It was Thursday.
It was Thursday and five after five in the evening.
Solarflare struggled to repress a sigh of annoyance as she watched Red Alert continuously tap his foot and stare at his chronometer. When would the security director understand that humanity did not run in a perpetual straight line? Things happened, people got stuck in traffic; Primus forbid there had been an accident! But no, Red Alert wanted the delivery on time so he could get on with the rest of his day. Law and order, that was Red – it was Prowl, too, but not even the second-in-command could compare with Marvin the Paranoid Android, who had a borderline OCD personality.
"Every minute they are late is another minute the Decepticons have to sabotage the delivery," Red Alert had shrilled on more than one occasion. Flare had long ago stopped trying to reason with the sot; instead, she kept her vocalizer silent and optics on the road, imagining the USPS van running Red Alert over. She tried to keep her creativity to a minimum due to the trouble she'd gotten into last time – it really didn't help to improve their relations if she kept picturing Red as a giant gopher popping out of holes in the ground while she chased after him with a large rubber mallet. It was her unconscious miming that clued the security director into her thoughts and left him pink with rage, threatening to have her central processor swiped. So she promised herself to behave. But it was really hard not to – especially with a person like Red.
Solarflare wriggled in place, hands pinned under her thighs; that damned van couldn't come any sooner.
"Solarflare!" Red Alert called out impetuously. "Any sign?"
No, you stupid twat – she found herself thinking, mouth open to reply, politely, in the negative, when her sensors lit up. "United States Postal Service van approaching," she called down from her perch on the Ark's great orange boosters. Oh, she was so very relieved! But the fun didn't stop there. Resigned, she spread her wings and hopped off the booster, gliding down to the rocky bottom. With a snick, her wings slid back into place above her shoulders and she walked up to stand beside Red Alert.
The avian femme would have gladly looked forward to mail day if she'd been assigned duty with someone else. But no, it had to be Red Alert, the mech himself had declared. No one else was trained so heavily for security; no one else would have half a cortex for what to look for. But why her? folk were wont to inquire. Wasn't she Communications Officer? Oh yes, she was Comm Officer all right, which was exactly why Red Alert chose her. "The mail is included in communications, is it not, Solarflare?" Red Alert had argued with her; unable to wheedle her way out, she conceded that it was indeed part of the umbrella that was communications. "So it is then part of your duty as an Autobot officer to accompany the Security Director."
"Officer" was stretching it a bit; she didn't have authority or rank to give orders. It was a mere honorific. If Bluestreak gave her a command, she'd have to follow it. Oh, but it wasn't bad to be part of the theoretical base on the totem pole that was Autobot hierarchy.
She jumped, caught in one of her rare daydream moments. A hiss escaped her rose-colored lip components in reaction to Red's rapt call. Pulling herself together, she managed a curt nod in his direction, turning to watch the van creep up the path.
"Must I speak with Prime about your increasing cortex wanderings, Solarflare?"
Goddammit! This was one of the characteristics about Red Alert that made him the butt of many jokes, the personality quirk that had led to many brawls. But Solarflare was not Sunstreaker and Sideswipe; she was not Brawn or Grimlock. She was female and she had finesse.
Promises be damned. She flipped Red Alert off.
Ignoring his protests, she walked up to the van and smiled at the driver. "Big load today," she commented as he got out and went to the back.
"This is the largest amount of mail I've ever brought up here," he told her. "Most of it's for …" he reached into one of the bags and pulled out a letter. "… 'The Autobot Prowl'."
Solarflare took the thin envelope and lifted it to her nose, confirming what she'd suspected – perfume.
"All this – for Prowl?" Somehow, she wasn't surprised.
"Primus on a pogo-stick, Solarflare! Get back!"
Snarling, she bowed in deference to Red Alert's obvious superiority and let him conduct his in-depth search of the van and its contents. One couldn't be too careful; Megatron was known for trying anything and everything.
"That's two, Solarflare," Red Alert called over his shoulder as he swept his detector rod over the contents. "First – insubordination against a superior; second – disobeying a direct order from said superior. I'm reporting this to Prowl. It's high time you were taken to task for your flippant attitude. Just because you're the 'Ark darling' doesn't give you a free pass to do whatever you want! Must I remind you – again – that this is a military institution – and we are AT WAR?"
"At least she didna make you sit on it an' rotate, Red," Ironhide remarked casually, appearing from the main bay. He walked over and peered over Red Alert's shoulder, grinning at the postman.
Red stood up, folding his arms. "Must you continue to condone her actions?" he shrilled, flicking the rod at Solarflare. "Not once during the entire time she has been among us have you acted upon my – repeated – requests that she be taken to task!"
Ironhide shrugged. "I think that being stuck with you every week is punishment enough." He winked at Flare, which only caused Red to spasm. "Oh, fine." The old warrior drew himself up in his best imitation of Superior Officer and Best Friend to Optimus Prime and declared,
"Solarflare, that was not nice. Apologize."
"Sorry," she demurred, bowing her head, crest flat.
"See? Now, let's get this unloaded. I'm sure Prowl is dying to see his fanmail."
Browplate twitching, Red Alert swept over the rest of the van's contents and left in a huff. Helping the grey-white-black femme load the mailbags onto the waiting grav sled, Ironhide leaned over and remarked casually, "I'd best watch it, missy. One day Red will have his say."
Solarflare heaved a particularly bulky bag and let it drop carefully into the sled. She sighed, unconsciously blowing air from her ventilators up at her threefold crest. "I'm sorry, Ironhide – but he can be so … irritating!"
"I know, darlin', but you stick it up like the rest of us. Just remember, the next time you decide to flick ol' Red another one, make sure he can't see it." With that, the old warrior patted her well-worn shoulder strut and transformed, his boxy shape winding down the lane.
Sighing again, Flare powered the sled up and began dragging it back into the Ark. Once inside, she found an unoccupied corner and set up operations; curled her legs comfortably and began sorting the various packages, parcels and letters. Yes, she was right – Prowl had far too many letters. And they were beginning to stink and she along with them. She was going to be the life of the rec room tonight if she wasn't able to get rid of it. Picking up another pastel colored envelope she idly wondered if Prowl read any of these. He had to; he was too honor-bound not to. Holding the cupcake construction between her fingertips, she dropped it into its respective bag
An hour and a half later found Solarflare hauling her glorified intern cart up and down the various levels of the Ark, making deliveries. Thankfully, most of the Autobots were out on patrol, thus saving her from a barrage of rose bush comments – for now. She saved Prowl's office for last.
"Primus! What is that smell!"
"Your mail," she replied, gesturing to the grav sled. The odors wafting ceiling-ward were nearly visible, concentrated as they were. "And … me," she added with a shrug.
Prowl's upper lip twitched as he struggled to retain his poise in the face of such a brutal assault on his olfactory system. "Bring it in." He stepped back to allow her entrance; Solarflare glanced at him sideways as she resolutely pulled the sled into the room and parked it in the corner. Lowering it, she began to transfer bags to the floor. Prowl watched her from a distance, trying very hard not to intake too much air. Flare had long ago become desensitized to everything, but she pitied him – and herself. She must really smell.
Primus, this is going to take a long time to get out … she thought wryly, hoisting the last of the bags off the sled.
One bag, two bags … five bags. And these weren't small, either. Almost human-height, they bulged almost to the point of exploding.
"Is … this it?"
Solarflare straightened, pulling a face as a few servos in her back popped. Groaning, she dug her fingertips into her plating, adding energy bath to her list of off-duty activities. Casting a discerning golden optic over the bags, she nodded. "Yep. Every single one. And with that, I think I'll take my leave. I really stink … Happy reading –"
"Solarflare – wait."
Flare paused, her leg literally poised over the threshold. She caught the doorframe with her taloned hand and swiveled her head around. "Yes?"
Prowl moved back and took a seat behind his desk. "Please, sit. And close the door."
Confused, she did as she was bid, wading through the bulky bags to perch on the chair opposite the second-in-command. Prowl folded his hands and straightened his shoulders, an action that preceded a speech. Suddenly, Solarflare remembered; he was going to speak with her about her incident with Red Alert! Her crest sank, causing the black-and-white to arch an eye-ridge.
"Red Alert spoke with me today."
Flare's mouth twitched and she rested her right arm on the back of the chair. "I'm sure he did."
"He has lodged a complaint with me concerning your blatant disregard for authority."
"His authority, I'm sure he meant."
Prowl's face remained ever-impassive. "Yes, it was his authority. He also told me of his concern that you are taking your position as lone female too far, that your status as 'Ark darling' has given you an ego."
Slowly, Solarflare's crest inched back up; the twin feathers on either side of her aural tracts trembled. Prowl continued, "He tells me that you have the propensity to make rude human finger gestures at him and call him 'Marvin the Paranoid Android'."
Solarflare rumbled. Leave it to Red to blow things out of proportion. "I called him that once, and I only flipped him off today. He was being unreasonable."
"As I figured. But the matter of your status as Ark favorite still remains."
A frown creased her lip components; she leaned forward, hands on Prowl's desk. "Do you really think I asked for that?" she told him quietly. "Do you really believe that I purposefully use my gender to elicit favors or to bend rules?" Slowly, her talons inched forth from their sheaths. "What kind of fool does he take me for?"
There was a break in the façade; Prowl was clearly taken aback by her sudden show of avian ferocity. "No –"
She ran right over him, having switched over to single-minded avian-mode. "I have never, ever asked anyone to do anything for me, Prowl. If there's to be any culprit, it's our comrades. They've taken it upon themselves to give me this status. I'm as good a warrior as any of them; I've gotten down and dirty, brawled with the best of them, gotten myself into scraps and gotten myself out. I run Communications, I run surveillance – where, I might add, I've gotten myself into some pretty sticky situations …" With each sentence, Prowl's optics got wider and wider. He could deal with Sunstreaker and Sideswipe with one hand tied behind his back, hanging upside down – but a rampaging femme? Let's say he was out of practice.
Solarflare watched him shrink back slightly, curling her lip slightly in satisfaction. Oh, she was just getting started! "I even run the mail! If something needs to be done around here, guess who gets to do it because everyone else is out on patrol? Me! And do you see me complain? No! Prime wants something from me, he gets it; Wheeljack wants something from me, he gets it; Ratchet, Jazz, Trailbreaker – you. Anyone." Metal grated on metal. " 'Favorite,' am I? 'Ark darling'? If you have a problem with that, Prowl, then I respectfully ask you to take it up with them!"
Prowl sat back, the second-in-command's battle computer remaining uncommunicative. This wasn't quite the situation it was programmed for. Give him the Unholy Duo anytime! Perhaps they did go out of their way now and then for her, he thought, but what harm did it cause?
Solarflare was correct when she listed all the ways in which she contributed to the daily goings-on of the Ark's operations. It seemed that the only person up in arms about it was Red Alert – and only when he had a bone to pick with Solarflare. Then again, Red brought anything and everything up when someone "annoyed" him.
Sniffing the perfumed air, Prowl mentally sighed. It would be best if this matter was dropped. "You're dismissed, Solarflare."
On the verge of climbing the analyst's desk, Flare caught herself, mouth hanging open, finger upraised. "What?" She was on a roll, goddammit.
"You are dismissed. Consider this a warning, Solarflare."
Shoulder struts laid back in surprise, Flare began sliding back to the floor, the spikes on her kneecaps scraping down the front of Prowl's desk. The second-in-command grit his teeth, images flashing through his cortex of what havoc had just been wrecked on his furniture.
"I – thank you," she said, sketching a salute. Turning, she moved quickly to the exit. Palming the door open, she grabbed the grav sled and beat a hasty retreat. Prowl wasted no time in depressing the button on his desktop that closed his door. Passing a hand over his chevron, he cast a weary blue-eyed gaze over the five bags that Solarflare had deposited. Was it his imagination or were the bags increasing? Or could it be that the human postal officers were just producing bigger sacks? Probably both, he reasoned.
Never one to postpone the inevitable, Prowl rose and squatted by the bags, his senses reeling from the potent odors that were wafting skyward. Many years ago he had been amused that human females had found him attractive; he responded generously, replying to every letter that he had time for. However, as time passed, he found himself literally swamped with "fanmail" as it was termed – hundreds of thousands of letters and little presents (some that even made the stalwart warrior color) were sent to the Ark in his name. He was getting sick of reading the same lines over and over again: "I LOVE You PROWL!" "Marry me!" "Have my baby!" – Yes, there were quite a few of those last ones; did these females understand anything about Transformer circuitry?
These days, most went straight into the furnace, no guilt attached. What else could he do about it? Go on television and politely ask for the letters to stop? No, that was far too harsh. Someday, he'd come up with a plan.
… Primus, it smelled in here!
Resolutely, Prowl stood up and flicked the air on, feeling the soft breeze blow upwards from the fans hidden in the walls. Already the atmosphere was beginning to clear. Maybe he would move it to his Top Fifty Things To Do – place it right under carve Sunstreaker and Sideswipe a new cortex.
With a clearer office, the military analyst squatted back down and began rifling through the bags. Pink, pink … oh, look, more pink. Ribbons, bows, lipstick in every shade the spectrum had to offer. As he poked through the first bag, Prowl's thoughts turned to his earlier discussion with Solarflare. Perhaps he shouldn't have dismissed her so soon. She was female after all, had been human before the Decepticons destroyed her flesh and blood body. Yes, Solarflare was right: she was useful, far more than she could ever know.
It was decided. He'd ask her opinion tomorrow.
In private, so no one would get any ideas.
Oh, Primus, please tell me that is not a thong …
Ok, so she wasn't completely flower-free; at least she didn't cause her fellow warriors to pass out in the corridors as she staggered by, low on energy from a furtive night's recharge. Hound was overtly amused, Gears whined, Trailbreaker remained ever-civil.
"Daisy, daisy, you drive me crazy," Sunstreaker sang in a high-pitched tone, waving a cup of warm oil in front of her face as she sat down in the rec room and promptly face-planted into the table. "Is that a new scent you're sporting, sweetheart? Did Mirage get tired of ozone?"
"Stick it, Sunshine," she mumbled, wings hanging limply by her flanks. "I didn't recharge well last night."
Sunstreaker laughed, rocking back in his chair and propping his feet by her face. "Awr, lonely without your pretty boy to comfort you?" He poked her in her left audio with the tip of his big yellow toe. "You know there's always room in our place if you want to join us."
Flare lifted her head the barest of an inch, enough for her to snap half-heartedly at the Lambo's foot. Sunstreaker laughed and wiggled it in her face. "Now, now, darling, that's not nice. See, I brought you breakfast!" Reaching forward, he set the cup down by her cheek, reflexes honed on the battlefield making sure he kept his hand as her talons descended.
"Don't start, Rosemary," she rumbled as Sideswipe began to giggle. Levering herself up onto one elbow, she grasped the cup and lifted it to her lips, downing it all in one gulp.
The red melee warrior grinned. "C'mon, Flare, don't tell us you lost recharge-time over Mirage's absence."
"No," she replied, feeling a little more awake now that the oil was working its way through her system. "What do you take me for? Clingy? No, I spent half the night playing post woman and then the other half trying to get Prowl's fangirl stink out of my servos."
"Oooh!" Both twins pounced on that bit of information with a level of enthusiasm they usually reserved for kicking Decepticon aft. "How many this time?" asked Sideswipe. "Did you read them?" added Sunstreaker, right on top of his brother.
"You two clairvoyants know the answer to that: no, to both."
Sunstreaker's lips quirked in a lascivious grin and he made a rude gesture with one large, thick black hand at the avian femme. "You're no fun, Flare."
"I smell and I'm tired," she replied, eyeballing her cup and wondering if she was stable enough to totter over to the dispenser and get herself another or try and get one of the twins to do it for her. "My fun-meter is dead."
"Hrmph. Well, I guess you don't want this data-cube then." Sunstreaker casually summoned a blue cube from subspace and began deftly rolling it along his knuckles. "Came last night via stealth-probe."
Solarflare's crest slowly began to rise at the words "stealth-probe." Ok, so he was getting a reaction out of her. The only one who would be using such a thing at this moment was Mirage, who was currently on Cybertron with Perceptor, Wheeljack, Skyfire, Bumblebee and Spike. Her golden optics locked on the small object being casually flitted from one of the yellow warrior's paws to the other. "How goes the mission?" she asked, calculating her chances of actually snatching it away from Sunstreaker.
He grinned and tossed it to Sideswipe, optics twinkling at her instant pout. "Dunno. I wasn't there for the transmission. Jazz just said to give this to you when I saw you. I must say, I still wonder why you stay with the nancy boy. Nothing dirty on that cube at all!"
Only her avian patience kept her from smacking the melee warrior upside the head – with talons. "My cube, if you please, Sideswipe," she finally said, extending her right hand, palm uppermost. The red one looked at the yellow one and grinned.
"Say, 'I love you, Siders.' "
"I love you, Siders," she repeated dutifully, hand still outstretched.
"Now, say, 'Sideswipe interfaces the best.' "
"How about I say, 'Give the lady her data-cube, degenerate'?" Heads swiveled as Prowl walked into the rec room, hands on his hips. "Now."
Rolling his optics, Sideswipe lobbed the small blue cube at the avian warrior. "Gee, Prowl, inhale too much? Was there opium in those letters?"
"Mary Jane, maybe?" Sunstreaker added with a smirk, miming pulling on a joint.
Prowl didn't bite; he never did. "Patrol, degenerates, now."
Grumbling good-naturedly, the twins rose and ambled out, pausing to pat Solarflare on the head and wink. She sighed, pulling her shoulders down and tried to work out the kink they'd just put in her neck joints. Ah, but they meant well. She turned the data cube over in her hand, wondering just what it was her bondmate had sent her. A low, polite cough pulled her out of her thoughts. "Yes?" she asked, a little startled to see Prowl standing by her side.
"Can we talk?"
Struts back, wing-tips twitching, she nodded. "Of course." And gestured to the chairs the twins had just vacated. "Look, Prowl, if it's about last night, I apologize."
"No, no," he interrupted quickly, settling his black and white form. "I actually have a … proposal for you."
Crest quirking, Solarflare ran his words over in her central processor. Was it her imagination or did stalwart, professional Prowl hesitate?
"You're aware that I receive a large amount of mail from the female population of this planet," he began, looking at her from under his chevron. "However, much of it is of a disconcerting nature. I don't mind the occasional letter and I do welcome them, but I feel that this is out of control."
Solarflare listened carefully, casually twisting her empty cup on the table. Of everything the second-in-command could have come to her for, this was something she would never have thought possible.
"I was wondering if you could advise me as to how to proceed."
Oh, boy. Taking the empty vessel in both hands, she sat back as far as the accoutrements between her shoulder blades would allow. "Well, I could just dump all your mail into the furnace." She quirked a grin.
"I considered it, but I still want to read letters from those who truly have something of worth to say."
"Ah, that does put you in a bind."
"Yes." He paused, looking over his shoulder. "Tell me, Solarflare, why?"
Did her aural tracts truly catch a hint of desperation in his vocalizer? Perhaps there was more to this than he was willing to tell her, superior to soldier.
"Why?" She arched a questioning eye ridge.
"Why me?" How many times had she asked that of herself? There was no one true answer, she knew; things happened for a reason and there was nothing one could do about it. "There are many reasons, Prowl," she began slowly, resting her hands on the table, "each one more complex than the next. Humans draw the world around them unto themselves so that they might understand it better. Every one of those girls has a reason why she finds you attractive. Many of us have features that resemble human ones – that alone is a major factor." She paused for his input but Prowl merely inclined his head, arms crossed over his chest, listening intently. "Perhaps some see lusting after you as a means of escape, as having someone to admire. Some might have abusive fathers, abusive boyfriends; they see you as someone who is safe, who does the right thing."
"I have read letters from females in those situations," he replied quietly. "And I always reply."
She nodded, wishing that she had gotten up and refilled her cup. "Those are the most general reasons I can think of."
"And every single one has merit. That alone gives me much to think about. However, there is still the matter of the proposal I have for you. You have the right to refuse anything I present, of course," he added quickly, watching as her crest flicked back and forth, optics going wide at the corners. "I spent some time last night going through the Internet – which is not the most reliable source of information you have here – but I came across some news item on a female-centered website. It spoke of jealousy and how many females become jealous if the object of their affections is seen with another member of their gender."
Uh-huh … and where was he going with this? she wondered, crest ticking back and forth like a grandfather clock.
"I read some more and came to the conclusion that if I wish the volume of mail I receive to diminish, then I must acquire a 'significant other'."
Oh, shit. Why hadn't she seen that one coming? You're way too single-minded, Flare, she chided herself. She was the only femme in this whole damned operation, after all! Wait – couldn't Wheeljack build an android? ... Uhm, no, things were better off if she didn't consider the scientist for aid. "How can I help?" she found herself saying.
Prowl spread his hands wide. "I thought about this long and hard, Solarflare. I knew that I could not, in good faith, ask you to play that significant other. It wouldn't be fair. Yet, I see no other option; so, yes, that is the nature of my proposal."
"Well …" She paused, looking down at her hands, at the empty vessel. If it would help … "Sure. We can go on a few walks, be around a bunch of people. I'm sure word will get around."
Prowl made a noise deep in his vocalizer. "And you think Mirage will not mind?"
Solarflare blinked. Would Mirage mind? That's his biggest concern? "No, he wouldn't."
The remaining chair scraped across the floor of its own accord. A neon orange prism flickered into being, revealing the white and blue form of the Ark's resident spy. "Hardly," he agreed in his deep, cultured voice; smiling softly, he placed a full cup of oil at Solarflare's elbow. "She's a big girl, Prowl, she doesn't need to ask me." A big, booming laugh burst from his vocalizer. "What a mission!"
Prowl frowned imperceptibly, perturbed that the conversation had been overheard – but that was Mirage's nature. He nodded. "Your plan works for me, Solarflare. Would you like to try tomorrow?"
Her day off, spent in Prowl's company. Not the entertainment she'd normally would like to seek out. She nodded regardless, thinking of the places she could take the stalwart analyst, some venue that would draw a smile out of his blank exterior. "We could go to the coast, take a walk on the beach. There's bound to be a bunch of tourists there this time of year."
Mirage leaned forward, sliding his bondmate a sly glance. "There's the arcade. If you win her something, keep it. We have far too much stuff." He winked as Solarflare poked him in the ribs with a talon.
Prowl turned his head slowly. "Thank you."
The spy waved a hand in gentle dismissal. "Thank Flare. I have nothing to do with this."
The other mech nodded stiffly. "I expect your report by the end of the day. Tomorrow, at dawn, Solarflare." With that, he stood up, carefully replaced the chair and exited the room, leaving the bondmates to exchange glances.
"With that attitude, it's no small wonder he's unattached," Flare muttered, taking the opportunity to sling back her drink. Damn, that felt good! "When did you get back?"
Mirage watched her with amusement. "Just now. I told you that in message I sent." He paused, noticing the blue cube that lay on the table. "The twins." It was all that needed to be said. She nodded, running her fingers through her crest. "Yeah. So, how did it go?"
"Very well. We secured the piece that Wheeljack needed and managed to pick up a few other things the base is in dire need of. Spent some time bolstering the troops fighting the ground war. I think it's going well, actually."
That was surprising to hear; Mirage rarely voiced his opinion about their chances. "Really?"
He smiled. "Yes. They're doing a good job of undermining the Decepticons." He leaned forward and touched her cheek. "I missed you. It was a long three weeks."
"Mmm-hmmm." She reached out and curled her hand around his, taking comfort in his presence.
"Yes?" she replied, tilting her head to the side, crest raised expectantly.
"What's that smell?"