Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: TF:A. Every second-in-command needs to meet four requirements: act as an anchor, offer assistance whenever needed, be a confidante, and provide balance. Prowl/Optimus.
Author's Note: Written in response to a request from lyricality.
With the exception of Bumblebee, Prowl had to admit that his team was not entirely intolerable.
The insight had not come easily. In the beginning, Prowl found himself well suited to having nothing but disdain for a group of individuals—failures, cast-offs, liabilities—that had been haphazardly, and insensibly, thrown together. For a long time, Prowl had thought himself the least deserving of being included in such an ill constucted group; the fact that his training in Circuit Su had reached a dead end had rather been the fault of his teacher, not himself.
His contempt was not completely unique. None of them had ever truly liked each other, and the existence of even mutual toleration was questionable. Most likely, they all would have remained like that— resentful of themselves and each other—had their (un?)fortunate discovery of the All Spark not led them to Earth.
Alone and with limited resources, they had fended the Decepticons off time and again in true Thermopylaean style: miraculously. Unbelievably. Their success came at a cost, though, mostly in terms of embarrassment. Prowl was willing to believe that each of their moments of….uncomfortable…. personal growth had been positive; they were settling into one another, connecting, meshing, and Prowl felt that that suited him more than detachment. However, something was still off: a snag in the web that was forming between them all.
In the soft, filtered moonlight of his room, Prowl frowned. This was getting annoying. For the past several days, each of his meditations had invariably cycled back to this node of discontent in an otherwise smooth network of connections.
Committed as their leader was to teamwork and inter-dependence, Optimus was an odd source of dissonance in their group. But, perhaps not so odd. No matter how Optimus encouraged everyone to come speak to him with their troubles, he himself confided only in Ratchet, and hardly regularly, at that. Prowl also had to admit that Optimus probably matched him in frustration at being demoted to a repair crew. Prowl did not know terribly much of Optimus' past—a niggling thought reminded him that he had never particularly bothered to ask—but he did know that Optimus had once been a part of the Elite Guard. Unlike Bumblebee, Bulkhead, and himself, Optimus had not only wanted to be more, he had been more, and he was chafing under his relegation. Prowl had thought that Optimus had been getting better, but recently Prowl began to suspect that Optimus was instead getting worse.
As evidenced, of course, by the past week filled with recharge-less nights. Tonight would be no different, judging by the sounds of machinery and crashing just outside. Averse as Prowl was to getting involved in other peoples' affairs, Optimus had chosen to work out his frustrations by practicing battle moves near Prowl's room, so there was little other course of action. With a sigh, Prowl climbed to his feet and went in search of his troubled leader.
The old factory in which they had taken up residence was in one of the old industrial neighborhoods, and it was surrounded by equally abandoned warehouses. This was probably the reason why Optimus had no qualms in practicing in a weedy lot that separated their factory from one such warehouse. Prowl, far from eager to confront Optimus, decided to wait and observe from a shadowed corner of the yard.
Optimus was upset; Prowl could see that at once. While their fighting styles were fundamentally different, Optimus still should have been far more elegant than he was. His lack of grace was not entirely due to frustration, however, and Prowl let himself feel a thread of irritation at the training methods of the Elite Guard. It had been one of the reasons behind his choice to enter apprenticeship in Circuit Su; he had never been able to stand the way that the Academy blatantly pawed at the pedes of the War Council and structured all of its training methods around the use of brute force. It not only weeded out but also destroyed a lot of natural talent. Optimus was not yet completely ruined, but he was severely degraded.
Prowl started a little. He had rarely heard Optimus curse and even less so with such vehemence. Optimus had stumbled—his finishing stance was awkward and unbalanced, and his ax was decently off mark on the barrel's painted target.
No, the recent arrival and relatively quick departure of Ultra Magnus' team had not been good for Optimus at all. He had been getting better; of that, Prowl was sure. But Optimus had been too desperate to prove himself to his commander, to shine and succeed and contort himself into an ideal standard that had never suited him to begin with, and it had hit him all the harder when he had received little else but criticism and snubs.
"You're trying too hard," Prowl said quietly.
Optimus spun, the grappling panels on his arms sliding open in his surprise. He quieted—but did not relax—when he saw Prowl step out from the shadows.
"Oh, Prowl. It's you." Optimus looked away, then, back towards the factory, embarrasment heavy along the line of his shoulder plates. He would have never survived advanced training in Circuit Su, Prowl thought absently. Optimus was so easy to read that there was no wonder that Megatron found him to be of little threat. "Sorry if I woke you."
Prowl nodded, accepting the apology, as he walked up to the barrel and pulled the ax free. He carried it back to Optimus, who was quick to take it and tuck it back into subspace.
"You're trying too hard," Prowl repeated. "You're putting too much weight behind your swing, and it's throwing your timing off."
"An expert in melee combat, now, are you?" Optimus responded with no small amount of bitterness, and Prowl gritted his dental plates in the effort to keep from walking away and let Optimus simmer in his own bad mood.
"No. But I do see a missed target."
Prowl received a glare for his reply, but it was short-lived, replaced by resignation and standard civility.
"I'm sorry, Prowl. That wasn't fair of me. Thank you for your advice." He turned, moving to leave, and Prowl reached out to stop him. Never one for touch, the feel of Prowl's soft grip was surprise enough to halt Optimus in his tracks.
"Try again. Or you won't remember to do it next time."
Optimus hesitated, but Prowl felt no need to ready himself for an argument. Optimus' spirit was too fatigued for it. He pulled the ax out of subspace, its weight settling smoothly and easily into his servos, and Prowl stepped out of the way. Optimus stepped into the motion—too quickly, Prowl silently scolded—and even though he released the ax sooner, his steps were too heavy, too close together, and the ax fell expectedly off target. Prowl stayed silent; he merely watched as Optimus retrieved his ax and tried again.
And failed again.
Far from accurate, Optimus was not even being precise—his misses were not even hitting in the same place. He was erratic, and Prowl felt a small curdle of faint disgust in his spark. Optimus was not even trying, but Prowl forced himself to be quiet and instead wait for Optimus to become tired of his own failures. Endlessly drilling a worthless technique in an effort to get it right by chance was an Academy dogma, and Prowl could only wait for Optimus to discover its worthlessness for himself.
"Patience," he said as Optimus paused before trying a twentieth throw. "Take your time, and think about the target."
"I don't have time to think in battle," Optimus countered. Quitting, he slumped to the ground, crumpling up in a miserable splay of long limbs. "You have to act quickly; hesitation means failure."
Prowl shuttered his optics. Reversing such ingrained—and poor—training was going to take longer than he expected. Or wanted.
"I did not say hesitate. I said deliberate. There is always time for that."
"You must think," Prowl interrupted, and in one fluid movement he was in the middle of the lot and throwing a shuriken at the barrel. It landed dead center on the target. "But that does not mean you have to think slowly."
He was going too fast in the lesson; Optimus was looking at him unconvinced and, so much the worse, uninterested.
This was going to be a long night, indeed, but his recharge was at stake, and Prowl was willing to sacrifice a little time in order to get some peace and quiet in the long run.
"Before you can learn what to think, you must learn how to think. Get up and try again."
Optimus did not look particularly enthused, but he nonetheless stood up. He paused—
--but only briefly. Optimus had recalculated the trajectory, but nothing more than that. He—too quickly—stepped into his motion. Prowl reached out and layed a hand, his grip firmer than before, against Optimus' elbow joint.
"No," Prowl said. "Wait."
So tense. Prowl stayed silent, servos still pressing around Optimus' arm. The other mech shifted restlessly in place, but Prowl was patient. He needed to be patient. During such a novice stage of training, each mech in needed to figure out, on their own, what was expected of them. Some took longer than others, but they all eventually tired of the effort required in staying so tense and would relax. Just as Optimus was doing.
Prowl waited a few moments to let the lesson sink in before he rewarded Optimus by letting go and stepping slightly back. Optimus was staring at him, but Prowl turned his own gaze to the barrel on the far side of the lot. Optimus, perfectly, did the same.
So responsive. Perhaps Optimus was going to be easier to handle than he previously thought, and it was such a shame that the Autobot Academy did not understand the gentler, and ultimately more effective, methods; even within these first few moments, Prowl knew that Optimus would have gold-plated the Academy's reputation had he been taught differently.
"There, you see?" Prowl asked. He kept his voice low so that Optimus would be forced—though not intimidated—into paying attention in order to hear him. "The target hasn't moved. Now, recalculate."
The command was obeyed, but because Prowl could see just how casually it was done, he was ready to reach out again and keep Optimus from moving. "No more," he said. "Recalculate, and that's all."
This wait was longer. Optimus was frowning, every gear and cable in his shoulders twitching as he gave sidelong glances back to Prowl, waiting for the cue to attack. Prowl could not blame Optimus for the restlessness; when had he ever been taught that he could run his battle calculations and never have to act on them? But the wait taught more than patience. As Optimus relaxed—under his own will—he could not keep all his attention on the calculations sitting in his processor. As he got bored, his focus would naturally start drifting to everything else around him: the sounds of the lot and more distant highway, the ground beneath his pedes, the weather, the subtleties of the weight of his own weapon.
"Now," Prowl said, filling his vocals with just enough firm urgency that Optimus reacted instantly. The way that Optimus moved was so much better, so much smoother, that Prowl felt the corner of his mouth twitch into a proud smile as the ax flew in a perfect parabola to land dead center on target.
"Good job," Prowl murmured, taking advantage of Optimus's amazement to disappear back into the warehouse. This way, when Optimus turned around to thank him, he was already gone.
The next day, Prowl made sure to avoid Optimus. More so than usual, anyway. It was not out of any sense of embarrassment of the impromptu lesson of the previous night. Rather, if left alone, Optimus would have no choice but to ruminate on what he had learned. It was standard learning procedure; Circuit Su required the unlearning of all that was pre-programmed and ingrained from protoform age and could be, at the best of times, counter-intuitive. While Prowl held no delusions of Optimus ever becoming a practitioner of Circuit Su, the groundwork and foundations of the art were universally beneficial—both physically and mentally—and such a delicate and important stage of training required careful, solid pacing that was individually tailored to the student's needs.
Naturally, Optimus did not understand this, and he made Prowl's task of avoidance more difficult than it should have been. After a day's worth of hide-n-seek throughout the factory and surrounding Detroit, Prowl decided to change tactics.
He fled. Though not before, of course, placing a few careful phrases in Bumblebee's audios—if Prowl could count on Bumblebee for anything, it was his predictability, especially concerning the nonexistant filter between his processor and mouth. He also moved deliberately, leaving a subtle energy trail across Highway 94 and the occasional divet in the soil of a forested park halfway between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.
Sure enough, late in the evening, Prowl heard Optimus's approach through the woods as the larger mech finally caught up to him. If the ease with which Optimus could be manipulated did not so wonderfully suit his purpose, Prowl would have condemmed it.
Prowl sat on a large, flat rock out in the middle of a small creek, legs folded with his hands resting on his knees, as he listened to the heavy, uncertain steps of the other mech. Despite having his back to Optimus, Prowl could all too easily picture him: optics averted, shoulders slumped, digits nervously clenching and unclenching. Optimus was questioning his own motives in following Prowl, who knew that this training session would have to be handled carefully if he wanted any measure of success.
"Yes?" Prowl prompted in order to break the silence brought upon Optimus's own, cycling indecision on what to say.
"I—ah, yes," Optimus began, stumbling over himself before forcing some measure of eloquency through his vocals. "I just wanted to say thanks. For helping me last night."
"I needed the recharge," was Prowl's bland reply, and he could hear the twitch of gears as Optimus flinched backwards.
"Yes, of course. I—it won't happen again," Optimus said, a tint of misery in the apology. "So. Just..um. Thanks."
Prowl waited until Optimus began to walk away before speaking again. "You're welcome."
Optimus paused in his stride, caught momentarily between the desire to leave and the desire to stay under the open invitation for more assistance.
"I was wondering—"
Prowl could not completely prevent himself from smiling, and he was glad that he had his back turned so that Optimus could not see it. Perfectly executed.
"—I mean, it helps…the relaxing. I just don't understand how there's time for it in real battle."
"There isn't," Prowl conceded. "Not technically. But then, the point is that you will not need to meditate during a fight to become relaxed; you should already be so by the time you start."
Here, Prowl quietly unfolded himself to stand and turn to face Optimus. The other mech was several feet back from the bank, his form barely illuminated by the last strands of blue evening light. Only his optics were readily visible, bright and wide against the darker surroundings. Prowl continued speaking.
"During a fight, you are correct in saying that there is no time to relax by drawing in peace from the environment around you. However, the environment is not—and should not—be your only source of harmony. In its place, then, you must draw from your inner serenity."
The expression on Optimus's face was painfully, nostagically familiar; Prowl had given much the same expression to his own teacher, and so he decided to do the same thing to Optimus that had been done to him. With lightning speed, Prowl leapt off of the rock and pulled out his shuriken—his sudden, rapid approach and the glint of weaponry worked to startle Optimus into an instinctive reaction: the ax slid out of subspace and into Optimus's hands, its defensive arc brought to a jarring halt as their two weapons collided. In the long moments of stalemate, both mechs were frozen in place as their respective strengths balanced on the fragile fulcrum where ax handle met shuriken. Prowl could feel Optimus shaking.
Perhaps they were not so different, after all. Prowl withdrew and holstered his weapons.
"Sit," Prowl ordered, quietly but leaving no room for argument. He reached out, pressing a quiet hand against the rise of Optimus's chest plates. Optimus retreated from the contact, his back connecting with the large tree behind him. Prowl dragged his digits downwards, the touch light, and Optimus obediently followed the motion. Disgust with the Autobot Academy settled all the more firmly in Prowl's processor; Optimus reacted so beautifully, so easily and obediently to gentle hands that it was nothing short of a miracle that he had not been ruined under the Academy's rough treatments. Prowl was almost glad that Optimus had not been kept as an Elite Guard member, for Ultra Magnus would have, and certainly already had, wasted such a boundless well of potential. All the more fool he, for not to have realized what he had had in his ranks.
Optimus settled on the ground, and Prowl made sure to sit close enough in front of the other mech so that Optimus was forced to pull his legs up underneath each other in order to avoid contact. Using such silent cues would get Optimus into the habit of sitting correctly without him ever having being told to do so.
"Internal serenity and external serenity are not independent of one another," Prowl said. "One must regularly replenish the internal reservoir with external meditation."
"No offense, Prowl, but, ah, I'm not really sure that—that I'm right for Circuit Su."
"Circuit Su is based on the principles of meditation and serenity, not the other way around," Prowl instantly corrected. "Meditation goes back to the first generations of Cybertronians, who sought a method of reconnection with the All Spark and each other. We as a race were once infinitely more interconnected than we are now. As we individualized, we lost the connections with each other. Many philosophers consider the loss of these links as a source of conflict. Both with ourselves and each other."
Prowl paused, letting the words sit for a few moments before continuing. "Meditation is a way to situate yourself in the world around you; inner peace is achieved when you become certain of yourself. To do that, you must consider yourself as an extension of your environment, rather than separate from it."
Optimus stared at him, optics shuttering several times as he processed the information and waited for elaboration. When it did not come, he cleared his vocals. It did little to disguise his discomfort.
"May I?" Prowl asked as he leaned forward. His hands were splayed open, one hovering beside Optimus's head and the other just inches above the armor directly over his spark.
"Ah, sure," Optimus replied. Prowl shuttered his optics, narrowing his concentration to focus solely on the mech beneath his hands. He hummed, taking his time with alternating tones as he searched for the matching frequency. Ratchet gave little credence to the art of energy healing, but when it was done correctly, it was unmatched for its therapeutic benefits.
Prowl switched tones again, seamlessly welding pitches and waiting for a response, though it was taking longer than it usually did. Optimus was…aching. In all his studies and practice sessions with other students, Prowl could not remember working with another mech whose energies were so…tangled. Knotted. Hurting. Prowl slowed himself down and even repeated a few tones in case he had missed the match. A few times, the energy beneath his hands stirred in response to his voice, but that was all.
This was not going to be easy. Optimus's spark held such an accumulation of—emotions, thoughts, memories, self-doubt—that he surely had been suffering under their weight. Optimus was so empathetic, so in tune with others, that Prowl had difficulty in locating the mech's own energy center. Prowl, finding not even a twinge of recognition in the upper registers, deepened his vocals into one of the lowest ranges. A half tone switch—
And there it was. Optimus jerked smally as his energies snagged on Prowl's voice. Prowl latched on, holding it even as Optimus whimpered at such an intimate touch. Prowl let his hand at Optimus's helm slide downwards, directing Optimus's energy for him into the correct pattern of flow. He repeated the same action, only from the pedes up towards the spark, and the whole revolution once again. Once the energy was flowing smoothly, Prowl spoke.
"Here," he said. "This is you. This is your energy center. When you meditate, you must first find your center. Once you do, you must give your spark a plane of symmetry; you must match the harmony of the environment in your own spark."
"But I don't—"
"Just be still. Listen. Earth is perfect for it. Everything moving, breathing, living….all together like one organism. One big machine where each part fits in perfectly with all the others."
"How am I supposed to mirror that?"
"Contrary to what Ratchet says, we are not superstitious mystics," he said. "All you have to do is be still and listen. Let everything just exist around you, and you'll find yourself doing the same."
Prowl had to give Optimus credit. The mech tried to do as he was told, but energy alignments were rough. With such a long-standing status quo interrupted, Optimus would be undoubtedly feeling every eddy, every twist and turn of spark energy as it traveled in a different—the correct—path through his body. And, as Prowl worked to keep directing all back to the spark, it would build there, ebbing and flooding and pressing and overwhelming until it found its natural pattern. Some mechs found it uncomfortable. Others, a little painful. The majority found it…exhilerating. Powerful.
When he had first undergone an energy alignment, Prowl had been part of that substantial majority and, as Optimus had proven over and over again in the past two days, he and Prowl were not all that different from one another.
Prowl knew that this would happen, which was why he was prepared for the heating metal beneath his digits and the distinct sensation of another's spark reaching out for his own. It was to be expected—the technique of humming was not limited to his vocal capacitators; searching for another's spark energy required the modification and manipulation of one's own spark energy signature so that the other mech's spark would have something to react to. The process was difficult, and it was the primary reason why so few mechs could master the technique and why the rest wrote it off as hokey and insubstantial. It was also why those mechs would not ever be able to free themselves from stasis cuffs or know just the right points to attack to bring others instantly down in battle. For that, Prowl could put up with the teasing.
Optimus realized what was happening only too late; he pushed weakly at Prowl's arms, embarrassment causing him to duck his head and his facial plates to darken with a flush of energon.
"It's all right," Prowl soothed as came closer. "I don't mind."
The concern, of course, was whether or not Optimus minded. Prowl kept still, his chest panels firmly closed even as the locks in Optimus's armor struggled to do the same.
"I know. You don't have to" Prowl began to pull away, to give Optimus the privacy, the space, but he stopped as a large hand came down across his back struts, holding him in place.
"No," Optimus said, his voice barely louder than the thrum of energy that was pulsing through his systems. "I…I don't mind, either."
"As long as you understand," Prowl responded. Optimus nodded, and Prowl believed him. He was smart enough to know that this had no romantic context.
Trust, however, was no less risky.
Prowl did not immediately reach for Optimus's sparkchamber. Rather, he hummed lowly, once more pulling at and directign the energy that was now smoothly moving through the other mech's systems. Optimus tilted his head back against the rough bark of the tree, optics shuttering under the pleasure of sheer relief.
As close as they were together, Prowl began to feel his own spark heat in response; a cleansing was not entirely one-sided after all, and even though the match was fabricated, they were still a match. Prowl shuttered his own optics and rested more fully across Optimus's chest, dropping his forehead against the heavy, strong collar struts. Optimus was so warm, nearly buzzing with collected energy, that Prowl found it easy to dip his fingers into the armor seams and stroke at the wires there.
How curious, as well, that he could so easily find—know—where Optimus's energy currents were centered and where they would swell and eddy.
Prowl frowned as he felt Optimus attempting to do the same, the desire to do the same, so he stilled. Optimus trilled weakly in confused protest, but Prowl waited, just as before, until the other mech quieted. This was to be no quick, heavy-handed interface; as in everything else they had done, Optimus needed to learn relaxation and elegance, even when every program and instinct screamed otherwise, or else this would all be for nothing.
But Optimus a fast learner, and once he calmed, Prowl was quick to reward him. He turned his head inwards, placing careful, soft nips along the thin white plates of Optimus's jawline. So delicate—no wonder he wore the mask during battle. Removing a hand from Optimus's hip joint, Prowl ran it up the other mech's side, palm resting against the smooth curves of headlights as his fingers teased at the underseam of red chest plates. Optimus shuddered, whispering his approval in an unconscious reversion to a heavily accented, uniqe Cybertronian dialect that was so different from the formal, bland Cybertronian used by the Elite Guard.
Prowl smiled. Optimus was from Tyger Pax. His deep-seated sense of justice and fairness for the weak and abused was not so strange, then, after that revelation.
Not wanting to remain idle, Optimus reached up and held the back of Prowl's head, letting the natural weight, rather than the strength, of his arm hold the smaller mech in place. The tips of Optimus's fingers traced along the edges of one gold audio-covers, simply touching, as he softly mouthed the other.
Pleased, Prowl stretched up to align their sparks, both of which pulsed through their respective layers of armor as they worked to correspond their rhythms. The sensation was utterly new for Optimus, and so rarely experienced for Prowl that it may as well have been, and was all the more wonderful for it. While in symmetry, the feeling of—freedom, warmth, completion—was amplified two-fold, and both moaned under the pleasure of it.
"Now," Prowl murmured, his hands helping to guide Optimus's chest plates open as his own split apart in perfect unison.
The combined light of their sparks was blinding in the otherwise dark night; Prowl's visor flickered as it adjusted to the sudden change in illumination: bright and frosted white.
Both sparks reached for each other, unstoppable, each thin strand meetings its reflection halfway and knitting together. Prowl arched his back, his hands curling around Optimus's sides, to bring them closer together. Below him, Optimus was shivering, his optics offline and vocals incapable of producing anything other than soft, mewling chirps. Connected like this, Prowl could easily feel the weight, the confusion, the rolelessness that, like a slow virus, that plagued Optimus's spirit and destroyed both confidence and worth.
The horrors of the docks of Tyger Pax—the abuse of the Academy—the dismissal from the Elite Guard—the loss of the All Spark—the inability to get his team to even just listen—
And a desire to be something that belonged to none of these that it was no wonder that Optimus had not found an inner serenity.
Of course, with his own memories equally laid bare, Optimus could finally understand Prowl's own, persistant need for serenity in order to have some semblance of peace. However, they were both still too unsure of each other, both such private individuals that Prowl ushered them both away from the memories; Optimus came away readily. Something else was far more important, anyway.
Here. This is how it feels.
Optimus gasped, fans stuttering as they sought to keep up with the rush of energy through his systems. Prowl, too intertwined with him to do otherwise, mirrored him. Prowl opened his center of balance to Optimus, who latched onto it with something much like desperation. Prowl almost stumbled, almost lost it, but as with everything lately, he was discovering that he was more and more capable of supporting them both.
Overload was something of weightlessness, of light on water; the energy manifest of the cleansing dissolving and scattered under the stronger currents of merging sparks. Prowl was not sure which of them screamed under the intensity of it, but it was liberation and captivity all at once, both overcome by the pure joy and happiness of being absorbed into something great and whole.
We as a race were once infinitely more interconnected than we are now.
Both came back to themselves in fragments, their sparks sorting themselves out as Prowl let his own return to its natural frequency. Prowl was resting fully on Optimus, but their frames were different enough that Prowl did not have to worry about the effects of his weight on the other mech. Beneath him, Optimus was silent and perfectly relaxed. For the moment, Prowl was content to stay where he was and make sure that Optimus was listening to the forest around them, absorbing the sounds and smells and stillness of it all.
"Prowl," Optimus said at long last, his vocals quiet and strained. His head was tilted back against the tree, blue optics staring upwards into the dark, shifting leaves. "I need your help."
And suddenly, so suddenly, a purpose, a place, slid deeply into Prowl's spark where no such epiphany had been before. He aspirated heavily, slowly, in and out, and bowed his head even though Optimus was not looking at him.
Yes. He could support them both for as long as Optimus needed it. He answered Optimus's plea the only way he could.
"I am here."