Reading Time: 49 Minutes
Title: The Unreluctant Soul
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: 9-1-1, The Sentinel
Relationship: Lou Ransone/OMC
Genre: Romance, First Time
Warnings: Canon-Typical Violence, Discussion-Serial Killer, Discussion-Homicide, Discussion-Canon Character Death, Evan Buckley Has Terrible Parents
Word Count: 12,228
Author Note: I wanted to get this published before July RT starts since it’s a story set before one of my projects for that challenge. I’ll probably send six months reading this and finding mistakes. Take it as it is and thanks!
Summary: Alpha Sentinel Prime Louis Ransone comes online when he’s hunting for a serial killer in Los Angeles. After the case is brought to a close, he agrees to a Guide search. Things don’t go exactly as he expects.
* * * *
Let me but live my life from year to year,
With forward face and unreluctant soul;
-From the poem Life by Henry van Dyke
August 3, 2010—Los Angeles, California
Lou looked up from the sink, water still running pink off his hands, and stared at his bruised face in the mirror. He’d been a detective for a month when the lieutenant running major crimes tossed him a cold case. He’d been relieved because it meant she’d accepted him in her division despite not being pleased when he’d been transferred into her unit without her input. He was young for a detective, and most believed he’d been promoted because of his latent Sentinel status. Lou couldn’t discount it.
“I’m fine,” he murmured.
“Sir, you’re covered in blood.”
“Where’s Lt. Maynard?
“She’s with the body, sir.” The young patrol officer cleared his throat. “There’s a paramedic in the hall ready to evaluate you.” He paused. “Can you handle that?”
“Send her in,” Lou murmured. “I’m not even on the cusp of feral, Officer Dower. Tell Firefighter Wilson she’s safe and give her a moment to calm down before allowing her to enter.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, sir.” Dower cleared his throat. “You know that, right?”
“I do,” Lou murmured and took another deep breath. “Let Maynard know they need to dig up the suspect’s basement. That’s where he’s keeping his kills.”
“Kills?” Dower questioned.
“I can’t say how many—the smell of human decay is overwhelming,” Lou said and pumped more soap into his hands. “I smelled rancid blood, as well. So there is a very recent victim.” He frowned at the blood lining his cuticles.
He listened to the officer leave, and shortly a woman entered the men’s bathroom where he’d corralled in a gas station two hundred yards from the scene of an officer-involved shooting. He wondered if he’d get interviewed by IAD before or after the Burton Foundation came down on the LAPD and took custody of him for his own good. Lou wasn’t certain what he wanted. Well, what he wanted to do was call his dad, but that seemed like the wrong move to make.
“Lou is fine,” he said and turned to the firefighter paramedic who’d been assigned to access him. “You’re Henrietta Wilson.”
“Yeah, you can call me Hen.” She put her bag on the floor and glanced around the dingy gas station restroom. “Not the best choice they could’ve made for a newly online Sentinel.”
“Everyone else’s safety apparently took priority,” Lou muttered. “I’ve already had a forensic tech take samples and pictures.” He paused. “And my fucking clothes.”
“Yeah, but you’re working that onesie like a boss.”
Lou grinned and looked down at the white plastic one-piece suit he’d been given to wear in the place of his clothes. He’d gotten to keep his boxers, though that had been iffy for a minute before he’d made it clear he wasn’t going to get a chafed dick and that surely everything else he was wearing would be enough.
“Thanks.” He took a deep breath. “My senses are subdued, bordering on numb.”
She stared for a moment, then nodded. “I’ve got a gurney outside this room. Can you come out and sit on it?”
“If they’ll let me,” Lou muttered.
“You aren’t a hostage, Lou,” Hen said. “It’s policy to contain a newly online Sentinel as quickly as possible. I don’t think the circumstances were ideal. They rarely are. The Burton Foundation has a team on the way, but policy dictates that you get at least a once over from the LAFD before that.”
“So you can say you turned over a healthy online Sentinel,” Lou said, and she nodded. “Lawyers make everything really complicated.”
She led him out of the small room and motioned him to the gurney. The gas station was empty, and four uniformed officers stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the doors.
“Safety checks, in this circumstance, are to your benefit,” Hen said as she offered her hands. “Also, you’re the one who caught a serial killer by yourself.”
He laughed a little. “That’s probably the last time I get a cold case to work in my spare time.” He took her hands and squeezed gently on her fingers at her request.
“Any muscle weakness?” Hen questioned. “Dizziness? You said your senses feel subdued; how’s your hearing? You fired your weapon in an enclosed space.”
“You’re muffled,” Lou admitted. “I think I could lose my hearing completely if I wasn’t concentrating on the task.”
She nodded. “How long have you been online?”
“I think it happened during the struggle,” Lou admitted. “Maybe two hours?”
“Can you pull the top part off?” Hen hooked a stethoscope into her ears. “I’m going to listen to your heart and lungs. You’ve got a lot of bruising. How do your ribs feel?”
Lou unzipped the plastic suit and shrugged out of it, letting the irritating material fall to his waist. “Nothing feels broken.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly as she checked his lungs. Then stilled as she checked his heart. “All the blood is his.”
“I’ve seen his body,” Hen said shortly. “My partner and I were on the scene and declared him dead. The medical examiner arrived about forty-five minutes ago.”
“And your partner? Shouldn’t he be with you?”
“He isn’t certified to work with Sentinels or Guides,” Hen said. “And has no interest in getting the certs. It’s a problem since regulations are changing to require those licenses for all firefighter paramedics.” She focused on her watch and looped her fingers around his wrist.
Lou stayed still and silent until she released him. He watched her input data into the tablet she’d pulled from her bag. “It’s hard to get your partner replaced. I hope it goes well for you.”
She smiled. “Thanks, we’ve not worked together long, but I trust him…so.” She shrugged. “I’ll push through it. I’ve never had a problem adjusting to change. Your vitals are fine, as you already know.” Hen looped her stethoscope around her neck and took a step back. “Want me to recommend a twenty-four observation in a hospital? Give you some space to settle yourself before people start making demands on you.”
Lou considered that but then shook his head. “I probably need the shelter of a psionic center. But thank you for offering.” He looked up and focused on the four officers on the doors. “There’s a problem.”
“Yeah?” Hen questioned.
“Yeah,” Lou said and shrugged the stupid onesie back on. He slid off the gurney. “Go into the bathroom and wait for permission to come out. One of those idiots on the door is about to draw his fucking gun on a Sentinel.”
He strode down the aisle without checking to make sure the paramedic had done as requested and reached the doors just as the foolishly young man pulled his gun. Lou wrenched open the doors and snatched the officer up, taking him off his feet and clamping his hand down on the gun.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? What is the first rule of engagement when it comes to interacting with a Sentinel in the field, Officer Remy?”
“Don’t…draw my weapon,” the young officer gasped, “unless fired upon.”
“What’s the punishment for endangering the life of a Sentinel without cause?” Lou demanded.
“It’s a felony—ten years in a federal prison.”
He put the kid down on his feet. “Dower, take this officer’s weapon.”
Scott Dower took the gun quickly. “Christ, Remy, you idiot.”
Lou focused on the Sentinel standing in the street in front of the convenience store. He was a civilian and not part of any team sent from the Burton Foundation—he didn’t have the look. He was well over six foot, fit as hell, and had all the makings of a one-man war.
“Alpha Prime,” the Sentinel said quietly with a nod. “Do you need assistance?”
Alpha Prime. Lou barely refrained from groaning aloud because he couldn’t even deny it, and he wanted to.
“No, I do not need assistance,” Lou said. He put the officer down, and Dower snatched Remy to get him out of the way.
“They’re holding you hostage,” the Sentinel said roughly, hands clenching.
“They sequestered me for my own safety because I just took out a serial killer,” Lou corrected. “If you need help standing down, the Burton Foundation is sending a team.”
“We’re here, Alpha Prime.”
Lou turned and found four Sentinel-Guide pairs standing behind a thin strip of police tape. “Take this Sentinel to a safe place and make sure no one else approaches the scene.”
“We’ve deflected twenty-two individuals already, sir. They’re converging on the area due to the immense psionic upheaval caused by your onlining. The conservative estimate regarding the impact zone is 2000 square miles.” She paused. “We’ve been waiting on you, sir. The Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific West passed in his sleep forty-six hours ago. You’re the Alpha Sentinel Prime for the region.” She took a step forward as the lone Sentinel walked toward them. “Sir, you need to come with us.”
“He’s not even wearing shoes, Isla,” one of the men said roughly.
Lou curled his bare toes against the pavement he was standing on. “Dower, retrieve Firefighter Wilson and get her out of here. Someone get Lt. Maynard.” He motioned the team from the Burton Foundation to him even as the young unaccompanied Sentinel was led away from the police line by another pair that he hadn’t noticed. “Officer Remy, report yourself to the watch commander.”
“Sir, my name is Isla North; I’m your Beta for the city of Los Angeles,” she held out a hand. “My Guide, Natalie Rutledge. Sentinel Henry Wayne and his Guide, Julian Mae.” She glanced toward the lone Sentinel. “His name is Thomas Marshall.”
Lou took her hand and watched her nostrils flare. “None of the blood is mine.”
“I know, sir.” She pulled out her phone and sent a text. “I have a vehicle down the street. The driver will bring it to the police line.” She paused. “Sir, why are you dressed in a crime scene…suit.”
“Because he found and neutralized a serial killer.”
Lou turned and focused on Elaine Maynard. “Lieutenant, these people are from the Burton Foundation.” He watched her jaw tighten. “Protocol dictates that I go with them.”
Maynard stared for a moment. “I’ve eight obvious graves, so far, in that basement, Detective Ransone. It’s not my habit to take cases away from subordinates, no matter how political they become. You’ve done all the work here.”
“There’s no arrest to make,” Lou pointed out and shrugged when she exhaled noisily to keep from laughing. “I’m not opposed to delegating the paperwork.”
A lot of movement to his left caught his attention, and he turned his head to find a group of young men and women standing just behind the police line. “I think if I don’t get off this scene soon, we’re going to have a serious problem.”
“I’ve never had Sentinels converge on a crime scene like this—no matter the number of bodies we had,” Maynard said.
“It’s not about the bodies,” Isla North interjected. “Though I will be interested in finding out what sort of countermeasures the killer used to hide that many bodies in his basement in the middle of a neighborhood this busy. Detective Ransone is the new Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific West. His onlining, in such violent circumstances, has stirred the instincts of Sentinels and Guides across the entire region. Getting him off your scene will redirect their interest.” Her gaze flicked toward the crowd. “We have protocols in place to deal with them that can’t be implemented here.”
Maynard stared at North for several moments, then focused on him. “I can and will run whatever interference you want on this issue. You don’t have to go with them. We can take you to a hospital for evaluation for twenty-four hours while the department lawyers educate you regarding your rights.”
“I was raised in a pride, Lt. Maynard,” Lou said. “My parents are the Alpha pair for San Diego.” Her shoulders relaxed. “I’ll be in good hands.”
“Will we get you back?” Maynard questioned. “The chief will want to know.”
“I don’t know,” Lou said. “Alpha’s can’t work in law enforcement without a bond, and a Guide search offers no guarantees.” An SUV parked next to the crowd of Sentinels. “But we need to get our people out of your way.”
The driver left the SUV, ducked under the police tape, and trotted to them with a pair of slip-on sandals in hand. “Can’t say they’ll be comfortable.”
Lou took them and dropped them on the ground to put on. “Thank you.” He turned to Maynard as he shoved his feet into them. “Ma’am?”
She exhaled. “Hell, Lou, good luck with all of this. I’ll get your cell processed and brought to you as soon as possible. Do you want your weapon?”
“And badge,” Lou said. “At least until…well. I’d just like to have it.”
* * * *
August 4, 2010—Jauja, Peru
“Is everything okay?”
Cristobal Salas set aside his tea and focused on the young Sentinel in his care. He’d agreed to take the American into his home in a conservator relationship for several reasons. The most important being the very young man’s Alpha Ascendant status. “Evan.”
Evan Buckley took a deep breath. “You’re agitated. I can feel it.”
He watched the nineteen-year-old shift on his feet, then walk across the deck so he could look out over the Mantaro Valley below them. The lodge was the family property, one that Cristobal had inherited from his father. He’d come to Peru when he’d been a teenager after his parents divorced. His mother had remained in New York, and he hadn’t seen her in two decades. Unfortunately, he didn’t see those circumstances ever changing.
“Cristobal?” Evan questioned, and a gentle hand settled on top of his.
“My apologies, Evan,” he murmured and turned his hand over so he could grip the young man’s briefly before separating from him. He didn’t make a habit of touching the Sentinel often as it would encourage intimacy their situation couldn’t sustain.
A conservator relationship could and often did go sexual when both parties were of legal age, but Evan Buckley was emotionally vulnerable in such a way that Cristobal knew from the start that the boy needed a father figure more than he did a lover.
“I think my Sentinel came online,” Cristobal murmured.
“Wow.” Evan bounced a little on his feet and curled both hands around the railing. “How can you tell?”
“Just a knowing,” Cristobal murmured. “I’d thought, at my age, that I’d missed my window for bonding.” He picked up his tea and took a sip. “I think I’ll have to leave soon. Will you come with me, or should I find another mentor for you?”
“I didn’t think you could stay my conservator after bonding,” Evan admitted. “I wouldn’t want to interfere.”
“Well, I certainly couldn’t keep a mentor relationship with a lover. But that’s never been on the table for us.” Cristobal cleared his throat. “The conservator tether between us has started to fade due to the balance that you’ve already found. Alpha Ascendants don’t need the same kind of care or attention as others due to your relationship with the psionic plane. I would, however, like to continue training you. It feels very important.”
“When do you think we’ll go?” Evan questioned as he looked out over the valley. “I love it here—it’s so peaceful and beautiful.”
“I retreated here to mourn my father,” Cristobal said quietly. “And to come to terms with the relationship my mother doesn’t want with me. I don’t think she ever forgave my father for coming online and bonding with a Sentinel.” He sighed. “I hope mine is fucking single.”
Evan hummed under his breath. “Yeah, that would suck.”
“A lot,” Cristobal muttered even as his cell phone started to gently vibrate on the table near them. “Here we go.”
“Yeah?” Evan questioned.
“Certainly,” Cristobal said. “It doesn’t feel urgent, but I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty big.” He picked up the cell phone. “Dr. Cristobal Salas.”
“Dr. Salas, this is the Burton Foundation-Los Angeles, California. My name is Isla North. I’m pleased to inform you that you have a match in a newly online Sentinel.”
“Percentage?” Cristobal questioned.
As perfect as the current system would allow, Cristobal thought as he considered his own potential. “So an Alpha.”
Cristobal took a deep breath and sat down. He glanced toward Evan, who looked horrified. “I have a student, a young Sentinel, who is in my care.”
“Alpha Ascendant Evander Adiel Buckley,” Isla said. “Yes, we’re aware that he decided to stay with you. Many in the US branch of the Burton Foundation were perturbed that he was not sent back to us when he came online. He’s very young and vulnerable, so it was a relief when you agreed to take him as a student. The Alpha Guide Prime of North America would prefer that you bring him to California when you come.”
“I have a duty to this young man and won’t set him aside for a bond,” Cristobal said, and Evan’s shoulders relaxed. “I need this Sentinel to be aware of that. Evan is a son to me.” He watched a blush stain Evan’s cheeks, and the younger man averted his gaze with a little huff of shock. “Moreover, I really don’t care what the Alpha Guide Prime of North America would prefer. I don’t have any sort of duty to him.”
“You are this Sentinel’s only relevant match, Dr. Salas. I don’t suspect he’ll have a problem with your mentorship of Evan Buckley.” She paused. “He is a prime, so there are instinctive drives at play for him. He is divorced, no children.”
An ex-wife was better than a current wife, Cristobal thought, and felt like an asshole for it. He just didn’t want that kind of drama. “You have an escort coming for me?”
“They are thirty minutes from your home and were instructed not to crowd you. We know that Sentinel Buckley could react badly to a perceived intrusion,” Isla said. “And a private plane has been prepped. We can have you in LA inside the next twelve hours if you’re agreeable.”
“I’m not opposed to you arranging my travel, but I need more than an hour to pack and close my home.”
“We can do that for you,” Isla said. “The Pacific West is in a delicate position regarding leadership, Dr. Salas, and has been since the death of Alpha Sentinel Prime Montgomery. Even a natural death is difficult in such circumstances. It was expected that an online pair would ascend as it normally always does. When it didn’t happen…tensions started to rise.”
“And if we aren’t compatible despite the genetic testing?” Cristobal questioned.
“He’ll have to be sequestered until a match can be made. He has agreed to an international search should it be required. He came online capturing a serial killer as a detective with the LAPD. Over the last twelve hours, his senses have started to cycle between hyperactive and numb. He knows he won’t function well without a bond.”
Cristobal rubbed his sternum and took a deep breath as he focused on Evan. His student just shrugged a little and nodded. He’d noticed from the start that Evan Buckley was very easy-going, emotionally generous, and sweet-natured. Whoever Evan bonded with was going to be a very lucky person.
“Tell them to come,” Cristobal said. “My home here in Peru is precious to me. It belonged to my father, so I expect it to be treated with the utmost care.” He ended the call before she could respond and tossed the phone on the table.
“You don’t have to go.”
“I’m the only viable match the man has at the moment,” Cristobal said. “And I owe us both the opportunity, Evan. I’ve only ever had one other match, and it was just eighty-five percent.”
Evan grimaced and focused on the valley below them. “You have peace here that will be impossible to duplicate in LA, Cristobal.” He picked up the empty tea cup and put it back on the tray he’d used for his breakfast. “I’ll start packing.”
Cristobal frowned but nodded as Evan went into the house. He picked up his phone and wondered how much of a dick move it would be to cancel his date with a text. Frustrated, he sighed and browsed through his contact list. It was a second date, and he’d hoped to get laid.
“Cristobal. Shall we start our date early with lunch?” The warm, soft tone spoke to the sweet attraction that he’d felt the moment he’d set eyes on Emilio Chávez.
He already regretted what he had to do.
“Emilio, I must apologize. I have to cancel our date.” Cristobal frowned and glanced back toward the house as a burst of anxiety drifted over the little link he still had with Evan.
“Has something happened with that lovely boy you’re training?”
“No, Evan’s fine,” Cristobal murmured. “I’ve been contacted by the Burton Foundation in the US. I have a Sentinel match.” He paused. “It’s a very good one. I don’t expect to return to Peru any time soon.”
“I’m so pleased for you,” Emilio said warmly. “Is the percentage high?”
Cristobal relaxed against the railing. “As good as it gets. I’m excited for the journey in front of me. But also disappointed…I think we could have….” He sighed.
“I think the same, but there’s no need to dwell on such things.” Emilio hummed under his breath. “Though I shall regret for quite some time that neither one of us put out on the first date.”
Cristobal flushed and laughed. “Agreed. I have to go. My escort will be here very soon, and I have to settle Evan down before we get on the plane. The sight of his own luggage apparently freaked him out.”
“Be well, darling,” Emilio murmured.
Cristobal sighed when the other man ended the call. He pocketed his phone.
“I cannot believe you didn’t bang that guy,” Evan said from the door leading into the kitchen. “Seriously, he’s probably the hottest man in the whole damn country.”
“Dios, don’t fucking remind me,” Cristobal muttered. “And go pack. Your luggage isn’t going to bite you.”
“It might,” Evan protested and huffed when Cristobal laughed.
* * * *
August 5, 2010—Los Angeles, California
Since the LAPD was invested in keeping him, a laptop had been delivered to the Burton Foundation retreat he’d been sequestered at with his cell phone. Lou wasn’t put off by it at all, but he could tell that the people moving around him were irritated not only by the LAPD’s attachment to him but also by the organization’s overt protection of the house since his arrival.
“They changed out the patrol officers with a Sentinel/Guide pair,” Isla North said as she leaned on the wall next to the bag Lou was using to work his frustrations out.
Lou punched the bag a few times as he considered a response. Isla North was a lawyer and had worked for the Burton Foundation since she’d left law school. She advocated and fought tooth and nail when required to protect the rights of Sentinels and Guides online or otherwise.
“Their investment in me, while different, is no less important. The LAPD has a responsibility to me as an employee. Plus, there is my potential to consider. They’d be stupid to irritate a potential Alpha Prime.
She grimaced. “The psionics for the region are already…wobbly.”
Isla raised one eyebrow at him. “It’s a concise scientific description, and I stand by it.”
He laughed. “Nature provides, right? Alpha Primes don’t go unbonded for very long with the modern system in place. Besides English, I speak French, Russian, and less Hebrew than my mother would have preferred. Considering how important communication is to me, I’ll have an easier time than most Americans finding a match abroad if necessary.”
“Have they settled in?”
Isla pursed her lips. “Yes. Things were a little tense at the airport. Both the Guide and his student are American citizens, but they still had to go through airport security. Apparently, a TSA agent got handsy with the kid after they got off the plane and….well.” She took a deep breath. “We nearly had to post bail for the Guide.”
“How old is this student?”
“Nineteen,” Isla said. “Fresh-faced, sweet temperament, blond hair, and baby blue eyes. He’s fucking adorable. Plus, he’s an Alpha Ascendant.”
“Hell,” Lou muttered. “I guess the Guide plans to keep him?”
“Precious few people in the region could handle the training of an Alpha Ascendant,” Isla admitted. “Plus, he made it clear that he wouldn’t accept a bond if it meant giving up his student, whom he claimed is a son to him. They started out in a conservatorship eighteen months ago. How a seventeen-year-old latent American Sentinel made it all the way to Peru is a mystery for the ages. There were a lot of questions for more than one reason.”
“The kid basically ran away a few weeks after he graduated high school,” Isla said. “He was seventeen, and his parents never reported it. He’s the youngest of three children and was disowned shortly after high school by his immediate family.”
“What?” Lou demanded.
Isla grimaced. “The oldest boy died of leukemia. He listed the sister as estranged when he was interviewed by the Burton Foundation. He didn’t want us to contact her or his parents for any single reason but gave no explanation regarding the disownment.”
“You’d think his parents would’ve clung to the only son they had left,” Lou said.
“We did make contact, of course, due to laws regarding such things. Apparently, his parents can’t stand him and blame him for the death of his older brother since he was only born to be a bone marrow donor. The sister doesn’t blame him for that because she’s not an irrational twat, but she said it would be preferred if her brother not contact her at all,” Isla said and shrugged when Lou glared at her. “I wish I was making it up. Regardless, you’d best accept the kid as part of the Guide package you’ve got coming your way. They’re next-of-kin to each other in the system already.”
“Yeah, for fuck’s sake, consider it done,” Lou muttered and focused on the bag. “If we aren’t compatible, will he take the kid back to Peru?”
“Certainly,” Isla said. “Which isn’t ideal, but no one could prevent it. Plenty of people would like to, but it would get really ugly for them if they tried because I’d have to sue their fucking asses off. He’s legally an adult, and I’ll shove his rights down everyone’s throats if necessary.”
Lou stopped hitting the bag and flexed his taped hands. “My parents are threatening to come here, so I’d like you to call them and tell them no.”
She sent him a dirty look. “I’m not picking a fight with Alpha pair because you’re a terrible son.”
Lou laughed. “I need a shower.”
“Yeah, you do.” She scrunched up her nose.
* * * *
Lou hesitated and took a deep breath as he stared at the Guide, whose name he’d still not been given. He knew next to nothing about the man, which he figured was the point. He watched the man incline his head toward the tea service on the table in front of him, and Lou nodded. Walking across the patio didn’t do much to calm his nerves, but he took a seat at the table.
“Louis Ransone, most call me Lou,” he said. “I have a master’s degree in criminal justice, and I work with the LAPD.”
“Yeah…I guess.” Lou couldn’t remember the last time someone had poured him tea. Probably his own mother, who favored it over coffee.
“Dr. Cristobal Salas,” the Guide said. “I studied psionics for undergrad and took a doctorate in psychology. I’ve worked with Sentinels and Guides for the last fifteen years and often contract with the Burton Foundation for that work.”
Cristobal Salas was gorgeous, and his voice slid over Lou’s skin like silk.
“You’re a hot mess,” Cristobal said casually as he poured the tea and prodded an actual sugar bowl toward him carefully. “I know more about you than would normally happen in such circumstances because of the news. My student is addicted to reading the news. You caught a serial killer by yourself and came violently online in the process. The press is speculating that you killed the suspect in a feral episode. But you don’t have the look or feel of a man who went feral recently.”
“Fourteen bodies and counting,” Lou said. “It was a cold case with one known victim when I was assigned the case. My lieutenant gives all of her detectives a cold case to work on the side. The murder was a decade old.” He added sugar to his tea and exhaled slowly. “I had to kill him because he wouldn’t surrender.”
“Was it the first time you’ve killed in the line of duty?” Cristobal questioned.
“Yes,” Lou admitted. “I keep waiting for the guilt to settle, but it hasn’t.”
“You protected the tribe; a righteous Sentinel has nothing to feel guilty over,” Cristobal murmured.
“I heard there was a problem at the airport.”
Cristobal grimaced and sat back in his seat. “My student is quite attractive and throws off a lot of positive sex vibes because he’s an Alpha Ascendant. He’s only recently nineteen and is a people pleaser.”
“Not a great combination.”
“No, it isn’t. He’s not a virgin by any means, but I do wonder how often he’s had sex just because he didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by telling them no. A man tried to separate him from me at the security checkpoint. Unfortunately, he was a TSA employee, so he came close to succeeding in getting Evan alone for a private interview and search.”
“We can get him fired,” Lou said.
“Oh, trust me, I’ve already filed a complaint,” Cristobal said. “At any rate, he tried to get Evan alone and threatened to arrest me when I interfered. He backed off very quickly when he realized that Evan is a Sentinel. No one wants to go to jail for abusing a Sentinel. It all got settled, but it was infuriating, and I lost my temper.” He sat back with his tea. “You’re beautiful.”
Lou blushed despite his best efforts. “Thanks.”
Cristobal laughed. “How are you sleeping?”
“Not as well as I would like. Getting my gun back helped.”
“Is the LAPD pressuring you to return to the job?” Cristobal questioned.
“Not yet, but I suspect they’ll be very interested in a conversation once I bond. I was recently promoted to detective and assigned to a major crimes unit. It feels like a calling for me and always has. I believe deeply in the pursuit of justice.”
“You can expect a recruitment effort to take place from agencies all over the region—both state and federal. They’ll all be very orderly about it because there is a procedure in place. You’re young for a prime, and that’s going to be a startling situation for a lot of people,” Cristobal murmured. “Drink your tea, Louis.”
Lou looked at his tea and huffed a little. “I prefer coffee.”
“You look the sort,” Cristobal agreed. “But it’s not on your list of allowed consumables right now due to the caffeine. This tea blend is caffeine-free.”
“Which is a crime,” Lou muttered but took a sip. “A decent tasting crime, but that’s beside the point.” He focused on Cristobal. “Where’s your student?”
“The Burton Foundation owns a large complex of condos just a mile from here. Evan has settled into his own place with very little fanfare, and when last we spoke, he was trying to talk a Sentinel he met at the psionic center into going to the beach with him. He’ll certainly succeed.” Cristobal shifted his empty cup around and seemed to briefly consider another cup before setting it aside. “He’s in a very delicate place emotionally, and severing my relationship with him would be perceived as a rejection. I think he’d go completely off the rails despite his assurances that he would be fine if I needed to hand over his education to another.”
“It’s a platonic relationship?” Lou questioned. “Because I….I realize I can’t demand anything from you sexually or romantically, but it would be difficult to deal with that on the regular. I would, of course, but I don’t….” He exhaled. “Normally, I’m much better at communication than this.”
“It’s platonic,” Cristobal said in amusement. “And I know exactly how prime bonds go nearly every single damn time. So no worries on that front. Evan is a sweet boy and very attractive, but when I met him, he was heartbroken and desperately seeking the smallest bit of approval. It would’ve been easier to validate him with sex, but it wasn’t what he needed. Plus, he was barely legal when we met, which bothered me far more than it bothered him.”
Lou laughed. “Well, no wonder, you’re…perfect.” He wet his lips. “Do you want to return to Peru?”
“I’m not opposed; I was comfortable there. But Evan needs more stimulation than what was offered at my family retreat. I would’ve made a change sooner rather than later for his benefit. Otherwise, he’d have been content living in that valley and taking care of old lady’s gardens in exchange for cookies for years.”
“Well, at least he has a firm grasp of what it means to barter properly,” Lou said, and Cristobal laughed. “Will he be okay with this? With me?”
“Evan adjusts easily to change and is looking forward to meeting you. I used the flight here to prepare him for what is to come, and I’ve closed the empathic tether I had with him. In all honesty, it bothered me more than him. I’ve tried so hard to be careful with him, but I love him like a son.” He huffed a little. “And honestly, I’ve never had any desire to father a child or adopt.” He focused on the lawn spreading out beyond the patio. “You have private quarters here?”
“Yes,” Lou said and shifted in his chair. “They’re shielded, so we’d have privacy if that’s your preference.”
“Yes,” he said. “That would be preferred. As an Alpha Sentinel Prime, you’ll be afforded very little privacy unless you insist on it.” He stood, and Lou immediately left his chair.
“Come then,” Lou said gently and inclined his head toward the doors he’d used to come outside. “My suite is just through there. I live in an apartment fairly close to the precinct I was assigned when I left the police academy. I’m very willing to move to the condo complex, so we’ll be close to your boy.”
“Thank you,” Cristobal murmured. “That’s good.”
Shortly, Lou pulled the outer door shut on his suite and watched Cristobal Salas casually activate the white noise system that would buffer the entire area of the house. He’d not turned it on since his arrival.
“Come sit,” Cristobal murmured and sat down on the sofa. He pushed off his shoes and turned to sit facing him when Lou joined him. “Tell me how you feel.”
“Pressured,” Lou blurted out. “Unprepared. I rank above my own father in the national pride system. My parents are the Alpha pair for San Diego.” He averted his gaze as Cristobal took his hand and laced their fingers together. “They’re both fairly close to retirement, and this might be the tipping point for them on that front. My father hasn’t been hostile about it, but he clearly never expected me to present as a prime.”
“Presenting and accepting isn’t the same thing at all,” Cristobal said. “I’m a dual citizen of the US and Peru. We could bond and get on a plane. No one, no matter what they might have told you, could prevent it.”
“No one has made it seem like I had no choice,” Lou murmured. “But my duty looms large in front of me. I’ve been worried that coming online as I did would be an immense stumbling block for a Guide.”
“Honestly, you stopped a serial killer, and that’s not a terrible thing to have done. I think the body count went up to sixteen this morning, so you’ve probably got some more reports to look at. He was keeping the bodies stacked on top of one another in air-tight bags in holes in the basement.
Lou frowned. “I smelled them.”
“One of the bags had a hole,” Cristobal said. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but they believe that his last victim was buried alive. She used the last minutes of her life to puncture the bag he put her in. The news reported that she’d been dead for about a month.”
“I made the connection because of a missing person’s report that was filed three weeks ago. I started digging and found a very overt pattern of disappearances,” Lou said roughly. “I have notes and research. I probably have identified most of his victims.” He glanced toward the laptop on the desk across the room. “I’m getting reports and the like. The LAPD is working hard to keep me in the loop, for obvious reasons.”
“They want to keep your investment,” Cristobal said. “I can’t blame them. You’d be a boon to their organization across the board—work product, prestige, and recruitment. Sentinels will flock to your side in the area.”
“They already have,” Lou said. “That hasn’t lowered the pressure. They’re clearly intent on my leadership, and it makes the thought of disappointing them very difficult.” He focused on their hands and rubbed his thumb across the top of Cristobal’s hand. “I grew up around Guides, but you feel different.”
“Because I’m yours,” Cristobal said. “I felt you come online, Louis.” He cupped Lou’s face. “It woke me from a deep sleep, and it seemed like I might drown in your emotions as you struggled to survive. Your victory felt like a benediction.”
“I want to kiss you,” Lou murmured. “I shouldn’t admit that, apparently, since I’m not supposed to express an expectation of a sexual relationship without a thorough discussion about your preferences. I don’t even know if you have a lover back in Peru worried about how all this is going to go.”
“I’d recently met someone, but we were due to have a second date yesterday,” Cristobal said. “He’s pleased for me.” Lou relaxed. “And you can kiss me.” He rubbed his thumb over Lou’s lips. “You can have me. I don’t want a platonic relationship, and a sexual bond would entrench me in your senses immediately, which is exactly what I want.”
“Why?” Lou questioned as he moved closer and pulled Cristobal practically into his lap.
“I need the authority to protect my boy,” Cristobal murmured, and Lou brushed their mouths together briefly and shuddered at the sweet taste of his Guide’s mouth. “I’m sorry if that sounds mercenary.”
“I like mercenary,” Lou admitted.
Cristobal laughed. “Have you ever been with a man?”
“Just once, it was great,” Lou said. “Well, more than one time, but with the same man. I had a torrid affair during my divorce with another cop. I regret nothing.” He smiled at the laugh that earned him. “It was entirely physical, and we ended things when I was promoted to detective.”
“Because of the promotion?”
“We were both vying for major crimes, and I got it. He assumed it was because I was latent, and I can’t say he was wrong. I didn’t want to continue to sleep with someone who was going to resent me for things beyond my control. He ended up in vice, a unit that never gets online or latent Sentinels.” He stood from the sofa and pulled Cristobal with him. “Come to bed with me, please.”
“I took the time upon arrival to go to a spa to cleanse and remove what little body hair I still had left.” Cristobal ran his hand through the dark brown hair on his head. “Except for the obvious.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Lou said. “I could’ve handled whatever you had going on.” He tugged him into the bedroom.
“No need to create issues,” Cristobal said and pulled the bedroom door shut. “I trust they’ve already worked you through that process?”
“Yeah, I didn’t have much to begin with,” Lou admitted. “I was told that this whole thing would be complicated and frustrating.”
Cristobal grinned and curled his fingers into the front of the jeans Lou was wearing and pulled. “How tall are you?”
Lou wet his lips and couldn’t help but drift closer as his Guide settled against the door. He put one hand on the door above Cristobal’s head. “I’m 6’5. Are you avoiding my confusion, Dr. Salas?”
“No.” Cristobal unbuckled his belt. “I was trained in Peru—endured the attention of a shaman during my formative years who had no desire to adhere to modern perceptions regarding bonding between Sentinels and Guides. Some of his students spend decades in his company and come away with a profound understanding of the psionic plane and what it means to share that kind of energy with another living being.”
Lou took a deep breath as blue energy started to swirl around Cristobal’s fingers. “Cristobal….what….” He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it away when fingers drifted gently over his stomach. “Fuck.”
“We can make it complicated,” Cristobal said. “Or we can take off all our clothes and get to know each other the way nature intended.” He quirked an eyebrow and ran his fingers over Lou’s abs. “Kiss me.”
Lou cupped Cristobal’s head and brushed their mouths together as he let his free hand settle on the other man’s hip. “Guide.”
They thudded against the door as he stroked his tongue into his Guide’s mouth. It was perfect, and just like that, Lou gave up being civilized about his circumstances. He clamped both hands on Cristobal’s hips, slid them around, cupped his ass, and lifted. He got a soft, shocked gasp against his mouth as legs wrapped around his waist.
“Sentinel,” Cristobal said hoarsely as Lou trailed his lips along the man’s jaw and sucked gently against his pulse point.
Lou pushed away from the door and crossed the room to the large bed. He sat Cristobal down and shoved off his own shoes. “Get with the program.”
Cristobal laughed and pulled his shirt over his head and loosened his belt as he toed off the sandals he was wearing. Lou watched intently as his Guide tossed aside his clothes and sat down on the bed. Cristobal leaned back on his hands and watched with dark eyes as Lou shed his jeans and boxers. He scooted fully up onto the mattress and held out a hand as Lou shed the rest of his clothes.
“Come here,” Cristobal demanded, and Lou grinned as he crawled onto the mattress. “You were told my test results, right?”
“Yeah, I told them to send you mine.”
“I got a confirmation that you were clean,” Cristobal said. “And an offer for a full copy of your medical records. Later, I’m going to lecture you about that. Fortunately for you, your Beta Sentinel locked your medical records down for the time being.”
Lou grinned. “Whatever.”
Cristobal huffed a little and inhaled sharply when Lou wrapped a hand around his half-hard cock. “I plugged when I was getting dressed this morning.”
Lou blinked in surprise. “What?”
“I have a plug in my asshole.”
Lou wouldn’t admit for love or money that he’d never seen an anal plug in real life. He flushed and rubbed the head of his Guide’s cock with his thumb. “Why?”
“Because you’re an Alpha Sentinel Prime, and you’re probably going to get a little primitive on me when I let you really feel me.”
“I’m feeling you just fine,” Lou said wryly.
Cristobal laughed. “I’ve my entire aura on lockdown, Louis.”
“Do you really?” Lou questioned curiously and focused on his face. “Show me.” He released Cristobal’s cock and trailed his fingers down over his Guide’s balls. He quickly encountered the steel ball of the plug. It was tucked close to the body. “This isn’t uncomfortable?”
“No, it’s designed to be used in daily activities,” Cristobal explained. “For some, having a full ass is a kink.”
“Is it for you?”
“No, but I like to plug when I masturbate.” He took in a deep breath when Lou looped his fingers around the knob and pulled it out slowly.
Lou tossed the plug on the floor beside the bed and watched psionic energy drift gently over his Guide’s skin, and he moved as close as he could without thinking about it. Soft, sweet emotion drifted over his mind, and when Cristobal tugged at him with eager hands, Lou let himself be pulled in. He’d never been held with such tender regard, and it left him shocked and eager as he slipped between Cristobal’s thighs and settled most of his weight on the other man.
“You’re perfect,” Cristobal murmured against his cheek. “Take what you need.”
Lou buried his face against the side of Cristobal’s neck and inhaled deeply, saturating his sense of smell before sliding down the other man’s body, dragging his mouth against smooth skin as he did so. He took his Guide’s cock into his mouth the moment he could, sucking strongly even as his hands drifted over muscled thighs to spread Cristobal’s legs open further for his exploration. Lou released Cristobal’s cock, and mouthed the man’s balls with soft lips and his tongue.
“Fuck,” Cristobal murmured and buried both of his hands in Lou’s hair.
He’d rarely allowed himself the pleasure of going to bed with an online Sentinel, no matter how common the practice was amongst the conservatorship community. It was dangerous, he knew, to get intimately involved with someone you couldn’t bond with. So, it had been a long time since he’d known the deeply empathic and psionic pleasure that could be had in a Sentinel’s arms. And he’d never been so close to one so uniquely compatible with himself.
“Cristobal,” Lou whispered against his skin, voice hoarse with want.
Trembling hands clenched on his hips, and Cristobal recognized that his Sentinel was imprinting on him in a profound way.
“Come then,” he murmured. “Be with me.” He pulled gently, encouraging the Sentinel to cover him. “Fuck me.”
Lou groaned against the muscles of Cristobal’s stomach. “God, I….”
“It’ll be fine,” Cristobal soothed and grasped Lou’s cock for the first time as his Sentinel leveraged above him with a shudder.
He positioned Lou’s cock with one hand and urged the man to move with the other. Lou pressed into him, the head of his fat cock breaching Cristobal’s slick asshole easily.
Lou groaned as he slid deep into his Guide. “Next time, I want to prep your hole myself.”
“Whatever you want,” Cristobal soothed and finally allowed his empathic shields to thin enough that he could invite his Sentinel into his mind as he’d welcomed him into his body.
Lou gasped against Cristobal’s mouth and lifted his head. Their eyes met in the sundrenched room. He blinked back tears, surprised by the emotion swelling in his chest. No lover had ever moved him so, and Cristobal was at a loss of words. He’d never known anything like it and was relieved. Their bond bloomed between them as Lou started to move, and he eagerly sought a kiss.
In those moments, they seemed to share everything—pleasure…energy…air. Separation felt impossible, and he recognized that particular notion as the very strong bond they’d created without even trying. Such was the promise of high compatibility.
Orgasm blindsided him as he’d been so caught up in the emotional pleasure that the physical side had all but disappeared. He tightened around Lou’s cock and shuddered as the Sentinel continued to fuck him with long, sure strokes. Finally, Lou groaned harshly against his cheek as he came. Pleasure ebbed and flowed between them until they both relaxed on the mattress.
* * * *
Lou went to sleep wrapped around his Guide and woke up physically alone. Their bond was flowing easily between them, and he could hear Cristobal’s heartbeat. They weren’t alone in his wing of the retreat. He turned over on his back and listened to Cristobal speak easily with another person. They were cooking together in the kitchen, which stirred hunger because he’d chosen to stay in bed with his Guide through dinner, and they’d fallen asleep without even getting a snack.
He left the bed after a few long moments, quickly showered, and dressed in workout clothes because he wanted a run. Lou knew he’d be relegated to the gym in the house, but that was fine. He wasn’t ready to be out in the world as yet, and no one seemed inclined to make him do it.
Lou paused in the entryway of the kitchen and watched Cristobal nudge a tall, younger man away from the stove. They were both intent on the skillet in front of them. Based on the aroma he’d followed, they were in the midst of making a frittata, so he wasn’t mad. The other Sentinel turned and stared. Evan Buckley, for all the fact that he was nineteen, barely looked old enough to drive. Considering his history, it was infuriating.
“Lou, this is my student Evan Buckley. Evan, meet Lou Ransone, Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific West.” Cristobal motioned toward the coffee maker. “I’ve made coffee, so you can try it if you like.” He put a hand on Evan when the boy eyed the machine. “Not you. You’ll be bouncing off the walls, and I have no idea where to send you to safely expend that kind of energy.”
Evan laughed and flushed. “It’s nice to meet you, sir.”
“The pleasure is mine, Evan.” Lou watched the younger man fidget a bit.
“Set the table, Evan,” Cristobal said as he lifted the iron skillet from the burner and deftly slid the frittata onto a serving platter.
Lou poured himself some coffee and sat down at the table to get out of the way.
“You’ll want to put a bit of sugar into that,” Cristobal said mildly.
“I’ve drank it black all of my adult life,” Lou protested.
“And some cream.”
Lou huffed even as Evan brought both items to the table and set them into place.
“One of Cristobal’s worst faults is that he’s almost always right,” Evan said and laughed when Cristobal sent him a dirty look. “So, arguing is just a waste of resources. Bitterness is the worst of all the flavors to moderate on our own. They don’t tell you that in classes, but you grew up in a Sentinel-Guide home, right?”
Lou flushed and put sugar in his coffee. He ignored the small pitcher of cream because a man had to have limits. The coffee was tolerable with the sugar, so he sat back and watched both men settle in at the table. If this was going to be his new normal, then he wanted to adjust as quickly as possible.
“My Beta tells me that you’re estranged from your family, Evan.”
Evan flushed and glanced toward Cristobal. Lou saw it for the support-seeking that it was.
“I think you know enough about our kind and your circumstances to understand that you’re part of my pride,” Lou said mildly.
Evan blushed furiously, which made him look even younger. “I wasn’t going to make assumptions, sir.”
“Call me Lou,” he said and hummed a little as food slid into place in front of him. A generous portion of frittata and thick golden toast had a small amount of butter in evidence. “Cristobal considers you his family, and that makes you very important to me. I understand why you wouldn’t want to give the foundation information that could be used against you in some fashion. I just need to know what I’m dealing with when it comes to your blood relatives. You can’t expect them to just never show up in your life.”
“My parents…told me a week after I graduated high school that they only had me to save my older brother Daniel. He had leukemia and died when a bone marrow transplant failed. I was one when the transplant was done. They begrudgingly took care of me, but looking back, it was clear they never loved me. There are large portions of my childhood where my parents are utterly absent from my memories. I had a nanny until I was twelve and deemed old enough to stay alone by myself at home. My sister, Maddie, was already out of the home and engaged to be married at that point. She’s a registered nurse, and her husband is a doctor.
“I was furious to find out I had an older brother no one bothered to tell me about. My parents couldn’t even give me a picture of him—they’d basically erased him from their lives. Despite that deeply unhealthy response to grief, I tried to see their perspective. I tried to understand how hurt they were, but their lack of investment in me made that impossible no matter how hard I tried.
“After they told me about Daniel, they just stopped pretending to care if I lived or breathed. Every single thing they had to do for me was a burden—even buying groceries. My father said I was a waste of their emotional and financial resources. I inherited money from my maternal grandmother, and it was in a living trust. My mother gave me the information for it when I was sixteen. Looking back on it, I think she was hoping I’d take that money and run.
“A week or so after I found out about Daniel, I took that money and moved it out of the account my mother had access to and into a personal checking account that my sister helped me establish years before as part of a school project. No one had access to it but me. I had to leave it in that account until I was eighteen and could establish other financial accounts without parental approval.” Evan shrugged. “Then I left. I was in Peru and online by the time I turned eighteen. The Burton Foundation helped me create a new trust, and here we are.”
Lou hummed under his breath and raised an eyebrow. “And your sister?”
“Her husband hates me,” Evan said and shrugged. “There was never anything specific to point to as a reason. He just can’t stand me and Maddie…seemed okay with that. I visited her when I left home. Well, I went to the hospital where she worked because Doug, her husband, didn’t want me at their house. She said that she knew I’d run away from home, but she couldn’t help me. I guess I was more hassle than she could deal with. I didn’t want help, you know. I just wanted…. I thought I could depend on her to be my family. I was mistaken.”
Lou watched the younger man focus on his food and picked up his own fork. “Shortly after I was sequestered here in this house, my father called me. He’s the Alpha Prime of San Diego. He told me that I’d entered an eternal brotherhood the moment I came online as a Sentinel. I knew that, on some level, because I grew up in the embrace of a very large pride. I’m sorry you didn’t have that then, but you’ll have it now.”
Evan nodded. “Thanks…I thought that after I finish my training, I might go to college.”
“Thoughts on a major?” Lou questioned with a glance toward Cristobal, who seemed content to watch them adjust to each other.
“I spent yesterday and last night with Thomas Marshall. He recently finished up classes at the foundation and is starting a new job with the fire department next week. Firefighting appeals to me. I want to bring more to the table than advanced senses. Thomas has worked as a paramedic for six years in the private sector, and he said the work experience was good for him. It also gave him a better career path in the LAFD because he has a BS in emergency medical services.”
“Would that be your choice as well?” Cristobal questioned.
“No, I think…emergency and disaster management,” Evan admitted and shrugged. “Also, I’d like to start working on SAR certifications and maybe do some volunteer work on that front while I take classes. I could go year-round and get a BS in two and a half years, probably. Maybe three years, but that appeals to me. It feels necessary.”
“Instincts are important,” Cristobal allowed. “If you want to do SAR on a professional level, then you need to start building muscle and endurance.” He poked the teenager’s arm. “Real muscle and not the vanity display you’ve currently got going on.”
Evan huffed. “You’re the worst.”
“We’ll hire you a nutritionist,” Cristobal declared, and Lou noted that Evan didn’t disagree or protest it. “And get a recommendation from the Foundation regarding a personal trainer.”
“Sure.” Evan focused on his food. “The condo the Foundation put me in came furnished. It’s like living in an issue of Better Homes and Gardens.” Lou laughed. “But nothing put my senses off, so that’s good. Can I send the furniture elsewhere and get my own stuff?”
“Sure,” Cristobal said. “But take your time and make considered choices. The Foundation will pick up anything you want to replace as needed. Do you need a bigger bed?”
“It’s a king size, but…it’s short,” Evan said. “I think I probably need a California king, but people always act like I’m asking for some adult playground when I just literally don’t want my feet to hang off the end of the bed. Plus, I’m a sprawler, and I like space.”
Lou that feeling very well. “How tall are you?”
“I’m 6’2, which I know means I should fit fine on a king size, but it just doesn’t work out that way. You get it, right?”
“I get it,” Lou assured. “I’ve had a California king since I was sixteen. My father told me when I hit 6’5 that I needed to stop or he was going to have a custom bed built, and that would be ridiculous.” Evan grinned. “Regardless, beds that size are pretty easy to come by. Do you have room for it in the bedroom you’ve chosen?”
“Yeah, sure, though I am considering asking for something smaller. It’s a family unit, and it’s just me.” Evan shrugged. “I don’t actually need a four-bedroom condo on the beach, you know.”
“Yes, you do,” Cristobal said and pointed a finger at him when Evan started to protest. “All Sentinel-Guide housing in the city is set up as family units. You need the space and the specialized construction more than most, Evan. I’ve already made arrangements to move into the unit directly above yours.”
“Yeah, I heard they were going to offer you the top floor,” Evan said and made a face. “It’s just a lot of space for me.”
“Turn one of the bedrooms into a personal gym,” Lou suggested. “Get comfortable and make yourself a home, Evan. Alpha Ascendants don’t go unbonded indefinitely, so you’ll want room for a Guide.”
Evan grimaced and shook his head. “No, I’m not ever bonding. As an Ascendant, my connection with the psionic plane is enough to keep me even on the sense front.” He stood from the table and picked up his empty plate, which he took to the dishwasher. “I’m going to hit a mall and buy myself an iPad or laptop. Plus, I need a local sim card for my phone which means a new phone plan.”
“Get me one, too,” Cristobal said and offered his iPhone when the younger man held out a hand. “New numbers are probably a necessary thing as well.”
Lou sat back as Evan basically ran from the house and watched his Guide make a big deal out of serving himself some tea.
“Being rejected by his family hurt him on a profound, empathic level,” Cristobal said after a protracted silence that happened to coincide with the exact moment that Lou lost track of Evan’s heartbeat. “It took me months to earn his trust, and I don’t know…I don’t know what it would take to open him up to bonding and love.”
Lou reached out and put a hand on Cristobal’s arm. “You can trust me with your son, Cris.”
Cristobal’s eyes darkened, and he nodded. “I don’t let anyone call me that, you know.”
Lou grinned and tugged on the man’s wrist. Cristobal left his chair and slid into his lap. “Let me be the one, then.”
Cristobal pressed a kiss against his Sentinel’s mouth. “Sure, Louis.”
* * * *
Cristobal watched Natalie Rutledge settle at the conference table with her Sentinel. He’d met the pair a year before when they’d come to Peru representing the US branch of the Burton Foundation regarding Evan Buckley. He hadn’t met the other two in the room, so he focused on them.
“Sir,” the Sentinel began as he stood. “Henry Wayne and my Guide, Julian Mae,” Henry said.
Cristobal glanced between them and nodded. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all. Is this conversation about my Sentinel or about my student?”
“Can it be both?” Julian questioned. “Because I have questions about both, and so does the Burton Foundation.”
Cristobal sat down at the table. “Evan is off-limits to the Burton Foundation in an official capacity. He doesn’t trust the organization…and while he’s never admitted it, I think he was online before he ever reached Peru. If he hadn’t had a zone out in a public place, I imagine he’d have retreated into the fucking wilderness. The Chopec contacted me because their shaman felt him heading their way. They offered to take him in and keep him indefinitely.”
Julian took a deep breath. “I understand his reluctance.”
“No, you don’t,” Cristobal said evenly. “And I’m relieved for it. His parents emotionally ravaged him, and I don’t know that there is anything on this Earth that can heal the damage they’ve done. That level of hurt would’ve left a Guide dormant.”
“That’s infuriating.” Isla tapped two fingers on the table and took a slow, deep breath.
“And we can’t punish them for this?” Julian questioned.
“Apparently, it’s not illegal for parents to loathe their own fucking child,” Natalie muttered. “And they do hate him, for the record. I was part of the team that went to their house to investigate the situation. They provided for him—fed, clothed him, and never verbally or physically abused him. All of the affection in that house came from his nanny and sister. They didn’t break any laws until they neglected to report him missing when he ran away. But, even if they had reported it, nothing would’ve come of it. The cops would’ve searched for him locally, but he’d finished high school and had his own money. They’re just wretched bastards.”
“Certainly,” Cristobal said. “Lou has accepted Evan’s place as my student, and I trust his instinctual response on that subject. He’ll be protective of him because he’s already declared him pride, and Evan is vulnerable. Such members in prides are guarded closely.”
“Thomas Marshall has requested accommodations as close to Evan Buckley as possible,” Henry said. “And he’s never availed himself of Burton resources before. He’s clearly taking the kid under his wing, so to speak. Is that a problem?”
“He’s the same Sentinel that walked straight onto the scene where Lou was being contained, right?” Cristobal questioned.
“Yeah, nearly got shot by a trigger-happy uniform,” Julian muttered. “Though, the Alpha Prime responded so quickly to that situation that no one else had time to even protest it. It was clear that Thomas was prepared to go through four armed police offers to free Ransone from what he considered a hostage situation.” He paused. “The only weapon he brought to the fight was himself.”
“It would’ve been enough,” Henry said with a cheerful grin. “Thomas is a brawler—and a favored sparring partner. He just finished the fire academy and is starting at the 56 in a week.” He leaned forward. “Is Buckley going to register for the search?”
“No, I don’t see another Sentinel being a problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if Evan makes every effort to seduce the man because he does enjoy sex and feels safe in the company of other Sentinels,” Cristobal said. “But make it known that the first person to crowd him on the bonding issue will be sanctioned.” He watched the information settle on them. “He doesn’t want to be part of the search, and that choice will be honored. I’ll see people put in jail for it.”
“I’ll make sure it’s known, sir,” Isla said and cleared her throat. “Is that permanent?”
“He doesn’t plan to ever change his stance on it,” Cristobal admitted. “Part of it is fear of further rejection, but there are other issues at play. I think pressure or expectations when it comes to accepting a bond could make him run again, and that’s….” He cleared his throat. “Frankly, it would break my heart.”
“He’s barely nineteen,” Natalie said. “No one should have any fucking expectations for him, and we’ll make that clear.”
Cristobal leaned back in his chair. “As to my Sentinel, he’s….” He waved both hands. “Wow.”
Julian let out a startled laugh. “Yeah?”
“The regional psionics settled yesterday afternoon,” Natalie said.
“Probably around the same time his senses settled,” Cristobal murmured. “He’s already agreed to return to work at the LAPD. It’s clearly a calling for him, so there’s no changing his career if that’s something anyone wanted. If the organization doesn’t play nice, he’s not opposed to a move into state or federal law enforcement. He made that clear. Currently, his direct superior is here briefing him on the case that started all of this. Evan is shopping for an iPad and probably a bed.”
“Can we report the ascension of an Alpha Prime pair for our region to the Foundation?” Natalie questioned. “Because they’ve been asking for confirmation since the psionics rebalanced and settled.”
“Yes.” He turned his head slightly as the door to the conference room opened, and Lou appeared in the doorway. “Finished?”
“More than. I’m ready to go back to my apartment and figure out what I want to pack. I rented it furnished since I used it as a bolt hole to escape my marriage, so there won’t be much I want to take. Lt. Maynard brought my truck to me.” He glanced around the room. “If you’re done.”
“Sure, there are decisions to be made, but nothing is urgent,” Cristobal said and stood. “Evan will be back at his own place for the afternoon, so I’ll need to stop by and pick up my phone and get the details on whatever account he set up for us.”
“We could wait for him here.”
“No, he’ll retreat to what he considers his own space,” Cristobal said. “He’s going to need several weeks to adjust to an urban environment. A month ago, we were hiking in the Andes and skinny dipping in waterfalls. I almost never got him to agree to go back to the house. Evan would have been content to live in the jungle if I’d allowed it.”
“Living in a jungle, bathing in waterfalls, and bartering for cookies doesn’t sound like a bad deal, you know,” Lou admitted and grinned when Cristobal laughed.
Cristobal focused on Natalie Rutledge. “Let’s plan for a regional meeting of Alphas in sixty days. In the meantime, he’ll need a list of Alphas, contact information, and a territory map for the entire Pacific West. All of that data should be digital. If anyone tries to send you a copy of an actual paper map, feel free to call them and curse them out.”
Natalie grinned. “Thanks.”
“Is Thomas Marshall in the search process?” Cristobal questioned.
“Yes, a few partial matches but none so compelling he felt the urge to bond. He occasionally engages a conservator and will be on shift with Henry and me. There shouldn’t be any issues on that topic unless things go terribly awry,” Julian said. “He’s very disciplined and grew up in a pride, so he’s an asset across the board.”
* * * *
Lou found Evan sitting on the balcony, jutting off the back of his condo. The back of the complex backed up against a public beach. There was a pool in the center courtyard. He didn’t think he’d be going into either of them. He sat down and slid his legs through the railing so he could dangle them in an imitation of the other man.
Evan shrugged and huffed a little when Cristobal came out onto the balcony and sat down on the other side of him. “It’s just different.”
“You can go back to Peru,” Cristobal said quietly. “My home is your home, of course.”
Evan let his forehead rest on the iron bar in front of him. “It’s a nice place. Just different than what I’ve gotten used to. I felt safe in Jauja.”
Lou watched his fingers curl around the bars. “And you don’t feel safe here.”
“I’ll be fine. You guys should be concentrating on each other,” Evan said.
Cristobal hummed under his breath. “Pretty hard to do when you’re down here acting like the teenager you are.”
Evan groaned. “My bed will be delivered tomorrow. The sales lady asked if my mom was going to join me to pick out sheets and stuff.” He exhaled slowly. “The thing is, I don’t think my birth giver ever took me shopping for that stuff. The last new duvet I got when I lived at home…I ordered it off Amazon using the sperm donor’s credit card. I even shopped online for clothes. About six months before I left, I maxed out two of their cards buying stuff for when I left. I even took out enough cash advances to buy a used car. It broke down in Texas, and I sold it before I crossed the border.”
“We’ll have to get you something before you start classes,” Lou said. “Focus on safety ratings, please.”
“Yes, sir. I think I need to take those tests—I didn’t do the SATs or whatever because I was always going to run, and those assholes I lived with didn’t care.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Cristobal soothed. “You don’t have to rush through anything. Stress will make it difficult for you to maintain proper shields.”
Evan looked up, and Lou followed his gaze until he encountered Thomas Marshall standing on the beach below them.
“Get your pale ass down here—I found some gorgeous people down the beach a ways, and we’re going to party.” Thomas motioned to him. “Sunscreen and shorts are all you need!’
“Buck?” Cristobal questioned with an appalled look, and Lou laughed.
“He said I didn’t look like an Evan.” Evan shrugged. “I think I like it. Anyways, did you guys come down here to make me have dinner with you, or I can go…party and get laid.”
“Dios,” Cristobal muttered. “Use condoms.”
Evan laughed and stood. “Of course. I play safe, or I don’t play.”
Lou sent Thomas a look, and the Sentinel below them grinned and gave him a nod.
He reached out and took his Guide’s hand as he stood. Cristobal came to his feet with a sigh as Evan disappeared into the condo. Lou pulled his Guide close, and Cristobal relaxed against his chest.
“Buck,” Cristobal said sourly.
Lou laughed. “It does suit him.” He pressed a kiss against Cristobal’s neck and inhaled against his skin. “Everything will be fine.”