Title: Tunnels

'Verse: Very Pre- 07/09movie'verse

Characters: Optimus, Ironhide, Ratchet, two Enforcers, mentioned Megatron

Summary: It's hardest to move forward when you can't see the path ahead.

Rating/Warnings: PG

AN: I have been bunnied on the train. But never by the train... thus the tunnel musing from where my commute goes from subway to elevated track.

And I honestly have no idea what this was, or where it's going or what. I just sorta followed along until it seemed to reach a circle.

This was the problem with tunnels…

Ironhide did not mind going in to tunnels, which is what most mechs would have expected to be the issue.

The Head of the Guard didn't worry about the entrance into a narrow space. His scanners could have free rein over the entrance and first few metras within. The mech was also confident that he could deal with anything that might be found inside.

He wasn't fazed by the gigatons of Cybertron that was supported above him. The Architects, the best and sharpest processors of the planet assured him that the structuring was sound. Despite the fact that he snorted to himself a bit over that, he had to agree with the building mechs. 'Hide believed that the planet and buildings resting upon the arch work would remain up there, just as they had for millivorns.

It was coming out that the black mech didn't like. The exits from the network of intercity tunnels had an odd tendency to baffle sensors for a brief click right as a mech emerged. Each time he drove from beneath the planet's outer plating, he had to believe that there was no threat waiting. It was a perfect setup; any enemy waiting beyond the tunnel mouth would have their targets funneled through a narrow gap, momentarily disoriented, and unable to complete long range communications until they had fully exited. Ideal ambush.

These thoughts were what had Ironhide rumbling along at Optimus Prime's back quarterpanel as they drove the tunnel from Iacon to Praxus. They were a slightly ragtag team, the Prime and his bodyguard, and the best medic they could kidnap as the swarm of distress signals came from the nearby city. The rest of the contingent underway were largely the rest of the Guard and some of the Enforcers and what emergency repair crews could be spared since the Lord High Protector's troops had largely vanished from Iacon.

"Slow down, Prime," the black hauler growled, reminding the larger mech that they were approaching the end of their journey and about to emerge above the crust in Praxus.

"Yes, Ironhide," Optimus replied, decreasing his speed and allowing the convoy to compress as the track angled upwards.

The old Guard drew ahead of his Prime, quieting his engine and pushing out of the tunnel. The vehicle almost seemed to wince as the final metra dazzled his sensors. What met his scanners when they cleared left his spark cold. He rose up to his bipedal mode, hearing the rest of the mechs behind him following suit. Quiet murmurs of shock met his audios, all of them looking over the ruins of a shattered city. Buildings gone or leaning at each other in angles that seemed like overcharged mechs. Fires scattered randomly instead of the steady pulsing lights of communications arrays and roadtracks.

"Sweet Primus…" Ironhide muttered.

Optimus shifted tensely on his pedes, fists tightening at his sides. His optics flickered painfully for a brief click, just enough for his old bodyguard to catch. "Fan out. Secure the area and search for survivors."

The medic snarled, beginning to bark orders to those of the repair fields. "Triage, now… start with…"

Ironhide shook his head at Ratchet and began tracking through the rubble, carrying what few mechs still had a spark beating in their chassis back to the repairbots. He had to keep moving further and further from the camp. Looking back at it from the city center, the temporary base seemed awfully like a sparkling huddling near the perceived safety of the tunnel. A harsh snort and he scanned his immediate area for signatures. There was a single pulse, buried beneath a collapsed wall. Again, he cycled the cannons at his forearms back slightly from their ready-charge, tracing the pale flicker of energy and beginning to dig the mech out.

"Prime, get yer damn muscle cables over here. I need more torque to get this one out before he gutters."

"On my way, Ironhide," Optimus replied, voice strained over the commlink.

The bodyguard huffed, his charge needed to keep it together; the Prime could deal with his counterpart and the ramifications of razing a city to the ground later. Now, these mechs needed Optimus to be strong. They needed to get the survivors out before they needed to move on to what would likely be a trail of flattened cities…

As the Prime strode up, Ironhide was struggling to lever a panel of concrystal three times his own size. "Hurry up, mechling!" the black snarled, and together they shifted the slab up and away. They revealed a flash of white, and while Optimus moved some of the more massive blocks aside to clear an extraction path, Ironhide crouched to keep pulling aside pieces probably bigger than the buried mech.

Grunting with the effort of heaving a long plate aside, the red, blue and silver Prime vaguely heard a choked hiss from behind him. He turned, to see his guard standing stiffly. Odder still, a small silver mech was latched to the black chest, a brightly glowing blade to the energon lines of Ironhide's throat.

All three froze.

"Come t' finish what th' slaggin' Seekers started?" the silver mech hissed, "Thanks for getting' out Prowl, but I'm not lettin' ya have 'im."

'Hide snarled, rearing his head back and baring his denta at the mech perched on his chassis. The smaller mech tightened his hold at black plating and twitched the blade, a thin line of shimmering energon trickling down to Ironhide's collar.

"Ironhide," Optimus admonished, astoundingly even-toned considering the situation. He padded calmly back to the bodyguard, hands raised casually. "We will not harm your companion," he murmured to the silver. "Medics and supplies are waiting at our camp. We have been looking for survivors all orn."

The silver mech's visor flashed as he glanced between the two mechs; he unhooked his feet from near Ironhide's hips, earning a grunt as he climbed down. The blade remained trained on the bodyguard, but the mech glared pointedly at Optimus, "Why should I trust ya? Th' Lord High Protector hi'self chirped us his command codes b'fore orderin' the strike on us dissidents."

Prime winced, his spark seeming to hammer at the shields he and his twin had slowly built up. He looked at his bodyguard, and then drifted scans over the downed black and white that the blade-wielding mech had identified as 'Prowl.' Both he and the silver had the emblems of the Praxian Enforcers etched on their shoulders.

"We wanted him deactivated, didn't have to dig him out," Ironhide snarled, energy pulsing through the cannons at his forearms. He leaned more over the silver mech, but another prod from the blade had him freezing with a low hitch in his intakes. "Would have happened in the next few cycles on its own," he rasped.

It was subtle, but the smaller mech suppressed a shudder. He obviously cared for his fellow Enforcer, and the betrayal of the Protector, Executive Commander of the Enforcement Divisions had to be wearing on him.

Frag, it was wearing on Optimus. He edged in, forcing his field smooth and soothing. Prowl's only chance was proper care, and unless they got him to Ratchet and the camp, that was not happening. But this small visored mech needed to trust him. "Prowl needs a medic," the Prime rumbled evenly as the black and white shivered, his vocalizer making a high cutty whine. "Let us help your friend."

"Like yer glitchin' sparksib did?" the mech replied, visor flashing dangerously. "Once Megatron was allow'd in th' city, he let th' Seekers loose. They target'd us first, Enforcers, support mechs, endin' wit' helpless civ'lians." His spurred shoulders rolled tightly, shifting light reflecting on a swath of energon trailing down his back. The Enforcer growled and glared at Ironhide's weapons systems, resetting his grip and moving the blade closer beneath the black mech's jaw. He was edging closer to snapping.

The larger red and blue raised his optics to Ironhide's, processors wheeling. He needed to end this soon, or both of the monochrome mechs could be lost. The black mech set his jaw, optics flashing in the helmshake as he disallowed his Prime risking anything for his old spark.

"I am neither my brother, nor his keeper..." Optimus offered tentatively, slowly straightening to his full height, "I swear by my beating spark; I will neither become him, nor let him go unchallenged." He carefully turned towards Prowl and back to the mech with the blade. "Believe me because I will need you and every surviving mech - in the Enforcers, in Praxus, to stand against him."

Light slid off the silver mech's visor as for the briefest of clicks he seemed to ponder his options. Then he deftly pulled the blade away from Ironhide's neck. "Ya keep Prowl from the Matrix, and ya'll get me too."

Optimus nodded, "Agreed."

Ironhide sneered and scrubbed the energon off his throat, flicking it from his fingertips.

The Prime knelt by Prowl, murmuring soothing churrs to the injured mech. He took more rubble from around the Enforcer, making a surprised chirp when that uncovered a double pair of dorsal wings. Palming charge over the sensitive appendages, he slipped an arm around Prowl's back and the other beneath his knees, then he carefully pulled the mech to his chest and stood.

Prowl's optics flickered, the sensor panels hanging limply by the hauler's elbow. A brief shot of static skittered from his vocalizer, and his fingers gripped at Optimus' chest.

"Easy, do not attempt to speak," the Prime nickered softly.

The injured mech twitched his helm, trying to form words and managing an almost musical tone, "J~kztz." Optimus could not make it out and glanced questioningly at the other two.

Warbling, the silver mech gingerly stepped over to his fellow Enforcer. "Jazz," he translated, looking up to the Prime. "My designation's Jazz. And I'm fine, Prowl, ya took the brunt of it, knockin' me clear."

Whether the black and white heard and understood, or simply could not struggle anymore, his optics dimmed and he went lax against red chestplates. "Jazz," Prime replied, "we should get moving before your companion's situation becomes any more critical. Ironhide, provide cover."

The Guard tipped his helm in a brief salute, whirring his cannons back to charge. He and Optimus met optics, communicating silently before the black mech took the lead back toward the medical bots. Jazz waivered a fraction on his pedes, but fell into step behind the bodyguard and Prime. Ironhide stalked in the direction of the tunnel, skirting the worst of the instable rubble and only glancing back occasionally to check that Optimus was able to keep up with the semi-conscious Prowl. He was peering hard at the skies when there was a sudden crash from behind them. "Fragging finally," he groused before even turning around.

Optimus glanced carefully over his shoulder, making a worried huff about the now crumpled and stasis-locked Jazz. "He held on longer than would be expected for his frame size and the amount of energon he has lost."

"Glitch snuck up on me quieter than a sensor echo," 'Hide snorted, folding his cannons into his forearms and backtracking to gather up Jazz in a similar carry to Prime's hold on Prowl. "Mech's too damn sneaky for his own good. He went offline earlier and alone, none of us would have found him…"

"I am aware, Ironhide." Optimus peered between the two injured Enforcers now that he had the opportunity. Jazz must have a broken fuel line in his back or shoulders, Prowl probably had severed neural cables and numerous crush injuries; all things beyond the repair capabilities of himself or his bodyguard. He cradled Prowl closer, at least the duties of the next few orns were written: rescue and salvage. It was later that worried the Prime. "We should get them back to Ratchet."

Ironhide grunted, tipping his helm in a salute as the taller mech broke into a smooth run towards the medics. He took off after Prime, long vorns of familiarity letting him keep pace with the longer legs. Supporting the limp Jazz securely against his chest, he watched the red and blue back of the larger hauler.

Megatron was technically 'Hide's commanding officer, as Lord High Protector he led the Guard, the Enforcers and the flight battalions. But Ironhide's loyalty was with Optimus, the mech he had trained and stood by for vorns. And Optimus would need the support, while he'd been trained in combat, he was not a fighter or a military mech. He was a politician, a delegate, a spiritual leader. As much as Prime was reining in his emotions and maintaining that veneer of control and confidence, 'Hide knew that the mech was nervous. Megatron's betrayal could not be allowed to stand, he needed to be brought under control. A member of the ruling Diad would have to fight against his partner for the first time in Cybertronian history. Prime, Ironhide, the Council, no one had any experience with this type of battle to draw on.

Ironhide increased his pace and fell in beside Optimus. "I'm right beside you, mechling." To whatever end.

This was what he hated about tunnels. You never knew what was going to be on the other side.