Just the Cat's Meow
(February 25, 2004)

To no one's surprise, least of all his own, Jazz was feeling positively jaunty. Even in ordinary times, it didn't take much - sometimes just waking up from his recharge cycle would do - to send Jazz into a fit of the jollys. But these were not ordinary times, and neither had they been for several million years, if a 'bot wanted to get truly picky about things, and though Jazz's joy was sometimes interspersed with this inconvenient yet obligatory war, most days provided just enough of the inane to send Jazz to simply scandalous levels of glee. And today was no exception.

Atired, withering look was all Jazz received as he breezed into the command center. Prime paused from briefing Hot Spot, while Prowl simply offered Jazz a deadened look.

"Autobot Jazz with the morning report," Jazz merrily announced, and was rewarded with a slow, agonized blink from Prowl.

"Dare I ask?" the tactician monotoned.

"Probably not," Jazz grinned, enjoying the curious looks he was catching from the newcomer, who along with the other Protectobots had recently joined the ranks from stasis, and were still trying to find their bearings. Which naturally would have been made far easier had they been awakened into a normal unit, but so far what Hot Spot and the others had experienced could more accurately be described as a perpetual clown fest, and so Jazz could understand a bit of bewilderment on he part of the ordinarily charismatic Protectobot.

A quizzical look passed from Hot Spot to Optimus, but Prime only shrugged and looked on with what Jazz suspected was a hint of humor.
"Well then," Prowl looked back down at the datapad he'd been poring over, "I don't want to hear it."

Jazz worked very hard to suppress a grin. "What if I cut out the violent parts?"

Without looking up, Prowl quirked an optic ridge. "What, and leave me solely with the stupidity? That takes the entertainment out of it."

Jazz crossed his arms. "I thought you had your capacity for entertainment surgically removed."

"Naturally," Prowl continued, still staring at his work, "but my dry, mirthless outlook does not preclude me from enjoying the misfortunes of the Autobots' criminal element."

Out of the corner of his visor, Jazz caught a worried look on Hot Spot's face. Clearly, the Protectobot did not seem to approve of such an outlook as Prowl's, but neither did he seem to yet understand the dedication or enthusiasm of the Autobots' miscreant crowd. "Criminal?" he asked, painfully perplexed.

Prime attempted to explain. "Have you met the Lamborghinis?"

Hot Spot knitted his brow, processor calculating. "Red Alert indoctrinated us into the security program. He has a Lamborghini alt-form, but he-"

"Never mind." Prime gave up, and nodded toward Jazz. "You were saying?"

"He wasn't," Prowl interjected, face bland. "In fact, he was going away."

But naturally, Jazz had no such plans. "Right," he gave Prowl a cherubic look, and summoned a stack of papers with a flourish. "As soon as I get these release papers signed, I'll just boogie on outta -"

"Release papers?" Prowl looked up, face shrewd.

Jazz smiled. It was just so easy. "Oh, you know," he explained airily, as he sauntered over to Prime, "usual police procedure. If you just sign here, Prime…"

But good old Prime seemed to feel this was a good time to stop being amused and take a bit of interest in the goings-on, and instead of taking the papers, he merely crossed his arms and narrowed his optics. "Police?" he asked, voice somewhere between concern and blooming irritation. Hot Spot looked on with increasing alarm.

"Well," Jazz paused for emphasis, as though unsure where to start, (though he knew perfectly well just how he wanted to launch this thing), before giving a tiny shrug of his shoulders and asking, "Remember Blades?"

"Remember Blades?" Hot Spot sputtered, optics flaring to life. "What do you mean, 'remember Blades'?"

Prowl glared, coming halfway out of his seat, while Optimus demanded, "Is Blades in danger?"

"Woah, guys, chill," Jazz backed up a step, enjoying himself quite thoroughly. "Blades is right as rain. So to speak."

"So to speak?" Now Hot Spot was beginning to glower, and Jazz wisely reminded himself how quick these team leaders could turn into rabid denmothers when it came to the safety of their team mates.

But still, a new guy was a new guy, and Jazz did have to have his fun. "Well," he explained, "he ain't damaged, but he sure is mad out in the rain. I think he made Sideswipe blush with the language he was spoutin' off -"

"Jazz!" Prime barked. "Tell the story straight or get someone in here who can. And what," Prime narrowed his optics in that dangerous way that never failed to make Jazz glad his alt mode wasn't Italian, "does Sideswipe have to do with it?"

Well, now Jazz had everyone's attention, including Prowl, whose optics had gone about as flat as stale water. And that wasn't even mentioning Hot Spot, who had assumed action pose, and was doing some of the most impressive bristling Jazz had ever seen, which was saying something, considering that Optimus Prime had something like a blackbelt in the sport of Very Impressive Looming. All of which, needless to say, gave Jazz the notion that it might now be in his best interest to quickly get to the point.

"Ok," he started over, as he smoothed the paperwork and set it on the nearest console. "You know how the guys can be, what with the new guys suddenly coming online. I mean, you remember when the Aerialbots were new-"

"Jazz," Prime growled. "The point."

"Exactly what I was getting to," Jazz crossed his arms. "Straight facts: seems a few of the Aerialbots got the impression that they wouldn't be new guys anymore if they'd play a little prank on one of the newer guys. Now somehow," Jazz looked skyward, "and I don't know exactly how, these certain Aerialbots got it into their heads that it would be a good laugh to take away Blades' rotary assembly and leave him stranded on top of the TV tower down in Portland. Which," he added hastily, as he observed Hot Spot's mood darkening, "is where he is now, and last I heard, was still hollerin' bloody murder about getting rained on."

Here Jazz paused, mouth set stubbornly against grinning, while Prime and Prowl leveled him with what Jazz liked to refer to as the Lizard Eye of Mirthlessness. Hot Spot, on the other hand, seemed all shades of ready to burst into action.

"Why didn't the Aerialbots get him down? Prime," Hot Spot turned to the Autobot commander, "we can't leave him there."

"Woah, there, cowboy," Jazz held up his hands. "The Aerialbots did try to get him down after they'd poked fun at him for a bit, but he wouldn't come. Didn't wanna be rescued by them."

Hot Spot's optics darkened. "Why not?"

"Well, it seems," and here Jazz let the smallest of grins slip, "he was too mad. Didn't wanna be rescued by Aerialbots."

Prime sighed. "And he's still there?"

Jazz nodded. "You can hear him yelling a mile away."

"Prime -"

"Yes, Hot Spot," Prime sighed again, and Jazz would have bet his back end that it wouldn't be the last time that day, "I'll send Skyfire."

"Uh," Prime," Jazz put in, "we might want to all go."

"And why is that?" Prime asked, his patience clearly thinning.

But Jazz just held up the sheaf of release papers along with he hoped was an apologetic smile, and Prime simply resigned himself to sighing and herding them all out the door. And Jazz was only getting started.

"So," Prowl intoned as they all settled in for the short flight, "Blades was left susceptible to Decepticon attack by the Aerialbots, who are currently…" He stared at Jazz expectantly.

"Getting an audio-full from Silverbolt," Jazz supplied, "who by the way is about as mad as I've ever seen him. I don't envy those three birds."
"Let me guess which three," Prime put in dryly.

"Well, let me see…" Jazz answered, "not Skydive…and…yup, that about narrows it down."

Prime grumbled and eyed Jazz with a bit of testy foreboding. "But that still doesn't explain those release papers."

"No," Jazz agreed with a widening grin, "it doesn't. See, this would be the just-plain-stupid part, and since Prowl clearly expressed that he didn't want to hear it…"

"What did Sideswipe do?" Prowl asked flatly.

"Who is Sideswipe?" Hot Spot asked, arms crossed, and still looking pretty well put out.

"He is a product of the underworld," Prowl explained. "A spawn of the Great Evil."

Jazz furrowed his brow. "Aw, he ain't that bad."

"You know," Prime put in, "sometimes I wonder how much trouble Sunstreaker would avoid if he didn't have his brother around."

"Oh, he'd be prank free, I'm sure," Prowl replied. "Of course, there's also a greater than sixty percent chance that he'd be a sociopathic mass murderer."

"Ah. True." Prime nodded. "So, Jazz, you were explaining -" he nodded at the release papers "-those."

Hot Spot looked at a loss, not that anyone paid him any mind.

"Right." Jazz produced the papers with a flourish. "Short version or long?"

"Short," Prime and Prowl replied in unison.

"Right on. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker are being detained by the Portland P.D.," Jazz explained. "They're not asking us to post bond - they just want us to sign these and take custody of the twins." Jazz smiled. "And that's it."

"That," Prowl narrowed his optics, " is most certainly not it. What happened?"

"You said you wanted the short version," Jazz countered.

"Jazz." Prime fixed the saboteur with a steely look. "What happened?"

With a shrug, and with a pure sense of enjoyment, Jazz bent over the papers again. "Well, says here they tried to talk Blades down from the TV building, and Sideswipe even tried to jetpack up to get him. Didn't work."

"Well, there's nothing wrong with that," Hot Spot spoke up. "I don't see why the Earth security force detained them, but I for one will be sure to thank them for trying -"

"Hot Spot," Prime put a hand on the Protectobot's shoulder, "I'm sure there's more to this."

"There's always more," Prowl added without the slightest trace of humor. "Go on, Jazz."

Jazz looked back down. "Ayup, indeed, there is more, my friends. Seems that when Blades turned down Sideswipe's offer for a ride, he made full use of - uh - decorative metaphors, not to mention a few colorful suggestions for what the twins could go do. Short version: Sunstreaker took offense. Shouting match ensued, much to the enjoyment of one Sideswipe."

Prime groaned. "So they were charged with disturbing the peace?"

"No, there's more," Jazz replied, and could all but feel Prowl's cold stare boring through him. Suppressing a grin, he began to read, "Says here - and I'm skipping bits to keep it short - 'Subjects A and B continued to block traffic while Subject C loudly and continually protested his position on the tower. Officers made repeated requests for all subjects to evacuate the area; requests were ignored. At approximately 0345, Subject C made a loud and derogatory statement regarding what Subjects A and B could go do to one another. At this point, Subject B (yellow) became highly agitated, and forcibly removed a fire hydrant from the ground, which he then threw to the top of the tower with the intention of striking Subject C. Subject C evaded being struck, and the hydrant has not been recovered at this time. At approximately 0350, the street was beginning to flood. Subject A (red) responded with amusement, and did not appear to understand officer requests for him to evacuate the area. Officers again repeated requests to Subject B (yellow), who made the following statement:

'Hey, Po-po, let me put this in words you can understand: F omit you, and the f omit ing hippopotamus you rode in on.' Subject B also added, 'Or was that your mother?'

At this, Jazz looked up, gleefully awaiting the inevitable reaction. He was not disappointed.

"Primus!" Optimus blurted, optics wide and practically crackling. "That slagging son of a glitch! He said what?"

"Prime, language," Prowl chided.

"What's a hippopotamus?" Hot Spot piped up.

Thrilled to the gills, Jazz bent his head over the report again. "It said…here it is…'Subject B, who made the following-"

"Jazz," Prime glowered. "I heard you the first time."

"But you asked -" Jazz started, then quieted himself at an ugly look from Prime, though he couldn't help grinning like a jack-o-lantern with a TNT candle.

Prowl and Prime traded glances, and Jazz didn't need them to speak to know they were sharing a mutual wish to stamp the words 'PREDACON SNACK' across Sunstreaker's forehead and jettison him into the sea directly above Decepticon headquarters. But before any such thing could be discussed, Skyfire, (who wasn't entirely able to keep the amused quaver out of his vocalizer), announced that they were preparing to land.

Which was just as well, since Prime seemed too thoroughly peeved to have anything commanderly to say.

"Primus all mighty," was all Prowl muttered, as they all tucked in for touchdown.

Jazz, happy as a turbo-dog in a dirty oil slick, looked out at the rising pavement below them with the sure feeling that this day was going to be fine indeed.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were first on the agenda, it seemed; or at least that was how the police wanted things. It appeared that though they had the ability to hold the Lamborghini terrors - those abilities amounting to an energy cell and a donated Wheeljack-created cannon - Portland's finest were not precisely enjoying their job. So Skyfire was dispatched to go try to remove Blades from the TV tower, while Jazz, Optimus Prime, Prowl, and Hot Spot met up with the captain of the Portland Police.

"We've filed an addendum to our original report," the captain informed them upon arrival, his eyes a little red and rheumy in the fresh morning light. The rain had stopped, and though the world looked nicely scrubbed under the rising sun, the poor captain looked like someone had run him over with a V-12, and left extra-wide tire treads across his face. "They haven't damaged anything -" he was saying as they walked, "-seems they've got some respect for that cannon you boys donated - but that yellow one's done nothing but run his mouth since three this morning, and the red one's done nothing but egg him on."

"Egg?" Hot Spot asked, but neither Prime nor Prowl were paying the Protectobot any attention.

"I'll bet he was," Prowl was muttering, while Prime was busy concocting a generous and long-winded apology. Jazz would also bet that the twins would have had an exceeding amount of respect for any sort of object that A) looked like it had explosive components, and a very important B) had Wheeljack's seal on the barrel. Jazz would have given his left door panel to see the looks on their faces when the police had leveled that baby at their sparkling little paint jobs.

As it was, Jazz was happy enough to content himself with seeing them after three or so hours of being detained by a bunch of cranky, self-important humans. The saboteur could hear them all way across the impound lot, and they were not pleased at all. Or at least Sunstreaker wasn't.

"Primus!" Jazz could hear the yellow warrior shouting. "The buttons on that uniform are a projectile hazard! Download one more doughnut, and you're gonna come from together, you sauce-swilling little pork-chop man!"

Angry shouts erupted, complete with scuffling and the sounds of a struggle, all of which were backdropped nicely by the sounds of Sideswipe laughing himself sick.

"Let me pull the trigger," someone shouted, and as Jazz's party neared, they could see two officers holding a third back, while Sunstreaker loomed over all of them on the other side of the bars. Sideswipe, in true form, leaned weakly against the back wall as he wheezed.

"The Autobots are coming," one of the restraining officers grunted. "Jenkins!"

Jenkins shoved off the other two officers as he stepped back to straighten his shirt, which Jazz had to admit was wrapped a little tightly around his middle. "Go to hell, you damn trash can," Jenkins snapped.

"Such language," Sunstreaker crossed his arms and sneered. "You teach the little pork-chops at home to talk like that?"

"Hey, Autobot!" one of the other officers waved a warning finger in Sunstreaker's direction. "Leave a man's kids out of it."

"Or what?" Sunstreaker snapped. "You gonna oink at me some more?"

"Sunstreaker!" Prime barked, making the yellow warrior snap his glare in the commander's direction.

"Prime," Sunstreaker glowered. "It's about fragging time. Get us outta here."

Prime neared, and stood before the open-air cell, glowering in return, though Jazz noted that the commander's glowering was a touch more impressive, as he towered over the surly yellow warrior by a good head and shoulders. "I have half a mind to leave you in there," Optimus growled.

"But this is humiliating!" Sunstreaker slammed a fist against the bars and flung up an impressive spray of sparks that sent the humans scurrying backward.

"Exactly," Prime said, and turned his attention to the humans, one of whom was frantically batting the embers off of his uniform. Somewhere in the background, Sideswipe was laughing anew over some comment about smelling fried bacon, while Sunstreaker flexed his newly electrocuted hand. Prime ignored them both.

"My deepest apologies to you all," he spoke gravely down to the three highly irritated officers. "However we have offended you-"

"However?" Jenkins barked back. "However? Try all night with this one's mouth!" He stabbed a viciously quivering finger in Sunstreaker's direction. "And that one," he singled out one exuberantly and beamingly amused Sideswipe, "keeps making it worse!"

Jazz couldn't help himself. "Jenkins, man, we've had a few million years with those two, dude. We know."

"Jazz, please," Prime held up a hand, and Jazz slid a quick grin in Sideswipe's direction, which Prowl saw and quickly rewarded with a disapproving stare.

"Officers," Prime was trying again, "I sincerely apologize for everything, and I give you my word that whatever has been damaged will be repaired or replaced."

"Nothing got damaged," the captain put in, and gave Jenkins' shoulder a sympathetic pat. "Except, of course, for the fire hydrant, but I'm assuming you'll have your boys patch that up."

"Of course," Prime nodded. "I'll send for a repair team immediately. Again, please accept my apologies on behalf of the Autobots, and rest assured that this will not happen again."

"It better not," Jenkins grumbled, with a poisonous look in Sunstreaker's direction.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, officer," Prime assured Jenkins, with the merest flick of a gaze in the twins' direction. "I'm fairly certain these two will be adequately occupied for at least the next several weeks."

"What?" Sunstreaker glared through the bars, and even Sideswipe sobered at that, not that anyone cared.

"The addendum to our report," the captain said as he handed over a small stack of papers. "Should you need a full description of the night's events for your own logs."

"Oh, I'm certain that won't be necessary," Prime assured the captain, as he accepted the report. "But I am grateful to you for thoroughly addressing the matter, as I intend to do." That last bit was directed toward the twins, who were looking somewhat less thrilled now that they were facing the prospect of hearing what their punishment would be.

"Well then," the captain dusted his hands off, "that concludes our business here. As long as the paperwork is all signed, you can have your boys back, and be off down to the TV tower."

"Yes," Prime agreed. "It is getting late, and we'd hate to tie up morning traffic. If I could just get you to let these two out…"

"With pleasure," the captain replied, with no small amount of sincerity. "Jenkins? Would you cut the energy bars off?"

"Gladly," Jenkins gave the Lamborghinis one last, ugly stare before cutting the switch.

"About fragging time," Sunstreaker snarled as he leaped lightly through the opened door, and gave himself a thorough shake. "Ugh, and this lot has such a stench. Are these the most unkempt automobiles on the face of the planet? It's like a festering pound in here."

"Sunstreaker!" Prime snapped, and the yellow warrior trailed off into a grousing mutter. Prime extended a hand to the captain. "Thank you for your patience, officer. I'll see that this doesn't happen again. That I promise."

"Good enough for me." The captain returned Prime's gingerly-offered handshake. "Just see to it that the one on the tower is gone as soon as possible. He's been creating a scene since last evening."

"I already have a mech on the job," Prime nodded. "Now if you'll excuse us, we'll go see how he's doing."

"Sounds good." The captain tossed off a little wave, and watched as the Autobots transformed.

"Thanks again, officers." Prime gunned his engine a little, warming up, before slowly pulling away. "Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, get your spoilers out front. The rest of you, let's roll."

By the time they were two blocks from the station, the sun had broken through the clouds, the newly-washed pavement was glittering like gold, and Jazz was having the best traffic jam of his life.

"What do you mean, it's not your fault?"

"It's not!" Sunstreaker protested.

"Yeah, Prime," Sideswipe piped up. "All we did was try to get him down, and he wouldn't come. How is that a crime?"

"What? Destroying human property with the intent of hurting a fellow Autobot isn't a crime?" Prime fumed. "Is it so hard for you two to remember how to at least act like Autobots in front of the humans?"

"But we didn't do it!" Sunstreaker insisted, stubborn about that one point, and not really hearing a word that Prime was saying.

"Oh, I somehow doubt that," Prime said. "I doubt that highly."

"We're not lying," Sideswipe protested. "We may be scum-sucking bottom dwellers, but we're not liars."

Prime's engine rumbled menacingly. "This is not a laughing matter, Sideswipe."

"I wasn't trying to make you laugh."

"It's not like he has to try to be laughable," Prowl muttered.

"I heard that!" Sunstreaker snapped, crankily revving his engine.

Jazz snickered.

"And don't you rev at us, Sunstreaker." Prime was far from done. "What you two did - convincing the Aerialbots to put Blades in harm's way, aggravating the humans, damaging their city, attempting to damage another Autobot - is unthinkable. Now I understand that you two have energy to burn, but for the love of Primus, can you begin to explain what goes through your processor to make you think this is acceptable behavior?"

"Well, you don't know what Blades said," Sunstreaker fumed in return. "That little slagger needs to learn some manners."

"And anyone wanting to teach him manners," Hot Spot put in testily, "can slagging well come through me. You got a problem with one of mine? I'll handle it. But don't let me catch you threatening my team mate again."

"Wh--?" Sunstreaker sputtered. "Who the slag are you? And don't tell me you're gonna let that pastel nightmare of a paint job talk to me that way, Prime."

In reply, Prime pushed as close as he could to the yellow Lamborghini's back end, crowding him into the car in front. "Yes, I'm going to let him talk to you like that, and I also back what he said one hundred percent. So keep that in mind next time you think to threaten any Autobot. Now, do you understand the words that are coming out of my vocalizer?"

"Prime," Sideswipe asked, sounding less than thrilled with being cramped between an angry Hot Spot and the car ahead of him, "what's the big deal? We tried to help Blades, and he didn't want help."

"So you threw a fire hydrant at him?" Prime asked, apparently finding Sideswipe's logic to be a little incredulous.

"Well, I didn't throw it," Sideswipe replied.

"Thanks a lot!" Sunstreaker griped.

"Well, I didn't."

"Well, nice of you to highlight that point," Sunstreaker snapped. "And why don't you just step on my face on your way out of jail?"

"I might."

"Slag you, pig slagger."

"Both of you!" Prime shouted. "Shut up!"

"But Prime -"

"Shut up!" Prime roared his engine, and the two Lamborghinis in front of him and Hot Spot hunkered down a little over their tires, visibly sulking. "The both of you have some serious consequences waiting for you if we ever get out of this traffic and get back to the Ark, so if I were you, I might spend the rest of the day contemplating just how you could get back into my good graces, as opposed to grinding them into the pavement with your incessant, inane bickering."

A moment of clear, startling silence fell at that, and Jazz suspected he wasn't the only one in the party who was astonished that the Lamborghinis had actually obeyed and shut their vocalizers. Around the six Autobots, passengers in other cars were craning their necks, watching, as they all crept forward in first gear. The tower was still some blocks away, and Jazz was pretty sure he could all but hear the frustration reverberating in the low rumble of Prime's engine, but there was really nothing for it but to keep inching forward.

"Are these two always like this?" Hot Spot finally asked, voice lowered.

"No," Prowl supplied. "They're usually worse, and generally make more extensive use of expletives."

"We do not," Sunstreaker muttered in his best not-so-low voice.

"Yes, we do," Sideswipe said.

"I never blew any Autobot up," Sunstreaker shot back, voice still low.

"Expletive," Sideswipe stressed. "Not explosive."

"Whatever," Sunstreaker growled. "I still never blew nobody up."

"And I never threw any fire hydrant."

"Oh, fine," Sunstreaker said, voice escalating. "Leave me with all the blame, you scrud-swilling Volvo-humper."

"Both of you," Prime growled, "share the blame."

"But I-"

"-did nothing to help the police," Prime interjected.

"But we tried to get him down!" Sideswipe protested.

"Oh, and you just happened to know he was up there," Prime said. "You just happened to be in the area, where the Aerialbots, who are desperate to be accepted by your slotting little clique, just happen to be playing a prank on one of the new guys."

"Hey," Sideswipe defended himself, "I don't cause all the pranks."

"Really?" asked Prime. "So who did? I suppose Prowl did, or Ratchet. Maybe Wheeljack. Or what about Perceptor?"

The twins responded with a sullen silence.

"Oh, wait," Prime answered his own question, showing a rare bit of sarcasm, "they couldn't have done it, because they all have jobs to do. They're busy, productive mechs, who don't waste their off hours with activities that would endanger Autobots and humans alike, not to mention the humans' property."

The sullen silence deepened, and Jazz could all but hear the resentment radiating from the red and yellow Lamborghinis. It was a very few mechs who were able to truly aggravate Optimus Prime, but those two sure had the knack. If it had been anyone else, Jazz would have thought Prime was being kind of hard on them, but he had to admit, there was nothing Prime was saying that wasn't true. And if the truth fit…well, neither Sideswipe nor Sunstreaker were the kind of mech who should complain if it stung a little.

"So," Prime spoke up after a moment of brooding quiet, "if you didn't put the Aerialbots up to it, then who did?"

But now that the twins had the proverbial floor, they clammed up tight as a couple of titanium drums. Slunk low over the pavement, the pair skulked along, in all shades of bad temper.

"Well?" Prime asked, when they'd said nothing for a good solid minute.

"We're not rats," Sideswipe informed the Autobot commander.

"Oh, so you do know who did it," Prime said. "And I suppose you didn't put the idea in that Autobot's head?"

"We told you," Sunstreaker reiterated, voice surly as ever, "we didn't put Blades up there, and we didn't tell anyone to tell the Aerialbots to put Blades up there either. We just tried to help."

"Right. And a lot of good a projectile fire hydrant has done us all."

"Well, that Protectobot has a big, slaggin' mouth," Sunstreaker grumbled.

"Watch it," Hot Spot warned.

But, sadly for Jazz, who was quite enjoying the whole lecture, Skyfire's voice broke through the comm link just then, asking them to hurry, since Blades seemed to have no particular inclination to come down any time soon. Fortunately for Skyfire, they were only a few blocks away, and would be there within minutes. Which was probably a good thing, since the Lamborghinis were getting huffier by the minute, and Jazz was pretty sure they needed a break from the grand lecture, which the saboteur was fairly certain was only getting warmed up. It was a long drive back to the Ark, and Jazz would bet the Autobot commander intended to use every mile of the way to let the twins know just what he thought of their idea of helping.

And that would be a hard drive home, sure as the day was long.

Upon arrival at the TV tower, what was immediately clear was that Blades was not at all happy to see the Lamborghinis again.
"Hey!" the Protectobot shouted from on high. "What the slag are those two slaggers doing here? Tell 'em to step the slag off!"

"Watch your mouth!" Hot Spot shouted back as he transformed.

"Blades," Prime called up, having transformed himself. He stood looking up to the top of the tower, neck craned and optics squinting against the morning sunlight as it glinted off of Blades' armor. "We need you to come down from there."

"Well, I ain't comin' down like some cheap princess in the arms of some knight in shining smartass!" Blades shouted back.

"Well, you would qualify for that," Sunstreaker muttered to Sideswipe.

"You two. Shut it," Prime warned, then turned to Prowl. "How are going to get him down quickly? This is creating a huge mess of traffic."

Prowl looked around. "Well, he can't jump. He might land on someone's car, or worse, someone."

"A Protectobot would never do that," Hot Spot said with no small amount of zeal, and with a bit of a look toward Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. "Blades would never harm a human, or their city."

The twins merely glared.

"Well?" Prime was still waiting on Prowl.

Prowl turned to Hot Spot. "If he had his rotary assembly returned to him, would he come down then?"

"Most likely," Hot Spot replied, then added in a louder voice, "though if he doesn't come down soon one way or another, he'll most likely have me to deal with."

"I'll come down when I get my rotary!" Blades shouted back, obviously piqued, and confirming Prowl's guess. "Tell those slaggers to give 'em up!"

As one, everyone turned to look at the aforementioned 'slaggers', but neither Sideswipe nor Sunstreaker seemed to have any intention of offering help. "What?" Sunstreaker shrugged. "Do I look like I have his slagging rotors stuffed up my aft?"

"Yeah, we don't have 'em," Sideswipe said. "Though I'll jetpack up there and haul him off the fragging tower if you want me to."

"And start a mid-air fistfight?" Jazz asked. "No way, man. He ain't comin' that way, not if we don't want people gettin' hurt."

"Well," Prime asked, sounding increasingly flustered, especially given the growing, neck-craning crowd of humans around everyone's feet, "do you two know where Blades' rotary assembly might be?"

In unison, the twins shrugged. "We told you," Sideswipe said. "We don't know."

"Well ain't this just the cat's meow," Jazz put his hands on his hips. "We got the tomcat up the tree, and the fire truck here, and we still can't get him down."

Prime sighed. "Fabulous."

"Well," Sunstreaker put in with a sour look, "has anyone thought of asking the Aerialbots what they did with the thing?"

"Gee," Sideswipe added, "that would be like blaming the guys who actually did this."

"And that would be inconvenient," Sunstreaker nodded.

"Because then they couldn't harp at us."

"Would you two shut it?" Hot Spot glowered down at the twins, and earned a stink eye in return.

Prime and Prowl exchanged looks. "Well, it can't hurt," Prime said, "that is, if the Aerialbots are still alive to tell the tale after Silverbolt got done with them."

Prowl offered a wan smile, then coolly hailed the Aerialbot commander over the comm link. "Prowl to Silverbolt."

There was a brief moment of white noise, followed by the dry, humorless tone of Silverbolt's voice. "Prowl, this is Silverbolt. Go ahead."

Prowl, optics flat, and sounding a little too much like a parent asking one child to give the other child his favorite toy back, asked, "Would you, or any of your team, happen to know the whereabouts of Blades' rotary assembly?"

"In fact," was the toneless and equally unamused reply, "I happen to have it right here in my cargo hold."

"Well," Prowl commented, with a bland look toward Prime, "isn't that nice. And where might you be?"

"Two miles out," Silverbolt responded. "Skydive and I have a bead on Skyfire. I take it he's circling the area."

"You would be correct."

"Then we'll just airdrop the thing back to Blades," Silverbolt suggested.

Prowl nodded. "That would be most convenient. After that, would you shadow Blades back to base?"

"Will do."

"Skyfire," Prowl hailed the circling jet, "I want you to join them. We'll drive back." Prime quietly nodded his agreement with the plan.

"Roger that," came Skyfire's enthusiastic (and not entirely humorless) voice.

"Good, then we'll see you back at the Ark. Oh, and Silverbolt," Prowl added, "I'll want a full report on my return."

"Roger," Silverbolt replied.

"Prowl out."

Jazz grinned. "Well. That was easy."

"Well, when you actually ask the jerks who did-" Sunstreaker started, but Prime cut him off with a glare.

"Don't start."

A smug little look passed between Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, but apart from that, the pair fell quiet as the six Autobots waited for Silverbolt and Skydive to arrive. Like a big, lazy albatross, Skyfire continued to circle above the city, and from his loafing, slaloming flight, Jazz suspected that the big Autobot jet was quietly and thoroughly enjoying the whole spectacle. Beneath him, on top of the tower, Blades stood looking crankily down at the group, obviously wondering what they were concocting, and why they were all standing around and doing nothing, but Jazz noted with some amount of amusement that nobody seemed in a hurry to fill him in. Around the group, the humans continued to mill, some shielding their eyes as they watched, others shoving past to walk the last few blocks to work, and Jazz noted with a smile that it seemed the humans were getting used to having the Autobots around after all. A few years ago, a scene like this might have caused panic, but now the Autobots had become so much a part of Earthen life - and especially Portland life - that even a big, cranky Protectobot hollering from the top of the TV tower didn't seem to faze these humans any more than last night's headline news.

With a chuckle, Jazz glanced over at Prowl, and tipped his head toward the half-interested and ever-drifting mass of humans. "Well, Prowl dude, seems like we've finally become just another few weirdos in the crowd."

Prowl gave him a dry look, but Jazz could tell he was secretly amused. "Just the designation I always wanted."

"No doubt," Jazz agreed, and looked back up at the approaching rumble of jets. From the northeast, he could make out the forms of one Concorde and one F-16, glinting in the morning sun.

"Silverbolt to Prowl," the Aerialbot commander hailed the tactician.

"Go ahead," Prowl replied.

"Preparing to drop one rotary assembly," Silverbolt informed him, sounding about as enthused as a Corvette hubcap-deep in mud.
"Understood," Prowl sent back. "As soon as the Protectobot is in the air, head for home."

"Roger that," Silverbolt responded, and nosed up as he began to slow.

Above them, the Concorde began a wide arc, banking almost lazily as he came down to a near-stall. Just below him, Blades watched with what Jazz could tell was a mixture of confusion and wrath, though in the absence of the Protectobot shouting epithets and insults up at Skydive and Silverbolt, Jazz was willing to bet that these weren't the Aerialbots Blades was looking for. With a last sudden drop in speed, Silverbolt's nose tipped up just over the top of the tower, and his cargo hold opened just long enough to eject a bundle of neatly-stowed rotary blades, which unceremoniously dropped directly onto the Protectobot's head. Flailing, Blades shoved the assembly away and shouted something into the air, but by the time he'd freed himself from the mess, Silverbolt was arcing away again.

Just off his commander's wing, Skydive quietly joined the circle of Autobot jets, while the three waited for Blades to get dressed and get moving. But Blades, having been (in his mind) insulted just one more time by an Aerialbot, had already forgotten the assembly beside him, and was busy hollering about the ignoble origins of the Aerialbot family line.

"Blades!" Hot Spot shouted, optics flaring.

Back turned, fist shaking above his head, Blades either ignored, or didn't hear the Protectobot commander.

But Hot Spot was wearied of this sport by now, and was hardly in a frame of mind to be outdone by one of his underlings, so he took it upon himself to holler so loud that even Sideswipe and Sunstreaker stood up straight. "BLADES!" Hot Spot roared, suddenly all but seventy-five feet tall. Feet planted apart, hands on his hips, the Protectobot commander positively loomed as his voice reverberated like thunder down the corridor of high rises, and Blades, suddenly deciding to get smart, looked down to see what his commander wanted.

"Yeah, Hot Spot?" Blades asked, his voice wilting just ever so much.

"Get that gear on," Hot Spot commanded, all full of fire, brimstone, and all things not nice, "get your tail feathers in the air, and GET the SLAG HOME."

Blades blinked. "Tail feathers?" Prowl asked under his breath, but at once Blades was all in a flurry of movement, and no one bothered to answer the tactician.

Rotary assembly in place, the Protectobot helicopter sprang into the air, leveled out, and rose to join the others. "On my way, boss," Blades radioed down, and Jazz noted with a wry, upward look that the Protectobot had suddenly seemed to understand how to use his comm link. Somehow shouting didn't seem appropriate to him any more. Jazz wondered why.

"Move out," Hot Spot sent back. "And don't drag aft, because when I get there, I want to see your happy, shiny face in Protectobot Bay. Clear?"

"Clear," came the less-than-thrilled reply, and Jazz wondered just what Hot Spot had in store. Not that he had time to find out.

"See you back at base, Prime," Silverbolt radioed down, waggled his wings, and picked up speed back toward the northeast.

"Well." Jazz looked around, his smile unmet by anyone. "That wasn't so bad, right?"

A set of blank stares was all he got in return, until Prime just decided to shake his head and brush past him to the road, where he transformed and sat idling while the others caught up. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker didn't even have to be told to take point.

"Hey, man, coulda been worse," Jazz tried again, as he pulled out next to Prowl.

"Perhaps," Prowl replied, voice all rife with his usual flat charm, "this is where the human phrase, 'so happy I could l stick a fork in my eye' comes in."

"See!" Jazz crowed. "Humor! You're finally getting it!"

"Save it, Jazz," Prime rumbled up ahead. "At least until we get out of this traffic."

Jazz chuckled. "Right on, Prime. Silent Jazz it is, so long as you promise not to steamroll over those two ninjas up there."

"We make no promises," Hot Spot offered from next to Prime, his own engine giving off a bit of a menacing rumble, but Jazz thought that somewhere under all the grumbling, he detected the slightest bit of appreciation from the Protectobot commander for the absurdity of it all.

The ride back was everything Jazz could have hoped for. Sideswipe, in true form, seemed to have completely gotten over his sulk by the time they reached the interstate, and before they were ten miles out of the city, he was taunting and harassing his brother in a game of clip-the-quarter-panel. Which, of course, sent Sunstreaker into fits and conniptions, and subsequently made Prime start his lecture all over again about the sanctity of order and good relations with the humans, not to mention the safety of their fellow Autobots, and - Primus forbid they forget - the absolutely unforgivable sin of wasting the Autobot commander's entire slagging morning. Or so he put it.

Naturally, Sideswipe absorbed probably every fourth or fifth word of this lecture, which he then dumped out of the other audio and onto the pavement, which was receding behind them all at something like ninety miles per hour. So much for speed limits. But hey, everyone needed to stretch their legs a little, and when they all got back to the Ark, Jazz had to admit that even he felt a little better, which was saying something since he hadn't been aware that he'd been feeling bad to start with.

The inquisition, naturally, was kept as pain-free as possible.

"So you," Prime pointed a finger at Air Raid, Fireflight, and a sour-faced Slingshot, "wanted to be accepted by them," he pointed at a half-attentive pair of Lamborghinis, "so you stranded him," Prime pointed at a much-subdued (for now) Blades, "on the top of a tower."

"Yeah," Slingshot jutted out a hip, body language indicating that Prime could pretty well piss the slag off. He flicked a glance toward the veteran trouble-making brothers. "Not that we give a slag about them slaggers though. I mean - whatever."

"Yeah," Fireflight backed up his team mate, then glanced at Air Raid as if to ask what he'd just agreed to.

Air Raid shrugged, and Jazz, standing just behind Prime's elbow, smiled.

"Well," Prime continued, ignoring Slingshot's sauce, "was this your idea?"

"No," Slingshot tossed back, then immediately looked like he regretted the admission. "I mean…" he trailed off lamely.

"No?" Prime asked, somewhat amused by the little Aerialbot's posturing. Watching from the corner, Silverbolt was not.

"No," Air Raid piped up, and put a hand on Slingshot's shoulder to quiet him. "It wasn't our idea, Prime, but if it's all the same, we're just gonna keep it to ourselves."

"Well, that's great," Blades spoke up, lip curling slightly. "Protect the guy who masterminded this."

"Shut up, you little white fairy," Sunstreaker narrowed his optics. "Nothing happened to you, and they're not rats."

With a blink of surprise, the Aerialbots stood up a little straighter. Sunstreaker had never defended them before.

Blades clenched his fists. "Who you callin -"

"BLADES." Hot Spot didn't need to shout, and Blades slunk back down into a sullen slouch, mouth shut.

"Fine," Prime said, clearly ready to be done with this, since time was inching toward noon. "Last chance to rat out the perpetrator, before I double your punishment."

In unison, all three guilty Aerialbots looked up with alarm, but they somehow didn't look surprised, and dug in like mules in a cornfield. Mouths pressed shut, they regarded Prime with what Jazz almost thought was a kind of united pride, and if he hadn't understood it so well, he would have thought it was funny. But he could see it in their optics that, for the first time, they were finally starting to feel like part of the Autobot gang, and Jazz smiled to himself, feeling that the plan was going well after all.

"Very well," Prime said, "all five of you will begin your punishments at 1300."

"Us too?" Sunstreaker snapped, optics flaring. Sideswipe, who, of all of the guilty five was probably the closest to being innocent, hardly looked surprised.

"Yes, five," Prime repeated himself. "You," he pointed at Sunstreaker, "even if you didn't tell the Aerialbots to strand Blades, for destruction of property, and for aggravating the Portland police. Now, if you go with Prowl, he'll have something to discuss with you."

"Wh-?" Sunstreaker looked extremely wary, and glanced at his twin, who merely shrugged. Grumbling, and looking curiously anxious, Sunstreaker moved slowly to trail after the retreating tactician, though it was clear the warrior didn't like to be separated from his twin. They were always sentenced together, and Sunstreaker didn't like this turn of events for some reason, not that Prime seemed to care, since he appeared to have other ideas.

"You," Prime pointed to Sideswipe, "for being absolutely no use whatsoever in stopping your brother."

"Hey, I'm not his mother," Sideswipe protested, though his entire posture was resigned to whatever Prime had in store.

"No, but you do have a responsibility as an Autobot," Prime told him, "no matter what the circumstances. And if you can't do anything but stand by while your brother gets you both in trouble, then you'll just have to suck it up when it comes to the consequences. Now go see Ratchet and tell him what you two did."

"Ratchet?" Sideswipe looked alarmed.

"Yes. "

"But he'll yell at me for days!"

"Exactly." Prime crossed his arms, and Sideswipe ducked his head.

"Primus on a popsicle stick," the warrior muttered as he trudged to his doom. "Make sure Sunny gets all my pieces," he tossed over his shoulder as he plodded out the door. "Maybe he can sell what's left of me and buy some nice fuzzy dice."

Jazz snickered.

"You three," Prime pointed at the Aerialbots, "back to Silverbolt until I send for you."

A chorus of mumbled, bedraggled assent rose up from the Aerialbot threesome, as they turned around to follow a glowering, storm-brewing Silverbolt out of the room.

"And you," Prime faced Blades last.

"Oh, I'll take him," Hot Spot spoke up, his face alight with the prospect of finally getting his hands on his troop.

"Do you know why you're facing punishment?" Prime asked Blades.

"Probably," Blades sulked. "Though I bet Spot's gonna let me know twice."

"I'd say that's a good bet," Hot Spot replied nicely.

"Well then," Prime gestured, "take him away."

And then there were two. Jazz looked up at Prime. "Think they'll ever learn?"

"Slowly," Prime nodded. "Slowly but surely. Or at the very least," he added, "they'll get better at not getting caught."

"For sure," Jazz agreed, and the two sauntered out to devise a nice, suitable punishment for all involved.

Which, conveniently enough, turned out to be helping Hoist and Grapple make some modifications to some of the Ark's outer weaponry. The punishment even had a nice theme and everything, since most of the gun emplacements were in locations that needed fliers to reach them. Blades, Slingshot, and Sideswipe proved to be invaluable little porters, and by late afternoon, Hoist was happily issuing orders to the five, while Grapple whined and moaned if one of them got a placement even just slightly off. Grapple wanted things just exactly so, and he pestered and nagged at the bunch until Jazz was pretty sure they were about ready to take a jump off the mountain side.

"That outta make an impression," Hot Spot commented appreciatively, as he and the others stood squinting up at the busy little workers.

"I doubt it," Silverbolt groused. "My three have a flat learning curve."

"Ah, Bolt," Hot Spot clapped the Aerialbot on the shoulder, "they'll work out all right. Wait and see."

"Oh, wait and see, is it?" Ratchet piped up as he stalked out, hands clenched into a pair of impressive red fists. "You stick around to wait long enough, and you see just how bad these glitch-blowing little rat bastards can be. Prime," he addressed the Autobot commander, apparently wasting no time in getting straight to the point, "permission to occupy the hell out of Sideswipe's time after he gets done with this little vacation."

Prime's optics crinkled with a bit of humor. "Granted."

"Good," the cranky medic put his hands on his hips and looked skyward, where Sideswipe was balancing on a thin ledge. "Because I wasn't done with him. And if you even think of falling and damaging yourself," he called up the red warrior, "I will end your slagging joy! Comprende, Paco?"

"Yes, Ratchet," came the almost bored-sounding reply. But Jazz knew better, and understood all too well that the red warrior had nothing but respect for Ratchet's ill temper. Neither did Jazz suspect that Sideswipe was looking forward to hearing more of it.

"Why do you call him 'Paco'?" Silverbolt asked.

Ratchet smirked, but didn't answer.

A moment passed, in which everyone watched Sunstreaker and Fireflight carefully balance a turret base against the mountain side, so Grapple could weld it into place. Both at an awkward angle, their heads bent close in concentration, the pair looked like they were working well together.

"Ever think these guys will get along?" Silverbolt asked, voice somewhat hopeful behind the weary tone.

"Oh, I'd bet they will with time," Jazz smiled. "Time, luck, and fortuitous circumstances."

Prowl, having been quiet thus far, furrowed his brow. "Meaning what?"

"Well," Jazz pointed out, "they had a common ground today."

"Protecting the mastermind," Prowl surmised quietly.

"Exactly," Jazz winked behind his visor, and crossed his arms. "Which is a step, right?"

"That's right," Prime nodded. "And we'll take all the positive angles we can get out of this situation right about now."

Jazz watched the other Autobots working in the late, golden sun. "Silver lining, right?"

"Yes, well," Prowl observed, "I guess whoever came up with the 'strand Blades' plot did us a service after all."

"What a champ," Jazz grinned, all Cheshire Cat.

"Almost," Prowl added, voice light as the afternoon air, "like a benevolent saboteur."

And Jazz contented himself with a day well lived.