Friday, December 4th, 2009 01:28 am
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 5 (Read or Download at AO3)
Pairing: Skyfire/Silverbolt

Summary: The problem with falling in love with an Aerialbot is that his brothers are pretty much part of the package. And the problem with falling in love with someone who has unfinished business from his past is that sometimes the unfinished business is Starscream...

Notes: I ATEN'T DEAD. Nor is the fic. Various people have been expressing interest in this pairing recently, which makes me madly happy, and when I am madly happy I write more. :D


A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 5

"I think," said Skyfire, when the pyrotechnics had died down, and he felt it was safe to lower the arm he'd thrown up protectively in front of his optics, "that we may have made an error in that last set of calculations."

"You don't say." Perceptor had been the quickest to react. His voice was coming from under the workbench. "Am I likely to retain all my limbs if I emerge?"

"You're a pair of cowardly crankshafts," Wheeljack told them cheerfully, wiping soot off his faceplates with no evidence of dismay. He hadn't even reacted to the sudden ignition of their pet project; Skyfire could only assume that long experience had taught him to recognise the severity of a lab incident in mere nanokliks. Or possibly his reflex subroutines were just burned out. "That was barely a toaster fire. At least we know it works."

"For a given value of 'works'." Skyfire prodded the sad mess that had melted itself onto his workbench with a tentative finger. "We know it produces the sort of energy range we need, but as for it being in a useful form..."

"Oh dear, I've just had a thought," came Perceptor's disembodied voice. "Did anyone think to compensate for the double switchback we installed in the tertiary module?"

There was a pause, as the two standing 'bots looked at each other. Skyfire groaned, and Wheeljack's fins flashed the peachy colour of embarrassment.

"Yeah, that'd be it. Frag. Sorry, guys."

"Neither of us thought of it either," Skyfire pointed out.

"The switchback was my bit, though, I shoulda..."

"We learn by doing," Perceptor intoned solemnly from floor level. "And occasionally by exploding."

Skyfire leaned over the workbench to peer curiously at his friend.

"Do you plan to rejoin the land of the vertical any time soon?"

"It's surprisingly pleasant down here, actually. I was thinking of getting comfortable."

"Oh, Primus, not you as well..."

That got him a curious look from Wheeljack, while Perceptor laughed merrily and unfolded himself neatly from under the workbench.

"Fireflight," said Skyfire, for Wheeljack's benefit.

"He does get into the strangest places," Perceptor agreed, wandering over to examine the mess they'd created. "Though he generally has the most excellent reasons."

"I'm a little afraid to leave them alone together," Skyfire murmured to Wheeljack, who snickered. Perceptor pretended primly not to hear.

"What's with that, anyway?" Wheeljack asked, tilting his head curiously at Skyfire. "Every time I come in here lately, you seem to have our entire air force for company."

"Only Silverbolt and Fireflight," Skyfire protested. "Silverbolt just needs somewhere quiet to work, and Fireflight... I don't know, Fireflight is so interested in everything, I don't have the spark to turn him out. He's no trouble."

Well, except when he inadvertently poked something, dropped something, distracted Skyfire at a critical moment, or couldn't take a hint and shut up for five minutes - but Skyfire, with a little prompting from Silverbolt, had discovered that the best approach was the direct one. Fireflight was surprisingly amenable to being told it was time to go, and Skyfire found that he didn't mind the distraction when he knew that he could put an end to it whenever he needed to.

Besides, Fireflight wasn't really in the lab that much - he was just hard to miss when he was there. It was Silverbolt who seemed, increasingly, to be a fixture, sometimes just for a couple of hours, sometimes for most of a shift, if he had a lot of paperwork to get through. Skyfire was starting to find that he missed it when Silverbolt was elsewhere - he missed having someone to talk to, and even the companionable silence when they were both busy with their own tasks.

"Some of the circuitry seems to have survived," Perceptor commented. He had been delicately picking apart the scorched pieces of metal. "Could you lend me a servo, Wheeljack? I think if we can salvage the resonance amplifier and some of the osmetrics, we should be able to have another working model by the end of the shift."

"I'm on it."

Skyfire surveyed the pall of smoke that lay over his lab, reached over to activate the environmental clean up controls, and then checked his internal chronometer. There wasn't a lot he could do until his companions had rebuilt the device - his work mostly involved the later stages and managing the resultant energy conversion. It was frustrating to be left idle when they were so close to a breakthrough that could fundamentally alter the entire Autobot mission, but he didn't think he could concentrate on anything else for the time being.

"I'm going to go and refuel," he said. "Comm me when you're done?"

"Sure." Wheeljack was busy prying the melted heat pump off Skyfire's ruined workbench. "Hey, Perce, you think you could snag that loop there--"

Skyfire left them to it. The halls of the Ark were quiet as he made his way to the common room. The primary shift schedules had recently changed, so that most 'bots were either on duty or deep in recharge at this point; only a few were enjoying downtime, and most of those seemed to have vacated the Ark to enjoy the reportedly sunny weather they had been having. Skyfire hadn't been outside the Ark for days, too caught up in his projects; all of a sudden he felt the urge to stretch his wings.

Well, he didn't need to refuel that badly. Skyfire changed direction, heading for the entrance.

It took him a moment to register the sounds coming from around the next corner - hushed voices arguing, the odd bump and scrape, and a clatter as someone dropped something, quickly followed by a whispered, "Quiet!" and a murmured apology. Skyfire slowed warily. He was well aware of the sort of thing that bored Autobots got up to in their downtime, particularly the younger ones, and he had no desire to be caught in one of Sideswipe's notorious pranks.

That voice had sounded familiar, though. With a feeling of foreboding, he peered around the corner.

Sure enough, it was the Aerialbots - well, three of them. There was no sign of Slingshot or Silverbolt. The thing that really drew his attention, though, was not the sight of Fireflight, Air Raid, and Skydive trying to sneak along the corridor out of sight of the security cameras, nor even the bizarre assortment of tools and components they were carrying, but the - thing - they were dragging along between them.

"What are you doing?"

All three of them jumped guiltily. Fireflight gave a small squeak and dropped a length of pipe - for the second time, judging by the similarity of the noise it made when it hit the ground. Three pairs of optics watched it roll down the corridor and stop at Skyfire's feet, before snapping upwards to his face. Fireflight immediately relaxed, worried expression melting into a smile of greeting, but the other two looked like Skyfire was the last person on Earth they wanted to see.

"Hi Skyfire!" said Fireflight brightly. "Look what we made!"

Skyfire bent to pick up the pipe, briefly scanned it to make sure it wasn't dangerous - not that he really expected it to be - and held it out. Fireflight darted forward to take it, leaving the other two to support their... creation.

"Oh, I'm looking," Skyfire said. "You made that? I thought perhaps you'd found it in a swamp."

There was a snigger from Air Raid. He patted the monstrosity affectionately.

"That's the idea," he said. Then, unable to resist showing off, "Does it work?"

"Well, it looks very... organic..." Curiosity overcame trepidation. "What did you make it from? It can't be plastic, the texture's all wrong."

"Some stuff Carly told us about," said Fireflight. "Pap - er - papper something?"

"Papier-mâché," Skydive corrected. "Pulped paper and glue."

"You wouldn't believe the mess it makes," Air Raid added. "Then we had to paint it, and varnish it to make it look all slimy..."

It did look slimy, Skyfire had to admit. In fact, it bore a striking resemblance to those toads Fireflight had been so interested in a week ago. The mottling effect had been painted on with painstaking care, and someone had fashioned a pair of truly creepy glass eyes that bulged from the misshapen head. The odd bits of supporting framework that hadn't quite been covered by the papier-mâché only added to the alarming effect, giving it a sort of techno-organic air. It also looked suspiciously like it had been constructed from the scrap metal that had mysteriously disappeared from Skyfire's lab, and which he had assumed Hoist had picked up.

Skyfire made a mental note to be more wary of Fireflight's innocent expression from now on.

"It's very convincing," he said. "But if you don't mind me asking, what is it for?"

Air Raid and Skydive looked like they did mind him asking, but Fireflight replied blithely, "We're going to prank Red Alert!"

The vague amusement that had been hovering in Skyfire's processor disappeared.

"Is that a good idea?" he asked carefully.

"Aw, come on," Air Raid said. "You know what he's like! He's way over the top about the security stuff, he'll go nuts if we set this up somewhere he's not expecting. It'll be hilarious!"

Skyfire had to consciously mute his vocaliser to stop his immediate, angry response: that there was nothing 'hilarious' about sending Red Alert into one of his famous meltdowns. Lecturing them wouldn't help - Air Raid and Skydive already had that air of defiance, and Fireflight simply didn't think they were doing anything wrong.

That was the problem, Skyfire guessed, looking at the three of them - they couldn't see that what they were about to do crossed the line from a harmless prank into a genuinely cruel act. Not to mention compromising Ark security. They were too young, too self-centred - too convinced that everyone else was out to get them. Skyfire's brief surge of anger towards them disappeared, leaving only the problem of how to avert yet another trip to Prime's office - and yet another bad day for Silverbolt.

"May I ask you something?"

"Sure!" said Fireflight, at the same time as Skydive said, "Depends what it is."

"How would you feel if someone pushed Silverbolt off a cliff to scare him?"

There was a moment's stunned silence, and then a babble of three voices that amounted to the fact that anyone who messed with Silverbolt like that was screwed in the processor and they, the Aerialbots, would kill them dead. Skyfire waited patiently for the indignation to die down.

"I know Red Alert can seem strange or ridiculous sometimes," he said when he was sure they were listening, "but he dedicates himself completely to protecting the Autobots - you, me, all of us. Did you know that he doesn't ever take leave? And he's always linked into the security grid, even in downtime? The reason he is so highly strung is that he never stops thinking about keeping everybody safe - he puts that above everything else, even his own comfort. And I don't think that taking advantage of that would be very funny."

They stared at him. Skyfire was deeply relieved to note that their expressions were a mixture of shame and surprise – he'd guessed right, there had been no intentional cruelty in their plans. Fireflight, indeed, looked horrified, and Skydive gave the impression that he wished the ground would open up and swallow him – or at least the papier-mâché monster he was still clutching.

"Well what are we supposed to do with this then?" Air Raid demanded resentfully, shaking said monster so that its carapace rattled. "We worked on it for ages."

"It doesn't matter, Air Raid," Skydive murmured. "We'll think of something, let's just go."

Skyfire hesitated, knowing he shouldn't really encourage any sort of prank - but the Aerialbots looked so honestly crestfallen that he was driven to try and make some amends for spoiling their fun. And it wasn't like it would do any harm...

"Why don't you put it in the common room?" he said, and was immediately the focus of three startled gazes.

"Nah, that's never gonna work, it'll be too obvious," Air Raid said. "They'll just laugh."

"How about that little alcove just behind the energon dispensers?" Skyfire had once been surprised by Spike and Carly crouching in said alcove armed with water pistols full of paint; fortunately it hadn't been him they were lying in wait for. "You can't see into it until you're right there."

"And people would be thinking about their energon," Skydive said, picking up on Skyfire's train of thought easily. "They wouldn't see it until they'd poured out a cube..."

"They'll take a sip and totally freak out!" Air Raid finished, delighted. "Oh Primus, that's perfect!"

"Yeah," Fireflight put in, "but there's still people in the common room. How're we going to get it in there without everyone seeing?"

"You're telling me," Skyfire said with a smile, "that you can't figure out a way to distract them?"

"Course we can!" Air Raid grabbed the monstrosity, marched over to Skyfire, and shoved it at him. "Come on, you can carry this thing, you're bigger than us."

"Wait, what?" Skyfire had the sensation of a large pit opening up underneath him. "Oh no, I'm not getting involved in--"

"It was your idea," retorted Air Raid. He was grinning in a way that had Skyfire distinctly worried. "You're not chickening out now!"

"I'm not exactly designed for sneaking around--"

"Didn't you just say something about a distraction?" asked Skydive sweetly.

Faced with three determined expressions (and one googly-eyed one), Skyfire had no choice but to capitulate.

* * *


".... and then," Air Raid was saying, vocaliser almost overloading from sheer glee, "Cliffjumper says 'Geez, what's wrong with you?' and turns around and he sees it and yells..."

"I think the phrase Spike would use," Skydive put in, "is 'screamed like a little girl'."

They went off into gales of laughter again, and Silverbolt couldn't help the bemused smile tugging at his mouth. He'd had a bad feeling when he'd taken off with Slingshot, to the point where he'd wondered if he should ask Hot Spot or Skyfire to keep an eye on the rest of his gestalt. He'd half expected to find them in the brig when he got back.

Instead, he'd returned to find the common room buzzing with suppressed amusement as dozens of pairs of optics kept a not-very-stealthy watch on the energon dispenser - and its lurking 'watcher'. His brothers had even tried to catch him and Slingshot out, but it was hard to play a trick like that on someone who was linked into your subconscious and could pick up on the anticipation, so he hadn't more than jumped slightly, and Slingshot's response had just been, "You should've made the eyes glow."

"And Red Alert hasn't said anything?" Silverbolt asked.

"That was the best part!" crowed Fireflight. "He commed Skyfire to find out what we were doing, and when Skyfire told him what it was for, you know what he said?"

"No?"

"He said," Air Raid cut in, grinning like a loon, "he said, 'Make sure you get Sideswipe.' How awesome is that?"

"I can't believe you did it when I wasn't here," Slingshot complained. "Did you get Sideswipe?"

"Oh yes," said Skydive with a grin. "He spilled energon all over Sunstreaker. Sunstreaker was not amused."

"But Sideswipe thought it was such a good prank he went and got his vidcam and set it up to catch everyone else's reactions," Fireflight added. "So you guys can see them later!"

"I can't wait," replied Silverbolt dryly - though, to be honest, it did sound funny. There was just one minor detail he was having trouble with. "Tell me again how you roped Skyfire into this?"

The three who'd stayed on base exchanged a quick, complicated glance that made Silverbolt wonder what it was they weren't telling him. It was hard to get worried, though, when they were all here safe and well, and no-one was calling for them to be put in the brig, and most of the Ark seemed to be as amused by the results as Air Raid was.

"He was just sort of in the right place at the right time," said Skydive. "Or possibly the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Yeah, he was a really good sport about it," Air Raid added. "He's not so bad."

Slingshot snorted derisively, but Silverbolt was too pleased - and exasperated - to care. After all his efforts to get them to accept Skyfire - after Skyfire had proved his willingness to fight beside them - it was just typical that it would be something stupid like this that would start to thaw the ice.

As the other three went back to recounting their triumph - Slingshot demanded to know if they'd got Blades yet - Silverbolt leaned back in his chair and opened a comm line.

There was a pause before Skyfire answered.

:Hello?:

:So should I be worried that you're corrupting my gestalt, or vice versa?:

:Er.: Embarrassment was clear in Skyfire's voice. :I would say that I can explain everything, but I really can't. I'm not even sure how it happened.:

:From the sound of it, Air Raid happened. He does that.:

:Yes, he's certainly got a way of sweeping one along with him.: A pause, and then, with studied off-handedness. :How did it turn out? I had to get back to the lab before anyone came into the common room.:

:I take it you're asking this purely out of scientific curiosity or something?:

:Of course.:

:At last count, they got most of the last shift and some of the next one. They have video footage. I'm sure they'd be only too thrilled to show you.:

Skyfire laughed down the comm line, and Silverbolt realised he was grinning in response.

:I hope they didn't distract you too much from your work,: he went on. :Fireflight didn't pull you out of the lab or anything, did he?:

:No, no, I was taking a break. And as a matter of fact,: there was suppressed excitement in his voice, the kind that made Silverbolt want to see his face and the light he knew would be in his optics, :we've finally done what we've been trying to do for the past month. I'm just writing it up now.:

:That's great!: Silverbolt wasn't entirely clear on what Skyfire had been doing - mostly because it was highly classified - but he'd gathered it had something to do with energy conversion, and ways to maximise it without draining the Earth's resources the way the Decepticons had so often attempted. :We should celebrate! Hot Spot's always offering to pass on that high grade of Groove's, I should take him up on it.:

:I'd like that. In fact, maybe we could--:

All at once, a harsh, prolonged tone cut across his voice - the signal for an incoming priority communication. With a quick apology to Skyfire, Silverbolt switched channels.

:Silverbolt.: It was Optimus Prime himself, deep voice as calm as always, but with a hint of some thrumming emotion below the words that made Silverbolt sit up straight and tense. :I know your team is on downtime, but we have an urgent situation that requires immediate response. Can you be in my office in five breems?:

:Yes, sir.: Silverbolt cast a quick look around the common room; some of the senior officers were already hurrying out. :Should I tell my team to prep for launch?:

:Yes,: replied Optimus, :I think you had better.: There was a pause, and then, to Silverbolt's amazement, an amused note crept into his leader's voice. :And do commend them on their painting skills. Prime out.:

* * *


The Autobots, as a rule, reacted rather than acted - something that Skyfire suspected, in his more cynical moments, had contributed to the length of the war.

But when they did act, he was learning, they held nothing back.

:We need cover in the north quadrant,: came Prowl's voice, calm as always.

:On it.:

Skyfire sent a couple of parting shots after Blitzwing, then peeled off in a loop that took him back towards the main engagement. Spread beneath him were most of the Autobot forces - barely a skeleton crew had been left in the Ark - and even his cursory glance was enough to tell him that the Decepticons were fighting a losing battle. The initial force had been caught unaware, pinned neatly between the space bridge and the rocky walls that surmounted it, and when Megatron had arrived leading reinforcements, they had been manoeuvred expertly into a similar trap.

It helped that, although the two triplechangers were making a nuisance of themselves, most of the Seekers were conspicuous by their absence. Skyfire had spotted Dirge - keeping low and using the terrain as camouflage - but the rest of his wing, and the entirety of Starscream's, had failed to put in an appearance. Skyfire had the impression that this was not merely happy coincidence, that Autobot command had counted on it, but he wasn't privy to their counsels. Silverbolt probably knew - but Silverbolt was too busy to answer questions right now.

It wasn't the first time Skyfire had seen Superion in battle, but it was the first since he'd got to know the Aerialbots better. It was strange and rather unsettling to catch glimpses of the massive figure engrossed in its guard detail by the space bridge. Superion wasn't exactly clumsy, but he didn't move with the grace of his component parts. When he spoke, his booming voice was slow and careful, and whatever thoughts occupied his processor, they were glacial compared to the lightning-darts of the young jets who came together to give him form. Skyfire wasn't sure, but he had the impression that both Superion and Defensor were the bearers of much older sparks than those that Vector Sigma had gifted to the gestalt teams themselves. It was as if they had been intended as guardians of their young charges. He noted the idea for later research, and dived down to warn off the pair of Stunticons who had been attempting to cut their way through Prowl's detachment.

A blast cut across so close to Skyfire's nosecone that he jerked up instinctively, losing way and almost sending himself into a spin. The hot wash of ozone across his plating and the thrum of attendant radiation told him all he needed to know about its point of origin, and he flung himself into a sideways slip just in time to dodge a second shot. He'd been on the wrong end of Megatron's fusion cannon once or twice before, and he had no desire to repeat the experience. A quick sensor scan confirmed his suspicions: the Decepticon leader had found himself a vantage point and was deliberately targeting Skyfire. So far he hadn't taken to the air himself - Decepticons might be able to fly in root mode, but they weren't especially manoeuvrable compared to those with aerial alt forms - but Skyfire realised that, as the only Autobot currently in the nearby airspace, he was likely to remain Megatron's target.

He relayed this information to Prowl, searching the ground as he did so for the familiar blue-and-red of Optimus Prime. There was no sign of the Autobot leader.

:Try to keep him engaged,: was the surprising response.

:Are you sure?: Autobot battle policy was generally to leave Megatron to Optimus.

:Yes,: Prowl snapped. :Keep his attention away from the space bridge.:

Another massive blast grazed Skyfire's wing, and he fought the urge to climb for height. He was going to have to attack Megatron directly, he realised - it would be too obvious if he just dodged shots while staying conveniently in range.

Ironically, he'd be happier on the ground - he was one of the few 'bots who had the size and strength to take Megatron on face to face - but there were enough Decepticons in the area to swamp him if he landed. He was pretty sure his guns didn't have the power to do more than superficial damage to Megatron's notoriously tough plating - but then, he supposed if Prowl wanted the Decepticon leader distracted, superficial damage was all that was needed

Steeling himself, Skyfire went into a long dive, firing wildly as if over-confidence or anger had prompted him into such a foolish course of action. He briefly heard Megatron's roar of challenge as he twisted out of the way of another shot, but it was drowned out by the sudden blare of warnings in his audio receptors. Either one of Megatron's fusion blasts had come closer than he'd thought, or he'd been hit by someone else - an energy surge from his shields had rippled through the rest of his system, leaving them at less than half power. Hoping Prowl would hurry up with whatever it was that needed to be done, Skyfire turned grimly into another attack run.

His luck ran out on the fifth pass. Megatron waited just a fraction longer between shots, catching Skyfire square on the undercarriage. Pain lanced deep into his body as the powerful blast tore open plating and shredded circuits in its path. Skyfire pulled up sharply, clawing for height, and the next shot scorched his right wing from tip to leading edge. Only iron self-control kept him from howling out loud.

:Prowl--:

:Just a few more breems!: Prowl's voice was tight. :I'm sending the twins your way. Can you hang on?:

:I'll try.:

The damage wasn't so severe that he couldn't fly, but it hurt, and Skyfire knew he was dripping energon from severed hydraulics. He forced himself to ignore it, coding quickly around his own subroutines to minimise the pain signals, and made one more turn. He could see Sideswipe and Sunstreaker some distance away, but they wouldn't get to him soon enough unless he did something else to distract Megatron. And now Soundwave was scrambling towards his leader, something in the urgency of his movements suggesting that he knew exactly what Skyfire was up to...

One more. Just one more and I can--

Then Megatron wasn't there. For a moment Skyfire thought he was too late - then he caught the tell tale flicker of silver in Soundwave's hands. Skyfire pulled up so hard he almost stalled himself, but Soundwave followed the movement as though he'd seen it coming, and even from this distance Skyfire thought he could hear the whine of Megatron's alt-form - even more powerful than his fusion cannon - reaching critical charge...

An enormous hand swiped out of nowhere and grabbed Soundwave bodily, sweeping him off the top of the outcropping and then letting go so that he was flung helplessly into space. Skyfire managed to level out, and found himself almost nosecone-to-optic with the looming form of Superion.

:You are hurt.:

Superion sounded nothing like any of the Aerialbots - his deep voice was slow and stern, with a low rumble of anger under the words that startled Skyfire.

:Not so badly,: he replied, banking gently to avoid the giant 'bot, and wincing in pain despite his words. A quick glance downwards showed Soundwave struggling upright, and a battered Megatron returning to root mode. :Thank you.:

Superion rumbled wordlessly, his optics focused on the Decepticons arrayed below them. For a moment Skyfire caught a faint susurrus on the edge of hearing, as if he were picking up distant comm transmissions.

Then, all at once, Superion transformed - although it was more as though he simply fractured, limbs detaching and great optics going dim as the Aerialbots flew apart from each other. Seconds later, the five jets were airborne, falling into easy formation as they shot towards the Decepticon forces.

:Silverbolt!: came Prowl's furious voice. :Your orders were to guard the space bridge--:

:You wanted Megatron distracted, didn't you?: Silverbolt replied crisply. :If we drive them back on this side, we'll break their formation.:

:My projections do not indicate that--:

:You're not seeing what I'm seeing up here,: Silverbolt interrupted. Skyfire was amazed by how confident he sounded; there was nothing defiant in his voice, and nothing uncertain. :I know the plan, but we can end this if we strike now.:

The Aerialbots were already engaging; Skyfire saw Soundwave dive for cover, while Megatron snarled invective at the sky and tried in vain to target Skydive and Air Raid, who were taking it in turns to harry him with obvious glee. Higher up, lightning crackled over Silverbolt's wings and struck several times in quick succession among the Decepticons on the ground. Skyfire thought he heard a whoop of delight from the Autobots engaging them.

:Very well,: said Prowl at last. :If there's any chance of Decepticons breaking through to the space bridge, your first priority is to return to defence. Understood?:

:Understood.: Silverbolt swept around for another run. He was keeping high, Skyfire saw, while the other four dived in and out, somehow never in the way of Silverbolt's lightning strikes. :Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, can you give us backup?:

:Frag yeah!: Sideswipe had reached the crag; he transformed and began to bound down the other side. Sunstreaker was bare seconds behind. :Just point us at the fun!:

:Come around from the south and cut Breakdown and Drag Strip off from the other Stunticons. I don't want them combining. Skyfire--: Silverbolt hesitated for the first time. :How badly are you hurt?:

:Not too badly,: Skyfire replied, not quite truthfully. :Where do you want me?:

:Go high and head off anyone who makes for the space bridge.:

:Got it.:

Even as he opened throttle and headed skywards, Skyfire could see the Decepticons wavering. The Aerialbots didn't give them even a second to regroup; somehow the four of them were everywhere, darting to and fro like swallows on a summer evening, but shooting with deadly accuracy. Then the twins crashed in, right on cue, a pair of berserkers if there ever were, and in the midst of it all Silverbolt struck again and again, his lightning finding its mark more often than not, and shattering the Decepticons' confidence with every crash and glare.

Skyfire levelled off and started sweeping the terrain with broad scans, circling above the battle and keeping his sensors strained for any sign of Decepticons approaching the captured space bridge. He was in pain, but from here he could see Silverbolt's wings catching the sunlight, flashing silver and gold; could watch that beautiful, slender form dive and swoop without a shadow of the fear he fought so hard to overcome. It made Skyfire's spark pulse faster, and made his discomfort easier to bear as he set himself to hold out until the end of the battle.



* * *


The party had been going on for almost three hours, and didn't show any sign of winding down in the near future. The fact that most of the Autobots were utterly exhausted - Air Raid heard someone saying that Prowl hadn't recharged for three days straight and he was still up there debriefing the officers - only seemed to make them more determined to keep going until they fell over.

Well, Air Raid wasn't going to be outdone on that front, even if his right arm was twinging a bit under the new plating Ratchet had welded on. He wasn't exactly clear on what the objective of today's attack had been - most of it was top secret - but apparently they'd achieved it and then some. They'd even managed to hold onto the space bridge, with the result that the high-grade fuelling the party was Shockwave's finest, and better than anything Air Raid had ever tasted.

And every so often, someone would come up to the Aerialbots, clap one of them on the shoulder, and compliment their shooting, or their flying, or (in Sideswipe's case) their 'fine Decepticon-fragging technique'.

Air Raid was loving every second of it.

"Still no sign of Silverbolt," Skydive said, leaning over to speak into Air Raid's audio receptor. "Do you think he's in trouble?"

"He better not be." Air Raid took another swig of high grade. "We kicked aft out there. Everyone says so."

"Isn't it nice to be appreciated?" Skydive's tone was trying for sardonic, but it didn't quite get there. Air Raid could hear the same pride in it - tinged with amazement - that was thrumming through the link between them. "All the same, you know Prowl hates people going against orders..."

"None of the other officers are here yet either."

"Hmm." Skydive toyed with his own high grade. His attention focused on something over Air Raid's shoulder. "There's Skyfire. Did you see him when we landed? His wing looked awful."

Air Raid turned; sure enough, Skyfire was at the edge of the crowd, looking this way and that. The signs of repaired injuries were obvious on his side, chest and wing - he'd probably only just got out of the repair bay. His optics met Air Raid's, and he made as though to come towards them - then paused. Air Raid saw his optics travel over Skydive, Slingshot, and Fireflight, obviously realising that Silverbolt wasn't there, and just as obviously unsure of a welcome in his absence.

Air Raid only hesitated for a second. Then he shifted his drink over to his left hand and raised his non-sore arm to wave. Skyfire took the cue, making his way through the crowd until he reached the chairs the Aerialbots had commandeered.

"I see you're enjoying the spoils of victory."

"Oh, no, the energon's perfectly good," Air Raid said cheerfully.

Skyfire stared blankly at him, then burst out laughing, although Air Raid wasn't sure what was funny. Skydive seemed to be in on the joke, though he was trying to look like he wasn't smirking behind his hand.

"Hi Skyfire!" Fireflight jumped out of his chair. "Are you okay? You were leaking an awful lot."

"I'm fine." Skyfire looked around, then reached over and picked up one of the cubes of high-grade piled on a nearby table. "Well, mostly fine. Is Silverbolt still debriefing?"

"Guess so."

Air Raid watched as Fireflight herded Skyfire over to his own chair and made the larger 'bot sit down. Slingshot broke from whatever it was he and Sideswipe were working on in the corner long enough to scowl at Skyfire and shoot a glare at Air Raid and Skydive. Air Raid stared him down; after a moment, he turned his back pointedly.

"But where are you going to sit?" Skyfire was asking.

Fireflight looked thoughtful. Then a mischievous grin appeared on his faceplates, and a split second later, he was sprawled comfortably in Skyfire's lap.

Skyfire, for his part, looked so utterly taken aback that it was Air Raid's turn to break down in gales of laughter.

"You don't mind, do you?" Fireflight asked innocently.

"Er..."

"Just push him off," Silverbolt said from behind Air Raid. Air Raid twisted around in time to see amusement warring with exasperation on his brother's face. "He makes a nice clunk when he hits the ground, and it's the only way to get through to him."

"Hey!"

"I don't mind," said Skyfire, though he still looked rather surprised. "But watch out for the welding."

Fireflight obediently shifted away from the new plating, but otherwise showed no signs of abandoning his perch. Skyfire had made a serious mistake there, Air Raid thought, snickering to himself; if you let Fireflight think he could get away with attaching himself to you, he tended to do so at every opportunity. They all liked field contact - with each other, with the handful of people outside their gestalt that they trusted - but Fireflight always seemed happiest when he could snuggle up to another warm body. Air Raid wondered if Skyfire realised he had just let himself in for chair duty for the foreseeable future.

Silverbolt was leaning on the back of Air Raid's chair, close enough that Air Raid could feel the churn of emotions skittering through his field - elation, weariness, pride, and a bright, sharp spike of joy that kept playing over the others.

"How was it?"

"Good." Silverbolt rested a hand absently on Air Raid's helm, smiling down at him so brightly that Air Raid almost laughed aloud. "We did well. You did well. All of you."

"Did Prowl give you a hard time?" Skydive asked, but Silverbolt was shaking his head even before he'd finished the question.

"He, uh." Silverbolt's optics strayed momentarily to Slingshot. "He commended me, actually. To Prime. For making the right call."

There was a split second's silence; then they were all talking - shouting - at once, cheering Silverbolt and each other, riding high on amazed pride. Sideswipe even grabbed a cube and offered a toast Air Raid couldn't make out, but that Slingshot and Fireflight took up with tumultuous approval. Even Skydive was grinning - not smirking or trying to pretend he was too cool to laugh like he usually did, just grinning like a loon.

In the middle of it all, Air Raid caught sight of Skyfire looking from one of them to another, his gaze lingering most often on Silverbolt, a half-smile on his face. Even with Fireflight practically bouncing up and down in his lap, he seemed not quite to be a part of things. Air Raid opened his mouth, meaning to say something - he didn't know what - but Silverbolt was quicker off the mark. Crossing the space between the chairs with three easy steps, he slung himself against the arm of Skyfire's chair and smiled down at him. Air Raid didn't hear what he said, but it made Skyfire laugh - and whatever thoughts had been holding him back from them seemed to vanish.

"Right!" Sideswipe yelled over the din. "It's time to get down to some serious drinking!"

He and Slingshot manoeuvred the table they'd been crouched over into view, revealing dozens of small cubes of energon.

"Ultra high grade," Sunstreaker put in, seeming disinclined to move from his sprawled position on a nearby couch, but watching the proceedings intently. "Kinda not quite allowed on base. One shot for every Decepticon that ran like a turbofox today. Last one standing gets to keep anything left over."

"Hang on a second--" began Silverbolt, but Air Raid joined his brothers in shouting over the protest.

"Just this once!"

"We've totally earned it!"

"Jazz and Ironhide are over there getting smashed on that stuff Ratchet makes in the chem lab!"

"It's okay, Silverbolt--" that was Slingshot, in the tone of voice Air Raid associated with some sort of very stupid dare that he was bound to end up taking, "-- we're not expecting you to have any. We all know what you're like with high grade."

Air Raid knew that Silverbolt never fell for that sort of thing. He was completely above rising to Slingshot's teasing. Besides, it wasn't like he couldn't hold his energon - he'd just never drunk enough high-grade for them to have any idea what he was like over-energised. There was no way he'd take Slingshot up on it.

Silverbolt straightened up, glaring at Slingshot, reached out, grabbed one of the energon cubes, and downed it in one quick swallow.

Air Raid thought maybe his jaw bolts had come unhinged. The look on Slingshot's face was priceless.

Silverbolt slammed the cube down, not even having the decency to cough. Even Sideswipe looked impressed.

"I can outlast you," he said, quite calmly.

Slingshot stared at him for a few seconds more, then threw his head back and laughed.

"Bring it on," he said, and reached for the next cube.

* * *


"I can walk," Silverbolt protested, though he wasn't entirely sure it was true.

"Let's not put that to the test," replied Skyfire. He was carrying Silverbolt easily, though Silverbolt seemed to remember that he'd had his share of the high grade. "I'm amazed you're still capable of coherent speech, frankly."

Silverbolt murmured one more token protest before he let his head rest back on Skyfire's shoulder and shut off his optics, which seemed to have become difficult to keep properly calibrated. Much the same way his stabilisers were no longer correctly distinguishing up from down. He didn't think he'd ever been as overcharged as this, and he wasn't sure he liked the sensation, but he was fuzzily certain that it had been worth it.

He tried to explain that to Skyfire.

"You may not think so tomorrow morning," was Skyfire's amused comment. "The twins have turned distillery into a lethal art. Just because you didn't end up on the floor with Slingshot..."

"Wait, Slingshot..." Silverbolt made a half-hearted attempt to get his feet on the ground, but the ground was somehow not exactly where he'd expected it to be. "I should get Slingshot back to our quarters, I should..."

"Stop wriggling, I'm going to drop you if you're not careful." Despite the warning, Skyfire's arms were still reassuringly secure around him. "Your brothers will look after him."

"They were writing on him," Silverbolt protested. "With that neon paint that takes forever to get off."

"Such is the fate of those foolish enough to drink ultra high grade until they pass out in the rec room," Skyfire said solemnly. "But Skydive and Fireflight are sober - relatively sober - and they promised faithfully to drag him back as soon as Air Raid and Sunstreaker were finished."

"Oh. Good." Silverbolt leaned his head back and idly watched the ceiling lights go by. "... so if I'd offlined before Slingshot, you'd have just left me there to take my chances with graffiti, would you?"

"Well, no," Skyfire admitted. "But fortunately you saved me the effort of rescuing you by managing to stay conscious."

He stopped walking. Silverbolt lifted his head to look up questioningly. Skyfire's optics were a subtly different shade of blue from the other Autobots', which Silverbolt had noticed before but never really thought about. Right now they were warm and bright, with none of the distance that sometimes crept into his expression.

"Silverbolt? Are you going to open the door for us?"

"Huh? Oh."

Why, yes, here they were standing in front of the Aerialbots' quarters. Silverbolt reached for the door panel, missed, and almost tipped himself out of Skyfire's grasp.

"Oh Silverbolt." Skyfire was laughing at him again, but it was a gentle, affectionate sound without a trace of mockery. "You're really not used to this, are you?"

Silverbolt steadied himself by grabbing onto Skyfire's shoulder. His fingers automatically found chinks in the armour to slide into and give him a better grip, and he felt Skyfire twitch slightly, startled. His gyros seemed to have destabilised again, and the walls were spinning gently around him.

"I, um, don't think I..."

One of Skyfire's hands came up to rest securely against his back, dispelling Silverbolt's momentary fear that he was going to topple over backwards. Skyfire had such wonderful hands, Silverbolt thought distractedly - so large but so deft, so careful with everything they touched. He liked watching them while Skyfire worked. He liked feeling them on his plating even more. Not that there had been many opportunities for that before tonight. He wondered if he should get overcharged more often.

"Can you open it?" he said, and managed to get the entry code out of his vocaliser without stumbling too badly over the digits.

The Aerialbots' quarters were quiet and dark, and Silverbolt was rather relieved when Skyfire didn't attempt to turn on the lights. He hadn't realised that the corridor lighting had been bothering his optics until they came into the dark. Maybe he had them tuned too high? He tried scaling down the sensitivity, but then he couldn't see anything at all, and no matter how he tried, he couldn't seem to adjust the settings with any sort of precision. He gave up and cycled them back to their original level, and found that while he'd been preoccupied, Skyfire had walked over to the first of the inner doors and keyed it open.

"No, it's not that one--"

"I'd just figured that out," replied Skyfire. "Now I know where the rest of that scrap metal went. Is this Fireflight's?"

"Him and Air Raid. Skydive and Slingshot have the one over there--" Silverbolt attempted to point, almost smacked Skyfire in the faceplates, and subsided sheepishly. "--er, and mine's in the middle. I'm really sorry about this," he added, pricked by the vague awareness that he was not at all on his best form.

"Don't be ridiculous, you're by far the most eloquent and well-behaved case of overcharge I've ever come across."

Skyfire's field lapped reassurance against Silverbolt's, and he realised he could feel a difference: Skyfire was more open than he was most of the time, his field warm and relaxed and mingling more freely with Silverbolt's. Silverbolt amended his previous thought: maybe he should get Skyfire overcharged more often. He let his head rest briefly on Skyfire's shoulder, and then it seemed natural to shift so that his forehead was pressed lightly against Skyfire's neck, tucked against the larger mech with the easy familiarity he shared with his gestalt-mates.

"You only have the three rooms between you?" Skyfire was asking as he opened Silverbolt's door and keyed the lights on low.

"It's all the space there is," Silverbolt murmured. He was suddenly, devastatingly tired; recharge was an irresistible prospect. "Still better than Hot Spot's - at least the ceilings are high. The Protectobots all ended up right back near the engine room. It's really cramped there."

"We might be able to fix that soon," Skyfire said. "I'm going to put you down now. Ready?"

Silverbolt wasn't - he thought he'd rather Skyfire just held onto him forever, actually - but he was more preoccupied with what Skyfire had just said. Even as he manoeuvred his way without much grace onto his berth, his processor was trying to follow that thread to its origin.

"What do you mean?"

"Can't tell you just yet." Skyfire sat on the edge of the berth with a sigh of relief, and Silverbolt suddenly remembered his injuries. "It's secret. But it's not going to be for much--"

"Did I hurt you?" Silverbolt interrupted, focused on the new thought. He leaned forward, reaching out to touch the new plating. "You shouldn't have been carrying me, you're barely repaired..."

"It's fine, Silverbolt. I'm just tired. You didn't hurt me."

"Are you sure?" He ran clumsy fingers over Skyfire's fuselage, but there was no tell-tale energon leakage to imply he'd damaged the rivets and sealant Ratchet had used to patch him up. "Megatron was really going for you - I thought he'd downed you with that last one..."

"My shields are stronger than most. I was glad to see you, though." Skyfire's hand came to rest on Silverbolt's, gently pulling his fingers away from ticklish plating. "You were amazing out there, you know that?"

"We were?"

"You were."

Oh, look, Silverbolt had just been thinking about Skyfire's hands and now here they were in his. Skyfire made no attempt to draw away as Silverbolt turned one palm-up and ran his thumb over the sensor nodes where it joined the wrist. The touch did something to Skyfire's field, made little arcs of echoed sensation dart through it, and Silverbolt liked the way they cascaded on into his, and liked the way Skyfire curled his fingers gently around Silverbolt's as if he didn't want to risk Silverbolt pulling away.

"You were," Skyfire said again, and this time, Silverbolt realised, the you was meant just for him. "Anyone can see why Optimus gave you command."

Silverbolt looked up and met his optics, feeling all at once like he was poised on the brink of something - not a precipice, because there was no fear, only exhilaration. It was more like the moment before you turned and saw someone you had been waiting for a long time. He twined his fingers with Skyfire's and said, "Thank you."

"For what?" Skyfire sounded genuinely startled, and even with his processor running at half speed, Silverbolt felt a twinge of sadness about that.

"Always saying the right thing," he said. "Being out there with us. Carrying me back here. Helping my brothers play stupid tricks on the other Autobots. Catching me. Everything."

His systems, coming rapidly down from the energon high, were begging for shutdown. Silverbolt could already feel the beginning of a processor-ache that was going to make the next morning a deeply unpleasant experience. He tried to hide it, but their fields were mingled enough that Skyfire felt him wince.

"Here." Skyfire disengaged one hand, pulled something out of subspace and held it up for Silverbolt to see. "Ratchet was handing these out earlier."

It took him a minute to register the details: the red stamp and the letters that indicated a medical datachip, loaded with a self-executing program that would lock out low-level pain signals. They were good for one dose only, to prevent misuse, but Skyfire was holding two.

"Use one now so you're not kept awake," Skyfire said. "The other one is for tomorrow, when you will, I promise, really need it."

"Thank you," Silverbolt said again, this time with such fervent gratitude that Skyfire laughed as he put the two chips onto the shelf by the berth.

"I'll leave you to recharge."

He hesitated for several seconds, seemingly as reluctant to let go of Silverbolt's hand as Silverbolt was for him to leave. Then, with a smile, he brought Silverbolt's hand to his lips and gently kissed the backs of his fingers. He got to his feet and turned to leave.

"I'll see you next shift," Skyfire said, pausing in the process of keying open the door. "Or the one after."

"It's not going to be that bad," Silverbolt mumbled, finally letting himself flop backwards onto the berth. The impact jarred his head unpleasantly and he fumbled for the datachips on the shelf. "... is it?"

"Maybe not, but you deserve the rest," Skyfire replied. "Recharge well."

The door swished closed. Silverbolt found the datachips, but paused to listen to Skyfire walk across the small outer room and then out into the corridor.

His processor was beginning to ache in earnest. Silverbolt fingered one of the chips, and thought about Slingshot, with his smaller frame and less efficient energon processors. If his hangover was going to be bad, Slingshot's was going to be worse.

He left the chips where they were and reached up to turn out the light.

- end Chapter 5 -



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