Author's notes: This is a companion fic to "Captured" and "Choices". It came about because I thought that there were concepts raised in "Choices" that deserved to be explored in a separate story. However, it's not necessary to have read the aforementioned fics to be able to follow the storyline in this one.

Although – as some readers might have noticed – the title for this fic has been borrowed from At the Gates' song/album with the same name, this is not a song-fic and there is no other relation to the lyrics. Heh, I don't even like the band much.

Warnings: Story contains slash.

Disclaimer: Transformers doesn't belong to me in any shape or way.

The officer led the way through meandering corridors while Thundercracker followed behind, lost in his own thoughts. He barely noticed when the other mech stopped in his tracks and so was mere inches from crashing into the bulky frame before coming to a halt.

Thundercracker looked up. They were standing in front of a door that, judging by its size and ornaments, obviously lead into a high-ranking officer's quarters. His companion, Steelfire, lifted a hand and rapped at the imposing structure three times in quick succession.

"Come in," a raspy voice replied.

Steelfire pushed the door open and entered gingerly, Thundercracker on his heels. The flier couldn't stop a twinge of nervousness from surging through his frame; being a new recruit, he wasn't used to being in the presence of officers of such rank. It made him feel uncomfortable, like he didn't know what to do with himself.

A mech was sitting at a desk in the far corner of the room, and he had, by the looks of it, been occupied with the data pad that was now lying on the surface of the massive piece of furniture. The blue glow from the pad gave the only half-lit room an eerie quality, enveloping the seated mech in an uncanny, glowering aura. It did not, however, illuminate his facial features enough to fully assure a beholder that he was a real mech of metal and circuits and not some sort of mythical apparition.

The figure slowly rose from his seat and approached the two visitors, making no obvious haste. Mechs of his rank were used to making their subordinates wait, and had come to expect that they would do so without protest.

"So, this is the new flier?" he unceremoniously asked Steelfire, but his optics were focused on Thundercracker as he spoke. The blue and white mech steeled himself as the scrutinizing gaze travelled over his frame as if it were looking for potential weaknesses, obvious or hidden. He kept his own gaze fixed at a point a hand's breadth to the right of the officer's head, not daring to lock optics with him.

"Yes, Lord Starscream." The officer came to full attention as he replied. No doubt, this mech commanded a lot of respect among his fellow Decepticons. "This is the recruit that Megatron has chosen to take Cloudstriker's place."

Cloudstriker. So that was the name of the Seeker that had been off-lined in battle, his untimely demise opening up a spot in Megatron's elite Seeker trine. Thundercracker had never heard the name before; he only knew that a member of the trine had been killed, and that he had been picked to fill the now vacant position.

Of course, it was a great honour. He had been reminded of that more times than he cared to think of, and he had lost count of how many mechs had slapped his shoulder, congratulated him, and offered him supportive words. Although, he wasn't slow-witted enough not to realize that all the good wishes were just a show. Few of the mechs had been able to hide the jealousy as they mouthed their congratulations, no doubt wishing that they had been chosen instead.

And he knew that many of his comrades were waiting for his failure, waiting for him to be demoted or killed so that they might be given the chance next. An opening like this didn't come around often, and many had been hoping. But instead, to their chagrin, a new, relatively untried recruit had been chosen instead.

Yes, Thundercracker knew that this was indeed an amazing stroke of good fortune. In the short time he had been with the Decepticon faction, he had proved himself enough so that no one less than Megatron himself had deemed fit to give him this opportunity. And Thundercracker was fully determined to live up to the high expectations that now rested on his shoulders.

"Very well then. You're excused; I'll take it from here." Starscream said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

The other officer saluted and turned sharply on his heel, as if he didn't want to stay a second longer than necessary. Thundercracker almost jumped when the door was closed behind him, leaving him alone with the imposing mech, who turned his full attention to the nervous flier.

"I've heard a lot about you," the Air Commander said, abruptly and to the point. "Apparently you've caught the eye of the right people around here with your flying skills. Even Megatron is impressed with you."

Thundercracker wasn't sure if he should acknowledge the praise or not. The way the words had been said made him doubt that they were meant as praise in the first place. Mockery was more like it.

"But that is of no concern to me. The only thing that matters is how well you will perform while a member of my trine. Any achievements you've made so far are null and void; you're going to start from zero and prove yourself to me. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Cloudstriker was a bit like you," the officer continued, as if he hadn't heard Thundercracker. "Inexperienced, but still managed to impress his officers enough to get the chance when another of my former wingmates was killed off. He didn't last very long though. His promotion went to his head and he got cocky, and an Autobot gunner blasted his very spark out." The words were covered in contempt. They were not spoken by someone who mourned the loss of a comrade, but someone who despised the obvious failure of a subordinate.

Red optics bore into Thundercracker, drilling holes into his frame. "I expect better than that from you; a lot better. Or I will deal with you myself. Do we understand each other?"

"Yes, sir," Thundercracker repeated, wondering if he was going to regret his quick promotion. Despite the brief time he had spent in the other's presence, he was already certain that he didn't like the Air Commander one bit.

"Good," Starscream acknowledged after giving the blue and white Seeker another scrutinizing stare. "Then there are other matters we need to attend to."

The Air Commander moved forward, stepping out of the shadows he had been standing in. Thundercracker was certain it had been a deliberate strategy that allowed him to undisturbed gather his first impression of the new recruit, while himself remaining half-hidden in the gloomy darkness.

As the distance between the two was closed, Thundercracker finally got a good look at the officer. Even though Starscream had the same generic Seeker frame like him, he still stood out like red in an ocean of green. His lips were curled in what seemed to be a perpetual snarl, and the look in his optics was disdainful, as if everything around him was unworthy of his presence. His entire demeanor gave the illusion that he was looking down on Thundercracker from above, and the other mech had to look twice before he was convinced that the two were really the same height.

The proud, defiant facial features told the same story as the words he had just spoken. The same story as the rumours and talks Thundercracker had overheard from the other Decepticons. Starscream was a vain and self-loving mech, no doubt about it. He carried himself in the same way someone fully convinced of his own superiority would, no failures or differing opinions capable of making him think differently.

The Seeker resisted the impulse to take a step back, the sudden closeness disturbing. But he didn't move, remaining on the spot as if he had been welded to the floor.

"I'm sure you've been informed about the purpose of your visit here? Other than getting acquainted with your new commanding officer?" Starscream drawled.

Indeed, Thundercracker had. He still remembered Steelfire's words as he explained the reasoning behind how things were done in the Decepticon army: A trine will not function properly with three individual members; they have to be a team, an entity. And there is no better way to make sure of that than having a bond forged between the wingmates.

"I have, sir."

Starscream smiled. It wasn't a smile that exuded happiness or friendliness; it was just an upward movement of the corner of his lips. "No need to call me 'sir', you're to become part of my trine now, so let's shed such unbecoming formalities," he offered curtly.

Starscream's trine. Of course, he was Air Commander, not to mention Second in Command, so referring to it as such was perhaps natural. Still, Thundercracker couldn't help but think that that was how Starscream would have thought of the team regardless of whether he had been its commander or not.

"As you wish," Thundercracker acknowledged. It was clear that the concession was only a formality and not meant to truly renounce any of the difference in rank between them. Starscream would remain as distant as ever, his trinemate far below him.

"Then let's get started." There was a hint of impatience in his voice, accentuated by the nonchalant shrug that followed, as if the awaiting procedure was nothing but an annoying waste of time that could have been spent on more productive things.

The Air Commander gestured at Thundercracker to follow as he walked up to an ornate cabinet that decorated the far wall. Like so many other things in the room, it was rather gaudy, bordering on what was appropriate furnishing in an officer's quarters. Starscream trailed a finger across one of the meandering lines of Cybertronian print that adorned it – it was too dark for Thundercracker to make out what it said – before he opened the cabinet door. A black hand reached into the darkness and emerged again holding a pair of cubes. One of them was unceremoniously handed over to Thundercracker, and he automatically accepted it before he had even registered what it was.

The hand reached back inside, and this time it came out grasping what looked like a container of high-grade energon. As Starscream removed the lid, Thundercracker could feel the reek from where he was standing; no doubt this was strong stuff.

"So, let's get ourselves comfortable," Starscream said as he nodded towards the berth next to the cabinet, the movement causing a small trail of high-grade to run over the canister ridge. Thundercracker obeyed, legs oddly heavy as he sat down where the other had indicated.

Starscream positioned himself on the berth beside the blue and white Seeker, letting out a contented sigh as he poured the almost-liquid into the awaiting cubes. "This is some good high-grade, you'll definitely like it," he said appreciatingly.

Thundercracker only watched the pinkish substance as it swirled around, glowing with an eerie fluorescent light. As the other mech continued to praise its qualities, Thundercracker wondered briefly if the almost ghost-like effect was caused by the high-grade itself or if energon always looked like this in poor illumination. He had never noticed it before.

The meandering movement of the liquid was mesmerizing, and he continued to stare at it. Round and round it went; little currents being caught up by larger ones, only to break up again and create new, rolling waves that got themselves swallowed up by the surrounding whirls. He fleetingly wondered what it would be like to be caught into a swirl like that, being carried around without any direction or power to stop himself from going wherever the currents were taking him.

The liquid was still swirling as if it had been a stormy ocean when Starscream put the canister back onto the table with a clank. It brought Thundercracker out of his reverie and he looked up.

The other mech was already holding one of the cubes in his hands. "Drink," he offered, although the words sounded more like an order than a friendly invitation.

Thundercracker lifted the other cube and gingerly brought it to his lips, taking a small, prudent sip. The exact strength of the high-grade was still unknown to him and he wanted to keep his wits with him tonight, even if Starscream himself didn't have any similar qualms.

As expected, it was strong, and he could feel the effect on his systems almost immediately. He wanted to put the cube back on the table, but caught the look in Starscream's optics and thought better of it.

He took another sip. And then several more.

When he finally dared to put the cube down it was half empty. Starscream, on the other hand, had almost finished his and leered at his subordinate.

"Not used to the stronger stuff, I take it?"

"I'm not much of a drinker, no," Thundercracker admitted, wondering if Starscream was about to take the opportunity to mock him for this.

"That's alright. Sometimes all you need is to build some tolerance." The words had a bit of a slur to them, as if they were sticking to the other mech's vocalizer, wanting to remain there.

Thundercracker didn't reply. He was feeling a bit dizzy and tried to get his optics to focus on something. There was some energon on the rim of his cube, and he directed his attention towards that shivering drop of liquid, as it seemed to hesitate whether it should remain where it was or continue downwards.

Without warning, a hand placed itself on Thundercracker's arm, squeezing it. The touch was neither ungentle nor soft, but like how one would grab hold of a piece of indelicate equipment one wished to pick up. The Seeker turned towards the touch and was surprised to see the other mech sitting right next to him, shoulders almost touching; somehow he had inched his way close without Thundercracker noticing.

As the energon-reeking breath reached his olfactory senses, he resisted the urge to turn away. He wouldn't have been able to regardless, seeing as how Starscream was now using his leverage to pull the blue and white mech even closer.

"To be honest, I've always found it interesting to bond with a Seeker," the Air Commander said, voice low and husky. If there had been any doubt in Thundercracker's mind that Starscream wasn't drunk, it was all gone when the words were accompanied by what could best be described as a distorted parody of a giggle. "We all look so alike that in a way it's almost like... bonding with yourself, you know?" he continued, and then cackled hysterically as if someone had just told him a hilarious joke.

The disturbing display made Thundercracker wonder how many times Starscream had been through this. Just how many times he had bonded with a new trinemate. The thought was unnerving. He knew that Starscream had been one of the first mechs to join Megatron, and had held the position of Air Commander for most of his service in the Decepticon faction. Surely during all that time there must have been several trinemates that had come and gone, only to be replaced by new ones. And Starscream had been bonded to all of those mechs.

No wonder that the Air Commander was often described in whispered voices as something of a loose cannon and the kind of mech that had more than a few circuits scrambled. Thundercracker could only imagine what it must be like to lose bondmate after bondmate like Starscream had. Even if he hadn't cared the slightest about any of them – and Thundercracker suspected that he hadn't, judging by the flippant way he had talked about Cloudstriker – a bond was still a bond, and having it terminated was bound to be a painful and traumatizing experience. He had heard of mechs that had died after their bondmates had been killed, and even someone like Starscream couldn't possibly remain unaffected.

He sat still as the white arm started to snake its way around his waist. He had already decided to let Starscream take the lead in this, which the officer probably wouldn't object to, if Thundercracker had judged him correctly. It didn't take long until fingers were prodding at the seams of his armour, trying to find their way inside. He off-lined his optics as new waves of high-grade-induced dizziness rolled over him, and allowed Starscream's ministrations to continue.

Suddenly they stopped, and Thundercracker looked up to see the sneering face of the Air Commander looming over him. "You don't seem very enthusiastic, Thundercracker. Aren't you honoured to get to bond with a Second in Command?" There was a vague hint of amusement in his voice.

The other Seeker was about to make excuses, to blame the high-grade that he had been drinking, but the proper words wouldn't come to him. Not to mention that Starscream didn't seem interested to hear any of his prevarications

"No matter, I can handle this myself. You can just lie there if you want," he said, half to himself, and then continued as if there had been no interruption.

Thundercracker tried to relax, but he was beginning to wonder if there hadn't been something else in that high-grade that Starscream had served him. Even if he rarely drank, he did have enough experience to know what an over-energized stupor felt like, and his current predicament somehow felt... different. Not necessarily unpleasant, but there was an underlying quality to it he had never felt before.

True, it could be that he had only tried the cheaper kind of high-grade until now, and Starscream's rank surely gave him access to finer, more expensive varieties that might have a somewhat different effect on the drinker. That had to be it. After all, it didn't make sense that Starscream would slip something into his drink to make him drowsy, as it would only serve to impede the bonding they were about to go through. Why Starscream would serve him high-grade in the first place could be explained as an attempt to make Thundercracker more relaxed and comfortable, but surely there would be no reason to put anything else in it that turned his systems this oddly unresponsive?

Perhaps he was thinking too much about things and should concentrate on the task at hand instead.

He lifted the arm that hung limp at his side and gingerly touched the red and white metal that was pressed to his, half expecting Starscream to swat the fingers away. The only reaction they met, however, was a sudden stiffness as if the Air Commander was surprised at the sudden touch, but it disappeared as soon as it had come.

Thundercracker traced his fingers across one of the armour seams, and then let two fingers slip inside. They found a bundle of wires and ran over its length, back and forth. Again, there was a minute tensioning in the Air Commander, but once more it quickly went away. Thundercracker's other hand found the edge of a wing and explored the white appendage with careful fingertips, rubbing across the metal plating in circles.

Starscream responded by digging deep into the other mech's chassis, invading every crevice with experienced fingers, teasing at the wires. Pressing into the other mech with his body as if he were trying to join them physically together.

And so the two continued. Fingers and hands caressing metal, wires, and armour plating. No words were exchanged between them, no groans or moans of pleasure voiced. Just the moving hands that did their best to tactically stimulate the other participant.

How long they had been going at it Thundercracker did not dare to guess, but he could feel the mechanical stimulation starting to have its intended effects. His spark was reacting within its case, reaching out as if it was trying to find something.

And he knew that that 'something' was another spark.

The feeling was frightening in all of its novelty. He had, of course, interfaced with other mechs before, but he had always overloaded before it went as far as to this. Bonding was a serious matter and becoming so inextricably intertwined with another mech was unthinkable. Unless, of course, you were in a Decepticon military team that required it.

Thundercracker shivered as he felt his spark chamber slowly open, revealing the delicate contents within; his very essence, his inner sanctuary bared to the mech above him. He had never felt so acutely vulnerable before, and only his well-developed self-restraint stopped him from giving in to the urge to cover the opening with his hands.

He fought a wave of rising panic as realization of what was about to take place hit him full on. How could he ever go through this with someone like Starscream? Letting their sparks join, linking himself to the arrogant, unpleasant mech that was now sprawled above him? Oh Primus...

But there was no way out now. It was far too late for him to back down.

He on-lined the optics that he hadn't even realized had off-lined, and the first thing they noticed was that the cover to Starscream's spark chamber had already retracted. The gaping opening seemed to widen as if it was about to swallow the other Seeker in one piece, mercilessly devouring his shivering form. But the bluish glow that emanated from within was strong and bright, pulsing with a vigour so strong that it gave the impression that the spark had a life of its own, independent of it owner. Like the swirling high-grade had mesmerized him before, so did the sight capture his optics, refusing to let go. Unable to tear his gaze away, Thundercracker stared at the glowing bulb as if it contained the answers to all the secrets of the universe.

"So then, looks like we're both ready," Starscream remarked dryly, and without any further ado leaned over the other mech. The words had an utter finality to them that made a chill pass through the other mech.

As Starscream brought his chassis down to meet that of his partner's, spark chamber to spark chamber, Thundercracker's entire frame started to shake. For the first time since he had entered the room, he was truly afraid. Not of Starscream or the possibility that the process might be painful, but of the inevitableness of what was going to happen.

No, there would be no return now.

Their sparks met.

Thundercracker cried out. There was no pain, but instead surprise and shock. It felt as if Starscream was suddenly inside of him, permeating his entire being. And the world whirled around him, twisting into ever-bifurcating currents that swept him along with them as if he had been nothing more than dust to the wind. Or an atom in a cube of swirling high-grade.

Starscream was everywhere. In his head, in his mind, in his spark. Thundercracker could no longer tell where his own essence began and finished, all of it now being tied to the other mech. His inner being was being ripped apart into fine strands that twisted around the other presence, and the resulting joint form was carried forth and juggled around in the maelstrom that now surged around them.

But in all the madness that surged in him and around him, there was something that stood out – a realization that all of this seemed to take place within himself. Not within Starscream, nor anywhere else. And while Starscream was now invading his partner's very spark, his own spark seemed oddly out of reach to Thundercracker. He had thought that he should be able to reach it and permeate it in the same way, but something was stopping him.

It wasn't supposed to be like that. The logic of this strange inner universe he was finding himself in told him that he should be able to gain access to that other spark. He didn't know why or how he knew this, he just did.

It was odd. So strangely odd.

He made another attempt to reach the glowing orb that flickered so temptingly in front of him, seemed to call out to him, but again he met an invisible wall as he tried to reach it. It was like clawing at a glass partition that allowed him to see everything clearly, and yet prevented him from getting any closer to his intended goal.

No, it shouldn't be like this. He just knew it. That spark should be his for the taking, just like his own spark was now being ravished by the other presence. And yet, he was so impotent, so unable to take what should be rightfully his.


Suddenly, without warning, the other presence was brutally yanked away from him. The world swirled and spun again, pulling him away from this bizarre universe. He tried to hold onto to it, but his efforts were in vain. All he could do was let himself be carried by those currents wherever they chose to take him. Whatever fear he had felt at first was long gone and he surrendered willingly to the swirling madness as it dragged him along.

And then he was back. The first sight that greeted him was that of Starscream looking down at him from above, spark chamber just closing.

"You look tired, Thundercracker. Perhaps you should just go into recharge."

The words were tempting, so very tempting. He was utterly spent and whatever energon had been in his body when he came here now seemed to have been drained out of him. He parted his lips to say something, but his vocalizer refused to obey him. Perhaps that was just as well.

The image of Starscream with an unreadable expression on is face was the last thing he saw before he let exhaustion take over and carry him off into a dreamless recharge.

End note: I'm currently looking for a beta reader for this story, so if you're at all interested, please drop me a note!