Author's Note: This fic contains several characters who do not belong to me. Flamestrike is the property of Tyrrlin; Dart is the property of Korat; SilverSide is owned by Lizkay; Crosstalk is owned by Zoaerven. All have been used with permission. Any additional characters not of cannon origin came from me. For those familiar with Korat's Dart, this fic is AU to her cannon tale, but would be considered cannon to the Solarflare Chronicles.

The Truth of Consequences
It is the year 2003 …

Chapter One
After all that you put me through,
You think I'd despise you,
But in the end I wanna thank you,
'Cause you've made me that much stronger
—Christina Aguilera, Fighter

The boxy red and grey mech walked with a jaunty flair in his step, listening to music only he could hear. His playful steps were somewhat subdued by the time he entered the packed mess hall, but close quarters never daunted him. Shout-outs were answered with resounding enthusiasm and a tip of two fingers towards the intended party; his other hand remained wrapped around a small box. For once, his quarry was not easily located; lost in a sea of colorful bodies – both Cybertronian and human – the mech had to make a complete circuit of the hall before he spotted her. Sneaky femme, he thought with a smile.

Chief Communications Officer Blaster slid into the seat opposite his partner, Junior Communications Officer Solarflare – or "Flare", as she preferred to be called amongst friends. The winged grey femme was studiously bent over several datapads, three empty glasses with Energon residue scattered around the table. A fourth lay close at hand, next to a pad filled with scribbles.

Blaster grinned. "Since when are you doin' work off-duty?" He set the package carefully on the table and signaled a human barista for a flask of high-grade. Solarflare did not immediately answer; in most Cybertronians, this behavior would have been considered rude, but Flare had an excuse. Her avian set of cortex led her to occasionally block out everything around her save for the task at hand. After living and fighting in the femme's company for so long, Blaster knew what to do. He reached across the table and gently wriggled Flare's wrist back and forth. The grey femme's head snapped up with an audible clack of helm tines against the smooth dome of her head. Confusion flickered briefly over her sharp white-planed face before recognition set in.

Blaster dutifully repeated himself. Flare grinned. "Since Crosstalk took that hit through the central processor. And before you say that's what Crypto is for, I tried giving this to them – they're overwhelmed. Apparently Crosstalk took on too much responsibility, leaving little for them to know or do about it."

"Hm. Well, I'll take care of that. Anyway, here," and he pushed the coded package across the table. Solarflare tipped her head and set her material aside. "This came for you this afternoon."

Flare tilted the small mauve box from side to side; her golden optics narrowed. "What is it? I wasn't expecting any shipments."

"First Aid an' I were havin' a discussion one day about how you've been havin' a difficult time with the caseload an' all." Across the table, Solarflare nodded thoughtfully, idly keying the code on the box. With a small beep of acceptance, the top popped open. Nestled inside were two small black disks; two black tines were set into each dial. Reflexively, Flare put a hand to the side of her head, where a similar disk was attached.

"Dials?"

Blaster nodded. "You've been waitin' for an upgrade for years, girl. Figured this was a good start."

Solarflare reached in and picked up one of the dials, spinning it around in her hands. It was exactly the same as the ones on either side of her head, save for several wires poking out of the middle. "Primus!" she exclaimed, wings rustling happily against her trylithium spine. "What do they do?"

"Long-range communication," he replied, tapping his boxy chest for emphasis. "Now you'll be able to access the satellites without hookin' up to a comm-unit. I've got some signal-scramblers on order, too." He grinned. "They cost a pretty cred and some huntin', but Prime was all for it. You're all set with Aid this evening to have them installed."

Impulsively, Flare hugged the box to her chestplate, then leapt up from her chair to hug her friend and coworker. "Th-thank you," she stammered, wings and helm tines askew in her embarrassment. She spun in a circle, trying to find her seat – and her dignity. Smoothing errant black steel pinions, she sat down and immediately began turning the devices over and over.

"You deserve it, girl," Blaster affirmed, smiling broadly at her. She did indeed – having to make due with basic parts and those cobbled together over the years. Solarflare hadn't been built with communication in mind, and even with the odds against her, she managed to rise to the occasion time and again. It was only fair that she have access to the same technology that Blaster's creator had imbued in him.

A bell chimed somewhere in the vicinity of Blaster's chestplate. He gave a rueful smile and reached over to flick Flare's tines. "Gotta go, girl; I'll see you later. We'll give those new dials a good spin."

--

You've come a long way, Flare, she mused with a smile, spinning the dials in her hands, marveling at the engineering. Seventeen years ago, your goals were so different; now you're giggling over jammers and long-range signals. How things change.

"A little early for that fat old human in red, isn't it?"

Flare looked up, setting the dials aside, but keeping them as close as possible. A tall, brown and flame-colored femme, whose armor was a clean melding of avian and feline, claimed the chair that Blaster had just vacated. Senior Infiltration Specialist Flamestrike settled her fiery-colored wings over the back of her chair and leaned forward, grey fists on grey chin.

"Ah, but giving shouldn't be limited to a single season," Flare chastised, pushing the box towards her best friend and wingmate.

"What are these?" Flame scrutinized the dials, her green optics widening, optic sensors flicking from the box to the ones on Solarflare's head. "You have a pair already …"

"But these have long-range comm components," Flare told her, trying to keep the giddiness to a minimum. Flamestrike could never understand how important these pieces were to her, not when she had been told the "official" tale of Solarflare's origins.

Flamestrike smiled. "Excellent. I was wondering when they'd come in."

Across the table, Flare's optic shutters fluttered and her wings rustled. "You knew about these?"

Her friend nodded. "In a sort of round-about way – I happened to be in the Bay when Blaster was talking with First Aid. Prowl suggested that when you got them implanted, we'd do a training run."

Flare blew hot air through her vents in amusement. "Of course." Just like Prowl, to suggest such a thing.

Their idle chatter drifted onto more mundane subjects – circling around Flamestrike's latest kill while Solarflare picked up her datapads and went through the contents, keeping an audio open for her friend's matter-of-fact account. This multi-tasking led her to turn her head when a small commotion erupted near the entrance. A tall black and silver femme lingered there momentarily before walking towards a small table on the fringe.

"The courier," Flamestrike noted, following her friend's gaze. Flare nodded and turned back to her datapads. "You'd think that they would get over this novelty," Flamestrike continued.

"Apparently not," the grey femme mumbled, frowning at a line of text.

"What does she do all day? She's not on any roster that I know of. She's been here nearly a year, but I haven't once seen her perform her intended function."

The murmuring wafted towards their table, rumors and idle gossip. "She's still on probation," Flare replied non-committally, making notations on the digipad to her right.

Flamestrike frowned, her grey facial planes not as sharp as her friend's, but the gesture deepened the creases in the malleable metal. "That's not like you, Flare," she chastised, tapping the tabletop for emphasis. "You care about everyone – you even saved her from Turnout."

A whistling sigh escaped the avian femme. I might have even saved her skidplate from that chunk of slag, she thought, but that doesn't automatically make us friends. She was being bullied, and I don't stand for that. Especially when such bullying leads to murder. She set the pad down and turned to fix her optics on the Decepticon defector, Dart. "Officially, the order is that there's no need for her services. Unofficially … it's about the same. There's worry that she'll run confidential messages right to Megatron." She watched as the black and silver femme accepted a glass of Energon from a male barista; Dart toyed with the glass, her spoiler riding low on her shoulder plates. And then she looked up, staring across the long room and meeting her blue optics to Flare's gold. Avian pride held Solarflare's gaze level – and hopefully non-threatening. Solarflare nodded to the courier femme; Dart broke optic-contact first and dropped her sensors to the glass.

"And what do you think?" The gryphonic femme's quiet query cut through Solarflare's ruminations.

Yes, what do I think? We have a long history – as brief as actual contact might be. She's Neutral as far as I'm concerned, until Optimus puts an Autobot symbol on that chestplate. "I don't think she's a threat," she began slowly, thoughtfully. "Her defenses are lower than mine, she has barely any combat skill – but she's quick. Instinctive. I spent several days in MedBay years ago because of those legs."

"Then we'll take her on your training run. After all this time, I don't think she's made any friends – SilverSide avoids her like comic rust. Arcee won't go near her, and she's always making new friends."

Flare nodded, slowly. She set the pads aside and looked across the room. Dart was nursing her drink. Ease up, girl, she chastised. You and Arcee had a long-standing tiff, and you put that aside. Look where you are now – she's a good friend and better comrade. Besides, Dart only tried to kill you once … and I'm not sure she was even trying.