Chapter 1: Frost
In the south of Alberta, in a place known as Del Bonita, the first of December dawned bright, clear, and bitingly cold. For a certain Autobot named Prowl, recharging in the parking lot of a truck stop, it was also a very sluggish morning, as the cold and lack of proper recharge made it exceptionally difficult to pull himself back to consciousness. Prowl persevered, however - he wanted to get back to the Ark as soon as possible, and that meant not sitting around in a parking lot until noon.
Once Prowl had woken up entirely, however he became aware of a slight problem in his intention to continue - every optical sensor was covered in ice. Or more accurately, frost. Using his non-optical sensors, he quickly determined that most of his body was covered in it, as well. It wasn't the first time he'd encountered frost - he'd been frosted over several times now, and had put up with Sunstreaker's screeching over being frosted over, as well. Frost and Prowl were certainly, after that, not strangers.
Unfortunately, Prowl's usual remedies for frost were unavailable. The sun was unlikely to get warm enough to melt off the frost before mid-afternoon, and some of his optical sensors wouldn't heat up - were designed not to heat up - enough to melt the frost away. Getting help with the frost was unlikely, as he was travelling alone, and the truck stop was still closed. He could try driving with the frost, of course, but it was covering his Autobot symbol, and a car completely covered in frost, driving down the highway, would scare the human drivers, no matter how well he drove. Besides that, his reaction time wouldn't be as good, and he'd wanted to speed a bit on the way home - he'd been away from the Ark for almost half of November, and he wanted to get back, back to people who understood his need for logic, who didn't find his curt mannerisms off-putting or insulting...who didn't constantly remind him how far away from his real home he was.
Sighing, Prowl decided he'd just have to delay his return to the Ark by another day, and so he pulled out into the weak sunlight of the winter morning, idling his engine in an attempt to speed up the process just a little bit. Then, figuring he might as well catch up while he had nothing better to do, Prowl slipped into a light recharge.
He was startled back into consciousness no more than fifteen minutes later by a lone car sputtering into the gas station, pulling around to where he was and stopping. Though his optical sensors were useless, Prowl observed on his other sensors as a human stepped out, clearly shivering and not entirely awake yet. Shutting their car door, they went to the trunk of their vehicle and opened it. To Prowl's surprise, they pulled out a scraper and walked over to him.
"Prowl, right?" the human asked.
"Correct," Prowl said, brief in his surprise.
"Good morning then." Prowl couldn't tell if the human was smiling, but they seemed genuine enough. "I got a phone call from one of your friends. Said you might need some help with the frost, asked if I could come in early to help ya out." The scraper was waved over his hood in a motion probably meant to indicate the frost covering it.
"Ah, some help would certainly be appreciated, though not necessary," Prowl replied.
"Nonsense. Can't drive with everything frosted over. Or, well, maybe you can, but it'll freak everyone else out," the human said cheerfully. "I'm Matt, by the way. Matt Friedman. I work at the truck stop."
"A pleasure to meet you," Prowl said, still rather confused.
"Same!" Matt seemed amused, if anything, by Prowl's pleasantries. "So, do I need to be extra gentle or anything? Or should I just pretend like you're a regular car for scraping purposes?"
"Just scrape as usual," Prowl said - his more sensitive body sensors had, as usual, turned off when he transformed.
"Alrighty then - windows first!" Matt said cheerfully, and set to. He hummed as he worked, scraping down the windows with practiced ease, then moving on to the headlights, and then asking Prowl where his Autobot symbols were so he could uncover them. He even climbed up and scraped off the lights on Prowl's roof.
"Anything else?" Matt asked once he finished with the roof lights. Prowl considered - a few of his more delicate optical sensors were still frosted over, but he doubted Matt would be able to get to them, and the most important optics - those in his headlights - were clear.
"That should be sufficient," Prowl replied.
"Alrighty. Guess I'm done then," Matt said.
"Indeed," Prowl replied. "Thank you for your assistance."
"Not a problem," Matt said, then grinned. "You should thank your friend Jazz, though, for tracking me down. It's supposed to snow later today - you might've gotten stuck here for a few days if you waited for the sun to thaw ya out."
"I will make sure to thank him when I get back," Prowl said, surprised at that - he'd checked the weather report before he'd started out yesterday, but not this morning, and apparently it had changed. He was hardly surprised that Jazz was the one responsible - since they'd awoken on Earth, the saboteur seemed to have developed a knack for knowing when Prowl was about to get into trouble, big or small. Though, as Prowl said goodbye to Matt and headed out, he acknowledged that finding out where exactly Prowl had parked for the night, then tracking down an employee for the place and convincing them to come in early, just so that Prowl could get back to the Ark on schedule, was a bit beyond Jazz's usual efforts. And for some reason, as he drove, he found his thoughts constantly drifting back to that fact.
Chapter 2: Snowflake
There had been a pile-up on the way home.
Prowl had stopped to help, naturally, and his presence had been appreciated - the first two cars to hit were in need of a jaws of life to get the passengers out, but the nearest unit had been broken, the second nearest an hour away. Prowl had stepped in to pry the vehicles apart, as gently as he could. It was delicate work, and he doubted many other Autobots could have done it - Ratchet and Sunstreaker for sure, maybe Wheeljack and First Aid. Those with medic training, or who could fine-tune their hand movements enough. Humans were extremely delicate creatures, after all.
Still, he had done well, and helped save the lives of the humans inside the two cars. Of course, he couldn't just leave after that, since he was already there, so he'd helped pry apart some other vehicles, and move them off to the side. With his help, the highway had been cleared much more quickly than normal, the cars carefully moved to the shoulder. They'd finished just in time, too, as it started to snow shortly after. Prowl had left as the melting flakes began washing away the evidence of the pile-up, the last ambulances long gone, and the remaining police starting in on their third round of coffee, knowing they'd be there for awhile, wrapping things up and seeing to the removal of the cars via tow truck.
Prowl knew he was in for an equally long night. The storm that was settling in was a big one, and he knew that if he stopped anywhere tonight, it would be another few days before he could return to the Ark. So he pushed on, and as the night grew later, his thoughts turned from mentally preparing a report on the accident for Optimus, to...actually thinking about it.
Prowl had always hated helping with clean-up after human car accidents. Not because of any prejudice against humans, but because of the blood. Human accidents were always messy, but the fluids their vehicles and constructions leaked didn't bother a mech that had seen as much mechanized war as Prowl. Blood, on the other hand, had always made Prowl uneasy. Ratchet had once equated the red liquid to Energon, but Prowl knew that the comparison was imperfect. A Cybertronian could replace their Energon, easily, by consuming more. It was a natural resource to them, and was more akin to water for humans. Blood, for a human, was nowhere near as replaceable. Once they lost it, it was difficult for them to replenish, and they didn't have that much of it to begin with. If it was in large enough amounts for a Cybertronian to notice, that usually meant a human was dead. And dead humans were dead allies, or dead neutrals, casualties in a war that was not their own.
Prowl had walked away from the pile-up with red palms, and red smears across his armor. There were more than a few bloody handprints on his armor, where he'd let people lean on him for support, and one of his seats was encrusted with dried blood from a young girl, no more than 12, who they'd needed to isolate from the sight of the accident so that she would come out of her shock enough to let their medics tend to her. Most of the blood had been her parents'.
Prowl knew that the pile-up hadn't been the fault of Decepticons, that carnage like that had been happening before their kind had awoken on Earth. It was simply something that happened in the human world. But as he drove, Prowl couldn't help but wish that he'd argued just a little bit harder, that he'd demanded Optimus reconsider when he said they were going to stay on Earth. Ratchet had been his only ally, however, and no matter how much Optimus trusted the two of them, he had not been able to turn his back on the help the humans were willingly offering to their dying race. Even if he had seen the death and destruction that Prowl and Ratchet had projected - the red blood of humans, stretched out beneath the feet of a war that had started long before the humans even existed, and would likely continue long after they were wiped out, an apocalypse the humans couldn't dream of, not even in their films and literature, because in this one, none of them survived - the Prime had deemed the short-term advantages worth it, and carried on with the alliance.
His thoughts grew only more depressing as Prowl drove through the night, and when he finally came within sight of the Ark, he found his homecoming tainted by them. He couldn't find it in himself to even feel relief in returning to the place where half the eventual destroyers of the human race lived.
"Prime said ta see him only after you've gotten cleaned up, checked out, and had a good recharge," Jazz said as Prowl drove up, stepping out of the pre-dawn shadows. Prowl nodded tiredly, pausing to stare up at the Ark's great engines, sticking out of the dormant volcano above him. He told himself that he just needed a good night's recharge - he'd been shorted the night before, and had none tonight, after all. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, he moved to head inside, only to have Jazz catch his arm. He glanced down at the hand, and for a moment, it was human and bloody. He cycled his optics and looked up at Jazz.
"Was there something else?" he asked, his voice coming out more ragged than he wished.. Jazz looked at him intensely, then glanced upwards.
"It's snowin'," the saboteur said, and Prowl glanced up.
"It has been for awhile," he replied.
"Didja know that each snowflake is unique? Never another one like it," Jazz said, letting go of Prowl's arm and holding out a hand to let snowflakes fall on it. They melted almost as soon as they landed. "It's a pity they melt so fast." Prowl stared at Jazz's hand, the connection not lost on him. Jazz said nothing else for a long moment, both of them watching as the snowflakes fell and melted on his hand. Then, abruptly, Jazz closed his hand and let it drop to his side, turning to face Prowl, whose gaze was still transfixed on where Jazz's hand had been.
"You saved a lot of them, Prowl. There was nothing more you could have done," he said.
"And what about the others? The ones that could have been prevented?" Prowl asked, turning his gaze back to Jazz. "What about the hundreds of humans that have died, the thousands or more that will die, for our war?"
"You know, and they know, that Optimus would've left if they said no. But they chose to let us stay, to help us and let us help them. It isn't a one-sided relationship, Prowl. They get as much out of us being here as we do, maybe even more," Jazz said softly.
"And what price will they pay for that help?" Prowl asked just as softly, then turned and walked inside.
"You need to have more faith in their resilience, Prowl," Jazz called after him. Prowl didn't reply, just kept walking.
Chapter 3: Toys for Tots
Prowl's early morning, intended to be used for catching up on paperwork, was interrupted by the sudden intrusion of a certain blue-visored mech and a rather large box, dropped unceremoniously on top of Prowl's desk. Prowl stared at the box for moment, then looked up at Jazz impassively and waited. The saboteur grinned widely, but seemed determined to wait Prowl out this morning. In the vague hope that Jazz would just want something ridiculous, like Prowl's opinion on the colour of whatever was in the box, Prowl sighed and caved.
"Did you want something, Jazz?" he asked.
"What are you doing for the rest of today?" Jazz asked, still grinning.
"Catching up on -"
"WRONG!" Jazz interrupted Prowl gleefully, handing over a data pad. Prowl took it warily, frightened as to what Jazz could possibly have to give him that would require a data pad. His fear was apparently well placed - the data pad was a change of orders, from Optimus, who had told him just last night that he could take today to catch up on his work. Prowl slowly raised his gaze to look at the smirking Jazz. Without looking away, he reached over and flipped on his desk communicator, hitting the button to connect him to Optimus' quarters.
"Prowl, good morning." The Prime sounded far too awake, considering his usual rising time, and Prowl grimaced, glancing down at the screen.
"Optimus. Did you, perhaps, sign a change of orders for me for today?" he asked.
"I did. Is there a problem with them?" Optimus asked, far too innocently.
"No. I was just checking." Not caring that he was being rude, Prowl cut the connection, then turned to glare at Jazz, who pouted at him.
"You felt the need to check? Really? I haven't gotten away with forging orders from Optimus since before we left Cybertron," the saboteur said.
"Because I always check, now," Prowl said flatly, and Jazz's pout increased for a moment before his grin broke free, splitting across his face again.
"So, you ready for today then?" he asked.
"Don't Bumblebee and Spike usually do this with you?" Prowl asked, glancing between the data pad and box on his desk distastefully.
"Well, yes, but they both agreed that you could use some cheering up, and that this is the perfect way to do it!" Jazz replied brightly, then leaned over to pick up the box. "C'mon!" He was bounding out of Prowl's office before the tactician could say anything else, and with a sigh, Prowl stood and followed him.
It seemed that Jazz, or possibly Bumblebee and Spike, had shared their plan to 'cheer up' Prowl with the rest of the Ark, as the tactician found himself on the receiving end of grins and commiserating looks as he followed Jazz out of the Ark. It had stopped snowing late last night, leaving a nearly undisturbed blanket over everything, but Jazz didn't pause to look at it, shoving his giant box into subspace and transforming. Prowl sighed and followed suit, but in grouchy rebellion, quickly pulled ahead and forced Jazz to go exactly the human speed limit. Jazz wasn't prone to speeding around Prowl, like certain other mechs, but he did like to push the limit a bit - a few miles over, that was it. So while Prowl making sure he went exactly the limit was a very small form of revenge, it was vindictive enough to satisfy the tactician, especially when Jazz realized what he was doing and started grumbling.
Despite their 'turtle pace', as Jazz called it, they reached the human city well ahead of schedule, and from there, Prowl let Jazz take the lead, since he didn't actually know where they were headed. Jazz led the way, surprisingly, to the hospital. A large area had been cleared in the parking lot, away from the emergency doors, and the asphalt had been cleared of snow from the storm. Portable fire pits had been brought in, and a security guard was just lighting them, carefully placing grates over top, as hospital volunteers set up tables and chairs around the pits. The humans paused in their tasks to wave or call out 'hellos' to the Autobots as they made their way into the middle of the area and transformed.
Prowl stood back and watched as Jazz returned the human's greetings, making small chat as he waited. Then, finally, once everything was set up, the hospital doors opened, and nurses came out with children from the children's ward, all bright-eyed and excited. Jazz greeted them all boisterously, by name. Prowl realized the saboteur must have memorized the children's files, as Jazz seemed to know just what each child's illness was, and acted accordingly. He never spoke a word out of place, and the children quickly adored him. Of course, then he introduced Prowl, and the tactician found himself at a bit of a loss. Jazz was quick to cover for him, though, and in the end, at the behest of the children and the urging of Jazz, Prowl transformed again and let them play with his lights and sirens.
They deserted Prowl quickly, though, when Jazz's giant box appeared, all of them scrambling for seats - it was clearly a tradition that they all had to be seated before Jazz would even open the box. Once they were all in their seats, Jazz opened the box and began pulling out wrapped packages. Each had a tiny tag on it, but Jazz barely paused to read them, seeming to know the packages by spark, and who they belonged to. Each child received their present gleefully, tearing into it immediately.
Finally, each of the children had presents...and yet Jazz was holding onto one last one, looking puzzled. He leaned down to talk softly to one of the nurses, who shook her head and immediately looked concerned, her gaze sweeping over the area. Her gaze came to rest on Prowl, and her eyes lit up as she spoke to Jazz. Jazz looked in his direction and grinned, then headed over, present in hand. Prowl was confused for a moment, until he realized there was movement in his back seat. He hadn't opened his back doors, and hadn't thought anyone had gotten back there, but apparently a child had. He turned his sensors inwards and found...the girl from the pile-up, who the medics had put in his back seat to help her calm down.
She was curled up against his door, running her hand repeatedly over a section of leather seat, her gaze fixed on the spot. He realized that it was the one spot that he hadn't managed to get the blood out of. Knowing Jazz was still approaching, Prowl instinctively he shut his doors, tinting the windows so no one could see in or out. He was aware of Jazz pausing, but ignored the mech as he turned his attention to the girl in his backseat. He had no idea what to say, but thought he'd better say something.
"Hello again," he tried, softly, and the girl started violently, her hand gripping his leather seat over the blood stain.
"Hi," she said timidly after a pause.
"You're Amanda, aren't you?" he vaguely recalled hearing her name at the pile-up.
"Yes," she replied softly. "You're Prowl. An Autobot."
"Yes, I am," he replied.
"You were...there. At the accident," Amanda said, her voice shakey.
"I was. I was on my way home, and stopped to help," he said.
"We were, too," Amanda replied. "On our way home, that is. My parents and I. We'd gone out to my grandparent's for Thanksgiving, but Gramma was sick so we stayed a little longer. I got to miss a whole week of school."
"Did you enjoy the break?" Prowl asked.
"Not really," Amanda answered after a moment, quietly. "We spent a lot of the time at the hospital with Gramma. I hated it. Hospitals smell funny."
"I wouldn't know," Prowl said after a moment.
"Don't you have robot hospitals?" Amanda asked after a moment. "I mean, my...my daddy said you Autobots are fighting a war, and everybody always talks about people getting hurt in wars, so you have to have hospitals, right?"
"We have an equivalent, yes. But we don't have a sense of smell, not as humans do," Prowl replied.
"You don't?" Amanda asked, sounding surprised.
"No. We have chemical sensors, which can tell us what is in the air, but, from what I understand, the human sense of smell is tied into taste, and Cybertronians can't taste," Prowl replied.
"Oh," Amanda said, looking thoughtful. "That's too bad."
"That depends. A few of our human allies have expressed distaste over how our...hospital smells after a battle. Like an electrified machine shop with a heavy chemical leak, I believe was the description," Prowl said, then immediately grimaced to himself - mentioning carnage, even alien mechanoid carnage, after all that the girl had been through only a few days before, was probably not a good idea. But Amanda surprised him.
"Yeah, but you don't get to smell pumpkin pie. Or...flowers, or fresh summer peaches, or the grass right after a rainstorm..." the girl trailed off. "I don't think I'd trade being able to smell those to avoid smelling a hospital."
"They must be very pleasant scents." Prowl felt like the conversation was becoming a little too surreal for him, but he couldn't bring himself to end it.
"They are," Amanda said. She was silent for a long moment. "They keep asking me what I remember from the accident. I tell them I don't remember anything, but it's not true. I remember you. And...I remember the smell. I was so happy to be away from hospitals, I was enjoying smelling everything else. My mom was laughing at me. And...blood smells like metal. Tangy, bitter metal - like a lemon, a little. It...it's all I remember, until they put me in here. You have a different smell. Better. It blocked out the smell of blood."
"I filtered my air," Prowl said softly. "Took away the scents from the outside." Amanda giggled.
"You can't smell, but you can get rid of smells?" she asked.
"Scents are simply particles in the air. I took those particles away," Prowl replied.
"Oh. Thank you," Amanda said, smiling.
"It was no difficulty. I was happy to help," Prowl said.
"No...you weren't," Amanda said, grinning.
"Pardon?" Prowl asked incredulously.
"Who would be happy to help with a mess like that?" the girl asked, seeming torn between giggling and being serious.
"I was...relieved and grateful that I could be of assistance," Prowl corrected himself, realizing the truth of the girl's words. There was a sudden knock on his hood, and Prowl abruptly became aware of the outside world. Jazz was crouched next to him, the package Prowl had last seen him with in his hands, and two nurses were nearby. The children had disappeared inside with the other nurses, and the volunteers were beginning to clean up.
"It seems our presence is required," Prowl told Amanda as he looked inwards again.
"Yeah. I'm surprised they let me go this long. They've been fussing over me something awful." Amanda made a face. Prowl considered his next words carefully.
"They're concerned - you've suffered a big loss," he said, as the nurse knocked on his hood again, frowning now.
"I know. But...my parents had a long talk with me about Gramma before we left, about what might happen to her. They told me that if she died, they knew she wouldn't want me to be sad for her, but to remember and love her, and to live my life with her in my heart and memories. And...I know they'd want me to do the same for them," Amanda said, then slowly uncurled and slid over in his seat, reaching for the door handle. Prowl unlocked the doors as he let his windows return to their usual tint, and Amanda opened the door and slid out.
Prowl watched silently as the nurses made a fuss over her, one of them handing her some pills and a glass of water - she was late for her medicine, apparently. Amanda took the pills without complaint, then Jazz handed her her present. She didn't open it, asking politely if he minded if she waited until Christmas Day, so she could open it with the rest of her presents. Jazz didn't mind at all, of course, and the nurses told her they had an address where she could send him a thank-you note later. Then they were hustling her inside, and Amanda paused just long enough to wave goodbye to both Autobots before letting herself be led inside.
Once they were gone, Jazz transformed, and they headed out in silence.
"You knew she was there, didn't you?" Prowl finally asked as they left the city, over the comm. channel.
"Yep," Jazz replied.
"How did you..." Prowl couldn't figure out how to finish the question.
"Phoned the hospital," Jazz replied saucily, and Prowl sped up enough to nudge the other Autobot's bumper. "Hey, hey, no tailgating!" Jazz yelped.
"Glitch," Prowl told him fondly, knowing Jazz was being deliberately obtuse about what he'd wanted to ask.
"Aw, love ya too, Prowler," Jazz replied with a smirk, then pulled ahead....going four miles above the speed limit. Recognizing the taunt, Prowl tried to pass him, but the saboteur blocked him, laughing, and continued to do so for the rest of the trip.
Chapter 4: Stars
Midnight found Prowl on the hunt for an elusive saboteur. After he and Jazz had returned from the city, he'd - thankfully - been allowed to dive into his work. Energon had appeared, though he hadn't remembered who had brought it, and he'd stayed in his office until a few hours ago. Then, as usually happened, once his work was done, his low-priority processing of the past few days caught up to him, and he realized he'd never actually thanked Jazz for his help over the past few days.
So now, here he was, hunting for a saboteur that evidently didn't want to be found. Prowl was not one to give up easily, however, and he carefully searched the mech's usual hiding places. Short of being in someone's quarters - unlikely - it soon became clear that Jazz wasn't in the Ark, though, and Prowl headed outside. The recent snowfall made tracking outside difficult, as many Autobots had spent the day playing in the snow, and the ground was a mess of slush and mud, which barely held footprints. Fortunately, Prowl didn't have to depend on his meager tracking skills, as he knew the most likely places Jazz would be outside. Judging from the snow and the lack of the distant roar of an engine, Prowl chose to turn left, finding the hidden path that the Autobots used to climb up the mountain they lived in and heading up it.
The path was narrow, but sturdy, reinforced subtly by Hoist and Wheeljack so that Optimus could climb it if he wanted, though he'd have to do so sideways. It wound up around the mountain, circling it twice and bending back on itself more than a few times. Prowl absently noted some areas where the path was showing some wear, making a note to mention it to Trailbreaker, the voluntary maintainer of the path. It was nearly half an hour later when Prowl finally reached the top, and he stepped out onto the sand-blasted stone platform at the top.
He'd half expected to find a bonfire in the center of the platform - most of the Autobots were absolutely enthralled by the idea of a campfire, since no natural fire existed on Cybertron - but the platform was dark, and Prowl wondered for a minute if Jazz was even up there. But then he saw the saboteur, lying on the ground, his visor dimmed to the point that it was barely visible. In most mechs that might have meant they were recharging lightly, but Jazz, as a saboteur, couldn't exactly have his glowing visor giving him away on missions. It was a little known fact that the dimness of Jazz's visor was actually tied directly into how high he'd dialed up his dark vision. Prowl, knowing that his own optics would look like tiny suns to Jazz with his night vision this high, didn't bend over the other mech, but instead sat beside him, leaving it up to Jazz if he wanted to look over at him.
"Hey," Jazz said mildly once Prowl got himself comfortable.
"Hello Jazz," Prowl replied. "It occurred to me that I never actually thanked you."
"Fer what?" Jazz asked.
"For today. And for phoning Mister Friedman and getting him to come in early," Prowl replied.
"It was nothin'," Jazz said with a shrug.
"No, it wasn't," Prowl said, looking down at Jazz. "You're constantly doing things like that, and I really don't appreciate it as much as I should. I'm not even entirely sure how you knew where I'd parked for the night, and I'm not sure I want to know what you bribed Mister Friedman with." Jazz chuckled, but it was subdued.
"His little sis was a fan - he just handed the phone over ta her and we chatted while he got ready," the saboteur said. "And Teletraan tracks all Cybertronian signals on Earth - all the ones he can, at least. So it just took some fancy shenanigans with a satellite to match your co-ordinates with an address. There were enough electronic payment trails to find Matt from there - I actually phoned his boss, first. See? Wasn't much." Prowl shook his head slightly.
"I don't know many other mechs that would go to that trouble just to make sure I didn't get stuck in a blizzard," Prowl replied. Jazz shrugged.
"Y'get all tense and closed off whenever you go on these solo missions to deal with the humans. Longer you're out, worse it is, more time it takes to get you to wind down so ya don't flip out on the twins over some little thing. I was just preserving morale." Jazz flashed Prowl a grin. Prowl stared at the saboteur in surprise. He hadn't realized anyone else had noticed how much those types of missions affected him. Thinking back on it now, however, he realized the Autobots always seemed to be on their best behavior when he got back from them - the complete opposite of how some of them reacted when he went out on other missions, with company. The twins in particular were known to 'welcome him home' with a rousing round of pranks...unless he'd been out on a solo mission.
"I hadn't realized anyone else had noticed," Prowl murmured thoughtfully.
"Not surprised. You've never really realized how much of a hold you have over everyone else as second in command," Jazz said softly, his tone odd. "You always see Optimus, and assume other mechs do, as well. But you're our anchor, as much as OP is our captain." Prowl simply stared at the saboteur, unable to think of what to say in response to that, and after a moment, Jazz grinned unexpectedly up at him. "S'why I can't go letting you get all depressed an locking yourself in yer office just cuz of a human accident."
"I wasn't -" Prowl started to protest, but stopped at the look that Jazz gave him. He changed tactics. "How did you even know? You only saw me when I returned."
"I know you, Prowl. I knew you'd brood on it as you did your paperwork. You like to pretend that you get lost in your work, but I've got ya figured out. You do paperwork so that your mind has something to do as your emotions process. Quite a clever solution, for a mech like you," Jazz said, nodding sagely, and Prowl stared at him incredulously.
"I think you may just know more about my psyche than Ratchet. Which I find vaguely disturbing," the tactician said, and Jazz snickered.
"S'my job to know how you work, Prowl. I'm head of special ops and third in command, not to mention unofficial morale officer. I need to be aware of these types of things so I can tell when there's a problem," the saboteur said.
"Oh, so you know how everyone's psyche works then?" Prowl asked, amused.
"Well, not so much with Red Alert," Jazz said thoughtfully, then chuckled. "But yeah, to some extent." Jazz paused for a long moment. "Hafta admit, I know you a bit better than anyone else, though."
"Because I'm the Autobot's anchor?" Prowl asked in amusement.
"Nah. Cuz you're my friend," Jazz said, his voice soft. Prowl looked up at the stars, feeling suddenly uncomfortable - he didn't deal well with personal emotions. Fortunately, Jazz knew that, and after a short moment, the saboteur started chatting away about how Mirage and Perceptor were trying to come up with a subroutine or simple optic mod so that they could see Cybertron from Earth, without the aid of a telescope. It was an impersonal topic, stepping away from the subject that made Prowl uncomfortable, but Jazz spoke in a friendly tone, subtly letting Prowl knew that he understood and didn't hold it against him. It made Prowl realize just how well Jazz did know him.
Chapter 5: Where Are You Christmas?
It was a day and a half later when Sideswipe showed up in Prowl's office, dressed as the human legend, Santa Claus, and exploded a bag of fake snow all over the place. After Sideswipe's hearty "Ho ho ho, merry Christmas!", Prowl looked up from his snow-covered data pad and gave the twin an unimpressed look.
"You realize you're cleaning all this up. Today," he said, pointing to a large pile of snow on his desk. Sideswipe frowned, then stepped closer and leaned in suddenly so he was nose-to-nose with Prowl. Prowl cycled his optics in surprise, but didn't move, staring right back at the red mech. Finally, Sideswipe stepped back and pulled off his giant red hat and ridiculous white beard.
"I don't get it," he said.
"You don't get that you have to clean up a mess you made?" Prowl asked dryly.
"No no, I get that," Sideswipe flapped a hand in dismissal. "But you're obviously back in a good mood, so why isn't he decorating?"
"What?" Prowl was thoroughly confused.
"Jazz," Sideswipe explained patiently. "He always starts decorating the Ark for Christmas on December first. He put it off this year because you weren't back, and then when you were, you were in a bad mood, so he had to cheer you up before he could start. But you're in a good mood, have been for a day or two, so why hasn't he started decorating?"
"Maybe he decided to wait a little, like a sensible...mech." Prowl had no idea if sensible people waited to decorate for Christmas, but he figured Sideswipe didn't know if he knew or not, so his bluff was safe.
"Uh. Jazz? Sensible?" Sideswipe looked dubious, and Prowl couldn't stop the small smile from forming at the corners of his mouth.
"I'll go find him and ask, shall I?" he said, instead.
"Yeah, you do that," Sideswipe said with a nod. "In the mean time -" the twin started edging towards the door.
"In the meantime," Prowl interrupted as he stood from his chair. "You'll clean my office." Sideswipe slumped, but didn't argue as Prowl headed out.
It was surprisingly easy to find Jazz - he was, for once, in his office, a few doors away from Prowl, seemingly doing paperwork. Prowl knew the secret of Jazz's office, though - no actual work was contained therein. The data pads were all full of books, human or Cybertronian. Any real work was neatly ordered in a box back in Jazz's quarters, disguised to look like a coffee table. So Prowl had no problem interrupting Jazz - not that he would have had any problem if Jazz had been doing actual work, after the number of times the saboteur had interrupted him.
"What is it today? The Dickens human you read last Christmas?" Prowl asked as he stepped into Jazz's office and closed the door behind him.
"Huh?" Jazz looked up, clearly startled.
"The book," Prowl said, nodding to the data pad.
"Oh, it's..." Jazz trailed off, looking at the data pad. "Uh. 'Anna Karenina'." Prowl frowned.
"Not exactly a Christmas story," he said, having had the book suggested to him a few times by helpful human dignitaries who seemed to think that his reserved nature meant he was into literature (he much preferred non-fiction).
"Oh, no, but it's...engaging." Jazz sounded dubious.
"Really. What part are you on?" Prowl asked, feigning interest. The effect was not lost on Jazz, who glared at him.
"Alright, so I haven't even gotten past the first page," the saboteur grumbled, dropping the pad on his desk, where the screen promptly began displaying a report from Perceptor. It was a report from four years ago, but most people wouldn't expect anything different in Jazz's office.
"I thought as much." Prowl said, moving forward to take a seat in the chair opposite Jazz. "What's on your processor, Jazz?"
"Nothin'," Jazz said with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Jazz. Just because I'm obtuse and need Sideswipe to point out to me that something is wrong with you, doesn't mean I'll give up because you half-heartedly try to brush me off," Prowl said patiently. Jazz stared at him.
"Sideswipe?" It had apparently taken the saboteur a few moments to process the entire statement.
"He decided to decorate my office with snow. I believe he thought I was still upset, though what he'd hoped to accomplish if I was, I don't know," Prowl said with a frown.
"He wanted to give you someone to yell at," Jazz said after a beat. Prowl's frown deepened.
"He's done that before, hasn't he?" Prowl asked, and Jazz, snickering, nodded. "How can I not have noticed these things before now?"
"You're a little bit obtuse when it comes to how mechs and femmes, including yourself, work," Jazz said, grinning broadly.
"Evidently," Prowl said grumpily, then gave Jazz an intense look. "However, we are getting off-topic." Jazz's grin faded.
"Nothin's wrong, Prowl, honest. Just...not in the Christmas spirit the last few days. Dunno why," Jazz said. He was lying, but he was putting effort into it now, and Prowl leaned back in his chair, eyeing Jazz calculatingly, wondering if he should keep pressing. He decided not, as this line of questioning was odd even for him - it was supposed to go the other way around, with Jazz questioning him about what was wrong, after all - but he still needed to get Jazz in a better mood, so he opted for a different tack.
"Why does Scrooge love Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?" Prowl asked, and Jazz stared at him. "Because every buck is dear to him."
"Uh..." Jazz just stared, seeming to be too shocked to form words, and Prowl, letting a ghost of a smile cross his face, kept going.
"What do snowmen wear on their heads? Ice caps. Why does Santa's sled get such good mileage? Because it has long-distance runners on each side. Where do you find reindeer? It depends on where you leave them. Why are all the other months jealous of December? It has a lot of dates. What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite. Which reindeer have the shortest legs? The smallest ones. What do snowmen eat for lunch? Iceburgers. What do you call a cat on the beach at Christmas time? Sandy Claws. What did the farmer say when he lost his truck? Hey, where's my truck -"
"That's not a Christmas joke!" Jazz spluttered, a small laugh escaping.
"No, but it always makes you laugh, though I have no idea why," Prowl said, then went to continue, but Jazz raised a hand, chuckling.
"Alright, alright, stop!" he said. "Where on Earth did you get all those?"
"Bluestreak, last year, at the Christmas party," Prowl said, dryly.
"You were on duty," Jazz pointed out.
"He felt that I needed company," Prowl deadpanned.
"So that's why he was in the brig the next morning," Jazz snickered.
"No, that was because he started singing after he ran out of jokes," Prowl replied dryly, and Jazz gave in an started laughing.
The two of them left Jazz's office fifteen minutes later, after Jazz supplied Prowl with more jokes, and made him promise to tell them to people when least expected. Privately, Prowl figured he'd find a reason to tell one whenever Jazz looked like he needed cheering up. For now, however, Jazz was back in a good mood, and within the hour, Prowl heard Christmas carols outside his office, and laughing bots asking where they should put decorations. Sideswipe, still cleaning up the fake snow, gave Prowl a pleading look.
"Not until you're finished," Prowl told him firmly, and went back to work.
Chapter 6: Ice sculpting
Someone was stalking him. Prowl had felt the irritating sensation of being watched all day, every time he left his office. It was unnerving, and he was getting progressively more jumpy, and more irritated by it. Now, in the early evening, he'd had enough - he had no desire to find out if the stalking would continue when he went to his quarters to recharge, or if they were a safe room like his office. So he headed down towards the Dinobots' quarters, through corridors that were rarely frequented, and when he was quite alone, he stopped, and slowly turned around. He saw no one, of course, but he hadn't expected to.
"I suggest to you come out now," Prowl said flatly to the empty corridor - he knew his watcher was still there, he could feel it. For a moment, there was nothing, and he wondered if he was going to have to take more extreme measures to get his stalker to emerge. But then there was movement, and a shimmer of light revealed Mirage...glaring at Jazz, who was grinning.
"I toldja he'd be able to tell you were there," the saboteur said.
"I'm quite sure you're at fault," Mirage said sulkily, then turned and stalked away. Jazz just snickered, then turned back to Prowl, who eyed him suspiciously.
"Jazz," he said, not quite sure which question to ask first.
"So, now that you've proved that you can sense Mirage is there even while invisible, and thus won my bet for me, I'll be going!" Jazz said cheerily, turning to take off, but Prowl wasn't buying it, and he quickly strode over and caught Jazz's shoulder.
"Jazz..." he said again, this time more threateningly. "Why precisely did you decide to make a bet that I could sense Mirage and you following me around all day?"
"Because his ego gets too big sometimes," Jazz said, and Prowl looked at him. "As part of his training, to improve his skills?" Prowl sighed.
"Jazz, if you don't tell me the real reason right this moment..." Prowl said, trailing off threateningly.
"You'll throw me in the brig?" Jazz finished with a nervous laugh.
"I'll throw you in the Decepticon brig," Prowl elaborated, and Jazz's remaining grin fell.
"Alright," he said. "I suppose there's nothing you can do about it now, anyways." Prowl frowned.
"You were a distraction," he said, and Jazz nodded guiltily. "From what?"
"Why don't you come up to the control room and I'll show you?" Jazz suggested. Prowl considered for a moment, then nodded.
"Very well," he said, and followed Jazz as he set off. The saboteur seemed to gain confidence as they walked, and by the time they were in more frequented corridors, Jazz was blithely telling Prowl about what it was like to be invisible with Mirage, and the several times he'd almost given them the slip. Prowl made the appropriate responses, but found himself much more concerned about what Jazz could have possibly consented to distract him from. It was well known that, while Jazz would argue with Prowl to be lenient with troublemakers and pranksters, he would offer no help in stopping said troublemakers and pranksters from being caught. He considered it valuable training for them to avoid being caught. So for Jazz to agree to be a distraction, there must be something truly devious going on.
Prowl was aware of an unnatural quiet as the two of them stepped into the command center, and seeing Mirage sitting at a communications console, Prowl realized the reason - apparently Mirage and Jazz weren't the only ones aware of the plot to keep Prowl distracted.
"Pull it up, 'Raj," Jazz said, and Mirage frowned, glancing at Prowl. "There's nothing he can do now, anyways."
"Fine," Mirage sounded sulky, and punched up a human newsfeed on Teletraan's main screen. Prowl was confused for a moment, watching it, until the scene shifted, and he spotted a familiar yellow mech.
"Sunstreaker. I had planned to check up on his and Hound's mission in Michigan," Prowl said with a frown. "Why..." His question trailed off as he realized why Jazz had been distracting him. It seemed that Sunstreaker and Hound had found a festival in Michigan, and it involved sculpting things out of ice. Sunstreaker had entered...and had chosen to sculpt Prowl. The tactician slowly turned to look blankly at Jazz.
"Explain," he said flatly.
"OP was too big to sculpt," Jazz said quickly. " And, err...well, he was kind of in a rush, and needed a 3D image to work off of. Between those of us in the command center at the time, we could only get 3D images of you, OP, and 'Raj. He picked you. We figured you wouldn't be too pleased about it, so I volunteered to keep you distracted, and commandeered 'Raj to help." Prowl stared for a moment longer, then, looked back at the screen.
Prowl could understand there being a 3D image of Optimus and Mirage on hand. Optimus was Prime, and there would, in the future, probably be statues built of him, so a 3D image was stored away. It was tradition for towers mechs to carry 3D images of themselves, and Mirage had been on duty in the control room this morning. But Prowl was neither important enough to have a statue built of him, nor a towers mech. He was not aware of any existing 3D images of himself in existence, in fact, and that was the most puzzling aspect of the entire thing.
"Where did the 3D image of me come from?" he finally asked, but when he turned to look at Jazz, the saboteur was gone. Prowl turned and gave Mirage a curious look.
"I have absolutely no idea," the spy said hurriedly, then disappeared. His footsteps could be heard running out of the control room. Prowl turned to look at the rest of the mechs in the command center, but they suddenly seemed extraordinarily busy. Prowl sighed, and looked back at the newsfeed again. He supposed he should be happy that the ice sculpture of him was simply standing with crossed arms and an imposing expression on his face, and not in some ridiculous pose.
He couldn't help but be puzzled, however, as to where the 3D image of him had come from, and why Jazz and Mirage had disappeared so quickly when he'd asked.