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Fairytale

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And to think he’d thought Praxus would be a drag. Jazz wandered along Praxus’ streets, glittering with lights and alive with joy, and let it all soak in.

Iacon, now that had been a drag - the people were all right, wonderfully creative with their fuel mixes and enjoying a dry sense of humor that could set Jazz howling - but he’d swear on his creator’s workshop there were “No Fun Allowed!” signs on every street corner, and the less said about the Towers-adjacent areas the better. Jazz had visited Iacon thinking the Prime’s officiation ceremony was going to be fun, going on what he’d heard of the mech thus far; all right, barrels of high grade and confetti might’ve been pushing it expectations-wise, but he’d expected more joy and less - well - pomp and ceremony than he’d gotten, and had retreated back to Polyhex in a huff. Ricochet had teased him about dodging work only to go wind up tangled in even more red tape, even after Jazz had been and gone and managed to find them a new dancer and everything while he was in Iacon, which clearly meant that Jazz was about due a real holiday.

Spending the Treks somewhere he’d never been fit the bill just perfect. Praxus, for all life proceeded at a more sedate pace than he was used to, was far more relaxed. Had to do with the Temple being the cultural center of the city, he’d read, but he’d just have to take the travel guide’s word on that. It’d be a bright day in the Underdark before anyone’d catch Jazz setting pede in a temple to Primus! Or to any god, really, but aside from some distinctly odd enclaves here and there Primus was pretty much the only game in town.

So here he was: working his way through a succession of multicolored Praxian fuel mixes, flirting with everyone in range, and hopping into any open hall he chose to dance whenever the mood struck, and having a fantastic time. And this was only one street in a whole city of celebrating! Just wait ‘til Ric heard about how much fun Jazz was having while Ricochet was still stuck in Polyhex running the club they’d established together. Poor sap. Jazz spun through the motions of the Praxian circle dance he’d just learned, split with the other dancers to find a partner right on cue, and found himself face to face with the most transcendently gorgeous mechanism he’d ever seen in his life.

(“No lie, Ric,” he wrote later. “Maybe it was the lights in the club or something, but he actually looked like he was glowing.”)

The mech gave him a shy smile that did something to his internals that Jazz had previously dismissed as romance-novel exaggeration - the air seemed to leave his vents entirely; his processor stalled out. His partner held up a hand, palm towards him, and Jazz met it with his own in a daze. The mech’s plating was so smooth, glossy white against his party-smudged black; the touch made his partner shiver. Maybe he was a medic, to have such sensitive hands?

“Well, hey,” he managed as they began to move - left turn, right turn, their left hands pressed palms together and pedes flicking side to side. Mech was certainly light on his pedes. “Come here often?”

Okay, it wasn’t one of his best lines, but it earned him another smile and a flutter of the Praxian’s doorwings. “Sometimes,” he said softly. “I work in Praxus, but I am - very rarely able to socialise.”

Now that piqued Jazz’s curiousity, but not so much that he wanted to waste time asking about it. “Then I’m one lucky mech,” he grinned, and the Praxian actually blushed. “M’name’s Jazz. What’s yours?”

“Prowl,” came the reply, and Jazz beamed. Turn, turn, and they faced each other again, and this time Prowl spoke first, though it was a little halting, as though he chose his words with care. “May I ask where you hail from?”

“Polyhex most recently,” Jazz grinned. “I’ve been all over, though. Last visit was Iacon.”

“Ah.” Prowl looked momentarily stuck, but rallied. “I have rarely left Praxus. It sounds… interesting.”

“I think everyone should get a chance to travel,” Jazz replied, his grin lingering. “See the world. Expands your perspective, y’ know? You’d be amazed the things you can learn.”

“I… see.” Now Prowl looked faintly wistful, the glow of his striking white optics and the glow of his plating matching perfectly. “Well - what do you think of Praxus? What have you learned?”

“That there’s a very good-lookin’ mechanism here,” Jazz grinned cheerfully, and Prowl went over all flustered but didn’t withdraw from him. There was even a smile showing at the corner of his mouth, and Jazz took that as encouragement. “Wanna grab a drink with me? My treat.”

“I…” Prowl faltered, all out of step with the dance, and Jazz paused with him, more in tune with Prowl than with the music. “...I would like that,” the Praxian said at last, quietly determined, and Jazz took his hand and led him off the dance floor.

And thus the two of them upheld an often-commented-on Praxian tradition - that these dances always ended with fewer people than they started with.

*

Prowl didn’t let go of Jazz’s hand. They wound their way out of the circle of dancers and through the crowds with Jazz leading the way, Prowl’s fingers curling close around his; now and again a Praxian in the throng of people would blink and stare as they passed, but Jazz was too caught up in finding the best way to the refreshments to notice.

Jazz had chosen this particular open hall entirely at random; he had simply started walking along with the celebrants following the parade and peered down every side-street along the way when he heard a tune that caught his audial. This was one of the bigger street parties Jazz had seen - whether it was business or residential during the rest of the orn Jazz couldn’t tell - and the long open-air bar serving drinks and all kinds of goodies fitted along the entire length of one of the angled walls. With the amount of people circulating, that was definitely a good thing.

“So, see anything you like?” he asked, turning back to Prowl with a cheerfully flirty grin; his visor glinted the innuendo, but Prowl seemed too busy giving Jazz a wistfully content sort of look to pick up on it. The Praxian actually blurted static at Jazz catching his expression, and Jazz just couldn’t even at that amount of adorable.

“I, ah.” Prowl ducked his head and busied himself resettling his hand in Jazz’s, which both made Jazz revise his estimate of Prowl’s age - medical student, maybe? - and made him want to squeak. “I have no preference. I will happily try anything you choose.”

Gorgeous, kind of cute and a bit old fashioned. Not something Jazz had ever thought he’d be into, but - well - awwww.

“Sure thing,” he said easily, and didn’t miss how Prowl’s doors perked up at his non-reaction. Awww, someone’s new at this.

Jazz picked out a couple things he hadn’t tried yet, one bright green half-size cube with silver shavings on top and the other swirled pink and orange. “Whichever one you wanna try first,” he grinned, offering them both to Prowl, and Prowl’s doorwings fluttered a bit as he smiled back.

“I have never had either one,” he said, and accepted the green cube Jazz offered. “As I said, I have never done much socializing.”

“Work?” Jazz asked sympathetically.

Prowl nodded. “It is very - fulfilling work. But it keeps me a little isolated.” He sipped at the cube, and surprised pleasure blushed through his field sweet and unfeigned. “...oh. That is good.” He smiled faintly again and Jazz had to quickly take a drink of his own cube to stop himself from squeaking. Because seriously, how so adorable.

“Are you enjoying yourself so far?” he prodded gently. “Think you’ll be up for more socializin’ sometime?”

Prowl smiled sadly. “I wish I could. I am certainly enjoying the company.”

This time Jazz really did squeak. Flirting back! The pretty-glowy Praxian was flirting back! “Aww, thank ya,” he grinned. “I’m sure enjoying the company too. Wouldja mind if we exchanged comm codes?” Prowl faltered, the half-full cube nearly slipping from his hand. “It’s okay if you don’t want to,” Jazz amended quickly, kicking himself - he was sure he’d been reading the signals right!

“I… well…” Prowl didn’t look quite sure of himself, but he spelled out a comm code, and Jazz offered his own. And then he didn’t say anything else about it for the rest of the night, which appeared to do the trick. Before long Prowl was smiling again, even tentatively flirting back, and Jazz was in heaven.

They wound up walking past the parade route and into one of the smaller crystal gardens that were everywhere in Praxus. Somehow Prowl had managed to point them to the single unoccupied garden in the city - that, or they were amazingly lucky that they hadn’t bumped into anyone else yet. Either way, Jazz didn’t care. Prowl was the quiet type, sure - seemed kind of awkward and inexperienced, maybe a little shy, not a lot to say about himself, but he seemed genuinely interested in Jazz as a person, and the places he’d never seen. They found a secluded clearing in the crystals with a thoughtfully provided bench and talked until Jazz had lost track of time entirely, though he got the feeling that Prowl had never quite been able to manage the same.

“Hey,” he said during one of the conversation’s comfortable pauses. “Y’know, I’m gonna be in Praxus for a while...” He hadn’t made much in the way of a plan about that, but what the frag, Ric knew not to expect him until he commed to say he was heading back. “You wanna meet up again while I’m here? Plenty more dancin’ for the Trek o’the Awoken, I hear, an’ I’m havin’ a real good time tonight.”

Prowl didn’t answer right away, and Jazz’s spark fluttered in dismay when he saw the mech’s resigned expression.

“I would like that very much,” he said softly, that old-fashioned burr making his Praxian accent sound like something from another world entirely. “I had a wonderful time with you, Jazz, please never doubt that, but - I am simply unable to make any promises past tonight. My time here is running short as it is.”

That… sounded ominous, and Jazz had to dismiss the fleeting thought that he was in one of those overdramatic holovids where the heroes had just enough time to fall in love before one of them died in the other’s arms of a persistent rust infection. Slag that. “It’s okay,” Jazz answered, as gently as he could. “I know what it’s like t’ not be able to make any promises. I promise I won’t be a pest.”

“That is not my cause for concern, I promise you,” Prowl grimaced. “I just would not want you to be hurt. I really am enjoying my time with you. But I think you deserve to like someone who will not flicker out of your life like - like a wandering spark.”

“Hey.” Jazz gathered Prowl’s hand in both of his. “It’s the Trek of the Homeless. T’night belongs to wanderin’ sparks.”

His hand was cool, and it might have been the night but Jazz thought he could feel a faint hum of energy against his palms. Prowl himself looked almost awed, staring at their joined hands. “And their guides,” he managed, voice almost a whisper.

“Sounds like fun,” Jazz grinned. “Can you guide me?”

Prowl looked at him fully then, his optics bright with amusement and fondness and - Jazz could hope! - unspent charge. “I think, in this metaphor, you are the one to guide me.”

...well. That was an opening if Jazz had ever heard one, and he’d never forgive himself if he didn’t take it. He leaned in slowly, visor dimming, and felt Prowl’s body startle in surprise as he kissed the Praxian on the mouth. He didn’t linger long, pulling back gently without letting go of Prowl’s hand and checking Prowl’s expression; going by the dazed look and how his optics had to flicker back to full brightness, that hadn’t been unwelcome. Still, Jazz was a gentlemech, and he really, really wanted to do this right.

“Howzat for a start?” he murmured, giving Prowl’s hand an encouraging squeeze. Hazy white optics re-focussed on his face, and for a moment Prowl looked at him like Jazz was the brightest thing in the universe.

“Oh,” Prowl breathed, soft and almost reverent. His free hand lifted halfway to his mouth, then reached out to brush shy fingertips over Jazz’s cheek. Jazz turned into the caress with no hesitation whatsoever, shivering a little at the tingle smoothed into his plating. “That... I must leave soon, Jazz, that I cannot change, but...”

“I’d like ta kiss y’ some more,” Jazz said gently when the Praxian hesitated, visibly torn. “You don’t got time for more than that, a kiss or two’s more than enough for me. ‘S a good way t’say hello and goodbye.”

Prowl smiled at that, a small and wondering smile that trembled slightly at the edges. “Then yes. I would - I would very much like to kiss you, until I have to go.”

Jazz beamed. This time he let Prowl lean in for his kiss, gripping their hands together. His mouth was cool and sweet on Jazz’s own, almost tentative at first but growing bolder as Jazz purred encouragement.

Jazz was of the firm belief that no one was inherently bad at kissing. Unskilled, sure - they were all unskilled once. Capable of kissing badly, that was another thing entirely - if you had bad intentions or weren’t paying attention to your partner’s signals, then your partner wasn’t gonna have much fun no matter how good you were. Jazz thought of himself as a great kisser: highly skilled, highly attentive, a perfect gentlemech in all ways.

Prowl was leaving him quickly in the dust. His mouth melded perfectly with Jazz’s, sweetly exploring, leaving his shyness behind him. Jazz felt himself falling into it and did absolutely nothing to brace himself. Prowl was worth losing his spark to, Jazz was sure.

Prowl was the first to pull back, though he didn’t pull far. His optics were bright as he asked tentatively, “How was that?”

Jazz rebooted his vocalizer. “That was… Wow.”

“...wow?” Prowl’s smile was returning. “I have never been called that before.”

“High time, then,” Jazz confirmed, and pecked a kiss to the corner of that smile. “Way past time.”

The rest of the Trek cycle was spent trading long, sweet kisses, Prowl growing in confidence with Jazz acting as his guide, but all too soon he pulled back and left regret lingering on Jazz’s lips.

“I am sorry,” he said quietly, but Jazz shook his head.

“‘S okay. I get it, Trek don’t last forever.” He gave Prowl a rueful smile, tilting his helm and reaching out to run his hands down Prowl’s arms; the Praxian shivered and let out a soft, longing sound, rocking forwards the tiniest bit as though he wanted to curl into Jazz’s side and to the Pit with whatever work he had waiting. Self control won out, and Prowl’s bright optics were downcast as he straightened up.

“Hey. Next time you got some free time, comm me. Okay? No way I’m gonna miss the chance to do this again.” One hand still resting on Prowl’s gauntlet, Jazz raised the other to nudge lightly against Prowl’s cheek. “This was real nice, an’ I don’t say that much.”

That prompted a smile, if a small one, and Prowl tilted his helm to Jazz’s hand like he honestly couldn’t help himself. Warmed a mech’s spark, it really did. “I will...try. I swear that I will try, but it may be a long time before I am able. I truly have very little time that is my own. ...be well, Jazz. And thank you. Thank you for an - an unforgettable Trek.”

Prowl bobbed in for one more swift kiss, then squeezed Jazz’s hands one last time before hurrying to the edge of their little clearing, pausing just long enough to look back at Jazz as though the Praxian were committing his face to long-term storage...and then he was gone.

Jazz let out a slow vent, canting his head back to stare up at the stars overhead. “Yeah,” he murmured, a faint smile playing over his face. “You too.”

*

“-whaddya mean y’all don’t know a Prowl?”

The Temple receptionist on the other end of the connection sounded neither baffled nor apologetic. “There is no record of anyone named Prowl on our staff roll, either among the priest-Enforcers or the support workers.”

“C’mon, look again.” Jazz paced a little in the small temporary quarters he was renting. “He’s gotta be on there. This is the comm code he gave me.”

There was a slight pause. “Sir, I hate to say this, but have you considered the possibility that this ‘Prowl’ gave you a fake comm code?”

“He - what?” Jazz shook his head. “No, trust me, he wouldn’t do that.” Would he? Was he just after one night of fun? He’d enjoyed the kissing, he’d been reluctant to leave… why fake that? “Look, maybe you’ve seen the guy. Black and white paint-”

“All of the priests are in black and white, sir.”

“With white optics. And markings all over his plating - math stuff, I think. Divine equations, I dunno.”

There was a longer pause. “Sir, I hate to say this-”

“Don’t y’ dare, mech.”

“...but I think you had an encounter with a psychopomp.”

Jazz nearly dropped the connection out of sheer surprise. “...you wanna run that by me again?”

“A psychopomp, sir. There’s very little I can tell you that won’t be on public record somewhere, but if you’d like I can try to put you through to a chronicler who may have more information for you?”

“I - I guess, sure. Go for it.”

“One moment, please.” There was a pause, then a click, then soft, inoffensive music began to play over the comm. Jazz stared at the wall in bewilderment - was that an ode to Primus? Seriously? - and slumped down on the room’s narrow berth. Of all the things he’d been expecting from this comm call- well, he’d mostly been expecting surprise and potentially an I’m-working delay, but now he wasn’t at all sure whether he was online or in some kind of recharge dream. As he waited, he dragged out a datapad and hooked into Praxus’ worldnet to find some of that public-record stuff the Temple mech had mentioned.

It turned out he wasn’t kidding. There actually was a not-insignificant section on the Praxus ‘net about psychopomps - under ‘Symbolism and the Trek of the Homeless’. By the time the music stopped playing, Jazz had read the articles with growing skepticism and was fast working on an increasingly bad mood.

“I apologise for the wait, sir. I can put you through to Archivist Collodion now-”

“The frag,” Jazz burst out. “I’m lookin’ for a real live mech, not a superstition!”

The receptionist on the other end of the comm didn’t reply for a moment, and his voice was rather cool as he replied. “In that case, sir, I should definitely put you through to the Archivist. One moment please.”

Jazz’s engine snarled, but the comm clicked again as he was transferred before he could say anything else he might regret later. A smooth, slightly hollow-sounding voice spoke next; “Greetings, child of Primus. How may I help you?”

“Sorry, mech, but I really ain’t sure,” Jazz said flatly. “I called in tryin’ ta find a mech I met last night as gave me the Temple number for a contact, an’ now they tell me he’s some kinda dead mech. I got no clue how y’all can help with that kinda story.”

“Well, last night was the Trek of the Homeless,” the Archivist pointed out, gentle amusement echoing his voice which only further soured Jazz’s mood. “It’s entirely possible you did meet a wandering spark.”

“Don’t. Seriously, don’t. I don’t believe in that scrap, okay?” Jazz waved his hand uselessly in the air. “I kissed this mech your colleague thinks is a psychopomp. That wasn’t some - some delusion.”

“Did you now.” Jazz could practically hear the old archivist’s optic ridges go up. “He’s never done that before, to my knowledge.”

“So y’ do know him!” Now they were getting somewhere.

“Naturally. If you and I are truly speaking of the same individual, he’s been the city’s psychopomp for longer than I’ve been sparked.”

...aaand right back to square zero. “Mech, please don’t do this to me,” Jazz groaned, turning over on the berth. “If he doesn’t wanna see me again, then say so, but don’t play this game with me.”

Collodion hummed into the connection, thoughtful. “What is your name, child of Primus?”

“Jazz, and I’m nobody’s child.”

“I see.” The fondness in the mech’s voice didn’t endear Jazz to him at all. “Well, then, Jazz, can you meet me here in the Temple’s archives tomorrow? Say, on-cycle plus point five. I would like to hear more about this person you met, and see if we have any descriptions that match yours.”

“...sure.” He wasn’t in enough of a bad mood to burn any bridges that might lead him to Prowl. “Am I gonna need a security code to get in?”

“Good heavens, no. Whatever for?”

“Well - you just let any random stranger wander in?”

Collodion’s smile was audible over the comm line. “Well, it’s the random strangers who generally need our help, so it wouldn’t do us any good to keep them from entering.”