A/N - Another product of the Random Pairing Generator. Prompt: Smokescreen/Drag Strip/In Hindsight. A drabblet that grew into a full-fledged ficlet.

x-xxx-x

In hindsight, maybe Smokescreen wasn't the best person to attempt to rehabilitate the captured Stunticons. He really wasn't a professional, after all. He'd studied behavior patterns in order tocheat people, not counsel them.

Drag Strip looked up as Smokescreen walked in, settling across the table from the bound Stunticon. Drag Strip sneered at him.

He'd picked Drag Strip to work on when the command staff had ordered him to try to work with the newly-captured Stunticons, hoping to sway the powerful-but-insane fighters to their side. Who to start with was an easy choice – Motormaster was psychotic, Wildrider and Breakdown would have to be sedated before he could even talk to them, and Dead End... Smokescreen didn't even know where to start with Dead End. His experience reading people didn't help there – everything he knew about people just screamed at him to stay away from Dead End. There was few things in the universe quite as dangerous as someone who didn't care whether he lived or died, especially one who hated your guts.

Drag Strip showed some promise, though. Smokescreen was good at seeing past masks; it was a handy skill in a gambler. It was easy to see the fear and insecurity lurking in Drag Strip's optics.

That didn't stop him from being slagging irritating.

"What, afraid that I might ruin your pretty paint-job if you didn't have me bound hand and foot?"

Smokescreen regarded the Stunticon in silence. Prime wouldn't like what he was planning, but then, Prime didn't have to know how Smokescreen did what he did. There were no security cameras in here – he'd insisted that it be that way, despite Red Alert's protests about the risks to his safety. He'd won out by pointing out to Optimus that he was more likely to win their prisoners' trust if they didn't feel like they were being watched constantly. If it also made it easier for Smokescreen to keep his methods under the radar, that was just one more benefit.

Drag Strip shifted uncomfortably under Smokescreen's continued regard, growing more and more nervous as the moments ticked by in silence.

"What, are you so awed by my awesomeness that you can't think of anything to say?"

The smart-ass joke fell flat, Smokescreen's expression never changing. His silence was beginning to really bother the Stunticon. He wasn't used this sort of treatment – his brothers would be insulting him back, or hitting him for being annoying, or something. Even Dead End just ignored him entirely, instead of just sitting there staring.

He was starting to understand Breakdown a little better. He tried not to squirm under that unrelenting stare, but it was hard.

"Aren't you supposed to be asking me questions?" Drag Strip asked finally, sounding unsure.

"And what would I be asking you?" Smokescreen spoke finally with a snort. "Frankly, Drag Strip, you aren't important enough to know anything."

Drag Strip bristled. "Slag off! I'm-"

"Don't bother," Smokescreen interrupted. "I don't care. You don't matter to us, Drag Strip. You're not important enough or skilled enough for us to try to convert you." Drag Strip opened his mouth to protest, but Smokescreen continued without pause, ignoring him. "And you're not a big enough threat for us to bother with the trouble of putting you in a mind-prison."

Shocked, Drag Strip stared blankly at him. Smokescreen stood and opened the door, motioning to the pair of Autobots that were pulling guard duty.

Drag Strip twisted around to stare after Smokescreen as the two Autobot guards walked him back to the detention area, but Smokescreen walked away without looking back.

x-x-x

Long days of isolation and only the barest of contact with his jailers had made a profound impact on Drag Strip's attitude. The only other people Drag Strip had seen since that first interview were the Autobots who wordlessly brought his energon, or escorted him to Smokescreen.

The first few times Drag Strip had been brought to Smokescreen's makeshift interview room, he'd been belligerent and insulting. Smokescreen had ignored him, using the time to finish paperwork or read, not even acknowledging Drag Strip's existence. When Drag Strip had retaliated by becoming louder and combative, fighting the restraints and the Autobots sent to escort him, Smokescreen had ordered him taken back to his cell and left there to stew in solitude, where no matter how much he screamed, no one came.

Now Drag Strip just sat quietly, resigned to the situation. Being ignored was better than sitting alone in a cell, wondering if they'd forgotten him, if this time no one was going to come... He jerked, shoving that thought back down.

So it came as something of a surprise when a hand settled on his shoulder, thumb stroking the side of his wheel. Startled, Drag Strip looked up at Smokescreen.

The Autobot watched him for a moment in silence. "It's nice to see you've finally learned some manners," Smokescreen said finally.

Frag you, was the first thing that came to Drag Strip's mind, but he held the retort back. Past experience told him that it would simply result in another interview cut short and just that much more time alone in his cell.

"Good behavior deserves a reward," Smokescreen murmured, catching Drag Strip's chin. Then he kissed the Stunticon

Drag Strip froze. Part of him wanted to pull back, to shove the arrogant Autobot away – but his hands were still bound together and chained down. And part of him didn't want Smokescreen to stop at all.

But slag it all – what gives him the right – he's a slagging Autobot! Anger flowed through him, only to be dampened by a flicker of cold reason.

Remember where refusal got you before, Drag Strip. Besides, it's not any worse than anything Motormaster's done to me, Drag Strip rationalized, letting Smokescreen deepen the kiss. And... and I don't want to be alone, he admitted to himself miserably.

Shivering in abject humiliation, Drag Strip leaned into the kiss.

x-x-x

"Smokescreen, a moment, please," Optimus Prime said, catching the Datsun in the hallway.

Giving Optimus a curious look, Smokescreen followed him into his office. "What's up, Prime?"

"Some of the others have expressed concern over our prisoners' wellbeing," Optimus told him bluntly. "Is the isolation you've put Drag Strip in really necessary?"

Smokescreen nodded. "It is. Optimus, we're trying to change Drag Strip's entire world view here – I have to teach him to trust me, and to accept me as an authority figure. Otherwise, there's no chance of ever getting through to him. The more people who speak to him, the greater the chances that someone's going to say the wrong thing, or contradict me, and undo all the progress I've made." He stopped, giving Optimus his best earnest look. "I'm just starting to get him to really open up, and I wouldn't have been able to do that if he had the chance to talk to someone else. Keeping the outside contact to a minimum helps him bond emotionally to the person trying to treat him. It's the first step in getting him to trust us."

Optimus nodded slowly, turning that over in his mind. "So he's responding to your counseling?"

Yes, he is, but not in the way you're thinking. "He's starting to. We still have a long road ahead of us," Smokescreen told him gravely.

"But the journey must start somewhere. Very well, keep it up, Smokescreen. If we can reach even one of the Decepticons, we not only deprive Megatron of a soldier, we gain a comrade."

If only you knew...

x-x-x

Red Alert turned the disk over in his fingers, deep in thought.

Smokescreen should have known better, he mused. For all his vaunted skill in anticipating others, he should have realized that I was not going to give in quite so easy.

He'd been ordered to pull the cameras from Smokescreen's little interrogation room, and he had – and then replaced them with hidden ones. He'd seen every second of Smokescreen's 'sessions' with Drag Strip. And while he usually took the stance that the Decepticons deserved what they got, this was just... wrong. It was abuse just as much as if Smokescreen had tortured him instead.

If Optimus knew what Smokescreen was really doing, Smokescreen would find himself in a cell right along with the Stunticons. But still... Smokescreen was an Autobot, and Drag Strip was a vicious slagger of a Decepticon. Did he deserve any better? Did anyone deserve that?

The question is, Red Alert thought, staring at the disk of damning video, what do I do about it?