Title: Claustrophobia

Chapter One: Cave In


Disclaimer: Nope. Don't own it.

A/N: I'm sure this concept has been done over and over again, but I wanted to add my own twist. Partially inspired by the IDW-verse comic Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Defiance, with the opening scene between Starscream and Ratchet. (Those books are horribly overpriced but SO worth it.


Battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons tended to have a sort of preordained script that always ended up with Megatron and Optimus Prime battling head-to-head while everyone else around them took pot shots at one another. Every once in a while someone would actually get badly hurt, and while this was generally enough of a trigger to encourage more enthusiastic combat, all in all these battles tended to drag on after a few thousand vorns of repetitiveness.

Ratchet muttered a few choice words under his breath as he and Bluestreak huddled just barely inside a cave beneath the mountains they were fighting under, avoiding the strafing shots of the Seekers as they crisscrossed overhead. Bluestreak attempted to ease out just enough to aim and fire a shot or two, but was forced to duck back under to avoid getting hit. "You know... Sometimes I wonder if Prime and Megatron ever notice exactly how ridiculous these battles get once they start butting heads," Ratchet scowled.

"What do you mean?" Bluestreak chirped as he looked back over his shoulder at the cranky medic, his rifle still held lightly in his hands.

The CMO sighed. "Look around at the battlefield. The Twins are spending more time arguing than attacking Decepticons. I even saw Sunstreaker take a moment to buff out a scuff-mark on his chassis. The Seekers are doing more aerial acrobatics than shooting. Everyone is just kind of lazing around, halfheartedly shooting at each other while the bigwigs do their typical showdown."

Bluestreak gazed about the battlefield, nodding after a few moments. "Wonder why that is, though? I mean, battles are supposed to be a very serious thing. I know I'm always serious about them, because no one likes to get hurt or see their friends get hurt, and even though I sometimes feel bad for shooting down the Decepticons, I know I have to or they'll hurt my friends--"

"Fell off the track there, Blue," Ratchet smirked.

"Oh, sorry. What I mean to say is, you're right - it almost seems casual. Like the humans would say, 'just another day at the office'. Decepticons are supposed to love fighting, to love causing pain, but even they're not really putting forth much effort. I wonder if anyone else has noticed? It makes it seem so pointless. There are so many battles, but so few of them are actually named, like the battle at Tyger Pax, but that's because so many people died and it was so intense."

Ratchet shrugged his shoulders at the gunmetal gray mech, shaking his head. "Makes the war seem kind of pointless, doesn't it?"

Bluestreak nodded solemnly. "It does." He straightened up slightly. "Well, we can't just let the deaths of so many go to waste." Raising his rifle, he took one last glance toward the skies to make sure he wasn't going to get fired on the moment he left the shelter of the cave and darted back out into the battlefield.

The Autobot CMO watched the young sharpshooter leave, gaze passing over every visible 'bot he could find, instinctively keeping an eye out for serious injuries. Occasionally he glanced over to Prime and Megatron... still hurling the same oaths and insults at each other, still trying to force the other to understand their point. Ratchet shook his head again in exasperation. Would it never end?

A loud, piercing shriek split the sky, causing everything to fall silent for a moment as everyone looked up in surprise. Starscream spun wildly, desperately trying to keep steady, smoke billowing out from his thrusters. Ratchet's optics widened as he saw the Seeker careening straight for him, spinning around to run further into the cave. Moments later he felt something hit him from behind, sending him hurtling deeper into the darkness. Everything was a confusing, tumbling mass of screeching metal and unforgiving rock for what seemed like an eternity. Then, everything went black.

~*~*~

Ratchet onlined his optics with a groan, his entire body bogged down with a heavy ache. He tried to sit up, cursing loudly as his helm impacted with rock. Trying to move himself away, he found his legs pinned. Ratchet bit back another curse, shifting his optics to night vision to better see what sort of predicament he'd wound up in.

What he saw didn't make him feel a heck of a lot better.

From what he could see, he was trapped in a section of the underground cave, which seemed to have caved in. A large, natural slab of rock seemed to be what kept everything from caving in on top of him, propped up by a couple of large boulders.

He nearly didn't recognize Starscream at first... but that was probably because the offlined Seeker was covered in dirt (his natural dusty coloring didn't help) and his form was so battered he barely had a single sleek, smooth line left.

Ratchet tried to activate his comm-link, but received only static in response. The stone must have been blocking the signals... which meant they were buried deep. He had little doubt his companions would be working to dig him out, but what would happen if the Seeker onlined before then? Would he take advantage of Ratchet's helpless state? Should the medic simply shoot the Decepticon Second in Command and save himself the trouble?

Another thought rose up in his processor, recalling the limited information he knew about Seeker psychology. Seekers were notoriously claustrophobic... and there wasn't even enough room for either of them to stand up straight.

Frag, Ratchet muttered mentally. Maybe I'd better put him out of his misery while I have the chance.

But Ratchet was a medic, and the best the Autobots had. He would not destroy a helpless life, no matter how sensible it seemed at the time.

As if to mock his internal decision, the mass of dented metal shifted minutely, and the small enclosure became just slightly brighter from the light of Starscream's fiery optics. "Ow..." Starscream muttered under his breath, gingerly pulling his feet underneath him and moving to sit up. "Fragging slag-spawned glitch from the Pit..." His hoarse, grating voice trailed off as crimson optics locked with azure, the Air Commander and the CMO sizing each other up for a moment. Perhaps he noticed the medic had none of his weapons online, or perhaps he noticed he was pinned. Regardless, he shifted his attention away from the medic and examined their enclosure.

Ratchet could see every servo tightening up with panic even in the dim lighting. He knew he had to distract the Seeker's mind from his panic... Otherwise, the consequences could be disastrous. In his desperation to escape, he might cause the room to completely cave in. "Starscream..." The Decepticon whipped his head around to stare at Ratchet with wide optics. "They'll be getting us out of here soon. It won't be long until you can see the sky again. Until that happens, you need to keep calm."

"Don't patronize me," Starscream snarled, turning his back on the medic to start scanning the stability of the rock bed all around them. What he found wasn't the least bit reassuring. They were essentially stuck here until someone else dug them out... and knowing his faction too well, he knew they were depending on the Autobots.

Ratchet watched Starscream curiously. He knew the Air Commander had been a scientist in his younger years... He had too, but his primary function was a medic. Starscream had been an anomaly... Seekers were typically war models, and having one of their model have a flare for the sciences was next to unheard of. There was no doubt the Seeker had a very powerful processor beneath his helm, and he earned every award he'd gotten in the Science Academy.

Then there was the accident with Starscream's partner, Skyfire. From what Ratchet had heard, after Skyfire's crash Starscream left the Academy and returned to his peers to embrace his core programming. It had been a great loss for the Academy. Even if a lot of people didn't tend to like Starscream much, there had been no doubt as to his brilliance and ingenuity.

"I've already scanned the structure of the mountain," Ratchet offered, ignoring the irritated huff bursting from the jet's vents. "Unless we want the ceiling to come crashing down on us, we're just going to have to sit and wait. Although..." Ratchet glanced at his legs, stuck beneath the rubble, "if you could help me free my legs, I would be most appreciative."

"Right, so you can wait until I slip into recharge before injecting me with something to paralyze or kill me with? I think not." Starscream sneered, sharp teeth bared.

The chartreuse Autobot shook his head in disgust. "You should know me better than that," he growled. Starscream looked a little startled by the statement, then looked away with a curled lip.

"It's been a long time since we were on friendly terms."

"And who was the one to change that?" Ratchet countered, settling back on his elbows. "Listen, we're probably going to be stuck like this for at least a few hours, so we might as well try and get along until then."

The Seeker shook himself, shuddering. "Tch. Until your Autobot brethren uncover us, kill me, and sweep you up into their caring, nurturing arms to coddle you until you get better."

Ratchet tilted his head, mouthplates slightly pulled to one side. "And you don't think the Decepticons will find us first? It would seem to me that their Second in Command's rescue would be high on their list of priorities."

Starscream laughed, the sound screeching, condescending, and overall just painful on the audios. "How long have you been fighting us, medic? You should know the Decepticons better than that. If you can't return to the base under your own power, you don't deserve to go back at all."

The medic's head jerked back, repulsed. "That," he spat out with surety, "is why the Autobots will win. We don't neglect our own forces." At Starscream's derisive scoff, he frowned deeply and peered at the Seeker. "You're smarter than that. What can Decepticon forces possibly gain from that kind of behavior?"

"Weeding out the weaklings, of course." Starscream sniffed disdainfully.

"So by that logic, you're a weakling."

The dust-colored Seeker paused, then shrieked irritably, "Shut up!"

Ratchet couldn't help but laugh, though it was abruptly cut off as the Seeker's claws curled around his throat. Wizened features twisting into a scowl, he glared up at the Seeker's crimson optics, not at all impressed. "Settle... down," he gasped, grimacing at the strain on his vocal chords. "You walked... right into that one..."

Starscream growled down at the medic, tightening his grip for a moment before releasing him, restlessly shifting back to the other side of the small cavern, bent almost double from the low height of the ceiling. "...Are you able to contact the Autobots through your internal communications?" he asked, some small trace of civility in his scratchy voice.

"No," Ratchet replied with a sigh. "You?"

"Negative."

"Well, Bluestreak was in here with me until shortly before the crash, so he'll at least know to alert the others," he mused.

The Seeker snarled deeply. "It was that damn sniper that shot up my turbine and caused this mess in the first place."

"Shame on you for not being vigilant enough."

"Are you deliberately trying to test my patience?!" Starscream shrieked, spinning back around to face the medic. "Do you want me to extinguish your miserable spark?!"

"No, but that brings up a valid point. You're a big, bad Decepticon. I'm a helpless Autobot at your mercy. Why haven't you attacked me yet?" Ratchet quirked an optic ridge.

Starscream hissed, slumping back against the wall. "Because it would be pointless and dishonorable."

"Says the mech who has made backstabbing Megatron into a hobby?"

"Nothing dishonorable about trying to remove a moronic tyrant from a position he should not have." Starscream glanced away, staring at the rock wall, absently running a claw over it. "He is unfit to lead the Decepticons."

Ratchet kept an eye on the Seeker, constantly scanning his systems. He couldn't let Starscream think too much on the position they were in... It seemed the constant chatter was enough for the time being to keep his claustrophobia at bay. "So what makes you think you can do better? You don't seem to command much respect from your peers. Not even your wingmates."

"I am smarter than him, for one. Megatron's plans often have a great many flaws in them, and he refuses to listen any advice I give him. If I open my mouth to try to correct a flaw, I am beaten. If I don't and the plan fails, as it is usually bound to do, I am beaten. It is pointless, senseless violence. Decepticons respect Megatron because they fear him. They do not fear me because Megatron has made me out to be a scapegoat for everything bad that happens, regardless of whether or not it is my fault." Chipping off a piece of the rock, he examined the shard between his claws, mouthplates twisted into a scowl. "You have to admit, the Decepticons would be a far more frightening force to deal with if they were ruled by one who had the intelligence to back up all that firepower."

Ratchet nodded. "You're right. They would be." He paused. "Why did you join Megatron in the first place? While we weren't exactly close, we were at least friendly and respectful of each other."

Starscream growled quietly, shuttering his optics. "Loyalty. It was what Megatron commanded of me. I had no idea at that point just how obsessed and insane he'd become... and by the time I started to realize, it was too late to switch sides."

"But you can switch sides, Starscream," Ratchet encouraged, sitting up slightly.

"No. I still believe in the Decepticon cause, I just don't agree with how it's being run." He paused for a moment, then turned his head to snarl. "You're using my entrapment here to try to goad me into giving away information, aren't you?!"

"No, Starscream. I'm trying to keep you distracted from our entrapment so you don't go into a panic and start bringing the place down around our heads," Ratchet responded truthfully, his tone flat.

The Decepticon paused at that, growling softly. "I don't need your distractions. I am perfectly capable of remaining calm on my own."

"Do you want me to stop talking to you?" Ratchet asked snidely, bright blue optics narrowing.

"Yes!" Starscream snapped automatically, then paused. The silence stretched on for nearly a breem before he crumbled, and whispered, "...No." Hunching in on himself, his wings quivered as his optics darted around the enclosure.

Ratchet sighed, glancing back to the rock trapping and crushing his legs. "Well, Starscream... Since we're likely going to be stuck here for a while, I do know of something you could do to pass the time and keep that Seeker claustrophobia at bay. And I promise you I won't attack you unless you attack me first."

The Seeker fidgeted, then grumbled loudly and rose up to crawl back over to Ratchet, examining the large boulder which pinned the medic's legs. It was definitely one of the boulders that was supporting the large slab from coming down over their heads... so he couldn't simply break it apart. But if he carved away around the medic's legs, sticking to the natural grain of the stone so it didn't crack...

Ratchet didn't much like the look of the cutting laser that Starscream's hand morphed into, and let out an indignant squawk as the Seeker moved to crouch over him facing his crushed legs, carefully starting to use the laser to cut into the stone. "Quiet," Starscream muttered, optics narrowed in concentration, "unless you want me to accidentally crack the boulder and cause another landslide."

The medic obediently fell silent and lay back so his face wasn't quite so close to the Seeker's abdominal plating, turning his head to the side to watch him work. It was a thoroughly awkward position, but there simply wasn't any room to do it any other way. Humans had a rather strange name for such a position, though it was used in sexual reference. They called it 'sixty-nine'. Thankfully the Seeker was large enough where Ratchet was left with a face full of his cockpit and abdominal plating rather than his codpiece.

Starscream carved away pieces of the rock little by little, occasionally letting out a soft, resonant hum of contemplation as he shifted to adjust to a new angle or tried to decide where to slice next. Ratchet had turned on his headlights to give Starscream more light to work with, and the Seeker seemed to appreciate it, as the tension in his frame had lessened. The Autobot couldn't help but glance up at the cockpit above his head, looking through the glass at the pieces and parts buried within. One of the oddities of Seeker anatomy placed their spark chambers beneath their cockpits, and while the material covering it looked transparent and thus, fragile, it was of a deceptively strong make. There were other parts of him partially obscuring it from view, and the cockpit itself tended to reflect light and make glimpsing what lay beneath difficult, but when the models first came out there were quite a few who found such designs scandalous. There were also plenty others who found the teasing glimpses very exotic and sensual, but those who attempted to take advantage of a Seeker found out very quickly that the slender, graceful war models were not to be trifled with.

Ratchet jerked slightly in surprise as Starscream's clawed servo lowered to his thigh, firmly pinning it down as his laser cut closer to his leg. The servo clenched minutely in response to the jerk, silently warning him to stay still. Cycling a deep breath of air through his vents, he shuttered his optics and concentrated on remaining very still.

He remembered once when their roles were reversed. Starscream had just returned from a patrol, one of his arms ripped wide open from an attack by an alien species. His voice hadn't been quite as grating, then. Ratchet supposed that the Seeker had Megatron to blame for his vocal processor's glitch. Ratchet had gently jibed him for not keeping his distance from the hostiles, to which the Seeker replied, "I kept my distance. They didn't."

They had chatted while he had been fixing up his arm. They spoke of the recent architectural findings in one of the dig sites. Ratchet had been eager to see what had been uncovered, but Starscream was skeptical. "Probably just another pile of slag like they sent you last time." He had enjoyed talking science with Starscream. Had enjoyed talking with Starscream, period. The Seeker had a sort of snide wit to him that Ratchet could appreciate, but at the same time he always seemed to have a heavy weight on his shoulders. He'd still been struggling with the loss of Skyfire then. Few of the Autobots had known Starscream as well as he had. He couldn't forgive the Seeker for the atrocities he'd committed, but he also couldn't forget the friendship they had once shared.

It took Starscream nearly two hours of careful cutting before he shifted back, taking hold of Ratchet by the shoulders and easing him out from beneath the boulder. Ratchet winced at the state of his legs, mangled and crushed as they were. "Thank you, Starscream," he murmured as he sat forward and pulled out his tools, deadening the pain receptors before getting to work on the damaged wires and cables.

"Hnn." The Seeker shifted back and settled down on his front, his long arms folded and his chin resting on top. He studied Ratchet as he worked, watching the sparks fly. "How bad is the damage?"

Ratchet glanced at him, unable to tell if he asked for the sake of asking, or because he actually had a smidgen of concern. "Eighty-four percent damage to both legs, though the main struts are still intact. The plating has been crushed - it'll have to be removed and reshaped." For a while he vocally described everything wrong with his legs and everything he was doing to fix them as he did it, keeping an eye on Starscream's systems while he worked. For a while it seemed to have the desired effect, but eventually Ratchet noticed the minute twitches running through the Seeker's frame, the way his optics kept glancing upward and the way he shifted restlessly.

"Starscream?" Ratchet paused in his work to look at the Seeker. The mech startled after a moment and glanced to Ratchet, but soon looked away again, rustling his wings in agitation. "How are you holding out?"

Starscream shivered and attempted to rise up a little, head tilted back to stare at the dark ceiling. "...How much longer?"

The medic tried his comm system again, but still only received static. "I'm not sure. We've only been in here for a few hours. It could take them days, depending on how deep we are."

He saw the Seeker wilt and tuck in on himself. "I can't wait that long."

"We have no choice," Ratchet coaxed gently. "What can I do to help you?"

"I..." He growled, but it tapered off into a thin whine. "I don't know. I can't stay here that long. I can't. I need the sky. I need the air on my wings. Not this stagnant, compressed cage." His cannons whirred on his arms, powering up in his agitation. "Maybe I can blast us out. Just keep shooting, keep vaporizing the rock until there's a hole. Maybe that'll work."

"No, Starscream!" Ratchet put away his tools and dragged himself closer to the Seeker, eyes narrowed. "You'll only kill us both. You must keep calm."

He could see he was losing him. His entire frame was twitching with agitation, his thrusters whining, vents stuttering. When Starscream's cannons fired up and he made to raise them, Ratchet lunged for his arms and yanked them down, attempting to pin them to the Seeker's sides. It was far easier to do when the Seeker had so little room to move, but the shriek he received for it nearly blew out his audio receptors.

Starscream was living up to his name, screaming loudly, insane gibberish pouring from his mouth - begging, pleading, sobbing, screeching as the veritable dam burst forth and the Seeker quite completely lost control over his processor. It was all Ratchet could do to hold on to him, to keep his cannons pinned down, to keep him from attempting to blast his way out. At first he tried shouting at him to calm down, then with a calmer voice, but it seemed to have no effect on the Decepticon. With no other way to comfort him (and he didn't dare loosen his grip to try to inject him with a sedative), he simply held on to him and shuttered his optics, hanging on and waiting.

His internal chronometer told him that another three Earth hours had passed before the Seeker quieted down, and with a shuddering sigh, slumped down in Ratchet's arms. It seemed he had stressed and overworked his body enough that he'd slipped into involuntary stasis. He grimaced when he realized that his legs were once again trapped - but this time by several tons of unconscious Decepticon rather than stone. Thank Primus he'd deadened his pain receptors, or he doubted he'd have been able to hold on.

Ratchet looked down at the unconscious Seeker, frowning deeply. He'd have to keep him sedated. He couldn't inject him with anything now, as it would only damage his weakened systems, but as soon as he showed signs of consciousness he'd start injecting him with small doses of sedative... Not to knock him out, but simply to keep him calm. He examined the battle helm that the Second in Command had taken to wearing at all times. Like many Decepticons, they did such things to their features to inspire fear, though in the early days it was meant to help them with their anonymity.

Curiosity got the better of him, and his chartreuse-tipped fingers gently felt over the helm until he found the release right at the nape of the neck. With a slight hiss, the hawk-like battle mask retracted, and Starscream's true features were revealed.

He'd forgotten how delicately Seekers were constructed. They had slender, aristocratic features and optics casings that were unique among Cybertronians. They had a sweeping, upward tilt with thin, delicate shutters meant for shielding the optics from any airborne debris. Starscream was a beauty even among his people, though. Within his programming, Primus had created him to be a master of the skies. His smaller stature (in comparison to other Seekers), though a point he was teased about, made him much faster in the air and his sleek, thin shape gave him the ability to cut through the sky with ease.

Again he tried his internal communications, but this time he gave a start as he could actually make out a reply amidst the static.

//...atch ...ou he...//

//Hello? This is Autobot Ratchet, do you copy?// Ratchet replied, unsure of whose voice fragments he'd tuned in on.

//...Ra...et are y... ere? ...ptimus Pr...//

With what he could make out, he was fairly certain it was Optimus's voice on his comm link... which was good. That meant he hadn't gotten too badly scrapped by Megatron, and that Starscream was correct - it was the Autobots looking for them, not the Decepticons. If he amplified his audio receptors enough he could make out a very faint rumbling sound, likely the Autobots at work digging them out. A pity the Constructicons weren't on their side... He was sure they'd be out much more quickly in that case.

He set to work on what he could reach of Starscream to repair him. It was another hour before communications cleared up enough to be able to make out the transmissions.

//Ratchet, this is Optimus Prime. Do you copy?//

//Better than before,// Ratchet sighed, having wriggled himself and the Seeker far enough over that he was able to rest his back against the rock wall. //It is good to hear your voice.//

//It is good to hear yours as well, old friend. How functional are you?//

//Heavy damage to both legs - they were crushed beneath the rock. Vital systems are all green though. Starscream's worse off.//

Though Optimus's comm link was faint, he could still make out the noise of surprise he made. //Starscream is with you?//

//Yep. Offlined at the moment. He was online earlier. Managed to keep him calm for a few hours, but eventually he lost it and started trying to take down the room around us.//

//What in Primus' name possessed him to try to do such a foolish thing?//

Ratchet wriggled slightly, grunting with discomfort as he looked down at the Seeker in his lap. //Claustrophobia. It's a Seeker thing. I'm going to keep him mildly sedated when he awakens.// He paused, then asked, //Where are the Decepticons?//

//Gone,// Prime replied grimly. //Megatron pulled back after the crash and ordered a retreat. I am still having trouble understanding why they would abandon their Second in Command without making any attempts of rescuing him.//

//According to Starscream, if you can't get back to the base under your own power, you don't deserve to go back at all. Their way of weeding out any so-called 'weakness'.//

//That's preposterous,// Optimus growled. Ratchet agreed with a grunt. //Other than trying to take down the cavern around you, has he attempted to harm you in any way?//

The CMO wondered for a moment what Optimus would think of what he was about to tell him. //No. I even convinced him to excavate me from the rock that was pinning my legs. He did an admirable job.//

There was a pause from Prime's end. //You are serious?//

//Yes. I've been talking with him to keep him from panicking. I think if we weren't stuck in the ground together he wouldn't have been so willing to talk back.// Ratchet faltered for a moment, then asked him seriously, //What will be done to him when we are dug out?//

Silence, then a sigh. //It would be foolish of us to simply let him go. When we are closer to uncovering you, increase the sedatives so we can take him into custody. He will be interrogated once we are back in the base.//

Ratchet flinched. //If you can get him coherent enough to talk. Going from one underground room to another is not going to help his need to be in the sky.//

//I understand, and I regret having to make such a choice, but it is necessary.//

//I know.// The medic sighed, shuttering his optics. //Let me know when you're close. About how much longer do you imagine it'll take?//

//We've locked on to your signal. At our current rate of excavation, we should reach you in approximately twelve Earth hours.//

//Very well. I will see you then. Ratchet, out.//

As silence settled over the comm link, Ratchet's gaze once again went to the currently-docile Seeker's face. He really didn't want Starscream to be further contained once they were dug out. He was starting to become worried for the Seeker's mental health. Primus knows what the Seeker was going to behave like when he next woke up.

Offlining his optics, he kept his scanners on Starscream's vital signs and settled down for a light recharge. Nothing left to do but to wait.


A/N - This is probably the longest chapter I've ever written. Probably because this was meant to be a one-shot, but it was dragging on long enough I'm going to make it a story. Probably only a couple chapters long. Suggestions welcome, and please review!