The idea for this fic came from a review left for "Beginnings" by femme4jack. Then, for "Meet Me in the Middle," Botosphere's Eowyn77 left another iteration of it: "I'd like to see a fic wherein Jazz convinces Prowl to leave the 'cons and join the 'bots."

I did not quite fulfill every bit of that request. I tried: but the Muse ran away with the story and refused to let me have it back until I was willing to tell it her way (the same thing happened with "Campaigns Pelliquum and Jazz"). I truly hope this is close enough. If not ... bunnies lurk, the thought has been typed and saved, and named. Fear not. We'll get there.

Another in the "Jazz Meets Prowl for the First Time" series, with "Dancer from the Dance," "Rock and a Hard Place," "Beginnings," and "Meet Me in the Middle."

Now that I've spoiled the ending for you, let's see if you like the journey to it.

Not mine, not for profit.


Prowl sat down in the Enforcers' mess with his morning energon and performed the Cybertronian equivalent of opening the morning paper: he accessed the latest news files.

It was the first time in five orn that he had been able to do so. Many Enforcers had resigned and departed Praxus in the long siege the Decepticons had laid to the city, and those left behind pulled double and occasionally treble shifts. Prowl, whose self-discipline was already a legend among his fellows, had worked five straight shifts before sleeping through most of two orn, his regularly-scheduled orns off. He was, in fact, still tired.

Those who left had enlisted either with the Autobots, troops sustaining the government, or Decepticons, to whom Prowl privately applied the label "the ones who called the Senate on its bovine-equivalent exhaust fumes."

Privately, because politics had become such a loaded subject that he avoided all discussions thereof, even with his close friends. He'd seen fistfights break out among his superior officers over Cybertronian politics.

Of late, he mused, perusing the latest news, it seemed that Optimus Prime had realized that some flaws in the Senate's thinking existed. He hadn't done anything about that yet beyond debating them.

Primes were beings above and beyond the ken of the average Cybertronian, in which group Prowl placed himself without hesitation. He didn't know what drove the mech, could not, but when this Prime debated the Senate over several matters, large and small, Prowl found himself in agreement with the Autobot leader's thinking.

Too bad he still wasn't doing anything about his difference of opinion with them. This was a very young Prime, however; Prowl had hopes he would buck up and bring the Senate to heel.

It was also true that the Senators were far from unanimous in their own thinking. One member had already resigned, a mech named Ratchet, who had taken medic's training and joined the Autobots.

It remained no part of the Enforcer's job to play politics. It was an Enforcer's job to apprehend those engaged in law-breaking, and to do so without fear or favor, as the humans would put it several thousands of millennia hence. Prowl had, and would again, arrest drunken Autobots and drunken Decepticons; he would break up armed and unarmed confrontations between the 'bots and the 'cons when they occurred on the streets of Praxus, and again use lethal force against either side if he thought it necessary to safeguard his fellow citizens.

To be fair, though, it was the 'cons and not the 'bots who most often had to be offlined.

He would, in short, enforce the laws of Praxus. Without favor, and if he experienced fear, he would put it aside. Prowl closed the news files, and got to his feet.

A loud, and familiar, voice sounded outside the mess; someone who knew Prowl well might have seen him smile. A large green mech with gray markings, diagonal slash ending in a ball, entered in the laughing center of a group of Enforcers.

The mech's optics glowed when he saw Prowl. "Hey! Sunshine! How ya doin'?" he said, and offered his forearm in the Enforcer shake.

Prowl clasped the warm plating. "Clade. I'm fine. Yourself?"

"Doin' okay, thanks," Escalade said, returning the clasp. "'S it true that you worked five straight shifts?"

"Yes. Slept through my orns off."

"Look, come over to my place next time you have an orn off, huh? We haven't played redfletch or even Embargo in too long."

"You still play Embargo? We grew up on that."

"'S the simplest games that require the best strategy."

Prowl found himself smiling. "Sure. I'll ping you."

"Be sure you do it, okay? I'll get some rust sticks laid in."

"I'll bring the mid-grade."

"Deal. See ya!"

The group swept Prowl's oldest friend away, and he moved toward the door, but not before he heard someone in the group say, "What do you see in that grind, Clade?"

Clade said, "We've been friends a long, long time, and I wouldn't trade Prowl for - "

The door shut behind Prowl, and he never did learn what his equivalent commodity was.

LATER THAT SAME ORN

"You would, you know, be working against your former colleagues. Sometimes, you would be the direct cause of their deaths."

"Ain't like any of 'em are my friends," the young mech said. "You don't have friends in th' ranks if you're a 'con, nobody you trust, only somebots you hate less'n most of the others."

He was not that much older than the very young, and very large, mech he sat across from. A slightly smaller, much older mech sat beside Optimus, the newest Prime, not at all relaxed, his shoulder cannons charged.

The applicant/prisoner smiled at both Ironhide and Optimus. Optimus found himself returning the smile. Still ... "You do understand that it would be a while before you could be sent on missions. We'll ask you to fight with us as a frontliner, then, once we're sure of your loyalty, send you to Special Operations."

"I got no problem with that," the young 'con, whose name was Jazz, said. "In fact, I wuz gonna volunteer t'be hacked. Only that way can we both be sure Soundwave didn't leave somethin' in my processor I ain't aware of."

Optimus cocked an optic ridge in Jazz' direction. "Do you have any reason to believe that's been done to you?"

"Nah," said Jazz. "I don't think he knows I exist, outside'a the mind-read he gives every new recruit."

"I ... see," said Optimus, who honestly didn't know what to make of this mech, or for that matter the fact that Soundwave hacked all the new recruits. "Well, I'll comm Ratchet, and we'll get that underway. You'll wait for him in the brig, I think."

"I think so too," said Ironhide, getting up. "C'mon, 'con. I'll take you back."

On the way through the Prime's quarters and offices, Jazz said to Ironhide, "Ain't you the 'Ironhide' who was a 'con too, for a while at least?"

"Yeah. I quit 'cause Megatron's crazy. Why'd you?"

"Pretty much the same reason," said the small black-and-white mech. They'd reached the cell in the brig from which Ironhide had fetched him earlier that morning. "Here," Jazz said, handing the weapons specialist the cuffs. "Think you might want these."

He entered his cell, pulled the door to behind him, sat on the bunk, and smiled at Ironhide. Who looked back and forth from him to the cuffs a couple of times, then shrugged, sent the pulse that locked the door, and left the cell area.

A HALF-JOOR LATER

"You might wanna be a little cautious around this'n," Ironhide said to Ratchet.

They were watching The Jazz Show on the brig monitors. Nothing much was happening at the moment; the main character was sitting on his bunk, one knee up and his servos clasped around his ankle, staring at nothing.

"Oh?" Ratchet said. "Why's that?"

"He can get outta a pair of stasis cuffs."

Ratchet smiled. "Not if he's offline, he can't," he said.

The medic entered the brig, Ironhide beside him.

"Morning," he said to his putative patient, stopping in front of the cell door. "I'm Ratchet, and you volunteered to be hacked."

"Hiya," said the prisoner, rising. "I'm Jazz, and yeah, I did."

Ratchet removed a pistol-handled tool from his bag while Ironhide was getting the stasis cuffs out, and fired it at the young mech, who dropped back onto his berth, completely offline.

Ironhide looked at Ratchet. The medic said, "What? You said he could get out of stasis cuffs," and entered his patient's cell.

FOUR JOOR AFTER THAT

Ratchet knocked on Optimus' door, but didn't enter, only put his helm around the frame. "He's clean," he said. "The one designated 'Jazz'."

"That was fast," Optimus said, looking at his CMO somewhat askance and not quite asking why.

"I took him off-line to hack him. Ironhide said he could get out of a pair of stasis cuffs, and so I figured why not."

"He fight you?"

"Didn't give 'im the chance. We introduced ourselves and I zapped him without warning him first."

Optimus' optic ridges elevated. "I assume you had a reason to do so?"

"Sure. After that, if he stays with us, it's because he really wants to be here. Gotta go; see you later."

Optimus sighed as Ratchet's upper portion disappeared from his doorway.

TWO DECAORN LATER

Prowl ambled in off the street after two back-to-back shifts, and dialed up two cubes of energon. The rule was, you were entitled to as many cubes as you had stood shifts.

Clade, on his way out the door, waved from across the room, looking as tired as Prowl felt.

He sat down, sighed, and put his pedes up on the chair across from his own. Bliss.

His shifts had been ... odd. There was continuous riot in the streets. He hadn't seen a femme or a sparkling for those joor he'd been on duty - nor, come to think of it, any of the congregation of the Negotiably Affectionate, either, and that was a very bad sign. If they weren't out Negotiating, the street was truly dangerous.

The first cube tasted surreally good. He'd wait a few minutes to open the second.

Prowl's immediate supervisor, Loyale, came in and dialed up a cube. Prowl stood, pedes complaining, as protocol demanded; but Loyale arched an optic ridge at him, said, "Prowl. Didn't you just come in off two back-to-backs?"

"Yes, sir." This though Loyale was a femme; it was the standard address for a superior.

"Then sit down, mech. I'll take your report verbally. You've been doing a great deal for us, Prowl. A great deal for Praxians, as well."

"Thank you, sir," he said, reseating himself. He wanted to hook a chair closer and put his feet back up, but, being Prowl, he didn't.

Loyale sat opposite him. "Before you give me your report, aren't you sitting the sergeants' exam next week?"

"Yes sir. Three orn from now."

"I have no doubt you'll pass it," she said, twiddling her cube between her fingers, "but I am going to waive the necessity of a year at rank, and ask you to take the sergeant-at-arms examination at the same time."

"Sir. I'm flattered."

"So you should be, mech. I have never before allowed anyone to take both those tests simultaneously. But it's ... difficult ... out on the streets right now, and if any of us can skip a grade, it's you." Loyale's gray optics peered into his. "Rumor has it that you've requested leave for an upgrade installation."

"Yes, sir. A battle computer, sir."

"A battle computer."

"Yes, sir. It provides better tactical information and some upgrades that aren't available to an Enforcer-level computer. I'll be gone for two orns, one for the upgrade, and one to perform the integration tasks."

"I see." She had recourse to her cube. Prowl, puzzled, did the same.

"Prowl," Loyale said, as if making up her mind to something, "will you take the lieutenant's exam as well? All three, the same orn?"

He didn't even hesitate. "Yes, sir."

"When you come back from your upgrade, you'll be working in the office. I have almost no tactical officers left. Believe me, Prowl, if you're worried about protecting the citizens of Praxus, you'll do a lot more for them in the Center than any single patrol officer can."

"Yes, sir. Thank you for clarifying that for me. I was a bit worried about it."

"Sure. Shall we get that report out of the way, so you can sign off and go home?"

"Thank you, sir. I'd appreciate that."

"Whenever you're ready, then."

TWENTY-TWO BREEM LATER

"... I saw two civilians go down. A new Autobot recruit, to judge from the shine on his insignia, pulled them to safety, then attempted to rejoin his surviving teammates. The last of the Decepticons shot him, then was killed by the other Autobots. The Autobots refused to surrender their wounded comrade to my authority, and left, saying that they would provide medical care. As the riot had moved out of my patrol area and my shift had ended, I chose to return to the Center. End of report."

"How many Autobots were there?"

"I counted fourteen to start with. Nine were still standing by the time the new one went down."

"And how many Decepticons?"

"Twenty-nine when I first counted."

"Sheesh," said Loyale. "Two to one, and they still beat the 'cons. You, Prowl, go home, rest, recharge. You have tomorrow off. Waste it well."

"Yes, sir," Prowl said, intending to do no such thing. The family home needed some repair, his sparker had asked for help, and he was a dutiful son.

FOURTEEN BREEM AFTER PROWL LEFT THE CENTER

Ratchet had triage down flat. The newest recruit, still out like a light, had not been in urgent need of medical attention, so he got to wait for his. The bleeders and flailers, as Ratchet thought of them to keep his distance and his sanity, were treated and recovering. He ran tests on the newbie swiftly, and what they told him was that while Jazz had in fact been hit with a bullet, he was out cold because he'd fallen hard on his processor.

As for the rest of the damage, he'd mostly self-heal on his own. Ratchet cleaned the wound, dug out the shot, repaired the lines, and left his patient sleeping it off, the crinkle of pain gone from his brow.

He approached the twins. "You been teachin' the new guy your bad habits?"

The red twin grinned, and his yellow brother, sitting beside him, did the same. "Haven't known him long enough to teach him to distill, Ratch," Sideswipe said.

"No, I mean your Pit-stupid 'hero' gig. You're teachin' him to be a hero, ain'tcha?"

"Big damn' hero, Ratch," said Sideswipe with a grin, thus beating Joss Whedon's Firefly to the punch by several million years.

Ratchet sighed. "Sideswipe. Sunstreaker. You see all this stuff in here, all this equipment, all my closets stuffed full of supplies? You see all that? That's here because it's my job to make sure that all the big damn' heroes get home at the end of the war. Getting killed isn't heroic. It's a waste. It's a waste of your life, it's a waste of the time I spent patching you up every orn before you catch it. And," said Ratchet, grabbing the startled Sideswipe by the collar fairing and pulling him up off berth, nose-to-noseplate with Ratchet, "while I won't tell you what to do with your life, it pisses me off when my work goes to waste. So don't do the big damn' hero stuff. Because if you get killed I will follow you to the Pit just to chew your afts! Clear?"

He let go of Sideswipe, who fell back on his elbows and just about successfully hid the resulting wince. "Um, yeah, Ratch."

"I do not want 'um, yeah, Ratch' in response to that! I am the Chief Medical Officer of this circus of Optimus Prime's, and I want 'Sir, yes, sir!'"

"Sir yes sir!" they both said, if not quite in unison, maybe with a giggle in there somewhere, but wisely keeping its head down.

"Good! Now you," Ratchet said, turning to Sunstreaker, "run along and get some energon for yourself. Then bring some back for the big boy, here."

Sunstreaker left. Ratchet turned back to Sideswipe, and began turning off pain sensors here and there to begin his work.

Sideswipe, unnervingly, never protested not being put offline, and appeared to watch Ratchet's work with a detached sort of interest. Must be his experience in Kaon, mused Ratchet, and was gentler than his rant might have signified.

Absorbed in his work, Ratchet heard Sunstreaker return, but only realized that Jazz was online again when Sunstreaker began to talk to the kid.

He finished up with Sideswipe, said, "You need the lecture about not toughing out feelin' bad tomorrow?"

"No, I think I got it down pretty good," Sideswipe said. "When am I back on duty?"

"Berth rest tomorrow, you can spar the next orn, back on light duty the orn after that, and then you're for the high jump again. If you can't nap tomorrow for pain, you comm me. Okay?"

"Thanks, Ratch." The tall frontliner slid off the berth, collected his brother, and left.

Ratchet went to see the newbie. "You're awake a little sooner than I thought you might be. How are you feeling?"

"Bit sore," Jazz said, flexing his wrists, "an' I got a awful processor ache."

"Yeah. You fell on it pretty hard. Long's we're fighting in the cities, your processor suspension could use some beefing up. Take me about a joor to do it, and I could do it the orn after tomorrow. You game?"

The new recruit looked startled. "No mods until I'm not a probie anymore," he offered, not in argument, just sayin'.

Ratchet shrugged. "They told me you got hurt rescuing some civilians. If you're willing to do that, I'll go to bat with Optimus so you can get the mod. You hear what I said to the twins about not bein' a big damn' hero?"

Jazz grinned. "Most of it."

"Goes for you too. Now, where does it hurt? Where you've got your hand on your chest? See, the thing is with an impact injury like you got, I can't do much for the pain. I can put you offline so that you don't suffer, but if you get into trouble, having pain meds on board will make that trouble harder to isolate and resolve. So what's your pleasure? Online and in discomfort, or asleep for the next orn?"

"Th' whole orn? Tell you what, it ain't all that bad. If I can get a datapad from my quarters, I'll be fine just readin' until I recharge, an' then - "

"Look," Ratchet said, "maybe I didn't make myself clear. You have what's right next door to a processor injury, okay? You'll be staying on that berth tonight, doing as little as possible, and resting your optics. You might be bored, but that way you'll recover a lot faster. You start reading and watching Teletraan tonight, I can guarantee the processor ache won't go away for three orns. Your choice."

Jazz chose well, or perhaps was nagged into same, and was soundly in recharge long before Ratchet began to make his notes for the day. Not long after that, the tall shadow of the Prime fell across Ratchet's desk.

"Pour one for both of us," the medic said, not raising his head, "and I'll be with you in a minute."

The cabinet opened and closed, and two cubes impacted the table. The cork went pop, but there was no clink of bottle to cube; Ratchet always wondered how the Prime managed to do that. He finished the notes, and signed off, rubbing his optics.

"Another orn without fatalities," the Prime said, and touched his glass to Ratchet's.

"Yep. Always good."

"Indeed. Both Sideswipe's and Sunstreaker's reports are clear that Jazz put himself at risk to rescue civilians. I'm tempted to end his probationary period early because of that."

"If you do, I can give him the mods that will prevent the kind of processor injury that he's in here overnight for."

"All right. Start the work as soon as you can. I'll sign off on it in the morning." Optimus drained his cube, and stood. "See you next battle, Ratchet."

"Sure," said his Chief Medical Officer, and drained his good-night cube.

THE NEXT DECAORN

Hook flipped through his patient's work-ups and test results, cracked his knuckles, and was ready to go.

"You're sure you're prepared to fly solo?"

"Yeah. I did the holographic surgery and scored 97 percent."

"Okay," said Checkup, the charity medic-in-residence here. "Comm me if you need to."

"Will do," Hook said, although he knew he wouldn't, and went to his patient's berth.

Prowl. An Enforcer. Newly promoted to lieutenant. Offline now, in preparation for the installation, but a good-looking mech if you liked them a little cool and sleek, Hook thought. And of course a Praxian door-wing model was styled for that to begin with.

Checkup's clinic had made the third-lowest bid to do Prowl's installation, but Checkup himself had a good reputation: this although he was not a neurosurgeon. Prowl, on a patrol-level Enforcer's salary, couldn't afford a neurosurgeon, or anyway had not saved up sufficient to consult one.

Prowl also knew of the good work this clinic did on the streets. He hadn't checked where its money came from; that, unfortunately, was mostly Megatron.

Hook was taking all the advanced battlefield medic courses he could from Checkup, Megatron paid for it, and gave the clinic enough support to quiet Checkup's conscience. The Decepticons also paid quite well for his services when needed, as the one thing the 'cons didn't have was the ability to interest medics in signing up.

Hook popped Prowl's chestplate, revealing his processor and, of course, his spark. He always took a moment to observe the spark, perhaps even to play with it a bit if the color amused him. Prowl was fortunate in that his silvery-green job did not; such "play" inevitably left the spark-bearer with a hideous crush on Hook. Which pleased the Decepticon, and was sometimes ... rewarding.

Checkup, though, Hook thought, removing more of the processor shielding, him they had on the horns of a dilemma. He didn't want to teach Hook the more delicate and tricky procedures, because he had accurately estimated Hook to be more of an engineer, Hook's actual training, than anymech who was as compassionate as Checkup thought the practice of medicine required. Hook liked getting things right, and had at least twice handed a patient back to Checkup when the outcome couldn't be perfected.

However, Checkup's clinic needed the funds. He had, as Megatron requested, been schooling Hook in making repairs and upgrades to the processor. Checkup had no idea that Hook would pass this teaching along to both Soundwave and Barricade, per Megatron's instructions: the one to further his telepathic doo-wah, the other to improve his interrogation techniques.

Checkup had no idea that Megatron could and would (and had) sanction the permanent offlining of anymech with a complex processor injury. Megatron said that he was waging a war, not running a convalescent ward. Anymech whose prognosis did not include return to battle within a quarter-vorn was for the high jump.

Nor had Checkup any idea that Hook, carefully lowering the sterilized battle computer into place, and with equal care fastening the connections, would leave part of the work he was presently embarked upon undone, and this quite deliberately.

In preparing the battle computer yesterorn, he had clipped several of the leads within the connectors. A gap too large to be jumped by neural transmissions now existed between the ethical component and the rest of Prowl's processor.

Megatron planned to make all of the Praxian Enforcers an offer they would be foolish to refuse, and Megatron didn't want anyone with ethics in his ranks.

Hook finished the job with telltale quickness thereby. He spent a few minutes doing the first of the check-work tasks with Prowl, who wouldn't be wakened until tomorrow: recharge was the optimal state for the new connections to form.

Or not to form, Hook thought, wheeling his patient along to the recovery room. Megatron would be pleased.

CHECKUP'S CLINIC, NEXT ORN

"Okay now, while you're looking at me, bring your fingers into contact with your thumbs, going from index to pinky, then back. Do that with both servos simultaneously ... now in reverse."

"Feels like a sparkling game," Prowl said.

Checkup smiled. "A lot of sparkling games are in fact useful for teaching coordination."

"Why did you test the gross motor coordination first?"

"You go from the gross to the fine because fine motor coordination requires more processing power than the gross. That's why children are sometimes clumsy after their upgrades. – So the last task," Checkup said, "is to sign your chop at the bottom of my datapad, to indicate that the work's been done. I'll compare it with the earlier signature you gave me for permission to do this work, and if it's substantially identical, you're good to go."

Prowl signed. Checkup pulled a datapad from his subspace, set it beside the one Prowl had just signed, and turned them both upside down. Prowl's optic ridges rose.

"This way," Checkup said, a smile ghosting about the corners of his lip plates, "I can look at the design, if you will, and not simply read the signatures. I don't see anything here that time won't take care of - the flattened loops, all flattened in the same area, are congruent with new upgrades. So you're outta here. You won't be patrolling for at least a couple of orns, though, right?"

"I no longer patrol at all," Prowl said. "I spend my orns in the Center."

"Oh? Well, good, then," Checkup said. "Take it easy for another two orns. You have this orn off, correct?"

"This and tomorrow, yes."

"Good." Checkup shook his servo. "Have a nice life, Prowl."

The flattened loops, all flattened in the same area, were indicative of the ethical module not being connected. But Checkup, who was not a neurosurgeon, wasn't aware of that, and thus didn't tell Prowl, who couldn't afford a neurosurgeon.