The City was buzzing with anticipation; one could almost feel the electrical waves that emanated from the inhabitants as the hour drew to a close. Trailbreaker walked up and down the halls, nodding at the crews who were putting the finishing touches along the walls and setting up the tall pedestals with flower arrangements. Privately, the co-City Commander smiled; their guest of honor would surely disapprove, but he should hardly find fault in their efforts.
It'd been a long time coming, the big black mech ruminated, pausing to look over a particular arrangement at the behest of a pretty blue-green femme. Not only that, but they had never thought it possible to draw an extinguished spark back from the Well of Primus … that is, not until the resurrection of Optimus Prime. One by one, they were coming back to their comrades.
Complementing the femme on her style, Trailbreaker turned to ascend the steps to the main meeting hall when two miniature cannonballs caromed into his stalwart legs. "Whoa!" the gentle giant exclaimed in mock-surprise, reaching down to disentangle the two sparklings. "Let me look at you two," he said, taking the spark-fused offspring of his co-commander Mirage and Comm Officer Solarflare by the arms and turning them around for inspection. "Attention!"
Instantly, their arms snapped down and their chins lifted. Though lacking a mouth, Trailbreaker conveyed his amusement via the set of his optics and brow ridges. They really were properly-behaved children, if human offspring were anything to go by. Tan and blue Spectrum, the elder by three Earth years nudged his sister Illusion, a faerie of a child, her armor almost incandescent. Illusion pouted and straightened her back as was proper before the commander.
Well, not for long, Trailbreaker mused, pretending to scrutinize them as he gave a short walk about their tiny bodies. Many of the original Ark warriors had been decommissioned by Optimus Prime and were now eking out lives on Cybertron, or here on Earth. Solarflare had been released not ten years ago, but still kept her job as City Communications when Blaster permanently left for their home world. After today, Trailbreaker and Mirage would relinquish their duties to their guest and assume civilian lives – Trailbreaker to whatever suited his fancy here on Earth, and Mirage to his long-awaited Tower.
"Hmm, what is this, Illusion," he murmured, lifting the little femme's right arm. She twisted, gawking at the big black mech with huge golden optics.
"Nothin', Uncle!" she exclaimed, pulling her arm from his delicate grasp and turning it over. "I'm clean! Auntie Flamestrike said so!"
"Ah yes," he admitted, glancing over the top of her crested head at her brother, quirking his brow ridge. "I must've been mistaken. Where's your father?"
Spectrum drew himself up to his full "adolescent" height of eight feet. "With Grandpa in the main hall. Momma's tryin' t'get Auntie Flamestrike t'come down from her apartment …"
Trailbreaker nodded absently. Of all of them, Flamestrike was having the hardest time trying to come to terms with Prowl's return. Two hundred years gone to Primus, only to walk among them again.
Trailbreaker turned his deep blue optical visor down to Spectrum and prompted the boy to continue. "How … how do we greet him?"
Trailbreaker mused on that a moment. They had been raised on stories that told of how stoic and logical Prowl had been. Mirage had also probably warned them not to rush at this newest "uncle". Truthfully, Trailbreaker did not even know how he should greet the long-lost second-in-command. When Ratchet had returned, his acidic bedside manner was no-where in sight; he seemed almost biddable, walking in a stilted fashion as if the relays from cortex to extremities were insufficient. But time, it seemed, brought back the more "favorable" traits the old CMO was well-noted for; perhaps, in Prowl, this would also be true.
"I'm sure your mother will let you know," he finally told them, knowing by the set of their small brow ridges that it wasn't enough. "Now, get along, kiddos," he added, forcing his vocalizer to sound jolly. Illusion took the dismissal in her usual carefree fashion, undoubtedly gleaned from her mother's avian soul, and bolted from the hall, her tiny, untransformable body disappearing around a corner. Spectrum eyed him almost shrewdly before following his sister. Trailbreaker straightened, watched them go. Definitely a part of their parents in each of them, he noted before taking to the stairs undisturbed.
Mirage was standing at the large table, a holographic plan spread out before him. Ratchet, seated in a chair, his feet thrown up on the surface, appeared to be nodding off. Being chosen as co-City Commander by the then-Prime Rodimus had positively impacted the spy; what little selfishness left in his circuitry had been burned away by the awesome responsibilities heaped upon his elite shoulders.
"Any word?" Trailbreaker inquired as he neared the table and took up a seat opposite Mirage and Ratchet.
"Right on schedule," the former spy replied, keeping his optics on the hologram. "I have Flare checking in every few astrominutes."
Yes, Mirage was a changed mech. Trailbreaker nodded, folding his huge arms before his bulky chestplate. "A little over the top, Raj?"
The spy looked up and rewarded his co-commander with one of his old urbane gazes. "Not really. It was Prowl's idea."
The admission piqued Breaker's interest. "You spoke with him?"
"Naw, the old proprietary fool spoke through a subordinate," Ratchet grumbled with his old acerbity.
That was unusual of someone of Prowl's training. Then Trailbreaker reminded himself of temporal and dimensional fluctuation that could affect a mech's cortex and spark. Could it be that Prowl was, for lack of a better term, scared? Ratchet never spoke about his time in the Well, so they would never know what they had ripped either mechs from. Not to mention Wheeljack, Brawn, Windcharger and Ironhide – all of whom were being brought back as they sat here and prepared for Prowl's arrival.
Just then, a polite chime rang above their heads. Mirage reached over and flicked a switch set into the table's surface. "Scramble, boys, they're coming in."
There was no mistaking the urgency in Flare's vocalizer, nor the nervousness that seemed to dominate her usually casual way of addressing people. Ratchet's head lifted from its tuck against his chestplate; Trailbreaker and Mirage exchanged glances before they both pushed away from the table at the same time. The Ligier shut down the hologram, and, without asking, extended a hand to the former CMO. Characteristically, Ratchet batted it away, but needed to grab the Ligier by the upper arm as he tipped slightly upon getting up. Trailbreaker turned his back respectfully; two years among the living still had Ratchet's spark and body in conflict.
"Flare," Mirage called up to the ceiling receptors, "I want a broadcast on City-wide."
Together, the three mechs walked down the hall. A deep blue light began to pulse, turning the burnt orange walls a muddy brown. Then Solarflare's voice began to call out, low, calm and professional: "Attention. Attention. All personnel are to proceed to the main entrance. Attention. Commander Prowl approaching landing pad. Proceed to main entrance for welcome."
Mechs and femmes suddenly spilled out into the corridor, all saluting their co-commanders. Trailbreaker returned them all with a deft flip to his visor. Deep inside the stalwart black mech, a small cyclone of turmoil was spinning. It had been more than he could handle to see Optimus Prime alive, and then Ratchet's arrival two hundred years later. He knew he would have to get used to seeing those whom he had thought lost coming back into his life. It would be a constant struggle for both: the living and the resurrected.
When they reached the main entrance, Autobots were still getting themselves into ranks along the wide flagstone walkway. Red Alert, facial planes and horns flushed blue, was vainly trying to get them into his own personal sense of order – and, it seemed, failing. With a low guffaw, Trailbreaker planted his hands on his wide hip plates and gazed off into the bright summer sky. There was a low sonic boom, followed by a second. Curving around a puff of a cloud was Skyfire; Breaker shielded his optic band and increased magnification until he could spot the streamlined form of a decommissioned Autobot shuttle tagging behind the Valkyrie.
"Will you people get into your pre-designated places already?" Red was shrieking shrilly, waving his hands in futile gestures.
With a mental smile, Trailbreaker paused to look up at the Plas-glass comm tower; Solarflare's shadowy form was leaning up against the wall, deep in communication with both Skyfire and the shuttle pilot. While Mirage situated Ratchet up on the top step, the big black mech decided to call all to order. "All right," his jolly bass boomed, "ATTENTION!"
Heads swung in their direction and there was a mighty clatter of feet as the staff of Autobot City came together in two deep, organized ranks. Patting his hip plates, the onyx giant dared to steal a glance at Red Alert. Just as he imagined, the security director was apoplectic. "Why do I even bother?" Red Alert muttered, shouldering Inferno to the side to take up his place at the high end of the line, nearest Mirage, Ratchet and Breaker.
Above them, Skyfire banked sharply, cutting across the landing field to zoom up the connecting walkway and transform mere feet from the end of the assembled staff. Right behind him, its descent more auspicious and careful, was the shuttle. Powerful jets roared with optic-blinding white-blue flames, landing gear spread out like the talons of a bird.
Something settled within Trailbreaker's spark as the shuttle powered down. Even across this distance, he could feel the alienness, the ethereal quality that penetrated the space-steel. What would Prowl look like? How would he act? Was it even wise to make him walk across the bridge to get here? Looking over his shoulder at Mirage, Trailbreaker opened up his vocalizer to ask his co-commander if they should send a sled to claim the second-in-command when the shuttle finally settled, popping its hatch a moment later. Trailbreaker promptly forgot what he was going to say, and instead, focused on the action occurring several hundred feet beyond.
There was a clatter of metal on metal, a low rumble of plates being shaken. Breaker broke optic contact with the disembarking party to see Solarflare scrambling down from the tower, wings spread for balance. A minute later, she was standing on the wide ledge, talons hooked into their faction symbol's optic holes, looking around for a place to put her feet next. Deep laughter rumbled in Trailbreaker's broad chestplate at the femme's display. "The stairs too slow, Flare?" he asked her on a tight link.
Solarflare twisted and hopped to the ground not a few inches from the black mech. He reached out and steadied her as she slicked back her wings to her spine. "Yeah," she admitted, crest tipping back in embarrassment, lip components quirking in wry humor.
"And yet we tell the kids not to do these things …" Mirage muttered, but Breaker could see the old spy's smile belaying the chastisement. "Is she coming down, Flare?"
A murmur swept across the ranks as the procession from the shuttle reached the half-way point along the bridge. Solarflare, her taloned hands uncharacteristically tapping in front of her, slid next to her bondmate and creator-father. "No. I sent the kids up to keep her company." Mirage reached out and grabbed her by one hand, drawing it around his back. "Two-hundred years gone, Raj," Breaker heard her murmur.
The contingent was over the bridge now, the rushing waters that helped to power the giant city throwing up a fine mist. A collective whisper broke over the ranks as they finally spied the mech who was to be their commander. Trailbreaker took an inadvertent step forward, then stopped, drawing himself up as benefit a mech of his rank. In the middle of four mechs whose colors the four-by-four would not be able to remember years later, was Prowl.
The pace was slow; Prowl, his red chevron never brighter, seemed to limp, though his upper torso and shoulders remained straight and strong. His head, with those generous lip components and shrewd, bright blue optics, had been one of the few parts salvaged from the Mausoleum. What remained was a complete body-retooling: his black and white paintjob was crisp; the rounded, protruding chestplate that he had been famous for was gone, replaced by a hood that sloped downward, flat. Thick tires rose above each shoulder strut, sitting just below his doorwings with their sheriff's symbol boldly emblazoned.
Out of the corner of his optic visor, Trailbreaker saw Flare break from Mirage's hold and slowly, quietly, slip to the side and down to the end of the right-handed ranks. When he turned his gaze back, Prowl was looking directly at them. Ever the gracious host, Mirage stepped down from the impromptu dais, walked through the honor guard and held out his hand.
"Welcome home, Prowl," he greeted in his deep, cultured voice.
Slowly, Prowl looked over at Mirage, then his optics ran over each and every one of the Autobots gathered. From where he stood, Trailbreaker could almost term the action "painful". His inspection over, Optimus Prime's second-in-command's gaze slid to Mirage's proffered hand. In a motion that seemed hesitant, as if he could not believe that all this was real, Prowl reached out and took the Ligier's slim black hand in his own. With short steps, Trailbreaker left the stairs and put his hand over Prowl's before the cruiser could break contact.
"Welcome home," he echoed, a small spark leaping from his metallic throat as his cortex strove to process this reality.
Prowl's optic sensors ticked back and forth between Ligier and four-by-four. Looking at their clasped hands, his gaze flickered towards Red Alert, Inferno, then to Solarflare. He took in Skyfire's tall bulk, then upwards to Ratchet.
"You've … done well."
The hand that Trailbreaker's covered flexed, and he saw Mirage's brow ridge raise slightly with the unexpected pressure. "We always had you as an example," the white-blue mech conceded, deftly pulling his hand free so that he could clap Prowl on the shoulder, his own sky-blue optics wide with emotion. "Hopefully it all meets with your approval."
Still staring at the main entrance, Prowl slowly shook his head. "… No … from what I've … been told, you've done a … magnificent job." He paused, and Breaker could hear the whirr of his ventilators trying to compensate. "I couldn't be more … proud."
Forgetting himself in the moment, Trailbreaker hauled back and clapped Prowl on the shoulder. The cruiser tipped forward; in a split second, Trailbreaker reached out and caught him. "Sorry," he managed with an embarrassed tip of his brow ridge. To his surprise, Prowl did not frown; rather, he smiled.
"It's … good to be back." With that, he began to walk the rest of the way down the flanked flagstone, pausing only a moment in front of Solarflare. Mirage exchanged a glance with his counterpart and they both felt the slight buzz in the air that marked a closed commlink transfer. With Solarflare leaking washer fluid, her crest twitching with emotion, Prowl turned and met Ratchet at the top of the stairs. Medic and second-in-command locked optics, then hands with controlled intensity.
"I think it's best that we dismiss them," Mirage muttered for Trailbreaker's audios.
Drawing air into his massive barrel chest, Trailbreaker turned. "Autobots!" he thundered. "Dismissed!"
Blank looks, ones of disbelief, were thrown in their direction. Mirage swept out his hand in a final, curt gesture, augmenting Trailbreaker's announcement. The Autobots that managed the City knew them too well; they took off, filing neatly away, back into the bowels of the great complex, back to their jobs. Jobs that would soon be managed by a mech few knew, but had heard of almost constantly.
Watching them go, Trailbreaker turned around. There was a palatable difference in the Prowl that stood before them; his optics were distant, as if he were trying to vainly see through a fog that resided in his cortex. Time would tell if the Prowl they knew – the stalwart, logical, firm second-in-command – would surface from the muck and mire of resurrection. But, he was back. A triumphant return from the Well of Primus.
"He … he said that he was sorry," Flare was telling Mirage as Trailbreaker drew close. Prowl had gone inside, taking Ratchet with him. The sight of the two mechs, their stilted motions making for a slow going, would have been funny two hundred years ago, but not now. It was almost painful to observe, so Trailbreaker linked his hands behind his back and listened with half an audio to Flare.
"Sorry?" Mirage repeated.
"He understands, now that he went through what I did," she continued, softly, her golden optics flicking around for potential eavesdroppers. Mirage nodded, drawing his arm around her shoulder struts and together, they began to walk into the hall, Trailbreaker following.
The trio only got a few feet inside when they were presented with a spark-wrenching sight: standing in the middle of the hall was Prowl, his arms wrapped with vise-like quality around the tan and flame-colored form of a femme.
"Let's leave them," Ratchet muttered in an undertone, pushing himself from a niche in the wall. Absently, Trailbreaker nodded, looking towards Solarflare. The femme slowly unwound her arms from her bondmate and touched her throat; a thin mic appeared from the right-side curve of her helm and she began to relay a close-off order to essential personnel.
Quietly, so as not to disturb, the four Autobots delicately stepped around the reunited couple. As they left them, Trailbreaker could only imagine what reunions would take place when Wheeljack, Brawn, Ironhide and Windcharger were finally released. Mentally, the black mech smiled through his washer fluid tears; their sacrifices were not in vain. The heroes of the Autobots were coming home.