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A Wing and a Prayer

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Silverbolt would never, ever have asked, but he had a hard time hiding his relief when Skyfire said, "I'll walk you to the repair bay."

It wasn't that he was scared of Ratchet, exactly - not the way Fireflight was, and Primus, they were going to have to do something about that before Fireflight missed any more tune-ups - it was just that he was well aware of their medical officer's low tolerance for idiots. And flying off without a post-battle check, only to be carried back to base on another mech's back after a near-crash, was about as idiotic as Silverbolt could ever imagine being.

"Thanks," he said, and Skyfire shot him a knowing smile in response. Silverbolt returned it sheepishly.

He couldn't help sneaking covert glances at his companion as they walked. Skyfire was new to him. He hadn't been deployed in any of the aerial battles Silverbolt and his gestalt had fought since their arrival on Earth, and although Silverbolt had seen his name on the roster and knew vaguely who he was, they'd never really met - until a few hours ago, when Skyfire had caught him mid-fall and talked him out of his panic after one of his engines had abruptly ceased to function.

Even then, Silverbolt had only seen him in his alt-mode - well, 'seen' was perhaps a mis-statement, 'clung to' might be nearer the mark - and although he'd been aware of Skyfire's size as a shuttle, he hadn't quite expected him to be so big in root-mode as well. Most of Silverbolt's own mass shifted into subspace when he transformed, leaving him only somewhat bigger than his gestalt-mates, so he had expected the same from Skyfire. And he supposed it must happen - Skyfire was nowhere near big enough in robot form to account for all his alt-mode's mass, he'd have to be almost Omega Supreme's size for that - but obviously not to the same extent as Silverbolt's own transformation.

The strange thing was how quickly he stopped noticing, though. Skyfire moved with unexpected lightness, and seemed to take up less space than his bulk demanded. He was also surprisingly quiet-voiced, and adjusted his pace so that Silverbolt didn't have to take two strides to his one, with the result that, by the time they reached the repair bay, it startled Silverbolt all over again when Skyfire had to duck to get through the door.

There was no-one there but Ratchet: there hadn't been any major injuries in the battle earlier, and those who'd fought were doubtless patched up by now and off enjoying their downtime elsewhere. Ratchet was sorting tools idly, and glanced up with mild inquiry that turned to a sharp scrutiny of both Skyfire and Silverbolt as they hesitated inside the door.

"And where have you been?" Ratchet tossed the last spanner into its box with a loud crash-clatter, and turned to fold his arms over his windscreen, optics narrowed at Silverbolt. "By the time I'd sent your brothers packing I'd lost sight of you. And you--" he added, glaring at Skyfire, "--I've been trying to get hold of you for a while now."

"I'm just keeping Silverbolt company," Skyfire replied quickly - possibly a shade too quickly, a fact that didn't seem to be lost on Ratchet. "I wasn't in the battle--"

"Oh, no, you don't." Ratchet had crossed the bay; he now took hold of Silverbolt and guided him briskly over to a table, giving him a light shove on the back to indicate he should sit down. He turned back to stare down Skyfire. "Two years since your last overhaul is two years too long."

"It's somewhat difficult to stop by while on a mission in deep space."

"You've been back three months."

"... it slipped my mind."

"Well, I want you in here the day after tomorrow, or I might just slip into Prime's office, got that?"

Ratchet turned his back on Skyfire and begun to run a scanner over Silverbolt, perched nervously on the table. Skyfire's face darkened, and Silverbolt thought he was going to argue, but then he seemed to make some silent effort, and his expression smoothed into resignation.

"Alright. I'll come by after my shift."

"Good. Now..." Ratchet frowned at his scanner and turned a probing look on Silverbolt, "... what have you gone and done to yourself, you silly young thing?"

Silverbolt braced himself.

"My engine malfunctioned. I couldn't get it to restart - I can't even tell it's there."

"Null-ray damage, Ratchet, probably from when they were intercepting the Seekers," Skyfire put in, and somehow his calm voice made it sound less like Silverbolt's fault and more like something that could have happened to anyone. "It's taken out the capacitors, but I couldn't see any other damage in my scan, and the other engine on that side should be functional."

"Hmm." Ratchet prodded at the wiring under Silverbolt's engine, making him jump. "You realise that this sort of thing is exactly why you're not supposed to leave until I've given you the all-clear?"

Silverbolt hung his head.

"Yes. I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

To his surprise, Ratchet gave a short snort of laughter, shook his head, and clapped him on the shoulder in a not unkind manner.

"Now that's a first. Alright, lie down, if Skyfire's scanned you and come up clean then I don't expect there's anything wrong that I can't fix before the rest of the pack come looking for you." He moved toward the newly-sorted tools, pausing to throw a knowing glance at Skyfire. "You can clear off now, I'm not going to eat him."

"Just making sure," Skyfire replied, deadpan. "I've heard rumours, you know."

"Get out before I decide to start stripping your circuits here and now."

Skyfire palmed the door controls, smiling faintly, and paused to look fully at Silverbolt.

"I'll see you later," he said, but there was a hint of a question in it.

"I'd like that," Silverbolt replied at once, and kept his optics on him until the door slid shut and blocked his view.


Skyfire heard the door open, but did not immediately turn around. For one thing, the circuitry he was studying was complex, and he'd only just succeeded in picking out the area he would need to work on; if he looked away now, before he'd marked it, he'd have to spend another ten minutes finding it later on. For another, he wasn't particularly in the mood to talk to anyone, and he felt an unreasonable resentment that his solitude had been disturbed. Wheeljack or Perceptor, whichever one it was, could wait until he was ready.

There was a long silence, and then a hesitant, "Hello?"

Startled, he looked up then despite himself. It was neither Perceptor nor Wheeljack - usually the only ones to wander into his lab unannounced - but the Aerialbot he'd encountered a few days previously. Skyfire had been meaning to look him up ever since - he'd been surprised by how much he'd liked the young flyer - but his inadvertent appointment with Ratchet had rather distracted him, as well as souring his mood.

Now Silverbolt was hesitating in the doorway of Skyfire's lab - not precisely nervous, but clearly wondering if he had intruded where he wasn't wanted. Skyfire regretted his ill temper, and turned around fully, managing a smile.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't realise it was you."

"I didn't mean to disturb you." Silverbolt smiled back, rather more warmly than Skyfire thought he deserved. "I just thought I'd... come and say hello. But I can go if--"

"No, no, that's fine." Skyfire gestured vaguely at the workbench he'd been leaning over. "It's nothing that can't wait. How is your engine?"

"Oh, fixed, completely..." Silverbolt's optics dropped for a second. "Well, as much as I can tell, I haven't really... tested it out properly yet. But Ratchet gave me the all-clear."

Most other flyers would have been back in the air the second they were permitted, but Skyfire couldn't blame Silverbolt, given the circumstances of their first meeting, if he were a little hesitant to return to the skies. Not for the first time, Skyfire wondered what quirk of fate had conspired to give Silverbolt his fear of heights. His own dislike of them was easily enough explained - rationalised - and while it made him tense and jittery to fly so close in to a planet, he was able to handle it through long experience. Silverbolt's was more fundamental, if the panic that had that had overtaken him was any indication. Skyfire resisted the urge to ask; it had been obvious when the subject had come up before that it was a sensitive topic for Silverbolt, and he didn't want to pry.

"Then it should be alright," Skyfire said. "Ratchet does usually know what he's doing."

He hadn't meant his own lingering irritation to slip into his voice, but Silverbolt's quizzical frown told him that it had.

"You don't get on with Ratchet?"

"Oh, no, I... respect him deeply, truly I do, we just... disagree, on occasion, about certain things."

"Like the frequency of check-ups?"

There was a tentative teasing note in Silverbolt's voice, Skyfire thought, but he couldn't be entirely sure. He'd never been particularly good at reading people, and Silverbolt was not, he suspected, the open datapad he appeared to be. Either way, it was easier to grimace and shrug, and enjoy Silverbolt's unexpected laughter - he had rather a lovely voice - than to try and explain.

"But I suppose you're used to each other by now," Silverbolt went on. "How long have you known him?"

"Just over three Earth years," Skyfire replied. "Apparently it takes at least a vorn to get in his good graces..."

He trailed off, because Silverbolt looked confused, and Skyfire wasn't sure what had caused it.

"But weren't-- I mean, I thought that the Ark crew had all been together for years - vorns, I mean - before you came to Earth."

Skyfire suffered a moment of disorientation. The story of his entombment in the ice had done the rounds of the Ark so thoroughly just after his awakening that he'd become used to everyone knowing. He'd even resigned himself to the faint mistrust and pointed remarks brought about by his past involvement with Starscream and brief stint as a Decepticon. But although the tale had been fresh enough to be repeated to the bots brought out of stasis a few months later, it had largely faded into obscurity by the time the Aerialbots had been brought from Cybertron.

Most of the Autobots were friendly in an offhand sort of way these days, and if Skyfire still felt something of an outsider amid the close-knit Ark crew, well, what was that but the truth? It was as Silverbolt had said: the bots of the Ark had been working together as the core defenders of Iacon long before they'd set off for Earth. Skyfire might have been there three years, risked himself as willingly as anyone else against the Decepticons, but he was still, in the eyes of most, a newcomer.

As was Silverbolt, Skyfire realised, even more than he himself: the Aerialbots had been fullsparked with all the knowledge they would need to function, but nothing could hide the fact that they lacked real experience, were far younger than even Bluestreak. That coupled with the fact that they were flyers had built a barrier between them and the other Autobots before they'd even had time to settle in - not helped by what Skyfire had heard had been a near catastrophe when four of them had decided to up and leave immediately. It had been Silverbolt who'd brought them back, apparently - Silverbolt who had found a way to persuade, cajole, and manoeuvre them into returning to the ranks. Skyfire had barely seen any of them first hand, at least until his encounter with Silverbolt a few days ago; he hadn't exactly been avoiding them, but his brief glimpses of the group had reminded him uncomfortably of Starscream, and between long-distance patrols and his lab work, he hadn't had to try very hard to evade their company.

Silverbolt, though, Silverbolt was different, he'd seen that straight away. And it was unexpectedly pleasant to meet someone who had no preconceptions about him.

"Actually, I didn't set out from Cybertron with the Autobots," Skyfire said. "They rescued me shortly after their own awakening on Earth."

"Rescued?"

Silverbolt had been hovering in the doorway; now he came fully into the lab, optics alight with interest, and Skyfire realised that he was rather bigger than his brothers - nothing like Skyfire's own size, but it made him feel less like he had to be careful of his every movement. He'd seen the humans' Concorde racing through the skies on his patrols; the curved wings of the supersonic jet lent themselves well to Silverbolt's tall figure. Skyfire located a little-used chair lodged under a workbench and pushed it towards him with a smile.

"They found me trapped in ice in the Arctic." It was the first time he'd told the story himself; he found he rather relished the prospect. And there was no need to mention Starscream at all. "I first came to this planet over ten million of its years ago..."


Silverbolt, it turned out, though he was neither a scientist nor particularly well-informed on scientific principles, had a quick mind and seemed genuinely interested in anything that Skyfire was working on, with the result that Skyfire quickly got used to having him around, and looked forward to his visits. Silverbolt mostly showed up just after he'd gone off-duty; Skyfire soon realised that he liked to escape from his gestalt for a while, especially when they'd been practising manoeuvres.

Manoeuvres, he was learning, were the bane of Silverbolt's existence: the combination of Air Raid (who liked to improvise), Slingshot (who had no patience), Fireflight (who had no attention span), and Skydive (who was a perfectionist) was a recipe for disaster.

"It wouldn't be so bad," Silverbolt was saying glumly, "if I thought they cared whether they got it right. But Slingshot and Air Raid just think it's funny when they mess up, and I'm not convinced Fireflight even knows which way he's pointing half the time."

"And Skydive's no help?"

"No, when he gets annoyed, the others act out just to wind him up." Silverbolt sighed, leaning back against the workbench and darting a rueful look at Skyfire. "I'm starting to think I should just give up altogether, leave them to their own devices."

"The problem is," Skyfire said, concentrating on carefully fitting together two components he'd just finished working on, "that the Decepticon Seekers, whatever else you may say about them, are extremely good formation flyers. Which gives them the edge."

"I know..." Silverbolt picked up one of the pieces of quartz Perceptor had left on the bench and started playing with it absent-mindedly. Skyfire had stopped being bothered by that habit when he'd realised that Silverbolt never touched anything that he was using or that looked like it might be important. "But if Slingshot decides something's 'boring' or 'geeky', it's the Pit to get him to do it, and the other two follow his lead."

He lapsed into silence, frowning slightly, and Skyfire let the conversation lie, aware that Silverbolt was following a train of thought somewhere. He picked up a soldering iron, and was more than half done before Silverbolt spoke again.

"You know, I'm doing it all the wrong way."

"I doubt it, but what do you mean?"

Silverbolt was turning the quartz over in his hands, watching the way the light ran in waves over its glittering surface, but Skyfire didn't think he was really seeing it.

"I keep trying to make them see how important it is that we improve our formation work, but Slingshot hates being reminded he's an Autobot..." An unhappy look touched Silverbolt's face for just a second, but it was quickly gone. "... but what you were saying a minute ago, about the Seekers - that's the sort of thing he does care about. They all do. Air Raid still thinks Thundercracker is Primus on wings, and half the time after a battle they're more interested in talking about what the Seekers did than what we did."

There was a touch of defensiveness in Silverbolt's voice. Skyfire had heard about the incident with the chronosphere both at the time and, in recent weeks, from Silverbolt himself, and he was aware of how little some members of the Ark's crew trusted the Aerialbots. That they were flyers was bad enough; that they idolised some of the Autobots' most-hated enemies was tantamount to treason in the optics of some.

But Skyfire had barely been in this war himself, and while he despised the Decepticon creed and had no wish to see them win, he found it difficult to forget, as so many of his comrades seemed to, that those on the other side of the battlefield were not so very different from the ones he had chosen as his allies.

"I can't say I really know them well enough to comment." Skyfire put down his tools, waiting for the solder to cool. "But from what you've told me about them, I think you're probably onto something."

That won him a smile, one of the unrestrained, startling smiles that Silverbolt occasionally let slip. Skyfire never could stop himself returning it. After a moment, he looked down at the bench and picked up the device he'd been working on.

"I need to test this outside," he said. "Would you like to come?"

It was early evening in the desert beyond the Ark's main entrance, and more than a few Autobots were out and about, enjoying the fine weather with racing or idle conversation. One or two of them called greetings. Skyfire led the way off the main approach to the Ark, past a shoulder of rock that gave them a modicum of privacy, and stopped at a flat area of ground that looked suitable. Kneeling down, he set down the contraption - roughly the size of his hand - and paused to look critically up at the setting sun.

"So what is it we're testing, exactly?"

"Hmm?" Skyfire turned to find Silverbolt bending over to look. "Oh, it's a solar power converter. We've been working on it for the last couple of weeks, Perceptor and I, but the results have been disappointing."

Silverbolt did not take a step backward, but from the wary look that came into his optics, he wanted to.

"I take it that's what those explosions were the other day?"

"What?" Skyfire frowned as he tried to cast his mind back over recent notable events in the science division. "Oh, no, that was something Perceptor's been putting together with Grapple and Hoist. Believe it or not, it was supposed to blow up like that."

He paused, and smiled despite himself at the unconvinced expression on Silverbolt's face.

"Contrary to what living in close proximity to Wheeljack may have led you to believe, ninety-five percent of experimental technology does not detonate the moment it malfunctions."

A smile tugged at Silverbolt's mouth, and he knelt down opposite Skyfire, regarding the device with renewed interest.

"Ninety-five percent? Is that an official figure?"

"Definitely. Very official. Ask anyone, although not until I've had a chance to tell them about it."

Silverbolt laughed, optics brightening pleasantly.

"In all seriousness," Skyfire went on, pulling out a screwdriver to calibrate the little device, "if these things don't work, they generally just don't do anything at all. And then," he added with a sigh, "you find yourself left with an immensely complicated desk ornament. Back on Cybertron I had a whole cabinet of the ones I couldn't bear to take apart, at least until St--"

Skyfire stopped speaking so abruptly that his vocaliser crackled static.

It had been almost a year since he'd last slipped up and mentioned Starscream's name, and that had been with Perceptor, who had known them both before the war. Skyfire had only made the mistake in other company a handful of times: the dark looks he'd got were enough to teach him to mute his vocaliser on that topic. It wasn't fair, of course - you couldn't immediately train yourself out of thinking, talking, about someone who'd been your closest - occasionally only - companion for vorns. Especially when, as far as he was concerned, it still felt like his partnership with Starscream had been a mere couple of years ago, instead of millennia. It wasn't fair, but it was, he had learned, simply how things were now.

Silverbolt was looking at him with concern.

"Are you--"

"You're in the light."

"What?"

Without really thinking about it, Skyfire took hold of Silverbolt's arm and tugged him around to his side of the converter, so that Silverbolt's shadow no longer fell on it. A moment later, he realised that such contact might be unwanted - but Silverbolt came without protest, and sat down casually at Skyfire's side with only one brief, questioning glance before accepting Skyfire's unspoken desire to change the subject.

"Is it the best time of day for this?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. It has to work in low light levels, you see."

Skyfire reached out and flicked the 'on' switch. Despite his earlier assurances to Silverbolt, he caught himself relaxing minutely when it failed to explode. His lab was next to Wheeljack's, after all.

It took a few seconds - three point seven zero one two nine, according to Skyfire's timer - but the converter began slowly to spin on its axis. Skyfire made a pleased noise, leaning forward and pulling out a hand-held scanner to measure the output. The little converter sped up even as he was taking the reading, whirring happily. To Skyfire, it sounded proud of itself, and he turned to his companion, intending to share the whimsical thought.

"Hey, Silverbolt!"

Silverbolt, who had been watching the spinning device with interest, jumped and turned towards the voice with a startled, almost guilty expression. It was gone in a nanoklik, replaced by one faintly apprehensive. Looking in that direction himself, Skyfire saw the rest of the Aerialbots bearing down on them from the direction of the Ark.

"Where the slag have you been?" demanded Slingshot - the only one Skyfire could identify offhand, mostly by his manner - as they drew level. "We've been all over the Ark looking for you."

"If you count the hangar and the common room as all over the Ark, we need to work on your sense of direction," jibed one of the others. "You hit your head on the ground one too many times?"

"Wasn't me who broke formation and--"

"Can we drop that already?" whined a third. "I said I was sorry."

"Several times. Once every time you--"

"For Primus' sake," snapped Silverbolt, "did you come and find me just to drag me back into this? I'm busy."

Four pairs of optics focused in sudden, intense scrutiny on Skyfire. He had the impression that he didn't add up to much in their combined opinion. It would have bothered him more if he hadn't also been aware of how terribly young they all were. Silverbolt always gave the impression of striving to appear rather older than his scant years; his gestalt-mates held no such aspirations.

"Doing what?"

Silverbolt was stiff and on edge, though he was hiding it well; it was only that, with his back partly to Skyfire, the faint tremor of tension in his wings was more apparent.

"Talking," he said. "What do you want?"

"Whoa." One of the predominantly white and red ones that wasn't Slingshot took an exaggerated step backwards. "Did you hear that? I think we made him mad."

"Hardly," said the dark-coloured one, with a sideways smile. Skyfire suspected him of playing up to his brothers' encouragement, and tentatively identified him as Skydive. "Cranky, maybe. Are you cranky, Silverbolt?"

"I'm wishing I'd locked myself in my quarters," Silverbolt retorted with some spirit. The others laughed; it was obvious that baiting their more serious team-mate was a favourite pastime. "I thought you were going to refuel and practice at the shooting range?"

"We were," said Slingshot, folding his arms belligerently, "but then we started wondering where you'd skipped out to."

"Yeah," piped up the second red-and-white, frowning with what might even have been genuine hurt, "you've been running off without us all week."

"Longer than that."

"More like a month."

"We're feeling like you don't love us any more, Silverbolt."

It was rather entertaining - from the outside - though Skyfire could tell Silverbolt was becoming steadily more irritated. They could certainly give the twins a run for their money.

Unfortunately, some of his amusement must have shown on his face, because the more forceful of the red-and-whites turned on him with a scowl and a curt, "Something funny?"

"Not at all," Skyfire replied mildly, forestalling the beginning of a reprimand from Silverbolt. "I'm sorry, I don't think we've met. I'm Skyfire."

The Aerialbots stared at his outstretched hand with unanimous suspicion. Somewhere in the back of his processor, it made Skyfire a little sad that they had learned to be so wary so soon of anyone outside their tight-knit group. Somewhere else, an alarm went off: that look was so very reminiscent of Starscream when Skyfire had first known him, of the flighty, haughty, hostile outlook that had led naturally to the Decepticon cause...

"Skyfire, huh?" The red-and-white who had challenged him set his hands on his hips and glared up at a bot twice his size with no apparent sense of irony. "What are you doing with our wingmate, anyway?"

"Air Raid," began Silverbolt, voice sharp and furious.

"I was showing him something I'm working on," Skyfire replied, willing to play along with them for now. "Would you like to see? It's--"

"Ugh, you're kidding." Slingshot overrode him rudely, casting a disgusted glare at the little solar generator still spinning merrily away to itself on the ground. "He's as bad as that Perceptor. Come on, Silverbolt, we're gonna do four-on-one on Skydive at the range - he reckons he can take us all."

Slingshot turned away as if the matter were settled. Silverbolt's optics had brightened to almost-white: Skyfire had never seen him angry, and he found the sight unexpectedly appealing. It was, he thought, something about the way Silverbolt's self-control only hardened with his rising fury.

Air Raid was snickering; the one who was probably Skydive was smirking. The last - Fireflight, by process of elimination - was watching the generator with rapt fascination.

"What's keeping it spinning?"

Air Raid groaned.

"Batteries, probably, what do you think? Come on."

"There's no room for batteries." Fireflight had got down on his knees, pressing his helm to the ground to peer underneath the spinning converter. "And it's sparkly."

"That's the focus crystal," Skyfire said. He wasn't sure there was a lot of point, but Fireflight seemed genuinely interested, and he'd wanted to explain it to Silverbolt, anyway. "It means we don't have to have panels and panels of vulnerable solar cells - we can just install one of these every couple of metres and--"

"Bored now," Air Raid cut in, grabbing Fireflight by the nosecone and pulling him upright with a yelp. "Come on, Silverbolt, we need you to keep score, everyone else always gets distracted, and Skydive cheats."

"I do not."

"Only when he thinks no-one's looking," Slingshot shouted over his shoulder. Skydive took off after him, Air Raid and Fireflight launching themselves into pursuit a second later.

Silverbolt stood frozen for a long moment, then turned to Skyfire with a look of such abject embarrassment that it wrung Skyfire's spark a little. Even his wings seemed to droop.

"I'm so sorry."

"Don't worry about it." Skyfire reached out tentatively to touch Silverbolt's shoulder. The gesture seemed to go further than the words; Silverbolt relaxed under his hand, even mustering a wan smile. "Are you going with them?"

"I'd better, I suppose. If I don't, they're bound to shoot each other to pieces, or blow up the Ark, or Primus knows what else..."

Skyfire bent to pick up the solar converter, which was running slower now that the sun was truly below the surrounding crags.

"See you tomorrow?"

The look of gratitude, and relief, that Silverbolt turned on him was well worth the price of putting up with his less charming gestalt-mates; Skyfire didn't hesitate to smile back.

"Come on, Silverbolt!"

"Definitely," Silverbolt replied. "That is, if I'm not in the brig for killing them."


Silverbolt caught up with them just as they reached the entrance to the Ark - not because he was faster, but because they'd stopped to wait for him.

"Primus, what a lunk!" Slingshot's voice dripped with scorn, a quick toss of the head towards where Skyfire had paused to greet Jazz making it obvious who he was talking about. "What did you want with him, Silverbolt? Can he even get off the ground?"

Silverbolt's last thread of patience snapped. There was a lot he wanted to say - that Skyfire was kind, and intelligent, and had a subtle, wicked sense of humour if you looked hard enough - that Silverbolt could talk to him, and that he actually listened - but he knew what mattered to Slingshot, and what it took to earn his respect.

"For your information," he said, in what he felt was a fairly restrained manner, all things considered, "he's faster than any of us."

"Yeah, well, so's Omega Supreme," said Slingshot. "But he's not exactly..."

Skydive smirked faintly, and imitated the rocket's lugubrious tones to perfection:

"Omega Supreme: slow in other ways."

"Omega Supreme saved our lives, at considerable risk to his own, in case you've forgotten," said Silverbolt, walking on past them into the Ark. "And Skyfire is... is my friend."

"We have to work on your taste in people." Air Raid caught him up and slung an arm cheerfully around his shoulders, though he had to stretch a bit to reach. "You're going to end up completely boring if we don't do something about it."

"I don't know, I thought he was kind of neat," piped up Fireflight. He had been looking thoughtful; now he cocked his head curiously at Silverbolt. "What is he? I mean, he's got wings, but he's too big to be a jet..."

"His alt-mode is a shuttle," Silverbolt replied, clutching at a strand of conversation that wasn't going to end with him either beating his gestalt brothers senseless, or going and begging Ratchet to wire him into Defensor. "It's not an Earth design - he wasn't rebuilt by Teletraan-1, you see, so--"

But only the first part of his answer had penetrated. Slingshot howled with laughter, while Skydive sighed and Air Raid shook his head despairingly. Even Fireflight giggled a bit.

"A shuttle?" Skydive had that condescending note in his voice, the one that Silverbolt found almost more annoying than Slingshot in full swagger or Air Raid at his most cocky. "I thought they'd retired sentient mass transit long before the Ark set out."

"Can you imagine flying groundcrawlers backwards and forwards all day?" said Slingshot to Air Raid. "I'd dump them out at fifty thousand feet."

"Don't call them that." Silverbolt pulled away from Air Raid, walked a bit faster. "You sound like Decepticons. And I never said Skyfire's primary function was transportation. Sometimes he's helped carry the Autobots, but first and foremost he's a scientist and explorer. The shuttle alt-mode lets him go beyond the usual range of spacefaring vessels."

That had Fireflight's attention.

"He can fly through space? He's that kind of shuttle?"

"What other kind of shuttle were you thinking of?" inquired Skydive.

"Well, I don't know, those ones that go between cities on Cybertron, you know - we saw them in that vid file..."

The conversation veered off as Skydive and Slingshot got distracted needling Fireflight, and Silverbolt let it go, giving up on setting his brothers straight for now. He knew what they were like: until someone had met their obscure criteria for respect, they were mocking to the point of cruelty of anyone who attempted to enter the Aerialbot circle. Even Omega Supreme, who had earned their grudging admiration, was the subject of more than one unkind remark. It was part of the reason Silverbolt had been - not exactly hiding the time he spent with Skyfire - but not exactly trying to draw attention to it, either.

The other part was... hard to define, even in his own mind, beyond a sort of formless desire to keep Skyfire to himself.

"If it shuttles things backwards and forwards, why can't I call it a shuttle?" Fireflight was demanding loudly. There was a clang and a yelp. "Air Raid!"

Silverbolt sighed, and reminded himself that he did love his brothers, really, and that even justifiable homicide carried heavy penalties under Autobot law.