Jazz was aware he wasn’t alone.
He’d been feeling the weight of this particular glare for a week now, always hovering in his periphery, watching him with both curiosity and anger. Its owner had been biding his time, perhaps waiting for the perfect moment, the most cutting turn of phrase.
Jazz supposed now was as good a time as any.
“I don’t understand you.”
Jazz leaned harder against the rust-stained wall and folded his arms under his bumper. His backstrut tingled, as it always did when someone stood behind him, but he wasn’t afraid of this one stabbing him in the back.
He probably should be.
“Ya never did,” Jazz said.
“How can you work with him?” A frame moved up beside him, an echo of his own, a contradiction in black and white, expression severe, plating tight. “How can you support him? Offer him your loyalty?”
Prowl sneered, and there was so much hatred in his expression, his field, that Jazz pitied him. He understood it, Prowl’s got a lot of reason to hate. Didn’t mean Jazz was going to put up with it though.
He and Prowl weren’t friends. They never had been. They worked together well. They made for great soldiers and members of command. But friendship was and had always been out of reach. They were too much alike, and not in the way Jazz and Starscream were alike. A different way.
A harsher way.
“Have you forgotten who he is?”
Jazz gave him a sidelong look. “Maybe you’ve forgotten who I am.”
Prowl’s lips curled with derision. “I’m not playing a game of words with you right now. I want a straight answer for once, Jazz.”
“I don’t give those out like reward chips. You know that.” Jazz shrugged and shifted his attention back to the stage, where a crowd had begun to gather, and a work crew was applying the final touches, preparing the platform for Starscream’s announcement.
“I think I deserve one, for this betrayal.”
Jazz scoffed. He rolled his optics behind his visor. “And who’ve I betrayed, pray tell? The leader who walked out on us?”
“That’s not what happened!” Prowl’s door panels jerked upward, betraying his agitation. His field burst outward, and Jazz could feel the hurt in it. A pain Jazz knew was not caused by Jazz himself.
Prime leaving, abandoning his title and assuming Orion Pax again, had hurt them all.
“It is.” Jazz pushed up from the wall and half-turned toward his former commander. Or maybe current.
They weren’t, technically, at war. Jazz was nominally an Autobot, but without a war, without a Prime, he didn’t have to follow Prowl if he didn’t want to. He liked Bee, he truly did. Bumblebee was a good egg.
But he wasn’t what Cybertron needed right now.
“I ain’t loyal to Starscream,” Jazz said as he lifted his chin. “I’m loyal to the vision. The original one. Before factions turned it into ‘us versus them’.”
Prowl shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense.” He lifted a hand, rubbed at his chevron. “Though why am I surprised? You never make sense.”
“Ya just don’t know where to look.”
Prowl hissed an exasperated vent. “You’re treading on your own point, Jazz! Starscream’s not even an Autobot.”
“And you’re missing the point, Prowl,” Jazz drawled. “Cybertron needs a leader. We all do. We don’t none of us know anything but following anymore.”
Prowl’s panels jerked. “We had a leader.”
“No, you had a figurehead who didn’t quite know what he wanted or what he was doing,” Jazz retorted, flashing his visor. “Starscream, at least, does.”
Prowl snorted. “Starscream is a mess.”
“You say that as if I’m unaware.” Jazz flicked a dismissing hand, casting a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure they had no eavesdroppers. “I know Starscream. I know how he thinks. He doesn’t want power for power’s sake. That’s not what this is about. He wants validation. Respect. Acknowledgment. And those are things I can work with.”
Prowl folded his arms under his bumper. His scowl deepened, turning the lovely lines of his face into something ugly. “Playing your games, as you always do.”
“Like you’re one to talk. You’ve got twice as many strings as me. At least my people know when I give them a tug.”
“Did Blurr?” Prowl demanded, his optics flashing. “How much did you sell him to Starscream for?”
Jazz’s engine growled. “Mech, do you really wanna go there right now?” His hands curled into fists at his side.
He hated how much Prowl’s accusations rang within him like all the worst things he’d accused himself of doing. But Blurr and Starscream was one thing which was not Jazz’s fault. Starscream had gone to Blurr, and Blurr had accepted, and Jazz had done everything in his power to end it.
He’d failed. And yes, that was on him. But he wasn’t to blame.
Prowl glared. His engine snarled.
Jazz stared right back, reminding himself that this wasn’t a battle. That they weren’t supposed to be enemies, but allies.
Primus, this was where they always ended up.
Jazz sighed and scrubbed a hand over his head. “Look,” he said. “Optimus left both of us. And we all gotta deal with the pieces of that. We gotta do what we can.” He pointed to the ground at his feet. “This is how I choose to do it. So you can either help me or keep wallowing in the war. Call me a traitor all you want. At least I made a fragging choice.”
“Yes. Your choice is quite obvious.” Prowl’s tone was more venomous than an angry Skuxxoid’s. “Enjoy your Seeker. I’ll try not to laugh when he stabs you in the back, as he inevitably does.”
Jazz noisily cycled a ventilation. “Are we done here?”
Prowl gave him a disgusted look. “Yeah. We’re done.” He dropped his arms and spun on a heel, his panels flat against his back. “I’ll see you on the stage.”
“Yeah, looking forward to it,” Jazz muttered.
He scraped a hand down his face. He performed a systems check, chasing the irritation and defensiveness from his field. He didn’t want or need Prowl’s approval. Though a lot of this would’ve been easier with Prowl’s help.
As the humans would say, c’est la vie.
Jazz sighed and turned back toward the stage. It was nearing time for Starscream’s big announcement and Jazz had some things of his own to handle.
Peace was a harder battle than war.
Prowl would get that sooner or later.
But for now… to battle it was.
Jazz got to work.