Title: Dark Nobility - Chapter 26 Homecoming
Author: Femme4jack
Fandom: Movieverse (Dathana de Gray AU)
Rating: M
Summary: Optimus shows Esperanza sharing of a different kind as she copes with separation and grief. Meanwhile, Hound is reunited with his bonded and socket and has to cope with surprises of his own.
Pairings: Optimus Prime/Esperanza Rodriguez (OC human), Hound/Mirage/Alicia Rodriguez (OC human), Corrente (OC mech)/Mirage
Additional Characters: Jazz, Prowl
Content Notification: Xenophilia (pnp and sticky), refs to sparklings and previous in-frame mech reproduction.

Notes: A portion of this chapter is revised from a ficlet written for kurichai that was posted on the DDG livejournal comm earlier this year. My apologies for the long delay. Offline life has been intensely busy, and I've had another writing project with a deadline that took up most of my spare time. Thank you so much to those who leave feedback and encouragement. This is for you.

It was not the way either Esperanza or Optimus Prime had envisioned things would take place. Grief, they had expected. How could there not be grief when setting in motion a fate that would irrevocably sever her from her family? But Esperanza's plan had been to face that separation while already deeply immersed in the early stages of forming a socket bond.

No one had anticipated that severing would happen so abruptly. One morning, Mirage, Alicia and Corrente were simply making preparations for their departure, still thirty orns in the future. The next, they were gone.

There had been no time for the formal presentation Corrente had planned when Optimus claimed Esperanza - only for an all too brief, sobbing farewell, mother and daughter clinging to one another, rocking back and forth in the shelter of Mirage's elegant arms. Mirage had then succumbed to the impulses of his coding and prostrated before his Prime, presenting his organic creation with the formal supplications.

It had been brutally brief, by necessity. Optimus had left afterwards for a previously planned state visit to Luna 1, taking Esperanza with him on the trip that would hopefully distract any watchers from what was taking place in a bunker deep below the Iacon palace. After all, it would be difficult to imagine that either Optimus or Esperanza would allow the others to depart without being present, or at least they counted on Jazz believing so. The ruse would only work if Jazz were not yet aware of Night Breeze's defection, as Jazz's creation had been assigned Palace-watching duty. The longer they waited, the less likely that would be, and only a fool would believe that security measures could prevent Jazz from being somewhere he desired to be.

That was how Optimus found himself at his lunar retreat. After the obligatory public ritual and audience with those dwelling there, he had finally been able to retire and attend to the shocked organic.

Esperanza was silent upon his chest on the berth as they looked through the crystal dome at the brilliantly lit planet stretched across the sky. He was plugged in, his spark lazily absorbing the intensity and flavor of her grief as easily as it did her pleasure. The more primal, hungering facets of spark energies did not truly distinguish between the types of organic sustenance they fed upon, though his more conscious waveforms had strong feelings in that regard. In this case, it felt like a means of sharing Esperanza's sorrow and ache - something Optimus deemed appropriate under the circumstances.

"Let's do this," Esperanza finally whispered hoarsely.

"Are you certain you do not wish to wait, Esperanza?" Optimus asked, concerned at the impact of taking such a step in her current emotional state.

"I need to know beyond a doubt why I'm staying," she said with all the quiet ferocity he'd come to expect from her.

Optimus hesitated. He was more than ready, and it would be a simple matter to move her to physical readiness through purely neural touches, or by stimulating her body directly. But... forcing arousal when she clearly felt little or none was not pleasant to contemplate and had multiple subroutines queuing up in protest.

It had been a very long time since he had truly claimed an organic and formed a socket bond. His systems were primed for it, having already manufactured and coded the highly complex nanites that would bring Esperanza into full resonance with himself. In the two human women, he had come to realize why he had been reluctant to form new organic bonds after his initial few. He was fully aware now of what had been missing among those who did not have the same inherent freedom to truly choose him. Perhaps it was the same reason true socket bonds had become increasingly unfashionable over time.

His claim upon the organics who inhabited the palace and his other dwellings was only in the legal sense. The relationship was protective, not bonding; their simple energy tag nanites were constantly renewed in their food and water supply, broadcasting his signature and informing other mecha of dire consequences should they be threatened or come to harm. Though he knew each and every name and background, there were many he had never interacted with personally - many who were too frightened or damaged to do so. The mecha of his staff shared with those who desired to and benefited from the symbiosis, while Optimus normally limited his sharing to the organics who helped run the rehabilitation center or those who accompanied his various lovers.

He had no reluctance to claim Esperanza. Just the opposite, in fact. Since she had come of age, the desire to make her his own and bind her energies to himself had been a constant stream within his processors. But he did not wish the act to be shadowed by reluctance or desperate grief.

Then, of course, was the fact that traditionally, claiming nanites were injected via penetration. There was something viscerally compelling about the careful, gentle push into a fragile organic body with his own systems intent on filling his intended socket with his nanites. Yet that thought, once again brought him back to his initial hesitation.

"What are you processing?" Esperanza asked as though she could feel the contemplations and concern taking place at speeds faster than she could fathom.

"There are many ways to share," Optimus explained. "Sensuality is normally the preferred option. While I certainly can stimulate you sufficiently to inject my nanites, you are not showing any physiological indicators of desiring that kind of intimacy right now. Do you wish me to... overcome that, or should we share in a different manner?"

"I..." Esperanza paused, swallowing as she considered the option to lose herself in the blinding pleasure she knew Optimus could give. Should she forget, if only briefly, the grief that felt like it was shredding of her very soul?

It felt... wrong, somehow, to bliss out in sharing when she would never see her family again. Never again would she sprawl out on gentle Corrente's warm, artistic plates as she baffled him with the organic thought process he tried so hard to understand for Mirage's sake. Never again would she be able to see the barest hint of a smile on Mirage's face when he stopped by to watch her work with all the excellence and skill he had intended when crafting her genetic code. She had been born to be a veterinarian, (or organic medic as her mother insisted), in honor of both Hound's original function and her mother's long career as a biologist.

She would never again see her mother, the only human being she had ever known. Alicia had been her foundation and center from her earliest memories.

Never see... she would never see another human being again, unless she opted to reproduce in the same manner her mother had.

"I... I don't want to forget about them - not even for a moment right now. I will if I lose myself in you," she haltingly explained.

"Then let us share memories of your loved ones," Optimus said. "I will show you whatever you wish to see, and help you recall your own."

"That... yes," she said, sinking into him in relief. This way she could lose herself in him without losing those she was grieving.

There was no outward sign of what was taking place other than a gentle caress along her back, followed by his great hands cupping around her. Then Optimus was inside her - his massive, overwhelmingly benevolent presence spread out within the confines of her mind, knowing it as easily as he knew her body, yet careful to probe only where he was welcomed.

So intimate... more intimate than their sensual sharing. Many of the memories he found and vividly recreated for her were ones she had no ability to recall on her own because she had been so young, some leaving her breathless with laughter or tears or both. She felt every emotion, every joy and sorrow rushing or bubbling up into his spark and eagerly absorbed.

After a time, Optimus carefully began to delve into the darker aspects of her mind, and she sank with relief into the acceptance and kindness she found when he touched those places, willing him to go further, deeper. He gently uncovered her moments of rage at Towers protocols and limitations, the sheer fury when Mirage would not, could not have the same emotional reaction to the traumas she encountered working with First Aid. Then there had been the steadily growing knowledge she'd had as a child that no matter how much her mother loved her, she would always be peripheral to Mirage as the focus of her mother's devotion. Esperanza had instinctively widened her circle in defense, knowing somehow, even as a small child, that if it came down to a choice, her mother would choose her creator over her.

Optimus sought out and loved the aching parts of her soul that raged at the choice her family had just made, the small child still within her that felt abandoned and terrified, even if her adult mind understood.

In response he pressed deeply into her the truth that she was not alone, that one who would cherish her for the remainder of her life was claiming her.

She could feel his spark craving her, craving everything that made her alive and sentient and vibrant, both the light and the dark.

It took her over a threshold, and suddenly she was weeping, begging, demanding. She hadn't even realized that her body had somewhere along the way become ready, not until his hands shifted more tightly around her, sliding her slowly and carefully onto his smooth and sensuous protometal extension, shaped perfectly to move deep within her and press against her most sensitive places. Optimus deliberately shifted her perceptions. Instead of penetrated, she was carefully and gently penetrating, feeling the burn pooling deep inside to release the nanite-filled fluid that would change her. She felt the primal longing to fill her with himself, with his energies, tiny living parts of his own frame, felt the longing to make her resonate and vibrate so harmoniously that in a very real way she would be a part of the spark that she nourished. His deep rumble as he released himself within her could have been her own, and then she knew nothing but light and fire and ecstasy as though his very spark was subsuming her soul.

She was too far gone to note his wash of panic as he received an emergency message encoded from Iacon. She slept deeply through the transit back, and woke in the company of First Aid and his brothers, assigned to protect and keep her calm while Optimus dealt with not just one, but two deadly silver spawn of the Unmaker.

Seventeen years.

They hadn't truly been gone so long. Mirage had been on missions that had lasted for a hundred vorns before, and while Hound had missed him deeply, he had accepted it as part of a life bonded with Jazz's prized spy. For Hound, seventeen years was but a blink of existence.

So why did his spark stutter dangerously the moment Mirage stepped through the portal?

Was it how tightly shielded Mirage was? Their bond, through which he'd known Mirage was functioning, but nothing more, exploded into fullness the moment Mirage stepped through. Yet, Mirage's end was a guarded block of special operations protocols that revealed nothing to the scout.

Not all that different than any other time Mirage returned from a mission from which he had not yet been debriefed.

Was it the fact that Esperanza, who would have been on the cusp of adulthood, was conspicuously absent? Hound could only assume the worst, especially as he turned his sensors on Alicia.

Still young for a socket, Alicia had not only clearly aged in subtle ways only a mech would notice, but moreover had been horribly damaged and repaired. There were no visible signs of whatever agony she had endured, but Hound's scans revealed that far more of her body was now made up of Cybertronian technology. The particular portions that had been replaced nearly caused him to activate his weapons.

Then there was the graceful epitome of a second creation noble who stood precisely behind and slightly to the left of Mirage, carefully holding Alicia and pretending not to notice the sheer organic mess that he had stepped into.

The instant Hound looked at the liquid-patterned beauty of a mech, he knew him to be Mirage's intended, just by the position in respect to Mirage. Towers protocols on those matters were precise. How often had Mirage stood in that exact position in relation to him, formally displaying his status prior to their bonding? Not that there were many left, even back then, who knew how to interpret even the simplest forms of towerling frame language.

Hound immediately stifled the near instinctive flash of betrayal and hurt. Both were more a matter of Mirage's long influence on his own spark than what he truly felt. These were not the feelings with which he wished to reunite with his bonded and their much-treasured socket.

It was true that Mirage was anything if not jealous and possessive. Others had offered to take Hound into their berths to keep him company in Mirage's absences, and Hound always politely declined out of respect for Mirage's insecurities, no matter the length of the mission, and no matter what Mirage's missions might require in terms of berth activities. Hound had taken his comfort with sockets, whether his own when he was fortunate enough to have one, or those of others when he was not, but never other mechs.

Mirage met his optics, a plea for understanding breaking through the tightly shielded bond, which Hound, even in absence of any real information, freely gave. It was not in the scout's nature to do otherwise. Mirage sent a quick surge of gratitude, but had already turned toward Prime, offering him a reverent bow that, to Hound's optics, appeared different than those he'd offered before.

Like the movements of a Swift Sky first creation rather than a second, the scout realized, drawing on his long experience as a hunting guide among Cybertron's nobility and caretaker of their organics.

"My Lord Prime," Mirage said, using the formal Cybertronian court honorifics. "I bring an offer of assistance from your counterpart in a dimension where the war did not take place. 39 scientists, specialists, and artisans whose skills and frame classes we have lost are awaiting your approval to come through. There is also a mech, designation Night Breeze, who seeks asylum here, as well as my intended, Corrente," Mirage gestured toward the smaller noble, ignoring the indignant mutter that arose from several others who were present at that pronouncement. "Getaway and Blazemaster are of this dimension, of course," Mirage gestured to the other two who were standing back from Corrente, the larger of whom was looking around anxiously for his own bondmate. "Your decision must be made swiftly, as we dare not hold the portal open for long."

"Can you vouch for those awaiting approval?" Optimus asked, motioning Prowl and Jazz to come closer to consult.

"I have scanned each of their processors. All those sent by that Prime are offering their services voluntarily, and I do not deem them a threat, though the refugee should be taken into custody by Special Operations until it can be ascertained whether his creator has influenced him in any manner outside of his knowledge or hidden from me."

Jazz did not waste a moment, already extending a data cables to scan and verify that his spy was, himself, not compromised. Mirage nodded in acknowledgement, spiraling open his ports. Hound knew his bonded was already lowering every firewall in obedience to the protocols Jazz had long ago coded into him.

Hound looked back toward the other noble, Corrente, who was the perfect model of second creation decorum, meeting no mech's optics and not obviously watching any of the proceedings. Hound heard Alicia speak quietly to him, and the reply from the towerling was gentle in turn. Corrente carefully placed her on the ground, and she ran toward Hound.

Without any hesitation, he scooped up his socket, his cable snaking into her neck hungrily to thoroughly scan the changes that had taken place in her and ascertain her well-being.

~Hound, querido, take my memories so you can understand. Corrente is... if you do not accept him, it may break Mirage. He gained back everything he lost to war, but still came back here, for you and for his duty.~

~Of course, Alicia,~ Hound responded, pressing upon her his assurances that nothing that made any of those he loved happy would be denied them. He partitioned a portion of his processors to swiftly copy and integrate her memories of their time away. They would help him know what to expect when he later merged with Mirage, as well as what Alicia would need to recover from her ordeal. He then was then free to focus on scanning her deeply, sending soothing and welcoming pulses into her body and psyche. Feeling her melt into his hands that held her close to his spark was just the balm he needed as he awaited whatever came next.

He felt her thoughts flash toward her daughter, whom he saw in her mind fully mature, confident, and as bright and lovely as the product of Alicia's genetic code and that which Mirage had tailored could be expected to be. ~Esperanza?~ he asked, unable to wait until the memories were properly sorted.

~She... decided to remain. It's the only home she's ever known. She's been part of Prime's household since she was a baby. I should have predicted that she would become his socket.~ Hound could only send more soothing impulses in response to the grief and pride that warred within her. Both combined with a palpable fear that as pleasurable and privileged as her daughter's life would be, there was a very real chance that Esperanza would lose the sense of personhood Alicia had worked so hard to instill in her - not out of any malicious intent from that dimension's Prime, but simply in response to how overwhelming and powerful his spark was.

Hound continued to stroke her, both with his index finger and through their socket bond, noting in his own carefully shielded grief that Alicia's sense of personhood and worth had likewise diminished in her time away. Based on what she said of Mirage, he would have his hands full sorting his lovers out in the months and years to come.

As he shuffled through her memories, his sense of awe grew, as well as growing dread at what he would be facing. ~Consort to a Prime untouched by war, on a Cybertron that never fell. Why did he come back?~

~Because Jazz, Prime, you and Brisa have a greater claim on him than any of it. He could have rewritten his protocols to allow it, but...~ Alicia trailed off, unable to finish the statement as pain and insecurity surfaced and were just as quickly quelled by the knowledge of whose hands she was in and whose cable was attached to her socket. ~He is more first creation than second now. Having Corrente as his intended has eased something in him, because it represents the approval of what he has become by the one he was originally created for. Look at my memories of Storm Front and Bijaksana.~

Before he could do so, Jazz was suddenly standing in front of him, his gaze uncompromising with none of the relaxed demeanor that had been typical for him since Repertoire's separation. "I need t' scan Alicia's protection protocols," was the only explanation Hound was given as Jazz reached for the human and Hound instinctively tightened his grip.

"I was expecting this, let me go Hound," Alicia said quickly, though Hound noted how she flinched away from Jazz's claws at first. "There's information even Mirage couldn't get out of my head, and time is of the essence," she explained, climbing into the waiting arms of the silver minibot, who did not waste a second in plugging in to her, making her go limp. Hound took a step toward her in concern, but Jazz did not even spare the scout a glance, instead making his way toward a large group of mecha who were coming through portal, including one on a hover stretcher, securely bound and in stasis.

Hound looked around, trying to get his bearings. Mirage was being led away by Whiplash for a more thorough debriefing. Alicia was being held to Jazz's chest even as he began hacking the mech in stasis. Hound finally returned his attention to the noble standing with quiet grace in the midst of it all. He searched through the memories he was swiftly cataloging and integrating and found those Alicia had spoken of, regarding a mech named Storm Front and his bonded, Bijaksana. Neither were designations he had ever known before, as Mirage himself had deliberately deleted them long ago, but as soon as he saw the images, understanding blossomed. He did not hesitate to walk toward the lightly armored second creation who stood like an elegantly polished stone amid the current of activity flowing around him.

"Corrente," he said, grasping the mech's hands and tilting his helm to meet the far more delicate one while bringing up his files on the proper words for such an occasion, making the changes that his own ethical coding demanded. "Provided Optimus Prime agrees, I welcome you to my household as the intended bonded of my bonded, and, should all desire it, third of our trine."

The noble's armor and field flared briefly in surprise, so quickly Hound nearly missed the gesture. Corrente bowed his helm more deeply, before looking up to meet Hound's optics with his gold ones. "My Lord, and bonded of my intended, there is nothing I desire more than to please you both and prove myself worthy of the favor you are showing me."

"Considering the pleasure and happiness Alicia's memories show that you have brought to Mirage, you've already done so," Hound said, steeling himself for many vorns of teaching yet another noble the meaning of love.

Whatever Corrente might have said in response was interrupted by Jazz letting out a feral growl and leaping toward the portal even as he threw Alicia to Prowl, who caught her limp form.

"Jazz!" Prowl called in horror as the silver mech disappeared into the shimmering light, grappling with another silver figure who had been attempting to cross through. With a flash both disappeared within it.