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Jazz runs his finger round the rim of his cup of energon, optics focused on the table as he hums to himself. The pad of his finger gathers oily condensation until the droplet gets too heavy for itself, and drips down back into the drink in split rivulets.

He sighs, flicking the remaining moisture off as he leans back in the creaky booth. A cursory scan of the room shows no signs of any of his expected party appearing, and he rolls his optics behind his visor, keeping his grumbling too low for the nearby audial sensors to pick up.

Orion, he can forgive for being late. Orion works in central Iacon, and even without the shift-change rush Maccadam’s is a fair trek from the Archives. His new Kaonian friends, however — Jazz wrinkles his nose as he raises his cup for a small sip — have rented accommodation on the very edges of Iacon, so he’s been told, which happens to be in the same border sub-district as the grungy oil house. So what could be keeping the mecha so long? Sight-seeing?

Pfft. As if.

He leans back, swinging an arm over the back of his seat, and smacks his lips. Well, whatever. He’s grabbed a comfortable corner booth near the back, the biggest one free that wouldn’t have the lot of them overheard, and that’ll have to do. We’ll just have to hope they fit. And if they don’t, that’ll be their problem.

And Jazz has seen the holovids of Megatronus Orion smuggled into the city. He’s already told Orion he’s calling dibs on the bench not shared with the famous gladiator. Although, knowing his friend, that’s not a point Jazz would have had to argue on at all. He’s a culture observation agent, for Primus’ sake. As if he wouldn’t have noticed the way Orion lingers on the glyphs of Megatronus’ name. As if the archivist would waste a single opportunity to be near him.

Jazz’s outward smile isn’t affected by his inner hand-wringing.

Of course, he won’t let Orion get dragged into anything untoward, rest assured. No scrap like that is going down on his watch. Tonight will be a good opportunity to scout out the gladiator’s motives, figure out what his angle is, and he knows Orion will listen to whatever he has to say afterwards — nobody trusts Jazz like Orion trusts Jazz.

A small commotion sounds near the door, distracting him from his thoughts. Jazz’s optics swing to lock on to the scene, visor hiding the urgent glance, but he can’t quite make it out through the throng blocking the view. That’s what’s so great about the overcrowded bar, though; it’s difficult to get noticed. Ideal for some cursory treason.

A lumbering figure parts the crowd, a loud buzz surrounding their arrival. Jazz’s smirk grows and he narrows his optics. Looks like the main attraction has arrived.

A familiar servo raises through the crowd. “Jazz!” Orion calls. “We’ll be right there, we’re just getting drinks.”

Jazz can’t see him over a heavily armoured shoulder, but he lazily raises his own in greeting. “No rush, my mech,” he shoots back, engaging some light subharmonics to make his voice audible over the crowd.

It only takes a moment for the crowd to quiet down. Megatronus may be a novelty in this part of town, but he’s not illegal. At least, not yet. He’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last warbuild from the lower caste cities to hallow the old oil house’s halls.

Jazz realises his mistake a second too late.

A sharp figure stands at the head of the table. Jazz stifles a gasp of surprise and straightens up to greet the stranger, a dazzling grin overtaking his features. His optics were focused on the shadow Megatronus cast; he never noticed the dark mech hiding in it. That alone is deeply unnerving. It’s very rare to find someone who can avoid his notice, especially when he’s actually looking.

“What’s up, cool guy.” Being careful to keep his motions languid, Jazz leans his chin in the servo not resting on the back of the chair, and nods towards the bar. “You with our resident celebrity?”

His optics sweep down the mech’s frame. He’s tall, deceptively so, with a navy-black finish. Handsome purple biolights accent what is clearly some sort of flight frame, all sharp edges and angular points. A pointed crest frames a completely visored face, the transparasteel tinted a black so dark even Jazz’s modified optical sensors can’t pierce through it.

All in all, almost a work of art. Lucky thing Jazz is a sucker for a pretty pair of optics.

The mech doesn’t speak, but he inclines his helm ever so slightly. The stoic type? Sure, Jazz can work with that.

He scoots over a bit to make space. “You don’t wanna grab some high-grade with your pals over there?”

The mech slides down in one smooth motion, settling on the edge of the bench with what can only be described as impeccable posture. Jazz’s smirk takes on an amused edge despite himself. Please, try to look a little more uncomfortable. A Praxian might still think you’re from around here.

He sips lightly from his own cup and looks back into the crowd to wait for Orion. Unsurprisingly, the Kaonian makes no attempts at small talk. He doesn’t so much as move.

Jazz feels his presence, though. Whirring so soft you’d easily miss it from well-oiled gears, and the heat of an efficient venting system on the very edges of his thermal field; an industrial-grade polish muted under the faint but unmistakable smell of Kaonian pit-smoke.

Like fire. The thought flits across Jazz’s neural net like a flash of light. He smells like burning.

Jazz clears his throat and resettles himself against the back of the chair, making sure not to intrude on the couple servos space between them. He licks his lips and takes another swig, finishing off the last of his high-grade.

Something about the mech makes him... uneasy. On edge in a way he isn’t used to. Behind the privacy of his visor, he glances again at the stranger out of the corner of his vision, and gets rewarded with a striking profile for his trouble.

Ugh. He hides a pout. I hate mecha like this.

Orion finally joins them, tailed by the star himself. Jazz smiles up at them — it’s a little harder to force when he can feel the scrutiny of a hidden gaze on his every movement, but that’s what he’s made for. Why put on a show if it ain’t for someone’s viewing pleasure?

A spark of excitement sends shivers down his spinal struts, and against his thigh, his servo clenches tight before relaxing.

“I’m so sorry,” Orion is saying to him, slipping in first so that he’s right across from Jazz, “we really were set to arrive on time but there was a… um, an incident at one of the toll stations. Everything’s all right, but— Forgive me, I hope you weren’t waiting for us for too long.”

Jazz hears between Orion’s words frustration and resentment, and understands that he was being too optimistic when he wondered whether the tourists got lost. There are no lower-caste tourists in Iacon.

“It’s all good, my mech. I only just got here myself,” he lies easily, and nods towards Megatronus, who barely manages to fit himself between the table and the back of his seat without caving any armour. “What’s up, boss? Call me Jazz. No doubt you’ve heard all about me.”

The gladiator nods, expression genial enough if serious. His red optics don’t flicker from Jazz’s gaze as he nods back. “Megatronus of Kaon.”

He chuckles. “Yeah, I’ve heard all about you, too.” Orion at least has the good grace to look embarrassed, and Jazz throws him a grin to show no harm was meant before swinging a servo across the table and holding it out for Megatronus. “Glad we can finally meet.”

Megatronus’ grip is strong and unshakable, just like the sheer presence he exudes. Jazz feels it in his grip, sees it in the small curve of lips and optics that never stray, he recognises it in the prickle of heat and magnetism pulling at him on his left — there’s a promise to these mecha. They carry with them a warning and the smell of smoke on the horizon.

Foreboding settles deep in his spark, intuition screaming.

Jazz keeps smiling, and drops Megatronus’ servo.

 


 

Fellow gladiator.

That’s what Megatronus says when he refers to the mech sitting beside Jazz. Megatronus says a lot of things, though.

Talk of revolution, talk of justice, talk of corruption and oppression and inevitability creeping up on Cybertron. Orion drinks it all in, and Jazz hates that he knows it’s genuine — because he’s heard all of this before, framed in kinder language, less doused in gasoline, perhaps. Orion seems to have found a match, finally.

It’s unnerving. Jazz knows Megatronus has never lost one; in the ring, it’s what he’s famous for. Round and round his processor, nerves and excitement circle like cannibal avianoids.

But the way Orion speaks to both mecha, it leaves Jazz’s intake feeling a little dry. It makes him wonder if perhaps all of his uncertainty, his pent-up suspicion, is a reflection of the ugliness he records day-in, day-out. A culture observation agent’s job is to pay attention and make note of other planets, sure, but it’s at home where the work always starts and finishes. And Jazz wonders if he’s soaking up the stench of the upper-caste’s corruption in the process. Has he internalised it all?

It just goes to show, Jazz figures, how much I still have to learn from Orion. His best friend always was the best part of him. He decides by the end of the meeting that he’d rather smell of smoke than murder, even if it makes him want to choke.

Still, he’ll protect Orion. If one of them has to step in the sewage, let it be Jazz. Orion can keep looking up at Megatronus, at progress, at a hopeful future — Jazz vows he’ll be the one to watch his back while he does so. He’ll look behind enough for the both of them.

Megatronus gets up to leave, telling his friend he’ll see him back in Kaon. Orion follows, offering to walk the mech back to his rented residence as he rests a hesitant servo on Megatronus’ forearm. Jazz doesn’t miss any of it, not the way Megatronus’ smile takes on a softer edge, not the way his own servo rises to cover the smaller as they both turn towards the door. Behind his visor, his optics narrow.

He jumps in surprise when the mech beside him stands up in one sudden smooth motion, already moving past the table and walking for the door. Jazz moves without thinking, reaching out and wrapping his fingers around the other’s servo.

His vent catches in his intake. The metal under his fingers burns, as if he’d tried to grab lightning, and he can’t hold back the small gasp that escapes his lips.

When he looks up, he finds himself staring into the unreadable darkness of the gladiator’s visor.

“G-Gimme a name at least,” Jazz finally manages to say. It comes out too late, his hesitance an obvious tell.

The other is as still as a statue. Then, so quiet it’s only audible in the scant space between their frames, Jazz hears it: a deep and guarded voice, the Kaonian accent heavy in every glyph. “Designation: Soundwave.”

Jazz wets his lips, mouth unexplainably dry. Primus, I gotta steer clear of this one. Despite himself, a rare genuine smile curls his lips, small and subtle, and he tilts his helm. “Heh. Pretty.”

Soundwave — how right that sounds in Jazz’s processor — jerks away, and belatedly Jazz realises he’s still got his fingers wrapped around Soundwave’s. He pulls back. The stuffy air of the oil house feels unnervingly cold against the metal of his palm by comparison.

Soundwave’s visor is focused on him. Jazz feels like he’s being lasered, and, feeling like he’s fumbling, he brings up the mask he’s so good at hiding behind, appeasing grin melting into a knowing smirk. Do your best, he thinks at Soundwave. I’m not so easy to crack, either.

Jazz has a niggling feeling though, grinning up at the stoic mech, that Soundwave’s best might just be on par with his own. A thrill lights up his neural net at the thought.

Soundwave tilts his helm slightly.

Jazz narrows his optics, grin sharp on his lips.

Then, Soundwave turns, and slips through the crowd with ease. Within a few seconds, he’s out of sight.

Jazz flops back against the booth wall and in-vents deeply. He can feel his spark careening in its chamber, spinning on every axis as if he’d just dodged a bullet — or perhaps shot one. The heat of it, the searing heat in his chest, feels like it’s sizzling against the metal of his chassis. But Jazz knows that’s impossible. He pulls Orion’s room-temperature unfinished high-grade across the table and takes a deep swig.

Even now, where his servo had touched Soundwave’s, it burns.

 


 

Meeting regularly with Orion’s new friends, Jazz realises one thing almost instantly — as far as Soundwave goes, his intuition was right on the fragging point. He’s a mech of incredible ability, maybe even a match for Jazz’s own skills.

It’s unlikely but hey, it’s possible.

What’s even more interesting about Soundwave, however, is the mystery. Jazz loves puzzles. It’s in his nature. And Soundwave loves to keep every clue, every tell, every single pointless meaningless piece of information about himself close to his chest. Jazz can’t help but be drawn to the mech.

Nevermind his name. What is with that name? Soundwave, for a mech you’d be hardpressed to get a squeak out of under pain of torture? He never reacts to the tunes Jazz plays in the background of every meeting, not even when Jazz plays with the tracks just to mess with him.

Jazz wants to know. Primus, he just wants to know. There’s so much of Soundwave that he’s just not privy to, just not seeing — he wishes he could take a heat rod and burn away that blasted visor until there’s nowhere left to hide.

And yet, still, when he finds himself sharing a glance too many or a shared look too long with the mech, the blank black gaze sends a thrill down his spinal struts. Every slagging time.

He wonders if Soundwave feels it, too. Does he also burn from the heat in their gazes?

Jazz just doesn’t know. And slag it all, that only adds to his enjoyment of the whole thing.

He’s no good with mecha like Soundwave. He sees the dark boundless ocean, and despite every warning sign and signal and threat, Jazz can’t help himself — he just wants to dive in, deep as he can go.

 


 

As the meetings recur, as discussion of ideology shifts to plans of action, they all find themselves working together with startling frequency. Jazz wishes he could say he minds it at all. But for once, it doesn’t feel like playing at revolution — for the first time, it feels like they’re actually going to change something.

His intuition never stops screaming, but when has Jazz ever bothered listening to that?

One late cycle deep in the Pits of Kaon spent planning and writing, Orion and Megatronus finally retire for the night together. Orion is bashful and giddy; if Jazz felt he didn’t know any better, he’d swear Megatronus is too. As if they didn’t know that both Jazz and Soundwave have known about their affair since before it started.

Jazz waves them off with a wry smile. It takes all he has to not crack a dirty joke, but he figures he’ll let them off the hook. This time. But once they’ve disappeared through the door that heads towards Megatronus’ cell, Jazz smirks at Soundwave with all of the innuendo present on his face. The only response is a small twitch of a servo, and Jazz wonders if that means Soundwave found it funny. He has to be a little exasperated at least.

They return to their datapads for a few moments before Jazz opens his mouth. “They’re ridiculous.”

Soundwave raises his helm to look at Jazz, indicating that he’s listening.

“Who do they think they were fooling?” Jazz continues, flopping forward on the table. “Their reconnaissance team? Really?”

Soundwave inclines his head.

Jazz squints at the visor, but nope, he can’t see it. No smile in sight. Still, if he pretends there’s one under it, nobody has to know. “At least they’re good for each other. I was worried, especially considering what we’re trying to do—” He gestures to the mess of datapads on the table between them. “But it looks like it’s working out pretty well, huh.”

Jazz picks up the closest one to read through some correspondence again and see if he can’t weasel out some more meaning from it. He expects the conversation to be left at that, as is so often the case when it’s just the two of them in the room. And the silences are always comfortable enough.

But to his surprise, he hears the tiny click of Soundwave engaging his voice box. “Orion,” he says slowly, not looking away from Jazz, “satisfactory.”

Jazz cycles his optics a few times. “Huh?”

Soundwave doesn’t move.

Satisfactory? Orion’s a Primus-given catch, my mech.” If it were anyone else, Jazz would lean over to pat them on the back. Suddenly self-conscious, he adds, “Maybe I misunderstood you.”

Soundwave’s servos rest on the table, claws relaxed on his own datapad. “Negative,” he says.

Jazz suppresses a tiny shiver. He loves hearing Soundwave speak — it’s so rare to meet another mech who can utilise vocal subharmonics like Jazz, and the bass of it tickles his audial sensors beautifully. He talks slowly, sometimes even with hesitation, clearly uneasy with speaking aloud. Which is kind of a tragedy, as far as Jazz is concerned.

And he shouldn’t count all his blessings yet, because Soundwave continues, “Orion Pax: cause for suspicion.” Jazz drops all pretense of working, and turns to face Soundwave properly. “Megatronus: viable threat in Iacon.”

When he doesn’t continue, Jazz nods. “You’re sayin’ you don’t trust Orion, right? But I can’t say I was driving loops when I heard he got involved with you lot, either, mech.” Soundwave’s right claws twitch, and Jazz smiles to see it. “Glad I was wrong, though. It’s been known to happen once or twice an age.”

He wonders if Soundwave is looking exasperated now. Primus, Jazz hopes so.

After a few moments, Soundwave inclines his helm. “Suspicion: unfounded. Orion Pax: prime candidate for Megatronus’ romantic affection. Ideal.”

Jazz leans his helm in his palm, leaning against the table. “Mech, why do you talk like that? I feel like I’m reading instructional code.” A tiny burst of static sounds, and Jazz’s optics light up. “Sorry, did I embarrass you?” he teases, slag-eating grin taking over his face. “I gotta say, though, your evolution from a mech of no words to a mech of few brings me no end of delight.”

Soundwave leans forward infinitesimally, which Jazz decides to interpret as curiosity.

“You’ve got some sweet speakers, Sounders. I like hearing you talk.”

Soundwave stares at him. Maybe Jazz took it too far…?

Then, finally, Soundwave speaks. “Jazz: troublemaker.”

A surprised laugh is punched out of his voice box. “I-I suppose, maybe, yeah. Someone’s gotta be.”

“That will get you in trouble.”

It takes a second for Jazz to realise that Soundwave spoke in a full sentence that time, and he feels his entire spark flare in its chamber as his optics go wide. “I…” He licks his lips, armour suddenly prickling all over. “I hope so. I kinda like trouble.”

Soundwave’s gaze doesn’t stray. Jazz feels the invisible optics on his chassis like a burning laser.

Then, finally and all too soon at the same time, Soundwave looks away. He picks up the datapad in front of him, and starts to read.

Jazz never thought he’d feel jealous of a fragging datapad. Well, fine. All that careful observation is for instances like this — if Jazz wants a mech to talk, then that mech is going to talk. One way or another. And there is one topic Soundwave will be unable to resist, he’s sure of it.

“You and the boss bot,” he starts, careful to keep his tone light. He points towards the exit for Megatronus’ cell with the servo he’s not resting his cheek in. “I get some serious ride-or-die vibes from you both. How long have you been amica endura for?”

Soundwave freezes. He wasn’t moving before, but Jazz just knows it. Inside, he smirks in victory. After a long pause, the mech finally shakes his helm. “Negative. Ritual: not permitted.”

And just like that, the fires of victory blow out. Jazz sits up straight, smile slipping. “Oh.” How did he not know that? How the pit did he not know that Kaonian lower-caste mecha can’t… But he does know, he’s read the district charters tons of times, the rituals are the right of every mech on Cybertron— And he opens his mouth ready to say all of this when his voice box chokes on static.

Soundwave’s visor is steady, staring right at him.

Jazz’s jaw hinges shut with a quiet whirr.

Those slagging scrap heaps.

“I’m sorry,” he says instead, “I— I just thought— But it was stupid of me, I’m sorry, mech.” Suddenly, he remembers Megatronus’ tiny bashful smile looking so out of place on his scratched-up faceplates and he turns to stare at the door. A heavy weight drops in his tanks as his expression falls, the dismay slipping through his carefully constructed mask like wisps of smoke. “That... isn’t fair at all.”

“Agreed.” Jazz turns back to Soundwave with a start, whose gaze is still fixed on him. “System: flawed.” Soundwave’s shoulder pauldrons flick slightly. It feels like a smile. “Change: imminent.”

Without knowing why, Jazz feels comforted. Looking at Soundwave, he has the absurd thought that it’s such a waste. That Soundwave can’t even take a conjunx— And then, slamming through his neural net, guilt as strong as anything. Because where does his stupid obsession with the reticent gladiator, his little fake crush, rank next to Orion’s dedication to his own?

Orion is in love. Jazz... Jazz is just lonely. He has a bad habit of wanting exactly what he can’t and shouldn’t have.

The silence stretches on and Jazz winces internally, faced with Soundwave’s unmoving visor, and flails for something to say. “W-What a shame that is, my man. A mech like you — someone somewhere is missing out for sure.”

At once, he wishes desperately that he could take words back. Jazz grasps desperately for some semblance of the cool and collected exterior he’s usually so good at maintaining, but it all seems to have melted away very suddenly.

Soundwave fixes him with another stare, and Jazz fidgets, averting his optics and hoping desperately that the heat in his faceplates doesn’t look as obvious as it feels.

Soundwave’s voice is as subdued as always. “Yes.”

Jazz can still feel him staring. He fights to keep his venting unaffected.

He should not think too much of that. He really shouldn’t.

He grabs the nearest datapad and stares blankly at the glyphs on the screen.

Damn it, he really, really shouldn’t.

But when he can’t resist the pull any longer and looks up, Soundwave glances away as if caught. That one tiny movement, the infinitesimal flick of the visor, is all the affirmation Jazz needs.

He bites his lip, spark churning.

Jazz was made to notice things.

 


 

As Megatronus’ movement grows in popularity and scope, all of their lives get louder and busier and all the more dangerous for it. Jazz gets fired from the embassy. He starts spending all his time helping Soundwave out. His intuition screams against it, and his spark churns, and he loves every pit-slagged moment of it.

Then, one day, Orion casually mentions a few days before they go head to head with the Iaconian Council that Soundwave has bought his freedom.

And as always when it comes to Soundwave, Jazz is utterly blindsided by the information. The idea that Soundwave was ever anything but free — ever possessing anything but himself in his entirety — is absurd, even though it is also beyond obvious. He’s a gladiator, for pit’s sake. He doesn’t own the trademark to the glyphs of his own designation.

But Jazz knows this is how Soundwave plays. He’s far too good at making you see only what he wants you to see, and Jazz played into it like a sucker.

He isn’t used to losing the information game, not ever. The thrill of it almost tastes sweet.

 


 

Jazz goes to watch Soundwave’s final match. It isn’t the first he’s ever seen, but it’s the first he’s ever cared about. It feels strangely intimate.

His optics follow Soundwave’s careful controlled movements as he plows through his opponents one by one. The mech moves like a flame, back and forth with disarming fluidity, and Jazz finds himself utterly enraptured. His spark careens and tilts in it’s chamber alongside Soundwave as if empathising, pulled forward by irresistible magnetism as the gladiator flirts with death like a lover.

He fights as if he’s dancing, Jazz realises. Dancing to music that no-one else can hear.

The cautious footwork, every meticulously-planned strike and step, it’s a waltz of violence. Jazz finally sees. Watching Soundwave duel is to peek into his spark, to watch it flare bright and fiery against the inky darkness of his chassis.

What colour are his optics? What colour is his spark? A hungry desperation settles into his tank, his fingers itching for metal and heat. All he can imagine is fire. Could that be why Soundwave doesn’t let anyone close? Jazz wonders wildly. To keep them safe from himself?

Leaning forward, bumper pressed right against the railing, he in-vents the smoke and the burnt dust and heady fumes of spilt energon in the arena below. As if in response, Soundwave glances up at just that moment, visor bleached white in reflection of the hot arena lights, and Jazz gasps. Their optics seem to meet like a crack of lightning, just for a sparkbeat, and Jazz feels naked in the wake of Soundwave’s stare.

His optics widen. Oh.

The cheers become deafening as Soundwave slams his final opponent against the hard packed rust-sand. Metal plating crumples under his grip, luminous energon running down ruined armour visible from even the stands.

But— But it was just loneliness, it’s just—

The crowd leaps to its feet, cheering wildly.

Orion loves. I—

The arena lights up with his final victory; Soundwave stands in the centre, immobile, untouchable by it all. And Jazz — wide stinging optics flicking between Soundwave and the floodlights and the broken bleeding mech at the bottom of it all — feels himself fall.

He can’t even regret a moment of it.

 


 

Jazz is a deeply flawed mech. He knows that. Half of his strengths come from knowing his weaknesses — knowing how deeply selfish he can be, how guarded, how distant, how pessimistic, how unwilling to trust anyone or give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh, he’ll smile and he’ll cheer and he’ll make friends as easily as anything, but any mech who believes that is all there is to him doesn’t know how to look.

Jazz doesn’t believe in the goodness of people, he believes in their desperation for power and control. He believes in the goodness of his friends. He believes in Orion — in Optimus Prime. He believes that the Matrix chose right.

Jazz is a flawed mech, he knows; he’s also near a perfect soldier. That’s why it makes sense that the first time he’s wholly honest with Soundwave, it’s on a battlefield.

It’s the closest Jazz has ever felt to him, holding him at gunpoint. Soundwave’s new armour highlights the deep-set transformation seams of his chassis. He almost — almost — regrets having to put so many scratches on such a beautiful paint job.

Soundwave looks betrayed. Jazz wonders if he’s just projecting.

He grins, venting raggedly as he powers his laser rifle, the metal searing-hot against his palm. “I might not fight as pretty as you, but I can hold my own, Sounders. Don’t you worry about me.”

Soundwave’s fist clenches and before Jazz knows it he’s flying through the air and colliding with a wall of concrete-fortified steel. He chokes out a gasp of pain as one of the horns on his helm splinters off at the impact. There’s a deep ragged dent in the otherwise smooth metal of his bumper where Soundwave hit him, steaming energon trickling down the side of his cracked helm, and a wild grin on his face. His visor flashes in excitement as he sees Soundwave stalking towards him, and he clenches his fingers around his weapon.

If this is the only way he can have him, then so be it. Knowing the hypocrisy of his own spark, it isn’t surprising. Soundwave smells like smoke, and Jazz knows flames don’t burn gently — flames consume.

 


 

“Do you really still miss him?” Jazz asks Optimus Prime a few years into their departure from a burning ruined Cybertron, after a space-station battle that left more than chassis’ bleeding. “Even now, Optimus?”

Optimus’ servos tense against the navigation panel before he turns to Jazz. Tired blue optics consider him for a moment before Optimus quietly says, “Don’t you?”

Jazz’s vent hitches. Surely Optimus can’t know— But he can see the smile on his faceplates, that awful kind sad smile that reminds Jazz exactly why Orion had to change his name, and the answering pain in his own spark is palpable.

They stand together in silence for a long moment before Jazz can’t bear it anymore. “We gotta find those artifacts before them, OP. We can’t let them get to any first.”

Optimus sighs, straightening up to his full height. “I know.”

He knows what Jazz is asking. And Jazz knows Optimus doesn’t want to say yes. He still will, though. He’ll have to, just like always. And Jazz... If Optimus has to isolate himself away, deep in his spark, then Jazz won’t let his best friend do that alone. At least Optimus won’t be alone in being lonely.

“Someone’s gotta do it,” Jazz murmurs.

Optimus shakes his head, but doesn’t speak again, and it’s all the confirmation Jazz needs.

He draws in a deep vent, optics screwed shut, before ex-venting in a long low hiss. When he looks up again, it is with a carefully-mastered smile, that familiar mask perfectly in place. “Don’t worry, my mech. I’ll find them and be back before you know it.” His grin widens as his optic ridges draw together above his visor. “I’m good at seeing what’s trying to hide.”

 


 

Jazz gazes out at what must be the millionth new horizon. The silence of the uninhabited planet is broken only by the sound of his own speakers blaring out some slow Earth rock’n’roll. He can be honest with himself, surely, out here where he’s run so far away from everything he doesn’t want to see anymore. Who is there to hide from here? He can admit it.

It was a mistake to come out here all alone, all those years ago. It was the wrong move. And it’s all his fault. And the kicker is, when he pictures Optimus’ energon-splattered scowl facing off against Megatron’s crazed grin in the middle of a battle, he doesn’t even fragging regret it. When he thinks of his friends fighting, of the friends he lost to the war, of that one mech who intentionally walked away from him into it—

“Why put on a show…” Jazz kicks at a stray pebble. If it ain’t for someone’s viewing pleasure.

The sunset precedes a strange chemical reaction on this planet that lights the whole sky up in fire. Jazz is impatient to see it again.

A few minutes after the last of the three solar stars disappears from the sky, a sizzling sound will start, and then from the centre of the sky, right above him, a fiery orange wall of flame will start to burn out in a fast-travelling short-lived circle to the very edges of his vision.

The sudden burst of energy is enough to charge his flight pod for vorns of flight. He charged it up last night. This time, he’s just here for the show.

It arrives suddenly. The surge of it overtakes every one of his senses; heat blasting so intensely that it nearly knocks him off his feet, roasting his armour and setting off an array of thermal alarms across his HUD. It’s absolutely exhilarating, like a death unto itself. It reminds him of—

Jazz bites his lip before letting a tiny bittersweet smile slip. What’s the point of lying out here?

It reminds him of Soundwave. A dark inky sky, dotted with pinpricks of light; a crawling heat spreading out from the centre. It doesn’t last long, it gives no warning, but when it sets itself alight the sky burns so fiercely the entire planet is left reeling.

Jazz wonders if the war will be over by the time he returns. He wonders whether he’ll return at all. He wonders if he’ll ever hear Soundwave’s voice again, those clever shiver-inducing subharmonics tickling over his audial sensors.

A quiet laugh bubbles in the recesses of his vocaliser of its own volition. Jazz tilts his helm back and lets it shake his frame, optics wide as he stares up at the sky. The thought of it occurs to him out of the blue — he hesitates, but only for a moment, and then slides his visor back for the first time in millennia. The light of the night damages his hypersensitive optics, painful and searing on his sensory net as the delicate machinery behind his visor burns, and he laughs through it all.

 


 

With three solar stars and an unstable, fluctuating rotation cycle, the nights don’t last longer than a few hours on this planet. Jazz has no information of it in any of the pulsar maps loaded into his flight pod, and it doesn’t ring any bells within his own drives. It’s a great pit stop — he should consider even flying back this way once he’s investigated his new lead, if it’s as empty as the previous four-hundred-something were — but there’s nothing more of interest here than an easily-harnessed energy source.

So why he’s still here four nights later, he doesn’t know.

He puffs out his cheeks, tapping the tip of a finger against the top of the navigation panel, tap, tap, tap. Through the transparasteel of the pod’s only window he can see the hot desert outside. A haze of red-orange as far as his sensors detect. Nothing of note. Nothing alive. No sign that anything here ever was, nor that anything ever was here.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

“I should— I should go,” Jazz mutters to himself. He leans forward to glance at the sky where he can see, high above, two of the planet’s suns creeping closer to each other in the apex of the sky. “Don’t gotta waste any more time than necessary...”

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

“There’s no reason to think there’s anything here except dust. No sign of anything.”

Tap, tap, tap.

“I should just—”

Tap.

He growls, “Oh, slag it,” and slams a fist on the door’s opening mechanism. “Sorry in advance, OP, but I’m sure you’ll let me off the hook for adding a day onto our schedule.” He swings his legs out and lands heavily on the rough surface, a small cloud of iron-oxide dust rising around his pedes. It’s that feeling. That same prickling sensation he got when he knew he was being watched, even if he couldn’t see it. And for once, because why the pit not at this point, Jazz is going to actually pay attention to his gut feeling. Nothing to lose at this point, right?

Refusing to let his processor extrapolate any scenarios from his current actions, he simply squints at the tiny ridge of mountains he can see on the very edge of the horizon, transforms, and begins to drive.

 


 

In hindsight, Jazz finally acknowledges with no small part of reluctance, that maybe he’d been right all along to throw his intuition into the scrap pile this whole time. Maybe that was just supposed to be his lot in life, that itching regret following him everywhere he went, and he just had to get used to it already. Maybe he’s gone and fragged it all up worse than he ever thought he could.

What was the point in it, really? Going with his gut feeling only after he regretted every single time he didn’t as if that would make anything better — as if it would erase any of the past, give him any shot at redoing it all the right way this time. What was he thinking? That maybe if he just went with it this one time instead of overthinking it all that maybe he’d get another chance? That he’d point out to Orion the obvious warlord vibes coming from his conjunx-to-be? That he’d have prevented the entire war?

That he might have at least gotten to see blasted Soundwave’s optics once before he offlined?

“Fuck,” Jazz says loudly, static-laden voice echoing through the dusty cavern, “all of this.”

The rock-fall should have been avoidable. Slag it, the damage from it — well, more the ensuing slip into the deep chasm between two sleep cliffs — shouldn’t have been enough to knock him a klik away from stasis at least. He’d laugh, he really would, if he weren’t so busy feeling supremely sorry for himself in a moment of uncharacteristic sobriety.

He can see a broken off limb lying crushed underneath baked reddish rock near his helm. He can’t move at all, though. His HUD struggles to compile a damage report, some critical cable clearly wrenched clean out of his chassis from the fall, but he can tell that his spinal armour is caved and crushed just from the strange fuzzy feeling throughout his body. His visor must be cracked too; it’s full-colour visual data is interspersed with the monotone gray his natural-forged optics bring up. He’d almost forgotten what that looked like, it’s been so long since he’s looked at anything without the visor in the way.

Yep, there it is. More cracks spread through his visual sensors until he struggles to make out much of anything. Only darkness, and more darkness, all different shades of deep deep steel. How could I have been so careless? How could I be so stupid?

How empty his life seems, trying to think back on it. Jazz doesn’t realise the darkness isn’t the rock around him but his own processor falling into final stasis until too late. His HUD powers down — everything seems to be happening faster than he can keep up with, cold settling into his cables like ice.

He should try to message Autobot HQ. He should comm Optimus. He should... Drunk on a detached sort of pain, Jazz manages to channel the last reserves of energy left in the wake of the memory leak towards his communications array. If the war ever brings anyone this far out, maybe they can at least… give him a proper… b̴uri̵a̵l̷… I̴̱͐̊t’s̶̛̙͘ a ṅ̵̩̝icḙ̷̾. . . s̴̛̲̆ p ̶̩̩͌o̸̻̣ ț̶̙̀ . . t̴̟̩͂hi̴͇̋s̶̠̊ pl̴͉̇͜ä̸͕́nè̷͙̓t o̸̫̚f f̢͙̱̓̅̉la͍̰̪̭͎͒̽͆̓̆

fl-a͍̰̪̭͎͒̽͆̓̆

ḟ̶̩̽l̷͎̪̍—ȃ̷̲

ḟ̶̩̽—ȃ̷̲ — m̭͉̓̚—

 


 

Jazz wakes up to a languid tendril of hot charge running through his circuits. He feels his gears move without permission as his intake gasps a ragged in-vent, heat returning to his internals following the snap of electric energy, and a single lonely warning about dust particles blocking vents lights up his HUD. Another brighter faster surge sends him reeling in its wake as he struggles to make sense of anything at all. A silence, long and all-consuming as the tiny line of executable code waits for acceptance on his HUD. Something calls to him, beckoning, an offered servo in the dark — Jazz tries to green-light the command.

Blink. Blink. Blink. Stop.

Jazz is washed out into a sea of sluggish sensory relays as his freshly booted processor crawls out of prolonged emergency stasis.

All he knows is it’s warm. Something is bright near him, and hot like a furnace, but comfortable and safe and he wants to get nearer if he can. He pushes his consciousness against the light in the darkness, and it seems to answer, gentle coronas of energy curving around his own. The heat is intense, but it doesn’t hurt — at once foreign, and deeply, tenderly familiar. He allows the light, the warmth, to ground him as he is slowly pulled up to the surface

Good, he thinks. This is... good. Safe. Maybe this is what… home… feels like.

His primary processor comes online a moment later, memory leaks patching themselves up, and he snaps his optics open. Defensive battle systems struggle to come online as pain and damage reports inundate his sensory net. And there, clear in his neural net like a blinding beam of light, he can feel it: the consciousness of another spark merging with his own.

His visor is missing. He doesn’t know where it is, he can’t make sense of anything, but he knows it isn’t there because he can’t see a fragging thing— A deluge of memories fritz at the frayed edges of his logic circuiting as he tries to stave off the panic.

“Calm.”

The voice is deep enough to vibrate the sensitive metal of his inner auditory sensor, so close he feels the glyph more than hears it. Belatedly, Jazz notices his own frightened panting, and struggles to bring it under control.

“Calm, Jazz,” the mech says. Their spark pulses gently against Jazz’s own, carefully feeding software patches into the gaps of his own error-wiped system. “Jazz: found. Jazz: safe.” Another delicate burst of charge leaves him shivering in his own chassis, on the brink of sensory overload, and all Jazz can do is hold on for the ride as the stranger painstakingly pieces together the mess of his system.

Too much, he tries to plead, enough, it’s enough, please, it’s too much, but the spark against his own doesn’t yield. And yet, it doesn’t entwine with his own either; the presence is only steady, solid, stable in a way Jazz has never known. It takes all Jazz has not to drive his entire consciousness into it, to meet in the middle of the merge and give as much as he’s taking. The vulnerability, the desperation, the confusion, the relief, the aching open wound of isolation searing at the edges of the sudden all-consuming presence — inside his own casing, Jazz yearns, feeling as if in freefall, as if he is thawing from the inside out. Need, he wants to shout, Please, closer, I need...!

He flinches as his vision returns with a painful stab.

Pressure against him, against his helm. A servo? “Good,” the mech says gently, quiet as a whisper. “Doing very well. Slowly... slow.”

Jazz pushes against it as he looks around frantically, urging his Pit-spawned forge-born optics to calibrate fragging faster. A gentle push of slow, calm, easy now emanates from the spark against his own in measured pulses, and the servo is back, petting his helm as if to reassure him.

It works. Jazz melts against the comfort, too exhausted to fight any more.

It isn’t until the calibration finally completes and he has a feed from his visual sensors, he has the ability to read his own memory drives, that Jazz thinks to wonder who it could be putting him back together in the galactic middle of nowhere.

Dark rocks, shadows from a broken crag looming above, and the ever-distant glow of starlight, untouchable high in the sky. Monochrome grey. Everywhere Jazz looks, the world is monochrome grey, shades of dark and darker in nebulous overlap. Except for two optics right in front of him. Bright as a blazing sun, angular over a partly lowered visor.

Jazz hears more than feels his vents stutter.

Soundwave’s optics narrow infinitesimally as his gaze focuses in, the servo against Jazz’s helm stilling. The ebb and flow of their open spark chambers — housing pulled back, energy cores mingling, one subdued and stuttery and the other bright as a flame — paints flickering shadows on the rock face above them. Light and shadow dance across the battle-scuffed armour of Soundwave’s frame, and Jazz has the wild thought that Soundwave looks as if he’s made of smoke.

Jazz's optics flick down to Soundwave’s open spark. He can tell it’s the same colour as his optics, can’t tell what colour that is but— He knows it isn’t a red spark, and it isn’t blue like his own, either. Jazz may not see colour but he’s not blind.

Clumsy memory drives flash data through his processor, overlapping and fuzzy. Heat curling at his side in a dingy booth. Arena lights hot enough to melt armour. A gaze heavy enough to feel, burning through every barrier it met.

Flames don’t burn gently. Pain and joy, intertwined, lance through him; his spark echoes it in a burst of pale blue between them. Soundwave’s spark, pressed right against him, gives an answering pulse of its own. Jazz shivers as he feels it run through his own chassis as strongly as if it were his own.

And then, as his system tries to settle, the pain of a frame half-crushed, sun-bleached, and starved slams into him with the force of a fusion cannon, and Jazz falls right back into a clumsy shutdown.

 


 

When Jazz wakes up, he knows immediately he isn’t where he should be. His base operations software suite is still in the final stages of calibration when his optics online, and he winces as, once again, thorough frame damage demands to be felt.

He’s lying under an open sky, shaded by some sort of tarp. Gravel crunches gently under his helm when he turns to look around. As far as he can see to his left, the parched red-orange desert stretches on for miles — and in the very distance, flirting with the horizon, he thinks he can just about see the peaks of mountains melting into the sky. Two suns set together, the larger trailing after the one further away as they disappear behind the mountains that were meant to be his grave.

An unintentional groan slips out as he vents deeply. “Soundwave,” he tries to say, but all that he hears are clicks and a raspy static whisper. Resetting his voxcoder, he tries again, utilising his subharmonics so that his voice might carry. “S-Soundwave. Hey, Soundwave!”

There’s the quiet shink of moving gears somewhere above his helm. Jazz tilts his optics up as far as he can and he sees, upside down, his own flight pod caked in accumulated iron-oxide dust. Behind it, parked further off, is a much larger and sleeker looking space vessel; spacious enough to house a crew of four or five heavy-class mecha, with the unmistakable black steel finish of an ancient Decepticon reconnaissance cruiser. If Jazz hadn’t just risen from the dead he’d take a moment to appreciate the relic. He hasn’t seen one of those babies for millenia.

Detecting movement, his optics snap back to his own pod. Walking with assured unhurried steps around it is none other than his saviour.

Jazz grimaces, mentally steeling himself.

The visor is back in place. He looks no different than the last time Jazz saw him properly, vorns and vorns ago across the decimiated hanger of a Cybertronian space station. Nothing to be seen of the unnerving gentleness of the mech who drew Jazz from stasis, none of that painful tenderness, bared optics and a spark illuminating every surface—

Oh. Jazz cycles his optics, staring at the advancing mech. My visor. My visor’s back, too.

That means Soundwave must have repaired it. And the fact that Jazz can even think through the ache in his frame suggests that’s not the only thing, either. Jazz tries to raise a servo in greeting, and realises suddenly his servo is strapped tight against his body.

Dread curls in his dry starved tank. Fear of the unknown isn’t a feeling Jazz has much familiarity with, but right now—

Soundwave stops a few steps away. His black faceplate is tilted down towards Jazz, body language giving away nothing. Jazz bears his dentae in an ugly facsimile of a smile, daring him to break the silence first. He spies Soundwave’s servo twitching at his side before it squeezes into a fist. The other, Jazz realises, is carrying what looks like a medic’s toolbox.

Jazz in-vents, ready to throw out the thorniest vitriol he can, when a deep voice startles him into silence. “Status report.”

Jazz cycles his optics, voicebox stalling.

Soundwave comes around to kneel at Jazz’s side, movements lithe and controlled. Jazz has to resist flinching back. Voice slightly softer, Soundwave presses, “Report, Jazz.”

Calm, Jazz hears, hidden in the glyphs. Jazz: found. Jazz: safe.

“What the frag happened to you?” he demands. “Did your coding finally fritz? Or are you here to try make me talk, because I assure you, there is nothing you can do to me that will ever make me—”

Soundwave— Jazz cycles his optics again once, twice, stunned into silence, because Soundwave sighs, turning away to rummage through the toolbox by his side. He brings out — another suppressed flinch, because this is it, Jazz knows what’s coming, and he hasn’t been out of stasis long enough to prepare himself for neural hacking yet — a... spark reader?

Jazz feels an optic twitch, and he suddenly wishes that it had been some sort of torture device instead.

Soundwave makes no fuss of transforming away the armour of his wrist and plugging one end into a small port hidden beneath. He brings the other end, a small round resonator, towards the heavy armour of Jazz’s bumper. Jazz snarls, struggling against the magnastraps and dismissing the onslaught of warning pop-ups that follow.

“Don’t you fucking touch me!”

The servo pauses for a moment, hovering right above his chassis, before it presses the resonator against him. Jazz’s vents hitch. The metal mesh is cool to the touch, a barely-there pressure directly over his spark chamber. He glances between the sharp claws and the blank visor. Soundwave is careful not to make any contact with the scorched metal of Jazz’s chassis, but despite the obvious care, panic starts to fizzle in Jazz’s spark. He squirms again in his constraints.

“Still,” Soundwave reprimands gently, lifting the scope away.

Jazz just can’t get used to hearing his voice. Every word feels precious, and the ensuing guilt from that thought feels heavy enough to choke him.

“...What are you playing at, you stoic scrap pile? What’s going on? If you want to interrogate me, just get it over with — stop wasting time with this repair… spark-reading…” He struggles for words, feeling like a grounder in free-fall. “With this caring slag!” he ends up blurting out. “Don’t play games with me, Soundwave. Offline me properly. I deserve that much. Or is even that too decent for you?”

Soundwave is still. Jazz doubts he managed to move him at all and starts to squirm again before Soundwave can move, gears creaking under the force of it. But the blasted straps holding him down don’t budge an inch, and all it serves to do is send lancing pain through his neural net. When he tries to push out with his legs, Jazz realises with a terrible suddenness that he’s missing something. He leers down trying to see, and can see the very top of one lonely pede sticking up over the obstructing bumper.

His helm flops against the gravel with a dull thud. “Holy shit.”

Soundwave unplugs the spark reader, letting out a tiny subharmonic click. “Trauma... sustained.”

Jazz snorts with morbid humour. “I think this goes a bit beyond trauma, Soundwave. I am sans foot. In the middle of nowhere. Strapped down like a harness in front of you.”

From his subspace, Soundwave materialises a very familiar wonky-looking leg, energon-stained and crushed to near scrap in parts.

Jazz blanches. “Wh—Were you just hiding that in there!? That’s so creepy, mech, what the frag?”

He picks up the tiniest bit of apology from Soundwave’s body language as the busted pede is carefully placed on the ground beside him. “Only transportation method. Servos otherwise occupied.”

Is it just Jazz or does Soundwave sound a little embarrassed underneath all that synth modifier? Could that be unintentional? And if so, who the pit is this impersonator pretending to be, because it sure as hell can’t be the Decepticon communications officer. As if Soundwave would ever show Jazz the slightest hint of something so crass and base as emotion.

Well. His memories and inhibitions may still be rebooting, but looks like the emergency stasis left his bitterness fully intact. “What’s that supposed to mean, then, otherwise occupied?”

The blank visor snaps towards Jazz, who can only cycle his optics in response.

“What?” Jazz mutters, the sudden image of Soundwave carrying a glitching-out version of him bridal-style out of the yawning maw of death very unwelcome in his processor. “And you were feeling so talkative up until now. Come on, my mech. Did your vow of silence elope with your homicidal tendencies?”

Another subharmonic click. Soundwave’s visor doesn’t stray from the toolbox. “Negative.”

Jazz scrunches his nose. “I hate you.”

Soundwave doesn’t respond, and Jazz feels like he’s lost.

The silence between them stretches until it feels like it’s pulling tight over Jazz’s intake, making venting stuffy and uncomfortable. He shifts in his binds, gaze averted from the mech kneeling by his side. The worst part isn’t even the weirdness, the confusion, the ever-present feeling of flailing in freefall — it’s the fragging heat Jazz can still feel curling against his left arm. It feels as if he switched to infra-red sensors, he’d see energy like organic flora blossoming from Soundwave’s chassis, petals buffeting Jazz’s armour like a needy caress. There’s a magnetism there that Jazz has to fight to resist, even now.

He digs clenched servos into the uneven gravel and relishes the sting. “How long?”

Soundwave’s movements pause for an astroklik.

“How long since you found me?”

The reply is hesitant, even if Soundwave’s tone doesn’t betray it. Jazz knows. “Seventeen hours. Fourteen minutes.”

He licks his lips, staring up at the tarp barely holding back the dusk sunlight. “...Seen the night yet?”

A minute shake of Soundwave’s helm in the periphery of Jazz’s vision.

“Ah.” A small smile curves his lips, hardly there. “You’re in for a treat then. It’s pretty damn impressive. Damn pretty, too.”

When Soundwave doesn’t respond Jazz takes it as the conversation ending, and lets his optics cycle down only to blink them online again when, belatedly, Soundwave says, “Acknowledged.”

He glances over. Long curved claws fidget with the spark resonator, dark visor averted from Jazz’s searching optics. He would think, if he didn’t know any better, that Soundwave was fishing for responses so Jazz would keep talking to him — but he does know better. Surely. Something in the back of Jazz’s processor whispers ‘no’ like a siren’s call.

“Your spark—”

“Spark reading—”

They both cut off, and Jazz feels his faceplate warm. He resolutely glances away, gritting his dentae at how little it achieves. When Soundwave doesn’t continue immediately, Jazz mutters, “Untie me, would you? It’s not like I’m going any—” He trails off when the magnastraps come loose before he’s done talking. “Uh.” He raises his servos, rubbing at his left wrist. “Thanks.”

Soundwave’s visor is staring at him. Jazz raises an optic ridge in response.

Finally, he hears the deep subharmonic-rich voice. “Spark reading: inadequate. Open your chamber.”

Once he’s blinked the surprise from his optics, Jazz laughs, ignoring how it exacerbates the ache in his chassis. He throws Soundwave a wide grin. “No.”

Soundwave turns to face him properly. “Further charge required.”

“Then tie me to an electroshock table. I know there’s one of those in that ugly flying beast of yours.”

Soundwave sighs again, sending a thrill down Jazz’s spinal struts. “Spark to spark resuscitation: optimal strategy.”

Jazz laughs so he won’t embarrass himself. He wishes he could sit up properly without passing out from pain. Dangerous, his processor whispers. It’s too easy to forget the war here, the silence feels too safe. So dangerous. “That was a once in a lifetime event, mech. If you think I’m willingly going to pop any panels for you, ever, you’ve got another thing coming.” It’s supposed to be teasing, but even Jazz can hear the knife’s edge of bitterness flirting with the words. He only hopes Soundwave assumes why, and doesn’t know. “If you want my spark, you’ll have to rip off my casing yourself. I’ll offline myself before I merge with you again.”

Soundwave’s armour flicks, tightening around his frame. “No merge occurred.”

Jazz narrows his eyes at the defensive stance. “Do you think I’m stupid, Soundwave?”

“No merge occurred,” he repeats, tone resolute. “Charge exchange only.”

Jazz allows himself one precious moment of regret because he might believe him, slag it all. “I felt you,” he hisses instead, diving into the anger like a comfort blanket, the vulnerability of the words juxtaposed to his snarl. “You were right there, I felt it.”

Soundwave’s shoulder pauldrons rise in a mimic of defensive embarrassment. Jazz hears him engage his voicebox, but no words come forth. He glares up through the ensuing silence, until Soundwave eventually says, in a small even murmur, “Nothing taken. Only given. One-sided neural—”

“There’s no way!” Jazz spits, raising a servo as high as he can in threat. “Why would you? A high-ranking enemy officer groggy from a broken stasis loop in the middle of nowhere, defenceless, and you hold back because you’re polite? Nah, mech. I know better. I know you better.”

Soundwave seems to struggle for words. Even now, his sentences are brief and stilted, a clear unfamiliarity in every spoken glyph, and Jazz takes a cruel sort of satisfaction in watching his oldest enemy squirm. That’s payback, you aft. After the strained silence stretches to breaking point, Soundwave finally says, “War: concluded. Enemy no longer.”

A weight drops in Jazz’s tank. That… That can’t be true, right? That can’t be why Optimus — why anyone — hasn’t come to find him before now, surely... It can’t be. Jazz shakes his head against the sand. “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar, you always have been! I don’t care what you say, I don’t know what you saw, I don’t know what you were looking for, but if you think I’ll ever trust you—”

Jazz cuts off with a high-pitched squeak when the top half of Soundwave’s visor slides up to reveal angled golden optics, drawn optic ridges shadowing them in a frown.

“What are you—!?” He snaps his mouth shut when Soundwave leans forward slightly, baring himself to Jazz’s scrutiny; and despite himself, despite knowing it’s a distraction and Soundwave is doing all this to lower his defenses, Jazz greedily drinks in the sight.

Without the visor, the mech looks so much more... real. Like if Jazz reached out, he might actually reach the other this time. No smoke in the way.

Soundwave’s optics cycle as he glances away. Shy? Dangerous. Psychosomatic charge skirts through Jazz’s system. Beautiful. He can’t hold back a giddy smile, just— staring, as Soundwave looks right back into him.

“You’re golden-sparked,” he says under his breath. “Even in monochrome, I could see it. I… I knew.”

Jazz has never met anyone with a spark that colour. He’s heard about it, he knows they’re rare, but seeing optics the colour of fractured sunlight in this moment there’s no way Soundwave could have had anything else. It fits. Rich and dark and bright and golden, golden as a warm star. The way he managed to shine through even the glitch of Jazz’s forge-born optics, that ever-present heat prickling at his sensory net whenever Soundwave was near, the beckoning — ever since he met him, Jazz has wondered, and it feels like ever since he met him, he’s also known. Frag it all, Soundwave’s optics are gorgeous. What a slagging crime that visor’s been committing.

Soundwave continues to fidget uncharacteristically, optics flitting between the ground and Jazz’s chassis, never quite meeting his gaze. Jazz’s spark squeezes at the sight. He tilts his helm towards the mech, and lets the awe melt into an easy smile. “Well. Ain’t you pretty.”

Soundwave jerks back, optics snapping up. Jazz feels breathless. It’s only a moment before Soundwave looks away again, looking for all the world like he wants to crawl out of his frame and into the dirt.

Jazz hears it again, that tell-tale subharmonic click. “Trust me...?”

Yes, his intuition screams. Bad idea, Jazz thinks ruefully to himself. Dangerous. “Yeah,” is what he says. “Yeah, mech. I do. Might be offline or virus-dreamin’ or hacked half to Unicron, but— but sure. I’ll trust you.” His smile takes on a self-deprecating tilt. “What have I got to lose?”

Soundwave nods before leaning forward suddenly, blocking out the waning rays of light from the last sun setting behind him. “Give me your spark,” he murmurs, optics boring right into Jazz’s core.

Jazz wishes he wasn’t into the no-nonsense approach. He engages the unlocking mechanism for his chamber, laughing breathlessly. “You bastard. You know exactly what you’re doing. Talking like that ‘cause you know I like it. Flirt.”

Somewhere deep in the recesses of his processor, Jazz acknowledges that if he really wanted Soundwave to believe he was angry, he should have tried harder to sound less pleased about it. A shaky servo rises to press against Soundwave’s ventral armour, hot and thrumming underneath his touch. But instead of pushing him away, Jazz finds himself curling his fingers into a ridge of solid abdominal plating as if to ground himself.

The vibrations through the pads of his fingers are palpable as Soundwave transforms away his pectoral armour, and a small hiss-click marks his spark chamber’s locking mechanism disengaging.

Jazz pushes up from the ground instinctively, gasping at the pain it sends lancing through his frame. But he’s giddy with it, with the dread and the eagerness and the absolute carelessness of it all. “Sounders, if you want it, you gotta take it.

Slowly, weight settles across his chassis. Soundwave lowers himself so that their sparks might touch, and finally, fragging finally, the final layer of metal slides away. An energy core brighter than the sun disappearing over the horizon. Jazz licks his lips as he stares.

“Merge?” Soundwave asks. So close to his audial, the subharmonics tickle in an irresistible way, and Jazz can’t suppress a shiver. Dangerous, so dangerous, what the frag am I—?

His fingers curl into the gaps of Soundwave’s armour. “I warned you. If you find something you don’t wanna see, it’s not my fault.”

He isn’t sure, he can’t be, but he thinks — he’s convinced — he hears Soundwave breathe out a whisper of a laugh, muffled against his mask. He moves as if to join them, but Jazz pushes against him at the very last moment.

He squints at the golden optics peeking over the mask. “I’m not offline, right? This isn’t some pre-Allspark defragging cycle or something.”

Soundwave blinks. It’s so much cuter than a murderous multi-millenia bot has any right being. “Negative.”

“Ha. Well, you would say that.” Jazz braces his pede against the dirt and arches up.

Bright, burning, searing him from the inside out. His pede’s grip on the loose gravel slips but a long sharp arm curves around his narrow waist, holding him tight to Soundwave’s chassis. Jazz feels the bright energy arching towards him again, the magnetism irresistible, a boundless depth waiting right there at the edge of his consciousness; but this time he isn’t powerless in its wake, this time he can move. He can reach back.

Jazz sends his spark careening for the light. Curving flares of white-blue curl around the foreign chamber, tendrils licking at the shared electric field, and he lets out a helpless moan as their cores graze the slightest bit. A stray thought flits through his processor, that if this is the core of a sun, he’s about to be burned to a crisp— And slag it all, that thought sends a full-body shiver through his frame struts.

He’s always known it. Soundwave is fire. Jazz is just a planet orbiting the sun.

Soundwave’s claws clench around his waist and his helm drops against Jazz’s shoulder, a tiny tremble detectable in his chassis. Jazz delights in the surrender. Oh, but danger is my comfort zone. A gentle deep buzzing fills the air as their cores’ charges sync and meld into one. Did you forget so easily?

He doesn’t know who that’s even aimed at, Soundwave or himself.

After the initial sensory handshake, Jazz feels the frame flush against his relax. Hovering on the edge of a simple charge merge is it’s own kind of pleasure. There’s no delving or bonding involved, nothing like a full merge used for interface, but it carries within it a warmth and presence that all living creatures seek. It’s vulnerable, and honest, and so immediate as to feel tender.

Jazz has wanted Soundwave like this for longer than he cares to remember. And after what feels like a lifetime, measured bursts of charge are sent through his spark. Jazz lets slip another, quieter moan.

Charge merges are safe. Jazz doesn’t do safe.

Delving forward, he pushes his consciousness further into merge, prompting for a neural handshake. Well, prompting is putting it lightly — his spark spins on its axis in a demanding dance, processor prodding against Soundwave’s own.

Near his audial, Jazz hears Soundwave’s vent stutter. He finds himself furious with the visor that it would prevent him feeling it against his helm. Arching up again, Jazz whispers, “Let me in. You fragger, let me in.”

Soundwave tenses in his arms. Then, to Jazz’s delight, a small but clear neural pathway opens up in front of him. Jazz laughs breathlessly, and dives in.

He expects resistance, or at least reluctance, and while there is trepidation in spades, Soundwave doesn’t stop him. But his guard is clearly up; Jazz has no access to the baser levels of Soundwave’s spark, no way of reading the actual code of his processor itself nevermind understanding it. All he can do is push at the maze of Soundwave’s firewalls, feeling for any give or connection. And while he does so, through his own body, Soundwave sends pulses of charge — topping off Jazz’s life energy with his own.

Jazz sparkmerged once before with Optimus. It was only a rudimentary patch into his sensory net, an emergency battlefield medical procedure to prevent Optimus hard rebooting after a near-fatal shot. He’s sure he’s got a log somewhere for Ratchet having done the same for him, though he was clearly too out of it to clock what was going on. But both times, it was only the necessary connection; a sensory net, perhaps surface-accessible mobility suites or emergency processor warnings.

That isn’t what Soundwave gives him, though. No, Jazz is all but guided towards a recent memory drive. All right. I’ll play. After double-checking his own anti-spyware software, with far more eagerness than he’s willing to admit to himself, he streams the data through their merge.

Jazz isn’t really a sparkmerge sort of mech. Jazz isn’t really a vulnerability in any form sort of mech. He isn’t all that used to the intricacies of sharing without at least a port and plug as a mediary; so it’s an understatement to say the intensity of peeking into Soundwave’s mind sends him fucking reeling.

Helming the Nemesis. Soundwave, alone on the flight deck. Daily work. Dull. Distant voices from the other end of the ship. Decepticons at work. Bored out of his processor. Comm from Starscream regarding energon stock. Expected. Soundwave returns a binary affirmative when—

SKRKRKRK — pl̴͉̇͜ä̸͕́nè̷͙̓t o̸̫̚f — SKRKRKRK — b̴uri̵a̵l̷ — f̢͙̱̓̅̉la͍̰̪̭͎͒̽͆̓̆— help me! he̷̯̾l̸͔͆p̸̰̅ — SKRKRKRK

The message cuts off in a screech of static. Pain so intense Soundwave flinches against the operations panel, scuffing his visor. Sensors overwhelmed. Screaming. Someone is screaming. An unending desperate scream

Pressure on his shoulder. Megatron’s voice. Concern, masked in authority. Nemesis: veering off flight path. Soundwave recovers, correcting the course. His audials still ring.

Megatron asks what happened. Soundwave’s communication system notes a message from Autobot Jazz. Lost Jazz. Wanted Jazz. Hated Jazz. Enemy Jazz. Beloved Jazz— Nothing, Soundwave tells Megatron. The message is erased.

The message is recovered.

The message is archived.

Jazz tries to pull back, chassis trembling uncontrollably in Soundwave’s hold, but his consciousness is pulled right into the next of carefully curated packet of data.

Vorns later. Soundwave, resolute, examining the data under the guise of a defragging cycle. And once again met with failure as the pain becomes too much to bear, hypersensitive communications array risking burning out. Jazz: unreachable. Appropriate.

Recharge: unsuccessful. Soundwave returns to the flight deck.

On and on, faster than Jazz can properly take in—

Earth. Unicron. Megatron dies. Megatron lives. Megatron dies. Megatron lives.

Jazz tries to parse meaning from the flashing images, but the data is expertly compressed and he can’t unpack it fast enough, thrust ahead into memory after memory as if they can’t hold themselves back any longer. Soundwave bares himself with a recklessness that Jazz hasn't seen before — not anywhere but in himself.

Ground bridge malfunction. Shadowzone. The message replayed, the pain endured, a reminder that Soundwave is alive. Escaped — rescued. Reunion with Starscream. Forgiveness. Respect. Reunion with Megatron. Forgiveness. Return.

Optimus Prime cannot seem to die. Soundwave thinks of Megatron. Appropriate.

The message replayed. The pain unbreakable, a shroud of smoke he cannot penetrate. Audials ring. He hears Jazz scream in his recharge.

Peace talks.

Peace. Factions join; crowds cheer; the rubble of Cybertron is revisited and rebuilt. Built right this time. Decepticons: vindicated. Optimus Prime mourns the loss of Jazz. But Soundwave: superior — Soundwave: beckoned.

War: concluded. Suspicion: unfounded. Orion Pax: prime candidate for Megatronus’ romantic affection. Ideal.

He watches. For his entire life, he watches. Someone somewhere is missing out for sure. A decision is made; the message is decrypted; his communications system is destroyed; Soundwave regrets none of it. He follows the coordinates. A red planet, dry and dusty. A broken mech, emergency stasis looped in a glitched SOS.

Jazz: lost no longer.

Jazz: found.

“Stop—” Jazz is pushing against Soundwave’s chest, scratched servos framing their entwining sparks. “Stop, Sounders, stop,” he pants, “I get it, please, enough—” A broken-off cry as a final surge of charge flares plating all across his frame, and then Soundwave is retreating. The neural pathway locks off and Jazz falls straight out of their sparkmerge and down against the gravel with a dull thud.

He lays there, struggling for enough air to cool his overheated system. Two sets of cooling fans whir frantically, filling in the otherwise dead silence. Above him, Soundwave is hunched over, metal pinging as his own frame rapidly dissipates the heat. His visor is back in place. Jazz can’t even be mad this time.

“That... was just a charge merge...?” Jazz leans his helm back, managing only a wheezy chucke. “Remind me not to try anything more with you. It really might... offline me for good... By the pits, mech.” He rubs a servo over his helm, the movement causing a fraction of the pain it did only moments ago, and collapses back with a grin.

Soundwave’s visor flicks towards Jazz’s face. It takes him a long time to respond, long enough that Jazz finally starts to feel like he’s returning to his physical form. “Accidental overshare. Parts... unintentional.” He sounds defensive. “Jazz: troublemaker.”

Jazz’s optics go wide, mouth falling open. The reality of what he saw starts to churn in his processor, and the answer comes unbidden to his lips: “You know me. I like trouble.”

Soundwave only shakes his helm. Jazz tries to see through the visor, look at what he now knows lies underneath — just another bot, an extraordinary bot — and he gets a tingling feeling like Soundwave is looking right back at him. He suddenly wishes he’d tried seeing if he could find Soundwave’s stored data of their first merge. He wants to know what Soundwave thought of Jazz’s optics.

As if reading his thoughts, Soundwave jumps back. Jazz feels cold in the wake of his retreat, and moves to follow. His hydraulics happily respond to his movements as he pushes up into a kneel. The charge merge seems to have been a clear success as far as that was concerned — a damn success all around, Jazz would argue.

Soundwave seems startled. Jazz sees the flicker of shoulder pauldrons and reaches out to grab Soundwave’s servo before he can make the telegraphed retreat. The moment his digits curve around claws, a burst of heat blooms between them, the leftover charge from their merge dissipating in a small shower of sparks. Like touching lightning. Soundwave doesn’t move, but his visor is glued to Jazz’s face, and from this angle, the distinctive carve of his helm is silhouetted against the last sun setting behind him. Light against dark, dusk setting the world in a quiet monochrome.

Jazz smiles and tightens his grip. “You know what comes next, right?”

Soundwave’s claws twitch in Jazz’s hold.

“Optics up, Sounders. Or you’ll miss the show.”

Above them, the sky bursts into flame. Soundwave’s visor jerks to the sky, clearly taken by surprise, and it reflects the light in a marvellous glow of orange. Jazz can’t tear his optics from the sight.

Falling. Just like in the arena. Déjà vu, over and over again, chance after chance. How many have they lost? How many has he let pass by?

Make a decision, mech.

Jazz lifts his free servo, hesitant as he’s ever been, and softly, ever so softly, taps his knuckles on the bottom of Soundwave’s mask. “Open up, mech.” He leans forward, swallowing. Oh, slag, what am I—? “Let me in.”

He wonders if Soundwave is going to say no.

The visor slides down the whole way. Before Jazz can move forward, it is Soundwave who surges towards him, who curls an arm around a slim waist and pulls Jazz to him. It is Soundwave who leans down and takes, unable to hold back any longer.

Jazz smiles into the kiss, baring his dentae for a split-second to bite against the soft derma of Soundwave’s bottom lip. I win.

Above them, fire curls to the edge of the sky.

 


 

When the last of the equipment is packed into Soundwave’s ship, Jazz points a thumb back towards his own small flight pod. “You sure it’s a good idea to leave that here?”

Soundwave nods. “Battery defunct.”

Jazz hums, pursing his lips. “All right.” He skips forward, newly attached pede keeping him just off-balance enough to make the movement careful. “Guess that’s us, then.” He hops in behind Soundwave and turns to wave at the desert below. “Catch you later, buddy!”

A small peek at Soundwave from the corner of his optical sensors confirms Jazz’s suspicion. The helm is slightly tilted. Soundwave’s exasperated.

He remembers the information he’d started logging before the accident — that nights only last a few hours here. Three solar suns give the poor planet little reprieve, and already, Jazz’s sensitive visor picks up faint streaks of light pouring in through the transparasteel across the small hangar. Through tinted windows — when he glances back, he realises with a start they look a little like Soundwave’s visor — Jazz sees the first of the solar stars begin to arc over the horizon.

A new day. A new chance.

In the distance ahead of him, mountains wait for the sun’s rays to scorch them once again.

Jazz’s spark gives a lurch.

When the hinge-door finally begins to pull shut, Jazz turns to the other mech and crosses his arms under his bumper. Soundwave must catch the glint of danger in his teasing grin because he turns to give Jazz his full attention.

“You know, Sounders,” Jazz begins, “what I said earlier... Maybe we should try after all. I don’t want to give up before I’ve started.” He waits until Soundwave’s silence takes on what he swears is a hint of impatience, and continues, smirk widening, “What do you say? Down to test other merges? I’m curious how well you can multitask.”

Soundwave is a picture of stillness for all of one second, before his sharp wings give a muted flutter that he doesn’t tamp down on fast enough. “Query: Jazz’s concern regarding offlining?”

Jazz’s vents hitch, headlights giving a subtle flicker. Oh, he teases back. Yep. Yep, he’s fragged. Utterly fragged. “I don’t know, mech,” he laughs, swinging around to walk deeper into the ship. “I’ve no qualms with takin’ it slow. It’s a long way back to Cybertron.”