Saturday, May 8th, 2010 02:18 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 7 (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 AM SO SORRY FOR THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER'S CLIFFHANGER YOU GUYS. This one was supposed to be out ages ago and then for some reason the last two and a half scenes damn near killed me. But I think you will like it. :)

A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 7

It was obvious from the start that it was an unequal battle. It didn't take Skyfire long to realise what Starscream had done: come through the space bridge from the other side, bursting out with his full air force from the one direction the Autobots didn't have covered. And that bulky device in the centre of the space bridge's encircling walls must be what was jamming the Autobots - but not the Decepticons, from the looks of things - disabling all the careful traps and cameras that Red Alert had set up, allowing Megatron to lead all three of his combiners down on the garrison, who couldn't even call for help.

How and why Starscream had been on Cybertron with the Seekers in the first place was a question that would have to be answered later. All that mattered now was getting the trapped Autobots out.

Skyfire found them under siege in a tight canyon that the Seekers couldn't get into. Unfortunately, neither could he, but he managed a close enough fly-past to let them know he was there. It looked like Trailbreaker had his forcefield up, which was protecting them from the three massive combiners but preventing any return of fire. Of Slingshot there was no sign.

Even that quick reconnaissance brought Skyfire under fierce attack. Menasor grabbed for him with improbable speed for such a large mech, and his claws scored Skyfire's undercarriage painfully before he could pull up. Bruticus followed his course with laser blasts that would have peeled half Skyfire's paint from his frame if they'd connected, but Skyfire knew a trick or two and managed to escape out of range.

As he gained height, he caught a brief glimpse of Superion - missing an arm, thanks to Slingshot's absence - hovering above the battle-field. Then the combiner split into his component parts, the Aerialbots racing to head off the Seekers. Below, Defensor crested the ridge with a roar of challenge that Menasor turned towards, obviously spoiling for a fight on his own scale. Skyfire hoped Hot Spot - or Defensor himself - had the sense not to plunge down into close combat with three other combiners without backup, but he didn't have time to think about it further. Despite Silverbolt's best efforts, there were Seekers on his tail - Skywarp and Thundercracker, by the looks of it - and he was going to have to figure out what to do about the jamming field while dodging their combined fire.

The device in the space bridge was the key, that was obvious, but it was too well-protected for Skyfire simply to target it from the air. Not to mention that if it was what he thought it was, shooting at it was not only futile but dangerous for all in the area; the only way to get the sort of power it would need would be to hook it up to the space bridge's trans-warp generator directly. Which meant that the space bridge was probably open just a fraction, almost undetectably, and any sort of explosion under those circumstances... well, Skyfire could only hope that Starscream had put failsafes in place for once in his existence.

The glimmer of an idea occurred to him, even as he threw himself into a triple roll to avoid a nasty double-helix pattern of fire from the two Seekers tagging him. He quickly reviewed his glimpse of the trapped Autobots and his recollection of the shift schedule; had Mirage been down there? If so, Skyfire needed to get a message to him somehow...

A sudden crack split the air. Thundercracker and Skywarp both dodged and rolled, to Skyfire's brief amusement, even though a quick glance told him that Silverbolt was well below them. It seemed the Seekers had grown wary of unexpected lightning strikes. Seconds after the thunderclap, the other three Aerialbots were racing back to their leader.

Skyfire saw his chance. Taking advantage of his pursuers' distraction, he pulled a hard turn and roll that ended with him coming back in the other direction, bearing down on the two Seekers with all guns firing. Thundercracker went into a sharp dive to get away, while Skywarp vanished and reappeared going the wrong way and upside-down, to his own obvious surprise. He disappeared again, and this time Skyfire didn't see where he emerged; he was too busy making the most of the clear sky between his current position and where Superion had just come together for a second time.

He probably had only a few minutes; in this sort of battle the Aerialbots were far more vulnerable as Superion than they were separated, and Silverbolt knew it. They wouldn't stay combined longer than absolutely necessary, and Skyfire needed to get in close enough to speak without being overheard.

In fact, he was going to have to take a quite literal leap of faith.

Skyfire judged it carefully - made sure Superion could see his approach - and then transformed mid-flight. He wasn't built for it: he could control his descent with his rockets, he could even fly in root-mode if he had to, but he couldn't hover effortlessly the way the Decepticons could. Coming in like this, if Superion didn't realise what he was doing and catch him, he'd end up making a rather ungainly landing on the ground, which could be fatal if the Seekers got to him before he could get back in the air...

Superion's single hand shot out and scooped him out of the air. Skyfire felt the familiar brush of Fireflight's field, questioning and agitated below Superion's more encompassing and calmer energy, as the combiner brought Skyfire up near his helm. Skyfire steadied himself with a hand on Superion's shoulder - he was too big to be held comfortably even such a massive hand - and felt again the disconnect of wondering if he was speaking to Superion or Silverbolt.

"I've found the garrison and the jamming device," he said without preamble. "It's going to take sabotage to disable, though. Someone needs to get word to Mirage, if he's there, or Bumblebee if he isn't. I can't get near where they are."

Superion turned his great head to look where Skyfire indicated. There were now only two of the Decepticon combiners laying siege to the canyon: Defensor had managed to lure Menasor away and the two were engaged in a spectacular brawl. Defensor, thankfully, seemed to be winning.

"Difficult," Superion rumbled. "We will need Defensor's help."

"I can try to get his attention..."

"No." Superion looked directly at Skyfire, and Skyfire felt the definite touch of Silverbolt's field then - knew in advance how hard the next part was for him. "You have to distract the Seekers. All of them. Keep them away for long enough to get the message through."

Even as he spoke, several of the Seekers were arrowing in on Superion's position; laser fire glanced past the combiner's helm.

There was barely time for Skyfire to explain what needed to be done - let alone reassure Silverbolt that it was a risk he was willing to take. All he could do was wrap his hand tightly around one of Superion's antennae and open up his field for a fleeting instant, letting Silverbolt in as far as he could. He felt a sharp rush of emotion from his friend that made him wish fiercely for comm contact for just a few seconds, but there wasn't even time to say 'good luck' aloud; Skyfire fired his jets and shot up above Superion's head, transforming in the midst of his wildly erratic flight, while Superion spun away and opened up his afterburners as he roared to Defensor's side.

So, how to distract six Seekers and assorted Triplechangers without committing suicide... Skyfire corrected his flight and bore down on the approaching jets, targeting ailerons and wingtips. If he got lucky, he might disable one of them, and it would at least get their attention. They're not all going to come after me just because I'm shooting at them, not when they know the Aerialbots are about.

Indeed, although two of his targets were returning fire, the third had already broken off in pursuit of Superion. Skyfire rolled awkwardly and managed to direct a few shots right up Ramjet's afterburners. Ramjet howled and obligingly pulled an about-turn, but it was a temporary fix at best. He needed a way to get them focused on one part of the battlefield...

Inspiration struck - coupled with a hollow awareness that the 'without committing suicide' part of the equation might be even less feasible than he'd suspected. But there was no time to dwell on it. Turning his sensors to the skies around him, Skyfire began to scan for Starscream.

* * *

The plan was simple and direct: Defensor would activate his forcefield, charge past Bruticus and Devastator, and deposit First Aid with the besieged garrison. Hot Spot was pretty sure Defensor's shields would hold that long, though it would leave him drained afterwards - and it meant that both combiners would be missing an arm. Still, there seemed no other way to get through without putting the garrison in danger, and sending in First Aid had the added advantage that the Decepticons might assume they simply wanted to get medical treatment to the injured, rather than guessing at the message he would carry.

There wasn't much to be said after they'd agreed what to do; Defensor activated his shield and charged, while Superion kept Menasor busy.

Silverbolt, tuned into Superion's more sophisticated sensors, caught a shriek of outrage from the other side of the space bridge. One glance showed him the source: Skyfire had homed in on Starscream and seemed to be doing his best to hammer the Air Commander into the ground with laser fire. Every other flyer on the field promptly turned and headed for their leader - not, Silverbolt guessed, out of any surpassing loyalty, but because Starscream was probably burning out their comms with his demands for protection. His spark ached with a combination of admiration for Skyfire's quick thinking, and fear for his safety. In a couple of minutes he was going to have every Decepticon jet in the battle trying to shoot him down - exactly what Silverbolt had told him to do, and exactly the thing most likely to get him killed.

Silverbolt felt the fleeting wash of comfort from his brothers - it's okay, he'll be fine // look at him go, did you see that turn? // you couldn't do anything else - and, to his surprise, a single, warm pulse of assurance from Superion himself. The big mech was not exactly a part of them and not exactly separate either; the feeling when the five of them were combined was as if some old, strong presence put its hand out to steady them, though he seldom spoke to them directly.

Then Menasor got a hand free and smacked Superion across the faceplate, and Silverbolt let himself let go of self as the us/him that was Superion roared in fury and set to work trying to force the Decepticon into his component parts.

The next minutes were a blur of physical struggle and the sounds of battle ahead and all around. Then Superion managed to get in one hit too many for Menasor's battered superstructure. With assorted curses and howls of pain, the Stunticons broke apart and fled.

Except Motormaster, who launched himself at Superion's nearest leg and began pounding shot after shot into whatever systems he could reach.

Get him off get him off get him off! shrieked Air Raid, his panic and pain threatening to pull apart their own gestalt bond.

Superion launched himself into the air, dragging the Stunticon leader with him, but Motormaster hung on like grim death. Silverbolt didn't dare give the order to disengage - that would leave Air Raid in Motormaster's clutches, and Motormaster was too big and strong a 'con for any of them to take on hand-to-hand. Their advantage was in the air. Superion clawed for height, trying to shake off his unwanted passenger.

From below, a hand swept up and plucked Motormaster off like a gnat, tossing him as hard and far as possible across the battlefield. Superion spun to see Defensor, now also down a limb and looking rather battered, but otherwise whole.

"He got through," Defensor rumbled. "Now what?"

Silverbolt drew back into himself, feeling his brothers slip away as Superion fell into his component parts. Air Raid almost crashed before he managed to get himself transformed; Silverbolt didn't like the look of the smoke coming from his systems.

"We keep fighting until they take out the jamming device," Silverbolt said, loud enough for all of them to hear. "As soon as we're back in comm contact, we co-ordinate with the garrison and hold our ground until the rest of the Autobots get here--"

"Skyfire's in trouble!" Fireflight shouted urgently.

"Then come on!"

Silverbolt took off across the skies faster than he'd known he could fly, his brothers hot on his tail. Skyfire was under fire from all sides: he was still dodging and twisting grimly, but there were scorch marks on his plating and too many targets for him to do more than try and keep them at bay. He seemed to have brought Starscream down - either that or the Air Commander had fled - but the other flyers were now determined to take him out once and for all.

The Aerialbots were still too far away to do anything when Silverbolt saw Skywarp flash into existence in Skyfire's blind spot. Skyfire dropped several metres to avoid a charge from Thrust - right into Skywarp's sights.

Look out, look out! Silverbolt thought frantically - trying for just a second's more speed...

Suddenly there was a burst of fire from the ground below the aerial battle. A volley of laser shots hit Skywarp's undercarriage with pinpoint accuracy, taking out his stabilising systems. The Seeker shrieked and teleported away, but it didn't save him - when he reappeared, it was only to spiral down into a nosedive that ended with an impressive crash against the canyon wall. Skyfire looped around and shot upwards, taking the chance to get above his attackers.

Thundercracker immediately broke off his pursuit of Skyfire and dove towards the source of the shots, followed by Blitzwing. Silverbolt caught a familiar glimpse of white, red and orange, and this time he knew he screamed "Look out!" aloud, for all the good it would do.

Slingshot rolled sideways - he looked like he'd been flat on the ground in the first place - but Thundercracker's vengeful barrage caught him right across the back, throwing up so much dust that Silverbolt couldn't see how badly he'd been hit.

He heard Air Raid shout something and start to dive. With a great effort, Silverbolt caught him up.

"No! Get over there and help Skyfire drive them off!"

"But Slingshot--"

"I'll look after Slingshot! Get the Seekers away from here!"

For a moment he thought Air Raid wouldn't obey him - come on Air Raid, come on, this is when it matters - but then he barrel-rolled away, roaring towards Skyfire and the other Decepticons with a howl of fury. Skydive and Fireflight shot after him, as Silverbolt swung to get Blitzwing in his sights and opened fire.

The Triplechanger yawed aside, but Thundercracker wasn't even paying attention to Silverbolt, coming around for another pass at Slingshot, just visible now in the settling dust cloud. Silverbolt knew he wasn't going to be able to keep them both occupied, not when Slingshot was out in the open like that. He was an easy kill.

Silverbolt didn't stop to think about how high he was or how fast he would come down. He went into a nosedive and transformed just before he would have crashed. The impact almost shattered his knee joints and a dozen alarms began shrieking in his processor, but he managed to throw himself forward to cover Slingshot with his own body just as Thundercracker opened up with another volley of laser fire. Silverbolt was thrown forward, but he caught himself on his hands and bore the pain with a clenched jaw for seconds that seemed like years.

Then Thundercracker was past. Silverbolt drew himself up into a crouch, shuddering at the damage to his back and wings, but his first concern was for Slingshot.

He'd obviously been in a bad way even before Thundercracker's attack. He must have crashed badly, and one of his wings was so crumpled it made Silverbolt feel ill to look at it. There was way too much energon on the ground to be healthy and his visor was cracked on one side. It was a testament to his aim that he'd managed to hit Skywarp despite it. He didn't respond when Silverbolt spoke his name.

Blitzwing and Thundercracker had coordinated and were coming in to catch them in a classic crossfire. Silverbolt pulled his gun from subspace with one hand and cradled Slingshot against him with the other arm. He was going to have to time this right...

There - Thundercracker was a touch wary and Blitzwing too eager - they weren't quite coming in simultaneously. Silverbolt aimed and pulled the trigger, smiling grimly when the first pulse of electricity arced through the air and struck Blitzwing, crackling over plating and spiking into circuits. He swung around to do the same for Thundercracker. He wasn't quite in time to stop the blue Seeker beginning his attack - a few more laser shots stung Silverbolt's shoulders - but the firing broke off abruptly as Silverbolt managed to get a couple of solid hits on his enemy's undercarriage. Thundercracker swore loudly enough that Silverbolt heard him even without comms, and twisted awkwardly out of range. He seemed to hesitate a moment, then took off in the direction of Skywarp's crash, engines booming loud enough that it shook Silverbolt right down to his circuits.

Blitzwing was still circling, but there was enough of a pause that Silverbolt could look further afield. Skyfire was still in the air, thank Primus, and his brothers were darting around the larger flyer, harrying the remaining Decepticons for all they were worth.

He bent to examine Slingshot, trying to quell the panic that rose in his spark as he catalogued more and more injuries. Silverbolt could at least feel him now, a dim tugging at the gestalt bond, but for the first time since they'd been sparked, he had no idea if his brother would pull through. Ratchet had drilled them in basic first aid, but it was so hard to know where to start... there was energon everywhere and Silverbolt was afraid to touch the scorched edges of the holes in Slingshot's plating for fear of hurting him.

Blitzwing made as if to come down for another attack. Silverbolt fired wildly in his general direction; he was too far away to hit, but the storm of electrical energy seemed to make the Decepticon think twice. Turning back to Slingshot, Silverbolt began to work on the worst of the injuries to his body; he had some sealant in his subspace and if he could at least stop the energon leak...

"Sil... verbolt?"

Slingshot's visor flickered weakly and he turned his head against Silverbolt's chest with a grimace of pain.

"It's okay, I've got you." Silverbolt risked putting his gun down for long enough to squeeze Slingshot's hand. "You're a mess. Can you tell me what your diagnostics are showing?"

"... think they're offline," Slingshot mumbled. He didn't even squeeze back. "Should go... get out of here, it's... trap..."

"I know. We'll be okay. Just stay with me."

"Frag's sake..." Slingshot managed weakly, "leave me and--"

Silverbolt snatched his gun and fired a few more warning shots at Blitzwing, who had been sidling in for another attempt. Then he lowered his head to speak directly into Slingshot's audio receptor, keeping his optics sharp to the sky for any further attacks.

"Don't even suggest that. I will never leave you behind."

Slingshot gave a huff that might have been an attempt at laughter. He seemed to be trying to speak again, but then--

-- with an almighty roar and clap of thunder, the space bridge activated. Silverbolt looked up in time to see the brilliant light of the teleportation matrix snap into existence; he caught the briefest glimpse of the device that Skyfire had identified as the jammer, before it fell into the portal, twisting in on itself and vanishing.

There was as static-filled cry of pain that echoed oddly inside and outside his processor, cut off when the space bridge snapped closed again. But Silverbolt hardly paid it any attention, because all at once he was bombarded on all sides by open comms - his brothers, Hot Spot's team, the garrison, the main Autobot force - everyone trying to get through to each other all at once.

:Clear the airwaves.: Optimus Prime cut through the cacophony and left silence in his wake. :Ironhide, do you copy?:

:Loud an' clear, Optimus.: Ironhide sounded grim, but there was no panic in his voice. :We've got a lotta wounded down here. First Aid's done what he can, but Hound and Beachcomber need to get back to base ASAP.:

:So does Slingshot,: Silverbolt put in. :He's in a really bad way - First Aid, is there any way you can--:

:How bad?: Fireflight broke in on their private frequency, panicky. :He's gonna be okay, right? Right Silverbolt?:

:Slingshot? Can you hear us, buddy?: Air Raid didn't sound much better. :Silverbolt, is he--:

:I need you guys to keep quiet for a minute! And somebody get Blitzwing off me, he's like a fragging vulture...:

Skydive immediately peeled off from the battle with the Seekers and made an unerring line towards Silverbolt and Slingshot. Blitzwing aborted another attack run and climbed for height, giving Silverbolt some breathing space.

:Our ETA is twenty minutes,: Prowl was saying. :Silverbolt, Hot Spot, we need you to get the garrison out of that canyon so they can retreat. Skyfire, you're to take the worst wounded straight back to the Ark.:

:Understood.: Skyfire's voice was pale with pain, but he didn't hesitate. :I'll pick Slingshot up now. I'll need a few minutes' clear air to get at the garrison.:

:We can do better than that,: Hot Spot said, sounding almost cheerful. :What do you think, Ironhide? Ready to break out of that rabbit hole?:

:You're on, kid. We can take Devastator if you can handle Bruticus. And if someone can keep those damn Seekers off our backs...:

:Already on it,: Silverbolt replied, relaying the plan to the rest of his team.

A roar of jets made him jump, but it was only Skyfire coming in for a landing that was almost a crash. His white plating was streaked with black and scored deep in a dozen places, and as soon as he rolled to a stop, energon began to pool on the ground beneath his undercarriage. Even the way the door to his cargo area opened seemed forced and painful.

"Get him into the straps on the starboard bulkhead," Skyfire was saying. "They should save him from getting tossed around on the way back. First Aid's coming aboard with the others, so he'll be in good hands."

Silverbolt swung Slingshot into his arms with some difficulty, and staggered the short distance to Skyfire's open hatch. He was terribly aware of how exposed the shuttle was on the ground. Skydive had been forced to peel off to help Air Raid and Fireflight, and there were still too many Decepticons in the air above them.

"You don't look so good yourself," Silverbolt said as he settled Slingshot into a corner and quickly worked to strap him in place. "Is there anything I can--"

"No time. Don't worry, carrying the wounded has the advantage that I'll be back with Ratchet before the rest of you."

His voice was light and joking, but Silverbolt, surrounded by his field, could feel just how much pain he was in, just how much a second landing and more passengers were going to take out of him. Silverbolt pulled the last strap tight around Slingshot's battered body and hesitated for a split second, wanting more than anything to stay here with both of them.

"I'll look after him," Skyfire said, either reading his field or simply knowing him too well.

"Look after yourself, too," Silverbolt replied.

:Silverbolt,: Air Raid broke in, :incoming!:

Silverbolt threw himself out of the hatch, even as Skyfire's engines roared to life. Silverbolt transformed so fast he thought he might have pulled a servo loose, and shot into the air just ahead of Skyfire.

:Go!: he snapped, and forced himself to concentrate on the Seekers right ahead of him, rather than watching that battered white form dodge and duck through the heart of the battle.

* * *


Hot Spot had appeared out of the chaos that was the med bay without Silverbolt even noticing. He leaned against the wall by Slingshot's berth and put out a hand to squeeze Silverbolt's shoulder, careful of his damaged back and wings. Silverbolt tried to muster a smile, but it was all he could do to lift his head. He didn't think he'd ever been so tired, and the racket of mechs getting worked on or patching themselves was making his processor ache.

"Hey yourself," he replied. "Are your lot okay?"

"Yeah, Blades took a few hits after we split, and 'Aid's got a bad dent where Devastator kicked him, but he's too busy working on everyone else to fix it up. Speaking of, has anyone looked at your wings?"

"Ratchet had a quick look, but it's mostly surface damage so he said to do what I could and he'd get to me later."

Hot Spot shook his head. "As if you could reach your own wings! Have you got a medkit there? Good, hold still. Wait--" Hot Spot pulled out a datachip from the kit, checked the label, then tossed it to Silverbolt. "Take that first, it'll help with the pain."

Silverbolt obediently flipped open his wrist port and plugged in the chip. He should have done it as soon as he'd sat down, but even that small effort had felt like too much on top of everything else. He sighed as the throbbing ebbed from his wings, and Hot Spot began to work on putting temporary patches over the damaged plating.

"How is he?" Hot Spot asked after a moment.

"Ratchet says he'll make it," Silverbolt replied quietly, optics going back to Slingshot's unnaturally still face. "He's in deep stasis. One of those shots almost got his spark chamber. He's lucky..."

He stopped and muted his vocaliser, concentrating on the threads of discomfort that leaked through the painkiller as a way of anchoring himself. Hot Spot pressed one hand against an undamaged area of wing, and Silverbolt felt the warm brush of his friend's field, concerned and supportive.

"What about the others? I saw Air Raid over there, what did he do to his nose cone?"

"Divebombed Dirge, as far as I can tell. Apparently Ramjet spent the rest of the battle swearing at him for stealing his trademark. The other two are getting patched up as well. They fought really hard."

"You all did. We all did."

"It wasn't enough."

The space bridge was back in the hands of the Decepticons. As soon as the garrison had cleared the area, Optimus Prime had ordered the retreat. The Aerialbots had been the last back to base, just as they were the first out. No-one could say they hadn't done their part.

It hadn't been enough.

Hot Spot sighed. "Yeah, I know." Then, a moment later, "Hey, I know what'll make you feel better. Look left."

Silverbolt did, to see Skyfire picking his way through the crowded room towards them. Hot Spot was half-right: Silverbolt's spark surged gladly at the sight of him, but it was matched by an equally strong rush of worry and guilt. Skyfire looked as battered in root form as he had during the battle, and Silverbolt was painfully aware that he seemed to take more damage every time he flew with the Aerialbots.

But Skyfire's optics brightened when they met Silverbolt's, and he increased his speed to reach the relatively clear space around Slingshot's berth.

"Are you okay?" were the first words out of his vocaliser. "I've seen the others, but I couldn't find you. And Slingshot..."

"Slingshot's gonna be fine," said Hot Spot firmly. "You want me to grab you something to sit on, Skyfire? You don't look so hot yourself."

"No, it's okay, I'll just..." Skyfire knelt, rather awkwardly, so that he was on about the same level as Silverbolt. "Slingshot's going to be fine?"

"So Ratchet says," Silverbolt confirmed. He reached out automatically, and Skyfire took his hands without breaking optic contact. "He... feels so faint, though..."

"Ratchet knows what he's talking about," Skyfire reassured him. "Are you sure you're okay?"

His field against Silverbolt's was so concerned and caring that Silverbolt suddenly found himself unable to speak, because the answer, he realised, was No, no I'm not okay. But he couldn't say it - he couldn't get the smallest sound out of his vocaliser.

Skyfire's hands tightened on his, and Hot Spot put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, and he realised that he didn't need to.

"I'm gonna go check on my brothers," Hot Spot said after a moment. "I'll tell yours where you are."

"Thanks," Silverbolt managed to whisper.

After he'd gone, Skyfire tugged on Silverbolt's hands, a question in his optics, and Silverbolt found himself moving almost without thinking about it, shifting forward as Skyfire moved in closer and wrapped both arms around him. Only the awareness of Skyfire's injuries kept Silverbolt from clinging on as tightly as he wanted to; he contented himself with slinging his arms around behind Skyfire's neck and burying his face in his friend's shoulder. Skyfire shifted carefully so that he wasn't putting any pressure on Silverbolt's hurt wings, drawing him in close and moving one hand to gently cradle the back of Silverbolt's helm.

"Are you okay?" Silverbolt whispered. "I thought we weren't going to reach you in time..."

He broke off, realising all over again that they hadn't reached him in time, that if it hadn't been for Slingshot...

Arms tightened around him and Skyfire ducked his head to speak quietly into Silverbolt's audio receptor.

"You had to make a command decision," he murmured. "Don't ever think I would hold that against you."

His fingers were moving absently in small circles against the back of Silverbolt's neck. Silverbolt drew in air through his intakes and found that the taut, nervous energy that had gripped his spark since they'd left the Ark was finally starting to leak away. With it went some of the tension in his body, but he couldn't bring himself to let go of Skyfire just yet, and Skyfire seemed in no hurry either. His hands were steady and sure on Silverbolt's plating and the way their fields lapped together, intertwining almost as tightly as they were holding each other, made Silverbolt feel safe and secure, and breathless and uncertain all at once.

He found himself stroking lightly down Skyfire's back, wanting to give back the same sort of comfort he was receiving. Skyfire gave a little sigh and Silverbolt felt the reaction ripple through his field. He thought he could probably just go right into recharge like this, never mind the noise and confusion around them. Had it really been only a few hours since he'd been dozing on Skyfire's shoulder? But he had to keep awake for long enough to give his report to Optimus Prime - and check on the rest of his brothers - and maybe, if he was suitably humble, Ratchet might let him stay by Slingshot's side...

At least one item on the list seemed keen to check itself off. Silverbolt heard Air Raid and Fireflight approaching even through the soothing hum of Skyfire's systems against his audio processor. Reluctantly, he lifted his head, and Skyfire drew back enough to catch his optic and smile. Silverbolt found to his surprise that he could return it, just a little.

Then his brothers descended on them: Fireflight immediately flung himself into Silverbolt's arms for reassurance, while Air Raid was complaining loudly (and proudly) about his bent nose cone; Skydive slipped quietly in at the side, optics on Slingshot until Silverbolt reassured him. And in the midst of it all, Skyfire reached for the medkit Hot Spot had left behind, moved around behind Silverbolt, and began to work on his wings.

* * *

Skyfire wanted nothing more than to recharge in his own quarters, but he couldn't bring himself to leave Silverbolt's side until Ratchet had found time to check his wings. After that they'd all been thrown out of the medbay, and then Silverbolt had to report to Optimus. He hadn't exactly asked Skyfire to stay with his brothers, but Skyfire had found himself tagging along with them back to their cramped quarters, listening to Air Raid's unusually subdued banter and Fireflight's halfhearted chatter. Skydive had been silent since he'd reached Slingshot's side, and the most obviously reluctant to leave him, but Skyfire didn't know quite what to say to him. He was harder to read than the other two.

The communal area was small by any standards, hardly big enough to hold five jets, let alone a mech of Skyfire's size, but the Aerialbots had made the most of the space by the simple expedient of removing most of the furniture. There was one big couch, obviously well used, and a number of big, steel mesh cushions that looked to Skyfire indecently comfortable right then. He hesitated in the doorway, but Fireflight grabbed his hand proprietorially and dragged him over to the couch.

"We can't go to sleep until Silverbolt's back," he explained. "You're going to wait with us, right?"

Which was how Skyfire found himself with Fireflight in his lap, and Skydive and Air Raid squashed in on either side of him on the overburdened couch. It was strange - though not unpleasant - to be so thoroughly surrounded by their energy fields. He could feel the easy familiarity with which they lapped into each other, and was startled by how readily they reached out to him, including him in their silent reassurance.

Despite Fireflight's assertion, both he and Air Raid fell into recharge after barely half an hour, the latter halfway through yet another retelling of how he'd brought down Dirge and what Ramjet had had to say about it. Skydive showed no sign of dropping off, optics glowing watchfully as he followed his own thoughts in silence.

"He's going to be fine," Skyfire said after a time. Skydive jumped slightly, and turned a questioning frown on Skyfire. "Slingshot. He's going to be fine. I'm not a medic but I can read the scanners, and he was completely stable. He just needs time."

"Oh." Skydive seemed to hesitate, almost falling back into that impenetrable silence, but then all at once words burst out of him like he'd been saying them over and over in his own mind. "We argued. Right before he went on patrol. I said some things and I wish I hadn't and..."

He clamped his mouth shut, looking away. Skyfire was hard put to move at all, pinned down as he was by Fireflight's sleeping weight, but he managed to free a hand and touched Skydive's shoulder lightly with one finger.

"If I may offer an observation," he said, "from what I know of Slingshot, which I admit is not all that much, I would suspect he would give as good as he got in any sort of disagreement."

"Well. Yes. But it's different."

"Because you're not the one lying in medbay?"

"Partly." Skydive curled in on himself, unconsciously moving closer to Skyfire and his brothers. Skyfire would have liked to put an arm around him, but he didn't know Skydive as well as Fireflight or Silverbolt, and he wasn't sure it would be welcome. "But Slingshot's not... I mean, he talks tough and he acts like he's got no brain and no spark and you could smack him down and he'd just jump up again but..."

He trailed off, unable to put into words something that he just knew in his spark, but Skyfire had an idea of what he meant. It had taken him a long time to see it, but beneath Slingshot's bravado and aggression was the same fear that haunted all the Aerialbots, whether they knew it or not - the fear that they were not good enough, that they could never live up to the expectations of their creators. In Slingshot's case, Skyfire was beginning to suspect, it was compounded by something more specific and personal: that he might not live up to the expectations of his brothers, either.

"I'm sure--" Skyfire began, only to be interrupted by the door opening and Silverbolt's weary entrance.

"You're done so soon?" Skydive asked, sitting forward anxiously. He was always so jumpy about Silverbolt's debriefs, ready to leap to his brother's defence and suspicious of the commanding officers' judgement.

"Yes," Silverbolt replied, leaning against the door with a sigh. "We're holding a full review tomorrow, Optimus wanted everyone not on duty to get some rest. I just made my report and left."


"I had a message from Ratchet, though," Silverbolt went on, half-smiling. "He says that now the med bay's cleared out, one of us can go and sit with Slingshot. I thought maybe you'd--"

Skydive jumped off the couch so fast that Skyfire felt it rebound beneath him.

"I'll go right away!"

"Just don't forget to get some recharge yourself, okay?"

"I will, I will."

Before he left, Skydive paused to throw his arms around Silverbolt in a long hug. Neither of them spoke, but Skyfire felt like he was eavesdropping on something personal. He looked away. A moment later the door opened and closed, and when Skyfire looked up again, Silverbolt had come to stand by the couch, regarding his sleeping brothers with an odd, discontented expression.

"I see they've got you again."

"I really don't mind."

To Skyfire's surprise, that didn't seem to have been the right response. Silverbolt noticeably drew in on himself, nodded, and turned towards the door of his quarters.

"I need to recharge."

"Silverbolt?" Despite his words of a moment ago, Skyfire abruptly wished that Fireflight were anywhere other than his lap; he wanted to jump up and catch hold of his friend's arm. Unable to move, he had only words to resort to, and they came out more honest than he had perhaps intended. "Don't go."

Silverbolt hesitated, but only until Skyfire added, almost involuntarily, "Please?"

"I'm just so tired," Silverbolt said as he lowered himself gingerly onto the couch, careful of his wings. It sounded more like an apology than an explanation. "I just..."

Skyfire shifted Fireflight over so he could reach out and slip his arm around Silverbolt. All at once whatever had been holding Silverbolt back seemed to dissolve, and he turned and pressed in as close to Skyfire as he could get, turning his head to hide his face against Skyfire's chest. Skyfire moved his hand to that spot on Silverbolt's wings - thankfully undamaged - which always seemed to relax him the most. After a few moments one of Silverbolt's hands came up to rest warmly on Skyfire's cockpit, curled ever so slightly as if to make sure Skyfire didn't go anywhere.

"I'm going to fall asleep on you again if you keep doing that," he said.

"I don't see a problem with that."

Silverbolt gave a low breath of laughter that tickled Skyfire's plating, but made no reply for a while. It was only when Skyfire was beginning to feel he might drift into recharge himself that Silverbolt spoke again.

"I guess I just wanted you to myself for a while," he whispered, offlining his optics with a sigh.

The words resonated through Skyfire's spark, triggering a depth of response he hadn't felt in a long time - how long had it been since there had been anyone in his life he cared about as much as Silverbolt?

He almost said something utterly ridiculous in response, something like you can have me for as long as you like, but fortunately he couldn't quite get his vocaliser to work, and by the time the words were hesitating on his tongue, he realised Silverbolt was asleep.


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