If you had asked Bulkhead who of their band of misfits was most likely to fall under the thrall of modifications, it would not have been Prowl.
It defied logic. Prowl was calm, collected, wanted nothing but to be left alone most of the time. Only Ratchet, with his former scars was less likely. Prowl was…had been…the closest thing to a role model Bulkhead would likely ever have.
Looking at the hacked and modified frame in front of him, the larger mech couldn’t help but wonder when things had gone too far to salvage.
It had started out harmlessly enough. Ratchet’s E.M.P blaster to help take down Grimlock. The sheer ease that the device had performed this task had surprised both of them. Looking back, it wasn’t all that surprising that Prowl could think he had a chance against Starscream. Bulkhead spent many sleepless vorns wondering if his presence could have changed things. If he had followed Prowl to the moon, would he have fallen to Lockdown so easily? He wasn’t as smart as Prowl, but would the bot have been more suspicious for his sake? Or would Bulkhead too have been caught up in overmodification?
How could Prowl not have realised what he was doing? How could he think he could handle it when the best of the Elite Guard and Decepticon forces didn’t take the risks? The more modifications a mech had, the less processing power for personality, for tactics, for logic – not even Starscream would dare risk his processor in exchange for more firepower, and he was prepared to go to any lengths to rid the world of Megatron. Some were exceptions, but a rare few.
But Prowl couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see it. He sped ahead, revelling in his power. When the red Starscream took to the skies, Prowl was in fast pursuit. His sneak attack on the mech threw him into the trees, and Bulkhead had seen the frail little nest fall. He had barely gotten there in time to catch it.
He wished he’d let the thing fall. That one action had almost brought sense back to Prowl. Hesitance and doubt had flickered in his optics, only to be washed away by this newfound determination. Nothing had been harmed, Prowl still had no consequences to his actions.
And even after Megatron had fled, and Prowl had used his modifications to save Detroit from the explosion, he seemed more disappointed in the shorting out of his shield mod than in anything else. Even when talking to Lockdown, his spirit seemed weaker than usual.
When Sari and Bumblebee had returned, looking for Prowl, only to come out running with a hastily written letter in the yellow mech’s hands, all three other mech’s could already guess its contents.
Ratchet said nothing, only giving out a long drawn out sigh, while Optimus dropped his shoulders, barely able to give the order to roll out.
By the time they’d gotten to the false warehouse, Lockdown, and Prowl, were long gone.
* * *
Sari and Bumblebee never quite understood. But then, neither did Bulkhead, and he’d been there. Even when Ultra Magnus had called them up, demanding an explanation for why Prowl was suddenly showing up with Lockdown, hunting down Decepticons that the Elite Guard had been looking for for vorns.
That was all they ever heard about the ninja, he never responded to any contact they tried to make with him. Vague photo’s of him by Lockdown’s side, sporting a new shield, new armour, a new gun.
But it was the image from Prowl’s first Autobot bounty that resulted in most of them giving up hope on him ever returning. The shot that clearly showed his Autobot symbol had been blacked out. He stopped only chasing down Decepticons after that, and went after whatever bounty he could find.
Bulkhead didn’t want to admit it, didn’t know why Prowl would turn his back on everything he believed in, but there was only one way to let it end. Over the vorns he scrimped and saved, every monetary asset he could get his hands on went into a secure fund. Finally, when it was enough to dwarf even Starscream’s bounty, one that had risen repeatedly over the vorns, he released his own bounty into the system. One that, part of him hoped, would never be collected.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before he got an answer, and he travelled to the empty moon to collect.
* * *
“I must admit, I didn’t expect that bounty to come from you.”
The green mech said nothing, staring at the black and gold mech in front of him. The only reminder of the sleek ninja Autobot was his paint scheme glimmering between modifications. Even his visor was gone, replaced by one in red that hit his entire face from view. Prowl was an ugly, macabre shadow of what he had once been.
Ignoring Bulkhead’s unease, Prowl dropped the motionless mech he had towed to the ground, and faced him once gain.
“I had expected Optimus” Prowl continued, “or possibly Ratchet. Why would you place a bounty on Lockdown?”
Bulkhead walked over, and lifted Prowl’s former partner into his hands. It was definitely Lockdown, and judging from the damages on his frame, he hadn’t gone without a fight.
“Why would you give him up?” Bulkhead countered. “I thought you two were partners.”
“I learned everything I needed from him megacycles ago. This was just convenient, and lets me keep the upgrades.”
Bulkhead’s hands clenched, squeezing the bounty hunter shattered frame.
“Why?” he growled. “Why did you abandon us!”
He hadn’t meant to yell, but Prowl didn’t seem bothered. The ninja shifted his stance, and Bulkhead caught sight of nunchucks fixed to the bot’s legs. His spark sank at that – he’d heard Jazz had been attacked by an unknown force recently, but he had prayed on Primus it hadn’t been Prowl.
“I didn’t abandon anyone” Prowl replied. “I became stronger, more powerful. How many Decepticons have fallen thanks to me?”
“Decepticons you handed over to Megatron!” Bulkhead snapped. “And what about the Autobots you’ve attacked? How dare you say you haven’t abandoned anyone – you’re just as bad as a Decepticon now Prowl!”
“They were weak” Prowl snapped back, no hesitation in his voice. “I did them a favour, removing them from the equation.”
Bulkhead’s optics narrowed.
“I don’t know what happened to you Prowl, but the mech I knew wouldn't have been able to stand the sight of the one in front of me now.”
Prowl tensed, instincts honed to recognise danger. “And just what are you going to do about it.”
Almost too fast for Prowl to follow, Bulkhead dropped Lockdown and crushed down on his body, his wrecking balls flying towards the ninja. Prowl in return leapt out of the way, shield mod in place while his hand shifted into a gun, searching for cover on the moons surface.
“I’m gonna do one last favour to my friend Prowl” Bulkhead replied. “Even if he doesn’t realise it.”
He readied his wrecking ball once again.
"Prepare to go offline Prowl."
And noise of battle echoed across the planet