Silverbolt is falling, twisting frantically to try and regain equilibrium, but his panic has shorted out his stabilising circuits and his left engine just won't fire no matter what he does. He wants to scream, but no sound will leave his vocaliser: either it's fritzed along with his systems, or his terror has choked it silent. He knows he has to calm down – has to give his systems a chance to reset, to bring that engine back online – but all he can see is the stream of numbers from his altimeter, counting him down, down, down to the unforgiving ground...
Something white fills his sensors, ducks beneath him and matches his speed, eases closer; suddenly he's not falling any more. There is warm metal under him and the deep, steady thrum of another's engines. In a surge of panicked instinct, he transforms and grabs on tightly to whatever protrusions his shaking hands can find.
"You're safe, I've got you," comes a gentle voice – concerned, but soothing. "Are you all right?"
"I... I think so."
Silverbolt presses his forehead against smooth white plating; his saviour levels off, and his panic eases a little as he finds he is settled securely on a broad back. One of his hands is gripping a fin far too tightly, and with a twinge of guilt he eases his grip, though the other hasn't complained. He can't quite bring himself to let go.
"Thank you," he murmurs after a moment.
"I saw you were in trouble from higher up," is the reply – an explanation, and a quiet evasion of the gratitude. "I'm Skyfire. You must be one of the Aerialbots?"
Skyfire – he knows the name from the datafiles he's been reading, trying to keep up with his new responsibilities – one of only three Autobot fliers, until recently, at least – a shuttle, that's why he's so big – a scientist, generally found working alongside Perceptor or Wheeljack. Somehow, he's never been around when the Aerialbots are off-duty. Silverbolt clings to these scraps of data almost as tightly as he is still clinging to Skyfire.
"I'm Silverbolt," he replies shakily. "Um. Nice to meet you?"
Skyfire laughs, not a mocking sound, but a pleasant one that sends vibrations through Silverbolt's body. Silverbolt smiles, a little wanly, more grateful than he could even begin to express for the warmth of another's plating right now, and for how sturdy and safe his companion seems.
"What happened?" asks Skyfire.
"My engine died." Silverbolt remembers to start running diagnostics; they try to tell him that his engine isn't there at all, which a quick sensor scan contradicts, so something awful must have happened to the wiring on that side. "I don't know why – it was fine when I set out."
"Were you injured in the battle earlier?"
"No – well, I was hit a couple of times, but it was nothing – Ratchet had more important things to look at..."
He doesn't mean that to come out so defensive, but Skyfire doesn't call him on it.
"Do you mind if I scan you?"
"I– no, go ahead."
The scan tingles and crackles over his bodywork, gently probing his circuitry, taking surface readings from his systems. Silverbolt's never liked medical scans, always found them uncomfortable and intrusive, but Skyfire is so considerate, so obviously concerned for him, that the slide of his energy field against Silverbolt's is soothing, even pleasant. Skyfire is murmuring to himself softly, the way Perceptor does sometimes when he's working on a problem, but Silverbolt doesn't really listen to the words. He likes Skyfire's voice – it reminds him a little of Optimus Prime's – and even though he knows he should be worried about the damage to his engine, for the first time in weeks he feels himself relaxing.
"Looks like null-ray damage to me," says Skyfire at length, and Silverbolt jolts guiltily back to awareness. "You're going to need the capacitors replaced."
"Starscream's weapon." A faint suggestion of hardness creeps into Skyfire's voice. "It's insidious. If it doesn't knock out your systems right away, it can fry enough connections that the whole circuit will collapse under pressure later on."
Silverbolt twitches despite himself, trying to block out images of his fall to Earth continuing unarrested.
"I... should have stayed for a check..." he mumbles at last, too shaken to do anything but admit his folly. "If you hadn't been here..."
"But I am here," says Skyfire firmly, and does something with his turbines that sends a low, reassuring rumble through Silverbolt from nose to tailfins. Then he adds, with just the hint of a smile in his voice, "And now you know why post-battle check-ups are supposed to be mandatory."
Silverbolt laughs – not because it's funny, really, but because the words could have been condescending, disapproving, and they aren't – Skyfire isn't questioning his ability to lead his team or pointing out the failings of himself or the other Aerialbots. Silverbolt thinks he hears a soft chuckle in return, but it's hard to tell over the noise of Skyfire's engines and the rush of their slipstream.
"What were you doing out here, anyway?" asks Skyfire, gaining a little height to skim over a tall spire of cloud that reminds Silverbolt of his brief glimpse of Cybertron.
"Practising," Silverbolt admits. "I... almost froze in the battle today, while I was dodging Starscream... that's how he hit me." He pauses, then figures he might as well just come clean. "I'm not good with heights."
He expects laughter, maybe that incredulous question – a jet who's scared of heights? – or silence, tinged with pity or contempt. Instead, Skyfire says, quietly and without embarrassment, "Neither am I."
"But– you're a shuttle!" exclaims Silverbolt thoughtlessly, gracelessly, and hates himself a second later – but Skyfire does laugh, then.
"Exactly," he says. "I was built for space travel – to navigate a void and work in distances of light years. Knowing that I have only a few paltry miles to work with... feeling gravity pull me down instead of just tugging the edges of my sensors... being so close but much too high up to hold on to anything solid... it's hard even to describe." Skyfire pauses. "I think you have an idea of what I mean, though, don't you?"
"Yes," whispers Silverbolt "Yes, I do. How do you cope?"
"I find other things to think about. I watch the stars. If it gets too much, I go higher."
"Higher?" Silverbolt shudders. "I don't know if that would help me."
In response, Skyfire fires his jets and begins to climb. Silverbolt feels a thrill of fear as his altimeter starts rising towards its limit.
"What– what are you doing?"
"You'll see. Trust me."
And he does, that's the strange thing, especially when he feels the faintest, hesitant brush of Skyfire's energy field over his own, like a hand trailing down his wing. Somehow, he can't help but trust Skyfire.
They climb higher, higher – the air above them thins, the stars brighten until they blaze, and the cold creeps into Silverbolt's sensors, but Skyfire's intangible shields protect them both from the worst of it. The slipstream falters and vanishes, and Silverbolt knows that if he wanted to he could sit upright now on Skyfire's back. He stays where he is, listening to the steady roar of the other's jets, finding the lack of air resistance calming. He doesn't feel like he's high up anymore, even with his altimeter maxed out.
"Look," murmurs Skyfire, dipping a wing. Silverbolt looks.
Earth curves beneath them, a dark, graceful arc. Silverbolt can see, with his sensors stretched, the lights of billions of humans – clustered, scattered, strung out like beads – can catch glimpses of moonlight on the vast, shifting seas. Behind them, a crescent of blinding gold marks the dawn, blazing its way around the globe that spins serenely on its axis.
He is higher than he's ever been, but Silverbolt finds that the fear won't come. They seem to be hanging there – him, Skyfire, and the Earth. Carefully, slowly, he sits up to get a better look.
"I find it helps," says Skyfire softly, "to remember that, no matter how overwhelming it seems close to, it is just another object in space."
They drift for a while, watching the dawnline spread further as the Earth spins; for millions far below, the sun comes up.
Finally, Skyfire begins to descend once more, and Silverbolt lies down flat, making sure of his handholds. Re-entry causes Skyfire's shields to flare brilliantly as he slides like a meteorite through the atmosphere. Silverbolt watches the play of light, fascinated, determined not to think about the Earth rushing up towards them – but then his altimeter comes back online, hysterical numbers demanding his attention, and he can't help himself, he glances down – and that smooth curve has swallowed them, so that they are plunging down from on high like a falling star...
He draws a shaky breath. "Yes?"
"I won't let you fall."
It's not just reassurance, it's a promise – the words, the tone, the way Skyfire sends another tentative pulse through his energy field to run lightly over Silverbolt's wings. He's never met anyone quite like Skyfire, so steady, so gentle, but with a faint, sharp current of something bright running deep below the surface. He likes it, wants to touch it again, find out where it leads.
"I'll hold you to that," replies Silverbolt, and turns his sensors upward, back towards the peace they have just left behind, and thinks about the stars.