Author's Note: This has been a lot of fun. I've been amazed and delighted by the response this story has received and I'm very glad that so many people seem to have enjoyed the roller coaster ride I've inflicted on you all. Thank you all for your comments and reviews. I hope you enjoy the ending. I dithered over who to give it to, but it seemed only natural to bring this story full circle...
Bluestreak – Turning the Tables
The Seekers were targeting Prowl.
Bluestreak ducked, his rifle held tight against his chest as the trines screamed overhead, far too low for this rugged, crevasse-ridden terrain, taking it in turns to strafe their sniper post. Their position was open and exposed, perched atop a cliff overlooking the battle, with only a small hillock at their backs. Any other skirmish and it would have been workable. With Prowl the subject of a special ire and Seeker-fire raining down in a never-ending torrent, it was more than a little scary.
Gritting his denta and scowling up the sky, he raised his helm, trying to steal a glance at the main battlefield in the valley below. Things weren't going much better there. The Decepticons had split the Autobot forces into several small clusters. Prime was distracted, drawn off to one side to face Megatron. Ironhide's team were pinned down by Soundwave and the cassetticons. The Twins couldn't help. Bluestreak scanned the field for the red and gold pair, worried for them until he saw them being herded to the other side of the valley and halfway up its walls, Rumble shaking the ground under their tyres, Reflector's components dazzling and disorienting them and the Seekers firing occasional pot-shots in their direction on the backswing from strafing Prowl's group. It was anyone's guess where the Constructicons were or what they were doing, only Megatron's yelled order for them to 'get it ready to fire!' alerting anyone to their presence in the first place. The Autobot Special Ops were just as elusive. Bluestreak had lost track of them several breems ago, although quite honestly that wasn't unusual in a battle.
It was a bit more unusual for him to be quite so worried for his own armour. His rifle jerked, the shot he'd aimed down towards Rumble going wide as Thundercracker lived up to his name, dragging a shockwave strong enough to rattle Bluestreak's processor in his wake. The young gunner crouched low, tucking his door-wings in close to his back as weapons fire landed a few feet away, kicking gravel up in a dense, abrasive spray.
Ducking beside him, Prowl scowled. The black and white mech fired two shots to scatter the Seekers streaking overhead, and then a quick, precise series of blasts at the hillock behind them, undermining the slope. He knocked Bluestreak down, rolling them both to his left, calling out instructions for Red Alert, Inferno and Hound to move right. A brief landslide later, there was a trench carved in the hillside, fallen dirt piled up in front of it like a crude but serviceable rampart. Prowl subspaced his acid-pellet gun in a smooth motion, reaching out with his empty hand to pull Bluestreak to cover in the trench.
The gunner scrambled after him without hesitation, his door-wings trembling slightly with relief to find himself sheltered at last. He mustered a thin smile as the others joined them with relief and not a little astonishment. Prowl's expression didn't change. He nodded an acknowledgement, his quick processor already moving on. A stream of instruction issued from him, com signals diverting the bulk of the Ark crew away from the base of the cliff and ground zero for any missed shots or falling rocks.
Bluestreak and Red Alert settled side by side, all but flat on their chestplates, their rifles propped on the mounded dirt in front of them, optics scanning the field for targets. Prowl's acid pellet gun was in his hands, but he didn't join them. Not yet. His optics narrowed, his door-wings held high despite the flying gravel. He inspected the battlefield below from their new cover, his voice and expression calm as he contacted each mech in turn, positioning them, making sure each was ready when called upon.
Bluestreak acknowledged his own orders with a com ping, glancing sidelong at his mentor as the Coneheads' machine-gun fire had them ducking for cover once again. He trusted Prowl, completely and utterly. He still felt a warm glow of joy and an overwhelming flood of relief at the knowledge that every mech on the field could say the same. Even so, he couldn't help wondering what his mentor was waiting for.
Somewhere off to the south-east, there was a blast of explosives. A column of flame and smoke rose from a side gully Bluestreak hadn't even noticed. The expanding, turbulent fireball hit the Elite trine as they vectored for another strafing run, scattering the three jets to opposite corners of the battlefield. Bluestreak ducked instinctively. Prowl didn't so much as flinch. He ignored the Seekers, his eyes lingering on the flames just long enough to watch a Porsche burst from the heart of the fire, soot blackening its white panels, blue racing stripe glowing with reflected light as laser fire followed him.
"Scratch one superweapon du jour." Jazz's cool voice over the com-lines didn't even hint at his hot situation. "All yours, Prowler."
Bluestreak swung his rifle to cover the saboteur, worried by the four battered Constructicons chasing him onto the battlefield, and the three Coneheads breaking off to streak down the valley and target the Porsche. Prowl caught his protégé's rifle by the barrel, dragging it back to cover Soundwave with a grim smile.
"Go," he said quietly, his com reaching every Autobot on the field.
Bluestreak fired on the command, his shot and Prowl's hitting either side of Soundwave's chest with a force that drove the Decepticon back several steps and onto his knees, before snapping his aim up towards Thundercracker as his instructions required. A single, well-aimed shot and the Seeker was struggling to stay aloft, limping into an airborne retreat, smoke streaming from his left thruster.
Focussed, concentrating hard on his assigned task, Bluestreak was only half-aware of Bumblebee and Mirage breaking cover. The two Special Ops agents laid down a carpet of sharp caltraps that tore at Constructicon tyres, even as Jazz launched himself into the air, passing above them with mere inches to spare. Yellow Beetle and blue Ligier matched speed as they crossed paths below their commander, sliding either side of the Constructicons and firing Wheeljack's latest explosive pellets into their chassis and combination joints.
Landing on all four wheels, Jazz slid into a screaming handbrake turn. He transformed mid-slide, pulling his blaster from subspace, leaning back and painting a line of energon burns down the side of Thrust's fuselage. The Conehead faltered, breaking off his attack, just as Sunstreaker and Sideswipe leapt from the cliff-top opposite onto a pair of inviting wingspans, red and gold warriors grappling Dirge and Ramjet to the ground with ruthless efficiency.
Laser fire lit up every corner of the battlefield, forcing Bluestreak to cycle his optics. He wasn't the only one. The Seeker trines were scattered, disoriented, no longer intent on Prowl's group. A flicker of light burst from Hound's shoulder-mounted projector and suddenly Bluestreak found himself and the other snipers shielded from view in their trench. Starscream's fury sounded to the heavens as a dozen images of each of them, Prowl included, appeared moving across the battlefield as if rejoining the main battle. Skywarp echoed his trinemate's angry shout, flickering purple light marking his progress as he moved from illusory group to illusory group firing at each in turn. The flash of light was rather more marked as Skywarp's warp field met Trailbreaker's force projector mid-teleport. The black-and-lavender Seeker was thrown upwards, knocked offline by the clash of energies, and only Starscream's quick dive and grab stopped his trinemate from plummeting to the ground.
A roar from Ironhide dragged Bluestreak's attention down from the aerial drama unfolding above him to the field below. No longer pinned down, the big red mech grappled an injured Soundwave, while Cliffjumper, Brawn and the other mini-bots broke in a wave over the faster-moving cassettes behind him. Driving at full speed through the chaos, Smokescreen laughed aloud as he lived up to his name, wrapping the Reflector gestalt in blinding, clinging smoke before circling Megatron where he grappled Optimus. A choking black cloud engulfed both titanic figures, blocking their view of the battlefield.
Megatron's angry roar rolled across the field as Optimus backed out of the thick smoke, fed sensor data by a pre-warned Red Alert, and hosed down from the cliff-top by Inferno. Dripping with dissipating agent, but clear-opticed, Optimus watched Megatron fight against nothing. The Decepticon leader thrashed in the magnetized smoke, searching for his adversary and calling for Starscream, Soundwave, or anyone, to tell him what was happening.
"What's happening?" Optimus Prime allowed himself a brief chuckle, hands on his hips as he watched his disoriented enemy struggle. His optics surveyed the field, taking in the column of smoke from the gully, the falling Seekers, crippled Constructicons and overwhelmed ground-based mechs.
Bluestreak stared too. A mere half-breem before, the Decepticons had been winning this fight, their aim obscure and their forces keeping the Autobots at bay in half a dozen small engagements. Bluestreak himself had been ducking for cover, too distracted to take in more than the briefest of glimpses of the battlefield. From the way the rest of the Autobots were cycling their optics, venting hard as they stood over cowed foes, none of them could quite believe how quickly a single word from their tactician had turned the tide of battle.
Optimus looked up at the cliff-top, meeting Prowl's calm optics as his second in command stepped out from cover.
"I believe my second and third have just provided a demonstration of precisely why slagging them off is a very bad idea."
Prowl's doorwings flicked back, his expression not entirely approving of his leader's language, even as Jazz's warm laughter drifted up from mid-field. The saboteur looked up, his visor meeting Prowl's optics, before both frowned. They spun as one, blaster fire and acid pellet splashing across opposite wings just as Starscream powered into a howling, fury-driven dive towards Prowl's cliff-top viewpoint.
The red and white Seeker's roar of anger turned into a scream of pain. He fell, crippled, dropping unconscious into Megatron's arms just as Smokescreen's miasma began to clear.
Optimus Prime had flinched at Starscream's sudden attack. He reached for his weapon, together with half the Autobot army, before realising his lieutenants had everything well under control. There was a moment of total silence before a rising cheer broke from every Autobot throat. Prime looked up proudly, his voice soft.
"And why they'll never be forgotten, as long as there are Cybertronians left to tell the tale."
Megatron arms quivered with his fury, holding his unconscious second in a grip tight enough to dent the Seeker's armour.
"Ya alright there, Prowler?" Jazz's question held a note of concern as Bluestreak, Prowl and the others joined the party in the gorge below.
Prowl flicked his door-wings, his expression unimpressed but a faint smile playing across his lips.
"I wasn't the one driving out of a fireball," he noted, scanning the saboteur up and down.
"Just doin' what I hadta, mech."
"You did far more than that, Jazz," Prime told him, hands on his hips as he looked down fondly at his saboteur. He glanced at Prowl, including him with a look. "As you always do. I am proud to be your commander, and your friend."
Prowl hummed thoughtfully. Raising a brow ridge, he glanced at Jazz and got a nod of agreement.
"Prime, we're most grateful for your words, but I believe Jazz and I have something that needs saying at this point. If we may…?"
Bluestreak fell back a bit in the crowd, nervous of the irritated set of Prowl's door-wings. Smokescreen came up beside him, watching with interest as Prime nodded, waving for his second to address the listening crowd. Jazz beat him to it, leaning back against the nearest cliff face with a casual air and raising an idle hand to adjust his visor as he spoke.
"Well now, we all know Prowler here works too hard, and I guess I'm grateful you're all so keen t' look out for him, but keep bringin' him energon every other breem and one of these days he'll give in, drink it all an' show ya what an overcharged tactician's really like." He smirked. "And while that'll be a lot of fun, I think Smokey could do without the counsellin' it'll spark."
Prowl cycled his vents, folding his arms.
"And while Jazz is fond of human music, we know from experience that he is unlikely to lose his processor if the music in the Rec Room drops below a hundred decibels from time to time. I suspect our human friends will go insane if it does not."
Jazz chuckled. "Detailed reports may be manna from heaven for my mech, but I've seen the highlights of what ya've all been writin' him lately. Nice to see ya tryin' so hard, but believe me, even Prowler doesn't need t' know the exact shade of dirty tan mud you guys got in your wheel treads, or how many astroseconds it took the human ya saw on patrol to cross the road."
"Sideswipe." Prowl folded his arms, pinning the worried-looking twin with a stern gaze. "While I appreciate your recent restraint, your rather… unconventional… approach to entertaining your fellow mechs is part of who you are. Suppressing it is having a de-motivational effect on the crew, not to mention leaving me to handle a very bored Jazz."
"Mech just doesn't want t' admit he likes a good challenge too," Jazz added with a grin. "I'm not the only one t' be gettin' bored."
Prowl gave his mate a stern look, although his wings fluttered a little in amusement. He turned to Prime, tilting his head a little to look up at the much larger Autobot before sweeping his optics across the assembled Ark crew. "Mechs, we can honestly say it is a joy and a privilege to serve with each and every one of you."
Jazz laughed, ambling forward to stand beside his mate and sweeping an arm around Prowl's waist.
"Yep, love ya all. But, man, the play-yard declarations? They're gettin' just a bit embarrassin'. An' I aint a mech that embarrasses eas'ly."
"To say the least," Prowl finished with a hint of a fond smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Bluestreak stared. Sideswipe's stunned, open-mouthed expression did a good job of speaking for them all. Ratchet was the first to break the silence, venting a sigh before rubbing the base of his broad, grey chevron. He looked up with a wry expression.
"We've been trying too hard, haven't we?"
Jazz offered him a lopsided smile. "By a turbo-kitty whisker or two. We're not made of glass, mechs. And yeah, we missed you too. But we're back. We're good. Normal might take a bit longer t' get to, but it's worth a try, don't'cha think?"
Bluestreak blinked, his door-wings wilting as he realised he'd been as much to blame for the excesses as any of the guilt-ridden and overly attentive mechs on the Ark. Smokescreen patted his back, a broad smile on his face. Glancing up, Bluestreak frowned at Smokey's obvious pleasure. The slightly taller Praxian leaned down pitching his words for Bluestreak only.
"And it's about time!" he breathed. "Look at them, Blue. Just look."
Bluestreak's door-wings quivered and rose, first in confusion and then in growing delight as he realised what Smokey was getting at. Prime was looking at his feet, shifting guiltily. As Bluestreak watched, Prowl's hand came up to touch his leader's arm in a gesture of forgiveness, his expression one of fond exasperation. The expression lingered as his gaze swept the crew he and Jazz had just scolded like errant younglings. For the first time since this whole mess started, when Bluestreak watched the pair of them, he saw two relaxed mechs, confident and in command, buoyed not just by the crew's affection, but by a respect that was given without hesitation, and earned by right. For the first time in far too long, he saw them truly take control of their lives.
Smokescreen hummed in satisfaction. He folded his arms, surveying the fretting crew with a rueful shake of his head. The psychologist leaned forward, hissing a comment to Sideswipe in a stage whisper every mech could hear.
"You do realise that's as close to permission as you're ever going to get? And you're still standing there like a petrified turbo-rat?"
Sideswipe blinked, shaken from his stupor, and nudged his golden twin. They looked up at Prowl's raised brow-ridge and the broad grin on Jazz's face. Three klicks later, two Lamborghinis hit the road, dust billowing behind them, and whoops of glee floating back as they headed back to the Ark, already working on a plan.
The rumble of laughter that followed them felt good – for every mech but one. Red Alert's helm fins were sparking, his eyes following the dust trail out of the valley. "It's all in a good cause," the Security Director muttered to himself, words clearly audible across the fading roar of high performance engines. "It's worth it."
"That it is," Ironhide rumbled in agreement, throwing a companionable arm around Red's shoulders and guiding him a little closer to both Inferno and Ratchet. "It's about damn time we all stopped feelin' sorry for ourselves and started actin' like grown mechs." He glanced after the fleeing twins and gave an amused snort. "Or sparklin's if that's th' way it's gotta be."
Prime smiled behind his blast mask, the expression in his optics a little rueful. He turned to survey the battlefield, ignoring the bustle behind him as the mechs arranged themselves for the homewards journey. "I have to admit, I'm feeling a little more sorry for the Decepticons right now. Megatron was… unimpressed by their performance today."
Prowl snorted, moving up beside him, flicking his wingtips dismissively. "I would hardly rate them highly myself, Prime."
"Ooh," Jazz grinned. "I feel a game of Rate the Decepticon Assault comin' on."
Ratchet frowned at him as all around mechs began to transform, ready to head back to the Ark. "Do I even want to know the rules?"
"Man, only that it involves high grade, the Rec Room, marks outta ten and Prowler's private 'funniest 'Con cock-up' movie reel."
"That's training material, Jazz," Prowl corrected, folding down into Datson form beside the already-revving Porsche, the pair of them ambling into place a little behind and to either side of their leader's semi-truck alt-mode. "It behoves us to learn from Decepticon mistakes."
"It behoves us t' laugh our afts off when they make a royal screw-up."
Bluestreak transformed, Smokescreen beside him, and both moved up to fall into line behind the bickering officers. Bumpers and spoilers nudged them as they passed, a general camaraderie passing from mech to mech, relaxing them as they hadn't relaxed since Bluestreak had found himself pounding on two locked doors almost a month before. Now Blue felt the tension draining from his frame, and he accelerated slightly until he was almost touching Prowl's bumper. He thought perhaps he and Prime were the only mechs to hear the officers' exchange go on, its tones softer.
"Today was hardly a screw-up in the classic sense, Jazz."
"Ya kicked their afts, love, and that's close enough for me."
Prowl was silent for a long moment.
"They deserved it."
Jazz nudged closer, door to door, the two engines vibrating in perfect synch. "That they did, Prowler. That they did. Let's just get home, okay? I've gotta party t' plan and you've gotta pair of twins with a two breem head start."
Prowl sighed in weariness, satisfaction, anticipation or some combination of all three. He nudged back before accelerating, Datson and Porsche peeling to either side of their Prime to take the lead. Optimus didn't stop them, and Bluestreak didn't follow, giving the pair the space they'd asked for but at their backs all the way.
Prowl pinged the column, checking the status of the crew. Bluestreak responded with a com ping of his own, close enough to detect Prime's acknowledgement a moment before Jazz gathered them all with his smooth voice.
"Autobots, roll for home!"