The Road Less Travelled By

Chapter 5

I want to take a moment to thank those who have followed, favourited and/or reviewed this and every other one of my fics. Your engagement with this and all my stories is my primary fuel for writing and you have my eternal thanks.

Don't be afraid of messaging me when I take a long, long time to update. My muse is a fickle creature who tends to plot a thousand things at once and I can get lost in the storm. Poking me in the write direction really does help.

Disclaimer: I don't own Transformers; I'm just prostituting it for my amusement.

Summary: For all Cliffjumper's doubts of Mirage's loyalties, he would never guess the truth. Mirage was once a Decepticon. Jazz was an assassin for the Prime, and Prowl was just an Enforcer.

Warning: war, M/M robots

Pairings: Jazz/ Prowl (friends with benefits), Mirage/ Cliffjumper (friendship/pre-slash/who-the-frick-knows), Optimus/ Ironhide (it's complicate)

Klik: One minute, 1.2 kliks

Breem: 8.3 minutes, 9-ish kliks

Joor: One Hour, not giving it a specific length, suffice it to say that Cybertron does not share the same orbit or rotation as Earth, an hour, a day would be different lengths from ours

Mega-cycle: One Day, 93 hours/ joors

Orn: One Week, 13 mega-cycles

Quartex: One Month, 4 orns

Stellar Cycle: One Year, 7.5 quartexes

Vorn: Length of Sparklinghood and Younglinghood: 83 stellar cycles.

Cybertron, Approx. 900,000,000 B.C.E

It was precisely 82:00. One joor remained in the dark cycle and the chronometer would cycle back to 01:00 at the dawn of the new mega-cycle. Optimus would be coming online at any instant and Ironhide was already online and ready for him, and for whatever the new mega-cycle would bring. He always was, ready that is. With no other guard to cover the dark cycle, Ironhide kept a constant vigil, standing guard outside the great doors to the Prime's chambers while all other occupants of the palace recharged.

Ironhide recharged as well, of course.

In the first quartex of the new Prime's reign, he had sat by the doors, offlined his optics and recharged. That pattern had lasted until the first assassination attempt. It had been easy enough to thwart the 'Con, disguised as palace staff, but it had been made known to Ironhide that the mech had admitted under interrogation that he had chosen the dark cycle because the guard was recharging at his post.

That could never happen again. Ironhide had taken to recharging standing after that. But there had still been the problem of looking to be in recharge when he wanted any 'Cons or senatorial spies to think he was actually online and alert. It had taken him another two quartexes but Ironhide had figured out how to hack his optics so that they remained online even as he recharged. No doubt Ratchet would disapprove if ever he found out.

Optimus would disapprove of him recharging at his door one way or another so Ironhide was a touch more concerned with the medic's wrath. But what could the guard do? The Prime was adamant that he would never offer that contract to any mech. It was Ironhide and Ironhide only.

Perhaps he should have thought himself as lucky that the senate insisted that the Prime have at least one guard. Recharging standing, guarding a mech with too high a charge and too many morals to deal with it was not so bad as rusting in a garrison in the wastelands or in the in between.

Ironhide didn't ever want to end up in another one of those outposts. Frag. No.

All at once it occurred to him that his vision was black. He was online and his optics were always online and yet he saw nothing. Panic made his spark cold and Ironhide manually offlined and onlined his optics. Still, he saw nothing. Eerie and terrifying, he received no feedback at all from his optical centre it was as though that central part of his very processor and gone offline.

There were ped steps coming from the Prime's suite. Optimus was awake. He would pay a quick visit to his personal wash-racks before stepping into the hall. Ironhide frantically tried to bring his optical centre online before the Prime stepped out but it was no use. All he got for his troubles was a blinding helm ache and error messages.

The door slid open with barely a whisper of sound and Ironhide reached his field out instinctively to confirm the state of the Prime. In doing so, he opened his own field for review and there was no concealing his fear and barely controlled panic.

"Ironhide, what's wrong," Optimus asked. His field enveloped Ironhide offering comfort and the promise of protection.

Damn it Prime, which of us is the guard, hmm?

"I can't see," he replied. There was no lying about this. No hiding it.

"You're optics are lit," the Prime said. "How did this happen? Why didn't you got to Ratchet when you first came online?"

"I've been only been online a few breems," Ironhide said. "I couldn't well leave you..."

"You were here?" Optimus asked. He was incredulous. "Have you been recharging at my door."

"Yeah," the guard admitted. "There's no one else..."

"Prius," the large red and blue mech swore. "Do you mean to tell me you have been recharging at my door for more than a stellar-cycle and I haven't known?"

"Knew you'd have conniption," Ironhide replied, defensively. "Someone has to guard ya. That's the point of havin' personal guards."

"There are many points to the Prime's personal guards and guarding the Prime was never the priority," Optimus countered. He pulled his field back, not wanting to lash the vulnerable guard's field with his anger. "The palace has many guards!"

"And assassins have gotten past them!" The sturdy red mech countered. "More'n once! Twice, since you got the Matrix."

"Just what have you done to yourself?" The Prime's voice was hard, steady. Anger threatened to escape him. The charge that lashed at his circuits made his temper far shorter than it should have been.

"I hacked my optics," Ironhide explained. "So no one'll figure I'm rechargin'."

"Primus only knows what damage you've done to yourself," Optimus sighed. "Obviously you need to be seen by Ratchet. With any luck he'll be able to talk some sense into you."

"Don't bet on it," Ironhide had only barely countered Optimus when the larger mech scooped him off the ground and held him gently around his chassis and under his knees.

"Put me down!" The guard yelped and threatened to thrash. "Nothin' wrong with my peds!"

"I am not leading you around the Palace by your servo," Optimus said. "Be still."

There was no arguing with the Prime when he was this determined. Ironhide was forced to swallow his pride and accepting the aid. He prayed that no one would see, it was humiliating. It was also comforting. Once again Optimus' field fell over him, promising good care and protection while he was vulnerable.

Of course Optimus could tell that under his defiance, Ironhide was very much still panicking. Vulnerability could easily be a death sentence..

"Ratchet!" Optimus called out when he entered the med-wing, carrying his burden. Though he was hiding it well, Ironhide had clearly grown was anxious the last few kliks of their journey through the palace. He had quieted in the last few kliks and stilled completely.

The med-wing was a considerable distance from the Prime's chambers. This early in the light cycle, Ratchet was not in the heart of his wing. A collection of med berths were spread throughout the great room, across the far wall, doors let off to private treatment rooms and specialized repair suites. A door slid open to Optimus' left., one led to Ratchet's office. Though the medic had private rooms nearby, he could be counted on to recharge within the med-wing itself.

"What happened?" Ratchet asked immediately upon seeing Ironhide in the Prime's arms.

"He's blind," Optimus replied. "He said he hacked his optics to keep them online while he recharged."

"Ironhide, once I have repaired you I am going to hit you so hard your helm is going to ring for a vorn," Ratchet promised with a low hiss. "Put him on the med-berth and let me see what he's done to himself.

Optimus obeyed wordlessly. Even Ironhide was wise enough not to argue with the medic, incensed as he was. No doubt he had incurred Ratchet wrath on more than one occasions. They had known each other for vorns, after all. It had been Ironhide who had placed the datapad containing Ratchet's resume and credentials on the Prime's desk when Optimus had begun the search for a personal medic. The Prime had only borne the Matrix for two quartexes when it had become clear that the mech who had served the role for the posthumous Prime and Optimus did not suit. He had been sceptical about a candidate coming from his guard but Ironhide had been quick to silence his protestations.

Cybertron, Approx. 900,000,000 B.C.E - (Two months since Orion Pax took the Matrix)

"He more qualified than any mech yer gonna see," Ironhide insisted. "The only med-bots with more dipolmas are the CMOs of the medical centres 'n more'n half of'em are hack compared to Ratchet."

"Than why would he not apply himself?" Optimus asked. He turned the datapad on and scanned its contents quickly. Alright. The medic was indeed ridiculously qualified but if his credentials were legitimate, why was he station at an out of the way garrison?

"He's blacklisted," the guard explained, shrugging. "He'n Sentinel didn't exactly hit it off either."

"Why was he blacklisted," the Prime took another look at this Ratchet's resume. It contained a schematic of his frame, detailing the specialized equipment he carried.

"Ratchet's got no respect for authority," Ironhide said. He was so dismissive of this fault that Optimus wanted to laugh. The two mechs had this trait, along with their basic frame-type, in common. "Some senior medic at Iacon Medical Centre fragged up big. Ratchet saw it coming 'n tried to help. He got told off. When the patient greyed, Ratch called the medic on it. His contract was terminated 'n he was blacklisted by near every medical centre on Cybertron."

"He found a position in the army," Optimus noted.

"I may have said something to an old commander of mine," the red guard replied. "But he gets along worse in the army. They put up with him 'cause their never gonna see a better medic but his glossa's too acidic for'em."

"How is he getting along worse?" Large, red and blue mech asked. The conversation was proving to be insightful. Not just on the subject of the medic but of the nature of Ironhide's own character.

"He's givin' up," Ironhide explained, a deep frown etched his faceplates. "Part of what makes him so good is that he doesn't see rank or credits. He sees frames, sparks, damage and that's what drives him. He's starting to bow. Just outta hope that he might get out of the wastelands and back into civilization. That's like selling his spark 'n its eatin' him."

"You're worried about him," Optimus said as he gave his guard a long look. "How did you come to know this Ratchet?"

"We were sparklings together," Ironhide replied. "He was the cleverest lil fragger in our school. Took until we were younglings that the 'experts' noticed 'n got'm into the academy. We never lost touch."

"How did he earn Sentinel Prime's wrath," the Prime asked. Though he sensed there was more to that story. The word academy had stirred a whisper of old grief and anger in his guard's field. Ironhide probably didn't even know he had broadcasted it.

"He told Sentinel off," the guard said, again shrugging. And again his field hinted to more. Guilt, embarrassment. Whatever Ratchet had said, he had said it for or because of Ironhide.

"And you believe I wouldn't take issue with the same?" Optimus asked.

"I believe yer a better mech than Sentinel," Ironhide replied. "And I believe ya don't want a kiss aft. Ya want a medic who'll tell ya when to stop and rest. Who'll make ya when he has to. And ya want one who will care as much for y're lowest recruits as he does yer officers and you."

"That is... precisely what I want," Optimus replied, his decision made. Ironhide had unknowingly acted as interviewee for his friend. If Ratchet was anything like the mech Ironhide thought he was, the Prime would be more than satisfied.

Cybertron, Approx. 900,000,000 B.C.E

"Well congratulations, 'Hide you burnt out at least half of the relays between your optics and your optical centre," Ratchet announced. He remained plugged into the port at Ironhide's neck. "You may have fragged it up too but I won't know until I get inside your processor."

"Can you repair it here?" It was Optimus who asked.

"Provided I don't need to replace his optical centre," Ratchet replied. "I may need to request parts from the medical centre... They are more equipped for this sort of damage."

"Just do it here," Ironhide said. "You've repaired worse, with less, Ratch. I don't trust those hacks."

"Most of them aren't hacks, 'Hide," the medic chided. "You know the drill. I'm putting you into medical stasis in the count of 3... 2... 1..."

"Would transport to the medical centre be better?" Optimus asked. "I've no doubt about your skills. I am surprised by his distrust of other medics."

"Ironhide's seen the best and the worst the system has to offer," Ratchet explained. "It's made him... picky... Iacon Medical is the centre that blacklisted me. He carries longer grudges than I do. But I shouldn't have any real issue repairing him myself, right here. I'll call in my assistants and we'll get started. If I need any parts..."

"You'll have them," the Prime promised. "Let me know when you've finished."

If the senators noticed Ironhide's absence, they said nothing. No single 'Bot Optimus met with in the first half off the mega-cycle, none of his officers, no one seemed to care. It unexpectedly infuriated the Prime. It was not as though Ironhide was invisible. His senators often scowled at Ironhide's insistence that he be present at any and all meetings involving the Prime. Senators were as capable as High Lord Protectors of becoming assassins or rebels. Perhaps the senators did not appreciate the comparison but Ironhide didn't pull any punches and he offered the senators no deference. He served Optimus and only Optimus. The mech had been under the attention of Ratchet's clever servos for only a few joor and Optimus found himself missing the red guard's presence.

He was both baffled by his reaction to Ironhide's absence and irritated by the lack of reaction in all others. By the time he was scheduled to meet with Jazz, Optimus was tangled in knots, angry and worried. And just what was he to do with Ironhide once he was repaired?

"Hey Boss Bot," Jazz said when he stepped into the Prime's office. "Where's your shadow?"

"Ironhide managed to damage himself and he is under Ratchet's care," Optimus replied. Relieve and gratified that at last someone noticed to care.

"I'll post one of my mechs at your door for the rest of the cycle," Jazz said. "Ole Ironhide'll feel better when he comes online knowin' ya haven't been left all on your lonesome."

"You are correct," the Prime replied, smiling softly. "I'm impressed you found to put together these mission specs so quickly given your new arrangements."

"Prowl needs some alone time before we... go through with it so I thought I'd focus on the mission for the mega-cycle," the saboteur explained. "Hound's ready to go on my orders."

"You may send him off at your discretion," Optimus replied. He nodded slowly before centring his gaze on Jazz's visor. The visor did not stop Optimus from reading the mech, or any mech. The Matrix of Leadership gave him particularly good insight. "You are bonding then."

"Sooner than maybe I'd like but he's hurtin' and I can't stand it," Jazz admitted. "We'll manage."

"Unless there is an emergency I'm going to put you on leave for the orn so you and your Conjunx Endura-to-be can settle," the red and blue mech ordered. "You can do what work you will from home but stay away from the Palace."

"Thanks," the visor-clad mech replied. He offered the Prime a cheeky smile. "It couldn't hurt."

"I suspect it will do you some good," Optimus said. It would be time to bond both with his intended mate and his young creation. Not that he said as much.

"Would ya let me how Ironhide's doin' at some point?" Jazz asked before adding: "He's a good mech."

"That he is and I will."

It was the eve of the dark cycle before Ratchet called Optimus to the med-wing. Trepidation filled him as he walked the Palace halls. Surely Ratchet would have called him urgently if something had gone wrong. Yet, Optimus couldn't banish the nagging worry from his process. Ironhide had become something of a friend over the stellar-cycle. The worry that had followed him throughout the day only grew stronger with each step. He felt utterly ridiculous.

Optimus stepped into the med-wing to find Ratchet waiting for him, sorting tools or supplies of some sort on one of the nine med-berths that were near always empty. The Prime felt his spark jolt in its chamber. Ridiculous! Ratchet would not be doing something so menial if he had just lost his friend! He'd obviously put Ironhide in one of the private treatment rooms for his recovery.

"The glitch didn't do himself any permanent harm," Ratchet announced when he noticed Optimus' presence. "Lucky for him it was just some relays burnt out and some wires frayed out."

"That's good to hear," Optimus said with a relieved smile.

"I'm taking the opportunity to do a full physical exam and I'm going to do any little repairs that may have piled up over the stellar-cycles," Ratchet explained. "I'll release him before the next dark cycle."

"Stellar-cycles..." The Prime murmured as he caught the plural. "You don't believe he maintained himself under Sentinel Prime's rule?"

"I don't believe he had much access to nuisance repairs," the medic replied. "Oh Sentinel never did anything to 'Hide that the stubborn 'Bot couldn't work through..."

"My predecessor hurt him?" Optimus asked, dumbstruck and horrified. The essence of that mech was still contained in the Matrix!

"Never enough so he couldn't function," Ratchet explained. "But yeah, he hurt 'Hide. The mech's good at hiding it but I'm a fragging medic and I notice these things."

"You confronted Sentinel," the Prime said, raising his optic ridges. It was the long awaited answer to that question.

"Pit, yes," the medic replied. "I made it clear that if he ever intentionally harmed Ironhide, and I found out about it, the media would learn all about his repugnant behaviour and about that loathsome contract. He was fond of it, after all. He wouldn't have liked that."

"You are a force of nature, Ratchet," Optimus exclaimed. "I'm grateful he had you to speak for him."

"I'd rather he speak for himself but he's choosy about his battles," Ratchet replied. "He's rather fight for me than for himself... I know you got my designation and my credentials from Ironhide. Who the Pit else would have mentioned me? I don't think I'll ever be able to thank him enough."

"I believe you have taken good care of him all of you function and that he would see that as thanks enough," the Prime noted.

"You're right there," Ratchet chuckled before turning seriously. "Put a cot in your rooms, by the doors, somewhere. He isn't going to leave you vulnerable. It's not just the contract, he's decided your as good a Prime as any and he doesn't want to break in another one."

"I will," Optimus promised.

"And I know that you hate that contract but you are going to have to do something," the medic continued with a tired vent. "The charge is noticeable to me, it'll be noticeable to the senate, to everyone soon. And he won't let up on that either. Either find a lover or take him up on his offer until you can find one."

"I despise the thought of taking advantage," the Prime argued uselessly.

"Which is the only reason I'm saying this," Ratchet replied. "You aren't taking advantage of him. He's offering. You need a berthmate and he's offering to help... Not just because of the contract but to help."

"I'll considerate," Optimus said. "Thank you, Ratchet."

"Recharge, Prime."

It was the start of Prowl's second mega-cycle in Iacon. The very thought of it remained both surreal and terrifying. In his entire function Prowl had never really considered leaving Praxus. He had never considered travelling for pleasure because Prowl had never considered taking any kind of leave or vacation at all. His carrier had instilled in him a profound and devoted love for their city-state and the spark deep need to serve Praxus and her citizens. Most mechs would have assumed it was his sire that had driven this desire to serve in him, but no.

Carrying Prowl had been both a political move and a personal one. Howler had existed to serve the city-state and had shared the Chief Enforcer's berth on and off for some time, in part out of attraction to the stern and brilliant master Enforcer and in part out of the ever growing need to serve Praxus at an ever higher level. But simply interfacing with the Chief had only raised his career prospects so far. A lover was only owed so much, but the carrier of a creation... Well... That was another matter.

Prowl had come to be, a triumph for Howler and a deep shame for the Chief. Howler had manipulated the Chief Enforcer's through lust and while Prowl's carrier had gotten what he had desire, a posting in the highest levels of the Advanced Action United, the Chief had never forgotten nor forgiven his manipulation. He had never forgiven Prowl for existing.

At first, the Chief had had little to nothing to do with Prowl. His Conjunx Endura had been humilated and enraged when it had become very public knowledge that the Chief had strayed. Because it had been such a public scandal, their creation Smokescreen had learned of his half-brother's existence and while their sire had had no great interest in Prowl, Smokescreen had.

Oh it had most definitely been a latent need to rebel that had first compelled Smokescreen to consort with Prowl. Affection, genuine love had developed quickly and even as Prowl had questioned even his carrier's love for him, he had never questioned Smokescreen's.

Smokescreen's love had saved Prowl when Howler had fallen in the line of duty. The newly upgraded youngling had been destined to while away his younglinghood in an anonymous youngling centre, without hope of adoption but Smokescreen had forced their sire to intervene and Prowl had been given a full scholarship at a private boarding school.

To prove to their sire that he deserved the education the Chief had so reluctantly provided, Prowl had thrown himself into his studies and had excelled at every turn. The commendations had finally gotten his sire's attention but in had not, in the end, been a positive thing.

It had been clear enough to the Enforcer Chief that Prowl was on a path to the Enforcers. Upon coming to this conclusion, as his legal guardian, Prowl's sire had ordered special upgrades to Prowl's processor. The results had been devastating.

The tactical systems, a combination of both upgrades of his already advanced logic centre and an experimental battle computer had clashed instantly with Prowl's base cerebral systems, resulting in extensive conflicts with his emotional protocols and debilitating crashes.

Early in the integration of his new hardware, hearing laughter or crying had crashed Prowl's processor. His own responses to his upgrades, the hurt and betrayal had done the same when he had allowed them to rage out of control. No mega-cycle had passed for stellar-cycles without Prowl crashing. He had been institutionalized before he had reached the final third of his younglinghood.

In the end, the decision had been made to reformat him in the hope that a fresh personality and new emotional protocols would end the clash with Prowl's tactical systems. They had long since integrated too deep in his processor to ever be removed.

Prowl would have ceased to have been had it not been for Smokescreen. His elder brother had only just returned home from a clinical rotation in Crystal City when he had been made aware of their sire's and Prowl's physicians' plans.

Smokescreen's fury had been and could still be a most powerful force. He had stolen Prowl from the institution and had gained a court order baring his reprogramming. It had been another scandal, played out in the media, creation against sire. The creation, Smokescreen, had won. His treatments, those he had learned during his most recent rotation, had helped Prowl make quick and obvious progress. Though he would never be fully free of his crashes, they had quickly become a rare thing.

Which made it all the more disconcerting that Prowl felt the threat of a crash lingering in his processor with near every thought process these last mega-cycles. He felt fragile, vulnerable. Prowl was in a foreign state, set to bond with the mech he loved but barely knew. His career, the one he had fluxed of through his formative stellar-cycles, the one he had planned the very course of his function around from his earliest memories, was lost to him and it hurt. Though the final separation between himself and the Enforcers had been at Prowl's own servo, he still felt betrayed.

"Prowl?" Mirage called as he stepped into Jazz's apartment. That was what it was to Prowl, it was the Polihexians apartment, not his, not theirs.

"Thank you for coming," Prowl said. "I hope it does not trouble you that I have asked you to keep the matter of my impending bonding from Smokescreen."

"Oh don't worry, I understand your reasoning completely," the young Towers mech replied. "It'll be better if Smokescreen doesn't learn about it until the deal is done."

"Yes," the monochrome Praxian agreed. "I need your assistance with a simple matter. I must remove my Enforcer markings and I cannot do it myself."

"Do you want to see a detailer or would you prefer I repaint you myself?" Mirage asked. His unobtrusive field whispered of sympathy and the promise of help. Like the mech himself, the field was so quiet that Prowl barely felt it against his own.

"I do not know," Prowl replied. "I have only been painted by fellow Enforcers."

But of course. There was a ritual to receiving the Enforcer markings. The colour-carrying nanites were applied by the officer selected to mentor the newly minted Enforcer. Each additional mark, rank, reward or specialization was added by a senior Enforcer. Even scuffed paint was reapplied by comrades in an Enforcer's designated station. Sideburn, the young Enforcer who Prowl had been mentoring, prior to his kindling, had been the last to paint Prowl. His distress must have been obvious to Mirage, though none could show on his faceplates, because Mirage made a soft, sympathetic sound and nodded his helm.

"I'll paint you then," Mirage said. "Let me pick up some colour stripper and the appropriate nanites and we can get started."

"Thank you..." Prowl began.

"Don't," the smaller blue and white mech interrupted. "You're the reason I still function, Prowl. Don't think you could ever do anything that would be 'overstepping' with me."

Earth, 1984 C.E

"How could you tell Prowl was upset?" Cliffjumper asked. The Sun would be rising soon. He had spent the entire night listening to Mirage's story and he got the sense there was still so much left to tell.

"A mix of his field and his doorwings," Mirage explained. "His field goes blank when he has an emotional conflict, positive or negative. His doorwings, the cant of them, signals whether it's positive or negative."

"I guess you're a doorwing expert," the minibot said. "Living with Smokescreen and spending so much time with Prowl and Bluestreak and all."

"Smokescreen doesn't need much interpretation but yes, it helped," the Towers mech replied. "I think Prowl would have gone with Jazz even if I hadn't been a concern. But at the time I felt horribly responsible for upending Prowl's entire life and anyway I could help, I did."

"You take a lot on, don't you?" Cliffjumper asked, seeing something in Mirage he had missed for all these vorns. "A lot of blame."

"Your shift starts soon, does it not?" Mirage asked, completely sidestepping Cliffjumper's observation. That was fine by Cliffjumper. He needed time to consider his new insight.

"Yeah," the brawler replied. "Want to grab a cube before you hit the berth?"

"Yes," the spy agreed. There was a hint of caution in his voice when he spoke again. "If you wish to hear the rest of it, we could meet another evening..."

"You better believe I want to hear the rest of it," Cliffjumper exclaimed.

Truthfully, Cliffjumper had always wondered just what had brought Mirage into the Autobot fold. No other Towers mech was counted as a member or a combatant. It had surprised the brawler, not only that Mirage had enlisted, but that he had remained. Why would this one noble join but no other? This question was one of many that Cliffjumper had never found the answer to.

Many 'Bots had little concern for the stories of their comrades. They didn't care where their teammates came from, if they had families, etc. Cliffjumper wasn't one of these mechs. He was curious to the point of being nosey and always wanted to know what was happening with them mechs he lived amongst. Though he rarely contributed to the gossip mill, Cliffjumper was always listening.

Like everyone else, Cliffjumper had never expected that Mirage would have had a traumatic history. Perhaps he should have. Trauma was the common thread that bound so many of the Autobots, why would Mirage have been spared? Because he sparked in the Towers? Given what had happened to the Crystal City and those spires, it only made sense that loss would have brought Mirage to the Autobots.

What the Towers mech had told his so far had answered the question of his enlistment. It also explained why Jazz and to Prowl had both always been so closely involved in the other mech's missions. Though Prowl had been more subtle about it from the first day of his tenure as SIC, Jazz had never been. He had always guarded Mirage closer, closer than Bumblebee and even Hound.

When 'Bots had rumbled and complained about the Towers mech presence in their midst back on Cybertron, many were the victims of unfortunate, and comic, accidents. Many had guessed that it had been Jazz and had passed it off as the Meister being protective of his Ops.

The cold and firm rebuke of those who had questioned Mirage's relationship with Bluestreak at the servos of Prowl also made much more sense sense now. From early on, Mirage had been labelled a bad influence on the mechling, especially once he had developed his reputation as a berthhopper but Prowl had warned off any of those who thought to question his and Jazz's judgement of their creation's primary sparkling-sitter. It was completely unacceptable to question Prowl when it came to the care of his creation. He also had little patience when it came to the rumour mill. Those who dared continue to question and to gossip had been written up for slander.

There was still a small betting pool amongst the mechs of the Ark, concerning itself with the identity of Mirage's current lover but it was neither operated by Smokescreen, nor Sideswipe, the primary ring leaders of such activities. Of course Smokescreen wouldn't bet on such a thing, he'd taken Mirage on as a sort of foundling. Sideswipe? Eh, who knows.

Cliffjumper was a mech who saw connections where other's might see coincidence. This was the root of his, perhaps troublesome, suspicious nature. Had it been a coincidence that he had spotted the electro-cells in the very same patrol grid that Mirage had last been assigned? Absolutely. But Cliffjumper could only see that now, after they had almost lost Mirage to the cerebro-shell.

And despite this knack he had missed the connection between Mirage and the command family. It hadn't been a coincidence that Mirage had enlisted at the same time as Prowl and Smokescreen. He had been with them all along. Missing this, something that seemed so obvious now, was his own fault. Had he not been blinded by his spark deep distaste for the Towers and the mechs that had inhabited them, Cliffjumper was sure he would have picked up on it long before the Ark had ever crashed on Earth.

This here was the reason Cliffjumper was just canon fodder, a scout or a front liner depending on the day. Time and again he let his prejudices blind him from seeing connections which made him useless as either a tactician or an operative. He knew it too. Cliffjumper had his pride. Rather than be shot down for his various personality flaws, Cliffjumper had never bother to apply to such a post.

Even if he desperately wanted to be more than just a pair of servos and a blaster, Cliffjumper would never let anyone know about his knack. At least not until he could better control his temper. Actually, this was something Mirage might be able to help him with.

Cybertron, Approx. 900,000,000 B.C.E

Jazz drove home at a leisurely pace. The streets of Iacon were still brightly lit, it was some hours yet until the dark cycle began. He lived a good distance from the Prime Palace, which sat at the centre of Iacon. The drive gave him much needed time to organize his thoughts. He had yet to spent a full mega-cycle with Prowl and Jazz wondered if they would be on speaking terms after the first cycle was over.

That wasn't exactly fair. Given Prowl's leanings towards logic and level thinking it would probably be quite difficult to anger him to the extent that he would not be willing to speak. Jazz had no desire to actively stir up the Praxian. He just wasn't sure how he would handling co-inhabiting with any mech, let alone one so perfect and so calm as Prowl.

He hadn't listened to music in his home since bringing Prowl there and Jazz knew better than to think he would remain sane for much longer if that precedence stood. It would be the first question Jazz asked Prowl this dark cycle, just what, if any, music did he enjoy?

It was safer than asking: are you ready for this?

"Jazz!" Blaster, a fellow Autobot and neighbour called out to the Polihexian. A Cassette-carrier, Blaster towered most mechs and femmes in their neighbourhood, Jazz included.

"Hey, Blaster," the saboteur replied. "How's it hangin'?"

"Good," the bombastic red mech said. "I heard you brought a mech home? A Praxian? And a sparkling?"

"It's a long story, my mech," Jazz sighed. "Let's just say, tomorrow I'll be a bonded mech."

"You're fragging with me... right?" Blaster asked, staring dumbstruck. "Isn't this a bit... sudden?"

"No and it's not as sudden as you think," the Polihexian explained. "The sparklin' is mine. I'll explain more another time."

"Take care, Music-mech," the Cassette-carrier replied. "Never thought I'd see the cycle."

"Yeah, yeah, me neither," Jazz said. "I'll bring the sparkling 'round to meetcha and your lil'mechs."

So his neighbours were talking. It was given, really. Jazz had never brought any 'Bot home, ever, that had stayed more than a few joors. The fact that the mech had arrived with a sparkling would only have added to the gossip fervour. He didn't answer to them or anything but Jazz was friendly with his neighbours. When every mission could have meant his end, knowing he would be coming home to a community that noticed him, cared for him, had meant everything.

If that meant they cared enough to wonder what he was doing was a strange mech and sparkling, Jazz couldn't be all that upset. Few 'Bots had ever cared a lick about him. His creators had loved him. But he had lost them before his first upgrades. A quick, savage infection had taken over his carriers code and damaged his spark. His sire had been unable to face a life without him and she had followed quickly after. All Jazz really remembered of his creators were a few scenes, a few sounds. His carrier singing in a lounge, Jazz sitting on his sire's lap. His sire telling him how clever he was after Jazz had gotten into some mischief. Music and love had filled their house. Losing both the music and the love for so many cycles had crippled Jazz.

As he stepped into his silent apartment, Jazz felt a wave of malaise fall over him. This was nothing like the home he had spent his adulthood trying to recreate. Before the silence deafened him, Jazz sent a silent command to his stereo system. The soft harmony of wind and string instruments wafted through the air and caressed his audio horns. It was enough to sooth some of the unease in Jazz' spark. His home felt like home again.

"Jazz?" Prowl's steady voice broke over the soft music. "I take it you have returned?"

"Yeah," the Autobot saboteur replied. "I brought some good mid grade home... To start the night."

"That would be pleasant," the former Enforcer said.

Jazz stepped into his living room and found his intended mate sitting alone on the plush black couch. Two things struck the saboteur. The first was that Prowl was alone. Bluestreak was nowhere to be seen, though he was likely just recharging in the containment berth the had set up in the berth room. The second was that Prowl had been repainted.

Other than the striking red of his chevron, Prowl's frame was stark black and white. The placement of the shades was identical to what it had been before but there were no markings, no badges honour and no personal touches to set the Praxian apart.

He must have felt stripped and bared. The one fact Jazz had never doubted of Prowl was that the mech existed for the Enforcers. Though the Autobot firmly believed Prowl deserved and needed to spend at least a stellar-cycle, ideally more, caring for and guiding their newly separated creation, Jazz had to wonder if the mech would be able to cope without some outside path and purpose. Alone, Prowl would probably flounder under the stark change of his circumstance, but he was not alone. Jazz was here and he would make certain that his lover found some way to thrive.

"Is Blue in recharge?" Jazz asked as he handed Prowl a cube and sat next to him on the long couch.

"He is not here," Prowl replied, taking the cube and steadying the deep pink fuel. Flecks of iridescent silvers and whites floated within it. "Mirage is watching him for the next five joors."

"Did he help ya with this?" The visor-clad mech asked, tracing a single digit along the seem of black and white that bisecting Prowl's left doorwing.

"He did," the monochrome Praxian confirmed. "It would have been unethical to keep the Enforcer insignia when I am no longer an Enforcer."

"I'm sorry, Prowler," Jazz said. His voice soft, laced with regret. "I never meant to destroy your life."

"As I still function, my life has not been destroyed," Prowl replied, his tone curt but crisp. His doorwings shifted minutely against the couch and his plating was tight to his protoform.

"Ya know I know ya better than that," the saboteur scolded. "It'll be okay. We'll find something you enjoy doin'. Maybe freelance consultant work so you can still spend lotsa time with Blue."

"Thank you," the former Enforcer said, surprise actually present enough in his voice that Jazz had to take into account just how surprised Prowl must have actually been.

Perhaps he had been too forceful in his belief that Prowl stay at home with the sparkling.

"I want ya to be happy here," Jazz entreated. He wanted Prowl to be happy with him. "I don't want'cha to ever think you sacrificed your joy'n life to come with me. I know ya came to protect Blue but I just... I want... I need you to be happy."

"I believe that is manageable," Prowl replied. "I am not inclined to wallow in misery."

"Good mech," the Polihexian cheered.

Their cubes were drained, set aside on a nearby table and forgotten. The music played on and Jazz allowed himself to enjoy it, both the sound and the sensation of the vibrations in the air. He looked over to Prowl and a smile stretched his mouthplates. Prowl had his optics shuttered and his helm tilted just slightly to the side as he listened. His doorwings twitched every so often. While Prowl didn't smile, there was a serenity about him. Prowl only onlined his optics once the song had ended. He raised his brow ridges at Jazz's broad smile.

"I was worried ya might not like music," Jazz explained and added sheepishly: "shoulda asked if ya."

"I disdain shock pop and any especially... jarring music but I do enjoy many varieties," Prowl replied. "We are strangers in any number of ways. If you want to know something of me, you need only ask."

"Sorry, I'll try'n remember that," the saboteur said. "It goes both ways, Prowler."

"Yes," the Praxian agreed. "I too shall try to remember."

Earth, 1984 C.E

Mirage should have had just enough time to recharge a few hours before his duty shift. Jazz had scheduled his Ops team for a tactical session to begin at 10:00am PST that very morning and Mirage, like all of the team, had been scheduled to attend.

Out of habit, Mirage walked quietly into the small quarters he shared with Hound. The sun had started to rise before he and Cliffjumper had driven in from the desert and with the Sun, Hound always rose. Hound was sitting on his berth having a cube when Mirage entered. He greeted his roommate with a sheepish wave.

"Are you alright?" Hound asked, resting the cube on his thigh plating. "You don't tend to stay out all night."

"I'm actually quite well," Mirage replied. It wasn't a lie. He felt considerably less raw than he would have expected. That wasn't to say that he wasn't spark weary. Talking about Figment and those first stellar-cycles after his loss drained Mirage. But at least he wasn't weeping in the dark.

"Blaster commed Jazz about some kind of altercation between you and Cliffjumper," the scout explained. "And it got him thinking and he clued in to the date and he commed me. I'm sorry we didn't remember..."

"That's alright, it's not as though I care to bring it up," the spy replied. Though he had felt a bit hurt when he had found that he had been scheduled to work the past day. It had been easy enough to dismiss the hurt and to put on an affable mask given he was just the about the only Autobot who ran two chronometers simultaneously, one tracking Earth-time and the other Cybertronian.

"No, but none of us likes to work on our anniversaries," Hound added. Yes. Hound had his own anniversaries. So far none had come up in their short time on Earth. The Cybertronian mega-cycle, their day past far slower, as did their quartex, and stellar-cycle. Their month and year.

As much as possible, Prowl and the team leaders scheduled accordingly. But if no one mentioned an anniversary coming up, what could the team leaders do?

Hound was easily defended for missing the anniversary, he paid as little mind to the passing of time on Cybertron. It was the easiest way for him to cope with his own losses.

"No, but my patrol was refreshing, really," Mirage insisted. "Don't ask for forgiveness, Hound. There is nothing to forgive.

"What exactly happened between you and Cliffjumper?" The earthy green Jeep asked, tentatively. "Blaster said you drove out of the Ark at top speed and Cliffjumper raced after you."

"We talked," the blue and white Ligier said. "I think we made peace."

"Good!" Hound cheered. "I'm glad he kept you company, in that case. Anyways, Jazz took you off the duty roster for today. The mega-cycle isn't over yet, after all."

"What about the meeting?" Mirage asked.

"It's only preliminary, Jazz'll get you up to speed tomorrow," the scout assured. "Get some recharge. You haven't gotten enough of it lately but then I guess that makes sense."

"I suppose I will," the spy replied. Hound left their shared room and Mirage laid out on his berth. He did not know what he would do with the rest of the day but he would start with recharging until his systems had had their fill.

Cybertron, Approx. 900,000,000 B.C.E

Music wafted into the berthroom as Jazz and Prowl settled onto Jazz's, no, their berth. The assassin turned saboteur ran a servo along the side of his to-be mate's faceplates with true reverence. Even if Prowl himself didn't see it, the Praxian was a true beauty. Jazz was certain his were not the only optics that recognized this. He marvelled that this beautiful, brilliant mech was about to be tied to him for the rest of both their functions.

The thought still terrified him. Having lived for no one but himself for the majority of his existence, Jazz really didn't know how to live with or for another but he had always prided himself on his adaptability and Prowl was plenty of incentive. Bluestreak too, but less so. Being a sire, the thought was no less processor-boggling now than it had been two mega-cycles ago. He needed time, that was all.

Love and the prospect of it, was terrifying but Jazz didn't much believe in bowing to fear.

Jazz cupped his lover's faceplates and kissed him soundly. It had been over a stellar-cycle since he had felt the warm pliant metal of Prowl's lipplates mould against his own. How he had missed it. For a moment, Jazz luxuriated in the rather chaste kiss, before he beckoned Prowl to open to him. The former Enforcer was no passive lover and Prowl tangled his glossa with his as they re-familiarized themselves with each other.

When Jazz pressed his servos against Prowl's pristine chassis an unexpected thrill shot through his spark. Scrap his apartment, this right here, beneath his servos was home. That epiphany only elevated the Polihexians arousal and his fans kicked to life as his clever digits sought out familiar gaps in his love's plating.

The low moans he received as his reward tasted so sweet. Jazz moaned in kind as Prowl massaged the underside of the wheel wells at his shoulders. It seemed he wasn't the only one who had remembered the other's hot spots.

"Jazz," the Praxian's whispered moan was barely audible over the whirl of his intakes. The Polihexian smiled with licentious pride before kissing the long cables of Prowl's necks. His digits now toyed with the edges of his quiet lover's sensory wings. Prowl's soft, pleasured whispers and moans increased now. No other components held such sway over the Praxian. Not even his valve, lasciviously tended to, gave him as much pleasure.

This was quite convenient, given Jazz's particular affection for doorwings. He kneaded the great length of thin, delicate plating, as he kissed and sucked the edging of first one, than the other doorwings. Prowl was almost incoherent with lust now, his moans having transformed into keens. Though he didn't writhe in Jazz's lap, his doorwings twitched and shifted erratically as they were caressed. The infernal sway Prowl's tactical systems held over him was failing.

"Prowl," Jazz groaned as his lover brushed his thumb-digit over his audial horns. The small sensor-laden components sent bolts of pleasure through the saboteur's frame. It wasn't long before they had driven each other to the cusp of overload.

Jazz needed to sent Prowl over the edge first. He needed to watch his beautiful lover come undone, before he surrendered to his own overload. Activating the magnets in his servos, Jazz wrapped his arms around Prowl's back and buried his servos in the primary joint of his lover's doorwings. Prowl tossed his helm back and keened as his frame shook. His keen was answered by Jazz's own

The Polihexian fell back on the berth, pulling his lover on top of him. For a few kliks they lay there, intakes panting as their systems cooled. Before long, Jazz was lightly running his servos over Prowl's back and doorwing plating, basking in the rightness of the Praxian's presence in both his berth and his arms.

A contented hum escape Prowl before he sat up, straddling Jazz. He leaned forward, bracing his servos on the saboteur's shoulders. The expression of on his faceplates was not sharp, predatory lust but something softer. Jazz smiled a wicked smile up at his intended and he ran his servos down over the curve of Prowl's aft.

"You're beautiful, Prowler," Jazz said, full of reverence. His lover's doorwings shifted down, back and up again. A shy gesture, Jazz had previously learned.

"Thank you," the Praxian replied, softly. A small, unsure smile on his lip plates.

It was a shame that Prowl didn't really believe him. But at least he wasn't arguing or dismissing Jazz's praise like he had in the past. How could so many mechs and femmes in the Praxian's past of missed it? Sure, Prowl came off as cold and remote at first glance but that didn't do anything to scar the perfection of his faceplates or the grace of his frame. They had all been blind. Blind and stupid. Once they were Conjunx Endura Jazz made a promise to himself that he would tell Prowl how beautiful he was and how loved he was every single mega-cycle.

"You are the handsomest mech I have ever met," Prowl said before leaning forward for a sweet kiss. "The most confounding as well."

"You've got my number," Jazz chuckled in between kisses. "'M a lucky mech. To have a mate so clever and lovely as you."

"Oh!" Prowl inhaled sharply as Jazz stroked down the panel between his thighs. The metal was almost molten hot and it slid away, baring Prowl's intimate circuitry to Jazz's questing digits in a matter of seconds.

When his digits found that familiar valve, Jazz found it to be primed, wet and waiting. He slipped two digits, slowly inside, relishing the way the slick, sensor-rich lining quivered around them. As Jazz gently twisted and spread his digits, he drew Prowl's helm down into a kiss.

Everything about Jazz felt good. The lipplates under his, the long digits in him. It was not at all difficult to remember why Prowl had allowed his casual lover back into his berth time and time again. Even having known that Jazz would always be gone at first light, the tender pleasure his touch offered had from the first interface, left Prowl hoping for more.

He did not need, nor want to be pinned and fragged into the berth as a few past lovers has preferred. Yes, a powerful overload was precisely the thing to knock his tactical systems offline for a few breams but Prowl did not enjoy forceful or violent overloads, where he was pushed over the edge by demanding servos. No, he much preferred to be caressed and teased and soothed into overload. Jazz was either the same or he had rightly guest Prowl's preference from the beginning.

"Ready, lover?" Jazz asked, sliding his digits from Prowl's dripping, twitching valve.

"Yes," Prowl replied with a throaty hum. He sat up and back, lining his valve up with Jazz, waiting spike before slowing sliding down, taking the hot length inside him.

A shiver ran through Prowl's frame at the sensation of being slowly filled. Jazz gripped Prowl's hips to steady both of them. The Polihexian's visor was so bright it shown near white and his vents were flared wide. Each pulse of his spark came a little faster with the activation of each sensor within Prowl's valve.

He settled, his pelvic plating flush with that of his lover's. His lipplates were just slightly part as each inhale came in the form of a little pant. Below him, Jazz remained perfectly still, save for the rhythmic clenching and unclenching of his servos around Prowl's hip plating.

The fullness of his valve was just perfect, There was no pain, no discomfort at all; there was only the need for more stimulation, for more pleasure. Carefully, Prowl ease up so only the very head of Jazz's spike remained in his valve before he slid down again. Jazz let him lead the way, let him establish the rhythm comfortable to him before he too began to move, rolling his hips up with each downward rock of Prowl's.

"You feel good," Prowl gasped. Charge crackled over his frame. His digits slid into the gap between Jazz's abdominal and chassis armour. He bowed his helm as molten heat licked up his frame through his valve.

"So do you," Jazz moaned. "So hot and tight."

Jazz was filling him with more earnestly now. Each upward motion was firm, never forcefully, bringing the collection of sensor nodes at the tip of his spike into contact with the cluster at the head of Prowl's valve. Each strike sent charge crackling through their joined frames.


They were both fast approaching their second overload. Through the pleasure drunk haze that clouded his optics, Prowl saw his lover's chestplates begin to part. He moaned with appreciation and anticipation. Jazz brought a servo up between Prowl's doorwings and guided him down as his own chestplates part. The outer threads of their sparks lashed out towards each other, tying together even as their corona still came together.

Need. That was Prowl's first sense of the merge. It was an all powerful need that fed them both, that drew them together. Need because of Love. They both loved so fully and so deeply that it hurt to be apart. This was the root of their sync. Their corona knit seamlessly together and Prowl got the first glimpse of what lay at the centre of Jazz. The memories and emotions that had been burned into his spark.

Loss seemed to play in every memory. It seemed to follow Jazz through his function, even at his earliest of stellar-cycles. When he had need warmth and a lullaby, Jazz had received rules and restriction. No music during lessons, no music during naps, no music, no music, no music.

No love.

Instinctively, Prowl reach with his spark and his own song to fill the loneliness and the searing silence that scarred his new mate's spark.

There would always be love. There would always be music, even if it had to come from his own lip plates.

Their cores merged now and the bond came together immediately, the fibres of their cores knotting together, to burn together as long as each mech functioned.

Everything that had marked their sparks, for better or for worse was now known to the other. Hurts soothed, joys celebrated, guilt cleansed.

Mirage returned Bluestreak to the care of his creators precisely on time. He found the newly bonded mates sharing a quiet moment on the plush black couch, music floating in the air. There was a peace about the scene that made his spark flutter and contract. This was harmony, perfect belong.

It was something he would never have. To merge alone was a revolting idea. His spark was too stained, too warped to ever share with another.

The young Towers mech smiled warmly, hiding the sad, self-recriminating thoughts behinds his gentile mask. Bluestreak was happy to be passed to his carrier, nuzzling at his chassis. Prowl retracted his feeding line and the sparkling latched on to it, suckling with gusto.

"I will need to speak with Smokescreen tomorrow," Prowl said, after ensuring Bluestreak was refuelling correctly. "Will you come by and assist Jazz with Bluestreak?"

"Of course," Mirage replied. It wasn't really an "of course," Mirage was frightened of Jazz but the "former" assassin looked considerably less intimidating now, shrinking into him as he was now, at the thought of minding his own creation. Still, the former Decepticon found Jazz almost as alarming as Soundwave. He was not yet prepared to take down his guard.

"Good," the carrier replied and both seeing and sensing his mate's distress added: "Really, Jazz. You will be fine."

End Chapter 5

AN: About bloody time. I had most of this update written weeks ago but RL took over and murdered my muse. I'm going back to the Long Road Home because that's what the muse wants and who am I to argue with nag?

It could probably use with a little more tidying up, etc but frankly, I'm sick of looking at it.

This chapter has been very much focused on Jazz/Prowl and Optimus/Ironhide. Have no worries, Mirage/Cliffjumper fans, there will be much, much more attention paid to them in coming chapters. We've a long ways to go yet.