Disclaimer: Yeah, as if. I wish I owned them.

Author's Note: Part one of a series of four one-shots written for the prowlxjazz Christmas challenge. The stories that follow won't necessarily take place in the same year, though they are set in the same fic-verse as this.

- Wreath: Love -

Jazz whistled to himself as he sauntered into the Ark, content with a job well done. One of Megatron's plans was well and truly fragged, thanks to a few well-placed explosives, and Jazz - for once - hadn't even been caught. Now, though, after two weeks away from the Ark, he was looking forward a little down-time, and sincerely hoped that Prowl's shift was over soon, if he wasn't already off. All thoughts off that fled, however, when he stepped into the command center only to have it suddenly go completely silent. Considering that, judging from the number of mechs inside and the noise he'd heard coming from him when he approached, it had been in a bit of a panic before he arrived, this was exceptionally notable, and the saboteur paused, looking around warily and finding everyone looking at him with a mixture of incredulity and relief.

"Uh - whassup?" he asked uncertainly after a few moments of tense silence.

"Jazz? You're alright?" Sideswipe asked from Jazz's left, his voice expressing an odd mixture of confusion and surprise.

"Yeeeah, I am...should I not be?" Jazz asked, now getting a little bit freaked out.

"We thought we were going to have to go in and extract you." Mirage said with pure relief from another part of the command center, and Jazz took another look at the assembled mechs, realizing that it was a heavily-powered strike force...with Ratchet? Jazz frowned. Ratchet only went along on mission when either there were so many mechs involved that someone was bound to get hurt, or it was a back-up mission, called in because there were already mechs down.

"Why?" Jazz asked, letting his confusion show. "I didn't give any alarm - smoothest mission I've been on in awhile, in fact. Did ol' Megs realize I was missin' from th'Ark an' claim t'have captured me or somethin'?"

"No." Mirage said, giving Jazz an odd look, but before Jazz could question him further, Ratchet abruptly marched up to him and pulled out a scanner, running it over Jazz at it's highest strength. Jazz squirmed and couldn't hold back a snicker at the scan swept over him.

"Hey, tha' tickles, Ratch'!" Jazz half-heartedly protested.

"No failures or systems crashes, no degradation of any kind, energy levels at almost 100..." Ratchet said as he looked at the readouts the scanner was giving him, and he glanced up at Jazz with a frown. "You're operating at near optimum levels."

"Why thank you, you look fine yourself." Jazz said with a grin, then glanced around again. "Seriously, guys, what's up?"

"Prowl is lying in med bay missing half his chassis is 'what's up'." Ratchet replied icily, and Jazz felt his spark go cold.

"What?" he asked quietly. He didn't even remember starting to run, or leaving the command center, only realizing he was moving when he was already half-way to the med bay, with Ratchet just behind him. His internal communications line beeped incessantly at him, but he ignored it, just wanting to get to his lover's side. He skidded around a corner and sprinted down the last stretch of hallway to the med bay, stopping in front of the doors with a frown when they didn't open automatically. Ratchet came to a halt beside him, and Jazz looked over expectantly, knowing who must have locked the doors.

"Jazz, remember - as bad as it looks, Prowl is stable. I wouldn't have left if he wasn't." Ratchet said seriously.

"Ratch' - open the fraggin' door." Jazz said calmly. It didn't matter whether or not Prowl was stable, Jazz just wanted to see him now, and would do whatever was necessary to do so. Fortunately for Ratchet and his med bay, the medic frowned, but tapped in the code for the doors, and they slid open. Jazz spotted Prowl instantly, lying on one of the berths, unconscious. His leg showed minor damage, but otherwise the tactician looked fine - but then, Jazz couldn't see the other side of Prowl's chassis, where Wheeljack was working. The engineer looked up when Jazz entered, and surprise crossed his face.

"Jazz -" he started, but whatever he said afterwards, Jazz didn't hear, as he focused solely on Prowl, stepping closer until he could see that Ratchet hadn't been exaggerating when he said Prowl was missing half his chassis. It wasn't just the armor, either - the internals were gone, as well. Completely. Jazz slowed as he came around to the other side of the berth, where Wheeljack was working, and he got a good look at the damage. Whatever had hit Prowl had gotten close enough to his core that Jazz could actually see the tactician's spark casing, right at the edge, with nothing protecting it from the outside world.

So close... Jazz thought, and his CPU stuttered, his vision flickering. He stumbled backwards, until he ran into the berth next to Prowl. His optics stared unwaveringly at the exposed spark casing, and it took him several minutes to realize that Ratchet and Wheeljack were both speaking to him, one on either side. Summoning all his willpower, he tore his gaze away, looking up at Ratchet, only to stop as he spotted the mech on the berth across the room. The familiar large figure looked curiously small lying down, though that might've been partly due to the arm and shoulder that he was missing.

"It was a disintegrator ray." Wheeljack's calm voice registered in Jazz's mind, and the saboteur turned to give him a curious look. "Megatron had Optimus dead on, until Prowl jumped in and took half the blast."

"He's been taking lessons from Ironhide." Ratchet grumbled from Jazz's other side, and the saboteur couldn't help but smile slightly at that, and then suddenly, chuckled.

"Nah, he's always been like that." Jazz said, then looked fondly back at Prowl. "Ironhide's just always been closer."

"Yeah, I know." Ratchet said with a sigh. All of Optimus' officers, Ratchet included, had no compunctions about taking a blast for their commander, after all. "Slagging Optimus - for all that he seems bound and determined to die in a heroic sacrifice, he seems to have picked officers that are bound and fragging determined to beat him to the punch."

"It's part of th'job when y'got someone like Optimus for a commander. You know it as well as I do." Jazz said with a shrug, then glanced at Ratchet. "Y'mind if I..." Jazz waved his hand vaguely, and Ratchet patted the berth Jazz was leaning against.

"Go ahead." he said gruffly. "After having dealt with the twins for so long, I know better than to try and keep you out."

"Couldn't if ya tried, doc." Jazz said with a faint smile. "Couldn't if ya tried."

"I could always get the twins to lock you in the brig." Ratchet pointed out.

"Well, first off, you'd have t'get them t'agree to do that, an' they wouldn't." Jazz said dryly as he hopped up on the berth, letting his legs dangle over the edge as he looked back at Prowl, "An' second off, y'really think th'brig can hold me?"

"No, I suppose not." Ratchet mused, and then he and Wheeljack moved away. Ratchet went to Prowl's berth, resuming whatever work Wheeljack had been doing, while Wheeljack went over to one of the benches at the back of the med bay, where the beginning skeleton for Optimus' new arm rested.

Jazz just flipped on his internal radio to a soft rock station, and settled down to watch.

---

Ratchet and the other Autobots, once they'd gotten over the shock of having Jazz return, fully functional, were expecting the third-in-command to spend all his time in med bay until Prowl was repaired. They'd prepared for it, re-working the duty shifts and everything. They were surprised, though, when Jazz left the med bay for his usual shift the next day, and then stayed to cover Prowl's usual shift, as well. Ratchet, of course, immediately became concerned that Jazz was going to try and work himself into exhaustion to try and forget Prowl's injury.

"Ratch' - I'm third in command. I'm supposed t'do this when Prime an' Prowl get put out of commission." Jazz told the medic with some amusement after Ratchet had cornered him about it.

"Oh. Uh - right." Ratchet said, too shocked to say much else as Jazz gave him a saucy grin a walked away.

"You jus' focus on fixin' 'em, hey doc?" the saboteur said over his shoulder, and Ratchet could only stare after him. The behavior didn't seem to fit, considering how close Prowl and Jazz were - but nothing about Jazz's behavior had been quite right since he'd come back. It was really Jazz - Ratchet had run a few surreptitious scans just to be sure - but he seemed to be taking his mate's injury a lot easier than anyone anticipated.

Ratchet felt some relief, though, when Jazz returned to the med bay once he was done his double shift, and quietly asked if he could recharge in there, since his and Prowl's quarters didn't seem right without the tactician. Ratchet agreed easily, mostly so he could keep a watchful optic on Jazz, and maybe run a few scans while the saboteur was in recharge. Nothing was wrong with Jazz, though, either that night or the following ones, and Ratchet and the other Autobots could only watch in puzzlement as Jazz continued on almost normally, as if it was no big deal that the mech he'd been sharing quarters with almost since they met was lying in the med bay recovering from a near-fatal wound. The saboteur even began his yearly plans for Christmas around the Ark, startling everyone with his excuse that with Prowl and Optimus out of commission, it was the best time to start, since he was approving his own requisitions.

There were a few mutterings, of course, about Jazz's apparent lack of feeling, but they quieted soon after someone came looking for Jazz in the middle of the night shift, and found him in the med bay. There was also the fact that Jazz's first comment or question to any of the medics, whenever and wherever he saw them, was always about Prowl - and Optimus, though that always seemed more of an after-thought once he was reassured that repairs on Prowl were progressing normally. After that, some mechs began to worry that Jazz was bottling up his worry and emotions, and would break down eventually, but the more observant ones pointed out that while Jazz seemed normal, he didn't laugh as much, wasn't smiling constantly as he usually did, and the only prank that had happened since Prowl's injury had been a half-hearted attempt of Sideswipe's that even the red twin agreed was an abysmal failure.

Finally, four days after Jazz's return from his mission, Ratchet couldn't stand it anymore. Jazz's behavior was strange and inexplicable according to everything the medic knew, which meant that he had to be missing something. The solution, of course, was finding out what he was missing...by asking Jazz what in the Pit he doing, running around and acting almost normal when Prowl was in the med bay with an injury like that. So Ratchet worked on rebuilding the last of Optimus' shoulder, and attaching the new arm, while he waited for Jazz's double shift to end and the saboteur to make his inevitable way to med bay to watch the unconscious Prowl and recharge.

"Why the Pit are you acting so calm about all this, Jazz?" Ratchet asked once Jazz was settled, and the saboteur looked over at him curiously.

"What d'ya mean?" he asked.

"Well, I didn't really expect you to go ballistic like Sideswipe or Sunstreaker would, but -" Ratchet frowned, pausing as he carefully soldered two wires together. "We got back to the base after the fight to find Blaster on the line with a frantic Elita - she'd felt something wrong all the way from Cybertron, and risked Shockwave tracking her transmission just to make sure Optimus was all right. Apparently the shock of part of Optimus' systems just completely disappearing overrode the usual blocks in their bond. And you were here on earth, with Prowl hurt worse than Optimus. It's why we were readying an extraction team - we expected to find you completely incapacitated and in Decepticon hands."

"Huh." Jazz said, and there was something in his voice that made Ratchet stop his repairs and look up. Jazz had an odd look on his face as he looked at Prowl, and seemed usually tense. Ratchet frowned again, then gaped as he finally realized what he'd been missing.

"Primus - you two aren't bonded!" he exclaimed, and Jazz suddenly jerked, looking up at Ratchet with a startled expression.

"Wha -? Oh." Jazz shook his head slightly as he seemed to register what Ratchet had said. "Nah, we're not bonded." Ratchet stared at Jazz in disbelief - out of all the couples he'd known over the years, Jazz and Prowl had struck him as the closest in every way but their personalities. They even had similar colour schemes. It had, he'd thought, been a foregone conclusion that they were bonded. He'd assumed it from the moment he'd met them, and he was pretty sure everybody else had, too. To hear Ironhide tell the tale, they'd been together almost from the moment they met, anyways.

"Why the frag not?" Ratchet asked without thinking as his CPU tried to accept this concept, then he winced as his thought process caught up with his mouth. "Sorry, it's not my business." Jazz smiled faintly.

"Nah, not really, but I'll tell ya anyways." the saboteur said, looking back at Prowl. There was a long pause, and Ratchet almost thought Jazz wasn't going to tell him, despite what he said, but finally the saboteur spoke, "We decided not t'bond pretty early on, when th'war was just startin'. Considerin' we'd just met, and were in the first stages'a love, it was a kinda heroic feat for us t'decided that then. But Prowl's pretty good at predictin' outcomes, and I ain't head of special ops for nothin'. We saw Optimus, at the head of the Autobots, needing Elita's support t'keep from fallin'. We saw Chromia and Ironhide, bonded for vorns and keepin' each other goin', despite feelin' too old for another war. And we saw ourselves, keepin' each other from goin' crazy." Jazz paused, then chuckled slightly as he continued.

"An' then we looked around again, and realized that if things proceeded as they looked like they were gonna, if Elita n'Optimus bonded - like they did - and then we bonded, the Decepticons could waltz in and kill three officers, and wipe out the top six members of the Autobot command staff. Ultra Magnus was the next one down from there, and we knew he wouldn't've been ready for that. Frag, he knew he wasn't ready for it. Y'probably remember better'n me the rants he used t'give Optimus every time he was injured about how he better not die an' leave him in command." Ratchet chuckled.

"Yes, I seem to remember him threatening to storm the matrix himself and haul Optimus back, as painfully as possible, if he ever did that." the medic said, and Jazz nodded.

"Exactly." he said. "So, Prowl an' I, we decided - let's not make the Decepticon's job easier. We couldn't really say anythin' t'Optimus an' Elita, of course, since, well, they needed each other. Really needed each other, right down on th'spark-bond level, otherwise they'd lose strength, lose sight of what th'point of it all was, an' fall. An' Chromia n'Ironhide were already bonded - can't break that, an' wouldn't've asked them to even if y'could. Us, though? Well, we could keep each other sane without bondin'. It would've been nice - would've made us all that much closer. But it wasn't necessary.

"What was necessary, though, was for one of us t'be able to continue livin', however unhappily or alone, if th'other died. That there be someone, two someone's, in the upper levels of th'Autobot command that didn't have a fatal weakness - an Achilles' heel, as th'humans would say. So that if th'worst happened - like it looked like it would, back in those days - an' th'Cons caught an' killed th'right combination of officers, there would still be someone t'continue th'fight. We even let everyone believe we were bonded, anyways, just so we'd have that one-up on th'Cons if it all went to th'Pits." Jazz finished with a sigh. He gave Ratchet a half-hearted smile, then turned back to Prowl.

Ratchet could only watch him in stunned surprise. It was hard to fathom, that Jazz and Prowl would give up a lifetime of being bonded, just for the sake of the war. Hard to comprehend that they thought so much of the Autobot cause that they'd deny themselves this one luxury, just so that one of them could carry on and continue to lead if the other was killed. The sacrifice was - well, they couldn't really feel the true impact of it, since you never really knew what being bonded was like until you'd experienced it yourself, but as someone who was bonded himself, Ratchet knew what they'd given up. The sense of completion, the utter certainty that you were loved, the knowledge of your mate's status at any time, healthy or injured - it was an incredible experience, and from the first moment he and Wheeljack had bonded, Ratchet had understood why no bonded bot ever outlived their mate. It wasn't just the loss of the one you loved, though that was bad enough - it was that going back to the half-existence of not being bonded, after experiencing something so much more, was...empty, meaningless. Life in that manner literally would not hold any interest for you anymore, because you'd seen a life that was so much better.

And Jazz and Prowl had given that experience up, willingly - decided to give it up - for the Autobots.

Ratchet had always thought that Optimus was the strongest supporter of the Autobot cause, and that was why he was the leader. But now - now, the medic couldn't help but wonder if perhaps Optimus' second and third in command didn't believe in the Autobot cause as much as, or more than, the Prime himself.

And as he turned back to repairing Optimus, Ratchet realized just how lucky they were to have Jazz and Prowl.

-- "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13 --