Thursday, August 5th, 2010 09:35 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 8 (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: ... is... is it possible? Are the protagonists finally starting to get a clue?? :O FUN FACT: originally I planned this with a couple of fluff scenes at the start and then for the chapter break to come after, oh... scene 3? And then I realised that at my current rate of updating that would be cruel. So instead we get to finish on Plot. :)

I know I say this every time, but the next one should hopefully be quicker. I am on a writing schedule at the moment that seems to be working out quite well. Being reminded that people want to read is a big help, and thank you to the people who've reviewed recently despite the gap!

ALSO quick question: I have a soundtrack for this fic. It is semi-spoilery in that it follows the plot quite closely. Would people be interested if I posted it nonetheless? For one thing it will explain where I'm getting the cut tag quotes from...


A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 8



Slingshot was bored out of his processor. He was absolutely certain he would go stark crazy if he didn't get out of medbay soon.

It wasn't like Ratchet was doing anything to him any more. It was all 'rest and recharge and blah blah hey are you listening, kid?' and Slingshot didn't see why he couldn't do that somewhere else. Like the Aerialbots' couch, or the rec room, or outside. Anywhere else.

But Silverbolt was on Ratchet's side, of course, and weirdly so were the rest of his brothers. Even Fireflight! That little traitor had cheerfully promised Ratchet to sit on Slingshot if he tried to go anywhere. And Air Raid had told him not to be an idiot when he'd suggested sneaking out when Ratchet wasn't looking - which was the gear calling the gasket round if he ever heard it.

So Slingshot was still in the medbay with nothing at all to do (apart from read the datapads Skydive had brought him or watch one of the movies Air Raid had left or play with the little remote control plane Fireflight had found somewhere or catch up on his reports like Silverbolt had suggested although he'd also slipped in some sort of shooting game on a handheld console - but he didn't want to do any of that right now) and every time he started thinking about maybe trying to get up and sneak off, Ratchet seemed to materialise out of nowhere to glare at him. Slingshot had gone as far as constructing an elaborate conspiracy theory that involved Silverbolt - or maybe the rest of them as well - monitoring him through the gestalt link and tipping Ratchet off via the comms, but he'd been forced to abandon it when Ratchet maintained his uncanny timing even while the Aerialbots were in recharge or otherwise busy. Obviously the mech was just psychic. Creepy.

And okay so his brothers were there to keep him company as much as they could, but right now they were out on patrol and Slingshot had been alone for a whole hour and he was so fragging bored.

It was as he was beginning a second hour of contemplating how bored he was that the medbay doors slid open. Slingshot briefly perked up at the break from the monotony, even though the gestalt link told him it wasn't any of his brothers, but sank back into sullen discontent when he recognised Skyfire. His expression darkened when the shuttle made straight for his berth.

"What do you want?"

"I thought you might appreciate some company."

As usual, Skyfire didn't react to the hostile tone. That drove Slingshot nuts. He could never get a handle on the big mech - he always seemed calm and polite and boring, even when he was angry. Pit, it had only been because they'd been in field contact when Skyfire had broken up that fight that Slingshot had known he was angry at all - he might have been absentmindedly moving the furniture for all you could tell from the outside. But they had been in field contact, and Slingshot had been startled and a little thrown by the depth he felt beneath that calm exterior. Maybe that was why he'd done as he was told and gone back to his brothers - that and the sneaking, barely articulated awareness, hot with shame, that Skyfire had been right.

Not that Slingshot was going to cut him any slack because of that.

"What, your company? No thanks."

This didn't seem to deter Skyfire either. He pulled up one of the stools Slingshot's brothers had left scattered by the berth and took a seat

"Then I shan't force it on you," Skyfire said. "But I did think you might be interested in this."

He indicated a datapad. Slingshot cast it a sceptical look. It was his experience that good things did not come on datapads.

"It's my report on the space bridge attack," Skyfire went on, though Slingshot had pointedly not asked. "I thought you might--"

"Do you seriously expect me to read your report?" Slingshot broke in, too incredulous to be properly scathing. "I'm not that bored."

A slight smile tugged at Skyfire's mouth. It made him look unexpectedly mischievous.

"You have no idea how tempted I am to say yes to that, just to see your expression," he said. "But actually I just thought you might want to know how the Decepticons pulled it off."

"Silverbolt'll tell me," Slingshot retorted, sinking back against the berth and folding his arms mutinously. "You don't have to."

"Oh, I know, but I have to submit this to Optimus first, and I don't suppose it'll get to the other officers for another few days."

Slingshot let his arms drop, taken aback. "You haven't told Silverbolt yet?"

"I didn't want to start any rumours before I'd had a chance to be sure of my conclusions," Skyfire replied - then added quickly, "not that Silverbolt would talk, of course, but these things have a way of getting about."

Slingshot hesitated. On the one hand, he didn't want to ask. That'd be like admitting defeat in some obscure way. On the other hand, it had been niggling away at him since the attack: just how had the Decepticons got the drop on him so easily? He hadn't even known he was under attack until he'd finally come back online in a smoking heap on the ground. Just sneaking in through the space bridge shouldn't have given them that much of an edge.

And if Skyfire hadn't even submitted the report yet, Slingshot would be the first to know for once, instead of waiting around for the higher-ups to decide to pass on the information to the common mech.

"Yeah, well," he said carelessly, "I guess you can tell me if you want. Not like I've got anything better to do."

If Skyfire had laughed or smirked or in any way implied he'd scored a point, Slingshot would have bristled up like a furious cat and refused to listen to another word. But the big mech just looked honestly pleased as he put the datapad down on the cabinet by the berth and settled himself more comfortably on his stool.

"The short answer is: Soundwave."

Slingshot sat up indignantly.

"That creepy-aft son-of-a-glitch? No way, I'da known if he'd tried to get in my head."

"Yes, I'm sure you would have," Skyfire agreed - and he didn't seem to mean it sarcastically, either. "The gestalt bond interferes with external manipulation - you're much more used to the feeling of other minds than most mechs, so you pick it up quickly if someone tries to establish a link without your knowledge."

"Huh." Slingshot settled down, chewing that over. "So whaddya mean it was him? Did he shoot me down?"

"No, that was almost certainly Starscream - I think he got you point blank with the null-rays. You'd have been offline before you hit the ground."

"Starscream couldn't sneak up on me," Slingshot said with utter scorn. "I'd hear him coming. His engine's got a funny whine in it, different from the others."

"You noticed that?" Skyfire sounded surprised - maybe even a bit impressed. "I agree he couldn't have got the drop on you normally. I don't suppose any of them could, actually - you seem to have good sensors. That's where Soundwave comes in. He usually has to be in close contact with a mech to influence them, but Starscream built a kind of amplifier using the space bridge itself. It was acting as a jamming device, but Soundwave could control its effects much more delicately than a normal jamming field. That's why it was affecting the Autobots but not the Decepticons."

"That still doesn't explain why--"

"Hold on, I'm getting there." Skyfire held up a hand and Slingshot reluctantly subsided, too curious to resent the interruption. "The first thing he did must have been to concentrate the whole thing on you. With that much power and only one mech to focus on, he could easily have blocked all your sensors, not just the comms, for long enough for Starscream to take you out. You were the only one who might have been able to get out of range quickly enough to sound the alarm, you see, so they had to get you first. Then Soundwave broadened the jamming to affect the whole area, and there was no way for the rest of the garrison to get help. Fortunately he couldn't use that kind of complete blocking on more than one mech, otherwise they'd have all been sitting ducks. And fortunately your brothers felt it when you were taken down. Soundwave couldn't block your gestalt link. I would have thought he'd realise that, with gestalts of their own..."

"Maybe they didn't tell him," Slingshot suggested, hiding a shudder at the idea of Soundwave spreading invisible tendrils all over his sensors. "I wouldn't tell that fragger something like that. Might need it sometime."

"Hmm. That might well be it." Skyfire toyed with his datapad as he considered. "One can generally count on the Decepticons to mistrust each other. Anyway, that was how it worked, I'm pretty sure. The amplifier was drawing power from the space bridge, which helped give Soundwave the reach to block all of us - he was bending space very slightly around the bridge. When Mirage closed it, Soundwave would have had all the feedback dumped into his processor at once. I would expect that sort of short-circuit to burn him out completely, or nearly so – if he survived, he won't be functional for a while."

"Good."

Skyfire shot him a glance; Slingshot automatically tensed, expecting disapproval, but to his surprise saw something like agreement in the shuttle's optics. It was gone almost at once, and Skyfire was getting to his feet.

"Anyway, that's it - that's my theory, at least, though I'm certain it's correct. There are two particularly worrying aspects to it, of course, but--"

"What?"

Slingshot leaned forward eagerly, ignoring the slight twinge of damaged plating. He almost would have caught at Skyfire's arm, but the bigger mech didn't try to leave without answering.

"First, that they could potentially do it again, although the circumstances were somewhat unique. I don't believe thay could power it without access to the space bridge's warp weave, so it is only a risk while in that vicinity. And second..." He hesitated. "This is strictly confidential, of course."

"I'm not gonna run my vocaliser like one of those minibots!"

"Well... the second aspect is the more of a concern, in its way. Starscream and the other Seekers must have already been on Cybertron. That's presumably why we saw nothing of them for so long. But Soundwave was definitely on Earth when the Autobots took the space bridge. He was prominent in that battle. Yet he must have come through from Cybertron with Starscream when they attacked; otherwise he could never have reached the amplifier and hooked himself up to it before you realised the bridge was open. By my calculations, there should be no way he could have reached Cybertron through normal space in the time between the two battles - even Astrotrain's top speed would fall short. So..."

"The fraggers. They've got another space bridge?"

"I don't know. It's possible, though I can't see how. That, or they've found some other means of reaching Cybertron in record time."

Slingshot knew he wasn't the most strategy-minded of 'bots, but even he could see why that would be very bad news. The whole Autobot-Decepticon balance hinged on access to Cybertron. The Decepticons had the space bridge, but the Autobots had Omega Supreme, who could reach Cybertron through normal space in half the time it would take Astrotrain or Octane, and for a fraction of the cost in energon of opening the space bridge. The Decepticons finding another means of access would be like adding holes to a bucket; sooner or later there would be too many to stop all the leaks.

"At any rate," Skyfire went on, picking up his report and turning it over in his hands, "I've done all I can without more data. After I've handed this in it'll be up to Optimus to decide what to do about it."

He hesitated on the point of leaving. Slingshot wondered if he was waiting to be asked to stay, or thanked - neither of which were responses Slingshot could bring easily to his vocaliser. But after a moment, what Skyfire said, in fact, was, "I don't believe I've thanked you properly yet."

Slingshot opened his mouth, shut it again, wondered if he'd heard right, then finally asked, "For what?"

"Taking down Skywarp. That was an incredible shot. Thank you."

Slingshot had no idea what to say to that, so he settled for a brusque nod. It seemed to be enough. Skyfire nodded back, in a more friendly fashion, and headed for the door.

Slingshot settled back in the berth and turned his thoughts to Soundwave and Starscream, and the things he was going to do to them next battle. He thought he might try using his vertical takeoff to get right up Starscream's afterburners. That'd teach the fragger to sneak up on a mech with dirty mind-control boxes...

The next time Ratchet came through, he wondered aloud if he ought to magnetise Slingshot's berth until he stopped grinning like that.

* * *


It was ridiculous to miss someone when they were around all the time. Silverbolt knew that. It didn't stop him from finally identifying the weight in his spark as exactly that: he missed Skyfire.

Or rather, paradoxically, he missed having someone whom his brothers had no interest in, who was outside the chaotic blend of his gestalt. Somehow - Silverbolt still wasn't exactly sure how - that had changed recently. Air Raid and Fireflight automatically included Skyfire in their plans. Skydive never actively sought him out, but seemed to enjoy talking to him when he was there. Even Slingshot had - not warmed to Skyfire exactly, but at least seemed to grudgingly take his presence for granted.

It should have made Silverbolt happy to see Skyfire accepted by his gestalt. It did make him happy, mostly - happy to see his brothers beginning to appreciate what he'd known all along - happy to catch Skyfire's optic sometimes and share a moment of silent understanding, a smile, while the others carried on bickering or laughing or devising unlikely plans for their next downtime. And it made his spark ache pleasantly every time he saw Skyfire do or say something so quietly caring for one of his brothers - made him want to go over to Skyfire and take his hand and sit close enough that their energy fields blended, so Skyfire could feel the almost inexpressible mix of thank you and you're amazing and you know it goes both ways, right?

But half the time he couldn't get close to Skyfire - damn Fireflight and his limpet tendencies - and the other half it just felt like something too private to try and share when his brothers were all around them. He saw Skyfire all the time in breaks and downtime, and yet it felt like they hadn't really talked for weeks. Even when Silverbolt stopped by the lab, he'd find Perceptor or Wheeljack working with Skyfire on something, or Fireflight - again - perched on a bench and chattering away excitedly.

He knew, logically, that it was easily fixed. That all he had to do was comm Skyfire and suggest they go somewhere together - or ask if he could come by Skyfire's quarters and watch another of those Cybertronian movies - or even just see if he could stop by the lab sometime when no-one else was around.

And he didn't do it. And didn't do it. Because, in the depths of his spark, he wondered if Skyfire would really want to. He obviously liked Silverbolt's brothers. When he was with them these days, Silverbolt saw that lost look in his optics less and less. It seemed to mean the world to him that the Aerialbots wanted him with them, and Silverbolt felt like a traitor - to his brothers and to Skyfire - every time he caught himself wishing things back the way they were.

The worst part was, he had no-one to talk to about it - because the person who would have understood was Skyfire, and Skyfire was, of course, the one person he couldn't explain it to.

He tried to bring the topic up with Hot Spot, but Hot Spot seemed more bemused than anything.

"So tell them all to get lost for a bit," he said. "You know you need your own space - it was you who taught me that, even."

And Silverbolt couldn't find words to explain: he didn't just need to get away from his brothers, he needed to take Skyfire with him - and he needed Skyfire to want to go.

Which sounded so convoluted even in his own head that it finally brought him up short.

This is ridiculous.

It was almost the end of Skyfire's shift, and the other Aerialbots were, Silverbolt was pretty sure, doing something he probably ought to be worried about at the far end of the Ark. Well, for once they could look after themselves. He said a quick goodbye to Hot Spot, finished his energon, and set out for Skyfire's lab.

Halfway there, he realised he could have just commed, but he decided he might as well keep going now he'd started. Besides, comming didn't feel like enough. Maybe, just maybe Skyfire would have finished early and be working on something of his own; maybe Silverbolt could sit next to him for a while and watch his amazing, clever hands at work, and maybe he could find an excuse to take them in his again...

When he keyed open the door and found the lab empty, Silverbolt's spark felt like it physically sank in his chest. He was about to step back out again, except he paused, not even sure why, because something he couldn't put a name on was wrong...

(Later, thinking about it, he'd realise that he could smell smoke, and that the bench Skyfire had been working on was covered in broken glass and scattered components.)

So he hesitated a moment longer, and realised he'd been mistaken. The lab wasn't empty after all.

"Skyfire?"

Silverbolt stumbled in his rush across the lab and clipped a work bench, but Skyfire didn't stir even at the unholy clatter as a set of carefully organised tools were knocked to the floor. He was slumped against the far wall, almost hidden behind the nearer bench, his optics grey. Silverbolt was closer to panic than he could ever remember being - there was no gestalt link here to tell him what was wrong, no way of knowing if Skyfire was even...

Skyfire's plating was at least warm under Silverbolt's hands as he shook him, and this close he could hear the ragged racing of internal systems - in no way a healthy sound, but at least one indicative that Skyfire was not completely offline. Silverbolt started to scan him, but the readings made no sense, and he realised that Skyfire's plating wasn't just warm, it was hot. That smoke wasn't from a failed experiment, it was creeping inexorably from the seams in Skyfire's chest. He fumbled for the catches, trying to release the outer armour, but Skyfire's worked differently from Silverbolt's or his brothers, and he couldn't figure it out, and the smoke seemed thicker now, and...

His comms were pinging four ways all at once, and he belatedly felt his brothers' reaction to the raw panic that had been flooding through the bond. It was enough to give him focus; enough to snap him out of the tunnel vision that had set in as soon as he'd seen Skyfire on the floor.

He clamped down hard on the bond, ignored his brothers' comm signals, and opened an emergency transmission to medbay.

* * *


Coming back online was a foggy, unpleasant process, quite unlike Skyfire's usual snap to consciousness. His systems lagged awkwardly, not quite in sync, and when he was awake enough to wonder where he was, he also became aware of a considerable amount of discomfort. His chest plates had been opened recently, and his internals felt scorched and sore despite the painkillers he could feel buffering his pain receptors.

Skyfire managed to get his optics online, only to find himself contemplating the medbay ceiling. Ah. He had a feeling that was a bad thing. He'd been expecting his lab. He bullied his chronometer into working, got a reading that was much longer than the few minutes he'd hoped for, and braced himself. Ratchet was going to tear him a new exhaust port as soon as he realised Skyfire was awake...

He turned his head, looking for the medic. His optics fell on Silverbolt instead, sitting quietly by the berth reading something on a datapad. Some of the trepidation eased. Skyfire managed a weak smile.

"Hello."

Silverbolt looked up sharply. He didn't smile back; his optics were so pale they were almost white, and Skyfire was taken aback. He'd never seen that look on Silverbolt's face; he didn't know what it meant.

"How do you feel?" Silverbolt asked, but the words weren't warm; they were clipped as though he were biting each one off as it left his vocaliser.

"Like I lost a fight with a comet, but not too bad."

Silverbolt nodded. He put his datapad down on a nearby bench with a neat, loud clack.

"Ratchet tells me," Silverbolt began, very quietly and very calmly, "that you do this a lot."

Oh, Pit.

"Not really," Skyfire replied. "I'm not in medbay any more than anyone else--"

"You know that's not what I'm talking about."

Silverbolt's voice lost a little of its icy control, and his optics flashed. Skyfire realised finally that what he was seeing was Silverbolt angry - not just irritated by his brothers or snappish under too much stress, but utterly furious. His spark sank.

"What exactly did Ratchet say? You know he tends to get carried away--"

"As I understand it," Silverbolt cut in, and Skyfire was momentarily struck by how beautiful Silverbolt's anger made him - all cold fire and diamond edges, all control over flashing fury, "you've been installing experimental tech into your own systems, as Ratchet put it, 'on a regular basis since we hauled him out of the ice, and before that, as far as I can tell'."

"It's the quickest way to test," Skyfire said. "And my systems are really quite different from everyone else's aboard the Ark - ten million years out of date, for one thing. Ratchet couldn't upgrade me if he wanted to. All I'm doing is bringing my system standards up with the current--"

"Short-circuiting yourself and almost burning up your sensor wiring is a standard system function, is it?"

"It's not like this happens every time."

"And what if Ratchet has to repair you after a battle, only to find you've put something in or taken something out and he doesn't know if he's fixing you or making it worse?"

"That's never happened yet."

"But it will!" Silverbolt's voice cracked abruptly and Skyfire winced. "Sooner or later, and Primus knows why it hasn't been sooner - Ratchet said you'd deliberately overridden every failsafe on your sensor network! If that thing hadn't shorted out, the next time you got hit by any sort of energy weapon you'd have gone into cascade failure."

Skyfire briefly offlined his optics, battling a mixture of guilt and defensiveness.

"It's not like I was planning to walk around like that," he said as calmly as he could. "I would have reactivated the failsafes as soon as I was done tweaking the upgrade."

"Except for the part where the 'upgrade' ended up doing exactly what the failsafes were supposed to prevent." Silverbolt had himself under control again and the words were coming out fast but precise. "At least as far as I understand it. And as far as Ratchet understands it, which he's mostly had to do from guesswork. Because you didn't tell anyone what you were doing before you decided to wire Primus knows what into your own damn systems!"

"Are you quite finished?" Skyfire tried to keep his voice modulated, but he could hear the sharpness in it all the same. "It's not nearly so simple or clear cut as that. I took comprehensive precautions and only--"

"Not comprehensive enough, obviously."

"-- only a freak accident could have caused what you're describing. Undetectable metal fatigue or a coding loop that would only activate under very specific circumstances--"

"Very specific circumstances which seem to have very specifically happened to you!"

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Skyfire snapped, and saw Silverbolt's mouth set in a hard line. "And nor does Ratchet. I am an expert in my own systems and I don't need you or anyone else trying to tell me how to--"

"I don't need to be an expert in your systems to recognise when something's dangerous! I know I'm not a scientist--"

"No," Skyfire cut in bluntly, "you're not."

Silverbolt froze, all that lightning-crackle anger suddenly giving way to a terrible, naked hurt that hit Skyfire like a slap in the face. Then it vanished behind a distant expression that Skyfire knew all too well as Silverbolt's way of hiding his emotions.

"Fine." Silverbolt stood up and retrieved his datapad from the table. "I'm not a scientist and I don't have a clue what you were trying to do. But I would have sat with you while you did it, and then you'd have been in medbay before your systems went critical. All you had to do was ask."

He hesitated for a second as if he was expecting Skyfire to say something, but Skyfire couldn't find the words. He wanted to defend himself, and at the same time he knew he'd been stupid; he shouldn't have hooked up the sensor buffer without a final round of tests, but he'd been impatient and in a hurry, and maybe he would have told Ratchet what he was planning if Ratchet didn't lecture him every damn time...

"I have to go," Silverbolt said finally, turning away.

Skyfire watched him cross the medbay and open the door, but it was only as Silverbolt stepped out into the corridor that he managed to swallow his pride.

"Silverbolt--"

The door was shut before he'd finished, and when it didn't reopen, Skyfire knew he hadn't been heard.

* * *


Air Raid wasn't usually the one who had to fix things. That was Silverbolt's job. But since, in this case, Silverbolt was part of what needed fixing, they were left with a problem.

Three days of poking their leader had resulted in no progress beyond Silverbolt becoming increasingly short-tempered. It was bewildering and frustrating to see him so visibly unhappy for causes that were, for once, completely beyond his brothers' control. The simplest thing to do seemed to be to blame Skyfire - except Air Raid was really starting to like Skyfire. He was nice to have around - comforting and sensible and unexpectedly good fun sometimes.

And he made Silverbolt happy - usually - which was the real clincher.

So clearly it was time to Fix Things. The Silverbolt end of the problem didn't seem to be responding to stimulus, so Air Raid decided to start elsewhere. Which meant talking to Skyfire. Which meant finding Skyfire.

For such a big mech, he could be surprisingly elusive, but Air Raid eventually tracked him down to the very top of the mountain above the Ark, staring moodily at the night sky with half a cube of energon in his hand. If it had been one of Air Raid's brothers, he would have said they were sulking. He suspected that that wasn't far off the mark with Skyfire either.

Air Raid managed an awkward landing on the very narrow bit of mostly flat rock that Skyfire was using as a seat. He lost his balance at the last minute, but Skyfire quickly grabbed a flailing arm and steadied him, which Air Raid thought was pretty good of him, since he obviously didn't really want company.

"Are you okay?" Skyfire asked as Air Raid flattened himself against the mountainside and waited for his systems to calm down.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm good." Air Raid slid down the rock until he was sitting next to Skyfire. "Are you okay?"

"I'm not the one who almost fell off a mountain."

"Yeah, but." Air Raid wriggled closer, just enough for their fields to touch. "Are you okay?"

Skyfire was silent for a few moments, and Air Raid could feel his reluctance to answer, mixed up with a surprising swirl of resentment. It felt a lot like how Air Raid felt when he'd done something stupid and he knew it was stupid and yet everyone kept telling him it was stupid and he couldn't admit it because he was so sick of hearing it...

"I'm mostly repaired," Skyfire replied at last. "Some of my wiring needs a full replacement. Ratchet thinks he'll be done with that by the end of the week."

"A whole week?" said Air Raid, horrified. "With Ratchet?"

That won a half-laugh from Skyfire. "At least I'm allowed out."

"I heard," Air Raid went on after a pause, "you got in trouble with Prime over it."

Skyfire was silent and Air Raid could feel him closing up over whatever reaction he had to that.

"It's just, that happens to me a lot, you know, so I thought--"

"It's really not the same thing," Skyfire snapped.

Air Raid muted his vocaliser, hurt. After a moment Skyfire sighed and glanced sideways at him.

"Sorry," he said. "I'm not having a good week." He stopped and stared into his energon cube, then added quietly and with obvious effort, "And it's entirely my own fault."

Air Raid was impressed. Admitting that sort of thing was really hard.

“It's just the officers being tight-afts," he said reassuringly. "They always take things way out of proportion. Like that time we put paint stripper in Sunstreaker's shower, it wasn't like it hurt anyone..."

"That was you?"

"Yeah, that was before we were friends with the twins."

"You're friends with the twins now?"

"Well, yeah." Air Raid frowned, thinking about it. He wasn't sure when that had happened, exactly, but these days he sort of thought of the twins as being on their side. Didn't mean they didn't occasionally pull pranks on each other, but they tended to be less drastic than before. "Shouldn't we be?"

"What? No - I mean, yes--" Skyfire laughed at himself, and Air Raid felt his field relax encouragingly. "I mean, I'm glad that you're friends. Though I'm trying not to think too hard about what exactly you might get up to with those two egging you on..."

"Hey! We can get into trouble perfectly well on our own, thanks."

Skyfire laughed again and there was a short silence, Air Raid following the shifts in Skyfire's field patterns curiously. Skyfire didn't think/feel the way Air Raid's brothers did - though there was a superficial similarity with Silverbolt. He seemed to go much deeper and think in more ordered patterns, and everything was divided up neatly as if he could keep it from overflowing by sheer force of will. Air Raid thought it might be good for him to stop thinking about everything so much and just go with the flow, but he had an idea that Skyfire wouldn't appreciate the advice any more than Silverbolt would.

Speaking of...

"He'll get over it," Air Raid said. "Silverbolt, I mean."

Skyfire tensed up and his field drew in, but not quickly enough to stop Air Raid feeling the hurt/resentment/guilt that went much deeper and sharper than anyone could have guessed from looking at him.

"He's just mad because you scared him. He was the same way the time Skydive and me smashed ourselves up trying out one of Skydive's tricks. It's only 'cos he cares."

"I didn't know it was him that found me," Skyfire said, quietly. "Not until Ratchet told me. I thought Perceptor, or Wheeljack... but if he hadn't come by, no-one would have been in the labs until the next shift." He stopped, then added in a rush of half-hearted justification, "I thought Perceptor was in the lab next door, I didn't know he'd been called away..."

Air Raid nudged Skyfire with a wingtip, and Skyfire cast him a quick, grateful glance. In response, Air Raid stole his energon and took a sip.

"I wasn't finished with that."

"Wasn't finished what, looking at it? You're not meant to look at it."

"It's my energon," Skyfire said with dignity, "and I'll do whatever I want with it."

"Not your energon now, is it?" Air Raid deliberately took a bigger swig. "Use it or lose it."

"I'm almost certain that's not what that phrase is supposed to mean," Skyfire said, but he was having difficulty hiding his smile. "Don't make me take it back by force."

"Ha, I dare you to try and--"

Air Raid had had no idea Skyfire could move so quickly. A ridiculously cautious tussle ensued, both of them very aware of the drop below them, but after a couple of minutes Skyfire managed to pin Air Raid long enough to extract the cube and retreat back to his part of the ledge in triumph.

Air Raid grinned at him, well pleased with the outcome. In his experience, when you could persuade people to stop sulking and get into stupid mock fights it was usually a good sign that Things were on their way to being Fixed.

* * *


By the time Silverbolt finished his shift, all he wanted to do was shut down and get some decent recharge, but his processor was already running in the tight, unhappy loops that had been preventing him from properly resting. He could push it aside when he was on duty, but as soon as his time was his own again, the same refrains would start up - the memory of Skyfire so very still and silent, the acute awareness that if Silverbolt hadn't spontaneously decided to visit the lab, he might have lain there for hours, and then the anger and disbelief of the discovery that Skyfire, of all mechs, could have been so utterly reckless...

And the fact that Silverbolt didn't know what to do now. Skyfire wasn't one of his brothers - wasn't under his command - and Silverbolt had no claim but friendship on him. Maybe it wasn't enough to give him the right to speak to Skyfire the way he had in the medbay. Maybe he should have kept his vocaliser muted and let Ratchet and Prime issue the reprimands - except he couldn't have kept quiet if he'd tried. He'd been too angry. He was still angry, come to think of it, but in a weary, miserable way that was starting to hurt more than it helped.

For almost the first time since they'd met, Silverbolt was painfully aware that he was younger than Skyfire, and that there were still vast swathes of Skyfire's past he knew nothing about. He caught himself dwelling more than once, usually in the middle of a fruitless attempt to recharge, on the thought that Skyfire would have had Starscream to help him the past - Starscream who was a scientist, and who presumably, once, would have cared enough about Skyfire's wellbeing to double-check his work. Of course Skyfire hadn't asked Silverbolt to help him out. Silverbolt wouldn't have known where to begin...

Rounding the last corner before the Aerialbots' quarters, the sight of Skyfire himself leaning patiently against the wall gave Silverbolt such a start that he stopped dead. For a moment he felt as though Skyfire must have overheard his thoughts. But Skyfire just looked uncertain, and maybe even nervous, as their optics met.

"Hey."

"Hi," said Silverbolt, and then didn't know what to say next.

Fortunately Skyfire seemed to have made up his mind beforehand, because the next part came out as though he'd psyched himself up for it. "Will you come out flying with me?"

Silverbolt hesitated for a fraction of a second, all too aware of how tired he was - but he couldn't say no. They had to talk, whatever the outcome.

"Okay."

Neither of them said much else until they were in the air. It was mid-morning but the cloud cover was heavy and dark, with spatters of rain dashing against their cockpits as they took off and the threat of thunder in the distance. Skyfire led them up through the cloud layer, and Silverbolt shivered at the prickle of electricity all over his plating. After an ascent so long that Silverbolt would have been getting twitchy if he could see the ground, they finally broke out above the clouds into a peaceful, sunlit world with blue skies overhead. The tall thunderheads that were so dark when seen from below looked pure white from up here, and the warmth of the sun on Silverbolt's wings was like a warm oil bath.

Skyfire levelled out and Silverbolt fell in with him.

"I'll be cleared to go back on duty by the end of the week," Skyfire said.

"That's good."

Skyfire tilted his wings a little as if testing the air currents, then sighed.

"I'm sorry."

There was a brief silence; just as Silverbolt had decided that Skyfire wasn't going to go on, and that he'd better say something in response, Skyfire spoke again.

"You were right. I should have had someone with me. It... never occurred to me to ask."

"Not even Perceptor?"

"He was busy with his own work."

"You couldn't have waited until he wasn't?"

Another pause.

"I suppose I could have," Skyfire admitted.

Silverbolt pulled up a bit to skim over an extended tower of cloud. Skyfire matched him.

"Is this why you don't get on with Ratchet?"

"Yes." Skyfire hesitated, then went on with only the faintest touch of defensiveness, "I can't make him understand that I am qualified to work with my own systems."

"Maybe if you let him know what you were doing, he'd be happier about it?"

"I doubt it. But I'm under orders from Prime now, anyway."

Silverbolt winced at the note of resentment in Skyfire's voice.

"I didn't tell--"

"I know you didn't." Skyfire sighed and the resentment bled out into resignation. "Ratchet had to report it, he would have been derelict in his duty if he hadn't. And Prime had to... speak to me, he couldn't ignore it. Sometimes I forget I am not my own mech these days."

He didn't exactly sound bitter, but Silverbolt wished he were in root-mode so he could reach out and take Skyfire's hand. He settled for edging closer until he could feel Skyfire's slipstream mingling with his own. Skyfire tilted a little toward him, and their fields brushed - like the tentative curl of fingers together.

"You know it's not just that, right?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean it's not just rules and regulations. Ratchet doesn't want you to get hurt. Nor does Prime. What did he say to you?"

"Oh..." Skyfire hesitated, and Silverbolt caught the prickle of discomfort at the memory. "He reminded me that, as an Autobot, I have responsibilities, among them not to 'recklessly endanger' myself - his words. He had me explain what I was trying to do, and then he told me I was under standing orders from now on to brief Ratchet before and after any work on my own systems."

"So he didn't tell you to stop."

"He..." Skyfire paused. Then, tone changing to surprise, he said, "No, he didn't."

Silverbolt could have laughed, but he thought Skyfire might take that the wrong way. His friend might be older and more experienced, but sometimes he could be as bad as Silverbolt's brothers - too proud to see past a rebuke to the things that hadn't been said aloud.

"What were you trying to do?"

"A sensor buffer to stop Soundwave ever pulling that trick with the amplifier again. The idea was to double-loop my sensor relays so as to be aware of any external attempts to affect them, plus activate an emergency firewall to avoid the jamming effect. It should work, but I'll have to rebuild it from scratch... it burned out completely."

The memory of Skyfire collapsed and unresponsive flashed into Silverbolt's processor. He tried to hide a shiver, but he felt the ripple of response from Skyfire's field.

"I am sorry," Skyfire murmured after a moment. "I never meant... I had no idea it would go so badly wrong. I never would have tried it otherwise. And I never would have wanted you to have to come in and find me like that."

"I know." Silverbolt could feel the tension between them draining away. "Just... promise me you won't try something like that alone again? No-one's questioning your abilities. But you can't forsee every possibility."

"Okay." Skyfire sideslipped fractionally closer. "I promise."

I don't make promises I don't intend to keep, he'd said. The last of Silverbolt's anxiety ebbed. For the first time in days he knew that things were going to be all right.

They flew in silence for a while, skimming easily above the clouds. It was more soothing than Silverbolt would have believed possible when he was so high up; Skyfire's steady presence off his right wing was as much responsible for that as the dense cloud cover. He rarely flew this close even with his brothers - they had a tendency to flit around more than he was comfortable with - and he found he was enjoying the distinctive mingled sensation of field contact and Skyfire's slipstream. It was almost as electric in its own way as the charged clouds below had been. The quiet thread of pleasure he felt from Skyfire reassured him that it was mutual.

"We should do this more often," he said.

"I'd like that." Skyfire seemed to hesitate over his next words, and when he spoke he was almost apologetic. "I do like your brothers, you know. I like it when we do things in a group. But I'd like it if you and I could still... spend some time without them?"

"I'd like that too," Silverbolt said, very conscious of the warmth that had abruptly swallowed his spark. "I really would."

* * *


Something big was coming. Everyone in the Ark seemed to know, even though there had been no official announcement. The scientists were working at a frantic pace - Skyfire included, as soon as he was back on duty - and Optimus's inner circle of advisers were constantly locked into secure briefing rooms with stacks of datapads. Silverbolt had a few bits of information not available to the rank and file, but he hadn't managed to put them together in any way that made sense.

So when word got out that there was to be an Ark-wide meeting within the orn, the general reaction was one of suppressed excitement.

"Maybe we're gonna take back the space bridge," Sideswipe said. "Or drive the Decepticons out of that base of theirs."

"We could be going back to Cybertron," suggested Mirage, who was for once both visible and in the mood for conversation. "Perhaps we're finally done with this planet."

"What, and leave the Decepticons to do what they like?" That was Bumblebee, who had been spending increasing amounts of time outside the Ark with his human friends. "Optimus would never do that."

"The scientists are working on something. Maybe Wheeljack's made a weapon that does what it's supposed to for once."

Silverbolt listened for a while to the increasingly wild theories, then went in search of Skyfire, who was pulling a double shift and told him apologetically that he could only spare five minutes. Five minutes was enough for Silverbolt to hand over the energon Skyfire had forgotten to get for himself, and surreptitiously take the opportunity to lean into field contact and watch Skyfire work. When he left, Skyfire was attempting to stuff a mass of wires and circuit boards into a box half their combined volume, and said goodbye distractedly, but Silverbolt didn't mind. The way Skyfire had automatically made room for him at the bench and his grateful smile when he'd taken the cube of energon were all Silverbolt needed

"I heard we're going to turn invisible and sneak into their base," Fireflight confided when the Aerialbots were in their quarters getting ready to recharge.

"Didn't Megatron try that on us already?" Skydive was the only one who'd actually read the archive reports Silverbolt had given them. "Anyway, how do we get underwater?"

"Just jump in?" suggested Slingshot.

"Right, and then how do you get back up off the sea floor? It's not like we float..."

Silverbolt let the discussion wash over him, absently leaning against Air Raid's foot. He didn't think the plan was anything so direct, but he was careful to keep his vocaliser muted. He didn't want to start any rumours by speculating on his incomplete knowledge.

By the time the Autobots assembled in the hangar bay - the largest space in the Ark - Silverbolt realised he needn't have worried. The rumours had taken on a life of their own and the current favourite theory was something to do with time travel and the Dinobots. He had a feeling that the officers - or Jazz, at least - had been encouraging the crazier ideas to keep people occupied.

Red Alert had sealed the Ark and Optimus didn't begin the meeting until a thorough sweep had been carried out for covert Decepticon surveillance - not that anyone had seen any of Soundwave's cassettes since the last battle. It seemed as though Skyfire had been right about the damage he'd taken - he was either out of action permanently, or still undergoing repairs.

Skyfire himself, to Silverbolt's surprise, was over with Optimus, Prowl and Jazz, conferring about something. Perceptor and Hoist were setting up a holoprojector near the front of the hangar; after a few minutes, Skyfire went to join them, and Optimus called for silence. The hush that fell was so expectant it crackled.

"Thank you."

Grapple had set up a small platform for the officers to stand on, but Optimus didn't really need it. He towered above most of the 'bots present, and all optics were on him.

"I want to begin," Optimus went on, "by commending each and every Autobot present for their dedication and bravery in last week's confrontation with the Decepticons. I also want to tell you something outright: we had no expectation of holding the space bridge beyond our first attack, and every day, every hour you kept it from the Decepticons after that was a bonus we could not have hoped for without your supreme courage and endurance."

There was a pleased murmur from the assembled Autobots, and Silverbolt had to offline his optics for a moment to deal with the surge of gratitude and relief that went through him at the words. Optimus had assured him that the loss of the space bridge had not been too big a blow - and that there was nothing he or his team could have done better to defend it - but he hadn't really believed it until now.

"Thank you, all of you, for what you have accomplished," Optimus said, and though his mouth was as ever invisible, the smile was clear in his voice. "We have surpassed all projections of what use we could make of our access to Cybertron, and as a result, we have brought our plans forward by almost a full Earth year."

He looked around at the hangar full of eager Autobots.

"We've all worked hard over the past few months," he said, "but most of you have been aware of only a small part of what we are trying to accomplish. Those of you who were instrumental in planning the initial raid on the space bridge will be aware that our aim was to make contact with various Autobots on Cybertron, and to awaken some who have been in stasis. In this we have succeeded - Ultra Magnus already has a sizeable force under his command."

Silverbolt scanned quickly through his databanks, but came up blank. He had known the broad aim of the mission, but Ultra Magnus was not a name he recognised. Others around the room seemed better informed - Ratchet was grinning and Ironhide had turned to exchange some amused comment with Hound. Silverbolt shared a baffled glance with Hot Spot, who shrugged. Across the room, Skyfire looked like he wasn't any the wiser either, though Wheeljack had pulled him down and was whispering into his audio receptor.

"So we're going to take back Iacon?" Mirage broke in eagerly.

"Not yet." Optimus sighed and briefly offlined his optics. "We'd just be back where we started, before we left Cybertron. We hoped to find a quick solution to our energy problems here on Earth; then, after awakening from stasis, I hoped we could defeat Megatron's smaller force and turn the tide of the war. Neither is now possible." There was a murmur of dismay from his listeners, but Optimus held up a hand. "Yes, it sounds like terrible news. But in fact, we are in a stronger position than we have been for millennia. The Earth is friendly towards us, so long as we do not seek to plunder it for resources as Megatron would. If we accept that we are here in the long term - if we abandon the idea that we will be returning home in the next month, or year, or decade - we can achieve something that has been beyond our reach since before the Battle of Tyrest. Namely, we can begin to re-energise Cybertron."

A ringing silence followed this pronouncement, quickly succeeded by a babble of shock and slowly dawning hope. Silverbolt wondered if he was the only person for whom hope was accompanied by a feeling of falling. Of course the reawakening of Cybertron was their ultimate goal - but his entire existence so far had been lived on Earth. His only experience of Cybertron was of a silent graveyard - except for that one glimpse he'd had of its past. The memory of that bustling, lively world - the idea that it could be brought back, not just 'someday' but within a measurable period of time - was overwhelming. Silverbolt tried to imagine living there with his brothers, tried to reconstruct what he knew of Cybertronian society from his reading, but he could barely grasp even the outline.

But Optimus had said they would not be leaving Earth for a long time. Silverbolt held onto that as an anchor; there would be time to get used to the idea of Cybertron later. Instinctively, he looked to Skyfire, and found Skyfire's optics already on him. Across the room they couldn't read each other's fields, but they didn't need to - Silverbolt knew Skyfire would find the idea of returning to Cybertron even stranger and more terrifying than he did. Silverbolt wanted to slip through the crowd and make his way to Skyfire's side, but then Optimus was speaking again.

"That is our ultimate goal," he said over the noise, which quickly ceased. "But it will be a long time before we can hope to achieve it. The first step is to establish a full settlement here on Earth. We've made camp in this wreck for long enough. We need to bring in more Autobots from Cybertron, we need better facilities - and I think we'll all agree we need more space. So I believe, Hoist, that you have something to show us..."

The architect grinned and glanced at Perceptor, who activated the holographic display. A three-dimensional image sprang up; for a moment Silverbolt couldn't make sense of it, until he got an idea of the scale. Then he took in the high golden walls, the buildings and towers, the landing pad for spacecraft, and he began to understand.

"We might be able to fix that soon," he half-remembered Skyfire saying, talking about the Aerialbots' cramped accommodations. And all the work he'd been doing on energy conversion... Silverbolt looked for and found star-like crystals studding every rooftop of the structure, the focusing gems of the small but powerful solar energy converters. The humans' sun was a resource they had barely tapped, and one which the Autobots had been unable to fully utilise without leaving themselves open to Decepticon attack. Skyfire and the others had found a way around that.

"We have finally completed our negotiations with the United States government for a suitable area on which to build," Optimus was saying. "These advances in solar power will prove revolutionary for their society as well as ours, once the technology is adapted to suit their electrical infrastructure. We intend to work together for many years to come."

"My friends, may I present to you... Autobot City."

Thursday, August 5th, 2010 09:29 pm (UTC)
*squueeeeeeeeeee!* That is so indescribably awesome! The way you pull all the threads together! AUTOBOT CITY! *glee glee* Eeee, I love Silverbolt's uncertainty about the idea of Cybertron - that he would share that with Skyfire - has Skyfire ever been back to Cybertron since he was pulled from the ice? All the thought you've put into the military strategy is just so cool - I love the details about the balance between Autobots and Decepticons, what a second space bridge might mean.

And we finally find out why Ratchet and Skyfire don't get along! Ohhh, that's not something I thought of. But yeah. Skyfire almost making a point - that maybe he has to be with the Autobots by default, but he's still an independant mech really! He can risk his life with dodgy experiments whenever he likes so nyah. I like that he didn't realise Silverbolt was the one who found him, and he didn't feel bad for the hypothetical mech who DID until he did find out it was Silverbolt. It underlines how much he's held himself apart some how.

I love the scene with Slingshot - how Skyfire can be so perceptive and understanding - but when it's on his own terms? When he's made the decision to be humble and accomodating to help someone else it's fine, but when HE'S in the wrong it's all stubborness and pride. And Air Raid is so cute! No drama, just 'oh okay, guess I better fix this then. Because the people who are supposed to fix things are being dumb."

And the main event! Silverbolt and Skyfire! With their first real fight! I feel I should bake them a cake or something. Ack Skyfire really hurt him with that 'not a scientist' thing, and Silverbolt's fretting about Starscream. Silverbolt feeling their age difference at the same time as Skyfire's acting immature. But before that I loved Silverbolt feeling resentful of his brother's and the tangle he got himself up into - wanting but wanting SKYFIRE to want and eeeee that was such a delicious payoff at the end after the angst when Skyfire revealed that actually he missed spending time with just Silverbolt too. The description of the two of them flying above the clouds was beautiful. I could feel my own tension melting away.

Wonderful!
(Anonymous)
Monday, November 8th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
Missing you and your story, please meep.