I meant to expand on Prowl in this chapter and give him a much needed glimpse into his past. I've had one particular scene boiling in my head for a very long time. I really, really, really wanted to write it at the end of this chapter, but it did not fit in as well as it was meant to, so that means it gets bumped to the next chapter. =_= It's kind of funny how Jazz is such an enigmatic character in this story and yet we probably know more about him than we do about Prowl. Well, we'll be seeing the tides turn now, I suppose. Prowl is in for some changes, and you will be seeing more of what makes him tick. Well, that's my plan, at least. Let's see what actually happens. ^_^;
Jazz's Accent in flashbacks – Remember, during his flashbacks, Jazz is speaking Pax, which is not his native language. He still has an accent, though due to Pax's similarity to Kev in structure and pronunciation, his accent is less obvious than what may be read/heard when he is speaking Main Cybertronian. Also, I have thought way too much about this. Someone get me a life. =_=
I want to sincerely thank the reviewers of the last chapter. There is nothing so inspiring as the thought that there are others out there in the big wide world of the internet who think giant alien robots are sexy. Because, really, they are sexy, aren't they? =P Even more inspiring is the brave ones who take the time to comment about it. It is you, my darlings, to whom this story is dedicated. And, just so you know who you are, my thanks to: dellykins, Anodythe, renegadewriter8, White Aster, Katea-Nui, Kai-Chan94, Christarpax, Gamemice, . .win, Wanderling, Daklog73, Nikkie2010, Camfield, No Name, Faecat, Prowls-little-angel, Optimus Bob, quasarsmom, electro moonlight, Fianna9, VyxenSkye, CNightJoy, Qwertzu, femme4jack, JenEvan, Starscream II, IBrokeThe4thWall, AliceSylvia, Ano-Hitori-Chichi, MoonWallker, Demonsurfer, Jessie07, Whiteinu1, evilbunny777, TheVastraNararda, Kidara, NarnianOpal, Stargazer at Moonlight, Jenn, VaRa129, Azur3sk1es, Wind of the Dawn, BoredTech, Sideslip, Elenyar, darkwoldlink1, bladerunner89, and Lecidre! If I ever met any of you in person, I would huggle you up and down.
Everyone who thinks giant alien robots are sexy, leave a review! XD
Where You and I Collide
Night was setting, and the nocturnal territory of Tyger Pax was coming to life.
Jazz felt the beckoning tide of oncoming darkness as oceans might feel the draw of the moons. He knew when nightfall came by the rising wildness inside him, a dark tide that lapped along the shores of his mind with hypnotic seduction.
Even trapped inside the dojo all orn, sometimes barred from the outside world all together, he knew when his time to roam free approached. Like an awful beast, the knowledge of encroaching darkness stretched and prowled within the confines of his armour, pricking claws along his innards and making him itch to be released. Shadows would beckon like whispers, a near audible sound that resonated in his head and turned his mind to all sorts of many things. The taste of freedom fizzed and burned like an addictive drug. To fall into the embrace of the cold nightfall was like being welcomed into the arms of a wonderful and abusive lover. He wanted the dizzying spell of madness and agony, wanted to wrap himself up in it and never let go. When the rush came, it felt as if it were being absorbed into his frame and scoring away other pieces of himself that he would never miss.
Soon, he felt it... Soon, a night would set that would score away the last piece of himself holding on... and he would be free.
Sitting on the edge of the balcony that his home and prison boasted, he let the cool air rush over him. A decent breeze for setting evening, that odd place between air warmed by the sun and cooled by the coming night. There was no railing to catch him if he fell. It had been a very long time since Jazz had cared about the lack of railing, or cared for anything else at all. He smelled the exhaust of the city, metallic tang, chemical burn off, and a lingering flavour that seemed to be unique to Tyger Pax alone.
He looked out at the distant horizon of the capitol column, where in the darkness seemed to lead out forever into the endless universe. Such a lie. The dangerous reality was a sudden drop off to the rest of territory far below, a sure death to everyone without wings. At his back was the remnants of the orn, with the distant sun sinking lower on the horizon in a slow death. The last vestiges of daylight warmed the armour of his back. Everywhere in between the two horizons, dying red light bathed the capitol city in vivid shades that turned dark and darker.
It was the beginning of the Dark Season, when the nights stretched longer than the orns.
Jazz's favourite season.
Another breeze blew crosswise across his frame, travelling over and through his armour with odd thoroughness to leave no part of him untouched. A gentle touch, something as foreign to him as wickedness might be alien to others. The current brought a familiar scent he had long come to associate with the presence of his master – a flavourless, hollow sweetness that came so transiently on the air as to be a ghost.
"It is going to be a nice night tonight," Xerxia commented distantly, appearing as if she had always been sitting on the balcony to Jazz's right.
"Sure," he replied, unsurprised by his sudden company.
From his periphery, Jazz could see his master's formidable silhouette, with her heavily armoured squat frame and those deep set lifeless optics. Her frame was one that Jazz knew intimately - every bolt that held her pitch black armour in place to every scar that ran nearly as deep as her animosity toward the universe itself. Jazz knew her powerful fists and her even more powerful legs, the movement of her frame, and even the limp that he had inspired from earlier in their training that orn – a boon he had scored by evading a crushing kick and retaliating by destroying the spring mechanism in that leg.
Xerxia was a constant fixture in his life, like an unforgiving black hole in the centre of a universe that was irrevocably spinning off its axis. As terrible as she was, the catalyst that had driven Jazz to the precipice of sanity he now teetered precariously on, she was also the only creature who seemed to be holding on to those last thin threads of reality. The master who held the leash of a beast, watching with cruel delight as the beast grew more rabid with every lunge for freedom.
"You never watch the sun set," she observed, looking from one horizon to the other. "I have known you since before many of the stars in the sky could shine, and you always watch the night instead."
"Ah prefer ta watch the darkness come," he murmured.
Xerxia inclined her head with no reply.
It was quiet again after that, with only the backdrop of the city sounds and the lonely whistle of a cold breeze to fill the gaping emptiness. Jazz found himself shifting on his perch as if there were an itch beneath his armour that he could not scratch. It was an increasingly noticeable problem as the vorns went by, growing more intense as he failed to assuage the irritation. Restlessness that beckoned him into the unknown, relief from it taunting him just beyond his clutches.
"There's a street party happening on Omega Level," Jazz suddenly announced.
The lowest level of the city might be home to the most degenerate, vile collections of corrupted data and black sparks, but they could throw one pit of a party. Packed full of writhing frames grinding against one another in a desperate bid to forget their lives for just a single moment. The sounds and sights and smells were always loud and bright and pungent. A microcosm of insanity. It was a good place for Jazz to really let loose.
Xerxia picked at a fleck of dried energon clotting the joint of a finger. "There's always a party on Omega Level."
"This one is for the Dark Season. Ah was thinking of going," Jazz murmured. "There's gonna be a lot of bots there."
A laugh snorted through his master's vents as she flicked away the congealed energon. "Are you inviting me along?"
"I didn't think so." There was humour instead of offence in her tone. Even if she had been invited, she would refuse. Xerxia was not the sort who enjoyed crowds, or bots, or anything really. She stared out over the same cityscape as Jazz, but she seemed to see so much more that his optics could. "What is it about the Dark Season that you like so much?"
"Ah like it the same way Ah like watching the night come: it's dark," Jazz replied blandly. "It's a season made for bots like us – the orns are short and the nights are long."
Xerxia tilted her head back and shuttered her optics as if to absorb the words and let them become a part of herself. Jazz watched her from the corner of his optic, fighting the sudden urge to push her from the ledge. There was no particular reason for the desire. The time had long past since he had held a grudge toward her. He just wanted to push her to see what would happen. A means of feeding his curiosity. He wanted to see her fall for the pure rush of it. It would be fun.
Xerxia's fathomless optics cracked open into narrow slits. "What is in the dark that attracts you as it does?"
"There's nothing in the dark that makes it special. Ah told ya, it's just the dark Ah like," Jazz replied after careful consideration. "It is not even an object. It's just a state... It's empty."
"Like you," Xerxia sneered.
Jazz chuckled humorlessly. "Like me. That's probably why Ah like it so much – Ah can relate to it." He lifted one hand to peer at his bare palm, beautifully crafted dark metal shaped mindfully with precise contours for the best grip and ability to clench his fist. Sometimes he looked at himself and no one looked back at him. "It's empty and cold. There's a beauty in it that you can't find in the light."
There was a creaking noise as Xerxia shifted her weight, hissing a gravelled curse as her damaged leg protested the movement. One large hand gripped the dented section that was satisfyingly shaped like the sole of Jazz's right foot. Unlike the urge to push Xerxia off the ledge, Jazz felt no need to apologize for the damages he inflicted earlier.
"What if the dark is not as empty as you think it is?" his master enquired hoarsely in that grating voice of hers, deep and gravelled like an avalanche. "It could be full of things that you cannot see."
"What things?" Jazz scoffed.
"Any manner of things," Xerxia offered enigmatically. "That is what is so clever about the dark – it hides as much as it reveals."
Incredulity and scorn dripped from Jazz's next words: "Are ya thinking of the spark-eaters and frame-snatchers that supposedly creep up from the poles every Dark Season?" He raised his arms and wriggled his fingers in a bid to mock the supposed 'spookiness' of such stupid little stories. "Or the Original Thirteen Transformers who allegedly watch over all of Cybertron? Bad fairytales of some dark Fallen One who sulks around with nothing better to do than make trouble and be the Unmaker's slave?" He gave off a harsh laugh. "Are ya making fun of me?"
"I was curious of your opinion," Xerxia intoned cryptically.
"Ya never were before," Jazz countered, whipping a handful of rusty gravel over the side of the building to plummet out of sight.
"There is a first time for everything."
Jazz did not give an answer right away. The wrong answer, even an opinion that Xerxia didn't like, could result in a challenge he did not have the spark to take up at the moment. At the very least, she'd push him off the balcony - which, considering everything else she had ever done to him, was the not the worst thing to ever happen. So instead of supplying a snappy retort, he mulled over his thoughts carefully. It was hard to pin down an answer, feeling like his thoughts were eluding him on purpose. He would reach out to grasp one and shape it properly, only to have it slip through his fingers. Like the dark itself, maybe - cool thoughts that were there, but not physical entities he could capture and choke.
Xerxia waited with unusual patience for her apprentice to grasp a thought so tightly it bled.
"There's nothing out there in the dark...or in the light for that matter," he announced just as soon as he reached those conclusions. "No monsters or gods – those are just things bots create stories of because they are not strong enough to handle reality. The world is what it is – it is void of fantastical or extraordinary things. You know that. Ah know that. There is only this-" He gestured to the city stretched out before them, "a shallow world full of lights and colour and noise... but it's still empty."
Xerxia revved from deep within her barrel chest, a sound that said she was considering his words sincerely.
A wry smile tugged at the corners of Jazz's mouthplates. "Ah've been with you for a very long time. You've shown meh how the world is and what it truly looks like. Ah've seen who bots are when they are reduced to their bare essentials –," he waved a dismissive hand, "they are just shadows on the wall. They're barely real at all. In all the time Ah've been with ya, don't ya think either of us would have noticed little things running around in the dark besides ourselves?"
Taking Xerxia's silence as encouragement, Jazz continued, "The only things out there that bots should be afraid of are bots like us. There are no fairytale creatures, no mythological monsters, or omnipotent beings who give a slag about the little pieces of nothing down here. There are just mortals with sparks and minds and physical bodies. They can be hurt, and tortured, and killed. Nothing more."
"Nothing more," Xerxia repeated with a distant smile as if considering a private joke. The light from the city reflected off the lenses of her optics, causing them to briefly shift from blue to look like twin sunsets. "You hold such finite views of the world. Where might you have learned that from?"
"Why should Ah think of the world as anything else?" Jazz admitted hollowly. "You've managed ta beat everything else outta me."
"I take full credit for making you as you are, but do not make it sound so bleak."
Jazz did not know how to make it sound any other way.
The answer was supplied moments later, simple and obvious, without gloat. "For all that I have taken away, I have also given you everything. You are more than you ever would have been if you had been left in that cage of a Youth Sector to rot away all that potential. But you are still young compared to the stars - you have yet to learn of all the gifts I've given you." A breeze blew, carrying with it the smells of night and the sounds of the city. Xerxia's gaze glinted as shards of glass as she stared out at the darkening landscape. "I have accomplished everything I set out to do from the orn I took you. You are nearly complete."
A fission of irritation seared inside him, starting with calling him young and flaring with the implication that he was an imperfect student. "Nearly? Ah've spent a lifetime with you. Several lifetimes. How could Ah not know everything by now?"
"What is left is everything I cannot give you." Her uninjured leg kicked a discordant rhythm against the side of the balcony: thump-thumpthump-thump. "There are things in this world you need to see for yourself. Things that I cannot teach you."
"If I told you, it wouldn't be a proper lesson, now would it?"
Irritation simmered down to a slow burn. They both sort of chuckled, even if neither of them were amused.
The sun finally died at their backs, taking with it the last vestiges of warm light. Now the sky was cool, cast in the distance in twilight shades of indigo and violet and velvet black studded in scarce stars obscured by the light pollution of Tyger Pax. Over the city, the sky was a mottled churning twist of faded lights caught on weak clouds, of distant dark skies, and an even darker underworld that stretched out below. Neon lights glared up from the depths like the optics of hungry beasts waiting in the dark to swallow victims whole. Jazz's restlessness grew to a fever pitch, to the point where he was uncomfortable in his own armour. He shifted agitatedly, fighting the urge to let go of the ledge and plummet downward into the open embrace of the city.
Xerxia reached out, curving her fingers through the air like she was cupping a faded star in her palm. Her fist closed, fingers locking tight, joints groaning. A crushing grip that Jazz knew too well – powerful, strong, and steady. The grip that held his choking leash. When her fingers unravelled once more, the star was gone. No, not gone. It had never been a star in the first place. Just a passing airship that warp jumped into interstellar space.
A low breath steamed from the old circuit-su master's vents, blowing ghost white vapour into the cool air. "If this is all there is to the world, what happens when you die?"
A question posed both in nonchalance and like the bonus question on an exam that would determine whether or not Jazz passed.
It was a stupid bonus question, as far as Jazz was concerned. What happens when you die? What sort of question was that? Life was small. It was a speck of existence breaking up the endless darkness on either side. A fluke of awareness. To die was so simple, so clinical, and at the same time it could be the most thrilling, exhilarating rush anyone ever experienced. Jazz would know, he had his own life experiences to compare with - personal and otherwise. He had held sparks in his palm like he was a god - and then he'd dashed them out as if crushing stars. It was the only type of light he thought was beautiful. The energy of the spark seized, flickered, and then would sometimes burst like a super nova. Sometimes, it was a quiet end; the light would fade and darkness would take its place. He supposed it all depended on the spark. Some were more lively than others.
And after that? There was nothing after that.
To die meant...
"Nothing," he stated with finality. "There's nothing after we die. No bright shining light or the sparks of loved ones waiting for ya. There's no afterlife or whatever ya want to call it. Dying is for the weak, anyways. Ah am strong enough now to survive anything you throw at meh. Ah won't let my spark fade out."
Xerxia raised her optic ridges. "And what if it's not your choice? I took that choice away from you once."
Jazz thinned his mouthplates into a firm line, fists creaking as they clenched. "Only once. It won't happen again. Ah'm strong enough to fight now. Ah won't die. Ah refuse too."
Her optics saw more than she was meant to. "What is it about death that frightens you?"
"Ah am not afraid!"
There was cruel laughter in the air. "Then what it is that you do not like?"
Overhead, the deep rumble of a heavily chugging engine passed by. The underbelly of the ship was scarred, its paint flaking. Old advertisements had faded with age.
Jazz thought about what he hated the most. And then he thought about whether or not he should admit it to his master. The sad truth was, she was all he had in life. If he did not tell her, then there would be no one in the world who knew him.
"There are no records of meh," he admitted with a razor's edge in his voice. A dull razor, with rust beginning to creep along the blade. "Kaon's records burned in a fire. Tyger Pax doesn't even know Ah exist - Ah have only ever lived here, in this dojo. The only bot in this world Ah know is you. If Ah died, Ah would cease to exist. There would be no one to mourn me... not even a record to say Ah existed. No spark would ever know Ah was here. If Ah died, Ah would become no one."
It was not said aloud, but the truth was there nonetheless. What Jazz hated most about death – his own death - was the idea of being forgotten.
He feared being alone.
A smile stretched so wide across Xerxia's ugly faceplate that the darkened chasm seemed to split her in half. A grin wide enough to swallow the moon. "When you let go of this life, you will become No One. I like that. That's more than I expected to hear."
Jazz said nothing. He did not feel safe saying anything in that moment.
"That's enough for the orn," Xerxia suddenly announced, giving her long-term apprentice a rough shove that nearly unseated him from his perch. "Go enjoy that street party you mentioned. Wreak some havoc. You desperately need it."
Jazz rose from his spot abruptly, feeling the desperate urge to be elsewhere. Anywhere but on that ledge with his master. He was nearly gone from the balcony before she called him one last time. It was with the greatest reluctance that he turned to her.
"Happy Dark Season, Jazz," she said in a surprise bid of foreign affection.
"Yeah... Happy Dark Season," he replied uneasily, seeing an opening to leave and taking it in a flash.
It was barely before dawn when he finally managed to drag himself back home. The street party had proven distracting for only a short while before his interests were drawn into more illicit activities. The gobs of congealed energon dripping from his frame were a testament to that, as were the scratch marks and the lingering scent of burning metal that clung to him. He was nearly feral with all the thoughts and whirling faceplates whizzing by in his head.
He was so involved inside himself that he barely noticed that the dojo had been cleared out. The living quarters, too. Every storage room now stood open and bare. Despite having lived in the space for what could be conceived as his entire life, it took Jazz the whole of a breem to realize that his home stood empty. It was a whole breem after that before he realized what it could mean.
Xerxia was gone.
There was not even a note to say what had happened.
If dawn came that morning, Jazz did not remember it.
The last thing he remembered before the blurring started and the world simply rushed off in all directions was how alone he was. The echoing hollowness in the still air that permeated deep into his cold sparkcase. A quietness so profound that it left his audios ringing. He remembered a sharp pain from somewhere inside him, and knew that it was the feeling of his leash being snapped. Xerxia had let him go. He was free, but there was no joy. He felt nothing at all as he rushed out of the only home he had ever known, both his prison and his refuge. Down he went into the bowels of the planet, empty and cold like the dark itself.
After that orn, the Dark Season never ended for Jazz.
A loud crash shattered the quiet of the night, followed by the bellow of an inconsolable beast.
Putter-poof shuddered on unsteady landing struts, rocking back and forth to comfort itself. The gentle motions swayed the two bots camped inside, though offered no comfort to them. The hull of the ship did nothing to block the noise outside, nor ache it inspired in the sparks of those who heard it.
Hunter heaved a sigh with a grimace. "He's at it again."
Prowl did not glance at the darkened open hatchway, nor did he show any sign of acknowledging the ruckus outside.
"Well?" Hunter urged. "Aren't you going to go check on him?"
Prowl still did not look up from the report he was writing to sum up his carefully edited experiences in Shockwave's lair, though he did deign to answer with a curt, "No."
Because there was not much else he could do. Hunter stared unblinkingly at his brother until Prowl looked up over the top of his dusty data pad.
"I said no," the tactician reiterated, and then promptly returned to his work.
Hunter gave a disgusted snort and fell back on the floor, shuttering his optics as his frame protested the movement. Jazz had managed to do his best with the field surgery, but there were some things that were even beyond the saboteur's capabilities. A random mech could not simply pull parts out of one frame and apply them to another. Infection was beginning to set in, corroding neural wires and poisoning energon. His spark was straining under the increasing burden, its beats slow and painful as energy continued to leak throughout his frame. Hunter kept quiet about the discomfort, refusing to bring more distress to the already strained faculties of their odd trio (and ship).
"So you're just going to leave him on his rampage?" he enquired hoarsely.
"What other course of action do you propose?" Prowl riposted archly. "He has gone out every night to 'rampage' – as you so call it."
"Just because he's done it every night since we left the South Pole doesn't mean it's right."
"Right and wrong are irrelevant in this case," Prowl countered. "He has done no harm to himself nor to us or to the ship. The most damage he has caused is to scare away that group of Neutrals looking to raid us. I would call that rather fortunate, considering the physical states we both are in. We are in no condition to properly defend ourselves."
"He also killed a whole scouting team of Decepticons the other night."
"Acceptable collateral," Prowl dismissed.
"Six Decepticons he brutally murdered, and then harvested their parts and energon."
"While the manner of their death is questionable by Autobot standards, Jazz is not an Autobot and cannot be held accountable to our standards. He dispatched an enemy who, had he not done so, would have either killed us on sight or alerted others to do so. The harvesting of their energon and parts was a boon. We needed the energon, and frame parts are always valuable."
Anger lit a fire in the scout's optics. "This is why I never liked you when you turned off your centre. You remind me too much of Kingpin."
Prowl flicked him a dismissive glance. "If you are trying to hurt my feelings, I do not have any at the moment."
"Yeah, but it'll hurt later when you turn them back on." With that, Hunter braved an onslaught of pain by turning over on the floor and giving his brother his back - a dirty expanse of metal whose rusty orange hues were beginning to look more like plain rust, the amour beginning to soften with his weakness and making it obvious that he had been trapped on his back for several orns. There was no berth in the ship for him to lay; Prowl and Jazz took turns watching over him, flying the ship, and recharging outside.
Jazz hardly ever closed his optics. He either flew the ship, sat with Hunter, or raged outside.
Prowl sighed, recognizing his tactical error by pushing his suit with Hunter. It was not wise to jostle the injured, especially ones whose conditions were precarious as it was. Perhaps being free from his emotional center for so long was putting stress on his battle computer, causing it to calculate erroneously? A fortnight without his centre was not unprecedented, though presented its own difficulties.
"I am sorry, Hunter."
"Calculated use of a formal statement of regret. You don't feel regret. You don't mean it," Hunter intoned tightly, holding back the burning sensation that being turned on his side inspired. He would not turn back over if it meant looking into Prowl's emotionless faceplate. "Did you forget that my core programming is the same as yours?"
"No, but I thought I could accommodate your state of mind by ceding to my gaffe."
"You want to make things better? Then go get Jazz before he stirs up this whole region and we have every Decepticon and Neutral within driving distance breathing fire down our backs."
Deciding that it was a reasonable demand, Prowl set aside his data pad and rose to his feet with the help of the wall next to him. His injured arm stayed tucked close to his chest. His damages had begun to heal, though without proper medical intervention, the wounds were not set right and the metal was scarring. Burns and blaster wounds were distorting around the edges, showing signs of infection and rust. The imperfection grated against his sensibilities. Communication with the nearest Paxian outpost, a two orn flight from their current position, ensured that medical aid would be dispatched from the main stronghold and be waiting for them when they arrived at the outpost. Prowl's arm was a lost cause; the medic waiting for them would likely amputate, reset his skewed wiring, and give a temporary patch until a new arm could be built for him in Iacon.
It hurt to move, though Prowl remained staunchly silent.
Outside the ship, the night was obscured by three layers of Cybertron above. Dim silver light beamed down around the crisscross of suspended streets and walkways. For the most part, this town hidden away in an outer province of the territory was untouched by the war. It was simply abandoned for being too close to everything else. Neglect was the only damage to be observed; darkened windows, layers of dust, and the crept of rust as time ticked by.
Beyond a bend in the cracked road, another bellow filled the air. Wariness prickled down Prowl's armour. He approached at a slow gait, measuring his footsteps, counting the time between every gravelled growl and spit curse. Most of it was in Main Cybertronian, enough for Prowl to understand the inconsolable rage and fury that shook his partner. The air also carried with it foreign words he did not know; he assumed Kev in some cases, but the rhythm and pitch were wrong compared to the small sample he knew. After that, he decided Jazz was cursing in Pax, words meant only for the master lurking just beyond his grasp.
Jazz himself was a vision in the darkness, standing amidst evidence of his tantrum. Debris scattered around his feet, larger chunks strewn in a wide circle around the axis he had been throwing them. Dust dulled the silver of his armour, turning him grey and ghostlike. Hardened grime accentuated the deep cracks gouging his armour, shadowing dents and deepening the look of exhaustion and outrage. Energon dripped from his fingers. The whiteness of his optics was not perfect, now ringed with red. He looked out of control as he heaved in and out, arms hanging limply at his sides, shoulders hunched.
Prowl stood stiffly at a distance, unwilling to come any closer. This was not the controlled psychopath he had had the displeasure of knowing in Straxis. Gone was the sly manipulation and cold calculation, devilish mischief and frenetic activity. In its place was a creature that the tactician rarely glimpsed – a Jazz made of powerful passions and an even more formidable temper, unrestrained by his usual devious façade. Gone was the leash of imperfect civility. This was a Jazz who was feral and amoral, filled with urges, temptations, and desperately dark desires.
An oozing hand slashed through the air in a violent gesture, throwing flecks of energon in all directions.
"Get out of here!"
Whiteness flickered into deeper red.
"Ah don't want ya here."
Prowl drew himself up, chin rising. "I am not concerned with what you want."
"Leave meh be!" the saboteur howled, echoing loudly through the streets.
"I said no." One functional arm crossed over a damaged storm-grey chest. "You have been on your own for long enough."
Jazz spat a vile curse that needed no translation. Hands clenching and unclenching, armour bristling erratically, he looked ready to explode.
"Hunter sent ya. Ya wouldn't be here on your own."
"Yes, Hunter sent me. He is concerned for your well being. However, it would be a lie if I said I was not concerned in my own way," Prowl informed, shifting his weight carefully. The air huffed gently as he flapped his doorwings uselessly.
Jazz appeared distracted by the movement, focusing on it intensely before jerking his gaze away.
"Just because my centre is not on does not mean I do not recognize the value of our partnership," Prowl pressed on with irritating coolness. "I am concerned for you every night when you go out on your rampages. However, you are a capable bot on your own and you do not require me to oversee your activities. What you do in your own time is your own business so long as it does not interfere with the function of this group."
A grunt sounded from the saboteur, followed by him turning on his heel and wandering deeper into the shadowed overhang of an empty shop. By the looks of the dusty sign, it once had been a mineral shop. The inside was dark, filled with uneven shapes. A drone was left waiting for its master on the doorstep. Jazz picked up the dead thing, its energy drained away for a long, long time, and he threw it into the alley next to the shop. Unseen things skittered away from the noise.
"You are at a loss over what to do," Prowl observed, approaching one slow step at a time.
Dirty, shaking hands were displayed to him with open fingers and an air of helplessness.
"She's supposed ta be dead, Prowl!"
"Now Ah find out she's been haunting meh like a bad drug trip? All this time – eons, Prowl! Eons! - and not a word ta meh! She goes off as she pleases and leaves meh behind like Ah mean nothing, and then waltzes back in as if it doesn't matter!" He punched the wall of the alley, shattering his already battered knuckles. Jazz did not feel the pain. "Ah'm gonna kill her! Ah swear ta Primus and every dark place there is, if Ah ever see her again Ah am gonna rip out her spark and make her eat it!"
"You are angry. I understand that-."
Silver armour bristling, Jazz rounded on him with a flash of burning ember red optics. "Angry? Angry! Prowl, there ain't no word in Main Cybertronian to convey how fragging enraged Ah am! Do ya have any idea how long Ah've lived! How long Ah've gone about mah business thinking someone finally snuck up on that wretched glitch and gave her the dagger to her black, empty spark that she deserved! But no! Turns out she's alive and disposed ta givin' lost mechs directions in storms!"
Prowl did not flinch in the face of such an outburst. He stood firm and fearless. "There is no evidence of her actual death, is there? How could you have been so sure she died?" When there was no answer, the tactician shook his head. "Jazz, you hardly remember your life between your time with Xerxia and your time with me. You said it yourself that it is all a blur. Who is to say that during that unaccounted for time that you did not encounter her?"
"Ah would remember that!" Jazz snarled. "Ah would remember her faceplate. If Ah killed her mahself, it would be the one thing Ah'd gladly remember in all mah lifetimes."
"Are you sure about that?" Prowl pressed, coming so close that he could feel the outpouring of heat that radiated from his partner. "Perhaps you never did encounter her. If she is as powerful as you say she is, then it is reasonable that she has survived so long in the same manner that you have survived. There is the possibility that this encounter is a chance encounter. Or, even more likely, this Xerxia is not your master at all, but someone who uses the same designation."
Jazz's expression was the same as if he had been slapped in the faceplate and dumbfounded by the stupidity of it. Then he gathered his wits, mouthplates firming into a long, thin line. He appeared to be holding back the urge to slap Prowl. It was a short wait before he had the mind to use words again without interspersing them with curses.
"This is not some imposter," he gritted out. Every creeping feeling inside Jazz screamed with a vengeance that this was not some pretender. Who else would have the audacity to critique him?
"A chance encounter, then."
"Not that either. It's not coincidence or chance. How do ya explain a bot older than Am am, someone crueler than Ah am, and more evil than ya can ever imagine, just showing up out of nowhere in one of the most inhospitable places on Cybertron in order ta give Hunter directions to a stupid ship. That ain't no coincidence Ah ever heard of."
Prowl was at a loss for a proper answer. It showed on his faceplate in a manner that probably only Jazz could decipher. A harsh laugh lifted from the saboteur, highlighting his ferocity in the thin starlight. His optics were more like stars now, white and flickering. Before Prowl could evade, a fist landed squared on his injured shoulder. He cried out with the sudden burst of white-hot pain, sending him to one knee as he gripped the offended limb desperately. Jazz stood over him defiantly, petting his head in a mocking gesture.
"Does hurting me make you feel better?" Prowl enquired hoarsely.
"Not as much as Ah hoped," Jazz replied, stopping his administrations. Then he took to one knee in order to peer into Prowl's icy optics. "Not at all, actually."
"Save your ire for the one who deserves it. Help me to my feet."
With a disgusted sigh, Jazz wrapped his arms around Prowl uninjured side and helped his partner to the stoop of the abandoned shop. The tactician was eased down gently. Jazz came down harder, making the bolts in the metal rattle. Dust puffed down on them from above.
"How do you feel now?" Prowl enquired.
Instead of answering, Jazz turned his optics skyward to inspect the lightening horizon he could barely see. "It's nearly dawn."
"That does not answer my question."
"Ah'll be fine soon. Ah always am," Jazz assured, shivering as if cold. "Give meh a little more time ta get it out of mah system. Maybe by the time we reach the outpost, Ah won't want ta kill everything Ah see."
Maybe it was a joke, but it didn't sound like it.
Prowl's shoulder still throbbed. He had a feeling like frost was settling into his frame, making it impossible to keep warm. Jazz's heat helped keep him thawed, so he shuffled closer. "You spent a fortnight raging over her. You are normally more in control of yourself."
"She brings out the worst in meh."
Jazz uttered something that Prowl could not hear. He pushed to his feet and walked away to the other side of the street, bracing himself against the front of another empty shop. It might have been an old jewellery place, still with sparkling bobbles glinting hauntingly in the cracked crystal window. Jazz looked his age in this light, covered in so much dust, looking broken down and finished. He looked like the Old One he truly was, nearly outliving time itself. He looked fragile and vulnerable.
"Come back to the ship with me," Prowl intoned calmly.
"Not right now."
"You are lonely out here."
"That is a subjective observation, Prowler," Jazz drawled, slowly turning over so that the backs of his shoulders braced the wall. There was a ghost haunting his faceplate, that of a smile that could barely be seen. The oldness faded as quickly as it came.
"It is also a correct observation." A dark optic ridge rose. "You know better than that, Jazz. Just because my emotional centre is turned off does not mean I am incapable of subjective observations. It is merely more difficult to make them. I make the effort for you."
"I knew you would be."
Jazz raised his palm, glancing down at it. There was a tremble in the metal that he did not like, but at least he recognized the hand as his. It was a real hand, not blurry around the edges. He suddenly discovered that he did not remember much of his rampages over the past fourteen nights. Only that it had been dark and lonely. The familiarity of it was haunting.
"Come sit down." The dusty spot beside Prowl was swept free, made inviting by a simple pat and an expectant expression.
At first with reluctance, Jazz lurched across the street and fell to the top step next to Prowl. Though fire still lurked in his optics, it was banked and distant. Exhaustion became more pronounced. A fortnight without recharge was not healthy, even for the most resolute.
"We will work through this together," said the tactician. "Not right now, but later when we return to Iacon. There are too many loose ends in all of this business. Shockwave's machinations and their purpose in Megatron's army, the involvement of the Psi ex Machina-."
"And now Xerxia," Jazz murmured.
"And now Xerxia," Prowl agreed.
"If we find her, Ah'll kill her."
Prowl revved - not a deep sound, nor a light one. Merely an observational rev that gained Jazz's undivided attention. They locked gazes, and Prowl inclined his head. A logic-based version of concern appeared in his optics. "Your list just keeps getting longer. First Megatron, then Shockwave, and now your old master."
Tired optics shot him an annoyed glare. "Don't think Ah can do it?"
"If you turn your mind to it, you could do a great many formidable things. It makes me appreciate that you are on my side."
Jazz chuckled weakly.
Before the silence stretched on too long, Prowl brought up one of his main reasons for coming to see his partner. "I need to ask something of you."
Dim white optics flicked his way. "What do ya need?"
"The same thing you asked of me a fortnight ago. Perhaps I am a little late in asking this, but I need you stable right now. I realize that Xerxia was once a very big part of your life, and her reappearance in that same life is very..." he stumbled on finding the correct terminology, remembering Jazz's claim that there was no word in Main Cybertronian to convey his state. Prowl settled on a bland adjective. "...upsetting."
Prowl continued to frown. "It may be a lot to ask to rein yourself in at this time, but no more extreme than your request of me. Enough damage has been done. Set your grudge with Xerxia aside until we can deal with it later."
Those optics shuttered tight, followed by a shudder. Jazz's shoulders drooped, hunching inward. Maybe he was in physical pain. "Yeah," he sighed. "Ah can do that. Give meh 'til dawn and Ah can give ya that. Just need a little more time ta settle mahself down." His frame lurched into Prowl's side, the heat of his armour feeling like a steady burn stretching from the top of Prowl's good shoulder down to his hip. "Ah can give ya something else as soon as we get ta the outpost, too."
Prowl arched other optic ridges. "We can wait until our return to Iacon for you to help buffer the backlash. I am in no hurry to turn it back on."
"The sooner we get it done, the better. The longer you're left ta stew, the worse it's gonna be, and Ah'd rather nip it when its least likely ta kill meh," Jazz said with tired humour. "Let the medic patch us back up as best as can be done, and then we find ourselves a quiet hole to get it over with. Can't guarantee it will be pretty, not with the sorry state we're both in, but it'll get the job done."
"That is the best we can expect," Prowl accepted with hard resignation. He expected that when he could feel regret again, he would be feeling a lot of it – among other, more potent, emotions. As always, his battle computer geared up and started issuing logical options and ultimatums. It always seemed logical to stay in the state he was in, despite the ultimate fallacy of it. A cruel trick his own mind liked to play on him.
"Besides," Jazz carried on without mind to Prowl's inner musing, "if we blow out our circuits, there'll be a medic on hand ta fix us. Plus, Ratchet is just a quick comm away. Putter-poof will likely have his engines blown by then. We'll get a faster ship, make it back ta Iacon in record time. You and Ah will have Ratchet and his gentle bedside manner all ta ourselves. "
"Fantastic." He sounded anything but enthused – notably less enthused than he normally sounded when his centre was off. Now that was an impressive feat.
"Kinda looking forward ta being back. Strange, ain't it? Ah think Ah miss mah berth, or something like that." His words turned soft around the edges, the accent more pronounced, as exhaustion weighed more heavily than ever. Without rage, he had nothing to keep him going. A low exhalation breathed from Jazz's vents. Overhead, the sky lightened into grey predawn. The chill of the night grew a little more distant, though hardly noticeable in the shade of the stoop where they sat.
"Used ta hate when the sun came up," the silver bot commented on a barely audible mumble. He looked more silver than grey now as the light above brightened. He looked a lot more like the Jazz that Prowl had become so familiar with. "Funny how Ah think of that right now- about the sun and the light. Ya wouldn't understand. Ah'll tell ya later sometime, if ya remind meh. Ah don't think Ah mind it anymore, though."
"What made you change your mind about the dawn?" Prowl enquired idly, because it seemed like a question he needed to ask.
"Ah met you," Jazz replied blandly, as if that answered everything. Maybe it did, but Prowl's current state simply could not comprehend it. There were downfalls to being a purely logical being. The saboteur's weight grew heavy against Prowl's frame. Dusty air dragged in deep through his vents and blew out in one long exhalation that drained him of all excess.
"So," intoned the tactician. "Shall we return to the ship?"
There came no immediate answer.
"Jazz, it is unwise to leave Hunter unattended for long periods of time in his condition."
When again Jazz did not answer, nor even give any sign of acknowledgement, Prowl cast down a glance at his company, only to realize that a fortnight spent raging without recharge had finally taken its toll. Jazz's optics were closed. His faceplate was slack, without pain or awareness. His weight rested heavily against Prowl, though not beyond what he could tolerate.
Prowl stared down at his company and weighed his options. Shortly after, he connected with ICOM-7's communications hub.
"Hunter, are you online?"
"Yeah, I guess so. You bringing back Jazz or what? Don't tell me he ran away... You didn't shoot him, did you?"
"Jazz is fine, though he has fallen into recharge. We will not be returning until he comes online again. Will you be alright by yourself for the time being?"
There was a low chuckle, less pained than Prowl would have expected.
"Have your alone time," Hunter insisted, actually sounding quite pleased. "I'll call if I need you."
The line went quiet.
Prowl peered down at Jazz with a frown, wishing he had had the foresight to have brought his report with him to finish while he waited. It was a waste of time to merely sit around and do nothing. Despite that minor set back, Jazz's warmth permeated through his frame to dispel the last of the frost. He did not have any pressing desire to move.
The sun rose high and bright over Tyger Pax that orn. It was a beautiful new dawn.