Disclaimer - I don't own them.

A/N - written for the gestalt_love Sept-Oct Graphics challenge on Livejournal. Takes place shortly after the events in "Protectobot Beginnings: Shield"


The first short out offlined his optics, dropping him to his knees with a short cry of pain. The second arced through his entire frame with a blue crackle and smell of scorched circuitry, and the third took him, mercifully, offline. Ratchet was there almost immediately, seemingly yanked out of thin air by Blades. He swiftly restarted First Aid's engine and damped off a fourth short out before it could get started. The look in Hot Spot's optics tore at Silverbolt's spark, but the Protectobot commander held together well enough until Streetwise, racing over from the other side of the compound in alt mode, transformed and then suddenly staggered a few steps to collapse in Hot Spot's arms.

The Aerialbots helped get everyone to the temporary medbay and then…there really hadn't been much they could do. They finished the section of broken wall they'd been clearing and then gathered forlornly back in their own quarters, oddly empty without the five Protectobots bunking there. Optimus Prime hadn't given final approval for the new gestalt team to stay on Cybertron yet, but Wheeljack had winked an optic and had hinted that they might need to leave space to include Protectobot quarters in the rebuilding of the base. And now…Silverbolt couldn't erase the cold feeling in the center of his spark. What was going to happen now?

"He was doing so much better," Fireflight said in a small voice, from where he was huddled under Silverbolt's arm. "Streetwise, too. I thought they were all going to be ok."

Silverbolt gave him a reassuring squeeze, although he knew the gestalt bond was likely leaking all his worries. It was well into the next cycle, but there had been no word from Ratchet. The silence from the medbay was beginning to seem ominous. It had taken almost two orns after their near-deactivation from a pulse cannon blast before Ratchet had finally given the Protectobots the medical go ahead to assist with the rebuilding of the decimated base, and the young gestalt team had set to it with an energy that seemed to sweep everything into a whirlwind of organization, rather than chaos. With his broken leg strut now fully repaired, Streetwise had kept even Air Raid on his toe components trying to keep up with his enthusiastic explorations. First Aid still hadn't been allowed to do any heavy work, but his optics behind the visor had been bright and clear, and at least he no longer moved like he was older than Kup. The still raw-looking patches on his armor only itched, he said. They didn't hurt anymore.

"Now we'll have to do all the dirty jobs ourselves," Air Raid said. His usual smirk was half-sparked at best. "I was going to make Streetwise and Groove clear out the drain pipes."

Slingshot snorted. "Stupid sparklings. They'd probably think it was fun."

"No enslaving the Protectobots into doing all our chores," Silverbolt said with exaggerated sternness, scowling at Slingshot and Air Raid in an attempt to lighten the mood.

"Yeah, that's Fireflight's job." Air Raid reached over and poked him, and Fireflight gave a little giggle.

"Only if I can borrow First Aid's decrystallizer gun. That was so cool! The way that whole wall just crumbled after he…decrystalled it. Or whatever you call it. I wonder if Wheeljack could install one for me?" The simultaneous thrill of horror at the thought of Fireflight with a decrystallizer gun must have transmitted through the gestalt bond, because Fireflight gave them all a quizzical look. "What? I would be careful with it."

"Ah…I'm pretty sure it would mess with your flight balance," Skydive said quickly.

"Oh," Fireflight said, looking downcast.

Silverbolt gave him another squeeze. "You've already got your photon displacer gun, right? And anyway, I think your fire fog missiles are much cooler than any decrystallizer."

"Oh," Fireflight said again, in a much happier tone this time, and snuggled in closer.

"So when are you going to comm the medbay?" Slingshot asked, the faintly challenging way he said it implying that Silverbolt was being remiss in his duties as gestalt commander. Silverbolt kept himself from bristling with an effort. It was true, to some extent, and he found himself still strangely reluctant to open a comm line. If it was bad news he wanted to put off knowing it for as long as possible.

"I'll go down and check for myself," he said. Somehow that seemed easier, although normally disturbing Ratchet in his medbay when there were seriously ill or injured patients was hazardous at best. Fireflight gave him a squeeze this time.

"Tell Groove I saved his antenna things," Fireflight said, and Silverbolt smiled at the memory of Groove, unconcernedly sorting through the rubble with four springy metal coils he had found somewhere and attached to the top of his helm, courtesy of some adhesive he'd borrowed from First Aid. They'd fallen off in the scramble to get everyone to the medbay. Funny little sparklings. They'd better be ok.

"I will." Silverbolt set off for the medbay before he could find more reasons to stall.

His steps became slower the closer he got. What if First Aid…it had been a miracle he'd even survived in the first place, and it had looked really bad, whatever had been happening to him; Ratchet's face had been grim. And then Streetwise, too…what if it had been bad enough that they had all deactivated? How was he going to tell the others?

What if Hot Spot needed him? A small but somewhat braver voice in the back of his processor prodded him forward again, the last few steps. Silverbolt blinked, puzzled, as he paused just outside the hangar door that opened on to the temporary medbay. Was that…giggling he heard?

"Ok, now try this one," a voice that unmistakably belonged to Streetwise said. "To create skillful fliers, give them turbulent skies.'"

Silverbolt felt relief wash over him as he edged through the door. Streetwise and First Aid were sharing a berth, leaning close together as First Aid wrote something on a datapad. They were both attached to a myriad of blinking monitors and Streetwise had a coolant booster humming next to him on the berth, but neither of them looked remotely close to deactivating. Wheeljack was frowning over several datapads and spec sheets spread over the berth behind the two, while Hot Spot, Groove, and Blades were all curled up together in recharge on a third berth nearby.

"You two look like you're feeling better," he said, smiling, as he entered the rest of the way.

"Hi, Silverbolt!" Streetwise looked up with a cheery smile and wave.

First Aid smiled as well, though Silverbolt noted in concern the dimness of his optics and scratchy static to his voice when he spoke. "Silverbolt, I'm so sorry; we'll be back to help soon-" First Aid looked almost as if he was going to slide off the berth and go back to work that very instant, and Wheeljack, coming up from behind, put a restraining hand on his arm.

"Not soon for you, I'm afraid, kiddo. Streetwise should be fine in a cycle or two as long as he takes it easy, but you're going to be here until we can get this figured out."

First Aid subsided with an unhappy sigh, and Wheeljack gave him a comforting pat.

"It was just a short out," First Aid murmured. "They're not that serious."

"Your engine stopped," Silverbolt said, giving him a slightly incredulous look. "That's not serious?"

First Aid gave a little shrug, ducking his helm. "The fail safes would have kicked in and restarted it. Eventually."

"Normally they're not that serious, but you had four, in rapid succession, and they weren't minor ones," Ratchet corrected, and Silverbolt jumped a little. He hadn't noticed the medic coming up behind him. "That's a massive strain to your systems, even with your redundant components. If they keep happening at that intensity they can cause permanent damage, and I'm a little worried your optics haven't rebooted yet." Silverbolt lifted his optic ridges in surprise – he'd had no idea First Aid's optics were still offline. And then what the Pit had Aid been doing with that datapad when he first came in, if he couldn't even see it?

Ratchet tweaked something on one of the monitors and then ran his scanner over First Aid's helm. "If we had the supplies I'd soak the whole lot of you in an oil bath for the next three orns…hmm, optics are initializing, slowly. It's about time…"

"Wouldn't immersion be counter indicated in my case, since it would interfere with the magnetic pulse therapy?"

"Not necessarily…"

Ratchet, First Aid and Wheeljack entered into a discussion of the various severities and treatments for short outs, rapidly devolving into esoteric medical terminology, so Silverbolt made his way around to the other side of the berth. Hot Spot looked exhausted, he noted sympathetically as he passed him. The Protectobot commander was sprawled on his back, recharging with a deep worried frown still on his face, with Blades and Groove tucked up tightly against him.

"They were up all cycle worrying over us while Aid and I got to nap the whole time," Streetwise said, noticing his glance. Silverbolt nodded. He'd already gathered as much, but it was nice to have it confirmed that there wasn't much seriously wrong with the other three.

"What were you guys doing when I came in?" he asked Streetwise curiously.

Streetwise tapped the datapad that First Aid was holding. "Aid's symbol output is still all scrambled. We think it's been like this since the cannon blast; he just hasn't tried writing anything until now so we never noticed. Here, check this out." He nudged First Aid to get his attention. "Finish this one: 'To create skillful fliers, give them turbulent skies.'"

Silverbolt suppressed a smile. Streetwise had obviously been talking to Skydive, though Silverbolt wasn't entirely sure he agreed with the old adage; he always felt like mentally replacing the "skillful" with "terrified."

They all watched as First Aid carefully traced out several glyphs. A few were drawn backwards, but other than that they were all neatly formed and perfectly legible. Silverbolt raised an optic ridge and Streetwise began giggling before First Aid was halfway through.

"Stop that," First Aid said, although a smile was quirking the corners of his lips. "Don't show me until I'm done." Something of what First Aid was actually writing must have been transmitting through the gestalt bond from Streetwise.

Streetwise shook his head, snickering softly. "Better use voice rec or straight download if you ever have to write any prescriptions, bro."

"Face the direction you wish to fall, for there you will foretell the vector of cookies," Silverbolt read the glyphs slowly, when First Aid was finished. Streetwise broke into peals of laughter.

"The vector of cookies," First Aid giggled, brushing a finger over the datapad. "Is that really what I wrote?"

"Yep, I'm afraid so, kiddo." Wheeljack smiled ruefully over at Ratchet.

"Definitely processor damage, and probably in the same area that's affecting his optics." Ratchet sighed, though he had a hint of a smile as well, for the two giggling Protectobots. "Not a lot we can do about it, though it may resolve over time. I'm glad they find it so amusing, at any rate."

"They are going to be all right, though, Ratchet, aren't they?" Silverbolt asked. First Aid had put aside his datapad was adjusting the settings on the coolant booster attached to Streetwise. Ratchet raised an optic ridge but did not interfere.

"There are going to be a few long-term issues, it seems, and I'm withdrawing any objections to keeping them on Cybertron. I want them here where I can keep an optic on them. But yes." Ratchet's tone left no room for doubt. "They're going to be fine."

"Did someone say cookies?" Silverbolt heard a sleepy voice behind him, and turned to find Hot Spot, Groove, and Blades stirring on their berth.

Hey, what gives? Slingshot's insistent comm signal buzzed in his processor. Did you get lost on the way? Silverbolt grinned, partly to Hot Spot as he sat up and blinked sleepily and gave him a somewhat fuzzy smile, and partly in response to Slingshot. For someone who referred to the Protectobots as "stupid, annoying sparklings" several times a cycle, Slingshot sure was awfully concerned.

Streetwise and Aid are hooked up to a bunch of monitors, but they're both up and talking; they actually look pretty good. Aid's going to have to stay here for awhile, until they figure out what caused the short outs, but Ratchet says our younger brothers are going to be fine. Silverbolt used the formal term, claiming them as brothers, deliberately. Let Slingshot make of that what he would.

"They aren't cookies, but I think they'll probably do," Ratchet was saying as he pulled something out of one of his cabinets.

Holy slag. Silverbolt's mouth components dropped open a little in astonishment.

What? What's going on! Slingshot demanded, alarmed.

Ratchet's handing out energon treats.

What? You've got to be kidding! Wheeljack and Optimus and Ironhide were always good for a few treats, and sometimes even Prowl, but never Ratchet. Well, there was that one time, but Ratchet had said it was for medical reasons.

Wow, Ratchet must really like them. Air Raid sounded impressed.

They've got him wrapped around their finger components, don't they, Skydive sent, wryly amused.

Well that's just great. Slingshot was most definitely not amused.

I don't see what's the big deal. Fireflight, very smug. Ratchet always gives me energon treats.

Silverbolt's attention was snagged out of the comm discussion by the sound of his name.

"Silverbolt needs one too, Ratchet," Groove was saying. "And maybe he can take some back for Skydive and Air Raid and Slingshot and Fireflight?"

Ratchet handed over the treats to Groove, with what looked impossibly like an amused wink in Silverbolt's direction, and Groove brought them over to Silverbolt.

"Thank you, Groove," Silverbolt said with grave politeness, as he took the handful of energon treats from the sparkling. Ratchet seemed to have included a few extra. "Fireflight said to tell you he saved your—" Silverbolt waved the fingers of his free hand near his helm, imitating the bobbing coils of wire.

"Oh yeah!" Groove's slow-blooming smile was thanks in itself. Watching Blades laugh at the datapad and Hot Spot pull Streetwise and First Aid close, monitors and energon treats and all, Silverbolt felt another warm wave of relief and fondness wash over him. He might be somewhat wrapped around their finger components himself, not that he minded. Looking down at the energon treats in his hand, he suspected Slingshot might not be far behind no matter what his protests. It was a little known fact that the way to Slingshot's spark? Directly through his tank.