Some of my best inspiration comes from other writers: specifically poets. I cannot write poetry to save my life, but it speaks to me.
My ideas, once generated, need a little time to ferment in the darkness. I wrote the idea for this story about six weeks before completing it over three or four days, and let the Muse chew on it.
This might be how Prowl and Jazz started; who knows?
Once the humans invented cars, Jazz was beyond delighted.
After about 1910 it was possible for any Cybertronian to take on an alt-form and travel the human roads, though these were mostly of laughable quality unless one's alt-form happened to be a horse and carriage.
Jazz himself began to attend concerts – the myriad ways these beings who called themselves "human" had of making music entranced him. Concerts, movies, clubs, the theater: at this point in history, all of them provided music. As a being who could, when necessary, change the color of his own skin, Jazz partook equally of the Deep South fish fry, where all were black and that haunting music known as "blues" had its birth, and the north's formal concert halls for European-derived music. Both were uniquely human, different as they were.
It did not fail to tickle Jazz that the word "human," when translated precisely, yielded the same term Cybertronians used for themselves. This levity on his part was not well-received by Megatron.
Fortunately, Jazz' work took him out of the Nemesis for extended periods, and he did not often report to the Leader himself. Now, for instance, he was giving himself a weekend among the humans, which meant that no work which could not be done incidentally would be accomplished. But the chance of doing incidental work was not to be dismissed, nor even taken lightly; Jazz was as successful as he was at undercover operations because he never wasted an opportunity.
He parked carefully on the gravel, so that the other motorcars spread about could get in and out easily around him. Then his hard-light projection opened his alt-form's door, and got out.
He was standing in front of a building that reminded him of the cheaper housing on Cybertron; a plain, angular, gray tower. He would have been surprised to know that the humans regarded it as a treasure, a survivor of twelfth-century building.
Such were rare in England, even less common in Ireland. But to Ireland had Jazz come, in search of music. Music he found, the place was, to use a human term, lousy with it, and he had found theater here as well: two nights ago he had attended a play at the Irish National Theatre, and there he had met a poet. The two or so hours they had spent together had gone swimmingly, to use another human phrase, and now Jazz was here, an invited guest at a country-house function.
He was reaching into the back of himself to pull out his bag when a young human, nineteen or twenty, said, "Allow me, sor?" and took the bag, then ushered him into Thoor Ballylee, as the place was called, just outside Coole Park, near Galway, Ireland.
There the pair were met by an older human dressed in the kind of suit Jazz' hard-light form had manifested for the theater, and who said, "May I say who is here, sor?" to Jazz, and when Jazz replied, "Chas D'Ecept Icon," said to the younger, "The bag goes to the Green Room, Wills." The man in the suit ushered Jazz into a warm, fusty room on the second floor. There he said, "Mr. Icon," pronouncing it as Jazz had - "EE-con."
A tall man with a large head raised it from paperwork on a desk which remarkably resembled Jazz' own, when he was not on a mission.
The human rose, and came to shake hands with Jazz. "Chas, my dear fellow," William Butler Yeats said, "how delightful to see you. Come and sit down. Will you try the local water of life, or would you care for Scotch or bourbon?"
Even with the impurities which they insisted gave their ethanol "flavor," human high-grade was useable. "I'll try the uisce beatha, thanks," Jazz said, and Yeats beamed at his use of the Irish term.
Yeats, at this point in his life not a well man, poured the drinks and said, "Let's sit on the terrace. I find the sun delightful at this time of year."
In late June 1928, it was indeed warm and dry, usual for Galway that time in the year. The poet led Jazz back down the stairs and around the tower, to a garden laid out to please the eye, butting onto the Coole Woods. He parked them both in chairs under a lovely, centuries-old chestnut tree, his own in the sun, Jazz' out of it.
"This is lovely," Jazz said, because he knew he was expected to say that. And for a bunch of organic stuff, it wasn't bad, not bad at all. Composed like a painting, almost.
Yeats smiled. "It is my place to be, for at least a little while," he said.
Relaxed, a glass of very good Irish whiskey in his hand, Chas D'Ecept Icon learned firsthand that genteel conversation was one of the pleasures of being human.
As the conversation wound down into amicable silences, at the end of the garden, a woman and two children came through the gate. The sparklings, boy and older girl, both shouted, "Da!" and ran across the lawn to greet Yeats, who embraced them from his chair. "And how are you today, Annie? Michael?"
"Fine, Da, fine. And yourself?"
"I am fine too. Chas, these are my children Annie, who is nine, and Michael, who is seven. This is my friend Mr. Icon."
The children bobbed and bowed in his direction Jazz smiled, and said, "Nice to meet you, Annie, Michael."
There mother arrived at that point, saying, "Hello, Will," to the poet, and handing him a wrapped book-shaped package.
The poet laid it on the table, making nothing of it. "George, my dear. This is Chas D'Ecept Icon; I spoke to you of him the other day."
"Ah, so you did. Welcome, Chas. I hope you'll enjoy our little house party."
"George," Jazz said, rising to shake her hand, and did not comment upon the fact that her name was masculine, as she herself was not. Confusions of this sort, he had found, sorted themselves out, or if they didn't and he remained curious, he would at some future point enquire of George herself how this happened. (He would be told "Numerology," which would give him an entire new subject to explore; but that was in the future.)
Annie said, "The book, Da, the book. What's the book?"
"It's an advance copy of a book I wrote."
"A book like Winnie-the-Pooh?" Michael said eagerly.
"No, Michael, not much like Winnie-the-Pooh at all," the Nobel-Prize winner said. "But if you like, we can read some of Pooh after dinner."
"I'd like that!"
Their mother laughed. "Very well, then, off with you to find Nurse! We'll read Winnie-the-Pooh before you go to bed."
"What is a 'Winnie-the-Pooh'?" Jazz asked, watching thin legs twinkle across the sunny yard.
Yeats smiled quite widely at him. "You don't have any children, do you," he said.
Jazz shook his head.
George said, "Perhaps you should join us for the Reading of the Book, then. It's quite a delightful children's story."
"I remember now that I read a review of it in America but they didn't like it much there," Jazz said. (Dorothy Parker had dipped her pen in acid to etch, "Tonstant Weader frowed up," in the New York Times, but children everywhere had proved in this case to be wiser than she. She would later go on to craft "Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses," and thereby found an entire industry called "contact lenses.")
"It's a child's book. It's really sweet."
"Or at least," George's fond husband said, "it was the first eighty-three times we read it."
Jazz met the other houseguests at dinner, a married couple named Owen (he was a short, spare man who limped, an ex-Army officer; she a peroxide blonde who simpered at Jazz all through the meal), and their daughter, who, when the mother began to simper, simpered harder.
"Where were you born, Chas? Your accent is not quite English," Yeats said calmly, pouring more wine around the table.
"Quite a distance from here," Jazz said. As a lie, it was the absolute truth.
"Oh, but where?" said Miss Alice Owen.
"I don't know precisely. My – parents – didn't register my birth properly. I have a Greek birth certificate that's almost certainly fictitious" (because I looked up a dead guy and took his) "but is regarded as genuine, and French and English ones for backup." The young Decepticon shrugged. "Which is fine with me. The English birth certificate gets me a passport, and that means I can travel."
"Oh, but what do you do?" said Mrs. Owen, flashing her rings. She wore more of them than she had fingers, nestled up against each other in a cacophony of metals and gems.
"Market surveys," Jazz said. "It's dull stuff. If Energon isn't for sale in Tidmarch, why isn't it, and whom can we persuade to carry it? That sort of thing."
"Energon?" said Yeats.
"It's an alternative fuel for motorcars."
Miss Alice Owen was bored by market surveys, and turned to the poet. "Did you not say, Mr. Yeats, that Mr. Raoul Otto-Baut would be here?"
"Oh, he will be. I expect him about nine; he couldn't get off work." Yeats signalled for the butler to remove the fish course, and turned to Jazz. "He's an interesting man, Chas; I think you'll enjoy his company."
"If he's anything like those present, I'm sure I shall." Jazz smiled. "An unusual name."
"He's an unusual chap. An American. Had a whacking great American car shipped over here; I don't know why. It's not particularly fast, or particularly beautiful. He says that the Americans drive on the wrong side of the road."
"I can confirm that," Major Owen said. "Charming people, relatively mannerless but not intending to be offensive, you know. And as for the driving on the wrong side of the road, they're a young country. They'll get it sorted out eventually."
Jazz smiled, and treated his holoform to some more wine. It wasn't an alcohol pure enough to serve as satisfactory fuel, but it kept the pangs of hunger away until he could get the Energon out of the trunk and feed himself dinner, as it were.
The organic fuel currently held within his hard-light form? He would go for a walk, vanish and reappear himself; that would leave his meal in the woods for the small creatures to enjoy.
These complications of dealing with the humans bothered Jazz not at all. As for remaining unobserved while he resolved those complications, he regarded that as practice.
And meeting "Mr. Autobot"? That would be interesting.
"Mr. Otto-Baut," said the butler. He shut the door behind a tall, black-haired man with very white skin.
Alice Owen, who had been entertaining them all with some very indifferent singing, if Jazz was any judge (and he was), sprang from the piano her mother had been playing to accompany her, and said, "Mr. Otto-Baut! How very nice to see you again!"
"Miss Owen … Mrs. Yeats, thank you for inviting me." Raoul Otto-Baut shook the hand of his hostess, and went to greet his host.
W. B. Yeats was tone-deaf. He would not grudge his friends and family the amusement of music, but to him, he said to Jazz (shocking the mech considerably), there was very little difference between playing a gramophone and listening to a cat-fight. While Alice was showing off something she really ought, for the sake of public decency, to have kept hidden – or at least this was Jazz' opinion – the poet was at a small desk in the corner of the room, "wrestling," as he put it, "with this damned recalcitrant verse."
While Alice was occupied with her mother, and the Yeatses with greeting the new arrival, Major Owen took the chair next to Jazz, and lit his pipe. "My wife, you know," he said calmly, "is a very great flirt."
"I had observed such, sir. While it is part of her considerable charm, I assure you I did not take it seriously."
"No," said the ex-Army officer, "you didn't strike me as a man who did. Still, old chap, a word to the wise, eh?"
"I thank you for it, sir," Jazz said politely. "It would be a disgrace to disrupt such a charming party."
"So it would, Mr. Icon. So it would."
George arrived, towing Raoul Otto-Baut with her, and made introductions. Jazz was relieved; he had not wanted to tell Major Owen that never in million years ...
The current which flowed between their hard-light forms as they shook hands let each know immediately what the other was, if the names hadn't been enough. Still, this civilized Irish drawing-room was not the time, nor the place, to carry on their war.
The butler entered, and spoke to George. She arrived at Jazz' chair and said, "Come along, Chas; it's time for the Reading of the Book."
"Nice to have met you, Mr. Baut," Jazz said politely.
"And the same to you, Mr. Icon," said the hard-light manifestation of the being whom his friends called Prowl.
After the Reading of the Book, which gave Jazz a great deal of fuel for thought, he returned to the drawing room with George to find the three males guests involved in discussion. Mrs. Owen had retired, and insisted that her daughter accompany her.
"M'wife was getting tired," said Major Owen. "The gel was too, and she gets silly when she's tired. I'm glad Marjorie insisted she go too."
"Well," said George, "as the children have been promised a walk in the woods tomorrow morning, I think I shall retire as well."
"Good night to you, my dear," Will Yeats said. "I shan't be long myself."
"Good night," said George, smiled at them all, and departed.
"Now, my dear Major, you were saying?" said Yeats, and had some more water-of-life.
Jazz wandered to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of gin, the closest thing he could get to fuel here. He hadn't expected the party to go on into the night, or he would have fed himself as soon as he arrived.
Prowl arrived beside him. "I don't care much for that tie you wear," he said, pouring himself some as well.
Jazz' tie showed small interlocking Decepticon logos on a tan background. "I thought perhaps you wouldn't, " he said. "If you want to know why I'm here, it's coincidental. I met Yeats at the theater two days ago. He invited me then. Why are you here?"
"Optimus Prime appreciates Yeats' poetry. He asked me to see if such an advanced thinker would be accepting of knowing about us."
"Huh!" Jazz said said. "Good luck with that."
Prowl's intense blues eyes surveyed him. "Truce while we're here?"
"Oh, yes. This's a reward for me; I like the humans, and I wanna find out more about 'em."
The other man's intense black eyebrows shot upward. "Doesn't Megatron hate them?"
"That he does. But being undercover, y'understand, that gives me a lot of freedom."
Prowl's eyes seemed to bore into his very soul. "I don't understand the loyalty Megatron's troops feel for him. He certainly feels none for them."
Jazz hesitated. He finally said, "I never talked to one'a us who didn't think that he'd be the exception."
Prowl did not comment on this, nor ask him if he felt it applied to him. They joined the others.
The next evening, Miss Alice Owen, who was beginning to be a nuisance, was distracted by the arrival of the Ryans from along the way. They had been invited to make up numbers to dance; they had two daughters and a son.
Jazz rather felt it his duty to his hosts to circulate among the Ryan girls, and danced twice with them both. He was amused to see the Autobot taking the same tack, even dancing twice with Miss Owen. He was, Jazz thought, polite as stink with her, although Jazz could read his distaste for the simpering twit through the black-and-white man's body language.
Jazz' reaction was much the same. And he still, for politeness' sake, danced twice with her.
Jazz' silver hair and eyes did not make him ineligible in the eyes of the Misses Ryan; this surprised him, as he knew his hair color, at least, to be a mark of advancing age among humans. (Why had he chosen it? He just liked it, that's all.)
George turned her ankle while dancing with her husband, which she said made her cross, and declined further offers of partnering. Jazz and her husband talked with her; occasionally Prowl subbed for Jazz.
Around midnight, Jazz escorted the elder Miss Ryan, and Prowl the younger, on a walk proposed by Miss Owen. "Just down to the end of the yard; to the night-blooming jasmine! They're so beautiful! And they smell so wonderful!"
Young Mr. Ryan, who had looked upon the wine while it was red, escorted Miss Owen to the farthest outcropping of the jasmine bush, and there laid hands upon her. She shrieked.
Prowl said, "Excuse me," to Miss Ryan, and went in the direction of the shriek.
He got there too late. Jazz stood over the recumbent Mr. Ryan, one fist clenched, the Owen chit behind him. "It would be much the better if you remembered your manners, you disrespectful young pup!" he said to that youth, who was raising himself up on one elbow, fingering a split lip.
Miss Owen picked up her skirts, and ran past them into the house.
Prowl reached a hand down, and pulled the boy up. "Come along," he said. "Back to the house." He looked over at Jazz, who remained blindingly angry. "You'll escort the girls?"
"Of course." The saboteur pulled himself together.
Prowl himself had much to think of. A Decepticon, who rescued a human from her own foolishness?
The Ryans left. The Owens went to ground with their daughter. The Yeatses said they would be up a bit yet if the two men wanted a smoke outside together.
Prowl and Jazz went out to have some Energon. "That's you?" Jazz asked, seeing the extremely upright and foursquare Buick Brougham Master Six that was Prowl's alt-form.
"Yes," said the Autobot. "And this is you? What's your top speed?"
"A hundred and thirty-five."
Prowl stared at the Bugatti 35C, all curves and grace, like speed sitting still. "It suits you, somehow."
Jazz smiled, and pulled two cubes of energon out of the trunk. "You had dinner yet?" he asked.
The family Owen decamped after breakfast. George corralled both Cybertronians, and said firmly, "Please tell me you can stay until dinner. My husband has gotten a great deal of that damned recalcitrant poem written while you've been here. He says it's your company."
"I can't answer for Mr. Icon," Prowl said, "but I'd be honored."
"Delighted," Jazz said.
Jazz was never sure how it happened, later, but they had wine with lunch, and gin after, and maybe that was it. When the Yeatses went inside from the terrace in the late afternoon, Jazz wound up the gramophone, opened the French doors, and danced with George (gently) to some American jazz, under the beautiful old chestnut tree he and Yeats had sheltered beneath when he first arrived.
Prowl re-wound the machine when it showed signs of slowing. He went out to sit under the shade of the branches, but Jazz sat George down, intercepted him, put his glass of gin down on the table with Jazz' own, and swept Prowl into the rhythms of the music with him.
Some time later, he realized that he had himself been swept away as well.
William Butler Yeats looked out of the door at them, and smiled. He had now worked on "Among School Children" for eight months, and the coda, until this minute, continued to elude him.
W. B Yeats watched his guests dance with one another for a time more, while the words whirled and then settled inside his head. He blotted his pen, and carefully wrote,
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
Ten years later, immediately following the death of William Butler Yeats, Jazz arranged to meet Prowl at Coole Park, to defect.
"No. I don't need backup," Prowl said, at the daily senior staff meeting. "I'll go in alone, and escort him to Dublin. Once we're there, Skyfire can give us a lift home."
"You're my SIC, Prowl. Jazz is one of the 'cons best undercover agents. Sending you in alone is too large a risk."
Optimus' tone of voice was not conducive to argument. Still, Prowl said, making little of it, said, "I've met this 'con socially, sir. If he says he is ready to defect, I believe him."
"He likes humans, sir. In particular, he likes their music. I saw him protect one, once."
He told the story of Coole Park. Their several reactions were predictable: Ironhide snorted, Perceptor, Wheeljack, and Ratchet all looked interested, and Red Alert looked paranoid.
Optimus frowned, and said, "What are is the chance that he will harm you, kill you, or turn you over to the 'cons?"
Prowl's battle computer sometimes ran his mouth without his conscious effort. It did so now. "Zero point two four to one, zero point zero seven to one, and zero point zero two to six."
Optimus studied him carefully. "Still, this is based on spending a few solar cycles with him ten years ago, is it not?"
"Yes, sir. We do not have a long acquaintance, and I've only met him once." He paused. "If he will accompany me, perhaps Ironhide would stay out of sight, and give me cover? Or the twins major?"
"A good plan, Prowl. The twins it is. Bring him to us."
Thoor Ballylee was by that time unoccupied; Yeats had died in France. Prowl and the twins drove to Coole Wood, where the twins took cover; the trees were of a height to hide them all.
Jazz arrived, and transformed.
The black-and-white and silver mechs stared at one another, blue and red optics held.
Jazz realized Prowl was still the most beautiful 'bot he'd ever seen in his life. "I never forgot dancing with ya," he said. "Here." He handed the Autobot a tiny thing, so small it fit into the palm of Prowl's hand.
"What is this?" Prowl said curiously.
"'S a human datapad. 'S called a 'book.'"
The copy of Yeats' "Collected Works" contained "Among School Children."
Prowl realized later, after he had learned to read English, that it would be many years before he knew the dancer from the dance. But maybe, with both of them on the same side, he'd have those years. Now, he said simply, "I never forgot it either," and subspaced the book.
"Come on," he said to Jazz, and transformed. "This way."
Jazz transformed into an Autobot, and followed him away from Thoor Ballylee.