Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 05:16 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 14 (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: You know what, I take it back. I WILL finish this. I'm way ahead of what I'm posting right now and I'm so close to the end... I think I can do it.


A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 14


In all the time since he'd awakened on Earth, Skyfire had never seen Jazz lose his cool. His laid-back, easy-going attitude was as much a part of his skill set as his special ops training - he always gave the impression that he knew what was going to happen ahead of time.

"How the frag are they doin' it?" Jazz wasn't quite yelling, but it was close. Prowl, the apparent target of the question, didn't look up from his console. "I swear to Primus there was no fragging way they coulda come back here without us knowin' about it!"

"Clearly they've found a third option," replied Prowl, still without looking up. "How badly does this impact on your ability to predict their troop deployments?"

"How badly does it-- Prowl, it totally slags my 'ability t' predict their troop deployments', I ain't got a clue who's gonna show up where right now, for all I know Megatron's sittin' right next door an'--"

"Then we need to alter our strategy."

"No shit we need to--"

"Enough, Jazz." Optimus Prime had been standing by the window, apparently absorbed by his thoughts, but he turned now to look at his third in command. "Have we received any communication at all?"

"No. Nothin'." Jazz finally stopped pacing and flung himself into a chair. "Megatron's not answering."

Skyfire shot a glance at Skydive, the only Aerialbot currently in the briefing room with them. Air Raid and Fireflight were in med bay. They'd both been shot down, but the swift and heroic actions of some human engineers had kept them stable until Skyfire had arrived with reinforcements. By that time the Decepticons had been long gone - taking Silverbolt with them.

"He's still out," Skydive said, not loud enough for anyone but Skyfire to hear. "I don't like it. He shouldn't be going in and out of consciousness like this. And I don't know why the connection is so damped down when he's awake."

Skyfire could guess: if Silverbolt was in pain from his wounds, he'd likely be doing his best to keep it out of the gestalt link, knowing how frantic it would make his brothers. Skyfire felt cold inside thinking of Silverbolt drifting between stasis and wakefulness, fighting to protect them even from such a distance.

Optimus had moved over to Prowl's console, looking over his shoulder. "Well?"

"There's an 87% probability that the sole purpose of the attack was to take prisoners," Prowl replied. "The tactics deployed were aimed at disabling the Aerialbots as swiftly as possible and escaping before help could arrive."

"Yet they only took Silverbolt."

"Indeed. I believe it is likely that he was the primary target. They do not seem to have made any effort to secure Fireflight or Air Raid after they brought them down."

Skyfire had been afraid of that. As afraid as he was of asking the other question in his processor: just how sure were they that Starscream was still on Cybertron?

"In that case, Megatron must have a specific goal in mind," Optimus was saying. "In terms of sheer strategic value - much though I hate to quantify our individual worth - Silverbolt is crucial, both as Air Commander and as Superion's central component. If Megatron has gone out of his way to capture him, it can only be because he needs leverage over us to further his plans."

"So we're just going to wait?" Skydive's voice was level, but his body was rigid with tension. "We're just going to leave him there until Megatron gets around to calling us?"

Prowl looked up sharply, about to reprimand him for impertinence, perhaps - but Optimus came around the table to lay a hand on Skydive's shoulder.

"No," he said, "we are going to send out our special ops team to reconnoitre the Nemesis and gauge whether we can attempt a rescue. I am also going to attempt to contact Megatron directly. It will tip our hand somewhat, but he already knows how important Silverbolt is to us - otherwise he would not have targeted him so specifically."

Skyfire realised he couldn't keep quiet any longer.

"There is one other potential factor," he said.

Optimus looked over at him enquiringly. Skyfire had been dreading the moment when he would have to breach the divide between his personal history and his duty as an Autobot - but with Silverbolt in danger, he had no choice.

"Starscream has recently developed a strong personal grudge against Silverbolt," Skyfire said, choosing his words carefully. "He has already gone out of his way to attack Silverbolt once, and I believe possibly more than once. If it's him who is behind this, not Megatron..."

"Starscream could not have pulled that many troops away from their deployments without Megatron's knowledge," Prowl said. "And we have good intel that he is still in Kaon--"

"Frag that." Jazz was on his feet again, pacing. "We had good intel he was in Kaon two days ago. We also had good intel the Combaticons were workin' in Kalis an' the Triplechangers were causin' Ultra Magnus trouble over Iacon. Everythin' else we thought we knew about their movements is turnin' out to be wrong. An' since when did Starscream wait for Megatron's say-so before he does what he wants? If Megatron's busy somewhere else, he might not even know."

"And in that case we cannot count on Silverbolt's release," said Optimus grimly. "We will proceed as discussed - Jazz, get your team ready. But I'm authorising you to move in without hesitation if you believe Silverbolt is in danger."

*

Silverbolt was alone again when he came back to consciousness. Or at least, he seemed to be. On at least one occasion, Soundwave had done... something... so that Silverbolt hadn't known he was there to start with. Silverbolt strained to detect any hint that Soundwave was manipulating his sensors, but as far as he could tell, there truly was no-one in the cell with him.

He guarded his thoughts nonetheless. Soundwave had been probing him ceaselessly for information about the Autobots' current plans. Silverbolt took a certain satisfaction in Soundwave's poorly hidden frustration that he had not been able to get any of his spies into Autobot facilities for some time. Blaster and his cassettes had made sure of that. But in between his attempts at information gathering from Silverbolt, he had pursued a secondary goal: he intended to find out how the Autobots had circumvented the jamming device that had been used in the battle when the Decepticons took back the space bridge. He had surmised - correctly - that Slingshot's gestalt link had given warning. Now he was trying to tap into Silverbolt's link directly, using neural interface connectors and his own innate psychic abilities. It was horrifyingly like having something crawling inside his processor - no, worse, inside his spark - but Silverbolt had clamped the link shut as hard as he could, and so far he thought that Soundwave had been unable to touch the rest of his gestalt through it.

As for Starscream, he claimed - loudly and with complete insincerity - to be motivated by similar scientific curiosity as he opened Silverbolt's casing piece by piece to examine his systems. He took particular interest in the electrical battery which Silverbolt had used to great effect on him in various battles. He wondered aloud what would happen if he inverted it to run current through Silverbolt's spark chamber. Silverbolt said nothing, knowing that his silence was the only weapon he had.

He was increasingly convinced that Megatron knew nothing of his capture. It had been almost two days - assuming his chronometer was still accurate, which it might not be, and for that matter, what if Soundwave was messing with his processor and making him think it had been longer - or less time - or--- Silverbolt shut down the thought. It had been almost two days since his capture, and Starscream and Soundwave had been working on him with very few breaks. It was unlike Soundwave to defy Megatron, let alone to ally with Starscream, but Silverbolt guessed that he had his own score to settle. Jazz's intel had revealed that Soundwave had been out of action for months after his jamming device backfired on him.

Silverbolt was secured to the berth now. Starscream had seemed to want him to try something the first few times, leaving him free after they left, but then the Seeker had hit on a new way of tormenting him - he'd stopped halfway through an extensive procedure on Silverbolt's arm, idly noted that he needed to refuel, and left Silverbolt strapped down with half his arm circuitry hanging out. That had been one of the worst moments so far. If Starscream had wanted to terrify Silverbolt with the extent of his own helplessness - and knowing Starscream, he had probably wanted exactly that - he had succeeded. Since then he had not bothered to untie Silverbolt between sessions.

Right now Silverbolt's casing was mostly closed. He didn't know exactly what Starscream had been doing. His diagnostics were coming back confused, and he couldn't trust them. He didn't think Starscream had taken anything out that he needed, but he had gone into involuntary stasis several times and couldn't be sure. That was another level of terror - that his systems might have been fundamentally altered and he couldn't tell...

There was a sound from the corridor outside - the further door swooshing open. Silverbolt offlined his optics despairingly. He wasn't sure how much more of this he could take.

The footsteps that came down the corridor were different from either Soundwave's heavy, deliberate tread or Starscream's quick stride. They paused outside the heavy door. After a few seconds, the lock began to grind slowly through its cycles. It sounded like it was being forced. Silverbolt switched his optics back on and turned his head towards the door, hardly daring to hope...

The door finally swung open. For a moment there seemed to be no-one there. Then a quick burst of laser fire disabled the camera in Silverbolt's cell, and Mirage appeared out of nowhere to step through the doorway.

"Found him," he said curtly into his handheld stealth comm. He quickly began work on the restraints holding Silverbolt down. "Can you walk?"

"I don't know." Awash with relief, Silverbolt bullied his diagnostics into giving him something approximating an answer. "I don't think so."

"We'll need to carry him," Mirage said into the comm. For all his brusque manner, he was gentle as he lifted Silverbolt into a sitting position, and his field was sharp with an anger that Silverbolt found comforting. "We don't have much time," he added. "Jazz will meet us at the end of the corridor. Do you need painkillers?"

"No. I'm sore but they haven't been hurting me - at least, not on purpose."

"Let's try and move you, then."

Silverbolt's legs weren't working right and his servos in general obeyed him only sluggishly. He thought some of the relays had been severed, and others rerouted. Starscream had been experimenting on him as casually as Skyfire might rewire a piece of lab equipment. Now that the prospect of escape was close, Silverbolt found he had the capacity to be quite astonishingly angry about that.

Mirage was able to half-carry him out into the corridor, but it was clear he would not be able to easily navigate the Nemesis that way. Fortunately Jazz was waiting for them, accompanied by Bumblebee. Bumblebee rushed forward at once, while Jazz checked the corridor outside before moving over to help.

"You okay?" he asked, expertly looping an arm behind Silverbolt's wings to support him. "I mean, 'smuch as you can be."

"I'm okay. As much as I can be."

"Mirage, go on ahead an' keep a lookout. We're gonna have to try an' get up to the launch tower before they figure out what's goin' on an' bring it back down."

"How did you get in?" Silverbolt asked as they moved off at a slow, but steady pace.

"Waited 'til they had a patrol comin' back, then your team took 'em on. Seaspray got us out to wait for the tower to go up an' we headed down. Took longer than we hoped because you weren't in the usual cells."

Jazz waved silent Silverbolt's next question as they approached an intersection. From somewhere up ahead, Mirage gave a low whistle to signal the all clear.

"Are Air Raid and Fireflight--"

"Should bel in medbay but they insisted on flying with the others," Bumblebee said, with more than a hint of approval.

Silverbolt smiled weakly. He had more questions, but he could wait for the answers.

It took a painfully long time to reach the upper levels of the Decepticon base. Silverbolt was constantly tensed for null ray fire or that queasy touch that would mean Soundwave was trying to dampen their awareness... but neither came. Twice they had to hide as Decepticons rushed by (it was tempting to trip Motormaster, but he wasn't foolish enough to try) but no alarm had been sounded that they could tell. Silverbolt was afraid to believe they would make it as Jazz helped him into the elevator that would take them to the top of the launch tower.

It was almost too easy. All at once, doubt flooded Silverbolt. Was Soundwave interfering with his thoughts again? Was he really about to escape, or was he still tied to the berth? He went back over everything he'd said since Mirage had opened the door. He hadn't let anything slip, had he? No - just straightforward conversation. It felt real enough. He was in field contact with Bumblebee and Jazz - but both had their fields pulled in tightly, part of their standard stealth operating procedure. Silverbolt was almost sure Soundwave couldn't fake full field contact, but could he manage an approximation of this muffled brushing of energy?

The elevator lumbered upwards. The change of pressure as they ascended towards the ocean surface upset Silverbolt's gyros and made him dizzy. He offlined his optics. If he concentrated, could he feel the berth beneath him, the restraints tying him down? He almost could. Was there a way he could wake up? A way to escape this cruel pretence of rescue?

"Silverbolt? You still with us?"

Jazz's voice snapped him back to alertness. The elevator was slowing. It couldn't be an illusion - Soundwave's earlier effort had hinged on subtle manipulation of Silverbolt's awareness and his exhausted state. This was too complicated, too extensive. He began to hope again.

Scrapper and Scavenger were at the tower controls, keeping watch on the exit and the battle taking place in the sky outside. They didn't think to look and see who was coming out of the elevator, so Mirage and Jazz took them down easily. Mirage paused to look at the control panel as the others hurried past.

"Oh no. Jazz, the aerial fighters have been recalled."

Jazz swore and craned his head up as they reached the wide exit. Silverbolt could see the far off dots that were Decepticon flyers and his own team, interspersed with flashes of laser fire. Were some of those dots getting closer?

:Seaspray!: Jazz barked over the comms. :You ready? We need t' go now!:

:I'm here, but the sea's rough,: came Seaspray's reply.:You need to time it perfectly or you'll end up in the water.:

Silverbolt shuddered, thinking of the long elevator journey upwards and imagining it in reverse, with the cold, dark seawater rushing into every intake. How was he going to get onto Seaspray's deck with his legs refusing to obey him? But he had no choice - those dots were definitely closer now. In fact, one of them had rushed ahead of the others, moving so fast it must be tearing the sky apart, arrowing in on their position...

His spark jumped as he realised he could make out the profile of the approaching flyer - much bigger than any of the Seekers, far too bright to be Astrotrain.

:I've got a better idea,: said Skyfire. Silverbolt hadn't even realised that Jazz's transmission had been on the open band. :Move back from the edge. I'll need to partially transform to turn around.:

:I like the way you think, Skyfire,: replied Jazz with a grin that Silverbolt could see even if the others couldn't. :Okay Seascape, head out of here, we don't wanna leave you behind t' face the music.:

Skyfire was close enough now for Silverbolt to see him clearly - his white paint blazing in the watery sunlight and his Autobot blazons clear and proud on his wings. Jazz and Bumblebee pressed themselves against the far wall, keeping Silverbolt with them. The elevator chimed urgently and began to descend into the tower again.

"Company's on the way," Bumblebee said.

Mirage took out his gun without a word, positioned himself just beside the elevator doors, and faded from view. But the long distance down worked to their advantage now. As the elevator reached the Decepticon base, Skyfire was landing on the launch pad. With a deft flick of his transformation mechanism, he briefly sprouted legs for long enough to spin himself around in the enclosed space, then settled back into his alt mode, doors sliding open.

The elevator was on its way up again.

"C'mon," Jazz shouted in Mirage's general direction as he and Bumblebee hauled Silverbolt over to Skyfire's ramp. As soon as they were inside, Jazz pushed Silverbolt towards one of the chairs and turned back to cover the elevator doors. Bumblebee took a second to make sure Silverbolt had something to hang onto, then rushed to join him. "Skyfire, get us out o' here."

"With pleasure."

Mirage flickered into visibility again, diving for the ramp. Jazz threw out a hand and hauled him aboard even as Skyfire shot forward. Silverbolt saw the launch tower fall away below them before Skyfire closed his doors. The force of their acceleration threw him against the wall of Skyfire's cockpit. He reached out frantically and automatically for field contact, and when Skyfire's field entwined firmly with his, any doubts about the reality of the escape vanished. He let himself down to sit on the floor and grabbed on to handholds that thrummed faintly with the working of Skyfire's systems. He offlined his optics and leaned his head back against Skyfire's plating, the horror of the last few days temporarily receding.

:Are you hurt?: whispered Skyfire over private comm, even as he climbed skyward with thrusters on full burn. :Did they-- are you okay?:

:I'm okay.: Silverbolt realised he no longer needed to suppress his gestalt link. He let it open fully, and felt the immediate press of concern, love and protectiveness from his brothers flying to meet them. :I'm okay now.:

*

Skyfire almost wished he hadn’t been included in the debrief. It was even worse than he’d feared to listen to Silverbolt recount what had been done to him. He was dispassionate and clinical, but Skyfire, sitting next to him, could sense the iron control he was exerting over his emotions as he spoke. Careful not to distract him, Skyfire reached under the table and took his hand. The way Silverbolt’s fingers clamped onto his said even more than his field.

"It troubles me that Soundwave was so focused on our resource movements," Optimus said when Silverbolt had finished, and everyone had sat in silence for a few moments. "It implies the Decepticons may have more information than we had hoped regarding Autobot City."

"It certainly makes sense to take Silverbolt, in that case," Prowl said. "Megatron knows he would have to be involved in the logistics of any large-scale project and he might think Silverbolt would be an easier target for interrogation - though he would be wrong on that score, naturally."

"I’m still not convinced that Megatron even knew I was there," Silverbolt replied. He had not let go of Skyfire’s hand, but he appeared cool and professional to everyone else at the table. "And Soundwave’s interrogation seemed almost perfunctory. I had the sense that both he and Starscream were more interested in... the other things, than getting information out of me."

"If it was information about gestalt function they were after, why not look to their own?" asked Ratchet.

"Perhaps Megatron draws the line at experimentation on his own troops," Skyfire suggested, shifting the hand that held Silverbolt’s so that he could run a thumb soothingly over the backs of Silverbolt’s fingers.

"I truly don’t think they cared much for what they would find out." Silverbolt glanced down at his datapad, a cover for the surge of dread in his field as he contemplated what he was about to say. "It felt like revenge. On both their parts, but Starscream... has a particular grudge against me."

"So Skyfire told us." Optimus gave Silverbolt a compassionate look that Skyfire thought contained a deeper understanding than he would say aloud. "But the coincidence of Starscream choosing to express such a grudge just as we are moving into the next phase on Autobot City is worrisome, if it is a coincidence. Red Alert is double- and triple-checking the reports and logs from the shipment to be sure the attack on you wasn’t a counter-decoy while they slipped spies into the city."

Skyfire knew that there was a significant possibility it had been a coincidence - that Starscream’s infamous obsessive streak had simply overridden all other concerns, all other orders he had from Megatron, that he had been watching and waiting for Silverbolt to leave base with a small enough force to be easily overwhelmed, and taken the chance presented to him. He felt a wave of guilt and frustration at the thought that Optimus might change the Autobots’ plans because of this, this feud that Starscream had engaged in. He should have realised that Starscream wouldn’t let go so easily. He’d been fooling himself, in the years before he met Silverbolt, when he’d hidden in his lab and kept out of the way of conflict, that Starscream would forget about him as easily as he longed to forget about Starscream. He should have realised what the consequences might be if he pursued any sort of close relationship with Silverbolt - but there had never been a moment when he’d made any sort of choice in that regard - it had just happened, gradually and naturally and far more easily than he’d ever deserved...

Silverbolt’s hand tightened on his again, but this time it was concern for him that slipped through their mingled fields. Skyfire smoothed over his churning emotions and hid his thoughts. He was guiltily aware that he was doing it more and more often when in field contact with Silverbolt.

"We dare not take the chance," Optimus continued after a moment. "We have to assume that at least some of our plans are known to the Decepticons, and react accordingly. I believe we must accelerate work on the city's guardian, and seek out a spark for it as soon as possible."

Skyfire wanted to speak out in disagreement, to tell Optimus not to give Starscream so much credit - an echo of Silverbolt's admonition to him - but could he absolutely, definitely guarantee that the Decepticons had no knowledge of Autobot City? No. Optimus was right - they had to assume the worst if they were to preserve everything they had worked so hard for. He tried not to let the surge of guilt reach Silverbolt.

"I will consult with Wheeljack and Hoist," Prowl was saying. "As soon as they can give me an estimation of time to completion, we will reassign everyone's duties."

"Very well." Optimus rose from his seat, signalling the end of the meeting. "In that case, I suggest we adjourn. Silverbolt - I want you off duty for the next three days, at least. Don't even do paperwork - make sure you are completely recovered."

"Yes, sir," Silverbolt replied. Skyfire caught a flicker of uncharacteristic rebellion in his field. He doubted Silverbolt would be able to stay completely away from his reports

"You don't need to come back to med bay," Ratchet added as they all got to their feet, "but no flying until I say so. I want to check all your relays again before I clear you to leave the base."

Silverbolt nodded, and Skyfire sensed no desire to disobey that order at all. His spark turned in its chamber again as he thought of the mess Starscream had made of Silverbolt's systems. He was intending to accompany Silverbolt as much as possible for the next few weeks. He remembered all too vividly how they had first met; he would not take even the smallest chance of Silverbolt falling out of the sky a second time thanks to Starscream's interference.

"Let's go," Silverbolt said quietly as the officers left. "I want to see my brothers."

*

Silverbolt's brothers were understandably reluctant to let him out of their sight - or, in fact, physically let go of him. Skyfire had expected that, and didn't mind it. What he hadn't expected was how readily and completely they included him in the perpetually shifting mass of hugs, touches, and other reassurances they exchanged. He hadn't expected to be swept along to their new shared quarters, and drawn into a comfortable heap on one of the adaptable couches Grapple had designed for them, surreptitiously nudged closer to Silverbolt as the others slowly relaxed into the kind of arguments and bickering that were, he now knew, entirely affectionate. Silverbolt curled up against his side, listened more than he talked, and radiated a relief that went a long way towards settling Skyfire's own troubled spark.

He listened to Air Raid and Slingshot coming up with increasingly creative revenges to enact on Starscream. The uncomplicated intensity of their anger loosened something that had been strangling his spark. There had been a part of him trying to defend Starscream all this time on Earth - the same part that had made excuses for him at the Academy when his actions were inexcusable. But as time passed, Skyfire found himself less and less able to muster even the pretence of understanding - and he had felt paradoxically guilty for it. Other Autobots railing against the Decepticon Air Commander had only made him feel worse, as though he ought to be contradicting them, even when contradiction was impossible.

But with two loyalties brought into such sharp conflict - his old, battered, nearly-dead-but-not-quite connection to Starscream, and the startlingly intense feelings he had for Silverbolt - there could be no contest. And he could bear to listen to the Aerialbots discussing ways to shoot Starscream down and lock him up forever, because in the depths of his spark, he had been thinking the same thing for so long and trying to pretend he didn’t... and because their anger was as personal and as painful as his own. They all loved Silverbolt, after all.

The tail end of that thought shook him, but before he could follow it, Fireflight was tugging his arm for attention.

"Bluestreak said that Jazz said that Teletraan-2 has a whole bunch of movies from Cybertron, way more than Teletraan-1, and Silverbolt said you’d show us the best ones—"

"I said that he might have more idea than I do about which ones to watch," Silverbolt interjected. "Although judging by your usual viewing, anything with explosions and things moving very fast would do."

"We watched that one with the boat and the kissing."

"And you all cheered when it sank. I heard you."

"That was the good bit," said Air Raid. "Everyone stopped moping around and started doing stuff. It was awesome."

Skyfire had no idea which human movie they were talking about, but he could think of a few Cybertronian ones that would probably fit into the Aerialbots’ idea of entertainment. There were even one or two that he liked, and thought Silverbolt would as well. It wasn’t explosions and things going fast, he suspected, that appealed to the young jets so much as adventure. And in their prime, Cybertron’s studios had done adventure like no-one else. They had a galaxy to explore on camera and, until the beginning of the energon crisis, no reason not to go as far as they could.

Air Raid tossed him a remote - another new addition to the general tech level in Autobot City - and Skyfire began paging through the catalogue of media available. Fireflight - or Bluestreak - or Jazz - had been right about the scope compared to Teletraan-1. There were titles there that gave him a shock of recognition and delight, like coming across an old friend unexpectedly. He navigated through the genres and sub-genres until he found the series he was looking for. He’d always liked it for the glorious vistas of alien worlds and the solid scientific background to the storylines; he suspected that the others would appreciate the fact that one of the characters appeared to be a long lost prototype of one or both of the Twins, and tended not to bother with minor details like looking before he leapt.

"Well, things are certainly going fast and exploding," Silverbolt murmured after the introduction sequence.

Skyfire laughed and, trusting that the others were absorbed in the screen, dropped a kiss on top of his helm.

"It gets a little more complex, I promise. And I think you’ll like the main character."

The movie was a hit with everyone. To Skyfire it looked dated - he winced once or twice at the places where current scientific knowledge had outpaced that of the time - but its familiarity was like a warm oil bath. The characters were as much fun as he remembered, and the plot as hectic and improbable. Silverbolt laughed at the same places Skyfire did, while his brothers shouted at the screen every time someone missed the obvious, and took a genuine and obvious pleasure in seeing their own kind playing the parts for once instead of humans. Skyfire was almost surprised by the success of his choice. He'd thought Slingshot might refuse to enjoy it on principle, or that Skydive might pick the plot holes to pieces - but whatever last vestiges of wariness had lain between him and Silverbolt's brothers seemed to have ebbed away. They acted as though he were one of them.

It was... not entirely a comfortable sensation. He was so used to solitude and independence... he was almost afraid of the way they seemed to have accepted him now. He wasn't sure if he could live up to whatever it was they expected from him... like the way Fireflight was so sure he could choose the right movie for them. Or the way they'd all turned to him while Silverbolt was in Decepticon hands. Or the way Silverbolt trusted him to always be there, to catch him if he fell...

Silverbolt must have felt something in his field. He shifted, and suddenly he was in Skyfire's lap. From that higher vantage point he could lean his head against Skyfire's, which he did. His optics were still on the screen, but Skyfire sensed the gentle - and oh so careful not to pry - question through their contact. He wrapped his arms around Silverbolt and focused on the movie, chasing the thoughts away. Slingshot and Air Raid were taking bets on how long it would be before the alien monster the characters had all forgotten about came bursting in through the airlock.

The movie was a hit. Let that be all that mattered for now.

*

Skyfire thought he would be expected to go back to his quarters after the movie - leave Silverbolt with his brothers. He was simultaneously glad of the chance to be alone, and dreading having to let go of Silverbolt. But it turned out Silverbolt had other ideas.

"Stay," he murmured as his brothers chaotically untangled themselves from their comfortable sprawl, arguing cheerfully about which bit had been best. "I think I might be able to recharge now."

Skyfire couldn't have said no. He didn't even really want to. He helped Silverbolt up and got to his feet.

All at once all four of the others were looking at them. As quickly as it happened, it passed, the Aerialbots exchanging glances and (in Air Raid's case) smirks, as they began to disperse to their own rooms. Skyfire had the alarming impression he had just been granted permission to stay. He supposed that was better than the alternative.

"You going to bed?" Air Raid asked. Something about his tone implied he had chosen the phrasing specifically to suggest other possibilities than recharge.

"Yes," replied Silverbolt, either missing or deliberately ignoring the subtext.

"See you later!" chirped Fireflight.

Skyfire let himself be towed over to Silverbolt's room. Whatever Air Raid thought, he was fairly sure Silverbolt wanted nothing more than to recharge right now.

It turned out Silverbolt had other ideas about that, as well. As soon as the door closed behind them, Skyfire found himself shoved firmly down onto the berth and thoroughly, breathlessly kissed. Silverbolt was almost frantic, and it was all Skyfire could do to hold onto him and kiss back as his systems raced under the onslaught of longing that sluiced through him. This was the first time they'd been alone since Silverbolt had collapsed in Skyfire's hold. Skyfire hadn't even realised just how much he'd needed to properly touch and hold Silverbolt until he found himself almost denting Silverbolt's plating with the force of his grip. Silverbolt didn't seem to mind, from the way he moaned into the kiss. Skyfire pulled back just enough to see his optics dimmed with pleasure. A shudder of need went through him. He pressed a kiss to Silverbolt's cheek.

"Will you be okay? Are your repairs--"

"I'll tell you if anything feels wrong." Silverbolt pushed himself upright, sitting astride Skyfire's waist. He smiled with a faintly wicked overtone of satisfaction when Skyfire's intakes caught at the sight of him. "Ratchet gave me the all clear, though."

"Still, I don't want you to push yourself or--"

Silverbolt pressed a thumb to his lips, forcing him to fall silent.

"Trust me to judge that for myself."

The thumb was replaced by Silverbolt's mouth as he dived forward to initiate another kiss. Skyfire grabbed the back of his helm and angled him in closer. The weight of Silverbolt's body settling over his set every sensor relay tingling and made his spark heat with stunning speed.

He had been so careful, when they'd started this, not to compare Silverbolt to Starscream - but it had turned out to be like comparing nuts and bolts. Silverbolt was so different - inexperienced but quick to learn - a little shy but completely unafraid - willing to take a more dominant role or to let Skyfire take the lead by turns - and overall, taking such obvious joy in the act of interfacing with Skyfire. Skyfire had once thought that no-one would ever be able to make him feel the way Starscream had. He was grateful and amazed beyond words to discover that it wasn't true - and that below Silverbolt's calm and controlled exterior there lay a depth of passion that had the power to bowl him over.

He was also very, very glad that the specs for Autobot City's new residential sector included soundproofing. Silverbolt was surprisingly loud in the middle of interface, and Skyfire found it incredibly erotic. The sound of his voice as he cried out in ecstasy was enough to bring Skyfire to the brink of overload.

"Skyfire..." Silverbolt was panting and shaking, clinging on with fingers that slipped on Skyfire's plating. "Will you... could you open your spark casing?"

A cold splash of dread went through him. "Silverbolt, I just, I can't--"

"No, I don't mean to spark share." Silverbolt's optics were close to his; he could read the warmth and desire - and honesty - in them as clearly as in Silverbolt's field. "I just want to see - and touch it, if you'll let me? I've heard... apparently it's quite sensitive... in a good way."

"I don't know. I've never..."

It was that never that made up his mind for him - the realisation that this was something he could share with Silverbolt that would be completely new for both of them. And he trusted Silverbolt... he knew he could trust him completely, that this wasn't some sort of trick to try and make him share sparks, that Silverbolt would never push or cajole or manipulate to get what he wanted...

He hadn't opened his spark casing for so long, it was stiff and uncomfortable to do so. The action made him feel spectacularly vulnerable. He realised he was shaking, but he could see the light of his own spark reflecting on Silverbolt's face, and the expression there was worth the fear. Silverbolt very gently brushed his fingertips over the crystal casing, and Skyfire's vision went white. It was his turn to cry out, overwhelmed not only by sensations but by a fierce rush of emotion that made him hold tightly to Silverbolt. Silverbolt's intakes caught and the almost greedy expression on his face made Skyfire shudder. He stroked Skyfire's spark casing again, and this time he didn't wait to repeat the touch, so that Skyfire spiralled helplessly into a cascade of ecstasy, overload rushing in on him faster and harder than he would have believed possible. He took Silverbolt with him, hand still cupped over Skyfire's spark, head thrown back in sheer abandon as he lost control of his systems.

"Was that... okay?" Silverbolt mumbled some time later, face pressed into Skyfire's shoulder and body draped languidly over his.

"Primus, yes," Skyfire blurted out. He was immediately abashed by his fervent honesty - but Silverbolt laughed, happy and smug, and Skyfire decided he didn't regret it. "Where exactly did you 'hear' about that?"

"Teletraan-2 really does have a lot more information than Teletraan-1."

Skyfire turned his head to try and stare incredulously at Silverbolt, but Silverbolt was still snickering into his plating, so the effect was rather lost.

"Have you been... do I even want to know?" He paused to consider further. "And is it Air Raid's fault?"

"No!" Silverbolt extracted himself to lean over Skyfire, face lit with amusement. "I have absolutely not had any conversations with Air Raid about the details of our relationship, even though he keeps trying to. I just did some research."

"Research. I see." Skyfire could think of nothing else to do but kiss him, feeling laughter against his lips. "I love you."

It slipped out, helpless in the face of Silverbolt's amusement and the aftershocks of overload. But Skyfire didn't even have time to second-guess himself, because Silverbolt kissed him, and murmured back, as if it were the most natural thing in the world and nothing to fuss over, "I love you too."

Maybe he was right, Skyfire thought, as they settled into each other's arms, recharge beckoning both of them. Maybe it could be that easy, after all.

Maybe. But in the depths of his spark, he knew he didn't really believe it.

- end chapter 14 -

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