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Failure is Success Disguised

Chapter Text

"I tell ya, we're gonna get us a unicorn. How much ya wanna bet?"

A blue visored helm turned up at the words heard across the room before he could stop himself. Thankfully his wasn't the only attention drawn from the boastful comment as several mechs and femmes at other tables in the tavern were already placing wagers on how long and if the hunt would even be successful.

Taking a swallow from his cube of high grade, the blue and gold mech discreetly studied the speaker. The mech was painted in rather garish colors and had broad sensor panels that waved animatedly behind him as he spoke much like Seeker wings would. Definitely outlanders, and unless he missed his guess they were most likely from Praxus. He'd never seen any personally before but this mech matched the description he'd heard.

Glancing around the room again, he noticed several other like frames scattered across several tables. How had he missed them all until now? They sure stuck out in the crowd of average mechs now that he saw them.

'I'm goin' soft if I missed that' he thought to himself with a morose chuckle as he rose from his corner table and casually made his way over to the brightly colored Praxian's table. He brought the remainder of his cube in hand.

"Say kid," he called out when he was near enough the edge of the table to be heard. "Don't ya know unicorns are only sparkling tales?"

"You only think that 'cause you've ne'er seen one."

"Just 'cause ya think ya saw something don't mean it was what you thought it was, nor some made up creature. There's always a reasonable answer."

Murmurs began among the crowd gathered as some of the bots who had already bet started to rethink their choice and others started to place bets on whether a fight would break out.

"You gonna bet he fails then?" someone in the back of the crowd shouted.

The blue and gold took a swig from his cube before answering with a cocky grin. "Nah, it's not right ta take credits from younglings that don't know no better."

"I'm no youngling," the Praxian retaliated. "And just 'cause you don' believe don' make it untrue!"

"Uh huh.... Kid yer overcharged and I doubt yer old enough fer high grade at all. Who even let ya in here?"

"Lis'en you... The trick is knowin' how ya hunt them."

"And wha's that? Mechanapixie dust and happy thoughts?" The buzz of the crowd was more than just ambient noise now as the Praxian's wings twitched more and more each passing klik but the blue and gold just kept his calm collected posture.

"No! Stop be'ng stupid. Ya need a virgin ta attract em. E'ryone knows a unicorn can' resist the innocent."

"Still not seein' how yer gonna succeed since yer definitely not innocent."

"Not me! My cousin's upstairs and he's gonna help us."

"So yer draggin' yer innocent, untouched cousin out inta the woods ta prance around lookin' fer an imaginary creature. Some family values ya got there."

"Why you!" The vibrantly colored Praxian rose to his pedes, ready to throw a punch but another Praxian, this one pale green and silver, stopped him with a servo on shoulder platting and a whispered comment too low to catch under the crowd's chatter.

"What's going on over here?"

The bystanders quickly parted as a large, heavy duty mech approached. His colors were faded and the paint was good enough quality not to chip, marking him as someone of moderate to high class and in this case clearly the owner of the tavern.

Several voices spoke up quickly to recount the tale and several more bots ducked back into the crowd to sneak out of the disaster zone. Shutting them all up with a hand wave, the mech turned on the blue and gold mech who by this point was nearly beside the Praxian.

"I've got no use for trouble makers in this establishment so you can get out or I can show you the way out."

"Sure thing," the smaller mech replied surprisingly cheerfully. He paused to down the rest of his cube, set it down on the table and toss a credit stick to the shopkeep before starting to walk away. "Fer ma bill. Great stuff ya got here, I might be back sometime."

"I should hope not."

A salute and cheeky grin and the blue and gold mech was out the door as the owner rounded on the Praxian now. "As for you..."

~

The blue and gold mech made it a block before slipping into the shadows of an alley and shifting his coloration back to its natural white and black, as well as a few other cosmetic changes. Starting up an internal soundtrack, he left the alley to circle back around to the tavern's back wall, chuckling to himself since there was no one outside this late at night.

He'd gotten both less information than he'd hoped for and more than he'd expected off the Praxian and it was more than enough to work with. This was far from the first hunt he'd foiled. Foolish hunters never thought about how much they didn't know about their prey when they thought they knew so much. Any sparkling able to speak knew about the virgin thing, the one real weakness his kind had, but normal mechs and femmes knew nothing of the real power unicorns held. Healing and shape-shifting and tricks to escape (or infiltrate!) nearly anything and anywhere being just a few of his own personal favorites.

He was just about to put a few of those into effect actually, as he came up behind the tavern. It was a simple task to determine which window opened to the virgin's room (and really, being drawn to his target hardly counted as a weakness) and just a bit of power and acrobatic skill to get up to the right ledge before yet another ability to just pass right through the solid wall into the room. It wasn't until he was in the room proper that he noticed it was empty.

Having nothing better to do, the black and white decided to snoop around in his target's stuff to try and get a feel for the mech or femme he was about to seduce. Just as he'd turned away from it though, the door opened and he turned back to look and simply stared.

The mech in the doorway was also black and white, colored the same in some places and inverted in others, with broad, sweeping sensor wings held regally behind him and just a splash of color by way of a crimson chevron. Really it was all the intruder could do to not gape as he took in the sight.

Perhaps that was why he never saw the other mech move until his back was pressed against the wall. Never noticed the weapon until it was held beneath his chin plating. And why he never even heard the question spoken in the other's rich tones, leaving his first words spoken to be a slightly dazed, "Pit, mech, you are gorgeous."

The pressure lightened for a moment before the barrel of the gun was pressed even more firmly against his plating. "I ask again, who are you and how did you get in here? Answer me properly or I will shoot you."

"Ya don't wanna do that," the intruder answered the Praxian, finally gathering a bit of his wits. "It's bad luck ta hurt my kind."

"Your kind?" the Praxian pushed.

"Yep. I'm the reason yer cousin brought ya along."

There was a slight hesitation before the Praxian spoke again. "You have two kliks to give me a straight answer or you'll be a pile of rust on the floor before morning."

"Ya really don't know what this hunt is all about?" It was the intruder's turn to be confused.

"The hunters of my clan are forbidden from sharing tales of their hunts, as are those who accompany them, but it is the highest honor to be asked along because these are the hunts that generate the greatest income for my people." It was a well recited, well practiced sort of speech. The kind that gets ingrained into one while still very young. "So how it is you claim to know anything about what we're hunting?"

"Because I'm just the sorta 'a thing yer hunters are lookin' fer on these hunts. The only reason they bring along a virgin, like yerself, is b'cause it's the only way ta attract a unicorn."

The Praxian didn't give away much, but it was obvious there were several questions warring for importance in his processors. Finally he managed to say, "you're lying. There's no such thing."

"I thought ya might think that..." Without warning the intruder used the same trick he had to enter the room and passed through the Praxian to appear behind him. "But it's no lie and we do very much exist."

The Praxian was halfway into a spin to turn around before his thoughts caught up to what had just happened and his gun fell to the floor as his processors tried to lock up from the sheer impossibility. Instinctively as he tipped and swayed, the intruder reached out to help stabilize the other mech. His one servo caught an arm but the other brushed along one of the sensor panels, finding no purchase to hold onto as he attempted to steer the Praxian to the berth and a sitting position.

It was a tense couple breems before the Praxian's awareness came back and the intruder cheerfully greeted him. "Feeling better?"

"Possibly... Did you really do what I think you did?"

"Well I can't read yer mind," the amusement in his tone was to offset and hide the concern he felt. Most bots just didn't try to collapse like that. It wasn't normal. "But prob'bly. D'ya believe me yet?"

"That shouldn't have been possible..."

"Not fer normal mechs, no, but I'm special. I can show ya other tricks if ya want?"

"Are they all so dramatic?"

"They don't have ta be. I pro'lly went about showing off the wrong way but even my kind aren't completely level headed when we got a gun pointed at us and our lives on the line."

"I suppose I was a bit hasty in my assessment of your intentions." The Praxian's posture did shift to show he was both embarrassed and apologetic. "But generally when one finds an intruder in their locked room it's to be expected they are either a thief or assassin."

"Well I can't fault ya on that reasoning. Yer certainly not was I was expectin' either."

"Oh?"

"Yep. Us'lly hunters bring along some younglin' only a couple vorn inta their adult frame an' spend the whole hunt protectin' the kid. Makes it real easy ta avoid 'em even if I didn' take care 'a things the night be'fore." The intruder cast an appraising gaze over the other, neither too fast nor too slow. "I dare say you could hold yer own in the forest though. That's as much compliment as complaint 'cause it means yer cousin and his friends are more likely ta catch one a' us without you slowin' 'em down."

"Why are you hunted anyway?"

"Various reasons, certain qualities and traits different frame parts hold after offling mostly it seems." A sigh. "Wasted potential really. We're worth so much more online... 'Course, we are also impossible ta keep anywhere we don' wanna be and only virgins are allowed ta see our true forms so it prob'bly seems like too much effort not ta offline us."

"That's terrible!" the Praxian exclaimed.

"It is, but tha's how things are," the intruder replied with a shrug and they lapsed into silence.

After a while the Praxian spoke. "You said you 'take care of things' before the hunts happen, is that why you're here?"

"Yep. Though I got yer cousin in trouble downstairs earlier so ya might be needin' a new place ta sleep come tomorrow night."

"It seemed we were going to be leaving before the next night anyway," the Praxian replied to the second part before he questioned further. "What does that usually entail? What are you planning on doing to me?"

"Us'lly I flirt a bit then rock the kid's world with a mindblowin' first time 'facing then vanish inta the night when they offline. But I haven't decided fer you yet. Yer special... I like you. The rest I was drawn ta fer what they were but there was nothin' keeping me around."

"What makes me so special?"

"Other than the fact yer absolutely gorgeous, insanely intelligent an' could prob'bly kill anything s'long as it didn't notice ya first?"

"I..." After an aborted start, the Praxian seemed to switch topics. "I can't lose my seals. It's a huge disgrace to my family to do so before my Bonding night."

"Yer Intended let ya come out on a trip like this? Or is he one 'a the ones who came with?" There was no hiding how much that thought displeased the intruder.

"Oh no!" Sensor panels flaring up in surprise, the Praxian quickly backpedaled. "No no no, no, nothing like that. No one had managed to catch my interest yet, nor I theirs. It's simply not how things are done in my clan. You don't give away your seals until you Bond."

"Well there's a thought..."

"What?"

"Bonding. You and I."

"What!"

"Ya said no one was interested in ya b'fore, which I find a crime but acceptable b'cause I'm totally diggin' ya now and it means I have a chance if ya want me."

"I... You can't just... But..."

For the first time since they sat down, the intruder reached over to cautiously grip the Praxian's shoulder as he wobbled again. "Hey now, I wasn't tryin' ta make ya glitch out. I can take it back if that'd help?"

"'s not a glitch..." Each word was spoken slowly and deliberately as he tried to regain control. "Just an overload on overly sensitive logic circuits... Anything too far unexpected runs a chance of locking me up, which requires a forced reboot to prevent the sensitive components from frying."

"So when I walked through ya earlier... That was another time this almost happened?"

A nod was all the response given.

"So it's better if I just refrain from being anywhere near ya then..."

The Praxian reached out to quickly catch the intruder's servo before he could move out of range, unsure when the other had even stood at all. "Don't go."

"This is the second time I've almost wrecked ya, clearly I'm no good fer yer health."

"On the contrary, this is the second time you've helped me not lock up when I should have. My younger brother once managed to do so 5 times in the same orn with far lesser offenses so please, stay?"

The intruder was silent but did sit down again. After a few kliks though, he made an observation. "Ya sure are intent on keepin' around someone ya don' trust."

"What makes you say I don't trust you? Because I won't agree to Bond you without even knowing your name?" Mildly agitated, the Praxian's sensor panels flicked a few times.

"Huh, I suppose that does make sense..." The intruder flashed a bright smile, seemingly mindless of the other's mood. "I guess I really should know the name 'a the mech that stole my spark so, I'm Jazz an' you are?"

Caught on the line just before, the Praxian almost missed the other's designation and request for his. When he did notice though it caused him to laugh.

"Uh... Not that I don' think ya got a beautiful laugh but what's the joke I'm missin'?"

It wasn't immediately that the Praxian answered, and when he did he skipped past the question last asked. "I'm Prowl, and yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes," Prowl repeated and leaned over to brush his lips against Jazz's in a quick, chaste kiss. He then went silent as he let Jazz think and it was obvious when he got it, his features brightening up all at once.

"Really?" Jazz asked bewildered. "But... Ya really only needed my name ta agree?"

"Technically no, officially these things involve an extended courting, but in my case that will only be a formality."

"Ya gotta explain that one fer me."

Prowl nodded once. "In my clan, a few vorn after a bot receives their youngling upgrades they are taken to a seer for a reading of their future. It's to help guide their interests and decisions later in life. My sparkline has always had rather extravagant prophecies. My creators were to 'bare great changes' and my brother is to 'calm the sun and entice his brother'."

"And yours? Somehow involves me?"

Another nod. "In part, I am to 'bond music'."

"That does sound like me," Jazz replied with a laugh. "What's the bit about that only bein' part 'a it?"

"There's more to my prophecy but it hasn't come to pass yet."

"But you'll know when it does?"

"Yes. Anyone who hears the formal declaration of a prophecy knows when a part is coming to pass."

"So anyone who heard just has ta hear my name ta know we're meant ta be. That's what ya meant when ya said e'rything else was a formality?"

"Exactly."

"Sweet. So now what?"

"I have no idea. This is all new to me."

"'s pretty new fer me too," Jazz admitted. "It is gettin' early though so I should either be leavin' ta warn the others ta avoid yer huntin' party," Prowl's wings dropped as his posture slumped just a bit and Jazz continued on. "Or I could sully ya just enough they won't have any interest in ya. Either way I gotta be gone b'fore the others come lookin' fer ya."

"Naturally," Prowl agreed. "I was going to mention the same myself." He was then silent for a short while as he considered the options before asking, "what exactly would the second option entail?"

Jazz chuckled at the question. "Seals are all well an' good fer what they're used fer, but there are ways ta overload a bot without affectin' 'em and those a' us drawn ta the innocent generally aren't interested in interactin' once a bot's overloaded a couple times. There are exceptions, I'm a big one, but that's the general rule."

"How exactly does that work?"

"Tactile, touch based, with some field play mostly. Depends on the bot really. I hear yer panels are sensitive, yes?" Prowl nodded. "And I know a few tricks, so it shouldn' be too hard."

"And you're not just going to vanish afterwards and I'll never see you again?"

"Didn't I just tell ya I'm an exception?" Jazz replied with a slight smirk. "B'sides, I like ya too much ta let ya go even if ya lost yer seals ta another. Granted, they'd have ta get through me first..."

Prowl smiled. "Good. I like you well enough too, better than anyone else I've ever met, and I wouldn't want this to be our only interaction."

"If I get my way, mech, this is only the first a' many interactions."

"I would very much like that too."

"Pit, every word off a' yer lips makes me wanna ravish ya more."

"I am not opposed to that." Almost as an after thought Prowl added, "so long as you leave me socially acceptable."

"I think I can manage that," Jazz replied as he closed the distance between them and pressed his lip plating against Prowl's in a heated kiss.

"Primus..." Prowl breathed out when they separated, both already running hotter than before. And then they were beyond words as Jazz began to touch.

His servos first moved along the other's frame, dipping into seams and tweaking wires, drawing countless soft gasps from Prowl before he drew away. Prowl whimpered and reached out but Jazz had already moved behind him to play with his wings. Jazz was careful, almost hesitant at first as he explored the panels he'd never seen before tonight but his touch grew more confident as he mapped out which places caused the best reactions.

"Jazz..." Prowl moaned, wound up so tightly by now he couldn't even think. "Please..."

"Please what?" Jazz practically purred in Prowl's audial. He revved his engine when Prowl shivered and nestled as he was between the other's wings it drew more new and wonderful sounds from the Praxian.

"More... please!" Jazz had pulled back but kept their fields entwined and in alternating waves he pushed his awe and desire into Prowl, driving the charge even higher. Not quite high enough though and Prowl writhed when Jazz touched his wings again, the panels flaring back as he sought out contact, any contact, to bring release.

"Hold still," Jazz chuckled. "You'll like this." Prowl did, barely, and Jazz didn't disappoint.

Activating the magnetics in his servos, Jazz sent a gentle pulse into the sensitive panels and the result was immediate. Prowl arched back as the overload hit, sparks dancing along his frame and occasionally jumping across to Jazz, who watched in amazement while caressing Prowl's sensor wings to draw out the pleasure.

Slowly Prowl came out of the post-overload haze. "That was..."

"Amazing," Jazz supplied.

Prowl hummed a soft sound of agreement as he reclined against Jazz. "I was going to say intense but that's accurate too."

"Was talking 'bout you," Jazz commented, deeply enjoying the shivers he caused by peppering gentle kisses along the other's wings in between sentences. "Yer beautiful. An' absolutely perfect."

"Jazz..." Compliments weren't something he heard often, or as honestly spoken, but he couldn't think to say anything with the attention Jazz was paying him. Reluctantly, Prowl pulled away so he could turn around and maybe collect his thoughts.

"Tha's not even the best ya can feel either," Jazz was saying but paused when Prowl moved. "Is somethin' wrong? I didn' hurt ya, did I?"

"Nothing so serious," Prowl promised. "I'm simply not accustomed to anyone truly believing me worthwhile."

"Then ya've been stuck with a bunch of blind idiots. No offense meant ta ya family a'course."

Seeing the sincerity in his voice reflected in his frame, Prowl couldn't help leaning in for another kiss after a soft, "thank you."

"It's nothin' but the truth." The words came out mildly strained though as the contact of their frames made Jazz ache for more. "But ya really should sit back b'fore ya make me give inta temptation and do naughty things ta ya."

Prowl complied, but couldn't help questioning even as Jazz vented deeply in an attempt to cool down. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Better not ta ask. None a' my suggestions are all that 'socially acceptable'." He managed a smirk. "Just need a couple kliks ta self-service after the sight ya made."

As Jazz finished speaking he stood and Prowl instinctively reached out to him. That touch was all the stimulus needed for his panel to retract and Jazz couldn't hide the moan as his spike extended and pressurized. With a gentle tug, Prowl pulled Jazz back onto the berth and positioned himself between his legs.

"Let me. It's only fair."

Any protest Jazz might have made was lost as Prowl took his spike into his mouth, swirling his glossa along the tip before taking him further into his intakes. It was clumsy and a bit too methodical but also new and eager and all Jazz could focus on was the fact that this was Prowl and he was doing this willingly and entirely of his own accord. This was a mech who knew what he was and was willing to tie himself to a creature of legend on nothing but faith and one conversation. That this mech was the one he was willing to give himself to wholly and utterly. And if this was what Prowl did now, how much better would he be with practice when they truly belonged only to one another?

His overload hit without warning at that thought and he announced it with a sharp cry of the other's designation. For his part, Prowl held onto Jazz's spike and attempted to swallow the released transfluid but he'd misjudged and had to let go, allowing the last of it to fly free. The spray landed mainly across the Praxian's faceplates but that wasn't what caused his irritation.

"Pit, that was amazing, mech," Jazz commented as his awareness returned and immediately he looked to Prowl. "What's wrong?"

He shook his helm before responding. "It's nothing. Just that technique is more complicated in practice than it sounds and I'm not accustomed to failing even on a first attempt."

Jazz laughed as he pulled a cloth from his subspace and leaned forward. "Well I'll never refuse ya if ya wanna practice but right now we should get ya cleaned up or we'll never get any recharge."

Prowl accepted the offered cloth and wiped his faceplates. He was both surprised and not when Jazz claimed his lips in a kiss when he finished. "I thought the plan was to not rile one another up further?" Prowl teased.

"Couldn' resist," Jazz replied as he re-subspaced the cloth after a quick sweep over the berth. His next comment came as he laid down, arms open and inviting. "Ya wanna share how ya knew anything like that at all?"

Prowl hummed softly as he settled in alongside Jazz. "You'd be surprised what bots talk about when they don't know or care who is listening. And a clever youngling can hear plenty. Although many bots are often willing to explain the mechanics to interested newly upgraded adults, though some would prefer to show..."

"Yer definitely gonna have ta explain all this societal stuff more in-depth later."

"I'm sure."

They lapsed into contented silence after that, slowly drifting off in the peaceful knowledge that no matter what the next orn might bring they wouldn't be alone.

Chapter Text

Prowl knew he should focus but he couldn't help his thoughts wandering as their hunting party trekked through the forest. He kept drifting back to Jazz though, and how much, if any, of the night before was real. He'd woken alone with only the half remembered sense of a lingering kiss to prove the other mech had existed at all. The whole thing had been surreal even at the time and now in the morning light it seemed even more impossible. Hadn't the villagers warned them too when they arrived that outlanders often experienced dreams vivid enough to mimic online life?

With a soft sigh, Prowl pushed aside his thoughts in an attempt to refocus on the forest. It didn't help his concentration that Smokescreen, the party leader, was still gripping about some mech the night before who had interfered in a bet and lost him several potential credits, as well as nearly losing him his berth for the night. As was typical, Prowl barely paid the tale any mind beyond the thought that Smokescreen had probably deserved it and a passing wonder if the situation would convince the mech to give up his gambling habit. Unlikely, but even a minuscule chance was better than nothing.

He really did need to focus though. The hunt hadn't even properly begun yet and he was already failing to be helpful. They needed to find a good clearing, a nice open space large enough to accommodate an ambush.

Ideally they were looking for an open area not so wide they couldn't enclose the clearing in the weighted nets that each hunter carried in subspace. Bound high in the trees where the hunters waited before being dropped, the netting was a valuable tool. At best a fleeing unicorn would capture itself, thrashing about and freeing the net's top to fully encase it. At the bare minimum it stalled the creature long enough for the hunters to gather and reach it.

Of course Prowl knew none of this, because hunts were treated as sacred and never spoken of outside the Hunters' House. If he had known, his worry for Jazz (if the mech was even real and what he claimed to be) would have magnified. Try as he could to reject the other's existence, Prowl couldn't help the desperate hope he truly was real. Never before had he met a bot anything like Jazz. Reckless, impulsive and such a vibrant being. Granted, he didn't know too much about him yet but what little he did know was amazing. Like the other's casual acceptance of his minor mental complication; Jazz was the first mech not to treat him any differently just because his processor occasionally locked up. It was refreshing, and he had to admit, a bit addicting. If he was really honest with himself, he had already been inclined to accept the other's offer even before hearing his name.

An unexpected signal from from his sensor panels pulled Prowl from his thoughts once more and he strained to find it again. It was then that he noticed he wasn't the only one. A couple of the older hunters had stopped and extended their panels to the fullest too. Another mech, Sharpsight, had meanwhile moved beside Smokescreen and pulled him into a quick, hushed conversation but it was still too loud to catch anything from the forest.

Not two kliks after Smokescreen finally shut up a loud crash came from their left. Three of the the closest hunters broke away from the rest and went to investigate. This opened a gap in the circle and Prowl quickly slipped through to follow before they enclosed around him again. It may have been tradition to 'protect the virgin' but he was at least as skilled a warrior as half the mechs in the party and the use of his status felt like an insult.

And then his thoughts stalled as he passed between a pair of trees and came up behind the hunters where they were circled around a figure on the ground. Prowl barely even considered the situation before his optics were drawn to the seated mech and his spark soared as he recognized him. There was some drastic cosmetic differences, but it was the same mech. Had to be the same mech.

[Jazz]

"...I didn't do nothing," he was saying, pulling Prowl back to the situation. "Ain't no need fer the guns..."

Looking properly now, Prowl saw the blasters held by his fellow Praxians and aimed at Jazz. None were charged, and anything less than a full charge would just hurt like the Pit, but they were all ready to fire at any moment and three charges would definitely hurt. But how to intervene...

The chance was taken from him as the rest of the party materialized and Smokescreen spoke. "What happened?"

One of the three, Sureshot, dark green and tan in color, answered. "Caught this one trying to track us, and poorly at that."

"Track you?" Jazz repeated. "I wasn't doin' anythin' a' the sort."

Several harsh stares were turned on him as the party looked back to him. "Then what were you doing?" Sureshot demanded.

Jazz flinched slightly. "I was just tryin' ta get outta this place and go home."

"A likely story." This came with a slight growl as Sureshot raised his weapon to aim again and a few others did so as well. "Why were you up an alloyoak if it wasn't to spy?"

"I... I thought I could see a path if I got high 'nough but then I fell." The proof of that was clear enough in the scattered branches and bits of metal where he sat, as well as the minor cuts and gashes across his frame.

Sureshot's grip tightened on his blaster but before he could say or do anything more, Prowl broke in. Both into the conversation and the circle around Jazz.

"Stop this. It doesn't matter where he came from or what his intentions are right now. Clearly he's no danger to us," Prowl offered a sweeping gesture to draw attention to the lack of weapons, or any tools at all. His next sentence was delivered as both a statement and a warning. "And any bot stupid enough to try anything around this many armed warriors is simply asking to be offlined."

That said, he withdrew a slightly larger than standard field medkit from his subspace and was about to kneel when a hand on his arm stopped him.

"What do you think you're doing?"

Prowl turned to meet Smokescreen's stare. His answer was easy. "Tending to any serious wounds he may have. Even if we're just sending him on his way it's not right to leave him injured when we can help."

"You sure took to Triage's teaching well." The tone was blank but pointed.

"It was something to pass the time whenever I was in the medbay and she appreciated the help."

"You still can't do this."

"In lieu of a proper field medic, I have the highest qualifications."

"Slaggit Prowl, this isn't safe for you!"

The black and white stiffened. "And when my safety is an actual concern I will heed your advice but for now the risks are minimal to none so stop treating me as useless."

"But Prowl...."

"I will invoke the Rite of Protection if need be, Smokescreen," Prowl cut him off. "So don't test me. For all we know he's a lost local. He does share frame similarities with the other villagers."

"Or he's one of the creatures they warned us about that mimic real bots."

Prowl gave him a level stare. "I should certainly hope you're not one to believe those sparkling tales."

Smokescreen opened his mouth to argue but Sharpsight silenced him and then Prowl turned his focus to Jazz, kneeling to check on his wounds. They weren't nearly as bad as they had seemed at first glance though there was a torn secondary line in one of his arms that was slowly seeping Energon from just above the elbow joint. Pulling out a flexible fabric mesh because the injury was below and just under armor plating, Prowl got to work binding the area. There was little else that required attention greater than self-repair could handle.

As he worked, Prowl turned his focus to the mech he was aiding, searching for any signs he recognized him as so far there had been literally none. Even the field against his at this close proximity was familiar but blank. But how could that be? This was the same mech, right? It had to be. So why didn't he offer any recognition even this close?

Prowl couldn't help the disappointment that filtered into his field but all it received was a flicker of curiosity before Jazz spoke. "Wha's wrong? Did I wreck myself worse than I thought?"

"No," Prowl responded after a moment. "Nothing of the sort, I was just thinking..." He brought his optics to face the familiar visor but couldn't find any hint of the other knowing him, not that he expected it by now but it still hurt. "What is your story? Why are you so far into the forest, and unprepared at that?"

"Was travel'n with some friends. They said they knew this sweet shortcut that'd save us several hours but we got separated an' then I got lost an' stumbled on this kickin' party in the middle a' the woods. Had some strange characters hangin' 'round though; I swear there was even a Seeker or two! And the highgrade was so worth offlin' for, though half a cube an' yer already ready ta power down..." A frown crossed his faceplating at that but it was soon gone. "Next thing I knew I was wakin' in a clearin' as empty as my tanks with no clue where I was or how to get outta the forest so I started walkin'. That led me ta decidin' ta climb a tree which drew yer attention and that's how I got here."

A bright, but cheeky, smile was flashed to the group still surrounding them just before Smokescreen claimed attention again. "You can't still say you think he's trustworthy after that tale. As if he saw a Seeker. Everyone knows they're just a myth!"

Prowl set an unimpressed stare on the other Praxian. "Says the mech who was just ranting about 'shifters moments ago."

"That's different."

"I don't see how."

Prowl gave a swift flick of his doors as he turned away; an obvious dismissal, but Smokescreen ignored it. He only got as far as touching Prowl's shoulder before Sharpsight caught him and drew the slightly older Praxian away into a hushed conversation. Before anything else could happen, Sureshot spoke, looking towards Jazz. "We can lead you out but we've got business to attend to first. If you can stay silent and out of the way we'll take you with, otherwise we'll give you directions and you can try to make your own way out. The choice is yours, but you will not put yourself in our way in either situation, do I make myself clear?"

Thankfully, the visored mech was smart enough not to press his luck against Sureshot's tone when he replied. "Crystal."

~

There was little more conversation as they traveled towards the clearing Jazz had awoken in. It was just a bit larger than they would have liked but workable and the hunters had set to work. Prowl was to remain in the center of the clearing as the others waited in the trees, although that plan was adjusted so there was someone on the ground keeping an eye on their 'guest' in case he did anything to ruin the hunt.

As the orn drug on though, and everyone became more ornery from the lack of anything, it wasn't the non-Praxian who was the problem...

"How did we not see anything?" Smokescreen was asking the others as they trudged back towards the village. The daylight was nearly gone and there was an air of weariness about the group, not from exhaustion but from unfulfilled expectations. "Doesn't this method always, always work?"

"Nearly always, yes." The speaker was a dusty grey with dark gold accents. "But the spoils of the hunt are due as much to the leader's virtue as the worthiness of the lure."

"Are you saying it's my fault?"

"Well you have been endangering our success this entire trip. Broadcasting our goals and plans, and you even had the audacity to gamble on our success! That alone is worth expulsion from the guild for even the lowest member but for the Head of Hunt to do so is outrageous!"

"Hey now," another hunter attempted to cut in and the group stopped as tempers continued to flare. The visored mech sidled over to the only other non-hunter as if concerned for his own safety to ask a question.

"Is it safe that they're bein' so loud out here?"

"Possibly, though I'm not the one to ask," Prowl responded, his gaze moving from the debate to the mech now beside him. His spark spun at a dizzying rate thanks to the memories he now didn't trust but he pushed that all aside to answer. "It's nothing we could prevent in any case; there has always been animosity between those two and this trip has apparently only inflamed it."

"It certainly doesn't help that Fastdraw was sure he'd be chosen to lead this hunt," Sharpsight commented from behind the duo. He and his mate had made sure to keep a careful eye on the outsider, particularly after catching his gaze lingering a little too long on the royal in their group. "Naturally he'll use this failure to justify his hatred of Smokescreen."

"Sounds like a lotta politics fer mechs who call themselves hunters."

"The Hunter's Guild is second only to the royal family in Praxus, cousins in history and sparklines." Sharpsight regarded the visored mech as he stared at him while responding. "Far as it may be from our beginnings, politics are an important thing to understand when your highest possible rank is only outranked by the present ruler and about equal to that of his bonded."

"Huh."

That was all the response that could be had really and Sharpsight hadn't expected much more. "How does it work where you come from?"

There was a pause as the mech thought before speaking. "We got one bot who runs e'rything an' e'ryone follows his rules but usually he just makes the final call in personal disputes or matters a' law. Mostly e'ryone's friends with e'ryone else in these towns though so there's not much for our 'leader' ta do."

"That's not too far off," Prowl commented, "if our culture were to be so simplified..."

"Highly simplified," Sharpsight agreed with a glance at the younger Praxian, which went unregarded.

Sureshot stepped into the conversation at that point, looking towards the outsider. "Come to think of it, you haven't even told us your designation yet."

The blue visor seemed to flash momentarily and the pair of hunters shared a guarded look when he answered with a soft laugh. "Now tha's an easy one. The name's Jazz."

~

"Remind me again why we're letting them talk?"

"Do you recall the old sleeper's tale?"

"That the one about the youngling wandered away from home one night and returned a centivorn later thinking it'd only been a night. Claimed he'd had a bit'a highgrade and offlined?"

"That's the one. It's not as far-fetched as you'd imagine. My carrier met the mech and said he believed him."

"Steelwing never was one to spread tall tales."

"Only 'cause Brightlight woulda knocked him out for it," a third voice piped up as a new mech joined the table.

"Yes well, she didn't harbor fools. Especially if it came from her own bondmate."

Sureshot's comment drew laughter from the other two at the table, and he looked towards a small table across the room tucked away almost in a corner. Sharpsight had been sitting with the outsider and youngest of their member but had excused himself to supervise from another, more secluded, section of the room. It was a plan they had agreed on before reaching the inn and a good thing as Sureshot's attention was soon drawn back to the mech he'd sat down with.

"It's no wonder she was the Head of Hunt for so many vorns, with him as her second. But it is curious why you never tried for the position."

"I was never interested in leading. I can but I'm more interested in the planning and act of hunting than in ordering others around."

"Well yeah, we all know yar always plan'ng somethang," the third mech added. "What's the super s'cret plot this time?"

"Quick Pulse," Sureshot replied evenly to the clearly overcharged hunter. "You should go collect your brother, he's making trouble again."

"Oh fine," huffed the younger hunter but he did stand and make his way to Fast Draw. The pair exchanged words and then soon vanished upstairs. Hopefully to their own rooms and not to further annoy Smokescreen who had retired as soon as they arrived.

Once they were alone again, the second hunter addressed Sureshot with a none too subtle indication in the way of the table he'd been looking at before. "Is it really safe to leave them alone like that?"

Sureshot seemed genuinely surprised. "They aren't doing anything inappropriate."

"Maybe not now, but you're letting them share a room."

"You don't trust his decision making skills?"

"Around others? Sure. But unsupervised? Who wouldn't wanna try something with that mech? He's not so bad for an outsider."

"Prowl knows the cultural stigma, probably better than any of us. He's not going to allow anything inappropriate to occur," Sureshot explained. "And I've known him his entire life, so yes I do trust him and his choices completely."

"But why?"

"Why what?"

"That." A wave in the direction of the two they were speaking about.

"They're just talking."

"But why let them talk at all? We're just gonna ditch the outsider when we find his village anyway."

"Because we won't be." Sureshot continued on with a gesture to cut the other mech off before he could voice a protest. "The village is unlikely to be at all how he remembers it and even in the best case scenario, everyone he used to know will have aged considerably and might not even recall his existence."

"Like in the sleeper's tale..."

"Exactly."

"How do you know this?"

"Call it an educated guess."

"I don't understand..."

Sureshot ex-vented a soft sigh. "Alright, listen hear but this is a secret so don't go telling anyone or you'll wish your creators never onlined." A nod was the response and he explained. "We want to encourage the two of them to become friends so when he has no home to return to he is willing to return with us. They are to be Bonded but that's impossibly unlikely to happen if he remains in these territories and so Primus shall provide the appropriate circumstances."

"They're supposed to Bond? Are you sure? They're so different.."

"Sharpsight was part of the honor guard for his Telling and remembers his prophecy."

"And it said he was gonna get with an outsider?"

"Not in so many words but we've both reviewed the memory files and concluded this is what half of his prophecy means."

"His creators are never going to accept."

"Perhaps not," Sureshot agreed as his attention slipped back to the other table. Prowl had stood and Jazz was getting to his pedes as he said something. Their words were too soft to carry over the ambient noise of the room, however the duo seemed to be heading upstairs for the night. Sureshot watched as they exited, both leaving partial cubes of standard Energon on the tabletop, and began to climb the staircase before finishing speaking. "But that's the joy of a prophecy; it will come true no matter how anyone feels about it."

"Heh, let's hope that's for the best then."

"Cheers to that," Sharpsight spoke as he joined them at the table and they all tapped their highgrade cubes together in a mock toast.

~

Prowl lead the way to the room they would share in silence, and was immensely glad not to be questioned about it. While his present company was pleasant enough, (they had shared a surprisingly enlightening discussion on variable governing styles after he'd been asked to explain exactly how Praxus was ruled), he couldn't help comparing him to the mech from the night before and it was difficult to clamp down on his sadness. He just couldn't understand either, how any of it was possible and it was aggravating his sensitive logic centers so he couldn't spend much time on the thought. And that was before the realization that he has no idea how he was going to handle spending a night with this stranger who was but wasn't but really was unknown to him.

When they reached their door, Prowl opened it and stepped aside to allow Jazz in first. The mech slipped in easily and crossed the room while Prowl followed slower, remaining in the doorway to shut and latch the door. It wasn't much and wouldn't hold up to much force but it was something to do to stall needing to deal with the other mech. The simple task didn't take long though and too soon Prowl had to turn back towards the room's inside and other occupant.

He had barely completed the motion when there was movement and before he could identify the source he was being pulled forward against another frame and his lip plating captured in a kiss. Shock faded to mere surprise in his field as he registered the familiar sensation and reciprocation was only natural. The moment seemed both instant and to stretch on forever but far too soon it was over.

"Been waitin' to do that all day. Ever since seein' ya out in the forest this mornin'."

Prowl didn't speak, couldn't even find any words to think, as he stared at Jazz, who proceeded to worry as the silence continued.

"Prowl? Are ya alright?" The question came with a hesitant touch to his upper arm. "I didn't break ya, did I?" Now fretting, Jazz continued to ramble on, sadness beginning to permeate his field. "Please say something. Please? Do ya even remember me?"

It was the pleading in his tone that finally pulled Prowl out of his thoughts and before he could stop to think he was speaking. Anything to remove the despair from the other's features. "So last night did actually happen? You're really you?"

"Who else would I be?" But the reply came with a soft laugh as a smile returned to Jazz's face. "An' it most definitely did, but we can try a replay if ya don't believe me..."

"I..." Prowl had returned the smile with a faint one of his own but it slipped as he began to speak. "I didn't know what to think. You looked and acted like yourself but you didn't acknowledge me at all and it hurt..."

Jazz quickly drew him into an embrace. "I'm so sorry, love. I'm such an idiot s'metimes an' I didn' realize at first that I hadn' mentioned my idea ta ya, 'specially when ya went along with it so well. An' then we never got a chance ta really talk an' I couldn' just say any a' this around the rest a' them, natur'ly, so I couldn' be sure if ya knew or not. An', well, I'm jus' stupid s'metimes an' I hope yer willin' ta take tha' risk an' accept me still anyway."

There was such a note of desperation to his words that Prowl acted without thinking and pressed a quick kiss to his lip plates. The worry lingered in Jazz's expression still when they parted though. "It was a brilliant plan and while I would have appreciated advance warning, honestly I'm just grateful you came back at all. I’m not exactly the easiest mech to get along with and so few have actually cared enough about me to not break their promises.

“I thought I was going crazy too because you were you, but you weren’t and you wouldn’t acknowledge me in any way so I thought I’d done something to upset you and it was your way of rejecting me…”

“Never, love.” The exclamation was quickly interjected before Prowl could come to any worse conclusions and Jazz berated himself once more for not forewarning him. “I would never, could never, reject ya. I did promise ya my spark after all. An’ I think yer just perfect.”

Clasping Prowl's servos in his own, Jazz slowly backed away and gently tugged the Praxian with him. "C'mon."

Only when they reached the berth did the latter pause. "I should hope you don't have anything planned because we can't. As much as I love your touch, the others are certainly paying attention in case you have ill intentions."

"I had guessed as much," Jazz chuckled softly. "So even though I'd love ta defile ya even more I'll hold off." That drew a small smile to the other's features and he continued. "I do wanna curl up and hold ya close though, if that's ok with ya?"

"I wouldn't accept anything less."

In short order they were settled into the berth with Jazz on the inside, not quite pressed against the wall but close because it was less claustrophobic with his abilities. The night's calm had quickly swept through them and both could have been content to simply lay there, but there was still an important topic to discuss.

"Jazz?"

"Hm?"

"I'm worried," Prowl admitted softly. "How are we ever going to convince the others to let you return with us?"

"Got that covered," Jazz answered, leaving off the mental, 'I hope.' "That story I told? It's based off a slightly obscure old tale that I'm pretty sure that bonded pair know about. The one was watchin' us way too much too so I'm thinkin' at least one a' 'um know about yer future an' hopefully is decidin' whether I'm good enough fer ya."

Rather than any of the obvious questions, Prowl went for the oddest one to him. "How did you know Sureshot and Sharpsight were bonded?"

"Ya mean it's a secret? I thought it was obvious," Jazz responded. "The way they move an' interact, it seemed pretty clear. Don' worry though, I won' tell anyone."

"I'm sure they'll appreciate that. Hunters don't like to make that information common knowledge, for important reasons."

"Understandable."

They lay in silence for a while more, just basking in the other's loving field for a time until Jazz spoke this time. "Ya do want me to come with, right? There's nothing fer me here, hasn't been fer a long time, but I don't wanna tag along if I'll only be in yer way."

Unable to find words, Prowl resorted to pressing a kiss to the top of Jazz's helm. It gave him a moment to think while also being reassuring. "There's nothing I want more than to have you by my side for the rest of my functioning. I know it's not been long but I already can't imagine my life without you."

"Good," Jazz replied, "because I feel the same and things mighta gotten awkward otherwise."

"Too true..."

Cuddling up closer, fears and concerns dealt with, the pair soon drifted offline. The next morning would bring new problems, certainly, but for now everything was perfect.

Chapter Text

The next morning went smoothly enough, other than the anticipated bickering that arose from known personality conflicts and which the other Praxians easily ignored, so Jazz did too. Soon enough regardless, the hunting party was packed up and on their way. Everything was going according to plan.

Because it was close and not too far off their path, they detoured to the village Jazz had named as his home. As Sureshot had predicted the previous night, no one recognized him and even the house he led them to as his home was no longer there. One of the oldest mechs, when they stopped to question the villagers, only barely even remembered the structure that had been worn away by acid raid centi-vorn ago. Long after the last family had lived there.

Left with no one to return to and nowhere to go, Sureshot had then brought up the suggestion of Jazz returning to Praxus’ capital with them. Most of the hunting party was surprised with a couple sharing knowing glances. Smokescreen had immediately opposed the idea which lead Fastdraw to agree to it. Smokescreen tried to pull rank as Head of the Hunt but that only served to make more party members agree, simply to spite him.

In the end, Prowl offered the choice to Jazz as it was his life and future. Jazz agreed willingly enough, thankful not to lose what little good had come of the entire situation. Sureshot and Sharpsight had shared a look with differing levels of conspiratorial before directing the group back to the path to reach their rendezvous point with their ride.

There was a moment of surprise when said ride turned out to be a passenger convoy named Caravan, as Jazz had never even seen a convoy class mech before, much less actually met one. It was a surreal moment for the Praxians because the frame type was seen commonly enough passing through Praxus to deliver supplies, and even more so for the hunters because Caravan was the mech who often ferried them to and from the city for hunts. Thankfully there were no issues, as passenger convoys could and would reject riders if they so chose, and Sharpsight had had the foresight to comm ahead to warn him they would be late and that they would be returning with an extra mech. The group took a few kliks to settle in before Caravan started to drive and their journey home was temporarily outside the hunting party's concern.

At Sureshot's prompting, Jazz ended up entertaining them with 'tales from the life of a normal mech', as the hunter put it. Obviously the hunters hadn't grown up in anything remotely close to the same way and city life was very different from the small village lifestyle Jazz had known so they were curious. After several joors though, night had fallen and everyone was starting to slip offline. Everyone except Jazz, who was having a difficult time finding a comfortable position in a seat designed for Praxian comfort.

The soft reiteration of his name finally drew the visored mech's attention to Prowl. Someone's plotting had gotten them seated beside one another and neither had even tried to complain before Smokescreen had started to make a fuss because he still didn't like Jazz. Of course that lead to Fastdraw chiming in with the opposite opinion, getting others to agree with him and the situation ended up right back where it began.

"Yeah?" Jazz inquired, softly so as to not wake the others.

"You're welcome to rest against me. It's bound to be more comfortable than any of the other positions you've tried."

"If yer sure… " He only waited for Prowl's nod before leaning in and cuddling close. As they shifted to best get comfortable, one of Prowl's servos landed beside the dataport in his neck and not long after it settled there was the softest of taps against the cover. With only the slightest hesitation, Jazz let it slide away to reveal the connection point. There was an unusual sensation as other metal made contact silently.

Jazz could feel, suddenly, another consciousness within his own mind, carefully brushing against his own, and cautiously he reached out to it.

Is this your first time letting someone in asked a voice coming from everywhere that sounded like Prowl.

Unsure how to respond, Jazz finally settled on simply thinking his thought and hoping. Yes? An' if not, i's been a fraggin' long time since.

Understandable Prowl replied and Jazz could feel the sense of a nod coming from him. There are many more uses to this practice than as a mere method of communication, however that is all we need for now. Caravan may be, and likely is, monitoring us, or at the very least you, so this is the safest way we can speak.

I think I get it Jazz sent back. So what is it we need ta talk about?

When we get to Praxus there's likely going to be a lot happening all at once so I want to be certain you're prepared. The most important things to remember though are to stay close to me, do as I do, and only speak if you are asked direct questions. Our culture does not exactly see outsiders in a favorable manner so you'll be best off if you minimize your presence at first. Prowl was silent a moment before another thought drifted over. It's probably for the best that you don't reveal anything more than absolutely necessary either.

So no tellin' anybot what I am, got it.

I didn't mean it like that. I don't actually think you'd be so reckless as to mention something like that.

Don' worry, was jus' teasin' ya.

That's good… I think?

Jazz's instinctive reaction was the mental equivalent of a gentle laugh. Don' worry 'bout it. I didn' mean it in a bad way.

Alright then.

The desire to cuddle closer to Prowl in order to apologize for his slight filled Jazz, but he couldn't do that and reveal how close they were. Taking pity on his irritation, Prowl sent a pulse of warmth and comfort through the link. Shock and interest were unknowingly returned. That led to Prowl beginning to teach Jazz how to properly interact within a data cable linkup. At least until they too both fell into recharge.

~~

Those still resting were awoken when Caravan approached the city walls a couple orn later. Among that small number were the two non-hunters, curled together in a back corner of their transport where they had ended up the second orn because Smokescreen and Fastdraw had once again gotten into a fight and required the seating arrangement to be modified. This being Jazz's first time seeing a real city, he was immediately up and staring out the windows to take in as much of the sight as he could once he understood the situation. Prowl, meanwhile, remained in his seat watching the mech everyone had watched grow into his friend as he practically vibrated with excitement.

"Look at this, Prowl!" Jazz cheerfully called out, trying to summon the other to his side for the twelfth time in under a klik. And then he was pointing out at something completely different. "Ooo… wha's that?"

Smokescreen twitched his sensor wings in such a way to demean Jazz at that, earning himself a pinched wing by Sureshot's servo. "Allow the mech his excitement," he chided. "It's not every orn you get to watch a mech experience a city for the first time."

"Shouldn't be letting him come with at all," Smokescreen mumbled. It only served for him to receive further admonishment.

Meanwhile, Jazz had darted to the other side of Caravan in order to stare out a different window at some other sight. It wasn't long though before he noticed the Crystal Palace and his awe only grew as they neared. Capped in glowing crystals on the tip of every roof, even those of the two towers connected by the wall encircling the palace proper, it was a brilliantly shining example of Praxian architecture. Beautiful with a purpose to everything. The embossed and colored surface only served to mask how fortified the structure was; making it the absolute safest it could be to serve as the last defense it had actually been in the era of the original Primes. Either of the two towers too, also designed and inlaid with crystals, held a particular purpose. One was home to the Hunters' Guild while the other housed the Royal Guard. They may sit on opposite sides of the palace and perform very different functions, but both were vital to the survival of the noble line, just as all three were essential to the continued existence of their city.

Sureshot finished his explanation, for Jazz's benefit, as they pulled up to the palace gate's entrance. Caravan stopped long enough for Sharpsight to converse with one of the guards on duty before they were allowed forward.

If the palace had seemed expansive before, it was monumental once they entered the grounds. Caravan drove until he reached the Grand Entrance; a gilded opening large enough to admit even one of the Original 13 Primes, it overlooked a vast courtyard that could have comfortably held twenty bots twice Caravan's size. As his doors slowly opened the captain of the Royal Guard stepped forward and Sureshot exited first to meet him. The guardsmech was painted in silver and black and his wings bore the chest of Praxus as well as a crest for the Royal Guard and glyphs to proclaim his rank. The rest of the his mechs were also silver and black, in varying patterns, and they two wore both the Praxus crest and that of the Royal Guard. There was even one other mech with rank glyphs; a subcommander.

The captain of the guard exchanged a few words with Sureshot before he turned and led the rest of the Royal Guard back into the palace through an obscured door to the right of the Grand Entrance. Only then did Sureshot return and poke his helm into Caravan.

“Come now, everyone. We will be expected soon. Smokescreen, this was your hunt so you take point. Everyone else, fill in the formation behind him. No, no, not you two.”

Despite the clamor of everyone filing out and arranging themselves properly, Sureshot had seen Jazz prodding Prowl from his seat and trying to drag him forward as well. He flicked his wings as well to catch their attention, waiting for Prowl to stop Jazz before he spoke. “The mech who volunteered as bait never enters with us and is usually taken home now. This time however, I do believe our lord will have some questions for at least one of you so I suggest entering after us but remaining outside the Grand Hall until requested.”

Prowl flicked his wings in acceptance. “I understand, thank you. I wish you the best.”

Sureshot flicked his own wings in response and then farewell as he withdrew. They could still hear his voice as he organized the hunters so they could enter the castle but after a couple kliks even that stopped. They waited for a few more kliks in silence before Prowl decided it was time to enter and led them outside. He then thanked Caravan who returned it and then went on his way.

“Where’s he headed?” Jazz asked, trying to calm his own sudden nerves. He had been fine for the trip with all the fascinating new sights to see but now that they had stopped the reality of his new situation was sinking in. He wasn’t worried for himself either, as would have been reasonable. No, he knew he could get out of any problem easily. It was keeping close to Prowl that could prove problematic.

Prowl didn’t even seem to notice Jazz’s worries as he calmly replied. “He is surely headed off to rest. He might even have a home somewhere in the city. I do believe he is contracted specifically to Praxus.”

Prowl looked to Jazz then and gave him a small smile despite his sensorwings twitching slightly on his back. “We should probably get inside before anyone comes looking.”

Jazz wasted a moment longer, staring and promising himself that he would protect this mech with all that he was before he nodded. “Lead the way.”

Prowl flicked his wings once and then settled them as he turned to do just that.

Their way was empty as they entered. There were not even any workers and Jazz could not help pausing to stare. The small entry hall opened to a grand ballroom with twin staircases curving up to a large balcony overlooking the ballroom. There was a door on either side of the far wall above, across from each staircase, and they were just barely visible in the light streaming in from the glass windows that comprised all of the ceiling except where the massive chandelier was hung and stabilized. On the lower level, where they were, there was a wide opening that went further into the castle. That was where Prowl led them. It was darker than the ballroom, lit only by crystals, but also not long. They quickly arrived at a set of double doors but Prowl pulled them to the side to wait.

They had barely reached the wall before one of the doors opened and a mech painted in deep colors stepped out. He glanced around and quickly saw them. “There you are. Lord Crystaledge and his lady shall see you now.”

Prowl flicked his wings in acceptance and the mech vanished back through the doors. Prowl then turned back to Jazz to stall just a few astroseconds longer. “Are you ready?”

“Gonna hafta be, won’ I?” Jazz asked back and gave Prowl a lopsided grin that did not match how he was feeling inside.
Prowl answered that with a flick of his sensorwings and led them in.

Beyond those doors was a vast throne room that was practically empty when they entered. The wall they came in through had two more doors, one on either side, and then there was one more door mostly hidden by the massive thrones. Thrones which were currently in use. The one on the left was larger and grander with a mech in deep purple and gold seated upon it. Beside him, the smaller throne held a femme in a pale version of the same purple. Her wings sat low on her back and she stared at them absently. The mech however, quickly addressed them.

“My Hunters tell me that they failed in their hunt but you found a prize of your own, is this true?”

“Yes, sir,” Prowl replied though his field held irritation. He had dropped into a kneeling position with his right servo in a fist over his spark yet Jazz had not noticed when. He tried to mimic the action while mentally berating himself for it paying enough attention as Prowl continued. “I believe I have found my destined mate and as such, I could not leave him in a village that no longer even recognized him.”

Lord Crystaledge stood. “Come to me, outsider. Let me examine you.”

Jazz pushed his field out to Prowl in questioning and Prowl offered what reassurance he could. It did not help much. Jazz slowly stood and walked the distance that was both immense and annoying short. He paused at the end of the rug that ran to the base the thrones sat upon. Lord Crystaledge had held up a servo to stop him and now closed the remaining distance himself. His wings remained rigidly up as he circled Jazz slowly, occasionally scoffing. Jazz considered speaking but decided it was a bad idea.

When he had come full circle, Lord Crystaledge stopped and looked to Prowl once more. “I will not have it. You are not to take a mech like this as your mate. Even commoners know better than to attend the court so scuffed and filthy. No creation of mine will stoop to this.”

Jazz’s irritation at being called filthy was immediately drown out by shock and immense confusion. Neither of which the lord of Praxus deemed to acknowledge in frame or field.

Across the way, Prowl had looked up and his wings flicked once but he seemed otherwise calm. Even his tone was steady as he responded. “It does not matter what you do or do not approve of, sire. Primus has spoken.” Though his tone did not change, Jazz knew the next statement was for directed his way. “Tell him your designation.”

Jazz could not help his smirk. He did keep his tone level at least, and even bothered to try speaking properly. “Sir,” he began, trying his best to be respectful. “My designation’s Jazz.”

Both Lord Crystaledge and his mate stared at him. If he were the type, Jazz would have grown incredibly self-conscious under their gazes. As it was, he nearly had by the time the lord looked away. His mate already had when Jazz first caught her optics. Lord Crystaledge took much longer to turn away and he did with a huff.

“Fine. Your peasant will sleep in the servants’ quarters until he has properly learned our culture and we will be discussing this in private.

“You,” the lord turned back to Jazz. “Follow him and do as he tells you.”

There was suddenly another mech waiting beside the vacant throne and he stepped forward to take Lord Crystaledge’s place as the former returned to his seat. The new mech was also painted in deep colors and tipped his wings down. “Come along, sir. I shall escort you to your current recharge station.”

Jazz was a bit too surprised to do anything but nod and begin to follow the new mech. He was led to the obscured door behind the thrones and the last thing Jazz heard before the door shut behind them was the lord ordering Prowl forward.
Trying not to worry for the mech who already had his spark, Jazz turned his focus to the mech leading him and the route they took. It was actually a fairly straight path from the back of the throne room to the servants’ quarters and took them past the laundry and storage for general maintenance. At least, Jazz assumed that was what most of it was.

“So…” he tried, as they walked. “What exactly am I expected ta do here?”

“Our lord gave no orders other than to escort you here and ensure you know not to disturb the nobility.”

Jazz hummed in response and didn’t say anything else. It was easier to ask forgiveness than permission so he’d interpret that rule as he chose once he was allowed to do so.

“Here we are,” the servant eventually said. They had stopped beside one out of several stacked berths. “No one is currently using the bottom one so it can be yours for now.”

“Thanks, mech,” Jazz replied and dropped down on it. “Say, ya got a designation? I like knowin’ who helped me, ya know?”

“Swiftsweep,” the mech replied and his wings tilted in confusion. “And no, I do not understand. If you are good though, I have other tasks to return to.”

It was not posed as one but Jazz still heard the question and waved Swiftsweep off as he plopped back on the berth. “I’m good. I’ll pro’lly just recharge fer now. Long trip an’ all.”

“I see. Good orn then.” Swiftsweep tipped his wings and then was gone.

Jazz leaned up to check that he was alone and debated sitting up when he was but then decided recharge was actually not a bad idea. He hadn’t properly recharged in most of a decaorn, not since learning there were hunters approaching his forest. He felt a pang of worry in his spark for his friends but he had been ensuring none of his clan got captured for countless vorns. Slowly the attempted hunts had thinned out to practically nothing. Surely they could keep themselves safe now? Pit, he had only begun it because it had felt like the right thing to do at the time and now his spark was telling him that he had to be here. Mechs might behave strangely but they had nothing on the absurdity of Primus’ will.

Jazz rolled over with a groan. It sounded like Prowl would be busy for some time and he would probably want a chance to rest himself so a short nap wouldn’t hurt. The cover of darkness would make sneaking around even easier too.

Decided, Jazz let himself slip into a rather deep doze. The berth was much nicer than the ground he usually recharged on and it pulled him quickly into recharge.

~~

It was late, much later than he should be up, but Prowl could not recharge. There was simply far too much on his processor to do so without taking a trip to the medic and she would want him to talk about it first. He didn’t want that. He just wanted to forget. Of course he was a disappointment. How could he have thought finally finding his destined mate could change that?

He sighed softly and his wings sank further. If they were any lower they would fall off. Even his view of the gardens below his balcony could not help his melancholy this time. Flawed or not, he still wanted to fulfill his prophecy and yet, Jazz had not responded to any of his comms. Prowl could not help but worry. Even when he could convince himself that Jazz had not decided to leave him, the only alternative he could imagine was that Jazz was in danger somehow. Had someone figured out what he was? Would he ever get to see him again?

Try as he might, Prowl could not help pushing off the railing to begin pacing once more. It was not a particularly wide space so he paced it from the railing to his berth and back. In the middle of a loop he turned around and froze. Between one lap and the next, Jazz had materialized on his balcony. The mech was balanced on the railing and giving him a carefree grin. “Heya.”

Prowl didn’t even notice himself moving until he had Jazz in his arms. Jazz easily hugged him back and slipped off the balcony a bit less easily to keep them both from falling. Prowl could not control his field and this close Jazz couldn’t avoid feeling it, prompting him to speak. “What’sa matter, beautiful? Did som’thing happen?”

Prowl shook his helm and his wings twitched on his back. “Just worried about you,” he muttered into Jazz’s chest. “You didn’t answer my comms.”

Jazz hugged him tighter as he apologized. “Aw, Pit. I knew I shouldn’a recharged but I was too tired not ta. I didn’ think ya’d try an’ comm me while I was outta it.”

“That’s all it was?” Prowl asked and his tone was worried. “You aren’t second guessing staying with me after earlier?”

“Mech,” Jazz began as he kept Prowl close to his frame, “that was a mess an’ a half an’ I got questions yet gonna hafta answer but I ain’t leavin’ ya an’ they can wait. You feel as exhausted as I was earlier so show me ya yer berth so we can recharge.”

Prowl pulled back to look him in the face. “You still want to share a berth with me?”

“Of course,” Jazz answered easily. “In all ways even, but fer now ya need ta rest so le’s go.”

As he spoke, Jazz led Prowl back inside. He even managed to shut the door to the balcony behind them before guiding Prowl to the berth. From there it was no work at all to get them both on the berth and tucked in close. Prowl was practically in recharge the moment he was on the berth and despite his earlier nap, Jazz only remained online a few kliks longer. His last sight before slipping into recharge was Prowl’s helm resting on his chest, field content.