Characters: Jazz, Mirage, Ratchet, mentions of others; Jazz/Prowl friendship
Warnings: Angst. Lots of angst. Ratchet's abuse of italics. I also twist some concepts around a bit to suit the plot better >.>
Summary: Jazz had always felt that Prowl was a little...different then the rest of them.
Notes: So I had this almost done but when I was going over it, this little part of my brain said, 'You know, this could be so much better if you did it this way instead,' and I had to agree with it. My apologies for it taking so long, though. u_u
Many, many thanks goes to antepathy for being a wonderful beta! :D
Chapter 1 can be found here
Jazz is furious.
He’s not supposed to be this way - he knows this. He is supposed to always be cool and in control and three steps ahead of the game because he is Jazz. He isn’t supposed to be so out of sorts for so long after the fact. He is supposed to bounce back, better than before and smiling all the while. He is supposed to be unflappable.
But he can’t be. Not this time. Not when the attack is so close to his spark.
And isn’t that the crux of the matter. It’s almost hilarious how something he takes practically for granted is the cause of his current turbulent emotions. The initial numbness of disbelief that had settled in his spark after he fled the medbay had been easier to deal with than this unfamiliar fury that slowly burns through his circuits now. At least he had been able to think clearly when the numbness had surrounded him. This burning rage forces his thoughts to turn in circles, over and around and through themselves until he can’t think anything else.
His thoughts always return to it. How dare that drone masquerade as his friend for all this time. He had sought that thing out during long nights, sat with it, told it secrets that he couldn’t bear alone. That thing had sat while he had rambled on, just sat there and listened, and Jazz had believed that it cared about those secret things he had whispered to it. He had believed that that thing cared about the war, about the proud Autobot cause, about him.
Now he knows that that thing isn’t capable of caring, it isn’t capable of any emotions, not true ones. It is quite an actor, Jazz has to give it that. He hadn’t the slightest inkling of its truth before that disastrous transport - its disguise had been perfect.
Or maybe he had seen the signs all along. Maybe he had been too blinded by his new fake friendship with that thing that he ignored the signals. He always does let his emotions get the better of his judgment when it concerns personal matters. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t brought up this disturbing information to the attention of Optimus Prime yet.
The part of him that’s still rational tells him why he hasn’t told anyone: it would be pandemonium if the Autobots ever found out. Jazz doesn’t contemplate how low the army’s morale would drop if word ever got out. And, as much as he wishes he could deny it, the Autobot cause needs the drone, like a mech needs energon to survive. No other has been capable of producing strategy after ingenious strategy like it has been able to. Sometimes its plans are the only thing that has been able to keep their army from falling apart. He can’t turn it in.
But even though he can’t expose the drone for what it is or make it quietly disappear into the night, another option presents itself to Jazz in the orns after the truth comes out. The drone doesn’t seem inclined to try and bring back the fake camaraderie they once shared, leaving Jazz well enough alone during any coinciding off-hours they have, and Jazz is just fine with this arrangement. It’s not the most perfect solution, but Jazz resolves to ignore it right back. He is still able to work with it in official settings despite his raging emotions and it helps that as Head of Special Operations he has the excuse to disappear for lengths of time without having to explain himself before hand. His fellow operatives, however, have always been harder to avoid and have the habit of checking up on one another when something seems amiss.
“Jazz, what happened?” Mirage asks after roping his superior to stay behind after a mission briefing. The TIC has no wish to chat with him, but Jazz knows that Mirage won’t drop the issue now that he has brought it up. Besides, better Mirage than anyone else.
It doesn’t mean that he’ll make it easy for Mirage though. “What happened? What do ya mean, ‘what happened‘?”
Mirage’s optics harden. “Don’t lie to me. Something happened between the two of you. You don’t have to go into specifics but you do have to get whatever this is off of your processor.”
“Paying me back for helpin’ you after the Towers, are ya?”
Silence meets Jazz’s question. Jazz sighs and rubs at his audio horn, knowing that that was a low blow and knows that he has to go even lower. “Tell me, Mirage. What’s yer thoughts on drones?”
“You should know that all ready,” Mirage says. His body language gives nothing away but his voice is as cold as the far reaches of space.
“Tell me again.”
Mirage crosses his arms and moves as if to turn away. He halts in mid-motion, standing his ground as he answers. “Drones can be more than just simple machines that do what their programming dictates. They can grow past it given enough time.”
“Most mechs don’t take too kindly to that way of thinkin‘.”
“So what would you do if ya found out Trailbreaker was a drone?”
“…I’m sorry, what does Trailbreaker have to do with this conversation?” Mirage asks, growing irritated at his superior’s roundabout way of answering a question.
Jazz refuses the urge to look away. “What would you do if you found out one of your friends was really a drone?”
Realization blooms in Mirage’s optics. He takes a moment to answer.
“…Would it really matter?”
“Would finding that information out change anything?” Mirage begins to pace, three sharp steps back and forth. “He’s still my friend, yes? The memories the two of us built together would still be there. Those memories are not fake. The only thing that changes is my perception of him and that will fade into the background over time.”
The fury Jazz has been trying to keep quiet unfurls bit by bit. “It doesn’t change the fact it kept quiet about it for all this time! It led me on, makin’ me think that it was my friend. It used my trust, Mirage.”
“He didn’t use your trust - he wanted to keep it!” Mirage answers Jazz’s angry outburst with his own. “Your reaction is exactly why he kept quiet about it. Most Cybertronians don’t make it a secret on how they treat drones. He just wanted to avoid that experience, especially with you. You‘re his friend, Jazz.”
“Certainly doesn’t feel like that ta me anymore.”
Mirage heads for the door, shaking his head. “I can’t change your mind for you and I won’t try to. Just remember this Jazz - “ Mirage turns back and looks at his superior, optics piecing with the strength of conviction the spy feels for his next words, “ - that it has been in my experience that mechs without physical sparks have more of one than ones that do.”
“Ah’ll keep that in mind. Is that all?”
Mirage moves as if to continue but only shakes his head again before stepping out of the room. Jazz stays behind, head cradled in his hand while his processor whirls with thoughts.
Jazz never likes going undercover for any length of time. Too much changes while he’s off playing the Decepticon. Superiors are replaced, mechs are transferred to different units, and the fluid battle lines rearrange themselves. For a mech always wanting to be in the know, going deliberately into communication lockout is always hard even if he does gain new data on the opposite side.
This time is no different. Instead of the masked face of CMO Buildup that greets him as he onlines in the Iacon medbay, it is the unfamiliar face of Ratchet hovering above him. He answers the medic’s scowl with a scowl of his own. Ratchet is the last medic on Cybertron Jazz had ever wanted to see again.
“What’re you doin’ here?” Jazz asks as he sits up from his prone position on the med berth. He checks his forearm armor but his pleasure at it being back to its usual shape and coloring is overshadowed by the medic standing besides him.
Ratchet’s scowl intensifies at the question. “One would think it would be a wise decision for the new Chief Medical Officer to familiarize himself with his new medbay by working in it. You’re welcome, by the way. There isn’t anyone else here that either has the clearance or the training necessary to mold you back. I just save you a stint in the brig.”
“I’m sensin’ that there’s another reason in there.”
“Yes there is.” Ratchet leans forward until he‘s a mere hand’s breadth away from Jazz‘s face. He hisses out between clenched denta, “You are an idiot.”
Jazz glares back. “And why’s that?”
“Sparks aren’t the be all, end all, Jazz.”
Despite his distaste for the direction the conversation is turning, Jazz can’t stop his curiosity from bubbling up through his simmering anger. It keeps him rooted to the berth when all he wants to do is walk away.
“…What do yah mean?”
“I mean that we’re more than just balls of floating energy. Yes, they do shape us but they aren’t us. Far from it.”
That statement goes against every hard-coded lesson in his processor he’s had since he onlined before Vector Sigma. Sparks are the core of their very being. If sparks weren’t them, then what made them any different than the drones they used for small tasks? He keeps quiet as most of his fledgling curiosity is replaced by vehement disgust. The change in the room’s mood doesn’t dissuade the medic from continuing.
Ratchet huffs at the expression to cross the TIC’s face before straightening up. “Look, I shouldn’t be telling you this but this has gotten ridiculous. If you aren’t willing to take your head out of your aft, then I’m going to have to pry it out and make you see the truth in all of this. But first you have to understand that sparks are not us. Sparks are spheres of condensed energy stitched together by Vector Sigma. Depending on the size, frequency, density, and how much heat it gives off, it forms a base preference.”
“Preference?” The question slips out before Jazz is able to rein it back in.
“A mech with a spark that has a higher frequency tends be more high-strung while one with a lower frequency is more easygoing, for example. This is why mechs without a personality component installed before they’re onlined seem to already have one. Sparks help mold the overall personality of a mech,” Ratchet explains. “And that’s it.”
“There must be more to it than that!” Jazz protests. He slips off of the med berth and jabs an angry finger at the medic’s chest. “There has to be more than that. Sparks have to be more than just a fancy extra code for a Cybertronian’s behavior!”
“Other than the spark acting as a type of weak secondary power source, no,” Ratchet says as he bats the finger away.
Jazz wants to scream to the medic why, why does he believe this when it contradicts near everything they have ever been taught? If he is to accept these ridiculous beliefs, it would leave behind a hole of uncertainty in the steel-honed convictions that have governed his choices since he first onlined. Another thought rises above the chaotic storm of impressions, asking quietly about the drone and what would it look like if he were to suddenly act as if nothing had happened were he to accept these ridiculous beliefs. Jazz throws that thought aside, pushing it back below until it is smothered by his rising anger, and focuses his attention back on attacking Ratchet’s words.
“Then why do we offline if our sparks are extinguished? What about the Matrix of Leadership and the Well of All Sparks and everything else that we have? Are you tellin‘ me that those things don‘t exist too? That one part of our entire culture is built on false beliefs?!”
“I don’t know and I’m not saying that! As far as I can tell, that’s all true. I just don’t understand all the mechanics behind it and I don‘t believe I ever will.” Ratchet’s engine revs in harsh counterpoint to his words.
Jazz throws his hands up in the air, fed up with the medic‘s half-crazed explanations and growing angrier at every word. “Why do ya know this? Why should Ah even believe what ye‘re sayin‘ in the first place? Ye’re just a medic. This stuff sounds like it ought to belong ta the priests and theorists who have the programmin‘ for this type of stuff.”
“I’m old, Jazz, and I’ve been a medic long before this blasted civil war broke out,” Ratchet says. He places his hands on his hips, looking down on the saboteur with the best glower he has, trying to get the mech to see. “I use to work at Kaon’s MedCenter in the ICU. One orn, a mech was dragged in. There had been a mining accident and the poor slag heap had been buried in a cave-in. We fixed him the best we could but some things were unsalvageable. His memory core was one of them. We had to scrap and replace it.”
Ratchet‘s own temper is barely held back as he explains farther. “So what? He wasn’t the same, that‘s what! All those tales that a spark can reformat a memory core into the original are lies. The mech was like a new Cybertronian fresh out of Vector Sigma’s chambers. He shared characteristics with the mech he had been, but he wasn’t the same. The mech that he had been before was gone forever. Dead.”
His processor runs through Ratchet’s words, piecing them together before breaking them apart and fitting them into different angles. The medic has no reason to lie to him about this - what could he possibly gain by doing so? - and it sounds like he really believes what he’s spewing out. For all of that conviction in the medic‘s voice though, Jazz’s spark rebels against everything Ratchet has said and Jazz has always been more inclined to listen to his spark when the physical evidence is iffy. He stays silent, his glare more than enough of an answer.
The medic‘s following sigh is half resentment, half painful knowing that he wasn‘t breaking though. He doesn‘t give up. “What I’m telling you is that it doesn’t matter if Prowl has a spark or not. As long as he has his memories, he is Prowl and Prowl is as alive as the rest of us. If he wasn’t, I would’ve deactivated him when I had my arms elbow deep in his innards the first time around.”
“Ah don’t have time for this anymore, Ratchet.” Jazz turns to the exit, turning his back to the medic and everything he’s been trying to say. “Ah need ta see the SIC. Got some info ta pass along.”
“You’re going to have some trouble locating him. He’s been MIA since the Decepticon attack on Nova Cronum’s borders. Of course they had to attack while he was there doing an inspection.” Ratchet mumbles the last part out as he leans back against a med berth, hand rubbing against his chevron in a gesture of weariness.
Jazz turns back, face scrunched up in a frown. “There was an attack on Nova Cronum? When?”
Ratchet shrugs, pressing the palm of his hand against an optic. Something in Jazz’s memory stirs fitfully at the one dim light shining back.
“An orn or two ago, I think. We managed to turn them back fairly fast - they certainly didn’t seem to put much effort into it - but not before they managed to blow up a section of Cronum’s outer wall. We’re still pulling out survivors. Since Megatron hasn’t called bragging that he has Prowl in his brig by now, we’re holding out hope that Prowl’s buried under the rubble with a broken comm. link and nothing more serious.”
“Primus,” Jazz breaths out as some queer pieces of information he’s gathered while playing Decepticon fit themselves together into a horrible picture. His spark roils in its chamber, feelings of indecision and horror and duty rising above all mixing together into a maelstrom of chaotic thoughts. He doesn’t give himself the chance to think - he’s squeezing his way out the still-opening medbay doors before he realizes that Ratchet is yelling after him for vaulting over occupied med berths.
“-- and come back here! I still haven’t cleared you for normal duty!!” Ratchet shouts as he tries in vain to capture the fleeing mech.
“No time, gotta see Optimus!” Jazz shouts back and is gone before Ratchet makes it to the hallway.
There will be a side story concerning Mirage on why he views drones as he does. I wanted to post it in tandem with this chapter but it is dragging its heels like a disagreeable child and is now sitting in timeout until I figure out what to do with it. >:T Hopefully I'll be able to get it to behave soon but I make no promises.