Starscream onlined in the med bay, aching in some peculiar places.
"You played rough with the wrong mech," Ratchet informed him cheerfully.
"Do you count yourself as one of them?" the Seeker groaned, rolling to one side.
"You stay down on that berth. Yes, I do."
"What have you done to me this time? I feel like slag."
"Thank your trine-mates for that. They took you for quite a ride. It's something I'd keep in mind, if I were you, because I've given them the ability to do that every time you get uppity. Their word."
"Uppity? Is that some kind of human slang?"
"Yes. Look it up on the internet when you can sit at a computer. For right now, you'll be out of my med bay in a couple of days, so I've disconnected all your comms but the short-range available inside the base; your weapons are still in storage. The ache in your left wing -" Starscream, not aware of it until then, winced - "is a particularly nasty flight-limitation device I thought up all by myself, and had Wheeljack make for me."
"But his inventions always -"
"Yes, they do. That'll be inconvenient at a hundred miles of altitude, won't it? That's your limitation, Starscream - a hundred miles in any direction including up, and then the device starts burning a hole in your wing. The farther you get outside the limit, the faster it burns."
Starscream scowled. "And you call yourself a medic."
"I call myself an Autobot first. Bonded to us you might be, and I for one don't envy your bondmates, but you have a way to go to prove yourself. We don't, let's say, suspect you of loyalty."
Starscream, until then propped on his elbows (even a small defiance is better than none), lay back on the berth with a huff through his exhaust. "Was the bonding idea yours?"
"All of it."
"How did you convince my bondmates to go through with it?"
"I told the twins that Seekers have a talent for intense overcharge experiences."
"It's more than a talent."
"Yes, I know, neural networks and the dilution of impact, yadda yadda. I didn't tell them that. I just told them that you would be difficult to overcharge, but worth it when they accomplished it, gave them the tools, and let their deviousness take it from there."
"And the other two?"
"Appealed to their better sides. They have one; they're Autobots."
"My former trinemates?"
That was the moment in which Ratchet began to have some hope that he had not done four Autobots a grave disservice. "Swindle arranged a meeting, and I neutralized the bond chemically, as I did for you."
"Good." Starscream closed his eyes. "They don't deserve to die because I got myself shot down."
"How'd that happen, anyway?"
"Fragging Sunny got off a lucky shot when I was trying to chase down Sides. I missed him once, had him in my sights for the second, then Sunny got me."
"That make it hard to bond to him when the time came?"
Starscream opened the red eyes. "You've never been bonded, have you."
"I tell people I'm bonded to my work."
Starscream snorted. "I'm bonded to mine, and believe me, neither the trine bond, which is kind of lightweight compared to what you and your little buddies put me through, nor any passion you feel for your work, is anything to compare to the mate-bond. When it arrives, it's more like an avalanche than anything else. It takes you where it wants you to go, and you don't have any say in the matter. I would kill for any of them. I would have for Thundercracker and Skywarp. ―If it weren't to protect your patients, or yourself, would you kill?"
"I have in the past, and I will in the future. I want this Pit-spawned war over." Ratchet paused. "Are you trying to tell me you're mate-bonded to the fliers, as well?"
"They weren't mated to each other, and they wanted to be." Starscream smirked. "I got them through that, after the Seeker trine was established, and then, even though I could tell they weren't really Seekers, well, the bonding process took over."
"So you're bonded to them, they aren't bonded to you."
"They aren't Seekers. No sustainable bond could be forged; I think, though, that the bond we all share is much the same as the one I share with the twins."
"Screwed you pretty good." Ratchet gave the former Decepticon an entirely-too-pleased grin.
"Right to the wall." Starscream exhaled. "I can't go back, even if I wanted to. I don't; it's just …" He trailed off, and lay silent.
"Don't want your options limited?"
"Don't put words in my mouth. If I were to get all mushy and sentimental, I'd say I'd rather it had been my choice to come here."
"Might prove to be yet." Ratchet was watching his patient's monitors carefully. "I'm going to get you a cup of energon. After you drink it you should sleep some more. You've got a mating flight to prepare for."
"Ah, Ratchet. You take such good care of me."
The tone was snarky, but Ratchet chose to answer him seriously. "Of course I do. If you aren't an Autobot now, you're the bondmate of four of them. Their welfare's important to me. By extension, yours is too."
"But only by extension."
"Concern for your own welfare is something you'll have to earn from me, Starscream." The medic stood. "Now, since I have other patients, I'm going to get you your energon."
Rule unchanged: do not prod Ratchet.
Starscream, fueled and alone, did some thinking.
A week ago by his own chronometer, he'd been shot down. At that point, he had never questioned either his loyalty to the Decepticons, nor his drive to supplant Megatron.
He had also not questioned his environment. Starscream was not acquainted with any Earth biota, or he might have thought "I was like a fish swimming in poisoned waters."
Here, the waters were not poisoned. In a week, in only a week, the consistent concern, to use Ratchet's word, for him had caused him to leave behind most of the nastiness that once characterized him. Not merely leave it behind, but shed it like an outworn coat.
He hadn't lost his sense of humor, which tended to be pointed at the best of times. But if he had it to do over, he wouldn't have proceeded as he did with Skyfire and Silverbolt.
Perhaps he should tell them that. They weren't Seekers, but they were his bondmates: like Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, who could absorb his more erratic tendencies and laugh at him for them. The other two, however, were of tenderer stuff.
And there were Silverbolt's gestalt brothers to meet and somehow get along with, too.
All in all, it was much less complicated than being a Decepticon.
Starscream reached out through his bonds, was cherished, cherished in return (which surprised the recipients quite a lot), offlined his optics, and slept.
"You what ?" said Optimus Prime to Ratchet.
"I arranged to force-bond Starscream to two sets of Autobots. He's ours now. He knows that."
"Primus. What have you done?"
"I just said."
Optimus put his head into his hands. "I thought I knew you. Ten days in the brig. When you get out, we'll have a little chat about this."
Ten days in the brig? A small price, Ratchet thought, pacing the halls with Ironhide's hand quite firmly around his arm, to pay for Starscream. Even the promised chat, which he knew would more closely resemble a lecture, was no deterrent.
Yes. Sometimes it was entirely worth it to rewrite the rules.