The dreams were always the same. A voice in his head, whispering, making him do things, awful things to those he called… he had once called friend. Five voices bombarding him with their wants, desires, all at once, kill, destroy, devastate. Never alone and yet completely isolated, screaming for help into the void. Nobody could hear him. Nobody had heard him, not even when he'd stood by Megatron's side, placed the muzzle of his gun against Wheeljack’s helm and squeezed that trigger.
Waking up with a strangled cry, Prowl took a few kliks to orientate himself. His room was dark. He hated the dark. That was when the voices were the loudest. Rubbing his faceplates, he tried to get his hitched intakes under control. His frame was hot and condensation beaded on its surface. Cybertronians don't dream, Ratchet had insisted once. Prowl wondered if the medic would still say the same. Perhaps he could submit himself to the science bots, have them study him. Maybe then something useful would come from his nightmares. What good was he like this anyway? A fugitive, wanted by the very mechs he'd tried to save, save from themselves and their own ego. Tarantulas had been right about a few things, his conscience always caught up with him. He had made the hard choices that no other bot had the struts to make, now he would pay the price.
Everything else, the things he hadn't been in control of; Bombshell inside his mind, insidious, invisible and dominant, the subsequent reformatting, the constructicons, Devastator, it filled him with shame, revulsion and despair. Nobody had noticed. Would they have even cared, if they had? Prowl didn't dare answer that question. Had he truly meant so little, done so much damage that not one bot…?
“Snap out of it!” Prowl slammed a tight fist onto his berth with a dull thud. There was nothing he could do to change what had happened. There was no point in dwelling. Yet, his spark had different ideas, scorned his logic. Primus apparently wanted him to suffer. Swinging his legs over the side of his berth, Prowl gripped the edge, his helm bowed, optics dim. It was, after all - if he bothered to ask anyone who might’ve listened - no less than he deserved. Glancing at his blaster resting on his berth side table, Prowl paused. It would only take a klik. He likely wouldn't feel any pain. The nightmares would end. He would finally be at peace and yet something, inexplicable and infuriating, stayed his hand.
With a snarl of frustration, Prowl tore himself from his berth and marched out of his room. It was late and he had nowhere to go but he needed to do something, be somewhere else. It didn't matter, it never mattered now. Wherever he went, no matter who was there, he was always alone.
Unfocused and distracted, Prowl walked until there was no more path. The base was behind him and before him lay the tombs of the Titans. Former tombs, he reminded himself absently. Those Titans were now enroute to Cybertron. They'd done what they could to warn them but Prowl still felt unsettled. He wanted to do more, with his skills he could help them. Shaking his helm, he clasped his hands behind his back, he couldn't go back. They wouldn't listen, they'd only react and arrest him for doing what he'd been made to do. Betrayed by his function, if there was ever humour to be found in irony, that was it. He snorted a soft, resentful laugh, his thoughts once again drawn back to that blaster, waiting silently, cold and non-judgemental. A solution to seemingly so many bots’ problems.
“I didn't expect anyone to be up so late.”
Prowl spun around and glared at the larger mech. “Do you make a habit of sneaking up on mechs?” he snapped, his fatigue and frustration getting the better of his temper.
Fort Max regarded him coolly. “I apologise if I startled you, as I said, I didn't expect anyone to be up so late.”
Prowl turned away guiltily. “I couldn't recharge,” he muttered tersely.
“Is it the base generators? I know they have kept Red Alert up on occasion,” the larger mech continued on with moving some spare parts to a storage container. “If you need to change rooms, we have plenty spare. Just let me know, it's no trouble.”
“Generators?” Prowl was momentarily thrown by the question. “I ah… no. No, no thank you, there's nothing wrong with my room,” he added quietly, uncertain how to respond to the consideration.
Fort Max, straightened and met Prowl's gaze. “Is it the headaches? I know you probably don't trust him but Cerebros can probably help if--”
“--it's nothing…” came the quick reply. “Nothing to be concerned about,” Prowl frowned slightly, unable to remember a time anybody had shown him any genuine concern. He even remembered his suffering from processor aches. This being Fort Max however, he realised the mech was probably just being polite, making conversation with a mech he didn't really like, a mech who had invited himself onto his base and invaded his peace and quiet. Still it was more than most made the effort to do and he of all mechs was undeserving of Fort Max’s courtesy. A psychology evaluation from the Lost Light and images of Fort Max’s injuries from when the crew had found him on Garrus 9, flashed through his processor and Prowl shook his helm as Max’s voice pulled him back to reality.
“Hm?” Prowl looked up distractedly and noticed a strange look on the larger mech's face. “What?”
Fort Max took a step forward and canted his helm at Prowl. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I already told you I--”
“--Prowl I had to say your name three times before you acknowledged me. Did you even hear me?”
No. He hadn't heard, too caught up in his own processor. The sudden concern suddenly made Prowl feel uncomfortable. “I'm just tired. I should go, sorry…” he stepped back and started heading back inside. “Sorry I disturbed you…”
Dismayed and confused by the skittish and obviously distracted reaction, Fort Max watched him leave. “You weren't disturbing me,” he murmured thoughtfully. He liked company, surprisingly even Prowl’s who, in spite of having only been on Luna 1 for a few cycles, had made himself a part of their mundane routines without attempting to control or manipulate any of it. Despite himself, Fort Max had gotten accustomed to his presence even enjoying it at times, so he couldn't help but feel concern. Perhaps he'd have Cerebros check all the recharge berths in the morning, a routine maintenance check, he decided silently, just to make sure.
“So, am I to assume you were checking up on me?”
Fort Max looked up from his datapad. “Checking up on you?”
“The whole berth maintenance scrap,” Prowl continued, folding his arms somewhat defensively. “Did you think I wouldn't know?”
His mouth twitching into a subtle smile, Fort Max shrugged. “Maintenance was required,” he replied. He might've known Prowl wouldn't be so easy to fool. He still had an enforcer’s mindset after all these vorns it seemed. “Not everything is a plot against you, you realise, Prowl?” he added softly, realising the proud mech was probably just embarrassed by the gesture, if he even saw it as such.
“It is in my experience, so you'll forgive me for being suspicious.”
Fort Max frowned at those words. “You're starting to sound a little paranoid like Red,” he chided lightly.
Prowl stiffened and and scowled at nothing. “Yes, well, like Red, I have good reason to be,” he muttered and marched away before Fort Max could say anything more.
Clearly he'd touched on a sensitive topic, Max thought to himself. He was beginning to realise that the infamous Prowl wasn't as put together and in control as he appeared. Something was definitely on his processor.
Curious, Fort Max put his datapad on the Decepticon smuggler aside and tapped into Cybertron’s main archive. As enforcer of the Tyrest accord, his classification went high enough that if Prowl was or had been involved in something he would find it. What he did not expect to find, almost immediately, was a warning not to approach and call for information on the whereabouts of the dangerous fugitive, known as Prowl, who had been declared an enemy of the state. “So that's why you chose to stay, hm?” Fort Max frowned deeply, he did not like being deceived, even by omittance. Now that he knew though, he wasn't sure what he was going to do about it. An enemy of the state could mean anything, especially with Starscream in charge. He would give Prowl the benefit of the doubt, let him talk first. If he didn't like what he had to say then he would arrest him as his duty required.
He found Prowl at the space bridge just staring at it blankly. He waited to see if the black and white mech noticed him but, despite the slight twitch in those doorwings on his back, Prowl was lost in his own thoughts. Venting a soft sigh, Fort Max moved to stand beside him and glanced at the mech with growing concern as Prowl still didn't acknowledge him. From what he knew of the mech, that wasn't normal. “Planning a trip, Prowl?”
“Mm?” Prowl hummed not really responding, his optics still glassy as he stared into nothing.
“Prowl?” Fort Max, placed a hand on the smaller mech’s shoulder, only for Prowl to flinch and jerk free almost violently.
“Don't touch me!”
Taken aback by the snarl and the fury he could see simmering beneath Prowl's normally calm exterior, Fort Max held up his hands to placate him. “Are you sick? Cerebros can--”
“--No! I don't want him in my head.”
Optics brightened at the very real fear in that voice and those overly bright optics. “Nobody is going into your head, Prowl,” he responded calmly. “Just if you're sick, he can help or we can find some bot on Cybertron who can.”
“I'm fine, don't patronise me,” Prowl shot back, his fists clenched, the fear once again hidden, this time behind anger rather than stoicism.
“You are evidently not fine,” Fort Max pointed out matter of factly. Prowl's over reaction reminded him of his own on the Lost Light, where he'd hurt his friends. He would bet real credits that Prowl didn't consider any of them friends and that worried him. If Prowl snapped as he had done, mechs could die.
“Nobody will help, nor can they,” Prowl countered bitterly, his optics flickered at the revelation and he immediately turned on his heel and practically fled the room.
Fort Max’s spark clenched at the words. Nobody will help. Something was obviously wrong and Prowl for whatever reason, did not believe anyone would help him. He empathised too much with those feelings of isolation and despair. For all that he'd done, Prowl was still a mech, an Autobot at spark and he resolved at that moment he would do what he could, as Rung had done for him. The charges against the mech could wait for now. Fort Max had a feeling that Prowl wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon.
He gave him half a cycle to calm down. He didn't want to compound any issues by making him feel smothered. “Red, have you seen Prowl?” Fort Max asked as he stepped into the security director's bolt hole. No matter how far removed from their old positions they got, the security office monitoring Luna 1 was where Red Alert felt at home.
“Prowl? Why would I have seen Prowl?” he asked bluntly.
“Didn't you two used to be comrades, friends?”
“Used to be being the crucial part of that statement,” Red commented. “We served together and I respect why he does what he feels he needs to do and I doubt there's any bot more loyal to what the Autobots stood for than him but…”
“But?” Fort Max prodded when Red Alert paused.
“But, I trust him about as far as I can throw him, which I've heard, isn't far given his frame modifications.”
Canting his helm in confusion Fort Max frowned. “What modifications?”
Red Alert huffed a chuckle. “You really should keep up with the goings on on Cybertron. He was reformatted to be the helm of Devastator, I have the report Ironhide sent me somewhere,” Red Alert rifled through scattered piles of datapads and let out a pleased sound as he found what he was looking for and handed it to Fort Max. “It makes for an interesting if surreal read.”
“I didn't know that was possible,” Fort Max mused with mild disbelief.
“The Constructicons found a way,” Red Alert shrugged. “Though I do sympathise, as Ironhide tells it, Prowl wasn't exactly himself.”
“Primus, you really do like staying out of the loop don't you?” he teased the larger mech. “Apparently Prowl was under Decepticon control and sided with Megatron. It's all in that report,” he gestured to the datapad. “It's a bit scant on the details of how but other bots inside your processor. Yeah, that's slag.”
Fort Max was now deeply concerned. “You think he could be another sleeper agent?”
“Possibly, but I doubt it, they killed who was apparently responsible,” Red Alert replied nonchalantly. “And they had a medic look at him, I think.”
“You think? This is serious, he could be--”
“--a threat?” Red Alert finished pointedly. “No more than me and no more than he usually is. He didn't have to come here to warn us about Sentinel so I figure he's at the very least still fighting for our side.”
“The war is over, Red,” Fort Max reminded. “There aren't sides anymore,” he murmured, knowing he didn't fully believe that.
“Not for me and certainly not for bots like, Prowl,” Red Alert’s optics dimmed with a sadness he still carried. He would never truly trust again and would always question his reality, he imagined it was the same for Prowl. “Probably would have been kinder for the ‘cons to put him out of his misery,” he added casually.
Fort Max recoiled at the suggestion. “No, we wouldn’t do that to you and Prowl is a stubborn mech, he will come back from that. No bot deserves to be abandoned.”
Red Alert gave him a sidelong look. “Since when did you care? I thought you hated Prowl…”
“Hate is too strong a word. Angry, frustrated by, yes but nothing that warrants me turning my back on a mech that clearly needs help.”
“If you don't mind me saying, he probably deserves it for all the using and abusing of bots he's done along the way in the name of the Autobot cause.”
“And that's where you're wrong,” Fort Max argued. “If he has committed a crime then yes justice should and will be carried out but not having anyone to turn to, dealing with all of this,” he shook the datapad, “Even we had help with our demons, Red. Without Rung… I don't know what I would have done and who knows if you'd have been able to resist Sentinel’s control as you did.”
“Alright, you made your point,” Red Alert placated graciously. “Just don't expect Prowl to accept help willingly. If I know him, and I do, believe me, he will resist you every step of the way even at the expense of his own sanity.”
“At this point I don't know what to expect.”
“Best way,” Red Alert smiled. “He hasn't left his room in half a cycle I'm pretty sure you'll find him in there. He even missed his turn doing inventory and he hasn't missed anything we've asked him to do since he got here.”
“And that didn't concern you?”
Red Alert pursed his lip components looking a little sheepish. “It's Prowl, he does what he wants.”
Letting out an exasperated noise, Fort Max shook his helm and left for Prowl's room. Clearly the mech had not done much to endear himself to others. Even Red Alert who he would have expected to understand Prowl, simply pitied him. Pity didn't help a mech, it certainly didn't stop him from doing something stupid, something he'd regret.
Unconsciously, Fort Max picked up his pace.