Saturday, September 8th, 2012 04:35 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 12 (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: See previous chapter regarding the future of this fic. Though I've been working on it all day and I'm feeling a lot more hopeful that I can get it done. Thanks for the comments. :)


A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 12


Silverbolt was in the medbay for the second time in a week, and Skyfire was cursing his own stupidity.

He should have known, as soon as he saw how pointless Starscream's attack was, that it was intended simply as a way to lure the Aerialbots into combat - and to single out Silverbolt. He should have warned Silverbolt off the approach. He certainly should have been watching for Skywarp and Thundercracker to double back. It was the obvious tactic, but he had been as shocked and distracted as Silverbolt's brothers by the single-minded brutality of Starscream's attack. He should have gone to Silverbolt's aid the moment Starscream landed on his back, but he'd hesitated, worried that more Decepticons would appear over the horizon.

Most of all, though, he should have listened to his instincts. Starscream was gunning for Silverbolt now, and Skyfire should have been ready for it.

"Don't be ridiculous." Silverbolt's voice was loud and sharp in the quiet medbay. "This isn't your fault."

Skyfire jerked his hands away from Silverbolt's wings, where he'd been carefully oiling the new joint welds. He hadn't said anything aloud. Silverbolt had read it in his field. Not the exact thoughts, but certainly the welter of guilt and self-recrimination. He hadn't meant to leave himself so open - he hadn't realised Silverbolt could feel so much through this casual contact. He drew his field in close, forcing control onto it, and Silverbolt flinched, half-turning towards him.

"Don't do that."

"Sorry," said Skyfire, not even sure if he was apologising for closing his field or for failing to protect Silverbolt.

"You're still..." Silverbolt turned around completely, reaching out to draw Skyfire in close and lean their heads together. "Please. Don't shut down on me."

Skyfire offlined his optics and slowly, carefully let Silverbolt in again. This time he made sure to keep his agitation buried deep, where Silverbolt couldn't feel the ripples of it. Silverbolt didn't push, just letting their fields lap together in a close imitation of the easy companionship they normally shared, but Skyfire could tell he was aware of - and worried by - the things Skyfire was keeping hidden.

"It's not as though he hasn't gone after me before," Silverbolt said. "Remember the last time he jumped on me? He's always hated me just for existing."

"This was different."

"I know."

Silverbolt pulled back. One hand came up to stroke Skyfire's cheek. When Skyfire reluctantly turned his optics online, he found himself looking into Silverbolt's. The scratches Starscream had gouged from the glass had been repaired as if they'd never happened - but Skyfire had a vivid memory of the dark, jagged lines marring Silverbolt's brilliant blue optics, and of how much pain he'd been in from the underlying damage.

"I'm not saying this isn't personal," Silverbolt went on. "And I'm not denying how dangerous Starscream can be when he has a grudge, either. But it doesn't change things as much as you think. He's tried to kill me before - he's deliberately targeted me and my brothers many times. Even if he starts doing it more often, it's just another variable to take into account. I'll be on my guard from now on. I won't let him catch me alone again."

"If there is one thing I have learned of Starscream over the vorns," Skyfire replied, low and serious, "it is that he is never just another variable. He fits no equations, obeys no laws, and you cannot count on being able to predict what he will do."

"You give him too much credit," Silverbolt replied - perhaps a little sharply. Skyfire winced, and felt the immediate brush of apology from Silverbolt's field. "He's entirely predictable as long as you assume he will always take the path of greatest self-interest. And as long as you don't assume he's bound by any ideas of common sense, common decency, or compassion."

Skyfire winced again - not because of anything in Silverbolt's tone, but because he had hit an uncomfortable truth right on the head. Even in the depths of his cynicism and disgust at Starscream's behaviour towards the end of their partnership, Skyfire had clung to the belief that somewhere, deep down, there was a line he would not cross. And even now he had seen that hope disproved a score of times, and heard of hundreds more, perhaps he couldn't quite shake the idea that Starscream was somehow bound by the limits of Skyfire's own conscience.

Silverbolt felt his reaction, but didn't understand it. His field twined deeper with Skyfire's, questing for an answer - and though he hated himself for it, Skyfire pulled back again, closing himself off. This time Silverbolt said nothing, just took Skyfire's face in both hands and kissed him. Skyfire hesitated to return it for a moment, more afraid than he cared to admit of re-establishing field contact - but then he couldn't stop himself from wrapping his arms around Silverbolt and holding on tightly. As their fields tentatively melded again, he caught a gentle, slightly sad assurance from Silverbolt - he wouldn't try to go any deeper, or make Skyfire talk about the things he'd buried down there. Skyfire kissed him back with a mingled rush of guilt and intense gratitude.

"It will be okay," Silverbolt murmured when they parted. He'd edged forward on the berth until he was almost in Skyfire's lap. There was no-one in the medbay to see them, and he showed no inclination to remove himself from Skyfire's arms. "Please try not to worry more than you have to."

"I'll try," Skyfire promised. He even meant it. "Do you want me to carry on with the oil?"

"Not right now." Silverbolt appeared to decide that 'almost' in Skyfire's lap wasn't good enough. He slid off the berth completely and swung a leg over Skyfire's so he could sit straddling him. "Which is not to say that I don't want you touching my wings..."

Skyfire laughed softly, feeling the tension between them ease. He kissed Silverbolt again, moving his hands obligingly to the trailing edges of Silverbolt's wings, and getting the now-familiar thrill of delight when Silverbolt arched into the touch with a soft sound of pleasure. He wanted nothing more than to lose himself in interfacing with Silverbolt, to focus all his attention on making Silverbolt overload with Skyfire's name on his vocaliser. He couldn't really follow through on the thought here in the medbay - and Silverbolt wouldn't be released until the next shift - but there was nothing to stop them kissing like this, safe in each other's arms.

Nothing except the medbay doors suddenly springing open to admit a loud, laughing bunch of jets, who had no right to be there because they were supposed to be in recharge for Pit's sake--

"Hey, Silverbolt--" Slingshot had been saying. He fell abruptly silent, as did the others. Silverbolt almost fell out of Skyfire's lap in his haste to get back on the berth - but Skyfire knew it was too late to pretend. The other four Aerialbots were staring at them with identical expressions of shock. Well, three of them - Air Raid had gone from startled to smirking so fast that Skyfire was pretty sure he wasn't exactly surprised by this turn of events.

The other three, quite evidently, were. And Skyfire's spark sank at the way that shock was now turning into various combinations of betrayal, anger, and disbelief.

"We thought you'd be asleep," said Skydive accusingly.

"And that's why you were coming in here at top volume in the middle of the night?" snapped Silverbolt. "If I had been asleep--"

"We didn't actually think you'd be asleep," Air Raid said. He had cast a glance at his brothers and read their mood; now he grinned as easily as if nothing special had happened, and only the tense set of his wings gave away how hard he was trying to defuse the situation. "We thought you ought to be asleep but you'd probably be up writing a report or something, so we were coming to distract you." He shot Skyfire a knowing look. "Apparently someone else got there first."

"So how long has this been going on?" demanded Slingshot. He was now glaring at Skyfire with open hostility, as if their tentative camaraderie had never existed. "When were you gonna tell us?"

"None of your damn business!" Silverbolt had gone prickly and defensive and Skyfire knew it was the worst possible reaction - but one he couldn't help, embarrassed and startled as he was. Silverbolt seemed to realise the same thing. "I'm sorry," he said almost at once. "I was going to tell you, I was just..."

"Busy?" put in Air Raid with another smirk. "Yeah, we could see that..."

"None of our business?" Fireflight's voice rose with indignation and hurt. He was staring at Silverbolt as though he'd been punched in the fuel pump, and Silverbolt in turn suddenly looked like he'd taken a step forward and found nothing there but void. "How is it none of our business if you're, you're..."

"Shacked up with Skyfire?" put in Air Raid helpfully.

Skydive and Slingshot both turned to glare at him, obviously wondering why he wasn't backing them up. Air Raid met their gaze without flinching, and his expression, though still amused, took on a certain hardness. Skyfire wasn't privy to the workings of the gestalt bond, nor close enough for field contact, but he sensed the battle of wills nonetheless.

"Shacked up?" queried Skyfire, keeping his tone light and hoping the normality might help. "Did you pick that up from Groove?"

"Hot Spot, actually," replied Air Raid, taking his optics off his brothers. "Groove's version was screwing like rabbits, but Hot Spot said I shouldn't use that one in casual conversation, and anyway, he was talking about humans so I wasn't sure if it applied to us--"

"Primus, shut up, Air Raid!" said Skydive - but there was less anger in the rebuke than exasperation, which Skyfire took as a good sign. "This really isn't the time--"

"We wanna talk to you," Slingshot said bluntly to Silverbolt. "He should go."

Silverbolt's optics had paled with anger. Skyfire wanted to reach out and take his hand, to calm him through field contact - but he was afraid the gesture would make things worse.

"Skyfire is staying right here," Silverbolt bit out. "If you want to talk, we can all talk."

"What, so there's six of us in this gestalt now?"

"That's not what I--"

"Guys, can we calm down and--"

"I don't see why we can't talk without--"

In the midst of the cacophony, Skyfire's attention was drawn to Fireflight, who had fallen completely silent and was now staring directly at him. The betrayal on his face struck right to Skyfire's spark. Of all of them, he'd thought Fireflight would be the quickest to accept his relationship with Silverbolt - but the sweet, affectionate jet who'd so swiftly adopted Skyfire as a friend now looked as though he'd never been so hurt. Skyfire started to speak, trying to reach out to him - but Fireflight suddenly turned, slammed a hand into the medbay door controls, and fled out into the corridor without another word.

"Fireflight!"

Silverbolt lurched off the berth and took two steps towards the door, but staggered, his systems not adjusting quickly enough. Skyfire caught him and held him up. Most of the physical damage had been repaired, but Starscream's null rays had put a huge strain on Silverbolt's capacitors. He sagged against Skyfire, watching the door slide closed, and Skyfire could feel the distress rippling through his field. He hadn't expected that reaction from Fireflight either, and it hurt him far more than Slingshot's characteristic belligerence ever could.

"I'll find him," Skydive said, sounding subdued now. He looked between Skyfire and Silverbolt, hesitating as if he wanted to say something but didn't quite know what, then turned for the door.

Slingshot went with him, throwing one more sour look at Skyfire as the door closed behind them.

"That could have gone better," remarked Air Raid.

He took one look at Silverbolt's face and was across the room in a second to put his arms around his brother. Skyfire willingly relinquished his hold and let Air Raid help him back onto the berth.

"I didn't think they'd--"

"It's okay." Air Raid hopped onto the berth with Silverbolt and wrapped a reassuring arm around his shoulders. Skyfire resumed his seat on the other side of the berth and took one of Silverbolt's hands in his. "It's gonna be okay. They're just freaking out because they weren't expecting it."

"How long have you known?"

"I dunno, since we moved to Autobot City?"

Silverbolt stared at him.

"But we only got together after Vos."

"Yeah, but you wanted to before that." Air Raid grinned as Silverbolt's expression turned sheepish. "I pay attention."

Skyfire couldn't quite contain an undignified snorting noise. Air Raid glowered at him in a friendly manner.

"I do! Sometimes."

He kissed the top of Silverbolt's helm, an easy, affectionate gesture that warmed Skyfire's spark - as did the way Silverbolt leaned into it, fraught field easing somewhat. Then Air Raid hopped off the berth and headed for the door.

"I'll do damage control," he said. "They'll be fine by the morning, you'll see. You get some rest." He smirked at Skyfire. "Actual rest."

After he was gone, Skyfire finally said, "Do you want me to go?"

Silverbolt hesitated, and Skyfire could feel the conflict in his field - wanting Skyfire with him, needing time to sort out his chaotic emotions, feeling like he shouldn't be with Skyfire right now, afraid of hurting Skyfire's feelings... Skyfire kissed his hand and said, "It's okay if you do."

"No. Don't. I want you to stay." Silverbolt turned towards him with sudden desperation, clinging on when Skyfire took him in his arms. "I should have told them sooner, I should have--"

"Shh, don't. Air Raid's right, it's going to be okay."

"When did Air Raid get so observant, anyway?" Silverbolt's voice was muffled, his face buried in Skyfire's shoulder. "Not to mention sensible..."

Skyfire laughed, shaking his head at the genuine bewilderment in Silverbolt's voice.

"I suspect he learned by example," he said gently.

*

Silverbolt didn't get much rest in the end, though not for lack of trying - he was too busy worrying about his brothers, feeling guilty, telling himself he shouldn't feel guilty, amending that to he should feel a bit guilty because he really should have told them sooner, defending himself by noting they didn't have to share everything, admitting that that didn't give him a free pass to keep secrets that did, after all, affect the rest of them, petulantly wondering where the line was drawn and wasn't he entitled to some privacy, knowing that he was but he'd let that get all mixed up with other things, remembering Fireflight's expression, feeling guilty, telling himself he shouldn't feel guilty...

Silverbolt didn't get much rest in the end.

It wasn't as if he'd never fallen out with his gestalt before - there had certainly been plenty of times when all five of them had stormed off in various stages of temper - but Silverbolt realised that it hadn't happened for a while now. There had been petty disagreements and brief scuffles, but overall, they had seemed to get on better lately. It was as if they had grown around each other enough to accept each other's foibles without anger. For that matter, Silverbolt couldn't remember the last time any of them had ended up in the brig. Almost without his noticing, his team had mellowed out and begun to live up to his hopes of them. It made the current situation all the more painful.

He headed for the Aerialbots' quarters as soon as he was released from medbay. Skyfire, Primus bless him, had found a convenient reason to set off in the other direction. Despite what Silverbolt had said in anger, he knew that Slingshot had been right - they did need to talk without Skyfire there. The fact that Skyfire understood that, and did not resent it, went a long way towards making Silverbolt hope that Air Raid might be right - that it would be okay after all.

He went to Air Raid's room first, partly because it had become the impromptu gathering place for the others, partly because if they weren't together, he'd rather talk to Air Raid before anyone else. He found Air Raid and Slingshot playing some sort of computer game with whoops of glee and reckless disregard for the wellbeing of the surrounding furniture. Silverbolt watched for a few seconds, and realised it was a human racing game they had somehow hacked into the Iacon base's consoles. He shook his head, amused and suddenly homesick. Maybe it really was time they headed back to Earth.

"Hey," he said, not quite sure how to start.

Air Raid made it easy for him: he tossed Silverbolt the controller (Silverbolt caught it, barely) and hopped off the couch. "You can have my place, I wanna go see if Blurr's in the rec room anyhow."

He was out of the room before Silverbolt could protest. Silverbolt stared at the controller, then at the screen where a tiny pixellated car was busily crashing repeatedly into a wall, then back at the controller. He tentatively pushed a control stick forward. The car spun in a circle and exploded. Slingshot began to snigger uncontrollably.

"How does this even--?" Silverbolt's car had reappeared. He pressed one of the buttons, and some sort of guided missile shot out of the front (he was almost certain that human race cars did not normally include weaponry).

"Hey! Fragging--" The missile had apparently found Slingshot's car, though Silverbolt had no idea how. "That was not fair."

On his half of the screen, a message flashed up awarding him second place. Silverbolt looked at his own car, now drifting slowly sideways down a six-lane track, and said cautiously, "I don't think this is my sort of game."

Slingshot looked at him holding the controller like he thought it might go off.

"No kidding."

And to Silverbolt's confused and grateful surprise, that was it. Slingshot tried to show him how to play the game, and Silverbolt completely failed to grasp it (which was... idiotic, shouldn't he be able to do something as simple as propel an imaginary car down an imaginary road when he could fly halfway across the world with barely a thought? The wretched thing was probably rigged.) and they were sitting close enough for field contact to make it abundantly clear to Silverbolt that somehow, in the hours since that confrontation in the medbay, Slingshot had gotten over it. It was the last thing he'd expected - but then, maybe he'd been coming at this all wrong. In between Slingshot's mockery and rough but good-natured grabbing of the controller, Silverbolt caught enough through their link and through field contact to understand that for Slingshot, the biggest hurdle had been accepting Skyfire into their group in the first place. Once he'd had time to get over his kneejerk angry reaction, he couldn't care less what exactly Silverbolt was getting up to with Skyfire out of his sight. Just so long as Silverbolt was still theirs - and he was still theirs, right?

Silverbolt put the controller down and quite determinedly dragged Slingshot into a hug.

"Hey! I was winning-- frag it, Silverbolt, get off--"

The door swooshed open as Slingshot half-heartedly tried to swat Silverbolt away. Skydive paused mid-step and re-assessed the situation.

"Are you two having a moment? Should I come back later?"

"I think we're done here," said Silverbolt, letting Slingshot escape. He smiled tentatively at Skydive, and was relieved when it was returned.

"He used the global drain," Slingshot complained petulantly. "Three times!"

"I didn't mean to, I thought it was the shield--"

"Easy mistake."

Skydive crossed the room and sat on the couch on Silverbolt's other side. He took the controller out of Silverbolt's hands, hit the controls to start another race, and achieved three perfect laps and first place. Slingshot grumbled under his breath but made no accusations of cheating - another change from how things used to be.

By the time Air Raid came back from the rec room, Silverbolt was feeling happier than he would have thought possible when he'd left the medbay. Skydive wasn't as easy to read as Slingshot, and Silverbolt knew that they would need to talk, properly talk, later - but it seemed Air Raid had been right about both his brothers. They were over it. They just wanted reassurance that his relationship with Skyfire wouldn't replace them somehow. Silverbolt let them jostle him back and forth, tease him for driving into the wall, and try to grab each other's controllers across his lap.

When Air Raid returned, Silverbolt glanced hopefully behind him - but there was no sign of Fireflight. His spark sank again.

*

Skyfire had a plan. The energon siphon he'd been working on was lacking a few key components that would make it work on Earth, but according to the plans of the Iacon spaceport that Ultra Magnus had provided, there was an old energon filtering plant several levels below those currently occupied by the Autobots. The parts from that would be too big for the siphon, but he was certain he could jury-rig them into something usable. He intended to find the plant and spend as much of the next shift as possible dismantling it and tinkering with the components. Silverbolt could comm him anytime if he needed to, but otherwise Skyfire felt it was prudent to get himself out of the way and stay there until wanted.

It should have been a fool-proof plan, and he should have had many undisturbed hours to work on his project, but he'd barely removed the casing from the first of the filtering plant's vats when he heard a tentative voice from the doorway behind him.

"What are you doing?"

Skyfire jumped so hard he dropped his screwdriver, but he managed to suppress the instinct to spin around. He recognised that voice well enough.

"I'm looking for some pieces for my energon siphon," he said. "What are you doing down here, Fireflight?"

A shuffling sound, as if Fireflight had moved a step further into the room.

"Thinking."

Skyfire retrieved his screwdriver as he thought about what to say next. He hadn't thought Fireflight would want to talk to him just yet, but if he was here, Skyfire wasn't going to turn down the opportunity to make amends.

"I could use some help," he said, finally glancing over his shoulder. Fireflight was looking at the machine, not at him. "If you wanted to grab a screwdriver."

He thought Fireflight would refuse - maybe even dart back out into the corridor, with the nervy way he was hovering near the door - but after a moment, he just said, "Okay."

Skyfire found a couple of spare tools, pulled up a crate for Fireflight to stand on, and showed him which screws to remove and in what order. They worked silently until the triple filtration catalyst Skyfire was after came loose in his hand. He stepped back from the machinery to study it closely. He thought it would do.

"What's it for?" asked Fireflight.

"Energon passes through it here--" Skyfire pointed to the intake, "-- and gets filtered through a couple of magnetic sieves and a small gravity pulse centrifuge. It removes the finer impurities, things we can't rid of in the Ark at the moment, and leaves the energon pure enough to be compressed into solid form. I'm going to see if Prime will let me use it to improve our diet."

"Does it still work?"

"I'm not sure. None of the components look burned out, but I'll need to test it when I get back to my quarters. Even if it's a dud, Wheeljack might able to do something with it - he's better at energy manipulation than I am, he can probably reverse engineer it. I think it should work, though."

Fireflight nodded and turned to peer inside the open case of the filtration vat. Skyfire regarded him for a moment, then put aside the catalyst and began to remove the next component on his list. Together, they extracted several usable parts. Fireflight said very little (for him) except to ask what each one did. Skyfire decided he was willing to wait it out. He found it interesting that Fireflight had yet to drop a single screw or tool, or topple off his crate. It confirmed Skyfire's longstanding hunch that he wasn't so much clumsy as inattentive, and that when he was focused on something, he was a good deal more conscientious than many other 'bots Skyfire had known.

Finally, as Skyfire was carefully levering a length of pipe out of the vat, Fireflight said, "Is Silverbolt mad at me?"

That... hadn't quite been what Skyfire was expecting, though with hindsight it was blindingly obvious.

"No," he said firmly. Normally he would quantify it as his own opinion - I don't expect so or I'm sure he isn't - but on this occasion he felt he could speak for Silverbolt without qualms. "At himself, maybe."

"Are you mad at me?"

"No!"

Skyfire left the pipe where it was, dangling from one bracket, and turned to look properly at Fireflight. Bright blue optics started back at him with such a mess of worry and guilt and confusion behind them that it was all Skyfire could do not to pick him up and hug him until it went away. In amongst the slow deepening of his relationship with Silverbolt, he'd somehow missed just how much he'd started to care about the others, too - and if he were honest, Fireflight especially. It had upset him almost as much as it had upset Silverbolt to see him flee the medical bay in such haste.

"No-one's angry with you," Skyfire said. He reached out tentatively to touch Fireflight on the shoulder. Fireflight didn't move away. "If anything, we owe you an apology. One of us should have said something sooner."

"Yeah." Fireflight stared at his feet for a few seconds. Without looking up, he asked, "Are you two going to bond?"

"What? No! Of course not!" Skyfire caught himself too late to take the words back. He was slightly horrified by the vehemence of his own denial - but he hadn't been prepared for such a blunt, intimate question from Fireflight. "I mean-- it's not--"

"Why not?" Fireflight was suddenly glaring at Skyfire with an indignation so fierce it was almost scary. "What's wrong with Silverbolt?"

"Nothing! I-- I care about him a lot, it's just-- it isn't something you do lightly, and it's still very early days to even think about that."

Fireflight subsided, the edges of his usual curiosity creeping back into his face and voice.

"Why?"

"Because--" Skyfire paused, realising the fundamental mismatch. "You're thinking it's like your gestalt link, aren't you?"

Fireflight nodded.

"It's different," Skyfire said. He turned back to the vat and began to unscrew the last bracket holding the length of pipe in place, using the simple activity to get his thoughts in order. "It's... do you know how it all works? Spark sharing and bonding?"

"I think so," said Fireflight, doubt in his voice.

"Sharing sparks opens you up to another person," Skyfire said. He concentrated on removing the screws one by one, distracting himself from the painful emotions that came with this territory. "It's like field sharing only - much deeper. It's not just bits of sensation or emotions - you start to link code and run each other's processes. It's..." He trailed off and had to force himself to continue. "Some people like it. They do it often, and the repetition starts to form a bond that is reinforced every time they share sparks. Eventually, the link persists even when they're physically separate, so it's a little like the gestalt in that way - but it's much more focused on the specific connection between two sparks. Or more. I'm told it's like... having a whisper of your bonded in the back of your processor, a little bit of code that never leaves and gives you a different perspective on things."

"You've never done it?"

"No." Skyfire removed the last of the screws and pulled the pipe loose, weighing it in his hands as he examined it for flaws he didn't really care about right now. "I... don't like spark sharing, so I've never bonded with anyone."

Which was true, albeit missing several important details, but Skyfire had no intention of expanding on the topic - at least, not with Fireflight. He knew he would have to tell Silverbolt eventually. He tried hard not to think about the deep flash of hurt that had gone through Silverbolt the first time they'd interfaced and he'd refused to spark share. Silverbolt hadn't brought it up since, and had seemed entirely happy with the pleasure they brought each other, but Skyfire sensed it was a question he was going to ask sooner or later. He hoped he'd be able to make Silverbolt understand when the time came.

"Oh." Fireflight reached out for the pipe; Skyfire let him take it. "Okay."

There was a faint overtone of relief in the short response. Fireflight examined the pipe as though it held the secrets of the universe, then laid it aside and, stepping to edge of his crate, threw his arms around Skyfire.

"msorryIfreakedoutIdidn'tmeanitsorry," he said, or at least that was what Skyfire managed to decipher.

Skyfire cautiously hugged Fireflight back, and was relieved beyond expression when he felt the younger jet's field loosen up from its tight, unhappy state. In the whirl of unleashed emotion, he caught the fleeting remains of jealousy and a terrible fear of abandonment. He couldn't have thought that they were going to lose Silverbolt because of Skyfire, could he? Skyfire put the pieces together in a flash - Fireflight had assumed they'd bond, he'd thought that it would supplant the gestalt link somehow - he could see the leap of not-quite-logic, driven by surprise and upset, and how it would have sent Fireflight fleeing from his brothers. He tightened his arms decisively and tried to project as much reassurance and affection as he could.

"Can I still come and hang out in your lab?" asked Fireflight after a few moments, seemingly content to stay exactly where he was for the rest of the conversation.

"You'd better. I'd miss you terribly if you didn't."

"Okay. But you've gotta promise," and there was an undercurrent of mischief in Fireflight's voice that put Skyfire on the alert, "that you'll lock the door if you and Silverbolt are, you know--"

"Fireflight!"

"-- 'cause I don't need to see that!"

"I-- we--" Skyfire sputtered incoherently, excruciatingly aware of the muffled sniggering right next to his audio receptor. "We wouldn't. Not in the lab."

"Oh right, so the lab's different from the med bay, huh?"

"Get off, you." Skyfire attempted to dislodge Fireflight, but found he was thoroughly attached and now laughing openly. "There was-- nothing was going to happen, okay, we were just--"

"Busy?" asked Fireflight sweetly, and the echo of Air Raid's easy acceptance - whether intentional or not - sent a pang of relief and gratitude right to Skyfire's spark.

"I refuse to comment further on the grounds I may incriminate myself," he said dryly. "Are you going to let go or am I going to have to learn to dismantle machinery over your head?"

Fireflight let go (eventually). And after a while, Skyfire sent a comm to Silverbolt, who found them some time later amid a sea of siphon parts that Fireflight was happily sorting while Skyfire worked on a few stubborn components.

"Hey." Silverbolt glanced briefly - gratefully - at Skyfire, but his attention was primarily on Fireflight. "Is everything--?"

He was interrupted by Fireflight crashing into him in what Skyfire had come to think of as the Aerialbot tacklehug. They went down in a heap by the door, and Skyfire couldn't help grinning at the surprised, but happy squawking noise Silverbolt made. He pretended not to hear the ensuing babble of the two of them trying to talk over each other to apologise, tuning back in only when things had been resolved by Fireflight latching happily onto Silverbolt and Silverbolt petting his wings.

"How were the others?" Skyfire asked.

"Fine." Silverbolt glanced down at Fireflight, and mingled with the relief on his face was an almost embarrassed sort of bewilderment - as if he hadn't expected things to be resolved so easily, and wasn't sure if he deserved it. "Everything's fine. And I just heard from Optimus Prime - we can head back to Earth any day we like."

"Really?" Fireflight sat up excitedly. "Can we go tomorrow? Can we go now?"

"Well, not now--" Silverbolt cast a questioning glance over Skyfire's haul of machine parts. "Probably not tomorrow, either."

"I can crate these up and sort them out on Earth," Skyfire said. "Tomorrow's fine, if you want."

Silverbolt hesitated. Then an all-too-rare expression of reckless, happy decision settled on his face.

"In that case," he said, "we'll go tomorrow."

*

Silverbolt was surprised by the rush of emotion that hit him as Earth broadened outside Skyfire's cockpit windows. He had felt glad to be going back, but he hadn't realised, until he saw the peaceful-looking blue and green globe below them, just how much he'd missed it. They were going home.

From the way the others were ricocheting around the cabin like poorly contained popcorn, they felt the same. Fireflight was happily pointing out continents he'd visited (not always on purpose) to Air Raid, while Slingshot and Skydive entertained themselves watching the line of night move across the planet below. Clusters of lights sprang up in its wake, as though it were a cloth peeled back to reveal a mirror that reflected the stars.

They landed at the Ark first, so as not to arouse Decepticon suspicions by heading for what was supposed to be an empty piece of land. The crashed ship was almost empty; more and more Autobots were permanently posted at the construction site that would become their city. Jazz was holding the fort in Red Alert's security office; he greeted them by comm and told them they had clearance to head straight on. Skyfire landed for long enough to let the Aerialbots out so they could fly under their own power, and then the six of them took off into a clear evening sky. That line of darkness they had seen from orbit had not yet reached this part of the world, though the horizon was stained red and gold where the sun was sinking towards it.

:I've missed the breeze,: Skydive commented.

:And the sun,: said Air Raid.

:Oh look, are those birds? There're an awful lot of them!:

Fireflight veered off to the left. Silverbolt was about to call him back into formation when he realised it didn't matter. They were in no hurry, the skies were clear, and there was no labyrinth of canyons here for Fireflight to get lost in. The flock of geese below them reacted with a cacophony of indignant honking to Fireflight's closer approach. The sound was riotous, disrespectful, and utterly unlike anything they could have heard on Cybertron.

:They're probably migrating,: said Skyfire. :It's the right time of year.:

:Migrating?: Fireflight swooped back to the rest of the group. Silverbolt suppressed laughter at the eager, easy curiosity in his voice - laughter and a rush of gratitude and relief that things were back to normal. :What does that mean?:

So Skyfire spent the rest of the flight explaining the habits of birds that followed the seasons north and south, and it wasn't only Fireflight asking interested questions. Silverbolt was silent. He was so used to Skyfire knowing the answers, but it was only now - after weeks of questions focusing solely on Cybertron - that he heard the difference. Earth had been as unknown to Skyfire as to them when he'd first awakened, but he had thrown himself into learning everything he could about the planet - whether the migration of geese or the composition of rocks or the social and cultural evolution of the people who dwelt there. When Skyfire talked about Cybertron, it was with pain but also with love and deep familiarity. When he talked about Earth, there was no pain - but no especial love, either. Certainly, there was interest, enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity - but Silverbolt realised that for him, this still was not a homecoming. The thought made his spark ache with sadness.

He pushed it aside as they came in on the authorised approach vector for Autobot City. There seemed to be nothing behind the range of hills as they descended, keeping strictly to the flight path Red Alert had designated for them - until they passed the range of Hound's holograms. Suddenly the whole site was laid out in front of them, churned earth and quarried stone, the warm golden metal of the Autobots' preferred alloys, the reservoir that would one day be opened to form a moat and waterfall surrounding the city, but for now was providing Grapple and Hoist with much needed cooling capability. The walls were almost finished, Silverbolt saw - construction had come along immensely since the Aerialbots had left for Cybertron. Within them there were now a number of finished structures, including the comm tower.

:Wow,: said Fireflight, and the others murmured agreement.

They set down on the wide patch of open ground near their temporary accommodation. Silverbolt noticed that a number of tapes and pegs marked its edges; perhaps Hoist had decided to make the runway permanent. Someone had set up a floodlight near the end of the open patch, lighting their final approach nicely. Silverbolt transformed, looked around, and smiled when he saw that the someone was Hot Spot.

"Hello, strangers!" Hot Spot unfolded himself from his easy sprawl on the ground behind the light. Peering behind him, Silverbolt made out the rest of his gestalt getting to their feet. "Thought we'd wait up for you. How was Cybertron?"

"Awesome—!"

"Weird—!"

"So cool—!"

The two groups met in a babble of exchanged greetings and questions. Silverbolt automatically checked that Slingshot and Blades weren't about to start throwing punches - and wonder of wonders, they were actually on opposite sides of the crowd, apparently ignoring each other - then turned to Hot Spot with a smile of greeting. It turned into laughter when he saw his friend just turning back from a similar threat assessment.

"Will wonders never cease?" he quipped. "How was the flight?"

"It was fine—" Silverbolt paused as he realised Skyfire had hung back from the general commingling of the two gestalts. "Maybe we should head inside and let everyone get settled down?"

"Ah, well, that's part of why we came out to meet you." Hot Spot slung an arm around Silverbolt, affectionate and cheerful. "Come this way."

He started to guide Silverbolt towards the buildings some way off. The rest of the Protectobots, seeming to take this as their cue, began to herd Silverbolt's brothers in the same direction. Silverbolt turned to look for Skyfire. He was lagging some way behind, but when he caught Silverbolt's optics, he put on speed and caught up. Silverbolt reached for his hand, struck again by the sense of something off-balance. Skyfire shot him a smile, almost apologetic, and seemed to shake himself out of whatever thoughts had gripped him.

"A lot's been done since we left," he said to Hot Spot. "I take it Grapple has been cracking the whip?"

"Like you wouldn't believe!" Hot Spot had let go of Silverbolt, and from the quick glance he shot at their linked hands, and the grin he tried and failed to stifle, Silverbolt had a feeling he, like Air Raid, had been expecting something along those lines. "Prime moved up here a few weeks back and he shifted the priorities around a bit, said we'd done enough on the defences for now. So we've been putting up the central complex. Which is just through here..."

‘Here' was a pair of double doors, sized comfortably even for Skyfire, which opened when Hot Spot keyed in his command code. They found themselves in a wide corridor like the ones on Cybertron, except that it was obviously brand new, and still rough around the edges. Hot Spot led them past a number of intersections that led nowhere, explaining as he went what they would eventually connect to, then took a left just before the corridor plunged down some stairs. A hubbub of voices floated up from below.

"That's the main rec area down there," Hot Spot said. "We'll go down in a sec, everyone'll want to see you - but you guys need to see this first."

He led them through a couple more corridors and stopped in front of one door. Like a conjurer performing a trick, he waved Silverbolt to the control panel.

"What do I—?"

"Just enter your quarters code."

Silverbolt did, and the door sprang open. Beyond was... space, as much space as they'd had on Cybertron, laid out as a small common room. There were doors on every wall - five in total. Aware of the pressure behind him from his excited brothers, he stepped inside and let them spill past.

"This is..."

"Your new quarters." Hot Spot was no longer even trying to hide his enjoyment of Silverbolt's surprise. "Prime said those of us stationed here permanently should have somewhere to live, so Grapple and Hoist started on the residential blocks. My team are just around the corner."

"We've got a room each!" shrieked Fireflight from somewhere behind one of the doors.

"Look at the berths!" shouted Air Raid.

"And Skyfire's next door," Hot Spot added.

"Wait, what?" Skyfire had been silent, watching the Aerialbots scramble around with undisguised amusement; now the smile dropped off his face. "I am? No-one asked me."

The startled, gratified joy that had been filling Silverbolt's spark wavered at the genuine irritation in Skyfire's voice. Hot Spot was similarly taken aback.

"I think— I mean, I guess people thought you'd want to be—"

"I'm sure it isn't set in stone," Silverbolt said, forcing his voice to sound calm. "If you'd rather be nearer the labs or in the same section as Perceptor and Wheeljack, I expect it could be arranged."

"Primus forbid I have Wheeljack as a neighbour," Skyfire muttered, but it was good-natured, and that unsettling flash of annoyance had faded. "No, I mean, of course I'd rather be near all of you - I just would have liked to be asked, that's all."

The strange moment was broken by the appearance of Sideswipe and Sunstreaker at the door, and by a new round of hellos and laughter. Silverbolt would have liked to pull Skyfire aside and just check - just be sure he was okay with this - because really he could be quartered anywhere he wanted, it wasn't like he had to be right next to the Aerialbots - but there were too many people now, too much pressure sweeping them out of the new quarters and back towards the rec room.

And if it had felt like coming home to see Earth rising up to greet them, it was as nothing compared to the swell of greetings and gladness that met them as they came down the steps into the enormous, bare, yet already welcoming room that was to be the Autobots' new recreation hub. Even people he normally barely spoke to seemed pleased to see him - and his brothers - and Skyfire. Everyone wanted to hear about Cybertron. Everyone said it was good to see them back.

We belong here, Silverbolt realised. His brothers were lapping up the attention, not one of them acting out. We really do.

He looked for Skyfire, half afraid he'd be hanging back on the fringes again - but Skyfire had found Perceptor and the two were talking animatedly, soon joined by Hound and Beachcomber. Silverbolt watched him for a few moments across the room, enjoying the little thrill of knowing he was allowed to, and that later he could draw him down and kiss him and reassure him that he belonged here just as much as they did...

Hot Spot nudged him. When Silverbolt jumped guiltily, he snickered.

"So, is there something you wanna tell me, Silverbolt?"

- end chapter 12 -
Saturday, September 8th, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
This is SUCH an awesome story - and I really hope you do finish it up, just because well, it's one of my favorites and has been for such a long time (and it's been really formative in how I write the Airlybots :P)


LOVED this chapter. :) Slingshot's anger and then "Oh. Well. Fine." sort of reaction, and Fireflight's hurt, and ALL of it is just eeee!
Sunday, September 16th, 2012 04:43 am (UTC)
I've got up to chapter 17 drafted now and there are only three or so after that...
HOT DIGGETTY!!!!!!! 8DDD