I did not expect this chapter to turn out the way it did. I was aiming for a completely different direction, but by the end of the chapter, I realized Jazz's idea was much better than mine. It was about time that Jazz and Prowl stopped taking baby steps and finally just took that goddamn leap. Now imagine how fun the fall will be!

Thank you so kindly to the reviewers of the last chapter! I was a little nervous posting the last chapter... I did not know if there was going to be anyone left in the readership. It had been five months, after all. But you guys surprised me and delighted me and restored my faith in this story. Thank you so much to Workaholic Paxian, Gamemice, mamabot, Silvering, Guest, AirJuvy, Nikkie2010, Agent Or4ng3, Faecat, couriosity, Guest, 16DarkMidnight80, Daklog73, TheVastraNararda, Optimus Bob, Bluebird Soaring, evilbunny777, DaJazzGirl, yamiishot, Guest, renegadewriter8, Chibi Oro, transfangirl14, Esor 'Rolamee, CnightJoy, R, phoebe turner, and Guest!

This chapter is most definitely for you!

Chapter 49

"Get back here, Moonracer! Ah mean it! Ah'll rip your spark out!"

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!"

Prowl stepped out of the way just before he was bowled over by a streak in green. At the last astrosecond, he reached out and snagged the femme by the arm. She gave a strangled yelp as she whipped around, optics wide and wild like she expected to see Death staring down at her. Her free arm was halfway through transforming into a gun before halting, dropping to her side.

Jazz continued to bellow threats, echoing fantastically off the high barricades protecting Iacon. Each threat, predictably violent, became louder in appeal as the saboteur crossed the threshold of the gates and came into the wide yard. It had been a long time since Prowl had heard his partner in such a lather.

Fresh from Sunstreaker's psychopathic mess, Prowl was in no mood do deal with a homicidal one.

"What," he said flatly, "did you do to him this time?"

Moonracer tugged futilely at the hand that held her. "Nothing." She winced. "Well, something." She tugged again, to no avail. "I only suggested that maybe he should look on the bright side."

Prowl's hand tightened fractionally. "Bright said of what?"

Moonracer yanked one way, then the other. Small as she was, there was not much leeway she could wrestle from a mech of Prowl's size and strength. Instead, she ducked low and peered through his legs for a brief moment, dread quickly taking root in her optics. She, like any other pending victim of Jazz's wrath, wanted to keep her assaulter in sight at all times.

Unimpressed, Prowl tightened his grip like a vice. "Bright side of what, Moonracer?"

She risked only a panicked sidelong glance for him. Her words spilled out one after the other, running headlong into each other. "I suggested that maybe instead of getting his spinal column fixed, he could reformat. Into a taller frame. A mech, maybe, instead of a minibot. It would probably suit him better."

Prowl's vice grip unhinged so quickly he sent the femme sprawling to the ground. "You can't possibly be that stupid to have said that out loud. Where he could hear you."

Thrusting up on her hands and knees, scrubbing road dust from her optics, Moonracer laughed on the side of hysterical. "Obviously, I am. I said it, didn't I?" She was on her feet in a flash, backing away. Never daring taking her gaze off the encroaching trio rolling their way through the open gates. "I thought it would cheer him up. He's been moody since... well, he's never in a good mood is he?"

Prowl's optics narrowed to slits.

Moonracer winced, shying away. "He's been especially upset since the accident...I didn't know cheering him up would turn him homicidal."

"I think you turn him homicidal on your own," Prowl offered dryly, glancing over his shoulder. The sight was not the least bit reassuring, seeing his partner's alt mode harnessed between two other bots. Neither Hound nor Nightbeat, despite being in alt mode, looked particularly impressed to be escorting Jazz as they were. Prowl scowled darkly. Being rid of the thing that was setting Jazz off was a better policy than going to see him while Moonracer was still within killing distance.

He pinned her with a hard stare, one he usually reserved for bots who landed themselves a one way ticket to the brig. "Do I even want to know what you are doing here? I was under the impression that you never wanted to have dealings with the Autobots again."

"Funny thing about that." She craned her neck, optics flashing as she realized Jazz had gotten a little too close. "I think I might be sticking around for a little longer. Against my will. If I'm alive long enough." She backed away several more steps.

Hearing the darkling growl of Jazz's engine approaching, Prowl curved a cold smile. "You might not want to stick around in this exact spot for much longer."

With a hysterical giggle, Moonracer fled for the safety of the interior of Iacon. For as much good as that would do her.

Prowl spared her an arch look for as long as it took for her to disappear around the corner. Once gone, he transferred his gaze to the nearest security camera. Red Alert was, undoubtedly, on the other side, keeping an optic on all activity on base. "Watch her," he commanded, and then glanced back at his partner. "Make sure she goes nowhere near the med bay, or anywhere else Jazz might go."

Red Alert opened a channel between them, answering with a succinct but dry, "Naturally."

Jazz nearly shook himself loose of the ropes wrapped tight around him, seemingly incensed that his prey was getting away. "Get back here, Moonracer! Ya don't think Ah won't find ya? Iacon is only so big!"

Before the scene could get completely out of hand, Prowl strode down and crossed the yard. A few Autobots lingering nearby caught his optic, their expressions ranging from bemused to relieved. Those who were appraised of the situation in the training yard looked on pityingly, aware that Prowl was running on fumes, convinced they were about to get a punishing show. Hound and Nightbeat puttered to a halt, stopping Jazz by proxy.

"Long time no see, commander," Hound greeted cheerfully, if a bit strained.

"Likewise," Prowl replied indifferently. Upon close inspection, he realized that the ropes strapping Jazz down were not to hold the saboteur back. They were to keep him moving forward. "Jazz, what's the matter? You're hurt, aren't you. Moonracer mentioned an accident."

"She would, wouldn't she?" Jazz hissed acidly.

Prowl wasted no time circling, trying to find the problem. Damages were pronounced in the aft region. Burn marks indicated a powerful blast had pierced Jazz's armour; by the size and arrangement of the armour, Prowl knew it would have been part of Jazz's back in bipedal mode.

Jazz idled down to a dull growl while the tactician performed his perusal, no less tense then he had been rolling into base.

The continued hostility was not lost on Prowl. It rolled over him like a foul wind, eroding at his already finite patience. He pinched the bridge between his optics. "If you had any idea what I just had to deal with, you would stick it in neutral right now."

"Ah'd love ta stick something in that Neutral right now. Mah foot right up her tailpipe." Jazz's front wheels turned to no effect, lashed in place by the ropes strung across him. A dull clicking echoed when the back wheels should have been turning. There was a pause, and then Jazz asked – a remarkably different tone, "She's gone, ain't she? She can't hear a word Ah'm saying."

Prowl spared a brief glance over his shoulder. "Given how fast she was running, I would not be surprised to see her on the other side of Iacon by now."

Jazz, to Prowl's surprise, immediately relaxed. "If Ah had ta take another breem of listening ta her, Ah really would have ripped out her spark just ta shut her up."

"I would have helped," Nightbeat intoned absently, his side transforming into an arm that picked at the knots tied along the edge of his undercarriage. His portion of the rope harness slackened, then fell away. He drove out, got to his feet, and blinked wearily up at the sunny sky. "Shame the orn turned out so dark. Sun disappearing and all."

Without a word, he wandered away.

"You'll have to excuse him," Hound said, shaking loose of his side of the ropes and getting to his feet. "Ever since we set out at dawn, he's been going on about what a shame the orn was going to turn out to be. Not a cloud in the sky, though. One of the best orns we've had in a long while."

Prowl frowned at Nightbeat's retreating back. "How...unusual."

"Yeah, he sure is." Hound gave a good stretch, armour plating cracking into place.

"As I recall, the mission was just for the two of you." Prowl nodded to Hound and Jazz in turn.

"You've worked with Nightbeat before, commander. You know what he's like – just comes and goes as he pleases." Hound shrugged, then nodded to Jazz still in his alt mode. "You think you got him? My energy reserves are down to nothing. I wouldn't be able to haul him another step if I tried."

Jazz revved lowly. "Prowler's got meh, don't worry about it. Go get some recharge."

Hound sagged in utter relief. "If anyone needs me, I will be on a long date with my berth." With a jaunty but tired salute, the scout trekked off for some much need recharge.

Jazz remained in alt mode, idling quietly.

"You can't transform, can you?" Prowl asked lowly.

"Half of meh can." Jazz shifted his weight. Prowl noticed it was only the front half of him that moved. "Other half needs a little help shoving everything back into place."

Prowl kneeled, patting Jazz's silvered front bumper. "Paralyzed, then?"

"From mid-back down. Ah've been in alt mode since it happened ta make transporting meh easier," Jazz groused, shaking off the hand that patted him. "All thanks ta a plucky little Neutral who refuses ta stay outta mah damn business."

"Moonracer certainly seems like more trouble than she is worth."

"All femmes are," Jazz spat.

Prowl chose to ignore that comment. "You must be awfully stiff by now. The roads are not easy to take when injured." He went about winding the slackened ropes into thick coils. "You're in neutral, aren't you? You're parked? Put it in neutral so I can roll you back." He gently rolled the saboteur back, collecting the tangles of rope beneath. "Dare I ask what you were doing with Moonracer?"

"She was at the site," Jazz admitted. "Stupid thing thought she'd be enough to go looking for Shockwave on her own. Dumber yet, she set up the perimeter defences and lost the remote for them. Ah had ta go go back and get her when she got shot."

Prowl paused, unable to wipe the look of incredulity off of his faceplate. "That's how you were injured? You risked your life for her?"

"Keep it down, would ya? Ah don't want it being known Ah got shot doing something stupid." Jazz huffed a noise of pure disgust. The burning white lights along the front of his alt mode flared, as if he meant to glare with them. "The energy surge completely overwhelmed my neural net."

Cold rushed down Prowl's back, icing his spark. "You are damn lucky it did not fry your processor completely."

Jazz revved deeply. "Come ta think of it, that other option sounds a pit of a lot better than what happened when I came online." He rocked back and forth, axels creaking. "Ya should have seen it, Prowler. Hound had meh hitched up ta his tow. Mah aft was so far up in the air, Ah was catching the jetstream."

Prowl snorted, nearly stumbling onto his aft. "How did your pride ever survive that?"

"It was a near thing," Jazz drawled, but there was laughter there. Hidden. Sparkling in between the words in an intangible way that Prowl simply knew was there. "We came ta an agreement by the end of the orn. Nightbeat found some rope ta use as a harness so Hound didn't have ta tow meh the whole way." He managed to roll forward, pulling himself by his front wheels, brushing against Prowl's knees. "If anyone ever whispers a words of seeing meh with mah aft in the air, it'll be the last thing they ever do."

Prowl leaned away, his expression wry, but then inclined his head. "Sounds reasonable."

"As reasonable as Ah'll ever be." Jazz let loose with a long, tired sigh. "Help meh out of alt mode, will ya?"

"Of course." Prowl bent, listening for the telltale sound of transformation. As soon as Jazz's arms appeared, he grasped them and hauled most of Jazz's weight over his shoulder. Jazz hooked his elbows around Prowl's doorwings to anchor his weight, allowing the tactician to yank bits and pieces of his lower half back into place.

Though he saw the world from a slightly different angle than he normally did, hanging over Prowl's shoulder, Jazz gave a long contented sigh. "Much better."

"It will be even better once Ratchet has you rewired and walking again." Mindful of his partner's injury, Prowl slid Jazz's weight around so that he could sling his arm beneath both of Jazz's, taking the saboteur's full weight against him. He tried not to grimace at the way Jazz's legs slumped lifeless against the ground.

Noting the direction of Prowl's gaze, Jazz squeezed his arm. "It's fine. Ah'll be walking again before ya know it."

Prowl cast a careful glance around the front entrance, noting that too many optics were watching, failing to disguise their curiosity. Their concern. "Would you like me to dismiss everyone? I can have Red Alert close off the corridors on the way to the med bay."

Jazz frowned, seeing the same things Prowl could see. He took the measure of each faceplate, watching each pair of blue optics that would briefly meet his. Perhaps being home again was making him feel charitable toward the Autobots, or his spinal column injury really had fried his processor, but Jazz heard himself saying, "Don't go ta all that trouble just for meh. Ah don't care what they see."

"Are you sure?" He posed the question quietly, leaving room for Jazz to change his mind without losing face.

"They've all seen worse." The saboteur flashed a devilish smile, one that reassured Prowl that he was entirely in his right mind. The kind of smile that said Jazz was completely in control of the situation, no matter the level of sustained injury. "Mah pride can handle it."

Prowl arched an optic ridge, humour shining in the light. "And all that nonsense I just saw with Moonracer? What was that all about, if not for your damn pride?" He adjusted Jazz so that they were both comfortable with the arrangement. "Don't tell me that was all for show."

"Not all of it, but most of it." The saboteur flashed another devilish grin. "Ah had ta get rid of her somehow. A bot can't simply look meh in the faceplate and tell meh Ah'd be more impressive if Ah were a mech. Bots just don't do that. Ah have a reputation ta maintain."

The look Prowl fixed his partner with was severely not amused.

"Ya had ta be there," Jazz insisted. "It was funnier in person."

"I am glad I wasn't. There is enough stress on base for me to deal with, without having to deal with whatever debacles you get up to outside." He hitched his partner closer to his side, fixing him with an admonishing look. "I was under the impression that friends improved an orn that has gone horribly wrong. Not make it worse. Not even five breems inside the gate and I already have a panicking Neutral running around thinking her orns are numbered."

"That's what friends do? Are you sure?" Jazz sneered skeptically. "How come Ah haven't heard of that rule before? You're making it up."

They took their first testing step together, coordinating so that Jazz leveraged his weight on Prowl, and Prowl used it as a pendulum to first swing Jazz back and then forward in time to his own step forward. Jazz grimaced as his damaged spinal column protested the movement.

"I am not making it up," Prowl insisted, adjusting his grip and the force with which he swung Jazz. "It was in an etiquette file I came across once." They looked utterly ridiculous together as they slowly made their way. "Etiquette files do not lie."

"An etiquette file for who?" Jazz scoffed, ignoring all else. "Younglings in a Youth Sector?"

Prowl grunted stubbornly. "If you happen to be acting like one..."

"Ah dare you ta finish that sentence."

"Let's see you get to the med bay on your own, then."

Their glares clashed, stubbornness crashing like two tides against each other. Prowl was the first to crack, his mouthplates twitching. It was the sign Jazz waited for, his grin suddenly brilliant.

"Ah've been away for too long," he lamented, cinching his arm tighter around Prowl. "Tell meh how horrible Iacon was without meh in your life. Tell meh how much ya missed meh."

Prowl rolled his optics, never resisting the smile that bloomed happily across his mouthplates. It was a long walk to the med bay, so he filled the distance with as much detail of the orn as he could remember. Jazz's attention never wavered. His concern was genuine; his suggestions to prevent future episodes bordered on inappropriate, cruel, and insane.

Nevertheless, even without the distant sun on him, he felt warm.

Despite the saboteur's weight, Prowl felt lighter.

Jazz's surgery to have his spinal column rewired went off without a hitch.

Waiting for the wiring to integrate fully into the saboteur's system was proving a trying wait.

Late in the evening of the fourth orn after surgery, Prowl stepped into the recovery and promptly arched his optic ridge as high up as it would go. Athough Jazz had been cleared to recover in the privacy of his own room, the saboteur had elected to stay in the ward for his own mental health. In his own quarters, he was trapped between four walls with nothing to distract him but his own mind. At least in the ward, he had the distraction of the comings and goings of Autobots.

Ratchet put up a token fight, but relinquished a single berth for the duration of Jazz's stay.

But, even in a ward that was generally bustling with bots, a creature of Jazz's calibre turned bored easily.

As of this very moment, the saboteur's desperation for mental distraction was manifesting in the rather bizarre scene of his attempting to balance the corner of his visor on the seam of his closed mouthplates. The diamond visor glinted brilliantly under the dimmed lights of the room. Jazz's head and neck bobbed back and forth as he expertly balanced his visor, his torso weaving gracefully whenever a large balance correction was needed.

Pityingly, Prowl had to wonder out loud, "So this is what the great and powerful Jazz has been reduced to?"

Showing no evidence of surprise, Jazz raised a single finger for silence. A moment later, he jerked up his chin and amazingly managed to catch his visor correctly on the curves of his faceplate. The locks snapped into place, diamond lighting up, restoring his traditional appearance.

"Got nothing else ta do," he said.

Prowl cast an arch look around the room, where no other patients currently took up berths. Anyone who could stay in their own quarters did so with alacrity. "No one to torment? My sparkfelt sympathies go out to you."

"Bah," Jazz huffed. "Just get mah daggers outta the wall over there, will ya? Ratchet refused ta give them back ta meh, said Ah'd only put more holes in his walls if he did."

"He's not wrong," Prowl said, moving smoothly into the room, along the far wall where Jazz's assortment of small daggers were embedded. He jigged each one loose and yanked it from its mooring. "This is an awful waste for your blades. Now you will have to sharpen them all."

Jazz stubbornly held out his hand, demanding his weapons be returned in all haste. "It was better than wasting away on this damn berth." The moment Prowl held out the blades, Jazz snatched them back and clutched their hilts tight in his fists. "What use am Ah if Ah'm laid up lame in here? This might as well be a death sentence."

"You are exaggerating."

The fiery glare the saboteur laid upon him would have melted steel.

Prowl brushed it aside in sympathetic humour, setting himself to make Jazz more comfortable by fluffing the soft polymer and foam cushions piled behind him. "If you are so bothered by your isolation, you should not have gotten shot in the first place."

"Mention that ta meh one more time." A dangerous light flashed in the piercing white glow of Jazz's visor. "Ah dare ya."

Prowl nearly laughed, but had enough sense to contain it. He propped his hip on the side of the berth, scouring Jazz with an assessing look. Each orn, he looked better. Not that there was much outward improvement to be seen. A twitch here, a jolt there. Signs that Jazz's processor was reorienting itself, recovering from the surge that scrambled important motor control data for the lower half; Jazz's processor was slowly beginning to recognize his newly rewired and reattached lower half, proof that integration was coming along nicely.

Better still, Ratchet spared what time he could to direct the physical therapy sessions, exercising Jazz's lower half, prodding the saboteur's processor into a faster recovery. Though there was rarely ever much time for the CMO to spare on something that could be done by an underling or drone, the fact that he was willing to sacrifice his own personal time to help said much. Jazz was surprisingly acquiescing to the attentions, encouraging them as far as he dared to speed along his recovery, revealing how desperate he was to be back on his own feet.

"You look good," Prowl said, a smile flitting at the edges of his mouthplates.

Jazz's expression turned baffled. "If 'looking good' is a euphemism for bored out of my cranial casing, then yes, Ah look very good."

"I brought you material to distract yourself with." Prowl waved fruitlessly to the assortment of distractions he had been hopeful would make a difference. His gifts sat alongside a dozen other attempts from other Autobots to cheer Jazz up. "You haven't even bothered to look at any of it."

"Ah did so look at it," Jazz said, stretching out his arm and sweeping the top of the stand clear of everyone else's gifts. Of Prowl's gifts, he hefted an ancient tome – a dusty old thing Prowl had found down in the depths of the dark archives. "This one was particularly entertaining...for a breem."

Prowl snatched it up, and then grinned broadly. "I thought you might enjoy this one." It was a rather old book from the True Crime section of the public sector of the archive, written by an obscure author, with its pressed polyfoam pages worn and faded by time. The title read A Demon in Silver: Mech or Myth?

"And this one?" Jazz pressed, scooping up the next tome. It read Separating Fact from Fiction: The True Life Crimes of an Uncatchable Old One. "Or this one?" Jazz: The Biography, volume 4. "How many volumes are there?"

"Thirteen." Prowl arched his optic ridges as innocently as he could manage – which was to say, not innocently at all. "That particular book was quite illuminating. Clearly someone did their homework on you."

Jazz's expression turned instantly mulish. "Some of it is familiar, but ya know Ah don't remember enough ta confirm any of it."

"That's why I thought you might like them." He hitched his hip on the side of the berth, resting his weight and letting himself relax. "If you ever wanted to know who you were, what you did, or where you've been, these books could help. Obviously they are not a full recounting, but they are a start."

"This has been what you've been doing down in the archives? Poking around the True Crime section for books on meh like the little fan-bot you are." Jazz sat back and crossed his arms. "Actual research would have been a bit more helpful."

"I was doing that too," Prowl reassured. "In between my rampant bouts of being a fan-bot." He leaned in, optics sparkling. "I never would have guessed how much of a cult interest was invested in your exploits throughout the millenia. Despite being so infamous, it never occurred to me you were also famous in select underground circles."

"It never occurred ta meh, either." By his tone, a carefully even mien that bordered on purposefully dismissive, it was clear that Jazz did not enjoy the topic at hand, no matter that it was about himself. His past self. A creature who lurked in the shadows of the past, spreading chaos and pandaemonium wherever he went – might as well have been an entirely different bot, since it was no longer the bot Jazz was now.

The want for the dissociation was clear when Jazz pointedly asked, "Did you find anything useful down there?"

"Bits and pieces," Prowl admitted with a slight inclination of his head, acquiescing to Jazz's artless topic change. "Nothing particularly helpful to our present cause, but a lot of background context. The True Crime section is, surprisingly, well endowed with topical information on the Psi ex Machina. Perhaps not as useful as what I might have found in a Security Response archive, but since those are no longer accessible..."

A harrumph rattled out of Jazz's vents. "The Psi ex Machina have been around for a while. Have you looked in the Ancients section? Even the Restricted or Private collections might have something a little more informative."

Prowl cast him a jaundiced look. "Clearly you have not visited the archives before. The chambers are massive and have not been tended to for a long time. It is an absolute disaster down there and I am lucky to have found what I have found."

"So Ah should assume you've found nothing on spark research?" One of the few discoveries Jazz had found during the debacle to Shockwave's Iacon lair - perhaps a useless topic, but something worth investigating.

To this, Prowl hesitated, and then looked away. "Research into sparks has always been controversial. The Research Core's published material is down there. The most recent publications before the war were made by Jetfire, concerning research in aberrations in spark behaviour."

"Sounds useful." Jazz paused, connecting designation to a bot he was aware of on the periphery. "He's Decepticon now, isn't he? Travels within Starscream's Seeker flock."

"Unfortunately, yes. Before that, though, Jetfire was among one of the foremost experts on spark behaviour, particularly that of spark-split twins."

Dawning recognition came over the saboteur's faceplate. "He was the one who followed the twins when they were sparked?"


Jazz's gaze turned distant, speculative. "He sounds like a bot worth visiting..."

Prowl's optics narrowed warningly. "Not any time soon, I hope."

"As if Ah could."

Prowl kept his stare narrowed. "When we have a better grasp of who and what we are dealing with, then we will formulate a plan to seek out Jetfire and whomever else we might think can aid us."

Jazz leaned back into his cushions. "And until then?"

"Until then," Prowl drawled, a smile creeping up, "I decided that you needed a night free of this terrible ward. Granted that I doubt you would enjoy being amongst the Autobots in your condition while they celebrate Moonracer's decision to join the Autobots, so I volunteer myself to be your distraction."

Jazz's gaze immediately dropped to Prowl's interfacial panel.

"My optics are up here, Jazz."

Guiltily, laughingly, Jazz's let his optics travel back up to Prowl's faceplate. "One of these orns, Prowler."

Prowl winged an optic ridge up, a half-smile curving his mouthplates. "Perhaps, but for now..." He slipped from the berth and went back out into the adjoining room, fetching the least offensive wheelchair he could find on base. They were in short supply, given their species' decided lack of need for them when Cybertronians, generally speaking, came with their own built-in wheels.

Jazz's disgusted expression gave his opinion freely as the chair approached. That did not stop him from verbalizing his thoughts. "Ah'd rather suck exhaust."

"You don't mean that."

"Don't Ah?"

"You are desperate to get out of here." Proven true the moment Prowl offered his arm and it was taken up in an instant. With ease, Prowl managed Jazz's weight and settled him mindfully in the chair. There was something disturbingly pitiful to see a predator of Jazz's calibre trapped within the confines of the chair, a wish for him to stand again and stalk off with his usual deviousness. His handicap, however, did not effect his handsomeness in the least.

Once settled, Prowl directed them both out of the recovery ward, down the hall in the express opposite direction of the party they were both perfectly aware was raging elsewhere on base.

Jazz glanced fleetingly down the hall. Had he the ability, he would have been in the spark of the mess – no matter if it was in Moonracer's honour. The noise and the movement, writhing frames and glorious frenetic activity. Shouting, rowdy shoving, the possibility for mischief. It was his kind of scene, just the sort of pick-me-up needed to pick Jazz out of the funk he had fallen into.

Prowl, noting the glance, hesitated. "We can go that way, if you wish. Drop in on the celebration for a breem or two."

There was interest in the saboteur's expression, a sad kind of wanting, followed by self-denial and deflation. "Ah'd rather not."

"Alright." He brushed his fingers down the back of Jazz's neck, consoling him softly, reassuring him wordlessly.

Their journey, for the most part, was amiable and uninterrupted. There were few, if any, bots around to cross their paths. With evening having set, it was the graveyard shift for those unlucky few scheduled to patrol the base and watch over the command centre. All other personnel could be found in the more raucous settings of the party.

Their luck ran out passing down a breezeway. From the opposite direction, a spark signature flared just before an ice blue mech roamed into sight. Mirage was alone, pausing only briefly at the other end of the breezeway before carrying forward with his usual regal gait. No surprise to see he had exempted the party. No one would have wanted him there anyways. His expression did not so much as shift as he watched them approach, remaining that usual mask of disdain. The Master Spy caught Prowl's optic sharply.

"Taking your pet for a walk, I see." He tipped his head, mouthplates turned in a sneer. "Oh dear, was that gauche of me? I suppose you would be taking him for a roll."

Jazz opened his mouthplates for his instant acidic reply-

"Hush." Prowl locked his hand about Jazz's shoulder, burned from the searing heat of hostility radiating from the saboteur. He dug his fingers in deeper, making sure it hurt, hoping to stay his partner before he did something regrettable. "Never mind him. Don't give him the satisfaction of reacting."

Though as tense as a taut tension wire, Jazz pressed back into his seat stiffly. His fists clenched so hard on the arms of the wheelchair that he warped the metal. Prowl continued to press forward determinedly, handling Jazz's wheelchair with one hand while gripping the back of Jazz's neck with the other. It was all the tactician could do not to spit his own kind of retort at the Master Spy as they crossed paths.

Despite the buzzing in his head from several files he wished he did not have, Prowl did the unthinkable - the impossible – he stuck his foot out.

With a satisfyingly undignified yelp, Mirage went sprawling across the floor.

Through slitted optics, Prowl put on an extra burst of speed and bustled out of the breezeway before Mirage found his feet again. A headache was blossoming between his optics, but it was worth it. Completely worth it. Jazz craned around to see the damage, looking utterly delighted with what had just transpired. His white optics met Prowl's utterly disbelieving expression. "Did ya just...?"

Prowl took Jazz by the horns and spun his head back around, fighting to keep down his own, slightly crazed, smile. "We will never speak of this moment again."

Though Jazz swore he would not breath a word of it, there was a gleeful light shining in his visor that said he would always think back on this moment with great fondness.

In no time at all, they found themselves rolling through the back sector of Iacon's perimeter, the lights on their tall poles seeming dimmer, the usual activity of base a distant murmur. Here, the massive barricade that surrounded the base towered over them, so high that it appeared to curve under its own weight, blocking out the pinpricks of starlight. In silent accord, Prowl took them to a small, rudimentary lift that guided them to the top.

Rolling along the top, the world could easily be seen as divided in two. On one side, there was the relative bounty of Iacon base – brightly lit, safeguarded by cameras and gun turrets, offering safety and warmth. On the other side, a wasteland of poverty and frigid coldness. A stark reality that Moonracer would have had to live, and was probably a contributing factor to her dislike of Autobots – of whom she could count herself amongst now.

Crinkling in the night breeze caught Jazz's audio, his head canting when he saw the source. "Oh." A polyurethane tarp had been laid out, anchored in place by a rock, a gun, two energon cubes, and a stack of data pads.

Prowl paused before the scene, frowning at how paltry it seemed in the low light. It had looked much more impressive in the evening light when he had first laid it out. When Jazz said nothing more about it, he grimaced. "We can go back inside, if you like. The breeze is cold up here, and it is a little distant from base-"

"No." Jazz glanced back, smiling sincerely. "Let's stay. Ah like it."

Despite the cold, there was a plethora of warmth in the spontaneous smile that lit Prowl's faceplate. They settled themselves nicely onto the tarp, Prowl pointing out all of the advantages of selecting this particular spot to set up their repast. He did not mean to give away how much thought he had put into Jazz's escape, but it came out anyways in the unfettered enthusiasm with which he shared the details. Jazz refrained from teasing, instead flattered but unsurprised that the tactician had put an absurd amount of thought into something ridiculously simple.

In short order, they availed themselves to the delights of the cubes of high-grade Prowl had smuggled up the wall. Frost glittered up the sides of the cubes from being left stranded outside for so long. The energon itself was a stinging and brusque concoction, liquefied energy fizzing and popping all the way down to their tanks.

Prowl enjoyed the light, fizzing flavour of hydrogen infused into the brew.

Jazz, a little more discerning when it came to his high-grade, caught the subtle nuances of neon, argon, and...yes, that had to be xenon in the aftertaste. Playful, light flavours common in Crystal Territory techniques of distilling.

Prowl chanced a discreet glance to the side, gratified to see his plan was working. Although four orns was not long to be trapped in the recovery ward, it had been enough to drain Jazz of his usual presence. His liveliness had faded, mischief replaced by cagey boredom. A small taste of freedom was enough to enliven the saboteur. That indefinable quality about him was back, magnetic in its habit of attracting Prowl's optic no matter where Jazz happened to be.

"Where'd ya get the high-grade?" Jazz wondered, sipping contentedly.

Prowl startled at the question, flustered to find he had been distracted. "The high-grade? It's nothing special." He peered down at his own cube, the light of the liquid reflecting a tropical turquoise. "I found the room the femmes were stockpiling it in honour of Moonracer's pledge."

"Explains the flavour," Jazz intoned absently, taking a sip. When Prowl tilting his head, he explained, "The energon tastes like something out of Crystal Territory. Elita One is from there."

"Ah, I see." Prowl frowned slightly. "It is a little too sweet for my liking."

No surprise there. As a Simfurite, he'd prefer sharp, direct flavours over subtle, sweet ones.

"It was easy enough to appropriate two cubes for ourselves," Prowl explained. "A well-placed page to the guard on duty and a disruption to the security feed in the hall made it easy to procure two cubes."

Jazz hoisted his cube in a hardy toast. "To breaking rules!"

"I learned from the best." Prowl chinked his cube to Jazz's, their high-grade sloshing.

Silence barely fell between them before Jazz asked, "How's Smokescreen doing in Centaurie Tetrax?"

Prowl settled himself and answered, "Fine." He considered their most recent video conference, then elaborated. "Tyger Pax is getting itself back together, so the resource draw on Centaurie Tetrax has lessened. Smokescreen has been acting as an auxiliary second in Tactical, taking care of everything the Head Tactician and his second can't get to in all the joors of an orn. He is getting along well with the division there, and he has found plenty of like-minded bots on base-"

"Meaning he's lured at least a dozen bots to his berth by now."

"Fifteen, at last count," Prowl sighed, looking unimpressed to possess such knowledge of his brother's exploits. "If he were half as good managing his function as he was managing his lovers, he would be a commander and not just someone's second."

"Everyone has their priorities." Jazz shrugged.

Prowl made a low noise of disgust to express exactly what he thought about Smokescreen's priorities.

Jazz swilled his high-grade, contemplating the glowing liquid. "How's Hunter?"

"Still alive," Prowl assured, warmth flooding his expression. "He has finally been placed in a frame, but there are a few corruption issues they are still trying to sort out." He leaned in, shoulder brushing Jazz's arm. "He is having trouble separating memory from reality. He calls himself 'Kingpin' occasionally, thinks Smokescreen is me."


"Some corruption in his data files was to be expected." He tried not to sound put out. To expect otherwise in a bot who was as hurt as Hunter would have been unreasonable. "There is a bright side, though. As Smokescreen tells me, Hunter has not forgotten that he likes to engage in drawn out affairs of physical affection."

Jazz grinned. "Ya mean he won't stop hugging bots."


Jazz patted Prowl's thigh affectionately. "Just goes ta show he's getting back ta normal."

Prowl smiled fleetingly, shuttering his optics. "As normal as he's ever been."

Jazz's rich laugh escaped on a passing breeze.

The wind rattled through them, its touch cold, though the two lone Cybertronians atop the wall barely noticed. A party raged on nearby, deep within the warmth confines of base, and yet was nearly completely forgotten. It was just the two of them, alone, and they were content to remain as they were, even as the joors slipped by. Night deepened, stars glittering ever brighter. Even in the spark of the Dark Season, light from the stars gilded the wastelands into haunting silvers and bronzes caressed by shadow. While the temperature dropped, they stayed warm in each other's company, underneath a secondary tarp Prowl had stored in subspace 'just in case'.

Prowl was nearly dozing when he was jerked fully awake by the feeling of a sleek silver frame stretching out beside him. He only wondered briefly about his company before remembering where they were. There was only a moment's confusion before he realized there was nothing wrong with his gyroscope. Both he and Jazz were stretched out horizontal on the tarps.

"Ah've been thinking," Jazz murmured quietly, staring at the sky.

"That can't be good," Prowl muttered back, slurred as he tried to wake himself up.

Beneath the tarp, Jazz's knuckles nailed him in the side, sufficiently waking him. "Ah've been thinking about what happened the other orn."

Prowl opened his optics wide. "With Sunstreaker?"

"With Firestar."

Prowl shifted, turning onto his side to better see the saboteur. "She is of no consequence. What happened the other orn in the holodeck was an experiment, and it was simply unfortunate that it did not work."

Starlight highlighted the shine of Jazz's silver armour, gilding his horns and caressing the contours of his handsome faceplate. Seeing him as he was under the starlight made Prowl wonder what Moonracer could have possibly been thinking when she'd said Jazz would be better to reformat. No other frame could suit as well as the one he inhabited now.

"She obviously wasn't the right bot for the job." Jazz propped his head on his arm. "Ah'm sorry Ah put ya through that. Ah should have known better... Ah should have thought it through more."

Prowl shook his hand loose of the tarp, reaching up to brush the backs of his fingers affectionately down Jazz's cheek. "No need to apologize. It was worth a try."

"Maybe, but what if..." Jazz's visor flicked back, a mercurial expression flitting through his optics. "What if we tried it again, but differently this time?"

"I don't follow."

"Ah've put a lot of thought into it this time," Jazz insisted, leaning closer. "Four orns worth of thinking it over while Ah was trapped in the recovery ward." The hand not propping up his head shifted under the tarp, first brushing Prowl's chest, and then finding his hand. Their fingers interdigitated.

Prowl suddenly found Jazz's intense gaze extremely compelling.

"Ya need someone ya trust ta be in your head. Someone who knows what you're like, how ya think, when ta push and when ta back off. It has ta be someone who knows ya like ya know yourself."

"Someone like you," Prowl murmured. There was no question about it. With the seriousness of Jazz's expression, there was only one bot he could have been referring to.

Jazz nodded so that his horns glinted in the starlight. "Ah know ya better than Ah even know mahself. Ah think about what goes on in your head more than Ah focus on what goes on in mine." He tugged their joined hands up to be seen in the shadows between them. "Ya trust meh, Prowl, as much as Ah trust you. Why shouldn't it be meh in your head? Ah'd be much better at it than a stupid femme with a clumsy psychometric field."

Prowl looked away, shaking his hand loose. "Jazz, we can't-"

"Why not? This won't be the first time Ah've be in your head." He leaned in, growling when Prowl leaned back. "What's different now?"

"Those times were for business, not pleasure."

"Ah tried ta keep it business with getting Firestar ta come in. Ah tried ta respect your wishes ta keep a certain distance between us. See how well that worked out?" Jazz snorted. "What's wrong with feeling good, Prowl? Why are ya so against it?"

"I am not against it-"

"No? Could have fooled meh." Jazz leaned back with a scowl. "Ah have forced ya feel pain and hatred and sorrow. We've faced those things together and you've managed ta overcome them. What is so wrong with facing the other side of the spectrum?"

Prowl reared back, heat flaring, armour bristling. "Perhaps because the last bot I was truly intimate with ended up dead at the hands of the same organization we are trying to hunt down now?" The pale light of his optics flickered, shadows of memory and guilt lurking. "Those emotions she encouraged me to feel? All they have ever brought me was grief."

"Aren't you tired of being alone in your head, with nothing but Evasia's ghost haunting ya?" Jazz gestured violently. "Prowl, it's time ya let the past go. Ah let mah past go for ya! You've come so far, just take that extra step. Let meh into your head. Let meh do this for ya. Let meh try. There is more ta life than being afraid ta live."

Prowl pushed up on his elbow, meeting a starlit gaze. "Says the bot afraid to take the oath!"

"Then maybe we both need ta take an extra step." Jazz's jaw hardened, his expression determined. "You take the first step. Show meh how." A single claw traced, ghostlike, around Prowl's interface panel. "Show meh that Ah put mah faith in the right mech – the one who's strong, and brave, and willing ta take calculated risks if the reward is worth it. Ah can promise ya, the reward will be worth it."

Prowl gritted his mouthplates, but could not look away. He struggled for the words, nearly choking on them. A part of him, he realized, was screaming to try – to grasp hold of Jazz's offer with both hands and not let go. From the shadows, fear still wailed and railed against it. Against his better judgement, he murmured, "We'll try this. Just once. If it doesn't work..."

"We never have ta speak of it again."

"And if it does work?"

The corner of Jazz's mouthplates kicked up. "We'll go from there."

Prowl dragged in a deep breath of air, surprised to find he had not cycled for a while. The vice around his spark eased, trepidation fading but not completely gone. Fear still lingered, latched on like a disease.

This was not a cold meeting with an ex-pleasure bot, not a sparkless experiment to see what made him tic. This was Jazz asking for the trust that Prowl had already given him vorns ago. It was ridiculous to make the saboteur ask for it again. There was no reason his faith in his partner should waver now, not after all they had already been through.

He could think of this as training, stay cold and logical in his approach to pleasure as he had in his approach to pain.

This was just another exercise to test him to his limits.

But that was a lie.

It was impossible to stay cold when the moment their interfacial connection synchronized, there was nothing but heat.