A/N: I dunno, I vaguely remember thinking of this way back when and it popped into my head again when I was trying to think of something creepy to write. I don't have the background of the AU fleshed out whatsoever, so give this one a skip if ambiguity will be a bother. Ending peters out a bit as I realized I wasn't sure where I was going but I think it's alright. Warnings for imprisonment, threats and unwanted physical contact (not overtly sexual but still icky).
"Ratchet, Ratchet, Ratchet," he hears over the sounds of his struggles as two Infinite guards haul him backwards and none too gently through the door into the highest command quarters. "You tried to run away again."
He's tossed to the floor with humiliatingly little effort before he can retort or even tell Pharma where he can stow the disappointment dripping from the words. Engine snapping, Ratchet shoves himself to his feet with as much dignity as he can muster. There isn't much at this point, edged out by his swelling stubbornness as the hope of escape dwindles. The Infinites make themselves scarce immediately, door lock chirping like a reprimand.
Ratchet opens his mouth as he whirls on Pharma but his vocoder crackles into silence at the sight of him. What either Pharma or– ugh– Adaptus hoped to accomplish by attacking the body they shared, he can't guess. Maybe they're both beyond worrying about the cost of dealing damage. It all looks shallow anyway, startling as the network of scratches and odd dents are to see.
"He almost got me this time, Ratchet," Pharma says as he stalks forward, a rasping imitation of a familiar purr. "I've been dead before, you know, I remember what it feels like." He stops too close, the slats of his vents creaking as he circulates Ratchet's scent. Low and intimate, he asks, "Is that what you want, Ratchet? You want me to die again?"
"You want an honest answer?" Ratchet grunts.
Pharma's face twists and he's not the one whose eyes flash before that chainsaw is screaming through the air. Ratchet flinches back against the wall and the chainsaw comes right for his helm–
It diverts course with no second spared, screeching through the top layer of the dermal plating of his right audio receptor and sending him into a brief dizzy spell as the sensors there go haywire from feedback and panic burns energy he doesn't have to waste. It screams as it's buried into the wall, revving in fits as Pharma holds it there. They're pressed chest to chest, Pharma's face an abstract snarl that takes up Ratchet's entire visual feed. His other hand is braced on the wall at Ratchet's shoulder, twitching, fingers curling like he's trying to get a grip on something to tear. Whether he's trying to box Ratchet in or keep that grip from settling at Ratchet's throat is difficult to say.
Not that Ratchet cares. He snarls right back, pretends he isn't as shaken as he obviously is, and gets his hands up between them and pushes as if he still has the strength to budge Pharma off of him. He doesn't, though, and of course Pharma doesn't budge, fans roaring as he dumps stress heat, that air snaking across the lines of Ratchet's frame like unwanted caresses.
"If you don't get off of me–"
"Who is it, hm?" Pharma asks, sounding so like himself beneath the static. He chuckles when Ratchet stiffens up, engine coughing. "You could've gotten away by now if you were really trying to. And if you haven't been trying to get away, then it's because you're trying to take someone with you, isn't it?"
"Those are my friends you've got locked up," Ratchet says, leaning as far back as the wall will let him and looking away from the leer on Pharma's face. He realizes as he says it that even that is too much to give away and curses himself for it. "I know this is hard for you to understand, but they are important to me."
Pharma's chainsaw screams again in its hole in the wall, spitting metal shavings over them, and his other hand jumps to Ratchet's chin, grip biting into him as his face is forced back toward Pharma's. Static hisses out of him but it's in an almost even tone that Pharma asks, "But one of them more that the others, am I right?" His hand shakes on Ratchet's chin, grips tighter until Ratchet finally makes a sound of pain. "You're smarter than this. You know the Infinites are expecting you down there but you rush that way every time. Who is it that's making you so stupid?"
Ratchet stays still and silent, defiant, but dread prickles like claws on the inside of his spark chamber as Pharma slides a lazy look over him, taking in the details he must have memorized by this point. It wouldn't take more than a glance at the gaggle of prisoners being kept in the brig for Pharma to know– assuming he hasn't actually figured it out already. It could go either way. Pharma is brilliant but he's hardly spared a moment's attention for anyone but Ratchet.
"Such a drain on resources, that lot…" he murmurs, letting the threat hang unspoken.
Ratchet bites down on his tongue to keep it from getting away from him. He doesn't snark that they can't be using up that many resources if they're being treated to same hospitality has is, lest whatever rations they're being fed be cut. He doesn't suggest that Pharma must have some reason not to have killed them yet if they're still alive, lest Pharma order an execution out of spite.
"Are you finished?" he asks instead, throwing all his powers of condescension into the words even as he lets his body give in to how tired he is and slumps as if in defeat. His control slips more than intended and his plating sings a mournful note as it quivers. It earns him something like a coo, the hand on him soothing down his neck and making him feel so suddenly, violently ill that he has to shut down an automatic attempt to purge what little is in his tanks.
"No wonder you're so cranky," croons Pharma, just daring Ratchet to install a fist in his face. "I'll have them send something up for us while you go ahead and rest."
He draws back and gestures grandly at the excessive receiving area, with its gaudy accents and the strange, foreign furniture that Ratchet hates for the comfort it offers. He gives a casual rev of his chainsaw as he pulls it from the wall, not yet folding it away into his hand, and looks expectantly at Ratchet. Since "refuel before you fall down" is a better plan than any Ratchet can think of at the moment, he allows Pharma his point and trudges across the room. Even he isn't sure whether he deliberately knocks over one of the ugly sculptures as he goes or honestly stumbles into it; the smirk he sees when he glances back over his shoulder finally solves the mystery of whose bad decorating sense he's been subjected to. He can't decide if it makes a difference or what the difference should be.
"There you go," says Pharma, drinking in the sight of Ratchet settling onto the couch. "We'll enjoy a nice meal and a nice talk– you remember our talks, don't you, Ratchet?" A grin splits his face like a wound. "It'll be just like old times!"
Ratchet clenches his hands on his knees and says nothing, holding Pharma's gaze with a dead stare even as that grin refuses to falter and Pharma pages for energon to be brought. He'll fuel and he'll talk, as directed. He'll let Pharma enjoy this victory just long enough for his ego to edge out his logic, which shouldn't take long.
He got closer to Drift and the others than he ever has before he was caught this time. And he didn't, despite what Pharma thinks, go directly to them. He saw more of the layout of the ship; he's pretty sure he's figured out where the armory is and he was nearly to an energon station when he was found. He heard the Infinites muttering in corners where they thought no one would hear them, airing discontent that they've only begun to understand themselves.
Next time… He'll make it next time.