[TFA] Gifts

“General Strika! Oh, mighty and destructive one!”

Lugnut’s bellow echoed across the entire length of Kalis’ Lament, rattling in the audials of everyone present. Though it was only a dim whisper to General Strika, who always had the foresight to turn down the gain whenever she had word Lugnut was within flying distance.

“Ihave a present for you!”

The whispers and the chuckles started then, Decepticons exchanging glances with one another as they turned their attention to their leader. General Strika stood at the helm, hands clasped behind her back, her gaze focused on the main screen. If she heard Lugnut, she gave no sign. Not even twitch.

Made of stern stuff, General Strika was.

Lugnut lumbered onto the bridge, and there wasn’t a single Decepticon present who bothered to pretend they were working.

Especially considering Lugnut dragged a rather large bundle of something dripping energon and coolant behind him.

Wait. That wasn’t a bundle. That was a corpse.

Oh, my.

General Strika turned slowly, not an ounce of expression on her face.“Lugnut, you are making a mess,” she said disapprovingly.

Lugnut lost an ounce of moment, one he quickly shook off as he slung his dripping package between them. “One Decepticon traitor, helm intact this time, for the most lovely and destructive general ever to serve the great and powerful Lord Megatron!”

“Lugnut,”General Strika repeated, very slowly, “you have dripped fluid all throughout my ship.”

“I will mop it for you, my love!But first! A humble offering.” Lugnut dropped to one knee and held up, well, it was a head.

There was nothing else one could really say. It was some poor mech’s helm, gaping mouth, empty optics,with wires and cables hanging out the neck column. The mech had been spiky, but other than that, no one on the bridge recognized him.

“Ah. Crosswise. I’ve been looking for him. Thank you, Lugnut.”

Well. No one except General Strika, of course.

She continued, her vocals warmed by several degrees, almost affectionate. “You do bring me the best gifts.”

Lugnut’s multiple optics glowed with delight.“Thank you, my lovely empress of destruction! I seek only to please.” He offered the helm with both hands now. “What shall I do with him?”

“Throw him in a smelter. He’s of no further use to me.” General Strika waved a dismissing hand and turned back to the main console.

“At once, my queen!” Lugnut lumbered to his feet, gathering up Crosswise’s remains. “And have I earned a moment of your time, my merciful warrior?”

Strika half-turned, looking over her shoulder at him. “You did well, Lugnut, but we shall see.”

You would think Lugnut had been offered praise of the highest magnitude, given the way he all but vibrated and danced from the room.

“And who says romance is dead?” one of the observing Deceptions joked, perhaps a touch too loud, because General Strika twitched.

“Get back to work!” she barked.

Every Decepticon on deck obeyed. Though one sharp-opticked mech observed the tiniest of smiles on their General’s lips.

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[G1] Point Taken

Starscream onlined with a gasp, immediately alert to the hot pressure against his intake, and the shadowy weight on his frame, not so much as a biolight giving hint to its owner.

“We had a deal, Seeker.”

Starscream didn’t bother to search the darkness. “I’m aware,” he retorted testily. “But Misfire is aptly named.”

The hot knife bit deeper, drawing a thin bead of energon. Proof positive that there was an assailant present. But Starscream’s sensors and scanners reported nothing.

“That’s not an apology,” hissed the Deathbringer on his chassis.

“It was barely a scratch!”

Something nudged at his chestplate, tracing the seam around his cockpit before it found the central part. A thinner blade eased into the seam, teasing the mechanisms beneath in blatant warning.

Starscream’s spark went cold.

“We had a deal.”

Starscream’s vents stuttered. “It won’t happen again,” he promised, hating himself for the treble of fear that rattled through his spark.

But there was a reason many Decepticons did not recharge in the dark. And the mech planted over his abdomen was it.

“Not so much as a scratch?” The blade at Starscream’s intake pushed deeper, drawing free another curl of energon.

“Or a dent.” Starscream rasped.

The knife vanished from his chestplate, but not his intake. Starscream didn’t dare vent a sigh of relief. There was yet time for him to extinguish. He couldn’t shoot Jazz faster than the little sneak could drive a knife into his spark or his processor.

“There won’t be another warning.”

“I know.”

The blade whisked away, taking a taste of Starscream’s energon with it. The deadly shade vanished.

Starscream waited for several beats of his spark. His sensors strained for any sight or sound of his attacker, but he waited in vain. There was nothing there. Only then did he ex-vent.

He found himself trembling.

A deal was a deal.

Starscream crafted the reminder to his Seekers, all those in his direct command. He tagged Misfire’s trinemates specifically. It was their job to keep a close optic on him. If he couldn’t be relied upon to not fire upon a target, then they would all suffer.

Autobot Bluestreak was never to be harmed.

At all costs.

Only when it was sent did Starscream dare touch his intake, feeling the damp reminder with his fingertips. Energon was tacky to the touch, already drying and repairing itself.

It was not a comfort.

Point taken.

[IDW] Keeper

Prowl swore that the walls were changing around him. No sooner had he mapped his progress, then did his map prove to be wrong and he had to start all over again, all with the noise of multiple feet skittering after him, right on his heelstruts.

His spark hammered in his chassis. He remembered an adage, an old one, something he’d caught a human saying once. Times like these, drastic times called for drastic measures.

He kept the right wall in his periphery and he moved forward. He ran, cursing his inability to transform, for wheels would be much faster than feet right now, while a multi-opticked menace tracked him from the shadows.

“Dearest, you know that the longer this takes, the more excited I will be,” Tarantulas cooed at him, from what seemed to be a thousand different directions, though logic dictated it could only be one. “I do not know why you persist in making this difficult.”

Prowl ground his denta. He refused to respond. He would not give Tarantulas an edge in locating him. He would run until he ran out of charge, if he had to. He had a chance, however slim, and he would seize it.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Tarantulas purred and more skittering accompanied the sound, more slithering in the dim. “You need only say the word.”

Never.

Prowl darted down an adjoining corridor, his spark pounding in his chassis, his vents heaving. Condensation left a trail behind him. His energon levels steadily declined.

“Have I not always been generous?”

Closer now. Right behind him, must be. Words like the skitter of tiny insecticons up his backstruts, making his plating crawl.

Prowl calculated. He changed tactics. He dove to the left and–

–right into a dead end. Frag. Frag. Frag. Fr–

A scraping pedestep. Prowl’s armor clamped. He turned ever so slowly, already knowing that there was nowhere to run. That Tarantulas now stood behind him, caging him in, finding him once more.

“Come with me, Prowl,” Tarantulas said, his horrifically organic form blotting out all the light, one hand reaching for Prowl. “I want to show you something naughty.”

Prowl trembled, though he would deny it to his dying day, even as his array cycled into readiness and resignation poured over him from head to foot.

“I will escape,” he said, hands forming fists, even as Tarantulas stalked closer, and the tip of one of his fingers brushed over Prowl’s cheek ridge.

Tarantulas chuckled, dark and deadly. “And I will enjoy watching you try,” he murmured as his finger slid down to Prowl’s intake. “As much as I enjoy celebrating your failures.” His optics were pinpoints of brightness and Prowl felt as though he were drowning in them.

Prowl ground his denta until he tasted sparks.

“I will keep you,” Tarantulas purred, the heat of him pouring over Prowl like a consuming flashfire. “I will always keep you. Because I’m the only one who wants you as you are, my Prowl.”

His finger was gentle, disturbingly so, as it traced around Prowl’s face and Prowl offlined his optics so as not to look at him.

He hated every one of Tarantulas’ promise, every one of his vows. He hated how much they stank of truth.

And he hated himself for the tiniest spark that wanted to believe it.

[IDW] A Real Goodbye

To say that he did not recognize Whirl would be a lie.

Mirage knew. He’d always known. But he didn’t have the words. He never knew what to say.

He’d grieved. He’d made himself move on. He’d learned what had become of his lover and to his shame, he’d been horrified.

He let biased thinking sway him. He allowed poisonous whispers to color his spark.

He feigned ignorance so as not to face what Whirl had become.

And he hated himself for being a coward.

He hated himself more for letting chance after opportunity pass him by because it was so much easier to be invisible.

But the war was over and Mirage tired of running. They said that those who found an endura were the lucky ones. He struggled to remember what that meant.

He couldn’t move on without coming clean.

“I am sorry,” he blurted out after he’d knocked on the door with bated ventilations and it had opened to him. “I was wrong. I know I was. I missed you.”

He kept it simple. Frank. He dropped all trappings of a noble life best forgotten.

“Well, you’re sorry and I’m sorry,” Whirl said and he shifted, leaning forward, offering something which he then dropped into Mirage’s cupped hands.

It made a little tink noise. It was a clock, a small one, like Whirl hadn’t made in millennia. Not since…

“That’s the way it is,” Whirl said.

Mirage curled his fingers around the gift. He nodded. He understood.

This time, at least, it was a real goodbye.

[IDW] Break the Chain 10

There are a number of messages crowding his inbox.

None of them are from Shockwave. No one has seen Shockwave since Prowl last spoke with him. He’s officially a missing persons.

There’s a warrant out for Prowl’s arrest. This does not come as a shock. That he’s made it into the top ten most wanted does. He’s knocked the former number ten – a serial murderer with a penchant for consuming his victim’s brain modules – out of the running. They’ve slapped him into sixth place, between some mech named Turmoil and below another mech who had a nasty habit of reprogramming rich citizens in order to steal their credits.

The level of crime priority is seriously out of order.

Prowl has nowhere to go, save here in the Decepticons. There is always the possibility he could arrange for a less than legal flight off planet. He could run to the stars, live in the outer rim, work on a salvage ship or for some alien civilization. If he runs far enough, he might even find a Cybertronian colony that’s been out of contact with Cybertron for so long it doesn’t remember how to get back.

He’d rather stay here. At least on Cybertron, as a Decepticon, he might be able to make a difference.

One of the messages is from Orion Pax. It’s short, blunt, to the point. It’s less an offer and more of a reminder. If he’s willing to come back, to do things right, Orion is willing to work his case, to help him fight.

Prowl’s tempted. For one long, vent-stalled moment, he’s tempted. He thinks about fighting, regaining his position, his honor, his respect. He thinks of getting his brands back, being an Enforcer again. Solving crimes, protecting the innocent…

The temptation passes between one vent and the next. He could fight, yes. But he has no faith in succeeding, no matter Orion’s support. Their superiors have already decided what will become of Prowl, and with Senator Shockwave missing as well, Prowl has no hope of finding anyone with influence to stand by his side.

No, there’s not a future for him out there. Not anymore.

Prowl sighs and deletes the message from Orion Pax. He doubts there will be another.

His door chimes.

Prowl rises to answer it, still impressed by the living quarters they’ve given him. The hab is small, but functional, and has everything he needs. They bring him his energon as needed and a fully stocked cabinet lets him flavor it to his liking. He’s allowed to roam their current base of operations – it apparently moves around quite frequently – but Prowl has yet to do so.

The badge of an Enforcer still graces his sensory panels. He doesn’t know how others might react to that.

The door opens to Megatron standing on the other side of it. His smile is light, easy. He’s carrying a cube of energon in each hand, and one he offers to Prowl.

“I thought you might be interested in something a bit stronger than the standard fare,” he says.

Prowl gives the energon a tentative sniff. Oh, it’s engex, not standard grade. It gives off a sweet and tangy scent, something tart in the aftermath. It’s quite potent. One cube is not enough to inebriate him, but it will offer a pleasant buzz.

“Thank you,” Prowl says. “And not just for the engex.”

“For retrieving you from Enforcer custody? There’s no need to thank me for that.” Megatron’s weight shifts, his gaze flickering over Prowl’s shoulders before focusing on him again. “We haven’t had a chance to speak since your arrival. If you’re not otherwise occupied, care to join me?”

Prowl’s lips quirk into a half-smile. “I have no duties and nothing to do. I can’t see what would make me busy.” He steps into the hall, the door sliding shut behind him. “Lead the way.”

Megatron turns to the right, and Prowl falls in step beside him. The Decepticon current base of operations can best be described as an abandoned hotel. Prowl’s not precisely sure where it is, save that his planetary positioning system puts him somewhere in Tesarus.

“I recognize that while we liberated you, so to speak, it may present an obligation to join our cause,” Megatron begins while they walk, his tone conversational. “I want to reassure you that is not the case. Our previous communication may have indicated that’s the path you wanted to take, but I want you to know, it’s not a requirement.”

Prowl tilts his head. “Oh, really? You’ll let me stay with the Decepticons and not be a part of them?”

Megatron chuffs an amused vent. “Well, no. If you don’t want to be a Decepticon, we’ll happily provide you safe transport to wherever else you might want to go. I just want you to understand that our rescue of you does not place you under an obligation to join us.”

“I see.” Prowl is amused despite himself. It’s fair enough. He tucks the engex into a compartment and clasps his hands behind his back. “I don’t require transportation elsewhere. I’m still intent on joining your… crusade.”

“That’s good news.” Megatron hums in his intake, and if Prowl had to identify the tone of it, he’d call it pleased.

Well, in for a credit, in for a stick.

“I do have some caveats,” Prowl says.

“I suspected as much.” They step into a lift, with Megatron selecting the top floor.

The doors close, and the lift creaks upward, the kind of creak of equipment still functional, but hasn’t seen an upgrade in decades.

“What are they?” Megatron prompts as he turns to face Prowl.

He watches the numbers climb upward instead. “I am not here to be a trophy or a rallying cry or any other useless position,” Prowl says, because he’s had quite enough of that, thank you very much. “I want something real. I want influence. I want a position that accords me a chance to help guide the Decepticons.”

In his peripherals, Megatron tilts his head. “What makes you think I ever intended otherwise?”

Prowl slants him a look. “I’m acutely aware I don’t come from the same circumstances as the rest of your leadership cadre. I don’t see them trusting me. I don’t see them willingly letting someone like me have any kind of say.”

“Mmm. Fair point.” Megatron hums.

The lift bobs as it stops on the top floor. Megatron leads them out, but only to the nearest door with a locked panel. He keys it open, and a burst of humid, smoky air rushes in to meet Prowl. It’s not entirely unpleasant, but it’s shockingly different from the odors of Iacon.

They step onto the roof of a building high enough to look out onto the city, but not so high as to be above it all. A thick belt of smog hangs overhead from the factories in the distance, and a thin layer of ash and grit coats everything in sight.

Despite it, Prowl’s sensory panels flex, extending and retracting, twitching up and down, as if the freedom of the roof is so much more than that of his small room.

“The truth is that from the moment I decided to contact you, it was with the intention of recruiting you into my command cadre,” Megatron says as he moves to the edge of the roof, lined by a railing that crests at Megatron’s hips and is the perfect height for Prowl to lean against it to peer into the streets below. “Everyone was aware of this.”

Prowl leans his elbows on the rail and looks over at Megatron. “And they approved?”

“Eventually.” Megatron’s lips curl before he sips his engex. “Starscream took the most persuading, but it’s more because he’s inherently suspicious and distrustful. In the end, your capabilities swayed him.”

“My capabilities. Right.” Prowl doesn’t bother to conceal his snort. “My inability to acquire a promotion would suggest otherwise.”

Megatron slants him a look. “That is on the idiocies of your superiors and does not reflect your capabilities in the slightest.” He faces Prowl, hip canted against the railing. “The Decepticons, this revolution, it needs you, Prowl. Your expertise. Your clear thinking. Your tactical acumen. Your understanding of the common Cybertronian and political cogs.”

Prowl squares his jaw. He pulls out the engex and gives it a sip. The engex bubbles over his glossa, sweet and tart. It’s expensive, he wagers. He’s never tasted it before, but he could enjoy it again for sure.

It’s probably stolen.

It doesn’t even bother him.

“I want to make a difference,” Prowl finally says, looking over the railing into Tesarus, the buildings all the same dull grey as the smoky ash in the sky. It’s probably decades and decades worth of contamination that’s accumulated. “I want things to change. If that means becoming a Decepticon, so be it. But not if you don’t heed my advice. Not if you don’t realize your current path is unsustainable.”

Megatron turns and leans on the railing as well, his large hands curling against it, the engex gone, perhaps fully consumed. “It would have been pointless to recruit you without heeding your advice. I wanted you as a part of us specifically because we needed your point of view.”

Something in Prowl’s spark squeezes tight. He isn’t sure what to name it.

“Then I’m in,” he says. “Give me a seat at your table. Give me a voice. Give me a badge. And I’m yours.” He pauses, winces. “And by that, I mean I will be a Decepticon.”

Megatron chuckles and tilts his head to look at Prowl. “Does that agreement come with friendship?”

Prowl tries not to cringe. “If you know anything about my history, friendship is the last of what you’ll want from me.”

Just ask Barricade.

Then again, perhaps Barricade is not the best source of information. Their parting had been brought about by failures on both sides of the equation.

“I try not to judge based on past accusations, only present and future actions,” Megatron replies. “I’d be honored to be called your friend.” He half-turns, offering Prowl a hand. “Unless, of course, you can’t bear befriending a Decepticon.”

Prowl snorts. “It’s a little late for that.” He clasps hands with Megatron, the Decepticon leader’s handshake firm and uncompromising. “Friends and allies then.”

“Friends and allies,” Megatron confirms.

He draws back, rests his forearms on the rail, and looks out over Tesarus. It’s a dreary, dirty city. It’s not going to be home, because Prowl’s sure they’ll be moving on from here at some point. It’s never wise to be easily found.

Even if it is to be home, well, Prowl won’t be too upset about it. Home is what you make of it, and Iacon has only been a place to exist, not a place to live. He already feels freer, with this minor act of rebellion, even with a price on his head, and lies spreading through the communication network faster than a communicable disease.

Friends and allies, Prowl ruminates.

It’s about time he acquired both.

***

[IDW] Break the Chain 09

Prowl’s been denied his request for legal representation. Apparently, domestic terrorists aren’t afforded that right. If it’s a law, it’s new to him, but it’s not as though Prowl can comm anyone to complain.

He can’t make a single comm right now. He’s tried. He’d thought to contact Shockwave, Orion Pax, even the twins. He didn’t dare try reaching out to Megatron.

There’s always static, nothing but static. They’ve stuck him in a cell with a signal dampener, as if he’s the worse kind of villain.

It’s hard to interrogate an Enforcer. They already know the playbook, and Prowl’s no different. He opts for silence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He spends the hours in meditation, going through the evidence and facts one by one until he forms a concrete theory at the back of his mind.

The only unsolved mystery is the mastermind. Who he has to blame for the whole charade. It has to be someone with enormous political pull. Prowl can think of no one he’s angered that much. Or perhaps it’s not even about him.

It’s probably about Megatron and the Decepticons, and Prowl is nothing more than unfortunate collateral damage. He’s not special. He’s simply the one Megatron reached out to, the one who rattled the cage, the one who made it far too easy for them.

Silverspire questions him. Over and over. Always with a grin, a flicker of his armor that suggests he’s gloating. He’s never much liked Prowl, and it’s even clearer now. He’s thrilled to be getting rid of the scraplet gnawing on his heel.

Give an idiot a modicum of power in a system where very few have any, and he’ll think himself so special he doesn’t care how he’s told to use it.

The idea of a trial is laughable at best, but it’s still being insisted upon. Prowl suspects they want to make an example of him, to prove any number of things, to both the citizenry and the Decepticons. His face, his story, will become a rallying cry, a lie made into a promise, and Prowl will either rot away in Blackgate, or he’ll be summarily executed. It’s only a matter of time.

He gets no visitors. Whether it’s because no one cares or no one is being allowed to visit him, Prowl doesn’t know. He suspects it’s more of the former than the latter. He’s made few friends over the years. Even fewer allies.

Tumbler doesn’t come. He wishes he weren’t surprised. He wishes, even more, it didn’t hurt.

He’d thought if he focused on his duty, on his job, it would get him somewhere. He thought he could prove his dedication, his work ethic. He thought if he worked hard enough, they would see the circumstances of his sparking had little to do with what he was actually capable of. Then maybe, just maybe, he could work past the framism and acquire the position he sought.

He’s a fool. That’s all there is to it.

Four days into his imprisonment and Silverspire swaggers into his cell with a look of triumph. “Well, as fun as this has been, it’s time to turn you over to someone else’s authority,” he says and a hint of disgruntlement flickers over his face before it’s buried behind the glee again. “Apparently your crimes deserve a higher authority.”

Prowl says nothing. Silence has been his only ally.

Silverspire continues without his input. “We’ll be transferring you out shortly. It’s in your best interest to cooperate.” He tucks his hands behind his back, bobs on his heels. “I hear Captain Format is a real hard-aft.”

Yes. Prowl has heard of Format. He’s one step between Prowl and a lifelong residence in Blackgate.

Prowl picks at the armor beneath his magna-cuffs, where the paint has been scraped raw, until there’s nothing but protoform visible now.

Silverspire gusts a vent. “Your silence isn’t helping you, Prowl. I know you know that.”

When Prowl says nothing, Silverspire grits his denta so hard his jaw tics. “Have fun in Blackgate,” he says, and spins on a heel, banging on the door for the guards on the other side to let him out.

Prowl doesn’t watch him go. There’s little point. A transfer, hm? Well, at least he can rely on a change in scenery for however brief a time.

He doesn’t have long to wait. Almost immediately after Silverspire departs, his cell clicks open again, and two new faces squeeze inside. One of them bears the quadruple bars of a sergeant. The other is a standard officer, and he’s the one who has a weapon trained on Prowl from the moment they enter.

“This is who we’re going through so much trouble for?” the sergeant says. He huffs derisively. “Doesn’t look like much.”

“Don’t you know, boss? It’s the quiet ones you gotta watch out for,” the officer drawls.

There’s something almost familiar about his voice, but Prowl can’t be certain. He doesn’t recognize the mech, but perhaps he’s seen him while working another case over the decades. He’d visited Format’s precinct once or twice, and none of Format’s detectives had left a good impression on him.

Said officer steps forward and kicks Prowl in the nearest shin. “All right, traitor. Get up. Nice and slow. I’ve got a twitchy trigger finger, and sometimes, I just can’t help myself.”

Prowl rises, knees and joints aching and crackling like a mech thousands of years his senior. He feels old and heavy, burdened perhaps. Or that’s because his sensory panels are still a dead weight behind him, and he can’t adjust for them, making his balance a tenuous thing.

The sergeant takes him by the elbow, and Prowl gets a glimpse of the glyphs stamped into the side of the mech’s head. It’s a name, rank and serial number.

Prowl’s appalled. He’s heard of other districts that mar their Enforcers in such a way, but he’s never seen it. Sergeant Acres, according to his glyphs, tugs Prowl forward, and Prowl stumbles after him, carefully keeping his silence. The officer trails in their wake, and Prowl senses the weapon aimed at his back, between his panels, right at his spark.

In the hall, two more officers wait. One is unfamiliar, the other Prowl recognizes.

Barricade grins at him, his gaze long and lingering as it rakes Prowl up and down. “Well, well, well,” he drawls as he shifts his weight, and his glossa slicks his lips. “We meet again, old friend.”

‘Friend’ is one way to put it. Torrid love affair of bad ideas is another. Barricade’s had a repaint since then. He’s mostly black with only hints of white, when before his paint had matched Prowl’s almost exactly. Others used to think them twins and maybe that was part of the allure for Barricade.

“Hear you’re coming to my turf now,” Barricade continues with a flutter of his sensory panels, head tilted to highlight the glyphs stamped on the side of his head. “It’ll be just like old times.”

“The transport ready?” Sergeant Acres asks.

The other officer snaps to attention, in the way that only new recruits and initiates do. “Sir, yes, sir. It’s waiting out front.”

Sergeant Acres sighs and tightens his grip on Prowl’s elbow. “Go get it running. We’ll meet you there.”

Newbie snaps a salute and then he’s gone, at a run almost, and Prowl can’t tell if he’s eager or frightened. Maybe it’s both. This is kind of like throwing an infant into deep water. Sink or swim. Maybe that’s just how Captain Format operates.

“The rest of you, let’s go, standard formation,” Acres barks and he tugs on Prowl again, towing him down the hallway.

Prowl stumbles after. Officer One keeps the blaster trained on his back. Officer Two takes a point. Barricade slides in on Prowl’s other side, boxing him in. Prowl’s not made any attempt to escape or retaliate. Why the heavy security?

He doesn’t ask. He suspects no one would answer anyway.

They’d preemptively cleared the halls, but as the odd procession passes transteel windows and through them, Prowl can see the in-house staff of the station watching his march of shame. Mechs he’s worked with for decades, staring, their expressions a mixture of disgust, pity, and anger.

Barricade leans in close, his ex-vents washing over Prowl’s audial. “I warned you, didn’t I?” he murmurs, quiet enough it carries no further than Prowl. “You have to learn to play the game.”

Prowl tightens his jaw. He keeps his optics pointed forward.

Barricade chuckles and leans back.

There’s a media circus waiting outside. Prowl winces at the barrage of flashing lights from multiple vidcaptures. Recording devices are thrust his direction, and so many questions are shouted at him, he can’t pick up a single one from the chaos. Nameless officers one and two move to the forefront, shoving the crowd aside so the sergeant and Barricade can push Prowl through.

A heavily-armored transport waits for them at the curb, powerful engine thrumming noisily, and the trainee stands at attention outside it. Prowl is unceremoniously lead to the back, and he fumbles as he climbs inside, a task made difficult with his wrists restrained to the manacle around his waist.

Barricade and one of the officers climbs in beside him. Sergeant Acres stands at the door, glaring as he holds each side open.

“My mechs have been instructed to shoot to kill if you so much as twitch wrong,” he growls in such a way that suggests he’s learned all of his conversational skills from poorly rendered legal shows. “I’d prefer not to arrive at the station with a frame punched full of holes.”

Prowl keeps his silence, but he matches Acres’ steely gaze with a steady look of his own.

Acres chuffs a vent and slams the doors shut. The entire transport rocks from the force of it. Silence descends as the cacophony of the crowd outside dulls to a low drone.

Prowl leans forward, braces his elbows on his knees, and stares at the grated floor, bright spots of emergency lights running visibly beneath. There’s a strange prickle in the air, like that of an unfamiliar energy field, and Prowl can’t pinpoint it. He knows it’s not Barricade or the unnamed officer. He wouldn’t be able to sense the two riding up front.

“So I’m curious,” Barricade says as he lounges back in his seat, legs stretched out in front of him, elbows braced on the bar running behind him and along the length of the transport’s wall. “When did you decide to go dark side?”

Prowl ignores him. He grits his denta, tries to count statistical anomalies in his head, but Barricade’s voice grates on him, as it always did. Too snide, too smug, too much of everything that made him a bad idea. Prowl’s the king of bad ideas. Always has been.

“I mean, come on, aligning with the Decepticons?” Barricade barks a laugh as the transport lurches into movement, pulling them smoothly into traffic and away from the station. “I can’t decide if that was your first mistake, your worst mistake, or some combination of the two.”

Prowl’s fingers spasm where they thread together. He hunches his shoulders.

“And then murder? Primus, didn’t think you had it in you, but I should’ve known. There was always something a little too perfectionist about you,” Barricade continues without any prompting on Prowl’s part. “Know what I mean, kid? How it is with those obsessive types?”

The officer scoffs. “I’m not a kid,” he says in a tone far less respectful than it should be toward someone considered his superior.

Then again, Barricade is an aft and a half, so Prowl can’t blame the mech for his disrespect.

“True.” Barricade, of all things, leers in the officer’s direction. “Would be a waste of a pretty frame if you were.”

The officer makes a disgusted noise. “No, thanks. We may not be exclusive, but we’re definitely selective.” He cuts blue optics at Barricade with a derisive curl to his lips. “And you don’t make the cut.”

If he’d hoped to insult Barricade, he hoped in vain. Barricade had always been one to let every insult roll of his back. Had a prideful streak wider than he was tall.

“Your brother might think otherwise,” Barricade says with a distinct leer.

The officer snorts and leans back, kicking up a heel, tip of his foot pointed toward the ceiling. “I can guarantee you he doesn’t.”

“Awww. Come on. Sunshine there looks like he’d enjoy some rough and tumble. Not everyone wants the sweet nothings I’ll bet you whisper day in and out,” Barricade says with a laugh.

Brother? Sunshine?

Wait.

Prowl’s head jerks up. He looks at the officer again, for the first time giving him some serious contemplation. His paint has the gleam of the newly-applied. He holds himself with a casual ease and familiarity with danger and weapons – more like someone higher ranked than an unbadged grunt. Definitely higher ranked than what’s slapped on the side of his head.

And his smile. His voice.

Prowl leans back, his sensory panels clanging against the wall of the transport. His gaze slides to Barricade and back again.

“Oh, he likes it rough all right.” The officer sets his weapon down on the bench beside him – a broken rule right there – and pats himself on the abdomen. “And I get to reap the benefits of it.”

Barricade tosses his head back and laughs. “Please tell me you two at least have video.”

“Not for the general public, nope.” The officer pops the last word with a lazy confidence that almost beats Barricade for sheer audacity.

… Sideswipe?

Prowl squints. No, that can’t be right. This doesn’t make any sense. Why would Sideswipe be here in the first place?

Barricade’s optics cut toward him. “What’s this? Finally deigning to lift your head?” He pops an orbital ridge. “Here I thought you were just going to sit here feeling pathetic and sorry for yourself.”

Prowl works his jaw. “What is going on?” he asks, and is horrified by the raspiness of his vocals. He hadn’t spoken in so long, it feels odd.

“Took you long enough,” the officer says and leans past Prowl to bang on the wall beside him, three rapid beats.

There’s a response in the form of two knocks and a rattle.

Prowl’s ventilations hitch. “Are you…?” He doesn’t know if he dares finish the query, lest he be wrong, his hopes dashed, and made a fool in front of Barricade.

“Sunny wanted to come,” Sideswipe – for yes, it is him after all – says as he slides over the bench and hops to sit next to Prowl, pulling a set of keys from his compartment. “But after painting all of us and making sure we could pass inspection, he was exhausted. Left him snuggling up with a very smart-afted Seeker.”

Prowl’s mouth moves, but he can’t seem to form words. His optics slide to Barricade instead, who winks two of his four optics and pats a hand over the Enforcer badge on his chest, twice. It fizzles out of view – hologram – and in its place, a Decepticon badge shines stark and purple against the black.

“We told you, remember?” Sideswipe unlocks Prowl’s magnacuffs and frees him from the manacle around his waist. “Where you go, we go. Lean forward for me.”

Prowl’s mind spins. He obeys because it’s easier than trying to make sense of the universe. Even when Sideswipe grips the inhibitor claw on his back and gives it a twist, disengaging the lock mechanism.

Prowl hisses air through his denta as sensation and noise immediately rush in, his sensory panels twitching at the sudden burst of stimulation. He groans, rubs at his forehead, processor aching and the world spinning around him.

“Easy Prowl. Take it slow.” That can’t be Sideswipe trying to soothe him, but it is. The red twin’s hand is on his shoulder, giving him a few awkward pats.

In the background, Barricade laughs.

Prowl searches for a distraction, any distraction. “… how?” he manages to ask through the pain spiking his helm and the quiver in his struts.

“It’s a long story.” Sideswipe peers at the inhibitor claw before he wrinkles his nose and throws it across the floor. “But I’ll try to make it short. This is a rescue operation organized by Megatron. Me and Sunny offered our help because we wanted to and apparently, Barricade’s been a Decepticon for months, and he couldn’t resist rubbing his assistance in your face.”

“Guilty as charged,” Barricade drawls.

“Our transport here is Onslaught,” Sideswipe says with a gesture to the vehicle ferrying them. “Former military. All Decepticon.” He pats the wall of the transport. “How’re we doin’ out there, Ons?”

“There is no indication our ruse was anything less than successful,” a dark, rumbling voice remarks from all around them. “And don’t call me that.”

“He and Sunny get along great,” Sideswipe says with a wink.

Barricade chuckles and gestures with a clawed hand toward the front. “Up there is Ricochet and Makeshift. Poor Sergeant Acres missed this little rescue operation on account of the fact he opposed it.” He smirks, baring his denta. “Makeshift is good at replacing people.”

Prowl’s head spins. “And this was all…. Megatron’s idea?”

“Well, Megatron’s and Starscream’s and Soundwave’s, if you want to be picky about it.” Sideswipe shrugs. “You had over a dozen mechs working together to rescue you, Prowl. Kind of makes a bot feel special, don’t it?”

It actually doesn’t. It makes him wonder if he’s worth the effort.

Prowl cycles a ventilation. “Thank you.”

“Hey, it wasn’t just me. It took a lot of teamwork to spring you.” Sideswipe holds up his hands. “Of course, you’re going to be a wanted fugitive from now on, but them’s the breaks.”

“At least they won’t be blaming the Decepticons,” Barricade points out with another tap to the badge on his chest. Seems to be rather proud of it.

“Oh, good point,” Sideswipe says.

Prowl peers at his former partner, in more ways than one. “Won’t your absence be suspicious? Especially considering you came in under your own designation to transport me.”

Barricade smirks and winks again. “Not if I publicly defect.” His optics grow big and wide, gleaming with mischief. “Hey, maybe I’ll be listed as your accomplice. You know, your partner in crime.” He chuckles and licks his lips. “Partners again. Mmm. I do like the sound of that.”

Prowl tosses Sideswipe a pained look. “Is it too late to return me to my cell?”

Sideswipe’s head tips back as he busts into laughter. “Yes, it is.” His voice is thick with amusement. “I don’t think Megatron will like that too much. But don’t worry, you’re allowed to break Barricade’s arm if he gets too handsy.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Prowl mutters, and winces when Barricade says the same thing in the exact moment.

Prowl sighs.

Barricade laughs.

“It’s going to be a long drive,” Prowl says.

Sideswipe leans back and crosses his arms behind his head. “But an entertaining one. Man, Sunny is so missing out.”

~

“How is he?” Megatron asks.

Starscream shrugs, his gaze distant. “According to Wrench, he’s in decent shape. Mind’s a bit wobbly from the extended sensor dampener. But it looks like they didn’t torture him.”

“Indeed. What would have been the point? They already knew he wasn’t guilty.” Megatron frowns, directing his glare out the window so Starscream can’t see it. “He was injured when he arrived.”

“Just because he wasn’t tortured, doesn’t mean a few mechs didn’t get their licks in.” Starscream tilts his head, optics gleaming. “It happens. As you well know.”

Megatron presses his lips together. He doesn’t need the reminder.

“Anyway.” Starscream flicks his fingers. “I’m not going to say that you’re right, but since him flocking to us means we grabbed a half-dozen other recruits, too, I’m not going to keep complaining about him. So long as it doesn’t turn into a long con. I’m still wary of that.”

Megatron presses his knuckles to his mouth. “Soundwave is taking care of that.”

“I’m sure he is.” Starscream snorts.

“And the search for Shockwave?”

“Dead end. To be blunt.” Starscream cycles a vent, his wing tips flicking left and right. “He’s vanished off the face of Cybertron, and every answer we get speaks of rumor and things that don’t exist.”

Megatron raises his eyebrows. “Like?”

“The Institute.”

A cold flush trickles down Megatron’s spine. “I see.” He sighs and shifts his weight. “Orion has no leads either.”

“Oh, so we’re working with the police now, are we? When did that happen?”

“We take allies where we can get them.”

Starscream chuffs a vent. “Your charge for authority doesn’t fit with our philosophy, does it?”

Megatron narrows his optics. Starscream doesn’t look the least bit chastened.

“It’s a matter of legitimacy,” Megatron says.

“Sure.” Starscream shoves to his feet, wings hiking upward with amusement. “You just keep panting after every pretty face with a badge. I’ve got a pair of ne’er do well twins to chase.”

Megatron arches an orbital ridge. “Now who’s thinking with the wrong head?”

“I have a better chance than you,” Starscream retorts. He all but flounces toward Megatron’s office door and palms it open. “Mine are at least interested.”

He’s gone before Megatron can form a retort. He supposes it’s fine to let Starscream get the last word in every once a while. He had, after all, helped Megatron put together a very successful heist.

Megatron sits back and rubs his chin. Starscream, Soundwave, and now Prowl, with Onslaught to serve as secondary tactical advice. He’s got an arsenal of intelligence at his disposal, a collection of brilliant minds. He looks at those he’s gathered into the fold, and he allows himself to think optimistically.

They’d had a chance before, however small. But now? Now they are more. They are smarter, organized, talented.

The Decepticons are more than a ragtag revolutionary movement now. They will have a plan, a purpose.

They can win.

*

[IDW] Break the Chain 08

Megatron steps out of the washrack, still dripping, and nearly collides with Soundwave, who has a grave expression on his face. For all that Soundwave can have expressions.

Laserbeak sits on his shoulder, head docked, wings ruffled. “Trouble,” he squawks.

“What’s going on?” Megatron flicks a meshtowel over his frame, wiping up spots of lingering solvent.

Soundwave hands him a datapad without a word. It’s already online and tuned to a news channel. The headline catches Megatron’s optic.

“Senator Sherma dead! The Decepticons claim another victim!”

Megatron frowns. “This was not us,” he murmurs, but no doubt Soundwave already knows as much. There is precious few secrets between them. “I take it he’s another on the committee?”

Soundwave tilts his head in a nod.

“Damn.” Megatron hands the datapad back. He sweeps a hand over his head, tossing the mesh cloth into a corner. “You’re certain Ratbat isn’t behind this?”

“Affirmative.” Soundwave follows as Megatron abandons his sleeping quarters and slides into the narrow closet he uses as an office. They move around too much for him to have anything like a permanent home.

He can’t be too comfortable when half of Cybertron’s leadership wants him dead on sight.

“Who has the case?”

“Prowl.”

“Of course.” Megatron cycles a ventilation and logs into his console, seeking out the most recent news reports. “You know, he’s right. If we can’t get the will of the average mech on our side, there’s no point. This sort of accusation will lose us the support of the citizenry faster than anything else.”

Soundwave hovers over his right shoulder, but doesn’t try to take Megatron’s search for himself. “Offer assistance to Enforcer Prowl?”

Megatron rubs a hand around his mouth. “If he’ll accept it. We can at least prove we’re on his side and we’re not to blame.” He nods decisively. “That’s a good plan. I’ll contact him later and see if he agrees.”

No sooner does he speak than his comm chimes. Megatron straightens, expecting it to be Starscream, reporting in on their newest potential recruits. But no, the ident code reads Prowl, and that’s most unexpected.

Prowl never reaches out first.

“Well, speak of the Enforcer,” Megatron murmurs. He answers the ping as he swivels in his chair to face Soundwave. “Prowl. What an unexpected and yet pleasant surprise.”

“It’s not pleasant for me,” Prowl replies, his tone dark and heavy, lacking any trace of amusement. “I have a question for you.”

Megatron straightens, casting Soundwave a pointed look. Soundwave nods and tilts his head, visor dimming. Prowl won’t know he’s there, but Soundwave will at least be able to pick up on nuances Megatron might miss.

“And I have an answer,” Megatron replies smoothly. “What can I do for you?”

“Are you aware Senator Sherma was killed sometime last night?” Prowl asks.

“I am. And before you ask, no, we are not responsible.”

Prowl sighs into the comm. “I know. Because neither am I.”

Megatron’s forehead crinkles. He exchanges a confused glance with Soundwave. “What do you mean?”

There’s a long moment of silence, as though Prowl is debating with himself once more before he says, “Is your offer still valid?”

Triumph surges through Megatron’s spark. He’s up on his feet before the words leave his mouth, “There is a place for you in my organization, if you want it,” he says, excitement making it impossible for him to be still, and it takes all he has to mask it in his voice. “Might I ask why?”

“It’s too complicated to discuss over a comm. Suffice to say, it’s quite clear there’s not a place for me anymore.” Prowl’s tone shifts to something soft and defeated. “Right now, the only future I have left is the one you and your Decepticons can hopefully bring.”

Megatron looks at Soundwave who nods. Prowl is telling the truth. This isn’t a subterfuge, a means to trap Megatron and cripple the Decepticons.

“I understand.”

Soundwave taps Megatron’s arm and slides a datapad into view. There’s a time and place written on the screen.

“I assume you’ll want time to get your affairs in order,” Megatron continues, trying to focus while his processor spins the possibilities of victory one after another. “What say we meet at Saberfall Gardens after the morning rush tomorrow?”

“That will suffice.”

Megatron grins and hopes his glee isn’t audible through the comm. “Then I will see you tomorrow, Prowl. Welcome to the team.”

Click.

Megatron chuckles. “He’s so polite.” He slides back into his chair, his internals jittering with delight and triumph. “Well? Thoughts?”

Soundwave straightens, and though his mouth isn’t visible, there’s an impression of a frown in the tilt of his head. “Prowl out of options.”

“Yes, I agree.” Megatron braces an elbow on the arm of the chair. “The situation is not ideal. He’s probably using us to run from something, but that’s not a problem. If he trusts me enough to come to me for aid, then he’ll be one of us not long after. I’m sure of it.”

“Permission to investigate?” Soundwave asks as Laserbeak cocks his head, and Soundwave reaches up to scratch him under the chin.

Megatron flicks a hand and swivels back to his console. “Find out what Prowl’s running from. I want to know what danger snaps at his heels and what we’re taking on.”

“Understood.” Soundwave eases into the doorway, Laserbeak shuffling around on his shoulder. “Arrangements to be made for Prowl’s arrival also.”

“I trust you to take care of it.” Megatron pauses and raps his fingers on the desktop. “I’ll handle Starscream.”

A snort of laughter bubbles out of Soundwave’s chassis. “Reinforcements needed?”

Megatron snorts and rolls his optics. “Thanks, but I can handle him.”

Starscream will be miffed, but he’ll get over it. He’s known of their intentions to get Prowl on board. He knows they need Prowl’s tactical expertise and political knowledge. He knows the Decepticons need all the bright minds they can gather.

Soundwave chuffs a vent of disbelief.

There’s a first time for everything.

~

It is surprisingly easy to pack.

Perhaps because there is little in the sterility of his suite that holds any value to Prowl, sentimental or otherwise.

He has some image captures, easily stored on a datachip. He takes his weapons, both his handgun and a few others he’s indulged in over the decades. His datapads are replaceable, especially since he can’t remember when he last had free time to enjoy them. He doesn’t need to bring cleaning supplies.

He might as well have been living in a hotel for all this apartment means to him. There’s nothing here he can’t bear to lose. There’s nothing in his life he is upset to leave behind.

His career? It’s going nowhere fast. Silverspire and all of his superiors ensure as much. The situation at hand is further proof.

He could stay. He could fight. He could try and prove his innocence. He knows running only makes him guilty. He knows there is no return, not after this.

But really, what’s left?

No friends, no family, no co-workers.

Nothing.

He’s lived for work, and it’s gotten him nothing and nowhere.

At least with the Decepticons there’s a chance. He could do something, change something. If he can get Megatron to listen to him, with the might of the Decepticons and the people, they can change the planet.

It’s worth it.

Prowl debates whether he should report to the office before he meets Megatron. Silverspire will want an initial report on Sherma’s murder. It’s a surprise that he hasn’t commed Prowl already with a demand for an appearance.

Should he pretend all is business as usual before he vanishes? Will the effort matter?

Prowl supposes it doesn’t.

Nothing ever really mattered.

The appointed time comes. Prowl gathers his belongings, but it all fits into subspace, there’s so little of it. He stands in the doorway of his hab and looks over his shoulder, seeing nothing of himself he’s leaving behind.

It’s something of a revelation.

Prowl shakes his head and departs, the door locking shut behind him. He won’t miss this place. It was never home.

He’s not sure what home feels like anyway.

Prowl rides the lift down to the front floor lobby. The main desk is empty, which is unusual for this time of day. Perhaps the attendant had stepped away for a moment. A soft music plays through the overhead speakers, but no one loiters in the news stand or the in-house energon vendor.

It’s deserted.

Prowl’s gait slows. He frowns and flicks his sensory panels, trying to read the latent energies, but there’s nothing to be found. Not even a blip of an idle comm. Has someone activated a sensor dampener?

The front doors slide open, and Prowl turns toward the first sign of life. Ice slushes through his lines in the same moment.

“Prowl,” Silverspire greets him, but there’s nothing pleasant in his tone or his expression. He’s flanked by a half-dozen other Enforcers, two of whom have their blasters trained on Prowl. “I wondered if we’d see you in the office this morning. Imagine my surprise when you didn’t show.”

Prowl calculates his odds. “I’m running late,” he lies. “What brings you here, Silverspire? I’m not aware of a call to my building.”

The Enforcers spread out, clearly surrounding Prowl. It’s too late, he realizes. It was probably too late by the time he had his realization.

“There isn’t. Though we are here because we have a warrant,” Silverspire says. Everything about his tone, his expression, his field, reads sly and triumphant. “To arrest you, to be perfectly clear.”

Prowl cycles a ventilation and feigns ignorance. It strikes him how he suddenly feels a kinship with the offenders he’s arrested. “On what grounds?”

“Communicating with known criminals for starters.” Silverspire tucks his hands behind his back and strides forward slowly, as if measuring each step. “Tampering with evidence. Conspiracy to commit murder. Three counts of first-degree murder. There’s more. Shall I go on?”

“That’s quite the lengthy list already,” Prowl says, holding to his composure with a will made of duryllium. “Upon whose authority are you executing the warrant.”

Silverspire’s smile lengthens until it shows a row of neat, even denta. “The Most Honorable Ironstock.” The capitalizations are apparent.

Of course.

Prowl’s expression is a mask of neutrality, but inside the rage swirls in a maelstrom. Judge Ironstock has always loathed Prowl. He’d squirmed out of a conspiracy hearing decades ago because Prowl’s two witnesses had turned up dead, but Ironstock never forgot the humiliation. Just as Prowl never stopped trying to find irrefutable evidence Ironstock was dirty.

You rattle too many cages, Prowl,’ Tumbler had said to him over dinner one night, his field one of worry and exasperation. ‘One of these days, those cages are going to rattle back.’

‘That doesn’t even make sense.’

‘You know what I mean.’

Silverspire is within grabbing range now, though Prowl has few illusions of making an effective escape. “He was a little concerned he might be next, you see. Since it appears you have something of a hit list.”

“I am not responsible for those murders,” Prowl says.

Silverspire holds up a hand. “If I were you, I wouldn’t speak without a lawyer present.” He tilts his head. “You were sloppy, Prowl. Working with the Decepticons? That’s low, even for you.”

He isn’t going to bother to ask how Silverspire knows. Prowl’s communications have probably been tapped for a long, long time. Even if he hadn’t made the call to Megatron last night, it wouldn’t have made a difference. He has little doubt they know about his trip to Slaughter City, about meeting Megatron at the Leaky Spigot and at the Collective.

He’s been trapped for weeks. He just didn’t know it.

“Your information is flawed,” Prowl informs Silverspire, though he knows it’s pointless. But if there’s a scrap of honor in Silverspire’s frame, perhaps there’s a modicum of doubt. “Whatever conspiracy you’ve been fed, I promise you, sir. I did not kill those mechs.”

Silverspire’s optics flash. “Notice you did not deny the communications.”

“Because to do so would be a lie.” Prowl holds his ground. “Sideswipe and Sunstreaker are informants. We all have them. As for my conversations with Megatron, I was under the impression we were trying to communicate with the Decepticons in a positive manner. Or has that directive changed?”

“Don’t play politics with me. I don’t want to hear it.” Silverspire’s shoulders stiffen and he holds out a hand. “Cooperation is in your best interest. But then, this is a speech you should know very well by now.”

Prowl twists his jaw and unholsters his blaster. He hands it over slowly, telegraphing his movements, so none of the jittery officers surrounding him shoot first. Silverspire takes it from him and hands it to one of the officers standing beside him.

“Thank you,” he says. “I appreciate you making this easy.” He tilts his head toward Prowl. “Wrists.”

What can he do but offer his hands, head bowed as magna-cuffs wrap around his wrists, dampening the signals from the joint down. He cycles several steadying ventilations, but it still doesn’t prepare him for the sensation of the clamp of an inhibitor claw on his back and over his t-cog. He won’t be able to transform. His sensory panels droop, unable to stay upright and read the ambient noise.

He feels deaf and blind without them. It’s like someone cut the volume in the room by half. It’s dizzying, and he stumbles when one of the officers push him forward, forcing him to fall in line before Silverspire.

“Prowl of Petrex, you are being placed under arrest by authority of…”

The words wash over and through him, crackling in his audials. He could recite them to himself if he wanted. It’s a show, a humiliating one, and made all the worse by the fact the moment they lead him outside, there’s a mob of reporters waiting. Cameras flash, recorders are shoved in his face.

A raucous noise of questions scream static through his audials. He lifts his head, looks straight before him, toward the waiting transport vehicle. The grip on his elbow keeps him moving forward, propelling him.

Silverspire drifts away, catching the attention of the mob, and he starts to give a speech. He reassures the public. He tells them the serial killer which has terrorized their beloved politicians has been arrested. They can all recharge peacefully now. The Enforcers have done their duty.

Prowl’s name is mentioned more than once. More photos are taken, up until the moment he’s shoved into the back of the transport and a single guard climbs in after him. They lock his magna-cuffs to a magnetic bar as the doors slam shut, bathing them in dim broken only by emergency runners.

“Traitor,” his guard hisses, his voice so full of disdain it seems to fill the small space.

Prowl says nothing.

He offlines his eyes and tilts his head back against the wall of the transport as it growls to life and rumbles down the road. Silverspire will have him taken to the station he once called home, where he’ll be processed, interrogated, and imprisoned. Sentenced to Blackgate, most likely, if they don’t execute him first.

It’s part of the show. The constructed cold mech. The failed experiment. He who should have been a soldier, granted leniency, and repaying said indulgence with anger and violence. They’ll make an example of him. They’ll tarnish his arrest record. They’ll drag his name through the muck.

Imprisonment. Execution.

He honestly doesn’t know which is worse.

~

The sander comes to a loud, grinding halt. In its absence, Sunstreaker swears his audials are still buzzing.

He whips off his goggles and sets them aside, peering down at the bumper stripped smooth. Without the goggles, the perfection of his work is undeniable. Sunstreaker grins and runs a palm over the gray plate.

The next step is to lay down the primer, than the base coat, then the multiple overcoats until it gleams like new. Only then can he reattach it to his client. He still has to add the decorative mark on the front – an odd red and yellow flame design. It’s going to be freehand, and it’s going to be beautiful.

Sunstreaker doesn’t much care if his clients ask for something weird. So long as he gets paid.

He leans back, rubbing a hand over his neck, easing the cramped cables. He’s been bent over the chestplate for hours it feels like. His grumbling tank certainly thinks so.

Sunstreaker pushes to his feet, hydraulics creaking, and shuffles out of the paint room. He frowns at himself, picking at spots of wandering paint with his free hand. No matter how careful he is, there’s always spatter.

Primus.

He hears the newscast before he sees it. Sunstreaker snorts. Trust his geek of a brother to be watching the news when he could be watching something much more interesting instead.

Sunstreaker sidles into the storage room and ducks under the mounted vidscreen. He rummages through the cabinet looking for a cube of midgrade.

“Sides, we got any of that cesium-spiced left?”

“I drank it all.”

“Aft.”

There’s a bottle of manganese at least. Not his favorite, but it’ll do.

“Finish the hood?” Sideswipe asks as Sunstreaker straightens and leans against the counter, tilting his head to keep from banging it on the underside of the vidscreen.

Sunstreaker snorts. “You know better than that.” He pops the cap on the flavoring and dumps the whole thing into his cube, giving it a good shake to mix it up. “Anything good on?”

“There never is.” Sideswipe lifts a remote and turns up the volume as the opening tines of a breaking news alert echoes around them.

Sunstreaker ducks down and leans beside his brother, hip to hip, thigh to thigh, their fields unconsciously tangling. He looks up at the vidscreen and freezes, because while a newsbot mindlessly reads off a script, there’s a crystal-clear image running beside him.

Prowl. In cuffs. Being shoved into the back of an Enforcer transport.

“What the frag?”

Sideswipe stiffens beside him. “They did it,” he breathes. “They actually did it.”

“Who?” Sunstreaker demands.

Sideswipe gestures to the screen as the video shifts to something that’s pre-recorded like the footage of Prowl’s arrest. Sunstreaker doesn’t recognize the mech with the impeccably shiny armor or the slag-eating grin, but he hates him on sight.

“Captain Silverspire,” the interviewer says with that cadence all reporters seem to perfect, “Can you please give us more information on the arrest of one of your best homicide detectives?”

“Certainly.” Silverspire’s smile widens. “I’d like to take a moment to reassure the public that this is an isolated incident perpetuated by an individual who had a grudge and used the Decepticon movement to redirect attention from his crimes. It is by no means representative of what the Enforcers as a whole are prepared to do to protect this city.

Those killed were part of a committee put together to communicate with the Decepticons and come to an accord regarding their concerns. New members will be appointed. We remain fully committed to working with the Decepticons to address their grievances and make a better, safer Cybertron for all. Thank you.””

“That is the fanciest pile of pitslag I’ve ever heard,” Sideswipe growls as he clicks off the vidscreen and silence descends in their shop, save that of the machines whirring away in a ready-state.

Sunstreaker’s jaw tightens. “We told him. We warned him.”

“Yeah, we did.” Sideswipe tosses the remote on the counter. “You know he didn’t kill those mechs. Wanna bet the Decepticons didn’t either?”

Sunstreaker sighs and clicks off the vidscreen, drowning the room in silence. “There’s something very wrong here.”

“You’re telling me.” Sideswipe chuffs a vent. “What do you wanna do about it?”

Sunstreaker frowns and rubs a hand down his face, grimacing at the gritty sensation of sanded paint still clinging to his fingers. He side-eyes his brother. “You still got Starscream’s comm?”

There’s a moment where Sideswipe stares at him before he breaks into a bright grin. “Frag right, I do. You thinking to cause some mayhem?”

Sunstreaker flexes his fingers together, the joints crackling and popping. “I’m thinking it’s time we stop straddling fences.”

“Me, too, bro.” Sideswipe pecks a kiss over Sunstreaker’s cheek. “I’ll make the call. You close up shop and send out the notices.”

Sunstreaker catches his hand before he can get too far. He draws it up to his lips, brushing a kiss over black knuckles. “You sure you want to do this? You don’t have to agree just because it’s my idea.”

Sideswipe’s fingers curl against his. He grins, crooked. “Bro, I go wherever you go. So long as it’s you and me, I’m good.”

Sunstreaker’s spark warms, as it always does when Sideswipe gets like this. “Just checking.”

Sideswipe winks and pulls away, already pulling a datachip out of subspace with Starscream’s contact information on it. It’s probably a terrible idea that’s going to get them killed, but then. Better to die for something than merely because of something.

~

“He’s late.”

“Or he’s not going to show.” Starscream kicks a heel against the ground. “Face it, Megatron. Your little pet Enforcer is not going to join us no matter how much you entice him.”

Megatron cut the Seeker a sharp look. “He is not a pet. He is integral to the continued success of the Decepticon rebellion.”

Starscream sniffs, his wings flick-flicking with agitation. “And I’m sure that has nothing to do with how pretty he is.”

“Starscream.”

“There are others,” Starscream near-hisses, an argument he’s made before. “Enforcers more pliable, those already on our side. Why do you insist on courting the one most likely to refuse you?”

“Because he’s the best,” Megatron growls. He steps closer to the Seeker, whose talons extend on instinct. “He’s one of us. He understands.”

Crimson optics flash at him. “Your insistence on relying on faith in those who would return us to our chains is nauseating,” Starscream snaps. “And it’s going to get us all killed.” He cocks his head. “Did you like prison that much, Megatron? Because that’s the only place your pet is leading us.”

Anger flashes hot and bright. Megatron’s engine revs. The distance between them is a few steps.

“Silence.”

Megatron goes still. Starscream freezes. They both turn to acknowledge the third voice – Soundwave. His terse monotone slices through the tension like a vibroknife, and though masked and visored, his expression is clearly one of disappointment. Not unlike Terminus as a matter of fact.

Megatron presses his lips together and cycles a ventilation. “You have news?” he asks.

Starscream mutters something and folds his arms over his cockpit, wingtips twitching.

“Prowl arrested,” Soundwave says as he moves into their sphere of tension, gaze cutting from Starscream to Megatron. “Moments ago.”

“Why?” Megatron demands.

“Murder.” Soundwave produces a datapad and hands it over.

Breaking News is Top News apparently. It’s on every channel, every feed. It is the only headline. There are images to accompany the report, of Prowl being led away in handcuffs and shoved into the back of an Enforcer transport. His crimes are splashed over very feed: murder, collusion, conspiracy.

There’s an interview with his commanding officer and an attached transcript. Megatron clicks on it, skimming through, anger boiling and bubbling in his belly.

“It’s a farce,” he realizes aloud. “All along. It’s been a farce to endear us to them.”

“Affirmative,” Soundwave says.

“That’s almost clever of them.” Starscream snatches the datapad from Megatron’s hands and reviews the contents for himself. “If Prowl is the murderer and not us, then it looks as though they are seeking justice on our behalf. By vowing to continue working with us, they appear to be on our side. Any Decepticon with only half a processing unit would fall for it. Might even support that ridiculous registry or worse, sign up for it.” His optics narrow, and he looks up at Megatron. “Do you think they knew we would attempt to recruit Prowl?”

Megatron folds his arms. “They would have guessed. Prowl does fit our requirements. They already know he was dissatisfied, the sort to… stir the pot.” He vents noisily, rapping his fingers on his folded arm. “The only question now is how we respond to this.”

“Deny or claim,” Soundwave poses.

Megatron tilts his head. “Exactly.” He presses his lips together, processor churning. “We had him,” he mutters through ground denta. “Prowl was ours. He intended to join us.”

“Or he’s been working for them all along, and he’s playing for our sympathies right now,” Starscream drawls. He smacks the datapad against Soundwave’s chestplate and lets it go, forcing Soundwave to catch it. “We go after Prowl, and we risk playing right into their hands.”

“You trust him so little,” Megatron says.

Starscream snarls. “And you trust him too much.” He shoves a pointed finger at Megatron’s chestplate. “Even if this doesn’t turn out to be a trap, who’s to say he’s not a spy afterward? It’s a classic maneuver. Just ask Soundwave.”

“Because I don’t think this is the case,” Megatron argues, his vents cycling in larger bursts. “I’ve spoken with Prowl. I’ve felt his field. I’ve–”

Starscream holds up a finger and turns away from him, other hand rising to activate his comm. “What is it?” he snarls. “I’m in the middle of something so if you–” He cuts off, and his wings jerk upright.

He turns slowly, very slowly back toward Megatron. One lip is curled upward in a curve Megatron would almost identify as triumphant.

“Really,” Starscream drawls and his wings flutter in a manner Megatron has learned to recognize as pleased. “In that case, start packing. I’ll give you a comm when we have a plan.”

He pauses before a dark chuckle rolls from his intake, “Oh, the promises you make.”

Starscream lowers his hand, clearly ending the comm. He pauses under Megatron and Soundwave’s expectant looks, examining the talons of one hand.

“Well?” Megatron prompts.

Starscream grins with a flash of denta. “You win some, you lose some,” he sings. “We’ve got two pretty twins who are anxious to get their favorite Enforcer back.”

“Starscream approves?” Soundwave asks.

Crimson optics cut toward him. “If Prowl can earn the trust of those two enough that they’re willing to drop everything and join us? Then I think I can give him the benefit of the doubt.” Starscream flicks his fingers as though scraping dirt from beneath the talons. “He gets one chance.”

Megatron sighs and resists the urge to growl his irritation to the heavens. “Then if that’s settled, we need a plan. An effective one.”

Starscream smirks. “Do you want to make a statement or do you just want quick and clean?”

“If they don’t realize it was Decepticons who sprung him, all the better,” Megatron says.

Soundwave shifts in Megatron’s periphery. “Onslaught.”

Starscream’s optics flicker. He stiffens. “What about that buffoon?”

But Megatron is already nodding. Soundwave says so little, but what he does say is worth so much more. “Yes, you’re right,” he says. “And Makeshift, I think.”

“Affirmative,” Soundwave says.

Megatron cycles a ventilation, finds calm now they have something like a plan of action. Starscream’s caution remains at the forefront of his thoughts, but he still finds it unwarranted. If it is a trap, Prowl is unwillingly at the center of it.

Megatron is certain of this.

Prowl is one of them. And if there’s any chance of achieving what they seek, they will need his help.

***