He'd warned them, just as Optimus had told him to. They hadn't believed him, just like Prowl had said they wouldn't. And so he'd stuck around to give them some sort of credible defense, just like Ratchet told him not to do. Primus, he hated his comrades sometimes.
Ironhide grunted as another Decepticon blast hit the wall behind him, ducking under it. He figured he was doing pretty good so far. The Temple of Primus had no defenses except for a wall, which the Decepticons had flown right over, and multiple entrances and exits, which the priests hadn't let him block off. But the Decepticons still hadn't breeched the sanctuary, meaning that the majority of the priests - and, most importantly, the Oracle - were safe. Stuck there without any hope of reinforcements or rescue, but still safe.
Another barrage of Decepticon fire made Ironhide curse as his cover was obliterated, and he fired off a double canon burst at the 'Cons before ducking behind a pillar. Yes, he was doing well so far - but the Decepticons had sent a relatively weak squad, and they hadn't been prepared for him. He'd taken half of them out in the first breem. He'd since heard them call for back-up - on an insecure comm channel, the cocky slaggers - and knew reinforcements for their side would be arriving shortly.
Ironhide had sent an encoded transmission asking for back-up the moment the Decepticons had arrived, before they'd gotten the chance to destroy the communications relay in the foyer of the Temple, but he'd gotten the answer he expected - there was no one available at the moment. The Decepticons were launching major offensives elsewhere, and the Autobot forces were fighting them off. It was up to Ironhide to defend the Temple.
It was a lost cause, and he knew it.
The only reason he was still here, in fact, was to try and convince the priests that yes, the Decepticons would dare to kill them and yes, that included the Oracle. So far, he wasn't having much luck - mostly since they were in hiding, and he was out here, fighting Decepticons.
"Fraggin' Oracle never has a prophecy when you need her to," he grumbled as he sent another volley at the Decepticons. As he did so, he happened to catch sight of seekers landing behind the current line of Decepticons. One of them was already insulting the other Decepticons in a familiar high-pitched, grating voice. "Slag."
Ironhide ducked out to send another volley of cannon fire at the 'Cons, sending a few shots over their heads in the hopes of hitting Starscream, or at least one of his trine. Judging from the screech of rage he heard, he succeeded. Satisfied, he topped the volley off with a plasma grenade, ducking into the hall behind him as it exploded. It wouldn't slow them down for long, but maybe enough for him to talk some sense into the priests.
Running down the hall, he keyed open the lock on the sanctuary, stepping into a room crowded with white and gold mechs and femmes - the priests of Primus. Sitting on a chair at the heart of the crowd, a femme the same shade of blue as a spark, gold scrollwork across her entire frame - the Oracle of Primus.
"Our luck just slaggin' ran out. The 'Cons elite trine just dropped in," Ironhide growled. "You need to clear out of here while you can." The priests exchanged glances, and Ironhide groaned, knowing he was going to get turned down yet again. To his surprise, however, the Oracle finally spoke on the matter, instead.
"Death haunts these halls today," she murmured, looking around herself absently. The priests exchanged glances again, and then one of them stepped forward - Lowdown, the head priest.
"The Oracle has spoken," he said firmly, as if answering an argument that hadn't actually been had. "As much as we may want to deny it, the Decepticons will kill here today. Our oaths were to preserve the Oracle as our people's link to Primus - no matter the cost."
"How? We cannot fight, our oaths forbid it!" one of the other priests demanded.
"All other oaths pale before preservation of the Oracle," Lowdown snapped. "We must fight to defend the Oracle!"
"Not to rain on your parade now that you're finally agreeing to fight, but with Starscream and his buddies out there, yer all gonna be about as helpful as scrap," Ironhide butted in. "There was a chance we could win before, but against a squad and the Elite trine, we're fragged."
"Since you seem to be so keen on telling us what we should do, what do you suggest, then?" Lowdown asked in irritation.
"Get the frag out of here. If you all make a run for it, some of you will survive - there's just not enough Decepticons to chase you all down," Ironhide said. "The Temple's lost anyways." Lowdown frowned.
"And what of the Oracle? How do we ensure her safety if we run?" he asked.
"I'll take her with me - I got no intention of staying behind once you guys start running, and after today, I'm sure y'all can agree that I can defend her," Ironhide grumbled sourly. He didn't relish escorting a spaced-out femme through hostile territory, but he knew her importance to their people. Lowdown scowled.
"What is to keep the Decepticons from simply focussing on you? You have been shooting at them for the passed few hours, perhaps they will want revenge," Lowdown asked.
"I'm sure they fraggin' do, but I sure as Pit ain't gonna give it to them!" Ironhide retorted. "Look, it's the best chance we got to get out of here in one piece!" Lowdown looked back at the other priests, and there was another silent exchange - Ironhide was starting to wonder if the rumours of a massive group sparkbond between the priests were true.
"No, your plan is too risky. The Decepticons came here for a reason - to wipe us out, and to kill or capture the Oracle. They will not give up until they achieve that," Lowdown said.
"Well it's either run and maybe live, or stay here and die fer certain!" Ironhide snapped.
"Or do both and preserve that which we guard most carefully," Lowdown said, frown deepening. "Tell me, Ironhide - would you swear the same oath we took, to protect the Oracle no matter the cost?"
"I ain't taking an oath not to fight," Ironhide growled.
"I am not asking you too," Lowdown said irritably. "I am asking you - will you protect the Oracle, preserve her for our people, all of our people, as our last link to Primus? Will you see to her safety, ensure that she has whatever she requires to continue functioning, even at the cost of your own functions?"
"Frag, I know how important she is, of course I would! What do you take me for?" he snapped.
"Good enough," Lowdown said, grabbing his arm and hauling him forward.
"Hey, what -" Ironhide tried to protest, or resist, but Lowdown was remarkably strong, and Ironhide soon found himself infront of the Oracle. She didn't look at him, but instead to Lowdown, a curious expression on her face.
"Oracle, you must forgive me for how rushed this is going to be, but we have little time," Lowdown apologized formally, then reached out. Ironhide made a strangled noise as the Oracles chest plates slid apart for Lowdown's hands, allowing the priest to grasp her sparkchamber, almost as if he were going to rip it out. Then Lowdown turned to Ironhide.
"Oh frag no!" the weapons specialist protested, realizing what was going on. The rumours, it seemed, were true.
"You swore you would protect the Oracle, and this is the best way to do it," Lowdown said impatiently. "Come here and recieve the bond." Ironhide growled.
"I can protect her just fine as I am," he said.
"No, you cannot," Lowdown replied. "Trust me on this. Now, are you going to back out and be responsible for her death, or are you going to accept the duty presented to you?" Ironhide hesitated a moment longer - though it wouldn't be as strong as a regular sparkbond, Ironhide knew what accepting this bond to the Oracle would mean. He wouldn't be able to sparkbond to anyone else, not unless the Oracle died - and since he'd just sworn to protect her with his life, he'd have to be dead for that to happen. But...he'd lived a long time already, and hadn't found a femme he'd wanted to share his spark with yet. With the war, the chances that he would find that femme in the future were next to none.
"Fine," he snapped, stepping forward, his chest plates sliding apart. It was an incredibly weird sensation as Lowdown grabbed Ironhide's spark chamber, and he had to fight against his own defensive systems. Then a pulse of energy passed over Lowdown's frame, going from the Oracle to Ironhide, and white-hot pain engulfed him. Ironhide wasn't ashamed to admit it - he screamed.
"That fraggin' hurt!" he roared as Lowdown let go.
"Because it was rushed, yes," Lowdown said impassively.
"You coulda warned a mech!" Ironhide growled.
~Why? It wouldn't have made a difference.~ The voice, seemingly echoing from inside him, made Ironhide pause, and he glanced over at the Oracle in confusion - it hadn't sounded like a feminine voice.
~He's just complaining because he can - old mechs do that.~
~We don't have time for this - I can hear them outside.~
~They need to get moving.~ Ironhide was looking around wildly now, trying to match the voices to the sea of priests around him. He wasn't an idiot - he knew what was going on. They were all bonded to the Oracle, same as him, now, and through her they could sense and speak to each other - and him.
"This is fraggin' glitched," he said.
"You'd get used to it, in time," Lowdown said, then grabbed Ironhide's arm and dragged him towards the back of the room. "Perhaps forunately, you don't have to."
"Why, what're we doing?" Ironhide wondered when he'd lost control of the situation.
"You are escorting the Oracle to safety. The rest of us are going to remain as a distraction," Lowdown said.
"That wasn't part of the plan!" Ironhide argued. "You're supposed to run, too!"
"Their ghosts walk the halls. They are dead already," the Oracle's distant voice said from Ironhide's side, and he looked down to find that her armor had somehow changed colour - the scrollwork was gone, and the blue had faded to a deeper cobalt shade.
"How did her plating get changed so fast?"
"There is no more time for questions," Lowdown said, then palmed open a door that Ironhide hadn't even known was there.
"A secret passage, are you fraggin' kidding me?!" Ironhide demanded. "Why didn't you all just use it!"
"Because then they would know it was there," Lowdown said simply.
"Yeah, but you'd be gone, so who cares?!"
"It only leads to the walls of the Temple - they would have found us easily. As it is, you will be hard pressed to escape their notice, but you must. The longer it takes them to realize you and the Oracle have escaped, the more of a lead you will have on them," Lowdown said sollemnly. Ironhide growled again, but knew Lowdown was correct. He wasn't all that terribly good at tactics, but he could see the sense in the plan.
"Fine," he snapped, then turned to the Oracle and motioned through the door. "You first." The Oracle nodded airily to him and stepped inside, heading down the passageway as a sedate pace, as if she were walking through the Temple, offering pieces of wisdom to petitioners. Ironhide twitched.
"So long as she stays alive," Lowdown said with a sigh, and Ironhide realized he'd been broadcasting his thought that the Oracle was going to have to learn a lot if he was going to be able to protect her properly. The weapons specialist hunched his shoulders slightly in embaressment, then headed into the passageway.
"Goodbye," Lowdown called after them, and was echoed by the other priests over the bond. Then he palmed the door shut, and Ironhide was left in a passageway with a femme that was walking about a meter a minute.
"Alright, Oracle, time to speed this up," he said, stepping forward and resting a hand on her back, propelling her forward with him at a faster clip. The Oracle let out a small noise of surprise, stumbling as she adjusted to the new pace, but didn't complain.
They couldn't even see the end of the passageway when Ironhide felt it the first time - somethine snapping, inside him. It felt like he'd broken a piston or something, only it didn't hurt and his movements weren't impeded any. The Oracle stumbled next to him, and glancing down at her shocked face, Ironhide realized what it was - the first of the priests dying. Grimly, he rushed them along.
There were more snapping sensations in his chest as they went, and the Oracle was soon stumbling so badly that Ironhide threw her over his shoulder and started running. The priests's deaths felt strange, but it wasn't debilitating to him - he suspected because he wasn't bonded to them, but to the Oracle. She was getting the full brunt of it, and as they neared the end of the tunnel, he realized her entire form was shivering. The snapping sensations stopped by the time they'd reached the end of the passage, and grimly, Ironhide carefully exitted, looking around for Decepticons. They were likely all inside, gloating over their massacre, but one never knew when they were going to set lookouts. Fortunately, they seemed to have forgotten this time, and Ironhide took off through the gardens surrounding the Temple, sticking to cover as much as he could - the last thing he needed was to be spotted by a chance fly-over of Starscream and his idiots.
Fortunately, though he heard the tetrajet engines, Ironhide wasn't spotted. As it grew late, he decided to stop for a rest - and to check on the Oracle, who was suspiciously silent. Finding a building that seemed stable enough to protect them, Ironhide ducked inside, one cannon out on the off chance that someone else was using the building as a hideout. It was empty though, and Ironhide went over to the far wall, setting the Oracle down gently. Her optics were dark, and she was completely limp.
"Hey, come on, wake up there," Ironhide rumbled in alarm, bracing her upright. She didn't move, and he wondered frantically if she'd gone and died on him from the stress of so many bonds breaking - but no, as he pressed his hand over her chest, he could feel her spark. She was alive, just completely out of it. He sat back on his heels, watching her slump to the side, and wondered what he should do. He could handle physical wounds no problem - patch the lines, cap off sparking wires, get the injured back to Ratchet ASAP. This wasn't a physical wound, however, and he had no idea how to - or even if he should - treat it.
The Oracle could at least be comfortable, he decided, and moved her away from the wall, spreading her out on the floor and bringing her hands to rest on her abdomen. It looked remarkably like she was dead, and Ironhide shuddered, turning his back on the sight. Pulling a cube of energon out of his subspace, he sat down with the Oracle behind him, the only entrances to the building in front of him.
Drinking the energon slowly, he thought about everything that had just happened. They'd known his mission was practically suicide - Optimus had told him to leave, rather than face the Decepticons alone, if the priests wouldn't flee or defend themselves. He'd made it a direct order, but even as he had, he'd known that Ironhide would disobey. Prowl had quietly promised to send a rescue squad as soon as one was available. Still, he knew none of them expected to see him alive again. They wouldn't have been far off in their expectations, either, if it wasn't for Lowdown's little surprise.
Looking back at the Oracle, Ironhide frowned, wondering how in the Pit he was supposed to keep the oath he'd made. He would protect her with his life, yes, but the Decepticons hadn't just attacked the Temple because it was one of the last known major neutral holdouts - the Temple, and the Oracle, were a strong symbol of the past, and of the Primes. Destroying them would be a blow to the Autobot's morale. They'd gotten the Temple today, but somehow Ironhide doubted that they'd let the most important symbol - the Oracle - get away.
Which meant that the Oracle was going to have to go into hiding. Problem was, there was no place safe enough that Ironhide could think to stash her. The other neutrals were constantly being hunted, and no base was 100% safe. The only way he could completely garauntee her safety would be to guard her personally, and constantly. Even then, if the Decepticons came at him in force, they could overwhelm and kill him easily.
Ironhide growled in frustration, tossing his empty energon cube against the wall, knowing what had to happen. She was going to have to come back with him to the Autobots, and she was going to have to do so in disguise. He could teach her to fight and fit in well enough. The only problem would be coming up with a reason for her to stick close to him - Prowl handled assignments, not Ironhide.
It hit him like Megatron's fist to his face a few moments later.
"Fraggit," he growled, glaring back at the unconcious Oracle. He was going to have to claim she was his bondmate. Furthermore, to avoid awkward questions about how and where they'd met, he'd have to claim they'd been bonded for some time, but had been seperated by circumstance. Medics couldn't tell a bonded mech from a non-bonded one, so Ratchet wouldn't be able to catch him out. There was the problem of him denying being bonded before, but he could always say he did it for safety - he'd been in the security forces a long time, and Megatron wasn't the first mech to think of killing bondmates to get revenge. The Oracle could have also been in the security forces - in Kaon, he could claim, since that way there would be no records to check. He'd been there often enough before the war for it to seem plausible - and for him to be able to feed her whatever information she needed, should anyone ask her about Kaon. Thinking about it, he realized just how easy it would all match up, and with a sigh, he turned back to the Oracle.
"What'm I gonna call you, then?" he mused aloud. Calling her 'Oracle' wouldn't really work. He cast around the building, not finding any inspiration. He decided he'd figure it out later - right now, he had some proximity sensors to set up, and then he needed to get some recharge.
As he went to lie down a few minutes later, Ironhide glanced over at the Oracle. He vaguely remembered Ratchet saying something about snapped bonds being soothed by the proximity of other loved ones, and while it wasn't quite the same on the emotional end - well, there was a sparkbond of a sort between them. Sighing, he lay down next to the Oracle, so that their arms were touching, and hoped that would be enough to help as he slipped into recharge.
Ironhide woke to a sensation of shock, and it took him a moment to realize it wasn't his. It took him another moment to realize the source - the Oracle, who he had apparently wrapped himself around during recharge, and was now awake with no idea of what was happening and how they got into that position. Ironhide quickly pushed away, muttering an apology. The Oracle didn't seem to know quite what to say, sitting and watching him uncertainly for a long moment. In the hopes that she'd stop staring, Ironhide pulled a cube of energon from his subspace and handed it to her.
"Here," he grunted. She took it carefully, and at her first sip, grimaced. "Yeah, say goodbye to your triple-refined stuff. This is all you'll be getting from now on." The Oracle frowned, taking another sip. She grimaced again, but continued drinking. When she'd finished, she set the cube to the side. "Feelin' better?" She inclined her head slightly. "Good. You got knocked for a bit of a loop yesterday - had me worried." The Oracle said nothing, and Ironhide considered her for a moment.
"So I was thinkin' last night about how to keep ya safe," he said, wondering how she was going to take his plan. So far she'd just seemed to go along with whatever was suggested, including the self sacrifice of her entire priesthood - but this was going to be a bit different. "I figure if I try and protect ya by myself, the Decepticons will eventually just overwhelm me. 'Sides, I couldn't up and abandon Optimus without at least explaining. So you'll be coming back to the Autobots with me. And to avoid all sorts of awkward questions and problems, you're gonna hafta be my bondmate." That got a reaction, the Oracle's gaze - which had been drifting around the room - snapping over to him.
"Yeah, thought that would get your attention," Ironhide muttered, the spoke normally again as he continued, explaining everything he'd figured out the night before. "The logistics of it work out perfectly. The only snag is going to be if you can't act the part." The Oracle tilted her head to the side in a silent question. "You're gonna need to learn to fight - decently. And it's going to have to be at least somewhat plausible that I would bond to ya, so you're gonna have to act differently. None'a this fritzy spaced-out stuff - Optimus and the others wouldn't believe I'd bond with someone like that for a nanoclick." The Oracle frowned.
"And you're gonna hafta start talkin'." Silence. "You might wanna start now, just so you can get used to it." The Oracle looked uncertain, and then her voice drifted over the bond.
~My voice is to be used to speak the word of Primus alone,~ she said, sounding hesitant even at that.
"Yeah, not anymore," Ironhide said. "In fact, you're going the opposite way now - I don't want the word of Primus coming outta your vocalizer at all. The type of predictions and phrases you can toss out would blow this cover in a nanoclick." The Oracle looked uncertain, but nodded.
"Very well," she said carefully, and seemed disconcerted even at that.
"Good," Ironhide said with satisfaction. "You're fine with this plan, then?" The Oracle actually looked surprised at the question.
"You are my guardian. I will do as you ask," she said timidly after a moment, and Ironhide frowned.
"In other words, you could absolutely hate it, but you're going along with it because of that sparkbond thing Lowdown did, aren't you?" he asked. After a moment, the Oracle nodded. "And you wouldn't if he hadn't done that." The Oracle nodded again. "Hunh. Fancy that. The mech did have a bit of sense." The Oracle scowled at him. "You got any suggestions, then?"
"I..." the Oracle hesitated for a moment, not looking at him, before plunging ahead. "Forgive me, but I will fall back on the word of Primus in this instance. Your plan is already written into the future - any suggestion of mine would be pointless."
"Hunh," Ironhide murmured. "Right. So. What do we call ya in this future plan of mine, then? Cuz that's the one part I haven't figured out." The Oracle smiled faintly.
"The name will not be clear until we have already decided on it," she said.
"Yeah, see, that you can't do anymore," Ironhide replied grouchily.
"I was only -"
"I know what you were doing, and it's annoying as slag. I like direct answers to my questions, and not spacey predicting-the-future ones. There's a reason I never went to the Temple before this mission," Ironhide declared. The Oracle frowned at him, and he shifted uncomfortably, realizing he'd ranted a bit. "Any name you think you'd like, then?"
"I do not know," the Oracle mused. "I have heard so many. I...there was a femme once, who came to the Temple. She wanted to know if an expedition to another world would turn out favourably. I told her the truth - that it would yield great rewards for our people, but that she would die in obscurity, unthanked an unrewarded, if she chose to go. She asked me if the rewards would be as great for Cybertron if she didn't go - I told her no. So she went." The Oracle was silent for a moment. "Her name was Chromia. I think I would like to bear that name to honour her."
"Right. Chromia it is," Ironhide said with a decisive nod.