The Long Distance
The fog had never settled so low over Iacon.
Before the war, whatever colder, heavier air managed to descend down from Cybertron’s skies was quickly dissipated in the morning bustle of millions of mechs. Energon production and processing warmed surface metal enough to chase away any lingering cold — even in the brisker seasons.
Prowl had never seen the fair city so menacing.
:: To your left, Prowl. :: Bluestreak’s voice crackled over the comm. :: Suspect approaching the southwest entrance. Alone, looks like. ::
:: Copy that. ::
He responded, easing into the worn seat of a bar he was sitting at.
: : Maintain visual. I calculate a fifty-percent chance he’ll leave with the contact. ::
The haze was thick — even though Prowl was perched on a lone table right across the street from the well-known club, it was difficult to make out the entrance. The neon lights at its front blazed; Iacon Hops! bled into the street like somemech had tipped over paint from a can. The fog carried it, staining everything blue. Whatever could have been seen of the rest of the building disappeared into the low clouds that remained hovering, uneasily, over the skyscrapers. Anything taller than a few stories was hidden from view. Prowl dimmed his optics, brought his drink closer, and tried to appear as unassuming as possible-- difficult as it was, being a Praxian.
:: I’ve never seen anything like this-- have you, Prowl? :: Bluestreak asked, his voice a mix of wonder and confusion. :: Primus, you can’t even see down the street for fifty metrons. ::
:: No. :: He said absently. :: Never. :: Prowl continued to dial his optic sensors higher, watching every outline of the bustling club. The night cycle was fast approaching, and things were becoming more crowded. Their suspect had been inside for 4.2 kliks.
A group of mechs cheered raucously behind him — most likely the weekend partiers coming in for their round of drinks. Prowl listened half-heartedly to the conversations behind him just as a bouncer took their place in front of Hops. Bluestreak, who was positioned at another establishment down the street, made it known.
:: No sign of the other contact yet. What do you see inside, Runner? ::
Runner, a seasoned Enforcer from Tyger Pax, was stationed inside the club, taking up a seat at the bar closest to the front entrance — one of six possible entry points. Prowl drew up the layout of the bar through the Enforcer database, noting Runner’s position. There were five more undercover Enforcers taking turns near each direction. Prowl’s optics dimmed and brightened again as he considered the possibilities.
There is a ten percent chance that the suspect would leave alone. Accounting for a disagreement between the mech and his contacts, that number could rise to 23 percent. Taking note of the target’s previous behavior, he calculates a 56 percent chance that the suspect would leave the establishment from the front with his contacts in tow. If they were going to bust the inner ring, Prowl would have to tail the group on his own; Bluestreak, as planned, would follow with his team until they cut off the mech at the interstate.
:: He’s chatting a few mechs up, but it doesn’t seem like they’re the contacts. :: Runner scoffed. :: Honestly, it just looks like he’s here to have fun. ::
:: Keep an optic out, don’t be fooled. Those at Polyhex told us he’s shifty. :: Bluestreak warned. :: He’s just keeping up an act — in case anyone is watching. ::
Yes, we are most certainly watching. Prowl mused, taking a sip of his warmed energon. The liquid slid down his sore throat, and he could feel the heat spreading through his chassis and into his tanks. He had missed high-grade. In fact, he missed many things of pre-war Cybertron. Crime had skyrocketed with the return of the planet’s citizens. Mecha took advantage of the lax regulations and governance to commit atrocities in what remained of Cybertron’s standing cities. Iacon, once the pillar of high society, required an extra influx of Enforcers to maintain order in its streets. To find himself waiting on a suspect to incriminate himself just a few kliks south of Iacon’s grand center was surreal to him. Luckily, it would all be over soon enough and Prowl could go back home to his berth. He wasn’t too concerned over their catch tonight: the suspect might be “shifty,” but there was rarely anyone who managed to escape his team’s tactics.
:: Keep the line clear. :: One of the other Enforcers reminded. :: It’s loud in here. ::
As asked, the transmission quieted as each mech focused on their tasks. Bluestreak pinged his location once more from the small shop he was browsing inconspicuously in. Runner had moved from the bar, but stayed close to the front entrance, attempting to remain amicable while casually watching their suspect mingle around the club. Prowl forced himself to still, despite the slight tremble of anticipation in his frame. His wings twitched as they were lifted high to catch every shred of data that came his way — mostly from the rowdy crowd behind him. EM fields flashed with varying degrees of pleasure, joy, and lust. Nowadays, Cybertronians enjoyed disappearing into their drink even more. Several times, he had mechs approach him, asking him if he was alone, only to be shut down by a cold glare. After a few well-made examples, they stopped coming close, wary of his unfriendly behavior.
Good. Prowl had no time for that.
The astroseconds were ticking by and it was becoming later and later. Runner sent updates consistently — every few kliks — noting the suspect’s position and his behavior. Nothing was out of the ordinary — and yet Prowl was anxious. If the suspect — Prowl scrolled through the database for the mech’s designation — if “Shackle” had been waiting on his contact for the night, why hadn’t he met with them already? The mech was known to linger around groups who had close ties with the underground circuit booster business. He was by no degree a genius, but he also wasn’t a fool. Shackle was known to be slippery, and his motive was largely unknown. Money, Prowl guessed. A large itenary of robbery and vandalism preceded him.
Prowl lifted his head onto the street. His helm felt heavy. He had traded his high-grade for some standard energon a while ago, but his processor felt like it needed a massive defrag. He shook off the distraction and trained his optics to the front of Hops! once more, determined to ignore the itching underneath his plating.
Suddenly, Runner spoke. :: He disappeared. Went around the eastern corner. Does anyone have visual? ::
Prowl shot up in his seat, senses immediately heightened. :: Negative. :: came the voice of a fellow Enforcer on the stairway. :: I’m curling around the second floor to see if he made his way up. ::
The Praxian pinged Bluestreak. :: Go across the street, see if you could get a better vantage point of the back. ::
The other mech agreed. Prowl opticked the small beacon that represented Bluestreak as it crawled shop after shop in an attempt to surround their weaker sides.
:: Spotted him. :: Said a femme. :: He’s still on the first floor, rounded the corner and is heading into a private room. ::
:: Frag. :: Runner cursed under his breath. :: What now, Prowl? This isn’t what you were expecting. ::
Prowl ignored the quip, already processing another set of scenarios. :: Hold positions, we don’t want to attract any attention. Our suspect must have noticed us. Otherwise, he is feeling uneasy and decided to make a deal in a more private setting. ::
:: Prowl, with all due respect, :: Runner said frustratedly, :: We haven't got much time to be waiting around. If we don’t get any evidence, we’ve wasted the chance to catch the mech in the act. ::
The Praxian gripped his cube with a little more force than he should have. He could feel the material cracking underneath the pressure. :: Your opinion is noted. :: He answered simply, lifting his cup and taking a massive swig of his drink. He stood up in haste, leaving a few extra shanix on the counter for the bartender to count. As he stepped outside, the cold tendrils of the fog drifted around his pedes. It wound around him like cyber-snakes, fogging his breath with their cool mist. Ensuring he still had his disguise up, Prowl shook the chill from his door wings and casually approached the bar.
:: Runner. :: He called through the transmission. :: Position yourself near the private rooms. If we are going to catch any information, it’ll be through strings of conversation. ::
The mech responded with an affirmative, readying his long range audial plug-in. It was a military standard, handed out to the Enforcers when demand became high. They were strong enough to pierce through several layers of a steel, much less seedy club walls. Their suspect was changing tactics, and Prowl would love to know why.
:: I’ll wire the transmission straight into our own feeds, wait a klik. :: Runner said, jamming the connection while he signaled in onto their suspects location. Prowl took a seat outside of small cafe bench. While he looked slightly out of place, the bouncer seemed much more concerned with holding back rowdy citizens than with his strange placement at the front of a closed establishment.
:: Standby. :: Runner spoke up, sounding distant as the message relayed between the Enforcers.
“They’re here — I know it.” Came a rough voice. Their suspect.
“Come on, Shackle, you dodged them plenty enough, haven’t ya? They can’t possibly be tracing you everywhere.” The voice that came next was slightly lower pitched, more clear — Runner must be closer to this mech than their suspect. He held a Polyhexian accent, its jaunty lilt unmistakable on the audio, one that Prowl would always recognize.
At Shackle’s reply, the feed wobbled — Prowl only caught the tail end of a barely distinguishable reply when the team was met with another set of voices. All unfamiliar, and all definitely participating in some… activities. At the sound of a desperate moan, Prowl cringed. He heard Bluestreak curse and Runner couldn’t help but let out a guffaw.
:: Runner! :: Prowl sent a string of angry glyphs his way. :: Train the signal onto our suspect! ::
A less-than-professional giggle followed, and the Praxian growled under his breath in frustration. :: Sorry, Prowl. :: Runner apologized, less than genuine with his tone. Prowl rolled his optics so hard they might have disappeared into his cranium unit. The lewd noises were getting louder and he was getting more and more irate. :: Just fix it, Primus damn it! ::
Thankfully, Runner had the right idea and immediately switched the signal back to their place of intended use. The conversation must have ended, since the feed was quiet besides the clinking of energon classes and low murmuring voices. Prowl ground his dentae, already prepping his blaster to stun and approaching the back of the club.
:: He bolted. :: Bluestreak said flatly. Prowl grumbled an affirmative. :: He knew we were here the entire time. Someone must have tipped him off. ::
While the fog caught the light in the busy street, the backside of Hops! was a desolate and intimidating space; with the weight of the low clouds, everything was reduced to shadows, only one ion cell providing a path between the close-knit buildings. Prowl rounded the corner, keeping his door wings high and alert to allow optimal data to reach them. The bass from the club music thumped distantly behind him, and he let his fingers trail the edge of the wall as he kept to the darkness. He had equipped a holographic generator to his plating before he began recon that night. As he enabled it, his usual Enforcer decoration faded to black — the only source of color came from the glint of his red chevron. He could hear liquid dripping slowly from somewhere, and the echo it provided allowed him to make a map in the low light.
:: Prowl, I advise you to disengage. :: Runner whispered — Prowl pinged his location and it appeared that he was still in the club, although in a more secluded corner. :: It wouldn’t be very smart to take him on your own. ::
The Praxian didn’t answer, staying absolutely still as he glared out into the cavernous alleyway. :: Prowl, :: Bluestreak warned, :: I agree with Runner on this one. Just come back and rendezvous. We’ll catch up to him eventually. ::
Prowl instantly shot back a reply.
:: There won’t be an ‘eventually.’ ::
:: Once he has a head-start he will reach the freeway and we will have no chance at catching him when he leaves Iaconian borders. ::
:: Prowl, don’t be a bolt-for-brains! Disengage — ::
Runner’s voice cut out as Prowl muted the channel. He steadied himself, directing half of his processor speed into the calculation of possible escape routes. Shackle would have already exited the establishment — about 2.5 kliks ago. During the gap in the conversations where his team couldn’t hear, he must have slipped through a service door and made his way out. The mech who had been talking with him — a compressed file of a voice clip was cut and sent to the Enforcer database. While the system searched for a match, Prowl steadily made his way forward.
True to his name, he crept silently. He was vaguely aware of radio chatter in the distance, but that might have been Runner, Bluestreak, and the rest of his team scrambling to follow him. Without opening his communication systems, he pinged all of them his location and a brief message.
PURSUING SUSPECT. The glyphs were sent with the utmost urgency. BLOCK OFF THE INTERSECTION ON THE IACONIAN FREE-WAY.
With a reckless abandon totally unlike him, Prowl continued to push forward into the dark alleyways. Judging from his positioning systems, there was an intertwining route between the shops and various Iaconian high rises until they would reach ground wide enough and clear enough to transform. Prowl highly suspected Shackle would take the innermost route — a quick and straightforward passageway that would have been difficult to navigate without headlights or a pair of sensory devices.
Just as he hit the edge of the next building, movement caught his optics. The fog shifted away from a retreating figure, and Prowl instantly lunged after it. He bolted down the alleyway, disappearing further and further into the neglected squalor. The fog did not reveal much, but what little light the ion cells provided along the way was enough to distinguish a fleeing mech.
“Halt!” He called out, his plating melding back into the black-and-white of his Enforcer decoration. Prowl flicked his head-lights on at full-force — enough to catch the panic on a set of yellow optics as they veered further and further into the maze of Iacon. Seeing that Shackle wasn’t stopping, Prowl kicked his speed up. His pedes slapped across the wet ground, and everytime he ex-vented the fog would condense over his warming plating. “We have a warrant for your arrest!” He attempted again. “If you do not halt I will be forced to physically restrain you!”
He didn’t know whether Shackle was mortally confident or just plain stupid, but the mech whipped around and yelled, “Fat chance!” before transforming into his alt-mode. Just as written on his preliminary file, Shackle was a bona-fide speedster. A low-lying, sleek, gray and blue four-wheeler with a penchant for the ludicrous. True to his witnesses, the mech revved his engines once, twice, and swiftly tore his way into the fog ahead. Prowl cursed under his breath.
The narrow passageways would deter his speed, but Prowl would never make it on pede before Shackle reached the freeway. Without giving it any more thought, he took one final step, leaped into the air, and quickly transformed into his own alt-mode. His wheels hit the damp metal of the alleyway in a burst of smoke and fire as he ratcheted his speed higher and higher. Although Prowl had spent much of the last vorn doing detective work, he had always been built to chase. And nothing thrilled his processor more than considering the possibilities of escape.
There was only one possible route Shackle could be taking, and Prowl knew a shortcut. A fat chance, my aft.
He veered quickly to the left, wincing when his side door scraped the side of a wall. There was no time to lick his wounds quite yet, so he tucked in his headlights and dove further into the abyss. Prowl would round the center buildings, he calculated, then appear at a more favorable angle to intercept Shackle. If he kept his speed high and his momentum just right, he had a 65 percent chance of success.
:: —Prowl! :: Bluestreak’s agitated voice blared through the transmission, and Prowl’s movement faltered just slightly. He had forgotten that Bluestreak held a manual override over the communication lines. Slag.
:: Prowl, are you listening to us? Disengage! Smokescreen’s orders! ::
He couldn’t — no! How much of himself would he have to prove at the station if he came back with empty servos? Not only had he been reduced to a meager detective in Iacon’s overwhelmed Enforcer department, Prowl’s reputation preceded him. He was still regarded as a cold spark, unfeeling and with no purpose but to solve objective after objective. And perhaps, even though he had been excited at the prospect of returning to the Enforcers, he could see the ways in which they meant to hold him back and keep an eye on him.
This is why he ignores the increasing cacophony of urgent voices through the comm. lines; they didn’t understand, no one ever really did. Except one. And that mech was gone.
Prowl felt the energon in him burn through his lines like molten fire. His engine strained underneath the enormous pressure he was pushing his struts to engage. But he continued through the haze of determination and anger. Shackle wouldn’t get away, not on his watch.
As Prowl finally passed through the thickest of the clustered buildings, he broke out onto a winding road that lead straight into a ramp for the free-way. Sinking himself even further into his objective, the Praxian pushed his systems to full power in order to catch up to the mech, who was currently getting away. At this speed, Prowl would only have a sparkbeat to clip Shackle and send him flying into another direction.
Without hesitation, he neared Shackle enough so that the rancid smoke released from underneath his tires seared his plating. His lights were on, flashing incessantly, and the wail of his siren chased away any other bots who might have been thinking of crossing the freeway. Shackle swerved back and forth without stopping, his engine revving aggressively as he continued to try to pull away from Prowl.
Then, there it was: his chance. His engine roared as he pulled ahead of the mech. The gateway leading into the interstate was barreling at them at high speeds, and Prowl kept dismissing his warning messages. They were blocking his system queue at an important moment. He clamped his plating tight against his protoform and reared back, readying himself. Shackle let out a shout.
Just as he was about to tip the mech over, his systems seized.
Like someone had ripped his spark out from his chassis, his wheels locked, his rotators spun out and his vision gave out. Prowl felt a surge of fear and panic as his frame violently shifted sideways and tipped over, sending him into a devastating side-tumble. At the speed he was going, he completed four full turns before crashing into a hard surface on the other side of the track in a loud slam.
He heard a sickening crunch just as his brain module collapsed and his entire processing center shut down.
Prowl awoke with a jolt, and with a wave of nausea that sent him bowling over the side of the berth. There was a conveniently placed bucket there, which was exactly where he emptied the contents of his tank several times before he had enough strength to pull and wipe at his mouth. His throat burned, and his processor swam with vertigo so heavily he had to offline his optics until his gyros stabilized. He attempted pulling up a damage report, but the code of access kept jamming. There was a slight hint of panic building in his chassis as he leaned back against the berth. It was only chased away when the ping of a comm. came through his queue. An EM field washed over him, gently — but not without a critical bite to it.
:: What did I tell you about getting rest, Prowl? :: Ratchet’s grumbling voice came through his feed. :: This is what, the third time you're here? Please explain to me why you never handed that medical note over to Smokescreen? Must I treat you like a sparkling and bring it to him myself — ::
“Ratchet….” Prowl wheezed. “Too loud.” Even though Ratchet had attempted to tone down the visual and auditory stimulation, his nagging voice through the signal still left his helm ringing. Everything hurt, and with his optics offline, he could feel every part of his plating that was dented. His spark turned unpleasantly in its chamber — too quick, like he was still chasing someone. His processor ached with a pain that was recognizable only to one of his burn-outs. Attempting to access his logic center proved an absolute no-go. It felt as if he was physically scalping himself.
Ratchet harrumphed, and even through the lowered sensors on his audials Prowl could catch the stomping of his pedes as the Chief Medical Officer rounded his berth. Irritation now came off freely from his EM field. “Your chassis took some major dents that I barely managed to pound out without some extra elbow grease. And you fried your circuits again.” Ratchet pointed out matter-of-factly, to which Prowl sighed.
“Obviously.” He responded flatly. “I would not be here if I wasn’t.”
Ratchet did not waste a klik. “Your team is not very happy with you.”
Prowl scoffed. “When are they ever?”
The Praxian did not have to see Ratchet to know he was frowning. The disapproval was practically suffocating him. It was uncomfortably silent for a few seconds until Ratchet merely sighed. “Online your optics, I need to check something.”
Prowl obeyed, and instantly cringed against the harsh lights of Ratchet’s medical office. The medic told him to lower his sensitivity to fifteen percent, so that he could observe the inner veins of his ocular cavity. He muttered a few choice words, and then puttered around the Praxian silently for the remaining amount of time.
“You’ll be sore for a few cycles, but you’ll live. That’s if you finally take that break I’ve been nagging you about.”
Prowl offlined his optics once more, listening as the medic packed up his tools. The lights were still too bright for him, and they burned an afterimage so deeply into his brain module that he kept seeing it even after he shut off all visual processing. His processor throbbed dully in response. “I can’t take a… break.” Prowl spat out the last word like it was a poison, and he felt Ratchet’s optics glaring at him once again in annoyance.
“You will, otherwise there will be consequences.” The tone in Ratchet’s voice left nothing to be argued with, but Prowl still felt himself in the mood for more danger. “You want me,” he started, “to just leave my post with the Enforcers for a so-called ‘break,’ when now more than ever Cybertron needs every capable servo and frame they can to fix the planet we messed up so badly?”
Ratchet snapped. “You can’t do that if you’re dead!”
“I’m not going to offline—”
“You will! If you keep pushing yourself!” Ratchet pressed — he was waving his hands around rapidly, he caught the puffs of air against his wings sensors — “Primus slaggit, Prowl. You know I’m not the only one who told you you’re pushing yourself too far. You will be of no use to anyone if you reduce yourself to scrap metal. And taxing yourself? Do not think for a slaggin’ klik that I haven’t asked around about your dark-cycle habits — because I have!”
Prowl swallowed. His glossa was still caked with his last-purged contents, and his tanks clenched on emptiness despite the roiling turmoil in his spark. He knew. He knew very well what was wrong with him. Ever since the war — ever since he left — his battle computer glitched more frequently. It began small. He dropped things at the station that he didn’t mean to drop. He would get a trigger finger when sending reports. Small nuances and idiosyncrasies that meant nothing to him before since they happened so infrequently — but then it got worse.
Several rough cases put him in peril, numerous times. In moments of intense action where decisions were made in nanoseconds, Prowl’s battle computer would override his logic center, and like the many times before it, it crashed his entire processing unit. Ratchet had said the reasoning was unknown. It could be the increased stress. It could be the strange shift in lifestyle. It might even be the abundance of energon. Change in energon.
Whatever it was, Prowl knew it was altering how he behaved. Instead of taking things in a calculated fashion, he would rush to apprehend suspects and complete actions faster than he would if only to outrun his own burn-out. He had never liked unexpected outcomes, but now it appeared that unexpected outcomes were not the only ones he had to worry about — but the expected ones as well.
Ratchet, noticing his brooding mood, opted to leave Prowl well alone. He gave a few more notes of advice — recharge often, step away from the Enforcers for a while — until he exited the room to tend to another patient. Prowl laid there for a few joor, resting, but not quite. Thinking of his circumstances and of those at the station. What would he do if he couldn’t work? How would he spend his cycles? Idling by until he supposedly got better? Nothing was ailing him — nothing worse than what many mechs suffered with millennia after millennia of war.
He got up eventually, slowly setting both pedes on the cool ground. it only stung now when he accessed his damage report file. A few shifted gears, a tear in his plating right beneath his left wing. He would physically be fine, but the fog in his processor remained. The burn in his optics were not so bad if he dialed processing speed down to half. Within another joor, he was bidding Ratchet a hasty goodbye and discharging himself from the hospital. He meandered on his way back to the station, answering comms. that he had missed while he was out, and apologizing half-heartedly to those he had ignored. Shackle had gotten away, and the rest of the team had no more leads to go off of. They would have to wait for another tip before they could apprehend him again.
Prowl took a few transports to the Enforcer station, but found himself standing around the corner as mechs of all shapes and sizes bustled past him.
Feel better. Bluestreak had messaged him. We’ll get him next time. Just make sure you take care of yourself.
Inappropriate conduct and procedure. Smokescreen chastised. Take a break, Prowl. Clear your helm.
Runner had more than a few choice words that he made sure got to him, but Prowl found himself dismissing it all. He stared at the precinct, the backdrop of Iacon’s ancient grand street. The symbol that was stamped onto Prowl’s shoulder pauldron blared back at him from high above. Like it was looking down on him.
Without walking into the building, he turned around and melded back into the crowd, determined to make it back into his berth.
Prowl’s apartment was on the outskirts of Iacon’s new divisions. It was a shabbier, more affordable location, but it sufficed his needs just enough. He practically dragged his pedes through the entryway of his building, inputting the passcode and stepping into the elevator. It clattered its way up noisily: the sound pounded like a hammer against his audials, and he held a limp servo against his helm to muffle it. He remembered when he first moved his meager furniture into the new space, Jazz had helped him bring in a chair when he made a joke about the elevator being the scariest thing he’s seen since the war. Like a loud, metal death trap. He had noted. While the memory brought a smile to his otherwise dejected faceplates, there was now a fresh ache in his spark; a familiar loneliness that always came when he thought of his close friend.
With a sigh, he trudged his way down the hall and made it to his door. 731. Bringing his servo up, palm facing downwards, the door slid away as it confirmed his ID. Prowl stepped into the darkness of his sad apartment. He always forgot to leave a small light on before he left, and every time he came back from the station he would always end up slamming his pede on some unknown object. Now that he had dialed his optic sensors down, everything was much more indistinguishable. He stepped forward slowly, going by memory until he came upon his tiny living room. A desk took up space by the only window, where he spent most nights reading cases in preparation for the next working day. Usually, there would only be a solid, square pile of holopads visible with the faint light coming from the ion cell in the street — but now—
A tingle of unease rapidly climbed his struts and Prowl halted at the doorway into the living room. His wings perked up high, data sweeping the area. Something was wrong, he thought. There was someone else there with him.
Steadily, he hovered his servo over his subspace to grab his blaster when he realized he must have dropped it in his chase with Shackle. Cursing to himself, Prowl straightened and brought his servos forward into fists, frame taut and ready to leap out at the intruder. He carefully balanced is weight forward into the space. He would have to take them by surprise to have the upper servo in a fight.
As he rounded his way around his seating area, a figure became much more apparent. His wings kept pinging him data alerts of a present EM field, and as Prowl was just about to open his dermas and call out to the intruder, he spoke up first. And it left him floored.
“Heya Prowler. Long time no see.” An achingly familiar, melodic voice spoke up, just as a blue visor brightened up, providing just enough light so that Prowl could make out the features of the mech.
“Jazz?” Prowl sputtered. His door wings were arched higher than before and his faceplates must have looked especially confused, because Jazz has the widest, electrifying grin of amusement. It was a sight for sore optics, and Prowl felt the air knocked out of his vents from one glance at it.
Jazz chuckled, his bio-lights glowing softly from the gaps in his plating. Prowl had forgotten how easily he could control their intensity. “Well, look at ya. Got into some trouble while I was gone, huh?” The words rolled so smoothly out his dermas, so real, that Prowl had to reset his optics several times to confirm he wasn’t dreaming. When he hadn’t moved for a klik, Jazz swiftly lifted himself out of Prowl’s chair and sauntered over — like he had no care in the world and that he hadn’t disappeared for almost a vorn.
“Have I knocked a gear loose in that processor o’ yours?” Jazz smiled good-naturedly, stopping right before the Praxian. He was so close, Prowl could feel his EM field reach out to prod gently at his hard shell. On the outside, he was still and controlled, but underneath, Prowl wanted to shriek. Jazz tilted his head in question, noticing his uncanny silence, but no matter what Prowl did, he just couldn’t believe Jazz was standing right in front of him.
“Why’s that so hard ta’ believe?” The other mech responded cheekily. Slag. Prowl’s spent processor barely realized he let those words slip aloud. The light in the room was still so faint, but the ion cell provided just enough with Jazz’s visor that he could see every new detail that was etched into his friend’s plating. Streaks of colors. Marks of various kinds. A fabric was draped around his left shoulder pauldron. Alongside many other things he couldn’t catch with his fritzy optics, Jazz had a distinct scent to him. It reached his olfactory quite quickly with how closely he stood — ozone, like he had been traveling through hyper-space and visiting foreign regions for so long that his own scent was masked by it.
“Nothing.” Prowl responded breathily, finally allowing his shoulders to drop. His wings lowered to comfortable levels, and Prowl winced when it pulled the damaged protoform on his side. He had been so wound-up these past few kliks that it made him sore. Jazz’s keen visor trained on his tentative movement.
He shifted so quickly, Prowl’s spark jumped in his chassis when the servo landed on his arm. “Look,” Jazz began softly, “I know you must have a lot of questions, but I have ta’ show you something first. Would ya mind comin’ with me?”
Prowl stuttered again. He already felt the beginnings of another processor-ache coming on. He looked at his friend directly in the visor, feeling the EM field that projected comfort, trustworthiness, honesty and he didn’t even hesitate. “I don’t mind.” The Praxian responded, strangely mesmerized by the way Jazz grinned again. He felt as if this was all a part of his hallucinating processor, and his tactical center was now adept at creating 3D imagery into his surroundings. But Jazz’s touch on his arm was warm, and his voice so welcoming and his behavior so natural.
He was here. He was leading him somewhere to show him something and it was so complex (perfect) that even his tactical center didn’t have the computing ability to make this up.
He was actually here.
It took a change in his surroundings for Prowl to return to a somewhat normal, functioning state. Jazz had practically dragged him back into the street and down the block from his apartment building when Prowl finally had enough strength in himself to ask where exactly they were going.
“You’ll see,” the mech replied, a mischievous tone to his voice that Prowl knew all too well. He squinted his optics in Jazz’s direction, all the more wary.
“You know I don’t like surprises, Jazz.”
Without turning around, Jazz sing-songs, “I know! But I think you’ll like this one.”
Prowl honestly wasn’t sure he could take another one. Between his burnout and Jazz’s random appearance, his processing center was more than exhausted — it was barely functioning. He kept having to manually reset his subroutines to get himself to keep playing along. In reality, There were a thousand possibilities and a thousand different questions he was dying to ask Jazz. Most importantly: where in the name of Primus have you been, exactly?
—but he didn’t say any of them.
Jazz pulled Prowl along amicably, never let go of his elbow joint to ensure he didn’t escape. Not that he has anything better to do after all. They came up towards an empty lot, southwest of his building. A quick datanet search told him it was the location of a scrapyard for many vorns. Pre-war, even. The fencing that surrounded it was frayed and open in many sections, and the junk within it was piled high with rusted transport rails, metal sheets of some kind, and pipes. Prowl opticked Jazz, noting the excitable expression on his faceplates.
“You wanted to show me some garbage?” Prowl said flatly, a frown on his dermas more out of confusion than disappointment.
Jazz laughed. “No. It’s what’s inside the garbage!”
Prowl blinked. “I am… not sure what you mean, Jazz…”
The other mech rolled his optics, as if it was the most obvious thing on Cybertron and Prowl was totally missing the point. “Come on, jus’ a little further.”
At his insistence, Prowl continued to follow his friend. He soon realized what exactly Jazz was talking about.
A surprise, indeed.
“I don’t exactly have a permit to park it in the dockyards,” Jazz explained, allowing Prowl to wander around the vehicle. “It would’a been a pain in the aft to get that processed and on top o’ the fines? Better off leavin’ it here. Not gon’ stay much longer anyways.”
In front of Prowl was a star cruiser. A model capable of hyper jumps, judging from the massive twin engines that took up either side of the body. It was sleek — built for speed in mind and had one docking entrance near the rear tail. It was painted in an obnoxious shade of yellow, and decorated with gaudy adornments and knickknacks. He noticed the added modifications to its frame, and was analyzing them so deeply that he almost forgot to respond to Jazz.
“What do you mean by ‘not staying much longer’?” Prowl turned back towards Jazz, the cruiser forgotten. The Polyhexian appeared sheepish, his smile dropping just slightly. “Not stayin’ on Cybertron,” he repeated, “I’m going on a vacation.”
Prowl replayed Jazz’s words on his head, processor stalling. “Excuse me. What?”
“A vacation! I got this star cruiser for cheap and I’m planning on taking it all around the Galaxy! Cool isn’t it? I’m still thinkin’ of a name—“
“What do you mean by vacation? Isn’t that where you’ve been this entire time?” Prowl grumbled, crossing his arms at his chassis. Jazz sagged.
“Oh Prowler. I know I got a lot to explain but… I don’t have the time righ’ now. It depends on what you say.”
Prowl gave him a chuff in response. “And what exactly do you mean by that, Jazz? You came back a few kliks ago and you haven’t made any sense so far!”
Jazz smiled wide, his dentae glinting. “You see, the star cruiser can fit two mechs.”
There was a long pause as Prowl struggled against another crash. “... And?” He dared to ask. (It was pointless, really; he knew the answer.)
“And,” Jazz parroted, seeming delighted with himself, “You’re comin’ with me.”
Prowl trudged his way through the station like he was hauling stone on his back. He managed to avoid every mech that came his way until he reached his office and slammed it shut behind him.
Against all better judgement, he returned back to work the following day-cycle. Jazz’s surprise appearance the night prior had left him more rattled than he had expected. Following his showing of the star cruiser, Prowl awkwardly invited Jazz back to his apartment (he already made himself home there regardless) and extended the offer to let him stay as long as needed. Jazz, despite being obviously disappointed by Prowl’s lack of enthusiasm, was nevertheless happy to oblige. Any and all discussion related to vacations and star cruisers was abruptly put on hold as Prowl got the notification in the early hours of the cycle that they had managed to find a lead on Shackle — a positive identification on the voice clip. He had left his room so quickly he barely spoke a word of goodbye to Jazz. On top of that, he forgot to reapply his medical patch. His back seared after the pain blockers wore off.
Prowl collapsed into his chair, burying his face into his servos. He took a few seconds to vent — it felt as if his energon lines were on fire. No matter how much he tried to redirect his processor onto work matters, the image of Jazz’s smile kept reappearing. Go with him? On a vacation? Was he having a memory purge? This couldn’t possibly be his reality at the moment. Not only did he have to deal with the fallout of his reckless decision, he now had to think about the only mech who ever managed to take up longer than two kliks in his brain module. And a proposition so ridiculous that it almost made him laugh. What was it with everyone telling him to take a break?
In frustration, Prowl swiped out a servo and knocked over a stack of datapads. They hit the floor with a clatter, and he sighed dejectedly at the sight of it. It didn’t matter how angry he got, or how badly he was treating himself: Optimus expected much out of him. Cybertron expected much out of him. How would it look if he just left? Others had it worse, he reasoned. Many mechs who had returned from the war struggled to adjust to a normal life. During the first few deca-cycles of his Enforcer post, he had seen his fair-share of violence. Every day-cycle he woke up to was met with fear, suspicion, and animosity. Optimus had said there was no such thing as factions anymore. Keeping up a peaceful facade with Megatron while the rest of the (remaining) Cybertronian population determined otherwise. Mechs were run to the ground; some couldn’t handle it and left. Many never returned. Prowl had the distinct sensation that he was working tirelessly to return his home planet back to what it once was — what it will never be again. Despite his determination to do so, he also couldn’t ignore that hidden voice whispering during late nights at the station that it was all for nothing.
He pinched the bridge of his olfactory, squeezing his optics shut. At the very least, since he was not well liked in the station, mechs never came to bother him. Prowl dimmed the lights in the office further, relieving his still-sensitive processing centers. He would just have to suck it up and deal with it. After sending a quick ping to the door to lock it, he picked up the holopads from the floor and began his work.
He hadn’t even opened the new report before he received another comm. from the chief officer. Before his next stake-out, he would have to seriously convince Smokescreen that he was in good condition. Nothing went past the mech in the station — promoted right after the peace treaty, Smokescreen gained an even larger ego than he had before. While he felt that his fellow Praxian generally respected him, Prowl couldn’t help but notice that the mech fell into much of the gossip that surrounded the Enforcer command. Prowl’s surprising demotion to a mere detective. Rumors of all kinds following him wherever he went. Prowl knew he was being watched. Every high level faction leader was.
After a few joors of fidgeting and so-called work, he finally had enough nerve to leave his office and face Smokescreen. He locked the office door behind him and rounded the corners immediately after, ignoring the optics that followed him as he made his way down the hallways. Smokescreen’s office was, unfortunately, on the highest floor of the station. Originally a shopping center, the building was repurposed to house the growing number officers circulating through the main branches of Cybertron’s cities. He took the center elevator and braced himself for the scolding he was about to receive.
Not only did Smokescreen insult him — he also made sure to embarrass him in the process. While Prowl stood in his office, rigid and uncomfortable, wings low, Smokescreen had deemed it fit to do so in front of Runner, Bluestreak, and the rest of the team that accompanied him last night.
“What you did was reckless, completely irresponsible, and put your entire team on the line.” Smokescreen shouted, pacing back and forth irately as his wings waved up and down in irritation. His EM lashed out like a violent wind, so much so that Bluestreak shrank back as if he was the one it was directed towards. Everyone kept their helms down, not wanting to meet the Chief’s eyes. But Prowl had no patience for demurement.
“I understand, sir.” He said flatly, meeting his angry gaze right-on.
Smokescreen scowled. “Do you really, Prowl?”
Prowl paused, considering what he could say next that would give Smokescreen the least ammunition against him. “I only did what I determined to be right.” He said slowly, following Smokescreen carefully with his optics. “If we lost the mech again there would be no chance until—“
“You do not get to make that decision!” Smokescreen spat, wings arched high. He approached Prowl so quickly that he flinched, moving back just enough so that their chevrons barely touched. “How many times have I reprimanded you for this stubborn behavior?” It was too much — Prowl looked away, but Smokescreen jabbed his shoulder pauldron to keep his attention. “This isn’t war , Prowl. I understand that you have your own issues to work through. But you cannot bring them into your work. All you are is a detective. An officer. Not the Head of Tactical Command.”
Prowl opened his mouth to protest, but the sight of Bluestreak’s sympathetic face made him halt. He clenched his servos together.
“You need to either need to clean up your act or step away from the position. It is okay to need a break , Prowl. For Primus’s sake, we would be better off if you did.”
His dentae bit the edge of his lip so hard that he could taste the energon seeping from it. It was deathly silent. Prowl couldn’t bear to look up and see the concerned, disappointed faces. He managed a stiff nod, and then exited the office as quick as he could.
Prowl took the long way back from his apartment. His legs moved without much purpose. The star was low in the sky, casting a red glow onto the newly constructed buildings of Iacon’s center. Despite the shaky economy, mechs still came out at night, heading back and forth between new jobs and meeting old friends. New infrastructure, still a great issue on Cybertron, allowed mechs to travel easily from places where the war had decimated. The streets were bustling with the beginnings of the night-cycle, and Prowl could not be any more bothered. He felt a deep-seated anger within himself, one that was sure to not disappear anytime soon. His processor kept replaying clips over and over.
You need to take a break.
This isn’t healthy, Prowl.
What’s been happening with you lately?
Already receiving warning pings for his increased stress levels, Prowl shut off his deduction protocols. He cut the signal to his transmission and made sure the only voice he heard in his head was his own. He veered off from his usual course, taking a transport to the southern part of the city.
During the war, Prowl was never fond of the drink. He had spent some night cycles drinking away with some Engex, but he always regretted it. Engex scrambled his tactical center and made him slow and sluggish, the opposite of what he needed to be during wartime. Unlike other mechs, he enjoyed blasting loud music, or racing his spark out on the indoor tracks they had at base. It was enough to keep him going. Especially with Jazz as company.
Jazz. Prowls chassis instantly tightened with anxiety. What would he say to Jazz?
With all that happened today, he barely had time to think over Jazz’s proposition. He didn’t know if it was because he was feeling particularly spiteful, or if it was because he just couldn’t understand why the mech had come back. Prowls frown set itself deeper into his faceplates. He could feel the exhaustion pulling his expression down further. He was just so tired.
By the time he reached his favorite bar, the night cycle was in full swing. While the location attracted all sorts of customers, he was pleased by the classy decor and strong drinks. If he was going to get himself smashed, he might as well do it properly. Prowl was already thinking of some delectable treats he could try on the sweets menu, up until he saw a familiar mech perched on his favorite bar seat.
Jazz was chatting up the bartender, sporting a casual smile. In the lighting of the bar, Prowl was able to make out more details of his friends altered paint job. A gold trim line his pedes, which reached up to his thighs until they curled up and away from his pelvis. There were markings and stamps of travel all over this chassis, some known to him and some not. They glittered prettily in the ambient lighting. Jazz’s personality, his inner glow stood out the most. Already he was beginning to attract others to him. However. As soon as Prowl entered his line of sight, his visor flashed and focused solely on him.
“Prowler!” He said as if he hadn’t been expecting to see him. “There you are! I didn’t know you came to this place.”
Prowl rolled his eyes, shoving past an ogling femme in order to sit in the seat next to Jazz. “You took my spot.”
Jazz pouted. “Really? Ya’ve been ignoring me all day and ya finally see me after almost a vorn and that’s all you got?”
Prowl cast him a glare, but Jazz was unfazed. He laughed. “Kiddin’,” he smiled warmly, “why don’t I order ya somethin’?”
He was about to decline, but Jazz gave him that familiar lip pout in the moment he was about to shake his helm. Prowl could never say no to that look.
“Alright… Just one.” He relented, just as Jazz called over the bartender and ordered him some Engex. It was a sweet mix, with mica, just as he liked it. It went down his throat smoothly and did its job. The warmth spread out from his chassis to the tips of his servos. He instantly sagged against the seat.
It was quiet between the two of them for a while. They nurse their drinks and merely enjoyed the relatively calm atmosphere of the bar. Prowl has turned his attention to the holo screen above Jazz’s helm, watching a few political reports without much thought.
“Rough day at the station?” Jazz spoke up, his visor coming into view. Inquisitive as always.
Prowl’s frown tightened, and it was only then he realized he had never dropped it. “Yes.” He answered, taking another gulp of Engex to prevent himself from saying more. Jazz could tell everything about him now, and it wasn’t like he needed to use words to convey how badly he was actually feeling.
The Polyhexian tilted his horns, visor brightening. “Your back still hurtin’?”
He nodded, staring at his drink. It was already almost gone.
Jazz hummed, his finger tracing the rim his glass. He watched, out of the corner of his optic, as he brought the drink up and took a long sip. Jazz let out a long vent. “Did ya think of my offer?”
Prowl played with his cube, rotating it this way and that, watching as the liquid swirled inside. All he could think of was how he wanted to sleep forever. “I don’t know Jazz,” the Praxian answered honestly, his wings lowering, “I can't just leave. I have a lot of responsibilities.”
Jazz had shifted in his seat. He could feel the brush of his knee against his own, and the gentle touch of an understanding EM field. “Come on, Prowler, ya can't possibly be that dedicated.”
When Prowl remained silent, Jazz pressed. “You're run down, I can tell. You’re not feeling well and when I saw you so beat up yesterday—“ He paused. “—I knew something wasn’t quite right. You’re not happy.”
Prowl’s browplates furrowed. “How do you even know that? You haven’t even been here for the past vorn.”
Jazz’s amicable expression slipped. “Look, I know I’ve been gone awhile, but I’m your closest friend, Prowl—“
“Who would leave without telling their closest friend where they were going?”
Jazz leaned back, abraised. Prowl felt a tinge of regret but he quickly wiped it away in favor of downing the Engex. It now burned on its way down. He wiped at his dermas with the back of his servo before speaking. “I’m sick of mechs telling me to take a break, telling me to watch where I step, and what I say. As a society, I thought we had passed that.”
His friend didn’t say anything, choosing to lean on the bar counter with one arm and frame canted towards him. Despite Prowl’s bold admission, Jazz’s gaze always felt like it was seeing through him.
“You’re frustrated they’re treating you like a dangerous weapon.” He stated bluntly.
Prowl grit his dentae.
Jazz sighed. “Prowl. That’s all the more reason to leave and get your helm cleared from all this—“
“I am not leaving or going anywhere with you until you explain where you disappeared to for the past vorn.” He hissed, loud enough for the bartender to cast a glance their way. Jazz visor hid half of his expression, but Prowl could feel the sting in his EM field.
“You just left,” he continued, pain tightening his voice, “went off to gallivant across the galaxy doing who knows what without telling me at all. Do you know how upset I was when I found out you left, Jazz? You never contacted me once to explain yourself!”
The mech stayed silent and Prowl’s optics flared. “If you’ve got nothing to say to that than the answer is no.” He abruptly stood up from the bar, ignoring the pain in his helm, his back, and his spark, and turned away from his friend. “Just leave me alone.”
With Jazz’s gaze centered on him, he strode away from his only true friend and walked right out the door.
Prowl collapsed into his berth as soon as he made it home, and fell promptly into recharge. Only when the flash of pain woke him in the morning did he remember that he was supposed to put a pain blocker on his wrenched wing. He struggles to reach behind him for a few kliks until he managed to stick the mesh on properly, and by then, his chronometer told him it was already time for work. After the events of the past few cycles, nothing made him more nauseous than the thought of returning back to his office as if nothing had ever happened.
He has time for a quick rinse in the showers before attempting to take a sip of energon. It didn’t sit well in his tanks, and with his better judgement, he stopped drinking it. He makes his way to the precinct reluctantly.
A heat had settled over Iacon, in comparison to the chill of the previous night. The humidity clung to him as he moved through the crowd to reach the transport. Droplets from the condensation were already forming on his plating, and he opened up his vents a little wider to release some inner heat. His helm was still aching and now his spark whirled faster than usual. It took approximately 8 astrominutes for the transport to make it to the station, and while Prowl would usually get there by alt-mode, he didn’t trust his state of being at the moment to consider it. Instead, he walked, observing the livelihood of Iacon that was only seen in the early mornings as mechs made their way to their destinations. It reminded him of Praxus. There would be mechs at the cafes having their breakfast energon, and speaking amicably with coworkers as they entered their buildings of work. A sign of life returning.
He chased away any more thoughts related to his home city as he rounded the block to reach the Enforcer district. Several sections of Iacon had been bombarded during the war, so the main government office and precinct were adjusted to stand on opposite ends of the Grand Street. A few metrons away from Prowl worked, Optimus took up residence with Megatron, initiating peace talks and creating laws with a temporary body of individual mechs — ranging from civilian to once high-ranking faction members.
Prowl stood on the intersection, just before his turn into the station. Mechs of all kinds were leaving the government office, a sign of talks ending. He took a glance back at the station ahead of him, glistening gold from the new siding that was recently added for decor. From a distance, it might have looked stunning. To him, it was gaudy. He stared and stared and stared at the symbol of the Enforcers. In its glory, lifted above him so high. His own brand burned again.
Prowl felt a pit of uneasiness settle behind his spark chamber. He sent a quick comm. to Bluestreak and made his decision to turn left. The government office loomed as he approached. Surprisingly, as he came through the main door, security did not stop him. His signature was cleared through all levels, and when he requested an audience with a certain official, it was accepted. He entered the elevator — smooth and fast, Prowl analyzed every surface of it if only to distract himself.
Optimus was in the grand room, a massive hall where the senators of pre-war Cybertron held their hearings. Now, it was refurbished beyond recognition. A requirement on Megatron's part of the agreement. There were no chairs that circled the throne of the Prime, instead, there was a long table from where mechs of many classes and backgrounds sat to discuss the future of Cybertron and its citizens. Prowl noticed the decorations. The armistice that ended the war was sealed off in a transparent case, in full public view. Cybertronian colors of friendship and peace were available on every solid surface.
His leader beckoned, drawing him out of his thoughts, “Prowl,” he called, his sonorous voice carrying through the wide room. They were alone. “Take a seat.”
The Praxian approached cautiously, his spark racketing in his chassis. He kept wringing his servos, even as he sat in one decorated seat. He has not seen Optimus for a long while.
“What’s on your processor?”
Gently inquisitive, as always. That part of Optimus always managed to relax him. Prowl ex-vented. “I would like to step away from my post. I want to leave Cybertron for a while.”
Optimus, although raising a brow, did not seem so surprised. His optics shine keenly, as if he had been expecting Prowl to say those words. “You are severely needed here, Prowl, is this truly what you want—?” He asks, hesitantly, but openly.
Prowl nodded. “I have done some thinking—“ he met Optimus’s optics, “—this environment is not good for me. I must take time away…. I just cannot….” Last any longer. He meant to add on before his voice died in his throat.
Optimus shook his head in agreement. A sad look overcame his optics then. He sagged in his seat, appearing more like a wistful old mech than the leader of Cybertron. “I know your time here has not been treating you kindly, Prowl. I am sorry for any decision of ours that may have made you unhappy.”
Prowl’s dermas tightened into a thin line. For some reason, it was hard to swallow.
“Demotion and surveillance was part of the deal,” Optimus sighed, drawing a servo over his mask. “Megatron would not allow us to rail in his lone assassins without keeping an optic on the most dangerous mechs the Autobots had.” He looked at him pointedly. “One of those mechs was you, Prowl.”
His plating clamped down on his protoform. An itch crawls in his tanks as the enormity of Prime’s words echo in his helm. Prowl had been right to assume their biased treatment of him. He understood Prime had no choice, but the thought that mechs underneath Megatron decided he was dangerous enough that he had to be muzzled was—
“Take as long as you need,” Optimus places a heavy servo on his shoulder pauldron. It was warm. “Focus on doing what you enjoy. You have done much for Cybertron, Prowl. There will always be a place for you when you return.”
Prowl tilts his head in respect, hiding his burning optics by turning to face the door. “Thank you Optimus. It was an honor serving you.”
It felt like a final admission.
A final goodbye.
As soon as Prowl exits the Enforcer district, plating rattling, he calls Jazz through the comm.
:: Prowl? :: Jazz’s voice came through hesitantly.
Prowl smiled to himself. :: Do you still have that room for one? ::
Jazz chuckled, happiness brightening his voice. :: Hah! You mean it, mech? ::
:: Yes, I mean it. ::
To hear Jazz’s laugh could have made his entire day. :: Tonight, just after the sun sets. Meet me in the junkyard by yar apartment an’ we’ll leave then. ::
Prowl gave him an affirmative, already making his way back in order to get ready.
:: Hey, Prowler. ::
The Praxian turned away from the Enforcer station, for the last time. :: Yes? ::
:: Thank ya for considerin’ it. ::
:: It was the right decision in the end, :: Prowl stated plainly, despite the amount of emotional wrestling he had to go through these past few cycles.
:: It was. :: He could hear Jazz’s smirk through the connection, up until the moment he said his goodbye and disconnected.
Prowl sighed, staring up at Iacon’s glittering skyscrapers. The city has refurbished them after the peace treaty, returning them to their original glamour. Down on the street, Prowl did not feel any smaller. But somehow, after defending Cybertron all these years and forcing himself to remain, to be leaving now ... he felt light. He felt free. He felt just as tall as those skyscrapers.
Prowl did not have much. All he possessed during the war were two of his own holopads and a few meshes for when he got the chance to rinse off in the showers. He subspaced the mesh, and put his holopads in a small briefcase. After scanning the room, he deemed nothing else worthy of being brought along. From his berth, he also brought along a soft blanket, for when he felt like using it. From his desk he found a few holo-badges — he tossed those in the case for good measure as well. He had not traveled in space for at least a vorn, and it never hurt to have some identification, even though he loathed using his. Perhaps Jazz could forge him another…
After digging through his drawers, something gave him pause. Tossed all the way in the back of one cabinet, hidden away, was his processing cable. He had saved one to use in case he would ever need to plug into a high-speed tactical computer. However, after a vorn, it had not been touched. It was in pristine condition.
The sight of it sent a painful pulse through his brain module. Against his better judgement he tossed it in the briefcase, hiding it amongst the other items he brought along. Rummaging through the drawer again, he also discovered his Autobot insignia. It had been welded off after the war had ended, in order to promote cooperation. It had been on for so long that it had left a mark on his plating — faint, but nevertheless there. Like his memories of the war, they would never fade. Full of sentiment, he decided to place the insignia in his briefcase as well.
As he was finished, he took the time to write a short letter to his superiors. Bluestreak and Ratchet received personal ones expressing gratitude and sincere goodbyes. He thanked Ratchet for his advice.
Hopefully, he wrote, it’ll help me like it should.
Out of everyone besides Jazz, it was Bluestreak he would miss the most. The younger Praxian acted like a younger brother to him. And despite what had happened during the war. He had always stuck by his side, no matter how much slag he got for it. Perhaps he too, would benefit from being away from him for a while.
He met Jazz right where he said he would be. This time, the star cruiser was powered on, the heat of its twin engines pulsing away from it at quick intervals — ready to take off. Jazz grinned widely at his approach, opening his arms to bring him into a tight embrace. “I knew ya’d make it!” He cheered, shaking him just a bit for good measure.
Prowl, despite himself, gave the mech a facsimile of a smile. Despite everything, he still had some qualms about leaving Cybertron.
“Please tell me you know how to fly this thing?” He asked, attempting to take his mind off his conflicting emotions.
Jazz held up his servos. “Of course! What do you take me for, Prowler? A rookie?”
Prowl gave him a look, and Jazz was absolutely delighted.
“Come on,” He beckoned. “I’ll show you around the inside and then we’ll take our leave.”
The Praxian followed along, taking care when stepping up the ramp into the cruiser. He was still shaky after his burn-out, and even now using the slightest bit of memory in his processor was leaving him breathless. He, thankfully, made it inside with no incident.
As expected, the interior of the star ship was just as decorated as the exterior. The inner walls were painted in brightly assaulting colors, and the flooring had some soft mesh material lining it. It sank underneath his pedes. When Prowl gave Jazz a skeptical look, he just says “Not my particular choice, but it's fun to walk in, isn't it?”
The loading dock gave away to a single hallway, which branched off into two directions — one for each wing. Jazz let him know that they both led into a small berth room. From there, the strange mesh material gave away to hard surface metal. The control room was relatively normal. There were two chairs that took up the front with the console. The walls were painted in a color not within Prowl’s tastes, but besides that, the frontal window was large and clear. It would be perfect for sightseeing (if that was even in the plan for a vacation, he said to himself. What do you do during a vacation anyway? Prowl couldn’t remember the last time he took one).
Jazz continued to stand behind him as Prowl made his way over to the console. The buttons blinked faintly, ready for a command. He lifted his optics, following the bit of Iacons skyline that he could from where the cruiser was positioned. The sun had just set, and everything was tinted red.
“Ready?” Jazz appeared beside him, and Prowl twitched at his sudden presence. His wings fluttered at the small touch of his EM field. Jazz waited for a reply, expectant.
Prowl took in a breath, then ex-vented.
“Yes,” he answered, tearing his optics away from Iacon to meet Jazz’s visor. It brightened in response, and Prowl doesn’t believe that grin has ever left Jazz’s face since he said he would be going.
Despite the rather tasteless decor, take-off was smooth. Jazz piloted the cruiser through the skyline transit with skill. There were no sudden dips, no rattling of the wing flaps as they adjusted and rotated to accommodate for space travel. It appears that either Jazz did some significant renovations, or whoever the mech bought this from took care of it well. The front window extended to the sides, and Prowl took the chance to glance down at Iacon as it receded away metron by metron with Jazz's gradual ascent. While he was held trepidation about the entire trip, the further and further they pulled away from the city that acted as Prowls home for the last vorn his spark felt lighter and lighter.
He didn’t know how to feel. His processor was warring itself against his logic center and his spark. Why did he feel so…torn?
Maybe it was because Prowl never expected to leave Cybertron for something as trivial as a vacation. During the war, the vorns that passed, separated from his planet and his ravaged home city, built a heavy yearning in his spark to be back. He had sacrificed much to Cybertron — physically and mentally. Those were his hardest days — those were many mechs’ hardest days. Cycles would repeat over and over with no significant change. Only the fighting, the victories, the defeats, the losses. Mourn, and mourn, and repeat. Even when there was a sign of relief, mechs knew better than to relax and fall into a sense of calm. There was never a moment to believe for the better. It had been worse for a very long time.
Prowl could see the peak of Iacon’s main tower stretching its shadow across the city. The night encroached from behind, the lights of the buildings blinking intermittently into existence. He could see the working highways below — mechs were traveling in alt modes of all sizes to and from the center. From this high, he could see signs of Cybertron coming back to life. Veins of energon were visible, leading to the core of the city. In the distance, deposits twinkled like faint stars. He had even heard that hot-spots were reappearing all over the planet.
Just as the cruiser banked, He tried to spot the blocky design of the Iaconian Precinct. However, his friend murmured something, kicked the engines higher, and lifted the cruiser into Cybertron’s atmosphere. Prowl felt a piece of himself was being ripped away and put back together simultaneously.
Grappling With Oneself
After breaking the sound barrier upon leaving the atmosphere, Jazz had to coordinate his leave with the patrol officers that often guarded the border from Cybertron’s atmospheric reach. They granted him the all clear, and from there Jazz pressed the engine even further so that they were accelerating into open space. Prowl, more out of curiosity than anything, wondered out loud about Jazz’s freedom in Cybertron’s airspace.
“Oh, I know a few mechs,” was all he said. Typical, he thought to himself, he shouldn’t have even asked. Jazz was still the same old Jazz, despite his new idiosyncrasies and decorations. In fact, Prowl might have guessed he was living out the best vorns of his life right now.
Prowl peeked at Jazz, who was entirely focused on navigating the strip of debris — leftover from the war period it seems — that surrounded this portion of Cybertron’s border. Prowl could feel the light of their star system across his plating, the data reaching his sensor net like a gentle caress as they crossed their way through the beginnings of the Golden Age space bridges. They rose like monoliths, bleached by the star on one side while the other melted into the darkness like a black ink. Not in use, they were practically indistinguishable. Optimus had decided not to waste energon on the hundreds of space travel devices that were scattered across the planet. Cybertron was still weak, and before they would export large amounts of the planet’s lifeblood to shuttle repairs to the space bridges and various satellites, they would need to have a massive stockpile. And it would be a long time before that.
“Alright,” Jazz spoke up, surprising him just slightly. He had been observing everything so intently that he had forgotten he was even sitting there. Such good company he was…
The mech had relinquished control of the ship, let it drift into autopilot as he rotated in his chair and faced Prowl. Jazz had both his arms on his knee joints, his dentae glinting, revealed from a signature smile. “I thought a nice tour of the system would be a good start,” he began, gesturing with a servo towards the outside of the window, “we can go peer at some historical sites and then head for our first destination— planet called Dominion. It’s one o’ my favorite places to visit for some fun. Whatcha’ think?”
Prowl tried to return his smile, but it came out wrong. “I’m fine with that.”
Something about his voice must have given something it away, because Jazz immediately pounced on his uneasiness. “Prowler,” he sighed, “you’ll be alrigh’. Cybertron will be alrigh’. Just enjoy yarself.”
He nodded, managing to twist his faceplates into an expression that might have been considered excitement.
Jazz did exactly as they planned to. They circled some resident planets and observed some of the sights from above their atmospheres. Prowl tried to enjoy the things he had not seen in eons. Regardless of his feelings about the trip, it was nice to observe the old Golden Age monuments that he hadn’t seen since ages before the war started. It reminded him of a different time. Jazz’s soothing commentary was just enough for him to take his processor off the guilt and mismatched emotions that threatened to unravel him. From the last planetoids, they used a gravity whip to send them at a high velocity for Dominion. It turns out that the alien planet was good leaping distance away. It would take a full day cycle to reach it.
Meanwhile, Prowl would have to find something to do. He took out a holopad, filled to max-memory with novels he hadn’t ever had the time for, and started on one he thought was jolly enough to lift his spirits. This distracted him for about a joor, until a familiar itch started crawling up his pedes and his spinal struts. He kept initiating system checks, and they all came back finding no problems. After several kliks of adjusting his seating and fighting, he realized he didn’t remember anything from the last few pages. Frustrated, he shut off the holopad and rested it on the front of the console. Unable to sit any longer without something to focus his processor on, he rummaged through his suitcase and found the data cable he had stashed away.
He paused then, glancing back and forth between the console and the cable. Prowl was uncertain about whether he should do this, but what else was he going to occupy himself with for the next entire cycle?
Before he knew it, he was inserting one end into a port on the paneling and plugging the other end to the back of his helm. Just as he had done for four million years. The data from the starship rushed at him with an abnormal speed, and he flinched in reaction, his spine straightening from the force of information. He braced himself better before he opened a few channels, unwilling to take too many in fear of another burnout. Just as he expected, the cruiser had not been through a proper data mine. He sweeps past some maintenance files, coming upon a cluster of tangled code that was just begging to be straightened.
So Prowl did just that. He combed through the data being inputted by the cruiser, seperating files and organizing them glyph by glyph. He purged some unnecessary bits and cleaned up the processing unit so that it all worked cohesively. He was so engrossed in his work that he hadn’t noticed that his plating had lifted, hot air venting between the gaps in his armor. His optics flickered intermittently with strain, and his wings twitched erratically as the charge spread across them. So buried was he in his processor that he didn’t even sense Jazz as he came up to his side and openly pushed his EM field out in a pulse. It took him two tries for him to separate himself enough to turn towards his friend.
Dazed, he focused his optics enough to see Jazz's disapproving frown. “The whole point of a vacation, mech, is to relax.”
Sighing, Prowl gripped the cable at his helm and removed it from the port. “Well, I can't relax, Jazz. It’s not exactly in my programming.”
His friend leaned over, unplugging the data cable from the console entirely. Jazz pushed his chair over close enough so that Prowl had no choice but to look at him right in the visor. He hadn’t been paying attention to what his friend had been doing, but considering his worried expression, he must have been watching him work for a while.
“What’s eating’ ya, Prowler?” Jazz questioned seriously, his voice dipping lower. Prowl, surprised by Jazz's concern, opened and closed his mouth, unable to find the words to explain everything.
“Nothing’s eating me.” He lied.
“You don’t got to hide things from me, Prowl, I won’t judge,” Jazz placed a servo on Prowl’s arm. He had been overheating so much that his fans had turned on to high speeds, and his helm was throbbing with the sound of it.
“I’m not hiding anything.” He bit out. “I just don’t want to talk about it.”
Jazz tilted his helm. “I understand. But you can’t just let it wear away at ya—“
“Drop it, Jazz.” Prowl warned. He looked away from his friend for fear of how panicked his expression might have been.
There was a pause. Then, Prowl heard his name uttered softly. “I know I’ve been gone, and without reason too—ya must be upset with me abou’ that I’m sure—“
“Yes, I was! And I still am!” Prowl exclaimed, rotating in his chair so that he could face Jazz. Their knees knocked together during the turn. “You haven’t explained yourself yet! Did you even plan on telling me why?”
Jazz stilled, appearing torn. They stared at each other for the next few seconds, then, Prowl felt the itch rise onto his chassis. It burned as it traveled higher and higher into his spark chamber. In response, the corona of his spark was rotating faster and faster. He pressed a servo onto his chest plating as it was warming, and abruptly stood up. “I’ll be in my room,” he said quickly, not bothering to cast a glance back at Jazz as he exited the console room.
Prowl’s vision spun as he made his way to the berth. He remotely locked the door and collapsed onto the berth. He felt as if something was about to tear apart his spark, and the pressure in his forehelm was indicating another sign of burnout. Desperately, he accessed his center module, kicked some subroutines into a queue, and forcibly sent himself into recharge.
He woke up a few joors later, exhausted and strained, as if he had been running instead of recharging. His internal-chrono was still set to Iacon’s region, so he adjusted it to the standard universal time for less confusion. In total, it appears as if the starship had traveled most of its time to Dominion. If Prowl was guessing correctly, they would be reaching the planet soon enough.
Sighing, he shifted to his side, avoiding his sensitive wings as he turned over. Prowl stared at the door, shuttering his optics as he attempted to figure out what to say to Jazz when he was finally brave enough to step out of the room. He knew he shouldn’t have reacted so childishly, but something about the conversation was turning his tanks and he just couldn’t handle it anymore. Just what was with him these days?
“Stupid…” he muttered to himself, rubbing his tired faceplates with his servos. “So stupid.”
The Praxian took a few kliks to collect himself before he attempted standing. Preliminary assessments of his systems concluded that whatever had been ailing him earlier had faded away. The reaction had only proved how bad Prowls processing center had gotten. He would need to be very careful about the data he expunged lest he become vulnerable around mecha that would take advantage.
To cool his heated frame, he took a speedy shower with some cool solvent and dried himself with a spare mesh on the rack. In his haste, he forgot that he had a spare mesh in his subspace and ended up accidentally soaking it when he brought out in the shower. After cursing for a solid klik, he finished up and hung both on the small rack.
Thoroughly embarrassed with himself, Prowl finally exited the meager lodgings and returned to the control room.
Jazz was still seated in the pilot chair, but he was sipping at a cube of energon, legs kicked up to the console and quietly humming a tune. Prowl didn’t know why, but he felt like he was interrupting something, and made his way to turn back. Just as he did, Jazz heard him.
“There ya are!” He called out, as if the earlier uncomfortable altercation never happened. “I was wonderin’ if ya offlined in yar recharge for how long you were gone.”
Prowl smirked despite himself, approaching the co-pilot chair steadily. “I needed to clear my helm.”
Jazz nodded, an easy-going smile tugging his lips. “We’re almost to Dominion,” he mentions suddenly, bringing up a holo-map of their positioning. Prowl observes it from his chair. Just as he predicted, they were about a joor away.
“Good,” He said. The awkward silence that followed made his plating itch again, so he desperately racked his brain for something to converse about. Conversation about plans? A calculated ten percent chance of it resulting in an argument. He took those odds. “What do you want us to do in Dominion, anyways?”
The Polyhexian hit a few buttons on the console, and Prowl watched distractedly as they whipped past planets and stars of all different shapes and sizes. They blended together in a dizzying array, narrowing to a center point as the starship increased its pace to hyper speed.
“Just some perusing,” Jazz replied, voice jovial, “there are some great deals to snag there. Maybe a dance or two?” His visor dimmed and then brightened in his version of a wink, and Prowl felt his face get hot in response. He managed to look away before Jazz caught his embarrassment.
“I see.” Was all he said, choosing to stare at the flashing buttons on his side of the console.
Out of the corner of his optic, Prowl saw Jazz shift his chair again. He came up next to him with a boldness only he possessed. “Prowler, I’m sorry about earlier. Ya know me, I can be pushy, sometimes,” the mech let out a little chuckle, “—but I don’t wanna fight, okay? I’ll tell ya all abou’ my escapades soon enough it’s just… not now.”
Prowl didn’t know why, but a lump in his throat made it hard to speak. In fear of his voice coming out as a tremble, he merely nodded his helm in understanding.
Jazz beamed. “Let’s get to this planet then, shall we?”
Dominion required at least two jumps, and they were just finishing the first when Jazz hit the combination for the next — location marked directly in Dominion’s air space.
Prowl came up with a funny thought. Lump gone, he cleared his throat before speaking. “You sure you have the credentials for this place?”
“Oh, trust me,” Jazz said confidently, giving Prowl such a mischievous look it sent his spark turning a bit faster, “They know who I am.”
Just as they hit hyper-speed and the engines thrusted into their final rotation, Prowl heard loud groan across the body of the cruiser. It shuddered and creaked like there was something being blown through the hull, and for a split second, he wondered if there was actually something trying to attacking the cruiser. Prowl shot Jazz a concerned look as he struggled to process what was happening. Jazz held up his servo, sending a glyph over to confirm that he had heard the sound. Only once they managed to arrive within Dominion’s cosmic space, were they able to hear the alarm. On the console, lights flashed underneath warnings symbols indicating engine failure and overheating. Jazz gave him a nervous chuckle.
“Well, I should’ve went in for that maintenance check...”
Prowl glared at him, his optics critical.
“You ignored a maintenance check and decided to go on a travel vacation?” He bit out.
Jazz shrank back slightly, shrugging his pauldrons. “I know, I know, really stupid of me but—!” He groaned, “— youre gonna hate me for saying this, but I just didn’t have the time ta’—“
Prowl pinched his olfactory ridge. “There’s always time for something this important, Jazz! What if the engines had completely failed while in jump? We would’ve been ripped apart atom by atom—!”
“I know!” Jazz exclaimed. “I told ya! It slipped my mind!”
“I can’t believe this… in this first klik of me agreeing to come with…”
Jazz frowned. “Hey now, don’t get so upset. We just blew out the secondary components! And we made it to Dominion, we might as well use the time to explore while they fix up the ship.”
Prowl stared at him like a creator who had just too much of a creation’s nonsense. “Please tell me you didn’t plan this.”
Jazz shot up ramrod straight, like a shock went through his spinal strut. “Prowler! What in Primus name—“
The Praxian rolled his eyes so hard they might have scraped his inner socket. “Just bring the ship to a docking point…” he said exasperatedly. “Please?”
Jazz, at the sight of Prowls thinning patience, ultimately agreed and directed the battered cruiser to a docking point. Prowl would have thought Jazz would have a more difficult time navigating through the tedious checkpoints, but just as he had said, every person — mecha or organic— seemed to recognize him in some way. Now, Prowl wouldn’t have much to complain about that, but it was what they were calling him.
“Meister!” Exclaimed a tall organic with six arms. Before Prowl had left for the trip, he made sure to equip his universal translator, and now, the organic’s surprise was all the more clear. “So nice to see you back! I wasn’t expecting ya to return to Dominion so soon.”
“Ah, well,” Jazz resounded charmingly, despite having the translator impede verbal expression (he made up for it in his body language), “I wanted to take a close friend of mine around to see things.”
“Wonderful, wonderful!” The organic, with dizzying speed, began directing them to all sorts of repair centers and spots to sightsee. With unerring politeness, Jazz reciprocated the organic’s goodbyes and made his way to the station as if he owned it. By now, they were entering the planets atmosphere.
Jazz, as if the entire altercation hadn’t happened, explained where they were going to leave the cruiser. “Kepa is a good acquaintance of mine, he knows all the best repair joints around the planet. We’ll be in the capital tonight, so there’s a small place around this theater I wanted to show you.”
Prowl did not reply, keenly aware of where exactly they were.
Dominion was a planet of colors. Prowl could not see a point , even when focusing with his optics, where there was not a brightly decorated building, their star cruiser sputtered intermittently, but it did its job of carrying the both of them across the massive skyline transit. Much like Cybertrons cities, Dominion was layered —buildings dug themselves to the core of the planet, just as much as they scraped the sky.
Not only that, Dominion appeared to be a very well-known neutral planet. There were aliens of every kind, flying transports, walking across sky connections, traveling in large ships, eating from a cafe overhang or chatting with friends on the balcony of a million-story home. It was surreal, and Prowl found himself taking it all in. Just from the window of the cruiser alone, data pinged at him in waves, organic and inorganic alike. His wings lifted to catch it all.
Jazz, likely noticing his staring, seemed entirely too pleased from his seat beside him. He glanced occasionally at him while making a few turns to land right on an empty loading dock. “Amazin’, right?”
Prowl scanned the advertisement for the shop they landed upon, noting the claims of ‘stellar’ service and satisfied customers. He could only hope that was the case for them both. “Yes, it’s so…” Prowl struggled for a klik to find the right glyph for what he was thinking, “... alive.”
Hot air rose to meet them as Jazz secured the cruiser and opened the dock to allow them to exit. Just as Prowl was about to step out, Jazz grabbed him by the arm.
“Ya might need to shed those colors, mech,” Jazz gave him a sheepish once-over. It took Prowl a moment to realize what he was talking about.
“Oh.” After a brief command from his processing center, Prowls outer plating shifted. His Enforcer markings, clearly stamped upon his wings and shoulder pauldron, were now just colored plating that blended in with the rest of him. “Better?”
Jazz nodded in approval. “Wouldn’t usually ask ya to do that, Prowler, but ya know how the masses are with Cybertronians. Especially Cybertronian Enforcers.”
Prowl huffed, “Noted.”
After Prowl secured his briefcase in his berthroom, they stepped out to meet the repair master of the establishment. If his translator was to be trusted, the organic — a smaller, greener creature with large black eyes — would be taking care of cruiser. From a preliminary standpoint, Jazz had told him later, as they were walking down the winding steps to reach the Main Street, they had just blown two cooling components in both drives, and it would take about a day to fix.
Prowl sniffed as he stood waiting with Jazz at the intersection. Transports of all kinds whipped back and forth, and many aliens were touching his plating — his sides, his arms, brushing against his hyper-reactive wings; his protoform itched with nervousness as the data input became a cacophony in his helm. “And what exactly are we going to do in the meantime?” He had asked Jazz.
Jazz, entirely too comfortable in this environment, simply said, “Explore.”
Much too excited for his own good, Jazz then proceeded to drag Prowl across Dominion’s criss-crossing landscape for the next few joors. They entered some of the many shops lining the outside of the walkways. Wares from waxes to solvents to fashionable meshes took up the little abodes, where both mechs and organics tempted them to sample their items.
There was so much to see and so much to do, Prowl found himself drawn to one thing and then pulled away by another. It didn’t help that wherever they went, Jazz would be so accommodating and insist that he get him a trinket or a decoration he had been opticking. Even though he protested every single time, Jazz, as stubborn as he was, would not relent. Prowl ended up with an entire bag of souvenirs by the time the two of them had stopped to have a break.
They were now situated in a cafe overlooking a city drop, where buildings were built so high that they were dug into the earth. When Prowl peered over the railing at their small table, he was struck with a sense of vertigo; Dominion just kept going on and on and on, like it never ended. He watched as a transport passed underneath, narrowly avoiding a pedestrian transit.
Everything was so… chaotic. Yet somehow, it worked — like a hundred million jumbled puzzle pieces, but they were all moving and they managed to fit together despite their different shapes, sizes, and colors.
Prowl was brought out of his cultural appreciation when a server brought them a few drinks. He stared at the bubbling energon for a klik, meeting Jazz’s gaze over the glass.
“They really have everything here, don’t they?”
Jazz’s lips quirked, and Prowl found himself following them as he spoke. “Extra mica flakes, just ‘ow ya like em’.”
Prowl’s chassis grew hot. He quickly downed part of the drink so he could stop an unsightly giggle from escaping his dermas.
“You enjoyin’ yarself?”
Prowl perks up, still reeling from what had happened seconds earlier. He took his time in answering, rotating his cube this way and that. He glances around Dominion’s hellishly busy, but equally mesmerizing landscape and gives Jazz a smile.
“Yes, I am.” He answers honestly.
Jazz appeared pleased, a soft expression covering what very little Prowl could see of his face. He reached forward to clink his cube with Prowl’s. “To vacation!”
Prowl chuckles. “To vacation.”
It could have been natural, the way things change so quickly for both of them. One moment, they were peacefully enjoying their drinks in good company, and the next, several mechs and aliens surround Jazz like he was a celebrity at an off-world party. They pushed and jostled to get a sight of him, calling him Meister, and complaining that they hadn’t seen him in forever — like they were old friends that hadn’t spoken in vorns. Prowl’s mood instantly soured.
He attempted to rein back control over their pleasant evening, but he was promptly ignored, both by Jazz and by his gathering of friends. Annoyed, he lifted his wings into a ‘V’ attempted to physically push his way to Jazz; one of the aliens who stood outside of the group shot him a dark look and Prowl — head of Tactical Command, one of Optimus Prime’s best soldiers — shrank back.
He stood there for a while, trying to initiate small contacts of his EM to Jazz’s, in hopes he would tear himself away and say something like, “Oh, sorry guys, I’m here with a friend of mine!” or even “I’ve gotta go.”
But it never happened.
Jazz continued to chat with his “friends” like Prowl didn’t even exist and when he had enough, he pushes his way through the crowd and escapes. Driven by annoyance and hurt, he side-stepped the server entirely and exited onto the busy street, picking a direction and walking as far away as he could from the cafe out of spite.
Prowl could not remember how long he meandered for. He ran up and down stairs and turned so many corners that he was as lost as he could be. He knew he could probably access a satellite coordination system with a data net connection, but for some strange reason, he did not feel like doing so. The street was wide enough for his frame to pass through it, so he continued to walk without purpose.
Soon enough, he was flooded by neon light.
Prowl tilted his helm back and found out that he had ended up at the entrance of a galactic club of sorts. Customers of all creeds were wandering in, laughing and chatting with friends and family. The Praxian, having never felt more at a loss, found himself drawn to the sounds of cheers that drifted out between the opening doors.
Dominion, he realized, was thoroughly acclimated and inclusive of patrons of various sizes. Prowl still had no trouble passing through the doorway and making his way to a bar. Haggard and weary, he barely caught sight of his surroundings before collapsing into a chair at the bar. This familiar action reminded him all too much of difficult nights at the precinct, and his mood was immediately dampened all over again.
Thankfully, the bartender had engex in stock, and Prowl was all the more ready to drink his weight under the table. That wouldn’t be very smart. He chastised himself. You’re on a strange planet with strange people and you don’t know anyone here who could help you.
His fingers twitched uneasily over his half-empty cube. Unwillingly, his chassis began to grow hot.
So be it.
He downed the energon.
And then he ordered more.
And downed more.
Until he hit his limit just enough to the point where his processor felt fuzzy, and his entire frame could melt into the seat. Here, he was satisfied. Here, he felt lighter than he had been in four million years. And he was peaceful in wallowing in his self-pity and self-loathing up until the point someone tapped him on the shoulder pauldron.
Fearing that it was Jazz, he didn’t turn around at first. When drunk, his processor tends to play tricks on him as well, pretending as if someone called him when they hadn’t—
“My name’s Blink. What’s yours?”
A heavily accented voice, but not Jazz’s. Prowl instantly turned around to meet the blazing red optics of an unfamiliar mech.
He was giving him a coy smile, leaning against the counter with a single arm. The mech wasn't heavy-set, but lean and armored in vital spots. He was covered helm-to-pede in bright fabrics that stood out starkly against his fairly neutral plating — a yellow scarf draped around his neck, a green mesh around his left shoulder that reached towards his hips. Audial atteenaes framing a pretty, exotic face with mesmerizing ruby red optics. Whatever his alt-mode was, he could not tell. But, despite his strange appearance, the mech exuded a unique elegance only demonstrated in a culture not one's own.
“Been a while since I’ve seen another Cybertronian here, and a sad one at that… then again, all of us are sad nowadays, aren’t we?”
Prowl froze at the rich voice that exited the mechs dermas. It was lively and well-traveled. He most likely spoke many languages. Unable to think of a good reply, Prowl turned back towards his cube, neither denying the sudden company nor welcoming it. Blink decided to take his chance. He sidled up in the bar stool next to Prowl’s eagerly, knees brushing.
“Hope you don’t mind the company,” Blink said good-naturedly, as if reading Prowls mind.
He managed a faint shake of his helm, squeezing his elbows to his side so as to not bump into the mech.
Blink, as amiable as he seems, orders drinks, and it is only when Prowl has another fresh cube of sparkling energon in his servos again does he realize what the mech has done.
“Oh, you didn’t have to do that.” He grumbled, unwilling to be in debt to a stranger he had only met a few kliks ago on a far-away planet.
“Don’t worry about it!” Blink laughed, nudging Prowl on his arm. “It’s on me. You look like you need it.”
The Praxian winced, but he couldn't exactly deny that statement.
“Tell me then,” the mech hummed, adjusting himself so that his frame was turned towards Prowl. He had only just noticed how much larger the mech was than him. A full helm. “What may I call you?”
He bit the inside of his cheek, struggling for a lie. In the end, his processor puttered out and Prowl let his true name slip off his glossa.
“Prowl, hmm?” Blink purred. “Who left you all here by your lonesome?”
He really wasn’t the type to go out and do this. Prowl enjoyed his solitude—especially when he was drowning himself in his sorrows. To have a mech come up to him, openly flirting with him… it was flattering. He hadn’t been flirted with in vorns. He had forgotten how nice it was to be at the center of someone attention — in a positive way. The heat from Blink’s gaze alone seared along his chassis and up his neck, until his faceplates were burning underneath his scrutiny.
“No one in particular.” Prowl answered him, turning in his seat just a bit so he could optic Blink himself. How did this handsome mech even spot him at the bar, underneath his dark brooding cloud?
Blink smirked. “Well, you wouldn’t be here drinking yourself away if you didn’t have someone you were upset with.”
Prowl frowned, taking the chance to observe Blink closely while he thought of a reply. The mech was covered in markings and tattoos, just like Jazz. Now that he thought of it, some of them looked familiar.
“I'm on vacation with a close friend of mine,” Prowl found himself saying, aiming his attention towards the far corner of the club. There was a group of large organics covered in blue fur playing a drinking game. Their yelling could be heard over the din of the music. “The problem is, I don’t really know how to have fun. I believe…” he gnawed at his bottom lip. “I’ve forgotten how to.”
Prowl’s admittance drew a ponderous expression from Blink’s faceplates.
“Maybe you just haven’t gotten a chance to,” he winked, optics dimming to a smolder.
Prowl, thoroughly flustered, let out a dry laugh. “That is true.”
The mech raised his cube, “Then let’s toast! To good health and fun.”
The Praxian managed a small smile. He lifted his cube and clinked it with Blink’s. “To good health and fun.”
Prowl doesn’t know why, but something about Blink and his easy going attitude felt familiar. Despite being a complete stranger, he was comforting to be around, and Prowl kept running his glossa off as a result. They spent the next joor and a half just conversing — like old friends. It didn’t take long for Blink to find out he was an Enforcer.
“I recognize a holo-reflector when I see one,” he had said cheekily.
Wary at first, Prowl tried to deny it. But Blink was much more clever than he let on.
“Yes, our kind in general aren’t very welcome here,” Blink had now adjusted his setting, his back resting against the bar with his arms spread leisurely across it. “I can see why ya wanted to hide the fact that you’re a copper, they’re also not well liked here either —any kind of em’. But,” he shrugged, “Dominion is the only planet I know that will accept anyone, no matter from what corner of the galaxy you are.”
Prowl hummed, glancing around the club. Blink’s statement was very true. Now that he had the time to observe his surroundings, he discovered all sorts of foreigners from various regions. Their section was fit more for large organics and Cybertronian-like individuals. He fiddled with his empty cube just as three massive, rock-like aliens lumbered past with a purpose. Their steps shook the ground, and prowls optics trailed after their back as he struggled to remember where he had seen these organics before—
“Tetrans.” Blink filled in the gap for him. He turned to see that Blink was frowning after them. At his confusion, the mech explained. “When I said Dominion will accept anyone, I mean anyone. They’re the nastiest bunch here,” a scowl tugged at his lips, “traffickers and always stealing goods. Mess with them, and they won’t stop coming after ya ‘til you’re dead.”
Prowl frowned, stare hardening as his optics followed said Tetrans while they navigated the club. It appeared as if they were looking for someone, but after seeing that their target wasn’t there, they exited the establishment. The other patrons of the club moved out of their once they did, making sure not to step under their toes and casting dark looks their way. It seems that everyone on Dominion shared the same sentiments as Blink.
He was about to ask Blink how the state of politics on Dominion was, when there was a sudden change of music. From the fast snare of the club genre came a slower, more bass-like beat. Blink let out a gleeful cheer. “I love this song!” The mech practically slammed his empty cube onto the counter and leaned out of his chair faster than Prowl could follow.
“Come dance with me.” A servo stuck itself under his olfactory, and Prowl stared at it cross-eyed before he blurted out—
“I can't dance.”
Blink rolled his optics, groaning, “Oh come on now, don’t give me that attitude, Prowl!”
Without waiting for his answer, Blink latched onto his arm and dragged him up onto the dance floor. Prowl, shocked, tripped over his own pedes before Blink caught him and righted him on his struts. “I told you, I can’t—!”
The mech ignored him, trailing a servo down his chassis until it rested on his hip. Expertly, Blink’s other servo slipped into his own, guiding it behind to rest it on his back. He pulled Prowl flush against him, just until their front bumpers barely touched.
“Just sway side to side,” Blink encouraged. They moved gently to the rhythm and Prowl felt like he might offline from the embarrassment itself. He refused to meet Blink’s mesmerizing optics or see his handsome smile — he might lose whatever inhibition he had left.
It took him a while to loosen himself up. The Praxian just couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was doing something wrong. Which was ridiculous — he was a single mech just enjoying the company of another, why should that be a wrongdoing at all? It helped that Blink was a natural at dancing; it eased some of the anxieties he had about standing up on the floor with so many other patron couples. Blink never once scolded him for stepping on his pedes, and worked with their height difference so professionally that Prowl couldn’t help but wonder. This is when he mustered up enough courage to look up the mech. Blink was watching him expectantly, optics gleaming under the low-light.
“You’re not doing so bad, Prowl,” he complimented, the corner of his dermas quirking up. “You sure about that whole ‘can’t dance’ thing?”
Prowl scoffed. “I’m sure.” They separated for a brief moment, before Blink pulled him back in with a little spin. The motion was enough to make Prowl chuckle. “What about yourself? Where did you learn to dance so well?”
“Lots of practice,” he winks, and Prowl wrinkles his nose. Blink laughs, “Not like that! I dance for fun here. It’s sorta a hobby for me. Been doing it for a long while now.”
“Oh?” Prowl furrows his brow. “For how long exactly?”
“Hmm, about four million years.”
Prowls brows instantly shot up. He opticked Blink for a klik, convinced that he was lying. But the mech kept a solemn expression and the Praxian shook his helm in confusion. “How could that be? You came here before the war?”
Blink, for the first time that evening, frowned. His expression turned dark and his optics were like dying embers. A mix of anger and sadness twisted his pretty face. “Yes. I left just before they halted transport evacuations. Stole a small escape pod and set course for a planet I could hide out in.” He laughed bitterly. “Dominion was the first and last. Never did get the chance to leave and I ended up liking where I was.” Blink shrugged, his faceplates softening again. His grip on Prowls waist tightened by a fraction. “I did some bad things on Cybertron, I’m sure whoever rules the planet now wouldn’t want me back.”
Prowl opened his dermas, and then close them again. He was unbelievably curious and equally dumbfounded. Then again, as he thought of it, many mecha must have made the escape from Cybertron in the same way. To think, countless Cybertronians have hidden themselves away across the galaxy, fearful to return to a supposedly dead planet — it saddened him.
He was just about to explain — convince Blink that Cybertron was not a wasteland any longer. The war was over, and the planet was welcoming anymech and everymech who had the desire to return and become accepted as a people once more. But, he was interrupted.
A strong EM pulse shattered his sense of peace. His communication center was bombarded by several staccato glyphs that represented relief, worry, anger. :: Prowl! ::
Prowl turned, letting go of Blink just as he saw his friend barreling towards them. Jazz grabbed his shoulder pauldron and pulled him back just a bit too forcefully. The Praxian growled in response, “Jazz, what are you—?”
“Your close friend, I’m guessin’?” Blink asked, his pleased grin widening.
Jazz wasn’t in a good mood, Prowl could tell. Despite Blink’s relatively friendly demeanor and his playful EM field, Jazz was noticeably tense. For a mech so adaptable and receptive to others, it was telling. He took a step between Blink and Prowl, looming, even while Blink was a helm taller than him.
“We got ta’ go, Prowler,” Jazz's voice came out low and controlled. “Hyperdrive is fixed.”
He shuttered his optics. “What?”
“I said,” Jazz turned, visor bright with warning, “that the hyperdrive is fixed.”
The slow bass that was playing seconds before had been replaced yet again with the pounding snare of club music. The mechs stood there, opticking each other, as if daring one to make a move, just as the party crowd swarmed around them. The club patrons shoved past, bouncing and swaying, unaware of the tension around them. It was Blink who broke it first.
“Well, it was wonderful to meet ya, Prowler. Hope we can see each otha’ again soon.” He called out over the noise, sending him another heated wink. Jazz bristled, grabbing Prowl’s arm and dragging him away before he even got the chance to say anything.
“Jazz—Wait,” he stuttered, managing to wrench his helm back to catch a glance of Blink before he blending into the crowd. An unfamiliar comm. signature instantly pinged him. He opened it quickly.
:: If you ever need a favor, I’m your mech. ::
When they finally got outside, Prowl tore his arm away from Jazz’s tight grip and snarled at him. His EM field expanded, thorny with annoyance. “What is with you!” He exclaimed, staring at his friend incredulously. “You can’t just pull me along when you feel like it!”
“You disappeared and I had no idea where you went.” Jazz said flatly. “Why’d ya jus’ go off and wander like tha’?”
Prowl snorted in indignation. “You seemed to be too busy with your friends to even worry about me until they all left.”
Jazz’s EM field retracted, an obvious sign of shame. “Prowl,” his voice had softened, “I hadn’t meant—“
“Jazz, for Primus’ sake, how many times are you going to say that. Stop!” Prowl shouted.
People turned their helms and appendages, skirting a clear pathway around the two arguing mechs. Prowl ex-vented and ex-vented, unable to take the stale, hot air out of his systems. He felt like he was going to pass out all over again. He lowered his helm, wings falling in turn.
“Let’s just get to the ship.”
Luckily, Jazz said nothing. He merely turned and began walking to a stairway that wrapped up and above the galactic club. Since Prowl had no idea how to get back to the repair shop, he followed—but at a considerable distance behind. It took about 40 kliks of walking time to reach the cruiser; Prowl had definitely meandered farther than he had expected. Part of him felt guilty that he had left Jazz without mentioning to him that he was going to explore. But another part of him stung with hurt over the fact that Jazz had ignored him. Only fitting in his schedule when he had a slot open.
Sullen and distracted, Prowl paid no attention to the alien who repaired their ship. He muttered something along the lines of a thank you and entered the cruiser as if his spark depended upon it. Without sparing Jazz a glance, he made sure to slam the door to his berthroom extra hard.
The next joor, he heard and felt the cruiser lift itself off of the dropping point and further in Dominion’s airspace. Where Jazz was taking him next, he could care less.
More joors pass, and there were no sounds outside in the cabin. Prowl cannot sleep. He keeps turning in his berth, tangling the mesh between his legs. His optics are open, watching the stars pass by in the depth of space. He crosses his arms tightly over his chassis, as if trying to squeeze out the hurt.
He wonders if this trip had been a mistake.
A Sight To See
An entire cycle passes just like that. Prowl intermittently woke up during travel, and once he saw that they were still in cosmic transit, he rolled over and shut off his optics. This continued until he had surrounded enough courage, yet again, to leave his berth room.
When he finally stepped out, joors later, the lights had been dimmed and the console room was still. He approached his chair cautiously, expecting a waiting Jazz to scare him around the corner—but no such thing happened. Prowl sat down at the front with a long sigh, wings tucked as low as they could be. He fiddled with the buttons, just for something to do, and even considered plugging himself into the monitor again. Perhaps he could sift through the maintenance files and double-check that everything was in order—
“I know what you’re thinkin’, don’t even try it,” Jazz spoke up from behind. Prowl stiffened.
A gentle servo on his arm was felt before Jazz’s EM field brushed across his plating. A mixture of sadness, regret, affection so genuine that he allowed his own uncertain field to reach out and meet it, if just to soothe a bit of the pain.
It was silent for a joor. Jazz had moved away, giving Prowl just enough distance. His attempts at conversation were not shot down, but they weren’t exactly encouraged either. Prowl gave short replies, and that seemed to satisfy the Polyhexian enough.
They were sitting comfortably (as comfortably as they could be in two console seats) when their systems suddenly started blaring a warning. Prowl’s wings shot up in surprise as the glyphs on the notification system read as follows:
EXPANDING NEBULA: CAUTION
They watched in awe as a massive cloud of interstellar dust spread like spilled paint in front of their suspended ship. The stellar material whipped across their view like a reel, glowing in translucent red, green, blue, and purple. As the cloud spread further and further from its from center, the colors became darker and richer. Jazz guided the cruiser just a few more meteons out and angled it so that they could see the core remnants of the star the nebula once was.
Beautiful. Prowl thought. Nebulae were common in the universe, but it was one thing to stumble upon them and be at an appropriate enough distance so that you could observe them. If the cruiser had approached at a steeper angle, they would have been too close to the center—hot enough to melt even the toughest starships, let alone their small transport. The two of them, aware of this, watch the spectacular sight unfold.
Kliks later, he heard Jazz moving behind him, likely heading Into the back of the cruiser. Prowl perks up when he returns, offering a cube of warmed energon. He didn’t say anything, but he understood the motion as a peace offering. The Praxian accepted, and they shared the first genuine smiles of the journey. Their EMs tangled together like they had so many times during the war. When nights were difficult Prowl remembered they often spent them together, enjoying the company of another who understood him. He desperately tried to understand why that had changed from the moment Jazz returned to Cybertron.
Without prompting, Jazz slid into his own seat, energon cube steaming on the console in front of him. Prowl, allowing the contact, gave Jazz the chance to place his chair closer.
“I travelled a lot while I was gone,” he began, gaze reverently trained on the nebula. “Only saw this kind of sight once. It was in t’ Sigma cluster, large red giant shed off its core and I spent ‘bout fourteen joors, parked there and watching.” He chuckled, leaning back and meeting Prowl’s optics. The light reflected upon Jazz’s plating, but he seemed to possess a glow that rivaled even the nebula. He shimmered like a star itself. “Ya know what I did see a lot of? Bunch o’ asteroids. Hate those fraggers, hard to see ‘em when they’re not in a solar system, no light and all that. Black holes, too. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m only afraid o’ two things, black holes are one o’ them.”
Amusement tugged at Prowl’s dermas. “Black holes you say? What’s the other one?”
Jazz gave him a wan smile. “It’s a secret,” he says, a servo now bringing the drink to his mouth. Prowl waits until Jazz is finished before prodding further.
“You were around the galaxy the whole time?”
The Polyhexian’s smile finally drops. He lowers his drink, but keeps his visor focused upon it. He appears introspective — like he was remembering something. “Optimus asked me ta’ follow big Decepticon names that left Cybertron after t’ peace treaty.” He frowned. “Didn’t trust them not ‘ta start trouble, so he decided ta’ send me ‘ta keep an eye on ‘em. Better to know, tha’ way we could send others to deal with them ahead of time.”
Prowl narrowed his optics, thinking about the time last vorn that Jazz had abruptly disappeared Cybertron. He had come back to his empty apartment to find a brief voice message from Bluestreak telling him that his best friend had left the planet. He had been so betrayed that he had not even bothered to ask Optimus for the truth. As he thought about it, Optimus might not have done so, anyways. If the material had been sensitive, Prowl, as a measly Enforcer, did not have a high enough clearance for access.
Jazz continued, his derma lifted in a bitter smile. “I traveled t’ whole galaxy, Prowler. Never stayed in one place for too long. Saw a lot of slag I wish I could’a fixed. Barely pulled out of some missions alive.”
There was a short pause. Prowl’s tanks filled with worry.
“I realized…” Jazz whispered, “... I realized I couldn’t keep pretendin’ for Prime. No matter ‘ow much he needed it.”
Prowl listened without saying anything, watching the light from the nebula dance across jazz’s face. He understood the double-meaning of his words. He understood what it felt like when a mech reached his true limit. When he finishes his brief tale he looks at the Praxian next to him with a sudden purpose.
“We’ve been through a lot haven’t we?”
“That’s why I came back.”
The Praxian meets his visor, confused. Jazz is smiling sadly. “Maybe you haven’t noticed it. Not surprised, you are the type to hyperfocus. You’re so good at pickin’ out the details that you tend to miss th’ big picture. Ya were always like tha.’”
Brows furrowed, Prowl’s processor boosted its speed to try to understand what Jazz was trying to say. Instead, the mech interrupts him by clapping a servo on his shoulder pauldron. He squeezed it lightly, palm warm against Prowl’s plating. “It’s alright. I'll wait, and then we’ll talk more abou’ that.”
Prowl, although unsatisfied, leaves it at that, leaning back in his seat. The two of them end up scooting closer, enjoying the rest of their drinks in peaceful, colorful silence.
Prowl continues to have nightmares and strange dreams, mostly reminders from the war. More and more often he is finding processing errors in his central capacitor, and it is leaving him worried. Slight miscalculations are adding up, and no matter how much he tries to purge the errant data, it refuses to leave him. It appears that a future burnout is impossible to avoid. He could only hope it does not come at the wrong time.
He awakens from yet another nightmare on their fourth cycle of travel from Dominion, shaking. As Prowl sat up in his berth, the energon in his head rushed and pounded in his helm. He felt like his spark was beating in his throat. Deciding that he needed to drink something, he exited his room to grab something from the dispenser.
Jazz, just as he had for the past cycles, was waiting for him in the console room. As Prowl enters there is a slight twitch in his servos, and his wings are spread wide and high without prompting, scanning for threats that were not there — like there were ghosts following him. He ends up sitting at the ship’s control panel and staring out into the speckled darkness of space. Observant as always, Jazz alights on him with an unprecedented speed.
“Couldn’t sleep either?” He asked, voice touched with concern. The mech leaned against the console, arms crossed over his chassis.
Prowl nodded, placing his cube on the panel since he did not trust his shaking hands. He stares out into space with hooded, darkened optics. The vestiges of his memory purge remain and he could still feel the tension flooding his systems. Distantly, he thinks he could hear someone shouting at him.
“Prowl, look at me.” He finally turns to look at Jazz, noticing how dim his visor was. “Ya have to talk about these things. It's not healthy t’ hold it in.”
Prowl scoffs. “I don’t see you doing the same.” Something about his comment struck Jazz the wrong way. The other mech shifted and frowned deeply, as if greatly unsettled.
Prowl backtracks, ”—I’m sorry.”
Jazz shakes his head, laughing dryly. “Both of us are all kinds of fragged up, huh?”
Prowl drops his helm into his servos at Jazz’s statement, silently agreeing to it. He ex-vents, finally feeling his plating settle properly against his protoform. Nothing is said between them — not until their panel lights up with proximity sensors. He hears Jazz sit at his chair once again, hitting commands. Distanly, Prowl feels the transport tilt, likely in avoidance of some obstruction. He doesn’t look up until the pain in his processor dulls somewhat.
“I thought that, after the war,” he began slowly, softly, “I would be accepted, at least tolerated. Mechs would understand what position I was put in.” Prowl swallows — the lump returned in his throat again. It was becoming very obnoxious. “I realize, after listening, that perhaps I put too much faith in what I believed was right.”
Jazz listens, opticking him with a serious expression. He had a servo resting on the thruster, tilting it forward just slightly to accelerate the ship. They had recently stopped at a solar system on their way through their tour. While there, Jazz had refueled the energon tanks on board and supplied them with some Engex. Now, he didn’t quite know where they were going, but Prowl now felt a sense of excitement at the prospect of what was next. He tried to think about that rather than the oppressive memories that were taking up space in the back of his mind.
“You were never ‘cold,’ sweetspark,” Jazz spoke up, giving him an understanding look.
Prowl’s spark fluttered unwillingly at the pet name. He rested a servo over his chassis. “W-What do you mean?”
Jazz hums. “I heard the rumors. ‘Prowl sacrificed mechs for the mission!’ an’ ‘He has no spark. He’s a machine.’” He shook his head. “I never believed tha’ slag for a klik.”
The Praxian blinked, a warmth spreading from the tip of his chevron to the bottom of his pedes. He felt all fuzzy inside, his spark whirling like a terrified petro-rabbit’s. Prowl snatched his drink from the console and downed it in hopes of hiding his blue faceplates. It was intriguing how easily Jazz knew how to make him feel better.
*****With all mention of Cybertron and past struggles put aside, Prowl managed to utter a grateful thank you. Jazz seemed relieved, and eagerly brought up another topic before he could decide otherwise.
“Did you know,” Jazz brings up, a grin on his face, “That there is a planet filled with aliens born from stars?”
Prowl blinks at the thought, turning his body to face his friend. “No? What do you mean?”
Jazz’s grin widens. “There’s a planet near GC567, a high-mass star, about two jumps away. Didn’t visit the planet, but I met someone from it. Prowler, there’s a whole race of organics that are born from parent stars.”
Prowl’s brows raise. “Organics?”
Jazz hesitates, and then shrugs, “Sort of. They’re made of light. Like humans but uh… more glow-y. The… un-tethered, spiritual type. I had a job early in my mission to go to an illicit goods center, ended up finding one o’ their kind there. They’re ambassadors, traveling to other worlds and spreading peace an’ what-not. But, because they’re more vulnerable, they get stolen for their light very often. Rare as they are, I helped one out of the place without thinking. They helped me get out an’ everythin’. Offered me plus-one ticket to visit their planet — it’s usually under high security, an’ only very important people can enter.” He looked at Prowl. “Would ya like to stop by?”
Prowl didn’t think long about his answer. “Yes… why not?”
The Solar Point
Two jumps later, they enter the Azeminian cosmic space.
Gamma-C 567 instantly exploded into view as soon as their transport alighted upon the heavily secure atmospheric space. Jazz had to rotate the ship away from the star and lengthen the shades on their windows before they could continue further. Prowl, still suffering from his processor ache, felt his optics sear for two kliks afterwards from the strength of the radiation.
“It ain’t called ‘high mass,’ for nothin’” Jazz joked, earning him a teary glare from Prowl.
Azeminian security, as expected, was highly dense. Prowl could have compared it to Luna 2’s security protocols back on Cybertron — it was almost unnerving.
They went through multiple high-capacity scanners and border posts. Inside the police transports were not the aliens that Jazz had described. They were larger, rounder creatures with a red skin and multiple eyes and muscular arms. They had pulled up and while Jazz was reciting his travel codes, and Prowl observed closely. One of them was as least half a body-length taller than both Jazz and himself. When Prowl gave Jazz a side-glance after they pulled away, he proceeded to explain. “Kaeppians. They get hired for security and police work, I’m guessin.’”
Prowl could most certainly see why.
By some miracle they had managed to push through all the security without a single stop, and when they rounded the last security cruiser, they saw Azeminia in all its glory.
Tall, marble-white obelisks rose as they followed the skyline transit into the airspace. They descended in height alongside them, tracing the route for them. In the distance, Prowl could see the sparkling city of Azeminia’s center. He was made aware by jazz that the planetoid was also partially a space station, with enough capacity to house the entire Azeminian population. The feat of construction and design rivaled Cybertron.
They landed upon a glimmering stone, free of any other vehicles, where a drone appeared to be waiting for them. Prowl was able to slip a few things into his briefcase before he followed Jazz out.
“Welcome to Azeminia,” the drone greeted smoothly, speaking in perfect Cybertronian. “Your escort will be arriving shortly.”
With that, the drone flew away, and Prowl gave Jazz another one his looks. It was becoming so common he might as well never turn his helm away.
“What? You keep lookin’ at me like tha’ and I migh’ just make ya stay behind in the cruiser.”
Prowl, entirely surprised by such a bold statement, had to cover his mouth to hide a laugh. Jazz chuckled openly, nudging him with his arm. “Funny, huh? What if I actually mean it—”
A bubbly voice interrupted whatever Jazz was about to say. Up ahead, a ball of light was barreling at them at high speeds. Prowl, expecting laser fire, grabbed Jazz’s arm to pull him to the side. The supposed laser fire, however, stopped right before them — and squealed happily.
“It’s so nice to see you again!” That melodic voice greeted — Prowl realized the sound had been coming from the ball of light. He shuttered his optics several times, struck by the weirdest alien he had ever seen.
“Was the trip okay? I hope those brutes up there didn’t give you too much trouble…”
Jazz smiled politely, tilting his helm down in respect. “It was as smooth as can be,” he answered the little creature, charm turned on to its ultimate setting. “You here to escort us around?”
Prowl, still completely confused, hailed Jazz on his frequency. :: Could you please tell me what we are doing? ::
:: Just a sec. ::
The Praxian sniffied haughtily, wings lifting in irritation. Did he really expect him to just stay silent and—
“My name is Alula.” The alien said. It was at this moment, with them towards him, that he could see their eyes and the faint features of a jaw, neck, and torso with limbs. Other than that, Jazz had been right. Azeminians were actually light. They glowed ethereally, like they were tiny stars themselves, generating their own heat. Standing just a mere metron away, Prowl could feel the warmth radiating off their little body. “Welcome to Azeminia!
Prowl felt himself relaxing minutely. The more he observed the planet around them, the more it appeared to be a real vacation spot. He could see a robust, marbled building just a bit off to the distance from them. To the far left of the transport, he spotted an elevated pool. There were other visitors freely splashing and chattering together from their reclining chairs and umbrellas. To the right, there seemed to be a shopping mall. Azeminians and their companions, along with a few foreigners, all browsed from shop to shop, enjoying the sights and contemplating what to buy. Turning back to Alula, dumbfounded, Prowl hadn’t expected a planet with such high-security at its borders to have much of a healthy economy.
“—This is my close friend, Prowl,” Jazz said, just as Prowl’s processor caught up to where it was again. He managed a quick nod of greeting, copying what Jazz had down earlier with his slight bow. Who knows, perhaps it was the custom on the planet.
Alula floated up to Prowl’s optic level, her light flickering in quick succession — probably mimicking a form of greeting. “It's so nice to finally meet you, Prowl. Jazz talked a lot about you, you know.”
Was it just him or did they just wink at him?
“Pleasure is all mine,” he responded, now shooting Jazz another glare, disguised behind a smirk. “I sure do hope you heard good things.”
Alula’s laugh was like a bell chime. “Oh, they were. I don’t think Jazz could speak ill of you if he tried!”
“Y’all, would ya please…?” Jazz said exasperatedly, rubbing the back of his helm in embarrassment.
The Azeminian appeared delighted, her arms waving back and forth at their sides. “Right, right, we have a tour to go on. Let’s get going then, shall we?”
Prowl, deciding that he liked this Alula, did not hesitate to step after the Azeminian, who floated at their height to make things easier for the both of them. Jazz followed, albeit reluctantly, likely sore from the teasing.
“Azeminia is a large, station transport built into a planetoid. The sun never truly sets here, it is up in the sky for most of the day and ‘night.’” Alula explained as they drifted along, pointing out a few stray landmarks and important buildings. “Now, the only people we let in to truly experience our culture are tourists, selected by a ticketing system. But,” she turned back, sending both mechs a sly grin, “I have some leeway to work around the rules.”
As Alula bobbed away a bit father, Jazz caught the chance to whisper in his audial. “Alula is a Grand Ambassador — she gets all the perks on the planet.” Prowl nodded, filing away that knowledgeable bit in the back of his processor. He couldn’t help but wonder who exactly had the gall to kidnap one of the leading representatives of a highly respected planet of solar people. Prowl watched as a family of Cybertronian-like mechs passed by them — while they were obviously not from their home planet, it was clear that were not entirely organic either. He found himself looking around, eager to absorb as much information as he could.
Alula lead them further into the bustle, and Prowl stuck close to Jazz in order not to lose him. They came upon a fancy building, connected below to a lavish restaurant, with drones flitting in and out, serving customers. Prowl, already slightly overwhelmed, cut off some sensory pathways in his wings in order to lessen the cacophony. Jazz, noticing his tension, gave him a reassuring smile. His servo briefly brushed against his own, and Prowl twitched his in response. While he didn’t reach out for the offered comfort, he did return his smile — it was now becoming more common.
“This way!” Alula called enthusiastically, distracting the both of them. Despite being their guide, she had a tendency to rush ahead and become overly excited about every little object she could show them. Prowl, not the type to enjoy silly trinkets, still found the little creature endearing and genuine. She was hard to dislike. All Azeminians, as he passed by, appeared to hold a certain warmth.
“Look Meister!” She pointed just then at a large statue in a massive courtyard. They had passed the restaurant area and came upon a garden, open to the bright sky. “This is the crystal statue I mentioned to you!”
His friend nodded, leaving Prowl’s side for a moment to look upon the work of art. His servos at his hips, Jazz nodded. “What a sight…”
Alula beamed, quite literally. The glow that surrounded her brightened by a margin. “The Solar Point,” she said reverently, “It is aligned with our star so that when it reaches the Divine Moment, its light is casted all over Azeminia.”
The statue was large, taller than both Cybertronians. It was a four-pointed star, with intricate designs following the arch of the halo that encircled it. Text was written in Azeminian on a mounted plaque below. Prowl could only translate a few lines from his database, but from Alula’s description, he concluded it was a sort of religious monument.
When the light falters
Only then shall we know our strength
Jazz sent a message with additional commentary. :: Since they're all born from this parent star, they consider it a life-giver — like Primus. ::
Prowl tilts his helm up to look closely at the designs of the monument. He hummed in appreciation. It truly was a sight to see. Already, the crystal glimmers in the light from above. He couldn’t imagine how beautiful it would be when it was at its peak in the solar revolution.
“You two are lucky to have come the time you did,” Alula chirps, bouncing in her flight from the height of the monument. “The Divine Ball is going to be during tonight’s late-cycle!”
“Divine Ball?” Jazz repeats, equally as lost as Prowl was. “Ya didn’t mention that the last time I saw ya!”
Alula giggles. “We barely had the time to chit-chat the last time we were together, Meister!”
Jazz glanced over at Prowl as if he would have an answer. The Praxian just shrugged, as if saying What are you looking at me for?
The Azeminian came to Jazz, sitting upon his shoulder pauldron. “The Divine Ball is the final late-cycle before the Divine Moment — it is when our star’s light aligns with the Solar Point and spreads it power across the planet. It marks the moment when we were all born. We have a celebration and everything. It is the biggest holiday on Azeminia!”
Jazz gave Alula a bedazzling smile, his arms now crossed at his chassis. “Well, Alula, we would be honored to attend.”
With a cheer and a leap off his shoulder, Alula was absolutely delighted. “Wonderful! I will get you both situated. You’ll get the full package — we shall make sure you two are absolutely stunning!”
As soon as Jazz and Prowl were left alone in their luxurious hotel room, Prowl immediately began ranting.
“A ball?!” He exclaimed hoarsely. “Jazz, I’m barely capable of dancing. Let alone attending a ball.”
Prowl couldn’t see it, but from the quirk of Jazz’s dermas, he was most likely raising a brow plate. “You seemed to be dancing just fine at the club.”
Prowl quieted, crossing his arms and turning away. “That didn’t mean anything,” he explained rapidly. “It was just…”
Jazz brushed past him, heading into the spacious living room. It was only when his EM field connected with his own that he realized that Jazz was teasing him. “Scared to dance with me, Prowler?” Jazz smirked, looking over his shoulder at him as he walked to the couch.
He felt himself grow hot. “No! I — I can dance with you no problem!”
Jazz grins, looking accomplished. “Alright then,” he plops onto the furniture, stretching out his pedes on the stone table. “I’ll take ya word for it.”
Defeated, Prowl sighs. He heads over to the small communication console by door. He might as well ask for the itinerary.
Out of all the things Prowl expected out of this vacation, he certainly didn't predict this.
The Grand Ambassador seems to have gone all out.
They had barely settled in when another drone pinged their door and ushered them away to a spa. A spa. Prowl cannot remember the last time he had been at a spa in his entire life-cycle. At the most, he might have tidied up with a fancier polish or wax — but never this.
He stepped tentatively into a hot solvent bath, holding back a pleased sigh as the warmth seeped deep into his struts. He didn’t want to enjoy this so much, but he couldn’t help himself. It hit his sore and aching protoforms, exposing raw wiring that he hadn’t even detected. The area where his wing had been wrenched felt like it was finally loosening. When he finally sank to past his shoulder pauldrons, he closed his optics and merely enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Jazz had mentioned to him that Azeminians were so sought out because their inner light had incredible healing properties. While Prowl had been getting ready in the other room, Azeminians lit the various lanterns around the room with their light. They all glowed in similar shades of soothing blue — it was enough to calm even Prowl’s whirlwind processor. He was about to drift off into a light doze when the water shifted next to him; Jazz’s outline became visible only from the dim blue glow of the lanterns.
Prowl could hear the hum of a sparkbeat not his own. An EM field touched his own curiously, friendly and welcoming. He allowed it to meld slowly with his. Awareness returned to him just as steam rose and fogged his view, but he could clearly see Jazz’s optics smouldering above the water.
“It’s nice, ain’t it?” His friend asked.
Prowl, partly mesmerized, nods faintly. “Yes. They’ve outdone themselves.”
He had seen Jazz without his visor on so little occasions that he could count it on one servo. The last had been vorns ago, at the peak of war. A miscalculation, an errant mistake on his part sent him scrambling into enemy fire. Jazz had become compromised. They hid in a crumbling bomb shelter while he desperately tried to stop the bleeding in Jazz’s right optic. He cupped his cheek so earnestly, holding a medical patch around his injury as best as he could — when Jazz smiled. It reached his optics, a soft joy that only Jazz could give off, and Prowl found himself struck by some hidden force.
He was smiling at him now, again, a gentle look that Prowl could not get enough of. “May I hear ya thoughts, mech?” Jazz inquiries.
Prowl, startled out of his daydreaming, realized that he hadn’t moved in about two kliks. “Sorry, drifted off.”
The rich chuckles rolled off Jazz’s mouth. “I can see tha’.”
Prowl, to avoid being lost in those dazzling optics any longer, found himself tilting his helm back to rest against the edge of the pool. He let out another ex-vent as he gazed upon the intricate tile design of the ceiling.
“Are ya happy, Prowl?”
He whipped his helm back down and met Jazz with a poleaxed expression. “What does that mean?” He questioned, more defensive than he had intended. His thoughts had immediately jumped to the last time he had asked him that very question — suspended in a cafe above Dominion, an evening that had turned out to be less than ideal.
Jazz appeared sad. “This trip wasn’t ideal for ya. I was jus’ wonderin’ how ya feel now.”
He thought about it for a moment, his brow plates furrowing. “Yes,” he started hesitantly, “it wasn’t ideal at the start but… I find that I’m enjoying myself here.” Prowl finished by sending a genuine smile Jazz’s way. The mech’s faceplates lifted with relief.
“I’m glad,” he said.
It was true, Prowl realized later on, just when they finished their nice bath and were led into separate drying chambers. Prowl had stood underneath the blowing air, barely aware of how the Azeminians were picking out colored mesh for him to wear.
He was happy. Happier than he had been in a long time. Separated from the planet he had given everything for… it had given him another perspective. While he truly wished to see Cybertron rise to what it had once been, Prowl knew he couldn’t be the one to make sure that happened. He needed to better himself. Being preceded by his own reputation, the animosity, the day-to-day struggle — it hadn’t been good for him. Ratchet, curse his intuition, had been right. He wasn’t just ignoring that now either, he truly believed it.
Prowl glanced down at his servo, clenching and unclenching the digits. His processor was more capable now. His logic center was operating at a higher capacity than it had for an entire vorn. He could probably make use of his tactical center at almost full-strength. While the prospect of that excited him, he decided not to turn it on quite yet. One day, he will have to remove his pseudo-battle computer as well. Initially placed early in his life, Prowl made use of its presence in order to trick mechs into thinking he was processing logic catalogs through it. Truthfully, Prowl never once turned it on. It caused him to glitch and shut-down. He managed to get through most of the war that way, a hidden trick up his sleeve. In reality, it was all done through his own processor.
When the Azeminians finished him up, Prowl shook himself out of his deep thoughts to take a look in the mirror — and he was stunned by what he saw.
His plating, polished to an unbelievable shine, had also been lightly marked in designs. A faint pattern on his shoulder pauldrons, another on the side of his face — just enough to glimmer when he turned his helm this way and that. It looked like he had just been forged.
Prowl thanked the Azeminians, gratefully bending his frame in a bow as a sign of respect and gratitude — an action he had learned from his observation of Alula when they had been given a tour. Accommodating like no other, they led him back into the lobby, chattering happily like fairies. They complimented him and turned him this way and that.
“Have fun!” One says. “The Divine Ball is a sight to see!”
“Yes,” another adds. “We hope you enjoy it!”
Prowl, facing the door leading into the Azeminian Grand Hallway, mutters under his breath.
“I hope so too.”
The walk to the ball would take about 20 kliks. Prowl was surprised that the complex they were in was so extensive. It appeared that the Azeminians built their important buildings in accordance to the Solar Point — the light must touch every solid surface in order to bless their living space. He was having difficulty navigating one of the main courtyards when Alula seemed to appear out of nowhere.
“Prowl!” She called him sweetly, her light blinking as a form of greeting. The Praxian wiggled his wings in his own form of a traditional hello.
“Nice to see you again, Alula,” he greeted in return, “I assume you’re here to guide me…?”
She laughed and Prowl shifted slightly out of embarrassment. “Yes, I am. No worries, Prowl, many get lost in our halls. I have another friend of mine taking Jazz. It is customary for partners to enter on opposite sides of the ballroom.”
Prowl choked on some oral lubricant. “P-Partners?”
Alula tilts her ethereal head. “You and Jazz are partners, are you not?”
He swallows, feeling his spark spin faster. “Ah — yes, but not quite… I mean we are, but…”
Alula, even though she had no facial features of any kind, looked entirely too pleased with herself. “Complicated, I am to assume?”
Prowl nodded, refusing to say anything in fear of stuttering. Alula merely shakes her head, her light almost blinding. “No matter! I hope you both have a grand evening regardless! Shall we get going?”
He took a finally glance around his frame, noting the sparkling polish, the lavish mesh, and the strange happiness that he felt radiating from his EM field. Not around any other mechs of his kind, he allowed it to expand.
“Yes. Lead the way.”
The Grand Hallways feeds into two narrower, vaulted passageways. Alula led him through the second, adorned from floor to ceiling with crystals. It seemed to guide them on their path, reflecting light on and off with their passage. Prowl knew they were approaching the ballroom because the distant murmur of voices and laughter was becoming louder and louder. At the final archway, Alula moved aside, gesturing for Prowl to walk through. She gave him one last reassuring word of comfort before he went along his route. Prowl’s pedes hit smooth stone just as he finally entered the splendor of the Divine Ball.
A space, large enough to have filled a stadium on Cybertron extended out before him. A golden room, highlighted by floating blue lights of Azeminian design.The ballroom was dressed in the finest decor. Drapery hung from the arched ceilings, cascading down to the crowd below. People of all shapes and sizes, Azeminians and guests alike, alighted onto the floor below. It felt as if he was stepping into a cavern of stars. An opening from the vaulted ceiling brought in pure sunlight, so much of it that the mech had to squint and adjust his optic sensors. Prowl, struck by the grandeur, forgot that he was supposed to be walking along the stone cutaway to meet Jazz — supposedly on the other side.
When he reached the end, he was relieved to find him. Jazz had likely made it earlier than he had, and was already chatting with a large organic.
Prowl, as if he wasn’t already in awe over Azeminian decorating, was ever more shocked over Jazz’s appearance.
He had always been handsome, but now…. There was no hiding the way his servos shook with anticipation, and how his spark fluttered at the sight of him. Jazz’s sleek plating had been buffed and polished to perfection, highlighting the tattoos and designs that were winding up his finely-shaped thighs and arms. While he was speaking, he was grinning and waving a servo to gesticulate. His visor gleamed, accentuating the sharp lines and dips in his faceplates. More stunning, Prowl concluded, than the design of the ballroom. For sure.
Prowl was hit with the sudden desire to be closer, and he reached out to grab his free servo without thinking.
Jazz whirled around. Surprise melted into genuine excitement when he realized who finally made it.
“Prowl,” he breathed. “There ya are. Ya look… amazin’.”
The Praxian lowered his helm, but refused to pull his optics away. “Thank you,” he said shyly, “You do too.”
They stared at each other for a klik, unable to pull away, up until Jazz excused himself from the organic he was speaking to.
“Sorry, we have to be going now, Gomra. It was nice speakin’ with ya. Thanks for the escort.”
“No worries,” Gomra said, voice coming out uneven from the automatic translator strapped around his neck. “Go have fun.”
The alien eyes them for a moment before turning away to join his own group. While Prowl stared after him, Jazz did not seem to think much of it.
“So,” he asked, giving Prowl’s servo a squeeze, stealing his attention. “How about that dance?”
Prowl chuckled, shaking his head. “You really want to?”
The look Jazz gave him could have melted him. “Yes.”
He faltered, finding it hard to answer him. But he allowed the mech to lead him away from the gathering crowd of ball attendants. There was a calmer space they found, and Jazz brought Prowl to his side as an excuse to get his servos on him in some way. Prowl didn’t mind.
The music that lifted through the air was gentle and soft. Servos fumbled, and pedes were stepped on, but the two of them managed to get into the proper dancing form. As Jazz spun him a few times to get into the rhythm, Prowl couldn’t help but tease Jazz a little.
“... Meister, huh?” He smirked. “I didn’t know you were still using that alias.”
Jazz grinned back, knowing entirely what he was doing. “It’s a fun name, ain’t it? Meister is wilder than Jazz is.”
Prowl burst out laughing, stepping closer to rest his helm on Jazz’s front chassis. He felt arms circling around his frame to rest right underneath junction of his wings. “I just never thought I would hear it again, let alone by half the galaxy.”
Jazz hummed, and the sound vibrated through Prowl’s helm. “Always liked who I could be as Meister, it was easier t’ trick people.”
The Praxian sighed, perfectly content to sway in Jazz’s arms for the reminder of the night. Jazz’s EM enveloped him like a blanket and he found it hard to separate himself from him now.
That is, until they heard the fanfare.
It began from the center of the ballroom. A raised platform revealed a whole unit of trumpeteers, surrounding the Solar Point. It gleamed tripumphianly as a dramatic song left the gathered crowd erupting in cheers and applause. They looked up just as Azeminian officials announced a countdown. From amongst the group, Prowl could only assume Alula was joining them in their celebrations.
“Is the star aligning?” Prowl asked Jazz as they both couldn’t take their optics off the dazzling sight of the Azeminian statue.
His friend muttered a faint affirmative. “Looks like it.”
They watched as a beam of solar energy suddenly struck from above. The Azeminians below all joined in a song as the light spread across the surface of the crystal. Their voices, like a heavenly choir, echoed in the cavernous ballroom; attendees stood to the side and observed as they allowed their colleagues to join in their tradition.
Just as Alula described, the sunlight reflected off the mirrored surfaces of the chamber, radiating the energy back and forth. The walls glowed with an unseen energy, veins transmitting through the marble. It stretched across the ceiling like lightning, filling in gaps and space like it was made to be there. Prowl followed one line — as blue as energon — as it traveled to the western entrance of the ballroom. Now, the room was so bright, it was as if they were in the corona of GC567 itself. He could tell how it might comfort the people who once dwelled within their parent star.
Prowl took the chance to glance at Jazz, who was gazing up at the ceiling. An expression of awe parted his lips, and Prowl felt his vents hitch. He looked down at their intertwined servos, contemplating, and distantly wondered to himself about how they had never gotten to this point before.
While the ceremony continued, and the star seared and burned, Prowl left his optics on Jazz. He waited until the mech felt the sensation of being watched, and turned to his direction. They were so close now — Prowl could feel Jazz’s hot vents on his cheek ridge. He was leaning forward, slowly, his optics fluttering closed as a servo came up to gently cup his chin. He let his EM connect fully, wide and unguarded. Desire, joy, excitement blasted through the frequency until the feedback was so strong he could not tell where Jazz ended and where he began.
Just as he drifted over Jazz’s warm lips, there was a scream.
And the world went dark.
Prowl did not know what happened. One klik he was holding Jazz in his grasp and then suddenly they were torn apart. The room filled with shrieks of terror and horror as the light of the Solar Point shattered. The opened ceiling must have collapsed, because the ballroom was plunged into an unsettling darkness that left the attendees in a panic. Prowl, who had been pushed to the ground by someone, struggled to stand as the crowd stampedes past like a frightened herd of mech-animals.
“Jazz!” He called out despartedly, when he finally managed to lean on a pillar and observe what was happening. Already, his battle protocols were being initiated, and he dedicated a third of his processing capacity into locating Jazz and spotting the trouble.
He discovered the trouble first.
A team of large organics — very familiar organics — had seized control over the Solar Point. Several Azeminians had been caught in laser-boxes; cages similar to what hunters used on Cybertron to trap errant pets. They used their massive, rock-like hands to snatch smaller aliens and hold them up to deter enemy fire. Another group was appearing from inside a service room, as if they had been waiting to make their appearance.
To the rest of the audience, they raised massive blasters and fired shots to disperse them. People fled, fearing for their lives. Prowl, understanding that this was now a raid, forced his numb legs to run before they spotted him. He didn’t know why, but he felt that his presence might make matters worse for the Azeminians.
It was too late, however.
From some unseen entrance, Tetrans had blocked all the doorways through which he could escape without drawing attention. In a flurry of action, Prowl readied a spare blaster; already transforming his arm and shoving himself in between a covering in the wall. The one thing he would thank the war for: installed weapon systems.
He hailed a comm. frequency for Jazz’s location, but he received no response; the deathly static on the other end hollowed out a pit of despair in Prowl’s tanks. He tried to tamp the wave of panic that followed, fans kicking on while he attempted to work out a plan.
From this position in the ballroom, there was a clear shot to the final exit — but it meant revealing himself to the entire Tetran force. There would be no doubt that they would focus that deadly blaster fire onto his larger frame as soon as he stepped out. And Jazz — he gulped — he didn’t know where Jazz was. He could have been knocked into stasis very easily —the smallest of them were still two helms taller, and three times as bulky. Prowl couldn’t risk a fight; he didn’t even need to calculate his chances, he would lose.
Torn, he cursed under his breath and huddled further against the wall as he sought for another refuge. Perhaps he could maneuver his way past the decorative drapery, it had just enough to cover his height—
Prowl flinched at the sudden touch of a hand on his shoulder. He whipped around, training his blaster directly into the chest of whoever had dared sneak up on him.
The adrenaline soon faded to relief, as it was Jazz.
Prowl doesn’t know what came over him, but he embraced the mech as tightly as he could, as if he would disappear from his fingertips. Jazz returned a squeeze, pulling away with a serious expression. He raised a servo and placed a finger to his lips.
:: They jammed long-range frequencies. Stay close and follow me. ::
Shaking off the worry and concern, he allowed himself to focus.
:: Lead the way. ::
The Tetrans, although brutes, did a fine job of making maneuvering the Grand Hall without detection impossible. At every corner, one of their solid figures stood guard as they continued to round up scattered Azeminians and frightened guests. The more Prowl observed, the less he understood the motive of their actions. Was it fame? Recognition? Was it ransom for another group entirely? He voiced these concerns to Jazz just as they avoided another encounter. It would be hard for them as well; as former Special Ops, both he and Jazz had many tricks yet to use.
Jazz replied nervously. :: You remember that time when I mentioned I saved Alula? ::
Prowl didn’t like where this was going. :: Yes… ::
:: I kind of — sort of — destroyed their entire transport, sold massive hard drives full o’ their information over to whoever wanted it. Kinda pissed them off. ::
He groaned over the connection, :: Great. So they’re looking for you? ::
Jazz glanced back at Prowl over his shoulder. :: Very likely. ::
With that knowledge, Prowl made sure he was keeping his sensory network focused at their vulnerable backs. His wings, lowered as to not draw attention, still swept wide, transferring high amounts of minute data to his processing center. For the first time since he joined Jazz on this vacation, he allowed his logic center to take rein. Almost immediately, he began to see a path form in his mind. Prowl ran the data through Jazz, just as he done vorns ago, neck-deep in war, and they proceeded along the route.
There was only one way they were going to escape, and it was going to be a distraction.
They switched positions. Prowl raised his blaster arm and aimed it high above the Tetrans. If he angled it just right, he would be able to knock down an entire line of crystal decorations….
He counted to three, braced his pedes, and fired.
There was a brief moment where Prowl’s engine stalled, watching in slow-time as his blast sailed through the air and made its way clean through the supporting beams of the crystal. A loud snap followed, and then it rained debris.
In the chaos, he and Jazz sprinted away from the scene. Prowl thought he could hear shouts and protests behind him, but he didn’t dare look back in fear of slowing down his pace. Blindly, he and Jazz turned corner after corner; making their way out by memory was their only chance at the moment, since they had no way of knowing whether Alula made it out safely or not. It made him sick to leave them all behind — but perhaps when Jazz leaves the planetoid, the Tetrans would follow.
When they reached the outside, Jazz grabbed Prowl’s servo and pulled him along. Determined not to lose the mech again, Prowl increased his pace so that he ran alongside. In the distance, he could see their intact cruiser, waiting for them. But, something made Jazz falter.
The mechs came upon a familiar organic, one who was clutching the wriggling form of a helpless Azeminian. Prowl, stunned by the sight, blinked rapidly.
Go have fun.
“Gomra,” Jazz spat out. “I knew yar were too friendly for what you are.”
The organic chuckled, shaking the Azeminian in his hand. It whimpered, and Prowl recognized their voice. Alula.
“Be careful, Jazz. I don’t think the Grand Ambassador could handle any more attitude.” The stunted translator-box voice dulled the effect, but Prowl could hear the threat regardless.
His wings raised in warning; blaster itching at his side. “Let her go, Gomra, she has nothing to do with this.”
Gomra growled. “Actually, she has everything to do with it.”
The organic tossed the Azeminian to the ground, where Alula sank, too injured to hold her weight up. Gomra’s face flickered and receded as the holo-reflector was turned off; rock and hard, unyielding stone replaced what was previously a softer and more trustworthy face.
“She trusted you, and you betrayed her people.” Jazz hissed, rage edging his glyphs.
“You know better than to judge, Jazz.”
Both Cybertronians stiffened. Prowl scanned through every available voice clip he has of Jazz, looking for a slip of his name or anything else that he or his friend might have done to let the Tetrans know of his identity.
“You Cybertronians play everyone for fools.” Gomra revealed something out of his pocket, attaching it to his arm.. A menacing blaster, the length of his Prowl’s frame.
He pointed it at them. “You think we don’t know who you are? It isn’t very difficult, the entire galaxy has tabs on the most dangerous mecha to have ever existed. Hard not to, as you killed each other for four million years.”
Prowl swallowed, spreading his pedes to even his stance. When he side-opticked Jazz, the mech was utterly still, poised and ready for action. Behind them, the rest of the Tetran force was catching up with their ruse, and if their thundering footsteps gave anything away, it was that they were bound to arrive in the next few kliks. Whatever their plan was, they had to do it now.
:: Jazz — ::
:: — I know. ::
Prowl returned his hard stare to the front, warily opticking the blaster. He wouldn’t risk a direct shot from the weapon; there was a high probability that Gomra equipped the massive device with enough power to kill a Cybertronian. They might have more of a chance if the Tetran could be goaded into a physical fight; he and Jazz were both nimble enough to maneuver around his heavier, slower body. But—
Alula stirred from where she laid on the hard ground. Her light had faded enough that he could see her arms and legs shaking as she attempted to lift herself. Gomra pressed a giant boot onto her, and she cried out in pain.
“You — get off of me!”
“I don’t think so, Grand Ambassador. We have much to talk about, you and I.” The Tetran shot them a scraggly grin, uneven and wrong. “But, first—“ Prowl’s audial picked up the charging of a blaster, and he instantly shifted to avoid the incoming blast, “—I have to get rid of some pests.”
Where he and Jazz once stood, a black scorch mark remained. The Praxian growled from his place a few metrons away, his systems racketing from the close call. Jazz, who had leapt in the opposite direction, was crouched low, his mouth drawn into a thin line.
Prowl, already accessing his main logic center center, met his visor from across the field; Jazz, understood his intent without ever needing words, and gave him a faint nod.
From the way they were separated, Gomra could not keep his eyes on the Cybertronians all at once. He must continuously shift both his body and his head to watch each mech individually. Prowl planned to use this to his advantage. He edged alongside Gomra’s blind spot, allowing Jazz to become the focus.
“What,” he taunted, “Ya mad that a single mech managed to bring down yar entire facility?”
Gomra rumbled, lifting his foot off of the Azeminian. Alula wriggled and then stilled, likely in fear of the Tetran.
“You’re going to regret ever getting into this,” the organic threatened, already making his way towards Jazz.
Prowl, not expecting the change of tactics, faltered as he reached drop point of the cruiser. Jazz easily dove away from Gomra’s swinging arms and blaster fire, but it was the growing army in the distance that concerned him. Reinforcements were close — too close. He didn’t think they would have enough time to effectively disable Gomra before they arrived.
“Prowl, go!” He heard Jazz shout in between the Tetran’s punches. “Go!”
He groaned in frustration, slamming the panelling on the side of the ship to open the ramp. Prowl’s helm whipped back and forth between his exit and the encroaching army, and then Alula and Jazz—
It was then that his processor lit up with an idea. A reckless idea, but an idea nonetheless.
Remotely, he input his keycode into the operating system of the cruiser, initiating engine start up. Bending at his knees, Prowl readied himself at the right moment — he would only have one chance to do this, and there could be no mistakes. Calculating his route in just a picosecond, he leapt forward and transformed into his alt-mode.
Jazz likely noticing Prowl’s route, pinged him with a shout over the comm.
:: Mech, what in Primus’s name are you doing! ::
Prowl grunted as he shifted an arm back into root mode, using it to grab Alula and deposit her in his driver's seat (he had never done that before, and he decided to never do it again if they ever got out of this).
:: Just shut up and get on! ::
The Praxian reached the end of the marble stoneway that marked their transport’s landing pad, did a 180 degree reverse, and slammed on his accelerator. He tore right underneath Gomra’s legs, tilting his frame just enough so that Jazz could climb on, and then pushed his engine to its maximum capacity. Smoke from his tires kicked up in the organic’s face, and Gomra roared indignantly, chasing away the cloud with large waves of his arms. Prowl used the distraction to make a clear shot for their ship.
“You’re crazy, Prowler!” Jazz shouted over the wind, sounding both equal parts impressed and panicked.
He hit the inside of their cruiser with a loud slam, and Prowl didn’t stop until all of them made it to the control room. When he shifted back into root mode, Prowl had no time to tend to his strained protoform and sputtering engine. He laid Alula as gently as he could on his chair and joined Jazz in inputting flight codes.
“They’re coming, Jazz,” Prowl reminded, looking out the window only to curse at the sight of the gathering Tetrans. Gomra was already banging on the ramp, shaking the cruiser until it almost tipped over. If they didn’t lift off, the organic might just knock it over like a domino.
The engines rumbled, stalled, and then roared to life. Since they had no time for proper lift-off sequence, they shot forward like a bullet from a gun. Prowl yelped as he lost his grip and tumbled to the floor; before he fell, he saw the streaks of light that might have been blaster fire rush ahead on their path. Now flat on the floor, he gripped the built-in chair as Jazz tilted the ship into an even steeper angle.
“Hang on!” He heard, just as a boom! sounded above them.
Prowl struggled to lift his helm against gravity; the alarms blared, and the buttons flashed incessantly, likely reporting heavy damage.
“Just use the jump, Jazz! We won’t make it any other way!” He yelled.
“Jump?” Jazz laughed maniacally. “Are you out of your mind? Where in the slag would we even go? We’re too damaged!”
Prowl breathed rapidly, helm clanging as he rested it against the cold tile. The weight of the situation was beginning to press at him from all sides. He struggled against the fog of his processor, hopelessly initiating protocols. What do we do, what do we — ?
“I’ve got your engines, just input a destination!” A voice spoke up.
“Alula?” Jazz reached out a servo to stop the Azeminian from leaving, but she avoided his touch. “You can’t just go into the chamber, it’ll melt you!”
Prowl could only see a globe of light, hovering just towards the back entrance of the ship, where the maintenance room was kept.
“Trust me! Just guide the ship!” She disappeared from the room and Jazz let out a loud groan.
“Is everyone I know insane?!”
Regardless of their chances, they had no other choice. Prowl heaved himself to his pedes and looked over the expanse of space they had yet to cross. At the atmospheric break, his optics narrowed in on a long strand of barricades, all meant to deter starships in their passage out of Azeminian airspace. They were boxing them in.
It was now or never.
With a deep vent, Jazz’s finger hovered over the hyper-jump panel. He could see a bright light shining through the gaps of the ship, where Alula was likely using her own strength to power the damaged sections of the engine. Their capacity ticked up higher and higher; their engines strained and shrieked and groaned but it held together up until they were fifty metrons away from the Tetran barricade. It was then that Jazz initiated the launch.
He spared one last glance towards Prowl, before everything was lost to the in-betweens of hyperspace.
Earth. They had made it to Earth.
The blue planet slowly revolved beneath them as their cruiser drifted along its gravitational pull. Prowl could see the fluffy white clouds dotting its surface, minutely changing and shifting with the atmosphere. Where it was night, human cities and towns glittered like very distant stars.
He gripped Jazz’s servo tighter, and Jazz squeezed back.
They had made it.
Alula, exhausted of her light, but alive nonetheless, retreated back to the console room as soon as their engines died. It turned out that would be the last of engines for a while. Their main capacitor had been shot off the ship, and if Alula hadn’t given some of her inner light to power the intricate chamber, they might still be eating blaster fire with the Tetrans.
Prowl let out a shaky breath, smile wobbly as Jazz lifted his helm to look at him.
“Thank you, Alula. You saved us.”
She merely nodded her head, daintily resting herself on the scorched console. Her eyes were now clear to see — an unearthly blue, like the purest energon, or the clearest sky. “I’m just glad you two are okay. I never meant for this to happen…”
They remained quiet, floating in the relative calm.
Then, “How will you get home?” Jazz asked softly, concerned.
Alula looked at them, taking her time to observe before she replied, somber. “It was never truly home. Perhaps…” She turned to observe the Earthrise, just as the Sun rotated into view.
“Perhaps I need to find something else.”
Prowl nodded solemnly, refusing to say more, as it would shatter whatever peace they had managed to keep.
They remained, seated in a destroyed ship, until they disappeared beneath Earth’s shadow.
Once Jazz decided they should land, Alula took her leave. She reassured both mechs, saying that she would be just fine in the cold vacuum of space.
Even though Jazz had been the one to befriend her first, it seemed he was just as lost when it came to her kind’s mysterious attributes.
“Don’t worry, we shall see each other again.” A wink. “I believe you two need the time alone, anyhow.”
And with that, she was gone. They followed her light until she was merely a speck — and even further, until the void of space swallowed her.
Their descent into Earth was as smooth as it could be with a rattling spaceship. Jazz landed their cruiser, thankfully, in an empty field, far from human influence. Out of everything that had happened, they couldn’t afford more organic attraction.
Really, Prowl was relieved he had escaped the Tetrans with his life, but as soon as his legs hit Earth’s peaty soil, he might have considered returning to Azeminia if only for the nice stone walkways.
He and Jazz walked for a few metrons, putting space between them and the cruiser. They stopped when the ground dipped to an incline. A blanket of grasses and native Earth flowers bloomed as far as their optics could see.
He kneaded the soft ground beneath his pedes. The sun here was as gentle as he remembered, in stark contrast to Azeminia’s burning pit-scape. “Out of all the places…” he sighed, looking over the flowers he had crushed underneath his weight.
Jazz snickered, amused by Prowl’s scrunched faceplates. “Seems like we can never catch a break, can we?”
The Praxian, while exhausted and beaten, brought his dermas into a wide smile. He lifted his optics from his pedes to his partner’s visor. “It seems so… but…”
A breeze stirred the air around his plating, and Prowl took the brief pause to step closer; one pede at a time, until he ended up right underneath Jazz’s nose. With only slight nervousness now, he rests his servos on Jazz’s faceplates, tracing the transformation seams along his cheek ridge.
“I thought a lot about this vacation and… if it keeps going like this, I think it might never end.”
Jazz smiled underneath Prowl’s servo, his small ex-vents tickled his palm. “You mean, to say… even if you don’t get t’ return to Cybertron? Ya’d be fine with tha’?”
Prowl, more than certain now, had no need for any more thought, or needless contemplation. It will be spent with the best mech he could ask for.
“For you? Anything. Even that.”
Jazz beamed and yanked Prowl by his collar plating to finally press his lips against his own. They embraced each other—ignoring the dirt in their pedes and the battered starship in the distance. For now, they were on their own; and if the Tetrans found them on Earth, they could just go be together somewhere else in the wide, wide galaxy.
A million light years away, back on Cybertron, Ratchet reclined in his office chair, letting out a sigh after taking a sip of his warmed energon. Optimus, seated next to him, rested his chin in a servo. His mask was off, and the CMO was free to see the frown on his lips.
“They’re not coming back, are they?” The Prime asked.