Truthfully, Optimus had not been expecting any other mech to be outside when he stepped onto the roof of the Ark.
Well, “roof.” Technically, the majority of the roof was buried in the side of a mountain. The part that Optimus frequented these late nights, though technically the top part of the ship, did not serve as the roof to any of the interior areas. Rather it was part of the hull that surrounded the ship’s main thrusters. It would have been dangerous to stand on were the ship functional, given the proximity to said thrusters, but since the ship was decidedly not functional, it was a fine enough perch for nights like these when recharge eluded him and his habsuite started feeling a little too cramped.
While a physical diagnosis would deem him to be in perfect health, it didn’t take a medic of Ratchet’s caliber to figure out why Optimus often had trouble getting a good night’s rest. Pit, half the soldiers on the ship found themselves awake at odd hours. If not because of a Decepticon problem somewhere else in the world, because their own processor had decided to turn against them. Too much had happened for any of them to be free of disadvantageous subroutines.
Everyone had a way of occupying themselves or getting back to recharge. Prowl would read through old reports, Ratchet would catalogue the medbay’s inventory. Jazz and Blaster had put together a collection of relaxing songs from Earth that many mechs took advantage of.
Optimus went stargazing.
Many of the other Autobots would say the stars were boring, their race being spacefaring and all, but Optimus never found them such. Because of that, he often found himself alone out there.
Except for tonight. Evident enough by the broad set of white and red wings he caught sight of upon reaching the outdoors. For the briefest second Optimus’s battle computer entered the “threat determination” stage, but he immediately shut it down with a wave of guilt. Careless frame discrimination was what had begun this whole ordeal in the first place. Not every mech with wings is an enemy.
Although, technically, this one had been. Briefly.
Skyfire glanced up as Optimus approached, bowing his shoulders and giving the Prime a respectful dip of his helm in greeting. “Sir,” he said.
“No need for such formalities,” Optimus said with a wave of his servo. “Mind if I join you?”
“Of course not.” Skyfire gestured to the empty spot beside him, and Optimus sat down with a quiet “thank you.” For several minutes, they simply sat side by side in silence, each staring at their own respective part of the sky.
“They haven’t changed,” Skyfire said softly. “The stars? They’re nearly exactly as they were all those years ago.”
Optimus glanced at him. “When you crashed?”
“Yes. I didn’t get to see them for long, of course. Just before I fell into stasis, the clouds above my tomb cleared, and for a single moment I could see the sky. It was marginally different, of course, different point on the planet, different season, etcetera. But similar enough.” He sighed. “The moon is still exactly the same.”
“They managed to land on it,” Optimus said. “The humans? A little over a decade ago-- that is, ten of their years. Another country got to space first, but this one was the first to send one of their own to the moon.”
“Fascinating,” Skyfire said quietly. “It took them that long?”
“They weren’t originally a technological race,” he explained, drawing from his own memory banks of the media he consumed as well as what their human companions had told him. “And it took them many, many eons into their planet’s creation to actually assert themselves as a dominant force. They moved startling fast once they evolved into a recognizable species, though, it only took them about three hundred years to develop space travel after they made the first steam-powered machines.”
Skyfire did actually look mildly impressed. “That’s quite a jump,” he said. “Only three hundred for that kind of advancement?”
“I know, it surprised me too. But with such short lifespans, I suppose they must act quickly. Develop whatever they will before the next generation surpasses them.” He glanced at Skyfire, who-- at some point-- had taken a datapad from his subspace and begun jotting down notes. “You seem remarkably interested in this.”
The shuttle paused. Then flushed, carefully tucking his datapad away. “Ah. Sorry, I… My major was xenobiology. I’ve always been fascinated by life on other planets. You’ll… have to pardon my enthusiasm.”
“No, no, no need to apologize,” Optimus said. “It wasn’t a criticism. Simply something I noticed. Most of the other Autobots don’t care much for humanity as a whole.”
“Well, they are not alone in that regard.”
His tone was shockingly bitter compared to his earlier warmth, and looked at Skyfire with mild alarm. “I had thought you would care,” he said, hesitantly. “Or… is it simply a scientific interest? Rather than, er, an emotional one?”
“What?” Skyfire’s optics went wide. “Oh! Oh, no, not myself. I care very deeply about them and their history. It’s… I was referring to the Decepticons.”
That… made a lot more sense, admittedly. Optimus’s optics dimmed and he glanced away, sure he was scowling even if he hadn’t intended it. “They do not seem to have much regard for the natives of this planet, no,” he said, voice steely. “Acting as though the humans are encroaching on some claim they have to this world, when it is we who are the intruders. We brought our war here. It is not the humans who are interfering with the natural way of things.”
Skyfire was silent for several seconds. Optimus found himself growing more embarrassed at his brief tirade as the moments with no response went on.
“It’s alright,” Skyfire said abruptly before he could apologize. “I get the sense you’ve had that on your chassis for a while. I am perfectly happy to listen, if you need to talk.” Such a kind-sparked mech. It was a wonder being woken among the Decepticons and learning of all that had passed in his absence hadn’t ruined that.
“I appreciate the offer. But… no, it’s best I don’t.” He narrowed his optics. “If I get going on that topic, we’ll be here all night.”
Silence settled over them once more. There was the click of a vocalizer resetting, and Optimus glanced over at the sound. Skyfire looked as though there was something he was about to say, but decided against it.
“Please, feel free to speak your mind.”
“Well,” the shuttle said after much deliberation, and he sounded almost… sheepish about it. “I suppose I’ve merely been wondering…” He reset his vocalizer again. “Were you and Megatron…?”
Optimus couldn’t blame him, he supposed. Many mechs had asked the same over the years. (And, truth be told, Optimus had wanted to sate some curiosity of his own since they’d brought the shuttle in.)
“No,” Optimus said, averting his optics. “We… no. Never.” As much as mechs assumed so, by the way they interacted on the battlefield. And as much as he may have wanted it, once upon a time. Wanted more. Any remnants of those feelings had quickly vanished when he’d nearly killed Optimus and doomed Cybertron. He glanced over at Skyfire to ask his own question in return. “Were you and Starscream…?”
Skyfire smiled, laughing quietly. “Oh yes,” he said. “Very much so.”
“Ah.” Optimus felt his cheeks go warm under his mask. “I see.” Apparently his fluster was evident enough in his expression, because Skyfire laughed again, a bit louder this time. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologize.” The shuttle looked back towards the night sky, expression going soft. Fond. Nostalgic, perhaps. “We were. I considered myself incredibly lucky. That a mech like him would even look at a mech like me. The name was accurate; sometimes I truly felt as though I’d found myself caught in his orbit.” He gave a little sigh. Optimus had to remind himself it was Starscream they were talking about.
Curiosity got the better of him. “What was he like?”
“Stubborn,” Skyfire said immediately. “Self-absorbed. Rude. But he was also intelligent, and passionate, and determined. He knew what he wanted and demanded the world give it to him, even if most would rather see him fail. Compared to my outlook, he was a breath of fresh air, so to speak.” His expression became downturned. “He was… in some ways, very much the same mech he is today. But in other ways… I hardly even recognize him.” His wings lowered slightly, and Optimus didn’t need to be well-versed in reading the body language of flight frames to know what that meant. “I suppose it’s bound to happen. Millions of years and all.”
Perhaps it would have been better if Optimus didn’t ask, but his filter had never been his strong suit, especially not in one-on-one conversations like these. Sure, he could hold his vocalizer when giving speeches to hundreds of soldiers, but not when there was no one to witness any mistake he might’ve made. “Do you miss him?”
Silence. Optimus opened his mouth to apologize for sticking his pede in it, but Skyfire once more beat him to the punch. “I do,” the shuttle said, all soft and sad. “Very much.” And Optimus couldn’t help shuffling over to set an arm around him. Skyfire gave him a mildly grateful look.
He couldn’t say he was sure Starscream missed him too, because last he knew the Seeker had shot at him. He couldn’t say he knew how Skyfire felt, because he didn’t, and probably (hopefully) would never know. Sorry wasn’t good enough and silence just felt brusque, so instead he settled for; “He sounds like he was a wonderful mech.”
“He was. And… I can’t help but think he still is.” Skyfire went slightly pink in the cheeks. “I know he’s, well, the enemy and all. And I shouldn’t admire him. But he was always an excellent flier, and he’s only gotten better in the time that’s passed. I can’t help but be a little, ah. Starstruck.” His sheepish expression darkened. “I also can’t help but wonder, though, what might have changed if I hadn’t crashed. Whether he still would have become so… cruel.”
“It’s rarely good to wonder about such impossibilities, my friend.” As much as Optimus frequently did the same. (What if the Decepticons had been everything he’d thought they were? What if Megatron had been the mech Orion Pax had thought he was? What if Orion Pax had died for good on the docks that day?)
“I know,” the shuttle said with a sigh. “And yet, here we are.”
“...Right.” The words felt heavy. “Here we are.” There was a lot of weight in that statement. Here they were, seated on the broken remnants of a starship, millions of lightyears from home on a planet not suited for them, fighting a war that had been long-dormant until they awoke
Skyfire stared up at the stars blanketing the darkened sky, pinpricks of light reflected in his optics. Knowing what the shuttle had been through, waking up to an alien world and a war he didn’t understand, Optimus couldn’t help but admire him and his tenacity. A lesser mech would have crumpled under the pressure. But still Skyfire stood tall, held onto his beliefs and his ideals. Remained hopeful.
Remained loving. Even when a mech like Optimus could not.
The barest edges of daylight were beginning to crest the horizon when Skyfire finally moved. “Thank you for the company, Prime,” he said, setting a servo on Optimus’s back for just a moment before getting to his pedes. “Rest well.”
Surprisingly quiet for someone of his stature, Skyfire departed and made his way back down into the Ark.
Probably entirely belatedly, Optimus wondered if he ought to pay Skyfire a visit in his hab, make sure he had good enough accommodations. Not only because this had been their most lengthy conversation since the shuttle had arrived. The ship hadn’t been built with flight frames in mind, especially not ones of Skyfire’s considerable height. While they couldn’t exactly refit his room-- mostly owing to a lack of materials-- perhaps something could be jury-rigged if his current provisions weren’t suited enough.
The idea got added to his mental to-do list. Right under “remind Sideswipe that Optimus definitely knew what mechs racing in the halls sounded like, and if he wanted to continue doing it, perhaps right outside Optimus’s quarters was not the best set of halls to pick.”
He’d go inside and recharge for a little while longer before his presence was needed. Eventually.
But for now, he was plenty happy to just sit and enjoy the rising sun.