Crossing Borders

Set in the same universe as Changeling and The Freedom of Choice, because someone asked about Prowl and Arrowhead. Been a long time coming, I know. This is why I never promise fic.

Pseudo-warning: This is Prowl/OC (pre-)slashiness, which I'm aware isn't everyone's cup of tea. Also, this will probably make little sense unless you know The Freedom of Choice.

A list of characters can be found at the end of the document.


I.

The first time Arrowhead met Prowl, they were discussing the conditions of returning Praxus to Autobot rule.

The Autobots had set up a collapsible table on a flat expanse halfway between the frontlines. Predictably, the former Emirate, Insight, hadn't turned up, instead having sent one of his minions, Skidmark – a mech whose disdainful sneer seemed frozen on his faceplates – and the old commander of the Praxus Forces, Prowl, who also happened to be second in command to the Prime. Scribes from both sides sat in between, busily tapping away at their datapads.

"We can clear out the city within a decacycle," Arrowhead said.

"That's too long," Skidmark protested. "That's enough to collect every valuable in the place and send it to Vos."

Prowl's sensor panels hiked up in visible annoyance.

Behind Arrowhead, his guards growled at the insult. He silenced them by lifting a hand. "I was thinking more about getting the datawork in order. So you won't have to face the same displeasures as I did when I was charged with my position."

Prowl nodded. "While this reasoning does make sense, the concerns about your mechs looting the city are viable."

"I won't deny that things were taken," Arrowhead said. "We've been here for seventeen vorns now. Sometimes the lure of intact entertainment systems was too great, especially for the younger soldiers."

Prowl's sensor panels twitched. Amusement?

"Also, in the course of the war effort, we cleared out several laboratories, medical tech and energon production facilities that were needed elsewhere."

Arguments over compensation could wait until the peace talks. Right now, the upper echelons were handing the Autobots a major tactical advantage on goodwill, and Arrowhead wasn't prepared to compromise much.

Skidmark made an unhappy noise.

Prowl frowned at the civilian. "What about other valuables?"

"Some artwork and such was commandeered from the Emirate's palace for our Commanders. You will have to negotiate about those items with Shockwave. Other than that, I'd venture little was removed." There had been no money to establish a black market, so the point of stealing anything had been somewhat moot. "I will make sure that nothing more is taken until we leave."

"We'd also request that your mechs leave anything behind that wasn't theirs." Prowl looked at him levelly.

"Valuables," Arrowhead conceded. "I won't inspect the five hundred or so portable gaming consoles on base for their origins."

Prowl blinked. "Of course not."

"You mean three quarters of your soldiers own kids toys?" Skidmark interrupted.

"Yes." Arrowhead didn't bother to correct the estimate.

Prowl's sensor panels drooped a little, as if he knew the owners of those gaming consoles were indeed kids. "That aside, we would like to have Praxus cleared out within five orns."

Arrowhead pretended to think about this. "We can manage six if we hurry." They could do it in three, but that would have been too much courtesy.

"Agreed. We also expect all the Praxian citizens to remain unharmed."

"About that," Arrowhead said. "I have received requests from a few mechs who wish to leave with us."

Skidmark's optics went wide with incredulity.

"Indeed." Prowl's sensor panels hiked up in a tilt, betraying his curiosity.

"Indeed." Arrowhead met his inquiring stare calmly. "Likewise, I want a guarantee that none of the remaining citizens will be tried for fraternizing with Decepticons."

Prowl leaned back a little and gave him an appraising look. Then, he turned an inquiring stare at the Emirate's minion. "What are your employer's plans about this matter?"

Skidmark scowled. "We won't persecute anyone who was threatened into working for them."

Prowl's sensor panels flared. "So you don't deny that a prosecution is planned."

"Of course it is planned! For all we know, all of those remaining were Decepticon sympathizers."

"It seems I cannot guarantee for the safety of the Praxian citizens, then," Arrowhead said.

The sensor panels twitched again. Arrowhead had a sudden urge to see if they were ticklish. Instead, he wriggled his fingers while Prowl pondered.

"If you deliver those who took out the city's defenses before the invasion, there will be no further prosecution," Prowl said. "The new commander will see to this."

"It is not in my power to hand over Soundwave's younglings," Arrowhead said. "It was a well executed special operation. You did not have a traitor."

Again, the panels twitched.

Arrowhead gazed back levelly. He was not lying.

"Very well. May I ask what prompted this bout of protectiveness?"

"It is not a bout, as you so quaintly put it. I'm a Seeker. Besides, I was appointed Emirate. This office also comes with a vow."

"Does it now." Prowl cocked his head in a definite show of amusement. "The Vosian concept of honor sometimes feels alien to us, I grant you."

Arrowhead tilted his head in acknowledgement.

Skidmark remained oblivious of the mockery.

"Is there anything more?" Prowl asked.

"If that guarantee stands, there are a couple of my mechs who would like to stay in Praxus."

"Excuse me? You expect us to harbor the enemy?" Skidmark rose. "First my Emirate can't do as he sees fit with traitors, and now is even asked to accept spies!"

"Aren't you proud that your city and its denizens are able to present a home to foreigners?" Arrowhead asked.

"Tell me about those two," Prowl demanded, ignoring the outburst.

"One is a Seeker with a somewhat crippling scar near his spark. He isn't able to fly long distances, much less fight. He is currently apprenticing with the medics and hoping for a degree as medical tech. The other one is an overseer at the energon production plant. It seems he hooked up with a Praxian who is reluctant to leave."

"Hmm. I would like the designations, ident numbers and any other important information on them for a background check before I decide."

"Of course." Arrowhead unsubspaced a datapad. "This also contains a list of all current Praxian citizens and information on those who have decided to leave. I require a notice about my subordinates in two orns' time."

"I don't trust that those people who ostensibly want to leave aren't under duress," interjected Skidmark. "We wish to see them before they leave so we can address them."

Prowl gave Arrowhead a long-suffering look.

Arrowhead smiled back quickly.

xxx

"So?" asked Sunspear once Arrowhead was home. He was lounging on the couch, reading a datapad that most likely contained information on sparkling development.

Arrowhead leaned against the doorjamb. "Six orns."

"Six?" Sunspear hissed. "Only?"

Apparently, the bitlet was in recharge, otherwise he would have been much louder.

"Yes, six. They sent Prowl, and he was in a good mood. I didn't want to test his patience with haggling."

"It'll take us three orns alone to pack up enough for transport. If we get transports."

"Fortunately, I took the liberty to request a few shuttles from command already. They'll be here the orn after next."

Arrowhead was doing everything, had to plan for any eventuality, while his trinemates were busy fussing over their bitlet. Granted, he was still pretty new – five decacycles – so it would get better, eventually. But Primus, their timing sucked.

"Why don't you start packing while Stormride and I get word out?" Arrowhead offered a smile and went on to work.

xxx

"You're back early," Smokescreen remarked when Prowl entered the command center of their makeshift base.

"I would have been even faster if we hadn't brought Skidmark." That mech had tried everyone's patience.

"Really."

"Arrowhead is very sensible."

"Are we talking about a Seeker?" Smokescreen raised his optic ridges.

"Yes." Prowl didn't admit that this had come as something of a surprise. But then, Megatron's choice of commanders seemed eccentric, if not completely random, until you met the mechs in question. Arrowhead totally defied the stereotypes – reasonable, calm, serious, mindful of his responsibilities. Only his pride fit the cliché somewhat. "It was very refreshing to meet him."


II.

The second time Arrowhead met Prowl, they were waiting for the Autobot army in front of the Northern Gate of Praxus.

Behind him, Stormride and Sunspear were cooing over little Wingstun. They'd named him after one of their students back in the bad old times when they'd been combat instructors. The other Wingstun was dead now, like too many others, but he'd been one of their prize pupils.

Arrowhead tried to ignore his trinemates for the time being. They were ignoring him, too, after all. He'd never before minded that those two were a couple, but in the past decacycles he'd felt as if they weren't even considering him trine anymore. He was probably being selfish, but he longed for someone he wouldn't have to share. Unbidden, Prowl's sensor panel's twitched before his mind's eye. Oh, no. He wasn't that desperate, surely.

The reality of Prowl, with his serious face and being as short as most grounders, served to set his mind to rights.

"This is quite a crowd," Prowl remarked after the necessary pleasantries were over with. "Were they all on your list?"

"As far as I know. Plus some of their family to see them off. Unless there were some last klick decisions I'm not aware of."

"Fifty sounds less on a datapad."

Was he miffed they preferred their so-called oppressors over Autobots? "It always does."

"Very well. Emirate Insight." Prowl turned, leaving Arrowhead a perfect view of his back. "I believe we are ready to hear your address."

Emirate Insight was shorter than Prowl, which he made up for in pompousness. He'd even donned the gold mesh cape which was part of an emirate's insignia.

"Citizens of Praxus. It is with a heavy spark that I see so many of you willing to leave our beautiful city behind." And so on, with little veiled hints that he believed them under duress.

When he finished, most of his former subjects offered polite, if unenthusiastic, applause. A small mech – the writing teacher – stepped forward. "Emirate? My name is Subtext. I was asked to offer a reply."

Insight nodded curtly.

"What I wish to emphasize is that none of us are leaving out of fear. Some of us have found a new meaning to our lives. Some of us believe their duty lies now elsewhere. Some of us have found love in the unlikeliest of places."

The mech beside Subtext adjusted the red-opticked sparkling on his hip as if on cue. The emirate made a face, as if the very thought repulsed him.

Subtext continued, "All of us have found the truth behind the lies. We leave willingly, and with no reason to ever look back."

The emirate frowned. Prowl looked ponderous until he noticed Arrowhead watching him. The expression morphed to surprise, and Arrowhead tried a smile to convey that he hadn't known what was in Subtext's speech. Prowl answered with puzzlement, so Arrowhead smiled again and then turned his attention back to the proceedings.

He handed over the current security codes to the power grid, the Palace building and whatever else, then watched the new Vosian citizens board the last shuttle. The shuttle took off, and Arrowhead, along with two other trines, provided escort.

They were going home.

xxx

Once Prowl had sampled Smokescreen's reports on Praxus, his respect for Arrowhead and his trine rose another notch. Apart from the initial disaster at the Academy, there'd been a few accidents and deaths from old age. More than twice as many sparklings had onlined. Even the uninvolved cities hadn't experienced such a population growth.

It was only fitting their rulers had procreated, too. There had been no information about this, but given what intelligence told them about Arrowhead's trine, it belonged to the trine's second and third. The Seeklet had been recharging on one of his parent's hips, thumb in mouth, and he'd been… cute.

Prowl wasn't one to fawn over sparklings. Nor did he get overly emotional at other people's bonding ceremonies. All he felt, and covered up quickly, was a sort of jealousy. A longing for something he knew he would never have. Besides, there had been a war going on, and he was needed. Had been needed.

He shook his head. The war hadn't hindered the thousand or so Decepticons who'd reproduced in the past eighteen vorns.


III.

Shortly after Vos had done the unexpected and voted Arrowhead's trine as Elders, a message from Prowl reached him.

Congratulations, it read, in Prowl's spiky, but otherwise orderly hand. I hope you'll do as well here as you did in Praxus.

Arrowhead wrote a thank-you note back – printed, with only his signature handwritten, because it was the only thing he could write that didn't look like a sparkling's clumsy drawings.

Then, Arrowhead put Prowl's note up on the wall opposite his desk, along with statistics of the elections and a calligraphy of the Seeker Oath. People were putting an excessive amount of trust in his trine.

Work even made him forget about his jealousy, and in fact he was glad he didn't have reason to complain that his job let him spend so little time with his family. Wingstun had grown excessively fussy and hard to console until they'd arranged a schedule where one of the parents was always off duty to look after him.

Skywarp and Thundercracker were trying to take some of the burden. However, those two were already doing work meant for three mechs, because Starscream was a mental wreck and rarely left his quarters.

Arrowhead wanted a new Elite Trine, and he wanted a day off that he didn't have to spend with his trinemate's sparkling.


IV.

The third time Arrowhead met Prowl, they were discussing border formalities, again in the middle of nowhere. There wasn't an agreed-upon border yet, leaving wide parts of the Polyhex plains wasteland. Occasionally, people from Polyhex and Vos wished to cross those vague borders in order to visit with relations left behind in Praxus.

An interim passport system had to be established until the upper echelons agreed to a peace treaty.

Since the war was over, if not quite officially yet, Prowl had returned to Praxus. Second in Commands to a Prime were only accepted in case of war, which meant he'd needed a new position.

During the mid orn break, Prowl retreated to a small hill, a hundred or so paces from where they had set up. Everyone else was mingling, if only with their own faction. Rumor had Prowl down as arrogant, ambitious and humorless. Still, it was somewhat depressing that in a delegation of ten, plus guards, no one seemed willing to approach the mech.

Curiosity piqued, Arrowhead extracted himself from discussing a small issue with Contrail, the Polis First, and ambled after Prowl. At his approach, the sensor panels started vibrating, and a klick later Prowl turned to watch him coolly.

In reflex, Arrowhead grinned. "Is the view any good?"

Prowl raised one optic ridge.

Arrowhead felt his grin widen. "No, I'm not expecting an answer. All the treasure is below the surface, isn't it."

"Indeed."

Obviously, Prowl didn't want to converse. Arrowhead took a sip from his cube and decided to bear the silence.

The view wasn't special. Dull gray plains stretched wide and far. If you made an effort, you could see the slight pollution above Vos and Polyhex to the south. In the north, Praxus was hiding behind the hillocks grandly named the Crystal Mountains. Starting a klick or so underneath Arrowhead, unseen but highly valuable, veins of copper and platinum were waiting to be exploited, along with bauxite, titanium and cybertronium. Whoever owned the plains had the chance to become very rich.

After a breem, Arrowhead felt Prowl watching him.

"Is there anything you wanted?"

Arrowhead refused to smile in triumph. "Not particularly. I was wondering what you were looking at."

"I was thinking about the peace talks. About the future borders."

"Hmm." So Prowl was out of the loop now? Odd, but such were the Autobots. Old money always seemed to win over talent. "Probably south of here, if I overheard Soundwave correctly. Along the Incision, then on along some of the smaller canyons."

Prowl nodded. "That would nearly amount to the historical borders."

"Almost."

The sensor panels flicked. "This is making you proud."

Try as he might, Arrowhead couldn't decipher the emotion behind that question. "Yes," he said. "Mostly I am relieved, though."

"Of course." Prowl frowned. "War tends to encourage people to put their lives on hold."

"Our lives were on hold long before the war began," Arrowhead pointed out.

Prowl's sensor panels lowered. "Yes. I once had a talk with one of our prisoners. A medic Seeker."

"Crank." It was a small world. Arrowhead smiled. To think he'd cleared that path.

"Crank," Prowl agreed.

"That one is something else, I grant you. He's a mech on a mission."

"Most of you seem to be."

"The ones who weren't usually didn't live all that long." All those students of his who could have come out alive of squabbles with the Quintessons if only they had wanted to. The training accidents.

"Does your mission need to be reconsidred now?" Prowl asked.

"Does yours?"

The surprise on Prowl's face quickly morphed into respect. "Not at all."

xxx

"I thought your mid orn break was holy," Smokescreen teased via comm. on their way back to Praxus.

"The mech refused to be intimidated." Only Prime and Jazz had ever ignored Prowl's need for alone time before.

Smokescreen made an amused sound. "Does he fancy you?"

Prowl's engine hitched for a nanoklick. "Excuse me?" This was absurd. Everyone knew Seekers had their own brand of haughtiness.

"He seemed pretty fascinated by your doorwings."

"Be that as it may. I'd hazard he only chatted me up for information. I made sure he won't have reason to do so again."

Smokescreen offered a sound that clearly said he believed Prowl to misjudge the situation.

xxx

"You had quite a long chat with Prowl there," Contrail observed when they were flying back home.

"And?" Arrowhead had no reason to feel defensive. Then why did Contrail's tone make him so flustered?

"What's he like?"

"Aloof. Withdrawn. Seems to keep everyone at arm's length."

"Everyone? Autodorks do like to keep us at a distance, remember?"

"I know. I still think it's his personality."

Contrail harrumphed. "Why'd you talk to him?"

"We do have to start building trust somewhere."

"Right. So you're totally not thinking about courting him?"

"I what?"

"Basic body language. You're interested, at least."

"I don't think so. Those sensor panels of his are intriguing, granted, but honestly? He's short. He's a grounder."

"Hmm. At least Megatron was taller than Starscream."

"Starscream was looking for a protector. Not that he'd ever admit it."

"True. But what are you looking for?"

"I'm currently not looking for anything," Arrowhead snapped. "I'm too busy governing the lot of you."

"That's why mechs you meet at work grow suddenly more attractive."

"You-"

Contrail spat a cloud of his trademark thick exhaust at him and was off. Arrowhead growled and began his pursuit. Nothing like a good chase to take the mind off of things.


V.

The fourth time Arrowhead talked to Prowl, it was over a border dispute, and via video conference. Two of Prowl's grounders had landed themselves in medbay, as well as one Seeker of the Vosian patrol.

Surprisingly enough, Prowl had agreed they interview the culprits together, instead of simply assuming his mechs were telling the truth. It turned out both patrols had accused the other of intruding into their territory. Insults had followed – "Cliffjumper is very good at those", Prowl had commented after the little red menace had left his office – offense had been taken, and Triggerhappy had lived up to his name.

A rather avoidable mess, after all.

"I'll have to find something suitably boring as punishment," Arrowhead concluded. "And I'll have to take that particular trine off the roster for border patrols."

Prowl nodded. "I'll be taking my own measures. It's not up to us to decide where the border is."

"Unfortunately. I dare say we'd be a lot faster than the conference."

Prowl quirked a small smile. "That's democracy for you."

"Is it? Don't tell me you voted for that pompous emirate of yours."

Prowl blinked. "I wouldn't have, no."

"That's what I meant." The only one who had somewhat legitimate power over there was the Prime, and they'd long managed to diminish that. With only a third of their population allowed to vote, no one could claim to be actually representing the people.

"Are you trying to recruit me?" asked Prowl.

"Not at all." Arrowhead grinned. "Although we could use a mind like yours."

"Thank you, I suppose."

Arrowhead found himself wildly searching for something to keep the conversation going. Ridiculous. He wasn't attracted to the mech. Too scrawny and with such a plain grounder face.

"How is your family doing?" Prowl asked.

Huh. "Well enough. Although I find myself wishing my trinemates would put more trust into babysitters." The bitlet would be spoiled rotten if they didn't wise up soon.

Prowl smiled with a faraway look in his optics. "I must confess that I was surprised Megatron never forbid any of you from procreating."

"There was a regulation policy," Arrowhead said. "People weren't forbidden. Just told to wait until there were capacities to accommodate them."

"That does make sense, yes."

"It makes sense? No lecture on how cruel such a practice is?"

"I find it remarkably lenient, considering our own rules on fraternization."

Arrowhead cocked his head. "We got lucky with the commanders. Soundwave does have five of his own, and Megatron was constantly on the lookout for a worthy partner."

You had to hand it to Prowl. Apart from a very brief look of shock, all he offered was a raised optic ridge.

"He wasn't very good at keeping those partners," Arrowhead elaborated.

"I'd imagine."

"Do you?"

"He did seem rather self-absorbed."

Arrowhead nodded. Primus knew how Starscream had put up with their commander's slag for three vorns. Starscream had claimed being treated well before that scrapstorm with the sparkling, but Arrowhead knew that that meant he wasn't being beaten. Which only proved Starscream had little idea how a relationship was supposed to work.

"Are you happy that he is dead?" Prowl stared at him intently.

Arrowhead felt his optics nearly pop out of his head. What kind of question was that? "I'm relieved the war is over. I wish peace had come at a lesser price."

"It was a hard decision for Prime."

"It's supposed to be." Fighting was one thing. Walking onto a battlefield determined to kill a specific mech was something quite different. "Most of us do not hold a grudge."

"I confess I was surprised how smoothly Shockwave and Soundwave took over."

Arrowhead hadn't been. Even if Megatron believed himself invincible, contingency plans had to be made, with or without him. "It would have been stupid to leave him without successors."

"Yes. Although most of us were thinking it would be Starscream."

"Starscream was incapacitated at the time."

Prowl thankfully didn't pry further.

"I'd ask about your family if I knew you had one", Arrowhead tried to distract him.

"Your interest in my creators' well-being is sparkwarming," Prowl deadpanned back.

"How are the repairs coming along?"

Prowl tilted his head for a moment. "Quite well. I'll have to blame that on you."

"We tried not to do too much damage."

"The Academy is troubling Emirate Insight the most. There's little funds left for it while Tarn and Kalis need to rebuild so much infrastructure."

Arrowhead wriggled his nose. Nothing here was damaged, per se, but they had too many soldiers and miners, and too few medics, engineers, accountants… they were missing intelligentsia badly. Maybe they could set up a program of sorts once everything had settled down – they had enough workers to do all the rebuilding the Autobots needed, and if those workers ended up with an education later… "I'm afraid Shockwave is awaiting my ornly report. I'm sure we'll be talking again sometime."

"Given my subordinates' tempers, it will be sooner rather than later."

Arrowhead smiled. Prowl raised one corner of his mouth.

xxx

When the call was cut, Prowl leaned back in his chair. Arrowhead was smiling at him a lot. But then, most people did, even if Prowl gave little of it back.

He wasn't worried about Arrowhead coming on to him. He was more worried about himself starting a chat with the mech. Some part of his mind must have decided to trust the Seeker.

xxx

Arrowhead frowned at the monitor. This had almost been a normal conversation. They'd been dancing around each other, of course, trying not to give away too much. Prowl was a competent verbal sparring partner that way. In another life, Arrowhead wouldn't have minded to count him as a friend.


VI.

It was very lucky that no two decacycles later, there was another incident, and Arrowhead had reason to call Prowl again.

"Most likely he is a journalist, just like he says. It's very unfortunate he faked the passport." Prowl's disdain at such stupidity was obvious. "I'll try to verify his identity. You're allowed to hold him until this matter is cleared up."

"We will." Arrowhead made his face carefully earnest. "He'll get a first rate story about Vosian prisons."

Success. Prowl's mouth twitched in a near smile.

"If asked politely, any of us would give interviews", Arrowhead pointed out. "Maybe you know someone who can spread word that we don't bite."

Another twitch. "I take the babysitter issue was solved."

"Partway. The school moved and now offers sparkling care, too. It's good Wingstun gets to play with kids his own age."

Prowl waggled his head as if not entirely sure. If the mech was as painfully shy as Arrowhead suspected him to be, sparkling care would have been pitfire to him.

"It's a pretty small group. He seems to be doing well so far."

"That is good to hear."

"Yeah. We're still overworked, though, and you're not looking much better."

Prowl rubbed at a scratch on his armor, looking suddenly very self-conscious. "It is not as bad as you assume."

"I can assume very bad things, therefore you are probably right."

Prowl grinned. Arrowhead awarded himself a point.


VII.

Crank's wish to visit with family in Praxus was excuse enough to call Prowl again.

"You're looking too mischievous for this to be anything serious," Prowl guessed.

"I just wanted to warn you that four flyers of mine will not only apply for passports, but will also want flying permits for Praxus."

Prowl frowned. "I do appreciate that warning. There will be non-literal flak for whomever signs those permits."

"Medical officer Crank got it into his head to introduce his two sets of parents."

"Ah. I see." Prowl cocked his head. "You just love to push that convoluted mess onto me, don't you."

Arrowhead grinned despite himself. "I would sign the permits myself, but I'm not your Emirate anymore."

Prowl made a face that seemed to say, unfortunately, no.

"I can tell Crank to table it if you'd rather wait until the peace treaty is done."

"No. People just will have to get used to it. I can't forbid him to come alone, even if there were excuses to keep his creators away, can I? People will be uncomfortable even if it's a lone flyer who is walking."

"True."

"I sometimes think we could use an aerial patrol…" Prowl confessed.

"Have your chief of police ask mine. Name's Contrail. He's mouthy, but otherwise sensible. I'm certain some trine will be amenable to the suggestion."

Prowl assumed a ponderous look. "Perhaps. After the treaty is done, we'll know how working permits will be handled."

"Yeah." There would be quite a few people who would want to seek their fortune elsewhere. Vos was poor by northern standards, and until they got the know-how to exploit the resources, the only thing worth exporting was uneducated workforce. Arrowhead really hoped Shockwave had been able to integrate his suggestion somewhere into the treaty.

"How many do you think will take that opportunity?"

"I have no idea, really. We never ran a survey for that. Probably more than Autobots who will want to work here."

"Even though you don't bite."

"Unless we're asked to."

Prowl blinked. "As do we. I'll see what I can do about Crank's problem."

xxx

Prowl blinked some more when the connection was cut.

"That was innuendo," Smokescreen remarked from his console in command.

"I believe so."

"And you picked it right up."

Prowl refused to lower his gaze.

"Anyhow. You still believe he's totally uninterested?"

"Yes. And if he is interested, he certainly is more entertaining than my usual suitors."

"Yeah. You nearly smiled, you know."

Prowl raised one optic ridge and stared at Smokescreen until the insolent mech looked away.


VIII.

Arrowhead knew he would be talking to Prowl soon when Starscream announced his decision.

"You can't be serious," he said to his Elite First. "You've met the mech once. His not being prejudiced is no reason to bond with him." At least, for sane mechs it wasn't.

Starscream set his chin and leaned deeper into the couch, looking like a recalcitrant youngling. Which he was, in a way. Four vorns past majority and already more damaged than most others in this place.

"Don't you think we tried to talk him out of this already?" asked Thundercracker from his spot on the wall.

"We know you did," Sunspear placated. "And we know the sun will rise in the west before our Elite First reconsiders a decision."

Starscream's frown deepened. "Don't talk about me like I can't hear you."

Arrowhead wriggled his nose. At least Starscream was snapping at people again. Some progress had been made, but not enough. A quarter vorn now since they'd found him. A quarter vorn of trying to make him accept a therapy.

While most Seekers would gladly kill Megatron all over again, now that they knew the truth, there were enough grounders who blamed Starscream for betraying their leader. It was rather convoluted reasoning, certainly. If Megatron hadn't been so angry, Starscream would have been Air Commander at the time, and then Megatron might not have died.

Idiotic, really. But Starscream knew about the rumors, and they'd follow him even through Vos' hallways.

"You're in pieces, kiddo," Stormride said, voicing the trine's opinion.

"I know," Starscream shouted. "Don't you think I'm aware I'm damaged? Everyone here is looking at me and speculating. Everyone here could have asked questions and didn't."

"Screamer," Skywarp ventured and scooted a little closer to Thundercracker. "It's not like we didn't try."

"I know!" Starscream was trembling now. Close to breaking down, probably. Primus, they needed a fragging shrink for this, but he wouldn't be granted the benefit of the doubt, either.

"Still you wouldn't trust most of us further than you can throw us," Arrowhead concluded. "I even think I have an idea why you picked the Prime of all people." Personality-wise, that mech was as far removed from Megatron as you cold get, and Starscream could play pretend with him until he was ready to actually tell the mech what had happened.

He felt agreement from his trine. That must be it. Could have been a worse choice really, but using someone's sense of duty so he'd bond to you?

"We have two concerns apart from your mental health," Arrowhead said. "First, why should the Council agree?"

Starscream sneered, and it was as ugly as it was welcome. "They'll believe me easy to influence. Some of the rumors must have reached Iacon by now. They'll think I'm a headcase who will repeat any opinion they offer. If I'm correct, they'll hope I'll be advertising their plutocracy once I'm bonded."

"That's Screamer the Schemer." Skywarp sounded more relieved than he probably ought.

"Thank you." Starscream's voice was dripping vitriol. "I believe Prime is taking his job even more serious than everyone believes, so we should garner a result opposite of what the Council expects."

"Swaying public opinion. Wise," Sunspear concluded. "But what will you do once Prime realizes he was tricked?"

"He won't be tricked." Starscream pouted.

Yeah. Everyone who wasn't already attached fell for Starscream eventually. He was gorgeous when he wasn't sneering, that much was true, and he could be very sweet if he liked you. If Starscream dosed his revelations, Prime would first feel chivalrous and later honored.

"It might actually work," Arrowhead voiced his trine's consensus. "Is there a way to back out if it doesn't?"

"Shockwave is working on one," Thundercracker said. "I've reminded him to do so."

"Several times," Skywarp added. "With threats thrown in."

xxx

"I still don't like it," Sunspear said once the Elite Trine had left.

"He's doing it for all the wrong reasons, even if it is the right mech," Stormride added.

Arrowhead raised an optic ridge and let his doubts filter through.

"They might be a functioning match," Stormride insisted. "They're both geeks. Prime's reliable to a fault, and Starscream is thinking outside the box. They both have things the other needs. And you do remember he smiled at Prime…"

He had. Somehow the black paint at the negotiations for the cease-fire had encouraged Starscream to flirt with Prime, and he'd smiled. It was the only time Arrowhead had seen Starscream smile since they'd freed him.

"Maybe you're right."

"So… if you can make out matches for Starscream, can you find one for our Trine Leader?" teased Sunspear.

Stormride considered Arrowhead. "There's been rumors."

"Excuse me?"

"It's always you calling Praxus when something's up."

"Prowl knows me. As he would you if you hadn't been otherwise occupied."

"That's unfair," Sunspear protested. "You'd understand if it were your own sparkling."

"Can we please not argue about this?" Stormride felt even more upset than he sounded. "You know we are sorry we neglected you."

The remorse was real enough. "I know. Back to those rumors?"

"Contrail brought them up. Said you had developed an interest in Praxian sensor panels."

"So what? Doesn't mean I'm interested in the mech."

"True. But you are looking, aren't you?"

"I guess," Arrowhead admitted. "I've had it with flings, at any rate."

xxx

No two decacycles later he saw Starscream smile at Optimus Prime via some news provider.

"He's in love," Sunspear sighed and cuddled closer to Stormride on the couch.

"Who?"

"Starscream."

"Any opinion on Prime?"

"Ditto."

"Hmm."

xxx

"I know you have called to gloat," Prowl said when he answered the request call.

"Maybe. I was also curious about your opinion on the matter."

"No one was interested in my opinion while the Council was cooking this up." Prowl frowned. "Prime wouldn't even tell me personally."

"Starscream was very lucky you weren't involved," Arrowhead said.

"I knew there was a scheme behind this."

"Several, actually. You don't believe your Council accepted this for the selfless reasons they were citing, no?"

Prowl raised one optic ridge. "As it is, I have only second hand knowledge of this, and I can't form much of an opinion as long as I don't know about Starscream's true state."

"In Prime's presence he's relaxed enough to smile, if the pictures are any indication."

With a nod, Prowl accepted the hint. "I still don't think they are an even match. Despite the starry optics."

"My second thinks they will work out. Because, as he said, they are both geeks."

Prowl chuckled, radiating some kind of relieved mirth. His optics had lit up to sky blue. Prowl's face wasn't boring at all when he smiled.

Arrowhead grinned back.

Then, something changed. Prowl sobered, but he kept looking at Arrowhead as if he'd never seen a Seeker before. Nervousness fluttered in Arrowhead's fuel tank.

Eventually, Prowl cleared his vocalizer. "Do you know if there is a way out for either of them if your trinemate was wrong?"

"I was told so."

"Well. I certainly hope Prime knows what he is doing. I guess we'll both be invited for the happy occasion."

"Most certainly."

"Hmm. Someone is pinging me. If you'd excuse me?"

xxx

Once the line was closed, Prowl shuttered his optics and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

Smokescreen had been right all along. No mech with a reputation for having no humor would go out of his way to make Prowl smile if he didn't have an ulterior motive.

It was downright ridiculous. Seekers were rumored to find ground bound frames pathetic. It didn't make sense at all. Certainly, Starscream seemed to have a soft spot for Optimus, but Optimus was tall and had a face that everyone would find handsome, now that he'd gotten rid of that battle mask.

Prowl had long realized that he wasn't attractive. So why should some exotic beauty go after him? Surely not for his intellect. That had never encouraged anyone to stay, after all.

And what was he going to do about it?

Nothing. Prowl had no reason to either encourage or discourage Arrowhead, because he knew next to nothing about him. He'd looked up the file the intelligence department had assembled, but apart from the sparse biography, it had been wrong about the mech having no humor whatsoever.

He'd just have to see where this was going. Some tiny flame of hope was flickering in the dark tunnel that was Prowl's future, and he just didn't have the spark to squash it yet.

xxx

Arrowhead stared at the blank monitor. Oh frag. He was falling for Prowl, wasn't he?

He must be totally out of his mind. It just couldn't work out. Prowl was an Autobot. Sure enough, he was talking to Arrowhead as if he considered him intelligent, but that might be an act. The Autobots were forced to make nice, after all. And even if by some chance Prowl developed feelings for him, he'd never act on them. Public opinion forbid it.

Not that most Vosians would be overly enthusiastic over Arrowhead's choice of mate, but frag them. He'd met most of them via combat training, and none of them had ever seen fit to pursue him.

"You're sending mixed messages," Sunspear complained via comm. "What's up with you?"

"You were right."

"Ah. What are you going to do about it?"

"Should I be doing something? Even if he were after a piece of wing for the usual reasons…"

"Is he? He's never come on to you, any of the guards or any POW that we know of."

"He's never shown interest, period."

"Which is one thing that is troubling you." A wave of sympathy accompanied that statement. "Alright. He is talking to you, right? You guys tend to have longer chats than necessary."

"Yes."

"Let's surmise both intelligence and you are correct about his lack of social skills. It would make sense he'd not advertise his feelings, then. Besides, we were enemies not too long ago, so he would be naturally even more cautions."

"True." So there was hope. "But even if he were interested, I've no guarantee he'd act on it."

"You afraid he'll listen to nay-sayers?"

"Hmm."

"Would he? Really? You've seen him at negotiations."

"Point taken. I'll just have to try, then."

"Positive thinking, love. You are going to swipe him off his feet."

Feeling somewhat encouraged, Arrowhead went and joined the Bursars for a meeting about the unhappy subject of finance.


IX.

The fourth time Arrowhead met Prowl in person was at Prime's and Starscream's bonding ceremony.

They managed to exchange smiles before being seated, which made Arrowhead's fuel tank wobble. During the near infinite number of speeches he tried to puzzle out what exactly Prowl's smile had meant.

Prowl joined their trine for some small talk later. Soon, the newly bonded couple left. Sunspear and Stormride took that as their cue to sidle out quietly.

"Still trouble with babysitters?" asked Prowl.

"Not at all."

Prowl nodded to signal he understood.

"So, do you think Prime knows what he is doing?" Arrowhead picked up one of Prowl's long ago statements with that.

"Starscream managed to rope him in, at any rate."

"I don't know. Prime didn't look like he was following someone else's cue, these past few decacycles."

"I'd have to talk to him. But I do think we can agree on who has lost the PR game." There was a hint of a smirk there.

"Apart from poor Emirate Insight?"

The grin widened. Prowl was one of those who would dance at that wake, certainly.

"Just how are you dealing with him?"

Prowl frowned. "I try to avoid it, to be frank. One or two of his underlings are somewhat sane."

"That's good to hear." Arrowhead looked around. Somehow there must be a way to start a conversation that was not about their respective jobs. "You've ever been in here before?"

"For Sentinel's wake. And when Optimus was inaugurated. It's the old throne room. One of the oldest parts of the palace."

"Hmm." Built for Alpha and Vector. Then Nova had come along, gone insane, and that was when his Council had taken over, diminishing their Prime's status. "Pretty martial artwork." Megatron would have loved it.

Prowl made a noncommittal noise. "They were needing to impress foreigners."

"You don't like it much."

"There's no disputing the level of artistry," Prowl said.

"You should have become a diplomat," Arrowhead teased.

Prowl looked into the distance. "If I had known I'd have to protect Cybertron from itself? I might have made a different career choice."

Truly, Prowl had little room to scoff at people on a mission. "And what are you doing when you're not off to save the world?"

This garnered Arrowhead a frown. It wasn't criticism, exactly. More like uncertainty whether Prowl should answer.

"I like to play quattra," Prowl eventually offered. "Apart from that, I think I'm not differing much from others."

Quattra… "Starscream had his board confiscated when he returned from Iacon after being kicked out of the academy. Back then, most of us didn't even know the game existed." It was an upper class thing, at any rate. "I taught myself to play. Though I don't think I'm very good."

"Would you care for a match, one orn?"

On the inside, Arrowhead should have been crowing in victory. Instead, his fuel tank's churning increased, and he had to grip his cube with both hands, lest Prowl notice they were trembling. "Sure. It's not quite a joor's flight from Vos to Praxus. I can do that."

"Hmm. Do you have a hobby?"

"I'm probably reading more than the average mech. Most people look at books when there's nothing better to do…"

"Unless reading is the something better to do."

"Quite." Arrowhead smiled.

Prowl smiled back.

"Oi, Prowler!" called some other black and white mech.

Prowl flinched and assumed a long-suffering look. He turned. "Jazz."

Ah. The special ops commander.

"I've been looking for you all over the place!"

There were introductions. Jazz had wanted Prowl to meet his mate, Senator Mirage. The Senator tried some careful small talk with Arrowhead while Jazz was prattling on about a hundred things at once. Eventually, Arrowhead excused himself and went to find Soundwave.

xxx

Jazz's new lover was bored after listening to two breems of shop talk and went off just like Arrowhead had done.

Prowl shook his head and turned back to Jazz. "Something tells me you wanted to get me alone."

Jazz offered a lopsided grin.

"I was just curious about that Seeker. It's not like you to just talk to some stranger."

"He is the ruler of Vos. Sometimes we do have to communicate."

"Looked more like he was chatting you up."

So Prowl wasn't the only one to come to this conclusion. "Yes, this was most likely what it was." He hadn't minded, either.

"And?"

"And what?"

"Argh!" Jazz added some grimace for effect. "Don't play dense, mech. Is the interest mutual or what?"

Why did everyone have to ask him about Arrowhead? Prowl sighed. "I won't deny he is fascinating. I'm just not sure why he picked me of all people."

"Don't sell yourself short, Prowler."

"I am simply trying to be realistic. People tend to find me boring, and I'm not that good looking."

Jazz sighed. "Look, I don't know him besides what I can see in our files. He's uneducated, but he's learning quickly. You match on the attractiveness level."

"We do?" That had to be a joke. Not funny.

"Hmm." Jazz considered him. "You have no idea what a Seeker considers attractive, do you?"

Not really. "Mostly I can detect a preference of flashy color schemes." Arrowhead was refreshingly different – stylish understatement in gray you'd more likely find in a noble.

Jazz laughed. "If you look at it that way. Most of those flashy creatures will think your admirer boring."

"Their loss." Prowl smiled slightly. Knowing this was something of a relief, even if it was only on an intellectual level.


X.

Just as Arrowhead had expected, Prowl made an appearance at the gifting ceremony in the gardens the next orn.

"It's considered impolite to fall asleep on such an occasion," commented Prowl and joined him him for lurking in the background.

"I'm fighting my boredom valiantly." Arrowhead put his hand over his spark in what he hoped to be a heroic pose.

Prowl's mouth twitched, as if he were suppressing a smile.

"Besides, even the happy couple look like they'd rather be elsewhere", Arrowhead fished for another excuse.

Prowl's doorwings flicked. "They would want to be elsewhere no matter the entertainment. Or lack thereof."

"True. Though one should shoot the mech responsible for the decoration." It was hurting Arrowhead's optics.

Prowl considered the garish gazebo. "Yes. It's quite the abuse of crystal shavings."

"Hmm." Arrowhead tried to hint, "I hear they have an entire crystal maze here."

"They also have a plant maze." Then, Prowl blinked, as if catching Arrowhead's meaning only now. "You never were privy to a tour?"

"No. Unfortunately."

Prowl waggled his sensor panels in thought. "I don't think we shall be missed." He turned and walked off.

Arrowhead hurried after him.

xxx

If Prowl was honest with himself, he was a little disappointed Arrowhead hadn't cornered him somewhere for a kiss.

Arrowhead, confessing to having heard a rant about it from Starscream, had offered his arm to Prowl and had not let go for the entire two joors of their tour of the Palace. After some initial awkwardness, Prowl had found that he didn't mind. Usually, he valued his space, wasn't one to touch anyone for an extended period of time unless in berth.

Somehow, Arrowhead's attitude negated Prowl's need for independence. He was neither being shown off nor shown his place. Despite Arrowhead's mockery of the gesture, Prowl felt it was a sign of respect.

They finally happened upon the open air games tables. The area was deserted – the nobles who usually came here were busy partying.

"Fascinating how none of the pieces were stolen yet," Arrowhead commented.

"The place is under heavy surveillance." Prowl looked around and spied the two obvious cameras.

"But then it would be even more of a challenge." Arrowhead grinned down at Prowl.

Prowl smiled back. "How very Decepticon of you."

"I'd call it immature." Arrowhead offered another grin, then let Prowl go to examine the frilly little tables.

Prowl spent a few klicks silently berating himself. "You're right. Of course."

Arrowhead looked at him with a frown. "Contrary to popular opinion, I do understand when I'm being teased."

Prowl nodded, too embarrassed for a verbal reply. He'd hoped that he'd left most of his awkwardness behind by now, but here it was. Just like always when it really counted.

"Do you play Squares?" Arrowhead asked, toying with one of the flat round pieces.

Prowl, feeling his doorwings relax in relief, nodded again and joined him at the table.

xxx

Prowl eventually did relax enough to continue making small talk, and Arrowhead even managed to find out that they both would attend next orn's party at Prime's house.

"You'll be leaving the orn after, too?" he asked. The treaty would be signed that morning.

Prowl's sensor panels drooped in clear exaggeration. "Back to business."

"Oh yes. We'll both be busy keeping the revelers in line."

Prowl wriggled his nose, but smiled. "Don't remind me."

Arrowhead smiled back, and thus they were grinning at each other stupidly, like mooning younglings.

After a breem or so, Prowl looked off. "It's getting dark."

Yes. Arrowhead forced himself not to let his shoulders sag too much. "Allow me to escort you to your quarters."

Prowl did, but he was keeping his distance and seemed somewhat thoughtful.

xxx

"So?" Sunspear dropped on the couch next to Arrowhead.

"So what?"

"So when will you make an honest mech of your paramour?"

Arrowhead spluttered. "You- It's not like there's anything going on yet."

"Well, maybe you should decide on what 'anything' is supposed to be and then ask? It's not right to string someone along like that."

On a sudden urge, Arrowhead decked his trinemate. "I was going to ask him. Forgive me for trying to find out if the mech can stand me, first."

Sunspear rubbed his helm. "Granted. He's not one of ours, he'll have no idea about the proper ways. But you should ask soon. Already there's talk."

"Don't I know. He won't get half of it, but… next orn, after Starscream's party," Arrowhead vowed to himself.


XI.

With Prowl leaving the gifting ceremony early last orn, he of course accepted that there had to be rumors. Autobots were looking at him askance, whispering, wondering why he'd picked a Seeker of all people.

Prowl couldn't have explained it at gunpoint. Arrowhead was serious, but still had a sense of humor, was intelligent and could take Prowl's silences. All necessary qualities, of course. It still didn't explain why Prowl was so drawn to the mech, wondering what those wings would feel like under his touch.

The Decepticons were doing their fair share of gossip mongering, too, but in a different tone. It went from, "you're joking, he's a grounder," to this…

"It's not right, what Arrowhead's doing."

Prowl tilted his sensor panels to catch the conversation better.

"What do you think he's doing?"

"Toying with the grounder."

"Hmm. I don't believe so, but I'll investigate. He's Elder First. That office does require decorum."

Prowl turned his head carefully. The blue one was one of Starscream's trinemates, and the bulky purple mech was one of the triplechangers. For a moment, he considered confronting them, but then thought better of it. It wasn't like Prowl and Arrowhead were an item. Yet.

With a sigh, Prowl returned his attention to the ritual taking place on the dais.

He didn't catch Arrowhead at the reception, and left, vaguely disappointed.

xxx

In terms of networking, the party at Prime's place was a total and utter success. Otherwise, Arrowhead wasn't too sure. Certainly, he'd introduced Prowl to his trine, and they were getting along fairly well, chatting about the issues with rebuilding Praxus.

However, after almost two joors of mingling, Jazz cranked up the volume of the music and ordered Prime and Starscream to open the dancing with something slow and sensual. The lucky couple, however, did stall.

"I've had enough of making a spectacle of myself the past three orns," Starscream protested. "You and Mirage do it."

"Aww." Jazz grinned. "If we do, we won't be seeing nothing of you and Optimus tonight anymore."

Senator Mirage spluttered, while Prime ducked his head in embarrassment.

"Oh, alright. We can do prim and proper, too." With that Jazz tugged Mirage into his arms, and off they were. More couples, including Sunspear and Stormride, made to follow. Sunspear clonked an elbow into Arrowhead's side as encouragement.

Arrowhead looked at Prowl, who was staring at his half finished cube of high grade.

No. It was such a couple song, and they weren't officially courting. Yet. Considering the somewhat dark looks Arrowhead had gotten from TC over the evening, asking Prowl for this dance would be considered a major faux-pas.

Fortunately, Jazz picked a more jaunty song next, so Arrowhead stood up and held out his hand. "Would you honor me with this dance?"

Prowl gaped up at him. "I… I can't dance."

"Can't, or don't want?"

Prowl looked away.

"So, let's be incompetent together. It's not like I've ever learned ballroom dancing, either."

Prowl smiled and took his hand.

Arrowhead's fuel tank did a flip.

It turned out that Prowl knew the steps after all, and was merely unpracticed, which was more than Arrowhead could claim. They tried perfecting their style for the next few tunes, until Jazz went again for some love ballad thing.

Well. "A word, if you please?"

Prowl blinked, obviously puzzled, and Arrowhead wanted to kick himself. He was neither talking to an underling nor to a stranger.

Nevertheless, Prowl followed him out onto the large terrace, where they stood at the railing and looked at the tastefully lit gardens for a breem.

"What was it you wanted to talk about?" Prowl eventually asked.

"I…" Arrow straightened up and took Prowl's hand.

Prowl's fingers twitched, as if he wanted to pull back, then thought better of it.

"Will you allow me to court you? As lover and bondmate?"

Prowl, again, blinked. "I'm not sure…"

What? Arrowhead huffed. "Call me when you are. Goodnight. Prowl." He kissed Prowl's hand, then went back inside.

His trine sensed his annoyance and crowded him. After a bit of prodding, he relented and recounted the entire conversation via comm.

"He's a grounder," Stormride eventually pointed out. "They don't think about their relationships in that way. They just muddle on, without ever talking things out."

Arrowhead cycled air for a sigh. True. It was a wonder they managed to pair up long-term at all, and it was no wonder that Starscream had landed himself in such a mess with a Megatron, too. Arrowhead would just give Prowl the benefit of the doubt and hope the mech would make a decision soon.

xxx

Prowl noticed the other guests leaving, but really, he had different things on his mind. Why ask anyone for the permission to court them? You either did, or didn't. It didn't make much sense.

He leaned his arms on the banister and stared at the palace, still well-lit even at this time of night.

Eventually, Prime and Starscream approached him.

"Everything alright?" Prime asked.

"I'm not sure. I think I was just proposed to."

"You think?"

"Let me guess," Starscream interrupted, suppressed laughter evident. "He said, 'will you allow me to court you?'"

"Yes."

"So what did you say?"

"I'm not sure," Prowl quoted himself.

"Well. He won't have faulted you for that, because you aren't a Seeker. But you should get back to him with a real answer. Soon."

Prowl nodded. He'd figured that he had to answer, he just was confused as to why he had been asked when Arrowhead had been doing quite a bit of courting for decacycles. Although it seemed to make perfect sense to Starscream. Prowl would therefore eschew recharge for research tonight.

He bid Prime and Starscream farewell and left for his room and the comm. system there. It was inter-palace, and had some access to the archives, so for the next joor, Prowl sat and skimmed studies on Seeker psychology.

Fascinating, truly. The northern authorities ruling Vos had never managed to eradicate the courting system completely. Mostly, trines were thrown together by the commanders and just expected to work out, but sometimes, especially when there were odd ends from accidents or battlefield deaths, new trines would form of the ones left by mutual attraction. And it all started with a deceptively simple question.

Actually, Prowl found that it made sense after all. If his exes had stated their intentions right away, a lot of the messes he had gotten himself into in the past might have been avoided. He wouldn't have misread signals, wouldn't have had to sort the real thing from the kiss-ups so often.

Suddenly, he felt restless, as if waiting a nanoklick longer would kill him.


XII.

Someone was banging against the door of Arrowhead's room, which was just as well. He couldn't calm down enough for recharge anyway. His mind was busy analyzing everything Prowl had said, every little gesture that had passed between them.

So he rose to open the door.

Prowl. Who practically vibrated with unease. "Umm. Good morning?"

"Hello, Prowl." Arrowhead steeled himself for the worst.

"I – that is to say – yes."

"Yes what?"

"To your proposal." Prowl went stiff, all formal. "I would very much like to see whether we are compatible enough to bond."

Arrowhead felt a huge grin forming on his face, but in lieu of looking stupid to Prowl, he went and kissed the mech.

Prowl made a soft noise of protest, which turned into a contented hum, then he melted against Arrowhead.

Definitely a yes.

xxx

Prowl extracted himself from Arrowhead's arms before things could get too raunchy. Not only were they still standing in the doorway, where passersby in the garden might see them, but, "how are we going to do this?"

Arrowhead sighed. "I was hoping to postpone this discussion until we're both more awake."

"After the activities you had planned for us?"

Arrowhead ducked his head. "You're right. This is as alert as we're going to get for the next several orns. Come on in."

Concurrent with their status as rulers of a city, the trine had been afforded rooms usually reserved for visiting Emirates. In the sitting room there crowded more expensive furniture than anyone could use, the walls were covered in hangings in understated, rich colors.

Arrowhead tugged Prowl to a settee and made him curl up against him.

"Neither of us can leave their cities just now," Arrowhead conceded eventually. "And I wouldn't ask my trine to move, even if I could. The bitlet, he needs other flyers around."

Yes. "About that. Are you hoping to procreate?"

"I wouldn't be averse. It's not something I'd desperately need to be happy… but it might be nice. When things have settled a little more."

"Yes." Prowl stared at the wall hanging opposite them for a bit. They had more or less the same stance on that. "Would it be a Seeker?"

"No." Arrowhead chuckled. "If we had a flyer, he'd have to earn that title. But there's a good chance that any sparkling I carry will end up with flyer programming."

"Hm-hmm." Which might leave them with the same dilemma Arrowhead had mentioned earlier. Unless there would be immigrant flyers in Praxus by the time they had to consider this more closely.

"If we decide to move in together, I'm going to commute," Arrowhead continued. "I'm not certain my trine will be up to a reelection in four vorns. Someone more politically minded might be better suited to the task by then. We might even go for an actual education."

Prowl again hummed an assent. "You'd waste your potential if you went back to being a flying instructor."

"Thanks." Arrowhead pecked him on the helm. "But it is something that is needed everywhere there are flyers. And I liked teaching."

"Hmm. I might be willing to move, too." Prowl snuggled closer. "Once things have settled a little."

"You were with law enforcement, once, weren't you."

"Hmm."

"There's a very big berth in my room. If you insist on falling into recharge on me, can we do this somewhere more comfortable?"

What? Prowl struggled to sit upright.

"Only for sleeping, I promise." Arrowhead offered a grin.

Well, then. "Lead on."


Epilogue

It was a rare occasion for Starscream to be speechless. The mech merely stood there and looked around the Vos Academy's new atrium with a slightly open mouth.

They had gone for the minimalist approach – expensive materials, contrasts, lots of light. Calligraphy and abstract mosaics rather than the murals the northerners were so fond of.

"It looks even better than in the sketches." Prime flashed Arrowhead a smile. "It's just the right mixture of grandeur, intimidation and understatement."

"It's awesome," Flare supplied from behind them.

Arrowhead grinned. "But probably not awe-inspiring enough for you to have actually behaved during your stay at this fine institution, am I right?"

Amusement from Prowl filtered through their bond, while Flare had the decency to duck his head and look embarrassed. Kid had never managed to be as intellectual as his parents, preferring action over studying. Add to that his ugly experiences as a sparkling, and you had your hands full as a guardian. No wonder Prime and Starscream had postponed even trying for another until now.

Thankfully, neither of Arrowhead's own offspring had ever idolized the brat enough to follow in his footsteps. Prowl mentally supplied him with an update on the twins – they were currently pestering their cousin Wingstun.

Anyhow, Flare was currently working as a mechanic on one of the large interstellar freighters that went to and from the colonies, with good hopes for a promotion soon.

"Dean?"

Arrowhead stifled a sigh and turned to the interloper. His assistant.

"I just wanted to remind you of the time?"

"Of course. Thank you. I'm afraid I won't get out of making a speech, after all," Arrowhead said to Starscream. "And neither will Prime."

Prime offered the sigh Arrowhead had managed to suppress.


Dramatis personae

Optimus Prime – current Prime of Cybertron

Prowl – Prime's Second in command

Smokescreen – his lieutenant

Arrowhead – Decepticon Emirate of Praxus, later Elder First (Elder Trine Leader)

Insight – Emirate of Praxus

Skidmark – one of Insight's advisors

Sunspear – Arrowhead's trinemate (Elder second)

Stormride – Arrowhead's trinemate (Elder third)

Wingstun - Sunspear's and Stormride's sparkling

Contrail – chief of Vosian police (Polis first)

Starscream – former Air Commander of the Decepticons, also Elite First

Thundercracker – Elite second

Skywarp – Elite third

Jazz – Commander of the Autobot Special Operations Forces

Mirage – a senator, Jazz's betrothed

Mentioned:

Vector Prime – the Prime who conquered the south

Sentinel Prime – Optimus Prime's predecessor