Weeks dragged into months, which slogged into a year.
Jazz kept going. He didn’t know what else to do. He smiled for the crew. He laughed where appropriate. He put on a show, a mask, because nothing was wrong.
Everything was fine.
He slept alone every night. He curled into a ball in the middle of the berth, and no amount of blankets could make him warm. He crafted letters he’d never send, and stuffed them into the trash before he could be tempted to keep them.
The war continued. On and on. And on. Without end.
It was monotony. Strings of fear barely connecting pockets of worry. Earth was a stalemated battleground, and even so, it held all the action.
Jazz despaired of a future without the stench of ordinance, the shriek of artillery, the endless clash of titans.
He contemplated actions both drastic and immoral. He felt himself sliding into a deep well.
There wasn’t a pulley to spool him back to the top. He didn’t claw at the sides. He let himself sink. Down, down, down into the dark.
He spent evenings on the rear thrusters, staring out at the stars, in the vague direction of a planet galaxies away. He no longer tasted the high grade or felt the burn.
He was numb.
He only had himself to blame.
He missed Bluestreak with the fire of a thousand suns. He hated himself for lying, for tainting the trust they had. He hated himself for being selfish, for thrusting the weight of his agony onto Bluestreak’s shoulders and never offering anything in return.
He asked, again, for Optimus to let him end the war his way.
He suffered, again, a refusal.
They could not defeat the Decepticons by becoming them.
Jazz bowed his helm and agreed. He went back to the thrusters, to his bottle of high grade, and to his pointless staring into the night sky.
He crafted another apology he would never send.
And he waited.
It was the only thing left to do.
Cybertron was cold and dark. Full of small, cramped quarters, dim passages, and anxious waiting for alerts. It felt dead, lifeless, and everything seemed to echo.
Bluestreak made friends, but he never felt like he belonged. Probably because he didn’t. He smelled like Earth, and he longed for home, and not even the pain in his spark was enough to quench his thirst.
He’d left to find himself again. To punish Jazz. To hurt him as deeply as Bluestreak himself had been hurt.
Why, then, did Bluestreak feel like he was the one being punished? He suffered, alone and ignored, on the outside looking in.
No one here knew his story. Even Ultra Magnus was only aware of the basic details.
Bluestreak thought the anonymity, the blank slate, would free him. Instead, he was trapped by experiences he couldn’t share. He had no outlet.
No one here knew him. No one understood.
He was alone.
He rocked himself to sleep dreaming of Jazz’s songs. He woke berating himself for longing for the comfort of a mech who’d betrayed him.
He hated himself, and the lies that were unconvincing viruses, slithering into his processing kernels and dominating every thought.
He wanted to go home.
He was tired of running.
One morning, Bluestreak rolled out of the berth and fumbled for the secure comm Prowl had pressed into his hand. It rang. And rang. Bluestreak’s spark tightened with fear.
It clicked. “Bluestreak?” Prowl sounded confused. Tired. Anxious.
“I’m ready,” Bluestreak said, his voice cracking. “Please, Prowl. I want to come home.”
A soft sigh whooshed across the distance, static crackling in the silence. “All you had to do was ask,” Prowl murmured, relief etched into every glyph. “I’ll let Ultra Magnus know.”
Bluestreak almost sobbed. “Thank you.”
He clicked off the comm, tension rattling through him like a pain patch. He ex-vented in a slow, but steady whoosh. He unclenched his hands and sank back into the stiff cushion of his borrowed berth.
For once, he slept through the night.
“I’m worried about you.”
Jazz snorted. “What else is new?”
Prowl gave him a long look over interlaced fingers. “You may have everyone else fooled, but I know you, Jazz.”
“I’m failin’ to see yer point.”
Did that sound defensive?
He hoped it did. Empty sympathy was as useful to him as his empty berth. And the empty bottle. And the empty promises. And the missions they kept denying him. And the wave after wave of Decepticon attacks – reactive, never proactive, damn it.
“Have you tried messaging him?”
Jazz ignored the stupid question. He quietly deleted another draft from his queue.
“Do I need to pull you from active duty?”
Jazz scowled. “I can do my job, Prowl.”
His visor flashed. “I ain’t failed yet, have I?”
“Your mental health is as important as your success, if not more than.”
Jazz couldn’t physically roll his optics, but he wanted to. “Hah. Good one. Can I go now?”
Prowl pressed his lips together. Lines formed in the dermal metal of his face. He looked as tired as Jazz felt.
War was the Pit. At least Prowl had a warm frame to cuddle with. Lucky fragger.
“Fine,” Prowl said, at length.
He lowered his hands. His optics were dim. His sensory panels drifted downward, at rest against his backstrut.
Prowl grabbed a stylus. His fingers shook. “We don’t have the resources to waste on those who seek to self-destruct,” he said, quiet but firm. Gentle but aching. “The choice is yours.”
Prowl focused on his datapad. But Jazz knew he wasn’t processing it.
“You’re dismissed, Commander Jazz.” The last glyph was striped in static, strained and pleading.
Jazz’s spark clenched. He forced himself to his pedes. He made his limbs move toward the door.
Prowl’s field felt like ice. The stylus creaked from the force of his grip. His sensory panels were so rigid they shook.
“I miss ‘im,” Jazz blurted, and was horrified by how desperate he sounded. Where was his self-respect? Where was the charmer, the one who smiled and laughed? Where was the optimism?
Gone. He’d crushed it himself.
Prowl’s optics lifted. “I know,” he murmured, and something in his expression softened. “And when you choose to stay, I’ll be here.”
“I don’t wanna go, Prowl.”
The stylus clicked to the desktop. “Prove it.”
Jazz worked his intake. That required effort. That required feeling. That required clawing his way out of the darkness and forcing himself out of a state of safe indifference.
“Tomorrow,” he said. “I promise.”
Prowl’s optics bleached of color. “As you say.” He dropped his gaze. He picked up the stylus. He stared at his paperwork. “Dismissed.”
Jazz bowed his helm. “Yes, sir.”
You don’t have to do this.
Bluestreak lost count of the number of times someone offered him reassurance. An out. A way to spin on his heelstrut without losing face.
He knew this. He had no obligations. He made this choice on his own. And maybe he’d been convinced by the reports. Maybe.
That didn’t make his decision any less genuine.
This was what he wanted.
He stepped off Omega Supreme’s loading ramp onto rain-soaked gravel and ex-vented deeply. He drew in cool, damp air, fresh with the scent of pine and sulphur. His sensory panels twitched. His spark ached.
He’d missed this. It was good to be home.
He left Cybertron behind in Omega’s cluttered hold. No matter what happened here, Bluestreak didn’t want to go back until the war was won. Earth was where he wanted to be.
Bluestreak skirted the gathered crowd, deftly avoiding the backpats and smiles of his friends. He sidestepped embraces. He promised he’d be at the party later, and he’d tell them all about Cybertron if they wanted. He cited travel fatigue.
In truth, he had something he had to do first.
He let his spark guide him, to the lonely rear thrusters, usually abandoned but currently occupied by a single black and white frame. A familiar black and white frame. A small, lonely heap of black and white.
Bluestreak worked his intake. His ventilations stuttered. His spark did a squeezing dance. He wasn’t even sure if it was excitement or dread at this point. It just was.
He moved forward, steps whisper quiet. Not that it mattered. An empty bottle of high grade dulled even the most aware spy’s sensors.
Bluestreak had kept his return a secret. That way he could change his mind at any time.
His courage didn’t fail him. It carried him to Jazz’s side, to lowering himself into a quiet seat by his former lover.
He didn’t know what to say. Words escaped him.
Until they didn’t.
Jazz’s helm turned toward him slowly, something bleak and empty in his face. His visor was flat, as though he thought Bluestreak was an apparition, a product of too much high grade and not enough recharge.
War was the Pit.
Bluestreak cycled a ventilation. His smile wobbled.
“Hey, Jazz,” he murmured, in an echo of himself, so many years passed. A surefire way to prove he was himself.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“I love you,” Bluestreak murmured.
He cupped Jazz’s face with gentle, trembling fingers. He kissed Jazz with lips chilled and rough. He smelled of space and broken things.
He stroked Jazz’s cheeks with his thumbs. He smiled so sweetly, but it didn’t reach his optics, nor did it chase away the sorrow lingering in them.
“I love you,” Bluestreak repeated, and his voice glitched with static. “But I can’t be with you.”
Jazz longed to protest. The words danced on the tip of his glossa. They crowded at the back of his intake.
But he’d learned many things in the past year.
Including how to let go.
He rested his hands over Bluestreak’s and told himself this was for the best. That he was doing the right thing.
“I love you, too,” he said, because it was true. It was so damned true. “And I know.”
He pulled Bluestreak’s hands away. He pretended it didn’t hurt. That he didn’t immediately miss his once-lover’s touch. That he hadn’t been aching for it.
“Thank ya for comin’ back,” Jazz said, because the worst of it had always been Bluestreak’s absence. Not seeing him or hearing him or catching his smile from across the room.
It was more than the interfacing and the domination. It was more than the pain he craved, and the absolution. It was all of Bluestreak, everything he was.
Bluestreak’s lips curved in a smile a touch more genuine this time. “Well… it’s home.”
Jazz chuckled. “Yeah. It is.”
Bluestreak’s doorwings canted forward. His tires wriggled. “Friends?” he offered.
It was more than he deserved.
“I can do that.”
Bluestreak squeezed his fingers before he let Jazz’s hands go. His smile lengthened, warming Jazz to his core, and then he was gone. He took with him the remnants of Jazz’s spark.
But that was all right.
It belonged to him anyway.
It was harder than it sounded.
Bluestreak and Jazz had not been friends only since before the war. Sure, they had their show, the act they’d put on for their friends.
But now that it was no longer an act, they floundered.
In fact, they weren’t much of friends at all.
Jazz took missions. Lots of them.
Bluestreak dove into his old circle and tried to bury himself. He played games with Sideswipe and went on nature walks with Hound and stayed awake through art galleries with Sunstreaker and spent many afternoons helping Prowl with paperwork.
He missed Jazz. He missed the relationship they had before the entanglement of war.
Bluestreak didn’t know how to return to that.
“You can’t,” Prowl said when Bluestreak finally admitted why he couldn’t seem to smile.
“You’ve both changed. You can’t look at the past for answers, Bluestreak. You must – and forgive the cliché line – start over. With a blank slate. You must act as though you are strangers because you are.”
Bluestreak chewed on that.
He knew Prowl was right. He just wasn’t sure letting go of the past would be so easy. Sometimes, the past was all he had left. He was afraid what it meant to abandon it.
Besides, it hadn’t been all bad. There had been as much laughter as there were tears. There’d been smiles and warmth, nights spent exchanging nightmares, and berths that were never cold for lack of a familiar frame to share them.
Bluestreak blamed the war, even though he knew it was only a symptom. All of the killing and death, it wrapped around them, tainting everything.
Was it worth it?
Bluestreak examined the gaping hole Jazz had left in his life. In his spark.
Yes, he decided.
It was worth everything.
He was in that twilight state of half-awake, half-asleep. The sun was warm on his armor, the wind tugged gently at his seams, and everything around him smelled of Earth. Of home.
Bluestreak forced himself to full focus. “What?” He sat up, shaking grass from his doorwings.
Jazz, too, sat up. “I just… I realized I never apologized, you know.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I was an aft. A selfish one. And I hurt you. Badly.” His hand dropped, idly plucking at the crumpled wildflowers. “Apologies are worthless, I know, but I still wanted to say it.”
“Apologies are never worthless,” Bluestreak said quietly. “I forgive you, Jazz.”
Bluestreak offered him a soft smile. “War is hell. And we’re all swallowed by it. Consumed.” He worked his intake. “We make mistakes, but we shouldn’t let them haunt us.”
Jazz’s jaw twitched. “I… uh…. Thanks, Blue.” His lips curved sheepishly. His field pulsed with affection. “And it wasn’t all bad, right?”
“Sometimes, it was quite good.” Amusement and affection made his doorwings flutter.
“Was,” Jazz echoed. His smile was sad.
“Was,” Bluestreak confirmed. He settled back into the grass, spark squeezing as he counted clouds. “Isn’t any point in looking back or going back. We should move forward instead. As who we are now.”
“Yeah? Good advice.” Jazz flopped back, too, tossing his grass blades into the air. His arm tucked back against his side, his elbow brushing Bluestreak’s. “Prowl’s?”
Bluestreak chuckled. He shuttered his optics, letting the moment carry him away again. “Yeah.”
Jazz hummed. “Figures.”
He brushed Bluestreak’s arm again, and Bluestreak’s spark quivered. He leaned into the touch, felt the warmth of Jazz’s armor against his, almost hotter than the sun.
Jazz’s field rippled with surprise, and then, gratitude.
Sometimes, Bluestreak hated it when Prowl was right. But in this case, not at all.
It was a party, and not for the first time, Jazz didn’t feel like celebrating. His attendance was obligatory, however, so he planted a smile on his face, snagged a cube of high grade, and bebopped into the crowd.
It was another mask. Jazz was getting to be an expert on those.
He cracked jokes with Ironhide, flirted boldly with Ratchet, and tried to convince Red Alert to join him on the dance floor.
He stole a handful of rust chips from Smokescreen, stole a kiss from Mirage, and stole Bee’s high grade when the yellow bot wasn’t looking. Appearances mattered, after all, and Bumblebee was supposed to be the youthful innocent in the eyes of the humans.
Jazz chugged his high grade until it no longer burned, until Gears’ jokes were funny, and Tracks playing grab-aft was a compliment, and the overhead lights twinkled like dying stars.
He tried to entice Prowl onto the dance floor, but Ratchet was having none of it. Pah. He gave Jazz the gimlet optic, gaze darting between Jazz’s fourth or fifth (or sixth, who was counting?) cube of high grade.
“You look like you could use a dance partner. Can I volunteer?”
That voice. That field. Both sliced through Jazz’s overcharge like icy solvent and a shot of anti-charge.
He turned far too quickly and stumbled as a result. Right into Bluestreak’s arms. Like some kind of cheap holovid.
“Was that your way of saying ‘yes’, or an accident?” Bluestreak asked with a laugh. He smiled. His optics were bright, his field warm.
“Accident,” Jazz said. “But also, yes.” He regained his footing, yet Bluestreak didn’t let him go.
“You’re overcharged.” It was a statement, not accusation.
“Only a little.” Jazz chuckled. He leaned in close. Bluestreak’s warmth was intoxicating, magnetic even. He smelled so damn good, familiar, like home. “But it’s just a dance.”
Bluestreak’s hands tangled with his. He towed Jazz to the dance floor, and the swaying press of frames. Some human female crooned through the speakers. The rhythm was slow. Sensual. Erotic.
“Just a dance,” Bluestreak echoed as their frames came together. He still carried his Cybertronian alt-mode, and his bumper was much reduced as a result.
Jazz’s spark throbbed. He licked his lips. He fought down a wave of hope as it rattled up from his knees. There was no reason to get excited.
It was only a dance.
The war was over.
It did not feel like victory.
Jazz felt raw. Empty. Stripped bare.
He counted gray frames, again and again. He sought spark pulses, again and again. He told himself this was just a terrible nightmare, one he’d had before in abundance. Any minute now, he’d wake up and the horror would be gone.
But every time he onlined, the truth remained the same, stark and agonizing.
The war was over.
And all his friends were dead.
It was not supposed to be this way. He should not have outlived them. He was not meant for this, for peace. They should be here. Not him.
Cybertron was in ruins. Earth was afraid. Their Prime was a sparkling, and most of his advisory cabinet much of the same.
His friends were gone. Gone. And Jazz was alone. Left behind.
He didn’t belong here anymore. He didn’t belong anywhere.
Jazz spun, blaster raised, vents heaving, processor sparking, finger on the trigger. Some spark of him still clawed for life. He didn’t want to die.
Bluestreak looked back at him, sensory panels drooped and streaked with soot. Optics dim. Face a mask of grief.
Jazz’s hand trembled. “Blue…” His vents whooshed out of him. Like a string had been cut. He staggered. He fell.
Bluestreak caught him, their fields entangling, one sorrow feeding into another. He was shaking. He was warm. He smelled like ordinance and soot, like grief and agony.
These were Bluestreak’s friends, too. His mentors.
Bluestreak didn’t speak. He didn’t have to. His embrace spoke more than enough.
Jazz clung to him, the only rock he’d ever needed, the stable ground, the only one he had left. The very reason his spark stubbornly clung to his frame, telling him he couldn’t leave.
And he thanked the tattered remnant of Primus that he still had this.
Rodimus Prime did not have a use for them.
He didn’t say it, not in so many words, but it was in his actions, in the way they were slowly but surely nudged aside in favor of those Rodimus better trusted.
Bluestreak did not blame him. Neither did he resent Rodimus for it. Truth be told, Bluestreak was sick of it all. Sick of the war, the never-ending nightmare. He didn’t want to fight. He couldn’t watch more of his friends, his family die.
He was fine to keep moving from outpost to outpost, stationed further and further from the action. At first, the others kept close. Smokescreen. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. Hound. Trailbreaker.
One by one, they drifted away. And Bluestreak let them.
He stared into the mirror, at his Autobot badge, and wondered when he’d wander away, too. Would it be in the middle of his shift. Would he vanish. Would anyone notice?
Where would he go? He didn’t know. The Autobots were all he had left. Earth was the only home he cared to remember, and it was distant to him now.
It felt like a lifetime ago.
Bluestreak stayed for lack of a better option. He stayed until someone woke him in the middle of night, nudging him awake, familiar and warm, a finger stroking the leading edge of his sensory panel.
“Let’s go,” the achingly familiar voice whispered. “You ‘n me, Blue. If ya want.”
“I want,” Bluestreak replied with a whisper. His spark ached. “Don’t leave me again.”
“Never.” Fierce. A promise.
Bluestreak believed it this time. He rolled out of his berth, gathered what remained of his personal belongings – a small sack compared to the crates he’d once packed a lifetime ago – and he slid his hand into Jazz’s.
Small and sad, Jazz smiled back at him. He squeezed Bluestreak’s fingers.
You ‘n me.
They vanished into the night.
They didn’t look back.
And if anyone missed them, Bluestreak didn’t know.
He supposed it didn’t matter anyway.