Thursday, October 25th, 2012 08:56 am
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 17 (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...

A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 17

-- initiate countdown

"I don't… understand."

It was an understatement. Silverbolt felt like he'd just tripped and fallen into cold water. The medbay was too quiet, his brothers elsewhere and Ratchet absent. Skyfire wouldn't look at him.

"It will only be for as long as it takes to establish the moonbases," Skyfire said, still in the neutral tone so at odds with his words. He stole a glance at Silverbolt. "But they really need my expertise on the scientific side of things, and it makes sense to combine that with my capability for transport--"

"But-- when--" Silverbolt shook his head as if he could clear his processor by sheer strength of will. "Where did this come from? All of a sudden you're talking about - leaving? For a whole year?"

"I've been considering it for a while," Skyfire said quietly. "I thought it might be necessary. So when it came up with Optimus…"

"Optimus approached you?"

Skyfire hesitated. "No… I spoke to him."

Silverbolt stared at him until he looked away.

"You volunteered? Why would--" Silverbolt stopped and tried to pull himself together. "What's going on, Skyfire?"

"What do you mean? I… know it's not ideal, but this is--"

Not good enough. He knew Skyfire too well now to accept the deflection.

"I mean," he said, overriding Skyfire's reply without remorse, "why are you doing this? What's wrong? What's happened?"

The look on Skyfire's face, for just a second before he could hide it, cut Silverbolt to the spark.

"What's happened?" Skyfire repeated quietly. "This."

He gestured to the monitoring equipment still plugged into Silverbolt's systems. Most of it had been giving nothing but positive readings for days now, but Ratchet was insistent that he wasn't going to unhook Silverbolt until all his processes were fully online. Silverbolt felt a lot better than he had - but he was still shaken from the horrible experience.

They all were. His brothers had barely left his side, rotating in shifts when Ratchet finally decided they didn't all need to be there. Skyfire had come and gone with clockwork regularity, holding his hand while he recharged or reading to him when he was awake, giving no sign that anything was wrong…

… no, that wasn't quite true. He'd been too withdrawn. His field had been both too calm, and hinted at immense tides of emotion underneath. Silverbolt had been increasingly restless, the last few days. He'd told himself it was because he wanted to get out of the medbay. He'd been a little more unhappy every time Skyfire had said goodbye. Now he knew why.

"I don't see the connection." Silverbolt tried to keep the sharpness out of his voice, but shock was turning to anger and he wasn't sure he was hiding it. "Leaving won't change anything that's happened."

"It might change what will happen."

"Meaning what?" Then he understood, all in a rush of exasperation and anger and sadness. "You think Starscream will leave me alone if you leave me? Is that what you're saying?"

"I'm not leaving you, I didn't mean--" Skyfire rested his head in one hand, offlining his optics. "I just think… it might take the heat off if we're in different places for a while."

"I disagree." Silverbolt had the shape of it now. He was almost relieved; Skyfire was being an idiot, and it hurt, but he could put a stop to this. "He'll either keep on coming after me or he'll move on to something else, and neither outcome will change if you're not here. It's not like he's got any sense of accountability or fairness."

"You don't… know him as well as I do. If I go to Cybertron…"

"… you'll be gone for at least a year, you'll be within convenient potshot range, and he'll have won." Silverbolt kept his voice gentle as he reached for Skyfire's hand. "This is ridiculous. The last thing you should do is leave behind everyone who cares about you and exile yourself for Starscream's sake."

"For Starscream's sake?" Skyfire pulled his hand away. "This has nothing to do with-- I will not put you in any more danger!"

"I'm always in danger! It's an occupational hazard!" Anger flared bright again. "And I think it does have plenty to do with Starscream--"

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"I mean that you're almost as obsessed with him as he is with you!"

"That's not true." Skyfire's voice was barely more than a whisper. "You can't think that."

"Can't I?" Silverbolt couldn't stop the words tumbling from his vocaliser no matter how much he wanted to. "You never stop thinking about him - you're convinced he's some-- some force of nature you can't escape! You're letting him control you when he's millions of miles away and on the other side of the war. You have to let go of this, Skyfire - just let go completely, stop trying to second-guess him and yourself--"

"I have a duty to the Autobots to use what knowledge I have in their defence," snapped Skyfire. "And yours. Starscream is dangerous - you're too quick to dismiss him--"

"And you're too quick to defend him! Or haven't you noticed?" retorted Silverbolt. "Here is what I know of Starscream: he's cruel, he's vain, he's arrogant, he's stupid no matter how cunning he manages to be - he makes the same mistakes over and over, he brags that he'll lead the Decepticons but Megatron can put him down with one finger - he's petty and spiteful and the only threat he poses is to people who are stupid enough to trust him--"

Silverbolt realised his mistake the second the words were out of his vocaliser; Skyfire had trusted Starscream once, long ago and far away as it might be. Silverbolt hadn't meant to imply… he knew it had been different then. He could even, dimly, conceive of a Starscream more worthy of friendship than the mech he had become. And he would never taunt Skyfire for misplacing his trust - that hadn't been what he meant at all…

Skyfire surged to his feet and turned towards the door. If Silverbolt hadn't been so attuned to him, he would have missed the shudder that went through his whole frame. Silverbolt was suddenly less angry than he was scared.

"I'm sorry," he said as Skyfire began to walk away. "That wasn't… I shouldn't have said that." Skyfire kept walking. Silverbolt automatically moved to follow him, and was brought up short by the connectors still wired into his systems. "Don't go. Please."

Skyfire stopped by the medbay doors.

"I… need some time," he said without looking round. "I'll see you later."

"Wait-- Skyfire--"

The doors closed behind him and Silverbolt was left staring at the empty space where he had been. He found he was shaking as he eased himself back onto the berth. He wanted his brothers. He wanted Skyfire. He wanted to take back everything he'd just said, and start the whole conversation over, steer Skyfire away from this crazy idea of leaving them all behind without straying into the dangerous, treacherous waters of his past with Starscream…

I need some time. There had been an undertone - a warning: Maybe a lot of time.

Silverbolt lay back on the berth and offined his opics, pressing a hand over his face. Skyfire wouldn't go through with it… would he? It was just a reaction to everything that had happened - to Silverbolt coming so close to death. He'd get over it - he'd change his mind.

Wouldn't he?

Except there was that darkness, that thread of fear, that little nagging voice in the back of Silverbolt's processor, the one that had felt Skyfire drawing back even as they grew closer. And that voice told Silverbolt that this went far deeper than he'd guessed.


-- five

Slingshot fired rapidly, keeping time in his head. Just as he reached the end of the clip, he turned and let loose the last shot right into the bullseye on the target three rows down. The range monitor beeped approvingly where he'd dropped it carelessly at his feet. Slingshot scowled, grabbed another clip, and reloaded his rifle impatiently. He started shooting again, this time alternating between three targets in order. When he'd finished, he kicked the monitor over so he could see the readout. It was a good score. He kicked the monitor hard enough to send it bouncing down the range, swore, and reloaded again.

This time he didn't bother with finesse. He just set his neutron rifle to rapid fire and hammered the target until it started to smoke. It didn't help.

He strode down the range, grabbed the monitor, and dumped it by his starting point. He'd been ranked third in the Ark scoreboards. Since they'd moved to Autobot City he'd moved up to second. He'd finally beaten Perceptor. The only 'bot higher on the boards than him was Bluestreak. Everyone said he was a natural marksman. Slingshot would beat him eventually.

He reloaded. His comms beeped. He ignored the summons, returning to his alternating firing pattern.

His comms went again, accompanied by a faint twinge through the gestalt bond. Slingshot wanted to keep on ignoring it. Instead, he opened the channel.

:It's time to go,: said Silverbolt. He sounded tired. He'd often sounded tired since he'd come out of the medbay, even though he was supposed to be fully recovered. :Meet us on the runway, we need to set out.:

:I'm not gonna fly with him.:

:That's an order,: Silverbolt replied quietly. He cut the connection before Slingshot could argue.

Slingshot kicked the target monitor again, watching with savage satisfaction as it crashed into the far wall. He reloaded his rifle and fired at the unfortunate monitor until it was nothing but a heap of slag, then turned and left the shooting range with furious strides. He didn't bother to subspace his gun.

They were waiting for him on the runway. Slingshot took a moment of savage satisfaction in the wary look Skyfire gave his rifle, and from Silverbolt's sharp glare as he approached.

"In your own time," Skydive said sarcastically. He and Air Raid were scowling at Slingshot like this whole fragging thing was his fault. Fireflight just looked unhappy, as usual. He'd edged up to Skyfire in that slightly annoying way of his, as if he thought just standing there long enough would fix everything. "Not like any of us have places to be."

"You coulda gone without me," snapped Slingshot, pointedly refusing to look at Skyfire as he spoke. "Woulda suited me."

"Oh sure, you just hang out while we--"

"That's enough." Silverbolt at least didn't sound tired when he was telling them off. Slingshot preferred the sharp note of irritation to that spark-deep weariness. "Everybody transform and move out in formation epsilon. We're flying the full North American circuit and we need to be back before dusk."

He transformed before anyone could speak or argue. Skyfire followed suit. Slingshot shoved his rifle into subspace and slid into his alt-mode with one last glower in Skydive's direction.

It was a long flight. Normally they'd be chatting over the shared channel, but Slingshot made a point of tearing strips out of anyone who tried, until they fell into uneasy silence.

Air Raid commed him on a private channel. Slingshot refused to acknowledge, until his brother swung right over and seemed about to crash into him, gestalt bond or no gestalt bond.

:Hey! Watch where you're--:

:Oh good, you're listening.: Slingshot wasn't used to hearing that tone from Air Raid. He couldn't decipher whether it was sarcasm or anger that had put the bite behind the words. :You need to cut it out already.:

:You're the one fouling my airspace--:

:That's not what I mean and you know it.:

:I don't know nothin'.:

:Cut the slag, Slingshot! Are you trying to make things worse?:

:Maybe I am. Maybe he should just frag off already if he's going.:

:Or maybe he'll change his mind if you stop giving him such hard time! Primus, can't you see how much it's hurting Silverbolt?:

:Yeah,: said Slingshot quietly. :I can see how much it's hurting Silverbolt.:

Air Raid was silent for a few moments.

:I do get it,: he said at last. :You know I do. Every time he walks off somewhere and Silverbolt watches him go - yeah, okay, so I kind of want to throw something at his head. Or Silverbolt's head. Anything to get this sorted out. But it's complicated. You can't just make everyone else's lives miserable because you're upset.:

:I'm not 'upset',: spat Slingshot. :I'm fragged off. I'm gonna make him wish he'd never--:

:Never what? Never hung out with us? Never made Silverbolt happy? Never been a good guy and saved our afts and saved Silverbolt's life and helped us with that stupid prank and--:

Air Raid's voice crackled in a way that had nothing to do with static, although he cut out as abruptly as if it had been. Slingshot flew in silence, waiting to see if his brother would re-establish contact - but Air Raid seemed to have had enough of the argument.

Slingshot wished he'd call back.

Yeah, it would have been better if Skyfire had never had anything to do with them, he thought savagely. At least that way it wouldn't hurt so much that he was leaving…

He thrust that thought down deep and squashed it. But the next time Fireflight asked a question on the open channel, he kept quiet and let the conversation happen.


-- four

Skydive paused outside the lab, wondering if he should knock. He shook off the momentary uncertainty and opened the door.

Skyfire and Perceptor were working in silence at opposite ends of the room. With anyone else, Skydive would have thought they'd argued, but he'd been in here enough times to know that they were quite happy sharing the space without talking. He walked past Perceptor, who was too absorbed in some circuitry to look up, and made his way to Skyfire's half of the room.

Skyfire glanced up when he approached. He seemed to relax fractionally when he recognised Skydive. Skydive would have found that flattering if he hadn't had the sinking feeling that Skyfire had been bracing himself to encounter Silverbolt.

"I wondered if you could help me with something?"

"Yes, of course." Skyfire seemed to speak more softly recently, as if he were trying to leave as little impression on the world - on them - as possible. "What is it?"

"I've been looking through Teletraan-2's archives," Skydive said. In fact, he'd spent all of the last shift poring over the data in utter fascination. "There are a lot of old aerial battle plans and flight simulations I've never seen before. But… it's so hard to sort out which ones come from which era - and which body types were in use then. It will say 'should not be attempted by X736F32 vertiforms', and I look that up and it tells me an X736F32 vertiform is a variation on the PT387G superstructure with influence from the first wave of T277s and… I just don't know where to start."

"I can't say I'm an expert on the specific designations, but I can probably give you some general guidelines." Skyfire moved over to a terminal and activated with a couple of taps. "Which ones are you particularly interested in?"

Skydive found the sets he'd spent the most time on, and sure enough Skyfire immediately started telling him the things he needed to know - the difference between space-faring and atmospheric craft, the general subdivisions of both, and the slow shift of design over the centuries. Skydive didn't need expertise on the specific designations - he needed someone to paint the bigger picture for him so he could start to grasp the context of these ancient documents. He'd known Skyfire would be able to help.

Skyfire was… so very good at that sort of thing. Even when Skydive had started to enjoy his company for its own sake, instead of tolerating it for Silverbolt's, he hadn't really realised just how much Skyfire could tell him about a world that he had to admit fascinated him. The Cybertron they had visited in that one hectic glimpse of the past called to him, even as he was spooked by the current reality of the planet. He wanted to know more - not about the war, or even about the culture and everyday life that interested the others - but about how things had worked. The logistics of running the entire planet - the co-ordination of airspace over the various cities - the navigation of Cybertron itself through space - the imbalance of energy that had eventually led to the war - the change in mindset from looking outwards to focusing ever inwards…

There was so much Skydive wanted to know, and he had only just begun to realise that Skyfire could answer his questions as thoroughly as Fireflight's.

And… now Skyfire was leaving.

He forced his attention back to what Skyfire was saying about the high-altitude patrol wings. He should be making the most of Skyfire's knowledge while he had time, after all.


-- three

Air Raid wasn't usually the one who had to fix things, but he thought he'd been getting good at it recently. The problem was, sometimes, you had to properly understand what things were before you could fix them.

And sometimes things eluded definition.

"Do you need any help with that?" he asked, watching Skyfire carefully manoeuvring a bulky piece of equipment into a shipping crate.

"No, it's fine." Skyfire shifted his grip, then seemed to change his mind. "Actually - could you hold the crate steady?"

The crate looked perfectly steady to Air Raid, but if Skyfire was going to give him something to do just for the sake of doing it, well, he wasn't going to argue. He obligingly took hold of the rock-solid crate as Skyfire lowered the apparatus into its depths.

"It seems like a shame that you're going just as they finish the science wing," Air Raid said without thinking. He could have kicked himself. Skyfire didn't react, but Air Raid knew that was just Skyfire pulling that veil of calm over everything they way he did. "Will you get to use any of this stuff at the moonbase?"

"Not to start with, but once we're established…"

Skyfire turned to retrieve another piece of equipment, leaving unsaid that establishing the base was likely to the better part of a year. And it would be longer than that before anyone from the expedition could risk a return. A year before Skyfire could unpack his equipment. Longer than that before they'd see him again. Air Raid couldn't help himself.

"You could still change your mind," he said. "You could stay here."

He didn't add please, but it was a close thing. Skyfire wouldn't look at him.

"It would be irresponsible to pull out now. Optimus would have to completely rework the roster and the supplies."

The same non-answer as ever. To start with it had been other things, like 'the moonbases are too important to put personal concerns first' and 'it's not long on the Cybertronian scale of things' and 'I have to pull my weight'. Air Raid thought that Skyfire was almost relieved to be able to fall back now onto 'it's too close to departure'.

It was too close. Much, much too close. A week and a half. Air Raid didn't understand how the time had gone so quickly. Or how he'd failed, over and over again, to change Skyfire's mind. He thought he'd found a counter-argument to every one of Skyfire's reasons… but Skyfire always had another ready. And Air Raid didn't think that any of them were the real ones.

He didn't know if even Silverbolt knew what those were. Silverbolt refused to talk about Skyfire most of the time - he tried to carry on as if everything was fine - but Air Raid had pinned him down and pestered him until he snapped.

"If I push him too hard, he'll just back away faster," Silverbolt had said. "I can't just - refuse to let him go, okay? That's… it would just make things much worse."

"How?" Air Raid had asked. "How could they be worse?"

Silverbolt had stared out of the window, his optics very pale.

"He might never come back."

Well, if Silverbolt couldn't, Air Raid would. He'd keep on telling Skyfire he could change his mind, right up until the last moment if he had to.

Because he had a feeling that Skyfire really didn't believe he could.


-- two

:Are you following me?:

:Um,: said Fireflight, :sort of? I didn't mean to, I was just flying around but then I saw you over this way and I wanted to see where you were going and--:

Up ahead, Skyfire banked gently, treading air to let Fireflight catch up. The setting sun turned his wings golden.

:Nowhere in particular. I wanted to stretch my wings before tomorrow,: he said. :It's a long flight.:

Fireflight put on a burst of speed and came under Skyfire's wing. Skyfire returned to his former flight path, Fireflight shadowing him a little closer than was strictly polite. Skyfire didn't say anything about it.

:What happens if you get attacked on the way?: Fireflight had seen the huge amount of supplies that Skyfire and Omega Supreme would be carrying. Omega would come back as soon as he'd unloaded his cargo. Skyfire… wouldn't. :It could be really bad if--:

:We've thought of that,: Skyfire reassured him. :Ultra Magnus and the last of the Iacon guard are going to stage a diversion. Omega will pick them up and bring them to Earth afterwards. It should look to the Decepticons as if it were a final evacuation run, nothing more.:

:But what if--:

:Everything's going to be fine, Fireflight.:

No it wasn't. Nothing was going to be fine. Maybe not ever again.

:I don't want you to go,: Fireflight whispered, wishing he could fly even closer to Skyfire, or better still, that they were in root mode so he could fling his arms around the larger 'bot and try to make him understand. :Why are you leaving us?:

:Fireflight…: Skyfire sounded tired and sad. :It's… something I have to do.:


:The moonbase project needs my combination of skills--:

:Why?: repeated Fireflight with quiet implacability.

Skyfire sighed.

:I need… I just need some time. And space. I… need to think, and I can't-- there's too much going on here, I need to get away. Just for a while.:

:Away from us?:

Skyfire was silent for long enough that Fireflight started to think he wasn't going to answer.

:Yes,: Skyfire said at last, sending a chill right to Fireflight's wing tips. :It's not… it's not that I don't want to be with you - all of you - I just - I need time. I don't know if I can… even begin to explain.:

Fireflight didn't think he could even begin to understand, but he knew one thing: however hard he tried to hide it, Skyfire was hurting. He'd been hurting since - Fireflight didn't know, exactly. Since Silverbolt almost died. Since Shockwave came so close to destroying his mind. Pit, maybe since long before they'd known him. Fireflight thought they'd helped a bit. He thought Silverbolt had helped more. But it wasn't enough, and now Skyfire was leaving.

:When you come back,: Fireflight said, :we'll be waiting. We'll miss you a lot.:

Skyfire seemed to lose height for a moment, vibration passing through his larger frame as if he'd hit a pocket of turbulence.

:You're amazing,: he said. :All of you. I don't think I really deserve you.:

He tried to put a lighter inflection on the last part, to make it sound like a joke. But Fireflight thought that he had maybe, accidentally, finally told the truth.


-- one

Silverbolt watched dawn approach from the window of his quarters. He couldn't see the sun coming up, from behind the city walls, but he knew Earth's sky well enough to recognise the lightening as black began to give way to grey, and then the soft rosy colours of the unseen sunrise.

He hadn't been able to recharge, although he'd tried his best. He'd… often been finding it difficult recently. He'd taken to sitting up late into downtime with reports, or delving into the depths of Teletraan-2 to broaden his knowledge of Autobot military history.

It wasn't that Skyfire had completely stopped staying over. They had interfaced several times since Silverbolt had left the medbay. But it had been… it hadn't been the same. Skyfire had put up so many walls that Silverbolt felt as though he were hammering fruitlessly on them even in idle conversation. He'd tried everything he could think of to get Skyfire to bring those walls down.

Everything except outright begging, or laying down an ultimatum - if you leave, it's over. He sometimes thought, lying awake alone in his berth, that he should have taken that tack from the start - that maybe Skyfire needed someone else to make the decision for him. But then he'd remember glimpses he'd had of Skyfire's deepest fears, and he knew that it would be the worst possible thing he could do. He couldn't make Skyfire do anything. He shouldn't even try. It would be… he was beginning to suspect… all too familiar in Skyfire's mind.

He'd thought he'd hated Starscream before. It was nothing compared to the way he felt now. The Decepticon Air Commander had not shown his face on Earth since Silverbolt had been captured, and Silverbolt actually wanted him to. He had caught himself imagining in clinical, shocking detail exactly what he would do to Starscream given just a few minutes alone with his lightning…

He offlined his optics and rested his head against the window. It wouldn't help. Even if Starscream died in battle tomorrow, it wouldn't change anything. The scars he'd left on Skyfire were the problem - and even if they healed quicker without Starscream picking at them, they would still need time.

I need time. It was still the closest Silverbolt had come to an honest answer from Skyfire. I need time.

Hadn't they had time? All this long slow process of finding each other, growing closer, falling in love - wasn't that enough time?

Maybe not, for Skyfire.

Yet again, Silverbolt found himself going back over the whole trajectory of their relationship, trying to see where he could have changed things. If he'd been quicker to act on his feelings for Skyfire - or if they hadn't gone to Cybertron - or if he'd said or done something different, somehow, somewhere along the way, that would have prevented Skyfire from pulling away…

He'd replayed dozens of moments in his processor. He'd indulged himself in triumphant scenes where he broke through Skyfire's walls and everything was okay - but he tried not to spend too much time on the fantasies. Silverbolt knew he was young, by Cybertronian standards, but he had learned, at length, to have faith in his own judgement. And he was sure - almost sure - that there was nothing he could have changed.

Almost sure, but not quite sure enough not to lie awake night after night, spark aching and processor spinning.

The sky was shading to blue outside. Silverbolt unfolded himself from his seat by the window. It was almost time. He had gone through a hundred scenarios for this moment, trying to find one that would undo all the last month's hurt and distance. He knew, in the end, that there was only one thing he could do.

He had to let Skyfire go.


-- launch

The hangar was crowded. In addition to all the Autobots who were going to Cybertron, there were dozens more here to see them off. Silverbolt had expected it to be a sombre gathering, but most of those present were in good spirits. Goodbyes were being said, but they were lighthearted and encouraging. No-one else seemed weighed down by fear and grief. Unless they were just hiding it better than Silverbolt suspected he was.

His brothers were clustered around him, quiet and watchful. Even Slingshot had turned up. They exchanged occasional farewells with some of the other 'bots, but for the most part they stuck close by him.

Skyfire was in the middle of discussing the final flight plan with Omega Supreme and Prowl. Omega Supreme had to stoop to fit even in the vast space. Silverbolt wanted desperately to be over there with Skyfire, but he was holding himself back. He was afraid that if he gave in to the impulse to go to Skyfire's side and stay there, he would do or say something he'd regret.

"Hey," said Jazz, appearing from the right of the group. "How you guys doin'?"

The others murmured various responses. Silverbolt shook himself and managed something approaching a normal tone.

"We're fine. You?"

"I dunno, I've gotten used to livin' the life of luxury here in the city." Jazz cast a rueful glance at the small crate of belongings he'd set at his feet. "Gonna be hard goin' for a while out there. I'll be lookin' forward to comin' back."

"I expect everyone will," Silverbolt said lightly. "I know we'll all miss you."

"Nice to be appreciated." Jazz cast a glance over the hangar, then beckoned Silverbolt aside. Silverbolt went warily. "Hey. You sure you're okay?"

Silverbolt kept his expression neutral. "Of course."

Jazz studied him for few seconds.

"I'll keep an optic on Skyfire," he said. "Whatever's goin' on with him, if he wants to talk about it, I'll be around."

Silverbolt wanted to snap that it was none of Jazz's business - and if Skyfire wouldn't talk to him, why would he talk to Jazz? - but he reined in the reaction. Jazz meant well. He might even be able to help.

"Thanks," he said finally.


Jazz drifted back over to the other Aerialbots, quickly engaging them in a friendly conversation about some human sports event or other. Silverbolt was grateful for the distraction. He looked over in Skyfire's direction again, just in time to catch Skyfire doing the same thing. Their optics met across the width of the hangar. Silverbolt was afraid for a long moment that Skyfire would look away, but instead, he said something to Omega Supreme and then he was coming towards them.

Silverbolt went to meet him. He wanted just a few minutes away from his brothers, if he could get it.

"I'm going to need to transform in a moment so the others can start boarding," Skyfire said when they reached each other. Silverbolt didn't think he was imagining the tension in his shoulders and wings. "So… I need to say goodbye now."

"Right," said Silverbolt. "I… hope it's uneventful. The trip, I mean. You'll - how long will it be before you can get in touch?"

"A few days. I'll comm you as soon as I can."

"Okay. Stay safe. Don't-- just, be safe."

They looked at each other, a kind of helplessness hanging between them. As long as they'd known each other, they'd been able to talk freely and easily, been totally comfortable with each other's silences. Now it was as if they were standing on opposite sides of a chasm, and neither of them knew what to say.

"Silverbolt…" Something seemed to crack in Skyfire's impenetrable calm. "I…"

Silverbolt shook his head, stepping forward and reaching up to pull Skyfire down to his level. He kissed him before he could say anything else. It was too late for anything he might have said; Skyfire really did have no choice now but to go through with the mission. Silverbolt had only meant it to be a brief embrace, suitable for a public goodbye, but he hadn't expected Skyfire to respond so-- urgently, and the next thing he knew, they were tangled in each other's arms as if they would never let go. Just for a few seconds, Silverbolt didn't care who might be watching or what anyone else thought. He kissed Skyfire as if he could somehow say everything without words.

When they finally eased apart, he had to fight to keep his voice level. He couldn't bring himself to step back out of Skyfire's arms just yet.

"I'll miss you."

"You too." It was barely more than a whisper. "I'll comm you as soon as I can. You'll… write, won't you?"

It would be too risky to keep in constant communication with the moonbase expedition to start with. They would have to send bundles of electronic messages, letters of a kind, at regularly scheduled intervals. The moonbase crew would be able to comm occasionally when they knew it was safe, but except in emergencies, Autobot City would not be able to reach them directly. Silverbolt was trying not to think about how he was going to stand not hearing Skyfire's voice for months.

"Yes, of course."

Skyfire brushed his cheek with fingertips that shook very slightly. Then he drew away, as obviously reluctant as Silverbolt felt.

"I'd better…"

Footsteps and voices announced the approach of Silverbolt's brothers. He stood back as they said their own goodbyes - Slingshot still stubbornly refusing to speak in more than monosyllables - and then Blaster was on the general comms, telling the non-participants to move back from the hangar entrance, and the transport mechs to take up their positions.

Skyfire gently disentangled himself from Fireflight, and looked over at Silverbolt one more time. Then he turned and walked quickly away without looking back.

Silverbolt watched him transform, taking his place beside Omega Supreme on the tarmac outside the hangar. Other 'bots began to move towards the shuttle and rocket, carrying their gear and shouting a few last farewells to their friends.

"Come on," said Silverbolt abruptly.

He strode out of the hangar, back into the halls of their new city. His brothers hurried after him.

"Don't you want to stay?" asked Air Raid.

"No. You can if you want."

They stuck with him. Of course they did. Silverbolt knew he wouldn't be able to bear watching Skyfire disappear into the atmosphere, but their silent solidarity eased the pain a little.

"Let's get some energon and look over the duty roster," he said. "We might as well get on with the day."

-- end chapter 17 --


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