In the end, it took the combined efforts of the twins to tear Soundwave from his work console. He resisted, wanting only to work or, if that was impossible, to hit the berth in deep recharge. The twins, however, won. They were depressed too, all of his cassettes had been hit with the echoes of his frustration and unhappiness, but that only made them more desperate to get him out and interacting with the world again. It was that desperation that convinced Soundwave to finally leave the apartment. His constant brooding hung over his symbiotes like thick, smothering smoke, and it was the least he could do to give them space to breathe. Even if he knew perfectly well that he would not enjoy himself at all.
That was how he'd come to be here, lurking alone in the shadowed recesses of a booth in one of Cybertron's new pubs. The dim lighting did an effective job of hiding him from the other patrons, which suited him fine, because he was nursing a flute of refined energon and mechs always did stare so impolitely when his mask had been removed. He knew many of the mechs here, and those whom he did not know personally, he did know by appearance. Megatron had appointed Soundwave to head his security team, security to Megatron being thorough surveillance of his subjects. Soundwave was very good at his job.
There were even other Decepticons, and those were mechs that everyone knew. Nobody could have missed the noisy flock of seekers when they burst into the bar; certainly the owner didn't. He rushed to greet them personally, kicked a couple of no-names out of the best table for their benefit, and gushed over the favor of their patronage until Dirge told him rather irritably to fetch 'em some drinks already. He bowed and scurried away, and Soundwave watched him program a couple of server drones to cater exclusively to the center table. Seekers were so predictable - what was that old saying about squeaky jets getting all the oil? They did thrive on attention. One of them, he could not help but notice, had even brought along his personal trophy to show off. Skywarp lounged back in his chair, making himself comfortable, before tugging on the chain that linked Jazz's neck to his wrists. He had to do it twice, the second time rather forcefully, before Jazz dropped to his knees by Skywarp's chair. Jazz murmured something that Soundwave could not hear over the noise of Seekers adjusting their chairs, but it made Thundercracker laugh and Skywarp smack Jazz sharply on the head. It hurt to look at, a healthy and living slave, and Soundwave decided this outing was a bad idea after all.
"What did I say about opening your mouth tonight, slave?" Skywarp hissed. Now that they'd all settled in, the words were easier to pick out, and Soundwave's audios were precisely tuned instruments. Even from over here he could hear every word of Jazz's reply.
"Not to do it, because you don't like it when I make you look stupid."
The table erupted in laughter and Skywarp cuffed Jazz so hard he nearly knocked his head against Thundercracker's chair. Jazz rolled along with the force of the blow and in the next astrosec was sitting up straight again. "Oops, shouldn't have said that part out loud. I am so very sorry. Master."
"You'll pay for that one later tonight," Skywarp promised him. "Now keep the vocalizer mute and concentrate on looking good. That's what you're here for."
"Such a task comes naturally to me, master Skywarp. Do you have to concentrate on looking good?"
More laughter, another blow to Jazz's head. A flicker of amusement ran through Soundwave. The Autobot was playing a game with his own master, using his razor-sharp wit to counter Skywarp's physical punishment. Judging by the many scuffs and scratches covering Jazz's body, the game had been going on for a while.
"You must really want to get fragged hard tonight," Skywarp muttered, while Thrust dealt the cards.
"If I did, I'd have to ask for some bigger and stronger seeker."
Lots of 'ooh's and commiserating chuckles circled the table this time, and a very exasperated Skywarp hit Jazz again.
"When are you gonna learn, Warp?" Thundercracker chided, optics on his newly dealt hand. "You gotta stop givin' him those openings, it's all he needs."
"I shouldn't have to worry about giving him openings; I am the master. He is the slave. He should worry about me - and he does, every orn once we get home. Ain't that right, slave?"
"Like clockwork, for the entire half-breem," Jazz said promptly, and the others guffawed. This time Skywarp did knock Jazz to the floor. Soundwave watched him brace his hands for a moment, gathering himself, and slowly push himself back up. As he did so, one leg slid back ever-so-discreetly into the path of the approaching server drone. The little wheels checked sharply and its forward momentum tipped it forward, a tray of nicely refined energon splattering all over Skywarp. This time it wasn't just the table that cracked up; the entire bar turned to look and had a nice long laugh at Skywarp's expense. Everyone except the owner, of course, who came galloping over to heap apologies on Skywarp's lap. Skywarp wasn't having any of it, and railed furiously for a solid breem, apparently not considering the possibility of sabotage. Some of the spilled energon had splashed onto Jazz as well, and Soundwave watched him carefully lick his fingers clean. Then, noticed by none but Soundwave, he smiled.
After that, Soundwave watched the game - both of them - progress well into the night. He declined any more high-grade offered him by the server, preferring to keep his processor clear, and simply did what he did best. That is, watch and analyze in silence. Skywarp, meanwhile, only grew louder and more obnoxious as the breems wore on. Whenever he was unwise enough to say something to his slave, Jazz bounced back a sassy retort that had the other seekers roaring with laughter and Skywarp's fist smashing into his helm. It must have been about midway through the game, with credit chips piling up in the center of the table and three seekers already bowed out, that Soundwave decided he had seen enough. Watching Jazz run intellectual circles around his moronic master was simply painful; such a mind was wasted on Skywarp. Mask firmly back in place, Soundwave stood and approached the table.
Thundercracker nearly spit out a mouthful of energon when they all looked up and saw him. Skywarp's jaw hung open.
"Soundwave. Are you... lost? This is where mechs come to have fun."
"Participation, desired," Soundwave repeated coolly. Jazz had looked up along with the rest, but when Soundwave's gaze moved over him he quickly looked back at the floor.
"You want in on the game?" Thundercracker asked doubtfully. "Really?"
Those sorts of questions never ceased to aggravate Soundwave, though he would not reveal it. Yes, really. Twice now he'd stated it. Why would he change his mind?
"Sure, pull up a chair!" Skywarp threw out a jovial invitation before Soundwave had to repeat himself again, grinning most wolfishly. "You'll have to buy in, though, pretty pile of chips we got ourselves here."
"Demand, reasonable." Soundwave sat in the empty chair directly across from Skywarp, accessing subspace for his own credits. Thundercracker looked nervous, and leaned over Jazz's head to whisper. He ought to have known Soundwave would hear him anyway.
"Warp, are you sure? He has the ultimate trabacc-face."
"Only helpful if you actually know how to play," Skywarp hissed. "Six thousand vorns, and when have we ever seen him play a card game? If he wants us to teach him an expensive lesson, who are we to turn him down?"
"If you're sure..."
"TC, I am completely sure. I have never been so sure. You are looking at one extremely sure seeker."
"It's when you're surest that you're usually stupidest," Thundercracker muttered, but shrugged and sat back in his chair. Still looking a bit nonplussed, Ramjet began to deal.
Three hands later, Skywarp's grin had begun to slip. Soundwave, of course, not only had the rules and common strategies of trabacc committed to deep processor, but also had gathered considerable useful information about his opponents while watching from afar. Ramjet consistently rearranged his cards, bet low, and tapped one pede against his chair leg when he thought he had a shot at victory. Thrust whistled when he was bluffing. Thundercracker's wings twitched when he was nervous. And Skywarp made one strategical mistake after another, to the extent that Soundwave was surprised he'd lasted so long in the game. Either luck was compensating his poor skill by a slim margin, or his competition was just that bad. Probably both. Methodically and unhurriedly Soundwave eliminated every mech from the table in turn.
"Toldja," Thundercracker mumbled, as the defeated Thrust folded his hand and retreated from the table. Skywarp fidgeted in his seat and flashed an indignant glare at Soundwave.
"You're doing this too easily! How do we know you're not cheating, you telepath? Maybe you're plucking our cards right outta our processors, huh?"
"Skywarp, previous experience with telepathy," Soundwave reminded him. "Effects noticeable."
"Yeah, that's true," Thundercracker commented, slurping the last of his energon. "We know what it feels like."
"Way to back me up, buddy."
"Just sayin', we'd know it if he was goin' in there." He tapped a finger against his helm with a resigned air. "I think we're learning why we never see Soundwave play trabacc - no Decepticon is stupid enough to want to play against him."
"Well I'm still going to play," Skywarp huffed, proving Thundercracker's point neatly. Soundwave thought he heard Jazz stifle a snort. "Feel free to quit if your struts can't handle the stress."
"Well, now that you mention it..." Thundercracker dropped his cards to the table and leaned back, luxuriating in a full stretch and ignoring Skywarp's dark look. "What? I want to get out before he wins the wings off my back. Good luck to you, though, buddy. I sincerely mean that."
"Fair weather friends," muttered Skywarp. Fiercely he studied his hand, then Soundwave with narrowed optics, as if he would find any clues there. Soundwave met his stare impassively. He did not even need to look at his own hand; logical elimination of all cards previously deployed this round meant that Skywarp was statistically incapable of holding a hand that could win back the pot. He had, in effect, already lost before the shots could even be fired. His squawk of dismay when Soundwave revealed his hand was almost pitiful.
"Logically inevitable," Soundwave corrected. "Game entertaining; outcome pleasing. Gratitude extended." He reached for the chips and Skywarp made little horrified squeaks.
"W-wait! How about one last round, sudden death face-off? Give me one last chance to win it back, huh? Soundwave... ol' buddy?"
"Skywarp, no remaining collateral to offer. Incentive, nonexistent."
"Uh... I can bet Jazz!"
The Autobot flinched when he was brought into it, then again when Skywarp clapped his hand down over his head. Soundwave didn't spare him more than a glance.
"Slave disrespectful and disorderly. Undesirable."
"Well sure, he lets his mouth get away from him once in a while, but he's fragtastic in the berth. Course I usually have to cuff him to it beforehand, but that's most of the fun. Ain't it, Jazz?"
Jazz jerked his head free of Skywarp's grip. "One would hope so, for your sake. We all know cuffing anyone to the berth is the only way you ever could get laid."
Skywarp glitch-slapped Jazz good and hard, then smiled brightly at Soundwave. "Just needs a few more beatings to knock the attitude out of him, that's all. And you can't deny he's a good lookin' piece of aft. At least worth everything there on the table, if not more."
Soundwave let a moment go by before he nodded his head in assent.
"Wager, accepted. One final round."
They surrendered their cards, and a bemused Thundercracker shuffled the deck. Six cards to each, highest grouping would win the Autobot. Soundwave's hand gave him the choice of a two-card high grouping, or a three-card low grouping. Swiftly his processor ran the statistics, calculated which was most likely to beat Skywarp's offering, and chose the three cards.
"Gentlemechs, display your hands," Thundercracker commanded, with a brief affect for drama, then leaned forward to eagerly peer at both hands. "And the winner is... ooh, sorry, Warp."
Skywarp did not accept his loss stoically. With an abbreviated wail, he dropped his head against the table and banged it there a couple of times. He then directed a vicious but wisely silent glare at Soundwave, before twisting in his seat to glower at Jazz.
"Go ahead, slave. I know you've got a great one ready to spit out; hurry it up before you explode."
Kneeling there on the floor, so vulnerably close to the much bigger and stronger Decepticon, Jazz proved he'd lost none of his panache. He looked up, and smiled.
"I hardly know what you mean, Skywarp. I am sparkbroken that you lost. The fates are against us... Adieu, mon cherie, for it was not meant to be."
Skywarp's face twisted into an ugly scowl and he moved to cuff Jazz across the face one more time.
"Jazz, not your property anymore."
It was said by many that Skywarp was a bit thick in the processor, and accurately so. But his reflexes were battle-sharp and more importantly, he had good reason to respect any warning that came from Soundwave. The back of his hand stopped just short of contact, Jazz already visibly bracing himself for the blow. Skywarp looked from him to Soundwave, watching calmly from across the table, then back to Jazz again. When he dropped his hand, his engines let out an indignant huff.
"Fine. Not my property anymore. You want the mouthy groundpounder, you got him. Have fun with your new master, Jazz. Do enjoy the mindrape."
Jazz did not so much as twitch, but Soundwave's acute hearing picked up a slight hitch in Jazz's ventilation. Skywarp shoved himself back from the table, making grumbling noise about bad luck, cheaters, and some much-needed high grade energon. Ever good-natured Thundercracker accompanied him to the bar, and that left just the two of them. Jazz was still kneeling by Skywarp's vacated chair, gaze firmly on the floor, though surely he must feel Soundwave's stare. He let half a breem tick by in silence, taking the time to study his new property, before finally standing. Even when he'd come to stand right next to him, Jazz did not move.
For a moment he thought Jazz might refuse. But then he rose silently and smoothly from the floor, the whirring of his fans the only sound he made. Jazz was nervous, and Soundwave had no need of telepathy to know it.
Jazz flinched when Soundwave raised his hand, but was quick to control it. Perhaps he was expecting to be struck again, but Soundwave only brushed his fingertips down the side of his face, tracing some telltale scrapes. Skywarp's handiwork showed.
"All this lookin' gonna go on much longer?" Jazz asked unexpectedly. "Have to charge fifty creds per breem of staring, you know."
Ah. There it was, his cautious first test of a new opponent. Soundwave would have smiled, if he was the sort of mech to indulge in such expressiveness. Instead he took Jazz by the chin and tipped his face up, forcing visor-to-visor contact.
"Skywarp, inferior. Soundwave, superior. Snide remarks, ineffective."
"We'll see," was the prompt reply.
"You will. Walk."
They walked home. Soundwave could have easily carried Jazz in his arms and flown, but he was not in any particular hurry and the distance not so great. In any case, he wanted the chance to study Jazz while walking. He had a pronounced limp in the right leg, however much he may have been trying to hide it, most likely left over from some romp with the overenthusiastic Skywarp. He was scratched and dented from helm to pede, and showed signs of flagging at the end of a barely three-tek-long walk. Soundwave listened to the unsteady huffing and flowing of air from his vents, along with a few suspicious rattles and clinks, and resolved to make an appointment with Hook. Jazz was practically listing to one side by the time they reached his loft, and Soundwave was keeping half an optic on him as he keyed in the door code, just to make sure he didn't fall right over.
Rumble and Frenzy were, unsurprisingly, exactly where he'd left them - slagging it out over some new video game at the entertainment console. At the whoosh of the opening door, the game froze mid-screen and they twisted around with expectant grins of welcome.
"Hey, boss, back at last! We thought you'd gotten..." Frenzy's words choked off in his vocalizer when he saw Jazz standing in Soundwave's shadow, and his jaw swung open. Rumble's gape was more or less identical.
"Rumble," Jazz greeted, tone cool as night. "Frenzy. How are ya?"
Astonished optics went from Jazz back to Soundwave. "You were supposed to get a drink, not another -"
Frenzy elbowed Rumble hard before he could finish his sentence, then pasted a big smile across his face. "Hey, it's Jazz! That's... great, Soundwave, you brought home Jazz. Where did you find him, by the way? Under a wreck?"
"You know I didn't think it was possible," Jazz mused, "but you are actually shorter than I remember."
"Hey, you -"
"Frenzy, contact Constructicon team," Soundwave interrupted. "Schedule maintenance at earliest opportunity. Rumble, collect energon, bring to my chamber. Jazz." That last command he accompanied with a small tug on Jazz's arm, steering him through the spacious front room to the door to his personal chamber. Jazz did stumble a little, but managed to stay upright and keep pace with Soundwave until the door had closed behind them and they were alone again.
"You arrival, unexpected," he explained. "Cassettes will adapt."
"Unexpected," Jazz echoed thoughtfully. He tilted his head ever so slightly, as if to examine Soundwave. "So, you didn't mean to obliterate Skywarp at a game you never play. It just... happened."
Soundwave met his gaze with a level stare. "Extend hands."
Jazz hesitated, but Soundwave snatched a wrist and pulled his hands closer for inspection. Skywarp had not bothered to hand over the key to Jazz's chains, not that Soundwave needed it. The lock was a simplified copy of Decepticon security codes, most of which Soundwave had designed himself. He overrode the mechanism in less time than it actually took the latch to tumble, and he relieved Jazz of his chains. The collar around his neck did not come off, and never would. All of the Autobot slaves had been tagged with them; the latches were fused shut, each collar embedded with a tracking device, and a kill function that could zap the Autobot within to a sparking heap for ten joors. All any Decepticon in close range had to do was send a simple ping. Those, also, Soundwave had done his part to design.
Jazz backed up the second the chains were gone, struts tensing nervously as he put more space between them. "So what's the game, Soundwave?"
"Query, not understood."
"Skywarp only takes off the chains when he's in the mood for me to fight back. Is that how you like it?"
He was almost tempted to frown. "Shared proclivities with Skywarp, zero," he informed Jazz, a little frostily, then impatiently turned back to the door and opened it. The twins jumped back, startled, then gave him big sheepish grins. Soundwave plucked the cube of energon out of Rumble's arms, snapped his fingers and pointed back to their video game, and with a slump of the shoulders they retreated. Again he shut the door.
He offered the cube to Jazz, who didn't move. "Oh, but I couldn't possibly impose.”
"Refuel now. Not a request."
"I said I couldn't," Jazz snapped. "I can't, not now. It'll have to wait."
That startled Soundwave into a quick scan. He did not possess instruments of medical detail, but he did understand what Jazz meant. Too long a time of too infrequent - or inadequate - refueling had left its mark on Jazz's internals, shrinking the fuel intake and closing off nonpriority systems. A sudden influx of energon, even this moderate low-grade, would probably be rejected. At full force. Soundwave set the cube on the nearest table.
"Refuel when ready."
This time Jazz nodded. He looked so worn and faded, even in the soft bedchamber lighting, that Soundwave could not blame Frenzy for his earlier remark. Was Skywarp trying to kill his slave, or was it simple carelessness? He was not sure which irritated him more. Now this scraped, dented mess of a mech belonged to him.
Jazz flinched, then held himself rigidly still when Soundwave rested a fingertip on his chest. Lightly, oh so lightly, he traced a line up his armor, then over the hard collar. Up along the neck he moved, following a thin and sensitive seam. Jazz didn't move, but his fans were spinning a little harder and he'd shuttered his visor completely. Soundwave outlined his jaw, then up to his forehead, and gently spread his fingertips across the dimmed visor. He might not look his prettiest at the moment, but his beauty was still there. Soundwave could feel it in his fine features, and see it in the way his fists had clenched themselves so tightly. The slave was a proud Autobot still.
"Primus knows I am not a demanding mech, Soundwave," murmured Jazz, when Soundwave didn't move his hand. "But could you just get it over with already? I am tired, and I need to recharge."
Reluctantly, Soundwave dropped his hand and stepped back. "Exhaustion confirmed. Recharge now."
Jazz's visor snapped back online with a flash. "Come again?"
"Exhaustion confirmed," Soundwave repeated. "Systems overtaxed. Autobot will recharge now." He indicated the berth, noting the baffled surprise so evident in Jazz's expression. He wasn't even trying to hide it, which attested to his fatigue.
"You... want me to? Now?"
Jazz took one look at the berth and pointedly backed into the corner. "Then I'll be fine over here."
"I'm used to the floor now. Skywarp kicks in his sleep. And hogs the blanket."
That last part made no sense to Soundwave, but he dismissed it as unimportant. "Berth preferable."
"To which one of us?"
His visor shuttered itself again, indicative of rapidly dropping energy, and it seemed Jazz had to concentrate on onlining it.
"Autobot will learn obedience is inevitable."
A low chuckle reverberated in Jazz's vocalizer. "I'm sure. But the game is just no fun if I don't try to play... at least for a little while. You'll see."
Soundwave was a patient mech, and had had enough of repeating himself that night. He waited silently, rock-still, and watched the glow in Jazz's visor ebb away. His ventilations quieted, growing longer and more even, and at last the spent slave sank into a heap on the floor. Soundwave waited for exactly one breem after that before he closed the distance between them, and scooped up Jazz in his arms. He was far too light. The bot had always been on the small side, but malnutrition had been eating away at the inside of his armor. Gently Soundwave deposited him on his berth, and settled himself at his side. A silent ping brought the lights down to black, but Soundwave could still hear him, still feel his warmth. He lowered his faceplate to the crook in Jazz's shoulder, where he could feel the low pulses of energy circulating within, and shuttered his own visor.
All in all, a very good card game.
Disclaimer: I do not own theses characters