Title: Strength
Rating: K+

Summary: Prowl is Jazz's support at the end of a difficult day.

A/N: 2009 one-shot that somehow never got posted here.

Disclaimer: I don't own them, I make no profit from this

Prowl stepped into the dark and silent room, and as the door closed he allowed himself a deep sigh. Of course Jazz was not here yet.

The crew knew their SIC worked long hours. They made jokes about it, commented on it, and a few of them made a point of trying to disrupt his focus. When it was done with good intentions it was often a welcome distraction. But what they all failed to see was that Jazz worked just as hard and almost as long, breem for breem.

Not as visibly, of course. He did his assigned shifts but rarely volunteered for more and Prowl did everything in his power to avoid needing him to. But his rostered duties were the simplest part of his work, and his duties as Chief of Special Operations were fairly light here on Earth. It was his unofficial role that wore him out.

Jazz took it upon himself to maintain morale in the crew. He was always available to anyone needing to vent, knowing when to listen, when to joke, when to provoke. He knew how to raise a smile in the dark times, how to temper the wild enthusiasm of a crowd in celebration.

It was a role Prowl valued highly. He could not play it himself, would not know where to begin and would not enjoy even trying. He knew, too, that Optimus was grateful for Jazz's support amongst the crew. But the Prime did not see the toll the effort sometimes took.

For the most part, Jazz liked his role. It came naturally to him. But he was not a programmed drone, he had his off days and then he struggled to always be the voice of reason, the understanding friend, the instigator of mischief, the devil's advocate. Within all his roles, he himself was lost.

A grumpy Jazz would panic the crew, they would wonder what could be so dreadful as to upset him. An angry Jazz would frighten them, and reduce his effectiveness when he was trying to help them. A frustrated or intolerant Jazz would probably make them drag him off to Ratchet to search for reprogramming or an Insecticon cerebro shell.

The truth was, Jazz could be as moody as anyone. He was not always in the mood for a game or a joke. Sometimes he liked a bit of quiet, some peace, some time alone.

As it had been for almost as long as they had known each other, Prowl was the one who looked through the act to see him as himself, and accepted every aspect of him. In fact he preferred the real Jazz to the version most knew and thought of as a friend. But Jazz's role was important for morale, easily as important as his own battle plans in many ways, and most of the time the TIC did not mind the responsibility.

Picking up some datapads from his desk and unsubspacing a few cubes of energon, he settled himself on the couch, resolving to wait until Jazz returned. If nothing else, his partner would be in need of a hug after the difficult day they had all just had.

It was late - or perhaps early - when Jazz dragged himself back to his quarters. Closer to dawn than midnight, at least. So many had needed his attention.

The battle of the day before had been hard on all of them. No-one had died, or even been seriously injured, but they had arrived too late to save many of the humans, and the Decepticons had gotten away with enough energon to feed them comfortably for months.

Worse, chasing the triumphant enemy off had not been the end of it. Assisting with body retrieval had been a depressing task, not at all helped by the presence of the grieving families and persistent reporters demanding to know why they had not been there earlier. Why they had failed.

The fact was, they were not omniscient. Prowl and Smokescreen and Trailbreaker spent days doing little more than poring over data attempting to identify the next target, but there were too many options. This research centre had been no more likely than a score of others in the same area, or than a hundred others nearby, or than a million others in this country alone.

As soon as Cosmos had seen the Seekers on the move they had scrambled a team and sent them off with Skyfire. Had they known their destination then they might have arrived there first, but they had had no choice but to follow and hope it was enough to mitigate any damage.

It was not. The Seekers were merely a diversion for the Constructicons.

Too slow, too late. They had done their best but it was not enough.

They had failed.

It was a subdued, dispirited group who returned to the Ark, searching for answers that simply did not exist.

Sideswipe had screamed accusations at Prowl, Bluestreak had huddled silently in a corner of the rec room watching everyone, Ironhide had gotten into a fight with Tracks of all mechs and both had ended up hauled off to the brig.

Fixing this would take a long time, but he had made a start. Some had been muttering about no longer helping the humans at all, that it was too hard; he had reminded them gently of the benefits the humans had brought them. Some had been recklessly claiming they would make the Decepticons pay; he had turned that recklessness towards purpose.

Sideswipe really just needed Sunstreaker to balance him, but Jazz had played a role in keeping him out of the brig - he did not need formal punishment on top of everything else. Bluestreak was still upset, but had appreciated a hug and some quiet attention and was left in the care of friends who would watch over him. Ironhide and Tracks were now talking again without simply trading insults between their cells, Cosmos and Skyfire had been reassured that they had done their best, and Optimus had been coaxed into taking a break.

His last stop had been to check that Prowl had gone off duty. After these kinds of incidents, the tactician often worked longer and harder than ever - not so much in penance as because everyone else was focused on their own problems and someone needed to stay alert. Tonight, though, he had found the SIC's office dark; Perceptor and Gears on duty in Teletran's room.

Entering his quarters he paused briefly in the doorway to smile tiredly at the scene before him.

Prowl was slumped on the couch, two empty cubes on the floor beside him testifying to the length of time he had been waiting, his optics dimmed.

"You shoulda been chargin'." Jazz chided him, closing and locking the door.

"I thought you could do with the company." Prowl replied, pushing himself upright a little and spreading his arms. "I know I could."

Moving gratefully into that embrace, Jazz offlined his optics. Prowl settled him more comfortably on his lap, guiding Jazz's head down onto his shoulder.

After awhile Jazz stirred unhappily.

"I guess we'd better go plug in an' charge. Got less than a groon til we're next on duty."

"Ratchet and Wheeljack are going to cover for us. Are you hungry? I thought you'd probably fuelled, but I've got some more subspaced."

"Nah, I've had about double my ration. I'm good."

"Then just sit for a bit. You've done enough. Let it go."

"I'm okay."

"Of course you are."

Jazz felt fluid drip down his cheek and pressed his face into Prowl's shoulder, his own emotions from the carnage finally coming to the fore.

"You're okay." Prowl murmured, wrapping his arms tighter around him. "You did everything you could, and you know it."

He was shaking now, too, but it did not matter. Others accepted he could be emotional, but only in positive ways. Only Prowl accepted his negative side. Only Prowl.

"Why don't they see you're the strong one, not me?"

Prowl shifted slightly, pressing a kiss to the top of his helm.

"You're my strength as I am yours. Alone we are not enough. Together we are the strength of the team."

"You sound like a Prime."

"No. Primes are selfless - I'm simply right."

A snicker escaped, even as he knew that Prowl was deliberately working to lighten the atmosphere.

"No-one would ever believe you would talk like this."

"Best we keep it that way. Are you okay?"

Jazz wiped his face, taking his time to consider before responding. The tension had released a bit. There was more still there, but it was better and he was tired.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay."

"Good." Prowl nodded, then unceremoniously heaved him up, nearly tipping him onto the floor. "Then lets get some charge. I'm exhausted, you're exhausted, and tomorrow everyone's going to have hangovers so we'll be doing double shifts."

"What happened to you being supportive?" Jazz protested with mock indignance, rising and following him.

"Too tired. Not my style. And you don't need it - you're already strong enough."

A/N: don't miss "Dance" which was also posted today as the previous chapter ^_^