Sunday, November 25th, 2012 11:16 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 20 (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: So recently I've been getting PMs from people who want to know if this fic is going to follow canon... by which I assume you mean "Oh god/dess/deity-of-choice, am I going to have to be reminded that half the cast dies for no good reason?" The answer is a little complicated. This fic is intended to be canon-compliant with the cartoon - I am not going to alter the events of the movie in any way. HOWEVER - my head-canon has always included some future-fic in which, shall we say, a whole lot of dead people turn out to have trouble staying dead. Because it's not Transformers without Megatron and Starscream smacking each other around, and Prowl wondering what he did to deserve Jazz and the Twins this week, and Ratchet throwing wrenches at people, and Wheeljack spontaneously exploding...

So yes, we're about to hit the MOVIE OF DOOM in the next couple of chapters. But stick with me to the end. I have an epilogue planned and I think you will like it. :)

A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 20

"So, what do you think?" asked Perceptor, smiling.

"What do I--? This is amazing!" Skyfire had the blueprints open on the datapad in his hand while most of his monitor screen was taken up with the comm link. "How on earth did you manage to compensate for the systemic feedback?"

He was barely conscious that he'd used such a human euphemism until Perceptor spoke again.

"Earth was rather the key factor. Chip suggested making more use of hydroelectric power, now the river is flowing freely, and when I realised that it could serve as a parallel conductor and take the load off the core conduits…"

"It's sheer genius!" There was nothing feigned in his praise as he scrolled eagerly through the pages of Perceptor's detailed proposal. "I never would have thought of this."

"I doubt that," said Perceptor modestly. "But I'm going to need your help with the refinements. The intersection of the primary resource dump with the secondary fill is giving me problems."

Skyfire paged back to the relevant section, nodding absently. "It's probably going to require some reworking of the energon refinement system to increase the efficiency."

"Since you built it, you would be the authority on that front."

"Since I--?" Skyfire tore his attention away from the datapad to stare blankly at Perceptor. Then comprehension dawned. "You're not telling me you're still using that siphon I jury-rigged? That was only supposed to be a temporary measure!"

"It works extremely well," replied Perceptor. "There's been no reason to tamper with it until now." He smiled. "Not to mention I think I might have faced a scrap mob if I'd done anything to disrupt the energon refinement. We have quickly become accustomed to better fare, it seems."

"I…" Skyfire was at a loss for what to say. The siphon had just been an idle project of his, driven more than anything else by a desire to show Silverbolt and his brothers what real food was supposed to be like. "I'm… glad it's been so useful. If I'd known, I'd have designed it to be easier to extend."

If I'd stayed, he thought with a now-familiar spasm of guilt, I'd have known, and I could have been working on it all this time…

"I was hoping you could give me some pointers on where to start expanding it for now," Perceptor said.

"Yes, of course." Skyfire paged through the report again, double-checking measurements. "It should be straightforward to change the conduits on the south side over to the parallel load system… then, when I come back to Earth, we can--"

"You're coming back?"

The question was quiet and completely non-accusatory, but the almost wistful tone of it stopped Skyfire in his tracks. Perceptor had known him for a very long time. Maybe Skyfire should have tried talking to him back when he'd been finding it so hard to make sense of his own thoughts.

"Yes," he said.

"Good," said Perceptor. "I… confess I was a little afraid you would not."

Skyfire stared down at the datapad, not really seeing it.

"Regardless," Perceptor went on briskly, "it will certainly go much faster if you can assist me directly. And maybe you can talk Beachcomber out of this plan he has to breed alligators in the moat…"

"Alligators? Aren't they - rather dangerous to humans?"

"Yes, but he likes them for some reason."

"I can't imagine Ultra Magnus agreeing to that."

"Beachcomber is selling it as extra security. He even has Red Alert convinced. I've been trying to steer him towards giant turtles, or perhaps otters, but he's got his spark set on what he calls his 'scaly armada' and of course Sideswipe is encouraging him…"

"I'll do my best," promised Skyfire, "but I don't know if he'll listen to me any more than you."

"I was hoping you might be able to think of an alternative that would appeal to him."

"I'll see what I can come up with."

"Thank you." Perceptor seemed to look past the camera at something - or maybe his sharp optics were focused on his thoughts. "Skyfire?"


"I think… you should come sooner, rather than later."

Skyfire tensed. "Why?"

"I don't know that I could say." Perceptor looked back at him, a shadow of uneasiness in his expression. "It's just that recently I have started to feel as if… something is coming. This lull has been wonderful but it cannot last forever. Megatron is bound to move against us sooner or later. And… I am starting to believe it will be sooner. But I could not tell you why."

Skyfire had known Perceptor a long time. His name had always been apt: he had a knack for what humans would call intuition, subconsciously processing data and pulling together tiny fragments to create a bigger picture that he could not always put words around, but which was seldom wrong.

"I'll come as soon as I can," Skyfire said.


"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." Silverbolt reached out instinctively and laid his hand against the comm screen, which showed Skyfire's worried face. "It wasn't even a major engagement. We had plenty of warning and we pinned them down over Sumatra. I've got a few scorch marks, that's all. The Decepticons weren't as lucky."

"That's three attacks in three months," Skyfire said. He laid his own hand on the screen, mirroring Silverbolt's. A jolt of warmth and longing went through Silverbolt's spark at the gesture. "What are they trying to do?"

"Testing our defences, is the best guess," Silverbolt replied. "They know better than to come right at Autobot City now. I think they're probably learning that approaching Earth is, in general, a bad idea."

He smiled, but Skyfire didn't return it.

"Cybertron is waking up," he said quietly. "They've been recruiting - Elita-1's team reported in not long ago with new intel. I haven't been in the command meetings, but… I'm worried. Should I be?"

It was strange to hear Skyfire turning to him for reassurance, but Silverbolt was more than willing to give it.

"Not yet. We think Megatron is getting restless - he hates knowing we're here without opposition - and he might do something stupid like launch an all-out attack. But that would be to our advantage - he couldn't possibly win, and we'd stand a good chance of taking out some of his best troops."

Skyfire nodded, and Silverbolt was struck, as he had been several times in the months since Skyfire had returned to Moonbase 1, by how their roles had subtly changed. He saw a vulnerability in Skyfire that hadn't been there before - except, no, he was starting to realise that it had always been there - it had just been well-hidden. For most of their relationship, Silverbolt had turned to Skyfire for comfort and advice. It was only now that Skyfire was coming to him for the same, that Silverbolt realised how unbalanced that dynamic had left them.

"How are you doing?" he asked. "How is Moonbase 2 coming along?"

He had the most recent reports right in front of him - he knew that Moonbase 2 was officially complete. But hearing it from Skyfire was a thousand times better than reading a dry report from Prowl. His optics lit up and he spoke with genuine enthusiasm about the challenges they'd overcome to secure the second base. Silverbolt would gladly listen to him for hours.

He already had, over the last few months. Their comm conversations had only grown longer recently. Sometimes it physically hurt him to cut the connection.

"Skyfire?" Silverbolt hadn't meant to interrupt but he suddenly couldn't help himself. "Do you know… when the next shift change is coming up?"

"Not for another couple of months," Skyfire replied. He hesitated, then went on, "But… I've heard that Optimus has decided one more big energon run will give us enough power to start making moves on Cybertron."

"Yes, that's right."

"I was wondering… well, I thought I might ask Optimus if I could fly them back to collect it. Instead of them using that clunky manual shuttle. Would you… what do you think?"

What Silverbolt thought was impossible to put into words. That he wanted to see Skyfire - more than anything - that he'd thought he'd have to wait longer than this, be more careful, more patient - that he hadn't expected Skyfire to be the one to suggest it - that his spark was singing because Skyfire had…

"That would be wonderful," Silverbolt said after a moment. "Do you think Optimus would let you?"

"I won't know until I ask."

"The run's scheduled for two weeks from now," Silverbolt went on, testing the idea out loud. He almost couldn't imagine seeing Skyfire so soon, after everything. "Do you… want me to let the others know you're coming back?"

"Wait until I've found out if it's possible first." Skyfire fidgeted with something on his desk. "Then… I guess you should tell them, yes."

Silverbolt wanted to reach through the screen and take his hand, calm the nervousness he could see in Skyfire's movements. He wanted to tell him that he had nothing to worry about… but that wasn't a promise Silverbolt could honestly make. Fireflight and Air Raid had reacted enthusiastically when Skyfire had contacted them directly, but there was a shadow of wariness in both of them. Skydive had been polite and interested, but no more. Slingshot, predictably, had ignored Skyfire's messages and scowled a lot, although he hadn't actually thrown anything. Silverbolt thought that might be a good sign. As was the way Hot Spot had gradually relaxed, except to tease Silverbolt about his comm use. But if Skyfire was expecting a mixed welcome… well, he wasn't wrong. And while Silverbolt wanted to reassure him, he felt a slight twinge of relief at Skyfire's obvious trepidation. It meant that Skyfire understood the consequences of his choices. Silverbolt hoped that was leading him towards making different ones in the future.

His spark jumped and shivered excitedly. He tried to quell it, smiling at Skyfire and getting another little jolt as Skyfire smiled back.

"Let me know when it's definite, and I'll tell them then. I'll speak to Metroplex about dusting out your quarters. Hoist and Grapple put together a fleet of cleaning bots and Metroplex has been getting the hang of using them."

Skyfire looked delighted. "Semi-autonomous drones? Like we used to have on Cybertron?"

"Apparently. Sideswipe, Streetwise, and Air Raid tried to hijack one to reprogram it. They all woke up in the middle of the night with dozens of red indicator lights glaring at them from the darkness. They haven't touched one since."

Skyfire laughed. "What is Metroplex like? I haven't lived in an installation with a central guardian spark for a long time. Sometimes it could be a little uncomfortable, if the warden was particularly, ah… strict."

"He does have a sense of humour, though you can't tell when you're talking to him." Silverbolt had more occasion than most to speak directly to Metroplex, as he often needed to rearrange flight paths and patrol routes. "It comes out in subtle ways. He seems to like having the drones to use as his avatars. And he absolutely adores Red Alert, treats him like a… a younger brother, I suppose. They understand each other very well. Inferno says Red Alert even takes some time off now he knows Metroplex is there to keep an optic on things."

"Really? That's hard to imagine."

"I know - but even with the Decepticon attacks, he's more relaxed these days. The whole city is."

Skyfire looked wistful. "That's… hard to imagine too."

"You'll see for yourself soon enough."

"Yes." Skyfire looked for a moment as though he wanted to say something else, but seemed to change his mind. "I'm looking forward to it."

He sounded like he meant it. Whatever he'd been hesitating over, it wasn't that. Silverbolt in turn was almost overcome by the sudden urge to say - a lot of things, all of them too raw and urgent - but he muted his vocaliser and let the moment pass. There would be time after Skyfire had come back to Earth… time for everything to fall into place gradually rather than rushing ahead without thinking of the consequences. Silverbolt was determined to be sensible about this. Even if he was increasingly feeling less and less like being sensible, and more and more like emptying his spark to Skyfire as if nothing had changed.

"I'd better go, it's late," he said after a moment. "Talk to you tomorrow?"

Skyfire nodded.

"Goodnight," he said softly, and Silverbolt didn't think he was imagining the faint yearning note behind the word.

"Goodnight," Silverbolt replied.


"That sounds like an excellent idea," Optimus Prime said as soon as Skyfire brought up the possibility of flying the energon run. "I shall speak to Prowl about altering the roster."

Skyfire stared at him, momentarily unable to process the response. He hadn't expected immediate approval.

"You're long overdue some downtime on Earth," Optimus carried on. "And I think it would be prudent to have your weaponry on hand for this run. We are starting to get the impression that Megatron is losing patience with our presence here. We don't expect an attack on this occasion, or I'd send you with backup, but it is as well to start increasing our security before he makes a move."

"Will my restrictions on cargo space be acceptable?" Skyfire asked, finding himself oddly compelled to point out the very counter-arguments he had been prepared to face. "I won't be able to bring back as much energon as the piloted shuttle…"

"I was planning to have Omega Supreme fly back with the shuttle anyway. We'll need more space-capable Autobots out here in the next few years. Between you, you can easily bring the full complement of energon we require."

"I…" Skyfire realised he was on the verge of coming out with more objections. He shook himself. "Thank you. How long will we be on Earth?"

"It usually takes two days or so to get everything loaded," Optimus replied. "But I'm sending Ironhide, Ratchet, and Prowl, and they are all due some shore leave as well, so I expect you to stay five days or so. Maybe a week. We are well on schedule and can afford to take advantage of this lull while it lasts."

A week was more than Skyfire had dared hope for. His spark pulsed with nervousness and anticipation. Maybe he and Silverbolt would have time to really talk… not that they had lacked for conversation over the last few weeks. Skyfire was spending almost as much time on the comms as in his berth. But there was a certain carefulness to everything they said… an unspoken agreement to feel their way through this re-establishment of trust. Skyfire hoped that maybe, when they saw each other face to face, he might be able to say some of the things he knew he still owed Silverbolt.

"There is one other matter on which I would appreciate your input," Optimus said after a moment, an uncharacteristic hesitation in his voice.


Optimus reached over to a pile of datapads on his desk and selected one. He passed it to Skyfire.

"You've been in the regular briefs. You're aware of the latest updates on Decepticon activity in Kaon?"

"Yes." Skyfire had an idea of where this was going now. He didn't dread it as much as he'd expected. "You're wondering where Starscream is?"

"We know where he is. We just don't know why he's there. Take a look at those reports."

Skyfire activated the datapad and quickly paged through the reports. He'd been under the impression that Starscream was off-planet, but it seemed Jazz's intel had pinned him down in Kalis - and he hadn't stirred for months.

"He has been requisitioning large amounts of supplies and equipment," Optimus went on. "Elita-1's team has compiled several lists. What we cannot establish is what exactly it is he's doing."

Skyfire went through the lists, frowning. There did not, indeed, seem to be any pattern to the orders. He couldn't think of one project or device that Starscream might be working on that would require such disparate components. One part of the list did jump out at him.

"These look like the parts for basic shields and thermoregulators that could be installed in root mode. They would give the rank and file Decepticons the ability to withstand conditions they might otherwise find unworkable - like Mercury, or space itself."

"Wheeljack noticed the same thing. Is there anything else that strikes you as significant?"

"Only that a lot of these components are for large scale industrial installations, which isn't at all the sort of thing Starscream usually--"

Skyfire stopped. He looked again at the list.

"Long ago," he said slowly, "Kalis was responsible for tending one of the primary fusion reactors built into Cybertron's core."

"The reactors that powered the planetary engines?" asked Optimus.

"Yes. I suppose you know that the engines were set on a low power drift with random course changes before the start of recorded history and we never succeeded in restarting them, which is why Cybertron has pursued such a meandering course over time--"

"I know."

"But the fusion reactors remained active for a long time. They produced much of the planet's power - before the accident in Vos."

"The explosion that tore open what is now the Rust Pit." Optimus nodded. "And it was decided to decommission the reactors and rely upon other sources of fuel - a decision which the Decepticons have always touted as the start of Cybertron's decline."

"Are they wrong?" Skyfire asked quietly. "The reactor explosion was almost certainly sabotage. It had no bearing on the safety of the other installations. And when the next course change kicked in and Cybertron left behind the star that had been its primary power source, there was nothing to fill in the gap until we reached a new system."

"Perhaps they are not wrong," Optimus said with a sigh. "That choice was made before my time. I cannot say I would have done the same, but I cannot know what pressures were on those who did. They did not carry the Matrix, so I cannot hear their voices." He shook his head, focusing again on Skyfire. "Are you suggesting that Starscream is trying to reactivate one of the fusion reactors?"

"That would be my best guess."

"I wonder…" Optimus stared across the room, a troubled expression coming to his optics. "Could they even be working to restart the engines to control Cybertron's path? If they could move the planet at will, we would have to expend an enormous number of resources just on keeping track of the flight paths between here and Earth…"

"It was generally considered impossible to do in my time," Skyfire replied. He grimaced. "Which would… not exactly put Starscream off."

"Indeed. I'd say it would encourage him." Optimus reached out to take back the datapad. "Thank you, Skyfire. We'll need to consider this as a possible future threat."

After he'd left the office, Skyfire headed for the rec room to refuel. He sipped his energon standing by the window, watching Cybertron rise over the horizon. Talking about Starscream had left him… unexpectedly unmoved. The possibility of repairing one of the planet's fusion reactors was intriguing, and the idea that they might one day regain control over Cybertron itself tantalising… but Skyfire found he was less interested in speculating on Starscream's intentions than he was in thinking about Earth. A whole week… he'd thought a day or so would be the most he could hope for.

A whole week with Silverbolt. His spark ached pleasantly at the thought. He drank his energon - and he supposed he could take some pride in the fact that it tasted almost decent these days - and watched the lights of Cybertron. In his mind's eye, he replaced them with the continents of Earth - and felt a twinge of something that he identified, to his surprise, as homesickness.

Well, he would be there soon. And as soon as it was evening on Earth, he could comm Silverbolt and tell him the news.


Silverbolt wasn't expecting any of his brothers to be awake when he got back to their quarters - with the exception of Skydive, who seemed to need less recharge than everyone else. But he'd thought Skydive would be in his room with yet another datareel, not sitting on the couch in the common area. He set aside his datapad as Silverbolt entered; it was clear he'd been waiting up.


"Hey yourself." Silverbolt hesitated just inside the doorway. "Everything okay?"

"Probably." Skydive looked at him thoughtfully. "You're out late a lot recently."


"And I guess late night here would be pre-shift on Moonbase time?"

There was no point denying it. "That's right."

There was a pause.

"So?" asked Skydive.

"What do you mean, 'so'?"

Skydive sighed in exasperation, as though he were trying to explain the details of a particularly complex manoeuvre to Air Raid.

"So are you getting back together, or what?"

The blunt question threw Silverbolt off balance.


"I assume that wasn't you choosing the second option." Skydive smirked faintly. "Come on, Silverbolt, do you think we're stupid? You're on the comms for half your downtime. And Skyfire's been falling over himself to be friends with us again. It's not a difficult equation. I just want to know what's up."

He sounded casual enough, but there was a faint thread of concern behind it, tugging through the gestalt bond. Partially concern for Silverbolt, like Hot Spot, but the rest was Skydive's own wariness, the sting of previous abandonment.

"I… don't know." Silverbolt came to sit on the couch next to Skydive. He'd been expecting to have this conversation with one or more of his brothers eventually; he just hadn't expected it to come from Skydive. He'd been anticipating an ambush from Air Raid any day now… "I'd like-- I hope there might be-- that we might have the chance to--" He floundered. "I don't want to rush anything," he finished lamely.

"Have you ever rushed anything?" Skydive enquired. Some of the concern had eased. "Maybe you should give it a try."

Silverbolt shot him a surprised look. Skydive shrugged.

"Just saying."

"I don't know exactly where this is going," Silverbolt said at last. "I… know what I hope - but I'm not going to make any assumptions. We have a lot of things to talk about and I don't want to jump the gun before that happens."



"Okay," Skydive repeated mildly. He smiled at Silverbolt's bewildered expression. "I trust your judgement. And… I'm really glad things are going well. We've all missed Skyfire. Do you think he's going to come back to Earth any time soon?"

"Actually… he's going to fly the next energon run. So he'll be here in a week, even if it's only a brief visit."

"Really?" Skydive lost some of his reserve and looked more pleased than Silverbolt had expected. "That's great. Have you told the others?"

"I only just found out for certain myself."

"They'll be happy. Even Slingshot will, if you give him a chance." Skydive's expression became more serious. "But… it's going to be kind of weird to start with, I think."

"I know. So does Skyfire. I think it'll be okay."

"Good." Skydive swung a foot up over Silverbolt's lap, effectively pinning him to the couch. "Hey, guess what I found in Teletraan-2?"

"I was going to recharge," Silverbolt protested.

Skydive grabbed his datapad and keyed it on with a remorseless smirk. "But you promised you'd go over these with me… and you've been on the comms every downtime this week…"

Silverbolt groaned but made no effort to escape.

"Fine, but no more than an hour, then I really must get to my berth." A horrible thought struck him. "Wait, it isn't another of those awful technical reports on the old airspace over Cybertron, is it?"

"… Not if you squint at it just right?"

"Oh, Primus."


The day of the energon run, Skyfire found it impossible to concentrate on anything. He'd checked and double-checked his fuel levels, his flight path, and his weapons systems. He'd gone over the logistics of the route and the return with Prowl. He'd accepted, with some trepidation, a mysterious package from Sunstreaker to deliver to Sideswipe. And he still had six hours to go before setting off, and he couldn't get his processor to focus on even the simplest calculations.

It was actually a relief when his comms pinged and Optimus asked him to report to the central command room.

That relief morphed swiftly into concern when Skyfire arrived to find Optimus, Prowl, and Jazz clustered around the main screen, conversing quickly and seriously, and Ironhide running through prep for the manual shuttle on one of the other consoles.

"What's going on?"

"We aren't sure." Optimus beckoned him over to the screen and brought up a series of graphs that Skyfire recognised as energy output, possibly from a small star. "Elita-1 contacted us urgently a couple of hours ago. These readings are from the fusion generator under Kalis."

"What?" Skyfire reached for the console, pushing aside Optimus's hands as he scrambled to bring up more data. Optimus moved aside without comment. "That's - either it's about to explode or it's gearing up to run at full capacity!"

"The data is several hours old," Prowl said. "It hasn't exploded yet."

"Then it probably isn't going to." Skyfire was working fast on the console, overlaying graphs and comparing the numbers they represented. "It's been increasing its output steadily for days by the look of it. It must have just reached critical density." He stared at the screen, torn between dread and awe. "He did it. He brought it back online."

"And the planetary engines?" Optimus asked quietly. "Can the Decepticons move Cybertron?"

"I can't tell. I'd need to get close to Kalis and monitor the readings myself."

Optimus sighed. "I was afraid you might. Skyfire, I am truly sorry, but I have to ask you to take on this mission as a matter of urgency. And we dare not delay the energon run, especially if the Decepticons have gained access to this resource. We will have to use the manual shuttle while you investigate Kalis."

It took a moment for the full implications of that sentence to sink in. Then Skyfire understood: he wouldn't be going to Earth after all. He wasn't going to see Silverbolt. After all this, after everything… the disappointment and grief that struck him were so fierce he couldn't speak for a few moments.

"I understand," he said at last. And he did: he knew Optimus was right. They couldn't ignore this development, and they couldn't delay the energon run. There was no help for it. "I'll set out at once. I… just need to use the comms before I go."

"Of course," said Optimus. "And you will be able to return to Earth on another occasion--"

"I know." Skyfire pulled a datapad from subspace and quickly downloaded the data on the fusion reactor from the main console. "Prowl, do you need any data from me on the flight plan?"

"No, I have it in the system already." Prowl gestured to Ironhide's console. "You are free to go. And… I am sorry not to be flying with you on this occasion."

It was an uncharacteristic expression of sympathy that went some way toward easing Skyfire's unhappiness. Jazz clapped him on the arm briefly, and then Skyfire hurried out of the control room.

A part of his processor was already busy calculating his route to Kalis, the likely defences, and the readings he would need to take. Another was listing the implications of the fusion reactor running at full capacity. And yet another was wondering what he would tell Silverbolt, as he sped back to his quarters and called up the comm system.

Silverbolt should be in the city, but Skyfire couldn't get through to him. After a moment, he tried Air Raid, and then Fireflight. Neither of them were answering either. He tried Skydive and even Slingshot, but got the same result. Primus damn it all… he didn't have time to try and track them down. He tried Silverbolt's line again, and this time waited out the connection attempts until it went to the messaging service.

"Silverbolt, I'm sorry, I won't be coming on the energon run after all…" he began.

Even leaving the recorded message didn't feel like enough. He felt like he was betraying everything that had been rebuilt between them, leaving again without warning, failing to return to Earth…

This is different, he told himself desperately as he left his quarters and headed for the launching bay. This isn't a choice. It really has to be done. Silverbolt will understand that.

They were prepping the manual shuttle for launch as he arrived. Skyfire cast it one look of dislike - irrational to direct such emotion at an inanimate vehicle, but he couldn't help himself - and transformed into his own alt-mode. Ratchet nodded to him from the shuttle's ramp. Skyfire paused for just a moment to watch the shuttle crew at work and wish with all his spark that he were going with them.

Then he launched himself out of the bay and turned towards Cybertron.

-- end chapter 20 --


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