Warning: Read this fic at your own risk. All previous warnings apply.

It is not necessary to read the Footnotes series to understand this fic, but it is set in the same universe. Some of the world-building is involved.

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A/N: From TFWiki –

joor = 6 hours

cycle = 1.25 hours

breem = 8.3 minutes

klik = 1.2 minutes

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The hand moved, a possessive curl of the fingers around a brand-new toy, and air gusted across it again as the gigantic mech brought his hand closer to his face as if to look closer yet. Such a tiny toy to play with.

Thundercracker's fists shook. An intense feeling of satisfaction emanated from the Autobot and crawled over his plating in waves of sound, air, and energy. Part of it was the incensed Seeker's mind imagining the mech's thoughts, but they weren't that hard to figure out in reality. The air itself reflected smug self-satisfaction.

The finger at his back prodded him lightly, for no more reason than it amused the titan, and blue shoulders hunched to sullenly protect his head between his air intakes. As if that would help? This was all a game, and he was a game piece manipulated by the player. He was helpless to stop whatever playing was planned. His damaged wrist creaked as the shaking spread, but the pain from his fingers still couldn't distract him from the magma boil of hatred welling up in his tanks. Making him acknowledge his…status…had burnt the shame deep as a brand, and rage smoked from the fresh wound.


He did not want to answer. He did anyway, because sulking would do him no good when red numbers were counting down toward zero. Statis lock and inevitable death trumped offended dignity every time, and hope was a persistent slagger. "What."

The hand moved again, but this time the plating under actually shifted about. The Seeker staggered in surprise as the metal under his feet moved. Hydraulics hissed, and steam suddenly released into the cool upper atmosphere when two thick sections of armor plating drew apart right at his feet. The subtle pounding of engine pistons became a jackhammer as red armor parted, no longer muffling the noise. A mech this size was run by mechanisms more commonly seen in industrial factories, and revealing them brought the noise up to an almost unbearable pitch.

Disconcerted, Thundercracker took two quick steps back away from the gap. He also took the opportunity to turn enough that he could see the giant's face again. The expression hadn't changed from that possessive, pleased look that continued to make his spark urgently flutter like a bird searching for escape.

The finger on his back moved with him as he turned. Too late to step away, Thundercracker found himself half in the crook of the digit's first knuckle. That was monumentally uncomfortable, and more so because the Autobot bent his finger to make the corner even deeper and therefore harder to get out of.

"Look." The crooked finger ushered him forward. It was very much against his will; the finger segments came up against the back of his wings and forced him step by step toward the hole now open in the broad red palm. "There," the all-pervasive voice urged.

Static filled his vision for a moment, but he shook it away in order to look into the opening. "What are you…oh."

The plating had moved entirely apart, exposing the Autobot's hand structure under the thick surface metal. Far under the surface, an array of colossal tensile cables looked strong enough to crush anything they wrapped around, and they were connected to strutwork made to withstand that kind of strength. The last time Thundercracker had seen girders that size had been on a skyscraper construction site back on Cybertron. The cacophony was similar to that long-ago building site's noise level.

Cables groaned as they tightened, and their fasteners squeaked in turn. The scraping creeeel of cables brushing past each other underlaid the creak of joints in need of oil. They were all stress sounds common to metal beings, but magnified a thousand times beyond that of a regular mech's body. The loudest engine noise chugged from the direction of the wrist joint, which made sense. Thundercracker had minor mobility mechanisms at his major joints that served a similar purpose, but a mech this size had to have proportionally greater support machinery.

Closer to the armor, a glittering mesh of sensor nodes, circuit board arrays, and standard wiring loosely wove into a blanket network. The connection points for where the network linked into or through the armor plating sparkled with live electricity. Where the plating had moved, the woven web was disconnected. It draped down from the sides of the hole, where the unmoved armor plates were still linked up. The loose blanket of mesh covered the bare strutwork underneath like a living robotic skin. Through this 'skin' twined veins of luridly-colored tubes for coolant, lubricant, and energon.

Those energon lines had Thundercracker's full attention. Every one had adjunct fuel pumps attached, pushing the energon out to the minor motors powering the whole hand's motion. They were braced with rings of metal bolting the softer tubes into place against the deeper structure.

Except for one. One tube nearly the diameter of the Seeker's head had been pushed to the surface, just underneath the network mesh. Its brackets gaped open beneath it, bolts loosened and half-screwed back into place for easy retrieval later. Of course. Ratchet hadn't just prepared Thundercracker for this moment, after all.

Suddenly, the drone's inspection of his teeth made a sick kind of sense. It wasn't like he had anything else on him to use for cutting.

"You want me to - " the Decepticon paused and composed himself, because he didn't want to sound as queasy as he felt. When he spoke again, his voice was cool and factual. "I have to bite through the tube and," hunger vanished for a moment under shame because there was no other term that fit, "feed." His tanks gurgled, achingly empty, but scrap metal and iron. What sort of mech slurped energon from someone's lines like a primitive vampire?

"Yes," the Autobot rumbled. "Perhaps an alternative refueling method will be set up in the future. Acquiring you," the tone was a verbal caress, gloating and proud and making Thundercracker feel every bit of the Autobot's enjoyment, "required makeshift measures."

"There must have been easier ways to do all of this," the blue flyer hedged uncomfortably. The finger inched him forward despite the tiny screeep of resistance of his thrusters scraping over red plating. "Why bring in R-Ratchet to cripple me?" It was difficult to even assign that sadistic quack the medic's designation now that Thundercracker knew better.

His thoughts spun off in another direction, furiously working that angle. Alright, so the Autobots were insane fraggers with all the worst traits of the gutter trash filling out the Decepticon lower ranks. If that were true, if this was Earth, if Ratchet was still called 'Ratchet' on an Earth that was nothing like the planet Thundercracker knew, then - what? Did the Decepticons exist here? Were they as bizarrely warped as the Autobots seemed to be? Did he exist here? Was this a world of evil doppelgangers?

He didn't know, but he could speculate. Based on the Autobots' actions so far, the logical conclusion was that someone must exist on this planet who could help him. The giant Autobot seemed to be savoring his 'ownership' of the Seeker, but underlying that pride had to be a fear of Thundercracker just flying away. Ratchet had concentrated on crippling him, of course, because the best way to contain a flyer was clipping his wings. Yet Thundercracker's 'owner' wouldn't have had Ratchet tether the Seeker so closely if there wasn't somewhere or someone within a reasonable distance to escape to. The extremes the sadistic medic had gone to were simply too large for any other meaning.

Except for the possibility that both Autobots were just that twisted. It was apparently a plausible possibility for these Autobots.

"I believe in individual coercion," this particular twisted Autobot said. Although Thundercracker lost some of the words in the buzzing of his audios, the meaning came through. The finger at his back still pressed him forward, and the Seeker was reluctantly going along with the prodding. He needed the fuel, repulsive as the idea was. "You Decepticons find your strength of courage in teams. Take away the artificial support provided by your teammates, and the real breaking point of a mech is revealed. Your wingmates may provide adequate leverage, but training will be done while divided to insure that your obedience is real. Personal motivation will prove more effective in this than punishment of others."

Right, because this wasn't creepy enough? Thundercracker reset his optics, blinking the juddering sensors back into working order and sorting out what had just been said. It was the most words the behemoth had said yet, and also the freakiest. Not only what had been said, but how.

Meaning aside, the Seeker was truly alarmed because, despite the booming voice and deliberate pace of the words(1), they were organized and fully coherent. Gestalts spoke in fitful spurts, often in slow and incomplete sentences. Their conjoined minds had difficulty processing and agreeing on verbal output(2). These had not been the words of a slow-minded merge. They had been words of cold horror, thought out and sadistic.

Realization dawned on Thundercrackerthat the words had been said in the voice of experience. Experience in breaking mechs, and this insane fragger had him, now. He also had Starscream and Skywarp. Which meant that, in all likelihood, Ratchet was down below somewhere doing to them what had already been done to him. Or had he been the last?

"A warning, Thundercracker," that bass vibration poured the Seeker's name through him, making the words all the more ominous, "your wingmates' continued well-being rests on your behavior, but you are also responsible for your own treatment. Cooperation will bring reward. Defiance will bring consequences."

Except for the volume and surround-sound nature of the voice, the words were less terrifying than the titan probably intended. Thundercracker stumbled that last step to the open gap in the armor, but his face wasn't downcast just to peer at the energon line. He hid his expression by turning his face downward. His optics had narrowed in sudden, racing thought, and his mouth settled into a grim line. The Autobot had just given him a key piece of information. The whole picture was sketchy at best, but it was more than he'd seen a moment ago.

No Autobot - at least the Autobots he knew - would be so foolish as to try and use a Decepticon as leverage against another Decepticon. That was a recipe for failure. Selfishness was a necessity in the Decepticon ranks. Self-sufficiency and the ability to coldly cut off personal connections to other mechs could mean the difference between death or life. Depending on someone else left mechs adrift when that person left, be it because of death or treachery. Independence didn't mean not relying on a mech's unit or friends, but it did mean knowing that they might die or turn on him. Being able to operate when all support was taken away was all-important.

Because reality was that war had no room for kindness or compassion. The wise mech knew better than to commit so much to anyone that betrayal would lead to his own defeat.

In war, only the strong survived. The Autobots had found their strength in groups, leading to pathetic, mewling weaklings dragging down their ranks as the stronger mechs were forced to shelter their parasitic dependents. Megatron had gone the opposite route and based his military structure on fierce independence, instead. He valued strength and discipline, and neither of those traits was purely physical.

Decepticons where Thundercracker was from might hesitate to leave their comrades behind, but living to see another orn was more important than anyone else's life. In Megatron's optics, soldiers who survived instead of needlessly sacrificing themselves for the weak, injured, or captive - well, they were soldiers who lived to fight for him again. Someone not strong enough to save himself was a weak spot in the ranks, easy filled by new cannon-fodder.

Thundercracker had flown with Skywarp and Starscream a long time. Long enough that he'd gone back for Skywarp a couple times and not shot Starscream in the back more than a few. That wasn't a matter of dependence on them to the point of weakness; it was a careful calculation of how training a new wingmate could weaken him. There was always a delicate balance of trust in Decepticon flight wings, but every 'soft' connection always had a mercenary trade-off. Thundercracker's relationship to Skywarp and Starscream could be seen as a complicated tangle of cautious friendship, personal interest, and professional ability. Their attachment to him could be measured in a cost/benefit ratio depending on the situation. If they came out stronger at the end of the equation, Thundercracker knew they'd guard his back. The same could be said for how he regarded them in return.

He'd been accused of sentimentality before by other Decepticons because he seemed to ignore the obvious costs. Skywarp could come off as an empty-headed idiot on a good day, and Starscream never had good days. But Thundercracker just smiled and let everyone think what they wanted. His benefits list for his wingmates was much longer than Skywarp and Starscream might make it appear on the surface(3).

That didn't mean he wouldn't abandon them in order to save his own thrusters.

Thundercracker knelt down on the displaced plating, one knee at a time. He grunted softly as his knee joints trembled hard against the metal. The mechanisms inside the hand were unshielded by plating right here, and the resulting thrum was correspondingly larger. It was enough to chatter his teeth until he clenched them. The ambient charge bleeding off the circuit mesh skittered over his cockpit instrumentation. He braced one hand on the edge of the open plating, clenching his teeth harder as the thrum buzzed up his arm and straight into his head, and used the other to reach down into the gap. It was hard to get a grip on the energon line because of its diameter, but he pulled at it when he did. It bent slightly but was too thick to come up to meet him.

The finger started to nudge his back, and he waved a hand in irritation. "I know," he said gruffly, already lowering himself down.

This was going to be awkward. Humiliating was a given at this point, but in order to reach the tubing, he had to put his helm into the hole. His body wasn't made for this kind of positioning. The blue Seeker laid flat on the Autobot's hand and scooted forward enough to dip his head in. Black hands fumbled for a moment, testing how close to the surface the line could be brought, and he slid forward a meter more. His cockpit was still on red armor, but his head and shoulders were now in the hole. His canopy's pressure sensors complained that he had to balance on it, but what else could he do? He didn't have the best flexibility at mid-torso.

His hands closed around the tube and brought it up to his face, but he hesitated.

The numbers were counting down very fast. He didn't want to die.

His lips flattened into an unhappy frown before they reluctantly parted. His optics shut off, because like the Pit did he want to watch the tube dent and deform as his dental moulds fought to puncture it. Thundercracker bit down, and the red finger that had been prodding him along stroked very, very gently along the tiny Decepticon's body.

Crimson optics lit back online at the intimate touch, and the lips now pressed against the soft tubing peeled back to bare half-buried teeth in an angry snarl. He'd cooperate, Autobot. He'd cooperate, because the red numbers counting down on his HUD were in the single digits now, and he didn't want to die. He was desperate and not about to deny that the pre-processed energon rushing down into his starved tanks felt like salvation. It felt so good, in fact, that he couldn't help but groan and squirm a little as sudden energy influx and intense contact-vibrations sent his whole body humming.

His remaining secondary tank came online instantly, warned by the grade sensors in his teeth that the energon coming down his intake was of a high enough quality that it needed minimal processing before being shunted off to various needy systems. The twelve tanks he should have had for the different grades required for his systems were, for Ratchet-caused reasons, no longer present. The grade quality he was being…fed…would suffice for now, but eventually there would be mechanical errors as systems glitched from improperly processed fuel.

That was a concern for the future, however. In the here and now, his fuel pump had been winding down slowly but surely as the red numbers dropped and fluid pressure declined, but now it came back to full power. Thundercracker's teeth pressed a little deeper into the soft tubing as renewed strength almost rushed through him. Fuel spilled into his mouth and dribbled down his chin from the massive pump pressure beating rhythmically through the Autobot's giant body, and he sucked it down his intakes as fast as it poured in. Every time his intakes paused to pass the energon down, the swallowing pushed another dribble out of the corners of his mouth.

For once, he didn't care about the mess. This refueling was about speed and taking as much as he could, not about appearing dignified. Dignity could be sacrificed, this one time. After all, he was a cooperative prisoner, eager to obey if it'd spare his wingmates. Right?

Oh, he'd cooperate. The Autobot had made one grave mistake in judgment, and Thundercracker had every intention of surviving to take advantage of that mistake.

A pang of what might have been regret shot across his spark, but he hardened himself against it. If the Autobots here assumed that Decepticons were loyal to each other, willing to behave or die for their comrades, then it gave him an opening. Yes, Thundercracker held a kind of affection for his trine. That didn't mean he was going to stand by them through this. He was far too selfish and intent on saving his own metal.

Besides, escape could be easily justified. One of them had to get away to find help, or at least warn the other Decepticons of the danger. It might already be too late to save the victims.

Auxiliary systems that'd been shut down by Ratchet's hacking and surgically-induced low fuel status began coming online. His weapons had been brought online as soon as he'd cleared Ratchet's overrides from his command codes, but things like the auto-feed for his ammunition storage had remained shut down. His radar and lidar had been online the whole time, despite his systems trying to shut them down to conserve energy, but only now did the screens in his cockpit begin flickering online. His HUD flooded with green and blue messages, finally blotting out the red errors and warnings that'd been tormenting him since that medical quack's first override.

He clicked through them quickly, directing his fuel tank to shunt more fuel to his flight engine systems and weapons. He needed those at full power as soon as possible.

And then his communication array lit up like a Christmas display. Internal commlinks snapped from nonfunctional to erratically spitting fitful static. Thundercracker's head actually twitched, anchored only by his mouth's grip on the tubing. Half-skewed program malfunctions from the space bridge pulsated neon colors almost painfully across his HUD, and his onboard computer popped up half a dozen suggested fixes that would require rebooting. He didn't have time for that. Corrupted data still plagued the whole network, and system boards bleated refusals as he automatically flipped through the channels in a search for the encrypted wing channel.

He wouldn't hesitate to leave Starscream in the lurch, but he also wouldn't hesitate to get his wingleader's help! Primus, right now he'd pay credits to borrow some of Starscream's quick planning.

Instead of Starscream, Skywarp screeched onto the short-range Decepticon communications channel in a burst of panicked shrieking.

*" - get this psycho away from me! I repeat, this is Skywarp of the Decepticon Elite! Can anyone hear me?! I've been grounded and need immediate emergency assistance - Thundercracker!"* Nobody had ever sounded so happy to have Thundercracker's identification code ping onto a channel. *"Thundercracker, where the frag are you? Nevermind,"* Skywarp dismissed that for a more important question. *"Where am I?"*

Skywarp was alive. Captured, it sounded like, but alive! *"Can you warp?"* Thundercracker snapped back, sucking harder on the energon line and forcing the fuel down his throat intakes until the tubes expanded from the pressure. He needed to fill his tank as fast and full as possible!

*"Do you think I'd still be here if I could?"* his wingmate shot back, half frantic and half raging. *"There's some Ratchet look-alike crazy-bot wrist-deep in my chest turning off everything he puts his hands on, Thundercracker! My activation sequence is still up, but my model projection equations are slagged to the Pit and back. Hacker McClanky Crazy-bot here's locked me out of my own fraggin' scanners! I can't get coordinates, and without them, I can't fix the Primus-fragged equations, so - what the glitchspawnrusted Chevy Novaauurrrgh. Bluhhh-uh."*

Skywarp's end of the channel burbled wetly. It was internal comm.; there was no reason for Skywarp to make a noise that liquid unless that was exactly what he felt right then. That sounded disturbingly familiar, and remembered sensation made Thundercracker's fuel intakes convulse in involuntary sympathy. The fuel in his mouth curdled, almost choking the blue Seeker.

*"Skywarp?"* He remembered the disorientation and sickening lurch as his internals were rearranged, and he sharpened his voice into a knife meant to cut through to Skywarp's ability to stream multiple chains of thought simultaneously. Let part of the black-and-purple Seeker descend into hysteria as Ratchet pulled out his tanks and fuel processing plant. Thundercracker needed to speak with the rest of Skywarp, the part that never stopped spinning data and searching for angles of attack or escape routes. *"Hey, focus! You need to warp out of there right now,"* he snapped, *"before your fuel level drops too low. Are you receiving? Skywarp! Can you hear me?!"*

Even over internal commlink, his wingmate sounded one step from retching. His speech slurred oddly as his attention split between physical nausea, instinctive panic, and the flash-quick parallel lines of thought only someone with his teleportation-mods could manage. *"Yyyyeah? Urrg. Thundercra…? Right. Gotta…gotta have coordinates. Send me something. Anyyyy…anything that isn't heeere."*

Thundercracker twitched his wings away from the finger laying heavy and possessive on top of him. He sent out the broadest ping possible on his weak - that was a relative measurement, because Skywarp's spatial suites were far more advanced - radar and lidar, gathered the assembled data into a concise packet, and sent it over the channel in a matter of moments. *"Grab me and shut off your optics,"* he said grimly. There was no time for Skywarp to be boggled by the huge Autobot holding Thundercracker. *"I'm going to throw us out into open air. Soon as I do, bring us back to your current position."* Skywarp's warp module would log his current coordinates as he left them, or at least Thundercracker hoped so. *"We need that chop-shop doc alive, Skywarp. We're going to force him to reverse what he did to us."* Or cannibalize him for energon and parts.

The energon part, certainly. Two teleport jumps was going to drain Skywarp's stand-by reserves for his module. A third warp to escape the drones and get some distance from the monster Autobot towering above them would probably suck the Seeker's remaining tank dry. It would work, however. Draining the medic might end up being counter-productive for fixing their tanks, but dividing up the grounder's energon would keep them mobile enough to evade capture again. If help were as close as Thundercracker suspected, they just had to keep low to stay off radar, go for distance, and start yelling their heads off for rescue over short-range comms.

Escape was so closer the blue Seeker could taste it.

The data packet was accepted, but Thundercracker's fuel pump stuttered in his chest.

It hadn't been accepted by Skywarp.

The taste in his mouth turned sour so quickly he nearly gagged.

*"Ah-ha! So that's what this mod does,"* a cheery voice broke onto the channel, *"A teleportation drive? Huh. Who'd have thought it. Thanks! Y'know, I was trying to figure out what it was..."*

A broken yelp got through Ratchet's override, but Skywarp's ID dropped off the short-range channel with sudden finality.

Thundercracker's head shot up, spattering fuel as his overfull lines protested the abrupt motion. "Skywarp!" The finger that had been petting him lifted, letting him scramble upright again, and he whipped around to stare up in angry indignation at the gray face filling the sky above him. "What have you done to him?!"

That face seemed vaguely amused by the toy-sized Decepticon's demand. A housecat kitten threatening a full-grown sabertooth tiger might have gotten the same look seconds before being devoured in one bite. "Your wingmate has not been harmed." Thundercracker's jaw sagged a little at that. Obviously, the Autobot was using a definition of 'harm' different than any found in reality! "Ratchet will disable him, as you have been disabled."

"Keep that fraud away from him," Thundercracker hissed, sliding away from the so-superior look being directed down at him. He inched around the open plating. The Autobot brought his head closer in response, a hint of a smile touching one side of his mouth as the intimidated Seeker took two unnerved steps back. "I've done what you told me to do so far! You said my behavior determines how Skywarp is treated - well, I'm cooperating! Leave him alone!" The demands were made in a voice that wavered just slightly, despite the fierce protectiveness spread across Thundercracker's face.

Behind the false bravura turned up toward the Autobot, a warrior's mind went into overdrive. His HUD updated him on operational status and projected fuel levels, taking into consideration the energon he carried between tank and intake. Having his tubes acting as extended reservoirs felt extremely uncomfortable, but it was the best he could do. The calm, deadly calculations of a living war machine ticked through the facts even as he playedup his part for the watching 'bot.

Ratchet hadn't taken out Thundercracker's specialized flight systems; he'd just disabled the obvious access points. The sadist hadn't known what Skywarp's warp module was, either. Apparently, these versions of the Autobots had never seen a teleportation modification before. If that were true, it was a likely bet that they had never encountered Thundercracker's own mods.

You're going to regret treating me like a pet, Autoscum.

"So long as you cooperate, he will not be harmed," the Autobot agreed, and Thundercracker used the excuse of that rumbling voice to stagger another step backward. "Ratchet will not touch your wingmate beyond the needed changes."

'Needed,' my aft.

Wind buffeted blue wings, and the tiny Decepticon gave the curved edge of the huge red hand a frightened look. "I…but…" Bitty black hands rose and ran down the Seeker's face, and radar pings made a panicked tattoo off of the massive mech's plating. Under their cover, targeting sights came up as red optics narrowed behind black fingers. "Alright. Just don't hurt him." His voice dropped to a humble whisper. "Please, don't let Ratchet hurt him anymore."

The plea was so quiet the Autobot tipped his audio receiver closer to hear.

In that instant, Thundercracker leapt into the air. His legs kicked forward and up as he twisted through transformation. Where a hunched, fearful prisoner-toy had stood, a F-14 fighter jet plane spun on its axis and angled, thrusters swinging about until target locks gleamed triumphant white. Specialized engines came into position. They went from offline to online so quickly that the wall-sized visor in the Seeker's sights could do nothing more than light bright blue in surprise.

Thundercracker's signature sonic BOOM! slammed home.

It propelled the jet forward even as the Autobot's head reeled back. A fissure cracked through blue glass like an earthquake opening a yawning canyon in the ground, and Thundercracker dove over the edge. Precious fuel burned, spent too quickly as he forced the inadequate grade of energon to ignite in his flight engines, but only speed could save him now. Broad wings caught the air, and he rocketed away, going for distance. Somewhere out there had to be a means of survival!

A roaring bellow of fury rocked him even in flight, and the sky seemed to rip around him. The very air molecules jittered and danced, slipping out from under his wings and slapping him down with the force of the sound waves. "Fraggit!"

Darkness descended, covering him completely. His radar had a split second to shriek information before the shadow became solid. The blue flyer whipped through a hairpin turn, trying to evade, trying to dart free, but there was another shadow coming up from below. Maybe a faster flyer could have slipped through an opening, but not Thundercracker. His frustrated curse became a static-laced cry of terror only moments before the hands clapped closed around him.

Speed became his mortal enemy. Thundercracker transformed, dumping momentum as fast as he could, almost literally clawing at the air to slow down. His thrusters sputtered, trying to fight air pressure enough to direct thrust forward and slow him down. "Stop, slagging stop! Fraaaaag!"

Proximity sensors helpfully blared warnings about the oncoming wall of the Autobot's laced fingers, and the blue Seeker shouted wordless fear. He threw up his arms in pathetic defense, because he was about to become a smear of flaming fluids. His arms were going to be just as junked as the rest of him: a useless bunch of falling wreckage.

Too fast to follow, much less take advantage of, the hands around him opened again. Thundercracker sailed between the fingers, back into blessedly wall-free sky, but he helplessly tumbled in the swirling wake of vast air displacement happening around him. He fell, and there was no time to pull out into recovery.

Effortless and precise, the Autobot plucked the fragile, tiny mech out of the air by one wing.

It might have been the Seeker's own speed. It might have been a misjudgment on the part of the titan, or just because of the way his cumbersome fingers clamped down on an impossibly small piece of the Decepticon. It might have even been deliberate.

Thundercracker flailed and yelled hoarsely as his wing crushed. "Stop! Stop!" Everything between armor plates blared pain and errors as they flattened and began to tear under the tremendous pressure. "Stop - please, for Primus' sake, stop!"

His struggles weren't even acknowledged. The Autobot lifted his defiant toy up to give him a displeased look. The captured Seeker went very still, hanging at an angle and staring in mute dismay at that expression. It boded ill for him. "That…was a mistake, little flyer."

The Autobot didn't deign to lower his voice this time. Thundercracker's wing bent and crackled as the Decepticon writhed. Red optics flared a pained, fiery orange as each word jarred his processor insensible, hitting it with pounding vibrations of jolting agony.

When the pulses finally ended, Thundercracker raised his head against the throbbing of his cerebral circuitry. The very slots hurt. His limbs twitched, just slightly, and insides of his hands buzzed numb. Fuel drooled out of the corner of his mouth in a steady drip of pink. His secondary tank had forced up his remaining energon in a pressure purge. The fingertips holding his wing were grinding the crimped plating together, and he bucked futilely as they pressed down a little harder. "St…stop. Look, just…stop?" His vision blurred, and his neck didn't seem to be able to support the weight of his helm. His head fell forward again.

That gave him an unwelcome view of the ground far below, and a sound that wanted to be whimper croaked out of his vocalizer. He reset his optics, scrambling through his system menus to reset everything, and tried to be logical. He needed to appeal to the Autobot. What he wouldn't give for a bit of Starscream's notorious charm right now!

"Look, I had to try. It's, uh, a Decepticon thing. I won't - "

"You will learn better," that voice resounded through him. The brutal sonic pulses of sheer noise bulldozed his higher functions. "You will know regret."

No. No, that didn't sound good at all. "Wh-what?" he mouthed, unable to tell if he was speaking aloud through the roaring white noise in his audios. He winched his head back up and swallowed terror along with sour, purged fuel. Oh, Primus help me.

Displeasure had smoothed back into a non-expression that was more frightening than anger would have been. Anger, at least, Thundercracker could have understood and tried to placate. That terrible voice dropped to a sinister, cable-strumming purr as it promised, "There will be punishment. Your wingmates will not be so disobedient. In time."

He looked down, searching automatically. The assault of noise had shifted his optical array out of sync. The ground below had become a green-brown blur, devoid of details. He couldn't see drones or wingmates, and he abruptly stopped looking when his sludgy thoughts registered just what those words meant for him.

"No," he rasped, unashamedly pleading, "wait, I - I apologize! It won't happen again!"

The gray face held its non-expression. There was neither possessiveness nor anger. That would imply some form of attachment to the broken toy dangling from the Autobot's fingers. "It is too late for apologies or promises."

"No!" No, no. Not good! Thundercracker weakly raised one arm, trying to claw at the red fingers on his wing. They tightened, and he kicked in involuntary response to the crunch of pain. "I'm sorry!" He didn't want to die. He didn't want to die! "I'm - I'm yours, right?"

The pitiable plea was duly pondered - and dismissed. "Your wingmates will be more reliable."

Far below, hands and legs pinned by eerily dispassionate Autobots who'd dislocated his wrists and knee joints, vocalizer muted by the crazy medic working inside his torso, Skywarp shivered nervously. Somewhere far away, the sound faint and carried by the wind, someone was screaming.

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(1)Astrotrain spoke like that around new recruits. It was just something any Cybertronian with a deep or different enough voice learned to do automatically. It ensured new audio arrays caught on to the input of sound as well as meaning. Starscream took some sort of evil pleasure in going the complete opposite route and talking even faster.

(2)It also wasn't unusual for the combiner teams to retain enough individuality to engage in arguments while combined. Thundercracker had never heard it happen in combat - probably because combat was the one thing that could force a gestalt into a full merge - but the Decepticons were used to Devastator's torso sniping acid commentary at his own limbs. Both of Bruticus' legs seemed to like singing bad pop songs when not in action, just to annoy his other three components. Menasor was even worse. His separate components were an ongoing test of the Decepticons collective patience on a normal day, but then they combined and kept garbling random vowels as they fought Motormaster for control of Menasor's vocalizer.

(3)Strangely, if the other Decepticons mocked him long or loud enough, they always seemed to get transferred to the worst bases on Cybertron, or take a bad tumble down an elevator shaft. Odd how that kept happening. It was a mystery. Sort of how Motormaster had mysteriously ended up in Earth's orbit after trying to assassinate Starscream that one time. Starscream had been in a strategy meeting with the officers that whole day, and Skywarp had been flirting with Long Haul at a build site. Motormaster had refused to name names, but Astrotrain, Blast Off, and Blitzwing had all sworn they hadn't made the flight themselves, and how could anybody have gotten a big mech like that up there without a shuttle mode? The perpetrator would have had to fly the Stunticon, kicking and screaming and dangling by one leg, all the way up out of the atmosphere…but that was crazy. Who'd want to do that?