Title: I am (A birthday gift fic for Taralynden)
Beta: The lovely flybystardancer
Fandom: G1 pre-Earth
Characters: Prowl, Jazz, Optimus Prime
Words: Approx 2900
Warnings: Mentions immature forms of robotic life (sparklings) and mentions robotic reproduction through budding.
Prompts: You don't even know who I am (week 2), and, at Taralynden's request, her prompt from week 1 and I am lost and I don't even know why.
Notes:Written for Taralynden for her Birthday using prompts from livejournal prowlxjazz community's anniversary challenge. Seems so fitting that such a wonderful PxJ author would celebrate her sparking day at the same time as this community's anniversary! She requested that I write for her prompt from week one of the anniversary challenge: And I am lost and I don't even know why. We thus discovered that we are both Neil Diamond fans (something few will admit to, even though he is an amazing artist and poet). The prompt is a line from his song, I am...I said (links to audio and lyrics).
I also chose a prompt for this week: You don't even know who I am.
Happy Birthday to Taralynden. Thank you for inspiring me, without fail, each and every Thursday. I wake up every Thursday saying, "It's Taralynden Day!" and know that the day will be delicious (sometimes with a side of angst and a huge cliffhanger for dessert). Happy Anniversary also to this wonderful comm celebrating such a fabulous and beloved pairing.
Acknowledgments:Inspirations on this story include, of course, Taralynden's Story of a Lifetime, but also Hearts of Eternity's background on Prowl in Where You and I Collide, Ace_of_the_arts' awesome culture-building for preprogrammed mecha in Everything You Never Wanted, and Gatekat's and my meta on adult-sparked mecha in Dark Nobility.
This is set early in the war. Prowl is Prime's chief tactician, but not yet SIC for a reason I hope the story will make obvious. I use "mecha" in this story (I think I picked it up both from TL and Tainry) both as plural and gender neutral singular. I'm also continuing to use Dwimordene's awesome verb "to teek" to indicate the Cybertronian sense of EM fields.
I don't own 'em. Just playin' with 'em and bein' all kinds of naughty.
If someone had predicted, prior to the war, that an adult-sparked, preprogrammed junior enforcer from Praxus would rise to be among the elite officers in Optimus Prime's Autobots, their processors would have been immediately checked for glitches. Then again, who could ever have predicted that a large mech who worked the loading docks (synonymous with slow-in-the-processors for many) would ascend to be Prime, accepted by the Matrix of Leadership which was thought forever lost?
But, while Optimus Prime's story had a sparkling-tale quality to inspire poor, struggling, but proudly freesparked mecha, few found anything about Prowl inspiring They grudgingly might admit his tactics and plans succeeded more often than they failed, or at least managed to keep more of them functioning than otherwise would be. The fact that he seemed to do little else than sit in his office chair and crunch numbers, producing plans and battle tactics like the drone they thought he was, did little to alleviate their prejudice. More often than not, they, just like Prowl intended, gave the credit to Prime's inspired leadership and the skills of their warriors, while paying little heed to his role after the fact.
Everyone knew, of course, that preprogrammed adult-sparked mecha rarely even bought out their contracts if they could, and changing functions was unheard of. Adaptability was the hallmark of freesparked, budded mecha, and, as the tales implied, even those from the most unfortunate conditions were sparked with the ability to change their function, adjust their protocols, to improve upon themselves and transform into something greater. At least that is how the sparkling-tales told it. And those who did not succeed due to lack of energon and other key nutrients, those whose processors never had a chance to fully develop because of what they lacked? Well, they obviously just didn't tighten their own bolts and push themselves up by their own maglevs.
Preprogrammed mecha were so dedicated to their functions, and little else, that they might as well have been drones. At least, that is what was said to justify the slavery conditions they were subjected to. They were rarely given emotional protocols; it wasn't as though they needed to be able to relate emotionally with other mecha when they were the sum of their own unchanging functions. And because of the stress adult upgrades and an adult frame-size put on a new spark, they would function for such a short amount of time (by Cybertronian standards) that the prospect of friendship, love, and bonding for an adult-sparked was a joke. Besides, some murmured, it is better this way. They would be miserable, otherwise.
No, the destiny of mecha who, before the ascension of Optimus Prime, belonged, literally, to the government, was to efficiently, invisibly and selflessly serve their function until their sparks, weakened by the strain, gave out. Then, their frame and coding would be recycled yet again for the new spark who would take their place so efficiently and seamlessly that their free-sparked superiors might not even notice the change. With Vector Sigma controlling the awesome energies of the AllSpark, it wasn't as though sparks were in short supply. With no Prime overseeing the process (and Sentinel before that having had no issue with it) pesky things like ethics and the objections of the Matrix of Leadership were done away with altogether.
Some had questioned the ethics of the system before Optimus outlawed the ownership of mecha by the government, military, corporations or private individuals, but no one questioned that preprogrammed adult-sparked mecha were little more than highly intelligent drones, with functions too complex to be filled by actual drones. Normally, they were mecha who had particular upgrades that took so much spark energy and processing power, little was left for anything else. Prowl's battle computer, used well and regularly by his superiors among the Praxus enforcers (and by four separate sparks who had inhabited his frame before him), was an ideal example of an upgrade that a freesparked would have found crippling.
Prowl knew he was not a drone, but there were more important matters to attend to than setting the record straight on what life as an sigma-sparked mech was actually like beneath the rumors and prejudices. Who, among the Autobots, would actually care to learn about the absolute peace and serenity that came with onlining with such a perfect, clear sense of ones purpose and function, of being able to immediately fill that function and have every subroutine sing with the rightness of it? Who among them would care to know the unity and intimacy he had shared with the cohort of preprogrammed mecha he onlined a part of?
And emotional protocols? Well, the medics never looked closely enough at the most highly guarded secret for the adult-sparked: their sparks, themselves, in the absence of emotive coding, wrote their own, and hid the subroutines within the crystalline matrix of their own spark chambers. Well hidden, protected, deep within where they belonged. As deeply felt as the subroutines downloaded into sparklings and then developed and matured over a lifetime.
Optimus Prime, however, had, somehow, known. He had somehow seen the emotions Prowl hid like precious jewels, just like he had seen that Prowl was far more than the sum of his function, and that his function was so much more than others would have guessed. When Prowl had been discovered, methodically searching for survivors amidst the ruins of the city he could not save, outwardly with the same emotionless dedication as he gave to every other duty, the blue and red mech had pulled him aside, to a private place, and had simply held him until Prowl's frame began to shake silently with the grief contained so deep in his spark.
But even with Prime knowing that Prowl was so much more than others assumed, Prowl was not going to be spending much time outside of his office, where he even recharged, other than to collect the data he needed to make the choices no spark should ever have to make. Iacon was still a living city because of those choices, and he never wished sparks as beautiful as Prime's to have to make those decisions, to send mecha into a campaign knowing that there was less than one percent probability of their return. Prime might have to make such choices in the heat of battle, but Prowl had promised himself that the grueling, premeditated choices would be his alone, as long as he functioned.
And there lie the crux of the matter. Prowl was close friends with his office chair not because he was, as some said, a coward, or because he, as others argued, would not last a klik in an actual battle. He was not bonded with his chair because he was frightened that his all-to-short adult-sparked functioning would be cut even shorter. He was there because he knew his orns were numbered, which was why he was ruthlessly employing his battle computer and other processors to leave Prime with as much as he could before his spark, like those of all adult-sparked, gave out far sooner than his freesparked compatriots. The key to Vector Sigma was lost, and a new spark could not simply be placed in his frame to replace him.
Prowl had known, from the moment he'd onlined, that his functioning would be far shorter than the freesparked. Beyond what his loss would cost the Autobots, one of his few regrets was that no one truly knew what was in his spark. No one knew that reviewing the hours of feed Red Alert sent his way made him love those whom he served so faithfully, as deeply as he had loved his city that had fallen. He might only exchange a firm nod with them, or see them subtly cringe away from him when he happened to refuel in the commons. But to successfully plan for them, he had to know them, better than they ever could have imagined. And those emotions deep within his spark and written into the crystal of his chamber were as strong for the Autobots as they had been for the city whose mecha he had onlined to protect. And his spark was as broken with every Autobot loss as it had been when he realized that there was not a single tactic he could engage, a single plan he could produce that would save the mecha who had so innocently and effortlessly enjoyed the beauty of the Helix Gardens with their sparklings.
"I am," his spark cried out, with no one but the chair to respond (which it did not). More than a drone. More than his battle computer. More than an adult-sparked tool. He had never hated them for thinking such. He had only felt unimaginable loneliness that none but those fellow "drones" he'd already lost would come close enough to know what truly was there, and that it soon would be gone and forgotten, his frame recycled for parts needed to keep the civilians-turned-soldiers alive.
"There's a way, ya know," the black and white saboteur and head of Autobot Special Ops said from the doorway to his office. Prowl vented quietly. The Autobot, who had managed, once again, to break his locking codes and interrupt the little time he had left, was one of the most difficult to account for in his equations. Yet, the chaos Jazz injected into the system, more often than not, came out in their favor. Therefore, many of the scenarios the tactician had drawn up to leave with Optimus included the footnote to trust Jazz to improvise on the plan, however the chaos-maker saw fit.
"As is your custom, you are being vague and elusive in your statement. I am uncertain what you are alluding to," Prowl said, not looking up from the datapad he was transferring his latest scenario to in a format Prime and the command staff could easily digest and implement without him.
"Ya know exactly what Ah'm referrin' t', Prower," Jazz replied, and suddenly the Ops mech was perched on his desk and had removed the datapad from his reach, subspacing it.
"Please return that pad, Jazz. It has valuable information needed by Prime."
"You, mech, are valuable, an' needed by Prime, an' all of us. But ya decided just t' give up rather than do the one thing that would fight it."
Prowl actually had to reboot a portion of his processors at that statement. It was so easily said, but so completely unexpected. He, of course, had heard rumors, even understood the science involved, but he could not fathom a freesparked even being aware of it, much less suggesting what to any sensible budded mech would be an abomination.
"Jazz," he finally said once his vocalizer had rebooted, "as I am certain you have noticed, I do not have a freesparked lover to bond with, nor would I ever shorten the functioning of another to lengthen my own. To do so would be unethical. There is a reason Ratchet has never once suggested it as an option."
"So, ya admit that bondin' with a freesparked would extend yer functionin'. Least yer not in denial 'bout the solution. That's the first step, ya know, lettin' go of the denial." Jazz flashed him a wide grin, and then, to Prowl's dismay, slid onto his lap and began to stroke his sensor panels with far-too talented fingers.
Prowl stiffened and pulled his panels up high and back, trying to get them out of reach of the painfully pleasant sensations he had no time to indulge in, sensations which reminded him far too much of others who had known just how to touch his particular frametype because of the fact that they had shared it. "I do not know if this is your idea of a joke, but may I remind you that I was not coded with emotions and do not find your actions remotely funny. Now if you will allow me to get back to my work, you obviously understand how little time there is left for me to complete it."
Jazz halted his touch, and suddenly his expression was the dead serious one Prowl had seen when the Ops master was in mission mode. "Prowler," he began, and Prowl did not bother to correct him, because he had learned to listen to his fellow officer when his field teeked with the particular intensity it now did. "Ah know ya far better than ya could ever 'magine. Mah 'genitor was an sigma-sparked preprogrammed demolitions expert who bonded with a freesparked. Ah know they say it never happens, but it does. Ah was creation-bonded t' mah 'genitor 'til the day she extinguished. Ah got some of the best of what's in me from her. Ah know that inside ya ain't a drone, yer anything but. Ah know Ah don't know ya as well as Ah should, but Ah know ya well enough to know we can't afford t' lose ya, an' know that your spark ain't gonna shorten mah span anymore than this slaggin' war will. Ya can stick the numbers in that slaggin' computer of yours and see that if we do manage t' make it t' our natural end, it'll be an act of Primus, 'imself"
Prowl was amazed that the statements of his fellow officer were not glitching him. Yet, there was logic to it. He had not failed to notice that Jazz had always treated him with the same rowdy, teasing, yet caring manner with which he treated everyone else, rather than avoiding interactions with him like most freesparked would. His battle computer did exactly as Jazz requested, and of course, found that he was right. Bonding with Jazz did not do anything to statistically shorten the prospects of the saboteur's survival. In fact, having Prowl remain functioning for many vorns to come actually increased the probability of longer survival for Jazz and all of the Autobots. It was a simple, elegant, statistical fact. Prowl did not have false modesty. He knew his swiftly approaching extinguishing put the Autobots at grave risk.
But to bond with someone? Someone he did not even truly know, who did not know him? Who had never shared with him as he had, for vorns, shared with his cohort of adult-sparked enforcers? It was ludicrous. It was the most irrational tactic to have ever been set on the table.
Yet, he not only was considering it, his spark had already assented to the ridiculous notion of bonding to chaos-incarnate. He knew, deep in his spark, that he wanted to continue to say "I am." He was not, nor had ever been a sparkling raised on sparkling-tales of the Well where he could continue to be once he extinguished. For him, the end approaching was truly the end. And the only way for him to continue to say "I am" was to become "we are."
Prowl had never considered the option because it had never occurred to him that a freesparked mecha would even consider it. The only one who would have was Prime, and Prowl could not have allowed that even had Prime known the possibility. The probabilities were so low that only a mech like Jazz could possibly enter it into the equation.
"Yer awfully quiet there, Prowler. What's goin' on in those processors o' yours?" Jazz asked, suddenly looking strangely vulnerable, sitting in such an intimate position with his legs wrapped around Prowl's midsection, hands pressed against his chestplates.
"It is pure insanity, but you are correct. Bonding with you, surviving on the strength your spark will give me, vastly increases your own probability of survival, as well as those of the rest of the Autobots and the neutrals under our protection," Prowl said in the monotone that did nothing to hide the emotions cascading through his spark at the possibility of not only continuing to be, but to be known.
"See, Ah'm just a selfish prick in the ol' armor," Jazz said, his visor winking. "Ah just want t' bond with ya outta self preservation. Not that Ah think Ah need ya t' survive, mind ya, but Ah like hedgin' mah bets."
"Jazz," Prowl said softly as his arms, for the first time reached out to encircle the mech on his lap with fierce protectiveness, hands placed on his back struts warming with a desire he had last felt for members of his own preprogrammed cohort, long gone. He had never assumed any others would know him through his spark, much less bond with him and allow him to remain functioning. "I do not know what to say. What you are offering is something I never have considered."
"Well, just a warnin', love, once we're bonded, Ah'll have ya know Ah expect t' be properly courted, cause Ah always dreamed of a long courtin' with lots of romance. This doesn't get ya outta the work of courtin' me. An I expect ya t' get outta this office an' socialize with me an' others, 'cause Ah'm not gonna be the subject of pity for havin' a bonded who's all work an' no play," Jazz said cheekily, but Prowl thought even his own unusual and hidden emotional protocols could sense that there was more anxiety there than the seemingly indomitable mech let on.
Prowl gave a ghost of a smile that Jazz would come to treasure more than the rarest high grade. "I will endeavor to meet your expectations. It is only fair, considering what you are offering me.