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More Than Just A Passing Glance

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When Inferno finally realises that he's not getting out of this one alive, it comes as less of a shock than he would've expected. Maybe it's how achingly tired he is, or the heat, or maybe, when you know it's your time to go, Primus just reaches in and makes it easy for you by turning off that fight-or-flight subroutine.

He stops trying to lift the twisted mass that used to be a girder, works his hands free, and slumps down with his back to the wall. Even that's heating up now – the flames must have reached the fourth side of the room at last.

"I'm done," he says. "I ain't never movin' that scrap, not if I try a thousand vorns."

There is a pause before he gets the reply over his comm.

"You're sure?"

"Yeah." Inferno rubs a thumb wearily over his optics, trying to shift the layer of grease and smoke-grime that's clouding his vision. Internal diagnostics tell him that his air filters need changing; he shuts down the alarm without a second thought. "Guess this is it."

The co-ordinator doesn't respond, and that scares Inferno more than his own impending death – the light, clear voice has been with him all through the last few hours, was what woke him from near-stasis after his fall, has been suggesting solution after solution in quick, precise tones, and hasn't even reprimanded Inferno for his less than professional language when each one has failed. He's probably the best co-ordinator Inferno's ever worked with: just the Pit's own luck that this should be the mission he checks out on.

"You still there, base?"

"I'm still here, Inferno," comes the response. "I'm just working on another possibility."

This time, Inferno doesn't feel the quick spike of hope, but it pleases him nonetheless that they haven't given up on him out there. An idea occurs to him, and he toys with it briefly before deciding that if there's a time to break protocol, this is probably it.

"Hey, base?"

"Yes?"

"What's your name?"

A startled silence.

"I was on downtime when y'all rolled in," Inferno goes on, regretful – he's been looking forward to meeting the new squad for weeks, so of course every firefighter in Iacon gets called out, to the biggest blaze of the vorn, just as they arrive. "Didn't catch any of your designations."

"This is hardly the time," protests the co-ordinator, but his spark isn't in it, and after a moment he capitulates. "My name is Red Alert."

"Nice to meet you, Red. I'm Inferno." Inferno chuckles, amused for no reason. "But you knew that."

"Is the heat affecting your processor? What's your internal temperature?"

"Easy, Red, I'm fine. Just... resignin' myself to the situation, I guess."

"It's Red Alert, not Red."

"Sorry." Inferno tilts his head back and stares at the ceiling, warped and torn from the structural collapse that followed the explosion. "Listen, Red – Red Alert – this ain't your fault, you hear me?"

There is another silence, and Red Alert's voice is quieter when he responds.

"What are you talking about?"

"I ain't gonna make it out of here," Inferno says, and even though he's accepted it, putting words around the hopelessness of the situation sends a shudder right to his spark. "But it ain't your fault, so don't you dare go blamin' yourself, you hear me? It's been," he adds, trying to find words to put around something he can't even explain to himself, a deep regret aching in his processor, "a privilege workin' with you."

"I won't blame myself," replies Red Alert sharply, and despite himself Inferno flinches, because noble intentions or not, that's not something a body wants to hear. But the co-ordinator goes on without pausing, "I won't blame myself, because we will get out of this."

And that's why it's taken this long for Inferno to give up, that's why he doesn't feel so bad even now – because from the moment he got into trouble, the moment Red Alert came on the line and stayed, it's been we, and there's nothing – really nothing – that could mean as much.

He starts to try and explain that, tripping over the words – he's never been so good with these things – but Red Alert cuts him off.

"I think you must be on level sixteen."

"Yeah?"

It doesn't matter – he could be up in the thousands or somewhere down in the basements, it wouldn't alter the impossibility of rescue – but still, it's good to know that Red Alert has some idea of where he is, that he hasn't vanished from the living world completely.

"How'd you figure?"

"Based on your description of the room you fell into, there were five strong possibilities for your location. Three of them are now showing sufficiently high temperatures on my readouts that you would not still be functional if you were in one of them, and the fourth seems to have suffered further structural collapse in the last few minutes, which you have not reported."

"Naw, everythin's stable in here."

"Then you must, I deduce, be in the sixteenth level service hub." Red Alert's voice has risen slightly with suppressed excitement. "Can you see anything through the window in the north door?"

"Not from here."

"Then go over there! Hurry!"

Inferno doesn't really want to move, but he can't say no to that urgency, so he staggers to his feet and crosses the room. Waves of heat assault him as he approaches the northern side of the space. The walls are starting to warp inwards, and his thermal sensors are screeching warnings at him. He peers through the transparent window – must be double-reinforced to withstand this heat – into the chaos beyond.

"Nothin' but fire this way, Red."

"Can you see another set of doors straight ahead – approximately twenty metres from your position?"

Inferno swipes a finger across his optics again, clearing them as best he can, then turns up the sensitivity as far as he can bear it, and peers into the flames. Brightly coloured flashes warn him that he's risking burnout, but he catches a bare glimpse of the doors, and radios a confirmation.

"Good," mutters Red Alert. "Good. Okay. Inferno, I need you to get to those doors."

"What?" Inferno offlines his optics as much from shock as to give them a chance to recover. "Are you crazy? I'll melt down before I get three steps!"

"Not if you reroute your primary coolant lines to your sub-dermal network."

"I'm no medic!" Inferno protests, taking a step back from the heat and shaking his head, even though Red Alert can't see him over the comm link. "I got not a clue how to pull that sorta stunt!"

"I'll talk you through it." Red Alert's voice is louder, insistent. "It's your only chance, Inferno!"

"It's no chance at all! Even if I don't wind up cuttin' my own lines by mistake, if my core processor overheats while I'm in there I'll be dead before I hit the ground!"

"Your processor won't overheat. According to my calculations, with the correct modifications you should be able to survive eleven point five seven three seconds of those temperatures."

"It's crazy," Inferno repeats.

"It's better than--" and Red Alert falters, for the first time. After a moment, he says, "I wouldn't be telling you to do this if I thought there were no chance of success. Through that set of doors ahead of you is an area where the temperature gradient drops again. There is an open-shaft elevator system just beyond. It's acting to circulate cool air from the lower levels. If you can get into it, you can get down below the fire and I can navigate you to an exit we can recover you from."

"If those doors're sealed like this one, I'll never get 'em open in time."

"You'll have to shoot the hinges out as you run."

"That's... Primus, Red, it's a one in a million chance – if my core overheats 'fore I get there – if I can't get it open in time – if the backdraft from openin' the door sparks a flashover..."

"I calculate a less than thirty percent chance of that happening – there is sufficient ventilation in the intervening space that the volatiles have mostly escaped."

"Mostly?"

Inferno scrubs uselessly at his optics again. His ventilators are starting to creak and rattle; the filters are now so clogged with smoke particles they're barely functional. If they don't give out and plunge him into a slow systems failure, the heat in this room will gradually rise until his circuits start to melt one by one. Either would be a slow, painful way to go... but even so, the thought of plunging into that blaze, willingly, makes his spark quail.

I wouldn't be telling you to do this if I thought there were no chance of success.

We will get out of this.

"Alright," Inferno says before he can think about it any more. "Alright. What do I do?"

He doesn't understand everything Red Alert has him do – a terrifying sensation when he's mucking about with his own systems, especially as time is creeping away from him, the temperature climbing, his ventilation system rasping harsher and harsher – but Red's voice is controlled, only the barest hints of tension creeping around the words, and his instructions are clear. Inferno just lets his hands obey Red's commands, just focuses on his voice. The worst part is coding the subroutine that will temporarily rewire his regulators to flood coolant through his peripheral systems; on-the-fly coding has never been his strong point. He'd rather take a download from a mech who knows what he's doing, double and triple checked, any day, thanks. Red Alert talks him through that, too, having him go over the program twice to check for hidden bugs and infinite loops, before the co-ordinator is satisfied that it's safe to run. Once everything is prepared, Red Alert feeds him instructions on how to weaken the seal on the door in front of him without opening it. The metal is so hot under his hands that the dermal plating of his palms begins to melt before he's done.

"That everything?"

"That's everything." Red Alert's voice is strained. "Next, you have to activate the subroutine, then open the door and... and run."

Inferno runs his smarting fingers over his scorched palms, looks through the window into the flames, can't even see the other door beyond them. He says nothing, but apparently he doesn't need to.

"Trust me," whispers Red Alert, pleading, commanding. "I'll be with you every step of the way."

He doesn't even stop to take a deep breath, to steel himself – doing so would give him too much time to balk – he activates the subroutine, and, with a yell so loud he feels it reverberating through his body, he throws himself at the door.

It bursts open and he's through – for a second he feels cold as he plunges into the flames, the first wash of coolant hitting his sensor relays – but it lasts a fraction of a second as fire licks up his calves, lashes into his face – he is running, straight ahead, not a second lost, even as he feels his plating starting to heat – starting to smoke – his core temperature is rising, panicked alarms shrieking in his audio receptors, in his head – he has never been inside a fire this hot, and even as he runs, there is a tiny part of him that marvels at the colours, the light, the purity of it – he doesn't remember raising his gun, but he's firing at where the hinges should be, hinges on the invisible door, lost in the fire – his optics have offlined in self-defence and he isn't sure if he's even running straight any more – a sheet of plating on his arm peels up with a shriek of tortured metal, and agony shoots into the circuits below--

He hits the door shoulder-first. It gives instantly under his weight. Blind, pained, burning, Inferno hits the floor and rolls to the side, just the way Red Alert told him to. Just the way... Red...

He can't turn off these alarms: they're too fundamental, their warning too critical. He can feel the smarting of melted plates, the sharp pain in his arm, the ping and crack of heated metal –

"Inferno!"

– but it's the fire inside him that's killing him, as his core temperature rockets up to lethal levels, as his processor fans start to fail, as his memory blocks start to succumb to corruption –

"Inferno!"

– it's too hard to think, to move, to do anything but lie there, hearing a muted roaring – is that the fire, or just his audios shorting out with the rest of his systems? He can't even feel fear, or regret, or...

"Shut down the subroutine!" His radio's still working; he can still hear Red Alert, frantic beyond all pretence of detachment. "Shut it down now! Can you hear me? INFERNO!"

Somehow he calls up the command code, activates it, lies there on the floor, listening to Red Alert's voice, unable to follow the words any more. Heat rushes over his plating and he thinks he must have messed up: he's too close to the flames, he's going to burn up anyway...

Then the alarms start to quiet, one by one. Inferno finds he can bring his optics back online, and does so. There's smoke above and around him, heat too uncomfortably close, flames licking through the open door – but he is not on fire, and his processor is functioning within an acceptable thermal range.

"Red?" he manages.

"Inferno!" Red Alert's voice, so controlled before, wavers and cracks, words tumbling over each other, "Oh, Primus, I thought you'd offlined – I thought– I thought–"

"Hush now, Red," Inferno gets out as he slowly, painfully struggles to his knees. "I'm okay. I'm okay. Just a mite scorched. You gotta calm down and talk me outta here, you got that?"

"I... of course, I'll... you need to get to the elevator system – it should be directly to your right, down a short passage."

Inferno can't walk, not right now, but he can crawl, and he does, down the passage, until he reaches the doors that Red Alert said would be there.

"Now what?"

"There's an access panel... to the left and around the curve of the shaft... you won't get through the doors unless you trigger the emergency override... I'll guide you to the wires..."

He almost doesn't listen to what Red's saying, now; it's like he's found a way to let the instructions right into his processor so that his hands move according to Red's will instead of his own. Inferno watches with a vague sort of detachment as he sparks the correct wires, gets a shoulder into the newly-opened gap in the elevator doors, peers over into darkness.

It's a long way down. Inferno is tired, hurt, dizzy – but he is no longer trapped. There is a way out of here, so long as he keeps following Red's voice – and he's never been a quitter. He hauls himself over the edge and begins the climb down.

Later, he won't remember much of that hellish journey – won't remember climbing for what feels like miles in the darkness, won't remember keeping up a steady count of each floor he passes so that Red can gauge how far he's gone, won't remember hanging on with one hand as he fumbles for another access panel and forces another door. He'll have a vague impression of the dark, blessedly cool corridors he stumbles through – of the way every scrap of surface on his body stings and smokes, of the way he can feel plating melted out of shape on his back and legs – and he'll remember that he starts humming a stupid little tune towards the end of it, some part of him, through the exhaustion and the hurt, soaring with the joy of renewed hope.

What stays with him is Red Alert's voice, loud and quiet by turns – soothing, cajoling, commanding, demanding – keeping him going when he's on the verge of falling into stasis mid-step, directing him through turns and detours too dizzying to comprehend – and finally, finally, bringing him back to the light.

They're waiting for him when he reaches the exit – hands grab him and he yelps as they send more pain shooting through his damaged plating – voices, and someone claps a pain dampener on his wrist, and the relief is enough to bring him back to clarity. He's a block away from the burning tower – the flames are shooting ever higher, still, and he can see the network of firefighters working from the neighbouring buildings, struggling to contain it. If they're lucky, Iacon won't lose this whole suburb.

The medics are pushing him towards an evacuation vehicle, but Inferno shakes his head and breaks away, peering through smoke-dark optics until he spots the communications trailer. He waves aside the concern of his team-mates, pressing on until he's near enough to see the mech who's staring at him from the doorway.

"Inferno?"

"Red?"

The look on Red Alert's face will stay with him a long time after – relief, amazement, and a spark-shaking joy – and when Inferno finds out that this was his first assignment, he'll take that memory out and look at it again and thank Primus that he didn't give up, lie down and die back there in the fire.

Inferno stops in front of Red Alert – taking in that the other is smaller than him, uncertain in stance, the colours of the fire brigade still new on him – and then he thinks about how he must look, half-melted, covered in soot – and he can't help it, he's laughing aloud. Red Alert jumps, looks almost affronted, and that is just too impossibly endearing. Inferno stifles his laughter and steps in close.

"Anyone ever tell you, you got a beautiful voice?"

Without waiting for a reply, Inferno catches hold of him, lifts him up, kisses him. He kisses Red Alert until he feels like his processor is overheating again; until Red is kissing back wildly, sounds that are half sobs escaping his vocaliser; until Inferno is sure, absolutely sure, that he is alive.

Chapter Text

Silverbolt is falling, twisting frantically to try and regain equilibrium, but his panic has shorted out his stabilising circuits and his left engine just won't fire no matter what he does. He wants to scream, but no sound will leave his vocaliser: either it's fritzed along with his systems, or his terror has choked it silent. He knows he has to calm down – has to give his systems a chance to reset, to bring that engine back online – but all he can see is the stream of numbers from his altimeter, counting him down, down, down to the unforgiving ground...

Something white fills his sensors, ducks beneath him and matches his speed, eases closer; suddenly he's not falling any more. There is warm metal under him and the deep, steady thrum of another's engines. In a surge of panicked instinct, he transforms and grabs on tightly to whatever protrusions his shaking hands can find.

"You're safe, I've got you," comes a gentle voice – concerned, but soothing. "Are you alright?"

"I... I think so."

Silverbolt presses his forehead against smooth white plating; his saviour levels off, and his panic eases a little as he finds he is settled securely on a broad back. One of his hands is gripping a fin far too tightly, and with a twinge of guilt he eases his grip, though the other hasn't complained. He can't quite bring himself to let go.

"Thank you," he murmurs after a moment.

"I saw you were in trouble from higher up," is the reply – an explanation, and a quiet evasion of the gratitude. "I'm Skyfire. You must be one of the Aerialbots?"

Skyfire – he knows the name from the datafiles he's been reading, trying to keep up with his new responsibilities – one of only three Autobot fliers, until recently, at least – a shuttle, that's why he's so big – a scientist, generally found working alongside Perceptor or Wheeljack. Somehow, he's never been around when the Aerialbots are off-duty. Silverbolt clings to these scraps of data almost as tightly as he is still clinging to Skyfire.

"I'm Silverbolt," he replies shakily. "Um. Nice to meet you?"

Skyfire laughs, not a mocking sound, but a pleasant one that sends vibrations through Silverbolt's body. Silverbolt smiles, a little wanly, more grateful than he could even begin to express for the warmth of another's plating right now, and for how sturdy and safe his companion seems.

"What happened?" asks Skyfire.

"My engine died." Silverbolt remembers to start running diagnostics; they try to tell him that his engine isn't there at all, which a quick sensor scan contradicts, so something awful must have happened to the wiring on that side. "I don't know why – it was fine when I set out."

"Were you injured in the battle earlier?"

"No – well, I was hit a couple of times, but it was nothing – Ratchet had more important things to look at..."

He doesn't mean that to come out so defensive, but Skyfire doesn't call him on it.

"Do you mind if I scan you?"

"I– no, go ahead."

The scan tingles and crackles over his bodywork, gently probing his circuitry, taking surface readings from his systems. Silverbolt's never liked medical scans, always found them uncomfortable and intrusive, but Skyfire is so considerate, so obviously concerned for him, that the slide of his energy field against Silverbolt's is soothing, even pleasant. Skyfire is murmuring to himself softly, the way Perceptor does sometimes when he's working on a problem, but Silverbolt doesn't really listen to the words. He likes Skyfire's voice – it reminds him a little of Optimus Prime's – and even though he knows he should be worried about the damage to his engine, for the first time in weeks he feels himself relaxing.

"Looks like null-ray damage to me," says Skyfire at length, and Silverbolt jolts guiltily back to awareness. "You're going to need the capacitors replaced."

"Null-ray?"

"Starscream's weapon." A faint suggestion of hardness creeps into Skyfire's voice. "It's insidious. If it doesn't knock out your systems right away, it can fry enough connections that the whole circuit will collapse under pressure later on."

Silverbolt twitches despite himself, trying to block out images of his fall to Earth continuing unarrested.

"I... should have stayed for a check..." he mumbles at last, too shaken to do anything but admit his folly. "If you hadn't been here..."

"But I am here," says Skyfire firmly, and does something with his turbines that sends a low, reassuring rumble through Silverbolt from nose to tailfins. Then he adds, with just the hint of a smile in his voice, "And now you know why post-battle check-ups are supposed to be mandatory."

Silverbolt laughs – not because it's funny, really, but because the words could have been condescending, disapproving, and they aren't – Skyfire isn't questioning his ability to lead his team or pointing out the failings of himself or the other Aerialbots. Silverbolt thinks he hears a soft chuckle in return, but it's hard to tell over the noise of Skyfire's engines and the rush of their slipstream.

"What were you doing out here, anyway?" asks Skyfire, gaining a little height to skim over a tall spire of cloud that reminds Silverbolt of his brief glimpse of Cybertron.

"Practising," Silverbolt admits. "I... almost froze in the battle today, while I was dodging Starscream... that's how he hit me." He pauses, then figures he might as well just come clean. "I'm not good with heights."

He expects laughter, maybe that incredulous question – a jet who's scared of heights? – or silence, tinged with pity or contempt. Instead, Skyfire says, quietly and without embarrassment, "Neither am I."

"But– you're a shuttle!" exclaims Silverbolt thoughtlessly, gracelessly, and hates himself a second later – but Skyfire does laugh, then.

"Exactly," he says. "I was built for space travel – to navigate a void and work in distances of light years. Knowing that I have only a few paltry miles to work with... feeling gravity pull me down instead of just tugging the edges of my sensors... being so close but much too high up to hold on to anything solid... it's hard even to describe." Skyfire pauses. "I think you have an idea of what I mean, though, don't you?"

"Yes," whispers Silverbolt "Yes, I do. How do you cope?"

"I find other things to think about. I watch the stars. If it gets too much, I go higher."

"Higher?" Silverbolt shudders. "I don't know if that would help me."

In response, Skyfire fires his jets and begins to climb. Silverbolt feels a thrill of fear as his altimeter starts rising towards its limit.

"What– what are you doing?"

"You'll see. Trust me."

And he does, that's the strange thing, especially when he feels the faintest, hesitant brush of Skyfire's energy field over his own, like a hand trailing down his wing. Somehow, he can't help but trust Skyfire.

They climb higher, higher – the air above them thins, the stars brighten until they blaze, and the cold creeps into Silverbolt's sensors, but Skyfire's intangible shields protect them both from the worst of it. The slipstream falters and vanishes, and Silverbolt knows that if he wanted to he could sit upright now on Skyfire's back. He stays where he is, listening to the steady roar of the other's jets, finding the lack of air resistance calming. He doesn't feel like he's high up anymore, even with his altimeter maxed out.

"Look," murmurs Skyfire, dipping a wing. Silverbolt looks.

Earth curves beneath them, a dark, graceful arc. Silverbolt can see, with his sensors stretched, the lights of billions of humans – clustered, scattered, strung out like beads – can catch glimpses of moonlight on the vast, shifting seas. Behind them, a crescent of blinding gold marks the dawn, blazing its way around the globe that spins serenely on its axis.

He is higher than he's ever been, but Silverbolt finds that the fear won't come. They seem to be hanging there – him, Skyfire, and the Earth. Carefully, slowly, he sits up to get a better look.

"I find it helps," says Skyfire softly, "to remember that, no matter how overwhelming it seems close to, it is just another object in space."

They drift for a while, watching the dawnline spread further as the Earth spins; for millions far below, the sun comes up.

Finally, Skyfire begins to descend once more, and Silverbolt lies down flat, making sure of his handholds. Re-entry causes Skyfire's shields to flare brilliantly as he slides like a meteorite through the atmosphere. Silverbolt watches the play of light, fascinated, determined not to think about the Earth rushing up towards them – but then his altimeter comes back online, hysterical numbers demanding his attention, and he can't help himself, he glances down – and that smooth curve has swallowed them, so that they are plunging down from on high like a falling star...

"Silverbolt?"

He draws a shaky breath. "Yes?"

"I won't let you fall."

It's not just reassurance, it's a promise – the words, the tone, the way Skyfire sends another tentative pulse through his energy field to run lightly over Silverbolt's wings. He's never met anyone quite like Skyfire, so steady, so gentle, but with a faint, sharp current of something bright running deep below the surface. He likes it, wants to touch it again, find out where it leads.

"I'll hold you to that," replies Silverbolt, and turns his sensors upward, back towards the peace they have just left behind, and thinks about the stars.

Chapter Text

Jazz is in a good mood as he skims the ribbon of highway through Iacon's outer suburbs. He's only just joined the war, and it hasn't yet paled for him. He knows logically that it's a bad thing, but he's in love with the excitement, the way his engine races when danger's pressing close, the way he's proving himself again and again, the way Optimus Prime is starting to rely on him. There are raids and confrontations in the further cities, as the two factions struggle to control Cybertron's resources, but Iacon is still quiet, still safe, and Jazz feels a sense of bursting, joyful pride as he takes a corner smoothly and settles into a nice, long stretch. No-one's going to touch this city – the Decepticons may be built for war, but the Autobots are going to have them begging for mercy within the year.

Ain't no way a buncha sparkless drones like them are gonna take down Iacon's best.

All of a sudden he's aware of another vehicle coming up behind him, but before he can focus his sensors on it, it sweeps up, comes abreast – and passes him, drawing ahead as easily as if Jazz were just a cargo-hauler in the space-docks of Vos. Jazz is so startled he actually swerves before righting himself. The other makes no sign that he's even seen Jazz, and that's too much of a challenge to resist. With a howl of gleeful outrage, Jazz gives chase.

The other car is fast, that's for sure, skimming ahead on hover jets smoother even than Jazz's own, anticipating the curves with such assured grace that it reminds Jazz of the Seeker jets he's seen in battle once or twice. In fact, Jazz might, just possibly, be finding himself pushed out of his easy cruising zone, running his engines harder than is strictly comfortable – but he's drawing level with his opponent, and that's all he can process right now. The other car gives no sign that he's aware of Jazz's approach, until Jazz attempts to overtake; then his quarry swerves into his path, slick as oil, cutting him off as effortlessly as he passed him earlier. Jazz laughs, though he knows the other can't hear him, and settles in for the long game.

A quick, playful sensor sweep is deflected. Jazz grins to himself, and edges nearer, near enough to nudge the other's bumper. His rival draws away smoothly, seeming not even to notice the knock. Nice alt-mode, Jazz thinks: it's sleek and streamlined, paint gleaming with good care. He tries another sensor sweep, one full of his own special tricks... and loses a few seconds of speed to pure shock when it, too, slides off like water. This time, his opponent reciprocates; the querying, devious spikes of a high-power scan zero in on his weak points like a set of gleaming blades, but Jazz deflects them even as he savours the skill behind them.

His quarry ducks away onto a slip road, and Jazz follows, even though his own exit's a few miles further on. The other cuts his speed, just a little, letting Jazz pull almost level; then he dips his rear lights once in salute, pulls off a squealing turn, and darts into a side-street between tall buildings. That he intends to end the race is obvious, but Jazz isn't shaken that easily. It's been a long time since he last met a 'bot that could out-run him, longer still since one has dodged his sensors so effectively. He slams on his brakes so hard he smells smoke, and plunges down the side-street in hot pursuit.

The other has slowed, perhaps thinking himself safely away – Jazz catches sight of him as he rounds a second bend in the street, flashes his headlights once to let him know he's there. He hears the other car's engine roar as he changes gears and makes a tight turn into another street. The sound sends shivers through Jazz's plating and right down to his suspension as he guns his own engine and races for the turning.

He doesn't know this part of Iacon, but his rival clearly does: he takes every short-cut, every seemingly-blind alley, every last-minute change of direction that he can. Jazz almost loses him a dozen times over, almost crashes half a dozen more; once he pulls off a U-turn that sends a jolt of pain through his drive shaft, but he barely feels it. Every time he gets close enough, they exchange swift sensor sweeps, each parrying the other's, and then his quarry pulls out of range again. Every trick Jazz knows, every sneaky sideways scan he tries is countered; every time he feels that prickle-rush of the return strike he has to try a little harder to fend it off. At the same time he's fighting to remember what turns and twists have brought them here, struggling to prevent his rival doubling back or trapping him. The buildings on either side of the road are clustering closer now, and the lights in the area are dimmer – they've come so far from the highway that Jazz can't even hear the hum of traffic any more.

Finally, they turn down an alley that narrows dangerously halfway along, before opening up and rejoining a larger street. Jazz's opponent skids to a halt and transforms with the same fluid grace as he races; a pair of optics flare bright and watchful. Jazz slams on the brakes and leaps upright into his own bipedal form. It's dim in the alleyway, but he can just see the other mech, even if the details are hazy. His root-mode handles doors differently from anyone Jazz has met before: they arch from his back like wings, and though the mech seems utterly composed, they tremble faintly under Jazz's gaze. Jazz can hear the other's engine running as fast as his own, can see the wary, poised way he holds himself, can imagine the waves of heat coming off that polished plating.

I think I'm in love.

"You're fast," he says aloud, stepping closer.

"And you don't give up."

Nice voice, thinks Jazz, very nice, as smooth as his scans and as controlled as his turns. Jazz could get used to hearing that voice.

"Hey, how could I let a pretty thing like you get away?"

"Pretty?"

He can hear the outrage, but there's something else – amusement, perhaps, or surprise. Jazz takes another step, and he's close enough now to see clearly, to send out a quick, questioning sweep, and the other doesn't quite counter as fast as before – he doesn't get much, but oh, what he does get is...

"Beautiful," Jazz amends, knowing he sounds like a fool and caring not at all.

The other looks like he's about to speak, but the words seem to die on his vocaliser: he stares at Jazz, and Jazz stares at him, and something is niggling in the back of Jazz's processor but he can't quite place it. He can't believe it matters, not really, not right now. The other's optics break away from his, and probably Jazz is only imagining the way they flare as they skim down his body. But then the other takes a step backward, and another, and Jazz realises suddenly that if his quarry makes a break for it now, there's a good chance Jazz won't be able to get out of the bottleneck alley fast enough to catch him.

"Wait," he says, running three more steps forward, "gimme your name, at least!"

He's almost close enough to touch, and certainly close enough to see details, to see – no, it can't be – but it is – a purple insignia on his chest, sharp, glaring, cruel. Jazz stops dead, and the other retreats further, optics still on him – red optics, and of course Jazz noticed the colour, but he didn't think about it at first, didn't think about how red optics mean Kaon-built mechs, didn't think about how Kaon belongs to Megatron spark and processor.

"I don't want a fight," says the other, and slag it, how can he be a 'con, with all that speed and that grace and that tiny hint of playfulness sparking below the surface? "Don't follow me again."

He backs up, braced to transform, and Jazz knows he should let it go at that, but he can't help himself.

"I still wanna know your name."

A hesitation.

"Barricade."

Then he's gone, slipping into his alt-mode and racing away before Jazz can even reply.

"I'm Jazz," Jazz says softly to the empty alleyway, "an' I think you just broke my heart."

Chapter Text

Sunny, get down here. You've gotta see what I've got in my shop right now!

Sunstreaker sends a sharp negative through the comm, but his brother is insistent.

No, seriously, you're not gonna want to miss this.

Long practice – more instinct than thought – picks out the enthusiasm, the barely contained excitement in Sideswipe's tone. Whatever it is, it isn't a trick, or a bored ploy for attention; the question just remains as to whether whatever it is that's got him worked up this time is going to be of any actual interest to Sunstreaker. Twins or not, shared spark or not, their tastes are far from identical.

But he supposes he's not that busy, and some of Sideswipe's finds really are something, sohe sets aside his polishing cloth and heads on down to the shop floor.

The first thing he hears when he gets there is Sideswipe explaining the finer points of some sort of trigger mechanism in the particular tone of voice that Sunstreaker knows, intimately, means he's plotting something that will probably get them into trouble. The only thing is, Sideswipe never uses that voice except with him, and Sunstreaker is scowling when he shoves open the door and steps inside.

The scowl freeze-fades when he sees who Sideswipe's talking to. A Seeker – an honest-to-Primus Seeker – leaning against Sideswipe's workbench and listening with rapt fascination – all graceful wings and slender limbs and effortless, arrogant poise, and Sunstreaker understands then why his brother has called him down here. It's all he can do not to walk right over there and run his hands over that curving cockpit, slide his fingers around a tempting aileron, press his mouth to the sleek grey metal of throat and face. He reins in the impulse with a shudder, still unable to tear his gaze from the beautiful jet – oh, he's dreamed of getting this close to one of them for vorns – and that's when the details of what Sideswipe's saying finally penetrate.

He does look away then, focusing on his brother with sharp concern.

"Sides," he snaps, "what the Pit do you think you're doing? You have any idea how much trouble you could get us in?"

The Seeker cranes his head to look at him, surprised by his presence but not alarmed, while Sideswipe just laughs dismissively.

"Shut up, Sunny, this guy's come up with the best idea ever."

"He's gonna get fragged and you're gonna end up on the scrap heap with him if you're planning what I think you are!"

From the left comes an exasperated sigh.

"That's what I keep telling them."

Sunstreaker snaps his head around, startled – he was so fixated on the Seeker that he didn't even realise someone else was here – but whatever he might have said dies on his vocaliser as he realises that this speaker, too, is a jet, built on exactly the same lines as the one now discussing Primus-knows-what havoc with his brother. Just as enticing, just as breathtaking, just as gorgeous as his companion – but more than that, Sunstreaker's attention is drawn to the expression on his face.

It is a deeply familiar expression. It is the expression Sunstreaker often finds himself wearing when dealing with Sideswipe's latest scheme: irritation, mixed with reluctant affection, mixed with the knowledge that it's going to be him that has to get them out of this.

The Seeker meets his optics with a more than a touch of defiance, as if he's expecting Sunstreaker to start demanding explanations, maybe threaten to call the authorities and report them; but that moment of unexpected kinship has defused his initial anger, and besides, Sunstreaker is well aware that whatever they're plotting, Sideswipe is already up to his neck in it. He casts a resigned glance at the two by the workbench – oh, Primus, Sides has got the turbo fuel cells out, this cannot end well – and approaches the other Seeker.

"How long?"

"What?"

"How long've they been at it?"

"Almost a two joors."

"And they're still going? Slag."

Sunstreaker sees it happen – the Seeker reads in him what he's already seen in the other, and the faint threat of hostility vanishes from his face as he sags against the wall with a groan.

"Yeah. I should never have let him talk me into this."

"Tell me about it."

The Seeker hesitates, then offers a hand. "I'm Thundercracker."

"Sunstreaker." Sunstreaker grasps his arm, then jerks his head towards the pair on the other side of the room. "Guess you've met Sideswipe. Who's your friend?"

"Skywarp." Thundercracker casts a dire look at the Seeker in question, who is tossing a highly volatile fuel cell carelessly from one hand to the other. "We just came in to get a couple of parts. Next thing I know, they're halfway to breaking fifteen different laws, and that's before they started arguing about the best way to test it." He shakes his head. "I shoulda knocked him out and hauled his aft out of here at the start."

Sunstreaker snickers. Thundercracker shoots him a quick grin; it looks good on him, lightening a face that's otherwise a little drawn in on itself in a perpetual half-frown. His gaze lingers on Sunstreaker perhaps a few astroseconds longer than is strictly polite, and Sunstreaker makes sure that when he leans up against the wall he arranges himself to show off his best features.

They stand side by side and watch as Sideswipe snatches the fuel cell out of mid-air in the middle of one of Skywarp's tosses, turning it over so he can prod at its inner workings haphazardly with a screwdriver.

"How about we hit them both at the same time, then drag them in opposite directions and make sure they never meet again?"

It's Thundercracker's turn to laugh, the sound low and shot through with harmonics that stir Sunstreaker's spark even more than the sight of him does.

"Skywarp can teleport."

"Ah."

Another pause. Sunstreaker eyes his brother, thinks Sideswipe's going to be entirely preoccupied with his new friend for a while yet, and decides that this is far, far too perfect an opportunity to be wasted.

"I just got a batch of high-grade in a few orns ago. Wanna get so overcharged we won't notice when they bring the place down around our servos?"

"Frag, yes," says Thundercracker, grinning again, and Sunstreaker doesn't even bother to tell Sideswipe they're going – it's not like he's paying attention – as he leads the Seeker out of the workshop.

In the end they barely get as far as their second cube of high-grade, because that's about the point that Sunstreaker can't stand just to look any longer and reaches out to touch, and Thundercracker grabs his arm, but not to stop him – he guides Sunstreaker's hand to his wing, shivers under the touch, clutches at Sunstreaker's waist with eager fingers.

Sunstreaker is used to being an object of desire, used to awe and pleading optics and whispered words of devotion, but he is the one worshipping this time, paying scant attention to his own needs as he runs his fingers over every curve, every dip, across smooth, supple plating and sensors calibrated for the quicksilver reactions of flight. He has been invited to touch and he is not going to waste the opportunity, mapping out the places that get Thundercracker to moan, or gasp, or cry out, in that glorious voice that makes Sunstreaker shudder with need.

Afterwards, it takes a while for Sunstreaker to start thinking clearly, to pull his processor away from the delicious heat radiating from the jet, from the way he hasn't pulled his fingers out of Sunstreaker's wiring, so that every idle twitch sends a little shiver of pleasure to his spark, from the satisfaction of sensing of Thundercracker's utter, luxurious relaxation, limbs so entwined with his that he can hardly tell where each of them begins and ends.

With the return of coherency comes a hint of unease; he'd have killed his twin if they'd been interrupted, but he's surprised it hasn't happened. Either Sideswipe and Skywarp are still talking – which doesn't bode well – or they've gone off somewhere to put their plans into practice – which bodes even worse.

As if reading his mind, Thundercracker murmurs against his helmet, "Should we go check on them?"

He makes no move to disentangle himself, and when Sunstreaker idly begins to run his fingers up and down one of the vents on his shoulder, Thundercracker laughs, low and pleased, and moves his mouth to bite gently one of Sunstreaker's helmet fins.

Sunstreaker activates his comm.

Sides? You still in one piece down there?

Hey, Sunny, where'd you go? You're missing all the fun! Skywarp can do the most amazing things with a wrench and a coil of rubber tubing--

I don't wanna know.

Sideswipe snickers, his tone edging into teasing.

And how are you and Thundercracker getting along?

Thundercracker seems to realise Sunstreaker is talking to his brother, because he hasn't interrupted, but he also seems determined to win back his attention. Sunstreaker stifles a gasp and tries to keep his voice steady.

I'm thinking of trading you in for him.

Sideswipe laughs over the radio link.

That good, huh? Don't ever say I never do anything for you, bro.

He cuts the link before Sunstreaker can come up with a suitable retort – which may be just as well, because Thundercracker has started his turbines spinning, slow and subtle, and the vibrations are making it unlikely Sunstreaker could put coherent words together anyway.

Just as his cooling fans kick in – just as Thundercracker groans and presses closer – just as Sunstreaker is reaching for those beautiful wings again – the building shakes with the muffled roar of what is unmistakeably an explosion. They freeze, staring into each other's optics with a mixture of alarm and shared resignation. A moment later, they hear a pair of voices whooping with unholy glee, swiftly getting closer.

"Primus below," mutters Thundercracker, "we've created a monster."

Chapter Text

This is, perhaps, the Decepticons' first real battle, and Megatron relishes it. There have been skirmishes before, but gunning down pathetic, unarmed workers hardly counts as warfare. The Guardians provide more of a challenge, but even they are easy enough to overcome with a little ingenuity. Megatron's army has come into its own this last half-vorn: what started as a band of brash, hot-headed malcontents is swiftly shaping up into a force to be reckoned with as the mood among the troops swells into the realisation that this is not just a joke, not just a dream, that they can do this. They have risen unstoppable through Cybertron's static society, spreading like an energon fire until there are sparks in every corner of the planet. Megatron's rebellion is real, and the world is changing rapidly, and the Decepticons are the ones with their hands on the throttle.

This confrontation could have been disastrous – could have torn asunder that new-sparked confidence – if it had occurred a few stellar cycles earlier, if the ruling councils had deigned to acknowledge Megatron as a threat, if these so-called Autobots had found their feet sooner. As it is, though their opponents fight hard and bravely, they are too few, and too weak, and all their opposition has done is thrill his Decepticons with the taste of true victory.

From the roof of the burned-out opera house (Megatron has no use for it, but he would not have damaged it if the Autobots hadn't used it as shelter; he does not regret the destruction, but he does resent the waste of resources that could have been better used to destroy something that matters) he regards the battlefield. The research complex stretches before him, now devoid of any but the participants in this conflict. A few too-slow worker corpses lie strewn here and there; none wear the Autobot insignia, but it is early orns yet. There will be time to pick them off one by one, time to wear their scant numbers down further with fear and with grief. For now, he watches his Decepticons go about their allotted tasks – the haul of energon and equipment will be rich from such advanced facilities as these – and revels in the power he holds, commander of all he surveys.

His gaze slips to the far edge of the field, where the last of the fighting is still ongoing. Even from here he can see the tall, red and blue form of his self-appointed rival. He calls himself Prime, an archaic title all but forgotten, and he seems as much a ghost in the system as Megatron himself – no amount of searching, hacking, interrogation or investigation can find the name of his creator or any record of his life before he emerged to rally the Autobots. Whatever possesses him, it burns like a fusion core: he fights as though he were born to it, for all his civilian status. Megatron almost regrets that he did not find this mech sooner, could not have found a way to bring him over to the Decepticons.

Yet at the same time he relishes the rush of fighting an opponent who can even approach his own strength. He has become accustomed to absolute power, this last half-vorn, accustomed to followers who worship at his feet, who obey without question. It is refreshing to come up against one who refuses to bow to him – though Prime's cause is foolish and foredoomed, it entertains Megatron to see him fight for it so fiercely.

With a word to his bodyguards – Soundwave was a lucky find, oh yes, manipulative, with the kind of loyalty given reluctantly but, once won, unshakeable – Megatron takes flight, heading for that corner of the battlefield, already shifting the weight of his fusion cannon to get a better shot. There is no need for his intervention, but the craving for violence has stirred in his processor at the thought of his rival.

Seeing their approach, the Autobots finally break ranks and retreat. Prime dodges into the side-streets with his handful of allies, and Megatron pursues, tracking him effortlessly from the air.

Then, seemingly between one astrosecond and the next, they are gone. Soundwave issues a sharp command to the guard, who descend to investigate the area as Megatron hovers above, ill-pleased.

"No sign of the Autobots detected," Soundwave reports at last, his visor flashing his own annoyance. "Escape route likely planned in advance."

"Have them keep looking," snaps Megatron in return, allowing himself to sink down to the metal roadway. "A mech as big as Prime can't just fold himself into a niche."

Obedient to a fault – and finally learning some military precision, at that – his bodyguard persist in the search for almost a full joor, until Megatron grows bored and the reports from the main force tell him that they are ready to move out. At a sharp command, his guard falls in behind him, Soundwave at his left shoulder, but Megatron does not take to the air this time. They have come far enough from the battlefield that these streets are not entirely deserted; he is struck by the desire to see the effect his havoc has had upon the idiot sheep of this city.

The main thoroughfare is in chaos, mechs fleeing here and there, or gathering in clusters to exchange what information they have. Some spot Megatron at once, and spread the word – a circle of emptiness spreads out about him as he strolls casually in the direction of the research facilities. There is muttering, anger and resentment, but when he turns his optics in that direction, the perpetrators fall silent and lower their gazes. He hears someone shout something from a distance behind them, a call for the spectators to take on the Decepticons in their midst, but the crowd does not respond. They are afraid, just like their rulers, just like their predecessors: afraid to stand up for themselves, afraid to fight for their lives, afraid to reach out and take what they want.

As they draw nearer to the site of the battle, the crowd grows more chaotic, as straggling refugees plunge past them, as fewer care to take note of their presence. Nonetheless, most give them a wide berth – until one comes darting out of a gap in the crowd, a bulky case tucked under his arm, and runs straight into Megatron with enough force to knock him back a step.

"Watch where you're going," snarls the other mech, already sliding past, and Megatron is actually startled, it's been so long since anyone dared such insolence towards him.

The reaction lasts only a second, then he has the other's arms in a painful grip, hauling him back and twisting him around so that they are face to face – a Seeker, one of the later models, poorly upgraded and not even armed.

Red optics fly wide.

"Lord Megatron! I--"

And oh, such honest emotion on a face Megatron can tell at a glance is accustomed to deceit: awe and terror blazing through clear as the heart of a star. For a moment Megatron wonders if the Seeker's plating is electrified; it feels as if current is snapping from the grip he has on the other mech's arms and running haywire through his systems.

"... I..."

He'd intended to shoot the idiot, or at least beat him half to scrap before discarding him on the wayside. Instead, he releases one arm and brings his hand up to take the other's chin in his fingers.

"I believe," he purrs, and though there is menace in the tone, he has barely unsheathed his claws in this instance, "that it is you who should watch where you are going."

"I..."

The Seeker doesn't even struggle, optics still locked on Megatron's, and though there is fear there, Megatron has seen enough of fear to find it only mildly intriguing. What keeps him motionless, keeps him studying the face upturned to his, is that he sees also defiance, pride, and a dawning fascination equal to Megatron's own.

"F-forgive me, Lord Megatron," the Seeker gasps at last, and though his voice is soft with just the right tinge of abasement, Megatron sees no submission in his optics.

He likes that.

"What is your designation?"

"Starscream," replies the Seeker, and Megatron notes it somewhere deep in his processor, where later he can take it apart and think about what such a name implies.

"A pity you're not a warrior," Megatron says, and releases him, and moves on.

Behind him, he can feel Starscream's gaze burning into his back, can imagine the shock and the fury and the indignation welling up in that proud spark at such a dismissal, and he doesn't care if his bodyguard see him smile.

He gives it a week before Starscream joins the Decepticons. Maybe less, if he doesn't stop to equip himself properly first.

And no force on Cybertron will drag from Megatron the admission that even a week feels like far too long.

Chapter Text

Jazz's systems are fairly humming with expectation as he approaches Prime's office. This particular sort of summons – at a dead hour of downtime, on a carefully coded frequency – can mean only one thing, and the prospect of a Special Ops mission has his engine shifting up a gear in anticipation. It's not that he's immune to the danger, but Jazz thrives on solving puzzles, especially the kind that have the potential to turn the tide against the Decepticons. The war's not going well, and even the most optimistic can't pretend otherwise any more, but Jazz always finishes what he starts, and every fuel dump he raids, every security perimeter he penetrates, every Decepticon officer he kills in the dark and with a pang of regret, is another step towards getting the upper hand.

When he walks into the office after a cursory chime at the door, he's taken aback to see another mech already there with Prime. Jazz doesn't know him; he's stocky, rather battered-looking, with faded Autobot symbols and the kind of face you forget. Automatically, Jazz runs a low-level scan – too subtle for the other to register, he thinks.

It is countered. Expertly. Easily. Oh so familiarly.

Jazz has his gun out and trained on the imposter with a speed that would do Ironhide proud.

"Jazz!" Prime stares at him in shock. "What in the Pit are you doing?"

"That's a Decepticon, Prime," Jazz snaps, cycling his visor to a little-used setting to confirm what he's already sure of. "He's usin' a hologram to hide his real form!"

There is a pause of a fraction of a second, and then two things happen. The image of the rusty nobody disappears as the imposter deactivates the hologram – revealing those sleek lines Jazz remembers so well, even after all this time – and Prime steps in front of him, directly into the line of fire.

"Calm down, Jazz," he says. "He is not a Decepticon."

"Yes, sir, he is!" retorts Jazz, every system howling warnings now that Prime has his back to the danger. "Designation Barricade, Rank Three, information gathering and ground support – he's been with the 'cons over two vorns, Prime!"

His revelation doesn't get quite the reaction he's expecting. A soft suggestion of laughter from behind Prime is followed by the voice he's never quite managed to get out of his head.

"He is good."

"The best," snaps Jazz in reply, though his certainty of the situation is faltering. "Prime, what–?"

"I don't know how you got that information, Jazz, and I'm not sure I want to," Optimus says sternly, although there is a hint of humour in his tone. "But I ask you to trust me. Prowl is not a Decepticon. I have known him almost as long as I've known Ironhide."

It's that name that does it, knocks Jazz's preconceptions so askew that he lowers his arm and subspaces his gun out of sheer shock. Prowl? The missing second-in-command of the Autobots? Prowl, whose security coding Jazz has spent the last half-vorn working around, under and through? Prowl, whom Optimus Prime has refused to replace with more than an 'acting' vice commander, whom the rumours say is still out there somewhere, working on something so secret it hasn't even got a classification? That Prowl?

"How did you penetrate the hologram?" asks Prowl, in tones of mild inquiry, as he steps out from behind Prime.

"My visor's got a settin' that picks up distortions of visible light," Jazz replies, off-balance as much from the sight of him as from the change in the situation. "I activated it soon as I recognised your energy signature."

There is a rumble of comprehension from Prime.

"You've met," he says, and glances at Prowl questioningly. "You never said."

"I didn't know it was him," replies Prowl. His optics have yet to leave Jazz's. "We... encountered one another some time ago, by chance."

Prime looks from one to the other of them, and clearly decides that this has gone far enough.

"Jazz," he says firmly, "this is my second-in-command, Prowl. Prowl, this is the new head of Special Ops, Jazz."

They both incline their heads briefly, never breaking optic-lock. Jazz sends out a quick, darting, questioning probe; Prowl's firewalls deflect it as easily as light refracts through a prism.

"Prowl has been in deep cover for, as you noted, over two vorns," Optimus continues. "He has been acting under the persona of Barricade to penetrate the highest levels of the Decepticon command and put in place certain arrangements that we hope will work against them."

"Sabotage?" Jazz grins a little, adapting as he always does, the tension easing from his servos. "Ain't that my department?"

"In this case, detailed tactical knowledge was required," Prowl explains. "Besides, at the time the mission was proposed, you were not among our numbers."

"Or we would doubtless have put you on the job," continues Prime, optics warm with the praise. "Regardless, Prowl has achieved our goals. In order for his work to succeed, however, it is imperative that the Decepticons do not suspect his infiltration. That is why we have called you here, Jazz."

"Barricade must die," Prowl says quietly. "So convincingly that no-one ever thinks to link him to me."

Jazz feels for one awful moment as if his coolant system has gone into overdrive, sending a chill through his plating that grips even at his spark.

"I... hope you ain't askin' me to murder you."

Prowl smiles, very faintly, and the moment passes.

"Only to make it look that way."

It takes a lot of argument, counter-argument, backtracking and stalemate before they have a plan that satisfies both Jazz and Prowl. To start with, Prime contributes to the discussion, but Jazz is vaguely aware that after a while he falls silent, and simply sits and listens to the two of them, an unreadable expression on his face.

Working with Prowl is like nothing Jazz has experienced before – Prowl comes at the whole thing differently, logically, weaving a steady net that Jazz darts in and out of, finding the flaws and correcting them. By the time they have something approaching a workable plan, Jazz is riding high on the rush, and he doesn't think, for all that cool façade, that Prowl is any less exhilarated. Caught up in an argument about a minor detail of timing, Jazz almost doesn't notice Prime's communicator beep. He speaks into the device, listens for a moment, then closes the connection, and interrupts Prowl's dissection of Jazz's proposition with a low chuckle.

"I think," says Prime, as they both turn to him in surprise, "that we have done all we can for now. Ratchet has just requested my presence in the medical bay for a minor issue with one of the new recruits, and I need you both fully recharged before we meet again to finalise the arrangements."

It's only then that Jazz checks his chronometer and realises that joors have gone by without him even noticing. They all get to their feet, but Prime waves the two of them back as he makes for the door.

"I would rather not risk this meeting becoming public knowledge," he says. "I will be on my way now. Jazz, you leave in a few minutes. I trust you know the camera rotation well enough to be inconspicuous?"

Jazz gives a quick nod of acknowledgement; he catches Prowl's darting, thoughtful glance at him, and can't tell if the other approves or disapproves of his ability to dodge the base's internal security.

"Prowl, you will leave by the usual route when another half an hour has gone by." Prime looks apologetic, as far as Jazz can tell behind the mask. "That will cut it rather close for you, I'm afraid."

"It isn't a problem."

"Until next we meet, then."

With a final nod, Prime leaves the room.

There is a pause – not quite comfortable, tinged with uncertainty.

"Sorry about earlier," says Jazz at last. "Guess I shoulda had a bit more faith in Prime."

Prowl turns a gaze so startled upon him that it transfixes Jazz – a crack in that particular mask, a beckoning glimpse of the same mystery that has lingered in his thoughts since the first time they met.

"Given what you knew, how could you have acted differently?" Prowl glances down at the datapad he is holding, then back up at Jazz, expression hesitating almost on the brink of something that gets into Jazz's spark and pulls. "I confess, I was... surprised to see you."

There is silence, heavy and promising, as their optics meet. Then Jazz decides to the Pit with caution, or patience, or common sense.

He crosses the distance between them in a few quick strides. Prowl actually takes a step back before he can contain himself, high-slung doors twitching nervously, and that's all it takes to snap Jazz's control in half. He catches hold of Prowl and kisses him with all the frustrated yearning and maddening desire that's been in the back of his processor since he chased a stranger down the back streets of Iacon. Prowl stands stock-still, not responding at all, energy field tight and opaque, and Jazz just has time to wonder if he's making the biggest mistake of his life.

Then there is a crack as Prowl's datapad hits the ground, and suddenly his arms are around Jazz, fingers hooking into sensitive armour seams, and the way Prowl kisses back is everything Jazz could have hoped, passionate and urgent and playful and more, as his firewalls peel away under Jazz's touch, giving a glimpse, just a tantalising glimpse, of the depths below. Jazz moans and draws him closer, and Prowl makes a noise somewhere in his vocaliser that is almost a whimper; Jazz slides his fingers up the arch of Prowl's doors, and Prowl gasps between kisses and runs his tongue over the inside of Jazz's mouth in a way that makes Jazz's knees shake.

Then Prowl is pushing him away, panting but determined.

"Not here, not now."

Jazz wants nothing more than to smother the words with more kisses, his circuits humming with current and his sensors jacked up so high the air on his plating sends shivers through him. But he knows Prowl is right – and besides, there's something in his face that Jazz thinks means he won't back down. Yet another side of him to explore, yet another piece of the puzzle. Slowly, Jazz steps back, unable to resist one more teasing scan, and the way Prowl's defences let him in a little way this time is as sweet as high-grade. Jazz imagines those red optics rewired to blue, the mocking purple insignia scoured off and replaced with the badge of the Autobots, and something inside him sings.

Finally, he turns and heads for the door, pausing just before he reaches it to flash Prowl his cockiest grin.

"I knew you were worth chasin'."

Prowl bends smoothly to retrieve his datapad, frowning at its now-damaged screen, obviously checking the contents for file corruption. Jazz turns away and keys the door open, steps through.

"Jazz?"

He looks back. Prowl's optics meet his, cool and collected and just a little bit wicked, as the door chimes that it is about to shut.

"I let you catch me."