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These Games We Play

Chapter Text

 

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.

"Participation, desired."

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.

"That's impossible!"

"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.  

"Stand."

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.  

"Refuel now."

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?"

"As stated."

Jazz took one look at the berth and pointedly backed into the corner.  "Then I'll be fine over here."

"Berth preferable."

"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

Chapter Text

 

Soundwave enjoyed a full recharge cycle that night.  He onlined, feeling more rested and refreshed than he had in some time, and immediately noticed two things.  One, he was lying alone on his berth.  Two, the energon cube was sitting exactly where he'd left it, but it was now half-emptied.  Swiftly Soundwave stood and exited his chamber, only to stop short when he reached the front room.  Jazz was in the center of it, warily turning around and around so as to keep pace with the circling Ravage.  A low, menacing growl welled up out of his vocalizer, optics fixed on the intruder.  

"Nice kitty... nice, evil, Decepticon spy kitty," Jazz crooned.  Without lifting his gaze from the bared fangs, he raised his voice.  "It's about time you woke up.  I don't think your pet housecat likes me very much."  

"Provoking Ravage, unwise."  

"What makes you think I provoked him?"

"Observation, previous interaction with Decepticons."  

"Ah.  Good point.  Are you going to call him off?  Ever?"

"Autobot should not have been wandering residence without permission."  

"You were in recharge."  Soundwave wondered if Jazz was experiencing any dizziness, spinning around like that.  His energy levels were back up, but he was still in a weakened state.  

"Autobot will remain in berth during my recharge."  

"Aw, my mistake.  Were you lonely, Soundwave, did you need to cuddle?"  

Soundwave gave his silent permission, and Ravage sprang.  Jazz didn't have a chance before he'd been knocked flat on his back, pinned under the savagely snarling feline.

Some kind of grunt escaped Jazz when he hit the floor, but otherwise he made no noise.  Not struggling in the slightest, he looked at the mouthful of fangs just above his face and smiled.

"Did I push a button?"  

Soundwave did not deign to reply.  Leaving Jazz trapped under Ravage for the time being, he attended to his energon dispenser for refueling.  A datapad was lying beside it, tagged with a memo addressed to him.  The twins had already left for their rounds, but Frenzy had left the information for a scheduled appointment with Hook.  Soundwave reviewed it and consumed his energon, taking his time doing both.  Then he turned his attention back to the pair on the floor.

"Ravage, desist."

Ravage ducked his head, mock-snapping at the air just over Jazz's visor, then obediently bounded off him.  Jazz winced when Ravage dug his weight into his body, and sat up rather stiffly.  "So where's the rest of the zoo?  Should I keep my back to the wall?"  

"Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, returning shortly.  Will not attack unless provoked.  Recommendation, don't."

Jazz smirked.  "You have so little faith in me, Soundwave."  

"Appropriate address, master."

Jazz tensed, just barely.  Soundwave thought he saw his fingers flex and grip the floor.  

"Of course... how forgetful of me.  Unlike Decepticons, we Autobots aren't so good at the bowing and scraping business.  Less practice.  I'll try to remember in the future, master."  

Soundwave did not care for the insult, but he did not respond to it.  Instead he closed the distance between them in silence, taking careful note of the way Jazz stiffened, his ventilations going quite still.  When Soundwave dropped his hand to the top of Jazz's head, he visibly flinched.  Just as before, however, he did not pull away.  Gently Soundwave glided his open hand along the surface of his helm, simply petting him and nothing more.  Jazz's vents sputtered and hiccuped before picking up their standard pace again, just a little quicker and more shallow now. 

This, Soundwave decided, was a more effective method of quieting Jazz than Skywarp's fists.  More effective, and more enjoyable.  He liked the feel of Jazz holding himself so still under his touch, though it would be better if he were not so tense.  Neither of them moved for a while after that, until the balcony entrance to the loft flipped open and his twin aerial spies glided in.  Immediately Soundwave stepped away from Jazz, raising his arm in traditional welcome.  Buzzsaw always liked to alight upon his wrist, keeping some distance, while Laserbeak preferred to perch on his shoulder and nuzzle him in greeting.  They performed this ritual first, then promptly fixed optics on the new arrival with undisguised curiosity.  Buzzsaw stretched his wings and uttered a short, inquiring, yarp.  

"Very well, thank you," Jazz said sweetly.  "And yourself?"  

What?  Buzzsaw blinked and cocked his head.  

"Autobot now my property," Soundwave informed them both.  "Will be living here now.  Pay no attention to his remarks." 

Jazz looked wounded.  The twins looked perplexed.  

New slave?  Laserbeak shuffled her claws restlessly on Soundwave's shoulder, communicating her distress through touch as well as thought.  When?

Why? added Buzzsaw.  

"Previous orn," he answered, ignoring the other question.  "Unanticipated acquisition; apology, warning impossible."

Trouble, Buzzsaw predicted darkly, narrowing his optics at Jazz.  Skulking in the corner, Ravage growled agreement.  Laserbeak was more diplomatic about it, humming a series of quiet but concerned clicks.  

"Arguments irrelevant," Soundwave informed them all, somewhat tersely.  "Autobot here.  Your efforts expected, minimal.  Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, prepare for data upload."

Jazz looked to be following the conversation, at least the half he could hear, with some fascination.  "I take it I'm not being welcomed with open... uh, claws.  I can always just go, if it's going to be too much trouble."  

"Autobot my property," Soundwave reminded him.  

Jazz looked away rather than meet Soundwave's stare.  "Sure.  Master."  

"Surveillance recordings must be examined and analyzed.  Will be occupied for some time."  

"You have to spy on other Decepticons, I know.  Please, don't let me keep you."  

"Autobot will remain in residence.  Ravage will supervise."  Ravage's head jerked up at that, and he hissed with displeasure.  Soundwave ignored him.  "Good behavior expected."  

"Cross my spark," Jazz assured him, insincere smile flashing across his face.  Soundwave reached down for one final pat on the head, and predictably Jazz froze underneath it.  He backed away and turned toward his work room, processor gearing itself toward the tasks waiting there.  There would be new clips from the twins to review and categorize, threats to scan for, the daily report to be drafted and sent along to Megatron.  All this demanded his primary attention, but even so he could not help hearing Jazz as the work room door closed behind him.  

"So... what's new, pussy cat?"  


 

 

Aggrenet-1 online.  Status: activating.  Enter passcode.

******

Passcode accepted.  Data upload y/n?  

Y

Uplink data.  

Data accepted.  

Data compiling - 0%

Perform security upgrade now y/n?

Y

Enter new passcode.

******

Confirm new passcode.

******

New passcode confirmed.  Scanning firewalls.

Data compiling - 20%

Scanning firewalls - 15%

Archive retrieval, enter.

Archives opened.  Run query.  

Autobot, designation Jazz, history.  Enter.

Searching...

Data compiling - 50%

Scanning firewalls - 65%

Search complete: Autobot, designation Jazz.  

Origin: unknown.  

[274v - 471v] First known location: Iacon.  Pre-war era occupation, owner of local nightspot, designation Sparkbeat.  Multiple citations of popularity within Iacon.  

[301v, 364v, 402v] Three times arrested for suspicions of dealing in black market.  Arresting officer, Autobot designation Prowl [deactivated].  All three occasions, charges dropped for lack of evidence.  

[472v] Sparkbeat destroyed in Decepticon attack on Iacon.  Location of Jazz, unknown.  

[553v] Intruder captured in Decepticon camp; identity unconfirmed.  Appearance matches Autobot Jazz.  (Probability, 75%)  Intruder escaped before interrogation could begin.

[554v - 682v] Jazz's whereabouts unknown.  Presumed Autobot espionage (?)

[682v] Confirmed sighting, battle of Tyger Pax.  Injured Blitzwing (nonfatal).  

[705v] Confirmed sighting, battle of Vos.  

[724v] Confirmed sighting, unnamed battle (second moon, planet #398-641)

[733v] Decepticon generators outside Vos lost to explosion.  Suspected agent Jazz; unconfirmed.  (Probability, 60%)  

[796v] Decepticon communications network infected by foreign virus.  Signed, "your friendly neighborhood saboteur".  Widely suspected agent Jazz.  (Probability 95%)

[?] Jazz promoted to head of Autobot Intelligence and Special Operations, exact date unknown 

[844v] Confirmed member of Ark crew.  

[844v] Confirmed sighting, Earth.  

[844v] Captured by gestalt team Combaticon, along with Autobot sniper Cliffjumper [deactivated].  Escaped before interrogation could begin.  

[845v] Attempted sabotage attempt on Decepticon headquarters, Cybertron.  Minor explosions, no fatalities.  Intruder escaped, suspected agent Jazz.  (Probability 64%)

[845v] Espionage subordinate, Autobot designation Bumblebee, captured.  Unsuccessful rescue attempt followed; intruder escaped.  Suspected agent Jazz.  (Probability 79%)

[845v] Confirmed sighting, battle on Cybertron.  Reported injured by Combaticon, designation Brawl, but successfully escaped with other Autobots.  

[845v] Last remaining force of Autobots trapped on unnamed fifth moon, planet #645-982.  Included Autobots designation Jazz, Prowl [deactivated], Ironhide [deactivated], Wheeljack [deactivated], and Cliffjumper [deactivated].  Explosion destroyed enemy force; Jazz lone survivor.  Captured by Decepticon, designation Skywarp.

[845v] Held in Decepticon prison for six diuns.  Released to Decepticon Lord Megatron, kept for sixteen orns.  Formally given to Decepticon designation Skywarp in recognition of his initial capture.  

Currently under ownership of Decepticon designation Skywarp.  

Archival data modifcation, enter: "Currently under ownership of Decepticon, designation Soundwave."

Archival entry accepted.

Firewalls scanned - 100%.

Data compiled - 100%  

Begin data analysis y/n?

Y.

 


 

 

The universe, Soundwave knew, was full of secrets.  They layered over one another, packed deep and invisible within worlds.  Some mechs kept them; others couldn't.  Sometimes it was the secret that kept the mech, and he was never the wiser.  Soundwave's task had always been to find these secrets, patiently stalking and snatching them from obscurity.  Most were inconsequential.  Some he reported to his lord.  A few he kept for himself.  And though Soundwave was the very best hunter of secrets, he knew he was not perfect.  The universe was complicated with them, and he was only one mech.  Some secrets were beyond his reach.

For example, the secret to Jazz's smile.  To Soundwave, its existence was illogical.  Twice he'd built himself a new life, twice he'd watched it be destroyed and crumble to ash around him.  He'd watched his fellow soldiers die in battle.  He'd been taken prisoner, beaten, raped, and humiliated, and won as a prize over a card game in a nightspot probably much like the one he used to own.  But he still lifted his chin, and smiled.  Jazz was more than a secret, he was a walking mystery.

He was also deep in recharge, not halfway through the orn.  Soundwave looked down at the bot curled up at the base of the couch and directed a general inquiry at Ravage.  But his subordinate just tucked his nose between his paws, tail twitching haughtily, in no mood to be helpful.  Probably he was just tired, after waking up from his recharge too early.  Soundwave did not know why he'd chosen to shut down on the floor, rather than the more comfortable couch.  He'd insisted on the floor the previous orn, too.  Curious.

Soundwave was reluctant to wake him, but it had to be done.  He knelt by Jazz's side and was reaching to shake his shoulder lightly when Jazz's visor snapped back online.  Reflexively he cringed, shrinking himself into a smaller ball than he already was, and froze.  Hand still outstretched, Soundwave did the same.

"Recharge must end, medical appointment soon.  Stand now."  

"Just five more kliks, Skywarp."

"Designation, not Skywarp.  Autobot knows this."  Soundwave hauled Jazz to his feet, not missing how he swayed and nearly buckled.  His visor flickered on and off a few times, calibrating.  Systems had clearly been right in the middle of a cycle when he woke so abruptly, leaving Jazz disoriented.  

"Query, can you walk?  Autobot can be carried."

"Autobot will not be carried, Autobot can walk just fine on his own thank you."  Jazz tugged his elbow out of Soundwave's grasp and tried to back away without falling over.  He was mostly successful, only stumbling a little.

"Autobot may recharge on couch.  Floor, unnecessary."  

"Huh?  Oh."  Jazz looked at the couch as if he hadn't noticed it until this moment.  "Skywarp didn't really want me on his furniture, you know, ever.  I'm used to the floor now."

Soundwave did not reply to that, but tipped up Jazz's chin to take a closer look at his face.  It did not concern him where Jazz chose to nap, but it did make him wonder.  So far, this bot had fallen, so very far from what he used to be.  The mystery was not where he slept, but how he could bring himself to wake up.  Something inside Jazz was stronger than he looked.

Intriguing. 


 

 

Hook met them in his medbay, one of the many subsections of the sprawling Constructicons' lair, with arms crossed and a look of flat disbelief on his face.

"Since when," he asked bluntly, "do you play card games?"

Soundwave did not answer, but Jazz snorted.  "Methinks you have become an object of gossip, Soundwave."  

"Everybody already knows," Hook confirmed.  "Seekers ain't known for keeping their mouths shut.  And you're not known for hanging out in nightspots, or hanging out anywhere, come to think of it.  So, again, since when do you play card games?"

"Questions, irrelevant.  Medical maintenance required now."  He clasped a firm hand on Jazz's shoulder and pushed him forward.  Jazz, who barely reached Hook's mid-torso, lifted his chin and met the massive Constructicon stare for stare.  

"Do your worst," he said haughtily.  "I'll never talk."  

Hook cycled air from his vents and rolled his optics.  "...right.  This should be fun.  Runt!"  

The young Autobot medic scurried into the room.  "Yes, master!  What do you- oh, Jazz!"  First Aid almost tripped over himself when he caught sight of Jazz, his blue optics dilating with surprise.  Jazz smiled at him, and not with the flippant grin he'd been flashing at Skywarp and Soundwave.  This smile was small, but genuine.  

"Hey, Aid.  Good to see ya."  

"But you..."  First Aid looked at Soundwave, then quickly away when he made accidental optic contact.  "What happened to -"

"Skywarp?  Stupid glitch lost me in a card game, if you can believe it.  Now I'm with Tall Dark and Sullen here."  

Soundwave shot Jazz a warning look, which Jazz answered with a wicked grin.  

Hook snapped his fingers impatiently.  "Get your gears in motion, slave.  Prep the 'bot for maintenance and run all the full scans.  If he looks half as bad on the inside as he does on the out, this is going to take a while.  Soundwave, you'll probably want to leave and come back.  I'll comm you."  

"Understood."  

Hook opened his mouth like he wanted to say something else, but Soundwave was already turning to leave.  First Aid, meanwhile, was leading Jazz to a medberth.  Literally leading him.  Was it really necessary to clutch at Jazz's hand like that?  Soundwave did not like it, but to show jealousy was beneath him.  There would be time enough to demonstrate to Jazz exactly whom he belonged to.  

Wordlessly he left the medbay.  


 

 

Hook was not a mech much inclined to kid.  He had warned Soundwave that it would take some time, and it did.  The active cycle was nearing its end, with Rumble and Frenzy due to return at any moment, when Hook finally hailed him.  Soundwave promptly shut down his work console and returned to the Constructicon complex, where he found Hook in all shades of grouchy.

"Remind me to shoot Skywarp sometime," he started.  "Fragging glitch.  I know he's got a few short circuits up in the processor, but even he should have been able to see his slave was barely standing.  Did he think Lord Megatron would have another little Autobot toy to give him, when this one died?  Trust a Seeker to have no concept of consequences.  Hydraulics were all of alignment, probably due to getting thrown against the wall on a regular basis.  I'm surprised he could walk as straight as he did.  Joints were locked, rotator cuffs clogged with dust and debris, and all manners of rust corrosion going on under the armor, because the air-head flyboy couldn't even be bothered to let his slave rinse off in the washracks.  I won't even go into the umpteen thousand dents and scratches on top of the armor; obviously you already know about those.  My Autobot got most of 'em out, and he's giving him a fresh paintjob as we speak.  Wish the rest of it could be that easy.  

"A fluid flush cleaned out his joints, but they're still liable to catch dust.  His model's got a lot more gaps in the armor than most, so regular rinses are important.  As for his fuel intake... Primus almighty, you'd think we were still starving for energon or something.  The bot weighs maybe three-quarters what he should, for his size.  He's been losing armor and more than a couple systems to starvation; I think self-repair was the first to go.  Anyway, his intake has narrowed and his fuel tanks oversensitized, to wring every last nutrient out of what fuel he can get, so he can't even ingest a full serving of energon in one sitting.  Hope you haven't tried to force any on him.  No?  Good.  I've already commed Mixmaster to crystallize energon into several dozen solid treats.  Body heat will melt the shell after ingestion, releasing the energon slowly without flooding his systems.  They're laced with several metallic supplements too, which should boost his health and undo some of the damage to his armor.  Give him one every joor, and by the time you've finished off the box his systems should be back to normal.  I hope.  You can send one of your pack around to Mixmaster's shop to pick them up later.

"My other main concern is energy.  The fragger went into recharge while I was working on him - maybe he wore himself out with his own one-liners.  Has he been going into short, frequent recharges rather than a full cycle?"

Soundwave nodded.

"Figured as much.  He hasn't been getting enough energy to sustain him for the active cycle, so he goes into recharge, but his body doesn't have the nutrition to do any repair or defragmentation, so he wakes up again.  Once he's on a steady diet of those energon treats, hopefully that will level out.  There's nothing more I can do for him now; his body has to initiate self-repair to do the rest of the healing.  That all clear enough to you?"

"Instructions, understood.  Will be carried out as stated."

Hook's optics flickered over to the windowed wall dividing his medbay.  On the other side Soundwave could see First Aid putting the finishing touches on Jazz's memorable color scheme.  

"Listen... Soundwave.  I know this is none of my business, but are you sure you really want to do this?  I mean, yes, he's going to live, but -"

"Assertion, correct," Soundwave agreed coolly.  "None of your business."  

An unhappy shadow crossed Hook's face, but he shut his mouth and kept it that way.  First Aid and Jazz returned to the main room, and Soundwave ran an approving scan over his new slave.  The multiple dents and scratches were gone now, leaving his armor smooth and clean, the black and white crisply divided.  Jazz lifted his chin, clearly self-conscious under Soundwave's scrutiny.

"Like what you see?"

"Results, acceptable.  Come."  

"Yes... master."  He glanced over his shoulder at his fellow Autobot, and again reached for his hand to give it a final squeeze.  They held on to each other a little longer than Soundwave would have liked, but Hook spoke up before he could reprimand Jazz.

"Alright, enough of the melting-spark cuddles.  Get your aft in gear, you know what needs cleaning."  He cuffed First Aid on the head with just enough vigor to make him stumble and let go of Jazz, though Soundwave knew Hook could have easily knocked him clear across the room.  Interesting; perhaps this was the reason Hook was fritzing his wires about Skywarp's treatment of Jazz.  

It was none of his concern, anyway, just as his own affairs were none of Hook's concern.  Jazz was standing beside him, watching him, ready to leave.

"Well?  Are we going?"

"Slave will not question master."  He tapped a finger up underneath Jazz's chin, in something like a mild rebuke, and quickly Jazz jerked his head back.  "But yes, going.  Walk."


   

Silence stretched between them like an invisible chain.  Soundwave was accustomed to, and indeed preferred, the quiet, but he suspected Jazz was not and did not.  All the way home he'd tried, with one snappy insult after another, to test the boundaries to Soundwave's patience and never reached them.  Soundwave said nothing, most likely the response Jazz wanted least.  Now that they'd returned to his loft, and Jazz had run out of witty barbs, he hovered uneasily by Soundwave's couch and didn't take his gaze off Soundwave for an astrosec.

"Quiet," he murmured, unnecessarily so.  "Where's your entourage?"  

Soundwave did not bother to answer.  The avian twins had already left for their nocturnal rounds.  The older pair were finished with their shift, but had received his comm and detoured to fetch the waiting parcel from Mixmaster's shop.  Ravage was out somewhere, skulking in Cybertron's alleyways, keeping to his own unpredictable schedule.  For now, at least a little while, they were alone in his home.

Jazz flinched and backed up half a step when Soundwave moved closer, vents hissing nervously.  Dim lighting reflected off his newly painted armor, bathing him in a light sheen, an invitation to touch.  Soundwave held back from the temptation, instead taking his time to circle Jazz and inspect him thoroughly.  Just as he had for Ravage that morning, Jazz turned to keep pace with him, never letting Soundwave completely out of his sight.  

"Command: stand still."

Jazz did nothing of the sort.  "Force of habit, Soundwave.  When I get jumped by a Decepticon, I at least like to see it coming."  

"'Jumping' unnecessary," Soundwave informed him.  He closed the last of the distance between them and Jazz backed right up to the couch, hands squeezing the top edge when he realized he had nowhere else to go.  His vents stilled at the light touch of Soundwave's finger.  

The smooth, satiny texture of the armor was such an improvement over the previous orn.  Soundwave took his time in enjoying it, gliding his fingertips across Jazz's chest, and then flipping over his hand to run the back of it across that inviting metal.  Jazz flinched again when Soundwave lifted his arm by the wrist and ran a finger along its length, memorizing the feel of his new property.  His model did indeed have many gaps in the armor, wires peeking enticingly from within as Soundwave lifted then lowered his arm.  Back up to the shoulder his hand swept, over the rotator cuff, and up to the vulnerable seam at his neck.  Jazz tensed and shrunk into himself when Soundwave stroked one of the visible wires, armor clamping reflexively shut in revulsion.

"Command: cease negative reaction."

He'd offlined his visor the moment Soundwave touched him, but now it flickered on again.  "Did you just- are you..."  Astonished disbelief curled into his words.  "Are you ordering me to like it?"  

He stared at the silent Soundwave, some of his tension unwinding when he shook his head and forced a chuckle.  "Oh, Soundwave.  You can make me do many things, but you cannot make me like them.  You cannot make me want you."  

He pushed the heel of his hand against Soundwave's chest and tried to walk away; promptly Soundwave snatched his arm and pulled him back up against the couch.  Jazz's engines surged with adrenaline and he struggled, but he didn't even clear Soundwave's chest and he was already trapped.  One hand effortlessly pinned his wrist to the couch and held it there; Soundwave took his chin in his other hand and tilted it up and aside, exposing his throat.  

"Challenge accepted," Soundwave said coolly, almost nuzzling the wires in his neck.  Jazz twitched at the proximity, and smothered a whimper somewhere in his vocalizer.  "Autobot will submit.  You have no choice."  

"What are you going to do, hold me down until I change my mind?"  

"Soundwave, patient.  Jazz, prisoner and slave.  Outcome inevitable."  

"So you think.  Let me go."  

"Request denied."  Soundwave adjusted his grip on Jazz's face, forcing him to look up at the ceiling.  Gradually he loosened his hold, sliding his hand down over his throat, very much aware of the life flowing through these exposed cables and wires.  Electricity prickled at his fingers, sizzling pleasantly.  Jazz had shuttered his visor again, and stifled another whimper.  All he had to do was crush his fist around them, and he could do serious damage; pressure applied long and hard enough would cut off all power flow to his processor and perhaps even take him offline.  But all Soundwave did was squeeze gently, generating another wave of thrilling tingles.  

"Mine," Soundwave declared, knowing he had Jazz's full attention now.  "Jazz, mine."


"If you say it," whispered his trembling slave, "does it make it true?"

"Witness evidence."  Soundwave exerted more pressure on a delicate sensor relay wire, and Jazz shuddered.  His internal fans kicked on again.  

"Stop."

Soundwave ignored him, still rubbing lightly along his sensor wires, intent on goading another wave of pleasure within Jazz's body.  His vents had opened wider, cycling air furiously into his systems.  "Stop.  Stop."  

Unexpectedly he struck Soundwave's hand away with his own free hand, engines rumbling with muted panic.  Penned in like this, he didn't have a hope of pushing off Soundwave's massive frame, but he pressed one hand flat against Soundwave's chest anyway.  

"Enough with the wireplay.  Just bend me over the couch and do it already.  We both know that's what you want."

Patiently Soundwave peeled Jazz's hand free, holding it gently but firmly within his own.  

"I want surrender," he corrected.  The armor of a mech's palm and fingertips was among the most sensitive of the entire body, so much more susceptible to touch.  He caressed his hand, rubbing his thumb lightly across Jazz's palm, calmly re-establishing his grip every time Jazz tried to pull away.  And all the while Jazz's fans were still spinning, unsuccessfully struggling against the body heat that Soundwave could already feel.  His resistance puzzled Soundwave.  Surely Skywarp never bothered to induce any pleasure for Jazz.  Was this not an improvement over his usual beatings?  

"Fighting, meaningless, ineffective.  Query, why persist?"

"You wouldn't understand," Jazz wheezed.  

"Touch, pleasing."  

"Not to me it isn't.  Let me go.  Let me go."  

He twisted his wrist and slipped free of Soundwave's grasp, bracing himself against the couch to shove all his weight against Soundwave.  He didn't shift his target, but he did shift the couch and that did just as well for his purposes.  Soundwave had almost forgotten how agile and quick Jazz was; he darted to the side and put several steps between them in the space of a sparkbeat.  Now he stood between Soundwave and the front door, looking poised to flee like a wild Earth animal.  

Soundwave remained very still.  "Will you run?"

Jazz hesitated, but shook his head.  "Nowhere for me to go, is there?"  

"Then you stay.  Autobot will submit.  You have no choice."  

Soundwave extended an open hand, beckoning Jazz to return.  Jazz didn't move, though, looking from his hand back up to his face with wretched misery stealing across his expression.  His engines quieted, vents dropping to a lower cycle, but still he did not move.  Once again, the silence stretched between them.  


 

 

 Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

"Uh... are we interrupting anything?"  

In their usual modus operandi, the twins managed to completely ruin the moment.  Side by side in the doorway, Rumble and Frenzy stared at the scene inside with optic ridges arched as high as they could go.  Jazz edged away from the door, still not taking his gaze off Soundwave.  

"Yes.  Thank Primus."  

In unison the twins looked from Jazz back to Soundwave, gleefully curious, but Soundwave simply returned their gaze calmly and ignored Jazz.  "Errand, successful?"

"Yeah, we got it.  It was heavy, too.  What's in here, nickel bon-bons?"  With some effort, the pair kicked Mixmaster's box, which was almost as big as either of them, forward.  Soundwave did not answer their question.  

"Rumble, Frenzy, prepare for data upload.  Analysis delayed, prompt beginning necessary." 

"What, now?"  Frenzy tilted his head in Jazz's direction.  "Weren't you about to, uh, 'do' something?"  

"Autobot, not going anywhere."  Jazz grimaced at the words, and let his head fall back with a thunk against the wall behind him.  "Autobot will wait.  Rumble, Frenzy, prepare for data upload now."  

This time the twins mumbled assent, and after throwing a smirk or two in Jazz's direction shuffled to Soundwave's monitor room.  Soundwave watched Jazz slide slowly back down to the floor, vents still busy expelling all the pent-up heat within.  

"Data analysis must begin.  Autobot has no supervision; chains necessary?  Escape, impossible." 

"I think we've established that," Jazz murmured, visor shuttered again. 

"Good behavior expected."  

"Just leave me alone."  

Soundwave nearly twitched at that.  "Activities... not finished this cycle.  Prepare to surrender."  

He didn't give Jazz any time to snap a comeback, and retreated into his work room.

 


 

 

To their credit, Rumble and Frenzy did actually manage to hold out until they'd finished uploading all their new surveillance.  Instead of dashing off to play video games the moment Soundwave dismissed them, the both of them hung over the top of his work console like their feline brother, and stared.

"Sooo..." started Rumble.  Soundwave ignored him.

"When are ya going to ta~alk?" Frenzy added, voice pitched just short of that annoying wheedling tone they'd perfected.

"Discussion, unnecessary."  With casual expertise he began sorting and streaming what they'd uploaded.

"Come on, Soundwave, we've been real patient!"

"Yeah, for us!"

"Don't you think you owe us a little explanation?"

"We sent you out to get a drink and, Primus forbid, talk to other mechs.  We didn't expect you to come home with a new slave."

"Not that it won't be fun having Jazz around to tease - which we won't," Frenzy quickly amended, after Soundwave shot him a Look.  "Much.  It's just... well- again?  Are you sure?"

"Name occurrences in past when I have been unsure."

Rumble and Frenzy exchanged glances and shrugs.

"We don't want you to get hurt, that's all.  You hurt, we hurt.  Ya know?"

"Aware of symbiotic connection."  

Simultaneously they huffed.  "No need to get sarcastic.  We're trying to look out for you!"

"Protection appreciated, unnecessary.  Dismissed."

"Slaggit, Soundwave -"

"Dismissed," he repeated, sharpening the edge of his tone just enough.  This time they took the hint, but they didn't go quietly.  

"Fine, we're gone."

"But don't expect us to pitch in for any berthside nursing this time around."

"He's yours."

"Not ours."  

"Don't forget that."

"Cuz we won't."     

"We're outta here."

"Have fun with the new toy.  Hope he's worth it."  

Somehow, they managed to make the door whooshing shut behind them sound petulant.

 


 

 

It took Soundwave most of the next joor to catalog all surveillance brought in by the twins, and it would have taken two more to properly analyze it.  But that could wait until the next cycle.  He locked down the console instead and returned to the front room, not at all sure what he would find there and preparing himself for the worst.  

The twins, however, were gone.  The loft was silent, and empty save for Jazz.  Soundwave was not very clear on what he was doing; he looked tired, but instead of going into recharge on the floor again he was pacing lightly from one end of the room to the other.  He didn't look up at the sound of the door opening, but Soundwave thought he detected a tiny hiccup in Jazz's ventilations.  

"Finished already?  Lucky me."  

"Absence of Rumble and Frenzy, unexpected.  Describe interaction."  

"Are you asking if they were mean to me?"  He flashed a quick grin, but never stopped moving.  "Or me to them?  Words are just words, Soundwave, nothing to worry about.  Besides, they didn't have many of them to say.  Just gave me some nasty looks that made me glad there's no such thing as rotten tomatoes on Cybertron, and left.  Tell me, why is every one of your brats glaring at me like I'm going to stick a vibroblade in their back?"

Perceptive and curious, Jazz paused mid-step and looked right at him.  Soundwave ignored the question with some effort.  

"Pacing, odd activity.  State reasons."  

"I'm trying to stay awake.  Are you hiding something?"  

Soundwave extended his hand towards Jazz.  "Come here."  

"No."  Restlessly Jazz tapped one pede into the floor.  "You want it, you come and get it yourself.  I'm not in the mood to give you anything."  

If he was expecting verbal argument, he would be disappointed.  Never one to waste words when action was required, Soundwave crossed the room in 2.3 nanokliks.  Sleepy Jazz hardly had the chance to flinch before Soundwave had him pressed against the wall, wrists pinned under his grip.  

"Jazz, mine," he reminded his slave, every word laced with dark promise.  "Autobot will come when I order.  Will give when I want.  Will use address 'master'.  Jazz... mine."  

"Sadistic, coldsparked bastard," Jazz whispered, not missing a beat.  "Is this why you had Hook spend all the orn fixing me?  So you could beat me into the wall and break me all over again?  Go ahead.  You don't hit harder than Skywarp.  I'm not afraid of you."

By way of reply, Soundwave slid Jazz's hands up and over his head, crossing his wrists and holding them fast with just one hand.  The other he stroked along Jazz's jawline, provoking another flinch.  

"Liar," he said flatly.  "Jazz, afraid."  

"Don't confuse fear with disgust."  

Brave words, though he'd begun to tremble again.  Soundwave eased more of his weight against the trapped Jazz, conscious of the accelerated rush of fluids through his systems, and the unnaturally rapid electropulse in his wires.  Jazz's body was fast draining energy that he did not have to spare.  This hyperpanicked response to Soundwave's nearness could not go on.  

He released his grip on Jazz and stepped back.  Jazz dropped his arms and rubbed his wrists, but kept his back to the wall and a wary gaze trained on Soundwave.       

"What, am I boring you?" he asked, when Soundwave walked away.  "Are we done?"  

"Negative."  He collected Mixmaster's box and opened it, to find it packed with rows of crystallized energon.  He took just one and shut it again, idly rolling the treat around in his open palm as he returned to Jazz.  The fuel inside sparkled, flashing through the translucent shell like dancing light.  "Refueling required."  

Jazz hadn't moved, still keeping close to the wall.  Uncertainly he looked from the energon to Soundwave.  "That?  For me?"

"Affirmative.  Suitable fuel for your current condition."  

"Oh.  Fine."  Jazz extended a hand for it, but Soundwave closed his fist shut around it just before he could reach.  Unease prickled all over Jazz like invisible needles.  "What do you want?  For me to beg?  To ask for it oh-please-master?"  

"Negative.  Open mouth."

"What?"  Jazz cocked his head quizzically, but when Soundwave held up the treat between finger and thumb his dermal plating flattened in disbelieving comprehension.  "Oh, you are kidding me."  

"Open mouth," Soundwave repeated.

"I'll just go hungry, thanks."  He tried to slip to the side, but Soundwave braced an arm against the wall, neatly blocking his exit.  His engines revved in a rebellious huff.  "I might fight you on this."

"Autobot will lose.  Weak, undernourished.  Fuel is being offered; take it."  

"You don't want to do this, Soundwave.  You don't want to waste time feeding me, you've got so many important things to do, it's better to let me feed myself."  

"Assertion, incorrect.  Open mouth."  

Jazz flattened himself against the wall as far as he could get from the hovering Soundwave, and glared at the offered treat with undisguised contempt.

"Is this how you train all your pets?"  

"Prepared to wait," Soundwave replied calmly.  "Autobot will eat."

Jazz fidgeted in his distress, glancing longingly to his right and left, but they both knew Soundwave had no intention of letting him escape.  He shifted his weight back and forth, fans alternately whirring and then stilling as his body tried to obey his instinct to bolt, while Soundwave waited patiently.  It took some time, but at last Jazz gave in to the only inevitable conclusion.  His shoulders slumped in resignation, and he opened his mouth.

Soundwave never rushed.  With gentle care he popped the treat between Jazz's lips and deposited it on his glossa, allowing his fingertip to glide over its surface as he withdrew.  Jazz shuddered, visor firmly off.  Soundwave watched to make sure he swallowed the fuel, but continued to rub his thumb lightly over Jazz's lower lip.  Silence reigned for several long moments.  

"Do you think," Jazz whispered at last, "that is all it will take?"  

"Negative," Soundwave assured him.  "Prepared to do much more."

 


 

 

Perhaps in time, Jazz would come to understand what that really meant.  As for now, he still seemed determined to fight Soundwave on the oddest of small details.  In replay of the previous night cycle, he backed into the corner of Soundwave's personal chamber with all his hackles raised.  

"Just let me recharge on the floor."  

"Denied."  

"Why does it matter so much to you?"

"Query, redirected: why does it matter so much to you?"  

"I told you, I'm used to it.  I'm the slave, remember?  My place is on the floor."

"Your place, where I say," Soundwave corrected, resting one hand on the berth in question.  "Come."  

"No.  You kick in your sleep."

"Jazz, lying."

"Fine, I kick in my sleep.  You don't want that pretty plating dented, do you?"  

"Consequences, tolerable.  Come, or I will fetch."

"Did last night, didn't ya?  Maybe I'll always make you come and get me."  

"Negative," Soundwave informed his slave with no uncertainty.  "Jazz will learn to obey."  

"Or what?"  

It was a challenge, and Soundwave answered it with swift, decisive action.  In two strides he'd crossed the room, snatched Jazz's wrist, and tossed him onto the berth.  Jazz landed with a grunt and tried to scramble off, only to be pinned there by Soundwave's weight.  

"Or this," Soundwave said simply, and proceeded to settle in.  Jazz was smaller than he was, but his armor curved and dipped in just the right places to make it comfortable for lying on top of him.  Promptly Jazz tried to thrash, but Soundwave had effortlessly trapped him under his heavier body, and one firm hand clasped Jazz's wrists together over his head.  

"What are you doing?" Jazz asked anxiously.  "Get off!"

"Jazz, demonstrating refusal to comply.  Soundwave, demonstrating consequences.  If you will not remain in berth, I will keep you here."

Several of Jazz's vents were now blocked, and those on his sides opened wider to compensate for air circulation.  "I'll overheat.  Stop."

Soundwave lowered his face very close to Jazz's, taking the opportunity to study him closely.  Jazz promptly turned his head to the side, but Soundwave could still read his distress.  

"You dislike close confinement."

"Who does?  Get off!"  Air was frantically flowing through his vents, but Soundwave could already feel the rising temperature under his armor.  "Please."

"Answer earlier query.  Why resist?  Berth more comfortable.  More dignified."

"You think I even remember what dignity is?"  He was reduced to taking in extra air through his mouth now, and gulped for air.  "Get - off - me."  

"Answer," Soundwave demanded, "question."  

"I don't want to sleep with the enemy!  Don't make me sleep with the enemy, Soundwave, don't make me sleep with you.  I would sooner sleep with razor drones."  

Surprised, and strangely irritated by the venom in Jazz's tone, Soundwave grasped Jazz by the chin and turned his face up again.  "Enemy, inappropriate term.  War over, Decepticons victorious.  Term is master, not 'enemy'."  

"You just keep telling yourself that."  Jazz shuttered his visor rather than look at Soundwave this close, shifting all his concentration to drawing in enough air to keep his systems cool.  

"Repeat it."

Jazz was silent.

"Repeat it, or I will not move."  He dug his knees into Jazz's legs a little harder, pressing his weight against Jazz's chest still further.  Jazz gasped, tilting his head back for better air flow.  Still he said nothing, but Soundwave was patient.  3.7 breems passed before Jazz gave in.

"Master," he panted.  "Not enemy."

"Jazz will recharge in berth."

"Yes."

"Response, favorable.  Reward granted."  As promised, Soundwave rolled off of Jazz and propped himself on his side next to him.  Instantly all Jazz's vents flipped open, gratefully drawing in the cool air that he so desperately needed.  Soundwave said nothing, idly tracing a finger along the old red sigil on his chest while Jazz regained his temperature equilibrium.

"Jazz, permitted to recharge now."  

He said nothing, lying quite still, and gradually his ventilations became longer and deeper.  Soundwave thought he had already slipped into recharge when, unexpectedly, he spoke.

"Soundwave two, Jazz zero," he murmured, soft as ash in the wind.  "You're better at this than Skywarp."  

 


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Untitled, by Merrypaws

Untitled

Chapter Text

Jazz had warmth.  The observation crossed Soundwave's processor as he onlined, before he'd even powered up his visor.  The steady hum of his systems generated a pleasant warmth against his own body that none of his tiny symbiotes could match, Jazz being much bigger than they were.  Soundwave liked it.  He was pleased that Jazz had obeyed his order to remain in the berth, even if, as he discovered when the visor calibrated, he'd scooted to the edge and as far as he could get from Soundwave.  He'd fallen into recharge with one arm draped across his slave, but Jazz had somehow managed to wriggle out from underneath without waking him.  Interesting talent.  

Jazz was already online.  Soundwave had guessed he would be, still on his odd recharging schedule, and confirmed it when he reached to pull him closer.  Jazz flinched away from his grasp and tried to roll off the side, only for Soundwave to snatch him at the last moment and drag him back on.  He growled in pain and irritation.

"Let me go."

"Jazz, not permitted to move."  

"Technically..."  He smothered a whine when Soundwave nestled him against his own body and wrapped an arm around his chest, holding him securely in place.  "Technically you said to stay in the berth while you're in recharge, but now you're online, so I want to ge-ahhh."  He interrupted himself with a quiet gasp, when Soundwave nudged a fingertip into the mid-torso gap in his armor.  Jazz clawed at his arm, scrabbling for freedom, but Soundwave just tilted his weight further forward, threatening to roll over and trap Jazz beneath him.  Not wanting a repeat of vent suffocation, Jazz took the hint and promptly subsided.  Pressed together so close, Soundwave could feel him shudder.

The previous cycle, when they were standing, it would have been awkward for Soundwave to reach Jazz's hip joint.  Now, lying together like this, he took the opportunity and slid his hand downward, tracing a finger along that most sensitive of joints.  Jazz froze, his armor shut tight against intrusions.  

"Relax," Soundwave ordered.

"No."  Jazz was clutching at Soundwave's arm with a grip that bordered on painful.  "Can't make me."   

"You will learn what I can and cannot do."  He lightened his touch to barely more than a tickle, ghosting along the thin seam, and was rewarded by a jolt in Jazz's pulse.  That warmth was getting hotter.  Unconsciously Jazz pushed himself back from the unwelcome touch,  which resulted in rubbing up against Soundwave in a way that was really delightful.  The friction made Soundwave aware of his own body heat, rising along with Jazz's, and the accelerating beat of his spark.  Jazz had begun to pant by the time his armor finally loosened enough for Soundwave to slide his fingertips within.  He found a sensor wire, just one, and tweaked it gently.  

Jazz jerked in his grasp, almost smashing his head into Soundwave's face when he did so.  Satisfied, Soundwave released his hold on Jazz.

"Now permitted to move."

"Thank Primus."  Eagerly Jazz scrambled to get off the berth, but Soundwave wasn't finished.

"After refueling."  

Half-off the edge, Jazz froze again.  "I'm not hungry yet."

"Irrelevant.  Hook's orders, must refuel every joor."  

Soundwave sat up, and withdrew another treat from the subspaced box.  "Turn around."

"Just give it to me, would you?"

"Order is to turn around."  

Soundwave sensed that Jazz was making a face at the wall, but eventually he did force himself to twist partly back around.  He opened his mouth without being told, this time, but Soundwave did not move to feed him.  Instead he held the energon just shy of Jazz's mouth.

"Take it.  No hands."  

Humiliation and resentment were rolling off Jazz in waves, but he tipped forward and plucked it from Soundwave's hand with his mouth.  Good, for he must learn to seek out Soundwave's touch and not fear it.  This was a promising step.

And if he just so happened to nip Soundwave's fingertips, rather painfully, well... nobody said it would be a quick process.  


 

"... third time this megacycle, and that's just the times I've caught them!  Primus knows how many other times you've sent them pecking through my personal estate.  I am Cybertron's Air Force Commander, general of all Decepticon seekers, my rank sets me above your meddling snoopers."

Starscream's wings had begun to quiver in his temper tantrum.  In contrast, Soundwave stared at the screen impassively with fingers laced.  

"Directive, monitor all activity on Cybertron."

"All except for that of Megatron himself," Starscream sneered.  "Our glorious leader is no doubt exempt.  As are, come to think of it, you.  A convenient arrangement.  But his second-in-command doesn't get the same privilege?"

"Will continue present surveillance unless ordered otherwise.  Suggestion, discuss with Lord Megatron." 

"I intend to.  In the meantime, I suggest you keep a tighter leash on your pets.  The next time I catch one of your canaries in my airspace, I'll punch it full of holes."

Soundwave stiffened, imperceptibly, but before he could say anything Starscream shot him a final smirk and terminated the connection.  The screen went black, the console room silent.  Soundwave cycled hot air from his vents, trying to soothe away his irritation, and not doing a very good job of it.  Starscream had always been arrogant, quick to offend, and noisy about his dislike of Soundwave and his team.  He had not, however, ever threatened to shoot one of them before.  

Abruptly Soundwave stood and left the room.  He found Jazz curled up in the corner of the main living room, on the floor of course, napping.  Five cycles, since he'd acquired his new slave, and the self-repair Hook had promised was slowly coming back online.  Jazz now slept longer but less frequently, down to just two naps during the active cycle from what had been at least six or seven.  Soundwave rarely disturbed his recharge, but by his calculations Jazz would be awake soon anyway.  Without any preliminaries he snatched Jazz by the arm and hauled him to his feet.

"Whaa... whasgoingon?"  Jazz stumbled and almost fell into Soundwave, righting himself just in time, and flexed his struts in a sleepy stretch.  "What are you do- oh no.  No no nononono!"  

So said because Soundwave had opened the door to his private washracks, for the first time since Jazz's arrival.  He dug his heels into the floor, but Soundwave had momentum, strength, and frustration on his side.  With a single peremptory tug he yanked Jazz inside and let the door shut, pressing buttons for the solvent flow at the same time.  A mild mixture gushed out of the wall fixtures, raining down on the still-waking Jazz.  He spluttered, gasping a little as his intakes hastily shut themselves tight against fluid congestion.  

"Did I miss something?"

"Hook's orders.  Frequent washing necessary, dust contamination threat to health."

"What dust?  You haven't let me outside - I'd have noticed."  

"Turn."  

Jazz glared and pushed aside Soundwave in a break for the door.  He was getting stronger and faster, evidence of the repairs working away inside his body, but Soundwave was still stronger.  He closed a hard grip around Jazz's arm and steered him into the wall, not very hard, just firmly enough to discourage struggle.  Jazz growled and tried to break away again when Soundwave released his grip; Soundwave's response was to take both his hands and smack them flat against the wall.  Jazz flinched at the unexpected violence, and this time remained where he'd been put.  

"We are in a mood, aren't we?  Bad day at the office, baby?"   

"Command: silence."  

Jazz lifted his chin, sharply, and belatedly Soundwave realized his mistake.  Triumph gleamed in the corner of Jazz's visor that he could see.  "First time you've had to tell me to be quiet; I think I nailed it.  Jazz one."  

"Soundwave three," he reminded his slave, pressing the foam brush against Jazz's back.  His shoulders slumped a little when he realized it was true, and vents facing away from the water flow exhaled.

"Don't suppose there's any chance you'll just let me wash myself."

"None."  

Foam bubbled up from within the bristles, and Soundwave moved it across Jazz's armor in broad, gentle circles.  Jazz cringed a little, trying to shrink away, but Soundwave just compensated by moving in closer.  With only so much space between himself and the wall, Jazz had no choice but to stay where he was.  Soundwave had learned early, in his study of Jazz, that his slave absolutely detested being trapped in a close space.  Just threatening to press him into the wall was usually enough to subdue him - probably something Skywarp never bothered to discover.  

Up and over the shoulders he went, slathering Jazz's arm in white foam.  He had observed other things, interesting details about his one-time-counterpart that he'd never known before.  For all the noise and flair he'd so often brought to the battlefield, Jazz was a surprisingly quiet mech.  Literally quiet; when the unhealthy rattles disappeared after Hook's visit, Soundwave noticed that Jazz could move so silently across the room that even his advanced audios didn't pick up the noise.  Cybertronians were a generally noisy race, Decepticons in particular, moving about with the hiss and whirr of systems, pistons pumping, metal feet clanging against the ground.  But Jazz moved as silently as Ravage, an impressive feat.  

Around Jazz's torso he moved the brush, reaching around from behind to soap up his chest.  Jazz hissed in endurance, fingers flexing against the wall.  Five cycles of joorly handfeeding were behind them, but he still tended to flinch away from Soundwave's touch.  He didn't always bite his fingers, but he did still glare.  Soundwave knew it.  Most mechs were properly confused by Jazz's visor, taking for granted that it hid so much of his expression, but Soundwave was a careful observer.  He saw how the light glinted and flickered within, sometimes narrowing in concentration or occasionally brightening with a sudden flare of emotion.  He did not completely understand all the signals, not yet, but in time he would.  

Soundwave knelt, and the brush moved down with him.  Jazz shuddered when he swept it over his aft, then down his legs.  Perhaps most interesting of all, about that visor, was that Soundwave so often found it trained on him.  Other Autobot slaves were afraid to make optic contact, shivering and hastily dropping their gaze if he happened to catch so much as a stray glance, and most Decepticons were not much braver.  Probably they feared his rank and reputation.  Jazz did not.  Oh, he was wary, and cautious, always hovering silently in the corner of the room until Soundwave summoned him directly.  But at any time, no matter what else was going on in the room, Soundwave only had to look up and he would see Jazz's gaze on him, ever watchful.  He wasn't one to drop his stare when caught.  Sometimes he would let a slow smile flicker across his face.  If anything, it felt as though Jazz was studying Soundwave every bit as carefully as Soundwave was studying him.

Interesting details, all of them, but largely irrelevant.  Soundwave stood again, holding Jazz close against his chest, ignoring his squirms to get free.  What was relevant was the warmth Soundwave could feel through his armor, the healthy pulse thrumming in his wires, his shallow air circulations as he tried to ventilate.  Already Soundwave's irritation had begun to dissolve, like this soap under hot running water.  Jazz was a pleasing distraction.

"I'm drowning," Jazz whispered, just over the perpetual hiss of water.  "Enough."  

The nozzle that was positioned to spray Soundwave directly in the chest was hitting Jazz full in the face; yes, that's what he meant.  Reluctantly Soundwave relaxed his arms and stepped back, allowing Jazz the freedom of movement to turn away from the water.  He had to spit a few pints of it out of his mouth, and wipe away streaming rivulets over his visor.  Wordlessly, Soundwave held out the brush.

Jazz spared it little more than a glance before looking up at Soundwave, back to that careful studying again.  The water dripping over his visor obscured what little Soundwave might have been able to interpret.

Surprisingly enough, without any fuss or complaint at all, Jazz took the brush.  "Well, you've already won this round.  No sense in dragging it out."  

"Wisely stated."  

Perhaps, though, more easily stated than done.  Jazz hesitated, there under the water flow, as if he wasn't quite sure how to make himself do this.  Soundwave watched, and waited patiently.  Jazz seemed absolutely transfixed by his chest, and raised one hand to it, touching the glass with the lightest of fingertip pressure.  It was, Soundwave noted, the first occasion that Jazz had touched him in a nonaggressive manner.  Tiny thrills ran through Soundwave's circuits because of it, sparking warmth and excitement.  

Jazz, though, looked repulsed.  Multiple shudders ran through his struts, and he swallowed hard like he was resisting fuel rejection.  He was, Soundwave eventually realized, staring at the Decepticon sigil across his chest, lightly tracing his fingers over the purple emblem with a kind of horrified fascination.  Just when Soundwave was sure Jazz would panic and push himself away, he squared his shoulders and slapped the brush smack in the middle of his chest.  Thick foam splattered across the glass, obscuring the sigil, and once it was covered Jazz's stress appeared to ease off.  Ventilations evening out, he set himself to soaping down Soundwave in broad, circular strokes.  

"What upset you today... master?  It's rare to see you vexed.  Or, actually, showing any emotion at all.  I didn't think you could."  

"Decepticon politics, not your concern."

"Oh I think they are, if they're going to get me yanked out of a nice recharge and dumped on the floor of a washrack without warning.  I didn't know Starscream could rattle you like that."

Soundwave looked sharply at Jazz, who smiled lazily before circling around behind Soundwave.  "Please, don't insult me.  It's always Starscream.  He torqued off Skywarp all the time, and I got to enjoy the aftermath.  What'd he say to you?"

"Starscream's threats, insubstantial.  Insignificant."  

"If you say so."  Jazz exerted pressure directly between his two main back struts, releasing a fresh surge of relaxation.  "I'm sure it's nothing to worry about."    

"Assertion, correct."  Soundwave shuttered his visor, allowing himself the luxury of enjoying this sensation.  Jazz was very good at this task, sweeping and stroking across his armor and applying pressure in all the right places.  Even the crest of his shoulders, which he could only just barely reach.  Jazz would, he decided, always bathe him in the future.  

Up and down his body Jazz went, all the way around, giving Soundwave no chance to reprimand him for missing a single spot.  He did not hurry, but to Soundwave it still seemed too soon when he stepped back.  Solvent splashed against his armor, rinsing him clean.  

"So what now, master?  The usual drill?  Up against the wall, hands over my head, pretend to like it?"  Jazz backed up into the described position, dropping his voice to a husky murmur.  "Oh Soundwave, take me.  You're the best I've ever had."  

Soundwave cycled a little air from his vents.  "Sarcasm, unnecessary."

"On the contrary, it's what gets me through the orn.  So should I be bracing myself?"  

In reply, Soundwave switched the water off and the dryer on.  Hot air blasted out of the wall vents and made any kind of dialogue impossible for the next klik.  Once it had run its course, Soundwave indicated the door.  

"Out."

"Decepticons first."

 


 

 

As a diversion, Jazz was proving his worth multiple times over.  He not only made for a pleasant trip to the washracks that day, but proceeded to balk at the polishing session Soundwave decided he wanted afterwards.  Soundwave eventually had to wrestle him into submission, a task he rather enjoyed.  It wasn't that he was lowering himself to some Skywarp-level, sizzling his circuits over his slave fighting back, just that Jazz's liveliness pleased him.  His energy had made a soaring comeback, this orn.  He scrabbled and fought, but once Soundwave had him pinned it was over and they both knew it.  Jazz flinched and curled away from the polishing cloth like it burned, but afterwards his armor gleamed like new again.  He looked temptingly handsome once Soundwave had finished, and he had to grudgingly add another point to Soundwave's score.  A pleasant time indeed, though perhaps Jazz would not have agreed.

As it turned out, though, Jazz's returning health came with its own problem.  Jazz was quite matter-of-fact about it, two cycles after the polishing incident.

"You have a problem," he said simply, standing directly in front of the door to Soundwave's console room.  Soundwave didn't exactly jump, but his systems did give a tiny hiccup of surprise.  He was standing so close that Soundwave would have walked directly into him when the door slid aside.

"Explain."  

"I'm bored.  I feel better now, not so sleepy all the time, my processor feels awake again - and it's bored.  You cannot just leave me in this room all day while you play Big Brother, with nothing to do but sit on the floor and stare at the wall.  When I get bored, I get restless, and you don't want that.  Skywarp didn't.  Prowl didn't.  I have to have something to do."    

Soundwave brushed Jazz aside with little effort, and continued into the front room.  "Slave will ask, not demand."  

"Fine.  Pleeease, master, give me something to do.  I need it, you have no idea how much I need it."  

Soundwave thought he did.  Jazz was all but hopping from one foot to another, visibly anxious and distressed, symptoms that alarmed Soundwave.  His petition, he decided, was reasonable.  

"State preferences."

"I like puzzles.  If you have a puzzle datapad that would be good, give me something to work on in the daytime."

"Will be arranged."

Jazz exhaled, looking relieved.  "Thank you."  

Soundwave caught Jazz's chin in a firm grip, tipping up his face.  "Thank you, master," he prompted.

"Thank you, master," Jazz repeated, the final word just a little sour.  He tried to back away but Soundwave did not relinquish his hold.  Casually, demonstrating how little he needed to hurry, Soundwave stroked a wire in Jazz's exposed throat.  Jazz stiffened and shuttered his visor, fists clenching.  

"And at the end of the cycle," he continued, voice just a little strained, "what about then?"  

Soundwave rubbed his thumb lightly against a sensor relay, and watched Jazz try to contain the shudder.  "Query, not understood."  

"Well, it's not that I don't love your sadistic petting sessions -" He winced when Soundwave pinched a wire in punishment. "- but I think we can do better.  Something more intellectual."  

Soundwave's hand stopped moving; he was intrigued.  "Such as?"

"You play any games?  Well, I know you play trabacc.  What about something even trickier?  Say, hax?"  

Jazz now had Soundwave's full interest.  Hax was among the most difficult games on Cybertron, and few Decepticons had the intelligence or desire to play it.  The humans on Earth had something like it, though with fewer pieces and played on a flat two-dimensional board, and while stationed there Soundwave occasionally hacked into tournament sites and shredded their top champions for fun.  But that simplistic chess game couldn't compare to the real thing.  

"Hax, acceptable activity."  He released Jazz, who backed away with a muttered "Jazz, two" under the hum of his systems.  Soundwave pretended not to hear it.  They both knew well enough that Soundwave could have as much of Jazz as he liked, later in the berth.  

"Will arrange gameset."

Something like a grin tugged at Jazz's mouth.  "Then I think that's my cue to say... bring it on, Decepticon."  

 


 

 

"What - the - frag?" were the words out of Frenzy's mouth a joor later, when he and Rumble had returned to the loft and took a good look at the far corner of the room.  A small table there was now taken up with the elaborate hax set, Soundwave and Jazz seated at each end, both deeply absorbed in the game.  Jazz's gaze flickered over to the twins for just a nanoklik before resettling on the game.

"Evening, strangers."  

"Don't talk to me, slave.  And Soundwave, seriously, what the frag?  You're making him play hax with you?  If you wanted to torture him,  we could have given you much better ideas than that."  

"Willingness to assist noted, not necessary."

Rumble and Frenzy rolled their optics in identical disgust.  Neither of them had taken very well to Soundwave's attempted instruction in the rules of hax, and by the end of the so-called lessons, the prevailing consensus was that the twins were better off sticking to video games.  

"Well are you almost done?  We have data to upload so we can go."  

"Negative."  He exchanged a knowing look with Jazz, over the set's slim crystal spires.  "Game has barely begun."  

A game of hax, between two evenly matched players, could take several orns to finish.  This one, Soundwave could already tell, might take even longer.  In the space of a joor, each of them had only made one move.  

He stood.  "Rumble, Frenzy, prepare for data upload.  Game will continue tomorrow."  

That game, anyway.  As for the other game - if Soundwave had not happened to glance at Jazz in just the right moment, he might have missed it.  A brief, but entirely genuine, look of disappointment flitted across Jazz's face.


 

 

The twins were testy.  So were all of the cassettes, actually.  Jazz had been quite right in addressing them as 'strangers'; ever since he'd come home that night with Soundwave, his symbiotes had made a point of lingering in the loft as little as possible.  They returned at the end of their shift with surveillance to upload, and promptly left.  Not a one of them had chosen to recharge inside Soundwave, if in the loft at all.  Soundwave indulged their behavior, knowing how upset they were, but he could not allow it to continue indefinitely.

"Finished!"  Rumble and Frenzy popped back into their root modes and turned toward the door in the same motion, clearly intent on getting away.

"Not yet dismissed."

"It's not as if any of it needs explaining.  Seekers show off any way they can, Starscream bitches about anything he can, and oh yeah, the Combaticons are taking off again.  We're all so sure they'll get it right this time.  It's business as usual.  We'll be going now."  

"Not yet dismissed," Soundwave repeated, every word frosted over with cold authority.  Reluctantly Rumble and Frenzy stopped stomping toward the door, but they didn't make any move back towards Soundwave either.  

"We're in a hurry," Frenzy muttered.  "Got lots of, you know, hanging around to do."  

"Yeah, graffiti's not going to paint itself," Rumble added.  

"Absence, noted."  

"Well, gee, Soundwave, it's just been so very crowded around here lately... we figured we were better off swinging with the Iacon nightscene."

"Absence will not continue.  Tomorrow, recharge here."

"But we -"

"Not negotiable."  

"You expect us to sit around and watch while you, what?  Beat your new slave into submission with a hax strategy?  Couldn't you at least just frag him and leave him chained to your berth?  That's what all the other guys do to their slaves!"  

"Autobot, irrelevant.  You will recharge here.  With me.  Symbiotic connection strained without synchronization."  

"Don't we all know it," Rumble retorted sharply, then winced at Soundwave's unseen reaction.  "Uh, I mean- slaggit.  Look, we'll stay in if that's what you want.  Just don't make us talk to him or anything."  

"Conversation with Autobot unnecessary.  Order is given.  Dismissed."  

They flounced out of the room, waves of anger, distrust, and especially worry rolling through their intangible link.  If they said anything to Jazz on their way out, he didn't hear it.  

 

Echoes of feelings could go both ways, in his connection to the cassettes, and Rumble and Frenzy had left with him traces of their own upset.  He stayed in his console room long after they'd left, analyzing their new data, allowing the familiar routine of his job to calm him down.  By the time he left, it was quite late and Jazz was already in the berth.  Soundwave thought him already offline until he spoke.

"They're never here.  That's not normal, is it?"

Soundwave ignored the question, tracing a fingertip along Jazz's arm.  "Soundwave, five."  

Jazz nudged his arm away from Soundwave's touch, though not with much force.  "What are you talking about?"  

"Saw it."

"Saw what?" he mumbled sleepily.  His systems were slowing, indicative of the approaching recharge.  

"Disappointment, when I left."  

"Liar."

"Lying, unnecessary, never practiced."  

"Deluded, then.  As if I..."  His voice was dwindling in volume, almost unintelligible.  "Wouldeverlet..."

There was no more; he'd dropped offline.  Soundwave gathered his slave in his arms, and did the same.


 

 

"Move to the left!  Left, you fragger, go now!"

"Can't, monster!"  

"Shoot it!  Kill it!"

"Wait, I got somethin' better."

"Wha- oh, slag!"

The force of the explosion reverberated throughout the loft, thanks to the exquisite sound system of the console.  Frenzy huffed.

"A grenade was a little overkill, dontcha think?"

"Worked, didn't it?"  

"Moron."

A tiny sigh escaped Soundwave's vents.  As ordered, the twins were staying in for the night, but they had no intention of going down quietly.  So to speak.  Rumble and Frenzy were playing their video game at a decibel level well over his preferred limit, and doing it purposefully.  The noise was unrelenting, interfering somewhat with his concentration.

Jazz didn't seem bothered.  Compared to the cycle before, he appeared to be in... well, perhaps not a good mood, but at least not as distressed and anxious.  Spending his free time working on the puzzle datapad Soundwave had given him must have helped after all.  Now he was absorbed in the unfolding hax game, studying the board intently, unfazed by explosive sound effects.  This irritated Soundwave.  It was an irritation built on that morning, when Soundwave woke up to find Jazz on the far side of the berth again.  How did he keep doing that?  Soundwave fell into recharge with both arms wrapped firmly around Jazz.  It was beyond him how Jazz managed to keep wriggling free without ever waking him.  He could order Jazz not to do it, but then Jazz would know it upset him and win another point.  

The game was growing more complicated.  

"Soundwave."

He returned his attention to Jazz, puzzled by his expectant look.  "Move, yours."

"I know, but..."  He nodded his head at Soundwave's hand.  Sometime while he hadn't noticed, his fingers had begun to drum against the table.  Promptly Soundwave withdrew his hand and laced his fingers together, a little discomfited.  It was not like him to engage in such a telling habit, and Jazz's grin did not help.  

"Noise gettin' to ya?  You can just tell Glitchy and Twitchy to take a hike."

"We heard that!"

"I was under the impression you boys were trying to ignore me," Jazz drawled, leaning back in his chair and still not taking his optics off the hax set.  

"We are ignoring you," Rumble huffed.  "But you still better watch your mouth, slave."

Jazz didn't react in any visible way to the word, but something about it unsettled Soundwave anyway.

"Rumble.  Frenzy."

"What?"  

"Lower volume."

"But we -"

"Lower volume." 

"Fiiiine."  They managed to make it sound like the world's most onerous chore.  But the sound of dying monsters and laser blasts did drop a few merciful notches.  Idly Jazz toyed with one of the pieces, still contemplating his move.  Meanwhile, Soundwave's chronometer alerted him that it was feeding time.  

"Open mouth."

"Can't it wait?  I'm trying to concentrate."  

Soundwave wondered if he would have to repeat himself all night, to this household of disobedient and troublesome little mechs.  "Open mouth."  

He held out the energon, halfway over the set, and with a resigned air Jazz tipped forward and leaned over the set.  Every joor Soundwave carefully monitored his reaction, and was confident that his slave's revulsion was beginning to diminish.  When he ate out of Soundwave's hand, now, it was with something like habitual indifference.  

A strangled squeak of dismay from the couch informed Soundwave that the action had been witnessed.  Optics flaring bright with anxiety, Frenzy elbowed Rumble.

"Hey, wha-"  The complaint cut off with a suddenness that meant Frenzy was telling Rumble what he'd just seen over their private comm channel, hands gesticulating with distress.  In a few seconds, Rumble's optics were blazing too.  

"What the hell was that?" both of them demanded, simultaneous and frantic, over the general channel.  

"Autobot, not your concern," Soundwave reminded them, rather shortly.  Jazz flicked a glance at the twins as he sat back down, then at Soundwave, probably deducing what was going on.  

"That's what the box from Mixmaster was for, wasn't it?"

"Not your concern."

"Soundwave, he can feed himself!  This isn't like -"

"Silence," he commanded aloud, punctuating the word with such force that the twins flinched.  "Your game waits.  Return to it."

Fuming, the twins turned back to their console, but from the lackluster performance of their avatars Soundwave suspected they were concentrating more on a private conversation.  

Jazz leaned forward, visor shimmering with fascination, and dropped his voice to a nearly inaudible murmur.  "Are you ever going to tell me why they don't want me here?  Or do I get to figure it out for myself?"  

"Not your concern."

"Whatever you say, master."  

Jazz tucked away a thoughtful little smile, and returned his gaze to the set.  Again he reached for the same piece, still a little indecisive, but at least this time he actually picked it up.  Turning it over and over within his hand, he hovered it between two likely paths, and just when it seemed like he was going to choose one, Soundwave's console pinged with an incoming call.  

Jazz made an exasperated noise.  "Are you kidding me?"

"Lord Megatron waits."  Soundwave stood, and Jazz slumped back into his chair.  

"Well don't let me keep you.  Tyranny - I mean, duty - calls."  

Soundwave retreated into his work room, door sliding shut and cutting off all unwelcome noise.  The press of a button opened the connection, and the screen lit up with Megatron's face.  

"Soundwave!"

"Lord Megatro-"

"Starscream's been yapping for two cycles about your surveillance team on his personal estate.  He won't shut up about it.  Has your team been recording him?"

"Yes, Lord Megatron.  Desist?"

"Of course not," Megatron said scathingly.  "It's Starscream.  You know I want him on a short leash.  Just don't let him catch you.  Starscream is all that's keeping those winged twits in line, and he knows it.  I don't want a squadron of crosswired Seekers running amok on my Cybertron, so smack a little sense into those obnoxious spies of yours and make sure that next time, they don't let themselves be seen."

For the second time that night, Soundwave vented a small sigh.  "Understood, Lord Megatron."  

"I think you've been skulking in solitude long enough.  Come to the command center tomorrow, I've been getting distress reports from Earth."  

"Yes, Lord Megatron."  

Megatron cut the connection, ending the conversation without so much as a farewell, plunging the work room into both silence and darkness.  When Soundwave opened the door again, bright light and noise slammed into him.  

"Rumble, Frenzy, end game.  Recharge now."

"Now?" they echoed, in a perfectly matched whine.  "But it's not even -"

"Now."  

They shared a look, probably a few private words too, and without further protest switched off their game.  Jazz was giving him that speculative look again.  

"I don't think that call made you very happy, Soundwave."  

"Not your concern."  

"Isn't it?  Should I be getting ready for another bath?"  

"Hey, Autobot," Frenzy snapped.  "Shut your mouth, and learn how to mind your own business."  

Something in Jazz's visor flashed, and Frenzy was suddenly the object of close concentration.  "Le petit défend.  Intéressant."

Frenzy, who had, like most other Cons, only ever bothered to download English while on Earth, gaped blankly at Jazz.  "Huh?"  

"Recharge now," Soundwave repeated, almost urgently, and opened his chest in expectation.  Frenzy shot another baffled - and highly suspicious - look at Jazz before obediently folding down into cassette mode and slotting into Soundwave alongside his brother. 

The quiet that followed was a blessed relief, but for Jazz and and the way he so carefully studied Soundwave.  "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were in a hurry to tuck those little guys in."  

Soundwave extended a hand.  "Come."  

"How does it work, with the remoras in there?"  Jazz stood, which put him at optic level with the glass, and tried to peer through.  "Can they hear me?  Can they hear this?"  He tapped a fingertip against the glass in a deliberately irritating rhythm, until Soundwave snatched his wrist.  

"No more talking."  

"Well I would say 'yes, master', but that would mean spea- mmpf."  

Soundwave didn't exactly slap his hand over Jazz's mouth, but once it was there he tightened his grip to just firm enough that Jazz couldn't jerk his head free.  Though he tried.  Pulling his arm along with the other hand, Soundwave steered Jazz into his own chamber.  Immediately he brought the lights down to a soft glow, easing that ache in his visual sensors.  Jazz's systems hitched in surprise when Soundwave picked him up and sat him on the edge of the berth.  Again he tried to speak and again Soundwave clamped down with his hand.  He was tired - tired of disobedience, tired of complaints, tired of noise.  If he had to go into recharge with his hand still locked down over Jazz's mouth, he would have quiet.  

Jazz's vents had all opened, cycling air a little faster in his nervousness.  He stopped trying to pry Soundwave's hand off his face and subsided, waiting and watching for what would come next.  Lightly, gently, Soundwave moved Jazz's hand to the transformation seam on his own shoulder.

Promptly Jazz jerked his hand away, shaking his head.  Soundwave re-established his grasp with more pressure, and brought their hands back to his shoulder.  Somewhere low in Jazz's vocalizer he keened in distress.  

Soundwave paid it no mind.  With his trademark patience he glided Jazz's hand along the seam, slow and soft, relishing his touch.  The light in Jazz's visor extinguished; he would not look, no matter what Soundwave forced him to do tonight.  Someday Soundwave would make sure he did look, but for now this was enough.  Their hands moved in along the crest of his shoulder, and Soundwave forced Jazz to stroke one of the exposed wires in his neck.  Electricity swirled in tiny currents through his body, and he could feel his armor relaxing in anticipation of more.  

Light as smoke Soundwave moved their hands down over his chest, skimming over glass, to the mid-torso seam.  Jazz squirmed and whimpered when his fingertips were pushed inside, stimulating another wave of thrills in Soundwave's circuits.  Jazz must be feeling the electrical surge, surely it felt good, but armor shut tight and muffled whines spoke otherwise.  

Soundwave, at least, was enjoying himself. Every touch of Jazz's hand brought another flush of pleasure, evaporating his stress into the night.  He closed in, maneuvering between Jazz's knees, drawing in his warmth.  A couple of his own internal fans kicked on, in response to rising temperatures, and Jazz flinched at the sound.  He kept trying to lean back, but Soundwave's grip on his face held him in place.  

He kept up the stroking just long enough, until all his irritation had dissolved away.  Stiff, unwilling touches were not enough to bring Soundwave to overload, not even close, but this was pleasant enough for now.  Soundwave released Jazz and tipped forward, climbing onto the berth while a gasping Jazz tried to scramble backwards and out from underneath him.  He wasn't fast enough, still trapped between Soundwave's massive arms, but he didn't drop his full weight upon Jazz again.  He only dipped his head to the crook between neck and shoulder, taking one last moment to savor the steady hum of Jazz's systems, before he shifted and lay down at Jazz's side.  

Kliks passed, and after a few shudders, Jazz seemed to understand they were through for the night.  His intakes calmed, and his trembling eased off.  But if Soundwave had harbored any hope that the session would distract Jazz, he was mistaken.  

"I called it wrong," Jazz whispered into the darkness.  "They're not looking at me like I'm going to stab them in the back.  They're looking like I'm going to stab you in the back.  Intéressant."  


 

 Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

 

The younger twins took the news that they were expected to recharge at home about as well as the others did, which is to say that Buzzsaw screeched something nasty at Jazz.  Then he snapped his beak at him, just to get the message across.  

"Well good morning to you too," Jazz said tartly, then fixed Soundwave with a knowing look.  "Like I said.  Protective."  

"Buzzsaw, enough," Soundwave commanded, and unhappily the symbiote ducked his head between the arch of his wings.  For the twins the gesture indicated resentment, not contrition, and Soundwave didn't miss the gutteral clucking deep in his throat.  Laserbeak, as usual, tried to amend her brother's animosity via physical affection.  Chirping softly, she rubbed her head along Soundwave's jaw, but she could still feel her master's irritation.  While Buzzsaw sulked, she dropped off Soundwave's shoulder and glided across the room like a flake of ash.  Jazz, who was already camped out in the corner with his precious puzzles, froze when she alit on his knee.  

"Oh," he squeaked.  "Hello there.  I'm feeling rather alarmed now, Soundwave."  

"Remain still."  

"But I like my fingers."

"Laserbeak, curious.  Not hostile."  

It was strictly true, though Soundwave did not mention the strong distrust radiating through her link.  Laserbeak did not want this Autobot here more than any of them did, but of all his cassettes, she was always first to try and please him.  Perched on Jazz's knee, she cocked her head from side to side and examined Jazz closely, her finely tuned optics zooming in and out.  Jazz didn't twitch so much as a strut, vents silent and watching her warily.  He didn't even move when she stretched her neck out and tapped him inquisitively on the face with her beak.  

"Traitor," Buzzsaw muttered.  

"Hush," she replied impatiently.  "Healthy.  Pleases Master.  Not enough?"

Buzzsaw turned his beak up disdainfully, and did not answer.  Laserbeak cycled air from her vents, and pushed off Jazz to return to Soundwave.  Jazz sagged against the wall with undisguised relief.  

"Did Laserbeak just... kiss me?"  

"Negative," Soundwave assured him.  "Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, prepare for data upload.  Recharge after."

Buzzsaw was still feeling a bit huffy, but there was no more argument as he keyed open the door to his console room.  "Have a good day, mon cheri," Jazz sang, and both twins stood up straight on his shoulders.  

"What?"

"Ignore."    


 

It took just over one joor to upload all surveillance data from the twins, another two to properly sort and analyze it.  Soundwave did a more thorough job than usual, leaving no stray communication unturned, but at last he had to admit the morning's work was complete.  There could be no more putting it off; it was time to report to the command center.  With the twins nestled inside his chest and peacefully recharging, he stood and left the console room. 

Jazz was sprawled out on his front, legs kicking back and forth, tapping solutions into his data pad.  "Finished spying for the day?  I'm ready to play when you are."  

"Hax, unable to play now.  Presence at Decepticon Command required."

Jazz's head jerked up sharply, puzzles forgotten.  "Command center?  We're going out?"  

"Negative.  Your presence unnecessary; you remain here."  

"Stay here?  Alone?"  Soundwave was turning toward the front door when Jazz threw himself at it, with some remarkable alacrity.  Hands braced against each side of the frame, as if he could somehow block Soundwave from leaving.  "You can't leave and not take me with you, that's not fair!  I haven't been outside since I saw Hook, not even for a klik!"

"Fairness irrelevant," Soundwave replied, moderately startled by Jazz's reaction.  "Your presence unnecessary."  

"But you could take me.  Don't you want to?  Show me off, maybe?  Skywarp took me everywhere, loved the bragging rights."

"Similarities to Skywarp, zero," Soundwave reminded Jazz, rather flatly.  "Bragging unnecessary."  

"Oh, c'mon, Soundwave, please."  Distress indicators were spiking again, Jazz's anxiety growing rapidly.  Soundwave ran a quick scan, checking his spark pulse, and nervously noted its elevated rate.  This was another of those factors that strongly affected his slave's temperament.  While he hesitated, Jazz thought of something else.

"Will you be gone for more than one joor?"

"Likely."

"Then who will feed me?  I'll go hungry.  Unless, you're willing to leave behind the energon for me to, ya know, feed myself."  

Now Soundwave was torn.  He was strongly disinclined to bring Jazz into Decepticon headquarters, but the joorly routine of handfeeding was important. It was through this that Jazz was becoming accustomed to his touch.  As if to demonstrate it to himself, Soundwave raised an idle hand to stroke Jazz's face.  Jazz still scowled and tilted his head away, but it was a conscious movement; at last he no longer flinched away in frightened reflex.  Soundwave would not stop feeding him now, not when he was making progress.  And in any case, it was an appealing thought that Jazz was begging to stay at his side.  Practically, Soundwave knew it had more to do with the freedom to stretch his legs and see new scenery, but the end result was the same.  

"Permission granted.  You will accompany me."

"Yes!  Jazz three!"  

"Good behavior expected."  

"I'll be good," Jazz promised, pantomiming sealing his own mouth shut.  "You'll hardly know I'm there."  

"Fetch chains."  

A little of his elation died, but Jazz obediently moved away from the door.  Most Decepticons kept their slaves in chains constantly, but Jazz hadn't worn his since the trip to Hook.  He was so weak and sleepy, at first, that it seemed redundant.  Even after his energy returned, Soundwave indulged Jazz and kept him unchained.  He was far less defensive without them.  To go without them in public, however, was out of the question.  No Autobot was permitted to walk the streets without chains or his master.  

Jazz returned with the restraints in question, and not a flicker of any sort of expression crossed his face as Soundwave fastened them to his collar.  

"Good behavior," he reminded his slave.  "Walk."     

The distance was not great; Soundwave's loft was within the spark of re-awakening Iacon and not far from Megatron's complex.  But the walk there, right in the middle of Cybertron's active cycle, was... different than it had been in the past.  That he deigned to walk, when in the past he would have simply flown, was one reason.  The stares were another.

Soundwave was a private mech.  He kept to himself and preferred it that way, his little symbiotes the only company he wanted or needed.  And though he may be one of Megatron's top officers, member of the ruling Decepticon elite, he did not openly flaunt his power across all Cybertron like Starscream did.  The result was that few neutrals even knew what he looked like.  Soundwave was the reason that any mech dropped his voice to a whisper if he dared speak ill of Megatron, it was a name known and feared by all, but his appearance went unremarked whenever he ventured outside.  He was accustomed to his obscurity, and liked it.  

This time was different.  The neutrals stared as he passed, pointing and flagging one another with quick short-wave comms.  All because of Jazz, trotting along at his elbow with an occasional clink of the chains.  Everyone knew that only the most valuable of Megatron's forces had been granted an Autobot slave after the war, the strongest of his warriors and sharpest of his officers.  To have a slave at one's side was a potent symbol of status.  Soundwave sensed the mixture of fear and awe around him, without even consciously trying, and did his best to ignore it.  Jazz didn't seem to notice the extra attention.  Probably, always in Skywarp's shadow, he was used to it.  

Neutrals... they shouldn't even be called that anymore, now that the war was over, but Megatron would not suffer to let them be called Decepticons, not when they'd done nothing to fight for him.  They were the ones the Decepticons saved, waking up from their long stasis slumbers with the fuel won on Earth. In his meticulous, methodical way Shockwave had taken care of the task, first waking up his own old contacts and partners from Kaon. Then engineers and architects to rebuild factories, and so on in order until by the time the last batch had been roused all the land and buildings were taken and they had no choice but to work for those who came first. It was an unlucky lot in life, but it was still life, and they worshipped Megatron and his Decepticons all the same. Quick to avert their optics whenever Soundwave caught them staring, they ducked their heads and scurried out of his path like the drones they were.   

Soundwave found their presence trying, their impertinent stares even more so.  Not halfway there he stopped, and swept a startled Jazz into his arms.  

"Wha- hey!"  

Soundwave kicked one heel against the street and his thrusters roared to life, rocketing them both off the surface of the planet.  Jazz clutched at Soundwave and froze, but made no more noise until Soundwave touched down at the broad entrance of the command center. He managed to push himself out of Soundwave's arms before he had the chance to set him down properly.  

"Thanks for the warning.  Next time you decide you can't stand it down there with the rest of the peasants, give a mech a moment's notice."  

"Heights, frightening?"

"Not hardly."  Jazz tossed him a withering look.  "Skywarp flies higher, and faster.  It's the being carried that I don't like.  Do we have to do that?"

"Flying faster, more efficient.  Preferable to ground travel."

"Maybe to you."  Jazz tugged unhappily at the chains that linked to his collar, the collar that kept him from transforming.  He'd been trapped in his root mode since the orn it was put on him.  "You can count me out."  

"Demand declined," Soundwave said dismissively.  "Autobot will join me when I choose to fly.  No argument."  Jazz was looking a shade petulant, and Soundwave tipped up his chin with just enough force to remind him of his place, fixing him with a cool stare.  

"Preference: remain at home?"  

"No."  Jazz tried to tug his head clear, but Soundwave wasn't quite ready to let go yet.  "No, I want to be here.  Master," he added, when Soundwave waited a few silent nanokliks.  Satisfied, Soundwave released him, and continued toward the entrance.

"Follow."  

The Decepticons were not much better than the neutrals.  Worse, perhaps, since they all knew exactly who he was and had every reason to be more cautious in their pointing and gossiping.  Soundwave devoured the halls in his long strides, not lowering himself to glance aside when he sensed a curious stare.  Really, they ought to have known better.

"Are you fraggin' kiddin' me?"

Speaking of mechs that ought to know better...

Rumble stood athwart the corridor, fists on his hips, a picture of exasperated disbelief.  The elder twins were not much for lowering their voices, for all they were supposed to be spies, and every Decepticon within audioshot looked up.  Soundwave paused, acutely conscious of the attention, and pointedly addressed his subordinate via comlink.

"Observe manners in Command Center, Rumble."  

"Oh, excuse me.  Are you fraggin' kiddin' me... sir?  Are you out of your mind, sir?  What in the flaming smolten Pit is he doing here?  Sir?"  

"Behaving himself much better than you are," Soundwave could not resist answering, and sensed Rumble's flare of anger in response.  "Autobot with me because I wish it.  Not your concern."  

"You couldn't even leave him behind for just a few joors?  Have you been apart from him since the orn you got him?  Even once?"

His anger was becoming eclipsed by a rapidly swelling anxiety, and Soundwave hastily tried to quell it with a surge of reassurance.  

"Affirmative.  Autobot spent majority of one work cycle with Hook.  Satisfied?"

Soundwave already knew that he was not, but the mention of Hook did have the desired response of getting Rumble to back off his aggression.  His mood shifted from angry to sulky.  The comlink channel had just signaled his forthcoming reply when they were interrupted.

"Primus above, if it isn't Megatron's hermit, ventured from his hole to mingle with the rest of the Decepticons.  I am honored!"  Starscream's unmistakeable voice carried through the halls with unfortunate clarity, and Rumble groaned out loud.  Soundwave agreed, but outwardly he remained impassive.  Starscream was strutting toward them, wings jutting out at an obnoxious angle that forced aside other mechs, his little red slave scurrying along in his wake.  "And just think, Soundwave, I was starting to wonder if you had become afraid of the open sky.  Or perhaps conversation?  Well, I think we all knew conversation was never your greatest strength, though you're certainly expert enough at listening in on everybody else's."  

"Presence required in head command room," Soundwave said coolly.  "Suggestion: move aside."  

Starscream did not, his splashy red and white wings blocking Soundwave's path and all but twitching with hostility.  "I've lodged a complaint with Megatron about your little minions trespassing upon my estate, Soundwave."  He shot a dirty look at Rumble, and got an equally dirty one in return.  "I hope for all their sakes that I don't catch another one there.  Is that going to happen?"  

"Megatron's new orders given," Soundwave replied, neatly evading the question without lying.  Unlike Starscream, Soundwave did not ever have to lie.  "Will be followed."

Starscream uttered a scratchy grunt, somehow managing to sound dismissive and suspicious at the same time.  Narrowed optics searched Soundwave for any hint of treachery, then happened to fall on Jazz.  "Oh, that's right... I'd almost forgotten.  You stole a toy from one of my seekers, didn't you?"

"Autobot not stolen, won fairly."  

"Whatever you say, reader of minds.  I'm just surprised that you even wanted a new slave.  Maybe this time you'll actually be able to keep him ali-"

"Hey Screamer!" Rumble snapped, hovering protectively in front of Soundwave and ignoring the difference in height as he glowered up at the massive Starscream.  "That your paint job?  Or did Thundercracker just get red paint stuck in his exhaust vents and sneeze on you?"

Most of their audience snickered, and Starscream hissed.  "Little pest.  Haven't you learned yet to show respect to your commanding officers?"    

"Guess if I was talking to my commanding officer, I'd worry about that."
  

Starscream scowled at Rumble, but a vain mech did have his weaknesses, and he couldn't resist glancing sideways at his wing.  What he saw made his dermal plating darken with fury.  

"Slave!"

"Master?"  Timidly Perceptor crept closer, head ducked low in submission.  

"There is a paint splotch on my wing stripe!"

"R-really?  I'm sorry, I was being careful -"  Starscream smacked his slave in the head and Perceptor stumbled, smothering a tiny squeak of pain.  "I'm sorry, Master Starscream!  I tried my best, I'll do better next time!"  

"You will, or I'll make you drink the paint.  It doesn't do for Cybertron's Air Commander to appear in public with less than perfect wings.  Unless you want me to be embarrassed.  Is that what you want?"

Perceptor shook his head frantically.  "No, master."  He cringed when Starscream raised his hand again, but all Starscream did was take hold of his chin, then push him back a step.  

"Incompetent," muttered Starscream.  He threw another nasty glare at Soundwave, ignoring Rumble's giggles.  "Enjoy your new slave, Soundwave.  You're the last Decepticon on the planet to do so."

Nearly clipping Soundwave with a wingtip, he whirled around and stalked away.  Watching Decepticons drifted away or turned back to their conversations, and some of Soundwave's tension eased.  Jazz reached out and snagged Perceptor's hand, squeezing it gently.  

"Alright there, Perce?"

"Jazz."  Perceptor looked at Jazz blankly, as if he'd only just now noticed his presence, optics shuttering a few times to refocus.  "Oh... yes, that's right, you're with Soundwave now.  I do remember Skywarp screaming about it.  I-I've missed you."

"I've missed everybody."  Gently Jazz bumped his forehead against Perceptor's in mute affection.  "How is it, Percy? Are you holding up?"

"I'm... trying."  Perceptor's voice shrunk to a whisper.  "I try... very hard to make him happy, Jazz.  But I'm not the scientist he wanted, and we both know it.  He hates me for existing."  

"Then you get to annoy him just by waking up in the morning.  Good for you."  Jazz grinned and bopped his fist lightly against Perceptor's chin.  "Some of us have to work so much harder."  

Perceptor managed a weak smile.  He was opening his mouth to speak when Starscream's shrill voice echoed down the hall.  

"Slave!"

He jumped and dashed away, Jazz reluctantly releasing his grip on Perceptor's hand at the very last moment.  Soundwave watched him carefully.

"Starscream's comment, explain."  

"Hmm?  Well, if I had to guess, I'd say Starscream doesn't like it too much when you and your team spy on him.  But if you need me to explain that, maybe you do need to get out more."  

Jazz flashed him that cheeky grin, and Soundwave refused to show any irritation.  

"Other comment."  

"Seekers share, Soundwave."  The smile remained in place, though something in the visor shifted.  "They share everything.  Didn't you have a tyrant to report to?"  

Megatron was expecting him, true.  Soundwave turned back the way Starscream had gone, resuming his walk.  "Remain close."  

"Afraid I'll run away?  I thought we'd already established I can't do that."  Jazz pulled ahead, walking backwards to keep his gaze on Soundwave.  "Or is it your fellow Decepticons you don't trust?"

"Why don't you just shut up and do what he says?" piped up an irritated Rumble.  "Like you're supposed to."

"So you do want me here!  I wasn't too sure."

"No, I -"

"Nice work on that diversion, by the way.  Went straight for Screamer's vanity, expertly done."  Jazz clucked in an approving manner and shuttered half his visor in a wink, and Rumble almost tripped over his own feet in surprise.  He was fumbling for something to say when Soundwave clapped a firm hand on Jazz's shoulder, forced him to turn back around, and steered him through the doorway into Decepticon central command.  As a warning, Soundwave pressed a single finger against Jazz's mouth, and shook his head.  

Jazz nodded.  Silent in every sense of the word, he backed into the nearest wall and stayed there.  Just in time.

"Soundwave!" Megatron barked.  "At last.  I've been waiting for you." 




"... thought it was just the humans bitching and whining again, but then the whining stopped.  I had Dead End check things out with a satellite, just to see why everything got so quiet." 


Motormaster's holographic depiction shrugged.  "See for yourself."


A perfect three-dimensional image of Earth appeared over the table, and Soundwave tapped a button.  Satellite captures popped open in rapid-fire succession, each one sharper in detail than the last.  First Asia, then the Indonesian archipelago, then Makassar zoomed closer.  Several highly defined images littered the holo-range, showing in perfect clarity the darkened buildings and silent streets.  Lightpoles had been broken- or rather, gnawed in half.  A power plant had been reduced to shreds.  In the one video window, trash skittered over the pavement, and nothing else moved. 


Megatron didn't twitch, but his dermal plating had gone tight.  "The entire city?"


"From what I can tell.  Breakdown's been watching the screen for two days; says he ain't seen nothing but some mongrel dogs fighting in the streets."


"How far is this city from the Guinea island?"


"Five hours maybe... as the grasshopper flies."


More pictures crowded into the table's spread.  The tropical jungle surrounding the city had been annihilated, trees splintered and chewed through, the earth torn and scarred from forcible uprooting.  The swathe was wide, and led due east.

  
A low growl reverberated in Megatron's frame.  "Soundwave, find me a recording.  Audio, video, I don't care, just tell me if it was them."


"Yes, Lord Megatron."  Soundwave's fingers moved rapidly across the console, scanning Earth's internet with practiced ease.  Rumble needed no instructions, and started sifting through likely files to set aside for Soundwave's scrutiny. 


"Why bother?" Starscream asked airily.  "You know it was the Insecticons.  Disgusting pests will eat anything, including apparently, whole chunks of your empire.  You should have terminated them all when the war ended." 


"Shut up, Starscream." 


"Surveillance camera feed discovered.  Insecticon activity, confirmed."  Soundwave played the clip in question.  The video file had been corrupted, but they could all hear the unmistakeable high-pitched shrieks of rampaging Insecticons.  Megatron's growl deepened. 


"I told you," Starscream sang, smirk turned up to full volume.  "They're insatiable.  I knew they'd never keep to that little island you gave them, not when there's nothing and no one to stop them from ravaging all those around it.  Why you even thought -"


Telltale whirring and clicking signaled activation of Megatron's cannon.  "Shut up, Starscream." 


"Am I wrong?"  Starscream leaned forward over the holo-table, hands flat against the surface to brace himself.  "Would it have been so hard to lock the filthy beasts in a smelter when you had the chance?  You never take the opportunity to -"


"It is because of the Insecticons that we took South Asia in the first place," Megatron snarled.  "I don't like conniving, vicious, greedy soldiers, but when they win I prefer to keep them alive.  You of all mechs should be grateful for it."


Starscream's optics glittered.  "Very well, mighty Megatron.  You let the pests live, and now they're devouring Earth's nasty organic jungles - five hours west of the island they're supposed to be on.  Suppose they decide to keep going west?  Suppose they develop a craving for fuel a little more pure?  Suppose they raid one of our energon wells in the Gulf states?"


"Then I stomp on them," Motormaster spoke up, engine revving with battlelust.  "Like the bugs they are.  Ain't nothing I can't handle, if those critters want a fight." 
Megatron's optics moved from smug Starscream to confident, deadly Motormaster.  Finally they rested on the dozen pictures of the ruined island.


"Soundwave.  Hack into whatever channel the beasts are using these days and deliver them a message.  Tell them their lord Megatron sends his greetings, and hopes that they have enjoyed their meal.  Also, that if they dare trespass on what's mine again, I will come for them and rip their overactive fuel tanks directly out of their bodies.  This is their only warning.  Have you got all that?" 


"Understood, Lord Megatron.  Message encoded, delivering now." 


"Because of course they'll listen," Starscream muttered under the hum of his systems, and promptly yelped when Megatron's fist swung up and clipped him on the jaw. 


"Talk to me about energon output."  Megatron hadn't even taken his eyes off Motormaster, ignoring Starscream's hissed curses.  "Are the wells holding steady?" 


"Thousand cubes every wee- per orn," Motormaster quickly corrected himself.  "Steady like the highway.  Don't let none of the slaves recharge 'til it's in."


"Behaving themselves?"


"More or less."  Purple optics gleamed at some unseen amusement.  "Had a little trouble with the big red one, a while back, but he shut up pretty quick when I put his sparkmate under the whip.  It was fun."  

"Do have a care to keep them alive, Stunticon," Shockwave chided.  "Energy production depends on our slave labor, and there are too few Autobots as it is."

"Don't get your wires in a twist," Motormaster drawled, in a deliberate show of disrespect that made Shockwave tense.  "They're fine; all of 'em still kicking.  Kicking and screaming, when I do it right.  But you wouldn't know about that; you like 'em meek."  

Shockwave's lone optic flashed in a brief show of irritation, all the expression that he would ever show.  

"Leaving the question of taste - or lack thereof - aside, you will be held liable for any permanent damage to the labor force of the Decepticon Empire.  Those slaves do not belong to you, Earth Commander Motormaster.  Try to remember that in the berth."

"Enough," Megatron broke in, irritably.  "Unless one of them does die, I don't care about it.  Anything else to report, Motormaster?"  

Motormaster hesitated.  "Actually..."

"Well?  What?"

"There is one thing."  From his end of the connection he flicked a switch, dismissing all the satellite caps and then summoning one fresh one.  The setting was an unremarkable one; just another human settlement in central Asia, drab and dusty as all the others.  There was really just one color that stood out.  Megatron's optics locked onto it, devouring the picture with rapt fascination.  

"Slave!"  

Soundwave's audios caught a faint scuffle in the lower level of the command room.  Ever since his arrival he'd kept a slim sliver of his attention on Jazz, though he needn't have worried.  His slave was making good on his word, and had done nothing except curl up quietly in the corner with the other Autobots.  Now Bluestreak had to squirm free of Jazz's arms, nearly tripping in his haste to scramble up to the officers' level.  When he did, he dropped to his hands and knees before Megatron, telltale doorwings trembling with fear.  

"Up."  Bluestreak scrambled to his feet, systems running at too high a pitch.  Slaves were not often called up to this level, with so much classified information spread about, and Soundwave had no need of telepathy to sense the barely-muted panic radiating off the small bot.  Megatron gripped his helm in one massive hand and forced Bluestreak to look at the satellite cap.  "Is that who I think it is?"

Bluestreak's optics took in the picture and flashed with recognition, but when he opened his mouth no sound came out.  Uncertainly he whined, and Megatron's mouth stretched into a cruel smile.

"Yes, I give you permission to speak.  Is that who I think it is?"

Shaking harder, Bluestreak nodded.  "Yes, master.  Th-that is, if you th-think it's Sideswipe, because it is and I didn't even kn-know he was on Earth I swear I didn't and I don't know why he is -"

"Permission withdrawn."

Bluestreak snapped his mouth shut hard, gaze fixed piteously on the image.  

"So here is the missing twin at last," Megatron purred.  "Imagine, he was hiding on Earth all this time.  Or did he just return because he had nowhere else to go?  Silly to think he could hide from me there.  He certainly can't run.  He's trapped on the little mudball and mine for the taking."  Idly he stroked Bluestreak on the back of his neck, and his slave shivered.  

"But my lord," Shockwave spoke up.  "It's a suspicious circumstance.  Surely he must have known he'd be seen, like this."  Indeed, the sleek red vehicle amongst a filthy bazaar of tents was impossible to miss.      

"I agree, Megatron," Starscream chimed in.  "It has to be a trick."  

"One of the last of the uncaptured Autobots in hiding, no army to back him up, not even his own brother.  What trick do I have to fear?  I think he's just lonely and desperate to reunite with his brother.  I want to reunite them as well.  I do like a matched set, after all.  Somebody tell the Combaticons to get their filthy hides over to Earth, now."

"Combaticons, departed Cybertron," Soundwave reminded him.  "Currently searching solar system, designation X-393."

Megatron scowled.  "That's right, I'd forgotten.  Motormaster, you'll have to take care of it.  Find the mech and bring him to me... mostly unharmed will do."  

Motormaster's engine revved again, a little lower-pitched.  "Lord Megatron, you know there's nothing more I'd love than to hunt down a rogue Autobot.  But that's Afghan territory; there's thousands of caves and underground tunnels.  Even the five of us couldn't explore all of it, and we have to stay at the mines to control the slaves.  Awful roads anyway.  The Combaticons would be much -"

"But the Combaticons are not here," Megatron interrupted briskly.  "And there you are, on Earth, with one of the last of the enemy hiding just a stone's throw away from you.  You're not afraid to face him, are you?"

"I'm not afraid of anything!  I'm just saying we can't -"

"I don't like the word can't, Motormaster."  Bluestreak smothered a whimper when Megatron's grip on his neck tightened.  "Can't is all I've been hearing from that pathetic has-been gestalt team ever since the war ended.  And now they've got no estate on Cybertron, no standing, no future.  Is that you want for your team?"

Motormaster slumped a little.  "No, my lord."  

"So find him.  I don't care how.  I will not have Autobots hiding on my own lands, particularly not one as dangerous as that one.  Present him to me, and perhaps one of those mine slaves you're so keen on could be yours... permanently."

Motormaster's engine rose in pitch, optics glittering with greed.  "Any one I choose?"  

"Maybe even two.  But Sideswipe first.  Make it happen."  

"Yes, my lord.  I'll hunt him down myself."  

"Dismissed."

Motormaster bowed his head, and the image flickered out of existence.  


 

 

At least, Soundwave reflected, he understood now why Jazz put up such a fuss about coming here with him.  His slave's arms were linked loosely around the little Praxian Autobot, hand rubbing in small circles between his doorwings, while Bluestreak clutched at Jazz like his life depended on it.  On his other side, Perceptor was slumped miserably against Jazz's shoulder, optics dimmed to their lowest setting.  Apparently they found solace in each other's company, even if they were forbidden to talk while in this room.  Perhaps too much solace.  Jazz was practically smothered between the two bots and seemed quite comfortable there, though Soundwave still woke from every recharge cycle to find him huddled against the far side of the berth.  

"Come."

Jazz looked up at the clipped command, shoulders slumping in resignation.  He lowered his head and nudged it gently against Bluestreak, the meaning of which Bluestreak seemed to understand right away.  He cringed and squeezed at Jazz one final time before loosening his grip, and Jazz untangled himself from his fellow Autobots before following Soundwave out of the room.

"Too much fun already, Soundwave?  It's been too long; you should pace yourself.  Did you forget what a party Decepticon high command can be?"  

Soundwave ignored that and steered Jazz out of the main corridor, into a smaller cross passage that had no traffic.  "Open mouth."

Jazz tipped his head back against the wall, disobeying.  Soundwave had a feeling Jazz was studying him, from behind that visor.  

"Coulda done this back in the command room.  Why come out here?  It's because you're afraid the other officers will take a shine to the idea and start handfeedin' their slaves too.  Yeah, that's it.  Certainly not because you don't want an audience."  

With considerable difficulty Soundwave ignored that too.  "Open mouth." 

"You're a mech that plays his cards close to the chest, aren't ya?  In more ways than one."  

Something speculative flashed across the visor, before Jazz at last opened his mouth.  Soundwave inserted the small energon treat, but did not step back when the deed was done.  He turned his hand over and stroked it softly up and down Jazz's cheek plating, and though Jazz grimaced he did not pull away.  

"Behavior, pleasing."  

"Told ya I'd be good."  

"Result, unexpected."

"Do what I have to do to see my friends."  

Soundwave would have preferred to hear that Jazz behaved himself for his sake, not for the sake of his old comrades.  Some orn, Soundwave decided, he would.  For now, let him cling to the remnants of the Autobot army; at least they kept him quiet.  

His absence would be noted, if by no other than Starscream.  He dropped his hand and started walking, in silent expectation that Jazz would follow.  He did, moving with his customary quiet tread that might have prompted Soundwave to look over his shoulder and check, were it not for the sound of clinking chains.  They returned along the main corridor, a passage that emptied into the large antechamber.  Just outside the Command Room, it was a popular gathering spot for off-duty (or bored) Decepticons.  So it was more inevitability than simple bad luck that they ran into Starscream's personal trine.  

Skywarp's optics fell on Jazz, and his engines promptly let out a long, low whistle.  "Finer in the finish, Jazz.  Lookit who found the water and wax."  

Jazz had not been following Soundwave as closely as he should.  With the kind of obnoxious disrespect seekers were famous for, Skywarp slipped between him and Soundwave and advanced a few steps, forcing Jazz back.  Jazz tipped his chin up, idle smile playing across his features.

"Have we met?"

"Cute.  The fresh paint does a great job of covering it all up, slave."  Skywarp moved to circle Jazz, optics devouring the seams and gaps in Jazz's armor.  "Sorta makes me want to do it to you all over again.  You look so very pretty."  

"You don't."

Skywarp's engine rumbled and his fists tightened, but somehow he managed to remind himself not to strike.  "Keep hiding behind your little jokes, then, but don't get too uppity.  A lick of paint and some polish doesn't change what we all know you are: a Decepticon's little - pet - whore."  

Jazz stiffened, and Skywarp tossed him a smirk before spinning on his heels to march away.  He was perhaps five long steps from Jazz, and Soundwave was reaching for Jazz's elbow, when Jazz spoke.  

"I'm sorry, Skywarp, that I can't kiss you again." 

His raised voice echoed well in the antechamber; most mechs stopped their conversations and looked up.  Skywarp almost tripped over his own feet.  "It was sweet of you to ask," Jazz continued, malicious delight dancing across the visor, "but we're over.  Accept it!  I know you're lonely in the berth at nights, but you'll get over me.  Somehow.  And one more thing: you're a big seeker.  Learn to recharge without a nightlight."  

Every mech in the room stared, riveted, while Skywarp's mouth just kept falling open.  

"I- I don't..."  He gave up fumbling for words and just lunged for Jazz's throat.  Soundwave would have intervened at that point but Thundercracker beat him to it, locking his arms around Skywarp's wings and yanking back with all his strength.  Jazz did not so much as flinch.

"I wanna kill him!"

"But you can't."

"It'll be quick!  And it'll feel so good!"

"No, it surely won't."  Thundercracker glanced warily at the stock-still Soundwave and dug his heels into the floor, dragging Skywarp back a pace.  "C'mon, Warp, let's jet while you still have half a processor to think with."  Skywarp was a large, powerful mech, but so was his wingmate, and said wingmate was used to mechhandling his team when he had to.  With a combination of physical force and probable coaxing through comm, he managed to drag Skywarp to the exit.  Meanwhile, half the room was stifling giggles.  Rumble, off in the corner, had long since collapsed with hysterical laughter.  

"Red, let's go!" Thundercracker called, and his slave hesitated.  Optics darted from the preoccupied Thundercracker to Soundwave to Jazz, and then Fireflight made up his mind and threw himself against Jazz in a frantic hug.  Jazz squeezed him affectionately in return, the two of them savoring a nanoklik of contact before Fireflight tore himself away and raced after his master.  Once all three were gone, Jazz linked his hands and stretched, looking terribly pleased with himself.  

"Good behavior promised," Soundwave reminded him.  

"Oh, but that doesn't count.  That was just... unfinished business.  Don't pretend to be mad, because I know you're not."  

It was true that Soundwave was not really angry.  In fact, it was impossible to ignore the sheer hilarity flowing in from Rumble's link.  Jazz's antics amused.  

"Game, concluded?  Victor?"

"You insult me by asking."  Jazz skirted around Soundwave, never dropping his gaze.  "Skywarp didn't even know we were playing one.  No challenge at all."

"And me?"

"I think you know the answer to that."  He tipped his head toward the command room.  "Shall we?"


 


"People of Earth, your Lord Megatron greets you.  No, I haven't forgotten your insignificant existence, I just find your species far too tedious to pay you much attention.  But make no mistake, my Decepticons are watching you.

 
"They report that you are behaving yourselves: keeping to your permitted territories, staying away from my wells, paying my soldiers on Earth with the respect and services they deserve.  This pleases me, and that should be a great relief to you.  To subjects that know their place and obey their true lord, I am generous.  To those subjects that forget their place, I am less so.  Recently, I have come to learn that one of the enemy, a renegade Autobot, has been hiding there on your planet.  Where, exactly?  How long?  I don't know.  But I do know that your species, so irritatingly numerous and small enough to be everywhere, must have known.  Whatever his disguise, whatever his speed, some of you somewhere saw him and you knew.  This disappoints me.  


"You don't want me to be disappointed, little humans.  Fragile, delicate, humans.  My soldiers are searching Earth now for this Autobot, and you will help them however you are ordered.  Should you see the fugitive mech, you will promptly report it.  Any human found offering shelter, aid, or fuel to him will be summarily tossed into a volcano, along with your family.  Even you humans, with your pitifully short lives and memories, know what I am capable of when I am not feeling generous.  


"You have your warning.  Don't disappoint me again."  

Megatron snapped his fingers and Soundwave ended the recording, bundling the video into a high-resolution packet for transmission to Earth.  Decepticon control of the satellites ensured it would appear simultaneously on all media, including the wide-scale holographic projectors over human city skylines.  Megatron only rarely bothered to acknowledge his tiny organic subjects, but when he did, he expected them to watch with undivided attention.  He also expected them to obey.  Earth's humans had a history of working too well with the Autobots, sometimes even providing an unexpected tipping point for victory.  He would not let them shelter Sideswipe from his eager grasp.  

"If you're through preening to the humans," Starscream sneered, "I will again point out that there is more going on here than what it seems."

"You'd know about preening," Megatron retorted.  "Jealous that you couldn't strut before the people of Earth, Starscream?  As if you could even bring yourself to do it as you are.  Nice paintjob."

Starscream glowered.  "That Autobot is not a fool," he snarled.  "He knows the satellites are watching.  He knows the danger.  Why show himself?  Why risk capture?"

"Why assume that I care?"  Dismissively Megatron turned his back.  "What I do know is that he is alone, trapped, and excessively outnumbered.  These are the things that matter; others don't.  Perhaps when I have him chained up alongside his brother, I'll get around to asking him your questions, and since you care so much, I'll even tell you his answers.  Would that make you happy, Starscream?"

"You know what would make me happy."  Those wings stiffened, jutting at a slightly higher angle than usual.  "Three slaves for your berth, Megatron?  Our mighty leader is generous, no doubt... to himself.  And yet you insist the energon wells can't spare the one Autobot that I -"

"Lord Megatron, permission to speak," Soundwave interrupted, almost hastily.  He disliked standing in the midst of Megatron and Starscream's crossfire at any time, but it was especially unpleasant when the subject of Skyfire came up.

"What is it, Soundwave?"

"Conclusion of active cycle drawing near, analysis of fresh surveillance required.  Dismissal possible?"

Megatron waved a disinterested hand.  "Yes, yes, you're free to go.  I'll call for you again when I need you." 

There was no indication that he was expected to return to High Command the next cycle, which left Soundwave relieved.  He bowed and retreated down the steps, eager to collect Jazz and leave the room before things turned violent. 

"I grow weary of you pestering me with this matter, Starscream."  Megatron's voice dipped darker, skimming just over the warning zone.  "You know the rules.  The largest of the slaves stay on Earth, they are too difficult to handle -"

"He's never even carried a weapon!" Starscream shrieked.  "He is just a scientist, peaceful and obedient, and if you would let me -"

"Come," Soundwave instructed Jazz, who was again curled up with the other slaves by the wall.  The argument was getting louder, and carried down well to the ground level.  

"Let you what, Starscream?  Take what you want?  Who is the leader and who is the soldier?  You take what I give you and you will be grateful for it, or you'll learn to make do with nothing at all."

"Don't you dare threaten me!  I am Supreme Air Commander of Cybertron, I deserve the best, and that pathetic little red bot isn't it."  

Perceptor whimpered when Jazz tried to stand, and clutched at his arm a little more tightly.  Jazz's vocalizer hummed a low, soothing sound and he gently pried off Perceptor's hand, squeezing it comfortingly.  He was taking too long; Soundwave had to grasp Jazz's shoulder to pull him away.

"I'll show you what you deserve."  An ugly crack of metal on metal signaled the end of Megatron's patience.  Starscream stumbled back, hand on face, seething with quiet fury.  At the same time, Jazz uttered a nearly inaudible whine of protest at being torn from his friend.  Impatiently Soundwave dragged him away, and Jazz stumbled along reluctantly.  Too late.    

"Just a moment, Soundwave."

The tone was languid, Megatron idly rolling his hand to loosen the joints, but the words were an order.  Obediently Soundwave stopped in his tracks.  Blithely ignoring the hissing, sputtering Starscream, Megatron's optics zeroed in on Jazz.  "Something is different.  Didn't I give that one to Skywarp?"  

Soundwave resisted the brief temptation to step between them, blocking Jazz from Megatron's view.  "Engaged Skywarp in trabacc game," he explained.  "Jazz, prize won."  

"Trabacc game," Megatron echoed in disbelief, descending one step at a time.  "You played a card game.... and won a slave for your prize."  Unexpectedly he threw back his head and bellowed with laughter, triggering a chorus of snickers from around the room.  Soundwave sensed Jazz tensing beside him.  

"Oh, it's so delicious.  The proud soldier, traded like a pile of chips across the table.  This must be killing you, Autobot."  His optics narrowed with malicious delight.  "I know it would have killed Prime."  

"Strange," Jazz said evenly, not missing a beat.  "I thought it took a cowardly cannon shot, aimed at the fuel spill from which he was desperately trying to rescue his sparkmate, to kill Prime.  Silly me."

Megatron's smile switched off like a light, and Soundwave didn't even have time to speak before he'd closed the distance between them.  He hooked one large finger through Jazz's collar and yanked him forward, making Jazz stumble, and did not let go.

"Still with the quips, little slave?  How quickly you've forgotten your lessons... and I do remember teaching you so many.  Go ahead now, if you're so determined to run your mouth.  Tell me what you really think of me."  The collars were a snug fit to begin with.  The strain against Jazz's neck must have been painful, but he made no sounds of distress.  Somehow, he met Megatron's stare and did not drop his gaze.

"I imagine, Herr Megatron, that everyone in this room knows exactly what I think of you."  

"Insolent glitch-mouse."  Megatron flexed his grip on the collar, doing something that made Jazz wince and clench his fists.  "Your precious leader is dead.  So is much of your army, and whatever cause made any of you think you could take up arms and fight me.  You live because I was generous enough to let you live, and you serve your Decepticon masters because you are grateful for my generosity.  So show me your gratitude."

"If you're asking whether I prefer your touch to death..."  Jazz's vocalizer had become strained with static; too much pressure was bearing on his neck.  "Are you sure you want me to answer in front of your soldiers?"  

Soundwave's acute hearing picked up on Starscream's smothered giggle, and he tried to subdue his own growing anxiety.  A low, dangerous growl was welling up out of Megatron's throat.  

"Last chance, slave."  He made a show of glancing over at the corner, where a terrified Bluestreak watched them both.  "Are you curious as to how loud I can make him scream tonight?  I'll bring you home, and you can watch." 

Something flashed across Jazz's visor, that Soundwave had never seen before.  Jazz hadn't shown it for Skywarp, and he hadn't shown it for him, but he was showing it for Megatron: pure, sharp hatred.  There was something almost eerie about the vicious glint, combined with the way he dropped his shoulders in submission.  

"I am grateful," he whispered hoarsely, looking ready to choke on his own words.  Megatron's lips curved into a cruel, satisfied smile, and Soundwave relaxed.  

"That's more like it."  At last he uncurled his finger from around the collar, only to nudge it against Jazz's lips.  The struts in Jazz's back tightened, but he did not try to jerk his head away.  Neither did he shutter his visor.  Still meeting Megatron stare for stare, Jazz obediently opened his mouth and took it in.  More snickers from their audience.  Megatron's optics were glittering with sadistic glee, gliding his finger in and out of Jazz's mouth, and to Soundwave's surprise and no small dismay, Jazz willingly suckled and licked at it like a perfectly trained slave.  It seemed forever until Megatron withdrew completely.  

"Good little slave.  It's all you Autobots will ever be."  

Air exhaled from Jazz's vents and his fists unclenched themselves.  If Soundwave had not learned to watch him so closely, he might have missed the tiny flicker of a smile that could best be described as sinister.  

"E pur si muove, Herr Megatron.  E pur si muove."  

Soundwave stopped relaxing.  Megatron, who had been looking so pleased with himself, froze and shot Jazz a murderous glare.  He had no idea what the words meant, as was painfully obvious to the rest of the room, and Megatron did not appreciate being made to look a fool anymore than Skywarp did.  His response was swift and unhesitating.  One backhand was hard enough to knock Jazz to the floor, almost spinning him completely around.  He caught himself with his hands, gasping a little at the suddenness of it, but otherwise kept quiet.  He also had the good sense to stay right where he was, even when Megatron dug a massive foot into Jazz's back.  

"This one still has too much attitude, Soundwave.  Crush it, or I will.  I don't mind taking him back to my chambers for a few more 'lessons'."  

Soundwave bowed.  "Understood, Lord Megatron."    

"Good."  He dug his weight a little more deeply into Jazz before removing his foot, allowing Jazz to scramble away.  "Dismissed."  

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

 

The first thing Jazz did, when the doors closed behind them, was spit out a mouthful of fluid.  Hands shaking, he dragged an arm across his lips and tried to remove the last of Megatron's taste.  Rather more of him than his hands was shaking, actually, and for a moment Soundwave was concerned he would collapse right there in the hall.  

He touched his shoulder, and Jazz flinched violently away.  "Can we not play right now, Soundwave?" he whispered, the occasional crackle of static still lacing his voice.  "M'not really in the mood."  

Frustration kindled within Soundwave at Jazz's reaction.  All his hard work, his petting and handfeeding, had just been undone in a matter of nanokliks.  He would have to begin again.  When he tried to grasp Jazz's chin for examination, Jazz shied away and had to be steered into a wall before Soundwave could hold him still.  

"Damage sustained?"  

"What do you care?"  Jazz tried to look away; again Soundwave grasped his chin and forced his face up.

"Jazz, mine," he reminded his slave rather tersely, and brushed light fingertips over the harsh scrape on his cheek.  Jazz winced slightly, visor shuttering.  "Damage extensive?  Internal?"  

"Worried about me?  How disturbingly sweet of you.  Don't bother; Megatron's given me worse."  

Soundwave elected not to ask for details.  Instead he ran a quick scan, the same scan he used to study his little symbiotes after they trounced one another in a particularly violent scuffle.  Jazz's internals came up clean; his newly salvaged self-repair could take care of the scraped dermal plating.  

Jazz twitched when his fingers glided southward from his face, over the far more vulnerable exposed wires in his neck.  Carefully Soundwave examined each of them, checking for any damage Megatron might have inflicted there under the collar.  His touch was entirely clinical, without sensual intentions, but Jazz whimpered and pressed himself back against the wall.

"Remain still," Soundwave ordered impatiently.  "No harm intended." 

"You feel like him."

The words were a murmur, barely audible, but they surprised Soundwave out of his task.  Jazz was holding himself rigidly still under Soundwave's fingertips.  

"After he's touched me, after his vents breathe his hot air on me, everything feels like him.  He would be so pleased to know it, I'm sure."

"Should not have provoked Lord Megatron," Soundwave reprimanded, still annoyed at Jazz's behavior.  "Promise broken.  Disrespect, unwise."

"So very sorry, Master."  Jazz's visor flickered on again, dark and humorless smile playing at his lips.  "It seems that my lord Megatron brings out my naughty side.  If I hold my chin up and make him angry for even a sparkbeat, then it's worth every disgusting finger he puts on me.  Or in me, as the case may be.  Don't be jealous.  I am playing a very different game with him."

"Jealousy, inaccurate," Soundwave informed him promptly and coldly.  "Disappointment, accurate.  Better behavior expected."  

"And let Megatron think he's won?"

"Megatron has won."

Jazz's macabre attempt at a smile dropped at Soundwave's matter-of-fact response, all his struts sinking like metal framework on swampy earth.  That's when Soundwave noticed his hands were still shaking.  Just what was Jazz struggling to control?  Fury, or fear?  

"Yes," Jazz whispered.  "I know.  He is the king, and I am the slave.  I know he won."  

His vents let out a rather shaky gust of air.  Suddenly Jazz seemed so small, and sad.  Soundwave's irritation was eroding; it was impossible to be angry at such a pitiful sight.  He moved to lightly caress Jazz's face, and stifled a sigh when Jazz flinched away.  

"Come.  Return home now; your rest, necessary."

"A world without Megatron, necessary," Jazz mumbled.  Soundwave, as always, ignored him.


 

 

By the time Soundwave had returned home, touching down neatly on his balcony before allowing Jazz to push himself free, he'd become concerned about Jazz's dark mood.  He hadn't said a word since their conversation in the hall, passing by several Decepticons without comment, and didn't even protest when Soundwave scooped him up in his arms for the flight home.  Now he shuffled inside and headed straight for his usual corner, not even caring that he still wore his chains.  

"Thanks for the field trip, master.  Never had so much fun.  I'm just gonna curl up and- hey!"  Jazz pulled away in startled reflex when Soundwave hauled him backward, but he held Jazz fast by one arm while he unlocked the chain cuffs.  

"Come."  Keeping a firm grasp on his slave, he tugged him into the washracks.  

"Oh not this again.  You said I could rest!"  

"Bathe first.  Exposure to outdoors necessitates cleaning.  Hold still."

Jazz huffed in exasperation, but didn't seem interested in fighting back.  Obediently he stood under the gushing streams of warm solvent while Soundwave glided the foam brush over his armor, spreading soap in long and languid circles.  Every now and then Jazz twitched with discomfort when the brush skimmed along an edge, but he didn't try to push it away.  When Soundwave instructed him to, he lifted his arms and turned around.  Soundwave was relentless, scrubbing every last inch of that armor, cleaning off his slave any possible trace of whatever - or whomever - he'd touched while outside.  After he'd finished soaping down Jazz's body, he turned him around again and set his attention on Jazz's face.  He chose a soft sponge, an organic product imported from Earth, for the more sensitive plating and passed it gently over the damaged area.  Jazz didn't like that and hissed with pain, trying to pull his head clear, but Soundwave was insistent.  Thorough cleaning would make self-repair faster and more effective.  Finally, he forced open Jazz's mouth and tilted his head back, ensuring that a good mouthful of solvent splashed inside before releasing Jazz so he could spit it all back out.  

Then he switched off the flow.

Jazz was busy trying to cough up the last of the liquid, but his systems sputtered a little extra when Soundwave turned off the wash.  

"Aren't- aren't you going to make me clean you?"

"Negative.  Come."

He did not pull Jazz along by force this time.  Looking a shade confused, Jazz followed on his own, back out into the front room.  Their new colony Earth had become a popular source for many exotic products, things Decepticons had developed a taste for while stationed there, particularly his Decepticons.  This soft angora drying cloth of Ravage's, for example, which he now applied to Jazz's armor.  Jazz flinched again, but not quite so much, at the light and airy material gliding across his armor.  Soundwave dried him as thoroughly as he'd washed him, noting in passing that he could see his own reflection in the surface.  Jazz probably didn't even need a polish... but it wouldn't hurt, either.

Jazz stiffened when Soundwave nudged him up to the couch, and had to be pushed down onto it.  "Why are you doing this, Soundwave?  I thought you were angry."

"Slave will not question master."  

He opened a tin of Frenzy's favorite wax, a botanical concoction from South America, and sat next to Jazz.  His slave promptly scooted away, pushing himself into the corner of the couch, legs drawn up protectively.  Soundwave pulled them away, and pressed the cloth against his chest, rubbing in smooth circles.  Jazz grimaced and pressed himself deeper into the cushions.

"Stop," Jazz tried again.  "You- you're the master, or didn't you get the memo?  You're not supposed to be doing this to me, you're supposed to just hit me and throw me in the corner and forget about me."

"Soundwave, master.  Jazz, mine.  I will decide what to do with you."  

Around and over each headlight he moved, occasionally refreshing the cloth with more wax.  He could hear and feel the systems underneath his hands fluctuating, revving with Jazz's uncertainty and then quieting with his exhaustion.  The day had been stressful for them both.  

When he reached the seam around Jazz's left shoulder, he slipped his fingers inside and applied strong, smooth pressure to the inner cabling.  Jazz stiffened with surprise, but he also couldn't quite smother a small moan deep within his vocalizer.  Soundwave repeated the motion, and was rewarded with a louder moan.  The massage was meant to be more soothing than seductive, and he could feel Jazz relaxing under the touch.  Avoiding the neck, he swept around Jazz's collar edge and did the same for his right shoulder.  

The rumbling of Jazz's motors subsided into a low hum, and his vents drooped to narrow slits.  

"H-how are you doing this?"

"Practice."

Indeed, Soundwave had performed this same task for his symbiotes thousands of times.  He swept his polishing cloth down the length of Jazz's arm, and paused there to massage the joints in his wrists.  This time Jazz didn't even try to hold back a moan.  

"Okay, stop, I'll talk!"  Vaguely Jazz tried to tug his hand away; effortlessly Soundwave held on.  "I give, I give.  I'll tell you anything you want to know."  

A joke; his mood was improving.  Pleased with himself, Soundwave resisted asking Jazz whether his touch felt like Megatron now, and just moved on to give his other arm the same treatment.  Jazz was no longer pushing himself back from Soundwave.  Visor half-shuttered, he simply rested there quietly while Soundwave rubbed therapeutic strokes into the wires of his joints.  

After a while, Soundwave returned to Jazz's chest.  He polished down to the waist before skipping completely over the erogenous hip joints, for he was not interested in frightening Jazz just now.  Instead he concentrated on polishing his legs, edging backward and drawing Jazz's legs out straight as he did so.  Jazz crooned softly under his systems' hum when he massaged the wires of his knee joints, light in his visor dimming still further, and a satisfied Soundwave glided the polishing cloth down his calves to the last joints.  When he slipped his thumb inside Jazz's ankle joint, however, something different happened.  White light flaring across his visor, Jazz yelped and sat up straight.  

"Ah!  Not there, not there!"  

Surprised, Soundwave tilted his head to one side and studied Jazz.  "Explain."  

"Does it really matter?"  He tried to pull his pede out of Soundwave's grasp, unsuccessfully.  "Ugh, fine.  If you must know, I might - perhaps - be just a little bit ticklish in those joints."  

Ticklish?  That was interesting information.  Soundwave drew his thumb lightly up and down a sensory wire and Jazz bucked helplessly against the cushions, a short bark of laughter escaping before he could clamp his mouth shut.  "S-stop, please!"

The dark melancholy had evaporated like smoke.  Jazz wasn't just smiling but he was laughing, a bright and musical sound in the quiet loft.  Soundwave relished it.  Mercilessly he attacked Jazz's ankle and Jazz writhed helplessly against the cushions, alternately begging Soundwave to stop and gasping for the air that his intakes could not draw in quickly enough. 

At last, Soundwave withdrew.  While Jazz still struggled to normalize his temperature, Soundwave crawled back up along his body, taking care not to smother the already overheated little bot.  Light flickered wanly across the visor before focusing on Soundwave's face just over his.  

"You're despicable," he wheezed.  "And a total failure.  What kind of Decepticon tickles his prisoner?  Pathetic."  

"Jazz, mine."  He traced a fingertip along Jazz's jawline, experiencing no small amount of smug satisfaction when Jazz did not flinch.  "Mine to play with.  So we play."  

"There is something undeniably sick about that."  That meager light extinguished itself, and Soundwave heard the overaccelerated engines drop a few notches.  He'd be slipping into recharge any moment now.  "But I can't be bothered to get angry about it.  Just let me take a nap in peace, would you?"

"Request granted."  

A final full gust of air escaped his vents in something like a sigh, before Jazz's internals had cooled enough to let them fall shut again.  Within two kliks, he was well and truly deep in recharge.  Soundwave settled himself on top of him, warm and comfortable, and for the first time all day, he was content.


 


He was still on the couch when the twins returned a short while later.  Jazz's pedes rested in his lap and Soundwave idly rubbed them, enjoying the chance to do so while Jazz was asleep and couldn't squirm away.  He was savoring the peace and quiet, which of course Rumble and Frenzy promptly ruined.  

"Hey boss!"

"We're home!"

"What's up?"

"Recovering from your big trip out into the world?"  

"Lower voices," Soundwave ordered, reluctant to move from his place.  

"Huh?"

"Why?"  

With simultaneous grunts of effort, the pair jumped up high enough to sling themselves over the arm of the couch, grinning merrily until they caught sight of Jazz.  

"Ohhh."  

"How cute.  Soundwave put the Autobot down for a nap."  

"We sure wouldn't want to wake him, would we, Rumble?"

"No we would not, Frenzy.  That would be awful."  

"Terrible."  

"Don't," Soundwave said crisply.  "Rest, necessary.  Orn, difficult, stressful."  

"...yeah," Rumble drawled, his optics on Soundwave's hand still rubbing at one of Jazz's pedes.  "I'm sure he wore himself right out, tossing around all those insults.  Not like you had to take him, ya know."  

"Activity, preferable for health."

"Tell that to the dent in his face."

"Whoa, harsh."  Frenzy tipped half over the couch arm, examining Jazz's face curiously.  "What'd I miss, anyway?"  

"He totally told Megatron off," Rumble answered gleefully.  "It was kinda awesome, in a get-yourself-slagged sort of way.  Jazz does it better than Starscream.  Except I didn't get some of it.  What was that word he kept calling Megatron, anyway?  Hair?"  

"Herr," Soundwave corrected.  "Earthling form of address; language, German.  Historical implications, numerous."  

"Another Earth language?"  Frenzy snorted contemptuously.

"Planet's got too slagging many of 'em," Rumble complained.  "Who would ever bother to download 'em all?  Except you, of course.  And Jazz, I guess.  What was that other gobbledygook?"

"Italian.  Translation..."  Soundwave hesitated.  "And yet it moves."  

"Huh?" they chanted together, right on cue.  Twin baffled looks went from Jazz back to him.

"Yet what moves?"

"And moves where?"

"Meaning, unclear," Soundwave admitted.  

"It doesn't even make sense," Rumble grumped.  "Look, Soundwave, we didn't want to tell you this -"  Soundwave strongly doubted that.  "- but we think your new toy is a little glitched in the head.  He says all this weird stuff, and he smiles, and makes jokes, and it's all wrong!  The other slaves aren't like that.  They're depressed.  They should be depressed.  And he's not."  

Soundwave's hands stopped moving, and he looked straight at Rumble.  "Query: you want Jazz to be depressed?"  

Rumble realized he'd just said something rather stupid, and Soundwave could sense his frantic mental backpedaling.  "Uhh... well, no, of course I don't.  I mean- we don't.  It's just, you know, not what you'd expect from someone in his place.  So why is he like that?"

Soundwave thought of Jazz shaking in the hallway, after the encounter with Megatron, so small and fragile it was like he'd break into a thousand pieces.  How many times, he wondered, had he come close to completely shattering?   

"Possible answer: Autobot not like that.  Jazz, skilled pretender.  Perhaps more so than most can even guess."    



It was three cycles after his visit to Central Command that Soundwave concluded Ravage had become a problem.  By now, both the elder and younger twins had accepted his orders to return and recharge inside him.  None of the four were any happier about Jazz's presence in the loft, but they were learning to cope with - or ignore - the new arrival.  Only Ravage, the oldest, the most loyal, and the most self-destructively stubborn of his team, had not obeyed.  Not only had he not come seeking recharge with Soundwave, he hadn't even come home.  In the past orn, he had not so much as returned to upload surveillance.  The program designed to sync with Ravage had begun to flash warning messages, which triggered emotional subroutines of distress and anxiety.  Soundwave struggled to override them, periodically checking Ravage's location via cameras and assuring himself that he was healthy and safe, but the programming of a carrier model ran deep.  The strain of separation darkened his mood, which only echoed back to Ravage and all his other symbiotes besides, multiplying the problem fivefold.    

Enough, Soundwave decided, was enough.  At the conclusion of his morning duties, after properly sorting through the nocturnal surveillance data and posting his report to Megatron, he turned off his console and left the work room.  Jazz looked up expectantly.  

"No hax today," he announced, before Jazz could speak a word.  "Fetch chains." 


Blue light lit up within the visor.  "We're going to HQ again?" 


"Negative, small errand only.  No Autobots." 


"Oh.  In that case, I'm not interested."  Jazz slumped back down on the floor and returned to pecking at his datapad.  "You can go without me." 


"Order given." 


"Order being ignored." 


Soundwave suppressed a surge of exasperation and crossed the room in three long steps, hauling Jazz to his feet by one arm.  Jazz didn't fight it, not at all surprised by Soundwave's reaction, but he still rolled an annoyed sound through his vocalizer. 

"Order given," Soundwave repeated coldly.  "Fetch chains."


"You were ready enough to leave me behind last time!  Why do I have to come now?  I don't actually enjoy being dragged around Iacon on a leash, you know." 


He tried to push himself clear of Soundwave; Soundwave grasped his chin and tilted it up, almost far enough to put a painful strain on Jazz's neck cables but not quite. 


"Your presence desired.  Your observation, educational.  You will come.  Fetch chains."

 
He released Jazz with an abrupt twist that nearly cost Jazz his balance.  He quickly sidled away, watching Soundwave warily, finally picking up on his master's bad mood.  "Is it something I said?  Because, you know, I need to keep track of whatever it is that can make you this mad, and say it again sometime."  

Impatiently Soundwave snapped his fingers and pointed.  Looking some mixture of annoyed, frustrated, and curious, Jazz gave up on needling him and collected his chains.  Things between them had been hovering at some new and uneasy level since their session on the couch.  Soundwave might have been able to coax Jazz out his misery with his hands, that day, but after waking up Jazz didn't seem any more inclined toward his touch than before.  If anything, he held himself even more aloof, perhaps quietly mortified that he'd been tickled into submission by a Decepticon.  As if to compensate, he didn't let a breem go by without tossing out some light insult, all of which Soundwave steadfastly ignored.  The situation was not helping his mood, and when Jazz returned with his manacles, he slapped them on with a shade more force than was necessary.  Without a word, he tugged Jazz forward and started walking.  

 


Cybertron was not completely repaired.  Sometimes it was easy to forget that, traveling the busy streets of Iacon, watching the swirl of civilians beneath him, lights glittering along the neat and orderly lines of a new power grid.  But turn aside from the central avenues, and those lines became sparser, or stopped altogether.  The shadowy blocks between them were the decayed and forgotten ruins of yesterday's Cybertron: half-destroyed buildings pockmarked with sniper shots, piles of rubble, all of it liberally coated in ash and soot.  The shadows went deep, and they were silent.  But Soundwave knew Ravage was lurking here.  He could feel him, a roving blot of self-righteous sulk that bared its fangs at every attempted mental connection.

"Come," Soundwave commanded, standing immobile amidst the debris.  "Your presence known; I will find you.  Come now."  

A hostile snarl across the link was his only response, and the noisy tangle of angry cassetticon started to fade.  Ravage was on the move, trying to run away.  

"Escape futile.  Suggestion, do not make it worse by trying."

Mentally, Ravage hissed something snide, presence sifting away like the ash blowing around Soundwave's pedes.  Promptly Soundwave followed at a brisk clip, long strides devouring the distance.  One program tagged to monitor Jazz noted that his slave had to scurry to keep up, but was moving with his usual silent grace.  He hadn't opened his mouth since they left the last powered avenue, taking a cue from Soundwave to keep silent in spite of his clearly visible curiosity.  

Ravage tried to trick him, breaking sharply to the left after a hard sprint to the north, but Soundwave's grip on their link was unbreakable.  Swiftly he slipped around the husk of some bombed building, blocking Ravage's intended route, and was rewarded with a brief flash of panic before Ravage's renewed determination masked it.  He still hadn't laid eyes on the obstinate little creature, but his audios picked out a faint, brief scrabble of claws against metal.  

"Soundwave, master.  Ravage, mine.  Come now."  

A feline growl rolled into his mind, rich with spiteful repudiation and pretended independence.  Cautiously, Soundwave sidled closer to the shelled remains of an old factory.  Much of its walls and all its roof were stripped away, baring it to the open sky, but the old assembly drones and belts remained.  Ravage was here, the nearness of his small spark crying out to Soundwave's, but Ravage himself still refused to come forth.  Soundwave turned a slow circle, scanning the darkness, audios alert for any noise.  Ravage, though, was simply too good at infiltration and espionage to be caught so easily.  One with the shadows, he slipped around Soundwave, all his thoughts coiling in preparation.  

Soundwave assumed it was another bolt to escape, until he finished his turn and saw Jazz again, watching him nervously and standing far too close to a deep pocket of darkness.  He did not even have the chance to verbalize a warning before Ravage leapt, splitting the silence with a hunter's screech.  Jazz yelped and hit the dirt without a nanoklik to spare, just missing Ravage's deadly sharp claws, then pushed himself to roll aside before Ravage could pounce again and pin him.  His reflexes were fast, but he didn't have a hope of defending himself in his chains.  When Ravage gathered himself to attack again, Soundwave scooped him up and tossed him lightly across the factory floor, putting a safer distance between his two possessions.  Jazz, vents wheezing, scrambled into a wary crouch while Ravage paced back and forth, now growling aloud.  

"Unacceptable," Soundwave snapped, moving between them.  "Stop, now.  Return." 

Ravage hissed, red glow of his optics still locked on Jazz.  Some blend of outsider/prey/attack flowed into Soundwave's mind, and he spread his arms a little wider, moving in on his bristling cassetticon.  

"Soundwave, master.  Ravage, mine.  Return."    

Struts rippled under Ravage's armor plates and claws flexed against the ground, betraying his eagerness to sink them into Jazz.  Kill/destroy/eliminate!  

"Negative," Soundwave countered.  "Autobot mine.  Accept."  

Refusal echoed wildly in the link between them.  

"Order given.  Ravage, mine.  Obey."  

A haughty dismissal was all Ravage spared him before he sprang for another attack on Jazz.  This time Soundwave was prepared, and blocked him sharply with a swipe of the arm.  Ravage tumbled backward heels over head, and screeched at the indignity.  Now hurt and jealousy welled up in the connection, but Soundwave did not relent.  

"Autobot irrelevant.  Obey master, obey orders.  Ravage mine; submission inevitable."  

An ancient streak of rebelliousness surfaced just then, and Ravage tried to startle him with a surprise attack.  Unhesitatingly Soundwave slammed him into the ground and pinned him there, a massive hand clamped around Ravage's muzzle.  Soundwave abandoned words at that point and flooded his symbiote with thousands of images and sounds, all of them streaming from archived memory files. 

Unclaimed symbiote/lost/unfueled/alone/vulnerable/found/fed/tried to run/found/tried to fight/conquered/fed/tried to run/found/tried to resist/tamed/tried to disobey/trained/given home/shelter/security/obedience given/loyalty given/resistance futile/soundwave home/soundwave master/soundwave everything.  

Ravage had stopped fighting.  Under the rapid fire assault of data he trembled and cowered, growl now more of a pleading whine.  Soundwave relaxed his grip, but did not let go just yet.  

"Soundwave master.  Ravage mine."

This time there was no resistance, no denial.  That battle had been fought long ago.  Ravage whined again, supplicatingly, and Soundwave let go of his face that he might stroke a gentle hand along his jaw.  

"Autobot, not a threat.  Accept."  

Outsider/death/sorrow/darkness was the confused response, thick and muddy with worry.  Soundwave was not surprised, even if it did not excuse Ravage's attack.  They were all worried for him, and Ravage most of all.  

"Concern unnecessary," he assured his symbiote.  "Outcome, different.  Autobot not a threat."  

Ravage was not one to change his mind easily, but he was also exhausted.  Everything in his body was screaming at him to fold up and recharge inside his carrier, craving the synchronization he needed, and Ravage could resist it no more.  Soundwave felt his argument wobble, and then topple over with reluctant submission.  If Soundwave said it would be different, then it would be different.  Ravage would obey, and accept.  

Soundwave opened his chest, and the weary Ravage folded up and tucked himself inside.  Abruptly aware of his own dropping energy levels, Soundwave expelled hot air through his vents and stood.  Jazz was sitting pressed back against the nearest wall, visor fixed on Soundwave with a kind of horrified fascination, hands shaking as they clenched shut around his chains.  

"Ravage now subdued.  Lesson, taken?"   

"Go to hell, Soundwave," Jazz whispered.  "I'm not one of your cassettes."

"What you are," Soundwave replied, careful to pronounce every word, "is mine."

 


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

 

"Donc, qu'est-ce que c'est?"

It was the first Jazz had spoken in several joors.  For most of the cycle he'd been uncharacteristically, if unsurprisingly, quiet, since Soundwave's... demonstration.  They had returned from the unrepaired sectors in a rather frigid silence.  But now the day was close to its end, and Ravage out of his chest, if not exactly out of recharge.  Draped like liquid feline across his lap, Ravage was too deep under to even twitch an audio at the sound of Jazz's voice.  His low, steady purr vibrated against Soundwave's armor.  Soundwave looked up at Jazz, tucked away in his corner, one hand still polishing Ravage in smooth, gentle circles.  

"So, what is it?"  

Jazz was sprawled out on his front, idling a stylus in one hand, but he wasn't paying attention to his puzzles.  He was studying Soundwave instead, Soundwave and the little mechs piled up on him.  "Is it jealousy?" he continued, sticking to French.  "Is that why your pet demon cat tried to shred me to ribbons this morning?  Are they afraid I'll take you away from them?  Because as far as I'm concerned, they can keep you."  

"What's he saying?" Frenzy mumbled, face mostly obscured thanks to wedging himself between Soundwave and Ravage.

"Who cares?" Rumble added, from atop his brother.  "Tell 'im to shut up, Soundwave."  

The twins had picked up an echo of his own exhaustion this orn, and they also felt the contented nurturing washing back and forth between himself and Ravage.  Nothing if not self-indulgent, they'd practically thrown themselves at their master the nanoklick they returned home, and now all they wanted was to curl up against him and bask in that warmth.  Talking of any kind, particularly on Jazz's part, was not welcome.

"Negative," Soundwave finally answered.  "Assessment incorrect.  Distrust, more accurate."  

"Because I am so very much a threat to you?  I wish.  What do they know that I don't?"

Soundwave felt somewhat caught out by his own admission, an unusual circumstance.  He picked his words carefully.  "Distrust, without reason.  Misplaced."  

"Distrust accurate, but inaccurate?"  Jazz chuckled.  "So, you're saying they're wrong about their own feelings.  Funny how Ravage seemed very sure."

"Misplaced," Soundwave repeated firmly.    

"I don't believe you."  Something in that visor gleamed with rapt interest.  "But I also don't think you're lying.  Une mystère."  

He lowered his chin to rest on his folded arms, gaze fixed on his master, still studying him, still trying to solve him like the forgotten puzzles on the floor, and Soundwave should not have been so disconcerted to know it.  He returned his attention to Ravage's armor, already polished to the sheen of obsidian.  

"Welcome to the house of Soundwave," Jazz murmured.  "He'll pound you into the ground for defiance, but always washes you off and gives you a good buffing afterwards.  The best master any mech could ask for."  

"Soundwaaave," whined his two little mechs in unison.  

"Jazz, quiet."  

"Oui, maître."  Jazz rolled up onto his side, still absorbed in the sight on the couch.  "I can see this is important; I wouldn't want to interrupt.  Better them than me, anyway."

"Your turn, coming soon."

A tiny sigh.  "I am warned," Jazz said softly, and finished rolling over onto his back, visor flickering off.

You are guaranteed, Soundwave thought, and rested a large hand on Ravage's head.  After all, in this household, resistance never made it very far.  

 


 


Transmission signal sent.  

Target frequency located.  

Constructicon, Hook successfully hailed.  

Transmission signal accepted.  

"Soundwave, sir.  What, uh, can I do for you?"

"Modified energon nearing depletion."

"The wha... those crystallized treats for the Autobot, you mean?  What about it?"

"Replenishment required."

"I doubt he needs any more of it.  His fuel intakes have had more than enough time to adjust by now, I'm sure he can take liquid energon by the cube like any other mech."

"Replenishment required."

"Look, Soundwave, I can take a look at him if you like, but I saw this hundreds of times in the war.  His systems are bound to be back in line, so long as you kept to the schedule I gave you."  

"Orders followed exactly.  But parameter irrelevant; replenishment required.  Now."  

"Uh, yes sir.  I'll comm Mixmaster directly, and we'll have a fresh batch prepped by the end of the active cycle.  So you, uh, just want him to keep fueling this way?  These things aren't cheap, you know.  Any particular reason?"

"Explanation, unnecessary."

"None of my business, right.  Well, how about something that is more my business?  How's his health in general?  Are his energy levels back up?  Recharging through the night yet?"  

"Affirmative.  Autobot energy reading, standard.  Recharge duration, standard.  Reflexes, proven."

"How you know that last one, I probably don't want to know, but now that you've mentioned it, I want to talk about physical activity.  Is he getting any exercise?  Outside the berth, that is?"  

"Negative.  Why?"  

"You're not exactly famous for being the mech-about-town, Soundwave.  I know you're happy to hole up in your tower and let your little critters do the roaming for you, but if you want to keep your new toy in good condition, you're gonna have to give him more than the twenty steps it takes to cross your loft.  Jazz is a vehicle model, they like to move - they need to move, or they get all sulky and rebellious.  Then they get stiff and need joint repair.  Learned that the hard way with my own bot.  So if Jazz's energy levels are back to normal, then he's gonna need the exercise to match.  At least take him with you when you run errands."

"Cassetticons entrusted with all errands."  

"Well just take him on a walk, then, if you've got nothing to do, I don't care.  But I'm telling you, he needs it.  You're the one that wanted him in good health.  You don't want a repeat of what happened last time, do you?"  

"... Negative."  

"So consider it medic's orders.  Every cycle, if you can."  

"Instructions, understood.  Further information necessary?"

"No, sir."  

"Energon delivery expected tonight.  Transferring credits now.  Soundwave out."      

"Hook ou-"

Transmission terminated.  


 


It was with some small feeling of awkwardness that Soundwave stood in the doorway and looked at Jazz, Hook's orders logged firmly into his processor.  Jazz looked right back at him, waiting for him to move to the table, the signal that his master was ready to engage him in their ongoing hax game.  

Instead, Soundwave stayed where he was.  "Hax, later.  Now, fetch chains."  

"Another trip out into the world?  And so soon.  If you're not careful, you'll damage your reputation of total reclusion from society.  Some mechs might actually start to believe you exist."  Languidly Jazz stretched and rolled over onto his back, arching just enough to look at Soundwave upside down.  "So do I have another date with Ravage's claws?  Or is it Megatron's tender mercies at HQ to which I can look forward?"  

"Neither.  Objective... walk."  

The answer sounded as awkward as he felt.  Jazz stared at him.

"Walk."

"Affirmative."

"You... want to go... on a walk."  

"Want, inaccurate.  Your exercise, necessary.  Fetch chains."  

"Oh, so this is for me.  Well, don't I feel lucky."  Jazz rolled over again, back onto his front, and propped his chin in one hand.  "Funny how you never cared so much about my health for all those vorns you've spent taking potshots at me on the battlefield."

"Circumstances altered.  Now, Jazz mine."  

Jazz made a face.  "I liked it better when you were shooting at me."  

"Stop argument.  Fetch chains."  

"Yes, Master Soundwave.  I live only to please you, Master Soundwave."  

Jazz uncurled up off the floor with his own unique brand of grace, and collected his chains.  Soundwave latched them on as usual, still feeling strangely out of sorts with this new task assigned to him.  The feeling only got worse when they exited the building at street level.  Jazz made no move to start walking, watching him expectantly, because of course he was waiting on his master to choose a direction.  

Soundwave was, momentarily, lost.  He had never, in all his life, taken a 'walk'.  Always he had a specific destination in mind, a mission to accomplish, an objective to fulfill.  His little cassettes, sparked with the basic programming to wander, explore, and record, would have been better suited to this assignment.  Now what?

Mentally Soundwave scrambled, until he thought to consult his tactical programming.  From Aggrenet he downloaded a current map of Iacon, and highlighted the accessible avenues, then sorted through route possibilities until he'd arranged a contiguous path that traced a wide oval through the city and would lead them right back to his front door.  Calculating Jazz's average walking speed, it would take them slightly less than one joor.  Satisfied, Soundwave turned in that direction and started walking.

Jazz fell in behind him with little more than a soft clink of the chains.  Then even that vanished, and for the next ten steps he moved so silently that Soundwave could not even be sure Jazz was still there.  Logically, Soundwave knew he must be, but the silence was still unsettling.  It seemed quite pointless to take this walk for Jazz's benefit if he could not even register his presence.  

Soundwave stopped, and partly turned.  

"Walk beside."  

"Beg pardon?"

"Walk here."  Soundwave clapped a large hand on Jazz's shoulder and steered him forward, planting him firmly to Soundwave's left.  

"Uh, why?"

"Because order given."  Soundwave started walking again but Jazz didn't, so he had to pause and nudge him forward.  Jazz scowled and tried to duck out from under his hand, but Soundwave wouldn't have to steer him if he'd walk when and where he was supposed to.  Impatiently Soundwave clasped a strong grip just above Jazz's elbow and kept walking, almost causing Jazz to stumble.  

"Alright, alright, I'll walk beside you!  Let go, already."  

Agreeably Soundwave did as he asked, but kept a sharp optic out for any attempt on Jazz's part to sidle away or drop back.  This arrangement was preferable; he could see Jazz now and hear the low hum of his systems.  This 'walk' was more enjoyable with a companion than an invisible servant.

Jazz huffed a couple times in annoyance, but didn't argue anymore.  Together they traveled down the street, civilians scattering out of Soundwave's path.  

"Soundwave, six."  

This time it was Jazz's turn to stop short.  "What was that?"

"Soundwave," he repeated smugly, "six."  

"Uh, no.  Let's get two things straight: one, that was your fifth point.  Fifth.  You did not score anything the night we started playing hax, that was my point.  Two, you do not give the points, I give the points.  It's my game."  

"Game, ours," Soundwave corrected.  "My victory, inevitable."  

"You think you're so smart, don't you?"  Jazz started moving again, walking backwards to keep his visor locked on Soundwave's.  "But just because you're a sharper tack than that crosswired Seeker of mine does not mean you're going to win.  Nobody beats me at my own game."  

Until now, thought Soundwave, but in his peripheral vision he glimpsed the neutrals staring.  The two of them must make an odd spectacle like this, Jazz walking backward and arguing with his master.  

"We will see," was all he said.

Jazz probably didn't think for a second that Soundwave was actually backing down, but he grunted softly in the back of his vocalizer and turned around again.  A sharp look on Soundwave's part sent the nosy neutrals back to their business.

"Ooh, shiny."

When Soundwave turned back, he discovered Jazz admiring the wares of one of the lowly street vendors.  Those neutrals who didn't have the claws to carve out a real establishment for themselves, in the solar cycles since the war, had learned to make do with small carts that lined the walks.  This one was one of the many selling Earth cloths, which had become so popular they'd all but completely replaced the synthetic mesh Cybertronians once used.  As he watched, Jazz fondled one of the hanging samples, and rubbed his dermal plating against its soft fleecy texture.  

"I can almost smell Earth on it," he sighed wistfully.  "New Zealand, I think."  

"Hands off, slave!" barked the neutral.  "My cloths are for the mecha that can buy them.  Get lost."  

Jazz started to step back, only for Soundwave to drop a hand on his shoulder to hold him in place.  The vendor looked up and blanched a little when he saw a massive Decepticon staring back.  

"Product, now mine.  Name price."  

"Hu-hun- fifty credits," he finally stammered.  "Sir."  

Soundwave produced a data chip, then deliberately dropped it on the ground at his pedes.  "Trade concluded."

Without wasting another glance on the oilblot, who'd promptly dropped to his knees to frantically hunt down his payment, Soundwave folded the cloth and stored it in his subspace.  

"That was completely unnecessary," Jazz said wryly, when Soundwave nudged him to start walking again.

"Assessment incorrect.  Your own drying cloth needed.  Cassetticons, possessive and unwilling to share."  

"I meant the Cold Stare of Death.  If you wanted to scare him silly and rob him of his profit, all you had to do was point your cannon at him and get it over with."  

"Behavior, unacceptable."

"Well aren't you the knight in not-so-shiny armor?" Jazz remarked, not a little bitterly.  "You know, I joined the Autobots to protect mechs like him from mechs like you.  Now a mech like you is protecting me from a mech like him.  I really don't know how to feel about that, but you sure as pit aren't getting a point for it, so sorry if you were hoping for one."

"Direction, incorrect."

"What?"

Jazz had already started to wander on to the next stall, but this line of vendors led away from Soundwave's designated route strategy.  "Direction, incorrect.  Return to main avenue."

"It's a walk, Soundwave."  He was favored with a particularly condescending grin and tilt of Jazz's head.  "Do you not understand how it works?  It doesn't matter where you go.  It matters what you see."  

He continued on, without waiting for any kind of approval on Soundwave's part.  After a nanoklik of hesitation, Soundwave rearranged a new route that would still lead them on a walk of satisfactory length, and followed.  Jazz seemed interested, and since this walk was for his benefit, Soundwave was willing to overlook his impertinence.  He kept just close enough to ensure that no more vendors treated his property with disrespect.  

The so-called market was not a complete waste of time, in any case.  In addition to cloth, there were Earth-imported tins of wax, and canisters of organic soap guaranteed to leave a streak-free shiny finish.  Soundwave purchased that too, sparing the twins the trouble of buying some later.  Other stalls sold frivolous data cards, packed with vids and music and games.  When Soundwave caught Jazz looking at a set of advanced puzzles, he quickly bought that too.  Another was hawking crystallized fragments of energon rolled in balls of Earth's oil, a sticky treat that Rumble and Frenzy adored.  Soundwave contemplated buying one for Jazz, but they were unhealthy and left traces of gunk in the fuel system.  Some other time, perhaps.  This mild collection of goods for sale was nothing compared to the glories of Golden Age Cybertron, when shops and stalls covered huge swathes of the planet, but it was useful all the same.

Some kind of motion in the corner of his visor prompted Soundwave to glance at Jazz again, but he wasn't doing anything unusual.  Only dawdling past a stall dedicated to music data cards, one of which the vendor was blasting at top volume.  Soundwave watched Jazz carefully.  The refrain cycled past, climaxing into a particular musical phrase, and this time Soundwave saw it.  Tap, tap, tap went Jazz's pede against the ground, and then tap-skip-tap when he moved into some kind of syncopated dance step.  Then the rhythm changed and it was over as quickly as it had begun, Jazz moving on as if nothing happened.    

"Stop."

"Now what?  Walking on the wrong side of the street from your designated route?"  

"What was that?"

"What was wha~at?" Jazz asked playfully, all innocence in his smile.  

"That movement.  Step, unusual."

"That old thing?  Just a habit, I guess.  The beat was callin' to me."  

"You like music."  It wasn't a question, but an abruptly retrieved memory file.  How many times had he seen Jazz racing across the surface of the planet, both this one and Earth, blaring his obnoxious tunes at audio-crushing levels?  He wondered if Jazz still had access to those files.  The avalanche-inducing amplifiers had been removed, that he knew for certain, as well as the dazzling light show that could overload and blind a mech's optical relay.  But he probably still had the music itself.

"Play it, still?"  

"My own music, you mean?  Only when I'm happy."  Jazz glanced at the thumping stall again, a momentary sadness dimming his visor.  "So, not for a long time."  

"Permission to play aloud in loft, given."  

"So noted."  

He still looked sad.  Soundwave reached up with the thought of stroking Jazz along the jawline, a reflexive action meant to soothe and reassure.  But Jazz slipped back out of reach, with a move so seamlessly in time with the music that it seemed quite natural.  Tap-skip-tap, again, followed by a gracefully tight spin.  The vendor whistled with appreciation, and Jazz plucked up his grin again.  

"But what do I need to play music for, when we've got a righteous beat here and now? Gets the fuel pumping through your lines, don't it?"

"Negative," answered the mystified Soundwave.  "Fuel pumps without aid of excessive audial stimulation."  

Jazz almost faltered over his own pedes, and shot Soundwave an exasperated look.  "Expression, Soundwave.  All I meant was, don't you like it?"  

"Negative," he repeated, but this time more secure in his understanding.  "Like, dislike, inaccurate.  Music, irrelevant."

Jazz flinched like he'd just slapped him in the face.  "What?"

"Music quality, subjective and irrelevant.  Inconsequential." 

"Primus, you really mean that, don't you?  Finest sound system on Cybertron and you don't even care about music.  That is so sad."  Jazz huffed and flicked him squarely in the center of his chest glass.  "What a waste."  Apparently done with dancing, he turned on his heels and started walking.   

"That's why Blaster hated you, you know."

The words came unexpectedly, just when Soundwave thought the conversation was over.  At the sound of the name, dropped so casually, he froze in his tracks.

"Explain."

Jazz was still walking, and apparently didn't notice how Soundwave had stopped short, or didn't care.  Idly he kicked a tiny scrap of metal.  "It's not because you're a Decepticon, and it's not because you're the walking embodiment of evil.  Though you are both those things.  He hated you because he loved music more than life itself, and to you, it meant nothing."  He slowed, and turned, his expression a mixture of pity and disgust.  

"You don't feel anything, when you hear music, you don't feel its beauty, its passion.  To you it's just another 'noise', just some sound to be recorded and filed away.  To Blaster, it was art.  To you, it's a weapon.  And how could he not hate that?"

Silence plumed between them, somehow thick and tense even with all the noise around them.  Jazz was watching him, he had to say something, but for once in his long life Soundwave could not think what.  

"Differences... many," he managed at last.  "Autobot Blaster, very different."

"Ain't that the truth."  Had he noticed?  It was difficult to tell, in this ambiguous light.  Something glinted in Jazz's visor, but then he turned and started walking again.  "He was my friend.  And you are not."    


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

 

The small box of oiltreats were sitting on the floor, between the two video game controllers, when Rumble and Frenzy returned home that evening.  Rumble spotted it first and let out a squawk of delight, one that was promptly echoed by his twin in that curious faster-than-light connection they shared.  Rumble made a mad dash for the goodies, but Frenzy tackled him from behind and the two of them went rolling across the floor.  

"All mine!"

"Not a chance, half-bit!"

"Try and stop me, scraplet."  Rumble braced a pede against Frenzy and threw him off, twisting over and scrambling forward.  He yelped when Frenzy threw his full weight on him and tried to get him in a headlock, then thrust his elbow back into Frenzy's mid-torso gap with savage accuracy.  

"Ouch!  That hurt, you fragger."

"Serves you right," Rumble panted, doggedly crawling across the floor while Frenzy tried to haul him backward.  He swore colorfully when Frenzy managed to get a joint lock on his shoulder and wrench him over onto his side, echoed again by his brother when he managed to kick Frenzy right in the jaw.  Alternately swearing, wailing, and laughing, the two of them tussled back and forth across the floor in a tangle of red and blue armor.  In the middle of deciding where to move his next hax piece, Soundwave barely paid it any attention, except to note a promising uplift in the twins' general mood.  

Jazz, on the other hand, was enthralled.  Visor gleaming with avid interest, he propped his chin in both hands and absorbed himself in the contest.  Not even most Decepticons were privy to his symbiotes' enthusiastic brawling; Jazz was probably the first Autobot to see it.  

"Welcome to the Thunderdome," he murmured.  "So who's gonna win?"

"Victor irrelevant.  Behavior, expression of good mood."  He didn't add that it had been a while since he'd seen it.  

"Good mood?" Jazz repeated, watching Frenzy body slam Rumble rather viciously into the floor.  "How adorable.  Primus knows what they do to each other when they're angry."    

"Collateral damage, extensive," Soundwave agreed.  

Finally, the violence ran its course.  Vents wheezing, still occasionally hiccuping with giggles, the two of them managed to drag themselves to the box and dig in for their prize.  

"Mmm... sweet and sticky and marvelously bad for you," Rumble sighed, when Frenzy had popped one between his lips.  He took his time rolling it around in his mouth, flopped over on his back so his systems could power down to normal levels.  

"But therein lies the goodness," Frenzy added, taking time to lick his fingers clean.   "And you always complain that we eat too much of 'em.  What's the big occasion, boss?"  

"No occasion necessary.  Motivation, spontaneous."

"Oh.  Huh."

Neither of them said thank you, nor did they have to.  Soundwave could feel their gratitude flowing through the link, along with their surprise and delight, all of which he relished.  Their enthusiastic reaction had been more than he hoped for.

"Wait a nano..."  Rumble's optics flickered back online and he sat up, fixing Soundwave with a baffled stare.  "You can't get these delivered!  Did you - like, go out or something?"  

"Affirmative."  

Both jaws swung open, stunned.  Soundwave pretended not to notice, still calmly evaluating his next move.  First they stared at him, then at each other, and then, as one, turned their astonished gazes to Jazz.  He just smiled under the scrutiny and tipped his head to the side.  

"What's wrong, boys?  Never heard of a coupla mechs takin' a walk?"  

If they had not already been sprawled gracelessly across the floor, they would have probably fallen over.  Amused, Soundwave made his selection and moved the hax piece.  

"Rumble, Frenzy, prepare for data upload."

He stood and moved towards his console room, and the blankly silent twins followed.  But they did not need to speak.

Soundwave could still feel their gratitude, and this time it was not for him.  


 


Soundwave was still learning things about Jazz.  For instance, now that Jazz's recharge schedule had normalized, he'd learned Jazz actually preferred to sleep late.  Soundwave was the first to wake most days, and when he did, he would inevitably find Jazz curled up on the far side of the berth.  It still profoundly irritated Soundwave that Jazz could wriggle out of his grasp like that, but if he tried to wrap Jazz in his arms and pull him back to his chest, Jazz would instantly wake up.  Most mornings Soundwave just contented himself lying beside him, listening to the light hum of his recharging systems.  Not until his first joorly feeding time was near did Soundwave shake Jazz's shoulder.

"Mmnf."  

"Recharge complete.  Wake now."  

"Goway."  Jazz tipped further over onto his side away from Soundwave, draping an arm over most of his face.  "M'still sleeping."  

"Refueling necessary."  

"Which one of your buttons do I hit for ten more breems of recharge?"

Patiently Soundwave peeled away Jazz's arm, pulling him back to lie on his back.  Visor firmly offline, Jazz scowled in his general direction.  

"Open mouth."

"If you would just let me feed myself, we wouldn't have to go through this every morning."  

"Argument, futile.  Open mouth."  

Jazz's engine rumbled with irritation, but at last he opened his mouth.  Soundwave inserted the energon treat neatly between his lips, and stroked light fingertips across his cheek while Jazz swallowed.  

"Gonna let me go back to sleep now?"

"Question, asked every morning.  Answer, always -"

"Negative," Jazz sighed. 

"Affirmative."  Amused, Soundwave edged off the berth and stood.  A scrabble of claws against metal, as well as the brush of nearness within his own spark, signaled the return of his aerial cassettes.  He left Jazz on the berth - they both knew he'd return and drag Jazz off it if he didn't do it himself within a breem - and entered the front room.  Laserbeak hopped onto his shoulder and Buzzsaw his wrist, as per usual, chirping their greetings.  Affectionately Soundwave scratched Buzzsaw under the beak, then moved across the room to the fuel dispenser.  He had a surprise in store for his aerials this morning; Rumble and Frenzy's oiltreats were not all he'd purchased on Jazz's walk.  Both Buzzsaw and Laserbeak had an affinity for their energon in crystallized form, crushed into tiny fragments.  They were perfectly capable of drinking their fuel as a liquid, a necessity for most of the war, but with their sharp beaks they enjoyed the crunchy texture of crystals.  Now he was unlacing two packets of them, and both twins hopped and twittered with delighted surprise.  They were not nearly so violent about it as their older brothers, but they did peck and nip at his wires, then chased each other around the room once or twice before settling back down to eat.

When it came to solid fuel, Laserbeak liked to eat out her master's hand.  They both did, actually, but Buzzsaw only ever did when he was sick and didn't have to pretend to be tough.  His twin had no such compunctions.  After Soundwave poured a pile of crystallized feed on the windowsill for Buzzsaw, he emptied the other packet into his own palm and held himself quite still.  Using his other arm as a perch, Laserbeak settled herself and began to devour her breakfast.  
"I knew it."

Soundwave looked up.  Jazz was leaning against the doorway, watching the scene with something like bemused resignation.  "I knew I wasn't the first.  You train everybody here to eat out of that hand, don't you?  Give them fuel and they'll follow you anywhere, right, master?"

"Reasons vary.  Purpose for Jazz: subjugation.  Purpose for Laserbeak: enjoyment.  This method, her preference."

Jazz winced and looked away, out the window.  "I wonder if she can even tell the difference."

Soundwave glanced at the symbiote balanced on his wrist, happily pecking away at her fuel, then back at his slave.  "Jazz, come."

"Your hands are a little full right now, aren't they?"

"Order given.  Come."  

Jazz looked wary, but he obeyed, closing the distance between them with diffident steps.  When he was close enough, Soundwave reached for one of his hands, a motion that startled Laserbeak and forced her to take flight.  Ignoring her squawk of protest, he closed his hand over Jazz's and pulled it forward.  Jazz's intakes hitched sharply and he tensed as if he'd like to pull away, but he smothered the impulse.  Quite gently, Soundwave turned over his hand and uncurled his fist, smoothing his hand across Jazz's palm.  Then he tipped the remainder of Laserbeak's feed onto the flattened surface.  

"What are you doing?" Jazz asked anxiously, and this time he did try to back away.  A sharp squeeze on his wrist kept him in place.

"Hush.  Remain still."  

Laserbeak had resettled herself on Soundwave's arm.  Optics shuttering twice in rapid succession, she examined the new location of her breakfast and cocked her head to the left and right.  Uncertainly she shuffled her claws and twisted her neck that she might peer up at Soundwave.  

He did not form any words, only gave a mental nudge to finish refueling.  She said nothing either, but he could sense the flustered swirl of thoughts.  On one wing, Jazz was an outsider, not trusted or wanted.  On the other wing, she already knew about the walk.  To tell any of his cassettes something was to tell all of them, and Rumble and Frenzy had wasted no time sharing the news with their brothers and sister.  They all knew, and they all knew the reason.  Again Laserbeak studied Jazz, standing so still with his vents held silent, and made up her mind.  Delicately she dipped her head and snapped up a few crystals.  Jazz jumped a little but held himself still, more out of his own resolve than Soundwave's grip.  Laserbeak swallowed her fuel and dove back in for more, then again, at a relaxed, unhurried pace.  Jazz eventually relaxed as she kept at it, his frame losing the tightly wound tension, and he started watching Laserbeak with more fascination than nervousness.  He didn't even flinch when Laserbeak finished her meal, snapping each last tiny fragment off Jazz's palm with unerring precision.  

Softly, so as not to startle either of them, Soundwave covered Jazz's hand in his and guided it to Laserbeak's head.  There was a minor flash of apprehension on her part, but it was not enough to disturb her pleasant post-fueling satisfaction.  Jazz's ventilations skipped a beat, but he didn't demur as Soundwave glided his open palm in slow strokes down Laserbeak's back.  Soundwave knew all Laserbeak's favorite spots, and languidly he steered Jazz's hand down the plates between her wings, then underneath each wing joint, then back up to the head to scratch underneath her beak.  Soundwave relaxed his hold very gradually, so slowly that neither possession even seemed to notice he'd let go, until Jazz was stroking the under side of her beak all on his own.  Never one to argue with a little pampering, Laserbeak stretched and luxuriated in the touch, optics half-shuttered with pleasure.  

"Pretty," Jazz murmured.  "You know, when she's not trying to peck your optics out on the battlefield.  She's actually very... pretty."  

Laserbeak trilled deep in her vocalizer with smug delight.  Soundwave nodded.  "Affirmative.  Laserbeak, aesthetically appealing.  All my possessions, aesthetically appealing."  

One hand glided gently up the side of Jazz's arm, along his shoulder, and then lightly cupped his jawline.  Jazz trembled only a little.  Did he feel, even just a little, what Laserbeak felt under the hand of her master?  Did he understand at all?    

Then it happened, so fast and so subtle that Soundwave might have missed it, had his mind not been on that very question.  Jazz tilted his head into Soundwave's touch.  Just for a moment.  

It was all the answer Soundwave needed.  


 

It is the natural programming of a Cassetticon to watch, listen, and record.  They are built to be the optics and audios of the carrier mech they will someday bond with; it is their deepest instinct to study the world around them.  Should they stumble upon something that intrigues them, they will give it their unabashed attention.  Some mechs unfamiliar with cassette culture call it being nosy.  For a cassette, it's simply a compliment.  What they don't like, they ignore.  What they do like, they watch.  And when they can't decide, Soundwave had long since learned, they pester it until they've figured it out.

The twins didn't waste time.  It was only the second day of Soundwave and Jazz's new schedule, their second attempt at a walk, and this time Soundwave was careful to plot a route that took them nowhere near that music stall.  If Jazz noticed that, he didn't say anything, and he walked alongside Soundwave like he was supposed to.  Everything was going nicely to plan until Frenzy 'coincidentally' materialized out of the crowds.  

"Hey boss!" he said brightly.  "Fancy running into you here."  

Jazz looked from Frenzy to Soundwave, affecting confusion.  "Do we know this guy?"

"Frenzy, currently on duty."  


"What, I can't take a ten-breem break?  You're taking one."  Pointedly he looked to Jazz and then back to Soundwave again.  "Besides, Rumble's got things covered at HQ.  I just felt like... taking a walk."  Practically glowing with innocence, he skipped alongside them, ten steps to Soundwave's one.  "Nice weather we're having, huh?" Soundwave stifled a small sigh.  Frenzy had already moved on to Jazz, weaving back and forth across the walkway in a way that forced Jazz to be careful where he stepped.  

"So, like, whose idea was this anyway, this 'walk' thing?  Was it yours?"

"Frenzy, I promise you, nothing about this situation was my idea."  Wryly Jazz rattled his chains.  "Mind gettin' out from under my pedes, before you get not-so-accidentally crushed?"  

"Hah, as if you would.  So where you going, anyway?  Will you buy more treats?"

"Negative," Soundwave said firmly.  "No destination.  Activity, necessary for Jazz's health."  

"I should have guessed."  Frenzy made a face.  "Well, whatever.  At least you're being useful."

He tossed that comment with a disdainful sneer in Jazz's direction, who graciously bowed his head.  "I live only for the glow of your approval, little red one."

"That's Master Little Red One to you."  

Frenzy smirked at Jazz and gave up trying to trip him, turning his attention back to Soundwave.  "So I got news for you - serious slag went down on Earth this morning.  Motormaster almost nailed Sideswipe.  It was an awesome chase; they sent us the satellite video.  Couldn't believe the moves that 'bot pulled, he would swerve in one direction and then screee slide off in the other -"

"Frenzy."  Soundwave doused the word with strict admonishment, pointedly looking at Jazz.  

Who smiled charmingly.  "What?  Don't mind me, master.  It's not as if it's a secret, you know.  Blue told me.  Sideswipe's turned up in central Asia, and the Stunticons got slapped with the unfortunate task of tracking him down.  Old news; please continue."  

"You don't seem worried," Frenzy observed, looking a shade disappointed.  He'd been trying to get a more interesting reaction, no doubt.

"I'm not worried," Jazz answered airily.  "Sides is not a mech easily caught.  Prowl couldn't ever manage it, and he slept just down the hall.  That redneck in purple paint has no chance."  

"Even with every two-bit human village in Afghanistan calling to report when they see him?" Frenzy pointed out, with malicious glee.  "Humans turnin' on the bots.  Must bring back good memories for you."  

Jazz's smile didn't slip.  "You are goading me, little mech.  I don't appreciate it."  

"You're not here to appreciate anything, slave," Frenzy retorted, while quickly comming Soundwave to ask what 'goading' meant.

"Besides, I'm not holding a grudge about that.  What's past is past."  

"C'mon, they sold you out."

"No, their leaders sold us out.  Always knew it was a mistake for their governments to merge like they did, too easy for a single dictator to get greedy.  Had he consulted us, we could have warned him that Megatron would fuck him and his cohorts over in the end.  So I say the government got what it deserved, but not the people.  They didn't deserve that at all."

Now Frenzy looked a little confused.  "So, you don't care that they're siding with the 'Cons against Sideswipe?"

"I care, but I'm not surprised.  Megatron's rule is all these people have ever known."  It was Jazz's turn to sigh.  "Wish they didn't have such short lifespans.  The last generation would have never stood for all this.  They knew what was worth fighting for." 

"Frenzy."  This time Soundwave made sure his warning came through loud and clear.  "Stop.  Now."

"What?  I'm just talking to him.  Thought that's what you wanted.  I'm getting to know the new pet."  

"Your conversation, provoking him.  Antagonism, unnecessary."

"I only asked a few questions," Frenzy huffed.  "It's not like I'm picking a fight or nothin'.  I'm no human.  I wasn't the one that hung Autobot City out to dry."  

"Loss of comrades, likely painful to remember.  Reactions, upset and distress."

"He looks fine to me- uh... actually, where is he?"  

Soundwave's systems sputtered a little when he realized Jazz was no longer by his elbow.  Or behind him, or anywhere at all around him.  Did he actually - 

"Too slow," Jazz remarked smugly, from above.  Both his and Frenzy's face flipped upward, to find Jazz poised on top of the streetside wall.  "Should keep a closer optic on your property, Soundwave.  What if I... got lost?"  

"Come down, now."

"Does it make you ner~vous?" Jazz sang, prancing backward with neat and precise steps, not even looking at his own pedes.  "You don't have to worry.  I never fall."

"Irrelevant, order given.  Come down now."

"How'd you do that?"  Frenzy looked disturbingly awed.  "Get up there so fast?  You don't even have anti-grav!"

"Anti-grav," Jazz informed Frenzy, "is for amateurs."

"Jazz," Soundwave reprimanded impatiently.  A few of the passing mechs had begun to stare.

"This is a new angle to see you, Soundwave, I kinda like looking down on you."

"Jazz..."

"I don't want to come down.  You're talking about me on your comms and I don't like it.  I'm not made of glass.  You think I can't handle talking about the end of the war?  I live with the consequences of it every day!  A conversation isn't going to break me, Soundwave, so stop treating me like it will."  In one neat, sharp turn he'd twisted around and was now striding forward, prompting Soundwave to keep walking and keep up.  

"Come down, or I will collect you."

"Getting flown home in your arms is probably not the exercise Hook had in mind.  I'll come down, if you stop worrying about whether I can handle a little history."

Soundwave's vents sighed in exasperation.  "Terms acceptable.  Agreed."  

He lifted his arms, thinking of catching Jazz, but it was unnecessary.  Jazz tucked his chained arms close to his chest and twisted sharply heels over head, landing gracefully on the walkway with hardly a sound.  Surprise and admiration rose in a whoosh of murmurs from watching mecha, and Frenzy was practically hopping with amazement.

"Wow!  That was so cool!  How'd you do tha..."  He caught Soundwave's disapproval and coughed, rebooting his vocalizer.  "I mean, uh, bad slave.  Don't do that again."  

Soundwave closed the distance between them and latched an unforgiving grip on Jazz's arm.  "Remainder of walk will continue in this manner."  

"I think I did make you nervous."

"Frenzy, dismissed."  

"Uh, right."  Frenzy scampered into the crowd and disappeared, off to share every detail with his brother.  Soundwave's other hand grasped Jazz firmly by the chin, ensuring he had his complete attention.  

"Impertinence will not be repeated."  

"Not without a wall, anyway."

"Jazz."  He tightened his grip, and Jazz winced. 

"Impertinence," he sighed, "will not be repeated."  

"Good."  He released Jazz's face, who popped his jaw experimentally, then smiled.  

"And anyway, maybe next time I'll let you catch me."  

Then of all things, he winked.  


 

Ravage had begun, in his own willful, stubborn way, to thaw.  Soundwave realized it when he booted up one morning, sensors automatically lining up to reel off their data input.  Highest priority, before even auditory or visual, was always proximity and status of his symbiotes.  Laserbeak and Buzzsaw: distant.  They were still out patrolling.  Rumble and Frenzy: safely near.  They must still be in the loft.  Ravage: arms' length.  Once visual came online, he confirmed that Ravage was sprawled out on the floor alongside the berth, systems humming in the long, low rotations of deep recharge.  

It was an improvement.  Ravage still refused to hop onto the berth if Jazz was there but, outside of recharging within Soundwave himself, this was the first time Ravage had deigned to sleep in the same room as the Autobot.  Pleased, Soundwave nudged Jazz awake.  

"Mnf.  Lemme alone."  

Soundwave traced a line along Jazz's jawline with his thumb, back and forth until irritably Jazz knocked it away.  "I'm asleep.  Stop molesting me." 

"Recommendation, quiet."  Soundwave placed a finger over Jazz's mouth.  "Ravage present, recharging."  

"Well wake him up instead," Jazz grumped, deliberately rolling away from Soundwave and curling up into a tight ball.  "I was having a nice dream - it involved feeding myself.  You wouldn't understand."  

He'd been speaking in English.  Soundwave had to scan non-priority archives for the meaning of 'dream', a phenomenon unique to humans, and concluded that Jazz was talking nonsense.  He tugged Jazz back over onto his back.  

"Open mouth."  

"See, I knew it."

"Open mouth."  

Jazz made a few more grumbling noises, more to satisfy his own pride than to mount any real argument, and finally opened his mouth.  Soundwave inserted his morning energon treat, relishing the way Jazz's lips felt against his fingers, then sat up.  Carefully he stepped over Ravage when he got off the berth.  

"Caution advised.  Ravage lying across large portion of floor."  

"Beware the demon cat, got it."  

Soundwave wondered if Jazz took the warning seriously.  It really was amazing, how such a small creature could manage to sprawl over so much area, and Ravage didn't take kindly to anyone, sibling or not, treading on his tail.  If Jazz, half-asleep, stepped on Ravage, Soundwave had no doubt Jazz would lose a leg from the knee joint down.

"Jazz."

"What?"

"Danger, considerable."

"So you said."

"Into my arms." 

Jazz's visor snapped on in a flash.  "Oh for Primus' sake."  

Soundwave wasn't prepared for the way Jazz uncoiled himself out of huddled recharge.  In one seamless, silent move, he braced one pede against the edge of the berth, tipped off it, caught Soundwave's shoulder and used it as a fulcrum to flip over.  He finished off the move by sliding right down Soundwave's back, landing gracefully on his own two pedes, now on the other side of Soundwave from Ravage.

"I can't believe you think I'm klutzy enough to trip on that walking shredder.  How many times, over the last two hundred vorns, do you think I've had to creep around that cat - and this while he was awake?  I know all about Ravage, and how to avoid him.  You insult me, Soundwave.  You really do."  

Jazz tossed him a haughty look and moved to open the door, making a show of stretching his struts like he was still half-asleep.  He didn't seem to notice how easily he'd just touched Soundwave, or the implicit trust he'd shown in doing so.  Soundwave decided it was even better than just scooping up an unwilling Jazz into his arms, and tagged a non-urgent mental note to get Ravage some kind of treat later that orn.  

Meanwhile, he followed Jazz out into the main living room.  The twins were awake, still piled together on the couch where they'd fallen into recharge last night, but their optics were bright and alert.

"Morning, Soundwaaaave," they chorused, in a way that made him promptly stop short and take stock.  Their optics were too bright, their voices too cheerful, and he'd have to be telepathically deaf to not feel the eager anticipation dancing through their minds.

"Confess activity," he ordered flatly, subroutine of prank-catch-punish falling into place on its own accord.  They looked terribly wounded.  

"Confess?  We didn't do nothin'."

"Yeah!  'We' didn't do nothin'."

"Oh yuck!" Jazz yelped, before Soundwave could properly analyze that last remark.  Only a step or two in front of him, Jazz almost jumped right back into Soundwave.  "What the hell is that?"

'That' was apparently what the twins were waiting for, because they promptly dissolved into laughter.  Soundwave took a look at the floor, and smothered a small sigh.    

"Ravage," he explained.  "Particular... habit."  

A habit that had been in place for a long time, to Soundwave's frequent dismay.  The subterranean levels of Cybertron were crawling with activated but nonsentient robots, on which Ravage enjoyed practicing his hunting skills.  Glitchmice were a favorite.  The first time he brought a mangled body home, Soundwave had been so pleased by this apparent acknowledgement of his mastery that he did not scold Ravage.  

That was the mistake.  From then on, it had been indelibly programmed into Ravage's processor that his little trophies belonged in the center of Soundwave's floor.  No amount of chiding or punishment could alter it.  All Soundwave could do, he'd learned, was activate the cleaning drones, and he proceeded to do exactly that.

"I take it back," Jazz muttered, wrinkling his nasal plating into a grimace as the little drones circled around the mess.  "I didn't know all about Ravage.  I'm sorry I do now.  Charming household you got here, Soundwave, really.  I am so lucky to live here."  

Soundwave ignored the sarcasm in favor of checking the drones.  One of them wasn't performing in sync with the other two, its little wheels spinning at a slower pace as it tried to maneuver its scoop under the ex-glitchmouse.  Odd, since they all responded to the same transmission signal.  Perhaps they needed - 

The scooping drone twitched, turned itself halfway around, and raised its scoop with a sharp jerk.  The mutilated rodent flew through the air and splattered, with an ugly sticky slap, against Jazz's chest.  

Silence.

Jazz, for the first time since he came under this roof, seemed to have been stricken completely speechless.  A severed fluid line peeled off his armor and landed with a plop on the floor, and all he could do was just stand there and gape in horrified shock.  

Correction, that was what the twins had been waiting for.  They started howling with laughter so hard that their systems had to run to full power to keep up, and Rumble fell off the couch, frantically beating a fist against the floor.  

"Rumble," Soundwave said coldly.  "Frenzy."

"You can't prove it was us!" Rumble shouted, too consumed in laughter to speak out loud.  

"Yeah!  You don't know that we saw the mess and quickly hacked into the cleaning drone and remotely controlled it to aim at Jazz!  It just malfunctioned!"  Their vents were wheezing with the effort of expelling heat, and both of them were gasping for air.  Annoyance began to kindle within Soundwave.  He was preparing to mete out instant and unforgiving punishment when something whipped through the air.  A tiny metal foot, gooey with fluids and semi-digested energon, hit Rumble squarely in the forehead.  His laughter cut off with a startled "ow!" and then "ew!"  Frenzy did the same in almost the next nanoklik when a half-chewed air filter got him on the shoulder.  

"Of course you realize," Jazz said darkly, "this means war."  

"Hey, you can't -"  The head, with part of its spinal strut still attached, smacked Rumble in the chest in a way that said Jazz very much could.

"Ew, gross!  Take it back!"  Rumble snatched it and threw it right back at Jazz, who dove aside in a spectacular ground roll that got him halfway across the room.  The couch gave him temporary cover and he peeled two more indistinguishable parts of robot anatomy off himself, throwing them out with pinpoint accuracy when the twins showed themselves.  They shrieked with disgust and laughter, then scrambled to outflank Jazz and throw his own ammunition right back at him.  Jazz was outnumbered but he was fast and agile, deftly spinning and leaping to keep clear.  The three of them turned Soundwave's living room into a war zone, disgusting bits of glitchmouse flying back and forth, and all Soundwave could do was stand still and stare.  

Beyond one initial, fleeting impulse, he did not consider stopping it.  The hysterical giggling of the twins, colored by the giddy delight he could feel through the link, would not let him stop it.  They were having fun.  When was the last time they had fun?  For that matter, when was the last time they even put the effort into a dedicated, worthwhile prank?  Too long ago.    

Neither did he miss Jazz's laughter.  

Into all this chaos his other two cassettes entered, and squawked in surprise and confusion at what they found.  Wings beating back and forth, Buzzsaw tried to back out of danger too late.  A stray missile in the form of shredded metallic hide got him on the chest and nearly knocked him to the ground.  

"Revolting!"  He screeched his displeasure to the world.  "Who?"

"Oh lighten up, Buzzbrain!" Frenzy called out cheerfully.  "We're having a foodfight with Ravage's food!  Think fast!"  

Buzzsaw didn't think fast enough, and got a glob of 'something' splattered across his front.  In a fury he tore after Frenzy, who yelped and sprinted a circuit around the room until Jazz and Rumble pelted Buzzsaw with enough mouse bits to force him off.  Laserbeak had the sense to stay on Soundwave's shoulder, out of the line of fire, but she chirped and clicked her amusement.  Ravage, the cause of all this trouble, continued to sleep peacefully in the other room.  

It took a while, but eventually the frantic fun wound itself down.  By the time it did, the room and everyone in it, minus Soundwave and Laserbeak, were covered in sticky patches of mech fluid and tiny fragments of one thoroughly shredded glitchmouse.  Rumble and Frenzy were sprawled out on their backs, wheezing for ventilation, and Jazz wasn't much better off, barely managing to keep upright on his knees.  Buzzsaw pretended to sulk about the smears of fluid all over his armor, but everyone (except Jazz) knew he'd just been tired out.  

"Visit to washracks, necessary."  Soundwave approached Jazz and held out a hand; Rumble opened one optic.

"Oh sure.  Let the Autobot go first."  

"Rumble and Frenzy, original perpetrators.  Still considering punishment."

"Aw..."

"Du börde inte," Jazz panted, in Swedish.  "You shouldn't.  They're not ignoring me.  Isn't that what you wanted?"  

"Behavior, not acceptable."  

"If that were true, you'd have stopped it.  I think you liked it.  Just let it go."  Surprisingly enough, Jazz actually put his hand in Soundwave's rather than push himself to stand on his own.  The soft metal plating was warm from his overheated systems.  "Besides, now you get to scrub me down, and we all know you love that. Just let it go."  

"Autobot, defending Cassetticons?"

Jazz shrugged, offering him a lopsided grin.  "Stranger things have happened."  


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Brilliantly coincidental art by Shokveyv (http://shokveyv.tumblr.com)

 

Feeding Time

 

Beak Scritches

Chapter Text

 

Jazz’s pedes moved lightly, one directly in front of the other, stepping in perfect time to the beat.  Another day, another walk, and this time they were wandering through the marketplace again.  Jazz was getting so bored with the other route, and Soundwave had had quite enough of his attempts to liven things up – either by walking on the wall, or walking on his hands, or – Primus help him – both at the same time.  This place, at least, kept his interest.  And it wasn’t such a bad thing, to watch him step so pertly to the blaring Earth music, all quickness and grace as he added an extra skip-turn.  No, not bad at all.  Soundwave stopped in front of the stall itself.

“Jazz.”

His slave stopped what he was doing and pranced up to Soundwave’s elbow.  “You monotoned?”

“State preference.”  He gestured at the datacard selection.  “Any of them, yours.” 

The light behind Jazz’s visor, which had been glowing bright blue, went a little flat.  “What?  Why?”

“Enjoyment evident.  Objective, increase your enjoyment.” 

“I told you, Soundwave, I don’t play my own music anymore.  Why would I want to add to it?” 

“Resistance, not understood.”

“Jazz, not surprised.”

He turned on his heel and started walking; Soundwave hurried to intercept.  “Music, important to you.  Refusal to play, incomprehensible.”

“What do you care?  You don’t know classic rock from classical.  What does it matter to you if I ever play any of my files again?”

“Delight in music, intriguing to watch.”  Delicately Soundwave touched Jazz’s jawline; Jazz leaned his head away.  “Jazz, graceful, agile.”

“Did you want a lap dance, baby?”  Jazz’s open palms ghosted across the glass of his chest, his smile sugared-oil sweet until he pushed himself clear.  “Sorry, but that costs extra.”

He made to walk past Soundwave but stopped short for some reason, struts stiffening just a little.

“Oh.  Damn.  Just when I was having an almost mildly tolerable day.” 

All three seekers of Megatron’s Second Trine, popularly nicknamed the Cone Trine, stared right back.  Soundwave, unusually enough, was slightly flustered by their sudden appearance.  He’d been paying attention to Jazz, not his surroundings, and now he wasn’t sure if any of them had been close enough to hear any of that.  And even if they weren’t, they’d certainly seen. 

Dirge was the first to speak.  “Hey, Soundwave.  Having fun with Warp’s leftovers?”

“He looks perky enough,” Ramjet observed, optics moving over Jazz with a little too much interest.  “All clean and shiny.  Does Soundwave rub you down every night, slave, does he make you sparkle?

“Don’t you have turbopuppies to go kick,” Jazz asked coolly, “somewhere else?”

“Oh, but we have Groove for that.”  Thrust smiled gleefully and pinched his slave’s cheek, who winced and hissed with pain.  The light behind Jazz’s visor narrowed.  “We find him very easy to kick.” 

“Still with just the one slave, huh, boys?  What’s the matter, Megatron forgot to give you another one again?  Funny how it keeps slippin’ his mind.”     

Sneers were instantly wiped out by scowls.  “That’s not your business, slave.”

“Apparently, it’s not yours either.  Do let me know when Megatron finally ‘remembers’ you.  We’ll have to throw a party to celebrate your… importance.” 

“Silence.”  Soundwave clapped a large hand on Jazz’s shoulder, pulling him back a step from where Ramjet stood curling his fists.  “Seekers, dismissed.”

War’s end or not, Soundwave was still head of Surveillance and Communications in the Decepticon empire, and he outranked most of the air force.  The seekers were still glaring spitefully at Jazz, looking like they wanted to smash him into the ground, but Soundwave tightened his grip on Jazz and stared them down. 

“Now,” he added, when they didn’t back off quickly enough.  Wings twitched with resentment, but the trine finally took a hint. 

“See you at headquarters, Soundwave,” Thrust muttered.  “If you can remember where it is.” 

All three stalked away, deliberately shoving past any of the crowd that didn’t see them in time to jump clear.  Groove, laden down with purchases that they could have stored in their subspaces (but didn’t), had to hurry to catch up.  Jazz tried to touch him, perhaps a comforting pat on the arm, but with Soundwave holding him in place he couldn’t reach.  Groove only had time to meet Jazz’s gaze for a single nanoklik, optics haunted with misery, before he scurried away. 

Under his hand, he felt Jazz slump a little with disappointment.  “Well.  Wasn’t that fun?  You can let go of me now; I’m not going to go running after them for more of the same.”

Cautiously Soundwave released his grip.  Then he tried to pet Jazz on the head for comfort, but Jazz took a step forward and avoided it just in time.   

"Megatron lies."

Soundwave tried to, but couldn’t, follow the non-sequiter.  Jazz wasn’t looking at him.  He was watching the seekers and their slave disappear into the crowd.  "Explain."  

"He likes to talk about being generous, that he let us Autobots live because he was gracious and forgiving.  That's a lie.  He'd have lined every one of us up to put a cannon shot through the head if he had the option, but he didn't.  He needed us, not just for energon production on Earth, but as payment.  When they win a war, soldiers expect reward.  Megatron can't afford to give huge deposits in fuel; Cybertron needs it.  And he won't parcel out control over the city-states, because like hell he'll just hand over feudal power to someone like Starscream.  War prisoners were all he had to give.  

"Of course, it worked out pretty well for him.  His top soldiers get a status symbol to drag around Iacon, which doubles as a warning to Neutrals and enticement for the lower rank 'Cons.  He dangles the unclaimed Autobots like a prize to be won for mechs like our cone boys over there, the mechs that aren’t quite so happy with what they got.  And if one of his followers should anger him, well, then the slave is something that Megatron can take away as punishment.  Last but not least, it shifts the cost of fuel and upkeep off the empire's coffers and onto the individual masters.  A brilliant power play, really.  And the best part, for him, is that most of the 'Cons can't even see it."

They were out of sight now.  Soundwave did not allow himself to show any reaction to Jazz’s surprising comments.  Not that he was saying anything Soundwave didn't already know, but it was slightly unsettling to hear it come from the mouth of one of the slaves.   

"Starscream knows," Jazz continued, idly swinging around a lampost.  "If there's any mech that knows manipulation when he sees it, it's Screamer.  And this thing with Skyfire, it's drivin' him crazy.  But Megatron's got a solid grip on Cybertron, and seekers aren't quite so valuable these days without a war going on, so Starscream's watchin' his step.  Bitching, sure; plotting, no.  Least, not when I was still in their towers."  

He swung all the way around, and finally took a good look at Soundwave.  "What?  It's not my fault that I have optics and audios."

"Decepticon politics, not your concern."

"So you said before.  But I think I've just given a good explanation for why they are my concern, and yours too.  You should be careful, master.  Now that you have me, you're in Megatron's debt too.  I wonder if hiding from HQ all the time is really the best strategy."

"Actions, not hiding."

"Does Megatron see it that way?"  Jazz tipped his head back against the post, for just a moment looking so deadly serious that Soundwave felt a twinge of disquiet.  "Something to think about, Soundwave.  Something to think about hard."  


 

 

Even when he was sitting still, Jazz danced.  Humming low in his vocalizer, his fingertips bounced lightly across the hax set, passing by at least three likely and viable moves before finally settling on a low-ranking pawn.  In the most nonsensical of moves, he pushed it forward and up, deeper into Soundwave’s territory. 

“There!  Have fun breaking your brain over the meaning of that little maneuver.”  Jazz shot him a wicked grin.  “I am assuming here that you do have some notion of ‘fun’, of course.” 

A dangerous remark.  On anyone else Soundwave would have found that flippant tone and smile an irritating display of insubordination; on Jazz he found it extremely appealing.  Lately, Soundwave seemed to be noticing that appeal more and more.  It came to him when he heard Jazz’s laughter, or saw him smile, or watched him tap-tap to strains of music in the air.  And right now, Soundwave’s idea of ‘fun’ meant indulging himself in long-belayed temptation. 

“Uh, Soundwave?”  Jazz looked to be peering at him, a little quizzical in expression.  “I know you always like to take a breem to get warmed up, but your visor’s just about gone out.  Still with me?”

Jazz had proven himself comfortable with small, casual touches.  If Soundwave were to push him just a little, how would he respond?  Perhaps this was the time to find out.

“Estimation: twins returning in fewer than five breems.  Time insufficient to consider next move.” 

“So?  You got anything better to do?”

Soundwave leveled a silent and meaningful look across the table, and when Jazz understood, his smile faded. 

Oh.  I see.  Are you… sure you wouldn’t just rather keep playing hax?  If you ask me, I think you still have time to pull off one more move.  You’re smart.  You don’t need much time.” 

Soundwave stood, and extended a hand to Jazz.  “Your choice: berth, or couch?”

Jazz looked faintly horrified to be asked to choose, and stayed stuck to his chair.  Soundwave dropped his vocalizer a notch in volume, which was essentially all he could do to soften his tone.

“Jazz.  Your choice.”

His slave shuddered, but somehow made himself place his hand in Soundwave’s.  “Couch.” 

“Come.”

Soundwave closed a gentle grip over Jazz’s hand and backed across the room, trying to guide Jazz rather than pull roughly.  To his credit, Jazz didn’t panic and try to break away, but he walked stiffly, arm pulled as taut as he could manage.  Soundwave sat when he reached his destination, and firmly pulled Jazz into his lap.  Jazz smothered a small squeak within his vocalizer and tried to push himself off; Soundwave snatched his other hand and pulled back, holding Jazz back flush against his chest.  In no time all of Jazz's vents flipped open, exhaling nervous puffs of air, and Soundwave could feel the pulse of his spark accelerate.  

"Ch-Christmas time already?" Jazz tried to cover his nervousness with a forced lightness in his tone, and failed.  "Goody for me.  This year I want a pony, and a toy train, not Astrotrain, had enough of him- ah!"  He interrupted himself with a startled gasp when Soundwave retracted his mask and flicked his glossa against one of the wires in Jazz's neck.  Again Jazz squirmed to get away, but here on Soundwave's lap his pedes did not even touch the floor.  Soundwave's grip on both his wrists did not relent for so much as a nanoklik.

"Resistance, futile," he reminded his slave.  "Remain still."  

"You don't want to do this, Soundwave.  I probably taste -"  Again he strangled a whimper in his throat when Soundwave tickled another wire.  "Terrible."  

"Assertion... very incorrect."  Soundwave shuttered his visor and nuzzled Jazz more intimately, nipping and licking at his wires with delicate precision.  Electricity sizzled at every contact, dancing on the tip of his glossa like crackled energon.  Heat uncurled itself within Soundwave.  Jazz's spark was not the only one pulsing faster.  

“D-don’t do this, Soundwave.  Don’t- ah! – don’t try to make it good.”

“Pleasure, not desirable?”

“Not from you.  Not from a Decepticon!”  Soundwave teased one of his sensor relays and Jazz practically jumped straight up off his lap, biting back a cry that could have been dismay or desire.  Soundwave tightened his grip and went back for the same sensor wire, tracing a light line up and down along it.  Jazz writhed helplessly, legs flailing with what Soundwave thought was useless panic until his pedes began to bang ruthlessly against Soundwave's shins.  

"Stop that."

"Let me go!"  

"Negative.  Jazz, mine.  Order is to remain still, and accept pleasure."

"It's not pleasure!  I don't want it and I don't want you."  

"You will.  Reminder: Jazz, prisoner and slave.  Soundwave patient, outcome inevitable."  He indulged himself in another long, slow lick, and Jazz growled, kicking frantically against Soundwave's legs.  

"Stop resistance.  Accept pleasure."

"Never," Jazz panted.  His fans were spinning at top speed, the heat of his small body smoldering against Soundwave's armor. It felt incredibly good, but the repeated banging against his shins was marring his enjoyment. Soundwave recalled a tactic that had often worked with Ravage, that first vorn.  

"Resistance, prolonging session.  Cease, submit, and session will finish sooner."  

Jazz snarled and kicked him again.  Soundwave winced, then retaliated with another light nibble on Jazz's neck.  

"Session now extended for one breem.  Resistance continued?"

Jazz kicked him extra hard that time, as if to prove something, and Soundwave bit a little harder.  Some of these marks might be permanent, if any mech cared to look closely.  "Session now extended for two breems.  Resistance continued?"

"Nice try, Soundwave," Jazz growled.  "But your little minions will be home soon, and you've got your schedule to keep.  You won't put off working, just to keep snacking on my neck."

"Session will last as long as necessary," Soundwave assured his slave.  "Audience desired?  Rumble and Frenzy will watch until we finish."

That one, at last, struck the right nerve wire.  Jazz's pedes stopped banging against Soundwave's legs and he subsided with a shudder.

Pleased, Soundwave curled Jazz closely against his chest again, stimulating a fresh wave of heat inside his own body.  While his mouth continued to explore Jazz's neck, one hand glided over the smooth finish of Jazz's chest.  His armor was clamping shut again; Soundwave could feel it.  

"Accept pleasure," he repeated, vocalizer dialed down to its lowest pitch.  

"I told you, Soundwave," Jazz whispered.  "You can make me do things.  You can't make me like them."  

Soundwave's response was to trace a fingertip around the seam of Jazz's headlight, and the airflow through his vents faltered.  Jazz had to gasp for some through his mouth.  A sensitive spot, then.  Smugly Soundwave repeated the action on the other headlight, and Jazz swallowed a tiny moan.  Soundwave moved his mouth around to the other side of Jazz's neck and nipped a fresh sensor wire, still encircling the glass headlight with one finger.  Those fans of his were spinning harder now, all vents open wide and cycling air furiously.  Soundwave's own vents were none too quiet either, now; that heat was growing.

Jazz must have felt it.  His sparkbeat was hammering a frantic staccato within his chest, the ventilation that he needed through his mouth coming in ragged pants.  When Soundwave's other hand dipped into the crevasse of his hip and fondled another wire, he bucked hard, arching his back against Soundwave with a moan he could not conceal.  Twice Jazz tried to roll limply off of Soundwave's lap, but Soundwave snagged a grip on his waist and pulled him back to where he belonged.  After more than a breem of it, Jazz wasn't trying that anymore.  

The electricity was almost dancing from Jazz's exposed wires onto Soundwave's glossa and fingertips.  Surge after surge reared up within his body, demanding release - specifically, demanding to be released into Jazz.  It would be so easy to throw him face down on the couch, grind his body against the other, to force the surges between his considerably-loosened armor plates.  

But no.  With difficulty, Soundwave held himself in check.  Jazz belonged to him, and Soundwave did not harm what was his.  And someday, Jazz would open his legs willingly for it.  This was inevitable; Jazz was his.

It lasted for exactly two breems and no longer, true to Soundwave's word.  Reluctantly he withdrew his exploring fingers and straightened, mask snapping back over his face.  "Session complete," he announced.  "Jazz, now permitted to stand."  

Jazz didn't move, huddled and shaking on Soundwave's lap, fists curling and uncurling where he'd braced them against his knees.  

"Jazz, now permitted to -"

"Shh.  I'm thinking."  

What?  Soundwave was so nonplussed that he did not react, and in that nanoklik Jazz finally moved.  Not forward, but backward.  Without warning or effort he shoved himself back into Soundwave's chest, arching his spinal struts so completely that with a turn of his head his lip plating was almost brushing over Soundwave's left audio receptor.

"Yes," he breathed, "thinking hard.  I have been doing it for a long time and I still don't have the answers I want so I will ask you.  Soundwave.  Master.  What do you want?"

"Surrender," Soundwave answered, startled and suddenly uneasy.  "Submission."  

"No, Soundwave.  That's everyone in this house.  What do you want with me?"  Was that Jazz's hand, cupping his jaw, keeping him from leaning away from the tickle of Jazz's lips?  "You came to the table for me that night of the game, I know you did, I could see it in your stare.  And I hoped to Primus I was wrong, but no such luck.  You toyed with Skywarp, kept him alive even though you could have wiped him out anytime you wanted, forcing him to up the pot again and again until he'd have nothing left but me.  I would have warned the stupid glitch if I thought there was half a chance he'd listen.  You called me undesirable but that wasn't true, not for you.  You wanted me.  Why, Soundwave, after all this time, did you suddenly decide that you wanted Autobot Jazz in your berth?"

Silence.  Jazz pressed himself even closer, which hadn't seemed possible, and his lips were more than just tickling now.  

"You've had a thousand chances now and still you won't just rape me.  Whatever it is you're looking for, it's more than an easy 'face.  What do you want, Soundwave?  Is it the jokes?  Am I your court jester?  Something to amuse you here in your lonely tower of exile?  Why did you lock yourself away from the world, and why are you looking to me to fill the void that it left?  What do you want?  What do you want?"

"Enough," Soundwave finally managed.  "Stop."

"Tell me the truth, Soundwave.  Tell me what you want."

"Stop!"

Soundwave braced his hands against Jazz and shoved, with all his considerable strength.  Jazz toppled off his lap and hit the floor in what should have been a clumsy thud.  But it was Jazz, and he rolled gracefully head over heels back into a standing position, facing Soundwave.  There was nothing submissive about his slave now.  His visor glittered with determination, drive, and a dangerous intelligence.  Icy blue light pinned him there to the couch, and Soundwave could do nothing but return the stare in silence.  

What would have happened if the twins hadn't returned just then, Soundwave would never know.  But the noisy whoosh of the opening door and their cheerful greeting broke the spell of the moment.  Jazz's aggressive posture relaxed, his shoulders dropping, and he took a step back.  

"I think we'll call this one a draw."  Dark was the grin that flickered across his face.  "Until next time.  Master."    

 


 

"Hey, boss?"  

"Everything okay?" 

The time for upload was over.  The twins had popped back into their root modes, wearing identical expressions of concern and suspicion that he resolutely ignored.  

"Adequate description: fine.  Concern unnecessary."  

"Cuz it sorta feels like you're covering something."  

"Yeah, something feels a little too quiet."  

Soundwave's hands did not even falter, gliding across the console with practiced ease.  An impassive appearance had always been easy for him, thanks to his build.  But appearance meant nothing to his symbiotes, and it was a different thing altogether to paint over that chaotic whirl of grief, pain, and fear.  Rumble and Frenzy tilted to their heads to the side, simultaneously, a sight that usually amused him.

"Did something happen?"

"With Jazz?"  

"And was it good or bad?"  

Well, he could hardly deny anything happened.  Being as short as they were gave his cassettes a slightly different view of the world, and they often saw what a full-sized mech missed.  Right now they were looking at his well-scuffed shin armor.  

"Tie," Soundwave said simply.  

They looked confused.  "Tie?"

"Affirmative.  Dismissed."  

They exchanged baffled looks.  He concentrated on pleasant memories, like Jazz petting Laserbeak, laughing so freely during the Great Rat Fight (as dubbed by the twins), moaning while Soundwave nibbled on his neck.  His stress eased, emotions warmed, and the twins relaxed.  

"Okay..."

"If you say so."  They clumped back out into the common room and the door swished shut behind them.  And Soundwave, once left alone, was surprised to realize that he actually did feel better.  Never mind those things Jazz said.  He said them because he'd been frightened, desperate to make Soundwave retreat, and frightened he well should be.  Soundwave had elicited so many moans of pleasure there on the couch; Jazz must have been in a panic at what his master could make him feel.  If he was that scared, then Soundwave really was winning.  Jazz would lose at his own game yet.  

Thus reassured, Soundwave spent the next joor and a half sorting through the twins' raw data, cataloging small anomalies, and drafting his report.  By the time he finished, he already knew what he would do.  He would enter the common room, every inch the tall, intimidating master, and coldly order Jazz to polish his legs.  He would have Jazz kneel before him and polish his legs.  And if he resisted he would be punished in short order, with Rumble and Frenzy to witness.  That should serve as adequate reminder to Jazz of his place in this household.  

The door slid aside.  The twins were deep into some new video game, battling Earth zombies while slurping on their evening rations.  Jazz was in his usual corner, pecking away at his datapad.  He looked up at the sound of the door, and had the brazen wires to smile.  

"Jazz."

"Yes, my love?"

Soundwave's vents hitched and stalled out.  Rumble, who happened to be right in the middle of refueling, lost control of his intakes and sprayed a mouthful of energon all over Frenzy.  Who spluttered indignantly, but couldn't find the words to form a complaint, shocked optics locked on Jazz.  For his part, Jazz's charmingly innocent smile could have lit most of Iacon. 

"Whaa..."  Rumble was the first one to find his voice.  "What did you just say?"

"My master Soundwave just addressed me.  I was merely inquiring as to why, for unlike him, I cannot read minds."  

Now the twins' stunned stare flipped over to him, to see his reaction - fanatically eager to see his reaction.  The nanoklik their gaze was off him, Jazz's angelic smile shifted into a sly grin.  Triumphantly he wiggled four fingers and mouthed, "Jazz four."  

Soundwave's hands briefly curled into fists, but he forced them to relax open again.  

"Jazz, fetch polish."  His voice served him well.  Not so much as a waver did it let slip.  "See to my legs."  

"Right away, love.  I think the premium hard wax, rather than high gloss, don't you?  Those are some nasty scuff marks we need to buff out."  Gaily humming, as if this was all quite ordinary, Jazz collected all the necessary polishing elements and knelt in front of the couch.  Soundwave had to remind himself to move forward and sit.  The twins' characters had long since died horrible deaths on the screen but they didn't seem to have noticed, still boggling at the two of them.  

"Rumble.  Frenzy."

"Our game waits, return to it, we know."  

They hunched their shoulders and went back to their controllers, though not without the occasional sidelong glance.  Jazz didn't seem to notice, vigorously rubbing wax into Soundwave's legs.  When he'd almost reached the knee, Soundwave tipped forward and grasped Jazz's chin, holding him momentarily still.  

"This, not over."

"I'd be most surprised if it was," Jazz assured him.



Soundwave almost slammed Jazz into the berth that night, pinning his wrists down with a force that made Jazz wince.

"Something wrong, love?"  

"Explain."

"Explain what, love?  Oh, you mean my little term of endearment.  Why, Soundwave?  Is it... bothering you?"  Jazz lifted his head up off the berth, and he would have tapped his forehead against Soundwave's if Soundwave hadn't pulled away in time.  "It's just a word.  Does it upset you?"

Soundwave chose not to answer, rather than admit the truth.  "Explain it."  

"Well, since you won't tell me what it is you want from me, I'm left on my own to guess.  Lover seems as good as anything else, don't you think?"  

"Sentiment, not sincere."

"Ooh, the rumors are true.  You are smart."  

Soundwave almost crushed Jazz's wrists and Jazz gritted his denta, swallowing some sound of pain.  "Soundwave master, Jazz mine.  You will show respect."  

"So that's a 'yes', then."  Jazz stretched and curved up against Soundwave's weight.  "If it upsets you so, lover, then you know how to punish me.  Oh wait, no, you still refuse to do that.  So I guess we're both trapped."

Soundwave cycled a full intake's worth of air, releasing it through his vents slowly.  "Jazz... very difficult, sometimes."

"You're just now tumbling on to that?  Maybe you're not so smart after all.  Skywarp could have told you that much."  

"Skywarp inferior, Soundwave superior."  He noticed he was still clamping a vice grip around Jazz's wrists and relaxed his hold.  "Violence unnecessary, other punishment suitable."

"Like what?"

"You will learn.  And here -" Soundwave lowered his face again, to just over Jazz's.  "- interface, not a punishment."  

He could feel Jazz's light ventilations against his mask, and he retracted it.  There was no way he could miss how Jazz stiffened underneath him, or the slight uptick in his spark pulse.  He had to be afraid Soundwave would kiss him, but he didn't try to turn his head or pull away.  He didn't even shutter his visor.  He just waited.

This time it was Soundwave's turn to tap his forehead lightly against Jazz's, so close he could all but taste his lips.  Tasting his nervous fear was enough.

"Jazz, not in control here.  Remember that."  

"Neither of us are," Jazz breathed.  "Wild, isn't it?"  


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

 

"Starscream kicked me."

Silence.  Soundwave didn't look up from the hax set, still carefully considering his next move, but he could see Jazz look from the open doorway back to him, a slight quizzical tilt to the head.  Frenzy huffed and stomped inside, deliberately clanging his pedes against the floor in a way that produced far too much noise for someone of his size.  

"I said Starscream kicked me."  

Soundwave tipped his head a few degrees toward Frenzy.  "Audio relays, functioning.  Repetition unnecessary."  

"Well aren't you the picture of sympathy.  One of your own, your precious and brilliant hacker and undoubtedly your favorite of the whole team, is wounded by a rampaging seeker and you can't even be bothered to look up from your hax game.  Sorry if I'm disturbing your concentration!"

Frenzy popped his thrusters and threw himself into Soundwave's lap, with a groan that could have announced loss of a major limb.  His paint was barely scuffed.  Jazz looked bemused.

"You're takin' this well."

"Distress, unnecessary."

Maybe if Soundwave had caught even a flicker of pain when it actually happened six breems ago, instead of blustering indignation, he'd be moderately concerned.  As it was, the only kind of attention Frenzy needed right now was just that: attention.  Obligingly Soundwave dropped his free hand onto Frenzy's head.  

"I didn't even do anything!  Okay, maybe I said something about having wriggled out from under Megatron's heel for a breather, and maybe somethin' about going back under it when he's lonely, and he just kicked me!  Right into the wall, like a... whaddya call 'em on Earth, a soccer ball.  Fragger."  Frenzy had worked himself into a fine sulk, but it didn't stop him from pushing up underneath Soundwave's hand, leaning into his gentle petting.  Soundwave knew Jazz was watching, though he said nothing.    

"And do I have the understanding pity of my boss?  No.  He's more preoccupied with a stupid game.  Do I even have the pity of my stupid brother?  No.  Rumble disappeared off to somewhere and won't even answer my comms, leaving me to suffer all alone.  Does anybody care about Frenzy at all?  I bet you do, Jazz.  You know what it's like to get kicked by a seeker, right?"  

Light rolled behind Jazz's visor.  "Yeah, Frenzy, it's the same.  I truly feel your pain."  

Frenzy's systems growled softly at the sarcasm, but he didn't have a handy retort.  He hmphed instead and tucked himself more firmly into the crease of Soundwave's lap. 

"It's a cruel world for cons my size."

"And yet, your stoic martyrdom is an inspiration to us all."

"Oh, shut up, slave."  

"Je suis surpris, quoique."  Jazz propped his chin in his hand and directed that puzzle-solving look of his at Soundwave.  "I am surprised, though.  Even if he's not hurt, I'd have thought you'd turn Starscream's mind inside out for messing with your brats.  I feel let down.  Where's that legendary telepathic wrath?"

"Stop that, I hate it when you do that," Frenzy complained.

"Damage, minimal.  Retaliation, wasteful expenditure.  Confrontations between seekers and Cassetticons too frequent."

Jazz laughed.  "In other words, if you interfered every time you'd get nothing else done?"

"Affirmative."

"I'm right here..."  Frenzy glowered at Jazz from underneath Soundwave's hand.  Soundwave watched Jazz's gaze drop down, following every soft pet.

"Or maybe there's something more to it.  Maybe you'd rather not advertise to the rest of the Decepticons just how much they mean to you, else you'd be making them into even bigger - or should I say smaller? - targets than they already are."  

Soundwave's hand froze, momentarily, then resumed its task.  Jazz had seen, though.  He leaned forward with a grin that was positively gloating.  "You softie.  I've got your number now."  

 "Stop it stop it stop it!  You're on Cybertron, speak the right language already!"  Frenzy practically bounced on Soundwave's lap in agitation.

"My apologies, Master Little Red One."  Jazz leaned back in his seat, still wearing that grin.  "So, what would you do if I kicked Frenzy?"

"You'd better not, slave."

"Some punishment, suitable," Soundwave answered coolly.  "And, you will not."  

"What would you do if Starscream kicked me?"

Again Soundwave's hand stopped moving, for a single nanoklik.  "Jazz, mine.  Starscream will not."

"Or else..."

"Pain."

Light flickered behind that visor, out of surprise or unease Soundwave wasn't sure.  He sensed a twinge of Frenzy's discomfort, and felt him shift a little on his lap.  Something in the way he'd uttered that one word sounded much more vicious than he'd intended.  Fortunately, at that moment, the front door swished open and Rumble strutted inside.

"I'm home!"

"Finally!" Frenzy exploded, flopping over onto his front so he could shoot a nasty glare at his twin.  "Where in the pit have you been?  Don't you care that your brother got kicked into the wall by Starscream?  Leaving a Frenzy-shaped dent in it, I might add.  And as I was limping home, all I could think of was how nice it would be if my brother was there to lend me his shoulder and see me through the journey.  You slagger."

"Aw, quit your bitchin'," Rumble tossed back cheerfully.  His grin stretched from one side of the room to the other, looking extraordinarily pleased with himself.  "It just so happens that I had something important to take care of."

"What could be more important than me, your twin, who shares a spark with you and was programmed alongside you and has saved your rusty hide more times than you can count?"

"Oh, I don't know.  Maybe... this?"  With a flourish, he produced a datachip from subspace.  It looked like any other datachip to Soundwave, but Frenzy immediately stiffened.  

"Is that..."

"Yep."  

"How did you..."

"I know mechs that know mechs.  Or should I say Stunticons who know people?  Who have just handed over to their gracious Decepticon masters a pre-release copy of the new, never-before-seen -"

"Bourne Ultimatum Chapter 20 - This Time It's Personal.!" 

"That's the one."  Rumble was radiating smugness.  Casually he blew a speck of dust off his prize.  "I take it you've heard of it?"

"You - fragger!"  Frenzy tumbled off Soundwave's lap and practically threw himself at his brother, punching him hard on the shoulder.  "How'd you keep this a secret from me?  WHY'd you keep this a secret from me?"

"Wanted it to be a surprise.  And what better way to perk up your orn?  It's the cure for the common seeker."

"Damn right.  Starscream who?  This is going to be twenty kinds of awesome!" 

Rumble posed for drama.  "Now, who's a genius?"

"You, Rumble, are a genius.  You are the king of geniuses."  They giggled and punched each other some more, and then, simultaneously, fixed Soundwave with bright pleading optics.  "You'll watch it with us, won't you, Soundwave?"

"Yeah, it's been forever since we did anything together."

"Please?"

"Pleeeease?"

"Psst, I think you're outnumbered," Jazz whispered across the set.  "Better surrender."  

Soundwave stifled a small sigh.  Human entertainment, in his opinion, was farcical in nature and relied on ridiculous twists of logic and coincidence.  And for a species so frail and astonishingly short-lived, they had a curious predilection for movies that celebrated their own mortality.  They seemed to delight in featuring stories of their own species being gruesomely killed in extraordinary ways.  Rumble and Frenzy loved them, though, and while Iacon's market of basic goods was gradually picking itself up off the ground, the planet had nowhere near recovered enough to produce much in the way of culture.  Video games, movies, and music were all cherished imports from Earth.  Cherished most of all, perhaps, by the two tiny cons standing there and shooting waves of hope in his direction.  

"Affirmative."

 "Yes!"

"Wicked!  I'll set it up!"

"First, data upload."

"Awww..."

"Can't we do it later?  Please?"

"You know Megatron doesn't care if it comes in tonight or tomorrow."

"And nothing interesting happened today anyway."

"Let's watch the movie first.  That way, Laserbeak and Buzzsaw can watch too, before they go out."  

"And even Ravage is here, right?  We should ALL watch it together."

"Because the movie will be just that awesome.  Please?"

"Pleeeease?"

Oh, for Primus' sake.  Soundwave exhaled through his vents with a huff.  The twins knew perfectly well that their duties should come first.  But now their attention was corrupted, and data upload might be less than complete if they were trying to cut corners.  And their notion that everyone could join in was appealing.  The entire team had not come together to share in something pleasurable since the deaths.  Nobody had been in the mood.  Anyway, human movies barely lasted half a joor.  

"Acceptable," he agreed.  "Movie now."  

They cheered, and immediately got down to business.  Rumble galloped to the console to plug in the movie, and Frenzy vanished into Soundwave's room to drag a recharging Ravage back out.  Ravage cared about human entertainment about as much as Soundwave did, but their irrepressible cheer must have affected him too, because he followed his little brother with only a few disdainful grunts.  Soundwave released Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, of whom the former did like movies but preferred animation, and the latter probably did like movies but would never ever admit it.  Like Ravage, they were pleased by the unexpected happy mood, and perched on the back of the couch with some chirps and clicks.  Ravage curled up at Soundwave's feet, pointedly closing his optics in an attempt to finish his nap, and Frenzy curled up on Soundwave's right.  They were all here, but Soundwave sensed something was missing.  That something was Jazz, retreating into his corner with his usual inconspicuousness.  

"Jazz, come."  

Jazz flinched and pressed himself against the walls, looking very much like he wished Soundwave hadn't noticed him.  "I'm just fine over here, thanks."  

"Jazz, come."  

"I'm okay, I've got this new level to solve and -"

"Oh, just get over here, Jazz," Rumble snapped impatiently, fiddling with the callibrations of their sound system.  "You'll bring his mood down if you argue.  Everybody has to watch the movie."  

Soundwave actually rebooted his audios to check that they were working.  From the looks of it, so did Jazz.  Surprised white light swept back and forth across his visor, and he stared with his mouth slightly agape.

"Yes sir," he said at last.  With the lights falling into darkness, he diffidently crossed the room and approached the couch.  No doubt he was thinking about the last time he'd been on it, and he hesitated before trying to sit on the end and well away from Soundwave.  Promptly Soundwave reached for his wrist and dragged him closer, pulling him flush against Soundwave's left.  Jazz flinched again and tried to pull away, but Soundwave's grip on his wrist was unrelenting.  Credits were flickering across the giant screen now, and Rumble dashed back to the couch and threw himself in Soundwave's lap.

Jazz was still a tense bundle of struts next to Soundwave.  Surely he must have known Soundwave would do nothing to him right now?  Soundwave rubbed his hand, stroking it comfortingly, and with his other guided Jazz's head to rest on his shoulder.  It took a breem and a half, but eventually Jazz had no choice but to relax.  Just seven human characters had died by the time Soundwave sensed the tension easing out of his frame.  Reluctantly, but inevitably, Jazz slumped against Soundwave's sturdy shoulder and stayed that way.  

"My point," he murmured, low in his vocalizer.  "Soundwave, six."

"Actually I think it's the twins' point," Jazz whispered without missing a beat.  

"Quiet," both cassetticons snapped in unison, and that was the end of that.

Soundwave had never enjoyed a movie more.

 


 

 

The light skip of Jazz's pedes echoed in the halls along with Soundwave's heavier tread, two steps to his one.  It was not so crowded in HQ today, at least not yet, but the few Decepticons present still stared agape as if they'd never seen their own comms officer before.  Or maybe they were staring at Jazz, who was not letting their presence interfere with his chatty mood.

"- and I think they actually cleaned just for your big return, because I swear I've never seen these halls so sparkling before.  Or maybe that's just a flawed memory cache, seeing as how it's been so long.  Still, makes for a nice change of scenery.  Did you even tell anyone you're coming?  Will it be a surprise?  Shockwave won't know what to do with himself, he likes being the only officer on deck that Megatron doesn't hit.  I think we all know how much Starscream adores you, so the look on his face should be fun to see.  Tell him you needed some fresh air... but that you decided to come here anyway.  That'll make him fritz!  I'm sure I don't have to warn you not to say why you really came."  

Jazz nudged his arm and grinned up at him; Soundwave did not respond.  "Don't want to acknowledge it, love?  I get it, can't admit the slave is right, it's cool.  What matters is that you know and I know and we're here now."

Soundwave didn't even look at Jazz.  It was true that he wasn't particularly happy to be here, but this cycle he'd felt compelled to present himself to the command center.  For all he'd affected not to care, Frenzy's incident with Starscream bothered him a little.  Frenzy hadn't been hurt in the slightest, but he didn't like it that Starscream felt cocky enough to go kicking his symbiotes whenever he felt like it; Starscream had gotten too accustomed to Soundwave's distance.  In the past, he'd been far more careful about bullying the cassetticons.  Soundwave merely had to remind him of his presence.  He was not, he told himself firmly, here just because of that ominous warning of Jazz's.  It was merely a factor.  Much as he didn't like it, Soundwave needed to appear here more often.  So many things were at stake.

"Do you think we'll be here longer than last time?  Just because we can't talk to each other doesn't mean I don't need my time with Percy and Blue, you know, we used to be together all the time before you won that- hey, where are we going?  This isn't the way to the command room."  

They had turned down the hall that housed senior rank offices.  Soundwave still didn't answer but walked to his, rapidly keying in the access code.  It wasn't something he ever used, as he did all his surveillance upload and analysis in his home office, but occasionally Rumble and Frenzy used it while serving their shifts here.  If it weren't for automatic cleaning drones, most of the equipment would be covered in a layer of dust.  The door slid open, and Soundwave propelled Jazz inside.  

"Is this your office?  Doesn't look like you use it very much.  What do you need in here?"  

"Solitude."

Jazz looked at him, blank and unsuspecting.  "Solitude?  You could have that at home." 

"Not mine.  Yours.  You will remain here for duration of shift." 

It was not easy to watch his excited smile slip away, as comprehension dawned.  "What?"

"You remain here," Soundwave repeated.  "Alone.  You will not see Autobot slaves."

"What- no. No!  You can't do that, take me with you to the command room!" 

Soundwave pressed a hand against Jazz's chest when he tried to push past him, pinning him against the dark console.  "Jazz, slave.  Will not give orders.  You remain here."

"Why?"

"Behavior with Megatron."

"I won't do that again, I swear it, I'll stay quiet no matter what he says -"

"And solitude, promised punishment."

"For what?"

"Jazz, forgotten already?  This promised so recently in exchange for your challenge." 

Jazz looked horrified.  "For that?  You won't let me see my friends?  No, that's out of proportion, that's not fair!"  

"Soundwave, master.  I will decide what is fair."  

 Without warning Jazz shoved at him, forcing Soundwave back a step, and lunged for the door.  Soundwave had to grab his arms and wrestle him back against the console with more force than he would have liked.  "Let me go!  Let me go, you can't do this, I need to see them!  I have to check on them, I have to check on Bluestreak, he lives with that monster, and Percy..."  Vents open wide in his panic, Jazz scrabbled and tore at Soundwave's arms.  "I never get to see them, not any of them, I always had at least that until you took that from me!  Let me go!"

"Negative.  Punishment, necessary."

 He obviously would not stay quietly.  Soundwave unlocked one of his cuffs and relatched it around the leg of his desk.  It hurt him more than he cared to admit when Jazz's vocalizer skipped and went scratchy with static.  He did not want Jazz unhappy, but his impertinence had to be punished.  For his own symbiotes, the worst punishment he could ever deal was to hamper their freedom.  'Confined to quarters' was the usual sentence for any misbehavior.  For Jazz, this was obviously what cut him straight to the spark. 

He stepped back, and Jazz thrashed his chain angrily.  "If you leave me in here, I swear to Primus I will make you regret it." 

"How?"

"I'll... sing It's a Small World at the top of my vocalizer!"

"Room, soundproof."

Jazz snarled.  "Well, I'll think of something." 

"Threats inappropriate, ineffective.  Will return in .75 joor to feed."

"Frag you."  

Soundwave did not react to that, and just looked at Jazz calmly.  "Jazz, mine.  Remember that."  He turned and left.  Jazz's anguished yell was cut off when the soundproofed door slammed shut. 

 


 

 

"It's just one Autobot!" Megatron was bellowing at the comm screens when Soundwave entered command proper.  "One - single - Autobot!  We've obliterated and enslaved their entire army!  How is it that that you cannot track down and capture just one of their soldiers, a soldier that has no access to steady shelter or fuel!  Tell me now."

Motormaster hunched his shoulders and ducked his head, simmering with resentment and failure.  "My lord Megatron, the Afghan lands are impossible to get through, the roads are -"

"I don't care about the roads," Megatron snapped.  "He's just as much a vehicle as you are and he seems to manage just fine.  Don't give me 'roads' as an excuse for your pathetic performance."

"There are so many places to hide.  So many underground caves, and tunnels that go for miles.  I follow every lead, respond to every human's call, but he always manages to disappear before I can get there.  And he doesn't leave tracks on the bare rock."  

"He has to recharge sometime.  I suggest you find him while he's doing that, since he's apparently too much of a match for you otherwise."  Megatron's fist slammed down on the comm switch, terminating the connection and making Rumble jump. 

"Incompetents," Megatron growled.  "I am surrounded by incompetents." 

Starscream huffed and crossed his arms; if Shockwave took any offense, it was impossible to know it.  "My lord," he spoke up, "we still have the question of fuel distribution to discuss.  Some mechs have been vocal that it isn't enough to power significant industry."

"It never stops, does it?  Apparently saving the planet from death wasn't enough for some ingrates."  

"I beg my lord's patience."  Shockwave started tapping at buttons on the display fixture, calling up three-dimensional images of factories and their projected fuel needs.  That's when Rumble noticed Soundwave, a flash of surprise crossing his face and the link between them.  

"Hey boss.  What are you doing here?"

"Soundwave, head of Surveillance and Communications, ranking officer of Decepticon army.  Command room, not appropriate location?"

"Right, sorry I asked."  He tipped back in his chair and craned his head, looking at the far corner of the lowest floor.  The Autobot slaves were all huddled there together, now twice as miserable as when Soundwave first entered the room.  Bluestreak had lit up when he first saw him, but when he realized Jazz wasn't there he'd looked absolutely crushed.  "Where's your shadow?"  

"Office."

"Because...?"

Soundwave didn't answer, just looked at him, and Rumble sank into the chair a little.  "Okay, none of my business, moving on."

"Rumble's presence, curious.  Frenzy scheduled for current shift."  

Rumble shrugged.  "He's taking a break or somethin'.  It's cool, it's fun to watch Megatron scream at Motormaster.  He's a slagging jerk anyway."

"Soundwave?"  It was Shockwave that noticed him.  Soundwave looked up, to see all three officers staring at him in surprise.  "How... unexpected."

"Did I call for you?"  Megatron looked confused.  Soundwave bowed. 

"Negative.  Today, desire to work in command center." 

Starscream's optics narrowed thoughtfully, but Megatron just shrugged.  "Good.  Since you're here, you can join us.  I want your thoughts on Shockwave's proposals." 

"Yes, Lord Megatron." 

 


 

          

It did not, Soundwave reflected, take very long.  A half-joor had barely gone by and Megatron and Starscream were already screaming at each other.  Shockwave had presented a detailed blueprint of energon distribution for the next centi-orn, heavily favoring factory repair and reactivation.  It would mean shortening the supply for the general population, but he claimed it was a necessary investment for the future.  Starscream shrilly accused him of only wanting to line his own accounts, that the wealthier neutrals who stood to gain would be paying Shockwave extensive kickbacks for the fuel, and that such obvious elitism went against everything the Decepticons had fought for in the first place.  Shockwave countered that Starscream’s plans to rebuild the science academy could hardly not be described as elitism, and he was only threatened by Shockwave’s plans out of fear for his own fuel allotments.  Both insisted to Megatron that their projects were vital investments for the future of the planet.  Megatron snapped that he hadn’t seen enough results from either to prove it. 

That got Shockwave started on his usual spiel that he did not have enough resources for faster demolition in the unrepaired sectors.  The Constructicons, even with their slave labor, couldn’t do it fast enough.  They needed more fuel, and precisely the heavy equipment that those particular factories would produce –

Starscream interrupted with a well rehearsed rant that drone-run factories and more buildings meant nothing without a suitably intelligent population to make use of them.  Too much scientific effort had gone into warfare, these past hundreds of vorns, their planet was well behind the technological achievements they ought to be producing. 

And so on.  Soundwave listened patiently, spoke only when addressed, and kept his answers short and to the point.  Nationbuilding was not of great interest to him, and he did not have much of an opinion to offer, but brevity was a quality Megatron valued (in other mechs.)

“Suggestion,” he finally said.  “Evaluate worth of previous results, prorate fuel distribution accordingly.”

“Oh what am I supposed to do?” Starscream demanded, before Megatron could agree or disagree.  “Pull brilliant inventions out of the thin air?  I need equipment, resources, a suitable environment for experimentation!  You can’t ask me to produce progress to justify the fuel when I need the fuel for progress in the first place!”

“Who said anything about ‘asking’, Starscream?” Megatron said in a hard voice.  “You will give me results or I will be looking elsewhere for mechs that can.  And don’t whine to me about resources.  I gave you the Autobots’ best scientist, use him already.  Show me something of worth, like plans to rebuild a key to Vector Sigma, and then you will have all the fuel you could want.” 

“Oh is that all, Vector Sigma?”  Starscream tossed his head haughtily.  “Will there be anything else, like a formula to convert cosmic rust into gold?  If you’re going to make such ambitious demands, then I’ll need two scientists –“

“Say it and get knocked to the floor,” Megatron warned.  Casually he flexed his fingers and curled them into a fist.  “But please me, Starscream, and one of these days I’ll allow you to… oh, I don’t know.  See him.  Until then, worry more about me than your pitiful Autobot.” 

 Starscream’s optics glittered, but he bowed his head in a gesture of mock subservience.  “As you command, Lord Megatron.”

Soundwave stiffened slightly, and it had nothing to do with watching Megatron dangle Skyfire out in front of Starscream just like Jazz said he would.  He’d just caught a very strong flash of alarm from Frenzy, which didn’t worry him.  What worried him was that the feeling promptly cut off, like a disconnected comm line, which meant Frenzy didn’t want him to know about it.  That, in Soundwave’s long experience, usually meant trouble.  He tapped Frenzy’s side of the link with an inquiring ping and got no response.  He tried Rumble next, who’d felt it just as much as he did, and got the emotional equivalent of a shrug. 

“Soundwave?”

He refocused his attention outward, to find Megatron looking at him.  “What do you think?”

“… Affirmative.” 

“Unbelievable,” Starscream muttered.  “Another slave for the Constructicons when they already have four?”

“The medical bot hardly counts,” Shockwave said coolly.  “He has his own duties under Hook, and the two of them are quite busy enough.  But Scrapper informs me that the addition of one other slave to his crew would be tremendously helpful in my proposed factory repair project.”

“Which one does he want?” Megatron asked, ignoring Starscream’s irritated ‘hmpf’.  Soundwave kept half his attention on the conversation and directed the other half toward Frenzy, again running up against a solid wall.  What was he up to?

“Grapple and Hoist have some competence in the tasks Scrapper assigns them, and the small minibot with magnetic powers is proving very useful, but Scrapper needs a fourth slave with some real strength.”

“Give him one of the dinobots,” Starscream suggested snidely.  “That should be more than enough steel power for him.”

“I’ll bring a dinobot to Cybertron when you agree to hold the other end of the leash,” Megatron growled. 

“My lord,” Shockwave interposed, just when Starscream was about to retort.  “I suggest minobot Brawn; his profile lists incredible lifting and throwing capacity.”

“And when fuel production drops because this ever-so-strong minibot’s been moved away from the energon wells?” Starscream pointed out. 

“It will only be temporary, my lord, I am not asking for permanent reassignment.  Only to borrow.” 

Megatron rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  “Ugly, obnoxious little creature,” he murmured thoughtfully.  “I remember him, alright.  Those minibots are such a poor excuse for our race.  Take him, Shockwave.  You get one deca-orn, and then I want to see results.  If I’m not happy with them, he goes back to Earth.” 

“You won’t be disappointed, my lord.”  Shockwave bowed, and Starscream huffed. 

“I’m tired of talking about all this,” Megatron declared, and Soundwave recognized well enough the thin edge of irritation in his voice.  “I need refreshment.  Slave!” 

He strode toward the steps, pedes clanging loud against the floor, and Soundwave could already hear Bluestreak scrambling to stand.  Fortunate timing.  Jazz’s feeding time was near, but first he was going to take Rumble and go check on Frenzy.  Just in case

 He took a step away from the table, only to be intercepted by Shockwave. 

“Very fortuitous, your return today,” Shockwave commented.  “Your support for my plans saved me much trouble, Director Soundwave.  Thank you for your assistance.” 

“Appreciation, unnecessary.”  Soundwave inclined his head. 

“I hope I can always count on your support in the future.” 

Ah.  That was not a discussion Soundwave wanted to have just now.  Quickly he commed Rumble. 

“Hey boss,” he called out, “can I steal ya for a breem?  Got a question about some camera placement.” 

“Apologies extended, Premier Shockwave.”  Soundwave bowed his head again and made for the stairs, Rumble falling in beside him.  

 “Rumble, state Frenzy’s activity.”

“Don’t look at me, I dunno nothin’!” 

Soundwave looked at him sharply, but mental probing found nothing.  This only concerned him more.  When the twins had a special mission in mind, one often left the other in the dark to provide plausible deniability.  Wistfully Soundwave thought of his quiet loft, Jazz sitting across the hax set and waiting for him to play. 

“Uh-oh,” Rumble muttered, dispelling that brief fantasy.  They’d made it out of the command room and were almost out of the antechamber when Starscream practically threw himself in their path, blocking the hallway.  “This can’t be good.”

“Soundwave!  Out of the shadows at last.  Spare a klik to chat?”

“Negative, surveillance task necessary.”  Soundwave made to step around Starscream, only for Starscream to slap a hand against the wall.

“This won’t take long.  I know you’re never taken in by my sweet, persuasive words, so I can just be direct with you.  That up there, just now?  Was really stupid.” 

At his pedes, Rumble bristled up to twice his size.  “Say that again, Screamer?” 

“You’re a smart mech, and you’re very good at what you do.  But you and I both know that you hate playing politics, and that’s exactly what Shockwave and I spend all the orn, every orn doing.  I have enough trouble keeping that sychophantic freak off my turf and his claws off my fuel, without you wandering in to vote an accidental yes on his powermongering schemes.”

“Your rivalry, not my concern.” 

Soundwave nudged not-so-gently against the wing blocking his way, and Starscream moved aside.  But he wasn’t finished. 

“You’re a fool if you think he doesn’t hate the both of us,” he hissed in a low voice, as Soundwave passed.  “Maybe you even more than me.  Megatron made you third-in-command while on Earth but to Shockwave you’re the interloper, you stole the rank that was his.  At least he knows what I want and what I’ll do to get it.  He doesn’t know if you’re a threat to his position or not, or what you’re up to while you lurk in your home out of sight.  And Megatron likes you.”  Starscream wrinkled his nasal plating into a sneer.  “That’s something we both hate about you.” 

Soundwave had paused, out of something like morbid fascination, to hear the poisononous whispers falling from Starscream’s lips.  But he did not turn, and when Starscream had finished he kept walking as if he’d heard nothing at all.  Rumble scurried to keep up, and Starscream did not follow. 

“What the pit was all that about?” Rumble asked, as soon as they’d turned a corner.  “You just voted yes for moving one slave from Earth to Cybertron!  Who cares?” 

“Shockwave,” Soundwave admitted quietly.  “And Starscream.  Balance of power, very delicate.”

Jazz would call it a game…

“Did any of that actually mean anything?  Or was Starscream just blowing smoke?” 

“Consideration will come later.  Frenzy, priority now.” 

Again Soundwave scanned for his symbiote.  His spark was not staying still but moving rather quickly around the command center… like he was running?  Perhaps someone was chasing him?  It took a few kliks but finally Soundwave managed to get a bead on his direction, and grimly closed the distance.  Gulping, Rumble trotted along behind.  When Frenzy came sprinting around the corner, optics pale with exertion and distress, his pedes made an unseemly screech against the floor when he slid to a stop. 

"Gah, boss!  You scared me!  Wh-what are you doing here?" 

"Confess activity."

"What activity, I didn't -"

"Frenzy.  This cycle, not pleasant.  Exacerbation not recommended.  Confess activity."

"...right."  Frenzy wilted slightly, and cleared a little static from his vocalizer.  "Uh, the thing is - you remember how you told us not to try and prank Starscream whenever he torques us off?" 

Soundwave smothered a tiny sigh.  "Affirmative."

"Well... I didn't.  Remember, that is.  I wasn't gonna do much!  Just hack into his office and coat his work console in red epoxy.  It was only fair."

"Frenzy."  Soundwave punctuated the word with unspoken anger, and Frenzy winced.  "Retaliation against Starscream, ineffective, unproductive -"

"Boss."  His small hands were twisting around themselves, and thick dread spread from him to Soundwave and Rumble.  "It gets worse.  It's Jazz."

 Soundwave stiffened, routine irritation dialing up to true anxiety.  "Jazz, involved how?"

"I dunno where he came from!  I was just gettin' started when someone said 'boo!' and I jumped and turned around and he was dropping out of the ceiling beams like it was just nothin'.  He didn't even have his chains on."

"Jazz got out?" Rumble yelped, then hastily clapped a hand over his own mouth, glancing around to make sure the hallway was still empty.  He switched to comm just to be safe.  "Here?  In Decepticon Command?"

"He said you'd locked him in your office but that he was bored and looking for something to do and that he saw me hack into Screamer's office so he figured he'd just tag along and maybe talk to me he said he thought it was time we had a nice long conversation -"

"Why didn't you zap his collar?" Rumble wailed, before Soundwave could ask.  "That's what it's there for, you glitch!"

"I threatened to!  Then he smiled and said that'd leave him unconscious on the floor of Starscream's office and that'd be all kinds of trouble for Soundwave, which I think is pretty much right, so I tried to convince him to go back to yours and that's when he started making lots of noise, banging on the walls and I really didn't want anyone outside to catch me- I mean us, in there so I told him to shut up and he said he would if we could just talk -"

"Forget what he said!  Where did he go, where is he now?"

"I don't know," Frenzy answered, in a small voice.  "I kept up with him for maybe a klik, and then he just disappeared.  I'm sorry, Soundwave." 

Soundwave didn't waste time replying.  Instead he located and accessed the tracking signal on Jazz's slave collar, honing in on his location at a furious speed.  He had it in under a nanoklik.  Jazz was already out of the building, which at least meant he wouldn't be bumping into Megatron, and moving through the Iacon streets.  He wasn't going very fast, and must have been keeping to the shadows to stay out of sight.  How an unaccompanied slave could just stroll through the city without being spotted was a mystery, but Soundwave had no doubt in his mind that Jazz could do it.  What he did know was that Jazz was not trying to escape.  He was too smart to not know Soundwave could track him effortlessly, and moving too slow to get very far.  This was just another of his games, payback for getting locked in the office.  When Soundwave found him, he would laugh mockingly, say 'I told you so!', and give himself another point. 

"Rumble, return to command room, assume any communication responsibilities.  Frenzy, come with me.  Jazz entering unrepaired sectors." 

"Wait, Soundwave."  Frenzy looked the picture of guilty misery, shoulders hunched and optics on the ground.  "There's more.  You have to know what we talked about." 

There was that dread again.  Rumble tensed.  "What do you mean, what you talked about?  Who cares what you talked about?" 

"I'm sorry, Soundwave," Frenzy repeated.  "I was so nervous that we were going to get caught, but he wouldn't leave.  He just kept pressing me and pressing me, to talk, to have a conversation, said he was bound to find out eventually that you couldn't hide the truth forever, and I just happened to be his first good chance so I might as well tell him..."

A chill spread outward from Soundwave's spark, enveloping more of his body with every word out of Frenzy's comm.  Rumble was a block of horrified next to him.

"What," he whispered, "did you tell him?  What did you say?"

"I'm so sorry, boss."  Frenzy was starting to shake.  "I told him everything.  Once I started I just couldn't stop.  He knows all of it."   


 

 

It was really that stupid bot's fault.  If he hadn't died in the war, none of this would have happened.  But he did, and it did all happen, and you have no idea what you walked into that night you came home with Soundwave, do you?  The House of Failure and Death, that's what.  Truth is, you're not the first Autobot to come under our roof.  You're the fifth.  


What, weren't you wondering why Soundwave didn't already have a hot little slave of his own to keep the berth warm?  It's not as if he couldn't, you know.  Megatron offered him first pick, when he started handing out the Autobots; Soundwave's always been Megatron's favorite.  But Soundwave said no, he couldn't accept that.  He was thinking about that stupid bot Blaster, how he didn't make it out of that nasty space battle just off Earth's moon.  You know about that, right?  The seekers smashed up that Autobot team good and hard, and Blaster went to the Well - but his cassettes didn't.  They got rounded up and brought in as prisoners, and now they were on their own.  Soundwave told Megatron that he'd take them in.  Somethin' about 'responsibility' or some slag, I dunno.  Me and Rumble didn't care.  We figured it'd be fun, that we could pick on them and make them do whatever we wanted.  

It wasn't nothin' like that, though.  I remember when Soundwave brought the four of them home.  They didn't look at any of us, didn't talk, didn't even look up when I kicked 'em.  What?  I was tryin' to see if they were even awake.  Soundwave said they were in shock, that they needed time to cope with Blaster's deactivation.  He said to leave them alone and not tease them.  So me and Rumble waited 'til he wasn't around before we did.

What?  Jeez, Autobots and your fragging morals.  Don't look at me like that - we figured we were doing them a favor!  We thought getting picked on might wake 'em up a little, make 'em want to fight.  They were just huddled up in the corner, hugging one another all the orn.  It was so depressing.  So we tried to make 'em mad, but we came up empty.  They just... didn't hear us.  Didn't see us.  Their bodies were here, but their minds were still back with Blaster.

Soundwave knew that.  Every chance he could he'd pick them up, one after another, and try to coax them into a connection.  He was the only one they ever responded to, I guess because he reminded them of Blaster.  They would nuzzle up to his armor, clutch at him and whimper.  But he isn't Blaster, and no matter how hard he tried - and Primus knows he was trying - he couldn't form a symbiosis.  They refused to link up.  Ugly things happened when he tried to force it.  Every one of 'em either collapsed or fritzed.  I remember how Ramhorn screamed like he'd been skewered or somethin'.  Me and Rumble got out quick.  Soundwave never tried anything like that again, but he still kept on picking them up and holding them, rocking them to recharge.  

 I knew it was upsetting him; we all did, we could feel it.  But we didn't know how much worse it was going to get.  Some deca-orns went by, we'd all gotten used to them being around, and figured they'd just keep on being lifeless drones forever.  No such luck.  Things started going wrong on the inside - systems wouldn't reset properly, energy levels dropping, defragmentation cycles coming too infrequently.  Soundwave started calling in Hook to make a house call every day.  Did his best, ya know, that 'con can't stand not being able to fix something, but nothing he tried would work.  They'd been with Blaster too long to get cut off like this; if they couldn't synchronize with their master then their bodies paid the price.  Their very sparks couldn't maintain a steady rhythm, flickering like a fire on its way out.  And there ain't no medic that can fix that.

Fragging Soundwave wouldn't give up, of course.  We all had to spoonfeed them their energon, tiny amounts several times through the day, and make them walk around the loft to keep their fluids circulating, and all kinds of ridiculous mech-nursing.  I hated it, but didn't complain.  None of us did.  Gloating at their misery was one thing, but this was fucking creepy.  Watching them, I knew we were all thinking the same thing: this could have been us, if it was Soundwave instead of Blaster that kicked it.  That could have been me and Rumble, dying by the breem without even a struggle, and that was scary as the pit.  

Rewind was the first to go.  I think we all knew at that point it was going to happen, but it didn't make it any easier when it did.  His brothers felt his death, even though Soundwave didn't let them see the body, and after that they just got worse.  They couldn't take anymore energon; it all got rejected.  No more walking, no more movement at all.  Soundwave would hold them in his arms, and they didn't even react.  Next was Ramhorn, then Eject.  Soundwave never said a word about it, but the next day there'd be one less Autobot in the loft, and that much more chill in the air.  I remember the last time I saw Steeljaw, lying on Soundwave's lap while Soundwave pet him.  Ravage was curled up in the corner, not even jealous, just... sad.  And waiting.  I don't think Steeljaw could even feel Soundwave's hand.  And the next day, he was gone too.

So believe me when I tell you it was rough.  And we were all just getting over it - and when I say we, I mean Soundwave was finally getting over it - when he went out for a drink and brought you home instead.  Yeah, we're a little touchy about the subject of Autobot slaves in this house, and can you blame us?  We don't want to see him get hurt anymore, not ever.  He didn't deserve what happened.  So if you ever even think about hurting him, I'll - hey, what are you doing?  Damn it, how do you do that?  Get back down here!  Come back!  Hey!" 

 


 

 Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

 

Darkness and silence shrouded the unrepaired sectors.  They were still too far from the power grid to have any light but starlight, too far for any noise but the occasional skittering glitchmouse.  Someday soon, if Shockwave's plans held true, the Constructicons would demolish and rebuild all this land, and inch by inch Cybertron would regain its former glory.  For now, though, it was a dead place.  Grime covered every surface.  The planet did not have enough atmosphere for any wind, which meant the layers of soot that plumed under Soundwave's pedes were probably residue from some long-ago battle.  The war still lurked here, shadows thick with death and destruction.  

Soundwave did not hurry.  Jazz had stopped moving, according to the signal, and was not much farther away.  He was, in fact, not too far from the place Ravage had tried to hide, and Soundwave had forced Jazz to watch as he subdued his wayward possession.  It seemed a very long time ago now.  Then, he'd been prepared for what would happen, because he knew Ravage like he knew his own spark.  Now, he didn't know at all.  

He got his answer soon enough.  He'd just rounded a pile of twisted junk when something came flying through the darkness and hit him square on the shoulder.  An old rusted pipe clattered to the ground, and Soundwave looked up just in time to see a flash of white armor disappearing behind the second story struts of a building.  

"Jazz -"

"Go away!

"Jazz, come -"

A wordless snarl of rage and another piece of scrap cut him off, and it would have hit him in the head if he hadn't ducked in time.  Soundwave vented some air.  Jazz had no intention of making this easy.

He kicked on his thrusters and elevated himself to the second floor of this place, a bombed-out shell that had little left beside the struts and beams that were its skeleton.  Jazz had already vanished by the time he did, and Soundwave scanned the darkness uncertainly. 

"Jazz, come forward."

"I said go away!  Get the hell away from me, Decepticon!"  Two chunks of debris hurtled at him from above - Jazz had already made it up to the third floor, and by the time Soundwave spotted him, he was swinging up underneath a pole to land on the fourth.  Again Soundwave activated his thrusters, and roared upwards in time to face Jazz just as he'd landed.  Jazz backed up quickly, engine growls dark and angry.

"Murderer."

Soundwave's spark twisted.  "Term, inaccurate." 

"The hell it is.  You killed them, all four of them, they were alive when they went to your home and now they're dead.  What, you weren't satisfied killing us off in the war?  Did you think we hadn't lost enough?  What did you do to them?"  

"Nothing.  Only actions: shelter, fuel, comf- "

"Liar!"  Jazz flung another piece of scrap that hit him square on the head, and it hurt.  "You did something!  They died, they all died!"

Every word stabbed like shards of ice under his armor.  "Outcome, not desired.  Every effort made to preserve lives." 

"Oh.  You didn't want them to die.  Well I guess that makes them less dead."

"Incident, very... frustrating."  For megacycles Soundwave hadn't let himself or anyone in his house speak about it.  Now he found himself struggling to find the right words.  "Results, painful."  

"Don't you dare talk to me about pain.  We lost everything we ever had - our friends, our freedom, our future!  Are you really going to stand there and expect pity from me?  So you tried to keep them alive.  What do you want, a medal?  A hug?  It's your fucking fault that Blaster died in the first place!  Maybe you didn't pull the trigger but you sliced the signal that gave away their location to the seekers, you pushed the button that ended his life.  If you didn't want his cassettes to die then maybe you should have thought about that first!"

Jazz was stepping a wide arc around Soundwave, on what flooring there was, fists clenched tight and visor blazing with anger.  Soundwave had never seen Jazz like this, unhidden behind fake smiles and glib comments, his emotions raw and wild.  He was unbearably beautiful to look at. 

"You won, Soundwave.  You got to live, all your symbiotes got to live, you're the right-hand mech to Cybertron's just-fuck-us-all-now emperor.  Blaster got nothing.  He was my friend."  Now Soundwave heard the pain in his voice, layered underneath his hot anger.  "He was my friend and he loved parties and music and his little pack of bots, but he had to die out there in space.  And now I know that his cassettes didn't even get the favor of that quick death.  It's not fair.  It's not fair." 

He choked and his vocalizer buzzed with static; automatically Soundwave moved forward.  "Jazz -"

"Don't touch me!"  Jazz jumped back from his outstretched hand like it was fire.  "Don't touch me with those hands, they all died in those hands!  You kill Autobots without even trying!"

Soundwave froze, his spark chamber so brittle that he thought it might crack if he moved another inch.  Jazz backed into the corner beam, hands shaking, light flickering behind in his visor in some new pattern that Soundwave hadn't yet seen.  A low, dark keening of grief welled up out of his vocalizer, and he sank to the floor as if he'd used up all his strength. 

"I thought... maybe they'd escaped," he whispered.  "For all this time I've been listening, watching, figuring out where we all ended up, accounting for all the Autobots.  Nobody ever said a word about the cassetibots.  I hoped that you 'cons just overlooked 'em, forgot they were there, and they got away.  Either that, or they died with Blaster in battle.  This was worse.  They were so small..."

Again he keened, louder, and buried his face in his hands.  Vents sputtered, flapping open and shut, his engine skipped and whined, and endless static crackled within his vocalizer.  Soundwave did not move.  Silent and still, he stood and watched over Jazz while he wept. 

It took a long time.  Jazz missed a second feeding time, then a third, then a fourth.  The active cycle ended, and the 'night' one began.  Still Jazz cried.  Soundwave was patient, and unwilling to force Jazz to move.  Soon enough, he'd exhaust himself.  His strained systems would run down, and he would fall into recharge, and then Soundwave would pick him up and carry him home.  All that would happen in a little while. 

But for now Soundwave only listened, to the cries that pulled at his own grieving spark, and how they were swallowed up in the dead silence of the ruins of war. 

 


 

 

Booting up felt all wrong.  Soundwave's systems queued up as always, spinning out data, and one after another his carrier program listed the proximity of his symbiotes.  All of them were near enough that they must be in the loft, even Laserbeak and Buzzsaw.  They had not gone out on their nocturnal patrol.  Soundwave did not have to see any of them to know what he would find when he did: the five of them all piled together in recharge, seeking comfort in closeness.  In any other situation they would have been piled on top of him, but Frenzy probably couldn't bring himself to even look at Soundwave just then, and his siblings would have opted to stay with him.  They were all asleep now, but healthy and safe, their five connections a steady and soothing hum in his mind.  

Something still felt wrong, as if the program had missed a sixth symbiote.  Soundwave onlined his optical relay, and found Jazz was not on the far side of the berth.  He wasn't anywhere on the berth, or in the room.  There was no low thrumming of his systems, no sounds of his soft ventilations.  It was too quiet.  Alone on the berth, Soundwave felt oddly cold.

He got up and left the room, worry kindling inside him.  Jazz had seemed so deep in recharge, when Soundwave finally carried him home, that he'd been sure he'd sleep for joors.  Evidently that wasn't the case, and Jazz had already proven well enough that chains couldn't hold him, let alone locked doors.  It wasn't yet morning, and with everyone asleep there was nothing to keep him here.  Maybe he'd run away again.  They'd been lucky before, but if Jazz got caught alone without his Decepticon master, horrible trouble would follow.  City lawkeepers would drag him to the command center and to Megatron, who would promptly summon Soundwave and ask him, in front of everyone else, why he couldn't control his own property.  And Soundwave would not have a good answer.

It was an unfounded worry, though.  Jazz was standing by the window, silent and still as the star-freckled Iaconian landscape.  His vocalizer wasn't crackling with static anymore, but with his arms wrapped around himself like that he still looked very small and fragile.  When the door to Soundwave's room slid open, he flinched and backed away from the meager light, almost vanishing into the darkness.  The power grid went down for the middle joors of the night cycle, to conserve energy, and Soundwave could see little of Jazz but for his dimly glowing visor.  Options popped up, offering to switch into night vision, but Soundwave declined.  What good would seeing him do, when Soundwave had no idea what to say?  

"Jazz... hungry?"  

Something like a cross between a huff and a sigh escaped Jazz's vents.  "Really?  That's what you want to lead with?"

"This conversation, high predicted difficulty," Soundwave admitted.  "Words, not easy to choose."

"Most Decepticons, having chased down a runaway slave through the ruins, and then been attacked by that slave throwing things, would go with 'I'm gonna hurt you.'"  Jazz was moving across the room, further away from the scant starlight, but he didn't take his gaze off Soundwave for an astrosec.  "But I'm guessing you won't go that route."

"Affirmative.  Jazz's anger, understood.  Revelation unpleasant."  

"To say the least."  

"Method of discovery, not preferred."

"And how did you think I would find out?  Sit patiently by for a vorn or two before you spilled the whole sordid story?  You must know by now that I'm not the sit-and-wait-patiently type.  Of course I was going to discover your secret; I warned you that I would.  I don't think it was the method that's got you troubled.  You never wanted me to know.  Did you think you could just sweep all four bodies under the rug and pretend it never happened?"  

"Negative, incorrect!"

"Shh."  Jazz tapped a finger against his lips, and nodded toward the couch.  "You'll wake the kids."

The five of them were in a heap at the end of the couch, tangled up in their recharge just like Soundwave knew they would be.  Ravage had curled himself around the twins, tail occasionally flicking, while Laserbeak and Buzzsaw had nestled themselves in wherever they could fit.  Soundwave did not want them awake just now, and he put a tight lock on his link to ensure that none of his unhappy emotions could disturb them.  

"Incorrect," he repeated more quietly, struggling to maintain his traditional impassivity.  "Could never pretend.  Every orn, every nanoklik, incident recalled.  Silence on subject kept because memory painful."  

"There you go with that word again.  Why don't we save painful for the little mechs that died in this apartment, because I think they had the harder time of it."

"Frustrating," Soundwave tried.  The pain that had ripped through his sparkchamber every time another cassetibot died had been indescribable, but he did not want to argue with Jazz about it.  Only another host carrier model would have understood.  "Every effort made to preserve lives.  End result, not desired."

"Every effort..." Jazz echoed thoughtfully.  Again he glanced at the symbiotes on the couch.  "I wish I couldn't picture that, but you're the one that was eager to show off how you discipline Ravage.  What you do, to make sure your possessions know where they belong.  What did you do to them, when they woke up and cried for Blaster?  Did you beat them?"

"Never."  Soundwave advanced a couple steps but Jazz backed away, a wraith in the darkness.  "Physical violence, never initiated.  Cassetibots, weak and ill.  Contact, only gentle: holding, rocking, petting.  Such contact intrinsic to cassette culture, necessary for comfort."

"Did you rape them?"

Silence dropped, hard and cold, into the loft.  Soundwave froze, and he knew Jazz had seen it.  How to explain?  Even another carrier model would not understand, and Jazz was an outsider to their way of life.  

"Symbiosis between models, very sacred," he started, groping to find the right words.  "Permanent.  Consensual, always.  Mutual desire necessary.  This fact known, but reasons for it not known.  Previous acquisitions, all willing symbiotes."

And it was true.  He'd had to keep Ravage a prisoner for close to a vorn before he finally submitted to Soundwave's authority, but the act of symbiosis had been strictly consensual.  At some deep level in his programming that could only be called instinct, Soundwave knew that it must be that way.  He'd never known why.  

"Symbiosis... desirable for cassette model.  Gives strength, speed, better health.  But, also liability.  Sudden death of host model leaves cassette too weak, unable to survive.  Only alternative, form new symbiosis.  This act, rational and logical.  But Blaster's symbiotes... refused." 

He did not have the words to describe the fear and dread clamping down on his spark, watching their lifeforce dwindle away.  He had held little Rewind in his arms, could feel his flickering sparkbeat, and the tremble in his hand as he clutched at Soundwave's armor.  "Blaster?" he'd whispered hopefully, just like he did every night, and Soundwave would answer, "Negative.  Blaster is gone.  Rewind, now Soundwave's.  Prepare for symbiotic uplink."  

Never did he or any of his brothers obey that order.  They curled up tight and ignored his petting, forcing themselves back into recharge.  And all the while, they were dying.

"Situation, desperate," Soundwave finally managed.  "Forced symbiosis, only apparent option.  Attempted only once.  Pain inflicted on cassettes, not foreseen.  Never tried again.  Resumed attempts to persuade Autobots, but failed.  Answer to your question: affirmative."

Jazz hadn't been standing still.  When did he move so much closer to the couch, without Soundwave seeing?  Uneasily, he noticed Jazz was only a step away from his symbiotes.  But he wasn't looking at them, he was looking at Soundwave. 

"You will, I think, burn in the pit, Soundwave."  His vents exhaled a long, slow sigh.  "That gives me a little comfort, at least.  You did a horrible thing, and I should hate you for it.  Any Autobot would.  But..."

He hesitated, and Soundwave mentally replayed the last few words.  Should hate?  

Laserbeak shifted in her sleep, a soft whistle escaping her beak as she did so.  Jazz's attention immediately switched to her, and in smooth silence he knelt by the couch.  Every strut in Soundwave's body tensed, an automatic reaction to any threat against his symbiotes.  He'd have never thought Jazz would be stupid enough to hurt one of them, but his state of mind was not to be trusted right now.   

"They really are so small, aren't they?  No matter what kind of an edge they get by linking up to a bigger mech, they're just too little.  They weren't meant to live on a planet that's busy ripping itself apart with war.  There are so many ways they can get hurt."  

Jazz lifted a hand, and Soundwave nearly flew at him.  But all he did was lay it gently aside Laserbeak's head, stroking lightly.  It didn't wake her up, but she sighed happily in her sleep.     

"They say," he murmured, "that our species doesn't dream like the humans do.  I'm not so sure.  When I onlined in the middle of the night, it was right into the middle of an archived memory file playback.  I'd forgotten all about that night, but now I remember.  I remember every word.

"There'd been a fight that day.  We were on Earth.  We held our ground and in the end you guys retreated, but not without a pretty pile of energon.  Something you did with the frequencies scrambled Blaster's security locks, and it set us back.  He was royally fragged off about it, and that night I kept him company in the comms room while he got stone drunk.  He talked about you a lot, mostly about how he hated you."  

He didn't look up, still gliding his palm over Laserbeak's long neck.  Soundwave didn't move.

"For a bot as mellow as B, he really did not dig you.  And that night, I got to hear most of his six thousand reasons why.  But then, at some point when he was seriously deep in the cubes and past any hope of remembering the conversation, he said something else.  He said that he and you might go on 'til the end of time hating one another, always looking to take the other down, never rest until the other one's dead, etc.  But that, in some way, you also understood each other.  More than anyone else ever could.  He was looking at Steeljaw when he said that."

At last he looked at Soundwave again.  "What if it had been the other way around?  If he'd been the one to live, and take in your symbiotes?  Do you think he would have tried that thing you did?"

A possessive flare of anger surged up in Soundwave at the thought of it, but logic prevailed.  

"Unknown.  Possibly.  As stated, few alternatives."  

"Right.  Well, I don't know either, and I'm a vehicle model.  I'm not a part of your world, don't know how it works.  But I know this: he would have done his Primus-damned best to give a home to your brats no matter what.  He would have fed them, held them, petted them like you say has to be done.  Can't say they would have survived either, but he would have moved the stars trying.  Because you two understood each other."  

He held Soundwave's gaze, expression unreadable, for a brief moment before returning his attention to Laserbeak.  Lightly he tickled her in her favorite spot, under her beak.

"I know you didn't want them to die.  I didn't mean that, before, about you killing them.  We're talking about you, after all; I know that you must have done everything you could to save them.  Blaster wouldn't hate you either."

"Either," Soundwave repeated, and took a step closer.  Jazz flinched.

"Don't.  I'm not ready to be near you just yet."

"Jazz -"

"I mean it.  Leave me alone.  Besides, you have to look after your pack."

"Cassettes, recharging."

He took one more step and light flashed across Jazz's visor, sharp and defensive.  "Not anymore."

Jazz braced his hands against the couch and shoved hard.  Five minds burst into startled consciousness all at once, automatically seeking out his presence.  He had to relax the lock on his link, without allowing any of his exasperation or upset to get through.  Frenzy whimpered his name.  Meanwhile, Jazz disappeared into his berth room and slammed the door shut behind him.   

 


 

 

Warm solvent splashed against the floor of the washracks, draining through tiny holes and clouding the room with steam.  It was hot, and crowded with too many bodies, but Soundwave knew it comforted his symbiotes to cluster together like this.  Even Ravage, who generally had to be dragged, claws splayed, into a bath, showed no inclination to leave.  Every now and then he shook his head, scattering droplets all over Rumble, but he didn’t try to move out of the spray zone.  Rumble didn’t seem to notice or care, sitting on Soundwave’s pede and listlessly kicking at the puffs of soap foam that fell from above. 

“So like, now what?” 

Soundwave didn’t respond, still carefully massaging soap into Frenzy, who sat cradled in his hands like a lump of misery defined.  Rumble shifted restlessly, irritated at being ignored. 

“I mean, it’s kind of all gone to the pit now, hasn’t it?  Because glitch-head up there can’t keep his mouth shut, everything’s ruined.”

“Shut up, you weren’t there.” 

“Now Jazz hates Soundwave again,” Rumble continued, as if his brother hadn’t spoken.  “Which puts Soundwave back to bein’ dark and gloomy, and we’re right back to where we were before.  This place was just startin’ to be fun again.” 

“Frenzy, not at fault,” Buzzsaw interjected.   “Autobot, clearly wrong.  Manipulated information from Frenzy; information not his business.  Autobot, slave.  Deserves punishment. ”

Ravage growled, and unhelpfully supplied an image of himself ripping off most of Jazz’s limbs.  Everyone ignored him. 

“Disagree,” Laserbeak piped up.  Like her brother, every now and then she tipped forward from Soundwave’s shoulder to spread her wings, catching a fresh spray of solvent before shaking off excess liquid.  “Information his business.  Autobots, his friends.” 

“So what?” grouched Rumble.  “He was better off thinking they’d escaped.  It made him happier.  It would have been better for all of us if he never found out.”

“Never, not a possibility.” 

“Yeah,” Frenzy put in emphatically.  “You weren’t there, you don’t know what it was like.  He knew something was up, he’s been watching and waiting all this time for his chance to pounce.  He was gonna find out no matter what.” 

“Willful slave,” Buzzsaw muttered.  “Acted above himself.”

“Perhaps,” Laserbeak said thoughtfully.  “But perhaps, his initiative necessary.  Autobot, now part of this household.  Needed truth.”    

Ravage snarled, furious denial rocketing through their link.  Buzzsaw bobbed his head in agreement.  “Autobot, not one of us.” 

“Oh?  Recharges here.  Refuels here.  Follows Master all the orn.  At Master’s side more than all of us.  Should he not know his master?  Not know what Master did?” 

“Who cares what he should know or shouldn’t know?” Rumble wailed in exasperation.  “It’s too late now.  Point is he does, and everything’s gone to the pit because of it.”

Laserbeak canted her head to one side.  “Rumble, fond of Jazz?”

“Well, ya know.”  He cleared and rebooted his vocalizer, staring determinedly at one corner of the washracks.  “Jazz… isn’t completely hideous to have around.  He’s kinda fun.  And he cheers up the boss.  But not anymore.”

Frenzy’s shoulders slumped.  “Yeah.  Not anymore.  I’m so sorry, Soundwave, I really am, I didn’t want -”

Laserbeak clucked a couple of times, her expression of reassurance.  “You two, argue often.  Anger, not forever.” 

“Well, duh, that’s different.” 

“Jazz’s anger, unsustainable,” Laserbeak predicted confidently.  “Primary cause, shock.  Cannot hate Master for this.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Cassettibots, friends of Jazz.  Master tried to save them.”

Silence.  Only the steady hiss of of the shower could be heard as everyone there did a full vent cycle.  For deca-orns, none of them had talked about it.  Nobody had dared even say that word, as if to pronounce it would raise the ghosts themselves.  Not that their home wasn’t already haunted.  All of them lived under the pall of death, whispering around the terrible secret and trying not to remember what those little bots had looked like.  How they had sounded, as they struggled just to cycle in fresh air.

“Uh… okay.”  Frenzy’s voice was very small against the heavy silence, but at least he was trying.  He rebooted his vocalizer and raised the volume a bit.  “Maybe.  But, you know, they die- they didn’t make it.  Even if Boss tried, they still didn’t.  Jazz looked kinda scary when he ran out on me.  You can see why he’d be mad.”  He winced at some private comm from Rumble.  “What?  It’s true.  Laserbeak thinks Jazz’ll get over it, but I’m not so sure.  What do you think?” 

Rumble shrugged uncomfortably.  “If I met anyone that I thought was responsible for hurting any of you punks… I’d never stop hating them.” 

Laserbeak snapped her beak at him.  “Perhaps Autobot, more reasonable than you.” 

“Autobot’s feelings irrelevant,” Buzzsaw said sourly.  “Only slave.”

Remove slave/solve problem, Ravage suggested. 

“Shut up, Ravage,” both twins muttered in unison.  “Jazz stays.”

“If he’ll keep bein’ fun.”

“If he’s not hating Soundwave.” 

“Will not,” Laserbeak insisted.

“Don’t know ‘bout that, Laserbeak.”

“What do you think, Boss?”

“Soundwave?”

“Master?”

“Don’t care,” Buzzsaw grouched, and tucked his beak under his wing.

Silence, again.  Four of five little faces had turned up to him: curious, confused, hurt, scared.  Soundwave watched the solvent splashing down on Frenzy, rinsing him clean, but in his mind it was Jazz he was seeing.  A ghost in the darkness, whispering a story about another ghost, saying things like would have tried his Primus-damned best and wouldn’t hate you either

“Unsure,” he said at last.  “Indicators of acceptance present.  Perhaps time only needed.” 

“That’s what you said last time,” Frenzy said quietly.   Soundwave barely controlled his emotional wince, but Laserbeak guessed it anyway.  She nibbled at the edge of his jaw. 

“Will not happen again.  Jazz, healthy.  Alive.  Yours forever.  Anxiety misplaced.” 

Soundwave let a small sigh escape him.  “Laserbeak, often too optimistic.”

“Someone must be.” 

True, he supposed, enough. 

“All cassetticons, out.  Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, overdue for nocturnal patrol.  Gather surveillance, will draft delayed report for Megatron with apology.  Rumble and Frenzy, report to Decepticon command.  Ravage, continue search for sedition in Iacon’s fringe developments.”  He switched off the flow, and hot air blasted out of the drying vents.  “Everyone out, now.” 

“Whatcha gonna do, boss?”

“If necessary, begin again.  Jazz, mine.” 

 


 

It took most of a breem, but finally Soundwave managed to shoo his hovering symbionts out of the loft.  He didn’t know what to expect when he confronted Jazz again, but having an audience wouldn’t help, and besides, Iacon was waking up outside and there were duties that could not be ignored.  They had their tasks to attend to, and he had his slave.  His upset, angry, fearful slave that was in desperate need of a bath and refueling.  Soundwave performed a full vent cycle and pushed the button that would open his berthroom door. 

The lights were completely down.  He raised them to partial illumination, rather than adjust his own visor settings, but Jazz was nowhere to be seen.  Anxiety jumped up his intakes, which he tried to quell, but even when he’d entered the room and scanned it from wall to wall, there was no sign of his slave.

Soundwave shuttered and rebooted his visor, trying to remain calm.  He turned around, and scanned the common room as well.  Nothing.  Maybe this time Jazz really did run away.  Maybe this time, he would run a little faster, and a little farther.  Maybe –

“Behind you,” he murmured, and Soundwave came the closest he had to jumping in several hundred vorns.  He managed to restrain himself and keep from whirling around, even if he was a shade too quick to turn.  Jazz was just an inch away, grim smirk flickering briefly across his expression.  “Told you before, Soundwave, too slow.  You should be more careful, or I really will get lost.” 

Soundwave latched a powerful grip around Jazz’s wrist.  “Do not repeat that.” 

“Can’t hardly help myself, master.  You have such big shoulders.  Behind them is the best place to hide.  For all you Decepticons enjoy stabbing each other in the back, you don’t look back there very often.”

“Come.”  Without letting go, Soundwave propelled Jazz into the still-damp washracks.  Of all of them, Jazz was the one that needed this the most; his armor was grimy and gray with the soot of the ruins.  Jazz didn’t resist, but his vents expelled a quiet sigh when hot solvent gushed down over him. 

“Ease of escape from office yesterday, unsettling.”  Soundwave touched the foam brush very gently against Jazz’s chest; Jazz grimaced and slipped backward, out from under its bristles.  “Restraints, ineffective.”

“In every way,” Jazz assured him.  He didn’t fight it when Soundwave held him still with one hand, but he still leaned his weight back from the brush, holding himself distant.  “Oh, Soundwave.  Let’s face the facts, shall we?  Special Ops.  Can’t switch off that training just because the war’s done.  Your little chains don’t hold me, your dronesplay locks on the front door don’t hold me.  The only thing keeping me at your side is this.”  With a fair amount of disgust he flicked the collar around his neck.

“And if I had the medical know-how to yank its wires out of my nervous system, believe me, I’d have been gone a long time ago.  As it stands, you could wake up every morning and have to hunt me down to a different part of Iacon.”

Soundwave thought about how Jazz always managed to be on the far side of the berth when he woke, and how much worse the alternative could have been.  “Reasons you did not?”

Under his hand, Jazz gave a marginal shrug.  “Wouldn’t amount to much.  Didn’t feel like it.”

“Restraint, appreciated.”

“Oh, a Decepticon saying thank you.  I’ll be damned.  Next you’ll be telling me you care whether Autobots live or die.” 

Soundwave couldn’t help it; he shoved Jazz just a little harder than necessary to turn him around.

“Ah, okay, I deserved that.  Smokey says I’ve got strange coping methods.”  Without needing to be told, Jazz stretched his arms up and crossed his wrists over his head.  “But I think you do too.  So you shouldn’t judge.  And that brings me, again, to the million-credit question: what am I doing here?”

Jazz leaned back, unexpectedly, tilting his head back far enough to look at Soundwave upside down.  “Am I some kind of second chance to you?  Or rather, fifth chance?  Are you trying to prove to yourself that you can keep an Autobot in your cage and not kill it?”

Soundwave pushed Jazz’s head forward, until he was looking at the wall again.  “I suppose there’s always the off-chance that this is some kind of redemption.  Skywarp was going to starve me to death, we all know that, and maybe you felt the urge to save my life as compensation for what you did.  Noble.  But… somehow, I just can’t make myself believe that you care that much about what the Autobots think of you.” 

He turned around underneath Soundwave’s hands, the glow in his visor focused with unnerving intensity on Soundwave’s face.  “No, I think I was closest with my court jester guess.  You’re so miserable you can barely ventilate, and you know you made your pack of pests miserable too.  And what happened to the cassetibots scared them – and you – out of your damn minds.  This apartment is a graveyard.  You just wanted someone in it that wasn’t afraid to smile.”

Jazz clucked his glossa disdainfully.  “What kind of fucked up world is this, where the victor in a war needs the loser to cheer him up?  How do you think that makes me feel, serving as your distraction so you don’t have to think about what you did to my friends?” 

Soundwave had no answer to that, so he fell back on his usual practice of saying nothing at all.  He knelt and swept the brush lower, obscuring Jazz’s filthy armor under a thick layer of foam.

“I’m not one of them, you know.”             

Soundwave looked up, and Jazz met his gaze steadily.  “Jazz’s model type, already known.” 

“I’m not so sure.  The way you fuss over me in the bath, the handfeeding, the constant petting… you try to treat me like I’m a symbiont waiting for a master, and I’m not.  I’m a vehicle.  Give me the unending road, and the exhiliration of shifting into top gear – it’s all I’ll ever want.  Nothing you do can change that.” 

“Still, Jazz mine.” 

“You are setting yourself up for your own sparkbreak, Soundwave.”  When would he ever learn how to predict Jazz?  His slave bent forward, using his temporary advantage of height to rest his forehead lightly against Soundwave’s.  “I’ll always be out of your reach, never want the things you want me to want.  Throw as many movie nights at me as you like, I still won’t be a part of your family.  I’m still an Autobot, dreaming of my freedom.”

“Jazz, slave.  Mine forever.” 

Soundwave grasped Jazz’s chin in his hands, holding him a little distant so he could stare him down properly as he stood. 

“That what you thought about the other four?” 

Soundwave winced, and because he tightened his grip a little too hard, so did Jazz.  “That subject, not welcome.”

“Oh, really?” 

Damn Jazz anyway, standing there so small and helpless before him, and still refusing to be intimidated.

“Your turn.”  He pushed the brush against Jazz’s chest.  “Wash me.”

“Of course, master.”  Idly Jazz flicked his thumb against the bristles, spattering foam against the Decepticon sigil on his chest.  “Only too happy to.”

“Suggestion: avoid that topic in future.”

“What, you mean the cassetibots?”  Jazz seemed to positively relish the way Soundwave flinched, and slapped the brush against his chest glass with extra force.  “Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Accusations, unwanted and unnecessary.”

“I told you, Soundwave, I know you didn’t kill them.”  Jazz paused mid-stroke, tilting his head thoughtfully.  “I guess the question is: do you know it?” 

“Silence on this matter, preferred.” 

“Sure.  Because that’s been working out so well for you and yours.”

Now it was Soundwave’s turn to quietly sigh.  “Jazz.”

“My love?”

“No more talking.” 

“If you say so.  But there is just one, really important thing I need to tell you.  You should listen to this.”  Jazz curled his fingertips against the edges of Soundwave’s armor to pull himself up on the tips of his pedes; instinctively Soundwave found himself bending forward just a little to accommodate him. 

“Jazz,” he whispered, “five.  We are, finalmente, at a tie.”      

         


 

 

 Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

Soundwave was no stranger to the quiet.  He preferred it, and often used it to his advantage.  Other mechs got nervous when confronted with his characteristic silence and scrambled to please him; most of them assumed that because he wasn't talking, he was scanning their thoughts.  That was rarely the case, but he still liked the quiet.  

Not this kind of quiet, though.  Soundwave and Jazz finished their shower and Soundwave toweled off Jazz with his personal drying cloth, all in silence.  Soundwave had ordered Jazz not to speak because he couldn't bear the words coming out of his mouth, but the alternative wasn't much better.  They'd often been alone in this apartment together without speaking, could play hax for joors on end without a single word between them, but now it was different.  Now Jazz knew.  The weight of that knowledge pulled at the air around them, turning the silence into something heavy and thick.  Soundwave hated it, for once, and wondered how it would be broken.

It turned out to be the last way he'd have ever expected.

Jazz turned his face up, startled, when the unfamiliar chime resonated through the apartment.  Halfway through polishing Jazz, Soundwave also went quite still.

"What's that noise?"

"Announcement of presence, building entrance."

"The doorbell?"  Jazz tugged his leg out of Soundwave's grasp, looking incredulous.  "Somebody's here to see you?  I mean, you?"

"Apparently," Soundwave answered frostily, remotely accessing his security system to see who it was.  

"Are they lost?"

Shockwave.  Wariness prickled up within Soundwave; this was an unprecedented visit as well as an unexpected one.  He rose.  

"Jazz, remain here."

"At least tell me who it is."  

"Stay."

He left the apartment quickly, letting the door lock behind him, and performed a few full vent cycles to compose himself.  Shockwave would not be able to see anything amiss, no matter what, but Soundwave needed to be at his best.  Of all times, of any orn, why did he have to pick this one to visit?

Soundwave entered the lift, and keyed the bottom floor.  None of the other buttons got much use.  After the Decepticons' victorious return to the city, the officers had all scrambled to claim the biggest and most beautiful buildings for their own residence, not that many were left after centuries of warfare.  Soundwave took this small, battle-scarred apartment building for himself.  Most of the floors were unfit to live in, but the penthouse loft was habitable enough.  Anxious to nurture his four new charges in a peaceful, stable environment, he'd moved in very quickly.  Long Haul and Windcharger had cleaned all the debris out of the first floor, but Soundwave had done nothing more to make it welcoming to guests.  Why should he?  Nobody came to this place.  Nobody, until now.

"Greetings, Director Soundwave."  Shockwave had been gazing at the ragged gouges in the walls, but when the lift doors slid open he turned towards Soundwave.  Two of the bodyguard drones that always accompanied him twitched at the new presence, then relaxed at a signal from their master.  Soundwave bowed, not as deeply as he would for Lord Megatron, but still a bow.

"Premier Shockwave."

"I hope that I have not greatly inconvenienced you by dropping by your, er, home without invitation.  I am well aware, as are all Decepticons, how you prefer your privacy."  

"Inconvenience, insignificant."

"I came to inquire after your welfare.  You left the command room so swiftly yesterday, and did not come back even after Lord Megatron called for a return to business.  We were concerned."

Inwardly, Soundwave winced.  Was it only yesterday?  He'd completely forgotten that he ever even entered that command room, after what happened with Jazz.

"Your servant Rumble explained that some delicate surveillance equipment had been smashed, and you had to see to its replacement.  Where was this equipment?  Was a careless Neutral responsible?  Do you require assistance from the Constructicons to replace it?"  

"All surveillance stations, now at full operational status," Soundwave answered, which was no lie even if it did borrow shamelessly from Rumble's cover story.  "No assistance necessary.  Gratitude extended."  

 "Ah.  I am relieved to hear it.  More than any other Decepticon, save for our Lord Megatron, I am grateful for the security that your thorough observation provides to us, Director Soundwave.  Your contributions to the budding new empire cannot be overestimated."

He paused, but Soundwave sensed he wasn't finished.  Silently he waited.  

"It will be a glorious Cybertron when it is finally rebuilt," Shockwave said firmly, if he perhaps thought Soundwave might disagree.  "Even if we must begin with just one city.  I'm sure you are as eager as I, Director Soundwave, to see the complete repair and resettlement of Iacon.  But there are some out there who perhaps do not agree.  Some, perhaps, who think that resources are wasted on reconstruction. Ludicrous, isn't it?  Yet they do exist." 

The shape of the conversation was becoming more clear to Soundwave, unfortunately.  Wearily he waited for the rest.

"I'm concerned, Director Soundwave, deeply concerned.  Lord Megatron has given me just ten orns to show real progress with this new project, or he'll return the strong minibot to Earth.  I have no fear that I could prove the project worthy, but it is in Starscream's interest that I fail."

Shockwave's lone golden optic glowed intensely for a moment.  "He is a dishonorable mech who's not above sabotaging my own reconstruction sites in order to further his own ambitions.  You know this as well as I do, Director Soundwave.  I would like your guarantee that your servants are always patrolling my work sites, for it's the only way I can be sure he won't go creeping in to undo my good work."

"Cassetticons, number only five.  Responsible for watching all Iacon.  Impossible to -"

"But this is important, Director Soundwave.  Don't you agree that the city must be rebuilt?  Don't you agree that factories are the life-fuel our struggling new economy needs?  Starscream frets over academia, when it is prosperity we need more than anything.  Studies in science are a luxury that can come later."

Since it wasn't a question, Soundwave gave no answer.  After Shockwave waited for a few nanokliks, he continued with a huff.  "I cannot believe that there is any other portion of Iacon that warrants scrutiny like my chosen sites.  Surely you can spare the effort for ten orns.  I would be very... disposed to lending you some assistance in the future, when you require it.  The Constructicons would be only too happy to renovate this appalling hovel."

"Renovation unnecessary," Soundwave said sharply.  "Home, comfortable and functional."  

"Oh dear, have I offended you, Director Soundwave?  I apologize.  But I'm afraid I cannot let this matter rest until I've obtained your guarantee of security."

"Suggestion, petition Megatron."

"And burden him with my paranoia?  I think not.  I should prefer to keep this arrangement discreet."

Soundwave was getting tired of his presence.  "Will consult Cassetticons and review resources."

"Is that a yes?"

"Perhaps.  Will submit answer later this orn.  Acceptable?"

"I suppose it will have to do.  For now."  Shockwave clicked his claws together in a way that suggested he was not happy at all, but he did not have the authority to force Soundwave to his bidding, and they both knew it.  "I eagerly await your confirmation, Director Soundwave.  Good orn to you."  

The drones stirred to life and marched outside, Shockwave following more sedately in their wake.  Soundwave opened his vents wide, expelling a much-needed sigh.  Really, must they insist on involving him in their petty feuds?  Before he could begin to turn over Shockwave's demand in his mind, something in the shadows above shifted.  A Jazz-shaped piece of the ceiling peeled away to hang by the knees, visor glowing brightly blue against the gloom.  

"So that's who it was.  How boring.  Shockwave isn't fun at all."

Soundwave at least managed not to flinch with surprise, even if his systems did skip a beat.  The first floor of this building was utterly silent.  Nothing in it had moved or made any sound, save for Shockwave and himself.  That Jazz could slink through the ceiling, close enough to hear every word of a conversation between two of Megatron's top officers, was nothing short of unnerving.  During the war, Soundwave had wondered thousands of times how the Autobots could so often infiltrate Decepticon headquarters.  Now he knew.  

"Order given: remain upstairs."

"Yeah, well, I... didn't."  

"Jazz, disobedient and impertinent.  Deserves punishment."

"Well you shouldn't have left me -"  Jazz cut himself off abruptly, and to Soundwave's vision, seemed to shrink into himself a little.  When he spoke again, his voice was more subdued.  "I didn't want to be alone up there.  Don't make me be alone in that apartment."

Whatever anger Soundwave had been inclined to feel promptly dissolved.  He could not be angry at Jazz for not wanting to be alone amongst the ghosts of his greatest failure.  He wondered what to say, but Jazz spared him.

"Anyway, I don't want to talk about that.  Let's talk about Cyclops instead.  Why do you think he came by?"

"Shockwave, concerned for reconstruction projects.  Seeking increased surveillance."  

"Yeah, I heard him say that too, but for that he could have just called.  I mean, why did he come here?  I've been with you long enough to know that it's unheard of."

Soundwave wondered if Jazz was getting a little dizzy, hanging upside down like that.  They were, in fact, more or less at optic level with one another like this, which he realized as he drew closer.  Maybe that was why Jazz was inclined to stay where he was. 

"Shockwave, protecting himself from Starscream.  Desires my support."

"Desires an alliance, you mean.  That's a problem.  You don't want to get pulled into that catfight."  

"Negative."

"But if it's coming to your own front door, then you might not have much of a choice.  Now that he's asked, you're kinda trapped.  If you refuse, Shockwave'll assume you're taking Starscream's side."  

"Affirmative," Soundwave agreed, unhappily.

"If anything happens to the sites, Shockwave might blame you just as much as he blames Starscream."

"Also affirmative."

"What are you gonna do?"

"Undecided.  Strong likelihood: survey chosen sites.  Perceived partnership with Starscream, undesirable."  

"By everyone in this house, I'm sure.  But that won't solve your problem."  The visor shuttered for a moment, Jazz looking deep in thought.  "It goes deeper than that.  Shockwave's a jealous mech.  I've seen it."

Blue light flickered on again.  "He hoards his power and influence with Megatron, and doesn't like to share.  He doesn't like it that Megatron likes you, and he hates the fact that you have something he needs.  To Shockwave, if you're worth forming an alliance with, then you're strong enough to be a threat later on.  That's why he came here, to your secret lair.  He's trying to suss you out, decide how dangerous you are.  If only he'd thought to ask me.  I could tell him you don't want anything but to be left alone with all your pets, me included."  Jazz grinned an upside down grin at him.  "I think Starscream, for all he hates your gears, at least gets that about you.  Shockwave doesn't.  You'll have to be careful, just for him."  

It was a statement unerringly close to Starscream's whispers, much as Soundwave would have preferred to ignore them.

"Decepticon politics, too well understood."

"It is my misfortune that I've had a front row seat for a long time.  No one gave me any choice in the matter."

Jazz flashed that grin at him again, and in one smooth motion uncurled himself to drop pede-first on the floor.  He brushed a few specks of dust off his armor.  "Can we go for a walk?  I know it's not holding to your sacred schedule, but your routine's all messed up today anyway, thanks to me.  We both need fresh air."  

Soundwave could find no error in this.  He was not very anxious to go back upstairs either.  "Affirmative.  Fetch chains."

"Chains, of course."  Jazz bowed his head, with that subtle mocking air.  "Mustn't forget those chains.  I'll be right down.  Master."

 


 

 

"What a dump," Jazz muttered.  Soundwave could not make himself disagree.  Together the two of them stood on the walkway, facing Shockwave's proposed renovation site, momentarily overwhelmed by the rusted behemoth.  Whole chunks of the walls were missing, revealing a twisted and broken assembly line inside.  The top floors did not look sturdy enough to bear a mech's weight.  This was not in the unrepaired sectors; the street behind them was lively and full of mechs going about their business, but it was such a derelict wreck that it seemed not to belong here.  

"Shockwave really wants to turn this into something functional?  In ten orns?  Scrapper's got his work cut out for him."  Jazz snorted softly, and took a step onto the grounds.  "Actually, it would be Grapple, and Hoist, and Windcharger that have got their work cut out for them.  I'm sure he doesn't give them coffee breaks."

He moved closer, leaving Soundwave to wonder what coffee had to do with anything, and also how one could break it.  Not that he particularly cared.  To him, it was just a relief to have Jazz talking.  Thus far their walk had been nothing but one contiguous stretch of awkward silence.  Jazz's usual cheerful interest in their surroundings was conspicuously absent, as was his teasing, or laughing, or dancing.  When they got close to their usual street market, Jazz had hung back, shaking his head, and Soundwave would not force him.  Of course, this left him with very little idea of where else to go, so in desperation he'd chosen this place.  He would need to inspect it anyway, and there was no harm in bringing Jazz along.  

"Caution advised," he warned, following just a few steps behind.  "Avoid disturbing wreckage."

"What, you mean like this?"  Deliberately Jazz kicked a scrap of metal and it went skittering across the ground, colliding against a beam with a clang.  "Oops, clumsy me.  I'll try to be more careful, master.  Hard to believe that Starscream and Shockwave are at each other's throats over a junkyard like this.  Politics does strange things to mecha, doesn't it?"

"Affirmative."  

Silence, again.  Soundwave suddenly found himself unsure of his answer; maybe Jazz wanted to have a conversation about it?  Maybe simple agreement was the wrong reply.  Perhaps he should try to add something, but he had nothing to say.  Discussions like that had no appeal for him.  

While he was hesitating, Jazz fidgeted and clinked his chains.  "So, here we are.  What do you have to do?"  

"Evaluate angles, fields of vision, for ideal camera placement."  He couldn't have answered more quickly.  Relieved, Soundwave switched his visor settings and looked up, using enhanced programs to measure distances and angle degrees precisely.  He pointed at a promising corner of the nearest building.  "That location, suitable."  

"Sticking it up there is a task for the brats, I take it."

"Affirmative."

"How many total?"

"Unconfirmed.  More examination necessary."  

Soundwave put out a non-urgent summons for Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, then unspaced a datapad for his notes.  Next followed the chore of walking around the circumference of the factory, scouting for additional locations and weighing their viability.  This wasn't a surveillance task he wanted, but since he'd decided to do it, it must be done right.  He did not order Jazz to stay with him but Jazz did anyway, hopping from the top of one obstacle to another rather than walking around them.  Every now and then Soundwave stopped to download more information into the datapad, and once when he looked up he caught Jazz watching him.  

Uncharacteristically, Jazz was quick to look away and said nothing.  Strange.  Soundwave sensed that uncomfortable silence cropping up again.  

"Jazz, tired?"

"No."

"Hungry?"

"Stuffed full, thanks."  

He sprang lightly to his next perch, leaving Soundwave behind to sigh unhappily.  They finished their circuit of the perimeter and moved inside, Soundwave warning Jazz yet again to be careful and disturb nothing.  

 

The interior would be trickier to monitor.  Since Scrapper and his crew would be demolishing and rebuilding all this twisted machinery, few cameras would be safe.  The twins would have to replace them at the onset of every night cycle, and re-evaluate prime targets when doing so, since that would surely change with the reconstruction.  He was just thinking that when they glided in through one of the gaping holes, circling him and Jazz once before landing.  

"Master, with Jazz," Laserbeak was pleased to point out, and even Buzzsaw looked vaguely interested.  "Anger, resolved?" 

"Unconfirmed."  Soundwave set the datapad between them.  "Current priority, this factory.  Objective: guard reconstruction from possible sabotage.  Download schematics and instructions.  Review; adapt if necessary."  

Buzzsaw's optics narrowed at their surroundings.  "Factory, not military."

"Civilian.  Request for security, per Shockwave."  

"Shockwave?" both of them echoed.

"Not your superior."

"Cannot order your personal monitoring."  

"Affirmative."  Soundwave let his reluctance slip through the link.  "Accommodation, done for diplomatic reasons.  Consensus, this best option."  

They both blinked and straightened their necks at that, curiosity suddenly at full flame.  "Consensus?" they repeated.  "Of who?"  

"Myself.  And... Jazz."  

Their first reaction was startled disbelief, then dismay from Buzzsaw and a disturbing thoughtfulness from Laserbeak.

"Autobot, only sla-"

"Hush," Laserbeak interrupted, when Buzzsaw tried to protest.  "Interesting."  

Buzzsaw hunched his wings with resentment, then tilted his head from one side to another in confusion.  "Autobot, where?"  

Oh, not again.  Soundwave quickly turned again and scanned the interior of the factory, finding nothing.  Experience then prompted him to look up.  From the catwalk one flight up, Jazz grinned down at him.

"Gettin' better, Soundwave.  Good for you."

"Come down, now."

"In a nano.  I need to check something."

"Jazz -"  

"Do you see this?"  Jazz traced a fingertip along an old pipe, one that ran just over his head.  "It's the coolant pipe, and it's still intact.  For now.  But say it got one little crack in it, or a few screws somehow got loosened.  Best way to send a factory sky-high, in my considerable experience.  If Starscream really does try anything, I bet ya it'll be right here.  Much less obvious than explosives; impossible to trace."

For a moment, Soundwave wasn't quite sure if this stunned feeling was his own or washing in from the twins.  Probably both.  

"Better make sure to keep an optic on it, in any case," Jazz continued airily.  "Consider it a hot spot."  

"Reason, Jazz sharing information?"

"What, don't you want my help?"

"No," Soundwave said quickly.  "Assistance appreciated.  Reasons, not understood."

"Can't say I know either."  Jazz shrugged.  "Guess I just feel like it.  You didn't want to get stuck with this job, after all."

Laserbeak was clucking softly behind him, puffed up and so pleased with herself that she could burst.  Annoyed, Buzzsaw nipped her in the wing.  Gracefully Jazz swung over the rail and slid back down to the ground via a heavy industrial chain, his own chains not impeding him in the least.  A rather troubling thought occurred to Soundwave.

"Reasons, Jazz did not sabotage this factory?"  

"Ah, stupid me."  Jazz slapped his palm against his forehead, vents huffing a melodramatic sigh.  "Silly Jazz, why didn't I think of that?  It would have been no trouble at all to sneak out of your apartment and reduce this place to scrap, and that it belongs to Shockwave would have just been a happy bonus.  I have a special reason to hate him, you see."  Jazz flashed him one of his trademark grins, but it faded into sadness.  "But it wouldn't undo the end of the war.  It wouldn't bring down the empire.  At the end of the day, it wouldn't do anything but make my friends have to start the work all over again.  So no, I won't be dismantling Shockwave's projects.  My hands are well and truly tied."  

He slipped aside before Soundwave could quite reach him, trying to give the comfort Jazz obviously needed.  "There's probably a few more hot spots, if you'll let me look for them.  Do you want me to show them to you?"

"Affirmative."  Soundwave had to settle for stroking Laserbeak instead.  Sympathetically, she nuzzled up to his armor.  "Assistance, appreciated."  

 


 

 

Thanks in part to Jazz, Soundwave completed a thorough analysis of the site that orn.  He calculated cameras necessary, and their placement, and confirmed manual surveillance schedules for Laserbeak and Buzzsaw.  He drafted a full report on the project, with as much effort as anything he'd ever prepare for Megatron.  He downloaded the full report onto a blank datapad, encrypted it three layers deep, and summoned Ravage to deliver it to Shockwave.  Ravage was more inconspicuous than Soundwave by far, especially in Decepticon headquarters.  All Soundwave wanted was to carry out this new assignment quickly and quietly, with no indication to Starscream that Soundwave was providing assistance to Shockwave.  That was a headache Soundwave didn't care to contemplate. 

He did all these things, and still found himself not knowing what to do with Jazz.  Sometime while he'd been conferring with Ravage, Jazz had made himself comfortable in his usual corner, flat on his back beneath the window sill, tapping at his datapad.  This was their usual time to play hax, but Soundwave sensed he wasn't in the mood.  He hadn't said a word since the factory.

"Assistance today, appreciated."

"So you said."

Silence, still of the awkward variety.  Soundwave sat on the couch.  He wished Jazz would understand that he could relax and play his puzzle games here and not on the floor.  

"Jazz, hungry?" he tried again.  It wasn't feeding time yet, but he'd missed so many yesterday, maybe he was still catching up.

"No."  He wasn't.  More silence.  Soundwave fretted.  

"Temperature, 2.6 degrees higher than average, currently."

That, finally, got a reaction.  Jazz's visor rebooted itself and he looked right at Soundwave.

"...what?"

"Probable cause, gathering pollutants," Soundwave continued, quick to exploit this opening.  "Cloud formation, evident."  Indeed they were massing in the sky, obscuring the usual star-studded view.  "Forthcoming rain, predicted within two orns."

"Again... what?"

"Jazz, disagrees?"

Jazz did not check the window.  He was too busy staring at Soundwave in astonishment.

"You're trying to do small talk."

"Affirmative."

"Primus.  That's the saddest thing I've ever seen."

Soundwave's vents opened a little wider, trying to cope with the unfamiliar heat of embarrassment.  But then, directly counter to what he'd just said, Jazz laughed.  It didn't last long, but it was as sincere and genuine as Soundwave had ever heard him.

"Wow... I really am something.  I made Soundwave, the most laconic of Cons, attempt small talk.  Amazing."

He relaxed back against the floor with a sigh, sparing a wan smile for Soundwave.  "If you'll excuse the expression, Blaster would have died with laughter if he heard that.  He often theorized that if you ever strung more than ten words together, you'd combust."

Soundave tensed, but there was nothing accusatory in Jazz's tone.  An amused look still lingered on his dermal plating.

"Stop trying, lover.  It doesn't suit you at all.  And it isn't going to get you what you want."  

"What will?"

"Time.  Just let me have some, would you?"

Soundwave slumped a little against the cushions.  "Request, granted."

"Gracce."

He would have counted the incident a total failure, but two and a half breems later, he heard Jazz chuckle again.

 


 

 

Time, he gave.  For three full cycles he kept his distance from Jazz and let him do as he pleased, in so far that he stayed within Soundwave's rules.  Mostly this involved spending his time curled up in the corner, playing one of the several dozen puzzle games that Soundwave had bought for him.  The loft was utterly quiet.  Jazz wasn't much in the mood to talk, and only Ravage, Laserbeak, and Buzzsaw were coming home.  Neither of the elder twins made so much as an appearance.  Soundwave sensed Rumble wanted to come home, but he was unfailingly loyal to his brother, and Frenzy was still rattled by what happened with Jazz.

His home had become lonely again.  Even at night before recharge, Soundwave did not try to hold Jazz in his arms.  Side by side, they went to sleep alone, and Soundwave was unhappier than he'd been since the night he brought Jazz home.  They all were.

Rain finally came at the end of the orn.  Soundwave had been just a little off in his prediction, but Shockwave, who had been running Cybertron for centuries, had a more precise understanding of the prevailing conditions and broadcast a warning memo to the entire city.  Enough pollutants had gathered to provide critical mass, and the result would be several straight joors of precipitation.

"Acidic content?" Soundwave questioned Rumble.  They were in his office at Headquarters.  All of Iacon was busy preparing for the oncoming shower, spreading absorbent gel over exposed surfaces and ensuring any cracks in their ceilings had been seen to.  Soundwave wanted to check that his exterior surveillance stations around the building were properly covered, and now he was using the monitors in his office to flip through the feed from every camera in Iacon.  

"43.6%," Rumble answered.  "Hard enough to scar metal, but Shockwave says it won't disfigure buildings.  And it's set to start tonight.  Be inside by 36:00, or be melted.  Shockwave says it'll be over by tomorrow, 07:00."    

"Ah, Cybertron weather, how I have not missed you," Jazz sighed.  "Score one for Earth.  At least there you can dance in the rain without your armor peeling off.  I do a great Gene Kelly."  

Soundwave shot Jazz a puzzled look.  "Gene Kelly, not known."  

"I'd guessed as much," was the very dry reply.  

"Can we go now?" Frenzy asked curtly.  He'd flinched when they walked in and saw Jazz, and hadn't stopped fidgeting since.    

"Affirmative," Soundwave answered.  "Assignment, review camera stations, numbers 12, 36, 48, 61, 93.  Ensure protection from rain." 

"All of those?" they whined in unison.  "But -"

"Contacting Ravage to assist.  Time, sufficient.  Rumble, Frenzy dismissed."

"Fi~ine."  They turned to the door.  

"Rumble, Frenzy, return home before rain.  Tonight, synchronization necessary."  

Frenzy's ventilations hitched and he threw another hunted look at Jazz, who was absorbed in the flickering monitors and didn't seem to notice.  "Come home?  But -"

"No argument."  

Frenzy glared sullenly, but Rumble elbowed him.  "We'll be there.  Nothin' to do when it's raining anyway.  C'mon, Frenz."  He grabbed his brother's hand and dragged him out the door before Frenzy could argue anymore.  The door slid shut behind them.    

"Is he angry?" Jazz asked.  "Or scared?"

Surprised, Soundwave looked up, but he didn't get a chance to answer.  "Never mind.  He's got a right to both.  Ah, I really did do an awful thing to him - even by the standards of my conscience, which is saying something.  I owe him an apology."  

Jazz grinned ruefully and leaned back against his consoles.  "Apologizin' to Decepticons... what has this world come to?"

"Apology, likely ineffective," Soundwave pointed out.  "Frenzy, very upset."  

"Oh, I'm sure I can think of a way."  

Jazz hopped up to sit on the edge of the desk; Soundwave snapped his fingers at him.  "Off."  

"It’s only a console, Soundwave.  You know I could have done so much worse to it the time you locked me in here.”  Jazz did, however, slide obediently back onto his feet. 

Soundwave did not deign to look at Jazz just then, though he knew well enough that he was right.  It made his tanks churn uneasily just thinking about it, and had been since their trip to the factory.  No matter what Jazz said about the slave collar tying him down, there was still so much damage he could have done.  So many times he could have slipped away, during the night or in the day while Soundwave worked in his office.  What was the word to describe Jazz’s restraint?  Humoring?  Soundwave didn’t care for it, but it seemed to fit.  Jazz was humoring his Decepticon masters, and that was a security hole that Soundwave intended to repair.  He’d already begun upgrading the alarms in his building. 

“How much longer?  Can’t say I like the thought of gettin’ caught in the rain on the way home.”

“Time remaining, ample,” he assured Jazz.  “Work here, complete.” 

He logged off and shut down the console, ushering Jazz out before the door locked behind them.  

"43% is higher than it's been since the end of the war, isn't it?  That's interesting, because I've been hearing Shockwave blame the acid on explosives' fallout for a long time.  No more bombs getting tossed back and forth, so what's makin' the count go up?  Could it be that his industry programs aren't quite as efficient as he likes to say?"

"Jazz, hush."  Jazz never bothered to lower his voice in these halls, and Soundwave was extremely conscious of the glances passing Decepticons shot them.  

"What?  I'm talking about the weather, you love talking about the weather."

"Jazz -" 

"SOUNDWAVE!"

They were just cutting through the grand antechamber when Starscream's screech split the air, carrying across the vast space with perfect clarity.  It was the kind of shout meant to draw attention, and it did - every mech in the hall stopped and looked up.  It was also so well-timed that Soundwave knew it could be no coincidence; Starscream must have been waiting in ambush.  Twenty tons of bristling Seeker was marching toward him at a determined clip.

"Speaking of acidic content," Jazz muttered, and tilted a little closer to Soundwave.  "C'mon, let's make a run for it.  We can make it if we go fast.  One, two -"

"Jazz."  Soundwave pressed a hand against his tensing frame, holding him back, and Jazz pouted.  

"You're no fun."

"Don't you move," snarled Starscream, as if he'd heard them.  "I have things to say to you."

He planted himself directly in front of Soundwave, with all his usual respect for personal space.  Soundwave did not back up.

"Problem, evident?  Suggestion, discuss in private."

Starscream failed to catch the hint.  "Oh, I'm not interested in keeping any secrets.  Unlike other mechs I could name.  And will.  Did you think I wouldn't find out about your little arrangement with Shockwave?  That you two weren't partnering up to spy on us Decepticons?"

Now everyone was listening, even if they were trying their hardest not to look it.  Soundwave stiffened just a little.

"Spying, inaccurate," he said coldly.  "Security, accurate.  Security, my assigned task."

"Security for Megatron, and the Decepticon empire.  Since when does that include civilian-owned factories?"

It was becoming more clear why Starscream wanted this argument public.  Soundwave refused to back down.  "Security deemed necessary.  Sabotage, possible threat."

He'd hoped that might strike a nerve wire, but Starscream gave a haughty toss of the head.  "Shockwave convinced you that I was a threat to his precious pet project, didn't he?  Got you to provide empire surveillance because I might go sneaking in to fiddle with the wires?  As if I'd ever stoop to something so... obvious.  Did you really think I'd fall for such deliberate baiting on Shockwave's part?"

Verdammt," Jazz swore softly, looking more annoyed than anything.  "Damn it.  I hate it when Starscream's right.  Of course he would have never done anything - not sneaky enough for his standards."

Starscream had downloaded a few human languages, but German evidently wasn't one of them.  Optics moved from Soundwave to Jazz, glowering.  "Zip your lip plating, slave, this doesn't concern you."  

"Perpetrator, not a concern," Soundwave said firmly, while nudging Jazz back a step.  "Surveillance provided, merely preventative measure."  

"I don't believe that for an astrosec, but even if that's true, you still let Shockwave connive you into using empire resources for his friends' private factory.  Pathetic, Soundwave.  I warned you not to let yourself get tangled in his agendas.  How do you think I found out about it?  He could hardly wait to tell me, just so he could see the look on my face when he bragged he had you at his disposal."  

Anger began to burn within Soundwave, and no little humiliation.  Jazz muttered quietly, "My audios are startin' to hurt.  Can we go?"

"I said shut up, slave!"

"Surveillance for Shockwave, only favor," Soundwave snapped.  "Unlikely to be repeated.  Your advice, not forgotten.  This conversation, over."  

"I hope for both our sakes that we won't have to repeat it."  Starscream lifted his chin imperiously.  "You're dismissed." 

It was a calculated slight.  Starscream outranked Soundwave, but only on the battlefield, and they both knew he had no business dismissing Soundwave in such a high-handed fashion.  Before Soundwave could determine the best response, Jazz let out a mocking laugh.  

"Can we, Starscream, really?  Are you sure you're not done shouting to the world how innocent you are?  Supposin' this little confrontation doesn't make it back to Megatron's audios after all?  Maybe you should drag it out a little more, else he'll never hear about it."  

Starscream's wings gave just the tiniest of twitches, but he covered it quickly enough by huffing hot air out of his vents and narrowing optics at Jazz.  "That's twice I've warned you to silence, slave.  If you can't keep your mouth shut, I'll smack it shut for you."  

"Oh, Starscream.  What would you know about keeping a mouth shut?"  

Soundwave yanked Jazz back just in time before Starscream could smash his fist into his face, bringing his formidable height and mass to bear.  "Jazz mine," he reminded Starscream.  "Not yours.  Physical contact not permitted."  

"Insolent little glitch," Starscream spat, not taking his optics off Jazz for an astrosec.  His hands were still in fists.  "If you were mine, slave, I would beat you into stasis every night."  

"If I were yours, Starscream," Jazz promptly bounced back, "I'd welcome the stasis."  

Most of their audience snickered.  Starscream's engine growled, low and ominous, optics burning with frustrated violence.  

"That mouth of his is going to get your slave killed one of these days, Soundwave."  His scowl twisted into an ugly smirk.  "And then you'll be five for five, won't you?"  

There were not many things Starscream could say that could hurt Soundwave, but that sliced effortlessly through his armor and into his spark chamber.  For a single astrosec his spark twisted in grief, and Soundwave scrambled to suppress the crippling pain before it could panic his symbiotes.  His impassive appearance was no trouble to maintain, but his focus had scattered, and he had no response to give.  The angry rev of another engine surprised him out of his turmoil.  Jazz's posture had gone very tense, and the gleam in his visor was vicious.  

"That was a bad move, Starscream."  His voice had dropped to a murmur, barely audible over his own rumbling engine.  Nobody else could hear.  "You want to walk away now, before I do something that you'll regret."  

Starscream gaped, before he rearranged his expression into a sneer.  "And just what, slave, do you think you can do to me?"  He poked Jazz right on the Autobot sigil, hard enough to almost shove Jazz almost off balance.  Soundwave could swear by Jazz's fleeting smile that Starscream's response pleased him.  

 If he really did smile, it was gone quickly enough.  Jazz's shoulders dropped, and suddenly he was every inch the submissive slave.  "Nothing," he answered simply enough.  "After all... it's true that I am just a slave.  And you're Starscream, head of the Decepticon Air Forces, second only to Megatron himself.  And I have to admit you've been doing an amazing job of it - the 'being second', I mean.  After this war ended, everyone was so sure you'd make a grab for the top spot, but I think even the most cynical Decepticons all agree that you've accepted your place as Megatron's servant.  You carry out his orders so well."  

Starscream's mouth fell open just a little.  "Well, I -"

"Maybe it is because you're scared of Megatron.  Maybe it's because you know your rank and status were really meant for a planet at war, not at peace.  I overhear so many conversations, it's hard to know who's right.  I'm sure it's not because of Skyfire - as if you'd ever let yourself be manipulated through an Autobot, one that publicly betrayed you  - no matter what everybody says."  Jazz's voice kept creeping up in volume, and if their audience had been interested before, now they were riveted.  Nobody was even pretending not to watch.  "You're in no hurry to collect him, I know.  I'm sure the Stunticons are treatin' him just fine."  

"I don't -"

"Besides, you don't have time to worry about a nothing like him, right?  You've got to concentrate on putting together a top-notch science academy out of, essentially, nothing, for a chance of approval from Megatron that may or may not ever happen.  If you ever do get it built, you'll be so grateful that you'll just have to name it after him.  Won't that be wonderful?  Good thing you can count on help, too; the other Seekers are such dependable, sensible underlings.  I'm really in awe of how you manage it all, Starscream.  Thank Primus that Megatron's decreed Vos too ruined for resettlement, so at least you don't have the added burden of rebuilding your home city, not to mention all that nasty stress of ruling it afterwards.  What a relief."

Occasionally, back on Earth, Soundwave had watched fish swim up to the Nemesis and drift there, entranced by the lights.  Starscream struck a curious resemblance to them now, complete with his mouth opening and closing as he struggled to find words.  When did Jazz move in between him and Soundwave, anyway?  There was something almost protective in his bristling stance, his optic level with Starscream's nosecone notwithstanding.  He poked it, mimicking Starscream's gesture.  

"I got more," he whispered.  "So start walkin'."  

And much to Soundwave's amazement, Starscream did exactly that.  No snide parting shot, no petulant glare, no nasty whispers about forthcoming retaliation.  Optics still slightly glazed, Starscream simply turned and walked away.  Soundwave wasn't so naive to think there wouldn't be repercussions later, but for the sweet silence of his swift exit, it was worth it.  He didn't think Starscream even heard the muffled laughter every mech was hiding behind their hands.  

"There was no part of that," Jazz decided, "that was not fun."

The vicious gleam was gone.  Jazz was grinning, looking quite at ease, nothing like the stunned disbelief whirling around inside Soundwave.  He waited expectantly, heard nothing from Soundwave, and tilted his head with a touch of disappointment.  

"Not impressed, huh?  Well, I think it worked pretty well.  So I won't apologize for embarrassing a Decepticon officer, master, no matter how much you scold me.  It just felt too good."  

There was something almost affectionate in the way he flicked Soundwave on the chest. 

 


 

 

The rain fell that night, acid spilling out of the pollutant clouds and washing through the city.  It pattered softly against the rooftop, a light prickling sound that comfortably filled the silence.  The noise and chatter of his symbiotes seemed distant and unreal, now that the door had shut.  They were alone in his berth chamber, Jazz's visor a soft blue glow against the dusk.  He was the first to speak.

"Didn't want to watch the twins play Resident Evil?"

Soundwave stared at his slave.  "Turn." 

Jazz's little smile slipped a bit, but after a nano's hesitation he complied.  He twitched when Soundwave rested his hands on his back, but Soundwave only pressed gentle palms against his armor and nothing more.  

"This is about what happened today, isn't it?"  Jazz's voice had dropped in volume.  "You shouldn't make too much of it, you know.  Starscream had it coming; he didn't deserve to talk about that.  I got angry.  It happens.  You've seen me do it before."  

"Observation," Soundwave murmured.  "Jazz antagonizes Decepticons to defend friends."

His hands glided downward and then up again, pressing in all the right places.  Jazz's struts straightened under his touch, vibrating with wary tension, but he didn't try to lean away.  "Maybe I was defending Blaster and his little bots, then."  

"Perhaps.  However, residual effect appreciated."  

"Don't think this changes anything."  Jazz's voice kept getting softer.  "Don't let yourself think this means I like you, or that I want anything to do with y- oh."  His engine kicked up for a moment when Soundwave gathered him into his arms.  He did nothing else, only held Jazz to himself, in a way he hadn't done since before the truth came out.  Jazz's systems ran hot for a klik, but when Soundwave didn't move he felt Jazz subside.  Reluctantly he relaxed in the embrace, even if he didn't return it, and all the while the rain still dappled against the roof.  By tomorrow, all the streets in Iacon would be scoured clean.  

"Jazz."

"Soundwave."  His voice was quieter than the rain.

"Today, good work."

"You're welcome."  

 

Something changed, after that night.  The silences between them were comfortable again.  They went back to their daily walks and bouts of hax, and everything was just the way it used to be.  Mostly.  Every now and then Soundwave caught Jazz watching him, but instead of the wicked smile Jazz used to grace him with, he only looked thoughtful.  Something in the atmosphere of his home changed too; as quickly as the memories of death had crowded into it, they fled again.  Soundwave never did find out if Jazz apologized to Frenzy.  But he did catch Jazz whispering in Frenzy's audio once, when he walked into the common room.  Two orns later, Starscream commed him, shrieking that his work console was playing some human song about a 'small world' over and over, and nothing could make it stop.  Frenzy looked quite pleased with himself that night, no matter how he tried to hide it, and Jazz didn't even bother to.  Soundwave with all his languages could not have named it, but yes, something had changed.  It was better, it was warm, it was Jazz.   

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

 

 

"Slow pace. Speed, currently excessive."

"My safety, a concern? Fear separation?"

"Negative. Your speed excessive to Master's pace, current solution: frequent looping back. Result: causing dizziness for me. So, slow pace."

"Alternative solution: join me."

"Unnecessary, comfortable here."

"Unable to see everything."

"Irrelevant. This street, monitored often during patrols. All seen before."

"Untrue! Active cycle, different from night cycle. Marketplace fascinating."

"For sister, everything fascinating."

"For brother, everything boring. I win."

Perched on Soundwave's shoulder, Buzzsaw hunched further down between his wings and glared balefully at his twin coasting overhead. It was more or less inevitable that the younger twins were here, no longer able to contain their curiosity about Soundwave's daily walks with Jazz. Cassette models were built curious, and they insisted this orn that they stay out of his chest so they could come along. Actually, Laserbeak insisted, and Buzzsaw pretended not to care. He was no less interested, but experience taught him a long time ago that someone had to restrain Laserbeak's enthusiasm.

"Difficult to be sensible one," Buzzsaw grumped, while Laserbeak fluttered off to inspect another stall.

"Buzzsaw, not in recharge," she sang.

"Quiet."

Buzzsaw could complain a thousand times (and had) that it was a tiresome chore to constantly chase after his sister, but Soundwave knew he never slept without her. So on his shoulder he stayed, studying the world around them through half-shuttered optics while Laserbeak absorbed it with hers wide open.

"Jazz, popular here," she observed. "Reasons why?"

She was right about that. The vendors on their normal route had learned by now that Soundwave would buy anything that Jazz so much as looked at, and they eagerly vied for his slave's attention, pushing as close as they dared. In answer to Laserbeak's question, Soundwave beckoned today's lucky mech closer, to purchase whatever it was that Jazz's gaze had lingered on. Jazz had yet to ever thank Soundwave, or even acknowledge that it was going on, but since he spent all his time in the loft playing these games, Soundwave was confident he was grateful.

"So are they having fun?"

Soundwave looked up at the sound of Jazz's voice. "Twins, satisfied. Affirmative."

"Looks to me like Laserbeak's gettin' more out of this than Woodstock here." Jazz closed the distance between them by a few steps, which effectively scattered the vendors, and peered up at Buzzsaw's unwelcoming glare. "What's the matter? Too boring for ya? I can change that."

"Woodstock?"

"Woodstock?" Soundwave repeated aloud, just as puzzled.

"He's yellow. He flies, and he doesn't talk. Woodstock." To Jazz it seemed to make perfect sense, and he turned away with a hum in his throat and a skip in his step. Baffled, Buzzsaw retreated back under his tent of wings with a disgruntled cluck.

"Your slave. Your task to understand."

"So I've been thinking about Shockwave," Jazz said casually, sliding a disinterested gaze past a cheap painting stall. "Detestable and unpleasant activity, true, but I can't seem to help myself. I couldn't believe that he just went and spilled the oil to Starscream like that; it surprised me, and I am not used to being surprised by Decepticons, Cyclops least of all. He must have decided it was worth more to enrage Starscream than to bother with keeping your trust. I think he knew all along that Starscream was never very likely to try anything with his precious factories, not when Megatron himself would suspect Starscream first anyway. He wanted to see if he could get you to provide free security, which you did, and when he was through with getting what he wanted out of you, he tattled to pit you and Starscream against one another. He's a smart bastard, I'll give him that."

In the back of his mind Soundwave could feel the twins' riveted interest, and tried to ignore it. "Admonition, previously stated: Decepticon politics not your concern."

"Why does it bother you when I talk about these things? I can't help that I can see and hear, you know. You're not incapable of accepting my help when it suits you, so you might as well listen up."

"Jazz, not a member of surveillance team."

"I'm not?" Jazz switched to walking backward, the better to show off his wounded expression. "Well, I should be. Think about it: technically, I'm more qualified than you are. I've been spying on Decepticons longer."

"Then answer question: why Jazz incorrect in assessing Shockwave's request?"

"I was off my game," was the slightly terse reply. "If somebody hadn't been keeping me from visiting HQ every orn, I'd have had a better grasp on the current politics. Could say the same for you too, actually. Isn't this why you have your twin pests working the consoles in the command room, to keep tabs on your rivals?"

"Rumble and Frenzy, observant," Soundwave answered promptly. "Clever. However, power balance between top Decepticons... complicated."

"Exactly. Which is why you need to..." Halfway through his own sentence, Jazz seemed to lose interest in it. His backward steps slowed, then stopped, and for no reason at all that Soundwave could see, he tilted his head to the side and frowned.

"Jazz?"

"Shh. Do you hear that?"

An ill-defined question. Soundwave could hear many things, more than most mechs, and just now they were surrounded by a cacophony of downtown Iacon. Chatter, growling engines, and the scrape of metal pedes against the walkway crowded into his audial relay.

"Specify sound."

"Oh yeah, I hear that. It's not my imagination." Blue light flared bright with sudden excitement and Jazz dashed away, without so much as a twitch in warning. Laserbeak and Buzzsaw stiffened, minds blank with surprise, not unlike Soundwave's own.

"Slave, escaping!" Buzzsaw cried, and lifted off his shoulder to go in pursuit. Though baffled, Soundwave reflexively sent calming pulses through the link.

"Jazz, not escaping," he assured his twins. Already he'd begun to follow, not running, but eating up the distance in long strides. Jazz would never attempt anything so pointless. Anyway, Soundwave sensed Jazz wasn't running from anything so much as to it, whatever it was. He trailed Jazz around a corner and watched him weave past a few startled neutrals before finally slowing, coming to a stop in front of a nightspot. Even though it was the middle of the active cycle, it was open for business and thumping music loud enough for anyone outside to hear. When Soundwave caught up, Jazz was placing reverent hands against the club's wall.

"Jazz," he said sharply. "Explain action. Behavior unacceptable."

"I knew I heard it," Jazz said triumphantly. "Can hardly believe it, but my audios wouldn't lie. Earth culture really has taken over this planet, hasn't it? Oh, I could kiss this deejay."

As if he knew that would make Soundwave tense up with displeasure, he tilted his head toward him and grinned. "Relax, love. Don't you hear it? It's the Prince of Pop. Lord of the Dance. The one, the only Mister – Michael - Jackson."

He held up a hand before Soundwave could activate his vocalizer. "Stop, shh, don't. You're about to say 'Michael Jackson, not known'. And then I'll have to kill ya. And that'll get messy. So spare us both the hassle and just listen. Absorb the sweet dulcet tones of the man who revolutionized Earth's music scene. And that's just the singing. But his dance... Sigma, the man's feet were twin geniuses. He reinvented the music video with a style of dance that no one had ever conceived, let alone could imitate. He changed the way humans saw, interpreted, and performed dance, and all in the same vorn that we woke up. I consider it fate. It was Michael Jackson who showed me what was possible when it came to dancing, because Primus knows nobody here on Cybertron could have taught me. I memorized all his choreography. Prowl said it would be impossible for anyone of our species to do the moonwalk, but I proved him wrong. See, watch."

Beaming with delight, Jazz demonstrated... something right there on the walkway. Soundwave's processor, reeling to make sense of anything that Jazz just said, was helpless to comprehend it. Lost in bewilderment, he could only stand and stare.

"Not bad, huh? I was worried I'd be out of practice, but I guess you never forget."

Jazz swerved to the side, and then back again, leading with his head, and his spinal struts rippled with such precision that the movement flowed like water. Then he was doing that 'moonwalk' thing again, moving back from Soundwave until he stopped and spun in a tight circle, freezing in perfect time to the music. On his shoulder, Laserbeak shifted slightly, and Soundwave felt a bright flare of her curiosity. Buzzsaw was still gawping with horrified astonishment.

Singing lightly along with the nonsensical words, Jazz swiveled into some impossible-looking twist and flip combination, and how did a mech even manage to bend like that, let alone in chains that seemed ever-more pointless to put on him? The many gaps in his armor that Hook had mentioned gave Jazz the advantage of incredible flexibility, allowing him to move with a nearly organic fluidity when he wished. The very concept was alien to Soundwave. His own build was a solidly welded frame, a necessity for the security of his charges within. Flexibility was the price he paid for pure strength. He could never do that... thing that Jazz was now doing, and perhaps that's why Laserbeak was suddenly so interested.

Without warning she dropped off his shoulder, coasting a circle around Jazz for a closer look. Preoccupied with a complicated new dance step, Jazz didn't notice at first. But when he looked up and found her hovering just a few steps away, he grinned. Again he performed that odd motion of swerving to the side, head first, and Laserbeak flapped to her left, mirroring his movement. Jazz swerved to his left and she flapped to the right, trying to keep level with him.

Buzzsaw boggled. "What the..."

Jazz laughed, clearly amused. When he backed up she moved forward, when he advanced she retreated. He spun and she swirled around him, and when he curved his body into impossible postures she skimmed up along his armor, fluttering counterpoint to his every motion. Frozen to the walkway, Soundwave could only stare. He didn't even realize they'd gathered an audience until the song ended and mechs all around them burst into applause. Not in the least discomfited, Jazz dipped into a low and graceful bow.

"Well now, how 'bout that?" he drawled, upon standing. "Your little girl can dance. She gets it from me, I'm sure."

"Brother, seen that before?"

Puffing hot air from her vents, Laserbeak alit on the corner of a vendor's table to rest. She wasn't too tired to shoot a good deal of smugness in Buzzsaw's direction, and Buzzsaw could only gape. It was difficult to ignore her delight, but Soundwave was just as acutely conscious of all the attention Jazz had just attracted.

"Jazz, such actions inappropriate. Public display, possibly dangerous."

"Worried the wrong mechs might see? I wasn't. For Jackson, it was worth the risk. Besides, I wasn't expecting a dance partner. I never could resist the charms of a beautiful lady."

Jazz leaned over and tickled lightly under her beak. Flustered feelings fizzed up in Laserbeak, distracting Soundwave. He rapped her with a light admonishment, emphatically backed up by her brother, and tried to focus on Jazz.

"Behavior will not be repeated."

"It's strange how much better I feel," Jazz mused, still idly stroking Laserbeak along the plates of her wings. "I was feeling a little sad this morning, thinking about... things." He directed a very specific look at Soundwave, just to make sure they both knew what he meant. "But now I'm happy. Dancing does that for me. Crazy, huh?"

Soundwave activated his vocalizer but found he had no reply.

"Good, I'm glad we agree. And even though I did just win another point, try not to take it too hard, love. I have a feeling that you like me dancing just as much as I like me dancing. Wait ‘til you see what I can do when the chains are off." He winked, and returned to their walk with a little skip in his step. Laserbeak took off to glide above, and Soundwave could see nothing else to do but follow. 

 


 

 

Something was different.  Soundwave hesitated in the open doorway of his office, subconsciously perplexed and automatically seeking the cause.  He was too attuned to all the sounds in his world to not notice their changes, long habits of survival quietly kicking up an alarm at any unexplained difference.  It took him a full astrosecond to figure it out: the entertainment console was silent.  Since its unending cacophony of explosions, rattling gunfire, and obnoxious beeping always accompanied the twins' presence in his loft, he was momentarily bewildered.

Jazz was the cause.  Poised like an Insecticon between the walls of the far corner, up near the ceiling, he shifted his position slightly and continued to speak.

"... and that's when the guy's gofer came running in, engines all abuzz, to shout that the primary security level had been hacked.  'Sir, there's an intruder, sir!  He could be anywhere in the base right now!'"

Rumble and Frenzy were on the edge of the couch, riveted.

"Right underneath you?"

"And they still didn't see?"

"No way!"

"Way," Jazz assured them.  "Nobody ever thinks to look up.  'Con gets all hot and bothered, starts screaming at the poor flunky for letting this happen, doesn't even pause to give orders for a search.  He is smart enough to put his hand on that datachip, though, and stick it in his own subspace."

"Slag."

"Whadja do?  Divebomb him and slit his throat?"

"Nah, not my style.  Besides, he was twice as big as me and had three underlings in the room.  Waiting would have to be the name of this game."

"You couldn't stay up in the corner like that forever, though, your fuel lines would cramp up for sure."

"Oh you'd be surprised how long I can hang here, happy as a Seeker in a cloud.  But I didn't have to wait long.  After he finished blaming everyone in the room, he ordered them all out and got on the comms.  If he hadn't been yellin' so loud to all the base that they'd better bring him 'the filthy bot spy', he might have heard me do this."

Jazz dropped to the floor in such a tight, graceful roll that hardly a sound could be heard.  While Rumble and Frenzy oohed and ahhed, he slunk around behind the couch.

"Gotcha!"  They squealed and giggled when Jazz popped up over the back of the couch.

"Fragging awesome."

"I could see you and I still didn't hear you coming."

"Then you slit his throat, right?"

"Tall as he was, it wasn't a sure thing I'd hit the ambulatory cable.  I settled for slashing him across the back of the knee joints instead."  Jazz tipped over the edge of the couch and slid upside down between the twins, whose optics shone with morbid fascination.

"Wicked."

"He wasn't so impressed.  Never heard anyone scream at a pitch that high.  Too bad for him he left the basewide comm channel open, because every soldier there heard him cry like a stuck turbofox.  I ripped open his subspace and took what I was after, rigged the command console for self-destruct, and went on my merry way.  Nobody gave much chase; I suspect they were rushing up to the command room to save their C.O. because they thought he was dying.  How unfortunate that the power supply to the door keypad had been cut, delaying their rescue.  Would have given a cube of the good stuff to be able to see their faces when they found him."

Soundwave remembered the incident less fondly.  If this was the particular officer he was thinking of, that would certainly explain why his unit slowly imploded over the course of a vorn.  For some reason that no one in high command knew, his soldiers just stopped respecting him.

"Rumble, Frenzy.  Suggestion: find alternate activity now."

"Aww, Soundwave."  Their heads jerked up with surprise; they hadn't noticed him enter the room, though he suspected Jazz had.  "But we're having fun!"

"Yeah, Jazz has lots of cool stories."

"Reminder: victims in story, Decepticons."

They shrugged, half-sparked guilt washing through the link.  "They're still cool to listen to."

"Yeah, Soundwave," Jazz drawled, still upside down on the couch and grinning lazily at him.  "They're cool.  You should listen too.  Don't you want to know how that unit out by the rift managed to 'accidentally' blow itself up?"

"Negative.  Only current interest, hax game."

"Borrrring."

"Rumble and Frenzy, not required to play."

"You always hog Jazz!"

"If bored, recommend visit to Hook.  Maintenance check overdue."

Both twins flinched.  "That again?"

"Hook pulls fraggin' hard when he checks fuel lines.  It hurts."

"Visit under my supervision necessary?"

They slumped into the cushions.

"No."

"We'll go tomorrow."

"Promise given.  According visit expected."

They muttered grudging assent, and Soundwave turned his attention to the one in the middle.  "Jazz, come."

"Hai, hai."  He dropped his hands flat to the floor and tipped over backward onto his feet.  His movements were as smooth and fluid as ever, but Soundwave decided he would take Jazz to see Hook tomorrow as well.  He might as well have all his property on the same maintenance schedule.

"Shitto fukai?" Jazz asked sweetly.  "Jealous?"

"Negative."  Soundwave tried to put out of his mind the image of Jazz playfully cozying up between Rumble and Frenzy, and nudged him toward their hax table.

"If you say so, love."

 


    

Call it shitto fukai, jealous, or any other word, it wasn't quite the truth.  Soundwave wasn't about to be jealous of Laserbeak dancing with Jazz, or the twins cuddling up with him, because he could not be jealous of his own possessions.  Everyone belonged to him in the end.  It was just that it was so unexpected.  The usual trend was for a new acquisition to develop trust and affection with him first, then gradually develop those same feelings for the new siblings.  Leave it to Jazz to buck a trend.  Odd twists such as these were Soundwave's reminders that it was no symbiote cassette model climbing into his berth, but a fully independent vehicle model and one, moreover, with a lifetime of slippery espionage experience behind him.  Would he ever understand how his slave's mind worked?  If he looked inside, then would he know?

Jazz had been in the process of lying down, but he froze when Soundwave's hands glided over his shoulder cuffs and down his arms, keeping him upright.

"In a mood for more than spooning, huh?  Been a while."

The lightness of his tone did nothing to hide his nervousness.  Soundwave had not attempted anything intimate with Jazz since before the truth came out, but tonight he didn't feel like repressing his urges.  Jazz was his, after all.

"Concern, Jazz sore after demonstration."

"What, after a klik or two up on the wall?  It's nothin'.  You don't have to worry."

"Hush.  Remain still."

Jazz fidgeted a little, but he didn't try to pull away from Soundwave's gentle massage.  He even, Soundwave guessed from the relaxation stealing into his frame, enjoyed it.  His hands glided up and down Jazz's body, kneading the tender joints, and every now and then a small moan of delight escaped Jazz's vocalizer.  When he finished, he caught Jazz once again as he tried to lie back down.

"Now what?"  He made a small, unhappy noise when Soundwave lifted Jazz's hand to his own chest.  "Oh."

"Reciprocation, expected.  Touch here, pleasing."  Soundwave demonstrated by gliding Jazz's hand over his rotator cuffs, then along one edge of his chest glass.  He wanted Jazz to show him affection, but even though Jazz did not pull his hand away, he grimaced and shuttered his visor.

Soundwave caught his chin with his other hand.  "Online vision."

"What do you care if I look or not?  I'm not fighting you."

"Theory: Jazz finds me ugly?"

For once, he actually seemed to catch Jazz by surprise.  His visor snapped back online, and he looked right at Soundwave.

"What?  No, I- you're not ugly, Soundwave."  His expression twisted into something sour.  "It's that smear of purple death on your chest that's ugly.  Megatron likes to make me kiss it.  Do you want the same?"

Soundwave's processor all-too-obligingly furnished an image, and he tried to banish the thought by returning his attention to Jazz.  Past experiences had frightened him, therefore Soundwave must soothe his fears.

"Designation, Soundwave," he reminded Jazz, briefly cupping his face in comfort.  A silent command brought the lights down to just a soft glow.  When he was sure Jazz was watching, he covered the Decepticon sigil on his chest with his own hand.  "Now, not ugly?"

Jazz stared at him in astonishment.

"Reciprocation expected," Soundwave prompted, then, after a nanoklik, added, "Hoped for."

That seemed to trigger something in Jazz.  Stiffly, as if handling an explosive, he lifted his hands to Soundwave's body.  Nervous fingertips played over his transformation seams, sending multiple thrills through him, then moved up to his shoulder joint.  His hand pressed into it, in imitation of Soundwave's massage, kneading the wires just a little before withdrawing again.  He nodded to show approval, and Jazz repeated the move.

Warmth spread through Soundwave’s frame, a delicious relaxation easing through his hydraulics.  As many times as he’d done this for his symbiotes, they were not able to do the same for him.  They were too small, or didn’t have the proper dexterity.  Now Jazz’s hands left a trail of pleasure wherever they moved, pressing and rubbing with increasing confidence.  His ventilations slowed, becoming deeper and more even, and he could feel systems preparing for shutdown.  This felt wonderful.

Jazz stifled a small gasp when Soundwave gathered him close to his chest, and lay back down onto the berth.  He didn’t try to squirm free, but through their armor Soundwave could feel his systems humming at high speed.

“Reciprocation, appreciated,” he murmured, sweeping his palm lightly over the helm tucked just under his chin.  “Performance, pleasing.”

“Soundwave, my love, you know how I live for those words.”

A tiny sigh escaped Soundwave's vents.  Held fast to his own body and still Jazz could make himself be so far away.  How would Soundwave ever reach out and grab him for good?  What would it take to really catch him?  Perhaps he should look inside that mind after all?

Idly Soundwave toyed with Jazz’s audio sensor, which he knew was extremely sensitive, and Jazz twitched.

Maybe someday.  Soundwave was in no hurry.  Jazz was his, and he had all the time in the universe.  

 


 

 

"So idiocy can be undone.  Praise to Primus." 

Patiently Jazz let his face be turned one way to the other, his chin held firmly in Hook's unrelenting grip.  He peered closer, and Soundwave could hear the tiny clicks of advanced optical lenses magnifying his vision. 

"A few old scars, but the self repair's taken care of most of his plating.  Systems sound clean, and this time he's actually standing up straight.  Follow my finger, slave."  Hook held up a finger and moved it back and forth before Jazz's visor.

"Why, is it leading the escape from Decepticons?" 

"Attitude still intact, I see.  I guess I couldn't ask for miracles.  Runt, get over here." 

"Yes, master!"

First Aid, who had been all but quivering with hope from the moment they walked in the door, sprang eagerly from his corner. 

"Bot has a history of malnutrition, ineffective recharge, and frequent beatings.  What are his risks?"

"Weakened firewalls, lowered immunity from viruses, uneven self-repair, misaligned hydraulics and, uh, impaired sensors." 

"What do I want to test today?"  

"Fuel valves' efficiency, firewall resiliency, joint range, reflexes, vision, hearing, air filter efficiency and excess residue, and the sparkpulse."

"And?"  Hook lifted a threatening hand, and First Aid cringed. 

"And armor resiliency!  Test it for regeneration since institution of proper diet!"

"That's more like it." 

He settled for a mild cuff against First Aid's helm, and stepped back from Jazz.  "Take him in to sub-bay 2 and get started.  I am timing you so don't you dare dawdle."

"Yes, master.  Thank you, master." 

First Aid bowed and then practically leaped upon Jazz's arm, tugging him to a smaller glass-walled room.  Jazz was nearly yanked off his feet, but he tripped along obediently after the Autobot with a laugh.  He did not look back. 

"Cheers the kid up when I let him work on the other bots," grunted Hook, now rummaging for a new tool.  "I'll review his work when he's done, but I promise you he's capable of performing the necessary tests." 

"Autobot's proficiency, not a concern.  Your judgement, respected." 

"I'm glad to hear you say that, because he did the check-ups on your twin midgets this morning.  Hope you don't mind."

Soundwave checked his audial relay for any glitching.  He had not expected the twins to keep their word; they never had.  "Rumble, Frenzy, visited medbay?  Without force?" 

Hook was picking through probes arranged on a cart, and rolled his optics.  "They did, not that I knew about it at first.  Little sneaks sneaked right past me, cornered my slave, and had the brass bearings to order him to do their maintenance.  Seems somebody tipped them off that he doesn't yank on the fuel lines so hard.  Wimps."   

Ah.  "Situation, understood."

"We'll be done here in about a joor.  Will you wait?" 

"Negative.  Surveillance report requires completion.  Contact when ready."

"Will do, sir."  Soundwave turned, casting one last glance in the direction of the Autobots as he did so.  Despite Hook's threat, First Aid wasn't rushing to begin maintenance.  Instead he just clung to Jazz, while Jazz rubbed little soothing circles into his back. 

"At least I don't have to worry about joint problems," Hook spoke up, not noticing Soundwave's momentary hesitation.  "Since I know you've been following my advice.  Everyone around here knows about the quiet blue Decepticon that walks the market, him and his 'dancing slave'.  Glad to hear you're getting out of the house more often, sir." 

To this Soundwave gave no comment.  He looked away from Jazz and his admirer, and left in silence.

 


 

 

Jazz paid for it later in the washracks, jumping and whirling around with a quite satisfying yelp. 

"Ouch!  What was that for?"  Hand over his shoulder cuff, where Soundwave had not-so-accidentally pinched a nerve wire, he backed away and glared. 

"Physical contact with Autobot, displeasing.  In future, more distance expected."

"Wha- you mean today in the medbay?  You pinched me for a hug?  Are you serious?  Don't answer that, you're always serious.    Soundwave, what do you expect when you've kept me locked up here and away from my friends for half an ice age?  They miss me; I miss them."

"Jazz, mine."  He grasped Jazz by the chin, and Jazz jerked his head free with a contemptuous toss.

"Jealous idiot.  What do you think I'm going to do to the poor kid, anyway?  Toss him onto the berth and have my way with him because what, nothing better to do?  I'd say he gets enough of that from Hook as it is." 

Hot air huffed out of Soundwave's vents.  Logically, he knew it was highly improbable that Jazz would engage in intimacy with another slave.  His possessive instincts were harder to convince. 

"More appropriate distance expected in future," he repeated stiffly. 

"You mean, you don't like to watch me get cozy with other bots?  Skywarp liked it a little too much.  I could tell you all about -"

"Similarities to Skywarp, zero.  Now, Jazz mine.  Distance expected."

"That's not somethin' I can settle for, Soundwave." 

"This subject, not a negotiation," Soundwave answered, feeling a touch of exasperation.  Jazz just looked up at him through streaming hot solvent, damnably unintimidated. 

"It might not be a lot of comfort, when we have our time together, but it's something.  A small hug, a simple touch - some kind of contact that isn't a promise of pain or rape.  And it's all we have left.  Examine that chunk of ice you call a spark and ask yourself if you really have to take that away."  

"Order given."

Jazz's vents opened wide, and over the hiss of water against metal Soundwave could hear him cycling through a full exhalation.  He hadn't given up, and Soundwave prepared for more fussing. 

"Okay, how 'bout just this?"  Without any warning whatsoever, Jazz slipped his hand into Soundwave's and held it, just as naturally as Soundwave had seen him do with his Autobot friends.  Soundwave was so startled, he stared at their hands in silence. 

"Easy right?" Jazz said breezily, swinging their hands a little for some demonstration.  "Doesn't mean a thing.  Can I at least just do this?  I promise I won't touch them any other way, not even a hug, but please let me have this much." 

His hand was smaller than Soundwave's, but warm and comfortably clasped with his own.  Such a pointless, absurd act, but his systems were running just a little hotter than they were a breem ago.  "Permission granted." 

"Thank you, master."  He grinned cheekily and pulled his hand clear, but not before he pressed Soundwave's hand to his lips for a light kiss.  Then he turned his attention to rinsing off, as if he'd done nothing unusual. 

"You know I'd say your jealousy was kinda cute, if you were capable of being cute, which of course you're not.  You're much too dark and scary for that." 

"Jealousy inaccurate.  Possessive, accurate." 

"Potato, potahto, my love." 

Whatever that was supposed to mean, Soundwave decided he didn't care.  In silent change of subject, he pressed the brush into Jazz's hands for his own bathing session.  Jazz had almost finished slathering him in foam when a new, more troubling thought occurred to Soundwave. 

"Jazz, told him?"

"Told who what?"

"Autobot medic.  You know what." 

"Ah.  That."  Jazz's smile faded and he swept a thumb pensively across the bristles.  "That's a very good question." 

"Told him?" 

"Don't bother getting in a panic over it, Soundwave, I didn't say anything.  I should have, mind you.  Aid needs to know, they all need to know.  Whatever else you Cons take from us, we still have the right to mourn our dead."  He flicked his wrist, spattering soap across Soundwave's chest.  "But I couldn't.  He was so excited to see me.  I couldn't kill that smile." 

Jazz sighed and rested a hand against his chest glass.  "It makes me less mad at you, I have to admit.  It really is a hard story to tell, isn't it?"

"Agreed."  He cupped a hand against Jazz's face, and felt the small thrill of acceptance when Jazz leaned into the touch.  If only it could always be like this.  Why did it seem that the moments Jazz felt closest must always be tied to the cassettibot deaths? 

In the end, he reflected, maybe that was as much as he deserved.


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Dancing in the Street, by The Pumpkin Spice

 

Dancing in the Street

Chapter Text

 

Another work cycle, another attempt to present himself at Decepticon High Command.  This time, Soundwave resolved firmly, nothing would go wrong.  He would keep Jazz in the same room as himself, which doubled as a chance to keep an optic on him and also let Jazz see his precious Autobot friends.  A privilege for which in return, as he'd lectured Jazz three times already, he was expected to keep his mouth shut around Megatron. 

He said it a fourth time now, hand clamping down on Jazz's shoulder before he keyed open the door.  "Jazz, reminder."

"I know, I know.  Say nothing to Megatron, no matter what his insult, no matter how much better my comeback would have been.  And it would have been better."

"Jazz."

"But,  I guess we'll never know.  Just open the door so I can check on Bluestreak, please.  It's been so long already." 

Soundwave shot Jazz a stern look but proceeded to tap in the code, allowing them entrance.  Barely had Jazz put one pede across the threshold, though, before he winced and hesitated.

"Uh-oh.  That is one seriously hostile glare.  Do you suppose Starscream is still just a teeny bit angry about what happened that day of the rain?"   

Soundwave risked a glance up.  Sure enough, Starscream stood up there by the rail on the top level, seething visibly even from here.  Telepathy or not, anyone could have sensed the pure malice swirling around him like smoke.  Optics zeroed in on Soundwave, smoldering with hate. 

"Starscream, irrelevant," Soundwave replied calmly, though very very quietly.  Starscream's glares had never bothered Soundwave and they never would, though he didn't much like the way that glare moved on to Jazz.  Gently he nudged Jazz into the room.  "Your concern, good behavior.  Appropriate behavior."

"No bots closer than venting distance, check.  Worry more about who you might touch rather than me, darling; some species of Starscream can transmit poison upon contact.  I heard it, so it must be true." 

"Hush."  Soundwave had to shoo his grinning slave into the corner, where Perceptor and Bluestreak lit up like a power grid at the very sight of Jazz.  Bluestreak, clumsily hindered by his chains, tried to jump up to greet Jazz, and Jazz put a restraining hand against his shoulder to keep him down.  Instead he slipped in gracefully between them, making sure not to touch either, and leaned over to whisper something into Perceptor's audio.  He had the nerve to glance sideways at Soundwave and smile as he did this, and whatever he said caused Perceptor to look at Soundwave with surprise, then pity.

Impertinent slave.  Soundwave didn't wait to see the same look on Bluestreak's face but stomped irritably up the steps, ready to concentrate on simply working for a little while.  Starscream, of course, had no intention of letting that happen.

"Hello, Soundwave.  Standing on your own alright, without Jazz to prop you up?" 

Soundwave ignored him and went straight to Megatron, bowing respectfully.  "Lord Megatron."

"Hmm?  Oh, Soundwave."  Megatron looked to be absorbed in some report, deep and thoughtful scowl etched on his faceplates.  He spared Soundwave a single glance.  "What do you want?" 

"Want, inaccurate.  Present only to work." 

"You're the only one," Megatron grunted, and flicked a dismissive hand.  Soundwave took the cue and retreated to his console, where Frenzy already sat. 

"Hey boss!" he chirped.  "Heads up, Starscream's -"

"Soundwave."

"- in a mood." 

Starscream's hand splayed flat against Soundwave's monitor, blocking his view.  Soundwave waited just a moment before looking up. 

"What, not even a word of greeting for your fellow officer?  And after such a long time, too.  You really are such a stranger in these halls."

"Suggestion, remove hand."

"Too busy to put a look in on Headquarters, but never too busy for shopping in the streets, oh I like that.  I suppose it is more important to entertain the crowds with your dancing slave."  Practically sitting on Soundwave's console, Starscream leaned in dangerously close.  "Gossip moves fast in Iacon, Soundwave, and Seekers love gossip.  Everyone knows you never venture out of your cave without your pet Autobot at hand.  I can only assume you need him to spring to your defense often, though how you managed to train him to do that is something I'll never know.  Practice?  You do seem to have a thing for collecting insolent upstarts."

Starscream shot a pointed look at Frenzy, who knew what was going on and was relentlessly pinging Soundwave to patch him in on the frequency.  Soundwave remained silent. 

"What I do know is that you should be more careful with the lenience you grant him.  Let him wander too far off that leash, and someone else could snatch him up.  Skywarp was careless that night, and you were lucky.  But I'm always fixing Skywarp's careless mistakes."

Soundwave stiffened, just barely, and finally spoke.  "Your threats, no concern." 

"If you that's what you prefer to think."

"Query," Soundwave said aloud, impatiently, "your own work, unnecessary?" 

"My work is always necessary," Starscream replied loftily.  "But not right now.  I have to stay here so that when Shockwave comes in to argue for that proposal Megatron's reading, I can argue against it.  If you know what's good for you, you will too." 

"Proposal contents?" 

"I don't know.  But it's Shockwave's proposal, so I'm sure it's wrong."

With a smirk and a flick of the wing, Starscream pranced off to annoy something else.  Soundwave took the opportunity to perform a full vent cycle, and Frenzy was finally allowed contact. 

"What the pit was that all about?" 

"Starscream, seeking retaliation.  Moderate caution advised." 

"Starscream's always makin' noise.  Why are you so tense?"

Soundwave tamped down his unease through long experience of controlling his emotions.  "Starscream's threats, only words.  Not a concern.  Continue work."

"Kay, if you say so." 

Frenzy went back to punching buttons, and Soundwave took the opportunity to glance between the rails.  True to his word, Jazz was clasping the hands of the Autobots on each side and nothing more.  He must have been watching the command level, though; they made optic contact right away.  Cheerily Jazz grinned, and blew him a light kiss. 

 


 

 

Shockwave's proposal, it turned out, was to designate some empire resources for the upcoming mid-vorn.  A proper demonstration, he argued, with a parade and laser displays, was exactly the sort of celebration the healing planet needed.  It would be a show of the new government's prosperity, while serving to remind the civilian population who was responsible for the return to peace that made mid-vorn celebrations even possible. 

Starscream promptly threw a tantrum that was something of a laser display all on its own.  Fuel was too precious, he screeched, and too many other vital projects had been kept waiting in line, for the Decepticon empire to indulge in silly parties.  Shockwave's proposal was a ridiculous waste of resources.

"He has something of a point, Shockwave," Megatron mused, tapping one finger against the arm of his chair.  "It will be expensive.  Why should I waste a lot of good fuel on mecha that weren't even brave enough to fight my war?" 

"It is precisely those mecha that must be kept in mind, my lord."  Shockwave's lone optic glowed intensely, a look that Soundwave knew meant he was glaring hatefully at Starscream.  "The former neutrals do not carry the same automatic loyalty to you that most of your own Decepticon soldiers do."  Another obvious glance at Starscream.  "An Imperial celebration is just the sort of cure for such doubting sparks."

Megatron's optics flared like embers.  "Not carry the same loyalty?  Is there sedition in this city that I haven't been informed of?"

"An excellent question, Lord Megatron," Starscream chimed in.  "Why don't we ask our Director of Surveillance?  Soundwave, have any of your pes- I mean, has your team heard any hint of disloyalty to our leader?" 

"Negative," Soundwave answered promptly.  "Lord Megatron, extremely popular amongst Iacon population.  References in conversation, favorable."  It was, of course, only the truth, just as Soundwave entailed in his daily reports.  There was no reason to state anything else.  He got a nasty look of his own from Shockwave, anyway. 

"There, you see?" Starscream postured triumphantly.  "You don't need to win over the dumb masses after all." 

Slight emphasis on dumb had Megatron shooting Starscream a rather arch look, but he let the veiled insult pass.

"Of course they are loyal to you," Shockwave said smoothly.  "You are their savior who brought peace and fuel to the planet.  But the empire itself is new, and the mecha are still learning they can look to it for protection and guidance.  Past experience has taught them that lavish celebrations are the hallmark of a prosperous, stable government.  The old Council regularly sponsored new-vorn and mid-vorn celebrations here in Iacon.  Politicians traveled down the avenues in long parades, waving to their subjects, adored by all." 

Soundwave picked up a near-inaudible hiss of irritation on Starscream's part.  He was not surprised.  Shockwave was no fool, and knew exactly how to persuade Megatron; the argument was over the moment he brought up the old Councillors.  Megatron would never pass up a chance to bask in the glory that used to be theirs. 

"I think we can spare a few fuel drums for a little something, Starscream.  Shockwave is right, this is our first peaceful mid-vorn in centuries.  It would be a shame not to acknowledge it properly.  Let's discuss the budget, and my parade, in a little more detail."

 

What followed was an argument more vicious and heated than any argument Soundwave could remember hearing throughout the whole war.  Battlefield strategy was apparently far less controversial than budget allocation.  Starscream fought Shockwave cannon to claw on every small point, to which Shockwave responded with his usual frozen condescension.  Both mechs pestered him relentlessly for support, but Soundwave had no preferred outcome and therefore no opinion, which left them both irritated at him.  It was an altogether unpleasant and exhausting alternative to a quiet game of hax. 

"Poor baby," Jazz commiserated at his feeding time, in the privacy of his office.  "They're sockin' it to you left and right in there.  You're not even trying to guard!  Keep your fists up, and try a little dodge-and-weave.  Works wonders."  He opened his mouth for the energon treat, amusement sparkling in his visor. 

"Reminder, here because Jazz considered it wise."

"Reminder, you obviously agreed.  Don't go blaming your current misery on me, it's not my fault Decepticon command is made up of egocentric powermongers.  Which isn't to say I'm not enjoying the show, because from my point of view it's fabulous entertainment.  Shockwave's going to win in overtime, by the way.  He has the patience.  Starscream is uh... how else to put it?  Flighty.  He'll get fed up with the whole argument, throw up his hands, and screech, 'Fine, so be it!  Waste our precious fuel on your party, see if I care.  Now can we talk about my ideas?'  I'm waitin' for it."

Soundwave had no reply to this, since he knew it was perfectly true, and let out a tiny sigh.  Was it a little treasonous, he wondered, to prefer the company of his own Autobot to his fellow Decepticons? 

"Better get back in there, love.  Headquarters might go up in flames.  And that would be no bad thing, except my friends are still back there." 

Soundwave gathered Jazz in his arms and held him close to his chest, drawing peace from his closeness.  And then there was no choice but to return to the command room. 


 

 

"Fine!" Starscream snarled, engines revving sharply.  "So be it!  Waste Earth's fuel on your ridiculous party, see if I care.  But if you're willing to not throw all of it away, I do have a few important projects that need discussion.  Can we move on already?" 

Distantly, in the lower corner of the room, Soundwave heard Jazz clear his vocalizer.  Shockwave rocked back a little on his hydraulics, chest puffing out, looking quite pleased with himself.

"I am happy to have your support for my mid-vorn project, Commander Starscream, I'm sure you will not regret it.  By all means, update us on the current status of your projects.  By my lord Megatron's leave, of course." 

Megatron shifted in his chair, a cross between restless and bored.  "Yes, get on with it, Starscream.  And try not to waste too much of my time." 

Starscream glowered, and jammed a datachip into the holograph table with such force Soundwave thought he'd splinter the port.  Instead, images and charts popped up in a medley of complicated graphics, and rapidly Starscream made his selections.  The project chosen was, of course, the one that was dearest to his sparkchamber, the still-nonexistent science academy.  In spite of 'lack of any kind of reasonable support', he'd at least designed a curriculum best suited to Cybertron's current needs, and assembled a logistics plan for enrollment and supplies.  He'd also chosen a location, though Soundwave noted he was careful not to mention where. 

"I realize, oh wise leader, that you are reluctant to supply fuel to my academy because you don't think the return on investment will be good or swift enough.  But if I can train even a handful of competent assistants, the payoff for Cybertron could be immeasurable.  One of my first projects will be to set up a lab on Earth, studying the method by which we refine energon.  Earth's organic fossil fuels are not like any resource we've dealt with before, and it's a theory of mine that we haven't fully explored their potential.  Warfare kept us from studying their cellular structure to any great degree, but now we finally have an opportunity.  I could revolutionize our entire fuel economy!"

Megatron tapped his chin thoughtfully.  "No." 

"No?"  Starscream looked at Megatron blankly, like he'd never heard the word before.  "What do you mean, no?  Did I not just adequately describe -"

"You did, for an unfortunately long time.  I like my answer better, it's no.  Short, simple, easy to understand."

"But the payoff could-"

"I don't care about could and maybe and those other words you scientists use to decorate your failures.  I will not sign off on civilians residing on Earth." 

"You're happy enough to leave the Stunticons there -"

"The Stunticons are my soldiers.  They're loyal, know their job, and do it well.  If you think I'll allow you to establish a colony of your own on Earth, full of mechs with nothing to do but muck about with my fuel in doomed experiments, you are more deluded than I thought.  The answer is no."

"My experiments are not doomed!"

"You are, if you don't stop whining about what's been decided.  And so is your entire precious academy."

Another small sigh escaped Soundwave.  Starscream was in top form today; in no time another fierce argument whipped up, and showed no signs of abating.  He and Megatron barked insults at one another for a while, moved on to shredding each other's policies, and at last touched on the next of Starscream's projects: dismantling and moving the space bridge from its current location in southwest America to the Decepticon wells in the middle east. 

Megatron said no to that too.  While Starscream waxed into a fresh rage, Soundwave checked his chronometer.  Another joor was dwindling to a close, and Jazz must be fed.  Supposing he was unable to get away this time?  Jazz would go hungry.

"Suggestion," he spoke up, as the last breem ticked away and Megatron and Starscream had both paused for ventilation.  "Short recess preferable, rest necessary for clear thinking."

Megatron latched onto the idea right away, which Soundwave predicted.  He'd been growing more restless throughout the second joor, twitching with a warrior's desire to get up and move.  "Excellent idea, Soundwave.  My audios could certainly use the break.  Slave!" 

Starscream hissed and glared at Soundwave, but he too whirled around and stomped away, following Megatron down the steps.  Shockwave trailed them at a more sedate pace. 

"Ugh, good save, boss."  Frenzy leaned back in his seat and luxuriated in a full stretch.  "Even though I know that's not why you said it.  Ya know, not that I'm arguing against a break from Screamer's screamin', but I could have fed Jazz for you." 

"Negative.  Only I feed Jazz." 

"Fi~ine." 

Soundwave descended to the low-clearance floor, where Perceptor and Bluestreak were already scurrying about to serve energon to their masters.  He waited until Jazz had placed a cube in Shockwave's expectant claws. 

"Jazz," he said quietly.  "Come." 

He had hoped for an inconspicuous exit, but Starscream was determined to ruin every moment of this day.  Jazz drifted to his side, and Soundwave had just turned for the door, when Starscream spoke up in a loud, clear voice. 

"There you go again, sneaking off with your slave.  I knew I wasn't imagining it.  Where do you keep disappearing to, and is it that much better than refueling with your fellow officers?" 

Soundwave hesitated, but Jazz didn't miss a beat.  "To make out in the cleaning drones closet, Starscream," he answered brightly, "and I don't like to brag, but yes, it is."

Soundwave's hand tightened around Jazz's arm in warning, but Jazz just flashed him a smile.  "¿Qué?" he asked innocently.  "What?  You didn't say anything about Starscream."

A low chuckle caught Soundwave's attention.  Megatron's cube was almost at his lips, but over the rim Soundwave recognized a flicker of amusement in his optics.  Starscream, for his part, was obviously startled by Jazz's answer, but he hastily sketched a sneer on his face. 

"Well well, Soundwave.  Didn't think you had it in you.  Really; none of us thought you did, actually, have anything in there.  But I suppose Jazz does bring out the best of us in the berth.  I should know.  He can do such remarkable things with his glossa."

Jazz's vents hitched just slightly, a sound covered by Megatron's outright laughter.  "Such an enthusiastic slave," Starscream continued maliciously, smirking away.  "You'd almost think he enjoyed himself." 

"Right," Jazz muttered.  "I've had enough of him for the day.  Oh, Starscream!  Don't sell yourself so short."  He leaned back against Soundwave's frame, arching his back coyly.  "You're lots of fun in the berth, always enjoy my time with you... or at least I would if you weren't always shouting Megatron's name when you overload." 

The entire command room went dead quiet, all save for Starscream's abbreviated squeak.  Suddenly Megatron wasn't laughing, but his optics fixed on Starscream with a hungry gleam. 

"Starscream."  His voice was a low purr.  "Come over here." 

Starscream whipped around, wings twitching like mad.  "Don't you listen to that filthy little Autobot, Megatron, he lies -"

"Starscream."  The purr darkened just a little.  "I said, come here.  I know where we can continue our... discussion."

Soundwave's attention shifted to his hand, which for the second time Jazz was holding with his own.  "You ready to get out of here?" he asked, grinning like mad.  "I know I am." 

"Affirmative."   Soundwave let his fingers lace through Jazz's, and together they fled. 

 


 

 

Jazz turned a few cartwheels in the market, scattering the closest of the vendors.  "Ahh, that's better.  I can move again!  Not complaining, of course, I was happy to get the chance to check up on Percy and Blue, but I don't think anyone can call a round of admin meetings at Decepticon HQ fun.  I'm glad it's over; now we can pick it apart into itty bitty details.  Who do you want to shred first, Shockwave or Starscream?" 

"Discussion of Decepticon officers, not appropriate." 

"Soundwave, Soundwave.  How many times must we go over this?  I saw and heard everything just like you did, and nothing you say can keep me from analyzing it.  It's up to you if you want to chime in or not, but c'mon, you know you want to."  Jazz pecked playfully against his armor before skipping ahead a few steps.  "Fine, if you don't have a preference, we'll go in order.  Cyclops first.  Not really a party kind of mech, wouldn't you agree?  Why do you suppose he's so eager to blow a lot of valuable fuel on something like the mid-vorn?" 

Soundwave glanced at the crowds flowing around them.  "Shockwave's intimation: Megatron must ensure popularity.  Incorrect." 

"So how about Shockwave's popularity?  How's he doin' in the polls?" 

Soundwave reviewed his personal memory files of the last several surveillance reports.  "Shockwave, rarely mentioned in conversation." 

"Your reputation precedes you, love.  Iaconians know better than to go around shouting about how much they hate a top Decepticon officer.  But I guarantee you they hate him.  Watch this: look, everybody!  It's Shockwave!" 

Jazz raised his vocalizer to top volume and every vendor in audioshot froze, then scrambled to hide merchandise and credits in subspace.  "Oh, never mind, it was just some pile of ugly crates with a spare optic lying on top.  Sorry!" 

He turned back to Soundwave with a wicked grin, unconcerned with the dirty looks several mechs sent his way.  "See?" 

"Point?" Soundwave asked wryly.

"Megatron and Starscream are glamorous war heroes.  Shockwave is the afthat that's been governing Cybertron ever since Megatron forced the Autobots offplanet.  And if the locals didn't already have plenty of reasons to hate him by the time the war ended, he made extra sure of it by taking control of the economy.  All these mecha, scraping to make a living off selling Earth imports, have to pay him for the privilege of bringing shipments through the space bridge.  If they don't hide and hoard what they earn, he'll just demand more of it.  On the other end of the scale, he uses his status as governor to aid the wealthiest neutrals in getting their factories up and running - again, in exchange for kickbacks.  Megatron looks the other way because Shockwave is handy at keeping the city running like it should, and what does he care if Shockwave is now the wealthiest mech on the planet?  Megatron cares more about power than credits anyway.  So Shockwave got his riches, at the cost of also being the most hated mech on Cybertron." 

"Your intimation: Shockwave seeking to increase his own popularity with mid-vorn celebration."

"Bingo."  Jazz poked him squarely in the center of the chest.  "What do you suppose Megatron would do if he knew this?" 

Soundwave considered this.  "Strong likelihood, no action.  Some duplicity from officers expected; Shockwave's actual statements, not a lie." 

"He wouldn't even be a little bit angry?" 

"Strong disapproval likely.  Private censure, almost certain.  However, irrelevant observation.  Megatron now enthusiastic for mid-vorn celebration.  Speculation regarding Shockwave will be dismissed; informant, lectured or punished." 

"So you won't be the bad guy that rains acid on Megatron's parade." 

"Negative.  That task, traditionally Starscream's." 

"Fair enough," Jazz laughed, and they resumed their walk.  "That's okay, anyway.  It won't work, there is no way Shockwave can undo centuries of hatred with one party.  Who knows, splashing around a lot of energon while these mecha struggle for every cube might even make things worse.  I can live with that.  Don't care why Shockwave goes up against the wall, just so long as he does."

"Jazz -"

"What, afraid the head of Surveillance will overhear me?  Oh wait, that's you.  Moving on to Starscream.  Now that is almost a crying shame, because I can tell you with total confidence that his theories about Earth fuel aren't his at all, they're Perceptor's.  He was just starting the research back on Earth before Autobot City got hit.  I only heard about it once, but I remember.  Most boring meeting ever." 

"Reason, Perceptor shared theory with Starscream?"

"Oh, who knows.  He's a scientist, Starscream's a scientist, they relate on some science-y level.  If I asked him, Percy would probably say something about how scientific progress belongs to everyone, blah blah blah.  My guess is, Starscream jumped all over it, half because he'd just love to revolutionize the planet's fuel needs, and half because setting up a lab on Earth could get him closer to Skyfire and further from Megatron.  Which is, naturally, the exact same reason that Megatron said no.  Megatron won't even let him resettle Vos, let alone move to another planet."

Unexpectedly, Jazz snagged the corner pole of some derelict scaffolding and swung around it, blocking Soundwave's path.  "Megatron's 'new orders' weren't to stop spying on Starscream, were they?" 

Soundwave stared at his slave, surprised that Jazz even remembered that brief exchange.  It seemed such a long time ago now.  "Negative.  Only, be more careful." 

"I figured.  Megatron doesn't trust Starscream to be out of his sight for more than half a nano.  I'd say Starscream brought it on himself, except it's not really just Starscream."  Adroitly Jazz hopped up to sit on a crossbar, putting himself at optic level with Soundwave.  "How many years now, and still Megatron won't permit any permanent settlements outside Iacon.  Won't allow anyone but his own handpicked team on Earth, them and the Autobots to work the wells.  He doesn't trust any of you." 

"Scarce energy requires congregation of population in one city.  Decepticon soldiers most needed on Cybertron, not Earth." 

"Maybe those are good reasons but it's not why he's keeping everyone here.  It is the trademark of tyrants to keep all their followers in one place, to keep an optic on them.  C'mon, Soundwave, you don't have to chant the party line, it's just me.  And I know you know what I'm talking about."  

"My duty, to follow Megatron's orders."  Soundwave held Jazz's chin in a firm grip, to make sure he was paying attention.  "Your hope, I will admit treason.  Likelihood: zero."

"Oh, Soundwave.  I would never try anything so dastardly and underhanded."  Jazz favored him with a roguish grin, leaning into his touch rather than fighting it.  "But do let me know the nanoklik it starts working."

 


 

 

Over the orns since Soundwave brought Jazz into his home, he'd learned to expect the unexpected when it came to his slave.  He'd watched Jazz dance with Laserbeak, regale his twins with morbid war stories, and start a tossing match with mangled glitchmice.  None of it was wrong, exactly, or disobedient in a way that required punishment.  Just different.  Sometimes amusing, generally harmless, and always lively, Soundwave was even getting used to it.  Jazz's stunts couldn't surprise him anymore, or so he thought.  Then came the evening that he stepped out of his office and found Jazz holding court before four fascinated cassetticons. 

Juggling his cameras.  Expensive, delicate, not-easily-replaced surveillance cameras that his crew was supposed to be cleaning and sorting, not gazing at wide-opticked as Jazz bounced half a dozen of them off one hand to the other in time to the music blasting out of the entertainment console. 

"- and that's when they made me their honorary ringmaster.  They tried to give me an elephant to show their gratitude, but I said no, Prowl will never let me keep an elephant.  But you can teach me how to juggle!  Took a little longer than I thought - it's much harder than dancing - but those guys were good teachers.  As you can see." 

"Awesome," Rumble said reverently.  "You've got, like, six cameras in the air at once!  How is that even possible?" 

"It's not six, it's seven," Frenzy put in.  "Can't you count?"

"Nah, I think it's just six.  See?  One, two, thre- I mean, there's that one and then that one and- ah, frag it!  They keep moving around too quick!  Jazz, how are you doing that?" 

"I can teach you guys, if you want." 

"Really?"  Rumble and Frenzy lit up, then flinched at a warning cluck from Buzzsaw, the only one who'd noticed Soundwave's presence.  "Uh, boss.  Hi!  We were just..."

"It was Rumble's idea!" 

"Fragger!" 

"Ah, Soundwave."  Jazz beamed at him, while one twin violently whacked the other.  "About time.  Welcome to the show!"

"Jazz, explain activity."

"Just fulfilling my job expectations."

"Drop cameras."

"All at once?  Won't that make a mess?"

"Jazz."  Soundwave started closing in, and Jazz backed up a step. 

"Oh, very well.  Heads up, boys and girls."  One after another, he bounced each camera out of circulation, forcing the cassettes to scramble to catch them with either hands or beaks.  "But are you sure, master?  I could teach you how to juggle.  I think you'd be very good." 

He kept one small spy camera, rolling it across the back of his hand and catching it with a flick of the wrist before it could fall.  These were Soundwave's highly classified cameras, his tools to monitor the mecha of Megatron's empire.  And now an Autobot was playing with them.  He stepped closer, hand outstretched. 

"Jazz, give camera."

"Come and get it."  He dipped his hand and let the camera roll down his forearm when Soundwave tried to snatch it.  "Ooh, too slow!  Try again." 

"Jazz."

"You're not afraid I'll drop it, are you?  I think I've had ample opportunity since coming here to prove that I am anything but clumsy, so why the nervousness?  Soundwave, tell me the truth: do your cameras mean more to you than I do?" 

He had the impudence to pretend he was hurt, then gracefully bowed back out of Soundwave's next grab.  "No need to get defensive, love!  Only a joke; you may have heard of it.  Humorous statement, designed to elicit a smile?  Some mechs find them funny.  Mechs with personalities.  I can see how it would confuse you."

Jazz twisted out of the way and circled back around Soundwave, still showing off his silly moves with that blasted camera.  "Jazz will give camera now."

"Or you'll what?"

Soundwave backed Jazz into the arm of the couch and leaned in close.  "Or I target ankle joints." 

"Ooh, now you're playing nasty."   

"Strategy, effective."

"Well played, mon cher."  Jazz dropped the tiny camera into Soundwave's waiting hand.  "But you know, I really do think you stress too much over this job.  We should take a vacation, go to Earth, see a circus.  The kids'll love it."

"Visiting circus unnecessary, circus apparently already here."  Soundwave snagged Jazz's wrist when he tried to roll away to the side.  "Command: stop corrupting my symbiotes." 

"Can't help myself, master, they're so much easier to corrupt than you." 

Jazz shot him one of his saucy grins, and then the light shifted behind his visor.  When Soundwave turned, he found himself looking at four eager stares, all his cassetticons on the edge of their respective seats.  Laserbeak clicked, and he caught the phrase mating dance in her thoughts. 

"Your chores, incomplete.  Suggestion, return attention to work." 

Everyone stammered something and rapidly busied themselves with tending to the cameras like they should have been doing in the first place.  Soundwave set the last one with the others, pretending not to hear Jazz's snicker.  Tonight, probably, he would target Jazz's ankles after all.


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Birdies, by Merrypaws

Chapter Text

 

The pace of the city seemed to be accelerating as the mid-vorn approached.  Now when Jazz and Soundwave walked their route, they had to avoid squads of bots sweeping through the streets.  Shockwave was determined that the city - at least those parts of the city that Megatron would see - look nothing less than perfect, and for a cube of energon the ghettodwellers were roving the streets, gathering trash and scrubbing off soot.  In the market, Jazz watched some of them hassle the vendors into packing up their merchandise so it wouldn't sit on the walk.   

"Careful," he remarked dryly, "a mech sitting still for two kliks might find himself getting swept up and tossed onto Long Haul's flatbed.  Where's all this undesirable trash going, anyway?"

Laserbeak chirped an answer, and Soundwave translated.  "Current disposal sites: Iacon's unrepaired sectors.  Uninhabitable, suitable location."

"Sure they're uninhabitable."  Light rolled behind Jazz's visor.  "Where do you think those mechs recharge, anyway?  In a guesthouse on Shockwave's lavish estate because he is just that generous?  C'mon.  Credits to cubes say those mechs will be sleeping with this junk tonight, and probably trying to build walls out of it.  If Megatron and Shockwave were really interested in shoring up popularity with the masses, maybe they should have thought about using their energy to clear new living space and extend the power grid, instead of throwing a party."  Jazz hopped lightly out of the path of a dirty little minibot, trying to scour the walkway clean of filth.

"Living conditions of low-functioning mecha, not your concern."

"Ah, that's right, I forgot.  Megatron was the one who started this war shouting about equality, right?  I was on the other side, so I must not care.  Thanks for the reminder, master."         

Jazz's grin was light and carefree, but Soundwave huffed just a little.  "Low-functioning mecha present in Iacon before war." 

"Never said there weren't.  Believe me, Soundwave, I know that better than anyone." 

That caught Soundwave's attention, but before he could form a probing question, Laserbeak whistled in alarm.  Too late Soundwave looked up, and saw what she meant.  Directly in front of them, a brand new monument now graced the spokewheel intersection.  The Constructicons must have just erected it; part of the street circling it was still torn up, forcing passerby to transform and walk past instead of driving through.  Nobody could have missed Megatron’s colossal statue, gleaming under the streetlights.

"Jazz -"

“Oh.”  He hadn’t reached out in time, and Jazz froze mid-step, that breezy smile fading from his face.  “Well… would you look at that: another reminder that Megatron won the war, as if we could forget.  And yet another waste of time and effort that could have been spent on reconstruction.  But of course, this had to go up before the mid-vorn.  A true leader knows his real priorities.”

He shrugged off Soundwave’s hand rather than be tugged backward.  “Soundwave, please.  The Constructicons obviously went to a lot of work on this… stunning piece of art, it’d be rude not to look at it.  I also have a feeling that Hoist and Grapple had to put it up, and I’m sure they had to look at it.  So I will too.  It isn’t every statue in this city that Megatron concedes to share a little space with someone else, after all.”

That 'someone' being none other than Jazz’s own leader, Optimus Prime.  Scrapper had really spared no effort, sculpting an elaborate image of Megatron savagely beating Optimus to the ground.  The Prime, looking rather smaller than Soundwave remembered him, was shakily holding himself by one arm, trying to defend himself with the other, and Megatron held himself tall and proud, one fist raised to strike the final blow.

“Doesn’t capture Megatron’s best side,” Jazz mused, wandering a little closer.  “Though we can hardly expect the impossible.  It’s very dramatic posing, with the hand-to-hand combat.  Of course, those of us that were there know that that’s not exactly how it happened, but we must give poetic license.  And what’s this?  An inscription?  ‘For the glory of our Lord Megatron, who saved Cybertron from certain death.  The enemy would have starved us, but under the strength of Megatron he was crushed, and our home saved.  ALL HAIL MEGATRON.”

Jazz turned around and leaned casually against its base, arms crossed.  “Magnificent.  What do you think?”

Soundwave studied Jazz carefully.  “Expected reaction: hostility.”

“Statue is just a statue, Soundwave.”  Jazz shrugged.  “And if Megatron wants to tell the whole world that Optimus is a weakling, that’s fine by me.  It just makes the world wonder why it took Megatron so damn long to bring him down.”

“Optimus, Autobots, logistically weak.  Significant flaw: determination to protect others.  Defensive strategy, a liability.”

“Seriously?  You’re lecturing me on the dangers of taking smaller, weaker creatures under protection?”  Jazz waited only a nanoklik for the reply that Soundwave did not have.  “In any case, Optimus knew the risks.  We all did, and we followed him anyway.  If he had asked, we would have followed him into Unicron’s mouth and back.  Could you say the same for you and Megatron?”

“Megatron, victorious.  Saved Cybertron.”

“Megatron didn’t save anything,” Jazz said sharply.  “Let alone this planet.  He allowed it to live so that it could serve him.  I know how it feels.”

He bit his lip plating, as if he’d caught himself showing too much anger, and deliberately exhaled air from his vents.

“Suggestion, leave now.”

“Good idea.  Maybe I’m not ready to appreciate fine art after all.”  Still, Jazz looked up again before he was more than a step from the massive base.  As if he couldn’t quite help himself, a hand reached up and grazed the Prime’s leg.  It was only a light pat, but there was something tender, and painfully reverent, in the way Jazz touched him.  If it were not beneath him, Soundwave would have been jealous of a statue.

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” Jazz sang under his ventilations, soft as the caress itself.  “Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you...”

Soundwave would never know what a joe-dimaggio was.  His comm flipped on as Jazz was wandering away. 

"Hey boss!" Frenzy greeted, in cheerful contrast to Jazz.  "Better cancel your exciting hax plans for the evening.  Guess who's back in town?"  

 


 

 

The debriefing would begin in less than two breems.  Soundwave steered Jazz into his office at headquarters, where the twins were already waiting for him.  Jazz had been rather on the quiet side since they left Megatron's statue, and while it pained Soundwave to see Jazz in a less-than-cheerful mood, he was hopeful that it would make things easier. 

"Hey boss, 'bout time you got here!  Whadja do, walk?  The meeting's set to start any klik now, so why are we all in here?"

"Yes, Soundwave, why are we here?"  Jazz dropped into Soundwave's chair, gaze narrowed.  "Surely it's too soon for you to be lonely for this place."

Soundwave braced himself.  "Jazz.  Presence in officer meeting required.  You... will not come." 

The light in Jazz's visor flared white and in less than an astrosec he was up on his feet, every wire bristling for a fight.  "You want to play this game again, master, really?  I won it last time, if I recall correctly." 

So much for making things easier.  A small sigh escaped Soundwave's vents.  "This order, not negotiable.  Meeting classified.  No Autobots permitted." 

"Oh."  The bristling faded, but an altogether too-curious gleam shone in that visor.  "Classified, huh?  That sounds all kinds of interesting.  Now I really want to come."

"Not a possibility," Soundwave assured him.  "Jazz will remain here." 

"You can't leave me here alone in your office!  Do you want a repeat of last time you tried that?" 

"Threats unwise," Soundwave warned his slave darkly.  "You will remain here.  Rumble, tasked with supervision."

"What?"  Now it was Rumble's turn to jump to his feet, optics blaring white with dismay.  "You're making me dronesit?  What'd I do?"

"Ha ha," Frenzy snickered dryly.

"Dronesit?" Jazz echoed, offended. 

"Why do I have to watch the slave?"  

"Because it's your turn to find out how much fun it is to keep a leash on Jazz in HQ," Frenzy put in, gloating madly away from his perch on Soundwave's console. 

"Shut up.  Soundwaaaave." 

"Task assigned, no argument.  Frenzy will attend meeting.  Rumble and Jazz will remain here.  Jazz will be on best behavior."

It wasn't a perfect plan, but on short notice, it was the best Soundwave could manage.  Even if he'd had time to take Jazz back home, which he didn't, he didn't trust his progress on the loft's security network to keep Jazz in place.  Bringing him here to headquarters was the only option, where at least he could be under supervision.

"I haven't signed on for this."  Jazz fell back into his desk chair, propelling it to roll back until it bumped against his desk.  "I suppose you think Rumble can just comm you the nanoklik I hack your lock and escape." 

"Affirmative." 

"And just what, master, will you be able to do about it?  'Excuse me, Lord Megatron, I hate to interrupt, but I have to go track down my escaping slave.'  I'm sure he won't mind at all." 

"Seriously, Soundwave, can we rethink this?"  Rumble's emotions were tight with apprehension.  "Please?" 

"Understanding, Rumble and Frenzy enjoy Jazz's company." 

"Well yeah, duh, but that doesn't mean I can control him.  Only you can do that!"

How Soundwave wished that were really true.  Jazz pushed at the floor with his pedes and rolled back over to Soundwave, stopping short just before he crashed into him.

"Soundwave, at least tell me we can leave the office.  Please?  I'll be good as gold for you and Rumble if you give me even the chance to look for my friends in the halls.  You know that's all I want.  Haven't I been good for you lately?" 

Jazz looked up at him pleadingly, and Soundwave's resolve wavered.  The chrono was ticking; he really needed to leave now.  He knew it was true that Jazz really just wanted a few moments in the company of his old friends, and it was also true, according to Soundwave's growing experience, that Jazz tended to behave when given what he wanted.  To do the opposite invited the worst disasters. 

Just this once, then, Soundwave would compromise.  It was the only solution. 

"Permission to leave office, given."

"Yes!"

"You will obey all Rumble's commands.  You will not address other Decepticons.  If Autobots encountered -"

"I know, I know, nothing but a hold of the hand."  Jazz wrapped his arms around Soundwave's waist and squeezed.  "Thank you, master." 

Rumble and Frenzy's interest spiked up at the sight of Jazz's unusually affectionate move, and Soundwave himself was rather caught by surprise.  His temperature kicked up a notch, but never mind that just now.  Gently he pried himself out of Jazz's embrace, commanded Frenzy to follow, and departed the office.

"Best behavior," he said once more, just before the door slid shut.  Jazz only grinned, and waved.

 


 

 

The room, by tacit acknowledgement of everyone there, was silent.  Not even Starscream opened his mouth.  The handful of Decepticon officers present exchanged glances among themselves, then went back to gazing at the new arrivals.  The Combaticons, all four of them, stood in the center of the room, looking miserable, exhausted, and underfueled.  They were not offered seats.  Megatron let the silence carry on for a vindictive 2.3 kliks before finally reclining in his chair, fingers laced. 

"So," he began, and all four flinched just a little, "here you are.  Returned at last, after at least twice as long as you assured me it would take.  You also assured me, I recall, that this time you would succeed.  Yet I see no Autobot in your custody, so unless you're allowing him to make use of his special talent, I can only assume that you failed that too.  Who wants to explain?" 

Blast Off opened his mouth but no sound came out, and Soundwave could hear his systems skip and tumble nervously.  Brawl shifted on his feet, and Swindle made a noise that might have been clearing his vocalizer. 

"I said explain!"

"My lord," Blast Off stammered.  "We were so close this time.  We found him hiding on this barren chunk of a planet out in X-390, we even saw him when we cornered him in a dead-end canyon run -"

"You saw him."  The withering tone had Blast Off snapping his mouth shut like a sprung trap.  "You... saw him.  Maybe I should have been more clear.  When I dispatched your sorry team to take care of this loose end, I didn't mean for you to just get a good look at him.  I know what he looks like.  I meant for you to capture him and bring him back to Cybertron so I can put him where he belongs - in a slave collar.  That was what I wanted.  Tell me, was I not clear?" 

Blast Off mumbled something and Megatron's fist slammed into the table.  They all jumped.  "Was I not clear?"

"No- I mean, yes."  He hunched his shoulders and stared at the floor.  "You were clear, Lord Megatron."

"Then why the looking and not the capturing?"

"He's fast," Vortex growled.  "We had a trap all set up for him but the fragger managed to slip through it, and he's so damn good at hiding.  We can't pick up nothin', no heat signature or motion or even a single sound.  It's like he can turn into a ghost." 

"A ghost that can outwit the four of you without much trouble, it seems."

"But we made progress, my lord."  This time it was Swindle who spoke up.  "We do have some good news." 

"Oh, do tell."

"We trapped him on a planet this time!  Even though he got away from us, we found the skiff he was piloting and destroyed it.  He's a groundpounder, he's got no way to break atmo."

"That's right," Blast Off rushed to add.  "Like I said, a real barren chunk of a planet.  An old pre-war expedition marked it on the charts; it's called Chaar.  Even if we couldn't get him, we got his transportation.  He's trapped on that place now." 

Megatron failed to look impressed.  "Then why is he there and you here?" 

"We needed fuel."  This time it was Swindle that spoke up.  "We hunted him all over that planet, I swear, it's why we were gone so long, and we used up almost all our rations.  If we'd drunk any more, Blast Off wouldn't have had enough for the return trip.  We'd have been stranded in space forever." 

Megatron's expression gave no indication that this would be a tragedy.  "How does the Autobot manage?"

"We think he's getting by on some mineral deposits that coat the planet's rocks.  It's paltry stuff, but he's small.  It'd never keep Blast Off going, let alone all of us."

"And so you turn around and walk away from your prey, leaving him free to escape the Decepticons again.  Tell me, did losing your leader deprive your entire team of any kind of common sense whatsoever?"  The Combaticons winced at the mention of Onslaught, then quickly tried to cover it.  "Tell me why I should reward your pathetic performance with any fuel at all."

"But my lord, he's trapped -"

"Yes, yes, I've heard this before.  'This time we've got him, this time we know where he is, this time we'll catch him for sure!'  And every time, you return with nothing but sad faces and pleas for more fuel."

"But this time it's true!" Brawl blurted, then hastily buttoned up when his teammates shot him dirty looks.  Megatron's systems growled dangerously.

"Incompetents.  I don't see why I should throw so much as a pint of energon in your direction.  You're a failed, broken team that can't provide me with any useful service, and I am seriously contemplating stripping you of your Decepticon status."

All-too-obvious panic flashed across their faces.  It wasn't hard to understand why.  Loss of Decepticon status meant termination of fuel allotments, no more exemption from the city's laws, and any number of revoked privileges.  The list of eager applicants for Decepticon induction included most of the city, so there would be no shortage of mecha willing to take the Combaticons' place.  Reduced to neutral status, they'd be forced to find jobs, find their own living quarters, pay for power connections and their energon.  To say nothing of the stigma they would inevitably bear the rest of their lives. 

"Please, Lord Megatron," Blast Off said shakily.  "Give us one more chance.  We really have trapped him, we're not lying.  We can finish this, if you just let us try." 

Megatron studied them thoughtfully for an astrosec.  "Soundwave."

"Understood, Lord Megatron." 

Respectfully Soundwave bowed his head, then turned his attention to choosing a target.  All the Combaticons gulped in unison and took a reflexive step backward, as if that would somehow put them out of range.  Soundwave did not hurry.  He took a moment to clear his sensors of all other incoming data, switching off receptors one at a time so as to force all processor activity toward just this one task.  The simplest, easiest mind would be Brawl's.  He shut off his visual relay, his last contact with the physical world, and dove in. 

 

It was widely believed by most Cybertronians that, as a telepath, Soundwave frequently spent his time rifling through the minds of everyone around him.  Soundwave had never done anything to correct this misunderstanding, but it was not true.  His talent, brilliant and invaluable though it was, came with its own risks.  In order to explore another mech's mind it was necessary to withdraw from his own, leaving his body blind, deaf, and incapable of reacting to any threat.  Telepathy was, therefore, not something Soundwave ever engaged in unless he was well-protected from any danger.  Preferably, hidden away from view and with Megatron hovering over him, fusion cannon at the ready. 

Warrior's minds were usually the easiest.  They thought in clear, simple terms, free from the clutter that might slow down their reaction time on the battlefield.  The Dinobots' minds, young as they were, had been wide and empty like the surface of Earth's moon.  Starscream's was full of tricky false positives and decoy files.  Soundwave had never been ordered to read Shockwave's, nor of course Megatron's, and never would attempt it unless told otherwise.  His victims could feel the foreign presence in their minds and knew what was going on; inevitably they tried to struggle.  Mecha would do anything to hide memory files, frantically reshuffling their archives to keep things away from his probing, usually drawing Soundwave's attention to the very thing they tried so hard to hide.  Nobody won against Soundwave, not on his home battleground of the mind. 

Megatron hates us - to Megatron we are useless - Onslaught gone - gestalt broken - useless - loss of status - must please Megatron - must find Autobot - hunting always hunting Autobot - Autobot too fast - Autobot too smart - cannot lose Autobot - find Autobot catch Autobot keep Autobot.

Soundwave found the right file with ease, and the memory archives carried on in logical sequence.  Hunting with team - must stay with team - stay on the Autobot's path - follow the Autobot - catch the Autobot - Autobot close.  It was Swindle that devised the plan to encircle and trap their prey, desperately trying to copy his former leader's tactical genius and coming up too short in the end.  The Autobot managed to scramble through the rockfall and evade capture.  Just as reported, Soundwave briefly glimpsed Mirage before a cascade of boulders fell between him and Brawl. 

Autobot escaped again - must follow - must catch Autobot - Megatron hates us - must return with Autobot - path lost again no way to find Autobot - what's this?

The flow was briefly interrupted when Brawl tried to hide the next file.  Resistance unwise, Soundwave stated calmly, and that small flex of energy crumpled Brawl's concentration like thin foil.  Soundwave picked up where he'd left off.  Brawl hadn't been so keen on letting him know it was an accident that the Combaticons managed to stumble onto Mirage's ship.  It had been hidden cleverly at the base of a cliff, a minor avalanche of pebbles burying it completely.  Brawl just so happened to slip and tumble down that same cliffside, landing with a painful crunch right on top of the skiff.  Once they realized what they'd found, the Combaticons enthusiastically destroyed it - after, of course, siphoning out what fuel had been in the tank. 

Autobot cannot escape - Autobot here - Autobot trapped - find Autobot - catch Autobot - keep Autobot - search hunt every day - tired - so hungry - keep searching - must catch Autobot - must please Megatron - hungry hungry hungry.

The repetitive nature of Brawl's thoughts was wearing.  Soundwave gratefully withdrew when the Combaticons finally gave up their hunt and departed the Chaar planet, retreating in miserable shame to Cybertron.  His own processor reactivated, switching his sensors back on at a suitably moderate pace, allowing his data input center to acclimate and not be overwhelmed with a flood of information.  Visual relay was last.  Megatron and the other officers were staring at him expectantly; Brawl was sagging on his struts, hands braced against knee joints, wheezing with exhaustion. 

"Well?"

"Combaticons truthful.  Brief visual of Autobot Mirage, confirmed.  Destruction of his transportation, confirmed.  Mirage, presumably trapped on surface of planet." 

Megatron grunted.  "A planet is still a big place to lose one fugitive.  And he's obviously far more clever and fast on his feet than any of these lot.  I could give them their fuel, return them to this Chaar, and still not hear from them for deca-orns while they chase him in circles." 

"If Mirage is well and truly trapped," Starscream spoke up, "then why not ignore him for the moment?  The Combaticons can be useful elsewhere.  Earth, for example, to hunt down Sideswipe like your Stunticons have been so very unsuccessful at doing." 

"Earth?"  Swindle perked up hopefully.  "We'll go to Earth!  Just give us the mission and we'll -"

"You will go where you're ordered to go," Megatron snapped.  "You can keep your mouth shut until then."

"Why entrust them to hunt down a deadly soldier when they cannot manage to catch even a small spy?" Shockwave pointed out acidly.  "I agree with you, my lord, that the Combaticons have worn out their chances to prove themselves useful.  They are clearly incapable of effective service without their leader, or their gestalt form.  They were never properly pledged to Decepticon service anyway, following Starscream's illegitimate reactivation of their sparks.  Strip them of their title, and save the empire's resources for something more useful.  I have many waiting recruits who would only be too happy to prove themselves by catching these Autobots." 

"Don't be a fool, Shockwave," Starscream spat.  "You know nothing about the kind of military experience the Combaticons possess, both on Earth or in space, and you wouldn't have the first idea how to replace it."

Another duel was brewing between Starscream and Shockwave, and Soundwave diverted attention to his own personal notes.  For the first time in some while he reviewed the list of Autobots who were unaccounted for by the end of the war - either because they'd evaded capture or their bodies had never been found.  Sideswipe.  Mirage.  Cosmos.  Seaspray.  Beachcomber.  Swoop.  Firestar.  Of these, Megatron was only really worried about the first two.  All the rest were incompetent nobodies who weren't anywhere to be found in the last few years of the war, and presumed deserters.  Sideswipe, anything but incompetent, had only managed to escape because his battle-manic brother had held off the attacking Decepticons and sacrificed his own chance to get away.  As for Mirage, the situation was more unclear.  Espionage agents had their own agenda, and just because he'd been nowhere around the last few battles didn't mean he'd deserted.  But even if he had, his talent for camouflage and infiltration made Megatron too nervous to let him alone.  His continued freedom was probably the last genuine threat to the Decepticon empire. 

"Enough!" Megatron snarled, and the room fell silent again.  "It's true, Shockwave, no civilian in this city can offer the kind of combat experience that this pathetic lot can.  Not very useful if they can't even catch up with an enemy and use it, but it is still there.  I'll give them one last chance.  One.  Come back to me with no results, and you can just scrub off the Decepticon emblem yourselves; I won't waste another breem of my time on your failures."

"Yes, my lord."  Blast Off and the others ducked and bowed.  "We are grateful for your mercy." 

"But which direction to send them?" Starscream asked.  "Earth, or Chaar?"

"Hmm."  Megatron scowled and started to raise his cube, in expectation that it would be filled.  When he remembered that there were no Autobots here to serve him, he grunted impatiently and dispersed it.  "The deadly frontliner or the sneaky spy?  Soundwave, you're head of intelligence.  What do you think?"

A difficult question.  Sideswipe's battle prowess was legendary and Soundwave would not care to be trapped alone in a room with him, and it made him uneasy to know he was roaming around Earth unchecked.  But he was one soldier, versus the entire Stunticon team at the well-guarded Decepticon refining factory.  Mirage might not be so violent, but Soundwave knew he was diabolically clever and depressingly good at slipping past Decepticon security.  Why shouldn't he be?  He was Special Ops, and Jazz's top subordinate.  If Mirage had the courage and the means to return to Cybertron, would he dare infiltrate Iacon?  Would he try to rescue Jazz? 

"Consideration, one spy more dangerous than one soldier.  Mirage's invisibility, too great a threat.  Mirage a higher priority." 

"I think you're right."  Megatron cracked his knuckle joints, betraying his restlessness.  "Your orders stand, Combaticon team.  Find Mirage, bring him back, and then even a useless broken gestalt team like yourself will have earned the right to keep calling yourselves Decepticons." 

"Yes, my lord."  Again they bowed, resigned.  Swindle looked up hopefully. 

"Lord Megatron?  When we capture him and come back to Iacon, you will let us keep him, right?  He'll be ours... right?" 

"I said so, didn't I?  Now I suggest you find some bunks and get your rest.  You have one cycle to recharge and resupply before leaving."

"One cycle?  But we just got -"

"Are you arguing with me, Blast Off?"  Megatron shot a hard glare at the obviously exhausted shuttle, and Blast Off sagged. 

"No, my lord." 

"Good.  And remember what I said about returning empty handed.  It was not an idle threat.  Dismissed."

 

The Combaticons shuffled out of the room.  Briefly Megatron shuttered his optics, a quiet growl echoing in his vocalizer.  "Every time I have to look at them I want to murder Ironhide all over again, for taking Onslaught from me.  I am deeply sorry I never got that chance." 

"My request for a chance to do a little exploratory surgery on their neural circuits still stands," Hook reminded them all.  "I've never had a chance to study the effects on a gestalt team after one of them dies.  There's no risk to the existence of Bruticus anyway, so it wouldn't do, er, much harm."

"You're a sick butcher, Hook," Starscream said wryly.  "The Protectobots lost their leader too.  Why don't you open up your own slave's head and look inside if you're so curious?"

"Not a chance, First Aid is useful.  How about Brawl?  Nobody would miss Brawl."

"Oh, quiet, all of you," Megatron snapped at the room in general.  "Nobody is going to make experiments out of my soldiers, not until I've decided they're not worthy of being my soldiers.  That's up to the Combaticons now; they have their last chance."

"Maybe this time we should send some reinforcements," Starscream suggested.  "Since they're so very convinced they've cornered Mirage at last.  Astrotrain, at least, could -"

"I strongly protest any decision to send additional Decepticons offplanet," Shockwave rushed to interrupt, and getting a nasty glare out of Starscream for it.  "The mid-vorn is fast approaching and I want the Enforcer squad under tight supervision.  Astrotrain cannot be spared, nor any other mech." 

"Spoken like a true desk warrior.  Only you could be more concerned about crowd control than a genuine threat from the enemy." 

"I don't consider a half-starved spy on some distant rock to be the enemy, I consider him a nuisance.  Does he make you nervous, Commander Starscream?" 

"You button-pushing bureaucrat, I don't -"

"Stop," Megatron ordered irritably.  "I don't care about Shockwave's reasons, but I won't be sending any backup for the Combaticons.  It's embarrassing enough that four veteran soldiers can't track down and capture a single Autobot spy; I'm not going to tarnish the Decepticon name by sending half the army after him.  The Combaticons will either catch him on their own, or they won't at all.  And if they do fail, then the whole lot of them can starve to death together on that planet and save me a lot of trouble.  It's true I want that snotty little bot here in Iacon, bowing at my feet, but I can accept 'dead' too.  Either option works well enough.  We're done here; dismissed." 

Everyone stood and bowed, and at a nod from Soundwave Frenzy switched off his recording function.  Later he would catalog the minutes and upload them into Aggrenet.  He was on his way to the door when Megatron fell in rather unexpectedly alongside him. 

"Soundwave.  Walk with me." 

Surprised, but not overly bothered, Soundwave obediently followed Megatron's lead and they left the conference room together.  He was not in a hurry; he'd picked up no distress from Rumble since the meeting began, and it was only reasonable to assume Jazz must be behaving himself.  Wherever they were, it wasn't here.  Mecha scrambled out of the way and bowed as Megatron strode through the halls. 

"It was a good meeting, Soundwave, surprised though I am to admit it.  Thanks to your confirmation, I'm actually inclined to believe the Combaticons when they say they can finish the job this time.  I'm glad you were there."

"Assistance, happily offered." 

"And if they do come home with Mirage, then perhaps I can sic them on Sideswipe and take care of him too.  Then we'll have finally captured all the Autobots."  He chuckled.  "Well, all the ones that matter, anyway." 

"Development, ideal," Soundwave agreed. 

"I feel pleased, Soundwave.  Things are going well for the empire, and this party business has got everyone into a good mood.  I was smart to agree to Shockwave's idea after all.  The planet is at peace for the first time in centuries, we have fuel flowing in from Earth, and we stand on the brink of a new golden age.  Of course it's appropriate to throw a celebration.  Haven't we worked hard for it?  Don't we deserve it?"

"Affirmative, Lord Megatron."

"I know you agree; certainly you've worked harder than anyone else in that lot, combined.  Don't think I've forgotten that.  I had to return Shockwave to his former rank upon return to Cybertron, we both know that; his skills in managing the government are simply more valuable in peacetime, but you hardly deserved demotion.  If you had whined, I wouldn't have tolerated it for an astrosec, but you didn't and I appreciate that."

At the time, Soundwave had had far more serious problems on his mind, but he kept silent about that.  Frenzy, trotting along at his heels, was getting more and more curious about the direction of this conversation and so was he. 

"This celebration is just as much for the Decepticon victory as it is for the mid-vorn.  So I've decided it's more appropriate that you should follow me directly, when I go out to greet the crowds, rather than Shockwave.  He's loyal and brilliant, yes, but he was never on the front lines of this war.  You - and much as I hate to admit it, Starscream - deserve the glory of standing by my side." 

Soundwave almost faltered in his steps when he realized what Megatron was offering.  Prestige, adulation, and a taste of the popularity that surrounded Megatron everywhere he stepped: in other words, everything that Shockwave wanted when he started making these plans.  He would never forgive Soundwave for usurping his place.  More worryingly, he'd have his pick of targets if he decided to take revenge.  If Jazz were here, he knew, he would frantically tug on his arm and insist that he refuse. 

Not that refusing Megatron was exactly an option either. 

"Well?  What do you say?" 

"Lord Megatron's offer, gratifying, accepted gratefully."  To get him out, Jazz would probably make some silly joke, diverting Megatron's attention, then grab Soundwave's hand and run.  Soundwave, however, had his own methods.  He added, "Suspicions of protests, unlikely anyway.  Investigation of iconoclasm, unnecessary.  Celebration by your side, more important." 

"What?"

Megatron rounded on him and they came to a stop there in the halls, the light in his optics suddenly hard.  "Protests?  Against me?" 

"Consideration, protests during celebration possible," Soundwave elaborated, carefully not lying.  "Enforcer squad, limited in resources.  Extra surveillance thought necessary.  Your offer, however, cannot be refused.  Surveillance can be reduced -"

"Never mind that," Megatron said hastily.  "This is my mid-vorn, now, I won't allow some slumdwelling ingrates to ruin it by slandering their leader.  I'll be depending on you to keep an optic on things, Soundwave.  Don't fail me." 

Soundwave bowed.  "Understood, Lord Megatron." 

"Good," Megatron grunted.  A curt nod signaled his dismissal and Megatron marched on, while Soundwave remained still.  Frenzy squinted up at him curiously. 

"We're expecting protests during the mid-vorn?  Since when?"

"Not expected, only possible.  Against Megatron, very unlikely.  Against Shockwave, likely." 

Frenzy's mouth fell open.  "Did you... lie to Megatron?"

"Misled, more accurate." 

"I'll be pitslagged."  One end of Frenzy's mouth quirked up in a grin.  "You know, I think Jazz is better at corrupting you than he realizes." 

"Preference, you do not repeat that to him."

"Whatever.  You're not really gonna make us work on the mid-vorn, are you?"

"Your behavior, a factor in that decision.  Pranks, not advised."

"Heh, got it." 

"Tasks here complete.  Return home now."  Reflexively they both turned toward the nearest stairs, following the feel of Rumble's spark.  Soundwave vaguely hoped that Rumble had seized on the sensible notion of keeping Jazz upstairs, where there were bound to be fewer Decepticons at this time of the cycle, and thus less chances for Jazz to get in trouble.  Instead, he found Jazz teaching Rumble how to slide down the ornate banisters while balancing on his pedes.  He might have managed it if he hadn't spotted Soundwave halfway down, lost his concentration, flipped head-over-pede, and landed in a graceless heap on the stairs. 

"Ouch!  Uh, hey boss.  Done so soon?"

Jazz, in contrast, slid cleanly to the bottom and bounced off to land just an inch away from Soundwave.  "Hi honey!  How was your day?"  He made a show of cozying up to Soundwave's frame. 

"So - wait," Frenzy said urgently.  "Jazz was, like, being good for you?  When he wasn't for me?  That's not fair!"

"What can I say, Frenz, some cassetticons just got it and some just don't."

"Frag you." 

"Jazz's behavior, acceptable?"  Soundwave pried Jazz off him so he could hold his chin, examining that angelic face very closely.  "At all times?" 

"Well, ya know, mostly.  But don't get mad at Jazz," Rumble added quickly, "it wasn't his fault.  The Combaticons started it." 

"Combaticons?" Soundwave repeated, alarmed.  "Your instructions, not to address Decepticons."

"Oh, are we counting the Combaticons as Decepticons these days?  I didn't think we were; Megatron sure doesn't.  Besides, they were picking on Rumble.  Not like he meant to go shooting off the rail and hit Vortex dead in the chest like that.  Cranky, cranky.  When was the last time that team got any sleep?" 

Soundwave shot a dark look in Rumble’s direction, who smiled weakly.  Of all the stupid... the Combaticons had a vicious reputation for a reason.  A confrontation could have had horrible results.  Probably all that kept Rumble and Jazz safe was Soundwave’s ownership.  The Combaticons, so recently subjected to Soundwave’s special method of interrogation, would have no doubt been wary of the danger and backed off.  Still, it was a risk that Soundwave would have preferred not been taken.

“Jazz’s behavior careless, not pleasing.”

“I’m sorry, master, it was an accident.”  Jazz squirmed a little in his grip.  “You did a nice thing for me today, letting me out of your office.  I wouldn’t just spit on it, you know.”

“Future confrontations with Combaticons, not recommended.”

“Yes sir.”

So much for his behavior around Decepticons.  As for Autobots… “Rumble, describe interactions between slaves.”

“Huh?  You mean Jazz and other bots?”  Cautiously Rumble tested a knee joint, and winced.  “Oh, he couldn’t find any.  I let him walk around the halls a little, and he looked, but no bots.  That’s when we came up here and he showed me how to surf the rails.  He’s pretty awesome at it.”

Soundwave was surprised to hear that Jazz had given up so easily.  Contact with his old friends was the one privilege for which Jazz unfailingly fought him.  He narrowed his gaze at Jazz’s easy smile.

“Jazz, presumably frustrated," he pointed out via comm.  "His good mood, illogical.”

“Well, yeah, he saw the Combaticons minus one Mirage.  Oh, he knows about that, by the way.  Once he saw them, he was all cheered up.”

Interesting.  At last Soundwave relinquished his grasp on Jazz’s face.  “Come.  Return home now.”

“Yes, master.”

 


 

 

Soundwave kept silent until they bathed that night, his cassetticons in the common room and unable to hear.

“Jazz, lied.”

Jazz happened to be facing the wall while Soundwave scrubbed his back, but he turned his face a little to the side.  Soundwave could see the edge of his smile.

“Oh?  About what?”

“Today.  Your intention, never to find other Autobots.  Your intention, to find Combaticons.  Stairs, fastest path to upper levels of Headquarters, empty berth chambers for Decepticons on active duty.”

Jazz smothered a chuckle, arching his back struts under Soundwave’s ministrations.  “Don’t tell Rumble.  He’s so proud, bragging that he can control me when Frenzy couldn’t.  It’d crush his spark.”

“This manipulation, displeasing.”  Soundwave gave Jazz a little push and Jazz turned around quickly enough, backing a step or two away.

“I am sorry, Soundwave, really.  But I had to know; I had to check.  I wouldn’t be able to recharge tonight unless I knew for sure Mirage was still free.”

“Reason you know Combaticons’ mission?”

“You can blame the Seekers for that.  How they love to gossip.  Why do you think I like sitting on the floor so much?  That’s where they made me sit, and I’m very small and easy to forget about when I’m in the corner.  They forget to watch what they say… so careless.”

“Mirage, likely to be caught soon.”

“No he's not,” Jazz said simply, without a trace of fear or defiance.  "Now then, it’s been a while since we adjusted that scoreboard.  Whose point should it be?  Mine, for getting away with my evil scheme, or yours for catching on at least eventually?”

Soundwave slapped a hand against the tiles by Jazz’s head and Jazz did not so much as twitch.  “Jazz, too arrogant.”

“It’s not arrogance when you’re really good.” 

“Jazz, not that good.  Your motive discovered.  Point, mine.”

“Touché.  We are tied once more.  And I won’t ever get caught again.” 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

"Happy mid-vorn, Soundwave."  

Soundwave looked up from the hax set, which he had only just begun to study, at Jazz lounging in the chair opposite.  He grinned lazily.  "Well?  It's customary to say somethin' back."  

"Happy mid-vorn," Soundwave echoed.  "Jazz."  

"Thaaat's more like it.  You may be you, after all, but even you can't be deaf to what's goin' on out there."  

He was right about that.  Soundwave had been conscious of a raised noise level outside since they woke up, but then he spent most of the morning in his soundproof office, analyzing surveillance data recorded by his younger twins.  By the time he'd left it, the decibel level had gone up considerably.  More mecha would have left their jobs by now, attracted to the swelling crowds out in the streets.  From up here it all sounded like a muffled roar, but the loft itself was still peaceful.  Laserbeak and Buzzsaw were recharging in his chest, and Ravage was sprawled across the back of the couch, napping.  

Jazz picked up a hax piece, idly toying with it.  "This is our first mid-vorn in centuries, isn't it?  For all of us that were in stasis on Earth.  Crazy.  If someone at the last party told me how I'd be spending the next one, I'd have never believed it.  Actually, if someone at the last new-vorn told me where I'd be halfway through it, I'd have never believed that either.  You think we'll both still be sitting here at the end of the vorn, locked in a deadly battle over this hax game?"  

"Unlikely.  Current prediction, this game concluded before then.  Defeat yours, victory mine."  

Jazz laughed.  "Not a chance, Decepticon, I am just now hitting my stride.  There is so much more game to be played.  Admit it; you've never met an opponent that could make it last this long."  

"Jazz's strategy, unusual," Soundwave acknowledged, which was a roundabout way of admitting it was true.  "Difficult to predict."  

"As my last hax partner well knew, much to his chagrin.  Playing hard to predict is half of how I win."  He plonked his piece down in a new square with a dramatic flourish, then settled back in his chair for Soundwave's turn.  

Last hax partner... Soundwave supposed that must be the Autobot's second-in-command, Prowl.  The mech was a brilliant strategist, and Soundwave had often admired his sharp tactical plans on the battlefield.  Out of all the rowdy Autobot crew, he seemed most likely to indulge in a hobby like hax.  Spy footage from his own symbiotes, also, indicated that the Prime's top two officers spent much of their off-duty time together, and shared a strong friendship.  It was a friendship that Soundwave, given his own standing with Starscream and Shockwave, had often envied throughout the war.  

It was a friendship, come to think of it, that made very little sense.  

"Jazz, spent much time with Prowl."  

Now it was Jazz's turn to look up, surprised.  "Sure.  He was my best friend for a long time."  

"Statement illogical.  Initial introduction to Prowl, antagonistic.  Jazz under investigation for criminal activity; Prowl, arresting officer."  

A wicked smile spread across Jazz's face, and he propped his chin on laced fingers.  "You nosy sneak.  You've been reading my history, haven't you?  You really shouldn't have bothered.  It's such a boring story."  

Soundwave's vents opened a little wider, expelling the small heat of embarrassment.  "History, not understood.  Prowl, high ranking Enforcer; Jazz, suspected criminal.  Friendship unlikely."  

Jazz laughed again.  "Too true.  Ah, I'll never forget the look on his face when we met in Prime's office that first time.  He glitched so hard it took Ratchet most of an orn to get him back online again.  For vorns, he wouldn't take his optics off me, and argued against sending me on solo missions.  Once a cop, always a cop.  Didn't think I'd ever get him to trust me."

"Reason for change?"

"War.  Saved his life a few times, and he saved mine."  Jazz twirled a finger.  "I unwound that enforcer bit by bit, and next thing he knew we were playing hax at nights.  Charm, you see, has always been my greatest weapon."  

Soundwave frowned a little, behind his mask.  "Relationship, intimate?"  

"Jealousy, thy name is Soundwave."  

"Answer question."  

Jazz's smile faded a little.  "Every now and then.  I just wanted to help him relax, he needed it so bad.  Didn't work."  He propped his chin on his hands again.  "Aren't you going to ask if I did it?"  

"Did what?"  

"That criminal activity he arrested me for.  'Trading in illegal goods and services', I believe, was the exact charge.  Three times, bless his spark.  He never could find the evidence."  

"Irrelevant," Soundwave said dismissively, then thought it over.  "Consideration, Jazz's guilt very likely."

"Guess no one will ever know now."  A razor-sharp smile flitted across Jazz's expression, sinister as any Decepticon's.  If Jazz really was a part of Cybertron's criminal underworld, Soundwave wondered why he'd chosen the Autobot side.  Most of them had gone the other way, if they'd picked any side at all.  If Jazz had joined the Decepticons, Soundwave couldn't help but think, the war would have probably ended a lot sooner.

"Reason, Jazz chose Autobots?"  

"The shell that splintered my nightclub had a Con emblem on it," Jazz answered matter-of-factly.  "Can't say you boys gave me a whole lot of choice."    

Soundwave supposed there wasn't anything he could say to that, so he didn't.  "Your history, incomplete.  Origins unknown; frame designers unlisted, no sparking date."  

Something flickered behind Jazz's visor, too fast for Soundwave to identify.  "Some other time, Soundwave.  Better just concentrate on your turn."   

Soundwave would not get that chance.  The peace of the loft was shattered when Rumble and Frenzy burst through the door, like a shot fired out of the celebrations and straight into his home.  

"You're all still here!  What are you all still doing up here?" 

"Don't you know there's a party going on outside?"

"Parties?  As in, all over the city?"  

"And you're missing all of it!  Quick, c'mon!"  

Ravage unshuttered his optics and glared, a growl reverberating in his chest, but the twins paid him no mind and instead launched themselves at Jazz and Soundwave.  

"Get up, now!  You two can play hax anytime!"

"And do." 

"So you're not going to sit there and stare at a stupid set while Iacon rolls in the party of the century."

"Well, half-century."  

"Whatever.  C'mon, Jazz, it's going to be so awesome."  Eagerly Frenzy hooked his fingers into Jazz's armor and tugged.  "Shockwave's rich jerkface friends are hosting parties all over the place, and the free high-grade is flowing."  

"And there's vendors selling all the best treats," Rumble added, perched on Soundwave's lap.  "Oil rolls and candied minerals and those fizzy things that go pop-pop in your mouth.  And the jets are doing all these cool stunts in the sky!"

"And artists painting designs on your armor!"

"Yeah, and any breem now they're gonna start the laser lights show!  C'mon, c'mon, c'mon."  

"Ah, sorry boys."  Jazz's smile was full of regret as he picked up Frenzy and put him back down on the floor.  "But I can't say I'm much in the mood to join you.  A city-wide party thrown to congratulate Megatron on his victory is just a little more than my fuel tank can handle."  

"What?"  Both twins looked dismayed.  "You won't come with us?  You can't do that!  Soundwave, he has to come, right?"  

Everyone looked at him: the twins, anxious and determined, Jazz biting his lip plating in an uncharacteristic display of nervous dread. 

Soundwave shook his head.  "Negative.  Cassetticons will attend mid-vorn without us."  

"You're not coming?" they wailed in unison.  

"Soundwa~ave!"

"It's the mid-vorn!"  

"And you're one of the highest-ranked mecha on the planet!  Starscream and Shockwave are out there gettin' gushed over by the crowds, and you won't even come out for just a little?  It's not like they did more than you!"  

"Praise, unnecessary for effective performance of duty."  

"But boss -"

"Participation not desired.  Discussion concluded."  He sent just one pulse of warning across the link, and the twins subsided.  Crestfallen, their shoulders slumped.  

"Yes, boss."  

"Cheer up, boys," Jazz consoled.  "You know Soundwave is allergic to fun.  He would only hold you back.  Go wreak your mischief, and bring me back something tasty.  Who knows, maybe he'll even let me eat it by myself."  

Soundwave shot Jazz a dry look, but the twins' mood did lift a little and they smiled again.  Their excitement had wormed its way through the link, and he could feel two more minds stirring awake within him.  He ejected Laserbeak and Buzzsaw so they could join their big brothers.  

"All cassetticons, excused from regular patrols for duration of festivities.  Only stipulation, record any unusual or suspicious activity."  

"Yeah, yeah.  Oh, and can we have some extra creds?  Special occasion and all?"  

Four hopeful gazes fixed on him, and Soundwave relented.  Centuries of warfare had done such damage to the planet's economy that street purchases actually required physical currency, and Soundwave had developed the habit of carrying it since he and Jazz began their daily walks.  He accessed his subspace for some credit chips.  

"Spend carefully.  Dismissed."  

"Yes, boss!"

"Have fun tonight - not!"  

The aerials chirped their own farewells, and all four stampeded out the door.  Soundwave summoned Ravage, the only symbiote he could count on to actually concentrate on something other than fun, and gave him his own orders.  He was curious to know if there was any negative reaction to Shockwave or his plans after all.  If there were mutterings in the crowd, Ravage would hear them.  His oldest cassette considered the directions, mildly surprised but also interested, and bowed his head.  Then he turned and slunk out the door, as silent as the others had been noisy, and disappeared from sight.  

"You know," Jazz drawled, "your brats weren't exactly wrong.  Nobody can say you didn't do your part in that war.  You sure you're okay sitting this out?"

"Praise, unnecessary -"

"It's not about 'necessary', Soundwave, it's a party.  It's just about enjoying yourself.  You can bet that if the war went the other way, and it was Autobots out there wavin' to the crowds, I would be in on that.  I'd be throwin' the swingingest party this city ever did see."  

"No doubt."    

"If you wanted to go, I'd give you my word to stay put here.  I'd even mean it."  

"Offer appreciated," Soundwave said wryly.  "But unnecessary.  Two hundred cameras currently recording in Iacon.  Surveillance analysis tomorrow will allow thorough viewing of celebration."  

"Party of the half-century and you're okay with watching it on tape.  You really did get the wrong bot, Soundwave.  You and Prowl would have got along just fine.  You could sit here over a hax table and be stoic and logical at one another until the universe imploded, happy as clams.  Course, I'd never wish such a miserable fate on your little ones."  Jazz had slumped back in chair, staring at the ceiling, but now he lifted his head to look at Soundwave again.  "Wait.  Does that mean you do at least want to see the party?"

Soundwave had to backtrack a little to follow Jazz's line of thought.  "Surveillance, my task.  Watching such events, always necessary and expected."  

"I think that's a yes."  Jazz was giving him that thoughtful look again, and half his mouth quirked up in a grin.  "Well.  Let it never be said that Jazz misses a good time.  I have a reputation to uphold, and you have a party to watch."  His visor flashed briefly with the onset of a new idea.  "Gotta roof?"      

 


 

 

He did, not that he'd ever spared a thought for it.  It had no holes in it and kept the rain out, which was all Soundwave ever expected from a rooftop, and that was the end of the matter.  Jazz had different ideas.  In less time than it took for Soundwave's thrusters to kick on, he'd slithered out a window and flipped himself up over the edge in some strange repudiation of the laws of gravity.  Like every roof on Cybertron, this one had a gentle slope on each side to prevent acid rain from pooling, but it wasn't so steep as to prevent Jazz from settling himself comfortably near the apex.  After a moment's hesitation, Soundwave touched down beside him.  

"This effort, unnecessary."  

"Enough about the 'unnecessary', Soundwave, parties are not about necessary.  In fact, they're kinda the opposite.  Sit back, relax, enjoy the view.  Iacon hasn't seen something like this in hundreds of vorns."  

Everywhere around them, the streets were packed with jubilant mecha, pushing, shouting, and jumping to the beat of whatever music streamed from open nightclubs.  Overhead, Starscream was leading his Seekers in complicated aerial stunts, his loops and spins drawing cheers from the crowd.  

"Seems to be enjoying himself," Jazz observed, amused.  "Guess he figures that as long as Megatron insists on this shindig, he might as well soak up the spotlight.  Starscream is such a show-off."  

"Jazz, not one to judge."  

"You're so mean."  Jazz grinned at him, then leaned back against his braced hands to watch.  As unpleasant as it might be to acknowledge, Soundwave had to admit that Starscream's flying was a thing of beauty, something every Decepticon - most especially Starscream himself - knew.  In battle, he and his troops were deadly accurate weapons in the air.  Now, in peacetime, they could afford to indulge in their fanciest tricks, wheeling about in the sky like Earth's colorful tropical birds.  After a while, they dipped their wings in salute and descended below the skyline, ready to join the parties on the ground.

"Lovely performance," Jazz declared.  "I find the Seekers so much more attractive when there's an entire city between me and them.  And now that Starscream's done struttin' his stuff, now Shockwave should- ah, there we go."  

Barely had the Seekers vacated the sky when multiple lasers lit up all over the city, shooting precise and brilliantly colored beams up into the night.  The first ones were all, of course, violet, and drew the Decepticon emblem in huge scale across the sky.  After the expected cheer from the crowds, though, that image disappeared and the lasers all flipped over into multiple colors.  The technicians wielding them moved on to popular, traditional laser displays, drawing dazzling patterns and swirls against the black.

"I don't think I said thank you," Jazz murmured, after a few breems of silent watching.  

"For?" 

"Not making me be out there, much as the twins had their sparks set on it.  It would have been... hard.  Even for me."  

"Gratitude unnecessary.  Autobot presence at Decepticon celebration inappropriate."  

"I really hope," Jazz sighed, "that the other Decepticons agree with you."  

Soundwave thought it unlikely that Starscream or another Decepticon would suffer to be held back by a manacled slave while showing off to the crowds, but it was also quite likely they would bring their slaves to wait upon them in the private parties.  He kept these thoughts to himself.  Jazz had absorbed himself in the displays again, mesmerized by the dancing colors.  

"Your turn."

"Turn?"

"We were having a conversation, before Torpedoes Red and Blue interrupted.  You know about what I did before the war.  Fair’s fair; it’s your turn to fess up.  What were you up to before that whole struggle-to-rule-the-world thing came along?”

This was an unexpected query.  Soundwave automatically ran a scan on his deep archives, briefly amazed at the ancient timestamps.  So much of them had been cleaned out, leaving only basic information and images.  The few names that had been relevant at the time had been disposed of entirely, emptied from the permanent memory cache forever. 

“Function: intelligence gathering and investigation.  Services offered, best on Cybertron, most expensive.  Clients: politicians, industry leaders, scientists.”  They had all come to him, he remembered, even if the names themselves were lost.  Only the richest mecha could afford his services but his talents were worth it; there was no network he could not hack, no secret he could not uncover.  He had destroyed whole businesses and lifted others to the top, to say nothing of lives.  

“Initially, alone.  Later, with Ravage.  His infiltration skills, considerable.”

Jazz snorted softly.  “Don’t I know it.” 

“Wealthy new client in Kaon made contact, needed certain tasks performed.  Designation: Shockwave.  Financial backer of early Decepticon movement.  His superior pleased with results.  Megatron made contact, arranged more longstanding employment.” 

Soundwave had never planned on such a thing, preferring to stay independent and choose his clients as he wished, but the course of Cybertron’s events made that decision for him.  Their planet’s sophisticated infrastructure was starting to crumble under the revolution, and the mechs who’d once used Soundwave to find their fortune and glory were no longer wealthy enough to hire him.  Or even, for that matter, alive.  With a new pair of symbiotes to shelter and feed, there was no other option worth considering.  When Megatron made his offer, Soundwave accepted it promptly.

“And so it began,” Jazz breathed, “a thousand nights of war.  Did you ever miss your civilian life?  Get a little homesick for the creature comforts of peace?” 

“Negative.  Seeking something nonexistent, useless waste of time and resources.  All energy focused on assisting Megatron and Decepticon forces.”  

“Well I did.  Don’t see how anyone couldn’t.  Always it was goin’ back and forth, the shells, the missiles, the soldiers, the hate.  It was like Death somehow got stuck between us, the Autobots and Decepticons, and all we could do was push it from one side of the planet to the other.  Sometimes I wanted to scream at Megatron to just take Kaon already, do whatever he wanted to it.  Take half of Cybertron, for all I care.  Course he’d have never been satisfied with just half.  Optimus said so in the very beginning, and he was right.” 

More and more colors were crowding into the sky, scribbling frantically against the black.  The light was so intense that lines of afterglow remained even when the lasers had moved on, leaving a swirl of vivid colors.  

“I always kinda took on the job of keepin’ up morale, giving the guys a reason to smile now and then.  Primus knows we needed it.  But after so long, it was gettin’ just a mite hard to do.  So many of our race had died, hell, even the planet itself was about to die.  I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold on.  Didn’t know if I could raise my own spirit anymore, let alone anyone else’s.  But then the Ark crashed, and we woke up on Earth, and that’s when everything changed.  That’s when I fell in love.” 

A new red one splashed onto the scene, momentarily overwhelming the other colors, and Soundwave's spark chamber constricted in a spasm of pain.  He was at once envious, furious, and sparkbroken.  He forced a full ventilation cycle before speaking. 

“Designation?”

Jazz laughed like he’d said something funny.  “Not with a mech.  With music.  Earth’s music.  It was like nothin’ I’d heard before, but when I did – that first time – part of me felt like I’d been waitin’ to hear it all my life.  Suddenly I wasn't so tired.  Suddenly, I was on a planet that had been creating beautiful sounds instead of ripping itself apart with war for the past hundred vorns.  And they had so many different kinds.  Just like their languages – how come we only have one language?  It’s so boring.  I couldn’t believe my audios when I heard all the sounds those little humans were speakin’ to each other with.” 

A thousand gold pinpricks sparkled across the sky.  Jazz's voice was warm in a way Soundwave had never heard before, his visor glowing softly as he gazed up into the night.      

“I had a devil of a time when I realized there was no Earth word for my name, ‘style of music’.  Humans didn’t even know there could be such a thing as having only one.  They had words for every kind – rock, classical, reggae, hip-hop, blues… I didn’t think I could ever choose.  But then I heard Ain’t Misbehavin’, Fats Waller.  And Louis Armstrong.  And Billie Holliday.  Everybody did that song.  It was just that golden, and just that perfect for me.  That’s when I knew I had to be Jazz.”  He pronounced his English name with special relish.  “Any music that could spin a tune like that had to be the goods.  It’s still my favorite.” 

He paused, head tilting slightly toward Soundwave in silent expectation.  Feeling somewhat predictable, Soundwave obliged. 

“This song, not known.” 

“Course not.  Oh Soundwave, what am I gonna do with you?”  Idly he propped one leg on his bent knee.  “Fine, I’ll let you have a listen.  If only because I am determined to teach you the joy of music, or die trying.  And I know my sound system isn’t what it used to be, so hold your comments.” 

Soundwave had barely processed the significance of what Jazz was saying before, for the first time since coming here, Jazz’s speakers buzzed to life.  True, the sound was a little scratchy and not all that loud, but it was there.  Jazz, who swore he never played his files anymore, was doing exactly that. 

Visor dialed down to its dimmest glow, Jazz crooned along to the words, while laser lights played across the sky like an electronic rainbow.  They flickered against the sheen of his white armor, turning Jazz blue then green then purple.  The music meant nothing to Soundwave, but he thought Jazz looked extraordinarily beautiful while enjoying it. 

“Gorgeous, ain’t it?” Jazz murmured, as the human-made instrument dwindled to its last few notes.  Soundwave couldn’t agree or disagree with that, so he fell back on his usual practice of saying nothing at all.  Instead, he stroked the back of his hand lightly against Jazz's cheek plating.  

He thought he heard a hiccup in Jazz's ventilations, but he did not flinch or grimace.  With a small sigh, he leaned into the touch, allowing Soundwave to leisurely stroke the smooth dermal metal.  Soundwave rubbed his thumb against it for a little while, then let his hand glide down over Jazz's neck.  Still no negative reaction.  He delicately ran his fingertips along a fluid line without response, then found a sensor wire.  He fondled it, and Jazz's engine let out an unmistakable rev.  

Possibly no one was more surprised by this than Jazz, who stifled a tiny gasp and curled his fingers against the roof.  But he didn't try to push himself away and he wasn't kicking at Soundwave's shins, and Soundwave would take that to be his invitation.  He rolled over, against Jazz's side, and brought his other hand to Jazz's chest.  For the briefest of moments Jazz froze underneath it, and his hand moved to cover Soundwave's like he would push it away.  Once it was there, though, he hesitated.  Their gazes met, Jazz's a complete mystery behind the reflections of colored lasers playing across his visor.  Then he looked at their hands.  Slowly he put pressure against Soundwave's, not to shove it off him, but to guide it lower.  He moved Soundwave's hand under the edge of the bumper, running it along underneath.  Now Soundwave could feel that engine rumbling eagerly within, and he could hear the heavy airflow rushing through Jazz's vents.  His own vents were none too quiet either.  When he circled the sensitive seam around Jazz's headlight, Jazz rolled a low moan around in his vocalizer and pressed up into the touch.  

Soundwave was on top of Jazz before he realized he'd moved.  Hands coasted back and forth across his armor before slipping in between the loosened armor plates, and Jazz didn't fight him at all. He arched his back and moaned again, electricity surging from his vulnerable hidden wiring and onto Soundwave's fingertips.  Energy raced up Soundwave's circuits.  His spark was already whirling with excitement before he realized Jazz's hands were gliding up his own armor, past his waist, and to the bottom edge of his chest glass.  Fingertips found the thin seam and traced it lightly, triggering another surge of heat within Soundwave.  Again he plunged his hands underneath Jazz's armor, reveling in the crackles of electricity and how Jazz bucked with every fresh onslaught.  And Jazz's hands kept creeping into new and wonderful places on Soundwave's own body, giving as good as he got.  

Soundwave lowered himself completely over Jazz, mask retracted, and traced his glossa over the sensor wire in Jazz's neck.  Jazz's engine roared with pleasure and he tipped his chin up, inviting Soundwave to more.  The rush of vindication was almost as sweet as the actual pleasure.  How many orns, had he patiently held back?  Trained Jazz with his handfeeding?  Done everything he could to encourage his fearful slave to trust and not fear his touch?  Now this small Autobot was writhing underneath him, willingly exposing his neck to what was once his enemy, now his master.  It was the ultimate display of trust, and Soundwave exploited it completely.  He bit and nibbled at wires at leisure.  He tasted as much as he liked.  And while he did so, he moved one of his hands back down Jazz's body, sliding between Jazz's legs.  Jazz stiffened then, just a little, but only for a sparkbeat.  Again he covered Soundwave's hand with his own, and spread his legs in accommodation.  He was the one that moved Soundwave's fingers to the gap between hip and leg armor.  

Inside, Soundwave lightly rubbed a sensor wire, and Jazz let out a particularly enticing moan.  His visor had shuttered by now, but he was still pushing himself up into Soundwave's touch, panting through his mouth like he always did when his vents couldn't keep up with the heat.  Soundwave still kept half his attention on his ministrations below, but he was becoming increasingly attracted to that mouth.  It was so perfect and inviting, when open like that, and he wanted to explore it like he had the rest of Jazz's body.  He shifted his position just enough to put himself within reach, weaving a trail of kisses up Jazz's neck and over the edge of his chin.  

Jazz tipped his head back before he could quite reach.  Disappointed, Soundwave inched up and tried again, and this time Jazz turned his head to the side, leaving Soundwave to kiss his cheek.  No matter how hard Soundwave tried, Jazz managed to evade him on every attempt.  

"No," he wheezed, when Soundwave kept trying.  "No... no, no, no no nonono!"

Jazz's voice became increasingly urgent, the roar of his engine dying away.  It took several astrosecs for Soundwave to perceive that Jazz wasn't just moving underneath him anymore, he was sliding.  By the time he did, it was too late.  All of their enthusiastic activity had shifted them into a careless position on the sloped rooftop, and they'd lost control of their balance.  Frantically Jazz grabbed at Soundwave's arm but didn't have near the traction to hold back someone of Soundwave's weight, and they both went half-tumbling, half-sliding down the roof and shot straight over the edge.

Luckily their respective reflexes kicked in.  Soundwave's thrusters flared to life before they'd even begun to drop, and though they weren't meant to be activated mid-air, he spread his pedes and kept from flailing about in a panic that could shoot him into the side of a building.  For his part, Jazz clung hard to Soundwave's chest and didn't move, acting as ballast instead of an extra weight that could topple him over.  

It all happened so fast that neither of them quite seemed to know how to react, beyond what their self-preserving instincts had already done.  In mid-air they floated, recovering a steady sparkbeat, and distantly Soundwave could still hear the crowd's joyful roar.  Nobody else knew what had nearly happened to them.  They could have crashed to the ground and knocked themselves both into stasis, and nobody would have even cared.  Jazz started to shake, the vibrations easily carrying through to Soundwave's frame, and at first Soundwave assumed it was out of fear.  

Then some muffled squeaks slipped out of his vocalizer, increasing in volume, until Jazz burst into laughter.  Not in the least bothered by Soundwave's silence, he kept on laughing for most of the breem, taxing his already spent ventilation systems to their failing point.  At total ease even up here, he linked his hands behind Soundwave's neck and wrapped his legs around Soundwave's waist, settling himself quite comfortably.  

"Ah, what a terrible way to go that would have been.  Imagine, dying in the arms of a Decepticon just because he doesn't know how to keep his balance on a simple rooftop."  

"Fault, not mine."

"Says you.  I know I never have trouble staying on top of a building when that's where I want to be."  Jazz leaned back, smiling, but the look behind his visor was unreadable.  "Maybe... this was a sign from the universe.  I think I probably overstepped the limits tonight.  We shouldn't have done what we did."  

"Your statement, subjective, not agreed with."  

"Well you wouldn't, would you?"  Jazz sighed.  "I'm tired; let's go in.  Unless you'd rather just hover out here like a rotating display for the mid-vorn all night."    

Soundwave wanted to argue the point, but he recognized that trying to do so right now was pointless.  The mood had effectively been ruined; even his own battle mask had already snapped back into place, a reflexive response to any physical threat against his safety.  Forcing anything more would be counterproductive.  

So he acquiesced.  Carefully Soundwave floated back to his balcony and touched down, allowing Jazz to disembark at his own pace.  Without saying a word, Jazz pushed him toward the couch, popped in one of the twins' million-title collection of human movies, and settled by his side to watch.  After a breem, he was resting against Soundwave's shoulder.  And that was how they spent the remainder of Cybertron's first mid-vorn celebration in centuries.  


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"Don't walk so loud," begged Rumble, and then whimpered from the effort that it took to speak.  

"But hurry," Frenzy mumbled.  "My systems are so fried.  I feel like one giant crispy wire."  

"Patience advised.  Your current condition, result of your own decisions."  Soundwave stopped at the side of his berth, where three of his cassettes were laid out like invalids, moaning and whining as if at death's door.  Heavy overindulgence in highly refined energon had shorted out some systems and depleted their coolant tanks, resulting in overheating.  Soundwave was annoyed, but not at all surprised.  Tenderly he arranged a cloth soaked in cold water over each of their bodies, to help bring down their temperature.  

Sitting on the other edge of the berth, Jazz leaned over Rumble with a dropperful of coolant.  "C'mon, Rumble, open up."  

"Go 'way.  You make my head hurt."  

"No can do, Little Boy Blue.  Your coolant tank is scorched dry and you are in serious need of hydration.  I know your tank feels awful right now, but you need this."  Gently Jazz pried open Rumble's mouth, and managed to get a few droplets of moisture inside.  Rumble's fuel intakes convulsed and he made a wretched-looking face.  

"Blech.  So what are you, a medic?"

"No, just very very experienced in these matters.  Basic rule of the universe: no matter how good the party, the hangover's always better."  Jazz looked amused at the twins' pain, so it was just as well that neither of them were engaging their optics.  Soundwave watched him refill the dropper and repeat his ministrations on Frenzy.  "Haven't you two ever been drunk before?"  

"We've had high-grade before."

"Maybe not this much."

"Maybe not that pure."

"Those rich parties were serving up the really refined stuff.  Wow.  It was like..."

"Sunshine," Frenzy murmured dreamily.  "Sunshine on your glossa."

"Yeah.  That."  

"You really missed out, Jazz."

"Yeah, your loss."  

"I'll cope somehow," Jazz assured them.  "And what about you, LB?  Were you drinking the same stuff?"  

Laserbeak's optics flushed redder in her embarrassment, and she chirped a tiny affirmative.  Soundwave knew, just from exploring her end of the link, that she was not nearly as bad off as her older brothers, but she did tend to get overexcited at parties and forget her limit.  Buzzsaw had to bring her home, carrying her while in cassette mode in his claws.  Now he was perched at the head of the berth, radiating waves of smug I told you so in every direction.  

"Then I'm guessin' you could use some hydration too.  C'mere, darlin'."  Jazz was being as careful as he could, when he scooped up Laserbeak to settle her into his lap, but even so, the slight jostling had its effect.  Soundwave sensed her unease develop into sudden and total panic.  

"Jazz, caution advised.  Laserbeak -" 

Too late.  She lost the fight against her fuel tank and emptied most of it, in a spectacular multicolored splash, all over Jazz's chest.  

"Oh, not again!"  Jazz rolled a disgusted noise down his throat.  "What is it with this household and dumping slag all over me?"  

Soundwave vented a sigh, and Buzzsaw snickered.  It said a lot for the twins' current misery that they couldn't even be bothered to point and laugh; the best they could manage was a bleary glimpse and a vague grunt.  Laserbeak shrunk into herself, humiliated and clucking miserably.  

"Laserbeak, apologetic."  

"Aw, I know it, sweetspark."  Jazz's grimace softened, and he rubbed her lightly on the head.  "I know you didn't mean it.  Let's go rinse off in the racks, and then you'll feel better.  Guess I should be grateful you didn't regurgitate any dead glitchmice on me."  

He shot Soundwave a wry grin and departed, cradling the woebegone aerial in his arms.  Soundwave collected the coolant decanter and dropper, and continued Jazz's task of forced hydration on the twins.  

"So?" Frenzy mumbled, after choking more of it down.  "When are you gonna tell us?"  

"About what happened last night?"  

"Tell?" Soundwave echoed, his tone neutral.  

"Don't play dumb, boss."

"Yeah.  A, you're not capable of it and B, we all felt it."

"One sizzling-hot spike of pleasure and then you slammed the link shut before we could even get to the good stuff.  You're so selfish, Soundwave."       

"Whydja leave us out, huh?"  

"We wanted some of that too, ya know."  

"So spill the details already."

"Was he good?  Did he smoke your circuits?"  

"How many times did you overload?"

"None."

"What?" they both cried, then promptly cringed and groaned in agony.  

"We came home and found both of you recharging on the couch."

"With Jazz's head in your lap."

"And you expect us to just believe that you didn't get any?"

"Negative.  Expectation, you will pester for details repeatedly.  Second expectation, no answers will be given.  Details not forthcoming."  

"So you did manage to do some things."

"Don't know why you wouldn't let us in on it.  We're part of this team, too, aren't we?"  

"And you've been keeping him all for yourself all this time."  

Soundwave continued his task of supplying the pair with coolant, switching back and forth between the two without break in his stride.  "Reminder, cassetticons wanted nothing of Jazz in the beginning." 

"Yeah well, it's different now," Rumble muttered petulantly.  "We like him."  

"Laserbeak's in love with him," Frenzy added.  "You know that."  

"Your feelings, all known," Soundwave assured his symbiotes.  "Not forgotten.  But for now, Jazz mine.  Progress in taming him, uncertain."  He thought of Jazz, moaning with delight on the roof.  Then later, a mystery behind his visor, regretting what he'd done.  Which one was right?  Did even Jazz know?  

"Rushing, at this point, suspected dangerous.  Patience necessary."  

The twins made grumbling noises of acceptance and wrapped themselves back up in their own misery, lacking in the energy to argue anymore.  Soundwave was relieved.  Prying questions from his symbiotes were nothing he could not handle, but it was not knowing the answers himself that irritated him.  Soundwave was not accustomed to not knowing answers.

The more alert Buzzsaw felt his frustration, and chirped inquiringly.

"Concern, unnecessary," Soundwave assured him.  "Success will come eventually."  

"Not my concern," Buzzsaw replied flippantly.  "My concern: how often Master will be hurt in meantime."  

He folded his wings over his head and shuttered his optics for a nap, and said nothing more.          

 


 

 

Soundwave wasn't sure whether he was disappointed or relieved at Ravage's report, that evening.  While most of his team was still groaning and whimpering in the next room, Soundwave downloaded Ravage's surveillance into his console, running several filters for sedition.  Whether Shockwave-related or not, there were no results.  Free high-grade seemed to be all that was on the minds of anyone in the streets last night.   

Back in his root mode, Ravage sensed his distress and formed a general inquiry.  His natural assumption was that Soundwave would be very pleased.  

"Results, not displeasing," Soundwave corrected, or tried to.  Datapad in hand, he sat down on the couch to scroll through the many recorded conversations.  All of it was simple low-intel conversations, punctuated with occasional cheers for Megatron.  "My expectations, unclear.  Some negative reactions against Shockwave, thought possible."  

Ravage hopped onto the couch and curled up beside him, resting his head on Soundwave's leg.  Wisely, he pointed out that overhearing backlash against Shockwave would have come with its own problems, and Soundwave conceded that this was true.  He still felt strangely let down, which he could only attribute to Jazz's growing influence on him.  Ravage snorted at that, and nudged his head against Soundwave in a way that demanded a little physical attention.  Happy to oblige, Soundwave began scratching him behind the audios.  

Ravage had always been very selective about petting and touching; he had a distinctly un-cassettelike preference for personal space.  Ravage had lived independently much longer than any of his siblings before attaching himself to a master, and it showed.  He kept to his own schedule, ranged much farther and for longer periods of time than any of the others, and when he was home, did not insist on Soundwave's affections.  He was usually content to curl up in the corner and admire his master from afar.  When he did decide he wanted a petting, though, his siblings knew to steer clear and let him have his alone time with Soundwave.  It was just the way it had always been.  

The casetticons knew; Jazz did not.  Jazz who picked that moment to enter the room and saunter up to the couch.  "It's like a medbay in there, I can't take any more of the groaning.  I need a break.  Whatcha readin'?"  

Heedless of the danger, he hopped over the back of the couch, almost right into Soundwave's lap.  Soundwave didn't have a chance to speak a word of warning before Ravage lashed out and got Jazz on the forearm.  

"OUCH!"  Jazz threw himself against the far end of the couch, holding his arm against his chest, clearly shocked.  Soundwave snapped a rapid burst of anger at Ravage, who laid his audios back and growled unrepentantly.  

Interrupted, he snarled.  

"Unacceptable," Soundwave replied sharply.  "Jazz did not know.  Attack, unprovoked."  He was especially annoyed because it had seemed like Jazz might be in the mood to be affectionate.  If he had been then he wasn't anymore, huddled defensively against the couch's end and watching Ravage's every move like his life depended on it.  How exasperating; Jazz should not have to be afraid at this point in his training.  

"Ravage, apologize now."  

"Ah, that won't be necessary, Soundwave," Jazz said, at about the same time as Ravage made his own refusal clear with a single, sharp image.  "I get it; I got too close.  Seems Ravage is the kind who doesn't like to share his things."  

Ravage bared his fangs and hissed at Jazz.  Jazz bared his own denta and hissed right back, in surprisingly good imitation.  

"Stop," Soundwave ordered.  "Both, stop.  Antagonism, unnecessary and displeasing.  Ravage, apologize."  

Ravage turned his nose up disdainfully, and hopped clear of the couch.  "I wouldn't accept it anyway," Jazz shouted at his tail, right before Ravage retreated into the office and the door slammed shut behind him.  Then he shot a glare at Soundwave.  

"Maybe it's time you choose, lover.  This place isn't big enough for the both of us.  It's me, or the cat!" 

 Soundwave cycled air out of his vents.  "Jazz, speaking nonsense.  Show injury."  

"It's fine."  Jazz hugged his arm a little closer to his body.  "I didn't mean to yell like that, I was just surprised.  It's... been a long time since I had to worry about getting hurt so suddenly."  

Soundwave moved closer to Jazz, and without wasting more time on words placed a gentle hand aside Jazz's face.  A light rubbing there, a little tickling in Jazz's shoulder joint, and before long Soundwave had coaxed Jazz into releasing his arm for inspection.  It wasn't a life-threatening injury, but it was hardly 'fine' either: Ravage had gouged four slashes in the armor, deep enough to draw fluid.  No lines were ruptured, or this couch would already be soaked, but Jazz still needed bandaging.  

"Hold arm still," he instructed, and went to find the medkit.  His cassetticons were always beating one another senseless, and he was used to patching up minor injuries.  Jazz was not the first one in this household to wear Ravage's claw marks, either.  His oldest had always been jealous of new arrivals.  Soundwave unwound a strip of magnetic mesh, then began to wrap it around Jazz's arm.

"Pain, very great?"

"It's alright."  Jazz managed to shrug with just one shoulder, watching Soundwave with a curious look in his visor.  "It's been a while since Ravage felt threatened enough to come after me with claws.  Did something happen?"  

"Negative.  Ravage, prefers time alone with his master.  Interruptions not welcomed." 

"So noted.  Maybe we should draw up a schedule.  Ravage is the one creature in this house that I haven't been able to charm, and I don't want to be separated into tiny ribbons just because I ventilated on you."

"Only patience necessary.  Ravage stubborn.  Always develops affection for new additions eventually."  By his own memory, Soundwave estimated it had been close to a vorn before Ravage accepted the older twins.  The aerials had been much quicker, probably because they were quieter.  He would grow to like Jazz eventually.  Maybe two vorns?  

"I can hardly wait," Jazz said dryly.  "So what was all the cuddling about, anyway?  Did he bring you bad news?"  

"Negative."  Soundwave hooked the end of the bandage firmly against Jazz's armor and sat back.  "News, not bad.  Surveillance results of mid-vorn celebration, positive.  No sign of protests, no reaction against Shockwave.  Jazz's prediction, incorrect."  

He handed the datapad to Jazz, who took it and promptly tossed it over his shoulder.  "Soundwave, Soundwave.  Do you know nothing about partying?  Don't answer that.  Like I was just telling the boys, the better the party, the bigger the hangover.  But you can't expect it to start until the party's over.  Now we start listening for unhappy chatter.  Oh and, can I just say how immensely gratifying it is to see you taking my advice when it comes to running your surveillance?"

Grinning like a shark, Jazz leaned it very close and tickled him playfully under the chin.  Soundwave stiffened defensively.  

"Your comments, logically sound.  Source, not a concern."     

"Nice to be part of the team, even if Ravage hasn't gotten the memo.  Should I leave?  Does he want his spot back?"  

Soundwave could still feel Ravage's pout radiating from the next room.  Even with every other cassetticon falling in love with Jazz, Ravage still resisted any notion of tolerance, let alone affection, between them.  He always was the most stubborn.  

"Negative.  Stay here with me.  Ravage will learn to share."    

 


 

 

"So, never?"

Soundwave's office had just one chair in it, and as it was currently occupied, Jazz had nowhere to sit.  This didn't seem to bother him in the least.  After Soundwave had shooed him off the edge of his console - again - he made himself comfortable on the floor, using Soundwave's legs as a backrest.  When he tilted his head up to speak, Soundwave could see the amused grin dancing across his visor even without being able to see his mouth.  

"Never," Soundwave repeated, just a little distractedly.  He was busy putting the final touches on his report for the briefing, and not much time was left. 

"Ever never?"  

"As stated."  

"Not once, in your whole life -"

"Jazz."  

"Sorry, it's just taking a little while to sink in.  I mean, I know you told me once before, but I didn't think you actually meant it.  You never lie?"

"Affirmative."  Soundwave ran a final check on his latest checks, matching them against his new report and checking for discrepancies.  "Unnecessary, never practiced."  

"But you're a Decepticon.  It's built right into the name."  

"Deception, separate matter.  Misinformation fed to enemy, standard practice.  Deception for war effort, often necessary.  Lying for personal reasons, not.  Soundwave, not Starscream."  

Jazz's shoulders convulsed with a snort of laughter.  "So you've never looked someone in the face, straight up, and told them an outright lie."  

"Never."  Done, at last.  Soundwave downloaded the final result into a fresh datapad and locked it with a simple password.  

"You know what I say to that?"

"Negative," Soundwave replied wearily.  "Your response, not known."  

Jazz twisted around so that he could perch his chin on Soundwave's knee, visor sparkling with wicked glee.  "I say, he who only tells the truth is he who has no imagination.  What a boring life; you have my pity.  Is it time to go?"  

"Affirmative."  Soundwave nudged off Jazz so he could stand.  "Reminder, good behavior expected."

"As always, my love.  And that is the pure, paint-stripped truth."        

  


 

 

The Seekers' briefing should not last too long, which was a good thing.  As a non-flier who preferred his peace and quiet, there were few less pleasant places for Soundwave than a room full of restless jets, egos and wingspans jostling against one another for room.  They'd been citybound for too long.  Their scheduled sweep of the planet had been delayed for the sake of the mid-vorn, and now they were jumpy, impatient, and eager to launch.  It made Soundwave a little nervous to let Jazz loose on them, but he was, true to his word, actually being good.  To all optics a submissive and obedient slave, he floated about the room with Fireflight and Groove, pouring some kind of fizzy, exotically flavored coolant.  It was another new concoction of Mixmaster's that Soundwave didn't touch, though Rumble slurped his enthusiastically.  When Jazz moved in to refill his canister, he bent over just enough to bring his lips close to Soundwave's audio.  

"Is it just me," he murmured softly, "or does Starscream look 10% more calculating today than usual?"  

Starscream looked to be absorbed in a private conversation with Megatron, not paying attention to anyone else.  "Jazz, hush.  Your duties require attention, nothing else."  

"Suit yourself, but don't say I didn't warn you."  

Jazz blew lightly against Soundwave's sensitive audio components, then took his leave.  He wasn't two steps away when the light in Starscream's optics shifted and looked right at Soundwave, though he was still speaking to Megatron.  Something glinted, and in the next astrosec he was paying full attention to Megatron again.  Soundwave stiffened just a little, and reminded himself that this was only a simple briefing.  Moreover, once it was over, Starscream and his fluttering flock would be gone for a time, and that would be pleasantly restful.  He only had to endure this meeting.

"Quiet down," barked Starscream, and the rustlings and mutterings subsided.  "So we can get on with things.  As you all know, our regular tour of duty has been delayed -" he paused to shoot a meaningful look at Megatron, "- and it's critical that we make good use of our time.  Parties and fun are over now; I expect everyone to pay close attention and do his job right.  Incompetents and slackers will answer to me.  We depart in 2.15 joors, all five trines engaged.  Routes to be assigned.  Soundwave?"  

Rumble activated the briefing room's holo-display, bringing up a giant and well-detailed map of the planet.  When Soundwave plugged in his report, glowing red dots speckled themselves across the surface.  The purpose of the sweeps was a fairly simple one, for all Starscream liked to threaten his troops.  In principle, Megatron had forbid Cybertronians from settling anywhere other than Iacon.  In practice, Shockwave had convinced Megatron that scavenging the planet for usable metals and tools was absolutely necessary for the reconstruction of the city.  And there were many poor mecha willing to do the deed.  Eventually Megatron had relented, but only with the promise that all salvage teams were properly registered with Shockwave, and carried a permit.  It was the Seekers' job to sweep the planet and perform permit checks; those without would be arrested on suspicion of starting illegal settlements.  It was Soundwave's job to report all detected signal transmissions and give the Seekers a target for their hunting.  Jazz muttered things about Shockwave finding yet another way to line his accounts, demanding high fees for the privilege of a salvage permit, but Soundwave had ignored him.  Megatron's orders stood, and Soundwave followed orders.  

"Transmissions detected at following coordinates."  Soundwave began highlighting some of the dots by group.  "Identical signal between some points.  Likely same teams, multiple transmissions."  

"Good."  Starscream started carving up the map with a laser pointer.  "Rainmaker trine, you'll hit these, and then these, and then these hotspots.  Make a full loop past the remains of Praxus and return on the lee side of the planet.  Cone trine, you’ll take this route.”

Dutifully Soundwave logged in Starscream’s flight paths as he ordered them, which was not technically his responsibility, but it was the best method to ensure all targeted transmissions had been accounted for.  Cybertron was a smaller planet than Earth, but there was still so much ground to cover.  Every route was going to take several cycles, longer if they had to actually arrest anyone. 

“Stop,” Megatron interrupted, when Starscream had almost finished.  “I don’t like it.  You’ve got the trines too far apart with too much lag time.  Any illegal scavengers with a functioning set of wheels could evade detection, just by moving between zones.”

Starscream looked like he might snap the laser pointer in half.  “Air force deployment is my jurisdiction, Lord Megatron; don’t tell me how to command my troops.” 

“Your troops are my troops, and don’t you ever forget it.  Your deployment has holes in it, Starscream.  Fix it.” 

“This is the best I can manage,” Starscream snarled.  “You don’t have the least idea of jet engine capacity or the prevailing atmosphere conditions, and our numbers are barely sufficient to cover the planet as is.  Do you want me to fill the sky across all the planet?” 

“I want you to actually think about the target of the mission and not treat it like a pleasure flight.  Shockwave has concerns that illegal scavengers are evading enforcement.” 

“Shockwave can waste his own time hunting down scavengers without his silly permits then,” Starscream retorted.  “It’s a waste of the Seekers’ time as it is.” 

“If you’re volunteering them for other, more menial duties, I’m sure Shockwave and I can come up with something.” 

Starscream’s engine growled dangerously at the not-so-veiled threat.  "And I suppose you could do better than this, oh mighty Megatron?"

"I always do."  Megatron smirked at how that made Starscream's wings twitch.  "Widen the paths, Starscream.  Have your jets swing back and forth rather than flying straight.  It seems very simple."

"That would take twice as long to complete the mission, and is a ridiculous waste of energy besides!"  

"I control the energy on this planet, Starscream, it's a waste when I say it's a waste.  Make the adjustments on the map; let’s see how much more ground gets covered.” 

Starscream fumed, but did as he was told.  A rapid blur of his hand across his console buttons wiped out the current flight paths and started charting new courses; curving lines began to sweep across the planet.

“You really are lucky, Soundwave.  You have no idea how much easier you have it, being Megatron’s golden boy.” 

Startled, Soundwave shot a quick look at Starscream.  He was to all appearances lounging back in his seat, optics on the reformulating routes.  He didn't even glance at Soundwave.  “Why doesn’t he feel the need to peer over your shoulder, I wonder?”

Soundwave estimated that it was the hundreds of vorns’ worth of competent service without ever trying to overthrow or murder his leader, but he kept silent.  He’d learned a long time ago not to rise to Starscream’s baiting.   

“If Megatron belittled you publicly, I wonder if your trained pet would jump to your defense then too.  I notice he always manages to protect you whenever I so much as look your way.  Curious habit, for an Autobot, isn’t it?” 

“Suggestion, focus on task at hand,” Soundwave answered in spite of himself.  “Autobot, not your concern.” 

“Oh but he is,” Starscream assured him.  He brought his drink to his mouth and tipped back the last of it.  “And who says I’m not?  I’d say I have this task well in hand.” 

His optics met Soundwave’s just once, as he lowered the canister, gleaming eagerly over the rim, and then all his attention was on the map again.  Idly, he raised one hand and snapped for a refill. 

“There, Lord Megatron, I’ve recalculated with your parameters.  Is this acceptable to you?” 

“Much better, Starscream.  I knew you could do it.”  Megatron bestowed upon Starscream a patronizing smile that made Starscream’s optics smolder.  "You always put up such a fuss, but when I really want something, you always find a way to give it."  

Soundwave thought Starscream might lose his temper and fly at Megatron right then and there, but somehow he managed to hold himself back.  Engine still growling ominously, he closed a death grip around his canister while Jazz poured him his refill.  Or perhaps he wasn't holding back at all, just waiting for an easier target to lash out against.  Jazz barely had begun to step back when Starscream snatched him on the arm, right on Ravage's bandage, and squeezed hard.  Jazz winced, but didn't make a sound.    

"This - has - gone - flat - slave," Starscream bit out.  With one spiteful flick of the wrist he threw the entire contents of his drink right into Jazz's face.  "Go get more."  

Jazz spluttered, taken by surprise, and Rumble uttered an indignant yelp.  "Hey, he can't -"

"Rumble, quiet."  

Tensely Soundwave watched Jazz wipe some of the liquid off his visor, ignoring the snickers of their audience.  It must have been extraordinarily difficult for him, but his only response was to take a step back and bow.  

"Yes sir.  I'll get some more right away."   

"See that you do."  

Jazz promptly vacated the room, the other two slaves trotting after him, and Soundwave relaxed a little.  But it didn't occur to him that Starscream's act had been anything but a minor tantrum until Starscream slipped him a quick smirk.   

"There, that's got rid of him.  Now let's see how you handle yourself without your guardian comedian."

Foreboding gripped Soundwave and he experienced the brief, illogical urge to do something, quick, though what could be done was something he had no way of knowing.  Starscream didn't give him the chance anyway.    

"It's true, Lord Megatron, the logistics of a planetwide sweep really aren't very easy to coordinate.  Seekers are far better suited to short, quick flights.  If only I had a servant designed for such travel, here to help."  

Megatron granted Starscream one dark glare of warning.  "Do you never get tired of reopening this argument, Starscream?  You know I won't say yes.  You know I'll never say yes.  I put the slaves where they are for good reasons, and they stay where they are.  How many times -" he flexed a fist suggestively, "- must I wrap your dented head around that fact?"  

"Who knows?  But it seems to me..."  One more time Starscream canted a glance at Soundwave.  "Inconsistent.  Tell me, Lord Megatron, why is it so unthinkable to move Skyfire into my custody, yet acceptable for Soundwave to steal the slave you granted to my trinemate?"  

"WHAT?" screeched Rumble, taken by total surprise and instantly outraged.  He jumped up on the console, hands balling into fists, and Soundwave snapped a warning.  

"Rumble, silence."

"But-"

"Now."  Outwardly, Soundwave kept his cool stare trained on Starscream.  "Autobot, not stolen.  Won fairly."

"If you say so, Soundwave," Starscream said airily, somehow managing to convey the exact opposite of his words' meaning.  "But even so, Lord Megatron, isn't it true that you dealt out the slaves for 'good reasons'?  That you had a purpose in mind with every assignment?  Surely Soundwave disrupted your plans when he sto- I mean, won Jazz away from Skywarp."  

An eager rustle moved through the watching Seekers, enunciating just how surrounded Soundwave was.  In the corner of his vision, he could see Skywarp looking on hopefully, Thundercracker rubbing him between the wings for encouragement.  Starscream's optics were glowing with vindictive triumph.  And Megatron, much to Soundwave's horror, was looking at him rather thoughtfully.  

"Skyfire's placement on Earth, due to large size," he pointed out quickly.  "Jazz's placement with Skywarp, no such reason.  Merely awarded for Skywarp's capture in field."  

"So now you say our Lord Megatron didn't have good reasons for putting the slaves where he did."  

"Negative, only that Jazz's placement -"

"I can understand your frustration, Soundwave."  Unctuously Starscream spread his hands out on his console, leaning in just a little.  "You served in the war as diligently as any of us, after all.  And you were rewarded, just as you should have been.  With no less than four Autobots, even.  But somehow - and I'm sure it was an accident - you managed to kill all of them.  I know you must have been upset, being the only officer without a slave of your own, but that doesn't give you the right to just take away what belongs to my trinemate."

Rumble was beginning to tremble with rage, and had to stuff his own hand into his mouth to keep from shouting something at Starscream.  Soundwave could feel his spark crushing underneath Starscream's words, and tried to ignore the pain so he could focus.  Jazz would have helped, somehow, but he wasn't here; Soundwave was on his own.  Desperately he tried to seal off his haywire emotional subroutines.  

"Autobot, not stolen," he repeated.  "Transfer into my ownership, unexpected.  Game only engaged on whim."

"You never go out, you don't play card games!  You expect me to believe that you just happened to be in that nightspot and just happened to come upon my Seekers and just happened to join their card game?"

"Affirmative."  Soundwave knew how strange it must sound, the way Starscream told it, but he wasn't lying.  Soundwave did not ever have to lie.  "That night, unexpected.  Result, surprising... for all."  

"Sure it was," Starscream scoffed.  "Lord Megatron, I demand that you return Jazz to my trinemate immediately.  Skywarp is one of your finest soldiers and deserves his reward for faithful service in battle.  Soundwave does not deserve a fifth slave just because he was sloppy enough to kill off his first four."

Panic fluttered through Soundwave and he gripped the edge of his console in unconscious display of anger.  "Starscream's demand, unwarranted.  Only made out of frustration for inability to acquire Skyfire."  

Megatron leaned back, still looking frighteningly thoughtful.  "Well that's obvious enough, isn't it?  But it's true he has a point.  I don't think you actually set out to steal Skywarp's slave, but whatever happened that night, it happened without my permission.  And I've told Starscream a thousand times since the end of the war that I put the Autobots exactly where I want them.  Shuffling them about without my consent sets a bad precedent.  I don't want Starscream thinking he can win back his precious Autobot over a game of cards."  

He favored Starscream with a particularly nasty smile, and Starscream narrowed his optics.  Soundwave realized too late he'd made a mistake; Megatron never caved to Starscream's whining, but in this case he was more determined to keep Starscream from Skyfire than he was bothered about giving back Jazz.  Soundwave was on the brink of becoming a pawn in their unending squabble.  The panic got worse, and Soundwave fought the urge to snap at Megatron, 'Jazz mine!'  

"Final consideration for Megatron," he said evenly, "enslaved Autobots, valuable resource.  Agreed?"

"Of course."  

"Death of slave, undesirable."

"Much as I hate to admit it, yes."  

"Skywarp's ownership of Jazz, likely to result in Autobot's deactivation.  Habitually forgot to fuel slave, slow starvation already in progress before transfer of ownership.  Constructicon Hook can verify; Jazz's death inevitable."

Skywarp gulped when Starscream shot him a swift but furious glare.  Megatron raised an optic ridge.  "Is that so?"  

"Affirmative," Soundwave answered cautiously, aware he was holding his vents quite still.  "Testimony from Hook, obtainable if requested."  

Megatron grunted and waved a hand.  "There's no need to go that trouble, I believe it.  This is Skywarp we're talking about."  

Skywarp tried to look offended, but this time both his trinemates glowered at him and he ducked his head.  Starscream realized he was losing ground and tried to rally.  

"But- Soundwave has already proved he can kill off slaves too!" 

"Those four little pipsqueaks?  Who cares?  They were useless for labor in the fuel camps and nobody would have wanted them in the berth.  If Soundwave hadn't offered to take them, I'd have just had them shot."

Soundwave both felt and saw Rumble's flinch, and hoped no one else had.  Determinedly he ignored his host carrier protocols.  "In any case," Megatron was saying, "it's obvious enough that Jazz isn't dying under his care, as it seems he would have while in Skywarp's custody.  He stays where he is.  And Starscream, I'd advise you take a look at all the slaves on the Seekers' estate, and make sure they're not about to keel over either.  Those slaves were the Empire's reward for military service, and I won't be pleased if they're on the brink of dying.  That's not the kind of gratitude one shows for a gift."  

Megatron stood, and Soundwave knew his leader well enough to know he was positively savoring the dumbfounded look on Starscream's face.  "This briefing is over, you're all dismissed.  Good flying, soldiers."  

Everyone but Starscream bowed and Megatron swept out of the room, the clang of his footsteps disappearing into the general noise of headquarters.  Very cautiously, Soundwave allowed his vents to open and exhale.  Starscream's wingtips were trembling with muted rage, and Soundwave watched his hands curl into fists.  

"Seekers, out!  All of you.  Prep for launch and get your pathetic afterburners to the departure point.  One astrosec late and I'll make sure you all regret it.  Skywarp, don't move."  

Skywarp appeared to have been in the process of sneaking out, and flinched mid-step at Starscream's quiet snarl.  Then Starscream fixed his glare on Soundwave.  

"Don't bother gloating just yet, golden boy.  You know I don't give up easy and this is not over."

"Further efforts, not advised," Soundwave answered, before he could stop himself.  "Jazz, mine.  Stay away." 

Starscream turned away with a haughty sniff and focused his attention on unlucky Skywarp, bearing down on him at rapid clip.  Soundwave didn't pause to watch either berating or beating, but instead moved toward the side door.  Rumble was already long gone.  The passageway leading to a private fuel dispenser was empty, or at least it was when Soundwave entered it.  He was only halfway through when Fireflight sprinted past, almost crashing into Soundwave and apparently not even noticing.  

"Flight, wait!"  Groove dashed after him, his optics pale with distress.  He did notice Soundwave, and shot him a bitter, resentful look before he rushed past.  Ten more steps brought him to the small dispensary room, with fuel and coolant storage facilities.  Jazz was leaning against the far wall, visor shuttered.  It was obvious enough he knew Soundwave had entered the room.  

"Meeting over already, darling?  Was it fun?  Did I miss anything good?"  

"Briefing, concluded.  Come."  

"I'll need you to take care of this first."  Wan light flickered back on in Jazz's visor, and he pointed down.  "Mind telling me why there's a Rumble attached to my leg?"  

Sure enough, Rumble had wrapped himself around Jazz's left leg and was clinging for all he was worth.  Soundwave vented a small sigh, and opened his chest.  

"Rumble, return."

The response was a frantic shake of the head and an even tighter squeeze.  "Rumble, return now.  Disobedience, not recommended."  

Soundwave was not precisely angry at Rumble, but his whirl of emotions sprung by Starscream's ambush had been most unhelpful.  He did not have time to coddle his distress right now.  Soundwave wanted to be away from this place and in his home, with Jazz in it too, and he wanted to be there now.  

Rumble sensed his impatience, and reluctantly peeled himself off Jazz's leg before folding up inside Soundwave's chest.

"Thaaat's better."  Experimentally Jazz rotated his ankle cuff.  "I'm sure fuel will return to that pede eventu- oh."  

So said because Soundwave had just seized Jazz and hugged him close to his chest, not allowing him room to so much as wiggle his arms.  His electropulse and sparkbeat kicked up briefly, but Jazz didn't panic at such embraces anymore.  He didn't struggle, only waited patiently while Soundwave clung to his warmth, devouring it with unrestrained greed.  He shouldn't be doing this here, in such a public place, shouldn't be lingering in this building for even an astrosec, but he couldn't help himself.  Like Rumble, for just one moment he needed to reassure himself that Jazz was his.  

"It's okay, master," Jazz whispered against the glass.  "It's over.  We can go home."  

 


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

The Hangover, by Syntia13

The Hangover

 

Don't Leave Us, by FrostedIceFire

Don't Leave Us!

Chapter Text

"Combien de temps," Jazz mumbled, "est-ce que ça va encore durer?"

Soundwave glanced at the floor again, where Jazz lay crumpled underneath the weight of four distressed cassetticons.  None of them showed any signs of budging soon; Laserbeak and Buzzsaw were taking turns grooming one another, and Rumble and Frenzy were concentrating fiercely on one of their video games, thumbs jamming violently at the tiny buttons.  All habits they indulged in when upset.  Ordinarily it would have been upon Soundwave they took refuge, but not today.  Jazz never even made it to the couch.  He was still lying where the four of them, coordinated as only a mindlinked team could be, had tackled him to the floor. 

"Patience requested.  Current position, source of comfort."  

"For four of us, anyway."  But he didn't try to sit up or shake any of them loose.  "Kids are really freaked, aren't they?"  

"Affirmative," Soundwave answered cautiously.  None of his symbiotes seemed bothered by Jazz's incomprehensible speech, still intent on their tasks.  

"I wonder why," Jazz murmured against the floor.  "It was only Starscream, after all.  I've watched them stand at his feet and spit insults without twitching.  I've also watched them throw themselves against mecha six times their size in battle.  Why, master, did they get so scared today?"  

Soundwave was silent, but Jazz didn't need him to answer.  "Is it because you were scared?" 

"Threat concluded now," Soundwave said quickly.  "Jazz, still mine.  Jazz safe."   

Jazz's shoulders convulsed with a peculiar grunt of laughter, and Rumble and Frenzy kicked him without even taking their optics off the monitor.  "Did you... really just say that?"  

"Jazz, disagrees?"  

"Oh, not at all.  I'm sorry I didn't say so earlier: thank you, master, for rescuing me from the horrible Decepticons.  How will I ever repay you?"  

Soundwave looked sharply at Jazz, still helplessly trapped beneath his symbiotes.  Jazz wasn't in a position where he could quite look back, but Soundwave knew he must be able to see him.  A slow, sarcastic smile spread across that face.  "Will you, perhaps, accept my body as payment?  It's being used just now, as a couch, but I'm sure I can pencil you in for later."  

"Your meaning, not understood," Soundwave said irritably.  

"I'm not surprised."  

Jazz's smile vanished, and he deflated a little under the weight of the cassettes.  "You should have had to see their faces, Soundwave.  Groove and Fireflight were so excited when they told me what Starscream was trying to do, so happy that they might have the chance to get me back.  They're only kids, you know.  Much, much younger than your kids - the humans would call them babies.  They've never known anything but war, and this."

A small sigh.  "All they wanted was for me to come back, and protect them like I used to.  You should have had to see their faces when I warned them it probably wouldn't happen, that you wouldn't let it happen.  When Rumble flew in and latched himself onto me, I knew it for sure.  You broke their sparks today, and you don't even know it.  You don't even care."  

He spoke so softly, his tone so even and calm.  None of the cassettes were bothered in the least, nobody even looked at him.  Carefully Soundwave wove together a lock on his emotions, eased into place before any of his symbiotes could feel the hurt cracking open inside him.  

"Your health and wellbeing while here, superior.  Jazz, not starved.  Not beaten.  Not... forced."  

"Yes.  And every day the rest of my friends are, while I play here in your gilded dollhouse.  Does that make me a traitor, I wonder?  It's so easy to forget what I am, lately, and what you are too.  Oh Soundwave.  Won't you hit me just once?  Help me remember what I'm supposed to be."  

"Negative," Soundwave said stiffly.  "Request declined."  

"Then I wish you had picked one of them instead of me."

Soundwave stood up too quickly; Laserbeak canted her head and shot him a quizzical look.  He held his emotions well in check, and spoke impassively.  "That decision, not yours.  Jazz must be mine."  

"What a good thing you never bothered to ask me, then."  

"Your answer, of no interest to me."

"And you say you never lie."  

Soundwave made for the security of his office, long steps carrying him away from Jazz.  He ignored the brief flickers of unease from his symbiotes.  

"Tell them to get off, Soundwave, s'il vous plaît.  I can't move."  

"Cassetticons, stay with Jazz until you like."  Soundwave let the door slam shut behind him.  

 


 

 

From almost two leagues distant, Soundwave watched the sleek black form racing across the landscape.  Speed was impressive, and by engaging his macrovision he could see the creature's powerful struts devouring the distance.  Movements were smooth and well-oiled, and his strength self-evident.  A worthy addition to his collection, and perhaps quite timely.  The new twins were turning out to be... rather more lively than he'd been expecting.  Their immunity to discipline was alarming.  Soundwave had no doubt that they would settle down and learn to behave themselves in a vorn or two, but in the meantime they were making Ravage's life miserable.  

Soundwave watched the cassette model gather himself and leap into the air, achieving some spectacular height before his jaws clamped down on a spinning metal disc.  This new creature's build was very similar to Ravage's, probably just as old, and would bear the same minimal functioning vocalizer.  He could be a companion to Ravage, someone with whom to race and hunt, and hopefully cheer him up.  Soundwave hadn't planned on acquiring another symbiont so soon, but the more he thought about it, the better the idea became.  

However, he realized, he might already be too late.  As he watched, the cassette turned a wide oval and came sprinting back to his starting point, bearing the disc like a trophy in his mouth.  The mech who'd tossed it was laughing, the carefree sound of it carrying even to this distance.  Red, gold, and white color scheme, designation Blaster.  Soundwave had met him before.  He was one of his own model, a rare find lately, and still relatively new to the world.  He was too young to be collecting symbionts already, but Soundwave watched him run a circle around the cassette model, teasing the smaller creature into a game of tag.  Happily he dashed forward and pounced on the red mech, tail whipping back and forth in feline delight.  

"Optics off, Monotone."  

Soundwave almost started.  He hadn't realized he'd been seen, from such a far distance, and he'd caught no warning that his comm channel had been hacked.  Perhaps Blaster was more advanced than he'd realized. 

"Steeljaw's mine," Blaster continued, still wrestling playfully on the ground with the creature in question.  "So you can just go hunting elsewhere."  

"Symbiosis formed?" Soundwave asked coolly, as if he had no interest in the matter at all.  

"Not yet.  But it's coming, so don't you worry about that.  Me and Jaw, we got ourselves somethin' solid.  We do disc-golf."

Whatever that was.  Soundwave lifted his chin unconsciously.  "Soundwave, superior."  

"Tell yourself whatever you like, Johnny One-Note, but Jaw's with me.  He's got better things to do than serve a mech who keeps company with Decepticons."  

Impertinent upstart.  Soundwave was tempted to flatten him against the wall with a well-aimed cannon shot, then steal the handsome cassette model just to spite him.  But Steeljaw was pressing his head up so eagerly underneath's Blaster's hand, nuzzling against his armor with plain affection.  He had already formed strong loyalties for Blaster, and would resist Soundwave.  Resistance could be broken, but that was not something Soundwave had time for, not with all the tasks his new clients demanded of him.  Just this once, he acknowledged unhappily, he would have to admit defeat.    

“Soundwave departing,” he informed Blaster loftily.  “Future confrontations, not recommended.” 

“I got no vacation plans in Kaon.  See you around, like, never.”  Steeljaw bounded away from Blaster, dancing with anticipation, and Blaster reared back before hurling the spinning disc item again.  It flew hard and fast, and Steeljaw shot after it.  He was every bit as swift and graceful as Ravage, and Soundwave indulged in a little pointless wistfulness.  If only he had more time…

“He’s not yours.  He’ll never be yours.  You’ll always lose.” 

        

 

Soundwave woke up with no memory of going into recharge.  His chronometer baffled him, now ahead by more than a joor, and all his console monitors had gone dark.  Power outage?  No, curfew had passed, and the grid was down for the night.  Sensors were spinning with fresh data, the proximity and status of his symbiotes flipping through his processor in rapid succession.  Ravage and the younger twins were out on their patrols; Rumble and Frenzy over in the next room.  Which meant it was someone else’s hands cupping his jaw to tilt up his face, wiping a cloth across his visor. 

“Hey,” Jazz said softly.  “Finally awake?” 

“Jazz, not allowed in this room.” 

“Then why’d you lock it with such a simple code?  C’mon, let’s go to berth.  If you’d had the consideration to be a little smaller, I’d have just carried you there twenty breems ago.”  Without waiting for an answer Jazz draped Soundwave’s arm over his shoulders and hauled him to standing. 

“Jazz, missed feeding time.”

“Oh, be quiet.”  Jazz tugged him out of the office and back toward his personal chamber, passing through the common room.  The twins were on the couch, peacefully asleep, but not on top of one another like usual.  “Took ‘em long enough to fall off me,” Jazz complained.  “Going into recharge was the only thing that would make them let go.  They didn’t wake up when I put them on the couch.  Rough day for the brats.” 

Soundwave allowed Jazz to sit him down on his berth, and Jazz allowed Soundwave to feed him.  After that, silence.  Very little of Jazz was visible in the mostly-dark room, but to Soundwave the dim glow in his visor seemed troubled. 

“I connived Rumble into telling me exactly what happened today, after I left the room.  Exactly which dirty potshot Starscream took at you and Primus, can he shoot dirty.  You’re so hopeless, Soundwave.  You can’t keep on falling to pieces every time he tries to nail you on the cassettibots.  He’s not stupid.  Sooner or later he’s going to figure out that it’s more than just an embarrassment to you.”

“That subject, not welcome.”

“Tell that to Starscream.  You can’t order it silenced, Soundwave, it’s not helping you and it’s not helping your brats.  They were clinging to me for a reason tonight, because they were terrified.  Scared of losing me, yes, but terrified of you.” 

“Assertion, incorrect.  Violence never used against symbiotes.” 

“I know you’d never hit them.  But what’s going on in here?”  Jazz knelt beside him, cupping Soundwave’s face in his hands.  “What are you doing to yourself in that head of yours?  You blame yourself for what happened, and you hate yourself so much that you can’t even bear to talk about it.  You can’t even hear it without breaking into pieces.  Do you think they can’t feel that?  They don’t want to get sucked back into whatever black hole you were dwelling in before I came into this home.”

Soundwave still felt oddly disoriented, as if his sensors hadn’t properly synchronized.  Images and sounds and tactile input were all disconnected; Jazz’s voice seemed very far away, but his hands were warm against his own plating, and the blue glow of his visor very close.  Closer.  Before Soundwave realized it was happening Jazz had tipped his own forehead against Soundwave’s and stayed there. 

“It wasn’t your fault, Soundwave.  I can blame you for so many other things and I will, but this much, what you tried to do for his little bots – it wasn’t your fault.”

“Negative.  Responsibility mine.  Survival of cassettibots dependent on me.” 

“You are killing yourself every time you repeat that, and you’re dragging the rest of them down with you.  Stop it.  You did everything you could.  Blaster couldn’t have done any better.” 

Blaster.  Unease whirled inside Soundwave at the name, making his disorientation even worse.  It wasn’t a proper recharge cycle, something had gone wrong with his defragmentation.  It was like the phenomenon Jazz described, spontaneous archived memory file playback, but something about the file was wrong.  Blaster never said that last warning… did he?  He’ll never be yours, the words echoed cruelly in his mind.  You’ll always lose.

Soundwave covered Jazz’s hand with his own, holding it in place out of the momentary and entirely illogical fear that if he didn’t, Jazz would vanish into thin air.  

"Cassettibots, preferred pain and suffering over me.  Jazz, prefers pain and suffering over me.  Conclusion: unpleasant to acknowledge."  

"I never said I wanted to go back."  Jazz's hand curled into his.  "There are just... so many other things I have to think about.  This is hard for me too, you know.  It’s been a confusing slavery.” 

Jazz’s exhalations were light against his dermal plating.  Soundwave felt the tickle of contact, and what might have been Jazz’s lips brushing softly against the edge of his mask.  The world tilted, and Soundwave vaguely realized that Jazz was pushing him to lie down on the berth.

“This way is a little more comfortable, don’t you think?  Try to go back into recharge.  You’ll feel better tomorrow.” 

He would if only Jazz would be in his arms when he woke, but that wasn’t going to happen.  Soundwave felt the warmth and pressure of Jazz’s body settle on his chest, and knew it would not be there in the morning.  But for now, with the room still rocking dizzyingly around him and Blaster’s voice echoing in his mind, it was enough.  He wrapped his arms around Jazz, and initiated shutdown. 

 


 

 

One, two, three.  One, two, three.  Step, step, skip.  Step, step, skip.  Idly Soundwave counted as Jazz half-danced past the stalls, watching his pedes tap against the ground in perfect sync with nearby music.  The rhythm could be broken down into counts of three, that much he understood, even if he still didn't find its assault against his audios pleasing in the slightest.  But sometimes the underlying mathematical count was interrupted by an unpredictable anomaly, or at least Soundwave thought it unpredictable.  He didn't understand how Jazz could so deftly skip in time with the anomaly that, by rights, did not fit with the three-count.  

One, two, three.  One, two, three.  One-two-threeeee-four-five.  Jazz slid, spun, and didn't miss a beat.  

"This song, well known to you?"  

"Nope!  First time I've heard it.  Must be new from Earth; I like it though."  Step, step, skip. Step, step, skip.  Then how did he know about the coming anomaly?  It wasn't predictable.  It didn't fit the expected pattern.  How did he know? 

"Jazz, desires this file?"  

He threw a carefully careless grin back over his shoulder.  "Nah.  Some other time, maybe.  It's enough to just dance to it here and now."  

Jazz hadn't played his own music since that night on the roof.  Soundwave had listened for it, but Jazz seemed content to dance to the music out here.

"Jazz, enjoyed playing favorite song?"  

"I think you know the answer to that."  

"Jazz will play own music again, when?"  

"Oh, I don't know."  Jazz turned in a slow, easy twirl.  "Maybe when you stop being such a buzzkill all the time.  Or when you can even tell me what 'buzzkill' means.  We'll see."  

"Your meaning, not understood."  

"You're still moping, Soundwave, and it's cramping my style.  Can't you bounce already?  They're waitin' for it.  We all are."  Jazz pointed up, where Laserbeak and Buzzsaw were gliding over the stalls.  "You could at least try and enjoy the walk.  I am.  Because A, it's the first time I've been able to take a step in seven cycles without at least one of the brat pack clinging to me and B, it's the last cycle we have to enjoy Iacon without a chance of running into annoying Seekers.  Isn't that in itself worth a little smile?"  

He tipped Soundwave's chin up, as if he could even see through Soundwave's battle mask.  "My appearance, always impassive," Soundwave reminded him, lifting free of Jazz's touch.  "Jazz, no expert at knowing my emotions."

"Yes I am."  

Jazz smirked and sashayed away again.  "If you insist on keeping up this funk, I have no choice but to up the game.  Hasn't it been a while since it got lively?  We're overdue for a shake-up."  

"Jazz, don't."

"Hold back?  If you insist!"  Soundwave thought about lunging at Jazz to grab his arm, but Jazz was faster.  Step, step, skip up onto the stacks of crates he went.  One, two, three.  Hop, grab a pole, and swing up onto the narrow crown of a wall - Jazz made every movement into a dance no matter what.  The regulars, delighted to see their favorite acrobat in a mood to show off, whistled and cheered.  Predictably, Laserbeak lit up with anticipation, and swooped closer.  Soundwave sighed.  

"Jazz, always seeking attention."  

"Seek?  I beg your pardon, darling, but I don't ever have to go looking for attention.  It finds me without much trouble."  His dance steps were more complicated now.  He hopped, skipped, and twirled along the extremely slim wall, followed by a few cartwheels - blasted chains held him back not at all - and various other forms of tumbling.  Soundwave had learned a long time ago not to worry that he'd fall, because he wouldn't.

"If not attention, then state objective."  

"To annoy you or cheer you up, I'm not really sure which.  Who cares?  The point is I can, and so I do.  It's a point well worth taking."  

That didn't seem much of a point at all to Soundwave, but it was no good arguing with Jazz while he was in one of his illogical moods.  Soundwave watched him tip hand over pede, then spring off the end of the wall in a twisting aerial that dropped him back to the ground in a neat crouch.  

Right in front of Megatron.  

 

Later, Soundwave would play back the scene and still not be able to determine which one of them was more surprised.  Megatron stared, optics bright and startled, and Jazz jumped back as if he'd landed on melting magma.  Giant Megatron, with his heavy armor and even heavier tread, was usually easy to hear coming, but downtown Iacon was noisy and he'd just rounded the bend of the wall.  He certainly hadn't been expecting an Autobot to fall down out of the sky.  It was a mutual ambush.  

"Impressive show, Autobot," Megatron appraised, when he'd recovered.  Jazz, never one to miss a beat, dipped into a low and gracious bow.  

"If you knew me, Herr Megatron, you'd know putting on a show is what I do best."  

"I don't doubt it."  Casual fingertips played over Jazz's face, then lower to the neck, not exploring but remembering.  Jazz held himself perfectly still, but didn't lower his gaze for a second.

"No pet today, my lord?"  

Megatron was alone on the walkway.  He smirked.  "Bluestreak is still self-repairing at home."  

"I was talkin' about Shockwave."  

Megatron looked a bit torn whether to chuckle or smack Jazz straight into the wall.  Luckily, that moment was when everyone else noticed their lord's unexpected presence as well. 

"All hail Lord Megatron!" gasped the nearest vendor, and the awareness carried through the crowd like an electric shock.  "All hail Lord Megatron!" they chorused.  "Long live the Decepticon Empire!"  

Megatron turned his attention to the adoring crowd, shoving Jazz aside with one effortless swipe.  Jazz stumbled out of the way, vents exhaling in relief, and smiled rather shakily at Soundwave.  

"I must say, I'm pleased to see you out and about, Soundwave," Megatron said affably, after he'd gifted the crowd with his wave.  "Seems I never see you outside headquarters, and hardly ever there either.  After so much work to win control of this planet, you're the only Decepticon that won't come out to appreciate it."  

Soundwave bowed.  "Responsibilities time consuming, Lord Megatron.  Enjoyment taken when possible."  

"I'm glad to hear it."  Megatron motioned for Soundwave to fall in with him, and they continued past the stalls.  Soundwave just barely glimpsed Jazz shadowing them off to the side.  

"Reason here, Lord Megatron?  Problem evident?"

"No, just enjoying the city before the Seekers return.  And why shouldn't I walk amongst the common rabble now and then?  I am not the Council, Soundwave.  Don't ever forget it."  

"Understood, Lord Megatron."  

"It doesn't hurt either," he added, patting his cannon smugly, "to remind them who their leader is.  A little fear keeps them properly respectful.  Another concept the old Council couldn't grasp.  I certainly approve of showing off your slave to the crowds; reminds them what the price of defiance is.  Though I can't understand why he was jumping off the wall."  

Soundwave fumbled for an answer, but fortunately Megatron didn't expect one.  "I was, to be honest, rather surprised how forceful you were about keeping that one.  Not that I mind, but don't you find him irritating to have around?  I prefer a slave that's perfectly obedient... except for when I want a slave that's not obedient at all."  A dark smile flickered across his face as he considered his two slaves.  "Prime's spy somehow manages to be the worst of both worlds.  It's annoying.  How can you stand him outside the berth?" 

 In the corner of his vision, Soundwave watched Laserbeak alight on Jazz's offered arm, and Jazz feed her some treat from a stall.  "Slave, amuses cassetticons."  

"Hmph.  I suppose he would.  Better you than me, at any rate.  Just make sure to watch that attitude of his.  I never mind saving something to break later, but we can't have him getting too comfortable in the meantime.  Next thing you know, he might be happy.  And that's not what I have in mind for those Autobots.  Not at all."  

He dismissed Soundwave with a flick of the hand, turning his magnanimous attentions back to the crowd.  Soundwave bowed, staying put while Megatron strode on.  Anyone without a stall to tend rushed past him, eagerly following in Megatron's wake.  When he'd turned a corner and was no longer in sight, Soundwave retreated back to the shadowed corner where Jazz lurked.

"Whew!" Jazz said cheerfully.  "Now doesn't that make the fuel pump jump up the throat?  I wanted to make things lively, but I didn't expect them to get that lively."

"Jazz's comment to Megatron regarding Shockwave, insolent and unwise." 

"You'll notice he didn't exactly deny it.  You'll also notice he came out on this walk alone.  Even Megatron can only take so much pedelicking.  So what'd you two crazy kids talk about?"  

"Not your concern."

"Fine, be stingy.  The twins and I were having a nice time without you anyway."  He tickled Laserbeak under her beak.  "I'd love to know how you explained my gymnastics to Megatron, though."  

"Megatron's unexpected presence, a good example why such displays inappropriate in public.  Will not be repeated in future."

"Soundwave, you're so cute when you're being hopefully optimistic."  

Laserbeak's amusement chittered across the link, and she quickly launched back into the air when Soundwave shot her a pulse of disapproval.  "Anyway, I did overhear that Megatron would also like to see you out and about more.  What a coincidence: Megatron and I actually agree on something.  You know what that means, of course." 

Soundwave suddenly felt rather exhausted, and wished he were home in his peaceful loft.  "Negative," he said wearily.  "Meaning?"

"That the world's about to end," Jazz said matter-of-factly.  "Hope you're ready for it."     

 


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was the first emergency comm that Soundwave had received since the end of the war.  When it hit, it hit like lightning, the classified frequency automatically triggering a surge of energy through all his systems.  Recharge shut off mid-cycle, all priority shoved into rapid boot-up, and Soundwave was sitting up before he'd even properly realized he was awake.  Old habits borne of long centuries had his battle protocols humming, weapons ready to activate and fire at will.  He was momentarily bewildered by his own civilian berth chamber, expecting to be back in his old cabin on the warship.  

"Mngh," Jazz grunted, and rolled away from Soundwave over onto his side.  "Thereshno way iss time to wake up.  Lemmelone."  

The war was over.  This was his home, quietly untroubled by battle sirens, and had Jazz been sleeping at his side?  Soundwave was still scrambling through his disorientation when the comm alert was followed by Shockwave's transmission.  

"Soundwave.  Report to Headquarters immediately."  

"Nature of emergency?  Attack, possible?"

"Just get here."  Shockwave's voice lacked its usual pompous flourish, and was instead somber and urgent.  "Don't delay."  

"Understood."  

In theory, Shockwave had no business ordering Soundwave to headquarters in such a manner, but Soundwave sensed it was no personal insult.  What could have happened to make Shockwave sound like that?  He laid a hand on Jazz's shoulder, wishing he could reconstruct what happened while he was distracted by the alert.  He was almost sure Jazz had been sleeping curled up at his side.  

"Jazz."

"Mmm?"  

"Presence in Headquarters necessary.  Stay, remain in recharge."  

"Mmm."  

His system rotations were already slow and deep; he'd never booted up.  If he had, he probably would have thrown a fit and insisted on coming too.  Grateful, Soundwave stood and left the room.  Everybody else was out except for the elder twins, who were sleeping together on the couch.  He paused to scoop up the one on top, which happened to be Frenzy, and continued on his way to the balcony.

"Huh?"  Clearly nobody else had gotten the alert.  Groggily Frenzy groped his way toward consciousness, snuggling into a crevasse on Soundwave's shoulder when plopped there.  "Whas goin' on?"  

"Unknown.  Presence at Headquarters demanded; nature of problem, urgent."  Soundwave kicked on his thrusters and soared into the night, over the peacefully sleeping Iacon.  

"Can't be that bad; everybody else gets to stay in recharge."  

"Complaints, unproductive.  Suggestion, wait to judge scale of emergency."  

Frenzy made grumbling noises, but didn't speak again for the rest of the journey.  Decepticon Headquarters was mostly empty; all but a few monitors and stations shut down in the night and Shockwave kept few nocturnal staff.  Only the classified command room itself would be powered up, and Soundwave went straight for it.  The entire building was silent and dim, peaceful as the city outside.  So when Soundwave keyed open the door, Megatron's howl of rage almost startled him into jumping.  Frenzy flinched and cowered into his armor. 

"- WILL KILL THEM.  I will find them, I will.  I will hunt them down and rip the metal off their struts!  They think they can do this to me?  They think they can steal from me?  Make no mistake, Decepticons, I will kill them."  

With one hand he ripped a heavy chair from its wheel track and hurled it across the room.  It crashed into a desk, and this time everyone jumped.  Starscream's optics had blanched and he was keeping very still, drawing on long experience to keep himself out of Megatron's crosshairs.  Even Shockwave, for all he had no face, managed to look rather shaken.  He noticed Soundwave's arrival and beckoned him closer, waiting until Soundwave had reached the top level before speaking in a decidedly low voice.  

"Soundwave, at last.  We've, er, had a bit of a problem on Earth.  Megatron is not pleased."  

"No joke," Frenzy whispered.  "What happened?"

"Motormaster is in the best position to answer that."  Shockwave looked to the holo-display table, where, sure enough, the Stunticon was waiting.  He looked both utterly miserable and furious, shoulders hunched in shame but fists curling with telltale rage.  

"Motormaster, report."  

"You want to know what happened, Soundwave?" Megatron snarled, just as Motormaster was opening his mouth.  He stopped by the table and slapped a hand against it, causing the image to wobble and flicker.  "I'll tell you what happened.  Those malcontent mercenaries robbed me.  That pathetic, useless, dysfunctional team of thieves and sadists invaded my colony and stole one of my slaves.  My property!  I'll snap every one of their heads off for that!  Their own incompetence in tracking and capturing Mirage was not an excuse to take any Autobot they liked!"  

Frenzy's shock rebounded against his own, stunning them both for a nanoklik.  He could practically feel Frenzy's jaw drop.  

"No way..." he exhaled.  Megatron did not hear him, luckily, and turned away with a growl.  Soundwave better understood the mood of the room now.  No wonder Starscream looked so ashen.  Even he wasn't stupid enough to fly to Earth and simply steal Skyfire.  

Again Soundwave looked to Motormaster.  "Report details."  

"Yes, Motormaster, do give us details," Shockwave added, coolly.  "Explain how a broken gestalt team managed to invade the Decepticon fuel camp, fend off your complete gestalt team, and steal one of Megatron's slaves... right in front of you."  

Motormaster's engines snarled at Shockwave's tone.  "I wasn't there.  So no, the team was not complete.  Menasor couldn't help."

"Then where were you?"  

"I was out east, looking for Sideswipe.  Like I was ordered to.  I told Megatron-"  Shockwave stiffened and glanced at Megatron, pacing across the deck, and Motormaster quickly rephrased himself.  "I did worry that leaving the camp could have its problems.  But I thought the problem would come from the slaves themselves - I didn't think anybody would come barreling down out of the sky to steal one!  How could I have known?"  

"Circumstances of theft?" Soundwave interposed, before Shockwave countered with something unproductive.  "Recording captured?"

"Every corner of the compound is covered by some camera."  Motormaster punched a button, and a second image popped up over the table.  The video clip showed them all how Blast Off had hurtled down into the center of the well field, and how Vortex circled around, guns blazing while Brawl and Swindle burst out, grabbed the Autobot, and hauled him back into the hold.  The Stunticons were taken by total surprise and scrambled to mount a clumsy counterattack, but the Combaticons weren't interested in a fight.  Almost as soon as Blast Off touched down, his thrusters roared back to full power and he rocketed back into the sky.  It was over in less than a breem.  

What the video clip did not show was why.  "Motivation for Combaticons' actions, known?"  

"How in the Pit should I know?  It's not as if they left a fragging note."  

"Which Autobot was it?" Starscream asked.  "They're all filthy, it's impossible to tell which one is which."  

"The scout, Hound.  He was one of the quiet ones, never made any trouble."  Motormaster shrugged.  "Dunno if they were gunning for him in particular, or they just grabbed the first bot they could put their grubby hands on."  

"Never mind which bot it was," Shockwave said tersely.  "We have mechanisms in place to prevent our slaves from getting 'lost', whether it was their idea to flee or not.  Why did you not track the signal on his collar?"  

"I did!  My team commed me right away and we pinpointed the signal, all the way out in the middle of Russia.  By the time we got there, this was all that was left."  He held up Hound's abandoned collar, the thin wires dangling uselessly.  

Starscream swore.  "Vortex."

"He has enough expertise for such a procedure?"  Shockwave was surprised.  "Hook assured me that only a medic could properly extract the induction wires."  

"He has the expertise alright," Starscream said flatly.  "He's not a medic, but he's had a few thousand chances to explore the inside of a Cybertronian.  Whether Hound is still functional - or alive - is anyone's guess." 

"I hear speculation," Megatron snapped, pausing to glare their way.  "I hear theories.  What I don't hear are my top officers taking steps to fix it.  I don't care which bot they stole or how they got his collar off.  I care about tracking them down and hauling their rusted hides in front of me so I can get on with making them very, very sorry.  Make it happen!"

"My lord."  Shockwave bowed and backed away from the holo table.  "You can be sure that we will do everything in our power to restore your stolen property, and bring the Combaticons to justice."  

"Oh, I know you will.  Or everyone's going to be sorry."  

 

What was left of the night cycle passed rather tensely.  Megatron did at least stop throwing things and screaming, but his presence in the command room was a dark, brooding one that made concentration difficult.  Soundwave did his best, working with Frenzy to sort through video feeds from various satellites around Earth, scanning for Combaticon activity.  Shockwave roused Astrotrain and Blitzwing and sent them through the space bridge, waiting for any coordinates to give chase, while Starscream's Seekers stood by on alert for backup.  The more Soundwave and Frenzy looked, though, the more unlikely it seemed they were still on Earth at all.  

"Here's what I don't get," Frenzy complained, after pulling up another feed, "why Hound?  I kinda get the rest of it - they're frustrated and desperate.  The other gestalts have slaves and status and estate, and they got nothin'.  And the empire's slaves are right there on Earth, easy pickings.  It's stupid and suicidal, but I get why they wanted to steal one.  But why Hound?  He's not even that good looking.  He's okay, I guess, but not nearly as fine as Jazz - or Mirage.  Don't think I've ever seen him without mud on his plates.  Is it worth risking Megatron's rage over some dusty bot?  They had to have known he'd be this mad."  

“Hound, not necessarily target,” Soundwave reminded him, but Frenzy was already shaking his head. 

“No, I think he was.  I keep looking at this clip.”  He moved aside the satellite feed and called up the footage again.  With a fingertip he followed the image of Brawl and Swindle throwing themselves at Hound.  “I’m telling you, they went straight for him.  That bot over there, he’s just as close, but smaller, and wouldn’t smaller be easier?  I think they picked Hound for a reason.” 

It wasn’t so obvious to Soundwave, but at this point nothing could be ruled out.  What could the Combaticons be thinking?  Just one klik in a room with any of them and he’d have an answer.  Too bad that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon.  Soundwave froze an image of Blast Off hurtling himself away from Earth. 

“Lord Megatron, surveillance of Combaticons located.”  Everyone’s head snapped up. 

“And?”

“Combaticons, no longer on Earth.  Recording captured of Blast Off exiting atmosphere.  Launch point: northern Russia.  Combaticons attacked Decepticon oil reserves after removing slave’s collar, then departed planet.”

“To go,” Megatron snarled, “where?”

“Tracking vector, but destination unknown.  Their course likely to change, regardless.”

“Well can’t you track a signal?”

Soundwave made sure to keep his gaze steady.  “Combaticons have no reason to transmit signal.  Unlikely to, knowing danger.  Team a gestalt, transmissions unnecessary for communication.  Currently, no way to locate Combaticons.” 

The arms of Megatron’s chair crumpled in his clenched fists, and Frenzy edged behind Soundwave just a little.

“I am disappointed, Soundwave.  I’m disappointed in all of you,” he added, casting meaningful looks at Starscream and Shockwave.  “Is this the extent of the talents of my elite officers?  You’re supposed to be helping run my empire!  You can’t even stop a rogue gang of cons from stealing a simple slave.  Pathetic.”

Shockwave stammered something about the responsibility of the Stunticons to guard the fuel camps, and Starscream was quick to start listing what the Combaticons' next move might be, but Soundwave simply sat down again.  He never offered an excuse when he had failed Megatron, which was rare.  What was the point?  Nothing could undo failure. 

Frenzy laid a hand on his arm.  “It wasn’t your fault, boss.  There wasn’t nothin’ you could have done, not from another planet.  Not your fault the Combaticons finally went off the deep end.” 

“This fact, known.  Megatron’s frustration, not so logical.” 

“Tell me about it.”  Frenzy cocked his head in response to a comm.  “Rumble and Jazz are up.  Rumble wants to know if he can bring Jazz over; he thinks Jazz is hungry.” 

Yes, he would be; it was time for his morning feeding.  Soundwave glanced sideways at Megatron and wondered if it was appropriate for Jazz to enter this room.  Megatron hadn’t officially classified this event, but he probably wouldn’t appreciate Autobots overhearing it.  Soundwave wasn’t going to risk his temper.  “Affirmative.  Instruct Rumble to wait outside command room.” 

“Yo.” 

 


 

 

Soundwave was relieved to escape the command room four breems later, when Rumble alerted him to their arrival.  Megatron had already stormed out, back to his personal quarters to unleash his frustration on his slaves, but that did nothing to ease the tensions still in the room.  Starscream and Shockwave couldn't quite figure out if they wanted to bicker with one another about what happened, or unite in mutual blameshifting to the Stunticons, and everyone's tempers were short.  By the time low-ranked Decepticons and civilians were filtering into the building for their shifts, none of the top three officers was even pretending to work.  Out in the grand antechamber, Soundwave saw Starscream clustered in the corner with his trine, avidly passing on the gossip.  

There was Rumble, fidgeting restlessly as he waited for them to exit the command room, knowing something important had happened and resentful he'd been left out.  Jazz was much further back toward the exit, taking advantage of Rumble's inattention to sneak a quick handhold with Windcharger while Scrapper was occupied in conversation.  

"Glad that's over with," Frenzy exulted, stretching as they left the room and popping a few joints.  "Now comes the fun part!  Pleeease let me be the one to tell Rumble, kay?  I can't wait to see the look on his face when I tell him what the Combaticons did.  He'll fragging fall over!"  

Without waiting for an answer he skipped ahead, brimming over with gleeful anticipation.  Rumble met their approach with defiant hands on hips.  “Hey, there you guys are.  How come you left us behind?  I would have woken up if you wanted me to!”

“Only one assistant necessary, other twin needed to stay with Jazz.” 

“But how come I had to –“

“Never mind that,” Frenzy interrupted impatiently.  “Don’t you want to know what the emergency was?  You will not believe this.” 

Rumble perked up.  “What, what?  Tell me!”

“If you insist.”  Frenzy’s grin was stretching from side of the hallway to another.  “You remember the Combaticons?  Well guess what they decided to do.  Last night, on Earth, they invaded Megatron’s fuel camps… and stole Hound.   They just touched down, grabbed him, and took off!  Can you believe it!”

Rumble’s reaction was not the delighted disbelief Frenzy was anticipating.  Thoughtfully, hesitantly, he frowned.  “Huh.  That’s… weird.”

“It’s more than weird, it’s fragging suicidal!”  Frenzy punched Rumble on the arm.  “C’mon, how stupid was that?  Megatron’s been threatening to twist off their heads all night.  I knew they were a little bit off their servos before, but this time they’ve finally flipped their bits.  They’re crazy.  Why else would they do something so glitched-up stupid?” 

“Well, yeah, of course they’re crazy.  It’s just that Jazz said…”

Soundwave, who had been monitoring Jazz and only listening to the conversation with one audio, suddenly snapped to full attention.  “Jazz, said what?”

Rumble sensed the sharp spike in Soundwave’s interest and promptly got nervous, optics paling.  “I mean, it’s not like he meant it.  I don’t think.  I didn’t even really pay attention at the time because he was just teasing Decepticons.  It’s Jazz – it’s what he does.  I didn’t think they were listening to him and even if they were –“

“Rumble.”  Soundwave snapped his fingers, breaking Rumble out of his loop.  “They, who?” 

“The Combaticons.”  Rumble’s voice had gotten very small.  “That day you left me in charge of him… they ran into us on the stairs.  He was making his jokes, like always, and I swear I didn’t think he meant anything by it.” 

“Meant anything by what?” wailed Frenzy, now the frustrated one.  Soundwave’s gaze returned to Jazz again, who caught his stare and waved merrily.  Rumble’s anxiety was exploding across the link. 

“I was recording.  It’s better just to show you.” 

“Reason for recording?”

“Always do, in case Jazz does something really awesome.” 

Looking rather shellshocked, Rumble folded down into his alt-mode and slotted into Soundwave’s open chest. 

 

"Watch it, half-bit!"

The collision had been painful, the swat that sent him crashing to the floor more so.  The ceiling spun just a little before Jazz leaned over Rumble, scooping him up into his arms.  "Alright there, Blue?  I can show you less painful ways of stopping than smashing into a cranky copter." 

"You scratched my paint, you little pest.  What the frag?"  Suddenly the staircase was filled with menacing Combaticons, Vortex closing in on Jazz and Rumble.  Jazz quickly backed up to the wall.  

"Easy, gentlemechs.  It was an accident.  I assure you Rumble had no evil intent toward your finish... such as it is."  

Vortex's glare shifted from Rumble up to Jazz, darkening by a few degrees.  "I'll tell you when I want you to open your mouth, slave.  Better yet, come upstairs and I'll show you.  I could do with the quickie."  

He lifted a suggestive clawtip to Jazz's arm, and Rumble shoved it away.  "Hands off the goods, rotors!  This one's ours.  Go get your own - if you can."  

Vortex's engines snarled and he snatched Rumble by the neck, yanking him out of Jazz's grasp and dangling him high over the floor.  "Big talk from a little con.  Let's see if you can still talk after I start squeezing."  

"Ah, I'd be a little more careful there, Vortex," Jazz warned, his tone light and casual.  "Think about who you're gonna make angry if you hurt that little con.  I haven't exactly seen it myself, but I've heard Soundwave can hit pretty hard when you give him enough reason."  

"Tex."  Brawl still looked a little wobbly on the joints, and his optics were pale.  He shook his head, pleadingly, and Vortex grunted in disgust.  Rumble dropped to the stairs in a heap when Vortex opened his hand.

"Smart move," Rumble spat, arms swiveling into piledrivers.  "Make it two, and get going."

Vortex did not deign to look at Rumble, visor carefully tracking Jazz.  "So you're Soundwave's property now, huh?  What happened?  Skywarp get bored with ya?"  

"Maybe he sold him," Swindle proposed, a gleam of interest in his optics.  "Is Megatron allowing slave resale?  Now that's a business I could get into.  How much did you go for, slave?"  

"More than you can afford, I'm sure.  Megatron still dishing out the bare minimum in fuel for your trips?  It's almost like he wants you to starve to death in space.  I'm sure that's just my imagination, though."  

All the Combaticons scowled in unison.  "You don't know anything, slave."  

"Oh, you'd be surprised what I know.  Those Seekers, they do love to talk."  Jazz started moving up the steps, giving himself a little height over the hulking Combaticons, idle finger trailing along the rail.  "Speaking of gossip, did you hear that the Constructicons got a fifth slave for their team?  Shockwave just said they needed him, and Megatron handed him over.  And now it's lookin' like the Stunticons might get a slave of their own, in addition to enjoying all the Earth slaves whenever they like.  That must be frustrating, knowing you fought just as hard in the war and risked your lives just as often... but you got nothing."    

"Shut up," growled Brawl.  "Just - shut up, slave.  It's not your business."  

"And it's gonna change," Swindle added, a little defiantly.  "Tomorrow we'll be on our way to go pick up your pretty-boy friend and when we do, he'll be ours.  I got plans for him, too.  How much you think a neutral would be willing to pay to frag a slave for a night?"  

Jazz's easy smile did not even flicker.  "Sorry to burst the bubble, boys, but you're not going to catch Mirage.  When Mirage doesn't want to be found, he doesn't get found.  Autobot brass learned that lesson a long time ago."

"So he ditched you and your friends and ran off to save himself.  Don't you hate him, slave?"

Jazz shrugged.  "Can't say I'd do any different if I was in his place.  Unlike Decepticons, we bots just want the best for our own.  And right now, we're all betting that Mirage is going to leave you in his finely powdered dust.  He'll keep you running circles in space until you keel over from exhaustion or starvation, whichever comes first.  I wonder if Megatron will even notice you're gone?"  

Vortex looked like he might lunge at Jazz right then, but Rumble quickly darted in front of Jazz, bristling with the reminder of Soundwave's ownership.  

"It's almost enough to make me feel sorry for you boys.  Because it's obvious enough to anyone with vision that Megatron is really screwing you over.  It's not like it was your fault, what happened to Onslaught."  Languidly Jazz stretched, popping a neck strut in a show of perfect indifference. "Too bad you can't use Hound to find Mirage.  He was always the only bot that could ever track him down.  He never failed; it was uncanny, really. Oh, but look at us taking up all your time.  We're very sorry, sirs."  Again Jazz scooped up Rumble and backed up the wall to give room.  "Please don't let us keep you from your rest."  

The Combaticons looked a little thrown but Blast Off, who up until now had not spoken a word, pushed at Brawl from behind.  "C'mon guys, stop wasting time with the bot.  I'm dead on my feet and we've only got one cycle to sleep.  Get moving."  

Brawl stumbled up a step and consequently pushed at Swindle, who nudged Vortex.  Vortex snarled at Jazz one more time, just to make himself feel better, but he was tired too and obediently started climbing.  The rest of the team followed, passing by Jazz and Rumble without comment, but Swindle did glance over his shoulder with a thoughtful look at Jazz.  

"Yeah, you better run!" Rumble crowed, and Jazz shushed him.  

"Leave the poor Combaticons alone, Rumble, they have enough to think about.  Now then, where were we?" 

 


 

 

In the space of a second, Soundwave’s world shrank to just him, Jazz, and the twenty steps between them.  Paintjobs faded to blurs, conversations became simple noise.  He barely noticed Rumble ejecting himself out of his chest.  The distance between them was vanishing before Soundwave had even realized he was moving forward, one pede in front of the other, a little faster now, must get there faster.  Get to Jazz, get him out of Decepticon Headquarters, and do it now.  Every nanoklik that it took to get there was a nanoklik too many. 

Jazz looked up again just in time to see him coming, and shot him a dazzlingly cheerful smile.  “Morning, my lov- hey!” 

Soundwave didn’t even pause.  He just closed a steel grip around Jazz’s wrist and kept going, yanking Jazz away without warning.  The other Autobot squeaked, a sound that blended into the rustle of surprise around them, and Soundwave saw a few surprised glances in their direction. 

“Ouch, Soundwave, why so tight?  What’s the rush, where are we going?  I just got here.”  Jazz was almost running to keep up with Soundwave’s long strides, trying without success to pry Soundwave’s grasp off his wrist.  Soundwave tightened his grip by a few ruthless degrees and ignored Jazz’s hiss of pain. 

“Jazz will be silent.” 

“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?  What happened in there, why are you so angr-“

“Jazz, silence.  When asked, you will speak.” 

The light in Jazz’s visor paled with nervousness.  He looked confused, and scared, and so after one hard glare Soundwave did not look at his face again.  His steps devoured the length of the entrance hall, and once outside he swept Jazz briskly into his arms before takeoff.  He was clutching Jazz to his chest so tightly that it must have hurt, but Jazz didn’t make any more sounds.  Silent as ordered, he held onto Soundwave’s armor, and through it Soundwave was sure he could feel his sparkpulse accelerating.  Out of fear?  Or guilt? 

Jazz scrabbled free of Soundwave’s arms the second he’d touched down on his balcony, backing away fast enough to put half the loft between them before his thrusters had even switched off.    “Okay, now you’re really scaring me, Soundwave.  What happened, why are you so mad?” 

“Pretended innocence, unnecessary.  Your conversation, recorded."

"What conversation?  Please, tell me what's going on!"  

"Slave," Soundwave snapped, and Jazz visibly flinched.  Never, not even on their first night together, had Soundwave ever called him by that.  Standing at his full height, massive, intimidating, dark with menace, he advanced on Jazz and Jazz backed into the wall.  "This, no game.  Consequences too severe.  Your actions known but not understood.  Confess purpose.  Convinced Combaticons to steal Hound, why?"  

Surprise flared over the fear in Jazz's face.  "The Combaticons stole Hound?  What -"  

"Questions, mine to ask.  Not yours."  Hands slapped against the wall on his either side, trapping Jazz.  "Confess purpose.  Hound's freedom?  Why Hound?  Your plan, tell now."  

"Soundwave, please."  Jazz's voice was so small.  "There's no purpose, no plan.  This wasn't supposed to happen.  I know I teased the Combaticons that day; I'm Jazz - it's what I do.  But it didn't mean anything, I never thought they'd take me seriously.  They're a gang of psychopaths, Primus knows what they'll do to him.  Oh, Hound -"

"Jazz, lying!"  Sharply Soundwave turned Jazz's face back to him when his gaze strayed.  "Conversation, recorded, witnessed.  Your satisfaction, too great.  Your smile, too pleased.  Jazz, object of close study in this home; your behaviors well known.  This also known: Jazz hiding something."

"If you're so sure of your answers then why ask the questions?"  Out of either anger or fear Jazz shoved at Soundwave’s chest, pushing him back a step.  “Fuck you, Soundwave, I didn’t do anything.  If those sick freaks took my friend then it’s the empire’s fault – your fault, not mine.”

Soundwave hesitated, but for less than a sparkbeat.  Jazz, skilled pretender, he reminded himself.  He was lying.  He had to be lying. 

Jazz was trying to get away again.  Soundwave grabbed his chains and hauled Jazz right off his pedes, dragging him into his berth chamber.  Jazz fought him like he’d never done before, kicking and thrashing, but Soundwave moved too fast for him to regain his balance.  He yelped with pain when Soundwave pinned him hard to the berth. 

“Answers will be found.  If not with your cooperation, then without.” 

No one here to guard him, and no chains could hold Jazz.  The only thing that could was Soundwave’s own heavy body weight, and remorselessly he shifted himself to lie completely atop Jazz.  Jazz squirmed underneath, vents gasping. 

“You don’t want to do this, Soundwave.  I promise you do not want to take this step.” 

“Begging ineffective.  Struggling, not advised.”  His external receptors began switching off, preparing his mind for the exploration. 

Jazz was trembling underneath him.  “No,” he whispered.  “I didn’t mean… wait, don’t -"

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

BROKEN BONES BROKEN HEARTS, STRIPPED DOWN AND TORN APART.  A LITTLE BIT OF RUST, I'M STILL RUNNIN'.


Sheer volume almost buckled Soundwave and he reflexively moved to dial back his audios, but his audios were gone.  His body was gone.  Desert night swept around him, stars burning against the black, a highway unwinding through the craggy landscape.  Jazz raced along it, joyfully devouring the miles.  COUNTIN' MILES COUNTIN' TEARS, TWISTED ROADS SHIFTIN' GEARS.  YEAR AFTER YEAR, IT'S ALL OR NOTHIN!    


Wrong file, wrong memory.  Soundwave had no interest in Jazz playing on Earth.  Surprised, he scrambled to exit out, if only to escape that mind-crushing music.  Without taking the time to run a search he dove into the first file with a post-war date that he could find, and the familiar skyline of Iacon spread before him.  Jazz was following Skywarp, taking his first steps into the city wearing his chains.  ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROWN, AND THE SKY IS GRAY!  I'VE BEEN FOR A WALK ON A WINTER'S DAY!

 
Something was not right.  Soundwave couldn't hear any thoughts and he should have been able to, no matter how loudly Jazz played his ridiculous music.  I'D BE SAFE AND WARM IF I WAS IN L.A.  And Jazz didn't play his music after the war...  CALIFORNIA DREAMING ON SUCH A WINTER'S DAY!  


In frustration Soundwave flipped to the next file, Jazz slumped by the window with Fireflight's head in his lap while Thundercracker and Skywarp recharged on the berth.  I LOOK INSIDE MYSELF AND SEE MY HEART IS BLACK, I SEE MY RED DOOR AND IT HAS BEEN PAINTED BLACK.  MAYBE THEN I'LL FADE AWAY AND NOT HAVE TO FACE THE FACTS.  IT'S NOT EASY FACING UP WHEN YOUR WHOLE WORLD IS BLACK!  


A terrible suspicion uncurled within Soundwave.  No, he told Jazz.  That is not possible.  


Jazz looked up at him, and smiled.  HEAD GAMES!  IT'S YOU AND ME, BABY, HEAD GAMES!


They sat opposite one another, hax game between them, and Soundwave did not remember moving between files.  DAYLIGHT TURNS INTO NIGHT.  WE TRY AND FIND THE ANSWER BUT IT'S NOWHERE IN SIGHT.  IT'S ALWAYS THE SAME, AND YOU KNOW WHO TO BLAME.  YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYIN' BUT WE KEEP ON PLAYIN' HEAD GAMES!  


Jazz thinks in music.  Realization sank into Soundwave along with a heavy dose of dread.  This- this was unexpected, not a part of his plans.  But surely there was not enough human music to apply to every one of Jazz's thoughts, that could not be possible.  And there was nothing he could do to hide the images in his memory files.  You cannot hide, Soundwave said across the game I will still find your secrets.    


IT'S SO CLEAR, I'M SORRY TO SAY.  BUT IF YOU WANNA WIN YOU GOTTA LEARN HOW TO PLAY HEAD GAMES!


Soundwave broke free of Jazz's grasp and dove back into his memory files, angry, determined.  A query run for the word Combaticon proved useless; Jazz's keywords were song lyrics.   


HOW MANY YEARS CAN A MOUNTAIN EXIST BEFORE IT'S WASHED TO THE SEA?  AND HOW MANY YEARS MUST SOME PEOPLE EXIST BEFORE THEY'RE ALLOWED TO BE FREE?  THE ANSWER, MY FRIEND, IS BLOWING IN THE WIND.  THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND.  Iacon again, the Command Trine basking in the adulation of the crowds.  Perceptor was pushed aside and tripped; Jazz helped him up.  Starscream barked something about not embarrassing him, and slapped his slave hard across the face.


YOU HAVE TO SHOW THEM THAT YOU'RE REALLY NOT SCARED.  YOU'RE PLAYING WITH YOUR LIFE THIS AIN'T NO TRUTH OR DARE.  THEY'LL KICK YOU THEN THEY BEAT YOU, THEN THEY'LL TELL YOU IT'S FAIR SO BEAT IT.  BUT YOU WANNA BE BAD!  Jazz shot off one of his usual smart remarks to Starscream and got a slap to his own face, but Perceptor was able to back out of harm's range, forgotten.  Jazz wiped a trace of fluid from inside his lip plating and smiled.  IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO'S WRONG OR RIGHT, JUST BEAT IT.  


Useless.  The files backed up on top of one another, waiting to be scanned, each one as incomprehensible as the next.  THE FACES ALL AROUND ME THEY DON'T SMILE THEY JUST CRACK.  WAITING FOR OUR SHIP TO COME BUT OUR SHIP'S NOT COMING BACK.  How could Jazz function with this noise in his own head?  Impatiently Soundwave pushed away from the image of Groove scurrying after his masters through the marketplace, it wasn't important.  SO GIVE ME SOMETHING TO BELIEVE, CAUSE I AM LIVING JUST TO BREATHE!


A tiny sliver of despair threaded through Soundwave and he hastily retreated, buttoning up his own consciousness against emotional backlash.  Going into another's head always bore the risk of getting too involved with the victim's feelings, but Soundwave usually moved in and out too fast for it to be a problem.  He must be careful. 


CRAWLING DOWN THE ALLEY ON YOUR HANDS AND YOUR KNEES, I'M SURE YOU'RE NOT PROTECTED FOR IT'S PLAIN TO SEE DIAMOND DOGS ARE POACHERS AND THEY HIDE BEHIND TREES.  Just another image of the Seekers and their slaves.  Soundwave was about to shove it away but froze at the glimpse of Jazz, moving with a sultry grace Soundwave had never before seen.  He slipped between Starscream and Perceptor, all curves and appeal, and then again between Thundercracker and Fireflight.  WILL THEY COME?  I KEEP A FRIEND SERENE.  Starscream and Thundercracker forgot their own slaves, mesmerized by Jazz rolling onto the berth.  Skywarp was only too happy to share.  Hungry and eager, all three fell upon Jazz in the berth.  WILL THEY COME?  OH BABY, COME UNTO ME.  He didn't fight them in the slightest.


This memory, unnecessary, he snapped.  Irrelevant.  Abruptly he moved on.  The next file showed Jazz alone, relief enough, and it was a sight as familiar to Soundwave as Jazz himself.  Alone in the darkness he danced, still in his chains, but silent as a spark floating through the night.  Graceful as ever, there was a sadness to his motions now.  A light that was no star blazed overhead.  O COME O COME EMANUEL, AND FREE YOUR CAPTIVE ISRAEL THAT DWELLS IN LONELY EXILE HERE, UNTIL THE SON OF GOD APPEARS.  He was dancing under the Matrix.  REJOICE, REJOICE!  EMANUEL SHALL COME TO THEE, O ISRAEL.


This was no memory, this was imagination.  Taken aback, Soundwave quickly exited the file.  It was not like him to make such a mistake, but the music distracted him, made navigation difficult.  More of it was playing, this time without any kind of words at all.  Just those human-made instruments, playing at blessedly soft volume while Jazz lay on the floor and watched Starscream.  Studied him, rather.  It was a little unnerving how intently Jazz's gaze followed Starscream, and all the while Soundwave could hear no thoughts but the increasing surges of violin music.  To Soundwave it meant nothing.  What did it mean to Jazz?


TO EVERYTHING, TURN TURN TURN.  THERE IS A SEASON, TURN TURN TURN.  AND A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE UNDER HEAVEN.  New file, new memory.  Jazz chatted cheerfully with Groove and Fireflight, making silly nonsense jokes and provoking the occasional wan smile.  A TIME TO BUILD UP, A TIME TO BREAK DOWN.  A TIME TO DANCE, A TIME TO MOURN.  A TIME TO CAST AWAY STONES, A TIME TO GATHER STONES TOGETHER.


Human music and its ludicrous words!  Soundwave was getting more than a little exasperated with it, which was doing nothing for his concentration.  At least Cybertronian only ever meant exactly what it was supposed to mean.  Precise and logical, it could never be manipulated the way those silly humans manipulated their own languages into senseless phrases.  Of course Jazz would choose only Earth music to organize his mind.  For how long?  Since he woke up on that planet?  Somehow, Jazz had managed to find a way to think in the only language Soundwave could not understand.

 
I WANT TO HOLD HIM LIKE THEY DO IN TEXAS PLEASE.  FOLD EM LET EM HIT ME RAISE IT BABY STAY WITH ME.  Suddenly it was the beginning again: the nightspot, the Seekers, cards and credit chips and a watching slave down there on the floor.  His stare didn't leave Soundwave for a second.  CAN'T READ MY- CAN'T READ MY- NO HE CAN'T READ MY POKER FACE.


Stand, he'd said, victorious and claiming his prize.  Jazz had obeyed so quietly, but in his head the music was raging.  WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?  IT'S NOT HOW IT USED TO BE.  YOU'VE TAKEN MY LIFE AWAY, RUINING EVERYTHING!


No, Soundwave denied without thinking.  That song, not true.  That only attracted Jazz's attention again.  Consciousness crossed with memory and Jazz's lips curved into a cold smile.  IN SLEEP HE SANG TO ME, IN DREAMS HE CAME.  THAT VOICE WHICH CALLS TO ME, AND SPEAKS MY NAME.  AND DO I DREAM AGAIN?  FOR NOW I FIND THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA IS HERE INSIDE MY MIND.  


Jazz dared to interact with him in his own mind.  Usually his victims did everything they could to hide, but Jazz perched there on the edge of Soundwave's berth, posing for him, gliding one pede seductively down the length of his leg.  He was mocking him.  


Go, Soundwave ordered him.  My work here, incomplete.  Distractions, useless.


JOHNNY, ANGRY JOHNNY, THIS IS JEZEBEL IN HELL.  I WANNA KILL YOU.  I WANNA BLOW YOU AWAY.  Angrily Soundwave pushed on to another file, caught by surprise when Ravage sprang out of the shadows to attack.  Jazz hit the ground and rolled, barely keeping himself unsliced, and Soundwave proceeded to discipline Ravage in short order.  BOW DOWN BEFORE THE ONE YOU SERVE, YOU’RE GOING TO GET WHAT YOU DESERVE.  Jazz scuttled back against the wall to watch, fists clenching tight around his chains as Soundwave demonstrated mastery over his household.  HEAD LIKE A HOLE, BLACK AS YOUR SOUL, I’D RATHER DIE THAN GIVE YOU CONTROL!


Back in his loft, Soundwave held his expectant hand out to Jazz, waiting for him to make his choice.  Berth, or couch?  DON’T CALL MY NAME, DON’T CALL MY NAME, ALEJANDRO.  I’M NOT YOUR BABE, I’M NOT YOUR BABE, FERNANDO!  What?  Who?  Jazz let himself be pulled into Soundwave’s lap, cringing at the humiliation, struggling to curl out of the reach of Soundwave’s mouth.  DON’T WANNA KISS, DON’T WANNA TOUCH, JUST SMOKE MY CIGARETTE AND HUSH, DON’T CALL MY NAME, DON’T CALL MY NAME, ROBERTO!


STOP, PLEASE.  JUST LET ME GO, ALEJANDRO.  JUST LET ME GO.


Soundwave quickly backed out of the memory but the next one was more pleasant.  In the marketplace, Jazz watched Laserbeak alight on Soundwave’s shoulder, looking for a little affection, and how Soundwave pet her wings before she took off again.  It was one of those times Soundwave had caught Jazz looking at him with such a thoughtful expression.  I’M LOOKING AT YOU THROUGH THE GLASS, DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH TIME HAS PASSED.  ALL I KNOW IS THAT IT FEELS LIKE FOREVER, BUT NO ONE EVER TELLS YOU THAT FOREVER FEELS LIKE HOME, SITTING ALL ALONE INSIDE YOUR HEAD. 


Soundwave poured tiny crystals of energon into Jazz’s palm, guiding him to feed Laserbeak that one morning.  She pecked and nibbled at her breakfast, trusting Jazz to hold it steady, and Jazz relaxed – even smiled.  HOW MUCH IS REAL?  THAT IS THE QUESTION.  BUT I FORGET YOU DON'T EXPECT AN EASY ANSWER.  WHEN SOMETHING LIKE A SOUL BECOMES INITIALIZED AND FOLDED UP LIKE PAPER DOLLS AND LITTLE NOTES, YOU CAN'T EXPECT A BIT OF HOPE.  SO WHILE YOU'RE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, DESCRIBING WHAT YOU SEE, REMEMBER WHAT YOU'RE STARING AT IS ME.


Starscream retreated, optics glazed, stunned speechless by Jazz’s verbal attack that day of the rain.  Soundwave remembered how triumphant his grin had been afterwards, but the music coursing through his head did not sound triumphant.  I GOT A DISEASE DEEP INSIDE ME, MAKES ME FEEL UNEASY, BABY.  I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT YOU, TELL ME WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?  


Himself and Jazz in the shower, arguing about hugging First Aid that morning.  REACHING OUT FOR SOMETHING TO HOLD, LOOKING FOR A LOVE WHERE THE CLIMATE IS COLD.  Jazz slipped his hand into Soundwave's and squeezed it, triggering indescribable thrills through Soundwave's spark.  SMOKING GUNS, HOT TO THE TOUCH, WOULD COOL DOWN IF WE DIDN'T USE THEM SO MUCH.  YOU'RE OUT OF TOUCH, I'M OUT OF TIME!  BUT I'M OUT OF MY HEAD WHEN YOU'RE NOT AROUND.


Back in the market, Jazz lifted his chin, asking him to smile without success.  Impatiently he scampered up onto the wall, always the showoff.  REMEMBER HOW I FOUND YOU THERE, ALONE IN YOUR ELECTRIC CHAIR?  I TOLD YOU DIRTY JOKES UNTIL YOU SMILED.  YOU WERE LONELY FOR A MAN, I SAID TAKE ME AS I AM, CAUSE YOU MIGHT ENJOY SOME MADNESS FOR A WHILE.  In the middle of his loft he watched pieces of glitchmouse fly back and forth between Jazz and the twins, their giddy laughter and overwhelming happiness bursting inside his spark.  I WAS ONLY HAVING FUN, WASN'T HURTING ANYONE.  AND WE ALL ENJOYED THE WEEKEND FOR A CHANGE.  YOU MAY BE RIGHT!  I MAY BE CRAZY, BUT IT JUST MAY BE A LUNATIC YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.  


Night of the mid-vorn.  Anxious hope jumped up inside Soundwave when he saw Jazz there on the roof, wishing he could understand this music and knowing that he never would.  WHAT'LL YOU DO WHEN YOU GET LONELY?  AND NOBODY'S WAITIN' BY YOUR SIDE.  YOU'VE BEEN RUNNING AND HIDING MUCH TOO LONG, YOU KNOW IT'S JUST YOUR FOOLISH PRIDE.  Again Soundwave experienced the warm pleasure of Jazz's body underneath his, the exposure of his neck, the taste of his metal.  YOU'VE GOT ME ON MY KNEES, LAYLA.  BEGGIN' DARLIN' PLEASE, LAYLA.  DARLIN' WON'T YOU EASE MY WORRIED MIND.  


Soundwave wanted to hit something in his frustration, not a possibility without his own fists.  What does it mean? he asked an uncaring Jazz.  What does it mean?  


WELCOME TO THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA.  SUCH A LOVELY PLACE, SUCH A LOVELY FACE.  PLENTY OF ROOM AT THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA, ANY TIME OF YEAR YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.  Memory files glided past him, triggered by this new music, short but sparkstopping moments when Jazz touched him, let himself be tickled by him, held his hand as they fled the command room together.  In the dim glow of Soundwave's berth chamber, he covered his own Decepticon sigil for Jazz's sake.  Jazz had touched him not-quite-unwillingly that night, hands gliding under his armor to massage the hidden sensor wires beneath.  MIRRORS ON THE CEILING, PINK CHAMPAGNE ON ICE AND SHE SAID, WE ARE ALL JUST PRISONERS HERE OF OUR OWN DEVICE.  And then, strangely enough, Soundwave witnessed Jazz keep watch over his own sleeping body in the office, ignoring the computers with all their tempting intel, only watching Soundwave in his fitful recharge.  What was going through his mind?  This, apparently.  LAST THING I REMEMBER I WAS RUNNING FOR THE DOOR.  I HAD TO FIND THE PASSAGE BACK TO THE PLACE I WAS BEFORE.  RELAX, SAID THE NIGHTMAN, WE ARE PROGRAMMED TO RECEIVE.  YOU CAN CHECK OUT ANY TIME YOU LIKE, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE.    


With a start, Soundwave realized how he'd let himself get distracted.  Jazz was too smart, dangling these memories of their own intimacy to lure Soundwave away from his original objective.  Quickly he exited out of the file, again taking control of the search.  Jazz retaliated by jacking up the volume several decibels.

 
NEVER CAPTURED, NEVER TAMED, WILD HORSES ON THE PLAINS.  YOU COULD CALL ME LOST, I CALL IT FREEDOM.  I FEEL THE SPIRIT IN MY SOUL.  IT'S SOMETHING, LORD, I CAN'T CONTROL.  I'M NEVER GIVIN' UP WHILE I'M STILL BREATHIN!  Back in the desert again, Jazz tearing down the highway.  Why did this memory keep popping back up?  Irritably Soundwave shoved himself clear, moving back to post-war files.


A LA VOLONTÉ DU PEUPLE, ET Á LA SANTE DU PROGRÈS.  REMPLIS TON COEUR D'UN VIN REBELLE, ET Á DEMAIN AMI FIDÈLE!  Heart full of rebellious wine didn't make any kind of sense, but it did sound vaguely treacherous.  Yet all Jazz was doing was following Skywarp, past the wall that encircled Decepticon Headquarters.  Uncertainly he watched the remainder of the memory, to see if anything happened.  NOUS VOULONS FAIRE LA LUMIÈRE MALGRÉ LE MASQUE DE LA NUIT.  POUR ILLUMINER NOTRE TERRE ET CHANGER LA VIE!    


Nothing.  Inside Headquarters, Jazz was left with his fellow Autobots and promptly tackled by the desperate slaves.  ON BOARD I'M THE CAPTAIN, SO CLIMB ABOARD.  WE'LL SEARCH FOR TOMORROW ON EVERY SHORE.  AND I'LL TRY, OH LORD I'LL TRY, TO CARRY ON!  COME SAIL AWAY, COME SAIL AWAY WITH M-


Megatron stalked past, barking for his slave to follow, and Bluestreak was too slow to untangle himself from Jazz.  Impatiently Megatron backhanded him hard enough in the face to knock him to the floor.  He didn't even look at him, optics tracking Jazz to watch his reaction, lips curling into a cruel smirk.  Outside, Jazz didn't even twitch.  In his mind, an explosion of sound almost obliterated Soundwave's consciousness, and the files veered out of Soundwave's control.  OH AND AS I WATCHED HIM ON THE STAGE, MY HANDS WERE CLENCHED IN FISTS OF RAGE.  NO ANGEL BORN IN HELL COULD BREAK THAT SATAN'S SPELL.  Jazz's memories twisted, spiraling down into a file dark with pain.  Against the harsh glare of explosions and laser fire, Soundwave watched Megatron take aim, smiling as he fired upon the fuel spill in which Optimus Prime was trapped.  The Autobot leader and his mate disappeared in a ball of gold flame, and Jazz's rage and grief skewered the unprepared Soundwave.  AND AS THE FLAMES CLIMBED HIGH INTO THE NIGHT, TO LIGHT THE SACRIFICIAL RITE, I SAW SATAN LAUGHING WITH DELIGHT THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED!


Had he been in his own body, Soundwave would have collapsed under the sheer torrent of pain.  All his concentration switched to frantic self-defense, trying to shove back Jazz's emotions before they could overwhelm his own consciousness.  For a sparkbeat he felt Jazz's rage as if it were his own, tasted his hatred for Megatron and reveled in it, experienced the urge to murder Megatron with his own hands.  Then he was in control of himself again, securely Soundwave and only Soundwave.  Ragged with fatigue, he could only watch as Jazz's memories flowed past.  BORN TO PUSH YOU AROUND, YOU BETTER JUST STAY DOWN.  YOU PUT AWAY, HE HITS THE FLESH, YOU HIT THE GROUND.  MAPS SO FULL OF LIES TEND TO BLACK YOUR EYES.  JUST KEEP THEM CLOSE, KEEP PRAYING, JUST KEEP WAITING.


At first Soundwave could not understand where Jazz was.  He was lying on the floor like Soundwave had forbid him to do, and there was no sign of himself or Skywarp.  Someone's screams rang in Jazz's audios.  Only when Jazz rolled over onto his back did Soundwave realize he was underneath someone's berth, chained to one leg of it, and he only had to hear a few distinctive grunts of pleasure to know whose berth it was.  For sixteen orns, the records said, Megatron had kept Jazz before granting him to Skywarp.  Nobody had ever known what happened during those sixteen orns.  WAITING FOR THE ONE, THE DAY THAT NEVER COMES.  WHEN YOU STAND UP AND FEEL THE WARMTH, BUT THE SUNSHINE NEVER COMES.  NO THE SUNSHINE NEVER COMES.


The screams changed every night, signaling another Autobot underneath Megatron.  Jazz never said a word, didn't try to fight, did nothing to put himself between Megatron and the other slaves; he must have known Megatron wouldn't tolerate it.  He simply lay there on the floor, watching the berth bounce overhead, and all the while the same song played in his mind.  PUSH YOU CROSS THAT LINE, JUST STAY DOWN THIS TIME.  HIDING YOURSELF, CRAWL IN YOURSELF.  GOD, I'LL MAKE THEM PAY, TAKE IT BACK ONE DAY.  I'LL END THIS DAY, I'LL SPREAD THE COLOR ON THIS GRAVE!


Only when it was Jazz's turn did the music change.  Megatron pushed him down onto the berth, shoving his huge hands under Jazz's armor, forcing his way in, laughing when Jazz screamed.  But even as Jazz's back arched and he writhed with pain, the song never faltered.  WHILE YOU WERE LOOKING THE OTHER WAY, WHILE YOU HAD YOUR EYES CLOSED, WHILE YOU WERE LICKING YOUR LIPS 'CAUSE I WAS MISERABLE.  WHILE YOU WERE SELLING YOUR SOUL, WHILE YOU WERE TEARING A HOLE IN ME, I WAS TAKING CONTROL.  Jazz surprised them both by crawling back onto Megatron when it was over, glossa tracing the long seams of his armor, hands gliding over his neck in a way that could have been seductive or just a thought to strangle him.  Megatron made some remark that he was pleased to have broken Jazz in so quickly, and Jazz's only answer was to smile.  SURPRISED YOU TO FIND THAT I'M LAUGHING?  YOU THOUGHT THAT YOU'D FIND ME IN TEARS.  YOU THOUGHT I'D BE CRAWLING THE WALLS LIKE A TINY MOSQUITO AND TREMBLING IN FEAR.  WELL YOU MAY BE KING FOR THE MOMENT, BUT I AM A QUEEN, UNDERSTAND?  AND I'VE GOT YOUR PAWNS AND YOUR BISHOPS AND CASTLES ALL INSIDE THE PALM OF MY HAND. 


Soundwave didn't like that smile at all, and he didn't like what was playing in Jazz's mind.  What are you planning? he asked, tired of trying to sift through senseless song lyrics.  What do you think you can do?  


A SUMMER DISREGARD, A BROKEN BOTTLE TOP, AND A ONE MAN SOUL.  THEY FOLLOW EACH OTHER ON THE WIND YA' KNOW, 'CAUSE THEY GOT NOWHERE TO GO.  THAT'S WHY I WANT YOU TO KNOW I'M STARTING WITH THE MAN IN THE MIRROR!


Jazz and Megatron again, but this time the real thing had been replaced by one of his statues.  In the shadow of Megatron's colossal monument Jazz danced, motions sharp and skillful.  I'M ASKING HIM TO CHANGE HIS WAYS.  AND NO MESSAGE COULD HAVE BEEN ANY CLEARER, IF YOU WANNA MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF AND THEN MAKE A CHANGE!


More music without words, Jazz's gaze tracking Shockwave in the command room at Headquarters.  The patterns were superficially different, but Soundwave recognized the underlying mathematical beat, and surmised the two pieces were connected somehow.  For some reason, that made Soundwave doubly uneasy.  He would have given much to understand their meaning.  


E VOLERO!  Jazz lifted his arm as Laserbeak launched herself into the air, his pure longing surging up within Soundwave and necessitating another hasty barrier.  Jazz danced beneath her swooping aerial stunts, aching for the freedom her flight.  VERSO ALTRI ORRIZONTI!  OLTRE L'OMBRA DI MONTI CHE MAI NESSUNO SALIRA!  PASANO LE NUVOLE, L'INVERNO PRESTO FINIRA.  SOFFIERO VIA LA POLVERE E IL CUORE MIO SI SVEGLIERA!


Winter almost over?  Winter didn't even exist on Cybertron.  Soundwave was becoming acutely conscious of the exhaustion creeping through him, and knew he was pushing the limits of his own endurance.  How long had he been in here?  A breem?  Two?  Mental exploration was not meant to carry on this long and the strain on his own mind and body were considerable.  But if he was tired then Jazz was too, and Soundwave still had not found the one memory he'd come seeking.  Wearily he struggled to regain his control over the search.  


GO DOWN MOSES, WAY DOWN IN EGYPT'S LAND.  TELL OLD PHARAOH LET MY PEOPLE GO!  Soundwave experienced a mild flush of triumph when he recognized one of Earth's old nations, but this didn't seem to have anything to do with Earth.  Jazz was just watching Grapple and Hoist erect some scaffolding under Scrapper's supervision.  NO MORE SHALL THEY IN BONDAGE TOIL.  LET MY PEOPLE GO!  LET THEM COME OUT WITH EGYPT'S SPOIL - LET MY PEOPLE GO!


Annoyed, Soundwave summoned the strength to tear through several files quickly, not bothering to break his mind against the nonsense of Jazz's unending musical.  WE WEREN'T BORN TO FOLLOW, COME ON AND GET UP OFF YOUR KNEES!  LIFE IS A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW- CARRY ON, MY WAYWARD SON, THERE'LL BE PEACE WHEN YOU ARE D- GONNA BE YOUR MAN IN MOTION, ALL I NEED'S A PAIR OF WHEELS, TAKE ME WHERE MY FUTURE'S LYIN', ST. ELMO'S FIRE- ITT AZ IDŐ, MOST VAGY SOHA!  RABOK LEGYÜNK VAGY SZABADOK?  A MAGYAROK INSTENÉRE, ESKÜSZÜNK, ESKÜSZÜNK HOGY RABOK TOVÁBB NEM LESZÜNK!


More by luck than anything else, Soundwave stumbled right into Jazz's memory of teasing the Combaticons that day on the stairs.  But this was no more helpful than anything else; the only music playing in Jazz's mind was a little human girl singing about how the sun would come up tomorrow, which to any Earth-dweller ought to be obvious enough a fact.  Helplessly he watched the scene play out, already knowing every word spoken, every nuance of Jazz's satisfied grin.  He'd meant to do it, Soundwave was still sure of that, but he would find nothing here to tell him why.  


Jazz, Soundwave tried, and the reality around him wobbled slightly.  He was tired too.  Confess plan.  Your own fatigue, evident, continued resistance unwise.  Surrender, explain purpose.  


The light around him dimmed, casting a soft glow on a room that was surely Jazz's imagination.  The furniture was wooden; human designed.  Several of those music-making instruments were clustered on the stage, across which Jazz rolled on a wheeled stool.  LIKE JACK HORNER IN THE CORNER, DON'T GO NOWHERE.  WHAT DO I CARE?  AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', SAVIN' MY LOVE FOR YOU.  


Soundwave had heard this music before.  Languid and supple as Ravage, Jazz arched his back and rolled off onto the stage floor.  Singing along with his favorite song, he crawled hands and knees across the distance between them.  I DON'T STAY OUT LATE, DON'T CARE TO GO.  I'M HOME ABOUT EIGHT, JUST ME AND MY RADIO.  Resigned, Soundwave stood quite still as Jazz reached for him, hands cupping his face with tender affection.  AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', Jazz crooned.  SAVIN' MY LOVE FOR YOU.  


He tipped closer, as if trying for a kiss, but at the last moment Soundwave backed away.  Stop.  Don't.  


The room blurred, and Soundwave felt something like Jazz's hand grasping to hold onto him, but it was too late to see what had happened.  They were in Shockwave's creaking factory again, Jazz watching him from the catwalk above.  IF I FALL ALONG THE WAY, PICK ME UP AND DUST ME OFF.  IF I GET TOO TIRED TO MAKE IT, BE MY BREATH SO I CAN WALK.  IF I NEED SOME OF YOUR LOVE AGAIN, GIVE ME MORE THAN I CAN STAND.  WHEN MY SMILE GETS OLD AND FADED, WAIT AROUND I'LL SMILE AGAIN.  SHOULDN'T BE SO COMPLICATED - JUST HOLD ME AND THEN HOLD ME AGAIN!  


CAN YOU HELP ME?  I'M BENT.  I'M SO SCARED THAT I'LL NEVER GET PUT BACK TOGETHER.  


This time it was definitely not Soundwave's imagination that Jazz reached out for him, but the memory crumbled away before he could touch.  Not even Jazz was controlling the flow of thoughts anymore, they'd both been pressed to the limits of their strength.  The ruins of warzone Cybertron surrounded them, rusting graveyard for the fallen.  Five unmarked poles had been jabbed into the ground, a sorry memorial for five dead sparks.  


COME HERE, PRETTY PLEASE.  CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE I AM?  YOU, WON'T YOU SAY SOMETHING?  I NEED TO GET MY BEARINGS.  I'M LOST, AND THE SHADOWS KEEP ON CHANGING.  Soundwave shook his head in pleading denial but Jazz had no more power to change this than he did.  Worn and limp with grief, Jazz crumpled to his knees before the markers, paying some kind of respect to his dead friends.  AND I'M HAUNTED BY THE LIVES THAT I HAVE LOVED, AND ACTIONS I HAVE HATED.  I'M HAUNTED BY THE PROMISES I'VE MADE, AND OTHERS I HAVE BROKEN!  I'M HAUNTED BY THE LIVES THAT WOVE THE WEB INSIDE MY HAUNTED HEAD.


Not this, Soundwave tried, and the reality around them flickered.  This subject, not welcome.


DON'T CRY, THERE'S ALWAYS A WAY.  HERE IN NOVEMBER IN THIS HOUSE OF LEAVES WE'LL PRAY.  PLEASE, I KNOW IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE, TO SEE A PERFECT FOREST THROUGH SO MANY SPLINTERED TREES.  YOU AND ME - AND THESE SHADOWS KEEP ON CHANGING.  


Jazz laid a reverent hand on the pole in the center, but at the same time he looked to Soundwave.  He seemed... uncertain about something.  Clouds that Soundwave hadn't noticed before split open, raining over them all, and Soundwave flinched out of reflex.  But what fell from the sky pattered harmlessly against Jazz's armor, like the rain back on Earth.  AND WHEN YOUR FEARS SUBSIDE AND SHADOWS STILL REMAIN, I KNOW THAT YOU CAN LOVE ME WHEN THERE'S NO ONE LEFT TO BLAME.  SO NEVER MIND THE DARKNESS, WE STILL CAN FIND A WAY.  NOTHIN' LASTS FOREVER, EVEN COLD NOVEMBER RAIN.


A cacophony of stringed instruments swelled when Jazz stood, forcing himself to back away from the five markers.  Rain fell in torrents, billowing around them, and through it the blue light of Jazz's visor focused on Soundwave alone.  MUST THIS BE THE FINAL DANCE IN OUR LIVES AS TIME JUST MOVES ON?  YESTERDAY'S YEARS ARE TOO QUICKLY GONE.  ALL VISIONS FADE AS WORLDS FALL APART, DECISIONS ARE MADE BUT THERE IN THIS DARK NOW.  


Jazz circled him at a deliberately slow pace, never dropping his gaze for a second.  DID YOU EVER WALK UP TO THE EDGE OF A CLIFF, STARE INTO THE ABYSS AS YOUR MIND WONDERS IF YOU SHOULD TAKE ONE MORE STEP FURTHER INTO THAT NIGHT?  WELL YOUR MIND SAYS YOU WON'T BUT YOUR HEART SAYS YOU MIGHT.  


STARE INTO THE DARK AS THE ABYSS KEEPS CALLING, TRY TO TAKE A STEP BUT THEN THE MIND KEEPS STALLING.  CAN A SINGLE QUESTION JUST GO ON FOREVER?  AS A SINGLE THOUGHT GOES ON, IT'S NOW OR NEVER.  BE WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU WERE, WHAT THEY SEE.  FROM ETERNITY'S VIEW TELL ME WHICH ONE IS ME?  


What did it mean?  Soundwave would never understand, not if he had a lifetime to try.  Cautiously, he tried letting down a little of his guard against Jazz's emotions.  Desperate confusion promptly swallowed him, Jazz's pure panic at the unknown tearing him apart from within.


DID YOU EVER WALK UP TO THE EDGE OF A CLIFF, STARE INTO THE ABYSS AS YOUR MIND WONDERS IF YOU SHOULD TAKE ONE MORE STEP FURTHER INTO THAT NIGHT?  WELL YOUR MIND SAYS YOU WON'T, BUT THEN THIS ALL IS YOUR LIFE.  


Soundwave stumbled back in his hurry to push it all away again, and knew Jazz had felt it.  He staggered for balance, and for the first time since Soundwave had come here, the music dwindled into total silence.  In the quiet, Jazz looked lost. 


The end? Soundwave asked, curious - and hopeful - to know if they had exhausted Jazz's musical library at last. 


Jazz plucked up a weak grin in response.  NEVER NEVER NEVER SAY NEVER!  NE DIS JAMAIS JAMAIS!  BETTER BETTER BELIEVE IN FOREVER, AND IT CAN BE THAT WAY! 


Broken machinery and old metal was swept away by the hot desert wind, the sand and colored cliffs of Earth still clinging to their warmth even under the star-studded sky.  This place again.  LIKE THE WIND, LIKE THE RAIN, IT'S ALL RUNNIN' THROUGH MY VEINS, LIKE A RIVER POURING DOWN INTO THE OCEAN.  I'M OUT HERE, ON THE STREETS, BUT I'M STANDIN' ON MY FEET.  STILL ALIVE, STILL ALONE, STILL UNBROKEN!


Jazz faced him unflinchingly, head held high, music getting louder by the second.  All around them the Autobot slaves raced across the desert, earth peeling away from under their neglected tires, engines roaring with joy.  I'M NOT HOME!  I'M NOT LOST!  STILL HOLDIN' ON TO WHAT I'VE GOT - AIN'T MUCH LEFT, BUT THERE'S SO MUCH THAT'S BEEN STOLEN!


The exhausted Soundwave, too weak to last more than a few seconds, finally realized what he ought to have known from the start: this image was no memory file.  Jazz wanted this moment.  Jazz dreamed for this moment.  He was waiting for this moment.  I GUESS I'VE LOST EVERYTHING I HAD, BUT I'M NOT DEAD, AT LEAST NOT YET.  STILL ALIVE, STILL ALONE, STILL UNBROKEN!  


Jazz slipped away from him like sand on the wind.  Only one step back and he collapsed into his vehicle mode, easily as he could dance.  Grit sprayed out from underneath his tires and then Jazz was gone, weaving amongst the other Autobots, leading them in their race under the stars.  I'M STILL ALIVE!  STILL ALONE!  STILL UNBROKEN!  I AIN'T NEVER GOIN' DOWN!  


STILL UNBROKEN!


The music held on longer than anything else.  After the night sky and the grainy blast of sand had gone, and even the roar of Autobot engines vanished, the sheer fury of the music echoed in the dark.  When everything else had disintegrated, Jazz's mind unwrapping itself from around Soundwave and floating loose, only then did the music fade to merciful silence.  External sensors switched on, cruelly inflicting light onto his unprepared optical relay.  Soundwave started, pushing himself clear before he remembered where his body was, and his struts screamed in protest.  


Beneath him, Jazz's visor flickered on with a wan blue glow.  "Was it good for you too, baby?" he wheezed, and promptly shut down into stasis.  Soundwave collapsed beside him, and did the same.  

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

He slept.  For an entire cycle he slept, so deep in recharge that the world outside might as well not have existed.  The noise of the city didn't touch him, and neither did the tentative tappings of his worried cassetticons.  The stars were in their evening positions when his optic relay flickered on, at one point; starlight and Jazz sleeping soundly beside him were all he saw before his exhausted mind shut down again.  Joors passed.  When Soundwave's mind groped its way back to consciousness again, his chronometer informed him that it was well into the night cycle and Iacon had shut down again for curfew.  Nobody else was home.  His hydraulics put down a firm veto on  movement, so Soundwave abandoned the thought of sitting up and checked on Jazz again.

 
A pale blue glow met his gaze; Jazz was awake.  Though probably not much more than that, given that he was still lying exactly where he'd passed out that morning.  The glow waned, blinked out for a moment, then renewed itself.  


"Finally up?" Jazz mumbled.  


"Affirmative."


"Too bad."  Jazz's head rolled and he looked back up at the ceiling.  "I was kinda hoping that you'd died."  


"Deactivation, unlikely.  Condition: excessive fatigue and sensor pain.  Activity, more strenuous than expected."  


"I hope it hurts like hell."  

"Jazz's exhaustion, also evident."  


"Small price to pay."  Jazz shifted in the berth, trying to push himself to the edge.  


"Movement, not advised."  


"Shut up and go back to sleep.  I'm just gonna... take advantage of your weakened state and escape now.  It's been lovely, Soundwave, but goodbye forever.  Don't try to find me."  He rolled off the berth, and dropped to the floor with an uncharacteristically clumsy thud and a squawk of pain.  Soundwave didn't move.  Gazing at the ceiling, he listened to Jazz's low moan, and half-sparked efforts to get up again.  

 
"Suggestion repeated: movement not advised."  


"Oh, now you care about my wellbeing.  Go.  To.  Hell."  Jazz didn't bother trying to stand again.  Soundwave heard - and then saw, once he'd emerged from underneath the berth - him crawling across the floor on his hands and knees.  If Soundwave thought there was a remote chance he'd make it twenty paces, he might have bothered getting up.  As it was, Jazz surprised him by at least reaching the far wall before slumping against it, vents wheezing.  For some while, it was the only noise in the room.


"Query."


"What?"


"How long?"  Jazz looked up, meeting Soundwave's gaze again.  "Your... archival process, in place for how long?"  


A corner of Jazz's mouth twitched into a dark smile.  "About a year or so after we woke up on Earth.  Ratchet called it 'glitched-stupid,' and impossible besides, but I'm always proving people wrong when they say that.  He just didn't know how much human music was out there for the pickings.  I've never lacked for the perfect song."  He tipped his head back against the wall.  "I'm filing today under Pink Floyd's Brain Damage.  'You lock the door and throw away the key... there's someone in my head, but it's not me.'  Pity you didn't brush up against any of my Pink Floyd files.  Those lyrics would have broken you for sure."


Something in his gaze turned taunting, and Soundwave scowled a little.  "I wish I could tell Ratchet now how my little project panned out.  To think, I'd wind up with the one Decepticon on the planet that can't figure out a simple song.  That must have been such a nasty shock for you.  Blaster would have understood every note of all that.  Oh dear, was that insensitive of me?  Good thing you deal well with frustration and failure."


Soundwave struggled not to clench his fists, knowing Jazz was watching for it and determined not to give him the satisfaction.  "Telepathic exploration, not a failure.  Some parts, understood."  


"So you think."   

 
"Understood," Soundwave insisted, and in a burst of stubbornness pushed himself to sit upright.  Joints complained, but he didn't try to stand and only swayed a little.  "This much understood: Jazz hoping for freedom."

 
"Didn't like that, did you, love?  Well I tried to warn you, but you wouldn't listen.  I know how much you enjoy pretending that we're madly in love, raising a happy family.  Does it hurt, knowing that I'm still dreaming of my freedom while I lie in your berth?"  


Soundwave's spark constricted painfully in his chest, but he resolutely ignored the venomous words.  "My feelings, irrelevant right now.  Possible treason, relevant.  Autobots, now possessions of Decepticon Empire.  Consistent declarations of freedom crime against Lord Megatron."


"A crime well worth committing," Jazz said bitterly.  "You saw what we've been through.  What he did to us.  Megatron is so arrogant.  He thinks he can lock us in these collars, humiliate us, and rape us, and that's enough to turn us into his personal harem of slaves.  But the Autobots are not as weak as he likes to pretend we are.  He thinks we're broken, and we're not.  At his feet, in his berth, it doesn't matter - we are always thinking about being free."


Soundwave's grip was curling over the edge of the berth while Jazz spoke, his head high and looking right at Soundwave as if he had nothing to hide.  


"Thinking?" he asked.  "Or plotting?"


"Still mad about that Combaticon thing, are we?"  


"Your purpose that day, primary objective of telepathic interrogation."  


"The failed objective of telepathic interrogation, you mean."  Jazz smirked again and managed to stretch his arms over his head, his smile curving into something wicked.  
"Shall I tell you a secret, Soundwave?  I miss the fear.  Not mine, obviously, but the Decepticons'.  They did, quite often, fear me.  Your troops feared surprise demolitions in the center of their camp, unfortunate mishaps with their weaponry, nasty viruses threading through their systems, a swift blade across the knee joints in the dark.  Do you remember it?  Oh, I do.  There was a time when entire squadrons of Decepticon soldiers huddled in their camp with blasters pointed at the shadows because Jazz was rumored to be in the area and looking for a little fun.  I miss it, commanding that kind of fear.  Give you Decepticons control of an Empire and it's amazing how quickly you forget.  Now nobody thinks about what a threat I used to be.  For six years, I've been - how did Skywarp put it?  A little pet whore."


His gaze had drifted, but now it focused again on Soundwave, intensely blue.  "I've never seen you so angry before, and it's true that you scared me this morning.  But it's also true - don't try to deny it - that you were scared too.  You were afraid of what I might have done to the Empire, what I was capable of, and I saw it.  I could almost taste it.  Mmm but that tasted sweet, like a little morsel of what I used to have.


"So you know what?  I did it.  I'm guilty.  I plotted the whole thing, fixed everything so I could be there on the stairs and drop that tantalizing hint right into the Combaticons' laps.  Maybe I can't escape, but I can trick a team of rogue Cons into freeing at least one of my friends for me.  Course, now he's trapped in deep space with four very unhinged soldiers who may or may not be torturing him into hunting down Mirage, but at least he's out of that prison camp and out of his tracking collar.  If he could escape, then that's it - Megatron will never find him.  Tall order for a guy who worked as a cartographer before the war and lists bird-watching as his favorite hobby, but miracles can happen.  I admit it, it's not one of my most foolproof plans, but for sheer daring it wins the prize.  I am Jazz, and I still got it."    

 
The room went silent again, air flowing softly through Jazz’s vents.  That superior gleam in his visor was infuriating.  Jazz must be innocent – that 'plan' was nothing less than a foolhardy gamble with the Autobot’s life.  Or... he must be guilty, deliberately pointing out those flaws to pretend innocence.  Was he faking guilt or faking innocence?  Game theory said it could be either, and if Jazz was master of anything, it was the game.


“Jazz, lying?  Or telling truth?”


“Who knows?  Certainly not you.” 


“Other methods of interrogation possible,” Soundwave reminded him darkly, but Jazz just shrugged. 


“Do it. You only have to suggest to Megatron that I might have had something to do with all this, and he won’t stop tearing off limbs until he gets a confession.  We both know that much.  What you don’t know is if there’ll be anything left of me when he’s done.” 


That much, at least, was the truth.  Hand Jazz over to Megatron and that'd be the last Soundwave ever saw of him, the last his cassettes ever saw of him.  Another slave dead, another failure.  His family might not survive this one.  Jazz was the prisoner here, the slave who’d just suffered a thorough ravaging of his mind, but somehow it was Soundwave left sitting helpless in the dark. 


“Jazz… very difficult.” 


“I think what you mean is, ‘Jazz seven’.” 


“This question, not settled.  Further consideration required.”


“You take your time, lover, I am not going anywhere.  You hope.” 


Soundwave stiffened, then quickly smothered the reaction Jazz was surely waiting for.  He steadfastly ignored that cocky grin.  He shouldn’t even be bothering with Jazz right now, he should be concentrating on what he’d seen while in that head.  Without his body, Soundwave had no access to recording or copying functions, which meant he had to rely on his own short-term memory if he was going to retain any of it.  Codes or coordinates he could have managed.  But how was he supposed to commit that bewildering cacophony of noise to memory when he couldn’t even make sense of it to begin with?  Too many songs, too many nonsense words, had jumbled themselves on top of one another.  Soundwave remembered the images, but he couldn’t recreate the music.


His symbiotes had returned.  He could feel them, each relieved but anxious little spark flocking back home upon realization that he'd woken.  Now all five were hovering around the building, not sure if they should come in but dying to know what had happened.  Soundwave wanted to be with them, away from the mocking glow of Jazz's visor, if only to give himself space for thought.  


Gingerly, he eased himself off the berth, standing still until he was sure his leg struts were prepared to bear his weight.  "Jazz, come."  


He only stumbled a few times.  Jazz, less concerned with keeping up appearances, kept to a crawl as he followed his master out into the common room.  Soundwave led him to one of the far windows, with a broad view of the street below, and sat him firmly on the sill.  "Stay," he commanded, "here.  Result in movement: extreme punishment.  My orders, understood?"


"Clear like a bell.  Master."

 
Soundwave braced his hand against the wall, collecting his strength, then started to move away.  "Soundwave."


"What?"


Jazz bit his lip plating, looking three shades more pitiful than he had crawling across the floor.  "I'm hungry."  


Naturally he was.  Jazz had missed five feeding times in a row and must be aching for fuel.  Soundwave looked away, focusing on putting one pede in front of the other.  
"You will not starve.  Stay, and wait."  


He limped out of the loft, and locked the door behind him.  





"It's about time, what the hell happened in there -"


"We've been going crazy wondering -"


"Master, hurt?"


"You wouldn't wake up no matter how hard we tried -"


"Mental interrogation, conducted?"


"And don't think nobody else noticed either -"


"Yeah, Starscream was askin' questions -"


"Recovery time, unusually long."

"Shockwave nosin' around -"


"They wouldn't leave us alone, kept nagging us -"


"Mental interrogation, successful?"


"- to know where you were, what you were up to, we -"


"- didn't know what to say, because -"


"Answers found?"


"- we didn't know either!"


Almost shaking with fatigue, Soundwave lowered himself to sit on the edge of what was once an old parking dock. None of these buildings were habitable yet, leaving the alleyway beside Soundwave's home dark and empty.  He remembered the night of the mid-vorn, how he and Jazz had tumbled off the roof and nearly flattened themselves on this street, but saved themselves just in time.  It was a memory tinged with warmth, for Soundwave.  Now it seemed distant and untouchable as a star.  


The symbiotes were already swarming over him before he'd finished sitting, nipping at his joints, pounding at his armor with angry little fists, nuzzling, clinging, squeezing.  They were all frantic to reassure themselves he was fine, after his unexpected fall into stasis, the only condition that left him incapable of mental contact with them.  Soundwave had suffered such circumstances in the past, usually post-battle, but they'd never gotten this anxious before.  Of course, now they'd seen what happened to Blaster's symbiotes.


Only Ravage managed to keep his distance.  Facing Soundwave, he sat up straight with head held high, his sporadically flicking tail the only outward sign of distress.  Explain.

 
"Mental interrogation on Jazz, conducted," Soundwave answered.  "Investigation, thorough.  Apology given for concern, long fall into stasis not predicted."


Unease rippled through all of them.  Soundwave had practiced his telepathy many times in the past, and none of them had ever known him to sleep for so long afterwards.  Rumble and Frenzy exchanged glances, then looked back at him.  


"Well, boss?  What's the answer?  ... did he?"  


On his knee, he felt Laserbeak's struts tighten with apprehension and dread.  Without thinking about it, he looked directly at her.  


"Results of interrogation, inconclusive.  Unable to determine guilt."  


The unease was wiped out by what could only be described as blank incomprehension.  Even Ravage blinked, looking stunned.


"Whatdya mean, 'unable'?"

"Yeah, what's that supposed to mean?"  


Soundwave vented wearily.  "Can't," he translated, the word clipped in distaste.  "Objective, failed."


Every mouth, or beak, hung open just a little.  Soundwave's superiority in telepathic interrogation had gone unquestioned all their lives.  And why shouldn't it?  He was the smartest and strongest of his kind, the reputation of his power enough to make mecha flinch at his name.  His symbiotes followed him, and trusted him, and were content to be owned by him, because of his strength.  Rare was the day Soundwave failed at anything, and at interrogation - never.  They hadn't even realized it was possible.  


Ravage was the only one that didn't have to find words.  His general inquiry - how? - more or less suited everyone's thoughts anyway.

 
Soundwave did not care to elaborate on the details.  "Jazz's mind, complex," he said shortly.  "Organized according to specific protocols known only to Jazz.  Therefore, results inconclusive."  


The alleyway went quiet again, while everyone there struggled to internalize what Soundwave was saying.  That Jazz had bested Soundwave on the turf of his own mind, that Soundwave had lost.  He could feel their baffled minds trying to wrap around the alien concept.


"Well... okay."  Frenzy had to grope for words.  "So, uh, that didn't work.  What does it mean?  Where does that leave us?"


"Jazz's guilt, still to be determined," Buzzsaw spoke up.  "Actions with Combaticons, now witnessed by all of us.  Actions, highly suspicious."


"Hang on," Rumble interjected.  "Just, slow down already.  I know it looks weird, I knew from the minute I heard the news that it was weird.  But I've been thinking about it all day and it just doesn't make any sense.  This is the Combaticons we're talking about; they're a pack of psychopaths.  The Autobots should be so lucky that Megatron hasn't given any slaves to that team.  Why would Jazz do anything to change that?  Why go to the trouble of delivering one of the bots right into their hands?"


"Maybe he doesn't like Hound," Frenzy suggested.  "If I hated somebody, and could get away with punting them into space with Vortex for company, I'd do it in a second."  


"Negative," Laserbeak denied.  "Jazz, popular amongst Autobot crew, friendly to all.  No internal enemies known."  


They accepted her assessment without demur.  Laserbeak had spent more time than any of them spying in Autobot bases, particularly the last of them on Earth, and she would know if there had been a hostile relationship between Jazz and Hound.  Even if they were not close friends, Soundwave couldn't imagine any dislike strong enough to compel Jazz to put his old comrade in danger.  Protecting his fellow slaves from abuse was, indeed, the one thing Soundwave could expect from him.  


"Most obvious objective, to free Hound," Buzzsaw reminded them all.  "Hound now offplanet, without tracking collar."  


"But it's not freeing him, not by a long shot!  I've tangled with the bot and he's no wimp, but he was never one of the Autobots' heavy hitters.  The Combaticons are mercenaries.  Not even Sunstreaker could take on all four of them and win.  If he was tryin' to spring a bot that way, he'd have been better off telling them to grab Grimlock."  


"Autobot can potentially sneak away."  


"In deep space?"


"And then live on what?"  


"And then, maybe, just maybe if everything worked out perfect, what does Jazz get?  One more bot that's gone MIA, the rest of them still slaves.  Not as if nothin' would change."


The three of them fell back into a frustrated silence.  Soundwave glanced up at his own building again, checking on Jazz.  He hadn't moved, still slumped on the window sill, chin resting on one knee as he watched them.  Was he worried?  Gloating?  Did they even have a chance at grasping what must be in that head?

 
"Maybe we're looking at this all the wrong way," Frenzy suggested.  "Maybe it's not about doing anything for the bots, and all about messing with the Decepticons.  He likes to embarrass the other officers - we see it all the time.  This is kinda like the ultimate embarrassment for Megatron, cuz now everyone knows that he can't even keep his labor force safe from his own soldiers."


"Yeah, that could be it!" Rumble chimed in.  "Everybody in Iacon already knows about it.  I heard Starscream braggin' that this woulda never happened if he was in charge.  If he doesn't shut up about it then Megatron's gonna smash his head into the wall, and that'd be just the kinda thing Jazz was wanting all along."  


"Ambition likely," Buzzsaw conceded, but hesitated when Laserbeak shook her head.  


"Risk of Autobot's safety, too high.  Consider Combaticons' motivation.  Desperate to find Mirage, no possibility of going back now.  Hound, unlikely to track Mirage without persuasion of torture.  Hound's refusal, also likely to result in termination.  Combaticons cannot return without both Autobots.  Failure to capture Mirage means inability to return to Cybertron, therefore starvation in space.  For Hound as well as Combaticons."


"Unless they decide to just start over on some other planet somewhere," Rumble concluded glumly.  "In which case they either keep Hound for the fun of it, or kill him.  And I guess Jazz wouldn't do that."


More silence.  None of his little symbiotes had uttered something that Soundwave had not already considered, in the brief span of time that it took to stumble out of the loft and exit the building, and they were all getting to exactly where he had - nowhere.  


Frenzy slumped to the ground with a defeated huff. "Or, maybe we're all tied up in knots over something that Jazz never meant to happen at all. Maybe he was just talkin' that day cuz he wanted to tease the Cons, and nothin' more. Maybe he's just as surprised as all of us."  


"Yeah," Rumble muttered, "maybe."  


"Maybe," Buzzsaw allowed. They all glanced at Ravage, but he was keeping his thoughts to himself for now, carefully watching and listening but nothing more. Laserbeak rubbed her beak against Soundwave's leg.  


"Jazz, now fond of our home. Jazz, happy here. No reason to destroy that happiness. Yes?"


Soundwave would rather suffer a thousand deaths than tell her the full truth. Instead he dropped a hand on her head, stroking her plating. "This much seen in his mind: Jazz, enjoys your company. Reasonably confident, Jazz fond of you."  


"Hey, me too, right?" Rumble sat up straighter, and so did Frenzy.


"Yeah, and me?"

 
"Affirmative."


They relaxed, looking pleased, and only Ravage noticed that Soundwave was holding something back. His audio twitched in indication, but he didn't pry and Soundwave wouldn't have told him anyway. Perhaps, more than any of the others, Ravage would have understood Jazz's burning desire for freedom, but Ravage himself was proof that such desire did not last. They didn't need to know, because it didn't matter.  Jazz belonged to them forever.


"Your response now?" Buzzsaw asked. "Master, in possession of details concerning Combaticon raid. Report to Megatron?"


"What? No, you can't!"


"Yeah, if Megatron even thinks Jazz was part of this, he'll tear him apart!"


The twins' optics flickered with distress, and he could feel Laserbeak's spark contracting with fear. Quickly he sent all of them a soothing pulse of comfort.

 
"Negative. This knowledge will not be reported to Megatron."  


Ravage stiffened warily at that. Images and memories played from his end of the link, pointing out the many times Soundwave had performed his duties for Megatron, how Megatron relied on him. Soundwave was Megatron's most trustworthy officer, he was loyal.  


"This action, not a betrayal," Soundwave said firmly. "Details in reports, always my discretion. For Jazz's action, no proof of guilt found. His purpose, unknown, possibly no purpose at all. Without certain knowledge of guilt, unnecessary and ineffective to inform Megatron."


The others were relieved, but Ravage was still cautious. Soundwave had been entrusted by Megatron to keep watch over his empire; he was responsible for presenting just this sort of secret to him. They both knew that if it had been anyone else, anyone other than Jazz, Soundwave would have reported this.


"Loyalty to Megatron, unquestioned," Soundwave reminded him, speaking only to him. "Loyal to Megatron, always.  Also loyal to safety of my possessions. Discretion, only solution." 


Speaking of which... "This subject, absolute top secret," he cautioned aloud. "From now forward, verbal discussion of it forbidden. This knowledge, too valuable to other officers."  


They all nodded. Get one whiff of what Jazz had done and the only question would be whether it was Shockwave or Starscream that trampled the other in their race to drag him before Megatron. They'd been granted a second chance for their slave, and to keep him they must protect him. Again Soundwave checked on Jazz, still watching from above. He must be so hungry.  


"This discussion, concluded. Everyone dismissed. Some time alone with Jazz required. Permission to return to loft in one joor."  


"Yes, boss."


"Understood, master."  


They all had the look of wanting to regroup and think things over, and left without argument. Buzzsaw and Laserbeak took flight, circling upwards to disappear over the rooftops, and Frenzy and Rumble punched their thrusters to zoom off in the opposite direction. Ravage delayed just a few moments longer.

 
Danger swirled in his thoughts, but it was not quite the same danger he'd been afraid of when Jazz first came to them. Soundwave, busy concentrating on standing up without wobbling, ignored the pointed message.  


"My decision, final. Ravage dismissed."  


His oldest symbiote slunk into the shadows and disappeared, but not without a parting shot of warning. Jazz was still waiting. Soundwave put Ravage out of his mind, and turned toward his home.    




Jazz was still lounging on the window sill when Soundwave returned to the loft.  Soundwave knew perfectly well that he was just as tired as he was, but somehow Jazz managed to make it look like he wanted to relax that way.  For Soundwave with his ramrod straight posture, no one would be fooled.  He decided he resented Jazz for that along with everything else.

 
“So?  Jury says?”  Jazz dropped one pede to the floor at a time, twisting gradually off the sill.  “Never mind.  You’re here, instead of Megatron in a murderous rage, so I already know what you decided.  Didn’t have much doubt.”


Soundwave reached into subspace for six energon treats.  “Jazz, come.” 


He walked slowly, but carefully, across the distance between them.  But when he opened his mouth in expectation, Soundwave held back from inserting the first one. 
“This known: you did it.  Why, not known.  But you did it.  I will discover why.” 


He inserted the energon delicately into Jazz’s mouth.  Jazz rolled it between his denta before swallowing, and smiled.  “How nice.  A new hobby for you.”   

  
Insolent.  Soundwave held up another treat.  “War, finished.  Decepticons victorious, Autobots defeated.  Autobots now slaves.  Escape impossible.”  Jazz’s gaze was fixed hungrily on the fuel between Soundwave’s fingertips, but Soundwave withdrew his hand when Jazz tried to close his mouth over it.  “Repeat it.” 


Jazz’s visor glittered frostily.  “Escape,” he said, “impossible.” 


Soundwave fed him again.  “Soundwave, master.  Jazz, slave.”


“Soundwave, master.  Jazz... slave.”  Another treat. 


“Master, not enemy.”


“Master.  Not enemy,” Jazz repeated.  They were moving, Soundwave noticed belatedly, trying to circle one another unconsciously.  But Jazz echoed him obediently, and so Soundwave rewarded him again. 


“Soundwave, stronger than Jazz.” 


“Soundwave, stronger than Jazz.” 

“Soundwave, smarter than Jazz.”


“Oh, I do believe the game will decide that one, love.”  Jazz slithered up onto the arm of the couch rather than bump into it, kneeling on it to look Soundwave straight in the optic.  “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

 
Soundwave thought that over.  “Jazz, not smarter than Soundwave.”


“Touché.  Only time will tell.” 


Soundwave fed Jazz the last of the energon, relishing the feel of Jazz’s denta scraping lightly over his fingertips.  “Mm.  Thank you, master.” 


“From now forward, Jazz under more careful scrutiny.  Jazz, always close to me.  Jazz will be watched.”


“So, nothing different there then.” 


As if he knew that would make Soundwave bristle, Jazz was quick to slip back onto the cushions of the couch.  Soundwave bent forward enough to grasp his chin, holding him still.  “Also, no contact with other Autobots.” 


Smugly Soundwave noted how he stiffened, but Jazz’s visor did not even flicker.  “You do realize that cutting me off from the Autobots wouldn’t have prevented what happened with the Combaticons?"


Soundwave was tempted to scowl.  "Consider it punishment."


"For what?  I didn't break any of your rules."


"Attempted destruction of Decepticon Empire, now against the rules."  


"Aw gee, and it was on my weekend's to-do list."  


Soundwave released his grip on Jazz with an abrupt twist that nearly yanked him off the couch.  "Jazz will make jokes.  Jazz will laugh.  Your distractions, ineffective.  This much known: Jazz hiding something.  I will find it." 


"You're accusing me of keeping secrets?  Now isn't that the glitchmouse calling Ravage black."  


Soundwave almost faltered, but faced Jazz impassively.  "My promise made.  Remember it."  


"I remember everything," Jazz assured him, with a smile that could cut ice.  "To a tune."


His braced arms slid apart and he relaxed back against the cushions, the glow in his visor fading again.  Soundwave was too weak to drag him back to the berth for any more recharge, but Soundwave was not interested in sleeping anyway.  He was tired too, but he'd worked in states worse than this.  Soundwave stalked away from the couch, leaving Jazz to slip into a doze, and entered his office.  It was time to complete the long-overdue upgrade of alarms guarding this building.       

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

“Three cycles, Soundwave,” Starscream barked.  “It’s been three active cycles since that ridiculous disaster on Earth and no one’s seen nut nor bolt of you – what are you doing in that ramshackle hut of yours?”

“Activity: attempting to determine motivation of Combaticons.”  Soundwave did not look up from his console as he spoke.  Technically, at least for some part of that time, his words were truthful.

“So you said before.  What is that even supposed to mean?  Megatron doesn’t care why they did it, he cares that we couldn’t stop them!  Do you even know what we’ve been going through here at Command?”  He did not give Soundwave time to reply.  “Since you refuse to come and face it yourself, I suppose I’ll have to tell you.  Megatron’s decided we’re all to blame for that fiasco – though if you ask me it’s his fault for trusting those ridiculous stunt jocks to guard his fuel camps – and reduced our energon allotments.  You, me, and Shockwave.  At least he didn’t get away without catching a little shrapnel, for once.”  Starscream paused to smirk, albeit briefly.  “It’s still an unfair punishment.  I don’t know how you can sit there, tapping at your buttons and pretending not to care.”

Soundwave already knew about the cut in his allotments, not just because Rumble and Frenzy had reported it but because Shockwave had called as well.  Ten percent was harsh, but Megatron could have done worse, and it was not unbearable.

“Inability to catch perpetrators deserves punishment.”

“Kiss aft.”

“This discussion, finished?”

“Not until you tell me when you’re coming back to Command to help calm down our fuming leader.  I’m tired of doing the impossible all by myself.”

“Likely return, tomorrow’s shift.”

“That’s what you said yesterday!”

“Interruptions, not helpful to speed of work,” he pointed out.  “Soundwave out.”  He cut the connection before Starscream could object, returning his office to silence.  It did not do much to help his mood.  Starscream and Shockwave were calling too often, prying into his solitude more often in the last three cycles than they had since the end of the war, and it was not because they enjoyed his conversation.  Soundwave knew they sensed something was amiss.  Reclusive he may be, but it was not his habit to disappear during a crisis.  Soundwave could always be counted upon to slog through the mess, painstakingly cleaning up while everyone else argued and complained.  His uncharacteristic absence had been noticed.  

That was uncomfortable knowledge, but Soundwave consoled himself that neither Shockwave nor Starscream would ever guess the real cause.  How could they?  No one but Jazz himself would ever dream of something so ludicrous as an Autobot convincing Decepticons to kidnap one of his own.  

Soundwave completed his task, putting the final touches on his project before leaving the office.  In the common room, Buzzsaw was dozing on a windowsill while Laserbeak perched on Jazz’s knee for a grooming session.  He was sweeping through her many wing platelets with a fine-haired brush, cleaning out soot and realigning the tiny fringe plating.  

“Starscream called again?”  

Soundwave looked sharply at Jazz, who didn’t miss a beat brushing Laserbeak’s wings.  “I can tell.  You have that special hunch in your shoulders.”  

Jazz must be lying.  As if anyone could read Soundwave’s appearance so easily.  

“You can’t keep hiding us here in your little tower, you know.  Every day that you refuse to go out is another day they get more suspicious.”  

“Jazz will be silent.”  

“Just because you’re mad at me doesn’t make me any less right.”

Soundwave sat down on the couch rather heavily, one arm extended a little ways across the cushion for Laserbeak to come and perch on.  It wasn’t exactly a command, just a subtle invitation that was rare for her to decline.  She caught his gaze, looked away, and resettled herself more firmly on Jazz’s knee.  

Over her head, Jazz smirked at him.  Insubordinate little symbiotes.  All of them, with the exception of Ravage, had decided to pursue a policy of pretending that the entire episode never happened while around Jazz.  Even Rumble, who by rights should have been angrier with Jazz than anyone for the manipulation played upon him, was still wheedling Jazz into playing video games with him and Frenzy.  Soundwave knew how desperate they were to believe Jazz was innocent, still their friend and entertainment, and he sympathized with that.  He, however, had no such luxury.

“Overhaul of this building’s alarm network, now complete,” he informed Jazz coolly.  “Every point of entry, monitored by motion sensors.  Even Ravage unable to enter home undetected.”  

For which Ravage was just a little peeved, unfortunately.  Nor was he was happy about spending three cycles playing the test case to Soundwave’s new alarms.  Tired and irritable, he was now sulkily recharging inside Soundwave’s chest.

Jazz didn’t even bother to look up.  “I told you before, Soundwave, I’ve never snuck out of your home.  Never had to.”  

Soundwave didn’t like the way he added that last part, but he affected not to notice.        

“Still, your escape now impossible.  Tomorrow, I attend Decepticon Command.  You remain here.”

That got Jazz to look up, exasperation flashing across his expression.  “You’re still serious about this.”

“Affirmative.”

“It’s a bad idea, Soundwave.  You shouldn’t go there without me.”

“As previously stated, Jazz restricted from company of Autobots.”

“Oh I’m not worried about that,” Jazz assured him.  “I’ll find a way to see my friends again no matter what.  You still shouldn’t go to Command without me.  They’ll notice.  They noticed your absence, they’ll notice this too.”

Laserbeak cheeped a soft agreement, and Soundwave glared at her.  “Not your concern.  Jazz’s only concern: punishment.”

“I give it one breem.  The first time Starscream gets in your face to make a nasty comment, you’re going to look around and realize I’m not there to deflect it.  You’ll come running back home to fetch me.”

“Soundwave, not dependent on Jazz.”

“Could have fooled me.”  

Laserbeak and Buzzsaw both flinched at the dark curdling of Soundwave’s mood, and he could swear Jazz sensed it too.  He grimaced, restlessly fidgeting underneath Laserbeak, then slapped the brush on the floor with unnecessary force.  

“Fine.  Don’t take me.  But can we at least go on our walk?  Before we kill each other?”  

Soundwave was tempted to answer no, just because he was still angry at Jazz and would have liked him to endure more punishment.  But they had been cooped up in his home for more than three cycles now, and Soundwave was feeling just a little restless himself.  This home was too small for the tension that hung so thickly in the air.  

“Affirmative.  Fetch chains.”  

“One of these days I’m gonna hide those chains and laugh while you try to find them,” Jazz muttered, but he did as he was told.  And truthfully, Soundwave did feel better once they’d left the building.  The fresh air, such as it was on Cybertron, was a welcome change, and being out in the open did help to ease the strain a little.  Laserbeak perked up again, coasting overhead, while Buzzsaw remained in drowsy perch on his shoulder.  Jazz was quiet, but the motion of walking seemed to improve his mood too.  

They wandered their usual way through downtown Iacon in silence.  Hopeful vendors swarmed their way forward when they spotted their favorite customer, and impatiently Soundwave waved them away.  He was in no mood to indulge Jazz today.  Jazz, as usual, didn’t seem to notice one way or the other.  

“Have you thought about what you’ll say to him?”  

When Soundwave looked at Jazz, he was gazing at Megatron’s picture, lavishly painted across the wall of a nearby building.  “You know that if Starscream and Shockwave noticed your absence, then he did too.  And unlike those two, I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it.  What will you say to him?”  

“Megatron, not Jazz’s concern.”  

“If that were true, you and I would be living in a very different world, and I’d be the happiest mech in it.  Since we’re not there just yet, do have a care to walk softly.  Being the favorite can only take you so far.”  

“Your comments, unnecessary and disrespectful,” Soundwave replied, irritable all over again.  “Advice concerning my leader, not your place to give.”  

He thought he saw a spark of anger flash across Jazz’s visor, before he turned aside.  “Sorry to have forgotten my place, master.  But keep the comments anyway, whether you want them or not.  You can see for yourself just how unnecessary they were.”  

He stomped away, leaving Soundwave to look away from Megatron’s fierce scowl.  Buzzsaw clucked thoughtfully, and was silently ordered to hush.  Perhaps this walk was not going to help, after all.  

Soundwave started moving again and almost walked into Jazz, who was waving to Groove across the street.  Even from this distance Soundwave could see his blue optics light up with joy, before he frantically waved back.  Soundwave clapped his hand down over Jazz’s and dragged him away.

“Oh come on,” Jazz groaned, purposefully tripping to slow Soundwave down.  “A wave?  Really?  Were you afraid that might be the signal to trigger our coup on the empire?”

“Lower voice,” Soundwave ordered quickly, rapidly glancing around to make sure no one had looked up.  “Afraid, inaccurate.  As stated, restriction from Autobots a punishment.”   

“That punishment’s never going to last and you know it.  The world is too small for you to avoid letting me in the same room as Autobots, and too full of nosy Decepticons who will notice when you try.”

How Soundwave hated it when Jazz was right.  “That decision, mine.”

“Keep this up and you’ll be your own undoing, before I even get the chance to try.  What a shame that’d be.”

“Jazz will be silent or…”

“What?”  Jazz wasn’t trying to pull free of Soundwave’s grasp, but he did circle in front of Soundwave, forcing him to a stop.  “We’re over?  You’ll leave me?  Go ahead.  I get half of everything.”

Soundwave forced a full cycle of his vents.  “Jazz, mine.  Jazz will learn obedience and respect.  Time necessary, not important.  One vorn, two vorns, not a concern.  Jazz will learn.”

“You’d be the first…”  Jazz’s retort trailed off, the light in his visor canting slightly to one side.  Quickly he refocused on Soundwave and grinned.  “Ah, sorry, was watching something interesting there.  Where were we?  Arguing again?  I’m sure I was winning.”

Promptly Soundwave turned to look, but he couldn’t see anything unusual.  Just the typical stalls and their vendors, shoppers milling between them.

“What?” he asked suspiciously.

“Nothing you’d be interested in.  You don’t care about theft, right?”

Theft?  Alarmed, Soundwave scanned the crowd more closely.  The reconstruction of Cybertron’s economy was a fragile, delicate process.  Bad enough that no remnant of their financial markets had survived the war, reducing the planet to physical currency.  The simple markets that traded goods for credit chips were frustratingly primitive, but a necessary beginning.  If this planet would ever flourish again, a stable economy was crucial, and to achieve that stability there could be no more wartime looting.  Shockwave had been adamant about it since the first days of the new empire, and Megatron agreed.  The first two thieves caught after he installed his government lost their hands in a public ceremony, their struts twisted and fused to prevent reattachment.  While it was true that the city lawkeepers answered to Shockwave and not him, Soundwave had no intention of allowing robbery to go on unhindered in his presence.

But he saw nothing.  Moreover, there was a pair of keepers right over there, talking to a vendor.  “Where?”

“Oh, now you’re interested in what I have to say.  Every observation I’ve made today, you’ve pretended not to hear.  Tell me why I should start talking now?”  Jazz was wearing that frustratingly smug look, the one that made most Decepticons try to smack it right off his faceplates.  Soundwave forced himself to ignore it.

“Because, order given.”

“Ah, order given.  Well why didn’t you say so earlier?  We both know what an obedient slave I am, when given orders.”  Jazz clasped both his hands around his wrist and tugged Soundwave closer to the stalls.  Soundwave hardly had time to process what was happening before Jazz had dragged him right up to the stall where the two lawkeepers stood.  One of them was leaning partially into the stall, speaking to the vendor in a low voice, and though he was smiling, the vendor was not.  He looked terrified.

“Here’s that shop I was talking about, master!” Jazz nearly shouted, and all three of them jumped.  The keepers looked up with annoyed glares, but when they saw Soundwave their optics blanched from surprise and they snapped to attention.

“Director Soundwave, sir!  All hail Megatron, sir!”

Soundwave nodded in acknowledgment, then shot a plainly quizzical look at Jazz.  “I don’t care what anyone else says, this is the place with the best polish,” he announced enthusiastically, and hopped up to sit on the edge of the stall.  “Remember when we used some, that one night?”  His engine revved lightly, giving an altogether different impression than Soundwave could remember of any of their polishing sessions.  Everyone, including him, stared at Jazz blankly.

“And, since we are both so very fond of this particular shop, my master Soundwave was very happy to see the law interviewing its owner.  No doubt Iacon’s finest are doing what they can to make sure this establishment is protected from robbery.”

He flashed a brilliant smile at the lawkeepers, who looked slightly discomfited.  “Please, don’t be shy.  The Decepticons know how hard you work.  Were you, perhaps, planning a new beat that gives better protection to the shops on this street?”

Suddenly, neither of them were interested in looking Soundwave in the optic.  They mumbled something about doing their duty as ordered.  Jazz’s smile got wider.  

“That’s good to hear.  My master visits this shop often, so he will notice if anything bad happens to it.  He’ll discuss it with your superiors if it seems you two aren’t up to monitoring this market by yourselves.”  

At this point the two lawkeepers looked fairly panic-stricken, before rapidly and ineffectively hiding their reaction.  Jazz, who was quite obviously enjoying himself, crossed one leg over the other with a self-satisfied air.  “I think we’re done here.  He dismisses you.”  

The pair hesitated, glancing at Soundwave for confirmation, but Soundwave remained ominously silent.  They gulped and backed up, throwing a couple of badly-concealed resentful glares at Jazz, before they turned and marched briskly away.  

“Amateurs,” Jazz muttered, but flashed a small smile at Soundwave.  “Never mind, master.  Seems there won’t be any theft today after all.”  

“Oh sir.”  The little groundpounder behind the stall, barely bigger than a minibot, was actually shaking.  “Thank you, thank you so much.  I- I do not have the words to express my gratitude.”  He bowed a few times in rapid succession, though he couldn’t quite bring himself to look or speak directly to Soundwave.  

“Not at all,” Jazz said breezily.  “It was fun.  I know it’s hard to tell, but Soundwave thinks so too.”

“Please, allow me to repay your kindness,” gushed the vendor.  Tins of organic waxes and polishes clattered against one another as he hurried to shove them at Jazz.  “It is the least I can do, for the most generous of the Decepticons.”  

What?  Soundwave shot a startled look at the vendor but he didn’t notice, still bobbing up and down in his pathetic display of flattery.  Jazz picked up one of them, idling it between his fingertips, not in the least bit taken aback by what had just been said.  

“Well, if you insist.  I can think of a few scraplets that wouldn’t mind a fresh polish tonight.  Don’t you agree, master?”

Jazz hopped off the stall, utterly pleased with himself.  “I’m glad we took this walk after all; I actually do feel better now.  I think you do too.  But if you don’t...”  He lightly rapped the tin of polish against Soundwave’s shoulder.  “I’ll fix that soon enough.”  

 


 

 

“Jazz.”

“My love?”

“Query.”

“Ask away.”

“Lawkeepers’ attempted extortion against merchant, known how?”

“Memory served.  Even a stylin’ superstar of the black market like myself had to start from somewhere.”  Jazz spoke very matter-of-factly, concentrating on rubbing the new polish into Soundwave’s leg armor.  “Corrupt bastards on the lawkeepin’ force were just part of the landscape.  They find the vendors with somethin’ to hide, which ain’t hard when there’s too many laws to count, they threaten him, scare the daylights out of him, blackmail him outta his earnings in return for not haulin’ his struts into court.  Then they bleed him dry til there’s nothin’ left.  When I lived on the streets, I saw it every day.”  

So Jazz really was a product of the slums.  Soundwave filed that bit of information away for later reference and contemplation.  “Chronic corruption of justice, significant flaw in Council’s rule.  Decepticon government, intended to correct such corruption.”  

“Meet the new boss,” Jazz sang lightly, “same as the old boss!  Ah, sorry darling, those were song lyrics, probably over your head.  Let me put it this way: Council bad, Shockwave worse.”  

Soundwave did not bother to look down; he could hear Jazz’s cheeky grin well enough in his voice.  He ignored it.  “Comparison, made too lightly.”

“Don’t take my word for it, then.  Remember when we had a good laugh, shouting in the market that Shockwave had come for an inspection?  And by ‘we’, of course I mean I had a good laugh.  Those vendors panicked for a reason, Soundwave.  He charges too much for those permits to set up shop, and chops off what’s left for taxes.  They can’t afford to pay everything he demands, they’d starve if they did.  They have to hide a little, and that’s how the keepers have material for blackmail.  It’s an old dance; I know it by spark.  If anything, it’s worse under Shockwave than it ever was under the old government... partly because Cybertron’s wealth hit rock bottom in the war, but mostly because he doesn’t have the one thing the old Council did.”

“What?”

“Prowl,” Jazz said simply.  “Nowhere in the universe was there a lawkeeper more impossible to bribe.  You can take my personal word for that.  And he made sure his underlings stayed as clean as he did.  Something tells me Astrotrain and Blitzwing aren’t nearly so conscientious.”

Soundwave mulled this over.  “This information, not detected in surveillance.”  

Jazz sighed and lowered his polishing cloth, sitting back on the floor so he could look Soundwave in the optic more directly.  “You know what your problem is, love?  I mean, besides being bossy, controlling, neurotically possessive, incapable of personal space, ignorant beyond belief about music -”

“Jazz.”

“Your problem is that you look for sedition instead of unhappiness.  You hunt for criticism of the empire, but that don’t come before the empire’s made enough enemies.  Instead of lookin’ for mecha working against the government, maybe you should take a look at how the government is workin’ against mecha.”

“Laws and policies of Megatron’s empire, not my jurisdiction.”  

“Suits me,” Jazz said amiably.  “It’s a government I hate, after all.  The faster it falls into a smelting pit, the better.  I heckled those nobodies today because it’s been a rough week, and I needed some fun.  But don’t misunderstand; I don’t want to clean any corruption out of Megatron’s rule.  I want it to eat away his control from the inside out.”

Soundwave looked narrowly at the calculating gleam in that visor.  “That outcome, unlikely to occur.”

“Every empire falls, Soundwave.  It’s only a matter of when.  I’d say the old Council proved that well enough.”

“Continue polishing.”

“Yes, master.”

Soundwave stood quietly, allowing Jazz to rub the new polish into his armor in slow, smooth circles.  His mind, however, was not on Jazz’s touch.  Theft was still a threat to the developing economy, he was thinking, whether perpetrated by common pickpockets or police.  It may not be his responsibility to investigate it, but Soundwave still owed his loyalty to the future of Megatron’s rule.  He would report this to Shockwave tomorrow, when he attended Command.

“Jazz.”

“Still here, my love.”

“Your motivation, questionable.  But your watchfulness, appreciated.”

Jazz sat back on his heels again to look up.  “Are we thawing?”

“Possibly.”    

“Can I go to work with you tomorrow?”

“Negative.”

“Then we’ve got a ways to go.”

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

Something was different.  Soundwave had been collecting the requested data for close to a vorn, but always sent it through transmission or - more often, lately - the client dispatched a courier.  It was the first time that Shockwave demanded a personal meeting.  Not that the mech had the power to demand anything of him, but he certainly acted as though he did, and Soundwave was curious enough to comply.  He disliked Shockwave, and was quite sure the feeling was mutual, but work was work and the Decepticons paid very well.  He was more interested in this change of routine than he was bothered about the journey into violent, unstable Kaon.  Soundwave was powerfully built enough that he rarely feared for his own safety, and Ravage was lurking close by, a hidden ace if he needed it.

His curiosity was satisfied quickly enough.  When Shockwave arrived, Soundwave barely noticed him in the shadow of the massive gray mech striding into the room.  Soundwave had met many large mecha on Cybertron, some of them bigger than this building, but something about this one’s size was different.  His optics burned with fierce cunning, unlike the usually amiable giant mecha, and he carried himself with the raw, dangerous confidence of a combatant.  Sheer power bristled from under his armor plating, and he knew it.  All this closed the distance to Soundwave, steps hard and heavy enough to make anyone want to back up just a little.  Soundwave barely managed not to.  In a corner of his mind he could feel Ravage recoil with surprise, followed by an automatic aggression toward the new threat.  

“Soundwave, a pleasure to meet you at last,” Shockwave greeted unctuously, systems perhaps running just a little hot from keeping up with his companion’s long stride.  “I do apologize for summoning you to such an inconvenient location.  I’d very much like to introduce you to my superior - “

“Champion Megatron,” Soundwave finished, not having glanced at Shockwave once.  “Your reputation, well known.”  

“I would certainly hope, to a mech so famous for hearing all there is to hear,” Megatron answered, smile briefly touching at his lips.  “But it’s Commander now.  My old triumphs were just games, small amusements for the crowd.  I have bigger battles to fight now.  I’m sure you know that too.  The intel you’ve been delivering to us has been very helpful, not to mention astoundingly accurate.  Tell me, Soundwave, is there any secret you can’t uncover?”  

“Negative,” Soundwave answered promptly, well aware of how those hard, sharp optics were studying every inch of him.  One word should have been enough of an answer, one word was all he’d ever spared for a client before, but this one was different.  Soundwave felt the raw strength as if it were rolling off Megatron, blisteringly hot like the air in a furnace.  So this was the unstoppable revolutionary force that had turned Kaon over on its head.  Soundwave had already formulated the probabilities of the insurgent Decepticons carrying this revolution to the highest tier of Cybertron’s government; after less than a breem in Megtron’s actual presence, he was reworking his projections.  Megatronradiated true leadership like he did his own power, and Soundwave could already see that he would not suffer to be held back by incompetence.  

“My talents, considerable,” Soundwave elaborated.  “Hacking skills, superior to any network’s defense.  Both electronic and physical infiltration inflicted on targets regularly.  Never caught, never incarcerated.  Millions often spent to protect information from me.  Millions, always wasted.”  

Megatron laughed at that, a robust and good-humored sound that was at odds with his hard appearance.  Shockwave, at least as far asSoundwave could tell, was not nearly so amused.  

“Yes, well, we’ve certainly spent enough for the favor of your services.  I should hope it was worth every credit.”  

“Every patrol, every carelessly unguarded shipment, every supposedly top-secret federal cell, and he’s pointed us to them all, Shockwave.  I say it is worth it, both in terms of ground gained and the minimized damage to my own troops.  Soundwave  is obviously worth his weight.  I want him on the roster.”

That Shockwave obviously had not been expecting, and neither had Soundwave.  Both of them shot Megatron startled glances.  

“My lord?”  

“Commander Megatron, all expertise in intelligence and espionage.  Military experience and training, none.”

“Well, you’ve hacked enough of the military’s networks to have learned a few things, I expect,” Megatron answered carelessly.  “And I’ve no doubt you’ll learn more.  But I’m mostly interested in your ‘intelligence and espionage’.  I need more of that, and you don’t fail to deliver.  But the revolution is gaining fast, and I don’t have time to send requests and negotiate prices anymore.  I need you at my beck and call,Soundwave, with the answers ready before I even ask the questions.  I need you to be a part of the Decepticons.  I think you need me too.”

Work had been growing scarcer, as the fighting spread.  Soundwave thought about the two little mechs back in his home, giggling as they wrestled under his chair.  Four mouths to feed now, and how safe was that little flat, anyway?  

“Guarded living space and fuel for symbiotes, required.”  

“Done.  You can have a bunk in the same base where I and my top officers sleep.  And as much fuel as you need.”  

Megatron seemed quite oblivious to Shockwave’s dismayed posture as he extended his hand.  Soundwave recognized the traditional handgripshared between gladiators before a match, and copied it as best he could.  

“I look forward to your service, Soundwave.  I expect great things from you.”  

“Always, Commander Megatron,” Soundwave answered, refusing to wince when Megatron applied his full strength to his grip.  “You will not be disappointed.”    

 

Soundwave was not sure how long he’d been standing here, in Megatron’s outer office, staring at the keylock as though it would spring open the doors on its own.  A few nanokliks?  More time than Soundwave had ever hesitated on Megatron’s threshold before, anyway.  No point to it, not for that or ancient memory files.  He’d come here with a purpose, time to accomplish it.  That was, after all, the trait that first attractedMegatron’s attention in the first place.  He raised his hand, and pressed the button.

Soundwave waited patiently for the keylock to scan his presence, announcing him within the office, but Megatron’s raised voice did not call out for him to enter.  Instead one door cracked open, allowing just enough space for Bluestreak to slip out.  Soundwave watched his optics dart hopefully around the room, and his doorwings wilt with disappointment when he found no Jazz.  

“I’m sorry, sir.”  His voice was barely above a whisper, and he did not look higher than Soundwave’s knees.  “But my master is very busy now, and does not wish to be disturbed.”

Soundwave looked at the opaque doors behind Bluestreak, thick, solid, and uncompromising.  “Megatron knows identity of visitor?”

“Yes sir.”  Those doorwings were twitching with severe discomfort now, and he would not raise his eyes.  “He knows.”

“Audience with Megatron, necessary.”  

“He says you may return later, and he will probably be able to see you.  But he will not see you now.”  Bluestreak cleared and rebooted his vocalizer.  “Please.  He’s been...”  His voice dwindled to nothing before he made the mistake of complaining, but the fresh dents in his armor said enough anyway.  He made a pitiful picture, but absurdly, Soundwave could not argue with him.  Megatron had made his meaning clear enough.

“Message, understood.  Later return, intended.”  

“Thank you, sir.”  

Soundwave turned to go, and he was mostly out the door when Bluestreak summoned up the courage to speak again.  “Will Jazz be with y-”

The door swished shut behind him.      

 


 

 

Soundwave’s first and most tempting inclination, after leaving Megatron’s suite, was to flee the building and go straight back home.  He quashed it, with some effort.  Megatron was not the only one he’d come to see today, and anyway Soundwave knew putting in an appearance here was well overdue.  It was probably for the best that as many mecha as possible saw him here today, going about his business.  He would just return to his office and quickly check on Jazz, then pay a visit to Shockwave’s office.  Provided, of course, that he could get back to his office without obstacle.  Soundwave’s stride faltered when Starscream burst unexpectedly out into the hall, but it was too late to back up and escape.  Luckily, Starscream was busy – as usual – running his vocalizer.

“- said no.  Leave it alone, Thundercracker, I’m busy enough dealing with the things I actually care about.”

“But you haven’t even asked him.”  Thundercracker snagged Starscream by the elbow and held him back, earning an exasperated glare from hiswingmate.  “You could at least ask.”

“No, I haven’t, and no, I couldn’t ‘at least’.  I told you, he will say no.  Actually, he will yell it, and throw me out of his office, probably literally.  Haven’t you noticed he’s been in something of a mood these past few days?  Now is not the time to bring up the subject of Autobots.”

“It’s because of what just happened that he’s so upset,” Thundercracker persisted, not letting go in spite of Starscream’s repeated tugging.  “It’s not as if I’m asking to send him through the bridge alone.  I’d take him with me, if I could just get an assignment on Earth.  I’ll fly a patrol, hunt for Sideswipe, whatever Megatron wants.”

“I can’t get our wise leader to sign off on a simple science expedition.  He’s not going to let you through that bridge for what he thinks is a joyride, especially not with that foambrained jet of yours in tow.  Why you even bother to care about the cross-opticked twit, I don’t know.  He doesn’t have two thoughts in his head to rub together.”

“He just has a hard time concentrating, and being separated from his brothers doesn’t help.  I figure it’s even worse than being cut off from your trine.  Just one day –“

“I’ve said my last no, Thundercracker.  Give him a toy if you want to cheer him up; I’ve got bigger problems to solve.”

Starscream peeled Thundercracker’s grip off his arm and turned to go, which is when they both realized Soundwave had been a silent audience to the entire conversation.

“Well, look who remembered where Decepticon Command is,” Starscream sneered.  “How gracious of you, Soundwave, to pop by and say hello.  Don’t mind the mess, we’re just busy trying to keep the empire running.”

His smirk took on a thoughtful air as he sauntered closer.  “Now then, what’s different about you?  Wait, don’t tell me… oh, I know!  I’ve been talking to you for six nanokliks and there’s no smart-aleck slave jumping forward to defend you.  Lost him on the way in?  Seems to be a lot of that going around lately.”

Jazz would have responded to that with a flurry of jokes and insults, but Soundwave simply looked at Starscream in silence.  “I hope you still know how to get around without him here to hold your hand - I have my doubts.  Really, you do look so incomplete without that little bot at your elbow.  Whatever caused you to leave him behind, I wonder?  Do tell.”  

“Starscream.”

“Yes, Soundwave?”

“Your presence, blocking my way.  Suggestion: move.”  

Starscream’s lips curved into a nasty smile.  “Of course, Soundwave.  You know I would never dream of interfering with your busy schedule.  Do get on with your spying and eavesdropping.  The fate of Cybertron depends on it.”  

With a flick of the wings, Starscream slipped around him and continued on his way, heels clacking at irritably high volume against the metal floor.  That left just Thundercracker, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, looking faintly sulky.  

“Don’t suppose you’d rent me Jazz for a day,” he muttered.  “I’ll pay you whatever you want.”

“Request denied.  Jazz, mine.”  

Soundwave walked past Thundercracker without even looking at him, but he heard the quiet snarl of jet engines.  “I was an idiot to let Warp finish that card game.  I’d undo it in a minute if I could.”  

Soundwave ignored that and kept walking; after a few nanokliks, he could hear Thundercracker stalking off in the opposite direction.  Though he knew his appearance was calmly indifferent, internally Soundwave seethed with protective fury.  Everybody in this building was obsessed with Jazz, Autobots and Decepticons alike.  It seemed everyone wanted to steal him away from Soundwave, lurking just out of reach, waiting for their chance.  Vultures.  The thought made him hurry his steps a little, closing the distance to his office at a brisk clip.  Not that he didn’t have full faith in Ravage’s abilities, but Soundwave had learned well that Jazz had an amazing talent for pulling off the impossible.  So even though he was quite sure that his new alarm grid was impenetrable, and even though he was extremely sure that Jazz really was penned up in his home, Soundwave still left nothing to chance.  Before leaving his home, Soundwave had affixed one of his cameras up in the corner of the common room and looped the signal into one of his office monitors.  This way, he’d smugly informed Jazz, Soundwave would be able to check on Jazz as many times as he  liked during the day.

“Your orders,” he’d told Jazz, “remain in this room.  Camera, always monitoring you.  Now, even in Headquarters, able to see you at all times.”

“Can you see this?” Jazz had then asked, flashing some hand gesture at the camera that Soundwave had seen Rumble and Frenzy copy from the humans.  Soundwave had ignored that, fed Jazz extra, and left in cold silence.  Jazz was still petulant about being left behind, and wouldn’t even look at him when he walked out.  Soundwave had not yet been gone for ten breems, but all this unwelcome attention to Jazz was triggering his anxiety about leaving him alone.  Soundwave hurried on to his office and keyed open the door, optics seeking out the monitor that showed his home.

Jazz was still there.  His vents exhaled with relief, even if Jazz, in his inimitable way, was already at work trying to give him a headache.  Using what looked like Ravage’s polish, he’d scrawled across the floor “miss me yet?” in full view of the camera.  Soundwave didn’t mind.  As long as Jazz was making trouble, needling at Soundwave, scribbling taunting remarks and then lying beside the words to read his datapad in utterly pretended nonchalance, then that was proof that Jazz was still his.  Everything else would be fine, as long as that did not change.  He pressed his fingertips against the screen, reassuring himself, and decided that Shockwave could wait.  He would stay in here a little while, with Jazz there on the monitor, and get some work done.

 


 

 

Shockwave’s office - or rather, the wing of Headquarters that housed his several offices - was a radically different environment from Soundwave’s office.  His own personal space was small, though perfectly adequate for his needs, quiet, and private.  No one was allowed inside but Soundwave and his own symbiotes.  Though he only ever used it when he came to the building, it was still very much his, and too full of sensitive information to open to an outsider.  In contrast to that quiet seclusion, this suite of offices was in minor chaos, full of low-ranked Decepticons and civilians scurrying about.  Shockwave had jurisdiction over so much of Iacon; demolition permits, building permits, tax collection, vendor permits, public services administration, infrastructure maintenance, and probably other kinds of permits Soundwave didn’t even know about - all this passed through Shockwave’s claws.  It was the trivial, troublesome part of ruling an empire that Megatron wanted no part of, and was all too willing to dump onto Shockwave’s desk.  He was, after all, the most experienced Decepticon in matters of governance, and Soundwave knew some of the functions being taken care of in here were vital to Iacon’s development.  But surrounded by this bureaucratic army, Soundwave couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps Shockwave was wielding more power in the city than the rest of them put together.  It was a disquieting thought.    

He navigated his way through the maze of workstations, noting that many more had been added since he was here last.  Shockwave’s office, though, was still where he remembered it, large and walled off from the main suite for privacy.  For the second time that day, he pressed an announcement button on the door’s keylock and waited.  A few more nanokliks than was necessary passed, before the door quietly unlatched itself.  

“Enter.”  Shockwave’s voice, filtered through the keylock, was cool and imperious.  Already Soundwave’s struts were stiffening defensively, an unpleasant consequence of coming here to Shockwave’s territory.  This would have been easier on neutral ground.  Soundwave pushed open the door and strode in, knowing he could at least rely on his impassive outward appareance to mask any hesitation.  

“Director Soundwave, what an unexpected, and rare, honor.  What brings you to Decepticon Command today?”  

“Some work requires attention, must be accomplished here.”  

“And is there something in particular you need from me?”  

“Affirmative.”  Shockwave had not invited him to sit, so Soundwave helped himself to a chair.  “Discussion of Enforcer Squad activities, necessary.”  

“Oh?  I was not aware that law enforcement came under your responsibilities.”  

“Enforcers, not my responsibility,” Soundwave agreed, though with a subtle rephrasing that Shockwave may or may not have noticed.  “However, inappropriate activity on part of two enforcers recently witnessed.”

“Then report their designations to Squad Commanders Astrotrain and Blitzwing.  I delegated operation of the lawkeepers to them for a reason; I’m kept rather busy as it is with running Iacon.”  

“Policies pursued in governance of Iacon, partly a concern here.”

Shockwave’s gaze, which had been straying back to his console screen, immediately snapped back to Soundwave.  “I beg your pardon?”

Soundwave steeled himself.  “Incident: two enforcers attempting to extort payment from vendor lacking proper permits.”

“Is that all?  Well, overeager enforcers get a little carried away now and then.  Report it to the triplechangers and they will see to it that the vendor is properly fined.”

“Punishment of vendor, not primary concern,” Soundwave corrected.  “This practice, possibly widespread.”

“You mean there are large numbers of commoners in that market not registered with my department?  Then perhaps we need to step up enforcement patrols.”  

“Negative; that meaning, not my intention.  This practice of extortion, possibly widespread.  Extortion possible when regulations too numerous.”

There it was, that frosty glow in his single optic.  Shockwave never flew into a screeching tantrum like Starscream did, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have his own ways of showing anger.

“Too numerous, Soundwave?  After centuries of war-spawned lawlessness on this planet, you believe there can be too many laws?  I’m surprised; as one of our more discplined, dependable soldiers, I assumed you had high regard for rules.”

“Regard for military discipline, high,” Soundwave assured him.  “Same also for civilian enforcement squad.  Apparently, current environment provides too much temptation for blackmail.”

“Environment?” Shockwave echoed coldly.    

“Observation: most mecha struggling to make profit through sales in market.  Expensive permits, outside their ability to pay.  Some merchants operate without them, creating opportunities for extortion.  Practical solution: lower cost of registration, or eliminate permits completely.”

“I see.  There are too many mechs breaking the law, so we should do away with the law rather than punish the criminal.  What a peculiar solution.”  

“That statement, oversimplifi-”

“I never took you to be so soft-sparked, Director Soundwave.  Are you really apologizing for criminals and their choices?”

“Negative.  But consideration, ‘criminal’ too strong a designation for lack of permit.  These laws, unnecessary.  Merchants will sell goods in marketplace easily without permits.”

“Did you just call one of my laws unnecessary?” Shockwave hissed, optic flaring gold-white.  “What do you know about it?  Did you even consider the revenue from those permits that my agencies require to function?  My department of commerce could not exist on its share of general taxes alone, nor should it.  I designed it to regulate and promote the new post-war businesses; why should the mecha that it serves not also pay for it?  It’s not only necessary, but fair as well.”  

Shockwave, who saw fit to contribute empire resources to business ventures by his friends, was hardly one to speak of fairness.  Soundwaveelected not to voice that aloud and instead kept to his objective.  “Your department, not promoting these merchants.  Instead, charging them for permission to do business.”

“Only to recover the cost of regulation and administration, nothing more.  Without proper registration and licensing, those street markets would become lawless, chaotic affairs.  You weren’t here while I was governing Cyberton alone, Soundwave, you don’t know anything at all.”  

Soundwave bristled at that.  “This much known: lawkeepers entrusted with guarding population now exploiting them instead.”

“If our enforcers are identifying those merchants who have avoided their registration responsibilities, then they are doing their jobs.  I suggest you return to your office and do the same.  I will run my agencies how I see fit, with Megatron’s approval.  He did not ask for your thoughts on marketplace regulations, and neither will I.”  

This was going nowhere.  Shockwave was thoroughly angry and not going to listen to reason, that much was obvious.  Soundwave decided to stop wasting his time, and stood up.

“Understood.  Your time, appreciated.”  

“Good day, Director Soundwave.”

His head moved in a fraction of a bow, barely visible, before he turned and exited the office.  

 


 

Rumble and Frenzy were waiting for him out in the hall: impatient, skeptical, and not at all blind to his worsening irritation.  

“What the slag were you doing in there, boss?”

“Yeah, didja lose something?  Like, any chance of having a good day?”  

“Some discussion with Shockwave necessary.  Results unsatisfactory, but now concluded.”  

“Good, maybe now you won’t be so cranky.”  He didn’t stop walking and they both fell in on either side of him, trotting five steps to his one.  “Or maybe that was from Starscream?”

“Yeah, we heard you already brushed up against that fun.”

“Word travels fast.”

“Starscream’s tellin’ everyone you got lost on the way to your own office.”

“Starscream, irrelevant.”

“I wish.  He already asked us both why Jazz isn’t here.”

“Your response?”

“Told him to go frag himself.  Then ducked and ran.”

“Suggestion, simply ignore Starscream.”

“Tch.  As if anyone but you can do that.”

“Jazz was right, though.  Everyone’s noticed.”

“That microscope bot looked at me like I’d kicked over his energon cube.”  

“It was annoying.”

“Opinions of others, unimportant.”

“Well what about our opinions?”

“Yeah, we want Jazz here too.”

“It’s more fun when he’s here.”  

“You never know what he’s gonna do!”

“That fact, reason for his restriction to home.”  

“Maybe so, but you know you miss him.”

“We saw what he wrote on the floor.”  

“Jazz must be kinda bored, home alone.”

“Hey, maybe he misses you too.”

“This discussion, conjecture and irrelevant.  Now concluded.”  

“Aw, you never -” Frenzy broke the flow of pestering when he finally paid attention to his surroundings.  “Wait a nano, where are we going?”  

“This isn’t the way to your- oh slag, boss, did you really forget the way to your office?”

“Negative,” Soundwave huffed exasperatedly.  “Not returning to office now, visiting Enforcers’ department.”  

“What?  Why you gotta go to the wannabe wing?”

“Small errand only.  Your assistance, not required.”  

“Good, because we wouldn’t have gone anyway.  C’mon Frenz, let’s go see if Jazz is doing tricks for the camera again.”  

They scampered off, just before Soundwave reached the door to the lawkeeper division.  Firmly putting the subject of their chatter out of his mind, he pushed it open.  Enforcement, housed in a separate wing of the sprawling headquarters building, lacked the frantic atmosphere ofShockwave’s suite.  The enforcers filed in and out frequently, but nobody was hurrying and everyone had plenty of time to joke and chat with their friends.  All of them bore the distinctive purple stripe along the left side of their frames, the closest any civilian Megatron would permit to mimicking the Decepticon insignia.  These mecha were not Decepticons, and would probably never be Decepticons no matter how much they hoped for it; that much was obvious in their lack of military training.  Not to mention their slovenly unawareness of a newcomer in their midst.  Not until Soundwave had almost reached the main office did a lieutenant bother to notice his presence.  Startled, he shot out of his chair and saluted.

“Director Soundwave, sir!  Can I be of assistance, sir?”

“Audience desired with squad commanders Astrotrain and Blitzwing.”

“Yes sir.  Let me just –“

Soundwave walked right past him and pushed open the doors, entirely fed up with waiting for permission to enter offices today.  He outranked both these mechs, and saw no reason to wait.  Astrotrain and Blitzwing were each in their respective halves of the large office, both of them leaning back in their chairs, their giant clunky pedes propped up on their desks.  Their attention, it seemed, was entirely absorbed in playing a game of catch with a heavy iron pipe.

“Yeah?” Blitzwing drawled, not taking his optics off the pipe as he cast it across the room.

“Whatdya need?” Astrotrain added, just managing to catch it without having to move from his position.  Their slave, in a small corner workstation and surrounded by data pads, was the only one that looked up at Soundwave’s entrance.  Blue optics paling with surprise, he stared.

“First,” Soundwave answered stiffly, “your attention.”

The pipe clattered against Blitzwing’s armor when he fumbled the catch, and promptly he threw it back over his shoulder.  Both of them stumbled to their feet.

“Soundwave, sir!”

“How can we help you, sir?”

“Complaint necessary against two Enforcement subordinates.”

“Complaint?  Against some of our mechs?  Were they were rude to you?”

“Negative.  Witnessed attempt at extortion.”  Soundwave had already assembled a brief report on the incident, complete with the serial numbers designated to each enforcer, and handed the datapad to Astrotrain.  He squinted at it, looking a shade confused.  “So, they didn’t do anything to you at all?”

“Negative.”

“They were just trying to squeeze some creds out of a streetmech?”

“Were they beating the slag outta him?” Blitzwing asked, looking more intrigued than dismayed.

“Negative, verbal threats only.”

“So… what do you care?”  Astrotrain looked back and forth from the datapad to him, blank.  “They treated you with the right attitude, right?  Who cares if they hassled some punk criminal?”  

Soundwave could feel his temper growing short.  “Status of merchant, criminal or otherwise, irrelevant.  Consistent exploitation of vendors, considered theft.  Theft, a threat to post-war economy.  Therefore, punishment required.  See to it.”  

Astrotrain still looked blank, but he shrugged.  “Uh, okay.  I mean, yes sir.”  Again he scanned the datapad in his hand.  “Blitz, this was in your sector of the city.  You take care of it.”  

He tossed the datapad across the room, and Blitzwing caught it neatly.  “But these were your guys,” he pointed out, after glancing at it.  “Nice try, but this one’s yours to deal with.  Punk.”

He threw it back at Astrotrain, who failed to catch it due to an impatient Soundwave snatching it mid-air.  If all these two ever did was play catch, with pipes or responsibility, it was no wonder the enforcers outside were so sloppy.  Privately Soundwave despaired of ever having a truly effective lawkeeping department.    

He marched over to the Autobot in the corner, apparently the only one doing any work in this room.  Bumblebee hadn’t understood any of the conversation, of course, and watched him come closer with big, apprehensive optics.  This was, in fact, the first time in quite a long time Soundwave had seen the little yellow bot so close, and he noted that his audial sensors were still as burnt and mutilated as they’d been before.  Obviously an injury outside the scope of self-repair.  That would be Shockwave’s doing; Bumblebee’s capture on Cybertron near the end of the war had been an irresistable opportunity for intelligence, but Soundwave was not planetside to conduct an interrogation.  Shockwave had fallen back on more brutal techniques, holding hot welders to the sensitive audio horns, and according to those present, the screams could be heard through the entire base.  But he’d never talked.

Now he was deaf to the world, all the more so since the Autobots’ access to their own comms was disabled, enduring a silent slavery.  Soundwave was fairly certain Hook had the materials and expertise to replace the sensors, but it would be expensive and certainly these two weren’t bothered about it.  In any case, his intelligence and perceptive, espionage-trained sight obviously hadn’t suffered.  Soundwave held out the datapad and pointed at the screen, directing him to read both the report and the recommended punishment: one full orn under internal arrest, with censures marked in their files.  No blank or uncomprehending stare here; Bumblebee’s optics darted across the screen and he nodded rapidly.

“Yes... sir,” he said carefully, trying to keep control over vocalizer volume without the benefit of hearing his own voice.  “I will… log that... right now, sir.”  

Soundwave nodded in acknowledgement, then turned around.  Both triplechangers were staring at him, mouths slightly agape.  “This discussion concluded.  Return to,” he paused, “work.”  And without another word, he departed the office.        


 

 

Over the centuries, Soundwave had watched how Megatron used sound to show his anger.  More often than not he wielded it at audio-crushing levels, and to good effect.  Mecha cowered before his explosive outbursts, punctuated by heavy fists against the wall (or armor), and that was nothing compared to the roar of his fusion cannon.  When he was in the mood, Megatron could display his anger with all the force and fury of one of Earth's thunderstorms and he knew it.  Then there were other times, when he was in a different sort of mood, that he showed his anger by making no sound at all.  Silence would stretch the air thin around him, deafening in its own right, a hollow where the yelling ought to have been. 

This, Soundwave thought, was decidedly unpleasant.  Megatron's optics moved down the screen of his console, taking his time, and still Soundwave stood waiting.  Beyond the lavish window the skyline of Iacon glowed, at least in patches, and Soundwave watched the many lights twinkle and flicker behind Megatron's massive shoulders.  He was very close to escaping out into that city, had put in a very long shift here at Command, but he couldn't go without taking care of this last responsibility.  Unpleasant or not.  

At last Megatron sat back in his chair, deigning to look at him.  "Yes, Soundwave?  Did you want something?"  

Soundwave produced an encrypted datapad and held it out in offering.  "Analysis of theft incident conducted.  Fuel camp defenses investigated for flaws, recommendations made to prevent similar action.  This report, result of several joors examining camp construction.  Submitted now for your consideration." 

It was all true, every word of it, even if Soundwave had pored over the project for three cycles just to have an excuse when he finally returned.  While busy upgrading and tightening the alarms on his own home, it had been a simple enough task to analyze the Earth base and do the same.  Maybe Soundwave's own slave had been responsible for what happened there and maybe he wasn't, but at least Soundwave could prevent it from ever happening again.  

Megatron studied him thoughtfully, took the datapad, and set it aside without looking at it.  "Out."  

Soundwave only suffered a nanoklik of uncertainty before Bluestreak rose to standing, bowed, and limped out of the office.  Megatron waited until the door had shut before speaking again.  

"What's... different about you, Soundwave?"

His vents hitched slightly, hopefully unheard, and Soundwave lowered his gaze a fraction.  "Query, not understood."  

"Much as I'd rather die than admit Starscream is right about anything, he has lately been pestering me about how very little we see of you.  Tell me he's wrong, because for once, I can't."  

Soundwave could say nothing.  

"Do you remember, when we first met, what I said when I allowed you to join the Decepticons?  I said I wanted you at my beck and call, to be there with the answers before I asked the questions.  I needed an intelligence officer I could rely on, someone sensible and trustworthy.  And for all those vorns at war, you were that officer.  I never had to look further than behind my own shoulder and you'd be there, taking care of things, helping me win my victory.  Now, you're a vanishing act."

"Consideration, report necess-"

"I wasn't done," Megatron said sharply, and Soundwave locked up his vocalizer.  "I'm not just talking about these past few cycles, Soundwave, even if that's what it took for me to really notice what's happened to you.  You never come to Headquarters, except for when you drag yourself here like it's a chore; I barely ever see you out in the city.  After centuries of war, just when we've won Cybertron, you disappear into your home and refuse to enjoy what we fought so hard for.  It's as if you're hiding, as if you don't even want to be associated with my cause." 

"Negative," Soundwave hurried to say.  "Pride in status as Decepticon officer, strong.  Loyalty to your cause, total."  

"Then what's different?" Megatron snapped, an edge of the forthcoming thunderstorm in his voice.  "What happened, Soundwave?  What's changed?"  

The look on his face made Soundwave writhe internally.  He'd disappointed Megatron, and he was not accustomed to the feeling.  The silence dragged on too long while he tried to formulate an answer that was not a lie but would satisfy Megatron.  

"This... environment, post-war, still strange.  My expertise, mainly warfare intelligence.  Previously, industrial espionage.  Now, responsible for surveillance of peacetime population.  Strong concern for job performance, total concentration necessary.  This concentration, strong reason for my seclusion."  

He couldn't quite tell what Megatron made of that.  He was sitting very still as Soundwave spoke, gazing at him with a thoughtful glow in the optics.  "Your work ethic is commendable, Soundwave.  And I know you'd never lie to me.  But I don't think that's all the reason, and I know why you won't talk about it.  You're still upset about that... thing with the little Autobots, aren't you?"  

Taken by surprise, Soundwave froze and couldn't answer.  Megatron seemed to take his silence for affirmation.  "It was when their systems started to fail that you started disappearing from the office, sending in your work remotely, requiring a summons before you'd set foot in Headquarters.  I thought you'd come back after they finally died, but still you stayed at home, hiding in the shadows.  I know that you hate to fail, Soundwave.  It's what I've always respected about you.  And I know you couldn't bear to face me after failing to keep the slaves alive.  But I meant it when I told Starscream, I wasn't angry about it.  You seemed so troubled about the whole affair, far more than you ever had to be.  You don't have to keep holding yourself responsible when I've granted leniency."

Now he was looking at Soundwave expectantly, waiting for the correct response, which Soundwave somehow managed to pry out of his vocalizer.  "Megatron's forgiveness, appreciated.  ... Accepted gratefully."    

"Good.  Maybe now I'll see a little more of you, with or without minor disasters on Earth.  I do still consider you to be my most reliable Decepticon; don't prove my trust misplaced."

The promised storm had faded from his voice; he wasn't going to yell.  Though his spark was crushing under the familiar grief, Soundwave allowed his vents to exhale.  

"Understood, Lord Megatron.  Attendance, performance will improve.  Your approval, strongly desired."    

"Oh, I'm quite certain of that.  You've got a new slave now, after all, and he seems to please you very much.  Is that right?"

For the second time, Soundwave froze.  "Affirmative, Lord Megatron."

"He is a pretty little thing, isn't he?  And so talented in the berth.  Just remember that he's there because I allow it."  The cool, crimson glow of Megatron's optics seemed to cut right through Soundwave.  "I allow everything, in my empire."  

Helplessly, Soundwave bowed.  "Understood, Lord Megatron."  

"I'm sure I am.  Dismissed."       


 

 "...only place in days you haven't been!" Jazz finished, with a touch of aggressive triumph.  Still standing in his own doorway, Soundwave watched Jazz swirl a fingerful of black polish across his chest glass, tracing the English characters of the words he'd been half-singing as the door slid open.  Only after he finished did Jazz look up and actually make optic contact with him.

"Ah, Soundwave, just in time!  It's been a horribly quiet and boring day here by myself.  Oh, and we're out of black polish."  He held up a thoroughly scraped out tin to demonstrate, and Soundwave's gaze moved past Jazz to the rest of the room.  At his feet, Rumble and Frenzy were pulling triple and quadruple-takes.  

"Primus in the pit.  You wrote all over the walls!"

"And the ceiling.  How the frag did you get all that up on the ceiling?" 

"I had time to kill.  Don't worry, my love, it's all song lyrics, so you won't understand a word of it.  George Straight, Louis Armstrong, Pearl Jam, Sam Isaac, take your pick, I had lots of material to choose from.  Guess I'm not the only one to sit around, waiting for that special someone to come back home.  Did you have to be gone so long?"  

Restlessly Jazz paced back to the couch, not even bothering to check on his master's reaction to the mess.  Which was very displeased.  "Jazz... will clean this now."  

"You have cleaning drones, as I recall."  He threw a pointed look at the twins, both of whom preened a bit.  

"This, your mess.  You clean it.  No argument."  

"First tell me about your day.  Every detail, don't leave a thing out."  Jazz hopped up to sit on the back of the couch, tapping his pedes against one another and looking at him pleadingly.  "Who did you see?  What happened?  Anything interesting?  Any fights?"  

"Not your concern," Soundwave snapped, wiping a fingertip through the smears on his chest and looking at it in disgust.  "Jazz's confinement here, a punishment.  Obligation to relate events at Headquarters, nonexistent."  

His audios caught a slightly exasperated huff from Frenzy's vents, and neither did he miss the way he poked Rumble and rolled his optics.  

"It was my understanding that my punishment was separation from the other Autobots.  Now I can't even ask a Decepticon about his day at the office?  What you were doing, while I was stuck here alone with only a puzzle game for company - of which I have beaten every last level?  Examine that chunk of ice in your chest that you call a spark and see if you can't bring yourself to at least give me a few highlights.  It's not as if I'm asking for much."  

They glowered at one another while Rumble and Frenzy switched on the entertainment console.  "He walked around the building and picked a fight with everyone he met," Rumble supplied.  "It was kinda weird, actually.  Almost like he had to make up for you not being there."  

"That statement, not tr-"

"No, I'd say that's about right," Frenzy added.  "He hit every major wing in the building, even the Enforcer department."  

Jazz stiffened, visor snapping with new interest.  "You went into the lawkeeps' office?  Did you see- ah, never mind.  If I ask you you'll just assume it's part of my plot to overthrow the empire.  Primus forbid I even know if an Autobot is at least okay."  

His engine growled unhappily and Jazz hopped back down off the couch, stomping out onto the balcony.  Without pause he rolled up and into a handstand on the balcony rail, deliberately setting off all of Soundwave's silent alarms.  

"Isn't it about time you guys made up already?" Rumble complained, waiting for their game to boot up.  Soundwave noted that Jazz might have wanted to make trouble, but he wasn't stupid - he'd left the giant screen of the game console clean and untouched.  

"Yeah, aren't you tired of the fighting?  Cuz we sure are."  

"Jazz requires punishment."  

"If it's his punishment, then why are you the miserable one?"    

Soundwave started to protest, realized it would be a lie, and gave it up as a lost cause.  Their optics had wandered over to the screen anyway, plainly done with the whole mess and wishing he would just be done with it too.  Soundwave turned away from them and entered his office, where he switched off the alarms.  Then he went out onto the balcony.  Jazz was still upside down, balancing as easily and comfortably on the rail as most mechs could stand on their own two pedes.  Pointedly he did not look at Soundwave, who did not approach Jazz and simply gazed out at the city.

“Autobot Bumblebee, functioning at full apparent health, disregarding audial injury.  Appearance signaled reasonable cheer.”  In the corner of his vision, he saw Jazz turn his head a fraction. 

"Really?"

"Affirmative.  Assessment: high workload stimulating mental acuity."

"Triples are still making him run the office?"

"Apparently."

Jazz snorted softly.  "Well that's fine.  Should come in handy someday.  And Bee likes to keep busy, takes his mind off things."  A brief smile touched his lips, and though he remained on his hands, something about the way he held himself seemed less tense.  "What were you even doing in there?  Isn't that Shockwave territory?"

"Visit to Enforcer department, recommended by Shockwave.  Visited his office to discuss threat of endemic corruption among enforcers, possibly due to overabundance of business regulation."  

"Did ya now?"  Smoothly and without hesitation, Jazz swiveled on his hands, angling himself better to face Soundwave.  Then he moved to balance on just one hand instead of two, splitting his legs for balance.  "You know if you wanted to pick a fight with Shockwave, it'd have been faster to just march into his office, spin him around, and kick him hard in the aft.  Also more entertaining."

"Intention, not to trigger conflict.  Intention only to address issue of regulation."

"And what did I say yesterday about leaving it alone?"

"Left unchecked, widespread corruption and theft a threat to Decepticon Empire."

"Right!"

"That outcome, not desired."

"Oh.  Right."  Jazz flashed a slightly abashed, and upside down, grin at him, then concentrated on bending himself into another unlikely posture.  "Still, look at you, hero to the masses and all that.  Didn't think you had it in you."

"Supposition correct.  My function, surveillance of population, not administration of their laws.  Brought issue to Shockwave's attention, issue dismissed by Shockwave, matter now closed."

"I wonder if Shockwave will see it that way.  I warned you about him before, love - if I'm not mistaken, we were even in this exact same position.  I remember telling you that Cyclops is a very jealous mech, and he doesn't like to share his power or his influence on Megatron.  If he thinks you're out to steal any of it, he'll come after you with everything he's got."

"Shockwave hates Starscream."

"Shockwave hates Starscream for being his opposite.  Shockwave hates you for being too alike.  He wants to be the only good kid."  

Soundwave thought about that day he'd first met Megatron, the dismay in Shockwave's voice when Megatron invited him into the Decepticons.  His all-too apparent jealousy when Megatron had begun to rely on Soundwave, shifting more and more authority onto the new comms specialist.  "Shockwave, no threat to me."

"You ain't at war anymore, sweetspark.  Hope you know what you're doin'."

"Soundwave, superior."

"How could I forget?"   

He dropped back down into an upright crouch, but only so he could immediately spring backward onto his hands again.  "And how is our dear leader?"  

Soundwave's spark flinched at the memory of Megatron, his words dark and cold with promise.  "His suggestion: I appear in Headquarters more frequently."

"Suggestion, huh?  With fists or without?"  

"Without."  Just remember that he's there because I allow it.  "Fists, preferred."  

"Ouch.  But how many times did I try to warn you about that?  So I won't feel sorry for you, not on that count.  You always knew he'd tighten his grip someday."

"Yes.  That inevitability, known."

"Are you going back tomorrow?"

"Affirmative."  He dreaded the thought.  Technically there was no difference between uploading surveillance into his home console and doing it at the office, but concentration was more difficult at Command.  It was noisier, full of scheming Decepticons, and had no Jazz.

"Can I come?"  

"Negative."

Jazz didn't make any kind of protest, but the silence that settled over the balcony was worse.  If he looked, he wondered if he would see Jazz trying to hide his disappointment behind more gymnastics on the rail.

"However, shorter shift at Headquarters deemed adequate.  Circumstances allowing, will return earlier for customary walk."  

"Really?"

"Jazz requires new puzzle game.  Also, black polish."

"Well, that's somethin', I guess."

Jazz dropped to straddle the rail and then rolled forward a couple of times, stopping near Soundwave's elbow.  "You know, Soundwave, we can't last like this.  Acid rain left less scarring on this house than we're managin' every night.  At least the rain doesn't go on forever."

Soundwave wasn't sure what to say to that, so he only looked at Jazz in silence.  "You're still mad at me, I know.  I'm still mad at you.  I possibly threatened your government and entire way of life, you raped my mind, these things happen in a relationship.  At least, I assume they do.  It's not as if I've ever been in one myself.  I just hope that whatever this is we have to go through, it's over soon.  I bet you do too."

He rolled off the balcony, carefully not brushing against Soundwave, and went inside to begin cleaning the walls.

 


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Jazz and his polish, by Shibara-Draws-Mecha

 

Jazz and his polish

Chapter Text

The next workshift was better, mostly because Soundwave stayed put in his office and didn't attempt to speak to anyone.  He didn't bother Shockwave or Starscream, or spend any more time than he had to walking the halls, or, as the twins put it, 'frag off all Decepticons in the spirit of Jazz'.  He avoided trouble by staying behind his desk and uploading the surveillance taken by Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, half an optic on the monitor screen that showed Jazz back at home.  He finished in good time, drafted the report for Megatron, and left Headquarters without any fuss whatsoever.  

"That's it?" Jazz complained, now trotting along beside him on their walk.  "No fights?  No confrontations?  Not even a bicker or two with Starscream?"  

"Negative.  Workshift, uneventful."

"You mean boring.  What's the point of going to HQ if you're not even going to talk to the other Decepticons?"

"Today, no meetings scheduled.  When meetings scheduled, will attend."

"Does Megatron even know you went in today?"

"Megatron knows," Soundwave assured him.  It wasn't even a matter of lingering long enough in the halls to be seen, and for the gossip to fly.  Megatron had given an order, however phrased, and they both knew Soundwave followed Megatron's orders.  After so many centuries, there was no question.  Megatron commanded, and Soundwave obeyed.

"Well it still sounds like a boring waste of time to me.  Take me with you tomorrow?  Starscream won't know what hit him."  

"Negative."  

Jazz huffed, and they fell into an unhappy silence.  Soundwave knew how frustrated and bored Jazz had been, to be locked up alone at home for almost the entire cycle, and he'd hoped his early return and this walk would cure that.  Evidently not.  He was either just that bored or just that eager to return to a building full of Decepticon officers and their sensitive data, and either way Soundwave was still going to say no.  How long before Jazz accepted that?  

"Soundwave."

"Jazz, argument ineffecti-"

"No, Soundwave."  Jazz grabbed his wrist, squeezing hard enough to grab his attention, but he wasn't looking at his master.  He was looking at the street winding before them, their usual haunt, its walks teeming with stalls and vendors and their goods for sale.  At this time of the cycle it was usually bursting with the noise of haggling mecha, a flurry of cheap commerce and frivolous entertainment.  It was still noisy but something was different about the sound today, Soundwave could already detect the differences in pitch and tone.  Enforcers hovered around the edge with weapons primed, and merchants shivered behind their stalls.  "Something's wrong."  

Jazz let go, and before Soundwave could think to grab his arm, he was already gone.  Soundwave didn't lower himself to go running after him, but he stepped up to a brisk stride, tailing Jazz into the chaotic marketplace.  The crowd was in an uproar divided between terror and anger, some of them shouting, some of them pleading.  The begging of one merchant was to no avail, and Soundwave watched a couple of civilians tip his stall over.  Canisters of soap crashed and shattered on the street.  

"What are you doing?" Jazz wailed, and a mech consulting his datapad threw him an irritated look.  

"Don't presume to ask me any questions, Autobot slave.  And shouldn't you be with your master?"  

"Master present," Soundwave answered, drawing closer.  "Query repeated: explain actions."  

"Director Soundwave, sir."  The mech looked up and straightened, but his tone didn't get any friendlier.  "The premier did mention you may be present today when we conduct our surprise inspection.  He expressed a wish to thank you for advising him that so many street merchants were operating without permits.  We've already uncovered several, a substantial percentage of them on this street alone.  I head his subcommittee on small business regulation."  

"I think you mean small business destruction," Jazz pointed out acidly, watching the soap pool out from underneath shattered glass.  

The mech ignored Jazz.  "If you will excuse me, sir, I still have many inspections to carry out.  Those merchants with a proper permit registration number have nothing to fear, and will still be available if you came here today to conduct business with them."  

"We came here to get some black polish from our favorite vendor."  Jazz's engine was snarling dangerously.  "And I don't see him.  Did you toss him into the gutters after his stock?"

This time the mech couldn't resist answering Jazz, glancing at him sideways with a smirk.  "They are only trash, after all."  

Jazz's engine revved again, more loudly.  "Stuck-up worthless cog - hey!  Hey, don't touch that!"  The committee had already moved on to the next stall, one of them shoving the merchant back while the other dumped a boxful of music data cards on the ground.  "Stop that, that's Hendrix!  Respect the classics!"  

This time Soundwave moved fast enough, and hauled Jazz back up against his own body before he could attack the nearest bureaucrat.  Jazz squirmed in his grasp.  "Stop that, let me go!"

"Jazz -"

"What did you do?" Jazz snaked out from under his arm but couldn't dislodge Soundwave's grip on his wrist.  "You went to Shockwave yesterday, what did you tell him?  Is this because of you?"

"Only discussed possibility of -"

"Of more sitting targets out here, waiting to be knocked over by him and his pathetic middle managers!"  The subcommittee head looked over at Jazz with a scowl, but didn't speak.  "How could you, Soundwave?  Look at what you've done."  He cringed at the sound of data cards being crunched under a heavy pede.

"This consequence, not intentional," Soundwave tried to explain.  "Address of enforcer corruption, only objective."

"Good job."  With his free hand Jazz grasped Soundwave's chin and turned his head aside, forcing him to look at a vendor down on his knees.  His face was buried in his hands as the remnants of his merchandise pooled around him, now tainted black from the filth of the street.  "Things are getting better already."  

"Enough."  Soundwave pushed away Jazz's hand.  "Results unfortunate, but in process.  Presently unable to affect outcome."

"What?  No, you can't just wash your hands of everything now, you started this mess!  Now you have to fix it."

"Execution of empire law, not my jurisdiction."

"Come on, Soundwave, don't give me that.  These mecha need you; they trust you.  You're here almost every day, spending credits, paying their prices, treating them fairly.  Do you know how rare that is for a Decepticon?  If you don't speak up for them, who will?"

Again Soundwave glanced at the crowd, most of whom were still shouting angrily at the committee members.  A few were gazing hopefully at him, as if expecting him to simply order the bureaucrats away and make everything right again.  They didn't understand the delicate balance between the top Decepticon officers, the power games, the hostility and distrust.  They just saw one of their leaders.

"This is where the twins buy their video games," Jazz added.  "And Laserbeak, she loves this place.  Are you going to let them take it away from her?  Are you going to let them take it away from us?  Think about all the good times we've had here."

Soundwave's recollections of this place mostly involved headaches, particularly when Jazz thought it was a good idea to do cartwheels up on the walls.  But Jazz, at least, seemed to enjoy their time here.  

"This jurisdiction, Shockwave's.  Jazz knows this."  

"Then we'll go find him and you can talk to him.  Butter him up, tell him Megatron likes him better than you, do whatever it takes.  If you could get him to back off, it would mean everything to these mecha.  You have to at least try."

"Jazz's persistence, surprising.  Previous understanding, Jazz desires empire to become more unpopular."

"That was before they stomped all over Jimi Hendrix.  There are things in this life you just don't do."  

Vaguely, Soundwave noticed a sigh escaping his own vents.  Must Jazz argue in such a... Jazz-like way?  Soundwave had very little hope of talking any sense into Shockwave, but he was right that Soundwave had triggered this ridiculous raid.  He had a responsibility to at least try and rectify it.  That Jazz was so distressed was, he told himself, merely a small factor in his decision.  

Transmission sent - target frequency located - Premier Shockwave successfully hailed - transmission signal accepted.

"Director Soundwave.  Did you need something?"

"State location.  Discussion, required."  


 

 

They found him three blocks away, apparently on a walking tour of his many raids - an inspection on the inspections.  Soundwave watched one of his underlings scurry up to him and deliver some kind of report, then bow deeply and return to the lines of stalls again.  To see Shockwave out in the city was such a peculiar sight that, at first, that was all Soundwave noticed.  Later he would regret not paying better attention to the other details, and herding Jazz away before the trouble even started.  Instead, he merely turned to Jazz for a cautionary reminder.  

"Jazz, your silence expected.  Rational discussion with Shockwave, more likely without taunts."  

"Quiet as a glitchmouse," Jazz promised, and clapped both hands over his mouth.  He added a muffled, "Go get 'em."  

They started walking again.  Jazz didn't even make it all the way to their target.  Five steps closer, he flinched and almost jumped right onto Soundwave.  "Oh Primus," he gasped.  For the second time that day his hand closed around Soundwave's arm and squeezed.  "She's here."  

Soundwave saw her in the next second, and his first instinct was to flinch too.  It was not the first time Soundwave had seen Chromia since her enslavement, but Shockwave rarely allowed her outside his home and it had been some years since.  She looked worse than he remembered.  It wasn't that she bore dents like Bluestreak or Groove, and she didn't slouch in timid misery like Perceptor.  Chromia stood straight and tall, a lithe figure compared to Shockwave's ungainly bulk.  When he moved, she moved at the exact same pace; when he stopped, she stopped in the same moment, always right on the edge of his shadow.  She wasn't even looking at him while she managed this, gazing face forward at nothing in particular.  At a closer distance, Soundwave would be able to see the thin, unhealed welts of a whip crisscrossing her body in perfect symmetry.  

Some kind of horrified whine scraped itself out of Jazz's vocalizer, and Soundwave rested a hand on his shoulder.  If he could have he would have left at that moment, never mind anything else, but it was too late.  Shockwave closed the last of the distance between them, gaze fixed on Soundwave appraisingly.  

"Greetings, Director Soundwave.  Your request for a meeting seemed quite urgent, I do hope nothing is wrong.  However, let me first thank you personally for your quite accurate estimate that too many street merchants had not properly registered with my agency.  We've already uncovered several dozen of the scofflaws, and will be collecting some substantial fines from them."

Chromia hovered just behind him, perfectly still, unfocused optics looking straight through both Soundwave and Jazz as if they weren't even there.  With effort Soundwave dragged his attention back to Shockwave.  

"Gratitude, unnecessary and unwelcome.  Your committee's reaction, unintended."

"Oh?"  Shockwave tiled his head to the side by a few degrees.  "You brought the problem of widespread illegal vending to me.  Did you not expect me to take steps?"

"My greater concern, problem with law enforcement corruption."

"You mean taking bribes in exchange for ignoring lack of permits.  Well that should no longer be an issue, now that the criminals have been swept from the streets.  I would have thought you'd be pleased."

Soundwave cycled air through his vents, considering his response.  He must flatter Shockwave, or this conversation would go nowhere.  "Shockwave's dedication to law enforcement, well known.  Your swift response, admirable."

"Thank you."

"However, consequences perhaps too severe.  These merchants, substantial portion of Iacon's economy."  

"They are free to return to the streets once they've settled their fines and purchased a permit."

"Expense, likely very high."

"Then perhaps it's time they forgot about those dirty, pathetic little stands," Shockwave said tersely.  "They have no right to them.  It isn't as if there aren't other ways to earn a living in this city.  My subcommittee on industrial development is granting generous subsidies to new factories, all of whom require workers."

"Drones, usually sufficient for factory work."       

"In the past, yes.  But drone production itself is still too low to satisfy demand, and the gap must be filled.  Assembly work is good enough for that greasy rabble."  He spared a disdainful glance at the unhappy crowds.  "I can't stand the sight of them anyway.  I hate the way they fill the streets with their filth and noise, hawking their ridiculous Earth trinkets.  It's raucous and disorganized.  Cutting it down by half is a good start, I'd say."

"That merchandise, highly prized by many mecha.  Including Decepticons."  

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, Soundwave.  One way or another, goods can be sold.  Preferably in clean, indoors environments.  Fewer merchants with larger, dignified shops is preferable, don't you think?"

Larger, dignified shops that could only be started by Shockwave's wealthier associates, no doubt.  The larger plan was becoming painfully apparent to Soundwave with every word, as was the understanding that there would be no persuading Shockwave today.  He did not care about the market, he did not care about the merchants.  And he most certainly did not care about where Rumble and Frenzy would now be buying their games.  

"What are you doing, slave?" Shockwave barked, startling him.  Jazz jumped back from Chromia as if he'd been burned, hastily crossing his arms tightly against his chest.  

"I didn't touch her!" he said quickly.  "I didn't.  I was only trying to say hello, I didn't touch her."  Nervous fear crackled around Jazz like an electric field, every strut tensed.

"Say hello?" Shockwave repeated coldly.  "How dare you come so close to my property, slave; I thought you'd learned your lesson the last time.  I made certain that she did."  The smug hint in Shockwave's voice was enough to make Jazz's engine growl, but he clamped his mouth shut rather than retort.

"You see, Soundwave, I've always felt that inferior beings actually prefer an environment in which they're told what to do."  Idly he raised a clawtip to hover just in front of Chromia's face, then glided it to the right.  Automatically Chromia's head turned to follow it.  "One only needs to make the alternative painful enough.  But when they accept that their place is to follow orders..."  Again her head turned, tracking his clawtip to the left, then up, then down.  "They become peaceful, compliant, and better subjects for the empire.  It's better for all of us if most of the population works for just a handful of employers, rather than this hodgepodge of entrepreneurialism.  Give it some thought, and I'm sure you'll agree."  

The spectacle was rather horrifying, and Soundwave could hear Jazz's systems running at high pitch.  "Demonstration, unnecessary."  

"You are not amused?  Megatron finds my slave's performances to be quite entertaining."  

"Sick freak," Jazz said softly.  Shockwave's optic shifted towards him.

"Repeat that, slave."  

"I said: 'sick freak'.  Isn't it enough for you that you hold this whole city in your filthy hand?  Do you have to show off on her too?"

That lone optic darkened.  "You will refrain from disrespect, Autobot slave.  How I deal with my property is not your concern."

"Your property," Jazz echoed venomously.  "Right.  You must be so grateful to Megatron for giving you one of Elita's contingent, Primus knows you couldn't catch any of them on your own.  Ooh, that must be embarrassing.  An army of war drones and you still couldn't outwit a half dozen female Autobots.  It's okay - the Seekers don't ever laugh about that."  

Claws rippled menacingly, itching to reach out and strike Jazz.  Soundwave noticed that a few of Shockwave's subordinates were close enough to hear, looking torn whether to stay and enjoy more, or back away and pretend they heard nothing at all.  

"A follower of the fallen Prime, I should think, is in no place to comment on others' prowess in battle."

"Least he was sometimes on the battlefield."  

"Insolent little slave."  Shockwave leaned just a little closer to Jazz, putting his vast size to good advantage.  "You wear that collar and chain because your army was inferior to the Decepticons, because your leader was inferior to Megatron's greater strength and cunning.  Learn your place, or I will teach it to you."  

"Well look who knows how to be intimidating as long as his prey's already tied up.  I'd say pick on someone your own size, but..."  Pointedly Jazz swept his gaze over Shockwave's famously bulky frame.  "I suppose there is no such creature."  

Shockwave hissed, optic smoldering with fury, and his hand dove into subspace.  "Get on your knees, Autobot, and I will show you what I do to slaves of your size."  

The hand came back out bearing a vicious acid whip, but he didn't have much of a chance to even brandish it at Jazz before Soundwave's hand clamped down over his wrist and held it fast.  

"Stop.  Now."  

"Your slave requires discipline, Director Soundwave," Shockwave said smoothly.  "I should think that much is obvious.  If you prefer to administer it yourself I will lend you my training device, but I do insist on watching."  

Soundwave tightened his grip and had the satisfaction of seeing Shockwave wince.  "Jazz, mine.  His discipline my concern, not yours.  Your place to insist anything of me, nonexistent." 

Soundwave was physically stronger than Shockwave and they both knew it.  Now, in front of all his watching subordinates, he had no choice but to back down.  Expression or not, Soundwave knew he was seething with fury.  

"I will take this to Megatron."

"Do.  This conversation, recorded.  If commanded, will provide Megatron with full reproduction of slave's remarks.  Starscream also."  

Shockwave stiffened for a new reason, optic momentarily blanching.  Soundwave released his grip, and he jerked back his arm.  "Just get out of my sight."  

Soundwave inclined his head in a show of false propriety, then tugged on Jazz's arm.  "I'm sorry," Jazz was trying to tell Chromia.  "I'm so sorry, please blink if you hear me..."  He didn't resist Soundwave's pull, but he wouldn't look away even as Soundwave dragged him away.  "I'm sorry!"  

Soundwave just so happened to be looking at Chromia when he thought he saw something flicker in her optics, but it was too fast to tell and most of his attention was on Jazz.  Long strides carried him away as fast as they could, and he did not look back.  He had a feeling that Jazz did.  


 

 

Jazz stayed three fast steps ahead of him the whole way home, shoulders hunched and ominously quiet.  Soundwave didn't know what to say, if anything could be said, and his two attempts to rest a hand on Jazz's shoulder were shrugged off.  They covered the entire distance back to his home in dreadful silence, and Jazz wouldn't look at him once.  Even when they returned to the building Jazz refused to slow down, rapidly punching the keypad by the door and diving through the second it opened.

"That entry code, arranged only yesterday."

"I solved it already.  You're gonna have to change it every day, you should know that."  Jazz stomped into the lift and Soundwave barely made it in time before the door was sliding shut.

"Jazz, your frustration understood -"

"Oh I doubt that.  I doubt that very much."  

"Shockwave's actions... extreme.  However, also the exception."

"So that makes it okay?  Doesn't really count?  Sorry, Chromia, that you have to live in the Pit with the one-eyed devil himself, but at least what he does to you isn't normal?  Look me in the optic, Soundwave, and tell me you wouldn't tear the limbs off anyone that did the same to your cassettes."

Soundwave faltered just long enough for Jazz to escape the elevator and enter the loft.  "Symbiotes, mine.  Jazz, mine.  Autobot Chromia, now Shockwave's."  

Jazz stopped so short that Soundwave almost walked into him, and whipped around.  The light in his visor was like ice.  "And that is why you do not understand.  The Autobots are different.  We don't have to be symbiotic or from the same factory or even the same model type to care about one another, or to get angry when one of our own is being slowly tortured to death.  Well just because you won't get angry doesn't mean I can't.  I want to light that mech on fire, Soundwave.  Someday I will watch him burn."

"Jazz will refrain from threats against Decepticons."

"Why do you defend the sociopaths?" Jazz shouted.  "You're not one of them!"

He spun around and stormed into Soundwave's personal berth chamber, and slammed the door shut behind him.  This time, Soundwave did not follow.  

 


 

It was near Jazz's next feeding time when Rumble and Frenzy returned later that cycle, both loudly wailing that their favorite vid chip dispenser's stall had been wrecked.  Jazz still hadn't come out of his berth chamber, leaving Soundwave alone in the common room with an untouched, increasingly dusty hax set.  They hadn't played since the day the Combaticons stole Hound.  

"... and so where the hell are we supposed to get the next Assassin's Creed now, that's what I'd like to know.  Hey, are you even listening?  Boss!"  Frenzy had to kick him in the pede in order to draw Soundave's attention, scowling impatiently.  "Everyone's saying that it's Shockwave who made it happen, that slagheap.  Can't you go talk to him?  We need access to the good games!"

"Discussion with Shockwave, already attempted today.  Discussion unsuccessful.  Shockwave's reasons for his actions, numerous."  

"Frag."  He sat on Soundwave's pede with a huff.  "I need cheering up.  Where's Jazz?"  

"Jazz, in berth chamber."  

"Why?" asked Rumble, morosely cuddling his video game controller.  "Is he sick?"  

"Encounter with Shockwave, upsetting."  Soundwave hesitated.  "Shockwave, accompanied by Autobot slave."  

"Wh- ohhh."  The twins exchanged a look.  In theory, Shockwave was lowest on Megatron's list of Decepticons to monitor, and none of Soundwave's cassettes were assigned to spy on his estate.  In practice, they and everyone else on the planet knew what kinds of things Shockwave did to his slave every night.  "Yech.  That shit is just plain creepy.  What's wrong with that mech, anyway?"  

"I say he's still a little touched in the head from getting left behind for all those vorns.  He was so lonely for Megatron."  They snickered.

"So why aren't you in there with Jazz?"

"Jazz, requires time alone."


"Thought Jazz hated being alone.  Made that point with the polish yesterday."  

Soundwave didn't think that was quite right, but both of them were staring in that expectant way of theirs, and anyway Jazz must be fed.  Putting aside trepidation, he stood and returned to his chamber.  Inside, the lights were off, and only the window gave any illumination.  Jazz was curled up on his side of the berth, facing the wall, utterly still.  Anyone else might assume he was asleep, but Soundwave was too familiar with Jazz's ventilation patterns to be fooled.  He shut the door behind him and sat on the berth.

"Go away," Jazz muttered.  "I don't want to talk to any Decepticons."

"Jazz must refuel.  Open mouth."

"Lost my appetite."

"Argument, useless."  

Soundwave leaned over Jazz's body and inserted into his mouth the energon treat, which was grudgingly accepted and swallowed.  "Okay, you've ensured another joor's worth of my codependency.  You can go now."

Soundwave did not.  "Jazz, deliberately antagonized Shockwave.  Actions unwise."

"Unwise, yes," Jazz sighed.  "But not deliberate.  I didn't mean for it to go so far.  I know she's paying for it right now, and saying sorry a thousand times wouldn't be enough.  Even if I thought she could hear me."

"Temper, lost?"

"Yeah."

"Unusual."  

"I couldn't stop myself.  I saw him there on the street with her... displaying her, and it made me so angry.  There's a reason he brought her out today; for him it wasn't enough to set his minions loose on the city and destroy a lot of livelihoods.  He had to show off the results of his more personal cruelty too, just to scare them all senseless.  He's so proud of his handiwork."

"Initiating contact, your mistake."

"What, are you mad?  It's not as if you have anything to be nervous about, not on Chromia's count.  I wasn't going to touch her, I wasn't even trying to talk to her.  I was just... I had to find out if she was still alive in there.  Because I'm not so sure.  I don't see her very often, and the last time -"  He shuddered.  "That didn't end well.  I think Shockwave is killing her from the inside out, and I can't do anything to stop it."

He looked so small and forlorn, huddled against his edge of the berth.  Soundwave obeyed the urge to rub a hand lightly along his arm, and Jazz shrank away from his touch.

"Shockwave, harrassed and robbed by Elita's troop frequently, for many vorns.  Speculation: Shockwave's actions a form of retaliation."

"I wish that was all of it.  If it was just about the revenge, maybe I wouldn't be so scared.  If it was about the revenge, he'd make sure to keep her sane enough to understand what he was doing.  But it's not about that anymore, it's about Megatron."

"Explain."

"Shockwave would give anything, down to his last optic, to get into that berth and we all know it.  But he's a little too wide and too ugly to be Megatron's type, and we all know that too.  So instead he uses his lovely bot like a lure for Megatron's attentions, so he can watch and fantasize and pretend that it's him for a night.  I don't know if it's pathetic or horrifying, but I wish you cons would leave us out of your fucked up triangles.  The Autobots have got enough to deal with."  

Soundwave withdrew his hand, taken aback.  Everyone knew about Shockwave's feelings, of course, but he hadn't paid much attention to Megatron's late-night visits to his estate or their increasing frequency.  Jazz's rage was suddenly more understandable.

"Your advice taken, when analyzing surveillance," he said, after a short silence.  "Conducting cross-reference searches for complaints against government policies; results numerous.  Most frequently targeted policies, Shockwave's.  Name, never mentioned for fear of arrest, but identity clear enough."  

For the first time Jazz shifted, tilting his head back just a little towards Soundwave.  "You're just saying that to make me feel better."

"Negative; lying unnecessary, never practiced."  

"Yeah, yeah.  So, they're really starting to get angry?  Even before today?"  

"Affirmative.  High taxes, frequent cause of complaint.  Faulty infrastructure and shortage of housing, also."

"And they know it's Shockwave's fault?"

"In most conversations, strongly implied."  

"Is it enough to take to Megatron?"

"Negative.  Name, never mentioned.  Civilian complaints for policies, no concern to Megatron."  

"Got his hands full with other things," Jazz muttered.  "Still, it's somethin'."  Finally he rolled onto his back, and fixed Soundwave with a thoughtful gaze.  "You stopped him, today, when he was ready to go at me with that stupid whip.  You shouldn't have, you know.  You might have been able to salvage something from the meeting if you'd let him satisfy his pride." 

"Shockwave's actions, unacceptable.  Jazz, mine.  My property, always under my protection."

"You could say I did provoke him.  Most would."

"Irrelevant.  Comments very disrespectful, but Jazz still mine."

"You could have stopped me."

That gave Soundwave pause for thought.  Yes, Jazz was right, he could have stopped him.  Once that mouth opened, it wasn't as if Soundwave didn't know what was coming.  "Personal assessment: Shockwave's policies illogical, his actions cruel.  Shockwave, deserved everything Jazz could say."

A corner of Jazz's mouth quirked up.  "I'll be damned.  Are you recording this conversation?"

"Negative."

"Just as well.  Wouldn't want to blow anyone's neural fuses."  Jazz lifted a hand, and idly stroked the edge of Soundwave's arm plating.  "I do believe, my love, that we have almost made up."  


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

Starscream didn't waste time.  He was already at Soundwave's office by the time Soundwave arrived, lounging against it as if he'd just so happened to feel a little weak and only this exact door in all the building would do.  This was exactly why he never wanted to make a regular habit of working here, Soundwave thought, and held back a tiny sigh.  Starscream arched coyly against his door, wing flaps almost fluttering with delight.

"Good morning, Soundwave!  Recharge well?"

"Starscream, move."  

"I recharged well," Starscream purred, apparently not having heard him.  "Maybe it's because I heard a wonderful story just before hitting the berth.  It involved you, come to think of it.  The story goes that you - Soundwave - confronted Shockwave in the midst of his ridiculous permit raid yesterday, and actually argued against it.  Then after you let your razor-tongued slave have a go at him, you knocked him back on his aft while half of Iacon watched.  I'm the first one to admit these rumors can get out of hand, so I've come straight to the source to hear it for myself.  Do tell, Soundwave, because I know how you never lie: what happened yesterday?  Tell me just half of all that is true, and I'll buy you a cube of high grade myself."  

"Starscream, not owed any explanation."

"Then I suppose I have no choice but to assume it's all true."  Starscream smirked, wings flicking as he shrugged.  "I must say, Jazz is a lot more fun when you point him at somebody else.  But I wonder if it was wise to leave your secret weapon at home; Shockwave is not happy with you.  And I thought I could make him mad.  I'm almost jealous of all the attention you're suddenly getting, because I'm quite sure I never managed to get his entire department buzzing with preparation like they're doing now.  Urgent reports being prepared, secretive meetings... what's going on over there, I wonder?  Are you nervous yet?"  

"Negative."  

"You should be.  I warned you, Soundwave, that it was a bad idea to step into our ring and play politics.  You're too honest and too logical to even know how, for one thing, and for another, Shockwave doesn't just play.  Whatever it is that he's planning, you won't even have time to look up before it's already gone through the spark casing.  Shockwave can't shoot worth scrap, but I'll give it to him, on this battlefield he knows how to aim."  

"Starscream, still blocking my office."  

Starscream pursed up his lips in his prettiest pout.  "Aren't you going to ask for my help?  You know that I hate you both, but I hate him so much more.  Whatever he's trying, it's not like I want him to win." 

"Your assistance, not needed.  Not wanted."  

"Hmph, fine.  Now that I think about it, you're not quite the Soundwave I used to know and loathe anyway.  Something's different about you; you're starting to care about more than just your little pests and your unending surveillance.  If you're willing to pick fights with Shockwave over something as absurd as those silly markets, then who knows what you're capable of?  I'll just sit back and see who carries the day.  May the best Con win."

At last he peeled himself off Soundwave's door and departed, though not without a sassy rap of the knuckle against Soundwave's chest glass.  Soundwave swallowed a groan and entered his office, automatically checking on the monitor for Jazz as he unlocked his console.  Nothing written on the floor today, at least.  They never did get more polish, or a new puzzle game for Jazz's datapad, and so Soundwave had left behind the younger twins to amuse him and make sure he didn't do anything like take apart the building.  Now he was brushing Buzzsaw's wings, but kept glancing at the camera every few seconds as if distracted.  Something in his posture struck Soundwave as being a little worried.

"Rumble, Frenzy, report to office now."  

"But we're on duty in the command -"

"Now."  

"Yes, boss."  Soundwave was not in the habit of letting Starscream scare him about anything, but the tension in Jazz's body was a different story.  When Soundwave left their home, he was muttering things about Soundwave watching his back for a slightly ill-aimed knife.  Naturally Shockwave would be seeking revenge for what happened yesterday, but the spark echo from all symbiotes was safe and untroubled.  He'd only just left home, and according to the video feed all was still fine.  What was Shockwave up to?  Jazz would not be nervous without reason.  If he were here, would he have any ideas?

Irrelevant.  Soundwave turned his back on the monitors when Rumble and Frenzy entered the room.  

"Boss, what's goin' on?"

"Yeah, you're feeling kinda wound-up."

"Report all unusual activity exhibited by Shockwave's subordinates this shift."  

"Whoa, how did you even know already?"  They looked awed.  "We were gonna include it in the upload tonight, but we didn't figure it was an emergency -"

"Report, now."  

They shrugged in perfect unison.  "Nothing's happened, really.  We just heard mecha sayin' they've been ordered to meetings with Shockwave, meetings that we don't think were on the schedule yesterday.  Closed doors; his departments only.  Do you think it's trouble?"

Soundwave hesitated, wondering if it was worthwhile or paranoid to call Laserbeak down and have her infiltrate Shockwave's offices.  He was rapidly formulating probabilities when his console comm flickered to life.

"Speaking of trouble," Rumble muttered, when Shockwave's image lit up the screen.

"Director Soundwave, so you've finally arrived.  Barely in time, I note, but still arrived."  

"Just because you live at your desk -" Frenzy started indignantly, but shut his mouth when Soundwave held up a hand.

"General meeting, not scheduled today.  Explain 'in time'."

"Oh, didn't you receive my memo?  I've scheduled a brief conference with Megatron and, at his suggestion, invited you to participate.  It's quite dry and shouldn't take up too much of your precious time; hopefully we'll be done quickly.  I'll be presenting the reasons for which your Surveillance and Intelligence department should now come under my jurisdiction."

"What?" spluttered Frenzy. 

"Soundwave answers to Megatron," Rumble said furiously, "not you, you -"

"Rumble," Soundwave warned sharply, "Frenzy.  Silence, now."  Aloud he addressed Shockwave with a voice glacially calm.  "Shockwave, not experienced in communications or surveillance.  Transfer of jurisdiction, illogical." 

"You can say that to Lord Megatron, if you like," Shockwave answered, doing his best to cover his vindictive glee with casual boredom.  "Illogical breaches of jurisdiction certainly wasn't bothering you any when you walked into my enforcement division, and took it upon yourself to initiate a punishment on two of my lawkeepers."  

"That action, taken at Shockwave's recommend-"

"I must cut this short, I'm afraid, Megatron's expecting me now in the command room.  See you in one breem, Director Soundwave."   

The comm screen went black and his symbiotes, quivering with the effort of keeping hands slapped over their own mouths, burst into noise.  "Soundwave, you can't let him do this!"

"We can't work for that slagsucking prick!"

"You can't work for that slagsucking prick, you're better than him!  You were Megatron's third on the frontlines while he was here in Iacon swilling high grade.  You shouldn't have to report to anyone but Megatron himself!"

"Shouting unnecessary," Soundwave reminded them, much more coolly than he felt inside.  "Decisions for jurisdiction of power, Megatron's alone."

"But you'll fight it, won't you?"     

"Argument, intended.  Formulating counterpoints now."  His mind was busy scanning and sorting already, filing logical defenses against Shockwave's claim, but he had so little time.  So this was what Shockwave had spent all the morning preparing.  

Rumble and Frenzy both glanced at the monitors, then exchanged a look.  "Maybe... we should run home and get Jazz."

What?  "Negative, unnecessary."  

"But, Jazz is good at this kind of stuff."  

"Yeah, he can help!  He always does."  

"Four breems, tops, we can fly there and -"

"Jazz, not needed," Soundwave snapped, rising from his chair.  "Soundwave, competent and capable of defending authority against Shockwave.  Assistance of slave not required." 

They didn't protest anymore, at least not out loud, but their frustration and anxiety read plainly enough.  "Now, attending meeting.  Your attendance, not suggested; panicking symbiotes a significant distraction.  Dismissed."  

The door swished open and he stepped forward, resolutely not looking anywhere at all near the monitor screens.  He walked past the twins without looking at them either.  And when the door slipped shut behind him, he carefully looked nowhere but the opposite wall as he began cycling deep, nervous ventilations.     


 

 

Soundwave did not hurry.  The last thing Megatron needed to see was his comms officer rushing flustered into the command room, so Soundwave keyed open the door and entered the room at his usual deliberate stride.  He walked past slaves, and civilians, and underlings, up the steps past two levels of clearance, all without so much as a glance to either side.  Megatron was already there, lounging in his massive chair, as was Shockwave, standing primly by the holodisplay table.  Starscream looked oddly out of place on the sidelines, over by the consoles, more watchful today than smug.  Shockwave would be the one wearing the smirk, if he was capable of expressions.  As it was, his optic brightened a few shades with anticipation when Soundwave stepped on to the top level.  

"Ah, Director Soundwave, welcome.  Punctual as always."

"You will not win this," Soundwave said by way of reply, effortlessly hacking straight into Shockwave's personal comm frequency.  Shockwave flinched, just briefly enough that no one else noticed. 

"Alright, Shockwave," Megatron spoke up, looking dangerously on the brink between bored and curious, "you've got your five breems.  Make your case already."  

"By your leave, my lord."  Shockwave bowed and flicked a switch on the table.  Detailed graphs with long lists of numbers, far longer than Megatron would ever bother to read, promptly popped up.  “What you see before you are the case numbers of criminal incidents since the founding of our new law enforcement department.  As my lord Megatron knows, I subsequently delegated management of the department to Decepticons Blitzwing and Astrotrain.  They inform me that access to Soundwave’s surveillance data would be tremendously helpful in the course of investigations; to date, Soundwave has never offered such access.  He has, however, seen fit to involve himself in enforcement affairs.  The natural conclusion to make is that Soundwave and law enforcement ought to be consolidated under the same authority.”

“In other words, yourself.”

“Precisely, my lord.  I have here –“

“But Shockwave, you don’t have any expertise in Soundwave’s specialties.”  Megatron’s optics narrowed thoughtfully.  “Do you really think yourself capable of overseeing tasks like datastream hacking and signal analysis?”

“My lord, I have absolutely no intention of attempting to supplant Soundwave’s responsibilities.  We all know here that his expertise is irreplaceable.  I merely propose that he report to me his findings.  When we include Surveillance and Intelligence in my jurisdiction, I can ensure full interdepartmental cooperation between Soundwave and the triplechangers.  Here is a very rough estimate of the efficiency my underlings believe we could gain from this merger.”  More charts flipped past very quickly.  “Substantial joors of your time alone would be saved, as I am aware you make it a daily practice to read Soundwave’s reports personally.  I would only be too happy to take such a responsibility off your hands.”

At that prospect Megatron looked intrigued, but heavy skepticism still lurked.  “And this new idea of yours has absolutely nothing at all do with that little… altercation yesterday that I’ve been hearing about?”  He glanced briefly at Starscream, who preened when Shockwave shot him a nasty glare. 

“On the contrary, my lord.  Although it’s true our exchange was… heated, Soundwave’s sudden interest in how I conduct the execution of your laws is the most telling argument that he should be more involved with my own departments.  I am not interested in becoming his boss; I look forward to a productive and mutually beneficial partnership.” 

“I see.”  For the first time Megatron looked at Soundwave.  “He makes an interesting argument, Soundwave.  Is it true you've never offered access to your own surveillance data for lawkeeping investigations?"


"Affirmative."

Shockwave twitched again, surprised Soundwave hadn't tried to dance around that fact.   

"Oh?  Why's that?"

"Data, never requested." 

“You haven’t exactly made it easy to ask, have you?” Shockwave pointed out quickly.  “As an officer in this government you are notoriously solitary and unapproachable, particularly given your curious habit of seclusion.  You insist on working alone, making use only of your symbiotes for assistants, and most days cannot even be found in Decepticon Headquarters.  You live and work in a manner so… independent of the rest of us.”  He pronounced the word as though it were foul to taste.  “It’s no wonder that nobody can find any kind of cooperation with you at all.”

“Solitude, sought for purpose of concentration.  Exclusive reliance on symbiotes, due to sensitive data.  Work habits, perhaps peculiar, but effective.  Work habits of your law enforcement personnel, more questionable.” 

He felt rather than saw the optic ridges of both Megatron and Starscream go up.  “And what,” Shockwave asked frostily, “is that supposed to mean?”

“Explanation inferior to demonstration.  Starscream, contact enforcement department, head office.” 

Starscream, looking too gleeful to even be bothered that he’d been ordered to the task, reached to jab the appropriate button on the console.  “Wait –“ Shockwave tried, but it was too late.  The comm screen lit up with a vivid, overlarge image of Blitzwing at his desk, pedes propped up, optics shuttered, fast asleep.

Starscream muffled a giggle into his hand while everyone else stared in silence.  Shockwave’s systems coughed with delicate embarrassment.  “Well I’m quite sure that Astrotrain –“

Starscream tried the other desk without even needing to be asked, only to find it completely empty.  If Soundwave had had any time to prepare, he would have sent Laserbeak in to record a full day’s worth of the little Autobot busily managing the office while these two did anything but.  This was enough, he decided, especially when he saw the look on Megatron’s face.

“Observation,” he said into the awkward quiet.  “Shockwave oversees many departments.  Currently has jurisdiction over taxation, acid sewage infrastructure, housing regulation, power grid registration, scavenging permits…”  Rapidly Soundwave pulled snatches of conversations and overheard complaints from the last surveillance report, assembling them into data packets and firing them straight into Shockwave’s personal frequency.  “Demolition.”  - they destroyed our home – “Industrial development.”  - gives our credits to his friends to start more factories – “And, significantly, small business regulation.”  - that table was everything I had, now I've no choice but to beg for my fuel!

That optic kept getting paler and paler as Soundwave's list got longer, and at last Soundwave received a slightly frantic hail for contact.  Deliberately he made Shockwave wait before accepting it.

"Do you think you can blackmail me with that pathetic whining?" he snarled.  "Megatron doesn't care about those worthless peasants and we both know it."

"This known.  However, offer to read daily surveillance reports, in conjunction with these recordings, may give impression of suspicious motive.  Starscream will assume so; Megatron might.  Shockwave, willing to gamble?" 

Soundwave returned his gaze to Megatron, concluding his spoken litany of Shockwave's departments at the same time he cut the transmission, not giving him a chance to reply.  "Shockwave's responsibilities numerous.  Perhaps too numerous to allow effective supervision of each department.  Suggestion: Shockwave concentrate on current responsibilities before seeking new ones.  Regardless, proposal to manage my department unsuitable.  Shockwave's habits clearly show preference for control over those with less intelligence.  Even if necessity dictates he beat all intelligence out of them first."  

Silence thudded into the command room.  Shockwave's systems froze, Megatron's optics shuttered and reset themselves, and Starscream's jaw swung open in the most astonished gape Soundwave had ever seen on him.  Then, somewhere in that silence, some tiny noise attracted his attention and he glanced to the side.  There on the ground floor stood Jazz, vents still wide open from the exertion of running, the four cassetticons perched on or standing by him.  All of them were staring up at him, stunned.

"Well," Megatron finally managed.  "I must say, Soundwave, your defense is... forceful.  And you make a sound argument."  His words were punctuated by a gentle snore from Blitzwing.  "Shockwave, do you have anything to add?"  

Shockwave was rooted to the spot, looking as blankly helpless as anyone without a face possibly could.  When a few too many seconds ticked by, Soundwave braced himself, ready to start listing to Megatron the recorded complaints, but it was not necessary.  Shockwave had glimpsed his hand, and was ready to fold.  

"No, my lord.  I withdraw my proposal."  

"That's good.  To be truthful, I hadn't even realized what a workload of administration you were already carrying - that was quite a list.  I think Soundwave's right, it would be wise to examine your own departments and ensure they're being run effectively before you go looking for more.  By mecha that are awake, if possible."

Starscream barely managed to snort back his laughter, optics glittering with delight as he drank in Shockwave's utter humiliation.  Shockwave bowed.  "Of course, my lord."  

"You have a lot to do then.  Dismissed."  

Megatron lifted his chin and his volume on that last word, effectively dismissing all of them, and Soundwave bowed as well.  He turned toward the steps and was nearly trampled by Shockwave storming out, visibly seething.  He was followed by Starscream, who leaned in close and whispered, "Nice show.  I'll go for a week on this."  Then Megatron, who said nothing at all, but something in the way he looked at Soundwave spoke volumes.  He was impressed, yes, but also... taken aback.  Soundwave hadn't seen that appraising look in his optics since they first met.  

Jazz had made himself wisely scarce by the time Soundwave reached the lower floor, behind all the other officers.  Following the feel of his symbiotes' tiny sparks, Soundwave left the command room and traveled the halls to his office, conscious of every pointed finger and whispered conversation in his wake.  Then he entered his office and let the door shut behind him, and he was attacked.  All four of his present cassetticons set upon him at once, squawking and nipping at his joints or thumping him with triumphant fists.  

"Holy scrap I never thought I'd see -"

"- couldn't believe my own audios -"

"Shockwave, humiliated!"

"Master, enjoyed victory -"

"- One-eye never saw it coming -"

"- sent him home with his tail between his legs!"          

Jazz was standing in the center of the office, not even wearing his chains, vents still panting a little.  "I didn't know what was going on," he said.  "Laserbeak and Buzzsaw practically pushed me out the house.  Then the twins caught up with us halfway here and- I ran as fast as I could.  But I guess I didn't have to.  You were fantastic.  You made him so, so sorry that he'd started anything with you."  

"Counterattack, not desired.  Actions taken in defense only."

"But you didn't hold back.  You not only knocked him to the floor, you pinned him there and went for the kill.  That last thing you said, about... her, you didn't even have to."

"Perhaps.  However, some part of counterattack a little desired.  Vindication, enjoyed." 

 He couldn't quite tell what Jazz made of that, staring at him so strangely, and when he spoke again his voice was tight.

"Out."  

What?  "What?" Rumble asked, blankly.  

"Out, now, all of you."  Jazz shooed the aerial twins off Soundwave's shoulder and opened the office door, waving the baffled cassetticons out into the hall, then unceremoniously tossed Rumble and Frenzy after them.  Their startled yelps and protests were cut short when the soundproof door slid shut again.  Jazz promptly turned around, with a gleam in his visor that Soundwave hadn't seen before.  

"Now then.  Poor master, you've had such a hard day at work, dodging power grabs, playing scary games... you should rest."  Applying one finger of pressure against Soundwave's chest, Jazz backed Soundwave up to his own chair and pushed him down into it.  "You must be so tired.  Allow me to help you relax."  

Jazz breathed that last word directly into his audio sensor, before retreating just enough that Soundwave could see the wicked grin on his face.  Jazz didn't straighten and step away, though, his knee joints melting beneath him until he was on the floor directly in front of Soundwave. 

"Donne-moi ta main."

Wordlessly Soundwave complied, holding his right hand out to Jazz, who took it in both his smaller ones.  As if he'd just been handed a fascinating treasure, Jazz cradled it tenderly, gliding his palms over every inch, tracing lines and joints with a gentle fingertip.  Finally he turned Soundwave's palm toward himself, tilting it forward until a significant gap had opened up along Soundwave's wrist joint.  Ever so delicately, Jazz reached one fingertip inside and ghosted it along a sensor wire.  

Soundwave's systems accelerated sharply, and his internal temperature climbed two degrees.  Jazz graced him with another sinister smile before tipping forward and replacing fingertip with glossa.  The warm, moist tip merely touched the wire and Soundwave's spark jumped in his chest, excitement crackling throughout his body but especially along the most vulnerable lines.  Of its own accord his armor loosened, relaxing itself for anticipated pleasure, and the wrist joint gap opened even further.  Jazz made good use of the extra room, dancing and tickling his glossa along sensitive nerve wires, teasing them with an expert's touch.  Soundwave's fans kicked on, spinning hard to combat his skyrocketing temperature, and even over their noise Soundwave could hear the air rushing in and out of his wide-open vents.  In contrast Jazz looked perfectly cool and collected, toying lovingly with Soundwave's internals in what Soundwave had always thought was a fairly insensitive joint.  He withdrew his mouth and blew lightly over the wires so recently moistened, and Soundwave almost jumped out of his chair.  

Looking smug, Jazz tickled his fingertips over Soundwave's palm and returned his glossa to the wrist, pushing in harder, delving deeper, exciting Soundwave's systems into rotating even faster, generating friction, and unbearably delicious electricity.  He could feel the fuel pumping furiously through his lines, generating increasing surges of energy that had nowhere to go.  The electricity almost sang through the wires under Jazz's glossa, quivering with sensation.  There was too much of it: the heat, the friction, the energy that sparked and flared with every new tickling touch.  His left hand curled into a vicelike grip on the arm of his chair, tightening to the point of pain.  

"Go on," Jazz murmured, and even the movement of his lips against Soundwave's outer metal was enough to make his plating buzz with pleasure.  "You deserve it."  

His body did not need the encouragement.  A hot white flash erupted inside him and he overloaded, tiny sparks bursting from every joint.  It was brilliant, sizzling bliss, pure ecstasy in those first few seconds for which even his optics had blacked out.  Then his systems restarted themselves, his vision cleared, and he was left panting in its ebbing glow.  

Jazz sat back on his heels, looking satisfied with himself.  His vents weren't even completely open, but his visor was flushed bright blue.  "Did I satisfy?"

"...affirmative."

"Good."  He braced a hand on Soundwave's knee in preparation to stand, then paused.  "You know, I think we should play hax tonight.  I miss it."   

 


 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

 

Chapter Text

"Deep in my spark," Jazz confessed, "I'd kinda hoped this place would spring back to normal after what you did to Shockwave.  I thought if we came back the next day, everything would be just like it was with all the vendors back to their usual places, selling their usual junk.  It would have been nice, to know that nobody was permanently damaged by Shockwave's stupid power trip."  

Soundwave followed his gaze to the walkways, still far less crowded than they'd once been, and less noisy.  With less competition, the remaining merchants didn't have to shout or haggle nearly so much.  Personally, Soundwave rather preferred this version, but he knew all his cassettes missed the excitement of what used to be.  

"Shockwave's failed mission: capture and subjugation of my sovereignty and responsibilities.  Connection to his current commands, nonexistent.  His jurisdiction here unquestioned and uninterrupted."  

"I know," Jazz sighed.  "It's just so quiet, that's all.  Too many voices missing."  To the beat of some distant music he engaged a half-sparked step-skip, then lifted his head with a new thought.  "But of course, they didn't just disappear, did they?  Where did they go, Soundwave?"

"Query, not understood."  

"Oh, I think you know what I mean.  I spent too many vorns in the dark undersides of Iacon's economy to think that just because I can't see merchants hawking their scrap on the streets, doesn't mean they're not there.  It's just a matter of knowing where to look.  So where is it, Soundwave?"  Playfully Jazz backed up before him, finger circling in the air once before tapping against his chest glass.  "Where's the black market?  I know it's out there, and I know you know where it is.  There's no way your little spies have not found it."

As a matter of fact they had.  Ravage had noted the new swell in commerce activity out on the fringe of the city, barely one cycle after Shockwave's surprise inspection raid, and it had been growing ever since.  

"Location known," he acknowledged.  "However, that information unnecessary for you."  

"You won't tell me?  Why not?"  

"Jazz, likely to visit it?"  

"Not as long as I'm on your leash, I guess.  Can't go strolling into the illegal shopping district with Megatron's fourth at my elbow; imagine the panic.  Sometimes I forget that you Decepticons represent law and order on this planet now."  

Light rolled behind his visor and he resumed walking.  Three steps later, he stopped again.  "Wait, does this mean you're not telling anyone?  Not even your boss?"  

"Megatron's orders: conduct surveillance and report dissidence or treason.  Detection of crime, not requested; that responsibility the jurisdiction of law enforcement.  Surveillance data, never requested by law enforcement.  Therefore, location of illegal business activity goes unreported."  

"You scheming outlaw."  Jazz looked fairly astonished, but an impressed grin was sliding across his face plates.  "I don't know if you're doing it to piss off Shockwave or because you felt like throwing a bone to the underclass, but either way, I like it.  And here everybody's always sayin' that you're just Megatron's mindless drone."  

"Everybody?"

"Okay, Starscream.  But he says it really loudly.  I wonder if he knows you keep a few secrets to yourself now and then."

"Starscream: frequently talks, rarely listens.  Soundwave, opposite.  Many secrets gathered, many of them unimportant.  This knowledge, unimportant to Megatron.  For this reason, unreported."

"More's the pity for Shockwave."  He laughed and skipped away again, his mood visibly improved.  Apparently just knowing that a black market existed was enough to perk up that glow in his visor, which Soundwave attributed to his vaguely-described past working in one.  Again his attention flitted to that curious incongruity with Autobot propaganda, patiently following Jazz as he wended his way through the not-so-crowded crowds.  He was homing in on the music, of course, his steps getting more and more sprightly with the increased volume.  The source wasn't a cheap stall on the walkway, however, but a fully established nightspot with walls and darkened windows.  

"Not bad!" Jazz chirped approvingly.  "An interesting blend he's tryin' for in there: early Black Eyed Peas overlaid on a traditional Cybertronian-style beat.  The mixing is amateurish at best, but you can't fault him for trying something new, and the result is not un-pleasing to my audios.  Or the pedes."  He pressed himself suggestively against the wall and fixed Soundwave with a hopeful grin.  "Don't suppose you'd care to break character and take us inside?  Let me dance for you in a proper setting for once, without these stupid chains holding me back."

"Jazz, always dancing in those chains."

"I skip and twirl in these chains," Jazz corrected.  "That's not dancing, not the real kind, not like what I can do when I really put my spark into it.  I was made to dance, Soundwave.  Give me a chance, and I will give you such a show.  Promise you'll enjoy it."  

Temptation gripped Soundwave.  Jazz was beautiful and graceful, and begging to perform for him.  The thought of Jazz dancing for his pleasure was enough to make the fuel tingle in his lines, as was the shallow satisfaction of showing off to the whole city what was his.  But that last part alone was the reason he had to shake his head.  

"Request, impossible.  This nightspot, permanent establishment.  Permit and licensing for such a venture, guaranteed favor from Shockwave.  Owner, therefore, loyal to Shockwave and will report deviations such as Autobot without chains.  Such attention, not welcome."  

"It's not as if Decepticons don't ever let their slaves out of their chains when they have to.  The Constructicons, they -"

"Shockwave will ensure Megatron's attention also.  That outcome, not desired."  Unhappily he thought about that day Megatron and Jazz had surprised each other in the marketplace.  He did not want Megatron to hear stories about Jazz dancing unrestrained in a public venue, looking, as Megatron had darkly warned against, 'happy'.  He wouldn't suffer to allow it, not for any reason.  

Jazz's shoulders dropped in obvious disappointment.  "You're right, what was I thinking?  Megatron... he's probably a terrible tipper.  It is a bad idea."  A forced smile accompanied the forced joke, and Jazz patted the wall in a final caress before he turned away.  "Maybe some other time." 

Indeed.  Mentally, Soundwave amended 'maybe' to 'certainly'.  It was only a matter of finding the right circumstances.  When Jazz was a few steps away, he spoke up.  "Your promise, made.  You will keep it."  

Jazz didn't miss a beat.  "Wouldn't have it any other way."  


 

 

The marketplace was quieter, and so was Soundwave's life.  The orn following his strategic victory over Shockwave (the twins simply dubbed it 'the great smackdown') brought with it a peace that Soundwave relished, however temporary it might prove to be.  The tension that had been suffocating their home popped, like a bubble, leaving the air clear for the first time in what felt like vorns.  It was so easy to see it in his own symbiotes; their voices were louder, their chatter more animated, their arguments more likely to turn into spontaneous fits of wrestling.  And afterwards, vents wheezing and giggles still tapering off, they'd perch on his shoulder or fling themselves onto his lap while he pursued his endless hax match against Jazz.  Soundwave didn't forget, not for a second, what Jazz had done to the Combaticons.  But he watched his slave tease and cuddle his cassettes with a fair degree of patience now, calm and speculative.  Just because he hadn't figured it out yet didn't mean he wouldn't, and in the meantime he was pleased to have his home happy again.  

He also, as should be expected, found himself watching Jazz for another reason.  It didn't take much to trigger the memory of what happened in his office that day, and if Soundwave concentrated, he could still feel Jazz's glossa running along his wires.  He knew exactly where it had touched, and where it had not.  He remembered the eager gleam in Jazz's visor, his quick ventilations, the movement of lips against his own hand's soft plating.  Every exquisite memory brought on a surge of lust that had to be promptly tamped down or blocked off from his ever-curious symbiotes.  Not that they didn't pick up a little of what happened that day, of course, but Soundwave was not ready to share Jazz with them just yet.  Particularly since Jazz's actions had left a few questions along with those tingling wires.

He let most of an orn go by before he brought it up, waiting until they had their privacy in the washracks.  Jazz was scrubbing at his armor with a foamy brush, tiny flecks of soap spattering him as he worked. 

“Jazz, query.”

“Ask away.” 

“Your actions, in my office that day.  Enjoyed?” 

“Does it matter?  You liked it, right?”

“Performance, satisfactory,” acknowledged Soundwave.  Jazz was concentrating on his task, not meeting Soundwave’s gaze.  “Reason why?”

“Oh, that was just my way of saying ‘thank you’,” Jazz answered breezily.  “On behalf of Chromia.  And everybody else who hates Shockwave, which is, ya know… everybody.  It was the least I could do."  

"Triumph, very pleasing."  

"Not for him, I think."  

"Triumph, not over Shockwave," Soundwave corrected.  "Triumph, over Jazz."

That got Jazz to stop what he was doing and take one step back, looking Soundwave straight in the optic.  "Beg pardon?"  

"Jazz's service, excellent," he continued smugly.  "Your obedience for sake of my pleasure, extremely gratifying."  

"Obedience?" Jazz scoffed.  "Which room were you in?  You didn't order me into anything, least of all getting on my knees.  I told you, I did it because I wanted to."     

"Reminder: your willingness my stated goal in the beginning.  Challenge accepted, now met."  

"Wh-"  Jazz's mouth opened, but nothing else came out, and now that no full words seemed forthcoming, apparently couldn't remember how to shut it again.  Going by the blank, pale glow of his visor, the truth was hitting home.  It was the first time Soundwave had ever seen Jazz well and truly flustered, and he savored it like sweet high grade on the glossa.   

"But, that... doesn't count."  

"Explain."

"That was special circumstances!  What happened that day- you didn't do it just so I would do that."  

"That matters?"

Again Jazz couldn't seem to find words, and Soundwave was entertained by his mouth opening and closing a few times before the air of a faint sulk settled down around his slave.  

"Well.  Look who thinks he's so clever, just because he outwitted and publicly humiliated Shockwave in under four breems.  Just so you know, I'd have done it in two."  

Mask concealing his smirk, Soundwave braced a fingertip under Jazz's chin to ensure he had his full attention.  "Now, say it."

"Say what?"

"You know what."  

Jazz did know what.  Sullen rebellion flashed across his faceplates he spoke up in a grudging mutter.  "Soundwave seven.  We are tied again.  Happy?"

"Soon."

Soundwave dropped his hand to Jazz’s chest, let his fingertip glide down the curve of his armor, then closed his hand around Jazz’s wrist.  With the other, he pried the brush out of Jazz’s grasp and dropped it.  Without moving a strut, somehow Jazz’s posture turned very cautious. 

“Let go of my hand, Soundwave.” 

“Why?” 

“Because I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not going to work.  You think you can go into my wrist joint, turn me into a quivering bundle of wires like I did for you?  That won’t happen.  I get Decepticons off, not the other way around.” 

“Jazz, seeking control.”

“No, I just –“

“Understand this.”  Soundwave advanced and Jazz backed up, his wrist still trapped in Soundwave’s grip.  “Soundwave, not Skywarp.  Not Starscream.  Your actions in their berths, witnessed.  In your mind, everything seen.”  Jazz twitched at the reference but said nothing, apprehensive gaze still fixed on Soundwave as he backed into the wall.  “Jazz, works to please masters with skillful technique, distracting them, controlling the pace.  Afraid of total submission, afraid to receive rather than give.”

Deliberately he tilted Jazz’s arm forward, and ran a finger along Jazz’s wrist joint.  Jazz’s vents hitched, but he didn’t move. 

“For your former masters, enough.  But Soundwave, superior.  Cannot be tricked into satisfaction with your glossa, however talented.  Must have all of you.”  He stopped teasing Jazz’s wrist and glided the back of his hand alongside Jazz’s face.  “Willing.  Trusting.  Holding nothing back.  Jazz must be completely mine.  Understood?”

He swept his hand around to the other side of Jazz's face, gliding it ever so softly over his dermal plating.  It was hot in here, the steam was starting to billow around them, tiny droplets freckling Jazz's visor.  Jazz tried to hide it, but Soundwave could see him swallow.    

"Why is it always the washracks when this comes up?"  

"Preference, berth?"  Soundwave lowered his head alongside Jazz's, close enough to feel the humming of his systems underneath the steady hiss of water.  "Or couch?"  

"Ha ha."

Jazz tilted his head back against the wall when Soundwave drew back, optics level with his own.  With a tiny snick, his facemask sprang open, exposing his mouth that was now so very near Jazz's.

"Now, answer question.  Understood?"

“I got you,” Jazz whispered stiffly.  “But you won’t get that.  Nobody - not Autobot, not Decepticon - has ever gotten that.”

“Because loss of control, feared."

"That's rich, from the mech who makes me eat out of his hand."  

"Soundwave master," he pointed out.  "And Jazz, mine... someday.  Soundwave, very eager for that day."

He pushed himself away from Jazz, mask springing back into place.  "Collect brush, and continue."  Jazz stared at him, looking just a little dumbfounded, but Soundwave just waited patiently under the water.  Finally, Jazz picked up the brush and started where he'd left off.  They finished their bathing session in silence.  


 

 

"How long do you think it'll be," Rumble asked not-so-idly, fiddling with a broken camera, "before Shockwave tries to kill you?"  

Soundwave's hands barely paused in their skimming over the console, and his only response was to spare one uninterested glance at the twins. They were not deterred.  

"Don't look at us like that," Frenzy complained. "It's a valid question. Did you or did you not just score the victory of a century over him? In public? In front of Megatron? You could have shot out his only optic and he'd hate you less. How long do you think he'll wait before he tries to kill you?"  

"And more importantly, how do you think he'll try?"

"We all know he can't shoot you, but even if he actually managed to hit you, it'd be too obvious who did it. So that's out."  

"I figure that since he's got half the city in his pocket, he'll just hire some dumb grunts to jump you in an alley."  

"Or maybe he'll poison your energon ration."  

"Plant some explosives under the loft."  

"Rig some construction to fall on you!"  

"This conversation, pointless," Soundwave said impatiently. "And distracting.  If bored, permitted to leave office."

"It's different for you," Frenzy huffed. "You walk the halls, and nobody has the nerve to even look you in the optic. Instead we get all the nasty looks from Shockwave's stupid buttonpushers, and we're pretty sure from Shockwave too, even if he doesn't have a face. There is no way he does not want to kill you. Aren't you just the teeniest bit concerned?"  

"Negative."  

"Well why not?" they whined. Soundwave did not look up from his work.  

"Consideration, Shockwave frequently argues with Starscream. Starscream, sometimes victorious. Shockwave, never attempted assassination against Starscream."  

"Oh." They processed that. "Well... I guess that's true."

"Not that Shockwave is any kind of match against Starscream to begin with."

"Implications?" Soundwave asked coolly.

"Not that he's any kind of match against you either," Rumble said hastily.  

"But we were kinda thinking about ourselves."  

"Concerns, groundless. Assassination of Decepticon officer, act of disloyalty to Empire and to Megatron. Shockwave, not capable of such disloyalty. Attack against me, or possessions, unwise and unattainable."  

"Which isn't the same thing as saying he doesn't want to."

"Shockwave's desires, not my concern. Symbiotes avoiding workshift, my concern." He leveled a meaningful look at them both, who hunched their shoulders defensively.

"Fine, we're going."  

"But before you boot us back out into the halls, at least tell us this: if there's nothing to worry about, what's got Ravage so tense? Or is he wrong too?"  

Soundwave hesitated. Ravage was indeed tense, but for different reasons than the twins imagined. "Discussion with Ravage, intended later."  

"Fine, don't tell us."  

"But if you're planning on smashing him into the dust again, at least give us a heads up so we can block out the yowling."  

"Smashing, not intended. Your duties wait, dismissed now."  

"If you need us, we'll be getting bored out of our minds in the command room."  

They clumped resentfully out the door, leaving him alone with the monitors. For most of the day Jazz had been quietly playing games on his datapad, but now he'd dozed off on the couch. Laserbeak was perched on his chest, beak tucked under one wing in her recharge, while Buzzsaw slept up on the back edge of the couch. Soundwave didn't like Jazz sleeping so much in the middle of the active cycle, and now that he'd finished drafting the morning's report, he would go home to wake him. But first -  

Combaticons, report. 

With extreme care Soundwave bundled his message under a stream of innocuous data, hidden to anyone but a comms expert. No good encrypting it too deeply, or the intended recipients would be unable to open it.  

Your plan, known. Extended silence, not conducive to making amends to Megatron. Reveal location now. Combaticons, respond.  

Not inclined to say anymore, Soundwave fired the message off into the Combaticons' personal intranet, where it would bang up against their receptors until they were forced to decrypt and read it. Soundwave wiped out all logs on his console that gave evidence to the message, then powered down the console and shut it off.  

 


 

Ravage appeared at his side once he'd left Headquarters, shimmering soundlessly into existence off on his left.  This close, his unease was palpable; no wonder it was bothering the twins so much.

"Ravage, upset."  

A soft growl was his immediate response, before Ravage's thoughts unfolded into a more specific answer.  Images of unhappy Cybertronians whisked through the link, and their muttered conversations that always managed to be caught by Soundwave's cameras no matter how careful they thought they were being.  Imbalance was the main thought underscoring every scene.

He was right.  Shockwave's popularity had been dropping steadily since the mid-vorn, and the raid on Iacon's street markets had delivered the killing blow.  Hatred was now almost universal throughout the city.  The only exceptions were Shockwave's own underlings, and any mech rich enough to have been granted some sort of favor from the premier.  Even that, however, was not genuine affection or loyalty, just obedience for the sake of his privileges.  Take away his status, and he'd have nothing left.  

This would not have bothered Soundwave if it weren't for the fact that everyone on the planet - and probably the entire galaxy - knew that Starscream was Shockwave's opposite in every way.  By default, anyone not in the pro-Shockwave camp was in the pro-Starscream camp; Starscream who was, as Jazz had pointed out, a glamorous and stunningly attractive war hero.  He also possessed an ego the size of the city, and ambitions that were not loyal to Megatron in the slightest.  With most of the city's favor turned toward him, Starscream just might get it in his head that it was time for an overthrow.  

More, Ravage added, while Soundwave was sunk deep in his thoughts.  Starscream/Shockwave imbalance.  Soundwave/Shockwave imbalance.

What?  Soundwave was moderately startled to glean several overheard snippets of conversation from Ravage's recordings, conversations that praised him as their great hero.  True that he'd involved himself to some small degree in that market raid, but unsuccessfully.  And his recent victory over Shockwave had been nothing more than a defensive move to keep his authority safe.  The only result was that everything stayed exactly the same as it was before.  In the corner of his vision, he watched a passerby nudge his friend and point to Soundwave.  

"Their impressions, mistaken.  Reasoning, illogical."  

Ravage snorted, decidedly unimpressed with the citydwellers' capacity for logic.  But the root reason for his unease was becoming more clear.  Whether he wanted it or not, Soundwave was now considered to be a player in the politics of the empire.  Not his traditional role, but things had been changing lately.  And the cause, at least according to Ravage, was upstairs in his home sleeping on the couch.  

"Shockwave's unpopularity, his own doing," Soundwave pointed out.  "His policies, not Jazz's fault."  

Ravage retaliated with a chain of cause-effect reasoning that described how Shockwave's raid had been triggered by Soundwave's interference with his jurisdiction, which had been triggered by Jazz provoking those ridiculous corrupt lawkeepers.  

"Responsibility to prevent theft existent, with or without Jazz."  

To which Ravage snarled that Soundwave would have never been on that street to begin with if it weren't for Jazz.

"Enough," Soundwave snapped, pausing in front of his home to fix Ravage with an authoritative stare.  "Would have been, would not have been, impossible to know.  Factors, many and complicated.  Your desire, that I remain as before?  At home and in solitude, grieving over failure?"

Ravage flinched and ducked his head, displaying some regret in his posture if not contrition.  

"Soundwave, capable of making decisions and taking actions under own cognizance.  My preference, you recognize that and act accordingly.  All problems in this city, not entirely fault of Jazz."

Jazz first/changes after, was the determined response.  Soundwave shook his head.

"Changes, result of end of war.  Jazz, incidental.  Ravage knows this.  Dismissed now." 

Ravage was still not happy, but he knew Soundwave was right about that last part.  Unable to produce any more argument, for now, Ravage huffed and melted back into the darkness.  Soundwave exhaled, defused his own irritation by reminding himself that Ravage was only trying to help, and entered his home.  Upstairs, the loft was as peaceful as the rest of Iacon was not.  The twins stirred and chirped sleepily at his approach, and in invitation he opened his chest.  They were due for synchronization, and both of them willingly folded up and nestled inside.

Still Jazz did not wake up.  Soundwave circled the couch, watching him, before settling himself on top of his carelessly napping slave.  The jostling of the cushions, and the sudden heavy weight, finally got a response.  Jazz shifted, discovered he couldn't move, and tensed warily before his visor flickered on.  

"You're not Laserbeak," he mumbled.  

"Observation, correct."  

"You're too heavy.  Get off."

"Request declined.  Soundwave, comfortable."  He rested his chin on the curve of Jazz's chest armor, listening to the soft hum of his spark.  "Jazz, not permitted to sleep during active cycle."

"Didn't get much sleep last night.  What was I nervous about?  Oh yeah - this."  He wriggled uncomfortably underneath Soundwave, which didn't improve his situation in the slightest but resulted in distinctly enjoyable sensations for Soundwave.  

"Open mouth."

"What are you gonna put in it?"  

Soundwave unspaced one of Jazz's treats and held it up.  "Only this.  Open mouth."  

Jazz still looked wary, but he opened his mouth and let Soundwave feed him.  "Is that it?  Or do you just plan on staying there until I overheat and go into stasis?"  

"Stasis, not desirable outcome," Soundwave assured him, allowing his hands to wander up the sides of Jazz's body.  "Not outcome intended."

"Okay, okay," Jazz said quickly, trying to push off Soundwave's hands and not doing a very good job of it.  "You've made your point.  I was a bad, bad slave for trying to give you pleasure instead of the other way around.  What could I have been thinking?  Uh, let me get on top and I'll make it up to you."  

Soundwave blew a rather exasperated puff of air from his vents.  "Jazz, now trying to irritate me."

"A technique tried and true."  

"Jazz, relax."  Soundwave pinned his arms to the cushions underneath and held him still, putting a stop to the constant squirming.  "Harm, not intended.  Only enjoyment.  Allow repayment for actions taken in my office."  

"You really don't have to."  

"Statement, untrue.  Favor not repaid is unfair and Soundwave..."  He retracted his mask and lowered his mouth to the wires under Jazz's jawline.  "Always fair."  

With fragile care he extended the tip of his glossa to one of Jazz's sensor wires, and gave it a tiny lick.  Jazz's vents hitched and he flinched a little, but only a little.  Without letting up his grip on Jazz's arms, Soundwave traced a longer path down the wire, and even remembered to blow on it afterward.  Perhaps he wasn't quite the 'expert' Jazz was, but he was not a novice either.  There was no reason why Jazz should not enjoy this; already Soundwave could feel his spark's beat accelerating.  Again he went for the wire, this time nibbling at it delicately.  Jazz gasped, but instead of tipping up his chin as Soundwave had hoped he would, he tried to tuck it down and twist out of reach.  

Disappointed, Soundwave relaxed his hold on Jazz's arms and glided his hands up to shoulder joints.  Deftly he slipped his fingertips inside, but instead of trying to stroke the wires he tickled his fingertips over them instead.  

Jazz convulsed out of reflex, surprised into allowing his armor to loosen up a little.  Promptly Soundwave repeated the move, and Jazz smothered in his throat what sounded suspiciously like a snort.  

"Are- are you trying to tickle me into submission?"  

"For Jazz, proven vulnerability."  

"Truly you are the face of evil."  He jumped and swallowed back another giggle when Soundwave tickled him again, exposing more of that tempting throat.  Victoriously Soundwave swooped in and targeted another wire with his glossa, and this time he could feel the sharp uptick in Jazz's core temperature.  He was no longer holding Jazz down, yet Jazz was not struggling.  That openness, that trust that he'd gotten such a brief glimpse of on the mid-vorn was starting to show again.  Soundwave could almost taste it.  And speaking of tasting...

"Soundwave!" Megatron snarled, comm clicking through without warning or permission.  "Report to my coordinates, NOW.  And bring that slave of yours with you."  

Later, Soundwave would recall that his lips had been on the brink of touching Jazz's, and that Jazz had not been trying to turn his mouth away.  But now he only noticed the fuel chilling in his lines, as he peeled himself away from Jazz's warmth and sat up.  Jazz saw the change in his posture right away and blinked, confused.

"What?"  

 


 

 Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

Chapter Text

“We’re not going to Headquarters.” 

Jazz’s voice was almost too quiet to be heard over the whine of Soundwave’s thrusters.  Iacon rolled past beneath them, the buildings steadily getting smaller and more decrepit as they got farther from downtown. 

“Negative.  Megatron’s orders, report to his current coordinates.  Location: partially developed sector.” 

“In public.  Not his usual style, but I guess even an emperor gets bored now and then.”  Soundwave could feel Jazz’s grip tighten against his armor, in a way that had nothing to do with fear of being dropped.  “Feel free to look away if you want, while he's... busy.  It gets a little rough, now and then.” 

Dread tightened around Soundwave’s spark again, and he fought the urge to clamp his arms around Jazz more securely.  It was a pointless waste of time to wish he wouldn’t have to let go.  Megatron had summoned, and Megatron must be obeyed.  Promptly, when he sounded as angry as that.  Soundwave knew from long experience that every nanoklik he was kept waiting his temper would only get worse, so he’d clapped Jazz back into his chains and flown off the balcony without delay.  Now there was nothing but the fast-dwindling distance between them and whatever fury Megatron was ready to unleash. 

The coordinates aligned with a spokewheel intersection of streets in one of Iacon’s grimier ghettoes, an unfashionable and unimportant sector in the city.  It held no factories, no shops, only stacks of compartment dwellings that were so poor they only had one power hook-up to share for each floor.  In the night cycle, Soundwave knew well enough from his cassetticons’ recordings, this area was packed to bursting with mecha, but now it was mostly quiet.  The denizens would be in downtown, begging or working to feed themselves.  Soundwave saw no one as he soared around a final bend and spotted the intersection.  His spark clenched again when he saw how many were waiting for them: not just Megatron but Starscream and Shockwave, and strangely, Scrapper and Scavenger.  They were all gathered in front of the requisite Megatron statue that graced almost every functioning intersection, watching in stony silence as Soundwave descended to the ground.  Without a word he tipped Jazz onto his pedes, and bowed. 

“About time,” Megatron grunted, but his gaze moved almost immediately from Soundwave to Jazz.  “Now I can get some answers.”  He crooked his finger in a beckoning gesture.  “Come here, Autobot.” 

Jazz’s struts were rigid with tension, though Soundwave wasn’t sure how much of that was noticeable to the other Decepticons.  He was reasonably sure that nobody else saw the subtle light patterns flicking back and forth across Jazz’s visor, canting his vision frantically to every possible angle, trying to size up the situation and understand what was happening.  To Soundwave’s practiced optic, Jazz was obviously bewildered, but he swallowed back his fear and moved closer to Megatron.  The silence was starting to get unbearable when Megatron stepped to the side, allowing Soundwave and Jazz a clear view of the statue behind him.  Splattered across most of the base was a pattern Soundwave hadn’t put any thought to for a long time, shockingly red against the drab surroundings. 

It was the Autobot symbol.

Everyone’s attention had shifted to the Autobrand out of reflex, when Megatron stepped aside, but now Soundwave watched their optics lock eagerly back onto Jazz.  None of them were quite sure what to expect, but they didn’t want to miss it, and Soundwave knew his slave could never resist showing off for an audience.  Jazz had to think about it for a second or two, but he did not disappoint.

Flashing his brightest, cheekiest grin at Megatron, he asked, "Neighborhood beautification?"  

Megatron's response was to take Jazz's head in one hand and slam it hard against the heavy base.  Inwardly Soundwave flinched at the crunch of metal on metal, but he kept his posture perfectly still.  Jazz staggered a step back, looking dazed, though not very surprised.  

"Go ahead, slave.  Test me.  See if I'm in the mood for your little jokes."  

Jazz shook his head gingerly, visor flickering to calibrate.  "I see you're not.  But if you didn't call me out here for my jokes, then why am I here?"  

"To answer for it," Megatron snarled, bending ominously close.  "Did you really think this pathetic display would amount to anything for you and your friends, even if the Constructicons hadn't found it in under a day?  What did you think it would get you, other than the worst beating of your miserable life?"  

"You think I did this?"  Jazz vents were flowing hard, still trying to cope with the shock of the sudden head collision, but he did his best to look the graffiti over with a cool and appraising air.  It was big, almost big enough to cover the entire base, and painted thickly enough to obscure most of the caption underneath.  It'd been painted by hand rather than using a design program, but was still a reasonably good approximation of the famous symbol.  Jazz laid a fingertip against the metal, and shook his head.  "Nah.  Not my style."  

"Not your style," Megatron echoed, his tone dark and dangerous.  Jazz ignored the signals.  

"I'd have painted it on your front door."  

This time it was a backhanded smack that nearly spun Jazz completely around.  He bit back a yelp of pain, staggering hard to keep upright.  

"Clever little Autobot is going to get himself killed if he's not careful," Megatron warned, moving to circle Jazz.  "Do you think I'm not angry?  Do you think I won't rip you apart, piece by piece, until you beg to confess?"  

Jazz wiped some bleeding fluid from his mouth with a shaking hand.  "If I may be bold enough to ask, my lord, what makes you so sure that I have anything to do with this… slapdash job of Prime’s symbol?” 

“Oh I know it’s you.  It has to be you.  Always smirking at your Decepticon masters when you think I’m not looking, always holding yourself so proud as if you were superior, you still don’t seem to understand that you lost the war.  Now you’re trying to – what?  Rally your troops?  Make some kind of pitiful stand against my empire?  With paint?  What stupid game are you playing at?”

“My games,” Jazz said coldly, “are never stupid.  But this isn’t one of them.  Sorry to disappoint you, Lord Megatron, but the only thing I’m trying to lead the Autobots in is a Cybertronian rendition of It’s a Hard Knock Life.”  He blew a mocking kiss to Megatron.  “I love you, Miss Hannigan.”   

Megatron cuffed Jazz hard and this time Jazz did drop, crumpling to the street without resistance.  “Get up,” Megatron snapped.  “And try that answer again.” 

Jazz’s vents were starting to wheeze dangerously, and his arms shook with the effort of pushing himself upright.  It took an uncomfortably long time for him to stumble back onto his pedes.  “My lord, I am very honestly telling you that I did not do this.  Much as I’d love to take the credit, my master has me locked down and under supervision round the clock.  There is no way I could have made it all the way out here without him noticing.”

Megatron glanced sideways at Soundwave, who nodded.  “Then who did you order to do it?” 

“I’m not even allowed to talk to other Autobots!  I can’t get away with anything under Soundwave and I’m telling you, I had nothing to do with this!” 

“Then who did?” Megatron thundered.

“How should I know?  Has it not occurred to you that, just maybe, one of your loving subjects is less than happy with Decepticon rule?  Maybe one of these poor saps is trying to tell you something.” 

Megatron stiffened, optics glittering menacingly, and he advanced on Jazz.  Two large fingers poked Jazz hard in the chest, forcing him to stumble back.  “The affairs of my empire are not your concern, slave.  Your only concern is staying on the right side of my mercy, which is vanishing fast as I speak.  Try and shift the blame all you like, it won’t do you any good.  I know you had something to do with this, and I will confirm it, even if I have to beat the answers out of your all-too-fragile head.” 

“Why so rattled, my lord?  You said it yourself, it’s just paint.” 

A low growl reverberated in Megatron’s throat.  “It’s defiance.  And you of all mecha should know how I deal with defiance.”  He raised his fist, and Jazz backed up with his hands upraised. 

“Wait, wait!”

“Yes?” 

“I was just going to say, could you avoid this?”  He patted the old red Autobrand on his chest.  “I really like it.” 

Megatron bellowed with rage and plowed his fist into Jazz’s chest armor, causing him to gasp and double over, and then he yanked Jazz up by the shoulders and threw him hard.  Scavenger had to dive out of the way, barely avoiding Jazz before he crashed into the street.  He rolled over once and lay still, terrifyingly limp, and Soundwave almost jumped at the reflexive snap-twinge in his own carrier protocols.  That wasn’t right, his programming was designed to protect his cassettes from physical danger, but Jazz was not a cassette.  Soundwave smothered the instinct to step forward and interfere, and concentrated on staying calm.  It was only a beating, after all, a beating that Jazz’s insolence had well and truly invited, and Megatron would not kill Jazz.  He wouldn’t.  

“You truly amaze me, Autobot,” Megatron was saying, as he stepped closer.  Hastily every Decepticon backed up to allow a wider circle.  “You try so hard, don’t you?  Always ready with a joke, no matter the pain.  You put up a brave front, pretending you can’t be hurt, but I know better.” 

In two long strides he closed the distance between them and gripped Jazz by the neck, hauling him back up to standing.  Jazz’s vents sounded strained, some of them possibly broken going by the way he gulped for air through his mouth.  Megatron lowered his mouth close to Jazz’s audio, but spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. 

“I remember your first few nights in my berth.  Pitiful, broken, crying for your lost Prime.  What a pathetic mess you were.” 

Jazz winced, visor shuttering briefly.  "I was having a bad day."

"You were learning your lesson.  Let's see if you still remember it."  Megatron adjusted his hold on Jazz’s neck, caressing the wires.  “What are you, Jazz?” 

Visibly Jazz stiffened, as if Megatron’s question had triggered an unpleasant reflex.  His answer had a mechanical, rehearsed feel to it. 

“I am a slave, Lord Megatron.” 

“And why are you a slave?” 

“I am being punished…” Jazz had to swallow.  “For the crime of standing in your way.” 

“That’s good.  You defied me, and for that, I own you and will always own you.  Nothing’s going to change that, not your silly jokes and not any painted symbols.  So admit that you did this, and maybe I'll go lightly on you.  I can be generous, to those that understand their place in this world."  

"I did - not - do it," Jazz hissed through gritted denta.  "And I don't know who did.  Maybe it was the ghost of Optimus Prime.  Maybe it was Mirage!"

Megatron froze for a single nanoklik, before he roared and smashed his fist into Jazz's face.  Jazz went careening back and slammed against the base of the statue, and would have surely dropped to the ground if Megatron hadn't yanked him upright again.  Again Soundwave's programming twinged, and again he dismissed the false alert.  That didn't make it any easier to watch Megatron raise his hand and strike Jazz again, and again, Jazz's wretched cries getting louder each time.  Nobody else was bothered.  Shockwave watched with smug self-righteousness, and Starscream was licking his lips as he followed Megatron's form with avid fascination.  Jazz thrashed and screamed under the rain of blows until Megatron lost patience and tossed him back to the street.  

"Had enough, slave?  Or do you need more reminders of how small and weak you are?  You are nothing compared to me." 

With excruciating slowness, Jazz braced his hands against the street and tried to push himself up.  His arms were trembling violently from pain and fatigue, and Soundwave was rather surprised he didn't collapse face-first.  He retched a small amount of fuel and fluids, wiped his mouth, and pushed himself upright to a kneeling position.

"I know I'm small," he said hoarsely.  "And weak.  So how come I'm not the one who's panickin'?  Why do you need an answer so bad?  You really can't figure out how the paint got there, and that scares you, doesn't it?"  He made a sound that might have been a grunt of laughter.  "What a ways you've come, my lord.  From Cybertron's most fearless gladiator, to a king jumping at shadows.  You must be so proud.  All hail Megatron."    

Megatron stood very still, but Soundwave could see his optics darkening to the shade of cooled magma.  His voice was frighteningly chilly when he spoke.  "You want to talk about fear, Autobot?  I can introduce you to fear.  Fear may just be the last thing you ever know in this life."

He took one step closer to Jazz and kicked him hard in the fuel tanks, knocking Jazz flat onto his back.  Then he settled one pede on Jazz's chest, resting most of his weight there.  Jazz squirmed a little, but he was too exhausted and too injured to move.  

"You're an insect under my heel, little slave.  And now I'm going to smash you like one.  Slowly, and as painfully as possible."

He knelt on Jazz's chest and flexed his fist, preparing to hammer it down onto Jazz's vulnerable neck, and Soundwave could not hold back anymore.  Without actually planning to, he found himself stepping forward.      

"Lord Megatron, suggestion.  Mental interrogation, perhaps more effective."  

Megatron looked up, fist still raised, and frowned blankly at Soundwave as if he'd forgotten he was even there.  "What?"

"To discover explanation."  Soundwave indicated the statue.  "For mental interrogation, consciousness necessary."  

"Oh... right."  Megatron's fingers rippled and he looked longingly at the Autobot beneath him, as if weighing how important the truth really was.  Eventually, and with some reluctance, he lowered his fist and stood up.  "I suppose that will work too.  Get on with it, then."  

He kicked Jazz one more last time before moving away, which got little reaction.  Jazz was lying very still, struggling to ventilate and whimpering softly.  Soundwave ached to look at him.  Kneeling, he placed his hand gingerly over Jazz's brow, hoping it would look more like preparation for the invasion than a small touch of comfort.  Pale blue light fluttered wanly, but Soundwave was not sure if Jazz recognized him.  Rapidly he switched off his external receptors and dove in.  But if Soundwave had harbored any hopes that Jazz's beating would weaken his mind too, they were immediately dashed.  

THEN IT ALL CRASHES DOWN, AND YOU BREAK YOUR CROWN!  AND YOU POINT YOUR FINGER, BUT THERE'S NO ONE AROUND.  JUST WANT ONE THING, JUST TO PLAY THE KING, BUT THE CASTLE'S CRUMBLED AND YOU'RE LEFT WITH JUST A NAME!  WHERE'S YOUR CROWN, KING NOTHING? 

Soundwave left as quickly as he'd gone in.  This was no place to play hide-and-seek in Jazz's mind, leaving an exhausted Soundwave to collapse in front of their audience.  A swift interrogation would at least create the impression that he'd collected the truth easily.  Vision still flickering back on, Soundwave stood.

"Well?" Megatron demanded.  His lord was staring at him, waiting for an answer, an answer that of course Megatron would accept because Soundwave was loyal.  Soundwave would never lie to him.  But Jazz was close to dying and Soundwave had an obligation to him too, as one of his possessions.  Soundwave must not lie to Megatron, but he must also protect Jazz.  

"Jazz, not responsible for statue defacement."  

It was not a lie.  Soundwave knew it because he kept Jazz under close watch and forbid him contact with the other Autobots, just as Jazz said.  Just because he hadn't been able to prove it in Jazz's thoughts did not change what Soundwave knew.  It was not a lie, but Soundwave was willing to let Megatron think that he'd seen it in Jazz's mind because that was the only way Megatron would spare Jazz.  It was not a lie, but it was probably the closest Soundwave had ever come to betraying his leader.

Megatron hesitated, automatically trusting his most loyal officer but clearly dismayed that he'd been deprived of the one bot he'd like to blame.  "He doesn't know anything about it?"

"No evidence found in his mind," Soundwave answered truthfully.  

"So now my city is under attack from mysterious paintsprayers."  His gaze narrowed.  "What about you, Soundwave?  Do you know anything about this?  It's your responsibility to keep watch on the streets, isn't it?"  

"Surveillance constant.  But cameras limited in number and city very large -"

Megatron growled in disgust and slapped Soundwave hard across the face, shocking him into silence.  The Constructicons jumped, and even Starscream looked too taken aback to gloat.  

"Get it together, Soundwave," Megatron bit out.  "This is my planet now, my empire.  If I didn't make it clear earlier, I don't want the Autobot brand smeared all over it!  It seems a simple enough request to me.  Do you understand?"

Soundwave bowed his head.  "Understood, Lord Megatron."

"Good."  Contemptuously Megatron sneered at the half-conscious Autobot at their feet, then turned away.  "Now, get rid of it."  

Scrapper nodded quickly.  "Of course, my lord.  I'll have Mixmaster bring his solv-"

"Not just that.  I mean all of them, on all the slaves.  Everyone with an Autobot will see to it that the brand is scrubbed off, starting now.  I don't want to see it anymore."  

The Decepticons all exchanged surprised looks.  Even in the heady days just after victory, when the prisoners were being divided up as spoils and getting fitted with collars, nobody had even thought of scraping off the Autobrand.  The old red logo, even if it meant enemy, was simply a part of the Autobots' appearance.  They'd all been wearing their respective symbols for too many centuries to even imagine one another - Autobot or Decepticon - without them.  

"But my lord," Shockwave said blankly.  "It is a representation of their status.  The Autobrand designates slavery.  Without it, what else will?"  

"They wear their collars, don't they?  It's enough.  The war is over, Prime is dead.  Time that his symbol was too."

None of them had anything to say to that, except Jazz.  "So scared," he mumbled.  "Fraid he'll come back?"  

Megatron tensed, and looked back at Jazz.  Without saying a word, he reached down and grabbed Jazz's right arm, gripped it in both hands, and wrenched with all his considerable strength.  Struts cracked and armor buckled, and Jazz shrieked in agony before the light in his visor blacked out and he lost consciousness.  

"That's better," he grunted.  "We're done here.  Dismissed."  

Megatron's thrusters flared and he launched himself into the air, each of the watching soldiers following him in turn.  Soundwave didn't move, ignoring the snide looks of both Starscream and Shockwave, waiting until they were all gone before he knelt to collect Jazz.  There was no part of him that was not broken.  Soundwave scooped him up as gently as he could manage, ignited his thrusters, and turned for the Constructicon medbay.  

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Scalpel, 3/10."  

"Three ten."

"Angle the light more to the left."

"Yes, master."

"Adjust the magnification."

"Yes sir."  

The quiet hiss of Hook's laser scalpel, punctuated by the occasional command to his slave, was the only sound in an otherwise silent surgical theater.  Soundwave watched from the farthest corner of the room, perfectly still, his gaze following the bright blue glow.  Most Decepticons were not allowed in this room during an operation; Hook had learned centuries ago he could not force Soundwave out.  Any time one of his symbiotes was unlucky enough to wind up on the table, Soundwave was present for surgery without question.  He repaid the tolerance with total silence and zero movement, never causing distraction, and eventually Hook took his presence for granted.  He hadn't glanced at Soundwave once since he started on Jazz's elbow, though First Aid shot him more than a couple of nervous looks.  

"Welder, 1/10, 160 degrees."  

"Yes sir."  

For one Constructicon to know something was for all of them to know, so Hook hadn't so much as batted an optic when Soundwave walked in bearing his unconscious slave.  Calmly he'd ordered Soundwave to carry him into the operating room, gathered his tools, and ordered First Aid to administer anesthetic.  The Autobot's reaction was more surprising.  Soundwave had expected the anxious little slave to erupt in useless panic over the sight of Jazz's beaten body, but he had to admit, First Aid was conducting himself professionally.  He'd merely swallowed back one horrified gasp and gotten straight to work.  Certainly he must have seen worse during the war, but that was a long time ago.  His hands trembled now and then, as he plucked the demanded instruments from Hook's cart, but he didn't fumble, hesitate, or hinder Hook's work in any way.  After putting Jazz well and truly under, he'd very competently removed the pertinent armor, swabbed and prepped the joint, and arranged scalpels in the order Hook would need them.  The two of them had been working on Jazz's mangled arm for almost a joor now.

"Scalpel, 1/10."  

"Yes master."  

The smallest size meant he'd reached the finest details of the work.  Soundwave strained to hone his vision algorithms for better detail, but it still looked like nothing but a jumble of struts and wires from here.  Hook was looking pleased, though, which Soundwave took to mean the reconstruction was going well.  He allowed quiet reassurance to seep into the link, wordlessly updating his symbiotes on Jazz's condition.  

"Welder."  

"Yes sir."  

A golden spark or two flew out as Hook bent over, intent on fusing the thin struts.  Such deep surgery, having to pare his arm down to so little.  Ridiculously, Soundwave found himself wishing that Jazz weren't quite so unconscious.  His slave was always so lively, constantly bursting with noise and movement, that to see him lying this still was unnerving.  Even in recharge, his systems had their own steady rhythm.  Soundwave went to sleep every night hearing that familiar hum, but First Aid's program had suspended almost all Jazz's internals.  Except for the two surgeons fussing over his arm, there was nothing to show Jazz was not dead.  

"And that's the last of it."  Hook flicked off his welder and straightened, relishing a loud pop of the backstruts.  "I am a genius of micro-reconstruction.  That joint will be better than new once the welds have set.  Good work, runt."

First Aid beamed with relief.  "Thank you, master."  

"We'll leave the welds alone for a full cycle, then initiate the secondary surgeries to rebuild the rest of the arm.  In the meantime, I want you to bracket every strut to hold them in place, and clamp off any nerve wires at the shoulder to induce paralysis.  There'll be time enough tomorrow for you to deal with the rest of these injuries; the small dents can be pulled out, the bigger ones will have to wait for self-repair.  Probably at least a few fractures in his dermal plating, you know what dressings he'll need.  Does he get painkillers, Director?"

Soundwave pulled his gaze away from Jazz's face to see Hook looking at him, uncertainty in the optics.  Painkillers for Decepticons were standard issue post-surgery if the damage had been inflicted in battle, not so standard if the patient had suffered a beating from Megatron.  Since Jazz was only a slave, it was his master's discretion whether to spare him from the suffering that was sure to come.  

"Painkillers, permitted."  

"Right.  Deal him sixty percent interdiction on the sensory system, at least for tonight.  Put him on a fuel drip too.  For now, I want you to realign his fuel lines and sensor wires and make sure there's no serious crimping.  Questions?"

"No, master.  I understand."

"Good.  Wheel him into recovery room one when you're finished, then see me at my workstation.  There's something I'll need your help with."

"Yes sir."  

Hook patted him roughly on the head, half-pushing him toward the patient, then beckoned to Soundwave as he moved to the door.  Promptly Soundwave followed.  

"I won't say the damage was superficial," he started bluntly, "because it wasn't.  Luckily for you there's nothing I can't fix, so you won't have to spend the rest of your days with a slave that has a backward elbow.  Primus, he must have really fragged Megatron off.  But he will live, and barring any unexpected complications he'll be fully ambulatory within an orn.  Let's all hope he doesn't go for a stroll in the ghettos armed with a paintsprayer."  

Soundwave stared coldly and waited for Hook's wry grin to erase itself from existence.  "Right, well.  I'll perform a secondary surgery on him tomorrow to repair the rest of the arm, and I'll probably need to keep him for at least two more cycles after that to ensure the welds are properly holding.  You're free to stick around for as long as you like, but there's not much point to it.  Even if he does come up from the solid doping Aid gave him, he'd be too out of it to say anything sensible.  Actually, I guess you won't notice a difference.  Anyway, we both know Aid'll keep watch over him for as long as I let him.  There's no need for you to stay."  

"Understood."  Soundwave's gaze moved back to the medical berth, where First Aid was fastidiously straightening Jazz's sensor wires.  "Preference: remain some time longer.  One symbiote will be left to monitor Jazz at all times."

Hook made a face.  "Not the noisy ones."

"Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, better suited to task."

"Well if you insist, I won't argue."  Hook shrugged, and saluted.  "If you'll excuse me, sir.  Got that one last thing to take care of."

"Dismissed."  

Not really paying attention to the medic anymore, Soundwave drifted back into the surgery room.  He did not possess Jazz's trick of floating silently about, and First Aid noticeably flinched at his return.  His vents stuttered, but when Soundwave said nothing he returned his attention to stitching Jazz's lines back into place.  Occasionally he risked a glance up to make sure Soundwave wasn't coming any closer, but otherwise kept his focus on the task at hand.

Ten breems later, he tied his final knot and stood.  "I'm, uh, finished," he said softly, "sir.  I'll just wheel Jazz into our recovery room now.  I promise I'll take very good care of him."  

He bowed, unhitched the lock on Jazz's gurney, and prepared to push him out of the room.  Before he could, Soundwave put out a hand and stopped it.  The Protectobot's optics paled with apprehension.  "Sir?"  

"Your medical attentions to my slave, required.  More personal attentions, not needed or wanted.  Appropriate distance expected at all times.  And conversation unrelated to medical exchange, forbidden.  My instructions, understood?"

He leaned a little closer, and First Aid looked he might freeze up and fall over.  "You- you mean I'm not allowed to talk to Jazz?"  

"Correct."  

"Oh."  The little bot looked crushed, but was wise enough not to argue the point.  "Yes sir, I understand.  I'll just settle him in his room."  

"Proceed."  Soundwave stepped back and allowed First Aid to pass, then went on to fluster and frighten the slave by following close on his heels into the recovery room.  First Aid locked the gurney's wheels, and with expert precision inserted a tube into Jazz's good arm for the fuel drip.  Again he bowed, and fled the room.    

The world turned silent again.  The walls of the recovery room were half-transparent, to allow full observation, but completely soundproof to allow the patient's rest.  Soundwave stood by Jazz's sleeping form and watched First Aid return to Hook's side, bright-opticked and unsuspecting.  Hook gestured for First Aid to sit on a stool, and dipped a cloth rag in solvent.  The slave cocked his head, looking puzzled but not frightened.  It wasn't until the rag touched his chest that he understood, and panic flared in his optics.  He scrambled off the stool and tried to bolt, but Hook caught him on the arm with one large hand and dragged him back.  Soundwave did not think he yelled at First Aid, exactly, but an irritated look crossed his face and he said something sharp.  First Aid thrashed in his grip, trying to peel his hand free, and when that didn't work he crossed his arms over his chest and tried to twist away out of reach.  Like Soundwave's, his mask automatically snapped into place for any physical threat, and Soundwave couldn't tell if he spoke.  From the way Hook was shaking his head, it was likely First Aid was begging him not to do this.  

Unexpectedly, Jazz stirred.  A flicker of light skittered across his visor before it went dark again, and he whimpered.  

"-cht."  

Soundwave quickly put a hand to Jazz's head, stroking him softly, hoping to lull him back to sleep.  That arm was so frighteningly bare, all struts and exposed wires, and Soundwave didn't want Jazz to switch on his visor and see it for himself.  He did not take the hint and slip back into recharge though, and twitched and moaned again.

"-chet."  

"Jazz, sleep now.  Your rest, necessary."  

Outside, First Aid had given up on any physical resistance and had buried his face in his master's chest, shoulders heaving with presumed sobs.  Patiently Hook rubbed his hand on his back, but he didn't let go of his rag.  After a few kliks, he peeled First Aid off himself and sat him back on the stool.  Vents flaring visibly even from this distance, First Aid dropped his face in his hands and continued to keen while Hook got to work scrubbing off the Autobrand.  

"R-chet," Jazz mumbled.  "Hurts."

"Painkillers, taking effect soon.  Sleep now."  He dropped his other hand onto Jazz's, and was surprised at the sudden hard squeeze Jazz gave it.  

"R-chet.  Donlet Prime go back out.  Gotta bad feeln.  Keep'm here, kay?  R-chet?"

"Designation, Soundwave.  Sleep now."  

The desperate clutch on his hand was already loosening; Jazz had no strength to speak of right now.  His grip slackened and his head lolled slightly to one side.  One last flash sparked within his visor.  

"Donlet Prime go..."  

The deed was done.  Hook tossed his rag back onto the bench, dropped a final pat on First Aid's shaking shoulders, then turned and left.  Theceiling lights switched off, dousing the Autobot in darkness, and still he didn't move.  Neither did Jazz anymore.  The medway was quiet again, still, and full of broken things.   


 

"Whoa," breathed Rumble.  

"Yeah," added Frenzy.  "Sorry, boss."  

By now, all of them had at least a vague idea of what had happened.  They knew about Megatron, and that Jazz had come off the worse for an encounter with him, and they knew the Autobrand was mixed up in it somehow.  Now the flickering faded from their optics as the data packet finished downloading its material, complete with every insult, hard blow, and scream of pain.  They would never admit that Soundwave's emotional output had been too much for them to handle, but unconsciously their hands found one another and held on.  

"So then what happened?"  

"Constructicon Hook conducted successful surgery on Jazz.  Full recovery predicted, but consecutive surgery required later today.  Damage, extensive."  

"So why aren't we there right now?"

"Yeah, can't we go see him?"

"And why did you wait until now to even tell us what's going on?"  

"Why did you make us stay away all night?"

"Did you stay with him the whole time?  By yourself?"

"We would have come if you'd let us!"  

Soundwave's hands continued their work across his console, moving automatically.  He was prepared for a backlash of resentment from the twins, after everything they'd just been subjected to, and wasn't bothered by their anger.  The questions themselves were more of a problem.  Soundwave had not intended to stay in Hook's medbay for the entire night cycle.  Not only was it pointless with Jazz unconscious, it was unwise.  Soundwave held no illusions about the Constructicons' affinity for gossip, and now was not a good time for word to spread that Soundwave hovered by the berth of his injured slave all night long.  The plan was to stay for just a little while, then leave Laserbeak and Buzzsaw behind as monitors while he went home to rest.  

But then Jazz stirred in his sleep, crying for Ratchet.  Grief had pulled at Soundwave's spark, to hear him plead for Optimus Prime, crushing it under the weight of unwanted thoughts.  Jazz was not calling out for his master, but a leader that had been dead for six years.  Slavery had done nothing to change his priorities.  Following Prime had been the downfall of every Autobot, but for Jazz and the young medic out there weeping over his lost brand, that didn't seem to matter.  Decepticon rule didn't matter.  Take away their collars, open the cages, and both of them would flee into the night and never look back.  Soundwave remembered well enough what he'd seen in Jazz's mind.  He also remembered the cassettibots calling out for Blaster, right up until the day they died.  

It was almost enough to break him, but Soundwave had remained still and standing by Jazz's berth.  He didn't dare risk leaving Laserbeak, or any of his symbiotes, there to watch and possibly hear Jazz call out for his friends again.  And so he'd stayed, keeping silent vigil over his slave, half wishing he would just wake up already and half afraid of what - who - he would say when he did.  It was just past dawn of the active cycle when that visor finally fluttered on again.  Soundwave had tensed when Jazz's head rolled to the side, pale blue light trying to focus on him.  

"Soundwave?"

Vents exhaling in relief, Soundwave had moved closer and laid a gentle hand on Jazz's helm.  "State condition."  

"Mgh... one notch up from the scrap heap."  He tried to shift and visibly winced from the pain.  "Why can't I feel my- oh, never mind."  Soundwave had moved his hand too late to prevent Jazz from seeing his own deconstructed arm.  Quickly he looked away.  "I remember now.  He was so mad."

"Jazz, provoked Megatron too far."  

"Eh, he's done worse to me.  You know.  You saw it."  Jazz shot him a pointed look before throwing another resigned glance at his arm.  "Besides, look on the bright side.  It could have been one of my legs.  Least I can still dance."  

Jazz smiled wanly, and tilted his head slightly into Soundwave's cupped hand.  "It's practically tomorrow, and here you are.  You didn't sleep all night, did you?"  

"Jazz's condition critical; recharge unnecessary.  Your own rest, more important."  He opened his chest, allowing Laserbeak and Buzzsaw to wake up at last.  "Twins, assigned to your company while I return to work."  

"Do you have to go?"  

"Affirmative."

Laserbeak cawed with dismay at the sight of Jazz, settling delicately beside his shoulder so that she might nestle up against him.  Buzzsaw chose the more strategic vantage point atop the fuel drip dispenser, positioned to see all the medbay.  Soundwave mentally promised to send them the full explanation later, and gave Jazz a final caress.  

"Sleep more.  Second surgery scheduled later.  My return, certain."

"Never doubted it for a second."

 

"Boss?  Yo, boss?"  

Soundwave dragged his attention back to the present, acutely conscious of his own sluggish mental state.  He was no stranger to all-night shifts, but the events of the past day had been emotionally draining in a way monitor duty could never be.  His processor was in desperate need of defragmentation.  Rumble and Frenzy were squinting at him, concerned.  

"I said, you don't think he did it... do you?"  

"The thing with the paint?"  

"Impossible," Soundwave answered firmly.  "Jazz, confined to home and well monitored at all times.  This fact known."  

"Well, yeah."

"It's just..."

"If we have to, we can hack into a vid feed and loop its recording."  

"Like we did that one time in Shockw-"  Rumble kicked Frenzy swiftly in the leg. 

"That is, we got pretty good at it sneaking around the Autobot bases.  Who's to say Jazz didn't pick up the same tricks on his side of the war?"  

"My surveillance system, impenetrable to hacking."

"But - "

"Delays here, unnecessary.  Your presence in command room, expected.  Also, extra tasks assigned: gather all information possible from Constructicons Mixmaster and Scavenger.  Some questions require attention."  

"When can we go see Jazz?"  

"After completion of duties."

"When are you going to see Jazz?"

"Same.  New surveillance project must see completion first."  

For the first time they actually looked at what was scrolling across his screens, and blinked.  "What is that, a map of Iacon?"  

"What are all those dots?"

"Suitable camera locations."  

"Wha...?"  Their jaws hung open in identical gapes.  "Are you joking?  That's almost every corner in the city!"  

"Inclination to joking, nonexistent.  Megatron demands more surveillance of the city, Megatron's demands must be met."  

"Think how many cameras that would mean!"  

"It'll cost a fortune."

"And even once they're all built and installed, it'll take you three times as long to sort through the surveillance reports."  

"Megatron can't really make you do this, can he?"

"Megatron, lord of Cybertron," he reminded his symbiotes.  "His orders, absolute."  

"Megatron's a -"

"Rumble," Soundwave said sharply.  "Your opinion, not necessary.  Your presence in command room, necessary.  Both twins dismissed now."  

They hunched their shoulders defensively.  "Fine."  

"You want to be even more the workaholic, who are we to stop you?"  

"It's scrap like this that makes me wish Reflector survived the war.  Least then you wouldn't be pulling all this weight yourself."  

"And getting thanked by nobody in the process."  They flounced out of the office, door whooshing shut behind them.  Soundwave should have been glad for the quieter atmosphere, but it didn't take long before his systems started pestering him for a recharge cycle.  The console screens blurred slightly, and he had to reset his optical relay.  This project needed swift completion, to soothe Megatron's temper, but at this rate nothing was getting done.  Soundwave relented, set his internal alarm for ten breems, and initiated shutdown.

 


   

During the night cycle, the medbay had been ominously silent.  Soundwave had kept watch over Jazz’s sleeping form, listening to the tiny drip-drip of fuel flowing out of its container and into the tube, the only sound in the room.  Jazz would have hated it, were he conscious.  Maybe the deathly still medbay was creepy to some, but at least it was peaceful and safe, which Soundwave appreciated.  He’d left reluctantly, stepping over the sleeping form of First Aid on his way out. 

When Soundwave returned late in the active cycle, it was to total bedlam.  Rumble and Frenzy had arrived, bearing their special brand of chaos like a gift to the invalid.  Jazz was lying trapped on his berth, wincing now and then as Rumble and Frenzy crawled over his dented armor, while Laserbeak screeched at them to be careful and First Aid hopped from one foot to the other in anxious dismay.   

“This is so fucking cool!” Frenzy gushed, peering through the gaps of Jazz’s arm.  “Look, I can put my hand through his arm.  See?  In, out.  In, out.” 

“Hey, see if you can throw something through it and I’ll catch it on the other side!” 

“NO,” First Aid yelped, optics blanching with distress.  “No please don’t do that, sirs, those struts are very delicate and easily damaged –“

Rumble, Frenzy,” squawked Laserbeak, “careless activity possibly damaging Jazz.”

“How bout if I just try to spit through the gaps?  A little spit won’t hurt nothin’, right?” 

First Aid was wringing his hands, torn between a medic’s instinct to protect his patient and slavery’s training to respect and obey all Decepticons.  “No, no spitting!  No touching!  I just stitched everything back into place and the slightest pressure could –“

“Relax, Aid,” Jazz drawled.  “They ain’t gonna hurt anythin’, they’re just curious.  It’s how they show concern.” 

“Sirs, I really wish you would just tell Jazz that you are concerned for his health, and maybe wish me luck on the next surgery…”

“Hey, whoa, who said you could operate on our slave?”

“You’re like, what, five years old?”

“We want Hook to fix Jazz’s arm, not some newspark that don’t know up from down.” 

First Aid looked hurt.  “Well I think I could do it, if my master let me.  But I only meant that I’ll be assisting.”

“Damn straight you will.” 

“We can’t afford to let anyone screw up Jazz’s arm permanently.  Then how would he teach us to juggle?” 

“Aw, you boys really do care,” Jazz said cheerfully. 

“Course, it’d be kinda cool if we just left your arm open like this.  We could rig up some way for you to store stuff…”

Soundwave plucked each twin off Jazz by the scruff of their necks, prompting indignant yelps.  “Enough.  Hyperactivity, causing unnecessary pain and fatigue for Jazz.  Both twins, excused from medbay.” 

“Can’t we stay to watch the operation?” 

“NO,” answered everyone in the room, Autobot and Decepticon. 

“Aww.” 

“All cassettes dismissed.  Suggestion, review new patrol routes in office.”  He tossed Rumble and Frenzy out, and gestured for the younger twins to follow.  Laserbeak hopped onto Jazz’s shoulder and pecked him on the jaw – causing First Aid to jump and flinch – before taking her leave.  First Aid sagged with relief once they were all gone. 

“Please please please don’t let them have jostled the welds,” he muttered to himself, whipping out a magnification lens to inspect Jazz’s arm.  “Master will kill me…”

“Don’t worry about it, I told you, they’re fine.” 

First Aid did not reply, optics spinning and clicking as they zoomed in on Jazz’s fresh repairs.  “There doesn’t seem to be any damage, sir.  The welds from his first surgery have set cleanly, and Master Hook should be able to finish repairing the arm tonight.  He’ll weld the last of the breaks, reconfigure the lines, and set Jazz’s armor back into place.  Paralysis will be gradually scaled back over the course of the next day, allowing Jazz limited use of his arm, at which point we'll begin a series of exercises to test the joint.  I'll also start removing the smaller dents tomorrow, but many of the bigger ones will have to heal naturally.  I've fortified his fuel with extra metal additives to help his self-repair along.  There was also one dermal fracture, which I've bandaged under a magnetic clamp to keep it protected while the metal knits."

First Aid babbled all this without pause, spotlighting each injury in turn with a laserlight and not once making optic contact with Soundwave.  Jazz frowned and tilted his head, finally starting to notice what was going on and clearly displeased about it. 

"D-do you have any questions, sir?"

"Negative.  Progress, acceptable."  

"Master Hook will be ready to start the second surgery soon; I'll just go and start prepping the theater.  I'll dose Jazz now; this should start taking effect in about a breem."  

He plugged a medical datapad into one of Jazz's ports and started tapping at the screen, no doubt using Hook's override codes to access Jazz's systems and initiate shutdown.  "I'll be back to collect him once we're ready.  Shouldn't be too long.  Excuse me, sir."  He bowed, and beat a hasty path to the door.  

"I'd trust you to operate on me," Jazz spoke up, which got First Aid to hesitate on the threshold and look back, timid smile pulling at his lips.  Then he quickly lowered his gaze and scuttled out of the room.  

"Soundwave, did you tell my nice young medic that he is not allowed to talk to me?"  

"Jazz, forgotten rule?"  

"No," he sighed, "but I was hoping you did."  

The light in his visor glowed bright blue, then just as quickly faded, an indication of First Aid's program threading its way into Jazz's systems.  He grimaced and rested his head back against the inclined berth.  If he was angry at Soundwave, he didn't have the energy to show it.  Instead his gaze followed First Aid out in the medbay, watching him arrange tools on a cart.  Sometime in the morning Hook must have found time to give the slave an actual repaint, glossing over the bare, metal-gray patch on his chest with First Aid's natural red finish.  Unthinkingly, Jazz's hand moved to cover his own Autobrand.  

"So when's my turn?"  

"Full repaint, logically follows medical procedures."  

"Soon enough, then."  Soundwave watched his thumb brush absently across the old symbol, back and forth.  "This must be real hell on the kids.  You and me, we got built a long time before there was ever such a thing as Autobot or Decepticon.  We've carried these brands a while, but not as long as they have.  The Protectobots, the Aerialbots... they've never been without it.  They don't even know what they look like without it."

He smiled bleakly at Soundwave.  "Good thing it won't bother me so much."  

Soundwave looked from him back out to the medbay, where First Aid had now been joined by his master.  The two of them were preoccupied, not looking their way, and the soundproof door had slid shut after First Aid's departure.  

"Jazz, responsible for painted Autobot symbol?"  

Jazz's visor flickered with groggy surprise.  "What?"  

"Jazz, guilty?"  

"C'mon, Soundwave... really?  You know I couldn't.  You know better than anyone the reasons I couldn't."  

"Obstacles, known.  However, consideration of Jazz's habits create uncertainty.  Jazz, former spy, likely capable of hacking into video feed to create false loop.  Instead, made effort to prove presence in home throughout active cycle.  Marking polish on wall, performing tricks for camera, insisting symbiotes stay to keep your company.  From certain perspective, Jazz could be seen as creating alibis.  Seeking to prove innocence before crime even committed."  

He'd been moving closer as he spoke, watching the way light surged and faded behind Jazz's visor.  His alertness was dropping, but not so fast that he didn't show some kind of reaction to Soundwave's comments.  A slow smile was starting to spread across that face.  

"From a 'certain' perspective," he echoed.  "Is that your perspective?"  

"This known: Autobot very clever.  Capable of planning sabotage well in advance."

"Soundwave, you charmer.  Are you trying to seduce me?"  

"Answer question."  Soundwave put a hand to the berth aside Jazz's head, looming menacingly over his slave.  "Jazz, guilty?"  

Rather to his surprise, Jazz didn't try to parry the question with another coy remark.  Instead his smile faded, and he stole another glance at First Aid through the windows.

"Everybody's so mad," he murmured.  "You, Hook, Megatron... nobody's even thought to ask me how I feel about it.  Nobody stops to wonder if maybe I'm not a little mad too."  

"Explain."   

"You know I didn't paint that thing on Megatron's statue.  You know no Autobot could, we're not even allowed to walk the streets unsupervised.  That means some neutral did it, and I dunno why.  Guess he doesn't like the new government.  Maybe Shockwave took his street stall.  Maybe Starscream pushed him into a gutter.  So now he starts thinking, and he decides... it'd have been better under the Autobots after all."  Jazz paused to run a conscious ventilation, optical glow fading fast now.  "Well it's too late now, my mech.  Maybe, if you'd joined our side instead of hiding underground, we wouldn't have lost the war.  Maybe you'd have been just enough to tip the scales the other way, and we'd be free instead of Megatron's slaves.  Maybe, maybe, maybe."  

He tried to lift his hand to Soundwave's chest, possibly to poke at the Decepticon sigil, but all he could manage was a clumsy thump against the glass.  When he spoke again, his voice had an unexpected bitter twist.  "Whoever it is, he didn't fight for us.  Didn't fight for Prime.  He has no right to call on that symbol now, he doesn't deserve to even hold the brush.  Shoulda stepped up when it mattered."  

His hand dropped back onto the berth and all the energy sagged out of his body at once.  "I hope Megatron finds the guy that did it," he mumbled.  "I hope he breaks every strut in his body."  

Jazz slipped under sedation at last, and said nothing more.  

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

    

 

Chapter Text

Narrow strips of gold light zipped past Soundwave, indicating the rise of the lift.  The levels of Decepticon Headquarters were not many, but they were high-ceilinged, and the lift had been designed for luxury rather than speed.  Soundwave watched his reflection in the highly polished platinum as the lift rose past level two, quartering facilities for some Decepticons, level three, the military archives accessible only to officers, and then finally level four, Megatron's private loft.  The lift doors opened and allowed him access to a small foyer, where he had to wait for a keylock to scan and announce his presence.  There were no guards; Megatron would have scoffed at the notion that anyone was stronger than him and probably knocked a savage dent in the head of anyone who suggested as much.  There was only a small slave, who opened the doors and bowed to Soundwave before stepping aside to allow him in.  

Bluestreak closed the doors and led him silently into the main receiving room, which was entirely windowed.  Megatron was standing close to the glass, looking out contemplatively over the capital city while sparkling high grade waited forgotten in his hand.

"Soundwave," he acknowledged without turning around.  "I assume you wouldn't pester me this late at night unless you had something worthwhile to bring to my attention."  

"Affirmative, Lord Megatron.  Some information, necessary to report."  

"I see."  He turned at his own pace, with a dismissive nod to Bluestreak.  "Out.  Go see to the other pet, he'll need a feeding after that workout." 

Bluestreak bowed and backed away.  Soundwave watched him retreat to a door against the far wall and open it, revealing for a split second the flash of yellow armor.  Two blue optics locked on him and glowed hungrily, armor shifting and tensing in preparation to attack.  If it were not for the long chains keeping Sunstreaker tethered to the wall, Soundwave was fairly certain he would have.  Even after all these years of slavery, ferocity curdled around the Autobot like a wild predator, just waiting for its chance.  Everyone had their theories about what went on between Megatron and his violent slave; Soundwave knew he wouldn't care to be in the room when it did.  Sunstreaker's menacing stare didn't break its hold on Soundwave until Bluestreak slid the door shut.  

"Well?"

"Mirage, not responsible for statue defacement."  

Megatron stiffened slightly at the name, wanting to believe it but too cautious to do so right away.  "How can you be sure?"  

"Consideration, Mirage's greatest asset his invisibility.  Size, small.  Weapons, negligent.  Upon discovery here on Cybertron, his escape impossible.  Provided Mirage could escape Chaar, infiltrate Starscream's defenses without radar detection, and enter Iacon, stealth would be absolute priority.  Drawing attention with graffiti, pointless and dangerous."  

Those massive gray armor plates relaxed slightly.  "There is some truth to that, I suppose.  I can always count on you to speak reason, Soundwave."  His vents exhaled and he helped himself to a sip of his drink.  Soundwave would have liked to share in that relief, since Megatron didn't seem to be angry at him anymore, but he didn't dare.  He still had bad news to deliver.

"So if Mirage didn't do it, and your motormouthed slave didn't do it, then who did?"  

Soundwave braced himself.  "Constructicon Mixmaster, questioned.  Confirmed paint as cheap consumer grade, readily available from many distributors.  Inferior quality, unlikely to be found in residence of Decepticon, therefore out of reach to any Autobot slave.  Vandal, almost certainly a civilian."  

Megatron didn't move, but the red glow in his optics kindled dangerously.  When he didn't speak, Soundwave took that as indication to continue.  "Constructicon Scavenger, also questioned.  Confirmed discovery of Autobrand at 13.54 of the active cycle, when sweep of neighborhood by Buzzsaw the previous night revealed nothing.  Conclusion, painting occurred sometime in 3.75 joors before Scavenger's discovery.  Assessment confirmed by Mixmaster, reporting paint fresh and unchipped."

Soundwave was tempted, though wise enough not to, point out that the symbol would have certainly been discovered by at least one of his symbiotes before the end of the night.  It was merely bad luck for Soundwave that Scavenger had happened upon the graffiti first, who had reported it to his superior, who promptly called Shockwave.    

"So one of my subjects is responsible," Megatron murmured.  "One of my followers, one of the mecha living on this planet that I singlehandedly saved from starvation.  Do you suppose he enjoyed his cube of high grade the night of the mid-vorn?  The little ingrate."  

His grip tightened around the delicate glass flute, threatening to shatter it.  "Where would they be now, Soundwave, if it weren't for me?  I led the rebellion against that sopping theocratic Council, I swept away the old layers of class that kept this planet in shackles, and most importantly, I won the fight against a Prime that would have watched his own planet die rather than take Earth's fuel.  And after everything that I've done for them, everything that I fought and bled for, this is my thanks?  If these are the mecha I liberated from slavery, then they weren't worth the trouble.  They don't deserve what I've given them."

Shockwave would have hurried to agree; Starscream would have picked apart the comments to give credit to his own accomplishments.  Soundwave merely stood by in silence, offering commiseration in the only way he knew how.  

"If they think I'm going to tolerate their whining ingratitude, then they're as stupid as they are forgetful.  This is my planet, my empire, and I keep my things in good order.  I'll snuff out dissent like I did Prime's spark, before it has any chance to spread through those addlebrained crowds.  I will have loyalty, one way or the other."  

"Understood, Lord Megatron."  

"And what will you do to ensure it?"

Soundwave unspaced the datapad holding his new report.  "Blueprint of Iacon's new surveillance net, now complete.  Cameras arranged to cover every intersection, almost any possible angle.  Under such a system, future incidents like this not possible."  

Megatron took it, glancing briefly at the screen.  "And you think yourself capable of handling all this raw information?"

"Lord Megatron's disappointment in my performance, displeasing.  Any effort required for better service, considered necessary and acceptable."  

A quick smile flashed across Megatron's face.  "You really are my most loyal soldier, Soundwave.  I don't know what I would do without you.  Everyone else finds excuses, or scapegoats, or some reason to complain, but you... just want to please me.  And that pleases me, greatly."  A heavy hand clapped onto Soundwave's shoulder, gripping it with some affection, and for the space of a sparkbeat Soundwave wasn't sure of Megatron's intentions.  If his lord wanted more than just answers and a surveillance report, Soundwave would give it, as he always had.  But he was so tired.  He'd slept six breems over the course of the last two cycles, spent joors preparing this report, and then joors again watching Hook painstakingly reconstruct Jazz's arm.  All he wanted was to go home and rest. 

Megatron’s attention, though, seemed turned inward.  Without quite looking at him, Megatron squeezed his shoulder a final time and turned away, gaze drifting back to the city.  “Do you ever miss the war, Soundwave?” 


That caught Soundwave entirely off-guard, and he stared blankly.  “Miss?  Query, not understood.”

 
“I know it must sound odd.  But sometimes, when I’m feeling especially restless or frustrated, I do miss that war.  At least then I knew who my enemy was.  Maybe laser fire was scorching the air around me and the ground shaking with the oncoming assault of Autobots, but I knew I could fight them, take their pitiful lives and crush them on my way to victory.  I won’t say it was easy, but it was simple.  I miss that clarity.  I miss the knowing.  Now instead of one obnoxious Prime I have a city full of discontents whose whining will never be satisfied.  ‘There’s not enough fuel, the fuel is too expensive, the city is too crowded, the power grid must be expanded, the power grid is too unreliable’ and on and on and on.  Fix one problem and another springs up to take its place.  Do they appreciate all that we do, all that the Decepticons have done to save them?  No.  All they can do is complain.  And I can’t shoot them – at least, I can’t shoot all of them – because then who will I have left to rule?  I must rely on your hearing, Soundwave, to tell me who’s making trouble and have them brought to me.  I’ll know what to do then.” 


It was a rare moment to see Megatron so unhappy, and vulnerable.  Soundwave knew how proud his leader was, how difficult it was for him to admit he could be losing control.  He’d fought so hard to get to where he was. 


“Lord Megatron, consideration.” 


“What?”


“Constructicon Scavenger in ghetto that day for purpose of clearing debris, preparing for demolition of building.  Eviction of some residents necessary; surveillance indicates residents angry and resentful.  Shockwave’s redevelopment plans often result in such resentment.  My surveillance efforts to find dissidence necessary, but other remedies also available.  Perhaps some re-evaluation of policies possible, to alleviate subjects' unhappiness.” 


For one naively hopeful moment, Soundwave thought Megatron might actually listen.  Something like recognition flickered through his optics, an understanding that he could draw his subjects to him with generosity instead of fear.  Then the red glow darkened and the moment was past. 

“Don’t change, Soundwave.”


“Lord Megatron?  Clarification needed.” 


“Don’t be like the others, pointing fingers, casting blame.  I get enough of that from Starscream and Shockwave, I can’t have it from you too.  I need you to be the one that just stands by my side and carries out my orders.  Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.  And I will run my empire as I see fit.  Is that clear?” 

Soundwave bowed his head.  “Affirmative, Lord Megatron.”

“You’re dismissed.  I want to be alone now.” 

Soundwave bowed again, more deeply, and backed away to take his leave.  Bluestreak was nowhere to be seen, but Soundwave was capable of letting himself out.  The last he saw of Megatron was his leader gazing through the windows again, silent and still as one of his statues, but with a sadness the world would never see.      


 

 

Jazz was up and out of the berth when Soundwave returned to the medbay next cycle.  Through the transparent walls of his private recovery room Soundwave could see First Aid cautiously guiding Jazz through rotations of his various joints, moving slowly but at a smooth and steady pace.  From here, the dents were not so obvious, and now that his arm was back Jazz looked whole and healthy again.  Just to see him standing was a relief.  

"Physical therapy," Hook explained, absorbed in sharpening his collection of blades.  "At regular intervals since the second surgery, we've been scaling back the paralysis on his arm, re-introducing circulation and sensory input.  He is in excruciating pain right now, no matter how hard he tries to convince you otherwise with jokes.  Those welds burn like the motherrusting pit.  The most important task now is to practice moving all his joints in all the right ways, to make sure nothing's catching or sticking.  The runt says everything looks good so far; barring complications you should be able to take him home tomorrow."

"Understood.  Requested examination, accomplished?"  

Hook glanced at him very briefly.  "Yes sir.  I did it this morning while he was still coming up from sedation, so he wouldn't notice.  I checked every slave hobble, and they are firmly in place.  Access to subspace, disabled.  Access to communication links, both receptor and transmitter, disabled.  Transformation cog, disabled.  Access to sensory overrides, disabled.  Firewall programming, disabled.  Targeting subroutines, disabled.  And all electroshock conduction wires fully functional.  100% slave-ready Autobot, just as Megatron ordered."  He set his knife down, fixing Soundwave with a very calm but deliberate stare.  

"Should I be wondering why you felt the need to check?"  

"Thoroughness, appropriate," Soundwave answered just as calmly.  "Occasional checks, easily performed and beneficial to security.  Slaves, always a minor liability."  Again his gaze moved to the Autobots, who hadn't noticed their audience yet.  First Aid was rubbing his fingers underneath Jazz's armor, likely trying to massage away some of the pain, unaware he was performing what was traditionally Soundwave's task.  "Your medic, a competent surgeon?  Capable of removing slave's tracking collar?"

That was a question to make Hook stop and look at his own slave, thoughtful appraisal in his expression.  "Well.  He's a smart kid, I'll give him that, and a very quick student.  Much as I hate to admit it, he had a good teacher.  If he had access to a top-notch operating room with all the necessary tools, and an Autobot, and several joors of total uninterrupted quiet with no worries about being found... yes.  I do think he could figure his way through extracting the collar.  But he isn't going to get any of those things, now is he?"  

When he didn't get an answer, he added, "Soundwave, it's not possible for First Aid to extract his own collar.  He'll never get the chance to even try on another bot, and he'll definitely never be able to operate on all of them, and even if all those impossible things happened I would still know exactly where he is.  The runt is stuck, and he knows it.  They all do."  

All but one, Soundwave thought, watching Jazz's easy smile.  To Hook, however, he simply nodded.  "Report, satisfactory.  Dismissed."  Without sparing another look for the medic he crossed the distance to Jazz's room, and entered it.  First Aid, who was in the middle of massaging Jazz's elbow joint, squeaked and jumped back enough to cover half the room.  

"Director Soundwave sir!  I, uh, was just implementing standard physical therapy treatment as ordered by my master, he told me to do it, it's what medics are supposed to do in the case of broken struts.  I had to give some directions to Jazz but it was all medical, only medical talk, always."  

The slave trembled under his stare, but Jazz leaned against his berth with a roll of optical light behind the visor.  "Careful Aid, or you'll short somethin' out.  No need to worry; he knows every blessed thing you've said to me all day.  Soundwave's always watchin'."  He nodded briefly to Buzzsaw, perched on some equipment in the corner.  It was true that his symbiote had carefully monitored all interaction between the Autobots, and Soundwave already knew that First Aid had kept strictly to medical conversation at all times.  He also knew, simple dialogue aside, that they'd taken several opportunities to hold hands for as long as First Aid could spare the time.  He didn't care for it, but it wasn't a security threat like talking could be, and - as Jazz would probably argue - technically Soundwave had never rescinded his permission for Jazz to hold hands with the other slaves.  Seeing as how the medic was taking excellent care of Jazz, and that he was properly deferential to Soundwave, he would allow them that indulgence.  

He moved away from the open door.  "Out."

"Yes sir."  

First Aid ducked his head and walked quickly to the door.  "Lookin' forward to the next appointment, Aid," Jazz called out cheerfully.  "And don't forget: the wet duck flies at midnight."  

First Aid shot a thoroughly baffled look at Jazz just as the door slid shut, and Jazz chuckled to look at Soundwave's face.  "He's a sweet kid, but he has a hard time with secret treasonous codes.  Don't know what I'm gonna do with him, really."

"Baiting, pointless."

"But fun.  I miss teasing you, love, I’ve been here two whole days and I’m bored.  Did you come to take me home?  I’m ready to go when you are.” 

“Jazz, not coming home tonight.  Medical attention still necessary.” 

“Well I can just come back for a few appointments, can’t I?  Why do I have to stay?  There’s nothing to do here but get gawked at by nosy Constructicons and endure those joint-grinding exercises that Hook's insisting on.  And I can’t even talk to Aid, as Woodstock over there has made abundantly clear.  So what’s the point in staying?  Take me home, please?”  Jazz tried to close the distance between them, but the drip line that tied his arm to the dispenser was too short.

“Jazz, just undergone two surgeries.” 

“But I’m okay now!  Look, see, I can even dance.”  He tried to show off some ridiculous step, only for one of his knee joints to buckle underneath him.  Soundwave caught him before he could collapse to the floor, picked him up, and sat him firmly back on the medberth. 

“Jazz, not ready to come home.”  He paid no more attention to Jazz’s fussing and began his own inspection on the arm, gently prodding and testing his joints.  The armor showed a faint discoloration, which Hook had assured him would fade as Jazz’s circulatory system re-established connection to the plates.  Otherwise it was almost impossible to see that any injury had ever happened; the reconstruction was in perfect order.  Jazz hissed and winced when Soundwave moved his arm through rotations of the shoulder and then elbow, but everything was working and moving the way it should. 

“Pain, very great?”

“Like I’ve got acid running through my fuel lines.  First Aid said that’s expected, and won’t up my painkiller dosing because then my circulation will slow down.  Or so he says.  I think he just learned too well from his sadistic teacher.” 

“Hook, not sadistic.”

“I was talking about Ratchet.” 

Soundwave was lightly pinching each of his fingers, a quick grimace pulling at Jazz’s expression each time.  “If pain not desired, provocation unwise.  Your insolence to Megatron, pointless and self-destructive.”

“C’mon, I had to.  You saw the look on his face when we showed up, we all knew what was about to happen.  He was going to pound me through the ground no matter what I said.  If I have to go down, I might as well go down with flair.” 

“’Flair’ almost lethal,” Soundwave said coldly.  “Megatron’s anger, very great.  My intervention, only reason you are still alive now.” 

“Oh he wouldn’t have killed me.  I told you, the slaves have become too valuable as assets for the empire.  He’d never kill me.” 

“No, Perceptor valuable.  First Aid, valuable.  Jazz, only arrogant.  My experience with Megatron, far older than yours, and this known: Megatron intended to kill.  Your behavior reckless, taunting, and stupid.” 

“Wow.”  Jazz scowled and pulled his hand out of Soundwave’s grasp.  “You wanna break my other arm too, so you can kick me while I’m really down?” 

“Wanted: admission of mistake.”

“I will admit nothing of the sort.  I knew what I was doing.  Primus knows I’ve had the practice.  It’s none of your business anyway, that was between me and Megatron.”

“Nothing is between you and anyone,” Soundwave snapped.  Jazz looked away and Soundwave grasped his chin, forcing him to look back at Soundwave.  “Soundwave master, Jazz mine.  Everything you do, every word you speak, my concern.  Your actions disregarded that.” 

“You’re right, I’m sorry.  While my arm was being torn apart, why didn’t I stop to think about how this was affecting your feelings?  My selfishness knows no bounds.”

“Jazz, not able to understand?  Your life nearly ended that day.  Megatron, angry enough to kill.  Jazz only spared due to my intercession; that intercession, done at great risk.  Megatron, very displeased.” 

“You’re just mad because he hit you.  You’re not used to being the one in trouble.” 

“Correction: ‘mad’ because you nearly died, and show no concern at all.”  

“Just leave it alone already, Soundwave," Jazz said sharply.  "It happened, I got the blame, I got the beating.  I am, after all, the slave.  I am being punished for the crime of standing in our Lord Megatron’s way.”  His expression twisted with a different kind of pain.  “I hate it when he makes me say that.  He really does know how to hurt me the most.”

He shuddered, and again Soundwave glimpsed that fragile, so-close-to-breaking bot he’d seen once before.  Jazz hid it so carefully, but someday Megatron could bring his fist down and shatter him completely.  Didn’t Jazz know that?  Did he not understand what Soundwave could see so easily?  

“I’m tired,” Jazz whispered.  “May I please take a nap, master?” 

“Recharge necessary to healing process.  Permission, not required.”  Soundwave answered the question automatically, not at all satisfied with the end of the conversation but not willing to push the issue while Jazz was still very weak.  He guided Jazz into lying down, untangled the fuel drip line, and rested his hand over Jazz’s visor.  “Sleep now.  My return planned tomorrow.”      

“I know.” 

Lightly Soundwave swept his hand down the uninjured side of Jazz's face, pinged the lights down to black, and turned to go.  He would be alone in his berth again tonight, an unpleasant prospect, but it couldn't be helped.  Maybe tomorrow, Jazz would be ready to come home. 

 


 

 

Jazz didn’t cope with his next day in the medbay any better than he had the first two.  Not used to being cooped up in such a small room for so long, he was getting frustrated and restless.  Soundwave knew this because he knew his slave, and recognized the agitation in his posture, the fidgeting, and the repeated tapping of his pedes.  Also, he thought it would be a good idea to climb up onto his berth and dance.  First Aid threw a minor fit when he caught Jazz at it, alternately threatening and begging Jazz to get back down, and only when Hook sauntered by with a sharp word to First Aid did Jazz finally get down.  Laserbeak, Jazz’s monitor for this cycle, kept Soundwave thoroughly informed throughout the entire episode.  Soundwave was left feeling partly amused, partly exasperated by his slave’s behavior, but not in the least surprised. 

“Actions, not acceptable,” he reprimanded Jazz later, after he’d left work to come here.  “Distracting to medical staff, potentially dangerous, and not conducive to healing process.”

“To the contrary, darling, I was merely following the medic’s orders.  He said I should practice moving all my joints as closely to my usual habits as possible.  And what’s more usual than me dancing?”

“Or showing off.” 

“Same thing.  Now, are we ready to go?”  Eagerly Jazz waggled his arm, jostling the drip line.  “Let’s get this thing yanked out of me and we can be on our way.”   

“Negative.  Jazz, not returning home tonight.” 

What?  But I’m ready to go, Hook said I was ready to go.  He looked really happy about it!”

“Hook, not your master and Jazz, not ready to come home.” 

Baffled and dismayed, Jazz gaped at him.  Soundwave bore the look impassively, just as he had when breaking the news to Hook one breem earlier.  The Constructicon had been most displeased. 

“But- I’m your entertainment.  Don’t you miss your entertainment?  Isn’t it lonely back home without me?” 

“Other problems, of greater concern.”

Now Jazz scowled.  “If this is about that thing yesterday, you can forget that.  I’m not going to apologize for something that wasn’t my fault.  I’m still right.”

“Negative.  Jazz, very wrong.” 

“And this is your plan to change my mind?  Strand me here, in the Constructicon looking glass bowl until I go insane from sheer boredom?  Maybe I’ll just check myself out, since you won’t.  This doesn’t look too hard to undo.”  Disdainfully he tugged at the line disappearing under his armor.  “You know Hook’s locks won’t hold me for a second.  Maybe I’ll just up and go, how about that?”

“Go where?  Iacon ghettos, with red paint?”

The light behind Jazz’s visor glittered frostily.  “How ‘bout I break into your building?  You might have fixed it so I can’t get out, but I’m pretty sure I can find a way in.  I always do.  Maybe I’ll sneak into your berth, huh, whatcha gonna do then?”

“Drag you back to medbay because Jazz, not ready to come home.”    

Jazz glowered at him until something outside the windows caught his attention, and all at once his restless anxiety was back.  “Look, you’re mad, I get that.  But you’ve been mad at me before, for things so much worse than this.  Can’t we argue about this later, somewhere not here?  Just take me home now, please?” 

“Request denied.”   

Jazz’s vents fluttered, then he pasted a hopeful smile on his face.  “I’ll beg real pretty, if that’s what you want.  Maybe do other things too.  Take me home now, and I promise I will be very appreciative.” 

“Answer,” Soundwave said firmly, “is no.”  

Jazz huffed and sat back on the berth with a thump.  Helplessly he looked at Laserbeak, their silent audience in the corner.  “I don’t suppose you’d like to give me an assist, LB?”

She whistled a soft negative, which Jazz seemed to understand just fine.  His shoulders slumped.  “Why are you being so stubborn about this?”

“Query redirected: why are you?”    

Silence.  To Soundwave, it seemed that rather having no answer, Jazz had too many answers to that question.  He was still trying to find words when someone rapped softly at the door, and it slid aside to reveal First Aid.  "Excuse me, sir," he said softly.  "But my master just told me that Jazz is going to stay another night and that I should- I mean, we have to..."  

He cast an agonized look at Jazz and rebooted his vocalizer.  "It's time for the repaint."  

So this was what had Jazz so anxious.  Soundwave watched his hands curl over the edge of the berth and grip it hard.  "Verdammt," he muttered.  "Damn it.  It's not too late, we can still go.  You can take me to a paint shop."

This time it was Soundwave that didn't answer, staring impassively at Jazz.  "You are a horrible mech, if you make Aid do this," he added.  "Awful, cruel, gefühllos.  Spark of ice.  Ice formed from the remnants of moisture on an asteroid in deep space, after passing through a black hole.  That is how cold you are, if you make him do this thing."

"This eventuality should have been considered," Soundwave answered calmly, "before display of insubordination to Megatron.  Actions have consequences."

"Dies hier," Jazz tapped his Autobrand, "is not my fault."  

"That statement, subject to debate.  Suggestion: query Autobot?"

He tilted his head fractionally toward the perplexed young medic, which resulted in a decidedly guilty twitch.  "Jazz?" First Aid ventured hesitantly.  "Did you need to ask me something?"  

"Never mind.  Let's go, Aid, and get this over with."  

"Yes, Jazz."  First Aid skirted carefully around Soundwave, and in the work of a nanoklik had the fuel line disengaged from Jazz's arm.  "This way, please."  

Jazz threw a scathing glare at Soundwave and fell in behind First Aid, following him out into the medbay proper.  True that it was a cruel act to force the little Protectobot to do this, but Soundwave was angry enough at Jazz not to care.  He should have thought of the repercussions before opening his mouth to Megatron.  Absently his gaze followed them to the paint room, watching without really watching, more occupied with his own thoughts than actually paying attention to the slaves.  In retrospect, he acknowledged to himself that he should have known better; he ought to have predicted Jazz would not go down without a fight.  

First Aid squawked in startled pain when he hit the floor face-first.  Jazz didn't miss a beat after tripping him, but skipped neatly into the paint room, slammed the door shut, and punched a series of buttons in what was probably a basic jamming short-fix.  

"Jazz?" First Aid wailed.  "What are you doing?  Why did you- unlock the door!"  

Jazz looked right past him at Soundwave, smirk absent, only watching him with a steady gaze.  Probably he was waiting to see if Soundwave would come forward to override the jam and force open the door.  Soundwave didn't move.  After a few nanokliks, still paying no attention to the Autobot's pleadings, he uncapped the solvent bottle and doused a rag with the stuff.  He bit his lip, bracing himself, then ruthlessly rubbed the rag against his own chest.  

"Did somebody hit my slave?" Hook asked, wandering out of the supply room.  "What was that- what the frag is your slave doing?" 

Back and forth, back and forth.  Most of the brand was already smeared beyond recognition, paint fading with every scrub.  Beyond that first flinch, Jazz didn't break Soundwave's gaze for a moment.  

"Trying to prove point," he answered.  "Jazz, very stubborn." 

He turned away before the deed was even done, not bothering to glance at Hook as he strode for the door.  "Ensure repaint completed properly.  Return, planned tomorrow."  

 


 

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

Chapter Text

More cameras had gone up, with more streams feeding into Soundwave's console.  His symbiotes were staking out new patrol routes, recording more, uploading more memories into him with every synchronization.  His response to the rising flood in data was to unlock more space in his own processor, hooking up new links between his own mind and his consoles to cope with the massive amounts of analysis.  External relays like audial and optical were switched off, and communications on a non-emergency frequency were blocked.  In self-enforced solitude, Soundwave sank into the surveillance of Cybertron.  A thousand scenes played through his mind every morning, a thousand stories that demanded investigation, judgment, and sorting.  

Soundwave's mind was, literally, all over the place.  It slowed his personal systems to a sluggish, potentially fatal vulnerability, and effectively rendered his body useless.  He would be a fool to engage in this activity anywhere but a highly secured base, behind a door he'd personally locked and encrypted.  Which is exactly where he was when a second presence filtered into his consciousness, intruding on his work.  Not a comm signal, not an outsider, just Buzzsaw establishing connection through the symbiotic link.  

Starscream present.

What?  Soundwave slowed one of the streams to quarter-speed, struggling to make sense of the message.  Nighttime Iacon, factory workers conversing on the corners, Starscream not present.  The connection was nonexistent.  

He brushed aside Buzzsaw with blank indifference, but Buzzsaw persisted.

Starscream, present now.  Medbay.  

That's right, Buzzsaw wasn't a part of this data upload, these were memories drawn from Laserbeak's recorders.  She had patrolled, while Buzzsaw took his turn to monitor Jazz.  He was in the medbay, with Jazz, and now so was Starscream.

Soundwave was shocked into shutting down two data streams, progress unsaved, by that abrupt realization.  Promptly he ordered Buzzsaw to patch his environmental audial relay into his comm, reactivating his own receptors in the meantime.   

"- of the way, brat!  Don't worry, this won't take long.  Go polish a scalpel or something."  Distantly Soundwave - through Buzzsaw - heard First Aid squeak as he was pushed aside.  Then the unmistakeable sounds of Starscream lounging against the doorframe in his favorite pose.  

"Jo shim heh," Jazz murmured softly, words meant just for Soundwave.  "Be careful.  Don't react."  

It was a warning that Soundwave didn't need.  Sitting perfectly still, Soundwave rerouted as much processing power as he could spare to the incoming transmission.  On his end, Buzzsaw had gone warily tense, but took a cue from his master and didn't so much as snap at the intruder.  

"Hello Autobot," Starscream greeted silkily.  "Feeling better yet?"

"I was," Jazz answered pertly.  "But for some reason the air has just gone very nasty.  Filter problem, I'm sure." 

"Actually, I'm surprised you're still here.  Does it really take so long to heal one broken arm?"  Soft clangs of metal indicated Starscream's steps across the room, moving closer to the berth.  "Of course, Autobots are so frail."

"What do you use," Jazz asked, "after Megatron's beatings?  Any special balm?  I imagine you must need to keep it handy."  

"Generally I just override sensory input and block out all pain receptors.  Too bad you can't do that.  Nice look, by the way.  That plain chest really doesn't suit you, does it?  Fireflight, though, I find so much more attractive without that ugly symbol splattered on his wings."

"Jazz showing signs of irritation,"  Buzzsaw warned.  

"Is there something I can do for you, Starscream?" 

"Oh, so many things if memory serves," Starscream purred.  "But right now, I don't need you to do anything except sit there and be quiet.  If you can.  I'm here to talk to your master."  

"Starscream, sitting on edge of medberth," Buzzsaw reported, as if Soundwave could have missed the telltale metallic creaks.  Through the fog of still-compiling surveillance analysis and his own diverted attention, he vaguely noticed his fingers curling against the surface of his console desk.  "Jazz, drawing back legs to avoid physical contact."  

"Well as I'm sure you can see, he's not here.  He's working.  You should try it sometime."  

"I know he's working," Starscream said airily.  "I assume that's why he's ignoring my hails at his office door.  I thought if I came to you, that would get his attention.  Soundwave's always looking out for his things.  Proved that well enough the other day in the ghetto, didn't he?"  Soundwave stiffened.  "Don't think no one noticed."

"Starscream, now watching symbiote," Buzzsaw said uneasily.  "Smiling."  

"Did you have something to say to Soundwave or not?"    

"I just did.  Oh and Soundwave, don't fool yourself that Shockwave missed it either.  Who do you think suggested to Megatron that your slave might be responsible for that graffiti nonsense anyway?  I'd say he painted it too, just to set you up, but we all know he doesn't have that much imagination.  In any case, if you were harboring any hopes that Jazz hasn't become leverage against the great unflappable Soundwave, you can go ahead and delete them.  Call it a friendly warning."  

"Starscream, now leaning closer to Jazz.  Extending hand... fingertips close to contact with Jazz's head.  Permission to engage?"

"Negative.  Do not react, overt reaction desired by Starscream."  

"Jazz, pressing back against medberth, avoiding contact.  Starscream's hand, withdrawn."

"That's all right," Starscream assured Jazz.  "I can wait."  

"Are you finished?" Jazz asked tersely.

"Here.  Perceptor is a different story, though, I should get back to him."  Buzzsaw related to Soundwave that Starscream patted Jazz lightly on the knee, grinned, and stood.  By now Soundwave's hands had both curled themselves into fists; according to Buzzsaw, so had Jazz's.  

"Good day, Soundwave.  I do hope your slave is feeling better soon; the medbay is no place for him to live.  Leave him in here too long, and some of us might think you've gotten tired of him!"

He sailed out of the room, and after a few astroseconds of quiet Soundwave unclenched his fists.    

"Geu olbaleun," Jazz muttered.  "He's right.  About all of it.  So now can I come home?"

His data streams had all trickled to a stop.  Soundwave had diverted too much attention to Buzzsaw's comm and now his task would have to start over again, just to ensure he hadn't missed anything important while allowing Starscream to rile his temper.  Irritated, Soundwave reset the programs.  

"Starscream, not relevant to my decisions for my property.  And Jazz, not ready to come home.  Buzzsaw, relay message."  

Grumpily Buzzsaw whistled in the negative, but whatever Jazz said in response to that went unheard.  Again Soundwave switched off his comms, and reactivated analysis.  There was much work to be done.    


 

 

"Sir, your slave is ready to go home."  

Halfway to the medbay exit, Soundwave found his path blocked by chief medic Hook, fists planted defiantly on hips.  Somewhere behind him, he could hear First Aid scurrying into the room and pleading with Jazz to come down from the ceiling.  As per usual for these visits, they had fought, and this time Jazz was threatening to wedge himself into the upper corner of the room until Soundwave took him home.  

"Jazz, not yet ready.  My return, planned same time next cycle."  

He moved to step around Hook, and Hook moved right back into his path again.  

"Ahem.  I don't think you understood me, sir.  I said, your slave is ready to go home.  In fact, we're all ready for him to go home.  He is- how do I put this politely?  A demon gob hocked up from the mouth of Unicron and spit directly into my medbay.  And I thought your twin brats were bad!  Do you know what he did this morning, while I was out and Aid was doing inventory?  He somehow found a way to break into the terminal with my medical history files, updated every Seeker's profile to name a virus caught by interfacing with Earth machinery, then uploaded the profiles onto a public server.  If they hadn't started sending me angry comms by the end of the joor, I'd have never known, he covered his tracks so good.  Then he sabotaged his own monitoring equipment to alert he'd died once every fifteen breems, but only for thirty nanokliks.  It just about put my slave into spark seizure.  I don't like my slave being put into spark seizure, Soundwave.  I'm starting to understand why that glitch Skywarp kept the bot half-starved - it was the only way he could keep him under control.  It beats me how you do it, but then again, I don't really care just so long as you take him home.  I will not keep that thing in my medbay anymore!"

"Jazz, not yet ready to come home." 

"I'm sorry, sir, but you cannot pull rank here.  This is my medbay, and I have full jurisdiction over my patients.  When I say someone is repaired -"  Unhurriedly, Soundwave accessed his account, initiating a transfer of two thousand credits.  "- he's repaired.  And when I say it's time for a patient to leave, it's time for him to -"  Automatically Treasury pinged the recipient for acknowledgement of receipt, and Hook faltered.  "To- to... I mean, that is..."  

Treasury received the acknowledgement, and the transfer took place.  Hook blinked a few times, optical light flickering in telltale distraction as he reviewed the incoming deposit.  

"Well.  I guess if it matters that much to you he can stay one more night.  That's one more night, mind you; this is a medbay, not a resort."  

"Terms, understood.  Your cooperation, appreciated."

"So I see."  

"Dismissed."  This time, Hook moved aside and allowed Soundwave to exit the medbay without obstacle.  He did catch Hook's muttered "dunno what you're waiting for" but did not bother to reply.  It was none of Hook's concern, and anyway, Soundwave was confident that this night would be Jazz's last in the medbay.  He left, returned home, and spent the evening uploading fresh surveillance footage for analysis.  Two breems before the power grid was scheduled to shut down, Soundwave locked up his console, rinsed off briefly in the washracks, then entered his berth chamber.  The berth was so wide and empty without Jazz in it.  He lay down, lowered the lights, and waited.  

Two breems after midnight, Laserbeak glided into his room and alit on his chest with a cheep.  He opened up, and allowed her in.

 


 

 

First Aid glided his hands gently over Jazz’s arm, inspecting the joints for new damage and occasionally clucking with disapproval.  “Jazz, I don’t understand why you would do such a thing.  Don’t you remember that your arm was twisted and broken just a few days ago?”

“You fixed it.  It’s fine, I’m fine.”

“No, it’s not fine.  The welds have put your arm back in working order, but it’ll be orns before they’ve thoroughly set, you can’t put so much stress on them this soon.  Ratchet would have murdered you for that.  You’re lucky that Master Hook doesn’t care as much about your personal welfare, or he would have too.  It was a silly stunt anyway.  What were you trying to accomplish by climbing up the ceiling?” 

“I wanted Soundwave to take me home.” 

“And you thought that would do it?” 

“No, but I thought Hook might get fed up enough to throw me out.”

“You’re that eager to go?”

“No offense, Aid, but this place isn’t exactly my comfort zone.” 

“And Soundwave’s home is?” 

Jazz shrugged and looked away.  “It’s complicated.” 

“I’d expect nothing less, from you.  Rotate your arm a little more please.”  First Aid flicked on a penlight and peered into Jazz’s elbow.   “You’re lucky that none of these welds tore.  Please promise me you won’t do that again.” 

“Nothin’ personal, Aid, just part of the plan.  One of these days he’ll have to admit that he can’t leave me in here forever.” 

“So much work, to get his attention.  You must miss him a lot.” 

“Goodnight, Aid.” 

“Er, yes.  Goodnight, Jazz.  Press the alert button if you need me.”  First Aid backed away, bowed to Laserbeak, then silently slipped out of the room.  Huffing slightly, Jazz flopped back onto his berth and glared at the ceiling for a while.  Eventually, the door swished open again and Rumble walked in. 

“Hey, it’s Munchkin Blue.  Come to hang out in the cool hospital room for a while?” 

Without replying, Rumble popped his thrusters and jumped onto the medberth, then stomped over Jazz until he was standing directly in the center of his chest.

“Ow," Jazz said pointedly, which Rumble just as pointedly ignored. 

“Don’t you think it’s about time you apologized to Soundwave?” 

“Ah.  So he’s reached the point of sending his minions to do his dirty work.  Soundwave must be getting desperate.”  

“He’s getting pissed, anyway.  Jazz, why are you still here?” 

“Because your master is keeping me here, or didn’t you catch that?”    

Rumble cocked his head, optic light narrowing just a little.  “Our master,” he corrected.  “Soundwave is our master, yours just as much as mine, and he wants you to come home.  We all miss you, even Ravage misses you.” 

“Oh?”

“Well, he misses having someone to growl at.  The point is you shouldn’t be here, you should be home with us.”

“You’re wastin’ your vocalizer talking to me, then, you should be talkin’ to Soundwave.”

“He’s not going to let you come home until you apologize!  So just- apologize already.” 

“I am not going to apologize,” Jazz snapped.  “I didn’t do anything wrong.” 

“Are you kidding?  Didn’t do anything wrong?  We all saw what happened, Jazz, he showed us the whole thing.  Why didn’t you just stick your head in Megatron’s cannon and tell him to flip the switch?  It would have been a much quicker way to commit suicide if that’s what you really wanted.” 

“I have,” Jazz informed him loftily, “an obligation to resist Megatron at every opportunity.” 

“Well what about your obligation to Soundwave?  What does he get?  You act like he gives you jack when he tries so hard to give you everything.  He feeds you, takes you on walks, buys you anything you so much as look at because he thinks it will help make you happy.  He plays games with you – do you think that’s his normal style?  He takes really good care of you, so why throw it in his face?  Why would you do this to him?”

“Do this to him?  Whose arm got broken anyway?”

“One of his possessions,” Rumble answered simply.  “Someone he has to protect.” 

“And what an excellent job he did of that, carrying me to Megatron in his own arms and everything.”   

“C’mon Jazz, you’re not stupid.  You know he didn’t want to.  Soundwave is Megatron’s soldier, he does what’s commanded.  It’s what’s kept him alive all these vorns, and us too.  He was fighting to keep you alive that day, you know that right?  The things he said… scrap.”  Rumble darted a quick glance back at the door to reassure himself it was closed.  “I don’t think he’s ever come so close to lying to Megatron, ever.  He hated having to do it, but it was to save your life.  Don’t you understand how scared he was?” 

Rumble’s voice pitched dangerously close to breaking, his tiny hands curling into fists.  Annoyed, Jazz looked away.  “I didn’t ask for him to be worried about me.”

“Well too bad, because he has to.  It’s his job or wait- it’s more than that.”  Frustrated, Rumble tried to grope for the right words.  “It’s his core programming, Jazz.  It’s the thing he was designed to do, like the way we were designed to search and record.  He takes care of us, he protects us.  It’s the most important thing he’ll ever do in his whole life.  His kind was built to make sure our kind will survive.”

“Why do I keep having to point out the obvious and tell everyone that I am not a symbiote?” 

“Don’t talk about symbiotes!” Rumble shouted hysterically.  “It’s not like he didn’t try for them too!  He was obeying his programming, he was trying to do his job!  He took the cassettibots in, he fed them, protected them, gave them a home!  It was his responsibility to make sure they survived, and they didn’t.  He had to watch four symbiotes die under his care.  And you knew about that!  You knew what we’ve been through, what he went through.  How could you make him watch that again?  How could you make him relive that?”     

Jazz flinched, in a way that had nothing to do with Rumble stomping his pede against Jazz’s chest armor.  Rumble had to struggle to get control over himself, forcing closed vents that had begun to wheeze with pain.  The glow in his optics was so pale it was nearly washed out. 

“We know you don’t hate him,” he muttered.  “Whatever you say, or try to pretend, we know.  But even if you did hate him – which you don’t – he didn’t deserve that.  He didn’t deserve to watch you try to kill yourself ten steps away, knowing he could do nothing to protect you.  So you need to tell him you’re sorry, and you need to come home.” 

Silence.  For several long kliks there was nothing but the whine of Rumble’s strained systems, and the scuff-scuff as he fidgeted there on Jazz’s chest.  It was impossible to read Jazz’s face. 

“So,” he finally said.  “You want me to apologize to the mech who is holding me prisoner, and slave.” 

“… yes.” 

“You say it with such a straight face.”

“Don’t start with that Autobot scrap, Jazz.  You don’t even wear the symbol anymore.  You’re not theirs anymore, you’re ours.  You’re always fussing over those bots and trying to cheer them up, but what about us?  Don’t you care about us?  Primus, Laserbeak…”  Helplessly he gestured to the silent symbiote.  “You’re lucky you can’t hear what she’s been thinking since you wound up in this medberth.  She’s crushed, and we all have to feel it.  You’re not a part of the link that we share, I get that, but you could still unshutter your optics and look.  We don’t want you to be hurt, why don’t you feel the same about us?” 

“Now you’re hittin’ low,” Jazz murmured.


“Cassetticons always do.”  Rumble stiffened his shoulders defiantly.  “Usually does the job.  Speaking of which, I have to get back to work.  There’s a lot more of it, lately, and it kinda sucks.  Soundwave’s really pushin’ himself to make Megatron happy.  He knows who the first target’ll be if he doesn’t.” 

Rumble deliberately ground his heel against Jazz’s chest as he spun around, and  Jazz winced again when he fired his thrusters to jump off.  He left, the door slid shut, and for a time the room was quiet again.  Jazz lay still, gazing at the door, before he eventually rolled off the berth.  Laserbeak’s wing platelets ruffled warily when he crossed the room to her, uncertain of his intentions.  Jazz, however, merely stroked a fingertip underneath her beak. 

“How ‘bout it, sweetspark?” he asked softly.  “You know it was never about hurting you, right?” 

Laserbeak trilled sadly and turned her head away.  Jazz hesitated, then dropped his hand.  He returned to his berth, rolled to face away, and didn’t move anymore.  Just before the midnight turnover, her brother arrived to relieve her, and Laserbeak flew home to report to her master.


 

 

Something was different when Soundwave returned to the medbay next cycle.  He sensed it well before he'd even come close to Jazz's room.  Perhaps it was the way First Aid looked at him.  He was in the process of mending some kind of tool as Soundwave passed, but briefly he glanced up with a flash of resentful hurt in his optics.  The uncharacteristic glare struck Soundwave as being curiously familiar, until he placed it as a match to his brother's glare many deca-orns ago.  The day Starscream had tried, unsuccessfully, to snatch Jazz back for the Seekers, Groove had shot him the same dirty look.  After several cycles of First Aid's polite attentions, perhaps that was the noticeable difference today.

Either that, or Hook's beaming delight as he welcomed Soundwave to his medbay.

Ravage had, of course, declined to attend, so it was with just Rumble, Frenzy, and Laserbeak that Soundwave entered Jazz's room.  Buzzsaw was already perched in the corner, currently monitoring Jazz, but flapped over to perch on Soundwave's shoulder with a hopeful cheep of anticipation.  For his part, Jazz stayed where he was on the medberth, aimlessly kicking his legs back and forth.  To Soundwave, he looked for all the world like Rumble or Frenzy after being caught in the act of a prank, and waiting to be scolded.  When he looked up, a quick smile flitted across his face before vanishing.  

"Hi."

"Jazz," Soundwave greeted calmly. 

"How's work?" 

"Plentiful." 

"And the street market?  Holding on without me, still?" 

"Merchant activity, average."  

"How sad.  I shall have to get back there soon, and liven things up again."  Again Jazz tried to muster up a smile, but it refused to last.  "Look, Soundwave, I just want to say- that is, I need to tell you... things that I would rather not say with an audience.  If you don't mind?"

He directed that last part to the symbiotes, two of whom planted their fists on hips and glared.  "Anything you got to say to the boss, you can say to us," Frenzy informed Jazz, with an assenting cluck on Buzzsaw's part.  

"Cassettes, dismissed," Soundwave commanded.

"Aw!" they wailed in unison. 

"Now." 

More than anything, cassettes did not like being left out of things, especially not things they considered important, and Soundwave got a surge of simultaneous frustration and pleading from all four at once.  Soundwave stood firm, and gestured toward the open door.  Sulkily they stomped out (or flew out), but once the door had swished shut they promptly grouped on the other side of the glass to watch.  As a condolence, Soundwave patched his audial relay into their comms so they could at least hear, if not contribute.

"Well, that's somethin' anyway," Jazz commented wryly, looking from their riveted onlookers back to Soundwave.  "Those little faceplates are gonna get stuck to the glass if they're not careful.  They must think I'm going to apologize to you or something."

"Their assumption, incorrect?"

Jazz hesitated, and every one of the listening symbiotes stiffened.  He seemed to be hunting for the right words to use.  

"I shouldn't have to apologize to you, you know," he finally said.  "You and the rest of the Decepticons are keeping me as a slave.  By rights, I get to hate you and harass you for the rest of eternity." 

Soundwave said nothing.  Jazz's legs were still kicking back and forth.  

"But, I don't hate you.  I hate Megatron.  I hate him for everything he stands for and everything he's done to us.  He's taken so much... and destroyed whatever he didn't take.  Without actually killing us, he still destroyed our lives.  So I thought if I could make him tremble, and be afraid for his precious empire for even a minute, it was worth any price he made me pay.  Just to see him show fear, I'd take all that pain and more." 

Still Soundwave said nothing.  Jazz tipped his head back, vents sighing.  "What I wasn't counting into that bargain was the price that you had to pay.  I know what you tried to do for Blaster's little bots.  I know what you did for me.  You didn't deserve a front row seat to me throwing that all away, for the sake of a cheap jab at Megatron's pride.  I still say he wouldn't have killed me, but it must have been killing you to watch that.  I do know you, after all.  So I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I was wr- "

The word twisted inside Jazz's mouth and cut itself short, just as Soundwave's ventilations held themselves still.  Mouth puckering distastefully, Jazz tried again.  "Wr- wr... wrrrrr -"

"WRONG!" all his cassettes shouted into the soundproof glass, gesticulating and flapping wings in distress.  Jazz probably noticed the commotion in the corner of his visor, though he gave no indication of it. 

"I - was - wrong," he managed at last, "to hurt you that way.  And I'm sorry for it.  And maybe in the future, I could be more polite to Megatron."  Again he made an awful face.  "That's for your sake, I mean, and theirs.  Not his.  Not ever his.  But for you, and all that you've done, I will... try."

His entire body shuddered, out of relief or revulsion Soundwave was not sure.  "There I did it - I apologized, even though I shouldn't have to.  This is me, giving in, because for some bizarre reason it bothers me more to think you're hurting than I'm losing.  So fine, you win, you're winning and that's that.  Soundwave eight.  I hope you know how incredibly hard this was for me."  

Jazz's hands were a frantic, flapping mess.  In silence Soundwave watched him work himself into a small frenzy, forcing himself to say the words that must choke him within.  When he finished he subsided, vents wheezing, pedes no longer kicking back and forth.  Resentfully he glared at them, refusing optical contact even when Soundwave moved closer.  Once, long ago, he would have flinched away from Soundwave's very presence.  Now he remained still, quietly accepting the touch of Soundwave's hand cupping his face. 

"Jazz, ready to come home." 


 

 

Soundwave would never forget the rush of victory as he tumbled Jazz into his berth that night.  Hands roved across armor, desperate and eager; he’d missed Jazz so much.  Nothing would go untouched tonight, not with Jazz finally back home where he belonged.  The onslaught left Jazz gasping with surprise and trying to squirm out from underneath, but Soundwave would have none of that.  His massive weight alone was enough to keep Jazz in place, even if he’d been making a determined escape, which he was not.  Soundwave had not forgotten the good spots.  Palms glided over Jazz’s curves and traced his favorite seams, fingertips – later glossa – delicately teasing them open.  Helplessly, Jazz writhed under his ministrations.  Eventually he stopped trying to escape and tried to return Soundwave’s attentions in kind, bringing his own fingertips to bear on Soundwave’s seams.  Promptly Soundwave slammed his hands back to the berth, pinning them there just long enough to emphasize the message.  Not tonight, no, this time he would not allow Jazz to control the pace.  Tonight would be his alone.

Relishing the taste, Soundwave ran his glossa along Jazz’s neck cables.  Victory was sweet, and what a victory it had been.  Soundwave was not blind to Jazz’s concession, how difficult it had been for him to speak those words.  Yet he’d done it anyway, for Soundwave’s sake.  Soundwave mattered, for the first time, more than Jazz’s own pride.  Jazz wanted to please him, and come home to him, and was willing to admit wrongdoing to make it happen.  All this time Soundwave had kept this willful, defiant Autobot under his roof and made him obey his commands, but today marked the first real step toward truly owning Jazz.  Someday, his control would be complete.

Jazz swallowed a moan, back arched so hard Soundwave couldn’t even see his face anymore.  Deeper Soundwave delved into his neck cables, licking and nibbling and trying to duplicate the experience Jazz had given him in his own office.  He was at least having an effect; Jazz thrashed and moaned again, occasionally kicking against Soundwave’s shins.  Odd how he seemed so inclined to that.  He did briefly grip the edges of Soundwave’s chest armor, but then quickly slapped his own hands back down on the berth before Soundwave had to remind him of the rules.  Pleased, Soundwave nuzzled Jazz’s cabling in reward.  Perhaps Jazz was more tired than he thought.  Perhaps he was ready, at last, to give in completely.

Jazz’s armor had loosened as much as his own by now.  Soundwave could sense the extreme heat trying to escape however Jazz’s body could make it, fans in a frantic spin.  Soundwave ground his own body against Jazz’s, the gaps of his own armor subjected to the rushing heat just as much as Jazz was subjected to his.  Internal temperature kicked up at least two degrees, and his systems warned of imminent overheat.  Good.  He could feel the electricity crackling up and down his own sensor wires, and every now and then a spark jumped from Jazz’s body into his own.  Energy was circulating faster than his body could expel it.  Not that Soundwave had any intention of allowing it to.  Again and again he thrust his body against Jazz’s, electricity zinging back and forth between them, and over the thudding of his spark and high-pitched whine of fans Soundwave could just barely hear Jazz’s whimpers and moans.  One final electric surge was the final tipping point, and Soundwave overloaded.  Every system shorted out simultaneously, pleasure wiping out his sensors in a white-hot blaze. 

Soundwave collapsed onto Jazz in shuddering relief, tired but thoroughly satisfied.  It took him a few nanokliks to notice that Jazz was still burning up beneath him, fans whirring at top speed.  Jazz had not overloaded with him.  Surprised, disappointed, and not a little alarmed, Soundwave shifted his position and tried a little more wire tweaking.  Jazz felt it, of that much he was sure, there was no way he could miss how Jazz groaned and arched his back still harder, almost curling his spinal struts back on themselves.  Again Soundwave fondled the exposed wires, then teased them with his glossa.  Jazz was panting severely, his vents straining to keep up, and still the heat underneath his armor burned to even hotter temperatures.  For the first time, Soundwave spoke.

“Jazz, resistance unwise.  Allow overload.” 

Jazz either couldn’t hear him or – Soundwave was fairly sure – ignored him.  Denta locked, fists clenched, Jazz writhed on the berth and tried to fight back his climax.  So there was still defiance in him after all.  Annoyed, Soundwave tickled the wires in his wrist joint, to no result. 

“Jazz, proving nothing.  Your refusal, meaningless.  Desire, visibly obvious.  Allow overload.  System stress, unhealthy and possibly dangerous.”

Still he was ignored.  Somehow, Jazz was managing to hang back from the edge, stubbornly showing Soundwave that no Decepticon could induce him to overload.  Stupid, prideful slave. 

Jazz managed it, with considerable overtaxing of his fans and a large dose of sheer determination.  Eventually he collapsed limply against the berth, vents croaking, his systems scorched dry.  He needed coolant, quickly, and though he was tired Soundwave still had the energy to roll off the berth and draw some from the dispenser. 

“Jazz, drink.”  He sat alongside Jazz and offered the decanter, but when Jazz reached for it with shaking hands, he pulled it back.  No, Jazz should know better.  Everything came to him by his master's hand.  Jazz growled at him and tried to swipe at the decanter again, but Soundwave pushed his hands down and cupped his own behind Jazz's head, tipping the decanter to his lips.  Light flared behind the visor in a brief glower, but Jazz was far too exhausted, and thirsty, to put up much of a fight.  He opened his mouth, and allowed Soundwave to trickle in the cooling liquid.  Soundwave would not let him stop until the entire decanter had been emptied.  

Jazz was on the brink of shutdown when Soundwave lowered his head back to the berth, and lay beside him.  He was quite tired himself, but not so much that he missed the quick, triumphant smirk on Jazz's face.  Soundwave had done his best, and still Jazz could hold himself back.  Complete control was still a long ways off, after all.    


 

 

“In addition to the mandated Decepticon emblem on all correspondence, we will set aside a public frequency for educational purposes.  I have already tasked a committee with verbally recording our history, both political and military.  The narrative will play continuously, for our subjects’ edification and inspiration, further cementing in their minds the greatness of our glorious Decepticon cause.”

Starscream fidgeted and scratched his null ray casing, vents opening in a telltale yawn.  Shockwave had been droning for almost half a joor, testing even Soundwave’s patience as he meticulously described Megatron’s new propaganda campaign.  Shockwave frigidly ignored the yawn, reassembling the displays on the screen to return to his original frame. 

“This much, I feel, is an adequate beginning to the program.  Megatron and I are confident that this will preclude anymore unfortunate ‘incidents’ like that graffiti in the slums.“ 

“So you do think it was a civilian,” Starscream piped up.  “And not Jazz, like you were so quick to suggest to Megatron that day.  Oh!  And I told myself that I wouldn’t bring that up.”  Regretfully he snapped his fingers.  “Awkward.” 

He beamed as Soundwave and Shockwave glared at one another.  Shockwave stiffened his struts haughtily, more than conscious of Soundwave’s menacing stare. 

“He may not have been the one holding the brush, but I am still convinced the slave had something to do with it.  He’s a lying, thieving little sneak... just like all spies.” 

That was a calculated slight against the small spies under Soundwave’s care, and Soundwave could feel his temper getting shorter.  “Lord Megatron, now accepted Jazz not responsible,” he said coldly.  “Suggestion, Shockwave accept it also.” 

Shockwave’s optic glinted with hostility, obviously interpreting that last part as a threat, which it was.  Soundwave did not appreciate slurs on his symbiotes anymore than he did accusations that nearly got Jazz killed. 

“This is all very entertaining,” Starscream drawled, “but are we done here?  I have a wingpaint in two breems.  Maybe I’ll have them put sparkle accents on my insignias, what do you think? Would that be a worthwhile contribution to the new campaign, Premier?”  He waggled his wings suggestively, which got him a disapproving glare. 

“Do attempt to take this new initiative seriously, Commander Starscream.  We are Lord Megatron’s three most senior officers, and it is up to us to set an example for the lower ranked, and the entire city.  Utmost respect for the Decepticon cause, and its emblem, is expected at all times.” 

“You don’t need to tell me to show respect for this symbol.  I did design it, after all.” 

Starscream rubbed that in with a particularly obnoxious smirk, bracing a hand against the table as he stood, but he froze when Soundwave’s hand shot out and gripped him hard on the forearm.  “Excuse me?” he yipped in startled disbelief, staring at Soundwave’s hand like it was an alien organic.  “Did you lose this?” 

“Starscream, designed Decepticon symbol following enlistment, vorn 494.” 

“Yes I know, I just said so, remember?  Now kindly remove your hand from the finish, before I finish the hand.” 

Soundwave barely heard the words.  All he could see in his mind was the simple archival entry filed in Aggrenet: [472v] Sparkbeat destroyed in Decepticon attack on Iacon.

“Director Soundwave?” Shockwave queried uncertainly.  “Is something wrong?”

The first air raid on Iacon’s business district had been an early scare tactic in the revolution, designed to prove the Council had no ability – in spite of their public statements – to protect the city from Megatron’s forces.  It was also, Megatron said, a just punishment against the corrupt, decadent lifestyles enjoyed there while so many mecha had to scrape for their fuel.  Damage would have been more symbolic than significant if the Council's defense forces weren't so inept; they hit their own city almost as often as the Decepticons did.  It was during that attack that Jazz had lost his nightclub, but that was twenty-two vorns before Starscream even joined the Decepticons, let alone designed the first Decepticon symbol.

Which meant that when Jazz said a shell bearing the Decepticon insignia destroyed his club, he was lying. 

And now Soundwave wanted to know why.

 


 

 Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

 

 

Chapter Text

"Do you think," Jazz asked, expression solemn and troubled, "that the mecha here have lost their appreciation for my dancing?"  

Soundwave's mind had been elsewhere.  He had to reroute attention to the present before he could make sense of Jazz's words, not that there was much sense to be made of them.  Blankly he looked at Jazz anew.

"Query, not understood.  Clarify."  

"Look, you'll see."  Jazz engaged in some sort of tap-step-slide move, kicking his pedes with a flourish, but drew nothing more than a glance from those nearby.  "Not even a smile, let alone a whistle!  Something's happened to this place in my extended absence, Soundwave, it's become too grim.  Of course, it doesn't help that these chains prevent me from showing the world my real talent."  Hopefully he jangled them in Soundwave's direction.  "If you'd be so kind?"  

"That request, not possible.  Jazz knows this."  

"Fiiine.  But I still say something's wrong with this crowd if they won't even acknowledge Sinatra's signature step.  I wouldn't mind if you paid any attention to it either.  Why do I get the feeling you're not really listening to me today?"  Curiously he squinted at Soundwave.  "You keep giving me these funny looks.  Somethin' on your mind, love?"  

"Many things," Soundwave answered honestly.  

"You're not still sore about the other night, are you?  Don't take it personal, babe; you're not the first Decepticon who's discovered he can't bring me over the edge if I don't feel like going."  Jazz smirked and turned his hand over, exposing his wrist joint.  "You're welcome to have another go at any time, though.  The rematch should be fun."

Impatiently Soundwave pushed his hand down.  "Jazz, insolent and dangerously arrogant.  Challenge, soon to be answered."  

"Ooh, I did bruise your pride, didn't I?  Well nut for bolt, my darling, because I wasn't going to lose two points in one day.  At least we're tied again at eight, and I confidently predict that the next point will go to -"  

Jazz had already laid a hand against his own chest, but he didn't get a chance to finish his unwarranted boast before Laserbeak hurtled between them, squealing in agitation.  Jazz yelped and jumped backward, not even able to turn before Laserbeak swooped a tight circle around him and threw herself at Soundwave, wings flapping and claws scrabbling rather painfully against his armor to secure her perch.  She'd wandered off a little while earlier, but Soundwave had barely noted the muting of her end of the link.  Now it was bursting with panic and upset and, worryingly, guilty dread.  

"What the -" Jazz tried to say and was again interrupted, this time by a shouting groundpounder flanked by two lawkeepers.  Soundwave was instantly displeased to note that both rifles were primed and ready to fire, barrels pointed at his smallest symbiont.  Carrier protocols unlocked, protective instincts surging to his own weapons and prepping them for action.  Shoulder rifle humming, he turned to face the oncoming trio.  

"Threat of assault, displayed.  Orders: stand down immediately and lower weapons.  Alternative, severe punishment."  

Every one of them screeched to a halt when they recognized him and the symbol on his chest, the lawkeepers hastily lowering their guns and the grounder's optics blanching to almost pure white.  He gasped, and promptly dropped to his hands and knees.

"My lord!  I beg your pardon, I did not realize.  The little one on your shoulder stole several items from my merchandise and I gave chase, not knowing -"

"Laserbeak, a Decepticon and soldier to Lord Megatron.  Threat of violence against her, considered possible treason."

"My lord, I did not know!"  He shivered and touched his brow plating to the street again.  "I swear I didn't know.  I didn't see the sigil, I only saw her snatch my property and fly away.  I chased her only to retrieve my things, and shouted for help from enforcement.  They did not tell me I was chasing a Decepticon!"  

At that Soundwave's attention moved to the two lawkeepers, who took a nervous step back.  "I beg your pardon, sir, we also did not realize.  We didn't see the Decepticon emblem on her wings, she was flying very fast."  

Soundwave narrowed his gaze menacingly at the pair.  "Laserbeak, prized courier and reconnaissance agent for Decepticon army.  Suggestion: law enforcement become familiar with the appearance of Lord Megatron's Decepticons.  Ignorance, possibly fatal mistake." 

 "Yes sir," they muttered, resentfully hunching their shoulders.  "Won't happen again, sir."

"How shall we report this in our logs, sir?"

At that moment Soundwave became acutely conscious of the attention that their commotion had attracted.  Almost everyone on the street had drifted closer, and now they had the audience that Jazz had been wishing for moments earlier.  It was an audience Soundwave didn't want, these two lawkeepers especially.  They were under Shockwave's jurisdiction, and this incident was bound to get back to him.  News that one of Soundwave's symbiotes had been caught stealing in the market would be the perfect public embarrassment, after Soundwave's public confrontation with Shockwave about this place.  Shockwave would only be too happy to use this incident against him; Decepticons were immune from the city's civilian law enforcement, but not from Megatron's judgment.  Laserbeak's timing couldn't have been worse. 

She sensed his exasperation and cringed, sidling off Soundwave's shoulder and dropping on to Jazz's instead.  In shame she tucked her head under a wing.  He could still see the trophy, or rather trophies, of her theft fluttering in the grasp of her beak.  She'd made off with several sheets of brightly colored foils, unsurprisingly.  Laserbeak had always had a weakness for shiny things.  So did Buzzsaw, but at least he put common sense before the urge to snatch and grab.  

He extended his hand.  "Laserbeak, relinquish stolen property."  

"Oh no, my lord!"  The merchant bobbed his head up and down.  "A Decepticon is always welcome to anything of mine, at any time.  I gladly give them up for your pleasure."

Laserbeak cheeped hopefully, but Soundwave ignored them both.  "Theft, unacceptable in post-war marketplace," he said firmly, for the sake of all listening audios.  "Property will be returned."

Laserbeak whined and shrunk back from his hand, and Jazz stroked her wings sympathetically.  "Have a spark, Soundwave.  Look at that face.  Couldn't you at least buy them for her?"  

"Laserbeak's habit, not to be encouraged.  Punishment, still to be decided.  Relinquish property now."

Her pleading unsuccessful, Laserbeak finally sighed and gave up her prize.  Jazz helped glide the stack of foils out of her beak, then handed them over to the stunned merchant.  

"My lord!  Your generosity is too much for a simple mech like myself, I do not deserve -"

"This conversation finished," Soundwave said irritably.  "All dismissed, now."  

The vendor looked like he wanted to gush some more, but was more frightened of Soundwave than grateful, so he settled for shuffling back with many a bow before he disappeared back around the corner.  The two lawkeepers saluted, whirled around, and marched away.  Their audience dispersed too, whispering among themselves.

"Gossiping," Jazz predicted, "about the Decepticon who refuses to steal.  I know, I can hardly believe it either.  Wish you'd show half as much consideration for my rights."  

"Actions taken to avoid embarrassment with Premier Shockwave.  Such an incident, unfavorable in present conditions.  Laserbeak knows this."  He loomed closer, and Laserbeak scuttled around to Jazz's other shoulder.  Wave after wave of sorry/accident/irresistable was rolling across their link, while she worked up her most contrite posture.  

"Theft, unnecessary," he pointed out.  "Credit allowance, extensive."  

"Habit," she answered guiltily.  "Target sighted, dive executed, successful extraction exciting."  

"War, finished.  More consideration expected.  Think first, dive second."  

"Yes, master."  She shuffled her claws on Jazz's armor.  "Apology extended.  Trouble for you, never desired.  My actions, thoughtless and possibly harmful."  She trilled sadly and dropped her gaze.  It was a pose calculated to soften Soundwave's irritation, but it worked far more effectively on Jazz.  

"Aw, poor little sweetspark, look at how bad she feels.  Soundwave, stop making her cry."

Soundwave had to divert a nanoklik's worth of processor attention to the human word 'cry', and while he was distracted Laserbeak nuzzled Jazz for more pity.  "You know it breaks my spark to see you with such a long face.  Give us a smile, now."  Playfully he tickled her under the beak.  "Still nothing?  Well, maybe if I try here."  He moved his fingertips to just behind her left wingstrut.  "No?  Well how about... here?"  

His hand moved to her right wing, but instead of tickling anything, he darted his hand back and flashed into existence a bright red sheet of foil.  "Well look at what I found!  How do you suppose that got back there?"  

Laserbeak's spark lit up with delight, but she promptly shrunk back against Jazz when she felt Soundwave's displeasure.  "Jazz -"

"Oh c'mon, Soundwave, don't be such a killjoy."  Jazz waved a dismissive hand, metallic red flashing under the lamplights.  "It's one sheet, not worth even half a credit, and that vendor would probably keel over if you track him down to pay it.  Nobody's even going to notice it's gone."

Soundwave wondered how Jazz had even managed to slip the one sheet away without anyone noticing, without access to his subspace.  It must be a well-practiced technique of his.  Soundwave eyed Jazz curiously.  "Inclination to steal, not generally compliant with Autobot propaganda."

"That was Prime's brochure," Jazz said easily, back to tickling Laserbeak under her beak.  "Every army has to have the one mech willing to do the dirty work.  Look at Starscream."     

While Soundwave was filing that away for later consideration, Laserbeak's gaze settled back on Soundwave.  Those optics had gone bright red with pleading hope, and her side of the link glowed with tentative anticipation.  

"No," Soundwave said firmly.  "Laserbeak deserves punishment now, not reward.  This habit, not to be encouraged."

"Actions, not to be repeated!  Please?  Only one remains.  Task, very quick."  

"Answer is no."  

"What's going on?" Jazz complained.  "What am I being left out of?"

"Laserbeak, desires treat," Soundwave answered shortly.  "Treat, undeserved."  

Laserbeak looked crushed, but the posture was an act; her end of the link was still radiating hope.  "Please please please!"

"No."

"Pleeeease?"  Words dissolved into images and memories, seeping into Soundwave's mind without invitation.  She had been so much younger, then, squirming with delight in spite of the pain.  Such an innocent little creature she'd been... once.  The centuries had since taught her to be devious.  Her fierce hope wrapped around him, hope that was well-placed because Laserbeak knew his weaknesses.  Because of the manner in which she came to his household, Soundwave had always been a little more protective of her.  They all were.  

"Favor granted," he relented.  "Expectation: no repeat of theft in marketplace."

"Understood!"  Overjoyed, she hopped up and down on Jazz's arm, then leaped onto him to nip and tug at his wires.  Partly exasperated, partly amused, and grudgingly affectionate, Soundwave allowed her to express her enthusiasm and ruffled her wingplatelets a little in return.  When he looked up, Jazz was sitting on an overturned crate a few steps away, chin on one knee as he watched them.  A soft, fond smile was clinging to his lips, though he covered it with a flippant grin when Soundwave looked.  

"This must really be somethin' special, to get her worked up like this.  Enough with the suspense already, what does she want?"  

"Demonstration, forthcoming."  Soundwave sat next to Jazz, waving away Laserbeak when her wing flapping became too much to ignore.  "Foil sheet, required."  

Looking more curious by the nanoklik, Jazz handed it over.  It hadn't been too badly wrinkled, and that only in the one corner.  The old subroutine kicked to life as he began smoothing it out, calling on patterns he hadn't thought about in vorns.  

"Laserbeak, heavily injured upon introduction to home," he explained.  "Damage, severe.  Ability to survive, not entirely certain."

"Who hurt her?"  

"War," Soundwave answered simply.  "Origin of plasma round, unclear.  Shot probably accidental, but nearly fatal.  Extensive surgery required for almost every strut, left wing required total reconstruction.  Laserbeak, immobile for several lunar cycles." 

"Poor thing."  Jazz stroked his fingertips along the lines of Laserbeak's wings, but she didn't glance up from Soundwave's hands.  

"Long convalescence, frustrating and difficult for cassette model.  Their programming, designed to explore and discover.  Frustration for flight-capable cassette, doubly so.  For sake of amusement and entertainment, sometimes engaged in current task.  Patterned folding, a simple enough program.  Laserbeak enjoys watching work in progress."

Smoothly Soundwave's fingers worked as he spoke, turning and folding according to the dictates of a basic pattern.  Once, he'd been accustomed to far more complicated projects, but it had been a long time and this was enough.  There was something quite appealing in the way Jazz's gaze was so riveted on his work, every bit as fascinated as the little symbiont on his lap.  Not a little amused himself, Soundwave put the finishing touch on his project and held it up on his palm.  Long ago, before the war, folding metallic sheets into beautiful patterns had been a form of high art.  To present one was to give a token of strong affection.  Now that he'd spent some time on organic worlds, Soundwave noted that this pattern strongly resembled some alien flora.  Light flashed and sparkled against the many facets, creating an illusion of fire.  

"Wow," Jazz breathed, leaning closer to inspect it without touching.  "That's beautiful.  You're amazing."  

He looked up, visor flushing a brighter blue when he realized what he'd just said.  "I mean- who'd have thought it?  A Decepticon who can make something pretty instead of just stepping on it.  Wonders will never cease."  

Pleased with Jazz's reaction, Soundwave moved to offer the finished project to Laserbeak.  She was cooing happily on Jazz's lap, smugly content that she'd gotten her way after all, but at Soundwave's gesture she turned her head aside.  Perplexed, Soundwave offered it again.  Laserbeak had never allowed them to throw away a completed work, not ever.  Inevitably, they'd all long since been destroyed by the havoc of constant war.  This was her first in peacetime and she didn't want it?

Impatiently she pecked at Jazz's arm.  "Ow!  What?"  She pecked again, gesturing impatiently to Soundwave's hand.  "What, you want me to carry it for you?"  

Laserbeak clucked something brusque and gestured at Soundwave's hand again, digging her claws into Jazz's legs to carry home the point.  "Owww.  Alright, alright, I'm taking it."  Gently Soundwave tipped it onto Jazz's palm, and a pleased Laserbeak bumped her head against Jazz's chest.  Now Jazz finally got the hint.  

"Oh.  It's... for me.  Are you sure Soundwave's alright with that?"  A bit startled and slightly uneasy, Jazz looked at Soundwave, who made sure to keep his posture impassive.

"If desired, present yours.  Pattern, easily accomplished."  

"Then I guess I have no choice but to accept."  Gingerly Jazz cradled the metal flower in his hand.  "Thank you, uh, Laserbeak."  

"Laserbeak indicates acceptance of gratitude."

"Okay then."  Jazz smiled broadly, covering up some other expression that Soundwave didn't quite see.  "Shall we get going?"

"Affirmative." 


 

 

"...and so our Lord Megatron, demonstrating his great military genius, was able to outmaneuver the attacking troops.  His appearance of retreat lured the foolish Autobots deeper into Tyger Pax, while flanking soldiers closed in from both sides.  Outmatched and confused, the Autobot strategist could barely engineer an escape, ceding an important victory and all the territ-"

Soundwave hesitated on the threshold when he saw Jazz slumped into a kneeling position by the twins' entertainment console, absorbed in the broadcast, but Jazz heard him anyway.  Quickly his hand swiped at the t