to... No! No, I can’t do this to you!”

“Come with me...”, Starscream whispered and dragged his still sobbing mate inside their bedroom. “Just come with me...”

The door fell shut and Skywarp whistled astounded. “Oh my Primus... Screameyboy gets us all today...”

Skyfire put his spoon onto the destroyed table surface and swallowed hard. Only now he realized what a huge thing interfacing was for Starscream and maybe for all the seekers out there. It wasn’t just for fun. It was togetherness. Affection. Solace. How was he supposed to match up to that? If he wanted to become closer to Starscream... if he wanted to give him the same kind of comfort... if Starscream expected the same kind of comfort... What a huge disappointment he would be...

---

Starscream lay on his back on the bed, his legs spread wide and he pulled Thundercracker as close to him as he could.

“Come on. Give it to me. All your sorrow, all your fear, all the horror and bad memories. I want it all”, he demanded and bit softly into Thundercracker’s neckcables, while he rubbed over his interface panel to coax his spike out. It had been forever since he had bottomed for him, but not because he had an aversion against that position. There were different ways to show dominance, but he had feared Thundercracker could use it to hurt and humiliate him during their bad times. Times where he had killed Thundercracker’s pets, times where Thundercracker had attacked him and they had scratched each other until the walls had been splattered with energon.
No, his valve had to be earned just as his trust and right now he knew he could trust his mate... probably more than ever before. He could feel their sparks pulse in alignment right below their chest plating. Finally. After all this time...

“My leader... my Starscream...”, Thundercracker sobbed through the fat tears endlessly running down his face. “He forced him... he forced him to shoot him... It wasn’t fair... He didn’t even know what happened...!”

“I see, I see...”, Starscream whispered and helped Thundercracker enter him, who didn’t seem to have his body quite under control.

“He didn’t want to! Cloudwalker, that aft! He cares...! He cares just like we do for each other... Of course he does! Of course! Why wouldn’t he?? But their owner forced him to! Otherwise he would have killed them all! And I saw him... I heard him... he wasn’t lying about that!”, Thundercracker bawled, squeezed Starscream in a plating breaking hug and thrust into him with an irregular, shaky pace. He had to feel him... their connection... that he was there... for him... just for him in this very moment.

“Cloudwalker? You were with Cloudwalker and his trine?”, Starscream gasped and rubbed Thundercracker’s back. “And his owner made him shoot one of them?”

“Y-Yes! Yeees!”, Thundercracker moaned when Starscream began to touch his wings. “Stratus is... was... pseudopregnant. They had to take care of a lot of sparklings recently... fresh, new seeker chicks right from the factories... I don’t know how... their flat is so small... they probably came in batches... and maybe Stratus became too attached... and had to give them away... became too attached and had to give them away... again and again and again... You know... like Sunstorm... he has an affinity for sparklings, too! And then his carrier coding activated... and deactivated... and activated... and then he glitched or his program tried to cope... I don’t know! I don’t even know were the sparklings went... Their owner didn’t have seemed to have found the one he wanted!”

“I think, I can imagine...”, Starscream said darkly and squeezed Thundercracker’s wings a little too hard for a moment.

“Stratus was useless! He was completely lost in his own world. He imagined sparklings kicking inside of him! He made me feel them! No way he would fight in a war! So their owner forced Cloudwalker to shoot him in the stomach! Their owner wanted him to think his babies are dead so he can ‘move on’ and fight again! And... and... Stratus... he... he didn’t saw that there hadn’t been sparklings in the first place, he didn’t saw that any eventual sparklings would have been dead... he SEARCHED for them... he searched them in his own energon soaked guts!! He couldn’t fathom the fact that his babies aren’t there! And then the doctor came... and he probably fixed him... put him back together... but his gestation chamber is lost... he will never have real children now...”, Thundercracker said without pause and even more tears started to stream down his face.

“Thundercracker... this is... this is happening every hour on every single day... everywhere! This is what I’m fighting against”, Starscream assured him. “You mourn for alien lifeforms and their fates, but mourn for our fates first! We have to fix this society! And I will... by tearing it all down. You fear things will get ugly in your pacifist mind... Thunder... T.C. ... things are already ugly...!”

Thundercracker opened his mouth as if to say something, but then he just hastened his pace and opened his spark chamber. He knew there wouldn’t be rejection this time and when their sparks merged, he felt as if he had finally come home after a long, weary journey...

---

Academy of Science and Technology. A little later...

“Hey there...”, Starscream curred when he had a seat right next to Skyfire. “That’s a high table.” He adjusted his stool so he could actually look over the surface and begin his work. “I’m your partner now, in case you haven’t noticed yet.”

Skyfire’s faceplate was overflowing with energon. As always when he was with Starscream and especially when his favorite seeker was in this... flirty mood. Shyness and shame for his shyness started their endless battle within his mind. Why couldn’t he be more casual around him now? He had seen him privately. They had bathed together. They had danced in space, for Primus’s sake! And yet he still thought he wasn’t worthy... that he wasn’t deserving him... and that was right, wasn’t it? He had nothing truly to offer. Whatever Starscream expected of him, he was unable to give it. And when the seeker would finally notice it, then... well, then he would be alone again, right?
Oh no, oh no, oh no! Another voice within him literally screamed at him. You are going to lose the best thing you have ever met because of your self-hatred?
Yeah, the earlier he notices I’m worthless, the better... Me spending time with him is already egotistical enough... I’m wasting time, he should have with his trine...
What a cowardly glitch you are! MAKE yourself useful to him and all this wasted time will have been worth it, idiot! Haven’t you said, you wanted to save him? From what? Yourself?? Stop being so whiny and stay true to your own words! There are worse things out there than your crying shuttle-aft!

“I-Is interfacing with your mates always f-fun to you... o-or are there t-times it’s more l-like homework?”, he asked and he cursed himself for asking this. Why had he asked this?!?

Starscream started a loud, unsuppressed, bellowing laughter and every student in the room turned their faces towards them.
“It’s always fun, no worries”, he finally answered and stroked some tears away from the corners of his eyes. “Why did you ask?”

“I don’t know”, Skyfire replied promptly without thinking.

“Hmmm, I suspect you think, I might be tired now... but don’t be afraid, should you ask me to interface, I will always say yes”, Starscream said grinning mischievously.

Skyfire’s face nearly overheated and his spark pulsed so fast, he feared to collapse any second. “I-I won’t!”. he said, again without thinking.

“Aw...”, Starscream said, showing a spark-wrenching, sad expression and Skyfire wanted to rip his own head off for having caused said expression.

“I-I mean... I would like to... love to... more than anything else...”, he mumbled.

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

“Ah! Ah, no, I mean... I don’t feel ready... It’s so important to you... I don’t think I can satisfy you...”

“Then why...”, Starscream rubbed his foot against Skyfire’s leg, “... why don’t you let ME satisfy you?”

There was a weird teapot sound and Skyfire feared it came from him, signaling his energon being at the boiling point.

“Ah, uhm... how come you are my p-partner now? Are you interested in plants, too?”, he changed the subject, clawing at his collar plating as if it was too tight to make him breathe properly.

“Yesssss!”, Starscream hissed with a deadly grin and Skyfire felt his eyes roll back into his head. He barely snapped out of it. There were better things to do than lying comatose on the ground...

“Well, you see”, Starscream continued, “these are plant cell samples from Mesmerizor.” He shoved the tiny culture dishes closer to him. “And guess what? They are enriched with nanites!”

“The inhabitants melted nature and technology?”, Skyfire asked full of awe.

“Nature IS technology and technology is nature!”, Starscream corrected him. “Both originate from each other in some kind of endless cycle. They are both like, hm, different languages, but the same rules apply... communication via electric impulses comes to mind. Biologic brains are able communicating through a computer, when their weak bodies aren’t able to anymore. I saw it first hand. A lot of organic peoples used technology as a crutch, robots as their slaves... until I killed them, of course!”

Skyfire watched Starscream being smugly self-confident. If there was something he didn’t like about Starscream, it was his casualness concerning the life and death of those lifeforms he deemed inferior. But that must be the soldier side within him. The military must have forced him to become like this, otherwise killing the inhabitants of other planets would have crushed his spirit a long while ago...

“Now, the language of nature is primitive and far inferior... but still, there are trees out there who enrich their leaves with bitter compounds when they realize - without brain or processor, I give them that! - that a predator gnaws at them. They are even able to warn other trees surrounding them over their roots, where they are connected in some kind of dirty, unimaginable slow network. But they can sped up the impulses with the help of symbiotic fungi. Completely different species working together, isn’t that magnificent? Well, Thundercracker would think it’s magnificent and you probably, too, I’m just... mildly surprised how organics manage their own meagerness.”

He hold one of the Petri dishes right in front of Skyfire’s face and its content sloshed around dangerously.

“Now look at that... The inhabitants of Mesmerizor gave the plants machine symbionts to speed up their network exponentially. The whole planet turned into a single, titanic brain. Bigger than any titan’s brain on our planet would ever be. They know when we come and they are prepared. What a tree wants is simple: air, water, soil, warmth and offspring. We are taking all of that away... so they create the bitter compounds which will drive us away! And they are becoming better at it every time I’ve been there... I don’t want to know what Thundercracker and Skywarp will have to face as soon as they get on that cursed planet again...”

“How about a peace treaty?”, Skyfire suggested weakly.

“Skyfire, there is no such thing as ‘peace’. We want that planet, okay?”

“But this sounds like a terrible stalemate war to me!”

“Tell that the government...”

Skyfire sighed and looked at his own sample. “So, what do you plan to do?”

“Hm, I thought of different solutions... maybe, I might combine some of them. But be assured, I will do anything to get us that planet. If I can end this war, they will have to make me Air Commander. The whole seeker armada will be under my command. Can you imagine that kind of power? My sleeves will be bursting with aces and I finally have something worthwhile to offer to Megatron. I can be his equal then... no, I’ll be even superior to him! He has the people on his side. I will have the people and the government on my side! Starscream, the savior! The conqueror! The strategic mastermind!! They will stand in rows to lick my feet!”

“And then you will free all the slaves?”, Skyfire asked with a shy smile.

“Of course, Skyfire. That’s what I’m all about in the end... Starscream, the liberator!”

A chuckle came from behind their backs. “First and foremost, you are Starscream, the slave. Don’t forget that.”

“Never”, Starscream promised. “Never...”

---

There weren’t many seekers waiting in front of the gigantic bow where the spacebridge would appear. Most never came back to Cybertron anyway and the few who did where needed for out of the ordinary purposes. Like attending the Academy... or breeding.

Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker stood together in a close circle, Skyfire a few meters away from them. The time to say goodbye had come.

“If you die, I’ll kill you”, Starscream warned them.

Thundercracker smiled weakly and Skywarp shrugged brazenly.

“When I will find the final solution, I’ll come and get you out of there”, Starscream promised. “But before that, send me notes every day. You know what I want to know.”

“How my valve is doing without your spike?”, Skywarp asked innocently.

“Among other things”, Starscream confirmed.

Thundercracker gasped when he saw Cloudwalker’s trine standing not too far away from them. Both Cloudwalker and Red Rain looked inexpressible tired, their eyes stared dully into space. Stratus on the other hand seemed to be twitchy and impatient.

“Uh... uh... Can we go home again? Uh... uh... I need to nurse... I need to nurse them... uh... they are waiting for me... uh... uh... I think... uh... somewhere... I don’t know where, but they must be hungry... uh... Can we go home? I must look for them... or are they here? Are they here?”, he stuttered without pause.

Starscream noticed Red Rain’s glistening new wings and Stratus’s repaired abdominal area. Their minds on the other hand seemed absolutely broken.
He walked over towards them and took a datapad out of his subspace.

“Here. My owner wants to tell you something, Stratus”, he said and switched the device on. A hologram of Pelagius, his owner, appeared: A good-natured looking bot of medium size who was holding a box with wriggling seeker babies inside.

“Stratus, I’m taking care of your babies as long as you are away to make the world a safer place for them and provide us all with the energon we need to survive. Until you are back to look after them yourself, take care!”

The hologram disappeared and Stratus stared at the device wide-eyed.

“My babies are with your master...?”, he asked warily and Starscream nodded. “Good... that’s good... I think... Master... Masters know best... they know best... yes... I will come back... and then take care of them... that sounds... that sounds good... yes...”

He reached out for the datapad and Starscream gave it to him without hesitating. Stratus would probably replay the holographic message over and over again, but at least he would be somewhat at peace for now.
Red Rain gave him a thankful look, but Cloudwalker huffed.

“So much kindness... Starscream... the messiah.”

Even though Cloudwalker had wanted to mock him, Starscream found that the title had a nice ring to it...

When he returned to his trine, nobody said another word. Everything that could be said had been said and everything that couldn’t be said had been shared through their sparkmerging. But as his two mates walked through the portal, Starscream was very grateful for Skyfire’s hand that was placed on his shoulder. He knew he wouldn’t be alone.

“They will come back”, Skyfire whispered.

“They won’t come back”, Starscream disagreed. “I will take them back.”

---

This night Skyfire was sleeping right next to Starscream on his king-sized bed. It was far more comfortable than the floor, the couches or anything Skyfire had ever experienced before, which wasn’t much regarding comfort. But the best thing was, he was allowed to lie right next to his beloved seeker. Starscream had curled up between his torso and right arm and rested his wings on his chest. A few times Skyfire had been tempted to touch the wingtips with a finger, but then decided against it with his hand first hovering in the air suspiciously and then returning awkwardly back to its place.
He didn’t have to do anything, right? Starscream didn’t expect him to do... something, right? He was fast asleep, right...? Right?
In his mind he chastised himself again. This wasn’t about replacing his mates. He wouldn’t have to copy their relationship. All he needed to do was being there... but even so he would love to do more... if he could beat his own shyness... on another day...

Chapter Text

It had been one week since the departure of two third of Starscream's trine and Skyfire's favorite seeker was eagerly awaiting their status report. He had told him, the data packages would be sent over a special bridge to a moon station. Connected to the network, the files were downloadable for everyone owning one of the special passwords.

"Normally no seeker would be allowed to send messages home. But I think you already learned 'normally' doesn't apply to us", Starscream explained, never taking his eyes off his samples. "They are not exactly considered trustworthy. Too dumb to keep secret plans to themselves. Too much risk a rivaling city state might get their hands on a weapon prototype for example."

"But why the secrets and the rivalry anyway? Isn't all of Cybertron at war with all of Mesmerizor?", Skyfire asked perplexed.

"Oh sweet summer spark...", Starscream cooed. "You are so innocent, it is quixotic. If you want to listen to another one of my speeches about corruption and greed, wait until we are home."

During the week the seeker had buried himself in the Academy with multiple projects running simultaneously, the most dominant being project "Daisy Cutter" and project "Winter is coming". They were both staying nearly every day there till far past midnight, only returning to their flat for sleep. Skyfire had more or less abandoned his own researches and was helping Starscream whenever he could. He felt like he owed it to him and when Starscream would be successful, everything would automatically get better in some kind of chain reaction. At least he believed so and doubting Starscream's plans would be absurd. Someone with such ambition and energy could only succeed and if not the first time, then it would be the second and so on. Giving up was no option and Skyfire trusted in that endless well of determination. It was more or less like following a god. Starscream knew best and Skyfire could count on him.

Another reason was the fact, he missed Skywarp and Thundercracker. He wanted to eat energon cream with Skywarp while they watched questionable TV shows and he wanted to show Thundercracker how well he took care of his aquarium and how nice his pets did. The faster Starscream succeeded finding a solution for the conquest, the earlier the two seekers would be back and out of danger. Any additional minute got them closer towards deactivation and Skyfire didn't want that energon on his hands.

On the other hand... he would have the fluids of the planet's creatures on his hands for helping killing them... and that didn't suit right with him, either. The conflict was definitely there, but he tried to bury it deep in the back of his mind. Everything would be better soon... then he might be able to change things with Starscream's help. No more senseless killing and conquering. They had all they needed. They had the science to create everything.

Well... maybe not everything. His own project lay dormant in the back of his head right next to his doubts and conflicts. He hadn't tried to examine the plants's trait to feed themselves at all. What he did to the samples right now was find an easy solution to destroy them. He hated destroying life with every fiber of his being, but Starscream's approving smile always made his morals fade into the distance.

It's just a cell, he thought and added the poisonous substance. Just a tiny, defenseless, microscopic complex doing its job: live.

Suddenly he felt horrible and he felt stupid for feeling horrible. Organics never lived long. Billions of them died every second. But didn't that make their fleeting life even more precious...?

He told Starscream about his dilemma, but the seeker just rolled his eyes.

"A million years old being dying. THAT is a waste. All the knowledge and experiences lost forever... that is true loss. What did that cell know? Nothing."

"But isn't their DNA full of knowledge? A chain of experiences over millions of years?", Skyfire asked more himself, because he didn't want to directly object Starscream. He could get quite mad as the topic wasn't really desired. Giving organics, whether Thundercracker's pets or a single cell, any worth, angered Starscream in some irrational way Skyfire couldn't get behind yet. It was, like he used to say, wrongfully and harmfully Cybertronizing them.

"Surely, this cell is indeed providing us with knowledge... just as any other cell of its kind would. Its death is - as I said! - absolutely meaningless, whereas the death of Thundercracker and Skywarp would be unforgivable! They are one of their kind! Even cloning Skywarp proved that", Starscream said sharply and Skyfire immediately set his eyes back on his Petri dish and continued his work, feeling awful.

"I think, I'm starting to reconsider project 'Caminus sends his regards'", Starscream mentioned, a little bit friendlier again. "The Camians have so-called city-speakers who can communicate with titans and every forest, every jungle, every park on that planet turned in principle into a titan. Huge complexes with a mind of their own, maybe not fully bot, but at least techno-organic... There should exist a possibility to hack those minds and if somebody can make sense out of a mind working and communicating far different from our own, it would be a Camian telepath. The Mesmerizorians copying our technology could have been their downfall because they gave us the possibility of an approach we normally wouldn’t have. However...", Starscream looked frustrated now, "Camians think, titans are holy. You know, in this abstract, religious way. No bending room, just absolutes accepted without question. They would probably think, the plants are holy, too, and would maybe even try to protect them... while being poisoned by their spores..."

"Being a believer doesn't mean to automatically accept everything the doctrine says", a student sitting on a table behind them said. "I believe in Primus, but I'm still questioning a lot..."

"That he exists or that he created us?", Starscream asked mildly interested. His eyes stayed glued to the samples for a little bit longer before he turned around to face the bot.

"Of course he exists and of course he created us!", the student said eagerly. "It's just the fact he seems so dormant now, while the priests say he still cares about us and wants us to do certain things, I have my problems with."

"He is dead", the student sitting next to him murmured. "He saw what horrible actions his creations did and killed himself out of grief..."

"Now, that's dark... and sad...", Starscream said, but grinned. Maybe because the thought of a god's violent death amused him.

"What do you believe?", Skyfire asked Starscream. Nobody had ever bothered to teach him about religion. A worker had only to believe in the resources they gathered. Primus had created them all and one day they would all go back to him. But only if one worked obediently or the Pit was waiting. End of story. That was more or less all he knew...

"I...", Starscream began, hesitating. "I believe there once existed a bot called 'Primus'. He was the first of his kind, a prototype so to speak. A prototype who was created either to serve or just because his organic creators could. Out of boredom or amusement or... because they wanted a slave. Have you any idea how easily a sentient creature loses all its taught morals, its restraints and relapses into a savage beast when they get their hands on something which is property? When they can get away with anything? It's just so much fun!"

"You are just seeing everything out of your own perspective", the student said and his partner nodded. "You are a slave, so everything revolves around slavery. Even the beginning of our creation."

"And what are those then?", Starscream asked and tapped with his knuckle against his cockpit. "Pretty weird remnants of our past if you ask me."

"It is safe space to protect someone who is smaller and weaker than you... like... uh..."

"A sparkling!", his partner helped him out.

"Yeah!"

"Hm, how marsupial... but I don't think a baby needs a dashboard to take full control of their parent", Starscream said and raised his brows.

"Okay, that is... admittedly... a bit weird..."

"See?", Starscream continued. "Maybe Primus actually is a creature beyond our comprehension... made of pure energy or strange matter or something we haven't even explored yet. Does this make him worthy of worship? A dinosaur is beyond comprehension to an ant. But does it make sense for the ant praying to that moving lump of flesh with the brain size of a walnut? I don't think so. I don't think Primus would be aware of us like we think he is. He might be like a titan. And the wonderful illusion that we all meet in the well again, after all the hardships of life, after all the taught morals of being good and humble and whatnot... it is just too good to be true... and meaningless. Why going through all this to come into an entire different world where nothing of that matters anymore?"

"To test you. It's all a gigantic test!"

"Then I'm already lost to the Pit", Starscream sighed, but he didn't seem regretful. "What do you think, Skyfire? Life is just a test?"

"I don't know... I had no... I wasn't... Spirituality is... new to me... but I like to think the ones who died are in a better place now...", Skyfire mumbled.

"And that is what makes you lose focus. You don't need to try too hard... your loved ones might die, but at least they won't just perish in the dirt... they will be happy in the well. I wish I could believe that... oh you have no idea how much I want to believe that... But I don't and not doing my utmost to save my mates because I rest my mind on a pretty lie, that is a true sacrilege to me!", Starscream said darkly and turned back to his samples.

The two students still whispered a little.

"Like you said... he sees everything just from his own perspective...", Skyfire could hear.

"He is a warframe after all. They have no compassion. It would kill them. A loving god like Primus doesn't suit him. This type only worships the god of destruction."

---

"Why do they think I only see everything just from my perspective? Every bot sees everything just with a bot's perspective, naturally. But as always I'm the one standing out. When I do it, it is wrong, when everybody else does it, it is alright...", Starscream complained to Skyfire a while later.

They were sitting on the Academy's roof, energon cubes in their hands, and watched the stars appearing on a darkening sky.

"Uhm, I guess, through their perspective you are a soldier, uh... no, more like a survivalist who has to put themselves before everything else. Therefore an egocentric view on things. Even god or god's origin", Skyfire tried to explain. "It matches with how you see the world. A bitter place full of dirt and injustice. A benevolent deity simply doesn't exist and if they would, they would be either malevolent or seeing things in an abstract un-bot-ish way. That those two are just the same... they didn't even realize it. The pessimistic one thought that Primus must be dead. He sees the world in a bleak view. A benevolent deity wouldn't accept such a world. Conclusion: Said deity must be in a state of being unable to act. Dead. The other one saw the world as not too bad... but his thoughts are not in unison with the doctrines. So he is questioning what the doctrines say and probably imagines a benevolent deity of his comprehension can't possible like or care about what is said within them, too. Especially since it doesn't seem to act the way the priests say."

"Mhm", Starscream made. Suddenly the topic seemed to bore him. "Just imagine, I figured out as much about those two. And that discussing this is getting us nowhere."

"I'm sorry, I just...", Skyfire stuttered aggrieved. Why had Starscream even asked if an answer was undesired? Or had it been a rhetorical question? Skyfire wasn't sure if he should feel stupid now or unfairly flamed.

"You just kept rambling on and on, I know!"

Skyfire decided to feel unfairly flamed and that ultimately made him feel sad. Their once magical relationship was tainted now, less immaculate. Being with Starscream was supposed to feel good and take away all the sadness and ugliness of the world. And now negative emotions had eaten themselves into the one thing in Skyfire’s life which had always seemed not corruptible.

A ping interrupted their awkward silence and Starscream took a look on his datapad. "Download complete" had appeared on its screen.

"Well then...", he said and opened the video file.

It wasn't a message saying Thundercracker and Skywarp had fought bravely for Cybertron's glory, but had sadly fallen in battle, no, it was exactly what he had hoped for: His trine. Alive and well.

"Heeey!", Skywarp greeted. "How is it going, Scholarmer? Homework? Boring lessons? Exploding experiments? We on the other hand have so much fun here! Right, T.C.?"

The camera showed a miserable looking Thundercracker who barely managed to crack a painfully looking smile.

"We have a TV here and Warp forces me to watch records of his horrible shows", he said bitterly.

"Yeah!", Skywarp said happily and the camera showed his face again but this time so close, he seemed to eat the screen. "The billows of spores are so dense right now, we can't fly outside without... yeah... let's call it suffocating within minutes. This stuff has become nastily sticky and it colored me pink the first day I had been out! T.C. turned purple and damn, that was like meeting the Skywarp of Mirrorworld! Well. Anyway, we are stuck right now on our battleship and aren't allowed to leave until they upgraded our filters and painted our frames with some spore repelling stuff... and THAT will take a while. They have delivery problems or something..."

Thundercracker shoved Skywarp out of view and continued: "We are fine right now. No need to worry. Cloudwalker became our leader even though we wanted to avoid that, but I'm actually glad. Cloudwalker is still an aft and he seems to think you are a spawn of Unicron. He blames you for having to shoot Stratus. Allegedly his owner wouldn’t have such high standards if you wouldn't exist as a 'bad' example in the first place. And then the fact that our owner is a saint. Yes, that's what he called him. Caring for a seeker who isn't even his own? That's too much goodness. Well, no, I'm definitely not glad because Cloudwalker rages my audio receptors into ruin... it's because I can keep an eye on Stratus and Red Rain. Stratus is doing far better than expected. He is a crazily excellent flyer and a good shooter. But he keeps asking whether you could ask our master for pictures of his babies. He wants- Oh! Well, he can tell you yourself..."

Stratus took the recording device carefully in his hands and then started talking to the screen: "Starscream", he took a deep breath, "please, ask your master if I can have pictures of the babies. Uh... uh... I need to think of names and seeing the faces makes it easier." Another deep breath. "And ask him if... if I can have them soon. It's better when they live with me... I think..."

Starscream stopped the video.

"Frag..."

"What's with his breathing?", Skyfire asked concerned.

"Could be the spores, but I think he rather focuses himself like this. You can probably guess that he isn't quite normal. Even before the pseudopregnancy and the despicable removal of his gestation chamber, he had been pretty withdrawn and lived in his own little world. Just following his trine mates and mimicking what they were doing... What's really concerning is his demand for his phantom sparklings..."

Skyfire didn't dare to ask if Starscream had calculated for the problem to solve itself due to Stratus getting most likely killed. Stratus might be different, yet not different enough to just die in a war by default.

"What did you and your master plan anyway?", Skyfire asked simply.

Starscream squinted his eyes as if he could hear the silent accusation or maybe he was still in his grumpy mood...

"We'll take some scraps and send them over...", he sighed eventually.

"'Scraps'?"

"Seekerlings nobody would want and nobody cares for whether they live or die. The things normally thrown into the shredder when they fail to get out of the incubator in time."

Skyfire looked confused and Starscream let his spark melt and began to explain the full process.

"I have some videos here...", he said and searched on his datapad. "My owner demanded to have these... He wanted to see how we were selected..."

A dark hall with dim artificial light was shown and the camera focused on an assembly line with tiny egg-shaped spheres.

"Those are the incubators. The babies are taken out of the carrier long before they would be naturally born. Usually the factory carriers are having litters of more than twelve sparklings... that's pretty crazy if you ask me. Our sort already thinks twins are a miracle...", Starscream said and he looked a little withdrawn into himself for a moment. Lost and confused.

"They take them out before the sparks descended. Do you know what that means? The sparks are put randomly into the tiny bodies when they are ready...!"

A freezing cold seemed to grow within Skyfire's own spark.

"W-What?", he gasped.

"'What' indeed...", Starscream said melancholic. "There is one chance in maybe twelve this is even my real body. Or my real spark... I cannot tell you the right answer..."

"You made it yours!", Skyfire tried to cheer him up meekly. The image still scared him.

"I know that I’m meant for something bigger, but no matter how high I will rise in the ranks, there will always be this stain that I have a fragging product number!"

Skyfire grabbed his hand before Starscream could show him anything he didn't need to see.

"I think you are gorgeous", he simply said.

"That's because I am!", Starscream put him off. "Well...", he tried to continue. "They will pay for this... but let me show you more."

The video zoomed towards the egg-shaped incubators and after a few seconds Skyfire could see that the shell was made out of some gel-like substance... It dented and bulged and suddenly tiny hands clawed themselves free from the viscous mass. Headcrests cut through it, feet kicked at it and one sparkling even ripped on it with its mouth.

"This kind of behavior isn't natural. They are supposed to be born after all and nobody wants their gestation tract in tethers", Starscream explained. "No, the nutrient fluid within the incubator got injected with a drug beforehand which stimulates aggressiveness... Oh! Here I am."

A little seekerlet freed itself from its egg faster than everybody else. Like a little tornado it sliced the shell in ribbons until nothing was left worth destroying. And then it finally settled down, heavily breathing, the tiny torso quivering and the big eyes taking in the desolate surroundings which couldn't possibly satisfy the curiosity of a child. First it looked around cautiously, maybe searching for its creators who should be there but weren't for obvious reasons, then it made the cutest sound Skyfire had ever heard.

"Cheep!"

"Ooh...", he cooed and felt his own gestation chamber twitch. Never would he blame Stratus for becoming pseudopregnant after having heard a sound like this...

A stocky bot approached the freshly "hatched" seekerlet and it watched its first other lifeform warily. This small grounder was definitely not the shape it had expected to see, but the bot didn't care at all about a baby's expectations. He picked it up by the wings with phlegmatic routine and examined the angrily cheeping hatchling thoroughly. The baby Starscream screeched angrily, raised his arms with razor-thin claws high to appear bigger, more threatening and kicked his feet furiously.

"Hmm, that's a feisty one", the factory bot noticed and showed far more interest in the tiny seeker now. He hold a ruler to the wings and nodded contently. "Huge wingspan, no bodily flaws, perfect warrior personality... you belong in the red group."

He cuffed the wings with a red ribbon and also bound his wrist and ankles together. Starscream screamed the bot's audio receptors off during this ordeal and Skyfire felt almost bad for the worker. Then he put the fiercely squirming seekerling into a box with a red dot on it and put it on another assembly line.

A hard cut interrupted the video and Skyfire watched the same procedure done to Thundercracker and Skywarp. Baby Thundercracker scratched and whined while baby Skywarp was bawling and shivering. They were both put in a box marked with an orange dot.

Another cut and this time Skyfire was introduced to the ominous fourth trine member: Sunstorm.

The tiny baby had indeed managed to bite a hole in its egg-incubator, however, now that it was outside, it wanted right back inside and squeezed its head against the misshaped opening. A bot quickly grabbed him by the wings and hold him up to judge him.

Sunstorm didn't scream, screech or cry. He smiled! His tiny arms gesticulated to be hold and hugged properly not picked up by the wings and that melted the factory bot's spark.

"Aw... I can't tell whether he is brave or stupid..."

He cuffed the wings and bound the hands and feet, but instead of freaking out like the other sparklings, Sunstorm just showed his hands to the bot with a clueless look and cheeped as if he wanted to say: "Why did you do that? It makes no sense. Take it off again."

For a while the bot’s hand holding the sparkling hovered over two boxes. One with a yellow dot, the other... was just gray... and Skyfire knew that he should be grateful the factory bot had eventually decided to put Sunstorm in the yellow group...

"So far so good", Starscream said with a terrifying coldness in his voice and clicked on another video. A video Skyfire didn't want to see, even before he had seen the title: Scrapped.

The huge, flat hand of a factory bot filled the whole screen and in its mid lay an exhausted seeker baby. It had green marks on its body and almost appeared like a living emerald. Skyfire thought it looked cute and beautiful, even though the eyes were closed and its breathing heavy. Just the way it snuggled itself into the palm, feeling safe with its supposed creator, broke Skyfire's spark because he knew what would happen...

"No... please... Starscream... they just... they just can't...", he whispered.

Starscream stayed stoic, his mouth a thin line. Why must he show him this?! Preferably Skyfire would have slapped the pad out of Starscream's hand. It was like the cumulative sins of the Cybertronian peoples crawled up his back. Like staring right into the deepest depths of the Pit! And whatever Starscream or the other bots said... there existed a Pit and it was the fact that this had happened and continued happening! They were living in the Pit! They had created it themselves!!

The opening of a machine was shown now and something sharp gleamed within. Skyfire ground his teeth when the hand with the baby turned and let it slide down.

"Cheep!!"

A short surprised squeak went nearly unheard through the factory noise in the background. The baby flapped its tiny, useless wings, wondering why its assumed creator had dropped it. With a cracking sound it fell onto the metal grinders and the contact activated them. If Skyfire could have defecated his codpiece like an organic being, he would have. Instead he purged and he pressed his hands against his mouth to spare Starscream a neon blue shower. Trickles of viscous liquid oozed through his fingers and out of the corners of his mouth. He must look like mortally wounded, but it was his spark that was hurting.

The grinding machine first tore the sparkling's limbs off, then nothing but a quickly shrinking blue mass was left behind.

"Are you going to help me stop this?", Starscream asked gently, ignoring the fact his friend had just sullied himself with his own dinner.

Skyfire nodded stiffly. He expected tears to stream out of his eyes, but they strangely stayed dry.

"We can fly to the factories tomorrow and search for a fitting little trine for Stratus", Starscream continued, his voice still unusually gentle. "And a carrier. I wanted to buy one of their adult breeding seekers since a long time. The damage they do to them, the manipulations... I want to witness them myself and also let others witness them in the long run."

"H-How are we choosing?", Skyfire choked. "Are we getting ones who would normally be killed?"

"Exactly. They will be cheap and the owners won't hesitate to give them up."

"And we save their lives..."

"Among other things..."

---

Even though they were sharing the same bed for a week now, nothing had changed about their sleeping habits. Starscream always curled up between Skyfire's chest and upper right arm, never trying anything naughty in contrast to Skyfire's expectations. The shuttle didn't know how to feel about that. If Starscream wanted him to do the first move, he would have to wait for another millennia... and that was being optimistic.

Skyfire just couldn't bring himself to touch Starscream's wingtips or kiss his lips. It wasn't so much about fearing rejection... He just couldn't load this huge, ridiculous body onto Starscream. First and foremost his equipment. It would not fit! Even an idiotic racing car could see that!

Skyfire sighed defeated and loaded with revulsion and self-hatred. Before he would try anything, he would seek help. He couldn't be the only Cybertronian with this problem after all...

Feeling Starscream's wings flutter a little against his chassis, Skyfire finally managed to fall asleep and thanks to Primus or another benevolent deity he didn't dream of sparklings being ground to death.

---

The next morning Skyfire was incredibly anxious. While he sat on the couch, he held Starscream's pad in his hands and watched the status video of Skywarp and Thundercracker again. Saw how Warp and T.C. seemed to be fine, Stratus's bright, hopeful eyes and then the camera showed Red Rain whose new wings still lacked any color. As if he wouldn’t care about them.

"Ah! We haven't finished the video yesterday! After the sparkling... the baby... I completely forgot..."

"Me too", Starscream admitted and sipped his morning energon. "Have we missed something important or just Skywarp making a fool out of himself?"

"It's Red Rain. As if he is about to say something, but he just keeps quiet..."

"Weird. I always thought Red Rain was the most competent out of that trine and now he seems to be the one we have to worry about the most... and if it's because he has new wings, give me a break. Stratus has lost his gestation chamber and that's something you can't just replace. It's part of a mech’s biology."

"Maybe it's not so much the wings but the fact his trine member got crippled and he had to let it happen..."

"Red Rain blames himself, Cloudwalker blames me, Stratus is mercifully oblivious... what a trine."

The video kept running until Skyfire heard Skywarp sigh and shut the camera off. For a while there was only darkness, but suddenly Skyfire was blessed with a close-up of Skywarp's aft.

"There, Screamer! For your lonely nights! Ah~ Just thinking about you drooling after my glorious backside makes my thighs quiver~!"

Skyfire suppressed the urge to throw the pad against a wall and hastily fumbled for the switch to make it stop showing off Skywarp's best attributes.

---

The Academy didn't ease Skyfire's mind at all, actually his anxiety became worse. Especially when director Sharpmind sent him a message with the honestly concerned question why he had abandoned his own project. How was Skyfire supposed to explain that Starscream's approving smile was the single most important thing in the universe?

Throughout the lessons he hardly typed notices into his own datapad and just yearned to grab Starscream and cuddle him for emotional support... feel that spiky, pointy body with his oversized hands...

"Skyfire... shall we go?", Starscream inquired and guided Skyfire's trance-like self outside of the building. They were really doing it. They were truly going there... to the Pit.

"Just fly after me", Starscream said, rolling his eyes. "If you can't stomach it-"

"No!", Skyfire cried terrified. "I'll help you wherever I can... even if it means visiting a place like this..."

He wasn't sure if Starscream seemed to be satisfied now or still moody. Maybe something in between. It couldn't be easy for him either, visiting the place where a tired worker had decided that he should live based on how much he fought against an artificial egg.

The flight was shorter than Skyfire had expected and he was glad. They would be faster back home then and all he wanted to do right now was to climb onto that giant bed and rest with a Starscream curled up next to him. Screw the fact it was only late afternoon. He felt like sleeping for an entire week was easily doable.

The factory complex was a labyrinthian nightmare, but Starscream seemed to know exactly where to go. Since the video had been made, nothing had changed about the interior. Making seekers was supposed to stay cheap, Skyfire guessed. Why bother upgrading when they still made enough money? The babies couldn't complain and neither did the carriers... they didn't know any better...

"Howdy, finest breed!", a worker greeted Starscream. "What can I do for you? Pelagius in for another trine?"

"So to say...", Starscream agreed. "This time we want some babies from the gray group."

"Ah... uh-huh... That's a weird change of strategy... but who am I to question the genius... Wait a moment."

The worker scurried away. Skyfire tried to bridge the idle time by looking at his feet. The noises in the background were sinister enough; steam hissing, chains clanging, motors whirring... Then the oily smell, the exhaust and the lack of air circulation... he'd rather be back on the ice planet inside a storm...

When he heard faint cheeping, he wanted to cry.

"Please... don't kill them...", he whispered and forced himself to look up and take the gloomy atmosphere in again. The worker had returned and hold out a medium sized box to them.

"Excuse me?", the worker asked, having trouble understanding him. "Who is he anyway?", he asked directed at Starscream.

"A friend of mine. He is new to the business", Starscream explained and took the box to open it. A dozen tired sparklings greeted them.

"Can't we save them all?", Skyfire whispered again.

"Babysteps, Skyfire."

"'Babysteps'", Skyfire repeated, about to laugh hysterically. "Is it about the money? I thought you had enough? Enough to waste it!"

"Skyfire, they will just produce more! We might save these, but tomorrow there will be just another load... shredded to death. This is not where our resources should go."

"But how can we decide now? Which one of these babies shall live or die? How are we supposed to put the death penalty on the remaining ones?"

"We will just take the three puniest ones. Stratus believes that Cloudwalker is the sire after all", Starscream chuckled.

"H-How can you just laugh this off like that?!"

Skyfire couldn't believe his audio receptors.

"Uhm, they won't necessarily be killed, big guy", the worker ensured him. "They all still have a chance to be adopted. The weaker ones are already dead."

This didn't cheer Skyfire up in the slightest. But he watched Starscream take a few babies out to inspect them.

"A seeker femme! They are so rare, what a waste!", Starscream said and instantly chose the midnight blue girl as part of Stratus's new scrap trine.

"Her wings have a malposition", the worker muttered. "You can't fix that with a set of new wings, her whole backstrut is fragged up..."

"Look at him, another Sunstorm", Starscream said absentmindedly and picked a mustard yellow seekerlet up. It giggled and looked at him cross-eyed.

"Don't tell me he is here because of the eyes", Starscream probed.

"No. Too pacifistic."

"A true Sunstorm indeed... I'll take him, too."

Skyfire became a little intrigued to ask about Sunstorm and his whereabouts. He seemed to be a guy he should befriend. But he didn't want to interrupt Starscream.

"Skyfire? Do you want to choose the last one?"

Skyfire shook his head. He would just say "everyone" and Starscream was already worked up about him enough.

"Fine then. I'll take this khaki colored one here. He looks boring. Just like his stepdad."

"Cloudwalker is more chestnut brownish, though...", Skyfire remembered.

"Like I said. Boring. Now, we just need a carrier... one you plan to discard."

"Oh...", the worker said dumbfounded. "A carrier...? As a host mother or what?"

"Kind of. You have someone like that for me? Some old, scrap producing mother who isn't worth the chow you are feeding her?"

"Tsk, I have just the right old hen for you, Scream. Was about to get euthanized next week anyway. I can give him to you, no problem."

"Is he carrying?"

"Not sure... had some awful miscarriages during the last months... We don't expect anything from him anymore, not even scrap."

"But he was sparked anyway?", Starscream asked more agitated now than casual.

"It's a business", the worker shrugged. "And not my decision."

He packaged the three chosen sparklings in a far smaller box and gave it Starscream, who promptly passed it to Skyfire. The shuttle pressed the tiny box against his chestplating and hold it safely with both of his hands. Mellow chirping escaped through the air holes and made Skyfire's spark flutter.

The worker gestured for them to follow him and a long march through lots of hallways and ultimately an entirely different building followed, until they finally arrived at the breeding cells. Skyfire looked with horror at the endlessly extending corridors and the levels above hinted by elevators. And all the doors... He refrained from counting all the cells they passed before they came to a halt.

"B-13-RZ-W is his designation, but it's not like anybody ever called him by his name", the worker explained and unlocked the door. "Don't stress him out with too much talk or rash movements or basically anything. It's not like he ever had company or is even aware there is a world beyond his room..."

"What?!"

Skyfire nearly smooshed the sparkling-box. That seemed to be like the most torturous existence ever.

Slowly the door slid to the side with a soft hiss and a vapor right from the depths of the Pit hit them.

"Primus's rusty aft!! The smell...!!", Starscream complained and hid behind Skyfire who was just frozen.

"Really?", I don't even smell that anymore", the worker laughed leniently.

The cell was nothing but a quadratic room a bot of Starscream's size could walk a narrow circle in. There were no windows, just naked walls covered in scratch marks, moist spots of unknown fluids and rust. In one of the corners sat B-13 with glassy eyes and a puddle of half dried gestation fluids and energon between his legs. Only his raspy breathing proved that he was still alive.

"Scrap...", the worker murmured and crouched before the disheveled seeker. He grabbed one of his legs by the ankle and lifted it. "Just as I thought... another miscarriage... They are so tiny..."

Skyfire peeked over the worker's shoulder armor and saw half a dozen gray lumps lying in the puddle like the beads of a torn chaplet. Even though they had just the most rudimentary features and only tiny stubs instead of actual limbs, the shuttle couldn't help himself and averted his eyes.

"I’ll get the hose and clean him for you", the worker said and stood up groaning with creaking knee joints.

"Wait a moment", Starscream interrupted. "I'll take him only if his feeding protocols work properly. I don't plan to nurse the babies myself as long as they stay in my flat..."

"Understandable", the worker sighed and pulled a rod out of his subspace. With a loud "OPEN!", he hit it against B-13's chestplate.

The seeker flinched spasmodically, but still followed one of the few orders he had been taught and folded his chestplating away. Immediately the tiny room was illuminated in a gentle blue hue. Skyfire felt embarrassed looking at another bot's revealed spark just like that. Its pulse was slow but steady as far as he could measure. Something he hadn't expected from a mech who looked like on the verge of death and basically was, if it weren't for them.

"Good boy. Now let me see..."

"Ugh...", Starscream grabbed his own chest in solidarity. "Whoever came up with the mammalian gland modification belongs shot..."

"You don't like them?", Skyfire asked, trying to distract himself from that more than awkward scene. "I don't know... I think budding is far worse..."

"True. But over and done in one admittedly extremely painful session. Want to run around months with a growing sparkling inside you that keeps eating your frame? And when it's born you still need to feed it with your own fluids coming out of some spheres made of weirdly soft proto-mesh!"

Skyfire forced an unsure smile while he watched Starscream gesticulating wildly. Somehow he liked the topic as embarrassing and intimate as it was. If only the circumstances were different... From the corner of his eye he saw the worker trying to milk B-13 and that just seemed wrong on all the levels Skyfire could imagine. Even the obedient B-13 was grossed out being fondled like that and pushed the intrusive hand carefully away.

“That’s... for... the... babies...”, he explained with the most raspy voice, convinced the worker didn’t know any better.

“You haven’t fed any baby since your birth!”, the worker said with raised brows and continued his questionable examination.

“One... day... I... will...”, B-13 sighed. “When... the... night terror... doesn’t... steal... them... again...”

The worker finally found some energon wet his hand and he nodded satisfied.

“He is fine for you to use. The feeding lines just need a little... motivation, hehe.”

B-13 hid his spark with his hands and waited for whatever the weird visitors might still want from him. He wasn’t used to this much attention and it stressed him immensely.

"Get up and close your chest. We will leave this place now", Starscream said and then turned towards the worker. "We will clean him at home because I want him to have a nice, long, warm oil bath!"

"What a lucky guy", the worker murmured and picked the little protoforms up, before he left the cell. "But make sure not to overwhelm him with too much new stuff at once. His brain could freeze up or something."

“I don’t think, he is going anywhere...”, Skyfire mentioned anxiously.

B-13 pressed himself against the wall and tried to get on his feet, but his legs were far too shaky and he slipped on his own fluids, unable to gain any balance.

“I’ll carry him”, Skyfire decided and pushed the box with the sparklings in Starscream’s arms. He quickly picked the miserable seeker up and rested him against his shoulder while holding the legs gently, but firmly. B-13 kicked them a little, but without avail and his blunt claws scraped over Skyfire’s neck. Both didn’t rattle Skyfire too much, there was no strength behind any gesture B-13 did, but what nearly made him freak out was the pretty loud teeth chattering.

“Shh...”, Skyfire said and stroked his back right below the wings. He didn’t dare to touch them.

“Fine then”, Starscream said glumly. “Let’s go.”

And they set off to show B-13 the sky for the first time in his life.

Chapter Text

"There, there", Skyfire tried to calm the distressed seeker. "We are going to leave this nightmarish place forever."

B-13 didn't answer. He hadn't made use of that raspy voice of his since they had left the cell. All he did was shiver, press his blunt claw tips against Skyfire's back and chatter his teeth. With wide bulging eyes he stared at everything the dim factory light could show him and every random part seemed to irritate and startle him anew. Doors were scary, stairs, stains on the walls, a lost bucket lying on its side... everything. But flashing lights, hissing steam and dull, unidentifiable pounding in the distance... that was even more terrifying. B-13 purged his energon three times over Skyfire's shoulder and even though there had to be a limit to that weak tank's content, Skyfire felt the liquid run down all over his back, his wings and his legs. It was absolutely disgusting, especially how low-grade and smeary the substance seemed to be. Whatever the carriers were fed, it was worse than the "dish water" from the university and Skyfire felt a pang of hatred for the pampered student who had called it that way. He had absolutely no idea what a wonderful, privileged life he lived...

"Don't worry, I will grant you an oil bath, too", Starscream comforted him, eyeing the vomit.

"I just need a quick spray of cleansing fluid...", Skyfire said, remembering the luxuries of their bathroom at home and how they hadn't made much use of it during the last week. Visiting the “Midnight Zone” had also been a one-time event. All their productive time belonged to the academy.

"No, there is no need for being quick today", Starscream disagreed. "You can cheer me on, while I try getting this guy used to civilization. Why not being comfortable while doing so?"

"If you insist...", Skyfire answered with a tired smile. "I'll do anything you want anyway."

"And that's better never going to change!"

"T-Trine... leader...?", a hoarse voice croaked.

"Wha-?"

Starscream spun around and stared at their future roommate with fascination while Skyfire was being a little concerned for the sparklings inside the box Starscream was still holding. They had had to deal with that centrifugal force...

"Did you...?", Starscream asked, approaching B-13. "Did you recognize me as your leader?"

B-13 didn't show any kind of reaction that he had understood him and just whimpered quietly, at least Skyfire guessed so, as he felt it more due to the vibrations from his chest plate than actually hearing it.

"Hm, I suppose having at least a vague idea about seeker culture is a positive thing", Starscream concluded with a raised brow.

"You want to become his trine leader, too? Is that possible?", Skyfire asked and thought about the insane possibility to become a trine mate himself. Would it be that absurd?

"It's not a matter of me wanting it. It's a matter of his base coding drawing him naturally to me. Because I'm the only option."

"But also the best option no matter the circumstances!", Skyfire added eagerly. He felt a little awkward giving such a compliment, but it was deserved and that fact beat his shyness.

"What an eloquent sweetspark you are!", Starscream curred seductively and caressed Skyfire's chin with his index claw. Thanks to their ridiculous size difference, he had to pull himself up and stand on Skyfire’s knee to actually reach his chin, before he nimbly jumped down again. He always was so fast and agile dealing with this circumstance, he made it look like it didn’t matter. Skyfire loved the seeker to death for that fact alone.

"W-We should get out of here...", Skyfire stuttered and adjusted his hold on B-13 a little which increased his pitiful whimpering enough to make it audible sadly. "How are we even supposed to get him home, though? We can hardly fly and carry him, he is going to have a spark attack! And using means of local transport would probably stress him, too... Thinking of all the bots he'll encounter, their reactions..."

"It's times like this I yearn for a personal planetary bridge", Starscream sighed. "Or a throne made of diamonds and a crystal bed..."

Skyfire smiled awkwardly. This wasn't helping...

"So a private taxi will have to do", Starscream continued and put his finger on the side of his helm. "Hopefully it won't shake too much... I already ordered one of the bigger models..."

"Everything will be okay...", Skyfire whispered to B-13. "Starscream is the most caring trine leader one could ever have..."

Even though the poor, shaking seeker deserved nothing but pity, Skyfire couldn't help but feel a little jealous. No matter how miserable he was, he would always be a more fitting trine member candidate than a fat shuttle like him...

They continued their walk through the factory until they finally - FINALLY! - reached the outside and bright, golden evening light greeted them. It had never been this beautiful before, Skyfire thought, exaggerating a little, but only a little.

"See, B? This is the sky!", Skyfire said solemnly, an undefinable happiness flowing through him.

B-13 just hid his eyes with his claws and bored his face in the crook of Skyfire's neckcables, muttering something.

"Hey...", Skyfire said sorrowful and nudged the seeker a bit. "The sky. Look..."

This time B-13 indeed took a glance at the setting sun and cloud formations, but they didn't seem to interest him in the slightest. He couldn't make any sense out of them, they were just a lurid, weird pattern across an enormous ceiling.

"This is unnatural...", Starscream commented disgusted.

"You poor thing... we will teach you how to appreciate the sky and of course your wings", Skyfire said, smiling hopefully.

He glanced at the wings... B-13 wasn't moving them at all. They only shivered along when the rest of his body dealt with another anxiety fit. Aside from that they were practically dead weight. Seeing appendages usually expressive to no end just hang down like that... it hurt Skyfire's own wings and he had never even emoted much with them throughout his life. Until recently of course. He felt closer to Starscream when he copied traits of him.

"We need to get the vomit off you", Starscream said, eyeing Skyfire's backside. "The taxi pilot won't let you in like that...

"Maybe I can help you?", a worker holding the end of a hose said while smiling jovially.

B-13 freaked out and tried to climb down Skyfire's back headfirst which would have ended in a catastrophe hadn't Skyfire still had a tight hold on his calves.

"Ahhh! Please, calm down!", Skyfire begged, the sharp edges of the legs digging and cutting painfully in his fingers. But B-13 didn't. Instead his blunt claws had found Skyfire's left wing and started to yank and pull on it. "Ow! OW! Oh Primus, please, stop it! Nobody is going to hurt- OOOW!"

"Ehm..." The worker watched the spectacle, completely frozen in place. "Normally they don't... but I guess there is a reason they are sold as sparklings and not as adults..."

Starscream facepalmed and let his hand slide down his face slowly.

"Would you stop fragging around??", he asked irritated, walked closer to Skyfire and slapped the frantic seeker hard. "You are a disgrace! Just look how dirty you are!"

"That's hardly his fault!", Skyfire shouted shocked beyond belief. B-13 just hung there now, his arms covering his face. "How could you, Starscream?! How can you physically reprimand someone who has suffered so much?!"

"Hey, no need to thank me for saving your wing... and your dignity", Starscream hissed.

"Yes, it hurt, but my wing was hardly in any danger and I can care less about my dignity when I'm about to save this poor guy!", Skyfire explained agitated.

Starscream wasn't having any of this, but instead of snapping back at him, he scratched him in the side. It wasn't deep enough to draw energon, but it still startled and hurt Skyfire.

"Ouch! Have you gone mad?!", Skyfire cried. "This is a traumatized victim, please, just leave him alone. I can handle-"

This time energon drops hit the dusty ground and Skyfire stared wide-eyed at the long claws going all in into his left wrist. His hold on B-13 weakened immediately as his hand was now unable to keep being closed and his other was just frozen in shock and entirely useless.

"Starscream...", he whimpered, not because of the pain, but because of that disgusting behavior he couldn't and didn't want to associate with his friend, his hero.

B-13 slid down his back and landed in a pile of legs and sickly creaking wings before he was pulled in a somewhat upright position by Starscream.

"Apologize, you filthy glitch!", Starscream demanded. "You are acting like a feral beast! And you hurt my friend! This is not acceptable!"

Skyfire held his bleeding wrist and couldn't fathom this absurdity. However, B-13 actually knelt and sat more straight while placing his right arm in front of his chest.

"I'm... so-sorry. I'm sorry", he croaked. "Poor friend... hurting... no... I'm sorry."

"Interesting", Starscream said. "I wonder if someone trained him or if that behavior is programmed... There will be so much to reveal..."

"Uhm...", the worker tried to draw attention to himself. "Do you still need the hose...?"

Skyfire took it wordlessly and first cleaned his wrist, then his wings and back. He made sure the spraying of the cleansing fluid would be gentle before he approached B-13 and crouched down in front of him. That still made him far taller than the tiny seeker, but Starscream unfortunately wasn't the less scary alternative to handle the cleaning. He had learned that the hard way.

He gently took one of B's hands in his and let a few droplets from the hose drip on it. The seeker twitched, but wasn't in the mood anymore to fight and hold still when Skyfire carefully cleaned him.

"F-Friend okay?", B-13 asked quietly which made Skyfire smile.

"I'm okay, no worries, I have a thick plating."

"You...? What about friend?"

Skyfire looked up and his gaze met Starscream's. The poor seeker understood far less than they had thought in the beginning. He was totally unaware that Skyfire was supposed to be the “friend”. But there was nobody else around he could have hurt. Either he was lying, pretending to remember hurting a “friend”, just so Starscream would be satisfied and stop hurting him and yelling at him, or he actually accepted his “crime” as reality because either his memory banks were glitching by default and untrustworthy or because a person in the role of a “master” was never wrong. And that fact encouraged Skyfire even more to speak his mind.

"Starscream, I don't claim to know much about seeker culture or about anything, but he knows even less and punishing him physically for behavior he can't help is not going to solve this."

“Yet I got the only acceptable response from him”, Starscream claimed, feeling superior.

“That does hardly matter, if it means, he is being abused by you!”, Skyfire corrected him tiredly.

“Good. If you think, you can handle him better than me, you may take care of him then until we are home”, Starscream said smirking and Skyfire could tell, he would be enjoying B-13 yanking on wings and scratching over plating again, just so he could round off this day with a big “Told you so”.

“Starscream”, Skyfire began again, looking at his punctured wrist, “it’s impossible for me to think that you, one who should know better, are so ridiculously unaware about the damage you are causing.”

“That’s because you expect me to want to wrap him up in cotton wool. Which I don’t”, Starscream explained annoyed. “I don’t have any superabundant pity for him, nor did I ever plan to.”

“Because you think, he deserves better than pity? You think, I don’t take him seriously? That I don’t treat him like an actual person?”

“No!” Starscream looked furious now. “I bought that degenerate glitch to be a surrogate mother for Stratus’s adoptive babies, who are also degenerates, so it doesn’t matter if they die in the battle zone! By the Allspark, Skyfire! And when we can finally send them over, I will only keep him around, so I have an object to study the damages the factories do to my kind! So I have another argument to tear this society down!”

“W-What argument will that be, if you treat him badly yourself??!” Skyfire was horrified.

“I never said, I was any better. I just want to be in control.”

“But you don’t want to have sparklings being thrown into a shredder, do you?”, Skyfire asked trembling. His eyes had become moist and he hated it. Then he twitched when he felt B-13′s blunt claws petting his knee. The “degenerate” looked concerned up to him, his eyeballs huge and the red pupils glowing brightly.

“Of course not.” Starscream’s voice sounded softer now.

“See?”, Skyfire said with breathy voice. “You ARE better, Starscream. You don’t need to be this ruthless, disrespectful jerk to change society into a place where you aren’t... p-property... So, please... don’t be... Be the Starscream I lo- ... I love...”

“What if that Starscream you love... doesn’t actually exist?”, Starscream asked calmly.

“Pff! He does. Of course he does!”, Skyfire said smiling sadly. “Maybe... he just doesn’t know himself... beneath all the armor he had to put around himself to bear all the hurt... the death... the unfairness... there is a seeker who cares. I saw it myself. Someone who cares for Skywarp... Thundercracker... his mates... and other trines... like Cloudwalker’s... and obviously all the seekers out there... even the ones who were put in cells and are far from the nimble warriors he expects his kind to be seen as... even if he thinks, they are embarrassing. Even if he thinks, they make him look bad and even more like something that should be controlled and owned and used... Even though they are victims. But victims should never be blamed... It’s not their fault they are like this. Starscream... it’s not your fault either... I... I believe in you. You are the only person I can believe in.”

Starscream stood there, his gaze down, studying the ground which was soaked in cleansing fluid now. His claws flexed, clenched into fists and relaxed again.

“I love you, Starscream”, Skyfire breathed and gently put his hands on his arms. They were so thin, they completely disappeared, but their actual strength was still palpable when he felt Starscream stiffen. “I’ll do anything for you. I said so time and time again. But... you also have to do something for me...”

Starscream looked him in the eyes now, confusion swimming in his gaze.

“Please, treat B well... and all the others we will free...”

Starscream looked down again for a moment, swallowed, looked back at him and then with all the generosity of an emperor he said: “I’ll do it... for you.”

“You should do it for him... and yourself...”, Skyfire laughed crestfallen, but he took this as a win anyway.

The worker picked his hose up, wiped away a tear and was about to return to his work. “You have a fine man there, Starscream... You guys are reaching for the stars... and I’ll support you.”

Starscream watched the worker leave and coughed in his fist awkwardly and Skyfire took his hands from him. Now he was feeling embarrassed too, while B-13 had started playing with the mud on the ground. He sliced through it and seemed to be fascinated that he could change its form.

“I’ll have to pay the taxi pilot extra...”, Starscream said sighing. “But I’ll do it... for you.”

Skyfire shook his head slowly. If this new approach wasn’t going to work, Starscream would blame it all on him. But he was fine with that.

Just as he had finished this thought, a flying vehicle appeared on the horizon and quickly maneuvered towards them, dodging factory towers skillfully. Seeing that, it was pretty clear their flight home would have to be far slower and less exciting. The vehicle came to a slithering hold in front of them, but when the doors opened with a hiss, instead being empty minus the pilot, three passengers exited: Two of them were absolutely identical looking flyers with more bulk than any flyer of Starscream’s stature could ever dream of. Their wings were held low and inexpressive and their height rivaled that of the truck accompanying them.

“Greetings”, the truck said when he spotted Starscream. “What a nice coincidence.”

“Taillight”, Starscream greeted back and his face became stern.

“Wouldn’t have expected Pelagius to send his best horse for his purchases. I knew sending you to the academy was going to be a waste of time. I must have been insane for trying the same with Cloudwalker.”

Now Skyfire knew who this was and suddenly he felt far smaller than he actually was. Cloudwalker’s master. The one who had forced him to shoot his own trine mate. The one who had bought dozens of sparklings to find the perfect outlier and discarded them afterwards to who knew where. The one who was caged in a fit of endless envy due to Pelagius being so much more successful than him.

“What is this?” Taillight eyed B-13 and his shenanigans with the mud. “Are you buying random factory scrap now, too? Is he an outlier? Tsk, Pelagius... always has to copy me... but WHO is going to make the money, hm??” Then he looked at Skyfire and frowned. “Since when are shuttles working here? Eh. Not my problem as long as you get me what I want.”

“I-I don’t work here... I’m with him...”, Skyfire stuttered. He hated that he was scared. There was no reason for him to be, but for some reason the truck reminded him of the foreman and others who had commanded him and made their disdain for bots like him clear.

“WHAT? What the-??”, Taillight yelled flabbergasted. “How can he copy me, if I haven’t even started to-?? Is he spying on me?!”

“I dare to claim, we don’t actually know what you are talking about, Taillight”, Starscream said impatiently.

“Oh!! OHHH! Do not take me for a fool, slave! Pelagius breeds seekers now with shuttles, I came behind that! Just when I-”

“No, he doesn’t”, Starscream corrected the frantic truck calmly. “Skyfire is a fellow student of mine.”

“Oh.” Steam came out of Taillight’s exhaust pipes when he suddenly shrunk from his appalled, puffed up self, back to a reasonable Cybertronian being.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but could it be that YOU want to breed seekers with these... broad figures...?”, Starscream inquired sweetly and pointed at the huge flyers.

“You like them?”, Taillight grinned, gaining his composure and confidence back. “It’s my latest flash of genius. You know, with the war on Mesmerizor being a stalemate, the authority is getting impatient. They start to consider your sleek seeker model to be... obsolete and desire something with more... boom! Therefore a newer model was created and I was able to get my hands on two of the first prototypes: Thunderclash and Typhoon.”

The two bulky seekers bowed slightly in a mock greeting and smirked. Skyfire didn’t like how they leered at Starscream.

“This is hardly helping. The spores won’t avoid them just because they have more body mass. Technically there is far more to grab on now”, Starscream explained utterly unimpressed.

“Yeah, there is more to grab on...”, Taillight agreed with his own dirty grin never faltering. “Maybe you want to experience it for yourself... You know, they are immensely strong, but unfortunately lost a lot of speed and agility in the process... a hybrid could fix that, inheriting the best of both worlds...”

“Have you talked with my master about your... proposal?”, Starscream asked sharply.

“He is not interested”, Taillight admitted coldly. “But what does that matter to you? See, I like you very much, Starscream. You are... impressive. You lead a trine of two outliers and aren’t an outlier yourself. Your life already lasted far longer than that of an average seeker. You survived many battlegrounds and made Pelagius a filthy rich celebrity. I am confident, you can decide on your own if you want to create something great during your time at the Academy of Science and Technology that goes beyond a freshmen science experiment. If Pelagius doesn’t want to use you in that way, why would he care, if you fill a slot he is deliberately ignoring? He doesn’t lose, if he doesn’t bet, right?”

“You are suggesting, since I’m just studying, I won’t have trouble carrying?”, Starscream asked, upset one could think such a thing.

“No, no!”, Taillight backpedaled and waved his big truck hands. “Carrying will still have an effect on you, that’s beyond debate. But better here in Iacon than in the swamps of a hostile planet. And if you don’t want to carry, you may also just spark these two gentlemen here and just think about the success we'll have in a couple of months...”

Thunderclash and Typhoon both eyed Starscream condescendingly.

“He wouldn’t make a good carrier anyway”, Typhoon said. “The babies would starve inside that gaunt body.”

"And that's why breeding factories like this exist... because the offspring dies...", Starscream said full of sarcasm.

Thunderclash sneered and approached Starscream in a slow pace which emphasized his broader stature and muscles perfectly.

"Don't take us for fools just because we are newsparks. We know how it is done. You lot is sparked artificially and the protoforms are taken out long before birth. Your sole role is to be a temporary incubator."

Typhoon had decided to mimic his partner and added: "And you are a walking transfluid bank! Don't act as if you are something better!"

"Skyfire, let's leave", Starscream snarled. "Or I'll make myself guilty of vandalism."

Skyfire nodded anxiously and tried to pick B-13 up, who ranted something incoherent and grabbed for the mud he claimed now as his personal treasure as it was the most interesting thing he had ever come in contact with. Thunderclash and Typhoon however were convulsed with laughter and were still totally fixated on Starscream.

"Did you just threaten us? A weak mech like you?! We'll turn you into a trash cube!"

"Put them back on your leash, Taillight!", Starscream demanded. "I'm not interested in anything they have to offer! Not even for usage as anti aggression training!"

"Thunderclash, Typhoon. Behave", Taillight said in a bored tone and the pair thankfully halted their approach.

"We'll leave now", Starscream repeated and gestured for Skyfire to get inside the taxi already, but the shuttle just stood there holding B-13 like a tired sparkling.

"I'm not leaving you alone here", Skyfire said nervously while B-13 was being amazed by the fact he could change the color of Skyfire's collar plating by smearing mud on it.

"There is no need to be afraid", Taillight said in a neutral tone. "What do you expect? I'm going to sic these two after you? Seriously... I thought, I have made myself clear before: I respect you, Starscream. You are an outlier of your frametype. Unlike even my prime trine... I admire your talent to always make the right decision."

Starscream pushed the sparkling box in Skyfire's free hand.

"Good. Farewell, then", he said and nudged Skyfire towards the taxi.

"The thing with the right decisions is... it would be incredible stupid to let Thunder and Ty interface with you without your consent. I know Pelagius would move Well and Pit if I touched you wrong. You are his favorite toy after all..." Taillight had a mischievous look on his face. "But this huge disappointment of not getting my hybrid sparkling mixed with Starscream's genetic code makes me a little... angry. Angry enough to clear my rooster a little. I need some room for my future investments after all." He took a datapad out of his subspace. "Who of my trash hens performs the worst? Ah. There they are the good old statistics. Hm, seems like Red Rain is currently the weakest link..."

Skyfire felt like he was about to lose oil. What was that sadist hinting at? It couldn't be...

"I refuse to be blackmailed!", Starscream yelled. "He is being supervised by the military right now! They won't execute a soldier in enemy territory for nothing!"

Taillight laughed at Starscream's naivety.

"If I send them someone better in exchange they will gladly get rid of him... or... to be more exact: Cloudwalker will be the one who has to kill him, of course. The privilege of the trine leader!", Taillight said, bowing mockingly with his hand on his spark.

"As I said", Starscream spoke through gritted teeth, his wings as high as they could get, "I refuse to be blackmailed."

"I'm not forcing you to do anything. This is just business I naturally have with my property", Taillight claimed sweetly.

Starscream pushed Skyfire forward until he stood in the door of the flying vehicle and the two bulky seekers sighed in disappointment. Their master however just grinned in a sick way.

"Fine then. Red Rain dies."

The thought of forcing Cloudwalker to execute his mate had already aroused him and therefore the fact that he once more hadn't managed to get his hands on Starscream wasn't even that bothersome anymore. Maybe another time...

The door of the taxi closed and Skyfire squeezed himself on a seat, Starscream placing himself wordlessly next to him. An awkward, tense silence was between them and Skyfire had no idea how they would ever be able to talk normally again.

Being back inside closed space with far dimmer light, calmed at least B-13 down and he just leaned against Skyfire like a big baby, his eyes slowly closing.

For the whole agonizingly slow flight nobody said a single word, not even the taxi pilot. Starscream must have instructed him via comm, Skyfire thought and risked a careful look at the being sitting beside him and radiating nothing but murder.

When the Aerie was in sight, Skyfire felt tremendously relieved and not to forget tired. As if he had done an interstellar flight to far away planets. He dragged himself into the flat and didn't even remember anymore how he even left the taxi. Damn that microsleep... Thankfully Starscream had taken the sparkling box from him again... B-13 crawled right towards the closest corner of the room right after Skyfire had put him down and leaned against the wall, his with dried mud encrusted hands folded on his abdomen. Skyfire on the other hand staggered to the biggest couch, fell like a crystal tree that the poor furniture creaked in agony and buried his face in the pillows.

"You two are a match made in the Well."

Starscream was not amused. He grabbed B-13 by the upper arm and dragged him towards the bathroom.

"P'weese dn't hrrt 'm!", Skyfire said, his voice muffled by the pillows and he sluggishly tried to get up again.

B-13′s wailing and the hard clacking of pointy seeker heels had alerted him and so he followed the unlikely couple. Oil could be heard gurgling as soon as he entered the brightly lit room.

"Get in the big tub", Starscream ordered, looking stressed. He pushed the frantic B-13 inside the smaller tub and then got in himself. "What's the matter? I'm your trine leader and I order you to have a cleaning session with me!"

B-13 splashed the oil and suddenly calmed down, the black liquid reminding him of the mud and the fun he had had with it.

"This is okay", he concluded and let the oil trickle through his fingers.

"Just 'okay'. What a pampered little guy", Starscream said smirking and Skyfire was glad to see him smile again. "Skyfire, would you please be so kind and also clean the sparklings?"

"Uhm, sure..."

He looked for the box Starscream had brought with him and carefully picked it up to open it. The three babies were all curled up in a corner and Skyfire had trouble getting them out with his fat fingers.

"Shhh, hey", Skyfire cooed and put them in a small, flat bin before he entered the big tub. Now they basically swam like in a tiny boat on the surface... as long as Skyfire hold their vehicle safely.

"I wonder what names Stratus will give them...", Skyfire mused entranced, watching the little ones starting to crawl around.

"Probably something weird. Or something standard. I can't read that guy", Starscream said. The oil was now reaching his chest and he shut the supply off. "Having enough, Skyfire?"

"Everything is awesome", Skyfire replied, completely infatuated with the babies. He dropped a few droplets of the warm oil on them and they giggled...!!

Starscream rolled his eyes when the cooing just wouldn't stop. He had begun to massage B-13's dead wings which made their owner chatter his teeth again.

"Seriously, you have no idea what to appreciate!"

B-13 grabbed the edge of the tub and stared with large, bulging eyes at Skyfire. Every fiber of his body screamed "Help me!" and Skyfire instantly felt bad for him.

"Here", he tried to calm him. "Here is one of your babies."

He held the yellow-ish baby up in the palm of his hand.

"Huuuuh?" B-13 made an almost comical face. "It's not. You are lying."

Starscream stopped scrubbing his wings and perked up behind his shoulder armor to exchange a surprised look with Skyfire.

"How can you be so sure?", he asked.

B-13 took a deep breath before he answered. "When my babies come out of me they are a lot smaller. But even then the nightterror always takes them..."

"You know, children tend to grow...", Starscream said amused.

"What do you mean by 'nightterror'?", Skyfire asked carefully.

"How do you not know?", B-13 wanted to know, deeply sighing. "The babies come when we sleep and after waking up, we know they are there. But after a while we wake up again and they are gone... That's how it usually happens, right? But sometimes you wake up during sleep and... I couldn't move. There was someone there who cut my belly open. I did feel dull pain and I was scared... The figure was dark and hard to see... only the eyes shone bright white... I cried, but he stole my babies anyway..."

“And maybe this is one of your stolen babies?”, Starscream said pitiless.

B-13 just shook his head. “I have seen my babies when they come out earlier than the nightterror can get them. They are very small and gray. Oh and their arms and legs are just tiny stubs. I play with them and they move a little, but then they stop moving after a while... and when I go back to sleep and wake up again, they are stolen, too...”

“Again, this might be one of your stolen babies.” Starscream seemed to be quite impatient now and not in the slightest bit affected hearing that horrible story.

“It’s not!” B-13 was angry now. “And even if it was, you are just going to steal it from me, too!”

“And how do you know?”, Starscream asked annoyed.

“Because you said so before! You want to give them to someone else! I’m not stupid, you know??” B-13 turned around and smeared oil across Starscream’s face.

“How”, Starscream began and spit out some oil that was trickling in his mouth while he remained absolutely still, “was I supposed to know a mumbling mess like you understood sentences going beyond three words?” His “this mess is hardly my fault” attitude was priceless to Skyfire, even though the whole situation wasn’t funny at all...

“I don’t want you as my trine leader! I want to go back home!” B-13 sobbed now, his nerves were frazzled.

“But here nobody will ever steal your babies again”, Skyfire tried to calm him. “Well, it’s true, these three here are meant for another seeker, but we need your help to keep them healthy... After that you can have your own... Please, help us...”

“I want to go home...”, B-13 whimpered. “Why are you allowed to take me from my home? Why are you living like this? Why do you have this goo? Why were these babies not stolen? Where did you get them from?”

“Because my dear friend”, Starscream explained, “we bought you. I own you now, just like your ‘home’ owned you before. You belong to me and you should be thankful. Your ‘home’ would have killed you because you weren’t worth the effort anymore. You kept having miscarriages. That’s what’s called, when your babies come out before the factory bots can take them out of your body. But we were merciful enough to take pity on your sorry aft and got you away from there. To your new home! And others may follow... just like these sparklings here... They are from your ‘home’, too. Do you understand, B? You aren’t stupid after all...”

B-13 hiccuped. He didn’t understand.

“I’m your master. You’ll feed these babies. Accept it.”

“Feed them yourself...”, B-13 whispered.

“Where is this rebellious streak coming from now?”, Starscream asked stupefied.

“I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’m kind of proud of him”, Skyfire said smiling.

“You are not my trine leader! You haven’t beaten me in battle!”, B-13 pointed out and Skyfire’s smile froze immediately, while Starscream started to grin.

“If that’s your only problem...”

“Starscream, no!”, Skyfire cried. “He doesn’t know what he is saying! It must be the base coding or something, he can’t measure what he is getting into! Please, don’t hurt him!”

“I hope someone buys you and makes you feed someone else’s babies!”, B-13 shouted.

“That will never happen, you glitch! I’m not the one being constantly sparked and used as breeding machine! All my life I hadn’t even had a single child!” Starscream pushed B-13 against the tub’s wall to show his strength in a not so invasive way as using his claws.

“What???” B-13 was totally confused now. “Why aren’t any babies growing inside you? Are you broken?”

“I’m not broken, I have choices”, Starscream vaguely explained.

“Why would you choose to have no babies? You are so weird! You are both so weird! This place is weird! It makes no sense!” B-13 started hiccuping again.

“B...”, Skyfire said soothingly. “There is no need to make sense of everything yet... It’s too much. Far too much. Just know, that we don’t mean any harm and that you are safe here.

B-13 just hid his face behind his claws, continued to sob and he wouldn’t say a single word anymore until he was completely scrubbed clean by Starscream, dried off and led back to his corner in the living room. He wouldn’t accept the couch, the armchair or a lounger. Leaning against the wall seemed to be his preferred position.
Skyfire tried to introduce the three sparklings to him.

“They need you. Neither Starscream nor I can nurse them right now. I know, it’s unfair to demand anything from you, we haven’t properly thought this through at all and I’m deeply sorry. But maybe... for their sake... You would make another seeker very happy... because he can’t have sparklings and will never have any of his own. Because they broke him. The bots causing all of this. The bots stealing your babies and locking you inside a tiny room in the first place. The bots breeding and selling other bots like animals. The bots buying bots like you and do with them as they please... Starscream was bought too, you know. I wasn’t bought, yet I have spend my life just doing what other bots wanted me to do, regardless how I thought about it...
But we are trying to free ourselves now and others in the future. You are the first we managed to get out of that horrible factory and we’ll save more. We’ll save them all and no baby will ever be stolen again!”

Warily B-13 looked at Skyfire and then breathed “Fine...” and scooped the sparklings up in his lap. He folded his chest plating away and started to nurse the first two. Both of them suckled greedily and seeing them so eager and alive took a heavy load off Skyfire’s mind. Even though he wasn’t sure if B-13 had understood him or had simply complied to be finally left alone.

He made sure B-13 would have enough energon cubes within reach as well as thermo-blankets and pillows, before he left him and followed Starscream inside their bedroom. They adopted their usual positions and Skyfire like every night thought about changing them. To pull the seeker on top of his chest and cuddle with him... to... kiss... him... to...
He couldn’t do it.
He wouldn’t do it.
And this was hardly the night to get romantic...
He raised his hand in front of his field of view and studied the holes Starscream had bored into his wrist. His self-repair had taken care of most of the damage already, but still... This was an undeniable dangerous streak of his shining star. However, Starscream was just like B-13 a damaged person. And he had stopped mistreating the factory seeker, after Skyfire had pleaded him to. There was room for change. There was hope...

As soon as he had fallen asleep, he dreamed of the sweetest sparklings and something told him, they were seeker-shuttle-hybrids. Red Rain appeared in his dream too, but Skyfire could only see his backside, the dull gray wings contrasting themselves from the glaring red seeker. Then they started to rust away and took their owner with them until only a scrapped, skeleton-like being remained and Skyfire awoke frozen and covered in coolant.

Chapter Text

B-13's night had been turbulent. His concept of "night" had always been first and foremost "dimmer lights", "no food" and "nobody visits", but this was all part of his past now. The two afts had ensured that. The big aft and the aft-aft who looked just like him and was nasty and mean because he thought he was everyone's trine leader. Oh haha. Good joke!

Yet the three babies had been almost as bad. Right after fueling them, they had suddenly come to life and wouldn't stop demanding his attention. They crawled around on his body, at least the two boys did, as if he was a climbing frame. Cockpit and chest area were especially popular, just as if they wanted to go back inside his body, as if they had ever been inside in the first place! Only the girl stayed on the ground, probably because she couldn't even sit upright. However, this wouldn't stop her from rolling around...

"You little ones! Stop!", he said, his voice subdued, so the afts wouldn't get alerted and come back to bother him. Giggling and cheeping was the only reaction.

B-13 sighed deeply and quickly caught them until they all wriggled in the palm of his right hand.

"I hate you! You aren't my real babies! You are fake!", he accused them and felt like sobbing again. Why couldn't he just go back in his room? This room here was far too big and weird things were in it. Like the blue glowing cubes. He kicked one and sent it sliding beneath one of the loungers. Why did the big aft think, he needed them? They looked dangerous.

"I want mine... I want mine back..."

Quietly sobbing, he wrapped the babies in one of the blankets and put one of the cubes on top of the bundle so the three fakes wouldn't crawl out any time soon. Angry, muffled cheeping could be heard and for B-13 this was a truly satisfying sound. Then he shoved himself over the ground to look for food. Nursing had made him terribly thirsty and even though "night" meant no food, this room was different in so many ways, so maybe...

A weird glow that was unlike the one from the cubes, distracted him. He crawled after the strange light dots until he reached a huge box filled with fluid and funny round things swimming inside of it.

With a lot of effort B-13 managed to stand on his own shaky legs and now he was tall enough to look at the fluid box properly. He opened a hatch and stuck his left hand inside the fluid to tip against one of the round things. His claw went right through the organism and for a moment, he wasn't sure if he had actually hit it... until the fluid around it slowly changed its color.

"I popped it...", he said lost in thought. "Hm..."

He decided against popping the other spheres and lowered himself back on the ground. Walking was possible, but only with help, so he would rather crawl... like a baby. Oh no. He felt like crying again...

Even after searching all the walls, he hadn't found a food pipe. Was he supposed to starve? Silently wailing, he thought of asking the big aft for food. At least he seemed nice enough to help him. But if he called for him, the aft-aft would surely come too... and hit him.

"Ahh!", he groaned suppressed and crawled back to his corner. He unwrapped the babies and let them nurse again when they wouldn't stop pawing his chestplate.

If he behaved and did what the afts had wanted from him, they might give him food when they came back...

---

"Well", Starscream said, the news freshly downloaded on the datapad he was holding, while he inspected the dead jellyfish floating in the fish tank.

"Please", Skyfire begged. "He didn't know any better..."

"You misunderstand me." Starscream grinned devilishly. "Killing Thundercracker's pets is by all means a positive trait!"

"You are..." Skyfire couldn't say it. Was he feeling relieved or angry? Probably both...

"Mmmmmmhhhhhrrrrrggghhhh...", B-13 grunted. The seeker looked absolutely drained, as if he hadn't slept at all... and neither eaten... Skyfire eyed the untouched cubes. Didn't he know what to do with them?

"Starscream... I think we know far less about the factory carriers than we should...", he mused.

"Or the factory carriers know far less than they should", Starscream added and Skyfire wanted to groan. He heavily disliked Starscream's casualty this morning. Be it the pet or B-13's well-being.

"I guess, they don't drink from cubes..." Skyfire noticed B-13's absolute lack of interest in them again.

"Possibly", Starscream agreed. "Or he is just stupid. GYAHHH!!

It had just happened. Skyfire didn't even remember when he had decided to poke Starscream in the side, but it had caused the most satisfying squawk. Thankfully, Starscream reacted more playful than angry and just harshly brushed his wing against Skyfire's elbow.

"What was that, boy?", he asked hoarsely and ground his claws, but before Skyfire could react in any way, they both got distracted by B-13's moaning.

His chestplate was folded away as he had just nursed again, yet the babies were all wriggling on the floor now. Instead, his hand was touching his spark casing and he seemed to get some tired joy out of it.

Starscream coughed in his hand, but that didn't bother B-13 in the slightest. "Would you please discontinue that obscene scene??"

B-13 just moaned louder. His spark began to shine brighter and fine tendrils of energy curled out of the opening.

"When I do this, I don't look so dumb", Starscream made clear, watching Skyfire's shocked expression.

"I... I wasn't thinking that at all...!" Skyfire felt like smashing his head against the wall. Repeatedly. Or more like grabbing Starscream and shaking him. This. Wasn't. Helping. "Are you hungry?", he finally asked.

B-13 immediately stopped his stroking. "Y-Yes..."

Skyfire opened a cube and let a few drops of energon drip on his hand. "See? Your food is inside these cubes. You can just drink it."

B-13 greedily took the cube and started licking at the opening where the blue liquid oozed out. After a few licks he stopped, wondering about the new taste.

"It's good, isn't it?", Starscream asked matter-of-factly and licked the energon off Skyfire's hand. The owner of said hand squeaked and realized, another part of Starscream's body had just found its way into his most secret thoughts... which probably weren't all that secret to Starscream...

Meanwhile B-13 continued to lick up the energon and would neither stop any time soon nor start to drink normally. Because he never had...

"Can we... buy... more...?", Skyfire asked hesitating.

"Energon?" Starscream didn't seem to get him.

"No... more like him. Actually... all of them... at least the ones they want to euthanize... You said you have disposable income..."

Starscream sighed. "And where would we put them? We have an Academy to attend to and this flat is no palace. Who would look after warframes who are psychological wrecks and allowed to roam free? If they are allowed to be free... and not just put into another cell..."

"But you wanted to free more! Didn't you?"

"I'm not even free myself, Skyfire! I need to be in a better position to manage 'seekerland' or whatever we'll call that sanctuary! I need to save Thundercracker and Skywarp first! I need to find a solution for the stalemate war! I need... I need more time... I can't babysit an entire horde...!"

"I could take care of them..." Skyfire looked at Starscream with sad eyes, but Starscream shook his head vehemently.

"You cannot give up the academy. It's your dream."

"When it saves a life..."

"Primus!! I need you by my side and not as therapeut or nurse or kindergartener for an endless flow of mentally and bodily crippled seekers!"

"You may need more time, Starscream... but they don't have any left... I don't want anyone to lose their life anymore!"

"It's not possible. Not yet."

And that was Starscream's last word.

---

After another long day of learning, experimenting and researching, Skyfire found himself flying home, Starscream as always just a wingspan away from him. This must have been one of his least successful days at the academy. Unable to concentrate properly and all his thoughts occupied by the factory seekers, he even had ruined a whole row of test samples by adding the wrong ingredient. Starscream had just looked at him like "Well, Thundercracker's and Skywarp's death will be on your hands then".

He had felt absolutely awful and was still feeling it. It was like everything he touched was doomed to be ruined. His hands were too big, his processor got always distracted... by the abuse and death of the seekers of that one particular factory, for example. But hey. No fragging way that was the only breeding factory of the city state. There must be more. Also other military frames were most likely being bred and used as slaves. And the shuttles... the whole working class... They weren't slaves, but they were forged to live a life of constant slogging away with next to no chance to change this. Always being called slow, stupid and not good enough.

If Skyfire could have an expression while being in his alt mode, it would have first become grim... and then turned into a surprised one. An unknown number had just called his comm unit.

Thankful for any kind of distraction, Skyfire allowed the contact and immediately heard a sobbing voice within his head:

"Please, you have to save V..."

---

It had been a wonderful day for V-60-DM-C because every day was wonderful! He was a dark purple seeker with slender, slightly curved wings and he was special. At least Split said so. Split wasn't tall, slim and he also had no wings, but he visited V-60 daily and always told him how sweet and well-behaved he was!

V-60 giggled, feeling happy just thinking about the mech, while he paced around in an endless, narrow circle. He needed to train his legs as Split had promised him to show him the wide world one day and the wide world was amazing! Split had showed him pictures on a little computer once. Unreal sceneries made of unbelievable shapes and colors... V-60 had neither words nor explanations for them, but Split knew everything! He always answered all of his questions with endless patience.

He crouched down to lick at the opening of the feeding pipe which was attached to one of the three door-less walls. Split had once told him, the opening was placed so low since other seekers weren't able to stand or walk like V-60 could and they all lived in tiny rooms looking exactly like his own. They needed to stay there and have lots of babies, though V-60 never had exactly understood the explanation... Well, Split had said, it was a necessity and V-60 believed him. Seekers weren't that smart after all and it was noble of mechs like Split to take care of them and to guide them.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door and it was quickly pushed open. V-60 risked a last lick on the oozing energon before he faced his visitors. The usual worker mechs stood in the doorframe. So, it must be time for the procedure again...

"V...", a familiar voice said.

Right behind the mechs whose names they had never bothered to tell him, stood Split. There were stains on his faceplate, as if something smeary had run down his cheeks. Concerned, V-60 raised his wings a bit. It hurt a little, but the movement felt natural anyway. Had his friend cried? But why? V-60 had never seen him cry and he himself never cried either. He was proud to be good and well-behaved.

"Follow", one of the mechs said and V-60 immediately obeyed. Outside of his cell waited a stretcher and he lost no time lying down on it. It was the usual procedure after all. No need to be a bother and hold things up. He heard a strange whimpering sound right when he had placed his limbs in the adequate position to be cuffed. A mech murmured something in a comforting tone towards Split, while he absentmindedly closed the cuffs around V-60's ankles and wrists. This was just a security measure, so he wouldn't fall down. No need to become distressed over that...

What he didn't like though was the eye-cover. Split had told him once that it was supposed to keep seekers calm, but that didn't add up to V-60's own experiences. He just felt disoriented and disappointed he couldn't see his surroundings. Everything different from his cell was igniting his curiosity. So... maybe it was smart to keep those distractions from him. Other Cybertronians really were so much more thoughtful than seekers...

Another distressed sobbing sound and this time he felt a hand touching his arm while the stretcher started moving towards its usual destination.

"Split?", V-60 asked unsure. "Are you okay?" He wanted to comfort his friend and for the first time he disapproved of his bounds's existence.

"You should have kept your distance", one mech said not without sympathy. "They don't last long compared to the average Cybertronian. You know that."

"He is healthier than most of them! This isn't right!", Split cried.

"We electroshocked his spark over and over again, it just won't calve. Rather it was about to flicker out..."

"Oh..." V-60 suspected now they were talking about him. His last procedures had been failures sadly and it had been forever since a baby had grown inside of him. "I'll do my best. Promise", he reassured the mechs. If he would lose hope, he would never have a baby again, that was for sure!

"Surely you will", a worker's voice sounded from his left.

"You are right, though. This is a waste", another voice admitted. "Unlike Nightmare..."

In-Cybertronian shrieking could be heard in the distance, but it must have been something instinctual as V-60 recognized it as a seeker voice. A voice originating from someone who was neither good nor well-behaved...

"Oh my Primus... are we really going to be in a waiting line with that monster?! Why isn't he fried yet?"

V-60 didn't know what the word "fried" meant in this context, but he began to become tense. The increasing loudness of "the monster's" screams wasn't helping his composure either. Against his will he began to tremble uncontrollably. As if his muscles wanted to fight his bonds. As if part of his body had become naughty and there was nothing he could do against it. Split's hand around his arm tightened and its owner tried to calm him with shaky voice:

"Shh...! Shh...! Everything is going to be okay...! The wide world is waiting for you, V!"

The shrieking seeker must be right in front of them now since V-60 was barely able to understand Split's soothing words.

"What's wrong with the spark extractor??" Someone sounded extremely annoyed, making themselves audible even through this noise and after a loud bang, the shrieking abruptly turned into a gurgle.

"Finally. Somebody ever thought of shattering that insidious vocalizer?? Tsk, that's why you're all just workers..."

"The machine seems to have overheated after the last procedure, boss. We're trying to cool it down..."

"That old thing... this could take hours, couldn't it? How about you transport our garbage to the trash compactor? It's going to become chow anyway."

"NOOO!!"

V-60 barely recognized Split's high-pitched voice.

"Please, no! That's just cruel! Let's bring them back to their cells until the extractor works again! Please!"

"Their cells are already filled up again", the boss said full of contempt. "Are you insane? They need to go. Now!"

"Or we could sell them."

Everybody became silent for a second. Then V-60 was surrounded by wild chattering.

"Yeah, right. To whom?"

"Starscream was here yesterday and asked specifically for garbage seekers. They are supposed to play a role in some kind of propaganda he is planning... At least Concrete said so and you all know our most famous son. Living a rich mech's live and still complaining."

"Yeah, I heard that too and you know what? If he hasn't bought these two here yesterday... why would he today? I think he already got everything he wanted. V and Nightmare will go into the trash compactor. End of story."

"He bought B because he was going to die. Yesterday he didn't know about these two here."

The discussion went on and on. So far, V-60 had managed to calm himself again. He didn't exactly understand what the workers were talking about. They wanted to get rid of garbage... and put the monster and him in some compactor... because the machine for the usual procedure was broken... but Split didn't like it. He'd rather have him sold. Whatever that meant...

The monster made more gurgling sounds and then started to cry hoarsely.

"Here is Starscream's personal comm", one of the workers told Split. "Ask him and get it over with."

"If you really want to be successful, you should call his shuttle friend instead...", another worker mused. "He has a soft spark... saw him yesterday outside the building. The kind of guy who can't ignore a bot in distress."

Split took the datapad with the comm numbers and sniffled.

"We have his comm?"

"We can't just have anybody walk around here, can we?"

"Good. Good! Very good! Thank you, I'll try him..."

---

Starscream stood right next to Skyfire and stared at the two seekers bound to stretchers in front of them. One dark purple and calm, the other fiery orange and most likely insane.

"Why are we here?", he asked his friend with a dead sounding voice.

"To give B-13 a trine...?"
Skyfire thought, that sounded quite plausible. This way this wasn't just a pity buy after all.

"Please!! Buy at least V!!!", a worker begged. He fell to his knees and Starscream was ensured, if he did just one wrong move, the mech would leap forward and start kissing his feet. Turning them inward a little, he suppressed a disgusted grunt.

The other workers on the other hand moved a little away from said worker, as if they didn't want to be affiliated with him.

"They called you. It's your decision to get scammed", Starscream said shaking his head. "I won't forbid you to buy them, but they will be your responsibility only. Think about that, when I will throw you out of my flat."

"You won't need to. They will behave", Skyfire said firmly. He had no guarantee if they actually would. But he would rather be homeless with them than have them killed. Even if he had to leave Starscream. Life was so much more precious than his own wishes... "From now on not a single seeker has to be killed anymore. I'll take them all."

The worker on his knees started bawling loudly out of pure joy. "Thank you!! Primus be with you and protect you on all your flights!!!"

"He better only has to pay the scrap they are worth!", Starscream said scowling. "Fragging scammers. If I'll ever return here, only to tear this place down..."

Some workers awkwardly averted their eyes, others looked at the crying worker with disdain. It felt demeaning to be in this servile position in front of Starscream. This was one of their creations after all. One of the many they had bred. Regardless how successful and famous he was. He was still just a slave and no normal Cybertronian. But they swallowed their pride as normal Cybertronians. If not Starscream, his owner could create bad publicity for their working place and in the end everybody just wanted to live...

"Please, untie them now", Skyfire said in a softer tone. "They are free mechs..."

"They aren't. You are their owner", Starscream corrected him.

"I'm their guardian for as long as they will need me", Skyfire said. "When they can take care of themselves, they may go..."

Then something came to his mind.

"The... the military doesn't own the carriers, does it?"

"No. They are unfit for war", Starscream explained and Skyfire sighed in relief.

Meanwhile the crying worker had freed the purple one from eye-cover and bounds and the seeker sat immediately upright and stared at the factory inside with huge, bulging eyes.

"Ohhh!", he said, amazed how tall the room was. The worker just flung his arms around the seeker's middle and buried his face in his chest-plating, probably wetting it.

Starscream just rolled his eyes.

"Now the other one. It's late and our first possession might kill more of Thunder's pets in the meantime... not that I mind... but Skyfire might..."

None of the workers moved.

"You free him, Split. This was your idea after all."

The worker called Split half-sparkedly turned his face from the purple seeker's chest and looked at the still bound seeker with tear-stained eyes.

"Fine", he growled. His probably last moment with his favorite seeker had to end one way or the other anyway and the fact that his colleagues now shunned him, didn't bother him as much as it should. Split had reached his goal: V was safe now. That was all that mattered to him. "Shh, Nightmare. You'll go to a better place...", he whispered and opened the bounds.
Only a second after he had said that, he realized how macabre that had actually sounded...

Nightmare wasn't so quick to realize he wasn't tied down anymore. He kept hoarsely whimpering, maybe calling for the comfort of a trine that didn't exist.

"V and Nightmare, hm...", Skyfire said more to himself.

"Actually, it's N-23-SK, but the nickname stuck", a worker helped out.

"V and N, then...", Skyfire corrected himself and picked the whimpering seeker up like a child. The workers gasped as if they had expected N-23 would turn into a fury as soon as someone touched him, but the seeker stayed docile for now. He even flung his arms and legs around Skyfire's body.

"Congratulations. You got a giant baby", Starscream noted with annoyance, but Skyfire just smiled as if things went better than expected.

V-60 jumped off his stretcher and grabbed Split’s arm. Both Starscream and Skyfire were quite impressed for a factory seeker to be that physically healthy.

“Are we going to explore the wide world together now?”, V-60 asked in excitement.

“We will”, Split said slowly. “But you will have to go with the nice people first. When we meet again, I’ll show you everything.”

“Okay”, V-60 simply said. Skyfire saw that the seeker was struggling with hiding his sadness. He felt bad for him and wished he could just let him live with the worker he obviously seemed to have a friendly relationship with. However, Starscream had explained to him, that not just anybody could own a warframe, whether they were just used as a breeding slaves or not. Especially not a simple worker. A VIP seeker like Starscream on the other hand who had the allowance of his master, a well-experienced breeder of warframes himself, knew exactly how to handle them.

“Let’s move. Maybe you want to be a full-time nanny now, but I have-” Starscream got interrupted by V-60 gently taking his hand in his.

“I’ll go with you. I’m well-behaved and good”, V-60 explained proudly.

“Uh... I mean... uhm...” Starscream was speechless and Skyfire took the opportunity to grab his other hand, N-23 securely hold against his chest with the other, and guided them all outside the dark factory walls.

Chapter Text

"Home, sweet home!", Starscream called with false joy, just when their flat's front door opened.

V-60 was right behind him, looking at his surroundings in awe while he kept a hold on Starscream's left wingtip. Only Skyfire's sweetest, most pleading smile had made the current acceptance and endless patience of its owner possible. Once more V activated a reflex by accident and Starscream's wing twitched slightly upward. Happily giggling, V held it in place.

"He is so disgustingly sweet. Just like your smile", Starscream said to Skyfire.

"Good thing you like my disgustingly sweet smile enough to be nice to him", Skyfire replied, giving him another one which made Starscream hiss in annoyance.

Skyfire was still carrying Nightmare (in the end he had decided to stick to the name after all because it was better than be named like a password) and the crazy seeker wasn't showing any desire of ever leaving his arms. Actually it almost seemed like he considered Skyfire his own now. He even sent Starscream mocking looks once in a while, the eyes bright red slits and the mouth a grin reaching from invisible audio receptor to invisible audio receptor.

"B, I sincerely hope, you haven't killed any more jellyfish, but if you did, it doesn't matter either!", Starscream greeted their first rescued seeker.

B was crouching in front of a wall and smeared energon from one of the cubes on it. He looked at the newcomers without an ounce of guilt.

"I did not", he simply said with a scowl and continued his undefinable portrait.

"But you are making my wall ugly and that IS a problem!", Starscream scowled back. "Clean that up!"

B snarled, but his wings stayed low and motionless like always, so he didn't appear as intimidating as he probably wanted to be. Again Skyfire became aware what a huge role the seeker wings played in their whole body language and how much smaller Starscream would appear if he didn't have them.

"Fine!", B ultimately said after their staring contest and started to lick the energon off the wall.

Starscream gave Skyfire an "I didn't deserve this" look.

"Uhm, where are the babies, B?", Skyfire asked, suddenly becoming aware of the lack of baby noises.

"Hidden", B said between licks.

Starscream just covered his face in his hands. "What..."

"OOOOOOOOOHHH!!", V cooed. "You have real babies?!" He let go of Starscream's wingtip and rushed to B's side who was quite surprised at the sudden approach and backed off a little.

"Yes...", B said slowly, trying to make sense of this new situation, but he soon realized that he had some kind of position of power over the unknown seeker. "But they are hidden. If you want to see them..."

"Yes!!! Please!!!", V begged. "I have never seen babies! Or a seeker who was smart enough to be allowed to take care of them!!"

Skyfire could feel an enormous amount of pity swell up within his chest when he saw tears in the corners of V's eyes. Either out of sheer excitement or for deeper reasons...

"Smart enough...?", B repeated. "Your babies are stolen by the Nightterror... they are not taken away because you are stupid."

"Really?", V asked confused. "Mine were taken by the workers. They always took them somewhere safe."

"It's not the workers. It's a monster!", B corrected him.

"No. Split said, the workers put you to sleep to take the babies out. It's not a monster." V became a little wary of the mech in front of him. Someone like that was allowed to take care of babies? Someone who believed a monster stole the seekers's babies?

"Who is Split?", B asked in confusion.

"The nicest mech in the world. He taught me everything!"

"Why did that Split never taught me...?"

"Ahh...", V didn't know what to say for a moment. "He is very busy with work. And, and maybe you were too naughty?"

B finally turned directly to V to properly face him instead of the energon smears.

"If you show me Split, I’ll show you the babies."

"I can't. Split lives somewhere else. But when he comes visiting, he can teach you too."

"Hm." B thought about that a long while. "Fair enough."

He started crawling towards the bathroom and V followed him slowly and with raised brows.

"Can't you walk? Split told me, most seekers can't walk. Why is it you can't walk?"

B gave him an angry look before he used a couch to pull himself up with a grunt. When he finally stood on his shaky legs, but was still leaning over the couch, he said: "I can walk."

V didn't look very convinced.

"Well", Skyfire said tiredly and flopped down on an angrily creaking sofa. "I like seeing them get along..."

Nightmare made some approving noises and flung his arms tighter around Skyfire's neck.

"I like seeing them not doing anything foolish and with that I mean, we can't leave them all by themselves." Starscream folded his arms and watched B and V slowly approaching the bathroom where the babies must be hidden somewhere. "The wall is one thing, but who knows what kind of crazy ideas they get next when they can scheme giving me a hard time together!"

"V seems very reasonable to me. He is easily the most educated and he takes pride in being well-behaved... He can guide them. And if that's not enough I'll stay at home." Skyfire adjusted his hold on Nightmare and the seeker emitted a joyful mewl.

"I won't argue with you anymore today about how wrong ditching the academy would be for you." Starscream's wings twitched in annoyance. "This is Skywarp's and Thundercracker's home. Not the home of those...!! Do you still remember Skywarp and Thundercracker? I dearly hope so."

Skyfire sighed. "How could I not? You know I care about them."

"Then act like it!"

Nightmare hissed and showed his claws to Starscream. His legs were still tightly wrapped around Skyfire's waist, but his upper body was turned aggressively towards the origin of Skyfire's distress.

"How about you control that new pet of yours?", Starscream said, looking at Nightmare with disgust.

From the bathroom came high-pitched giggling. Then oil gurgled.

"By the Allspark... Well... they need to be cleaned anyway... by you!"

Skyfire thought this wasn't such a bad idea and raised from the sofa, carrying Nightmare as if he weighted nothing. However, Starscream strut a little bit too close to them and Nightmare found the opportunity to scratch Starscream's wing. It hadn't been a deep scratch, Skyfire highly doubted he had even drawn energon, but Starscream jumped him like a starving scraplet. He fell down hard on his back, Nightmare a screaming pile of legs and wings on his chest with Starscream on top of him.

"Don't. Ever. Do. That. Again.", Starscream growled and grabbed one of Nightmare's flailing legs. With the precision of a surgeon Starscream bored his talons right into the part next to the foot's heel. As he had the same body type, he knew exactly about the masses of nerve endings in that particular spot.

Nightmare's shrieking was nightmare-inducing.

"Stop!!! STOP IT!!!", Skyfire begged and grabbed Starscream's arm. Not too hard, because he didn't want to cause additional damage to Nightmare's foot, but still strong enough to force his attention.

"I'm nearly done", Starscream calmed him almost bored.

"Pull them out at once! Please!!"

"Another second... I must make sure I hit the-"

Nightmare shook uncontrollably, screaming and flailing in pure desperation.

"There we go."

Starscream pulled his fingers out slowly and then grabbed Nightmare's chin.

"Don't ever attack me again. Understood?"

Nightmare squeezed his eyes shut with a whimper.

“I hope this was worth it to you!”, Skyfire said torn between anger and sadness. “Have you no idea how that feels like?! Being hurt like that??”

“I know EXACTLY what it feels like, fool”, Starscream replied quietly, a little spaced out and Skyfire believed that he got what was going on inside of Starscream’s mind, but still...!

“Then why did you do it?!”, he asked in an almost defeated tone, his voice on the verge of breaking. “Starscream, he can’t even TALK!”

For a moment Starscream had actually looked like he regretted his action, but then he snapped right back into his usual “I can’t do wrong” state.

“Therefore I responded his animalistic approach to assert dominance by being animalistic myself.” He showed him the palms of his hands in a “what do you want from me?” gesture. “He got the message. In the future, he won’t attack me again.”

“That was hardly an attack...”, Skyfire murmured and shakily got back to his feet, Nightmare pressed tightly against him. The crazy seeker seemed to try to melt with his arm and turned into a shivery glove. “Come, we’ll go visit your trine members...”

B and V both peeked from the door frame to see what all that screeching had been about, but retreated back into the bath room as soon as Skyfire approached.

“Guys, what are you doing?”, he gently asked.

In front of him was the big tub filled with oil... and aside from two oil-smeared seekers there was a clear lack of lifeforms. Very tiny lifeforms.

“Uh, where are the babies...?”, he inquired becoming more nervous by the second.

“Inside... this... thing...”, V slowly revealed. He looked shaken. Nightmare’s screams must have deeply rattled him and furthermore, he didn’t seem to know whether he had just done something wrong or not. B on the other hand looked like his usual sulky self.

“Aw, guys! They might get scared when they are alone in a swamp of blackness!”

Immediately Skyfire used his free arm to scoop for the three involuntary fossils until all three of them wriggled around in his palm, coughing up oil and generally not being the biggest fans of what had just happened to them.

“I see... because they are so tiny...”, B said to himself. “They can’t be in there alone.”

“Exactly!”, Skyfire agreed and was about to clean the three cranky rascals when he realized that V was still in a state of shock. “What’s wrong, buddy? Don’t beat yourself up about it. You never took care of babies before and only knew a tiny cell until now. How are you supposed to know any better?”

“I... shouldn’t be allowed to take care of them...!”, V whispered with bleating voice. “They were right! They were always right to take mine away! But... for a moment I forgot how stupid I am and I got so excited...! Stupid! I’m stupid!!”

“You are not stupid! They just never bothered to teach you anything about life! Besides Split of course, but he was also limited with what he could show you...”

V didn’t look very convinced. For somebody Skyfire had only known as bubbly and happy, this was quite the spark-wrenching contrast.

Nightmare unwrapped form Skyfire’s other arm and reached for one of the babies with a questioning mewl. Skyfire let him hold one and then carefully lowered him into the bath tub. Nightmare looked at him wide-eyed during the entirety of his descend, Skyfire could see the black around his red pupil perfectly. But soon the comforting warmth of the sticky medium took its toll and Nightmare’s eyes became content slits while the baby was gently pressed against his spark. A most basic gesture every Cybertronian knew by instinct. Then, when the baby started to become fidgety and its little claws roamed over Nightmare’s chestplate, he carefully opened it to let it nurse.

“You can do that too?”, Skyfire asked astonished, but then quickly regained his composure. “Of course... you all can...”

Whether it was out of solidarity or competition B felt like taking one of the two remaining babies out of Skyfire’s open hand too and started nursing it without hesitation. Something V had to fight with. His gaze was filled with longing and a deeply seated insecurity.

“Come... try it out. It won’t hurt the baby”, Skyfire encouraged him and took V’s hand to place the baby - it seemed like it was the girl based on the midnight blue he caught beneath the oil film - in it.

“Ah...” V’s hand became stiff, his fingers looked like they were overstretched. “But you have to show me how step by step.”, he said nervously.

“Uhm... well, you know... male Cybertronians most of the time have no active energon filter system... so I... never did it myself...”, Skyfire admitted, the awkwardness nearly killing him. “Starscream? A little help here...?”

“I’m not a factory carrier, so mine isn’t and never was active either!!”, he could hear an annoyed snarl from the living room. “What’s the problem anyway? Just open up as if you wanted to reveal your spark!”

Skyfire thinking against his will about Starscream’s revealed spark got pulled from his daydream when V demanded his attention again.

“Like this?”, he inquired to know and showed him his exposed chest area: The energon filtering systems and the spark casing with the all too familiar blue glow in the middle.

“R-Right... like that...”, Skyfire stuttered.

“Are the cables around them swollen? Are they vivaciously protruding-”

“Yeah!! Yeah, I can see it all!!”, Skyfire said with high-pitched voice. “You can stop now, Starscream!”

“But what am I supposed to do now?”, V asked anxiously.

“Let the baby crawl on your chest, it will know where to go!”, Starscream called annoyed.

“There!”, B explained, who seemed to be just as impatient. “Put it here...”

He guided his hand and even though the little girl had to deal with her horrible spine deformation she still managed to grab a hold on V’s feeding system and successfully began to suck on the part where the highly nutritious, viscous energon would ooze out.

“Ah-ah- I see...!”, V squeaked nervously, but the fact that he had realized that he was indeed able to feed the baby had brought his smile back.

“Wonderful!” Skyfire sighed full of relief. Who knew? Based on the fact that all three of them were throw-outs, it wouldn’t have been too unrealistic to assume that their feeding scripts could have been broken. Especially because they were never actually used. Or were they? The babies in the factory had to be fed after all... Why not take the most obvious, most cheap method to do so?

“How was it back then in your cells? Did they ever...” He didn’t know how to say it. And maybe they were put into stasis during the process. He couldn’t imagine Nightmare or B holding still when their babies’s food was taken from them. B even had been taken aback when the worker had checked his feeding skills. It definitely wasn’t something they were used to.

He could feel Starscream’s wing brush against his side and he moved his wing to brush back against it which made Starscream chuckle hoarsely.

“What’s on your mind you should rather ask me?”, he asked and watched the three ex-factory-seekers being not carriers, but moms for the first time in their lives. Thankfully they were too invested in what they were doing to let Starscream’s usually up to no good presence startle them.

“How are the sparklings in the factory fed? Are they expressing-”

“No, no, no.” Starscream stopped him with a wave of his hand. “There are nanites inside the mother’s energon. You don’t think the weak factory carriers are supposed to influence the future warriors in any way?”

“I see...”, Skyfire sighed, but he was also a little relieved.

---

With all three adult seekers washed and clean and all three baby seekers washed and fed, the day came to an end. B and V were sitting together on the couch, both still holding a baby, while Nightmare was curled up on Skyfire’s lap. Once in a while he stared with huge eyes at Starscream, who sat next to them, and made sure the scary seeker wouldn’t come close and hurt him again. His baby was sleeping on his back right between his winglets.

“Okay, tomorrow I will stay at home”, Skyfire began and he mostly talked to V, although Starscream was pretty eager to know about his ideas about the near future and whether he had to sabotage them before they could become reality.

“I will show you everything in this flat and how you can get anything you need and what you’ll have to do in an emergency. I trust you can do this because you-”, he chose the magic words, “are so good and well behaved.”

V smiled engagingly. He seemed to have retrieved his confidence.

“As soon as I know you can manage without me being there all the time, I will return with Starscream to the great Academy of Science and Technology to make sure more seekers like you will be saved.”

“The Academy of Science...”, V repeated in awe. “That sounds so important...!”

“More will come here...?”, B asked pensively.

“Yes!”, Skyfire confirmed. “Starscream has two brothers who have to fight... uh... well, that might be too complicated... uhm... Well, they are not here when they should! Every seeker should be free to visit an academy or do whatever they want! They shouldn’t live in just one cell!”

“Oh yes! They should all explore the wide world! But...” Now V became unsure, while B began to show disinterest. “What about the babies? Split said, it is very important to make a lot of babies! Will we do the procedure again soon?”

“N-No! Currently there are... uh... enough babies...”, Skyfire stuttered.

Starscream’s hand slid in his. “There is still room to do the procedure, though... the childless version...”

Skyfire crossed his legs.

“What sense does the procedure make, when you don’t make a child?”, V asked confused.

“None!”, Skyfire squeaked. “The way the factory workers do it... it’s... artificial... a free seeker doesn’t do it artificially... and not with the help of some strangers, but with someone they... uhm... like very much...”

“With you?”, V asked smiling brightly.

“Uhhhhh...” Skyfire’s glassy parts fogged.

“Oh, I’m looking forward to it”, V continued. “And B will be there, too. And Split of course! He is a worker, but I like him! Nightmare can do the procedure with me, too. And...” He looked cautiously to Starscream.

“Keep on dreaming, little one. Starscream isn’t into the ‘born sexy yesterday’ trope”, Starscream said slickly.

V looked confused to Skyfire and the shuttle tried to find the right words: “Well, what he wants to say is... there are tons of experiences all of you have to make first before you can make such an important decision. We’ll do it... like you said before... step by step. No rushing. First you’ll learn about the world, then you’ll learn to live in the world and everything else comes after that...”

“Huh... it’s... weird... for the procedures to stop now... to not looking forward to carry and to carry a baby... it’s different... but... when I learn about the wide world, I can be allowed to take care of my baby myself, right? Even when I’m just a seeker?” V looked spark-breakingly hopeful.

“Yes!”, Skyfire confirmed.

“And there is no ‘just a’ before ‘seeker’, understood?”, Starscream added and V nodded in excitement.

“Isn’t that wonderful?!”, V asked B, but their first acquisition just shrugged.

---

It was hard to peel Nightmare off Skyfire to make him sleep next to B and V, but Starscream flexing his claws sped the process up significantly. After that was done Skyfire gave Starscream a very disapproving look which just raised a low-pitched chuckle.
Now all three seekers lay there in a pile, the babies protectively clutched against their chests. Skyfire put energon cubes and thermo-blankets next to them should they need them and then gave them a final “Good night!”, before he left the living room.

“I know, you might still be pissy because I taught Nightmare some manners...”, Starscream said and closed the door, before he locked it.

Did Skyfire see and hear that right? He had locked the door?
He lay on the mattress and had just waited for Starscream to curl up in his usual position between his right arm and chest, but... this was different. ... Something was going to be different tonight, wasn’t it? Skyfire’s sparkpulse quickened...

“And I am pissy because we are becoming a home of rejects... whereas Thundercracker and Skywarp... even Red Rain and Stratus and maybe also Cloudwalker... are sitting on a hostile planet and I want them off there.”

“We will get them off there!”, Skyfire promised. He was glad his voice wasn’t shaky despite the circumstances. When he was being honest about something truly important... he could be strong...

Starscream just smirked, his eyes closed for a moment as if to debate something within his head, before he strut closer to the bed. First it seemed as if he was just going to his standard place, but then he kept on moving... Skyfire could feel both his clawed hands press lightly against his chest, before he gracefully jumped on top of him and spread his legs, showing the curve of what was usually impossible to see from Skyfire’s top-down perspective. Starscream’s crotch was... narrow... beneath the pointy plate normally hiding it. Skyfire could feel his spark sink... But this wasn’t what Starscream wanted to bring to his attention. At least not the only thing...

“You liked what you saw in the bathroom?”, he asked and opened his chest plating. “My energon filtering system is inactive, so it will look different though...”
His long fingers revealed his inner parts slowly, beginning with the soothing blue light coming from the window in his spark casing. Then more followed... the main cables, to the smaller delicate ones. Protective angular plating artfully folding away, revealing even more intimate parts... like dark red biolights, evidence of a powerful engine... softer parts, vulnerable parts, sensitive parts...! Golden glimmering circuits, the fractals of the crystal encasing his innermost part... This was software becoming hardware... or the other way around... who knew anymore?

Skyfire was drunken by the sight and his hands raised to wrap around that thin waist to hold this wonderful being... to pull it closer...

“No! No touching!”, Starscream said sternly and Skyfire’s hands dropped down on the mattress like shot cyberbirds. Instead something else raised...
Starscream noticed it too and folded his arms in front of his chest as he turned his head to see one of Skyfire’s innermost parts...

“You know...”, Starscream said hoarsely. “I can’t take that in.”

“I know...”, Skyfire answered anxiously.

“But I...”, Starscream leaned forward and rubbed his crotch against Skyfire’s abdomen... so he could feel it open... and the slick, warm wetness that was coming from it. “I still dream of having you inside me...” He stroked Skyfire’s cheek with a long claw. “Because I know you would never hurt me.”

Skyfire sobbed. He didn’t feel like he deserved this trust. Even though he knew Starscream was right. He could never hurt him. Never! That very thought was beyond him.

“So...”, Starscream said a little hesitating. “Would you be okay with you taking me in instead?”

“Why would I not?!” Skyfire said like a shot. “Uhm... if you think... it’ll work...?”, he added becoming quite unsure.

“Why shouldn’t it work out?”, Starscream asked sadistically.

“B-Because my v-valve isn’t unlike my other... hardware... it’s... oversized...”

“You mean it fits the size of your body? Again, where is the problem?”

“Uhh...” Skyfire was unable to respond any further.

Starscream came to his aid. “Don’t worry. I’ll use my hand... and my arm... while it’s transformed into this...!”

His arm changed into a long, protruding gun with aggressively glaring, red lights.

Skyfire squeaked.