Author's note: Grimlock's dialogue is courtesy of anon_decepticon, andmuch appreciated!

Thanks for reading and reviewing. :)

Chapter 3

Turn it around, like you turned them around.

Silverbolt hadn't been sure what that meant at first. Sure, he'd brought his team back into the fold, but he'd done that by agreeing with them, telling them that if the Autobots were such losers, the Aerialbots could run the show instead. What was he supposed to do now—agree with Powerglide about the importance of a rank he never wanted to hear mentioned again, and then fight the minibot for it?

Yes, he thought suddenly. But the fight's going to be on my terms, not his.

First, though, he and his team could enjoy their day off. It meant he wouldn't be able to meet Perceptor for the weekly chess game, though, and he sent a transmission explaining that as he headed back to jet territory.

"I would have had to cancel that myself," Perceptor replied. "Ratchet's supposed to receive several shipments of medical supplies that day, so he'll require some assistance with the inventory."

"That shouldn't take you long," Silverbolt said.

"If I were doing it all at once, no, but Swoop can only carry in so much at a time."

Silverbolt frowned. "The supplies are being air-freighted in?"

"Why, yes. From a secret storage depot in Denver."

The mile-high city, Silverbolt thought. "Perceptor… if Ratchet needs those supplies air-lifted in, I'm available."

"But… didn't you say you asked for a day off?"

"I did, but I'd like to help out." He didn't know if that part of the plan would work, but even in the worst-case scenario, he'd at least have brought in some medical supplies.

"That's very generous of you, Silverbolt," Perceptor said warmly. "I'm sure Ratchet will appreciate that. I'll let him know. Perceptor out."

Silverbolt's comm pinged almost at once, and Slingshot didn't even wait for an acknowledgement to start. "You've been gone for hours, and we're all starved!" he said. "Did someone mug you for the energon or what?"

Silverbolt checked his chronometer. "Just under one hour, and that was partly because I stopped to hear about this aerial obstacle course you could visit on our day off."

"Obstacle course?" Air Raid said, not sounding at all like a starving mech.

"Where is this?" Skydive said.

"What do you mean, 'you'?" Fireflight said. There was a blank pause, which he filled in with, "You said, 'you could visit on our day off'. You meant 'we', right?"

Silverbolt braced himself. "I won't be able to come."

By then he was at their quarters, but the silence which followed his announcement had an ominous quality, and when the doors of Air Raid's and Slingshot's room slid open for him, none of the Aerialbots moved to get their energon.

"Why aren't you coming with us?" Fireflight said eventually.

"For once it can't have been Prowl's fault," Slingshot said. "If he gave you the day off, he wouldn't just take it back and if he did, he'd want the rest of us here as well. So what happened?"

"I can't tell you yet." Silverbolt set their cubes down on the table.

The other Aerialbots exchanged sideways looks. Silverbolt didn't need a gestalt link to sense their disappointment, but he knew they were uncertain as well; as their leader, he often had meetings that didn't involve them, but he was rarely if ever secretive about those.

"Maybe it is Prowl," Air Raid said. "He's scheduled some kind of command-structure-only briefing or training at the last minute…?" He let that trail off into a question and looked at Silverbolt hopefully.

"I'll send you guys all the information you need about the aerial obstacle course, and I'll clear it with the humans." Silverbolt picked up his own cube. "Have a good night."

Brisk and matter-of-fact though he tried to be, he couldn't entirely block the emotions that filtered through over their link, and when the other Aerialbots took off two days later, he longed to go with them. He didn't plan to comm them during the day, because they didn't need him looking over their shoulders and he had to believe they would be all right without him, but he missed them more than he had expected. Since their creation, they had flown together and trained together. As soon as all this is over, he promised himself and went to report to Ratchet.

To his surprise, though, airlifting the supplies over hundreds of miles wasn't as lonely as he'd thought it would be. For one thing, Swoop didn't even seem to notice that Silverbolt was flying low. He simply adjusted his altitude to match and they ended up talking—at first, just about flying, since Silverbolt's conversational gambits tended to be as limited as Swoop's speech.

But after that Silverbolt found other things they had in common—the Dinobots were almost as young as the Aerialbots, and Swoop's teammates had (temporarily, of course) once defected to the Decepticons as well. It made the time go by much faster. They refueled in the repair bay after the first delivery, while Ratchet, Wheeljack and Perceptor unpacked the crates, and then flew off for the second round, which turned into a friendly competition. Silverbolt won on speed but Swoop pulled off better maneuvers, and they returned to the Ark ahead of schedule that evening.

The Aerialbots hadn't returned yet, so Silverbolt went to the common room to collect their ration; until he'd settled things, he wanted to keep the team and Powerglide as far apart as possible. He had to pass the minibots' table to get to the dispenser, and Powerglide issued a loud invitation to join them, saying they were discussing all the battles they'd fought in their long history. Because he knows I barely have one, Silverbolt thought as he left.

He felt much better when the Aerialbots returned shortly afterwards, because they had enjoyed themselves and no one, including the humans building the obstacle course, had been hurt. Skydive didn't like the responsibility of being the second-in-command, but he did step up to the plate when there was no other choice, and the others had taken plenty of image captures to show him. They even forgot to ask what he had been doing all day.

They found out soon enough, though. The next day, Silverbolt left the Ark for a brief solo flight to test a replaced wing support strut, but halfway through he felt a fierce surge of anger through the gestalt bond, a sensation as if his fuel was boiling in its tanks. He landed and opened a comm link to his team.

"What's going on?" he said.

"You'd better get back here," Skydive replied, and wouldn't say any more.

Primus, Silverbolt thought and flew back at top speed. He found the other Aerialbots waiting in Skydive's and Fireflight's quarters, except there was no sign of Air Raid, and a simmering resentment filled the room, making it seem even smaller.

"Report," he said tersely.

Skydive rose from his bunk. "We heard you spent our day off hanging out with a Dinobot," he said. "I'm sure he was much better company than your team, but we'd have appreciated knowing about this from you."

"As opposed to…?" Silverbolt remembered the crackling-hot fury he'd felt earlier, and a sudden suspicion made his wings twitch. "Was it Powerglide?"

Fireflight nodded. "Raider took a swing at him, so Ironhide broke it up and he got punishment duty… cleaning." He seemed to be the only one who wasn't thoroughly torqued off, and although the look in his optics was distant with confusion, Silverbolt could sense the hurt behind it. "Why didn't you want to be with us?"

Silverbolt's temper, usually held under careful control, went inciendiary. He could put up with Powerglide needling him, but no one, absolutely no one, tried to drive a wedge between him and his team.

I'm settling this right now.

He sent a location query to Teletraan-1 and made sure Powerglide was in the common room. "Come with me," he said to the other Aerialbots, opening a comm to Air Raid at the same time. "Meet me in the common room. We can deal with your punishment duty later."

Three pairs of optics focused on him in surprise and caution, which was understandable; if Air Raid's earlier anger had been like a fire flashing though their link, Silverbolt's was a cold-fusion warhead. He turned on his heel and walked out of their quarters, barely hearing the others hurry to keep up with his long strides.

He didn't pause even when he entered the common room, and talk fell silent as 'bots noticed him. In the silence, the scrape and swivel of chairs turning in his direction was all the louder. Someone must have muted the television as well, but Silverbolt never looked away from Powerglide as he approached the minibots' table.

Powerglide saw him coming, of course, but the prospect of a fight only seemed to make his optics gleam more brightly. "Silverbolt!" His voice rang out in the sudden quiet. "And all your friends! Care to join us?"

"No." Silverbolt stopped, looking down at Powerglide. In the pause, he heard Air Raid enter the room and hurry to join the rest of them. "I'm here to settle which of us is going to be the Air Commander."

Murmurs ran around the room and even though Powerglide wore a mask, Silverbolt could tell he was delighted. "About time," he drawled. "I was wondering how long it'd take you to get your tailfins in the air! But don't worry—even though I'm going to win, you'll learn a lot about flying from the experience. There's a reason I'm called the sultan of the skies."

"Aft of the air, more like," Slingshot said.

"Be quiet," Silverbolt said to him, then turned back to Powerglide with a look that was half puzzled and half disapproving. "You wanted to have a flying contest?" he said. "A test of skill? Doesn't that sound like something the Decepticons would do?"

Powerglide's confident look flickered. "What?"

"I said, doesn't that sound like something the Decepticons would do?" Silverbolt said, raising his voice a fraction. "That's the way they fight over ranks, in cutthroat contests of skills. Probably cheating, too. I think Autobots can settle things in a much more civilized and democratic way, don't you?"

Brawn looked nonplussed. "What'd you have in mind, a tiddlywinks match?"

A couple of 'bots laughed, but Powerglide didn't, and Silverbolt only smiled. "Let's put it to a vote," he said. "Let's see which of us commands the confidence and trust of our fellow Autobots."

Powerglide hesitated. "All right," he said. "Say, in three days' time."

"Say, now."

"No way," Powerglide said. "You can't just hold some impromptu thing like this—you need to give 'bots time to learn about the stakes and decide whom to vote for."

Silverbolt took a step back and turned to face the room. "Is there anyone here who hasn't heard about Powerglide wanting to be the Air Commander?"

No one said anything, though that gave him a chance to see that the room was starting to fill up as word flew through the ship.

"Is there anyone here who needs three days to decide how they're going to vote?"

Jazz raised his hand. "As long as each side plies me with energon during that time."

Silverbolt glanced back at Powerglide and raised a brow ridge.

Although he was clearly taken aback, Powerglide adapted fast and was clearly ready for the challenge. He got to his feet unhurriedly and all but swaggered as he moved out of Silverbolt's shadow so the rest of the room could see him.

"All right, everyone, time to vote for the best and most experienced flyer in the Autobot army," he said cheerfully. "Who's on my side?"

Silverbolt had expected Powerglide's fellow minibots to fall in with him, and so they did. Brawn and Cliffjumper were the first. Gears complained that they didn't need an Air Commander—in fact, he wasn't sure they needed planes at all, let alone five new ones, and he was sure one of them had pretended to strafe him the other day, which had sent him driving straight into a prickly shrub and convincing him he was going to become one with Primus. At that point even Powerglide glared at him and tapped one foot on the floor pointedly, so Gears sighed.

"Fine," he said. "Powerglide. Not that it matters. Politics… just a way of doing nothing, but taking plenty of time and energon to do it."

Huffer, who had just arrived, voted for Powerglide, followed by Cosmos and Tracks. Silverbolt had no idea if Tracks and Powerglide were friends, or if the other Aerialbots had perhaps teased Tracks about his flying skills (or worse, his paintjob), but the end result was that Powerglide looked even more smug.

"Not bad, not bad at all," he said. "So that's Brawn, Cliffjumper, Gears, Huffer, Cosmos, Tracks… and myself, of course. Beachcomber, how about you?"

"Uh, can I pass?" Beachcomber hadn't moved, but he looked as though he'd been hoping to sidle away. "I don't really wanna vote, man. I like both of you."

Powerglide's brow ridges came together. "No, you can't not vote," he said. "You chose a faction in the war, didn't you, or am I imagining that Autobot sigil on your chestplate? If you're a Neutral, you'll just get caught in the crossfire from both sides. Refusing to vote is a sign of cowardice, so—"

"Abstaining," Prowl's voice cut in like a knife, "is nothing of the sort."

Silverbolt hadn't seen him come in, but although he stood at the other side of the room and didn't raise his voice, no one had any difficulty hearing him. His doorwings caught the light and flashed, even though he stood still.

"Coercing anyone to vote is hardly a sign of freedom and choice," he continued evenly. "And I mean to abstain as well. Do you want to accuse me of cowardice, Powerglide?"

"Of course not," Powerglide said, recovering quickly, but Beachcomber had clearly taken the admonishment seriously, and even though Powerglide reassured him vehemently that he could vote or not vote as he chose, he murmured quietly that he voted for Powerglide. Bumblebee did abstain, and Seaspray was on an assignment with an oceaongraphy institute. Silverbolt wondered who else would join the other side.

Ironhide did, though from the hard glare he shot at the Aerialbots, Silverbolt guessed he felt he was choosing the lesser of two evils. Nine for Powerglide, he thought. Inferno seemed to have guessed the sentiment behind the vote as well, because he spoke up.

"I don't think this should be a popularity contest," he said. "If we're voting on who's going to be the Air Commander, we need to think about what that position means. I hate the Decepticons' struts, but they got that much right—the Air Commander has to be the best flyer, and I gotta admit, that's Powerglide."

For the first time Silverbolt wondered if he had miscalculated. Powerglide had ten votes already, and Inferno had actually made a good argument in favor of voting for him—an argument which might carry all the more weight because it was clearly reasoned, rather than being emotional. What if more 'bots followed his lead?

It made him feel as he sometimes did when he flew too high and then looked down to realize the ground was no longer even visible. But there was the gestalt link, the presence of the other parts of himself, and he drew on that. Air Raid's fearlessness, Slingshot's thirst for the fight, Skydive's cold calculation and Fireflight's insight—he needed them all, and they joined in his own calm center to steady his course.

"Ten," Powerglide said. "Thanks, Inferno."

"I don't agree, Inferno." Red Alert's voice echoed from the intercom overhead. "Yes, half the position is 'air'. But the other half is 'commander'. The successful candidate must be one who has demonstrated the capacity to lead air support and to integrate said support into the structure of our army. I think Silverbolt lives up to those standards."

"Thank you, Red Alert," Silverbolt said, hope flaring.

"One," Powerglide said. "And I guess your team will be voting for you too? Six, then."

"Five," Silverbolt said pleasantly. "I won't need to vote for myself."

"Ten, actually," Hot Spot said.

"Gestalts." Powerglide made the word sound like a mouthful of slag. He leaned back against the table, making it creak. "Ten, then. Who wants to be the tie-breaker?"

"How about the Dinobots?" Silverbolt said.

Powerglide straightened up in an obviously involuntary reaction, and the table rocked, energon sloshing in cubes. "Are you kidding?"

"When am I ever not serious?"

"The Dinobots? They don't even know what voting is."

A chair scraped back as Wheeljack got to his feet, and though he wasn't particularly tall or attention-commanding, all optics went to him. "The Dinobots are more than familiar with the concept of choice, Powerglide," he said, "and I think they'd be willing to participate in this. They're Autobots too, after all. Just a moment while I comm them."

In the pause, Silverbolt's comm pinged. "You planned all this, didn't you?" Air Raid said. "You sneaky fragger, you set it up from the start."

"Just in case anyone was thinking Prime picked my name out of a hat," Silverbolt replied.

The room was crowded already, but when the five Dinobots pushed their way in, 'bots had to press against the walls to make room for them. Swoop gave Silverbolt a cheerful wave, then transformed and settled down on Sludge's back. Grimlock stepped to the forefront.

"Us Dinobots here to vote for Air Commander," he announced. "Him Wheeljack tell us who to vote for."

"Hey, that's not fair, Wheeljack!" Powerglide said at once. "You can't tell them—"

"I told them they had to vote for either you or Silverbolt!" Wheeljack said. "Primus! You really think I need to make those decisions for them?"

Grimlock rumbled an assent. "Us Dinobots choose just fine. Him Swoop say him Silverbolt, but me Grimlock not so sure."

"Me Slag not like any Autobots," Slag put in.

"Me Snarl not care either."

Grimlock fixed a baleful look on Silverbolt. "Me Grimlock vote for…" He paused, drawing out the silence to make sure he had everyone's attention. "…me Grimlock."

Wheeljack's vocal indicators flashed a blink. "You can't vote for yourself," he said.

"Then me Grimlock not vote."

Silverbolt leaned close to Powerglide and lowered his voice. "This would be a great time for the abstaining-is-cowardice speech."

"Oh, frag off."

Wheeljack sighed. "Okay, Grimlock. Thanks for joining in, guys."

The Dinobots turned around as best they could, with Sludge's tail nearly knocking a table over, and pushed their way out, Slag muttering about a waste of time. "Thanks for the tiebreaker vote," Silverbolt called to Swoop before they disappeared out the door.

"Big deal." Powerglide folded his arms. "You need more than just one vote over my tally."

"Then he's got it." Sunstreaker had been calmly sipping energon, but now he set his cube down with a thud. "I couldn't care less about either of you, but anyone whom Tracks votes for has to be an idiot. So… Silverbolt."

"And anyone whom Sunstreaker votes for…" Sideswipe paused. "Nah, too easy."

"Funny," Sunstreaker said flatly. "So who are you voting for?"

"Silverbolt, I guess. At least he won't go on and fragging on about it if he wins."

Silverbolt grinned. "Thirteen," he said.

"Fourteen," Wheeljack said. "How about you, Ratch?"

"Hmm…" Ratchet looked into his near-empty cube as if hoping to see the answer at the bottom. "Oh, fine. Fifteen."

"Sixteen," a quiet voice said, and Silverbolt glanced around to see Mirage leaning against a wall. Jazz didn't even say anything when everyone looked his way; he just smiled faintly and tilted his head in Silverbolt's direction. Hound and Trailbreaker brought the number up to nineteen, and at that point Prowl spoke up.

"Hoist and Grapple are in Portland," he said. "Bluestreak and Windcharger are on patrol, so they don't need distractions. Skyfire is on a supply run and Prime won't be voting, of course. Is there anyone whom we've left out?"

"Perceptor," Silverbolt said. "He's not here."

"He's in his laboratory," Red Alert said. "I'll patch him through." The intercom clicked and beeped.

"This had better be urgent, Red Alert." Perceptor sounded a little testy. "I was determining the maximum temperature in a catalytic converter with the new ceramic shielding in place."

"It won't take long," Red Alert said. "We're voting for the new Air Commander."

"Well, Silverbolt, of course. Who else is there? Now may I return to my work?"

Twenty, Silverbolt thought. Twice as many as Powerglide. And I didn't even vote for myself.

Fireflight glanced up at him. "I think that makes you the Air Commander," he said.

Silverbolt wasn't sure who first began to clap, but it broke out from all sides and there were even a few cheers. He thanked everyone, even though they could barely hear him over the noise, and there was as much triumph as relief in his smile. The title was meaningless—Prime knew that, which was why he hadn't voted—but the victory was what mattered, and that was his. Powerglide sank back into his chair, and for once he was silent as Silverbolt turned to him and leaned down.

"Don't ever mess with my team again," he said quietly. "And stay out of my way, or else I'll really get mad."

He turned and began to make his way to the door, which took a little time since there were plenty of congratulatory comments and friendly jokes along the way—plus, the room was still so crowded that he had to twist to get his wings past everyone. The other Aerialbots followed in single file, though they didn't say anything even when Silverbolt opened the door to his office. He kept a few cubes of high-grade there for emergencies or celebrations, and since the whole incident had started out as one and ended as the other, now seemed a good time to break out the stash.

"Not bad, huh?" he said happily as he unlocked the cabinet. "I don't think we'll be hearing any more slag out of him."

"Guess so," Air Raid said.

Silverbolt straightened up. "What?"

"You didn't beat him." Skydive shook his helm a little, as if disappointed but resigned to it. "You didn't outfly him or outfight him. You just did what you always do."

"Schmoozed," Slingshot said, and drew the word out until it was filled with disdain.

"You're better at making 'bots like you," Fireflight explained, "and that's nice, but that wasn't what all this was about."

"Yeah," Air Raid said. "But I knew what was coming the moment I heard the word 'vote'. Shoulda known you'd pick the safest, dullest way out, 'Bolt." He sighed, stretched his wings and rolled the kinks out of his struts. "Oh well. Got a lotta cleaning to finish."

"I'll help," Fireflight said, and the other two followed them out as well. The doors slid shut, leaving Silverbolt in his empty office with the untouched cubes of high-grade. After a moment, he put them back in the cabinet, locked that again and sat down at his desk.

"I wonder if the Decepticons need a new Air Commander," he said.