Epilogue

It's been a long road
Getting from there to here
It's been a long time
But my time is finally near
"Where My Heart Will Take Me" – Russell Watson

She found him in the abandoned rec room, sitting with his back to the door at one of the tables that dotted the area. His arms were moving, his head bent low over some task that she couldn't see. Solarflare hung back, acutely aware of the tension that flowed through the room; she chewed her lip, wondering if she should give voice to her sorrow, to tell him how sorry she was. But she didn't want the reply to be silence; she couldn't bear it.

She had screwed up so badly, so very badly. She had betrayed him and everyone else. Instead of taking it like a warrior, she'd run and almost gotten herself completely slagged in the end. Would they trust her now? Would they honor her judgments, her opinions? She feared she'd slipped in social worth for what she'd done.

While Solarflare fidgeted in the doorway, Mirage continued with whatever task he was undertaking. She knew he was aware of her presence; that he chose to ignore it told her two things: one, he was waiting for her to say something, or two, he just didn't care anymore. Right now, she didn't blame him if he didn't want anything to do with her.

Do it, Solarflare, go on …

She lifted one black pyramidal foot and walked hesitantly over to the other side of the table. Mirage did not look up, nor did he dismiss her. Taking his silence for approval, she pulled the chair back and sat down, leaning her forearms on the surface and pillowed her head there. The spy was cleaning his hunting rifle: he'd broken it down into its most basic components and was meticulously swabbing each piece with an oversized Q-tip and a vial of slightly odorous fluid. Normally, Solarflare didn't watch the spy do maintenance work – it was the one thing about him that she found utterly boring – but tonight, she watched: watched how his slim black hands deftly worked the Q-tip into each nook and cranny, the angle of his head, the set of his mouth.

She watched him until her spark was fit to burst with love and sadness. Tears trickled slowly down her cheeks in embarrassment, in revulsion.

"Hand me your gun, Solarflare."

Startled, she looked up. Mirage had pushed the pieces of his sniper rifle to the side and was uncorking a second bottle that he'd pulled from subspace. He didn't look at her, not yet; he fiddled with the cap and set it to the side. Perplexed, Flare patted the black holsters on either side of her hips; the latch on the right popped open and she withdrew the small, slim purple pistol, surprised that she'd still been allowed to carry a loaded gun. This she laid in the center of the table, looking at the white-blue spy from under the safety of her crest. Mirage reached out and took it, tilting it from side to side, holding it up to the light at certain moments. He then began to break it into its components for cleaning.

"Do you remember when we first met, Solarflare?" he asked idly, still using her full name.

Lifting her head from her forearms, she strained to see his optics. "Yes," she whispered, afraid of her own vocalizer.

"What happened?"

Flare chewed her lip again, her talons flicking in and out nervously. "I was sitting here, on the table, and talking with Skyfire, Bluestreak … Bumblebee, I think. You were over there, in the corner. You got a drink."

"Do you remember when we first talked?" He still spoke with his head down, fingers moving in intricate patterns across the stock of the pistol.

Too scared to question the motive behind this recollection, she replied, "You came into my garden, knocked over my potted plants." She gaped, shoulder struts flicking up and down. "… Mirage …"

"Do you love me, Solarflare?"

Yes, Yes, YES! her insides screamed. A million times over. "Yes," she whispered fiercely, unable to stem the flow of fluid that poured from her optics, ran in twin rivers down her face and leaked into her collar.

His head never moved; it remained down, focused on the barrel he was now swabbing. "M … mirage … please …" she fairly babbled, hands shaking with frustration and tears. " … please …" Through her tears, she saw that he, too, was shaking. Mirage put aside the pistol, the Q-tip, the bottle. He stood up slowly, pushed back the chair; through filmy eyes, Flare followed him as he lifted his head and opened his arms. A moment later, she was filling them, her head pressed into the hollow of his neck where his cables joined the rest of his frame. His hands dug fiercely into her plating, denting her in places that she'd catch hell for later, but she didn't care – not now, not ever. Her own talons slid out, scoring desperate lines in his armor.

"I'm so sorry …"

"I know, Alina. Just stay with me."

"Yes," she breathed, feeling his arms tighten, crushing her against his boxy chest as if he truly wished they were one body, one spark. And she would give that to him if she could.

"I love you, little bird," he whispered in her audio. There was no vocal reply from the wild avian femme; instead, she let him know in other ways.

Time slowed, and the world spun down to focus on them alone. In his arms, she found acceptance, and forgiveness. She was home, she was whole … and loved. That's all that mattered.

More raptor than robot – all Solarflare.

Finis