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Honorable Hostage

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Thundercracker held it all back, standing stoically on the clean metal ground that served as a border for the factions now that they were back on Cybertron, barely listening as Prime and Megatron exchanged greetings and reiterated the two week time period for the visitation and when they would all be meeting up for the return trade. He ignored everything, standing still, then walking like an automaton until he reached the quarters he shared with Skywarp before the exchange. Then the door closed, leaving him alone with his trine mates.

“TC?” Skywarp asked, and Thundercracker felt that tenuous control snap.

Starscream was closer, so he ended up with Thundercracker’s arms wound around his neck, face buried in his shoulder as he tried not to bawl like a sparkling. He failed of course, the familiar embraces of his trine mates destroying the dam he’d built to hold back all the hurt and loneliness and humiliation.

“What is going on here?” Megatron asked. “Is he crying?”

Thundercracker pulled back, wiping at his face, even as Starscream gave a helpless shrug and Skywarp’s hands stroked his wings. “I’m s-sorry, sir. I’m just-” His vocalizer glitched static, optics flooding. Thundercracker shook his helm, tried to cycle his vents, and apologized again. He noticed Soundwave there too, and scrubbed at his face more.

The visible concern undid him, and Thundercracker stopped fighting it. “Don’t send me back! Please, my lord, I beg of you! Don’t make me go back there!”

They were all silent for a moment, then Skywarp said quietly, “I’ll go instead.”

“What?! No!” Thundercracker couldn’t bear the thought of subjecting anyone else to all that he’d gone through. No, he couldn’t let that happen! “No. It’s fine! I’m fine. Just homesick. I missed you.” He clutched at Skywarp’s arm with both hands until large black ones covered his and patiently peeled his fingers away.

Thundercracker was pulled against a broad silver chest, the back of his helm cupped. Megatron purring comfortingly to him stripped him raw. He might have been able to pull himself together with his trine, but not with Megatron too. He so rarely showed affection through tactile contact. Or at all, really.

Thundercracker was tugged a few steps forward, then pulled down into Megatron’s lap. “Would it be easier, or more… unsettling for you to allow Soundwave to scan your memories?”

Relive the whole thing in something like a half an hour, or try to hiccup and sob out the whole sordid tale for hours? “Soundwave, please.”

Soundwave sat behind Thundercracker beside Megatron, his hand coming up to caress Thundercracker’s helm. There was the slightest pressure to guide Thundercracker to rest his helm against Megatron’s shoulder, then Soundwave said, “Relax. This will not hurt. I will be as brief as possible.”

Thundercracker cycled his vents, exhaling a shaky breath, and then let Soundwave in.

~

Thundercracker let his legs swing a little as he sat on the med berth. Sure, it was immature and fidgety, but he’d been in the slagging Autobot medbay for hours while Ratchet scanned him, and poked him, and prodded him with more devices than he could ever hope to name. The only reason he wasn’t complaining was because it was damn nice to have that one bundle of scarred and fragged wiring replaced, and the medic had even found that pinch in his left wing and repaired it.

He could bear the medical checkup and all the maintenance easily enough. It was just one more part of his role as Honorable Hostage to the Autobots. And they were Autobots. Once he was cleared and all the precautions taken to make them feel safe against the big, bad, scary Decepticon, he’d be their pampered pet for the next four months.

After Prime had accepted the suggestion of a Hostage exchange to help ease the post-war tensions, Megatron had spent all the interim on educating the Decepticons on how they needed to treat the Autobot sent to them, what was expected of them, what he would do to them if they did not live up to the responsibility and honor bestowed upon them. Nearly all of the Decepticons were jealous of Thundercracker, that Megatron had chosen him to get to go be treated with all this honor and attention by the soft-sparked Autobots.

Thundercracker and Megatron spent a lot of time alone together as well, Megatron showing him the old documents he himself had written up long ago based on all kinds of research he had done. Who would have ever guessed Megatron had been such a scholar? Thundercracker knew he’d been a miner before a gladiator. He certainly nailed charisma and public speaking, but where the slag had a lowly miner managed to get such a well-rounded education in politics, history, and all the various cultures of Cybertron, and even a few beyond?

Megatron had said, and Thundercracker supposed it made sense, that if one knew where their people came from, then they could better steer their future. Some parts of the past were worth preserving, and the reinstitution of the Honorable Hostage could serve this new, fragile attempt at peace well. It was why, Megatron had told him, he was choosing Thundercracker. He held rank and value to the Decepticons, but was also one of the few known for his calmer disposition. Megatron placed his faith and trust in Thundercracker’s cool head and patience, and since he had no truly critical ‘job’ yet in their post-war society, he was the best choice for this honor and duty.

Duty, Thundercracker reminded himself as Wheeljack stepped close, some new thing in his hands that Ratchet took after setting aside the tool he’d been using.

Vocal indicators flashed blue, matching the cadence of Wheeljack’s speech. Thundercracker watched them, still a little mentally bored, and not really interested in the new device until Ratchet placed it around his neck.

“Uh…”

“That ok?” Wheeljack asked.

“Not sure.” Thundercracker poked at it. It wasn’t really a collar, he supposed, just a thin circlet that sat just under his collar faring. It wasn’t tight enough to be uncomfortable, or heavy at all. Too thin to chafe.

“It just sends a signal out to the doors to restricted areas,” Ratchet explained. “Places like the labs, or where sensitive information is kept.”

“Easier than recoding every door in the place.” Wheeljack’s fins lit merrily, optics tilting like he was smiling under that blast mask.

“If it bothers you, let me know,” Ratchet said. “It can be adjusted.”

Thundercracker arched an optic ridge, but allowed Ratchet to move his hand away from the… collar?

Well. What the frag could he do? Make a fuss? Whine about a little scrap of metal that could almost be jewelry from some Towerling’s collection?

Ok. Fine, it was weird, but it wasn’t like they were locking him into some thick collar like some turbohound or slave. It was just for security, and Thundercracker knew that most of the Autobots were probably afraid of him. He would accept it. Be calm. They would learn that he wasn’t a threat as they got to know him. No problem. This is why Megatron chose him. Starscream would have thrown a fit. Skywarp would have thrown a tantrum. Soundwave… Well, with his history as a former slave, he’d probably have rightfully flipped out.

In a… Soundwave-y way…

Yeah, that would have been bad, and Thundercracker couldn’t imagine any of the other Decepticons reacting all that much better, then there would go the peace that Megatron really did actually want before they slagged themselves into extinction.

“It should be fine,” Thundercracker finally said, then offered a small smile. “But yeah, I’ll let you know if it rubs or anything.”

Ratchet gave him a nod, then commed Prime to let him know Thundercracker was done.

~

“You’ll be staying here with me. Make yourself at home,” Optimus Prime said, gesturing around the rather sparse quarters. “You’re welcome to use anything in here. I have some datafiles on the shelves. The vidscreen will play Earth movies and television shows from the database.”

Thundercracker frowned a little, optics roaming the rather small space. His rooms with Skywarp were larger and nicer than this. One would have thought the Prime would have a better apartment, certainly he could have gotten one with a separate berth room from the lounge? He paused at the sight of a single, wide berth.

“Wash room is this door.”

“So, we’re sharing?” Thundercracker asked, the words coming slowly.

“Of course. If you’ll excuse me? I was hoping to grab a quick wash before Ratchet commed, but just didn’t have time with all the other preparations.”

Thundercracker blinked, but managed a nod. Prime disappeared into his washrack, leaving Thundercracker to wonder whether he’d been understood. He was all right with sharing quarters, he had for his entire life in one way or another, but sharing a berth? Really? How bad off were the Autobots? Thundercracker thought that things were improving with the end of the war. He couldn’t see how the Autobots, who had long ago accepted the humans and adapted their technologies to their own use, could be worse off than the Decepticons that were only just deciding that, yeah, ok, the weird organics did have some good ideas.

Starscream had been in the stratosphere, drifting in a science-induced rapture since Megatron had granted him permission to start adapting alternative energy sources into energon. The Decepticons had been treated to so many excited, strange, finish-each-other’s-sentences type of conversations from Mixmaster and Starscream, that they had stopped finding it frightening. They had one large building at the opposite end of the city from the Autobots that everyone was busting struts cleaning, repairing, and making livable, but only the mechs that wanted to share quarters still did, and more space was being developed every day.

Thundercracker couldn’t even imagine how much would have changed by the time his return visit home rolled around. They had already done so much in just two months’ time. What more would they accomplish in double that?

So why weren’t the Autobots better off? Why was Thundercracker sharing a room and a berth with the Prime? He had heard that whole ‘keep your enemies closer’ thing, but the same berth? Pits, Thundercracker had helped ready the Autobot Hostage’s apartment. It was nice. And private. Especially compared to this. This was a tiny room, in a windowless, underground, wartime bunker. There were no creature comforts visible.

Well…

Thundercracker eyed the narrow sofa stationed in front of the vidscreen. That was something, and maybe he was wrong about the berth sharing? He was not recharging on the sofa though. Slag that. His wings would have to hang over the side. Even sharing, he thought he and Prime would both fit on the berth. It was big enough, if a bit firm-looking.

Ok, whatever. He could manage it. Megatron had told him that interfacing was common between host and Hostage to build the emotional bond, and Thundercracker enjoyed overloading as much as the next mech. (Unless that next mech was Skywarp, but that slagger had one Pit of a drive, even for a flight model, so he didn’t count.) This was fine. He already knew the Autobots were different, and Thundercracker could handle this. Prime wasn’t even all that unattractive for a grounder. Nice colors, good voice. Big hands.

Thundercracker poked at the datapads on one of the shelves, mostly just looking to see what the Prime found worthy of keeping in his personal quarters for evening reading. He wondered if anything had been added specifically for him, but found nothing very interesting. He knew all about the war, so reading declassified logs wasn’t appealing.

Boredom was really starting to settle in when Prime finally stepped out of the wash room. Thundercracker opened his mouth to speak, but Prime ordered the lights to dim.

“I’m sure it’s been a long day for you too. Shall we retire?”

Thundercracker blinked. Recharge? Already? When the frag did the Autobot get up in the mornings? They were barely into the night cycle!

He was here to fit in, Thundercracker reminded himself. Insurance, student of another culture, and ambassador all in one. He had to earn their trust and friendship before they’d learn to trust other Decepticons.

“Yeah, ok.” Thundercracker crossed to the berth, waiting a moment as Prime scooted over into the place closer to the wall. That was nice of him. It was a minor thing, just so Thundercracker’s wings wouldn’t be at risk of smacking the wall, but it was thoughtful.

Thundercracker settled on his back as the lights completely shut off. It was surprising how disorienting it was. The room smelled different. The temperature was off by just a few degrees, not uncomfortable, but noticeable. The berth wasn’t as soft as his or Skywarp’s, Prime’s systems sounded different, he had that damn collar around his neck and could feel it, and the very energy in the air was at odds with his field!

How the slag was he going to recharge? He’d been expecting his own space, some place that he could be just a little homesick in, pace, stare off at a wall undisturbed as he worked through the emotions and got himself firmly on course, a-

No wait. That was it. This wasn’t horrible or intolerable, or even uncomfortable, it was just a genuinely different situation from what he was used to, and he couldn’t flit off to that place he named ‘home’ whenever he wanted. Which he knew and accepted, and even though he’d tried, he’d come into this with certain expectations based on what the Decepticons were doing for their Hostage.

Thundercracker cycled his vents and forced himself to relax. It was fine. He was fine, and there wasn’t anything unacceptable about Prime keeping him close. Pits, it was probably the Autobots’ way of honoring him. They were trusting him alone with their leader. Sure, Prime could wipe the mats with him in hand to hand, but that was if he saw the strike coming in time. Thundercracker was being trusted, he repeated to himself. This was a good thing. He cycled his vents again, sinking into the thin padding of the berth. That was until a touch bumped his hip, making him jump.

“Apologies. I suppose I should have left the lights on a little to see, but-” Prime cut himself off, and Thundercracker found himself confused again as those fingers that had clumsily startled him wandered over his waist rather than retreating.

What was going on?

Oh.

Wait, really?

Prime snuggled up to Thundercracker’s side, his weight pushing on a wing a bit uncomfortably, and nuzzling into his neck. Thundercracker laid still, at a bit of a loss over how to handle this newest of new developments. Especially when Prime pushed up over him, his knee wedging -gently enough not to be labeled as forceful or demanding- between Thundercracker’s thighs. His hands were… not very steady on Thundercracker’s wings, and that was almost… cute. Was the Prime nervous about this?

Some of the tension eased from Thundercracker’s frame. It was a little fast, but the awkward caresses and tentative touches were rather endearing. In a way. Prime was shy, or maybe even worried about pleasing Thundercracker in the berth? That really was kind of cute, if not arousing.

Should he stop this? Because it was really plain what was going to happen as Prime’s hand groped at his panel, and Thundercracker wasn’t sure he was quite that ready. Not physically for sure. Of course, maybe Prime would do more for him? He allowed his panel to auto-release, spike extending out of habit, but Thundercracker was guessing that it would be his valve getting the attention, and, yep, there went the fingers around the rim. Ok, that was nice. A little more play like that and he-

There was a click in the dark, then Prime braced over him on one arm, the other hand guiding his spike. He slid in far easier than he should have. Thundercracker had been with Megatron multiple times, so he knew Prime wouldn’t hurt him once he was ready, but he wasn’t ready. But it didn’t hurt.

The realization could have knocked Thundercracker right out of the sky. Prime had slathered a synthetic lubricant onto his spike!

Thundercracker reeled in shock as Prime rutted over him with quick, shallow thrusts. He raised his hands, gripping Prime’s shoulders to brace as the pace picked up. Any arousal he’d begun to feel was gone. This was… This was…

Prime grunted, a hot gush filling Thundercracker’s valve as he shuddered, then gasped.

There was a pause, then, “Good night,” as Prime climbed off of him.

Thundercracker lay still, staring into the darkness above him as Prime moved as far away as he could. Fluids leaked out, making his plating crawl and a shudder ripple through his frame.

What. The frag. Had that been?!

Thundercracker muted his vocalizer against the demand. He couldn’t end his first day by glitching the Prime’s audials over a little poor interfacing. What if Prime was just a really bad lover? Would he be insulted to know of Thundercracker’s dissatisfaction? Maybe he just didn’t interface all that often? The Decepticons had never really uncovered a mech the Prime was particularly attached to more than the others. He might actually be rather inexperienced, in which case Thundercracker would only embarrass and humiliate him by calling attention to his severely lacking berth skills.

Slag. Ok, well maybe he could just subtly guide and teach Prime what to do for him? He was going to be here for four months. If Prime was willing to just dive into interfacing the first night, then it stood to reason that this was going to happen again. Thundercracker would carefully, gently just… nudge Prime in the right direction for pleasing him in the berth. Show him how wonderful and frelling ecstatic overloads could really be if the mechs involved put forth a little more effort.

That went for Thundercracker as well. He was a bit taken off his guard, and that could be forgiven too. All right. He could still handle this. He might not know what the frag Prime was thinking just poking his spike in like that, but he could work with this. For peace. For Megatron’s faith in him. For the lives he saw every last one of the Decepticons trying to build for themselves after a too-long war. He could do this.

He… would wait until he was sure Prime was recharging then clean up though. No way could he rest with the cooling fluids under his aft like that.

~

Thundercracker sat alone at a table in the Autobots’ common room. Some Earth movie played in the background, but it had lost his attention pretty quickly. He had been tempted to strike up a conversation with the mechs watching it, but they looked really absorbed, so instead he sipped his energon and wondered why the Prime didn’t rate his own private dispenser.

The Decepticons, for the most part now, all had dispensers in their rooms. There was something of a limit per day, of course, but everyone had access, and that limit verged on the ridiculous for anyone not trying something stupid, like getting cratered on nutrition grade. It was one of Megatron’s first priorities. Never again would a mech starve. They’d all had to live so spare during the war, but energon for the Decepticons and energon to send home had always been the whole point of the raids on Earth.

Thundercracker was glad those days were done. He was an elite Seeker, not a petty thief.

Not that a mech would guess it with that sneer Mirage was giving him. Thundercracker smiled anyway, then a little wider when the little yellow minibot approached. What was his name? Slag it. Bug- something, right? He should really go over his datafile on the Autobots again. He should have memorized it before leaving, but he’d been a little busy with the attention of his trine and leader, and even a few others.

“Hi,” the yellow Autobot said. “I’m Bumblebee.”

“Thundercracker,” Thundercracker replied to be polite. “Ni-”

“Don’t waste your time, Bee.” Another minibot appeared. Cliffjumper. Thundercracker knew his name. Angry little slagger, but Thundercracker would still be polite. He was combatting how many vorns of compounded hatred?

“It’s not a waste,” Thundercracker said, tone pitched to be soothing.

You’re a waste!” Cliffjumper sniped back. “It’s sick that poor Optimus has to fuck you.”

Thundercracker’s optics went wide. He knew that word. Pits, the Stunticons used it constantly, but he was shocked to hear it from an Autobot in reference to their own Prime. And how would they know what he and Prime had done last night? What felt even worse than the idea that Prime would interface -badly- and then go telling, was how all the Autobots were agreeing with Cliffjumper. Bumblebee was hot pink in the face, and suddenly unable to look at Thundercracker.

“You know,” Thundercracker began, tone still as even as he could make it. “Prime does-”

A finger jabbed against his cockpit. “You keep your filth to yourself, Decepticreep! We don’t want to hear it!” The room was suddenly filled with the other mechs’ loud agreement, and more than a few suggestions Thundercracker wasn’t about to take.

Thundercracker inhaled and exhaled slowly. It was just his first day, he thought. They just weren’t handling it well, and if they weren’t even going to let him remind them that Prime didn’t have to interface with him, then he wasn’t going to convince them of anything. He rose, using his height and mass to move Cliffjumper back, and then calmly quit the room. Catcalls followed Thundercracker down the corridor, but he very carefully kept his wings held steady, pace even, and walked away. He would help nothing by reacting, and this was why Megatron had chosen him. He could walk away from a potential fight, pride and ego intact because he understood the bigger picture. He understood what Megatron wanted, but not only that, he wanted peace too. He believed with his whole spark that it was time to move on, agreed with Megatron that peace was attainable. There were so few of them left that fighting was plain stupid. They weren’t getting anywhere that way, so it was time to try something new, and Thundercracker was proud to be a part of it.

Thundercracker would think on it. Maybe he should sit more to the side, be less in their faces with his presence? He would take a datapad too, to read. Slouch. Yeah. Look less threatening and huge scary Decepticon. That would probably help and he was willing to do whatever it took.

~

Thundercracker was bored and also having trouble shaking his disappointment. He’d tried to slow Prime down the previous night, but it had gone exactly as it had the last time, and Thundercracker was left lying in a wet spot, unsatisfied and only vaguely aroused still.

He didn’t understand the synthetic lubricant. If Prime just gave him a chance, gave him more than a few cursory gropes, he could warm up enough on his own that it wouldn’t be needed.

Shaking the thoughts off as best as he could, Thundercracker continued toward the communications room. He wasn’t sure where Prime was, but if whoever was in there couldn’t help him, they could at least reach Prime. Thundercracker needed a good flight, even if it was just five minutes. Even if they were more comfortable with him going with an escort. He didn’t care, he just needed to get out and clear his head for a little, stretch his wings, feel the wind whip past his plating.

Thundercracker stepped through the open door into Communications and smiled in greeting. “Hi. Can one of you-”

“What are you doing in here?! What are you up to?!”

Thundercracker blinked, actually taking a step back as Red Alert stomped toward him and launched into nothing less than a full interrogation. The only thing he was lacking were the shackles and shock-stick being shoved under his plating.

“Whoa! Hey! I just wanted to see if someone could clear me for a quick flight.” Thundercracker held his hands up, palms out, and forced his wings from lifted and sharply angled, to dipping in a more submissive, acquiescent gesture.

Red Alert paused, mouth working wordlessly for a moment as though so affronted he didn’t know what to say. “Fly?” he finally asked, the word coming out dripping with incredulity.

Thundercracker chose to ignore the tone, and offered a tentative smile. “Yes. Just something to stretch my wings a little.”

Red Alert continued to stare and so did the other two mechs, ignoring their monitor banks. Thundercracker wasn’t sure what else to say. Was the idea of a Seeker wanting to fly a little so foreign to them? What about Skyfire? What about the Aerialbots? Surely they went flying occasionally just for the pleasure of it. Pits, even at his worst and most unbalanced, Megatron understood a flyer’s need to just get out for a little while. Starscream always listed it as a ‘training exercise’, but everyone knew that loop-de-loops and tag weren’t exactly training exercises.

“You are not allowed to fly.” Red Alert’s words came out slowly, and Thundercracker couldn’t stop the frown.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a hostage?” The ‘duh’ rang from Blaster’s question, but Thundercracker managed to rein himself in and only tilt his helm in a confused manner.

“I’m hardly going to escape. This is a position of honor.”

Red Alert snorted. “You are not authorized to exit this base.”

“Could we ask Prime?” Thundercracker tried. He didn’t want to push, but he couldn’t see why he’d be so restricted. “I understand security and all, so an escort would be acceptable, I just-”

“Are you out of your mind?! I’m not pulling one of our Autobots off their assigned tasks just so you can go attempt to escape!”

“Escape isn’t even something I considered,” Thundercracker assured.

“Oh really? You were quick enough to deny that’s what you wanted to do.”

“I- What?” Thundercracker shook his helm. “No. I have absolutely no intention of trying to escape. I-”

“Good! Then you have no reason to fly.” Red Alert crossed his arms over his chest and glared up at Thundercracker as if daring him to continue to argue.

Thundercracker met his gaze for a moment, then nodded. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t gone a long time without being able to fly before, it was just… restricting not to have the option. “All right,” he said at length, and turned to leave. The muttering started before Thundercracker was even a step beyond the door, but he ignored it.

It’s too soon, he told himself. He would give it a few days, maybe a week, then speak to Prime.

No. Damn, he couldn’t do that! That would only insult Red Alert if Thundercracker went over his head. Slag it! Ok, he’d just have to manage without flying for a while. Once they learned to trust him, once he’d had a chance to actually explain that he was genuinely honored to be their Hostage, they would understand. After all, the Autobots thought the Decepticons were the ‘bad guys’ in the war, and while Thundercracker knew damn well there were some true dirt bags on his side, and even he had done a lot of things he was ashamed of, the Autobots thought they were a lot worse than they were.

The old Causes didn’t matter anymore, however, only working his way past their fear and maintaining the peace. If giving up flying for four short little months was how that was accomplished, then so be it. Thundercracker would survive, and everything would be better because of it. Slag, it was barely even a sacrifice when he really thought about it.

~

Thundercracker clutched at Prime’s upper arms, hips rocking up and back, trying to just feel enough, but he couldn’t. It was incredibly frustrating, especially as Prime grunted, his hot fluids spilling over nodes that had only just began to gather charge inside Thundercracker’s valve.

Thundercracker forced down a growl, and focused on making the tension drain from his limbs as Prime hurried off of him.

“Good night,” was muttered barely loud enough to be heard, but tonight Thundercracker just couldn’t find the pity for Prime’s sad lack of prowess.

He lay silently in the dark, wondering if he shouldn’t just go ahead and work himself over. The idea didn’t really appeal, not there on the berth, and not even alone in the washrack. Thundercracker tried to salvage the charge anyway since it’d been over two weeks since his last overload. He should want it. He thought about Skywarp, and Starscream, and even Megatron, who was large and heavy with a generous spike, and never needed to pre-lube-

Yeah. Never mind.

Thundercracker sighed, did his best to ignore Prime, who was ignoring him and not recharging yet, and rolled off the berth to go wash up.

~

Thundercracker was unutterably bored. The datafiles in Prime’s quarters were dry, boring texts, mostly on religion or politics, or even worse, history the way the old Council had wanted it remembered, not how it had actually happened. Thundercracker was all for letting a mech believe in Primus if he wanted to, and figured it made sense that Prime would since he had the Matrix and all, but he didn’t want to read about it. He didn’t want to read about old political policies that he really hoped never got implemented again, and he sure as slag didn’t want to choke on the pretty lies about how perfect Cybertron was until Megatron corrupted so many into destroying it.

Thundercracker was old enough to remember how bad things were before the war. He thought a philosophical discussion with Prime could be nice, seeing as they were both level-headed mechs, intelligent, patient, but nope. Prime didn’t want to talk to him. He stayed away until it was late enough to recharge, then came in, hid in the wash room lubing up before poking at Thundercracker fast enough to overload, then rolled over and pretended to pass out.

After weeks of the same thing, day in and day out, Thundercracker needed a change of scenery before he went completely insane. He was just wandering around, trying to pretend like he wasn’t avoiding the Autobots that were still so… chilly, he supposed could be the right word, toward him. They weren’t really hostile, but they sure weren’t making any sort of effort to be friendly. Thundercracker wasn’t sure what to do about it. He walked away from anything that felt like the Autobot involved was trying to goad him into reacting, but it was beginning to feel like retreat.

“Primus, I know!”

Thundercracker stopped short before the corner, trying to match up the voice to the face. He had studied his own datapad until he could recognize every Autobot known to the Decepticons on sight, but their voices were still difficult. Prime he would know anywhere. Ratchet was easy. Jazz and Wheeljack and Ironhide all had very distinctive accents, but most of the others were indistinguishable unless Thundercracker could see them.

“I hope he’s doing ok,” the same voice continued.

“I don’t see how he possibly can be,” another voice stated. “He’s over there with those ‘Cons!”

“I just don’t understand how Optimus could have sent Blue,” a third spoke, voice ringing with concern and sadness. “He’s so… I don’t know. I know Bluestreak’s not weak, but he’s so traumatized. Just how could they choose him and not someone that could hold up under Decepticon torture better?”

Thundercracker frowned. Torture? Bluestreak was a Hostage, not a prisoner of war. Thundercracker shook his helm, weight shifting to go join the conversation. He’d helped set up Bluestreak’s suite, had been at every lecture Megatron had given them about how to behave with the Hostage, so he was fairly qualified to ease their concerns, but the next words brought him up short again.

“Thundercracker’s fragging lucky.”

“Right? He’s practically free, getting to walk around the base, and get his own energon. We’re probably lucky he hasn’t attacked anyone by now.”

Lucky?! Attacked? What? Thundercracker shook his helm, hardly believing what he was hearing. They sneered at him, gave him the cold shoulder, insulted him, tried to instigate fights!

No wait, they were lucky he hadn’t decked anyone yet. Didn’t they want the war to stay over?

“Well, we can’t just stick him in a cell. He lives here now. Prime’s way too soft-sparked to just lock him up.”

“No, but I can’t see how having to share a berth with a ‘Con is actually a good thing for Optimus.”

The sound of plating rattling in a disgusted shudder actually stung Thundercracker. He was a Seeker. They were the prized berthmates of Cybertron. Pits, Thundercracker himself, when much younger and stupider, had allowed himself to play the part of a pampered pet in the Towers! If Prime would just give him a slagging chance to heat up before rutting over him for two minutes every slagging night, he might even get a chance to show off a few of his better interfacing tricks.

“Yeah, well you couldn’t pay me enough to ‘face a ‘Con.”

Thundercracker wanted to stomp around the corner and say no self-respecting Decepticon would interface with him, but froze. Slag. No. No, self-respecting Decepticon- no self-respecting mech of any faction would put up with everything he had been, but he had to! He eased back a step, then another, mind spinning.

No, he just had to try harder. Megatron gave him this duty because he could handle it. Because he was patient. Because- Because he didn’t just jump on mechs and start fights because they insulted him. Because he wanted this to work out.

Thundercracker pulled away, quietly walking back the direction he’d come. He had been avoiding the Autobots, and that was something he couldn’t do. He had to show them that he wasn’t really that much different from them. He wanted peace, but more than that, he didn’t want to be what broke the delicate peace they had managed to build between the factions so far.

He would be more present. He would force them to see him being calm and normal. He would stop just walking away because that clearly wasn’t working.

Wait, hadn’t he just-

Ok, he was done walking away now, however it was still probably the right choice to leave that conversation behind. They wouldn’t have wanted to listen to him just then. No, he had to start by just being around, not retreating, but also not rising to their bait. It was time to grab one of Prime’s boring-aft datapads and go plop himself in the common room to read in plain view of all of them. He would take their slag, and show them the dignity and patience of a proper Hostage.

~

Thundercracker was up and wandering again. He’d gone to the common room, sat through the morning rush for energon and standard barrage of snide comments, cold shoulders, and blatant attempts to goad him into the fight he wasn’t going to be goaded into, then left to take a walk when all the Autobots had moved on to their duty shifts. He wasn’t looking for them, but he didn’t stop around corners anymore if he heard voices, and he did pause and state simple facts about the Honorable Hostage tradition if that was what the mechs in question were talking about.

He knew he wasn’t believed, but he tried anyway, tone calm and smooth, words simple and concise. It was hard. Thundercracker was drawing on reserves of patience that Starscream at his worst, his most shrill and hateful, had never tapped, but he was trying. He was also trying not to let the obvious failure drain him, but that wasn’t working all that well either.

Nights were no better than the days. Every night, no matter what Thundercracker tried to say or do, Prime would push into him, and get it over as fast as possible. It was demoralizing, and almost impossible anymore to try to convince himself that Prime didn’t know what he was doing. Why was Prime interfacing with him if he didn’t desire Thundercracker? What the slag was the point? Did he think that Thundercracker enjoyed it? No, Prime just wasn’t that stupid. If anything he was embarrassed too. In fact, he treated it as though he was just trying to get through an unpleasant duty as fast as possible.

Thundercracker huffed, and looked up. Slag it, he hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going, and now didn’t know where he was. Whatever, he’d go to the right. Eventually he would run into someone or find his way back. Or he could just go in somewhere and ask. That could work too. Thundercracker reached for a keypad beside the next door. Maybe someone was in there that would help him without too much flailing and cursing about spying Decepticons.

The sharp electric snap and buzz around his neck was so sudden, so unexpected, and so surprising that Thundercracker fell to his aft on the floor. His hands automatically went for the thin collar he rarely even thought about anymore, but as he pulled, it delivered another shock. It hurt enough to drive a pained shout out of Thundercracker. He fought the pain and the instinctive urge to pull away the thing causing his pain, and ended up spread-eagle on the floor, panting hard and staring at the ceiling.

What, in all the hot, smelting Pits had that been?!

No. The word rung and echoed and banged around inside Thundercracker’s helm as he lay there, stunned, neck and fingers stinging.

No!

It was one thing to accept a ‘necklace’ that just sent a signal that kept a door from opening for him, but it was an entirely different thing to be electrocuted like an unruly turbohound for daring to touch a slagging keypad.

No! Thundercracker would not accept this.

Of course his attempt to bring it up to Prime did not go as he’d hoped, but then Thundercracker was beginning to suspect that he was never going to be listened to. He might as well be buzzing away in some foreign language.

“Yes, I heard about that. Red Alert threw an absolute fit over it. Please refrain from trying to enter the storage rooms in the future.”

Thundercracker gaped for a moment. “I was lost, and looking for help.”

Prime nodded. “You didn’t appear to be purposely looking for trouble in the video, which is why I’m only reminding you to be more aware in the future instead of having to hand down a more strict reprimand.”

Thundercracker blinked, mind absolutely blank. Video. They had watched him flail and cry out, then lay there gasping in pain, and done nothing?

Prime moved, pointing toward the wash room door. “I’ll be out in just a few minutes, then we can retire for the day.”

That snapped Thundercracker out of his shock. He shook his helm, words lacking their usual diplomacy and patience. “If you’re only going in there to lube up, don’t bother. I really don’t feel like being ‘faced tonight.”

The relief in Prime was unmistakable, but then he just had to add to it by acting concerned. “Are you feeling all right?”

Thundercracker bit his tongue quite literally, and cycled his vents before allowing himself to speak. “I just want to recharge.”

Frowning, Prime stepped closer to Thundercracker. “Are you certain? Nothing was accidentally fried? I don’t recall seeing-”

Thundercracker flinched back as Prime reached for the collar, then slid sideways to stand from the chair he’d been sitting in. “I’m fine. Just… tired.”

“You’re upset.” Prime reached out again and squeezed Thundercracker’s shoulder. “It was an accident, Thundercracker. I am not angry with you.”

Damn right, I’m upset, Thundercracker thought, but not because I screwed up and poked the wrong frelling door! He swallowed the words, then shook his head. “I’m tired. I’m really tired.” And I don’t want you touching me. I don’t want that weird slick synthetic lubricant sliming my valve up for a damn change. I don’t want to interface someone that doesn’t want me!

Prime stared at Thundercracker for a moment, maybe reading his slagging mind, maybe just as confused as he looked, but then he nodded. “As you wish.”

Thundercracker nodded too, not really trusting himself to speak, then waited for Prime to crawl onto the berth and curl up with his back to the room. With his back to Thundercracker.

Thundercracker suddenly felt incredibly alone. He’d been pushing away the emotion for months now. He had tried so hard to be accepting, patient, understanding, to give them all time, but how the slag long was it going to take?

Thundercracker gave himself a shake, then curled up on the edge of the berth so his wingtips wouldn’t bump Prime. This was his duty. It was an honor. He repeated that over and over until he fell into recharge. Even then, he woke up unconvinced.

~

Thundercracker leaned his forehelm against the wall of Prime’s washrack, hot water pouring down over him and washing away the strange red gel that had been dumped over his head as he entered the common room. One Pit of a way to start the morning, that was for damn sure.

So this was how the Autobots obeyed their Prime’s edicts? Great. Could Thundercracker go home now? Please?

He had really tried. He had sat down with Prime in an actual scheduled meeting in Prime’s office and had expressed his feelings of displacement. How he was trying, but didn’t know what more to do to convince the others that his place here was because he believed in the peace, because he wanted that peace to last. He definitely didn’t want the war to start all over again, but being prodded and insulted at every turn after so long was wearing him down.

He had skipped over the whole interfacing thing, because after a few more nights of Thundercracker saying he didn’t want to, Prime had stopped touching him. That was a non-topic anymore, and Thundercracker wanted it to stay that way.

When Prime had nodded and agreed to speak with the Autobots, Thundercracker had given the mech his first smile in what had to have been weeks. He’d gratefully stood in the common room -the largest room the Autobots had for group announcements- and nodded as Prime told them all that Thundercracker was with them to ensure peace. Everyone needed to remember their manners, that the Autobot way was acceptance and equality.

And blah, blah, blah!

Thundercracker lifted his helm away from the wall only so he could drop it back with a thump. Then again. Then once more for good measure.

Goody-goody Autobots, Thundercracker’s currently sticky and raspberry-flavored aft!

Sure, the snide comments had stopped. No one was out and out trying to pick a fight with Thundercracker of late, but then began the ‘accidental’ spills. The ‘oops, sorry about that!’ stumbles that ended with Thundercracker covered in something that required he leave wherever he was to get a shower before it dried. Paint, energon, smelly grease. It was never-ending.

Then the pranks had started.

Something foul-tasting would be slipped into Thundercracker’s energon while someone else distracted him. Somehow Thundercracker’s ankles ended up tied together. His datapads disappeared from the very table he sat at if he didn’t keep his optics or hands on them. And now this, Thundercracker thought in disgust as he straightened and began to scrub at his plating.

The bucket had landed perfectly over Thundercracker’s helm, the cold gel splattering all over him, oozing under his plating, dripping between seams, and clogging his vents. He very carefully smoothed a finger under the collar, ever conscious of how it had electrocuted him in the past. The last damn thing he wanted was to be zapped while standing under the showerhead with water swirling all around his feet. No fragging thank you! He liked his circuits just fine when not fried. He also had a hard time getting his wings cleaned off. The gel seemed to melt easily enough in the hot water, but Thundercracker didn’t want it gumming up the hinges or sticking in any of the fine seams of the panels.

He sure wasn’t going to ask Prime for his help! The very thought made his plating crawl.

Primus, but he missed Skywarp. He missed Starscream too. He missed the quiet, and the not so quiet, grooming sessions. He missed feeling desired. He missed just having a friend there to talk to. He and Skywarp had played all sorts of pranks on the other Decepticons, but they had never focused on just one the way the Autobots were doing with Thundercracker. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t funny. It was nothing like the prank wars he and Skywarp would have with Rumble and Frenzy or the Stunticons. It wasn’t playful, but mean-spirited, and slag it! How the frag weak was he being, whining to himself in the washracks like some helpless newspark? He was better than this. It was just a frelling prank!

Thundercracker stilled, optics wide. A prank war. It was so simple, he nearly laughed out loud at the idea. He lacked supplies, but that only meant he needed to be more creative, and there were plenty of chances for him to swipe little items that he could use to make other things. One good prank on an Autobot and he would show them that he could play back too. They weren’t going to break him! Pits! He’d been looking at this all wrong.

Thundercracker hurried to finish washing up. He had plans to make, and memories to sort through for the perfect revenge prank.

~

“I am very disappointed in you, Thundercracker,” Prime said, pacing back and forth in front of the chair Thundercracker had been ordered to sit in.

Thundercracker held his wings tense and high, angry and embarrassed, and refusing to be cowed by the Autobot leader’s tone.

“You should know better than to instigate fights. You, yourself, have said how seriously you take your position here, and yet you pull a foolish, hurtful, mean-spirited stunt like this one today? Can you not see the hypocrisy in your actions?”

Can you not? Thundercracker wanted to say the words, but continued to glare up at Prime as he strode back and forth. Prime could not, he already knew, or why would he be lecturing Thundercracker on his behavior after condemning him to two days confinement in his quarters for doing the very thing most of the Autobots were doing without a word against them?

“You are not here to play childish, dangerous pranks.”

“No, clearly I’m here to be your pleasure drone, and mocked and insulted and harassed constantly,” Thundercracker snapped. “You’re punishing me for the same thing they’ve been doing since the day I arrived!”

Prime pinched the bridge of his nose, optics shutting as he audibly cycled his vents. “You’ve spent vorns trying to kill them. Just how fast did you expect them to accept you?”

Thundercracker stared, mouth and optics open wide, absolutely floored by the words he was hearing. “They’re not even trying to get to know me!”

“You need to try harder,” Prime said, stepping close and leaning over Thundercracker to grip his forearm.

The gesture was probably meant to be… bolstering? Encouraging? Thundercracker didn’t know because his processors were stuck on a loop, completely flabbergasted. He had to try harder? He was the troublemaker? He was the one not doing enough?

“You’re a good mech, I can see it, but you must give them time, and playing pranks, especially ones that end with kind, well-liked youngsters like Bumblebee stuck to the wall and unable to escape are not at all conducive to that end.”

Thundercracker just stared up at Prime, and stayed silent. Kind youngsters? Bumblebee was farking Spec Ops. He was sneaky, clever, and he had intentionally sprung Thundercracker’s trap so it would be him caught in it and not Huffer, who lacked all sense of humor. It was not Bumblebee who threw a fit about the prank, it was everyone else, but then the little slagger hadn’t said a single fragging word in Thundercracker’s defense either.

“Two days,” Prime reiterated, stepping back. “Two days for you to think over your behavior, and for everyone else to cool off. I will let them know that no retaliation will be allowed, because you’re already being punished, but when the third day comes, I want to see you interacting properly. Understood?”

Thundercracker remained silent, and stared at Prime until Prime gave a sharp nod, then turned and strode out, returning to whatever his duties were. Thundercracker wished he had something he could throw and break, but he wasn’t Starscream, or even Megatron, and fits of temper never were very satisfying, leaving him feeling ashamed for his lack of self-control.

He stood and went to the berth, curling up in the center. He’d really had the best of intentions. It was supposed to be funny, but it had instantly not been. Had Prime not stormed in when he had to drag Thundercracker away, there really would have been a fight.

Thundercracker sighed, knowing Megatron would be disappointed in him, not for the same reasons Prime said he was, but because he’d done something spectacularly stupid in expecting the Autobots to think a prank from him would be entertaining rather than lighting the fuse on a powder keg. A powder keg he was here to prevent ever exploding.

He did think as Prime had told him to. He thought until he dropped into recharge about what he could possibly do differently than he had been.

Two days later, he still had no answer.

~

Thundercracker tried, he reassured himself over and over. He had gone back out once his confinement ended, and sat in the common room day after day. He read his datapads -keeping a tight grip on them- after drinking his energon -which he never took his optics off of- and did everything he could to put up with and ignore the smug looks and undisguised snickering at his expense, but then he just… couldn’t anymore. He had retreated to Prime’s room and stayed there except when he had to go out for energon, and he tried to time that for when the common room would be emptiest.

He still overheard the same snippets of conversation every time he dared to leave Prime’s quarters, and that too, was wearing him down.

“Poor Bluestreak.”

“Thundercracker doesn’t know how good he’s got it here with us.”

“I can’t wait for Blue to come home, I miss him so much.”

“I’ll just be glad for the break on ‘Con-sitting.”

“Yeah, well, at least he’s not sneaking around spying on everything anymore.”

“True. I’m glad we don’t have to put up with him while trying to refuel anymore.”

“Seriously! He makes my fragging tanks turn, just waiting for him to go ‘Con and start tearing someone apart!”

Thundercracker lay curled on the berth, staring at the wall, and knew what was happening to him. He was depressed and he couldn’t shake it. Megatron was going to be so disappointed in him. His first real chance to prove himself after all his well-known doubts about the war, and he had failed. He wasn’t going to get to go home smiling proudly that he’d done his duty, helped peace one little step forward. No, he was going home in shame, horrified by the thought that it would only be for two weeks and then he’d have to come back. He would have to endure more of the same, endless, unbearable hell he had for the last four months. The thought made him want to weep, but he didn’t dare. If he started, he might not be able to stop.

~

Thundercracker blinked open his optics, hand coming up shakily to wipe at his face, cheeks heating as his vents caught on another sob. It was impossible to hold Megatron’s gaze, and he looked down in shame even as Soundwave brushed his mind lightly, trying to soothe him as he withdrew.

The struggle for control over his emotions was lost all over again as Soundwave wound his arms around Thundercracker’s shoulders and crooned softly by his audial, the light harmonics conveying sympathy and a wish to comfort that Soundwave would never try to express with words. Thundercracker broke down, but didn’t manage to hide his face before catching the look Megatron and Starscream shared.

“You are not going back,” Megatron said.

“Seriously. If Soundwave’s gonna be all openly parental and slag, it’s gotta be bad.”

Thundercracker hiccupped a sobbing laugh at Skywarp’s words, and shook his helm. “I’m bein’ stupid.”

“Nonsense.” Megatron shifted his embrace, standing and depositing Thundercracker in his trine mates’ arms. “Get him some energon and clean him up. Soundwave, with me. I want to see just what would upset one of my finest so badly.”

Thundercracker hid his face in Skywarp’s neck, and just tried not to think for a while.