Saturday, October 8th, 2011 07:35 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 10 (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: Another ridiculously long chapter! But I think you will like where it ends up. ;) I am aiming to update with a new chapter once every two weeks on either "A Wing and a Prayer" or "Fire and Ice" so look forward to more soon!


A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 10


Consciousness seemed to return quickly, but Silverbolt's chronometer was unresponsive, so he had no idea if that were the truth. It was dark, so dark that he thought his optics had burned out until he turned them to their highest gain and was, just barely, able to see his hand in front of his face.

It had hurt lifting it. He hurt in several places, in fact, but none enough to be dangerous. His wings felt as though something heavy had landed on them, which was probably not far from the truth, going by the debris piled around and on top of him.

"Skyfire?"

There was no response. Silverbolt tried the comms. Nothing.

"Skyfire!" he called, with more urgency. Still nothing. A thread of panic wormed around in the back of his processor, but he squashed it with the practice of many battles.

His instinct was to push aside the debris on top of him and get free, but he resisted it. There was no telling whether this place was stable - sudden movement might cause more collapse. The first thing he needed was light. Fortunately, they'd both brought lanterns with them. It was tricky opening his subspace without moving too much, but Silverbolt managed to get hold of the device and switch it on.

It was only as he was momentarily blinded that he remembered Starscream. Pit, how could he have forgotten! He immediately doused the light, braced for attack - but the silence remained unbroken.

Well, he'd have to take a risk. Silverbolt turned the lantern back on.

Still no shots.

The debris on top of him was heavy, but not too much to move, and Silverbolt, feeling around carefully, established that there was some sort of floor beneath him, so he wasn't supported solely by detritus. Carefully, but as quickly as he could, he shifted the rubble aside and scrambled unsteadily to his feet.

His dazed systems were righting themselves now. His chronometer told him he'd been offline for about fifteen minutes. Silverbolt quickly turned in a circle, casting the lantern's light out around him to get a sense of where he was.

It was too wrecked to be sure, but he thought it had been a corridor. Fallen metal girders completely filled it to the south. The north end was choked with synthcrete and metal panels, but might be passable with some work. What he presumed were the walls of the corridor had buckled and burst in places, but he saw only more synthcrete and, occasionally, long-dead circuitry behind them. Silverbolt looked upward, expecting a high ceiling or the gap through which they had fallen, only to find a mass of metal jammed together not far above his head. A glance told him how precarious the whole arrangement was; a number of long metal beams had become wedged between the walls, and formed enough of a frame for the rest to catch on. Silverbolt shuddered and began to search with a growing sense of panic, keeping one optic on the ceiling for any signs of collapse. He tried his comms again, this time attempting to reach Iacon, but came up against a staticky barrier reminiscent of jamming.

His lantern caught on white paint, and he was at Skyfire's side before he consciously decided to move. The larger mech had fallen face down amid a twisted nest of girders, and for a few awful seconds Silverbolt thought one of them had impaled his torso. It was hard work turning Skyfire over onto his back, but doing so revealed that the girder in question had only scored along his side and under one wing. Silverbolt winced at the deep gash, but felt his systems race with relief at the same time. He settled Skyfire against him, careful not to do any further damage, and began to run as thorough a scan as he could.

Skyfire's face was badly scratched, deep enough across the cheek that Silverbolt was afraid he could see wiring, and his cockpit windows were shattered. He looked a mess, but the hasty scan didn't turn up anything life-threatening. His energy field was drawn in tight and almost undetectable, normal for an unconscious mech. Silverbolt tried pushing against it, at first gently and then harder, but to no avail.

"Come on, wake up," he muttered, brushing a thumb over Skyfire's helm reflexively. "Skyfire..."

That did get a response - but from some distance away, a sudden sliding of metal and a half-word, half-snarl in an all-too-recognisable voice. Silverbolt went for his gun and realised that he'd dropped it. Then he realised what weapons fire might do to the tons of debris above their heads. He froze in place. There was another clatter of metal, and a groan. Silverbolt thought he heard Starscream try to move, and fail. Then a small noise that might have been a cry of pain. Then nothing.

He didn't want to leave Skyfire, not for anything - but he was helpless to wake his friend, and he was terrified that Starscream would do something to bring the ceiling down on them. Finally, he decided to take the chance. He shone the lantern in the direction from which he'd heard the noises, and caught a glimpse of red and blue right on the edge of the clear space.

Taking one last look at Skyfire's still face, Silverbolt reluctantly disentangled himself and got to his feet.

As he scanned the rubble ahead of him to check he wasn't about to get caught up in anything, Silverbolt's lantern glinted off smooth black gunmetal half-buried in crumbled synthcrete. He thought for a moment it was his own weapon, but when he pulled it free from the pile, he saw it was Skyfire's. He wasn't sure he knew how to operate it, but then, in their current situation he wouldn't dare even if he did. And the important thing was that he was holding some sort of weapon. Starscream didn't have to know that he wasn't willing to use it, let alone that he might not know how.

A niggling doubt wondered if Starscream would know, if he were familiar enough with the gun and its operation to catch the slightest tell on Silverbolt's part, a switch not set or a power cell not charged. Silverbolt squashed the worry and picked up the gun, hefting it awkwardly. He hadn't quite realised how big it was, the same way he so often forgot just how tall Skyfire himself was. The gun looked the right size in Skyfire's hands; Silverbolt could barely rest it on his shoulder and get his fingers against the trigger.

He approached Starscream's position warily. The silence was bothering him; was the Seeker waiting for a chance to shoot him down?

Not so much, as it turned out. When Silverbolt edged around the pile of twisted metal that had been hiding Starscream from view, he saw that Starscream's optics were dim and his systems noticeably labouring. A good half of that same pile was pinning him down - literally, Silverbolt realised with an unpleasant jolt, seeing one sharp girder gone right through a wing. Starscream had not been as lucky as Skyfire. One of Starscream's hands was still loosely clasped around it. Silverbolt guessed that he'd tried to pull it out, only to overload his systems with damage warnings.

The red optics brightened sharply and Starscream's head jerked around when he spotted Silverbolt. He scrabbled for a moment with his free hand, trying to raise his arm to get his null ray in position. Silverbolt watched silently as he realised that the weapon had been torn from its mountings and was nowhere in sight.

"Go away," Starscream said after a moment, voice staticky with pain but underscored by his usual waspishness.

It was tempting, Silverbolt had to admit. Starscream wasn't going anywhere. It would be easy enough to go back to Skyfire, wait until he woke, and then they could deal with Starscream together.

And that would mean leaving Starscream with a girder the size of his arm through one wing, and who knew what damage beneath the rest of the mess pinning him. Leaving him there with full knowledge that the only people who could help him were choosing to ignore him. It was tempting, maybe, for a hated enemy, for Starscream who of all mechs deserved it...

But it would be torture, as surely as if Silverbolt had driven the spike through himself, and Starscream might have thought he was insulting them when he denounced them as incapable of it, but to Silverbolt that was a badge of honour. He sighed and moved in closer, lowering Skyfire's gun now that he was fairly sure (not completely sure, you never could be with Starscream) that he wasn't in imminent danger of attack.

"Here." He pulled a data chip out of subspace and tossed it at Starscream. It landed within easy reach of his hand, but the Decepticon didn't pick it up, instead eyeing it suspiciously. "It's a painkiller." He'd taken to carrying a couple around, just in case. "It won't help much, but it's something."

"Like I'm going to put Autobot code into my subsystems," Starscream muttered, but his attention had gone from Silverbolt to the chip, clearly tempted.

Silverbolt left him to make that decision by himself and went around to the other side of the debris pile, the side with Starscream's damaged wing. He could see that Starscream's feet were trapped beneath a nasty tangle of metal and synthcrete, and that the other girders had formed a sort of cage above him. He didn't dare pull anything underneath without first moving the upper pieces - otherwise he ran the risk of bringing the whole lot down on Starscream.

The piece of metal pinning Starscream's wing was separate from the rest. Studying it for a minute, Silverbolt was reasonably sure he could pull it free without starting a cascade reaction, but the question was whether he should. The presence of conductive metal in the middle of the delicate wing circuitry had to be hurting like hell, creating feedback and short circuits, but it could also be blocking energon lines.

"Can you shut off the hydraulic circulation to this wing?" Silverbolt asked, keeping his voice neutral, pretending it was one of his brothers.

"What?" Starscream turned his head painfully to see what Silverbolt was doing, and immediately panicked. "No, no don't touch that! It hurts!"

"It's that or leave you pinned to the floor forever," Silverbolt replied, sharpness slipping into his words despite his efforts. "Your choice."

Starscream stared at him for a few seconds, optics uncannily bright in the darkness, then said, "Where's Skyfire?"

Silverbolt ignored the question and the wriggle of unpleasant emotion that it provoked. "If you use that chip, it should take the edge off. I need to know if you can shut down your hydraulics or if you're going to bleed out as soon as this thing's out of the way."

"If I'm going to what?" Starscream's voice rose in pitch. "Where is Skyfire? What have you done to him?"

That did it.

"What have I done to him? You're the one who started shooting at us! You're the one who made the whole thing go critical!"

"Is he dead?" asked Starscream, staring at the gun in Silverbolt's hands, the words almost angry but not enough to hide something like dread behind them.

"No, of course not," snapped Silverbolt. "I wouldn't be helping you if he were!"

Starcream's optics went hard and focused. The panic seemed to have disappeared; all his attention was on Silverbolt, assessing and unpleasant.

"Is that so?" he said softly, and Silverbolt had the crawling feeling that he'd given himself away somehow.

"I'm going to pull this spike out," he said, pointedly ignoring the way Starscream immediately started to shake his head. "I need to know if you're going to bleed out."

"What the Pit does that even mean?"

Earth vocabulary. Of course Starscream wouldn't have picked it up. Wouldn't have bothered.

"I mean, have your hydraulics self-sealed or are you going to lose energon?"

"They're sealed but--"

Silverbolt leaned Skyfire's gun against the rubble, bent forward, took a firm grip on the girder, and yanked with all his strength. Even the midst of his anger and anxiety, he did his best to pull it straight out the way it had come, causing minimal extra damage. Starscream shrieked, thrashing in place once the pinning metal had been removed. Silverbolt pulled a second painkiller from his subspace, grabbed Starscream's flailing arm, and jammed it into the first data port he found.

Starscream snatched his arm back, glaring at Silverbolt like he intended to set his circuits on fire by sheer force of hatred. His wing wasn't leaking more than a trickle but the hole through it turned Silverbolt's gyros. He looked away, directing his attention to the debris pinning Starscream's legs.

"How badly are you damaged under there?"

Starscream spat a string of Cybertronian curses that Silverbolt only half understood. He ignored them as he knelt to examine the debris. It looked as though a lot of the weight lay between the girders that had formed their cage over Starscream: he might be able to pull some of the pieces out without dislodging the higher levels. Of course, he might also bring the whole thing down on Starscream's head, but right now Silverbolt was rather inclined to think he had it coming.

The synthcrete chunks and pieces of torn metal panelling were heavy. It took Silverbolt several minutes to ease one out of the forest of girders and shove it out of the way. The second one brought a cry of pain from Starscream. Faced with the options of letting it fall back into place, which might well cause further damage, or carrying on, Silverbolt kept it moving, eventually rolling it completely aside.

"Did that free anything up?"

"I don't know." Starscream sounded subdued now. Presumably the painkiller had done its work; he was propping himself up on his elbows to watch what Silverbolt was doing. "I can't feel my legs below the knee joint. Except when I get pain relays."

Silverbolt returned to pulling the pieces free. He did his best not to let them catch or scrape anything along the way. He heard a couple more yelps from Starscream, but for the most part the Seeker watched him silently, neither criticising nor offering suggestions. It was unnerving.

Finally, he'd pulled enough of the rubble aside that Starscream's legs looked relatively clear, albeit mangled. There were trailing wires and torn strips of plating that made Silverbolt wince reflexively. He stood up, intending to go around and pull Starscream back out of the pile, only to hear a quiet but definite shifting of rubble and a familiar voice.

"Silverbolt...?"

Silverbolt darted away, ignoring Starscream's protest, and quickly made his way back to Skyfire, who was trying to sit up. He dropped to his knees and slid an arm behind Skyfire's shoulders, helping him get upright.

"Silverbolt?" Skyfire's hand came up to grab at Silverbolt's shoulder, then slid to the back of his neck, the back of his helm. "Are you all right? Are you..."

"I'm fine, I'm okay." Silverbolt pressed their foreheads together, pushing out with his field in a wash of relief and concern. "Are you? You took a hard knock, don't try to move too fast."

"I need to run a couple of scans," said Skyfire after a moment. The dazed look was fading, but he seemed off balance still. He hadn't let go of Silverbolt. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes," Silverbolt reassured him. "Can I do anything?"

"No. I just need to let the scans run." Skyfire's optics brightened and became more focused. He looked at Silverbolt properly for the first time. "You're covered in dust. Your face is almost black!"

"If that's the worst of it, I'll take the dust," Silverbolt replied, half laughing with relief. Then, more seriously, "I was so worried..."

"I'm okay," Skyfire said. The hand that was still cupped behind Silverbolt's head moved to stroke the back of his neck reassuringly. "As far as I can tell, anyway. I think I must have unseated one of my chip boards and reset the relays. I'm not sure if I can transform but I can get by for now."

"That's good to--"

From Starscream's direction, there came a clatter and a bout of cursing. Silverbolt felt the shock that went through Skyfire's field, recognised it as the sudden recollection of what circumstances had brought them here. He tightened his arm briefly around Skyfire in a hug, then drew back.

"He's not going anywhere," he said quietly, hopefully too quietly to carry. "But I'd better go and check."

The reluctance with which Skyfire let go of him warmed Silverbolt's spark enough that he almost felt generous towards Starscream as he made his way back to the Seeker's corner.

The clatter, as it turned out, had been Starscream knocking askew one of the girders above him as he tried to pull himself out of the mess on his elbows. Silverbolt wasn't sure if it had hit him on the way down and glanced off, or landed just to the side of his head in the first place, but either way, Starscream was now keeping very, very still. He'd managed to draw his injured legs out of the space Silverbolt had created for them and turn over on his side. He happened to be facing Silverbolt's approach, which gave Silverbolt the full benefit of his glare.

"If you're quite finished..."

"Has anyone ever mentioned that it's usually a good idea to show at least the pretence of gratitude when someone's trying to help you?" Silverbolt retorted, any feelings of sympathy immediately drying up. "Or at least not to try and provoke them?"

Starscream shrugged as best he could without moving too much. "You know it's a lie. I know it's a lie. Why bother?"

Silverbolt didn't give him the satisfaction of a response. He looked around for something he'd spotted earlier - a broad, solid piece of girder of just the right length - and picked it up. He took a second's satisfaction in Starscream's abruptly nervous expression, then carefully wedged the girder in as an extra support on the side Starscream was closest to. The debris above him shifted worryingly, but held. Silverbolt grabbed for another support, then another, repeating the process until he was fairly sure the structure was as stable as it was going to get.

Then he took hold of one of the original pieces of metal - ignoring Starscream's panicky "No, wait, don't do that!" - and eased it out of the rubble at its base, taking the weight off it before sliding the top part out of the tangle above Starscream. It slid out without catching anything, and the structure held stable. Silverbolt assessed the gap it had made, then did the same thing with a second piece of metal. He couldn't get that one out completely, and the cage-like collection of girders suddenly creaked and shifted hard to the right, so he abandoned his efforts and just tucked it over to one side as best he could.

Starscream was staring at the debris above him like a rat in a trap. Silverbolt decided that haste was more important than careful consideration at this point. He ducked under the pile of debris and grabbed Starscream under the arms.

Starscream, typically, reacted by flailing and trying to get away. Silverbolt had to duck a hand that would have struck him in the face. "For Pit's sake hold still or you'll bring the whole lot--"

One of the girders above them slid free and smashed down onto the ground beside them. Starscream shrieked, Silverbolt pulled with all his strength, and the tenuous construction of metal and rubble came crashing down on where they had been half a second previously. Silverbolt dragged Starscream far enough that neither of them was in danger getting hit by subsidence from the settling heap, then unceremoniously dropped him.

"Ow--!"

"Oh, shut up." Silverbolt rubbed at his shoulder where a chunk of synthcrete had hit it. "I told you to stay still--"

"Maybe you should have given me some warning before you just grabbed me like a slagging crate--"

"What happened?" Skyfire was suddenly at Silverbolt's side, and noticeably unsteady on his feet. Silverbolt put out a hand automatically to offer support. Skyfire leaned into it gratefully. "I'm done with the scans, but it's going to take a while for my systems to stablise." He looked down at Starscream, taking in his injuries. "Though I guess I should count myself lucky."

"Stop staring at me," Starscream snapped back at him. The Seeker struggled to sit up, propping himself against the nearest wall, and peered around. Because he was watching for it, Silverbolt saw the moment when the full extent of their situation hit him. Starscream seemed to shrink in on himself, staring at the low ceiling with horror.

Skyfire, too, seemed to be taking in their surroundings properly for the first time. Silverbolt felt panic blossom hard and fast in his field, only to be crushed down with a ruthlessness that was breathtaking. Calmly, Skyfire said, "I think I'd better sit down again."

Silverbolt glanced around and then nudged Skyfire towards a stable-looking heap of rubble. They sat down close enough that their fields could overlap fully, and Silverbolt drew reassurance from Skyfire's self-control. He could see Skyfire looking around more intently now, taking in details.

"We need to get out of here fast," Silverbolt said, keeping his voice down out of some irrational feeling that it might be enough to set off another fall. "We've been incredibly lucky. I don't trust that mess up there to hold forever."

He gestured to the rubble-choked hole above them, but Skyfire didn't look up. He was frowning, gaze unfocused in the way of one paying attention to other senses than sight.

"Have you checked your altimeter?" Skyfire asked, the frown morphing into concern.

Silverbolt did so, and found the results nonsensical. "It's giving me negative numbers. I must have reset it when I fell--"

"No, mine's giving me the same." Skyfire did look up then, assessing the unstable-looking mass of debris. "I think we fell a long way, Silverbolt."

Silverbolt took the reading from his altimeter again and tried to make sense of it. He'd calibrated it to Cybertron's standards on their arrival; there was no sea level, but there were a number of set reference points. According to the numbers they were now well below the accepted "surface" level of the labyrinthine planet.

The power plant had still been some way above it. By Silverbolt's quick and extremely rough estimate, they must have fallen almost three hundred storeys - on Cybertron's scale. The thought made him dizzy. It was as if he'd fallen out of the sky on Earth.

"Why aren't we dead?" he asked, trying hard not to think about that long distance.

Skyfire took his hand, knowing without needing to be told. "The power plant must have been constructed above one of the old streets," he said. "One of the deep ones that was eventually roofed over. There used to be anti-grav nets every ten storeys to prevent accidental falls - if even a couple of them were still working, it would have been enough to slow us down. The real luck is that, up there--" he gestured to the ceiling. "Maybe some of that got caught in the anti-grav as well - we should have been under several hundred tons of it otherwise."

"I take it we're not getting back up that way, then."

"Definitely not."

"I can't get through to Iacon."

"Me neither. We must be too deep - all the electromagnetic noise in between is blocking the comms. Have you had a chance to look around? There should be some doors, or at least an access hatch..."

"There's nothing that I spotted." Silverbolt looked around again, trying to see to the edges of his lantern light. "There might be a way out at that end--"

"And a lot of good that will do you," Starscream cut in, making no pretence that he hadn't been listening. "The whole south end of this street fell in vorns ago, it's solid rubble right down to the junction with 57th Street."

Silverbolt started to snap something back, but Skyfire forestalled him, fixing Starscream with a searching look.

"You know this area?"

"Of course I do, it's Vos." Starscream's voice was contemptuous, but Silverbolt thought there was a twist of some other emotion behind the words. "In case you've forgotten, I was sparked--"

"I haven't forgotten. But I meant that you've been here recently."

Starscream looked shifty. "I didn't say that. I just have a good memory."

"A good memory for structural collapse that can't have happened until long after you left?"

Starscream said nothing. Skyfire pressed the advantage.

"What have you been looking for down here? I can't imagine you came for the scenery."

"Maybe I just wanted some peace and quiet away from that idiot Megatron and his pathetic excuse for an army!"

"Or maybe," Skyfire said slowly, "you don't really know what's powering that core up there either - maybe you've been trying to find out."

"I told you it was a radron catalyst!"

"But what is it using for raw materials? Crude fuel won't cut it and you can't have found crystalline radronite anywhere in Earth's solar system, it was formed under completely the wrong conditions." Skyfire was watching Starscream intently as he spoke, seeming to read every little movement and expression his words elicited. "You didn't expect it to work, did you? You were planning to cannibalise the parts, I'd guess, only when you started working on it, you found you could power it up..."

"Shut up!" shrieked Starscream, trying to push off from the wall as if to fly at Skyfire's throat. Silverbolt jerked around defensively, but Starscream's legs were well and truly unusable and he immediately subsided back into position. "Stop pretending you know what I'm thinking, you never know what I'm thinking--"

"I can give it a damn good guess!"

For a second Skyfire's calm fractured, and the uneasy feeling that had been building in Silverbolt's spark sprang into full force. The way Skyfire had been pushing at Starscream, peeling back his motives as if he could read minds, had something vindictive and cruel at his base. It was a side of Skyfire he never would have believed existed, and he had no doubt that it was Starscream, and Skyfire's history with Starscream, that had brought it out.

"If we can't go south, can we get out to the north?" Silverbolt asked, deliberately addressing Starscream, deliberately not looking at Skyfire. "Do you know the way back to the surface?"

"I did, before the whole place caved in," retorted Starscream - as if it had been their fault, not his, that the power plant had overloaded. "Now I have no idea. There might be a door past that fall to the north, if it isn't buried. Or not." His expression turned sly. "Of course, you'll have to take me with you if you want me to help you find a way out."

"And you'll have to give us some proof you actually know what you're talking about if you want us to take you with us," replied Silverbolt. He thought he did a good job of hiding the fact that refusing to take Starscream with them wasn't an option he would consider. "Where exactly is this door?"

"I don't know, I don't even know which part of the street we're in."

Skyfire had been silent since Silverbolt had diverted Starscream's attention away from him. Now he got up, slowly but without any sign of unsteadiness, and walked a short way north, bending to examine the wall as he went.

"There's a division mark here," he said after a moment. "3761-A."

"I've hardly memorised the divisions!" But Starscream's expression was thoughtful. "That might be... yes, it would make sense it we'd come down by the old scraphouse. Some of that rubble to the south must be new but we're probably just by the old fall. That'd make sense with the gravity nets - they obviously aren't functioning down there. So there should be an access hatch on the other side that opens onto a maintenance passage running parallel to the street."

Skyfire dutifully crossed the width of the street and began searching the far wall. Silverbolt watched in silence, but kept a small portion of his attention on Starscream. The Seeker was also watching Skyfire, but at the same time had pulled one of his legs up to his chest and was exploring the damaged wiring with quick fingers.

"Here's something." Skyfire bent down and hauled aside several large chunks of synthcrete. "Hmm. Yes, it does look like a hatch. It's jammed shut, though."

"Try the override," Starscream said, pulling out a long strand of wire with a tug that made Silverbolt wince reflexively. "Bottom right, might be in a recess."

He fished out another piece and twisted the two together, deftly plaiting the exposed ends. Silverbolt turned pointedly towards him, watching, and the way Starscream immediately thrust the wires back into his damaged leg and glared at Silverbolt told him everything he needed to know. Silverbolt made a mental note to keep an optic on Starscream at all times. There was a good chance he could repair his systems enough to walk, and at that point their tentative truce would be void.

"That's unlocked something," called Skyfire, and Silverbolt let his attention be drawn back to the other side of the street. Skyfire had opened a small crack and got his fingers inside it. He was now trying to slide the hatch back along its runners.

The metal hatch bent noticeably towards Skyfire, who paused, reassessed the situation, and then stopped trying to slide it and simply pulled outwards with all his strength. With a screech of tearing metal, the hatch came away from the wall. Skyfire dropped it to one side and bent to peer behind it.

"It's dark, but it looks like it opens out."

"Right." Silverbolt glanced back at Starscream. He didn't think the Seeker had moved, but he couldn't be sure. "I guess we're taking you along with us then."

Skyfire came back over to his side. Quietly, he said, "Silverbolt, I'm not sure I can fit through there."

Silverbolt cast a dismayed look at the opening. It seemed pretty big to him - he would barely have to duck his head, even - but Skyfire's wingspan might well prevent him from getting through even if he turned sideways.

"We might be able to widen it--"

"You'll fit," Starscream cut in. "You'll need to half-transform your wings and fuselage, that's all."

Skyfire looked at him for a long few seconds.

"I can't," he said. "The circuits are damaged."

Starscream snorted derisively. "Come here."

There was a pause that stretched out agonisingly for Silverbolt. Skyfire seemed to be studying Starscream, his whole posture defensive, his expression so wary it was almost open hostility. Starscream glared back at him, defiant, one hand raised in a beckoning motion that seemed to Silverbolt more instinctive than planned. It was another tableau, another lingering reminder of something that had been between them, once.

"What do you think you can do?" Skyfire said, breaking the standoff.

"Trigger the transformation sequence on your wings by manually overriding the circuitry under the secondary ailerons," Starscream retorted.

Skyfire hesitated. Then he turned to Silverbolt.

"You could do it," he said. "It's a prominent relay; you'd need to short-circuit it and--"

"He'll short-circuit your whole system more likely," Starscream snapped, optics flashing. "Don't be stupid, Skyfire."

Skyfire was still looking at Silverbolt, waiting for an answer. Silverbolt pushed down an upswell of fear and the urge to ask how Starscream knew so much about Skyfire's systems, and nodded.

"You'll need to tell me exactly--"

"I will."

The relief didn't show on Skyfire's face - he was too tightly controlling his expression for that - but Silverbolt felt the wash of it against his field. Skyfire did not want Starscream to touch him. If Silverbolt had been less sensitive to the undercurrents of the situation, that reluctance might have pleased him; as it was, it only deepened the sickening sense of wrongness, and his fervent desire to get Skyfire away from Starscream as soon as possible.

Skyfire turned his back to Silverbolt and glanced over his shoulder.

"Down beneath the primary wing," he said. "Just where the secondary comes out of my fuselage. There's a panel you can slide out of the way..."

"What the frag are you doing?" demanded Starscream, voice high and furious. "You can't just let some new-spark play around in your circuits--"

"Got it," said Silverbolt, doing his best to ignore the tirade. He let his field out to tangle with Skyfire's, both offering and seeking reassurance. He felt Skyfire push deeper, ghosting into his sensory responses, and realised that this was a way to make the procedure safer.

"Now there should be a triple relay, it'll look like a transformation circuit..."

Silverbolt moved his fingertips to brush the most obvious candidate. He felt Skyfire read the movement and compare it to his own sensations.

"Yes, that's it. You'll need to get some power to it - the best way is to create a connection to the primary--"

"Wait, can't I just..." Silverbolt didn't finish the sentence; he didn't need to. Even as the idea occurred to him, Skyfire read his intent through their deep field contact, and after a nanosecond's surprise, indicated his agreement.

"What are you--" Starscream began, but Silverbolt had already channeled the small amount of electricity through his fingertips. It hurt, and sparked alarmingly across Skyfire's circuitry, but even though Skyfire jumped involuntarily, it had the necessary effect. Skyfire's wings folded down behind his shoulders, sliding into a much more streamlined configuration.

"Thank you." Skyfire turned to catch Silverbolt's optics, and there was so much more in his smile than simple gratitude that for a moment Silverbolt couldn't care less about their desperate situation.

Silverbolt expected more from Starscream - more vitriol, more derogatory remarks - but the Seeker was oddly silent. When Silverbolt glanced his way, he found Starscream's optics fixed on Skyfire, bright and hard.

"So it's like that, is it?" he said softly, almost too quiet to hear. "You're so predictable, Skyfire."

Skyfire didn't look at him. He kept his optics on Silverbolt as he spoke. "Shall we go?"

"You need me!" Starscream seemed to hear a threat in Skyfire's question that eluded Silverbolt. "You can't just leave me here! We had a deal!"

"We'll keep our half of the deal." Silverbolt said. He glanced at Skyfire and added, "I found your gun after we fell. It's over there."

As Skyfire moved to pick up the weapon, Silverbolt steeled himself and walked briskly to Starscream's side. Starscream cowered back as if he expected an attack, then quickly switched to glaring viciously as soon as he realised it would not be forthcoming.

"You'd better not be planning on trying to carry me," he snarled. "Skyfire can--"

"Skyfire's going to need all the maneouvring room he can get."

Silverbolt leaned down and took hold of Starscream's below the shoulder, pulling him mostly upright. Starscream protested, but Silverbolt noticed that his legs locked into position to keep him standing - so he hadn't completely lost function below the knee joints.

The last thing he wanted was to turn his back on Starscream. It took an actual effort of will to do it, keeping hold of the arm and hauling Starscream forward, protesting, so he was half on Silverbolt's back. Silverbolt had already pulled his field in as tight as he could, but it wasn't enough to completely avoid contact with Starscream's. He told himself he could put up with it. There was no way in the Pit he was going to make Skyfire carry Starscream.

Starscream was faced with a choice between sliding awkwardly off Silverbolt's back or hanging on. He went with the second option, hands scrabbling uncomfortably at Silverbolt's vents for purchase. Silverbolt repressed a shudder and got to work on wedging Starscream's legs in behind his wings. He ignored the stream of invective now right beside his audio receptor.

"Okay, let's go," he said at last, when he was fairly sure Starscream was secure.

Skyfire had watched silently as Silverbolt dealt with Starscream. Now he met Silverbolt's optics, a silent question in his own.

"I'm fine," Silverbolt said - lied - and gestured Skyfire towards the hatch. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

* * *


The hatch led to the promised maintenance tunnel, and that in turn granted them access to what might once have been a residential block. Skyfire didn't recognise the place, but Starscream had correctly predicted it, so at least for now he seemed to be co-operating.

He carefully kept his worries off his face while Starscream directed them up the grand, and still mostly intact, staircase. Starscream could probably be trusted to a point, but when and where that point would fall was something Skyfire could only guess. He thought they had a while. He was terrified he was wrong.

Silverbolt was handling the situation with his usual poise, and Skyfire was trying hard not to give him any reason to hesitate. Silverbolt didn't know what it really meant to be trapped underground on Cybertron. He'd never been lost, not really - not when lost meant trapped away from the sky. There were no buildings on Earth large or complex enough to hold a Cybertronian. They could always find a way out.

Skyfire had never been this deep on Cybertron. Even when he'd been at the Academy, the lowest levels had been long-abandoned as they built outwards and upwards. The roofed-over streets of Vos had been sealed away from the sky for longer than Skyfire had been in existence - considerably longer. The lower into the labyrinth you went, the harder it became to get out - what had once been a route upward might terminate in an impenetrable ceiling (the floor of a new development built on top of the old) or become choked with debris and rubbish from the higher levels. There had been holes and chasms even before the war, great pock marks formed by industrial work or industrial disaster. Afterwards, the rifts had deepened and the pits had grown wider. A staircase might lead into nothingness, or worse, into a trap of unstable debris.

They progressed in silence for the most part, which worried Skyfire even more. It wasn't like Starscream to just shut up of his own accord, especially not when he was in that undignified and uncomfortable position on Silverbolt's back. He gave directions periodically, sometimes without even being asked. That wasn't right. That wasn't Starscream. Or rather, it was - it was Starscream when he was preoccupied with something else. Or plotting.

They were going upwards at a very slow rate. Each flight of stairs was followed by considerable trekking through corridors on the same level before another ascent could be made. Skyfire was giving the entirety of his attention that wasn't focused on Starscream to memorising their route and placing it in the context of their last known position. He wasn't convinced he was doing more than guessing at shadows, but it helped him feel they weren't completely dependent on Starscream's caprice.

They'd made it up maybe thirty floors when they hit their first problem.

"Through that arch there'll be a hall with an elevator shaft," Starscream was saying. "There's an emergency ladder in the shaft. It'll be a lovely long climb but--"

He stopped short as abruptly as Silverbolt stopped walking. Skyfire was sure his surprise was genuine. Beyond the arch was nothing: a black void with no floor, only the distant hints of metal to show where the far wall was.

"Have we doubled back over the area that collapsed?" Silverbolt asked.

"No," said Skyfire and Starscream at the same time. Starscream turned to shoot a poisonous look at Skyfire, who ignored it.

"We haven't gone nearly far enough," Skyfire went on. "But it's possible the overloading of the core caused shockwaves through the nearby structures. Anything that was already unstable might have come down."

"Okay, where now?" Silverbolt asked, glancing back over his shoulder.

"How should I know?" Starscream's voice was always screechy, but Skyfire heard a note of real panic in it. That was not good. "This is the only way up!"

"There's got to be another one. There must be hundreds of stairs in these buildings."

"Stairs do us no good if they've been blocked off!" Starscream was panicking, and in a way Skyfire recognised - he'd always had a horror of getting trapped somewhere he couldn't reach the sky, far worse than the usual flyer's twitchiness. "Let go of me, let me down!"

He flailed at Silverbolt, who lost his grip out of sheer surprise, as far as Skyfire could tell. Starscream went over backwards, hitting the ground wings first and with a howl of pain, legs sliding down after him with a graceless thud. Silverbolt spun around, confused and maybe even slightly concerned. Skyfire wanted to drag him away and tell him not waste his sympathy - but if Starscream had a full-on panic attack, they could end up in even worse trouble than they already were.

"If nothing else, we should still be able to get into the Rust Pit if we can figure out exactly where we are," Skyfire said. "It would be a nightmare trying to fly out of there from this far down, but I can probably manage it."

It must have sounded more convincing than it was in his processor, because Silverbolt gave him an expectant look, waiting for more information, while Starscream scrabbled into a sitting position and glared with all the scorn he could muster. Which was, at this precise moment, actually a relief.

"Don't be ridiculous. All the access routes below the surface levels were sealed up before either of us were sparked, and you could never get the right launching angle even if there was a way out."

"If we can find even a sealed access, we might be able to reopen it. And I've taken off from tight spots before. It's worth a shot."

"Do you have any idea where we are relative to the pit?" asked Silverbolt.

"Not really," Skyfire was forced to admit. "If we fell straight down from the reactor building, and if I've kept track of our movements since accurately enough, I might be able to calculate which basic direction we should set off in, but..."

"It's that way." Starscream pointed to one side without even looking.

"How can you be sure?"

"I'm just that good!"

It sounded short-tempered but there was a hint there of the smug, provocative note Starscream had used all too often when putting forward theories based more on instinct than fact. Skyfire had found it charming once. Now, he kept his expression blank and his optics hard, waiting.

Starscream fell into it, as usual; he couldn't abide the silence and the absence of questions. Skyfire used to play along, teasing the answers out of him the way Starscream wanted, flattering him with attention. He had no inclination to do so these days.

"I dropped a location beacon down the Rust Pit before I started exploring," Starscream admitted. "It's tuned to my transponders so no-one else can pick it up."

It was clever, and unusually forethoughtful of Starscream. He wanted praise, or at least acknowledgement of his cleverness. Skyfire gave him neither, turning his attention instead to Silverbolt.

"The last intersection had at least one passage that would take us in approximately the right direction."

"Okay, let's give it a shot--"

"Don't I get a say?" Starscream broke in waspishly and with the glimmer of fury in his optics that betrayed how effective Skyfire's dismissal had been. "What if I don't want to--"

"No." Silverbolt stared him down, apparently unmoved by the way Starscream's face twisted up with hate. "You don't get a say. We need you to direct us, but you need us to carry you. Unless you can tell us how we get out of here, right now, we're going to try Skyfire's plan. And if I catch you misdirecting us, we'll leave you here and we won't look back."

A chill went through Skyfire at how unshakeable Silverbolt sounded. There was a large part of him that wanted to leave Starscream down here to whatever fate awaited him - and another part that was secretly convinced he'd escape regardless of their intervention - but it wasn't something any Autobot could do in cold conscience. Silverbolt sounded very cold just then - very cold and very sure.

He had Starscream convinced, that was obvious. Starscream darted glances between the two of them, maybe looking for sympathy or just something he could manipulate, then snarled a string of insults in Old Cybertronian and hunched over his injured legs, scowling.

"It won't work. It's not just a door that's been welded shut or a window that's been plated over. The pit's been well-sealed over the vorns. Even if we do find a breach, getting out..."

"I'll take care of that," said Skyfire.

Starscream glared at him. Silverbolt shook his head and stepped forward.

"Come on," he said. "I don't particularly want to spend any more time down here arguing than I have to."

At that, Starscream favoured Silverbolt with a look Skyfire couldn't interpret - which alarmed Skyfire more than he cared to admit - and said sweetly, "Oh, but we're having so much fun."

"All good things come to an end," Silverbolt shot back. He grabbed Starscream by the arm and pulled him, unresisting, to his feet. "Grab on and shut up."

* * *


Trying to go straight towards Starscream's beacon signal was impossible. Every passage they took veered off, or was blocked, or opened into a void. They kept backtracking and trying new routes; they had to go down several times, giving up the hard-won levels that had been bringing them closer to the surface. After a while, Skyfire calculated that they were almost back at the street they'd fallen into, albeit higher up and on a different side.

Silverbolt, who was a couple of paces ahead, stopped suddenly. He cut off Starscream's complaint with a low-voiced, "Quiet!" and hurried back to Skyfire's side.

"Turn off the lantern."

"What?" shrieked Starscream. "Why would you--"

"I said be quiet!"

The lantern was already off, and now Skyfire saw what had alarmed Silverbolt. There was light up ahead.

"It could be someone coming to look for us," Skyfire murmured.

"Not this soon, this far down."

"Independent exploration?"

"Not by Autobots."

"Not by Decepticons either," Starscream put in. "No-one comes near this area. It's been under interdict so long most people even fly around it."

"Except you, apparently." Silverbolt glanced at Skyfire. "Does it look like a hand-held light to you?"

"Not really. More like wall lighting coming from a room or intersection."

"I guess the only thing to do is keep going."

"Wait," Starscream protested, "can't you put me down first?"

"Not if you want to be picked up again."

It was a room, as it turned out. The double doors that had once barred it from the corridor were still in place, but one had sagged outwards, leaving just enough gap for the light to escape. Throughout their cautious approach, Skyfire heard nothing up ahead - no sign of anyone else present.

"Skyfire," Silverbolt whispered, pointing at the doorway. "Don't those look familiar?"

Skyfire recognised the same glyphs that had been on the entrance to the power plant above.

"If it's part of the same complex..."

"It shouldn't be," said Starscream. "We're a long way down. But we're almost directly underneath..."

"You think this is the source?"

Starscream shrugged as best he could without dislodging his grip on Silverbolt.

"I don't know. But they didn't build it, that's for certain. This place is old - much older than the radron catalyst or the mechs who built it. Maybe they just tapped into something down here."

"Something that's been running all this time?" said Silverbolt. "That's not good. All extraneous processes were supposed to shut down to conserve energy..."

"Maybe it's not an extraneous process," said Starscream.

"In which case they'd be mad to try and tap it," replied Skyfire. "Let's take a look."

He went first, sending a swift scan through the doors before forcing them fully open. He wasn't surprised that there was no movement in the room beyond; by this time he was sure they were alone down here.

He was surprised by the alien feel of the room beyond. Starscream was right - this was old, older than anything Skyfire had seen except for once - that ill-fated expedition he and Starscream had joined, seeking a way to the centre of the planet, all those vorns ago when war was only just whispering on the horizon...

Skyfire shook the past out of his mind, holding onto only the cold facts that might be useful. They had gone down far enough to reach rooms and vaults built on wildly divergent lines from even the most ancient Cybertronian architecture. The archaeologists on the team had speculated that they were designed to accommodate a quite different root build than the bipedal form of most Cybertronians. They'd wondered if there had been a time when 'bots had used a different root mode, later replaced by the more common form.

It had been Starscream who had wondered if they'd been designed for an entirely different race of beings.

The room curved back smoothly and its back wall was pierced by another tunnel, one that seemed to slope sharply downwards. Console panels were mounted to either side of it, and above them were screens that at first glance seemed dead. A second look showed they were only in hibernation mode. The panels were still active.

"What is this?" muttered Skyfire, mostly to himself, as he crossed the room to examine the panels.

"Take me over there," he heard Starscream order Silverbolt. Then, after a pause, "I said--"

"I know this place."

Skyfire turned sharply. Silverbolt was staring about him in confusion and something that might almost be fear. He looked very young suddenly. Starscream had shut up, miraculously, and was peering down at Silverbolt thoughtfully.

"Silverbolt--"

"Do you know this place?" asked Starscream. "Or just somewhere like it?"

Silverbolt twitched all over and tossed a disgusted look over his shoulder. "Get out of my field."

"I'm just trying to--"

Skyfire strode across and plucked Starscream off Silverbolt's back. He'd been expecting resistance, but Starscream didn't quite react fast enough. Skyfire carried him a couple of paces over to the consoles, dumped him on top of one, and said "There, have fun."

Then he went back to Silverbolt. The vulnerability had vanished; Silverbolt was looking around him now with intense optics and a frown that spoke of some quick thinking.

"He's right, though," he said in an undertone as Skyfire reached his side. "It's not the same place, just similar."

"Was it when you and your brothers went back..."

Skyfire hesitated, because 'back in time' was a little weird, even compared to some of the things he'd encountered in deep space, and besides, no-one was quite sure, from the Aerialbots' descriptions, whether they really had travelled back to the dawn of the war, or if it had been some sort of memory download that had given them information they couldn't have gained any other way.

"No." Silverbolt laid a hand on a panel nearby, then brought it away as if scalded. "It's warm!"

Skyfire touched the metal; sure enough, it was warm - hot, rather, hot enough to burn a human, though rather pleasant to the Cybertronian senses. And that triggered something in his memory, hadn't Wheeljack said...

"Vector Sigma," said Silverbolt. "My memories are blurry. I was only just awake. But this is like the control room - the place where we were sparked."

"It can't be the same place."

"No, no it's not... but it's the same sort of design, the same... feeling. Does Vector Sigma have more than one control room?"

"I don't think so. Starscream--"

Skyfire turned, expecting to see Starscream studying the controls. It gave him a shock to find those scarlet optics locked on him. He forced himself not to flinch, to keep speaking.

"Could this be another control room for Vector Sigma?"

"No. This is something different."

Starscream held his gaze for a few more seconds, as if making some sort of point, before turning to look down at the controls. He tapped quickly at a couple and suddenly the screens lit up. Skyfire took in dozens of displays all streaming readings for hundreds of outputs.

"I went back, you know," Starscream went on, and with a jolt Skyfire knew he was talking about that same expedition so very long ago. He couldn't have read Skyfire's field. It had to be coincidence. And in a way, that was worse - knowing that Starscream had been thinking about the same memories. "After Powerdrive and those other fools had limped home. While you were on the Tau Triton expedition. I went down deep, almost to the core. After a while you just can't go any further, it's all triple-sealed and cordoned. But these control rooms, they're all over the place. None of them higher than the oldest strata of recorded history. Some of them almost adjoining the core itself. And they're all still running. Still monitoring. It's almost like they're waiting for something..."

Skyfire studied the panels, trying to interpret the readouts. He wasn't sure, but he thought some of them were for the planet as a whole, great swathes of data beyond even the most sophisticated sensors the Autobots possessed. Others monitored the surface, and then space beyond that. There was something he thought might be a deep-space monitoring station, except it was showing only one bright blip, drifting slowly but purposefully through the blackness. The readings seemed to indicated it was on a course to intercept Cybertron, but that would change - Cybertron was moving constantly, speeding through space with no sun to anchor it. Whatever the distant object was, it could hardly adjust course to keep up. When it reached their current position in - oh, years from now - it would simply pass through empty space long since left behind. It seemed strange that the system was tracking it at all.

"What about this?" Silverbolt was kneeling, examining a thick bundle of cables that snaked down one wall and followed the foot of the consoles, disappearing into the far doorway. "This looks different."

"Hmm. They're still old, but much more recent." Skyfire parted the strands carefully, gauging the purpose of each. Some fibre optics, but most were crystal lattice weave - the highest quality on Cybertron, judging by the flex. "And designed to pump energy of some kind, by the look of things..."

"What a coincidence," Starscream said nonchalantly. "As far as I could tell, the main power feed for the radron catalyst looked a lot like that."

Skyfire fixed him with a hard stare. "Did you know about this place?"

"No. But I can't say I'm surprised." Starscream tapped out a few more commands, brought up a screen full of unintelligible writing at which he gazed thoughtfully. "Why don't you find out what's down that hallway?"

"Maybe you'd like to share your conclusions with the rest of us?"

"Maybe I wouldn't."

They locked optics and Skyfire felt the familiar boil of anger and frustration - for Pit's sake, why couldn't Starscream just spit it out instead of dancing around to flatter his ego and stack the deck in his favour...?

"This isn't helping us get out," Silverbolt said, and Skyfire was startled - he'd almost forgotten their situation, caught up as he was in the mystery. "It's all very interesting, but we'll need to backtrack to the last intersection and try the next--"

"You can't be serious," protested Starscream. "Leave? I'd never find my way back!"

"You are under no obligation to accompany us," Silverbolt replied, rather too pleasantly.

Skyfire hesitated, because Silverbolt was right, this was a distraction they could ill-afford. The chance to tease out the purpose of this place and the significance of the radron catalyst was of little use if they never escaped the maze of Cybertron's lower levels, but...

... but there was something. Something about this that didn't sit right. The war-beleagured scientists of Vos building a radron catalyst that couldn't possibly work, finding their way down here into the labyrinth - for what? Simple curiosity couldn't have been the driving factor.

And that was the other thing - Starscream wanted to know.

Starscream certainly had a burning sense of curiosity, a need to find out everything he could about whatever took his interest - but it had always been secondary to his survival instinct, his pride, and his self-interest. It had been Skyfire who'd had to be dragged away from fascinating alien lifeforms as their suns went nova, Skyfire who'd lingered for orns studying the simplest cellular structures long after Starscream had declared them useless, and Skyfire who'd insisted on diving into Earth's turbulent atmosphere for just a glimpse of the organics he was sure were down there...

If Starscream was this focused, it meant that whatever had been going on down here was important - not just for scientific curiosity, but important to the Decepticons - or important to Starscream himself. And it meant that Starscream knew something big that Skyfire didn't.

They couldn't leave yet.

He caught Silverbolt's arm and drew him away from Starscream, leaning in close to speak.

"I think we should look into this before we go anywhere," he murmured. Silverbolt shot him a surprised, almost betrayed look that went straight to Skyfire's spark. Desperately, he let his field expand to touch Silverbolt's, trying to convey a certainty that was instinctive rather than logical. "I think it's important."

A long moment, and then Silverbolt nodded. His own field had been drawn in tight, still defensive from carrying Starscream; all at once he opened out, pulled Skyfire in and let him see how exhausted and tense he was, and the creeping claustrophobia that was starting to take its toll. Skyfire would have put his arms around him, except he was all too aware of Starscream behind them - maybe concentrating on the panel, or maybe watching with that hard expression on his face.

He settled for a hand on Silverbolt's shoulder, a gesture so familiar to both of them that Silverbolt smiled, and Skyfire returned it gladly.

"Okay," Silverbolt said. "But be as quick as you can. The longer we're down here, the more chance there is the Decepticons will be waiting when we get out."

He didn't add, and the more chance there was of Starscream finding a way to betray them, but he didn't need to. Even if Skyfire hadn't been able to feel it in his field, he was thinking the same thing himself.

* * *


It was harder than Silverbolt cared to admit to watch Skyfire disappear down the corridor into darkness. He wanted badly to go with him - but that would mean leaving Starscream unwatched, and Silverbolt wasn't fool enough to think that would end well.

Starscream didn't deign to watch Skyfire go; he was glancing quickly between the console and the screens above, tapping keys and bringing up new displays every few seconds. Silverbolt watched, trying to understand what the visualisations and numbers represented, but he could make very little sense of it. He almost asked Starscream - but stopped himself at the last second. Partly, he had to admit, out of pride - but also out of caution. He didn't know what these systems were capable of, or if Starscream might be able to use them to his advantage. Without Skyfire here to spot any potentially dangerous activity on the screens, Silverbolt could only hope that Starscream would err on the side of caution, thinking Silverbolt understood more than he did.

Of course, there was always the possibility that Starscream would simply assume that he knew nothing and go ahead quite brazenly with whatever plan he might concoct. Which made Silverbolt wish all the more that he could figure out some of the data on the screens.

At least while Starscream was absorbed, he was less of a threat physically. Silverbolt drifted around the control room, studying the panels and runnings his fingertips along their rounded edges. The warmth was unnerving, almost like touching a living 'bot's plating.

Silverbolt's comms pinged; for a startled, hopeful second he thought that his brothers or Ultra Magnus had made contact. Then he recognised Skyfire's code and realised that the interference on the other channels must not affect short-distance broadcasts.

:Yes?:

:Get down here.:

Silverbolt stiffened; he'd never heard that tone of voice from Skyfire. There was anger there, but it was swamped by something else, some disbelieving emotion like horror or grief. He started moving towards the corridor before his processor caught up with him.

:What about Starscream?:

:Bring him!: Skyfire almost laughed, an awful sound. :Either he doesn't know what's down here, in which case he needs to see it - or he does, in which case I'll kill him myself.:

Silverbolt flinched from the utter flatness of that proclamation. It wasn't even a threat - just a statement of intent. He turned to look at Starscream, and jumped ever so slightly when he found the Decepticon was watching him.

"He's found something, hasn't he?" Starscream said. "Is he coming back up?"

"No, we're going down."

"I'm busy, why can't he just--"

Silverbolt had reached the end of any pretence at patience. He walked over to Starscream's perch on the console, grabbed one gesticulating arm, and used it to swing Starscream over his shoulder like a sack of energon cubes. The Seeker tried to flail free, but without the function in his legs, all he could do was beat his hands against Silverbolt's wings. The shriek of utter fury was almost satisfying as Silverbolt made his way to the corridor entrance.

"PUT ME DOWN AT ONCE YOU SLAGGING SORRY EXCUSE FOR A SLAGGING--"

"I am getting so very tired of telling you to shut up!"

"-- I'LL TEAR YOUR FINS OFF AND DROP YOU IN A VAT OF ACID AND--"

Silverbolt temporarily muted his audio receptors, trudging down the sloping passageway in blissful silence. Even the occasional blow against his sore wings seemed less painful when he couldn't hear the accompanying clang. Up ahead, he saw light. He thought at first it was Skyfire's lantern, but then he realised it had a softer, golden tinge. It was... familiar. More than familiar - it made something in his spark ache with recognition.

The room at the bottom of the passage did not look as though it had been intended for use as more than a storage area. It certainly hadn't originally had a gaping hole in the left hand wall - that was obvious from the way the panelling had been peeled back and sawn through. And Silverbolt could only assume that the golden, many-faceted bundle of gigantic cables visible through that wall - the source of the light - had never been meant for access in this way.

Skyfire was sitting on the floor by the gap, his back to the wall, and in his hands was a loop of the rope-like bundle of cables that Silverbolt realised had snaked its way down from the room above. The other end of it disappeared into the gap. Skyfire looked up and said something - Silverbolt quickly turned his audio receptors back on.

"-- know about what?" Starscream was saying from somewhere in the vicinty of Silverbolt's lower back. Silverbolt went down on one knee and unloaded Starscream none too gently onto the floor, where he rolled into a sitting position, cursing and glaring daggers in Silverbolt's direction.

"About this!" Skyfire was on his feet, flinging a hand in the direction of the golden light. "The power source for that catalyst!"

"Ah." Starscream seemed uncowed by the anger radiating from Skyfire. Silverbolt stood frozen in place; he wanted to go to Skyfire, but he was suddenly, horribly sure that he might be called upon to protect Starscream if Skyfire tried to make good on his earlier threat. "Vector Sigma, I presume?"

Silverbolt's spark jolted as he remembered awakening with that golden glow on his face, feeling life come into his new body and his mind spread out with all the knowledge he would need to function - and no memory but shadows of his former existence.

"You knew."

The flatness in Skyfire's voice only worsened Silverbolt's fears. He tried to catch Skyfire's optics, but they were locked on Starscream. Starscream, whose self-assured expression faltered, who seemed to finally pick up on the danger clear in the tension in Skyfire's frame.

"I-- I guessed they'd found a way to tap the power supply," Starscream babbled, inching backwards. "No-one's ever known exactly how Vector Sigma is powered, it's never seemed affected by the energy drain, even when the planet shut down, so it makes sense there must be some sort of self-renewing element to its construction--"

Even as he spoke, Silverbolt saw Skyfire's expression change. He seemed to sag - maybe in relief, or just surprise - and was shaking his head through the last of Starscream's hasty explanation.

"They didn't find the power source," Skyfire said. "Starscream, it's a radron catalyst, and they'd plugged it into Vector Sigma. What do you think it's using for fuel?"

Starscream went still. His mouth opened and shut, and then he said, with more disbelief than anything else, "No."

"What?" Silverbolt looked from one of them to the other, focusing on Skyfire with increasing impatience and alarm. "What is it, Skyfire? What is a radron catalyst? What does Vector Sigma have to do with--"

"Oh, spare us your babbling," snarled Starscream, but Skyfire ignored him, beckoning Silverbolt over to the gap in the wall.

The golden tubes within were massive, large enough for a human to crawl inside. Up close, he could see the cables spliced into the tubes, spreading out like a spider's web across the glowing surface.

"Radron energy forms naturally in some solar systems and high-intensity gas nebulae," Skyfire said. "It's usually very thinly dispersed, barely detectable unless you know what you're looking for. It was a long time before anyone even came up with a way of using it. And there was opposition, at the time, a lot of people thought it shouldn't be something we investigated..."

"Fools," said Starscream softly from behind them.

"Because there's one other form in which we find radron energy," Skyfire went on grimly. "Highly compressed, extremely pure, extremely volatile." He reached out and touched Silverbolt's chest; Silverbolt stared at him blankly. "Our sparks, Silverbolt. They are radron energy in its purest form."

Silverbolt looked from Skyfire to the cables, then back; he was starting to understand, but he couldn't process the full, horrifying implications.

"You know how Vector Sigma works," Skyfire said. "When a Cybertronian is killed, their spark is reclaimed - drawn back into the heart of Cybertron and kept safe by its guardian. Vector Sigma has the power to create wholly new sparks, but it never will unless its supply of those reclaimed is exhausted. After the war there must be thousands of sparks in storage, waiting to be reborn..."

Silverbolt wasn't thinking of himself, but of his brothers, and of Hot Spot and his crew - imagining that terrible power plant up above running at full capacity, devouring sparks as tribute, imagining if it had taken one of them, all of them, and Silverbolt would never even have known...

"Not a bad source of power, if you think about it," Starscream said casually, deliberate cruelty in his voice. "Just one could run this city for a vorn. And as you say, there are thousands of them - and Vector Sigma can always make more..."

Silverbolt lunged blindly in Starscream's direction, driven by a towering rage that fed on horror, but now it was Skyfire holding him back. Silverbolt caught the understanding from his field: this was what Starscream did, when something shocked or unsettled him - he went for someone else's throat, tried to turn his own discomfort into someone else's pain. The weariness and remembered hurt that accompanied the wash of emotion was almost more than Silverbolt could bear. He was seized with the crazy desire to just grab Skyfire and run, find their way back to the surface somehow, leave Starscream to rust with this abomination.

Back to the surface. They needed Starscream for that. And the abomination could not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

"How much of the power station survived the explosion, do you think?" he asked, forcing himself to focus on Skyfire. "Could it be restarted?"

"Hard to say. It would have been supported from below, so it might not have fallen with the floors. The explosion damage would have been mainly in the transference coils, not the converter itself."

"Then we need to seal this whole area off. Cut off the... supply. Not just cut the cables, but make sure no-one can get down here again."

"Yes." Skyfire hadn't let go of his arm, but his grip had eased, and the touch was comforting now. Silverbolt knew that Skyfire was drawing reassurance from it too. "We might be able to use that control room above. Tap into the critical systems in this area... it'll be risky, though. We might trigger something too big to get out of."

"You might," Starscream put in scornfully. He'd been listening intently and with a surprising lack of interruption. "I can do it. I might even be able to open up that exit we've been looking for."

Silverbolt shot him a skeptical glance, but waited for Skyfire's reaction. He felt the doubt in his friend's field, mixed up with the slew of other emotions Starscream brought out in him.

"I didn't see anything up there that looked like local environment controls."

"Because there aren't any, of course. Those control rooms weren't ever meant for maintenance tasks or anything so menial. They're all about surveillance. And the system is still operational enough to tell me there's a massive short circuit waiting to happen right above our heads. It'll trip some pressure doors and create a shockwave that will blow out dozens of partitions for floors up and down. Including the ones between here and the Rust Pit."

"You were busy up there," Skyfire said. He was focused on Starscream so utterly that for a moment Silverbolt felt he had been forgotten. "Why were you looking for ways to destroy the place, before you ever knew what was down here?"

"Who says I was? I just happened to notice it."

"Out of all that data and all those screens?"

"Just because you never pay enough attention--"

"Starscream." Skyfire's voice was as hard as titanium. "What is that control room? Why do you want it destroyed?"

"I don't know!" And from the sheer frustration in the words, Silverbolt thought Starscream was telling the truth. "I have no idea what it is! But it wasn't built by Cybertronians. It shouldn't be active but it still is. And the data in there, Skyfire - it's been recording everything for vorns, hundreds of thousands of vorns, recording and dumping into self-replicating storage, and the storage is set to upload as soon as it receives a certain data link..."

"Decepticon? Autobot?"

"Neither!" Starscream hunched in, scowling. "I couldn't crack the encryption. It's like nothing I've ever seen."

Skyfire nodded slowly. He glanced at Silverbolt, who bit back the desire to ask what exactly they were talking about - what significance this conversation held, for clearly it meant something he was missing.

"Can you take him back upstairs while I remove these cables?"

"Of course."

Starscream made little protest as Silverbolt helped him scramble onto his back. He was even quiet as they went back up the stairs, and when Silverbolt deposited him onto the control counter. From the way he immediately started scrolling through the screens, he'd been preoccupied with the details of his proposed plan.

Skyfire came back into the room a few minutes later, rolling up the cable as he went. When he got to the part of the wall where it emerged, he took it firmly in both fists and pulled hard. The cables strained, stretched, and then snapped one by one. Skyfire dropped the cable and moved to Starscream's side. Silverbolt tensed involuntarily, expecting one of them to say something, but neither spoke. Starscream was still tapping away at the keys and Skyfire just stood there watching the screens.

"What about those load-bearing pillars?" he said at one point, and Starscream replied, without even looking up, "Compensated."

Silverbolt pushed down the sudden sweep of jealousy that took him then, pushed it down hard and stamped on it. He knew it was ridiculous. Skyfire was desperate to get away from Starscream, he'd have to be blind to miss that - there was nothing in that wreck of a relationship for him to envy.

Except - except that Starscream was a scientist, and Silverbolt had no idea what he was doing on the screens, and Skyfire could just step into his thought process like that and Starscream knew what he meant...

"I've got it," Starscream said, triumphantly. And then, voice altering suddenly, "It's happening quicker than--"

Skyfire quite calmly said, "We should run now."

He hauled Starscream up off the console and turned for the door, moving quickly but without panic. Silverbolt took his word for it, darting out into the corridor and heading briskly back to the last intersection they'd passed. He paused at the corner and looked back in time to see Skyfire pick up the pace, not quite running, whilst Starscream cursed at him and complained about being jostled around like cargo. The room behind them was brighter than it had been, and getting brighter still, almost dazzling. Silverbolt ducked around the corner and hurried to the next, taking the turn that would put more distance between him and that brilliance. He paused again for Skyfire to catch up, and heard, not an explosion but a sound that was rather like whump.

The pressure wave hit them two seconds later, sent Skyfire tumbling forward onto his knees as he rounded the corner, threw Starscream to the floor, and battered Silverbolt into the nearest wall. It was accompanied by a great cloud of dust, enough to clog Silverbolt's vents and cover his optics with a thin film of grey.

And... that was it. No fire, no explosions, no other obvious collapse. Silverbolt wiped his optics and looked suspiciously at Starscream - who was still grousing about his treatment.

"Was that--"

"Sounded like it worked," Skyfire said, picking himself up. "Anything more dramatic than that and we've had been in trouble."

He paused, looking down at Starscream with obvious reluctance; without a word, Silverbolt moved in to carry the Seeker again. The gratitude that flashed through Skyfire's optics went a long way towards easing the ache in Silverbolt's spark.

The control room was just... gone. Whatever huge outpouring of heat or energy Starscream had engineered had either vaporised it or caused it to plunge deep down through the floors below. The corridor that had led to it was now choked with debris. Peering over it, Silverbolt could see the edges of floors and walls, ending abruptly in empty space. It was hard to tell with so much of it in darkness, but it looked as though a gigantic, rough sphere had been bitten out of the three-dimensional structure all around them.

"So how are we going to get out?"

"This way," said Starscream, pointing imperiously - but he couldn't keep his field right out of Silverbolt's, and Silverbolt felt an echo of his own weariness in the Seeker. They were all tired of this venture.

They followed a set of corridors around the worst of the damage, guided by Starscream's beacon and the information he'd taken from the consoles. In the end, it was surprisingly easy to find what they'd been looking for. The far edge of the destruction had torn out thick walls and bulkheads just as Starscream had predicted. Silverbolt found the hatch, long welded shut, and Skyfire managed to get it open with a combination of ingenuity and brute force. On the other side was a maintenance tunnel, and that had more doors, bigger ones. It didn't take long to find one that was half off its hinges.

On the other side was immense, empty space. Silverbolt couldn't even get a feel for the depth of it - or the height. There was just blackness. If any light was coming from above, they were too far down to see it. He shrank back against the wall before he could help himself, and felt a curl of disdain from Starscream's field.

Skyfire found a handhold on the wall and then swung himself outwards, leaning precariously over the void. Silverbolt had to forcibly mute his vocaliser to keep from crying out. He tried to keep his field in tight, tried to hide the fear, not just his own irrational response to the height but fear for Skyfire's safety. He didn't think he was successful. Starscream's emotions bled into his despite his efforts, and now he caught vicious amusement from the Seeker. Silverbolt had the impression that if Starscream had been able to stand on his own feet right now, he would have given Silverbolt a good, hard shove towards the edge.

... and maybe not just to scare him, either. Behind the casual sadism, there was something sharp-edged and black, more than just Starscream's hatred for Autobots in general. This was something directed specifically at Silverbolt himself, and he had a sinking feeling he knew why.

"I can just about see the top," Skyfire reported, swinging back into the opening with apparent unconcern.

He took one look at Silverbolt's face and reached out as if to take his hand, but stopped short at the last moment, optics flicking over Silverbolt's shoulder. Silverbolt tried not to imagine Starscream's expression.

"There's enough room," Skyfire went on after an awkward pause. "I've scanned as far as I can and I don't think there are any obstructions. It's going to be tricky, though. Starscream, is your anti-grav working at all?"

"No," said Starscream. Silverbolt picked up something else in his field, an evasion of some sort, but he didn't think Starscream was lying about the anti-grav. "You'll never transform in here. There isn't enough room."

"I'm not going to transform. I can manage it in root mode, if we go straight up."

The explosion of sheer horror in Starscream's field shook Silverbolt's faith in Skyfire despite himself. He glanced out at the void, then back at his friend. He'd seen Skyfire fly with his jets in root mode. It was a haphazard, ungainly flight at best, with no fine control and no failsafes if something went wrong.

"No, no, no," Starscream was saying, voice rising in pitch. "I won't do it! You'll crash into the wall! You'll hit something! You'll misjudge the speed and overshoot at the top!"

Skyfire barely glanced at Starscream. All his attention was on Silverbolt.

"I won't let you fall," he said, and Silverbolt knew exactly why he'd chosen those words, was back instantly in that moment they'd met - well, collided - and how easily Skyfire had reassured him, how completely he had understood.

Silverbolt nodded, pushing fear down until it was just a distant echo in his spark. Starscream started to struggle; Silverbolt snapped over his shoulder, "We can still leave you behind, you know."

Then he turned to Skyfire. "Okay. Come on. Let's do it before I change my mind."

"I'll need you to help me with my wings again."

It was quicker that time, now that Silverbolt knew what to do, but reversing the switch took more power than before. The electricity scorched his fingertips painfully and left them blackened, but Silverbolt hid the discomfort from Skyfire. He was uncomfortably aware that he hadn't managed to hide it from Starscream.

Skyfire swung himself out again over the void. Then he held out his spare hand, and for a moment Silverbolt thought he wouldn't be able to do it, couldn't step up to that edge and trust himself to Skyfire.

Starscream had a death grip on his vents. For a moment neither of them were keeping their fields in check, and Silverbolt realised, before Starscream could cover it, that if this choice were his, he would never put himself into Skyfire's hands. He would scream and fight and try to find another way. Maybe Skyfire would make him, in the end. But Starscream would never take that leap of faith.

Silverbolt steadied himself, stepped forward, and took Skyfire's hand, pretending there wasn't a chasm beneath them, pretending this was as simple as latching onto Skyfire the way Fireflight so merrily did. Skyfire grasped him firmly and showed him how to hang on, found him handholds above his cockpit, then put that arm around him - around Starscream, too, but Starscream might as well not even be there just then. Silverbolt focused on Skyfire's face, drawing reassurance from how calm he was, and told himself he'd be ready in just a moment--

Without any warning at all, not even a flicker in his field, Skyfire jumped.

Silverbolt had a choice between trying to master his panic and simply blocking it out. He chose the latter, cutting input from his optics and audio receptors simultaneously and praying that Skyfire would think to use the comms if he needed to tell Silverbolt anything in a hurry. He clung on for dear life, trying to think of nothing but his handholds on Skyfire's plating as his gyros screamed that they were falling. He felt Skyfire's jets fire and the jerk of weight returning as they shot upwards. He forced himself not to recall his glimpses of the Rust Pit from above, forced himself not to try and calculate their speed or angle, forced himself to trust completely in Skyfire's skill.

He'd almost forgotten Starscream, but a painful pressure on one wing reminded him that the Seeker was still clinging on behind. Silverbolt wondered if he was shouting but didn't turn his audio receptors back on to find out. He doubted it would be anything he wanted to hear.

Skyfire's upward course swung sideways suddenly, shifting their weight so that Silverbolt had to move his hands to adjust. He brushed broken plexiglass and all at once remembered the damage to Skyfire's cockpit. His optics flashed online without any conscious choice, checking to make sure he wasn't hurting Skyfire--

He had a dizzying glimpse of the upper towers of Cybertron swinging around them as Skyfire steered with grim determination on the blast of his jets, now cutting them out so that he dropped a dozen lengths, now blasting again to slow them. Silverbolt couldn't see the Rust Pit, could only see the hundreds of towers and spires jutting upwards as if waiting to impale them. Then Skyfire cut his jets again, plummeting downwards, and Silverbolt caught sight of the plaza they'd originally landed on. They were coming down too fast, his gyros seemed to turn upside down, and he forced his optics off again and braced himself for the crash--

Skyfire fired his jets, cut them, fired them again, slowing down as he descended, but they were still going too fast for anything like an elegant landing when they hit the plaza.

Warned by the cold-shock of anticipation in Skyfire's field, Silverbolt had his optics and audio receptors back online a second before they hit. He was able to throw out his hands to save himself as Skyfire came crashing down on one side. They skidded a couple of metres across the plaza and came to a halt, Silverbolt sprawled over Skyfire and too dazed to do more than thank Primus fervently that it hadn't been worse.

Two things hit him at once - the sound of a transformation and the awareness that Starscream was no longer hanging onto his back. Silverbolt rolled clumsily to his knees in time to see the Seeker shoot past them across the plaza and then swing skywards. His form was not as streamlined as usual - he must have had to force his legs to transform in the same way Skyfire had with his wings - but the gaping hole in his wing should have stopped him even getting off the ground. He certainly had trouble, limping into the air with about as much grace as a wounded elephant.

Silverbolt ran forward, meaning to transform and go after him - but he was stopped by Skyfire grabbing at his arm and pulling him back.

"Don't," he said. "Please. Just let him go."

"We can't just--"

The words died as he saw the energon pooling beneath Skyfire and the paleness of his optics. Dropping to his knees, Silverbolt quickly found the leak, one of the big hydraulics in Skyfire's leg, either torn open by the impact or reopened from the earlier fall. He worked quickly to stem the flow using the most basic first aid techniques. Skyfire wouldn't be able to use that leg until he got it properly fixed, but at least he wouldn't lose any more energon.

Only then did he turn his scanners upwards, half-convinced Starscream would circle back for some crazy last-ditch attack run - but the skies were clear. Clear, and full of stars. The sight was such a relief after the hours trapped below the surface that Silverbolt just stared for a few seconds.

Skyfire took his hand. "Can we get through to the base now?"

"Hang on." Silverbolt tried to open a channel; his spark soared when Iacon acknowledged. "The others are already on their way."

Skyfire nodded, and leaned sideways to rest his head against Silverbolt's shoulder.

"He must have had expanding sealant or something to put on his wing," he said.

Silverbolt felt the exhaustion in him then - not just physical. Something more fundamental. He didn't know what to say, so in the end, they sat in silence until help arrived.

* * *


The routine was familiar, even if some of the faces were different. His brothers were relieved to find them safe and solicitous in helping get them back to base. The med bay was staffed by unfamiliar medics, but they got Skyfire patched up skillfully enough that Silverbolt stopped worrying. His own scrapes and minor damage were quickly taken care of.

He left Skyfire having his cockpit carefully repaired - back on Earth he'd have had to put up with temporary plating until Ratchet had time to fit the plexiglass, but here they had the resources to do it almost at once - and took himself off to report to Ultra Magnus. He'd been braced for recrimination, especially when he got onto reporting Starscream's part in everything, but Ultra Magnus showed a surprising lack of, well, surprise.

"It's lucky in a way that he was there when you arrived," he said. "You might not have discovered the power source otherwise."

And then the Decepticons might have started the converter up, unaware or uncaring of its awful cost. Silverbolt shuddered, and went on with his report.

Ultra Magnus asked more questions than Optimus Prime would have. Optimus tended to seek a broad impression in the initial debrief and then expect more detail in the written report. Magnus went over every point in person, making his own notes, presumably to compare with the report later on.

When Silverbolt finally escaped, he went to the med bay, where they told him Skyfire had left with his brothers some time ago, and then to the communal area, where Blurr helpfully directed him towards the guest quarters. Silverbolt found his brothers gathered in Air Raid's room watching something on the vid screen with rapt fascination, but Skyfire wasn't among them.

"He said he was tired," Fireflight told Silverbolt. "Come and watch this, it's some sort of old flight competition and Skydive thinks we could do some of it..."

Silverbolt hesitated, because he knew his brothers wanted reassurance that he was back safely, and would take the reassurance most easily from dragging him into their midst and sharing field contact and body warmth for a few hours. And he wanted it too, wanted to be drawn into that wordless sympathy without having to try and explain in words the chaotic emotions vying for first place in his spark.

He also wanted quite badly to recharge, which was the excuse he gave them for leaving, but then he found himself standing outside Skyfire's door, unable to go on past. Skyfire probably was asleep, he told himself. He'd been injured none too trivially and used a lot of fuel carrying Silverbolt - (and Starscream, his treacherous mind reminded him) - out of the pit.

Silverbolt hesitated for a few more seconds, then pressed the intercom. After a moment, he heard Skyfire say, "Yes?"

"Just me."

There was a pause, and Silverbolt thought maybe Skyfire was going to turn him away - but the door slid open, and he stepped into the dimness within.

Skyfire was reclining on the berth, a datapad in hand, but Silverbolt didn't think he'd been reading it. His smile was tired and just hesitant enough to tell Silverbolt he'd been right to come.

He crossed the room briskly. There was a chair next to the window, but he opted to hop onto the berth next to Skyfire - it was big enough to accommodate them both easily.

"How are you feeling?"

He reached out to touch the new glass in Skyfire's cockpit, reassuring himself that it was whole again. Skyfire dropped the datapad on a shelf and took Silverbolt's hand in his own.

"I'm okay. Some of the welds are still settling but I'm mostly just tired."

Silverbolt twined their fingers together absently, looking Skyfire over to double check with his own optics that he was in good repair. The marks of the gashes on his face were dark with silverskin that hadn't yet formed a homogenous surface, but they would fade quickly. His wing was fixed and the scrapes had been buffed out of his plating. It was, Silverbolt had to admit, a better job than he would have received on Earth, though not for lack of skill - Ratchet simply didn't have the resources on offer in this base.

There were things he needed to ask Skyfire, about that control room and the others like it, what danger he and Starscream had seen in it - but he decided they could wait. Ultra Magnus didn't need his full report until the next shift. Just now, he had more important concerns.

"Are you okay?" he asked - and they both knew he wasn't talking about the physical damage.

Skyfire said nothing for a few seconds. Then, all at once and as if he'd made up his mind in a rush, "No, I don't think I am, actually."

Silverbolt felt the waver in his field, grief and pain and a bright thread of anger - at the universe, at Starscream, at himself - and with it a wash of fear, that thinking about this, dealing with it at all, would overwhelm him.

Silverbolt tightened his grip on Skyfire's hand and shifted closer, felt Skyfire's wing behind his shoulders and the warmth of his systems, let his field relax into Skyfire's with as much reassurance and sympathy as he could signal. Skyfire turned slightly towards him, one arm coming up to draw him close, and Silverbolt found his head resting naturally against Skyfire's shoulder.

"You're allowed to, you know," Silverbolt said. "Be... not okay, I mean."

"I suppose so." Skyfire sounded like he didn't really believe it, his field still full of self-recrimination and sadness. "In a way it's been easier just shooting at him all this time."

"It must be hard seeing him so different."

"Different?" Skyfire gave an odd almost-laugh, a bitter sound. "No, that's not it. The awful thing is that he isn't any different from how he was, not really. Crueller, maybe. More violent. Or maybe just more willing to act those impulses. No, Starscream was always... Starscream. I just... used to be able to find ways to excuse it." A pause, and then, striving for lightness and not quite making it, "I'm starting to wonder if I ever really liked him."

"But you loved him."

Skyfire jerked as if he'd been struck, and Silverbolt felt the ripples of dismay and guilt go through his field like a thunderclap.

"It's okay," Silverbolt said. "It doesn't change anything."

"Doesn't it?"

Silverbolt almost laughed in sheer exasperation, because Skyfire sounded like he wasn't sure - like he'd expected Silverbolt to change his mind, after this, after seeing him interact with Starscream, after guessing the truth about their past.

He put his hand against Skyfire's face, careful of the dark lines that had been wounds, brushed one thumb over his cheek. Skyfire turned towards him, optics on his, reading his expression and his field, seeking reassurance. Silverbolt gave it wordlessly and passionately, and felt Skyfire shiver, and slowly relax. Silverbolt stroked his cheek again - and then, with his spark hot and nervous and his mind completely made up, he leaned forward and kissed him.

Skyfire made a wordless noise and pulled him closer, kissing back with an urgency that Silverbolt hadn't expected, somehow - not that he was complaining as Skyfire's arms went around him and he found himself clinging on tightly in return. He knew he was clumsy and overeager, but he couldn't have helped himself if he tried. He wanted Skyfire, had done for so long, unspoken, and feeling the swell of an equal longing from Skyfire's field was overwhelming and exhilirating.

Silverbolt had started it, but Skyfire took control now, showing Silverbolt what this could be like. He explored Silverbolt's mouth with a thoroughness and insistence that left Silverbolt feeling weak at the knees and very glad they were already lying down. Then Skyfire paused to suck on his lower lip, and Silverbolt moaned aloud before he could stop himself.

Any embarrassment he felt was quickly thrust aside by the reaction he got from Skyfire - the rush of cooling fans and flare of desire in his field, the way he paused for a moment, resting his forehead against Silverbolt's as though to regain control, and then how he brought their mouths crashing together with renewed need.

Primus! Silverbolt had been sure - mostly sure - that Skyfire felt the same way he did, but he had hardly dared believe he could have such an effect on his friend. Eager to find out what else he could do with this new-found power, he let his hands wander. There were places on Skyfire's armour that he knew were sensitive from accidental touches - now the touching was entirely deliberate, and the response everything he could have asked for, as Skyfire shuddered under his fingertips. Skyfire retaliated by moving his hands down to Silverbolt's wings; Silverbolt wasn't sure of his intentions until he took the long, slender, sensitive elevons between finger and thumb and began working with exquisite slowness down their length.

Silverbolt had to break the kiss then gasp and draw in air through his vents to cool his overheated systems. Skyfire pressed a kiss against his helm, oddly chaste and heartbreakingly tender, and Silverbolt whispered his name even as the sensations from his wings, under Skyfire's skilfull hands, made him offline his optics and arch pleadingly into the touch.

"Silverbolt..."

Skyfire seemed to have difficulty getting his name out. He let go of Silverbolt's wings, and at that Silverbolt let out a soft, wordless protest without meaning to. He felt a puff of laughter against his cheek and reluctantly onlined his optics. Skyfire was looking at him from close enough to kiss, optics bright and warm, and yet hesitation in his field.

"I don't..." he started, stopped, went ahead, "I don't want to rush anything."

Silverbolt stared at him blankly. Then he had to stifle laughter, the kind of helpless hilarity that would have him unable to speak if he let it out.

"Rush?" he demanded incredulously. "Do you have any idea how long I've..."

He stopped, because the truth was he couldn't put a time on it, or mark out any single moment when his feelings had changed, or when he'd realised what they really were, or whatever. It had just been a long, gradual process, one that had started at the moment Skyfire had caught him falling out of the sky, one that he couldn't have stopped if he'd tried.

But Skyfire knew; the hesitation was already vanishing, his smile warm and a little sheepish.

"About as long as I have, maybe?" he said, and he didn't need to put a time on that any more than Silverbolt did; it had been happening for as long as they'd known each other.

Silverbolt took advantage of the pause to push Skyfire over onto his back, smiling at his surprised expression. He settled in draped over Skyfire's chest, revelling in the warmth of him and coveting the quick hitch of systems and the way his optics flared. He also took a moment to deliberately and carefully dampen his connection to his brothers - this wasn't something he wanted them to pick up through the bond.

Then he set himself to explore, slowly and thoroughly, indulging both curiosity and desire. He mapped out the seams that were sensitive to touch, and clusters of sensor nodes that made Skyfire arch up under him. Skyfire was hardly passive - he took Silverbolt's wings in his hands again and several times brought him to the point of wordless pleading, before easing off. And in between were more kisses, getting more urgent and less refined as their energy levels entwined tighter and their touches grew bolder.

Silverbolt had never felt the way he felt when Skyfire touched him - never in this life, at least. He had all the knowledge of interfacing he could need, gifted him by Vector Sigma, all the cold details of how and why and what, and behind that he had a spark-memory that he had done this - that it wasn't an utterly unfamiliar situation.

But it was no real preparation for the sensations Skyfire could evoke in both his body and his spark - not just the touch of skilled hands on his plating, but the intense field contact that was an order of magnitude different from anything they'd shared before. Silverbolt was giddy with it, wanting more, and nervous as well, afraid he wasn't giving as good as he got. But they were deep enough into each other's fields that Skyfire caught that fear and refuted it utterly, opening himself wider to let Silverbolt feel what he was feeling. Silverbolt heard himself make a sound of some sort, maybe Skyfire's name, but whatever it was, it made Skyfire clutch at him with something close to desperation and kiss him until he could barely think.

Little arcs of electricity were passing between them, tiny shocks that only intensified the physical sensations, and Silverbolt felt his field syncing with Skyfire's in a way that was nothing like the resonance he shared with his brothers. He knew they could overload together like this, that it was entirely normal to do so and would be entirely mutually satisfying - but he was used to sharing his spark with four other mechs and he wanted more than just field contact.

He'd only ever opened his spark chamber for medical examinations. Then it was awkward, a little painful, and terribly vulnerable - right now it was as easy as falling and he realised he had been unconsciously keeping it closed against the instinctive desire to open it.

Suddenly something was wrong in Skyfire's field, a discordant riot of emotion that was too complex to pin a name on. His hand came up to Silverbolt's chest, pressing against the plating that had begun to slide apart, preventing it from moving further.

"Don't."

Silverbolt stared down into his expression, that had been just a moment ago blissful and eager, and was now taut with reluctance and anxiety.

"Why not?"

"I don't... like to do that."

Silverbolt tried to hide his own dismay, but he knew they were too entwined for Skyfire to miss it. He felt the flinch of guilt in return, and pain, and something much deeper and darker, going back far beyond this moment, something Silverbolt could not reach even bound up with Skyfire as he was.

Slowly, consciously overriding instinct, Silverbolt forced his chest plate to close again. His spark felt too large for its case, desperate to reach out to Skyfire's, and try as he might, he couldn't suppress the hurt of the rejection. Again he felt Skyfire ache with guilt. He reached up to cradle Silverbolt's face in both hands, wordless apology written all over his face along with a plea for understanding.

Silverbolt leaned down to kiss him, deep and long, pushing his own reactions as far away from the present moment as he could, to deal with later. He'd been too eager, he told himself, maybe it was possible for them to rush some things after all. Not everyone chose to share their spark with their partner, he knew. It was perfectly normal to interface without it, even in long-term relationships. Regular spark sharing led to bonding: not everyone wanted that. And not everyone was comfortable opening themselves up completely to someone else, even someone they loved.

Silverbolt knew that. But he had thought Skyfire would want it as badly as he did.

He pushed it away and concentrated on persuading Skyfire to do the same, kissing him until the guilt ebbed and they were reacting to each other as they had been before, caught up in each other's fields and tangled around each other's bodies. This time he didn't let the shivery, urgent heat in his spark trigger the opening of his chest plate, just let it build and ripple through his body, and felt the same reaction from Skyfire.

It happened suddenly, even though Silverbolt was expecting it - one moment he was caught in the swell of heat and energy, building towards a peak, and the next he was over the edge, and out of control. He heard himself cry out and was helpless to stay silent, but in the midst of ecstasy he was aware with aching joy of Skyfire beneath him, caught in the same moment of release. Nothing mattered then except how wonderful it felt, how close they were, and how tightly they clung to each other.

When Silverbolt was in a position to think clearly again, he found he was draped over Skyfire with languid abandon. His systems had calmed; his field was relaxed and still mingling pleasantly with Skyfire's. Skyfire was stroking his wing in a dazed sort of way, not really aware he was doing it, and Silverbolt felt a swell of smug pride at the lack of co-ordination in his movements. I did that.

He lifted his head from its comfortable resting place against Skyfire's shoulder, and kissed him just to feel the ripple of reaction go through both of their fields. Then Skyfire was kissing him back, more alert now and eager to hold him close and luxuriate in their shared joy.

When Silverbolt shifted to one side, settling onto the berth, though still in Skyfire's arms and pressed close, a shadow came back into Skyfire's field.

"I'm sorry," he started to say. Silverbolt pressed a finger to his lips.

"It's okay," he said, and tried to mean it. He almost did mean it. He was warm and happy, giddy with joy at what he'd shared with Skyfire. Shouldn't that be enough for anyone? "Can I stay here?"

"I was hoping you would."

Silverbolt could feel himself edging closer to recharge. Skyfire's hand was on his wing again, but now it was soothing. The confusion and strain of their long trek through the darkness seemed a world away. Skyfire shifted slightly, getting comfortable, then paused as a thought seemed to strike him.

"If your brothers come looking for you..."

"We've got a few hours at least," Silverbolt replied sleepily. "They found the video library. They've got at least four people's choices to get through."

But thinking of his brothers did raise a question he didn't really want to answer: how were they going to react to this? They'd find out sooner or later. Even Slingshot seemed to accept Skyfire as a friend these days, but he still wasn't one of them. Silverbolt was afraid this new aspect of their relationship might not go down well among his occasionally possessive brothers.

He pushed the thoughts away, just as he pushed away the doubt that was trying to creep into his spark - the hurt of Skyfire's rejection returning as he wondered what he'd done wrong. He wouldn't let himself think about it. There would be time to talk about it later. He was sure they would come to an understanding. He was sure it would work out okay.

He wasn't sure enough to drift straight off to sleep though, no matter how tired he was. And as he listened to Skyfire's systems settling into the rhythm of recharge, he let himself think about Starscream, just for a few seconds - just long enough to hate him.

- end chapter 10 -
Sunday, October 9th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
*high-pitched, incoherent squeaking noises*