Notes: ... I couldn't resist following this one up. For the record, I already knew this was going to be the outcome when writing the previous meeting; I contemplated leaving it ambiguous, but decided in the end, what the hell, this fic series was designed for me to play on my shameless romanticism. :)
coda: second glance
Jazz's systems are fairly humming with expectation as he approaches Prime's office. This particular sort of summons – at a dead hour of downtime, on a carefully coded frequency – can mean only one thing, and the prospect of a Special Ops mission has his engine shifting up a gear in anticipation. It's not that he's immune to the danger, but Jazz thrives on solving puzzles, especially the kind that have the potential to turn the tide against the Decepticons. The war's not going well, and even the most optimistic can't pretend otherwise any more, but Jazz always finishes what he starts, and every fuel dump he raids, every security perimeter he penetrates, every Decepticon officer he kills in the dark and with a pang of regret, is another step towards getting the upper hand.
When he walks into the office after a cursory chime at the door, he's taken aback to see another mech already there with Prime. Jazz doesn't know him; he's stocky, rather battered-looking, with faded Autobot symbols and the kind of face you forget. Automatically, Jazz runs a low-level scan – too subtle for the other to register, he thinks.
It is countered. Expertly. Easily. Oh so familiarly.
Jazz has his gun out and trained on the imposter with a speed that would do Ironhide proud.
"Jazz!" Prime stares at him in shock. "What in the Pit are you doing?"
"That's a Decepticon, Prime," Jazz snaps, cycling his visor to a little-used setting to confirm what he's already sure of. "He's usin' a hologram to hide his real form!"
There is a pause of a fraction of a second, and then two things happen. The image of the rusty nobody disappears as the imposter deactivates the hologram – revealing those sleek lines Jazz remembers so well, even after all this time – and Prime steps in front of him, directly into the line of fire.
"Calm down, Jazz," he says. "He is not a Decepticon."
"Yes, sir, he is!" retorts Jazz, every system howling warnings now that Prime has his back to the danger. "Designation Barricade, Rank Three, information gathering and ground support – he's been with the 'cons over two vorns, Prime!"
His revelation doesn't get quite the reaction he's expecting. A soft suggestion of laughter from behind Prime is followed by the voice he's never quite managed to get out of his head.
"He is good."
"The best," snaps Jazz in reply, though his certainty of the situation is faltering. "Prime, what–?"
"I don't know how you got that information, Jazz, and I'm not sure I want to," Optimus says sternly, although there is a hint of humour in his tone. "But I ask you to trust me. Prowl is not a Decepticon. I have known him almost as long as I've known Ironhide."
It's that name that does it, knocks Jazz's preconceptions so askew that he lowers his arm and subspaces his gun out of sheer shock. Prowl? The missing second-in-command of the Autobots? Prowl, whose security coding Jazz has spent the last half-vorn working around, under and through? Prowl, whom Optimus Prime has refused to replace with more than an 'acting' vice commander, whom the rumours say is still out there somewhere, working on something so secret it hasn't even got a classification? That Prowl?
"How did you penetrate the hologram?" asks Prowl, in tones of mild inquiry, as he steps out from behind Prime.
"My visor's got a settin' that picks up distortions of visible light," Jazz replies, off-balance as much from the sight of him as from the change in the situation. "I activated it soon as I recognised your energy signature."
There is a rumble of comprehension from Prime.
"You've met," he says, and glances at Prowl questioningly. "You never said."
"I didn't know it was him," replies Prowl. His optics have yet to leave Jazz's. "We... encountered one another some time ago, by chance."
Prime looks from one to the other of them, and clearly decides that this has gone far enough.
"Jazz," he says firmly, "this is my second-in-command, Prowl. Prowl, this is the new head of Special Ops, Jazz."
They both incline their heads briefly, never breaking optic-lock. Jazz sends out a quick, darting, questioning probe; Prowl's firewalls deflect it as easily as light refracts through a prism.
"Prowl has been in deep cover for, as you noted, over two vorns," Optimus continues. "He has been acting under the persona of Barricade to penetrate the highest levels of the Decepticon command and put in place certain arrangements that we hope will work against them."
"Sabotage?" Jazz grins a little, adapting as he always does, the tension easing from his servos. "Ain't that my department?"
"In this case, detailed tactical knowledge was required," Prowl explains. "Besides, at the time the mission was proposed, you were not among our numbers."
"Or we would doubtless have put you on the job," continues Prime, optics warm with the praise. "Regardless, Prowl has achieved our goals. In order for his work to succeed, however, it is imperative that the Decepticons do not suspect his infiltration. That is why we have called you here, Jazz."
"Barricade must die," Prowl says quietly. "So convincingly that no-one ever thinks to link him to me."
Jazz feels for one awful moment as if his coolant system has gone into overdrive, sending a chill through his plating that grips even at his spark.
"I... hope you ain't askin' me to murder you."
Prowl smiles, very faintly, and the moment passes.
"Only to make it look that way."
It takes a lot of argument, counter-argument, backtracking and stalemate before they have a plan that satisfies both Jazz and Prowl. To start with, Prime contributes to the discussion, but Jazz is vaguely aware that after a while he falls silent, and simply sits and listens to the two of them, an unreadable expression on his face.
Working with Prowl is like nothing Jazz has experienced before – Prowl comes at the whole thing differently, logically, weaving a steady net that Jazz darts in and out of, finding the flaws and correcting them. By the time they have something approaching a workable plan, Jazz is riding high on the rush, and he doesn't think, for all that cool façade, that Prowl is any less exhilarated. Caught up in an argument about a minor detail of timing, Jazz almost doesn't notice Prime's communicator beep. He speaks into the device, listens for a moment, then closes the connection, and interrupts Prowl's dissection of Jazz's proposition with a low chuckle.
"I think," says Prime, as they both turn to him in surprise, "that we have done all we can for now. Ratchet has just requested my presence in the medical bay for a minor issue with one of the new recruits, and I need you both fully recharged before we meet again to finalise the arrangements."
It's only then that Jazz checks his chronometer and realises that joors have gone by without him even noticing. They all get to their feet, but Prime waves the two of them back as he makes for the door.
"I would rather not risk this meeting becoming public knowledge," he says. "I will be on my way now. Jazz, you leave in a few minutes. I trust you know the camera rotation well enough to be inconspicuous?"
Jazz gives a quick nod of acknowledgement; he catches Prowl's darting, thoughtful glance at him, and can't tell if the other approves or disapproves of his ability to dodge the base's internal security.
"Prowl, you will leave by the usual route when another half an hour has gone by." Prime looks apologetic, as far as Jazz can tell behind the mask. "That will cut it rather close for you, I'm afraid."
"It isn't a problem."
"Until next we meet, then."
With a final nod, Prime leaves the room.
There is a pause – not quite comfortable, tinged with uncertainty.
"Sorry about earlier," says Jazz at last. "Guess I shoulda had a bit more faith in Prime."
Prowl turns a gaze so startled upon him that it transfixes Jazz – a crack in that particular mask, a beckoning glimpse of the same mystery that has lingered in his thoughts since the first time they met.
"Given what you knew, how could you have acted differently?" Prowl glances down at the datapad he is holding, then back up at Jazz, expression hesitating almost on the brink of something that gets into Jazz's spark and pulls. "I confess, I was... surprised to see you."
There is silence, heavy and promising, as their optics meet. Then Jazz decides to the Pit with caution, or patience, or common sense.
He crosses the distance between them in a few quick strides. Prowl actually takes a step back before he can contain himself, high-slung doors twitching nervously, and that's all it takes to snap Jazz's control in half. He catches hold of Prowl and kisses him with all the frustrated yearning and maddening desire that's been in the back of his processor since he chased a stranger down the back streets of Iacon. Prowl stands stock-still, not responding at all, energy field tight and opaque, and Jazz just has time to wonder if he's making the biggest mistake of his life.
Then there is a crack as Prowl's datapad hits the ground, and suddenly his arms are around Jazz, fingers hooking into sensitive armour seams, and the way Prowl kisses back is everything Jazz could have hoped, passionate and urgent and playful and more, as his firewalls peel away under Jazz's touch, giving a glimpse, just a tantalising glimpse, of the depths below. Jazz moans and draws him closer, and Prowl makes a noise somewhere in his vocaliser that is almost a whimper; Jazz slides his fingers up the arch of Prowl's doors, and Prowl gasps between kisses and runs his tongue over the inside of Jazz's mouth in a way that makes Jazz's knees shake.
Then Prowl is pushing him away, panting but determined.
"Not here, not now."
Jazz wants nothing more than to smother the words with more kisses, his circuits humming with current and his sensors jacked up so high the air on his plating sends shivers through him. But he knows Prowl is right – and besides, there's something in his face that Jazz thinks means he won't back down. Yet another side of him to explore, yet another piece of the puzzle. Slowly, Jazz steps back, unable to resist one more teasing scan, and the way Prowl's defences let him in a little way this time is as sweet as high-grade. Jazz imagines those red optics rewired to blue, the mocking purple insignia scoured off and replaced with the badge of the Autobots, and something inside him sings.
Finally, he turns and heads for the door, pausing just before he reaches it to flash Prowl his cockiest grin.
"I knew you were worth chasin'."
Prowl bends smoothly to retrieve his datapad, frowning at its now-damaged screen, obviously checking the contents for file corruption. Jazz turns away and keys the door open, steps through.
He looks back. Prowl's optics meet his, cool and collected and just a little bit wicked, as the door chimes that it is about to shut.
"I let you catch me."