"You know," Cosmos said, "This would be a lot easier if you told me what was going on."
Prowl didn't even spare him a glance, instead casting a suspicious optic to the navigation console. According to the readout, their destination was a mere three hours away, but it might as well have been an eternity.
Cosmos fought the urge to sigh. Out of everything he had expected to happen during his trip to Cybertron--which, admittedly, hadn't been much--he had not expected to be corralled by his former commanding officer-slash-war criminal and dragged to a ship that probably hadn't flown since the Golden Age.
At least Prowl hadn't pulled a gun on him. Prowl hadn't really even threatened him.
"I need your help." Prowl had said. And that had been enough.
Cosmos turned more fully, taking in Prowl's battered frame, the single, sharp blue optic that regarded him with equal amounts of suspicion and irritation. Wherever Prowl had been since going AWOL, it certainly hadn't been anywhere nice.
"Just saying," Cosmos shrugged. "Soundwave tends to appreciate a head's-up."
That got a look. Surprise? Realization? Whatever it was, Cosmos couldn't place it, and it didn't seem to suit Prowl much. Then it was gone, replaced by a carefully neutral look that didn't manage to reach his eye.
Cosmos gave in and sighed. As if in response to his mood, his comlink beeped. Cosmos opened the chat client, more out of curiosity than any real desire to speak to whoever was on comms duty on the Ark.
Soundwave. His spark spun in its casing as Cosmos accessed the message--it was short and to the point, a request for an update on his status, but tinged with glyphs that felt like...
Cosmos shook off the feeling, casting a nervous glance at Prowl. The less the other Autobot knew about his onesided (was it actually onesided, or had Cosmos not been imagining the lingering glances he and Soundwave sometimes shared? was he imagining the meaning of the glyphs?) infatuation, the better. He certainly didn't want to be some kind of pawn in whatever game Prowl was playing. Unless he already was a pawn, and he was already just a cog in Prowl's well-oiled machine, playing his part, in some unknowable scheme.
Cosmos glanced over to Prowl. Prowl was looking at the nav console again, but he still looked...different. Lost, as though he had been set adrift.
"Did you plan this? Somehow getting me to come to Cybertron, just so you could drag me onto this wreck of a ship for some reason you haven't told me yet? I mean," Cosmos shifted in his seat, at once becoming incredibly aware that the entire weight of Prowl's gaze had moved to rest on him. "It seems well within your capabilities."
It was Prowl's turn to sigh.
"No." Prowl leaned back in his seat and glanced back at the readout. Not wanting to stare, Cosmos followed his gaze. Barely five minutes had passed since Cosmos had last looked at the console, but it felt like twice that. At least. "Meeting you was a coincidence. Something I have had to rely on more these days."
"Oh. Okay." That was a relief. Probably. It meant Prowl--if he was telling the truth--was improvising. And that meant...well, if it meant Prowl lacked his usual multitude of contingencies to fall back on, he was probably more dangerous now. "So, um. Why are you trying to get onto Soundwave's space station?"
For the second time in as many minutes, Prowl sighed.
"I've been out of the loop recently," Prowl said. "And I need to get ahead."
Cosmos bit back his initial response, which would have involved more than a few inquiries as to how in the stars Prowl thought that was a good idea. Instead, Cosmos settled for what he hoped was a slow, acceptably neutral, nod.
"So you're going to the guy who knows everything."
"Soundwave doesn't know everything," Prowl said. "He only thinks he does."
"Sounds like someone I know."
Prowl glared, and not for the first time that day, Cosmos was glad his face was concealed by a battlemask. Prowl didn't seem keen to continue the conversation, so Cosmos leaned back and pulled his chat client back up to re-read Soundwave's message.
His fingers hesitated over the keys as he debated whether or not to add a particular character. He didn't want it to seem like Prowl was the reason Cosmos was flirting. Unless they were already in range of Soundwave's 'exceptional hearing', and Soundwave was communicating to ensure Cosmos was okay. In which case he wouldn't be harming anyone if he added in that particular flourish. Right?
Cosmos pinged Prowl with a request to transmit the message.
"What do you think?"
Prowl was silent for a moment as he read the message. If he noticed the extraneous glyphs, Prowl made no mention of it, save for the slightly raised brow that might have been wondering why Cosmos had Soundwave's personal communications frequency.
"Uh." Belatedly, Cosmos realized he had just tried to ask Prowl if Soundwave was flirting with him. "Um. Do you--do you think he knows you're here? Is that why he commed?"
Prowl blinked, and Cosmos had two whole seconds to agonize in the silence, before: "Either that, or he's flirting with you."
Cosmos's spark did an ungraceful flop in his chest.
Prowl didn't seem to want elaboration, and for once, Cosmos was grateful. Retreat certainly wasn't an option--the meager cargo hold was filled with the refinery supplies Cosmos had been tasked to transport back to the Ark. While jumping out the airlock and just flying to Galactic Council space was an option, he wasn't sure he was that desperate. Yet.
"Think he knows you're here, probably," Cosmos mumbled.
Out of everything Prowl had expected when he had first confronted Cosmos, seeing a comm chat of Soundwave attempting to flirt certainly hadn't factored into his calculations. It was unanticipated, but might work in his favor. Soundwave seemed to value Cosmos far more than Prowl initially thought, which was certainly unexpected, but Prowl could see the appeal. There was Cosmos's quick wit, his loyalty, and he was certainly easy on the eyes. What Prowl couldn't see was it ending well for Cosmos.
For at least the last half of the war, Prowl had been operating under the still-unconfirmed theory that Megatron and Soundwave had been significantly more intimate than their personalities hinted at. He had never found proof one way or another, but actions based on the idea had been successful in the past. If Cosmos was some kind of rebound, Prowl couldn't imagine Soundwave being strategies invested in the idea, especially when Megatron inevitably got back from his jaunt around the galaxy. But Cosmos seemed defensive--protective, even--of Soundwave, and likely wouldn't warm up to the idea that he was someone's second choice.
More out of curiosity than any real hope, Prowl calculated the chances of Cosmos joining him on the run if his plan went south. That result, while disappointingly was not unexpected. It would certainly be useful to have someone as useful as Cosmos around for whatever Prowl's next move was, but Prowl couldn't force him. Wouldn't force him.
Idly, Prowl wondered if they had entered Soundwave's telepathic range. While it was certainly powerful, Prowl suspected the Decepticon's telepathy had its limits. Cosmos likely knew more, but Prowl had no intention to ask.
It seemed Cosmos had gotten over his embarrassment, as he was now frantically typing into his text client like some kind of lovesick adolescent. Prowl didn't bother trying to read over the other Autobot's shoulder--he was far too tall, for one, and Prowl wasn't so far gone as to deny one of his few allies a modicum of privacy. Now that it was quiet and Cosmos was otherwise occupied, Prowl busied himself with checking the ship's trajectory and trying to ignore the pain in his back.
Prowl had been telling Cosmos the truth. Finding him had been happenstance, but it had been too fortunate to pass up. A part of Prowl wished it had happened differently, that he had run into some other Autobot, that he had threatened or bargained his way into receiving their assistance. That it hadn't been Cosmos, reliable, trusted Cosmos, who didn't know how to say no and who wanted--deserved so much more than Prowl could ever hope to offer.
But it was Cosmos sitting beside him, looking more at peace than he had in years, and Prowl hadn't yet figured out how to undo his past mistakes. Whatever happened, whatever Prowl did, the chances of it ending well for the other Autobot were slim, but Cosmos would come out of it unscathed. Prowl would make sure of that.
A jolt, then a hand on his shoulder, startled Prowl awake. Instinctively, Prowl reached for his weapon as his optic snapped online, only to see Cosmos standing above him, visor alight with concern, optics fixated on Prowl's hand, which was still clutching the gun.
"Sorry," Cosmos was saying, and Prowl took a second to wonder just how awful he looked in order to garner that level of sympathy. "We're here."
Prowl nodded, and Cosmos withdrew his hand.
The jolt that had woken him had been the station's docking procedures, pulling the ship ever closer to its airlock. Prowl stood, feeling exhausted joints and old injuries protest the movement. The welds from Rattrap's hasty repair job were holding--barely. Plus, he was still tired; the spontaneous nap had taken the edge off, but he was still exhausted.
At this point, Soundwave could laugh him out of the station and Prowl wouldn't blame him.
"Prowl?" And then his hand was on Prowl's arm, and once again Prowl was fighting the urge to flinch. Cosmos jerked his hand away. "Sorry. You seemed...far away."
"It's fine," Prowl lied. "I'm ready."
"You don't have to," Cosmos said. "Get back into the loop. You could stay. Or you could leave, and I-"
"And what? You'd go with me?" Prowl said. "Been there, done that."
"I wasn't exactly averse to the idea," Cosmos snapped, "But if you're going to act like an aft, you can go ahead on your path of self-induced implosion alone."
It was probably supposed to hurt. It didn't.
"Sorry," Prowl said. "I'm just..."
"It's fine." Cosmos sighed. "You and Soundwave are...more similar than you'd probably like."
Prowl snorted. "Paranoid?"
"Stubborn." Cosmos stepped past Prowl, and headed towards the exit. "Paranoid too, definitely, but you two are so stubborn, I--"
The change in tone was immediate—the other Autobot's head snapped up, optics widening directly in proportion to the way he was so openly gawking at Soundwave. The worst part, Prowl realized, that Soundwave was gawking right back, staring at Cosmos with a softness Prowl had not thought the Decepticon capable of.
"Soundwave!" Cosmos seemed to suck in a breath of air to calm his nerves, then extended a hand. "You, uh! You already know Prowl, I assume."
"We have met," Soundwave said, in that dry, matter-of-fact way Prowl might find endearing if, well...if it weren't Soundwave saying it. "Prowl."
"Great." Cosmos coughed--a habit likely picked up from viewing one too many human satellite transmissions. "Now that we all know each other, I--"
"I would like to speak to Prowl alone," Soundwave said, cutting Cosmos off with a gentle hand on his forearm. "If that is acceptable to both of you."
"I'll stay if Prowl wants me to," Cosmos said, and Prowl felt a surge of protectiveness in his chest that he hadn't thought himself capable of. Cosmos shouldn't have to be in this position, defending his ex-commanding officer from the mech he was obviously so enamored with. Even if said mech was a Decepticon. "I know you two have a, uh, history."
"It's fine, Cosmos," Prowl said, stepping forward to meet Soundwave's gaze, all-too-briefly brushing his hand against the other Autobot's shoulder in an attempted show of reassurance. It felt too deliberate, too calculated, but he did it nevertheless. Soundwave nodded. If he had seen the act--and he had, Prowl had no doubt about that--he made no mention of it, instead moving aside to allow Prowl access to the end the exit.
The station was...cleaner, than Prowl expected. Emptier, perhaps--or larger. From this angle, the observation deck's expansive view was mostly of Jupiter, though from this distance, even the warm reds and browns looked cold and forbidding.
“Cosmos tells me you are here seeking information.”
Prowl sighed. “Cosmos says lot of things.”
“Many of which are useful,” Soundwave said, again in that toneless, neutral voice. “Tell me. Why are you here?”
For the second time in as many minutes, Prowl sighed. Despite not having any visible facial expressions, Soundwave seemed to be doing a pretty good job of giving him a side-eye. Was it malicious? Or mere curiosity? Prowl couldn't be sure—of the two, he wasn’t the telepath. Soundwave knew perfectly well what Prowl’s intentions were—he had likely known before the the ship docked, before he had asked Cosmos.
“Does it really matter?”
“No.” Soundwave inclined his head down the hall. “But I believe it best to start our relationship with honest intentions.”
Soundwave stepped forward, and Prowl had to fight the instinctive urge to move back. His memories of whatever telepathy Soundwave had inflicted upon him were blessedly hazy, but the fear lurked there nevertheless, just beneath the remnants of Prowl's composure. To his credit, Soundwave immediately stepped back, hands out to his sides in a show of deference. It might be a ploy, or Soundwave might actually be attempting to be genuine. Prowl determined the odds to be 50-50. What did that mean, when the chances of Soundwave genuinely caring about his stress was equal to the chances of his apparent kindness was a farce, meant to lure him into a false sense of security?
"Apologies." Soundwave took another measured step back.
Prowl let out a slow breath. Fine. If this was the game Soundwave wanted to play, it was better than the alternative. It would be easier on Cosmos, too, when the mech finally realized Prowl had lied and let him down again.
"Honest intentions." Prowl held up his hands, mimicking Soundwave's show of deference. "I'm here to make sure you don't do anything galaxy-conqueringly stupid."
"The offer of oversight is appreciated," Soundwave said, as if Prowl had offered to proofread a speech. "And accepted."
"Wait," Prowl said. "What."
"For all his faults, Megatron's greatest may have been his resistance to counsel."
"Funny," Prowl said. "I thought it was his xenophobic, genocidal tendencies that got him on everyone's bad side."
"Tendencies that may have been tempered had he listened to those he claimed to trust," Soundwave retorted. "I will not repeat his mistakes."
"Make no mistake," Soundwave was getting closer again, but his hands were still out. He moved until he was within arm's reach of Prowl, and when there was no protest, laid a hand on Prowl's shoulder. "If you move against anyone on this station without my consent, I will end your life."
Prowl grimaced. That, at least, he believed.
"As long as you understand the second I even think you're considering following your former leader's footsteps, I will do everything in my power to see this place burn."
"So we understand one another," Soundwave said, and for a split second, Prowl could have sworn he heard a smile coloring Soundwave's voice. "I do have one final request."
"Here it comes."
"Be honest with Cosmos," Soundwave said, and for the second time that day, Prowl found himself gawking at Soundwave. "He deserves the truth."
"I was going to tell him eventually."
"I do not intend to speak for him," Soundwave said. "But he is glad you are back."
"I didn't know that." Prowl admitted.
"Cosmos expressed willingness to share his living quarters with you. Is that arrangement acceptable?" Soundwave asked. Before Prowl could question the sudden change in topic, Soundwave inclined his head towards the ship.
"He is beginning to get restless."
"Yeah, it's fine," Prowl snapped, irritated. "I have a request of my own."
"Stay the hell out of my head."
Soundwave paused for a long moment, long enough that Prowl began to fear a retaliatory attack. Instead, he nodded, stepping back and letting his hand drop to his side.
"As you wish." was all Soundwave said.
And that seemed to be that.
Normally, Sanctuary Station hummed with life. Its residents, though few in number, were vibrant, their essence a beacon in the otherwise empty vacuum of space. Now, all was quiet. Most of the residents were in their rest cycle and would be for some time, their consciousness fading to the back of Soundwave's mind, freeing up the precious attention so needed to focus on the task at hand.
Prowl had visibly relaxed when Cosmos exited the ship. That was a fact.
Cosmos seemed torn between trailing after Soundwave and dragging Prowl to the medbay. That was another fact.
Unwilling to waste the precious moments they had in relative privacy, Soundwave took the lead, walking through the labyrinth of hallways with a sureness he was no longer sure he possessed. Cosmos was a beacon of warmth. Of home.
Privately, Soundwave hated himself for so quickly becoming besotted with the Autobot. It had started innocently enough, with a flirtation tagged at the end of a message, a hand left a moment too long on the other's knee. He had been stupid, stupid, to think he was an adequate replacement for what Cosmos really needed.
Despite that, Soundwave felt a surge of relief as he felt Prowl's rush of protectiveness as they passed a Decepticon. Nightwing, if Soundwave remembered correctly, paid them no mind as he stumbled to his habsuite. Cosmos would be safe with Prowl. Of that, Soundwave had no doubt.
Much to Soundwave's relief, the medbay had seen little use since its opening. Cosmos had been the most frequent visitor as of late, though Soundwave uneasily noted the Autobot seemed to be anxious, fidgeting in place as they waited for Scalpel. Thankfully, Scalpel had as much trouble recharging as the average Cybertronian, and only a few moments had passed before the minibot skittered into the clinic. Wordlessly, he gestured with one hand to an examination table.
Prowl sat. From this distance, Soundwave could hear Prowl's processor kicking itself into high gear, heard the uncomfortable, wrong sound of bad welds grinding against armor. Although he was trying not to, Soundwave felt Prowl, just as easily as he felt himself.
At some point during the war, Scalpel had modified his hands, though whether it was to streamline his function as a surgeon or to better suit his namesake, Soundwave was not sure. But there was no mistaking the way Prowl's jaw tightened as the razor-sharp hands, so reminiscent of a mnemosurgeron's needles, prodded at his back and side. Cosmos seemed aware of the other Autobot's discomfort and stepped closer, as though his presence alone could ease Prowl's discomfort.
To Soundwave's surprise, it seemed to work. Though it would be imperceptible to anyone not actively looking for it, Prowl relaxed, shoulders slumping as he looked down at his lap, then back up at Cosmos. On his part, Cosmos seemed oblivious, mumbling something about how this was nothing compared to Ratchet's ministrations. Soundwave tried not to eavesdrop, instead focusing on Scalpel's deft, practiced hands as they peeled back badly-repaired armor and circuitry.
Soundwave's comlink chimed.
Sky-Byte. It wasn't an urgent matter, or the other Decepticon would have come to see him in person, but Soundwave couldn't shake the feeling that Prowl and Cosmos probably wanted to be alone.
"If you will excuse me," Soundwave said. "There is a matter I must attend to."
His comlink chimed again before he had made it ten steps down the hall. This time, it was Cosmos.
::You'll come back, right? After you're done.::
Soundwave didn't hesitate. Even if Prowl didn't want him around, Cosmos apparently did, and that was all the excuse he needed to return.
::Of course. Is there anything you require?::
::Oh! No. It's just...I know we have your protection here, but I think some people might not take kindly to Prowl suddenly showing up.:: There was a brief hesitation before the next message came through, as though Cosmos was thinking over his words. ::Some backup would really be appreciated, Soundwave, but I know you're busy and it's late, and I'd understand if you didn't want to.::
Soundwave didn't hesitate.
::As you wish, little Autobot.::
The reply was instant.
::I'm still bigger than you. Both of you.::
Soundwave smiled to himself and responded with the requisite farewell, then closed the channel.
Sky-Byte was waiting in the park. Makeshift was there as well, which was a surprise--if Soundwave recalled correctly, Makeshift had just completed a double rotation of security duty.
"Greetings," Soundwave said, and then waited for them to speak. It was about Prowl, of course. Soundwave suspected that for the foreseeable future, most things would be. News traveled fast when Decepticons like Scalpel were involved
Makeshift was the first to rise to the bait.
"I'm here to tell you that if he's here to bring me in, I'm not going. You promised me sanctuary here, Soundwave."
Ah. Makeshift was a shifter, a descendant of Amalgamous Prime, characterized by an instantly-forgettable root mode and the ability to take on any altmode he chose. Even as Soundwave watched, the other Decepticon's body seemed to ripple along undefined, fuzzy edges as it became more linear and broad than before, until Makeshift's frame resembled Soundwave's.
"Prowl is here for the same reason you are."
"Running from mechs bent on pinning crimes on me just because they hate they can't look me in the optic because they'll get a headache?"
"He is here to help." Not technically a lie, though Soundwave doubted that would matter if the truth--that Prowl was here, attempting to keep Soundwave on the straight and narrow--came out.
What might have passed for Makeshift's head rippled. Soundwave imagined the Decepticon was skeptical--skeptical was certainly the most friendly word Soundwave could attribute to the tumult of emotions pouring from his mind. Soundwave couldn't blame him.
"Sure." Makeshift crossed now-blocky arms across his chest. "Just keep him away from me."
"Of course." Soundwave said. "I will not allow him to harm you."
"Neither will I," Sky-Byte said, and something inside Makeshift felt like it was being squeezed tight. Soundwave choked back the sudden feeling of hopeless-notice-noticeme-PLEASE and stood a little straighter.
"Thank you," Makeshift said. "Really. I appreciate it."
Sky-Byte placed a hand on Makeshift's shoulder, and once again Soundwave had to fight back the sickly sweet pain of Makeshift being so close to Sky-Byte, yet unnoticed. Soundwave made a mental note to assess Sky-Byte's feelings towards the other Decepticon. Perhaps he could broker a discussion between the two.
In the past, Soundwave would have taken Makeshift's infatuation and filed it away for the inevitable time he needed something out of Makeshift. Already, the notion that he would do something like that felt so foreign, Soundwave had to take a moment to wonder at the speed in which he had apparently adapted to his new role.
How much would it take, Soundwave wondered, for him to slip back into the ruthless spymaster, one so uncaring of the needs of others, except when they worked to further his own goals. A particularly bad day? Another threat from Optimus?
Soundwave supposed that was why Prowl was here.
"Is there anything else you require?"
"No." Makeshift stepped back and glanced once more at Soundwave, then at Sky-Byte. "That's it. Thank you. Really."
"Of course," Soundwave said. "Please, contact me if you need anything."
The walk back to the medbay took longer than Soundwave believed possible. Cosmos hadn't sent another message, but Soundwave could still hear them. Prowl was still there, still exhausted, still in so much pain it hurt Soundwave to think about it too much. And Cosmos was there, tired and lonely despite being right next to Prowl.
Soundwave walked into the medbay.
Prowl was fast asleep, slumped over Cosmos, who sat leaning against the wall. Cosmos's hands rubbed circles around Prowl's back, minding the new welds attached to his armor.
"Soundwave." Cosmos's voice was quiet. "Hey."
"Hello, Cosmos." Soundwave pulled up a chair and sat, careful to mind Prowl's legs, which dangled off the edge of the recharge slab.
Soundwave waited. It usually didn't take long for Cosmos to speak--and while Soundwave certainly did not mind the silence, he enjoyed hearing the Autobot talk. This time was no different.
"Everything okay?" Cosmos asked.
"Reassurance was needed." Soundwave nodded at Prowl's sleeping form. "And given."
"He told me," Cosmos said. "Why he's really here. I mean, I didn't believe his initial explanation at all, but...I can't say I agree."
Soundwave imagined that under the battlemask, Cosmos was frowning. Frustration seeped out of Cosmos's frame like a headache, and more than anything, Soundwave wished he could heal.
"I think this'll be worse for him than he thinks," Cosmos said. "And if this doesn't work, I don't know what he's going to do."
"I agree." Soundwave said, and Cosmos looked up. "But he is welcome to stay as long as desired. You both are."
"And Optimus?" Cosmos sighed, reaching out one hand to rest on Soundwave's knee, and Soundwave felt a whiff of that same pained, sweet thought that so often lingered in Makeshift's mind, though who it came from Soundwave didn't know. "He's not going to take this well."
"I know." Soundwave moved his own hand to rest atop the Autobot's. "What do you foresee as the consequence?"
"I--" Cosmos cut himself off, and when Soundwave didn't laugh or interject, he continued. "If you're really asking? He'll try to talk you into turning Prowl over. And if that doesn't work...Primus, Soundwave, I don't know. A year ago I would have said he'd let you be, but now...now I don't know."
His hand was warm against Soundwave's leg, and not for the first time, Soundwave was in awe of how taken he was with the Autobot. Previous to their fist meeting, the closest they had ever been was in the interim between the Necrotitan and Megatron's trial sipping a glass of engex with Sunstreaker or Blaster. Cosmos hadn't taken any notice of him then, and Soundwave had been too consumed in his own plans, but he was looking directly at Soundwave now, and Soundwave basked in the glow of his attention.
"What do you want?" Soundwave asked, and Cosmos winced.
"I want to stay here," Cosmos said, finally. "And I want Prowl to stay here, too. He might be stupid and stubborn and think he knows everything. But he's also good. Like you."
Before Cosmos, one had ever called him good. Not like Cosmos said it, as though it was something entirely separate from his abilities and status. Like it was something only Cosmos could see, and it didn't matter that no one else could.
"If you want to stay here," Soundwave said carefully. "I will do everything in my power to make it so."
Something in his face softened, and Cosmos squeezed Soundwave's knee.
"You're good too, Soundwave," Cosmos said. "Don't forget that."