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Shortly after A Transfer of Skills

Until fairly recently, Jazz of Altihex had been living a safe, quiet life as a forensic accountant working with the Enforcers. It had been a reasonably quiet, steady job until he'd gotten involved in an investigation into the local branch of the Praxian mob. Apparently afraid of what he'd find, Barricade, the local mob boss had hired Prowl, an assassin who covered his tracks so well he was a sort of urban legend, to kill Jazz. Prowl, legendarily ethical, had chosen to decline the contract and warn Jazz instead and then – bizarrely, wonderfully – had coaxed Jazz into a relationship with him.

Admittedly, it hadn't taken much coaxing. Once Jazz had gotten over the shock of their first couple of meetings, he had been extremely aware of just how attractive Prowl was.

Prowl had approached Jazz, expressed interest in him, wanted to know if that interest might be returned, and promised to stay away entirely if that was what Jazz wanted. Jazz probably should have told the assassin to stay away. He hadn't. But Jazz still hadn't been comfortable with the idea of his lover killing people, and so Prowl had simply stopped. For Jazz. They'd opened a business together as private investigators, which Prowl referred to as a transfer of skills.

Well, Prowl had made the decision and Jazz had agreed to it. He hadn't been happy, and he hadn't really wanted to keep doing what he was doing. Oh, he might have planned to change careers, thought about it, daydreamed…but he'd probably never have actually done it. Prowl tended to sweep people along with him, blithely assuming they'd follow and not providing a lot of information. That had been what Jazz needed when they started dating. But now, both as business partners and as their relationship progressed, it was beginning to become a bit much. Jazz needed his lover to be more open with him, to consult him more and not try to just carry him along.

Jazz was trying to think of a way to bring it up, not because he was afraid of Prowl's reaction but because he wanted to bring it up naturally. Jazz absolutely hated to be approached with anything like the phrase 'we need to talk,' and he wanted to avoid it. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself when Jazz was putting together the invoice for the work they'd done so far for their first client.

Prowl had found the client, so Jazz naturally went to him to get the data to complete and generate the invoice. Prowl readily handed over a very complete record of his billable hours, but he held back the client's name, address, and contact information.

"Don't worry about it," Prowl said airily, leaning back in his desk chair and looking up at Jazz. "Leave it with me, I'll fill it in before I send it to them."

Jazz paused for a moment, thinking. This was an excellent example of Prowl holding back information, it was an opportunity to speak to him about it, and it gave Jazz a solid case to discuss. Finally, Jazz said, firmly, "no."

"'No' you won't worry about it or 'no' you won't leave it with me?"

"Both. Okay, babe?" Jazz grabbed the other chair from the opposite side of Prowl's desk and pulled it around so he could sit across from Prowl. "I get there's some stuff you can't tell me about work you've done in the past, and that's fine." Plus, he kind of liked having a lover with a mysterious past, but this wasn't the time to bring that up. "I know that the client is someone you've worked with before, and you probably can't tell me everything about them. But this?" Jazz tapped the tablet displaying the partially-filled invoice. "This is stuff I need to know, even if it's just on a business level. What happens if we get audited? It's going to look weird if your partner," he used undertones meaning 'business' and 'romantic' partner both, "doesn't know the name of our first client. Especially since I'm doing the finances."

"I'm not accustomed to having to share information," Prowl said, sounding reluctant.

"I know, but you need to be honest with me if this is going to work," Jazz made sure it was clear he meant both the business and their relationship.

Prowl looked decidedly discontented when Jazz said that, as if life without Jazz wasn't something he wanted to think about. Jazz had the sudden thought, 'I'm not a toy,' which wasn't something he'd even consciously known he was concerned about.

"Jazz, there are some things you may not want to know," Prowl told him, "and I've no idea what those might be."

"Then ask me," Jazz said gently. "You're right, there probably are some things I don't want to know but talk to me about it. Don't decide for me, don't – look, lying by omission, even if you think it's for my own good, or my protection or whatever, it's got to stop. You've never lied to me directly, and I need you not to do it indirectly either. Okay?"

"Yes, Jazz," Prowl said, unusually serious, looking into Jazz's visor. "If you wish it, if this is one of your boundaries, I will comply."

"Okay. Good, thank you. Yes, it's a boundary." Prowl had a very different set of boundaries from anyone else Jazz knew. But while he sometimes needed to have Jazz's explained, he respected them once he understood what they were. "And yeah," Jazz continued, "sometimes we're going to have conflicting boundaries and wants and needs, but when that happens, we'll talk about it. Okay?"

Prowl nodded, still carefully watching Jazz. Jazz wondered if this was the expression Prowl had worn after he'd provisionally accepted the contract on Jazz's life: focused and intent. He was definitely listening, though, and that – that was good.

"I understand," Prowl told him. "I wanted only to keep you safe, make you feel secure, but it seems I did the opposite."

"I know you want me to be safe," Jazz assured him. "I get that, and I get you're used to playing it close to the chest plates. But I need you to bring me in on things instead, let me make my own decisions. You've got to trust me."

"I do trust you. I do," Prowl repeated, reaching out and lightly taking Jazz's hands in his. "I didn't intend for you to think otherwise, and I apologize that I did so."

Prowl sounded more than a little like he was reciting the words by rote, but his undertones were sincere and matched his body language. Prowl just not being used to saying things like that made more sense to Jazz than Prowl merely saying what he thought Jazz wanted to hear.

"I know you didn't, and it's why I'm not upset, not really. It's okay." Jazz squeezed Prowl's hands, hoping he was reassuring enough. "It's why we talked about it, right?"

"I talked about it because you wished to and because I need you to be happy. It isn't something I'm accustomed to doing." Prowl frowned slightly and added, "and I'm not sure I like the way it makes me feel."

"I know," Jazz said sympathetically. "I don't feel great having these conversations – I don't think anyone does. They're just…necessary."

"Well, I am certainly familiar with having to do things that are unpleasant but necessary," Prowl said, relaxing in a way that made it clear he'd put this new thing into a familiar context. With Prowl, 'familiar' more likely than not meant 'murder-y,' but Jazz would take it.

"See, the details of what exactly you mean by that?" Jazz said. "They're the kind of things I'm pretty sure I'm happier if I don't know."

"I expect you are, yes." Prowl bent forward, lifted Jazz's hands and kissed them, lips warm against Jazz's fingers. "I want to be with you, lover. If this helps ensure it, then I'll do it for you – and I am happy to see you becoming more confident."

"Thank you, baby. Don't forget," Jazz added, "this goes for me too. I have to talk to you and negotiate with you just as much as you have to talk to and negotiate with me. Alright?"

"Yes, Jazz." Prowl let go of Jazz's hands and picked up the tablet with the invoice, then paused and looked at his lover. "Was there more?" he asked, sounding sincere. Jazz got the feeling Prowl was testing the ground between them, that this was something new to him. Jazz appreciated the effort.

"No, we're good. Back to work. The client is - ?"

"Quickshadow of Tetrahex," Prowl replied, and gave Jazz the contact information and address to enter. "She's currently off-planet, which is why she asked me to find someone to look into this. She is not a former client," he continued, showing he'd taken what Jazz had said about 'lying by omission' to spark, "she is my creator. Mine and my siblings'."

"So from the outside, this won't just look like a vanity business a wealthy mech started for his lover, it'll also look like a vanity business a wealthy mech started for his lover and had bankrolled by his creator?" Jazz frowned, not disapprovingly but thoughtfully. "That's a decent cover."

"It is," Prowl agreed, then returned to the subject at hand. "If you want to talk about Creator, I will. There may be things I can't tell you, however, either because I promised her I wouldn't or because I don't know myself."

And Prowl probably didn't know how to handle that in light of the new paradigm they'd just agreed to, Jazz guessed.

"Okay, those are the kinds of things we'd talk about, well, talking about," Jazz assured him. "I'm okay with you saying 'I can't tell you about that because…' as long as there's a reason. I just don't want to be left in the dark or left to guess all the time."

Prowl nodded. "I'd like to do this all in one attempt," he said. "But as the office is open to the public, are you willing to wait until we get home – either your home or mine?"

"We can talk about it later, then," Jazz told him. "That's okay too." He saved the invoice and subspaced the tablet, then leaned over and kissed Prowl. "Got to get back to work, babe, but we'll talk at home tonight, okay?"

"This isn't an attempt to dig into the surely deeply traumatic past that drove me to become an assassin, is it?" Prowl asked. He didn't quite sound like he was teasing, and that suggested something about past relationships to Jazz.

Jazz shook his head. "Uh-uh. Babe, I don't think trauma's got anything to do with it. You kill people because it pays well, and you're good at it, and that's it."

"Just so," Prowl said, looking pleased with Jazz's conclusion. "Does that bother you?"

"It should," Jazz admitted truthfully. "It doesn't. I mean, I always knew that you're dangerous, Prowler."

"Yes, but I am not dangerous to you," Prowl told him, looking up at him earnestly. "Never you, my Jazz."

Jazz bent down, and kissed him again, chaste and very gentle. "Now there's something you didn't need to tell me."