These Sorrowful Remembrances

His quiet reflection was shattered by the sound of a hundred piercing voices. Mirage slowly uncurled his fingers from the mug and sat up. Across the cafeteria of Autobot City stood Hound; around his feet milled a gaggle of school children, each as wide-eyed and gape-mouthed as the next. Behind the stolid green mech were the children's minders, each adult trying to hold back his or her own wonder. But it leaked through their eyes, in the nervous twitch of their fingers against jeans and skirts.

Hound gestured towards the back end of the cafeteria, explaining to the children how it not only served Autobots, but the humans who helped man the City. As he turned, the Jeep caught Mirage's optic and winked. Casually, the Ligier flicked the fingers on his slim, right hand in acknowledgement before turning back to the depths of his Energon. He'd just come back from a humanitarian aid expedition in Florida, where the winds and ocean had once again lay claim to the sunny, sandy beaches. Seeing the bloated, discolored bodies of the hurricane's victims colored his night-time recharges, so much so that he had taken to spending the past two days in one of the unoccupied bunks rather than discomfort Solarflare with his flailing.

He heard Hound lead the group across the cafeteria floor and took a sip, then another. Against his leg, a sensation that he could only describe as "tugging" brought his head up and down. A small girl with black hair down to her back was trying to get his attention by scratching on the side of his right leg. Schooling his facial planes into a proper mien, Mirage set the mug aside and leaned down, resting his arms on his kneecaps. "Greetings."

The girl stopped her tugging and met his blue-optic'd gaze with a set of piercing sky-colored eyes of her own. Inside Mirage, something shattered; if but for her scant years, there was Solarflare's former self.

"Alina!" a man's voice called out, rushing to her side. Mirage's brow ridge raised, his fingers tugging at his knee caps in surprise. The man sluiced to a stop at the girl's side, laying his hands protectively on her shoulders. "Alina, you need to stay with the gr—" He looked at Mirage, and Mirage looked back at Solarflare's brother – Richard, a man he had only met once before, and that was at the funeral for Solarflare's human remains. There had been a cold respectfulness for the Ligier and Hound that day, and that same icy gaze now met his as the man drew his daughter to his side. "I know you."

Mirage sat back, slowly. How on Earth could this meeting have occurred? Tennessee was a nation away from Oregon. "Hello, Richard," the Ligier returned smoothly, trying to infuse some warmth into the conversation. He knew that the Michaels family held him partly responsible for seducing their daughter away from the relative safety of humanity; it wasn't as if Mirage felt differently – many was the day that he wallowed in his own guilt those first months after her resurrection.

The bright-eyed girl continued to stare up at him. Mirage found himself lost in those innocent eyes – Alina's eyes. "Hi! I'm Alina. You're Mirage, aren't you?"

The spy watched as her father's hands tightened convulsively on her shoulders, making her wince. "Daddy?" she asked, confused. "Is something wrong?"

Composing himself, Richard turned his death-grip into a paternal pat. "I think we should be getting back to the group, Lina."

Adamantly, the girl shook her head, flopping onyx hair over her eyes in the same fashion her namesake had been prone to doing. "But, Daddy. I know who he is! Auntie Alina used to be friends with him."

Over his daughter's head, Mirage saw Richard's eyes well up at the mention of his sister's name. His lip trembled as he bent to whisper into his daughter's ear: "But your aunt also died because of him … Come on, Lina, let's go."

The oath he had sworn prevented Mirage from ever revealing Solarflare's true nature, but he could not allow her niece to be subjected to such an abhorrent lie. The little girl's eyes were fixed upon the Ligier's face as she was slowly led away, her hand, inexorably, reaching out for him. "Richard."

The elder Michaels stopped, his face losing some of its hard sorrow. Mirage sat up, resting his hands easily on his thighs. Slowly, he schooled his face and crafted his next words: "You might continue to think of me as an uncaring, unfeeling war machine, but let me tell you this: I loved your sister. And I continue to do so. There's not a day that goes by that I do not mourn her." How strange, he reflected, to be speaking thus when Solarflare was sitting high up in the Comm Tower with Blaster at this very moment. She was alive and well – and completely oblivious.

While her father's face went through a peculiar dance of emotions, little Alina slipped from his grasp and stood at Mirage's feet. "Can you tell me about my aunt? What did you do together?" She reached into a pocket in her jacket and pulled out an old photograph. "I found this at Granma and Granpa's."

Delicately, Mirage reached for the Polaroid, and found himself transported almost fifteen years into the past. His cortex was not wondering why Flare's parents had kept that paparazzo's picture of he and then-Alina in the park, her hand touching his hip-plate – rather, he was touched that the girl idolized her "deceased" aunt so much. The Ligier smiled and extended his hand, palm up; she was small enough to fit in the center of his hand with minimal limb spillage.

Richard seemed to regain motor control and reached out as his daughter scrambled willingly onto the slim black palm. "Alina –!"

Slowly, reverently, Mirage lifted her and settled her on his shoulder. "Now, let your feet rest on my neck-guard – yes, right there. Hold onto my helm – don't worry, you can't hurt me."

Little Alina turned to face him, wonder in her wide blue eyes. "Did Auntie sit here?"

"Yes, she often perched on my shoulder, or sat on my knee while we talked."

"What did you talk about?"

"Many things: religion, philosophy, books."

"Cybertron?"

Slowly, Mirage turned to stare at the little girl, hearing Solarflare's human voice in his audios once more. He looked at the child, seeing the same facial structure, the cant of brows, the tilt of her head. "Yes," he replied softly, "Cybertron, too."

The delicate, brilliant niece of his bondmate put many questions to him, unknowingly mimicking her aunt of fifteen years past. Richard stood there, tears slowly leaking down his lined face, remembering. Mirage remembered, too.

It was Hound who came over at last, gently touching the Ligier on the shoulder, effectively ending the visit. "They're leaving, Raj."

Mirage nodded, reaching over and gently plucking little Alina from her perch. The girl reached out as she passed his face and touched his cheek with one delicate pink hand. "Can I come back?" she asked, and Mirage smiled.

"If your father says you can," he allowed, throwing the ball into Richard's part of the court. The elder Michaels swallowed, overcome; but he nodded.

"We'll see what we can do, sweetheart." And he reached up and took her from Mirage's hand, holding her tightly against him before briskly walking towards the rest of the school group and melting into it, anonymous.

Heavy in spark, Mirage sagged against the chair's strong back, blindly searching for the mug of souring Energon. Without a word, Hound pushed it into his seeking fingers. Grateful, the spy sipped. "Did you know?" he began in a low tone, memories assailing him.

Hound pulled out a chair and sat across from his friend. "No. All I knew was that we were expecting a grammar school for a tour and that was it." Hound's head tilted, and he reached across the Ligier and pulled something off of his shoulder plate. "Hmm." And flipped over what he had captured: the Polaroid.

"Uncanny," a quiet, feminine voice said above Mirage's head. Black taloned hands slipped over his shoulders; a familiar chestplate pressed against his cockpit-back. Solarflare took the Polaroid from Hound's fingertips, her optics zooming in on an image she had not seen in more than a decade. "Richard's grown old …" she murmured, before passing it back to Hound, who merely tucked it away. Mirage would ask for it later, but not now.

"Her name is Alina," the spy finally said.

"I know. I came in a while ago." Her talons bit into his plating with remembrance. "I thought I was seeing myself from without."

With a polite grunt, Hound stood up and offered Solarflare his chair. The femme shook her head and flicked her crest. "I'd best go," he said. "I need to see them out."

Mirage nodded; when the Jeep had gone, the Ligier permitted himself to touch his bondmate's hands with the privacy now afforded them.

"Are you feeling all right?" she asked him, softly, hesitantly, in the silence that followed.

Mirage considered for a moment. It was a two-fold question where only one answer would suffice. The images of the bodies floating in the water would not completely fade, nor would the vibrant visage of a blue-eyed, onyx-haired little girl … but somehow, he felt at ease. And he said so. Softly, Solarflare put her cheek to his, for there was no more to be said. At least, in words.