Soundwave unshuttered his optics to see a rust-streaked ceiling, same as the seven cycles before that. It was old metal, its paint long since scraped away, heavily oxidized by the humid and salty air pumping through vents. The look of it was very familiar to Soundwave, having spent so many years working down here. There was a strange symmetry to it, being back on the Nemesis after all this time, locked up as a prisoner in its brig. It should have collapsed years ago, Scrapper had assured them all, crumpled under the weight of the ocean sometime after the Decepticons had moved to their new base in Arabia. But the Autobots did have a very creative engineer, and it was of course the one place Megatron would have never looked. One missile would have been enough to destroy all of it, if only the Decepticons had known. And then everything would have ended very differently. He shuttered his optics again.
Acid rain dribbled through the shredded walls, pooling dangerously close around Soundwave, but he didn't dare stand - didn't dare make any move at all. He just hugged Jazz closer to his chest, trying to ensure none of his plating touched the floor. Three large rifle barrels were currently aimed at his head, hostile blue optics at the other end of each, and the only reason no triggers had yet been pulled was Jazz himself.
"Jazz, severely injured," he pleaded. "Immediate medical attention required."
"Set him down then," Prowl ordered crisply. "Slowly. And back away."
Soundwave shook his head. "This, not possible." He tried not to flinch at the sound of Ironhide's trigger easing into position. "Soundwave, keeping Jazz alive. Separation may result in termination."
"That a threat, Con?" drawled Ironhide.
"Sounds more like a desperate bargain to me," Prowl evaluated. "First Aid?"
There were more Autobots there now, all of them actually, grim shadowy figures filtering into the ruined room and surrounding him. Soundwave kept his gaze forward, while the Protectobot knelt and checked for Jazz's vitals.
"He's right that Jazz is alive… I don't know how, with a shotwound like that, but he is. I can feel his spark spinning."
"And the rest of it?"
First Aid hesitated, and looked from Jazz to Soundwave, who returned his stare impassively. The light behind his blue visor was wan and exhausted, but there was a sureness there too. He'd grown, sometime since their last encounter. "If Soundwave says he's keeping Jazz alive, then he is. We should get them both on the shuttle."
Ironhide started to protest, but Prowl cut him off neatly. "On your pedes then, and do it slowly. Make any unexpected motion, and we will certainly kill you. Do you understand?"
"Understood." Cautiously he pushed himself to standing, no easy task while cradling the weight of Jazz in his arms and trying very hard not to jostle him. "However, request made."
"This much asked: that Autobots reroute to provided coordinates before departing city, and take symbiotes prisoner too."
"Is that all? Anything else we may do for you?"
"If symbiotes left behind, they will come," Soundwave assured Prowl. "They will follow me, find your location, and attack. Autobots, best served by taking them captive."
"And you would tell us this, why?"
"Because Soundwave, done fighting. This, my surrender."
He'd said nothing more, but that was enough. Prowl judged his logic and thankfully, concluded that it was worth their time to stop by Soundwave's home and take his four very surprised symbiotes prisoner, before leaving the ruins of Iacon behind them. Soundwave had done exactly as ordered, carrying Jazz up and out of the headquarters and into their escape shuttle, a gun barrel pricking him in the back of the head all the while. He would not let himself look at anything else, didn't dare peer into the shadows lest he see something that might break him completely. He'd only dimmed his optics and concentrated on finding safe footing wherever he stepped. He was not allowed to dock his cassettes or even speak to them. The spacebridge swallowed their transport whole, leaving Cybertron behind, after which he heard a tremendous explosion that could only be Earth's end of the bridge blowing up.
That was all over an orn ago, or to be more correct, one week of Earth time. After First Aid had Jazz hooked into some proper life support systems in the old medbay, he'd been shoved into the brig and mostly ignored ever since. He was the only occupant; the individual cell bars were not activated, probably because the ship couldn't spare the energy. They'd chained him to the wall instead. His cassettes were kept elsewhere, separate from him and separate from each other, and after a week of it he could feel they were close to boiling over with anger and fear. To say nothing of Laserbeak, recovering from her injuries. Twice First Aid had entered the cellblock, and asked him a few very specific and pointed questions about her physiology while a glowering Ironhide kept guard. By this Soundwave cautiously presumed she was being given medical attention. That and the longstanding knowledge that Autobots did not execute prisoners were all he had to cling to, since they no longer had any reason to keep him alive, and he didn't dare ask for more. He ached to dock his cassettes, though. He wanted to hold them close, comfort them, explain away their confusion. Mostly he just missed them. Soundwave was alone, lost in the wake of his empire's destruction, and his kind was not meant to be alone.
At the end of the hall, the door banged open. Not enough hours since they'd last brought fuel; this was something different. Soundwave unshuttered his optics again and scrambled to stand, expecting First Aid and Ironhide again, hopeful for news of his symbiote's recovery. So he was quite taken aback when young Hot Rod himself marched into the cell, Prowl unhappily trailing him.
"Is it true?" he demanded, hands on hips. "About your cassette things? Will they die if they're kept away from you for too long?"
"Affirmative," he answered promptly, without stopping to clarify just what 'too long' really meant here. Vorns, maybe.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Soundwave, in no position to make demands."
"Well I'm not gonna let a bunch of tiny bots die just because they're in a different room," he announced to everyone present. "We'll rotate them in here one at a time, each for a cycle - or whatever it is on this planet."
"Sir," Prowl spoke up, the civility of the address clearly strained to the breaking point. "Again I must advise caution. You are looking at one of the most dangerous Decepticons in the galaxy, and I can think of three separate reasons why it would be unwise to -"
"I dunno why you guys are so hung up on this thing in my chest, if you won't ever listen to me while I'm listening to it." Impatiently Hot Rod thumped his armor plating with a huff. "It's the right thing to do, Mr. Prowl. So we do it."
Prowl dimmed his optics wearily. "Yes, Prime. I'll arrange a schedule."
"I told you, just Hot Rod. Or… Rodimus, I guess, if you want." Cheerfully he clapped his hand on Prowl's shoulder, who could only sigh. Soundwave watched the exchange and activated his vocalizer again.
"Soundwave, pleased by Jazz's recovery."
"Yeah, me too. I wasn't so sure at first, but he's sitting up now and- oh, wait. How did you know?" By his side, Prowl looked beyond exasperated, and Soundwave was tempted to smirk at him.
"Only Jazz would have told you cassettes require synchronization. His convalescence, welcome news."
"You do not get to see him," Prowl said sharply, "before you waste your time asking."
"Perhaps new Prime will think otherwise."
"Umm." Uneasily Hot Rod looked from him to the brittle coldness in Prowl's optics. "I think we'll just leave it at the cassette guys for now. Okay? Let us know if you need anything else."
On that rather absurd remark, he grinned at Soundwave and departed, leaving Prowl to fix him with one last icy stare. "The naivete, charming though it may be, will not last forever. Sometime soon he is going to remember that you tried to kill him the night you met, and perhaps then we will reconsider the value of your presence here. Wait for it."
"This task, accepted. Soundwave, very patient."
Prowl marched out of the brig, his steps small and brisk, and Soundwave waited until he was gone to sink back to the cold floor. Autobots had never threatened to kill a prisoner before. He wondered if by saving Jazz, he'd doomed himself.
Another seven Earth days came and went. True to the young Prime's word, the Autobots escorted one symbiote to his cell at the time of his refueling, each of them in turn. Laserbeak was first, still a pitiful picture trussed up in splints and braces. It seemed there was no time she had not been injured for orns now, and it was she that Soundwave was most desperate to dock. They had to be content with just cuddling and petting, and of course, explanations. He owed all of them so much explanation, and five times over he had to tell the story. How he found Jazz, and then Hot Rod. What Jazz had done to Laserbeak, how much more he'd threatened to do, the shocking revelation by the Matrix, Jazz's death and the miraculous undoing of it. His cassettes were near unanimous that he shouldn't have bothered.
Not at all to Soundwave's surprise, they were furious with Jazz, their bitter hurt palpable through symbiotic links. They felt betrayed, which Soundwave could well understand, and he did not try to reason them out of it. He just held them, let them spit their angry invective and threats, and when they were done docked them so they might find true rest and peace from a frightening new world. Not Laserbeak, though. She had no anger, just crushing despair. She had loved Jazz with her whole spark and nearly died by his hand. It was a wound that might never heal.
In the night hours of the seventh day, Soundwave unshuttered his optics again. Something had roused him from his recharge - a sound, maybe, or something he'd felt. Nothing so noisy as a door banging open, but now that he was listening he could hear the soft scuffles of someone moving into the cell. Frenzy wasn't the cause, dozing on his chest. Immediately he dialed his visor up to its brightest gain and found Jazz, cautiously using a cane as a brace to settle himself on the floor. When he saw Soundwave was awake, he slipped him a small smile.
Soundwave shot upright and Frenzy fell into his lap with a squawk. He opened his mouth to complain, then saw the reason, and his optics blazed furiously. "You!" he snarled. And he would have elaborated on that word in so many creative, vituperative ways, but Soundwave was already opening his chest.
"Frenzy, return now."
"Now!" He let all his fear and anxiety flood into the link, knowing Frenzy would assume it pertained to his own safety, which wasn't completely untrue. Unhappily Frenzy swallowed back his tirade, glaring spitefully at Jazz, then folded up and slotted into Soundwave's chest. Jazz said absolutely nothing while this took place, chin on one drawn up knee and watching Frenzy in silence. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking.
Soundwave stowed his symbiote away, returning the dim cell to silence, but once this deed was done he had no idea what to say. Jazz had always started their conversations, but now he was just sitting and watching him so quietly, face a perfect blank. For the first time since he'd come here, it occurred to Soundwave to wonder if Jazz even remembered their strange encounter with Blaster. Did it even really happen? If only Jazz would speak. There was something wrong about the way he looked, too, but Soundwave couldn't quite place it. Maybe it was the welds marking his injuries, still fresh and criss-crossing his torso in abundance. When he saw Soundwave looking at them, he traced his thumb lightly down the path of one.
"He's dead, you know."
Startled, Soundwave looked back to Jazz's gaze. It was somber, not gleeful the way he would have expected with such an announcement, but he had no doubt whom Jazz meant. Stiffly he nodded.
"Are you okay?"
"Soundwave… attempting to not think about it. Attempting to not contemplate this loss in leadership, or how life has been changed forever for Soundwave, and symbiotes. Attempting very hard. But this task -" Soundwave had to stop and reboot his vocalizer. "-difficult."
His hands had begun to tremble again, just like every time in the past fourteen days he'd shoved these thoughts away. Megatron was dead. The mech he'd served for most of his lifetime was gone, and his absence gaped like a dark wound in Soundwave's spark. Somehow, by virtue of never hearing it aloud, he'd managed to keep himself in some level of floating denial. But now Jazz had come, and Jazz was telling him, and the truth couldn't be avoided anymore.
"So many vorns, in his service. Soundwave… unsure of direction to take, now. Everything that was known - gone." Ancient loyalty protocols cramped and he convulsed at the sudden pain, for one second thinking himself on the brink of another faint. But this time Jazz's arms caught him before he could tip forward, hugging him with a strength Soundwave wouldn't have expected considering those welds.
"I know exactly how you feel," Jazz whispered into his audio. "And you're going to be alright. You're going to survive this, and you'll be better in the end. You're all going to be just fine." The engine in his chest kicked up a soft, comforting purr, something Soundwave associated with more pleasant memories, and his hand rubbed gentle circles across his back.
"You won't be for long. I won't let you. 'Soundwave mine', right?" His wheezing ventilations hiccuped with surprise, and he heard a low chuckle. "D'you think he can see us, right now? D'you think he's watching?"
"Sure do. Not every day I meet one of my best friends on the wrong side of the grave. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye… but it's okay. I think he got what he wanted." He pulled back a fraction, just enough that it would have been an ideal position for a kiss, but hardly had the idea entered Soundwave's head when the door to the brig banged open.
"Busted," sighed Jazz, and settled himself back against the wall. Soon enough Prowl was looming over them, those door panels of his held high and stiff with anger. Languidly Jazz grinned up at him.
"Hey good lookin'. Come here often?"
"Do not even," Prowl said curtly. "You will get away from him, now."
"Shouldn't strain your vents, Prowler. Soundwave won't hurt me; he saved my life."
"He saw which way the battle was going and used you to bargain for the safety of himself and his team. It was shrewd but hardly generous."
"Didja now?" Jazz flashed Soundwave an approving glance. "Not bad. Next you might even learn how to lie."
"That task, best left to you."
"Are you quite through?" Prowl asked impatiently.
"No. How long do you expect to keep Soundwave and his team locked down here? We can't afford to feed six mouths."
"I know. Taking prisoners was not part of the plan for a reason."
"Course, it'd be a different matter if he was allowed to contribute…"
"No. Do not say it - I forbid you to say it."
"We need a comms officer, Prowl. And he's the best to be had."
"No, Jazz. We need a comms officer. We do not need a telepathic Decepticon and his five spies loose in the base, around traumatized Autobots that still can't recharge through a full cycle. Do you expect to sit Bluestreak next to him in a meeting? Shall we put him in a room next to Sunstreaker?"
Jazz tipped his head back against the wall, looking resigned. "Didn't miss how good you are at winning arguments. You're right; Soundwave can't be here. So, we'll go."
"When Aid gives me the all-clear, I'll take him and we'll go. We'll leave the base, his cassettes too."
"Jazz, you belong -"
"Say it, Prowl," Jazz warned, a dangerous sharp edge to the words. "Say that I 'belong' to the Autobots."
The light in his visor narrowed at Prowl and that's when Soundwave realized what had been bothering him about Jazz's appearance. Prowl was bearing the Autobot brand on his chest. First Aid was too, the sigil newly repainted since his escape. But there was nothing on Jazz's chest; he hadn't repainted it.
Prowl was biting back a response, and tried again more diplomatically. "You belong with us, Jazz. You carried this mission; you engineered the escape of every imprisoned Autobot on Cybertron."
"Some of whom are still shootin' some unhappy looks at me when they think I don't see. Don't bother denying it; I know what you've heard. They need time, Prowler. I need time. And you need someone out there, keeping tabs on our new human allies, watching for trouble. I'm good at that and so is Soundwave's team. So I'll go, and I'll take them with me."
"You are in no position to decide you can simply 'take' any prisoners outside of this base."
"Say no and I'll just break them out."
"I'm good at it," Jazz assured him, and tilted his head toward Soundwave. "Ask him if you don't believe me. We'll go, and we'll come back when the Autobots are good and ready to have us."
"Jazz," Prowl tried again, and Soundwave could see he was exercising extreme patience. Gratifying, to know he was not the only one who'd ever dealt with Jazz when he was like this. "You have just spent the last year doing everything that you could to escape this mech. You don't have to do anything for him."
"You're right, I don't!" His visor lit up with bright blue happiness at the very notion of it, smile spreading wide. "And that's what makes me want to."
Seven months later marked the day the cassettes - most of them - forgave Jazz. It had not been a quick road. The day they all left the Nemesis Rumble and Frenzy had loudly, forcefully, violently explained their feelings to Jazz and informed him they would never in the lifetime of this galaxy forgive him for what he'd done. To which Jazz, mildly enough, replied that he wouldn't have to change their minds. It sounded arrogant, as so many things out of Jazz's mouth did, but as the weeks stretched into months Soundwave came to understand what Jazz meant. The mission was merely low-key scouting and surveillance, tasks his cassettes had been built for, and without the stress of holding together a disintegrated empire their innate enthusiasm for the work resurfaced. They loved Earth and loved being back on it, relishing their chance to spy and explore without the boring chores like monitor duty or taking minutes. And they also, as Jazz reminded Soundwave, loved him - had always loved him more than Megatron or the Decepticon cause. In the end it didn't matter to them at all where they worked or what they did, so long as they could be safe and together.
As promised, Jazz kept his distance from them, never tried to touch one of them or speak unless spoken to. He just let the languid days and plentiful sunshine do its work, until the day came that Rumble found a dead rat and threw it square at Jazz's windshield. Jazz said that as far as truces go, the twins had a language far more mysterious than his own music files. And still later that night, after they'd managed to get cleaned off, Laserbeak allowed him to pet her wings.
Monsoons had been moving through the area, but the next day dawned warm and clear. Soundwave was standing on a beach, somewhere on the Australian coast, the endless blue sky now doubled by the ocean before him. It would be a tranquil, serene moment if not for the music thumping from Jazz's powerful new speakers, which he somehow managed to play even louder than the roar of his own engine. Sand sprayed out from under his tires as he tore down the beach, occasionally drifting on purpose through the surf to throw up a wall of water. Soundwave could hear the whoops of delight from the ridehitching twins, Laserbeak and Buzzsaw soaring overhead. Ravage was further inland on a side mission - still many years to come before he would ever forgive. This bothered neither Soundwave nor Jazz, so long as he wasn't actively engaged in slaughtering Jazz and still willing to dock within Soundwave. Inevitably, he would come around.
Soundwave tilted his head further back, considering what was on the other side of all that blue. Not long now before Starscream would be in range, because inevitably he would be coming around too. Cybertron needed fuel and Earth had it, in spades. Prowl and Rodimus had been busy working with the new human government, negotiating how much fuel could be set aside for parley. Soundwave was inclined to think Starscream would take it. He'd always been his most irrational where Megatron was concerned, but faced with actual leadership, a reduced army, and his own passion for the future of science, he would probably choose trade over war. Especially if it was Skyfire who met him at the bargaining table. Should he decide he wanted a fight after all, Jazz and Soundwave's reconnaissance work had laid more than enough groundwork for one that would end in their favor. Jazz was right about this much too: Megatron was gone now, but Soundwave still had purpose, his family and worthwhile work. So far from his home, but surrounded by everything that mattered most, Soundwave was no longer lost.
The music had dwindled, and Jazz was no longer in sight. Soundwave didn't mind. Because he knew, as well as he knew anything in this world, that Jazz would come back. As long as Soundwave waited, he would always come back.
*** THE END
Heartfelt gratitude is extended to all my readers for sticking patiently by until I got here. It used to be my habit to host a casual round-table discussion at the tail end of any completed story, to discuss themes and answer any reader questions, but ff net has become much more hostile to that since the last time I finished a story (eight years ago). So I'll do it over on AO3 instead, where I'll be done posting the story in a few weeks. Same author name, same story title.
In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions here. The story is officially done, gone, over, so if there's any questions unanswered, some plot thread you're still wondering about, now's pretty much your chance. If it's something that I can answer, I will. Many of you have also expressed a desire to reread the whole thing, now that you know Jazz's secret plan, to which I will also recommend you to AO3, since I think their formatting is better and also they have the nifty feature of allowing me to include artwork in my chapters. Whatever you do, I'm just glad you're here and that you enjoyed the story enough to get this far. I appreciate you all so much!