Love Comes Around – 2/2

Reading Time: 109 Minutes


Title: Love Comes Around
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandoms: 9-1-1, The Sentinel
Relationship: Evan “Buck” Buckley/Eddie Diaz, Background Maddie Buckley/Lou Ransone, Athena Grant/Bobby Nash
Genre: Fusion, Romance, Alternate Universe
Warnings: Explicit sex, explicit language, discussion-violence, character bashing
Word Count:  62,541
Author’s Note: Due to many changes, this is a deep AU with a different timeline. The deciding factor on that subject was Maddie Buckley coming online while in college and bonding with an Alpha Sentinel who took no shit from her parents and didn’t allow them to keep Evan. Buck is a bit softer, less reckless, and more confident in the love he has in his life because of the security Lou Ransone provided for Maddie and both of her brothers. I think Chimney Han is a loser and is canonically guilty of intimate fraud. He’s a disgusting womanizer in season 1 of the show. 
Beta: Ladyholder
Summary: Eddie Diaz comes online as a Sentinel in a combat zone. One feral combat drive, two bullet wounds, and a Silver Star later, he’s facing a Guide search in the civilian system after failing to make a match within the military ranks.

Evan Buckley has been online for a few years and recently found his calling as a firefighter. He didn’t expect to meet his Sentinel the very first time he’s selected in a search.

* * * *

Chapter 6

“Hey, Buckaroo heard you won the lottery,” Hen said wryly as Buck cleared the stairs and entered the loft at the station house.

Buck grinned and quickly crossed the space to drop down on the sofa beside her. “Hey, how goes the studying?”

“Great, I’m ready for the exam.” Hen turned and tucked up a leg so she could face him. “How’s it going? The bond thing? How does it work?”

“Well, empathic bonds are built on psionic connections and physical imprints,” Buck said. “I can recommend a few resources if you’d like—you might find it interesting, and it could help in the field if you ever have to work on a Guide and Bobby isn’t on hand. Probably even more important for an injured Sentinel since a lot of their pain management should happen through the bond. Medications, even those on the safe list, can be dicey in certain situations.”

She nodded. “I’ll be seeking a secondary certification to work on Sentinels and Guides—to make sure you guys have what you need in the field.” Her gaze drifted across the loft where Chimney Han was playing a game with a guy Buck didn’t recognize. “Scott Corsair, from the 136, he’s picking up some extra hours. Got a baby on the way.”

Buck nodded.

“Chim seems to be getting along with him,” Buck muttered.

“Scott’s…average,” Hen said in a near whisper. “Middle of the road at the academy, competent but not a standout in the field. No competition on any front, really.”

“Oh.” Buck huffed and made a face. “Gross. Anyways, I came to talk to Bobby, but his door was closed.”

“He’s been on the phone with the chief all morning,” Hen said. “Apparently, the chief wants to move you to the 56 to prepare for when your Sentinel comes out of the academy.”

“Ugh, no. I said I didn’t want that station, and I haven’t changed my mind.”

“You’ll go where you’re sent,” Chim said shortly as he took a seat across from them.

“Or I can transfer to LA county and get exactly what I want,” Buck said evenly and watched Chim’s cheeks darken. “Or I can go to Santa Monica. I was offered jobs with both departments after I left the academy. So, no, I don’t have to go where I’m sent.” Buck checked his watch. “I don’t even have to work as a firefighter. I can go back to the Burton Foundation and make twice what I make here.”

“What about your little calling?” Chim questioned.

Buck frowned at him. “Having a personal calling doesn’t mean I have to tolerate an abusive situation.” The older man blinked at him. “From anyone.”

Bobby came up the stairs at that point. “Hey, kid, where’s your better-looking half?”

Buck grinned. “Right? How does someone like that even exist?”

“Your Sentinel’s pretty?” Hen questioned with a grin.

“Beautiful,” Buck admitted and shook his head. “Honestly—just bone-deep beautiful. Heroic, honest, and profoundly dedicated to his kid, it’s just very compelling, to say the least.” He focused on Bobby. “I heard the chief was giving you issues.”

“Yeah, but I’ve explained to him, again, that LAFD didn’t even give you the best contract out of the academy and that Santa Monica’s offer is open-ended and all of that was before you bonded with a decorated war vet.”

“Decorated?” Chim questioned.

“Silver Star,” Bobby said shortly. “Valor and gallantry in combat. Sentinel Diaz saved his whole unit after a helicopter crash and took two bullets while he did it.” He paused. “And had to be sedated because neither bullet took him down.”

Chim’s mouth was hanging open, which in other circumstances would’ve made Buck laugh, but he kind of hated the look on the older man’s face. It looked like a mixture of shock and something like envy. He made it a point to avoid Chimney empathically because the man was a hot mess emotionally—seething with an inferiority complex. It was off-putting, and the only real saving grace in the situation was that Bobby had forced Chimney into therapy within a month of his becoming the captain of the 118.

“He doesn’t like to talk about that,” Buck said and stood. “It’s important that everyone know he had a feral combat drive because it’s part of his development as a Sentinel, but he wouldn’t want it to be discussed casually. And it could be relevant in the future if he were to face a situation similar.”

“So, he’s dangerous.”

“Everyone is dangerous,” Buck said evenly and raised an eyebrow when Chim scoffed. “Seriously, I’ve never met a single adult human that didn’t have the potential to be someone’s worst nightmare. We’re all animals draped in a thin veneer of civilization that can be stripped away in a few hard moments. The difference between anyone else and a Sentinel is that they have a fundamental imperative to protect the tribe.”

“Which means when a Sentinel goes off the rails, the only people who get hurt are the ones who have it coming,” Bobby said, and Chim huffed. “Buck, what’s up?”

“Oh, Eddie and Christopher are taking a nap. Physical therapy wasn’t great for anyone today. So, I had to run some errands. I stopped by HR and picked up the information I needed to handle all of that business and wanted to stop by and update some stuff with you personally.”

“Come on, then. Have you already settled into his space?”

“Yeah, I’m working through the house going over materials and chemicals. Most of the cleaning stuff will have to be tossed. Plus, his ex left a lot of cheap plastic behind, and you know how I feel about that shit. I’m gonna get all of my glass food storage and kitchen stuff out as soon as possible. Plus, there isn’t even an Instant Pot. How am I supposed to live like that?”

Bobby laughed.

“Seriously, you know I like to pressure cook a whole chicken for meal prep.” Buck huffed when his captain continued to laugh. “Regardless, I’m going to Target after here and my storage place. Can I borrow your truck? I’ll bring it back before shift ends.”

“Sure.”

Buck made a face when he heard Chimney make exaggerated huffy noise from the loft and followed Bobby into the office.

“He’s worse now than he ever was before,” Buck pointed out. “He was a dick when I used to come around to visit before the academy, but now there’s just this whole new layer on it.”

“That’s not really about you and never has been. He’s got a chip on his shoulder that nothing is going to budge because of his father. Plus, the whole outright abusive situation that was going on in this station when he was hired. He’s holding things against you that are in no single way your fault. Then there’s the thing with your sister.”

“What thing with Maddie?” Buck questioned, gaze narrowing. “How would he even know her?”

“Maddie’s work with the LAPD, as a profiler, has brought her out to scenes before,” Bobby reminded. “Do you remember the serial arsonist case from two years ago?”

“Yeah, it was driving Lou nuts,” Buck admitted. “I was at UCLA, and he made me come home and stay at the house after one of the dorms got hit. I remember Maddie working on that case. What’s it got to do with Chim?”

“Nothing, except that they crossed paths on a scene, and he asked her out,” Bobby said. “I heard this second hand because I was still in Minnesota at the time. Athena told me all about it because most believe that was the case that started her down the road to coming online and the guy breaking into her house was the final stressor. Regardless, Maddie told him no without any sort of stipulation or explanation.

“He sent her flowers the next day to apologize and asked for a chance to get to know her.”

Buck winced. “I don’t…I’ve never heard anything about this, and I’ve been complaining about Chim for months. Why didn’t Maddie tell me?”

“Well, her pregnancy has been stressful, and she didn’t want to make things more difficult for you here, especially in your unbonded state.” Bobby shrugged when Buck glared at him. “Regardless, to avoid Lou getting in Chim’s face, she contacted LAFD HR and told them to explain the situation to Chim. He got called on the carpet for not only failing to recognize Alpha Guide Prime of the Pacific West. And for ignoring the rejection of an online Guide and married woman. He had to attend a bunch of seminars on interacting with Guides and one on sexual harassment all because of a woman he spent barely five minutes with.”

“Well, because he ignored being told no,” Buck clarified. “Which I’ve never understood. Why would you want someone who doesn’t want you? I mean, isn’t being wanted part of the turn-on?”

“It is for a normal person,” Bobby allowed. “But Chim’s a womanizer, and over the last year, I’ve come to realize he’s a pathological liar when it comes to women. He’s dating a woman right now who thinks he’s in medical school.”

Buck sighed. “What?”

“He does the job. It’s no crime to be a sorry bastard.” Bobby shrugged and opened up his laptop. “Let’s figure out what I need to update here and see what HR has sent me. Did they give you any issues on the insurance front?”

“Nah, bonding is a qualifying event. It was tedious but not especially hard. I’ve filled out new forms, and Daniel took care of POA papers for us both. I’m going to introduce them to Carla Price in a week or so because I think Chris needs more one-on-one care that he won’t get in the creche. But Eddie does want him to go there occasionally for socialization, and we’re looking for preschools. Chris just turned four, so we figure he could start pre-school. Is that how that works?”

Bobby nodded. “Athena can provide recommendations for that. She keeps an eye on the schools and knows where the problems are as far as structures themselves go. Plus, her ongoing campaign against problematic staff has created a lot of turnover in the schools, but she doesn’t care at all about that kind of fallout.”

Buck figured that was probably true. He’d only met Athena Grant after she’d come online as a Sentinel but figured she’d always been a badass. “I asked one of the officers that used to live in the Guide house what Athena was like before she came online, and he shrugged and said, ‘At least now we know why we can’t get a damn thing past her.’ Which yeah, I’m sure it was exactly like that.”

Bobby laughed. “I thought you could bring them both to dinner once everything is settled. He could meet Athena in a relaxed fashion, and it’ll make it easier for him during the pride imprint if he’s already been introduced to her. Plus, she can teach him the ins and outs of imprinting the kids by practicing on ours. They’re all excited to meet your Sentinel, at any rate.”

“I’ll ask,” Buck murmured. “His general comfort level is good, and he didn’t seem put out by the idea of me leaving while he napped.”

“How are things going with his son?”

“Oh, honestly, Bobby.” Buck sat back with a smile. “Chris is amazing, bright, and despite his sensitivity, cheerful and easy to entertain. He also achieved a meditative state yesterday afternoon without much intervention on my part at all. I’ve created a Conservator tether with him and made a pocket of sorts around him that I’ve weaved through my bond with Eddie.”

“Good,” Bobby murmured. “Very good.”

“Since Maddie isn’t available, would you take a look at it tomorrow to make sure I’ve not missed anything with the tether?”

“Of course, but I don’t think you could miss anything. You’re Conservator tethers are always very good,” Bobby said and focused on the laptop. “HR has already passed your new data along. Probably because of the chief’s attention on the situation.” He exhaled sharply. “Colbrook thinks he has more influence over this than he does and doesn’t seem to realize that if he pushes Lou too far that he’ll find himself replaced.”

“Sometimes, people in the upper ranks of the LAFD and the LAPD fail to realize that Lou is only a lieutenant because it allows him to work his territory in the manner he sees fit, and he determines who works for him all the way down to the patrol level. They allow that like they’re pacifying him.” Buck shrugged when Bobby laughed. “Some of the newer hires at the deputy chief level just don’t understand that he could walk away from the LAPD without a backward glance if they pissed him off. And he could make their lives a living hell in the process both at a local level and regionally.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said wearily. “It’s a game of sorts—some of it is political, but there is an undercurrent of desperation in some mundanes. They cling to any form of control they can muster when faced with the supernatural circumstances of our existence. The Burton Foundation encourages us to allow it to keep the peace.” He shut the laptop. “Did you give Sentinel Diaz my contact information?”

“Yours, Lou’s, and Athena’s,” Buck confirmed. “He seemed to relax once he had all of that information tucked away. I think he works best in that fashion, so I’m glad I noticed it pretty quickly.” He rubbed his head in a little. “Has Chimney ever worked with a Sentinel?”

“Not with the LAFD,” Bobby said. “But he bounced around a lot before becoming a firefighter. I’ll speak with the whole shift and prepare them as much as I can for it. We’ve got time—it’ll be six months or so, right?”

“Eddie will need another four months of recovery and rehab before he can even think about tackling the physical training at the academy,” Buck said. “Then the twelve-week course. I think six to seven months is probably good. I’m not going to push him, but I can’t say how much he’ll push himself. He doesn’t seem the patient sort, but I’ll moderate that as much as I can. He has the right to relax a little and fully immerse himself in civilian life. Especially since spent he four of the six years he served in theater.”

“Combat is a unique stress and can cause deep emotional wounds,” Bobby said. “Are you experiencing any emotional blowback? Sentinels don’t get traditional PTSD, as you know, but the emotions and trauma can translate into hypervigilance and excessive worry. That could leak all over you.”

“Yeah, I know. It doesn’t appear to be a problem at all so far. Eddie had a nightmare last night. Christopher slept through it, and I was able to soothe him in his sleep through the bond while sleeping in my own room.”

Bobby hummed. “Platonic bonds can be difficult to maintain. I’d know.”

Buck nodded. He knew that while Athena’s marriage had fallen apart quickly because she came online, Bobby had basically clung to his domestic partnership with Marcy because of their kids. There had been a months-long struggle that had finally been resolved with Marcy Nash filing for a legal severance because she couldn’t share her partner with a Sentinel. Buck thought they’d all handled it as well as they possibly could, though he was glad that his own Sentinel hadn’t had a romantic partner to navigate around.

“How….” Buck sighed. “Is it difficult existing as a third parent? Do the kids resent you? I mean, I’ve never noticed anything, but that can’t have been easy.”

“May’s the oldest, and she took her parent’s divorce the hardest but didn’t blame me because there was no overlooking the fact that her father is gay. The other kids are too young, really, to understand the nuance of the situation. They’re pleased to have each other, and it quickly became clear that separating them was more traumatic than anything else, which is how I ended up with primary custody of Robbie and Brooke. Sometimes they get bent on Marcy’s weekends, especially Robbie and Harry, who are deeply invested in their brotherhood. Often, Marcy ends up with Harry, too, and doesn’t seem to mind at all.”

Buck nodded. “The mother isn’t going to be in the picture at all due to…hell, Bobby.” He slouched back in the chair and let his head fall back against the wall. “She never wanted to be a mother, and Chris started to notice it months ago. He feels loved by her but also rejected. It’s hard to fully comprehend because he’s both relieved and saddened by her departure from his life. He wants her to be happy and is sad that she was never happy with him.”

“That kind of sensitivity is a double-edged sword,” Bobby said. “As you well know. He’ll develop very good instincts when it comes to being able to trust other people. It’s a hard lesson to take on at his age. You’ll want a child psychologist.”

“Already on the list,” Buck assured. “He’ll be in a new healthcare network due to a change in insurance. Plus, he has Social Security Disability Insurance, and I have no idea how that works. I think that getting him as much coverage as possible is a good thing, right?”

“Right,” Bobby said. “He’ll probably be due a surgery sooner rather than later due to growth. I don’t know how the cerebral palsy has impacted him physically.”

“It appears to be coordination, hip dysplasia, and muscular issues,” Buck said. “We’re going to have a very long conversation with his pediatrician, and we have an appointment with a neurologist, too. I don’t…want to overstep, so I’m being careful with it.”

“Well, you have a legal obligation to that child since you registered the bond. You already know your ethical obligations as his father’s Guide.”

“Of course,” Buck said. “But Eddie’s immensely protective, and I have to keep that in mind.”

“I know you’ll do fine,” Bobby assured and pulled a set of keys from his pocket. “Leave me your Jeep in case I need to go home unexpectedly.”

Buck exchanged keys easily. “Thanks. Eddie has a truck, but I didn’t want to leave him without transportation. I guess I need to finally trade my Jeep in. It’s not kid-safe, and I’m always borrowing people’s vehicles to take the kids for outings. Now I’ve got a kid, you know, living in my space.” He paused. “Or I’m living in his.”

Bobby laughed. “Yeah, something like that. Kids kind of rule the world, you know.”

Buck nodded but wasn’t all that put off by the thought.

* * * *

“Where’s Buck?”

Eddie glanced over his shoulder as he finished fixing his son a plate of the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets that he’d insisted upon having for lunch. “He had to run some errands. He should be back soon.”

Chris frowned as Eddie put the plate down in front of him. “Can I have ketchup?”

“Sure,” Eddie said and made a disgusted face, which made his son laugh. “If you insist.”

He retrieved a bottle of ketchup and put some on the plate as he’d already learned that Chris couldn’t be trusted with the squeeze bottle. He put the bottle back in the fridge, then started making a sandwich for himself. “Are you sore?”

“I’m fine. Miss Nadine went easy on me.”

Eddie laughed and wished he could say the same. His own physical therapist could be a real sadist. He appreciated the work being put in and knew it was necessary, but he hadn’t had an easy session yet.

“We can use the heating pad if you want,” Eddie suggested. “Heat always helps me.”

“Buck helped more yesterday,” Chris said. “Maybe he’ll be back soon.”

“Maybe,” Eddie agreed. “But we don’t want to make assumptions about Buck’s abilities or his availability. He could be tired after running his errands.” He didn’t know how to explain to his son that he didn’t want to run the risk of Buck feeling used by them for his gifts. “Buck’s part of our family now, so we have to take care of him.”

“Is having a Guide like having a boyfriend?” Chris asked.

Eddie cleared his throat as he considered how to answer that. He noted that his son had a little grin on his face. “It can be that way, or a Sentinel and Guide can just be the very best of friends. Every bond is different, I suppose, and it’s exactly what you make of it.” He sat down at the table with his sandwich. “Everything is very new, so we’re just getting used to each other. Nothing for you to worry about.”

Chris nodded. “Mommy had a boyfriend.”

“Did she?” Eddie questioned. He wasn’t all that surprised because Shannon was a gorgeous woman, but she hadn’t brought it up to him at all. “Did you like him?”

Chris shrugged. “He was boring.”

Eddie laughed. “Chris.”

“He was,” Chris exclaimed huffily. “He didn’t even have a favorite dinosaur, Daddy!”

“T-Rex or bust,” Buck announced as he entered the kitchen with a stack of three boxes.

“See, Daddy. It’s important to have a favorite,” Chris said and scrunched up his nose. “Even a wrong one.”

“Well, what’s your favorite?”

“Triceratops are the best!” Chris said and waved a chicken nugget to make his point.

Buck scoffed. “Prehistoric rhinos? Seriously? Why are you like this, Superman? Who ruined you? Is it your Dad’s fault?”

“I like pterodactyls,” Eddie admitted and shrugged when both his son and Guide looked at him like he’d committed some horrific sin. “I do.”

“That’s almost as bad as not having a favorite, Daddy,” Chris decided. “Mommy had terrible taste in boyfriends.” He flicked a hand. “Clearly.”

Buck laughed, and Eddie just shook his head at his son.

“I can’t believe you’re feeding him frozen chicken nuggets,” Buck muttered and waved the box that Eddie had left on the counter.

Eddie watched him break it down and drop it in the paper side of the recycling sorter. “I think kids are guaranteed the right to have Dino Buddies in the Constitution.” He grinned when Buck grimaced. “Did you have any problems in HR?”

“No, everything went fine. The insurance cards should be in the mail by Monday,” Buck said and opened one of the boxes. “I went to Target and grabbed a few things. Then I went to my storage facility and picked up my cast iron cookware. We’ll need to get rid of the Teflon stuff you have—not great for a variety of reasons.”

“I used one of those pans to make eggs, and they were…disgusting,” Eddie admitted. “So, I’ve been avoiding them ever since. I did find one stainless steel pan that worked fine and didn’t make the food taste weird.”

“Could be soap residue or erosion on the coating,” Buck said. “Cast iron and stainless steel are the best choices for an online Sentinel. I bought an Instant Pot since I figured it wouldn’t be cool to steal the one from the Guide house. We need to go through the house and check all the chemicals that aren’t going to work for you.”

“I can go get the rest…” Eddie started to stand, but Buck waved him off.

“No, please, sit and finish your sandwich. I have to unload everything, then take Bobby’s truck back to him. After that, I figured I could pick up dinner because I don’t feel like cooking, and if I let you two decide—I’ll probably be eating some sort of dinosaur-shaped food product.”

“Yep,” Chris agreed.

Eddie finished off his sandwich and followed Buck out of the kitchen and into the driveway. “Did your captain have a problem with you borrowing his truck?”

“Nah, he’s probably hoping I’ll keep it past his shift so he can drive the Jeep, which he loves to do.” Buck leaned on the truck and stared at him.

“What?” Eddie flushed and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Did you need me to stay for a while?”

“No,” Eddie denied immediately, then sighed when he got a pointed look for his trouble. “Seriously, I’m fine. Chris asked me if a Guide was like a boyfriend. Then told me that Shannon had a boyfriend. It crossed my mind that I don’t know anything, really, about your personal relationships. I know you’re single because Chris asked.” Buck laughed. “But that’s really it.”

“I’ve kept stuff casual for the most part over the last couple of years,” Buck said easily. “Personal relations got difficult after I came online because it was hard for me to ignore the shallowness that some people practically require in their relationships. Just hooking up for sex when I want it started to be the best choice. Guides my age don’t have great luck with relationships since it’s pretty much accepted that the prime bonding years are under the age of thirty-five.” He grinned. “We are statistically very average, you and I.”

Eddie laughed. “Yeah, okay.” He leaned on the truck beside Buck and shoved his hands into his pockets. “This has been the craziest experience of my life.”

Buck hummed under his breath. “I bet. How do you feel about your parents?”

“Disappointed,” Eddie admitted roughly. “But I’m not surprised.” He cleared his throat. “She’s been heading in this direction since he was born. There came a point when I was a kid that I stopped being someone she could exert complete control over. It’s not something I really understood then, but it’s clear as day now. Her frustration and rage would sort of bleed all over the rest of the family. Adriana, my oldest sister, just lets our mother run her entire life. She doesn’t even date, Buck, without explicit permission. Sophia, she’s just eighteen months older than me, ran from our parents and barely takes their calls.”

“Your mother didn’t seem to have any sort of emotional reaction to their names,” Buck murmured. “In fact, the only emotion I really picked up from her was fury and…greed. The kind of greed that is rooted in obsession. We should probably start talking about a restraining order as well—a legal layer to add to everything.”

“Do I need a personal lawyer for that?”

“We’ll handle that through Daniel,” Buck said. “There are policies in place regarding Sentinels and this kind of thing—little legal bows to tie. He’s good at it.”

Eddie nodded and sighed. “Shit.”

“I know.” Buck leaned against him briefly. “I wish I could say it’ll be fine. But it’s probably going to get ugly, and she’ll end up arrested.”

“Yeah, I feel that’s probably going to be the outcome as well,” Eddie admitted. “How the hell do I tell Chris his grandma is in jail?”

“Well, depending on her actions, she’ll probably end up in some sort of institution because she’s probably not going to pass the bar for sanity if she gets to that point. While not all narcissists go completely off the rails, when they do, the results are never pretty. We’ll work on the whole security situation this week, and I’m going to have to replace my vehicle.”

“Why?” Eddie questioned.

“It doesn’t have a great safety rating, and I don’t transport any of the kids in it. If I had to take Chris somewhere…well. We’ll need an additional car seat and a much safer vehicle for me.” Buck shrugged. “Lou let me have the Jeep on the promise that I wouldn’t put any of the kids in it unless I had no choice. Having worked as a firefighter for a few months, I see why now, more than ever, how important that kind of thing is. We work a lot of car accidents—the carnage is awful.”

“Yeah, I can just imagine,” Eddie said. “It should put me off…the idea of dealing with that on the job, but it doesn’t. In the Army, helping people in the worst moments of their lives was the only part that was rewarding. Not that anyone in the DOD would want me saying anything of the sort in public. I got a whole speech about how I should frame my service when I’m asked about leaving after I came online.”

“Well, they don’t want an online Sentinel disdaining military service,” Buck pointed out.

“I would never,” Eddie said and took a deep breath. “I see the honor and sacrifice in it. I just can’t see myself ever doing it again willingly. The thought of picking up another gun is disheartening but not hurtful. If that makes sense.”

“Yeah, it makes sense,” Buck murmured. “Wanna help me move my TV?”

“Sure, but also, that probably isn’t going much further than the living room. It’s twice the size of the one we’ve got in there.”

Buck grinned. “That’s why I got it out of storage. I can’t watch TV or play games on that tiny thing, Eddie.”

* * * *

“Any problems with the storage unit?”

“Nah, I just closed it out because the stuff I didn’t want needed to be donated. So, I dropped some things off for donation and took the rest…home.” Buck considered that. “That’s weird to say.”

Bobby laughed. “Moving into your Sentinel’s territory can be an adjustment.”

“I don’t think he’s as militant as Athena.”

“I’ll show you militant, Evan Buckley.”

Buck just laughed when Athena Grant poked him in the chest as she came to stand in front of him. “Hey.”

“How are things going?” Athena questioned. “Heard his parents are a nightmare.”

“Yeah, it was awful to meet them,” Buck confessed and checked his watch. “I gotta go. I promised Chris Thai for dinner. He gave me very specific instructions. Do most little kids have such limited palates? Your kids eat whatever I give them.”

Bobby laughed. “Well, mine grew eating whatever I was experimenting on in the kitchen. Michael likes to cook as well, so our kids are used to getting something interesting on their plates.” He patted Buck’s shoulder. “I’ll help you meal plan to account for him and also to sort of broaden his interests slowly as long as Eddie agrees.”

“The man fed that kid Dino Buddies for lunch.”

Athena frowned at him deeply. Dino Buddies are great. I have three boxes in the freezer right now.” She paused. “Hidden behind a wall of meal prep containers.” She shrugged when Bobby made a disgusted face. “I accept no judgment from either of you.”

“You never do,” Buck said with a laugh. “I’m gonna run. Thanks for the truck.”

Nearly forty-five minutes later, Buck let himself into the house and took the food to the kitchen. Even without advanced hearing, he could hear what sounded like a little kid enjoying a bath entirely too much. His phone vibrated gently in his pocket, so he pulled it out as he began to unpack the food. A flick of his thumb opened up his text messages.

Jay: Busy? Wanna?

Buck wet his lips because Jay Howser was one of his favorite hook-ups, but he just wasn’t in a moment where he could indulge in that kind of activity. Part of him thought there was a lot of potential to be had in the bond with his Sentinel, but also, he wasn’t sure he wanted to give up a guarantee of really good sex with no strings attached. If his bond remained platonic, he’d have to make considered choices regarding future partners. Which, he acknowledged, put casual sex partners pretty much off the table. He didn’t want to bring those kinds of sensory impressions repeatedly into his Sentinel’s space. So, he’d probably have to pick one hook-up and stick with them until something serious came along.

Buck: I bonded with a Sentinel earlier in the week.

Not a rejection, Buck thought, but the statement was certainly enough of one for most people.

Jay: Bummer. Ur my favorite. Hit me up if your Sentinel doesn’t get the job done.

Buck laughed and put his phone away.

“Buck!” Christopher came into the kitchen dressed in pajamas and knocked one of his crutches against a chair as he came to the table. Buck reached out to steady him and winced at the look that earned him. “I got it.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s okay,” Chris said. “You don’t mean it rude. Some people do.” Chris propped his crutches against the table and climbed into his chair. “Daddy hooked up your TV. It’s so big! I can’t wait to watch something on it.”

“We’ll have to make a plan,” Buck said. “What’s your favorite movie?” And silently hoped that Chris wasn’t going to say Frozen because, Jesus Christ, he really wished that Sadie would let it the fuck go.

“Hmmm, Dinosaur, Ice Age, Coco, and all the Toy Story ones.”

“If I have to watch Coco one more effing time,” Eddie muttered as he came into the kitchen, pulling on a T-shirt.

Buck laughed and put down the small flask that Chris used instead of a sippy cup. It was a good solution for the issues of both coordination and the self-esteem issues attached to using a sippy. Sadie had started rejecting them around four herself and had tossed one out a window to prove that point.

“We spend most of our time together eating,” Eddie said. “Did you notice?”

“It has become a theme,” Buck agreed. “For my life actually, my sister is big on family time and the meals that go with it. So that’s just something I basically had once I started living with her and Lou. It was different from what we all grew up with, actually. Lou sort of changed everything.” He paused. “For the better, for the most part. I certainly had less freedom and couldn’t get away with anything with a Sentinel for a guardian.”

“That was for the better, too,” Eddie said. “You look the sort that doesn’t even need to look for trouble.”

Buck sighed when Chris nodded his agreement. “I can see how this is going to go.”

“Daddy’s nearly always right,” Chris announced.

“Nearly?” Eddie questioned in fake shock.

“Well, gah, Daddy…your favorite dinosaur is a weird bird thing.”

“It’s pretty awful,” Buck agreed, and Eddie just flashed him a quick grin.

Buck swallowed hard and wondered if he could forbid Eddie from smiling at him. It was really distracting.

 

Chapter 7

Athena Grant reminded Eddie of the people he’d served within the Army, and he was relieved, which surprised him. He’d practically run from the hospital and from the people in the Army that wanted to help him. There was no explaining it, really, and he’d been working over his reaction privately for weeks. The female Sentinel was dressed casually, leaning against the counter with a glass of red wine in hand as Bobby Nash escorted them into the house.

Eddie had carried Chris up the five steps leading into the house and hadn’t put his son down. Fortunately, Chris was at an age where he didn’t complain too much about his father’s overprotectiveness. Buck’s hand settled on the small of his back, and Eddie exhaled slowly before taking a knee to let Chris get steady on his feet. He handed his son the crutches.

“Kids!” Athena called out. “Buck’s here!”

Eddie barely refrained from snatching Chris back up as a thunderous noise from upstairs headed their way. Four kids barreled down the stairs and skidded to a stop right next to Athena when she held out a hand.

“This is Buck’s Sentinel, Eddie Diaz,” Athena said. “And his son Christopher. Eddie, these are my children—May, Brooke, Harry, and Robbie.” She put a hand on each child as she spoke. “In age order, since that’s apparently the only fair way to ever introduce them.”

“I’m the baby,” Robbie announced proudly. “It’s important.”

Eddie nodded. “I’m the youngest of my siblings as well—it’s very important.” He grinned when the other three kids sent Robbie dirty looks.

Athena put her wine down and stepped forward. “If I may?”

“Of course,” Eddie said but found he couldn’t help but touch Chris, his fingers drifting through soft brown curls.

“It might not feel like it, but this will help you relax,” Athena said and kneeled in front of Christopher. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Chris stared at her. “You’re really pretty.”

Athena grinned. “Look who just became my favorite.”

“Buck says you’re going to imprint me,” Chris said. “I watched that on YouTube.”

“Did you?” Athena questioned. “What did you think?”

“It looked really weird,” Chris admitted but offered Eddie one of his crutches, then held out his hand to Athena. “It’s gonna stay weird. So, I gotta get used to it.”

Buck laughed as Athena took Christopher’s hand and held it gently. Then very carefully turned his hand over in hers and inhaled against his palm while Chris stared at her intently.

Athena lifted her head. “Do you know the purpose of an imprint, Christopher?”

“You smelled me and listened to my heart so you can find me if I get lost.” Chris leaned against Eddie’s chest, where he still knelt behind him. “But my Daddy won’t let me get lost.”

“This is my way of having your Daddy’s back,” Athena said. “That’s very important within a pride.”

“That sounds good,” Chris agreed. “You feel nice…like you’re…true.”

Eddie turned that over in his head and wondered what that meant to his son. Athena, for her part, blinked in surprise and reached out for the crutch Eddie held. He gave it to her, and she tucked it back into Chris’ hand.

“Thank you, Christopher,” she said quietly. “That’s a lovely thing to know.” She stood. “We’ll let you practice on my kids after dinner, Eddie. It’s best that you get it exactly right before you imprint Lou’s children. His paternal drive isn’t all that different than yours.”

“I understand,” Eddie said.

Hours later, he’d had an amazing meal and had been casually ambushed by all four of the children who lived in the Grant-Nash household. In the end, he’d had to do the process on all four children twice because, after the first round, he mixed them up in his head and couldn’t tell them apart by scent, which was apparently a problem in households where children lived together in tightknit groups. It was a good test, and he was grateful to have it.

Though he felt like his biggest test had come when the four children had coaxed Christopher out of his sight and into a game room off the main area of the house. He managed to stay seated despite his deep desire to follow them. Eddie glanced toward the door between him and his son for the fifth time in under ten minutes, and Buck’s fingers looped around the wrist of his left hand.

“I’m fine.”

“You liar,” Buck said in amusement. “He’s okay.”

“I know.” Eddie made a face when he looked up and found Bobby Nash staring at him with a grin. “I mean, obviously, I know.”

“You’ll calm down,” Athena said easily as she joined them. “It took me a while, and I actually came online killing an intruder.” Her gaze flicked toward the front of the house, but she slid onto the couch with her husband. “The first six weeks afterward, I sat on this sofa with my gun all night, every single night. I only slept when Lou would show up or send another Sentinel in his place to stand guard.”

“I didn’t sleep much that first week I was here in LA,” Eddie admitted. “Eventually, I just put him in bed with me because the best night sleep I’d gotten since I’d come online happened on his bedroom floor when I essentially passed out.” He rubbed his thigh, pressing his fingers into the small bit of scar tissue that was left from the injury. “Everything is better now.”

“Bonding does that,” Athena said dryly. “The smugness can get unbearable, though.”

“I’m not smug,” Bobby denied in a mild tone that was laced with laughter.

Eddie glanced at Buck, who shrugged.

“I’m smug all the time,” Buck confessed. “It’s hard not to be when you look like this.”

“You little asshole,” Athena muttered and shook her head when Buck just laughed.

* * * *

His Guide was distracting as fuck. Eddie prided himself on being able to handle his business on practically every front. He’d worked hard to be as independent as possible in order to separate himself from his parents as soon as he possibly could. His parents unwittingly taught him that trusting people on a personal level was dangerous. Yet, Buck had integrated into his life in a seamless fashion that left him befuddled and intrigued.

The bond between them vibrated with contentment and that, more than anything, stunned Eddie. He’d believed that it would be a struggle because he’d been told for years that he was emotionally unavailable. It had been one of Shannon’s main complaints during the course of their relationship. Of course, that hadn’t been the reason why she’d never really tried to make a life with him. It had taken an accidental pregnancy for the truth to come out. He resented the way she’d left their son, but he wasn’t actively angry with her anymore because she was the first person he’d loved after losing Javier.

“You okay?”

Eddie looked up from the manual he was reading. He wasn’t due to start the academy for three months, but they’d been happy to send him the materials to study in advance once he’d let the LAFD know he was interested in joining his Guide on the job. Buck quirked an eyebrow.

“I’m fine,” Eddie said and got a look of disbelief for his trouble. “Seriously.”

“I could swim in your angst, dude.” Buck set aside his iPad and shifted around so he could stare at him from his end of the couch. “Shannon called you earlier.”

“Her mother passed,” Eddie said. “She said…that her mom just seemed to give up once she’d seen her family in Washington.”

“She made her peace and was ready to go. It’s not a bad way to die,” Buck said gently. “Did she want you to bring Christopher to the funeral? Because….”

Eddie shook his head. “No, she knows he couldn’t handle that much stimulation at once, and he’s already said goodbye to his grandmother. I don’t know that he fully understands that she’ll never come back, though.”

“He understands,” Buck said. “A lot of his grief is for the loss of his grandmother. She was a very gentle and accepting presence in his life. He’s confused about his mother because he’s mostly relieved that she’s gone off to be happy elsewhere and thinks that he’s wrong to feel that way.”

Eddie winced and tossed the manual on the coffee table, then turned to face Buck. He took the hand he was offered and rubbed his thumb over the top of Buck’s hand. Buck’s hands were a little bigger than his own. They had different callouses as well. Eddie’s were made in a war zone, carved into his hands with more target practice than anything else. He liked the way Buck’s hand felt in his own and how the other man’s skin was a mixture of soft and work rough.

“I don’t know how to help him through it, and he seems to be so tired and sad after therapy.”

“The problem is that he has a deep emotional understanding of the world around him, but he’s four, so he’s got some catching up to do on the comprehension front. So, he’s not articulating all that he feels and doesn’t know how. It’s frustrating, to say the least, but he’s smart and picks up concepts easily. I think after a few weeks, therapy will start to be really helpful, but they need to find a rhythm and dialogue that works for them. Dr. Tanaka is one of the best psychologists in the city, and she’ll tell us if there comes the point where she thinks he needs a different situation.”

Eddie nodded. “I feel comfortable with her, and I can tell he does as well. He also seems to prefer that Abuela take him to the appointments. Is that because he’s afraid I’ll listen to him during the session?”

“No.” Buck seemed to hesitate, and Eddie braced himself for something awful. “Chris knows her better than he knows you.”

“Oh.” Eddie exhaled and slouched back against the couch. “Yeah, of course, he does. I wish it was different. I feel like I didn’t try hard enough to communicate with him.”

“He doesn’t resent you at all,” Buck assured. “He’s just a little kid, and his grandma is an immense source of comfort because of her own latency. She does the same for you. Honestly, Shannon moving here to LA and allowing Isabel contact with your son was the best possible choice she could’ve made on that front. It made a world of difference in his emotional landscape. I can’t say what sort of condition he’d be in empathically if he hadn’t had his great grandmother.”

Eddie nodded. “I…wanted to live with her when I was younger. When I told my parents that, my mother came unglued and screamed at me for probably an hour. She demanded I apologize for wanting it for months, but I refused.”

“How old were you?”

“Seven or eight,” Eddie said and shrugged. “Maybe younger. My memories sort of blend together during that time in my life.”

“Not necessarily a bad thing considering and the norm for emotionally abusive situations,” Buck said and shifted closer. “I know that’s hard to accept that your parents aren’t what you need them to be.”

“Yeah,” Eddie said and sighed. “They never were, and I hate what it’s done to my sisters and me. I can’t even talk to Adriana right now because she keeps parroting mom’s bullshit and doesn’t seem to have a fucking thought of her own. Sophia doesn’t want to talk to any of us right now because she says we’re making everything too stressful and grad school’s hard enough. All of my mother’s sisters have unfriended me on social media…everywhere. The only male cousin close to my age on that side of the family basically told me I was a selfish bastard for hurting my mother, and a real man would ignore the Sentinel crap and do the right thing by his family.”

“Well, he can kiss my ass,” Buck muttered.

“Honestly, he’d probably try. You’re his type down to your bones. I want to take deeply objectifying pictures of you and put them on Insta just to fuck with him.”

Buck laughed. “Shut up. But, also, I’m game.” He slouched back on the couch and plucked up his phone. “I might have a few selfies on my own Insta you could repost. Maddie keeps telling me off for posting shirtless pics but come on. I work hard for this body, and I’m allowed to be proud of that.”

“Sounds like an argument you’ve had more than once.”

Buck shrugged. “Maddie assumed a pseudo-parent role for a while when Lou was granted custody of me. He was careful with it—focusing more on the role of guardian and never tried to be my father. Maddie was a whole different ball game, so we struggled for a bit as I got older, but she had a lot of crap to unpack from her own childhood. And frankly, she’d been my primary caretaker since I was little more than a toddler whenever she was home. My parents hired a nanny for when she was in the school, but other than that—I was her job.”

“That’s…awful,” Eddie muttered. “My parents were terrible, but they didn’t depend on their kids to basically raise each other.” He paused. “Honestly, my mom would’ve never allowed that because it would’ve negated some of her control, and she’s always been deeply invested in being the center of everything. She would get pissed at me as a kid if I knew something she didn’t expect me to know. Once I made the mistake of correcting her on some random thing—I don’t even remember what it was. But she had a complete fit and told me I wasn’t allowed to listen to anyone but her, and she was always right.”

Buck snorted. “Wow.”

“Yeah, it was unhinged. Even my father found that a bit over the top and pointed out that all three of us went to school, and we had to listen to our teachers. We were lucky she didn’t want to give up her social life to homeschool us.” Eddie took a deep breath. “It wasn’t until Chris was born that I realized just how abnormal my childhood was. Adriana doesn’t see it even now, and I think Sophia sees it too well. It seems like she can’t stand to be reminded of living in our parents’ house.”

“I hope she’s getting therapy.”

“Yeah, I asked her.” Eddie took a deep breath. “I’ve got a broken normal meter, you know. I want to be a good father and a better partner than I’ve been in the past. I don’t think I gave Shannon everything she needed, and it made it impossible to overlook my latency. Maybe if I’d been more supportive or more….” He huffed when Buck’s fingers brushed over his lips.

“Listen, your latency has always been nearly academic. I imagine you’ve been on the cusp of coming online since puberty. Making a deep and permanent connection with a mundane of any gender would’ve been extremely difficult for you. A part of you sought something in her that she was never going to be able to provide. Tell me, when did you realize there was a deep space inside of you that felt empty?”

Eddie took a deep breath because he’d read about the empathic void that unbonded Sentinels and Guides develop when they start to come online. “I was…sixteen.”

“Shortly after Javier died.”

“Yes,” Eddie admitted and averted his gaze. “I just…that was grief, Buck.”

“You certainly tucked all of your grief into that void,” Buck agreed. “I felt the wispy memories of it when we bonded. Slowly, over the years, you’ve let those emotions go, but that void didn’t close. It couldn’t close because the psionic plane was preparing you for a bond. Your connection with the psionic plane has always been deep, and it protected you from your parents’ bigotry.”

“Bigotry,” Eddie repeated. “It’s…exactly that. I’ve never really considered it from that angle. I don’t understand why my father hates himself so much. It doesn’t gel with the rest of the family—at least not the paternal side. He certainly wasn’t raised to disdain Sentinels and Guides. It speaks to some sort of mental corruption, right?”

“Are you asking me if I think he’s mentally ill?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, of course, he is,” Buck said gently. “Addiction is an illness all of its own. Most addicts are self-medicating in some fashion or another. I’m not qualified to give either of your parents a genuine diagnosis. Though even if I was qualified, we’d have to refer such a thing to others because of the potential for bias. If they make a bid for visitation despite the current edict regarding their welcome in LA, we’ll have to require a professional evaluation, and it’ll be court-ordered considering their behavior. We certainly can’t count on them to volunteer.”

“Unless they think they can manipulate the process, then they would certainly try,” Eddie said and made a face. “I hate how much I think about them and how much they’re still invading my life when they aren’t even here.”

“It’s unresolved, and that’s a problem for a Sentinel,” Buck pointed out reasonably. “A restraining order might calm you down a bit. If you want to go that route.”

“Is that an escalation?”

“Certainly, and it might make one or both of them go off the deep end. I mean, we’re already one lawn tantrum away from being a viral YouTube video.” Buck grinned when Eddie groaned. “Not that I’d put it on YouTube. I’d be seriously tempted, though.”

“I like touching you.”

“I know,” Buck said easily. “But you don’t do it much.”

Eddie flushed and shrugged. “I don’t want to be a cock tease, but I want more contact, and that doesn’t seem all that fair to you.”

“I can’t actually outright read your mind, but I know exactly how you feel nearly all the time,” Buck explained. “I’m not going to feel teased, misled, or used if you want more contact from me. Building emotional and physical intimacy is important to you, and it’s something I need as well. We have different reasons, of course, but I think our goals are much the same.”

“Yeah,” Eddie murmured. “Come here.” He pulled gently, and Buck easily shifted into his space.

“Bossy,” Buck muttered but turned to lean against Eddie and picked up the remote. “Let’s watch something stupid on TV.”

“Okay….” Eddie frowned as something teased his senses. He moved forward as he realized his son’s heart rate was elevated

Buck lifted away; his gaze went distant for a few seconds, then he smiled. “It’s a happy dream.”

“Yeah?” Eddie questioned.

“He’s amused and intrigued by whatever the dream is,” Buck continued as they settled back on the couch together. “He had a good time tonight with the other kids.”

“I don’t think he’s had many play dates,” Eddie said. “We should probably work on that.”

“Yeah,” Buck agreed. “He’ll probably ask to go to the creche. Most of the kids do, especially if they know that Sadie is going to be there. She’s the little ringleader despite the fact that she’s only five.”

“A little Alpha Sentinel in the making,” Eddie said in amusement.

“Certainly,” Buck agreed.

Eddie let his hand drift through Buck’s blond curls and inhaled just a little to bring more of the man’s scent in. “If I asked for another week before you go back to work?”

“I’ll clear it with Bobby,” Buck said easily.

“Just like that?”

“Of course,” Buck said. “It’s probably even expected, considering your injuries. You’re not doing a great job of moderating your pain levels by yourself, and it was clear to him.”

“I’m trying,” Eddie protested.

“I know, and you’re doing better than I expected, but it’s still not great. It’s good that the pride imprint was postponed. Well, it’s not great that Zac is allergic to milk protein.” Buck pressed closer. “Maddie’s disappointed that she can’t breastfeed him, but she’s adjusted to the whole soy formula thing, as far as I can tell.”

“Did any of the other kids have allergies this young?”

“Sadie’s allergic to peanuts, but that’s not uncommon for even mundanes. They don’t think that’s specific to her latency,” Buck explained. “Asa has yet to encounter a food he has a problem with, but they were careful with introducing new food products. We’ll have to be watchful for you as well going forward. Have you encountered any products that have caused rashes or itching?”

“The shampoo I was using made me itch a little, but you already replaced that.”

Buck huffed. “That cheap crap would’ve made anyone itch.”

Eddie laughed. “I don’t even want to know how much that stuff you put in my shower costs.”

“Probably not,” Buck agreed. “But using the right products is a priority if you want to function at the highest possible level. You don’t need a full-body rash because you want to spend less than five bucks on a bottle of shampoo.”

Eddie actually thought anything over three was a bit much, but he kept that to himself since he’d actually liked the fancy shampoo Buck had bought. He also liked how soft it made his Guide’s hair.

“What did Chris mean about Athena?” Eddie questioned.

“Athena feels like honesty and trust,” Buck murmured. “She projects an aura that is very compelling as a result. It’s not uncommon for a Sentinel. If there is a living archetype for a Sentinel, it would be Athena Grant.”

“More so than Lou?” Eddie questioned.

“Lou’s a brawler,” Buck muttered, and Eddie laughed. “Seriously. He’s as close to primal as an urban Sentinel can get. He’d probably be content in a mountain cabin with little to no contact with the outside world if Maddie would tolerate it. Of course, he does actually have a cabin in the mountains. He lets the pride use it, so we can go there for a weekend if you’d like. Chris might like it.”

“Does it have power?”

“Yeah, of course. Maddie wouldn’t spend a single day in it otherwise. She’s a creature of modern comforts and makes no bones about it,” Buck said and shifted around until he was half-lying in Eddie’s lap. “Did you want me to take my shirt off?”

Eddie flushed as he realized he’d slid his hand up Buck’s shirt and was rubbing his fingers across the other man’s abs. He hadn’t even noticed he’d done it. He pulled his hand free. “Jesus, I’m sorry.”

Buck laughed. “Don’t be sorry. It’s fine.”

“I want you close, but I’m also trying to be fair about this,” Eddie said quietly. “Are you comfortable with telling me to back off if I’m too much?”

“Yeah, of course,” Buck murmured. “You aren’t alone in needing physical contact, you know?”

“I…don’t know what a Guide needs from a Sentinel. I read the materials I was given, and I listened to the audiobook you sent me.” Eddie flushed and took a deep breath when Buck took his hand again and laced their fingers together. “So, I know the basics, but I guess I don’t know what you specifically need.”

Buck hummed under his breath. “Physical affection is helpful, and honest communication is a must. The rest we can work on. If you’re asking me if I need sex, the answer is no. I want it, of course. I love to fuck, but I’m not going to start resenting you for what you’re not ready to give.”

“And if I’m never ready for that?” He wasn’t really worried about that part because he was already enamored with his Guide, and he was determined to take things slow so they could get it right.

Buck quirked an eyebrow. “You think I can’t tell how you feel right now?”

Eddie flushed. “Shut up.”

“Well, you’re hardly the first person to get a crush on me,” Buck said in amusement. “I’m great.”

“You have an ego bigger than the entire state of Texas,” Eddie muttered. “Is the bond encouraging our feelings?”

“Well, yes and no,” Buck said easily and sat up. He shifted around to face him and wet his lips. “The bond creates intimacy on a bone-deep level that transcends even conscious thought. That kind of knowing is a very natural and easy foundation on which to build romantic love and loyalty. In the end, our kind thrives through the bonds of loyalty we create with each other and with others like us. It helps, of course, that you’re open to a relationship with me.”

“Do you?” Eddie paused. “Want a relationship, that is.”

“Yeah, I do,” Buck admitted. “It’s just been a couple of weeks, but I feel like I’ve known you forever, and I feel like I can trust you with anything. I adore your son, and making a family with the two of you would just be…amazing.”

Eddie cupped Buck’s head and took a deep breath. “Can I…. Can we kiss?”

Buck leaned in and pressed their mouths together in a soft, sweet kiss. Eddie pulled just a little. They came together in a tangle of eagerness and a deep warmth settled on his bones. It was hard not to just melt into his Guide, and after a few moments, he stopped resisting the urge. The sofa was barely wide enough to contain them, but Eddie wasn’t put off by the snug fit.

He let his lips slide along Buck’s smooth jaw and buried his face briefly against his Guide’s neck. He inhaled deeply and shivered as the rich, enticing scent settled deep inside him.

“I love the way you taste,” Eddie whispered and sought another kiss. Gentle fingers sank into his hair, and another big hand cupped his hip as he eased on top of Buck. Desire settled in his gut, and the small bit of worry he’d had about his relationship with his Guide just drifted away.

“Daddy!”

Eddie lifted his head, and Buck just offered him a relaxed smile as he sighed and slid off. “Coming, mijo!”

Fortunately, his son’s calling out to him had utterly destroyed his erection. Eddie rubbed his head as he walked through the house, mouth still full of the taste of Buck. He found it impossible to ignore outright, but he pushed it back a little so he could focus on his son.

Christopher was sitting up in the bed, face scrunched up in ire. “I need to pee, but my crutches are over there.”

Eddie silently berated himself because he’d been the one to prop the crutches against the dresser when he’d helped his son change into pajamas and hadn’t moved them to the place Christopher preferred when he’d tucked him in.

“Sorry, mijo,” Eddie murmured and snagged the crutches.

“I gotta go way too bad to walk,” Chris said huffily. “I don’t wanna pee myself.”

Eddie nodded, put the crutches in their proper place, plucked his son from the bed, and took him into the ensuite bathroom that had been renovated the year before specifically for his son. He put Chris down, and the boy shimmied completely out of his pajama bottoms and little boxers. Once his son was seated, Eddie meandered out of the bathroom to offer some sort of semblance of privacy.

“Everything okay?” Buck questioned from the doorway.

“Yeah, I just…didn’t….” Eddie huffed and motioned toward the crutches, which were now in the little Velcro loop that Shannon had adhered to the nightstand. “I didn’t put his crutches where they belonged after I tucked him in.”

“Okay, Daddy, I’m done,” Chris announced.

He turned and found that Chris had put the clothes he’d taken off back on and was braced against the sink. Eddie stepped into the bathroom and hovered just a little as Christopher climbed up onto the step in front of the sink and turned on the water.

He snagged the hand towel and offered it when Chris finished soaping and rinsing his hands. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay, Daddy. You’re still new at this,” Chris said in amusement. “Nana said that no one’s perfect, but we should still try. You’re trying.”

“Well, your nana was a very smart lady,” Eddie murmured as he picked Christopher up and took him back to the bed. “And I’m very sorry for leaving you stranded in the bed. It won’t happen again.”

Eddie knew his son wasn’t stable enough on his feet without his crutches to walk. Shannon had hammered it into his head during the first two days he was home to avoid accidents. He knew that Chris had fallen the year before and broken a finger when he’d been transitioning from a gait trainer to crutches. It had freaked Shannon out. The break had healed very well, and his son barely remembered it even happening. Still, he understood his ex’s concern and shared it.

Chris settled under his duvet and wiggled a little against his pillow. “But I should get pancakes in the morning for breakfast to make me feel better about being stranded.”

Eddie winced because he couldn’t make good pancakes to save his life. He wondered if he could order them and started to do a review of restaurants near the house in his head. His breakfast abilities basically consisted of eggs, bacon, and toast because that was what he liked to eat.

“We have fresh blueberries,” Buck said from the doorway. “Blueberry pancakes, okay?”

“Yeah, that sounds great,” Chris said with a bright smile. “And whipped cream.”

“Of course,” Buck agreed.

Shortly, Eddie followed Buck down the hall toward the kitchen. “We don’t have any whipped cream. I used the last of the can Friday.”

“Jesus,” Buck muttered. “I’ve never used canned whipped cream in my whole damn life.”

Eddie laughed. “Seriously?”

Buck shook his head at him, opened the fridge, and pulled out a bottle. “Whole cream. I use it to make my own coffee creamer since the stuff in the store is full of crap. We have enough to make whipped cream. And you have maple syrup already, so we should be set.”

Eddie slid up onto a bar stool as Buck poured himself a glass of water. “Do you like to cook?”

“Yeah, want some water?”

“Yeah,” Eddie agreed, and Buck pulled out another glass. “Did your sister teach you?”

“Lou, my sister, Bobby,” Buck said. “Athena’s ex-husband, Michael, taught me some stuff as well. Early on, before I came online, they all assumed I might end up going to the professional chef route, which Lou actively encouraged. He didn’t want me to end up in a dangerous job.”

“Did he try to talk you out of being a firefighter?” Eddie questioned as he accepted the glass of water.

“No.” Buck shook his head. “He understands what it means to have a calling and never said a word against it. When I realized what I wanted, he arranged for study materials and got me all the information I needed to apply for the academy. I’d only been out of college for three months, so I was still working at the Burton Foundation, which I’d been doing since I’d graduated high school.”

“What did you get your degree in?” Eddie asked, sort of dumbfounded by the fact that he hadn’t already asked.

“I did two years to get an associate’s degree in psionic studies,” Buck said. “A common choice for Guides who come online in their twenties. I’m pursuing a BS in fire science with online classes. I’ll have some practical work to do next year, but I’ll be given consideration regarding scheduling once I get to those classes. The LAFD is pro-education and wants their assets to be as useful as possible.”

Eddie nodded and focused on his water.

“It’s okay to make mistakes,” Buck said quietly. “He didn’t seem to be pissed off at you.”

“I know, but….” Eddie took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes in frustration. “He gives me more forgiveness than I deserve.”

“Well, that’s nonsense,” Buck said firmly and put both hands on the bar in front of him. “You don’t ignore his needs or wishes. You’ve arranged your whole life around that kid, Eddie. There are adjustments to be made for you both, and that’s okay. He’s very patient for his age.”

“Yeah,” Eddie said wearily. “He doesn’t get that from Shannon or me. Shannon is short-tempered, and I have had issues in the past with it. Service knocked most of that out of me, but it was a hard road that I don’t recommend.” He took a deep drink of water and set the empty glass on the counter. “You said you didn’t have a boyfriend…do you have a hookup? Someone on the side? More than one?”

Buck grinned. “Yeah, of course, I do.”

Eddie laughed. “Yeah, of course. I mean, hell, look at you. You haven’t seen anyone since you moved in.”

“I decided to focus on you and see what potential we had,” Buck said easily. “I don’t actually want a relationship outside of our bond, Eddie. It’s kind of a worst-case scenario for me. I meant it what I said the day we met. I want to make a family with you. I think we can have that if we do that work together.”

“So, you won’t see any of those people…for now.”

“For now,” Buck agreed. “Has this been bothering you this whole time?”

Eddie resisted the urge to pat his face, which was almost instantly hot. “I know I don’t have any sort of right to dictate who you sleep with, Buck. I was told point-blank that I shouldn’t even ask you any questions about your sex life if I was going to insist on a platonic bond.”

“Ah, well, that’s the standard line from the Burton Foundation. It would be pretty awful for a Sentinel to try to lock down their Guide and make them live like a monk against their will in order to make their life easier. You can be driven to protect the tribe and still be an asshole.”

Eddie laughed. “Right.” He exhaled slowly. “Sorry, it’s so complicated. I wish I was…different.”

“You’re just fine as you are,” Buck murmured. “Stop stressing about it. You have to know I’m not hostile or frustrated with our circumstances.”

“Yeah, I know,” Eddie said and bit down on his lip, then checked his watch. “We should go to bed. I’ve sense classes at the psionic center, and Chris has physical therapy.”

“Plus, Carla Price is coming for dinner,” Buck reminded. “We’re having pork chops. Chris decided on the menu.”

“Mashed potatoes and green beans?” Eddie questioned. “Because he always asks for that as sides with pork chops.”

“I talked him into trying asparagus,” Buck confided. “He liked it and agreed it would be a good choice for dinner with Carla. He’s very excited to meet her and wants her to be happy with the meal.”

“Is that some kind of instinctive response?” Eddie questioned.

“Maybe,” Buck conceded. “The psionic plane provides, and perhaps it is influencing Christopher in a way that will make him open to meeting Carla and giving her a chance. I think she’s going to be a good fit for us.”

Eddie nodded and slid off the stool. Instead of asking if Buck wanted to go back to the couch and make out some more, he decided that a retreat was in order. “Good night.”

“Sleep tight,” Buck murmured and grinned when Eddie huffed at him. “You might want to ignore me for a half-hour or so. I’m totally going to jerk off in the shower.”

Eddie laughed and left the kitchen. He had no intention whatsoever of ever ignoring his Guide, and he figured that Buck knew it.

“Or not, if you’re into that kind of thing,” Buck called after him.

Eddie turned around and walked back into the kitchen. Buck laughed a little as his Sentinel backed him up to the counter, caged him in, and crowded in close.

“The bond lets you know what I’m feeling, right?” Eddie questioned and brushed his lips along Buck’s jaw.

“Yeah,” Buck admitted and cleared his throat. “I could get a lot from you if I tried, you know. If you were hurt or whatever.”

“How about you go take that shower, and I’ll do the same,” Eddie murmured and brushed their mouths together. “And we can both get off.”

“Deal.”

Eddie hummed, kissed him again, and walked away. He checked on Chris, then went into the master bedroom that he’d finally taken over, shut the door, and locked it. He listened to Buck move through the house to his own room, then into the bathroom in the back of the house near the guest room. Eddie pulled off his T-shirt as Buck locked the bathroom door.

He went into his own bathroom, snagged a towel, and stripped off the rest of his clothes. Eddie set the water to the temperature he preferred as he listened to Buck undress and prepare his own shower from across the house. He was seriously tempted to outright join his Guide. There was a gentle pulse of acceptance and invitation thrumming across their bond. He stayed in his own space and entered the shower.

I love the way you kiss me,” Buck said in a low voice as if he was prepared for it to be a private statement but unconcerned if Eddie was already entirely focused on listening to him.

Eddie shuddered and licked his lips. He could still taste Buck, and it was delicious. Standing under the spray, he ran his fingers through his hair. He snagged the lube he kept in the shower and braced himself against the wall with one hand as he slicked up his cock. He was hard, and the achy desire to come was building. Normally, he jerked off quickly and with as little fuss as possible. He’d accepted that his physical needs didn’t mesh with his emotional ones, but it had been a long road for him.

He inhaled sharply, took in the scent of his own arousal, and instinctively chased the heady, rewarding scent of his Guide, which still lingered on his skin. Buck had been hard while they’d been kissing, and it had been intoxicating. Eddie stroked his cock intently, getting lost in his own pleasure. There was a sweet, intoxicating sensation vibrating along their bond, and it was perfect.

God, Eddie.”

Eddie shuddered as he listened to his Guide come and followed quickly. He groaned as the pleasure sharpened briefly, but he softened it the way he’d been taught, pushing the sensation around until it was sweet and perfect. His fingers curled against the tile, and he lowered his head.

 

Chapter 8

That’d be easier with a ladle.”

Buck looked over at his phone, which he had propped up on the counter. “Don’t micromanage my pancakes, Maddie.”

She laughed. “You don’t have a ladle, do you?”

“There are several in the drawer,” Buck said as he poured batter into the skillet from the large measuring cup he’d used to make the pancakes. “But I don’t need a training device to make pancakes.”

Rude,” Maddie said with a laugh. “Those look great. You should bring me some.”

“Sorry, don’t have time. I have to drop Eddie off at the center for sense classes, and Christopher has physical therapy. Then I need to do a grocery run because Carla’s coming over for dinner this evening.”

Are you making bacon? Because that’s the only thing worth eating with pancakes.”

“It’s in the oven,” Buck said absently, then focused on his sister. “How’s the baby?”

Perfect. Asa and Sadie are waffling between fascination and disgust, though.

“Asa has no room to judge,” Buck muttered. “That kid’s butt is a nightmare.”

Maddie laughed. “Right?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that you had an issue with Howard Han?” Buck questioned. “I shouldn’t have had to hear that from Bobby.”

Maddie sighed. “Well, I sort of blamed myself for the whole thing. I was friendly. Maybe too friendly with him the first time we met. We had some stuff in common. I thought…well. I thought I was making a friend. I had no idea he was unaware of who I was. Perhaps that’s arrogant, but I rarely have to introduce myself, Buck.”

“No, I get it,” Buck said with a sigh. “Still, a heads up would’ve been nice.”

“If it makes you feel better—Lou agrees with you. He thinks I should’ve told you before you ever went to work at the 118.

“Lou hasn’t been overtly hostile with Chim, and I’ve watched them interact several times,” Buck pointed out.

Lou knows he doesn’t have a damn thing to worry about,” Maddie said wryly. “Firefighter Han was part of the team that took me to the hospital after Zac was born. He was professional the whole time, but Bobby and Firefighter Wilson handled my care. He just drove the ambulance. I guess Bobby didn’t want to take any risks on that front since Lou was in a state already.”

“Wow, the judgment got real for a second there,” Buck said and grinned when Maddie laughed. “Give your man a break. You did give birth all over his brand-new car.”

Maddie scoffed. “I did all the work. He just stood there and caught the baby while he complained about me not waiting for the paramedics. Like I had any ability to control that? That kid was ready and didn’t care what we wanted.”

“A sign of things to come,” Buck muttered, and his sister huffed. “It’s not my fault you managed to produce three deeply contrary children. I’m pretty sure Sadie already has an FBI file.”

Maddie snorted. “Shut up. I’m going to require Lou make me some pancakes, and you’ll be blamed for it.”

Buck shrugged and glanced up as the Diaz boys came into the kitchen, both shuffling and yawning. It was adorable.

“Good morning, Buck,” Christopher said cheerfully. “I smell bacon.”

“Bacon makes the world go round,” Buck responded and glanced toward his phone when Maddie laughed. “In moderation.”

Bah, gotta run. Sadie is up, and I need to prepare the world for her demands.” Maddie grinned when Buck laughed. “Bye, lovely people.”

“Bye!” Christopher called out.

Buck offered Eddie a quick smile when the man stopped by the stove and pressed close just for a moment. He recognized it for the grounding ritual it was. Eddie made a point of touching him any time he entered the room Buck was in and had since practically from the beginning.

“Eggs?” Buck questioned.

“Scrambled, please,” Chris decided from the table.

“Yeah, same,” Eddie said and let his chin rest briefly on Buck’s shoulder before he moved away to set the table. “Those pancakes smell great. I made out like a bandit in the Guide department.”

Buck laughed. “The general consensus is that I won the lottery, so, same.” He glanced toward Eddie, who was gathering silverware from a drawer, and noted the blush staining the man’s cheeks. “Orange juice for me, please.”

Eddie nodded. “Chris? Milk or juice?”

“Apple juice,” Chris said. “Is it a Miss Nadine day?”

“Yep,” Buck said and glanced the kid’s way. “Then we can go to the grocery store and pick up any last-minute stuff we need for dinner with Carla.”

“Can we have a cake?” Chris questioned.

“Sure, what kind?” Buck questioned as he pulled the bacon from the oven and moved it to the plates he had arranged on the counter.

“Hmmm, what kinds are there? Do you know her favorite?”

Buck had no idea. “I’ve seen her eat different kinds, so I don’t think we can make a wrong choice on this front. What’s your favorite?”

“Chocolate,” Chris said firmly.

“Do you mean the icing or the cake itself?” Buck questioned. “How about a chocolate cake with chocolate ganache?”

“If I get a vote—that’s a yes from me,” Eddie muttered as he put the carton of eggs on the counter near the stove.

“Sounds good to me,” Chris agreed.

Buck cracked some eggs into a bowl, whisked them up with a fork, and shifted another pan to the burner.

“Did you work as a short-order cook or something?” Eddie asked.

Buck glanced at his Sentinel and found him looking befuddled and still a little sleepy. “No, why?”

“You cracked those eggs with one hand and didn’t get any shell in the bowl.”

Buck laughed as he worked the eggs into fluffy yellow curds in the frying pan. “Soft or hard scramble for you?”

“Soft,” Eddie said and rubbed the back of his head. “But hard for Chris.”

“Yeah, of course. He’s too young for undercooked eggs,” Buck said easily and took out two large portions, which he plated and concentrated on cooking the eggs that he left in the pan. He figured Chris wouldn’t eat much more than an egg since he had two pieces of bacon and a pancake. “Is this too much?”

Eddie shook his head as Buck added the egg to Christopher’s plate. “Probably just about right.”

“The whipped cream is in the fridge. The white bowl on the top shelf.”

“You really made your own?” Eddie asked and laughed as he walked away with Chris’ plate. “Seriously, it comes in a can very conveniently.”

“Don’t even talk to me until you’ve had the real thing,” Buck told him firmly.

Eddie laughed but pulled the whipped cream from the fridge. Buck rolled his eyes and took their plates to the table after turning off the stove. He watched, in amusement, as Eddie used a spoon to put a dollop of whipped cream on Chris’ pancake. The boy made a face and stared pointedly, so Eddie laughed and gave him another dollop.

“It doesn’t have a lot of sugar,” Buck said. “Not needed with the pancake and the syrup.”

“So, I can have more,” Chris decided.

Eddie shook his head. “Eat that first, and we’ll see.”

Buck watched as Eddie added butter and syrup to his own cakes and just a bit of whipped cream. He’d made the pancakes with a mixture of white and wheat flour, so he wondered if anything would be noticed or said.

“This is….” Eddie made a face. “Better than my mom’s. What brand did you buy?”

“Brand?” Buck questioned as he watched Christopher happily put a big piece of pancake in his mouth.

“Of pancake mix.”

“Oh, no.” Buck shook his head. “No mix. In fact, that kind of stuff is probably out of your life for good, Eddie. The preservatives and crap in processed food will wreak havoc on your body. Haven’t you noticed how much better you feel?”

Eddie made a face at him. “Well, yes, but I thought that was just healing. You’ve brought take-out home.”

“Yeah, from an all-organic restaurant,” Buck said in amusement. “There are dozens in LA for a variety of reasons, and part of that is the high Sentinel population. Also, the city encourages those kinds of restaurants to set up shop to attract our population. It’s part of the whole open invitation to come here and make a home.”

“Are these good for me?” Chris asked, clearly suspicious.

Buck grinned. “Well, they aren’t necessarily terrible for you. Why?”

“I like it,” Chris said. “But I think you’re being sneaky. Can I have another pancake?”

“Finish your eggs first,” Eddie said but took another from the small platter Buck had set on the table and cut it up. “Which shoes did you want to wear today, mijo?”

“The blue ones,” Chris eyed the pancakes his dad had cut up, and Eddie sighed before putting them on the little boy’s plate.

Buck snorted when father and son engaged in a non-verbal conversation involving eye squints and huffs. Finally, Eddie poured some syrup and then put two scoops of whipped cream on the little pile of pancake pieces he’d made.

“That cute little face of yours is going to get you far in life, Superman,” Buck said in amusement.

“Don’t encourage extortion,” Eddie muttered. “The whipped cream is good—better than I can buy, which is annoying. Clearly, you have to live here forever because you’ve spoiled my son rotten already.”

“Abuelita says that I’m loved, not spoiled,” Chris said and sighed like his father had insulted his entire existence.

Eddie grinned. “She used to tell me the same thing.”

* * * *

Eddie slid into the passenger seat of the truck and pulled the seatbelt on as he glanced back at Christopher. “Hey, how’d PT go?”

Christopher huffed. “It was mean.”

Eddie turned to Buck in alarm. “What?”

“She put him on the half-ball balance board,” Buck said in amusement. “A little different than the Kinderboard he normally uses, and he didn’t do as well as he would’ve preferred.”

“It’s not safe,” Christopher protested from the backseat. “And it was weird, and I don’t like it.”

“We put it on the later list,” Buck murmured and glanced in the rearview mirror when Christopher sighed dramatically. “But he did very well with the other exercises, and we’re supposed to ice again this evening before bed, and I asked about a regular exercise program. She gave me a little packet full of stretches with instructions. It’s about fifteen minutes long. She wants him to do it every morning. I figure we can do it together—it’ll be a good warm-up for us and will help settle his mind for meditation.” He paused. “You, too.”

Eddie rolled his eyes, and Buck just grinned at him. “You’re disgustingly attractive.”

Buck flushed and laughed with bright, shining eyes. “How was class?”

“Weird,” Eddie admitted. “But I’ve learned a lot. Also, I’ve noticed that I have sense memories that are over a decade old, and the scent kits are easier than I expected them to be.”

“You’ve had a lot of experience and been exposed to a variety of scents,” Buck said easily as he left the parking lot of the psionic center. “Your brain’s been doing the job the whole time, but now you have access to resources that you didn’t have before. At the academy, they’ll also do scent kits with you. Most of those will be fire-related, and they’re designed to protect you in the field. Also, they’ll allow you to keep the rest of the team abreast of anything dangerous on calls.”

“Like flammable chemicals,” Eddie said.

“Yeah. I’ll probably have to be with you during those scent kits because they might cause spikes. You’re going to have instinctual responses to scents that you already know to be dangerous,” Buck explained. “I need to pick up something and take it to the station for Bobby. Did you want me to drop you two off at the house first?”

“I wanted to meet them soon anyway,” Eddie pointed out. “What does he need?”

“Oh, some asshole on B shift used all the dry pasta and didn’t do a grocery run. It’s just as well since they never buy the products that Bobby prefers despite the fact that we get a supplemental budget for food because of the Sentinels that work at the 118.”

“How many?” Eddie questioned.

“Two on B and one on C. Several have tried to come onto A, but they were all unbonded, and Bobby said no.”

“They were trying to get close to you,” Eddie guessed and suppressed a frown. “They’d have had Guide searches, and you’ve never had a match…so…why?”

Buck shrugged. “I put a minimum on my matches. I didn’t want to meet anyone under ninety-five percent. It just didn’t seem viable considering my position in the region and the possible future choices I might have to make. I knew I’d need an Alpha Sentinel, and there was no need to pretend otherwise.”

Eddie nodded, insanely pleased to have made the cut. “So, you didn’t go to meet and greet parties? Some of the people in my class have been talking about them.” He paused. “And I’ve gotten a few comments about bonding with you.”

“Oh yeah?” Buck questioned; his lips pressed together briefly. “I’ve probably worked with a few of them over the years, but I’ve only worked as a Conservator for other Guides. It didn’t seem like a good idea to work with Sentinels considering my relation to Lou and my own abilities.”

“The Guide I met before you offered to work with me as a Conservator if I didn’t make a match,” Eddie admitted. “I agreed because I felt good about him, but we weren’t a good match on the job front.”

“Yeah, you’d never be able to work on the job with him,” Buck said quietly. “And it would’ve driven you nuts to work without him. He’s a good guy. I hope he gets a break soon.”

Eddie looked up as they turned into the parking lot of a Whole Foods. “Are we doing our shopping as well?”

“Nah, we’ll do ours closer to home,” Buck said as he parked and unbuckled his seatbelt. “I’ll be a few minutes. Doesn’t look busy.” He focused on Eddie. “Unless you want to come in?”

Eddie didn’t. He sort of hated grocery shopping and didn’t see any reason to be in two different stores on the same day. “Nah, we’ll stay here and complain to each other about our mornings.”

“I got stuff to complain about,” Christopher announced. “That dumb board was the worst.”

Eddie laughed as Buck shook his head and left the truck. He took off his seatbelt and turned so he could focus on his son. “Besides the dumb board, how was PT?”

“Good,” Chris admitted. “It helps. I want to be able to walk as much as possible. Miss Nadine says if I work hard that it’ll keep me mobile.”

Eddie leaned on the seat and nodded. “It’s good that we have the stretches then.”

Chris nodded. “I like Buck a lot, Daddy.”

“I like him, too,” Eddie confessed, and his son smiled at him. “What?”

“I think you like him a lot,” Chris said. “It’s nice.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep.” Chris adjusted his glasses. “You deserve to be happy, Daddy.”

Eddie swallowed hard. “Do you think I was unhappy before?”

“You didn’t seem happy when you were far away,” Chris said. “Mommy said it was because of your job. I’m glad you don’t do that job anymore.” He bit down on his bottom lip. “And you were really hurt when you came home, and I worried.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault some bad guy shot you,” Chris said and sent him a dirty look that startled a laugh out of Eddie. “Honestly.”

“Still, I’m sorry that I worried you.”

Buck opened the driver’s side and passed him a half-full paper bag. “See, not long at all.”

Eddie stared at the contents in shock. “Did you get enough?”

“Probably—it has to feed fifteen to twenty very active people for lunch and dinner,” Buck said as he buckled up.

Eddie considered that and nodded. He put the bag next to his feet and buckled up. “Do you often eat the same thing for lunch and dinner?”

“When it’s pasta—yeah. It reheats fine, and it’s less work,” Buck explained. “Plus, we have to account for some people, like me, who have a higher caloric intake. I’m pulling 3,000 right now when I’m on shift, and that’s just for maintenance. I often supplement with protein bars when I’m working.”

Eddie nodded. He’d never really kept track of that kind of thing but figured he’d have to going forward because he did want to qualify for heavy rescue. That meant he’d need to put on some muscle and weight. He wondered how much his Guide weighed because being able to carry Buck in an emergency was paramount.

“About 180 pounds,” Buck said out of the blue.

Eddie turned to stare at him. “What?”

“You were wondering about my weight,” Buck said. “Right?”

“I thought you couldn’t read my mind,” Eddie said and shook his head when Buck laughed.

“I wasn’t. It’s just most people ask. I’ve been fitness focused since high school, and I started putting on muscle weight before I ever came online, so there used to be two topics people would focus on—weight and steroids. Once I came online, the steroid question stopped being asked because most assume that I couldn’t have come online if I was dosing. That’s mostly true—steroids can cause mental instability that would interfere with psionic communion, but occasional use wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve never dosed—my body type just leans this way with the right kind of exercise program.”

Eddie nodded. He was on the lean side and couldn’t see building that much muscle weight.

“In the field, I have to carry upwards of eighty pounds of gear, plus there is the potential that I might have to pick up and evac a person,” Buck said. “I can deadlift 400 pounds, but the minimum for an active-duty firefighter is 200 pounds, regardless of gender.”

“Yeah, I’ve already reviewed those requirements. Before I was injured, I was lifting 250. I have some work to do on that front because I’ve lost weight and muscle,” Eddie slouched against the seat. “But my physical therapist said I couldn’t start for another month.”

“It’s for the best,” Buck said. “You don’t want to tear or strain any of the muscle impacted by the injuries.”

“Bullets.”

Eddie looked over his shoulder and found Chris staring at him pointedly. “What?”

“You were shot. I understand. You don’t have to pretend for me.”

He hadn’t been avoiding using the words shot or bullet for the sake of his son, he realized and flushed. “I….” He exhaled sharply and turned around in the seat because he wasn’t sure what to say, and that was frustrating as fuck.

Buck’s hand settled on his arm, slid down, and fingers curled around his wrist. “He wasn’t avoiding using those words for you, Chris.”

“Oh.”

The silence was appalling.

Chris’ breath hitched. “Sorry, Daddy.”

“It’s not your fault, mijo,” Eddie said quietly and let his head rest against the seat. “Sometimes, it’s just hard to talk about it that way….”

“Does it hurt?” Chris asked, tone pensieve and sad.

“No, I’m healing well, and Buck helps a lot.”

“No, I mean…does it hurt your heart?”

One thing they’d been explicit about at the psionic center was that lying to his son would be impossible, and doing so would only cause hurt and confusion. He hadn’t really understood fully what they meant, but now he did. No parent wanted to be completely honest with their child about every single topic. Sometimes, a white lie was just the best option.

“It was hard,” Eddie said, finally. “And I had to do things that made me really sad, but I’m getting better every day.”

Buck’s fingers tightened just briefly before he released him, then he turned into the lot of the fire station and parked in the front. “Okay, Diaz boys, ready to meet my nosy co-workers?”

“Yep,” Christopher said eagerly.

“You get the bag, Eds, and I’ll get the most important cargo.”

Buck inclined his head toward Christopher, and Eddie realized that he probably shouldn’t touch Christopher right now due to his emotional state. He wondered how many times he’d emotionally bled all over his son before Buck had come into his life. The thought hurt, so he pushed it down and away to deal with later.

“Okay, Superman, this place is full of big things and busy people,” Buck explained as he opened the back passenger seat door. “And you’re very little, so for your safety, I need to carry you.” He paused when Chris frowned. “I always carry Sadie when I bring her into the building here, too. It’s just not safe for people your size. It’s not about your CP, okay?”

Chris nodded and let Buck unfasten the harness and pluck him up. “Bring my crutches, though.”

“Of course, I’d never leave you stranded,” Buck said in amusement as he picked up both crutches in one hand.

Eddie huffed and snagged his son’s backpack before he left the truck. “Rude.”

His son was still giggling when they walked through the big open door of the station. The ladder truck was the first thing they encountered, and it was huge. Eddie had never been up close and personal with any of the equipment or apparatuses that were used by firefighters, so he was kind of fascinated. He could tell Chris was, too, because he was trailing his fingers along the shiny red surface as Buck told him about the ladder truck and what it was used for.

Eddie noted with some relief that Christopher was utterly relaxed in Buck’s hold as if he didn’t have to worry about a thing. He understood that all too well because Buck made him feel exactly the same way. They headed up a steep set of stairs to a large loft that loomed over the top of the station.

“Hello, people!” Buck called out. “This is my kid, Christopher Diaz.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Eddie. “And that’s Eddie, the Sentinel that came with him.”

Christopher laughed, and Eddie just fell completely in love with Evan Buckley. It was so startling that he barely kept his mouth from falling open. They sort of got ambushed after that, and he was introduced to a bunch of people in quick succession and realized he wasn’t going to be able to keep track of them at all.

Bobby took the bag from him with a wry grin and walked away, shaking his head. A gorgeous woman popped up in front of him at that point and offered her hand. The first of Buck’s co-workers to do so. Eddie had been warned in sense classes that some people would be very hesitant to invite a Sentinel into their physical space and would refrain from shaking hands, even to the point of rudeness.

“I’m Hen Wilson.”

“It’s nice to meet you. Buck speaks highly of you,” Eddie said as he took the hand she offered. He inhaled a little before he could help himself, and her eyes widened a bit, but she stayed still under his attention. “Call me, Eddie. Please.”

“Eddie,” she repeated warmly. “Wow. Good thing I’m a total lesbian, or I’d never get any work done around here.”

Eddie blushed and shook his head. “I can see how this is going to go. Buck said you married recently. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“She bagged a genuine rocket scientist,” Buck said from across the loft where he was on one knee setting Christopher up with his crutches.

“Really?” Christopher asked. “Can I meet her? I love space.”

“Absolutely, kiddo,” Hen said easily. “We can even get you a private tour of JPL.”

“What’s JPL?” Chris questioned and focused entirely on Buck like he had all the answers in the world, and Eddie found himself utterly charmed.

“Jet Propulsion Laboratory—it’s where NASA builds robotic spacecraft,” Buck explained. “Historically, they paved the way for the Apollo missions to the moon and the exploration of Venus, Mars, and Mercury.”

“When can we go?”

Buck laughed and shared a look with Hen, who was smiling widely at Christopher. “I’ll call Dr. Wilson, and we’ll see, okay? We’ll have a lot of time on our hands while your dad is at the academy.”

“Maybe I want to go, too,” Eddie pointed out.

“Sure, Eddie, I suppose you can come,” Buck said with a grin. “Maybe I’ll bring all the kids.”

“Maybe I don’t want to go,” Eddie muttered as several people around them laughed. “You already told me that your niece and nephew are…a lot.”

“Sadie is a threat to planetary security,” Buck said and grinned when Hen laughed. “Seriously.”

“Sadie’s really nice,” Christopher announced. “I’m gonna tell her what you said, Buck.”

“She takes pride in it, kiddo,” Buck said wryly. “Bobby, did you need any help? You guys look exhausted.”

“Just came out of a three-alarm fire,” Hen reported as she rubbed her head and yawned. “We’re offline for the next two hours to reset and clean up. Hope we don’t smell too terrible, Eddie.”

“A little smoky,” Eddie admitted. “But it’s not bad.” He glanced toward Buck. “You’re tucking it away, right?”

“Yeah,” Buck said. “They reek of smoke, honestly.”

“What’s tucking mean?” Hen asked as Eddie walked across the loft to be closer to Christopher, who was working his way toward two firefighters who had introduced themselves and returned to a gaming system.

“With the bond, I can create psionic pockets that Eddie’s senses will retreat into to prevent sensory overload or zone outs,” Buck said. “He’s already pretty close to doing it naturally. Right now, I’m just doing a bit of prodding to start the process.”

Thankfully, the two men appeared to be playing some sort of racing game and not something explicit or violent.

“Mario Kart,” Buck reported and ran his fingers through Chris’ curls before heading across the loft to the kitchen area. “Bobby?”

“I’m fine. I’ve got everything ready but the pasta,” Bobby said and motioned toward the stove where two large pots were boiling. “And I was ready to go when you got here.”

Noise on the stairs caught his attention, and Eddie turned to watch a man come up them. A flash of annoyance from his Guide made him shift a little on his feet. His fingers flexed briefly, but he forced himself to stay still and keep his shoulders relaxed.

“Eddie, this is Chimney Han,” Buck said with a cool tone that sounded completely out of character coming out of his Guide’s mouth. Buck had a warm and friendly manner nearly all the time. “Chim, this is my Sentinel, Eddie Diaz, and his son Christopher.”

Christopher leaned into Eddie suddenly, and Eddie let his left-hand drop to his son’s shoulder as he took the hand Chimney offered. He was still worried about what his son might pick up from him, but he couldn’t imagine ever rejecting contact when Chris sought it. He released the man’s hand quickly and hoped no one really took notice of the difference he’d made between Hen and Chimney.

“Nice to meet you,” Eddie said.

“Same,” Chimney said and shared a look with Hen. “Well, Bobby was right about that.”

“Right about what?” Buck questioned with a narrowed look in Bobby’s direction.

“He said Eddie was prettier than you, and we just couldn’t figure out how that was possible!” One of the men in front of the TV called out.

Buck laughed. “First of all, you’re all terrible. And, Cosmo, you could be the actual worst. And second, objectification is awful, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Right, Eddie?”

Eddie shrugged. “I’ve seen me.”

Buck sighed at the laughter that erupted. “You’re going to be a terrible influence on every single one of these people.”

 

Chapter 9

Carla Price exuded the same kind of calm, soothing feeling that Eddie got from his abuela. Chris adored her at first sight, and it was clear she was equally enamored with him. Buck had put an amazing meal on the table, but Eddie was still kind of working his head around the fact that the man had thrown together a homemade cake with a rich frosting that had come together like some kind of magic in a bowl full of cream and melted chocolate.

“I see why your family thought you’d go the pro chef route,” Eddie said as he stared at the cake Buck was cutting.

Buck shot him a grin. “I started getting into food and nutrition when I was a teenager. Don’t expect this kind of treat on a regular basis, though.”

“Then I get a better get a big piece of that,” Eddie muttered and grinned when Carla and Christopher laughed. He focused on Carla. “You said earlier that you used to work in a hospital.”

“Yes,” Carla murmured and focused briefly on her coffee, then eagerly accepted the cake Buck slid her way. “After my husband’s accident, he went into private practice specializing in internal medicine. It bored me silly, but I considered going back to school to become a nurse practitioner, but it didn’t feel right. I was kind of at a loss as to where I wanted to settle.

“Caring for others is a calling for me, so I couldn’t see myself retiring…I wasn’t ready for that. Then a family friend had a stroke, and I made the choice to take care of him in his home. I joined a service that specializes in providing nursing care by Guides. It’s a niche market, of course, and clients can be difficult to come by.

“I work at the creche at the psionic center occasionally because I enjoy being around all of the children, and it’s a good change of pace.”

Eddie nodded and glanced toward Chris, who was determinedly eating his little piece of cake but was also clearly starting to get really tired. Fortunately, he’d corralled the kid into a bath before dinner, so he was mostly ready for bed. He wanted to discuss the financial details and how much it would cost to employ a registered nurse to care for Chris at home. He suspected it was well out of his budget. There was a large sum of money coming his way because of his early severance from the Army due to injury, but it wouldn’t last forever. These were not issues he wanted to talk about in front of Chris.

“You ready for bed, Superman?” Buck questioned.

Chris yawned. “I want to stay up with Carla.”

“How about I come back to visit soon?” she asked warmly and ruffled his curls.

“Okay…very soon, though,” Chris agreed and held out his hands for Buck.

Eddie watched Buck pick Chris and his crutches up and take him from the dining room. He cleared his throat and focused on his cake for a bit.

“You’re having a hard time adjusting.”

It wasn’t a question, so he didn’t treat it like one. “I was knocked unconscious in a war zone, and I woke up in a hospital. I’m sure it was the best choice they could make for a newly online and injured Sentinel, but it was hard to comprehend. Then they started throwing Guides at me.” He frowned. “Well, just two, so it was hardly a parade of people. I felt a lot of pressure to accept one of them but neither interested me at all. How could I spend the rest of my life bonded with someone I barely wanted to talk to?

“I admit that it didn’t feel anything like a gift when it began. All I could smell was death when I woke up, and there’s nothing like that smell.”

“It’s unique,” Carla admitted. “And I don’t have your super nose. I couldn’t mistake it for anything else. It’s not a great way to come online, but I can see you’ve settled well. Buck’s been good for you.”

“Yeah,” Eddie admitted. “Even if he is making war against Dino Buddies.”

Carla laughed sharply. “What a shame.”

“I heard that,” Buck said as he returned to the dining room. “Despite the sugar, he passed right out.”

“He’s been going full tilt since he woke up this morning,” Eddie said. “Which seems to be his habit—just go, go, go until he drops. Sometimes I think he’s trying to prove something to himself, and other times, it just feels like he’s four.

“Certainly a mixture of both,” Carla murmured and stood. “Now, let’s go over what I’ve brought.” She retrieved her bag from the sideboard and pulled out a fat file. “There are a bunch of resources available for your family due to your online status and Christopher’s disability. Buck tells me that Christopher already receives federal aid.”

“Yes, a disability payment that goes directly into his living trust and insurance that helps a lot but doesn’t always allow for what the government considers to be unnecessary expenditures. Fortunately, Buck is also providing private insurance through the LAFD,” Eddie said and eyed the folder. “That’s a lot of paperwork.”

Carla grinned. “Lucky for you, I’m an old hand at this. I’ve had to help many clients over the years navigate the system. The Burton Foundation will handle education fees for approved facilities pre-k through high school. Public school isn’t going to be an option for Christopher due to his latency. Most in the area could manage his disability, but maybe not to the level you’d prefer. It’s been my experience that public facilities focus on physical issues and ignore intellectual ones. Christopher is smart and will require a lot of stimulation mentally. He’s articulate for his age, which isn’t a surprise considering his profound sensitivity. Intrinsically, he knows the better he can communicate, the more help he’ll receive dealing with the emotions of others. It’s also possible psionic energy has given him a bit of a boost on that front to protect him.”

Eddie considered that. “Protect him how?”

“Communication skills come with intellectual maturity,” Buck said. “The psionic plane is intelligent, so it knows that young latents need to develop skills that will allow them to function and protect themselves is paramount.”

“Was it that way for you?” Eddie questioned because he hoped so.

“Yeah. I had concrete boundaries as a kid, and it drove my parents crazy,” Buck said. “Long before Lou came along and kicked them out of their lives, I was making life hell for my parents in some fashion or another. And they had no choice but to accept it because of the laws protecting latent children. Though I was told to expect to be sent to a boarding school after Maddie left home. That never happened since she met Lou shortly after she started university.” He focused on Carla. “Are there grants that will help to pay for your work?”

“There are grants that will pay for all of my work,” Carla said. “Most through a state program and the Burton Foundation will supplement because I’m an online Guide and Christopher needs a Conservator. Your tether on him is very well done, Buck, as I’m sure Bobby already told you.”

Buck nodded. “Yeah, he was impressed, which was a relief. I’ve not done one like that before, and due to my bond with Eddie, I had a lot of room to weave it into place.”

“How does the tether work?” Eddie questioned because Buck had told him he’d done it, which had been a relief, but if Carla was going to do one, too, then he wanted to know what it was exactly.

“There are various kinds of empathic tethers,” Carla said. “Buck created one with your son that is very robust. He could use it to locate Christopher—even if they were separated by thousands of miles.” She paused when Eddie relaxed back in his seat with overt relief. “It has no real end due to the nature of the psionic plane. He’s weaved it into the bond he shares with you to such a degree that it appears damned near permanent. It’s not at all uncommon for a Guide parent to do such a thing. The tether I’ll create, with your permission, will allow me to shield Christopher when I’m with him and provide him a psionic pocket of sorts that he will naturally retreat into if things become overwhelming or difficult for him.

“Since I’ll be with him a lot once you start working, I’ll have time to teach him the skills he needs to protect himself. Latents can’t manipulate psionic energy, but they can take refuge knowingly in the psionic plane itself in times of great distress. I can tell he’s done it several times without meaning to.”

Buck nodded when Eddie looked his way. “The night you brought him into the psionic center, he’d definitely tucked himself into a little temporary pocket provided by the plane. The remnants of him taking refuge on the plane was clinging to him when I met him. Since he didn’t know what it was at the time, he wasn’t seeking it out on purpose. Based on my own memories of such things, it probably just felt safe, so he sort of mentally laid down to rest when a place was offered. Some latents do it throughout their lives until they come online.”

Eddie nodded and took a deep breath. “Is it safe for him to do it?”

“It’s the safest place a latent or unbonded Guide has,” Carla said and shared a glance with Buck. “The psionic plane takes immense care with our children, Eddie. You needn’t ever worry about Christopher when it comes to his interactions with the plane or with spirit animals.”

“Mine seems to like him a lot,” Eddie said.

“You should be prepared to see his,” Carla said, and Eddie’s eyes widened. “Latents have spirit animals—that attachment forms at birth, long before a Sentinel or Guide comes online. It’s rare, of course, for the spirit animal of latent Sentinel or Guide to appear, but it can happen.”

“I saw a wispy sort of after image of Mina when I was latent,” Buck said when Eddie looked his way. “A full year before I came online, she started to coil up around me in my sleep as if she was providing a shield between me and the rest of the world in a physical way.”

“Should we prepare him for that?” Eddie asked. “I wouldn’t want him to freak out.”

“I’m on the fence about it,” Buck admitted. “Because if he doesn’t see her soon, he’ll be very disappointed.”

“Yeah,” Eddie said and exhaled slowly. “He said he wanted a cat like mine.” He glanced over to his left, and Zoë appeared with a soft chuffing sound. She stretched her long body, tail whipping in the air, and trotted out of the room. “I feel like she watches over him more than she does me.”

“She’s just responding to your intense desire to protect your son,” Carla said. “You should prepare him for that because she would…respond viciously if someone was a threat to your child and you weren’t there to respond.”

“Viciously?” Eddie questioned. “Spirit animals don’t kill.”

“They can leave deal enough psionic damage to induce a permanent catatonic state,” Buck said. “The situation would have to be extreme, but it’s happened. I think spirit animals can kill. Mina could crush a human being in her solid-state if she wanted, just like a real anaconda. They have an ethical code of their own, and it’s very black and white when it comes to the protection of the vulnerable. There are no modern records of a spirit animal killing, but that doesn’t mean it’s never happened. I can imagine our community would work hard to keep it a secret if it had ever happened.”

Eddie found that more relieving than a civilized man probably should, and he knew it. So, he nodded and focused on the details of hiring Carla to work in their home.

“I’m told we’ll work two to three twenty-four shifts on a weekly basis,” Eddie said. “The schedule varies throughout the month.”

“I know Buck’s schedule,” Carla said. “I teach some of the classes at the center that he can no longer teach due to joining the LAFD. The grants will cover a forty-hour workweek for me at a very good rate of pay. He’ll have pre-school, time in the creche, and me on the days that you work. I’ll spend the night here on the nights you work so he can stay in his own bed as much as possible.”

“How many proposals of marriage do you get on an average week?” Eddie asked. “And how does your husband tolerate the large number of crushes you collect?”

Carla laughed.

* * * *

“You don’t like that one guy.”

“Chimney?” Buck questioned as Eddie closed the dishwasher.

“Yeah.”

Buck shrugged. “I tried to like him when I first started at the 118 because we’ve had some less than friendly encounters since Bobby started working there. I did hope for a better working relationship. It didn’t work out because of his behavior. I met him when I was in college. At any rate, he outright slut-shamed me the first week I was working, and I told him off. I’m ashamed to say that I lost my temper, and I let him know exactly what I thought of him. He’s a womanizing jerk off, and he has a cruel personality—I told him so. Also, I’ve recently learned he’s a habitual liar.”

“There’s more,” Eddie pointed out, and Buck considered how to answer that because it wasn’t actually his issue.

“He came across Maddie on a scene a few years back. She works as a criminal profiler for the LAPD attached to Lou’s major crimes unit. Regardless, there was a serial arsonist, and she was on the scene. Chim asked her out, and she said no. Later he sent her flowers and asked her out again. She contacted HR and had him reprimanded.”

Eddie made a face. “Has she always worn that thick wedding band and fat diamond? I’ve seen it several times on your FaceTime calls.”

“Yeah, the diamond belonged to Lou’s grandmother. She was really happy to be given a family heirloom. It made her feel very welcome in Lou’s life and family. They have matching wedding bands,” Buck said and leaned on the counter.

“So even if he didn’t recognize her for who and what she was—he definitely would’ve seen she was married,” Eddie said.

“Yeah.” Buck sighed. “I only found out about this part recently. They’d all been keeping it from me to avoid an incident since unbonded Guides can have emotional responses that are dangerous. I’m offended on behalf of both Maddie and Lou. He disrespected her by ignoring her rejection.”

“And he didn’t consider her marriage an obstacle.” Eddie grimaced. “Right. What about the habitual lying?”

“He has self-esteem issues and an inferiority complex, which translates into him lying his ass off on a regular basis to women and his own family. The woman he’s dating currently thinks he’s in med school. He doesn’t even have an undergrad degree, Eddie. Of course, that wouldn’t matter at all if he wasn’t lying about being in medical school, which is impossible at his education level. There isn’t a med school in the country that doesn’t require a four-year degree as far as I know.”

Eddie nodded. “No, that’s true. I considered medical school years ago, but my parents only agreed to pay for college if I went to a local university and lived at home. So, I joined the Army. I don’t necessarily regret any of that. All the decisions I made put me right here and right now. I’d do nothing different. Chris is…well. He’s worth every single thing I’ve seen, done, and had done to me.”

“He’s certainly the best part of your whole deal,” Buck agreed and hitched in a breath when Eddie caught his wrist and pulled him right in. He let one hand rest on his Sentinel’s chest. “Hey.”

“The way you love my son is amazing.”

“Yeah, well, that was love at first sight,” Buck admitted. “Took a bit of time on the you front.”

“It was the same for me,” Eddie admitted. “The doctor put him on Shannon’s chest, and she was a crying mess. I couldn’t help but think that it was one of the most beautiful moments I’d ever have in my life. I held him as much as they let me that day. When I got stationed overseas, leaving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I think I knew that when I came home again that I wouldn’t be willing to leave him again.”

Buck smiled at him, and Eddie’s stomach tightened.

“Should it be this easy?” Eddie questioned.

Buck lifted an eyebrow. “Whoever said love had to be hard?”

Eddie pressed their mouths together because he had no answer to that question that wouldn’t land him in a therapist’s office. Buck was relaxed in his hands, completely at ease in a way no other lover ever had been. He hooked his fingers into Buck’s belt and tugged gently.

“Eds,” Buck murmured as Eddie trailed a series of soft kisses along his jaw.

“Do you want to stop?”

“I want a bed and a locked door,” Buck said plainly and grinned when Eddie laughed. “We’re on that page together, right?”

“Yeah,” Eddie admitted.

“You don’t feel rushed?” Buck questioned as Eddie tugged him out of the kitchen and toward his own bedroom.

“No, do you?”

“Honestly, you could’ve had me ages ago,” Buck admitted. “You’re just…everything I’ve always wanted.”

“Telling me things like that will make my ego as big as yours,” Eddie murmured as he pulled the bedroom door shut and flicked the lock on the knob. He pulled Buck close and leaned on the door as he sought another kiss. “You’re all I want, too. I just didn’t know it.” He took a deep breath. “I got used to not allowing myself to want much.”

Buck shook his head and wet his lips. “Come here, then, and have what you want.”

Eddie huffed a little as Buck took his hands and pulled. He let himself be taken to bed because suddenly, all he could really focus on was his Guide. At the edge of the bed, Buck released his hands and pulled his T-shirt over his head. Eddie’s gaze followed the garment briefly, then focused on the damn near wall of muscle in front of him. He moved in, settled one hand on Buck’s trim waist, and exhaled slowly.

“You’re beautiful,” Eddie murmured. “I love the way you move in the world.”

Buck blinked and stared in what looked like shock. “I….”

He took a deep breath, and Eddie couldn’t help but cup Buck’s head then press their mouths together. Nimble fingers hooked into his belt and loosened it. Buck’s hands were sure, experienced, and it was a relief. Before he’d figured himself out, he’d fucked around a lot because he’d been chasing a fleeting memory of love and pleasure. But it had been about two years since he’d had sex with another person, and he felt a little off his stride.

Buck exhaled as Eddie unfastened and unzipped his jeans. “I’m stupidly excited…but I’ve got a great refractory period.”

Eddie grinned. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Buck murmured. “I asked Bobby what it was like to fall in love a couple of years ago.”

“What did he tell you?”

Buck grinned and sighed. “He compared it to a five-alarm fire—fierce, demanding, out of your control, and merciless.” He tugged at Eddie’s shirt then carefully helped him get out of it. “How’s your shoulder feel?”

“Sore,” Eddie said honestly because he really couldn’t hide a damn thing from Buck and wasn’t interested in trying. “So, you’re gonna have to do all the work.”

“I like to work,” Buck admitted, and his cheeks stained red.

“I realize you’re only three years younger than me, but suddenly I feel like a dirty old man,” Eddie said and sucked in a breath as Buck’s fingers trailed along his abs.

He’d lost some muscle weight but was still fit enough not to be self-conscious about it. Eddie didn’t consider himself vain at all despite the attitude he copped with people over his looks whenever they were brought the subject up. He’d been fending off that kind of attention since puberty and had always found it shallow and kind of rude. Though, he did really like how attracted to him Buck was, and that had been clear from the start.

“How do you want this?” Buck questioned. “You saw my test results, right?”

Eddie huffed a little. “Yeah, which was weird. The Army didn’t give me a medical brief on the two Guides they sent my way.”

“Probably because they don’t actually care,” Buck muttered. “The DOD isn’t known for being…all that concerned about our health as long as we can do the job for them.” He pushed his jeans down and kicked them off. “You didn’t answer the question.”

Eddie’s gaze dropped to the dark blue boxers Buck was still wearing and wet his lips. “I don’t think I’m up for penetration in either fashion. It would be too much strain on my thigh. It’s been a while since I’ve let anyone fuck me, but I’m open to it.”

“Yeah,” Buck agreed and shifted into his space easily. “I’m game, too, for pretty much anything. I mean…well. There are limits, but I know enough about Sentinels to know that none of that stuff would ever be on your radar.” He grinned when Eddie laughed.

Eddie watched intently as Buck slipped off the boxers and spread out on the mattress. He couldn’t help but let his gaze trail along the full length of Buck’s body—taking in all the skin he’d not been allowed to see before. Buck’s cock was hard, wet at the tip, and Eddie’s mouth watered. He slid onto the bed and took the hand Buck offered.

Surrendering to another kiss was easy. He adored the way Buck tasted and could spend hours kissing him. Eddie shuddered and groaned softly against Buck’s mouth as a big warm hand wrapped around his aching cock. Sweet affection drifted through their bond, and he realized that Buck was pulling him close empathically in a way he’d not done in all the weeks they’ve been bonded.

“Buck,” he gasped in shock and pressed his open mouth against his Guide’s shoulder as he shook through the physical and emotional pleasure.

“Too much?” Buck questioned.

“More,” Eddie demanded and trembled violently when Buck shifted closer, then pressed their cocks together in one big hand. “Dios. I have lube in the nightstand.”

“I’m going to get wet enough that we won’t need it,” Buck admitted, and Eddie groaned, his hips flexed despite his intentions. “Easy there, babe. I thought I was doing the work.”

“You’ve been holding out on me,” Eddie accused, but there was no heat to it—he just really thought their bond was very intimate, and yet it was deepening with every single moment.

“Well, it wouldn’t have been fair to throw my wants and feelings all over you,” Buck murmured and started to thrust lazily into his own hand.

The drag of another cock against his own was delicious, and quickly, they were both slick with Buck’s pre-cum. The smell was intoxicating, very nearly overwhelming, and exciting. He cupped Buck’s ass with one hand, urging him closer and taking the other man’s mouth in a brief kiss. Eddie felt like his senses were blown wide open, and it should’ve scared him, but he’d never felt safer.

Pleasure rolled over him in a heady wave, and Eddie just gave in to it. Buck’s hand tightened around their cocks as he came as well and groaned softly against Eddie’s skin.

“You’re so sweet,” Eddie murmured as Buck released them both and cuddled close. “How’d I get so lucky?”

Buck laughed. “Some would say that nature provides and such pairings as you and are I written in the stars.”

Eddie hummed under his breath and settled on his back as Buck released him. He pulled the other man closer and relaxed when Buck settled against him without any hesitation.

He pressed his lips against Buck’s hair. “Guide.”

Psionic energy drifted gently over their skin, and Eddie took in a deep breath.

“Sentinel,” Buck said in response.

Something that felt primal and ancient drifted between them, and Eddie’s spirit animal trotted into the room and threw herself on the floor in front of a pair of French doors that led to the backyard. In a shadowy pocket between the bathroom and the doors, movement caught his attention, and a very large snake slid briefly into the moonlight then disappeared again.

“I don’t feel worried about her,” Eddie confessed. “Zoë scared the shit out of me the first time I saw her.”

“Why?”

“Well, I was confused, and at first, I thought she belonged to one of the insurgents,” Eddie confessed. “And I wasn’t interested in going up against a Sentinel. Then I realized she was mine, and everything is a blur after that.” He ran his hand down the length of Buck’s broad back.

The snake reappeared and slithered over Zoë and tucked her big head under the jaguar’s chin. He watched them tangle up together.

“How often is she solid?” Eddie questioned.

“Rarely, perhaps only when I feel threatened,” Buck admitted. “When I first came online, Mina made a point of getting between me and any online Sentinel that appeared interested in me. It was telling when she didn’t show up during our meeting.”

“So, she approved.”

“Wholeheartedly,” Buck said and lifted away to prop himself on one elbow. “We should shower. Did you want me to go back to my room?”

“I want this to be our room, but I don’t want to rush you.”

Buck grinned at him, and Eddie resolved to ignore the way his face was getting hotter by the second. He really didn’t remember blushing like a boy, even when he was a boy. “It doesn’t have to be complicated. Trust me, you’re gonna know if you make me unhappy. I can’t keep shit to myself, and crying runs in my family.”

The thought of reducing Buck to tears was awful. He really hoped he never made that kind of misstep. Eddie let himself be pulled from the bed and into the en suite. In the shower, Buck pressed him against the tile and cupped his hips to hold him still. Eddie relaxed in his hold, pleased with the attention being focused on him in a way he didn’t want to admit to.

Buck quirked an eyebrow at him, then lowered his head just a little.

“Normally, I date people shorter than me,” Eddie said.

Buck grinned. “Pretty easy to do considering the average heights of both men and women.” He leaned in for a kiss, and Eddie curled his fingers around the nape of Buck’s neck to pull him completely in. Buck pulled his mouth away then leaned inward until they were forehead to forehead. “I love you.”

“Yeah?” Eddie questioned. It was such a pleasing thing to hear that it got hard to breathe.

“Yeah—somewhere between hi and those silly Dino Buddies,” Buck admitted with a huff. “Which honestly should be a dealbreaker.”

“I think they’re awful,” Eddie confessed and laughed when Buck heaved a big sigh of exaggerated relief. “But Christopher is enamored, so we’re just gonna have to deal until his palate matures. He’d live on chicken nuggets and pancakes if we allowed it.”

“Bobby offered to help me work some more variety into Chris’ diet. He’s got a lot of experience in feeding kids that age,” Buck murmured and reached for the soap. “Did you want me to make an appointment for you to get rid of the body hair?”

Eddie grimaced. “No.”

“It’s not bothering you?” Buck questioned. “Most Sentinels complain about their body hair interacting with their clothes and causing itching.”

“Oh.” Eddie pursed his lips. “I just…I’ve been suppressing that.”

Buck made a huffy sound. “You cannot suppress your touch sense on that level and function as a firefighter, Eddie. And you shouldn’t keep this stuff from me. Are you suppressing anything else?”

“Beyond the pain, no,” Eddie promised. “I swear.” He ran a hand over Buck’s smooth chest. “When did you get your body hair removed?”

“I did permanent removal shortly after I came online,” Buck said. “I didn’t want to have anything going on body-wise that would turn a Sentinel off.”

“You’d have to work to be a turn-off,” Eddie muttered and rolled his eyes when Buck grinned. “Shut up.”

 

Chapter 10

Seven Months Later

Eddie rolled his water bottle between his hands; the cool steel of the flask was enough stimulation to keep his senses spread out enough that he wouldn’t zone. He’d finished the last of his written exams earlier in the day and had done the physical certification with no issues. Buck had come and gone from the academy over the twelve weeks Eddie had spent taking classes as necessary, but he hadn’t planned to be there for the final day. They both figured he’d be more distraction than help when it came to the certification process.

“Firefighter Diaz.”

Eddie looked up and found a man in uniform standing with the director of the academy. He had a pretty good idea as to why he’d been asked to have a meeting with the director and wasn’t all that surprised to see Chief Colbrook. The Chief of the LAFD had been careful about it, but he’d made it clear more than once over the months that Eddie was in recovery that he wanted Buck at the 56 or moved straight into SAR.

Eddie figured that Colbrook would’ve gone heavy on the subject if he wasn’t so new to the job. There had been some turnover in the position due to the intense amount of attention that Lou Ransone had put on the department when his brother-in-law had been hired. Colbrook had only been the chief a few months, an external hire, when Eddie had come to Los Angeles.

“Chief Colbrook.” Eddie stood and inhaled to check for irritants when the man offered his hand. “Pardon me for not shaking hands; your body soap makes me itch.”

Colbrook blinked in surprise and lowered his hand. “My apologies…is that a sensory spike? Do we need to call your Guide?”

“No, just…a skin sensitivity,” Eddie said. “Buck threw out my whole bottle of the same soap when he moved in, and he was right. I stopped itching like crazy when it was replaced. Oddly, the biggest expense so far has been changing out cleaning supplies, both personal and household.”

“I bet,” Hal Dillion, the director of the academy, said. “Those Sentinel-safe products are often twice as expensive as that regular organic crap.”

“Which isn’t as organic as they’d say,” Eddie said. “Don’t ask Buck about it—you’ll never be the same, and honestly, it’s made me real jaded about the grocery store.” He smiled when both men laughed and took the seat he was directed to as they entered the director’s office.

“You probably have a pretty good guess as to why I’m here,” Colbrook said.

“I do,” Eddie said. “It’s pretty insulting, but I get the feeling that you really have no idea how a Sentinel and Guide function together as a pair. It makes me concerned about your ability to function as the chief of the LAFD long-term, considering how many online Sentinels and Guides are employed by the organization.” He watched the older man’s mouth fall open. “You’re unhappy with my Guide’s career choices and have made no secret of it since you were hired a year ago.”

“I believe him wasted, based merely on certifications, at the 118. He clearly made an emotional choice,” Colbrook said stiffly. “One that I wouldn’t have allowed had he been hired when I was in charge.”

“Then I can say, with absolute certainty, that he wouldn’t be working with the LAFD at all if you’d had the ability to interfere in his hiring choice,” Eddie and Colbrook’s face went ruddy with temper. “Santa Monica offered him nearly 10,000 more a year in salary and his choice of stations. LA County offered him a similar salary to the LAFD, but also said he could have any station he wanted in their organization. Since we’ve bonded, Buck has been offered jobs with FEMA, the California Smoke Jumpers, and the USDA Forest Service. All of these organizations realize that he has a profound calling, and they’re eager to cater to it.”

“And your calling?”

“It’s personal,” Eddie said. “And has nothing to do with a job specifically. I can attend to my calling working as a firefighter, but I could do it in other ways as well. It made sense to follow my Guide onto the job of his choice, and I will continue to do that going forward. I know you want Buck to transfer to the 56 and eventually to SAR itself, but it’s not where his heart is.”

“His attachment to Captain Nash needs to be mitigated,” Colbrook said roughly.

“Oh,” Eddie said with a laugh. “Is that what’s going on?” He sat back in his chair and took a deep drink. “Chief Colbrook, with all due respect, you need to have a very long conversation with Alpha Ransone about how prides work and what it means to be a part of one. Bobby Nash is the only reason Buck accepted the job with the LAFD because the department had nothing to offer him that others couldn’t beyond that.”

Colbrook frowned at him, jaw tight with anger. “And if I tried to force a transfer?”

“We’ll go work elsewhere,” Eddie shrugged. “I think some people assume that a calling equals a lack of choice, but that’s far from the truth. He could and certainly would satisfy his imperative in a different job easily enough.” He stood when Hal Dillion inclined his head toward the door. “Do I need to go home and tell my Guide we should look for new jobs?”

“I would think that a man with your military experience would understand that sometimes the needs of an organization outweigh the needs of an individual,” Colbrook said stiffly. “I don’t like the fact that there are people under my command who can just ignore my orders.”

“Every single person working for the LAFD can ignore your orders,” Eddie said evenly. “And they would face the ramifications of that choice, sir. Quitting your job in response to being given an order you don’t want to follow is within the rights of a civilian. It’s honestly one of the most relieving parts of leaving the Army.”

Colbrook’s gaze narrowed. “You’ve already received your orders to report to the 118 on Thursday for your first shift.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good luck then, Sentinel Diaz.”

Eddie saw the distinction being made and just inclined his head and, with a glance toward Dillion, left. He pulled out his phone and checked his text messages. There was an update from the group text between him, Buck, and Carla, letting them know that Christopher was currently at the creche and that she would have him at home in time for dinner.

Buck was on shift, so he sent a text to see if he was on a call or in the station.

Buck: On the way back from a stupid situation involving a vacuum cleaner. Some dudes will put their dick in anything. You done? We’ll be offline for an hour once we get back to the station.

Eddie: Done—my first shift is on Thursday. The chief came up here, and I think he planned to do a hard sell on me going to the 56 and thus forcing you to follow me. I made it clear that it wasn’t going to happen. He’s probably going to continue to be a problem. He thinks it’s his job to separate you from Bobby Nash.

Buck: That’s borderline interference with the pride and that’s a complete clusterfuck waiting to happen.

Eddie: I’ll speak to Lou about it. He needs more than a text for this.

Buck: Yeah okay.

Eddie decided to use the drive to organize his sense impressions of Scott Colbrook. The man’s ambition wasn’t difficult to read, but his hyperfocus on Buck felt more like a control issue than anything else. He clearly didn’t like being told no, and Eddie figured Buck’s interactions with the older man hadn’t been as pleasant as Colbrook would’ve preferred. It didn’t feel like personal interest, which was a relief since the man was clearly twice Buck’s age.

His phone went off, and he answered the call with a push of a button. Eddie wasn’t all that surprised to find that it was Lou. The older man had probably caught a bit of Buck’s irritation and called him first. The man was insanely attuned to his family, and Eddie strived to make that sort of connection with his own. He’d been working on it for months.

Eddie, Buck tells me that Colbrook cornered you at the academy.” Lou’s tone was clipped, and he was clearly angry.

“Yeah, he wanted me to agree to a job at the 56, so he could force Buck to follow me. He thinks he’s wasted as a resource at the 118, but his main goal is to separate Buck from Bobby. He doesn’t like the influence Bobby has over him at all. Also, he’s pissed that Buck told him no. Colbrook doesn’t think anyone should tell him no, which I think is more of a problem than his overt interest in micromanaging my Guide.”

How did you respond?”

“I told him that we had plenty of options, and the LAFD only won the Buck lottery because that’s where Bobby Nash works,” Eddie said dryly and grinned when Lou laughed. “He came from San Diego, right?”

Yes, the previous chief turned out to be…morally corrupt,” Lou said. “And favored very young prostitutes. Athena caught him in the act of picking up a fifteen-year-old boy for sex.”

Eddie’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel as he turned onto his own street. He’d been considering going to Lou, but the man’s phone call made that seem unnecessary. “Colbrook is just power-hungry.”

“I noted that early on. I’ll take care of it, and going forward, it’s something for you to keep an eye on. He wasn’t the city’s first choice but the man they wanted, Gael Alonzo, took a job in Santa Barbara. He’ll probably get another offer from LA shortly.

“It’s about you, in the end,” Eddie said as he parked his truck. “A lot of people probably think they can influence you through Buck. Separating him from Bobby on the job would’ve made that easier, right?”

Maybe for a minute or two,” Lou said wryly. “Buck’s not as naïve as anyone of that nature would hope. He’s got a big heart and a lot of overt empathy. Some people confuse that with innocence.”

Against his will, Eddie got a full-blown image of Buck sprawled on their bed, taking his cock like it was his due. He flushed and shifted in the seat as he got almost immediately hard. A second call made his phone vibrate.

“Buck’s calling,” Eddie said roughly. “I start work at the 118 on Thursday. I don’t know what Colbrook’s next move is going to be.”

“It’ll be a fucking job search if he doesn’t watch his step,” Lou muttered. “Send an email with a report on the conversation, so we have a record of the interaction from your point of view.

“Understood.” Eddie picked up his phone and flicked to Buck’s call as soon as Lou disconnected. “Hey.”

“Thinkin’ about me?” Buck asked in amusement.

Eddie huffed. “You know very well that I did.”

I’ll be home in about thirteen hours,” Buck said. “How’d your certification go?”

“Fine, no issues. Bobby should be getting a copy of the results and a list of rescues I’m qualified for,” Eddie said and focused on the house. “The lawn service was here.”

Buck laughed. “Stop sounding like you’ve taken a mortal wound because someone else mowed your grass. You just think you want to do that shit yourself—between the grass and dust, it would be an utterly miserable experience for you.”

“So you’ve been saying for months,” Eddie muttered.

Yeah, we’ll just overlook how miserable you were the last time you were home at the same time as the lawn service,” Buck said with a laugh. “One sec.

Eddie took being put on mute as an opportunity to leave the truck and go into the house. He put his cell down on the counter, turned on the speaker, and went to refill his water flask. Checking his watch, he went over to the fridge, plucked the dry-erase marker out of its holder, and started to make a list on the whiteboard of groceries they needed. After a few minutes, he went to the cabinet to check if they had oatmeal and the cereal that Christopher favored.

Eds?”

“Yeah, I’m here.” Eddie went back to the counter, realizing it had been nearly five minutes. “Something wrong?”

Buck sighed. “Yeah, listen. I’m going to come home. I’ll be there shortly. Keep me on the phone and send any other calls to voice mail.” He paused. “Chris is fine at the creche.”

Eddie’s gut clenched. “Buck.”

“I think I need to be with you when you hear this,” Buck said. “I’m already on the way.”

Eddie listened to the thud of a door snapping shut and figured Buck was in the SUV he’d purchased a few weeks after they’d bonded. Every kid in the pride had already taken a ride in it, including the very tiny Zac Ransone, with whom Buck was hardcore enamored, within a week of purchase. He wanted to hang up and call his abuela. His spirit animal appeared and pressed heavily against his leg. He didn’t know if he could wait the twenty minutes it would take for Buck to get him.

“I don’t…I don’t think I can wait.” His heart started to race, and he pressed a trembling hand against his chest. “Is someone dead?”

No, it’s nothing like that,” Buck assured.

It should’ve been a comfort, but he could feel his Guide’s agitation trembling across their bond, and it was making him want to pick a fight. “Did Colbrook show up there or something?”

It’s not work-related. Okay, go sit on the couch and take a few deep breaths for me.”

Eddie picked up the cell and went into the couch. He wasn’t all that surprised when Mina slithered across the back of the couch and plopped her big head onto his shoulder. Buck’s spirit animal normally gave him a lot of room, but that was more out of respect than fear. Zoë made a dissatisfied noise in Mina’s direction and got a tongue flick in response.

Your mother has been arrested,” Buck said. “And will probably be sectioned within the next day. She lost her temper in her lawyer’s office during a meeting with a representative pair of the Burton Foundation. As I understand it, she found a lawyer that would file a complaint with the foundation and was seeking mediation to take custody of Christopher through the organization—citing emotional instability on your part.”

“Is that even possible?”

It can happen if there is a genuine cause for it,” Buck said. “But you aren’t unstable, and there is no need for the Burton Foundation to involve themselves in the care of our minor child. During the interview, your mother stated that you didn’t have a real bond and couldn’t possibly be taking care of Christopher properly. When the foundation rep responded with evidence contrary to that…your mother flipped her shit. The Guide on site said it felt like a psychotic break. They were forced to restrain her, and she was arrested for assault.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Eddie muttered and rubbed his eyes which were stinging. “Did she hurt anyone?”

She gave your father a concussion,” Buck said. “He’s in an emergency room under observation, and your sister, Adriana, is with him. The Burton Foundation has declared her threat to Christopher’s safety, and she’ll be legally sanctioned by the end of the week.”

“What’s that mean?” Eddie asked tiredly and let his head fall back until it rested against Mina’s thick body; she was more solid for him in that moment than she ever had been before. “What will be sanctioned do to her?”

She’ll be put on a list that the federal government keeps. Her travel will be monitored for the rest of her life as she’s been determined to be a threat to a latent minor Guide, and that’s pretty much life-ruining,” Buck said quietly. “If she moves, she’ll have to register with local authorities, so they’ll know exactly where she lives in relation to latent children. Both of your sisters will be told that she can never have unsupervised access to their children, if they have any, no matter their status.”

“So, she’s been determined to be a child predator,” Eddie said flatly. “Like a pedophile.”

Yeah, pretty much exactly like that,” Buck admitted. “I’m about five minutes out.”

“I’m fine.”

You terrible liar,” Buck murmured gently. “Just sit right where you are until I get there. There’s more, unfortunately.

“Yeah, okay,” Eddie said and ended the call.

His parents had been a pain in the ass for months—first protesting the territory banishment, which hadn’t gone their way at all since the sole purpose of it was to protect them. There had been three reports to the Department of Child and Family Services, which had resulted in several visits from a social worker, and Daniel Buckley had filed a harassment lawsuit against his parents when Ramon had admitted that they’d filed the complaints.

Eddie hadn’t wanted his parents’ money, so in the end, the suit had been settled with court-ordered counseling for both his parents. Now, he sort of wished he’d bankrupted them to teach at least his father a fucking lesson. His mother didn’t work and never had, so their entire campaign against his family was funded by his father. The front door opened; Buck came in, still dressed in turn-out pants and suspenders.

It was kind of annoying that he was too irritated to even enjoy it. Still, Buck looked really great in uniform, so he stared and got a quirked eyebrow for his trouble.

“You know what you look like,” Eddie muttered. “This is practically a porn fantasy.”

Buck joined him on the couch, and Mina shimmered away. “So.”

“Go ahead.”

“Your dad has a brain tumor,” Buck said quietly. “It’s pretty advanced. Sophia is already getting ready to go to El Paso to help your sister. They both want you to join them, but they’ve already been told that it can’t happen. Pepa is going to go, and Isabel is…more angry than anything else because she’s been asking Ramon to see a neurologist for years.”

“Is he dormant because of the tumor?” Eddie questioned.

“Probably,” Buck said. “And the alcoholism could be a form of self-medication to deal with the immense amount of depression that comes with dormancy. We won’t know how aggressive the tumor is until he’s referred to a specialist for it. But he’s probably had it since before you were born. What little psionic energy he has could be containing it. That means it can be removed by a specialist. A Sentinel surgeon, specifically.”

Eddie nodded. “After I joined the Army, my mother told me I’d ruined my life. That I was…personally ruined like spoiled food or something. She certainly considers me damaged goods now. One of the first things she asked when I called home to tell them I’d been shot…well.” He huffed. “She asked me if I was going to walk with a limp and implied that it would make me ugly.”

Buck huffed. “Honestly, you could work a cane like a pro.” He shifted around so he could face Eddie. “You’re allowed to be upset about your father’s condition and your mother’s…outrageous behavior.”

“I can’t…it’s hard to even think about them,” Eddie admitted quietly. “It’s been years since I had even an ounce of respect for either of them. They’re just awful, Buck, and I don’t want them in my life in any single way going forward. Can we tell the Burton Foundation that? I just don’t want to know any more about them unless they’re physically heading toward me as a threat. I just want to ignore that they exist.”

“Yeah, we’ll handle it,” Buck murmured and took his hand. “Do you want me to go get Chris? Carla is teaching a class, but I can let her know.”

Eddie shook his head. “He was looking forward to playing with Sadie today, and school starts for her soon. His pre-k program is so short, and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of time to interact with other kids outside of class.”

“We can try to find another, but it was the best choice when it came to his CP,” Buck said and took a deep breath. “Maybe a more regular playgroup. He really liked meeting Denny last month. I can ask Hen if Denny can spend the night on Saturday. Hen and Karen might enjoy an adult night anyways. I think Denny wants to be included with the kids from the pride, but his parents don’t want to ask since he’s mundane.”

“Maybe keep him where he is for school and arrange more play dates,” Eddie murmured. “I just don’t want him to be lonely.”

“He’s not lonely,” Buck said firmly. “He just likes a lot of stimulation, which isn’t the same thing. It’s not uncommon for latent Guides.”

“I trust that you’d tell me if he was suffering,” Eddie said and stood from the couch. “I just…I don’t want to be a helicopter parent like my mother, Buck.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and huffed. “Colbrook asked me about my calling. I just told him it was personal. It’s none of his business, right?”

“Right.” Buck nodded and slouched on the sofa, letting one booted foot rest on his knee.

Eddie huffed a little. “Stop looking like that.”

Buck grinned. “I’m not sure we can indulge this fetish of yours, Eds. I spend a lot of time in turnouts at work.” He wet his lips. “If you’re not going to have a complete freak-out, I should probably be responsible and go back to work.”

“Bobby called in a replacement, right?” Eddie questioned and raised an eyebrow. “You should be consoling me. I’ve had an upset.”

“Yeah, two people you wish you couldn’t fucking stand had a terrible day,” Buck said evenly. He shifted and put both feet back on the ground, then spread his legs. “Come over here.”

Eddie walked to the sofa, threw one leg over Buck’s thighs, and settled into his Guide’s lap. He sank physically and mentally into the comfort being offered. “I don’t want to care about them. I don’t want to worry about what’s going to happen to them.”

“I know.” Buck curled his hands around Eddie’s hips and pulled him close. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“It’s not,” Eddie murmured. “I hate this. I actually do hate them, but also, I love them. I wish they loved me, and it’s so disappointing that they don’t. I don’t feel like they ever did. Maybe when I was a baby, before they realized I wasn’t going to be what they wanted.”

“Well, I love the hell out of you,” Buck murmured.

“I love you,” Eddie said against Buck’s forehead and breathed heavily against his skin. “I want a baby.”

“I know.” Buck turned and kissed his cheek. “The Burton Foundation has a very good, ethical surrogacy process in place. We’ll apply after your probationary period is up. Chris will be in regular school at that point, and it’ll be a good time to add to the family in a way that won’t stress him out.”

Eddie sat back a little and nodded. He stared for a moment and gently let his thumb brush over Buck’s birthmark. “Does it bother you that we don’t have the same calling?”

“We’re similar enough to work together, and that’s exactly what I wanted for a bond,” Buck confessed. “Beyond the love, awesome kids, and amazing, life-altering sex.” He smiled. “Besides, having a Sentinel whose primary imperative is protecting children is a relief. It makes bringing more kids into our family easy.”

“We’ve got about four hours before Chris comes home,” Eddie said.

Buck hummed under his breath, then slid forward on the sofa. Eddie laughed breathlessly as Buck stood and urged his legs around his waist.

“Carrying me to bed?” Eddie questioned.

“Or just to the nearest flat surface.”

“Bed.” Eddie clenched one hand around Buck’s nape. “Then you take all of this off for me.”

Buck grinned. “Yeah, sure.”

Eddie huffed a bit when Buck dropped him on the bed. He sat up on his elbows and shoved off his running shoes. Buck stood and watched him for a moment, eyes darkening. Eddie sat up, removed his socks, and tossed them across the room. He unbuttoned his jeans, and Buck leaned over him. His hands came down on either side of his head as he crawled onto the bed.

“Have you always had a uniform fetish? I bet it made serving in the Army really difficult,” Buck said.

Eddie grinned. “Maybe it’s just you. I’ll get my BDUs out and let you can try them on.” He wet his lips because that was stupidly appealing though he wasn’t certain if that was because he liked it when Buck wore his clothes or if it was entirely about the uniform.

Buck sat up and hooked his fingers into the front of Eddie’s jeans. The button gave away under his attention, and he eased back then off the bed. Eddie lifted his hips and bit down on his bottom lip as Buck pulled his jeans and boxers off. He sat up briefly and pulled his shirt over his head which he tossed away without a care. Propped up on his elbows, he watched Buck pull off his boots and socks then shrug off his suspenders. The turn-out pants fell to his muscled thighs, and Buck focused on unfastening his belt.

Buck dropped the turnouts to the floor, then shoved his pants and fitted boxers down. Their bond swelled between them as Buck came back to the bed with the lube in hand.

“You must be tired,” Buck murmured as he flicked the lube open. “The certification course is rough as hell to do all at once. I suppose that’s the point as endurance is a factor on the job.”

“If that was your way of offering to do the work, then I accept,” Eddie said wryly and grinned when Buck laughed. “But if you’d like me to put you on your knees and fuck your brains out…then I can find the energy somewhere.”

Buck slicked up his own fingers and slid astride Eddie’s hips. “I think I’ll just use you to get myself off.”

“Oh.” Eddie huffed a little as Buck rubbed their hard cocks together in a rocking motion as he reached back and started to work his own asshole open. “If that’s how you want to have me, I suppose I’ll just have to endure it.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly how I want this to go,” Buck murmured as he continued to just rock back and forth on his own fingers.

Eddie grabbed the lube from the mattress, slicked up his cock, and played just a little as he watched Buck prepare to take him. Normally, he liked to finger his lover open personally, but sometimes Buck clearly wanted to be in charge as much as possible. Eddie didn’t question it because he understood the desire to have everything exactly the way he wanted it.

Buck shifted forward, brushed Eddie’s hands away, and sank down on his cock.

“Fuck,” Eddie muttered and spread his legs just a little. “That’s…yeah…that’s perfect. I’m sure you have a host of skills you could be using to comfort me right now.” Buck laughed. “It’s telling that you chose to sit on my dick.”

Buck braced himself on Eddie’s chest and started to move with a slow roll of his hips. “This is a twofer—it’s going to help you relax and take your mind off terrible things.” He wet his lips. “And it’s going to get me off, which is always worth doing.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Eddie said and grabbed the lube from the bed. He slicked up his hand and wrapped it around Buck’s cock. “Come on, then. Get yours.”

He adored making his Guide come, and he wondered if that was common for pairs that had a sexual connection. Their bond had deepened over the months they’d been together—both due to the level of communication Buck outright demanded and the very emotionally rewarding sex they had. Eddie relaxed on the bed and gently stroked Buck’s cock. He watched pleasure practically roll over his lover, and psionic energy shimmered between them.

“Fuck, Eddie.”

“Come on,” Eddie encouraged. “You’re so pretty like this.”

“You’re close,” Buck said in a gasping groan as he started to move faster.

Eddie nodded. “Yeah, close.” He tightened his grip on Buck’s cock. “Come for me.”

Buck groaned and came all over Eddie’s hand, and he couldn’t help but follow as his Guide’s pleasure rolled over him like a wave. They separated, and Buck dropped down onto the bed beside him.

“I want the first baby to be yours biologically,” Eddie said.

“Yeah?” Buck questioned.

“Is that uncommon for a Sentinel?” Eddie question. He really didn’t care about anyone’s expectations on that front, but he was curious about the norm.

“No, there doesn’t appear to be any breeding imperative on that front for Sentinels to the point where they insist on being the natural father to all of their children,” Buck said easily. “We can…be put on the list for adoption as well, you know.”

“Adoption.” Eddie considered that. “You mean like a latent child that’s removed from their parents’ care?”

“That happens, but it’s rare. More often than not, a parent gives up their child to the Burton Foundation when they are told about the latent potential. Some just want no part of us and our society. I think your parents probably should’ve done that with you or at the very least sent you to live with Isabel.”

“I should call her,” Eddie said quietly. “She must be upset.” He sat up and rubbed his head with his clean hand. “I’m open to adoption, too.”

Buck sat up with him and pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “We could take Chris over to Isabel’s…make dinner for her. She could probably use the company as she waits for news from Pepa.”

“That’s probably exactly what she needs,” Eddie murmured. “How’d I get so lucky with you?” He pressed a kiss to Buck’s mouth.

Buck shrugged. “Must have done something right along the way.”

“Must have,” Eddie agreed with a laugh.

 

The End

Keira Marcos

In my spare time, I write fanfiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on the Internet. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a 40ish "domestic engineer" but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

58 Comments:

  1. awwww thank you so much! that was great. I do love a good sentinel and guide story.

  2. Amazing Story. Thank you for sharing

  3. Well, this was just awesome. I loved the whole damn thing to bits. Everything about it was just beautiful. Thanks for the wonderful read.

  4. This was a ton of fun! I loved this version of a softer Buck so much, really fun worldbuilding with Maddie and Lou Ransome raising him formally. I LOVE how you write Christopher so much. Thanks for sharing!

  5. thank you

  6. Utterly amazing!

  7. Loved this. Thank you!

  8. This was wonderful. I’ve never seen an episode of 9-1-1, but you’ve made it one of my favorite fandoms. I look forward to everything you write.

  9. It always makes my entire week when I get an email about a story you’ve posted, and I’m such a sucker for a Sentinel AU. This was wonderful, thank you!

  10. An excellent fusion of 9-1-1 and The Sentinel.

    Thank you.

  11. This is wonderful!

  12. This was lovely and a joy to read!

  13. This is just awesome. Thank you

  14. This was awesome! Thank you for sharing!

  15. I can never get enough pf your sassy Chris , hes so adorable. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  16. Seriously? This was, as usual, amazing. But I am also sitting here slack-jawed in amazement at the sheer volume that you are publishing right now between QB and this and RT next month and when do you even sleep???? Thank you for all of it.

  17. Absolutely lovely!
    Thanks so much, Keira.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing! this was lovely, as always. I loved how you changed Bucks history. ♥️

  19. This was seriously amazing to read, and I love every word. I am, as always, in awe of the scope of your imagination and your writing skill, and really appreciate that you share them with us, so thank you. Also, I am with Buck 1000% on the canned whipped cream thing – I mean you have to worry about the sanity of whoever first thought it was a good thing (I was traumatised many years ago by ordering a cappuccino in a cafe in Germany, and getting a decent enough coffee with a MOUNTAIN of what looked and tasted like shaving foam on top -apparently it was (is?) a thing :/).

  20. Absolutely wonderful.
    Thank you

  21. I have epic heart-eyes right now. This was wonderful. I thought the bonding scene was beautiful. You have such talent. Thank you for sharing it!

  22. That was magnificent… I adore wee tiny 4 year old latent baby Guide Chris.

    You did the impossible and made him even more of a quintessential sparkly unicorn wrapped up in rainbows.

    This story left me with a goofy grin.

    Thanks so much, as always, for writing and posting such lovely stories,

  23. I can’t believe you pulled me into another fandom! This was great.
    Now I need to watch an episode!

  24. I love this so much! I always love Sentinal crossovers and 9-1-1 is my current fav fandom. This was just wonderful❤️❤️❤️❤️ As always I adore everything you write!

  25. I ADORED this

  26. This is lovely. One part that spoke to me immensely was when Eddie was talking about how he didn’t remember what age he was during something in his childhood because it blurred together. Buck mentioned that it is a product of emotional abuse and it just resonated with me that this is me. I felt seen. Thank you for sharing your gift with others.

  27. Absolutely fabulous universe you’ve created here, I adored every single second of reading this. Thank you so much for sharing! xxx

  28. Loved this. I’ve finally watched some key episodes of the series, and found that, as with HP, you’ve taken an attractive ‘verse and erected on that foundation a more fully fleshed world with more three-dimensional characters and better dialogue.

  29. I am totally committed to your commitment to give Buck loving family. I never would’ve thought of Lou for Maddie but it’s actually perfect. Thank you for this awesome awesome story.

  30. This story was so great! I loved everything this about it & was only sad that it was over!

  31. Thank you! This is a really sweet relationship for Buck and Eddie.

  32. I really, really love this! It’s always nice to see someone stand up for Buck when he’s still a child and the resulting changes. Lou as Maddie’s sentinel was such a great choice. And I will never get tired of Buck and Chris being adorable together; poor Eddie never stood a chance against that. Thank you for sharing!

    • I am such a sucker for a well-done S/G AU, and this is a great one! I’m also a big fan of getting beloved protags out of abusive situations sooner, so cheers for your Lou. Nothing to do with either of their parents can ever be *happy*, but it’s satisfying to have them well away, with loving support and protection. And it hardly even needs saying, but wee!Chris is a totally adorable piece of perfection. Finally, I personally also have to applaud how this verson of Buddie didn’t jump straight into a sexual bond; it makes it so much richer.

    • Oops, I actually meant to post my main comment first-level addressed to the author, not as a reply to yours, Prettygirlbpd, but I must have accidentally tapped while I was scrolling down, and I didn’t realize. There’s nothing you said that I’d disagree with, though, so it’s all good, right? 🙂

  33. This was awesome! Loved everything about it, thank you for sharing!

  34. Absolutely amazing again, like always. Love everything you write.

  35. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing

  36. Fab as always Keira. Always awesome to get an email notification about a new fic.

  37. thank you! it was awesome!

  38. I love this. Bucks easy acceptance of Eddie, Chris being a total sunbeam, Lou and Maddie are an awesome pairing, the slow burn of Buck and Eddie coming together – love love love it all!

    Thank you so much for posting.

  39. Lovely to see the growth of their love in each other. Chris is beyond a unicorn. The Dave and Busters takeover must be epic.

  40. I can’t decide if my favorite 9-1-1 story is this one or the Medium!Buck one. I’ve never actually seen 9-1-1 but I know it can’t be as awesome as these

  41. I love the relationship between Buck and Lou in this, that Lou gave him the kind of family he needed, Maddie and Daniel too. Honestly, this was just made of so much fucking win.

  42. Great story, i really enjoyed reading it

  43. Really loved this. Maddie and Lou together is just lovely, and I adore how it changed the way things worked out for all the Buckley siblings. Thank you for sharing this with us. <3 <3 <3

  44. This was a lovely surprise to come across last night. I actually fell asleep reading it and picked right back up when I woke up. lol
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    Despite having never watched the show, Buck/Eddie has become one of my favorite pairings and I blame/credit you and Jilly. Gorgeous men, friends to lovers, adorable kid, great dad moments, and now you add Sentinel/Guide to it? Love it so much. <3 <3

  45. Very satisfying ending. Thank you.

  46. This was my first Sentinel/Guide fic, and it was AMAZING!!!

  47. Oh wow I loved both this and the other new 911/Sentinel story. I love the characterizations and the world building.

  48. I absolutely love Birth of a Serpent King so I was super excited when I recently discovered that you had written Buddie! Great story, I also read Honeytrap and Eight Weeks and they were both awesome too!

  49. So so amazing! I will never get sick of Sentinel Buddie AUs, and this one is so fun to read!

  50. This was absolutely wonderful, thank you so much for sharing it! I think the part that stood out to me was Buck introducing Chris to the 118 and Eddie just tumbling over into love because Buck is alllll about Chris. It’s what I love most about your fics with these three. This was such a lovely slow slide for the guys. Looking forward to reading this one again.

  51. Rereading this, and enjoying it of course. I’ve never seen the show, but I’ve read a lot of the 911 fic around here. I just realized, though, that Chim is basically the Ron Weasley of 911. 😛 Now I’m going to be looking to see who the Ron Weasley is in other fandoms…. 🙂

    • Yes I thought the same thing about Ron and Chim. Also based on Lady Keira HP/Sentinel stories my head cannon has Ron as a dormant sentinel no matter the story.

  52. Love the story and specially how Buck and Chris meshed.

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