a/n: Yet another oneshot from me. Another odd pairing. Still, I hope you can enjoy it.

Title: Afterhours

Characters: Skyfire/Hot Rod

Universe: G1

Rating: K+

Warnings: Hinted mech/mech

Description: Being lost isn't so frightening if someone is there beside you.

"What do you see in him?"

Skyfire nearly drops his datapad. He's startled by the unexpected question in the otherwise companionable silence.

"Who?" he asks, already fumbling.

Wheeljack's indicators flash a curious orange. "Hot Rod." He pauses, idly poking the circuit board he's been building for the past two weeks. "I mean, no offense, but he's no scholar. Or scientist."

Ratchet snorts from Perceptor's other side.

"You mean he's got as much rattling around in his helm as those pit-spawned twins. Barely two circuits to rub together."

"He's smarter than you give him credit." Skyfire frowns, his plating now clamped down tight to his frame. "And it's rather the case of the pot calling the kettle for you. Isn't it, Ratchet? What with your choice in berthmates?"

"I don't know what you mean." The medic cycles down his optics, and his voice takes a chilly edge.

"Of course you don't," Skyfire says breezily and then pointedly returns his attention to his datapad. "Though you might want to tell your plating that as I'm certain those yellow streaks aren't part of your current paint scheme. Nor that shade of red."

Ratchet splutters, hoisted by his own petard, and squawks when he notices the paint transfers. Practically seeing the fury sparking over his armor, Skyfire watches as the medic turns on a heel and stalks from the laboratory, now muttering to himself.

They all watch him go in fact.

"I really wasn't trying to be offensive," Wheeljack offers up tentatively. "I just meant that it's hard to see a commonality. You two are so different."

"Wheeljack is correct," Perceptor interjects his two creds worth. "It would be akin to my developing an interesting in someone like Cliffjumper or Blades. While nice mechs, we do not have very much in common, do we?"

Wheeljack's optics shift to Skyfire, the two of them trading looks of disbelief. Nice mechs? Clearly, Percy hasn't been leaving his lab enough if he's so ill-informed.

"Right," Wheeljack puts in rather dismissively and pokes at his circuit board again. "So it makes a bot wonder; is he like a secret genius or something?"

Skyfire doesn't owe them any answers. But he feels oddly compelled to defend Hot Rod.

"No more than the rest of us," Skyfire replies with care. It is difficult to place into mere words what has drawn him to Hot Rod. Or at least, in words that would not offend his fellows. "He is observant and insightful but not necessarily scientifically inclined. Perhaps that is the draw."

"You are not sure yourself?" Perceptor questions, completely abandoning work and clearly intrigued by Skyfire's answer.

The shuttle shakes his head. "Some things defy explanation."

Hot Rod, at least, is everything Starscream isn't, and maybe that carries the answers as well. Though they are also so very similar. Occasionally abrasive and rude, arrogant. But Hot Rod's spark has a gentle streak where Skyfire is quite sure Starscream had whatever remained of gentleness within him surgically excised a long time ago. He is also kind to both friends and purported adversaries alike; something Starscream never was at all.

The door chooses that moment to swish open, revealing none other than Hot Rod himself. The three scientists swivel their optics his direction, and the younger mech halts in his tracks.

"Uh, what did I do?" he asks, taking a not-so-subtle step back toward the door.

Wheeljack chuckles, while Perceptor bends back over his work. Skyfire ignores the both of them, setting down his datapad. He'd finish his work later. Obviously, there isn't anything more to be done today.

"Nothing," Skyfire assures his partner before subtly changing the subject. "I thought you were on patrol?"

Hot Rod glances at the others with suspicion before returning his attention to Skyfire. "Hound asked me to trade. Something about wanting to spend some time with Bee."

Skyfire can feel Wheeljack and Perceptor as they watch the interaction, though both bots are trying to make it less obvious. He still finds himself vaguely annoyed but tries not to show it.

"Lucky for us then," he tries instead. "Want to get some energon?"

Hot Rod brightens despite himself. "You're not busy?"

Considering their previous topic of discussion...

"Not anymore. At least, nothing that won't keep until later." A small smile tugs at Skyfire's lip components, and he shifts his attention toward his now blatantly staring fellows. "Unless, of course, you object?"

"Not at all," Perceptor allows softly.

"Go on. Take a break," Wheeljack adds, even flicking his hands at Skyfire as though he were a sparkling in need of shooing out of the room.

Skyfire turns back toward Hot Rod, picking his way carefully through the cluttered confines of their shared lab. Space in the Ark is at a premium after all, what with half the large transport crushed within the mountain.

"Shall we go?"

Hot Rod's wordless answer is to precede Skyfire out with an almost nervous flick of his spoiler. For a mech who enjoys attention, he occasionally reacts with an odd disdain toward receiving it. In the corridor, Skyfire has a better chance to get a good look at him though. It's then that he notices the evidence of an altercation: namely that there is a dent in his right cheek plating and that his ventral plating is scuffed and dinged.

Used to Hot Rod in some state of animation, the quiet and contemplative mech before him is a bit worrisome. Skyfire is already reaching forward before he can stop himself

"What happened?"

Hot Rod lifts a hand, briefly brushing fingers over Skyfire's hand and then the tell-tale mark on his right shoulder. Skyfire's grip tightens automatically.

"Difference of opinion?" the younger mech suggests with a shrug.

Skyfire lets out a gust of air. "Who was it this time?"

"Sunstreaker," Hot Rod reluctantly admits.

Skyfire again ventilates. "I warned you about the twins-"

"It wasn't my fault!" Hot Rod snaps, pedes coming down with a harsh stomp that Skyfire's only ever seen sparklings utilize. "The narcissistic slagger thinks he owns the hall!"

With nothing to counter the argument – Sunstreaker does have a rather high opinion of himself and tends to react with vitriol disproportionate to the inciting incident – Skyfire lapses into silence. He merely gives a nod and follows Hot Rod into the rec room. The younger mech's energy field is tightly contained, but bare wisps of it tease at Skyfire's, revealing the chaotic nature of the emotions underneath.

It's as Skyfire suspected. Hot Rod is in desperate need of some calm right now.

Which, unfortunately, will not be found here. Though it is somewhere just after the beginning of the third shift, there are still bots a plenty to be found in the rec room. Mechs who look up at their entrance and just as quickly look away. Or in some cases, follow their path with optics filled with suspicion.

It's uncomfortable, but then, Skyfire has grown accustomed to this discomfort over the months he's spent in the Autobot's company. Some days are worse than others. Some mechs are more suspicious and more inclined to act on their mistrusts than others. The minibots, by some virtue of their nature, are the worst of the lot with mechs like Ironhide who loathe all Decepticons to the very core of their sparks coming in a close second.

Ironhide has never said anything untoward to Skyfire, but then, they don't have much occasion to cross paths either. The red mech's distaste for all things Decepticon is practically a legend around the Ark, and he never quite got over the fact that Skyfire used to willingly associate with Starscream. He, like the minibots, seem poised on a hair trigger, waiting for Skyfire to gleefully take to the skies and flee back to Starscream's waiting arms.

Perish the thought.

Hot Rod faces a scrutiny of a different sort. He's an Autobot, a Wrecker, but he's also different. He's not crew. He's also been in more scuffles with fellow Autobots in the time since his arrival than he's participated in skirmishes against the Decepticons. He hasn't the least bit of tact, doesn't notice when he's pushing all the wrong buttons, and his pride refuses to allow him to back down once he realizes his mistake.

The buzz of conversation continues without their input, and Skyfire isn't at all surprised when Hot Rod gets two cubes and beats a hasty exit from the room. That atmosphere certainly hadn't helped his twitchy energy field at all. His control is slipping, churning emotions wafting free.

Skyfire winces. Yes, Hot Rod is in certain need of some downtime. Luckily, Skyfire wouldn't mind some of his own. Wheeljack's somewhat innocent query still annoyed him. He doesn't think he'll ever get use to the casual way all of the original bots on the Ark stick their olfactory sensors into other mech's business. Just like they have the right.

"Your quarters or mine?" Hot Rod inquires, lip twitching in an attempt at amusement that falls flat. Neither of them are interested in humor right now.

Skyfire gently takes Hot Rod's elbow, tugging him to the left as they approach a fork in the hall. "Mine."

It's smaller than Hot Rod's, but Skyfire, by virtue of being nearly the largest mech on the Ark, doesn't share with anyone. While he knows Hot Rod has been crammed in with both Springer and Blurr, which explains why he can sometimes be found hiding out on the Wreckers' now-broken ship.

"Eager to get me alone?" Hot Rod quips in response, but there's an edge to his tone.

"You could use a bit of quiet right now."

Hot Rod wipes the fake-humor away instantly. "I still haven't figured out how you know me better than Springer."

Skyfire rubs fingers along the metal of Hot Rod's arm, which is still in his grasp. His touch is soft, gentle. More a caress than anything. And it makes Hot Rod's energy field ease.

"There's something to be said for the ability to quietly observe and catalogue," the shuttle comments, and Hot Rod isn't the only one comforted by the lingering touch between them.

Bright blue optics sweep up toward Skyfire, but there's a shadow there now. Not angry. More like a flicker of worry. Of hurt.

"Am I one of your experiments then?"

Skyfire offers him a grin and shake of his head. His voice is teasing, which relieves Hot Rod more than anything else would.

"Too soon to say. It's a work in progress."

He strokes at sensitive wiring in Hot Rod's elbow and he feels some of the younger mech's tension drift away. He's still a hot bundle of anxiety, irritation, and bitter resignation, but some of the gloom is lifting.

Gratitude filters into Hot Rod's field, brushing gently against Skyfire's own. "It's weird that you always know the right things to say, too. Like you're tapped into whatever's feeding all of Prime's long-winded speeches."

Despite himself, a burst of amusement spills from Skyfire's vocalizer. "Not always, Hot Rod. It merely appears that way. Age does have its perks, after all."

He makes a noncommittal noise of agreement. "If you say so. Gonna open the door?"

Still amused, Skyfire keys in his door code and ushers his partner in ahead of him. The ceiling is too low for Skyfire's comfort, and the room consists of little more than a cabinet squeezed into one corner and a berth tucked up against the wall. The space is so confining Skyfire spends as little time as possible here. His only consolation is that it's on such a distant end of the Ark that he has few neighbors and what handful there are consist of nice, quiet mechs who don't cause a lot of fuss. Beachcomber, Hound and Trailbreaker, Mirage to name them specifically. Though truth be told, Skyfire's nearest neighbor is a huge rock wall, courtesy of the mountain which has made the Ark a home.

Hot Rod hops up onto the berth, and Skyfire pulls up next to him, accepting the energon that he offers. He takes a moment to longingly remember what real energon is supposed to taste like before downing half the cube in one quick gulp. Hot Rod, he notices, is fiddling with his, looking less than interested in consuming it. That unsettled bitterness is back in the younger mech's energy field again.


"It's never going to go away, is it?" the red bot interrupts.

Skyfire finishes his energon and disperses the cube with a flick of his fingers. "What?"

"Being an outsider."

Hot Rod pushes his own cube into subspace and sprawls over the berth, laying his helm on Skyfire's thigh. The shuttle rests a hand on his shoulder that curls up to brush his cheek.

"They are a tight knit crew." He can't quite conceal his own bitterness.

Hot Rod scoffs and mutters something subvoc that Skyfire prudently pretends he didn't hear.

"It would also be easier if one didn't insist upon antagonizing the more volatile residents," Skyfire adds, though he does his best to keep it from sounding like a lecture.

He distinctly remembers Hot Rod getting into a scuffle with Cliffjumper last week though he can't recall the context. Before that, it was Slingshot, but then, the short-tempered Aerialbot hardly needs prompting to initiate a tussle. And before that, it was Blades though Skyfire couldn't blame Hot Rod at all for that one.

"It wouldn't matter how polite I was." Hot Rod shutters his optics, helm pressing noticeably into Skyfire's hand. "I'm not stupid, Sky. What were they saying to you?"

He should be used to Hot Rod's sudden topic shift by now. But it's still something of a pleasant and refreshing surprise. Science is always so orderly. So logical. It's nice not to have that for once.

"It wasn't about Starscream."

"Not reassuring." Hot Rod's fingers land on Skyfire's knee, deftly teasing at over-sensitive circuitry beneath a plating joint.

Since it is not something Skyfire would like Hot Rod to know about, he prefers to say nothing. Hot Rod has enough to worry about without adding the Ark's perceptions about their relationship to the list. They are fighting enough battles as it is.

Besides, it's much simpler to focus on the gentle ministrations of Hot Rod's fingers. Not quite enough to arouse but a pleasant touch nonetheless. Some of Skyfire's own tension bleeds away in the soft, contemplative silence between them.

He finds himself tempted to record and capture the moment, if only to prove to the naysayers all the things they can't see for themselves.

"See?" He wants to say. "Hot Rod isn't always loud and abrasive. He is more beneath the surface."

"You haven't seen Cybertron since you woke, have you?"

Skyfire's ventilations stutter before he regains control of himself. It completely out of nowhere, but he doesn't mind.

"No, I haven't."

"I've never seen it," Hot Rod admits. "Except in old vid files. I lived in one of the colonies, you know."

Skyfire tilts his head back against the wall behind him, offlining his optics to focus on the memories Hot Rod's innocent query had dredged up. Memories of a Cybertron flourishing with life, a time that was not as long ago to him as it is to everyone else. Unlike the rest of the Ark, Skyfire remembers peace and tranquility and thousands upon thousands of living Cybertronians.

"I wouldn't want to go now, knowing what's become of it," Skyfire says, his hand resting on Hot Rod's face. The soft knitting of their energy fields is a welcome comfort. "I suspect you would've liked Vos, Hot Rod. And Crystal City. The Helix Gardens.-"

"You ever wish they never dug you out of the ice?" Hot Rod again interrupts.

A difficult question. A simple answer would be to say yes. Sometimes, Skyfire loathes the world that he has woken to. This alien planet and this alien species and this eon-long war that has destroyed everything he once loved.

"Sometimes, I wonder what would be different if Kup never convinced me off that colony," Hot Rod puts in on his own, vocalizer edged with static. "If Springer hadn't insisted on leaving."

Skyfire onlines his optics, looking down at his younger partner. A surge of affection pulses from his energy field.

"It's not all a disappointment. "

Hot Rod shifts over onto his back, spoiler brushing against Skyfire's thigh. "No. I guess it's not." The smile on his lips gives testament to how nicely his field has evened out now. He reaches up and brushes over Skyfire's cockpit. "So. Instead of all this melancholy conversation, how about we go about making each other feel better?"

"How would you-"

A ping over official channels cuts Skyfire off in the middle of his response. He frowns, shooting Hot Rod an apologetic look.


-Your assistance is required on the command deck.—

Prowl, of course. Skyfire would recognize that candid tone anywhere.

-Very well.—

Never mind that Skyfire is supposed to be off shift; he'd gone to the lab on his downtime, after all. But he's come to expect this by now. They are at war, and his services are almost always required.

"Let me guess," Hot Rod says with a very sour note as he sits up. "They need you to be their aerial taxi. Again."

"I'd guess that the Decepticons are attacking somewhere off continent. They, after all, can fly," Skyfire replies with no small amount of his own annoyance.

Hot Rod snorts, pulling his cube out of subspace and shoving it Skyfire's direction. "You need a vacation."

"I'll keep that in mind." Skyfire takes it gratefully. No doubt he'll need it later after ferrying the Autobots across one ocean or another. "You could always join us. I'm sure they won't mind another blaster."

Hot Rod's optics shift away, and he fidgets on the berth. "Can't. I'm confined to quarters."

Skyfire's orbital ridges shoot upward. "Punishment, I assume, for the altercation with Sunstreaker?"

"You could call it that." Hot Rod slides off the berth, shooing Skyfire toward the door. "C'mon, I'll bet Prowl called you, and he gets his wings in a twist when mechs aren't punctual. I'll be here when you get back."

Or maybe Hot Rod's punishment is due to a certain tendency toward tardiness?

Skyfire pretends to resist the push. "I thought you were confined to quarters?" he asks, pausing in his doorway.

Hot Rod gives him a wicked smirk. "He didn't say whose quarters."

"You've been taking lessons in creative interpretation from Smokescreen, haven't you?"

"Maybe." Hot Rod's grin widens, and he shoos at Skyfire again. "Be careful out there. Taxis never fare well in the movies."

Shaking his helm, Skyfire steps out into the hallway. "I'll be fine," he says as the door closes behind him.

-You'd better be,- Hot Rod shoots back over a personal comm.

Skyfire turns on a pede and heads for the command center, nearly the entire length of the Ark away from his quarters. It'll be a long day shuttling Autobots back and forth across the Earth. But for the first time he finds himself looking forward to returning to his tiny, cramped quarters.

"You asked me what I saw in him," he muses to himself. He still doesn't have an answer. But he thinks he's starting to put one into words.

a/n: This fic is trying to grow plot and a longer fic and hijack my muses. If I do end up continuing this, it'll be in another fic. This oneshot by itself is complete.

This is my first time writing either character so thoughts on characterization would be most appreciative. Thank you!