Actions

Work Header

A Hard Knock Life VI: Devastation

Work Text:

"Is he supposed to be recharging so much?" Sideswipe gave Prowl's nurse a worried look.

"Commissioner Prowl sustained a number of traumatic injuries. While we repaired the majority of the damage, his self-repair is working on the injuries too minor to require a surgeon's hand." The mech hooked up an energon drip to the offline mech. "His self repair requires a great deal of extra energy, so he's going to recharge a great deal. I would think that, after your time in the pits, you would be familiar with the phenomenon."

"There was no such thing as too minor a repair for our medics." The red mech looked away from the judgmental look the nurse was giving him. "Mechs who weren't in perfect repair were mechs who died too quickly and didn't make money for the arena."

"The commissioner's self-repair systems will be more effective on many of those small repairs than any but the most elite microsurgeons." The nurse sounded unsure, as if he knew he had crossed a line. "It's best for him if we just let him rest. He will be awake soon enough."

"Thanks." Sideswipe didn't look back at the nurse, reaching for Prowl's hand instead. Even if the older mech was in recharge, he was sure it helped to remind him that the former gladiator was still at his side.

"Can I bring you or Deputy Onslaught anything?" The nurse asked. "We can send one of the interns into the city if necessary."

"It's all right. Smokescreen will bring us something when he comes back."

"All right. I'll be back in two joors, before shift change."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Smokescreen stood in the Grand Audience Chamber and tried not to let his wings twitch with nervousness. He didn't know if the Prime or the Lord Protector recognized that sort of tell, but it would reflect badly on Prowl if they did.

"Tell me, Smokescreen, how is Prowl?" Resolute Prime asked, as if he were asking after an acquaintance he hadn't seen for a while and not a critically injured friend.

It rubbed the Praxian the wrong way, but he did his best to keep the irritation out of his voice. "Prowl's condition has been stabilized and he's been through five rounds of surgery to repair his processor, spark chamber damage and replace his chest plates. The medics say everything is healing well and he should be out of Praxus Medical by the end of the deca-cycle."

"So soon?" Protector Steelrain sounded surprised.

"That's what they're predicting. I guess Prowl's a lot tougher than we knew."

"So it seems." The Seeker leaned back in his throne, expression thoughtful. "Will he be returing to work immediately?"

"Probably not. He's still got a lot of healing to do, even if he doesn't have to stay in the med center to do it."

"And what about yourself, Smokescreen?" Resolute leaned forward and fixed the young mech with a concerned look. "Are you well?"

"As well as I can be, given the circumstances." Smokescreen shrugged, using feigned unconcern to mask the urge to flinch away from the huge mech. "The medics were able to knit all the cables in my hand back together before I lost the use of any of my fingers."

"If you or Prowl need anything, you will tell me?" For a moment, Resolute sounded like a concerned mech and not the pompous Prime he was.

"We will," the detective promised, though he was certain that there would never be anything they needed badly enough to ask Resolute Prime for. "Thank you for offering. Is there anything else I can do for your Lordships?"

"Indeed." the Prime beckoned him closer. "Tell me about the situation in Praxus. How the public is taking the assassination attempt, how the Enforcers are reacting, anything you can think of that relates to what has happened."

Smokescreen let his wings droop a little as he stepped forward. He had hoped he would be able to get by with just letting the Prime and Protector know what had happened, but that was clearly a vain hope.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Prowl came online slowly, each of his processes rebooting individually and populating his display with a list of corrected errors in both hardware and software. He stared at the list with growing horror as his repair systems listed off each of the injuries he has sustained.

"Sideswipe!" He sat up with a jolt.

"Sorry, Prowl." Sunstreaker set his drawing pad down on the black and white mech's berthside table. "I threw him out to go get some fresh energon and some air. And I mean that literally. I had to drag him downstairs and toss him out the door. He never left your side til then."

"Did he know about my damage?" The commissioner was surprised that he hadn't realized he had been so badly damaged before. His processor was running much more clearly now.

"Not all of it," the yellow twin admitted softly. "He was already out of his mind with worry. Smokescreen and I decided it was better that he found out later. And there wasn't any way to tell you, with him here all the time."

"If it was unrepairable, would you have told him? Would you have told me?" Prowl did his best to keep his voice even and not explode with rage at Sunstreaker. He and his cousin had been trying to keep Sideswipe's needs in mind, and it would do no good to get angry over things he couldn't change.

"That she shook your processor loose, damaged a memory core--good thing you backup regularly, by the way--and destroyed the section of your processor dedicated to emotional control? Sure we would have. That's not the sort of thing we could hide for long." Sunstreaker shrugged one shoulder. "But it wasn't something he needed to know until we knew how bad it was and whether or not they could repair you. I know you're probably fragged off, I know I would be, but I was trying to protect Sides."

"We both deserved to know. I expect to be fully informed in the future." The black and white mech frowned and looked toward the door. "He was really here the entire time?"

"Until about a joor ago, yeah. I would have let him stay, if I'd known you were going to wake up so soon. Onslaught too. Have to say, I am never messing with your new bodyguard."

"Perhaps it is for the best that you made him leave." Prowl turned back to the yellow mech. "Tell me everything."

"Define everything."

"Everything she did to me, no matter how minor it seems."

"Frag, Prowl. That's going to be a lot of damage." Sunstreaker frowned. "Are you sure you really want to know?"

"I want to know everything."

"All right." The artist shuttered his optics for a moment and thought. "First, she trashed your room. I think maybe the berth survived, but not much else. You had seventeen stab wounds, nine lacerations--one deep enough to sever the tension lines going into your left hand, she sawed off half your chest plates, and damaged your spark chamber. And when she kicked you, you sustained a severed primary neural cable, an unanchored processor, a damaged memory core and a destroyed emotional sub-processor. Lots of cosmetic damage, too. The medic is pretty sure you sustained the head trauma before anything else, which explains a lot."

Prowl slumped back onto his berth. "I had no idea. No wonder your brother has been so worried."

"Well, that and you recharged for three straight cycles."

The older mech nodded. "How is Smokescreen?"

"Repaired and running interference for you with the Prime, the Praxian council and Datatrack." The younger mech caught sight of the commissioner's expression and added quickly, "She bit a chunk out of his hand, but your surgeon rewired him with no problems. He's fine."

"You're sure?" Prowl relaxed a fraction.

"Very, very sure."

"All right. Tell me what's going on that he has to run interference for then."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

"The Lord Protector wants a report on department efficiency," Steelspark told Barrage wearily. "Apparently he has concerns about our ability to perform with Prowl still at Praxus Medical."

"Of course he does." The Insecticon balled a fist, but managed to keep himself from slamming it into his desk. "And I'm sure he's waiting with a unit of army mechs to come in and institute martial law if we give him anything less than a stellar report."

"Very likely," the old mech replied. "How are we going to handle it?"

Barrage thought for a long moment. "Lie through our mandibles. The last thing we need is the Lord Protector sending in his people and making things even worse."

Steelspark nodded slowly. "It would probably even work. At the ground level, we haven't lost any effectiveness."

"Compile the report, Steel. I must meet with the prosecution team for Spotter's case."

"Good luck with that. That case is going to be nothing but a spectacle."

"Tell me about it." The orange and green mech stood up. "If i'm not back in two joors, come up with an emergency and rescue me."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Prowl was propped up in his berth, resting against several soft cushions so that he wouldn't strain the welds still healing on his chest. Sideswipe was sitting next to him in his usual spot. Sunstreaker was standing near the window with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Smokescreen was hovering between the yellow mech and his cousin's berth, not sure where he would be most welcome.

Prowl's surgeon, a mech named Allay, stood at the foot of the commissioner's bed. "The good news is that all your damaged is as repaired as Praxus Medical is capable of and your repair is acting rapidly to finalize the rest."

Prowl nodded. "The bad news?"

Sideswipe frowned at the black and white mech. No one should be some calm when asking their surgeon for bad news.

"Your emotional sub-processor is as repaired as it is ever going to get. We replaced the component, but it isn't communicating with your central processor correctly." Allay echoed the red mech's frown. "And we don't dare remove it and attempt to install another. This one has integrated fully and we risk damaging your core if we do."

Smokescreen made an unhappy noise and moved to Sunstreaker's side. The yellow mech extended one arm and pulled him against his side.

"What does that mean?" Sideswipe asked. "In basic terms."

"It means that the Prowl you all knew is likely gone, and Prowl now will be unable to correctly process or express emotional information."

"I understand that you believe I will be incapable of emotional processing, and as you understand it that may be correct." Prowl's tone was hard. "However, I assure you that I still feel emotions. We will adapt to the rest."

"Sir, there will be a great many things you aren't prepared to handle." The surgeon was clearly unhappy with the black and white mech's response.

"We will adapt. Unless that section of my processor has also been impaired?"

"No, sir. There doesn't seem to be any additional impairment." The surgeon frowned. "But you will require extensive therapy and--"

"I will submit to any required physical therapy that is required. Any psychological issues will be handled privately." The commissioner was firm. "I understand that you are a medical professional, but you do not know me or my family well enough to know we will handle these issues. We will work with our personal psychiatrist as necessary."

"With all due respect, Commissioner, I don't believe you are currently mentally capable of making those sorts of decisions."

Smokescreen and the twins glared at the Allay.

"You may think Prowl has some kind of," Smokescreen paused looking for the right word, "Some kind of glitch but I don't. And in those cases, I'm the one with the decision making power, not you. If my cousin wants to go see Hoist instead of being trapped here forever, then we go to Hoist."

Allay's doorwings flared in anger. "As you wish. Your nurse will be in with discharge instructions shortly."

"Thank you." Prowl's tone was calm, but the other mechs in the room stayed tense until the medic stormed out. "Thank you, Smokescreen."

"Any time, Prowl." The younger emch gave him a weak smile. "I have a feeling too many people take that mech's recommendations as law."

"Very likely." The black and white mech nodded, then turned to look at Sideswipe. "You were very quiet."

"It's a lot to take in," the red mech confessed. "This is going to be a huge change, for all of us."

"And, as I told Allay, we will adapt." Prowl reached out and took Sideswipe's hand, hoping the red mech would be able to take the comfort he intended from the gesture.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

File Received 6.6.145R
File Sent 6.5.145R

Target is at most vulnerable currently. Proceed to target's location and eliminate. Former agent is now secondary concern. Target takes all priority.

File Received 6.6.145R
File Sent 6.6.145R

Negative. Unable to move to target's location without arousing notice. Target still too hot. Plan will fail if implemented now.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

"Okay, Prowl, just step down carefully. The sidewalk is pretty uneven here." Sideswipe stood next to the departure hatch of the shuttle they had hired and let the black and white mech use his shoulder to support himself as he disembarked.

Prowl paused, leaning most of his weight on the red mech. "This is not our home."

"No," Sunstreaker said from behind him. "It's not still swarming with investigation teams, but we didn't think you'd be comfortable there tonight."

"This is the hotel that put us up after Sunny and I checked out of Praxus medical when you freed us." The former gladiator stood as still as he could so that the still weak commissioner wouldn't fall. "They were good to us and the rooms are really secure."

"This was an unnecessary expense," the older mech said, a slight frown pulling down the corners of his lips. He stepped the rest of the way onto the sidewalk and limped out of Sunstreaker's way. "I am capable of enduring whatever emotional responses seeing our house will bring."

"Sure, in the morning." The yellow twin dropped onto the sidewalk beside his brother and tapped once on the shuttle's hatch. The mech slid his hatch closed and took off. "And besides, it's not like we can't afford it. Tonight, you're getting a full recharge cycle in. Then we're going to have fuel and get you repainted and detailed."

"We'll tackle the house after that," Sideswipe agreed. "I think we're all too tired for that tonight, anyway."

After a few long kliks, Prowl finally nodded. "Very well. But this is only for tonight."

"Sure, Prowl." Sunstreaker stepped around the Enforcer and his twin. "I'll get us checked in and you two can meet me inside."

"I am not an invalid," the black and white protested.

"No, but you are a lot slower until all your repairs are finalized."

"Sunny's just wound tight right now," Sideswipe soothed, hoping to prevent an argument between the two. "He really hates Praxus Medical."

"He's not the only one." Prowl began limping toward the door, doing his best to keep up with the yellow mech who was stalking inside ahead of him.

Sideswipe shook his head and followed them. Despite their situation, he smiled when the orange minibot at the desk greeted them by name.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

"Among my people," Barrage said, sliding a ration through the energy bars of her cell, "You would become a Ghost. The living dead, forced to walk among their people but no one would acknowledge your presence. No one would employ you or fuel you or even speak your language."

"Not that it matters." The femme didn't turn to look at him.

"No, perhaps not. But it pains me that in Praxus there is no such fitting punishment. As the betrayer, you deserve no less."

"You have no idea," Spotter spat. "You don't know what I was living with."

"I don't care," the Insecticon replied. "He loved you. You were his chosen mate and you betrayed every trust he placed in you. In his place, I would not be so gracious as to allow you to go to trial."

"Don't worry. I won't."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

"Prowl, we don't have to do this today." Sideswipe put a hand on the older mech's shoulder as the Praxian stood, frozen, on the walkway that led to their house.

"No. I need to do this now." The black and white mech's doorwings trembled. "She has already ruined too much."

"Okay. Whatever you need to do." The red mech didn't move his hand.

They stood on the walkway for long joors before Prowl finally moved.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

"Hey, Sides."

"What?" Sideswipe looked at his brother through partly-shuttered optics. The day's work--cleaning up Prowl's room, removing any trace of Spotter left in the house, dragging Prowl outside for air when things were obviously too much--had worn him down and he was exhausted. He really just wanted to recharge.

"What do you think about this place?" Sunstreaker sent him an image file over their short range comm system. "It's got enough room and looks like it would be easy to modify with a security suite."

"Sunny, that place is huge! Are you serious?" The red mech could remember mansions in the Towers districts that were smaller than the 'house' the yellow mech was showing him.

"Dead serious. It'll have space for all of us, and it'll be safe. And it'll be a lot harder for the news agents to get to."

"It does look nice." Sideswipe gave the image file a second look, taking in the mansion's gently curving sides and the huge balcony that ran along the topmost floor. There was even a garden of those huge purple crystals that his brother liked so much, already planted in front. "But what if Prowl doesn't go for it? He seems pretty set on staying here."

"We can't make him leave if he doesn't want to." Sunstreaker shrugged. "But this place is going to be bad for him for a while, I think. He should at least have a choice about leaving."

"Yeah. I think maybe it's bad for all of us right now." Sideswipe sighed. "I'm in if he is."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Prowl was sitting on the long, plushly padded sofa that Sideswipe liked so much and staring blankly at the entertainment vid screen when Smokescreen stepped into the room. The younger Praxian frowned at the sight; even when he was on vacation leave, Prowl never turned on the entertainment channels.

It looked like it was a good thing he had listened to Sunstreaker and come to check on his cousin while the twins were at the Temple.

"Prowl?"

The elder Praxian's wings twitched at the sound of the younger mech's voice, but it was several long kliks before Prowl turned and looked at him. "Smokescreen? When did you come in?"

"Just a few kliks ago. I came to see how you were doing." Smokescreen crossed over to the couch and sat down next to the black and white mech. "So, how are you doing?"

"I... am not well," Prowl confessed softly. "None of my experiences prepared me for this."

"Well, it's not exactly something you have to deal with every day. I don't think anyone is prepared for this kind of thing."

"I know. I just don't know how to handle any of this. I feel lost." The corners of the commissioner's lips turned down slightly. "I am certain the damage to my emotional processing centers is not helping."

"Probably not," the detective agreed. "Can I make some suggestions?"

"Please." Prowl's relief at Smokescreen's offer was evident.

The younger mech smiled. "First, when the twins want to take you out somewhere, go. You're spending too much time in here by yourself. Second, make time to go train with Master Yoketron again. You know how good that is, for both of us. And third, go see Hoist. The surgeon wasn't wrong about therapy, even if he didn't present the idea very well. Sunny and Sides and I can give you support, but it's not the only kind of help you need to deal with all this. It's kind of like when you made me go, because you were grieving too much to be able to help me cope with all my anger."

"Once I'm back on duty, I won't have time."

"Make time. You still have Barrage, you still have Steelspark and you still have Onslaught. You can trust them to take care of things while you're taking care of yourself."

Slowly, Prowl nodded. "All right. I will contact Hoist in the morning."

"And Master Yoketron."

The elder Praxian smiled slightly. "And Master Yoketron."

"Great. Now, let's get out of here for a while. The evening vids are terrible and we haven't had our evening drinks at Mixer's in almost a decacycle."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

He was nervous as he stepped into Hoist's office, which was odd given how long he had known the medic. Hoist was a gentle mech, and had treated Smokescreen long after he had worked through his anger issues and helped him work through his lingering grief at the loss of his creators. A few of the other Enforcers in Central even saw him for work-related stress and trauma issues.

Aside from his emotional processing being unreliable, there was no reason for him to be unsure about seeing the medic. And yet, he could not deny that he was.

"Come in, Prowl." Hoist smiled warmly. "Have a seat anywhere you like."

"Thank you." Prowl looked over the array of chairs and couches in the office, multiple designs and levels of cushioning in order to give Hoist's patients the most comfortable experience possible, and picked out a simple chair with a high, narrow back. He sat down slowly, still unsure, and leaned back to make certain his wings would be comfortable.

"When you're ready, I'm going to ask you a series of questions to help determine your current mental state." The therapist's kind smile didn't waver. "I'm sure you remember the process from my first session with Smokescreen."

Prowl did, and he also remembered the exasperation they had shared at the younger mech's behavior during that first session. Smokescreen had not been an easy youngling to deal with during those early days. The reminder helped ease his anxiety; today he would not go through anything he wasn't expecting--and he would do it without breaking his medic's desk garden in a fit of temper.

"Please begin, Hoist." One of his wings twitched with continued anxiety, but he forced himself to ignore the feeling. He could do this. "I am as ready as I can be."

"All right." The green mech picked up his chair and came around his desk to sit closer to Prowl. The commissioner was grateful for the implied support the gesture gave. "How are you feeling, Prowl?"

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

"So what do you think?" Sunstreaker looked at his companion seriously.

"I think you're going to have a hard time getting Prowl to leave his place." Smokescreen frowned and took a drink of his energon. "He worked hard to buy his house without using any of his creator's money or influence."

"So we convince him to keep his place and move back in when he's in a better state mentally. He's got to get out of there, Smokes. That place is killing him." The artist took a sip from his own drink. "Did you know he doesn't even recharge in his room? I'm not sure he's even going into it anymore. Sides and I have both found him on the couch at the beginning of the day cycle. And we aren't sure he's taking fuel if he's not with one of us. That house may be important to him, but right now it's hurting more than it's helping."

"He's seeing Hoist," the blue and yellow mech pointed out.

"Clearly that's not enough. It's been thirty cycles since he was released and he's not showing any signs that he's even starting to get better."

"You might be right, but buying a Garden District mansion is a little much don't you think?"

"It's the best there is, short of moving to the Crystal Towers," Sunstreaker replied firmly. "You and Prowl deserve the best."

"Me?" Smokescreen blinked, surprised.

"Of course, you. You're family too, aren't you?"

Slowly, the enforcer smiled--a sight Sunstreaker was pleased to see. It had been too long since either of the Praxians had smiled. "Right. So that means I get to have input into the new house too, right?"

"Within reason," the yellow mech admonished. "Someplace with a lot of space and a wall with a gate is not negotiable."

"Great. Can I take you to see a couple places I've been fantasizing about tomorrow?"

"Sounds good."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Spotter’s optics snapped open and she shot to her feet in the same motion when the energy barrier across the front of her cell deactivated. Instinctively, she settled into a defensive stance as the mech stepped into her cell.

The black and purple Insecticon cocked his head an looked at her curiously, though he said nothing.

“I’m surprised it took you this long to come,” the femme said, dark humor coloring her tone.

“Cleaning up your messes hasn’t been easy,” the mech replied. “Just one loose end left now, though.”

“I’m surprised he thought you were bug enough to do it.” Spotter didn’t resist the urge to smirk at the other agent. She was ten times the assassin that any Insecticon could ever be.

“He’s always given me the important jobs.” The black and purple mech stepped forward and drew an energon blade from his subspace. “I even get to take care of your precious Prowl, now that you’ve slagged that up.”

At the Insecticon’s pronouncement, Spotter began laughing hysterically. “You won’t even get close to him now!”

The Insecticon snarled in reply and lunged at her.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

“Sideswipe? Are you well?”

The red mech looked up at Silverlight’s soft question and shrugged one shoulder. “I guess. I’m just worried about Prowl.”

“Is doing poorly?” The cleric crouched down next to Sideswipe’s chair and reached out for the warrior’s hand.

Sideswipe gave his friend a half-smile in thanks for the offered comfort. “It’s not that he’s worse, or anything, he’s just… he’s not better. And he doesn’t talk to me like he used to.”

“I believe that, like you, he is frightened of this change.” Silverlight squeezed his hand gently. “And, after coming to know Prowl as I have, I find it very likely that his reluctance to speak with you now is an attempt to shield you from his own fears.”

“Well, he shouldn’t. I’m strong enough to take it.”

“We all know that.” The cleric smiled softly. “But you must consider that, perhaps, Prowl himself is not right now.”

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Yoketron extended a hand to Prowl to help him stand back up. “You have allowed you skills to atrophy, Prowl. I am disappointed.”

The younger Praxian looked at the floor as he wrapped a hand around the other mech’s wrist and allowed his teacher to pull him back to his feet. “Forgive me, Master Yoketron. I have allowed my career to consume a great many things.”

“I think that it is not only your career that consumed your time,” the old mech said gently. “The family you have surrounded yourself with is no secret. Nor is the assassination attempt.”

Prowl felt familiar rage build in his processor, and his hand tightened around the circuit-cu master’s wrist. His voice, however, remained flat when he spoke. “She betrayed me.”

“She did,” Yoketron agreed. “Now, have you asked why?”

“Because someone wants me dead.”

“Obviously. But have you asked why?”

The enforcer cycled air into his cooling system and forced himself to truly listen to his master’s words. Yoketron was correct; he had not been asking the right questions. “I have not. But I will, and more importantly, I will ask who wants me dead.”

“As you should.” The old mech smiled and released his student’s arm. “Now, return to center. We must care for your body as well as your mind.”

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Joors later, when he stepped into Central District's detention facility still covered in scratches and aches from his sparring session with Master Yoketron, Prowl was prepared for almost anything but the sight that greeted him. The cell Spotter had been placed in was splattered with the dull pink of processed energon. The femme herself was laying in a similarly colored pool, bleeding from at least dozen cuts and being tended by a pair of white and red mechs wearing medic's crosses. Onslaught watched as they worked, arms crossed and posture tense.

“What happened here?” Onslaught straightened at the sound of Prowl's voice and turned to look at his superior.

“Someone attempted to murder Spotter,” the large mech said. “They would have been successful if she had been given a later court appearance today.”

The black and white mech stared into the Spotter's cell, as the medics were loaded her onto a gurney. “Has the assailant been captured?”

“No.” Onslaught’s voice was hard. “Somehow, the cameras in the hall were disabled, so there is no security footage either.”

Prowl wanted to swear, but instead he simply stepped aside as the medics wheeled Spotter out of the cell. “As I am still technically on leave, I cannot investigate myself. I trust that you and Barrage will find out who the saboteur is.”

“We will.”

“Good. Every link we find will take us closer to the mechanism at the top.”

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

“I heard about Spotter.” Smokescreen sighed as he dropped down onto the couch next to his cousin. “Half of me is glad I was stuck in Iacon when it happened.”

Slowly, Prowl nodded. “It does prevent you from being obviously involved.”

“Yeah, but now it’s Onslaught and Barrage’s afts on the line, and I like them too much to wish that on either of them.”

The black and white mech nodded again. “Fortunately, despite being my proxy with the Prime and Lord Protector currently, that will not be your problem.”

“Yeah.” The younger mech sighed again. “But it’s got me thinking about something Sunstreaker said the other cycle. If they got to her so easily in the detention facility, it isn’t going to be hard to get to you again here in this little house. Especially when the twins are gone.”

“I have told all of you before that I am not leaving. This is my home.”

“But--”

“No. This conversation is over.” Prowl stood up and walked toward the washrack. “Please make sure to lock the door on your way out, Smokescreen.”

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

“Smokey’s worried about you. You shouldn’t be out here alone.”

Prowl’s wings twitched at Sideswipe’s voice, but he didn’t move otherwise. “I was tired of being inside.”

“Yeah, but an unshielded balcony is just asking for more trouble.” The red mech moved forward until he was leaning against the railing next to the Enforcer. “I mean, whoever’s trying to kill you is going to take another shot soon. They have to, before you’re back at work and surrounded by other Enforcers again.”

“I refuse to live in fear of what might happen.”

Sideswipe shook his head. “Prowl, in case you forgot this, there’s a huge difference in being afraid and being smart. You know there’s someone out for your spark, so standing out here without so much as an energy shield is just making you an easy target.”

“I am not giving up my home because Smokescreen is afraid for me.”

“Is that what this is really about?” The warrior turned to face the enforcer. “The house thing?”

“You knew?” Prowl turned to stare at the other mech, anger--the only emotion he seemed capable of anymore--building at the back of his processor.

“Of course I knew. Sunny’s wanted a bigger place since we got our money back. All this, with Spotter and whoever hired her and everything has just… made it feel more important. We know this matters to you, but in the end a house is just a house.” Slowly, sideswipe reached out and rested a hand over Prowl’s. “You matter to us, all of us, a Pit of a lot more than where we live. I’d go back to being a pit slave if it meant you were safe.”

Prowl shuttered his optics as he tried to sort through his sudden confusion. The former gladiator made sense, but he couldn’t quite grasp the depth of importance Sideswipe’s words applied ot him. “Sideswipe, I…”

“I know. You’re not that important, whatever, whatever, whatever.” The red mech grinned playfully before shrugging. “You are to me, though. Just think about it, okay? Really think about it, not just getting your gears out of alignment because Smokey has bad presentation skills.”

“I will think about it.”

“Thanks.” Sideswipe turned back toward the view of the street, though he didn’t remove his hand from Prowl’s.

After several kliks, Prowl realized that his anger was waning, and that the red mech’s presence was soothing. For the first time in cycles, his spark felt the slightest bit lighter as he turned his processor to the other mech’s words as promised.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Spotter unshuttered her optics slowly as she heard Blast Off stomp out of her room. In the two cycles she had been in Praxus medical, he hadn’t left and she wondered idly what was drawing him out now. She watched as he paused just past the door to speak softly with someone, then her optics went wide with shock when he continued into the hall and revealed Prowl staring into her room.

The commissioner watched her for several long kliks before stepping into the room. His face was flatter and more emotionless than she could ever remember seeing, and that unnerved her more than any amount of rage would have.

After what she had done, rage was to be expected. But not… this.

“What happened to you?” she asked softly.

“Someone I loved assaulted me, nearly killed me and left me with processor damage that will never heal.” Prowl’s voice was as expressionless as his face.

“I’m sorry. They didn’t tell me.”

“You’re sorry?!” Prowl’s wings flicked up slightly, the only sign that he was as angry as his words suggested. “After what you did to me, you’re sorry?”

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” Spotter snapped. “I was supposed to get close to you, not fall in love! And then once they finally gave me the kill order, I was in over my head! I tried to make it easy on you, but you wouldn’t let me!”

“Any mechanism would fight for their life, and doubly so for their family. You were a fool if you truly believed I would not do the same.” The black and white mech’s wings settled back into their usual position as he spoke. “Who hired you, Spotter?”

“I can’t believe you haven’t figured it out yourself.” The former Enforcer gave a bitter laugh. “It’s not like you have a lot of enemies.”

“I have my share. Who, Spotter?”

“You’ll figure it out.” Spotter shuttered her optics again and turned away from Prowl’s disturbingly flat expression. “I’d rather just die than be tortured for letting that out of the stasis field.”

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

“Hey, Prowl. Still can’t recharge?”

Prowl turned to look at Sideswipe as the red mech stepped into the sitting room. “No. Not after seeing her again.”

Sideswipe sighed. “I told you going to the hospital was a bad idea.”

“You did.” The black and white mech sat up and scooted to one end of the couch so that the gladiator could sit if he wanted. “But I needed answers that no one else can give me.”

“Did you get them?”

“Not all of them, no.”

“Sometimes there aren’t answers, you know.” The younger mech walked over to the couch and dropped down onto it sideways, facing the elder. “Sometimes it’s just one slag heap after another until things are right again.”

“There are always answers.” Prowl’s doorwings twitched.

“Okay, the answers are always there, but we don’t always find them. And when you keep looking, you just make yourself crazy. I mean,” Sideswipe paused, searching for words. “I mean, Sunny and I could go out looking for those slavers to find out why they took us, but they won’t even remember us. All it would do is leave us with the same questions, and a lot of bad memories dredged back up to the surface. Sometimes the answers aren’t worth it.”

“These answers will be worth it,” the commissioner replied.

“I hope so.” The red mech laid a hand on Prowl’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I really hope so.”

“How was court?” The elder mech asked, abruptly changing the subject.

Sideswipe gave him a crooked smile. “That was not smooth. But it was fine. Crusher’s holding up all right still, the judge threw out all of Spotter’s testimony and the last of the gladiators testified today. They have to find him guilty, based on the slave papers in his possession alone, but Crusher’s lawyer thinks he’ll get the minimum and be back out in five vorns or so.”

“Good. I am glad to hear that. Crusher is a good mech and deserves better than what he’s gotten.”

“You could come tomorrow. I’m sure we could make space for you in the public seats.”

“Thank you, but no. I think that I will go out with Sunstreaker tomorrow and look at the housing units he and Smokescreen were talking about this morning.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” Prowl was silent for a brief moment before continuing. “You are right that I need to be in a home where I feel safe. I just… had to convince myself that doing so wasn’t giving her a victory over me.”

“She beat on you, but she wasn’t ever victorious.” Sideswipe shifted and pulled the other mech into a hug. Hesitantly, Prowl returned it. “I’m glad you’re doing this for you. Just make sure you put your foot down when Sunny wants the place with the fountains; that’ll cost a vorn’s salary to maintain.”

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

File Received 7.10.145R
File Sent 7.10145R

Remove agent before target contacts agent again. No mistakes this time.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

“Physically, you’re fit for duty,” Allay said with a scowl. “I can’t say that I agree with you returning to work in your current mental state, though.”

“Fortunately, you are not in charge of evaluating my mental health,” Prowl replied calmly. “If you will please sign the requisite forms, we may part ways and hopefully never see each other again.”

“I should be so lucky.” The surgeon picked up a datapad and wrote a few glyphs. Then he handed it to the commissioner with another scowl. “There. You can return to duty at your leisure.”

“Thank you.” Prowl nodded and stood up. “Good day, Medic Allay.”

“Goodbye, Commissioner.”

The black and white mech ignored the medic’s hostility and walked out of the office. He made his way swiftly to Sunstreaker, who was sketching something on a thick sheet of metal with a marking pen.

“Five kliks,” the yellow mech said without looking up at him.

“Certainly.” Prowl stepped to one side, making sure to stay out of the way of any passing staff and gave the artist the time he needed to reach a stopping point.

“Thanks.” Sunstreaker made a few more marks, then stopped and capped his pen. “So did he find another reason to keep you from going back to work this cycle?”

“Not at all.” Prowl’s wings twitched slightly with an emotion he couldn’t quite pin down. “He seems to have decided to be rid of me, finally.”

“Good.” Carefully, the artist rolled the sheet of metal and reached for the tube he had carried it to the hospital in. Gently, he slid his work in progress inside, then stood up. “We’re all better off without that aft in our lives. Twitch had better bedside manner and he was crazy and on drugs.”

“Twitch?” Prowl led the way to the lift that would take them back down to the ground floor.

“He was the medic in our first owner’s pit. She wasn’t big on quality control.”

“Obviously not.” Prowl felt a flurry of conflicting emotions--many of which he couldn’t pin down--but Sunstreaker didn’t seem inclined to elaborate on their life under their first owner, so he ignored them. As they stepped into the lift, he deliberately changed the subject. “Is Smokescreen still joining us?”

“No. Not for a while anyway. He commed while you were in with Allay and said something’s come up at work.” The yellow mech shrugged before pressing the button that would send the lift to the ground floor of the hospital. “He didn’t say what, but I figure you’ll find out when you go back in.”

“Very likely. Where are we going first?” He wanted to know what was going on at the precinct, but Sunstreaker was right. Smokescreen would tell him when he was back on duty, like he would with almost everything else Prowl had missed.

“The Garden District,” Sunstreaker replied. “There are a lot of really nice places out there, and most of them are properties the rest of us could all agree on.”

“Most of us?” Prowl felt his wings twitch, both with mild irritation and curiosity.

“I’ve been looking at houses for a while.” The artist shrugged again. “I always wanted a huge place of my own, even when we were sparklings. Iacon doesn’t really have those, but Praxus does.”

“Nothing too large, I hope. Property taxes in the Garden District are exceptionally high.”

Sunstreaker laughed as the lift doors opened. “Prowl, I can pay the property taxes anywhere on Cybertron just off my account interest. Sides and I have a lot more money than you think.”

The commissioner considered Sunstreaker’s words as they stepped off the lift. He had honestly never thought about how much money they really had, though Sideswipe had mentioned being wealthy more than once. “Really? I have no idea what your art sells for.”

“Once I’ve etched this mural in the tube, I can probably sell it and renovate the Southern District precinct house. And the jail.”

Shock flooded his processor as they stepped out of the lift, and it took Prowl several kliks to overcome it in order to speak. “Why do you and Sideswipe still work at the Temple, then?”

“We donate our time now,” the artist replied. “And we do it because they were good to us. They won’t take money from us, and they won’t take energon from us, so it’s how we pay them back.”

“I see.” The black and white mech was thoughtful for a moment. “Perhaps you could donate your art as well. Surely even High Priest Reverence would not object to a small piece.”

The yellow mech smiled brilliantly. “Prowl, that’s perfect! You’re a genius!”

“Thank you.”

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Sunstreaker’s real estate agent stared at them, expression rapidly approaching utter dismay, as the artist and the enforcer argued over the suitability of a sixth mansion in as many joors.

“Prowl, why do you hate this one? It’s got room for everyone, plenty of space to expand if we bond or have sparklings and the upper balconies look right out over the Gardens!”

“It’s too big. It will require a staff of at least fifty mechanisms to maintain, even while we’re living here.”

“So? I can pay them.”

“It is not about the credits, Sunstreaker.” Prowl’s wings twitched. “If part of the reason we are purchasing this house now is my safety, then you must take into consideration just how hard it will be to prevent another assassin from sneaking into our hiring process or for a hired hand to be paid off. We are not buying this mansion.”

Sunstreaker frowned. Then he nodded slowly, feeling uncomfortably guilty. “I… you’re right. I wasn’t thinking that far out and that was stupid. Sorry.”

“I forgive you.” The enforcer’s expression didn’t change, but the artist didn’t miss the way his frame relaxed slightly at his words. Clearly, Prowl had been worrying about that more than he had been able to let on. “Now, can we please look at some of the smaller properties? Smokescreen indicated that there were a few he preferred?”

“Yeah, he found some he liked, but they’re pretty huge, too.” The yellow mech frowned. “Maybe we should go back to the office and look over the listings again, instead.”

“If you gentlebots want to go back to the office, that’s fine,” the agent interrupted. “But If you’ll allow me to make a suggestion, there is another property nearby that might interest you.”

Sunstreaker glanced to Prowl to see what the older mech though.

“I have no objections to viewing another property.”

“Yeah, okay.” The artist nodded as well. “Let’s see it.”

The agent beamed at them.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

They were standing in the private garden of the mansion the real estate agent had recommended--with Sunstreaker clearly enraptured by the varieties of deep purple crystals planted there--when Prowl’s comm activated. He felt dread settle into his processor when he saw Onslaught’s code attached to the incoming call.

He wondered just why he felt the negative emotions so strongly--detrimentally so, usually--as he answered the call. ”Prowl here.”

”Onslaught, sir. I am aware that you do not return to duty until tomorrow, but events have occurred that I believe you will want to be made aware of immediately.”

The black and white mech resigned himself to cutting his day with Sunstreaker short and returning to the precinct soon. ”What is it?”

There was another attempt on Spotter’s life very early this morning. Her public defender is dead, Blast Off is having minor repairs done as we speak and Steelspark is placing Detective Kickback into the highest security detention facility we have.”

”Kickback? He was responsible for the assault?”

”Yes, sir. We have evidence that he may have been responsible for his superior’s murder in at his former precinct, as well. Barrage is furious. But there is also another development.

”What is that?” Prowl hoped his own anger wasn’t showing. He had thought that Kickback would be an exceptional officer, not part of a conspiracy.

”Spotter says that she’s ready to make a deal.”

Surprise downed out some of the growing feeling of doom settling into the commissioner’s processor. ”I will be there shortly. Are you still at Praxus Medical?”

”We are. I will have Smokescreen meet you outside. Onslaught out.’

Prowl let the other mech cut the connection and turned to his companion. “Sunstreaker, I’m afraid I must cut our day short. There has been a development at the precinct that Onslaught requires my presence for.”

The artist dragged his attention away from the garden to frown at the black and white mech. “Is it Spotter?”

“Yes, and no. I will give you the details when I return home.” The enforcer turned away and took a few steps toward the gate that would take him back to the street. Then he paused and looked back at the yellow mech. “I would not be averse to this place, if Sideswipe likes it as well.”