Blaster gets a chill in his systems and looks up for no particular reason. When he sees Jazz walking into the rec room, he smiles tentatively. "Hey, Jazz!" He calls out. The rest of the occupants of the room become still and quiet. "How you feeling, man?" Blaster asks. Every other bot watches warily. Word has traveled from those passing by the medbay telling tale of a blind Jazz mumbling nonsense. They are surprised to see Jazz out of the medbay.
Jazz tilts his head in Blaster's direction and heads to the table the other bot is sitting at. In his hands are a drawing pad and a writing utensil. Once he sits at the spare seat, he answers, "My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me."
Blaster nods. "Yeah, man, that's totally understandable, from what Bluestreak and Hound told me. They're the ones that found you, you know."
Jazz sets his drawing pad on the table and starts making lines on a fresh page. "I was neither living nor dead, and I knew nothing."
The bots within hearing distance shift awkwardly in their seats. Smokescreen, being one of those mechs, stands from his seat and makes his way over to Jazz's table. Trailbreaker immediately vacates his seat on Jazz's other side to make room for the Datsun. Jazz doesn't acknowledge the shift in seats.
"Jazz," Smokescreen starts, "what did you mean by what you just said?"
Jazz doesn't look up from his paper. "What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?"
Blaster looks over at Bumblebee, who shrugs. Smokescreen is undeterred, however, and motions to the drawing that Jazz is working on. "What are you doing there?" Jazz shrugs. "You mind if I take a look at it?" Jazz rips the page out of the book and continues drawing, so Smokescreen takes that as a "yes".
The picture is of a woman and a man on a sled, riding down a hill. Smokescreen, genuinely confused but trying not to show it, looks up at Jazz, who is yet again drawing furiously. "Jazz, what is this?"
Jazz glances up quickly and then back down. "Upside down."
Smokescreen turns the drawing over and stares at it."It's just the same thing, except right side up, Jazz."
"Prowl knows," Jazz says quietly.
Ratchet stands at the door to Prowl's office with his teeth gritted and fists clenched waiting for the 2IC to answer his chime. Ratchet storms in when the door cycles open. Prowl seems not to notice the medic's ire and stands with his back to him.
"What are you doing, Prowl? Why are you doing this?"
"I do not know what you mean," Prowl says succinctly, not turning around.
Ratchet growls, his frustration at an all time high. "He needs you! You're his best friend and you aren't there for him!"
"From reports, Jazz seems to be performing in a perfectly satisfactory manner."
Ratchet almost couldn't speak. "Perfectly satisfac--have you looked at him?" Prowl is silent, so Ratchet continues, "He would be there for you, Prowl. How many times has he refused to leave your side in my medbay after you've gotten yourself slagged?"
"This is not the same, Ratchet," Prowl's voice sounds strained, but Ratchet doesn't care.
"Oh? How so? Just because he's not bed laid anymore doesn't mean he's all better!" He doesn't pause long enough for Prowl to answer him. "He's hurting, Prowl. We're doing our best, but there is only so much we can do," Ratchet's frustration with himself for not knowing what is wrong yet bleeds into his voice. "Jazz needs people who care for him around him to help him through this while we figure out what the frag is going on."
Prowl turns to face the medic, and Ratchet sees the anguish that the tactician has been hiding. "I did this to him!"
Ratchet softens slightly and reaches for him. "Prowl..."
"No!" He pulls back, refusing comfort. "I was the one who came up with the plan, I was the one who suggested Jazz for the mission, it was me, all me."
Ratchet's voice is quiet. "He wouldn't blame you for this. He doesn't. He knows it wasn't your fault."
"How can you know?" Prowl bites out, and begins to turn and walk towards the door.
"He called out for you."
That gives Prowl pause. "...What?"
"At the beginning of his lucid periods, he called out your name." Ratchet places a light hand on Prowl's shoulder. "He wants you by his side, Prowl."
"How can he want me?" Prowl asks brokenly. "How can he want the one who caused his pain? You did not see his face," Prowl whispers, his hands hanging uselessly at his sides. "Before he left, I...said some unforgivable things. How can he possibly want..." he trails off, at a loss to properly convey the anguish inside of his spark at the mere thought of his best friend.
"Stop being selfish," Ratchet responds gruffly. "You're so focused on your guilt that you can't see his needs. Push yourself aside and concentrate on him."
There is silence for a moment while Prowl thinks. Jazz has been on his CPU constantly while Prowl has been avoiding seeing him. But Jazz is (or was, Jazz has every right to never want to see his sorry skidplate again after this mess) his best friend, and Prowl...Prowl loves him. The fall hasn't been so much a fall as a gentle float into something wonderful, and he knows Jazz has felt it as well. He might have ruined any chances he ever had at gaining full reciprocation with his recent actions, but he loves Jazz, and when you love someone, you are supposed to be there for them, no matter what. Prowl straightens his shoulders and asks, "Where is he?"
Ratchet's frame releases some of the tension it had been holding since Prowl's prolonged absence from Jazz's side. "I released him from the Medbay two days ago on the condition that he must stay overnight under observation. He's probably in--"
Ratchet jumps at the sudden interruption on his commlink and snaps, "What, Blaster?"
"It's Jazz. He was drawing these pictures that don't make a lick of sense, and then he juststarted spouting nonsense and collapsed."
"Move him to the medbay—I'll comm. Wheeljack and Perceptor and meet you there."
"Hurry. It's not looking good, Ratch."
Ratchet cuts the communication and looks up at Prowl, who is staring at him with restrained impatience.
"It's Jazz. He's collapsed in the rec room."
Prowl doesn't look back as he hurries to the door to his office. Ratchet is right behind him, yelling, "He's being transported to Medical!" The two mechs don't speak after that.
They arrive just as Bluestreak, Blaster, and Smokescreen set a struggling Jazz onto the berth. Jazz's body jerks violently into an upright position and he grasps his helm in a tight grip. "It hurts!" He groans.
Ratchet's voice is tense and slightly panicked when he speaks, "Where, Jazz, we can't help you if you don't—"
"Helm—inside—CPU," the saboteur manages. "They wash their feet in soda water." He digs his fingers into his helm until the metal squeaks and sparks begin to ignite.
Blaster, Smokescreen, Bluestreak, and Prowl are hovering in the background, unsure if there is anything they can do to help. And frankly, Jazz's condition is frightening to them. Perceptor is frantically searching through Teletran's database, trying to find anything that may help them. "Jazz, you are not making any sense-"
"Yes, I-" Jazz lets out a short scream and leans forward and slams his hands hard against the berth. His frustration with the situation has finally taken its toll on him, and with each phrase, his fists and the berth gain dents. "It's there! It's there, it's there, I know it, won't let me, O O O O, HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME."
Prowl can no longer watch his loved one in agony and grabs for Jazz's hands.
"Jazz, do not injure yourself further, we will work together to beat this."
Everything about Jazz seems to freeze when he hears Prowl's voice. He lifts his head from where it rests upon the berth, and the look upon his faceplates is so anguished and yet innocently hopeful that Prowl feels as though his spark is the finest blown glass that has shattered.
"P…Prowl? Is that," one of the black hands in the tactician's grip shifts to grasp almost desperately at Prowl's white one while the other one reaches up to tentatively brush at Prowl's faceplates. "Is that really you?"
Prowl nods and reaches up to hold Jazz's hand close to his face. There is a small, sick smile on his faceplates. The guilt that he has been trying so hard to push back for the mech in front of him twists his internals into illogical, uncomfortable knots. "Yes, Jazz."
Jazz's face lights up and the smile that overtakes his visage looks painful. "Prowl! Prowl, they didn't get anything."
Prowl wishes he could cry.
"I know, Jazz. I know they didn't get anything. What I said to you before you left…" Prowl trails off, attempting to find the words to convey the depth of his self loathing, "I was worried and I expressed that emotion in a manner unfitting of the situation and our relationship. I," he cannot meet Jazz's bright, useless optics any longer and bows his head, "I care for you too much to have meant what I said."
Jazz shakes his head vigorously. His voice is serious when he next speaks. "Not important right now Prowler. Not much time." Jazz seems to struggle to speak, even in such stilted phrases. He uses the hand on Prowl's faceplates to push the tactician's helm up. "Prowl, it's a waste land."
A spasm rocks Jazz's body and he cries out in pain. Prowl holds his hand tighter and Wheeljack rushes up to help him lay the saboteur back down on the berth. Ratchet approaches with the intent to temporarily offline Jazz, but Jazz senses his advance and shakes his head violently.
"No. No, HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME." He turns to Prowl, an agonized look on his face. "Prowler, please, I'm tryin', I've been tryin' but you weren't—" he stops and shakes his head again. Prowl thinks he knows what Jazz was going to say, though, and guilt seems to make his pump stutter.
"Jazz, I'm sorry, I was…" he trails off and drops his head again in shame. "I was too focused on my guilt. It was my fault that you—"
Jazz cuts him off, saying, "No. No, Prowl, wasn't your fault. Not important." He waits until Prowl settles before speaking again. "Wrote a program," he says but then stops, looking frustrated. He grasps Prowl's hand tighter and continues, "Remember walking outside, week afore before I left, we were outside that day and—"
Prowl frowns at the earnest statement. "Jazz, I do not comprehend…there were two days where we were outside in that timeframe. Can you narrow it down?"
The monitor next to them indicating Jazz's spark pulse speeds up and then slows down rapidly and Jazz brings his free hand up to claw at his helm, causing Ratchet to step forward in concern. Strange, Prowl had forgotten that anyone else was in the room.
"The day—Marie, Marie, hold on tight," his voice gets softer, "I like this poem…when you're the one readin' it."
Prowl's intakes speed up and his optics flare in comprehension. "The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. But why would you…?"
"Program. Shh, shh, can't tell, they can't know. The crickets no relief, the dry stone no sound of water. They did somethin' to me, Prowl. Locked it. Put somethin' in m' head."
The other mechs in the room look completely lost, but Prowl has a look of dawning realization on his face. "You wrote a program of Waste Land to confuse your captors. And they locked the program?"
Jazz nods emphatically, "Yes yes yes. But it's staying, taking over, can't—" he breaks off, and his grasp on Prowl's hand becomes almost painful. "Oh, hurts hurts."
"The program you wrote and the Decepticons locked is overtaking the programming in your head, is that what you are saying, Jazz?" Ratchet asks urgently. Jazz nods and nods and nods. Ratchet begins hooking different wires to various places all over Jazz, but mainly focusing on his helm. "Okay, Jazz, can you tell me how much of your programming as been altered already?" Jazz shakes his head, but Ratchet doesn't give up, "Can you tell me how much time you have left before the programming successfully locks the whole of your CPU?"
At this Jazz ceases all movement. "Hurry up please, it's time," he says quietly.
Ratchet looks first at his patient, then at Prowl. "We're going to have to put him in stasis lock and attempt to first control the program and then move to eradication."
Wheeljack and Perceptor nod and move to gather the necessary tools for such actions. Prowl looks up at Ratchet with hope in his visage. "And this will fix him?"
Ratchet fights to meet Prowl's optics. "It's a very finite procedure. And to accomplish this, I'm going to need you all out of my medbay."
At this he throws a telling glare at Bluestreak, Smokescreen, and Blaster, who make haste in their exit. Prowl remains by Jazz's side.
Jazz sounds tired when he speaks next, "The chemist said I'd be alright, but I've never been the same."
Prowl entwines their fingers. "Everything is going to be alright, Jazz. I'll be here with you."
"No, Prowl, you won't."
Ratchet is ready for Prowl's hurt glare. "I meant what I said about this being a very finite procedure. You can't be in here, getting in my way if something were to go wrong. You can go wait with the others—I'm sure Bluestreak could use a friend right now."
Prowl hangs his head in defeat. He would be more of a hindrance than a help, and he vows he will never hurt Jazz again. He looks up at Ratchet with bright optics, "Ratchet, can I please have a moment with Jazz in privacy?"
Ratchet cycles his vents and glares. "You can have two minutes while we prepare the necessary tools for the procedure." And with that, he turns and heads over to the supply closet with Wheeljack and Perceptor. It's as much privacy Ratchet is willing to give.
Satisfied with what Ratchet has given him, Prowl turns his attention to the prone saboteur. Jazz is strangely calm now, perhaps for finally having gotten his message through to the mech he had been waiting for. Prowl wishes he could just stare at Jazz, who is staring at him with confusion on his faceplates; just stare at him and pretend that everything was alright already. The tactician, aware of his time constraints, hastens to speak.
"Jazz, I have something to tell you. Something I should have said a long time ago."
Word Count: 2,510
AN: Sorry this was such a long time coming—real life is a bitch, and then this chapter was very reticent about being written. :\ I'm not as pleased with this chapter, which is a surprise since I had bits of this written months ago. And the muses would not allow me to write past where this ended. Perhaps a new chapter where I don't have anything written for it will be easier (and faster). Ah, well, let me know what you think!