Thursday, March 7th, 2013 07:53 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 22 (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: Before you all throw things at me: this is NOT the last chapter after all. There is one more to come, and it's mostly written already. :)


A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 22


Skyfire entered Earth's atmosphere too fast, but he didn't care, even when his shields flashed a first-tier warning at him. He could handle the heat of displaced air. He didn't want to lose a second if he could avoid it.

Ultra Magnus had him trying to contact the Earth Autobots as soon as he entered atmosphere, but too many relays had been damaged to get through to the control tower. As soon as he could, Skyfire tried to comm Silverbolt directly. Nothing. But-- he thought the connection had tried to form, rather than falling into the blankness that would have meant Silverbolt wasn't on Earth… or had been deactivated. He clung to that sliver of hope as he descended.

Earth itself looked remarkably peaceful and untouched. Somehow, Skyfire had imagined it would have suffered the same global damage as Cybertron - but Megatron had focused his attack only on Autobot City. It wasn't until Skyfire came down low and locked onto the city's landing beacon that he started to see evidence of the battle. The mountains surrounding the city were scarred with splash damage from the high-powered laser cannons the Autobots had used to try and hold off the Decepticons who were already inside their perimeter. The city itself…

Skyfire hadn't even seen it since it was half-built, and now his first sight of the Autobot sanctuary was of gaping holes in golden walls and crumpled buildings that had felt the force of a gestalt's fist. The tower was wrecked, its communications equipment shattered and its windows gone. The city's core - Metroplex's body in the making - was half-transformed, parts of it folded in on itself in a way that reminded Skyfire of a turtle on its back. The city looked not just damaged, but wounded. It was, in some unfathomable way, much worse than seeing the damage Unicron had done to Cybertron. Their ancient planet had suffered so many injuries over the vorns - the new scars merely overlaid the old. But his had been something new - something hopeful - something that was theirs. It hurt to look at.

The runway was largely clear of debris. Skyfire took further comfort from that. They wouldn't have bothered to clear it if the Aerialbots weren't around and needing it, would they? He swung around in a wide pass that would give any sentries plenty of time to recognise him, and then lined up with the runway and came in to land.

There were Autobots spilling out of nearby buildings before he'd even come to a stop. Skyfire cast his sensors out, searching for some sign of Silverbolt. He heard the babble of voices as Ultra Magnus and the others disembarked, and it was all he could do to control his impatience as he silently urged them to hurry. Someone was taking a long time - hanging back in Skyfire's cargo hold instead of going down the ramp. A brush of field contact told him, to his surprise, that it was Jazz.

:Is everything okay?: Skyfire asked.

:Too many faces ain't here.: Jazz's voice on the comms was so quiet Skyfire almost couldn't catch the transmission. :Primus. I think-- maybe I kinda didn't believe it-- while we were on Cybertron-- thought they'd all be here waitin' when I got back…:

:Jazz--:

Without answering, Jazz suddenly pushed himself away from Skyfire's cabin wall and strode to the entrance. He swung down the ramp briskly, already calling out to Bluestreak, Sunstreaker, and Sideswipe in a passable imitation of his usual cheer. From the way Bluestreak immediately tackled him in a desperate hug, and the Twins clustered in closer than they normally chose with anyone but each other, Skyfire thought they had badly needed Jazz to be himself in the midst of all that had happened. And Jazz… had obliged. For the first time, Skyfire wondered how much of Jazz's happy-go-lucky attitude was real, and how much he had built up over the vorns as a shield for himself and for others.

Skyfire realised he could transform now, so he did, wincing at a few scrapes and dents that hadn't yet been patched. The crowd on the edge of the runway was small, but very much entangled in a mill of greetings, grief, muted joy, and relief. No-one there was paying him any attention for the moment. He stood where he was, uncertain and feeling very alone. Only a short time ago he'd believed this could be a homecoming for him… but now he returned to find another one-time home changed beyond recognition… and the faces he longed to see were absent. Silverbolt and his brothers weren't there.

But if they were alive, and within the city, they should be in reach of his comms now. A part of him was still afraid, still dreading that his call would go unanswered… but he had to know. He offlined his optics and tried once more to reach Silverbolt.

*

The fact that Fireflight was hanging upside-down by one leg was actually less of a problem than the fact that Air Raid and Skydive were laughing too hard to do anything about it. Silverbolt sighed. He wasn't immune to the humour of the situation, but he was too tired to properly appreciate it.

"Jetpack, Fireflight."

"Oh, right." The Twins had lent them the equipment without hesitation. Silverbolt thought they were grateful not to be asked to work on the medbay themselves. "Wait, which button was it?"

"The green one."

Fireflight found the right button, and was promptly restored to the correct orientation. He grabbed onto a support strut, deactivated the jetpack, waved cheerfully, and connected the next line of cabling as if nothing had happened. A few more lights lit up on the console next to Silverbolt, and Inferno smiled.

"Tha's great, fellas, thanks. Just a couple more an' I think Red'll be ready to go."

"It's no problem," Silverbolt replied. "I think it will be good for Metroplex to have Red Alert hooked back into the surveillance systems."

"I'm damn sure it'll be good for Red." Inferno pressed a button cautiously. "Lookin' good up there!"

Fireflight and Air Raid waved and began edging along the exposed support beams along the medbay roof. They'd been routing this fibreoptic bundle of cables through ducts and corridors all day. Red Alert had been online in fits and starts, but he was beside himself with worry, guilt, and helplessness whenever he came back to consciousness. It had been Inferno, long accustomed to his partner's quirks, who'd said it would help to get him back 'on the grid' - and Silverbolt had found Metroplex almost desperately eager to help make it happen. Both of them took responsibility - perhaps too much - for the safety of this city. Both of them felt they had failed. Perhaps they could overcome their grief together by working to direct the reconstruction efforts.

"Air Raid, you need to move a little more to the left," Silverbolt called out. "No, your left! Your left!"

"Okay, okay, I got it…"

"Skydive, can you pass him that piece of--"

His comms beeped, and Silverbolt automatically went to route the call to messaging - he had too many at the moment to deal with anything that wasn't high priority - and then froze as he recognised the code. For a handful of seconds that stretched into eternity he couldn't even think straight to answer. Then he opened the channel.

:Skyfire--:

:Silverbolt--?:

:Are you--:

:-- okay?:

They spoke simultaneously and Silverbolt could have laughed if he weren't so close to breaking down.

:I'm okay. We're okay. Where are you?:

:We just landed - I'm out on the runway. I'm okay-- I-- Primus, Silverbolt, the city is so--:

:I know.: There were so many things he wanted to say, days of fear and grief and worry that he longed to spill out to Skyfire. But he was aware now that his brothers were staring at him, feeling the surge of his emotions through the gestalt link, guessing the reason for his mid-sentence silence. They needed to finish this up, so Red Alert could begin his recovery. So Inferno could get some rest without worrying about him. So Metroplex wasn't alone amid his unresponsive systems. :I can't-- we're in the medbay, setting up a network link--:

:I'll need to report back to Ultra Magnus,: Skyfire said. Silverbolt heard the same awareness in his voice - that he had too many responsibilities to just drop everything the way he wanted to. :As soon as I'm off duty--:

:Yes, as soon as we're done here, I'll come and find you--:

:I'll see you then. I'm-- I'll see you.:

"Silverbolt?" Air Raid was in serious danger of falling off the support beam out of sheer inattention to his centre of balance. "Was that--?"

"Skyfire." Silverbolt found his vocaliser almost wouldn't respond normally; his voice wanted to crack and waver. He somehow kept it steady. "He's okay. He just landed."

"Here?" squeaked Fireflight.

"Yes, here." Silverbolt dragged his processor back on track. "And we'll see him later, when we're done here. Air Raid, you still need to move left a bit…"

*

:… I'll see you.:

In the time it had taken to speak to Silverbolt, the rest of the Autobots on the landing strip had moved back towards the buildings. Skyfire found his servos shaky and unresponsive. He was suddenly aware of how exhausted he was. He wanted badly to recharge, and at the same time, doing so would be unthinkable before he had seen Silverbolt. He shook himself and moved after the other Autobots, hurrying to catch up. He owed Ultra Magnus any further service he could render before he looked to his own desires…

"Skyfire!" Jazz had paused, turning as Skyfire caught up. "Where d'ya think you're goin'?"

"I need to find out what Ultra Magnus wants me to--"

"No way." Jazz was half-smiling, but Skyfire thought his optics, had they been visible, would have shown the same weariness they were all feeling. "You're off duty. As of right-fraggin'-now. Go find him."

"I can't just--"

"I'm still third-in-command," Jazz replied, a hint of steel in the words. "You just flew us lightyears across space an' don't think I don't know how much you've done since the battle. You're off duty. That's an order. Go find Silverbolt, and get some rest. Bonus points if you can persuade him to do the same. Sounds like he's been pretty much runnin' the joint since it all went down."

Of course he had. "Are you sure there isn't anything I should--"

"Sure as slag." Jazz gave him a somewhat ineffective shove towards the entrance. "Get goin'."

"… thank you."

Skyfire started towards where he remembered the infirmary being, but the layout of the city had changed subtly - partly through continued work and partly due to the defensive transformation - and he found himself unsure which turning to take after a few minutes. He remembered something SIlverbolt had told him about a troop of lost human scientists, and tentatively tried the root comm line for the city.

:Yes?:

The voice was deep and sonorous. It reminded Skyfire of Superion - and from other things Silverbolt had said, he supposed the comparison was apt.

:Metroplex? I need-- I'm trying to find Silverbolt. He said he was in the infirmary, but I'm not sure--:

:Turn left, then left again. Straight past three intersections, right, then left. Straight again until you reach a three-way intersection, where you must turn right. The infirmary is directly ahead.:

:Thank you.:

:You are welcome.: A pause, and then Metroplex added, :Silverbolt is a friend.:

Skyfire followed the directions, moved by the quiet loyalty in the enormous mech's voice. He had heard a lot from Silverbolt about Metroplex over the last few months. He had imagined, from his own experiences with guardian sparks, that the wry affection was one-sided. He knew now that he had been wrong.

There - the infirmary was exactly where Metroplex had said it would be, and though the door was ajar and Skyfire could see damage beyond, it looked so familiar he expected Ratchet to start shouting as soon as he was through the door.

Instead he caught sight of Fireflight and Air Raid balanced precariously on a high beam, while Skydive manipulated dangling cables beneath them. Silverbolt was standing by a console with Inferno, directing the procedure. As Skyfire watched, Air Raid connected several cables, swore briefly as electrical discharge crackled over his fingers, then leaned over to yell, "Done it!"

Silverbolt said something to Inferno, who quickly pressed a number of keys on the console. Multiple screens lit up with what Skyfire recognised as the multi-level security feeds that Red Alert used to monitor the Ark - or, he supposed, Autobot City - and he belatedly recognised the white and red mech on the nearby berth. Inferno was already hurrying to Red Alert's side, where First Aid was silently and deftly working.

"He's coming back online," the young medic said as Inferno reached them. "He's probably going to panic again--"

"We've got it covered," Inferno replied, lifting Red Alert's hand in both of his. "Silverbolt, you got that feed?"

"Right here." Silverbolt was carefully drawing a set of cross-functional cables across the floor to Red Alert's berth.

"Hey, Red - ya hear me, Red?"

Red Alert came online crying out - something about the city and the security protocols - and Inferno and First Aid quickly connected the cables to various input ports. Skyfire realised what they were doing just as Red Alert quietened.

"Okay, Red?" Inferno said quietly.

"Yes." Red Alert's optics were offline but he was clearly aware, reading data from other sources. "I… I am okay now. Thank you."

His hand was gripping Inferno's like it would dent the plating, but Inferno didn't seem to notice. Skyfire didn't think he would have, either, with that much relief and gratitude in Red Alert's voice. And Silverbolt - Silverbolt was standing there watching them, the faintest hint of a tired smile on his face, the cable still in his hand…

Then he glanced over at the door and froze as their optics met. Before Skyfire could say anything - or move - or even think - Fireflight, perhaps prompted by some reaction across the gestalt bond, also looked over.

"SKYFIRE!"

And then they were all turning, as Fireflight practically launched himself off the beam, belatedly remembering to activate some sort of device - was that Sideswipe's jetpack? - that saved him from a fall - but Skyfire could only see Silverbolt. Silverbolt who, stirred by his brother's cry, suddenly seemed to abandon dignity and flung himself across the space between them, and Skyfire barely had time to fall to his knees so that he could catch Silverbolt in his arms--

Silverbolt. Silverbolt was there, was real, was clinging on so tightly Skyfire could feel his plating creak. He didn't care. He knew he was holding just as tightly to Silverbolt - Silverbolt who was really there, really okay… He couldn't think, couldn't see, blinded by Silverbolt's field and the way it opened to him so urgently, the way he couldn't have kept his own field opaque if he'd tried… Primus, he would have bared his spark in that moment if Silverbolt had asked--

"You're hurt," Silverbolt said, voice low. "You're--"

"It's only scratches. Scrapes. Nothing serious, there weren't enough medics--"

"Oh Primus, Skyfire, Ratchet is--"

"I know. I know."

They clung to each other as if they would lose their hold on gravity without the support. Skyfire wanted to kiss Silverbolt senseless, pick him up bodily and carry him away so he could say everything trying to burst from his vocaliser, so that he could beg forgiveness and promise Silverbolt anything, anything he wanted…

"Oh, my love," Skyfire whispered, and felt Silverbolt shiver in his arms.

Then Silverbolt gently, but firmly pushed him away. His field still mingled with Skyfire's, and Skyfire felt the conflicting currents of his emotion - longing, grief, pain, hope - even as he stepped back, putting a small distance between them. He kept hold of Skyfire's hands, tightly, as if he was afraid Skyfire would vanish if he let go. He didn't have to say anything; Skyfire understood. There were too many things unsaid between them to just fall back into how things used to be as if nothing had changed. No matter how much Skyfire wanted to.

The other three Aerialbots had paused in their rush forward, showing an unusual amount of restraint, but now they resumed motion. Fireflight didn't even bother to decelerate, just collided with Skyfire with something between a wail and a greeting, and latched on. Air Raid wasn't far behind. Skyfire was stunned and humbled by the depth of their relief on seeing him - not only that he was unhurt, but that he was here. They'd missed him. They'd wanted to see him. They were so glad he was back. Fireflight was in all possibility now fused permanently to Skyfire's chest plates.

Skydive hadn't thrown himself bodily at Skyfire like his brothers, but he too came in close and into field contact, winding up leaning against one of Skyfire's shoulders.

"You're okay? We heard about the moonbases--"

"I wasn't there," Skyfire replied. Silverbolt had moved aside for his brothers, but one of his hands was still linked with Skyfire's, and he didn't seem very inclined to let go. "Prime sent me to Kalis to investigate something--"

He choked, suddenly remembering that Prime now meant someone entirely different, that Optimus was… gone. And from the distraught echo that passed through all four of the fields touching his, his wasn't the only memory that had been jogged. Even more than the other Autobots, the Aerialbots had reason to look up to Optimus not only as a leader but as a something approaching their creator. He could feel the jagged wounds left by their devastation. He hugged Fireflight tightly and squeezed Silverbolt's hand.

"Where's Slingshot?"

"Patrolling with Blades," said Air Raid. He managed a subdued imitation of one of his normal smirks. "Or, y'know, 'patrolling' with Blades…"

Skyfire stared at him with a jab of concern. "Surely they wouldn't start fighting now, in the middle of all this--"

"No, of course not," Silverbolt said sharply. "Anyway, they've been much better recently. And they wouldn't jeopardise the city by doing anything else when they're supposed to be patrolling, either, Air Raid."

"I was just kidding," Air Raid muttered.

Skyfire looked between them, confused, but neither seemed about to enlighten him, and then Fireflight was saying, "Did anybody else… on Cybertron…?"

"Many of the Decepticons were deactivated," Skyfire answered. "Megatron is gone, and so is his would-be replacement, Galvatron." He deliberately said nothing about Starscream. "Most of the Autobots on the moons came to Earth with Optimus after the attack, and those remaining escaped Unicron - some of them just barely."

"Unicron?" Skydive tugged on Skyfire's shoulder to get his attention. "What's Unicron? Blaster said he'd heard something like that in the messages that got through but he couldn't figure out what they were talking about--"

"I suspect," Silverbolt said before Skyfire could reply, "that the fact I've got Ultra Magnus trying to comm me means we're about to find out." He let go of Skyfire's hand with obvious reluctance, and stepped away to answer the call.

"You're all scorched on this side," Fireflight said softly. "Were you fighting Decepticons?"

"Not Decepticons. In fact, for a while the Autobots and Decepticons were even on the same side…"

The exclamations of disbelief were cut off by Silverbolt turning back to them.

"We're to head to the main common room for debrief immediately," he said. "I've called Slingshot and Blades back. We should get going." He regarded the close cluster of mechs in front of him and a small, but real smile lit his face just enough to stir Skyfire's spark. "Though that may require a lever in Fireflight's case…"

*

"… The being known as Unicron has been destroyed. A few scattered pieces remain, including the head of the creature's root mode - or so we presume it to be - which now orbits Cybertron in place of the lost moons. We hope to study it and learn what we can about where this threat came from, and whether there are others…"

"… Rodimus Prime is the bearer of the Matrix and the new leader of the Autobots. Decepticon presence on Cybertron has been reduced to negligible; many civilians have readily taken Autobot allegiance or at the very least opted to remain neutral. Both the old leadership of the Decepticons and the would-be replacements have been deactivated or scattered. We have control of the Decepticon energon facility on Mercury, and once Autobot City is repaired we will have ample energy to truly reawaken Cybertron. Not only reawaken, but repair - rebuild - and renew our long-silent world…"

"… The war is over… though we cannot say for sure it will never reignite… we must seize peace with both hands and work and fight as hard for it as we ever did for victory…"

"… We will begin by making this place, our second home, safe and whole once more…"

"… but we shall begin that task tomorrow. Tonight, our human allies will watch the skies for any attack, and we… we will mourn our dead - and celebrate the achievement of their dream."

"That is all I have to say."

*

It wasn't a party. There was too much grief, and too many ghosts, to call it a party. But it wasn't entirely sombre, either. There was high grade. As the night went on, hushed voices became less hushed. Half-hearted attempts to talk about other things were given up, and slowly, piece by piece, the assembled Autobots began to share their stories of the final, terrible battle - and of those lost. Silverbolt first felt the stirrings of certainty that things would eventually be okay when he heard Sideswipe in the middle of a half-laughing, half-sobbing rant about Ratchet's idiocy in getting himself killed first, just when they really needed him.

There was so much to process. Not only was Optimus gone, but his replacement was - Hot Rod? Rodimus? A mech only a few vorns older than Silverbolt and his brothers, whom Silverbolt had, only weeks ago, been dragging into Ultra Magnus's office with Air Raid and Sideswipe to explain what they'd been doing with five barrels of glue and enough feathers to cover, say, Powerglide's entire surface area… Silverbolt felt no resentment - in fact, if anything, he was conscious of a deep sympathy and concern for Rodimus, knowing all too well what it was to be thrust into responsibility - but it was so hard to comprehend. He half-expected to wake up and find it had all been a defrag dream brought on by the days of worry and sleeplessness…

Except that would make Skyfire's return just as unreal. Silverbolt glanced sideways for the hundredth time. He caught Skyfire doing the same thing. Their optics met, and Silverbolt repressed a shiver.

"Okay?" Skyfire murmured.

"Yes." They were to one side of the common room, Silverbolt's brothers in a haphazard cluster around them. Just at the moment no-one was paying them any attention - Jazz was describing the escape from Unicron's depths. "Are you?"

"I… don't really know." Skyfire looked out over the crowded room. "Everything's changed so quickly. I can't believe… and there are so many people who should be here. And the war - the Decepticons - everything I had to adapt to after the ice…"

He trailed off.

"Everything we've ever known," Silverbolt finished for him quietly, looking at his brothers. "Everything we have lived and fought for is over, and I should be glad, but I don't know what happens now."

Skyfire's hand found his. Silverbolt turned towards him, and for a moment they were silent, standing close with their fields overlapping. Silverbolt reached out to gently touch the scorch marks on the side of Skyfire's torso. He could see they were no more than marks - there was no real damage beneath them - but they were a reminder that Skyfire had fought not only for his life, but for Cybertron, with the most unlikely allies.

"I suppose we have to start again," Skyfire said softly. It was almost, but not quite, a question, and Silverbolt realised that he was only partly talking about the Autobots.

"I suppose so." Silverbolt hesitated. "Skyfire--"

"It's okay. I know I can't just…" Skyfire shook his head. "I'll follow your lead. Wherever that takes us."

He meant it. Silverbolt could read that clearly in his field - clearer than he'd ever expected to see into Skyfire again. The hesitation, the darkness that had kept Silverbolt at bay was gone - or, perhaps, if it wasn't entirely gone, Skyfire had chosen to push it aside, was choosing to leave himself vulnerable to Silverbolt's awareness. Even if Silverbolt, in turn, chose to close the door on what they had shared - Skyfire was willing to take the chance. And Skyfire knew - oh, he knew - what pain he had caused Silverbolt. It was there in ribbons of bright, bitter guilt wound around his thoughts. He knew, and he would not try to evade responsibility. If he could make amends, he would - but if Silverbolt told him to go, he would go.

Silverbolt wanted to say - more things than he had words for - but as he struggled to find even one that would not trigger an outpouring of emotion he could not contain, they were interrupted.

He should have noticed the Protectobots approaching - they weren't exactly quiet - but he'd been too caught up in that wordless moment with Skyfire. He barely had time to register the sudden babble of greetings as they reached his brothers before Hot Spot was swinging around one of the couches, already speaking.

"There you are - I was starting to worry you'd slipped off somewhere again--"

Silverbolt couldn't help glaring at his friend, though he tried. He knew Hot Spot only wanted to look out for him, but that didn't give him the right to decide who Silverbolt was and wasn't allowed to talk to--

Except Hot Spot was only just glancing at Skyfire, and the surprise and dismay on his face told a different story. Silverbolt suddenly realised that, despite Skyfire's size, Hot Spot hadn't even seen him. Maybe someone else in the rec room had been positioned just right to block his view, or maybe Hot Spot had been busy herding his brothers and just headed in the direction he'd last seen Silverbolt - but whatever the reason, the interruption hadn't been deliberate. Which didn't stop it being badly timed, or make it less frustrating, but there was no help for it now. Hot Spot's brothers were mingling and settling down with Silverbolt's, taking up every available space, raising the noise level, and cutting Hot Spot off from a graceful escape.

There was an awkward pause.

"Er, sorry," said Hot Spot, "I didn't…" Then he seemed to decide he'd better try to carry on as normal, though he cast an apologetic glance at Silverbolt. "Hi, Skyfire. Glad to see you made it through everything."

"And you. Are your brothers...?"

"They're all fine. We weren't even here when it happened. We've just been cleaning up."

The undertone of guilt was familiar. It was the same pain that had kept Silverbolt from recharge in the last few days. If they'd only been here - maybe things would have been different - maybe there would have been something they could do…

"I saw the city from above when I flew in," Skyfire said. "There's so much damage."

"Yeah, it's a mess. We should get on faster now you're here - I mean, all of you, from Cybertron - I mean, if you're staying--"

"We are," Skyfire replied with quiet certainty. "Until the city is rebuilt. And most of us are planning to stay longer, I think."

"That's good." There was unfeigned warmth in Hot Spot's voice. "That's really good to hear."

Raised voices pulled Silverbolt's attention over to his brothers. It didn't sound like a real argument, but with everyone as shaken and raw as they were, he didn't want to take the chance of anything escalating.

But whatever Sideswipe had said to draw such a reaction, he was already backing down in the face of the combined ire of Slingshot and Blades. "You're right," he said, uncharacteristically. "That wasn't funny. Sorry."

Neither Slingshot nor Blades seemed to entirely know how to deal with that, but thankfully let it pass, with a brief nod from Slingshot and a scowl from Blades. Except now Sunstreaker was staring at them like they'd each welded an extra head onto their shoulders.

"Primus, what's with you two?" he demanded. "Didn't you hate each other? What happened, you sharing a berth now or something?"

Everyone in the surrounding area seemed to freeze for a nanoklik, Silverbolt's brothers and the Protectobots alike. Silverbolt thought, Primus damn it, Sunstreaker, did you have to--

Then Slingshot fixed Sunstreaker with a glare like a laser rifle and said, "Yeah, and?"

There was a pause.

"Huh." Sunstreaker looked from one of them to the other, then over at Sideswipe. "Didn't see that coming."

Sideswipe shrugged. "You missed stuff."

And then Jazz leaned back over to say something about reopening the west suburb of Iacon, and the twins and Air Raid immediately bombarded him with questions - Silverbolt gathered that there had been some sort of entertainment complex there in the past. The conversation moved on without further comment. Silverbolt watched Slingshot, watched him realise, slowly and disbelievingly, that his announcement hadn't changed anything, and watched Blades glance quickly at his brothers, see the same lack of reaction, and reach the same conclusion. An almost unnoticed tension went out of both of them. Silverbolt quickly looked away before Slingshot caught him, but he didn't try to hide his smile.

It turned into quiet laughter when he saw the expression on Skyfire's face.

"They're not really--" Skyfire looked at the mechs in question, then at Silverbolt and Hot Spot. "-- are they? Seriously?"

"Apparently," said Hot Spot. He nudged Silverbolt in the wing. "Pay up."

"Hey, I never took that bet."

"Like the Pit you didn't, Mr 'You're Imagining Things'--"

"That was before the Canada trip, I told you after that I agreed with you--"

"You did not, you said you weren't going to speculate if they didn't want to say anything." Hot Spot had his mask off, so he couldn't hide his grin. "That doesn't count. You owe me."

Silverbolt sighed. "What, exactly, do I owe you?"

Hot Spot started to reply, then looked suddenly dismayed. "I. Uh. I actually don't remember."

"In that case..."

Silverbolt pulled a small energon candy out his subspace and handed it solemnly over to Hot Spot. Hot Spot took it, looked at it, and shrugged.

"Bet paid in full."

Skyfire still seemed to be trying to grasp the new information. "Seriously? Slingshot and Blades?"

Silverbolt patted him gently on the arm. "You'll get used to the idea. Somehow, they even seem to be a good influence on each other."

Hot Spot snorted aloud and tossed the energon candy into his mouth. "So who says we need the Matrix to perform miracles?"

*

No-one seemed to want to leave the rec room to recharge. As the night wore on, some 'bots fell asleep where they sat, while others kept talking, and listening, well into the early hours. By the time Silverbolt's brothers were sprawled over each other on the couches, he didn't have the heart to wake them.

"I should get to my berth," Skyfire said.

"Me too." Silverbolt carefully stepped over Air Raid's legs and looked back over his shoulder. "I don't know how your quarters fared. Do you want me to find you a guest room for now?"

"I'll try my quarters first." Skyfire followed him out of the rec room, picking his way between sleeping and quietly talking mechs. "Right now I think I could sleep pretty much anywhere."

They walked in silence, too tired even for idle conversation. Silverbolt had to keep resisting the urge to reach over and take Skyfire's hand, or walk close enough that their fields could overlap. By the time they reached the corridor leading to the Aerialbots' quarters and Skyfire's, Silverbolt was starting to feel like he was constantly tugging against a gravity field. The temptation to give in was almost overwhelming.

"Well." Skyfire had stopped in front of his door. "Here goes..."

He keyed in his code. There was a noticeable pause before the door opened, but it moved relatively smoothly and when Skyfire reached for the lights, they responded.

"It's not so bad," Skyfire said after a moment, surprise in his voice.

"It's right under one of the big support structures for the upper levels," Silverbolt said, looking around. "We got some of the benefit of that, too."

A patch of ceiling had shattered and the metal pieces lay in a pile on the floor. Loose furniture lay overturned, and a number of items that had been neatly stacked on shelves had fallen, but the big room was otherwise largely unscathed. There had been some water leakage down one wall, but its source had already been dealt with, leaving only a broad, dark stain that could be remedied with some metallic paint. The berth padding had been thrown onto the floor, but when Skyfire picked it up and brushed it off, the mesh-weave seemed undamaged, and as soon as he laid it back into the frame, the berth looked usable.

"Make sure the supports haven't come loose," Silverbolt said. "Slingshot's collapsed when he sat on it."

"It looks fairly solid." Skyfire inspected the berth frame and experimentally shook each support in turn. "What does the computer terminal look like?"

Silverbolt crossed the room - picking up a couple of datapads and stacking them on the desk on the way - and powered up the screen.

"It's working as well as anything else. Teletraan-2 is up and down like a yo-yo at the moment, but--"

"Like a what?"

"A yo-yo. It's a human gadget, Firefight has a scaled-up one--" Silverbolt tried to think how to describe the toy, but his over-tired processor drew a blank. "It's a thing that goes up and down a lot. Like Teletraan-2."

"I see," said Skyfire, amused. "You should get some rest."

"I suppose I should." Silverbolt picked up a chair, set it right, and then leaned on it as he watched Skyfire. "Do you need anything?"

"No, this is fine. It's far more than I expected, to be honest. I thought everything would be broken--"

Skyfire stopped, scanning the room with sudden concern. He turned on the spot, searching the debris on the ground.

"What is it?"

"My orrery." Skyfire turned again with a sigh, kneeling to begin sifting through the broken pieces of metal on the floor. "I suppose it was too much to hope--"

"Oh!" Silverbolt could have kicked himself. "No, it's fine. I put it away."

"What?" Skyfire looked up at him, startled. "When?"

"Just after you… after you went out into space." Silverbolt avoided Skyfire's optics. "I thought-- I just, I hated the idea of it gathering dust in here, maybe getting broken if Metroplex's drones needed to do any work - so I packed it into one of the equipment crates and got Hoist to store it in the warehouse. It shouldn't be damaged at all."

He didn't tell Skyfire that it had been a kind of symbolic act for him, when things had been at their worst - when he'd thought Skyfire was gone forever. He'd come into Skyfire's quarters more than once in the months before that, setting the orrery in motion and watching it, and telling himself over and over that Skyfire had to come back, because he wouldn't have left the orrery if he was planning to stay away. When Skyfire had gone on the deep space mission… Silverbolt had felt almost betrayed by the contraption - as if it had made him a promise and broken it. And he'd known that he couldn't do this any more, that he had to draw a line under everything he'd hoped, and move on. So he had packed up the orrery, taking a sliver of satisfaction in protecting it even when Skyfire had abandoned it, and he hadn't been back into Skyfire's quarters between then and now.

And now the expression on Skyfire's face was full of such amazement and gratitude that Silverbolt's spark contracted painfully.

"You really-- it isn't damaged?"

"It shouldn't be. The warehouses were completely untouched. I can go and get it now if--"

"It can wait." Skyfire got to his feet and came over to where Silverbolt was standing. Every sensor node in Silverbolt's plating reacted in response, anticipating that he would reach out - but Skyfire seemed to be holding himself back as much as Silverbolt was. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I should never have--" He stopped, then went on in a low tone. "I feel I've been unfairly lucky, all things considered. I… have lost nothing that I hold dear."

He did reach out then, but only to briefly touch Silverbolt's hand on the back of the chair, a light press that was as reserved and careful as his every word and gesture had been all night.

"Thank you."

Silverbolt couldn't hide the shiver that passed through his whole body. Their optics met. Silverbolt wanted nothing more just then than for Skyfire to lean down and kiss him until he couldn't think, or see, or care about anything at all except this, now…

He didn't think it was just him, either. But Skyfire had apparently meant what he'd said about following Silverbolt's lead - and about starting over. He finally looked away, and stepped back, starting to push the debris to one side with his foot.

"We should both get some rest," Skyfire said.

"Yes." After a moment, Silverbolt forced himself to let go of the chair and move towards the door. "You're sure you have everything you need?"

"Yes," Skyfire replied softly, and Silverbolt could hear the lie in it, laid bare by the longing that slipped into the simple word. "Goodnight. Sleep well. I'll see you in the morning."

"I think it technically is morning," Silverbolt replied, half-laughing with the whimsy of exhaustion. "I'll… see you later, then."

"Yes."

He turned to go. Behind him, he heard Skyfire pushing more of the mess to one side, clearing space around the berth. Silverbolt stopped with his hand on the door controls and looked back. Skyfire tested the berth with one hand, then sat carefully on the edge, relaxing when it bore his weight easily. He looked over at Silverbolt, perhaps wondering why he hadn't heard the door open yet.

The answer, Silverbolt realised with calm clarity, was that he did not want to open the door. He did not want to walk out. He had absolutely no desire at all to go to his own berth and try to recharge alone.

And he was completely, utterly done with waiting.

Five purposeful steps took him across the room. Skyfire started to speak, but as far as Silverbolt was concerned, they were also done with talking, at least for now. He put a stop to whatever Skyfire meant to say by the simple method of taking hold of his face in both hands and kissing him.

It had been so long that for a moment they both hesitated in the kiss, uncertain - but then Skyfire pulled Silverbolt down onto his lap, and Silverbolt wrapped his arms behind Skyfire's neck, and hesitation was swept away.

It was at once deeply familiar and almost new. They both remembered how they fit together, but they'd lost the habit of taking account of it without thinking. Silverbolt found the angle that let him kiss Skyfire deeply, and Skyfire didn't even seem to be trying to hold back the soft moan that Silverbolt wrung from him. Silverbolt shivered at the sound of it, and Skyfire's hands moved tentatively into place on his wings, running shaking fingers down the seams and gently rubbing the elevons.

Silverbolt found he was losing track of time completely. Primus, it had been so long… and Skyfire's field was as open and yearning as his own, tangling willingly in a rush of emotion and need. His second guess had been the right one, Silverbolt realised - it wasn't that the darkness had left Skyfire completely, but he was refusing to try and hide it anymore. Silverbolt couldn't have expressed in words just how that made him feel - but he didn't need to, with their fields so intermingled. Skyfire's arms tightened around him in response.

Finally, they broke off kissing in an unconscious moment of shared decision. Silverbolt leaned his forehead against Skyfire's and kept his optics dimmed. Skyfire pressed a whisper-soft kiss against his cheek and resumed stroking his wings, and Silverbolt would have stayed in that moment forever if he could.

"Is... this okay?" Skyfire said.

"I am so tired of being sensible," Silverbolt replied softly. "For once in my life I want to be reckless, and impulsive, and take a chance. I don't want to start over. I want to stay here with you. If that's what you want."

"Oh, my love," Skyfire whispered, as he had in the medbay. This time Silverbolt didn't try to hide the surge of longing that it evoked. "Primus, yes, more than anything - but..."

Silverbolt caught the meaning behind the words he didn't say aloud: that he didn't deserve this, that it shouldn't be so easy, that he should have to work and suffer before he could even think about winning back Silverbolt's spark. And Silverbolt realised that those thoughts had been there all along - that Skyfire had never really believed he'd earned Silverbolt's love.

He didn't know how long it would take to convince Skyfire otherwise - but he knew he could do it now - now that Skyfire was willing to let him see his fears. Silverbolt kissed him again, letting his field speak for him. I love you. And that's my choice.

"Stay," said Skyfire, the word almost a plea.

"Always," Silverbolt whispered.