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.
"Alright. If we're gonna do this, you're gonna hafta learn some stuff before we get back to Iacon," Ironhide said later that day, as they paused for a rest inside a hollowed-out building, sitting on some of the remains of the upper floors and ceiling.
"You mentioned that, yes. Are we to begin now, then?" the newly-dubbed Chromia asked softly, and Ironhide nodded.
"Sooner the better," he said. "First off - y'gotta stop speaking like that. One word outta you and nobody would slaggin' believe you were in any security force, let alone Kaon's."
"How then should I speak?" she asked curiously.
"Drop the formal stuff. Use contractions. Slang. Smaller words over bigger ones. Curse, if you can," Ironhide listed off. "And you need to be fraggin' louder - more assertive." Chromia looked a bit overwhelmed.
"I a- I'm not certain how -" she stopped, frowning, and Ironhide gave her an amused look. "I don't know if I can do that." Her voice wasn't as soft, and the tone was definitely less formal.
"That was a good start. And ya don't need to be perfect," Ironhide said. "You just need to be good enough to fool everybody. You prob'ly don't even need to change everything I mentioned, so long as ya get two or three." Chromia thought about it, then nodded.
"I'll do my best," she replied.
"Good," Ironhide said, then pushed himself up from his seat. "We should get going. We'll talk about combat as we go." Chromia followed him, silently listening as he launched into a lecture on combat. He didn't know how much of it she understood, but she listened at least, and would occasionally ask a question. When they stopped for the night, he pulled out his spare rifle and handed it to her. She held it like it was going to spontaneously explode on her, and Ironhide couldn't help but snicker.
"It ain't gonna bite ya," he said. "Weapons are nothin' more than tools - and tools only do what you make them do."
"I have never handled a weapon before," Chromia replied, uncertainly tightening her grip on the weapon - she was still holding it entirely wrong, though.
"Wrong. You've handled a weapon for vorns," Ironhide corrected her. "And you're gonna have to be able to show it through actions, which means you're gonna need to be comfortable with them. You get to carry that rifle for the rest of the trip back to Iacon, where we can get you proper combat upgrades. They're gonna wonder why you don't already have them, but I think we can swing a story about you bein' injured when the 'Cons took Kaon, and getting repaired by neutrals. It'll help with the story of us bein' bonded - if you've been in stasis lock for the last little while, I wouldn't have be able to find ya."
"With the events at the Temple, however, you were able to come look for me when I finally woke up," Chromia supplied the rest, nodding in satisfaction. Ironhide frowned, eyeing her. He had a sneaking suspicion that she'd known the rest of the explanation from looking into the future. He couldn't tell for certain, though, so he nodded - he didn't care if she used her gift, after all. He just cared if she started spouting off about what she saw and blew her cover.
"'Xactly," he said.
"You are right, this cover does practically write itself," Chromia commented.
"Yes, well, all the better for us," Ironhide grunted. "Now. This is how you hold a rifle." They spent a few hours going over the proper grip on the rifle, as well as how a seasoned security officer would have relaxed that grip. Chromia still acted as if the rifle was going to explode sometimes, but that was ok - she had time to learn. Though Ironhide was grateful that he'd flipped the safety on without her noticing when he'd handed it to her, otherwise she would have shot him several times that night.
After a few breems he decided they'd done enough for the night, and suggested she go recharge as he set up his usual net of proximity sensors. By the time he finished, she was already deep in recharge, and he grunted slightly. A light form like hers, used to sitting in a temple all day and running off triple-refined energon - she'd probably been running on empty. Laying down a fair distance away - he didn't want a repeat of the night before - Ironhide got comfortable before slipping into recharge himself.
When Ironhide woke the next morning, it wasn't to his alarm, or to the alert of the sensors. Something inside of him ached, and looking over at Chromia, he knew what it was. She was shuddering in her recharge, and through the bond, he could sense that she was distressed. Frowning, he got up and went over to her. He'd heard of mechs and femmes that saw things in their recharge - mostly the ones with something traumatic in their past. Chromia had certainly had a very recent traumatic experience, but considering who she was and the war going on around them, it was just as possible she was seeing the future. Either way, it was disturbing her recharge, and unsettling him, so he shook her gently. Her optics snapped on almost immediately, glancing around widely before locking on him.
"Ironhide!" Said mech suddenly found himself with arms full of femme as Chromia latched onto him.
"Easy there," he rumbled as he tentatively wrapped his arms around her. He was used to soothing upset femmes from his time on the security forces, but disconcerted by this being one he knew for once. "Everythin's fine, no need to be upset." He murmured calming statements like that for the next few minutes until she calmed down. When her grip on him relaxed, he let go, sitting back and pulling two cubes out of subspace. "Here," he handed one to Chromia, and she took it gratefully.
"Thank you," she said, and from the look she gave him, he knew she wasn't just thanking him for the energon. He just shrugged uncomfortably - he could comfort an upset femme, sure, but he wasn't good with anything after that. They drank their energon in silence, and then Ironhide went and dismantled his sensor net before they headed out - after he reminded Chromia to grab the rifle she'd been about to leave behind.
An eerie silence had fallen between them then, making Ironhide uncomfortable. He held out for as long as he could, then started talking about weapons again. When they stopped for lunch, he had Chromia take a few practice shots with her rifle - she missed horribly. Ironhide frowned, hoping she learned quickly. The most important part was getting her comfortable with weapons, but he really didn't want to go back to Iacon before she could at least shoot straight. He had enough energon for the two of them for a few weeks, but he didn't relish the thought of letting his friends worry that he was dead for that long. By now, the massacre at the Temple would have been discovered, and though the Autobots would know from the lack of a giant smoking crater that he was still alive, they'd have no idea what happened to him.
In the afternoon, Ironhide simply talked to Chromia, forgoing combat as he tried to get her to practice speaking more normally. Since her experiences were entirely in the Temple, he had her tell him about the funniest predictions she'd ever been asked to make, and the silliest things she'd ever seen in the future. She was a bit reticent at first, but gradually warmed to the topic, and was constantly correct her language as she went, much to Ironhide's satisfaction.
"One thing I'm not sure I'll get the hang of," she said near the end of the day. "Cursing. I simply do not - don't understand it. Why add extra words that do nothing but offend? Why not just...be creative with your word choices?"
"By all means, be creative, too," Ironhide said with a chuckle. "But cursing ain't about offending, usually - it's about adding feeling to your statement. 'Pit no' has a whole lot more feeling to it than just 'no'. Sure, ya could also say 'not even if Megatron had his fusion cannon pointed at my spark', but it doesn't have the same umph." Chromia frowned.
"I still don't understand," she said.
"Alright. How badly do ya not understand?" Ironhide said.
"What do you mean?" she asked in confusion.
"Do ya still not understand, or do ya still not fraggin' understand?" Ironhide asked, and Chromia considered that.
"I still don't fragging understand," she finally said, then seemed disconcerted at what she'd just said. Ironhide chuckled.
"You'll get used to it. Whenever you want to emphasize something, just add a fragging curse in," he said. Silence for a few moments.
"I should probably ask you what some decent curses are, then," she said finally, and Ironhide stopped, gaping at her. "What? Voices are never clear in my visions, and who would dare to curse around the Oracle? Except you, of course. I'm not sure you even thought about it." She looked amused at that.
"Nope," Ironhide confirmed with a chuckle, and they continued walking as he began listing off every curse word he knew. She listened in fascination, asking for definitions when she didn't immediately get them, and often trying them out in simple statements or phrases to be sure she understood how to use them. Ironhide found himself amused - he'd never had such a serious, curse-filled discussion before.
They ran into a bit of a problem when he got to using Primus or Unicron as a curse, though.
"I will not use them that way," she said firmly. "It is disrespectful."
"It's pretty common these days," Ironhide said.
"Yes, and believe me, I am not please about it," she said, optics flashing.
"I thought you didn't get to hear many curses around the Temple?"
"The priests talk, and using the divines's names as a curse is one of the issues they have - had - been debating hotly recently. Most of them wanted to publicly condemn it, but others argued that they wouldn't be able to stop it anyways," Chromia said irritably.
"Alright. Most mechs have a favourite curse - ain't too strange to have one you'd refuse to use," Ironhide conceded.
"And you are not to use their names that way, either," Chromia added, and Ironhide spluttered.
"Like frag!" he protested.
"If you are to be my guardian, then I don't want you speaking disrespectfully of the divine," she insisted.
"I ain't gonna change the way I curse for ya, femme," Ironhide said irritably. There were limits to how far he would go - he'd already given up a rather large potential chunk of his life for Chromia.
"I'm changing the very way I speak and act. It's only fair that you return at least part of the gesture," she said with a glare.
"I've been usin' their names as I please fer forever, the others will notice," Ironhide snapped.
"The slag they will," Chromia retorted, and looked momentarily pleased at her correct usage of the curse before plowing on. "I very much doubt any of your friends are observant enough to notice when you stop using a particular curse."
"You never know," Ironhide growled, glaring at her as he thought of Prowl.
"I do," she said firmly, with such certainty in her voice that Ironhide knew she'd thoughtfully checked the future to see.
"I thought I told you to stop spitting out the words of Primus," he said, stopping short and glaring at her, irritated.
"I did not 'spit' them out, and what does it matter when we're the only ones around?" she retorted.
"It matters cuz you're gonna get used to doing it, and then you're gonna slip up in front of someone else," Ironhide growled. "You can't afford even one slip."
"I will not slip up," she said.
"Yeah? And how do you know? And don't you fraggin dare look," he said, glaring. She glared back defiantly.
"I'll look if I want to, you can't stop me," she said.
"No, but if you keep mouthin' off about the future, I will be forced to take action," he warned.
"Like whaaaa -" Chromia's yelp was cut off as the vocaliser suppressor Ironhide had just slapped on her throat took effect. The device was a leftover from his security forces kit, and had turned out to be just as useful in a war as it had been in law enforcement. Chromia glared at him, trying to pry the device off - futile, as it could only be removed by transmitting an encoded sequence that only he knew.
~I thought you said I needed to practice speaking differently.~
Ironhide growled as he realized he'd forgotten about the sparkbond, and did his best to block it.
"Your speech ain't gonna matter if you give start talking 'bout the future and blow yer cover," Ironhide snapped. He heard her try to continue arguing over the sparkbond, but he ignored her. "Now, when you're ready to promise that you won't pop out any more pretty little predictions, I'll take that off, but not until then." They stood there, glaring at each other, for several long minutes. Finally, grudgingly, Chromia nodded, and her voice drifted through the bond they shared, even with his blocking.
~I promise,~ she said, sounding sulky. Satisfied, Ironhide transmitted the code to removed the supressor, catching it as it fell away from her neck.
"That is a vile device," she spat.
"Useful when you're dealin' with someone glitching out, though," Ironhide said flatly, then continued walking. Behind him, he heard Chromia put her new knowledge of curses to good use.
"It occurs to me that I should thank you," Chromia announced out of the blue the next morning, as they set out for the day.
"Fer what?" Ironhide asked, somewhat surprised at the chosen topic - they'd been ignoring each other since their arguement the day before. Apparently Chromia wanted to smooth things over, however.
"For agreeing to be my guardian," she explained. "You didn't have to. You could have left us, me, there."
"Like frag," Ironhide said with a snort. "I ain't no 'Con, to leave defenseless mechs and femmes to die when I could do something about it."
"But you couldn't do anything about it," Chromia said softly, and Ironhide stopped abruptly, turning to give her a hard look.
"See, that's something I don't understand. You can see the future - you had ta know what was gonna happen, and those priests hung on yer every word. They didn't do a slagging thing until you spoke up," Ironhide said. "So why didn't ya speak up earlier? Why didn't ya help me get them all outta there before the fragging 'Cons showed up?" Chromia looked away, her optics dimming.
"When I look into the future, I see one of two things," she said. "What might be, or what will be. What will be is simple, easy - the decisions leading to that future have already been made, the path has already been set. This war was destined to happen from the moment the last one ended, for example. No prediction I could make could stop it. What might be, on the other hand, is...difficult. When I see futures that are not yet set, I must find the decisions that will turn them one way or another, and the factors that might effect those decisions, in order to make an accurate prediction. When you came to the Temple, there were a multitude of 'might be's. I could not make a prediction off so many possibilities - I had no idea what would result from anything I said."
"But when things got down ta the wire, yer options lessened," Ironhide concluded thoughtfully, and Chromia nodded, looking back at him.
"Perhaps I could have spoken sooner, saved some of my priests, but..." she trailed off, smiling faintly.
"But...?" Ironhide asked when Chromia didn't continue.
"Forgive me. There are some futures I keep to myself, even after they are set," she said with a sudden grin, then started walking again. Ironhide snorted, but headed after her, correcting her path as she starting heading the wrong way, and striking up a conversation to help her work on her speech pattern. With her limited experiences, it was difficult to find anything other than her predictions that she could talk about at length, and Ironhide had had enough of that topic for the day, but eventually he found something for them to talk about - the shenanigans of the priests.
"They really were qu - slagging ridiculous," Chromia said with a shake of her head. "They liked to put on this front of serious, religious mechs and femmes, but in the back rooms of the Temple, where no one but they could see..." She chuckled. "Pranks, gossip, drama - sometimes I would think that they were there more to keep me from being bored than to be my guardians."
"How so?" Ironhide asked with amusement.
"Well, for one thing, they weren't celebate," Chromia said dryly, and Ironhide spluttered.
"But, with the bond -" He stared in shock.
"Yes, interfacing with a group sparkbond was a bit...interesting," Chromia said with amusement, then frowned. "Also a bit frustrating for me. They could block each other out, but they could never block me. I don't think they ever realized it, either, or they may have become celebate after all."
"So every time yer priests started exchanging data packets, you felt it," Ironhide said incredulously.
"In vivid detail," Chromia said dryly.
"An' you never jumped one'a em?" Ironhide asked, still not quite able to believe it.
"I was the Oracle. I couldn't," Chromia replied.
"Primus, femme, that's some slaggin' amazin' self-control," he said with a shake of his head.
"Language," Chromia just replied.
"Yeah yeah, whatever," Ironhide said dismissively. "What else did they get up to, besides crossing circuits?"
"Well, there was a nest of turbo-foxes in the gardens somewhere, and some of the priests had a way with the creatures -" Chromia began, and from there, launched into story after story of ridiculous hijinks. Ironhide was guffawing for most of the day, and most importantly, Chromia's speech pattern slowly began to even out. A touch of the formal tone was still there, but it was enough to pass as her unique way of speaking, and not to give people trouble thinking of her as a security officer.
In the evening, Ironhide decided it was time to get serious about improving Chromia's combat skills. An hour of target practice later, they were both frustrated at her lack of progress, and gave up for the night. Their frustration carried over into the next day, and they found themselves bickering as they walked - Ironhide trying to give helpful advice about their practice the night before, Chromia trying to explain the problems she'd been having, neither doing much of either. They didn't get far that day, between the bickering and the constant pauses for a physical demonstration - which served to only make Chromia more sour, as she usually ended up on her aft during them.
"This is ridiculous," she grumbled when they finally stopped for the evening. "You can't expect me to learn to fight like a seasoned security officer in a week."
"Y'just need to know enough to fool them initially," Ironhide snapped in reply. "If you can get that down, I can teach you the rest in private at the base."
"Why? Are they going to demand to see me fight before they let me on the base or something?" Chromia asked sarcasticly.
"A fighter moves differently than a civilian," Ironhide growled. "Most of them might not notice, but Prowl's a master of Diffusion - he'll spot the discrepancy in a nanoclick."
"Oh, great, so I have to fool a master of a discipline known to focus around observing the moves of your opponent," Chromia said. "That should be no problem, hey, a week might actually be more than I need to learn to do that." Ironhide growled, but chose not to reply.
Eventually, Ironhide decided to stop travelling and just focus on training. They were inside Autobot territory, a few days away from Iacon, so it was safe enough to park it for a few days, and Chromia wasn't improving any with just short evening sessions. She didn't do much better with full-day training sessions, either, as it turned out.
"You shouldn't be surprised by the recoil! You know it's going to be there when you fire! It's not going to magically go away!" Ironhide finally snapped one evening, his frustration having reached its limits.
"It's difficult to get used to," Chromia replied sulkily as she pushed herself up of the ground, where she'd ended up after losing her balance due to the recoil. "Just because you've shown me doesn't mean I'll remember it every time."
"You're not remembering it at all," Ironhide said with a growl. "Primus, at this rate the others will have decided I'm dead and had a memorial service by the time I get back!"
"I told you not to use Primus's name in that fashion," Chromia snapped. She still hadn't let that particular argument drop, either, and as he readied himself to snap back, Ironhide suddenly smirked. Maybe it was time to alter his training methods.
"And why the slag shouldn't I? It's not like you can do a Primus-fraggin thing about it," he taunted, crossing his arms. He'd seen some absolutely horrid trainees get up and out-perform their teachers when angered, and thought maybe Chromia would be one of those. If not, they could at least get in a decent fight instead of all this bickering, and hopefully clear the air a bit.
"You'd be surprised," Chromia said darkly.
"Oh really? You've given a pretty poor showing of what you can do so far," Ironhide said with a snort. "Frag, at this point I'd rather have your priests watching my back than you - at least they knew how to make a good distraction." It was a low blow, and Ironhide knew it - low, but effective. Unfortunately for Ironhide, getting Chromia angry didn't have the results he'd hoped for. Her furious gaze turning to him was the only warning he had before something blasted past his firewalls, flew through his processor, and was gone again. It didn't hurt, but it smarted, and sent his processor whirling.
"The frag was that, femme?!" he demanded as he tried to recover.
"Me copying all your combat protocols," Chromia said with a sniff, then raised the rifle and effortlessly shot the center of the target four times in a row, adjusting for the recoil perfectly. "That's better." Ironhide growled as he stalked over to the femme and ripped the rifle out of her hands, glaring down at her.
"Two things," Ironhide growled. "First: did you know you could do that all along?"
"Of course, it's part of the bond," Chromia replied irritably.
"Fine. Second: if you ever break into my processor that way again, I will shoot you, oath or no!" With that, Ironhide turned and stormed off, subspacing the rifle as he went. He badly needed to shoot something - something that wasn't the femme he'd sworn to protect, no matter how much he wanted to.
An hour later, when he no longer felt like shooting Chromia and had finished reducing an unsuspecting building to nothing but rubble, Ironhide made his way back to where he'd left her. She was sitting on the ground, glaring at the target and scowling, when he first spotted her. He could tell she wasn't lying about having copied his combat protocols, though, as the moment he made a sound, she jumped up into a defensive position that he recognized all too well. Ironhide snorted.
"Well, at least now there's something there to work with," he said, pulling his spare rifle out of subspace again and tossing it to her. She caught it automatically, looking surprised. "I'll sort out the mess of you having combat protocols designed by and for a mech twice your size tomorrow. Get some recharge."
Despite what Ironhide said, Chromia having his combat protocols wasn't as bad a mess as it seemed. There were certain hand-to-hand maneuvers she just couldn't pull off, but she seemed fairly good at realizing what they were. When Ironhide asked her about it, she admitted to using her gift to peek into the future a bit.
"Now that's a decent use for that talent, at least," Ironhide said with a snort, much to Chromia's surprise. "If you can manage it in combat, in fact, you'll be pretty much unbeatable."
"It...takes some concentration," she admitted.
"Yeah, and I've been goin' easy on ya," Ironhide mused. "Alright, lets try a real spar."
"I'm not sure it would be the same, considering our bond," Chromia observed.
"It'll be close enough for us to tell if the idea's reasonable, though," Ironhide replied.
Settling into combat stances, the two of them circled each other as they began their spar. She was right that the bond made it different, and Ironhide did his best to block out the sense of tension he got from her as he watched for an opening. After a few moments, he saw one, and launched his attack. She dodged it completely. When he looked back, she was grinning, clearly pleased with herself. Distracted as she was, she completely missed his next attack, taking the full brunt of it, and the spar was officially on. Their pace was rapid, blows going back and forth quickly, and by the end, it was clear that while Chromia could use her gift to avoid some attacks, she often payed for them afterwards, stepping into or missing obvious attacks.
"Well, I don't think you'll be wanting to do that in a real fight," Ironhide said with a grunt once they finished - he'd won, of course. "But it could be useful in some situations - maybe if you refined it a bit."
"Part of the problem may be that I'm trying to switch between the future and the present too much," Chromia said thoughtfully. "Perhaps if I focused entirely on the future, and wrote some sort of a...time-delay protocol for my movements, it would work better."
"Might work, but that'd be a tricky protocol to write," Ironhide commented - the danger of getting your processor out of sync with your body was one all Cybertronians knew of.
"I know," Chromia said, sighing. After a moment, she glanced up, looking at Ironhide in amusement.
"What?" he grunted.
"This is the first conversation in days that hasn't turned into us bickering," she replied. "And it's about combat protocols. You're a very strange mech."
"I'm a mech that's one of the best at what he does," Ironhide growled in response.
"You mean being in love with your weapons and combat protocols?" Chromia asked innocently.
"Frag off," Ironhide retorted, and Chromia laughed.
With Chromia's combat skills sorted out, it was finally time for them to head back to Iacon. Ironhide lead the way quietly at first, trying to figure out the best way to broach one final topic regarding their cover - the fact that they were supposed to be playing bondmates. Eventually, he decided to just explain as bluntly as possible. Chromia didn't take it too well.
"I'm not going to play the perfect little subservient bondmate to you," Chromia argued after Ironhide tried to explain why her behavior would need to change yet again.
"Not subservient, femme, just not arguin' with me as much," Ironhide tried.
"Right, because anyone who knows you would believe that you'd bond with a femme that just stood back and let you take charge," Chromia said sarcastically.
"You are so deluded."
"I think I know what type of femme I'd slaggin bond with more than you fraggin do!"
"I think you know what type of femme you think you'd like to bond with. The type of femme that your friends will believe you bonded to is something else entirely, though."
"And how would you fraggin know?" Ironhide snapped, and Chromia stopped, giving him an incredulous look. Ironhide glared at her. "That's cheatin'. And you agreed not to do it anymore."
"Ignoring the fact that I agreed only under duress, I will point out that I didn't say anything - you just assumed," Chromia replied with a smirk. "Besides, you were accepting enough when I was using my gift to fight. I think you just don't like me using it to prove you wrong."
"Frag you, femme," Ironhide snapped.
"You know, if we're going to play bondmates, you really should use my name," she replied lightly, and Ironhide's only response was a low, dangerous growl before stalking off ahead. A snickering Chromia followed him.
"Showtime," Ironhide muttered a few days later as they came within range of the lookouts for the Autobot base. "Any questions from now on, you ask over the bond, y'here?"
"Of course," Chromia replied. "I'm not glitched."
"I would debate that," Ironhide retorted, then stopped as he was pinged by one of the lookouts. He pinged them back, and a moment later, received a confirmation to continue. He didn't even see whoever was on lookout as they proceeded into the base, and doubted Chromia even knew about the exchange - it was one of the security plans that Prowl had come up with. It was harder to shoot the lookouts and eliminate any warning the base had of an attack if you never saw the lookouts. Of course, the lookout had relayed his arrival back to base, and by the time they got there, there was a welcoming committee waiting - Optimus, Prowl, and Ratchet.
"Ironhide." Optimus seemed relieved to see him. "It is good to see you back."
"Yeah, sorry it took me so long. Had a bit of a side trip ta make," Ironhide replied.
"I assume that this side trip has to do with your companion?" Prowl, as expected, was eyeing Chromia carefully.
"It did," Chromia replied for Ironhide, stepping forward. "I'm Chromia. Ironhide's bondmate." Ironhide decided the entire mission up to that point had been worth it just to see the stunned looks on his three friends’ faces.
"You've said multiple times that you weren't bonded!" Ratchet was the first to recover, glaring at Ironhide.
"Yeah, well, there were safety concerns, since we were both in the security forces, so we didn't exactly spread it around," Ironhide said with a shrug. "Plus, she was in Kaon when it fell, so I figured it would be better not to draw attention to her."
"Which would have been a valid excuse if you had known where I was and that I was functional. But you didn't, because those fraggin neutrals had me in stasis for repairs," Chromia amended cheerfully. "You just didn't want to admit you had no slaggin clue where your own bondmate was."
"Oh mute it. I found you eventually," Ironhide said with a mild glare. Snickering caught his attention, then, and he turned his glare to the source - Ratchet.
"I'd never imagined the perfect femme for Ironhide, but if I had, you would have been it, Chromia," the medic said. "Welcome to Autobot Headquarters."
"Indeed. It is always a pleasure to find old...friends," Optimus said, observing the femme in front of him. Something in the Prime's look made Ironhide worry.
~He knows,~ he said over the bond.
~He suspects something is amiss, nothing more. He has not personally seen me enough to recognize me, and without the Matrix of Leadership, no Prime can identify me on sight,~ Chromia replied easily.
~Looked that up, did you?~ Ironhide asked in a grumble, recognizing the particular surety in her voice.
~I wanted to know when this charade would end,~ Chromia retorted. Fair enough, Ironhide decided, returning his attention to his friends, who were watching with amusement.
"What?" he asked crankily.
"As I won't need to assign a second set of quarters, I believe I will leave you to get checked out by Ratchet," Prowl said, nodding to the two of them.
"When he releases you, I would very much like to hear your report," Optimus added, looking at Chromia thoughtfully, and Ironhide nodded.
"'Course," he said.
"Farewell, then," Optimus said with a nod, and then he and Prowl headed off. Ratchet, still grinning, motioned for them to follow him as he headed off.
~He speaks formally, why did I have to change?~ Chromia grumbled over the bond as they went.
~Because he's the Prime,~ Ironhide shot back.
~And what about - Prowl?~ Ironhide felt Chromia pull the name from his databanks, and glared at her. ~If we're bondmates, they will assume you've talked about them to me somewhat,~ she said reasonably.
~Right, sure - I told ya before not ta poke around in my processor. Ask if you wanna know,~ Ironhide growled.
~You're so touchy,~ Chromia grumbled.
~I am not touchy - I just like to be the only one in my own fraggin' processor!~ Ironhide snapped.
~...you do realize that the very definition of a bond is that you aren't alone in your processor anymore.~
~Frag off. You know what I meant.~
"Right. As amusing as this is - mute your mental argument and get up on the berths." Ratchet's amused voice brought Ironhide's attention back to the real world, and he realized they'd arrived at the med bay without him noticing. Glaring at Chromia again, he went and hopped up on a berth. Chromia hopped up on one next to him, and Ratchet set to work. As the medic scanned the two of them, it quickly became clear that he and Chromia were going to get along famously - especially when it came to ganging up on Ironhide. The weapons specialist quickly decided that if his friends really thought he'd bond with someone like Chromia, they all secretly hated him. Fortunately, Optimus was not so prone to siding with random femmes against his friends.
"Ironhide, Chromia, have a seat," Optimus welcomed them to his office when they arrived. Ironhide happily flopped into the bigger of the two chairs in front of the Prime's desk - Optimus always had chairs of different sizes available, making it much more comfortable to visit his office than anyone else's. How he always seemed to have the right ones out in front of his desk when 'Bots showed up to talk to him, expected or not, was a mystery that no one had yet tried to solve.
"It's good to have you back, Ironhide," Optimus said. "I must admit, I was worried when we finally reached the Temple, only to find the Oracle and her priests dead, and you missing." Ironhide stared at him for a moment.
~Some of the femme priests were able to look like me at a moment's notice, much as I was able to change my plating,~ Chromia explained smoothly. ~I hadn't realized the deception would last through death, or close scrutiny, however.~
~They probably didn't scrutinize too much. Y'are 'holy', after all,~ Ironhide replied, then returned his attention to Optimus, who was looking at him oddly. "Yeah, sorry bout that. Woulda left you a message if I could."
"I'm sure," Optimus said. "So, what did happen?"
"Pretty much what we expected. I showed up, told 'em the Decepticons were right behind me, aiming to kill them. The priests dithered for a bit, but in the end, did nothing," Ironhide said with a shrug.
"The Oracle said nothing?" Optimus asked, a curious note in his voice.
"Nope," Ironhide said, resisting glancing over at Chromia. "The Oracle didn't make a sound, and the priests apparently took that as a sign that the 'Cons wouldn't dare kill them. Guess they found out the hard way that they fraggin would dare." Optimus sighed.
"Without the Oracle backing you up, there was nothing you could do," he said. "To stay and fight would only have led to your death."
"Yeah. They wouldn't even let me set up defenses," Ironhide grumbled, still a bit sore about that. "I did stay and fight for a bit, though. Until Chromia contacted me." He nodded towards Chromia, who snorted in amusement.
"That's unusually mild phrasing for you, Ironhide," she said, then turned a narrowed glare on Optimus. "Imagine my reaction when I finally manage to reach my bondmate, only to realize he's about to nobly sacrifice himself." Optimus shifted uncomfortably. "I would appreciate it, Prime, if you didn't send my bondmate on missions where you know his own moronic tendencies will put him in such a position." Ironhide frowned at her, wondering where this was coming from.
"The Temple was an important symbol," Optimus said. "The Oracle even more so. Losing them is a blow to our morale."
"If they were that important, you should have sent a squad, and not just Ironhide," Chromia snapped, and Ironhide understood. This wasn't for him, it was for her priests - she was chewing Optimus out for not sending more Autobots to defend them, and her.
"There were other targets that took priority. We were in the unfortunate position of having too many important targets to protect, and not enough troops," Optimus said with a shake of his head. "The Decepticons likely planned it so."
"Then you should have either sent a squad or no one," Chromia said, glaring at Optimus. He looked equal parts amused and guilty at being told off by the femme, and in the end, simply nodded.
"I will see to it that such a thing does not happen again."
"Good," Chromia replied, nodding in satisfaction.
"Sooo...Prowl wants a written report of all'a this?" Ironhide asked awkwardly, to break the sudden silence.
"Yes, he does," Optimus seemed grateful for the change in topic. "From both of you, of course. We can always use more information on neutrals, especially around Kaon."
"We can finish those up easily enough," Ironhide said with a nod. "When does he want them by?"
"Considering this is Prowl, as soon as possible," Optimus said dryly. "But feel free to put it off for awhile. Ratchet's recommended a half an orn off-duty for the both of you, and I agree entirely. Especially as Chromia's not even technically part of the Autobots yet."
"We can fix that easily enough," Chromia commented, and Optimus nodded.
"In half an orn," he said pleasantly.
"Prowl's annoyed over Ratchet's recommendation, isn't he?" Ironhide asked dryly, recognizing the mischievousness in the Prime's tone.
"Extremely," Optimus said with a wide grin. "As usual, he wants to get everything worked out and back in order straight away." Ironhide chuckled.
"I think for once, I'm gonna stay outta the Prowl-baiting. He'll have our reports by the end of the day," the weapons specialist said, standing. Chromia followed his lead and stood as well, though she was obviously curious about the exchange.
"Spoil-sport," Optimus accused good-naturedly.
"Nah, I just don't want him stalking me while I'm off-duty," Ironhide said with a shudder. Optimus' gaze flickered over to Chromia, and he smirked.
"I imagine not," he said.
"Bye, Prime," Ironhide said with a shake of his head, and Optimus laughingly returned the farewell. Outside, Chromia looked curiously at Ironhide. "Don't ask. Just...don't ask. And if you ever see Optimus with that particular gleam in his optics again, make yourself scarce and deny ya ever saw him."
"Right," Chromia said with amusement. Ironhide chuckled again, not for the first time finding himself glad that Optimus hadn't made him second in command. The Prime seemed to delight in tormenting Prowl - Ironhide shuddered to think how much worse it would have been for him, where he'd known Optimus for longer.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Ironhide decided to head for the wash racks first. As much as he wanted to get those reports done for Prowl, he'd just remembered what an absolute mess he'd left his quarters. He wanted to see if he could get Chromia settled in the wash racks, then sneak out ahead of her and clean them up a bit. Not that he was worried about making a good impression or anything, but he wouldn't have even let Optimus into his quarters, the way they were - the Autobots had been scrambling to defend against the Decepticons for the past few orns, leaving him unable to clean up.
Unfortunately for Ironhide, it turned out that Chromia had absolutely no clue what to do in a public wash rack. She'd only washed privately before, with the help of a few priests. So Ironhide had to stick around and explain things to her as he scrubbed himself down. Fortunately, they were alone in the wash racks, so he didn't have to be very covert about it. When they finally finished, Ironhide reluctantly led the way back to his quarters.
"Wow," Chromia said dryly, turning and giving him an arched look after she stepped inside. Various weapons, and parts thereof, were littered around the room, datapads with schematics hidden amongst the mess, along with polishing cloths and a few empty energon cubes. The large couch had only enough clear space on it for him to sit, and the accompanying low table had boxes haphazardly shoved underneath containing data crystals and tools. Most of the surfaces had some type of grease stains on them - the only completely clear, and clean, space was the berth.
"I've been busy," Ironhide grumbled as Chromia slowly picked her way over to the berth, sitting gingerly.
"I can see that," Chromia replied mildly, looking meaningfully at the clutter, and Ironhide glared at her before beginning to neaten up. When he found a blank datapad, he tossed it to the watching femme, telling her to make herself useful and write the report for Prowl. A few minutes later, she poked him tentatively through the bond.
"What?" he snapped, trying to figure out where to put a half-finished cannon upgrade he was working on.
"Since you're so touchy about your privacy, I thought I'd ask for an example of how to write a report," Chromia said. Ironhide, still a bit sore about her initial comments on the state of his quarters, looked over at her with a smirk.
"So you can learn without breaking into a mech's processor," he said.
"Oh frag off," she retorted, throwing the datapad at his head. Ironhide chuckled and returned to neatening up.
Eventually, Ironhide got around to writing his report for Prowl, then wrote one up for Chromia, too - she didn't have the experience with neutrals or anything around Kaon to write it properly, much to her own irritation. She re-wrote the report once Ironhide finished, of course, using her own language. Once she was done, Ironhide told her to stay put and went to drop the reports off.
"Thank you, Ironhide," Prowl acknowledged with a nod as the weapons specialist gave him the two datapads. "By the way. I realized I forgot to ask for combat specifications for Chromia. While Optimus has given you both half an orn off, I would like to make use of the time to determine the best unit for Chromia to be placed with." Ironhide froze, suddenly realizing the massive, gaping flaw in his cover story. If Chromia could fight, she would be expected to go into battle - where he couldn't protect her.
~You're just realizing that now?~ Chromia said with amusement over the bond. Ironhide just growled in response, shoving her out as he turned his full attention to Prowl.
"Er - Chromia doesn't have any combat specifications at the moment. The slaggin neutrals had to practically rebuild her, and they took out all her combat upgrades when they did."
"I assume she'll be getting those upgrades replaced?" Prowl said patiently, and Ironhide nodded. "Then you should have some idea of her specifications for me to work with."
"Uh, well, see, thing about femmes, they're kinda unpredictable," Ironhide said in a rush. "I have no slaggin clue what that femme is gonna want for upgrades when it comes down to it - she could completely change what she had."
"I...see," Prowl replied slowly.
"I'll letcha know once she decides, though," Ironhide concluded cheerfully, then fled Prowl's office. Stalking back to his quarters, he was arguing with Chromia before he even reached them. ~You knew that you were gonna have to fight, and you didn't mention it?~
~The moment I left the Temple, it was set that I would end up fighting, one way or another,~ Chromia said reasonably. ~There were a multitude of reasons and ways that it would come about. This cover story of yours was the most desirable out of all the ones I saw.~
~The most desirable to who? You?~ Ironhide snarled.
~Well it ain't desirable to me!~
~Unfortunately for you, through your own actions, and through the deaths of my priests, I have ceased to be a pretty bauble that does as told. I can, and am, thinking for myself for the first time in my life - which, I'll remind you, has been longer than yours,~ Chromia snapped. ~I'd like to think that a thousand vorns of service to the Cybertronian people, serving as their link to Primus, has given me the right to chose my own future.~
~And so you chose a future that involves fighting? This war isn't a pleasant thing, femme. No war ever is -~
~I know that! I have seen it!~ Chromia hissed, interrupting Ironhide. ~You do not grasp just what my gift has shown me! I saw Megatron massacring the senate, in vivid detail, before it happened! I have seen every major battle of this war, whether or not it has happened! I have seen mechs have parts ripped out and crushed, seen mechs get ripped apart. Fraggit Ironhide, I need only to look at an Autobot or Decepticon to see how they will die. Do you think that such visions are all sunshine and high-grade? Because they aren't. They are a never-ending display of death and carnage, tragedies that I cannot prevent. Not unless I do something - and unfortunately, sitting around spouting prophecies no longer counts as doing something. This war is so far out of control that the only way I can affect the future anymore is with my own actions and decisions. Everyone else is set on their path - even you.~
Ironhide opened the door to his quarters, stepping inside and meeting Chromia's furious glare. Silence hung between them as the door slid shut behind him.
"There is a difference between seeing fighting, seeing killing, and doing it yourself," Ironhide rumbled finally, giving Chromia a piercing look, willing her to understand that he wasn't chastising her. He had sworn an oath to protect her, and in his processor, that didn't just mean from physical harm. Chromia looked away.
"Refusal to fight on my part will only lead to your death," she said finally, softly. "And I will not be responsible for the death of anyone else through my own inaction." Ironhide grimaced, stepping over to the femme and resting a hand on her shoulder. In response, she stepped forward and latched onto him, hugging him tightly and hiding her face against his shoulder. Ironhide had no idea what to say - he couldn't really tell her it wasn't her fault, because they'd already been over that, and she'd pretty much admitted that she could have saved some of her priests if she'd tried. She'd chosen not to, though. So Ironhide just stood there, holding her and letting her hold onto him.
In the end, it was a comm ping that made her draw away, a confused look on her face as she spoke on her internal comms turning into a frown, and then a grin as she looked up at Ironhide.
"It seems Ratchet has been made aware of the fact that I need combat upgrades, and would like me to return to med bay to sort them out," she said, and Ironhide winced.
"Fraggin Prowl doesn't waste any time," he said, and Chromia laughed, grabbing him by the arm and hauling him towards the door.
"Come on, I'm going to need help deciding what to get," she said gleefully, and Ironhide groaned.
With the sudden realization that Chromia would have to go into combat, Ironhide decided to do his best to make sure she'd survive. Every moment he could, he was drilling her on combat, and had pretty much permanently taken over a practice range, complete with ranged target dummies and melee holographic opponents. Chromia was less than pleased with all the training, and tried to convince him to let it drop, or at least slow the pace.
"Don't you have faith in your own combat protocols?" she protested after the second day.
"Combat protocols can tell you how to move, but they ain't a replacement for gut reactions," Ironhide growled.
"Aren't the others going to find it odd that you just reunited with your bondmate after who-knows-how-long and are spending all this time in the practice range?" Chromia's second attempt made Ironhide snicker.
"Femme, they've decided to scour this range with acid once we're done," he said.
"Why would - oh." Chromia inexplicably looked embarrassed as she realized the other Autobots thought she and Ironhide were interfacing in the practice range.
"Isn't the best way to learn these sorts of gut reactions through experience?" she tried next.
"Yeah, but you've already had that experience, supposedly," Ironhide said sardonically. "Prowl's gonna stick you someplace where he needs an experience fighter - maybe even in charge of a squad, depending on how short up he is."
"In charge of a squad?" Chromia was clearly horrified at the thought. There were no more complaints after that, and she set to the training with a new purpose. Seeing that, Ironhide decided not to tell her that he'd just been trying to scare her - Prowl would never put a new addition in charge of a squad. He'd want to see how she handled herself in combat, first.
Their half an orn break eventually came to a close, of course, and Ironhide found himself ridiculously relieved when, after Chromia officially joined the Autobots, Prowl informed her that she'd be joining a scouting unit for now. Not a lot of heavy combat, and it would keep her on base more often than not. On the down side, if her unit did get into combat, it was likely to be out in the middle of nowhere with no backup. Which was part of the reason Prowl wanted Chromia along, as it happened - she was to be the unit's heavy hitter.
"If it makes you feel any better, I already plan to use my gift to try and avoid getting into combat," Chromia said dryly after she came back from meeting with Prowl to find Ironhide brooding on the couch.
"Yeah, an' how will you do that without breakin' yer cover?" Ironhide grumbled.
"I may have slipped 'advanced sensors' into the combat specifications you gave Prowl," Chromia said innocently, and Ironhide frowned at her. "Oh don't give me that. With my gift, I can fake them well enough."
"It's still fragging risky," Ironhide said with a glower.
"I'm part of an army now. Of course it's risky," Chromia said with a sigh. Ironhide grumbled more complaints to himself, but didn't voice them. He knew he was worrying excessively, but he couldn't help himself - part of him was wishing he'd decided to just disappear with her, and not come up with this whole cover story. Chromia just shook her head and ignored him, letting him worry on his own as she went through the numerous datapads Prowl had given her on proper Autobot protocols. The tactician had said she could probably just skim them, since the Autobots took most of their protocols from the security forces - but of course, Chromia had never been in the security forces, so she had a lot of studying to do.
For all Ironhide's worrying, though, he ended up getting into combat before Chromia. After their major offensive the day they'd attacked the Temple, the Decepticons, like the Autobots, had been quietly recovering. They came back with a vengeance a few days after Ironhide returned to active duty, though, and all major combat units were sent to counter them - which, of course, included Ironhide. Chromia cheerfully saw him off, telling him not to trip and fall on his face too many times. Ironhide wasn't amused, especially when he tripped in the middle of battle, missing a shot. Thanks to Chromia, more than a few Autobots noticed, and snickered.
"You can't keep doing stuff like that, or someone is gonna notice!" Ironhide snapped when he returned to their quarters immediately upon returning to base, finding Chromia reading on the berth. She looked up and arched an eyebrow at him.
"If I hadn't, you'd be in med bay right now," she said coldly, then returned to her datapad.
"Femme, I end up in med bay every other battle, it's nothing new," Ironhide growled, though some of his anger had deflated. He did appreciate coming back from a battle uninjured, though he would rather come back injured than have Chromia blow her cover.
"Tell you what, I'll stop giving out little prophecies when you start calling me by my name," Chromia said, not looking up from her datapad. Ironhide twitched, then turned around and stomped off to the washracks. He glowered as he scrubbed himself clean, and many of the other 'Bots abruptly decided they could clean themselves later. He was still glowering as he went to the post-battle debriefing - scheduled rather quickly for once, as none of the officers had been seriously injured.
Optimus, Ironhide noticed, was unusually quiet throughout the entire meeting, and the weapons specialist stayed as the other officers filtered out of the room at the end of the meeting. Standing and heading over to his friend, Ironhide put a hand on the Prime's shoulder.
"It was a good battle," he said.
"No battle is ever good," Optimus murmured. "And the anger will only last so long."
"Anger?" Ironhide asked curiously.
"At the loss of the Oracle and the Temple," Optimus said. "Chromia was right, you know. I should have sent a squad with you."
"There were other priorities. Way I heard it, you barely prevented Megatron from grabbing the Allspark as it was," Ironhide rumbled. "An' we'd all hoped that the Oracle would speak up and convince the priests to leave." Optimus snorted at that, but didn't elaborate. "The Temple and the Oracle are just one more loss to pay back the Decepticons for, anyways."
"You've been distracted, Ironhide," Optimus said with a small smile. "There's a subdued quality around the base that was not there before. It's been here since we returned from the Temple and reported it lost. Megatron knew what he was doing that day. Every Autobot knew that the Allspark was the priority - but the Temple was the last island of peace on our world. It had remained untouched for so long. Probably on purpose. Fragging glitch." Optimus growled the last part, glaring at a spot in the table, the comment clearly aimed at Megatron.
"We'll recover. We always do, Optimus," Ironhide said.
"I know," Optimus said, relaxing in his chair. "I suppose I'm just...torn. Part of me wishes the Oracle had chosen to speak up, to save herself, at least. The other part of me...understands."
"Understands what?" Ironhide asked with a frown, and Optimus gave him a tired smile.
"Like her, I have been trained to serve my people since the first moments I can remember. It is a great burden, and sometimes...sometimes it can be too much. Megatron used to help with it...before..." Optimus trailed off, then shook his head. "The Oracle served the Cybertronian people for far longer than I have. I cannot imagine how that burden weighed on her. I only wish that in the end, she hadn't chosen to end it in death. It would have been...nice...to have someone to speak with who understood." The Prime sounded wistful, while Ironhide's processor was whirling at what Optimus had just implied.
"You think the Oracle purposely stayed quiet, so that she wouldn't have to serve anymore?" he asked, aware that maybe he should be more focused on his friend, and not on the Oracle, but not able to pull himself off the topic. Even though Chromia had given him her reasons for staying quiet at first, he still wondered what future she kept to herself, what future made her turn her back on the few priests she'd admitted she could have saved.
"I'm as close to certain as I can be without asking her," Optimus said with a bitter laugh. "I went to see her a few times, as Prime. Most of the time she was calm, collected, distant. Just once, though, there was..." Optimus shook his head. "For a moment, I saw something else, underneath her calm exterior. Someone else. Someone who was not happy with their life, someone who looked so miserable it made your spark ache." Optimus looked up at Ironhide thoughtfully. "No, I understand why she chose as she did. I wish she hadn't, but I understand. I suppose that's why I sent you, instead of an entire squad. I wanted her to have that choice." Sighing, Optimus stood. "Anyways. Enough wallowing in guilt. What's done is done. I'll just have to plan for the inevitable consequences."
"Yeah," Ironhide agreed hollowly, and watched as Optimus headed out. He stood there, thinking over what Optimus had said, before heading back to his quarters.
Chromia was still reading on the berth, and Ironhide stood by the door for a few moments, watching her, thoughts whirling in his processor. Thinking back over his conversations with her, over how she'd smiled when she'd brushed off her decision not to save at least a few of her priests. The faint triumph in her tone, so slight he hadn't even recognized it until now, when she'd mentioned that the priests couldn't block her. But then there was her anger when he'd taunted her about her priests deaths. Her comments to Optimus. Her desire not to inadvertently cause anyone else's death...
"Ironhide?" Chromia was suddenly in front of him, giving him a curious look, and Ironhide grunted in surprise. "Something wrong?"
"Er -" Ironhide paused. If Optimus was correct, then there was every chance that Chromia had used him to escape the Temple. She hadn't just stayed quiet because the future was unclear, she'd stayed quiet until the future became what she wanted. It was a disturbing and unwelcome thought. At the same time, however, Ironhide found himself unwilling to accuse the femme in front of him of being so cold-sparked. "Nah, nothing's wrong."
Chromia frowned at him, but after a moment, returned to the berth and resumed her reading. Ironhide went over to the couch and started cleaning one of his cannons, forcing the unpleasant thoughts from his processor for now.
Despite his best attempts at ignoring his unpleasant suspicions, however, Ironhide found that they just wouldn't go away. He found himself brooding over the idea at the oddest times, and others noticed. Fortunately, a few crude remarks about private conversations between bondmates threw them off, and Ironhide was left to it. As much as he brooded, though, the weapons specialist couldn't come to any satisfactory conclusion about the topic - not without asking Chromia directly, and he'd never do that. If he was right, there was nothing to be done about it except argue. If he was wrong, he'd just be creating an unnecessary rift between them.
His inability to find a solution to his brooding made Ironhide cranky, of course. And a cranky Ironhide had little tolerance for diversionary tacticians that seemed to have taken it into their heads that it was safe to flirt with Chromia. Especially since Chromia, as naïve as she was, didn’t realize the mech she was chatting with was flirting with her, and Ironhide didn't particularly want to point it out to her. She had, after all, refrained from interfacing for a very long time - if not her entire life - and it wasn't unheard of for bondmates to sometimes interface with others. And as much as this charade was to protect Chromia and not to create any sort of actual bond, Ironhide did not want a reputation for having that kind of a bond. Besides, if her priests hadn’t been able to block her out while they were interfacing, there was no telling if he’d be able to block her out, and he really didn’t want to listen to that.
Getting Chromia to stop talking to her new friend without explaining why was, of course, an exercise in futility. The more he tried to get her to say goodbye, the more Chromia dug in her heels and refused to. Already short on temper, Ironhide finally just snapped.
~Just get yer slaggin’ aft over here an’ finish yer energon so we can leave.~ It was a flat-out order, and Ironhide expected Chromia to either out-right ignore him - in which case he was going to go pick a fight with an annoying tactician, proper decorum for an officer be fragged - or snap back and start a fight with him. Either was fine with him at this point. He was irritated enough that he just wanted a fight, no matter the origin.
To Ironhide's eternal surprise, however, Chromia instead politely excused herself, got up, walked over, and sat gracefully next to him. She glared the entire way, and seemed intent on ignoring him once she’d sat down, focusing instead on her energon. Ironhide stared at her incredulously.
“What?!” she finally snapped as he continued to stare at her, slamming her empty cube down on the table. “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t expect ya t’actually do it,” Ironhide grunted in reply.
“Surprise,” Chromia said with a snarl, and Ironhide frowned.
~What’s up?~ he asked her over the bond.
~What do you think is up?~ she snarled, and seething anger came over the bond. Ironhide recoiled slightly in surprise at the sheer intensity of her anger, far more than it should have been for him being a cranky glitch.
~What did I do, femme?~ he asked irritably.
~You mean besides ordering me over here like some kind of slave?~ Chromia retorted.
~Oh like you ever listen -~ Ironhide suddenly stopped, his retort dying as his previous contemplations bought to the forefront a disturbing realization. Every direct order he'd given Chromia, she'd followed, even if she hadn't wanted to. She’d worked around it in some cases – she hadn’t broken into his processor again, but she’d lifted Prowl’s name in a different manner. He’d ordered her not to do that, either, and the next time she’d needed information, she’d asked. She’d gotten up and followed him for weapons training even when she clearly didn’t want to. She’d stopped speaking prophecies, though she’d fought the hardest for that, trying to find every way around it that she could. Other, smaller things.
Suddenly, he remembered how insistent Lowdown was that he needed to bond to the Oracle to look after her properly. And he remembered Chromia outright stating that she only went along with his plan because of the bond Lowdown made between them, and the glare she gave him when he joked about it being a good thing.
Ironhide’s tanks churned unpleasantly, and he abruptly stood, grabbing Chromia’s arm and hauling her up and out with him as he stormed back to their quarters. Chromia cursed and fought him the entire way, earning them both some strange looks as they went, but Ironhide ignored it all, focused instead on his destination. Inside their quarters, he quickly let go of Chromia and locked the door before turning to face the cursing femme.
“Mute it, Chromia,” he ordered to test his theory. The femme muted it, mid-word, and glared at him. “Primus fraggit – what the frag kinda messed up –“ Ironhide snarled, stomping over to Chromia and looming over her. She glared up at him defiantly. “Ya have ta do whatever I directly order ya to.” It was part question, part statement, and part accusation.
“Yes,” Chromia snarled.
“Cuz of that bond thing Lowdown did.”
“An’ did ya have to do everythin’ the priests said, too?” Ironhide growled.
“Of course I did, that’s part of fragging bonding, as you well know, glitch!”
“No it is fraggin’ not part of bondin’!” Ironhide exploded. “I don’t know what kind of messed-up bond Lowdown an’ the other priests formed with you, but it ain’t normal for any member of a bond ta have ta obey th’ orders of another! Frag, that’s just twisted – a bond is about bein’ equals. Even creators can’t use their bond with their creations to outright order ‘em to do things. That’s fraggin’ slavery, not bondin’!”
“You haven’t even been bonded before, what the slag do you know?” Chromia retorted.
“I know what every young Cybertronian has been told the moment their interface protocols come online!” Ironhide snarled. “I know from vorns’a experience as a security officer that bondmates can, an’ do, violently disagree with each other, sometimes to the point of physically fighting! Do ya honestly think that it would come ta that if they were able ta order each other around?!” Chromia just glowered at him, and Ironhide frowned back at her, his optics narrowed as his processor whirled.
He had wondered, fleetingly, how the priests had managed to create the group sparkbond. Part of the reason it had only been a rumour was because it was supposedly impossible. Once a sparkbond was made, it couldn’t be added to or altered - the only change that could happen to it after it was formed was its dissolution with the death of one of those involved. Granted, that didn’t mean there couldn’t be multiple sparks in a sparkbond – pairs were 'normal', but trines were just as frequent amoung Cybertronians, and occasionally there were quads or more. But in all cases, every spark involved in the bond was there at its formation. There was no way to add others afterwards. Yet the priests had maintained a group sparkbond for an incredibly large number, and had added to it over time. The reason they could do that, Ironhide was realizing, was that it was not a normal bond – they’d twisted a sparkbond into something else entirely, something they could use - something to control the Oracle.
And suddenly, everything he'd been brooding over since his conversation with Optimus slid into place. Ironhide felt the urge to shoot something as he realized just why Chromia had chosen not to save those last few priests. Something that preferably had Lowdown's faceplate.
Instead, however, Ironhide chose to deal with the results of the priest's abhorrent actions.
“Open yer sparkchamber,” he told the femme in front of him gruffly, taking care not to make it an order.
“Why?” Chromia asked suspiciously.
“Because there is no way in the fraggin’ pits that this bond is gonna remain as it is,” he growled. “I refuse to be part of a bond that allows me ta have absolute control over someone. I refuse ta allow you ta be part of a bond that allows someone ta order you around.”
“Even though it makes your job easier?” Chromia taunted, though Ironhide caught a hint of surprise in her optics. The weapons specialist brought his hands up to rest on the femme’s shoulders as he pinned her with his optics, speaking entirely seriously.
“My job is ta keep ya safe – includin’ from mechs or femmes like yer former priests who would take advantage a’ya, through a twisted bond or otherwise. If I could, I would break the bond we have an’ make sure, through any means necessary, that you were never forced inta such a bond again. But I can’t. So the only solution is ta fix the bond we do have to prevent others from takin’ advantage of ya fer as long as I can protect ya from ‘em.”
Chromia stared at him, a confused expression on her face, her body tense. She clearly didn’t know what to think of the situation, and with a sigh Ironhide let his arms drop as he continued to speak.
“Y’know what Optimus’s favourite sayin’ is? 'Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.' Most mechs an’ femmes think they understand it, whether or not they agree with it, but most’a them don’t. I do, though. So do Prowl an’ Ratchet. It’s why we’re Optimus’s officers. He knows we understand that he doesn’t just mean freedom from physical slavery - he means freedom from all kinds of oppression: social, mental, and physical. The freedom to go where ya want doesn’t mean slag if ya can’t be who an’ what you want to be.
“An’ that type of freedom is what this fragged-up bond is denyin' ya.” Ironhide gave the femme an intense look. “Optimus said somethin’ the other cycle that made me think that maybe you stayed quiet at th’Temple until the future became what you wanted – until it was unavoidable that the priests should die, leavin' only me as yer guardian. I didn’t want ta believe it, ta ask ya ‘bout it, cuz it’s a pretty cold-sparked thing ta do. But if you’ve been living with this kinda oppressive bond for all these vorns, I don’t fraggin’ blame you one bit. Frag, I wanna shoot your priests myself right now.”
Chromia gave him an intent look, looking like she was trying to find the truth of his words in his optics, and after a moment, Ironhide reached out over the bond, which was no longer completely closed off.
~Look if ya don’t believe me,~ he said, keeping his own trepidation out of his mental voice as he invited Chromia into his processor. She swept in like a storm, her presence a whirling ball of emotions as she slipped past his lowered firewalls and saw that he absolutely believed and meant everything he’d just said. She was gone in a flash, the bond closing as she gave him a look that was part wonder and part curiosity. After a beat, Ironhide let his chest armor slide apart, and opened his spark chamber to her. Chromia’s gaze shifted to his exposed spark, and she reached out with one hand, resting it on the armor that had slid aside. She looked up at him with a strange expression on her face.
“With our current bond, if you found your mate, you could still bond with them, breaking our bond,” she said. “If we do this, though –“
“An’ as someone who can see th’future, tell me, when will I find that mate, huh?” Ironhide drawled. Chromia smiled weakly, seeming a bit unsteady. “Yeah, tha’s what I thought. I gave up on findin’ a mate when I made that oath to protect ya, Chromia. I’m not givin’ up anythin’ I didn’t already give up.”
Chromia hesitated a moment longer, then nodded, stepping closer to him. Her arms wrapped around him as she burried her face in his neck, and he held her in return as he felt her chestplates slide apart. Then she must have opened her spark chamber, because suddenly the room was gone and he was entirely focused on the new spark joining with his own.
It wasn’t sexual, or even romantic, but Ironhide was fine with that. He was doing this to protect her, and he let that be the tie to bond their sparks together, even as she offered up her desire to be free as her half of the bond. For any other mech or femme it might not have worked, the bond might not have formed, but Ironhide was fierce in his desire to protect the things or people he felt strongly about, and Chromia’s desire for freedom was a spark-deep ache. Their two desires, different and yet equally strong, swamped the lopsided and twisted bond that had been there before, and it broke part, dissolving into nothingness as it was replaced with something much stronger.