Disclaimer: I don't own them.

Slingshot and Fireflight lowered their voices as they entered their quarters, just in case the others were already recharging. Silverbolt could be downright grumpy when woken up by loud noises. (Or buckets of stale energon. Or by someone trying to tape him to his berth but not being quite stealthy enough. Or by Ironhide comming him to come get one of his gestaltmates out of the brig. Then he was really grumpy.) They'd both been too keyed up after the events of the cycle to just sit around in their quarters, so they'd gone down to the rec room to hang out for awhile.

Skydive looked up from one of his endless datapads as the door slid shut behind them and held up a finger to his mouthplates, motioning to the side of the room with his other hand. They both blinked in surprise at the sight of all five Protectobots in their quarters, recharging in a pile with Silverbolt and Air Raid. Air Raid was almost completely buried, with both Streetwise and Blades sprawled across his chest. The other three seemed to have mostly burrowed underneath Silverbolt, nestled under his wings with a leg or arm or back-of-helm sticking out here and there. Hot Spot and Streetwise were holding hands across the middle.

"What..." Slingshot began in astonishment. Skydive shrugged.

"Don't know. They were all really upset about something," he said softly.

"Optimus?" Fireflight hazarded a guess. Optimus was still in the medbay, and would be for a long time. He and Megatron had really done a number on one another, this time around, but Optimus was going to recover fully. Ratchet said so.

"Maybe," Skydive answered. "Whatever you do though, don't ask if Optimus is going to be ok. They got a little incoherent at that point."

Slingshot raised an optic ridge in surprise. The Protectobots had been fine right after the battle, helping everyone else out in that annoyingly upbeat and competent manner they all had, and with First Aid involved in the repairs they should know better than anyone if Optimus was going to be all right. Although, come to think of it....The little med-bot was an odd fellow; usually he looked all peaceful and content after a cycle spent up to his elbows in the gory innards of injured 'bots, but Slingshot thought First Aid had seemed a little rattled when Ratchet had finally kicked him out of the medbay to get some rest. Hot Spot had been giving him worried looks. Maybe Optimus was worse off than they'd said? But Ratchet wouldn't lie to them...

"Oh yeah," Skydive continued, "and if they should ask if there was anything that would ever make you mad enough to really hurt one of your brothers, do not make a stupid joke about it." Skydive eyed the recharging Air Raid sourly. "Trust me."

Slingshot snorted air through his vents. Air Raid was an idiot. He could just imagine the Protectobot's reaction to that one. Explosions and pulling mechs out of burning hellholes and having pulse rifles held to their helms by malfunctioning patients didn't phase them a bit (though by the third time the last had happened to First Aid, Blades had been starting to look a little wild-opticed), but the slightest hint of a squabble among the Aerialbots and suddenly Groove or First Aid would be watching with mournful worried expressions and Hot Spot would pat them reassuringly and Streetwise would smirk and Blades would look all superior and disapproving...took all the fun out of everything. Slingshot hadn't had a good screaming match in nearly half a vorn; it was starting to get ridiculous.

Fireflight had gone over to inspect the peacefully recharging pile of mechs, and as Slingshot watched he stretched and then knelt down to settle himself on the other side of Air Raid.

"What are you doing?" Slingshot hissed.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Fireflight said mildly. "I'm tired."

"You're going to recharge with all of them?"

"Yup." Fireflight cautiously tugged at Blades a little, smiling when the helo slid over to snuggle next to his wing.

"I think I'll join you," Skydive said, putting down his datapad and stretching as well, before going over to cuddle up by Silverbolt's other side.

Slingshot stood and watched them for awhile in disbelief.

"Not going to join us? It's pretty cozy." Skydive unshuttered one optic to smirk at him a bit.

"Slag no." He wasn't a sparkling anymore. He could recharge fine by himself, thank-you-very-much.

"Suit yourself."

Slingshot grumbled as Skydive rolled over and flung one arm over Silverbolt. That was his spot, slaggit. He sat down in Skydive's vacated chair with a discontented huff. Fine. He'd recharge right there. There was no way he was going to his room all by himself, not when Fireflight had that stupid happy smile on his faceplates and the rest of them looking so comfortable and content. But no way did he want to join them. Not a chance. He shuttered his optics and tried to power down his systems. Streetwise whimpered a little in recharge, and Slingshot powered back up, flopping his arms on the sides of the chair with a groan. Great. How was he going to get to recharge if they were going to be making noises like that all cycle? Streetwise was shifting a little, and Slingshot could see what the problem was. His hand had come from free from Hot Spot's.

With a longsuffering sigh, Slingshot pulled himself out of his chair and went over to the pile, stepping carefully until he could crouch down next to Streetwise. They really had been upset, he thought to himself, seeing the tracks of dried optic fluid down Streetwise's faceplates, and Hot Spot's as well, just visible where he was tucked half under Silverbolt's shoulder. It was easy to forget how young they really were, barely past their first vorn, but none of them were prone to freaking out without good reason, he had to give them that. This must have been something really bad. Slingshot felt a stir of uneasiness, but surely Silverbolt would have told them, if it was something they needed to know. Streetwise whimpered again and Slingshot took his hand to guide it back to Hot Spot's. Poor sparkling. Poor sparkling who wouldn't let go of his hand. Slingshot twisted and pried, but it was no use; Streetwise only clamped on to him all the tighter.

There was nothing for it. He was going to have to recharge here. Primus, could this cycle get any worse? Slingshot twisted himself around awkwardly until he could shove his way in between Silverbolt and Air Raid. He squirmed, repositioning wings and legs, pulling Hot Spot's arm across his side so it rested next to Streetwise.

//Comfy?// Slingshot started at the amused, affectionate thought from Silverbolt.

//How long have you been awake?// he sent back, bristling.

//Long enough// Silverbolt thought at him with a silent chuckle. Silverbolt was smiling; Slingshot could feel it even with his optics off. Everything must be ok then, with Prime. He didn't feel anything to cause alarm on the surface levels of Silverbolt's processor.

//The Protectobots didn't know about Optimus and Megatron, that they were brothers// Silverbolt told him, catching the silent question. //First Aid found out today, in the medbay. That's what they were so upset about//

Ah yes, that would have put their circuits in a fizzle. Slingshot remembered being appalled himself, vorns ago, when they had first learned the truth. Not that it was some sort of big secret - it was just something no one ever thought to tell new sparks, one of those things everyone just knew. Brothers by choice, Optimus and Megatron, not linked from their sparking the way gestalts were. They had chosen to bind their lives together. Slingshot wasn't sure if that made it better or worse, he just knew it made him feel...wrenched somehow. Like a sharp grappling hook was reaching through his armor to tug painfully on his core. Some things cut too close to home.

He was aware that Silverbolt was still following his thoughts, but lightly, keeping a careful distance. Slingshot was responsible for that distance, that carefulness. Normally he was glad of it, afraid of what Silverbolt might uncover and scorn him for, there in the depths of his soul…but right now...right now it made him remember things. Remember all the times when he had struck hard, with words that stabbed and twisted, knowing exactly where it would hurt the most. Just like Megatron had known, today, how to dig sharp talons into their leader in his most vulnerable places, had known exactly what bait their Prime could not refuse, dangling innocent lives. It looked like hatred, pure and simple, as the two faction leaders tried to tear one another apart with their bare hands, but Slingshot knew better.

In his CPU an image arose unbidden: himself and Silverbolt, locked in a death match. Slingshot shivered.

"It wouldn't come to that," Silverbolt said quietly. Slingshot onlined his optics to see Silverbolt watching him, his optics glowing deep blue amid the spark-striking lines of his face.

"How do you know?" Slingshot asked, voice rising sharply. He lowered it with an effort, not wanting to wake the recharging mechs around him. "How do you know, Silverbolt? They were brothers once, too, and it happened. How can you say that, how do..." his voice was rising again, cracking.

"Shhh," Silverbolt reached a hand over, brushed it gentle over Slingshot's helm. "Shhhh, Slings, I just know. We've both made some pretty big mistakes, but…" I know your spark; no matter how you hide it you have a good spark. That's what Silverbolt wanted to say. Slingshot could feel him deciding not to say it, fearing Slingshot's response. "I'd deactivate, anyway, long before it ever came to that," Silverbolt said instead. "I'm not as strong as Optimus."

The thought of Silverbolt deactivating, because of him, out of despair, made several sharp piercing sensations stab through Slingshot's spark, and he had to bite down hard to keep from yelling, swallowing bitter words aimed to hurt, the urge to strike back out of sheer blind fear. He was better than that now. He had learned, he had changed. He had. Silverbolt was silent, a wordless wariness on the edge of his mind.

One of the Protectobots stirred with a small meeping sound from somewhere down by Silverbolt's lower ailerons. A red-and-white frame inched and squirmed its way up to Slingshot. First Aid, of course. Kid recharged lighter than one of Wheeljack's hydrogen balloons. First Aid nudged himself under Slingshot's wing, a warm solid weight against his side, and looked up at him with his visor flickering blearily. The faint light caught the tracks of dried optic fluid on his faceplates, turning them pale blue. Slingshot reached down with his free hand and rubbed him comfortingly on the top of his helm a few times (all 'bots had programming to comfort distressed sparklings. It wasn't like he could help it or anything). First Aid let his head rest back to the floor under the weight of Slingshot's hand and tucked his hands up under his chin. He murmured Slingshot's name like the beginning of a song, followed by a sleepy sigh and then nothing but the faint hitching of his intakes as he cycled back into recharge.

He was well and truly stuck now, sandwiched in a tangle of arms and legs. Slingshot sighed and resigned himself to his fate, relaxing into the gestalt bond to feel the warm random shift and ping of his brothers recharging around him: Air Raid and Fireflight to his left, Skydive to his right, Silverbolt their center no matter where he was, still awake, but beginning to drift in the murmuring silence.

//I would choose you. If we'd been given a choice// Slingshot felt the thought wing its way effortlessly to Silverbolt, easy as flying, no big deal at all. //I would have chosen you for my brother//

Silverbolt's vents caught and faltered.

//Made you cry// Slingshot sent to him smugly. He rolled a little, careful in their tangled jumble, to lean into his larger brother, his gestalt commander. Silverbolt accepted it as the great gift it was.

//You did indeed// Silverbolt's thoughts were half-laughing, all surrender.

//You did indeed//