Author's Notes: Yes, it still exists. No I can't promise the next chapter any sooner. Honestly, the next chapter has been kicking my butt royally. It needs a massive rewrite and I feel really pushed to the limits in my plotting/characterization/writing abilities with it that half the time I don't even want to touch it. That and real life keeps reaching up and whapping me across the face, laughing at me all the while. But I won't go into that here. Also I keep getting distracted by things, games, anime, books and it eats away at my writing time.

Ah, well. Hope you enjoy this chapter! I remember having fun when I wrote it sooo long ago.

Thanks go out to the usual suspects. Y'all know who you are. Huggles!


Blown Off

Prowl made a point of moaning, and letting his head sag before he turned away from Sunstreaker and spat the vile stuff out of his mouth. He wiped his lips clean of the slop, snagging the device with a quick finger and hiding it in his hand. He also glimpsed the tray, catching the words scrawled upon it (the handwriting nearly as familiar as his own) and trusting the virus to memorize every stroke of the glyphs.

'You have ten breem.'

Prowl quickly smeared some of the thick energon over the tray, obscuring the words from view. Then he stood, unsteady on his legs, and aware that Sunstreaker rose next to him. "Get the cube," he said, ignoring the way the words went through him like a sonic driver.

Sunstreaker scooped up the energon cube and shoved it into a white hand.

Prowl caught the cube, briefly juggling it until he decided it could be used to hide the still unknown device tucked between the fingers of his left hand. He took a wobbling step, his balance uncertain with his doorwings mere knobs, and all of his sensors screaming at him. His battle computer was fortunately acting as a counterweight to all the random data pouring through his processor. It took all these facts in stride, sorting through them for relevant data and discarding the rest. For the random data was not really random at all, but the result of input from something, such as the brush of air from a nearby vent, or Sunstreaker gripping his arm and steadying him again as they went over to his brother. Prowl's systems still ran hot with the effort it expended in keeping his sensors at such a high setting, and that heat slowly crawled its way toward a meltdown. His battle computer determined that without a counter, or some way to lower the settings he would short out first, with a twenty-five percent chance of reaching critical meltdown shortly thereafter. Unless the battle computer went first, being located in the chest region, where much of the heat concentrated, in such a case he had a thirty percent chance of data overload that would result in madness. Any of which would take less than a joor to happen. Having reached this conclusion, his battle computer turned its attention back to sorting through the data.

They needed to get out, and to do so while Prowl could still function.

"What's the rush?"

Prowl shook his head at Sunstreaker's question and continued moving, he wanted to get over to Sideswipe before they talked. "I do want to be sure he didn't leave any unpleasant surprises in the repairs."

A look of confusion passed over Sunstreaker's face, but Prowl had to let the mech puzzle it out on his own. He couldn't spare the processing power to attempt to clue the warrior in. Thankfully, despite their reputation, the twins possessed a keen perception, and he kept his vocalizer muted until they hunkered down over Sideswipe's prone frame. "I thought he was on our side."

Prowl ducked his head, peering critically at Sideswipe's left side even as he switch the Energon cube to his left hand so he could turn the limp arm over to examine the repair done to the elbow. He didn't only look at Sideswipe's damage, but also the object in his right hand, even as his left hand reached down into the space between the red back and the dirty wall. A disruptor in his right hand and a box in his left. Salvation when Prowl had expected none; disruptors acted exactly as their name implied, they disrupted energy traveling from one place to another, such as the energy that powered the bars to their cell. He decided the disruptor could remain where it was in his hand. It shouldn't interfere with the work he needed to do. "My decoding software says he is."

Sunstreaker hissed between his dental plates, and Sideswipe optics flickered online.

Prowl slid a white container out from behind Sideswipe and into the space between his thighs. The standard paint on the medkit slid, slick and smooth, under his fingers and along his inner thighs, eliciting a sharp shiver from his engine. Prowl fingered the kit open, the knobs of his doorwings lifting in a futile effort to obscure the action from view of the cameras in the cell. Then he turned his attention on the now conscious Toughline, unable to help but note every dent and tear, even the amount of energon still oozing from his lines. He surreptitiously clasped the mech's lower arm, unable to put words to how his lover's state affected him.

Sideswipe groaned, turning his head away from Prowl's scrutiny. "Don't look at me like that. I don't want your pity."

"It is not pity." Prowl reached into the medkit, sorting through the tools by touch alone: ratchet, adjustable wrench, screwdriver, hammer, tensors, clamps, sealant, caps, stim packs, sockets, mini-welder, splicer, flex strips. It should be enough to let Sideswipe remain on his feet under his own power (even if he won't be able to walk), so that he and Sunstreaker could assist him out. Neither he nor Sunstreaker would be able to bodily carry Sideswipe for any length of time, if at all.

Sideswipe huffed, laughter and pained moan all in one. "Then what is it?"

Counterpunch had already done a considerable amount of work, the hole in his side no longer sparked, and only dribbled occasionally. "Still processing," he answered distantly. Nine breem, until Counterpunch initiated whatever distraction he intended. "Run a diagnostic. Is your tank sealed?"

Sideswipe's optics dimmed, and Prowl could make out the telltale whirs and clicks of his systems scanning themselves for damage.

Sunstreaker shifted next to Prowl, his shoulder brushing against the sparking wires sticking out of the tactician's doorwings. He reached across Prowl's thigh and snagged one of the containers of wire caps from the kit, hiding them in the loose fingers of his other hand without any prompting, and then he took the splicer into his free palm. "Why is an Autobot here?" He ducked his head, hiding his mouth behind Prowl's shoulder.

Prowl pressed his lips together, weighing just how much he should tell them. "I am not free to divulge security matters even to Sideswipe, much less you."

Sunstreaker touched Prowl's ragged doorwings, fingers curling around exposed wires, but he stopped, optics flashing. "We're fragging imprisoned in a Decepticon holding cell, and you're quoting slagging security protocols at me?"

Prowl's hand smacked against the golden chestplate, spasming from the warrior's grip. The back of his hand scraped across the mech's already ruined paint job. "A Decepticon holding cell is exactly where security protocols are needed the most, Sunstreaker."

Sunstreaker clenched his jaw, his words muffled between his dental plates. "Slaggit, Prowl, you will tell me!"

Anger flashed through hypersensitive emotional relays and he said more than he meant to; "I can't tell you, because I don't know." Even so the probabilities ran through Prowl's processor. He did not know the precise details for Counterpunch's presence in Halifax, but Prowl was not privy to the name of every Autobot operative working subterfuge throughout the Decepticons, for security reasons. The fewer he could name, the fewer he could give up in an interrogation should just such an occasion as this arise. He could calculate the strategy behind waiting to help them escape when the numbers were more to their advantage. Why act now?

"You don't know?" Sunstreaker snarled.

Sideswipe shushed him, air rushing past Prowl's plating from the red mech's gesture. "Are you trying to get us caught?" Sideswipe attempted to glare at his brother, but Prowl didn't think it worked so well from his prone position. The red warrior turned his dim optics to the Energon cube Prowl had set on the ground.

Conclusion: Starscream intended to take Prowl to Megatron. This could not happen. Counterpunch had to act before the tactician would be out of reach, and it was too soon for the Autobots to have mounted a mission operation. Counterpunch had never acted to actually harm Prowl, the pain he'd inflicted had all been superficial sensor ghosts that had ultimately ended in Prowl being in a better state than before the Decepticon had worked on him.

But why would an Autobot infect another Autobot with such a torturous virus? The memory activated unbidden—invasion, the click of a plug into a socket—but Prowl shook it off with a few complicated calculations regarding the pattern of dirt and grime on the floor. He had no time to give in to that!

"We don't have time to argue over this." His chronometer, achingly aware of every passing microklik, told him a quarter of a breem had already passed. He internally winced, he hadn't expected it to take so long to cross the short distance to reach Sideswipe. He needed to get to work.

Prowl reached into Sideswipe's open wound, feeling around for the support struts around his engine block and fuel tank. He could feel the broken ones at the edges of the hole, and the ones against Sideswipe's back.

He grabbed a few tensors from the medkit, his chronometer ticking down the ten breem until Counterpunch did whatever he planned. It took three breem to weld them in place. Prowl worked carefully, poking the miniwelder into the wound with murmured apologies as Sideswipe whined.

Sunstreaker worked quietly next to Prowl, slouched against the tactician to hide the tool he twisted into his arm. The splicer hissed, putting wires back into place. Prowl counted the wires, easily able to remember the number that had been torn from their moorings. At his current rate, it would take the three breem Prowl needed on Sideswipe for Sunstreaker to fix the wires in his arm.

Prowl pulled his hands out of Sideswipe's torso, when a shock suddenly ran through him. Sunstreaker's hand didn't pull away, but remained steady on the tactician's shredded doorwings.

"What are you doing?" the tactician asked, vocalizer strangled against a scream. He braced his hands on the floor, head hanging and panting as the unending surges rolled through his frame. Sunstreaker sliced the insulation off the sparking wires, cutting the wires themselves to and then capped the ends with the rubber pieces from the container. He hid his actions with his shoulders. His damaged arm hummed with power surges, but it rested against Prowl's waist, catching the scrap that fell from the doorwings.

"We can't go anywhere with you shooting sparks like something from the Pit," he commented, but he tugged a little harsher on one wire. "Why don't we have time to argue?"

Prowl clenched his jaw, fingers digging a groove into the floor. Static filled his optics, and he didn't have the capacity to answer the question.

"Easy Sunny. Don't you see he can't answer when you're doing that?" Sideswipe murmured.

Sunstreaker tugged again, nearly ripping the wiring out.

"Primus, Sunny!" A black hand shot out, accompanied with the complaint of a stressed frame. It jostled Sunstreaker's hand, holding it still amongst the wires and circuitboards in Prowl's panel. "I know you're on edge, but he's on our side, remember? Really. You don't have to hurt him."

Prowl couldn't look up to see their expressions, and even if he could, he didn't think he'd be able to see past the static across his vision. He could, however, make out the grumble of engines, the cough of Sideswipe's and the sputtering growl of Sunstreaker's. He could even track the decibel and the number of revolutions their engines turned.

"Plan," Prowl finally spat. He shuddered in Sunstreaker's grip, the golden fingers tightening in miniscule increments that sent shockwaves through his overtaxed sensory net.

"Finally," Sunstreaker snorted and pulled his hand from Prowl's doorwing, resuming the repairs he'd interrupted for his fit of suspicious temper. The change came as no relief to Prowl and even the reassuring presence of Sideswipe's hand on his thigh did nothing to ease him.

Three and a half breem.

Sunstreaker finished patching up the ragged doorwings, and reached for the tactician's dented thigh, lifting the bent panel up to look at the damaged hydraulics underneath. Prowl glanced at the inside of his leg, evaluating the size of the hole in the pump. Quietly Prowl handed Sunstreaker the small tube of sealant, already aware of the presence of the hole, even if not the size of it. Sunstreaker smoothed a thick amount of the sealant on, and then pounded out the dents with the small hammer. Every rap against the metal shot straight through Prowl, tactile sensors, audio, tracking and visual. The panel clicked back into place, and Prowl slouched against the wall in relief.

Prowl seized the warrior's hand, stopping it before the fingers even brushed his bumper. "That's enough. There's no more time. Can you stand, Sideswipe?"

Two blue optics glowed at him.

"I can manage, just don't drop me, I'm fragile." The joke fell flat between the three of them.

"Get Sideswipe to his feet." He acted on his own words, and reached over the red mech to brace his hands on the wall so he could shove himself to his feet. Then he leaned down and grabbed Sideswipe's arm, but he couldn't haul the two tons of Toughline up with his malfunctioning arms. Even the hydraulic in his thigh threatened to give, the pressure inside straining the seal.

Sunstreaker stood and helped pick Sideswipe up, letting his brother lean on him when his legs wobbled beneath him.

Prowl stepped under Sideswipe's arm, aware of the ridges where paint had scraped off. His torn doorwings gave him false readings, knocking his gyroscopic calculations awry.

Sideswipe took an experimental step, vocalizer audibly clicking off as his frame creaked.

Sunstreaker's gaze stayed on the floor in front of his brother's feet. "We're going to draw attention like this." His foot reached out, knocking aside the small pile of scrap that used to be pieces of Prowl's doorwings.

Something bounced out, oblong and gleaming a bright blue that stood out in the blue-grey cell. The three Autobots stared at the small device, and the tiny face of Primus painstakingly applied to its surface.

Prowl belatedly recalled the toe joints shoved under his side, and Counterpunch's seemingly meaningless action of kicking at this pile of scrap. He'd recognized the guard with Counterpunch, as he'd recognized no other soldier in this unit. The agent's contact? "Sunstreaker."

The golden mech didn't even need any further instructions. He set Sideswipe against Prowl, his movements slow and careful as he pulled his hands away from the unsteady pair.

Prowl leaned his shoulder against the wall, distributing Sideswipe's full weight across his frame. He tried not to let himself contemplate the hand that came to rest on his bumper, or allow himself to be disturbed by the head that lay against his hood. He made himself concentrate instead on the sounds in the corridor, in particular listening for the clang of approaching mechs.

Sunstreaker took two steps and swept down to snatch up the small device.

Sideswipe made no move, no sound as Sunstreaker returned, and for a moment Prowl worried they had stressed his systems into stasis. Sunstreaker didn't appear worried, but that observation did nothing to ease Prowl's concern.

Sunstreaker took Sideswipe's arm, throwing it over his shoulders and lifted him off Prowl.

Sideswipe remained so still.

Alarmed, Prowl dragged his hand up to Sideswipe's chest, taking hold of the corner of his hood and and turning the mech.

Sideswipe jumped, slapping Prowl's hand down. "Don't, please." He shook his head, optics dim, but online. "Whatcha got, Sunny?" His frame creaked as he tried to turn toward the device.

Sunstreaker huffed, taking Sideswipe's arm, but his hand knocked into Prowl's shoulder plate, scraping into the jagged edges of Prowl's doorwings, his fingers shaped oddly.

Prowl reached back, hiding the gesture in an abortive attempt to wrap an arm around the red back. He scooped the drive out of the warrior's fingers, and promptly pulled his hand back to wrap around Sideswipe's arm. The drive slipped between two of his fingers and he leveraged it against Sideswipe's upper strut and finally into one of the data ports located in his own arm.

It hit him like a punch, every line of code initiated and downloaded from the drive. His fingers tightened on Sideswipe's arm, and he couldn't move his legs to keep the three of them moving.

It was all he could do to even stay on his feet.

The energon bars hummed only three steps away, and Prowl couldn't move.

Two breem.

Decryption software started up, piecing through the packets one by one. Architectural diagrams for the base filled his imaging software; a path tracked throughout the corridors, circumventing the tri-colored circles scattered throughout the base, one of which was located right next to their cell. Each circle had two numbers inside, one denoting a numerical sequence and the other a time that linked up with his chronometer and started counting down. The first in the numerical sequence started at two breem, the one next to their cell was marked as third and began began in five and three quarters breem.

Prowl froze, gasping to cool his overworked processor. He needed to move.

They needed to get out of here.

His fingers still wrapped around the drivestick, and he yanked it out. He didn't have time to finish downloading the entire thing. The action didn't stop his processor from continuing to decode the partial packets, and he had managed to retrieve a few complete packets.

One of the packets had a very simple message from… Jazz? It had been Jazz? No time to think of that. The message simply stated, 'Run!', echoing Prowl's sentiment exactly.

Prowl managed to get a hand up and shove the drive under his bumper. He lifted his head up, trying to move his focus to the energon bars that still hummed at them. They had to get moving, if the Decepticons hadn't noticed their odd behavior yet, they very soon would. He shuffled a step forward aware of the twin pair of optics on him

The packets continued to decode, unraveling information about the base and the Decepticons in it.

Prowl pushed the two warriors forward by expedient of pulling Sideswipe with him..

Then, among the packets partially downloaded, he decoded a random set of commands that made him stop again. He didn't recognize the exact codes, but he knew the particular pattern.

An antivirus.

"Prowl is everything okay?"

Sunstreaker's voice jolted Prowl out of his thoughts. He looked up at the bright optics of the golden warrior, "Yes, let's get out of here."

He had the antivirus, but he didn't know if running the program would immobilize him, or how long it would take. Receiving the viral packet, and the accompanying worm had knocked him offline. He could not risk that now.

One breem.

The disruptor slipped between his fingers, his thumb stopping it from falling through. Still no sounds from the corridor; were the Decepticons even paying attention? He wouldn't take the chance. He depressed the two buttons on the wide end of the disruptor and sliced through the energon bars with two quick cuts. The bars flickered, current crackling between them, and then died. The disruptor hummed in his hand, and he turned it over to glance at the power gauge. Counterpunch must have given him a disruptor with a full charge; that one use had only taken it down to eighty percent. He depressed the buttons again, turning the device off.

Sunstreaker glanced around the edge of the threshold, and then pulled the other two out into the hallway.

A disruptor could prove to be an effective weapon at least. It could knock even a mech of Vertigo's size offline, possibly even permanently. He couldn't access his subspace to store it, and he hadn't installed any caddy spaces in his frame. He finally decided on hooking it just under his bumper, next to the drive stick. He would need to be careful in how he moved, it would not do to have the disruptor go off while on his person.

Sunstreaker had just begun to pull them toward the main corridor, when Prowl took in their surroundings. He accessed the diagram, "No."

Sunstreaker halted, an aggravated sigh rushing from his frame. "What now?"

Prowl jerked his chin back toward the opposite hallway. "Our weapons would be stored back there."

Sunstreaker's optics lit up in interest. "Well, we can't forget those." He glanced at his brother, and then his optics slid to Prowl. "It'll be faster if I go alone."

Prowl listened intently for only a handful of astroseconds before he nodded. "Hurry."

Sunstreaker carefully settled the two against the wall, tucked within the empty cell adjacent to theirs. Then he limped his way down the hallway.

Sideswipe leaned against Prowl, hand covering the opening in his side. He didn't meet the tactician's gaze, panting raggedly and staring at nothing, his hand clenched at Prowl's waist.

Prowl counted the astroseconds that fractioned the remaining breem until the first of the explosives went off. The faintest eddies of air disturbed his sensors, puffs from Sideswipe's vents. What could he say to comfort him?

Feet clanged on the floor.

Prowl lifted his head, alarm spiking through his systems. The sounds came from the main corridor. He wrapped his fingers around the disruptor, and worked it free. He peeked around the corner, optics on the entryway to the brig.

Sideswipe stiffened against Prowl, turning his head to stare expectantly though he couldn't see.

Four Decepticons turned the corner, guns in hand, and expressions terrible.

Prowl had nowhere to go, no way to move without dropping Sideswipe. He didn't want to hurt his soldier—his lover—if he could help it. He didn't even have the time to pull them further within the cell. He pulled his head back, not wanting to catch their optics. The generators that powered the energon bars should mask their signals, especially when the both of them weren't running at optimal capacity.

The Decepticons faltered, sensor sweeps radiating out from their group. Prowl ducked his head, pulling Sideswipe behind him. Sideswipe sagged against the wall, obviously straining to remain quiet.

They didn't even taunt the Autobots to draw them out. The slow shuffle of feet reverberated through the brig. Prowl's fingers covered the controls of the disruptor, and he shifted against the wall, trying to give himself a better angle to attack whatever mech came around the corner.

"Hey, where'd you come from?"

"Aw, slag…"

The Decepticons opened fire, peppering the air with red bolts of energy.

'Poppoppoppoppoppop.'

Prowl exchanged a glance with Sideswipe. He'd recognize that sound anywhere. He also recognized the hiss that followed a small burst of air. He cut power to his optics, turning his head away reflexively as warmth washed over his plating.

Sideswipe flinched beside him, ducking his head into Prowl's shoulder.

He activated his optics, monitoring the way light reflected off the far wall.

Decepticons screamed in the hallway.

"I can't fragging see!"

"Where'd that fragger go, I'm gonna tear him apart circuit and servo."

"My optics!"

The fourth said nothing, but shrieked in pain, making Prowl think that he'd been on the receiving end of the initial barrage of acid pellets.

The light died, and guns clattered to the ground. Prowl turned to see Sunstreaker stepping into sight. The golden mech's optics flared, his lips drawn back in a sneering snarl, and he wielded Prowl's acid rifle in one hand, and Sideswipe's flare gun in the other. His own electron pulse rifle was tucked neatly into the crook of his elbow, waiting to be switched out.

"Deceptiscum, you're gonna regret coming down here." Sunstreaker didn't spare a glance for his two comrades still hidden in the cell.

"What do you think you're gonna do? Lock us in a cell?"

Sunstreaker's snarl turned into a vicious grin. "Do I look slagging stupid? Get on your knees."

"Autobot gonna play at being a Decepticon?" one of the guards sneered.

Sunstreaker took a step forward, and fired a burst. "Play? No. You slaggers wrecked my paint. After dodging all that acid rain, you slaggers completely ruined it!"

Sideswipe huffed a quiet laugh, "There's my Sunny."

Prowl sighed, and drew Sideswipe toward the cell entry. He leaned around the corner, taking in the Decepticons kneeling in the hallway, and the guns against the wall. One lay just within reach.

He knelt, mindful of the mech leaning against him, to pick it up. "Sunstreaker, focus."

Quarter of a breem.

Sunstreaker glanced toward Prowl. "I'm not letting them go, Prowl. Not after what they've done me. To Sideswipe." He paused, switching out the flare gun for his pulse rifle. "Even to you."

Prowl turned the Decepticon gun over in his hands. "I don't intend you to. We don't have much time, don't draw it out." He turned the weapon on the Decepticons and opened fire.

Sunstreaker's smiled in malicious glee before peppering the Decepticons with acid and electron bursts.

With the guards taken care of, Sunstreaker wasted no more time in retrieving his brother. Prowl pulled out the power cells, discarding the guns as useless trash. He only took three. They had no room to carry more than they needed; no access to their subspace to store extra gear.

Time was up.

The floor shook beneath their feet.

Sunstreaker stumbled against the wall, but he didn't let Sideswipe fall. Prowl widened his stance, clutching the three cells in his hand. Each vibration went straight through him, slowing him down with sound and motion, until the world revolved frame after much delayed frame. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe jumped over to him, Sunstreaker's hand appearing in his vision suddenly to drag him up. When had he fallen?

The diagram of the base stayed in Prowl's HUD. They were still too close to the explosion next to the brig, and they still had the explosion before that to deal with in a breem.

Two breem.

Processor caught up with sensors and Prowl tucked the disruptor back into the bottom of his bumper, and held out a hand to Sunstreaker. "My rifle please."

Sunstreaker flipped the weapon over, fingers wrapped around the muzzle of the gun to present it butt first.

Prowl accepted it, checking the charge before exchanging the power cell.

"Think I can get mine back?" Sideswipe moaned, fingers flicking at nothing.

Sunstreaker hesitated, the flare gun dangling uselessly from the hand around his brother's arm. Uncertainty furrowed his brow, and turned his mouth down.

Prowl took Sideswipe's other arm, taking the weight with his good leg. "Give him the gun and let's get out of here."

Another moment of hesitation and Sunstreaker slid his hand down his brother's arm, handing him the gun.

Sideswipe's fingers curled around the holster of the gun, and he sighed in relief.

The tactician shifted his grip on his lover's arm, and his fingers on his gun. "Move."

Sunstreaker nodded once, and hitched Sideswipe a little higher. Then they made their way out of the brig.

The two subsequent explosions had rattled their Decepticon opposition. The guns wavered, the mechs behind them glancing around uncertainly. The three Autobots had no trouble taking out the two groups they met following the map's path. The mapmaker seemed to have even managed to plot a path through the lowest level of resistance after the initial explosion. The Decepticons would be heading for the blast area, minimizing patrols elsewhere.

The third explosion caused a panic. Several Decepticons ran right by the escaping Autobots, not even pausing to look at the blatant red insignias on the other mechs. The ones that did stopped—unarmed, hands reaching for their subspace access—quickly moved on when the Autobots simply lifted their weapons.

Prowl's leg twisted under him, and, concentrating on the map in his processor so intently, he went down. His fingers shrieked down Sideswipe's arm, catching against the grooves in his wrist in a futile attempt to stop his fall. He lost a few astroseconds to lag as his audio receptors drowned in the crashes and shrieks of his landing. He stared up at the ceiling in confusion, he didn't understand what had happened. He'd been hyperaware of every part of his anatomy, leaving little room for his other auxiliary processes, and the sudden loss of sensation in his leg had caught him completely off guard.

Metal clanged to his left and Prowl turned his head sharply toward the sound. Sideswipe peered down at him, his near leg wobbly bracing his weight as he reached down for the tactician. His hand pulled back, the spread fingers curling closed. His bright blue optics stared down at the mech lying on the floor.

Sunstreaker peered over his brother's shoulder, no readable expression on his face. "What the frag just happened?"

Prowl still wondered that very thing. The sensors refused to respond, and he batted at the appendage to see if his leg had somehow detached. He said nothing, aware of how little time they had before the charge detonated would come to an end, or worse the Decepticons organized themselves. Experimentally, he moved his toe joint, watching it twitch obediently about. Prowl looked up at the twins' worried faces, the remains of his doortwings shuddered with the implication of what had just happened. The sensors that tracked the position of that leg had just shorted out, but as long as his leg remained responsive there was no need to worry the two mechs.

"Is your leg acting up?" Sideswipe asked.

Sunstreaker snorted. "No, it's not his leg, idiot. It's his fragging arm, after all that's why he fell. Because his arm gave out."

Sideswipe's dim optics brightened, and motors whined within his frame.

They had no time to argue. "Enough. Get me to my feet, and I'll manage." If he could get the recalcitrant limb under him, he would make it cooperate, even if he could no longer detect its presence. He knew the commands to give it.

He could hear every word of their soft conversation as they attempted to decide how to manage this.

"Can't we fix it first?" Sunstreaker snarled, optics flashing down at Prowl.

"He won't let us. Notice how he's pushing us?"

Prowl shook his head, rolling off his back. "I do not want to be caught here attempting repairs. I will manage." He would simply have to monitor his sensors more closely to prevent another collapse.

Unperturbed at having their conversation overheard, Sideswipe nodded in agreement, before bending down to grab hold of Prowl's hand.

Sunstreaker wrapped an arm around Sideswipe's torso, bracing him as he pulled Prowl to his feet. Prowl's other hand slapped against Sideswipe's chest with a clang and he held on tenaciously as his leg threatened to give again. His sensors told him that there was nothing to hold him up, even though he detected the hiss of working hydraulics.

"Slaggit, I fixed that leg," Sunstreaker said.

Prowl didn't argue, forcing himself to trust his absent leg to his weight. He didn't allow himself to react when it held. "It'll hold." He took some of Sideswipe's weight. "Move."

Another explosion, another wave of panicking Decepticons. These mechs however paused when they noticed the Autobots. Those unarmed continued on, optics bright in terror. Prowl didn't necessarily blame them, the explosion had been alarmingly close to the generators. The agents' wouldn't blow the base. Not Prime's style. Too much loss of life…

Prowl hesitated, startled by sudden inspiration. Almost forgetting the armed Decepticons they faced. Laser fire splattered across his chest. His vocalizer burst on with a pained cry, and he fired almost automatically. He plotted out his idea as he took down the Decepticons before him.

They moved as the numbers thinned, and Prowl guided them a little off the path that Jazz had traced. As a result, they encountered heavier and heavier resistance, and they had to switch out charges on the guns again.

Sunstreaker swore as Prowl cautiously slid up to a corner. "Where the frag are we headed? I'd almost think we're near the center of the base."

Prowl didn't look back at the mech, the ragged edges of his doorwings scraping the wall. "Then logically, I would say we are."

Sunstreaker dragged back n Sideswipe, blue optics flaring brightly. "Why the slag would you do something suicidal like that? I thought you were a fragging tactician."

Sideswipe regarded Prowl dimly, his expression unreadable.

"I deduce that this course will assure our escape more readily than the one suggested by our 'friend'."

Sunstreaker sputtered, and Sideswipe frowned.

"Trust me."

The golden warrior shifted his grip on his brother. "Tch, like I have a choice. You're the one with the map." He waved a hand vaguely. "Lead on."

Prowl nodded, giving the corridor one more glance. "Even if you hadn't asked."

Without any further warning he dragged the two into the hallway and hurried down the corridor. Sideswipe limped between them, jaw set in determination as he put one foot in front of another. Sunstreaker, however, dragged his feet with every step, his sullen expression darkening.

The number of mechs unexpectedly thinned out, surprising the Autobots. Prowl hastily checked their position against the diagram in his imaging processor, but they were indeed on the correct route. They actually shouldn't be too far from their goal. The hum of the giant reactors pulsed across his plating, growing louder as they progressed through the alarmingly empty corridors.

Vertigo met them at the final cross section. The mechs flanking him held their rifles unwavering at the three Autobots, despite the next explosion that shook their base.

Sideswipe tensed in Prowl's hand, drawing his flare gun close to his chest. Air hissed out of Sunstreaker's head vents, frustration leaking from his joints. His pulse rifle leveled on the Decepticons, the power cells in his hand humming to life.

Prowl didn't give them any of his attention, though. He only had eyes for the Decepticon base commander, for just behind him, within easy toss of a grenade even, lay his goal; the reactors that powered the base.

"Going somewhere?" Vertigo asked, as though they were guests leaving before saying farewell to their host.

Sunstreaker leveled his gun at the Decepticon, one arm reaching back to shove Sideswipe and Prowl behind him. "You expect us to stay and look at your ugly paint job forever? Did Slog do that for you?"

The Decepticon narrowed his optics.

Sideswipe chuckled, leaning his weight on Prowl. "Oh, come on, don't compliment him, even Slog can't make something that ugly."

The Decepticon's engine growled. "You think you're so funny don't you, cretins? But we're not done entertaining you, so you can't leave yet."

Prowl's fingers clenched the metal of Sideswipe's upper arm, taking the full weight of the heavier Toughline. His dental plates gritted together and his optics flared, his balance . "I'm afraid we'll have to refuse your continued invitation, Vertigo. I find your cordiality lacking."

Sideswipe shifted against Prowl. "Actually," he grunted, optics flashing with malice, "I find your accommodations less than standard." He swung his gun into position and let loose with a round of flares.

Prowl snapped his optics off, staggering from the recoil of the shot. Heat rolled across his plating in painful, burning waves.

Mechs screamed, guns clattering to the floor in surprise.

Prowl slammed into the wall, Sunstreaker's weight pressing into him and holding him there. Sideswipe yelped, shoving at Prowl's chest where it dug into him, but Prowl could do nothing to change his position, stunned by Sunstreaker's weight.

The heat faded, evaporating into the chill of the base.

Prowl activated his optics, sensors screaming at him to move. He shoved Sunstreaker off, his chest screeching horribly against Sideswipe's dull finish as he turned to face the Decepticons.

The air vibrated with the clash of metal, and Sunstreaker shouted in fury. A hand snatched at the dull gold plating, but Sunstreaker easily slapped the thin arm away. He fired a shot from his pulse rifle, and, as if it was a signal, the Decepticons opened fire.

Prowl cried out, his sensors going haywire. The shots blistered the air, and cracked across his audio receivers. He couldn't even tell if he'd been shot. Sunstreaker added to the cacophony; holding a Decepticon to his frame as a shield while he released intermittent streams of bolts from his pulse rifle. Prowl faced the Decepticons, his numb leg shuddering noisily beneath his weight, but it held with him constantly monitoring the controls and keeping it aligned.

He lifted his acid rifle, and took aim, his targeting array dominating his vision. His pellets spattered over the Decepticons, burning holes into the armor. Unfortunately it also drew their attention to the tactician and the warrior he covered.

And the world slowed.

Sunstreaker stood with the Decepticon shielding him. His mouth formed words, but the sounds glitched and guttered in his audio receivers before Prowl could interpret them.

Bolts flashed past. Long streams of light that burned the walls. Seared Sunstreaker. Punched holes in Prowl's armor.

Sunstreaker charged the line of mechs, damaged arm once again hanging limp.

Pain came in disjointed fits, blazing in and out with the lagging of his processor. Too much happened at once: sight, sound, targeting, motion, tactile. His sensors ran hot with data, building in his processor and overrunning all other processes. Images ran by his vision, noise rattled plating in incomprehensible waves. Even his chronometer could not mark the passage of time as it continued to count astroseconds between jumps in his vision.

The entire time that he lagged, he didn't stop pulling the trigger of his rifle.

Armor splintered: the armor that covered the Decepticons; the dull gold of Sunstreaker's plating.

He mustn't stop.

Broken images, meaningless sounds. Prowl could only fire, using the still images that his lagging visual software gave him as a target.

His fingers slipped on the grip of the rifle, and the weapon suddenly disappeared from his hand.

Prowl glanced down in surprise. There it was. Still in his hand as it had been. His processor caught up with the data input, and he vented a sigh in relief.

A curse half-formed in the tactician's processor.

Decepticons surrounded him, a multitude of gun barrels (ten) pointed down at him, the hum of their power cores vibrating through his plating.

Vertigo stood amongst them, leering down at Prowl.

A hand touched Prowl's canopy, but the tactician didn't turn to look at Sideswipe.

"Are you quite done resisting, now?"

Prowl glared at the Decepticon, not moving in favor of running tactics through his processor. Simulations coursed through his processor, deleted to make room for more ideas as the previous were discarded as failures. One conclusion kept popping up. One that made fear jitter through Prowl, fear that he pushed aside. He had to.

They would not give up.

Because giving up would be defeat, and, for Prowl, defeat might eventually end in death, but not before the Decepticons had depleted him of everything: information, pride, memories, dignity. Happiness. They would take Sideswipe, without knowing what they had until it was too late; Sideswipe would be dead by the time they forced their relationship from Prowl's databanks. He knew that the red mech would not last much longer in the Decepticon's tender mercies.

Sideswipe's finger's pressed into Prowl's back, a silent, worried query.

Prowl continued to count the astroseconds as they ticked by one by one. It had taken him twenty astroseconds to reach an acceptable solution. Then he had to formulate an approach to the solution, another ten astrosconds.

A silence that did not go unnoticed by their Decepticon captor.

Vertigo laughed. "Have you blown your motherboard, Autobot? It took a lot less time than I thought it would."

Prowl remained carefully still and expressionless. This could play right into his plans. He couldn't respond, though. Not to the hand jostling him from behind, the incessant voice calling his name. Nor to the Decepticon drawing closer, or the painful blow that landed across shattered and crushed housing of his hoodlight. He needed another player to make his move.

The hand on Prowl's back hooked onto his canopy, and pulled him back. "Get back, or I'll slagging blow all of your optics out," Sideswipe snarled. The barrel of his flare gun appeared in Prowl's peripheral vision, propped against the shoulder of his numb arm. "Think you can knock it away before I pull the trigger?" The sneer in the warrior's voice dared the base commander to even try.

Prowl could not feel the gun against his magplate, only its weight pressing down on components lower down in his torso. He could not feel the rifle in his hand, or feel it lying on his left leg.

Vertigo took a cautious step back, optics on the gun. "Oh, you really don't want to do that."

The hand on Prowl's canopy tightened, and the barrel of the flare gun shifted its aim behind Prowl. "Like slag I don't."

Vertigo gestured to something on his right, beyond the range of Prowl's vision. "Certainly you don't want to endanger your brother?"

Prowl couldn't see it, but he could hear the shriek and scrape of metal on metal, of a body being pulled across the floor. The clanks of someone being stood on their feet, and the grumble of an engine as it tried to restart.

The grip on Prowl's back went lax, and then tightened again. "If you hurt him…"

The red optics narrowed, smug victory leaking out of the commander's joints. "You'll do what?" The squeal of tortured metal punctuated the question.

Sideswipe jerked his hand back, rocking Prowl. "You fragger…"

Prowl didn't need to see to know the cause of that awful racket.

Astroseconds ticked by, punctuated only by the uncertain revs from damaged systems. Prowl continued feigning computer lock, staring at the opening behind Vertigo which led directly to the main reactors.

Vertigo snarled impatiently, and he lashed out with a club hand. Three times he struck out, pink energon glowing on his club arm.

Sunstreaker cried out, the sound cutting off as quickly as it had started. Metal squealed with agony and feet stuttered on the floor. "Don't do a damned thing, Sides," Sunstreaker spat over the hum of his hydraulics pulling him upright.

A puff of sound brushed against the back of Prowl's neck, a plea that sent a surge of anger through Prowl's emotional relays. "Please, don't hurt him."

It took all of Prowl's willpower not to make a move right then. Sideswipe had never sounded so pitiful and weak as he did right then. It made Prowl want to rip apart the cause for his lover's pain. Made him want to crush the spark of the one that had brought the strong mech to such lows. It firmed his resolve to go with his plan, no matter how distasteful.

"Oh, you don't want me to hurt him?" Vertigo asked, in a sickly sweet voice. The Decepticon's gaze slid to Prowl's still form. "Pity. Here I was going to use him as leverage against your commander."

Sideswipe's arm whined softly, and the mech shifted about behind him. "What the slag are you talking about?"

Vertigo hummed, optics narrowed in his wicked smirk once more. "Oh, well, it's just that I figured if your commander might be trying to fool me, then this would be a way to draw him out."

Sunstreaker staggered into Prowl's line of sight, pushed by one of the other guards surrounding him.

"After all," Vertigo said in a conversational tone, "what sentimental Autobot would stand by while their fellow was hurt." The conversational overlay never left his vocalizer as he casually reached over to Sunstreaker and hooked one claw finger over the first golden slat in his left vent.

The Decepticon drew his arm down, ripping the slats right off Sunstreaker's helm.

Firm hands held Sunstreaker still as Vertigo proceeded to give his other audio vent the same treatment. Sunstreaker groaned, his limbs jerking in an abortive effort to stop Vertigo.

The gun shifted against Prowl's shoulder again.

Vertigo whipped about, flicking his club arm at the Decepticons holding the golden warrior. "You really want to blow out your own brother's optics as well as ours, Autobot."

The guards tore into Sunstreaker, fingers sinking under paneling to rip it up. Wires sparked, exposed and broken. Fists crashed into the Autobot's chest, the plating buckling under the repeated blows.

Sunstreaker screamed, short, sharp gasps of sound as pieces of armor were torn from his body. His hands, pinned to his side, curled into ineffectual fists, and his entire body jerked as they tore out sensor circuits and wires.

"Better blind than at your mercy," Sideswipe growled, and the gun exploded right next Prowl's audio receiver.

Prowl lunged away from Sideswipe in that astrosecond of time before the flare impacted against Vertigo. He couldn't move very fast, but he had Vertigo's position fixed in his targeting arrays.

Bright light and static filled his vision, scorching heat washing over his plating, but he knew when he came into contact with the larger mech. He knew he had the right mech when clubs battered into his arm.

Prowl dragged out his interface cord. His hand collided with Vertigo's chest, and he followed the first seam he found down past the edge of the chest and over the ventral curve of the torso. Hyperactive sensors detected the minute unevenness of the Decepticon's interface cover. Prowl tore that open, flinching at the blows that impacted his ragged doorwings as the Decepticon realized what he was doing. Vertigo's voice jumbled up in his blown receiver, and Prowl could only depend on his sensors to track the mech's movements.

Prowl jammed his plug into the open connection and initiated the connection. His processor pounding with information, he couldn't even hack his way through the most basic of firewalls.

Not that he needed to.

He only needed a handful of astroseconds.

The virus didn't hesitate. It attacked.

Vertigo shrieked, shoving Prowl away for all the good it would do him.

The cord yanked out before Prowl could catch himself.

He couldn't afford to stop. Voices screamed at him, and he thought he recognized Sideswipe's panicked tones.

Prowl fumbled under his bumper, numb fingers scraping over nothing. He should be lagging, but if he was, he couldn't tell. Heat still scorched over his plating, and his audio receptors continued to shriek with feedback. Static continued to overlay his vision. But nobody had moved, and that just didn't seem right, they should be moving. He brought his other hand up and scraped the disruptor out of the joining of his chestplate and his torso. He activated it and lifted his arm.

A hand seized his wrist."Pr-l!"

No time to recognize the voice, except to recognize the concern.. "The reactor!"

The disruptor disappeared from his hand, and Prowl directed extra power to his optics. The static cleared just in time to catch the disruptor performing a perfect arc straight into the reactor's containment field.

It was as though the world had frozen, and Prowl used those few precious astroseconds to dump useless sensory data from his memory banks.

The field shuddered, flickering fitfully.

Then it died.

Prowl turned, meeting Sunstreaker's gaze. "Let's get out of here."

"Little problem."

Prowl realized then that Vertigo still shrieked, but the static had cleared from his receptors, and he finally made out the words scattered throughout the screams. "Kill them! I don't care how you do it, just kill them all!"

Again the world froze as Prowl faced the Decepticons inching toward them.

He glanced back at the reactor, and as though it had awaited a cue, the security lights activated and an alarm blared throughout the base. Prowl glanced at the Decepticons. "Your choice," he said simply, vocalizer hitching and glitching with static.

The Decepticons looked at the two Autobots, both still grasping their guns.

Their optics turned to Vertigo, laying on the ground still shrieking in pain from the sensory overload.

They looked at the reactors, as the unstable core blew the containment fields of the other two reactors.

The Decepticons turned and as one they bolted for their lives.

Prowl glanced down at himself, ensuring that his limbs remained intact. His legs had both gone numb, as a matter of fact he could feel the sensors from his gyroscopic hub fading in and out uncertainly.

They needed to get out of there.

Prowl slapped his numb fingers around Sunstreaker's arm and hauled the mech the five steps to Sideswipe. "Get him up. Move it!"

Sunstreaker needed no further prodding. He slung Sideswipe's arm over his shoulders and started down the hallway without waiting for any further commands from the officer.

Prowl followed, using a hand on the wall to steady himself.

Behind them Vertigo no longer screamed, but Prowl could detect no other movement from him. How long did Prowl lay there while the virus worked its way through his sensors? While the world exploded around him in an onslaught of data and pain.

"Where to?"

Prowl looked up at Sunstreaker's sudden snarl. They were at an intersection. Which direction had they taken from the reactor? His processor was slow to respond when he pulled the plans back up. The map appeared in his imaging software, piecing itself together byte by byte.

"Prowl, which way?"

The image still hovered incomplete in his CPU when Prowl grit his dental plates and strode forward to grab Sideswipe's other side. He had no time for weakness. He recalled being on the fifteenth floor from his earlier uses of the map, and discarded the layouts of the higher levels and those below the surface. He located the reactors on the map, following the paths from to their first four way junctions. Then he traced the pathways until he hit a deadend, or unknown corridors. Decision made in thirty astroseconds, Prowl draped Sideswipe's arm over his shoulders, wincing as he scraped broken wires against the mech's plating. "Straight."

Sunstreaker didn't question him, but moved immediately. He dragged himself down the hallway, leaning against the wall as much as Sideswipe leaned on him.

How long would they have until the reactor blew? Nothing came out over the external speaker units. Or had the reactor's meltdown already blown the delicate wiring in the walls? How long did it take for a reactor to blow after the loss of a containment field? He couldn't recall. A joor? Less? Less, Prowl decided. A lot less, judging from the frantic vibrations that rippled through the wall.

Prowl guided them through corridors, blind. He had no way of knowing where the closed doors led, no way of tracking their progress throughout the maze of the Decepticon base.

Suddenly, Sunstreaker steered Sideswipe into a door off the main corridor. Prowl opened his mouth to protest, but a hot glare from the warrior silenced him.

A single window lit the interior of the room they entered. A conference room, if the large table with the display at the center was any indication. The window captured Prowl's attention, and his doorwings brushed against the wall as he circled round the table. He stopped before the window, and his hyperactive sensory network took the initiative to pull up a measurement scale on its own.

Sunstreaker sat Sideswipe in the chair, and then joined Prowl at the window. "Can you find us on the map now?"

Prowl glanced at the mech in surprise, disrupted from his current task for a few bare astroseconds. Had he been so obvious?

"Fraggit, Prowl, you have no idea where you're going, and don't try to tell me that you do, because I fragging know that we're completely and utterly lost. Now, either find us on the map, or slagging give it to me, and I'll navigate." Sunstreaker thrust his hand out, fingers outspread in an expectant gesture.

Prowl stared askance at the warrior. Surely he couldn't be serious? "Sunstreaker, there is absolutely no way that you could possibly convince me to give you this map. If you download the map from my memory banks, you'll get the virus ,too."

Sunstreaker was silent for exactly 10.87 astroseconds. "You still have that drivestick, right?"

The tactician didn't answer; instead he turned his scrutiny to the ground several hundred meters below. A ledge jutted out half way down the side of the main building, but it could be cleared easily enough with the right amount of momentum.

"Prowl..."

Sunstreaker's growl drew Prowl's attention back to the golden mech still holding his hand out. "That may not be necessary."

Sunstreaker's face twisted in confusion, but his gaze followed Prowl's line of thought easily enough. "You are joking!"

"The fall shouldn't damage us too badly..."

"No! No way! Not happening!"

Sideswipe's weak voice drifted over from where he still sat at the table. "'t's goin' on, y' two?"

Sunstreaker's attention snapped over to his brother. "Your crazy-aft sparkles is turning suicidal."

Sideswipe lifted his head up from where it lay on the table. "Huh?"

Sunstreaker stalked over to his brother, and bristled protectively over him. "Prowl is suggesting that we jump out a fragging window!"

Wide optics regarded Prowl before the mech's head sagged back to the table. "Really?"

Sunstreaker sputtered indignantly. "Don't sound so happy about it, slaggit!"

Prowl turned away from the window to join the two brothers at the table. "We need to get out of here, and that is the quickest way down." He rested one hand on the red mech's shoulder. "Sometimes crazy works, after all."

Sideswipe stared ahead in silent contemplation. "How high are we?"

Prowl withdrew his hand at the mech's quiet tone, but Sunstreaker beat him to answering.

"Fragging half a kilometer up. He thinks we can make it with only minimal damage!"

Prowl didn't have a chance to answer.

Sideswipe's hand clanked against his leg, something pulling his face into an expression that Prowl had never seen before on the brave warrior. "I don't think I can make that."

Prowl couldn't drop to his knees. He teetered uncertainly as it was on his numb leg. He bent over his lover-his soldier and slapped his numb hand down. "Don't talk like that!"

Sunstreaker glared at Prowl, snarling silently.

Prowl returned the glare with equal fervor, though he continued to speak to Sideswipe. "Do you think that I would even suggest such a thing if I thought your chances were negligible. Half a kilometer is an overestimate by at least two hundred meters-"

"And that's going to make a fragload of difference is it, Prowl?" Sunstreaker snapped at Prowl. "This whole stupid situation is your fault for ever thinking that you could actually hide 'facing with my brother forever. We wouldn't be here if you had just done the right thing and requested a transfer in the first plate."

Every joint in Prowl's frame locked in fury, and power surged through his optics. "Your brother has no choice in this?"

Sunstreaker narrowed his optics and leaned forward to hiss viciously back, "He's not a fragging officer."

Prowl's fist clenched on Sideswipe's shoulder. "Now is not the time for this, Sunstreaker. Our chances are at 56% if we exit through the window, but that number continues to decrease for every astrosecond we waste debating. We cannot make it out of this base in time by walking. Let's move."

He put action to word and grabbed Sideswipe's arm and levered him partially up.

60.587 astroseconds passed before Sunstreaker moved. Prowl didn't know if he had been making a point, or if he truly had to process the information for that long. Sunstreaker pulled a majority of Sideswipe's weight away from Prowl.

The window had a thick shielding glass, but it had been designed with a method to bypass any electronic controls. Prowl unlatched the window, and shoved it open. He stared down at the mass of vehicles retreating from the main building. Prowl scanned the grounds again, seeking an area to aim for.

"Are we doing this or not?" Sunstreaker grumbled.

Location confirmed, Prowl gestured Sunstreaker up first assisting the scuffed mech in helping his twin up on the ledge. There was no room for Prowl to join them. "Pull up your battle grid and aim for quadrant -84/29/30. I'll follow."

Sunstreaker nodded, and his grip shifted to a more secure hold on his brother. Then he jumped.

Prowl didn't allow himself to watch their descent, or listen for their screams. He dragged himself onto the ledge, his grip and footing uncertain with his numb limbs. Wind whistled past his damaged chevron and shivered his broken doorwings. He oriented himself for five astroseconds, verifying that his chosen landing area remained clear. One last thing, he took the drivestick and jammed it deep up into his hood. He jostled it until it would not move no matter how much he fidgeted it. Reassured that it would survive the fall and remain on his person, he coiled himself; physically, mentally, emotionally.

And jumped.

Air screamed over his plating, burning hyperactive sensor relays out one by one. It was too much. His processor lagged and everything jumbled together into a single confused knot inside his processor.

The ground loomed closer and closer with each flash of awareness. No time to brace himself. No time to position himself. No time to prepare. No time to find his two soldiers.

The impact ignited every sensor in his body. Metal clattered and shrieked in a disconnected symphony. Sensors flared in a single bright, broken pulse and the world froze.

His processor caught up with him staring blankly at the ground. His entire sensory net ached with searing pain. He ached with the memory of slamming into the ground; he ached anew as sensors recalled being wrenched from their housing. His body burned with a suffocating heat, and he gasped. His ventilators chuttered uncertainly, one fan jammed to a complete stop, the other wobbling loosely in his chest. Diagnostic scans came up with far too many errors,

He needed to move. Sunstreaker. Sideswipe. He had to locate them. They needed to find better shelter.

A gun barrel prodded at the back of his head.

Prowl twisted his head about to glance behind him.

Blue plating greeted him, a visage he should be all too familiar with. Prowl could only focus on the purple emblem centered on the mech's chest. "What do we have here?" the Decepticon officer purred.

No.

Nononono! They couldn't be captured again! Not like this! Not when they couldn't fight back.

"Firecracker, Earthquake, Riptide, get your afts over here."

"What do you want now, Crosswind? We need to get out of here before the reactor blows."

Prowl's vocalizer whined involuntarily when he received no response from any of his limbs. Had they been ripped off? Had the sensors finally overloaded? He couldn't tell, he couldn't see past his chestplate.

"Not without him. Grab 'im, and let's go."

One of the other mech buzzed in protest. "Whatever for? He's scrap anyways. Let's get out of here!"

Another moved into Prowl's line of vision. "That's the Autobot tactician!"

A chorus followed right on the heels of that exclamation.

Prowl shuddered, and sent the commands to bring one of his hands into sight just to see. Metal scraped over the concrete ground and his hand creeped into view. Gun, where had his gun gone?

A weight settled on Prowl's shoulder. A hand, Prowl decided. The Decepticon rocked Prowl on his bumper, knocking him onto his side. The clang from landing on his side reverberated through the remains of his sensory net. He caught only fleeting glimpses of a forest of legs before the distinct sound of a rifle powering up drew the Decepticons' attention.

No word of warning preceded the volley of pulse beams that splattered against the Decepticons heads. One beam caught the blue mech, Crosswind, right in the face. He crumpled to the ground, shrieking in pain. Another beam cut through one of the mechs' legs, and that mech toppled.

"Get the slag away from him, Decepticreeps."

Prowl couldn't see him, but he knew Sunstreaker's voice, even when it was broken and distorted. His relief was short-lived however as the ground shook beneath him, and an explosion sounded behind him.

"Let's get out of here," one of the Decepticons snarled.

The legs disappeared in the rapid transformation of two Ridgeriders.

"So long Autotoast!" the other chimed as they zoomed off.

Sunstreaker cursed emphatically as his voice drew closer to Prowl.

"Sunstreaker," Prowl grunted, "visual diagnostic."

The harsh footsteps faltered. "What the frag is that supposed to mean?"

"Am I intact?"

Sunstreaker came into view then, bent over to grab Prowl's arm and haul him to his feet. "Yeah." His pale blue optics narrowed. "Can you move?" The mech's grip tightened as though he anticipated Prowl to suddenly drop to the ground.

The ground continued to shudder, but Prowl forced his legs to support his weight. He straightened out of Sunstreaker's hands and stepped out of his reach. "Where's Sideswipe?"

Sunstreaker put a steady hand on Prowl's shoulder, and turned the tactician around. "That way."

Ah. Now he could see him. Sideswipe lay in a limp heap a six meters away from where Prowl had landed.

"I need some help moving him."

Prowl's gaze drifted upward, drawn to the small explosions that burst out of windows and vents higher up in the base. "We need to hurry."

"No, really?" Sunstreaker retorted.

Prowl hurried as best he could, depending on his sight to maintain his balance.

Sideswipe whimpered as they lifted him to his feet. Sunstreaker murmured reassuring words, but Sideswipe shook his head. "There's no time. You should leave me."

"Frag, no!"

Prowl frowned, though he couldn't spare a glance toward the red mech. "That is absolutely not happening."

Prowl guided them toward the bunkers that he had spied. Something suddenly latched onto his leg. Alarm surged through his frame, and he lashed out blindly.

"No, please wait! Don't hurt me!"

Three pairs of blue optics turned toward the source of the voice. The Decepticon Sunstreaker had shot lay prone on the ground, one of his legs missing from the thigh down. "Help me! You're Autodolts-I mean bots. You can't just leave me here to die. You can't."

A snarl rumbled through Sunstreaker's entire frame.

Sideswipe scoffed softly, even damaged as he was. "You've got to be kidding."

Prowl shook off the hand that tried to grab his leg again. "I believe you are confusing me with our Prime."

"No, you can't do this!"

Prowl kicked at the Decepticon for good measure, and then led his two soldiers away. They didn't have much time.

The three Autobots ducked one of the armored bunkers that lined the wall. The Decepticon continued to beg and plead on the other side, out of their sight.

Prowl had only just leaned against the wall when the world became awash in light. Everything disappeared in fire and heat that burned plating and melted circuitry. He didn't know if he screamed, he couldn't hear his two soldiers. He couldn't even make out the Decepticon's continued pleas, if they still went on.

Everything was pain and noise and heat, all melded into a single entity. It lasted for astroseconds, it lasted for eternity, and one may as well have been the other as far as Prowl could tell.

Because as sensors died in the heat, and his joints melted, the world slowed into interminable bursts of static and sound and heat and sight.

Gun, he needed a gun. It was his only conscious, broken thought. He needed a gun. Gun. Gun. Where was his gun? He needed his gun.

'Why' escaped him. It didn't matter. It was of no consequence.

He didn't know how long he lay there, blindly seeking his gun, if only in his processor. He could have laid there for a few astroseconds... or eternity for all he could tell.

Shadows flickered across his vision, but whether from searchers that passed them by or the furious waves of fires crackling around them. His reserves dwindled past the stasis point, and he didn't even remember having reset those particular settings.

It didn't matter. He just needed his gun.

Everything was red around him. Red and orange, hatred and heat, and evil. He hated it, and needed his gun to be rid of it all.

To protect his two soldiers, defend his lover. To do his duty.

Shadows flickered in front of his optics, and these he recognized as Cybertronians. Power surged through his empty hand. Defend. Protect. Defend that which was precious to him.

Until he saw the blue. Blue, blue, all around blue. And voices, he realized, voices that spoke in unintelligible whispers (or had his audio sensors completely burnt out in the explosion?). Not grating. Not harsh. Warm. Friendly. Autobots.

His gun. He needed to tell them.

He needed his gun.